11.07.2011

Ain't no mountain high enough

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
- Detective Alex Cross, Cat and Mouse, James Patterson

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from years of blogging is this: you can pile up evidence mountain high, but if people don’t read it, don’t pay attention to it, don’t act on it, you believe somehow you have failed.

The same fictional detective quoted above also said, “Falling down is not a failure: not getting back up is.”

I have fallen down and gotten back up many times as a blogger. So, I am not going to consider myself a failure if I take this “good chance to shut up.”

Sincere thanks to all who have come this way and left your imprint.

BJ

11.04.2011

In flagrante delicto

I’m not going to run out and buy a “Cain Ain’t Able” T-shirt. The accuse-deny-accuse-deny coverage of allegations against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain do not come close to this week's most important domestic news.

The important story just doesn’t involve sex.

For the third time, ALL Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted against job-producing legislation in order to protect that small and elite segment of our populatiio known as “the nation’s wealthiest.”

Yesterday ALL Republican senators voted against a measure which would have created 450,000 new jobs and rebuilt our nation’s highways, bridges and other deteriorating infrastructure.

ALL Senate Republicans, on October 11, 2011, voted down President Obama’s jobs-creating legislation, pitting millions of new jobs against their stance of not raising taxes on the top tier of American earners.

When a measure came before the Senate on October 20, 2011, that would have created 400,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and firefighters, ALL Senate Republicans again stood fast: no tax increase for richest Americans.

Long after allegations against Herman Cain have faded into oblivion, this week’s top story – the continuing refusal of the GOP to commiserate with Americans who need and want to work – will screw this country.

Ah, there is a little sex in the top story after all.

11.02.2011

'Trash heap of discredited ideas'

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Vice President Dick Cheney might be at odds, but both are out there hawking their books and agreeing that Bush’s invasion of Iraq somehow inspired the Arab Spring.

They fail to acknowledge the obvious: the people of Iraq did not voluntarily rise up against their tinpot dictator.

Book tour constraints must have been the reason Rice and Cheney missed the October 8 report in The Washington Post headlined “Iraq, siding with Iran, sends essential aid to Syria’s Assad.”

So, the Iraqi government is so thrilled with its newfound democracy – won with U.S. blood and treasure – that it is giving both “moral and financial support” to help quell democratic uprisings elsewhere?

Finally, Rice and Cheney must have missed the advice Steven Cook of The Council on Foreign Relations offered back in July:

“It is time to put the Bush boosters’ arguments where they belong: in the trash heap of discredited ideas. There is no connection between the invasion of Iraq and Arab efforts to throw off generations of dictatorship.”

10.30.2011

Just Wright for Halloween

My fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright – not just his architecture, but the man himself – began when I was a high school senior. I went along with a friend to visit her classmate who lived in Fountainhead, the Jackson, Mississippi, home designed and built for the J. Willis Hughes family. I remember the boy telling us Wright had lived with his family for three months before designing their home in order to get a feel for each member's individual personality.

In the years since I have toured Wright’s homes and buildings in many areas of the country, including Taliesin, his hillside home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. In the dark and verdant family plot down the road from Taliesin, I picked a wild vine from the architect’s grave, planting it in a Styrofoam cup to keep. Near his grave stands a marker bearing his epitaph, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no occasion to change.”

For more about this fascinating man, I recommend Brendan Gill’s biography, “Many Masks.”

Many people are unaware of the real-life horror story that haunted Wright throughout his long and colorful life. I found this succinct version on Wikipedia:

BACKGROUND: MAMAH

In 1903, Wright designed a house for Edwin Cheney, a neighbor in Oak Park, Illinois, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist, and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for almost 20 years. Often the two could be seen taking rides in Wright's automobile through Oak Park, and they became the talk of the town. Wright's wife, Kitty, sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Neither would Edwin Cheney grant one to Mamah. In 1909, even before the Robie House was completed, Wright and Mamah Cheney went together to Europe, leaving their own spouses and children behind. The scandal that erupted virtually destroyed Wright's ability to practice architecture in the United States.

THE TRAGEDY

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago, Julian Carlton, a male servant from Barbados who had been hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin) and murdered seven people with an axe as the fire burned. The dead included Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; a gardener; a draftsman named Emil Brodelle; a workman; and another workman's son. Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. Carlton swallowed muriatic acid immediately following the attack in an attempt to kill himself. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but was taken to the Dodgeville jail. Carlton died from starvation seven weeks after the attack, despite medical attention.

***

To my knowledge no motive was given for the axe murders, other than the story that the Barbados manservant "went mad." Wright, 47 years old at the time, died in 1959 at age 91. Following the tragedy, he went on to become America's premiere architect.

10.26.2011

'The rich get richer'

My mother had a treasure trove of truisms which expressed her wisdom – none more so, in light of current trends, than “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

In a display of classic doublespeak Republican Party leaders have accused Democrats of “class warfare” when they themselves are in all-out war against America’s working poor and middle class.

Why anyone of sound mind and a clear conscience would vote for these greedy charlatans is beyond me.

On October 21, after blocking a Senate vote on that portion of President Obama’s jobs plan which would have put more teachers and first responders to work and more paychecks in the pockets of these respected and vital people, Senate Minority Leader Mtch McConnell (R-KY) delivered this doublespeak after Democrats that same day blocked a GOP-backed proposal to repeal a 3 percent withholding requirement for all government contractors:

"It's hard to understand why Democrats would block this bipartisan effort to protect jobs - a provision of the president's bill. I've said a number of times in recent days that the president doesn't want Congress to pass his jobs bill; he wants to blame Republicans and use it on the campaign trail."

The hypocrisy overwhelms. What McConnell didn’t say was that, as reported, “The measure was part of Obama's broad jobs package and has Democratic supporters. However, Democrats and Republicans disagreed over how to offset the costs of eliminating the withholding.”

In their continuing warfare against the working poor and middle class, the field of GOP presidential hopefuls is proposing tax plans which are sheer lunacy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed 20 percent flat tax rate certainly would make “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” While it would lower taxes on America’s wealthiest, it will increase taxes on 99 percent of Americans. Yeah, that’s a plan.

Equally egregious in this reverse-Robin Hood ripoff to rob from the poor to give to the rich are the dreams and schemes of other Republican wannabes. As reported by the Center for American Progress:

• Mitt Romney: Romney’s tax plan includes a $6.6 TRILLION giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, Romney’s Medicaid cuts are even more draconian than the ones in Paul Ryan's plan. Both of their plans also end Medicare, naturally.

• Herman Cain: Cain’s now infamous 9-9-9 Plan would raise taxes on most Americans, while slashing taxes for millionaires by an average of $487,300 each.

• Jon Huntsman: Huntsman’s plan would introduce new taxes on veterans, seniors, the working poor, middle class Americans, students and many others in order to give the top 0.1 percent an annual tax of nearly $500,000 each.

• Michele Bachmann: Bachmann’s plan includes a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy paid for in part by increasing taxes on the working poor.

Are the rich getting richer? The New York Times reported yesterday:

“The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, in a new report likely to figure prominently in the escalating political fight over how to revive the economy, create jobs and lower the federal debt.

“In addition, the report said, government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income.”

Are the poor getting poorer? According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report released 13 September 2011:

“The ranks of the nation's poor swelled to nearly 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment woes left millions of Americans struggling and out of work.”

The report further shows that “Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959.”

And, what about the middle class? It’s no secret it’s dwindling. On 15 September 2011, Forbes.com issued a report titled “America’s Vanishing Middle Class,” which should be a wake-up call.

Why then do so many of America’s working poor and middle class continue to vote for Republican candidates hellbent to continue this trend?

I once was involved in defeating a crook who each time he ran for county superintendent of education pulled out his walking cane and developed a limp as he walked around the courthouse.

The answer is simple: every election cycle the Republicans pull out those old trusty walking canes of “God, gays, guns and abortion.”

Isn’t it time those of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires drop these one-issue, myopic stances, show our true patriotism and look at the big picture of what is most harmful to most Americans?

10.23.2011

Hatred in a young heart

I came of age in Mississippi during the civil rights movement – a witness to history. A lasting impression from those days as a young woman right out of high school is that the rest of the nation seemed to deny that racisim existed beyond the borders of my home state.

I could relate numerous brushes with the stories which have seeped into our conciousness. Here are a few:

• Assisting writer William Bradford Huie with an article he wrote for Cavalier magazine about Mack Charles Parker, who was lynched on my birthday the year before I graduated from high school.

