Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Politics of Forgotten Politics Past


Everything is coming up roses for Democrats these days. The President is loved. Americans are uplifted by his words and change is poised to spill across the land--nothing is going to stop us now! Except, such exuberance is part and parcel of any new administration and history always has something to say about such matters. These days feel similar to President Bush's election in 2000--sans the goodwill among Americans--but Republicans were similarly glib. Karl Rove was planning to make the GOP the dominant party in the U.S. for generations. He would even went as far as attempting to exterminate the Democratic party. The tide has turned, though.

Democrats are in a fog of triumphalism that cannot possibly continue. Political luck goes only so far. To latch on to the remote possibility of doing what the GOP attempted to foist upon the Democrats is a waste of energy in a time when grave circumstances hover over the Capitol.

Here's a bit of the liberal naivete going around: Two respected bloggers, Alex Koppelman at Salon's War Room blog and Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic envision a Republican Armageddon in today's Gallup story culled from 2008 election data which says only four states (all in the wild West) are overwhelmingly red. Koppelman adds, "This is most likely not the kind of thing that gets fixed easily." Really?
How quickly the past eight years are forgotten-specifically 2002-2005--when the tables were turned. After fearing a Democrat would never win another presidential election and flubbing two straight, we have left-leaning journalists falling over themselves in glee.

Both bloggers padded their arguments with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments to the RNC today where his fear of the party's collapse was not as fearful as other may view it--as John McCain might say, "the fundamentals" of the party are sound. The Gallup map shows only Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska as solidly Republican. Shockingly, the data puts Texas in the competitive column.

Now, really! There are an infinite amount of occurrences that can change the map and attitudes in a hurry. The data based on party affiliation and skewing sharply towards Democrats is going to continue to grow as it has for the last 10-15 years, but to have a blanket of Bible Belt states in competition is highly improbably once you attach a conservative candidate to the polling. No matter who is in the White House regions like the inner West and the South where the post-industrial economy ha not penetrated the workforce, these areas will continue to vote for a Republican candidate.

The easiest way for Republicans to remake the map without changing the way they do business is simply to wait for President Obama to falter in alleviating the failing economy. If he does it poorly enough, House Republicans for one could easily siphon off large chunks of the Democratic majority Nancy Pelosi presides over by 2010 or 2012.

Indeed, the country is trending to the left and will continue with new young voters and immigrants, but touting these results so early in the new administration is kind of like saying the Yankees will, without a doubt, win the World Series after spending a third-world country's GNP on three superstars. There is much time to for everything to change and it is guaranteed to happen. Besides, the Three G's--gays, guns and God--have a way of stoking conservative fears around the country, too.

Liberal Media Welcomes Limbaugh Back


Rush Limbaugh seems to be popping in and out of the news cycle recently. A new Democratic president could be the culprit. A blowhard like Limbaugh is far more entertaining speaking for the minority party, but his re-emergence is being touted by more liberal-friendly media outlets.

Tolerating the voice of Limbaugh after eight years of quietly peddling the GOP muck and piling up a fortune is the trade-off for a Bush-less Washington. Limbaugh did rear his neck out from under his headset periodically, though. He parroted the Bush administration 9/11 bravado, helped convince the nation to invade Iraq and battered Sen. John Kerry. Otherwise, his star never burned brighter than when he had Bill Clinton to push around. Limbaugh still can throw his weight around, though, with conservatives as illustrated by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) metaphorically knelling down to kiss his ring earlier this week.

Now, with President Obama, Limbaugh is all over the news. Making racist and blatantly un-American comment on why he does not support the new prez. Is Limbaugh really making more outrageously tasteless remarks than normal or are producers at outlets like CNN, MSNBC attempting to create a villain for their programs and articles?

Watch a video from MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews below. The resulting story focused on Rep. Dick Armey's misogynistic comments to Salon chief Joan Walsh, but notice the segment is set up twice by referencing the rotund Republican, Limbaugh.

Cable news is hardly news anymore, but entertainment. Hardball is an informative and entertaining program (Matthews' repeated on-air HA-HA-HA's are fun enough), but keep in mind the foil of Limbaugh as merely an attempt to create an opposing voice when most of Washington and the nation is quite united with the President...for now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Afghanistan: Are You Ready For Your Close-Up?


The drumbeat of war emanating from Washington is not the deafening booms of a thousand timpani which led President Bush to invade Iraq, but the likelihood of expanding the war in Afghanistan sounds a bit like a smooth jazz rhythm--cool and barely nuanced--a bit like the new president.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified to the Senate Armed Service Committee today the need for 17,000 more troops in Afghanistan within the next few months. On Friday, reports surfaced that President Obama ordered military drones to bomb Taliban extremists in the Northwestern Pakistan which killed 22. Also, Gates reiterated the Status of Force Agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraq in June, will leave Iraq bare of American troops by 2011.

The Obama administration's call for an expansion of involvement in Afghanistan comes as no surprise, despite calling the war in Iraq the wrong war. Throughout Obama's presidential campaign he was the only candidate who focused on Pakistan--Afghanistan's neighbor to the South and enabler of the Taliban in the Waziristan region. Americans may have inadvertently bundled both conflicts into one and find the decision to send more troops to the regions a bit contradictory. But, isn't this what liberals have always said about Bush's follies in the Middle East: the war in Afghanistan was justified, the war in Iraq was not. But, the situation today is vastly different than 2002.

Noted Middle East expert Juan Cole says a returning focus to Afghanistan could make it "Obama's Vietnam," meaning "Obama may be falling into the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam trap, of escalating a predecessor's halfhearted war into a major quagmire." Cole sees the recent attack on Pakistan without prior interaction with the government as a "bad sign."

It is not clear if Obama really believes that the fractious tribes of the Pakistani northwest can be subdued with some airstrikes and if he really believes that U.S. security depends on what happens in Waziristan. If he thinks the drone attacks on FATA are a painless way to signal to the world that he is no wimp, he may find, as Lyndon Johnson did, that such military operations take on a momentum of their own, and produce popular discontents that can prove deadly to the military mission.

Matthew Yglesias writing in The American Prospect agrees with this assumption and says we also need to retire the term "war on terror" lest it continues to hamper the fight in Afghanistan and the entire region. Much of the conflict in Afghanistan is intertwined with Pakistan. As William Dalrymple writes in a New York Review of Books article on author Ahmed Rashid's new book, Descent into Chaos, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has a history of encouraging the Taliban in Afghanistan as a friendly bulwark against India and no longer encourages its own self-interests.

