Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gitmo Prosecutor Resigns

On MSNBC last night was an interview with Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a prosecutor at Gitmo, who finally resigned for reasons of conscience. Vandeveld was a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan until he was transferred to Gitmo in 2007. He describes how he was gung-ho for his new mission--prosecuting terrorists and if need be, getting them sentenced to death. What he found at Gitmo was a far cry from what he had been told. Evidence against detainees was gathered in plastic tubs and not filed. The physical evidence was often missing. There were no case files, even for those held since 2003. He found several of the detainees had been sold to the Americans for dollars during the invasion of Afghanistan.

For him, the case that finally forced his resignation was of one Mohammed Jawad, who had been accused of attacking two members of our Special Forces. When he started putting together the prosecution, he found no substantial evidence and he recognized the man had been abused--first in Bagram Air Force base and later at Gitmo. The military defense attorney brought to his attention that there was considerable evidence, available at Gitmo, that showed Jawad was completely innocent and that evidence was known to many for some time. Even though both men joined forces to get charges dismissed on the Jawad case, he was and is still being held in solitary confinement even though the case went up in smoke. For perspective, 17Uighurs, Chinese Moslems, continue to be held after seven years despite the government's conceding their innocence.

Vandeveld became the fourth military prosecutor to resign from his post. This is important because the situation at Gitmo was not revealed by the human rights community, although they have been active in pursuing this issues, but by our armed forces stationed there and who are actually both defense attorneys and prosecutors. The world at large began to get a fuller picture of those detained at Gitmo when military personnel sent the full list of prisoners to human rights lawyers in New York. The Vandevelds of this world are the straight of the straights and take seriously their oath to uphold the constitution of this country. Their politics are generally conservative but their commitment to the order of command and the rule of law is their badge of honor. When you have people like the Vendevelds of the world speak out, it really is time to listen.

After reading almost all the books, magazine and journal articles about this situation, I think the burden of proof now falls on those who argue that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the worst of the worst are in Cuba to inform the American people after all these years what concrete plots were thwarted by intelligence gained there. Of three that I have heard, the London plot never existed and the two others were discovered by normal intelligence work.

With John Yoo's spirited defense of torture in the Wall Street Journal and the wave of criticism against the Obama Administration for closing Gitmo, it's time for less fear-mongering and a more intelligent discussion of where to go from here. The John Daly Show pictured various Republican talking heads decrying Obama letting out terrorists in your neighborhood. John Daly showed some of the monsters we have managed to keep locked up in federal prisons, including one very docile white man who talked about eating his victim's brains, and mocked the statements we couldn't keep Muslim terrorists locked up safely. The other issue is how many of those at Gitmo have absolutely no business being there at all.

Dick Cheney in his exit interviews relished talking about Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and FDR's interning Japanese-Americans as if these were good things Presidents did when at war. He showed absolutely no awareness that history and the public universally came to condemn those abuses. Lincoln's missteps were outlawed following the Civil War by Congress with a warning that they be banned forever. In both Lincoln and FDR's cases, the period of time over which such abuses occurred was four years of combat. Seven and a half years has gone by since 9/11, it is totally appropriate and the right time to review the abuses of the Bush years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Michael Steele to head the RNC

Former Lt. Gov of Maryland Michael Steele lasted out the competition over several ballots and became Chairman of the Republican National Committee. A moderate conservative,Steele is being billed as a devout Catholic and anti-abortion. The first black to head the Republican Party he deserves congratulations. He defeated several candidates who were tainted with racist leanings and were beyond the pale conservatives. In his acceptance speech, Steele hinted that he would borrow from Howard Dean's playbook that was so successful for Democrats. An outsider--he's not even a commiteeman, he vows to rebuild the Republican Party in the Northeast. I expect regular Republicans will welcome his election but I also expect a far-right backlash. A gut instinct--biggest loser from Steele's election is Bobby Jindal.

They're selling postcards of the hanging,painting the passports brown

It's three p.m, do you know where Karl Rove is? There is an Amber Alert out--he's still on the lam. He is said to be armed and dangerous.

Yesterday, the World Bank released their findings that the world is in a Depression. The only good news is that England is collapsing at twice the rate we are. The news released this morning continues the grim record--we have hit 1982 and now next stop will be shortly after WWII, wait for a few months before we officially dip into the 1930s. However, we now have the highest number of people on unemployment of all time. Let's not forget that over 40 states are in essence bankrupt.

While "mellowing out" to Lightening Bolt last night--check out their Youtube of their Two Towers, I thought of the Republican crackup. It makes perfect sense for the Republicans to vote against the economic stimulus package. This isn't positioning themselves in case Obama fails, it's a way for them to distance themselves from the Bush years.

Bush expanded executive authority to the largest extent of any American President--even beyond FDR; adopted the largest and most costly entitlement program in history--the Medicaid Drug program; fought a war off budget--to the tune of $1 trillion; committed the US to buy almost $7 trillion in toxic derivatives; left a budget deficit of at least $1.5 trillion; and bailed out banks at another $750 billion. Before Republicans can move forward, they have to flee this monster, which Democrats will make sure they can't.

Mitch McConnell said Bush was the Republicans' burden. The minority leader said that the Republicans have become a regional party. But the Gallup yesterday shows that region is really a handful of Rocky Mountain states, and not the Southern Senators and Congressmen who compose the bulk of their elected leadership. How do you square the two and move forward? One temporary solution is for the Republicans to rally round their base of 20% of the population by re-embracing conservative policies before they can move out into new terrain. It's a recipe for further defeats in 2010 and beyond. But Republicans can not deal with the massive hang-over from the Bush years and also face their larger grief that the Reagan Era has ended.

This has led to an eruption of madness among conservatives. The General Smedley types are circulating a conservative news wire story that Bob Gates is annoyed at Obama for changing the oath of allegiance taken by the armed forces from upholding the constitution to being loyal to the President. The chances of this being real are minus 50 and counting. Video tapes are being circulated of teachers leading students in the pledge of allegiance but substituting "to Obama" for "To the Flag.." A slight eruption has occurred calling for direct elections of the Attorney General, probably to prevent a black man from holding the job, particularly someone who might prosecute torturers. The birthers are really pleased by their new gambit of having military types filing petitions to declare Obama ineligible. We will be treated to endless stories about what miscreants and deviate sexual practices the economic stimulus package supports so that the new "Anti-American" wing of conservatives can flourish.

President Obama looks like he may tap Judd Gregg, the conservative Senator from New Hampshire, as the Commerce Secretary. Progressives are annoyed but Gregg at least was one of the few serious Republicans, who actually tried to learn the details of the first Bush bailout. While John McCain flew his kamikaze mission to Washington, it was Judd Gregg and Utah's Bob Bennett, who were the only Republican adults on deck, working round the clock to adjust the package to reflect some practicality. Gregg leaving the Senate would allow New Hampshire to appoint a Democrat and with slo-motion Al Franken the Democrats would have a super-majority.

John McCain is still trying to be Obama's Wendell Willkie but it's not working. He suggests Obama not criticize Rush Limbaugh because he has a large audience. Touchy, touchy folks. Obama said all of one line about Republicans listening to Rush Limbaugh and we are supposed to spend a week in Washington mulling this over. Why a Democrat has to worry about Rush Limbaugh is beyond me.

