Friday, December 10, 2010

History Buff Alert

We have the New York Times to thank for bringing this fascinating piece of history to our attention.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fan Letter

Among the few tidbits of serendipitous news that surfaced this week is that Steven Spielberg is making a film titled Lincoln, based on the book, Team of Rivals, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Even better news is that the lead will be played by Daniel Day-Lewis, surely one of the finest actors of his generation. Liam Neeson had originally been cast, but backed out, feeling that his age was inappropriate to the role. Neeson would, at 6'3", have been closer to Lincoln's towering 6'4", while Day-Lewis measures up to a mere 6'1". But, who's going to quibble over a couple of inches when such an array of talent comes together to create what one might hope will be the cinematic event of 2012 (a presidential-election year). As an American history buff and Day-Lewis fan, I never miss the re-runs of Last of the Mohicans, a film near the top of my Ten Best Movies of All Time list.

Those of you unused to reading such effusive fan-dom on what purports to be a serious blog may find comfort in knowing that this is the first and, hopefully, the last such post, save only the possibility of my expressing equal glee should persistent rumors of Tea Party ballot-stuffing in favor of Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars prove to be well-founded.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rachel and the Not-So-Sly Fox

No great Olbermann fan I, but this clip is an eye opener for anyone living on Mars who actually believes that FNC is in fact "fair and balanced". What's most terrifying is that on election night more people watched FNC than any other network, cable or broadcast. As my friend Norman would say, good grief!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WSJ: Split Personality?

The vast divide between the even-handed reporting in the Wall Street Journal's news pages and the unalloyed reactionism of its editorials was never more evident than in yesterday's edition in which columnist Ashley Jones wrote – in the WSJ Law Blog – a straightforward and balanced pre-election piece on the effect of the SCOTUS Citizens United
v. FEC ruling on incumbent senate candidate Russ Feingold (who subsequently lost).

At the end of the column, "for a different take", Jones links us to a WSJ editorial on the subject, a piece of writing so unremittingly snarky it makes the queen of snark, Rachel Maddow, look like the Dalai Lama.

It starts out by charging "good-government liberals" (or 'goo-goos', in Journal-speak) with wanting to regulate "political speech" (code for unrestricted anonymous campaign funding) and goes downhill from there. We are asked to "celebrate…the death of campaign finance reform" (pace, John McCain) and to agree with the editors that every Democrat ("from President to dogcatcher") will be shifting the blame for their mid-term shellacking onto the Supreme Court (NB: I hasten to concede that some undoubtedly will).

While the Citizen's United decision may or may not be sound law, it certainly flies in the face of any republican concept about government's obligation to provide a level political playing-field. In fact, the Court itself held, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity. That ruling was intended to "prevent the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of [corporate] wealth...that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas." 'Nuf said.

My purpose here today is not, however, to wallow in the detritus of Citizens United, but to ponder the dichotomy of style and substance between the WSJ's news coverage and its editorial pages. One might ascribe it to Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function", or we might, more churlishly, put it down to schizophrenia.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Corporate Personhood: Fact or Fantasy?

One of the delights associated with newspaper reading is the random encounter with an article whose headline might not have drawn you to it online, but which, with idle page-turning, happens to catch your attention for no reason other than pure serendipity.

Religion sections having become an exotic species in newspapers of late, my curiosity was piqued by a headline in the Cape Cod Times: Do Corporations Have Souls? The author (The Rev. Edmund Robinson) starts out with a Halloween peg about the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, during which "the veil between this world and the other world was said to be at its thinnest, allowing the fairy folk to escape the sidhe, or fairy hill, and wander about in human villages."

It was but a short narrative leap from those shades and spirits to the incorporeal entities now frighteningly empowered to fund election campaigns anonymously, courtesy of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, a case which infamously declared corporations to be persons under the law, and therefore entitled to all of the free speech protections of the 1st Amendment.

Robinson then proceeds to demolish the premise of corporate personhood as a theological absurdity, a compelling perspective not previously encountered in my readings on the subject.

We may of course choose to accept or reject his doctrinal arguments according to our own religious convictions, but there is no getting around his essentially humanistic contention that corporations are not people because they are not mortal, and, consequently, neither die nor harbor fear of death, a uniquely human imperative that existentially influences our behavior, hopefully for the better.

I commend the complete article to your attention.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Promises, promises

So amazed was I to encounter on the front page of our local newspaper a headline stating that one of our congressional candidates has an actual "plan" to offer, rather than the usual mix of glittering generalities and ad hominem calumny, that I hastened to read the article.

Alas, t'was not to be. It seems that the candidate's plan relies heavily for implementation upon passing two Constitutional Amendments, despite the fact that in the 222 years since the Bill of Rights was ratified, over 10,000 Amendments have been offered and only 17 have passed (the ERA having been on life support since 1923).

One must therefore reluctantly conclude that we are, as usual, being offered only what those of us old enough to still be reading newspapers call "pie in the sky".

We is Sarah

Without becoming unduly obsessive about the essential witlessness of Sarah Palin, her most irritating trait may well be her insistence on referring to herself in the 1st person plural.

Acceptable use of the imperial we is pretty much restricted to sovereigns and heads of state, and, even then, is generally derided in democracies as an affectation; especially when utilized by someone holding no public office whatsoever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Journo Knocks Jock Pols

Robert Lipsyte, the justly-celebrated veteran sportswriter, writes (on Huffpost) that ex-athletes make lousy politicians. He sets up his premise thus:

Keep in mind that the sports-industrial complex tends to produce narrow-minded, self-centered, ethically-challenged mercenaries who are deeply submissive to established authority while being fiercely dedicated to winning by any means possible.  Or as one of my old political advisers, Sam Hall Kaplan, a former New York Times and Los Angeles Times reporter, puts it: "A pol who learned as an athlete just who ultimately butters his bread can be counted on to continue to wave to the crowds while doing the bidding of the owners." And the owners these days, thanks to the umpires (... er, Supreme Court) are likely to be unnamed billionaire warlords donating to right-wing candidates through dummy organizations that have no requirement to open their books to the voters.