It is for this reason that many in the army still believe that the jihadis make up a more practical defense against Indian dominance than even nuclear weapons. For them, supporting a range of jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir is not an ideological or religious whim so much as a practical and patriotic imperative—a vital survival strategy for a Pakistani state that they perceive to be threatened by India's ever-growing power and its alliance with the hostile Karzai regime in Kabul.

The Obama administration seems bent on resolving Afghanistan through Pakistan. This could take years, though. With the swift change in course comes apprehension for Americans weary of seven years of conflict comes questions. Will Afghanistan threaten to gobble up the next four years like Iraq destroyed the Bush presidency? Iran also cannot be forgotten in this equation. With Afghani elections later this summer, Iran may be need to barter a positive post-Karzai era.

After Obama, The Stock of Black Leaders Is Great


Before the vice presidential debate last October, conservative pundits learned that the moderator, the well-known journalist Gwen Ifill, also had a book on Sen. Barack Obama conveniently due Inauguration Day. A few such as Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin howled. The question of Ifill's objectivity soon dissipated as Sarah Palin stole the show and the election continued.

Ifill, in her new book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, does not deal directly with the rise of President Obama, but the rising crop of young, black politicians ready to change the landscape of American politics.

Similar to early worries about Obama's candidacy -- he was not "black enough," he was "too black" or he was too green -- the politicians featured by Ifill share a few commonalities. All are young, highly-educated and grew up in middle-to-upper class surroundings, yet they are able to cross socioeconomic and cultural-mixed racial environments.

In an election as historically unique as 2008, where an African-American and female senator fought as front-runners throughout the campaign, it is interesting to learn Ifill's thesis that the civil rights movement has produced a deep reserve of talented black politicians.

Among them is Congressmen Artur Davis of Alabama, who will likely attempt to make Obama-like history by becoming thar state's first black governor. Davis, incidentally, graduated in Obama's class at Harvard.

Ifill also profiles the first black governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, Stanford alum and mayor of Newark Cory Booker, and the scion of the civil rights movement Jesse Jackson, Jr. The inclusion of Jackson may be the least likely of the group, since it was revealed during the sting that rounded up Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich that he had been a government informant for years.

While the stock of rising black leaders is strong, the names of up-in-coming women in government is perhaps less-so. Aside from new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palin, I find it difficult to conjure up many women other than Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was a contender for Obama's VP slot. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is a strong female voice , but her ambitions won't include the White House, because she was born in Canada. So, why are blacks hitting the highest levels and stealing the spotlight from the women?

Ifill does not explicitly say this, but one reason gleaned from the book is the fact that this new crop of black politicians was forged from of a distinct political movement that was highly organized and direct. By contrast, the women's movement does not have a center, does not have a rallying point such as Selma, Alabama, had for the civil rights movement. Coincidentally, the strong campaign of Hillary Clinton aimed at progressive women and the unique political talents of Palin to conservatices could be the impetus for the rise of significant female candidates in the next 10-15 years.

Undoubtedly the election of Barack Obama is a turning point in this country's history. If you were able to fast-forward a few decades into the future, it is quite conceivable three of the next four leaders of our country could be a mixture of women and minorities.

Obama And The One-Day Rise of Newspapers


A man by a kiosk outside The Commonwealth Club offices on Market Street held up the San Francisco Chronicle and cried repeatedly, "EXTRA!, EXTRA!, EXTRA!"

Who says the newspaper industry is faltering?

At least, it's not hurting today, with another round of colorful, graphically pleasing editions featured on newsstands across the country. The Newseum web site has an extensive gallery of today's historic page-ones featuring a very elegant and simple cover from The Fresno Bee.

According the Associated Press, many of the nation's largest newspapers, including The New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Post, printed extra papers in advance of high demand. Many learned a lessons from the day after the November election when demand for papers to commemorate Barack Obama's victory left publishers flat-footed. Not only are newspapers increasing production of their daily editions, but also publishing special editions and books ranging in price from $4.95 to $14.95.

The rush to grab a piece of history through buying and preserving newspapers has been an American tradition since the colonists' veracious habit of reading the news made the nascent country one of the most learned places in the world. With the end of newspapers as we know them possibly around the corner -- at least, Michael Hirschorn at The Atlantic says The Times could be kaput as early as this May -- how will people retain the memories of historic times such as President Obama's inauguration?

Without a paper and ink version of the news, will people download a screen shot of yesterday's home page of the Washington Post? Send the file to their printer and unassumingly tuck it between last month's overdue phone bill and their child's sterling report card? The Internet as a record of history has proven to be insufficient with its power based on constant change at the whim of breaking news. Lasting snapshots of a single day or event invariably fall through the cracks. Organizations like The Internet Archive strive to preserve the web's news history but fall short in their brevity.

What is the future? There seems to be a missing link between how a new generation of people consume the news through the net on a personal computer, laptop or even their smart phones. Portability and complete access to the web at any moment is also problematic. reported in December on rumors of a larger seven-by-nine inch iPod which would be capable of accessing the news and making it easier to navigate and read. Down the road, the news may be downloaded onto bendable computers, which conceivably could be rolled up and folded without harm.

Of course, none of these devices will solve the problem of capturing history in a tangible form. It may be the one aspect of communication we will have to adapt at a time when more information is flowing than at any time in human consciousness. The casualty ironically may be history.

Read other articles like this one at The Commonwealth Club of California blog at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Leming Learns A New Lesson

Chuck Leming was a 'C' student who became Alameda County's Teacher of the Year, but during his crowning year he lost a child and vowed to not lose one of his students. This is a story of a educator teaching and learning the lessons of life

On any given day, a student in one of Chuck Leming's classes can be subjected to a barrage of office products. They fly through the air with a litany of biting one-liners tagging along for the ride.

They can come at any moment's notice. It's a war zone, but the students don't see it as such. It's far better than sitting to a constant droning about mathematical principles. Leming, in fact, thinks math is boring

A student in the back row wants Leming to go over a question she saw the night before on television's "Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" After discussing the problem, as is the custom on the TV show where the contestant wagers money against his answer, another student wearing entirely black yells, "Would you bet your paycheck?"

"Since you don't have as much as me, I won't take that bet," said Leming.

"How much do you have?" said another boy with a black hooded sweatshirt.

Sidestepping the question for moment, Leming says to the boy, "How much do you have in your savings account?"

"Between three and four grand."

Leming quickly shoots back to the delight of some of the boy's buddies sitting around him, "Then you don't have enough to match my paycheck."

Leming's been around, so he knows the difference between educational babble and what it takes in the real world. It's quite ironic, but common, that your teacher--the supposed smartest person in a student's life, wasn't such a good student himself.

"In school I cheated, lied and only went there for the social aspect and girls,” says Leming. In high school, Leming was a sweet-swinging outfielder for his baseball team. Although he couldn't field a lick. A few pro scouts visited his games in Grass Valley to watch Leming and some other players, but his nascent career on the diamond was cut short at 16 when the coach caught him smoking.

