Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Indeed! We’ve Been Given Fair Warning


John McCain praises President Bush for Supreme Court Appointments
by Charlie Leck

John McCain says he'll try to find clones of Justices Alito and Roberts.

"I want to assure you that one of the great accomplishments of President Bush is we now have judges on the United States Supreme Court and judges who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States of America… Two of the best of those are Judges Alito and Roberts. You can be very proud of them. My friends, I want to tell you, I will try to find clones of Alito and Roberts. I will try to find people just like them."

There's so much at stake in the coming election. At stake here is fairness and justice for the common, middle class person against giant corporate interests and the comforts of the super-rich.

Well, as Antoine Morris says, in his article on AlterNet: "Well, at least we've been given fair warning!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Missed a Moment


This was a big moment and I wasn't there!
by Charlie Leck

I wasn't there to see the spiraling, twirling tippy-toes
Nor to hear the giggling, gasping, delighted grandpas
Cheer on their little dervishes twirling like Ekaterina Shipulina
Nor to see her first arabesque and entrechat

I was here, among the stars and dazzled by them,
When I should have been there, standing in the back
Amazed at how she's grown to be a princess in pink ruffles
Leaping through her pas de chat while my heart soared with her

But I was a galaxy away in another time and space
Missing this moment that will never in this universe be repeated
So I might be thrilled by her temps levé sauté or fouetté en tournant
Whistling and applauding as she twirls and pumps her arms in time

I wasn't there to see my little princess, Anna Rosalenka Volochkova
For, in solitude, I was fleeting toward the stars on the wings of a pig

Monday, April 28, 2008

Measure for Measure


So it goes!
by Charlie Leck

Rosanna Cash and Joe Henry are collaborating on a song. I just read about their joint ventures on a NY Times blog called Measure for Measure. Cash, the daughter of the famous singer, from whose shadow she is trying to step, is an extremely talented woman and this song has a lovely touch. I can't wait for them to finish it. If you want to hear Joe Henry sing it in its prenatal form, click here. I kind of urge you to read the blog, too; for it's enjoyable to get in on the construction of a song from the bottom up.

I've tried this blog a number of times. Occasionally it's way above my head. Then again, occasionally I feel as if someone broke into my brain and taught me in a new way. That was true on this particular morning. Cash gave the blog this specific title: "So it goes! How it went!"

It's fun to get in on the collaboration. Cash publishes their email communications on the song and the suggestions they send back and forth to one another. We get to witness the evolution of the song and see it get progressively stronger, until we see it take its first tottering steps and then it begins to dance gracefully. Here's an example of Joe Henry's remarks to Cash:

"still playing with this some, as i really like the shape and feel. one thing i find i like sometimes -and think it might work here- is to create a form of 2 verses, a bridge, then a 3rd verse; have an instrumental break, and then sing a variation of the 3rd verse over a repeated bridge form; then conclude with a final verse. did i describe that right? what it does is puts a different spin on a particularly pivotal verse…makes it like a hinge in the song…allows something important to repeat and still be heard as an evolving thought."
Here's a verse I particularly liked. It returned me immediately to Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five, but only because that is a major base of reference for my life. I cannot hear or read the phrase, "so it goes," without it stirring up a lot of emotion for me.

"Many years pass, and so many friends
And none of us ever may pass this way again
The last of us standing the first one who knows—
So it goes, so it goes
So it goes, so it goes"
That verse is near the conclusion of the song. It rings so true for me – probably for everyone who looks back in life. It's a universal experience – that looking back stuff! I find myself doing an awful lot of it these days. So it goes!

Reader Suggestion
Within ten minutes of this blog getting posted, a reader in Europe responded and suggested I go to You Tube to listen to and watch Joe Klein perform "God Only Knows!" I did and it was lovely. So, the suggestion gets passed along to you.

"God only knows what we can do,
No more or less than he'll allow.
For God only knows that we mean well
And God knows that we just don't know how."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Here’s My Reading


I read the Sunday paper for you!
by Charlie Leck

Elite High Schools in Korea
Read the extraordinary NY Times story about elite Korean schools who prepared kids for America's Ivy League colleges and the phenomenal success they have. [click here]

"This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission." [Story by Sam Dillon, 27 April 2008]
The dirty, dirty things that happened in Gitmo Prison
Do you know the CIA retains over 7,000 documents related to the detention of suspects at the Gitmo prison in Cuba. They call them too sensitive to release to a Congressional oversight committee investigating scandals at the prison; therefore they refuse to allow Congress to inspect them. [Read story here]

"Among other assertions, the CIA claimed that it did not have to release the documents because many consist of correspondence with the White House or top Bush administration officials, or because they are between parties seeking legal advice on the programs, including guidance on the legality of certain interrogation procedures. The CIA confirmed that it requested -- and received -- legal advice from attorneys at the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel concerning these procedures." [AlterNet, 24 April 2008]
Great Movie
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the remarkable French film, is due out on DVD on 27 April 2008. As a reminder, this is an intensely wonderful film. I do believe it will affect even you. [Find out more on this site that promotes the movie.]

Hunger Crisis
The Washington Post's lead story this morning is about the worst food crisis in more than a generation. [Read story here.]

"The food price shock now roiling world markets is destabilizing governments, igniting street riots and threatening to send a new wave of hunger rippling through the world's poorest nations. It is outpacing even the Soviet grain emergency of 1972-75, when world food prices rose 78 percent. By comparison, from the beginning of 2005 to early 2008, prices leapt 80 percent, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Much of the increase is being absorbed by middle men -- distributors, processors, even governments -- but consumers worldwide are still feeling the pinch."
Either Clinton or Obama can beat McCain
John Dickerson on Slate.Com gives reasons why either Obama or Clinton would beat John McCain. I hope he's right! [Read it here]

Elizabeth Edwards on the media
Elizabeth Edwards (neat chick, big brain and tons of compassion) writes in the NY Times this morning – perhaps I should say "vents" – about the media coverage of the campaign. She thinks issues are getting the shaft. [Read it here]

"Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates' priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I'm not surprised." [Elizabeth Edwards, NY Times 27 April 2008]
Eat local or shipping fresh food around the world?
What damage is done to the environment by shipping foods all around the world? What can we do about it? This is an issue that I'm finding more and more interesting. There are things we can do, but at what cost? Elisabeth Rosenthal writes about this in the NY Times. [read it]

"Food has moved around the world since Europeans brought tea from China, but never at the speed or in the amounts it has over the last few years. Consumers in not only the richest nations but, increasingly, the developing world expect food whenever they crave it, with no concession to season or geography." [Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 26 April 2008]
Great Taco Recipe
I watch every single video by The Minimalist, Mark Bittman. Today he provides tips on making tacos using recipes he dug up in the Yucatan Penninsula in Mexico. I cannot tell you how much I've enjoyed trying to cook the meals he produces on these videos. Oh, what fun! [Read and/or watch]

