Friday, December 28, 2007

On Pakistan's Future, Or, Practical Ideas From Benazir

There are many who will eloquently eulogize and expertly analyze in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s death; and my suspicion is that you have already seen some of those who are far more capable than I weighing in on the event.

It’s my job to venture farther offer a view that you might not get by reading elsewhere, and that’s where we are headed today: into a conversation that offers practical, although sometimes controversial, advice from Mrs. Bhutto herself...and then suggests the events of the past 36 hours present an unexpected opportunity, if we can grab it.

Of course, this whole line of thought is extraordinarily risky—but with great risk can come great reward.

And with all that in mind, let’s get to work.

Benazir Bhutto announced her intent to return to Pakistan in September; and at that time she laid out specific ideas for her Government in a presentation at the Mideast Institute which will be central to our discussion.

But first, a geography and cultural primer:

The western portions of Pakistan (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and Balochistan) are the sections of the country that today present the greatest security risk. The Pashtun tribes residing in this exceptionally mountainous area have forever travelled around the region; and in fact they have moved back and forth across what is today the de facto Afghanistan/Pakistan border for many, many generations before such a border ever existed.

Important in our short history is the story of how that border came to be...and then how it expired...and how there is legally no border even to this day.

Before there was a Pakistan there was British India; and at the midpoint of the 19th Century a security buffer was created between India’s Pashtun-dominated northwest border regions (and the regions of Afghanistan that lie beyond) and the Punjabi-dominated India to the south.

That 1849 arrangement was augmented by a border deal the British were able to broker between the (Pashtun) Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan and the Colonial Administration in India that created the Durand Line (named after Colonial India’s Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand) in 1893. Two years of effort followed to actually delineate the Line.

The Afghan Pashtuns were guaranteed control of the region surrounding Kabul as a part of the deal; and the British (and the Pakistani Government, later) have made efforts to keep compliant leaders running Afghanistan. Each party also agreed not to “exercise interference” in the affairs of the Pashtuns inside the other’s borders. (A history of Pakistan “exercising interference” inside Afghanistan for a variety of reasons quickly followed.)

Of course, Turcoman tribes in the northern regions of Afghanistan (remember the Northern Alliance?), uncooperative Pashtuns to the south, and Persians to the west have all at various times resisted these efforts to impose outside control—and the legacy of those battles has continued to this day. (Hamid Karzai cannot currently expand his control beyond the Kabul region any more effectively than the Amir could...and neither could the Russians.)

All of this opposition meant that despite the efforts of the British and the Pakistanis there has never been an Afghan Government that officially certified the agreement—and since the 100-year term of the agreement ended in 1996, with no follow-on agreement in sight...this means there is today no legal border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent decades the Pakistani government had adopted a policy of allowing the Tribal Areas near-total autonomy, which lasted until 2001.

This had had at least six effects:

--As a result of their regional autonomy and tribal system of government, local residents do not participate in local or national elections and do not have access to non-tribally administered courts, schools or other social services. There is also the attendant disconnection from the concept of their citizenship as Pakistanis.

--There has been virtually no economic or infrastructure development in the region (Mrs. Bhutto wanted us to know that 60% of Pakistanis live on less than $2 a day); which has kept well occupied the steady supply of unemployable males who have served as soldiers for the various Governments and the opposing tribalist, nationalist, or theocratic movements in the region.

--This lack of development and the artificial partitioning of “Pashtunistan” caused by the Durand Line has also created resentment on the part of the Pashtuns against the Punjabi elites that ruled first Punjabi India and now Pakistan—and the Pashtunis and Westerners that cooperate with them today in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

--This resentment has found common ground with the resentment felt by Afghan Pashtuns who are the backbone of the Taliban...who support the establishment of “Pashtunistan” within newly drawn borders that include areas of Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan...which has allowed the Al Qaeda movement to gain sympathy among Pashtuns in Western Pakistan as well.

--Talibani and Al Qaeda interests have formed an “Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” that has officially gained control of larger and larger portions of Western the point where it is now questionable whether the Pakistani Army can regain control through the force of arms, even if it really wants to.

--As Pakistan’s Army has made efforts to reestablish control in the region since 2001 attacks on Pakistani Army troops by “Pashtunistani” forces have increased in number and ferocity. Mrs. Bhutto suggests this is because the Army is, on the one hand, upsetting the new “extremist” power structure; and on the other hand there is more and more a perception that the Army under Mr. Musharraf’s command represents Punjabi interests against the interests of Pashtuns.

We must also consider another issue before we can move to an action plan: who had the most to gain from Mrs. Bhutto’s death...and who might have done it?

Mr. Musharraf has much to gain from Mrs. Bhutto’s death...maybe.

--It is possible he could use the chaos following her death to further delay any election, either in January, or later, after opposition parties signal they are more willing to participate.

--It is also possible that he could make an arrangement with Army representatives that cements their role in the next Government and marginalizes the opposition further.

--It is also not impossible to conceive of a situation where Mr. Musharraf either tacitly or explicitly made a deal with the very same Pashtuns that are rising in Western Pakistan: eliminate an opposition rival in exchange for some period of freedom from Pashtuni/Punjabi civil war.

I tend to discount all three of these scenarios, however: there is extreme pressure on Mr. Musharraf to keep to the current election schedule (this may change with the decision by opposition parties to not participate in January), the Army seems less willing to continue to support Mr. Musharraf than they have been in the past; and making a deal with the Pashtuns would likely also lead to civil war...with the Army and most Punjabis on one side, and the Pashtuns and Mr. Musharraf’s remaining supporters on the other—a situation even worse for Mr. Musharraf than today’s.

Talaban and Al Qaeda forces have much to gain from Mrs. Bhutto’s death as well:

--Her death could help to create conditions that force the Pakistani Government to negotiate further with the Pashtunistanis...creating a better deal than the Durand Line partitioning ever was.

--The assassination will presumably cause the Pakistani Army and civil authorities to think twice before involving itself further in the “Emirate of Waziristan”; which is also a “prestige” issue for the leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda movements.

--The added prestige improves recruiting and fundraising...inside Pakistan and worldwide. It also reinforces the “inevitability” issue.

--Continuing instability might lead to Government overreach in an effort to clamp down on civil rights in more onerous ways—which should, ironically, help the very forces attempting to clamp down on those same civil rights through the imposition of Shari‘a Law in the territories they control.

Finally, what about the Army?
Will they stick with Mr. Musharraf, seek to install another “civilian” leader—or stage another coup?

The Army has ruled the country for much of the past 40 years, but they seem unhappy with the state of government today...despite the fact that a General has been at the helm of the civil administration for the past 8 years.

The Army is also facing an internal crisis: some of its forces have “defected” to the Talibani forces; and some members of the Pakistani Army have questionable loyalties. The question of divided loyalty (the State or the Taliban?) is even greater in the ISI (the Internal Security Service of Pakistan)—and of course all of this relates to the ability of Pakistan to maintain “command and control” over their nuclear forces.

At this exact moment, these are all what Donald Rumsfeld would refer to as “known unknowns”...but we will offer some speculation as we go along.

Keeping all this in mind, let’s consider some of Mrs. Bhutto’s ideas from that September presentation:

--Mrs. Bhutto wanted Mr. Musharraf to leave office, turning power over to a temporary National Unity Government who would be empowered to hold an election to choose its replacement, but Mr. Musharraf was not willing to make that commitment.

--By one means or another, Mrs. Bhutto wanted the “outsted” Supreme Court Justices returned to the bench.

--She had suggested that Pakistan work on the “four E’s”: education, employment, environment, and energy. She again reminded us of the fact that most Pakistanis are still quite poor—60% living on less than $2 a day.

--The need to reestablish a professional, neutral military—which she suggested needs to start with de-politicizing the military forces.

--She felt that the border dispute needed to be resolved in such a way as to resolve the Pashtun concerns regarding arbitrary boundaries established for political reasons.

--Additionally, she recommended that the Tribal Areas be brought into the national infrastructure...which means creating hospitals, and secular schools, and jobs, and independent courts all outside of the tribal systems—and on an even more basic level, the creation of water resources, which Mrs. Bhutto reports is one of the greatest barriers to local economic development.

One source of jobs that you might not expect: cleaning up cities. Mrs. Bhutto pointed out that cities in her country are filled with mosquitoes and rats and trash; and that many of the unemployed could be put to work in a manner that would immediately improve the quality of life.

And now, at last, we get to the very out-of-the box part of the discussion: what can the United States do to influence events in a positive way?

Before I answer that question, a caveat: none of this will be a “quick fix”, all of it is intended for the long term; and some of it will require us to reconsider many of our thoughts regarding who we will or will not talk to as a nation—or as part of a community of nations.

--Pakistani history has been one of periods of military control followed by periods of...military control; suggesting we will need to remain engaged with the Pakistani military—and in fact all that military aid we have been providing might help open a door.

At the moment we are beginning to engage with leadership in the Pakistani Army other than the recently “retired” General Musharraf...and we ought to offer to increase our training relationships with the Pashtun and Punjabi members of the officer corps, then work our way down the chain of rank.

Rather than offering additional weapons as a first gesture, I propose we offer facilities such as barracks, hospitals and even family housing for the professional military throughout the entire country...along with some of the security enhancements that might be required to help protect the facilities against the Talibani attacks that will surely follow.

--Bill Richardson has suggested that we “pull the rug” from underneath Mr. Musharraf by withdrawing our support and trying to force his resignation; but instead why not just encourage the Army to form a temporary National Unity Government, leading to relatively free and fair elections...and in a gesture of goodwill, restore the Justices back to the Supreme Court? If it’s done publicly, we could offer Mr. Musharraf the chance to join the process and to look much better in the light of history...and if it’s done quietly, we might find a way to offer Mr. Musharraf a lovely home and future somewhere warm and wealthy.

All of this, if done well, could allow the Army to disengage from Mr. Musharraf without appearing to have done so under US influence. It could also allow the Army to be perceived as the defenders of democracy and the middle class...always a good thing. The best potential outcome would be elections supervised by the military but accepted as fairly run by Pakistanis and outsiders—because such an outcome might help to reduce the military’s image as a “corrupted” element of society.

--There are questions regarding Pakistani nuclear security. It is possible to secure storage facilities using US SOF and air assets to a fairly high degree, assuming the facilities are built in a manner that is defendable...and assuming the Pakistani forces on the site can be trusted. We can also seek the assistance of the IAEA and other UN and NATO assets, and the odds are fairly good that we will get the assistance we seek. All of this can be done in a fairly quiet and low-key manner if we have the cooperation of the Pakistani commanders. Rumors suggest such a process has been negotiated and may already be in place.

The same applies to the delivery systems—assuming we have accurate baseline numbers on erector/launchers, warheads, “loose” fissile material, and missiles currently deployed.

--We have to find a way to create some process of engagement between Islamist Pashtuns and those who support a secular government; and one way to do this might be to support efforts of the Pakistani military and civil administrations to create the infrastructure Mrs. Bhutto wanted to develop in Western Pakistan.

There are several reasons this makes sense: secular schools help us by reducing the role of Madrasa schools that are today teaching an anti-American message to kids, clinics and hospitals help us by teaching Pashtuns that America is not always the Great Satan, new jobs reduce the available supply of soldiers...and all of this helps to create a Pakistani association with the Pashtuns who until now have felt ignored by the central government...except when it comes time to “round up the usual suspects”.

An even more effective way to jump start the association with Pakistan: create local councils and allow local residents to elect their own leadership...and allow participation in national elections as well. Whatever we might do to help this process occur could reverberate to our advantage down the road.

And of course, all of this creates an opposing influence against Taliban and Al Qaeda interests, which is also potentially to our advantage...assuming that we don’t run the thing in such a way as to create even more resentment than exists at the moment.

Of course, all of this requires us to converse with those same Taliban leaders, which creates opportunities for intelligence gathering and the finding of common ground—or as we call it in the US, “networking”.

I’ll end today’s conversation with a theme I’ve presented many times: that the biggest threat to “Islamist extremism”...the thing that keeps Osama Bin Laden up late at the idea of a reasonably content and prosperous middle class that feels they have more to gain by going to work then there is to gain by blowing up workplaces—and themselves.

And believe it or not, this most powerfully sad event might just be the catalyst that allows a variety of positive events to take hold that could leave Pakistan in a better place than it is today...and us as well.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On Christmas And Philosophy, Or, Who Would Jesus Torture?

Here we are in the depths of the Holidays and we have been offered Seasons Greetings by many of the candidates, Republican and Democratic.

Certain of our Republican friends have been particularly anxious to draw our attention to the close personal connections they share with Jesus Christ, their Lord and personal Savior—and the airwaves of Iowa were full of the reminders, at least until 12:01 AM December 26th.

Certain of our Republican friends are also most anxious to remind us that they would not hesitate to apply “enhanced interrogation” techniques to those who, in their minds, deserve this special attention.

Which is how we get to our post-Christmas conversation: do Jesus Christ and the United States Army share similar values regarding torture—and do the Bush Administration and the Republican candidates share a set of opposite values?

And of course, the other question: which group might be right—and why?

