Tuesday, July 28, 2009

UPDATE 5: "I Love Alaska So Much I Quit"

I don’t know how most Alaskans reacted to Sarah Palin’s resignation but if I lived up there I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Of course, my reaction might not be typical because I suspect I’m one of the “media” she begged to not bother the children of her successor. Fine. As long as he doesn’t drag them out like political stage props every day the way Sarah has done for the past year, I’ll join the entire press corps in leaving them alone. Children are always off-limits unless the politician shoves them front and center.

I’ll also continue to “not make stuff up.”

Not in my 40 years of being in journalism have I made anything up or even re-staged a photo: Not the “Alaskan’s Speak” article I wrote last year that drove the right winger batty, not any of the campaign stories I produced where people inside the McCain campaign talked about how she was driving everyone batty, not about what people inside the intelligence community told me about how much Bush knew about 9/11 in advance.

Hey, it wasn’t me who said “I told Congress ‘no, thanks’” about the bridge to nowhere only after gleefully grabbing the money until I was thrust onto a national stage and being caught with my hand grasping a check from Washington became politically untenable.

It took me a few days to write this because I’ve had trouble trying to figure out just what she said on Sunday. I reran the tape four or five times and what she said still didn’t make any sense. I even played the whole thing backwards, hoping to find some hidden message the way Beatles fans did from time to time.

Nope. No matter how many times I read and listened to Palin’s “I love Alaska so much I quit” speech, there was no there, there – as Dorothy Parker once said of Philadelphia.

Fortunately, I flipped on Conan last night and William Shatner enlightened me. Turns out Palin’s speech was meant to be read as poetry and it makes much more sense with Shatner’s interpretation:

And with that, Sarah exited stage right.

Next On Our Stage …

It’s too much to hope that Palin will go quietly into that good night.

But even if she does, the crazy right always has someone just as nutty waiting in the wings to take her place. This week it’s Ben Stein.

The one-time game show quiz master and Jimmy Kimmel straight man, bit player in Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off and New York Times business columnist scribbled a nasty piece about Pres. Obama in The American Spectator that is so riddled with fact errors – which increasingly seems like a habit with people who write for the Times – and bitter, bile churning hate that it makes me wonder who won Ben Stein’s loony pill.

His piece is so bad that Reuters blogger Felix Salmon writes it is “the kind of thing which should automatically disqualify Stein from writing for the New York Times.”

Among Stein’s salvos at Obama includes “his total zero of an academic record as a student and teacher, his complete lack of scholarship when he was being touted as a scholar.”

Whoops. Fact error, and a big one. The president was the magna cum laude editor of the Harvard Law Review. Even Liberty University’s law school’s law review requires some academic achievement, if it publishes one.

Then, Stein comes close to accusing Obama of not being a citizen but steps back from the brink, writing that he is just “not being a fan of this country (who is) way, way too cozy with the terrorist leaders in the Middle East (that goes) way beyond naïveté, all the way into active destruction of our interests and our allies and our future.”

This is pure political and hatred based on no substantiation whatsoever. Sort of like the “birthers.” Which Middle East terrorist leaders is Obama cozying up to these days? Stein doesn’t say or even speculate. Nor does he hint at which American interest – or that “of our allies and our future” – the president is naively shredding.

Hits Keep Coming

Sarah, Ben, the birthers, C Street, Sgt. Crowley, the burly Florida cop who tasered a frail 80-something woman because she wouldn’t sign a parking ticket. The hits just keep on coming from the lunatic right that now passes as the Republican Party.

Sadly for the country, compadres of this group run amok in the nation, blocking health care reform, trying to stop card check, fighting financial industry regulation and taking stimulus money for their state in one hand while slamming it with the other. The GOP once was the Grand Old Party; now, sadly, the initials stand for Goofy Old Poops.

– h/t to Barbara Bedway

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama Needs A Shot Of LBJ

Pres. Lyndon Johnson had many tragic flaws but one thing he knew how to do is get his legislation passed. Members of Congress called it getting "the Johnson treatment" which ranged from flattery, promises of federal money for a pet project back in the district or even rides on Air Force One to bullying and outright threats of White House retribution.

