Oscar Night: Open Letter to President Obama


Dear Readers:  Please  celebrate having two of The Upper Delaware River Valley’s sons nominated for  Academy awards:   Josh Fox for “Gasland” and Mark Ruffalo for  “The Kids Are All Right.”

At this auspicious time in world history, send your own letter about Hydraulic Fracturing  to President Obama.   (Many thanks to Marcia Nehemiah for sending both  this link and one for today’s NY Times report on hydraulic fracturing to  The Upper Delaware Network.)

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Dear President Obama,

While you watch the Oscars tonight, you will see clips from “Gasland.”  Please watch them carefully.  The people in the movie are my brothers and sisters.

The waters of the Delaware River Valley   meet the thirsts of 17+ million people and they  are under threat.  (Lower Valley,  Upper Valley)

I thought the Gulf, Flower Mound,  Dimock, PA and scores of others  would be sufficient to show the careless disregard with which gas extractors ply their dangerous trade.  I was wrong.

Gas extracted from my valley does not represent energy independence:  much of it will ship to BP,  Norway, and others.

“Big Coal”  lied to us years ago and its  agenda was shoved down our throats with the connivance of our leaders and representatives.  Pennsylvania and  New York are no better off  — and are probably worse —  for that sad chapter in our histories.

“Big Energy?”  “Clean Gas?”  Just more “Big Coal.”

How many more people have to sicken?   How many more fields & forest lands  have to be destroyed?   (Please support a National Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing!)

How many more neighborhoods, livelihoods, properties have to be wasted by 600+ undisclosed  “proprietary” chemicals? (Please support the Frac Act!)

There comes a point when ambition and greed are just unseemly, Mr. President.  And as we saw and voted in 2008,  ignorance of the cost of something is not an excuse for supporting it.  (The Iraq War.)

Please!  Watch the movie.  No matter what control you believe your opponents wield,  it’s nothing to the power being generated by the  flora and fauna in my valley or the risk they face.

Sincerely,

Liz Bucar

Breathing Is Political

Tom Paxton’s We Didn’t Know


(The first time I  heard this, the Vietnam War was raging.  It was sung either by The Kingston Trio or The Chad Mitchell Trio.  It requires no imagination to substitute words like, “I guess we’ve  gotta’  drop those bombs if we wanna’  keep Iraqis and Afghanis  free.”  Or,  “Torturing prisoners is an Al Qaeda game and you can bet they’re doing the same.”    Citizens and policy makers  who stand in the way of  a just reckoning for those who ordered torture  are writing   verses for all our children, grandchildren and theirs.)

We didn’t know said the Burgomeister,
About the camps on the edge of town.
It was Hitler and his crew,
That tore the German nation down.
We saw the cattle cars it’s true,
And maybe they carried a Jew or two.
They woke us up as they rattled through,
But what did you expect me to do?

[Cho:]
We didn’t know at all,
We didn’t see a thing.
You can’t hold us to blame,
What could we do?
It was a terrible shame,
But we can’t bear the blame.
Oh no, not us, we didn’t know.

We didn’t know said the congregation,
Singing a hymn in a church of white.
The Press was full lf lies about us,
Preacher told us we were right.
The outside agitators came.
They burned some churches and put the blame,
On decent southern people’s names,
To set our colored people aflame.
And maybe some of our boys got hot,
And a couple of niggers and reds got shot,
They should have stayed where they belong,
And preacher would’ve told us if we’d done wrong.

[Cho:]

We didn’t know said the puzzled voter,
Watching the President on TV.
I guess we’ve got to drop those bombs,
If we’re gonna keep South Asia free.
The President’s such a peaceful man,
I guess he’s got some kind of plan.
They say we’re torturing prisoners of war,
But I don’t believe that stuff no more.
Torturing prisoners is a communist game,
And You can bet they’re doing the same.
I wish this war was over and through,
But what do you expect me to do?

Words and Music by Tom Paxton

Torture Photos: Is a public release necessary?


It depends on our purpose.