"The Yucatán, which feels as Caribbean as it does Mexican, is to Mexico as Alsace is to France, as Sicily is to Italy, as Hawaii is to the United States: formally a part of the union, but culturally quite distinct, and with a well-preserved sense of identity." [Mark Bittman, NY Times, 23 April 2008]
Keeping John McCain on his toes
The NY Times seems to have it out for John McCain even though its editorial board endorced him for the Presidency (among Republicans) a few months ago. The subtlety of what they're doing is lost on many people. McCain has made a big deal about professing ethics and ethical behavior in Congress. He's said all the right things. The Times is showing us that his judgment is not good, however, about his own actions. He gets involved in things he shouldn't and walks too closely to the edge on other things. Over the last several weeks, the newspaper has pointed to several very real and specific examples. None of them cause you to say that McCain is a bad guy. They all make you wonder about his ability to see that he probably shouldn't be involved in this. This time it's using his wife's corporate jet for a long, extended period for campaigning. This is a no-no! [read the story here]

"But over a seven-month period beginning last summer, Mr. McCain's cash-short campaign gave itself an advantage by using a corporate jet owned by a company headed by his wife, Cindy McCain, according to public records. For five of those months, the plane was used almost exclusively for campaign-related purposes, those records show." [Barry Meier and Margot Williams, NY Times 27 April 2008]
Song of the Day
I subscribe to NPR's Song of the Day and enjoy most, though a few are a bit over-the-top for me. Recently, Lisa Cerbone's song, "Sweep Your Hair from Your Eyes," was featured. She has a lovely, delicate voice and she writes with sensitivity. I liked this. You may also [Go here and click on listen!]

McCain Lost in Pennsylvania
Frank Rich explains how the bigger loser in the Pennsylvania primary was John McCain [click to read his column].

"But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn't just tell pollsters they would defect from their party's standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party's nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That's more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama." [Frank Rich, NY Times, 27 April 2008]
What went wrong on Wall Street?
I don't turn to the business section much – generally bad writing and generally very boring; however, I've been intrigued to know why these big banks and investment houses have gotten into so much trouble over mortgage loans. Why would an outfit like Bear-Stearns get hit so hard? Ben Stein does a good job explaining it in his business column, Wall Street, Run Amok. [read it]

"But Mr. Einhorn has even more troubling observations. He says the S.E.C. also allowed broker-dealers to set their own valuations on assets and liabilities that were hard to value. And broker-dealers could assign their own creditworthiness ratings to counterparties in complex derivatives transactions when those counterparties were otherwise unrated.

"In a word, Mr. Einhorn says, the S.E.C. told Wall Street to police itself to save on regulatory costs, while not bothering to 'discuss the cost to society of increasing the probability that a large broker-dealer could go bust.'" [Ben Stein, NY Times, 27 April 2008]
Why no violent explosion in NY over the Bell verdict?
I expected it and I won't deny it. I thought there would be huge violence all over the city after a judge handed down an acquittal for the New York cops who shot down Sean Bell. Why was there relative calm? Manny Fernandez explains it exceedingly well in his story in the NY Times. [read it]

"But many black men and women in Jamaica and elsewhere in New York said their anger was tempered by the complicated case that unfolded in a city less racially divided than 10 years ago." [Manny Fernandez, NY Times 27 April 2008]
Baby Logelin – an incredible story!
In our local paper, the story about Matt Logelin, who became a new father and a widow all within 27 hours. He and his late wife, Liz, are kids from Minnetonka. They were living in Las Angeles, where Matt works for Yahoo. A day after the birth of a daughter, his wife died from an unsuspected blood clot. Matt put his grief out on a blog and hundreds, including lots of his old Minnesota friends and family, began reading about the horrible events. The response has been beautiful. [Read the story in the StarTribune]

"As his world fell apart, Logelin turned for solace to the Internet, which has become an unexpected lifeline for many sharing joy or grief. In his case, both. He told their story in a blog, www.mattlogelin.com, which he subtitled: "Life and death. All in a 27-hour-period.
"Living in Los Angeles, he had been using the blog to keep friends and family in Minnesota up to date on Liz's pregnancy. But his online journal, with its spare prose and poignant photos, has taken on, in his words, 'a life of its own.'" [Maura Lerner, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 27 April 2008]

END

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Sean Bell Murder Trial


How will New York City react?
by Charlie Leck

The verdict is in! I don’t know what to say. You don’t believe it? It’s true. I haven’t the slightest idea what to make the ink say. I’m in a modest state of shock, though there were plenty of warnings along the way that this would be the verdict.

I’ll send you instead to read the comments on this verdict by someone who can feel it and understand it much better than I. Here’s a tease:
“But expectations, witness testimony, seemingly unimpeachable evidence, and the official condemnation of the deadly shooting by city officials obviously weren't enough. There's equally good reason why it almost never is.”
I suggest you read this story by Earl Ofari Hutchinson that was published on AlterNet. [click here to read the story]

The Hutchinson Political Report is his regular blog and I’ve been following it this year to get a real sense of where Obama is going and what his election problems are going to be. You might like to check in their regularly, too.

Hutchinson is a highly regarded political analyst. He’s written ten books; and articles by him are regularly published in newspapers and magazines all around the United States. He’s appeared on such TV programs as CNN, MSNBC, NPR and The O'Reilly Factor. He’s an associate editor at New America Media and a regular contributor to Black News.com, Alternet.com, BlackAmericaWeb.Com and the Huffington Post.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Remembering the Civil Rights Martyrs!


Come to Mississippi for their Memorial Service
an invitation from Charlie Leck

This summer, I’m taking my wife and one of my daughters with me on my return to Mississippi. It’s to attend a memorial service for the three guys who have become known as the Civil Rights Martyrs. The three of them are constantly on my mind. They disappeared and were murdered on the day my train arrived in Mississippi to work on the voter registration drive (June 21, 1964).

Folks down there have asked me to extend an invitation to Minnesotans and other folks I know around the country to come on down to Mississippi for this extraordinary day of remembrance.

If you are a veteran of the Mississippi Civil Rights effort, give some thought to coming on down. Of course, you’re invited even if you didn’t work in Mississippi during the 60s. If anyone is thinking about going, I can provide specific directions out to the Memorial Service. Just leave a comment on my blog or send me an email at chasleck@gmail.com

The 44th Annual Mississippi Civil Right Martyrs Memorial Service,
Conference and Caravan for Justice
Longdale Community Center site on County Road 632
Neshoba County, Mississippi
June 21-22, 2008

We will remember and honor slain civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner – and all the other Mississippi civil rights martyrs.