• Witnessing a carload of neighbors head out for Ole Miss to “do something about” James Meredith’s entry there and marrying a man who was marshaled to quell the violence as a member of the Mississippi National Guard.

• Having an extended family member who was friends with Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, one of those linked to the slayings of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney.

• Working in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, when “Thompson’s Tank” (Mayor Allen C. Thompson) was hauling newly arrived “Freedom Riders” off to an improvised jail at the state fairgrounds.

• Being sent home by my bosses because a sit-in at the nearby Woolworth’s lunch counter threatened to erupt into violence – then seeing them both appear in a photo of the incident in Life magazine.

• Reading a daily newspaper where the editor, Jimmy Ward, used the word “nigger” in front-page editorials.

• Being emotionally devastated when the grandmother of a four-year-old relative proudly showed me the little boy’s photo in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Today, at age 69, I am privy to the fact that racism, however subtle, still exists and perhaps always will. I am thankful I learned to abhor it.

This is the story of what such prejucice can do to a young and impressionable mind.

CNN’s investigative team takes an in-depth look at the “backpack of hatred” carried by the Brandon, Mississippi, teenager who is accused of murdering a black man, because he was black.

“Teen murder suspect carried ‘backpack of hatred’” is hard to take and even carries an editor’s warning that the report contains language which might offend some readers. READ IT HERE.

This well-researched and well-written report is followed up tonight with "Mississippi Still Burning?" on CNN Presents, at 8 and 11 ET.

10.20.2011

Obama's prescient words

It seems like yesterday that, recalling the phrase “Prague Spring,” I was emailing friends inquiring about the sudden appearance of a new term, “Arab Spring.”

Moammar Gadhafi and I go back decades to the early 1980s when his name was spelled Khadafy and I was editor on a world news desk.

This morning, as news came of the death of the former Libyan leader, I could not help reflecting on an earlier breaking news story:

OSLO – President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.
- The Associated Press, 9 October 2009, LINK

To those who scoffed at that announcement and in light of all that has occurred during this “Arab Spring,” I can think of no better time to reflect on President Obama’s sppech made on 4 June 2009 at Cairo University. There is a copy of the speech – “A New Beginning” - in The Reading Room.

There is no question that our president’s prescient words planted a seed in the minds of peoples who have lived in regions of tyranny and turmoil.

Our president.

Isn’t it time this man is given the respect he has earned and deserves?

10.19.2011

Shrinking paychecks possible

If your paycheck is suddenly smaller in January, don’t even think about blaming Obama.

A CNN report explains a portion of the president’s jobs plan, which Senate Republicans voted against:

“The largest measure in the (jobs) package is the payroll tax cut, which comes at a projected cost of $265 billion. Employees normally pay 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages into Social Security, but they are now paying only 4.2%. That break is set to expire at the end of December. Obama wants to cut the tax in half, to 3.1%.”

So, let’s look at how this would affect a worker with an annual income of $80,000:

* If the current cuts EXPIRE at the end of the year, this payroll tax will be $4,960.

* If the tax cuts REMAIN THE SAME, this payroll tax will be $3,360.

* If this portion of Obama’s jobs bill PASSES, this payroll tax will be $2,480.

* If this measure in Obama’s jobs plan FAILS, $2,480 in payroll savings will be lost to the worker in the coming year.

* If you suddenly find your paycheck is smaller in 2012, be sure to write your Republican representatives in Washington a “thank you” note.

10.16.2011

A bully pulpit

I am a Christian and a former member of Southern Baptist Convention churches. When fundamentalists began their takeover of the SBC in the early 1980s – quashing any liberal thinking by filling its seminary faculties and college boards of trustees with right-wing ideologues, I left the “flock.” The SBC has gone so far in recent years as to expunge the writings of its former president Herschel H. Hobbs.

Hobbs’ “Fundamentals of Our Faith” laid forth the very cornerstones of Southern Baptist beliefs for a generation of members and did so with wisdom.

What I learned from childhood – from my parents and my church – stays with me and provides an inner gyroscope which helps me keep my balance in a world where the teachings of Jesus Christ have been skewed to fit an ideological mold.

In light of history, I believe in separation of church and state, but that doesn’t make me a member of some Godless “intellectual elite” or “secular elite.”

Frankly, I resent the negative connotation given to intelligence in the following article.

Here then are the views of a man who is in a position to influence greatly what is being proclaimed from the pulpits of the nation’s largest Protestant organization.

SOURCE: CNN Belief Blog

My Take: Are evangelicals dangerous?

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Special to CNN
October 15, 2011

Here we go again.

Every four years, with every new presidential election cycle, public voices sound the alarm that the evangelicals are back. What is so scary about America’s evangelical Christians?

Just a few years ago, author Kevin Phillips told intellectual elites to run for cover, claiming that well-organized evangelicals were attempting to turn America into a theocratic state. In “American Theocracy,” Phillips warned of the growing influence of Bible-believing, born-again, theologically conservative voters who were determined to create a theocracy.

Writer Michelle Goldberg, meanwhile, has warned of a new Christian nationalism, based in “dominion theology.” Chris Hedges topped that by calling conservative Christians “American fascists.”

And so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris claim that conservative Christians are nothing less than a threat to democracy. They prescribe atheism and secularism as the antidotes.

This presidential cycle, the alarms have started earlier than usual. Ryan Lizza, profiling Rep. Michele Bachmann for The New Yorker, informed his readers that “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.

Change just a few strategic words and the same would be true of Barack Obama or any other presidential candidate. Every candidate is shaped by influences not known to all and by institutions that other Americans might find strange.

What stories like this really show is that the secular elites assume that their own institutions and leaders are normative.

The New Yorker accused Bachmann of being concerned with developing a Christian worldview, ignoring the fact that every thinking person operates out of some kind of worldview. The article treated statements about wifely submission to husbands and Christian influence in art as bizarre and bellicose.

When Rick Perry questioned the theory of evolution, Dawkins launched into full-on apoplexy, wondering aloud how anyone who questions evolution could be considered intelligent, even as polls indicate that a majority of Americans question evolution.

Bill Keller, then executive editor of The New York Times, topped all the rest by seeming to suggest that conservative Christians should be compared to those who believe in space aliens. He complained that “when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

Really? Earlier this month, comedian Penn Jillette - a well–known atheist - wrote a very serious op-ed complaining of the political influence of “bugnut Christians,” in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, no less. Detect a pattern here?

By now, this is probably being read as a complaint against the secular elites and prominent voices in the mainstream media. It’s not.

If evangelicals intend to engage public issues and cultural concerns, we have to be ready for the scrutiny and discomfort that comes with disagreement over matters of importance. We have to risk being misunderstood - and even misrepresented - if we intend to say anything worth hearing.

Are evangelicals dangerous? Well, certainly not in the sense that more secular voices warn. The vast majority of evangelicals are not attempting to create a theocracy, or to oppose democracy.

To the contrary, evangelicals are dangerous to the secularist vision of this nation and its future precisely because we are committed to participatory democracy.

As Christians committed to the Bible, evangelicals have learned to advocate on behalf of the unborn, believing that every single human being, at every stage of development, is made in God’s image.

Evangelicals worry about the fate of marriage and the family, believing that the pattern for human relatedness set out in Scripture will lead to the greatest human flourishing.

We are deeply concerned about a host of moral and cultural issues, from how to address poverty to how to be good stewards of the earth, and on some of these there is a fairly high degree of disagreement even among us.

Above all, evangelicals are those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are most concerned about telling others about Jesus. Most of America’s evangelical Christians are busy raising their children, working to support their families and investing energy in their local churches.

But over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.

We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

***

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10.13.2011

The dark world of Greg Iles

Greg Iles’ novels are like cats: each has its own distinct personality. But, Iles, as he describes one of his characters, is “a different breed of cat.” The villains of his imagination are like black cats, waiting, like the deepest shadows of the human soul, to cross our paths.

Iles goes beyond the imagined horrors in Stephen King’s mind. His bad guys exceed the power- and wealth-crazed antagonists of fellow Mississippian John Grisham. Iles has a frightening consciousness of the blackest soul, writing psycho-thrillers which consume you and propel you toward redemption – the knowledge that good must surely triumph over evil.

He inflicts innocent lives with the darkest Dickensian hearts, sweeping them into whirlppols, cesspools and bottomless pools of danger where revenge and survival are only possible by fighting evil with evil – a Freudian look into ourselves.

Only when evil is destroyed, can we emerge from humnity’s sinister underbelly into a world of light and hope, and therein lies Iles’ skill.

The only offering in my experience which comes close to this skill is David Lynch’s film, “Blue Velvet.” And, if you think Frank Booth personifies creepy, you have much to learn from Iles.

“Diabolical” and “a tour de force of suspence,” People magazine describes one book. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal says of another, “A novel which could have as easily and terrifyingly been set in the Kansas of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’” “The pace is frenetic, the fear and paranoia palpable, and the characters heartbreakingly honest,” a Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer writes. No need to single out titles: these reviews cover Iles’ bibliography.

The following titles, available to me from Talking Books for the Visually Impaired, should be read in chronological order as Iles builds on the stories of on-going characters:

The WWII Books:

Spandau Phoenix, 1992
Black Cross, 1995

The Crime Thrillers:

Mortal Fear, 1997
The Quiet Game, 1999
24 Hours, 2000
Dead Sleep, 2001
Sleep No More, 2002
Blood Memory, 2005
Turning Angel, 2005
True Evil, 2006
Third Degree, 2007
The Devil's Punchbowl, 2009

These are the titles I anxiously await:

Unwritten Laws: The Bone Tree (Announced for 2011, tentative title)
Unwritten Laws: The Trial of Tom Cage (Announced, tentative title)

***

A little background on Iles:

• Born in 1960 in Stuttgart, Germany, where his father was a physician and ran the U.S. Embassy Medical Clinic.

• Reared in Natchez, Mississippi. He married his high-school sweetheart, and they currently reside in Natchez.

• A graduate of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), he played guitar and sang with the rock band “Frankly Scarlet” for eight years before beginning his writing career.

• He is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainder, a rock band formed with noted authors, including Scott Turow, Stephen King and Amy Tan.

• Eight of his books have appeared on the NYT bestseller list.

Once you have learned more about Iles, it is easy to spot the autobiographical elements in his books.

Iles’ personal favorites are “Mortal Fear” and “The Quiet Game:” mine are “Black Cross” and “The Quiet Game.”

GREG ILES OFFICIAL WEB SITE

10.11.2011

Just asking

Christopher A. Sims of Princeton, awarded the Nobel Prize in economic science yesterday, will split the $1.49 million prize with co-honoree Thomas J. Sargent of New York University.

“Asked how he would invest his share of the winnings, Sims said he would keep it in cash while he considers what to do with it,” CNN.com reports.

Is it a tocsin when a Nobel laureate in economics says he’s going to “keep it in cash” for a while?

Just asking.

10.08.2011

The Dirty Dozen Bank Secrets

Did you recently get a letter from your bank saying that since you’re “such a valued customer,” your bank accounts are being changed to offer you the best service money can buy – your money?

The great new advantages of your new accounts: free checking accounts will now charge fees and accounts which already charge fees will see them increased.

Oh, and if your debit card costs more, banks say it’s all because new regulations are forcing them to, well, screw you.

From the Progress Report, Center for American Progress, 7 October 2011, here are 12 facts you need to know about the nation’s biggest banks:

• Bank profits are highest since before the recession: According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), bank profits in the first quarter of this year were “the best for the industry since the $36.8 billion earned in the second quarter of 2007.” JP Morgan Chase is currently pulling in record profits

• … even as the banks plan thousands of layoffs: Banks, including Bank of America, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers.

• Banks make nearly one-third of total corporate profits: The financial sector accounts for about 30 percent of total corporate profits, which is actually down from before the financial crisis, when they made closer to 40 percent.

• Since 2008, the biggest banks have gotten bigger: Due to the failure of small competitors and mergers facilitated during the 2008 crisis, the nation’s biggest banks — including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — are now bigger than they were pre-recession. Pre-crisis, the four biggest banks held 32 percent of total deposits; now they hold nearly 40 percent.

• The four biggest banks issue 50 percent of mortgages and 66 percent of credit cards: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup issue one out of every two mortgages and nearly two out of every three credit cards in America.

• The 10 biggest banks hold 60 percent of bank assets: In the 1980s, the 10 biggest banks controlled 22 percent of total bank assets. Today, they control 60 percent.

• The six biggest banks hold assets equal to 63 percent of the country’s GDP: In 1995, the six biggest banks in the country held assets equal to about 17 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Now their assets equal 63 percent of GDP.

• The five biggest banks hold 95 percent of derivatives: Nearly the entire market in derivatives — the credit instruments that helped blow up some of the nation’s biggest banks as well as mega-insurer AIG — is dominated by just five firms: JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo.

• Banks cost households nearly $20 trillion in wealth: Almost $20 trillion in wealth was destroyed by the Great Recession, and total family wealth is still down “$12.8 trillion (in 2011 dollars) from June 2007 — its last peak.”

• Big banks don’t lend to small businesses: The New Rules Project notes that the country’s 20 biggest banks “devote only 18 percent of their commercial loan portfolios to small business.”

• Big banks paid 5,000 bonuses of at least $1 million in 2008: According to the New York Attorney General’s office, “nine of the financial firms that were among the largest recipients of federal bailout money paid about 5,000 of their traders and bankers bonuses of more than $1 million apiece for 2008.”

• In the last few decades, regulations on the biggest banks have been systematically eliminated, while those banks engineered more and more ways to both rip off customers and turn ever-more complex trading instruments into ever-higher profits. It makes perfect sense, then, that a movement calling for an economy that works for everyone would center its efforts on an industry that exemplifies the opposite.

10.07.2011

Quote of the Day

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society."

- The Nobel committee in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 to three female rights activists, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.

10.04.2011

Attitude Adjustment

All his rowdy friends have settled down, but Hank Williams, Jr., is still a loose cannon. (I saw him on stage in concert smashing expensive guitars against expensive sound equipment.)

I love Hank, Jr.’s music, though, for the same reason ESPN has featurd his open to “Monday Night Football:” he brings out the shitkicker in his audience.

By now, I’m sure the blogosphere is ablaze with Williams’ comparison of President Barack Obama to Hitler while likening his Republican golf opponents to Benjamin Netanyahu. (LINK)

In a statement after ESPN canned him, Williams said,“Every time the media brings up the tea party, it's painted as racist and extremists. but there's never a backlash, no outrage to those comparisons ... Working-class people are hurting, and it doesn't seem like anybody cares.”

Well now, Hank, that’s where you’re wrong. The Democratic Party cares about working-class Americans, but every effort in their behalf is shot down by Republicans. The GOP seeks to overturn decades of struggles to help the so-called common folk.

And therein lies one of the biggest mysteries witnessed by this longtime political observer: I simply do not understand how the Republican Party – the champion of big money and big business – has convinced the working poor and the middle class it’s on their side.

I am learning, though, that many WASPs - white Anglo-Saxon protestants - simply see themselves as the only true Americans, which, of course, excludes everyone else, including our president.

Hank, these people you care about so much: nothing short of an epiphany will remove their blinders to the fact they’ve been suckered.

What is needed is an “Attitude Adjustment.”

10.03.2011

Gimme a break!

It's time for this motor mouth to SHUT UP!

9.29.2011

Good news if you missed it

I am listening to Mississippi writer Greg Iles’ “The Footprints of God” in which (spoiler warning) a dying billionaire is attempting to achieve immortality and God-like power by transferring his brain to a supercomputer. (A little closer to possible than in the days of "Open the pod bay door, Hal.")

In this book, Iles explains “The Mushroom Treatment:” “Keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit.”

Forget any perceived resemblance to Rupert Murdoch, Iles’ “Mushroom Treatment” has for too long been the goal of Fox News Channel. Given the cable news (I use the term loosely) network’s ratings and undeniable influence on its viewers (aka "fans"), the following is really good news from CEO Roger Ailes:

Roger Ailes: Fox News Is On A 'Course Correction' Away From Far Right

The Huffington Post/Jack Mirkinson (LINK)
September 26, 2011

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has given one of his typically candid interviews to Newsweek. The interview was published Monday (9/26/11).

For a man who first made his name as a media guru for Richard Nixon, Ailes is often surprisingly forthcoming about Fox News and his opinions. In previous interviews, he has called NPR executives "Nazis" (he later apologized), said he didn't mind if people thought Glenn Beck was fired from the channel, and admitted that he wants both Bill and Hillary Clinton to join Fox News.