As a result, before Vietnam consumed and then destroyed his presidency, LBJ got a reluctant Congress – controlled almost entirely by conservative, often openly racist, Southern Democrats – to enact Medicare, massive civil rights legislation, expansive voting rights measures, huge anti-poverty programmes, generous education funding, financial sector regulation and a raft of other Great Society measures that made life better for tens of millions of Americans of all ages, races and income brackets.

In fact and in no small measure, Barack Obama was able to be elected because of laws LBJ got enacted.

Pres. Obama is said to have read a lot of books about Abraham Lincoln during the campaign and transition; too bad he didn’t read more Doris Kearns Goodwin books about Lyndon Johnson. Right now, he needs a strong shot of LBJ if he hopes to get Congress to enact a health care plan that even faintly resembles "reform" – let alone anything that makes major changes to fix America’s broken, dysfunctional system of doling out medicine.

Barter, Bargain, Beat

Recently, Obama summoned the Blue Dogs – who are just Republicans in blue jackets – to The White House where he tried reasoning with them like an adult. Fine. A good place to start. But as soon as he realised he was getting nowhere and the "ConservaDems" were standing firm, it was time to stop reasoning and start banging heads.

As distasteful as he may find doing so, Obama and his Congressional liaison staff must get in the faces of the recalcitrant members of his own party and barter, bargain or beat them into submission.

It’s all well and good if the president wants to stay above the fray in his era of post-partisan politics. But why isn’t Rahm Emanuel body slamming Blue Dogs against the wall like LBJ and say bluntly to them, "There’s isn’t a Senator on the Hill who doesn’t want something. What do you want? We can drop our opposition to the defense budget rider you’re pushing. Money? We'll give your state billions. Access? How about a weekend at Camp David for you and the family? What about stepping off Air Force One with the president back home?

"But we gotta have your vote. If you don't commit right now to voting with the president on what he wants, the way he wants it, don't ask for any favors while the Obama’s live in this house. Remember, if he goes down, you go down, too."


Big Pharma, medical device manufacturers, physicians and surgeons, the insurance industry and everyone else with a vested interested in killing real health care reform are spending more than one million dollars every day lobbying to try overruling what some 70% of Americans say they want and need: Serious cost control, eliminating coverage denial, killing hidden policy provisions that deny care people thought they were buying, and trimming excessive health industry profits.

Socialized medicine? Nonsense. These same people said the same thing about Medicare back in the 60s.

For right-wingers, calling reform or a public option government-controlled socialized medicine may play well with the base but what’s being proposed isn’t anything close. Believe me: I live in a country with national health and it works just fine. Sure, anyone can find somebody in Canada – or Britain or Germany or France – with a horror story to put in a commercial. But while people grumble, a new study by a conservative think tank found that 69% of Canadians are very happy with the medical care they receive and the system that provides it.

It is way past time for The White House to start playing hardball politics with Congress, and I don’t mean the annoying Chris Mathews version. I mean the sort of hardball politics that will provide universal access to affordable health care – which is what Obama promised during the campaign.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ten Totally Weird Days On The Far Right

I disappear for a couple weeks and look what I find upon returning: Ten days that were weird even for increasingly bizarre far right politicians, hangers-on and just plain wacko’s. Everywhere I looked, another freak was freaking out.

Senate Republicans confirmed they have an odd, almost sexual, obsession with “wise Latina women” that borders on a fetish. During her confirmation hearings, Jeff Sessions used the phrase repeatedly as he leered at Sonia Sotomayor so peculiarly that I suspected he was picturing her in stockings, a bustier and maybe Sarah Palin pumps. Tom Coburn’s tasteless – and bad – imitation of Ricky Ricardo during the hearing came off sounding like a third rate racist comic performing at a roadside strip club in the rural south.

In a related move, Pat Buchanan was shouting himself hoarse claiming only white men can jump. Because they built the continent by importing black slaves, killing red Indians and abusing Chinese workers, Buchanan insists that aggrieved yet clearly superior white males deserve special breaks when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow – who had him on her show – fact checked the old coot.

In the meantime, Palin herself was opposing cap-and-trade in an error-filled Washington Post Op-Ed piece, forgetting she gave it her full-throated support during the campaign, another sign that her debilitating Bridge To Nowhere syndrome is getting worse.