The weekend’s events begin with a Caravan for Justice,
assembling at the First Union Missionary Baptist Church
610 38th Avenue, in Meridian,
at 9:00 a.m., and departing at 9:30 on Saturday, June 21, 2008.


The caravan will visit the James Chaney grave site, the three martyrs murder site on Rock Cut Road, and Mount Nebo Church, before going on to the old Longdale Community Center at 2:30 p.m.. Along the way, justice rallies will be held at the Lauderdale County Courthouse in Meridian at 9:45 a.m. and the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia at 1:30 p.m.

The Memorial Service and Conference will be held on Saturday, June 21, from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the old Longdale Community Center site on County Road 632 in Neshoba County.

It will be conducted outdoors on the Steele family’s land with ample shade and parking. Another indoor site has been arranged in case it rains.

The local community around the site is friendly to our cause. There will be much and varied food, from barbeque to healthy salads.

This event will be remembering, exchanging thoughts and ideas, strategizing, and will call on officials to prosecute all known perpetrators who murdered civil rights workers. We will also develop plans to continue the struggle against racial oppression in Mississippi. The service is open to all people of good will who share our values and concerns. Please join us!

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me: Charlie Leck chasleck@gmail.com

Justice for Civil Right Martyrs!
Compared to the number of Mississippi murders committed and the number of murderers involved, investigations and prosecutions have been a token few.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Do You Know What We Don’t Know?


The Bush administration’s “Iraq Plan” is not public knowledge!
Read about “Enduring Camps!”

by Charlie Leck

Many have been critical of the Bush administration for not having created an exit strategy for the Iraq War. Turns out we were wrong to criticize. The Bush administration had and has no intention to leave Iraq.

What fools we are!

Read the following from AlterNet and you’ll see just why John McCain could say so lightly that we may be in Iraq for 100 years. That’s the plan, you dummy!

I’m left aghast by this information and wonder how I missed it and didn’t catch any of the hints.

All of this will explain why it is so vital to the conservatives that they win the next election. They will pull out all the stops to do so – I mean all the stops! They have a 100 year plan to protect.

The following is only a little bit of an outstanding article by Tom Engelhardt. He writes a blog regularly at Tomdispatch.com. Try your best to read the entire article.

“No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave -- and still doesn't: Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an ‘exit strategy.’ In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn't ‘permanent base,’ but the more charming and euphemistic ‘enduring camp.’ (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio's defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as ‘one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.’

“These mega-bases, like ‘Camp Cupcake (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn't changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for ‘an open-ended military presence’ and ‘no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries.’"

And read to about the new embassy we are building in Baghdad. Holy, friggin’ fiddlesticks! Can you believe this?

“No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an ‘embassy’: When, for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex -- regularly described as ‘Vatican-sized’ -- of at least 20 ‘blast-resistant’ buildings on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with ‘fortified working space’ and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven't built an ‘embassy’ at all. What you've constructed in the heart of the heart of another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call ‘the Greater Middle East.’

“Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will, according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just to be "represented" in Iraq. The ‘embassy’ is, in fact, the largest headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally, it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home. Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it were ... enemy-occupied territory.”

Go view the MSNBC video on this compound. It will astound you. The reporter concludes the piece by saying the compound “makes it look like the U.S. will be occupying Iraq forever.” That’s the plan!

There are 27 buildings built on 104 acres and would house up to 600 people. It has a huge swimming pool, gyms, lockerrooms and elegant dining facilities and conference rooms. It has so far cost over 700 million dollars. Now, the administration, before even moving in, wants it enlarged so that it can house the Iraq Commanding U.S. General and his troops – up to 2,000 more. Before this change it was estimated it will cost 2 billion dollars a year to operate the facility.

Are we crazy, or what? If you don’t think the neo-cons are out of control, your brain has gone fluffy.

Please, send this link to the AlterNet article on to your friends. This is insanity!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When I am President


Here’s the first thing I’ll do when elected President of the U.S.A.
I’ll appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission on Rebuilding America

by Charlie Leck

If I was the President of the United State, here’s one of the first things I’d do upon taking office. I’d put together a blue-ribbon panel on Rebuilding America, I’d ask them to figure out how we ought to invest our money in order to make our nation great again. Finally, I’d ask that panel to let me know how much money it would cost to do the job correctly and to lay out a plan for gathering that money.

I’d invite a number of wise and compassionate Americans to make up that body. I’m tired of listening to half-pint, simple-minded, narrow-visioned politicians who damn all taxes and government spending. How in blazes do they think we got to be, for at least a time, the greatest country in the world?

We got there because we asked the American taxpayer and American corporations to help us set aside funds to make our nation the wonder that it was. It called for some sacrifices along the way, but we knew that these sacrifices would reap enormous future returns.

It’s a flat-out simple fact that we have stopped doing that. The conservatives – who are supposed to believe in conserving America and the American way – fight investing in our nation’s future at every turn. That does not conserve America. America is virtually falling apart.

Back to my blue ribbon panel! I will allow those who sit on the council to establish the agenda; that is, to name those institutions and that infrastructure in America that need to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, in case they need stimulation, I will outline some of my suggestions at the end of this blog.

If I were President, here are the citizens I’d invite to the panel.

Bill Gates is invited
He is a man to be admired. I certainly admire his enormous achievements.

Gates, I think, will want to make our education system one of those institutions to be rebuilt and that reflects a bias on my part. America’s public education system was one of the great wonders of the world. The system was so outstanding that it won our nation praise around the globe. Now, listen to Bill Gates on America’s education system:

“When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”

Take a look at this column that Gates wrote for the Washington Post. Gates holds nothing back. He speaks candidly and from the heart. He is frightened for America. He wants us to do more and it will have to start in Washington.

Government investment in research, strong intellectual property laws and efficient capital markets are among the reasons that America has for decades been best at transforming new ideas into successful businesses.

“The most important factor is our workforce. Scientists and engineers trained in U.S. universities -- the world's best -- have pioneered key technologies such as the microprocessor, creating industries and generating millions of high-paying jobs.”

“…But if we are to remain competitive, we need a workforce that consists of the world's brightest minds.

“…we must demand strong schools so that young Americans enter the workforce with the math, science and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the knowledge economy. We must also make it easier for foreign-born scientists and engineers to work for U.S. companies.”

“Education has always been the gateway to a better life in this country, and our primary and secondary schools were long considered the world's best. But on an international math test in 2003, U.S. high school students ranked 24th out of 29 industrialized nations surveyed.”

“Our schools can do better. Last year, I visited High Tech High in San Diego; it's an amazing school where educators have augmented traditional teaching methods with a rigorous, project-centered curriculum. Students there know they're expected to go on to college. This combination is working: 100 percent of High Tech High graduates are accepted into college, and 29 percent major in math or science. Contrast that with the national average of 17 percent.”

“To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.”