Behind the scenes, Ailes is reported to have clashed with Sarah Palin and told Beck to cool his more controversial rhetoric.

Monday's interview offered up more of Ailes' unvarnished opinions about his network and his employees. He made a big admission to Newsweek, saying that he has made a "course correction" at Fox News, veering it away from the hard-right line it took in the earlier days of the Obama administration. (Ailes offered a preview of this strategy in January, when he told Russell Simmons that he had ordered his anchors and pundits to "tone it down" in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.) Beck's departure, as well as a more nuanced approach to his most famous pundit, Sarah Palin, have been part of that strategy, Ailes said.

He also spoke openly about many of his anchors, saying that Bill O'Reilly "hates" Sean Hannity because he's jealous of his radio success (and thus confirming years of rumors about the animosity between the two).

Ailes also called Hannity "predictable" and said that he sometimes has to have a word with Shepard Smith when Smith says things that may not go over well with the Fox News crowd. (He didn't say whether he was referring to Smith's seemingly pro-union comments about the Wisconsin protests, or his saying that the killing of Osama bin Laden was illegal and that American foreign policy is on a dangerous path.)

BJ NOTE: The full Newsweek article is fascinating. Ailes discusses his relationships with GOP presidential hopefuls, including Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Good stuff! Read it HERE.

***

Thanks to frequent DemWit reader "Tiny" for keeping me on my toes and not letting this one get by me.

9.26.2011

A lingering question

There was a time when I ate, drank and slept sports – circa Brooklyn Dodgers through Archie Manning at Ole Miss. My interest waned when sports – college and professional – became all about big money.

So, it’s not surprising that the book I’m listening to has rekindled a lingering question. In Greg Iles’ “The Devil’s Punchbowl,” the evil that men do manifests itself in an illegal international dog-fighting ring. Iles’ descriptions of the brutality of these events, the breeding behind them and the bloodlust of spectators chills the soul. Tragically, a dog's "game" - the instinct to kill - depends on its loyalty to its master.

Iles' book is set in Natchez, Mississippi, in a state where participation in dog fighting is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

Anyone who gets off on watching animals bred for violence tear each other apart is sick – evil to the core. Could such a person change? Could Michael Vick?

To refresh your memory, Wikipedia says, “In April 2007, Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring that had operated over five years. In August 2007, he pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement. With the loss of his NFL salary and product endorsement deals, combined with previous financial mismanagement, Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank did not want Vick on the Falcons, and after attempts to trade him failed, Vick was released. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and was reinstated in Week 3 of the 2009 season.”

Now, just four years after Vick's guilty plea, I was stunned to learn recently that he had signed a six-year, $100 milliion contract with the Eagles.

The price of a quarterback.

How can anyone call this “sports”? This is no more sports than two pit bulks ripping each other’s throats out.

In a so-called civilized society the only thing that has changed since the days of the Colosseum is the price of the tickets or the big-screen TV.

9.23.2011

After-midnight madness

Why in hell am I doing this? The political blogging experience is a two-edged sword. You find yourself either preaching to the choir or leading horses to water they stubbornly refuse to drink. Either result is ineffectual.

Well, somebody’s gotta do it. Am I na├»ve enough to think I can change the world? No. But, if I can inform just one person who might otherwise miss something as important as this post, I’m willing to do what it takes.

There was a vote in the U.S. House Wednesday that got almost unheard of bipartisan support. The 195 to 230 vote killed a measure which would have robbed a successful job-producing program in order to fund disaster aid for Americans.

The jobs program has created 40,000 new jobs in 11 states, has the potential of creating 50,000 to 60,000 more and will save Americans millions of gallons of gasoline.

The Democrats voted against the measure for obvious reasons. Robbing Peter to pay Paul should not rob Americans of much-needed jobs or disaster aid.

The Republicans voted against the measure  because the $1.5 billion was not ENOUGH to steal from the jobs program.

So, after freely funding rebuilding programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are holding back on disaster relief for Americans.

My God, I thought, people need to know these facts. So, why do they prefer to ignore them? I'm betting many Americans, including those who need jobs and those who need or will need disaster aid, are paying little attention to what goes on in the U.S. House.

Some who have read this far will think I’m feeding them a load of Democratic BS. I honestly wish I were.

Read the backstory HERE.

In a spate of after-midnight madness, House Republicans did it – passed a measure by a vote of 219 to 203 to keep the government running a little longer by cutting disaster aid to Americans.

Now, they are ready for a week-long break. But, Mr. Reid says not so fast, the Senate is prepared to forfeit a break to fight this measure.  Read this breaking story HERE.

There might come a day when those who represent us in Washington fight for Americans instead of having to fight each other. My money's on the Democrats.

9.19.2011

A pilgrimage most sacred

DemWit readers have followed Father Tim Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathoic Church in Farmington, New Mexico, on many travels. We have climbed with him to the top of Mount Sinai, walked the paths of his Irish ancestors and sat with him as he pondered genocide in Rwanda.

This spring Father Tim made that journey most sacred in the hearts of all of us: a trip “home,” in every sense of the word.

As I read the following account of Tim’s journey through the South, many quotes about “home” came to mind while trying to decide if his visits with family would be of interest to readers.

Of course they will, for so many of us, separated by distance and time from those we hold dearest, will understand. In quiet moments, we have all traveled the streets and backroads of our youth, sat with loved ones on porch swings, listened to the stories of our elders  and stood by sacred gravesides.

Here, then, is Father Tim’s latest pilgrimage:

It is quite cathartic to simply drive across miles and miles of America and have no real timeline. I started out on a very windy morning in late May heading first to Apache, Oklahoma. It was a bright, Spring day, and it felt good to be on the road without any plans to make for the day other than to reach my brother Mike's home by evening.

Hours on the open road open the mind, ease the stress and anxiety, allow a person to let worries dislodge and float away. I crossed into Texas heading for Amarillo, and the wind grew more severe. I looked at the rather ominous clouds forming. The radio was beginning to alert me to possible tornadoes in the area. By late afternoon across the southern Oklahoma border, the winds had died down but the clouds were now a sickish yellow and angry looking. Tornadoes had struck near Anadarko, Oklahoma, the radio reported, not far from where I was at that time, and a tornado was now heading for Oklahoma City. I kept looking up at the skies, a bit worried that I was in the middle of a real Oklahoma whopper of a storm. I prayed.

I made it to my brother's home without incident, but very happy to be settled in the midst of the storms. My brother Mike and his wife Kelly and their family live on my mother's childhood home in a tiny community called Boone, 30 miles from Lawton. My mother and father are buried nearby in a beautiful little cemetery. I spent two wonderful days visiting, drinking in the beauty of the farm. The old farmhouse where my mother and her siblings were raised still stands but is now in shambles. My brother's home is built down the lane from it. So many memories . . . On the morning I left, I stopped by my parents' graves at sunrise, and a golden glow fell upon their headstones, and I thanked God for giving me such wonderful parents. I asked them to help me in life. I always do. They always did, and they still do.

I drove on full throttle to Memphis, Tennessee, and stopped by to see Jeffrey Chiapetti. Jeff was a young man from my days as head of the youth group at Cathedral in Gallup. Our original plans were that we would have lunch. But I ran late, and his schedule for a later lunch fell through. Then we were going to have an early dinner, but I got in later still, so that fell through. I called Jeff and simply said, "Jeff, we'll do this another time." "No, Father, I want to visit with you, so just get off the Interstate, and we can visit in my store." Now, Jeff is quite a success story. He is manager of several I.O. Metro stores in the Southeast. I.O. Metro is an upscale interior design store. When I arrived Jeff and I had a wonderful visit, if a short one. He was hosting designer Vern Yip, and the television celebrity would arrive any minute. So I gave Jeff a blessing, we hugged, and I got out of the way. Jeff and the staff were dressed to the hilt. I, on the other hand, was scruffy from a full day of travel. Guess who didn't fit into this scenario?

I got into Tupelo, Mississippi., by late afternoon to my sister Mary's house. Mary and her husband Glenn have a son and two daughters. Van, my nephew, was in Florida with his buddies for a graduation outing. Could he really be a graduated senior in high school? Really? Along with the three children, there are four or five dogs, big and small. Glenn is a veterinarian and brings home the forgotten little ones no one else wants. There's a three-legged dog who is actually the leader of the pack, and then I really fell in love with the tiny one who had real attitude. Mary's home is situated on a large property where the dogs can run freely, and I'd sit outside with my sister, and we would visit and laugh. Daddy and Mama each have a tree in their memory. I remember Mama, who lived here in her last months, asking me if I thought we would plant a tree in her memory like Daddy's. I let Mary know, and there her tree is, standing proudly near Daddy's.

