Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Amazing Film

In the Shadow of the Moon is a remarkable documentary about the American Space Program, up through the "Apollo" moon landings. In the words of the surviving Apollo astronauts, most now in their late-70s, it is a powerful testament to the ability of human spirit and ingenuity to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The film shows the humanity and even spirituality of these men, as they reflect with wonder upon their achievements so long ago. Perhaps such stories will inspire in us a similar drive to overcome today's challenges.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nader for President? Not if These Guys Can Help it...

The Audacity of Hopelessness


New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist

WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

This is the candidate who keeps telling us she’s so competent that she’ll be ready to govern from Day 1. Mrs. Clinton may be right that Mr. Obama has a thin résumé, but her disheveled campaign keeps reminding us that the biggest item on her thicker résumé is the health care task force that was as botched as her presidential bid.

Given that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama offer marginally different policy prescriptions — laid out in voluminous detail by both, by the way, on their Web sites — it’s not clear what her added-value message is. The “experience” mantra has been compromised not only by her failure on the signal issue of Iraq but also by the deadening lingua franca of her particular experience, Washingtonese. No matter what the problem, she keeps rolling out another commission to solve it: a commission for infrastructure, a Financial Product Safety Commission, a Corporate Subsidy Commission, a Katrina/Rita Commission and, to deal with drought, a water summit.

As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and — talk about bizarre — against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country.

Bill Clinton knocked states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because “they disproportionately favor upper-income voters” who “don’t really need a president but feel like they need a change.” After the Potomac primary wipeout, Mr. Penn declared that Mr. Obama hadn’t won in “any of the significant states” outside of his home state of Illinois. This might come as news to Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Iowa, among the other insignificant sites of Obama victories. The blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga has hilariously labeled this Penn spin the “insult 40 states” strategy.

The insults continued on Tuesday night when a surrogate preceding Mrs. Clinton onstage at an Ohio rally, Tom Buffenbarger of the machinists’ union, derided Obama supporters as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” Even as he ranted, exit polls in Wisconsin were showing that Mr. Obama had in fact won that day among voters with the least education and the lowest incomes. Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Obama received the endorsement of the latte-drinking Teamsters.

If the press were as prejudiced against Mrs. Clinton as her campaign constantly whines, debate moderators would have pushed for the Clinton tax returns and the full list of Clinton foundation donors to be made public with the same vigor it devoted to Mr. Obama’s “plagiarism.” And it would have showered her with the same ridicule that Rudy Giuliani received in his endgame. With 11 straight losses in nominating contests, Mrs. Clinton has now nearly doubled the Giuliani losing streak (six) by the time he reached his Florida graveyard. But we gamely pay lip service to the illusion that she can erect one more firewall.

The other persistent gripe among some Clinton supporters is that a hard-working older woman has been unjustly usurped by a cool young guy intrinsically favored by a sexist culture. Slate posted a devilish video mash-up of the classic 1999 movie “Election”: Mrs. Clinton is reduced to a stand-in for Tracy Flick, the diligent candidate for high school president played by Reese Witherspoon, and Mr. Obama is implicitly cast as the mindless jock who upsets her by dint of his sheer, unearned popularity.

There is undoubtedly some truth to this, however demeaning it may be to both candidates, but in reality, the more consequential ur-text for the Clinton 2008 campaign may be another Hollywood classic, the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy “Pat and Mike” of 1952. In that movie, the proto-feminist Hepburn plays a professional athlete who loses a tennis or golf championship every time her self-regarding fiancé turns up in the crowd, pulling her focus and undermining her confidence with his grandstanding presence.

In the 2008 real-life remake of “Pat and Mike,” it’s not the fiancé, of course, but the husband who has sabotaged the heroine. The single biggest factor in Hillary Clinton’s collapse is less sexism in general than one man in particular — the man who began the campaign as her biggest political asset. The moment Bill Clinton started trash-talking about Mr. Obama and raising the specter of a co-presidency, even to the point of giving his own televised speech ahead of his wife’s on the night she lost South Carolina, her candidacy started spiraling downward.

