Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year’s Eve Rant

On this 31 December 2009 a look back gets my juices boiling!
by Charlie Leck

That cold day in January when Barack H. Obama took the oath of office was one of the most incredible days of my life. I was riding on a cloud and terribly excited and happy.

From there, it’s been all downhill.

“You’re not being fair to President Obama,” so many of my readers have written to me – in those words or something quite similar. The same has been told me by readers at meetings, conferences, eateries and grocery stores were we bumped into each other.


I’m not so sure! Were my expectations just too high? Did I shout, with the masses, far too many times? – “Yes we can!”

Did I really believe that candidate Obama meant REAL change when he talked about “real change?” And did I take too seriously the concept that “we are the change we were looking for?”

Did I misunderstand that “health care reform” meant “every man, woman and child in America will be fully covered by health care insurance?” During the campaign, weren’t Hillary Clinton’s promises about health care compatible with those of Barack Obama? Were they just out-promising each other in good, old, unchanged American politics?

How did I so badly misunderstand the candidate’s promise that he would deal differently with the legislative process – that he would bring both sides together – that the old style pay for votes with deals would be over – done with – history?

I’m sorry! This is NOT the change I was looking for! I don’t see change in the political progress happening or even out there anywhere far on the horizon.

President Obama deals with political questions just like the tired old hacks that have been doing it for my entire life and long before that? The rule is that one has to measure the political waters – the depth and the temperature – and act only in the safest possible way (from a political stand-point).

If you want to get mad at me for writing this – for saying this – that’s perfectly okay; but I challenge you to show me where I’m wrong. You show me where we’ve had real, honest-to-god change in the political process!

Where exactly is the new era Barack H. Obama was going to usher in?

Instead of getting angry at me, you should be getting angry at him and demanding of him the change that he promised us we would get – the change that he promised us we were!

I am afraid that the air has gone out of the balloon and there will be no stuffing it back in there!

Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old, I Wonder About the Movies

No Country for Old Men and I met last night and the film came away the winner; while I was beaten up pretty badly.
by Charlie Leck

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a list of the 50 best movies of this past decade – the 00 decade. Of the top ten I had not seen a single one. I decided I would set out to view them all and then try to decide what it was about each that made it so special.

Santa happened to put a DVD of one of them in my stocking – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – and so I thought I would begin with that.

A couple of nights ago, Mother was off with one of the kids (40 years old now) to see CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre, so I thought it would be a good night to pop the old disk into the machine to watch the flick.

“Jesus, mother of God and all the saints combined!” What was I watching? Is it a real reflection of the world in which we live – of even a small piece of it? Am I completely out of tune?

Bloodshed! Mayhem! Brutal murder! Cruelty! Frozen senses! Money! Is madness in control of us?

I had seen magnificent cinematography! The acting was flawless as far as I was concerned. The dialogue was remarkably realistic. But, what had I seen. The New York Times called it: “…tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design…”

What had I watched? I tried to think of some tenderness in it? Was there feeling? Caring? The Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), was brilliantly played. The Sheriff is the moral center of this film and the gruesomeness of the events that surround him make him grow older and more tired right before our eyes.

His monologue, at the conclusion of the film, is classically delivered and could have been a scene from Macbeth. He has just retired and sits in his kitchen, wondering what to do with his day, feeling confused and chatting with his precious and understanding wife. She asks him to tell her about the dream he had during the night.

He'd had two dreams, he explains, and both were about his father -- "I'm older by far now than he ever was." In the second dream, he explains, he was riding a horse into the mountains at night, heading up a pass in the dark and cold, with snow all about. His father came up from behind, also on horseback and carrying a fire in a horn built for it, to give out warmth.

"He just road on past me. Never said nothin' and had a blanket wrapped around him, head down. He was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to build a fire out there in all that dark, all that cold, and I knew he'd be there whenever I got there. Then I woke up!"

At that perplexing, tender instant the screen went sharply black and there was total silence. Then the credits, in that silence and on that black screen, began to roll.

Carla Jean’s (Kelly MacDonald) subtle love for her husband, Llewelyn (Josh Brolin). That was another tender and real moment. She loses her life to Chigurh, the killer. And, in small moments and in a crazed moment of crisis, his love for her is revealed as well. Both of these actors perform magnificently.

The brilliance of the acting is best exemplified for me in Woody Harrelson’s performance as Carson Wells, when he sits before the black villain in this film, knowing he is going to die. The fear that Wells tries so unsuccessfully to hide is our fear, too. I will never forget Harrelson in that moment. He tries to make sense of it all. He tries not to be a coward. No poker bluff would work in this instance and he knew it. All his senses tasted the end of his life and fear consumed them all. A brilliant moment.

And the killer, Anton Chigurh, was also well played by Javier Bardem. Was there one moment of tenderness or kindness in his performance? I suppose it was in that instant that he allows the flip of a coin to decide if he shall let one poor, irrelevant son-of-bitch live instead of die.

In the end, when the film suddenly goes black (it does not fade, but abruptly goes to black) and the credits roll, I am left stunned and glad there is no more, but intrigued by the question of its meaning. Is it some weakness in me that kept me glued to the screen for the full running of film?

The story was actually weak, but the acting was simply incredible and the realism of the photography (or cinematography) was captivating. The direction, as far as I’m concerned (and I’m not an experienced critic) was brilliant. I saw it in the attention to detail – every set so perfectly and realistically done that it captured the senses and made you feel as if you were secretly and quietly present. Yet, there was also some fear in me that I couldn’t release – some fear that this is really our world gone mad and that there is more of this in reality than my sheltered life allows me to know about.

The New York Times calls the film “relentlessly violent!” That says it well. Why then would I sit, glued to the chair, and watch it to the end? Just because it was technically so good? No! Because my soul kept asking “why?” and hoping some answer would be provided.

I supposed Sheriff Bell tried to answer that need for me at the end of the film, in his tired, broken explanation of his retirement. I hung on each of his words until the screen turned its sudden black emptiness on me and I shuddered with relief and exhaustion.

The Cohen Brothers again show their genius at film making in this production. I am impressed by that. I just never was able to figure out why Cormac McCarthy told the story in his original book or why I wanted to stay with it until the end.

I’m not going to argue with the film’s ultimate placement so high on the list of the best films of the decade. It belongs there. I just didn’t need to see it!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who Owns the U.S. Congress?

The sad truth about how our modern congress works reveals the power of political contributions and the corporate lobby!
by Charlie Leck

Question: Why did Joe Lieberman so valiantly oppose real health care reform?

Answer: Not because he didn’t believe such reform was absolutely necessary, but because he had already sold his soul, for very, very big bucks, to the Health and Pharmaceutical Industry!
You may take that one singular example and multiply it a hundred times, regarding many different, varied and complex issues, and you begin to understand who runs the federal legislative process in the United States.

Barack Obama knew this when he ran for President. For heaven’s sake, he spent plenty of time as an august member of America’s most exclusive club – the U.S. Senate. In his campaign for President, this exciting and eloquent man promised us change. He promised that things would be different and that we, you and I, would become the new agents of power and change in Washington.

Oh, my! I fell for that crap (I’ve desperately tried to find a better word without success)! Obama should be proposing new Congressional rules for lobbying and campaign contributions. It is the only way to give Congress back to the people.

There is no change. We are NOT the change we were looking for! Barack Obama will not be an agent of change.

There is only one way to change the process by which laws are written, proposed and passed in the United States. The political donation of funds to Congresspersons and Senators must be stopped – or, at the very least, curtailed drastically. Power has to be taken away from giant corporations to so affect laws that are passed by our Congress. The same is true for the huge and powerful labor unions. And, it is just as true for mega-rich individuals.

If we are truly a democracy, votes should not be sold to the highest bidder.

Joe Lieberman has five years remaining to do vile and disgusting things in the U.S. Senate. That blame lies with the voters of Connecticut. They did a bad thing in the election of 2008 and now they must live with the shame of sending such a disgusting scoundrel to Washington.