It Keeps Going

The tangled romantic webs of John Ensign and Mark Sanford became even more tangled, taking on a Keystone Cop feel except Les Affaire d’ Coeur of the two family value philanderers were overshadowed by the discovery of their common association with a scary, fringe religious cult called The Family, perhaps named in tribute to Don Corleone – and what appears to be questionable hush money payments made by Ensign’s parents to his mistress, her hubby and two of their three kids, with some more allegedly coming out of a Republican campaign fund.

And Sanford’s verbal diarrhoea continued, claiming his affair with the Argentine firecracker will make his marriage stronger. Note to married men caught cheating by their spouse: Don’t ever say this in real life; it will land you in a hospital with multiple injuries.

To cap things off, on Monday we learned that Irving Moskowitz, an ultra-conservative octogenarian, funnels profits from a bingo hall he owns in a largely Hispanic, desperately poor Los Angeles district with the improbable name of Hawaiian Gardens to fund illegal Israeli West Bank settlements on land stolen from Palestinians, possibly both a tax dodge and a felony because the money flows through Moskowitz’s “charitable trust.”

The only thing to make the past fortnight any stranger would be if Britney Spears converted to Judaism. Oh, wait: She did.

Ordinary Wacko’s

Common, everyday wing nuts managed to get in on the fun, too.

I flipped on my television to see a woman at a county GOP meeting holding up her birth certificate in a plastic bag like crime scene evidence to support her contention that Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen. Demanding “I want my country back,” the goofy birther was silenced only when the chair agreed to lead the meeting in the Pledge of Allegiance as people around her looked at each other and smirked in disbelief. Apparently, there are still a few Republicans rooted in reality.

Meanwhile, a Google Alert popped up in my e-mail.

In it, I discovered that a website called Conservatives4Palin is still trashing me for news articles I investigated and published 10 months ago. Somehow, a writer boosting Palin’s Op-Ed cap-and-trade piece managed to tie it to reporting I did in September, calling me a few unflattering names in the process.

Forgetting that rabid dogs roaming Palinistaville have no time for simple facts when they get in the way, innocently I wrote a reply comment pointing out the discrepancy between what Palin wrote in the Post and what she said as McCain’s running mate along with some of the fact errors. I also explained – again – how I did my reporting for the earlier pieces on Palin.

Big mistake.

In a succession of posts, I was called a liar – in all caps, naturally – anti-American, a Communist, a Fascist, a liar again, a “one worlder” whatever that means, a "9/11 truther" and a supporter of the UN.

Not surprisingly, no one who wrote in reply to my comment disputed any of my facts. Equally not surprising was that by the next morning the site administrator removed my comments and, I discovered to my delight, I am banned forever from commenting at the site. Some time ago, RedState.com also banned me and I wear the banning like war medals.

This truly must be a glorious time to be a conservative in America!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

UPDATE 4: Goofy Sarah Blames Reporters So She Invites Them To A Fishkill

When will this nonsense end?

Barely four days ago, Sarah Palin blamed the news media and citizens demanding accountability for her quitting as governor in that weird “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” resignation speech she gave on the banks of Lake Louise. But to give journalists – if not concerned voters – one more kick at her can, Tuesday she invited the three major networks, CNN, Fox, Time and a handful of other reporters to her family’s private fishing beach to, well, actually I’m not sure why they were invited.

Nor do I understand why the media scrum climbed hurriedly into rented cars, vans or bush planes to head into the woods to talk with her. Did any of them really expect Palin would suddenly turn all serious and thoughtful and coherent, giving answers that both made sense and were introspective? She hasn’t made sense once since her vice presidential nomination last fall so what made reporters, and their editors or producers, think things would be different yesterday?

Apparently, reporters on the Alaska Watch did because one after another supposedly Serious National Journalist stood there as Palin, garbed bizarrely in fishing waders that Rachel Maddow gleefully satirized last night, repeated her non-sensical utterances. At one point, she even waved her arms and whined, “You’re not listening to me!” at NBC’s Andrea Mitchell who asked why she thought quitters are winners a second time when Palin didn’t answer Mitchell’s original question.

Like any narcissist, it is clear Palin enjoys pressing on a bruise – exposing herself to reporter’s questions – because it feels so good when she stops.

Anyone less notorious than Palin would have been shunted off to a psychiatrist by now for serious treatment aided by serious medication. This woman who but for the grace of the American electorate, might be living at the Naval Observatory as Vice President of The United States right now instead of where she belongs, in a tasteful pale blue suite at the Menninger Clinic is acting in a totally strange way.