What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge.

(Thanks to Bob Beadle for his help keeping me "in the loop" on current affairs.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

This is precious...

(Thanks to my friend Matthew)

Attack of the Left-Handers!

I had a chance to watch Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debate last night at the University of Texas at Austin. (CNN streamed the debate live on the internet, a welcome service to those of us who are TV-challenged. Thanks, CNN!)

I knew there was a reason I empathize with Obama. Not only is he left-handed, but he writes back-handed! (Like yours truly.)

You can be sure that, before the year is ended, Conservative Republicans and astute political observers like Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly and Hannity will attack this revealing indicator of radical liberalism.

(Regarding the debate, I was impressed with Clinton's ease and confidence, but agree with Obama that we need a significant shake-up in Washington, that he's more likely to deliver. Actually, I'm hoping they quickly figure out the winner, then determine to run as the Presidential-Vice Presidential ticket. It was hardly a stimulating debate, and it was quite humorous when "" anchor Reggie Aqui repeatedly asked us to pay close attention to how the "debate dial" audience reaction meters responded to the candidates' statements. It was like watching ripples on still water.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is Waterboarding Torture? Take Another Look at That Hamburger.

While Washington debates interrogation techniques, inside our food industry, "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment ("torture") is the norm. (Should we really regard animals with any less respect than our fellow humans?)

If we are going to eat meat (and I certainly intend to), there is an alternative to industrial farms and feedlots. We can support family farmers and ranchers raising organic, grass-fed meat. One example is California's Niman Ranch brand, representing an association of 650 family farms, who CEO Jeff Swain claims adhere to the mantra "no added hormones, no antibiotics, no animal products in feed, ever."

But before you order that hamburger, you might want to read this Independent UK article about cattle ranching in Brazil, a prime driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Deforestation has been cited as the second greatest contributor (behind CO2 emissions) to Global Warming. (And when deforestation leads to cattle ranching, the Global Warming impact is compounded with methane production.)

The growth of global fast food chains in "developing countries" is subsidized by their most affluent markets, in North America, Europe and Japan. Even though Brazilian beef may not be imported for their U.S. restaurants (due to opposition from American ranchers), Brazilian beef may be used to supply their other markets. Deforested tracts of Amazon Basin are also a major source of soy bean feed demanded by industrial farming operations.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Greg Palast onto something...again?

Palast, the American reporter and muckraker who reports for BBC, has investigated the disputed 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Now he reports on Republican efforts to "set the stage" for the 2008 Presidential Election. This 15-minute excerpt from introduces the (familiar) theme of his latest book.

Monday, February 18, 2008


For those of you who have not yet heard of the remarkable StoryCorps project, this sample will provide a glimpse into the wonderful revelations that result when you sit two people down across the table from one another and ask them to share their memories. The project began in a small sound booth in New York's Grand Central Station.

StoryCorps founder Dave Isay has collected some of his favorite stories into a new book entitled Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project.

There are a handful of recordings on YouTube (press "menu" button on above screen), but visit the StoryCorps website for many more samples, including several "highlights" collections.

The War on Democracy by John Pilger

Wonderful Film on Farming in the USA Today

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Jess and Sergio are off to Costa Rica...

and Honduras and Peru and Argentina and...

Click here to visit Jessica's travel blog.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Freecycle Network

Conserve resources, save money, engage in acts of kindness and meet your neighbor. The internet makes it easy!

Pass through almost any suburban American neighborhood on a weekend, and you'll see a surprising number of vehicles parked curbside and in driveways. This despite two- and three-car garages. Look through an open garage door and you're likely to see the space that was built for the family cars occupied by anything but the family cars. We Americans just have too much STUFF!

Why do we collect this crap? (Well, I have my own opinion: we simply succumb to overwhelming marketing and peer pressure to accumulate those things that are misguidedly considered essential for a "fun", "happy" and "successful" American lifestyle.)