So let’s start by reviewing the philosophical positions that the two sides seem to occupy:

The Bush Administration, as is well known, has taken the position that “enhanced interrogation” is a permissible practice. They have also accepted the proposition that “torture” is not permissible under US law.

They are at present unable to define certain methods of interrogation as “torture” or not torture. The Attorney General will be getting back to the President on this question just as soon as he is able, we are told.

Some Members of Congress have suggested these enhanced methods of interrogation are really no more than enhanced swimming lessons.

Some have also advanced the proposition that the President is allowed to offer the final determination regarding the legality of any action taken by the President.

It is further reported that certain tapes which no longer exist prove the efficacy of the certain methods that are not currently considered torture—at least in the minds of those who now offer their recollection of what was on those tapes.

The Republican candidates (with the notable exception of John McCain) have not only embraced the Administration’s positions on these issues, they’ve publicly suggested we build more Guantanamo-like facilities…and even bring in Jack Bauer, if at all possible.

As you might expect, Jesus Christ has a different perspective:

…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

--Jesus Christ, as recorded in the King James Bible (Matthew 25:40)

What you might not expect is that the United States Army shares the same philosophical real estate as the man Christians recognize as God’s only Son…and followers of Islam recognize as one of God’s Prophets.

5-54. Compliance with laws and regulations, including proper treatment of detainees, is a matter of command responsibility. Commanders have an affirmative duty to ensure their subordinates are not mistreating detainees or their property. HCT leaders must effectively supervise their subordinate collectors during all interrogation operations. Supervisors must ensure that each HUMINT collector has properly completed an interrogation plan and sound collection strategy, and fully understands the intelligence requirements he is seeking to satisfy prior to beginning an interrogation. NCOs and WOs should regularly participate in interrogations with their subordinates to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained. Interrogation supervisors should also monitor interrogations by video, where video monitoring is available…

5-55. Non-DOD agencies may on occasion request permission to conduct interrogations in Army facilities. These requests must be approved by the JTF commander or, if there is no JTF commander, the theater commander or appropriate higher level official. The interrogation activity commander will assign a trained and certified interrogator to escort non-DOD interrogators to observe their interrogation operations. The non-DOD personnel will sign for any detainee they want to question from the MPs, following the same established procedures that DOD personnel must follow. In all instances, interrogations or debriefings conducted by non-DOD agencies will be observed by DOD personnel. In all instances, non-DOD agencies must observe the same standards for the conduct of interrogation operations and treatment of detainees as do Army personnel. All personnel who observe or become aware of violations of Army interrogation operation standards will report the infractions immediately to the commander. The personnel who become aware of mistreatment of detainees will report the infractions immediately and suspend the access of non-DOD personnel to the facility until the matter has been referred to higher headquarters. Non-DOD personnel conducting interrogation operations in an Army facility must sign a statement acknowledging receipt of these rules, and agree to follow them prior to conducting any interrogation operations. Non-DOD personnel working in DOD interrogation facilities have no authority over Army interrogators. Army interrogators (active duty, civilian, or contractor employees) will only use DOD-approved interrogation approaches and techniques.

--Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations (Pp. 90-91)

30 retired Generals and Admirals also disagree with the Administration’s position:

In this instance, the relevant rule-the law-has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise-or even to give credence to such a suggestion-represents an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation. (emphasis is from the original source)

--General's Letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, November 2, 2007

The Administration tells us that they have had great success with their “enhanced” methods, but even General Petraeus disagrees with the Administration in that regard:

“Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows they are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action may make someone “talk;” however, what the individual says may be of questionable value…”

--Letter from General Petraeus to all personnel serving in Multi-National Force, Iraq, May 10, 2007

So now that we know how the two sides feel—what do we do?

The most persuasive arguments I have heard so far from the Administration and its acolytes for the new policies suggest:

--That we will be confronted by the specter of a nuclear bomb, or something similar; and the only way to quickly obtain the information that will save large numbers of Americans is to interrogate the captured terrorist in “enhanced” ways.

--That we allow enhanced interrogation methods to be used upon “terrorist” subjects that are already permitted in the criminal justice system. This argument considers that techniques such as “good cop, bad cop” are intended to be intimidating, which is banned behavior under the Army Field Manual guidelines. The extension of this argument is “if we allow intimidation for purse snatchers, why not for terrorists?”

Adherents of this position do not necessarily support waterboarding as an allowed practice, but might support methods such as sleep deprivation or the application of loud music for extended periods at high volumes.

The Army and Jesus offer their own arguments:

--The first is that there are benefits to occupying the moral high ground. In the case of Jesus, the decision to occupy the moral high ground has led an enormous number of people to follow His teachings—even in times when the Christian churches have not deployed military forces.

The Army feels occupying the high ground protects their own troops who might fall into enemy hands, just for starters.

--There is also a “force multiplier” effect when America rejects torture. Opposition troops who know they will be treated well are far more likely to surrender to US forces than those who know they will be subjected to torture. Less fighting means we have fewer troops exposed to combat, and more American troops live to fight another day—and there are fewer limbs lost in the bargain, as well.

--They also seem to feel that in a counter-insurgency war where the other forces use the news of American atrocities as a recruiting tool the fewer atrocities the better.

--There is also the question of efficiency. The Administration points to the example of the captured terrorist who knows where the bomb is hidden, but professional interrogators point to empathy and assimilation (and even bribery) as far more effective tools.

Part of that has to do with history.

Defectors have been a rich and highly valued source of information for military and civilian agencies for at least the past half-century, and they were an important factor in how we won the Cold War. Defectors are unlikely to be attracted to a nation perceived as willing to torture—and defectors are a gift that keeps on giving, as opposed to the terrorist you torture once and “throw away”.

The same goes for “flipping” insiders. The probability that someone will be willing to remain within an organization we want to penetrate and provide us information for months, or even years, is much higher if we are recognized as the nation that values human rights above all others.

Neither of these considerations factor into the “Jack Bauer” scenario; but the amount of information gained by occupying the higher ground is like a warehouse of treasure, compared to the possibility of obtaining that one truthful answer at the exact moment you need it that torture is alleged to provide.

(By the way, have we pointed out that none of the individuals suspected of having been interrogated in “special” ways is actually supposed to have known anything about any nuclear weapons?)

Part of it has to do with human response to pain.

The application of pain seems to be effective in getting people to give answers, but not necessarily the truth. John McCain tells us he gave the names of the starting lineup for the Green Bay Packers when the North Vietnamese were torturing him for the names of his shipmates.

Imagine breaking down the door after torturing the only person who can tell you where the bomb is, looking for the woman the terrorist swears can tell you all you need to know: Pascale Machaalani.

Imagine your surprise when you find out she’s no terrorist at all; but instead a singer with an album title that translates into English as “The Biggest Lie In My Life” (“Akbar Kidba Bi Hayati”). That she’s not even actually on the North American continent at the moment…and that your terrorist not only resisted your interrogation, but had a focused sense of irony.

The need for efficient intelligence collection is one of the things that have led us, time and time again, to reaffirm America’s commitment to that higher road—and it’s why the military is today trying to keep us on that path.

So that should be enough discussion to generate the kind of Christmas dinner conversation that makes a family gathering even better than it was before…and with that in mind, let’s sum it all up:

--The Administration and most of the Republican Presidential candidates support interrogation techniques that have not been previously authorized, the right of the other Branches to interfere in that decision-making process has been challenged, and the supporters allege that “enhanced interrogation” yields useable, actionable intelligence.

--The United States Army and Jesus Christ support a completely different approach: one in which torture is not only not allowed, but openly discredited for it’s lack of utility and morality…an approach that considers the respect of human dignity and the consideration of human rights as effective tools for developing the morality of those who might follow on a Savior’s path—and an effective tool for intelligence gathering, as well.

In this Christmas season, as snow falls outside, I’m with Jesus and the Army.
How about you?

We are the flank

The Edwards campaign and Little Round Top

by Don Wheeler

This weekend, I'll be making the eight hour trip to northwestern Iowa to aid in caucus efforts on behalf of fmr. Senator John Edwards. If possible, I'll send dispatches from the field.

In late June of 1863, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – former Minister and Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College – was camped with his regiment in northern Maryland. The 20th Maine, down to about 250 men in strength from the original 1000, had recently lost its commander and now Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was in charge.

He was awakened in the pre-dawn by his chief aide – a burly, Irish career army Sergeant with the news that they were soon to take charge of 120 “mutineers” from the now disbanded 2nd Maine regiment. These men had signed three year enlistments, while their comrades had signed two year papers. They had seen eleven different engagements by this point and felt they had done enough.

To make matters worse, the detail assigned to march the Mainers to the 20th had been abusive and had withheld food from them in an attempt to break their spirits. The Mainers were in a foul mood, to say the least, when they arrived.

Colonel Chamberlain greeted them personally, dismissed the detail coldly and had the cooks roused to get the men from the old 2nd Maine fed. Allowing them a bit of time to eat and relax, he was then informed that the column was moving out (to Gettysburg, PA it would turn out) and that his depleted regiment was to take the lead.

His brother, Tom – a captain in the regiment – pointed out that although Col. Chamberlain’s orders said he could shoot these mutineers if they failed to cooperate, he could never go back to Maine if he did so.

“I know that,” mused Joshua. “I wonder if they do.”

Col. Chamberlain then went to address his fellow Mainers. He had to be wondering how he could possibly provide the lead for tens of thousands of marching troops and keep track of 120 prisoners – with only 250 men.

First he told them there was no chance he would have them shot – though he couldn’t guarantee the actions of others later. He then offered the option of joining the 20th Maine and that anyone who chose to join them could be sure that any complaint against them would be dropped forever. By most accounts, he closed his comments with something like this:

“I think that if we lose this fight that's coming – we lose the war. So if you choose to join us, I’d be personally very grateful.”

In the end, 118 of the 120 2nd Mainers joined the battle – and it’s entirely possible it saved the Union.


A day or so later, after being ordered to march “double quick” to Gettysburg, the augmented 20th Maine found itself stationed at the far left end of a Union Army force well in excess of one hundred thousand troops. Chamberlain’s superior Col. Strong Vincent stationed them on a steep, heavily wooded, rocky hill call Little Round Top. He left them with the admonition that they must defend this place to the last, because allowing the Confederates to pass would allow them passage to higher ground and likely engulf the Union Army.

Colonel Chamberlain stationed his small force and summoned his junior officers. Laying out the grim situation, he pointed out “We are the flank”. Laying out the job to be done he concluded “We must be stubborn today.”

Stubborn they were. Outnumbered 13 to 1, they repulsed seven Confederate charges, taking heavy casualties. Eventually, with most of his men out of ammunition, Chamberlain ordered a downhill bayonet charge, timed to meet the attackers part way up the hill. It was fantastically successful. The Maine troops, most with no ammo, took a total of three times the prisoners of the size of the force that had captured them.

This battle stopped the Confederate advance that day. Pickett’s ill-fated charge the next day led to the general Confederate withdrawl.


I think of this story as I head to Ft. Dodge, Iowa. Why?

Because I think if we lose this fight, we lose the war.

Because, you never know what effort will create the tipping point.

And because on January 3rd, I’m prepared to be very, very stubborn.

Please join me - and us. If you do, I'll be personally be very grateful.

We are the flank

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

In Memory of Nataline...

Nataline Sarkisyan, an innocent 17-year-old, died at a children's hospital last Thursday. Cigna, her insurance company, had approved of a liver transplant, but once Nataline had complications from a bone marrow transplant the insurer got cold feet and denied the claim, stating it was "experimental" despite receiving a letter from four doctors at Nataline's hospital which stated that not only was this not experimental, but that the liver transplant was needed to save her life.

Cigna reversed its decision last Thursday and granted the transplant, but unfortunately it was too late and Nataline died hours after the procedure was approved.

This has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with. I spoke with a very nice man in the public relations department at Cigna last Thursday afternoon on Nataline's behalf. I was one of hundreds who called and took the streets to demand that her insurance company pay this valid claim.

More eloquent folks than me have spoken out on this subject, and for anyone reading this one, lonely blog bobbing up and down on the waves of the information highway, I want you to hear them directly. Below are some YouTubes and links to articles and diaries explaining the background of this injustice and why it needs to be corrected.

CBS News:

nyceve's diary on Daily Kos regarding an email she received from a transplant surgeon, indicating a potential industry-wide practice of delay, delay, deny:

Presidential candidate John Edwards "visibly angered" over this injustice:

Videos from Nataline's brother and someone who was close to her (the second one taken at a birthday party for one of Nataline's friends):

The YouTube entry to this one simply states: "...This is the only video i have of Nataline in it. Rest In Peace now Beautiful Angel..."

Rest in peace, Nataline. We will remember you.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ambulance chaser? Read this

by Don Wheeler

Anyone who's read John Edwards' book "Four Trials" will not be able forget the last one. Our daughter Sarah is almost five now, and just thinking about what happened to Valerie Lakey brings tears to my eyes and shivers down my spine.

She was represented by John Edwards and her parents have chosen to pitch in on the Presidential contest.