Families of the mentally ill are cautioned not to enable crazy behaviour. The mainstream news media might thin about following the same advice and stop enabling Palin's craziness. When Billy Carter admitted being an alcoholic, Johnny Carson told Tonight Show viewers he would no longer make jokes about the man “because he has a serious problem and I don’t make jokes about people who are ill.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

UPDATE 3: Goofy Sarah’s Goofy Money Problems

It’s sort of fitting that the annual running of the bulls begins today in Pamplona where the bull’s shit will be as deep as it is these days in Wasilla, Alaska.

Yet another possible reason for Gov. Palin’s resignation crops up in this morning’s New York Times which reports that she resigned because of the rising cost of her mounting personal legal bills incurred in dealing with the 15 ethics violations filed against Palin – with new charges allegedly on the way. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell told a Fox Sunday news interview show that she owes her lawyers around $500,000.

No word so far on whether Palin’s lawyer served Parnell, the Times or Fox News with a copy of its “stop speculating or we’ll sue” threat it issued Saturday.

Maybe if she had done a better job paying attention to the rules of the game in Alaska that she chose to play – and there don’t seem to be too many rules up there to begin with – she wouldn’t be a half-million dollars in debt to her legal eagles and other birds of prey.

Naturally, Palin claims an entirely different reason – her third or fourth or 10th since announcing her resignation. On her Facebook page, Palin is signalling she wants a larger, national role in politics, citing what she now insists is a “higher calling” to push for conservative causes.


Didn’t George Bush claim that God told him to invade Iraq? Well, I suppose since Palin is free of witches, she has plenty of time on her hands to listen to God whispering in her ear since running Alaska – the job she was elected to do – is so boring she hardly ever shows up in Juneau.

As if all of this isn’t enough to give you dry heaves, also in this morning’s Times, Ross Douthat claims on the Op-Ed page in an article titled "Palin And Her Enemies," that if only Palin had waited to enter the national stage and not leap at John McCain’s offer to be his running mate, “There would still be plenty of time to ease into the national spotlight, to bone up on the issues, and to craft a persona more appealing than the Mrs. Spiro Agnew role the McCain campaign assigned to her.”

Not only does Douthat mirror Palin’s credo that her fall from heaven is always someone else’s fault, he blames it all on the McCain campaign that picked her for the sole purpose, apparently, of ruining her. And then he goes on to claim that she is “talented enough” to have a national political future.

Excuse me?

Uhm, Ross, this is the woman who wouldn’t read briefing books, refused to prepare for network interviews, didn’t want to rehearse for her debate with Joe Biden, claimed Barack Obama palled around with terrorists and didn’t silence yahoo’s in the crowd who shouted back “Kill him!”

In only about 30 months of being governor of a very small state, she’s faced more ethics violation charges than a Chicago ward heeler, tried to refuse stimulus money for a state with more problems than it has oil until the Republican legislature forced her to do so, charged the state for living in her own home and tried charging Alaskan taxpayers for her children’s travel costs, accepted speaking invitations before declining them before saying she didn’t mean it and would speak after all, and saw her popularity plummet as voters in the 49th state came to see what a wacko they’d elected.

Exactly where does her talent lay, Ross, other than being a foil for Tina Fey?

Still, if a money crunch is the final, real, last chance to get off, reason for walking away and she wants to answer some “higher calling,” I assume it means Palin will continue to haunt us and provide Jon Stewart with plenty of lead stories for years to come.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

UPDATE 2: Goofy Sarah Stomps Her Feet And Holds Her Breath

Sarah Palin trotted out her lawyer late Saturday to refute charges appearing in various news media that she is allegedly under investigation for wrongdoing during her stint as Wasilla’s mayor.

Thomas van Flein of Anchorage law firm Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen, Thorsness, LLC issued a statement warning, “To the extent several websites, most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, are now claiming as ‘fact’ that Governor Palin resigned because she is ‘under federal investigation’ for embezzlement or other criminal wrongdoing, we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation.”

The entire press release is available as a PDF file.

While an FBI spokesman in the Anchorage office denied that the agency was investigating her, it is investigating the construction firm that build the Wasilla Sports Complex and which, media reports alleged here and here, contributed cash to her political campaigns and, it’s alleged, material and labor to her under-construction home. More to the point, the criminal division of the Justice Dept. has its own investigators separate from the FBI, and it was the DoJ that refused to confirm or deny that Palin is under investigation.

