February 10, 2016

On journalism

From our overstocked archives . From a talk given at a 1997 book fest.

Sam Smith, 1997 - I started in journalism in the summer of 1957 as a 19-year-old radio reporter in Washington. Inspired by the likes of HL Mencken, EB White and Edward R. Murrow, I tried to write well, get the facts, and tell the truth. I thought that was what journalists were meant to do.

Now forty years later, still in Washington, still in journalism, I find that none of these goals seem of much value on the local exchange. The truth no longer sets people free; in Washington at least it only seems to make them drowsy or, if still awake, to lead them to accuse one of conspiracy theorems. Facts come in a bad fourth to polls, pronouncements and perceptions. And as for writing, well Washington is a hard town on prose.

No longer does the Washington Post include stories like this one by Harry Gabbett in 1968: "Paul (Race Horse) Mitchell, 57, of one address right after another, died on the street here yesterday, unexpectedly, and after a long illness, but mostly from two bullet wounds in his chest. . . "

And the story ended:

"The grief, if it may be allowed to pass for that, was dry-eyed enough, but it had those overtones of sincerity which lend a definite, if indefinable, dignity to the human spirit on such occasions. This is to say that only one man was really glad the rascal was dead -- and the police were looking for him."

The language of the city draws its inspiration from Bar Association Gothic, Form 3874 expressionism and the neo-romantic styles of Will, Broder and Kristol. I dream of the day when interactive TV develops to the point that viewers in the privacy of their own homes can actually goose boring panelists on Sunday morning talk shows.

Much Washington writing reads likes a database held together by transition sentences. It's the sort of writing of which Norman Mailer once said: that's not writing, that's typing. It is a town where you are not expected to use a metaphor unless reading the inaugural poem and if you argue by anecdote rather than by data you are not to be taken seriously.

There are peculiar hazards. I, for example, have been banned from the Derek McGinty show on the local public radio station.  When I asked the political editor at the station why, he explained it was for "excessive irony." Similarly, one reviewer cited me for "tossing insights off with abandon." This, I believe, is a violation of the DC code, a lesser included offense of paradigm abuse. In Washington you are expected to wallow in the your insights, using no more than three per book.

You are also expected to restrict one's conversation to the limits of Beltway discourse and remain attentive the appropriateness of one's remarks. Even the worse sins are no longer described in terms of the evil they have done or the pain they have inflicted, but by the fact they are considered inappropriate.

You must always be somber lest, as Russell Baker has pointed out, someone thinks you are not serious and, finally, you must always be literal.

This is, I think, I not unfair summation of the rhetorical framework in which knowledge is transferred from Washington to the rest of the country, in short it's a lousy way to get the news. . .

When I started out forty years ago, over half the reporters in the country lacked a college degree. Reporters were in status much closer to that of the average reader and their attitude and approach reflected that.

Over the years a rather remarkable thing occurred. The media became the first group in human history to raise its social and economic position simply by writing about itself. It stopped being a trade and became a profession, its members felt embarrassed about belonging to the newspaper guild, and the notion of competition for a story declined along with the number of newspapers in town.

To be sure, to compensate for this lack of competition, some publishers employed an ombudsman. These ombudsmen hear the paper's confessions and lend an aura of morality to the enterprise. Yet while they -- like the hireling priests of the old nobility -- often provide speedy absolution, truth and the readers are not as well served. A column of polite self-criticism hardly substitutes for having a second paper in town breathing down your neck.

Thus, in just a few decades, the American journalist has been transformed from an idiosyncratic and independent-minded member of a trade identifying with the reader to a carefully shaped, loyal corporate employee.

The result has been bad writing, poor journalism and panels at which we sit around and wonder what to do about it all.

It's really not a mystery. Saul Alinsky was once asked by a seminarian how he could keep his values as he made his way through the church hierarchy. Very simple, said, Alinsky. Just decide now if you wish to be a priest or a cardinal.

It's no different in journalism. Once you decide that the approbation of the powerful is more important than the interest of the reader, the game's all over.

I've gone through my life with the idea that I was the surrogate eyes and ears of the reader. I did not try to hide my biases, neither did I seek to bore people with them. In the introduction to my previous book, I explained it this way: "Consider me simply someone who has traveled this trail several times before and thus might remember where the clean water is to be found, the names of some of the rarer plants, and possibly even a shortcut home."

