We Are All Susan Boyle

Last week, a dowdy, unemployed 47 year old spinster from Great Britain rocked the world with a performance on the British equivalent of American Idol. In doing so, she redefined the word beauty, and opened untold doors for many of we aging frumpsters.

Commentary By: Letty Cottin Pogrebin

[Ed. Note: The following column originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Over the past week, I’ve read passing references to Susan Boyle’s performance on the Brit equivalent of American Idol. Until today, though, I hadn’t actually watched the video. As soon as I did, I wanted to write a post – but found one by Letty Cottin Pogrebin that expressed everything I wanted to write. If you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t yet seen the video, treat yourself – then read Ms. Pogrebin’s response below. Oh, and Ariana, if you feel the need to forward a DMCA, send it to allspinzone -at- yahoo -dot- com.

-r.b., 4/19/09]

Susan Boyle Stuns Crowd with Epic Singing – Watch more Funny Videos

Half the women I sent the link to cried when they watched the YouTube clip of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent and I think I know why.

Given its nearly eight million hits thus far, you’ve probably seen her, the matronly lady all decked out in that mother-of-the-bride cocktail dress and matching open-toed pumps, hair by some neighborhood beauty shop, eyebrows John L. Lewis. In the opening scene, while awaiting her turn on the British version of American Idol, she breezily confides that she is unemployed, lives alone with a cat named Pebbles, and has never been married or kissed.

Once on stage, her interrogator, Simon Cowell, asks about her dream. To be a professional singer, she says, and as successful as Elaine Page – a statement that elicits great hilarity and hyperactive camera close-ups of the judges’ bemused disbelief and the snickering, eye-rolling audience. Clearly, everyone is thinking, Elaine Paige!? Are you actually comparing yourself to the First Lady of the British Musical Theater, the singer whose recording of the Cats anthem, “Memory,” topped the charts for months, and who starred as Eva Peron in the first production of Evita? You’ve got to be kidding.

Cheerful and unperturbed, the contestant blithely announces that she is going to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

“How old are you, Susan?” asks Simon, in a tone more appropriate to an interview with a toddler.

“Forty-seven,” she says. The audience cracks up. Pixels of ridicule fill the screen, incredulity, patronizing sneers, smirks, whispers you can almost hear: Look at her, will you! Frumpy from the Fifties, got a double chin, a silly Scottish accent, hails from some tiny hamlet, can’t remember the word “villages,” and to top it off, Omigod, she’s old! Either she’s a ringer and we’re in for some weird parody of Dame Edna or we’re about to see this dowdy dame make a fool of herself on the hottest show on British telly.

Finally, Susan Boyle steps into the spotlight and opens her mouth, and before she’s sung three glorious, crystal clear notes, the audience is cheering, the judges’ jaws have dropped, and I’m choking back tears.

After she got her unanimous Yes votes from Simon, Amanda, and Piers, I typed “Ageism Be Damned” in the subject line of an email and sent the YouTube link to everyone on my Women’s Issues list and within an hour, more than a dozen had written to tell me that it made them weep. Since then I’ve talked to other friends who’ve confessed to the same reaction. What are we all crying about? What is it about this woman that touches us so deeply?

Partly, I think it’s the age thing, the fact that a woman closing in on 50 had the courage to compete with the kids – and blew them out of the water. “Women of a certain age” should be forgiven for finding vicarious satisfaction in Susan’s victory. In plain words, it’s an up-yours to the cocky youth culture that often writes us off.

Then, too, we were weeping for the years of wasted talent, the career that wasn’t, the time lost – both for Susan Boyle and two generations of her putative fans. If someone with a voice like Julie Andrews’ spent decades in a sea of frustration and obscurity, how many other women (and men) must be out there becalmed in the same boat? I believe we were crying for them and for whatever unrealized, yet-to-be-expressed talent may lie within ourselves.

But I’d wager that most of our joyful tears were fueled by the moral implicit in Susan’s fairy-tale performance: “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” For such extraordinary artistry to emerge from a woman that plain-spoken, unglamorous, and unyoung was an intoxicating reminder of the wisdom in that corny old clich–©. The three judges and virtually all those who watched Susan Boyle in the theater (and probably on YouTube as well) were initially blinded by entrenched stereotypes of age, class, gender, and Western beauty standards, until her book was opened and everyone saw what was inside.

I think we cried because her story appears to be en route to a happy ending, but also, perhaps, for all the books whose covers have never been cracked.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a founding editor of Ms. magazine and the author of nine books.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by Letty Cottin Pogrebin |

An American Outrage: Bernie, AIG, and Us

Why are we outraged at AIG and not the state of homelessness, of children in poverty, of Bush-backed torture, of innocents slaughtered in Iraq, of worldwide hunger, of corporations ignoring our overheating planet. Is money truly the root of all the outrage?

