Friday, February 29, 2008

It's 3 a.m. —do you know where your candidate is?

The Clinton campaign released an ad today for airing in states like Ohio and Texas —those about to go to the polls for their primaries. The ad opens with an image of children sleeping safely in bed. The lights are out, the room is dim. The camera pans and zooms in and out on the faces of these sleeping children. The musical theme starts with snare drums, lush strings and muted trumpet calls that impart a vague though stirring martial sentiment (reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's work for the movie, 'Patton') —all the while anxiety builds as a telephone is ringing —and the sober voice over:

"It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something is happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?"

I keep hoping that there's a floor. That there is a level to which the Clinton campaign won't stoop. That there is some hope for a campaign conducted from a place of mutual respect between the rival candidates and some minimal amount of respect for the voters.

There have been glimmers —hints of that possibility where the debate or discussion could be about the distinction between two valid candidates and their policy. It was two debates ago when it seemed there might have been an end to the uglier campaigning. Senator Clinton spoke of a sense of feeling "honored" to have campaigned against her opponent. She spoke of her own core convictions and what she saw as her unique qualifications for office, this without denigrating those of Senator Obama. Frankly, it was her strongest moment in the campaign in memory.

It didn't last long. Just days later she was literally hollering "shame on you" at her opponent, feigning new shock and surprise at the opposing campaign for pointing up differences that have been at issue for months.

In the subsequent debate Senator Clinton was asked to justify and explain her shouts of "shame" and her open mockery of Obama's "hoping for the clouds to part," something about "the music of heavenly choirs." She blushed as the moderators rolled tape. Her answer then was to shrug it off as "all in good fun." She described the ranting invective and mockery directed at her opponent as a great way to unwind.

Still, even that shrugging that night might have given a reasonable person some reason to hope. When seated at the same table with Obama, Senator Clinton seemed capable of respect for her opponent. She seemed capable of honoring the deliberate decision informed voters were being asked to make. She seemed at peace with having made her case.

Now this (click the image to see the ad)

It was just two years ago when Senator Clinton was reprimanding President Bush for "playing the fear card." It was February 2006 and she spoke to the United Auto Workers convention in Washington.

"Two weeks ago, [White House political director] Karl Rove ... was telling the National Republican Committee 'Here's your game plan, folks, here's how you're gonna win - we're gonna win by getting everybody scared again,'" Clinton said. "This crowd [says] 'All we've got is fear and we are going to keep playing the fear card.'"

Perhaps that's the most disturbing aspect of this latest Clinton campaign maneuver, Senator Hillary Clinton knows better. She's simply not opting for better. She has read what she calls "Karl Rove's playbook" and she's willing to give it a try.

As Senator Clinton's ad comes to a close, the telephone stops ringing. Then the most damning aspect of this episode comes through loud and clear. It's Senator Clinton's own voice admitting "that she approved this message."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Falling down, standing up

Falling down, standing up

everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs

and you are one of mine

the walls have got a brand new coat of paint
the ceiling starts to fall
the things I tried to say to you last night
I know they make no sense at all

the flower falls into the bottle throat
green glass liquor long ago
drunk on dreamsongs and talk of tender hope
and high on how these seemed to glow

falling down, standing up
you leave some things behind
coffee stain lines on an empty cup
turning circles through my mind

everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs

and you are one of mine

this is the song I sang for you before
remember paradise before the fall
while the sorry soldier sleeping just outside your door
lies dark and dreaming of your call

but winter chose to stay another day
so you can sleep or just pretend
while the sad survivor finds another way
one wrinkled dollar left to spend

falling down, standing up
you leave some things behind
coffee stain lines on an empty cup
turning circles through my mind

everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs
everyone I know has needs

and you are one of mine

this song is published in

available at

listen to the song at

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Last Thursday's debate ended with the Senator from NY telling us she "would be fine" no matter how the election turned out in terms of result. It was actually one of her best moments of the campaign. There were some of us who saw this as a sign of hope (excuse the pun). Not because —as some others suggested —there was some signal of concession from Clinton in those remarks. Rather it seemed (at least to me) that there was the possibility that the remaining primary contests and the balance of the campaign could be conducted in an atmosphere of healthy mutually respectful debate.

Sunday morning I woke to the clock radio and the sound of the same senator's voice screaming that her fellow Democrats should be "outraged" at the way her opponent's campaign flier had characterized her health plan proposal. She was telling Obama he should be ashamed of himself.

"Shame on you, Barack Obama!," she said.