The relationship is not a professional one, it is a human one. And like all good relationships it must be based on trust. If you don't like the people you are writing for, if you don't trust them, if you feel intellectually and socially superior it will come through in your writing no matter how many conferences and retreats you go to.

Chesterton offered perhaps the best guide when he wrote about a great journalist by the name of Charles Dickens. Dickens, he said, "didn't write what the people wanted. He wanted what the people wanted."

There is no better way to start bringing media and the public together.


The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast -- Oscar Wilde

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February 9, 2016

News Notes

Another reason to vote for Sanders:  Bill O'Reilly says he'll move to Ireland if Sanders is elected 

Jeb Bush: “If I could do it all again I’d eliminate the Supreme Court ruling” Citizens United, Bush told CNN’s Dana Bash. “This is a ridiculous system we have now where you have campaigns that struggle to raise money directly and they can’t be held accountable for the spending of the super PAC that’s their affiliate.”…

Michael Moore in intensive care unit

How television turned off politics

Bernie and the new left

Harold Meyeson, American Prospect - A generation gap as wide as the Grand Canyon seems to be opening up in the Democratic Party and American liberalism more generally. To some in the opposing camps, the divisions appear rooted in incompatible ideologies and counterposed strategic conceptions of how to promote the progressive cause. Look more closely, however—as both sides must—and the divide appears less fundamental, less socialism-versus-liberalism, less idealism-versus-pragmatism. The Democratic Party as a whole is moving left, but at two different speeds. What makes these differences seem so intense is less a sharp clash of beliefs, and more that the divisions have emerged in the course of an almost unimaginably high-stakes presidential contest.

There have been presidential campaigns before whose supporters at least appeared to be disproportionately young. Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 challenge to Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War was dubbed “the Children’s Crusade.” .... But no campaign has commanded quite so high a share of young people’s support (more precisely, young Democrats’ support) as that of the Vermont democratic socialist.

As mysterious as this may seem to countless political observers, “Berniemania” should come as no surprise. For the past half decade, there’s been increasing evidence of a leftward turn among Democrats and the young. There was the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose activists were overwhelmingly young and whose message polled positively—even if people’s reactions to the protesters themselves were mixed. There have been Black Lives Matter and the Dreamers—again, movements chiefly of the young. There’s been the Fight for $15, a minimum-wage movement primarily of young minority workers in dead-end jobs.

More broadly, there’s been the emergence of a distinct civic left, as the nation’s big cities have come under Democratic control. Today, 27 of the nation’s 30 largest cities have Democratic mayors, the greatest partisan imbalance, possibly, since before the advent of Jacksonian democracy. Not all Democratic city governments are notably progressive, as the example of Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel makes clear. But those cities that are have enacted minimum-wage hikes; mandated paid sick days; “banned the box” requiring job applicants to disclose arrests; cracked down on wage theft; and, in Seattle, given collective-bargaining rights to independent contractors. Even Emanuel saw fit to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 per hour.

Morning Line

Morning Line
Based on the average of recent polls:
  • In New Hampshire Trump leads by 16 and Sanders leads by 12
  • With 35 points, Trump has a 19 point lead ahead of Cruz who has 17. Rubio has 14. Trump's best lead so far: 26
  • Clinton's lead over Sanders is a record low of 6 points

Ted Cruz attended religious rally that discussed how to execute gays

This is remarkable.. Watch the whole thing

Among the arguments: Colorado is worse than Communist China and communism and evolution go hand in hand. 

Question raised: How should gays be executed? Should they be thrown off a cliff? 

A half million or more due to lose food samps

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities - Some 500,000 to 1 million childless adults will be cut off SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) over the course of 2016 as a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed childless adults returns in most areas of the country.  This is a diverse, struggling, and under-served group. [The cutoff] was first imposed as part of the 1996 welfare law.

About 45 percent are women and close to one-third are over 40 years old.  Among those who report their race, about half are white, a third are African American, and a tenth are Hispanic.  About a quarter have less than a high school education, and more than half have only a high school diploma or GED.  Some are veterans, and some are non-custodial parents.  Less than 40 percent live in urban areas. 

