Friday, September 25, 2009

Finally! Something worth fighting about!!!

Berkeley has been crazy for years. I've lived there, and I know. It is a fun, kooky sort of crazy, an aging hippie crazy. It once believed it could change the world. It did--kind of, and mostly (mostly) for the better. But once the big cause of the Viet Nam war was taken away, and admittedly once corporate America found ways to profit off of the counter culture--it got confused. Berkeley, both the campus and even more so the town, has flopped around for the last forty years searching for causes that it can support because, obviously, the revolution wasn't won when the US pulled out of Viet Nam. So they've looked and looked, poked under every rock and corporate scandal, searching for a wrong to right. Sometimes, as in Apartheid, they found a good cause. Other times, like trying to save the redwood trees around the stadium, they've just looked stupid.

But now they've got a real cause: tuition hikes! Not only that, but tuition hikes coupled to budget cuts and staffing reductions. This is a cause everbody onc ampus can believe in, because it affects them personally. It affects their pocket books. Not since the war time draft has their been a cause that effected so many of the student body at the same time. And unless you think they are just being selfish, mark this: UC was originally free. Not only that, but the people who will be most affected by the tuition hikes are middle class students who dont' qualify for anything but student loans (and I have first hand experience with how bad those can be). But perhaps the most salient point is this: UC, the most prestigious public university system in the world, exists as a public trust, and that trust is being betrayed. Some see this as a crass conservative attempt to do away with public higher education entirely, and I am sure that is indeed the motivation of some people in power. But even if they are sincere in their attempts to save the university during a time of fiscal crisis, they should all be fired. From the governor on down.

This should not be allowed to happen!

So now the entire UC system has erupted in protest. Good! Shut it down! Shut the whole thing down! Who knows, perhaps shutting the system is what the governor wants, but at least it will go out with a fight!

Take to the streets and man the barricades! This is a cause worth fighting for!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Count me out

Max Bachus' health care reform bill came out of the finance committee today. This is the bill that most experts agree represents what health care reform is most likely to look like, because although he didn't admit it Obama basically quoted the Bachus bill right down the line in his address to congress. According to the Washington Post, the Bachus bill appears to have everyone angry, but drug companies, hospitals and insurance companies are less angry than others. This is said to be a good thing.

Count me as one of those liberals who is opting out. I said all along that I would not support a bill that doesn't have a robust public option, and this bill doesn't have one. Bachus' bill amounts to nothing more and nothing less than a huge giveaway to the insurance companies--the very people we should be reigning in. We should certainly not be pouring money into, or worse yet forcing people who can't afford it to pour money into, their corporate pig trough. The insurance companies are not opposing this bill because the reduction in costs they will receive is offset by the 30 million new customers they will receive. That's right, they are being bought off in the worst possible way--because the government is going to force us to give them money. In the case of my family, money we cannot afford to give them.

I object. I strenuously object.

Just as Bush sold us out to the oil companies, Obama is selling us out to the insurance companies. Great. Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that it proves that slime Glen Beck right. He said in his otherwise horrible book that the job of both parties seems to be to take your money and give it away to some corporation or other. Sure looks that way to me.

In his speech to congress last week, President Obama wagged his finger at liberals like me (and Rush Limbaugh *still* thinks he's Obama is a liberal!) and told us that we should not hold the public option as the end all and be all of health care reform; reminding us like a parsimonious school marm that the driving force behind health care reform has always been to cut waste and fraud. Excuse me, Mr. President, but I call bullshit. The driving force behind health care reform, since Teddy Roosevelt first proposed it, has been universal health care. That is what Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Clinton all were fighting for. All of them failed. That is certainly what I was campaigning for when I worked as a campaign worker on the single payer ballot initiative in California, which also failed. Not once in your speech Mr. President did you mention universal health care, sir: not once. Nor have you said it since. This is the best shot we've ever had, and this time we cannot fail. But this bill represents a colossal failure. This bill does not cover everyone, and without an affordable public option it cannot help to do so. My congress person and at least one of my senators has said they strongly support a public option, and have indicated they will not support a bill without it. I hope they stick to that. I hope the House sticks to its plan to pass a public option. If Obama's plan is to get the bill to a conference committee and then make sure it comes out with a public option inserted into it then fine, their strategy is ok. But there is no way to tell, so at this point I have to say that anyone who supports this bill in its current form is abandoning the public trust.

So count me out.

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Monday, September 14, 2009


Perhaps the biggest, most startling news I've seen this year. Far scarier than anything Glen Beck or Sarah Palin have come up with: Philadelphia is shutting down it's libraries. Permanently. You think the battle is health care? This is the most shocking sign yet that the progressive agenda is failing. Libraries!? How can you have a society without libraries? I know that people don't read anymore. I know that everyone (erroneously) believes that everything you might need to read is on the internet--or else you can buy it at Barnes and Nobles. But what kind of society is a society without free public libraries? One wherein only those who can afford to purchase books can read them? I'll tell you what kind: a kind wherein only the rich have any sort of real power. Because knowledge is power, and Wikipedia and Google combined don't make up the amount of knowledge available to you through the public library, and until every book every printed is available online for free, they never will. A public library is an indispensable part of a free society. This is a tragedy of truly epic proportions. And those responsible should be run out of town on rails.

A brife detour into the world of sports

I used to write about sports n this blog a lot more. Now I do most of that elsewhere, concentrating on politics and the media. But with Sarena Williams I'm going to make an exception. The open is, after all, one of the great New York events, and I've seen both Williams and Kim Clijsters play there in the past.

It's tempting to see the reaction to Sarena Williams' meltdown at the U.S. Open as being tinged with racism, and perhaps, in some instances, it is. Williams, down a set and facing elimination to eventual champion Clijsters, went on an angry tirade after a line judge called her for a foot fault. Earlier in the match she had broken a racket in anger and received a warning. Her explosion over the foot fault, in which she said she would "f*ing shove this ball down your f*ing throat," cost her another point, but as a result of the foot fault, it happened to be match point. She lost. She received a $10,000 fine. She was unrepentant in her press conference but later apologized. She could receive a much larger fine of up to 1.6 million dollars (the rules on a major infraction say "up to $250,000 or the amount of prize money for the tournament, whichever is greater" but that is mostly for people who are found to have cheated and then won). She could also be permanently banned from Majors. Nobody thinks either of those will happen (though a larger fine is likely). She and her sister are playing today in the doubles final, which many people felt she should have been disqualified for. She finally apologized to the line judge today.

All fair and good. But some of the reaction has been very nasty. I have read on various internet sites that she was a fraud and a coward, that the outburst was calculated because she new she was going to loose to Clijsters and didn't want to loose on the court. She has been called a bully and a thug and far worse. I think there is definitely a racist undertone to some of these comments. It is pointed out in several of the articles that the Williams sisters are from Compton (though, to be fair, Ms. Williams pointed that out herself at her press conference). The stupidest comments are those that claimed she was a coward and simply didn't want to face being beaten by Clijsters. Williams has fought back from the brink of defeat before. It's as if the people writing this garbage don't recall that she is one of the greatest tennis players of all time and was at that moment the defending U.S. Open champion. Beyond a doubt, some of the people writing this stuff are painting her with a racist brush, making her out to be some kind of black gang banger from South Central who has somehow crashed the gates of the all white, genteel party that is big time tennis. It's as if these folks have never even heard of Arthur Ashe (and no, Ashe would never have melted down the way Williams did, but the same language was used against Ashe that is now, once again, being thrown at Williams).

But just as such demeaning language should not be thrown at Williams, so too not everyone who is criticizing her, not even the ones saying she is a bully and a thug, should automatically be considered racists. Tennis *is* a genteel party, and there are strict rules of conduct which Williams broke. She did threaten the line judge. She did lose it.

Some have pointed to John McEnroe and the way he is looked at as evidence that Willimas is getting a raw deal. After all, Johnny Mac is a hero in this town. He is celebrated as a "lovable bad boy" for his famous "You cannot be serious!" explosions (McEnroe, while condemning how far she went, defended Williams, saying that he couldn't see the fault and anyway it shouldn't have been called at that critical instant--consistent with his long time criticism of umpiring in tennis). But people forget that McEnroe was not always celebrated for his outbursts. At the time much of the same language, Bully, Thug, etc., was leveled at him. Condemnation was near universal in the sporting press and general community--except in New York City, where such outbursts are part of the fabric of daily life, and are seen as a constitutional right. So if the white guy from New York can be called a bully and a thug for yelling at the umpires, it's not really racist--in and of itself--to say the same thing about the black woman from Compton.

Me, I'm disappointed whenever the Williams Sisters lose.

But I sure do love the U.S. Open!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Trial By Fire

Okay, it's in the New Yorker, the ultimate bastion of New York elitism; the temple of town house culture. But the article "Trial by Fire" is frightening and must be read.

For years I've been one of those people who have insisted that the biggest problem with the death penalty is that you can't switch somebody back on once they are dead. If the state makes a mistake and executes and innocent person there is no way to reverse the error. (apparently I am not alone in this: according to the article it is the one thing that shakes people's faith in the death penalty). A lot of death penalty proponents like to say that no innocent person has ever been executed since the re-institution of the death penalty, with all its procedural safeguards and appeals, in the 1970s. This is bull. We know deep down that it is impossible for any science as inexact as criminology, which relies on such things as intuition and inspiration, that often involves conflicting evidence, and that involves the outrage and anger of the public and a jury, to be 100 percent failsafe. It is a fact that over 400 death row inmates have been exonerated in the last twenty years, some of them coming within hours of their execution before being granted a stay. It is logically inconceivable that there would be no one who had not received that stay, that no one had slipped through the cracks, ever. Beyond a doubt, beyond a reasonable doubt, the state has executed innocent people. The argument therefore has always been that nobody has ever proven to have been innocent after they were executed. "Factually and legally" is the term. In spite of the fact that so many people have been exonerated right before they could be executed, this is the basis of the "it's never happened" argument. But that ignores a simple fact. Once someone is dead they cannot receive a new trial. They are dead. The appeals process ends. They are dead. The state does not have a mechanism to prove that a dead person might be innocent. Perhaps a civil trial could do so. Perhaps. But it is unlikely that it would ever be proven legally that someone was erroneously executed, because there is no legal method for doing so.

But this case comes close. And if it gets the attention it deserves, the legs may have been knocked out from under the pro-death penalty argument for good.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Dark Places of Our Youth

It is time to revisit, for a moment, some of the dark places of our youth, those places we prefer to ignore or pretend didn’t happen. It is important to face them from time to time. I learned long ago that, while the idealism of the 60s and 70s was not a lie, it masked things, and even nurtured things, that are frightening.
Too melodramatic. Let’s start again:

Squeaky Fromme is out of prison.

That’s better. Direct, to the point. Squeaky is out of prison.

Squeaky Fromme was one of Charlie Manson’s Girls. That’s how they were always described. Charlie’s girls. She was one of the first. They were young women who worshiped the ground that he walked on, were seduced into believing that he was some sort of divine spirit. They would do anything for him—including murdering Sharon Tate and eight other people in one of the grizzliest mass murders of all time.
But Squeaky wasn’t involved. She’s sixty years old. To the best of anybody’s knowledge she didn’t kill anybody. When she pointed a .45 caliber pistol at President Ford in 1975, the gun wasn’t even loaded, though at the time there was some debate as to whether or not she knew that. Personally, I think she did know, and she was just doing it for attention. She is not actually a murderer. She deserves her parole. So why do I feel nervous?