Meanwhile the $500 million man Rush Limbaugh rallied the troops claiming everything Obama was doing was "pure FDR". For the past two months, conservative commentators have been criticizing FDR and claiming he only extended the Depression. I recall an old conservative cornering President Reagan in the White House and ranting about FDR and socialism. President Reagan silenced the man by saying," I had the honor of voting for the gentleman---four times." Even Newt Gingrich several books ago hailed FDR as one of the true American heroes. I guess all bets are off now.

The Hot Rod is gone. He made a valiant defense of himself at the impeachment hearing but lost the vote unanimously. But I like the guy. With the Republicans in eclipse, he could lead the new Pay To Play Party with former Congressman Jefferson handling the walking around money from his freezer. To give this new party a bipartisan air, I suggest bringing back elder statesman--The Lion of the Senate--Senator Tad Stevens from Alaska, who really did produce for his constituents. Hot Rod will be joined soon by Norm Coleman so the PTP Party will start of with experience.

I think I have the perfect new job for Fredo--being Karl Rove's defense attorney.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Afternoon Delights

Ten Republican Senators--who shall remain nameless--have introduced a bill that says Life begins at conception and that it is protected by the 14th Amendment. Remember this is in the midst of a global economic collapse. You might recall that the Colorado initiative about life beginning with ejaculation was soundly rejected. This Senate bill would encourage the legal prosecution of doctors, hospital staff and the mothers if such Life Unit were terminated. This is almost verbatim from the Republican platform in Minneapolis. I was surprised that Obama didn't raise this in his campaign against John McCain, who actually believes this stuff.

Our "birthers" came through on their promise--recruiting military and retired military personnel to launch lawsuits questioning President Obama's eligibility for the presidency. Today's candidate is retired Col. Hollister ,USAF, whose lawyer is Mr. Berg, who has filed dozens of the other suits.

The Senate Republican Conference sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a terse letter demanding he not seat Al Franken. Meanwhile in the Land O'Lakes, Norm Coleman has changed his legal team and his legal arguments in the case with Al Franken. We expect a resolution sometime in the next decade or when Norm gets indicted.

This week's TV Star was the Governor from Illinois,RonBlagojevich, the greatest Serb since Milosovic. Terrific television appearances and an impassioned speech before the Illinois Senate. I tend to agree with him--they didn't allow him to present witnesses and there are no charges against him--yet--how do you impeach?

Sex Columnist Dan Savage defines the practice of "Saddlebacking" for us in . This adds to his use of Santorum for a special liquid mixture produced by certain sex acts. And Rick Warren is creating a monthly magazine.

Something is happening here, and you don't know what it is. Do you,Mr. Jones?

Today the RNC is supposed to elect a new chairperson. I've been told the election process will take several rounds. I've also been told that Ken Blackwell isn't even in the game. So,let's see what happens. The Washington Times says the election has been marred by graft, racism and corruption. I thought that election ended in November.

For a superb analysis of the strange Republican behavior in the House, Nate Silver at goes into the various permutations of what Boehner and Cantor were thinking in last night's vote. He also points out that the so-called Base of the party--Hmmm, Base isn't that Arabic for Al Qaeda--represents only 20% of the American electorate and as that shrinks, the message will get more shrill and more shrill, dooming the party further.

The Unions seem to have their mojo back after all these years. Rolling out of the production studio are ads keyed to all the Republican Senators, urging them to vote for the stimulus package. High production value and a quiet message. Nice job.

The Wall Street Journal today publishes an op-ed by John Yoo, author of the torture memos in the Bush Justice Department. He blasts the Obama Administration for eliminating "the only effective weapon we have in fighting terrorism." Instead of letting my mind cave in refuting his nonsense, check out today where his article is parsed and gutted bit by bit. Also included is a snippet from the interview between Keith Olberman and an Air Force interrogator, who busted Al Qaeda in Iraq using his brain and not muscle.

Karl Rove has said he will not honor the subpoena and Bill O'Reilly has offered him a place to hide.

And, yes, Obama is right. Washington,D.C. residents are cold weather wimps. His joke about this after his children's school was cancelled yesterday provoked radio discussions and a letter to the Washington Post from Sidwell-Friends, his childrens' school, rationalizing their policy. Boy, sensitive, sensitive. It was only a one line quip.

The Washington Post announced it was cancelling publishing the Sunday Book World supplement. It was usually about six months behind my own reading but it was redeemed by its poetry section. That leaves the New York Times Book Review, which also suffers from lengthy delays in its reviews. I guess no one reads anymore.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The stimulus bill passes the House 244-188 without a single Republican vote. The London Telegraph's Toby Harnden claimed the Republican actions were a slap in the face to President Obama, who vowed to end this intense partisanship. President Obama spent most of yesterday entertaining and cajoling Republicans in both chambers. Later he entertained a bipartisan group at the White House. Throughout the process he claimed to want ideas from the Republicans, who are frankly exhausted and without any creative suggestions.

The Republicans kept quoting a Congressional Budget Office report that said most of the stimulus package would not be spent until 2010. The problem--there was no such report. The CBO had to issue a statement that they ran computer models on a small part of the project before its final version was submitted. The last several days we have been treated to a barrage of media stories on $250 million on condoms,the same for STD research and the such, which the Republicans fueled. For their part, they submitted their own stimulus plan that consisted entirely--yes entirely of tax cuts.

Now Drudge proclaims with a photo of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer "Own It". Now let's think about this. The United States is in the most serious economic situation since the Depression and in fact may be in worse shape. A new President comes in and spends an inordinate amount of time courting Republicans and they vote against his plan. This plan was in fact a compromise that incorporated enormous tax cuts suggested by the Republicans. Now, let's say it doesn't succeed. In a far worse situation, do Republicans really believe the people will come flocking to them? Is there any record to show in deep recessions the American people turn Republican? They aren't slapping Obama's face; they are committing political suicide.

Can the Republicans actually stop the stimulus in the Senate. They can vote against it but they can't stop bringing the bill up. Senators Olympia Snowe and Judd Gregg have already given interviews about how impressed they were with Obama's presentation and how he has an integrated view of the economic situation and he could explain how each part worked together. Now these two may vote against the bill for their own reasons--but I doubt it. But if there are only two-three Republican Senators, who believe this is a serious situation, then the bill comes to the floor and the Democrats have the votes to win handsomely.

Some progressives are arguing that the Democrats should revote the stimulus bill stripped of all the tax cuts except those favored by Obama and add in some of the spending that had been omitted. I see the logic and the justice in this position.

At this point in the game, Obama needs Republicans on the reform of social security--which can easily be done to ensure funding into the next century. Here the Democrats have to be vigilant so as not to cut benefits and refuse to extend once again the age eligibility. There is absolutely no need to cut social security if taxes on people earning above $250,000 are increased. The major issue where Obama needs Republicans is the area of health care reform. This is because any proposal now must be self-sustaining and have long-lasting bipartisan support .

After the bill passes the Senate, Obama may want to send a message to the Republicans of a different nature. Just quietly start investigations and prosecutions of Bush officials without much comment. That's the Chicago way!

Don't be tempted by the shiny apple, don't you eat of the bitter fruit

Eric Holder is approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But did he privately agree ,as Kit Bond claims, not to prosecute Bush operatives for "enhanced interrogations" and unlawful surveillance? The withdrawal of Republican holds on his nomination raises the suspicion that he might have. Coryn from Texas claims Holder did not and that was his reason for voting against him. But a curious thing is emerging--the Obama Administration is talking to some Republicans but not others, especially those like Coryn whom they believe are not useful. Tell us it isn't true. And if it is, how will the Obama Administration prevent prosecution of Bush people by other countries and non-governmental organizations?