While in Tupelo, we visited Elvis Presley's birthplace, which is quite a nice memorial. His little home where he was born and raised is there. His first cousin who grew up with him gives the tour of the house, a sweet older lady with those Elvis Presley eyes. There is a little Church of Christ church there where Elvis used to worship and where he first performed publicly.

I travelled on in a couple of days to Louin, Missisippi, to visit my sister Ruth and my brother Joe, who live not too far from each other. It was two days filled with barbecue and long visits. Ruth has an enclosed porch where we would sit and watch the fireflies lighting up in the deep Mississippi darkness of the pine forests surrounding us.

I celebrated Mass that Saturday afternoon for Joe and Ruth and Jay, Ruth's husband. I anointed both Joe and Ruth who have been experiencing health problems. My priesthood is never put on a shelf, of course, and I love that aspect of my life. On Sunday morning I drove on through the fog-laden roads through some of the backroads of southern Mississippi, crossing over into Louisiana, my birth state, and headed down toward Baton Rouge. Around lunchtime, I stopped by a Cajun store where they served po-boys. Now, there is nothing like a po-boy from southern Louisiana. I got the shrimp po-boy, and it was such a huge, delicious sandwich that I ate part of it and then saved the rest for a snack. The Cajuns are simple folk who love life and show that love not only in their music, but in the way they make a simple sandwich.

I made it to Houston by evening and went over to my Uncle Eugene's home. He is in his early 90s now, the last surviving sibling of my mother's side. He is a gentle, thoughtful man, and he and I visited that evening for several hours, eating fried chicken he had picked up earlier. Doug, his son with whom he lives, sat and visited with us. Family is so therapeutic. Just visiting and eating is a healing enterprise.

I stayed the night, and the next morning I headed toward Dallas to visit my Uncle Marty, also in his 90s, my father's only surviving sibling. He and my Aunt Shirley live in Athens, Texas, and we had lunch together. We had a wonderful couple of hours and then off I headed for home. I stayed that evening in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then the next morning through Texas back to the Land of Enchantment.

Those quiet days of driving and visiting were a wonderful way to pray, to let go, to ponder, to come to peace, all wrapped into one. We all need a drive down the long road from time to time. We all need reconnecting with family. We all need the simple visits with loved ones along the way, no special itinerary. Just driving, looking in the rearview mirror, living in the now, looking to the future with hope, and letting go.

***

9.14.2011

'The Perry Tales'

Texans have long been known for stretching the truth, but I don’t see the latest tales coming out of Texas ending “happily ever after.”

Not when voters take the time to separate fact and fiction.

Jim Hightower is an author, a nationally syndicated columnist and a radio commentator. He is a Texan who knows Texas politics. According to his Web site:

“Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom, and he has become a leading national voice for the 80 percent of the public who no longer find themselves within shouting distance of the Washington and Wall Street powers at the top.”

The eyes of this longtime Texas observer are upon the state’s governor, and before DemWit’s conservative readers get excited over presidential prospects, read on as Hightower pulls back the curtain on “The Perry Tales.” Thanks, Jim, for permission to reprint!

The Perry Tales
Rick Is Not Who He Says He Is

by Jim Hightower
31 Augsut 2011

Presidential wannabe Rick Perry is flitting all around the country — hither, thither and yon — spreading little "Perry Tales" about himself and the many wonders he has worked as governor of Texas.

His top Perry Tale is a creationist story about what he has modestly branded "The Texas Miracle." While the rest of the country is mired in joblessness, says the miracle worker, his state has added 1.2 million jobs during his 10-year tenure.

I've built "a job-creating machine," the governor gushed during one of his recent flits across Iowa, and a Perry PR aide smugly added, "The governor's job creation record speaks for itself."

Actually, it doesn't. Far from having the best unemployment rate in the nation, the Lone Star State ranks a middling 26th, behind New York, Massachusetts and other states whose "liberal" governments he routinely mocks.

Even more damning, Perry's Texas is not creating nearly enough jobs to keep up with its fast-growing population. Those 1.2 million new positions are 629,000 short of the jobs needed just to bring the state's employment level back up to where it was in 2007. Some miracle.

Worse, probe even a millimeter into the million-jobs number that he is sprinkling around like fairy dust, and you'll learn that Perry's jobs are mostly "jobettes" that can't sustain a family. They come with very low pay, no health care or pension, and no employment security, labor rights or upward mobility — many are only part-time and/or temporary positions.

Here's a particularly revealing stat that the Perry pixies don't want us to see: On his watch as governor, Texas added more minimum wage jobs than all the other 49 states combined. More than half a million Texans now work for $7.25 an hour or less. He can brag that he's brought Texans down into a tie with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers reduced to poverty pay.

Spreading even more fairy dust, Perry claims that his Texas Miracle is the result of him keeping the government out of the private sector's way. But peek behind that ideological curtain, and you'll find this startling fact: During Perry's decade, the greatest job growth by far has come from the public sector, which has more than doubled the number of new jobs created by the private sector.

One out of six employed Texans are now teachers, police officers, highway engineers, military personnel or other government workers — and many of these jobs were created with the federal money that Perry-the-candidate now loudly denounces. Indeed, he's running around ranting about President Obama's stimulus program, but he gladly accepted the third highest amount of stimulus funds taken by the 50 states. There's his miracle.

Interestingly, even his tea-partyish hatred — nay, loathing! — of big government's intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens turns out to be just another Perry Tale. In fact, there would be no Rick Perry without the steady "intrusion" of government into his life.

Local taxpayers in Haskell County put him through their public school system — for free. He and his family were dry-land cotton farmers, and federal taxpayers helped support them with thousands of dollars in crop subsidies — Perry personally took $80,000 in farm payments.

State and federal taxpayers financed his college education at Texas A&M, even giving him the extracurricular opportunity to be a cheerleader. Upon graduation, he spent four years on the federal payroll as an Air Force transport pilot who never did any combat duty.

Then, in 1984, Perry hit the mother lode of government pay by moving into elected office — squatting there for 27 years and counting. In addition to getting regular paychecks from taxpayers for nearly three decades as a state representative, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor, he also receives platinum-level health care coverage and a generous pension from the state, plus $10,000 a month for renting a luxury suburban home, a covey of political and personal aides and even a publicly paid subscription to Food & Wine magazine.

So when this taxpayer-supported lifer flits into your town to declare that he will slash public benefits and make government "as inconsequential as possible," he means in your life, not his.

Perry literally puts the "hype" in hypocrisy. Forget his tall tales and political B.S. — look at what he actually does.

***

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT JIM HIGHTOWER

9.10.2011

GOP caught in double fork

In a weekend when attention has turned to the past – 9/11 – and the present “threats” and “chatter” of another terrorist plot, I’m still working on the future.

I have read President Obama’s “jobs” speech and a number of reax articles, including a very thorough article on CNN.com this morning.

At the modern-day Tower of Babel known as Capitol Hill, reaction to Obama’s address to Congress is so varied it frankly gives me a headache, but it seems to me one thing is clear, the president has managed to turn the tables on the Republican-controlled House with his own double fork.

A double fork is a chess move where a player’s piece simultaneously attacks two of an opponent’s pieces, resulting in the capture of one of the pieces.

How does this relate to Election 2012?

On the one hand, according to the CNN.com article, House Republicans “unlike most Senate Republicans, face re-election races in 2012.” Possible support for Obama’s jobs plan “may stem from blunt messages they heard from constituents over the summer recess, as well as paltry public support according to recent polls.”

On the other hand, the GOP with a singular goal of defeating Obama in 2012 simply cannot let the president push through lesgislation which would put Americans to work and the country on a path to economic recovery.

If Washington fails to pass job-growth legislation now? Well, DemWit readers know what a stalemate is: that’s when nobody wins – in this case the American people.

9.06.2011

Lay off the red herrings

Pay attention in the GOP debates when Texas Gov. Rick Perry starts talking about doing away with “Obamacare.”