“The coach said he was going to punch my lights out. I was cocky back then.”

Like some of the student's he sees today, school just wasn't for Leming during his teenage years.

“There’s a purpose in life and education was not part of it for me then,” he said.

His brother was different. He breezed through school as the quintessentially perfect older brother, but Leming wasn't hearing the message. His father told him: “My boys are going to college. He saw my report card and said, ‘That’s a C, that means average. I don’t have sons that are average.’ I said, 'You do now.’”

In fact, he fit the definition of the word exactly when he graduated from high school in Los Angeles, he was 175th out of 350 students; dead smack in the middle, the model of mediocrity. While some college student's of the tumultuous late 1960's received deferments from the fighting in Vietnam, it was the average middle-class and poor Americans who did the conflicts bidding. Leming wasn't drafted; he drove down to the Army recruiting station and joined. "We were supposed to be fighting communism," he said, although his foreign adventure to the Far East went only as far as the concrete jungles of Staten Island, NY. He jokes that he knew a lot about New York City's more risqué and ribald location while serving his country.

Upon returning to Northern California, Leming would spend the next 15 years doing everything from installing windshields, delivering auto parts, selling photo copiers and driving trucks. Through three economic downturns in the early and late 1970's and a recession in 1981, Leming began to think about the future of himself and his family. What once was anathema to his being as a teenager, became the path to a good life. In fact, both Leming and his wife became teachers later in life. Leming's wife teaches seventh-graders in the Dublin school system.

“When I went to college I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what a B.A. or a B.S. was. I choose a B.S. because I knew I was half-way there. I was a country boy.”

Leming would graduate from then Cal State Hayward in 1985 and begin his teaching career at San Leandro High School shortly after, but while studying for his teaching credential he received advice from an instructor that struck a chord with him, meshed with his personality and would come to define his teaching style for the next two decades.

“If you’re able to bring your family life into the classroom, they will think about you as a person, instead of a teacher and you’ll have less behavioral problems,” recalls Leming. He would later find that assumption works both ways.

When you first see Leming, you don’t see a middle school teacher. You might see a fire inspector or a grizzled foreman on a construction site walking about the skeletal frame of a building with a metal clipboard and ill-fitting white helmet sitting high upon his head. He might be saying, “Fix that sheet rock over there and these beams are at the wrong angle.” Whether he’s a teacher or the foreman for a building’s construction, the core of Leming is to get things right and build a strong foundation, to watch something lasting and beautiful be erected.

In real life, Leming is in his early 60’s. His foundation laid long ago has worn on the outside. His head is ringed by short white hair that reveals a bald, but tanned pate. He wears oversized bifocals rimmed by thin gold metal. When he speaks the first thing you notice is that his mouth shifts slightly to the left as if the words are tumbling over his molars instead of his front teeth. With the baldness and the glasses, you might not make the connection, but when the gruff manner of his speech is uttered off the side of his face, it occurs to you that Leming being Leming is a lot like Leming doing a passable impression of Dick Cheney or Dick Cheney is doing a great impression of Chuck Leming.

The thing is Leming probably doesn’t mind the connection to the dark lord of the right, because like Cheney, Leming is a Republican. This is probably one of the few in existence amongst the rigidly liberal teacher’s union. It’s no problem for Leming because much of what his teaching style is about is born the anachronistic Republican mantra of one “picking oneself up by the bootstraps”.

“I believe this is the land of milk and honey. All the options are available if you want them bad enough,” he says.

Maybe Leming's students are more behaved than others because they know about his gun collection. He's a registered member of the National Rifle Association and own 20 guns, including a gun safe. He doesn't hunt animals anymore, he says, but enjoys honing his accuracy shooting clay pigeons, although he hasn't been to the range much lately.

While Leming gives the impression of Dick Cheney, his politics when it comes to education are staunchly moderate. Being neither a great student, nor a poor student, the accolades for those in the middle are non-existent.

Three years ago, Leming became the coordinator for a program that tries to remedy "the middle" and find those underperforming students and make the middle less middling and more a model for a well-rounded student population.

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) sounds like a newfangled right wing program that isolates a group to battle the fight of survival of fitness while the game is tilted to favor another desirable group. But this program is different. It doesn’t take disadvantaged children or high-achievers, its core value is that it focuses on the “middle”. Its success depends on faculty searching deeply for students who might become diamonds in the rough and gives them the opportunities and skills not afforded to children who may have been raised in a household where college was not a matter whether my grades were good enough or if the college fund could afford four years of higher education. It’s a remedy for a country where the economical divide is widening at the edges with the rich getting richer and the poor getting devastatingly poor.

The AVID classes are small. A student must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average or leave the program after two semesters. AVID isn't a class like math, English or social studies, it's all those classes; a sort of Grand Central Station for all those courses that lead to Leming's wrath.
A tiny eighth grade girl named Fatima Costa is in Leming's intervention math class, that like AVID, focuses on a small group of students who are struggling. According to Leming, classes like these will be among the first to be cut if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget cuts come to fruition.

Less than a minute before the bell is about to ring, a few students milling around the classroom chatting with their friends hear Leming announce, "Anyone who isn't sitting in their seats when the bells rings will be tardy!"

The smallish girl turns, covers the side of her mouth to cover it from Leming's view and mutters, in a hushed tone, "He's so mean."

Maybe Leming heard her and maybe he didn't, but later in the period when she's not listening to him, he admonishes her by saying, "You haven't been doing that good, Fatima. If you don't do better you're going to have to go to Home Depot and get a big box from a refrigerator to live in."
As he walks away, she glances my way and contorts her face as to say, "See, I told you he was mean."

Leming has a certain fondness for these type of students, because he sees himself in them and does not believe 40 years has changed them much.

“I don’t think they’re worse. That’s what a lot of teachers will say, but I think they’re a whole lot smarter. They have so much access to information on television or the internet. The only thing is they’re not as motivated because of it--I wasn’t either,” he says

As students begin encountering problems with their math homework, one boy, slightly overweight for his age and befitting the stereotype that large people tend to be jollier than others asks Leming for some help.

"Don't start teasing me," the boy quickly says before Leming can lay a zinger on him. Leming grabs the long lanyard around the boy’s neck, pulls him close and feigns slapping his face. The boy laughs. After Leming's instructions, the boy utters in exasperation, "Ohh. H=3"
"See," says Leming, "You're not as dumb as I think you are."

After noticing too many students were having problems with the same question, Leming switches on the overhead and goes over the problem. A boy in the front row still doesn't understand. "I don't understand what you're doing?" he says.

