Saturday, May 30, 2015


Mayor Bill de Blasio: Again, we understand it’s first and foremost a gang problem, and it’s about both efforts to take down some of the big gangs, it’s about gang intervention efforts to stop some of the violence before it happens, but, you know, again, this is about applying our resources in the right places. 

We’ve shown, under Commissioner Bratton, that the PD is very agile. It’s smart about making those adjustments. They did it last year. They’re going to do it this year. 

Question: Your plan for dealing with an intransigent governor?

Mayor: We’re bringing the message to the people. The people of this city know we need affordable housing, and they’ll make their voices heard in Albany.

Question: Are you disappointed in Governor Cuomo and his roadblocks? 

Mayor: Well, as I said yesterday, we would expect more partnership, you know? This is an opportunity to protect affordable housing here in the city. If we don’t protect it, you know, we will continue to lose thousands and thousands of units of affordable housing. We’ve lost several hundred thousand units over the last few decades. I would think the governor would want to be part of that solution – and the same on 421-a. Here’s a chance to get a much better deal for the taxpayer, to get much more affordable housing for the tax credits that are in place. The real estate industry has agreed to these concessions. I would think the governor would want to embrace that. I think that’s time he does it. 

Question: He calls it a giveaway.

Mayor: It’s the exact opposite – and I think it’s disingenuous of him. Obviously, the giveaway is that, for decades, the tax credit was given without any qualification. I and others in 2006 began the process of reform in the City Council. But our – our vision for 421-a is that literally every unit – every building subsidized would have affordable housing in it. Every single building that is part of the 421-a program would have affordable housing in it. We would end the process of subsidizing luxury condos. We would tax those who purchase high-value homes, and use those resources to create more affordable housing. Obviously, our plan is about both maximizing affordable housing and asking more of developers. So it’s time for the governor to get the facts. 

Question: Why do you suppose he’s being so difficult?

Mayor: I don’t – I don’t try to analyze other people’s motives. I’m just saying it’s time for him to stand up for the people of this city and for affordable housing. 

McCain Urges Military Strikes Against FIFA

John McCain. (photo: Kasfter/AP)
John McCain. (photo: Kasfter/AP)

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
29 May 15
The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, "The Borowitz Report."

alling the Obama Administration’s actions against the soccer organization “weak and ineffective,” Senator John McCain on Thursday proposed military action to “dismantle and destroy FIFA once and for all.”
“These are people who only understand one thing: force,” McCain said on the floor of the United States Senate. “We must make FIFA taste the vengeful might and fury of the United States military.”
McCain said that he was “completely unimpressed” by the Department of Justice’s arrests of several top FIFA lieutenants this week, calling the action “the kind of Band-Aid solution that this Administration, sadly, has become famous for.”
“Rounding up a few flunkies in a hotel is meaningless when the leader of FIFA remains at large,” he said. “I will follow Sepp Blatter to the gates of Hell.”
McCain requested a four-billion-dollar aid package for moderate elements within global soccer, and said that the United States should be prepared to put boots on the ground in Switzerland.
Calling the use of force against FIFA “long overdue,” he placed the blame for the group’s alarming growth squarely on the shoulders of the White House. “Barack Obama created FIFA,” he said.

The Challenge of Journalism Is to Survive in the Pressure Cooker of Plutocracy

Bill Moyers speaking at New York Public Library on May 26, 2015. (photo: Katherine Phipps)
Bill Moyers speaking at New York Public Library on May 26, 2015.
(photo: Katherine Phipps)

By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company
30 May 15
hank you for allowing me to share this evening with you. I’m delighted to meet these exceptional journalists whose achievements you honor with the Helen Bernstein Book Award.
But I gulped when [New York Public Library President] Tony Marx asked me to talk about the challenges facing journalism today and gave me 10 to 15 minutes to do so. I seriously thought of taking a powder. Those challenges to journalism are so well identified, so mournfully lamented, and so passionately debated that I wonder if the subject isn’t exhausted. Or if we aren’t exhausted from hearing about it. I wouldn’t presume to speak for journalism or for other journalists or for any journalist except myself. Ted Gup, who teaches journalism at Emerson and Boston College, once bemoaned the tendency to lump all of us under the term “media.” As if everyone with a pen, a microphone, a camera (today, a laptop or smartphone) – or just a loud voice – were all one and the same. I consider myself a journalist. But so does James O’Keefe. Matt Drudge is not E.J. Dionne. The National Review is not The Guardian, or Reuters TheHuffington Post. Ann Coulter doesn’t speak for Katrina vanden Heuvel, or Rush Limbaugh for Ira Glass. Yet we are all “media” and as Ted Gup says, “the media” speaks for us all.
So I was just about to email Tony to say, “Sorry, you don’t want someone from the Jurassic era to talk about what’s happening to journalism in the digital era,” when I remembered one of my favorite stories about the late humorist Robert Benchley. He arrived for his final exam in international law at Harvard to find that the test consisted of one instruction: “Discuss the international fisheries problem in respect to hatcheries protocol and dragnet and procedure as it affects (a) the point of view of the United States and (b) the point of view of Great Britain.” Benchley was desperate but he was also honest, and he wrote: “I know nothing about the point of view of Great Britain in the arbitration of the international fisheries problem, and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish.”
So shall I, briefly. One small fish in the vast ocean of media.
I look at your honorees this evening and realize they have already won one of the biggest prizes in journalism — support from venerable institutions: The New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. These esteemed news organizations paid — yes, you heard me, paid — them to report and to report painstakingly, intrepidly, often at great risk. Your honorees then took time — money buys time, perhaps its most valuable purchase — to craft the exquisite writing that transports us, their readers, to distant places – China, Afghanistan, the Great Barrier Reef, even that murky hotbed of conspiracy and secession known as Texas.
And after we read these stories, when we put down our Kindles and iPads, or — what’s that other device called? Oh yes – when we put down our books – we emerge with a different take on a slice of reality, a more precise insight into some of the forces changing our world.
Although they were indeed paid for their work, I’m sure that’s not what drove them to spend months based in Beijing, Kabul and Dallas. Their passion was to go find the story, dig up the facts and follow the trail around every bend in the road until they had the evidence. But to do this — to find what’s been overlooked, or forgotten, or hidden; to put their skill and talent and curiosity to work on behalf of their readers — us — they needed funding. It’s an old story: When our oldest son turned 16 he asked for a raise in his allowance, I said: “Don’t you know there are some things more important than money?” And he answered: “Sure, Dad, but it takes money to date them.” Democracy needs journalists, but it takes money to support them. Yet if present trends continue, Elizabeth Kolbert may well have to update her book with a new chapter on how the dinosaurs of journalism went extinct in the Great Age of Disruption.
You may have read that two Pulitzer Prize winners this year had already left the profession by the time the prize was announced. One had investigated corruption in a tiny, cash-strapped school district for The Daily Breeze of Torrance, California. His story led to changes in California state law. He left journalism for a public relations job that would make it easier to pay his rent. The other helped document domestic violence in South Carolina, which forced the issue onto the state legislative agenda. She left the Charleston Post and Courier for PR, too.
These are but two of thousands. And we are left to wonder what will happen when the old business models no longer support reporters at local news outlets? There’s an ecosystem out there and if the smaller fish die out, eventually the bigger fish will be malnourished, too.
A few examples: The New York Times reporter who rattled the city this month with her report on the awful conditions for nail salon workers was given a month just to see whether it was a story, and a year to conduct her investigation. Money bought time. She began, with the help of six translators, by reading several years of back issues of the foreign language press in this country… and began to understand the scope of the problem. She took up her reporting from there. Big fish, like The New York Times, can amplify the work of the foreign language press and wake the rest of us up.
It was the publisher of the Bergen Record, a family-owned paper in New Jersey who got a call from an acquaintance about an unusual traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. The editor assigned their traffic reporter to investigate. (Can you believe? They had a traffic reporter!) The reporter who covered the Port Authority for the Record joined in and discovered a staggering abuse of power by Governor Chris Christie’s minions. WNYC Radio picked up the story and doggedly stuck to it, helped give it a larger audience and broadened its scope to a pattern of political malfeasance that resulted in high-profile resignations and criminal investigations into the Port Authority. Quite a one-two punch: WNYC won a Peabody Award, the Record won a Polk.
A Boston Phoenix reporter broke the story about sexual abuse within the city’s Catholic Church nine months before the Boston Globe picked up the thread. The Globe intensified the reporting and gave the story national and international reach. The Boston Phoenix, alas, died from financial malnutrition in 2013 after 47 years in business.
So once again: How can strong independent journalism thrive when independent outlets can’t afford to pay reporters, writers or producers a living wage; or when websites ask them to post four or five items a day; or when they leave journalism school and take jobs logging algorithms at Facebook (what does that even mean?). What happens to a society fed a diet of rushed, re-purposed, thinly reported “content?” Or “branded content” that is really merchandising — propaganda — posing as journalism?
And what happens when PR turns a profit and truth goes penniless? One of my mentors told me that “News is what people want to keep hidden, everything else is publicity.” So who will be left to report on what is happening in the statehouse or at the town hall? In the backrooms of Congress, the board rooms of banks and corporations, or even the open and shameless bazaar of K Street where the mercenaries of crony capitalism uncork bottles of champagne paid for by “dark money” from oligarchs and PACs? What happens when our elections are insider-driven charades conducted for profit by professional operatives whose spending on advertising mainly enriches themselves and the cable and television stations in cahoots with them? We know the answer, we know that a shortage of substantial reporting means corruption remains hidden, candidates we know little about and even less about who is funding them and what policy outcomes they are buying. It also means even more terrifying possibilities. As Tom Stoppard writes in his play Night and Day, “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in the places where everybody is kept in the dark.”
A free press, you see, doesn’t operate for free at all. Fearless journalism requires a steady stream of independent income. Allow me to speak from personal experience. After I left government in 1967 — including a stint as White House press secretary — it took me a while to get my footing back in journalism. I can assure you: I found the job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. Unless you’re willing to fight and re-fight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work for nuts going over every last detail again and again to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after hit accusing you of “bias,” there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I have. And still do.
Forty years ago my team and I produced the first documentary ever about the purchase of government favors by PACs — political action committees. For the final scene, we unfurled yard after yard of computer printouts across the Capitol grounds, listing campaign contributions to every member of Congress – including several old friends and allies with whom I had worked during my time in government. You could hear the howls all the way to kingdom come. Even members of Congress who had just recently voted to create PBS were outraged. This and other offenses by kindred journalists in public television prompted Richard Nixon and his communications director Pat Buchanan to try to shut off the oxygen.