Unless you want to get totally frustrated, don’t look at the comments from readers in response to this column by Gates. It reflects the kind of climate and selfish attitude that neo-conservatives have raised to be the standard in this nation. How sad!

I’d also invite Warren Buffet to sit on the council
Warren Buffet, the richest man in America and, perhaps, also in the world, believes in the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes. I want to see America’s system of taxation streamlined and returned to the progressive system we formerly followed. Buffet is also one of the kindest and most generous citizens in the nation.
Here’s how the matter of taxes was put in an interview Buffet had with ABC News:

“Now one of those certainties is under attack from an unlikely source: Warren Buffett. Wednesday, the billionaire founder of the investment firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc. went to Washington to ask Congress not to cut his taxes. Buffett says the super-rich should be taxed more, not less.

“In particular Buffett urged the Senate Finance Committee not to repeal the estate tax. It is scheduled to come up for a vote, perhaps as soon as this week.

“He told the committee that he recently compared how much he pays in taxes in terms of a percentage of his salary to what his employees pay.

“The results? Buffett says he pays 18 percent of his salary to the IRS while the rest of his staff pays nearly twice that — 33 percent, a lopsided equation that put Buffett in a Robin Hood frame of mind.

"’Frankly, an economy where my receptionist pays a lot higher tax rate than, than I do does not strike me as a just economy’ he told lawmakers.

“Buffet has challenged the elite members of the Forbes 400 list to do their own calculations and compare their tax rate with their receptionists, and then consider his challenge that the rich should pay more.

"’I see nothing wrong with those who have been blessed by this society to give a larger portion of their income to the society than somebody that's working very, very hard to make ends meet,’ Buffett said.”

See why I’d make sure Buffet is on the commission to rebuild America. He also gets along smashingly with Gates.

Michael Bloomberg would also get invited
Bloomberg is a “get the job done” kind of guy. Sure, he’s made several billion dollars, but his wealth is only evidence of the fact that he’s bright and can implement a plan. My commission will need bright people, planners and implementers.

One of the first things Bloomberg did upon taking office as mayor of New York City was to make Joe Klein the head of schools.
Take a look at this story in U.S. News & World Report about Klein’s approach. One of Bloomberg’s great talents is in picking the right person for the job. Here’s the kind of guy Bloomberg has in Klein:

"A systematic worker, Klein started from the premise that the most crucial people in a school system are teachers, and the most important change agents are principals. ‘Schools are the basic unit that needs changing,’ Klein says, ‘and if we can empower the principals to lead their schools, we can reform the system from the top down and the bottom up.’ At the same time, Klein keeps in touch with the troops by visiting two or three schools a week, typically unannounced. ‘I'll ask [students] things like 'How many of your teachers care about you?'’ he says. ‘It's a very illuminating question.’"

My commission needs people who can spot talent. And education is one of the foremost jobs I want my commission to tackle.

How I wish Bloomberg had run for President of the U.S.A.. Had he, he certainly would have been my choice and I think he would have won as either a Republican, Democrat or Independent.

Who else would I put on the commission?

Rob Reiner
I’d ask
Rob Reiner to serve on the panel also. Reiner’s obviously creative. He’s also intelligent and compassionate. I don’t know what his politics are, but I know he’s concerned about America and he wants it to be a fair, just and cooperative nation. He’ll put global warming on my panel’s agenda and he’ll get along well with my first three choices.

Ellen Goodman
I’d put Ellen Goodman on my panel because I’ve been reading her newspaper columns for years and she’s got the right mix of compassion and practicality. She’s very wise and doesn’t pull the trigger quickly. She thinks things through. She won’t allow other panel members to get verbose. She’ll keep things on track by asking the proper questions at the correct time. If you don’t know about Ellen Goodman, you really ought to
go read about her. And, anyone who can write like she does belongs on this elite panel.

Garrison Keillor
I’m sure it’s no surprise to my regular readers that Keillor gets put on the panel. My reason may surprise you, however. It’s mainly because he’s from Lake Wobegon, that town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” This is what we want for all of America. Keillor will help us understand how to do it. Beyond the fact that he is a native of this distinguished community, where I now live and from which I always post these blogs, Keillor is also a very bright and witty guy. He’ll keep Goodman laughing and give Reiner great stuff for an upcoming movie. He’s also nearly as wealthy now as Buffet. I start every Sunday morning by reading his column in our local paper. They’re always very good. Sometimes they’re great! If you don’t know who Garrison Keillor is, you’re not breathing!
Go see him on You Tube. You can also go to You Tube to see Keillor’s endorsement of Barack Obama. Want to read about my town, Lake Wobegon?

Stanley Fish
I’d ask Stan Fish to be on this commission also, because every group like this needs one real, honest-to-goodness intellectual – a Mensa kind of guy. That’s Fish. He’ll analyze where the group is and where it appears to be going. If you haven’t gotten to know Stanley Fish you aren’t a regular reader of my blogs. If you have, I’m sure you’re very grateful that I introduced you to his blog,
Think Again.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Courts justices are mighty busy, but
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will recognize the importance of what I’m trying to do and she’ll pitch in. I don’t believe anyone would say no to me on this important challenge. Our future is at stake. Ginsburg has been the intellectual heart and soul of the Supreme Court since the moment she joined it. I believe she is the epitome of fairness and justice. This panel simply needs her.

David McCullough
I struggled at great length trying to find a qualified conservative, of great intelligence and energy, to serve on my panel. I rejected many ideas recommended to me by my aides. The Congress has no conservatives who are up to the job – certainly none intelligent enough and likely none resourceful enough. Though highly regarded at the NY Times, David Brooks has been very disappointing. It seems to me that he lacks consistency and changes his opinion on many matters at whim. None of the talking heads on the radio are really any good when they try to think in a cooperative way with people who aren’t like them. Same thing for all the TV guys like Hannity and O’Reilly. They’re just jerks.

I finally settled on David McCullough, the highly regarded historian. I believe I’ve read all his books and he’s damned good. I was relieved to find out that he considers himself a conservative, because he’ll fill the need I have. This fellow has won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. He’s as sharp as a tack on the history of our nation’s founding. He’ll be damned good at recording this remarkable event in American history. Here’s his publisher’s home page about him.

Shelby Steele
This is the second of my two conservatives on this panel. I haven’t put them there to be patronizing or inclusive. Both are there because they are amazing thinkers and will be helpful in fulfilling the mission.
Shelby Steele is a fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and a prolific writer. He’s a very clear and logical thinker and he spots phoniness from miles away. He will demand that this panel be realistic and he will also keep it on its purpose. Finally, Steele is a great communicator.

Bill Moyers
There was no hesitancy about this one. He’s one of my all time favorite people. He’s a man of great vision and creativity. No one wants our nation to be fair and to live up to the founders’ dream any more than this man. His book, Listening to America, was terribly good and is extremely important. We need people on the panel who have listened to America. If you don’t regularly read his blog, you probably should. It’s called
Bill Moyers Journal.