The shame is that there are dozens of Joe Lieberman in the Congress – of both parties and of all kinds of ideologies. They don’t go to the floor of Congress to vote as independent minded, free thinking people. Their votes have been sold and are no longer their own.

A new American revolution will be necessary to take back the legislative process, in order to put it in the hands of the people again.

Is there anyone out there with the guts for the fight?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Ghosts of Christmas Past!

Christmas brings memories by the massive bundles that are bigger than Santa’s sack… memories of other times, other places and other people!
by Charlie Leck

Here’s what I think of on Christmas Day – other Christmas Days past. I mostly remember people who have faded from memory in so many ways, but I can bring them back to mind in startling realism on Christmas Day. Jesus, I sit down on Christmas morning, before the big kids (now really adults) awaken, when the house is remarkably quiet, and I remember faces and places and times long ago.

I remember a cousin who I loved like – like what? – like she was the most important possession in life to me. Only, I didn’t possess her. I saw her far too seldom for my own likes. When I was a kid of nine years, she would have been seven, but, to me, she seemed twenty-one. She was remarkably wise, kind and sensible. She respected me. That’s what I appreciated most. In a family of much older brothers and a sister, I was generally treated like an after-thought – like an unwelcome, awkward after-thought. My cousin didn’t treat me that way. She looked me hard in the eyes and smiled widely and let me know I was cool (though we didn’t use that word back then) and important. When she would reach out and touch my arm it felt so remarkable; for this was loving, human contact with someone who cared for me as much or more than anyone in my life ever had.

I must have been about nine when she and her mom spent a couple of days over Christmas with us. She was from the Bronx, in the big city, and my family lived in what people in the big city called “the sticks” – a place far out in the country, even though our two homes were only 45 miles apart. Now, I’ve been through nearly 70 of these gatherings around the Christmas Tree – these gift exchanges – and there is no Christmas I remember as I do that one. It comes back to me with a strange mixture of detail and vagueness even on this Christmas morning when I’ve so much to do and so little time to think. It invades something deep inside me – like my soul – and it spreads a warmth and happiness over me.

For my special gift from Santa that year, I received a nifty six shooter, holster and belt, chaps, vest and a cowboy hat. I buckled the holster low around my waste, so it would ride on my hips; and I showed off my slick quick-draw, looking as smooth and skilled as Gene Autrey himself. My sweet, pretty cousin got some girlish things, like little blankets, a doll and a stocking cap. I remember her wrapped in a little, fragile scarf that someone gave her. She was so beautiful it took my breath away. She kissed my cheek for something inane that I gave her

I shiver still, when I remember that kiss. I still feel the warmth and genuineness of it. I remember her fresh and innocent breath and the glow of her incredible eyes.

Christmas is, I guess, for children; though there is still a child in me and he remembers back over years and miles to Christmases long ago.

My bedroom had two big windows, nearly floor to ceiling, that looked out on Main Street of our little, country town. Straight out there, across an intersection of streets that came together into an outlet on to Main Street, I could lay in my bed and see the village park. An evergreen tree in the middle of the park was decorated with colored lights.

I was filled with the excitement of the coming morning, anxious to see the transformation of the tree that now stood bare in our livingroom. While we slept, Santa would magically arrive and decorate the tree and scatter wonderful gifts beneath it. He'd stuff full the stockings we hung around the room. He’d also devour the little snack I had left out for him and he’d read my note to him and leave one for me, expressing his thanks.

Sleep, however, did not come easily for me. Wide awake, I looked out at the lights on the town’s Christmas tree. I listened carefully for the sound of sleigh bells and, perhaps, for Santa’s voice, shouting commands to his magical, flying reindeer.

After some long time, I would conclude that it was the lights from the tree that kept me awake, so I would stir and roll to my other side and try to close my eyes, begging for sleep to come. Soon, however, I would flop back over to look out at the tree in the park and I’d watch an occasional car or truck rumble down Main Street.

As if it happened by magic, I would hear voices all around me, stirring me awake.

“Pop is checking to see if Santa came,” one of my big brothers would tell me. “He’s down there now, checking!”

I jumped up, surprised that I had been asleep. The night sky was being pushed away by the gray-white light of morning. I could barely tell that the lights on the town’s tree, across the way, were still glimmering. Dressed in my pajamas, I jumped out of bed and showed my readiness to descend the stairs.

“He’s been here all right!” My father would call from the bottom of the stairs. “You can all come down now!”

There was a ritual to our descent of the stairway. My mother always went first. She wore a warm, woolen robe and her night dress showed beneath it, from knees to her ankles. Big, warm slippers covered her feet. Her hair had already been neatly brushed. My big sister, Jean of blessed memory, followed her. She too wore a robe and slippers, and, like mother, she had tended to her hair. Brother, Frank, seven years older than I, went next. His feet were bare and he wore pajamas that had both long legs and long arms. His hair was wildly unbrushed. John, my brother who was a year younger than Frank, followed next in line. He had pulled on a pair of jeans and he wore a tight, white undershirt that showed his muscular chest and arms. His hair was already thinning and it didn’t matter if it were combed or not, because it always looked the same.

I, of course, followed, last in line, and I was made to wait near the bottom of the stairs while everyone else gathered in the livingroom to watch my reaction.

“All right, Bubb,” my father called out, “you can come down now.”

I took the final step downward and turned the corner to descend the two stairs that led to our kitchen. From there I could see through the kitchen and into the livingroom, to the big tree that stood in the corner, covered with bright colored lights and a hundred decorative ornaments. I screamed and ran to the big room and slid on my knees to the front of the tree where dozens of gifts were scattered beneath it.

Each Christmas there was some very special gift – a new train set from Lionel, or a new bike, or that six-shooter on the year my pretty cousin and I shared Christmas together.

It seems so long ago, but, in my mind, it was only a few nights ago and mother and father and sister are so real and alive that I can hear them laughing together as I discover the year’s great surprise that was waiting for me beneath the tree. The laughter is palpable and rises in volume now, as I write these words.

Santa was generous in those years of my boyhood, even as he has been on this year, late in my life. Ghosts return to me at Christmas time and I can see them clearly and I distinctly hear their voices and laughter. My mother’s hands are clasped together and rest on her chest, just beneath her chin. An enormously wide smile is spread across her face as she watches me tear open the special gift that Santa has left for me. My sweet cousin is giggling uncontrollably and jumping up and down, shouting to me.

“What is it, Charlie? What is it?”

Christmases long ago seem so very near, indeed!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Gift to My Readers

Abraham Lincoln and the Grand Old Party!
by Charlie Leck

How many times I chuckled during the last election when I would hear various Republicans claim Abraham Lincoln as their own. Indeed, Abe was a Republican; though he was not, believe me, a member of this party of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin.

This blog, written on Christmas Eve Day, about just how democracy in America works, by using the 1964 election of Abe Lincoln, a Whig turned Republican, as an example, is my Christmas gift to my readers.

Then, in order to apply myself to shoveling the snow away from the house, keeping the walkways and driveway cleared; and then to enjoy the visits of some of our children, returned from their far-away homes on either coast, I shall take a few days off and resume writing again on Monday. I hope you will all have a wonderful holiday weekend.

“There is no new thing to be said about Lincoln. There is no new thing to be said of the mountains, or of the sea, or of the stars. The years go their way, but the same old mountains lift their granite shoulders above the drifting clouds; the same mysterious sea beats upon the shore; the same silent stars keep holy vigil above a tired world. But to the mountains and sea and stars men turn forever in unwearied homage. And thus with Lincoln. For he was a mountain in grandeur of soul, he was a sea in deep undervoice of mystic loneliness, he was a star in steadfast purity of purpose and service. And he abides.” [Homer Hoch, Congressional Representative of Kansas, in the House of Representatives, 12 February 1923]
Abraham Lincoln was a gift to America, given to her at just the right moment in time – at the precisely right moment in history. Could any other man – any other President – have saved the union? We will never know. We only know that Abraham Lincoln did.