Dear Iowa Caucusgoers,

Fourteen years ago, we were just a normal family with a healthy 5-year-old daughter, Valerie. Then on June 24, 1993, our world changed forever.

Valerie was playing in the local wading pool when the powerful drain suction at the bottom of the pool almost sucked the life out of her.

In the terrible days and weeks that followed, the only words we wanted to hear from anyone were, "I can help Valerie." And then we met John Edwards.

John took on the irresponsible manufacturer of the defective part and we learned that she wasn't the first child to be maimed and even killed by this company's absolute indifference, but they hid the truth.

In our darkest hours, John Edwards gave our family hope. And then he walked into that courtroom and have that irresponsible company hell, and we won.

John ensured that Valerie's medical expenses would be taken care of for the rest of her life. And he helped change the ways companies do business to make swimming pools safer for children.

We are so thankful that today, Valerie is much better, and we hope every day for her future.

John talks about the heroes he has met in his life, but to us, he is the hero. He has the courage to take on the toughest fights - and win. And he will always have the thanks of a grateful family who gave hope to in their darkest hour and helped ensure their child would have a chance at a better future.


Sandy and David Lakey

p.s. We know you have an important decision to make, not just for Iowa, but for the rest of this country on January 3rd. We know that John Edwards is the best person to lead this country and we hope you will agree.

John writes about the testimony given by the mother of a child (Brandon) also at the pool that day.

"'We were just standing there talking when I heard Valerie say - I heard her call, 'Help' - it wasn't very loud. It was just a little, you know, kind of 'Help'. And I looked over to the pool and saw her sitting in the middle of the baby pool with legs, you know, Indian style.'

'And I asked her - I said, 'Honey, is this a for-real help or are you all just playing?' Because sometimes they would play, you know, 'Help-help', you know. And so she said, 'No, this is for real.''"

The mother explains she shouted to David Lakey for help and the two of them tried to free Valerie. Another person joined the effort, but to no avail. Valerie began to say that her stomach was hurting "a little bit".

Finally someone thinks to shut off the pool pump.

A warning: the story gets pretty rough from here.

Brandon's mother continues, "And that's when I saw there was - the water was really red with blood and there was tissue all around."

Valerie's mother, Sandy arrives at about this point and Brandon's mother says in a quaking voice, "Sandy, I'm holding her intestines in my hands."

John's narrative picks up.

A trauma surgeon on call at Wake Medical Center led the team of doctors who saved Valerie's life after a five hour surgery. But the furious suction of the pool drain had torn out 80 percent of her small intestine and 50 percent of her large intestine.

I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say the this was only the beginning of the hell Valerie and her family would endure.

John writes:

And why? Why did all of this happen? Because of a wading pool drain cover that slid away so easily that any child could have pushed it away. Many had.

Later on:

Five years before the accident, when Medfield (the club where the accident occurred) had purchased a Max-Flo pump from Hayward to provide circulation to the wading pool, which had a single drain, Hayward already knew there was a hazard of entrapment in a single drain pool - it knew an obstruction, like the body of a little girl over a single suction-suctioned drain, would create an immense vacuum - and yet it provided no warnings about that fact to purchasers. Nor did the company install vacuum breakers or shutoff valves.

To it's credit, Hayward did settle with the Lakeys.

The three parties that settled did so because the accepted the role their conduct had played in the great harm done to Valerie. Only one part refused to acknowledge its responsibility.

Sta-Rite, the manufacturer maintained it's innocence.

Was Sta-Rite in the dark about these (other) incidents and the safety of its products? Hardly. We subpoenaed documents about the purchase of Swimquip and discovered that as early as 1984, Sta-Rite knew about the evisceration of a little boy in Henderson and about other suction-entrapment cases. Company documents also revealed that throughout the 1980s, Sta-Rite officials had discussed the need for warnings and safety decals for its products with the company's attorneys, who had already defended the company in several claims resulting from drain related accidents.

The product liability statute made this a tough case, as clear as it seems to any reasonable person. So John Edwards and his partner in this action, David Kirby, prepared like crazy.

In 1996, David Kirby tried Valerie's case before four different focus groups. All four times the mock jury found against him.

The sticking point seemed to be that since the club had not used the screws to attach the drain, the company could claim under North Carolina law that the design had been modified or altered.

While wading through the thousands of pages of Sta-Rite company documents, David found a catalogue for the same model of anti-vortex cover the Medfield pool club had purchased. Sure enough, there was the illustration of the disk shaped object with the two screw holes, but the accompanying instructions mentioned nothing about screws. The language from the catalog, which we would introduce at trial and which I would quote in my closing argument, seemed clear: "The anti-vortex plate shall fit frame securely and be held in frame by four peripheral snap segments." It stated that the four prongs directly underneath the cover were the means of attaching it and - since there was no reference to any screws - of attaching it securely.

As the trial began, John write about the frustrations of trying to seat unbiased jurors. Tough as it was for him, he had great empathy for the Lakeys.

As we quickly ran through our allotment of peremptory strikes, Sandy and David Lakey sat beside me and tried to bite down on their emotions. But it it's hard to sit there and listen to strangers say, "Lawsuits like these are what's wrong with America!" and then go home to your innocent daughter and her feeding tubes.

Edwards and Kirby had pressed Sta-Rite to produce documents of similar cases and had received only two. So they refined the request a bit and asked for documents pertaining to all suction-entrapment cases and documents involving Sta-Rite's predecessor Swimquip. The judge agreed to rule on the relevance - with no guarantee they'd be admitted. (Discovery was long past at this point).

But days passed and no documents. We were well into our testimony when I again brought up the matter with Judge Farmer. Back in the judge's chambers, he asked Gary Parsons (Sta-Rite's attorney) where the documents were.

"Your Honor," he said, "they're on a truck from Wisconsin."

I don't think anyone took a breath for a second or two.

"On a truck! I thought you said you didn't have anything! And now you're telling me you had to bring them here on a truck?" I had rarely seen a judge so angry. "you bring them to this courtroom the moment they arrive!"

...The day after receiving the truckload of documents, we made a motion to amend our original complaint to conform to the new evidence. We asked the judge to permit us to add a claim for punitive damages, based on Sta-Rite's willful and wanton negligence. Parsons protested that it was too late to amend the claims, but Judge Farmer was not sympathetic. He granted our motion.

There are several pages that follow about grueling testimony and especially the difficulties around needing to put Valerie on the stand. Then through a bit of serendipity, while cross examining a defense witness, Edwards discovered that someone in the company had actually drafted a warning about the potential hazards of this drain design. He's even retained a copy.

"Would you please read that to the jury?" I asked.

He did. The warning that Mr. Coolidge had written concerning the anti-vortex cover was almost identical tot the warning our experts had said - had insisted - should have come with the product. But that warning had not come with many of the pool drain covers sold by Sta-Rite - and it had not come with the drain cover that had sat at the bottom of the Medfield children's wading pool.

John Edwards ended his closing statement to the jury with this - bringing things back to the humanity of the whole thing.

"I want to leave you with one thought." I couldn't let go yet. "When Sandy was testifying, she told you about a conversation she had with Valerie. And what she said is, Valerie said to her, 'Mommy, I don't think anybody's ever going to want to marry me.'

"And Sandy said, "Well, Valerie why do you say that?'

"She said, 'Well, because of my button.'

"And Sandy said, 'Oh, that's not true.' And then she said, 'Valerie, I'm sorry, so sorry, that this happened to you. I wish it had happened to me instead.'

"You remember her answer? 'Mommy don't say that. I never want this to happen to anybody else.'

"Only you - only you - have the power to make that wish come true."

The jury came back with an award of $25 million in compensatory damages for the Lakeys. The Lakeys agreed not to pursue punitive damages if Sta-Rite honored the award.

Several weeks ago I had a conversation with Michael Dvorak, our county Prosecutor. He pointed out to me that in some instances, plaintiffs attorneys are better equipped to initiate needed change than anyone else.

Sometimes our legislatures fail us. Sometimes regulatory agencies fail us.

Sometimes it is only a gifted attorney who can deliver justice and protection for others.

The hits just keep a-coming

by Don Wheeler

With their candidate's Iowa campaign sinking like a stone in Clear Lake, Hillary Clinton's surrogates and affiliates continue a nonstop barrage of often questionable attacks on Barack Obama. Pointing at a Kindergartner's desire to be President, dropping hints about past cocaine use, references to Mr. Obama's middle name being significant are all pretty below the belt stuff.

But in a slight return on the strategy of triangulation, the campaign figured out a way to tar John Edwards with their own criticism of Mr. Obama's health care strategy.

Here are some excerpts from a recently released mailer from AFSCME:

Obama proposes leaving 15 million Americans uninsured.

Barack Obama spends a lot of time promising bold leadership. He claims his health care plan covers everyone, but his proposal does not match his words.

Instead, Obama took the timid way out, offering yet another band-aid solution.

John Edwards has said "as many as 15 million Americans would be without coverage" [Sioux City Journal, November 30, 2007] under Obama's plan.

Timid leadership won't change Washington.

Band-aid solutions won't solve health care.

An Iowa blogger who received the piece mused, "This mailer interests me for a few reasons. Although AFSCME supports Hillary, the mailer says nothing about her health care plan or why it's better than Obama's.

On the contrary, the piece quotes Edwards criticizing Obama's plan. Is this intended to boost support for Edwards (as opposed to Obama) among the anybody-but-Hillary voters?

Or is it intended to make Iowans who may not like negativity believe Edwards is behind this piece attacking Obama?"

Check the link below to read the blogger's full summary of the piece she received from AFSCME:

Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Harball picked up on this story as well. He and his guests (Ed Schultz, in particular) had a lot to say about it.

No matter what is actually happening, these recent stories certainly make it look as though the Clinton campaign is in full panic mode. With Obama's strength in New Hampshire, many Clinton supporters wouldn't mind terribly if John Edwards wins Iowa - which is a pretty strong possibility. In any case, that race looks more and more like an Edwards v. Obama contest.

Clinton supporters should be careful what they wish for, though. Since John Edwards is an attractive guy, people often overlook what tough person he is. Imagine losing your son suddenly at age 16. Imagine the love of your life suffering from cancer, seemingly cured...then you get the news it is untreatable and terminal. Imagine marching into courts representing people who were wronged, but have no voice unless it's yours. Imagine further that even though you are the underdog in each case - generally you win.

And what about this. Imagine taking on an incumbent Republican Senator in North Carolina - handpicked and fully backed by the Jesse Helms political machine - and beating him. It wasn't even all that close.

John Edwards has all this and more. He has a great organization and supporters who believe in him in a way I haven't seen before.

It's almost curtain time.


by Mark Halperin

from The Page

John Edwards is well positioned to shock (some) of the political world by winning the Democrats’ Iowa caucuses on January 3rd. Backers of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would not be the least bit surprised if Edwards finished first in that kick-off contest, although they argue that his strength in Iowa is not matched in the states that will vote afterwards

That latter point has some merits (as does the counter argument made by Edwards’ advisers, who believe an Iowa win will rocket him into contention in other primaries and caucuses). What is not debatable is that the North Carolinian has plenty of advantages in Iowa that could propel him to the most important political victory of the year.

Here, then, is a Millworker’s Dozen list of what Edwards has going for him in Iowa:

1. The endorsement of the First Lady of Iowa.

2. The support (some secret) of people close to Governor Culver.

3. Big Labor help being quietly marshaled by one of Iowa’s top Democratic operatives and by Edwards’ 2004 campaign manager.

4. A consistently confident, upbeat demeanor.

5. A re-tooled stump speech that has audiences rising up, and that is filled with specifics of his agenda.

6. Caucus rules that work to the advantage of those with strong support in rural and blue collar areas.

7. Dedicated supporters who will likely turn out even if the weather is cold and inclement.

8. National trial lawyers who are going to do something (read: “everything”) to get their guy elected.

9. A popular, visible spouse.

10. More than enough money to be competitive.

11. Fearlessness.

12. A stronger work ethic than anyone in the race.

13. Perfect pitch in handling Clinton-Obama conflict.

14. A strong Des Moines Register debate performance.

15. New polling showing him as a strong general election candidate and some new boffo national media clips.

16. High favorables and strong second choice support.

17. Trained precinct captains in almost every precinct – a true, old-fashioned organization.

Friday, December 21, 2007

What to give the person who has everything

by Don Wheeler

What about a gift in their honor to someone who has nothing?

A few years ago my beloved grandmother died and left us a bit of money. My wife Paddy and I decided that some of it should be used for the benefit of others. We made several contributions to local causes and as Christmas approached I discovered Heifer, International.

For anyone unfamiliar with the organization, it is dedicated to providing an ongoing means of support for people living a subsistence existence - through livestock. You can buy someone chickens, goats, cows, bee colonies or even a complete "ark" of animals. So families can have a reliable source of eggs, milk products, honey, etc.

What's really cool about the program is that the recipient has a duty to pass on a bit of his/her good fortune. Here's an example:

A Living Chain of Giving

“Passing on the gift” is fundamental to Heifer’s entire approach.

A community in Nepal is being transformed by Heifer's training and Cornerstones.