Commentary By: Walter Brasch

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

There have now been more than 4,000 deaths and 30,000 casualties of American military in the war in Iraq. More than 100,000 Iraqis and others, most of them civilian, have also been killed in what is now known to be an unnecessary war. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

We have recently learned that former President Bush and former Vice-President Cheney had authorized the use of torture. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

The Supreme Court has ruled there have been significant and substantial constitutional violations during the Bush–Cheney era. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

More than 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance. Millions don’t get the health care they need or are turned away because they can’t pay. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

The unemployment rate has climbed past 8 percent. More than 12 million Americans are unemployed and actively looking for work. About three million have been unemployed more than half a year. About 2.6 millions jobs were lost just in the past four months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies have eliminated jobs, forcing the remaining employees to work beyond their capacity. These companies have cut wages and benefits; they have shipped jobs overseas. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

About 38 million Americans are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

About 3.5 million people were homeless last year. More than one million of the homeless are children, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Over a half-million are veterans. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

Almost every reputable scientist has told us that the world’s environment is in jeopardy from man-made destruction. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

We are killing off our animals by a combination of neglect and planned destruction of their lives and habitat. About 1,600 animal species are critically endangered, according to the World Conservation Union; about 25 become extinct every year. But, we as a nation are not outraged.

But, we are outraged about one thing. Our money.

We are outraged that Wall Street financiers, corporate bankers, and real estate brokers have seemingly conspired for personal greed, leading to a plunge in the value of our own stocks and investments, forcing the nation into the worst economic crisis in more than seven decades.

We, as a nation, are outraged that Bernard Madoff scammed individuals and charitable foundations for billions.

We, as a nation, are outraged that executives at failed insurance giant AIG are receiving millions in bonuses paid for by taxpayer funds. In Congress, conservatives and liberals, many of whom were part of the problem of the subprime mortgage crisis, have united for the first time in years and have expressed their outrage. The President, who inherited this mess, is outraged. The media who had failed to adequately report this mess are outraged. Almost every American is outraged.

And why are we outraged? Because it’s money.

As homeless children sleep beneath bridges, as millions desperate for work are told to go home and collect a pittance in unemployment, as inn

Thursday, April 30th, 2009 by Walter Brasch |

Resurrection of Intolerance

Intolerance? That’s certainly true of the 26% or so who form the hard core of the Republican Party as they view the performance of Barack Obama. There is nothing these people won’t critique. Yes, they even critique the Obama family church attendance, in an America that has freedom of religion.

Commentary By: Walter Brasch

The fanatic right-wing, after taking a few days off to catch their breath, is back again with vengeance.

Name anything that President Obama is doing, and this broken wing will try to slap it down, unmindful that more than two-thirds of Americans support the President, with his popularity rising each week, according to several independent polls.

During the campaign, they attacked Obama for being a Muslim. After all, they figured anyone with a name that wasn’t WASP-sounding must not be a Christian. Of course, they overlooked the Constitution, which says anyone–Christian, Muslim, Jew, or even atheist–has a right to be president.

When the Muslim connection didn’t wash with the people, the right-wing said that Obama went to the wrong Christian church. The United Church of Christ, many claimed, wasn’t even Christian because it allowed people of all views into its congregations. For the shrill-voiced pretend-Christians, their religion is more a religion of exclusion than of inclusion.

This past week, the holiest of Christian holidays, the lunatic fringe has shown just how far from Christianity it is. On talk shows and in vitriolic columns, the hard-core conservative base blasted the President for not going to church every Sunday. But then, the President and his family attended Easter Day services at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The family’s plans had been kept secret, both for security reasons and because the President had stated many times both before and after his inauguration that he needed time to find an appropriate congregation and because he was mindful that his presence would, even unintentionally, disrupt services.

Undoubtedly, the harpies of the extreme right-wing will now suggest that the President attended services only because they had raised the issue, and that his attendance was solely for political reasons.

What these self-righteous harpies don’t point out, is that while the President and his family are looking for an appropriate church, he’s hosted prayer meetings and a Passover Seder, and acted in a way that is far more what Christian charity asks than many who put out litmus tests made up of requirements that might make God weep.

So, here’s a few facts for this group–just in case they were foaming at the mouth during their own religious education, and didn’t hear their lessons.

One: More presidents didn’t attend church weekly than did. Among those who had very irregular church attendance was Thomas Jefferson, a deist not a Christian, who had insisted that freedom of religion be a part of the Constitution.

Two: People can go to church twice a week, and participate in every ritual and still not understand the words and teachings of God and his prophets.

Three: Persons who don’t go to church every week aren’t worse than those who do.

Four: A church is a building. If God is omnipresent, he is present in every part of this universe, not just in buildings. Persons can understand and have their own faith without going into a building, for the spirit of God is within their hearts.