I have just finished reading, for the second time, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s remarkable book, Team of Rivals. Years ago I read Carl Sandberg’s remarkable Lincoln biography, a single volume he pared down from the seven volumes he wrote about Abe’s pre-war and war years. As a boy, in Chester Public School (NJ), the first book report I ever wrote was about Abe by Bernadine Bailey, The Story of Abraham Lincoln. I also clearly remember reading, as a child, a little ditty called Barefoot Abe. Today I can’t find any references to it; yet my mind has pinned that title on the book with a stubborn certainty. In high school, my dear, sweet English teacher and forensics coach, Mae Call, assigned me the task of memorizing and delivering publicly Lincoln’s extraordinary Gettysburg Address. I can still get through it nearly verbatim and completely. Some years after that, when I was a bit more mature, I read and wrote a report on We Knew Abe Lincoln, a biography written by Lincoln’s law partner in Illinois, William Herndon. On the shelves near me, here where I write, I also have a volume of Lincoln’s speeches and letters (from 1859 through 1865). I’ve read most of it. Lincoln has always fascinated me.

None of this makes me a Lincoln expert, by any means; however, it does mean that I am not exactly a piker either when it comes to the subject. So, when I tell you that Lincoln's Republican Party is not the same entity, that is the Republican Party that we view today, I think I know what I'm talking, or writing, about.

A couple of years ago, I spent some delightful time reading the two volume set written by Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne, A Frenchman in Lincoln’s America (originally Huit Mois en Amérique: Lettres et Notes de Voyage, 1864-1865). It was remarkable to read about America, its politics and Abraham Lincoln through the eyes of a European who was a contemporary of our greatest President. This very literary Frenchman was on hand during the year when Abe ran for his second term as President. Duvergier de Hauranne got to live through the campaign hype of that year and the election. His description of those events is stunning and captivating.

“In Cincinnati last night a large Unionist meeting was held, and the streets are still full of huge banners almost as long as the houses are high. There will be a second one Saturday at which Mr. Chase (Salmon Chase), who has definitely declined to run for any office, will speak in favor of President Lincoln. Yesterday, while the Unionists gathered in front of the Court Hall, the Democrats were meeting at Covington, in Kentucky, on the other bank of the river. There again a minor riot occurred: a goodly number of wounded soldiers from a detachment of convalescent troops was present. One of the orators, the honorable Mr. [George E.] Pugh of Ohio, took pleasure in insulting them; he declared that their victories were only lies spread by the telegraph, spoke of ‘Beast Butler’ and of ‘Brute Burberidge,’ and denounced military tyranny in the most energetic terms. As he was describing his pity for the suffering of his Southern brothers, a soldier of Sherman’s army, disfigured by a scar on his face, cried out, ‘You are a traitor!’ – ‘You are cowards!’ replied the orator. That touched off an uproar; the soldiers were furious; they threatened him, crowded around him and would have killed him if he had not fled. In five minutes the crowd had dispersed and the platform was in flames.”
Ah, politics! And we tend to think that the hate-mongers and the venom they spread during our contemporary time is somewhat unusual. There is nothing quite like mixing the exuberance of a hotly contested political campaign with the morality questions of war – an atmosphere we have lived in for a good part of my entire life; but never, of course, was the tone like that of the Civil War days when brother fought brother and state went up against state. Remember, as you read the quote above, perhaps again, that Cincinnati and Covington were in neighboring states, but only about 10 miles apart.

The Frenchman eloquently describes the intensity of the differences in political parties during that 1864 election campaign. The following is a description of a campaign scene in New York City.

“Meanwhile a few small Democratic meetings were being organized along Broadway; stones were thrown at the marchers as they passed by. Tempers became heated. Suddenly a movement occurred in the crowd; the noise of firecrackers redoubled and the sound of drums and brasses increased. The ward delegates appeared on the scene, marching with a military step in long columns, led by their chiefs and followed by their cannons and their illuminated wagons filled with orators. These speakers began to hurl abuse; insults to McClellan echoed through the streets. Some ‘peace-men’ protested, interrupting with loud shouts of ‘Down with the Negroes!’ ‘You damned scoundrels!’ ‘It’s a damned nigger war!’ During all of this cannons boomed, the crowd roared and the band played fortissimo: the bellowing orators, foaming with fury and fatigue, still tried to make themselves heard above the tumult. Orators in antiquity were recalled to measure and harmony by a flute player; what is one to think of this American eloquence that takes its pitch from a salvo of field artillery?”
My goodness! We must rethink how awful and how abusive our current campaigns are. Back then we are talking about the progressive Republicans and the extremely conservative Democrats going at each other tooth and nail – and I mean it quite literally.

And, we tend to think that great ideals are at stake in our Presidential elections – that victory and defeat are matters of life and death. Imagine how southerners in 1864 watched the national election and worried about the results. A Lincoln victory would forever change southern culture and mores. We’re talking here about the Republicans (of a unionist bent) and the Democrats (as the champions of southern states’ rights). My, what a mixed up, bent up world!

Quite early on 9 November 1864, the election results were in and the Frenchman is amazed at the calm that has suddenly settled over everything and everyone. From Chicago he makes his observations.

“President Lincoln has been elected by a large majority. Since yesterday it has been evident that the Republicans would carry Chicago. This morning we learned tht they have won in all states except New York and a few other states where the vote, when counted, is likely to go to the Democrats….“The most amazing thing is the profound calm in which the great event has taken place. The newspapers bring us no reports of rioting, no tales of violence or disorder. Over the whole territory of the Union, from Boston to St. Louis and from Washington to Chicago, Election Day was a day of truce, and all parties laid down their arms with astonishing unanimity…”
Then, in a paragraph, Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne tells us the great secret of America, and this, my dear friends around the nation – you Democrats turned Republican and you Republicans turned Democrats – you conservatives and progressives and liberals and independents and moderates and those of you who are just confused or sitting on a fence somewhere or totally disinterested – you who think Abraham Lincoln was a Republican when really the Republicans of this day are someing else entirely apart from the Republicans of that day – this is my Christmas gift to you on this snowy, blowing, white day in Minnesota:

“What, then, is the guardian angel that protects democracy? To what does she owe this spirit of order, perseverance and wisdom which her friends themselves have never counted among her virtues? She owes it to her ‘party organizations.’ These despised words contain the whole secret of American liberty. These slapdash conventions that are convened in the name of the people to nominate candidates and draw up the party’s program, are obeyed with a unanimity that proves the political intelligence of the country. In America there is no issue so local, so private, that it is not connected with the great political and constitutional questions which divide the nation; the questions of war and peace, of Lincoln or McClellan, are linked with the choice of a police chief or a street-cleaner.”
You may be involved in this process if you wish. Just get to the next caucus of your political party of choice or get connected with that party's headquarters and express your wish to be involved. It's not difficult.

God bless America! Happy Holidays to you all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Weather Threatens Senate Health Care Bill

The Senate stood ready to pass a health care bill before the Christmas recess, but bad weather all across the central U.S. makes Senators want to go home early for fear they might otherwise not get there to celebrate the big day with constituents.
by Charlie Leck

That might not be so bad; that is, I mean, if the Senate doesn’t get the health care reform package passed before Christmas because the Senators want to get out of town to beat impending storms in their home states. It will give us all a little more time to think about it. Frankly, I need the time.

I’ve very slowly come around to cheering on this bill. It doesn’t come close to what I wanted or hoped for in a health care reform package, but, I reluctantly agree, it is better than nothing. It will be something to build upon in the future.

The real problem ahead is reconciliation!
The Senate bill is going to be far different than the House bill. That means a joint committee of Congress will negotiate out a common compromise and settle on the exact wording of the bill to be sent to the President. That’s good, because some of the preposterous proposals and tagged on mandates can be removed – like the one that promises not to tax anyone in Nebraska (who is under 133 percent of the poverty level) for the costs of the new bill. I don’t often agree with Senator Lindsey Graham, but on this one I do. That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. It certainly isn’t the new politics – the politics of change – that President Obama promised us. It’s a dirty, rotten negotiated deal with Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to get his vote for health care reform. It’s a provision every state would like. Why not? Other exemption provisions were stuck in the bill for Massachusetts, Vermont and Louisiana in order to get votes from the Senators of those states. That’s not new politics. That’s the stinking, unfair, closed door, smoke-filled room politics of forever! Change? Where’s the change we were promised?

The joint committee will be able to trash such nonsense, however, and make this truly a better bill. Nevertheless, there are a couple of major and significant differences between the two bills that might not get reconciled and then the bill will be in danger of crashing. Here are those two major points that will present real, knotty problems.
  • The abortion question is an ugly one. The Senate bill does not allow federal funds for abortions. The House won’t stand for that exemption.

  • The House bill may come in with a public option. The conservative Senators won’t allow this.
Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, is my current hero. He stood and jabbed at both the House and the Senate and told them the truth: “We need strong leadership so close to the finish line, not efforts to water down a bill to the breaking point.”

You can still have an impact on your Congressional leaders, but you absolutely must speak up now!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You’d Better Watch Out!

Santa has some employee problems in this bad economy. They are trying to get as much done with far fewer people.
by Charlie Leck

Christmas is right around the corner at our house. The master of the domain finds himself singing little Christmas ditties as he wanders around the house, checking the tree three or four times during the day, adjusting an ornament here or there and exchanging a green light with a red one in another spot to improve the balance of the color. He notices that not only are the stockings all hung with care, but that some of them are already gushing full of gifts. Santa has obviously made a preliminary stop. The grandchildren’s stockings are already over flowing with toys and goodies.

The rumor is two-fold. (1) Santa doesn’t move around as well as he once did and all the spreading of joy and generosity can’t be left to just one evening any more. He needs to get a jump start on all his visits and the filling of so many stockings. (2) The number of Santa’s helpers in down quite seriously since a year ago. The economy has taken its toll and there is just far more for each helper to now do to make up for the shortage of employees.

I got a hint of all this just this morning when I noticed the lid had been left off the cookie jar in our kitchen. It was perfectly clear that someone had been looking for a treat. Then I saw that a carton of eggnog that I had not planned to open until Christmas Eve had been tampered with and a third of it was missing. Then, in the kitchen sink, there was a large drinking glass with the tell-tale evidence that it had once been filled with the thick, creamy holiday liquid.

Not being anyone’s fool, I went into the living room to look around at my tree; perhaps, to make a few adjustments to an ornament or two. And there, behind the tree, I noticed that a few of the hung stockings had already been filled to the brim. Then, too, there were more gifts beneath the tree than I had put there and the wrapping paper was clearly nothing like any that we keep around the house. Sure enough, when I checked the gift tags, they were from Santa. A dozen or more gifts had been added to our already immense pile.

The older I get, and the less nimble of mind, the more Santa fantasies dance in my head. I can actually see the old fellow wandering around the house, checking on things and making sure all is ready for the big morning. The dog cocks his head and whines a bit. To keep the black lab quiet, Santa flips a few treats over to him. Santa’s legs are bent at the knee in a manner that makes them look far less strong than they were only five or six years ago. His joints crack as he slowly moves around the tree, making important adjustments. Santa’s belly looks much more like a bowl full of jelly than it did when the children were little tikes. His hair and beard are completely white now, without even a trace of gray. He finds the sofa a comfortable place to take a 20 minute nap before he moves on to the next homes in the community. He’s even given up landing his big sleigh and tiny reindeer on the roof. They set down and take off now from the driveway. Santa just ambles in through the front door, struggling a bit with the big bag thrown over his shoulder. When he’s finished with his work for that visit, he leaves the same way he came. That business of going up the chimney is but a mere memory of his youthful days.

I clean up after Santa a bit, rinsing his drinking glass and putting it in the dishwasher. I refluff the sofa to remove the evidence of his little nap. I go outside, in front of the house, and shovel up the little deposits the flying reindeer have left out there.

Santa will need to return. Not all the stockings are yet filled. So, I’ll get the cookie jar filled with his favorites – short bread pieces. I’ll buy a larger jug of eggnog and leave the bottle of brandy out where he can see it (just in case).

The tree at our house looks very comely, indeed. It’s a tranquil sight. Lights are blinking at me and some of the ornaments are sparkling. I sit in my easy chair – the chair I call “Archie Bunker’s chair” – and I survey the Christmas scene. An enormous amount of work has gone into this project. I begin to think about the meaning of it all, but that thought tires me and my head flops back and my eyes close. I drift off to sleep to the sound of sleigh bells moving westward over the hay fields.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The One Great Hope in this Health Care Reform Package

Photograph by markstahlphoto and purchased through iStock Photos.

A health care reform bill will likely pass the U.S. Senate this week! We can only hope it’s a start.
by Charlie Leck

It may be a historic moment when a health care reform bill passes in the U.S. Senate this week. Then again, it may not be.

If the bill gets through the House of Representatives and goes to the President’s desk, it may be the start – the beginning – of something historic and important. Then again, it may not be.

The predictions are that a bill will get passed in the Senate. It will not be anything like what candidate Obama portrayed in his campaign. If he calls it a great victory or a deliverance on his promise, some of us – and probably many, many of us – will chuckle. Nevertheless, I’m trying to be optimistic here. Maybe something good will come of it.

It will take years to repair the piece of junk that this Congress is going to turn over to the President for his signature, but if, slowly and carefully, the repairs are made (let’s say in the next decade) someday my grandchildren can take pride in a nation that takes care of its sick.

Don’t celebrate when this particular bill is passed! Just quietly hope that it is the beginning of a long process that will see our hopes fulfilled in another decade or so.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Man of the Year

Frank Rich calls Tiger the Man of the Year – “the farcical reduction ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams!”
by Charlie Leck

It’s a good call to name Tiger Woods the Man of the Year, as Frank Rich has done in his NY Times column. Too bad it’s so negative. On a year when Barack Obama becomes the first President of color and wins the Nobel Peace Prize – when Bernie Madoff is sentenced to finish his life in prison for stealing billions – went countless financial wizards were unmasked as nothing more than frauds – when we realize we are mired so deeply in wars that were sold to us by Bernie Madoff-like politicians – we crown Tiger Woods as the most prominent example of “the great con.”

“If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).”

“…What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.”
As a radio personality out here on the plains often says: “Mr. Rich is either on to something or he’s on something!”

But, I’ll go a long with the call. Tiger Woods is the man of the year. He certainly crushed a part of my life and left me dizzied with disappointment. Five or six times a year I plan long, long camp-outs by the TV to watch 6, 8 or 10 hours of the major golf competitions – the Masters, the U.S. Open Championship, The Open (from Britain), the PGA Championship, the Players Championship, and an international team championship. It was a commonly known fact around here that the only thing I ever wanted on Father’s Day, from all of my children, was to be left on my own, in privacy, with a batch of tostados and guacamole dip, so I could watch the final day of the U.S. Open Golf Championship (played every Father's Day).

Now I have no interest. Perhaps something will stir inside me when Spring arrives, but, for now, I have only Tiger to thank for messing up my wonderful rituals. Now, when a champion is crowned in any of those events, the natural doubts will always hang in the air. Did the best player really win? And, if it’s Tiger who wins, the question will be: Who cares?

The height and shear nerve of Tiger’s con is too enormous to forgive easily. He might have not only destroyed the loyalty of those of us who loved to watch him do his work on a golf course, but he may have destroyed the comfortable livelihoods of a large group of successful and hopeful golf professionals.

If my attitude is multiplied by several million other enthusiasts around the nation, what does it do to the Professional Golfers Association of America? What does it do to the United States Golf Association? What impact does it have on the good fellow up the street who owns the nice, low green-fee, public golf course?

What damage does it do to the dozens of golf equipment manufacturing companies? What harm to the dozens and dozens of charities that benefited from contributions from so many golf tournaments all around the world.

Immediately, the fall-out from Tiger’s personal failings will be enormous. Perhaps, over time, the situation will heal. I, however, don’t have all that much time. This year I’ll get outside during “Masters Week” and enjoy the budding arrival of Spring in Minnesota. And, I guess I’ll ask the children to take me to brunch on Father’s Day this year.