Nevertheless, early in the Reagan years, we produced a documentary called The Secret Government. Our reporting exposed an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries and predators, ex-generals and profiteers working outside the legitimate institutions of government to carry out foreign follies without regard to public consent or congressional approval. We followed that one with High Crimes and Misdemeanors about the Iran-Contra scandal. Republicans accused public television of committing — horrors! — journalism. Well into the next decade they invoked both documentaries as they threatened PBS funding. When we documented illegal fundraising by Democrats in 1996 – in a documentary we called Washington’s Other Scandal because it wasn’t about sexual antics in the White House – this time it was the Clinton administration that howled.
But taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington. Working on a Frontline documentary about agriculture we learned that the pesticide industry was behind closed doors trying to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study on the effects of their chemicals on children. When word of our investigation got around the industry, they mounted an extensive and expensive campaign to discredit our reporting before it aired. A Washington Post TV columnist took a dig at the broadcast on the morning before it was to air that evening. He hadn’t even seen the film and later confessed to me that his source had been a top lobbyist for the chemical industry. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about the documentary that they had not yet broadcast or even watched, that they protested its production to PBS with letters that had been prepared for them by the industry!
We spent more than a year working on another documentary called Trade Secrets which revealed how big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers information about toxic chemicals in their products. We weren’t peeking through the keyhole; we had the documents. We confirmed that major American companies were putting human lives at risk. We showed what the companies knew, when they knew it and what they did with what they knew — they deep-sixed it.
Our reporting portrayed pervasive corruption in the chemical industry and raised profound policy implications from living under a regulatory system designed by the industry itself. The attack on us was well-funded, deceitful and vicious. To complicate matters, the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry – over 20 years in the House of Representatives — was the very member of Congress who had jurisdiction over PBS appropriations. Fortunately, we hadn’t used any public funds to produce the documentary, the leadership of PBS again held firm, our report aired — and won an Emmy for investigative journalism.
But remember: I had an independent stream of income – from a handful of foundations that believe democracy needs journalism, and from my sole corporate sponsor of almost 30 years, Mutual of America Life Insurance Company.
Before Mutual, I had lost three corporate funders because of broadcasts that offended their CEOs, directors, customers or their cronies in high office. Now, I can tell you that losing your underwriter can send an independent producer to the showers, end your career and — more deadly — unconsciously distort your intuition about what is permissible the next time you think about producing another documentary. Self-censorship is all the more insidious when you don’t recognize that you have been infected. But Mutual of America had my back. Not once in almost three decades of reporting from the intersection where corporate influence touches political power did I have a single complaint from anyone at the company, even when I knew they were getting an earful from others. Consider yourself blessed if you are backed by capitalists with courage.
Once upon a time the networks supported muscular investigative reporting into betrayals of the public trust. But democratic values lost out to corporate values when media giants merged news and entertainment and opened the throttle on what Edward R. Murrow called their “money-making machine.” Mind you, there was no “golden age” of broadcasting at any network, but there were enough breakthrough moments that we could imagine a future in which subjects treated in the books being honored here this evening — subjects that extend the moral reach of journalism — might be staples in the schedule.
It wasn’t to be. And the challenge of journalism today is to survive in the pressure cooker of plutocracy. Where, in this mighty conglomeration of wealth and power, when for all practical purposes government and rich interests are two sides of the corporate state — where is the moral center of the commonwealth? How does journalism serve the endangered ideals of democracy? Can we find the audience that will dive deep — the audience that rebels against being treated as a branded market identified by the price tag on it? How do we report on the creeping dystopia of a cynically frivolous society with a political class that has made an ideology of ignorance, demoralizes workers and disdains the future? Can journalists be both patriotic and subversive — will we cover those who seek to disrupt the workings of a dominant and ruthless over-class with the attention and enthusiasm we accord the powers that be — by whom so many journalists appear mesmerized?
In an oligarchic era, you can be quickly marginalized by a corporate media and political class so comfortable in the extravagantly blended world of money, politics and celebrity that they don’t bark at the burglars of democracy, much less bite the hand that feeds them.
Wrestling with these questions is unavoidable. It requires on the part of journalists a high tolerance for public or private cuffing, as well as qualities of inquiry, observation and understanding that are either supported by the organization you work for or assured by an independent stream of income.
We still find great investigative reporting at certain legacy organizations. And the Web boasts some superb truth-telling. But everyone knows the digital future is precarious. As Clay Shirky once wrote: “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.” For an optimistic forecast of the possibilities I urge you to read the speech Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, delivered in April at the University of California, Riverside. For a dazzling trip to new media’s cutting edge, read the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review, reported and written by 14 of the school’s own students. For a sobering perspective, consider the Knight Foundation’s recent third report on the status of nonprofit news ventures. Of the 14 nonprofits that it followed since the last report, three have been able to grow, four have cut staff and seven have held steady. Only one could be called a stand-out success — the Texas Tribune, with 42 full-time employees and an operating budget four times larger than any of the other organizations in the study. For the rest of the organizations in the study, however, the growth in staffing and traffic seem stalled, prompting the Columbia Journalism Review to say that if the report was a weather forecast, the prediction for nonprofit news would be partly cloudy with a chance of sun.
In the face of such chaos and uncertainty, some of us have been talking a lot about how to pay for independent journalism. In moments of reverie we even imagine there are sympathetic billionaires worried about how other billionaires are buying up the political system and wonder if that concern runs deep enough to fund a multi-billion trust fund for investigative journalism – say, a new Carnegie or Rockefeller Foundation devoted exclusively to encouraging continuous scrutiny of how America is working — and for whom? Both Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were rapacious capitalists who nonetheless invested much of their fortunes in the improving of democracy. Carnegie funded libraries all across the country — including one in my hometown of Marshall, Texas — to serve the public thirst for knowledge. Why not a modern Carnegie — even a Google – that would spread independent journalistic websites dedicated to the public’s need to know?
We know that contributions from individuals, not institutions, make up most of American philanthropy, and we think some of that should be directed toward nonprofit journalism. An FCC report in 2011 found that if Americans spent one percent of their charitable giving on nonprofit media it would generate $2.7 billion a year. If community foundations put five percent of their spending toward local journalism it would generate $130 million annually. And if the foundations of the top new media corporations and their founders put five percent of their spending toward local accountability journalism it would generate $220 million annually.
But we need more than money to sustain independent journalism. We need laws to ensure that reporters can protect their sources. We need to hound government at every level to respond to public records requests. We need stronger reporting requirements for corporations so that they can be held accountable.
Above all, we need journalists and writers like those you honor tonight. They participate in what the iconic filmmaker John Grierson called “the articulation of our time.” No matter the technology employed, it is the deeply moved and engaged individual who can transcend the normal province of journalistic convention to see and speak truths others have missed in all that is hidden in plain sight.
I am privileged to be in your company. Thank you again for inviting me. And congratulations to the recipients of the Helen Bernstein Award. Thank you for keeping the flame burning.

The world’s largest religious media outlet is undermining the Pope’s leadership and broadcasting lies on climate change. Tell EWTN: Say no to climate denial.

The world’s largest religious media outlet is undermining the Pope’s leadership and broadcasting lies on climate change. Tell EWTN: Say no to climate denial.

Take action!
Dear Rafael,
Pope Francis is about to issue a historic encyclical urging world leaders to tackle climate change. But meanwhile, the world's largest religious media outlet is inviting climate deniers to spread lies and accuse the Pope of "confusing" Catholics.
Eternal Word Television Network (ETWN) just invited notorious climate denier Marc Morano to "debate" whether climate change is real. Worse yet, ETWN’s own host denied man-made climate change and attacked the Pope for meeting with top scientists.
That's why we're partnering with online communities putting faith into action for social justice to tell Catholic media outlets to stop making common cause with right-wing political activists to undermine Pope Francis — and climate truth.
Marc Morano may be one of the most outrageous climate deniers out there. Exposed in the new film Merchants of Doubt, Morano is the former communications director for Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) — the man who brought a snowball to the Senate floor to try to disprove global warming. EWTN aired a number of Morano’s patently false statements, such as “the IPCC is a political body masquerading as a science body” and “the idea that [climate science] is settled is absurd.”
The Pope, on the other hand, has made it abundantly clear to the 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide (and many more) that faith doesn’t conflict with science. In fact, as the Pope and other prominent religious leaders have recently shown, many believe their faith actually compels them to take action on climate change.
Let’s stand with climate leaders like the Pope, and show religious figures and media outlets that we — climate activists who are Catholic and non-Catholic alike — won’t tolerate climate denial.
Factually yours,
Sylvie, Emily, Brant, and the rest of the Forecast the Facts team
"Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives' Alarm," The Washington Post, 4-27-2015
"Climate denial is immoral, says head of US Episcopal church," The Guardian, 3-24-2015
"Climate change debate on science and policy," Eternal Word Television Network, 5-18-2015

Forecast the Facts is a grassroots organization that empowers people to fight climate change denial and promote accurate information about the climate crisis. You can follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook. Help us end climate denial once and for all by contributing here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Big City