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No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or Bible-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation-paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor -- John L. Lewis, 1937

Jazz break

February 8, 2016

The Trump - Clinton problem

Sam Smith - While we have never had so many dishonest, corrupt and/or incompetent candidates running for president in the same election, it is worth bearing in mind that politics more often reflects, rather than creates, our culture. Donald Trump is what modern capitalism has taught us to respect, Hillary Clinton is a model of amoral power that the media wants  us to admire, and Ted Cruz a reflection of the mass corruption of Christianity by evangelical hustlers like his father.

For a culture to survive it needs leaders who articulate, advocate and proliferate the  values, beliefs and standards that are meant to define it. For the past few decades, America’s leaders have either turned silent – in churches, on campuses, in print  and on the air – or joined with those who prefer money to decency, power to cooperation and bullying to concern.

Trump and Clinton are evidence, rather than causes, of something that’s been going on a long time: a growing indifference by the powerful to the things that kept us and our communities human.

We can not expect the media to judge something like this campaign through the eyes of citizens struggling to hold on to what we thought we shared. The media has become part of the soulless, morally vacuous elite and so it quizzes candidates about torture as though it was just one more budget issue.

I sometimes think that we are living in a second medieval age in in which the strong have enormous power but can only exercise it behind moats and in heavily walled castles because, in the end, they are truly scared. The rest of us live in villages on farms owned by the lords but in a culture that still retains some of the traditions, freedoms and values the elite no longer experiences. We are victims, but also models and preservers.

Often, when I go to a meeting in my small Maine town, I think: wouldn’t it be great if these folks were running the country?  In such places, one must cooperate as well as compete, serve as well as lead, and be a useful part of things far larger than oneself.

There was a time not too many decades ago that this was also true in places like Washington. During the Great Society you didn’t have to just rely on a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for the decent way forward. There were at least a score of politicians on the Hill who purveyed the truth against those who would have it otherwise. Usually not a majority to be sure, but certainly far better than what we find ourselves with today. Even the opposition was – with rare exceptions like Joseph McCarthy – more inclined towards the decent despite their policies being off. Maine’s Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, for example, had more integrity then the net character of all the current GOP presidential candidates. You didn’t, as we do with Donald Trump and his opponents, give hero status to narcissistic hustlers and bullies or describe exploitation and greed as worthy skills.

When I watch the presidential candidates in debate it seems that only John Kasich acts and speaks the way normal politicians with whom you disagreed once did while Bernie Sanders is the lone voice of dreams and decency. If nominated he would be the truest liberal Democrats have had on the ticket since Walter Mondale ran three decades ago.

But because liberalism has changed from a broad based ideology  emphasizing economic issues to a narrow iconography tilted towards the interests of upper income voters, its supporters can’t figure why so many don’t like it any more.

And, after nearly a quarter century of covering Clinton cons, corruption and lies, I've pretty much come to realize that conventional liberals will never give up on a pair deeply responsible for America's reversal of major achievements of the New Deal and Great Society. As far back as 1993, in my book Shadows of Hope, I described how Bill Clinton was picked by the Progressive Leadership Council to do just that - which he accomplished in such ways as eliminating the Glass-Steagall Act (helping to cause the recession of 2008) and attacking public welfare. 

We now face the strong prospect of a contest between two of the best con artists in modern America: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What they share is that they have no cause other than another victory for themselves. An ideology for one. A difference between them, though, is that Clinton cons some of America's brighter voters and Trump cons the less bright. Unfortunately, there are more of the latter.
And there is another critical difference: Clinton is a Democrat and if we’re going to have a hustler in the White House, we should at least have one likely to preserve things like Social Security, food stamps, and public works. I will still vote for Clinton if she wins the nomination because I consider the election a choice between parties and policies, not between finalists in a political American Idol contest.

And, further, there are signs that a Clinton presidency would be a grim transition that we must endure in order to end the era of Democratic triangulation and start to rewrite the script for the future.

There are already some hopeful indications. The attraction of the young to Bernie Sanders, including young women who understand that gender equality means a common distribution of evil as well as virtue and not that any woman is better than any man.

There is also, in the Black Lives Matter movement, a revival of young black action. But there are also obstacles, such as the danger that the young will treat politics as one more thing to consume rather than to act upon and change, or that anger and critical judgements are a sufficient form of action. 