Watch the video

As people share the offspring of their animals – along with their knowledge, resources, and skills – an expanding network of hope, dignity and self-reliance is created that reaches around the globe. These women are participating in a Passing on the Gift ceremony in Nepal, a ceremony that demonstrates the community growth through Heifer's work.“Passing on the Gift” creates a living cycle of sustainability that develops community and enhances self-esteem by allowing project partners to become donors.

In Rwanda, Christine Makahumure showed the true meaning of passing on the gift.

In 1994 genocidal war that raked Rwanda destroyed everything Christine had. She saw her son and husband shot to death when they were caught in a crossfire. When the fighting ended, Christine was barely able to feed her daughter and parents.

But then she received a Heifer cow. The milk supplemented the family’s meager diet, and she was able to buy a small home with income from selling milk.Christine gave her first calf to a neighbor – but she didn’t stop there. She provided money so her neighbors could build and apply for their own Heifer cow. And she adopted four war orphans and became a living example of passing on the gift.

Read another Passing on the Gift story.

Video: Passing on the Gift

Video: Age-Old Traditions Broken With Help

We decided in addition to our standard gifts to give Heifer gifts for all those people closest to us. When possible, we tried to match the animal with the giver. For example, my mother and her husband have done a lot of development work in Latin America and llamas were omnipresent in their lives. So sending a llama on their behalf to a family seemed an obvious choice.

I wasn't sure how our family and friends would react, but it turned out that people were exceptionally pleased to have had these contributions made on their behalf. That made it even better.

Happy holidays.

Here's the catelogue:

(more info at )

The latest dispatch from Bizarro World

by Don Wheeler

For those of you who haven't visited, here's the masthead:

'Three fundamental concerns are driving the formation of the new citizens organization:

I. The negative impact of special rights initiatives on all businesses and property owners, with a particularly negative impact on faith- based and faith-inspired businesses and property owners.

II. The negative impact of special rights initiatives on every citizen's constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.

III. The negative impact of the practice of homosexuality on the individuals who practice it and on the rest of the society.

The main multifaceted emphasis of the group is to defend Traditional Marriage as 'between one man and one woman', to respond to the controversy at the University of Notre Dame regarding homosexual activism at several levels, to respond to 'special rights for homosexuals' ordinances as they come forward in the Region and to facilitate help and ministry for those suffering from the ill effects of the homosexual lifestyle."

In other words, these people wish to impose their religious dogma on everyone else. They should just be honest and say so.

So here's the latest hallucination from Bizarro Superman.

Unintended Consequences: Post Sugarcoats Homosexual Thuggery Against Philadelphia Boy Scouts

Nov. 26, 2007

To: The South Bend Common Council

From: Patrick E. Mangan Task Force& Citizens for Community Values of Indiana PAC

The special rights ordinance was a bad idea in 2006 and it is still a bad idea today . . . The Council was right to turn down the ordinance then and will be right in turning it down again. If you truly care about those suffering from same sex attraction as we do, join us in lovingly opposing the homosexual agenda and offering help and healing to those willing to experience freedom through Jesus Christ. I have been ministering to homosexuals for many years and have lost friends to Aids too. There are many former homosexuals living happy healthy lives today. Those who continue in this dangerous, destructive and deadly lifestyle are likely to suffer the consequences of an unnecessarily early and painful death through medical and biological complications associated with the addictive sexual behaviors of homosexuality.

OK Patrick, you got the name of the ordinance wrong and that pretty well sets the tone for everything you say. I care for those people suffering from born again evangelism and I've seen the damage that those people have done to those around them. Many have recovered and are leading productive lives, I'm pleased to report.

The unintended consequences of promoting the homosexual agenda in Philadelphia and Boston has been the persecution of and demise of organizations who formerly performed great service for their communities. The article below from my good friend Robert Knight highlights the plight of the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia who are now in the cross hairs of a militant homosexual City Solicitor. The cardinal sin of Catholic Charities in Boston and the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia was that they disagreed with what homosexuals believe and what they do. Most people not only disagree but are actually repulsed by the specific details of homosexual sex acts. The obvious health risks and widespread repulsion are why there is very little public discussion of these practices. The details are not pretty or harmless. That is why Dr. Sergio opted not to present you with the graphic details of the precise addictive behaviors during his presentation last year. And the truth is that the psychological harms may be even more destructive than the obvious physical and biological problems.

What is this guy smoking? What does this have to do with amending the South Bend HRO. Patrick should quit buying those gay porno magazines if he doesn't like the descriptions and the pictures. And you have to grin when he tells us he's not presenting evidence to back his claims because he's afraid we can't take it.

The alleged discrimination against the GLBT community is a myth. The only real pattern of violence against homosexuals is from other homosexuals. And this seems to stem from the many addictive behaviors engaged in and synergized by the homosexual lifestyle. Namely psychological problems and substance abuse charged by sexual practices that turn violent. That is what is supported by the facts. When you lay aside the emotionalism of the addiction and consider the real facts, no one can make a serious argument that we ought to promote this lifestyle. And it is a particularly spurious argument to compare these repugnant practices to the dignity of one's racial and ethnic heritage. That is why many minority leaders reject the comparison with understandable disdain. It is why leaders like Ed Henry, Ray Thomas, Juan Manigault, and Michael Patton have already voiced their opposition to this bill.

Even if his first sentence were true, it doesn't matter. The HRO, unamended, leaves open that possibility. I'm not sure where he got lost on the violence rant and once again he asserts the facts support his view although he can't be bothered to present any. But it's the last part that is particularly loathsome.

The language he chooses really gives him away - "minority leaders". That's a term used by someone who feels he/she is in the the majority - and the majority calls the shots. The facts are that people like him made these sorts of charges, complaints and claims about African Americans when I was kid. Some still do. People like my mother took their sons to protest marches and rallies to ensure that discrimination in housing for African Americans ended in our home town. Discrimination is always lousy, regardless of the target.

It is not discrimination that the GLBT community is experiencing from the community at large, it is disagreement. No one has denied their right to come forward and make their case. No one has tried to outlaw their speech for promoting dangerous and aberrant sexual behaviors. They on the other hand want to outlaw disagreement and punish it. Most people disagree with what homosexuals do and what they believe. In a pluralistic society, disagreements are to be expected and accepted. Trying to force people to agree is not an exercise in diversity, but rather a deceitful and militant attempt to enforce uniformity through persecution. This is simply not supported in our Constitution. There is no Constitutional right to 'not be disagreed with'.

Talk about changing the subject. Every word is utter nonsense, but more importantly, it's also irrelevant. I repeat - without repair, the South Bend Human Rights Ordinance leaves some humans out. Also, The Constitution of the United States as amended, contains many protections from the tyranny of the majority. Maybe Mr. Magan should take time out from reading his Bible and put some study time on The Constitution.

However well intended some of our Council Members may be who support this, they are wrong. The unintended negative consequences to our constitutional freedoms of speech , assembly and worship far outweigh the outlandish and unsubstantiated claims made by GLBT activists and the Mayor that this will benefit the community.
While the initiation of this discussion during the holy season of Christmas seems particularly offensive and insensitive, citizens of faith will engage the discussion as an opportunity to offer the hope of a new beginning this Christmas to those seeking to be free of the chains of homosexuality and the GLBT lifestyle. We encourage those seeking freedom to visit CCV's website or to call on a Bible believing Church or faith based ministry who can help them.

However malevolent Mr. Mangan's intentions are, the issue breaks down rather cleanly to basic civil rights for the citizens of our city vs. conservative Protestant dogma and the claim that people who believe this theory can impose their will upon the rest of us. And don't buy this nonsense that Mr. Mangan speaks for Christians. My father's father was a Congregationalist Minister and my mother's father's father was also one. I know for a fact that my grandfather would be with me on this issue and not with Bizarro Superman.

Let's be clear and direct about this. This is nothing but hate speech. Or breathtaking ignorance. Or both. It's a disingenuous attack on people who are merely seeking a minimal amount of legal protection - protection that most of us don't even have to think about.

Right now, through inaction, we're saying BS is right. Is that really what you think?

Democracy is not a spectator spot.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

So What Did Obama Do?

As long as he's opened that door, The New York Times has decided to step right on through it. And you'll be amazed - in the Illinois senate he reversed himself from his current track record.

He showed up.

The problem is, he didn't want to make a decision once he got there.

From the article: (link:

"In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from African-Americans, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted “present,” effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator..."

Now in fairness, Camp Hope has tried to defend this record, saying it was part of a strategy. The article points to 36 times Obama voted "present" alone or with a group of less than six. Fifty-plus times it looks like he was "acting with other Democrats as a part of a strategy".

At issue, really, is whether he abused the "present" vote. From the article:

“...If you are worried about your next election, the present vote gives you political cover,” said Kent D. Redfield, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture.”

And that seems to be what he did on the bill highlighted that would allow juveniles to be tried as adults.

I'm bringing all of this up because it seems that Camp Hope HQ is trying to insinuate that John Edwards's entire life experience - from litigating multinational corporations and big insurance companies in the cause of making injured people whole, to speaking out against Bill Clinton's impeachment, and even his personal battles of dealing with the death of his child and having a spouse with terminal cancer - amounts to nothing. Nada. Zilch.

"What have you done?" Arrogantly echoes through the halls of Camp Hope.

Well, when the going got tough what did Obama do? Chose a political duck-and-cover, assisting the bad by not helping the good. And he continues that courageous tradition of caving by voting to fund the war he so valiantly talked about opposing, and selling out working people by being a vocal proponent of the Peru Free Trade Agreement.

In the age of obfuscation and signing statements, that's the last kind of leadership we need in the White House.

Give me a leader who will at least stand up and take responsibility for all of his decisions, even the wrong ones. Give me a leader who can admit when he's wrong and work like heck to right that wrong.

I'll take that any day of the week over someone who wants to hold hands by the campfire, vote "here" when the tough decisions need to be made and who will *actively work* to continue an injustice that he knows is wrong.

These are trying times that call for a tough leader, not a political compromise.

John Edwards is that tough leader. Let's get him into that oval office. Now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Watching A Campaign Train Derail, Or, I Just Love Hillary’s Problems

As the Democrats have raced toward the first primary contests, I have to a great extent kept to other tasks in my writing. It has been my wont to let the events develop; and to a large extent there has been almost no editorial writing in this space regarding the Democratic nominees.

That ends here.

From the beginning I have distrusted Hillary, I don’t like how she’s running her campaign, and it’s my belief that she represents exactly what we shouldn’t be voting for.

And now, in what may be the best holiday present yet, everything I dislike about her is becoming part of the public record.

So what is it about the Senator that bothers me so much?

How about she seems incapable of giving a straight answer to any question?
How about she’ll say anything, no matter what, to gain the nomination?
How about she’ll do anything, no matter what, to gain the nomination?
How about in the recent personal attacks on Obama, she’s proving it?

"We need to put forth a positive agenda for America."

--Hillary Clinton, Novenber 16th, 2007.

For readers not keeping track, those close to Hillary want us to know that Obama "attended a Madrasa”, will be dogged by drug use issues, and my personal favorite, is an opportunist "Who began running for President as soon as he arrived in the United States Senate"…as opposed to Clinton, who, if I recall correctly, waited until her fourth or fifth term as a Senator to run.

The candidate herself has maintained an air of “plausible deniability”; choosing not to answer questions regarding the assertions made by those close friends.

Of course, there are those who would suggest that these actions emanating from her campaign are not valid criteria by which to measure her as a candidate—that these are personal attacks, not a discussion of “policy” issues; and therefore they remain beyond our examination.

A ridiculous argument, indeed.

At the heart of the American mindset is the idea that Government is not to be trusted--and those who seek high office, even less so; at least until they can prove they deserve our trust.

“Voters will have to judge us, and that’s what I welcome…”

--Hillary Clinton on the “Today Show”; December 17, 2007

Recent events (and you can probably think of a few without my help) suggest that trust matters even more today than ever before.

With all due respect, the Clinton history does not inspire my trust:

--Tons of corporate PAC money (more than any candidate of either party) is flooding into her campaign.

--Millions more from undisclosed sources is going to support the Clinton Presidential library.

--In the face of this (with an Administration currently in power who has made reverence to donor interests a religion even bigger than…well, religion) we are told that there is no connection between library donations to the former President and this Presidential campaign, no reason to disclose the donor’s names—and no possibility that the effect of all these donations will be to sway this candidate into acting just like the current corporatist Administration.

--A candidate who tells us she will cover all Americans in her healthcare plan—by requiring the uninsured to purchase insurance…who tells us she will not negotiate...and she will negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions; and a candidate who believes Mr. Bush when he tells us voting to declare the Iranian Army a terrorist organization is not a precursor to war.

--A candidate who would apparently rather seek the assistance of President Bush the Elder than President Jimmy Carter in her efforts to promote world peace.

The agent of change, we’re told.

Over and over again she comes up wrong on so many issues—the Iraq war, the restoration of the Constitution, the need to change the Military Commissions Act, and on and on and on.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Hillary’s friends are concerned about the dirt Republicans might sling at Obama…try, if you can, to visualize a cloud of flying mud slightly larger than a spherical Gobi Desert and you might have a conception of how much will be flung at her by those same Republicans.