“What are you talking about? Close your eyes and hit yourself in the back of the head because I’m too lazy to go over there and do it myself,” Leming says.

"If I was a student these days, I would be in this class," says Leming shortly before heaving a crumpled paper at the attendance girl. The girl runs out the door shrieking as the wad grazes her back.

"I had a poor family and my GPA was between 2.0 and 3.5, but I tested well. I would be in this program," he says.

He says a whopping 96 percent of all students in the program enroll in secondary education. AVID is not about churning out high school diplomas, but college graduates. To illustrate the point, when this year's crop of AVID students graduate from middle school, they will receive a medal with an inscription that reads not the class of 2012, but of 2016, four years after high school.

"A high school diploma doesn't mean anything in California, anymore. I mean, you should see the kids they're giving diplomas to nowadays," says Leming.

What Leming believes about a typical student's life after high school is the 800-pound gorilla sitting in, not only the science room, but in every room, not everyone is cut out for college, so why jam a round peg into a square hole?

"No Child Left Behind wants every student to be proficient to the same point and have everybody go to college. It's not realistic," he says, "We need secretaries. We need people in the service industry."

His version of education utopia is rooted deeply in his own life and about face he encountered in his own life. "Not everybody is into numbers and letters. There should be a vocational option with a bridge back to academics, if they decide. The way it is, now, you're left to sink or swim," he says.

The former "C" student who toiled in car parts and haulers before taking advantage of his own self-made bridge to teaching did pretty well for himself when the San Leandro Unified School District made him their teacher of the year for the 2007-08 school year.

The school's librarian, Russ Tomlin, after failing to get Leming the award the year before, surreptitiously nominated him again. Leming believed the first time he wouldn't receive the award because of a veneer of ageism in the process. The school district doesn't want an old guy as its top instructor, they want a young teacher, he believed. This time he got it, but seriously doubted he could win the state's prize. You're not going to get Leming to fawn over something just to get his name on a plaque.

Leming answered a questionnaire of 14 questions by slamming the state's credential program, No Child Left Behind and teacher training. It may or may not have ended his chance of winning the statewide prize, but he believed the Department of Education wouldn't want a winner who disagreed with them so passionately.

"Take me the way I am, or don't ask the question," he says.

Of course, he said he was "humbled and honored" and realizes there's many teachers in the district who are "equal or better than him." He says this because he thinks he got the award out of sympathy.

Not every student is destined to thrive, while not every child is destined to struggle. In September of 2006, shortly before what should have been the crowning year of Leming’s teaching career, he received word that his 30-year-old son was dead.

His son, Christopher, left behind a wife, an 8-year-old girl and an 18-month old boy. He had suffered through heroin addiction for awhile. Leming knew about it. The irony is that it wasn't heroin that killed him in the downstairs of a Philadelphia train station, but the purveyors of the drug that stalk the abuser in murky corners and creepy shadows. The police don't know exactly what happened to Christopher Leming that day. The police report says he was stabbed with a syringe filled with a powerful painkiller often used to cut heroin. The police think the attack may have been part of a gang initiation stunt. Leming thinks this story is probably true because his son tended to be a very private drug user and shooting up in the middle of Philly doesn't sound like him.

Leming last saw his son two months before his untimely death and believed he had been recently clean for the drugs. He spoke with him the day before he died and on his last day told his wife and daughter he loved them.

Leming still refers to his son in the present tense because he believes his son still with him. He's been visited by his son three times.

While sleeping in a lonely hotel room and resting his head on a foreign pillow and unfamiliar blankets to warm his body, he was awakened by a bright light. At first, he thought he dozed off with the lights on, but when he opened his eyes, the room was pitch black. It happened again. This time he thought the light was emanating from outside. Some jerk must be shining his high beams through the window. "I was ready to yell at them, but everything was dark," he says.
"It said to me that he's in Heaven and he's waiting for me and I'm going to go to Heaven because he waiting for me," he says.

Leming didn't need such a spiritual episode to awaken his religious beliefs. He attends Catholic mass with his wife regularly, but this episode made the afterlife and the prospects of seeing his son again even more real. Christopher came to religion late in his life, says Leming.

Christopher's mom kept her son's Bible and copies scribbling from the margins to her Bible. On one page she found, "To be a good man, you must know God." Leming and his wife searched the Bible inside and out to find that equation, but couldn't find it. A Google search of the phrase doesn't yield one hit. A local Catholic priest said he doesn't recall such a passage with that exact phrasing.

As Leming's eyelids begin to redden and tears start welling up he says, "He was telling me he was a good man"

"I've never been angry about his death. My wife says, 'It's because you've received God's grace," he says.

To say Leming has coped with his son's death wouldn't be honest. When a child dies under circumstances that might breed snickering, but compassion, nonetheless, a lot of doubt sneaks into the minds of mourners when the hugs and support leave to deal with their own lives.
"I think it's natural to say, 'What could I have done differently to change the outcome'," he says,

"We did the best we could, but addiction was something genetic, a defect in his genes."

One day, while driving to his gun club in Livermore, Leming passed by a line of large oak trees on the side of the road. He was just thinking, but still, he wondered what would happen if he steered his car into those trees as a way of hastening a chance to see his son again in Heaven. Just thinking-thinking, as the math teacher that he is, he calculated the speed of the car to be too slow to do anything but total it. So he increased the pressure on the pedal just slightly to accelerate the car. At that moment, the thinking-thinking ceased and a flood of rationality cascaded over his troubled mind.

"I began to think this wouldn't be fair to my wife, or my daughter, or my grandchildren," he said, "I felt it would have been selfish, but I wanted to see my son again."

"I laugh every time I see those oak trees," says Leming.

People react vastly different to death. Leming's wife doesn't like to talk about her son's death, while her husband finds it "therapeutic."

Because Leming believes students identify and respond better when a teacher opens his private life to the classroom, like a family that revels in good times, it conversely rallies around itself in the bad.

When he returned from bereavement leave, he spoke to students about his son. He left nothing out. This would be no different than a lecture on the Pythagorean Theorem. His son’s demise would be a life lesson for these kids. Some girls cried with Leming as he delivered the news. The obvious human response is usually, “How?” He could have told them anything to cover the hurt and embarrassment of a teacher’s son dying. But he didn’t, he told them straight up: my son abused drugs and because of that, he died.

Students that would be touched with tragedy easily gravitated to Leming. He held one student whose uncle was killed in long, heartfelt embrace one day in the hallway outside his classroom because that's how the grieving help others--by diffusing some of the pain from those recently struck by life's wrong turns.