In October 2003,  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  sent  a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  request to the Departments of Defense,   Homeland Security,  Justice  and several  other Bush Administration agencies.  The request was for  documents related to the US Government’s role in the torture and/or rendition of individuals in its custody.  The ACLU claimed,  “[The  Government has] failed to address the numerous credible reports recounting the torture and rendition of Detainees.  Nor have they explained what measures, if any, the United States has taken  to ensure compliance with its legal obligations with respect to the use of torture and the infliction of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or  punishment.  [And] to determine whether the United States is honoring its obligations under domestic and international law….”

Bush Administration officials refused to release the “torture photos” because, according to them,  the photos would inflame the Middle East, put unidentified individuals, groups and in-theater military personnel at risk and would run afoul of  international laws  prohibiting the public parade and humiliation of war prisoners.

In September 2004,  the US District Court in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) stated,  “Congress enacted FOIA to illuminate government activities.  The law was intended to provide a means of accountability, to allow Americans to know what their government is doing….  Yet, the glacial pace at which defendant agencies have been responding… shows an indifference  to the commands of FOIA.”  The judge also noted,  “As of today, eleven months later, with small exception, no documents have been produced by [the Department of Defense, et al].”

The District Court ordered the public release of  the photos after viewing a representative sample in camera (e.g. in the privacy of the Judge’s chambers).  Since then, the Federal judiciary has consistently ordered that the photos and other pertinent  documents be  redacted and released in compliance with national and international laws that prohibit the public humiliation of prisoners.

In August 2006,  the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the SDNY’s order to release the photos after  noting that the Bush Administration had interpreted certain legislative amendments to FOIA as “a diffuse and nebulous authority for keeping inflammatory information secret (though, curiously, only inflammatory information in law enforcement files).”  The Court continued, “Release of the photographs is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners.”

On April 23, 2009,  the Obama Justice Department informed the Court that the Department of Defense would release its photos by May 28, 2009.

On May 13, 2009, nearly six years after the ACLU issued its first FOIA request, President Obama’s Justice Department informed the Court that the President had changed his mind,  “…upon further reflection at the highest levels of Government, the Government has decided to pursue further options regarding that decision…”  including a possible appeal to the US Supreme Court by June 9, 2009.

Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs expressed President Obama’s concern that release of the photographs would inflame the Middle East and increase the threat to US personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Obama team does not believe the Bush Administration adequately portrayed those risks in its Court filings and appeals.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post carried this ACLU response, “These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib….  Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”

The U.S.  Federal Rules of Evidence state, “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice… or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”  In short,  not all relevant evidence is equal or admissible. A judge must determine whether its value as evidence substantially outweighs its potential harm.

There’s also a notion in civil societies  that an inflamed person is unlikely to be judicious.

Is it reasonable to believe that “The Amorphous Middle East” would be inflamed by a 24-7  media blitz of photos in which an occupying military force tortures citizens of  foreign lands?  Will “The Amorphous Middle East” see the photos as evidence  of the  Bush Foreign Policy, distinct from Obama’s?  And,  will that Middle East view efforts to hide the photos as a continuation of Bush policies?

One friend I spoke with said she wants the photos disseminated publicly. “Maybe pictures will  make Americans feel shame.  Maybe pictures will provoke an American conversation about who we really are and what ethics we really believe in.  Maybe it’ll force the politicians to really do something.”

Maybe;  but I doubt  the photos will stimulate the American public to a greater outrage.   Many of the people I know have been outrage- saturated by a plethora of criminal actions and a dearth of incarcerations.  Thankfully, the ACLU has a ton of arrows in its quiver.

Germany was shamed after World War I and a handful of years later we fought World War II.   We fire-bombed Germany during World War II and held them to account at Nuremburg. Germany is now home to one of the world’s fastest growing populations of Skinheads and other xenophobes.  Whether or not  cause and effect can be proved  in those examples,  they tell us  that shame is not a cure-all.

Our purpose, as opined by  the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, should be to deter “future abuse of prisoners”  and to ensure, as the ACLU demands,  that  “the United States is honoring its obligations under domestic and international law….”

We have a system of justice intended to do just that.  We place the accused on trial.  We hear the evidence against and for  them.  We release or punish them.  As a matter of course,  we  parade our convicted felons publicly.  We hope that their shame will deter others – will demonstrate our adherence to the rule of law.

With that in mind, whether the photos are released publicly or viewed in camera or by a jury,  the real issue is not which evidence will be presented (there’s tons) but rather, will Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, Dick Cheney, et al stand in the dock.  Will they be paraded publicly to cleanse rather than inflict shame?

A public trial of those who conceived and implemented the torture policy would stimulate a discussion about the American ethic and reassure the world of our honorable intention to uphold our ideals. Without that,  publishing the photos is just more Bread & Circuses and I fear, provocation.

******

Legal documents at ACLU website

[F]unny side of the [Wall] Street: Obamanomics

In the spirit of Jon Stewart, “Let’s just cut out the middle man.” If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,” then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of Reaganomics.


Imagine  you’re the on-duty emergency room (ER) nurse in a small country hospital.  Your resources are severely limited by high unemployment and a health insurance crisis.

A healthy snowboarder hobbles in with a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

You start a prophylactic IV drip of normal saline, pain killers  and antibiotics to protect the snowboarder from dehydration, pain and infection.

In a corner of the emergency room is a bloated near-corpse in systemic organ failure. His liver’s shot.  His heart’s all but stopped.  The smell of his rot and disease are spreading out of the ER, down the corridors and into the rooms of recuperating patients.

Emergency room protocol requires you to infuse the snowboarder’s  IV solution through the bloated near-corpse middle man first, rather than  into the snowboarder’s arm directly.

Proponents of this bassackward policy say that if the gas in the bloated guy explodes, it’ll jeopardize everyone in the hospital so we have to treat him with the best of the drugs and hope enough benefit reaches the snowboarder to prevent her relatively minor injuries from becoming a systemic threat.  If you’re the cynical type, you might think  the nearly-dead guy’s membership on the hospital’s Board of Directors is significant, too.

Whatever the reason for  the policy, the outcome is assured:  the bloated near-corpse will drain  your few precious resources on its way to the morgue and the healthy patient will die of preventable consequences.

In the spirit of Jon Stewart,  “Let’s just cut out the middle man.”  Break with protocol and centuries of obsolete thinking. Infuse the snowboarder directly. She’s going into shock.  Microbes are chewing on her broken, exposed bone. It’s a matter of basic triage:  apply your resources where they will do the most good as you asses each situation  uniquely, dispassionately and quickly.

The snowboarder (like most of our  neighbors) will heal quickly and be ready to continue her education,  develop new products, create new markets  and in general, become the new economic engine.  She’ll be rebuilding our nation while the rotting AIG-Goldman Sachs-Citi-Bank of America-corpse that’s poisoning us all is buried quietly in the background.

Stimulate acutely-ill  borrowers with a direct infusion of debt-cancelling cash that can be paid by them  to their ORIGINATING lenders.   The funds will or won’t trickle UP to the bloated entities who bought and bundled the  stinky credit card and mortgage loans.  Those who are too-big-to-fail will collapse if the funds can’t  find their way through the maze of intermediaries.  But, by  excising the corpse and caring directly for our fundamentally healthy neighbors, we can mitigate the effects of this new shift in focus and purpose.

The “mortgage-crisis” isn’t the root of our problems.  And our continued reliance on a rotting corpse to rescue the future may not be the cause of our problems, but it’s certainly proximate.  If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,”  then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of  Reaganomics.

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NEXT:  Tell-tale quotes from this week’s House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing.

Afghanistan


(Blog stats are collected so authors know which posts generate  most interest.  According to my stats, readers are more engaged by allegories and concrete helps and resources.  As dessert, it suits me fine;  but sometimes, we have to eat broccoli.  Ergo, Afghanistan.)

A few months ago, I posted a poll which asked respondents to suggest a  US course of action in Afghanistan.  Granted, only 16 people cast votes (it was early days) but for interest’s sake, the most often selected option was to employ our troops  “to improve infrastructure (schools, hospitals, roads, internet, etc.).”

There was one vote to “maintain current troop levels,”  one to “discontinue our military presence in Afghanistan,”  and one to “maintain current troop levels but improve dialogues with affected nations in the region.”  Six voted to “use troops to build or improve infrastructure. (Schools, hospitals, roads, internet, etc.).”  There were several comments which remarked on  Afghanistan’s  “empire-killing” history.  Mine was the only vote for encouraging “the sale of Afghanistan’s poppy crop to pharmaceutical companies.”   (I’ve moderated that opinion and think we should encourage the sale of poppies to a newly-constituted Afghani pharmaceutical industry.)

In recent days,  Pakistan has agreed with the Taliban to a virtual partitioning of the Malakand District  in the Northwest Frontier Province which borders Afghanistan. The Malakand is a political division with 592 square miles which means Sullivan County, NY is roughly 1.5 times larger.  The number of people living in the Malakand  (2004-2005) is nearly half a million more than the 76,000 in Sullivan.  The partition effectively places the District under Sharia Law. (See:  CIA and Census demographics.)

The Chief Minister of the Northwest Frontier Province said permitting the jurisdiction of Sharia Law would fill the hole left by lack of access to Afghanistan’s judicial system.

Accordingly, the argument goes, the de facto partitioning provides a legal framework in which to address land loss,  destruction of crops and the plight of orphans, among other things.

Apparently, if we want women to have the vote, go to school and be able to live with the same rights as their fathers, brothers and husbands, Afghanistan must be able to spread the rule of secular law.

“The United States — using unmanned drones — has carried out several airstrikes inside Pakistan on suspected militant targets, including one on Monday that killed at least 15 people, Pakistani sources said. Such airstrikes, which sometimes result in civilian casualties, have aggravated tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan.”  (CNN)

For nearly ten years in the 1980s, the Soviet Union’s resources were drained by its failed attempt to control Afghanistan.  That failure was encouraged by an international boycott of the USSR and thousands of tons of US armaments and other aid to the mujahidin.  (Wilson Center)

When the Soviets finally exited, the US anticipated the Afghan government would collapse within a year.  Besides being dependent on USSR food aid,  Afghanistan’s gas resources and consequent revenues had dried up.

Decade after decade, it’s been open season on the people of Afghanistan.  In  power struggles between foreign governments, warlords and religious extremists, the Afghani people have been bombed, starved, enslaved, brutalized, imprisoned, beaten and burned.  Villages have been destroyed. Crops have been wiped out.  This is the carnage of war.  It doesn’t count the cost of natural disasters in a nation unable to mount a concerted emergency rescue effort.

After the Soviet withdrawal,  the US government tossed around the idea of providing  farm equipment, fresh water augmentation, schools, hospitals and transportation.  For the most part, those ideas fell by the roadside.

Though only sixteen respondents answered the poll, the consensus was that we must engage the area in diplomacy and help provide the means by which Afghans can achieve independent growth and security. We are currently on track to increase our troop levels from 36,000 to 60,000.  (Reuters)  The majority of poll respondents agreed those troops should be used to help Afghans build schools and roads, grow food and generally, achieve the aims our government considered  twenty years ago.

Over the past several months, the few interviews conducted with US soldiers portray a force with too few weapons, too few personnel and too little support to respond effectively to “actionable intelligence.”

It seems to me that if sixteen citizens understand we’re on the wrong track, that President Obama must.

You can join me in leaving a statement at the White House contact site.

Bipartisanship: Lowest Common Denominator?


According to CNBC,  the  US Senate has pared Obama’s Stimulus Package  from $937 to  $780 billion.  A vote is expected Sunday because Congress needs to start its  recess ASAP. 

(Remember the expressed outrage when Iraq’s Congress took a vacation while its nation faced insurrection and bankruptcy?  Remember our Congress’  indignation that Iraq’s lawmakers had the chutzpah  to take a vacation while American taxpayers footed the bill?  Remember the purpled faces and bursting veins of our shining palladins?) 

Most economists  are pleading  for a Stimulus Package nearer  $1 trillion.   They’ve  tossed an  I Ching of  formulae  based on percentages of Gross National Product and investment/return ratios and are shrieking,  “The appropriation is  going backwardThe train is out of control!  The horses are stampeding!”   Not a catastrophic metaphor has been left in the box.  And yet,  Nero fiddles as Rome burns.

Additionally,  “Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said the compromise price tag would be made up of 42 percent tax cuts with 58 percent in new spending.”  (CNBC)  

Most economists agree that tax cuts are anathema in times like these–like  a passenger trying to stop a run-away rollercoaster by dragging her feet on the track:  it’s a waste of time, it won’t work and the thing in need of  saving will get her legs broken.

Obama’s practice these past two years has been to watch his opponents crash of their own gravity.  He doesn’t participate substantially in that downfall.  (It’s a basic Gandhi/King principle; a kind of  Judo politic.) 

These past weeks,  President Obama has  hosted a bipartisan Super Bowl party and  two cocktail “parties.”  He’s  bearded the Conservative lion in its den down at Congress.   He offered a stimulus bill with enough tax cuts to raise brows in the pundit community and yet,  Senate Republicans and Conservative Democrats reduced the package  by another $150 billion.

Zero Republicans voted for the first compromise package.

Two or three are expected to vote for the Senate bill.

Has Obama sold our economic future down the tubes for the sake of a few bipartisan pieces of silver?  

Or, has he allowed knee-jerk naysayers with bankrupt economic policies to  dramatically and publicly shoot themselves in  both feet?

Obama’s slated to offer his Recovery Plan this coming Monday.   He wants the Senate to pass the Stimulus Package before that. 

If the Recovery Plan covers all the bases Candidate-Obama trumpeted the past two years, it will include more funds for health care, infrastructure, “greening”  and the consequent job production and training.  By the time the Recovery Plan is unveiled,  the “loyal  Conservative opposition”  will have been marginalized on  their own petards. 

If I sound like a True Believer, eschewing rebellion in the face of  Obama’s vows that, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”  my reward will come tomorrow,  I apologize and propose this:

If  the Recovery Plan is more of the same  “bipartisan,”  lowest-common-denominator-political-toadying as offered by the Stimulus Package,  then every worker,  wannabe-worker, retiree, wannabe-retiree, student  and wannabe-student needs to march on Washington within the month.  We need to take our tents,  backpacks and firewood for cooking.  

And we must not accede to being penned like cattle behind officially-approved barriers.

The Week That Was: Words & Brainstorms


It’s been a  flurry all week.  Here’s a collection of pieces:

US Army and Marines report a sharp escalation in soldier and veteran suicides.  (LA Times)  Caregivers on the front lines cited, among other issues, more and longer deployments, family stress, hopelessness, drugs, alcohol and extreme psychological fatigue.

In the Senate Banking Committee Hearing (Chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd),  Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and Obama advisor offered,  “…other nations regulate the risk of  functions  rather than of entities  or particular business models.”  

 (Author note:  our present system regulates banks, for instance, but  the function of mortgage-backed securities slipped through the jurisdictional cracks of  twenty understaffed  regulatory agencies.  (See CSPAN videos.)

In the same hearing, Gene  Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Elizabeth Warren, Chair of  the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP  described faultlines in our financial structure and offered comments:  (1)  it’s inefficient, ineffective and inflexible; (2) it permits inadequate disclosures by credit institutions; (3)  the “financial illiteracy” of the populace  and inadequate disclosures by institutions combined to create predatory loans with incomprehensible terms; (4)  Federal and State jurisdictional issues created holes in oversight/regulation;  (5) institutions that originated loans passed the risk to other institutions without keeping “skin in the game”;  (6) we need  new ways to value  the debt because we don’t know who’s holding it or what it’s  worth;  (6)  current compensation models  encourage bad loans because there’s little or no  risk to the  originating broker. 

In an umbrella statement,  Dodaro described the current  financial model as pitting consumer protection against economic growth and urged Congress  to recognize that growth is impossible without the  trust and health of the consumer.

Senator Mark Warren referenced financial illiteracy  and  the  lack of regulation that’s allowed lenders and insurance companies to prey on our soldiers and their  families.

Witnesses in the hearing  concurred that:  (1)  we don’t know where the bailout funds are;  (2)  institutions who received funds feel no obligation  to reveal what they did with them; and regardless,  (3)  the bailout has not  significantly improved the flow of investments or loans; and (4) small business failures  and foreclosures are escalating.

Obama, stumping for the Stimulus Plan, described it as a strategy, not a piecemeal, temporary fix.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) told homeowners to stay in their homes when they’re foreclosed.  She told Amy Goodman (Democracy Now)  “…there’s a number people can call:  (888-995-HOME)  to get the proper legal representation so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.” 