Alas! As Frank Rich writes, carrying the Tiger Wood’s syndrome to greater heights…

“The most lethal example, of course, were the two illusions marketed to us on the way to Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and some link to Al Qaeda. That history has since been rewritten by Bush alumni, Democratic politicians who supported the Iraq invasion and some of the news media that purveyed the White House fictions (especially the television press, which rarely owned up to its failure as print journalists have). It was exclusively “bad intelligence,” we’re now told, that pushed us into the fiasco. But contradictions to that “bad intelligence” were in plain sight during the run-up to the war — even sometimes in the press. Yet we wanted to suspend disbelief. Much of the country, regardless of party, didn’t want to question its leaders, no matter how obviously they were hyping any misleading shred of intelligence that could fit their predetermined march to war. It’s the same impulse that kept many from questioning how Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’s outlandishly cartoonish physiques could possibly be steroid-free.”

“But these scam artists are pikers next to the financial hucksters. I’m not just talking about Bernie Madoff and Enron’s Ken Lay, but about those titans who legally created and sold the securities that gamed and then wrecked the system. You’d think after Enron’s collapse that financial leaders and government overseers would question the contents of “exotic” investments that could not be explained in plain English. But only a few years after Enron’s very public and extensively dissected crimes, the same bankers, federal regulatory agencies and securities-rating companies were giving toxic “assets” a pass. We were only too eager to go along for the lucrative ride until it crashed like Tiger’s Escalade.”
Again, read the Frank Rich column from today’s NY Times.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

So Many Golden Days

A marriage of 50 years is not a common, ordinary achievement!
by Charlie Leck

My brother, John, and his wife, Mary Jane, are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today. My, oh my! Though we can't be with them in Florida for the big day, I send along these words of love and congratulation.

Dearest brother and lovely Mary Jane, Anne and I want you to know that we will be thinking of you on this immense day of celebration and jubilation. Your incredible achievement does not go unnoticed by us, but, quite the contrary, is an absolute wonder that is regularly on our minds. To reach the fifty year mark in a marriage is not an ordinary or common thing. That you have done this is to be celebrated in great earnestness and you both are to be congratulated in an extraordinary manner – especially you, dear Mary Jane, for managing to put up with a Leck boy with such graciousness and so tenderly (it proves you are a remarkable actress among your other so admirable traits).

Fifty years! My goodness. It does not seem so. How quickly the days have slid by. How many times does that mean the sun has raced across the sky, from Atlantic to Pacific, within the seasons of your marriage? Though you may not want to hear the number, it has happened 18,263 times (including leap years). Among those thousands of times were many stunning risings of the bright, golden globe in our East and as many settings in the West more splendid than the world’s finest artists could ever capture on a canvass. Golden mornings! Golden evenings! Through all of them, your love for each other has endured the natural tests to which every single marriage is and must be put; and you have not only survived them all, but you have passed each trial with such grace that you have set a wondrous example for your children, grandchildren and for all of us who know and love you.

And now, on this Golden day of celebration, we congratulate you with hoorahs and ovations of joy and happiness and pray that there will be many more golden risings and settings of the sun for you to enjoy together in love. And, as part of this celebration we send out our love to you both – forever!

Anne and Charlie
I hope their day with family and friends is an extraordinary one, indeed!

Friday, December 18, 2009

'64 in Mississippi Never Seems to Go Away

Not many of the central figures remain, but the story never seems to go away!
by Charlie Leck

Many of you followed my series of Mississippi writings in 2008 with something approaching intense interest. I received lots of communications about those essays. Well, the story of the ’64 killings of the three civil rights workers (Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner) never seems to go away.

The following report appeared in the Clarion Ledger, Neshoba County Mississippi in November of this year.

Ex-inmate: Killen boasted in prison

Says former Klan member bragged land never searched

Jerry Mitchell • • November 23, 2009

The FBI has been told that Edgar Ray Killen bragged that his property was never searched, despite having evidence against those involved in the Ku Klux Klan's killings of three civil rights workers in 1964.

Larry Ellis, who had a prison cell next to Killen in 2007, told agents recently that Killen talked of possessing evidence that could incriminate others in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Ellis, 57, who now lives in south Mississippi, also told the FBI that Killen talked about a murder weapon used in the killings being buried on his property.

FBI officials wouldn't comment on their ongoing investigation into the four still-living suspects in the slayings, but Chaney's brother, Ben, said agents should search Killen's home and property for possible evidence.

Killen, an 84-year-old Union sawmill operator and part-time preacher now serving 60 years in prison, is appealing his 2005 manslaughter conviction. His lawyer, Rob Ratliff of Mobile, said his client denies telling Ellis any of this, calling the former inmate "a con man with a history of violence."

Ellis spent two decades behind bars in Mississippi and Florida for a string of crimes that included burglary, assault, forging prescriptions, altering money orders and writing hot checks. All the crimes were related to his addiction to painkillers, Ellis said, adding that he's been sober the past four years.

Ellis, who has written a yet-to-be-published book on Killen titled Getting the Last Word In, showed The Clarion-Ledger dozens of handwritten pages discussing the trio's killings and other subjects. An expert analyzing those pages concluded they were written by Killen.

Before his 2003 death, former state investigator George Metz told The Clarion-Ledger that Killen had told him about cleaning up the murder scene immediately after the trio's slayings.

Former Meridian police officer Mike Hatcher testified at Killen's trial that Killen approached him a day after the killings and gave him a revolver to destroy. Ballistics showed at least two guns were used in the killings, but no murder weapon has ever been recovered.

Ellis told the FBI that Killen said one of the murder weapons used in the killings was never destroyed and remained on his property, along with other possible evidence. He said Killen talked of holding on to some of the evidence against the killers in case they tried to testify against him, saying, "The evidence proves them guilty, and I mean proves it."

In addition to those killings, Ellis told the FBI that Killen spoke of having a photograph of those who took part in the lynching of an unnamed black man near the Mississippi Gulf Coast - "five of them on that limb, trying not to look."

Ellis said Killen explained the photograph had come from one of the lynch mob members.

This was one of 11 killings of African Americans that Killen mentioned, Ellis told agents.

He said when he pressed Killen for more details, Killen replied, "Son, I told you what's private, so don't you dare tell that or I'm a cooked goose. But for your book, you can say that the boys said my place was the safest to hide anything because it was never searched even once."

He said Killen also remarked, "Do you know that not once was my home, property, records or anything searched? Amazing for someone so wanted and hunted."

Ellis told FBI agents that Killen talked of keeping names of Klan members tucked among official lists of church members he knew from decades of preaching.

The reason he said Killen cited his relationship with then-U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland as the reason his property was never searched.

He said when he asked Killen again about the subject, Killen replied, "Now that was our private talk when you were asking me about them never searching my home or property and me being the No. 1 suspect. Figure that one out, will you? While Big Jim was alive, you can bet your bottom dollar that none of them could get a search warrant to come on any of my property."

In prison, Killen received letters of support from white supremacists around the world, Ellis told the FBI.

He said Killen bragged: "They think it will all end with me, but my death will be a new beginning for all of the millions of good and pure-blooded Aryans around the nation and world who keep up with me."

If authorities have indeed never searched Killen's property, it's high time it happened, said Alvin Sykes, architect of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. "There should be no sparing of expense in searching it from top to bottom."

To comment on this story, call Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064.

According to an earlier story by Mitchell, Ellis has claimed that Killen confessed to him that he had taken part in the killing, but had no guilt about it because he was "a soldier fighting against evil" and doing the will of God.

But the FBI has now been told the 84-year-old, convicted of the crimes in 2005, has admitted his involvement in the June 21, 1964, slayings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Former inmate Larry Ellis told agents Killen described their deaths as necessary casualties, saying, "This was God's war."

Killen's attorney, Rob Ratliff of Mobile, denies his client admitted taking part in the killings. "That's something he's never done, and he continues to maintain his lack of involvement," he said.