If the young put down their cell phones and rewrite a future for this land that can be shared across gender, age and ethnicity, then we might finally enter an era that would make us proud again. The last time this was visible was some four decades with the punk movement and we have waited long enough for another chance.

We need not to seek a solution through politics’ natural course but through the way politics has to react to those who challenge that course. We need to start the election campaign of 2020 right now.

News Notes

The Michigan Senate passed a bill that makes sodomy a felony, despite the U.S. Supreme Court declaring such a law unconstitutional.

Another false campaign mailing by Ted Cruz

According to recent FEC filings, 95 percent of the donations to the Super PAC “Millennials Rising” — originally called “Millennials for Jeb” — comes from men 60 years and older.

Christie makes it easier for private corporations to take over New Jersey's water

58% support Medicare for all

TSA used to check bags at Trump rally. . . "The presence of the TSA at a political event is extremely concerning considering the fact that such an event has absolutely nothing to do with transportation."

A study finds that  92 percent of college students still prefer to do “serious reading” using books that make use of actual ink printed on a physical page.


Jesse A Myerson - Mr. Clinton accused Sanders, who, at press time, was walking a picket line, of being "hermetically sealed," speaking from his private jet.

Denver police okay "pain compliance" against nonviolent protestors

Shadowproof -A leaked police manual reveals how Denver police respond to marches and other forms of protest, including their use of undercover “platoons” of officers to pick out leaders for later arrest.

On Jan. 19, Unicorn Riot published a heavily redacted version of the 2011 edition of the “Denver Police Department Crowd Management Manual” obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request. Days later, an anonymous source sent them an unredacted copy of the 2008 edition of the manual.

... [A] revealing portion of the unredacted manual notes that officers may use “pain compliance” techniques against passively resisting, nonviolent protesters. “It is common for people arrested at protests in Denver to report that while being arrested, officers pulled and twisted their wrists and fingers in very painful ways both as they are being handcuffed, and after they have already been handcuffed,” Unicorn Riot reported on its website.

Social Security's actuary finds Sanders' plan would extend program for 40 years

Nation of Change - A new report determined that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ legislation to strengthen Social Security would extend the life of the program by an additional 40 years, from 2034 to 2074. Instead of allowing the wealthy to continue manipulating tax laws, Sanders intends to remove the tax cap for the rich while fighting to keep Social Security alive.

Last year, Sanders introduced the Social Security Expansion Act to extend the solvency of the program and ensure that the wealthy begin paying their fair share. Under current law, the amount of income subject to the payroll tax is capped at $118,500. That means millionaires and billionaires pay the same amount in payroll taxes as people making $118,500 a year. Sanders’ bill would subject all income over $250,000 to the payroll tax. According to the Center for Economic Policy, only the top 1.5 percent of wage earners would be impacted.

The Social Security’s Office of the Chief Actuary found that Sanders’ legislation would extend the solvency of the program from the current estimate of 2034 to 2074. The increase in Social Security benefits would provide an additional $1,300 a year to seniors with less than $16,000 in income. Sanders’ bill would also increase the annual cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients while fighting to significantly reduce the senior poverty rate.

Morning Line

Morning Line
Based on the moving average of recent polls:
  • Clinton's national lead over Sanders is only 8 points
  • With 35 points, Trump has a 17 point lead ahead of Cruz who has 18. Rubio has 15. Trump's best lead so far: 26
  • In New Hampshire Trump leads by 17 and Sanders leads by 15
  • Trump leads the Republicans in five states, Clinton leads the Democrats in seven states, Sanders leads in two
  • In Senate races, Democrats stand to pick up 1 seat and could pick up 3 more, enough for the GOP to lose its majority

Food and kids

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2012 - One reason why I reacted negatively to the Michelle Obama encouraged federal limit on calories for school lunches is because I’ve been dealing with the issue of kids and food a long time, having been on the board of a Maine alternative agriculture center.

We have hundreds of children who come to a rare farm summer day camp and thousands more who visit during the school year. Recently our Teen Ag program was featured in two local papers. The Falmouth Forecaster reported:

Pulling weeds, bucking hay and fighting bugs is not how most high school students want to spend their summer. But four students working at Wolfe's Neck Farm wouldn't have wanted to do anything else. By the end of the week, the small crew will have followed as much as 5,000 pounds of produce from seed to table, and donated it to food pantries in Freeport and Brunswick, while learning about all aspects of farming.