Now I will acknowledge that a candidate who is slipping in the polls, as Hillary is, must begin to confront her opponent…and you’ll notice that I did not fault Mr. Clinton’s attacks on Obama’s experience. Frankly, I disagree with elements of his statement; that said, I can easily see this as a reasonable argument to raise regarding an opponent.

But the Madrasa stuff, and all that goes with it…it really stinks of desperation; her unwillingness to attack personally makes a real statement about her own integrity; and the illogical nature of her denials regarding all that corporate money suggests a “politics as usual” attitude that we need to toss out--not re-elect.

There are those who will vehemently disagree with the tone and tenor of this discussion.
They will be quick to point out that the “politics of personal destruction” will damage all the candidates.

My response: sorry, folks, but the Hussein and cocaine train has already left the station; and those who sow shall reap.

I’d also tell them that a candidate who doesn’t respect her own opponents (or the power of her own ideas above the power of personal attack) is not likely to be the kind of President that will respect opposing nations who don’t support her views—and haven’t we had enough of that already?

With that in mind, I’m glad her campaign is “coming off the rails”…and I can’t wait to see what form of self-destruction her desperation leads her to next.

Can Edwards break out in Iowa?

Dec. 18: Hardball’s Chris Matthews talks to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards about 2008, Iowa and the campaign trail.
In the interview, former Senator John Edwards explains his strategy to defeat moneyed interests and entrenched powers to make the transformation change necessary to usher in a much needed progressive agenda: Eliminating poverty, providing universal health care and reenergizing our educational system. At one point he notes that despite the power these interests have, they are no match for the power of the citizens - if the citizens are engaged.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ralph Nader sees only one viable progressive in the race

by Don Wheeler

Apparently there's one Democrat Ralph Nader might be able to get behind in 2008. Interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball Mr. Nader shows some pretty strong support for one of the candidates. Click the link for the surprising winner. (Hint - it's not Hillary)

Big table fantasies


Broadly speaking, the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination are offering similar policy proposals — the dispute over health care mandates notwithstanding. But there are large differences among the candidates in their beliefs about what it will take to turn a progressive agenda into reality.

At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.

Over the last few days Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards have been conducting a long-range argument over health care that gets right to this issue. And I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.

The argument began during the Democratic debate, when the moderator — Carolyn Washburn, the editor of The Des Moines Register — suggested that Mr. Edwards shouldn’t be so harsh on the wealthy and special interests, because “the same groups are often responsible for getting things done in Washington.”

Mr. Edwards replied, “Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with these people and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.”

This was pretty clearly a swipe at Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly said that health reform should be negotiated at a “big table” that would include insurance companies and drug companies.

On Saturday Mr. Obama responded, this time criticizing Mr. Edwards by name. He declared that “We want to reduce the power of drug companies and insurance companies and so forth, but the notion that they will have no say-so at all in anything is just not realistic.”

Hmm. Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?

O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then?

“I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says.

I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.

As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.

There’s a strong populist tide running in America right now. For example, a recent Democracy Corps survey of voter discontent found that the most commonly chosen phrase explaining what’s wrong with the country was “Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington.”

And there’s every reason to believe that the Democrats can win big next year if they run with that populist tide. The latest evidence came from focus groups run by both Fox News and CNN during last week’s Democratic debate: both declared Mr. Edwards the clear winner.

But the news media recoil from populist appeals. The Des Moines Register, which endorsed Mr. Edwards in 2004, rejected him this time on the grounds that his “harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.”

And while The Register endorsed Hillary Clinton, the prime beneficiary of media distaste for populism has clearly been Mr. Obama, with his message of reconciliation. According to a recent survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Mr. Obama’s coverage has been far more favorable than that of any other candidate.

So what happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?

He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform.

Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.

And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, December 17, 2007

On King, Gandhi, Edwards And Why We Need To Fight

Nonviolence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of nonviolence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with nonviolence. Translation from swordsmanship to nonviolence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Nonviolence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission.--Mohandas Gandhi

And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time."--Martin Luther King, Jr.

King and Gandhi understood the importance of addressing injustice at the moment injustice is occurring. Both advocates of nonviolence, moved by the forces of Satyagraha and Agape Love, they were fighters to the end. Their weapon of choice was nonviolence, but not a passive, meek, "work within the system" nonviolence. King and Gandhi wielded nonviolence as a precise instrument of war for systemic change. All wars - violent and nonviolent - end at the negotiating table. What King and Gandhi understood was that nonviolence allowed someone to approach the negotiating table from a position of strength, and that the use of nonviolence would pave the way for a true peace, a lasting cessation of tensions that could be built on over time because the goal of nonviolence was to redeem both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Some folks like to think of Gandhi as a grandfatherly figure in traditional homespun garb. Some folks like to remember King saying "I have a dream" one day out of the year.

For me, I remember these men as fighters, warriors dedicated to the cause of justice.

I'm not going to put John Edwards - or indeed any presidential candidate - on the level of these two men. But my point is that when Edwards is talking about fighting insurance companies to address the massive injustice of millions of Americans going without healthcare, or making decisions between food and medicine, he's approaching that same path that was trailblazed by these two men years before.

Watch this interview - King was also criticized for his "aggressive" tactics, for not "biding his time, taking it step by step as it goes":

King's response? Privileged classes do not give up their privileges voluntarily. They do not give them up without strong resistance. All of the gains received in civil rights were because folks stood up aggressively in the cause of civil rights. There is an initial response of bitterness, but in the end there is redemption and reconciliation because justice has been achieved.

Now listen to what Edwards is saying about fighting to fix our broken system:

Regardless of who actually gets the Democratic nomination, or indeed who ends up being elected President, Edwards has one thing right: these folks are not going to give up their power voluntarily. It will be an epic battle to get our country back on track. With John Edwards in the White House those of us who want systemic change to fix our country will have a powerful ally.

This isn't about just electing one guy or gal to the job, packing up our stuff and watching American Idol re-runs for the next four years. This election is just one of many salvos in the fight for justice.

For me, a part of that fight is supporting John Edwards for President. Obviously, I'd like anyone reading this to consider supporting him as well.

But regardless of who you support, let's just be clear: after the elections we will have a fight on our hands, and let's joyfully join that cause.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Taking Requests, Or, The “Power’s Out Emergency Cookbook”

Just a couple days ago we discussed some practical tips for making extended power outages much more bearable; and in response to the story reader (and also writer, as it turns out) Halcyon commented that I should write an emergency cookbook.

Seeing how the weather from the American Midwest is arriving on the East Coast’s front door this morning….well, let’s just say that it might be a good time to take a request.

So here’s what we’re going to do: I will go through my fridge and freezer, just as though my power had just gone out; and we’ll have a practical conversation about not just eating—but eating well.

Oh, and just for fun---quotes from the movies I’m watching as I write.

“Survival kit contents check…one .45 caliber automatic…one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills…$100 in rubles, $100 in gold…one issue of prophylactics, 3 lipsticks, 3 pairs of nylon stockings…shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

--Slim Pickens to his crew in Dr. Strangelove (1964)

First thing, we need to think about what will defrost first.

For us, it’s the small frozen items: the tamales, the egg rolls, the mini tacos, and the lumpia—and the White Castles (I love those little burgers!). Also the frozen vegetables.

So here’s our first lunch: Let’s put the tamales in the handy baking dish first. OK, now, is there a bottle of salsa dying in the fridge? Either toss it in, or mix it with a tomato product—we have some cans of chopped tomato in the pantry….you probably do too. Any frozen corn? Toss that in, too. Any handy onion, garlic, or even a lime? Any or all of those are excellent.

At our house, the primary power out cooking tool is a Weber grill and charcoal. Now we touched on this last time, but let’s be clear. The way to load coals in your grill is to load them along one edge of the grill. You do not want to put them in the middle. Put lighter fluid on only one end of the “row” of coals, and after they’re lit, the coals will burn from one end to the other in a nicely controlled process that offers nice even heat and won’t crack your ceramic baking dishes.

So while you’re cooking the “tamale surprise”, use the space remaining on the grill (don’t waste coal!) to cook some of the other small, loose stuff. For example, we’d be laying out eggrolls or whatever small snack food you have (pizza rolls, fish sticks, any of that kind of thing…), the theory being that you can have a small snack on hand that can be stored outside, cooked but cool. (You have 2 hours to lower the temperature of cooked food to below 45 F. and be safe; and the small things will cool with in ½ hour or less if it’s good and cold outside. (Remember, if it’s below 45 F., the world is your refrigerator.)

Now we need to think ahead to dinner. We should be pulling something large for tonight….and something else for tomorrow. The idea here is we can put a large piece of meat in a liquid, even if it’s mostly frozen, and by cooking it slowly we can sort of “force defrost” and turn the large item into something like a stew or pot roast—or coq au vin (one should enjoy one’s deprivations, after all). Tomorrow, we’ll use the defrosted large item as a traditionally grilled item, or we’ll cut it up.

All this grill work is a great time to bring in the kids. There’s no better way to keep the kids busy than to let them help….so perhaps they can help turn the eggrolls and watch the small items. Keeps ‘em warmer, too. Plus you get to have a conversation about fire safety….and foodborne illness, too.

45 minutes or so have gone by, and if you have any shredded cheese (“Kids? Wanna help?”), this would be the time to toss it on. We’ll be done in 15 minutes or so.

Here’s some thoughts:

First, use the paper plates and plastic to the extent you can. I know it’s not green, but honestly, the fewer dishes the better. The grill can be used to boil water for dishwashing, and it can be mixed with a little cold water in the sink to “stretch” it (besides, water over 140 F. can burn your hands---be careful!).

Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn't probably wouldn't have even got it.

--Peter Sellers, as the US President, to the unseen Russian Premier in Dr. Strangelove (1964)

At this point, a word about frozen meals. They are very useable, assuming they can be repackaged. And they can. Into the baking dish they may go….and they can obviously be combined in new ways—the rice package of one dinner matching with the chicken of another, sauces tossed akimbo. Well….just go crazy.

Now back to tonight

I found the chunks of beef I froze not too long ago, a bag of mini bell peppers (fresh, not frozen), celery, onion, and a couple bags of ripple-cut carrots. There are potatoes, too.

Sounds like pot roast to me.

The trick to a great pot roast is letting the meat cook for an extended period of time (the connective tissue in tougher meats requires that time for the meat to become more tender), browning the meat at the beginning of the process, and developing a good sauce.

“What were you when you came here five years ago? A little college girl from a School of Journalism! I took a little doll-faced hick—“

“You wouldn't have taken me if I hadn't been doll-faced!”

“Why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering.”

--Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” (1940)

Put the pan (cast iron Dutch oven, perchance?) on the grill, and drop in a bit of oil. After the pan has heated up, toss in the meat and let it brown. (Helpful tip: rub some tomato paste on the meat to create a nice sugary brown “flavor builder”.) Add water to the pot, cover, put the cover on the grill, and let the meat simmer slowly. The coals will run out before you’re done, so remove the pot, add some coals touching the end of the other coals, there on the edge….and the fire will continue burning. Add potatoes about an hour before you’re done, carrots half an hour or so later. You can add onion (cut it in nice big chunks) and celery—but I’m going to hold back the bell peppers for later.

Put the top on the grill, and go read a book for awhile.

This should take 3 hours or so to cook, depending on the cut and size of the meat. Do not boil the contents, just let them simmer. Adjust the heat applied to the dish by moving it closer to or farther from the edge of the grill with the coals.

“I'm sorry, Roy, it's too late.”

“Just like that, huh? This country's going to the dogs! It used to be when you bought a politician, the son of a bitch stayed bought.”

-- Joe Flaherty and Jack Warden in “Used Cars” (1980)

Tomorrow we would find a way to use the defrosted large meat….right now I have some chicken breasts and pork loin in the freezer; so let’s use the pork.

I have kidney beans in the pantry, and you might have some more tomato stuff….and if you have some paprika, maybe some seasoning salt, some garlic, a bit of black pepper….maybe even some Worcestershire sauce. So just like last night, a bit of oil in the pot, brown the cubed pork, then toss in the tomato stuff and the seasonings (got any basil, oregano, or thyme? All the better….) and the kidney beans. If you are willing to give up a glass of red wine for the sake of science, this would be a great time to add it. Near the end of the cooking time (this will be much shorter than the beef; potentially an hour or less) I would be tossing in my split mini peppers.

So that’s how emergency cooking works.
Be creative, be aware of what’s in the house, use fuel wisely.…and get completely out-of-the-box with your sense of what goes together.

But most of all: have fun.
Remember when you used to say the worst day fishing was better than the best day working?

Well, today, you’re fishing.

Author's note: Just in case the power does go might want to print this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

John Edwards And A Revolution Of Values

There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?"