That would not be the end of the conversation, despite the pain and heartache of losing a child. Leming wasn’t going to lose any of these children, either. As part of a writing exercise about a loved one, Leming decided to write his own about his son and read it aloud to the class. This time his voice cracked and tears slowly inched over the bottom lids of his eyes. A solemn sense drifted over the students; those same girls began to cry again and the boys shifted uncomfortably in their chairs and bowed their heads in respect as he read these nine lines:

I am a husband.
I am a father.
I am a grieving father who lost a son.
I am working on getting better.
I am sad that I will never see my son again.
I am happy for my son has shown me he’s in Heaven and the he is waiting for me.
I am always crying with my wife
I am emotionally distraught many nights as I talk to my son.
I am thankful for my wife and students that have held me and cried with me.

The message was clear. Chuck Leming lost one of his children; his own son. But his life work has been about saving the hundreds of children who watched his peculiar classroom antics and learned about themselves and how to succeed in society. Life isn’t perfect and families are far from it, but nonetheless, every so often, a child does something to say “I love you.” When Chuck Leming stood before a banquet room atop the hill at Cal State-East Bay and accepted his teacher of the year award a few generations of San Leandro students said thank you for making them a better person and a son rejoiced in the celebration of his dad.

This story is dedicated to Marsha Ginsburg. The teacher who reminded me to write with "soul".

Obama Gets To Work; Rolls Back Bush Policies


Just when full-throated progressives thought Barack Obama's centrist cabinet nominations may portend for a president deserting his base and veering too far center of the left, he pulled off a stunning half week of work giving those hope for a return to a more palatable Washington.

The list of accomplishments reads like a liberal wet dream on the streets of Berkeley. Obama orders Guantanamo closed within the year, takes torture off the list of interrogating tactics, reverses President Bush's gag-rule on U.S. funding of abortions overseas and significantly curb the power lobbyist on K Street. Obama even showed military muscle in Pakistan yesterday named two Democrats steeped in successful diplomatic efforts in Northern Ireland and the Balkans to sort out ongoing trouble in Gaza and Pakistan. What a week!

About one point, the litany of executive orders ostensibly rolling back some of President Bush's most controversial policies ran the risk of stuffing too much, too quick into the faces of the downtrodden GOP. By Friday, when Obama reportedly "reminded" Senate Minority Whip John Kyl of Arizona that "I won" and the rationale became clear: there may not be a significant opposition from the GOP on Capitol Hill to stifle Obama's plans since these actions are part of the "change" 60 million American voters called for last November so ram it through.

Thus far, Obama has been deliberate and in hindsight quite open about his desire to move quickly, some of us though were still jaded on that possibility. Moving fast on reversing the old administration's questionable governing is bold and wise during a period when so much is needed on the economic front. There was one thing Obama forgot, though. Psst...bring the troops home.

Arizona's Other Senator Caught In News Blackout


Somebody get Arizona's junior Senator Jon Kyl a newspaper subscription.

During a brief debate with the new president over the inclusion of tax cuts for people who may have earned enough to pay income tax, Obama reportedly told the square-headed senator, "I won."

Sure, sounds a bit Bushian, doesn't it? Sort of like after 2004 election, when President Bush announced he had attained "political capital" and intended to "spend it." Except, the difference from this perceive cocky utterance come this fact: Obama did convincingly win the election.

Kyl, who Sen. John McCain accidentally named-dropped this week for a presidential run in 2012, and other Republicans think such cuts amount to government-backed welfare. Undoubtedly, most of those who fail to earn high enough wages to pay income tax are also the poorest among us. It is generally accepted that the quickest way to put money in the economy is to give it to lower income families who will likely spend it on food, clothing, rent and health care. Of course, most of those people did not vote for the other senator from Arizona--McCain.

The exchange between Kyl and Obama was confirmed by both sides. There was no tone or context included in any story, although Kyl did criticize Obama's inauguration speech, so there may be some brewing animosity. What is implicit, despite the atmosphere of congeniality Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill are espousing during week one of the new administration, Republicans need to realize most of the policies laid out by president during the campaign have the backing of a majority of voters. Instead, of fighting, the GOP needs to quickly figure how to slightly navigate to closer to left to survive these days.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Taxing: Kennedy Out, Geithner In?


At the moment it is hard to establish exactly what is going down regarding Caroline Kennedy's on/off/on/off Senate bid. Did she take herself out the running to save face on the knowledge New York Governor David Paterson has chosen some one else, presumably first-term Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand?

The initial response that Kennedy was so distraught by Uncle Teddy Kennedy's seizure on inauguration day was a ridiculous red herring apparently drawing the ire of some in the Kennedy clan. The latest rumor that tax problems regarding a housekeeper is the real reason Paterson shied away from Kennedy is plausible. Then, again, it could also be a convenient excuse. Yet, on the basis of fairness, if tax problem did derail Kennedy's bid for the Senate, it raises concerns from a gender point-of-view.

How was Tim Geithner approved by the Senate Finance Committee today with apparent egregious tax bills outstanding and Kennedy was excluded from Congress because of hers?

Detractors will say Kennedy just was not qualified to a senator. Is someone like Gillibrand experienced enough? Did we not recently elect a perceived novice to the Oval Office.

On the practical side, it was not the Kennedy name that appealed to some, but the money behind the brand. The next senator from New York will need huge resources in one of the most expensive media centers in the world and campaign twice in the next years--due to the remainder of Hillary Clinton's term in 2010.

One media outlet in sexist fashion, counted the number of "you knows" Kennedy uttered in an interview with The New York Times at 138. Would an editor bring a "you know" clicker to count a mans quirky use of language?

You know, once again, the election of Barack Obama did not radically change the attitudes of Americans with regard to race and gender equity. They still exist in full-force when the man now in charge of the nation's money supply gains his position--at a time when the job is far more crucial than that of one senator out of one hundred--with serious questions regarding his payment of taxes, while a woman with reportedly the same problem is shut out of hers.

This connection is not being made today and that, in itself, is the real problem.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Tweaks Bush, Calls Out Tyranny; Brings Hope

Today, we live in the age of President Obama. Our 44th President offered some of these lines during his inaugural address. Along with the highlights of the speech are a few reflections on their meaning and insight into the next four years. Read the entire text of the address here:

At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents. So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
These lines sound similar to tenor of Obama's campaign speeches, yet with the Capitol as a backdrop they now seem Presidential--conveying hope in not only ourselves but tapping into the hope and successes of all Americans throughout our history.