De Blasio Is Not Insulting Enough to Be Popular

The New York City mayor’s decline in public approval may stem from his demeanor more than his policies.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York at a news conference this month in Washington. Credit Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

"Among those who disapprove, there are certainly those who do so with greater intensity — preservationists who believe Mr. de Blasio’s affordable-housing initiative will lead to overdevelopment; neighborhood people who believe there has been inadequate planning to support all the proposed construction; black civic leaders concerned that Mr. de Blasio’s interest in criminal-justice reform is waning; rich people who feel offended that he doesn’t involve himself in rich-people things.
In a matter of a several days, Mr. de Blasio managed to rankle both the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III and the event publicist Peggy Siegal. Ms. Siegal, prompted by the mayor’s absence from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Ball, told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. de Blasio “had disdain for the striving, successful New Yorkers,” and that “it is a major shortcoming not to mingle with all classes,” as if she were a regular at game night at the Walt Whitman Houses."

Daniel Donovan Gets Wary Welcome to Congress After Eric Garner Case

The lack of an indictment in the Staten Island chokehold case has caused tension between his new colleagues and Mr. Donovan, a former prosecutor and the sole Republican representing New York City.

"Yet for others in the delegation, Mr. Donovan’s arrival has rippled in a more disconcerting way. Several lawmakers said they remained suspicious of Mr. Donovan’s role in the Garner case, and complained that a judge had sided with the prosecutor and had refused to release transcripts of the confidential grand jury proceedings."
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the case, in which a police officer’s chokehold on Mr. Garner, who was unarmed, led to the man’s death.

New York Real Estate Executive With ‘Access to Politicians’ Is at Center of Scandals

Charles C. Dorego, general counsel for Glenwood Management, figures prominently in federal criminal complaints against Sheldon Silver and Dean G. Skelos that involve payoffs, graft, fraud and solicitation of bribes.

"In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, Mr. Dorego in April began cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Dorego, whose lawyer did not return calls, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is not identified by name in the criminal complaints, but is referred to as CW-1, or cooperating witness, in the complaint against Mr. Skelos and his son, and as “a representative of Developer-1” — which is Glenwood — in the charges against Mr. Silver."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Victory for Pope Francis

Op-Ed Contributor

A Victory for Pope Francis

The beatification of an assassinated archbishop is an important marker in the routing of hard-line conservatives in the church.

"Following that lead, the appropriate body of theologians universally declared that Archbishop Romero had not been killed for political reasons but had indeed died because of odium fidei — hatred of the faith. Francis promptly officially declared him a martyr, and the path to sainthood was opened.
For Francis this action was self-evident. He had said on his second full day as pope that he wanted “a poor church for the poor.” And he had written in his papal manifesto, Evangelii Gaudium: “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.”
Slide Show

Over a year ago, Mayor de Blasio’s campaign theme, “A Tale of Two Cities"

Don't Steal Possible
captured the growing divide between our most affluent residents and the mounting numbers of New Yorkers being left behind.

But we also have a Tale of Two Schools set in New York City. Schools in the same neighborhoods, serving students of similar backgrounds -- mostly poor and minority children -- are producing wildly diverging outcomes.

Across New York City, there are 46 district and charter schools that are beating the odds and proving all children can succeed academically.

These great schools are predominantly serving a low-income minority population, and the majority of their students are performing at grade level in English and math.

But those are just 46 of the 923 schools. Far too many students remain trapped in failing schools -- in fact there are dozens of schools where not a single black or Hispanic student passed one of this year’s state exams.

If we’re going to close the achievement gap in New York, we need to look at the success stories and apply the lessons learned citywide.

Help spread the word about what great schools make possible by sharing this graphic:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

2 Women Moved to Write Stories Uncover a Surprisingly Personal One

Katy Olson, left, and Lizzie Valverde, who were adopted by different families more than 30 years ago, in the Columbia classroom where they met.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Katy Olson, left, and Lizzie Valverde, who were adopted by different families more than 30 years ago, in the Columbia classroom where they met.
Through a series of coincidences, two sisters adopted by different families more than 30 years ago find each other in a Columbia University classroom.

"The two sisters grew up very differently. Ms. Valverde enjoyed a comfortable life in Bergen County in northern New Jersey, where her father was a television news editor. Ms. Olson, who has mild cerebral palsy, spent much of her childhood coping with physical challenges, including several medical procedures.
But from an early age, both were relentlessly curious, driven and passionate about writing, though they both also dropped out of high school and did not follow the conventional college-to-career path.
Ms. Valverde did stints at two colleges and worked as a bartender and as a personal assistant for a hip-hop artist. Ms. Olson grew up to become an actor and standup comic who performs regularly at clubs around New York City. Like Ms. Valverde, she came to New York as a young woman."