The flier in question characterizes Clinton's health plan as compelling people to purchase coverage "whether they can afford it or not." This was the prime source of her outrage —this "twisting!" She was also angry that the fact that the previous Clinton administration (wherein she claims to have garnered so much "experience") had been instrumental in enacting the NAFTA agreements —that this was taken to be a tacit endorsement of the policy from her.


By Clinton's own description of her own health care plan it would involve unspecified "penalties" used to engender "individual mandates" to purchase insurance in order to attain "truly universal" coverage. As yet the nuts and bolts specifics (her supposed strong suit, remember) have yet to materialize on those "penalties" —We don't yet know what coercive force will be behind these individual "mandates" —those that would apply so "universally" after all.

On NAFTA, the senator from NY now maintains she was against it from the start. We may not have heard about it at the time, but the First Lady was supposedly imploring President Bill Clinton not to sign NAFTA. It's all there in her book, she says. That wasn't tacit approval, that was some form of silent suffering. To suggest otherwise...


Columnist David Sirota, read the book, Clinton's memoir, "Living History" —he noticed the senator warmly describing NAFTA as one of a number of "Bill's successes" not a bone of contention between them.

He also points out that her chief strategist, Mark Penn, heads a firm that is right now pushing to expand NAFTA into South America.

Last Fall Senator Clinton was asked in the forum of a public debate if she thought "Ross Perot was right" when he criticized NAFTA in past debates with Al Gore. (Remember that "sucking sound" he described of jobs heading over the border? Remember the pointer and the easel full of visual aids? The ears? ) Hillary Clinton laughed. "All I remember is some charts," she said. When pressed on the question she admitted the agreement had been a mistake "to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would."

At the time, Senator Obama, criticized her for only then admitting just that "extent" of the mistake. "I think it's important to note that Senator Clinton was a cheerleader for NAFTA for more than a decade," he commented.

That was November of last year.

Yet the voice that was hollering about shameful politics Sunday Morning was complaining that this was "something right out of Karl Rove's playbook!" The implication was that this was some form of last minute subterfuge, a specious political torpedo, that had the senator from NY feeling supposedly shocked and dismayed.

Here's Barack Obama in a somewhat quieter voice in answer: "I'm puzzled by the sudden change in tone unless these were just brought to her attention. It makes me think that there was something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning."

That's a fairly shameful rhetorical device Obama is using there —known as "understatement'.

After Clinton claiming she was "honored" to have participated in the process with Obama on Thursday night, she has resorted to some of her most cynical and manipulative political theater yet: Reacting in mock shock and horror to what have been recognized points of difference between her campaign and Obama's —for months!

There may be someone practicing politics "out of Karl Rove's playbook" here, but it isn't Barack Obama.

The substance of Senator Clinton's charge is less important than the style right now. Saying something as loud and and brazen as "Shame on you!" to the other candidate for her party's nomination has gotten her some media attention. And once again she has pinned her hopes on the premise that a well shouted argument might prove persuasive —for some only hearing the half of it.

Once again, Hillary Clinton is willing to "do what it takes" to win. This "pragmatism" has even been one of her central selling points for her candidacy. She claims to know "how it's done."

Her only problem is that so many of us hope she is wrong.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bush confused as Driscoll admits agreeing with him

Sorry for the self important headline, but I have to say it comes as something of a shock. President Bush commented today that he saw the results of the Pakistani elections as "a victory in the war on terror" and, though I mightn't have phrased it in just those terms, I am pleased to announce I agree.

The interesting thing to note, as reports come in, is that the victory of opposition parties in parliamentary elections is seen as a vindication for moderates and democracy advocates who had been challenging Musharraf and his autocratic approach —and that —at the same time— these same forces within Pakistani politics are seen as a countervailing force to fundamentalism and violence. This had been the central message Benazir Bhutto was trying to convey as she campaigned for her Pakistan People's Party right up to the day of her assassination, that actual democracy and terror were natural adversaries in her country's politics.

As the election results begin to describe what might be a new ruling coalition, Ms. Bhutto may yet be proven right.

Pervez Musharraf has made a career for himself, exploiting Western fears of 'Islamo-fascists' coming to power in a nuclear state. We've held our noses while watching him dismantle an independent judiciary, watching him rewrite his country's constitution, jail dissidents, and close down media outlets critical of his regime. We knew this wasn't "democracy per se" —but political violence had us nervous and our professed friend promised some semblance (or perhaps dissemblance) of stability.

We funneled him billions in support for his own supposed counterterrorism efforts then stood by helplessly troubled by his accommodations with frontier tribal leaders that effectively established safe zones for the Taliban and al Qaeda on the Afghan border. We had to tolerate his pronouncements about "sovereignty" and threats of "consequences" should U.S. or NATO forces try to pursue an attack on terrorist bases.