Gallup has a poll out showing that there are only five states with significant Republican majorities. They are Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho and Utah. Yes, there are about ten states where both parties are very competitive, but the surprise here is that no southern state makes the list and Texas now is contested. Maybe the Republicans have to adopt the strategy of the Northern Kingdom and abandon the neo-confederate strategy of the past.

Wednesday Morning Coffee

Washington is crippled this morning--we had all of one inch of snow, which sends everyone into hysterics. The good news is this means politicians will do less harm today.

I wish Bruce Springsteen would kill the strings. I guess he fell in love with them during the Rising sessions. Bruce's last few offerings have been a little lackluster. Working on a Dream presents 12 new songs and the title song for The Wrestler.I liked My Lucky Day,Queen of the Supermarket, the Last Carnival, Good Eye and The Wrestler. The one cut I especially enjoyed was the 2:30 minute blues song Good Eye. The rest of the album will make good elevator music.

John Updike always reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates and vice versa--prolific writers with technical proficiency but lacking fire. Critics will probably hail the Bech series, which left me cold. Every six books Updike would score. With his output, that meant he scored often. My favorites are The Coup, The Terrorist, Seek My Face, the Beauty of the Lillies, and Couples. The Witches of Eastwick was redeemed in the film version by Jack Nicholson.

The last two days have been terrible for the "birthers". The Supreme Court and a Texas Court both turned down the case that claims Obama is not a native-born citizen. NPR aired clips of an exchange between an Obama staff person and the press where the staffers joked about the birth certificate. So that shows there is a cover-up!! Ha-Ha. This really is a case for Ron Rosenbaum in my view the best debunker around. Today's press release claims that the Supreme Court has ordered that all such cases be dismissed. The "birthers" are outraged that the individuals bring suit are said to lack legal standing. Should we all have the right to sue endlessly? Now talk has gotten to where the "birthers" believe only China and Israel can reveal the truth. The new ploy is to recruit military personnel to file suit against "the usurper in chief"--no one will rule military personnel have no legal standing.

This subculture also feeds into the larger class of people complaining about socialism and the lack of Christianity among the current Administration. In FDR's time, we had Father Coughlin and a bizarre and little commented on episode, which was kept under cover, the attempt by General Smedley to pull a military coup in this country. Smedley was funded by some of the rich Americans, who saw FDR as a class traitor, and he recruited old WWI vets to seek the overthrow of the government. FDR quietly put the effort down and made sure that all the financiers knew he knew about their role. We may see something on these lines again. In some ways the Smedley story formed the backdrop to the rash of books and stories in the 1960s such as Seven Days in May, when liberals felt the military-industrial complex would topple JFK. On second thought, maybe it did.

Fox News proclaimed Obama's honeymoon is over. That was quick. For the Record, Obama's lowest approval rating is in central Virginia, where he is at 55 and his negatives at 25. He's even over 60% in Alabama.

Karl Rove has asked help from the Obama White House so he can assert "vestigial executive privilege" to avoid his subpoena. It's likely the Obama people will assert that Junior has some right of executive privilege but not old Turdblossom.

And for our last item, let's congratulate Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland, who stands on the brink of becoming the world's first gay Prime Minister. With Iceland in flames, everyone could care less about her sexual orientation. She's said to be a fighter for the little guy. But For The Record, the first gay Prime Minister, although for a very brief time, was Per-Kristian Foss of Norway. So Johanna would become first full-time Prime Minister.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Identity Theft

Lots to write about--John Updike's death, the other Bruce from the Jersey Shore's new album, why Republicans are acting the way they are,different takes on the stimulus without political spin. But alas,someone stole my identity and emptied my bank account and this morning was spent with the Bank's fraud division and calling internet collection groups and their security units to investigate how this was done. So right after contacting the Social Security Administration, I will be back.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Will Karl Rove Ride Old Sparkie?

Now that he isn't a presidential adviser and isn't protected by the Attorney General, Congressman John Conyers, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify about the politicization of the Justice Department under Fredo. In particular, Conyers is looking for information on the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and the politics behind the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. "It's time for him to tell the truth." said Conyers. I thought that was what his book deal with editor Mary Matalin was about. Should we set up a defense fund for Monica Goodling?

The subpoena has stiffened the resolve of Senate Republicans to submarine Eric Holder's nomination as Attorney-General. Again today, he fired back at requests that he should promise not to prosecute Bush officials who may have committed crimes. With Conyers firing a salvo across the deck of Republicans in the other House, the Senate crowd are playing hardball on the Holder nomination.

My advice, which will be ignored, is for the Republicans to let it go. If crimes were committed, they should be punished. Bush isn't coming back and the party won't speak of him for another forty years just as Democrats didn't mention LBJ until this year.

Rove is an albatross around the party. He essentially blew the 2000 race, creating a constitutional crisis, only won the 2004 race with one state and lost massively in the 2006 congressional elections. His subalterns ran the vilest Presidential campaign this year and got their clocks cleaned. He's poison and always was. He's this year's favorite to win the Henry Kissinger Failing Upways Award. Republicans can not regroup and rebuild until all his kind are gone. A bipartisan solution would be to make Rove the scapegoat for all the Bush crimes, including torture, and have him ride Old Sparkie.

Is There an Iceland in our Future?

The esoteric sounding Watson Wyatt Worldwide Report put the figure for pension fund losses in 2008 at $5 trillion and that's just the U.S. Little attention was paid to the disappearance of Florida's state pension fund when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The National Association of Business Economics, which has been monitoring business conditions since 1982, surveyed businesses and found that 39% said there would be significant layoffs over the next six months; only 17% said they would increase hiring. The loss of 2.6 million jobs this past year was the largest since 1945 and unemployment rose to the highest level in 16 years. Even with the Obama stimulus package, an additional 2 million jobs will be lost this year and unemployment is expected to hit 10% by the end of the year. The dust is settling for us to get a clearer view of the economy and the view is not pretty. As of today, most see the situation worsening in the short term and conditions extending into the first half of 2010. I hope we make it.

Fredo Talks

Fredo Gonzalez, the former Attorney General, spoke today to NPR. It was a sad occcasion. He hoped "his job prospects would look up when the economy improves." He didn't like Eric Holder's blanket statement that "waterboarding is torture." He worries that these statements would have an "effect on the moral and dedication of intelligence officers and lawyers throughout the Administration." He really, really didn't believe he would be prosecuted because "these activities were authorized, they were supported by legal opinions at the Department of Justice." Poor Fredo, he doesn't get it yet.

Monday Lunch

A few hours later and we're down 85,000 jobs for the day.

Mea Culpa. Closing Gitmo maybe more problematic than I wrote before. Physically closing it--no. But it seems that there are no comprehensive case files on the detainees, on some cases there exists no information at all and in other cases the information is strewn throughout different bureaucracies and no one has a clue as to where. For those of us who followed the decades long court case by the Indian nations against the US Government for back payments and royalties this is all so familiar. At first the Government claimed it was too complicated to keep records on royalties for each tribe and, finally, when the judge ordered it to produce the information, the Bush Administration claimed all the data were lost because of computer failure.

I don't see how the recent news that the U.S released one man from Gitmo and he bombed our embassy in Yemen or that the Administration released the men who blew up the U.S.S. Cole has any relevance on the Gitmo issue now. Obama didn't release them.

