Archive for September, 2014

The Need For a Progressive Challenger in the Democratic Primaries – posted 9/21/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor 9/27/2014

September 22, 2014 3 comments

This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on 9/27/2014 under the title “Here’s Hoping a True Progressive Challenges Clinton”. Jon

For many people, it is a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2016. There is genuine excitement at the prospect of a woman president. Plus, Hillary’s unparalleled name recognition, her wide experience as a politician and a campaigner and her access to big money all give her legitimate frontrunner status.

Things like her recent trip to Iowa and the many Ready for Hillary emails I continually receive do make me think she is serious about a 2016 run. That stuff is hardly accidental.

Still I have to express a degree of skepticism. As a progressive, I am not sure where she stands on a number of critical issues. In writing this piece, I offer no endorsements of any candidate. I think there is an increasing gap between proliferating problems and the meagre solutions offered by both political parties.

Without getting too dystopian, our political system is stuck in quicksand as the challenges grow. Political stalemate translates into a form of dysfunctionality. Politicians focus more on image and strategies for how to spin difficult divisive issues. Real action for change often seems like a fading hope.

I will highlight three major issues of concern – economic inequality, war and militarism, and campaign finance reform. Without a strong progressive challenger, I have a bad feeling about where Hillary and the centrists in the Democratic Party leadership will land on these issues. I would guess perceptions of how the issue affects her electability would trump other concerns.

I think a vigorous primary would be good for the Party and democracy. The base of the Democrats needs to shake the party leadership and try to exert influence. We do not need two Republican parties or a second party that is Republican-lite. I fear that a play-it-safe, bland, centrist approach will shrink enthusiasm and turnout. That could be a killer for the party even having a candidate with the positives Hillary does bring.

Economic inequality is our 800 pound gorilla issue. We live in a new Gilded Age. To say the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer is a gross understatement. The top 10% of the richest 1% have gotten astronomically richer. 16,000 families, the ultra-rich, possess $6 trillion in assets – equal to the total wealth of the bottom two-thirds of American families.

Meanwhile, middle class, working class, and poor people face a bleak landscape. Good paying jobs with benefits are like a dying species relative to the need. Students come out of college with cripplingly large student loan debts. Inequality is associated with lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and poorer health outcomes. And I have barely scratched the surface of the negatives of extreme inequality.

Hillary embodies the dilemma at the core of the Democratic Party. Is it a pro-corporate party or is it a Labor party? It has tried to be both. Hillary has maintained cozy ties with Wall Street fatcats. Last year she gave two paid speeches to Goldman Sachs audiences. Her speaking fee: $200,000 a speech.

So I will ask: how does one challenge robber barons while being financially dependent on the same robber barons? I mentioned the Goldman Sachs speeches but since Hillary left the State Department she has given more than 90 speeches, many to powerful corporate interests, raking in over $5 million. This is the person who is going to lead a populist crusade? Everybody has contradictions but it strains credulity to see Hillary as a working class hero.

On the matter of war and militarism, progressives do have cause for concern about Hillary’s positions especially in light of her recent criticism of the Obama foreign policy. She has been positioning herself to the right of Obama , criticizing his reluctance to support moderate Syrian rebels. As she famously said in reference to Obama’s foreign policy, “Don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.”

This comes from a person who supported George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. We seem to forget so fast. It is like that absurd war never happened. It has cost America enormously. President Obama’s caution, in light of our history, has been very appropriate. We should not lose our minds because demented Islamic State terrorists have beheaded two Americans.

Instead of being world policeman, the United States needs far more restraint in the use of our military. Military intervention should only be a last resort – not a first resort. We also need to rein in the size of our military-industrial complex. I see no indication that Hillary sees things that way. She is far more prone to play the hawk card.

As for campaign finance reform, Hillary has spoken in favor of public financing of some campaigns. However, like Obama, she opted out of the public financing scheme for presidential elections. It is hard to see any fix coming from an insider like Hillary who preaches campaign finance reform but practices private financing. I do not diminish the likely difficulty for anyone who unilaterally accepts public financing. It is hard to compete against the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and right wing money. The billionaires try aggressively to buy the win.

The problem is that elections are now about collecting money from billionaires. Economic elites exert very disproportionate influence. The voice of the people is utterly drowned out by the avalanche of big money from the 1%. The U.S. Supreme Court, in some of the worst decisions in its history, in Citizens United and McCutcheon v FEC, have compounded the problem. The Court has fought all efforts to limit the ability of big money to buy elections.

Again, accepting millions from corporate donors does not provide credibility for leadership on campaign finance reform. We need leaders who are not compromised and who can offer a bolder reform agenda. For example, elections need to be shorter and cheaper. We need to guarantee the right of every citizen 18 or older to vote. We need to provide protection against attempts to disenfranchise individual voters. We also need to ensure all votes are correctly counted.