So it is entirely possible the FBI is telling the truth – that it does not have her in its sights – but Justice Dept. investigators or the IRS might be conducting a probe. No one at DoJ or Treasury was available for comment Sunday, in the middle of a long holiday weekend.

Typical Palin

Huffington Post’s AKMuckraker writes this morning that Palin’s lawyer-led response is her typical modus operandi.

Despite the fact that she specifically refers twice to the report as a "rumor," Van Flein says she portrayed the story as fact. The only fact is that there are rumors. I know because I've been hearing them since last October. They even have a name – “Housegate." If you Google "Palin Housegate," you get 8,600 references, beginning with an article that appeared in the Village Voice.

“I’m gonna sue your ass off!” is a common cry when someone thinks they can silence the news media – mainstream, alternative or internet.

But even if the rumors are totally unfounded, the fact is it’s nearly impossible for the media to defame a public figure the way the law is written: Palin would have to prove intent, something difficult to do in the best of circumstances, and reporting rumors about a governor didn’t constitute defamation the last time my lawyer’s checked.

Some of the best advice anyone ever gave me was “sleep on it, decide in the morning.” In other words, don’t do anything in a fit of picque.

Despite constant rumors about all kinds of things that fly around her like geese, it seems as if Sarah went postal after Moore’s blog was posted instead of sleeping on it. Rather than giving herself time to cool down, she hired a lawyer and started threatening people with defamation suits she can’t win and may end up having to pay the defendant’s costs to boot if legal papers ever get filed.

Meanwhile …

One of Palin’s many shortcomings during the presidential campaign was that she was seen as quick to shoot from the hip, sometimes making irrational statements contradicting what the head of her ticket and campaign headquarters were saying or doing.

This latest kerfluffle does nothing to make Palin seem any less irratic or goofy. It was as if she learned nothing between the Republican Convention and election night.

True, Palin may be endearing herself even more to her base of supporters – if many of them can read, let alone use the internet or Google. But for much of the GOP mainstream, if there is such a thing any longer, and independents who refused to vote for McCain-Palin in November, this latest episode is just one more reason to gag whenever they hear her name.

In addition to learning few lessons about national politics last fall, neither, apparently did she learn a real world life lesson: Never pick a fight with anyone who buys newsprint by the ton.

I’m sorry, Sarah, but you’ll never have the last word on this.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

UPDATE: Is Goofy Sarah About To Be Indicted?

It seems that about-to-be former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is in serious trouble, which may explain her bizarre, rambling resignation yesterday.

Brad's Blog is quoting multiple sources saying that the US Dept. of Justice is about to indict her on embezzlement, charges dating back to her days as Wasilla mayor. Apparently, when she had the municipal sports complex built, the contractor - who also contributed serious money to her mayoral and gubernatorial races - allegedly looted the construction site to slip windows, wood and workers to the Palin's for their new house on the lake, all gratis.

As I reported on Friday afternoon, senior people from the McCain presidential campaign who worked with Palin were totally flummoxed by her sudden resignation. One said to me almost as soon as the news broke, “She was a disaster campaigning for vice president and she isn’t any less of a nightmare back home in Alaska.”

My own additional reporting late Friday afternoon and Saturday morning backs up the Brad Blog assertion based on his fine, early reporting. Before the right wing goes bonkers, the probe was launched when Bush was president and in control of the Justice Dept. Now, however, DoJ sources declined to confirm or deny the report to me, a statement usually made when there is an ongoing investigation. If there were no basis to the rumours, the DoJ quickly denies any such possibility.

As Paul Krugman writes this morning at his blog, those "whom the gods would destroy, they first make Republican governors."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Breaking News: Goofy Sarah’s Goofy Resignation

“People who know me know that besides faith and family, nothing's more important to me than our beloved Alaska. Serving her people is the greatest honor I could imagine.”

In fact, Palin loves Alaska and the honor of serving its people so much that she told relieved Alaskan Republicans Friday afternoon that she is resigning, effective in a couple of weeks. Palin told a news conference at her Wasilla home that, having decided not to run for re-election, she wants to get out of the way.

“Once I decided not to run for re-election, I also felt that to embrace the conventional 'Lame Duck' status in this particular climate would just be another dose of 'politics as usual,' something I campaigned against and will always oppose. It is my duty to always protect our great state,” Palin tells reporters.