Read the entire article here.







Friday, October 8, 2010

Beware of Greeks

As skeptics have long suspected, "ancient Greek civilization" — and its attendant cultural baggage — has been exposed as a fabrication artfully constructed by renegade historians. Coming as it does just before mid-terms, the news elicited a collective sigh of relief from overstressed Ph.D candidates, nationwide.

Read about this astonishing hoax here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Intel Insider

Carrying a Beijing dateline, the influential Borowitz Report noted yesterday that China will soon begin dismantling its widely envied domestic intelligence network in favor of Facebook.

Contacted by this column for corroboration, a high-level PRC government spokesman revealed that the Ministry of Public Security's elaborate intelligence-gathering apparatus has become a "runaway monster", diverting revenue that could be more productively used to buy U.S. Treasury bonds.

"It's astonishing to us that people will voluntarily put their most private thoughts and activities up for public scrutiny in order to be perceived as being 'with it'", noted the spokesman. He went on to say that "the amount of personal information available on Facebook staggers the imagination. As long as self-involvement remains the 21st Century's most defining human trait, our office need only sit back and mine the data."

There are unconfirmed reports that other intelligence agencies around the world, including our own NSA, CIA and FBI, are closely following developments, lest the Chinese run away with advanced Western technology, yet again.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was unavailable for comment, according to a publicist newly hired to cope with recent Zuckerberg-connected media excesses.

Queries to the Xinhua news agency and the Chinese search engine Baidu seeking further corroboration met only with the usual oriental inscrutability, an irritating cultural artifact rapidly being undermined by the internet. But, coupling the ministry's frank statement with Borowitz .com's usual reliability, we've decided to run with the story anyway.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ortolan and the Omnivore: A Tale of Gluttony

I see by the London Telegraph that France's League for the Protection of Birds hopes to have French authorities pronounced guilty of flouting a European ban on hunting the endangered ortolan (emberiza hortulana), a tiny bobolink-like songbird that – force-fed and drowned in Armagnac — has long been coveted by gastronomes of the Gallic persuasion as an exquisite delicacy; all the more enticing because its trapping is forbidden.

Traditionally, ortolans are eaten with one's head covered by a napkin because: [1.] (sensual) the exotic aroma is thereby captured, concentrated and savored, and/or, [2.] (spiritual) God cannot see you engaging in such flagrant gourmandise (French for gluttony), one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Ortolans occupy a storied place in the culinary history of La Belle France (see Mitterrand, François: Last meal of), and – as I am reminded by the Telegraph article — at least once in America as an object of the appetite and pen of the late New York Times restaurant critic, and mid-20th Century doyen of food writers, Craig Claiborne.

Back in 1975, when people were still reading newspapers, Claiborne bid $300 at a public television charity auction and, having won, got his pick of a restaurant meal for two anywhere in the world, with no limit on the cost, courtesy of American Express. He chose to eat (with his friend Pierre Franey as his guest) at the Parisian establishment, Chez Denis. Their 31-course dinner took five hours to consume and was washed down with copious quantities of Chateau Pétrus and other legendary-label wines. Claiborne wrote about the meal in The New York Times of November 14, 1975 under the title, "Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris: 31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4000 check"; a paean to conspicuous consumption seldom equaled in the annals of gastronomy.

Ortolan – need I note —was on the bill of fare.

The article ran on the Times' front page and created an instant international sensation, the gist of which was best summed up by Pope Paul VI, who pronounced it "scandalous". But the payoff came four days later when Times columnist Russell Baker wrote a scathing send-up of Claiborne's review called "Francs and Beans". It is near the top of my list of favorite parodies of all time.

So side-splittingly funny was it, that, as I read it on an early morning breakfast flight from LaGuardia to Toronto, tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was choking on my scrambled eggs, much to the puzzlement of the other suits on board who were unused to seeing someone cracking up while reading anything in "the old gray lady", especially at 7am.

You can (and should) read it at

For a couple of bucks you can also read Claiborne's review in the NYT archives at


Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Hyannis, Ma. -- Faced with the unnerving prospect of the Cape being overrun yet again this summer by hordes of mainlanders, some coveting our legendarily lucrative service jobs and others the perfect tan, the Cape Cod Commission today announced a series of preemptive countermeasures.

Recognizing that the recent reconfiguration of the Sagamore Bridge approach has largely failed to achieve its primary goal of discouraging visitors, the commissioners proposed that:

  1. Stimulus Fund money be used to construct a 25-foot-high fence along the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal. Existing fish ladders exceeding 25-feet in length would be dismantled lest they be used to climb over the fence. Regrettably, the barrier would effectively disenfranchise Cape Cod acolytes like Buzzards Bay, Onset and Wareham, but, the commissioners noted, collateral damage to innocent bystanders is often an unintended consequence of hostilities.
  2. Reminded by a BHS intern that the Cape is entirely surrounded by water, the Commission hastily voted to engage the services of the Israeli Defense Forces to intercept blockade runners camouflaged as Provincetown quahog trawlers.
  3. The Barnstable County Pothole Producers Association, coming off of a highly productive winter season, has contracted with the CCC to pock the tarmac at Barnstable Municipal Airport in order to interdict unauthorized landings during July and August.