Probably we also need a constitutional amendment that states corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people. I question whether corporations should be allowed to make campaign contributions at all. States should have the power to regulate campaign finances. I expect Hillary’s efforts would probably be tepid at best in this area because she is ultimately beholden to corporations like most conventional politicians.

I have no idea whether a progressive challenger will emerge. I know both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been mentioned as possibilities. For the sake of our democracy and our collective future, I hope a passionate credible challenger runs.

Cape Cod Suggestions – posted 9/14/2014

September 14, 2014 2 comments

This summer I got to spend a week on the Cape and i have to report it is still a wonderful place to go in the summer. When I lived in Alaska, the thought of Cape Cod beaches helped to keep me going. No offense to Alaska but the beaches are mudflats. There are signs around to stay off because in some places the beaches are like quicksand. Every year, there are rescues off the Alaska beaches. You do not have that problem on Cape beaches.

I thought it would be fun to highlight some Cape places to go that I really liked. This is hardly timely as the season is over but still there is next year. This piece is a departure from more serious fare but I promise to return to that soon. This space is not becoming a travel guide. My restaurant reviews will be limited.

GREAT PLACE TO STAY: I highly recommend the Bluefish Bed and Breakfast in Harwich. My wife Debra and I never stayed at the Bluefish before. We decided to stay there because it is located near where my mother in law Miriam lives in Harwich. Our hosts, Tim and Lori, are a lovely and friendly couple. They could not have been more gracious and welcoming. The rooms are cozy and comfortable and prices are reasonable. They have wifi in your room at no additional charge. The location is convenient to many places on the Cape.

The breakfasts prepared by Tim, who is a practicing chef, were pretty spectacular. Usually breakfasts don’t get a whole lot of attention. Over the last 4 years, I have travelled a fair amount and had to stay at many motels and hotels. Usual fare is drab with little attention paid to the meal. Tim is a very creative chef and his breakfasts were different. Everyday Debra and I would wonder what breakfast would be. Invariably, the breakfasts were special. Whether egg-based, pancakes or crepes, there was always an extra dimension. I was impressed because I do cook breakfast on the weekend and Tim’s efforts put my usual efforts to shame. I guess he is a chef though.

Tim and Lori are strong supporters of local farm to table agriculture. All the ingredients were fresh and from nearby.

If you plan a Cape stay, consider staying at the Bluefish. We plan to go back. An added plus is that the Bluefish is near the Harwich bike trails. You can bike or run almost right out the door. The bike trails go quite a distance on the Cape. They are a great thing in their own right.

BARS: This is probably an overly popular choice since I saw the Beachcomber won Best of Boston 2014 but the Beachcomber in Wellfleet is fantastic. My son Josh knew about this place because he had tried to book a show there a few years back when he played in a Boston-based blues/rock band, Logan. The bar is located almost directly on the ocean on Cahoon Hollow Beach. I can legitimately say it is oceanfront. Looking at it, you have to say it is a hurricane target. It is that close to the water. I did wonder whether global warming would eventually take it.

The place is so lively. There were a number of buses coming in from god knows where and we went mid-week. You might have thought it was the weekend.The food was very good too but it is the location that makes this place so cool.

I did not know the story but President Kennedy created the Cape Cod National Seashore in August 1961 and only a grandfather clause allowed the Beachcomber to remain within the National Seashore as a privately held commercial property. Thank god for that grandfather clause – this is worth the drive to get to.

I also wanted to mention a bar named the Port in Harwichport. The Port has a special on local oysters from 4pm-6pm. The special was a dollar an oyster. I hope they maintain this deal. The oysters were the freshest ever, Wow, were they good like the best I ever had. I admit I am from the middle Atlantic states. I am not an oyster aficionado like my wife who is a hard core New Englander and tough critic. She shared my opinion about the oysters though as did my boys Josh and Eric. We each ended up having a dozen they were that good.

RESTAURANTS: We did not do fancy this year. I am partisan to fried clams and my wife likes fried oysters. We went to the Original Seafood Restaurant (the old Kreme N-Kone before legal battles I believe) and it is still very good. It is in Dennisport, We went on a Thursday and it was quiet. I have been there when it is a mob scene. It is better to go when less people are competing to place an order. There were many seniors there who looked like locals, not tourists. That seemed to me to be a vote of confidence. I thought the clams were as good as my other favorite fried clam place, Bob’s Clam Shack, which is located on Route 1 in Kittery Maine.