We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.--Martin Luther King, Jr. "Where Do We Go From Here?"; August, 1967

"With an increase in Americans without health insurance by two million to 47 million, nearly 37 million Americans still living in poverty and continued high levels of inequality, the need for fundamental change in our government is obvious.--John Edwards, Statement on New Census Data On Poverty in America, August, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a holistic thinker, and someone who saw the problems plaguing mankind through the prism of the inter-related, triple evils of racism, poverty and war. In speaking out against the Vietnam War, King called for the United States to engage in one, final systemic change which he called a "revolution of values" ( ):

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

All of our Democratic candidates have great ideas and policies to help us right the ship of the nation after eight disasterous years. But for my money - and more than that, for my time, support and dedication - John Edwards has the holistic vision that can help us achieve that revolution of values that King called our nation to embrace over forty years ago.

Civil rights leaders, from Martin Luther King III, to Jesse Jackson, to Harry Belafonte, have praised Edwards for concentrating on the poor. This isn't because this is just one more issue in governance by laundry list. What these civil rights leaders realize is that when you focus on poverty it forces you to view our society in a fundamentally different way. Indeed, it makes you question the *ediface that produces poverty*.

In making poverty a central issue of his campaign - against advice from pundits and advisors and all of those smart folks who feel that this is just a downer issue - Edwards has shown his commitment to this revolution of values by laying out detailed policies on how we can reach this goal:

Creating a Working Society
Edwards has outlined a Working Society initiative to lift 12 million Americans out of poverty in a decade and beat poverty over the next 30 years. In the Working Society, everyone who is able to work hard will be expected to work and, in turn, be rewarded for it. The initiative includes major new policies in the areas of work, housing, education, debt and savings, and family responsibility.

If you visit his issues page, Edwards outlines specifics behind this vision, including increasing the minimum wage, creating stepping stone jobs and making it easier for workers to unionize:

Our country needs a change of direction, but more than that we are still in need of a revolution of values. By addressing the issue of poverty, Edwards is putting us on that road. Harry Belafonte expressed this last week when he endorsed Edwards for President:

"I also happen to believe that had he not so forcefully and precisely put the issue of poverty into this campaign, I don't think we'd be talking aobut it as much as we are," Belafonte said.

Our revolution of values shouldn't start next year, next decade or in the middle of someone's second term. It needs to start today. For me, that's why I'm supporting Edwards and volunteering for him in the following weeks. I'd like to invite folks to take a look at Edwards and if you agree, help him win the nomination and then the Presidency.

Let's be the change we want to see.

On Mae West, Or, The Second Annual Disaster Planning Story

So you’re sitting at home, riding out the big storm, and the next thing you know the power goes out.

It’s not just you, either. Tens of thousands of your neighbors are out as well, and you immediately know power won’t be restored for days.

This can be an utter disaster...or not that big a deal...depending on the things you did before the storm.

Because I’m watching Mae West movies as I write this, we have today a most unusual story: serious tips that can help improve the disaster experience greatly; and Mae West’s snappiest quotes to add just a spoonful of sugar to the medicine those tips represent.

“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Yeah, does it work better?”

--Mae West and Edward Arnold, in “I’m No Angel” (1933)

First things first: your friendly Department of Homeland Security tells you to be ready for three days of isolation-and I’m here to tell you that three days is nowhere nearly enough.

Be prepared for at least seven days.

Don’t believe me?
Check this out:

--The BBC reported 350,000 or more were without water for up to 14 days in the UK following flooding in July of ’07.

--Over 100,000 of the 600,000 households knocked off the power grid in St. Louis were still dark a week later after storms a year earlier.

--Residents of Eastern Maine learn to survive blackouts caused by events as disparate as high winds, ice storms-and even squirrels. In January 1998 power was out “for weeks” in parts of the State.

“Young lady, are you showing your contempt for this court?”
“No, I’m doing my best to hide it.”

--Mae West to Addison Richards in “My Little Chickadee” (1940)

A growing number of us are deciding that the generator is the perfect solution for disasters, but there I’m here today to offer other options.


Consider that in the worst of power outages, the gasoline your generator requires might not be available-gas stations also need power. Some states have tried to address this, notably Florida, but there is little consistency to the effort.

Then there’s the cost.

The larger propane-fueled generators consume about .9 gallon of propane per hour at half load, and propane is currently priced at $2.46/gallon. That’s about $50/day for electricity.

Gasoline generators?

This Briggs and Stratton 11hp, 6000 running watts unit is fairly typical: 13 hour running time at half load. That’s somewhere around $40 a day.

If your generator’s providing more than half load, it’s more expensive.

And don’t forget...if the power fails, the ATMs do too.
Getting cash to pay for that fuel may be a problem.

“Goodness, what beautiful diamonds”
“Goodness had nothin’ to do with it, dearie.”

--Mae West to Patricia Farley in “Night After Night

So how do we replace the lost services if we have no generator?

Let’s start with heat:

Kerosene heaters are an effective option when the power goes out. When it’s in the 20s-and even lower-one of these heaters can keep three rooms very cozy for about $10 a day. Put up a blanket and close off the hall, bring in the sleeping bags, and it’s “campout in the family room” time.


Who doesn’t have one of those Weber grills out in the yard? Get a couple of bags of charcoal now and put ‘em away, because you can cook everything in the fridge and freezer on a Weber.

I have personally made cornbread, corned beef and cabbage, and even meatloaf during times of no power-just make darn good and sure you do not ever do this indoors....or out in the garage.

As for the food: frozen food will survive for a day or two-maybe even three-if the door is kept closed; but if it’s constantly below 40 F. (4 C.)....well, the world is your refrigerator. You just load up a cooler, and all is good.


Here’s where your car’s ability to charge things will come in handy. Use rechargeable things (iPod, portable DVD player, CD player); throw ‘em in the car as you go about your daily business, and recharge like crazy.

As a backup, go out right this minute and buy all the AA and D batteries you can lay your hands’ll need them.

“Where is that man, that.…that officer?”
“Why he left….he had to leave sometime.”
“Oh, you sent him away?”
“No….he left under his own power.”

--Mae West and Jack La Rue in “Go West Young Man” (1936)

Of course, if all else’ll be doing some reading.
This logically brings us to how will you provide...


Two basic choices are available: the old-fashioned oil lamp, and the newfangled battery operated lamp. For reasons of fire safety, I prefer battery, and we have a lovely “camping lantern” with two fluorescent lamps (the thing requires eight D batteries, however), and numerous smaller LED lamps.

However, just this weekend, at Costco, I purchased the handheld millions of candlepower rechargeable lamp (it reports 20 hours of operation per charge); and I am here to tell you that the thing is not only extremely bright, but at a range of three feet or less, it makes an excellent personal heater.

That said, beware of rechargeable. You can only charge so much in a car in a day, and you need backups. If power is out for more than a few days, it may be time for oil lamps. (Just so you know, the larger the bottle of lamp oil you buy the cheaper....and there is a significant difference in price here, so look for large bottles or cans.)

Two more pieces of advice:

--You might want to leave a trickle of water flowing from your outside faucets...or head to the hardware store and get insulating covers, and if power fails you might want to do the same indoors (all of this is intended to keep from freezing your plumbing and splitting a pipe somewhere).

--It’s going to be easier to keep everyone warm if everyone has clothes for cold weather. Consider hitting the thrift shops now and getting yourself and the kids snow and ski clothing that you can keep in the attic until you need it. I have two ski coveralls, purchased at thrift shops in the middle of summer, for which I was truly grateful last December when we lost power for a week.

Bad weather is coming, and if you do some of this today it will make life so very much better if the power should vanish for a few days. And you’ll save a ton of money, too.

Best of luck; be ready, and most important of all-have some fun with it.
It’s not: “Damn, the power’s out!”
Instead, think of it as “camping out in the living room”.

To complete the effect, you can even go outside and make s'mores on the grill over the charcoal.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Newt Gingrich predicts Edwards victory in Iowa

Former Speaker of The House of Representatives tempered an earlier prediction that Hillary Clinton was certain to capture the Democratic nomination for President. Here are some comments on the Faux News Channel's Hannity and Colmes show as reported by Real Clear Politics.

HANNITY: And we continue now with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. All right, Mr. Speaker, the big question -- 80 percent you thought Hillary Clinton was going to be president, and then down to 50 percent because of my great influence.


HANNITY: Where is it now?

GINGRICH: I'd say somewhere between 40 and 50, and I'll tell you, I was in Iowa yesterday, in Muscatine, and Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, and when I would talk to people -- folks don't realize, in the Democratic caucus, when you go into vote, if you vote for somebody who doesn't get 15 percent, you get to vote a second time, so if you're for Biden, or Dodd or somebody, Kucinich, and they don't get to 15 percent, then you get to recast your ballot.

When you ask the secondary question, I think John Edwards may come in first, Obama may come in second, and Senator Clinton may come in third in the Iowa caucus, and that would be a stunning evening.

So it goes.

Unexpected, gorgeous endorsement for John Edwards in rural Iowa

Endorsement Praises Edwards for “Championing the cause of the little guy” and Highlights Edwards’ Rural Support

Des Moines, Iowa – Senator John Edwards today received the endorsement of Valley News Today, a daily newspaper in Shenandoah, Iowa. The paper, which covers a rural southwestern Iowa community, does not typically endorse presidential candidates and has not done so in recent presidential primaries. The paper’s endorsement reflects Edwards’ appeal to rural America and his commitment to making sure Iowans in every part of the state know where he stands on the important issues facing our country.

Edwards is the only candidate to visit and take questions from Iowans in all 99 counties twice, and has announced the public support of more than 1,000 rural Iowans.

“As the only Democratic candidate with rural roots, Edwards knows first hand about the daily trials and tribulations of the working poor,” reads the endorsement. “As a result of his upbringing, he has by far the most specific, most progressive and most far-reaching ideas to improve our nation.”

The endorsement comes as Edwards continues to gain momentum in Iowa. Earlier this week, Edwards received the endorsement of Congressman Bruce Braley, the most senior Iowa Democrat to endorse a candidate. Last month, Edwards became the first candidate to announce steering committees in all 99 counties, reaffirming the growing strength of his statewide organization.

You can read the endorsement at:

The full text of the Valley News Today endorsement is below:

Edwards has clear vision for America
Valley News Today, December 7, 2007

There are many reasons why we’re supporting John Edwards as the Democratic nominee for President – not the least of which is his proven ability to unite voters from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Unlike his Democratic challengers, Edwards’ support doesn’t come from a single demographic, but rather from all demographics.

Simply put, he represents the best of what this country has to offer.

If given the opportunity, we believe the former senator from North Carolina will work tirelessly to fight for the little guy as he has done for the past 30 years.

As the only Democratic candidate with rural roots, Edwards knows first hand about the daily trials and tribulations of the working poor. As a result of his upbringing, he has by far the most specific, most progressive and most far-reaching ideas to improve our nation.

Born the son of a blue collar mill worker, Edwards learned about the importance of hard work and perseverance from his parents, who taught their son to roll up his sleeves and fight for the things he believed in.

That tenacity helped push him to become the first member of his family to attend college – eventually earning a law degree from the University of North Carolina.

For more than two decades, Edwards dedicated his career to representing the little guy. He earned a name for himself as a lawyer by his willingness to stand up against – and ultimately defeat – the powerful insurance industry and their armies of lawyers.

His passionate advocacy for people like the folks who worked in the mill with his father earned him respect and recognition across the country.

Twenty years later, he’s still championing the cause of the little guy by being an outspoken advocate against poverty.

In the 2004 campaign, Edwards brought the plight of the working poor to the front of our American conscience by speaking out about the “two Americas” – one for people at the top who have everything they need and one for everybody else who struggle to get by.

Edwards’ powerful message continues to resonate with voters all across America – particularly in Iowa where he has spent the past four years crisscrossing the state to bring his message to each of our 99 counties.

As a result of his time spent here, we believe he has developed a true understanding of what matters most to us.

Among other things, he has vowed to create a true universal health care system that covers everyone in America, brings down costs, and creates more choices and security.

And if Congress won’t cooperate, he has promised to do everything within his power to take away their own government-provided health care.

John Edwards is a family man who, if elected, will be the first president since John F. Kennedy to bring young children with him to the White House.

And we think that’s a good thing.

Each morning when he rises, he will have his children, Jack and Emma, to remind him how important each decision he makes really is to our future generations.

Edwards isn’t afraid to speak out against the political machine that has corrupted our system for years and has pledged as a candidate to refuse contributions from Washington lobbyists – a personal decision that is an important first step towards true campaign finance reform.

In an unusually strong field of contenders, Edwards is by far the least polarizing of the other top tier candidates and will clearly provide Democrats the best chance of defeating the Republicans next November.

Vote for John Edwards on Jan. 3


On a personal note, I'm particularly connected to doing right for your young child. Sarah will be almost six when John Edwards is inaugurated. She already tells the innocent bystander that "My Daddy wants John Edwards to be the President". What she doesn't know is that I hope my meager efforts to that end to be my gift to her.


Edwards campaign reaches out to Iowa's GLBT community


Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Demonstrating that no other candidate is working harder to earn the votes of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Americans, the John Edwards for President Campaign is sending former National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Eric J. Stern to Iowa next week to do a series of events in Cedar Rapids, Ames, and Iowa City. These events are designed to provide Iowa's GLBT voters with information about Senator Edwards' campaign and opportunities to get involved in the all-important Iowa Caucuses.