For decades, Killen has insisted he had an alibi for that night. In 1998, he told The Clarion-Ledger he went to the funeral home for the wake "of a family that lost a ... child. The father and mother were there. We stayed till the morning hours."

But the girl's mother, Carolyn Dearman, said Killen couldn't have seen them that night because they arrived in town too late to attend the visitation of her 5-year-old daughter, Leslie Carroll Barrett, who died suddenly, apparently of Reye's Syndrome.

She said she and her husband didn't arrive until shortly after 10 p.m. By then, McClain-Hays Funeral Home was pitch black, she said, with no sign of anyone anywhere.

According to a statement given the FBI, the late Horace Doyle Barnette said he and fellow Klansmen dropped Killen off at the funeral home about 9:30 p.m. after Killen told them they had a place to bury the trio "and a man to run the dozer to cover them up."

Ellis told the FBI that Killen admitted he took part in the killings but said he did nothing wrong because he was a soldier against evil.

Ellis quoted Killen as remarking, "Those three communist Jews chose which side they were on and were soldiers in action. When the n----s joined the communists, they became soldiers, also. Now, how that's wrong you tell me?"

For the 22 days he was in the cell next to the man known as "Preacher," Ellis said Killen answered dozens of questions. He said he collected what Killen wrote as well as notes he took for a book.

Ratliff said the book isn't being done with Killen's permission. Ellis has a document dated Oct. 31, 2007, that appears to be signed by Killen, saying he is providing information to Ellis "to the best of my knowledge and memory under penalty of perjury, if false. He may write my story."

Handwriting expert Thomas Vastrick of Memphis has concluded the documents match Killen's handwriting.

Ellis said Killen expressed no remorse about the killings, saying, "I feel no shame in the deaths of communists, of those with anti-Christ beliefs.

"Our Bible says God will wipe them off the earth and withhold eternity from them. You can check the record - three enemy soldiers died in Neshoba County on June 21, 1964, and they came bringing communism and an anti-Christ war against real Americans."

Ellis said Killen did say he was "sorry for the pain I caused," explaining, "I wanted only to serve my nation and of course firstly to my God and his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. I know my sins, and those are between me and my God."

He asked Killen if he had any proof against others involved in the killings.

Ellis told the FBI that Killen replied, "If there is evidence, it was kept as leverage to keep them turncoats from telling lies on me or anyone else. The evidence proves them guilty, and I mean proves it."

He said when he asked Killen if the murder weapon still exists, the Klan leader replied, "They say it is buried somewhere with seven sets of blood-stained sheets and clothing. There was some old blankets and the canvas-type material used as tent material that they say it was all wrapped in, is what someone said."

Absolutely amazing stories keep coming out of Mississippi about this traumatic moment in my life. On my own voyage into the civil rights world, I arrived in Mississippi on 21 June 1964.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Lieberman Tragedy

Lieberman's reelection in Connecticut is costing Democrats dearly!
by Charlie Leck

One of the most tragic things to happen to the Democratic Party and to the possibility of implementing the Obama Plan was the election of Joseph Lieberman to the U.S. Senate in 2008. Lieberman had been soundly beaten in his race for the Party’s endorsement, but came back to run in a primary as an Independent and won. He then went on to win the general election in November, winning huge Republican backing, and sent himself back to the Senate.

Ever since, Lieberman has been a thorn in the side of nearly all of Obama’s plans for change. Health care is the best example. I wonder why!

“Mr. Lieberman has taken more than $1 million from the industry over his Senate career. In his 2006 re-election campaign, he ranked second in the Senate in contributions from the industry. He doesn’t seem to have forgotten that.” [NY Times editorial of 16 December 2009]

There may be other reasons. For instance, Hadassah Lieberman, the wife of Senator Joe Lieberman, is a fromer lobbyist for the insurance and pharmaceutical complex and is currently a salaried employee of CURE FOR CANCER. Oh, my!

I find it very surprising that journalists don’t point this out and suggest that it might be a major conflict of interest.

Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake writes the following…

“Hadassah Lieberman's relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure is unethical and misleading. Important and often very personal donations made to Susan G. Komen for the Cure to benefit the sick and dying are essentially undermining their intended use.

“Hadassah Lieberman has worked for the insurance-pharmaceutical-lobbying complex, making her role with with Susan G. Komen for the Cure already questionable. And as Hadassah travels the globe under the banner of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, decrying the inadequacies of our health care system and the need to reform it, her husband is at home to kill the reform efforts we so desperately need.

“People who are racing for the cure wouldn't be racing to pay Hadassah Lieberman money, especially if they knew her ties to the same corporations that are blocking women's health reforms currently being debated in Congress.”
With Lieberman in the Senate it will be nearly impossible to get true health care reform. Had the Democrats sent a real party man to fill that seat, many of Obama’s plans for change, including health care reform, would probably have been realized. Connecticut’s Republicans love Joe Lieberman. The state’s real Democrats can’t stand him.

Personally, I have no respect for the man and history will regard him as one of the most destructive obstructionists to ever sit in the U.S. Senate. I do not understand why the Dems don’t strip Lieberman of his ranking positions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It’s the way the democratic system works! Those who failed to give us real health care reform must be made to pay for it. That is, throw the braggarts out!
by Charlie Leck

There are a bunch of liberals (progressives) out there trying to hold on to the public option. I wish them luck, because the current plan is a kick in the ass for all those of us who wanted real health care reform.

Jim Dean, of Democracy for America, wrote the following in an email this morning.

“Here's the deal, Senate leaders are all over Washington claiming they finally have a healthcare reform bill they can pass, as long as they remove the public option. After all, they say, even without a public option, the bill still 'covers 30 million more Americans.' The problem is that's not really true.

“What they are actually talking about is something called the 'individual mandate.' That's a section of the law that requires every single American buy health insurance or break the law and face penalties and fines. So, the bill doesn't actually 'cover' 30 million more Americans – instead it makes them criminals if they don't buy insurance from the same companies that got us into this mess.

“A public option would have provided the competition needed to drive down costs and improve coverage. It would have kept insurance companies honest by providing an affordable alternative Americans can trust. That's why, without a public option,
this bill is almost a trillion dollar taxpayer giveaway to insurance companies.”
Dean, of course, is correct, but the players just aren’t there to get this ball across the finish line. There are too many conservative Democrats who won’t go along. That’s the President’s failure. He hasn’t made them understand that this would be one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed and that it would transform America – saving it billions of dollars at the same time.

I have no interest in health care reform without a strong public option. None! The currently proposed plan is nothing less than a major victory for the health care, pharmaceutical and health insurance industry. What we are learning from this exercise is that this industry is far too powerful. It’s making so much money that it spends fantabulous numbers of millions of dollars on lobbying efforts to protect its money-making machine.

Minnesota has two of the most progressive Senators in Washington; yet, they are in for the meaningless compromise bill.


Stanley Fish has some important things to say about Sarah Palin’s autobiography and about truth and fiction!
by Charlie Leck

Those of you who follow me closely here on this blog know that I often refer you to the writing of Stanley Fish (NY Times commentator and distinguished professor at Florida International University and formerly a professor at the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University). Recently, Fish wrote two long and interesting columns about Sarah Palin – one of which was a response to the criticism and praise that the first one drew.

I don’t care much about Sara Palin. I think she is both a fraud and a lame-brain; but when Fish writes I enjoy reading what he has to say. So I worked my through both of his columns and took extraordinary pleasure from them.

The first column was published on 7 December 2009 and was titled “Sarah Palin is Coming to Town.” In it Fish explains a lot to us about the difference between biography (which Palin’s book is not) and autobiography (which Palin’s book is). Fish concludes that Palin’s book meets the test of autobiography and “the book is a good autobiographical read.” (An enormous amount of criticism came streaming in after that comment.)