A Gallup poll released today, which surveyed 177,237 Americans daily from January to June 2011, has found that:

“Texas residents continue to be the most likely in the United States to lack health coverage, with 27.2 percent reporting being uninsured in the first half of 2011.”

(…)

“Eight of the 10 states with the highest uninsured rates in the country are in the South.”

They are, in order from the bottom up: Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia.

Republican states where citizens have been convinced the country's healthcare woes are the result of so-called “Obamacare.”

Diagnosis: A bad case of dumbass. Recommended treatment: Lay off the red herrings.

UPDATE: CNN promo on GOP debate Sept. 7:

“Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney clashed over job creation, health care”

For the record, the poll cited above found that Massachusetts tops the list of 50 states with the most citizens having health insurance.

Read the GOP debate wrapup HERE.

9.02.2011

'Annus horribilis'

In a year when Windsor Castle burned and her family was breaking up, Queen Elizabeth II bemoaned her “annus horrilibis.” The year 2011 is shaping up to be mine.

My problems have piled up so fast that I have reached the point where I would rather avoid emails or phone calls which ask, “How are you doing?” The debilitating act of complaining can erode the spirit, but, then, I’ve never really had that much to complain about. Until now.

So, without going into details – or additional details – about my woes, I’d like to mention some life lessons, which have helped me put them in perspective.

THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS CHRIST – Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus championed the meek and the poor. There are some 700 mentions of the poor in the New Testament, more than any other subject., and 407 were spoken by Jesus.

MARIE – When I was a young woman my Sunday School class got involved with the county welfare department in a project which took us into a world of backwoods Mississippi poverty we could never have imagined. A friend and I took as our “project” Marie. I do not know if our efforts eventually helped Marie and her children, but they taught us about the downward spiraling cycle of ignorance and hopelessness.

THOSE STRANDED BY KATRINA – For five days, I sat in the comfort of my home and watched in horror those stranded in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, asking myself, “How can this be happening in America?”

DOROTHEA LANGE’S “MIGRANT MOTHER” – In 1979, I viewed the Dorothea Lange collection of photos made during The Great Depression. (See Library of Congress collection HERE.) I stood for a long time and looked into the face of Lange’s “Migrant Mother” (shown above) until her despair burned into my soul.

JOHN STEINBECK’S “THE GRAPES OF WRATH” – Now, having just listened to Steinbeck’s desperate saga of the Joad family, I add this reminder of what poverty is and that it really does happen in America. While a fictional family, the reality of the Joads comes alive in Lange’s photographic record. Steinbeck insisted a complete copy of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in the first edition of his book – the anthem from which his title came.

This post was to have ended here, but I received a forwarded email mocking so-called “street people.” More and more prevalent in the news are expressions of disdain for those less fortunate. The belief that their lot in life is the result of laziness should stir our wrath.

Then, I noted this recent editorial in The New York Times:

“The New Resentment of the Poor” points out that Republican candidates and leaders are painting a picture of America's working poor that is “factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong.” Don’t let lies prevail, when a few minutes of reading will equip you with facts. READ THE EDITORIAL

There really are haves and have nots in this country – those who have compassion for the less fortunate and those who apparently have none.

Before you leave this page, look once more upon the face of the Migrant Mother. Consolation for our own petty problems is written there.

8.29.2011

Six years after Katrina: Lynn's story

As Hurricane Irene was churning toward the Eastern coastline, I sent out an email about an item on CNN’s “Political Ticker,” which had caught my attention. GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, libertarian and congressman from Texas, has declared the country doesn’t need FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The response I got from my longtime friend Lynn was so moving, I asked her for permission to share it with you.

Lynn Lofton is a freelance writer who lives near the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. Six years ago Hurricane Katrina’s wind, water and wrath swept through her home and assaulted her family. She writes about the effects of Katrina – and FEMA – on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and on her and her children, Tammy, Louann and Chip.

Lynn's story:

“Like any large bureaucracy, FEMA has problems and makes mistakes. However, as a recipent of FEMA funds after Hurricane Katrina, I hate to think where I would be without it. No one had a blueprint for a storm the size of Katrina. My town and others along the Mississippi Gulf Coast would not recover without FEMA.

“It's still ongoing as we're now in the midst of getting new water and sewer lines in my neighborhood. There have been some wonderful police, fire and other municipal facilities constructed with FEMA funds. Some families lost their homes, work places, schools, churches - everything. Thank goodness for FEMA and may no community ever have to go through another Katrina.”

Lynn then reflects on that disaster:

“Today is the sixth anniversary of Katrina so there are lots of reflections where I live.

“I've intently watched Hurricane Irene these past few days. It brought back so many memories. It was bad but it could have been so much worse. I'm glad it's over.

“Today is Tammy's birthday, so now it's forever marred for her as the day Katrina struck! Her home in New Orleans had water up to the roof line. She and her family were displaced for a long time. As a mother it was so unsettling not to be able to offer refuge to them, but my house was a mess, too. I had only about five feet of water, but it took two years to get it repaired.

“Chip was renting a house in Biloxi at the time. It had a small amount of water, and he was able to get back in quickly. He took in Tammy's two dogs, his boss' dog and had two of his own. He ran a kennel for a while!

“I actually was able to save some of my furniture, dishes and clothes. I took family photos and albums with me when I left. It was impossible to think of everything when evacuating. I lost baby books, high school yearbooks and things like that in addition to household items. It is accurate to say I lost most everything.

“Everything in the house had to be re-done (shored up the foundation, new plumbing, wiring, sheetrock, etc.). Because the windows and doors blew out I didn't have any mold. Consequently things dried out and some pieces of furniture were salvagable.

“I was from pillar to post but pretty much stayed with a good friend in Jackson, Miss., until I got a FEMA camper. It took six months for me to get a camper. because the paperwork kept going to the wrong place. I had five addresses within a very short time span!”

Life – so precious – goes on:

“Louann was supposed to get married in New Orleans on Sept. 17, 2005. Everything had been paid for and secured. Of course, that didn't happen in New Orleans so soon after Katrina. She was living in Arlington, Va., at that time. The wedding finally took place on Dec. 3 in Washington, D.C. When I evacuated the day before Katrina hit, my dress for her wedding was hanging in a garment bag outside my closet. For some crazy reason I grabbed it and took it with me. Anyone who's ever been the mother of the bride knows how difficult it is to find a suitable dress to wear - I guess I was taking no chances that I'd have to go through that search again!

“Anyway, she got married on a snowy December evening in D.C. and I, the mother of the bride, proudly wore the outfit I had planned to wear on a hot day in September in New Orleans.

“At that point half of Louann’s family was homeless. and we were just happy to be alive and together. Tammy and her children found an apartment in Alexandria, Va., shortly after Katrina struck. She had to get the children in school, and it was good to be there near her sister.

“I bought a laptop computer and a cell phone and kept right on writing from wherever I was. I was thankful to have work that allowed me to keep earning.”

***

I suppose it is easy to sit on Capitol Hill or in a comfortable armchair somewhere and criticize the work of a government agency. Lynn’s family was lucky: they all survived Katrina, and her story attests to what FEMA, which got off to a sluggish start, has done for the people of her beloved Gulf Coast.

8.26.2011

A woman scorned

Forbes has released its annual list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and coming in at No. 19 is Georgina Rinehart, described as “the richest woman in Australia - and said to be on track as the richest person in the world in 2012."

So, how does Ms. Rinehart count her blessings?

According to Forbes, she is using her wealth “to campaign against national environmental reforms and taxes.”

Am I reading that right? If so, Ms. Rinehart, a mining tycoon and heiress worth $10 billion, might just epitomize greed.

She has an American counterpart.

In a town hall meeting in Charleston, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley popped in as a surprise guest to throw Michele Bachmann a softball question about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Bachmann, No. 22 on Forbes’ list, replied:

"If the NLRB would also be continuing their current stance, they may not last very long. Once they see what I do to the EPA they may shape up,"

So, what would this GOP presidential hopeful do to the Environmental Protection Agency – whose sole purpose is, well, to protect the environment?

“Lock the doors and shut off all the lights.”

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and apparently Mother Nature is no exception. Talk about a powerful woman.

8.22.2011

A few apt adjectives

“He counts votes before he chooses what to eat for breakfast. He’s a two-faced, cutthroat, dirt-dumb, chicken shit, slimy, little bastard with a bright future in politics.”

That’s a defense attorney, desperately trying to save an innocent man from lethal injection, describing the governor of Texas in John Grisham’s “The Confession.”