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
Like it or not, President Obama is giving the nation its nasty dose of reality. Undoubtedly, like the Roaring 20s, where greed and the broadening of rich and poor led to economic calamity, so have the avarice of 21st Century Wall Street. It is also a gesture to all, specifically on those who signed those conspicuous loan documents, that you too are also partly to blame. As a nation, we have rested on our laurels and unrivaled power to sit idle as we doddled with a poor energy policy that allows outside nations to control our wealth by way of the supply and demand of fossil fuels. The future wars of the world will be solely about energy, if they are not already today.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
These lines are a few of the most important in Obama's address. He has within his grasp a power of which few presidents have possessed in the past 40 years--unity within the government and the populace. Who knows how long it last? It has always been my belief the only way Americans would welcome needed change would be through calamity such as these times where the pocketbooks of all are affected. What are the "petty grievances" and "worm out dogmas"? I would like to think a few are the right to bear arms, gay marriage, and the perennial harbinger of gridlock and division rolled out every four years, but not this election--abortion. The point is not to deny those who believe strongly for or against, but these battles have little bearing on how we fix what ails the country.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Sounds a bit like the Republican ideology of picking yourself up by the bootstraps. Obama must be commended for taking a swing at the Bush White House here. It is so apparent in the minds of all Americans that the former president did serious damage to the nation. Numerous reports described the massive throng of people at the Capitol booing images of the former prez on the many jumbotrons.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Some talking heads on television noted Obama's address was devoid of details on policy, yet this portion of the speech lays out exactly what he intends to accomplish. Again, he snubs his nose at many of Bush's failed policies.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Here lies the reason many like me supported candidates like Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. They all believed in America as a benevolent leader in the world, where inhabitants of foreign countries dreamed about this land. I still believe there are young boys and girls who toil in impoverished lands and dream about coming to this country. People like my father who sent letters to his uncle in California from a tiny house filled with eight brothers and sisters in the Azores Islands. Torture and the brute force of our nation against others is not what those people believe in when they think of our country. My father did not, I do not and hopefully no one will ever think of us in that way again.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Obama used this tough language during his election night victory speech in Grant Park. It sounded un-Obama-like then as it did today. It would be naive to believe our nation is no longer in danger from extremist elements because of Obama's election. He delivered these lines with such quiet intensity that it reminds us that campaign rhetoric sometimes becomes just that when a man is elevated to the presidency. These words are not the change we have been waiting for, but again, the next four years will force Obama to make decisions he thought he would never have to make. Bush never thought he would be nation-building in 2000. It turned out that is all his presidency dealt with.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.
The inclusion of "non-believers" is something most religious righties cringed when hearing.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Did you hear that, Iran, North Korea and Cuba? Obama will talk to you. The notion Obama would talk to our enemies was controversial during the campaign. Apparently, this is one promise he is sticking with. Will anything get done? Probably not.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
Much like his campaign for the office where Obama rarely made light of race. This address utilizes the same tone. The momentousness of this day in American history hangs over every word but until this paragraph is it mentioned. Framed in this way, it is truly remarkable, not that our culture has come far in race relations--we really have not--but in such a short period of decades this man ascended to the presidency. It is more a testament solely to Obama rather than our nation's attitudes.

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Remember, Obama is a writer. This final paragraph is lovingly conceived with rich imagery and hope for the future. If our ship of state does reach calm waters under Obama's watch this paragraph is destined to be etched on the walls of the future Obama Presidential library.

Roberts Flubs Oath, Not Obama

At first it seemed like President Obama screwed up the beginning of the Oath of Office. In actuality, it was the other rookie standing at the podium, Chief Justice John Roberts.

Obama apparently had the correct order of words zooming through his mind. You didn't think he would be prepared for it? Many watching the oath for the first time most likely did not catch Roberts inadvertently delete the word, "faithfully" upon which Obama paused, nodded at Roberts and smiled before the chief justice could recite the correct line.

Nevertheless, the seemingly uber-confident Obama showed an immense snapshot of humanity. The pause and the stumble illustrated that the man was nervous. Who wouldn't be? At that moment, it is worth remembering that he is not the ultimately savior to all that ills our country, merely a man with the conviction to change America at a unique time in our history.

I have heard some people wonder aloud why anyone would want to be president now. Actually, all of them would kill to be in Obama's position. For men who desire the office of presidency a certain amount of legacy inhabits all of them. President Clinton surely looked at President George W. Bush as lucky to have a formative moment like 9/11 to cement his legacy instead of a stained blue dress. You could see it in the faces of all the living president's as Obama walked to his sit on the inaugural platform. I wish I was in his position they seemed to say.

Yet, when you're the man entrusted with the country and the world's problems the job is daunting and Obama showed he is only human. That is probably why over 60 million Americans voted for him in the first place.

Good Riddance

DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE A@#$: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses wave farewell to FORMER President George W. Bush

Change Has Occurred

President Barack Obama.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush: Arrogant To The End

Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.
--President Bush speaking at his farewell speech to the nation.

President Bush looked tired. His hair gray. His neck visibly thin, barely filling his starched white collar. His farewell address tonight revealed that certain grace that initially created a brief bond with a certain swath of America. He thanked Uncle Dick, had loving words for his wife, daughters and even mom and dad. You almost felt sorry for him. Some tender part of you said you might miss him--not his disastrous policies--but, his goofiness, his sneer and even the universally accepted notion of him the Dolt-in-Chief.

Empathy with President Bush only goes so far. He can't hide from his cocky hubris. It is omnipresent and so much a part of his soul that he cannot stifle it. Many early news reports of tonight's address focused on one pull-quote, "we must never let down our guard." As if we were transported just for old time's sake back to 2003 when the mainstream media walked in line with everything we know was false about the invasion of Iraq. Bush is still fighting the terrorists while the rest of us of are fighting the debt collectors.

Bush's retro bravado is not the most intriguing part of the above mentioned paragraph, instead three sentence beforehand he says, "America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict." How could such an inflammatory and purely arrogant line be glossed over? The United States did nothing to provoke the ire of the perpetrators of 9/11 and the entire Middle East?

If this was the oblivious and ignorant rationale for the crumbling of the next six years, was it all worth it?

There was not a singular event that caused al-Qaeda to attack seven years ago, but over 50 years of American intervention in the region. Arrogance which continually slapped the downtrodden adherents of Islam in the fact although in a usually covert, but rarely as upfront as the style Bush preferred. The U.S. has toppled (or attempted to) governments throughout the region with Iran, Syria, Egypt just to name a few. The U.S. played both side of the Iran-Iraq War, supported Saddam Hussein before turning on him and generally played the Middle East with hegemony deserving of a King. We were happy to spill their blood for their oil.

The U.S. did plenty to deserve 9/11. It did not deserve the loss of 3,000 innocent people, but then again, our government has not been very careful in differentiating insurgents from innocents, either.

Obama's Official Portrait Released


The official portrait of President-elect Barack Obama--the one which will hang on every post office wall across the land was released yesterday.

Talk about ubiquitous. This image of Obama will likely burn an imprint on the collective brain of the world.