The Chamber of Commerce, upon learning of the Commission's actions, reacted predictably, blasting the commissioners for their "knee-jerk anti-business stance and politically tone-deaf attitude". Further opposition came from Save Our Sound whose spokesperson rebuked the Commission for having endorsed the dumping millions of gallons of Coppertone into Cape waters in order to create a massive protective oil slick.

A more positive response came from the Tea Party, whose history of harbor-dumping is the stuff of legend. "The Commission's recommendations", said party Chairperson Samantha "Sam" Adams, "are a clarion call that it's not too late for Cape Codders to take back our Cape from Washington, Wall Street, Beacon Hill, and washashores. God bless America!"

An earlier version of this post ran in the My View column of the Cape Cod Times on June 21.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Economics Made Easy

Cotuit's Stew Goodwin is a colleague of mine at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. He is also a skilled editorialist who pens a regular column for The Barnstable Patriot. A moderate Progressive, Stew's op-eds are invariably models of common sense. To wit: this week's column, "The Good Old Days", takes a conservative premise, "This country will not endure more extensive government-sponsored social welfare networks, " and proceeds to elaborate on that contention so convincingly that even those well to Stew's left -- unless ideologically ossified -- will find it persuasive.

Read it at:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Citizens United v. "Citizens United"

Although Mike Capuano (D-MA) is the bluest congressman from the bluest district of the bluest state in the Union, he was unable to wrest the 2009 Democratic Senatorial nomination away from bluestocking Martha Coakley.

In retrospect, Bay State Democrats may have made a mistake.

Be that as it may, Capuano has now sponsored The Shareholder Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 4790) which, if passed, will go a long way toward mitigating the effect of the egregious Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that bids fair to flood the political landscape with corporate dollars.

No matter that the Court has deemed corporations legal persons (and therefore entitled to free-speech protection), corporations are not people. But shareholders are, and that is the thrust of Mike’s bill.

Historically, shareholders have not had a way to know, or to influence, the political activities of corporations they own. They and the public have a right to know how corporations are spending their funds to make political contributions or expenditures benefitting candidates, political parties and political causes.

The Shareholder Protection Act would:
· Ensure that shareholders’ political interests are accurately represented by their corporation.
· Require an authorizing vote of a majority of shareholders before general treasury funds can be spent on political activities.
· Require quarterly notification to all shareholders on corporations’ contributions.

For those who would wish to see labor union—and other—contributions similarly scrutinized, Senators Schumer and Van Hollen have jointly proposed legislation to that effect.

Such a combination of political initiatives should satisfy virtually the entire ideological spectrum, with the possible exception of those who view any restraint on the purchase of political influence as a threat to liberty.

I urge you to contact your Representatives in support of this bill.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Supremes Redux

Readers may recall that I have previously lamented the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision in Citizens United v. FEC as being—to use the most charitable animadversion that comes to mind—less than sound.

No lawyer myself, I am nevertheless supported in such heterodoxy by Justice John Paul Stevens, whose eloquent dissent is a model of jurisprudential common sense. Even more eloquent is the outrage of the American public, which—according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll—opposes the decision by an 80% margin.

The facts of the case are by now well known and have been debated in the press and the blogosphere ad nauseam, so I won't rehash them herein. What is new, however, is that Citizens United, a self-declared lobbyist, having convinced the Court’s conservative majority that CU's corporate underwriters are persons (and therefore subject to the free speech provisions of the 1st Amendment), is now asking the FEC to declare CU a media company of the sort entitled to the special latitude granted to the news media under the Federal Election Campaign Act and McCain-Feingold.

Americans are all too well aware of the sins against accuracy, fairness and objectivity committed by the press over the past couple of centuries, but, for a propaganda-film producer like Citizens United, whose sole purpose is to manufacture and distribute agitprop, to claim to be a practitioner of legitimate journalism, is sophistry run amok.

One can only hope that the FEC is more cognizant of the perniciousness of money-driven political corruption than is the current Supreme Court, and will, consequently, turn down the Citizens United petition.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Mailbag

Got an email this morning that I'd like to share, especially with those of you old enough to recognize the name of the sender.

Dear Citizen:

What’s all this I keep hearing from conservatives about tart reform? Some guy was going on about it on talk-radio the other day as having some connection to the health care bill, claiming that, without tart reform, healthcare would bankrupt the country!

Now, I’m a senior citizen and in good health despite a slight hearing problem, but even I know that tart reform just doesn’t work. The [always non-partisan] Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers recently and concluded that the expense of sending all those hookers to the Virgin Islands to be recycled cannot be reconciled to the budget. The cost-to-benefit ratio doesn’t compute.

Furthermore, you’d never get it through Congress. So many of its members are whores, they would never vote to reform themselves, despite the allure of an all-expense-paid trip to St. Croix.

One can only despair of our Constitution, but, never mind.

Sincerely yours,

Emily Litella

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Identity Crisis

Guy writes in to the Barnstable Enterprise this week, signing himself: Independent Member, Barnstable Republican Town Committee. He calls upon "all disillusioned Republicans, Democrats, independents and Tea Party members" to join our town committee...", and invites them to attend the next meeting. Can't help but wonder how comfortable the other (non-independent?) members of the Republican Committee are about seeing their group morph into a "rainbow coalition" of political colorations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

News Junkie Alert

The 2009 State of the Media Report by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) has just been released. For the media savvy, the Report is the ultimate consolidated reference on the subject. It is exhaustive -- the Executive Summary alone runs 25 pages -- but such detailed comprehensiveness is what makes the report a vade mecum for those who track the industry.

As has been the case for the past few years, PEJ's 2009 findings are disheartening, especially as exemplified by the parlous state of the newspaper industry where revenues and circulation continue to decline precipitously in the face of its inability -- so far -- to adequately monetize its increasing online readership and that of the countless number of other websites and social media which link to newspapers. (90% of all news reports are originated by newspapers).