I'm still convinced that official Washington has yet to digest the fact of Obama's election. This goes for Democrats, too. Both sides think it was about having the first Black President--which is great but it's simply a bonus. Both sides are locked into age-old political debates on tax cuts versus government spending, when the economy is in a freefall. Having read the full economic plan last night, it strikes me that it seeks to transform our economy for the 21st Century and not just give us a bounce out of a deep, deep, long recession. That's why Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner both sound bonkers. Obama will have to go to the American public and lay out how all the parts fit together. He's on firm ground here: 71% of Americans believe Obama has a mandate for major new social and economic programs. He also starts his term with more political capital than JFK or Reagan.

It's important to remember media is neither conservative or liberal but corporate. All the talking heads and the commentariat are seriously wealthy people. The tip-off last year was when commentators kept obsessing on Obama's pledge to increase taxes on those who earned over $250,000. With the average American income at $46,000, who would care? Why,all those commentators on television. We receive all the talking points on the economy and politics from wealthy folks, who are relatively immune to cataclysmic events unless they put all their funds with Madoff. So the link in the stimulus plan between health insurance and increased Pell Grants for students simply escapes their limited world view.

A great example of this blindness was the exchange yesterday between Sam Donaldson and Paul Krugman over Sam proclaiming history shows it's fiscal policy that end recessions. Krugman had to point out that with interests rates at 0, the Fed has exhausted all its tools and that government spending becomes a tool.

A must read is today's piece in the New York Times by Paul Krugman called "Bad Faith Economics". Even though he's critical of the scale of Obama's plan (he wants a larger one), he machine-guns the various talking points Republicans are using to stall the Obama plan.

Coming off his desire that Obama fail, Rush Limbaugh has pointed out that the success of the New Deal doomed Republicans for fifty years in electoral politics. And he fears that something similar may happen if Obama succeeds. He's right. Meanwhile Republicans are smoking some strange stuff as they project their comeback for 2010. That's why they are putting obstacles in Obama's path. I'll go out on a limb now and say the Republicans will lose an additional five seats in the Senate in 2010. On the House side, I'm not willing to go because the large number of Democrats increase the probability of scandals.

Who will document the Closing of America?

50,000 jobs were lost by 10am this morning--that's just the news wire announcements from well-known American corporations. With the closing of some vintage factories like the Ford plant and others, who will be documenting this for the future?

The last Depression heralded in an era of great photography. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston launched their Group f.64 named after the f-stop that produced their sharp images. Ansel Adams came from a non-political family but his iconic images of the American wilderness supported the environmental movement for decades. Edward Weston was more of the West Coast Bohemian culture but his contribution to documenting the social situation of the day was teaching his lover and model Tina Modotti how to photograph. Modotti went on to be a radical photographer of unrest in Mexico, the Spanish Civil War and later became entwined with the politics of the Comintern, eventually fleeing detection from Stalin's assassins in Mexico. Lewis Hines documented the effects of the Depression on the East Coast cities.

It wasn't until Rexford Tugwell brought Roy Stryker to Washington to head the photography session of the Farm Security Administration under FDR that the human toil of the Depression was documented in a systematic way. In 1936, Walker Evans, borrowed from the FSA project, spent the summer in Alabama with James Agee, photographing tenant farmers. The results we now remember as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. A year later Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell published their photo-documentary book You Have Seen Their Faces, a study of Southern poverty. In my opinion, the most stunning of these works is Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor's American Exodus, documenting the Dust Bowl migration.

The man packing his machines to be shipped to China, the last SUV off the assembly line, the hundreds of people camped out at dawn for medical care in Kentucky, the ghost towns of McMansions in Illinois and the soon to be deserted super mall in Potomac Mills, Virginia. Hopefully, some young photographers are out there shooting this period of our history. I hope we hear from them soon.

Best News of the Day

The google robot informed me that it has determined I am "a real human being". The blog was viewed as a spam site--like the one I received this morning urging me "To make my bedroom like a volcano." Now we are waiting for a "real human being" to review the blog and remove the warning. But I am sure we will be banned in China.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Coffee

Will screaming actually delay the Obama Administration? The two day honeymoon is over for the Republicans. John McCain said he wouldn't vote for the economic stimulus package without substantial rewrites because it wouldn't create enough jobs. This is a bit rich since nothing McCain proposed during the campaign would have created jobs either and he thought we were simply in a recession. I can't see how more tax cuts will generate jobs quickly either. In this case I think Obama went too far in accomodating the Republicans. Instead of getting into a useless exchange with Rush Limbaugh, Obama should simply propose raising the top tax levels to the same rate as under a respected Republican President--say Dwight Eisenhower. Same applies for McCain, let Cindi pay more and enact the estate tax.

To be fair, Warren Buffett and Robert Reich are saying that no one knows whether any of this is going to work. However, it must be said that the Republican comments at the White House meeting were laughable. They really don't get the severity of the crisis facing us. Constructive ideas would be welcomed but Boehner is really an embarrassment.

Would someone get Fredo a job? Alberto "Fredo" Gonzalez appeared on television to give an account of the ride home with Junior to Texas. He said the plane watched a film of Junior's achievements and Fredo wept. Junior said goodby with a kiss to his forehead and said to him,"Be Strong". In WASP code, that's "Get Yourself A Lawyer". If the family has let him remain unemployed for two years, it means he has been disowned. With possible prosecutions of illegalities during the Bush Administration, Fredo, David Addington, and John Yoo look like very easy targets. Will Fredo dive on his sword for Bush? It looks like it. Sad Sack.

Hormel is working overtime to produce SPAM, even putting on new shifts. SPAM was an old Depression favorite.

The New York Times bonds are rated "junk" now, another sign that newspapers are facing possible extinction. Even more disconcerting is the decision by American institution, MAD magazine to go a quarterly format.

Ken Silverstein, a wayward investigative reporter who has a habit of beating up old men--recall his attack on David Broder--finally has landed himself a real story for change. Writing in Mother Jones, Ken, pretending to be a burned out NASDAQ trader, saunters down to the Caribbean to open an account to hide his" personal wealth" to avoid taxes. Finding it easy to do, he reports that some $5 trillion has been laundered abroad by our fellow citizens to avoid taxes. Before Obama clamps down on the NSA, he might have it vacuum up the accounts and deposit them in the Treasury. In the Fall, the Bush Administration put out a report that suggested at least $1.5 trillion went abroad. Good job, Ken!

Democratic Underground is being nasty. They are enthusiastically encouraging Baseball Great Jim Bunning to seek re-election to the Senate in 2010, since he only won last time by 10,000 votes. Republicans are trying to dissuade Bunning from seeking re-election because of strong suggestions he suffers from Alzheimers. It's not going to be nice. Let the man go in dignity.

Norm Coleman certainly isn't going gracefully. He continues his lawsuits in Minnesota. Is this so he can keep raising money, which he deposits into his defense fund? Isn't that illegal? What if he actually won, how quick would it be before he was expelled from the Senate? Do you have to be indicted?

Joe B of Alexandria asks ,"Why wasn't Sarah Palin at the inauguration and why isn't anyone talking about it?" Her $150,000 wardrobe ended up in trashbags this week and not given to charity as promised. One answer to Joe's question is that she gave her state of the state address this week in Alaska. Another is that she was busy working on a $11 million book deal to provide for her family, who sacrificed so much for the country.