Stern has been one of the most active Edwards for President GLBT supporters. In addition to his work with Stonewall, Stern formerly served as the Director of GLBT Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and a Regional Field Director for the Kerry-Edwards Campaign in Davenport, Iowa.

Edwards has laid out one of the most progressive and specific set of proposals on the issues that matter most to the GLBT community. The details of his policy proposals can be found on his website:

WVPE to air "Who we are and what we believe"

by Don Wheeler

The latest commentary from Progressives, South Bend will air on our local NPR station - 88.1 WVPE - on Monday at 7:35 am and 12:30 pm. The text appears in the blog post of the same title.

The progressive community needs to step up and create some chatter about this issue. So far, the noise and organization has been mostly on the side of the opponents. To an extent, more noise on their part is helpful, because their hatefulness and irrationality is exposed. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, it is said.

I am mindful that those people are very hurtful to some members of our community, but it's hard to see an alternative. If we allow them to do all the talking, our silence endorses the status quo. If we talk more, they will talk more. This won't be fun.

Progressives, South Bend intends to do what it can about this and welcomes all support. Members of the GLBT community who have dealt with discrimination should feel free to send their stories. Pseudonyms are fine.

And remember, letters to the South Bend Tribune and elected city officials are always a good approach. And talk about this with your friends. I don't believe our citizenry really endorses straight up discrimination.

Thanks in advance for your efforts.

PS. A sound file of the commentary is available by email for anyone who wants it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How-to caucus video launched for Iowans

The John Edwards campaign has released a clever, funny how-to video for Iowa caucus organizers and participants. Even it you're not an Edwards supporter, this is worth a look. It really does a nice job of explaining how the system works.

(video courtesy of (copy and paste link below)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Living in Nature, Or, All The Weather Seems To Come Here

by fake consultant

It is reported that 2/3 of the world’s population have never seen snow-and there are times when I wish I belonged to that group.

There is great variety to be found in the accursed stuff, however, which is why the Yup’ik, in their wanderings around Southwestern Alaska, express the conditions of the snow that surrounds them in so many different ways.

For a writer who lives in the world of the Yup’ik (or for that matter, anywhere along the North American Pacific coast south to more or less Coos Bay, Oregon), there’s also a great similarity between the storms that mark daily existence and the writing process itself.

If you’ve never seen snow...or the flooding that can follow a storm...if you’re all too familiar...or if you just wondered what the heck a lexeme’s conversation is for you.

For all of this to make sense, we better begin by setting the stage.

Today’s conversation, as we said, takes place along the Pacific Coast of North America. The coastline is paralleled by multiple mountain ranges: the Coast Ranges of Oregon, Washington’s Olympics, the Cascades (which bisect Oregon and Washington), the giant wrinkle in the Earth that is Vancouver Island, the fantastically complicated Pacific and Kitimat Ranges of British Columbia, and the equally fjord- and forest-studded Boundary Ranges that bring the reader into Alaska. It even reaches out to the Canadian Rockies and the headwaters of the Columbia, Yukon, Copper, and Frasier Rivers.

To paint a simple picture, much of the land in this region consists of either forested mountains upon which enormous amounts of water fall, or the lowlands through which the runoff from those mountains must flow. Around here, anything under 3000 feet (1000 meters for my world readers) doesn’t hardly count, and many peaks go well above 10,000 feet.

Trees can grow more than 300 feet (100 meters) tall.

The reason so much water falls here is because we are the first land encountered by nearly every storm moving east across the Pacific, thanks to the jet stream, which can either scoop up the warm and highly saturated Western Pacific air and transport it north from the tropics right at us (the “Pineapple Express”); or run the air north past the Aleutian Islands and from there south at us, creating...well, creating some miserable and awful weather.

The kind only a Norwegian could love.

How much water are we talking about? The National Park Service reports that parts of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula receive 140 to 167 inches of rain annually (that’s 350 to 425cm...). Forks, Washington (it’s located right at the most northwestern spot in the State) has averaged 118 inches (300cm) of rain the past 20 years-and reported over 160 inches twice in those two decades.

It’s not like Florida rain, either. Many days, it rains half an inch or less...but the sky is often gray, and there’s often a mist or drizzle (think Scotland or New Zealand or Peru). How many days? NOAA tells us that residents of Juneau, Alaska can expect an average of 223 rainy days a year (see p. 45), 193 days in Astoria, Oregon (the mouth of the Columbia River), or 208 days in Quillayute, Washington; as compared to a mere 120 days in Mobile, Alabama, the American city widely described as our rainiest.

As for Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast?
Surfers there require a wetsuit-just for the rain.

(Quick joke-if Noah lived here, he’d say to God: “40 days...that’s not really much of a threat, you know...”)

The basic explanation for all of this is that these moisture-laden storms come blowing in off the Pacific, and the clouds are too wet and heavy to climb over the mountains-until they dump enough water to get past...then they hit the next mountains, and the process repeats...until the coast becomes a giant holding facility full of retained water. And then, depending on the temperature, you have either a giant snowpack-or the floods begin.

(Just so you know: the most snow ever around here in 12 months?
1140 inches (that is not a typo; it’s 2895cm) at Mt. Baker, Washington during the 1998-99 season.)

Sometimes we get both rain and snow.
Like the last few days.

As we touched upon a moment ago, there are many kinds of rain: the mist, the on-and-off drizzle, soupy fog, your basic downpour...and all of them can be complicated by the addition of wind, and changes in temperature. (Warm rain is an entirely different animal than cold rain, and it is hard to find weather much more miserable than windblown rain at just above freezing-unless you live on permafrost...and especially after you’ve had it every day for the past, oh, let’s say...55 days.)

And in this part of the world, it’s not uncommon to have all of this weather on the same day...with occasional sunbreaks during the rest of the week. (This week’s Port Alberni, BC, weather forecast illustrates the point nicely.)

Which brings us back to the Yup’ik and lexemes.
Lexemes, you say?

... Roughly, a lexeme can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry. It's different from a word since a lexeme can give rise to more than one distinctly inflected word. Thus English has a single lexeme speak which gives rise to inflected forms like speaks, spoke, and spoken.
--Anthony Woodbury, Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen's guide

As there are many forms of rain, there are also many forms of snow; and the Yup’ik have 15 lexemes for snow and its various forms. Just as with writing, storms have a “story arc” that creates a progression of rains and snows (and the occasional “ice fog”, an especially nasty weather that turns roads into skating rinks)...and that’s really where this story is going.

The story always begins with the warnings: the actual National Weather Service and Department of Transportation alerts, and the local news, preparing us for (stealing from “The Daily Show”) The Storm Of The Century Of The Week.

And that’s what we got on Thursday: “Look out, this is gonna be a big one!”

I worked all night Thursday and as I checked the weather there was really nothing. I went to bed to gray skies and a “bare and wet” landscape.

As I awoke Friday afternoon I looked out the window and...

...snow was everywhere!

Not so deep yet (maybe 4 inches...10cm), but the big flakes were falling rapidly.
Suddenly it was 6 inches-and it’s time to make some decisions about shoveling.

There are two reasons why shoveling matters:

--If a lot of snow falls, the compression and accumulated moisture can turn the fluffy, powdery snow into “concrete”, making the process at least twice as difficult.

--If the compressed and uncleared snow refreezes, it will form a virtually impossible to remove crust of ice-making walking and driving way too exciting (amazing video-don’t miss this!) for my taste.

By now the snowflakes are alternating between larger and smaller-with the smaller flakes falling faster...but the fallen snow is still light and fluffy (powder!), so at that point, the shoveling began. It’s about 28 degrees F. (-2 C.).

There’s about 300 square feet to be cleared, 6 inches deep (15cm), and lots more falling, even as I shovel. Well, to be accurate, I’m pushing the snow at this point, because it’s still light and easy to move.

My current snow shovel is my favorite ever: about a foot wide (30cm), thick, plastic (aluminum shovels always seem to bend at the corners or the rivets fail-I hate that), and able to easily slide, even full of the heaviest snow. The less you lift the better in this job, so sliding the full shovel as much as possible is a good thing. Of course, at some point you still have to lift the snow to remove it, but as of now that’s not a big problem.

After half an hour or so a good third of the work is done; and it’s time for a break. The snow is still powdery, and it’s changing from big, fluffy flakes to an icier, more granular flake. Not an ice pellet...but instead more like the difference between sorbet and granite. Still 26-28 degrees F.

Only the snow is still falling, and there’s a covering over the “cleared” driveway.

For those who have never been to the snow, there’s a process of jacket removal that must be observed.

Did some work inside-and now there’s 8 inches on the ground...including almost 2 inches over the “cleared area”. But it’s still fluffy, so the reclearing goes very fast...but the rest of the driveway now has 8 inches to remove, and the snow is turning into tiny ice pellets, then back to small flakes, then back to large, for more or less the next 3 to 4 hours. At this point, about ¾ inch per hour (almost 2cm) is falling.

The next portion of the driveway’s snow is not as light as the first area; the compression having its effect and moisture accumulating in the snowmass...but it’s still not too bad, because it’s not yet raining.

After another hour it’s time for another break...and I’m just past 50%.
It’s medium heavy snow, and now it’s hard work.

I’ve been listening to an old-school country playlist as I work; and the falling snow makes a great counterpoint to Kitty Wells and Merle Travis...but the last song is the new school “Texas” from Willie Nelson, so it’s break time.

There’s 9 inches now, according to my handy ruler stuck in the snow on the barbrque. It’s no longer so granular, as the weather has begun to warm-and the snow is now heavy to lift. The last 10 feet or so are the hardest, as mixed rain and snow are falling.

By the time the snow is cleared, a foot has fallen (30cm), but the rain is picking up...and by the time I’m writing this (24 hours after the shoveling ended)-and the temperature has risen 20 degrees to the 40s F., and it was over 50 degrees F. (10 C.) during the afternoon.

The wind has become huge...with gusts above 100 mph (160 km) reported in multiple locations. It never stopped blowing all night, and it’s still blowing as the sun comes up.

And the rain never stopped-in fact, near legendary amounts (almost 14”-that’s 35 cm-in Bremerton, Washington for example) have fallen in the last 48 hours wreaking havoc over the area-all rivers in the Western Washington are threatening to flood or have already, the Governor of Oregon has declared an emergency (and road closures have virtually cut the Oregon Coast off from any access to the interior), and I have just heard Washington’s Governor has done the same.

I-5, the main north-south highway running from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico (connecting Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) is under an estimated 8 to 9 feet (3 meters) of water; and will not be passable for a currently unknown length of time. The water is 5 feet above any previous record.

The only available detours are so circuitous that the trip from Seattle to Portland (normally 160 miles one way) is now 275 miles longer-requiring a trip to Yakima, and making a one way trip over 400 miles (640 km).

Roads are literally falling off hillsides. (Click on the "Slideshow" link.)

Helicopters have been performing rescues since yesterday.

One of our favorite restaurants, the Ranch House BBQ, located outside Olympia, Washington has been destroyed, we have just been told (click on the “Mudslide Destroys Olympia Restaurant” link).

Our godson (the one who did not join the military) and his parents live in an exceptionally hard-hit area, Gray's Harbor County, who are at this mooment some of the 80,000 without power-and the projections are that it will remain that way for them for at least a week. They are right at the Pacific coast, and there are so many downed trees that there’s going to be enough free firewood for at least two cold winters, for those lucky enough to grab it up.

It is an amazing story, but I’m going to stop at this point, do some actual newsgathering, and see what I can report as the day develops.

I’ll leave you with this thought: when we began we discussed the similarity between the arc of the storm and the arc of the story...and there could not be a better example of that than the story that is arcing before us even as we speak.

Stay tuned...and if I have useful updates I’ll post them here.

Who we are and what we believe

by Don Wheeler

In the summer of 2006 an amendment to South Bend’s Human Rights Ordinance was introduced in the South Bend Common Council. The concept of the original HRO was to protect citizens from discrimination in housing, the workplace, etc., but a clear gap in that protection had been identified. It was pointed out that there was no protection for citizens on the basis of sexual orientation, preference or gender identity – real or perceived.

Like many people, I read about this with only passing interest. It seemed clear there was a problem, a clear solution had been proposed…it seemed to be mostly just a housekeeping type issue.

Imagine my astonishment when the amendment failed by one vote.

I had paid scant attention to the opposition’s rhetoric – the claims were factually incorrect and the concerns seemed clearly based upon fear and dislike of people different than themselves. It seemed unnecessary to point out the irrationality.

I should have known better… because these arguments have a familiar ring to them.

I grew up in Evanston, Illinois and in the late 1960’s, it was a common practice that realtors did not show homes in certain neighborhoods to people of color. By city ordinance (at any rate) this was not illegal. But it came to pass that many people in the community loathed the practice and dedicated themselves to ending it. My mother was one of those people.

She and I marched on several occasions, over many weeks, holding signs, chanting and singing for several miles each time. Each time we would rally at an African American church at the beginning and another at the end. For a boy approaching his teen years, it was quite an experience.