Here's an idea: reach out to someone who has a real need for something that's simply occupying space in that garage (or even worse,in that public storage unit!)

"Freecycle Network", hosted by Yahoo, makes it easy. Just list what you have to offer, and within a few hours, you will likely have several very interested parties eager to come and take it off your hands.

Items must be free. No sales or bartering allowed. And if there's something YOU need, just post a message and see who responds. You select the party with whom you will ultimately deal.

I've found it to be a great way to "downsize". Give it a try!

Friday, February 08, 2008

John McCain: War President Wannabe

This nation cannot afford another "War President".

The following comes from "":

Senator John McCain presents himself as a maverick and a critic of the Iraq war. But a close read of his record indicates that his position on the Iraq war has consistently matched President George W. Bush's.

Before The War:
  • McCain used many of the same arguments as Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and President Bush when advocating going to war with Iraq.
  • McCain co-sponsored the Use of Force Authorization that gave President George W. Bush the green light—and a blank check—for going to war with Iraq. [SJ Res 46, 10/3/02]
  • McCain argued Saddam was "a threat of the first order." Senator McCain said that a policy of containing Iraq to blunt its weapons of mass destruction program is "unsustainable, ineffective, unworkable and dangerous." McCain: "I believe Iraq is a threat of the first order, and only a change of regime will make Iraq a state that does not threaten us and others, and where liberated people assume the rights and responsibilities of freedom." [Speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2/13/03]
  • McCain echoed Bush and Cheney's rationale for going to war. McCain: "It's going to send the message throughout the Middle East that democracy can take hold in the Middle East." [Fox, Hannity & Colmes, 2/21/03]
  • McCain echoed Bush and Cheney's talking points that the U.S. would only be in Iraq for a short time. McCain: "It's clear that the end is very much in sight. ... It won't be'll be a fairly short period of time." [ABC, 4/9/03]
  • McCain said winning the war would be "easy." "I know that as successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women." [CNN, 9/24/02]
During The War:
  • Senator McCain praised Donald Rumsfeld as late as May 12, 2004, after the Abu Ghraib scandal.
  • Asked if Donald Rumsfeld can continue to be an effective secretary of defense, McCain: "Yes, today I do and I believe he's done a fine job. He's an honorable man." [Hannity and Colmes, 5/12/04]
  • Senator McCain repeatedly supported President Bush on the Iraq War—voting with him in the Senate, defending his actions and publicly praising his leadership.
  • McCain maintains the war was a good idea.
  • At the 2004 Republican National Convention, McCain, focusing on the war in Iraq, said that while weapons of mass destruction were not found, Saddam once had them and "he would have acquired them again." McCain said the mission in Iraq "gave hope to people long oppressed" and it was "necessary, achievable and noble." McCain: "For his determination to undertake it, and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush
  • Senator McCain: "The war, the invasion was not a mistake. [Meet the Press, 1/6/08]
  • Asked if the war was a good idea worth the price in blood and treasure, McCain: "It was worth getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He had used weapons of mass destruction, and it's clear that he was hell-bent on acquiring them." [Republican Debate, 1/24/08]
  • McCain defended Bush's rationale for war. Asked if he thought the president exaggerated the case for war, McCain said, "I don't think so." [Fox News, 7/31/03]
  • McCain has been President Bush's most ardent Senate supporter on Iraq. According to Michael Shank of the Foreign Policy in Focus think tank, McCain was at times Bush's "most solid support in the Senate" on Iraq. [Foreign Policy in Focus, 1/15/08]
  • McCain voted against holding Bush accountable for his actions in the war. McCain opposed the creation of an independent commission to investigate the development and use of intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq. [S. Amdt. 1275 to H.R. 2658, Vote # 284, 7/16/03]