Today, as the election results come in, not only Musharraf's political allies seem to have suffered rebuke. Islamist parties that had held power in the frontier provinces and provided political cover for the Taliban resurgence (and Musharraf's strange dealings) have also been voted out.

"The greatest achievement of this transition to democracy is the rout of religious extremists who wanted to plunge Pakistan into anarchy," Najam Sethi, editor of the Pakistan's Daily Times wrote on Wednesday. Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and now the de facto leader of the PPP commented earlier that opposing terrorism is a war "against Pakistan and we have to fight it as our war."

We don't yet know whether Musharraf will cooperate in the democratic transformation of Pakistan. To do so, he would be forced to concede power to a leader he once deposed by means of a military coup. Thus far he has only called for a "harmonious coalition" to lead his country forward. Time will tell what that means. But if the people of Pakistan and the President of the United States (and me too!) can agree that actual democracy is an asset and not an obstacle to opposing terrorism, well then there's reason to hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

None the wiser

None the wiser

None the wiser, I’ve come home to you
—none the wiser, only hungry tired and blue.
For all my time at searching to find just one thing true,
I guess I should have known I’d find it when I came home to you.

I’m a soldier coming home from the war—
the victor or the vanquished only wanting nothing more.
It’s long ago forgotten now what he was fighting for.

None the wiser, I’ve come home to you
—none the wiser for all the battles I’ve been through.
I see a tattered banner hanging in a blue and breathless sky.
Still I see those colors gently turning there in your eyes.

I climbed onto the mountain top to see what I could see
'no angel come to touch my lips with a burning kiss for me.
The songs that I was going to sing, the message I was going to bring,
my blind and lonely wanderings, these were to be my offering
to thee.

None the wiser, I’ve come home to you
—none the wiser, only come to learn one journey is through.
And that all of the darkness that I have been through
has been along this path that leads me back home to you.

I see one small star in the night
with its memory and a promise of the light
and I know the blind man’s recollection of his sight.

None the wiser, I’ve come home to you.
None the wiser, I’ve come home to you.

None the wiser, I have come home to you.

this song is published in

available at

listen to the song at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Protest, too much "me thinks"

New depths of absurdity (or is that cynicisim?) from the Clinton campaign and its support as another day's news arrives and we hear new call for delegates from Michigan and Florida to be seated at this year's Democratic Convention and to have them counted in the nominating process for chosing the party's presidential candidate. This is from the Associated Press:

In a Feb. 8 letter to the DNC's chairman, Howard Dean, NAACP chairman Julian Bond expressed "great concern at the prospect that millions of voters in Michigan and Florida could ultimately have their votes completely discounted." Refusing to seat the states' delegations could remind voters of the "sordid history of racially discriminatory primaries," he said.

I've written in the past on this subject, both satirically and seriously (as in seriously angry) but the issue is the same no matter how you approach it: Fairness.

Those Michigan delegates Clinton is so nobly defending —saying she only wants them "to be heard"— they would be "heard" supporting her candidacy alone because she "won" the January 15th "election" —unopposed!

She was the only name on the ballot!

She went on to "win" Florida as she openly mocked the prior pledge her campaign (along with all the other campaigns) had made not to actively run in either state!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Applause for the obvious and empty

I found it just a little strange, when President Bush was giving his State Of The Union Address a while back, that he got such a rousing round of applause for what struck me as a fairly obvious statement. The President announced that he was “against the genocide in Darfur!” and Congress, as a body, leapt to its feet and congratulated him. Definitely strange. As he reveled in his applause it seemed as though he was accepting thanks for the long hard work of deliberating and deciding ...that he was against genocide.

At first, I assumed that the cheering section had simply jumped the line, that the President was to follow with the announcement of some new initiative to relieve the suffering in that troubled region, perhaps refugee aid or stiffer sanctions against the Sudanese government, or a promise of much needed material support to the joint U.N./ African Union peace keeping efforts. But, no, it was on to other things from there. That was it. Genocide ...we’re against it.

On one level, I was almost pleased (although at the same time just a bit confused). Here was one thing I could say I agreed with my president on. I’m against genocide, too. Really.

But I have to admit I was a bit suspicious as well. It wasn’t what he said, so much as what he didn’t say to follow it. And the applause ...definitely strange.

I am sorry to say that my suspicious side has won out once again.

