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Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 07:46 PM PDT

Out Of The Frying Pan

by jerrywaxman

“Well, ya got trouble, my friend right here, I say trouble right here in River City*…..”

In the musical The Music Man, the story’s central character, a con artist, convinces the town in turn of the 20th century Iowa that the local pool hall is turning the town’s youth into lazy, shiftless and irresponsible juveniles who will grow up to be ne’er-do-wells if the townspeople don’t take action now (emphasis on the word now). He proposes a solution, a boys’ band, in order to profit from the situation. Of course, he never actually teaches them to play their instruments, nor does he ever actually present his credentials to the local school board officials, who never seem to agree with each other.

It’s one of the oldest cons in the book; create a non-existent problem and then propose the exact solution. Termite inspectors have successfully done this for years. Even if you don’t have termites you will after they inspect you. Public education has been the target of these con artist reformers for years dating back to the Eisenhower Administration’s failure to beat the Russians into space. The late Dr. Gerald Bracey exposed the myth in his article The Big Engine That Couldn't. He spent his life battling education reformers and education bamboozlers until his passing a few years ago.

What passes for reform now is actually a privatization swindle set up by former governor Jeb Bush. Florida was the incubator for what passes as school reform today. Jeb, through his foundations pushed school vouchers, charter schools, rigid testing and the word school choice, which is code for segregation. It’s also interesting that his brother’s No Child Left Behind legislation was modeled on standards and rigid testing four years after Jeb became Governor in 1998. Add to that mix David Coleman, current head of the College Board, who went to billionaire Bill Gates to help him develop the common core standards. Gates never met a data outcome he didn’t like so he, Eli Broad and the Walton family opened the flood gates as it were and inundated us with all sorts of reform because “our schools were failing.” There never was any evidence that the allegations were true, but gazillions of dollars in the proper hands buys an awful lot of influence and legislation.

Neither the Florida Legislature nor Governor Scott and his Dept. of Education will offer any help here at all. They’ve all been stricken by the reform virus or variations of it and are laying down stringent guidelines to the individual districts while opening the cash box to outside privatizing interests.

This has completely demoralized public school teachers, one of the noblest of professions, to the point that over 3000 teachers, almost 25% of the entire teaching force in Orange County, have left the system in the last few years. A recalcitrant School Board doesn’t help either. The Orange County teachers finally got their raise last week based on whether they were highly effective or not by a flawed evaluation system. The Board, at its discretion could have ignored the state directive for last year, however it chose not to. The teachers are furious over this Board action which reinforces the opinion that the Board itself has lost its objectivity and is focusing on money management instead of advocating for the children.

High School mathematics teacher, Joshua Katz, finally had his Howard Beale moment last month when he got mad as hell and swore not to take it anymore. His TED video, released last month, dealing with his frustrations within the system, took almost a year to come to fruition yet it is a masterpiece, intelligent, articulate and very well produced. The video has enjoyed many thousands of hits and will doubtless see even more in the future. It is a textbook example of what is wrong with the entire reform movement.

On June 18 Katz took another step out of the frying pan and announced that he is a candidate for School Board in District One, a move widely hailed by the Classroom Teachers and the progressive community. He will be running against a three term former board chairman, Joie Cadle, whose only real qualification is that she was active in the PTA when her sons were in school. Cadle is the chief stumbling block that prevented the teachers from getting their raises in 2010, and according to the Classroom Teachers Association she’s clueless when it comes to analyzing budgets and allows staff to do her thinking for her. Come to think of it a math teacher with guts would be a welcome sight in that morass on Amelia Street.

Katz realizes that being on the board is still an uphill battle since many rules and guidelines are set and mandated by the state, yet he’s willing to try his best. If he thought that dealing with this school board is tough he’s going to have to get even tougher to deal with Tallahassee if he wins the election. Judging from his videos and his passion he could go a long way. He presents himself beautifully and is engaging at all times. One other asset that comes across is that he is inspiring. He clearly loves his work and always puts his students ahead of even himself.

All during his TED talk and his announcement he never once complained about the teachers’ plight on being evaluated, and he never mentioned the non respect that teachers everywhere have been receiving from pro reformers. It was always about the students and how the system affects them and their families. You get the feeling that he would gladly make all kinds of sacrifices to benefit his students. What’s not to love about that? That’s the epitome of being a teacher. Let’s thank Joie Cadle for her twelve years of service, and let’s send Joshua Katz to Amelia Street on August 26.