At the end of the season, these four teens raised, picked and cooked a dinner for 70 at Freeport Community Services.

Down the coast a bit, the superintendent of a local school district has made a major effort to improve both the quality of, and attitude towards, food by such things as integrating the topic into the curriculum and changing the distributor of the system’s school to one more friendly to organic and natural products.

I’ve never been a fan of puritan liberals, but especially not when the target of their righteous, rigid rules are kids. Because it just doesn’t work well, as the lunch rebellions in many schools have indicated. It's not hard to get children interested in good things, but if they think it's just another stupid rule they resist rather than learn.
The way to get kids to eat the right things is to get them informed and interested in the matter. Sadly, in education, enthusiasm and comprehension has given way to rules and test taking, but the former still are the best routes to understanding and useful action.

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Labor: one of the processes by which A acquires the property of B -- Ambrose Bierce

Jazz break

February 7, 2016

News Notes

Marco Rubio repeats his memorized speech

The decline of magazines

Youth run composting business in Brooklyn


Radioactive water pours from NY power plant

NY Daily News - Radioactive water overflowed into the groundwater at the upstate Indian Point nuclear power plant, officials said Saturday.

Gov. Cuomo said the plant’s operator, Entergy, reported “alarming levels” of radioactivity at three monitoring wells, with one well’s radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000%.

The Buchanan plant reported that the contamination did not migrate offsite and does not pose a threat to public health.

The site, roughly 35 miles north of New York City, has been under increased scrutiny from Cuomo and other officials following several incidents. In December, Cuomo ordered an investigation into Indian Point after a series of unplanned shutdowns, citing potential risks to both the city and surrounding suburbs.

Word: Comedy and political correctness

Ashe Schow writes at the Washington Examiner that, "The Monty Python co-founder, in a video for Internet forum Big Think, railed against the current wave of hypersensitivity on college campuses, saying he has been warned against performing on campuses. "[Psychiatrist Robin Skynner] said: 'If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior,'" Cleese said. "And when you're around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what's going to upset them next." Cleese said that it's one thing to be "mean" to "people who are not able to look after themselves very well," but it was another to take it to "the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group could be labeled cruel." Cleese added that "comedy is critical," and if society starts telling people "we mustn't criticize or offend them," then humor goes out the window. "With humor goes a sense of proportion," Cleese said. "And then, as far as I'm concerned, you're living in 1984."

America's white middle class despair

Guardian - A study released late last year by two Princeton academics, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who won the 2014 Nobel prize for economics, revealed that the death rate for white Americans aged 45 to 54 has risen sharply since 1999 after declining for decades. The increase, by 20% over the 14 years to 2013, represents about half a million lives cut short.

The uptick in the mortality rate is unique to that age and racial group. Death rates for African Americans of a similar age remain notably higher but continue to fall.

Neither was the increase seen in other developed countries. In the UK, the mortality rate for middle-aged people dropped by one third over the same period.

“This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround,” the study said.

Deaths from poisonings by drugs or alcohol have risen dramatically to push lung cancer into second place as the major killer with a sharp increase in suicides now a close third.

Maine State Prison bans inmate from revealing abuses

Scott Dolan, Portland Press Herald - Jeffrey Libby’s writing on prison reform, advocating to reinstate parole or championing inmate literacy programs, has been published on newspaper opinion pages for nearly a decade.

Even as a convicted murderer serving a 60-year sentence for drowning of his grandfather, Libby has been able to cast his voice in print far beyond the walls of the Maine State Prison in Warren, reaching legislators, lawyers and educators who have cited his thoughts in their own writing.

But for now, Libby’s days of submitting newspaper opinion pieces are over. The Department of Corrections has effectively silenced his voice.

After Libby’s most recent op-ed piece was published in the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 5, he was called before Deputy Warden Michael Tausek in the Warren prison and told to “cease and desist.”