Then, continuing without pausing for a breath. she adds, “With that in mind, my family and I determined that it is best to make a difference this summer, and I am willing to change things, so that this administration, with its positive agenda, its accomplishments, and its successful road to an incredible future, can continue without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success."

Huh? Lots of elected local, state and federal officials decide not to run for re-election but they stick around to finish their term. There hadn’t been a whisper of her leaving office before the election.

“Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me at all,” a former senior member of the McCain presidential campaign tells me almost as soon as the news breaks. “She was a disaster campaigning for vice president and she isn’t any less of a nightmare back home in Alaska.”

Massive State Problems

As governor, Palin is coping with massive state problems that are taking the shine off her political star. In fact, she was likely to face a primary challenge if she decided to run for another terms as governor.

A principal problem is lower oil prices and a recession-induced drop in demand for Alaska crude. Since the state collects hefty royalties on oil pumped from the ground, revenue has dropped precipitously. Threatened is not just the state budget but the annual “dividend” Juneau pays to each resident every year.

Then there are Palin’s problems with her own party which essentially forced her into accepting federal stimulus money. The state’s conservative voters may not like the idea of Washington spending a lot of taxpayer cash, but they want their share as long as it is being handed out.

Moreover, Palin faces new charges that she forced out a state official on tenuous grounds. Yesterday, Beverly Wooley, who spent more than 20 years in public health in Alaska, ended her stint as state public health director on Wednesday.

She's the second top health official to leave within days. The state's chief medical officer, Jay Butler, left two weeks after declining to take on Wooley's job along with his own. He now is in Atlanta, overseeing a Center for Disease Control task force on a vaccine to protect against the H1N1 flu virus.

During the presidential campaign, Palin was criticized sharply by the legislature for firing the head of the state police for refusing to fire an ex-in law.

Why Now?

The question remains why the sudden departure?

After all, being governor gave her a platform for media attention whether to pick a bizarre squabble with David Letterman or demonstrate her bewildering ignorance of domestic policies or foreign affairs.

No doubt the reason has little if anything to do with the reasons she’s giving today. Palin’s lack of familiarity with the truth came out again in an e-mail exchange released this week with Steve Schmidt during the campaign. Is another scandal brewing in the life of right wing America’s favorite trailer trash queen or is she really as erratic as we always suspected?

“Beats me,” my Republican source exclaims. “I’m as bewildered as you. I just hope she goes away and returns to the obscurity she so richly deserves.”

Yankee Doodle Dandiness: Missing Home On July 4

July 1 was Canada Day so, on Wednesday, The New York Times asked 11 Canadians living in the States what they missed most about their native land. Turnabout is fair play and I started thinking about what I miss about home, having lived in Toronto since 1991. Here are a few things that come to mind as I quietly mark the July 4th holiday.

Insane Politicians – In the last month alone, there have been more political loonies making insane comments in the US media that there’ve been in the 18-plus years I’ve lived up here: Sanford, Vitter, Ensign, Palin, Gingrich, Lieberman, Boehner, Joe the Non-Plumber, Michelle Bachman. And those are just so-called national figures. Don’t overlook Missouri legislator Cynthia Davis, chair of the state’s permanent committee on children, who insists going hungry is good for kids whose parents are too poor to feed them.

Compare Canada. Back in the late 1990s, Canada had an angry old coot named Preston Manning as Parliamentary leader of the far-right wing Reform Party. Finally, even his supporters thought the guy with a 1950s-style flat top the colour of a steel brush and high, squeaky voice was so goofy, they not only replaced Manning as leader but changed the party name – twice – to shake off any connection with him and his racist, Neanderthal ideas.

Political Scandals – Whether it’s sex, drugs, rock n’ roll or influence peddling, the US stands first among Western nations for unleashing high-voltage political scandals; Canada barely measures a ripple on the Richter Scale.

The closest thing to a genuine scandal came when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was accused briefly of accepting a bribe to steer Air Canada towards buying some Airbus planes. Not only did it turn out to not be true but the amount of money involved was something like $250,000. In Canadian dollars, which is like Monopoly money. Duke Cunningham’s price for making one phone call was higher than that and even the remodelling job on Ted Stevens deck probably cost more.