Five: No one has absolute truth, and any attempt to impose one’s faith upon others is a selfish and egocentric approach to religion, something Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and Mohammad would find appalling.

Finally: If the fanatics continue their shrill screeches that President Obama and his family attend church every Sunday to show the nation they are “true Christians,” they should consider that one of the most influential conservative presidents never attended Sunday services while president, believing his presence would disrupt Sunday services. That man was Ronald Reagan.

[Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, author of 17 books, and occasional ASZ contributor. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 by Walter Brasch |

No Drama Choc-Obama

For Obama the Ben and Jerry’s flavor is “Yes Pecan,” but from the reports about how the Obama White House handled the Somali piracy crisis this weekend, they might consider “No Drama Choc-Obama” instead. The whack jobs will whine that they don’t get a flavor. “Teabaggery Dunce” sounds good, but I’m up for suggestions.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Well, chocolate is the big thing ont he agenda today at the White House, and eggs and children. It will be a frenzied White House lawn, but there’s calm there in the White House, and we saw it over the weekend. I’m thinking we saw evidence that “Yes Pecan” is a good flavor name to represent the Obama candidacy, but that “No Drama Choc-Obama” might be the best Ben and Jerry’s flavor to represent the Obama Presidency given the last couple days. The pirates in Somalia got slammed, as we all know from reading the papers (Inquirer, New York Times) and watching the news, and Captain Richard Phillips is freed unharmed. Certainly this is a triumph for the US, and a triumph for Barack Obama as well, but the way the Obama Administration handled the crisis shows us calm and deliberation and competence. From an analysis piece by the AP:

Since the standoff began, Obama had made no public, in-person remarks on the topic, even declining to answer when questions were shouted at him during a press availability.

He did not call in his cabinet for a high-profile command meeting. He let military and top administration officials do the talking, but even they kept saber-rattling out of the equation.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama’s silence should not be interpreted to mean he wasn’t deeply involved. Obama’s public posture was calculated to not raise the temperature on the situation or give the hostage-takers anything to exploit.

So what Obama did was receive regular briefings, sometimes half a dozen a day. He weighed in with two critical decisions letting the military act to save Phillips’ life. And he laid the groundwork for a federal criminal law-enforcement response.

Calm, efficient, competent. The Obama Administration did all the right things in this crisis, and while it is a relatively small crisis, it is a big contrast to the “sky is falling” character of the Bush White House, what with their terror alert color coding and their panicky use of torture, invasion of countries not involved in terror, etc. Big contrast, but not one we should be surprised at. This Obama team has shown consistent competence over the last couple years. The only question right now is how the whack job Republicans will spin this Obama triumph. Certainly at freerepublic.com there is happiness at the outcome, but the whack jobs that frequent the site are taking their shots at Obama, which you can read here. On Redstate the whining is about Obama taking credit for something he had no part in, despite facts, and the conversation is raving over there. I suppose these dimwits are taking after Newt Gingrich and Britt Hume and Glenn Beck when they slammed Obama before this crisis ended. Still, no consistent Republican whack job narrative is forming since this resolution of the crisis yesterday, but we’ve got the blowhard Rush Limbaugh going on the air in a couple hours, and he will likely complain that the captured pirate isn’t being tortured.

Meanwhile, I suggest the new flavor at Ben and Jerry’s to honor Obama should be “No Drama Choc-Obama,” and that it be added to the list alongside “It’s Pecan.” Sure, neither of those two flavors is as entertaining as the flavor suggestions for President Bush, but they are strong and calm and bespeak leadership.

Does anyone have any ice cream flavors to describe the whack jobs out there who can whine about even this triumph? I’m thinking it needn’t be an appetizing name, but should reflect the notions of whininess while also representing the divorce from reality evinced by the whack jobs on the right. On another issue one would be tempted to come up with the ice cream flavor “Teabaggery Dunce,” or somesuch, but no new flavor names are jumping to mind to describe the rank and file whack jobs of the GOP, their base and ugly “base,” as it were. Help me out, wouldya?

Monday, April 13th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Tony Perkins, Your Marriage is First — RUN AWAY!

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has reacted to the votes in Vermont and Washington DC today, and the reaction is insipid and insulting to those who trust in democracy. The whiney little man should give up on his marriage now and go haunt karaoke bars, or learn to sing along with Billy the Bass.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Tony Perkins, homophobic head of Family Research Council, the extremist right wing organization against just about everything they can’t accept with their narrow minds, has reaction today to the vote to legalize gay marriage in Vermont, and also the vote in Washington DC today to recognize same sex marriages across the country. I’ll go at this point by point from PRNewsWire:

“Same-sex –marriage’ is a movement driven by wealthy homosexual activists and a liberal elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well. Time and again, we see when citizens have the opportunity to vote at the ballot box, they consistently opt to support traditional marriage,” said Perkins.