Take, for instance, the youthful, cocky smirk of George W. Bush's official portrait. It has been copied, mocked and repeatedly photoshopped with horns the past eight years. Click here to see it one last time.

How young President Bush looked back then as opposed to now.

By the way, I'm not liking Obama's tie and does he really need a lapel pin of the flag with one directly behind him?

Geithner Doesn't Pay Taxes; Congress Doesn't Pay Attention


Treasury nominee Tim Geithner doesn't pay his taxes. This piece of information did not preclude Barack Obama from choosing him anyway. The man who would be in charge of the Internal Revenue Service has an aversion to paying taxes. I have an aversion to it, too.

Comedian Steven Colbert said, "I don't pay my taxes, either. Why can't I be Treasury secretary?"

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions is right, "the man who wants to be the top tax collector in America hasn’t paid his taxes.”

Despite the inconvenient truth about Geithner and another example of the new administration lax vetting process, the nomination took a hit, but still rolls, at least, for now.

The Associated Press speculated today that the postponement of Geithner's confirmation until the day after the inauguration next Tuesday may allow the chorus of disenchantment to rise. Most likely, the postponement is designed to push the story deep into the news sections of papers across the country planning splashy commemorative editions of Obama's first day in office.

Yet, the New York Times and other publications gloss over all of this and report Geithner will likely be confirmed nonetheless.

In spite of Geithner's problems, his nomination should be shrouded in more doubt than Capitol Hill is willing to delve. Many say he is capable, but as opposed to whom? George W. Bush and the presidency? Geithner presided over Wall Street--the epicenter of much of the greed and deregulation that has ground the economy nearly to a halt. He comes from the Robert Rubin school of economics that easily extends blame for our current situation past the era of President Bush and into the late stages of the Clinton presidency.

Geithner is cozy with the bank. Familiar with the players who built the house of cards which ultimately fell with the housing bubble and it was not until word leaked that he paid his four-year-old tax bill last week that Congress began to question his nomination.

Again, nobody is looking out for the American people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Joe The Common Man Takes A Hit


I would like to hit Joe the Plumber--like really hard.

Not only was the first iteration of Joe Wurzelbacher annoying and bereft of integrity and overflowing with basic conservative obliviousness to his own situation, he also was boring.

Joe the Foreign Correspondent is even worse because he's Joe the Guy Drinking Budweiser at the Moose Lodge, Joe the Politically Incorrect New Boyfriend at the Family BBQ and Joe the Guy Who Finds Larry the Cable Guy Too Hilarious.

The point is Joe Wurzelbachers are a dime a dozen. Pajamas Media, of course, is merely using the "Joe the Plumber" brand name for attention; and that's perfectly fair, but when Wurzelbacher begins opining ignorantly on the wonders of war propaganda and comes close to stoking Palestinian anger he is more dangerous than entertaining.
I liked back in World War I and World War II, when you'd go to the theater and you'd see your troops on the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them. Now everyone's got an opinion and wants to down soldiers—our American soldiers, our Israeli soldiers. I think media should be abolished from reporting.
This statement is really a variation of Wurzelbacher's faulty personal premise and questions to Barack Obama regarding his tax plan. He did not have a personal stake in the question and did not have the wealth to actually be taxed under the plan, yet played the typical conservative fantasy they are created equally to the super rich that greatly prosper from their support despite their own interest not being met.

Wurzelbacher wants to abolish the media in war zones while fellow Americans of similar values and wealth fund these wars with their blood. In a time, when the media often times does not do its job of reporting the foreign news, people like Wurzelbacher continue to have an unwise and unhealthy view of the government and the military. As The Boss once said, "blind faith in your leader or in anything will get you killed." So can people like Joe the Plumber.

Stimulus Bill Must Think Outside The Nation's Borders


Americans are feeling the economic pinch, but, in many cases, the decisions made in Washington may effect the rest of the world more deeply. In the current edition of The American Prospect, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson calls for a "Global New Deal".

Using the example of the American Insurance Group (AIG) and the ability to use its global tentacles to effectively be a company without a country to regulate its business, Meyerson constructs an argument that has received little attention nationwide.

Barack Obama may well seek a new New Deal to right a profoundly dysfunctional American economy. But he faces one constraint that Franklin Roosevelt didn't have to confront in the 1930s: The economy that Roosevelt saved was fundamentally a national economy that could be altered by national policies. The economy that Obama must fix, by contrast, has national dimensions that can be altered by national policies, but in matters ranging from corporate conduct to consumer safety to Americans' incomes, not to mention global warming, purely national solutions no longer suffice. To fix America today requires fixing global systems. The next New Deal won't work if it's only American.

Under the concepts of globalization, a multinational corporation is able to evade basic regulatory oversight that a nationally-based business would have to cooperate.

A report from the Center for American Progress deals more closely with the topic from the standpoint of foreign economies, saying Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression needs to be applied globally.

This common political imperative has created the conditions for an unprecedented exercise in international economic cooperation aimed at stabilizing the world economy and placing it on a stronger and more sustainable footing through a series of structural reforms. This is precisely the approach the creators of the New Deal took to our national economic crisis in the 1930s.

Americans may have a narrow view of the global ramifications of its own financial demise, but this fact need not preclude the newly elected president from scratching it from the national dialogue.

The European economies of Germany, France and England are searching for ways to stimulate their economies, while reports this past weekend say that Greece, Ireland and Spain may have their AAA-credit ratings downgraded because of worsening recessions. Of course, these are relatively rich nations as compared to say, Latin American countries, which are relatively stable, but are all encountering lowered gross domestic product figures in the new year.

Some economic isolationists may deny the inevitability of globalization, yet it exists. The effort to fix the U.S. economy needs to add the discussion of world markets in our national dialogu, because people around the world are beginning to argue that what is good for the United States is not necessarily good for the rest of the world

This article and others can be found at The Commonwealth Club of California's blog

Obama's Recovery Plan Moves To The Center


Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has no qualms with President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus plan – and that could be a problem in itself.

After eight years of tax cuts under President Bush, some Democrats – especially Northeastern liberals like Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Barney Frank – think that giving tax breaks to businesses and middle-class families will not create long-term job growth. Scott Lehigh, writing in the Boston Globe's op-ed page, thinks tax cuts make little sense and wonders whether they exist in Obama's plan as a carrot to Republicans.

Democrats are also leery about heaping more debt on the books. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the deficit will reach $1.2 trillion in 2009, not including Obama's stimulus plan. Some in Washington also believe the total stimulus price tag will ultimately reach closer to $1 trillion. Obama's preliminary estimate is around $775 billion.