Jim Leck
Now this is a guy you don’t know, so you’re just going to be required to trust me on this one. It’s kind of a nepotism thing, but I do want the interests of the family to be represented on this panel. It’s the kind of self-interest thing presidents should be allowed to dabble in. Jim lives in Boston and works at Boston University. No, he’s not a janitor! So what if he was? He heads up the foreign students department there. I’m putting him on the panel because he’s hilariously witty and Keillor will be highly entertained by him. He looks an awful lot like Reiner and the movie dude will be intrigued by that. He reads Goodman regularly and he’ll probably try to sit next to her and get her autograph. Jim will also get a free swing at getting some money for Boston U out of Gates, Bloomberg and Buffet. But mostly, he’ll add knowledge about bringing good students to America and finding ways to keep the best of the best of them here to help us with our plan.

Jeffrey Sachs
I made this choice on my own. I needed someone to represent the interests of the planet – good, old Mother Earth. Jeffrey Sachs is the author of the book, Common Wealth. I thought it was terrific. He is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He’s concerned about the elimination of poverty and about questions regarding the sustainability of the Earth. We’ll need to figure out some of these knotty problems that revolve around global warming and Sachs will be helpful.

Patricia Schroeder
This will be a very important appointment to my distinguished commission. Pat Schroeder (I hope she’ll forgive me for calling her Pat, but I consider her a friend.) is a woman who I thought would become the President of the United States. She would have had the gonads for it, let me tell you. She’s one tough babe! No question about that. She’s a former congresswoman from Colorado and she was on the fast track in politics. She got burned out, however, and had to get away from it. Too bad! She would have been a great President – right up there at my level. Currently she is the Chairperson of the Board at the
Council for a Livable World’s PeacePac.

Tiger Woods
My final appointment will probably be my most controversial, but it’s fully logical. Tiger Woods needs to be on this commission and Buffet, Bloomberg and Gates may need get some golf lessons from him; if, that is, they have enough money to pay Tiger for his tutorials. Tiger also needs something to do since he turns up at PGA golf tournaments so infrequently. Seriously, Woods is a special human being with international reach and recognition. He doesn’t have the limited mind of your average athlete. There’s no one on this commission who’ll be able to make Tiger blink. I believe Tiger, in his heart, wants to be a social revolutionist and this will be a perfect spot for him to scratch the itch. Finally, maybe I can get him to take me down to Augusta for a round of golf.

Here are the institutions and topics I want them to address. I’m not going to explain these items. I’ll let the panel start from scratch. Needless to say, they’re listed here because they need to be addressed.

  • Public School Education in America
  • Immigration in America and how to encourage talented people from every part of the world to make America their home
  • America’s transportation systems, roadway infrastructure and building high-speed rail
  • A system of fair and simple taxation of the people
  • A first-class, responsive health care delivery system
  • The elimination of poverty in America
  • Encouraging and supporting the arts in America
  • Removing racial, sex and gender barriers
  • Making America environmentally sensitive and sustainable
  • Making America a good environmental partner in the world
  • Building peace among the nations
  • Keeping America economically competitive

The list above is not arranged in any priority order. Each time the list is published it should be scrambled so that no topic seems to always sit at the top.

Now, this idea of mine is the kind of initiative a really alert, sensible President would jump all over. Let’s get America rolling again. Let’s make it once more the greatest nation on the earth.

Let’s invest the money to do it.

The panel will be completely self-funding and won’t cost the American taxpayer a penny. Americans would voluntarily contribute millions of dollars to support such a commission. It will have the finest staff and research support possible. If there is an expense-overrun, Buffet, Gates, Bloomberg, Reiner and Woods will pick up the tab. Jim Leck will throw in a buck or two also.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Spent the Morning Looking at Commercials


And now I’m riddled with guilt and shame
by Charlie Leck

Well, I had some big plans for this morning. I was going to do a lot of writing and then finish a little book by David Williamson. Then I was going to clean some cupboards in the kitchen and go outside to prune away some unwanted little shoots on a pretty flowering tree we’ve got.

Instead I spent the morning watching video commercials. MoveOn.Org sent me an email, informing me that they’d had a huge response to their open contest to create a 30 second TV spots for Barack Obama. I was invited to go on line to watch them and vote on them. I didn’t expect that there would be hundreds of them. The first few were so good that I was hooked. A few hours had gone by before I realized what I’d done.

Don’t tell anyone, will you? I had a great time and I’m ashamed that I enjoyed myself so much. You might want to go take a look also, but be careful!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Northwest Orient Airlines


The possible merger of Northwest Airlines
with Delta Airlines causes us to pause for a
moment to remember Lyman E. Wakefield, Jr.

by Charlie Leck

He was one of the finest gentlemen I ever knew. I loved him deeply, though I was never able to say that to him because he just didn’t operate at that level. It is natural that I am thinking of him a great deal today – the day on which the likely merger of Northwest Airlines (NWA) and Delta Airlines was announced jointly by the two boards of those airlines. I wish Lyman were hanging around, so I could ask him what he thinks of the news about the big merger. From a personal point of view, Lyman would have some sad and sentimental feelings about the announcement; however, he really didn’t function at that level very much and, so, he would have positive feelings about it from a business perspective, which is where he really operated most of the time.

Lyman E. Wakefield, Junior, was my father-in-law. What a guy! For the record, he thought and lived business 95 percent of his waking hours. I tried to squeeze my way in on him during that other 5 percent of the time. When you could get him thinking outside the business box, he was an extraordinary guy.

NWA was one of his babies and he loved talking about those years of its infancy.

Well, that was the beginning of a blog I began fashioning last week. It was going to lead to a little history of NWA. The more I worked, the more boring it all sounded – “NWA began in a modest sort of way toward the end of 1926. There were two planes that carried mail back and forth between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The planes were open cockpit and rented. Twenty years later they were called Northwest Orient Airlines and they were flying to Tokyo, Seoul and Manilla.”

I struggled. How could one write something that might seem beautiful and meaningful about an airline that was important in our family-life. Lyman was invited to serve on the Board of Directors of NWA in the early fifties. It needed some big-time money to “stretch its wings” (if you’ll forgive a terrible pun). As a Vice President of First Bank Corp (a company his father help found and served as President for 20 years), Lyman had connection to solid credit for NWA. He began a very close friendship with Don Nyrop, the CEO at NWA. They worked over-time to bring NWA into the grand world of fabulous flying.

