Sunday, January 31, 2010

Short Takes

Late on a lazy Sunday afternoon!
by Charlie Leck

Late on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve come up with a few good short takes that you may find interesting. I had a good day today. There was plenty of quiet time to read my hard copy edition of the Sunday New York Times. I gathered plenty of print ink on my finger-tips to prove it. We have a snow-white counter in our kitchen. It doesn’t get along well with my favorite newspapers. I also got to take in Sherlock Holmes (the movie) and found it clever and bearable (if not a bit too loud and slappy at times). I think it’s worth seeing. Just remember, this is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes! If you don't like loud noises and lots of mayhem, don't go to this one.

Muddled Selling of the President
Richard Stevenson, in the New York Times wrote a sterling article about President Obama and his political packaging. As a tease, here are the first two paragraphs.

WASHINGTON — On this much, President Obama’s friends and foes could agree: He eludes simple labels.

Yes, he’s a liberal, except when he’s not. He’s antiwar, except for the one he’s escalating. He’s for bailouts, but wants to rein in the banks. He’s concentrating ever-more power in the West Wing, except when he’s being overly deferential to Congress. He’s cool, except when he’s fighting-hot.

In a world that presents so many fast-moving and intractable problems, nuance, flexibility, pragmatism — even a full range of human emotions — are no doubt good things. But as Mr. Obama wrapped up his State of the Union address on Wednesday night with an appeal to transcend partisan gamesmanship, he was plaintively testing a broader proposition: Is it possible to embrace complexity in a political and media culture that demands simple themes and promotes conflict?
A Friend and His Friendships
Sunday morning brought a clever email from a friend who lives out in the country, with his dogs, Buddy and Puppy, at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, just a few miles from where the Rockies start to get serious. Perhaps the high altitude had addled his brain just a touch.

Buddy is the Smartest Dog Ever

It's easy to tell... first, by the way he sits...and stares up into your eyes... silently saying... I'm here and I'm game... bring it on... and when you smile at him as you must... his tail wags and wags...

he understands come, sit, stay, down and up just like a normal dog... but he also understands the way I feel and what hurts and when there's something good to look at out the car window...

and he likes it when I say something funny... he doesn't laugh, but he smiles...

and when I eat, he patiently sits and waits for me to finish (almost finish) and give him first ups on the plate... and doesn't complain when I take it back to give his brother a chance to lick the almost clean plate... he knows about sharing...

and when we walk, he always walks on Puppy's right... protecting him from on-coming cars and trucks...even though there aren't too many of them out here.

but in the end, it [is] his eyes... they tell the whole story... what he's thinking and what he's feeling...

if i were a dog i know I'd be more like Puppy...I'd eat, [flatulate], sleep a lot and spend the best part of the day [grooming] myself...

the world needs more dogs like Buddy...

later, f
MacBeth to Open Soon at our incredible Guthrie Theatre
Our local rag of a paper carried a story this morning about preparations for the opening of MacBeth. We've got tickets to see it in the middle of the coming month. Michael Dowling, the theater’s artistic director, is staging and directing the play. He’s mighty fine and so I’m up for seeing the play again – perhaps for the 12th time or so. [Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t seem to have included the story in its on-line version!]

Obama is whacked on the hand because of the economic crash; but just how did the banks escape blame?
We mustn’t forget that it was the American financial system – with the banks at the heart of it – that brought our economy tumbling down around us last year. The “crash” left us in our weakest financial condition since about 75 years ago. We can still feel the shaking and trembling under our feet. Far too many people are still out of work and there is no promise of a rapid correction. Obama wasn’t even in office when this crash commenced; yet he is now taking a substantial part of the blame for our stalled economy. That blame is ill placed. We need to look back a few administrations to put the blame on a congressional de-regulation of the American banking industry. Everyone agrees that we need a reorganization of the banking industry and new, tougher regulations to stop the banks from taking too many risks. This kind of thing should be right up the Republicans’ alley, but they are being awfully slow to take leadership in such reform.

That’s enough for one Sunday afternoon. My partner is home from her week long ski trip to Alta (Utah). I’ve shared a photo (above) of her and her sister. Below you may peek at A Man and his Friends.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Twins

Photograph by April O'Hare Photography

A story I can't tell in full, but it held me spellbound and nervous as hell...
by Charlie Leck
Corrections were made to this blog at 11:05 AM, Sunday, 31 Jan 2010

Check out the photo above. It is spectacular. It was shot by April O'Hare. She has a blog that I went to solely because of this photograph. I got to see a good example of some of her other work. You might want to take a look because it really is special photography. [Click here to go to April O'Hare Photography]

This photograph represents the closing of a chapter on a harrowing and exhausting story of new and old life. I can't tell it fully because I only watched from a distance as the events surrounding it unfolded. It was a love story, filled with frightening moments, and it held me spellbound as I sat on the edge of my chair waiting and hoping for a good ending. No fiction, this! This was real-life drama.

A couple of months ago, two of our good friends boarded a plane in Minneapolis to fly west. They were going to spend time with a daughter and help her prepare for the birth of her twins. The time for their debouchment was rapidly approaching.

Well, everything went wrong. The babies, who were the result of Invetro Fertilization in this single, 40+ woman, came a bit early and were tiny things. The mother's innards had trouble as well and her liver acted up and her kidneys were deemed serious. She lost lots of blood and received more transfusions than most of us would think possible. She was hustled into intensive care and spent days in a coma.

Then, on top of it, my friend, the grandfather of the newborns, experienced an irregular heart beat and appeared to be in trouble. He was immediately hospitalized.

The Medical Center, in which they were all housed, doesn't remember any occasion when they had 3 generations of the same family as patients in the hospital. No one cared much about making history this way.

Friends of the mother and grandparents, all around the country, were sent into a panic -- as we certainly were -- and hung on the reports that came back from CaringBridge (a wonderful service, which originated here in my own hometown, for just this purpose). It was touch and go for the mother for a few weeks. Finally, in answer to our great and loud prayers or our constant hoping, she turned a corner and began to improve. She had children waiting for her, hoping for her, yearning for her to be their mother.

So, now we've arrived at the two month point. The twins, as you can see in the photograph, are healthy and beautiful. The mom is quite strong now and preparing to resume her extraordinary life as a medical doctor and health insurance executive. Grandpa is home in Minnesota again and appears strong and happy -- though he still needs plenty of attention.

The unpraised hero in all of this, of course, is Grandma. She juggled giving her attention to husband, grandchildren and daughter while still trying to maintain a connection to her career and job back in Minnesota. Nevertheless, she did it with elegance and poise and I was never so impressed with a person in my life as I was with her.

I picked them up at the airport on the day of their return -- 7 weeks after they had left for what they thought would be a visit of a week. Grandpa looked okay, but Grandma looked exhausted. She trembled a bit when I held and hugged her. I guess I've never admired anyone so much.

It was a tough 7 weeks, but when you look at that photograph above, you smile, and even laugh, and sing out a happy tune. Life! Life! Geez, it's wonderful!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Meaning of Smiles

On the faces of those who listened there were miles of smiles!
by Charlie Leck

The President gave one helluva campaign speech last night. I thought it about several times through the night and now, again, this morning, trying to explain what I and millions of others saw last night. There he was, on the stump again! The party is in big trouble, as evidenced by the nasty defeat it took in Massachusetts about 10 days ago. In November other Dems are going to get shot down and the President is clearly worried about it.

The man is flat-out a great speech maker. Though no Abe Lincoln, by any means, he’s still pretty danged good. I think the Republicans even enjoyed the performance last night and the President got more of them to stand and applaud occasionally than would normally do so. Everybody likes him – even the Republicans.

My favorite blogger, Stanley Fish, recreates the scene perfectly:

"He had us before he said hello. It was, in part, the look. Blue suit, but not the usual blue -- subtler; red rep tie, white shirt, a skin color cosmetics and sun could never deliver, and, for much of the time, a big smile. It was the rock-star look in full Technicolor. Everyone else seemed to be black and white. He dominated the screen and he did it with an ease that stopped just short of entitlement, an ease that said, in Chevy Chase fashion, "I'm the President and you're not."