The rhetoric in opposition to our cause was typical of any case where certain people wish to retain institutionalized discrimination. Phrases like “we know what’s best for these folks”, and “it would be giving these folks special status, special rights” are merely code for a desire to dominate and oppress and - let’s face it – they’re inspired by hatred and fear.

So when I hear people say things like offering people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered equal protection under the law amounts to “special rights”, I am not fooled. I’ve heard this stuff before.

And I’m always given more confidence that I am on the right side of an issue when my opponent’s arguments strengthen my argument. In the case of the amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance, one claim you hear a lot is that people of the GLBT community are merely exercising a lifestyle choice – and that it’s wrong to protect a choice by law. Of course, that lifestyle myth was pretty much exploded a couple of decades ago, but let’s skip past that for the moment. If we accept their premise, then we should also remove protections based upon religion - for that is a fundamental choice for most people. I doubt anyone would seriously propose that.

No, it’s important to realize that this is not really about the GLBT community. What it is about…is us as a community. We know not all of our citizens are protected equally. What matters is what we do about it. And make no mistake, if we do nothing we are very much doing something. We are saying that in South Bend, Indiana, if enough people are uncomfortable with some other people, it’s OK to discriminate against those other people. We have the power to do that, and actually – as of now – we are doing that.

Well I think we need to stop doing that and I hope you do too. And if you’re anything like me, you may recall the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said: “There comes a time for all us, when silence is a betrayal”.

I think of those words frequently these days. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Sports Illustrated names Brett Favre its Sportsman Of The Year

In an article by Alan Shipnuck published today, Sports Illustrated announced that Brett Favre was named as their outstanding sportsman of 2007.

You may be puzzled to be seeing this post on Progressives, South Bend - but when you read the article you'll discover much of it has nothing to do with football. Much of it has to do with the progressive practice of doing good while doing well.

Here are a few excerpts:

"It is for his perseverance and his passion that SI honors Favre with the 54th Sportsman of the Year award. But there is more to his story than on-field heroics. On game day the whole of Green Bay may live and die on Favre's rocket right arm, but his greatest legacy lies in how many people he has touched between Sundays."

"There is no happier place than Green Bay, Wis., on a Sunday evening after the Packers have won. The beer tastes better, the girls are even prettier, and few seem to notice the bite in the air. In a town defined by its team, civic temperament can be quantified on a scoreboard. A few weeks ago, in the moments after the Packers had defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-17 at Lambeau Field, the parking lot was alive with merriment. Kids in number 4 jerseys and GOT BRETT? sweatshirts chased footballs with reckless abandon, tailgaters handed out bratwurst right off the grill, and one optimistic gent tried to sweet-talk the more attractive passersby into adding to the impressive collection of donated bras he had strung up on a flagpole."


'If Favre is weary, it's only because he has given so much of himself to Green Bay through the years. "He means everything to these people," says Donald Driver, who's in his ninth season catching Favre's passes. "He's not only our leader -- he's the symbol of the franchise, of the whole town. There's a generation of fans in Green Bay who don't know this team ever existed without Brett."'

The story goes on to chronicle the many projects Brett has initiated or assisted with and many of the people he has touched personally or from a distance. It's a long article, I won't attempt to summarize it. You can read it here:

I think Brett Favre is a pretty rare guy. Someone who could have so easily got the "big head" (a Minnesota expression), but instead got the big heart.

Have a nice day.


Monday, December 3, 2007

NPR coverage of Iowa's Brown and Black Presidential forum

by Don Wheeler

National Public Radio's David Green filed this nice piece about the Iowa forum held this past Saturday. The focus of this forum is to address issues particularly effecting the Hispanic and African-American communities.

No big surprise, although all candidates were invited to attend, none of the Republicans chose to.

The Shining City Upon A Hill Is A Gated Community

It isn't class warfare to talk about this - this is the truth. --John Edwards, DNC Winter Meeting Speech

But story, or legend, he described the atmosphere, the strain, the debate, and that as men for the first time faced the consequences of such an irretrievable act, the walls resounded with the dread word of treason and its price -- the gallows and the headman's axe. As the day wore on the issue hung in the balance, and then, according to the story, a man rose in the small gallery. He was not a young man and was obviously calling on all the energy he could muster. Citing the grievances that had brought them to this moment he said, “Sign that parchment. They may turn every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave and yet the words of that parchment can never die. For the mechanic in his workshop, they will be words of hope, to the slave in the mines -- freedom.”--Ronald Reagan, The Shining City Upon A Hill

John Edwards is delivering the long-overdue Democratic response to Reagan's speech, The Shining City Upon A Hill. Long lauded by conservatives as one of Reagan's seminal speeches, it interlaces an American nostaglia steeped in mysticism with concepts now foreign to the GOP, things like "even a land as rich as ours can't go on forever borrowing against the future", and a reverence for the Constitution as "probably the most unique document ever drawn in the long history of man's relation to man", and "never again will young Americans be asked to fight and possibly die for a cause unless that cause is so meaningful that we, as a nation, pledge our full resources to achieve victory as quickly as possible." Talk about the party of flip-flops!

But I digress.

Reagan also presents in this speech the case for trickle-down economics being in the best interest *of working men and women*:

Standardization means production for the masses and the assembly line means more leisure for the worker -- freedom from backbreaking and mind-dulling drudgery that man had known for centuries past. Karl Marx did not abolish child labor or free the women from working in the coal mines in England – the steam engine and modern machinery did that.


One-half of all the economic activity in the entire history of man has taken place in this republic. We have distributed our wealth more widely among our people than any society known to man. Americans work less hours for a higher standard of living than any other people. Ninety-five percent of all our families have an adequate daily intake of nutrients -- and a part of the five percent that don't are trying to lose weight! Ninety-nine percent have gas or electric refrigeration, 92 percent have televisions, and an equal number have telephones. There are 120 million cars on our streets and highways -- and all of them are on the street at once when you are trying to get home at night. But isn't this just proof of our materialism -- the very thing that we are charged with? Well, we also have more churches, more libraries, we support voluntarily more symphony orchestras, and opera companies, non-profit theaters, and publish more books than all the other nations of the world put together.

Reaganomics was always framed in terms of the benefit to the *common man*. Reagan himself pitched people on its acceptance as choosing "freedom over security".

Recent history has proven him wrong. In all aspects of the abject failure of "small government", ranging from the failure to rebuild Iraq, the still-muddled response to Katrina, the mortgage crisis, the almost-weekly announcement of another toxic substance in your toddler's apple juice or lead paint on his beloved toy, history has shown us the problem of pursuing Reagan's myth-filled vision to its logical conclusion.

Now is the time to deliver the Democratic response to Reagan's flawed policies. This past week, John Edwards did exactly that, both at the DNC Winter Meeting and at the Heartland Presidential Forum:

Edwards is answering nostaglia with reality. The Shining City Upon A Hill has become a gated community, excluding most Americans from its promise:

There's a wall outside Washington and we need to take it down. The American people are on the outside. And on the other side, on the inside, are the powerful, the well-connected and the very wealthy. That wall didn't build itself or appear overnight. For decades politicians without conviction and powerful interests gathered their bricks and their stones and their motar, and they went to work. They went to work to protect their interests, to block the voice of the American people, and to stop our country's progress. They went to work to protect, and defend, and maintain the status quo.


Every single day, working men and women see that wall when they have to split their bills into two piles, pay now and pay later; when they watch the factory door shut for the last time; when they see the disappointment on their son or daughter's face when there's no money to pay for college. Every single day they see that wall when they have to use the emergency room as a doctor's office for their son because they can't afford to pay for healthcare.

And the Republicans, the party of Reagan who once at least at one time connected with working men and women? Where are they now?

In denial. They've been living inside that gated community for so long they've forgotten there's a world that exists outside its walls:

Now isn't the time to only ask ourselves, "who can beat the Republicans". Don't get me wrong, I would like to see a win for the Democrats in 2008 just as much as many other people in our party.

There's a deeper, more fundamental question that we have to confront: who can undo the harm that the Republicans have left us with? Who can reverse the extremist philosophies that have eroded the promise of America for so many of its citizens?

John Edwards is showing a clear, competing vision to extremist neocon doctrines that have ruled the GOP and our country:

We have a choice in this election. We can keep trying to shout over that wall. We can keep trying to knock out a chink here and there, to punch little holes in it and hope to get our voices through. We can settle for baby-steps, or half measures and incremental change, and try and inch our way over that wall or toward a better future.

Or we can knock it down.

Let's knock that wall down, together.

Congressman Bruce Braley endorses John Edwards for President

From The Campaign To Change America

Waterloo, Iowa – Today, at a community meeting in Waterloo, Congressman Bruce Braley is endorsing Senator John Edwards for president. Braley is the most senior Iowa Democrat to endorse a candidate during this campaign, and is supporting Edwards because he believes Edwards is the best candidate to take on the special interests, take back the White House and bring real change to our country. Braley’s endorsement comes as Edwards continues to gain support throughout the state. Last week, more than 50 county elected officials announced their support for Edwards at a meeting of the Iowa State Association of Counties.

"Today, I'm proud to endorse John Edwards for president," said Braley. "Throughout this campaign, on issue after issue, John has proposed bold ideas to end the power of special interests in Washington and restore our government to the American people. John is the only Democratic candidate who grew up in rural America, and he has most specific, most progressive and most far-reaching ideas. I truly believe he is the best Democratic candidate to lead us to victory in 2008. With his leadership, I believe we can make his vision of One America a reality.
“I am honored to receive Bruce’s support,” said Edwards. “He is a true leader and a strong voice on behalf of Iowa’s families. Bruce is committed to ending the power of special interests and making sure all hard-working Iowans have the opportunity to work hard, get ahead, and leave their children a better future. I look forward to joining with Bruce to change our country.”

Braley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 and represents Iowa’s first congressional district. He serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure where he is Vice-Chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. He also serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Small Business, and is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology.

Like Edwards, Braley worked hard to help pay his way through school. After earning a law degree, Braley worked as an attorney to protect workers and hold corporations accountable to their employees and consumers.Today’s announcement builds on Edwards’ growing momentum in Iowa, including:

October 15: The Iowa State Council of the SEIU endorses Edwards, followed quickly by the endorsements of 11 other SEIU state councils representing more than a million SEIU members.

October 18: Edwards wins the endorsement of the Iowa Postal Workers Union – representing workers in all 99 Iowa counties.

October 27: Edwards becomes the first candidate to visit – and take questions from Iowans – in all 99 Iowa counties.

November 9: Caucus for Priorities, representing 10,000 Iowa caucus goers, endorses Edwards.

November 9: Edwards becomes the first candidate to announce County Steering Committees in all 99 counties, reaffirming the growing strength of his statewide organization.

November 10: At the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner, Edwards is the first candidate to speak and delivers a rousing call for Americans to rise up and meet “the great moral test of our generation” – ensuring that our kids have a better life than we’ve had.

November 11: Edwards releases an 80 page policy book entitled: "The Plan to Build One America," and announces that more than 100,000 copies of the book will be delivered to Iowa caucus goers in the coming weeks.

November 15: Edwards is endorsed by State Representative Bob Kressig, who believes Edwards has the boldest plan to strengthen our schools and ensure every child receives a great education.

November 27: All three Poweshiek County Supervisors endorse Edwards for president. Supervisors Lamoyne Gaard and Doug Shutts from Grinnell and Supervisor Ellie Snook from Montezuma are all supporting Edwards as the best candidate to take back the White House and change our country.

November 28: Twelve Iowa education leaders, who hold leadership roles in Iowa's largest teachers’ association, endorse Edwards.

November 29: At the Iowa State Association of Counties event, Edwards earns the endorsement of 52 county elected officials and outlines his plan for a “New Partnership” with local communities.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Iowa looks good for Edwards and America

by Don Wheeler

I recently heard on NPR that twenty-five percent of Iowans had had personal contact with a Presidential candidate in this cycle. In my one trip there this summer, it certainly seemed clear that Iowa residents take their caucuses quite seriously.

All the polls are showing a statistical dead heat for Edwards/Obama/Clinton on the first choice vote, but there seems to be little coverage on people's second choices.

Second choices matter a lot in caucus states (Iowa included) because if your first choice doesn't achieve a minimum of fifteen percent of the vote, your second choice receives your vote (assuming the fifteen percent minimum). No one aside from the "big three" seems likely to reach that threshold and the overwhelming second choice of supporters of the other candidates is John Edwards.

This makes it pretty clear that the Iowa race is John Edwards' to lose, despite what the chattering press may have you believe.

Polls are showing him closing the gap in other early primary/caucus states as well, though behind in the other three.

Rasmussen polls have consistently shown John Edwards as the most formidable Democrat against any Republican in any state. It shows him winning in Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky in the general election against any Republican. These are states the Democrats haven't won in decades.

Once Edwards wins Iowa, people are likely to finally focus on the reality of the electability question. That reality is Edwards does best, followed by Obama and Clinton has real trouble beating any Republican in lots of states.

That's how it looks to me.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The wit and wisdom of Mitt Romney

Ich bin nicht mit Mitt!