As a teenager in the fifties, living on the east coast, I can remember listening to pop music on the radio and hearing the NWA commercials and that magnificent jingle – Northwest Orient… Airlines! Never dreamed I’d end up being the son-in-law of one of the guys who put the airline on the map. And he was proud of it. Lyman served on the board for nearly 35 years. We got some benefits out of that because our coach tickets, while Lyman was on the board, were always converted to first class. We’d fly with the kids to Europe and we’d be up there with the big-timers and Mark would be screaming and running around and driving the businessmen crazy!

Well, as you can see, this blog is stalling-out big time at a high altitude and the crash could be awful. I won’t go on.

I was upstaged anyway, by Garrison Keillor’s extraordinary column in this Sunday’s newspaper. He writes about the merger and the end of a grand airline name and history that was special in our part of the world. Go there and read his lovely rambling.

“The company used to be called Northwest Orient and was founded in Minneapolis in 1926 to carry mail to Chicago. I used to live in a house in St. Paul once owned by Croil Hunter, a president of Northwest Orient, who, when Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was stranded at the airport by a blizzard, put her up in the guest room of his house.”[Garrison Keillor]

Here’s some final tid-bits about NWA that I find interesting.

Northwest Airlines has operated continuously under one name longer than any other U.S. airline.

Camille "Rosie" Stein was a director and assistant secretary at NWA in the thirties and, as such, she was the first female executive in U.S. commercial aviation history.

In the early fifties, NWA pioneered the "Great Circle Route" across the Pacific Ocean to Asia when other airlines said it couldn't be done.

Northwest Airlines was the first airline to prohibit smoking on its flights.

The story of D.B. Cooper is about one of the great legends in U.S. aviation history. Remember him? On November 24, 1971, he demanded and received 200 grand and then parachuted out of the tail exit of a 727 into a very cold, dark night near Mount Saint Helen’s – either into a much richer life or to his death. No one knows. It’s the only unsolved sky-jacking case in the U.S..

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How Shall We Feed the Hungry?


What can I say about world hunger that hasn’t already been said?
by Charlie Leck

Over forty years ago I met a young man who said he was going to devote his life to alleviating world hunger. He was a remarkable fellow. I’ve lost track of him and I often wonder if he did spend his life trying to feed the world.

When he talked to me way back then, I believed there was a good amount of hunger in the world. One could vaguely see it in the photos and films he showed me. So, I threw some change in the pot occasionally and agreed to regularly send in some money.

In truth, world hunger did not seem perfectly real to me back then. And, the predictions this young man was making about the vast amounts of hunger we’d see in the future seemed over-blown and nearly silly.

“Paul, that can’t be,” I told him. “There’s too much genius in the world and too much good will. We’ll never let that happen!”

This morning, as I write this apology to Paul, the sun has not yet made its move. The sky is just beginning to turn gray and lose its blackness. One can see the vast roundness of the firmament on a morning like this – a massive dome that blankets us – stretching from where I sit in this peaceful place to other places in the world where children weep from the pain caused by their empty bellies. Children and adults lay dying on an island in the Caribbean and in humble homes stretching across the African continent and sweeping over Asia.

The monster that is hunger is measureless and stretches himself across a bewildered, paralyzed world.

The news services focus on Port-au-Prince this morning and the photographs displayed the agony and rage of hungry people. [If you dare,
view this NY Times slide show.]

“Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti’s presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and the police. Hunger sent the country’s prime minister packing.

“Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global
food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.” [NY Times, 18 April 2008]

The United Nations is mobilizing and they will be taking massive amounts of food to Haiti. We’ll watch to see how quickly they can respond. And then, who shall feed the little ones in Egypt? In the sub-Suhara there is rioting as people fight for provisions of food that won’t feed everyone. Who shall feed them? There is rioting over food in nations in other parts of the world, too: Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen. There is a current (as of today) food crisis in 37 countries. Governments are falling because the people cannot afford to eat.

In Australia there is a massive drought that has dragged out over the last six years, reducing the nation’s rice crop by 98 percent. The drought will be a major factor in a shortage of rice around the world. The Deniliquin rice mill in southern Australia is completely shut down. It was the largest rice mill in the southern hemisphere and formerly fed 20 million people. Many farmers are abandoning rice crops, which require large amounts of water to grow, and moving toward other less water intensive products that also happen to be more expensive on the consumer’s end of the bargain and more profitable for the farmer. Wine grapes and lamb production have replaced many of the former rice paddies.

In Vietnam a plant disease has done great damage to the rice crop and the question of feeding its own people versus exporting, at this time of rich prices, causes serious debate.

Now, in the last three months, the price of rice has doubled for the end-consumer. That may not seem like a lot in our world, but in places where people had already been spending nearly all their income on rice, it’s a deadly blow.

It is a terrible and testing time. The southern part of the globe is being pitted against the richer north where food is more plentiful. The United Nations is worried about vast social explosions around the globe – ones that will make our current crop of riots look like child’s play.

In Haiti, where we began this sorry tale, the nation imports 80 percent of the rice it uses. Buyers there simply can’t afford to make the purchases. The government, under President René Préval, is close to toppling. Prime Minister Jacques-édouard Alexis has been voted out by the Parliament and his government is being reconstituted. Yet, the problem seems insolvable. More than 75 percent of the population earns fewer than two dollars a day. One in five kids is chronically malnourished.

It is difficult to believe there are still nay-sayers on this question of global warming. One can only hope and pray that they are correct because the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that even a slight increase in warming would have extreme affects on agricultural production levels in the tropics. Not so in northern climates, where warming would actually increase agricultural production levels. In such a case, the challenge becomes food distribution. How do we move fresh produce (food) from the northern to the southern hemisphere quickly enough to feed hungry people?

Now, that scenario was under conditions of only moderately increased warming. What might happen if there is greater warming? It’s a frightening query! Crop production would, under such circumstances, decrease dramatically everywhere and we would be left with hungry people we could not feed.

A potential answer for the crisis is the development of new crops that can withstand heat and a lack of water. Scientists are working furiously on these possibilities but there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet.

Two very grim stories out of Haiti illustrate the harsh severity of the problem there.

(1) A mother of four offers one of her five offspring to a passing stranger.

“‘Take one,’ she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. ‘You pick. Just feed them.’” [NY Times]

(2) A new burger is on the menu now. It’s made of mud, oil and sugar. It is eaten by the most destitute. One man who has taken to eating them says that they are salty and, because of the butter, you don’t know you are eating dirt.

Haiti, mind you, is only a singular case study of an immense and frightening world-wide story of hunger and starvation.

Hunger must be addressed both now, in the short run, and in the coming days and years, to solve the long-term problem. What can we do?

Using food as fuel
It turns out that the loud cry for biofuels, in which I took part, was a mistake of unbelievable proportions. We’ve turned too much of our food crop into fuel crop. It’s had a massive impact on world food prices. In actuality, our past year’s world grain harvest smashed all previous records – nearly five percent higher. As George Monbiot says: “It’s just not reaching human stomachs.” Less than 50 percent of this year’s crop will be used to feed people.