"Then there was the speech, soaring at the beginning and at the end, but in the middle a litany of specifics of the kind he did not offer in the long campaign of 2007-2008." [Click here if you want to read Fish's blog!]
What a smile the man has! Don’t you think so? I don’t think anyone in a major national office has ever had a smile that could top it – not even Jimmy Carter or Bobby Kennedy!

And, did you see the smiles all around him? That's want I fixed on last night as the President spoke – or, perhaps, that’s what I was fixated on! Right there, behind the President, were two of the whitest, widest smiles you’ll ever see. Vice President Joe Biden has either had a mouthful of teeth replaced by snow-white, brand new ones or he’s had Hollywood whitening treatments on those choppers of his. He was gleaming and never stopped smiling. I think it was, however, kind of like whistling past the graveyard. You keep on smiling and maybe you won’t start crying. On the other side of the President the cameras kept picking up House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gargantuan grin, but there were tears in her eyes and I don’t think it was from laughing too hard.

The television cameras scanned the audience picking out the great big smiles. There was Mitch McConnell, Mr. Republican and one of the leaders of the enemies, with a big wide, toothy grin on his face. And the Secretary of the Treasury, Timmy Geitner, spread a big, broad, wide one on his own face when the President pointed out now, for the 11th hundred time, that this financial crisis was not of his making but that of the administration in the 8 previous years to him taking office. That remark even brought a smile to the face of John McCain, who better understands the rules of big time politics than the President does; that is, “You won the election big fella, and now you own the economy, stupid!”

The only person in the joint who had a hard time pasting on a sincere and cheery smile was the President’s wife. She looked nervous and even a bit angry, like, you know: “Why is everybody always picking on him?”

I don’t know what all that smiling meant. I’ve been trying to figure it out. There were times when the cameras would pan to the President’s left – that’s the right side of the Chamber, where the Republicans sit – and there would be those big broad smiles of hungry and expectant Republicans who just can’t wait to eat the President’s lunch in the coming November elections. Maybe that’s what they were smiling about -- lunch!

“Getter’ done!” The President commanded the Congresspeople and Senators. “Getter’ done!”

The Democrats hooted and hollered and applauded. The Republicans smiled widely for the cameras, but sat on their hands.

The President described the courage and fortitude of the American people. Then he pleaded for “a government that matches their decency – that embodies their strength.” The audience applauded. The Democrats stood and clapped with vigor. The Republicans remained seated and softly, politely put their hands together a few times. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate smiled up at the resident of the White House. They were odd smiles! What did they mean, anyhow?

Barack H. Obama looked out at these folks who had been elected to represent the folks back home and told them there is “a deficit of trust!”

“Yes, yes,” they nodded and politely applauded, with smiles upon their faces. What did those expressions mean?

The Republicans saved their biggest smiles for the President’s reminder that he had promised the American people a big change in the way things are done in Washington. He explained immediately, I guess, when he saw the size of those Republican smiles, that he didn’t mean that he alone would bring about change, but that all of them, together, would have to be the agents of change.

Gee, golly! You can bet the opposition party bought immediately into that line. I knew what their smiles meant at that moment: “We’ll give you change, Pal – in November we’ll give you change!”

The President had a special question for the Senators in the audience. He wanted to know when a victory in the Senate meant you had to have 60 votes. He implied that this was not playing fair! He whined a bit about it and stomped his feet! I thought about Lyndon Baines Johnson and how he must have, at that very moment, flipped over in his grave to hide his embarrassment.

“You don’t need 60 votes, Rookie,” I shouted at the TV. “Get your damned bill prepared and then vote on it. Let the stupid Republicans start their filibuster (a word I always thought should be silly-bluster), and allow the American people to see who is holding up progress – who is wasting time – who is stopping the wheels of progress. Then take it to the people and show the nation who isn’t playing fair and then see who wins in November.

This is a President who is too danged nice. He smiles way too much. He lets himself get pushed around by a bunch of weenies like Rich McConnell and that blasted woman from up in Minnesota – that snowflake, Michel Bachman – and that Orin Hatch – and those odd-balls from Wyoming and Idaho.

Old Lyndon would have given them the finger. The hell with smiling nice-nice. Remember his State of the Union speeches. He was the man in charge and they damned well better remember it. LBJ had balls and he had beans to trade and he wasn’t worried about changing Washington because he knew damned well it couldn’t be done. He didn’t smile! He shook his finger at them, like the man in charge, and told them he’d make it plain to the American people just who it was that held things up and ruined the show. And LBJ would go into their own backyards and tell on them and get their people fighting mad at them.

“You gotta’ talk their language, son!” That’s what he’d say to the fellow trying to run the country right now. “You gotta threaten ‘em and knock heads together and give ‘em what for! You ain’t gonna’ get any change out of these bastards! Challenge ‘em! Call ‘em out! Tell ‘em they’re low-down sons-of-bitches and federal money is gonna dry up in their states!”

I remember that “change” promise. I even forgot myself and got teary-eyed about it a couple of times during the campaign.

“You ain’t getting’ no change, son,” I can hear LBJ screaming from his grave, “cause you gotta’ meet these guys on their own turf and fight ‘em by their rules.”

There wasn’t a lot of polite smiling over there on the President’s left when it was LBJ giving the State of the Union message.

“We’re getting this civil rights thing passed this year, you hear? You wanna filibuster? You just go ahead and I’ll just fly right into your state while you’re doin’ it and explain to your folks out there why you’ve got no right being a U.S. Senator.”

Lyndon Johnson got his Civil Rights Bill passed! One of the most controversial bills and one of the most important pieces of legislation in history and he got it passed. You think, with a majority of his own party in both the House and Senate, that Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t get this health care thing passed when there is so much evidence that it would help both the people of the country and the country’s economic condition. It would be child’s play for LBJ. It would have been easy for FDR, too.

Did you notice that the only people not smiling last night were those members of the Supreme Court who were in attendance? Now, on them, the President got tough and took them to the wood shed and let them have it. You see? That’s what being the President is all about. You’ve got a bully-pulpit there, Mr. Obama. You’ve got to stop being so danged sweet and give them hell.
Did you see Justice Alito while the President was lecturing the Justices? Oh, my! He wasn’t smiling, I’ll tell you.

You will now “open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections," the President said, looking right down at them there in front of him.

Alito actually shook his head in rebuttal. You could see that he wanted to stand and shout, but these Justices have got to retain a certain level of decorum, you know. Alito didn’t smile, but he did try to mouth something to the President. I think it was “no, no” but I’m no lip reader.

If the Republicans don’t agree to fix the horrible decision handed down by the Supreme Court and insist on this 60 vote level to pass such a bill, our President should turn to the people and point out what the opposition party is protecting; that is, a decision that says Corporations and individual people in the United States are equal.

My goodness! It’s a slam-dunk! The American people will reject that out-of-hand and refuse to elect anyone who supports it.

We got a remarkable man who is President of the United States. That’s nice! What we need, however, is a man who will be a “remarkable President.” That we do not yet have. Perhaps he’ll figure it out. It just better be quickly or he’s going to lose a lot of votes for a lot of Democrats in November.

Nice guy politics isn’t going to get ‘er done!

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that ice cream eating grin of Joe Lieberman. Did you see that thing? If he didn't look like the cat who swallowed the canary. I'm telling you, there is just something basically wrong with that guy. He smiles like a man without a home -- or a party!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bill’s Movie List

A friend shared his comments about some of the films of 2009 and I’m happily sharing them with you!
by Charlie Leck

Here’s some commentary about movies (films) of 2009. Anyway, these are films that my friend, Bill Casey, saw during the 2009 year – 52 of them to be exact – and his very digested comments about them.

This is a list that Bill makes available to all his friends and acquaintances (who want to receive it). He’s been doing it now for a dozen years.

I’ve mentioned Bill, just in passing, a few times on this blog. He’s not your average, ordinary kind of person. He’s different, and charmingly so. If ever there was an eclectic, Bill’s it, baby! His interests and curiosity are as vast as anyone I’ve ever met. He travels constantly and he reads enormous amounts. He keeps both physical databases on his computer and a vast array of them in his mind also. He can speak intelligently on a great variety of subjects and he’ll mix in comedy when discussing just about all of them. Since meeting him, he’s added a whole new interest level to my life. I’m going to write in detail about him some day, but, for now, I’ll just share his movie list and the following little anecdote.

Last night, still living the exciting and energizing singles life, while my wife is skiing out in Utah for the week, I browsed through the satellite TV guide to see what kind of films were on. By chance, I came across one of the films on Bill’s list, Harvard Beats Yale – 29 to 29. Now, normally, I would have both missed the touch of comedy in the title and I would have passed the film entirely by. Thanks to Bill’s list, I settled in to watch the flick in absolute delight. That one movie, alone, made the list entirely worthwhile. Perhaps you’ll find that’s true as well.

Bill's Movie List
Titles & Comments

Top Ten 2009 Movies

Broken Embraces
Blind director reveals his complex story after 14 years.

District 9
After 20 years in S. African ghetto, aliens are to be relocated. I'm not a great sci-fi advocate but found this film compelling.

An Education
"Sophisticated" high school girl swept away by charming, older con man in Twickenham. Subtle and revealing story.

Italian crime family Camarra and consequences across five dimension. Much better and less violent than one would infer from trailers.

Goodbye Solo
Cab driver asked to drive man to Blowing Mountain, NC so passenger can end his life.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
Retrospective allows 1968 game participants to recall, ruminate. Not really about football.

The Maid
Chilean maid has been with family 20 years; seems a little grouchy.

The Pain Locker
Explosive technicians in Iraq work their shifts. An intense and persuasive portrayal of the War Lover theme.

Bank robbery plan in Austria goes bad. One of the year's very best films, in my view.

A Serious Man
Professor's problems get worse — and worse — in 1967 suburban Minneapolis. "Right on" according to testimony by several St. Louis Parkers from that era.

Good & Recommended

Great 3D; weak dialogue; Noble Savage plot gradually deteriorates after solid start.

Solider apparently killed in Afghanistan; troubled brother helps fill gap on home front. Remake of 2005 Danish film is somewhat different but still powerful.

Cello player in Japan moves into "departure" business after symphony is disbanded.

Food, Inc.
Terrifying look at consolidation of economic power in U.S. food industry.

God's Offices
A week in French family planning clinic.

Julie and Julia
Modern blogger works her way through Julia Child's opus. More engaging than anticipated.

Man Push Cart
Pakistani immigrant operates bagel cart in mid-town Manhattan, struggling with young son, combative ex-wife & life. A simple film with well-told story.

The Messenger
Army sergeant & war hero assigned task of giving bad news. Would be in top group if its plot did not meander in its second half. Good performances.

Women try to carry on with lives in Bosnian village after their men have been exterminated.

Tokyo Sonata
Traditional Japanese family experiences modern pressures.

Two Lovers
Blond shiksa competes with solid Jewish wife alternative

Up in the Air
Termination specialist achieves 10,000,000 bonus miles. Close call for top group.

Widower follows childhood dream of adventure.

Wendy and Lucy
Rootless young woman loses dog in Portland area.

Other OK Films

School student writes story about parent who dies.

High school story and characters set in post-college context. Good dialog, sometimes quite humorous.

West Bank mother & teenaged son emigrate to Chicago area.

1918 Aristocrat-officer assists in establishing Finnish border during turbulent end of WW I.

The Class
French high school teacher completes another school year.

Crazy Heart
Old country singer cleans up. Good performances but weak story grows weaker as film progresses.

Competing drug companies try to steal secrets from each other. Modern business "thriller."

The Fabulous Mr. Fox
Fox relocates family to nice-looking tree.

Lorna's Silence
Albanian woman earns Belgium citizenship by marrying native junkie.

Documentary on Lima, Peru street life and associated personalities.

Girl works to separate from her abusive Harlem mother; Riveting but manipulative.

A Secret
Jewish family in France keeps secret pre-war spouses , child.

State of Play
Congressman gets in trouble.

Sunshine Cleaners
Sisters become crime clean-up specialists. Facile.

Army plots to kill Hitler in 1944.

Waltz with Bashir
Israeli invasion of Lebanon. An animation achievement but story is not told in the strongest fashion.

Whatever Works
Mostly forgettable NY story includes many funny lines.

White Knight Weddings
Troubled wedding planned on small Icelandic island.

Mediocre, Disappointing or Lackluster

Bright Star
John Keats - Fanny Brawne love affair. Drags on and on. You're hoping he'll die soon.

Foul Gesture
Cars gets doors knocked off by well-connected hoodlum.

Into Temptation
Minneapolis woman confesses suicide plan to priest.

New South Africa wins World Rugby championship. Sap-O-Meter registered "high." Damon role as captain has nothing to it.

Just Another Love Story
Man accidentally assumes identity of diamond smuggler thought to be dead in Hanoi.

The King of Ping Pong
Youth has growing-up problems in Sweden.

Public Enemies
Atmosphere of 1930's; much shooting; downward spiral.

The Road
Dreary brutal dystopia goes nowhere , slowly.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
Elongated story of talented & pioneering radio/TV woman.


Men Who Stare at Goats
Occasionally funny if profoundly stupid.

8:46 PM
Movies2009©2010 Wm. Casey

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Supreme Court Justice John Stevens and our Horrible National Nightmare

Okay, I won’t go on and on after today, but this Supreme Court decision has really ticked me off!
by Charlie Leck

It appears that Justice John Stevens will resign from the Supreme Court after this term. He is going to go away an angry and unhappy man. Perhaps no decision has engaged his wrath more than Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

You’ve read several pieces here (3 of the 4 most recent blog posts), reviling the stupidity of the decision and wondering how an unprejudiced court could have read and interpreted the Constitution of the United States in the manner it did – at least as the 5 conservative justices of the court did.

Nothing we wrote here could match the tough reaction from Justice Stevens himself, who wrote the dissenting minority opinion.

“The rule announced today — that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the political realm — represents a radical change in the law,” Justice Stevens said from the bench. “The court’s decision is at war with the views of generations of Americans.”

“The only relevant thing that has changed since those two decisions,” he wrote, “is the composition of this court.”

He was referring to two major campaign finance decisions on which previous courts had spoken.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens took his seat on the highest court in the land in 1975. He is now the court's most senior member in terms of both years of service and age. It is clear to all that he is beginning to fail in small ways, sometimes, for instance, struggling to pronounce words and stumbling when he reads aloud. He clearly speaks his mind and doesn’t show typical judicial restraint.

“The majority blazes through our precedents,” Justice Stevens wrote in commenting on the prevailing opinion, “overruling or disavowing a body of case law.”

That body included seven previous decisions.

It was Richard Nixon who appointed Stevens to the Seventh Circuit appeals court in 1970. President Gerald Ford appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1975. Stevens, in those first years on the bench of the high court, would never have been considered a liberal on issues that came before him. As the court grew more and more conservative during the years the Republicans controlled the White House, Stevens appeared to be more liberal in relation to the new justices.

In this most recent, controversial decision, Justice Stevens, could not contain his outrage at the majority’s conclusion that no real legal distinction can be made between a corporation and a person in the political realm.

“Such an assumption,” he wrote, “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.”

The concluding sentence of the minority decision, written by Stevens, exhibits the depth of his anger.

“While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Hooray for John Stevens!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Who Will Hear a Pipsqueak?

Guest Blog

by Jim Culleny

Jim Culleny has lived and written in western Massachusetts since the 1970s. He taught art in NJ publicschools after graduating from William Paterson University in that state. He and his wife Pat have raised their family in the Berkshires.

Jim wrote songs and performed in various groups and continued writing poetry as he'd done in earlier years. In addition to his poetry and songs, he has written and performed radio commentary for public radio on and National Public Radio's All Things Considered. He also writes a regular award-winning column for the Greenfield Recorder in Greenfield

One-upping God, the Supreme Court has just ruled that a corporation is a person with all the rights to buy a Senator that individuals enjoy. The court ruled on Jan. 21 that corporations have unlimited free-speech rights to influence elections with cash.

In fact, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, “In a landmark 5-to-4 decision announced Thursday, the high court overturned a 1990 legal precedent and reversed a position it took in 2003, when a different lineup of justices upheld government restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations during elections.”

One salient point in this is noted at Talking Points where we’re told, “At the heart of this ruling is a judgment by the Court that the law cannot distinguish between corporations and individuals in prohibiting speech – so free speech rights that apply to the latter must also apply to the former."

Poor God merely made Man in his image.The Supreme Court has done something more far-reaching and miraculous. Practically speaking, with just a wave of a pen, without even bothering to reach down for a lump of clay to breathe life into, five justices have transformed corporations (entities without even one living organ —especially hearts; and with no spiritual component, like a soul) into beings which (as we shall soon see) are equal to or more significant than living breathing praying Man.

And in their judicially-active challenge to the Lord, the supremely-robed Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas have ruled that in the USA corporations may legally compete with Man for control of the world, starting with the country. And if you think man has screwed things up, wait’ll you see what soulless corporations will do now that they're able to legally write checks bigger than a Publisher’s Clearing House prize to soulless politicians. Goodbye breathable air. Hello portable oxygen pack.

The other effect of this ruling is to confirm once and for all that every mouthful of mincing speechifying from our leaders about our great democracy is just silly-talk. The Supreme Court has made it official without even going to the trouble of introducing a constitutional amendment: the USA is a plutocracy. Given the money required to conduct a modern political campaign, if multi-billion dollar corporations may, without financial restraint, compete with our paltry donations to the candidates of our choice, our vote is really nothing more than an empty procedural gesture. Be real! Who will a mostly-corporately-funded candidate be hearing upon assuming office, the Bank of America's fortissimo 5 million buck donation or your very pianissimo Benjamin?

But beyond their cynicism in officially encouraging a corporate power-grab, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post slams the court majority’s intellectual dishonesty. “In the face of logic and history,” she says, “the majority acted as if there could be no constitutional distinction between a corporation and a human being. Untrue… Congress has barred corporations from making direct contributions to political candidates, with no suggestion that it must treat corporate persons the same as real ones… The 'conceit' of corporate personhood… does not mandate absolute equivalence...”

“Is a corporation entitled to vote?” she asks, “To run for office?”

I wouldn’t dismiss these questions as absurdities too quickly. If in a few years we have another right-wing president and a Republican congress installing more conservative justices, the court may finally be not much more than a rubber stamp of Wall Street — nine perfunctory pasties in a crass burlesque. who’s to say a corporation doesn’t have the same right as a person to vote or run for office, the Constitution? (Eyeroll)

None of us who love the idea of democracy, liberal or conservative, should take this decision lightly. Any honest person will acknowledge how, up till now, money has corrupted our politics. It's no stretch to say politicians are bought – many lock, stock, and barrel. And purchased pols come in a variety of flavors from democrat to republican to independent. The infection of money has a long political tradition. Money is simply, power, and what the court has done with this ruling (sticking their fingers in the eye of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in the process) is to concentrate more power in the hands of those who have the most of it already.
But the most cynical part of the whole ugly charade is how the court has crammed their bias into the skin of “free speech.”

The court has ruled that a limitation of campaign contributions is a limitation of free speech — as if buying something is the same as saying something. They are not — but if they were then where’s the practical fairness of not limiting corporate speech when corporations have the power through their huge wealth (not to mention ownership and control of the media) to speak as freely and loudly as they wish, while we, with our pathetic shallow pockets are left to squeak our objections into the hurricane of a stage-wide bank of thirty foot speakers at a Metallica concert?

Who will hear a pipsqueak? What use will our free speech be then?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This is a Football Sunday

Home alone and baching it won’t stop me from enjoying the big, dinner-time game!
by Charlie Leck

Are you ready for some football?

Most of my readers could care any less than they already do that this is a football Sunday. This is the day when the Super Bowl opponents will be decided – when the champions of the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference will be crowned.

I can hear a resounding chorus of “who cares?”

“If you are going to write about such nonsense, I’m not coming back to your blog,” one of my loony friends emailed me after my last football column. Martin, give me a break. Just try to work your way through this and see if you can’t have some fun with me.

The Minnesota Vikings – my Vikes – the purple and gold – will play the New Orleans Saints today for the right to go to Super Bowl (insert a Roman numeral here). Last week the Vikings had to beat the hated Dallas Cowboys in order to move to this game. I had the pleasure of sitting around with a few really good guys with whom I could cheer and exchange high fives as the Cowboys were smashed by the Vikings (I don’t think there is any historical basis in all this). We shared lunch together (fresh lamb sandwiches and a wonderful red lentil soup), sipped on some wonderful liquid, and told lies about our prowess with women. It was really neat.

Today, my wife is sluicing out in Utah with her sister and some other good friends. I’m a bachelor and, at dinner time, I’ll watch the game alone. Nevertheless, I’ll have a great time pretending that I'm in the dome, in New Orleans, and I’ll create an appropriate atmosphere. I’ll cook up a couple of bratwursts and heat up some sauerkraut. I’ll make sure the brats are over-cooked, just like at the stadium, and the buns will be mushy as hell. I’ll slap some cheap mustard and cold kraut on top and make sure my beer couldn’t even be described as cool – lukewarm, baby! Then I’ll throw a handful of stale chips on the plate and settle in to watch the game.

I’ve taped an old Brett Favre poster from a dozen years ago to the wall, but I’ve recolored all the green and gold to purple, white and gold.

At 5:41 this afternoon, when I enter the living room with my miserable brats and beer, I'll sing out as loudly as I can: “Are you ready for some football?”

Dang right, baby! Let’s mix it up. I can only hope it helps me blot out my fury about that Supreme Court decision on Thursday.

The Supreme Court Ruling is a Disaster

My goodness! By a 5 to 4 ruling the U.S. Supreme Court has set politics back a hundred years.
by Charlie Leck

This conservative Supreme Court has done none of us a favor and least of all the nation as a whole. In the name of the First Amendment, the majority opinion claims that campaign spending limits on corporations and their lobbyists are unconstitutional. This decision unleashes the power of America’s giant corporations over and against the democratic election process in our nation.

Yesterday (Thursday), the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are free to spend as much money as they want in the process of electing and defeating candidates. I spent the early morning hours yesterday reading the decision of both the majority and the dissenting opinion of the minority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I was shocked at the reasoning of the majority (the conservative wing of the court).

In essence, they equate corporations with people. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t blame you, but it is a fact. Read the decision or read any of the dozens of commentaries about it that are now hitting the streets.

The lobbyists must have been dancing in the streets on Thursday night. Now they can wield a club at members of Congress whenever they want to. “Do our bidding or we will open our treasuries and spill out whatever funds it takes to defeat you.” The power of corporations in election campaigns in now virtually limitless.

Many will claim I am being hyperbolic, but this decision is the most flagrant misreading of the Constitution since Dred Scott (Dred Scott v. Stanton) in 1857. Scott, as you remember, was a slave who followed his master into free territory and then claimed the right, as a free man, to remain there. Missouri law agreed with him; yet the Supreme Court ruled against Scott and Missouri, finding that he, or any other being of African descent was not qualified to claim citizenship in the United States. Scott was chattel, according to the Supreme Court and, as such, was the property of his former owner and could be reclaimed.

On Thursday the Supreme Court recognized corporations (small, super and those in between) as people, giving corporations enormous freedom to wield their considerable and immense clout in determining who shall sit in our nation’s elected offices.

Does this sit well with you – especially if you think back to the confirmation hearings of John Roberts to become the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Remember his promises that he would act as umpire only, calling balls and strikes, and not as a creator of new law. He was enormously critical in his testimony of those justices who try to create new law rather than interpreting current law in light of the constitution. Oh, my goodness!

If anyone thinks that the court has not created new law in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, they are naïve or silly.

Even John McCain said he was disturbed by some of the “extreme naiveté” in the thinking of the majority. On the other hand, the thinking and logic of the minority in this decision is brilliant and very much to the point that corporations should not have the same weight as the individual in deciding elections.

There are numerous calls for Congress to reverse this ruling through new and sound legislation, but we are in a period of such divisiveness in both the House and Senate that this will be impossible. So, welcome to a whole new U.S. that will now be run by monster corporations.

Your worst nightmares just came true!

If you want to read the full (183 pages) decisions of the Supreme Court, click here!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

AWL (Absent with Leave)

Charles Leck will return to his blogging pleasures in a couple of days!

by the Editors of Ad Astra

Charlie will return to his desk and his writing in a couple of days. At the moment he is struggling a bit with his eyesight (cataracts) and he needs to stay away from the glare caused by the computer screen. He hopes to have us post a blog for him on Sunday morning, which he is currently working on with pen and paper (the old-fashioned way, you know) and we will key it in for him when he has completed it. The topic of that blog will be the shocking audacity of the current Supreme Court.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The President Gets a Spanking!

The promise of change is but a blurred memory!
by Charlie Leck

A number of friends have written, asking me why (Why?) I have not yet expressed myself about the Massachusetts senatorial election. Frankly, in all truthfulness, I am stunned by the events in Teddy K’s state and I haven yet recovered from the thrashing

The extraordinary defeat in a state where Democrats usually reign is enlightening. It portends troubled waters ahead for the Party in November. Unless the economy makes a surprising and unexpectedly strong recovery in the next six months, there will be doom and gloom among Democrats in November. I am not predicting that the Republicans will take control of either congressional body, but they will seriously weaken the Democrat’s majority.

Why the turning against Democrats?
I see two basic reasons why the voter is dissatisfied enough to move toward the Republican Party even in a state so solidly and traditionally Democratic as Massachusetts.

The Democrats and the economy!
The voters are bright enough not to blame Democrats for the original plunge of the American economy. Those causes lie elsewhere. However, the voters want to know why the Democrats haven’t done more to help the nation recover. They don’t like it that the job market remains so weak. They don’t like it that big banks have been coddled, romanced, kissed and gifted so vigorously by this administration and this Democrat controlled Congress. While that little affair has been going on right before our eyes, the little guy has been ignored and refused any affection whatsoever.

You may argue, if you wish, that this is perception only and not really factual. Let me tell you, in politics perception is 99.91 percent of the game.

And, here’s the other perception among the voters and the second reason why they voted so harshly against the Democratic Party in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Change? What change?
The American voter is not a fool. They know what the President’s most basic promise was in the 2008 election. He promised us change and there has been no change. For that, both the President and his party will be punished.

President Barack H. Obama is conducting himself and the affairs of his office in the same old way Bush-Reagan-Clinton-Bush conducted themselves. Obama is an ordinary, and not an extraordinary, President. Deal making is one of the primary tools of his office – along with glad-handing, backslapping, favor-dealing and ass-kissing.

The President may have very innocently thought that this was the way to promote his programs and get them slid through Congress. If so, he was dead-wrong.

Those of us who voted for him wanted a different approach. We would have preferred to see a number of his proposals crash and burn in Congress rather than watch him compromise on his promises to the American people. He should have stood fast on real health care reform. When it failed, he could have taken his case to the American people and shown them the real culprits who destroyed America’s dream.

Instead, the President was willing to dilute and dilute his health care proposal to win over every single vote he could possibly get. Those to whom he made his promise that things would be different were not impressed.

The President shows every sign that he will conduct himself in this manner on all the great issues of his campaign platform.

Yes we can! Sorry, the chant has now become: “Sorry, we thought we could!”

The President, because of his compromises, is deeply and personally embedded in each defeat he suffers and will suffer in Congress. He failed to stay above the fray and became an integral part of it.

The people want to know how there can be change when the President carries on with all the good-old boys over there in Congress who are doing things the same, same-old way.

The American people are about to spank the President for his failure to really change the way things are done in Washington. The people of Massachusetts already have.

Watch how voters in Pennsylvania will do the same thing in November. Say good-bye to Arlan Spector!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alan Furst

Do you like a good historical spy-thriller?
by Charlie Leck

Some time ago, some writers and, therefore, of course, avid readers, told me about Alan Furst. They were surprised, in a condescending sort of way, that I had not read anything by him – that I really didn’t know about him. They knew full well that I enjoyed really good spy thrillers.

“Furst is the best,” they chimed out together. “He’s absolutely the best.”

Those are awkward kinds of moments, when you feel really silly, small and stupid. So, that evening I did some reading about Alan Furst and, sure enough, because of my enjoyment of the spy-thriller,I should have known about him and I certainly should have read him.

“Start with Dark Voyage,” they had told me when they saw me slumping and looking shamefully inadequate. “You must start with that one and then do whatever you want in reading the rest.”

They rattled off a series of titles I ought to pick up: Dark Star, Red Gold, Blood of Victory, Night Soldiers.

Well, I began a search for Dark Voyage. I’ve told you before that my favorite source for book buying is the American Book Exchange (better known as ABE) and I go to that web site to search for and buy most of my books. I was pretty disappointed to find out that the book, in a first edition copy, was not in stock anywhere and was very difficult to come by. I put it on my wish list at ABE and heard only last week that one dealer (Thriftbooks) had come up with it. I okayed the order and sat back and waited for the mailman (a lady in my case) to deliver it. I could have gone to the Alan Furst website and ordered a paperback edition, but I’m a snob and don’t much care for paperbacks.

I was able to get started on Dark Voyage on the evening it came. I began with what appeared to be a very brief, even tiny, prologue. It was intriguing.
“In the first nineteen months of European war, from September, 1939, to March of 1941, the island nation of Britain and her allies lost, to U-boat, air, and sea attack, to mines and maritime disaster, one-thousand, five hundred and ninety-six merchant vessels.

“It was the job of the Intelligence Division of the Royal Navy to stop it, and so, on the last day of April, 1941…”
I dropped the book to my lap and thought about that. The man had just written that Britain and her allies had lost 1,596 merchant vessels in a period of two years and six months. The United States, I remembered, had not yet entered the war. How devastating! With angst, I flipped forward to the beginning of the book.

Within a sentence or two I was able to know with certainty that I had in my hands a book by a real and talented writer.

“In the port of Tangier, on the last day of April, 1941, the fall of the Mediterranean evening was, as always, subtle and slow. Broken cloud, the color of dark fire in the last of the sunset, drifted over the hills above the port, and streetlamps lit the quay that lined the waterfront. A white city, and steep; alleys, souks, and cafés, their patrons gathering for love and business as the light faded away.”
It is the marvelous thing about reading any extraordinary novel; that is, it takes you with it to new places and to other times. Furst had drawn me from my easy chair and brought me to Tangiers. There I was, witnessing the events of that early evening and totally at his mercy.

John le Carré does that to me when I read him. I’ve always considered The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)to be the best spy thriller I had ever read – until now, that is.

My somewhat snobby, writer friends had been correct. Furst is absolutely extraordinary. He is a brilliant story teller and he is a classy, talented writer. What a remarkable discovery! What a treat! How in heaven’s name had I escaped any knowledge of him? Again, I felt small and silly.

What you must know about Furst is that he is among that genre of “historical spy-thriller writers.” There really is a significant concentration on placing the plot and characters within an accurate historical perspective. It is this that makes writers like Furst and le Carré much more intriguing to read than Daniel Silva and his slash and burn action style.

Furst is a Manhattan boy (Upper West Side). He received his B.A. from Oberlin in ’62 and an M.A. from Penn State in ’67. He’s also lived in the south of France and in Paris. For a short time he worked for the legendary Margaret Mead. He wrote for magazines such as Esquire and, for a period of time, wrote a weekly column in the International Herald Tribune. Furst now lives out on Long Island. He calls Paris “the heart of civilization” and I am not going to argue with that. His novels have never sold in staggering numbers, but, over the years, he’s built a steady, large and loyal group of followers.

If you want to read a quite good and creative story about Alan Furst and how he works, read this article from the NY Times (June, 2009) by Charles McGrath
“North, and north. Into the heart of the storm on the evening of the sixteenth, where the wind shrieked and thirty-foot waves came crashing over the deck and sheets of driven rain sluiced down the bridge-house windows. It was DeHaan who took the storm watch, but Ratter and Kees were on and off the bridge all night long, everybody in oil-skins, including the helmsman, hands white on the wheel, who stood a two-hour shift before DeHaan sent him below and had a fresh one take over. The force of the storm blew out of the west, and DeHaan kept giving up a grudging point at a time, fighting for his course, because Noordendam couldn’t take it full on the beam. Finally Kees said, ‘Turn into the goddamn thing for Christ’s sake,’ and DeHaan gave the order, swinging due west and heading up into the wind. Mr. Ali came up, now and again, blinking as he wiped his glasses with a handkerchief, to report distress calls coming in on the radio – the North Atlantic taking hold of the war that night and trying to break it in half. Then a savage gust of wind snapped the aerial and Ali appeared no more.”
END of blog!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Il Trovatore

On this quiet, early morning, thunderous music surrounds me!
by Charlie Leck

On this day, January 19, one-hundred and fifty years ago, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, Giuseppe Verdi’s extraordinary opera, Il Trovatore, was premiered. More than two years later, in May of 1855, significantly revised, it was performed in New York City at the Academy of Music.

I am not, by any means, an aficionado of great opera; yet, if I needed to pick one particular opera I could see, it would be this work by Verdi. Why? My answer is not that of an opera expert or musically inclined person. I simply like the music – especially the triumphant pieces. I think so many of the various movements from this opera are stunning and inspirational. It is the only opera I have in recorded format. Occasional (usually during the winter) I pull it out to listen to it.

If you want to see and hear what I am talking about, you can watch and listen on You Tube as Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts the famous Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore (The Troubadour).

This morning, needing a boost of energy and some motivation, I have my CD of the opera playing here on my computer as I write. My recording is one done in 1976 featuring Liciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Home, Ingvar Wixell and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Richard Bonynge conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Opera Chorus. I like it very much but I don’t know how it ranks among other great recordings. I’ve heard Plácido Domingo do some of the songs from Il Trovatore and he is remarkable. So is Jose Carreras.

Errico Caruso once explained that it would only take four of the greatest singers in the world to successfully perform Il Trovatore.

Again on You Tube, you can listen to the extraordinary Soldier’s Chorus. It will give you more of a sense of the operatic nature of this work.

And also, here is Pavarotti, in a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, singing Di Quella Pira from Il Trovatore.

As in most Opera, as far as I am concerned, it is not the story that attracts us; and, in this case in particular, Il Trovatore does not tell a compelling tale. I won’t even bore you with it. To me, it is the grandness of the music that is so attractive.

Enough for the 19 January 2010 post. The year is upon wings and is flying!

Thanks for opening your wallets and your hearts!
So many of you wrote back after my blog of a few days ago about the crisis in Haiti, telling me you have already made, or soon will make, contributions to the great needs there. Thanks so much for both coming to my blog occasionally and for being so generous in this time of great brotherly need.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slow Response to Haiti Tragedy

I've dawdeled and diddled and watched in absolute horror!
by Charlie Leck

I've got excuses by the thousands and I've had plenty of good intentions. How about you?

Have you donated money yet? Have you given so that it hurts a little in order to help out in Haiti? I hope so. If not, it's time to get off the dime and send a little money (or a lot of money if you can afford it).

I've been sitting on my checkbook, as they say, waiting for something. What? Some kind of inspiration about some organization to which I should give my dough. I've hemmed and hawed and napped on it. I just haven't gotten it done.

But right now -- just the second I post this blog on this Sunday morning -- I am going to go on-line to the Red Cross and make a contribution. I absolutely promise.

What has happened to Haiti is one of the extraordinary disasters of our life-time. The estimates of the dead that keeping coming in are horrible and painful. I only hope they are grossly exaggerated.

You must understand that it could have happened in our country and in our own neighborhood. Deborah Blum, of Madison, Wisconsin, wrote a piece this week for the NY Times [click here to read it] that was really worth the reading time.

"I used to be a science writer for a California newspaper, where I learned to think of the ground beneath my feet as something alive. It crawled and shivered and quaked. It was the thin, wrinkled skin of an A.D.D. planet whose muscles and bones constantly twitched beneath it."
Haiti's disaster could just as easily have been in California. Those poor bastards down there could have been friends or family on the west coast, living atop the San Andreas fault.

Blum quoted Will Durant in her piece: "Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice."

Then Blum goes on to call it a "rebuttal of our natural hubris, our assumption that we inevitably lord over this small sphere in one of our galaxy's lesser solar systems."

In fact, we are but infinitesimally tiny and insignificant specks in the great universe, yet we have hearts, souls, feelings and generous concerns for our neighbors. We cry!

This mighty quake in Haiti had a biblical tone about it. It speaks of what we don't understand about life and death and the future

I hated the awful things the Reverend Pat Robertson said about these events in Haiti. He was dead wrong and he was ignorant and repulsively non-biblical. It was his own miserable vanity that thought and spoke these things -- things that we should revile and hold in contempt. Robertson is a fool -- a piece of waste with a wasted mind. I have no time for such contemptible people.

Robertson called the quake in Haiti a sign of God's wrath over that nation state. I was stunned as I listened to his comments. They made no sense. It all had something to do with the Haiti's achievement of independence from the French.

“They were under the heel of the French…and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you’…and so, the devil said ‘Okay, it’s a deal’ and kicked the French out,... They need to have…a great turning to God...”
Robertson has always been one of the great dummies of religion and theology. He has never earned any stripes as a great thinker. If there is a God who can hear us, She must have cringed when Robertson spoke about Haiti. Robertson is the same mean man who blamed hurricane Katrina on the wickedness of New Orleans.

Rush Limbaugh, it is hard to believe, went and did Pat Robertson one comment even more horrible.

"We've already donated to Haiti,'' Limbaugh responded to a caller on his radio show. "It's called the U.S. income tax."

Limbaugh twisted and squirmed and wormed his way into the mud, somehow trying to tie blame for this great earthquake to President Obama. What puke! I can't find daintier or cuter words this morning. He discouraged donations to Haiti, declaring that all such donations would do is get you on "Obama's email list."

Look it, my dear, wonderful and compassionate readers, these comments by two of the world's leading idiots are only more reason to make donations to some Haitian aide fund. I've just gotten myself so worked up that I am going to double my contribution.

It's a wonderful Sunday morning. We are going to spend the afternoon with mild and delightful people. I shouldn't be so upset. I quake!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gotta Have that Book

Doesn’t it happen to you, too? Once in a while you hear about a book – perhaps on the radio – and you just have gotta have that book. Right now!
by Charlie Leck

[Post edited signficantly, with corrections, on 17 January 2010]

The fabulous Missus came home last night and told me she’d been to the book store, trying to get a book for me. She said she’d heard the author on the radio and the book sounded right up my alley.

“You know you shouldn’t buy books for me,” said I. “I like to buy my own.”

“Yes, but this one is right up your alley. I know you’ll love it.”

“Okay. What’s the title? Who’s the author?”

“Uhh! I forgot. But, I heard the author interviewed on public radio and it sounded just like the stuff you enjoy – it was about the campaign last year and how it worked. Hillary played a little dirty. So did some other candidates. There’s a lot of controversy about the book. It’s gotten plenty of people angry.”

“Which radio show?”

“Uhh! I don’t remember. It was in the afternoon. The major part of the book deals with the campaign, but it’s also about Obama’s change from candidate to President. It’s gotten remarkably good reviews.”

My taste is strange. I rarely pay new price for a book. I buy a lot of books for a dollar. I don’t care if they're five or six years old. Yet, once in a while a new book comes out and I’ve just got to have it – like THE CLINTON TAPES. I heard its author, Taylor Branch, interviewed on public radio and I just had to run out and pick up a copy. Taylor Branch is a terrific writer (PARTING THE WATERS).

The extraordinary woman in my life had piqued my curiosity. I hit the computer and searched the afternoon schedule of the public radio station. Suddenly, there it was. I found it. I clicked the little magical button, (How did they ever invent this extraordinary Internet?) and there it was – the entire interview with author John Heilemann about a new book he wrote with Mark Halperin, GAME CHANGE.

I sat, spellbound, in front of my computer and listened to the interview from top to bottom. The star of my life was correct. My blood heated up and my heart was pumpin’ and my corpuscles were jumpin’ and I had to get this book.

Heilemann writes for New Yorker Magazine. He’s well known and a quality writer. Halperin is an editor and political analyst for Time Magazine who has covered 6 presidential elections. I’ve got to have this book.

Heilemann called it a “fire storm” – this reaction to the book. He hadn’t expected it. Everyone’s talking about the book. Lots of people are buying it. What a wonderful combination!

"Why’d you write the book?" The interviewer cut to the chase and posed the question bluntly. Heilemann stumbled for a moment and then smoothly answered.

“… the book covers the entire 2008 election, and you know, part of the reason why we sat down to write it in the first place was that, as we say and as the subtitle indicates, you know, we thought it was the race of a lifetime, and there were so many pieces of it that were historic.

“I don't think we'll ever see an election like this in our lifetimes again, where you have the election of the first African-American president, the first female - plausible female candidate for president in Hillary Clinton, the rise of Sarah Palin, which has obviously led to a whole movement in the Republican Party that's kind of transforming the Republican Party. Those are all big pieces. You also had John McCain, who in any normal year would have been a figure of kind of - would have been a facile, kind of celebrity figure and the most interesting person in the race, and in this campaign, he was the fourth-or fifth-most-interesting person in the race.

“But as you point out, the arc of Obama, the unknown Barack Obama, coming to the Senate and getting it into his head that he can win against the formidable frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, how he did that and how the two of them end up on the same side at the end of the book is obviously probably the overarching, single-most kind of historically important narrative in the entire book.”
Let me guaranty you, though it is already Saturday morning, before the weekend is done, I’ll be into this book. My eyes are bothering me these days and I’ve been advised not to drive, but I’ll somehow roll the car through the streets to the bookstore, so I can pick up a copy. Naturally, you’ll hear more about it next week.

Ken Rudin, the Political Junkie and a regular guest on Talk of the Nation, explained my feelings precisely.

“John, what I found so fascinating about this book is that: one, before I opened it, I figured look, here we go again. We know everything that happened. Some guy named Obama won. We know the other people lost, and that would be the end of it. And yet I could not - I still haven't been able to put this book down. I also want to say it's really well-written, and it's a great book.

“What I found most fascinating, not only watching the Obama thing, the way the Obama people thought about whether he could actually run and win, but to watch what Hillary Clinton had to go through, knowing the vulnerabilities, knowing the problems with Bill Clinton and yet how she so carefully tried to make herself the
inevitable candidate and watch it fall apart on her face.”
The book is the product of more than 300 interviews and over 200 sources. Both of the authors actively covered the campaign. Heilemann kept stirring my juices as I listened to the interview.

“…we penetrated into the Clintons' world in a way I think very few authors ever have before. And the story that you tell there, again another historic theme of this book, is, you know, the down - the fall of the House of Clinton. They had been the dominant family in American politics for the past generation, and how Hillary Clinton missed her opportunity in 2004.

“One of the big pieces of news in the book that's also been ignored a little bit is how close she came to running, Hillary did, in 2004. We argue in the book that she - it was probably a better chance for her than in 2008, and in some ways, by not running in 2004, she opened the door to Barack Obama. She opened the door to John Kerry getting the nomination, who then named Obama his keynote speaker in 2004. How she then decides, having not run in 2004, that 2008 will be her year and goes through, as you said, all of the vulnerabilities, fights them all off, fends off the concerns about her husband, fends off all of those problems, manages to put herself in this - what seems to be an unassailable frontrunner's position and then manages to see it all snatched away by this most unlikely challenger in the person of Barack Obama.”
Heilemann’s description of John and Elizabeth Edwards and their part in the great story of this campaign was one of the most intriguing elements in the interview. I’m not sure I want to dig that deeply into Elizabeth Edwards’ emotional catastrophe during this campaign, but, on the other hand, the way Heilemann depicts it makes it irresistible.

Sarah Palin is a big part of the story of the 2008 campaign and Heilemann carefully detailed how they sourced the material they wrote about Palin (because she has refuted much of what they say and called it “untrue”).

“It’s true. And - I mean, I - Sarah Palin took issue with a number of things on television the other night. All I can say is that in that -in the case of Sarah Palin is that we, again, what kind of like the Clintons, I think we penetrated into Sarah Palin's world in a way that very few others have. We were - we spoke to - as you probably know, there were warring camps to the McCain campaign. There were people who were very sympathetic to Sarah Palin. There are people who also are very - who were very critical of Sarah Palin. We spoke to all of them.

“And on every single story of a factual nature of the conduct that we're talking about here, things that were gaps in her knowledge, we had confirmations on those stories from people who were in both camps - people who were critics and people who were sympathetic. And so I understand why she feels the need to deny those stories, because they're embarrassing, but we're very comfortable with them and feel that they are - we stand by them 100 percent.”
The disheartening thing to hear was that the book is gosh darn hard to find. It has sold so well that most bookstores are out of it. Drat! I get these buzzes on about books and I can’t stand waiting for them.

If you’ve read the book already, let’s hear from you about it. As soon as I can read it, you’ll be getting my report.

[To read the entire Talk of the Nation interview or to listen to it, click here!]

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Kind of Guy!

You can have your heroes if you want, but I’ll take this guy as my hero. Let me explain!
by Charlie Leck

I toasted an English Muffin this morning (from Thomas – they’re the best you can buy) and read through the local, pathetic newspaper. Then, there on the bottom of the page, I spotted the curious headline: MODEST IN LIFE, LIBRARIAN STUNS WITH GIFTS AFTER DEATH.

The guy’s name, Bob Olson, is as plain and vanilla as the way he lived his life. This past summer, at the age of 82, he passed on. He was just a few days short of his 83rd birthday. At the time, his estate was valued at approximately 878,000 dollars. No one had any idea that Bob had that kind of money and they certainly didn’t know, in his will, he parceled out all that money to some interesting benefactors. Right off the top, of course, he directed that two of his neighbors should receive $50,000 each. They had been particularly good to him and helped him in his older years and Bob wanted to express his appreciation.

Bob’s generosity didn’t end there. He gave the city of Minneapolis, as his way of saying thanks for all the good services, a pleasant little gift of 100,000 dollars. There were no restrictions attached to the gift. Bob wanted the city to use it any way they wanted.

Now, at this point, I was starting to warm up to this fellow, Bob, and thought he might be a really neat guy. He had no other heirs, so he wanted to spread his money around as a way of saying thanks to people and institutions. He even left some funds for his former employer, The University of Minnesota Libraries. Bob had worked there for 23 years. He cataloged books. Bob left his former employer several hundred thousand dollars. Bob graduated from the University with a degree in Library Sciences. He went to a high school right in the neighborhood where he lived and died.

You know, when Bob died, virtually no one took notice. A couple living across the alley felt sad about Bob’s departure. They enjoyed sharing tomatoes and raspberries from their garden with Bob. They also helped Bob around his house a bit. Bob appreciated them and left the money as his way of thanking them. They were stunned when told about the gift. One of the neighbors who received Olson’s generous gift is out of work. The gift comes as a blessing.

Another of his neighbors indicated that Olson was a grateful man who always said “thank you” for anything one did for him.