The department’s focus on Libby’s writing comes as it considers adopting a new set of proposed inmate discipline rules that constitutional lawyers say would make Maine’s policy on prisoner communications one of the most restrictive in the nation

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Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment. - Robert Benchley

Jazz break

Count Basie: Corner Pocket

Great thoughts of feminist [sic] Gloria Steinem

Political Wire - Feminist icon Gloria Steinem — a supporter of Hillary Clinton — says young women are supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie,” CNN reports. Said Steinem: “They’re going to get more activist as they get older. And when you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

February 6, 2016

The Clintons rip off language, too

CNN - Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign last spring, a CNN analysis shows.

In total, the two gave 729 speeches from February 2001 until May, receiving an average payday of $210,795 for each address. The two also reported at least $7.7 million for at least 39 speeches to big banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner, collecting at least $1.8 million for at least eight speeches to big banks.

Sam Smith - Accepting such sums for speeches is not only a form a legalized bribery in many instances, it is an grotesque insult to serious writers and their words. You could have paid 15,000 real writers $10,000 each for what the Clintons got.  The Clintons, of course, are not alone, just a dramatic example.

Furthermore, it is likely that many of the actual Clinton words weren't even written by them so that not only did they engage in grossly overpaid political jargon parading as thought, but they plagiarized to do so. Here is how it worked out when Hillary Clinton "wrote" a couple of books."

Things that happened to Barbara Feinman after becoming ghostwriter for "It Takes a Village"
-- She got no acknowledgement in the book by HR Clinton, contrary to what was stipulated in the contract
-- A reporter asked her how much she had written and she replied, "All I can say is they didn't pay me $120,000 to spell-check it."
-- The White House spread rumors that Feinman had been fired
-- Simon & Schuster refused to pay the last $30,000 of her fee. Asked why, Feinman was told that the White House didn't want her paid.

[Reported by William Triplett in Capital Style]

Wikipedia - The majority of [It Takes a Village] was reportedly written by ghostwriter Barbara Feinman. When the book was first announced in April 1995, The New York Times reported publisher Simon & Schuster as saying "The book will actually be written by Barbara Feinman, a journalism professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Ms. Feinman will conduct a series of interviews with Mrs. Clinton, who will help edit the resulting text."

Feinman spent seven months on the project and was paid $120,000 for her work. Feinman, however, was not mentioned anywhere in the book. Clinton's acknowledgment section began: "It takes a village to bring a book into the world, as everyone who has written one knows. Many people have helped me to complete this one, sometimes without even knowing it. They are so numerous that I will not even attempt to acknowledge them individually, for fear that I might leave one out."

During her promotional tour for the book, Clinton said, "I actually wrote the book ... I had to write my own book because I want to stand by every word." Clinton stated that Feinman assisted in interviews and did some editorial drafting of "connecting paragraphs", while Clinton herself wrote the final manuscript in longhand.

This led Feinman to complain at the time to Capitol Style magazine over the lack of acknowledgement. In 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported that "New York literary circles are buzzing with vitriol over Sen. Clinton's refusal, so far, to share credit with any writer who helps on her book." Later, in a 2002 article for The Writer's Chronicle, Barbara Feinman Todd (now using her married name) related that the project with Clinton had gone smoothly, producing drafts in a round-robin style. Feinman agrees that Clinton was involved with the project, but also states that, "Like any first lady, Mrs. Clinton had an extremely hectic schedule and writing a book without assistance would have been logistically impossible." Feinman reiterates that her only objection to the whole process was the lack of any acknowledgement

Greg Estervbrook, ESPN - Once again, Clinton is presented as the author of what is actually a ghosted book. . . This time around, the pages of "Living History" thank three people -- the much-admired former White House speech writer Alison Muscatine, veteran ghost Maryanne Vollers and researcher Ruby Shamir -- who are assumed to be the actual authors. But the cover and the frontispiece still boldly state, "by Hillary Rodham Clinton."

"Living History" is a 562-page book. A work of that length would take an average writer perhaps four years to produce; a highly proficient writer might finish in two years, if working on nothing else. Clinton signed the contract to "write" the book about two years ago. About the same time, she also was sworn in as a member of the United States Senate. Clinton took an oath to protect the Constitution and to serve the citizens of New York. So in the last two years Clinton has either been neglecting her duties as a United States Senator - that is, violating her oath -- in order to be the true author of "Living History," or she is claiming authorship of someone else's work. . .