That financial shortfall -- at least partly recession-driven -- affects other newsmedia as well. Network and local television news is losing both revenue and viewers, with the resulting increase in fluff over substance. Cable television, conversely, is holding its own, particularly at the journalistically-challenged Fox News Channel where original news reporting has been subordinated to a 24/7 mix of commentary and punditry. One cannot argue with their stunning success, but it doesn't get us any more of the primary newsgathering, skilled editing and cogent analysis that is the hallmark of the legacy media and the lifeblood of an informed electorate.

What it gets us is a citizenry plugged-in full-time, 70% of whom feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information being thrown at them every day. But quantity is not quality, and 80% of the million-plus blogs and social media sites out there are linked to conventional newsgathering sources. If those sources dry up through lack of financial sustenance, the entire construct implodes.

To some, this dramatic scenario is simply a clash of titans, with gigantic media conglomorates vying for control of information and the gateways through which it flows, while paying only lip service to the 1st Amendment and the cherished ideal of a free press.

Clearly, there is no quick and easy fix to the current dilemma, and pessimism will continue to dog the issue in the near term. But, in this observer's perhaps quixotic view, the Republic will not fall, democracy will survive and journalism will remain a viable business as well as a vital profession. Yankee ingenuity and resourcefullness, coupled with an economic recovery, will eventually pull the press out of the fiscal mire. We can only hope that next year's PEJ report will find us on that road, but -- even so -- our reading/viewing habits will have been changed forever.

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) provides a half-dozen key excerpts from the Report at:

For the full PEJ report, go to:

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Is Not About Texas (updated)

Turns out that it is all about Texas, after all.

Our earlier-voiced (2/11/10) concern that the Texas Board of Education's disproportionate influence on the national textbook publishing scene (because of its outsize spending vis a vis the rest of the country) is, it appears, being mitigated by new digital technology. That technology now gives publishers more ability to tailor their texts state-by-state.

This news, courtesy of the New York Times, arrives in the nick of time. On friday (3/12), the TBOE brought forth a statewide social studies curriculum so reactionary as to make the most lukewarm 1st Amendment apologist bleed from the ears.

There is further good news. Texas governor Rick Perry has been giving not-so-thinly-veiled aid and comfort to the Texas Independence movement in its campaign to secede (yet again) from the Union.

One can only hope.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Party Loyalty

I see where Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and 13 (so far) of his cohorts would like to see Ulysses S. Grant's image deleted from the $50 bill in favor of Ronald Reagan.

History has not been kind to Grant's presidency, but to suggest that the man who was Lincoln's inspired choice to preserve the union, should be dumped in favor of the father of what G.H.W. Bush called "voodoo economics", seems yet another nod to the sort of PC so often derided by Republicans.

Rather than cannibalizing their own, one might suggest that the GOP start creating some latter day statesmen in lieu of recycling the ones they have.

A previous effort to replace Old Hickory with The Gipper on the Twenty failed, and a click-thru poll by the New York Daily News found that opposition to the newly suggested change is nearly two to one.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Semper Paratus

Because of its maritime history, Cape Cod has an almost reverential regard for the Coast Guard and its traditional mission as guardian of our seaways, shorelines, seafarers, and ships.

Since 9/11, the USCG has been part of the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to search & rescue, it is a first responder to natural disasters and maritime emergencies at home and abroad; a drug interdiction agency; a sentinel against illegal immigration, the smuggling of WOMD and other weaponry; and the overseer of American port security. In light of that expanded mission, it is disheartening to read that, after a decade of underfunding, its 2011 budget is to be cut by a further 3.3%.

It is, of course, problematical for the USCG to be part of a federal department so gigantic and revenue-devouring that libertarians foam at the mouth just thinking about it. Hence, when the Administration looks for places to cut in response to taxpayer outrage, the DHS is an inviting target.

There are, fortunately, voices calling for a reversal, including that of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) chairman of the sub-committee overseeing Coast Guard and Marine Transport matters, who said, "I think you will have the unanimous support of [this] committee. We will proceed...very effectively and very efficiently".

Realistically, though, numerous federal agencies participate in the oversight of DHS, and the Coast Guard, as one of that department's 22 components, could get lost in the shuffle of Congressional budgetary infighting. So I would urge readers to contact your senators and congressmen, and ask that they seek some way to reduce the federal budget other than further starving a quintessential element of our national security.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Photos Don't Lie? (Revised)

Sorry, the photos didn't print through on my previous post this subject. For the full story on this "birther" photoshopping exercise, link to:

Photos Don’t Lie?, the reliable rumor debunker, has pulled a birther doozy off the blogosphere. The upper pic is a Photoshopped version of the actual photo shown below it.



Read all about it at:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Operation Paperback

I've found no recycling effort more satisfying than sweeping all my never-to-be-read-again paperbacks off the shelf and into the hands of our servicemen around the world.

"Hurry up and wait' is a cardinal mantra of the military, and we all know how tedious waiting around -- or being hospitalized -- can be. Reading is a powerful antidote to such boredom.

There must be literally millions of used paperbacks gathering dust on bookshelves around the country, and I urge you to give yours a new life; especially in such a rewarding way.

Just link to They'll give you detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to go about it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Supremes III

Those who read my two previous posts (1/21 & 2/3) lamenting the Court's appalling decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, will be heartened by a poll conducted by WashPost/ABC, which finds that 8 in 10 Americans disapprove of the ruling, and 72% want Congress to act on it.