A key paragraph in Fish’s column, which on first reading seems but a simple, unimportant statement is the following:

“The vice-presidential candidacy just happened to her; her account of it reads like an extended ‘what-I-did-on-my summer-and fall-vacation’ essay. For many politicians, family life is sandwiched in between long hours in public service. Palin wants us to know that for her it is the reverse. Political success is an accident that says nothing about you. Success as a wife, mother and citizen says everything.”
Lots of people want to argue with that statement and accuse Palin of being dishonest. Fish won’t have it. Though he’s, by no means, a Palin fan, he respects the fact that it is autobiographical. One doesn’t lie in an autobiography, Fish explains, but one reveals oneself to the reader. If the writer says something that is inaccurate that doesn’t matter in the autobiography. Again, it is only revelatory about the author.

Dozens of readers responded to that with a fury. They don’t agree. I think it is because they don’t understand. Though Palin doesn’t say it in the book, she reveals herself as confused about her wider role and her political calling. She doesn’t really lie. She just sees things in a warped way. As Fish says...

“Do I believe any of this? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that she does, and that her readers feel they are hearing an authentic voice. I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written ‘with the help’ of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor). It is the voice of small-town America, with its folk wisdom, regional pride, common sense, distrust of rhetoric (itself a rhetorical trope), love of country and instinctive (not doctrinal) piety. It says, here are some of the great things that have happened to me, but they are not what makes my life great and American. (‘An American life is an extraordinary life.’) It says, don’t you agree with me that family, freedom and the beauties of nature are what sustain us? And it also says, vote for me next time. For it is the voice of a politician, of the little girl who thought she could fly, tried it, scraped her knees, dusted herself off and ‘kept walking.’”
Fish gives us something to worry about when he warns us clearly about Palin’s future.

“The message is clear. America can’t be stopped. I can’t be stopped. I’ve stumbled and fallen, but I always get up and run again. Her political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note. Wherever you are, you better watch out. Sarah Palin is coming to town.”
Most of the responders who disagreed with Fish were most upset at his description of the differences between autobiography and biography. Fish tried to clarify and, I think, did very well.

“The difference between what we expect of biographers and autobiographers is matched by the difference in the obligations and responsibilities they accept at the beginning of their respective tasks. A biographer is committed to doing research, consulting archives, checking sources, seeking out alternative views. An autobiographer does not typically call up his schoolboy friends and enemies to see if they remember things as he does or spend hours reading old newspaper accounts of the football games he recalls having won single-handed. Different genres, different procedures, different standards of assessment.”
One of my brothers, upon reading some of my autobiographical blogs about growing up, will often respond with notes scrawled across the printed blog, explaining that I ‘misremembered’ this or that – that sister, for example, was really living in another town when that happened. He is most likely correct most of the time. It doesn’t shut me down, however, as an autobiographer, because what I write are my ‘rememberings’ and not my brother’s. And that doesn’t mean I don’t want his corrections and refocusing of my memory. I do want those things and I most often will then go and edit and correct those memories, trusting that he is correct. He has extraordinary recall and I am pleased that he leaves as is 95 percent of what I write.

It is the reader who must bear the responsibility, when reading an autobiographical work, to keep in mind that memoirs are memories and remembering is not an act of perfection but is tainted and tinted by years, dreams, goals, failures, forks in the road of life and the just plain detritus of the mind. Autobiography should not be regarded as accurate history, but only a piece that explains its author.

I’m not going to accuse Palin of falsehoods. She is telling me something important about herself and it is not something I particularly like.

I had determined that I would not read her book, but now, after reading Fish’s columns, I’m going to pick it up on the cheap somewhere and make my way through it.

In replying to one of the most common criticisms from his readers, essentially that he was kissing Palin’s butt, Professor Fish has this to say:

“In saying this I am not, as a number of posters asserted, affirming and promoting her agenda. [One reader] complains that I have ‘written a love note to [Palin] in the New York Times,’ and she asks, ‘Do you have a sense of responsibility left?’ I have a sense of responsibility to the column I sat down to write, not to the columns some readers wanted me to write or thought I had in fact written. Why don’t I talk about her views on evolution, or the the charges that she abused the power of her office, or the racism some have accused her of, or the extent to which this is a ‘campaign brochure?’ Because that’s not what I was doing in the column. I wasn’t writing about Palin’s career or her future aspirations. I wasn’t commenting on or assessing her positions. I wasn’t taking a stand either for or against her. I was, as [as another reader] points out, analyzing a text, explaining how it works and speculating on its effectiveness. Celebrations and denunciations of Sarah Palin are a dime a dozen. I was after something else.”
I get touchy when people criticize Fish without really trying to understand him. A lot of people on the right perused these columns and thought Professor Fish was endorsing Sarah Palin. They praised him and thanked him. Many people on the left thought the same thing and reviled Fish for it. In fact, Fish was just telling us some very interesting things about Palin and expressing his opinion that we might want to watch her career. He also seems to be forewarning us that we may not have seen the last of her.

The woman has a way of connecting with an awful lot of common, everyday, working stiffs in this nation. The brother who so often corrects my blogs is just nuts about her.

It appears there will be an Obama correction in the next Presidential election (although it is way too far out to say that with certainty) and, if there is, the result may be a move way to the right toward a simplistic, Palin type answer or, less likely, further toward the left for a more progressive response to Obama’s failures to live up to his campaign promises.

If you wish, the paragraph above may be elided without losing anything of substance!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


No, he didn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and I think the Nobel Committee knew it! by Charlie Leck

A fellow local writer and commentator, Andy Driscoll, makes the following searing and insightful comment about President Obama and his Oslo speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies:

“Obama's speech is being hailed for being a ‘post-WWII liberal president's proper perspective’ - and ‘balanced’ in its realistic assessment of evil and the moral authority of war. If analyzed in the harsh light of day, this man's approach - his references to Gandhi and King and Roosevelt notwithstanding - is almost as committed to preemptory violence and a role as US global cop as our last president. It makes a mockery of the Peace Prize as Nobel envisioned it and as we've come to expect the committee to decide its recipients.”
Just for the record, plenty of people have hailed the speech and some have called it “historic.” I personally think the President is in a bind. He would never have let the nation get dragged into Iraq and he would have handled matters in Afghanistan much more capably than the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triumvirate did, keeping our purposes much more on mission. Now he has to clean things up in a sensible manner that will cause the least amount of damage to those two nations (Afghanistan and Iraq).

Y’all know how hard I’ve been, in my comments on this blog, on our President. Though I share the frustration Andy shows above, I’m not endorsing this statement. This President may yet reveal his deep yearning for lasting peace around the globe. In his speech, he questions himself whether he deserved such an honor, but also pledged an attempt to prove himself worthy of it. I believe that’s what the Nobel Committee was hoping for!

Every day, however, the President is looking more and more like a one-termer, so he’d better get hoofing.

To see a video of Obama’s speech at the Nobel ceremonies, click here!

Monday, December 14, 2009


I've haven't seen Santa out and about yet this year, but on Saturday I saw many of his elves and helpers rushing about and getting work done.
by Charlie Leck

I ran across quite a sight on Saturday in the neighboring town of Long Lake. I actually stumbled upon one of Santa's workshops and spotted his elves working with great efficiency and expertise, getting bikes ready for the big day ahead. What a sighting! I've been bubbling inside ever since I spotted all the exciting activity.

Wow! Was I amazed.
These busy workers were mostly from a local bike club called (gulp) ROADKILL. It's a very informal club. The leader just sends an email out occasionally, announcing a bike ride for a coming weekend, providing the starting place and time. There's no need to respond. The members just show up if they can and don't if they can't. At the announced time the bikers head out on a ride that provides both a good time and good excercise. They appear to be mostly middle-aged guys who are pretty responsible community citizens. Anyway, their hairlines are receding and their chests have shifted a bit. They've all got that good, healthy outdoor look, however, and they also possess gigantic smiles (or bigger).

A couple of years ago, the ROADKILL members decided they wanted to do a bit more than just have fun -- or, at least, just have fun riding their bikes. They came up with the absolutely crazy idea of providing free bikes for kids during the holiday season. Zany idea, isn't it? No way it could work!