No, Tony, this is democracy. It is decent people coming together and throwing your garbvage in your face as they show their respect for others. In this case, they are showing the respect for long-term caring relationships that you howl against. I’m sure you’re feeling scared that democracy works, Tony. And you’re going to see more int he future. Go get a divorce now.

“The vote today by the D.C. City Council was a direct affront to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The radical Left wants to destroy the traditional union of one man and one woman across the country and they will not rest until they do so.”

I have no doubts, Tony, that thousands of your constiuents are cowering in fear at the thought of their marriages crumbling because gay and lesbian citizens, good people, are able now to get married. As for your whiney little conspiracy theory, please grow a pair, or get a dog.

And finally:

“The marriage amendment movement has been many times more successful than the same-sex –marriage’ movement,” Perkins said. “FRC will continue to stand with those states which are seeking to pass marriage protection amendments and other measures in order to protect our most fundamental and essential social institution.”

Tony, FRC is going to be completely demoralized when so many of their marriages fall apart. I recommend you all move to another country. Escape while you can. RUN AWAY! And don’t bother to say goodbye. Nobody is going to listen to you when you do, and nobody is going to cry. Except maybe Glenn Beck.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Gun Nut + Unemployed + Glenn Beck/NRA = Dead Policemen

There are connections between the Pittsburgh rampage earlier today, which left three policemen dead, and the kind of wingnuttery as represented by the NRA and Glenn Beck. Sure, the man responsible is clearly a fruitcake, but he was worried about the false and rabid rumor spread by the NRA that Obama was going to take his guns.
Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

That’s the equation in Pittsburgh. Oh, sure. This is really about a lone whack job. It will never be shown in the papers that the NRA or Glenn Beck or making up wild rumors about Obama had anything to do with this tragedy. But three policemen are dead today. And the gunman, a former right wing internet talk show host, recently laid off, was heard by his neighbors to say that he was fearful that Obama would take his guns away. From FoxNews, the home of Glenn Beck:

Pittsburgh police say a man wearing a bulletproof vest opened fire on officers during a domestic disturbance call, killing three of them.

Police chief Nate Harper says the motive for Saturday’s shooting isn’t clear.

Friends say the gunman recently had been upset about losing his job and that he feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.

. . .

One of the gunman’s friend, Edward Perkovic, said Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.”

Another longtime friend, Aaron Vire, said Poplawski feared that President Obama was going to take away his rights, though he said he “wasn’t violently against Obama.”

Perkovic, a 22-year-old who said he was Poplawski’s best friend, said he got a call at work from him in which he said, “Eddie, I am going to die today. … Tell your family I love them and I love you.”

Perkovic said: “I heard gunshots and he hung up. … He sounded like he was in pain, like he got shot.”

Vire, 23, said Poplawski once had an Internet talk show but that it wasn’t successful. Vire said Poplawski had an AK-47 rifle and several powerful handguns, including a .357 Magnum.

Another friend, Joe DiMarco, said Poplawski had been laid off from his job at a glass factory earlier this year. DiMarco said he didn’t know the name of the company, but knew his friend had been upset about losing his job.

Crooks and Liars, in MUST READ reporting, has been on the case of right wing whack jobs ginning up the fear of rabid NRA types who say Obama is going to take away the guns from people, which is of course absurd. They note an article from the right wing Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about increased gun sales attributed to the notion. And, of course, Crooks and Liars showed video of Glenn Beck and NRA Honcho Wayne LaPierre on a show in mid-March that was essentially hysterical ranting about how Obama was going to take away guns.

A rational man, even if he had a stockpile of guns and could shoot “hundreds of rounds,” according to a witness, would likely not open fire in this situation. No, the mainstream media will not connect this act of the murder of three police officers with the rabid and extremist rhetoric of gun nuts and complete whack jobs like Glenn Beck. I’ll make that connection explicit. Throw a match towards some of these gun nuts, in this case lay him off of his job, and the result can be devastating.

Yes, Richard Poplawski, a bare 23 years old, is responsible for shooting and killing officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo III. But it seems like Richard Poplawski was influenced and inflamed by the irresponsible rhetoric that comes from the NRA and from Glenn Beck. Were FoxNews responsible, they would fire Beck on the spot, and further, they would boycott NRA spokespeople from editorializing on any of their shows. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Saturday, April 4th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

The Rich, the GOP, AIG and the Tea Bag Revolution

The rich are being blamed for the irresponsible actions on Wall Street, and they are no longer looked at with being worthy. The GOP set this stage with myths that everyone could be rich if we just let the rich escape taxes. Then the GOP pushed deregulation. And the Tea Bagging GOP line now is harming the rich far more than the Dems.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

There’s a nexus coming together in this country, and while some are using the metaphor of pitchforks and the proles storming the castle (the rich, at AIG, at least, seem very afraid of this scorn, as evidenced here and here), it is beginning to seem to me as if the rich, those metaphorically living in the castle, are guilty of tea bagging, if not pitchforking, themselves.