Of course, any such legislative relief depends upon Congress -- already drunk on corporate donations -- to sober up and act according to the wishes of the electorate. The more cynical among us might be inclined to say, "don't hold your breath."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stimulus Redux

Herewith the actual numbers to date, per the always reliable and impartial

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mash Note to Rachel Maddow

As a moderate Liberal, I'm not a big fan of Rachel Maddow; too strident and too far left of center-- a sort of mirror image of Rush Limbaugh. But she's now come up with (on MSNBC) a witheringly accurate indictment of GOP hypocrisy vis a vis the Stimulus package.

The Administration's quest for bi-partisanship is, she believes, hopelessly and naively quixotic, given the lockstep determination of Republicans to monolithically oppose any Democratic policy initiative, the good of the country notwithstanding.

Hers is the most well-constructed and vividly graphic assessment of the sorry situation that I've seen to date. Watch it at:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Is Not About Texas

There is an article in this coming Sunday's (2/14) New York Times Magazine that will -- if you are a First Amendment true believer -- stand your hair on end.

It deals with the effort by some members of the Texas Board of Education to infuse their statewide public school system's history and science curricula with Fundamentalist religious doctrines.

Why should non-Texans care? Because Texas has more pupils and spends more on education than any other state. Consequently, major textbook publishers take care to reflect the TBOE's standards across their booklists, thereby infecting virtually every other school district in the country with a religion-driven agenda that may be anathema to unsuspecting parents, nationwide.

Even if you yourself subscribe to that agenda, you should nevertheless have a problem with such egregious subversion of the 1st Amendment. The supporters' contention that this is what the Founders intended is so labyrinthine in its rationale as to defy objective refutation.

If you are not an NYT subscriber, you can link to the article at:

Citizen's Lament

There is much to lament in the increasingly dire economic straits of the mainstream media (especially the daily newspaper), but perhaps the most pernicious consequence (aside from the appalling loss of jobs) is the coincident erosion of studied, thoughtful news analysis.

How many newspapers nowadays can afford the time, reportorial/editorial staff, and space necessary to responsibly discharge a function so vital to the role a press must play in a democracy? Dishearteningly, the answer must be: very few -- and we are all the poorer for it.

Magazines remain one of the few purveyors of the sort of analysis to which I refer, but, regrettably, only 2% of the population reads magazines any more, and they're relatively expensive for the average wage-earner.

I, for one, find myself increasingly turning to free internet sources having pockets deep enough to support and publish such analysis. Case in point, STRATFOR, a private-enterprise global intelligence organization which supplies strategic guidance in the form of well-written articles to its subscribers and clients. All to the good, but who's there -- or interested enough -- to refute any faulty conclusions at which they may arrive? Few bloggers -- no matter how reliable -- have the resources to do so, and certainly none of the MSM.

STRATFOR is accountable only to its shareholders and subscribers; not to the community at large. This is not to suggest that, as a consequence, they lack reliability or circumspection, only that they have no public responsibility, as does the press.

The only answer to this increasingly distressing scenario is for the MSM to accelerate (if sheer survival is not already a sufficient goad) its so-far elusive quest to reinvent its economic model in order to bring it profitably in line with the realities of the contemporary, digitally-dominated, marketplace. It cannot happen too soon.


For an example of a STRATFOR article, link to:

The Borowitz Report

Try it, you'll like it:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Healthcare Reform Redux

The politically centrist Kaiser Health News, which has been reliably tracking the healthcare reform debate for these past months, has teamed up with the New Republic -- a liberal debating forum -- to produce the article linked below.

Marshaling an array of incontestable facts, the article takes the GOP to task for egregiously claiming that it's been left out of the healthcare debate while concurrently trying to scare the bejeezus out of Seniors by telling them that the Democrats are out to take away their Medicare.

In the end, of course, the debate comes down to whether one believes in a monolithically capitalistic free market economy, or one in which the government steps in with progressive social-welfare initiatives designed to "provide for...the General Welfare" (U.S. Constitution: Article I, Sect. 8).

Read the article in full, and draw your own conclusions ("we report, you decide") at:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Eye Opener

Democrats in Congress came up with this chart comparing job losses/gains during the last year of Bush vs. the first year of Obama. We ain't there yet, but those claiming that Obama's stimulus policies are ineffectual are invited to look at a blow-up of the chart at:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

They Report, You Decide

Kaiser Health News (KHN) has done its usual comprehensive and balanced job in writing about the controversial issue of selling health insurance across state lines. Some may deride their approach as "he said/she said" journalism, but this article is an example of when that format is quite simply the best way to lay out the facts.

Read about it at:

The Supremes II

In a well-reasoned article in The Jurist, legal scholar William Ross convincingly refutes criticism of President Obama for his temperate SOTU chastisement of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, regarding which I posted a comment on January 21.

Read Mr. Ross' piece at:

Kermit For Congress

We see by today's Cape Cod Times that perrennial candidate, Peter White, is running again. The local motelier, a peace activist, renewable-energy advocate and global climate change Cassandra all but defines the term "grass roots". Peter's benign and gentlemanly mien is in sharp contrast to the virulent partisanship characterizing today's political arena. As to his chances as an Independent, Jim Henson might well have sung the famous lyric, "It's not easy being green" with Peter White in mind; I'd be surprised if his high school class didn't vote him "most persistent". Lest it seem I'm treating his candidacy lightly, I'm quite serious in my belief that it's time such a concerned and progressive independent was elected to Congress by like-minded Cape Codders, and he has my vote.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Must-See-TV For Aging iSurfers

PBS's new program, Digital Nation, should be required viewing for anyone old enough not to have balanced a laptop on his/her highchair tray while gumming Gerber's. For anyone younger it will merely be same old same old.