  • McCain praised Bush's leadership on the war. McCain: "I think the president has led with great clarity and I think he's done a great job leading the country..." [MSNBC, Hardball, 4/23/03]
  • Senator McCain has constantly moved the goal posts of progress for the war—repeatedly saying it would be over soon.
  • January 2003: "But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily." [MSNBC, 1/22/03]
  • March 2003: "I believe that this conflict is still going to be relatively short." [NBC, Meet the Press, 3/30/03]
  • June 2004: "The terrorists know that this is a very critical time." [CNN, 6/23/04]
  • December 2005: "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have a fair amount of progress [in Iraq] if we stay the course." [The Hill, 12/8/05]
  • November 2006: "We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months." [NBC, Meet the Press, 11/12/06]
  • Senator McCain opposed efforts to end the overextension of the military that is having a devastating impact on our troops.
  • McCain voted against requiring mandatory minimum downtime between tours of duty for troops serving in Iraq. [S. Amdt.. 2909 to S Amdt. 2011 to HR 1585, Vote 341, 9/19/07; S Amdt. 2012 to S Amdt. 2011 to HR 1585, Vote #241, 7/11/07]
  • McCain was one of only 13 senators to vote against adding $430 million for inpatient and outpatient care for veterans. [S Amdt. 3642 to HR 4939, Vote 98, 4/26/06]
  • Senator McCain has consistently opposed any plan to withdraw troops from Iraq
  • Senator McCain repeatedly voted against a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. [S. Amdt. 3876 to S.Amdt. 3874 to H.R. 2764, Vote #438, 12/18/07; S.Amdt.. 3875 to S.Amdt.. 3874 to H.R. 2764, Vote # 437, 12/18/07; S.Amdt.3164 to H.R. 3222, Vote # 362, 10/3/07; S.Amdt. 2898 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R. 1585, Vote #346, 9/21/07; S.Amdt. 2924 to S.Amdt.. 2011 to H.R.1585, Vote #345, 9/21/07; S.Amdt.2 087 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R. 1585, Vote #252, 7/18/07; S.Amdt. 643 to H.R. 1591, Vote #116, 3/27/07; S.Amdt. 4320 to S. 2766, Vote #182, 6/22/06; S.Amdt. 4442 to S. 2766, Vote #181, 6/22/06; S.Amdt.. 2519 to S.1042, Vote # 322, 11/15/05]
  • Senator McCain has consistently demonized Americans who want to find a responsible way to remove troops from Iraq so that we can take the fight to al Qaeda.
  • McCain: "I believe to set a date for withdrawal is to set a date for surrender." [Charlotte Observer, 9/16/07]
  • McCain called proponents of a congressional resolution opposing the troop surge in Iraq intellectually dishonest. [Associated Press. 2/4/07]
The Future:
  • Senator McCain now says he sees no end to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.
  • McCain: "[M]ake it a hundred" years in Iraq and "that would be fine with me." [Derry, New Hampshire Town Hall meeting, 1/3/08]
  • McCain on how long troops may remain in Iraq: "A thousand years. A million years. Ten million years. It depends on the arrangement we have with the Iraqi government." [Associated Press, 1/04/08]

Monday, February 04, 2008

Slick video for Barack Obama

You won't find any ugly old has-beens like me in this video, but I approve.

(Frankly, I am SO tired of ugly old has-beens.)

"Give it up for Obama."

"Bush Seeks $3.1 Trillion Budget"

White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

"We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations."

- President George W. Bush, "The State of the Union" Address, 2003

And today, the President handed his proposed budget to Congress, a $3.1 Trillion Budget calling for a $407 Billion deficit.

(See New York Times: "Bush Seeks $3.1 Trillion Budget")

While cutting social programs, the President proposes a 7.5% increase in military spending (exclusive of supplemental funding for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)

During his term in office, President Bush has increased The Pentagon's budget by 30%, in addition to $600 Billion in "supplemental" war spending.

In the spirit of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the President can denounce the "tax and spend liberals" while leaving a path of debt and destruction that reminds one of General Sherman's March to the Sea.

One must ask, "who benefits from this shift in public treasure?" Follow the money, and it is clear who this President (and his allies) represent. Follow the money and you will see who the President does not represent.


Dear President Bush,

Please explain how you are not "pass(ing) along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations."