Monday, July 30, 2012

Make No Mistake About It, Dear Friends, The American Dream Is Deader Than Ever

I wrote 16 months ago that America was broken.  The intervening months, including a presidential campaign already long on mud slinging and short on substance, should silence anyone who thought I was being overwrought.

The death of the American Dream has been ongoing for decades as the gap between the rich and poor has grown, but it was during the dark days of the Bush-Cheney interregnum that it shifted into high gear.  And has kept accelerating primarily because of a Republican Party that is concerned only about its own selfish interests, notably pampering the rich and screwing the poor. I hasten to add that the GOP has had considerable help from a Democratic Party that has too often capitulated to its increasingly reactionary views even with Barack Obama in the White House and control of the Senate.

Here is the death of the American Dream writ large:
 * It continues to abandon its youth, its elderly and its poor. It is imprisoning millions of its citizens for the most trivial of offenses, including many hundreds of thousands whose only crime was to get caught with a marijuana cigarette.

* It is suffocating its middle class, turning its back on newcomers, trying to disenfranchise minority voters in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, further cementing the GOP as the White Peoples Party, and giving obscene tax breaks to corporations and fat-cat financiers such as its presumptive nominee, empty suit Mitt Romney.
* It has turned the truth into a malleable concept beaten into shapes that bear no semblance to reality, the most pungent contemporary examples being repeated Republican misrepresentations about what the Affordable Care Act is about and the embrace of Obama birtherism by many adherents.
* It is ignorant of its own history, core values and virtues, and many of us, if shown a copy of the Bill of Rights, would believe it to be a subversive document.

* It has an insatiable addiction to foreign oil, values clean air and water only when they don't get in the way of profit making, and cares little that its infrastructure is crumbling one bridge and dam at a time.

* Thinking big has been replaced by thinking small, discourse by dumbing down and bickering, and bipartisanship by ideological extremism that in its ugliest manifestation has been the GOP's treasonous blood thirst to oust Obama instead of working with him to jump start a moribund economy.
* It is in thrall to the nation's most dangerous terrorist organization, the National Rifle Association, which has bullied politicians into making legal the sales of the killing machines in the most recent of a never ending series of slaughters that would be unthinkable in other nations --  the massacre of 12 people and wounding of 58 others in a Colorado movie theater -- with more bloodbaths to come.
* It has turned against people whose skin color is different and who worship non-Christian deities.

* It cares little that our world standing has been undercut by reckless foreign adventures, torture and use of the 9/11 attacks not to reaffirm core values but to undermine them.

* It has a Congress that is borderline dysfunctional, a president who promised hope and change but with the exception of the Affordable Care Act has pretty much delivered more of the same if with less fear mongering, and a deeply politicized Supreme Court that is a helpmate to powerful and wealthy right-wing interests.

The American Dream is one of if not the greatest gift of our democracy because it draws so deeply from the core values on which the republic was founded.  But it has become a cliched concept, endlessly reworked by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, and all the more so because because while America unravels so many other peoples elsewhere, notably the Arab World, have embraced the dream in striving to be free.
It is convenient to reinvent an imaginary past when every home had a white picket fence in the front, a vegetable garden in the back and a shiny made-in-Detroit sedan at the curb.  There once was an American Dream and it survived two world wars, a nearly decade-long depression between those wars, and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Sadly -- and for me most bitterly as someone who has bled red, white and blue for his country -- the American Dream is not merely on sabbatical. It is dead. And while it is easy to blame feckless politicians and greed mongers for its demise, we all share responsibility as we take ever less responsibility for our country, ever less care in electing our so-called leaders, as well as ever less care for those things that should most matter for ourselves and future generations.
Photograph by Roger Blake 

Cartoon du Jour

Monday, July 23, 2012

(UPDATED) Penn State Hit With Major Fine, Loses 14 Years of Football Victories

And so the penultimate act in the Greek tragedy that the Penn State University sex abuse scandal has become played out today as the NCAA fined the storied Nittany Lion football program $60 million, imposed a four-year ban on post-season play and vacated of all of the team’s victories from 1998 to 2011.   The ultimate act will be the sentencing of pedophile football coach Jerry Sandusky and the tens of millions of dollars in settlements from lawsuits brought against an institution for whom protecting its image was more important than protecting vulnerable boys.

The punishment meted out by intercollegiate sports' governing body -- stiff but less severe than a "death penalty" that would have suspended the program for a period of time, nevertheless means that it will take the program years before it can return to the top echelon in which Penn State has dwelled for a half century and that disgraced former head coach Joe Paterno is no longer the major-college career leader in football wins.  The $60 million fine will be used to endow child-abuse charities while the Big Ten also fined Penn State $13 million, which is equivalent to its post-season revenue.
Long story short, and as Andrew Sullivan notes, Paterno built one of the most successful collegiate football program ever and is now responsible for almost completely destroying it.

The post-season ban and scholarship restrictions also imposed by the NCAA will keep the program from fielding a team that can be competitive in the always tough Big Ten, but players will be allowed to transfer to another university where they could play immediately, meaning that there could be a mass exodus from Now Not So Happy Valley.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said that no punishment the governing body could impose would change the damage done by Sandusky’s acts, but “the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics."

The package of punitive actions seems just about right. 
The program will continue but will be hobbled for years, an ongoing reminder of the rot at its core that Paterno willfully ignored, while it will be left to players to decide whether their loyalty to Penn State will trump the desire to play for a competitive program prior to having the opportunity to be drafted by a National Football League team as many Nittany Lions have been. 
The last Penn State victory that will officially count came in 1997. The quarterback of that team was Mike McQueary, who became an integral part of the investigation into Sandusky after witnessing him sexually assaulting a boy in the showers of the football building. 
Some commentators were critical of the NCAA action.  Penn State did not actually violate the NCAA rulebook and it is unclear whether it even had jurisdiction.

Opined Drew Magary: "I couldn't give two f---s what happens to the football team -- dress them in white unitards and make them a French mime troop, for all I care -- but there's nothing more ridiculous than watching the NCAA parade around its values and make frowny faces on national television, months and months after the scandal broke (and years and years after evil was allowed to take root)."

The announcement came a day after the statue of Paterno was removed from outside Beaver Stadium.  It was a belated if necessary action that was blunted by the news that Paterno’s name will remain on the campus library, which may be indicative of a skin-deep commitment to reform by the university administration and trustees since anything with the coach’s name on it presumably would be a "recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse," as university President Rodney Erickson put it in announcing removal of the statue.

The scandal led to the removal of Erickson's predecessor and ouster of Paterno, as well as the filing of criminal charges against two other top university officials. A report commissioned by Penn State’s board of trustees and compiled by Louis J. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director, found a series of failures all the way up the university’s chain of command that it concluded were the result of an insular and complacent culture in which football was revered.

Nearly three weeks after release of the Freeh report, a work crew arrived before dawn on Sunday and used jackhammers and a forklift to unceremoniously remove the statue of Paterno from its spot outside the football stadium, draping the figure in a blue tarp before hauling it off to an undisclosed locations and in so doing dismantling an iconic tribute to a coach who won more college football games than any other but has now had many of those victories vacated.

A lot of people believe that Paterno was neither villain nor saint. I held to that view after the initial revelations that Sandusky was a serial pedophile and that the university and possibly Paterno himself had engineered a cover-up. But with the drip, drip, drip of revelations since then and the release of Freeh’s damning 267-page report, I have changed my mind.

National championships do not counterbalance sexual abuse, and Paterno’s accomplishments and legacy no longer matter to me.

That he, a Roman Catholic as is Sandusky, could not summon the moral strength to do the right thing and instead deliberately and repeated concealed facts about Sandusky’s predatory behavior speaks volumes about the man he really was: A craven coward for whom image was everything (“Success with honor” was his motto) and sodomized boys were not to be fretted over. And was so powerful that the university did his bidding years after first learning of the scandal and even gave him a raise and lucrative other benefits.

Paterno’s family remains in deep denial as had the coach himself prior to his death in January.

The family has denied the Freeh report’s claims and said it plans its own review of the investigation. In a statement, the family said that removing the statue “does not serve the victims” or “help heal the Penn State community.”                                      
                              Photograph by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

'Check It Out. What Are You Saying? What Are You Playing?' It's A Cover Song, Man.

One of the things that make the great classic songs so special is that when they are interpreted by great contemporary artists they can become greater still. 
The works of Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael and Ellie Greenwich as covered by artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Willie Nelson to Elvis Costello come to mind, but this dynamic also is at work when the songs of more recent songwriting icons like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are "covered" in music business parlance. Occasionally a cover becomes more popular than the original.  Santana's version of "Black Magic Woman," first performed by Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac, and Jimi Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," were huge hits that eclipsed the originals. 
I have three favorite cover albums.
Red, Hot and Blue is a 1990 release that raised a considerable amount of dough for AIDS awareness and research.  It includes no fewer than 21 covers of Cole Porter songs by, among many others, Neneh Cherry ("I've Got You Under My Skin"), Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop ("Well Did You Evah") and U2 ("Night and Day).  Porter would have approved.
Joni Mitchell was pigeon-holed early in her career as a folkie with a knack for clever lyrics.  This was disproven when she recorded Hejira in 1976, a seminal album featuring late jazz bass great Jaco Pastorius, and her music became increasingly jazz infused as she continued to mature as an artist.  In 1979, she recorded Mingus, a collaboration with Charles Mingus just before the legendary bassist's death, that horrified her fans still stuck in the Court and Spark era.  Tough. 
Other jazz greats soon beat a path to Mitchell's Laurel Canyon door, culminating in River: The Joni Letters, a  2007 album produced by Herbie Hancock that features Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Corinne Bailey Rae ("River"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), and Leonard Cohen ("The Jungle Line").  Mitchell not only approved, she sings "Tea Leaf Prophecy" on the album.
Then there is The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead, a "reverse" cover album of songs from the Dead's repertoire performed by the original artists. The 1995 release was a head turner for Deadheads who assumed that songs like "Cold Rain and Snow" (Obray Ramsey), "Iko Iko" (The Dixie Cups) and "Morning Dew" (Bonnie Dobson) were Dead originals.
This brings us to one of the great songwriting teams of the last half century -- Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter of the Dead -- whose extraordinarily rich American songbook is chockablock with songs of love, loss, longing and the frontier spirit.  There is no doubt that the body of their work compares favorably with the works of the gods of Tin Pan Alley.
No cover, let alone album of covers, has so intimately captured the Garcia-Hunter genius than Songs of the Grateful Dead, a 2010 release featuring Jesse McReynolds, David Nelson and Stu Allen, among others, that only recently came to my attention when I heard their haunting cover of "Stella Blue" on the radio.
McReynolds is a longtime mandolin virtuoso, Nelson was a member of the original New Riders of the Purple Sage, while Allen has played with Garcia and San Francisco jam bands. 
Not to take anything away from Garcia, whose melodies are superb, but he was not the strongest of vocalists and sometimes garbled Hunter's lyrics.  Not so with McReynolds, who articulates the lyrics beautifully in a crystal-clear tenor, enabling me to hear old songs all over again for the first time, while his mandolin-infused arrangements are lovely.
There is not a weak cover on Songs of the Grateful Dead, and beyond "Stella Blue" four stand out: "Franklin's Tower," "Loser," "Deal" and "Alabama Getaway."  The album concludes with a Hunter-McReynolds composition titled "Day by Day." 
The album is, in a sense, the completion of a circle. 
Garcia adored bluegrass and first heard McReynolds on a road trip to the South in 1964.  In 1970, he formed Old and in the Way, a bluegrass "supergroup" featuring Peter Rowan on mandolin, Vassar Clements on fiddle, John Kahn on bass and himself on rip-snorting banjo.  This band's only studio recording remains one of the best selling bluegrass albums of all time, and I am privileged to have seen them play at the late great Sunset Park near West Grove, Pennsylvania.

Cartoon du Jour

Jim Morin/Miami Herald

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mitt's Tax Problem, Or 'I Love The Smell Of Republican Panic In The Morning'

The 2012 tilt will be the 11th (count 'em) presidential campaign that I have been involved with as a reporter, editor or blogger. That bit of lineage noted, I cannot recall anything remotely resembling the spitstorm -- in which powerful Republicans have joined the Obama campaign and news media -- over Mitt Romney's continuing refusal to release income tax returns beyond the January dump of his 2010 return and estimated 2011 return.

Count me among the people who have gone, in a matter of a few weeks, from believing that Mitt was merely being stubborn in not going with the presidential candidate flow, which included his dear old dad, in releasing all of his returns. It is now beyond obvious that his refusal is not about being bullheaded. It is about being scared -- well, scared spitless -- concerning the fallout from what might be revealed in those returns. Did he not have to pay any taxes in a particular year because of financial slights of hand? Or more likely are there bombshells, or maybe one really big bombshell, that might effectively end his quest for the White House?

No one knows for sure and John McCain ain't talking, but it is curious that Mitt made available all his returns when he was being vetted as the Arizona Republican's running mate in 2008 and McCain instead gave the nod to Sarah Palin. An interesting theory that is being much bandied about given the vacouous responses of Mitt and his campaign spokesmouths, but one that is probably a little too neat to be true since McCain was said to be a fan of the Killa From Wasilla's posterior and didn't care that she had the world view of a tree stump.

While Mitt might have erred in putting his Irish setter in a cage on the roof of his station wagon on a now infamous family vacation, he screwed up majorly in failing to anticipate that his returns would be an issue. After all, his opponents made the returns issues when he ran for the Senate in 1994 and Massachusetts governor in 2002, specifically over his involvement in . . . are you ready for this? Bain Capital.

An alternate theory some 18 years on -- 1994 being the year the Teddy Kennedy beat Mitt in a battle of millionaires -- is that he not only has no empathy for a poor working stiff whose IRA is million of bucks less than his, he believes himself to be well above working stiffs in general. Besides which, Obama smoked pot as a teenager.

But change the subject as he and his surrogates might try to do, there is now a focus on those mystery returns not seen since the frenzy of speculation over what was in mobster Al Capone's vault. As we found out, there was nothing in the vault except debris. While Geraldo Rivera has not yet been signed to do a television special on what's in Mitt's returns, there is little likelihood that it's merely dirt and empty booze bottles.

Wife Anne is furious that Obama and his surrogates, and how the news media, as well, are impugning her honey bunny's integrity, and Mitt himself obvious has his underwear -- special or otherwise -- in a knot. This has led a news source that is reliable except when it isn't reliable to quote two anonymice in Mitt's campaign as saying that they are now prepared to go eye for eye after ceding the momentum to the incumbent for weeks. This would entail calling him a liar, referencing that pot-smoking thing, as well as that Colombian marching powder thing that he also has fessed up to, and . . . hang onto your sombreros! that he associated with dirty Chicago politicians.

It will be left to the voters to decide who is dirtier: A Windy City pol who has his palm greased in return for leaning on the city to install streetlights in an alley or a pol whose claim to fame is getting filthy rich on the backs of those working stiffs. If you ask me, the tax return debacle defines Romney better than any opposition caricature could. And that might be fatal.


Cartoon du Jour

Non Sequitur via

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Mighty Cry Went Up As Mitt Romney Approached The Podium: '438! 438! 438!'

People who are resentful that Mitt Romney is filthy rich are missing the point.  Like many an American before him, he saw an opportunity to cash in and has done so on a grand scale. 
Nothing wrong with that, but how grand we don't know because of Romney's refusal to come clean about his wealth while sending out a top surrogate today to go off on President Obama about smoking dope as a teenager.  This is yet (cough, cough) another indication that he still hasn't figured out how to deal with the issue of his refusal to release tax returns which is verging on going supernova  with innumerable worried Republican governors, congressfolk and strategists urging him to please come clean..
We do know that through Romney's stewardship of Bain Capital he bought and gutted numerous companies, furloughing workers, stripping them of their pensions and outsourcing and offshoring their jobs to low-wage companies. 
This brings us to Post Office Box 438 in Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, which is one of those offshore havens where people like Romney are able to park their money without having to pay federal income taxes on it, as well as remain anonymous.  That is until Vanity Fair magazine went snooping and learned that among those using Box 438 are:
* North American Resources Group Limited, a major shareholder in Harken Energy, the Texas company that purchased President George W. Bush's failing oil-drilling venture in the 1980s, making him a wealthy man.

* Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, bought their family home in Jackson, Wyoming, from a Box 438 entity, which had bought it from the director of a Box 438 entity, who had bought it from another Box 438 entity.

* Scottish rugby star Bill Gammell’s CEH Australia Ltd., an oil-and-gas company, has used Box 438. Sir Bill counts Tony Blair and George W. as friends and was once married to Geraldine Gammell, who directed Prince Charles’s Trust in Scotland.

* Chaarat Gold Holdings Ltd. uses Box 438. Chaarat’s non-executive chairman Christopher David Palmer-Tomkinson is distantly related to Queen Elizabeth II and is a lifelong friend of Prince Charles's.

* Israeli diamond-and-copper magnate Dan Gertler has used Box 438 and has reportedly dealt on occasion with Central Asian billionaires Alijan Ibragimov, Alexander Mashkevich, and Patokh Chodiev.

* Pan American Energy Holdings (P.A.E.H.), until recently a BP subsidiary, was registered in care of Equity Trust, Box 438. P.A.E.H. is now fully owned by Bridas, an oil-and-gas giant developed by Carlos and Alejandro Bulgheroni, the wealthiest men in Argentina. When Bridas took an ownership stake in the American company Allis-Chalmers Energy, they registered it at Box 438. 
That Romney was pushing into the gray areas of offshore financing a mere two years out of Harvard and pursued those avenues aggressively while running Bain (which is now running away from) was his prerogative.  There is nothing wrong with that either if you are a capitalist in the Galtian tradition, but Romney is intentionally blurring a very big line here: Bain was not formed to create jobs.  It was formed to create wealth.
And this is a little off-putting for a guy who is claiming that if elected president he will wave his magic wand and poof! the U.S. will be running at a profit.
Photograph by Vladimir Godnik/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Drew Sheneman via

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some Mid-July Musings On Bankstas, Mittster, Condi & Our Chinese Comrades

The news last week that independent brokers for Wells Fargo, the nation's largest home mortgage lender, routinely discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom was not surprising in the least.   Show me a banksta and I'll show you a crook.

The bank, which you and I bailed out to the tune of $25 billion when it shat on its wingtips as the housing boom turned to bust, did not even bother to fight Justice Department and agreed to fork over $175 million to settle allegations that the brokers had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers and steered more than other 4,000 minority borrowers into costlier subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit risk profiles had received regular loans.
Meanwhile, JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, disclosed that loses from a bad credit debt originally reported as amounting to a mere $2 billion or so actually is more than $7 billion.  JPMorgan CEO Jaime Dimon had repeatedly reassured investors that the losses would be contained.
Well Fargo, of course, admitted no wrongdoing as is typical in banksta settlements and the $175 million will be written off as the cost of doing business, not a lesson learned.  This is because the financial community is incapable of reforming itself and will do things that are detrimental to its customers again and again while further feathering its own platinum-lined nest. 
Which begs a question: Why not start jailing bankstas?  Or better still, taking them before firing squads?  Let's start with the self-righteous Mr. Dimon.
* * * * *
The best line of the month goes to political analyst Charlie Cook, who writes: "If President Obama's campaign machine can define Mitt Romney before his own campaign even tries, my bet is Obama wins reelection."
With Election Day now less than four months out, the president and his surrogates have seized the initiative like a hawk seizes a chicken in its talons and they aren't letting go.  A few members of a news media that overall has been notably uncurious about how Romney became filthy rich are providing the incumbent with a steady stream of new ammunition about how he got that way, while the presumptive Republican nominee seems incapable of fighting back in a meaningful way.

The Boston Globe reported that Romney was listed as CEO and sole owner and chairman for three years after he says he severed ties with Bain Capital in 1999.  A Romney spokesmouth denied the report and provided documentation that seemed to show that it was false, but that ducks a relevant question: Why was Romney listed as holding those positions but it took Bain three freaking years to correct the record and he cited those positions in that time frame when he filed to run for governor of Massachusetts?  And why was he paid $100,000 a year over those three years while ostensibly doing nothing?  Good work if you can get it. 
Oh, wait a minute.  The Romney campaign later did one of those course corrections that have branded the candidate as a flip-flopper possibly without peer and explained that he "wasn't involved in any investment decisions. He was on the SEC filings, because he was still technically the owner, but hadn't transferred ownership to other partners." 
As Henry Blodget notes, this dog won't hunt: "Sorry, Mitt Romney, You can't be chairman, CEO, and president of a company and not be responsible for what it does."
Or put less artfully, does Romney want to argue that being the CEO of a company doesn't mean you have any actual responsibility for it?  Leaving aside the question of whether he committed a felony, let alone perjured himself in SEC filings Andrew Sullivan says that this state of affairs "is a little troubling for a potential president's future accountability."
Sullivan notes that as Bain CEO, Romney once owned Stericycle, a company that disposed of aborted babies. 

"The point is not that Romney actively managed that acquisition; he almost certainly didn't," Sullivan argues.  "The point is simply that he was CEO of the company when it did this and was drawing a salary for it. That means he is formally responsible for it. Romney's response could still be that he disagrees with the transaction, didn't choose it, and wishes that Bain had never touched it. But that kind of parsing of responsibility and trashing of his own company comes off as both weasely and disloyal respectively"
There is a simple way to clear up the apparent "confusion" over his tenure at Bain:
Romney should stop giving contradictory answers to reporters, which he did on Friday in the face of withering attacks from the president to the effect that his opponent is not the solution but the problem.  He should release his tax returns for the relevant period, which is his only lifeline to credibility.  But he shows no sign of doing that because he has something to hide.  Or a lot of somethings.  Or maybe just something huge.
* * * * *
I suspected reports that former Bush lackey Condoleeza Rice was high on Romney's list for vice president was nothing more a passing fancy, or more likely a curtsey to the NAACP after he was roundly booed last week at their annual convention. Republicans concerned about the direction of his listless campaign certainly were praying that was the case.
Rice was utterly inept as George W. Bush's national security adviser, acknowledging after the 9/11 attacks that she was an old-school Kremlinogist who was not focused on Al Qaeda and other contemporary threats.  She was a mediocrity as secretary of state, spending four years telling leaders of states not in sync with the Bush-Cheney axis that if they didn't make nice the U.S. would bomb them.  
With Condi on the ticket, Romney would own the Bush record -- the eight darkest years in modern American history -- and he of course wanted to do no such thing.  Which is why he did not call attention to a fundraiser for him hosted by Dick Cheney at his Wyoming home last week. After all, the former vice president remains the most loathed man in America.
Oops!  It turns out Condi is pro-choice and Romney had vowed to choose an anti-choice running mate.  It should be noted that she does, however, play a mean classical piano.  By the way, the Condi boomlet last less than 72 hours.

* * * * *
Many prospective voters tell pollsters that they don't give a fig if Romney is a 1 percenter and did some not-so-nice things to mom-and-pop businesses, including outsourcing and, it turns out, offshoring to our dear comrades in China. 
But with every passing week Romney's mantra that It's The Economy, Stupid gets trampled he slowly loses ground on the issue while the economy slowly -- okay, painfully slowly -- gains ground.
With every passing week that he refuses to address other issues like health-care reform, deficit reduction and immigration head on, he cedes a little more of an edge to Obama in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where those crucial independent voters tell the same pollsters that they aren't buying Romney's embrace of the tired,decades old Republican economic formula of further lowering taxes on the wealthy while emancipating Wells Fargo and other bankstas from onerous regulations designed to try to deep them in line.
Asks the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol puts it: "Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running?"
Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Getty

Cartoon du Jour

Deep Cover via Go Comics

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Moral Calculus & Joe Pa: Championships Do Not Counterbalance Sexual Predation

A lot of people believe that late great Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was neither villain nor saint.  I held to that view after the initial revelations that Jerry Sandusky, his longtime defensive coordinator, was a serial pedophile and that the university and possibly Paterno himself had engineered a cover-up in an effort to protect the university's image.  But with the drip, drip, drip of revelations since then and the release today of a damning 267-page report that found Paterno and senior officials failed for more than a decade to take any steps to protect Sandusky's young victims, I have changed my mind.

National championships do not counterbalance sexual abuse, and Paterno's accomplishments and legacy no longer matter to me.  That he, a Roman Catholic as is Sandusky, could not summon the moral strength to do the right thing and instead deliberately and repeated concealed facts about Sandusky's predatory behavior speaks volumes about the man he really was.  A craven coward for whom image was everything  ("Success with honor" was his motto) and sodomized boys were not to be fretted over.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the FBI who oversaw an investigation belatedly ordered by the university's board of trustees. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity," the most powerful leaders of Penn State University "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large.”
A new and central finding of the Freeh investigation is that Paterno knew as far back as 1998 that there were concerns Sandusky might be behaving inappropriately with children.
Freeh also confirmed a CNN report two weeks ago about an email in which the high-ranking administration officials planned to tell the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare of a 2001 incident involving Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in a football team locker room shower. After having a conversation with Paterno, it was recommended that they offer Sandusky "professional help" and if he cooperated, then they wouldn't report him. .
Campus police pursued a claim by a mother that her son had been molested by Sandusky in a shower at Penn State, but their investigation stalled because of the lack of cooperation from Paterno and high ranking university officials. The report asserts that Paterno not only knew of the investigation, but followed it closely.
Paterno, in denial to the end, wrote in a letter he had prepared but was not published before his January death that whatever the failings in the Sandusky affair — his or the university's — it did not constitute a "football scandal."
The Paterno family, in an attempt to blunt the force of the critical findings, had issued a statement on Tuesday that sought to undermine the fairness of the investigation.  They too are now complicitous in the horror that will forever tarnish the place called Happy Valley.
Sandusky, who clung to the fiction that he and his victims had merely engaged in horseplay, last month was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. The jury found he had attacked young boys at his home, on the Penn State campus and at other locations over many years, while one of his adopted sons came forward and revealed that his father had repeatedly abused him, as well. 
The fallout from the report is likely to be substantial.
Penn State would seem to be liable and lawsuits by Sandusky’s victims are likely. The university’s multi-million dollar sports merchandise franchise has taken a hit, while he president of Nike Inc. said today that he has decided to change the name of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center, a child care facility at the company’s headquarters.
Oh, and by the way, it is time to take down the statue of Paterno that sits outside of Beaver Stadium.  Now.
Photograph by Paul Vathis/The Associated Press

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Much More Perverted Can The Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania Get?

The Keystone State is out as a motto for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  A suitable replacement would be the Perverted State given the serial raping of the state's young and vulnerable at the hands of members of supposedly hallowed institutions who believe themselves to be above the law, as well as the environment and now lawfully registered voters.

A confluence of events make this so. 
Monsignor William Lynn has become the first Roman Catholic Church official to go to prison for his central role in covering up the abuses of pedophile priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese with, of course, the tacit approval of the Vatican, which it can be said without exaggeration has become the largest criminal enterprise on Earth. 
Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator at Penn State University, faces major prison time for cherry picking boys from a charity he ran and then sexually victimizing them, in some cases with the knowledge of his wife.  This too was covered up at the highest levels of the university's administration with the encouragement of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, for whom protecting his beloved Nittany Lions football program was more important than protective vulnerable boys.  Did I mention that Paterno was a Roman Catholic?  As are Sandusky and Corbett?

How ironic if Lynn and the Sandusky ended up in the same wing of a state prison.  That wing could be named the Tom Corbett Wing For Perversion and Cover Ups, which also would be fitting because while attorney general, Corbett failed to act expeditiously once he learned of Sandusky's vile acts and the university's cover up, and as governor has made sure that nothing stands in the way of energy interests that are extracting shale oil wherever they damned well please through a method known as fracking. 
In fact, one of Corbett's first acts as governor was to pay back those interests, which underwrote his gubernatorial campaign, by rolling back environmental regulations to so great an extent that fracking, which leaves a toxic legacy when the last drops of shale oil are extracted, is now permitted in the commonwealth's precious state forests.

This brings us to Corbett's latest perverted act as titular head of the Pennsylvania Republican Party: A campaign to disenfranchise as many as 800,000 registered voters, or about 9 percent of the statewide total, simply because they lack photo IDs such as driver's licenses.  To no one's surprise, many of the about-to-be-disenfranchised are minorities who live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities without whom President Obama -- who handily won the state in 2008 -- might have a difficult time defeating presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

The scheme is not even a secret.  Last month, Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, addressed a meeting of the Republican State Committee where he ticked off a list of the "accomplishments" of the GOP-controlled House and triumphantly noted the new voter ID law, "which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," something he otherwise would have a helluva hard time doing because of the party's ever-shrinking base.

If all of this was not perverted enough, the Corbett administration, while cutting back on public education to the tune of millions of dollars, has signed a $249,660 contract with a company run by a Romney fundraiser to produce so-called public service television ads touting the voter ID law.  As if things couldn't get more perverted, the ads include images of civil rights marchers, including suffragettes, and the tagline: "Your right to vote: it's one thing you never want to miss out on.”  

The ads have now been pulled because of protests, but the disenfranchisement drum beats ever louder even though instances of voter fraud are virtually non existent.

Cartoon du Jour

John Cole/Scranton (Pa.) Times Tribune

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Special Report: When Bad Things Happen To Good Dogs. Yes, Yours, Too

Some of the Golden Retrievers in the author's life
Some 71 million American households have at least one dog and the number is growing.  We are increasingly making provisions for them in our wills, buying health insurance for them and pampering them with a dizzying array of special foods and nutritional supplements.
Although all breeds of dogs, and mutts as well, draw from the gene pool of the species Canis lupus familiaris, each my Golden Retrievers and the Goldies on the farm where I long lived had their own distinctive personalities, even in the cases of a mother and daughter and two brothers.  If you did not like dogs, you were not welcome to become a housemate at that farm and one of us short circuited a budding romance after the woman he had fallen for admitted that she didn't particularly care for them.

Our dogs, most of them anyway, looked out for us, barking furiously when a car approached and growling when they sensed a visitor was up to no good.  The dogs played us like cheap violins, manipulating us emotionally in ways that we never would allow people to do.  And we loved it.  We loved practically everything they did, from fetching the newspaper at the end of the driveway in the morning to putting their heads on our feet when we sat at the kitchen table at night.

Dogs are full-fledged members of many of our families and when they die we mourn them as we would a child or parent.   And die they all eventually do, although some breeds do so at an alarmingly young age of by now  predictable conditions and diseases.

My own non-scientific view, one based on a lifetime of experience, is that dogs live longer and healthier lives when fed good food (forget about special foods and nutritional supplements, which can be quite expensive, make little difference but are cash cows for many veterinarians), don't eat on demand and are given bowls of kibble in the morning and evening, based on their ideal body weight, aren't given table scraps, and perhaps the key element -- are exercised daily.  Not when you feel like getting off your lard ass but every single day no matter the season or weather conditions.
* * * * *
The smorgasbord of conditions and diseases that now seem ever present in most breeds is borne out in "Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death" that was published last year in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.  And make no mistake about it, many of these pathologies are a result of overbreeding, or to be charitable, breeding for desired characteristics that can considerably shorten a dog's life span.
The study is a must-read for dog lovers and especially those who have or are interested in breeds whose life expectancies -- in the case of Goldies once 15 or 16 long years and now often as short as 9 or 10 years, and sometimes even shorter -- as well as greedy breeders who keep prospective owners in the dark about breed-specific conditions and diseases, which far too many do, as well as clueless, hands-off veterinarians, which far too many are.
Study co-authors Dr. Kate Creevy and Daniel Promislow examined data from the Veterinary Medical Database to determine the cause of death for nearly 75,000 dogs over the 20-year period from 1984 through 2004.  They classified the deaths into organic system and pathophysiologic process catagories and further analyzed data by breed (some 82 in all), age and average body mass.
Here is a breakdown of the five breeds with the highest relative proportion of causes of death in the two major categories:
Gastrointestinal: Great Dane, Gordon Setter, Akita, Shar Pei, Weimaraner.
Cardiovascular: Newfoundland, Maltese, Chihauhua, Doberman Pinscher, Fox Terrier.
Neurologic: Dachshund, Miniature Dachshund, Dutch Pug, Miniature Pinscher, Boston Terrier:
Musculoskeletal: Saint Bernard, Great Pyrennes, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, Greyhound.
Urologenital: Scottish Terrier, Airedale Terrier, Dalmatian, Norwegian Elkhound, Standard Schnauzer.
Respiratory: Bulldog, Borzoi, Yorkshire Terrier, Afghan Hound, Treeing Walker Coonhound.

Neoplastic: Bernese Mountain Dog, Golden Retriever, Scottish Terrier, Bouvier des Flandres, Boxer.
Infectious: Treeing Walker Coonhound, American Staffordshire Terrier, Greyhound, English Pointer, Cardigan Welsh Corgi.
Congenital: Newfoundland, Bulldog, Akita, Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese.
Traumatic: Australian Heeler, American Straffordshire Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Australian Shepherd.
* * * * *
Good scientific studies sometimes raise more questions than they answer, and "Mortality in North American Dogs" does just that.  One particularly interesting finding is that while larger breeds tend to have shorter lifespans, the larger examples of these breeds tend to live longer.
The study's authors note that "Dogs from larger breeds seemed to be spared death because of neurologic or endocrine diseases.  Neoplastic disease was a more frequent cause of death in dogs from larger breeds, whereas dogs from smaller breeds had increased risk of death because of metabolic processes.  Traumatic causes were responsible for death in dogs from larger and smaller breeds at similar rates.  Given these findings, we support future research into the disproportionate rates of musculoskeletal and neoplastic disorders in dogs from larger breeds to better understand their shorter lifespans."
Amen, while I hasten to add what the authors only allude to: Some dogs will live to ripe old ages if they don't contract these disorders earlier but will succumb to others later.  Then there are the victims of traumatic causes of death, most often being hit by motor vehicles.
The three most represented breeds in the study are, in order, Mixed Breeds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers and Goldies have been of special concern to me because of my own premature death experiences and those of friends.
As I write here, the outlines of the Golden epidemic have been clear for over 10 years, but organizations like the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA), while funding studies on and supporting research into the cancers, have done little or nothing to rein in greedy member breeders who play God in knowingly selling interbred, cancer-prone puppies to unsuspecting buyers who end up heartbroken.
This blog post has become somewhat of a Wailing Wall for people who have lost their Goldens. Some 52 of them have shared stories of their losses over the last four years. The average age of these dogs was only 7.8 years.
The rationale of he GRCA is, in so many words, that it's not their job to educate breeders and owners about the epidemic. The club's homepage contains no mention of the epidemic and it has not updated its National Health Survey of the breed since 1999.

The GRCA has gone so far as to recommend that owners give their Goldies a regular regimen of a drug that has been shown to inhibit cancers, which is not unlike a car manufacturer recommending that drivers wear crash helmets when using vehicles that it knows cause an inordinate number of fatal accidents.
* * * * * 
An abstract of the study is available here online.  A copy of the entire study costs $35, but if you email me at and provide your name and snail-mail address, I will send you a copy gratis.

Cartoon du Jour

Gregory/The New Yorker

Friday, July 06, 2012

Romney's Campaign In A Word: Pathetic

By all rights, Mitt Romney should be kicking Barack Obama's butt withBy all rights, Mitt Romney should be kicking Barack Obama's butt with a struggling economy and the widespread disaffection with the Affordable Care Act, the president's signature first-term accomplishment.  But most national polls show the two in a statistical dead heat or Obama slightly ahead, with Obama ahead in the crucial swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. 
And now comes bad news for the presumptive Republican nominee: Obama's summer swoon appears to be over as today's Labor Department jobs report showed that 80,000 jobs were added in June, while one private data research firm put the number at a little more than double that.
What gives?
For starters, Romney and his handlers -- at least for now -- have decided to focus exclusively on the economy, hence his wishy-washy responses to the Supreme Court upholding the ACA and Obama's young illegal immigrant initiative, his silence on the botched Fast and Furious operation, and a neck-breaking flip-flop on global warming, which along with health-care reform was a matter of great import to him as Massachusetts governor.

 "This ain't Etch-A-Sketch, Mitt. Go hard or go home," wrote Joel B. Pollack at Breitbart, while Congressional Republicans also are not happy with Romney's languid or non-existent responses to the issues of greatest concern to them even as he raised $100 million for the second consecutive month.

 "Romney is quickly proving himself to be what some of us expected, very reactionary without a clear alternative to Obamacare," one congressman told The Weekly Standard. "The American people want and need the truth from him. Romneycare was both legal and a failure at the state level. Romney should just come clean."
Never mind that Romneycare has been a huge success by most measures, remains enormously popular in the Bay State and that the ACA's individual mandate is not a vast tax increase on the middle class as GOP leaders endlessly claim. Romney simply has been unable to seize the initiative and claim the high ground.
The reasons have been obvious since Romney entered the primary/caucus season:
* He is a moderate in conservative's clothing and risks alienating the Republican Party base if he tries to connect with independent and woman voters on the issues that they most care about, a factor that was at work in his muddled response to the Supreme Court ruling and his muted response to the immigration initiative.  The GOP base deeply opposes the initiative but the Hispanic voters he needs to win a swing state like Florida are wildly supportive of it.

Romney has tied himself in some pretty tight knots over the Affordable Care Act.  He has said that Romneycare was a good law but that the ACA, which closely resembles the Massachusetts law in key respects, is bad, which is an inane argument. He first flipped on the Supreme Court ruling, mischaracterizing it, and then flopped, agreeing with Chief Justice Roberts' tax interpretation, which infuriated party leaders and the deep thinkers on the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

"In a stroke, the Romney campaign contradicted Republicans throughout the country," the editorial stated. "Why make such an unforced error? Because it fits with Mr. Romney's fear of being labeled a flip-flopper, as if that is worse than confusing voters about the tax and health-care issues."  Hmm.
* His repeated claims that he would turn the economy around by creating jobs does not hold up to scrutiny.  He is, in fact, vulnerable because of his stewardship of Bain Capital, which destroyed jobs and lives when it gutted mom-and-pop businesses and outsourced and offshored jobs, as well as the skeletons in his financial closet, which include offshore holdings in Bermuda, the Caymans and Switzerland that only 1 percenters can take advantage of in avoiding the taxes that you and I must pay.

It is amazing that Romney continues to play high-risk-of-disclosure footsie regarding his financial portfolio and you can expect additional revelations like the news this week that his portfolio includes secret holdings like Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd., a Bermuda-based company, which suggests that he may be worth more than the $250 million estimated by his campaign.

"The question isn’t whether people can relate to a candidate who has tons of money," writes Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post. "It’s whether they will connect with a man who didn’t make his money the old-fashioned way -– by building a better widget -– but by sending capital hither and yon via clicks of a computer mouse to take advantage of arcane opportunities most people never even know about."

And it bears mentioning yet again that country is not a company. The U.S., as Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman of The New York Times pointed out today, still sells 86 percent of what it makes to itself, while the tools of macroeconomic policy -- interest rates, tax rates, spending programs -- have no counterparts on a corporate organization chart.  And despite the bleatings of Ann Romney, who has her bustle in a knot because of the Obama campaign's "attacks" on her honey bunny, what was good for Bain Capital wasn’t good for America, and the campaign has every right to point that out.
Journal head honcho Rupert Murdoch twittered recently: “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”  Translation: The Romney campaign just isn’t ready for prime time.

Romney, it appears, will try to finesse his way through to November by saying nothing of substance, perhaps because he has no substance himself and his agenda is simply to become president.  He will offer no plans long on specifics whether it be health-care reform, jobs creation, deficit reduction or campaign financing.  And of course continue to flip-flop whenever it is expedient.  
That strategy might work under other circumstances.  But Obama is a formidable campaigner who had not yet really begun to campaign in earnest, is likely to eat Romney alive in one-on-one debates, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and has the power of incumbency to call on.
What this translates into five months out is an Obama victory and, barring a huge economic downturn or scandal, a victory by a substantial margin.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Obamacare & Why The Ability To Change One's Mind Can Be A Mark Of Greatness

I have come, however circuitously, to the view that the ability to change one's mind about things that matter is a mark of maturity -- and sometimes greatness.  Few pundits, let alone politicians, were able to change their minds about the Iraq War after the premises through which it was launched were revealed to be bogus and the body count grew and grew.  Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's sea-change metamorphosis as an economist comes to mind as a rare instance in which a high-visibility media figure acknowledges that he was wrong about important stuff. Mitt Romney's willingness to change his mind repeatedly about everything big and little marks him as a man as small as President Lincoln was large because of his metamorphosis from being just another American who thought blacks were inferior to their emancipator.

This brings us to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who it would appear had initially rejected the individual mandate -- the keystone of President Obama's Affordable Care Act -- and was ready to side with the high court's conservative justices but then found that the mandate could be considered a tax that falls within the purview of Congress and sided with the eventual 5-4 majority.

I will leave it to greater minds than mine as to whether Roberts bowed to pressure from the White House, which I happen to think he might have, or understood that overturning the ACA would, in the eyes of many voters, brand his court as ideologically driven and open it to attacks from moderates and liberals, which I also happen to think he might have.  But justices do change their minds during the highly secretive deliberations that precede any major decision, and it may simply be that this strict constitutionalist -- which he has been most of the time in his seven years on the court; yes, probably even in the smoking turd of a ruling known as Citizens United.  At the end of the day, Roberts settled on the It's A Tax argument that had been pitched by Obama's solicitor general during oral arguments on whether the act should be overturned in the service of judicial restraint.
Which the aforementioned Romney has kind of sort of agreed with while angering Republican leaders who don't want to go off-message.  Romney himself, meanwhile, has his own health-care reform plan, but as The Times' David Brooks trenchantly put it today, he "now keeps in a secret compartment in subsection C in the third basement of his 12-car garage.
The reaction from conservatives to Roberts like the despicable John Yoo speaks volumes.

Yoo, the shameless former Bush Justice Department official who rationalized the use of torture, said that if reports that Roberts changed his mind are true, he "has not just made a mistake of constitutional interpretation, but of political leadership [emphasis mine].  His job is not to finesse the place of the Supreme Court in the political world, in which he and most justices are rank amateurs, but to get the Constitution right first and then defend the institution second.”
I am no fan of Roberts.  He lied through his teeth during his confirmation hearings and has tacked the court -- with an ample assist of the Three Stooges (Alito, Scalia and Thomas) -- to the right and to the point that it has become a de facto arm of the Republican Party. 
But in one instance, at least, the Constitution of which Yoo was and remains so disdainful, which leading Congressional Republicans also have shown themselves to be, deeply mattered to Roberts.  And because of that the U.S. at long last has a shot at reforming a health-care system built on greed and waste that has left upwards of 45 million Americans out in the cold when they have an accident, get sick or contract a disease.

Cartoon du Jour

Matt Davies/Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News

Monday, July 02, 2012