For those of my generation, it is a fascinating mix of multitasking and virtual reality that is simultaneously informative, enlightening, compelling, and just a bit disturbing.

If you've ever wondered: what's the world coming to?, this program will tell you -- vividly.

It's being streamed live at: as I write, and will of course soon be repeated on one of your local PBS stations.

Who Do You Trust?

Back in July of 2009, when Walter Cronkite died, ran a click-poll that found Jon Stewart to be the most trusted newscaster in America.
Yesterday, Fox News ran a full-page ad in several of the nation's major newspapers claiming that-- based on a Public Policy Poll --Fox is now America's "most trusted news network".
ABC, CBS and NBC were included in the findings, and while none would likely describe itself as a “news network”, the results are, nevertheless, telling.

That a faux newscaster and a faux news network should emerge as America’s favorites is an irony simply too great to let pass without comment. That it says something profound about the puzzling political paradox that is America in the 21st Century is questionable, but somehow troubling.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Today's How To

For all you news junkies out there, I thought I'd share this primer on how to construct a TV news story. It's British, but it's universal:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ed Murrow, Where Are You When We Need You?

Presumably I'm not the only news junkie who sees the relocation of CBS News' programs enmasse to Miami, in order to cross-plug its Superbowl coverage, as yet further evidence that that division has now been relegated to the role of shill for its parent corporation's other interests. (See my Show Biz post of 1/5/10).

All us big kids are well aware that journalism is a business, subject to the same tyranny of the bottom line as any other enterprise; but the press has tried -- in its recent history, at least -- to construct an impervious wall between its editorial and business arms, albeit not always with unmitigated success.

To be charitable, perhaps this just the way CBS News is repaying its debt to the NFL for those terrific Sunday lead-ins that have helped to keep 60 Minutes at the top of the ratings heap all these years.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Forwarded Without Comment

Wherever the citizenry may stand on Healthcare Reform, we all know where the Health Insurance industry stands. The Hill website ( ) informs us that the industry aggregately upped its ante by almost 25% in 2009 over 2008 to a total of about $30,000,000.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Military Iron(y)

One approaches any third rail, metaphorical or actual, with extreme caution. This column is no exception, but occasionally, having come across a story so irresistibly ironic, it goes out on a limb.
Social Security has long reigned as the third rail of American polititics, but that cachet is being challenged on the blogosphere by the perceived infiltration of government and the military by Christian Fundamentalists. This week's flashpoint: Trijicon.

A maker of gunsights for hunters and the military, Trijicon has, for 30 years, been etching biblical citations (e.g., JN8:12, 2COR4:6, etc.) into the base of their scopes. The Pentagon seems (a) not to have noticed, or (b) to have been collusive (depending upon who you read) in the uncritical deployment of several hundred thousand of these devices into the hands of our soldiers and marines fighting an Islamic enemy in the Middle East.

Here we have a classic 1st Amendment paradox wherein the right of free speech collides with the separation of church and state.

But before one rushes to the judgement that -- as conspiracy theorists would have it -- the military is in cahoots with the religious right to proselytize the entire world, we note that General David Petraeus, head of Central Command in the middle east and arguably the most high-profile military figure in the country, has termed the matter "disturbing" and of "serious concern".

The upshot: Trijicon has now "voluntarily" agreed to halt its practice and to pay for the retrofix of all existing equipment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Economics 2010

As a media maven, I read a lot about what the press is reporting and a lot less about what it isn't reporting; or at least not reporting comprehensively. It is said that Economics is the dismal science, and that's largely the reason why mainstream publishers, editors and reporters shy away from it; they're not in business to put their readers to sleep.

The Nieman Center for Journalism at Harvard recently published an eye-opening article about the parlous state of the economy -- and the press's under-reportage thereof -- that not only won't put you to sleep, but may keep you up nights for a while. Read it at:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Supremes

Those who uncritically subscribe to Anatole France's dictum that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges...", will be heartened by the Supreme Court's decision yesterday to undercut the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2110 (McCain-Feingold) by ruling in favor of virtually unfettered corporate donations to congressional campaigns. That the ruling also frees labor unions to do the same merely highlights the yawning inequality between corporate wealth and that of unions; hence my allusion to M. France's sardonic observation.

In Thursday's Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Court held that the 1st Amendment is absolute; that it applies to corporate "speech" as well as that of individuals; and reiterated earlier rulings that corporations are persons (First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti and NAACP v. Button). That this contention has its roots in English common law--which informed our Constitution-- is widely accepted, but not by dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens, who opined that corporations are not actual members of society, pointing out that:

"they cannot vote or run for office. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it."

The Citizens United case was about the FEC's denial of that lobbyist's request to air a corporately-underwritten anti-Hillary video. SCOTUS ruled the FCC's decision to be unconstitutional prior-restraint. In actuality, Citizens turned out to be a test case for the Court's [successsful] overturning of its more liberal verdict in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce which held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity. That ruling was intended to "prevent the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of [corporate] wealth...that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

Thursday's decision argued-- in Justice Kennedy's words -- that while such "speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials [it] does not mean that those officials are corrupt and the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy [emphasis mine]." I don't know to which planet Mr. Kennedy repairs at the end of a long day on the bench, but it is a rosy view of human nature indeed to posit that special-interest money is not a pernicious influence on the political process. I would venture that my opinion on this is shared by the majority of my fellow citizens, whatever their political persuasion.

As Democrats scrambled to craft restorative legislation, Sen. Russ Feingold derided today's SCOTUS decision as "a terrible mistake", while loyal Republican John McCain merely said he was "disappointed". One has to wonder how Senator-elect Scott Brown will vote on any such future bill given his need--as the new kid--to toe the party line (see Mitch McConnell on the subject), versus his stated admiration for Sen. McCain.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


STRATFOR continues to inform us objectively about the ongoing jihadist threat in an article today outlining how counter-terrorism authorities go about profiling possible suicide bombers and their ilk.