Nevertheless, they started soliciting bike donations and they set up shop (quite literally). As the bikes came rolling in, ROADKILL began fixing them up and making them like near to new -- like bikes that would make big and little kids happy as can be.

I've never seen so many totally happy elves and helpers in any one place in my life. My, they are happy people. The more bikes that come in, the more work the elves need to do. Nothing pleases them more. Nearly a thousand bikes have come in over the last 16 or 17 months. About 700 of them have been fixed up and made ready to give away to kids from all over the metropolitan area.

ROADKILL has been helped out by some local bike shops and parts distributors. They've been given hundreds of brand-new tubes for repairing wheels and new parts for brake and gear-shifting repairs. Each bike is carefully inspected after it comes in and then fixed with the safety of its new, potential owner in mind.

No bike is refused, though some bikes don't make the grade as a potential gift to an excited kid. The bikes that can't pass muster are carefully recycled in other ways.

Literally thousands of hours of work time go into this project. The club also gets some kids involved, teaching them the art of bicycle repair and maintenance -- an activity as good as yoga and meditation for the quieting of the soul and the relaxation of the body.

On Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the doors open for a day of bicycle give-away. People who are big fans of ROADKILL arrived first, bringing piles of doughnuts, brownies, cookies and banana bread. The Caribou Coffee Shop across the street sent over a huge container of nice hot coffee with cups and all the accessories needed. McDonalds, also across the street, sent over coupons that were to be given away for free goodies. A very big retail space and a huge storage room was supplied gratis by Otten Brothers Nursery. The nursery also received bikes for ROADKILL for the last couple of weeks.

The delightful people looking for bikes arrived in steady numbers. If parents brought their kids with them, these expert bikers fit the kids to the bikes quite precisely. When a family made its choice of a bike, it went into the line-up for one more very careful and thorough last minute inspection. All the vitals were checked and then the bike was released to its happy new owner.

No questions are asked about income levels, status or need. ROADKILL thinks that's none of its business. The elves and helpers happily doled out the bikes. After that final inspection, the workers help the new owners load them and secure them in cars, vans, pickups or trailers.

I saw some mighty happy new bike owners, but no one was as happy all day as the scurrying elves and helpers, tirelessly trying to find the right bike for eager kids and happy parents.

Dozens and dozens of bikes went out the door. As the showroom began to thin out dozens more were rolled in from the storage room in the back of the building. No one seemed to tire and the smiles remained wide and sincere all through the day. ROADKILL was genuinely happy and they were having the time of their lives. They think biking is important for plenty of reasons -- healthfulness being near the top of the list -- and connecting a kid to a bike makes them very, very happy.

Last year, during the holiday season of 2008, they gave away over 300 bikes to kids. This year they'll do far more than 400.

What a day! I was really amazed, but my amazement was nothing compared to that of so many kids who got their bikes absoutely free on Saturday from the fantastic ROADKILL bikers.

If you want to read more about ROADKILL and their project, go to their web site! If you want to help out, they are a 501(c)3 organization and they'd be happy to put your contributions to good and important work. If you are experienced and want to fix bikes, they could also use your help. Finally, you just might want to thank them for what they are doing for kids.

Want to visit the TreeHouse Youth Organization? [click here]

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Progressive Congressional leaders are letting us down!
by Charlie Leck

I'm so frustrated about the recent Congressional compromise on the health care reform package, that I am ready to throw in the towel. What they are thinking about voting on is NOT health care reform. It doesn't change the delivery system one iota. It provides some older citizens with an opportunity to opt into Medicare, but at a cost most of them will not be able to afford.
Keep remembering that we are the only one of the developed nations in the world that does NOT provide guaranteed health care to its citizens. How uncivilized!

Robert Reich, who, along with Howard Dean, has been one of the champions of the public option, doesn't want to give up the fight. He writes, on behalf of Move-On, that we should pound on the doors of our Congresspersons and say, "no, no, no!"

Unfortunately, one of my Senators, Amy Klobuchar, is one of the leaders at the center of the compromise. Senator Al Franken is still wavering on it. My U.S. Representative doesn't think it goes far enough. It looks like the big, rich, powerful insurance companies are going to win on this one, folks. Nevertheless, if you've any energy left, communicate with your Congressional representatives and tell them you sill want the public option. Here a copy of the communication from Robert Reich -- just in case you didn't receive it.

"Dear MoveOn member,

Hi. I'm Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and currently a professor at the University of California.

You've probably heard about a possible "deal" in the Senate to do away with the public option. I'm here to tell you that this is no deal: it's a gift to Big Insurance, plain and simple. The details are sketchy. The only thing that's really clear is the deal would drop the public option from the bill. With no public option, there's no guarantee of real competition. And without real competition, health care costs will continue to be out of control. But the deal is far from done.

If voters generate a massive outcry around this and progressive leaders in Congress fight back, we can fix it. Can you sign a petition to leaders in Congress and the White House right away?

Click here to add your name:

The petition says: "You must make sure health care reform includes a real public option—it's what the majority of Americans want. Anything less is a gift to Big Insurance." With no public option, the Senate "deal" is a giveaway to Big Insurance—and industry insiders admit it! One recently wrote "We WIN," in an email about the "deal."1

What's in this "deal"? Like I said, almost no one knows the details. That means that progressives who embrace it right now may be giving away the store without getting anything in return. But here's what we do know: First, it might allow some 55-64 year-olds to buy into Medicare. Second, it might allow those without employer health insurance to buy private insurance the way federal employees do.2 So what's the problem here? A system of only private insurers simply will not control costs. Without competition from a public option, insurance companies have no incentive to compete—just like now.3

Enlarging Medicare is no answer. The Senate bill slows Medicare's costs only if they're rising faster than total health spending. But with private insurers running the show, total health spending will still be out of control.4 Plus, we have no idea how many people might be allowed to buy into Medicare, or if it will be even close to affordable for them. Health care reform must include a strong public option. It's key to controlling costs, expanding coverage, and forcing Big Insurance to compete. Without it, we'll end up with a national health care system controlled by a handful of very large corporations accountable neither to American voters nor to the market. And that is not even close to real health care reform.

Please sign the petition to House and Senate leadership and the White House today. The deal is still up in the air. If congressional progressives hold strong—and public demand for a public option is clear—then White House and congressional leaders will have to do what they haven't: put pressure on the few conservative Democrats to get on board and help pass real health care reform with a public option.

Click here to sign your name:

Thank you for all you do. –Robert Reich


1. "Insurance industry insider: 'We win,'" Politico, December 7, 2009

2. "How a Few Private Health Insurers Are on the Way to Controlling Health Care," Robert Reich, December 10, 2009
I've signed the petition. I'm not very hopeful, but I may as well keep trying.

By the way, this is the letter Senator Franken sent out to those of us who have been bugging him (it's all wrong becasue this plan will no save people money). And, sorry Al, but I'm not giving money to you or anyone else unless they fight for the public option right down to finish line.
Dear Charles,

As you've probably heard, on Monday night progressives and moderates reached a compromise to keep health insurance reform moving through the Senate. After decades of talking about fixing our broken health care system, the Senate is poised to finally deliver for the American people - and it's about time.

I've said all along that health insurance reform must bring down costs and improve access to get my support. A public option would do that, so I was disappointed to learn that it's not part of this agreement. However, there are reasons to be hopeful that this compromise will succeed at keeping premiums down for families.

The plain fact is, we are one step closer to extending health coverage to 31 million Americans and giving some peace of mind to tens of millions more. If this compromise includes proposals I've been fighting for, like ensuring that a higher percentage of premium dollars are spent on health care rather than profits and wasteful administrative costs, we will achieve the end result that I want - high-quality, affordable health coverage for Minnesota families and small businesses.

I'll keep you updated as the bill progresses, as we've still got a ways to go. But there's one thing you can be sure of - Republicans and special interests will be on the attack in Minnesota to make a last ditch attempt to distort, derail, delay, or flat-out kill the reform effort.

If you can, please click here to make a contribution of $5 today to help us get our positive message out.

Thanks for all you've done, and all you'll do.