Bush Says Iraq Question Unimportant Since He Clearly Will Never Be President

Jeb Bush. (photo: Deanna Dent/Reuters/LANDOV)
Jeb Bush. (photo: Deanna Dent/Reuters/LANDOV)

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
15 May 15
"The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, "The Borowitz Report."

fter several days of controversy over whether he would have authorized an invasion of Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said on Thursday that the question was unimportant since it is now painfully clear that he will never be President.
"Look, I can understand people wanting to know where I stand on this Iraq business if I actually had a chance of being elected," he told an audience in Arizona. "But since I've pretty much pissed that away, what's the point, really?"
Bush urged those who sought out his opinion on policy matters to take a look at how poorly his campaign is going "and get a reality check about the odds of me ever being President, which are hovering in the vicinity of zero."
"I'm tied with Ben Carson in the polls, folks," he said. "You heard me. Ben-freaking-Carson. A neurosurgeon. If you're running in a Republican primary and can't beat a scientist, you might as well put a fork in it."
When asked by a reporter what he would do to grow the economy, Bush laughed ruefully and said, "Well, I guess if I said that I'd do exactly what my brother did and drive the whole thing straight into the crapper, you folks would have a field day with that, wouldn't you? But let's get serious. You want an answer to that question, ask someone who actually has a chance at winning this damn thing. I'm sure Scott Walker would love to talk to you good people."


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Birthday Speech 2015: WWII A 'Good War'?

The following is a speech Jay Hauben made at a small birthday party 
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1994-041-07, Dresden, zerstörtes Stadtzentrum.jpg
Dresden after the bombing raid

I was born 74 years ago on May 9, 1941.  On my fourth birthday, 70 years ago today, there was a big street fair. But it was not my birthday that was celebrated. It was May 9, 1945. Nazi Germany had unconditionally surrendered. The people in my neighborhood were celebrating the end of the war in Europe. It was VE Day. My memory is that when I asked what was happening, I was told "the War is over". But then again in August there was another celebration. Again I was told the war is over. That was VJ Day, the end of the war with Japan August 15, 1945. I tell you this to show my earliest memories were of celebrations because a war was over. Living in the US, I think I did not know what war was, but at four I knew that the end of war was something to celebrate.

Years later I heard this was a "good war. If we had not won we would be living under fascism." I want to tell you a few stories how I came to understand that WWII was not a good war for most people of the world. No side in the war can be excused.

Skipping some years, in 1960 when I was a freshman at college, I took a mandatory Health and Hygiene course. Near the end of the semester, the professor asked did we notice that the US military took very few Japanese prisoners of war in WWII. He asked if any of us know why. Then he told us that he had been a US Marine fighting in the Pacific. The orders were to kill all Japanese even those who surrender. No resources should be wasted taking them prisoner. I do not remember if he apologized or just left us with this shock.

In 1967, I went to Germany to learn a little of the German language. On an outing we were taken to the Buchenwald concentration/extermination camp. The enormity of the Nazi disregard for human life, the sheer horror of what happened there struck very deep in me. When the course was over, I went on a tour which included Dresden. This was 1967 and much of that city had yet to be rebuilt. I saw a model and photographs of what Dresden had been like with major cultural structures like the Frauenkirche, the Semperoper, the Zwinger Palace and the city's medieval Altstadt. These had been destroyed beginning on the night of Feb 13 when 1200 US and British planes dropped high explosives intended to rupture water mains and blow off roofs, doors, and windows to create an air flow to feed the fires caused by the tons of incendiary bombs that followed. The inner city was destroyed and eventually about 25,000 fatalities were accounted for. Why, I asked myself, would the US and Britain destroy Dresden's architectural culture and residences especially when the war was almost over and Dresden was crowded with refugees fleeing westward?

Later I read an essay by C.P. Snow entitled Science and Government. Snow had been in charge of selecting scientific personnel for war research for the wartime British government. He told a Harvard audience in 1960 that without less secrecy and more democracy there will be more policies like the 1942 British policy about Britain's contribution to WWII. In Snow's words, that policy was that RAF "bombing must be directed essentially against German working-class homes. Middle-class houses have too much space around them, and so are bound to waste bombs; factories and 'military objectives' . . . were much too difficult to find and hit."[i]  The US joined in that policy in Europe and together, the British and US Air forces killed over 300,000 German civilians, injured maybe 780,000 more; destroyed 3,600,000 dwellings causing 7,500,000 people to be homeless.

Some British scientists had argued against the policy to use military resources against civilian rather than military targets. That opposition was squashed and marginalized. Those holding such critical views were labeled as defeatists. Use of the air force for bombing of civilians became a matter of faith within the Churchill government.

After the firebombing of Dresden, it is recorded that Churchill began to worry that there would be nothing of value left worth occupying. He wrote in the first draft of a top secret letter, "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… I [now] feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive."[ii]

Studying about the US and British policy of demoralizing the German people by destroying their homes and lives, I began to wonder if that was not very different from the Nazi policy of terrorizing the same people into supporting the war by humiliating and murdering all their Jewish neighbors. I think it is proper to ask, was the destruction of Dresden any less a crime than the exterminations in Buchenwald?"