Discuss

In B. Traven’s 1927 novel, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, part of the plot involved outlaws pretending to be police in order to murder the American gold prospectors for whatever loot they could steal. In the novel, Bob Curtin asks them for identification to which one of them replied: "Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges (expletive deleted)!”   This was at a time following the Mexican Revolution when many of the revolutionaries split up into bandit gangs. The Mexican government had their own police force, The Federales, as well as the army dispensing quick justice to those that they caught. The 1948 movie was as faithful to the novel as the Hollywood Code would allow, but there were a few changes that did not impede the story. In the movie Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) asks the question, and Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) responds with the now immortal quote in this piece’s title. Taken as pure entertainment The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my favorite all time movies, and I’ve also read the book. If people actually read the books that most of these movies were adapted from they would be aghast at the liberties taken and regard them, no matter how entertaining, as cheap imitations. I hate what Hollywood has done to Steinbeck and Hemingway and so many others. So, why this diatribe? That’s simple; I hate cheap imitations and I hate fraudulent representations like Teach For America.

Yes, it’s coming to OCPS and that is tragic. Ask yourself a few questions. Would you choose a doctor or dentist who only had five weeks of training out of college and not a member of the AMA to diagnose and treat you? Would you hire someone who only had five weeks of training without having taken the bar exam, and is not a member of the ABA to represent you? Would you hire any professional be it an electrician, plumber, air conditioner repairman who isn’t licensed? If you would even think about it you’re a fool. There are plenty of con artists out there who fool people all the time and they pay dearly for it. TFA is just another con that our very lackluster school board has fallen for. Shame on them. OCPS spends well over a billion dollars on construction and maintenance every year and I’m sure that their building contractors are quite reputable. That’s no Penny Saver handyman doing that construction, yet they’re quite willing to put people in the classroom that are in no way qualified to teach our most precious assets, who don’t have any stinkin’ badges. Where’s the sense there?

You might want to blame it on OCPS. Their divisive policies have forced 2300 teachers out of the system since 2012 with more to follow. They’re still fighting the teachers over a minimum raise which should have been settled long ago, yet they are willing to bring in TFA people and pay them the same money as hard working teachers who have years of classroom management experience as well as professional credentials in their chosen fields. The money will be supplied by funding from Race to the Top, which is something that any sensible school board would have rejected, but then this board has no guts. Instead of advocating for the children, they act as babysitters for their funders. They are as culpable as any Orange County and state agency, yet they could not have that power unless they were elected, and there is the missing part of the equation. Shakespeare said it eloquently: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”   There’s more to that quote but its meaning is clear; we elected them without knowing who they are or what they do and we pay for it dearly. This is very traceable back to former governor Jeb Bush, who at the time was quite popular. Unfortunately, the Bush era brought in legislators that harmed this state, especially in the area of education. Bush founded some foundations that set about to siphon off public money to fund unaccountable charters and enable nonproductive testing to evaluate teachers and school systems. The real enemy of education in this state is Jeb Bush and his minions, yet he was able to convince big money, like The Waltons, The Broads and The Gates Foundation to go along with his ideas. Until we completely discredit and reject Jeb Bush, Florida will wallow in less than mediocre stature

Why do we elect people who do us harm? Why do we elect people who leave us worse off than we were before? The answer to me is obvious. It’s from another famous novel and movie, All the king’s Men, where the main character reveals who the voters really are: “Now listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you're hicks too, and they fooled you a thousand times like they fooled me.” Again, this is not the entire quote but the message is clear-the average voter in this state is a hick who will continue to be fooled come election time. The eleventh largest school system in the country deserves much better. I just got this e-mail from Diana Moore, president of the Orange County CTA and I want to share it with you:

“Our school board members think that spending the $1.5 million additional dollars they just received from Race To The Top on a group called Teach For America is a wise investment.  

Well, your Orange County teachers want you to know, that there is NO substitute for training and experience!

Orange County children don't deserve a revolving door of teachers due to the low morale, inconsistent implementation of this evaluation system by poorly trained principals and assistant principals and holding their step level raises hostage. 2300 teachers have resigned in Orange County since 2012.  The school board members set the tone and vision for our schools, but you as voters elect them.  

Paying TFA $41k and $3250 bonuses after 5 weeks of training to go into inner city schools is another slap in the face to your hard working Orange County teachers who have still not settled their contract to bring starting pay up by $3000 to $40k. That is $26.00 an hour to $28.10 since not getting a raise since 2007.

Parents and community members, now is the time to ask your school board, what they are planning for your children, and If the question at the end of the day will be "Who was your teacher today?" instead of "How was your day today?"

Read this article to see:

http://atthechalkface.com/...

Meet at 445 W. Amelia Street at 4:00 on March 11th to stand with our teachers before the next school board meeting.

These members are running for re-election in August 2014: Joie Cadle-District 1, Bill Sublette, Chairman, Daryl Flynn, District 2, and District 3. Call them about your concerns at407-317-3200.