Well, any of the above you could’ve read in the newspaper and I’m just regurgitating it here.

I guess what I want to say about the story is that I felt so damned good after reading it. However, there’s a story about a murder right next to the story about Bob Olson. It happened a few nights ago in Bob’s neighborhood. A couple of teenagers slid into a neighborhood grocery store and demanded money. Something went wrong and they started shooting, killing three people – one a store employee and another a customer.

Bob loved his neighborhood. It would have distressed him. He also liked Seward Market and Halal Meats that had opened a couple of years ago. It was owned by some Somali folks. Bob was comfortable with that. There was room in the neighborhood for them and the store made shopping for groceries convenient. It was odd looking down at the paper, seeing the two stories juxtaposed on different sides of the page.

There’s so much goodness in the world. And then, there is the insanity, too.

I wish I had known Bob. I’d ask him for some advice about being a more grateful and generous person. I’d chat with him, too, about Haiti and ask him what he thought of the comments the Reverend Pat Robertson made about the horrible events down there.

“Jesus, Bob, those comments confuse the hell out me. What do you think? Has Pat Robertson gone around the bend?”

Bob would probably tell me I ought to be sending some money down there. He’d be correct, of course, but I founder around trying to figure out which agency to use to get my money into the "right" hands. Any really grateful person would already have made the contribution.

My land, I’m confused. Pat Robertson gets me so angry I can’t think straight.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Here's some good stuff I picked up in my reading yesterday that is still fresh enough for you to check out.
by Charlie Leck

You know, this morning I took a look at the left over French baguette from dinner two nights ago. It was hard as a rock. What a waste!

That’s the attitude I had when I set up a little place to live in Paris as a young man, searching for F. Scott, Ernie and Sylvia Beach. One morning, George, the fellow who lived in the flat next door, saw me taking a stale hunk of baguette to the trash. He nearly flipped out and struggled to tell me that this was not the French way.

“Mais non, Monsieur,” he shouted to me. I looked at him in wonder and couldn’t imagine what had stirred him up so.

“Vous ne devons pas gaspiller le pain,” he continued (You musn’t waste the bread!). “Venez!”

He motioned me to follow him into his flat. I watched him fire up his oven and push it up to broil.

“Je vais vous montrer quoi faire! (I’ll show you what to do!).

He sprinkled a little water on both sides of the bread and then, with a sharp knife, slit it long-ways right down the middle. He slapped a little butter on the inside of both slices of the bread and slid them under the hot fire.

After a moment, he smiled at me and had me peek through the little crack he left in the oven door.

“Regardez! Le pain est au coeur de la vie,” he said to me with a big smile, speaking slowly so I might follow. “Nous Français ne jetez jamais de pain! (We French never discard our bread!)

The bread browned up beautifully before my eyes. George removed it carefully by stabbing it with a fork. He pulled the slices from the oven and put one on a plate for me and another for himself. He had steaming cups of hot chocolate ready. He motioned me to sit down. He pushed the butter toward me.

“Plus de beurre sur le pain!”

Yes, yes. More butter. I spread a healthy (or unhealthy) amount across the long piece of baguette. George pushed some kind of jam toward me also and pointed at it.

“Confiture de fraises,” he said, pointing toward my slice of bread. “Avec de beurre!”

We sat and ate the French toast together and both of us smiled with pleasure. We sloshed down our hot chocolate – chocolat chaud! The baguette was better than even the night before.

“Merci, mon ami,” I said to George, “merci beaucoup! Le pain est trés bon!”

“Allon-mous aller aux courses de chevaux?” George asked me if I wanted to go to the horse races. It was a daily activity for him. He tried to make a living that way. By the looks of his dismal garret apartment, he wasn’t doing too well.

He was not exactly the fellow I’d come to Paris to meet up with, but perhaps this is how John Dos Passos got started as well.

“Oui,” I stuttered out, “trés certainement, allons!”

So, below I’ve browned up for you some day-old baguette. It is still delicious and maybe, upon reflection and after this bit of browning, even better than yesterday, when it broke in the papers.

China is clearly lagging behind where we had hoped it would be in terms of granting both human rights and freedom of information to its people. We, half-way around the globe, need to remember that China is not a democracy or a republic and is, therefore, in the precarious position of needing to protect the position of national leaders who would be threatened by too much information spread among the people and certainly by granting human rights too freely.

“This is not your father’s China,” as I once said here in a blog; however, it is also not yet a free and open society.

One of the mega-corporations has stepped up to challenge China by informing the nation that it is willing to pull its sizeable investment out of there and leave the nation before it will allow it’s systems to be hacked, attacked and abused by the government. It’s a brave stance and we need to watch the story closely. [You can read the NY Times story about Google challenging China by clicking here!]

Someone at the NY Times (in an editorial) has sprung a marvelous idea. Let’s wallop the crazy, astronomical corporate bonuses with an astronomical mega-tax in return. That’s a way to attack our deficit! What a great idea! The paper also endorses a White House idea to levy a substantial tax on large banks to make up for the bail-out money that had to be spent to stabilize an industry that had been run very poorly in the first decade of this century. Go for it! [Read the NY Times editorial!]

The New York Times carries a feature story this morning about the rush by non-Jews to buy kosher food. The story indicates that only 15 percent of purchases of kosher food are for religious reasons. I honestly don’t know a great deal about kosher foods and this article was helpful to me. You might enjoy learning a bit about the subject, too. [You’ll find the NY Times story here!]

Sensa is a diet fad! I’m married to the greatest woman in the world. She’s spectacular in a thousand ways. However, she’s got this weakness. She just believes every advertisement she sees or hears. I try to keep her away from commercial television and radio. I urge her to stick to her iPod and her Audible books and to public broadcasting only. Recently, in an effort to help me get hold of my exploding weight problem, she purchased some Sensa for me. She heard, on an ad, how miraculous, quickly and easily it works. With Sensa there is no need to exercise or change the foods you eat. Sprinkle some of the miracle product on top of your food and, voila, you will begin to lose amazing amounts of weight.

Do you believe that claim? If you do, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I want to tell you about. (Boy, I love that one and it’s as old as I am and my old man said it a thousand times within my hearing: “I’ve got a bridge to sell you, boy!”) Keep those bridge salesmen away from my wife.

No charge for Sensa for the first month. Completely free trial. Only problem is that the second, very expensive month is already posted on our credit card and we’ll have a dickens of a time getting it back. Sucker punched again.

You can read a thousand reviews on-line (try googling) about why Sensa doesn’t work. The Fitness Shack blog has one of the best of them, but that’s only the beginning. In a year or two you’ll never again here the word Sensa, but its current promoters will have made off with millions by then.

Here’s a cute one for you: “If you’ve got any sensa, don’t buy Sensa!” (I’ve got ‘em by the thousands, you know!)

Oh my god, I’ve heard that crap from people a million times! I mean, you know, I’m talking here about what Harry Reid said ages ago (2008) about Barack Obama’s good chances of election because he was “light skinned” and basically free from the “Negro dialect.”

A bunch of people out there have brought that up again and suggest that Reid ought to step down from Senate leadership! Here’s the problem: If everyone who said something stupid like that had to step down from what they’re doing there’d be several million vacant leadership spots in the country. I sure would have to stop pretending to be a blogger.

There’s a real good take on this issue on AlterNet, a really significant alternative news source.

Boy this is an interesting one! None of us thought it would be. We thought it was a “walk-off” victory for the Democrat Martha Coakley. Instead, we’ve got a very close race and anything could happen in the election on this coming Tuesday.

What the heck happened? Well, first of all, her opponent, State Senator Scott Brown, has proven terribly capable. He did a great job in a debate between the candidates and he is well received on the campaign trail. Even if he loses, but makes it a close race, eyebrows are going to be raised and questions asked about how it could happen in such a heavily Dem state. A lot of fingers are going to be pointed at the President. [If you’re interested in this there’s a really good story about the race in the Washington Post.]

Hey, don't throw away that day-old baguette!