In 1979, I moved to Michigan. There I met some of the workers who had made the Great Flint Sit-down Strike in 1936-37 and help build the United Auto Workers Union. It can be found in their newspaper, The Searchlight, some of what these auto workers understood about WWII. Influenced by the working class tradition of Eugene Debs, who had opposed US involvement in WWI, the pages of The Searchlight echoed with criticisms of supporting big business in their wars. One of the many poems that appeared in the newspapers pages had this line[iii]:
 . . .
    The war was fought, the war was won
     By those who made and used the gun
     But all the spoils went to the few
     Who beat the drum and waved the flag
     And used the printed page to brag
     Of how they'd made the world anew.

Such sentiments were also expressed in letters from serviceman condemning the war. Such sentiments appeared during the Korean War as well.

During WWII, Flint autoworkers threatened to strike despite the national unions' no strike pledge if conditions continued to deteriorate during the war. They argued that the fight against fascism must start at home. For these workers the war was not their war. They did not express a fear of foreign fascism, so much as domestic.

In 2001, just after 9/11, I was in Berlin for a conference. We met a native Berlin and we became friends. He told me that in the early 1930s his grandfather sensed that the growing strength of the right wing portended a disaster for Germany. His grandfather started to help Germans go underground or leave Germany. The Gestapo caught my friend's father and uncle. His uncle was executed but his father escaped to the East. My friend's mother went crazy from that news. So at age 6 or 7, he stayed with his grandfather and acted as a courier. My friend told me of his whole life opposing fascism but also doing science. He was for me a clue of the resistance to Nazism within Germany. Since then I have learned of other acts of resistance and defiance under the Nazis including networks of people in Berlin who hid and helped perhaps 1500 Jews to stay alive and live through WWII in Berlin. I also came across examples of resistance in Norway and also in Greece and Yugoslavia and France. There were 40,000 conscientious objectors in the US and groups like the Woman's International League for Peace and Freedom which opposed US entry into WWII as did the majority of Americans until Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor, the war was portrayed in the US as a war of defense.

When I asked some of my Chinese friends their opinions about WWII, one wrote back that war is evil and unnatural but self defense is necessary and natural. The Japanese military attacked China in 1931. For 15 years Chinese people resisted Japanese aggression in the face of indiscriminate bombings of Shanghai, Nanjing, and Chongking, massacres, and systematic brutalities including the forced conscription of comfort women and suppression campaigns against rural resistance. All of my friends who answered me said they hate war but take pride in the roles their family members played in defending themselves, their families and China from Japanese efforts to incorporate part of China into its empire.

Similarly Russians everywhere celebrate today May 9 because the Russian and Soviet people's resistance broke the back of German imperialism. The tragedy of 20 to 40 million deaths cannot be undone, but the Russian and former Soviet peoples know they stopped the effort for a Nazi Empire in Europe. My reading of history is that it was their sacrifices that saved Europe.

In 2007, I was in West Pomerania in northeast Germany. The friend I was visiting introduced me to his grandmother. She had lived in East Pomerania until she was 17 years old. In March 1945 the Soviet forces were approaching Kolberg near where she lived. 70,000 refugees fleeing the war and 40,000 troops were evacuated by the German navy. I had heard she was on the second ship. We asked her to tell us about what happened. Still crying 62 years later she told us the first ship was sunk by enemy fire with the loss of all those people. I learned later that her ship aimed to unload the refugees in the harbor of Swinemünde, but had to halt, because allied airplanes were spotted. She then witnessed the carpet-bombardment from the ship. When it was over perhaps 20,000 people in Swinemünde were dead. She then left the ship and saw the consequences of the bombardment. No wonder she was crying.

My friend's grandmother was just one of tens of millions of people who never saw their home land again. Some fled for their lives during the war. After the war, others were forced to relocate when the victors redrew the borders.

Bringing this up to date, I recently attended a number of events related to nuclear disarmament. Some of these events were attended also by people who came from Japan including some who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their message was the world should not let it happen again. They told of the horrors and suffering of the 200,000 people who died immediately or in the first year and of the early death and lifelong physical or mental suffering for which the US government has never apologized. In America we have been told they had to suffer or die so the war could be shorter and American lives could be saved.

I looked into that argument about shortening the war by bombing cities. I found that it was being made in 1945 for eight months before the two A-bombs were dropped. Starting with the appointment of General Curtis LeMay as commander of the XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas, it became US strategy that the US Air Force would kill Japanese civilians until the Japanese government would surrender.

On the night of March 9-10, 1945 the US Air Force launched an attack on a central district in Tokyo. 279 bombers dropped 1900 tons of explosives and incendiary bombs like napalm and jellied gasoline. Returning pilots reported that the wooden and paper houses caught fire like a forest of pine trees. Survivors on the ground reported seeing people ablaze like match sticks. The streets were rivers of fire. Both US and Japanese official figures put the toll at 100,000 deaths in 6 hours and the complete destruction of 16 square miles of Tokyo. For comparison the whole of Manhattan is 22.7 square miles. The raid was possible because the Japanese military no longer
had the capacity to defend its cities from such air attacks.