Diana.Moore@floridaea.org

This is not a time to sit back and complain about what’s going on. This is a time to take direct action. The teachers need the support of the public and the public needs to know the facts. There’s an election coming in August and it’s time for the public to demand accountability from these people. After all, these are Public Schools we’re talking about. I have no complaint at this time on the construction projects recently. These edifices are magnificent and beautifully done. They were built by first class, licensed and insured builders. Shouldn’t what goes on inside these structures demand the same degree of competence and professionalism that went into building them? And OCPS and CTA teachers DO have those stinkin’ badges.

Discuss

Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 12:46 PM PST

Emulating Gabriel Heatter

by jerrywaxman

                               

Author's Note-This was supposed to be a column about the monthly meeting of the  Sierra Club and its program. It developed into something else and I was powerless to stop it.    

*Look for the silver lining, whene’er a cloud appears in the blue
Remember somewhere the sun is shining, and so the right thing to do is make it shine for you

If you’re of a certain age (at least 65 and over) you remember what radio was like in the 1940’s and 1950’s before commercial television took hold. Every network and some local radio stations had their commentators as well as general programming. Gabriel Heatter started in radio in its infancy on WOR in New York after spending some time in the Hearst organization as a reporter. In 1934 WOR became the flagship station for the new Mutual Broadcasting network and Heatter was there for the Bruno Hauptmann trial. Hauptmann was convicted of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. Back in those days Heatter’s two main rivals for air time were Walter Winchell and Edward R. Murrow, so he was hot stuff. In 1939 he gave Alcoholics Anonymous its first national exposure and he was always looking for true and uplifting stories to broadcast. In 1942 when the US was not doing well against Japan in the Pacific the news came in that our naval forces had sunk a Japanese destroyer. Heatter started his program that evening with the iconic phrase “There’s good news tonight” a phrase he would use for the rest of his broadcasting career. It became an instant hit with audiences and Heatter spent the rest of his career making lemonade out of the sour lemons in the news feeds.

Mutual in those days was more than creative; it was eclectic in the fact that much of the programming was experimental. Ken Nordine had some outrageous stuff interspersed with Heatter, Bob and Ray, Orson Welles’s Harry Lime, Gangbusters, The Shadow and science fiction programming just to name a few. I used to listen to it on Philadelphia’s Mutual affiliate WIP and it was heaven to do my homework while listening to it. Heatter could always find the silver lining in the news, and he was so emotional that he would actually cry on the air if the news really affected him. The only other commentator I ever heard openly weep on the air was Paul Harvey on the death of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Yes, I heard that one, live too in 1957.

I’m actually wondering why I’m almost 400 words into this column and I haven’t even approached my subject yet. Well, I guess that’s because Heatter had the right attitude. He had a 30 year career of always looking on the bright side, so let’s give it a try.

The Sierra Club in Orlando meets every third Wednesday in the bucolic setting of Leu Gardens at 7:00 PM. The topic for the evening was a presentation on the pitfalls of the current Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations for which the Obama Administration is seeking “Fast Track” trade promotion authority, a device which the Nixon administration introduced in 1972 as a way to circumvent barriers to unrestricted free trade between certain countries. Fast track limits debate time in both houses of congress and does not allow for amendments or real investigation of documents. Most treaties, and the TPP is a treaty, must pass by a 2/3 majority in the Senate after long, exhausting debate. Fast tracking allows for 50% plus one for passage in both houses. Since the TPP is composed of twenty seven chapters, only five of which deal with actual trade, it is virtually impossible for the senate to debate the merits in the time given. Since I’ve written previous articles on the subject I need not remind everyone about the perils that we taxpayers face if this country signs on to the treaty. Those articles are readily available on my blog, producer1.wordpress.com or in the archives at West Orlando News Online. They contain complete videos of the meetings I attended and they are also available to anyone on my YouTube channel. They speak volumes more than I could write. Links to the Sierra Club meeting can be found here, here, here and here.

So, what’s the good news that happened at the meeting? Well, …..lots of it. First of all, we received word that a judge in Nebraska ruled that Nebraska’s law allowing for the Keystone XL Pipeline was unconstitutional. This is a temporary situation, however, but it allows more time for demonstrations by the Sierra Club and its allies to be put into action. There are several protests planned very shortly.

Secondly, the protests and anti TPP actions over the last year that I’ve been involved are having their desired effect. A year ago no one, including myself, knew what the TPP was. Since then, there has been a growing awareness on the part of the public and certain elected officials that the TPP and especially the ability to fast track it is a bad deal, a very bad deal. While the mainstream, corporately owned press chooses to bury any articles the alternative media has come alive. Articles are constantly appearing in the more progressive blogs including the Huffington Post. Bill Moyers at PBS has done programming on the TPP, and bloggers from all over, including my friend, Shannyn Moore, the conscience of Alaska, continue to write about it. Ed Schultz on MSNBC constantly rails against it. Opposition in the House of Representatives is still short of defeating the fast track, however, Harry Reid is not introducing the legislation to the Senate, which means that if it does come to the floor it will probably have to wait until after the 2014 elections. That buys a lot more time to get more people involved. What it all really means is that we’re starting to turn things around.