The wags are saying Obama's approval rating has fallen from his transition high of 86%. He is now down to 77%, which proves absolutely nothing. After all George W. Bush did what he thought was right, and his ended up at 22%. But let's look at someone others. Nancy Pelosi is at a high of 42%; Hapless Harry Reid is at 34; Mitch McConnel is at 27% and Boehner is at 22%. Congressional Democrats have an aggregate rating of 41% and Republicans at 26%. Overall, asked about who will help the economy the most: the Democrats rate 57% and Republicans 34%. I would humbly suggest these numbers account for Republicans plaintively criticizing the stimulus package for the lack of jobs being created.

Progressives worried that Obama had adopted some loophole against the prohibition against torture this week by establishing a group to study possible other techniques. Only in Washington could this stuff happen. The CIA wants its very own techniques even if they are identical to those in the Army Field Manual. So someone will have to re-word the Field Manual to reflect that it is CIA agents doing the interrogating and this will be issued as a CIA publication--no hand-me down Field Manuals from the Army. Obama staff made it clear to the press that there will be no loopholes. It is pathetically simple as that. For all the back and forth in the press on all the Gitmo closing nonsense and the curtailing of surveillance, all the sources are engaged in bureaucratic warfare and tryng to secure their own turf. It has nothing to do with policy--heaven forbid.

Al Qaeda had a tough week. The Saudi farm team lost 40 of their trainees, who were training in biological warfare and infected themselves by accident with the bubonic plague. As the Washington Post reported this morning, they are scrambling to find an effective propaganda effort against the Obama Administration. They loved Junior, he was a goldmine for recruiting. Zahawiri blasted Obama as a "House Negro" and championed real blacks like Malcolm X. This only led Malcolm X's family to blast back at Al Qaeda and embrace Obama. The next stunt was to blame Obama for the Israeli offensive in Gaza, even though he had refrained from speaking of the matter before being sworn in. I feel this was more ambulance chasing by Al Qaeda, who wanted to match Iran's condemnation of Obama on this matter. By the end of the week, Obama came through with his campaign promise, sending Predators after their bases, something John McCain and Junior had said was foolhardy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Reading

For those who wonder how to cope with the collapse of our economy and political system,the latest edition of the New Yorker (January 26, 2009) delights us with Ben McGrath's American Chronicles "The Dystopians". an account of the best and brightest of our doomsayers. One of my favorite is Dmitry Orlov, who travels the seas on his boat The Hogfish, which is outfitted with solar panels and bicycles. He plans to establish a trading network along Lake Champlain for transporting Vermont apples and marple syrup to farmers' markets in New York City. James Howard Kunstler, known for his weekly blog column Clusterfuck Nation,outlines the sickness of our society but claims he's not a "complete collapsitarian". And he joins former Duke economic professor Thomas Naylor at the meeting of the Vermont Republic Movement, which envisions the creation of a new country named Arcadia, composed of Vermont,New Hampshire, Maine and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Attending was Lynette Clark, the chair of the Alaska Independence party, to which Todd Palin belonged. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Clark calling herself "an Alaskan, not an American", will support Sarah Palin's presidential run in 2012, if Alaska is not independent. The other dystopians are actually hestitating now, hoping somehow that Obama can prevent the total social collapse.

The New Yorker also features probably the most rational article on health reform I've read--Atul Gawande's "Getting There from Here". Dr. Gawande specializes in cancer surgery and outlines the various options for health care reform with the existing systems we currently have. The value of Gawande's article lies with its historical overview of the development of the British, French and Swiss systems and how these were grown out of the historical necessities in those countries. Since his solution of marrying what we have is too sensible, it's doubtful it will make its way down to Washington. But read it. A national health system really is possible.

James Bamford's The Shadow Factory: the Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday ,$27.95) has surfaced on MSNBC recently. Bamford specializes in the National Security Agency and has written three previous books on perhaps the most secret of our secret agencies. Bamford is mesmerizing with his account of the technology behind modern-day surveillance. Our favorite eavesdropper,Gene Hackman is now permanently out of work,an anachronistic character compared to the new wave, wholesale sweep of data about every American. The least of our worries is spying on journalists. The second half of the book describes the legal antics of people like David Addington in the Bush Administration to create a universe of warrantless eavesdropping. What is clear and has become clear is that the NSA staff were far removed from any understanding of the policy changes under Michael Hayden, who put the agency at risk. The book ends with a number of court cases starting in 2006 that challenged this whole eavesdropping regime. For all the recent flap over Obama dismantling the whole apparatus erected by Bush for the alleged purpose of fighting terrorism, its unravelling started three years ago as courts started pushing back. One question does remain--What explains the primitive state of the White House's computer systems? The Obama staff claims "It's like going from Iphone technology to Atari."

The Dubya Depression

The Bush Administration held back news of the collapse of the world financial system as long as they could before the request for the bailouts. The idea was to hold it until after the November election, banking on a McCain electoral college victory ala the 2000 election since a popular vote count was not seen as possible. Then they would spring the news. Could you imagine the chaos that would have ensued?

I watched the BBC's show "The Oracle" this morning which tries to discuss the collapse of the global economy with humor. One guest said that it was great American had an African president now that we had an African economy. The show predicted a run against the English pound by April and the collapse of the Euro by late year. Staring on the show was more favorite economic indicator--the Baltic Dry Chart, which records trends in overseas shipping. The Chart, which showed a sharp, cataclysmic decline in shipping, basically indicates that global manufacturing has basically ceased. The show also went on to predict dire days ahead for the OPEC countries--which they deemed The Organization of Potentially Explosive Countries.

The Washington Post slipped a piece in this morning that economists now believe the world economy is deteriorating at a more accelerated rate than previously thought and a bigger deceleration is on the way. Britain's GDP has shrunk by 6% last quarter, the largest decline since 1980. Germany experienced a similar slowdown and China and South Korea are stalling. The recession or whatever we call it will hit Europe full force this year. The EU has already issued warnings that Ireland, Greece, and Portugal are running dangerously high deficits and Spain had its bond ratings downgraded.

The question now is whether any rebound in 2010 will be vigorous enough to last.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Club Gitmo To Close

Fox news claimed that Obama was bringing terrorists to the mainland by closing Gitmo. A fearful thing indeed. But 150 terrorists have already been convicted in federal courts and currently serve in federal correction facilities. Of the remaining 250 Gitmo detainees, the Bush administration wanted to try only 80 of them. The rest they asked Portugal and Australia. among others, to accept. They balked knowing Bush was a lame duck. The so-called 80 will be sent to the following three options Fort Leavenworth, Fort Pendleton or the Navy brig in South Carolina. The modalities of trying the Gitmo detainees remain to be worked out but this would not have been a problem if the Bush Administration consulted the raft of international law experts who offered them their services post 9/11. The military lawyers were also cut out of the process. Instead the Bush Administration relied on the flawed legal interpretations of their retainers.