In the more serious food category, I like the Red Pheasant Inn which is located in Dennis. I am a duck fan and I think their duck entree is the best. I did not go this summer but my wife really likes it too and she is a food expert. I just figured I would give them a plug.

BOOKSTORES: I will mention two places, Tim’s Used Books and Provincetown Bookstore. Both are located in Provincetown. Tim’s Used Books is set back from the main drag. I did think the selection had shrunk some from previous years but they still had some surprising finds. I always look forward to going there in the summer. I love used book stores. The lady who was in the store at the Provincetown Bookstore was nice enough to give me a pen so I could write down some titles. She gave me a hard time about possibly buying off Amazon but I didn’t mind. That was fair enough as I am sure small independent bookstores are in a life and death struggle. The store also has a good selection. I am thankful there are still bookstores and they have not disappeared altogether.

ODDS AND ENDS: After a good beach day, I would recommend the pina coladas at Brax Landing in Harwich right on Route 28. . Debra liked their steamers. I also liked the bloody marys at the Lobster Pot in Provincetown. Spicy good.

It is unfortunately starting to get cold here in New Hampshire. Where did the summer go? At least there are thoughts of the Cape next summer.

Categories: Uncategorized

For the Washington Redskins and the NFL, There is No Defense – posted 9/1/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/4/2014

September 1, 2014 2 comments

As the new football season hurdles toward us, the controversy over whether the Washington Redskins need to change their name has heated up. The controversy is hardly new. It has been actively going on for over 40 years.

In 1972, a delegation of Native Americans, including Dennis Banks from the American Indian Movement, LaDonna Harris, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity and Leon Cole, president of the National Congress of American Indians, met with Edward Bennett Williams, president of the Redskins. They told Williams to shelve the racially derogatory epithet, Redskins. They also wanted Williams to get rid of the Redskinettes, the pseudo-Indian, sideline dancing girls and they wanted him to change the lyrics in the fight song “Hail to the Redskins”. Williams made no promises but he did listen.

Williams’ only concession had to do with the fight song lyrics. “The swamp ’ems, scalp ’ems and heap ’ems is a mockery of dialect”, he said. “We won’t use those lyrics any more.”

When the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1988, Native Americans staged their first national protest about the issue. Many Native Americans wrote the Redskins and asked for a name change.

In 1992, over 2000 people protested in Minnesota at the Super Bowl between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills. The American Indian Movement led that protest that included representatives from the Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago and Choctaw tribes.

In the last two years, the controversy has surfaced again and it has begun to pick up steam. Twenty three Native American tribes have publicly protested the name and negative stereotyping of Native Americans. Among the tribes are the Cherokee, the Comanche, the Oneida Indian Nation and the Navajos.

In June, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office of the United States voted to cancel the trademarks held by the Redskins because they were considered disparaging to Native Americans.

Still, the name is like a cat with nine lives. Earlier this year, the Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder vowed he would never change the name. Snyder said, “It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.” Without being too cynical, it is hard not to imagine that Snyder is calculating about the costs of going either way.

In the media, opponents of a name change like Rush Limbaugh, Mike Ditka and Sarah Palin have weighed in. They deny the name is a slur. They have said the name honors Native Americans and they think the controversy is an example of P.C. thought policing.

While I would acknowledge there are far weightier issues facing Native Americans, this is not a hard call. The name has to change. It should have happened already. The failure to change the name reflects a blind spot in the dominant culture and in the NFL.

Everything, including the Redskins name, is in a historical context. The term Redskin goes back to the colonial era. I think it is fair to say that the term has had far more negative than positive connotations. Stereotyping and dehumanizing Native people was part of the process of western expansion. I will not delve into the history of military conquest and repeated treaty violations. I would submit though that stereotyping and using names like Redskin made it easier for the conquerors to justify their actions.

I do not think it is an accident that if you consult American English dictionaries, they classify the term as “usually offensive”, “disparaging”, “insulting” and “taboo”.

Changing the name is a matter of respect for Native Americans. By any conceivable standard it is utterly offensive even though it has been tolerated until now. As has been pointed out by others, you would never see the Washington Blackskins or the California Yellowskins. It would never happen.

To this day, Native Americans remain marginalized in America. The historical crimes committed against Native Americans are not acknowledged. Our culture alternates between romanticizing Native people and ignoring them. Really if you look at the two major political parties , I would say Native issues are on no agenda. Yet, Native American poverty is epidemic. High rates of unemployment, ill health, alcoholism and incarceration are very common.

Continuing to use a term that Native Americans have widely rejected is simply wrong. It adds insult to injury.

Finding a few Native Americans who like the Redskins name is laughable. As is the use of public opinion polls to justify a racist name. The NFL has just discovered domestic violence. Maybe now that they have discovered domestic violence, they can also discover racism.