That incendiary raid was followed by more than100 more destroying homes and people and infrastructure in the 66 largest cities in Japan. In all, of the 21 million people living in those cities, maybe eight million were made homeless. In six months every city in Japan was firebombed except for five including Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto. In July 1945 the Japanese government requested the Soviet Union to mediate an end to the war. The US government insisted on unconditional surrender.[iv] No mediation was possible. In August the US dropped it’s A-Bombs on two of the three remaining unbombed cities and the SU entered the war against Japan with 1.7 million troops rushing toward Manchuria and Korea to confront the 1.2 million Japanese troops defending what remained of the Japanese Empire on the Asian mainland. Japan surrendered unconditionally on August 15. That was VE Day. The war was over.

Why did the US government and military adopt destruction of the Japanese urban population as the strategy for defeating Japanese imperialism? General Curtis LeMay, the architect of strategic bombing ideology said that he wanted Tokyo “burned down—wiped right off the map”. "If the war is shortened by a single day, the attack will have served its purpose."[v] The US Strategic Bombing Survey explained that it was “either to bring overwhelming pressure on her to surrender, or to reduce her capability of resisting invasion. . . . [by destroying] the basic economic and social fabric of the country.”[vi] The explanation often given is that it would "save American lives". But so would have a blockade and siege of Japan which was the historical weapon for achieving surrender. War had changed. No longer was it military versus military. Technology had been developed that allowed for a new warfare. The new unquestionable warfare would be mass destruction of cities and people and crops and infrastructure especially from the air. But a myth was necessary to make such destruction palatable to the world's people and to all sense of human solidarity and compassion. Conceal the deliberate annihilation of noncombatants as collateral damage, or as a sacrifice to save "our" lives.

The systematic British and US and German and Japanese bombing and killing of noncombatants in the course of the destruction of cities and villages and commercial ships must be added to the list of the horrific legacies of WWII that includes Nazi genocide and a host of Japanese war crimes against Asian peoples. The UN Charter and the 1949 Geneva Accord which require the protection of civilians in the time of war have proven to be only a weak or phony defense against what has become the character of warfare introduced by WWII.

WWII did help many colonial peoples move toward their independence with the glaring exception of Korea. And cold peace is better than hot war. But for me from my study I see Hitler and Roosevelt and Churchill and even Stalin and their governments all responsible for the end of any concern for non combatants and the ushering in of a world I am not happy with. Even though the world was saved from Nazi dominance, it is dominated by another hegemonic power. I agree with C.P. Snow. The world suffers from the failure so far for any people to have democratic control over their so called leaders. So the fight must continue.

The brave Soviet people and the resistance fighters and partisans in all countries are with whom I am happy to share my birthday and celebrate.

Was WWII a "Good War"?  May conclusion is it was not.

[i] C.P. Snow, Science and Government, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960, p.48.
[iii] See The Story of the Searchlight: The Voice of the Chevrolet Worker by Ronda Hauben, Flint, MI, 1987, p.14,
[iv] See The attempts by the Japanese government to surrender, July 1945
[v] The New York Times, as quoted in
[vi] United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (Pacific War) (Washington: US GPO, 1946), Vol 1, p. 16, as quoted in Mark Selden, "A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities and the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq",

Monday, May 11, 2015

Skelos to Resign Senate Leadership in Albany Scandal

The replacement for Dean Skelos, the State Senate majority leader who is facing federal corruption charges along with his son, was said to be Senator John J. Flanagan of Long Island.


State Senator Dean G. Skelos, center left, with Senator J
ohn J. Flanagan on Monday. Mr. Flanagan will replace 
Mr. Skelos, a fellow Long Island Republican, as the majority 
  Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Big Names in New York Real Estate Figure Into Skelos and Silver Cases

Dean G. Skelos, the State Senate majority leader, returned to the Capitol on Monday night to meet with 
his Senate Republican colleagues after being arrested in Manhattan that morning.

(Not for the first time, Mr. Skelos asked that Glenwood steer some title insurance business to his son, Adam B. Skelos, who worked in the industry. But Mr. Skelos had made it clear, “using explicit language,” according to prosecutors, that he would punish members of the real estate industry who were inadequate in their support.)

Clockwise from top left: Senator Daniel L. Squadron; the Democratic communications director, Mike Murphy; Senator Michael N. Gianaris; and Senator Brad Hoylman huddled on Wednesday during a fight over a motion to remove Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Republican, from his position as majority leader.
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
Clockwise from top left: Senator Daniel L. Squadron; the Democratic communications director, Mike Murphy; Senator Michael N. Gianaris; and Senator Brad Hoylman huddled on Wednesday during a fight over a motion to remove Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Republican, from his position as majority leader.
Democrats hoped that by seeking a vote to remove Dean G. Skelos as Senate leader, they would force their Republican colleagues to take a public position on his arrest.