Stoogeland Returns

The Blogosphere ate us yesterday--two long posts about the closing of Gitmo and the surveillance program. But the title alludes to the end of the Obama's honeymoon in this town. Off to a crisp start, Obama faces opposition to his stimulus package from the hill. Conservatives are back on the bitter bus. Obama speaks Indonesian at State--ha-ha real evidence of his foreign born nature. Roberts by muffing the Oath of Office was signalling to the 'birthers" he knows. Tons of garbage picked up after the ceremony but no one mentions no arrests of any of the 2 million visitors. The speech was mediocre and did not give the clear clarion call for freedom of George W. Karen Hughes protested the lack of graciousness toward George W. They invited him and didn't arrest him--right. They let him get out of town. One senses Junior is in for a winter of the LBJ mope--pining away in Texas for greater respect. Pro-lifers held their Washington march against Rove v. Wade yesterday. They mentioned that for the last eight years the President of the United States sent them a message to encourage their work. Obama re-affirming his pro-choice policy yesterday called for a dialogue over this issue. "No dialogue, you are a baby-killer." Somehow Barney Frank has become the poster child of the failure of the stimulus package--I thought it was Bush's. By closing Gitmo and the CIA's black sites, Obama has taken away the total defense of the United States. You can not close Gitmo because one of those released became a leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen--but I thought Bush released the guy. We are in for a winter of incoherence.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Poet's Corner

What a tough crowd. The left and the right have criticized the inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander. Too academic. Not patriotic enough. Should have used the rhythms of Hip Hop. Some of us remember an old Robert Frost blinded by the light at the inaugural of JFK, wind swept his new poem away and he had to recite an old favorite from memory. Who could forget Maya Angelou at Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural? Poor Elizabeth Alexander. She had to follow Barack Obama's speech--an impossible task. Besides, Americans don't read poetry anymore.

Here it is:
Praise Song for the Day
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each ohers' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din,each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform,patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica , voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky;A teacher says," Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words,words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed;
words to consider,reconsider.

We cross the dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said,"I need to see what's on the other side;I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,who laid the train tracks,raised the bridges, picked cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for the struggle;praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; the figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as they self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love,love beyond marital,filial,national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Lover with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp--praise song for walking forward in the light.


Not Frank O'Hara's urgent "Lana Turner Fainted Today" I know but strong enough. But then who could ever surpass Maya Angelou's "On The Pulse of Morning" ? By popular demand here are the first two verses.

A Rock,A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

Dinosaurs are a hard act to follow. So maybe we should give Elizabeth Alexander a break.

A Slow Work Day

Rahm Emmanuel started off the term by suspending federal regulations pending a review of the last Bush executive orders. President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting any White House staff from lobbying after they left office. He suspended all trials at Gitmo pending a 120-day review and prepared an Executive Order to close the facility in a year. He lifted the limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. He overturned George H. Bush's Mexico City policy that banned US funding for family planning. He anounced plans to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and the proposal to extend federal benefits to more than 1,000 gays and asserted the rights of gay to adopt.

President Obama called Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan to discuss re-starting the Arab-Israeli peasce process and the current ceasefire in Gaza. He is to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to order the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 16 months and the addition of some 30,000 troops to Afghansitan. Sometime during the day he is expected to announce his new Middle East Envoy--rumored to be Senator Mitchell.

Lastly he will meet with his economic team to discuss the stimulus package. That's minus the morning prayer breakfast and the White House open house.

So done. I don't know whether they have enough for a Day 2.

The Speech

Obama's speech returned us to the period of political oratory. We have been a long time since a President has had the capacity to inspire with words, let alone speak in full sentences. Words do matter and they do produce deeds. Obama started slow and built his momentum. For me the payoff was the finale:
"America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship (nice phrase), let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn our back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth the great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Wednesday Morning Coffee

The breaking news is that the "birthers"--the group who believes Obama is not a "natural-born" citizen--suffered another legal setback today. The Supreme Court turned down their petition to stay the inauguration. One of the birthers has taken a new approach--Allan Keyes, the wildly successful candidate for President on the Constitution Party ticket and the man who lost to Obama in the Illinois Senate race, has now sued the state of Illinois, saying that as runner-up as the Republican candidate he should be the one to take the Senate seat. Go Allan.

I guess I'll break my boycott of Kispy Kreme today. Not only did conservatives urge a boycott because the franchise was handing out a--one--donut to each customer to celebrate the inauguration but they advertised it was "a celebration of the American peoples' freedom of choice". This sparked the pro-life crowd to join the boycott. One donut is One Abortion. Are they going to have a little parade of donut boxes to symbolize dead fetuses?

For months I have been receiving e-mails proclaiming that America is a Christian nation and that Barack Obama was a Muslim who would take the oath of office on Lincoln's personal Koran. Rick Warren's performance I found offensive, particularly when he said the Lord's Prayer, which won kudos from the Christianists. For the record, our Founding Fathers, painfully aware of the brutal religious wars in Europe, stayed far away from the religious creeping into the political. Ben Franklin, perhaps the least religious of the founding fathers, proposed a Prayer to the Heavens to open each session of the Constitutional Convention. The delegates unanimously turned down the proposal. Nowhere in the Federalist Papers or the Minutes of the Constitutional Convention or the subsequent debates within the states to ratify will you find any reference to the so-called Christian nature of the Republic. It simply never crossed their radar screen and would have been rejected if raised.

While some believe Rick Warren is the anti-Christ, I take a wait and see attitude on this. He does look like the local Child Molester and should be kept away from young people however. I believe he was in town to stick out his hands for some faith-based initiative money--he wanted to be first in line with the new administration. Rick should go back and stay in his cone of silence.

While black is great, I support Obama because he is related to Wild Bill Hitchkok, descended from Henry Blossoms of the Mayflower and William the Lion, who ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214. Have you noticed that the British geneaologists have not produced Obama's relationship to the royal family? Is it because Prince Phillip can't stand the idea of a black man in the family tree? At their first meeting will Phillip repeated his New Guinea performance and ask Obama "do you still eat people?'

After eight years, certainly you can pretend gravitas or at least put on a patina for the occasion. Junior looked furtive and shifty-eyed--a man fleeing justice. He does look like Alfred E. Neuman. He will be sorely missed. It was announced that 20,000 would greet his triumphal return home, when the actual number was about 3,000. Among them was "Fredo" Gonzalez, who has been umemployed since his resignation as Attorney General, and Karl "Turdblossoms" Rove, the master strategist for the new 1,000-year Reich.

When Junior started office the DOW was 10,578.02 and he left it was 7,949.09. He didn't say, "We wouldn't get our hair mussed."

Overseas reaction has been typically nuts. The French haven't been this delirious since Jerry Lew released The Nutty Professor. The Germans are celebrating in a goofy way--which is better than some of the ways Germans let off steam. Der Spiegel ran a photo spread of the inauguration, which brought back memories of Leni Riefenstahl. The German photographer inspired by the photos of Naked Nuba men shot the crowds in the national mall as if there were no white people celebrating the ceremony. Visiting Archbishop Desmond Tutu summoned it up when he exclaimed," You people are crazy. Americans are so crazy. I love you. You're so fun. You surprise us all the time." At least we kept that quality for now.

Our daily word that has been re-introduced to our vocabulary is Swill. Obama said,"we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation..." A wonderful word and we welcome it back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration

Once we got over Rick Warren's invocation, which felt longer than Obama's speech, the ceremony went well. If 400,000 were at the Lincoln Memorial concert, the numbers in the National Mall had to top 2 million. Chief Justice Roberts flubbed President Obama's oath of office, luckily constitutional scholar Obama corrected his wording. Aretha Franklin was glorious in her green crown. Obama's speech was eloquent and spoken with an authoritative voice. There were some memorable rifts in it and a bravura conclusion. Since I am still warming up,I'll deal with the text later. Once the balls are finished tonight, we can get Ben's Chili Bowl back and the out-of-towners will let Washington revert to its parochial Southern nature.