If you didn't write something, and claimed to the world that you did, what you would be doing is lying. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture if United States senators did not lie?

Perhaps you're thinking, "But all people who reach the limelight lie about being authors." No, they don't. Consider that the previous book project of Maryanne Vollers, one of Hillary's ghosts, was about Jerri Nielsen, the doctor who had to be airlifted out of Antarctica. How was that book presented? As "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole" by Jerri Nielsen with Maryanne Vollers. No lying about the true author.

Consider that John McCain's autobiographical work, "Faith of My Fathers," proclaims on its cover "by Mark Salter, with John McCain." The true author's name is there for everyone to see, and this neither detracts from sales ("Faith of My Fathers" was a commercial success) nor causes anyone to think any less of McCain. Famous people who care about their honor, like McCain, freely acknowledge using ghostwriters -- this is called "honesty." Famous people with serious ego problems, or who don't care about their honor, lie about being authors.

Now suppose you were a college student, hired someone to write a thesis paper for you, then submitted the work as your own. Suppose, when caught, rather than confess, you indignantly insisted you were the true author. What would happen to you is that you'd be expelled. For you to lie about having written something would be considered inexcusable.

The dirty secrets behind the Koch brothers

Charles Kaiser, Guardian - Lots of American industrialists have skeletons in the family closet. Charles and David Koch, however, are in a league of their own.

The father of these famous rightwing billionaires was Fred Koch, who started his fortune with $500,000 received from Stalin for his assistance constructing 15 oil refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. A couple of years later, his company, Winkler-Koch, helped the Nazis complete their third-largest oil refinery. The facility produced hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-octane fuel for the Luftwaffe, until it was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944.

In 1938, the patriarch wrote that “the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy and Japan”. To make sure his children got the right ideas, he hired a German nanny. The nanny was such a fervent Nazi that when France fell in 1940, she resigned and returned to Germany. After that, Fred became the main disciplinarian, whipping his children with belts and tree branches.

These are just a handful of the many bombshells exploded in the pages of Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s indispensable new history “of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right” in the US.

A veteran investigative reporter and a staff writer for the New Yorker, Mayer has combined her own research with the work of scores of other investigators, to describe how the Kochs and fellow billionaires like Richard Scaife have spent hundreds of millions to “move their political ideas from the fringe to the center of American political life”.

Twenty years after collaborating with the Nazis, Fred Koch had lost none of his taste for extremism. In 1958, he was one of the 11 original members of the John Birch Society, an organization which accused scores of prominent Americans, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of communist sympathies.

In 1960, Koch wrote: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.” He strongly supported the movement to impeach chief justice Earl Warren, after the supreme court voted to desegregate public schools in Brown v Board of Education. His sons became Birchers too, although Charles was more enamored of “antigovernment economic writers” than communist conspiracies.

After their father died, Charles and David bought out their brothers’ shares in the family company, then built it into the second largest privately held corporation in America.

“As their fortunes grew, Charles and David Koch became the primary underwriters of hardline libertarian politics in America,” Mayer writes. Charles’s goal was to “tear the government out ‘at the root’.”

Another man who studied Charles thought “he was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him: the government”.


What happens when you give students tests instead of teaching them history and civics


Statewise, religion doesn't help

Gallup has come out with a list of the most and least religious states. The Review keeps track of rankings of states on a variety of matters and compared to their standing in these, living in a non-religious state is a far better idea.

Among the ten most non-religious states, six make to the top ten best states in our rankings. An exception is Wyoming, the 16th worst state in other matters, which makes it to the top ten in non-religion.

Among the ten most religious states, six also rank at the bottom of our list in other matters. The closest to being a good state is Utah which is 19th in our rankings.

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Everything has been said but not everyone has said it yet. -- Mo Udall

February 5, 2016

The politics of bribery

Jimmy Carter recently referred to Citizens United as a form of bribery that has been legalized. I was struck by this because I have been using this term about campaign financing for over fifteen years, as in this speech I delivered at a rally in 1999 on the steps of the Capitol. 

Sam Smith, 1999 - I have three objections to our current system of campaign financing.

The first is literary. Being a writer I try to show respect for words, to leave their meanings untwisted and unobscured.