I suppose I come to this conclusion first from Michael Hiltzik’s column in the Los Angeles Times. His title somewhat says it all: “The belief that the wealthy are worthy is waning.” The thesis here is that many in our country rallied against progressive income taxes that hit the rich because they themselves pictures themselves as being rich someday, sort of like Joe the Plumber, you know. They had a myopia concerning the true American condition. We all know that Joe the Plumber will get nowhere unless he milks the right wing media with his image, and Joe will therefore continue in self-delusion. But the average American, Hiltzik says, is beginning to see through this Republican myth.

Let’s face facts. The Republicans are the ones, perhaps further back than Gingrich or even Reagan, who perpetuated the myth that cutting taxes on the wealthy would result in good jobs for everyone, including the possibility that everyman may one day become rich himself. Not so much nowadays. The false veneer on this theory is peeling off, like a Laffer Curve going south. They set the stage with their constant attempts to reverse the progressive system of taxes in this country, led now by Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform, a group Republicans listen to almost as well as they bow to their leader, Rush Limbaugh, as mindnumbingly stupid as that act of bowing is.

What really blew the top off, though, is their penchant for deregulation. We’re seeing an economic meltdown because of unregulated securities now, and AIG’s insuring those risky schemes, but what we’re also seeing on the side is the steadily declining respect for the rich. Sure, many rich people are philanthropists, and there are fine people among the rich. When the taxes go up on them, as the current national feeling will assuredly lead to, they will go up on me and my family as well. But let’s make sure to note that the deregulation was spurred by a system of rewards cloaked as bonuses. Sure, the former Chair of AIG claims he wouldn’t have given out the bonuses that are so controversial now, but he gave out similar retention rewards. It was the name of the game for far too many years. Risky products are dreamed up by money managers whose bonus was directly tied to short-term success. They became the rich. By exploiting the system they have tea bagged themselves.

AIG’s defense? They are now going after taxes they say they don’t owe because they derived from offshore tax shelters. Yes, banking regulations evidently enabled them to legally shelter a whole batch of their tax obligations, and AIG wants that 306 Million Dollars back, even though the funds helping them fight the IRS were provided by the federal government. These folks just don’t know how to leave well enough alone. The gall, we say, at every turn where they spend our money on bonuses or suing us! Should we be so surprised?

Now the Republicans have started this stupid Tea Bag campaign. It mimics the Boston Harbor protest from our American Revolution, but there ain’t no redcoats here. As Bob Cesca notes, the Republican Tea Bag campaign is about reducing taxes on the wealthy at a time when the entire American electorate is glued to the TV waiting for the next shoe to drop in the Wall Street mess, caused by the Republican deregulation and greed that the Tea Bagging goal would ostensibly reward. Sure, Republicans are railing against AIG bonuses, but as usual they have no plan. They’d rather protest using Tea Bags, and referring to an insulting sex act. Yeah, Republicans claim to stand for high moral values, but even their protests are coarse and ugly. What they’ve done with such absurities is tea bag themselves.

It would be enough if the Republicans had only Tea Bagged themselves, but they have done the bidding of the markets and those who pretend to stand for the rich for so long that the rich are the ones feeling the Tea Bag, full in the face. Conspicuous Consumption is coming to an end, I’m guessing, at least for a long time, and I’m betting Thorstein Veblen would be proud. But this isn’t about a 120 year old theory. This is about today, about the dangers of runaway and unregulated capitalism and how it can destroy our economy. The Republicans called for that deregulation, trusting int he blind hand of supply and demand to care for everyone. That ship has sailed, and judging by their stupid Tea Bag campaign, the GOP is far, far from recognizing that fact.

Friday, March 20th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Jindal: What Nickname Should He Get? Same Old, Same Old?

Bobby Jindal carried the GOP response to Barack Obama last night, about the only Republican in the country who is not tainted by the last eight years of Republican incompetence and outright corruption. But he spouted the same old tired Republican line, like a puppet, which means he deserves a nickname. Give us one, willya?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Barack Obama made a well-received speech to Congress last night. He appealed directly to the American people, whether they are hurt directly by the recession or know people who are. And Obama was positive about the character of the American people and how that character, with leadership by government, will bring us to new heights. I liked especially how Obama framed the problems we are facing in terms of personal responsibility, and how the urgent needs of our country have been ignored in the last several years. Sure, Obama did not name names, but I’™ll name them. It was the Republicans. More on that later. First a taste of the Obama speech. From the transcript of the speech at the Washington Post:

Now, if we’™re honest with ourselves, we’™ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’™ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’™t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Yeah, it is a day of reckoning, alright, and what we’™re reckoning with is the swath of destruction the Republicans have left in their wake. Policies of inaction and deregulation and senseless war and wasteful spending and rampant incompetence have left us in this mess. We’™ve got a lot of Republicans to blame, too. Bush, Phil Gramm, Cheney, Mitch McConnell, Bill Frist, Limbaugh, Perle, Boehner, Alberto Gonzales, and on and on and on. These are the architects of the wreckage that is our economy, our world reputation, our civil liberties and our sense of ourselves. Yeah, Barack Obama has an enormous task ahead of him, and the expectations are sky high. But we progressives can take heart that one thing is for sure. The Republicans are going to offer nothing more than do nothing and know nothing as their solution to the crisis. They are going to sit on their hands, neither owning the responsibility they have for the crisis nor offering solutions to fixing the problems.