It now seems that the applause in Congress wasn’t at all that thankful or appreciative kind you might expect for some bold new initiative. It really was a congratulation of the obvious. The enthusiasm behind that applause might actually have come with some sense of relief.

For we now know that, as the president gave us his feelings about genocide in Darfur, he had already signed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act.

And he had already attached one of his notorious signing statements.

President Bush has raised these signing statements to the level of a new form of constitutional, or rather counter-constitutional, ritual. As he signs laws, he issues these statements, wherein he explains how he will interpret and/or ignore the law —the one he just signed. He has signed laws barring the use of torture, laws constraining him from spying on Americans, he even very recently signed funding legislation that ruled out the construction of permanent bases in Iraq. With signing statements, none of these laws have been a problem.

The Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act has a fairly simple premise. The law is intended to protect investment entities, such as state or municipal pension funds or private portfolio managers, that might choose to divest from the Sudanese economy or from companies doing business with the genocidal regime. The idea is to allow both private and public investment to have a conscience. This might seem like something, again, fairly obvious, maybe not even requiring a new law, but as it happens there is actually precedent for legal action against investors who fail their "fiduciary duty" by compromising profit for the sake of secondary concerns —like genocide or repression.

In 1996 Massachusetts tried to bar the use of its pension money to invest in Burma while its military regime was busy abusing its people. Investment businesses sued (with support from the Clinton administration) and ultimately prevailed in the Supreme Court. The Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act was designed to protect against such costly litigation.

Ah, but then there is this troubling aspect of the law: (This is from a February 9 article in the Boston Globe)“The act authorizes state and local efforts to divest from companies with certain business ties to Sudan, such as in power production, mining, oil drilling, and the production of military equipment.”

Did you say “power production, mining, oil drilling, and the production of military equipment”? No. We can’t have that kind of conscience now —can we? Not when it impacts the investment resources of industries like these. (What was that company the vice president used to head up?)

The Bush administration opposed the law as it was drafted, arguing that it infringed upon the president’s powers to make foreign policy and that "such [legislation] would set a dangerous precedent, making it easier to pass similar legislation in other cases." Despite this compelling argument (that the precedent would be dangerous because it might establish a precedent) the legislation received unanimous support in both houses of Congress. (That’s right —unanimous, both houses) The White House realized that there was no point in trying to veto the law. Thus the president signed it and, as he did, he attached a statement opining that the bill was unconstitutional.

And how does the law impact the president's "constitutional prerogative" on foreign policy exactly?

White House spokesman Tony Frato explains that once the president has done whatever it was he was going to do “against genocide in Darfur” (remember he didn’t say exactly what that was, but anyway...) he didn’t want to have to go back to states and municipalities and other such investor entities to get them to comply, or agree. That could lead to “constitutional friction.”

With the president’s signing statement, whatever the future particulars may be, things will run ...smoother, smoother for the president, smoother for the Sudanese regime, oh yes, and smoother for those invested in "power production, mining, oil drilling, and the production of military equipment.”

(What was the name of that company? ...It started with an 'H')

Lawmakers and witnesses testifying before a meeting of the House Financial Services Committee agree that Bush’s actions essentially enacted and negated the law in a single stroke. The signing statement actually serves to invite court challenge against efforts to organize divestment.

The administration has “put its interest in enhanced executive power and diminished ability for others in this country to speak up ahead of commitment to ending the genocide in Darfur," observed the committee chairman, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank.

So, there you have it, as the president professed his antipathy for genocide in Darfur during his address to Congress and the nation, as I sat there giving him my own nervous agreement, as he stood there reveling in the applause, he had already signed and —at the same time— undermined law intended to enable meaningful action to oppose the killing.

I can’t quite bring myself to say the joke’s on me, or on all of us, certainly not on the afflicted in Darfur. No, this is sad and strange, but there’s nothing the least bit funny.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Trickle, down and out

Here's an observation for folks to chew on. Voices in Congress of both political parties and, yes, even the president seem agreed on the idea that the best way to resuscitate our gasping economy is to pump some energy into the consumer market with a quick infusion of tax rebate cash. There's disagreement, of course, as to the size and design specifics of the planned transfusion, but the central point is a given: consumer spending will be our salvation. I guess you could call it "Trickle Out Economics".

I'm not sure it's going to work in practical terms, but I'm not going to argue the point. As my very own trustee of creditors will tell you, I'm no financial genius. But there's an assumption at work here that is seemingly unquestioned and that strikes me as just a bit strange.

The assumption is that the money placed in consumer's hands will spread through the economy and revive it. OK, but the other shadowy half of that assumption is that the same money in the government's charge wouldn't do anything of the kind.

Why is that?