In a way, it is a cautionary tale, since profiling, by its very nature, tends to narrow the focus, thereby risking the exluding of statistical "outliers" who defy the profile and who, therefore, might well be recruited expressly because they are outliers.

Read more about it at:

Politics As Usual

Anyone seeking an example of the hyper-partisan GOP obstructionism to which I referred in my last post need look no further than today's news that Erroll Southers, the president's nominee to head the Transportation Security Agency (a key component of Homeland Security), has withdrawn his name from further consideration after having had his nomination held up by the Senate for the past five months.

That hold has been the personal handiwork of South Carolina's mossback Senator Jim DeMint, on the grounds that, regardless of Southers' otherwise sterling credentials, he might conceivably have bowed to political pressure to unionize TSA employees. One simply cannot top the exquisite irony that Senator DeMint was one of the first in line to lambaste the president for not having had a TSA head on the job at the time of the fizzled Christmas Day terrorist bomb threat.

You might wish to link to Foreign Affairs magazine to read a balanced article concerning the other 176 nominations still pending. Many of these holdups are, to be sure, the consequence of the often dilatory legislative process dictated by compliance with Constitutional checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches, but too many are simply being held hostage to Senatorial horse-trading.


Nobody Asked Me, But...

That this week -- and beyond -- will produce a blogospheric maelstrom of triumphalism, recrimination, finger-pointing, dire prognistication and hindsight punditry vis a vis yesterday's election is already as obvious as could have been predicted, and your reporter dips his pen into that gurgitation with more than a little reluctance.

That the Democrats' humiliating defeat in Massachusetts will have political consequences well beyond the Commonwealth goes without saying, as does the fact that the GOP has again outfoxed, outmaneuvered and snookered the hapless Democrats by smartly infusing a local contest between two unexceptional candidates with the simmering national concern over the gridlock in Washington.

That the GOP has caused that gridlock is beyond irony, with a Republican establishment grimly prepared to throw out the baby (the country) with the bathwater (the adminstration) by whatever means necessary to discredit the president and his program. Republican counter-arguments that Democratic revanchists tried to do the same to G.W. Bush have some merit, but fail to reflect the vast difference in motive and malignity.

That the president shares in the blame is equally evident. Undeterred when the GOP threw back in his face his initial overture to jointly devise an economic stimulus plan, he has doggedly continued his foredoomed and futile effort to foster political consensus on issues vital to the commonweal.

I submit that the Cold War strategy of containment and isolation is as valid on the Potomac as it is geopolitically, and it's time for Mr. Obama to aggressively forward his progressive agenda without further regard to the sniping and obstructionism of an opposition admittedly committed to bringing him down.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recommended Reading

Browsing through the Political Science section of a bookstore, one might be forgiven for assuming that a book with the provocative title, The Death of Conservatism, would be yet another liberal polemic. Such an assumption would be wrong.

What author Sam Tanenhaus laments is the death of classic enlightened conservatism (as preached by Burke and Disraeli, its ideological progenitors) at the hands of present-day movement conservatives, aka the New Right.

Progressive centrists like your reporter (and, I believe, President Obama) would heartily agree with Tanenhaus's contention that: "Most of us are liberal and conservative: we cling to the past in some ways, push forward into the future in others, and seek to reconcile our most cherished notions and beliefs with the demands of unanticipated events. Politics is the public expression of this drama...".

Some might find that statement a squishy panglossianism, but it illuminates a central truth of human nature, and would be equally at home in the Enlightenment writings of Rousseau and the republican councils of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Politics 101

It is being widely reported -- and rightly crowed over by the conservative blogosphere -- that when Martha Coakley was asked by a reporter why she was running such a lackluster campaign, she replied, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”

Shaking voters' hands is, of course, Politics 101, and if she loses on Tuesday, it may well have been because of her lofty disconnect with the man in the street.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown v. Coakley and the 17th Amendment

Today's Cape Cod Times editorializes on Tuesday's upcoming special senatorial election by noting that "this election is about representing the people of Massachusetts on all things."

Amendment XVII notwithstanding, it was not always thus. Ratification of the nascent Constitution emerging from the Convention of 1787 was hostage to the small states' fear of domination by the larger states and of the House's popular electoral base. They insisted on the protection of equal representation in an upper body having a loftier, more statesmanlike agenda than simply relecting the majority will of their own constituencies.

Consequently, the French political and social observer Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the Senate in session in 1832 could later write that it was "composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose arguments would do honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe."

Regrettably, human nature intervened, and the election of senators by state legisislatures subsequently devolved into such a factional and party-riven contest for political advantage that progressives were able -- in 1913 -- to push through an amendment that would, more democratically, put upper-chamber power into the hands of the people by allowing for direct election of senators.

Not all -- surely including DeToqueville -- would agree that the result has been consistently salutary.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blue State Blues

The Massachusetts Democratic party, having been gobsmacked by Scott Brown's masterful implementation of the RNC's hobgoblin strategy, is bracing for possible defeat on Tuesday if Martha Coakley's lackluster campaign fails and thus derails Ted Kennedy's long-sought goal of coaxing a skeptical electorate into healthcare-reform Nirvana.

Fret not, fellow Liberals. Should Brown win -- stll a long-shot in this bluest of blue states, despite polls to the contrary -- the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate will counter the consequent loss of its 60 vote supermajority by implementing the reconciliation procedural rule. This arcane rule derives from an accounting term having to do with balancing budgets.