It is telling that the Republicans put forth Bobby Jindal to deliver their response to President Obama’™s speech. Jindal, at least, is not complicit in the failed war in Iraq, he is not responsible for the Bush deficits, for the Republican march towards deregulation, for the Republican incompetencies, at least at the national level. After the last eight years, getting a McCain or a McConnell or a Bush to deliver the Republican response would be a bad move for the Republicans. so they bring in Jindal, not closely connected to the failures of the Bush years, but what he does is deliver the same tired old message, complete with straw men. How about this straw man, from CNN:

And Jindal rebuked the president for a remark made earlier in this month when Obama warned that without immediate action on the economy, ‘œour nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse.’

‘œA few weeks ago, the president warned that our country is facing a crisis that he said we may not be able to reverse,’ Jindal said. ‘œOur troubles are real, to be sure. But don’™t let anyone tell you that we cannot recover. Don’™t let anyone tell you that America ‘™s best days are behind her.’

This is the same tired Republican strategy. Take Obama’™s words, twist, then reapply. (Jindal does that throughout his speech, and .) No, Barack Obama never disparaged the American spirit. Jindal is dishonest to imply that. But that’™s the Republican plan, to get a leg up and win politically no matter ethics, honsesty or even what is good for the country. Given that they now whine about deficit spending while supporting it throughout the Bush Presidency, it’™s obvious that what they want is power to spend, and nothing more. (OK, power to spy on Americans, power to limit civil rights, power to . . . you get the idea.)

I’™m wondering at what they must think of Jindal. Hey, he’™s one who was only barely tainted by the Republican scandals and incompetencies of the past, but he’™s taking his marching orders, and they are exactly the stupid stances that Republicans have used all along. They’™ve shown that they are not for small government and not for fiscal responsibility, but Jindal persists in claiming those are Republican values.

Which brings me to the question. Jindal is relatively new to the GOP scene. what nickname can we give him? If Sarah Palin, who also echoes stupid Republican values while pitching the same old same old, is Caribou Spice, could we call Jindal Slumdog Barbie? No, no, Slumdog is much too optimistic for a Republican to steal the label. Let’™s call him Mumbai Gumbo, or something like that. There’™s the Republican support of outsourcing in that nickname, plus Jindal’™s own heritage, but there’™s that hint of Louisiana corruption, too. Now while Jindal seems not at all connected to Louisiana corruption, he’™s trying like HELL to be connected to the Republican Party, and that’™s about as corrupt as you can get. But these are not exactly the most polite nicknames, and I think the readers here can do better.

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Capitalism At The Crossroads: Time To Wing It?

History has long recorded humanity’s dabbling in the elaboration of the latest “ism”. Rarely do we recognize the demise of one “ism” in the midst of the emergence of its replacement. While America debates the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, we seem reticent to discuss the merits of capital “ism”. Doing so could be an important step towards embracing the underlying humanism we frequently ignore.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

In Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”, time is both passed and suspended in anticipation of arrival. Neither the passage of time or the thoughtless suspension of its value is a worthwhile endeavor…yet so much of the human condition is spent accordingly.

Fortunately, the ebb and flow of life frequently compensates for this miscalculation and we are rarely forced to face the futility of our allegiance to being unaware.

At the same time, history, in retrospect, has meticulously recorded such periods of ambiguous angst with the application and affirmation of a seemingly all-encompassing “ism” of merit. Sadly, we humans rarely understand our migration from one “ism” to the next…at the moment it transpires…frequently leaving us in the same suspect and suspended scenario as those waiting for the transformational Godot to arrive.

America, in its quaint yet quixotic commitment to the courtesan we call capital “ism”, is being confronted with such a stretch of meaningless moments…waiting anxiously and aimlessly for the arrival of someone or something to remove the paralysis that permeates our propensity to participate in the chain letter economics that powers our Ponzi scheme psyche…even though we “share” in the ironic experience of watching our pyramid collapse under the weight of its own egocentric and ignoble ideations.

Two events provide perspective on our predicament – one a calamity and the other a harbinger of hope. The former, 9/11, brought us together long enough to offer consolation and condolences before scurrying out the door with our credit cards and the cash created by our homage to home equity high jinks…in hopes of perpetuating perceptions rather than recognizing realities.