Copyright 2010.

Might be fiction, but that sounds about right to me.

***

Seriously, folks. The last thing this country needs right now is another evangelical cowboy riding out of Texas with eyes on the White House.

DemWit calls your attention to some pretty slick investments as Rick Perry supporters in Texas turn thousands of dollars in campaign contributions into millions reaped from Texas’ coffers.

And, oh, those lucrative appointments.

Don’t miss “Perry Mines Texas System to Raise Cash for Campaigns,” Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo, The New York Times, 20 August 2011.

Mr. Perry, there’s a passage in the New Testament where Jesus exhibits the very human emotion of anger. This is just the sort of thing to tick off the Master you so publicly – and hypocritically – claim to love.

8.15.2011

A study in contrasts

A real look at America’s haves and have-nots that goes beyond partisan bickering:

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) released a report this past week stating that 64 percent of Americans cannot come up with $1,000 to cover an emergency situation.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax data for 2009 shows there were 235,413 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more that year.

According to the non-profit NFCC, of the 2,700 survey respondents, 17 percent of those who could not meet a $1,000 emergency expense said they would borrow money from friends or family. Another 17 percent said they would neglect other financial obligations, such as a credit card or mortgage payment, to meet the emergency.

The IRS data just released shows that in 2009, "incomes fell, unemployment claims rose and the U.S. economy shed nearly 2 million taxpayers."

A previous NFCC study found that “30 percent of Americans have zero dollars in non-retirement savings. A separate study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 50 percent of Americans would struggle to come up with $2,000 in a pinch.”

According to the IRS, of the 235,413 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more in 2009, 1,470 paid no taxes.

From a news report in The New York Times: Standard & Poor’s “based its downgrade and its negative outlook for America’s credit rating partly on the assumption that Bush-era tax cuts for high incomes would be extended past their 2012 expiration, ‘because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.’ S.& P. said it could change its outlook to stable if the tax cuts ended.”

8.11.2011

Three days that shook America

OK, enough Kumbaya. I’m angry.

My hair has been on fire since I read the following quote from former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, who wants to be president:

“America’s creditworthiness just became the latest casualty in President Obama’s failed record of leadership on the economy. Standard & Poor’s rating downgrade is a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama. His failed policies have led to high unemployment, skyrocketing deficits and now, the unprecedented loss of our nation’s prized AAA credit rating.”

Mr. Romney’s claim is so blatantly hypocritical it takes my breath away.

If this nation is in decline; if it does fall, it can, in my opinion, be traced back to three dates:

12 DECEMBER 2000

As most DemWit readers know, I am a retired newspaper editor with degrees in political science and journalism, so I’ve long had a propensity toward both.

I began to monitor politics in earnest following the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, simply because I could not believe what had just taken place in the United States of America.

Two of this country's most famous lawyers wrote books about this decision:

Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (boo-lee-O-see) wrote “The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President.” Law professor and famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz wrote “Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000.”

What happened that day wasn’t about your favorite candidate: it was about the real loser, the Constitution of the United States of America. That got lost in the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.

20 JANUARY 2001

How do you argue that George W. Bush, inaugurated on this date, was the worst president ever to occupy the Oval Office? Where do you begin? How do you disseminate in a single article, post or conversation what I referred to in a previous post as “a million pieces of evidence”?

If we view his presidency in terms of our current economic crisis – “treasure” – the equation is quite simple: two wars and tax cuts equal bad fiscal policy.

If we view it in terms of “blood,” how do we measure the cost in countless lives – military and civilian - lost in an unnecessary, pre-emptive, unilateral war to overthrow a tinpot dictator who was no threat to us at all?

And, that’s just two of the million pieces of evidence known to those who paid attention. In his second term – indeed, in his recent book – Bush was concerned for his “legacy.” For the most part, he managed to turn around advances made over decades. History will not be kind.

7 OCTOBER 1996

The first lie was its slogan, “Fair and Balanced.” Since its launch date, Fox News Channel has been the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. The flagship of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has the highest ratings of the three cable news networks, attracting the conservative half of the country. Viewers who tune in simply because Fox News is biased toward their ideology don’t want news, they want validation. Under the skillful direction of Roger Ailes, Fox News has manipulated both the ignorant and the uninformed, convincing its audience to trust no other news source.

According to Frank Rich in New York Magazine
, in an in-depth piece about Murdoch's phone-hacking scandal in England, right-wing Canadian media mogul Conrad Black, in the Financial Times, "describes Murdoch as not merely a ‘tabloid sensationalist’ but ‘a malicious mythmaker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of revered institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism.’ Or as the former Bush speechwriter David Frum said more than a year ago, ‘Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.’ ”

There are Web sites like Newshounds and Media Matters for America which have meticulously documented the lies on Fox News, based on direct quotes from its shows.

Incredulously, Fox News actually used lying as a defense in a court case:

“In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by Fox News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.”

But, there is a good rule-of-thumb used by credible media: always get more than one source. If you must watch Fox News, don’t let it be your only source of news.

***

There have been many days that shook America - from the stock market crash of '29 to Pearl Harbor to 9/11 - but I believe the three dates above have affected America's present and will have a sustained effect on its future.

8.09.2011

Divided we fall

It is NOT sour grapes which leads me to share the article below. I honestly believe that if the economy does not miraculously turn around, Obama will be a one-term president. A shattered base cannot sustain him. And God help us all if any one of the current GOP contenders wins!

Hillary will never oppose the president in 2012: she has too much class to do that. And too much sense.

President Obama’s campaign trail will be interesting: I just don’t see multitudes at rallies chanting “Yes, We Can!”

Now about the article – it's a good example of the kind of talk that's out there. No question about that. I hasten to point out that, with the exception of Bill Maher and a few sources who have previously appeared in print, the writer has peppered her “report” throughout with quotes from unnamed sources – look for them. I could have sat at my cpmputer and written such an article with made-up quotes! And, how can she know what’s being talked about from the Beltway to gatherings at office water coolers? Finally, her motivation for writing the article is pretty apparent from the title of her book. While there is nothing wrong with stating a point-of-view in an opinion piece, she attempts to make this sound like a factual news story. As a writer she fails at attribution. I give her no credibility.

Because I believed she was the most qualified to be president and clean up after George W. Bush, I supported Hillary passionately, but I voted for Obama and have given him my support. I do confess, however, that I think Hillary would have shrunk Boehner’s balls. :-)

THE ARTICLE:


Hillary Told You So

Author: Leslie Bennetts
Source: Reader Supported News, August 7, 2011

As Democratic disgust with Obama’s debt fumbling spreads, Clinton supporters recall her '3 a.m. phone call' warnings—and angry, frustrated liberals are muttering that she should mount a 2012 challenge.

At a New York political event last week, Republican and Democratic office-holders were all bemoaning President Obama’s handling of the debt-ceiling crisis when someone said, “Hillary would have been a better president.”

“Every single person nodded, including the Republicans,” reported one observer.

At a luncheon in the members’ dining room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, a 64-year-old African-American from the Bronx was complaining about Obama’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the implacable hostility of congressional Republicans when an 80-year-old lawyer chimed in about the president’s unwillingness to stand up to his opponents. “I want to see blood on the floor,” she said grimly.

A 61-year-old white woman at the table nodded. “He never understood about the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’” she said.

Looking as if she were about to cry, an 83-year-old Obama supporter shook her head. “I’m so disappointed in him,” she said. “It’s true: Hillary is tougher.”

During the last few days, the whispers have swelled to an angry chorus of frustration about Obama’s perceived weaknesses. Many Democrats are furious and heartbroken at how ineffectual he seemed in dealing with Republican opponents over the debt ceiling, and liberals are particularly incensed by what they see as his capitulation to conservatives on fundamental liberal principles.

In Connecticut, a businessman who raised money for Obama in 2008 said, “I’m beyond disgusted.” In New Jersey, a teacher reported that even her friends in the Obama administration are grievously disillusioned with his lack of leadership—and many have begun to whisper about a Democratic challenge for the 2012 presidential nomination. “I think people are furtively hoping that Hillary runs,” she said.

The son of a longtime Democratic congressman from Texas, a 73-year-old lawyer, is so enraged with Obama that he’s threatening not to vote for the 2012 Democratic ticket—the first time in his entire life that he’s contemplated such apostasy.

Among many of the 18 million Americans who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008, the reaction is simple and bitter: “We told you so.”