The World Bank say that “the grain required to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol… could feed one person for a year.” [
see the story in the International Herald Tribune]

Great Britain has just passed a law requiring all sellers of transportation fuel to mix gasoline with biofuel.

“In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.” [George Monibiot]

Feeding our food to animals
This year, according to statistics assembled by Monbiot, 760 million tons of grain will be fed to animals. He says: “This could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat!”

Or, we could learn to eat only grass fed meat. I’m trying to make this move! It’s interesting and, so far, not too bad. Yet, this also produces problems in that the pastured animals produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.

The solution is to eat less meat – much less. It takes too much of the world’s grain to sustain the kind of meat eating diets we currently have. I can’t promise, but I’m going to try to cut my meat eating in half – at least to start – and then, if I can handle it – to levels even less than that.

I’m trying, Paul.

At the moment, there is enough food!
Scarcity of rice is only a temporary problem. Our mistake of moving too quickly to biofuels is another temporary set-back. We’ll correct this problem. The northern range of the hemisphere can produce enough food to feed the world. Enough, in fact, to make everyone fat! There are two significant problems, however. One is the problem of distribution and that, with work and thought, is solvable. The other is that most people could not afford such food, transported from long distances, if it were sold at market prices. That means rich countries and rich people are going to have to support families – perhaps even adopt families – perhaps several families – in far flung places around the world

We must fight global warming!
The warming of the planet is one of the great enemies of sustainability. Should the planet warm somewhat moderately more, food production in the northern hemisphere, to repeat, would probably be assisted. Should the warming increase beyond a moderate level, it will become impossible, under today’s technology, to feed everyone on the planet. [An idiot, anonymous reader, commented on one of my blogs that there was plenty of evidence that global warming was a myth. One piece of evidence he gave had to do with the team of scientists who worked with Al Gore.

“Global warming is a bunch of crap. How come about half of the sciencetists [sic] that originally was [sic] on gore's side have recanted their positions? Global warming is just another way to get power and taxes from the people. Just what is the ideal temp. for the planet?

There’s a kernel of truth in what this writer says. A couple of scientists have reversed their positions on elements of their earlier opinions on global warming. A careful check of the facts shows an overwhelming number of climate scientists still hold fast to the theory that the earth is warming. I’ve posted other long blogs about global warming and its affects [here’s one], and this is not the place to go into that again.

The real culprit is not global warming, however, it is the human spirit
It’s simplistic to place the blame at Mother Nature’s hand. Here’s what Melissa Moore has to say about that.

“It's too easy to blame nature. Human-made forces are making people increasingly vulnerable to nature's vagaries. Food is always available for those who can afford it—starvation during hard times hits only the poorest. Millions live on the brink of disaster in south Asia, Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a powerful few, trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably paid. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard times. Likewise, in America many homeless die from the cold every winter, yet ultimate responsibility doesn't lie with the weather. The real culprits are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places economic efficiency over compassion.”

To solve the problem of hunger, we are going to need a revolution of the human spirit. I’m not talking about a political revolution, but a turning of the human soul toward kindness and compassion. There are things without which each of us can do in order to see that there is no hungry soul anywhere on the planet. When Jesus called us to feed the hungry, I think this is what he had in mind. Giving a man a fish will not be enough. The commitment has to be long-term and even permanent. It was Mohammed Yunus who said that “poverty is unnecessary.” We could add to that and say also that hunger is unnecessary. It’s a matter of human will.

Is there a Population Explosion
If you want to get a real fight going, bringing in debaters to go at each other on the contrary positions on this question. Moore, in her essay cited in the sources below, calls this a myth in trying to explain the reason for world hunger. In her 1996 essay, she claims that the population is actually decreasing, but I don’t think that’s accurate. The world’s population is growing, but it does not appear to be growing at an alarming rate – though there are plenty of doomsdayers out there who say it is.

Again, it is a debate for another time. Suffice it to say, here and now, that hunger is not related to a problem of over-population. We can and will be able to feed the world long into the future – if we have the will.

It is the reason we need inspirational leaders in this world – people who can give us hope and raise us to new heights of unselfishness and concern for other people in every corner of this very small globe we call our Mother Earth.

We need a leader in America who will challenge us to be a great nation again.

Hunger in America
This is a subject for another day. For now we’ll just say that it is a far different phenomenon; that is, hunger has a different characteristic in the United States. In one way or another, people here can get to food sources. The question is, what kind of food are they eating?

Poverty Level in Georgia and the rest of us
Poverty in America is of a different character also. Poor people here likely have cell phones, a car, a TV and massive debt. This is not a good reason to avoid the issue and a less good reason not to attack the problem. Take the state of Georgia. I recently read this on a web site down there (Foodbank of Northeast Georgia): “Georgia's population, according to 2005 census data, is 9,072,576 people. Of these 1,206,652 live below the poverty threshold--or 13.3%.

The above was written in good times, when the economy was not staggering. How does Georgia rate among the states? Good or bad? There are 17 states with higher rates and another dozen states right around the same level. Louisiana and the District of Columbia appear to have the highest levels of poverty and hunger.

Minnesota and New Hampshire show the lowest levels of poverty. (see sources below)

A goal in America should be to eliminate all poverty. Sure, there will be what the Scandinavian nations call psychological poverty – those who choose to be poor – but we can make sure there are no other people living without enough funds. A liberal agenda? No! A Christian agenda!

If the churches ever got serious about Christian service, they could easily put together a commission that would involve every denomination and faith in attacking poverty and hunger in America. Such an approach would shame government approaches to the problem. A world wide commission of Christian churches could do the same with world poverty. Could it ever happen? Only if we hear the voice of Jesus, calling us to feed the hungry and care for the needy. Only if we believe obedience to him is important.

Sources

Keith Bradsher: The Food Chain: A Drought in Australia, a Global Shortage of Rice [17 April 2008, New York Times]

Marc Lacy: Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger [18 April 2008, New York Times]

George Monbiot: Face It, We all Aren’t Going to Become Vegetarians [14 April 2008, Monbiot.com]

Melissa Moore: 12 Myths about Hunger [8 February 1998, Food First]

U.S. Census Bureau (poverty statistics)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bruce Springsteen Endorses Obama


“A great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken.”
(Bruce Springsteen)

Endorsements don’t matter a lot in these presidential primaries; however, some matter more than others. What I watch for are the statements and comments that come with an endorsement. Some of them can be revealing and some can be helpful. I like the letter that was posted on Bruce Springsteen’s web site, endorsing Barack Obama. It’s printed below for you to read over.

“Dear Friends and Fans:

“Like most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

“He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where ‘...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.’

“At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams of My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

“After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

“Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.”

Yes, I like that statement. It really says it about as well as can be said.