Good Bagels – Other than one or two Montréal bakeries and a place on Eglington Ave. in Toronto everyone calls The Dirty Bakery, there is not a Canadian alive who knows how to make a decent bagel. Up here, eating a bagel is mostly like biting into semi-chewy Wonder Bread with about as much taste. Why can Americans bake good bagels which, admittedly, is an art and Canadians think tossing in some blueberries or using whole grain flour is enough to pass off a doughy lump as a bagel.

Doughnuts – Speaking of inedible food, for a nation that has more doughnut shops per capita than maybe any other country, Canada does a lousy job of making doughnuts. Maybe it’s because relatively few Germans bakers settled here but I haven’t eaten a decent doughnut since I arrived 1991. The same goes for Danish: You’d think that in a country filled with all kinds of bears, someone would know how to make a Bear Claw.

Hamburgers – I’m not talking about fast food pretenders but honest-to-God real hamburgers. I have been in every major city in Canada and quite a few minor ones, as well, and the only place in the entire country that makes an edible burger is a lunchroom in Toronto’s financial core called The Senator.

Good Newspapers – Despite being a newspaper reading nation – Toronto alone still has four dailies plus two freebies – the major papers around the country are pathetic. I’m an avid reader of papers but miss what still pass for newspapers in the US.

The Globe and Mail pretends to be An Important National Daily but isn’t. The National Post only prints Conservative Party talking points. The Toronto Sun may have the best sports section in the country and a photo of a bikini-clad Sunshine Girl every day but if a story doesn’t involve cars crashing, fires burning, pets being mistreated or cute kids selling lemonade in a park, the Sun doesn’t consider it news.

The Toronto Star has the largest paid circulation but it’s only good if you want to find an obscure local angle to a news event thousands of miles away. For example, the Star’s likely first paragraph to an African plane crash might be “No Toronto residents were on board a plane that made a fiery crash landing in Mbgobuto in a remote section of The Congo yesterday, killing all six passengers and a crew of two.”

Complaining – Americans are notorious for whining, complaining and suing over everything. Some people consider a day without complaining is like a day without sunshine, and I sometimes I miss their orneriness. Maybe not in-your-face, New York-style bitching but I miss hearing people speaking out, and out loud.

Up here, people are no less happy with the nonsense the world throws at them but they remain stoically silent. If Ottawa ordered everyone to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, no one would like it but no one would complain.

Well, except for me, I suppose. I just used 800 words to complain about things I miss about America.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama and Congress – Help Bring Paula Home

Guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of UKProgressive.

The healthcare debate rages across Capitol Hill with lobbyists fighting against a ‘single payer’ option as if it were the moral equivalent of the anti-Christ. Before you blindly accept any bill, please examine the very real - and ironic - face this debate has taken on for me.

Paula Persichini-Petitti is a woman to whom I once joked, “You would be what would happen if Mother Theresa, Joan Jett and a drug-free Janis Joplin merged.” Paula is one tough, rock and roll loving, hard living, Boston-area born and bred “broahd” with a “haht” (heart) of pure gold. Listening to her thick Boston accent you would start with a first impression that would be one of the absolute biggest mistakes you could ever make.

Paula was born a rebel. She graduated from the nursing program at Blue Hills Regional Institute and became a radiology specialist at a time where technology was evolving and most said she could not do it because she was too young. If you have a death wish or desire physical harm, merely suggest to Paula that she ‘cannot’ do something.

Ironically, she now lays with tubes coming out of her body, a respirator helping her breathe and in a coma in a Rapid City, South Dakota hospital. She has spent nearly every summer of the last several years, working with Russell and Pearl Means helping Native Americans of the Lakota Sioux Nation in Pine Ridge Reservation. There she counsels and teaches indigenous families about the twin health threats of alcohol abuse and diabetes in one of the USA’s poorest communities.

Several years ago Paula visited the island of Jamaica and was involved in an automobile accident. She’d been an emergency room nurse and when she saw the dreadful conditions people in that rural hospital near the Black River lived under, she returned home to Massachusetts and started BlackRiverProject.org. Most appealed to her saying, “that’s just the way it is Paula, nothing can be done about it.”

Step back please, human freight train coming through.

Her leadership has seen her beg, cajole, plead and threaten just about every doctor, medical school, pharmaceutical and medical supplier in Massachusetts and across the globe to help her bring free medical supplies, used machinery, doctors and nurses to some of the most ravaged 3rd world hell-holes on the face of the planet.