(Author note:   When tenants were thrown out of their homes in the 1920s and ’30s,  their neighbors and activists overcame dogs, sheriff ‘s deputies and head-cracking batons to haul each other’s belongings back inside.)

Obama:  Companies  that receive TARP funds will limit executive compensation to $500,000.  This has caused corporations to worry they won’t be able to “attract the best talent.”   (Rewarding incompetence seems to have worked so well for all of us.)  

Aren’t our Graduate Schools  loaded with financial and administrative wizards?  Let them take take the mound and relegate  the Geithners,  Summers, Rubins and financiers to advisory positions in the dugout.  One idea is that executive officers be rewarded only after their policies result in  sustained profit growth over a number of years.  (No more $18 billion bonuses for collapsing a world economy in a single year.)

National Prayer Breakfast  and broadening of the old “faith-based” service model. My agnostic self is staying out of this one but my community organizer is shouting “hallelujah!”   (Perhaps the idea would be less offensive if we called it a “National Meditational Breakfast.)   “Community Service”  is, apparently,  fertile ground for another “Moral Majority” showdown.  It reminds me of  the efforts peace activists made  “to take back the flag”  after Bush invaded Iraq.  Obama’s model incorporates secular groups and recognizes a place for both secular and religious organizations.  My objection would be  to  religious bias dictating  what, how and to whom our civil services are provided.  (See:  First Amendment on separation of Church & State:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”)  Certainly, stringent guidelines must be enforced if  community service is to remain free of  religious dogma.

According to Bloomberg News  on February 4, 2009“Bank of America’s CEO (Kenneth Lewis) told employees that his management team and strategy have the board’s support and January results were ‘encouraging’ as turmoil in the credit markets eased.”  

The  very next day, “Bank of America’s  (BAC) shares  fell as low as $3.77 before finishing up 14 cents at $4.84.  The bank’s shares had fallen for five days prior to Thursday.”  (In the period from  January 1, 2009 to February 5, 2009 — 36 days — BAC has fallen from $14.08 to $4.56.)  No kidding,  some pundits are wondering whether Lewis is the “right guy for the job.”

Bank of America still won’t let people sully their great glass windows with community announcements.

Today,  “January’s sharp drop in employment brings job losses to 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007 and…about half the decline occurred in the last three months.  January’s losses followed upwardly revised cuts of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November.”  (CNBC

In an Orwellian way,  these unemployment numbers are good news because coincidentally, average hourly wages have risen from 0.3-0.4%  over last year. I guess that’s what happens when mass layoffs and retail closings  eliminate low wage earners from the statistical pool.

And finally, 14 year old actess  Dakota Fanning  strode  pencil-thin  onto the stage of late night television in a pair of  spiked heels.

Birthdays


It’s my birthday. I realized it last night when The Daily Show announced the date.

If it wasn’t for money being short, I’d be obnoxiously satisfied with my life.  There aren’t many rules and most of them are fluid.

The ironies that made me laugh when I was young are barely different now. (The Three Stooges were a favorite only because Dad banned them from the house.)

Humans mouthing Corporate Speak as if their edges have blurred  and people ganging up on weaknessthose things still knock me sideways.

Bank of America reminded me Monday how near the edge I am — even during my birthday week.

When I asked the teller if I could put a sign on the bank’s outside doors to let people know our food banks were running low, her face settled like a key in a hole.  “Bank of America won’t let you hang up a sign,”  she said.

Things have been marginal in the village for a while. The hardware store closed a few years ago, followed by two restaurants, a couple of realtors and a fitness center. There’ve been others but recounting the disappeareds doesn’t help.

Besides, it’s no different in your neighborhood. The locally-owned supermarket is penned on all sides by box stores. Artists sit in empty shops and the man who owns the health food store has aged this year. Our cashiers are teens whose parents are unemployed. The young guy folding clothes at the laundromat stares self-consciously at his feet. Neither he nor the cashier got their  college loans for next semester.

In all that economic want, our village sports three banks. One. Two. Three. In a rural village that can’t support a hardware store, we have a cornucopia of banks. The biggest is Bank of America though its stock is falling.