This is alien to much of official Washington which daily engages in an activity well described by Edgar Alan Poe. Poe said, "By ringing small changes on the words leg-of-mutton and turnip. . . I could 'demonstrate' that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be, a leg-of-mutton."

For example, for centuries ordinary people have known exactly what a bribe was. The Oxford English Dictionary described it in 1528 as meaning to "to influence corruptly, by a consideration." Another 16th century definition describes bribery as "a reward given to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct" of someone.

In more modern times, the Meat Inspection Act of 1917 prohibits giving "money or other thing of value, with intent to influence" to a government official. Simple and wise.

But that was before the lawyers and the politicians got around to rewriting the meaning of bribery. And so we came to a time not so many months ago when the Supreme Court actually ruled that a law prohibiting the giving of gifts to a public official "for or because of an official act" didn't mean anything unless you knew exactly what the official act was. In other words, bribery was only illegal if the bribee was dumb enough to give you a receipt.

The media has gone along with the scam, virtually dropping the word from its vocabulary in favor of phrases like "inappropriate gift," "the appearance of a conflict of interest," or the phrase which brings us here today: "campaign contribution."

Another example is the remarkable redefinition of money to mean speech. You can test this one out by making a deal with a prostitute and if a cop comes along, simply say, "Officer, I wasn't giving her money, I was just giving her a speech." If that doesn't work you can try giving more of that speech to the cop. Or try telling the IRS next April that "I have the right to remain silent." And so forth. I wouldn't advise it.

My second objection to our system of campaign financing is economic. It's just too damn expensive for the taxpayer. The real cost is not the campaign contributions themselves. The real cost is what is paid in return out of public funds.

A case in point: Public Campaign recently reported that in 1996, when Congress voted to lift the minimum wage 90 cents an hour, business interests extracted $21 billion in custom-designed tax benefits. These business interests gave only about $36 million in campaign contributions so they got out of the public treasury nearly 600 times what they put in. And you helped pay for it.

Looked at another way, that was enough money to give 11 million workers a 90 cent an hour wage increase for a whole year -- or, to be more 1990s about it, to give 21,000 CEOs a million dollar bonus.

This is repeated over and over. For example, the oil industry in one recent year gave $23 million in campaign contributions and got nearly $9 billion in tax breaks.

The bottom line is this: if you want to save public money, support public campaign financing.

My final objection is biologic. Elections are for and between human beings. How do you tell when you're dealing with a person? Well, they bleed, burp, wiggle their toes and have sex. They register for the draft. They register to vote. They watch MTV. They go to prison and they have babies and cancer. Eventually they die and are buried or cremated.

Now this may seem obvious to you, but there are tens of thousands of lawyers and judges and politicians who simply don't believe it. They will tell you that a corporation is a person, based on a corrupt Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th Amendment from back in the robber baron era of the late 19th century -- a time in many ways not unlike our own.

Before this ruling, everyone knew what a person was just as everyone knew what a bribe was. States regulated corporations because they were legal fictions lacking not only blood and bones, but conscience, morality, and free will. But then the leg of mutton became a turnip in the eyes of the law.

Corporations say they just want to be treated like people, but that's not true. Test it out. Try to exercise your free speech on the property of a corporation just like they exercise theirs in your election. You'll find out quickly who is more of a person. We can take care of this biologic problem by applying a simple literary solution: tell the truth. A corporation is not a person and should not be allowed to be called one under the law.

I close with this thought. The people who work in the building behind us have learned to count money ahead of votes. It is time to chase the money changers out of the temple. But how? After all, getting Congress to adopt publicly funded campaigns is like trying to get the Mafia to adopt the Ten Commandments as its mission statement. I would suggest that while fighting this difficult battle there is something we can do starting tomorrow. We can pull together every decent organization and individual in communities all over America -- the churches, activist organizations, social service groups, moral business people, concerned citizens -- and begin drafting a code of conduct for politicians. We do not have to wait for any legislature.

If we do this right, if we form true broad-based coalitions of decency, then the politicians will ignore us only at their peril.

At root, dear friends, our problem is that politicians have come to have more fear of their campaign contributors than they have of the voters. We have to teach politicians to be afraid of us again. And nothing will do it better than a coming together of a righteously outraged and unified constituency demanding an end to bribery of politicians, whether it occurs before, during, or after a campaign.