Years ago, Irene Silber, a wonderful a dear friend, told me she was a huge Springsteen fan. I looked at her oddly and doubted her sanity.

‘Charlie,” she exclaimed, “he’s going to be a classic.”

I chortled menacingly and in utter disbelief. Today, clearly, Bruce Springsteen has achieved legendary status in the rock’n roll world. He is indeed a classic!

My apologies to Irene.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lynnell Mickelsen takes down Maureen Dowd


Let’s call Maureen Dowd for what she is…
by Lynnell Mickelsen

Lynnell Mickelsen is a fine, local free-lance
writer and blogger whose blog is temporarily
not loading for some reason. When it gets
fixed, it will go back on my links to ‘favorite
blogs.’ It the meantime, I’m publishing her
‘smack down’ essay here on my blog because
she wants it spread around. (Chas)

Well, if any of you read the New York Times op-ed today, you caught Maureen Dowd writing one of her typical "Obama is an effeminate elitist" columns.

Which, I have to say, sounds just like her old "John Kerry is an effeminate elitist" columns. Which sounded a lot like her old "Al Gore is an effeminate elitist" columns. Which sounded a lot like her "Mike Dukakis is an effeminate elitist" pieces. I mean, does anyone detect a little pattern here?


Dowd opened up her column today with the following:

“I'm not bitter.

“I'm not writing this just because I grew up in a house with a gun, a strong Catholic faith, an immigrant father, brothers with anti-illegal immigrant sentiments and a passion for bowling. (My bowling trophy was one of my most cherished possessions.)

“My family morphed from Kennedy Democrats into Reagan Republicans not because they were angry, but because they felt more comfortable with conservative values. Members of my clan sometimes were overly cloistered. But they weren't bitter; they were bonding.

“They went to church every Sunday because it was part of their identity, not because they needed a security blanket.

“Behind closed doors in San Francisco, elitism's epicenter, Barack Obama showed his elitism, attributing the emotional, spiritual and cultural values of working-class, "lunch pail" Pennsylvanians to economic woes.......”

Dowd goes on from there with her usual, tired schtick. Which is why I really enjoyed reading Molly Ivor's hilarious take down and analysis of Dowd on her blog at Whiskeyfire. Here's how Ivors starts.

“Maureen Dowd starts today's outing with the least convincing line ever: ‘I'm not bitter.’

“Wow. Is she kidding? Dowd is so bitter she uses alum in place of talcum powder. She's so bitter you could put her into a champagne cocktail. (Which she would probably like just fine, come to think of it.) She's put more bunnies into more pots of boiling water than Jacques Pepin on a hasenpfeffer bender. She's so bitter...

"Okay, I could go on like that for days, but you get the point. At least Dowd finally admits what we have known for years: despite her almost accidental distaste for President Bush, she's a Republican at heart.

"Shorter Dowd: "I became a Republican because those mean Democrats made me feel bad for being a rich racist."

"But of course, she doesn't say that. Instead, it's "My family morphed from Kennedy Democrats into Reagan Republicans not because they were angry, but because they felt more comfortable with conservative values." And she makes sure to squeeze church, bowling, and immigration in there, just to be sure. (Not quite sure how Dowd's fuck-me pumps, married men, and feng shui fit into this universe, however.)

"Look, people who left the Dems between Kennedy and Reagan did so for one reason: civil fucking rights. Blather on all you want about traditional values and welfare queens and entitlement programs, but it boils down, like a bunny, to one thing: black people should have remembered their place.

"The Southern Strategy worked, and not just in the South. Northern racists bought it too. I challenge Louisiana to produce as thoroughgoing a bigot as my friend's late Uncle Dave, a man who hoarded rusty canned goods and moldering reel-to-reel tapes from the John Birch Society in his basement in Queens, guarding against the day when hordes of black people were going to come marching up Northern Boulevard in Flushing and target electrician's shops full of broken equipment. And don't get me started on cops like (Maureen's) Father Dowd, who mistake their contact with criminals for some bizarre kind of anthropological evidence. It's a load of crap.

"But Maureen has spent at least enough time in polite company to know that you have to fake it (yes, that too), or people will rightly shun you and call you a Neanderthal. And so she she goes back to her filing cabinet and retrieves some golden oldies she never quite got around to using on President Gore, and flings them at Senator Obama. Because after all, as a Democratic male, he's obviously at least a hermaphrodite, and possibly a cyborg.’

"Dowd writes in her column today:

"And as Obama has courted white, blue-collar voters in "Deer Hunter" and "Rocky" country, he has often appeared to be observing the odd habits of the colorful locals, resisting as the natives try to fatten him up like a foie gras goose, sampling Pennsylvania beer in a sports bar with his tie tight, awkwardly accepting bowling shoes as a gift from Bob Casey, examining the cheese and salami at the Italian Market here as intriguing ethnic artifacts, purchasing Utz Cheese Balls at a ShopRite in East Norriton and quizzing the women working in a chocolate factory about whether they could possibly really like the sugary doodads.

"He hasn't pulled a John Kerry and asked for a Philly cheese steak with Swiss yet, but he has maintained a regal "What do the simple folk do to help them escape when they're blue?" bearing, unable to even feign Main Street cred...........

"The elitism that Americans dislike is not about family money or connections - J.F.K. and W. never would have been elected without them. In the screwball movie genre that started during the last Depression, there was a great tradition of the millionaire who was cool enough to relate to the common man - like Cary Grant's C.K. Dexter Haven in "The Philadelphia Story.

"What turns off voters is the detached egghead quality that they tend to equate with a wimpiness, wordiness and a lack of action - the same quality that got the professorial and superior Adlai Stevenson mocked by critics as Adelaide. The new attack line for Obama rivals is that he's gone from J.F.K. to Dukakis. (Just as Dukakis chatted about Belgian endive, Obama chatted about Whole Foods arugula in Iowa.)”

“(N.B. with fucking arugula farmers he did, you insufferably shallow superannuated cheerleader. Feh.)”

“Maureen's problem is that she only knows two or three stories, and so everything she encounters has to be wedged into one of those narratives. She's pulling out her unused Gore bon mots on Obama, but when the hell is she going to get to use the metric ton of bile she's got saved up for Hillary? Huh? You Obama supporters didn't think of that, did you? Is she bitter? Oh, a tad..........”

For more analysis and take-down of Dowd and her endless gender-bender-class issues, check out Bob Somerby today at the Daily Howler. Digby also weighs in at Hullabaloo. So does Glen Greenwald.

The reason why bloggers are jumping all over this stuff is that this same "elitist, effeminate" meme has been used by the right-wing and traditional corporate journalists for almost 20 years running now. We need to call it out for what it is and spread the word. Pass this on to others. The more people understand what's happening, the easier it will be to recognize and resist it.