The Library of Congress website advises that "the chief purpose of the reconciliation process is to enhance Congress’s ability to change current law in order to bring revenue, spending, and debt-limit levels into conformity with the policies of the annual budget resolution", a process requiring only a simple majority.

Wikipedia reminds Republicans who might cry foul that "until 1996 reconciliation was limited to deficit reduction; but in 1996 the Senate's Republican majority adopted a precedent to apply reconciliation to any legislation affecting the budget, even legislation that would increase the deficit. Under the administration of George W. Bush, Congress used reconciliation to enact three major tax cuts. These tax cuts were set to lapse after 10 years to satisfy the Byrd Rule. Efforts to use reconciliation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling failed".

See you at the polls.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tempest in a Tea Party II

For those of you not intimately familiar with received reporter/source protocol -- and sufficiently interested to want to find out -- Marc Ambinder, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, has put together a primer on the differences between "on the record", "on background", "on deep background" and "off-the record". This might be useful in helping you to sort out whether, as suggested in my previous post on this subject, Harry Reid might have been blindsided into making his tone-deaf remark about Barack Obama. The "tea party" reference in my original title has rapidly become unrelevant as the story enters the third day of its news cycle and outraged cries of "double-standard!" have migrated from the conservative fringe to the GOP mainstream, while the far juicier tidbits in Game Change have been eclipsed by the Reid tempest.

USA v. Abdulmutallab, AQ, et al

For a cool-headed strategic evaluation of the ongoing jihadist threat, one could do worse than to read STRATFOR's latest take on the issue, at:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tempest in a Tea Party

Not to defend Harry Reid who was -- at best -- mind-bendingly impolitic in his remarks about Obama, but Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon, describes the source book, Game Change, thusly:

"...the book is filled with the type of petty, catty, gossipy, trashy sniping that is the staple of sleazy tabloids and reality TV shows, and it has been assembled through anonymous gossip, accountability-free attributions, and contrived melodramatic dialogue masquerading as 'reporting'."

Now, Glenn Greenwald is no poster-boy for political centrism, so we must await the consensus view of Game Change, but it is not an insignificant fact that its co-author, Mark Halperin, is as far to the right as Greenwald is to the left. The Reid remark is unsourced, in line with the authors' note that all interviews were conducted on "deep background", and the fact that Reid has not disowned his unfortunate remark is telling; but it does not rule out the possibility that he was blind-sided. That the GOP is having a revanchist field-day over the issue was predictable, but their attempt to compare this with the party-engineered political demise of Trent Lott is merely embarrassing.

Read Greenwald's column at:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Metaphoric Medley

We have free-lance writer William Ecenberger and Smithsonian magazine to thank for a delightful parody of the cliches showered upon us by politicians and reverberated by the press.
Read it at:

The Stone Chronicles

Revisionist historian Oliver Stone is reported to have made known to the Television Crtics Association that he is going to give actual historians something to chew on by producing a 10-part series for Showtime entitled Secret History of America. His stated premise is that "Stalin, Hitler, Mao, McCarthy -- these people have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history", and, "Stalin has a complete other story", and, "Hitler is an easy scapegoat." He modestly refrained from adding his own name to the list of rogues thus unfairly demonized.

In fairness to Mr. Stone, he is a compelling storyteller despite a tendency to conflate fact with fiction.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Kirk to the Mast

To readers unfamiliar with the one-party domination of Massachusetts politics, Paul Kirk is not exactly a household name. An old friend of the Kennedy family, he was appointed by our governor as an interim replacement for the late Senator Ted Kennedy after a highly partisan political squabble that was resolved by his agreeing not to run in the subsequent special election.

He also had to agree not to endorse any candidate in that election, lest the power inherent in his incumbency unduly influence some voters. Now -- in direct contravention of the resolution that got him the job -- the senator has publicly endorsed the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley. Not content with seizing the moral low ground, he dismissed entirely-justified Republican criticisms by averring that his views were no surprise to anyone; hardly the point and hardly a defense of such blatant dissing of the legislature. He may well argue that the operative resolution was -- in fact -- non-binding, but this is a mealy-mouthed evasion, not likely to satisfy the ever-vocal critics of the Kennedys in particular and of us Massachusetts Democrats in general.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Show Biz Notes

One reads to one's dismay the below-linked AP item advising us that Morgan Freeman's voice has now replaced Walter Cronkite's as introducer of the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. Lest there might have been any any doubt previously, it seems clear that CBS News has now -- psychically at least -- migrated to the network's Entertainment division.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Health Care Legislation Unconstitutional?

In today's Cape Cod Times, local Republican politician Jeffrey Perry attacked the proposed -- or, for that matter, any -- health care legislation as being an unconstitutional exercise of power by Congress. He dragged out as evidence the old "enumerated powers" argument that has been the refuge of progress-averse conservatives since the era of the Anti-federalists.

For Perry to cavalierly dismiss the Congress’ authority to legislate for "the general Welfare of the United States” as being "simply a preamble to the Article I section 8 enumerated powers", is to read that article in a manner so jaundiced as to nullify his subsequent conclusions.

Far from being simply a preamble, the opening paragraph of Article I also gives Congress the power "to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, and to provide for the common defense"; powers which Mr. Perry would presumably not venture to deny. It is hardly the superfluous expository preamble that Mr. Perry would have it.

Constitutional promotion of "the general welfare" (a term self-evidently descriptive of universal health care) is, furthermore, a phrase echoed in the document's actual Preamble, a statement of intent so existential to the American ethos that generations have been willing to put their lives at risk to defend it. While there may be valid political reasons for opposing healthcare reform, distorting the Constitution to validate them is not the way to go.