Paula and I grew up two blocks from each other in the southern Massachusetts town of Avon. I went to school with her big brother Ricky and, as usual, everyone went their separate ways after graduation. My friend Terri said, “You’re a journalist, are you aware of Paula’s project?” That began a series of visits, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter exchanges to develop, research and tell this one woman’s story.

And what a story, everything from threatening Cuban prison guards suspicious of why she was there providing medical help by saying she was “Raul Castro’s mistress and there would be hell to pay if he found out she was being held there” - it worked, she was set free - to being dragged from her hotel room at night, convinced she would be shot and flying in Soviet era helicopters across Laos and Cambodia to meet the ruling generals to demand they provide mosquito netting to protect their citizens against malaria. Think The Killing Fields.

This woman’s life is bigger than any Hollywood screenplay. Yet she shrugs it all off with a laugh that would filled any room. Most of us live fractions of a life. Thoreau, another Massachusetts native said, “I wanted to live deliberately, deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Paula lives in a way that most dream of doing.

She was driving in a car that was rear-ended at speed by a pickup travelling at 60 mph. The impact severely jarred her brain stem causing damage to the thalamus, the part of the brain which is the centre for speech, body temp., sight, hearing and smell. While she can today squeeze the ICU doctor’s hand on command, the hope is her brain will form connections around the damage and more or less repair itself. The good people in Rapid City have taken her as far as she can go there and she needs now to be med-flighted to Massachusetts General Hospital where she will be under the care of a top neurosurgeon.

Paula has health insurance but – you know where this is going before I even type it – it does not cover life-flights. Speaking to the Life-flight despatch office in Rapid City, South Dakota, the flight is 1,600 air miles and will cost $30,000, and that’s just for the flight. Then there is tended ambulance service to and from the airplane at both ends which adds even more not to mention the longer term care she will require to heal.

Buddy Persichini, 78, is Paula’s very proud Dad. He has numerous health issues of his own and Paula has been his rock since her Mom died when she was in high school. Buddy is resigned to taking out a second mortgage on his paid off house to get her home. Were the same to happen to me under the right wing’s very publicly maligned UK ‘socialised’ NHS medical programme plus my out-of-pocket add-on, I’d already be ‘home’ in the UK in a local hospital with family by my side.

And there, Mr. President and Congress lays the rub. Why should a 78-year old man, who clearly loves his daughter, be forced to bury his fierce New England pride and go deep into debt to bring her home? Why too should Paula now risk losing her home to pay for long-term care when she returns?

This is what needs fixing in the health care system. Not providing the same profit margins for those who can most efficiently lobby but inefficiently leave a broken system essentially intact with some window dressing tweaking around the edges and then everyone calling that “ground breaking change.” For Paula and many like her, I urge you to bring in a public option to bring true competition and transparency into this opaque nightmare of a scenario.

Mr. President, you were quoted two days ago in the New York Times as saying:
“What we’ve been doing over the last six months is getting people back into fighting trim. This is a town where there was just a belief that nothing could get done… I’ll use just the workout metaphor, and that is… when you start training again and you’re pushing your body a little bit harder, sometimes it hurts. But if you keep on at it, after a while your body adjusts. And I think that’s what’s happening to politics in Washington.”

Sir, it’s time to end the training and start the marathon. It’s time Congress to put some real political capital and action behind those words on everything from this issue to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You came into office promising change we could believe in and this is important not just to the nation, but to every one of us who sees a true Mother Theresa in need. Please consider it for all the irony-filled Paula’s out there, not just the ones who tell the best story at your town hall meeting and help bring her home without bankrupting her or her Dad in the process.

My own deep regret is that during my most recent visit to the USA in May, I cancelled our scheduled meeting because of time considerations. I now have to live with that. I promised to come back and see her in the fall. Now I must pray she will be home, solvent, conscious and well enough to recognise me.

Please contribute to “The Fund for Paula Persichini-Pettiti” by following the tipjoy micro-finance/contribution link and sending money to the e-mail address: info@bringpaulahome.org, at the website BringPaulaHome.org or via Twitter @BringPaulaHome. The family and her friends are moving very quickly to establish all accounts to life-flight transport her home and provide for her long term care needs.