I stared at the teller and the blinding plate glass windows behind me. All that empty, pristine space.  Scenes from The Matrix danced in my headshards splattering like a crystal xylophone.  In another birthday year, I might have thrown a rock. I might have picketed. I might have railed at the stunned number-cruncher behind her knee wall.

I’m not a dewy-eyed optimist, but I like my birthday. I like the tasks that come with aging. I like the flow of breasts sagging and butts drooping. When I was little, I wanted to be Jewish. “How lucky,” I thought, “to celebrate for eight endless days and nights.”

That early disappointment in Chanukkah’s shortcomings  was surpassed the day I turned ten.    “Eve’s Curse” clamped my life in an iron jaw. It was ghastly. I knew what it was but thought of it  like Death–something for others, never me.

Being a girl wasn’t in my cards. I still smelled like a mushroom-y kid, for pete’s sake. My bath water still turned gray after a day in the barn or on the baseball field or climbing in the trees.

The next day – the day before I turned ten — JC called me a “girl” and I spent my birthday in detention for bloodying his nose.

But the deepest cut of all was to come. As Mom’s German chocolate cake melted on my tongue, Grandma snorted. She’d heard my whispered birthday wish. “The Cleveland Indians aren’t gonna’ let a girl be a ballboy,” she said, cuffing my head.

Ten years later, as I popped a slip of chocolate mesc in New Orleans and jumped into The Gulf, The Paris Peace Accords were being signed. Though it skipped my bedraggled mind  that day, I haven’t forgotten it since.

This birthday is something else. Barack Obama’s first interview as our President was with Al Arabiya. Conyers subpoenaed Rove again. Children around the world are being born and  named Barack.  George  Mitchell is on his way to the Middle East. Pastor Warren’s narrowness will fall of its own strictures.

The world is shifting and when we aren’t holding our breath, we’re clasping our hands in glee. I’m so pleased to have made it this far.

Happy birthday to me — for the next eight days.

Is Obama Clearing the Way to Criminal Charges?


On January 21, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order that revoked George W. Bush’s  Executive Order 13233.  Bush had sought to severely limit  access to the records of former United States Presidents.    His previous and  more exclusive version was drafted by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and issued by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001.

In signing the Executive Order,  President Obama  returned to the law as it was signed  by Ronald Reagan in 1989.

Obama’s  revocation affected two substantive changes  in what happens when a former president is asked to release  his presidential records.

Obama’s new order  reduces from 90 to 30  days the length of time a former president has to review records being requested.  This is important to the issue of delay as practiced for eight years by the Bush Executive.

More substantively,  the old version  (Bush’s Ex. Order 13233)  would have given Bush de facto veto power over Obama  if  Obama believed  Bush’s claim of  Executive Privilege was bogus:

“… the Archivist shall not permit access to the records by a   requester  [b]ecause the former President independently retains the right to assert constitutionally based privileges… the Archivist shall not permit access to the records by a requester unless and until the incumbent President advises the Archivist that the former President and the incumbent President agree to authorize access to the records or until so ordered by a final and nonappealable court order.

According to Bush’s rule,  both the former and incumbent Presidents would have to agree to the document disclosure.

Obama’s new rule allows the current President   to overrule the  former President’s claim of Executive Privilege:

[Upon receipt of a claim of executive privilege by a living former President], the Archivist (b)  In making the determination referred to in subsection (a) of this section, the Archivist shall abide by any instructions given him by the incumbent President or his designee unless otherwise directed by a final court order.

Even under Obama’s Order,  the former President has theoretical recourse to  the Courts.

Is  Obama clearing debris  from the path  to criminal charges?  In part, that will depend on what happens to Cheney’s records and how President Obama treats  “Executive Privilege.”

Bush’s Executive Order 13233 mentions the Vice President’s records specifically.  Obama’s order does not — as if Obama believes  the Veep’s documents are  integral to the  Executive Branch.  That would be a new view. As you know,  Cheney believed his office existed in a misty venue somewhere between the Executive and Legislative branches.

1.   Wikipedia intro to Bush’s Executive Order 13233

2.   Obama revokes Bush’s  Presidential Records protections