The latter, the safe landing of an aircraft on the Hudson river and the preservation of every single passenger’s life, allowed us to reconnect with the principals and perseverance associated with the mythical America and the essence of the collective spirit that had come to define it…all of which evaporated so quickly following 9/11.

Here’s the problem. Today, Captain Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson is no longer just a job well done or an act of American stick-to-itiveness; rather it must be morphed into an extraordinary act of unexpected hero “ism”…a deed beyond the pale…an act of selflessness in a society all about the self. In America, tragedy is synonymous with litigation and triumph with accolades…both of which have material enrichment as their expected outcome. Hence American decency is but a function of fault or fame…not an intrinsic component of character.

As such, in this dark hour of economic uncertainty, the core constructs of capital “ism” still trump our actual ability to embrace the noble identity that gave it life. Like spectators at a Gladiator match, we sit on the sidelines of our “Super Bowl” society admiring the exceptional athlete or the precise pilot…ever focused on the means and methods to our own nascent notoriety…never mindful of the inevitable intersection of motivation and moral maturity.

Let me be clear, when I mention moral maturity, I am not invoking an absolutist ideology or an adherence to religion; rather I’m imploring us to understand the essence of our shared humanity. Moral maturity is not the means to superiority…it is the simple act of enabling and embracing equality in lieu of cachet and celebrity. In fact, doing so not only fosters an appreciation of altruism over the accumulation of assets, it disarms the drive for deification by substituting the satisfaction of service for the seemingly endless search for the satiation of selfishness.

Should there be any doubt as to the dubious nature of our situation, and therefore our ever expanding and suspect sense of entitlement, look no further than the latest Gallup Poll on the merits of the President’s stimulus plan. Only 38% of respondents believe the stimulus plan should be passed as proposed by Barack Obama. Another 37% are in favor of a stimulus plan but they believe it must include major changes.

While the majority of Americans favor Congress’ passing some type of stimulus plan, there is remarkably little confidence on the part of the public that the plan would have an immediately positive impact on the U.S. economy. Americans are also pessimistic about the plan’s potential positive impact on their own families’ financial situations.

There’s only one way to interpret these numbers. Self-interest is the primary motivation that drives debate in America. Confronted with the worst economy since the Depression, and an uncertain future, most Americans cannot view the stimulus plan absent the bias of the status quo…and most of our elected officials must be included in this group. The shortsightedness is astounding.

A comparison may help explain my concerns as well as my contention that capital “ism”, in its current form, is no longer viable. Let’s start by assuming that our economic situation is dire. If so, then one should be able to construct a scenario to evidence the gravity of this moment as well as the complacency that has grown out of our commitment to the tenets of capital “ism” as they have existed since the Watergate years.

For this exercise, let’s assume that NASA has identified an asteroid heading towards earth in ten years and that its trajectory puts the U.S. at great risk. Now suppose that in response, our government decides to establish safe shelters in all major metropolitan areas. Logically, one should be able to presume that Americans will get behind the effort and pitch in to insure that the country is prepared for the worst. One should also be able to expect that individuals will put self-serving objectives aside in hopes of achieving maximum safety and survival. In other words, while some people might feel slighted by the placement of shelters…or other aspects of any response plan…the gravity of the situation undoubtedly dictates that such concern is set aside in order to work towards a collective solution to an anticipated crisis.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that our adherence to a “me first” mentality may well preclude our ability to react effectively to this or any other plausible threat. Therein lies the inability to visualize the risks of maintaining our seemingly insolent and intransigent mindsets. You see; the instincts we momentarily demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 still exist. Unfortunately, the fact that we so easily slipped back into more of the same doesn’t portend well for addressing the current economic crisis…a crisis that is more than a glitch in the U.S. economy…a crisis that won’t be solved by imploring Americans to go shopping…a crisis that is the leading edge of a reordering of the world and the manner in which we humans serve as stewards of this earth…and therefore whether we will be purposeful proponents for the ongoing existence of humankind.

The fact that so many of us latched onto the “Miracle on the Hudson” as a tangible measure of the enduring human spirit serves to illustrate the paradox we seem so unwilling to acknowledge. On the one hand, we marvel at the fact that a trained pilot was able to land an airplane on water…yet we forget that absent years of training…a concern by the flight crew for the safety of their fellow man…and finally…the presence of wings…it not only couldn’t have successfully landed on the water…it would have been unable to support and sustain the 155 individuals who stood upon those wings while waiting (and believing) that kind and compassionate passers-by would come to their aid.