Barack Obama has come in the nick of time. He is the first breath of fresh air this town has had in twenty years. You would have to have a heart of stone not to wish him well and alot of good luck. On the cusp of Lincoln's 200th anniversary, it's remarkable a black man gets to be President. It's late but lamentable it took so long.

Barack Obama has already made history and he has in the bank a suitable number of memorable speeches that can be read for a long time. If there is alot to celebrate today, there is the awareness that he actually has to succeed. We have maybe one more time to set the rules of the game before someone else might.

Monday, January 19, 2009

While Awaiting the Obama Vulcan Mindmeld

I know the concert was a Hollywood production but couldn't someone have found jazz musicians and bluesmen? When I went to the University of Chicago, you could always hear Junior Wells. As for jazz, we will have The Duke's Centenary coming up. And where was WILCO?

Is it just me or do Shepard Fairey's iconic images of Obama remind you of socialist realism without the irony of Warhol's Maos? My son believes I should give him a break since he started as a graffiti artist.

The Greatest of All Time is in town--Muhammed Ali was 67 on Saturday and came in for the festivities.

And how can one not mention the death of Patrick McGoohan at the age of 80? In the prophetic series "The Prisoner", he uttered the call of the modern age," I am not a number, I am a free man."

Conservatives are urging you to boycott Krispy Kreme because it has the audacity of giving away free donuts on the inauguration.

The Bush staffers promise to leave the "o" on the word processors when they leave.

If the Mumbai scenario happens on inauguration day, Bob Gates has been left in charge. Boy, that inspires confidence. Did Obama know this when he said yesterday," I have confidence that this nation will endure."?

By popular demand

Alright, by popular demand, these are the missing verses from "This Land is My Land":

"In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is This Land made for you and me?

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This Land was made for you and me."

Lincoln Memorial Concert

Saw the concert yesterday first via internet, then later at a party of several dozen Obama supporters. First, the snarky comments. Bishop Robinson's invocation--quite eloquent in text--was somehow missing from the broadcast. None of the choruses were identified--these people spent alot of time and came from tremendous distances to participate. At least they should be recognized. The only thing identifying the D.C. Gay Men's Chorus were the AIDs ribbons, otherwise they could have been the Marines. Across town, Marine veteran and ex-Navy corpsman, the great Rev. Wright packed Howard University's chapel and spoke about the guy with the Big Ears becoming President. His best line was that Michelle Obama would be the first black woman to "legally sleep in the White House." He can be snarky too. Aaron Copeland's Lincoln Suite, written when Lincoln was revised by the New Dealers, was too long for 400,000 people standing in the cold. For reasons that escape me, the party crowd loved Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising". For Washington, he should have song" My City of Ruins". How Garth Brooks merited three songs, while Stevie Wonder got one cut escapes me. Best tune was Bob Marley's "One Love". The man who must have gotten the biggest kick out of the event was Pete Seeger. Blackballed for years because of his unabashedly Stalinist politics, Pete managed to sing the entire, uncensored version of This Land Is Your Land. The missing four stanzas make it a song of class struggle. This must have been a hoot for him.

One part of the show has personal relevance. There was the film footage of Marian Anderson singing "My Country Tis A Thee" at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. This was right after the Daughters of the American Revolution banned her from singing at Constitution Hall. My grandmother Lillian Relyea promptly resigned from the DAR. Years later I asked her whether she resigned because Marian was black. A member of her husband's church choir, she said," No, it is because Marian Anderson sang like an angel. And if you don't allow angels to sing, I don't want any part of you." In the late 1980s, doing some research on the family tree, I visited the DAR and they refused to share my family information. That's a long time to carry a grudge.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Washington Gears Up

The Jumbotrons are all up on the Mall. Last night they looked like Stonehenge, forming a silent vigil before the big day. Washington traffic was mad. Out of state drivers spotted included Maine, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Montana. The George Washington Parkway will be closed. It's a great temptation to walk from Alexandria to the big event but the temperatures last night were in single digits with the windchill factor that makes the journey rather daunting. People are already filing in for the concert this afternoon around the Lincoln Memorial. Snow flurries expected and the temperature has gotten a little warmer. Bono's appearance turns me off--why not the local band Foo-Fighters? Obama is expected to speak--I bet somewhere between Stevie Wonder and Springsteen. Obama and Jolting Joe Biden have already done the Arlington Cemetary tribute. I have to wonder how Obama's voice is going to hold out after today and tomorrow's Martin Luther King speech. The feel around town is that the turnout will be massive after all, despite the constant bummer broadcasts. If you can't walk two miles, are older, have children, may feel the need to go to the bathroom and can't stand hours on one leg, you are urged not to come. Overheard this morning a security type informing his friends about the Mumbai scenario, saying terrorists are likely to attack hotels. Does this explain the strange phenomenon of visitors hiring bodyguards for the events? Or are these guys meant to bludgeon the crowd to get you to a car? So far, it beats Clinton's march from Monticello to proclaim a New Covenant. If I punk out, I can always go to the Alexandria market square to watch the proceedings on the Jumbotron there.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday Morning Coffee

Barack Obama is entering Washington by train this morning sporting a 69% approval rating, while George Bush leaves town with a 22% approval rating, the lowest of any outgoing president. The Bush Magical Mystery tour ended this morning with his Saturday morning radio address, which suspiciously sounded like his farewell speech. The Karl Rove designed legacy tour complete with more interviews than in the whole previous eight years of both Bush and Cheney hasn't panned out very well. 57% of Americans believe George W to be one of the five worst Presidents of the United States. We will have more about how history will judge George later in the week. But even if he halves that number in a few years, it might not be enough to rehabilitate him.

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office, we will finally be rid of the Baby Boomers and that's just terrific with me. I think my generation should retire and debate Nixon and Vietnam in nursing homes and leave governing to another generation--the one we stuck with the bills.

Speaking of a younger generation, kudos go to Cenk at Young Turks for getting the real importance of Bin Laden's tape challenging Obama. The CIA has been focusing on the Bin Laden's wheezing to determine his health. Can you imagine being the guy who does that? Cenk cut to the chase by pointing out that this was the first tape where Bin Laden's asked for money--it was a fund-raising tape, which means the guy is broke. Sorry Osama. But don't worry the Spooks will take another few years to figure it out.

Neil Young, the greatest Canadian, sings "A Fork In The Road" with the relevant line,"There's a bailout comin'.....but it's not for me."

Susan J. Crawford, who is the Pentagon's Commanding Authority in charge of proscuting the prisoners at Gitmo, used the T-word (Torture) in describing the reasons why she was not going to try the 20th Highjacker. She said that because of the treatment the evidence was a "mess".

We will have more on the torture issue this week. The past 14 days have produced the strangest debate in America in a longtime. Both Dick Cheney and George Bush proudly defended and even went on to explain the glories of "enhanced interrogation" as a "tool" to fight terrorism. Even your run-of-the-mill dictator and caudillo never overtly claimed, let alone bragged about practicing torture. This all puts the Obama Administration between a rock and a hard place over whether to pursue charges against Bush officials or to just move on. While Eric Holder denounced waterboarding as torture, the first of the past four attorney generals asked that question to say so, he tried to cloud whether anything would be done about the past actions.