With 11 days until inauguration day, Obama, like President Franklin D. Roosevelt 76 years ago, will be afforded a brief honeymoon period in Washington and this is the impetus for the presidential feel of yesterday's speech at George Mason University.

Former labor secretary under President Clinton, Robert Reich, believes the government stimulus should reach upwards of $900 billion spread over two years and urges for it to be done quickly. "Without federal action, next year could be even worse," Reich told congressmen at a forum discussing the stimulus bill in Washington.

On his blog, Reich urges Congress to spend without caution of overextending itself.

As the buyer of last resort, the federal government must respond if that cycle is to be reversed. In my judgment, this will require a stimulus of about 6 and a half percent of gross domestic product, or a total of some $900 billion, spread over two years. That’s my estimate for the shortfall in private demand. But the federal government should stand ready to spend larger sums if necessary to get the economy back on track toward full capacity. The danger is not that the government will do too much; the danger is that it will do too little, too late.

Reich agrees with Obama's plan to upgrade the nation's infrastructure as does Paul Krugman, but some disagree with the basic Keynesian approach. Larry Kudlow at the National Review mocks Obama's progressive pedigree by saying his stimulus plan is somewhat Reaganesque. "Nobody really believes infrastructure spending will end the recession or create permanent new jobs. However, it’s interesting just how much the Obama plan has changed since the election," he wrote.

Here lies the problem facing Washington: in the shadow of a clumsily rolled out $700 billion bailout for the financial sector where many do not know where the money went and fewer gained any stimulus from the investment, how will what many people see as a chronically ineffective legislative branch deal decisively with the economy? Obama wants a bill ready to sign from Congress by Feb. 13. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is already pushing to extend the deadline. Meanwhile, unemployment reaches 7.2 percent and the prospect of this year being somewhat better than the last decreases

This article and others can be found at The Commonwealth Club of California's blog Also, read about the unspoken demise of employed Americans who are not only making less money per hour, but working less of them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Oscar Grant Was Executed By BART Police


Oscar Grant III was executed New Year's morning. There is no way around it, no matter what the BART Police say.

Watch video of Grant being shot in the back by an unidentified BART policeman at Oakland's Fruitvale station.

Grant was face down and nearly subdued when the officer inexplicably discharged his weapon into his back. Without evidence of a weapon on Grant's person, the act was murder--execution style.

The local television newsrooms have been far more vigilant than the local newspapers in reporting the callousness of this act and the lame excuses and lies spokesman for BART have peddled since Thursday morning's killing.

The San Francisco Chronicle's article this morning shows a pro-law enforcement lede that reads:
BART's police chief asked for patience from the public on Sunday after video footage surfaced showing one of his officers fatally shooting an unarmed man who was on the ground on a station platform on New Year's Day, and after an attorney for the dead man's family said he planned to sue the transit agency for $25 million.
The lede in the Oakland Tribune and its East Bay sister papers is decidedly different:
A BART police officer struggling to handcuff a 22-year-old man stood up over the facedown Hayward resident and fired a single shot into his back while a handful of officers watched, a video taken by a train passenger apparently shows.
To some the difference may be subtle, but opening the article by allowing the perpetrator to urge some sort of caution provides the point of view of law enforcement when it is not deserved. Besides, reports of widespread unrest--although deserved--has not occurred in the Bay Area.

Even more egregious is that the Chronicle reporter allowed the BART police chief to rebut the images on the video by calling them "inconclusive."

This isn't surprising coming from the Chronicle. During the December 2007 tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo, reporters attempted to portray the victims as troublemakers seemingly getting what they deserved by taunting the animal.

The Chronicle's Demian Bulwa continues to peddle the company line offering possible excuses such as a high state of alert permeated the force that night and the officer may have intended to fire his taser gun instead.

The shooting of Oscar Grant III is a story that needs to be told nationally. It is every bit as appalling as the assault on Abner Louima in New York, the beating of Rodney King and the infamous 41 shots fired by the NYPD at Mamadou Diallo for merely reaching for his wallet.

Once again the leading economists and purveyors of Wall Street bull are telling us the nation's financial crisis is about to get better. Think again. Read my post at The Commonwealth Club of California's blog.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Developing Storyline: Can't Trust Those Democrats


So much for the big, scary liberal media operating in tandem with the incoming Obama administration and Democratic Congress to turn America into a socialist panacea.

If the audacity of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly selling the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat Chicago-style wasn't enough political crookedness, now comes these headlines from The New York Times:

"A Donor’s Gift Soon Followed Clinton’s Help" and today, "Richardson Won’t Pursue Cabinet Post". The latter referring to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson take his name out of consideration as Obama's Commerce Secretary because of an alleged pay-to-play scheme in his state.

Blagojevich, Clinton, and now much for change in Washington.

There seems to be a trend developing that surely has Republicans salivating. With still three weeks before the incoming administration takes power, Senate Minority Whip, Mitch McConnell already has three examples of Democrats acting in a supremely egregious manner. How soon until every wide-ranging progressive idea from expanding health care to stoking the stagnant economy is torpedoed by Republican rhetoric about the unapologetic graft of Democrats? How can we trust these guys with our tax dollars, the GOP will likely cry ad nauseam.

When Obama and others say something akin to "good ideas come to Washington to die" we really had a different view of how it would go down--with political posturing, not the plausible argument of trust in the party in power.

Cheney Again Hides Behind Presidential Power


Dick Cheney sounded a bit too much like President Nixon this morning with Bob Schieffer. If you have been watching television lately you might have noticed ads for the movie "Frost/Nixon" featuring actor Frank Langhella impersonating Nixon saying, "It's legal if the president does it."

On Face the Nation, a gaunt and raspy-voiced Cheney said something similar in an exchange where the veep referenced Abraham Lincoln's controversial suspension of habeus corpus during the Civil War. (Click here to watch the clip from

"It certainly was in the sense he wasn't impeached," said Cheney, "And it was a wartime measure that he took that I think history says today, yeah, that was probably a good thing to do."

Cheney's response is an awkward version of "it's only illegal, if you get caught," and further illustrates the Bush-Cheney chutzpah of the last eight years will continue. Shortly after the Abu Ghraib disaster and massive flubbing of Katrina, the administration has, in a sense, thrown in the towel in regards to convincing the public their policies are beneficial in the short term. Instead, both the president and Cheney resort to using rhetoric from the future--history will vindicate us!--it possibly could, but likely will not, but it's all they have.

At a few points in this interview, Cheney is downright unapologetic about some of the policies he and the president have supported. One could almost see such sanguine answers as evidence used in the court of law. Hopefully lunatics on the left save their energy and focus it on taking advantage of the monumental opportunity afforded by the last eight years and remake the nation in a progressive image of equality and domestic tranquility.