Probably it’s because I have seen Squeaky Fromme in the flesh and she was scary. I’d been raised around real hippies in Norhtern California and I liked them. They were interesting and cool and fun. They weren’t square. They were also idealists who believed in a better world than the one we lived in, one in which the old strictures and hierarchies of society could be replaced by a new equality, where greed and materialism could be replaced with love and equality. A nice thought. At the time I also didn’t know the difference between hippies, who wanted to drop out of the world and be left alone, and radicals, who wanted to change the world, often through violence. And I didn’t really know about Charlie.

The idealism of Woodstock gave way to the seventies, with cocaine and AIDS and the Black Panthers and the SLA and the Weather Underground and Jim Jones and Disco. It wasn’t that the sixties were a lie, it’s that the people who believed in love and freedom didn’t foresee that it could lead to violence, overindulgence, death, and disco.

Charlie wasn’t really a product of the sixties, but he was a part of it. He took advantage of the idealism of the Woodstock generation, of their naiveté, and convinced a few of them that they could start a violent revolution if they murdered a bunch of rich people and made it look like black radicals did it. He was, in a way, playing Black Nationalism, Hollywood liberalism, and entrenched American racism off against each other. In the end he was just a crazy man with some whacked out followers hopped up on LSD going on a killing spree (which Manson himself didn’t even take part in). I never met Charlie Manson. My step father encountered him once though, and that is a good family story. I think my step-mother met him once too, when she was a prison psychiatrist. But not me. And I’m glad.

But I did see Squeaky. I grew up in Sacramento and lived there when she pulled the unloaded gun on President Ford. My mom took me out of school and down to the courthouse to attend Squeaky’s trial. Mom thought it would be good for me to see the justice system up close, and probably thought that I’d remember being that close to history for the rest of my life. If so, she was right. I clearly remember Squeaky coming into the courtroom, her head wrapped in a shawl, a blank look on her face. The judge informed her that she had a right to be present during the proceedings. I don’t think she even looked at him. She didn’t say anything. She just paused, then walked back toward her cell. It was as if she was wandering through a dream, barely even taking it in. There was no evidence presented that day. They were arguing over the admissibility of a tape recording of what Squeaky said at the time of her arrest (the trial turned on whether or not she had said “What does it matter, the gun was empty” or “What does it matter, the gun didn’t go off.” There were rounds in the clip but not in the chamber, and whether or not she knew that indicated whether or not she intended to shoot the president.)

And that was it. We left the courthouse when they broke for lunch and went and had Mexican food at Los Aztecas. I went back to school the next day and told all my classmates. But I never forgot it. I never forgot that spooky woman in the head shawl. I seem to recall she had carved a cross in her forehead like Charlie. I think she did. Whatever, she was scary. She was the dark side of sixties idealism, the evil that can so easily take over good intentions. She never really recanted. She remained a loyal follower of Manson’s. And now she’s out. And it’s more than a bit scary.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Ok, Now I'm am confused.

Apparently, some conservatives, who just a month ago were complaining that President Obama is a god-less secularist, are now sounding the alarm that he is a theocrat. That's right, that he is using invoking God to support his health-care policy. Now this is the ultimate hypocrisy. We just had eight years of a conservative president who invoked God at every turn, who said God guided his decisions, who flaunted his faith at every turn, and who (worst of all in the long run) painted the conflict with Al Queda as a holy crusade. Now we have a president who has said that his faith leads him to believe that it is his duty to care for the sick (read universal health care) and this is somehow out of bounds.


First of all this "my faith is the only faith" has led to more misery than any other single cause on the planet. Including oil. Secondly, they don't get to have it both ways. And third, what have they got against healing the sick??? Are they caying Christ WOULDN'T heal the sick? That it not the duty of every christian tolook after his fellow man?

Once again this proves it is not about faith with these people or even ideology. It is certainly not about what is best for America. It is about money and power, just like always.