On Real Time With Bill Maher, the host said that as far as he was concerned, Obama might as well be a Republican, and added that he thought last week represented the tipping point in Obama’s presidency. Wondering if liberals have “buyer’s remorse” about Obama, Maher asked his panel whether Clinton would have been a better president.

“Yes,” replied astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, adding that Clinton would have been “a more effective negotiator in the halls of Congress.”

“She knows how to deal with difficult men,” Maher agreed. (BJ NOTE: Hillary jokingly made this remark about herself during her campaign.)

Among Clinton fans, particularly older women, the language was frequently far more caustic. “Obama has no spine and no balls,” said a 67-year-old New Yorker.

In recent days, political conversations from inside the Beltway to office water coolers all over America have abounded with unflattering comparisons between Obama and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Capitol Hill veteran who was a master of knocking heads to get things done. A Texas Democrat, Johnson served as a representative, a senator, the Senate minority leader, the Senate majority leader, and vice president before becoming president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. “Unlike Obama, he knew how to work the system,” said one political reporter.

In his New York Times Sunday Review essay “What Happened to Obama?” Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen summed up the president’s lack of experience with devastating succinctness.

“Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he occasionally, as a state senator in Illinois, voted ‘present’ on difficult issues,” wrote Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

The presidential scholar Matthew Dickinson went even further with a post under the headline “Run, Hillary, Run!” on the blog Presidential Power. “She did warn you,” Dickinson reminded his readers.

“Remember that 3 a.m. phone call? Remember the warning about the rose-colored petals falling from the sky? Remember about learning on the job? Sure you do. Doesn’t a part of you, deep down, realize she was right?” wrote Dickinson, a political-science professor at Middlebury College. “If I heard it once this last week, I heard it a thousand times: You were duped by Obama’s rhetoric—the whole ‘hopey-changey’ thing. And you wanted to be part of history, too—to help break down the ultimate racial barrier. That’s OK. We were all young once. But now it’s time to elect someone who can play hardball, who understands how to be ruthless, who will be a real ... uh ... tough negotiator in office. There won’t be any debate about Hillary’s, er, ‘man-package.’”

Other observers contrasted the president’s declining popularity with Clinton’s widely acclaimed performance as secretary of State. “To be blunt, her resume outshines the incumbent’s,” wrote Dickinson, noting that Clinton’s approval rating is close to 70 percent while Obama’s is around 40 percent.

Such polls notwithstanding, insiders insist that Clinton will not challenge her president for the 2012 nomination, and many pundits dismiss the idea as political suicide. “A challenge from Clinton would be a complete disaster, both for her and for the Democrats,” wrote Jon Bernstein on the Plain Blog political site.

Political experts point out that Republicans’ hatred of the Clintons in the 1990s was just as virulent as their efforts to destroy Obama’s presidency in the last couple of years. Longtime analysts also remember the carnage that ensued when Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged President Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination, fracturing the party and paving the way for Ronald Reagan’s election. Four years earlier, Reagan himself had challenged an incumbent Republican, President Gerald Ford; Reagan lost the nomination, Ford lost the presidency, and Carter was elected.

However unlikely a Democratic challenger might seem at present, Obama would be foolish not to heed the deep dissatisfaction represented by such speculation, which is now spreading like an ominous brush fire. Given the abundance of devastating economic news lately, he would also do well to remember the Clintons’ rallying cry from the 1992 election.

“There’s no question in my mind that Obama is a one-term president,” says one passionate Democrat. “Even if he were a great president, this economy is a calamity. And in the end, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’”

“No one ever had to tell Hillary that,” says a disgruntled member of Clinton’s 18 million.

Leslie Bennetts is a longtime contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of the national bestseller The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up

***

Obama took on argueably the toughest job in the world today and is learning a tough lesson: these days you can’t be president of all the people. The lies and slime would be hurled just as ferociously at Hillary as that attacking our sitting president.

If we still have hopes of moving our country beyond this moment of insanity, we had better coalesce around our president.

Divided we fall.

8.08.2011

Restoring America

I refuse to accept that I am an enemy of America because I am a liberal Democrat. And, I refuse to believe that many of my loved ones are America’s enemies because they are conservative Republicans.

Quoting a CNN report: “S&P gave two primary reasons for downgrading U.S. debt: The nation's fiscal path and its broken political system.”

“Broken political system.”

And so once more that little possum, Walt Kelly’s “Pogo,” reminds America that “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

What then is the fix for a broken America? We are, hopefully, too civilized to engage in a second civil war. Should we divvy up territory, giving the left 25 states and the right 25 – calling ourselves, as my friend Carolyn once suggested, “The Divided States of America”?

While you and I look to our elected leaders for solutions, we do not need to make ourselves part of the problem.

But, damn, it’s hard to shake the unshakeable conviction that, after reading and writing and hearing a million pieces of evidence over the last decade, I am right to be on the left.

The thing is: the other half of the citizenry feels the same way.

Are we loving America to death?

My country is in trouble. So, it goes without saying that the following quote, read this morning, gave me pause:

“It is easy to look at America's place in the world right now and believe that we are in a downward spiral of decline. But, this is a snapshot of a tough moment. If the country can keep its cool, admit to its mistakes, cherish and strengthen its successes, it will not only recover but return with renewed strength. There could not have been a worse time for America than the end of the Vietnam War, with helicopters lifting people off the roof of the Saigon embassy, the fallout of Watergate and, in the Soviet Union, a global adversary that took advantage of its weakness. And yet, just 15 years later, the United States was resurgent, the USSR was in its death throes, and the world was moving in a direction that was distinctly American in flavor. The United States has new challenges, new adversaries and new problems. But, unlike so much of the world, it also has solutions - if only it has the courage and wisdom to implement them.”

This quote was not ripped from this morning’s headlines. It is from a 13 June 2007 post on my previous blog, “I See My Dreams.” Its source is a lengthy and insightful article by Newsweek’s International Editor Fareed Zakaria, “Beyond Bush: What the World Needs Is an Open, Confident America,” June 11, 2007, issue: LINK

Do our elected leaders have the “courage and wisdom” to stop listening to the lunatic fringes on the left and the right, to stop worrying about their re-election campaign coffers and to salvage the strengths that have made this democracy endure?

I’m not sure. Are you?

8.05.2011

NRA prez misses target

Could I ask the United Nations to ban telephones in the United States?

Yesterday I was awakened from a much-needed nap by a robocall from David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association.

The message went something like this:

The United Nations is going to take away your guns and ban all guns in the United States, just as they have been banned in, and here he named several countries. And isn’t it just a damn travesty that the United Nations is located on U.S. soil?

OK, that’s loosely paraphrased, but that was the gist of the scare tactic.

At the end of the call I was given the choice to punch “1” if I did not think the UN should (what?) do this on U.S. soil, and “2” if I thought it was OK. I punched “2” and was thanked for taking the "survey."

The NRA knows its target audience. This wasn’t a survey. It was a scare tactic aimed at an area populated by gunowners who love hunting. I do not object to hunting: it’s been around since the cavedwellers. What I object to is the NRA’s eternal effort to raise funds by convincing Americans that “they’re gonna get your guns.”

The member states of the UN, it seems, are drafting a treaty to “regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade,” aka the weapons of war. To the members of the NRA this translates into threatening their hunting guns.

I am often astounded when my current read echoes current issues. In John Grisham’s “The Brethren,” a fictional member of the U.S. House is handpicked by a fictional CIA director to run for president because he is willing to double the defense budget – a move to ward off Armageddon, because a couple of Russian goons are stockpiling materiel to start “a second Cold War.”

Anyone who read the book or saw the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” knows that such weapons are readily sold between countries. It’s a fact that Israel sold weapons to arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan as they founght the Soviet Union.

Hey, this stuff goes on, and it’s not just the transfer of war materiel, it arms terrorists, paramilitary groups and drug cartels. It’s got nothing to do with duck hunting.

But, the UN treaty is just the sort of thing to trigger mass hysteria among American defenders of the 2nd Amendment. And, keep the NRA’s coffers filled.

Remember the dreaded “16 words:” “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .”

If some nut job really is out there bartering for yellowcake, I, for one, would like to know some effort is being made to control it.

Read more about the NRA’s action HERE.

***

As for the United Nations tainting U.S. soil, I think it’s a good time, once more, to read the preamble to its charter HERE.