Among the commentariat, there was heated debate pro and anti-torture. Fred Barnes ranked "enhanced interrogation" techniques the second greatest achievement of the Bush Administration. Charles Krauthammer urged Obama to take Cheney's sage advice and not close Gitmo and preserve the current regimen. Conservative TV talking heads seemed to confuse Jack Bauer of 24 as a real life person, who shows torture is great, even heroic. On the left, Bush was likened to Pinochet with these strings of confessions at the end of his term and Paul Krugman urged an investigation of all the Bush misdeeds, a sentiment shared by a number of experts in international law.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is There a Mexican Surprise in Obama's Future?

A little known Pentagon study entitled "the Joint Operating Environment (JOE): Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Forces" has some rather shocking conclusions about the threats facing the United States. While it advertises itself as serving as a starting point for discussions about the "future security environment", the report posits that two large and important states could collapse rapidly--Pakistan and Mexico. President-elect Obama met recently with Mexican President Calderon to discuss Mexico's security requirements for its on-going war against drug traffickers.

More than 5,700 people have been killed in drug-related violence this past year. That figure is more than all the US deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since those wars began. The JOE report cheerfully concludes that the collapse of Mexico is less likely than Pakistan but noted that its government,police and judicial infrastructure are all under a sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and the drug cartels. How this internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on whether Mexico can survive or just become a narco-state. Any plunge into chaos would put enormous stress on an America already preoccupied with its own internal economic crisis. The Obama transition team has already voiced concern about whether we can bail out another country at this time or in the near-term. Let alone the massive immigration problems--it would be illegal immigration on steroids.

Andrew Wyeth Dead at 91

Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. In the early days of his career, art critics treated him like a Thomas Kincaide,a rustic painter of nostalgia and naivete. But later evaluations of his life's work remark on his melancholy and sense of alienation. A show at the Whitney titled "Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth" organized in 1998 tried to make up the difference between his popularity and lack of critical acclaim. Richard Merryman,who first wrote about him for Life in 1964,documented Wyeth dark and angry vision in his book "Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life"(Harper Collins, 1996),which refers to his total obsession with painting. Referring to his father the famous book illustrator,N.C. Wyeth, Andrew said,"I am the illustrator of my own life." He was not beyond hype as the release of the Helga Pictures showed. Claiming the paintings and drawings of Helga, a neighbor, had been kept from his wife, the so-called secret stash netted the Wyeths a small fortune just on their notoriety. On his most popular painting "Christina's World", he said," If I were really a good painter, I could have painted the field without her in it."

Bush's Last Letter

In a letter to Congress, President Bush said that the economy would pick up in the second half of 2009. The economy would grow a modest .6% for 2009 and that unemployment would average 7.7%. For the years 2020 and 2011, the White House expects the economy to grow 5% per year. It is no wonder that President Bush at the presidents' luncheon said to Obama,"we want you to succeed." In large part, Bush's legacy will depend on how quickly Obama and his economic stimulus package works. The longer it takes the more people will remember how the Bush Administration got us here. As Robert Reich said recently, "Everyone is just making it all up as they go along." The Congressional Budget Office had a more pessimistic view of the economy than the Bush letter. Among the incoming Obama team, the dreaded "D" word is often heard and it is not rare to hear projections of 9-10% unemployment for 2009. Some financial analysts believe we have yet to see a few more shoes drop--foreclosures in the commercial real estate sector and a large scale problem of defaults on credit card debt. Another issue is the possible mid-year resistance of the Chinese and other foreigners to buy more American debt. Here's one time I hope Bush turns out to be right.

Caroline Kennedy for Senate

If your state was going into the dumpster and America's financial center was doomed, wouldn't you want as your Senator a good friend of the President? When John Ashcroft lost to the dead man in Missouri, did anyone complain about the appointment of his widow? Did people criticize Murial Humphrey taking over for Hubert? So what is it with the flap over Caroline Kennedy? So she had the good sense not to vote on occasion and she hems and haws in answers. A very private citizen most of her life, we first heard her speak years ago when she endorsed Fritz Hollings as her type of Democrat and then when she came out and endorsed Barack Obama in an eloquent op-ed in the New York Times. Local voters gave her kudos for her efforts to register new voters in Pennsylvania during the primary campaign. Republicans, whose memories now fail them, always said she was the most sensible of the Kennedys. Dynasties? Neither party can complain about them. One is leaving the White House now.

Caroline Kennedy passes the money test for the Senate. She does fail the senility test. Alarm bells should have gone off when Joe Biden bragged that at the age of 66 he was only the 40th oldest Senator. With McCain promising to run again when he's 74 and Akaka at the age of 84, maybe it's time we need younger blood in the world's most exclsuive nursing home.

Comedians in the Senate

Republicans are upset by the impending appearance of Al Franken in the Senate. Posters over at claim Minnesota has become a laughingstock of the country, first having voted a pro-wrestler as Governor and now a comedian as Senator. The Wall Street Journal denounces the recounts as illegal, even though the state law made them automatic. From what I have observed the recounts have been as transparent as any I've seen over the last three decades. Franken will probably prevail. But the question remains about the role of comedians in our political system.
Comedians are probably the most serious people around. What better group to have as politicians? Al Franken I can do without. But let's look back at some missed opportunities. Hey, Ho Steverino. Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host, was a jazz musician, a composer, author of countless books and a genuine humorist. A Rennaissance man, he would have been a superb Senator. Jayne Meadows would have played the political spouse superbly. Johnny Carson--probably the most trusted man after Walter Cronkite--would have brought his Midwestern commonsense to bear on the office. As Dave Letterman proved this year," the road to the White House ran through this studio". After John McCain snubbed Letterman, he never regained a lead in the polls and lost Indiana, Letterman's home state. Letterman could probably beat Dick Lugar at this moment.
Steve Martin has the brainpower but is probably too existential for the Senate. Jack Parr would have been too maudlin for the office. Woody Allen too grim. Robin Williams too flighty.
From Animal House, we learned John Belushi's destiny. When Senator Stevens, recently convicted for bribery, gave his farewell speech to the Senate, he received a standing ovation and Harry Reid said of him,"he has the courage of a lion." Don't say the Senate isn't the place for comedians.
At the end of the year, we have lists--the good, the bad, the ugly, the best galore. I have my own lists. The absolute most horrible political speech--probably given by man--was John McCain's Lime Green Jello speech on the eve when Barack Obama announced he had secured the Democratic nomination. The Green would later appear as the backdrop for McCain nomination speech only to fade out mid-way. After watching this speech on YouTube a dozen times, I'm convinced it may be conceptually perfect in its awfulness--the delivery, the timing ( to step on the Obama's declaration), the text ( where did the bottles of water for dehydrated babies come from?). Jon Stewart saved the day with his contest for viewers to put the Jello speech to favorite music videos.

The best new political website belongs to Nate Silver, the new polling star and baseball statistician par excellence, at
Still the funniest website, which reminds us how silly politicians can be, is
Best new young talents are The Young Turks,

More later

Barack's Lincoln Strategy

Isn't Barack Obama carrying this Lincoln thing too far? Being sworn in on Lincoln's bible is OK and eating the same meal as Lincoln after the ceremony is fine also. But not since Lincoln has Northern Virginia been cut off from the capital. Local news here claims the closing of the bridges across the Potomac were meant to stop a possible Mumbai event. What? Were terrorists in zodiacs aiming to sail up the Potomac? Perhaps the cut-off should have been just south of Richmond where Sarah Palin claimed real America began.