America is a plane in trouble…but our fate need not be dependent upon the heroic acts of a select few. At the same time, we must be wise enough to listen to those who may have more insight. This plane of ours will never achieve a safe landing if each of its passengers demands their turn in the cockpit…regardless of ability. The role of being a good citizen is also an act of hero “ism”…even if it means sitting quietly in coach while the pilot brings us to safety or helping an elderly passenger make their way onto the wing once the plane has landed.

America can no longer wait for our Godot to arrive. We needn’t a savior or a heroin…we needn’t aspire to the adulation we believe accompanies a seat atop the pyramid…we needn’t support or negate our leaders based upon political ideology…Godot is every man and every woman…Godot is merely a belief in each other predicated upon the notion that we grant the humanity we seek…Godot need not come if he is already here…Godot does not exist if we need him…humanity does not exist if we betray it.

If we humans are too survive, it’s time for us to wing it…which is nothing more than believing that the service of humanity floats all boats…as well as the plane in which we are all passengers. Fighting over the stimulus plan while the plane is crashing is absurd. Human “ism” may lack the glitter and glamour of capital “ism”…and it may mean less in a few pockets but more in most…but it may well be the only remaining “ism” of consequence.

Its merits will never be fully known if its value is never fully affirmed…yet it has always been there for us to accept. If it isn’t adopted in the here and now, history will fail to recognize and record it. You see, in the absence of humanity, there is no future. If there is no future, there will be no history. In the end, all “isms” lead to the same destination. We can travel willingly or we can jeopardize our very existence. The waiting must end…the wings exist. There’s room for everyone.

Cross posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Daniel DiRito |

Match This for Stupidity: Taxing a House of Cards

Sin taxes are a favorite of legislators, and right now legislators of both stripes are looking very hard for more tax revenue. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that a tax on tobacco and fatty food and liquor is going to make anyone healthier. That is neither the aim nor the result.

Commentary By: Walter Brasch

by Walter Brasch

My wife is a smoker. Except for one year when she quit, she’s been a smoker since she was about 18. But she’s cut back, from as many as three packs a day to just three cigarettes. And, she now smokes outside the house.

At various times, she was asked to show an ID. When in her 20s she saw it as an annoyance. By her 30s and 40s, it was a compliment. Now it’s just downright annoying.

The law restricts persons under 18 years of age from buying or smoking cigarettes. My wife understands why she must be “carded.”

Yesterday she was carded when she wanted to buy two lighters. The sweet lady at the grocery checkout counter said that the chain store is carding everyone who buys lighters. Something about a juvenile who used a lighter and accidentally set his house on fire.

The law doesn’t say a person must be at least 18 to buy a cigarette lighter. But, the reasoning is that people buy cigarette lighters to–well–light cigarettes. Therefore, cigarette lighters–which can be used for many things other than to light up–also must be controlled. So, every adult, from the 20s to the gray-haired elderly, will also be “carded” when they buy lighters.

If this restrictive and selective enforcement continues, we might soon see stores carding people who buy cups, because they could be used to hold beer. Anyone who buys watermelons would be carded since plugged, spiked, and corked watermelons are a delightful summer treat. Jello, once promoted by all-American “dad” Bill Cosby, would be suspect, since there aren’t many college parties without Jello shots.

Unlike the sale of cigarettes and liquor, there is no age restriction on most foods. So, various health-nut organizations and not-so-bright legislators have decided to tax foods they don’t think are acceptable. Several legislators have tried, but so far have failed, to enact legislation that would tax high-calorie foods. New York Gov. David Patterson wants to levy a 15 percent tax on any juice or drink except diet sodas, bottled water, coffee, tea, and milk.

Eventually, we’ll see a special “obesity tax” placed against anything sold at a fast food restaurant.

When you break through the smoke and mirrors, governments really don’t care about anyone’s health. They do care about ways to generate revenue. Gov. Patterson readily acknowledges that the “obesity tax” in New York would generate about $400 million additional revenue. New York also leads the nation in cigarette taxes. A smoker in New York City pays about $9 per pack, which includes a 39 cents federal tax, a $2.75 state tax, a $1.50 city tax, plus an 8 percent sales tax on top of everything else. Chicago is second, with taxes totaling $3.66 a pack. States and the federal government collect about $26 billion a year in cigarette taxes, according to a New York Times report in August 2008.

Liquor taxes aren’t meant to make anyone healthy, except the state economy. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a five cent a drink tax that, had the legislature not tabled the suggestion, would have raised $600 million a year. Overall, the federal government collected more than $9 billion in taxes, while states collected an additional $6 billion, according to a comprehensive analysis published in June 2007 by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

With budgets being pumped up by numerous “sin taxes,” it won’t be long until someone figures out they need not only to card buyers of cigarette lighters, cups, watermelons, and Jello, but that there also needs to be special excise taxes upon these products as well.

[The assistance of Rosemary R. Brasch is appreciated. Walter Brasch's latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and most bookstores. You may contact Dr. Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu, or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 by Walter Brasch |
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