More good news that has happened recently, the Affordable Care Act is picking up steam and it appears that record numbers are in the future. It also appears that the heavily financed opposition ads are not making their impact. Chris Christie is finally being exposed for the fraud he really is. Mexico has just banned GMO corn. And this just in: President Obama will not include “Chained CPI” in the budget. On the local Orlando front Rick Scott’s appointed Board of Education got a virtual black eye when it voted for Common Core adoption in the face of organized and rabid community opposition, which will not go away, the city’s double dealing with Tinker Field was exposed and something good could happen from that. These little victories are huge when you consider the forces that have conspired against the average person, yet we need to still be on guard. Fast track, TPP, Keystone XL Pipeline, GMO, Common Core and school privatization and the city commission’s insatiable desire to displace the residents of Parramore will return, perhaps in more evolved and more virulent forms. We can’t sit back and rest on our laurels, for these little victories are only the beginning of a long struggle. Gabriel Heatter’s famous broadcast took place on May 2, 1942, less than one month after the famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo and a full month before the US Navy’s victory at the Battle of Midway and six months before our victory on Guadalcanal. The tide was turning, yet there were three more years left in the war. Heatter was upbeat; I hope I can be too. In case you haven’t guessed, I grew up with old time radio……….and I miss it; The Goldbergs, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, The Romance of Helen Trent, Lorenzo Jones, Inner Sanctum, Tales of Suspense, The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie, Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Ranch, The Lone Ranger……….etc………..etc………..etc.

A heart, full of joy and gladness, will always banish sadness and strife. So always look for the silver lining, and try to find the sunny side of life.

*Look For The Silver Lining by Jerome Kern, Buddy Desylva and Jerry Nowak

Discuss

Fri Nov 29, 2013 at 04:56 PM PST

Remembering Jane Kean

by jerrywaxman

 photo JaneKean_zps3c5b0571.jpg

Author’s Note* my dear friend, Shayan Elahi, messaged me “It’s Thanksgiving. Write something.” Since we are both rabid fighters for social justice I’m sure that he expected me to write about the Simon Legree Big Box stores and their attitudes toward their employees. I do that kind of stuff every day and so do thousands of other writers and bloggers. I needed something different to write about, although I wasn’t expecting to hear about the death of Jane Kean whom I knew and worked with. What I can say is that I give thanks for Jane Kean and many others in show business for the opportunity to have known them for however brief a period of time.

So, here we are snugly sequestered in an idyllic setting of the snow covered mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with our daughter, son-in-law and our granddaughters hosting a Thanksgiving pie breakfast party, a tradition that Nancy picked up while working as a nurse at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Everyone brings some kind of (home-made not store bought) pie to eat and we baked several pies ourselves. It was a fascinating collection of culinary arts and skills and everything tasted great. During a break in the activities the news came that Jane Kean had passed away at the age of ninety. I wasn’t the same the rest of the day.

It was the summer of 1990 and I was in the cast of a local production of The Music Man in Ft. Lauderdale. Jane was hired to play the part of Mrs. Paroo as a guest artist. Our producer had asked me to be Jane’s personal escort and chauffer for the several weeks we would be together. I didn’t exactly jump at the chance because the year before for Bye Bye Birdie, we had had another well know actress from that era (who will remain nameless) who, while not difficult at all kept to herself and never got to know her cast, playing the role of Albert’s mother, May. I did some research on Jane and decided that she was worth the effort, and it was a most rewarding experience. Her association with Jackie Gleason over the years made her a well known and beloved personality in South Florida, especially among the sixtyish and up crowd who actually did buy theater tickets then.

The glamour photos from the forties and fifties that were published in the obituaries don’t do her justice. Very few of her publicity photos do. They don’t capture the twinkle in her eyes. They don’t capture the pixie quality in her stature and personality and in her uninhibited joy. You had to know her personally to see that. We hit it off from the moment we met. Her husband, Joe Hecht, was with her and we had much to talk about since we were both native Philadelphians. Our time together was spent doing radio and TV interviews, visiting old friends from the Gleason years and doing a lot of lunch. Lots of time spent with Jackie Gleason’s widow, Marilyn, and her sister, the fabulous June Taylor. One noted lunch companion was Hedy Lamarr, who at age 76 was as strikingly beautiful as ever. Oh yes, we also rehearsed a lot too. I’ve done lots of rehearsals in my career and this one never felt like work.

Through it all, she never complained about the working conditions, or her fatigue or any of the cast and crew and I knew she had some criticisms, but she was a real lady. Her years in Vaudeville, Theatre and night clubs gave her a drive to excel, which she did, yet there wasn’t a bitter sentiment in her character that I could detect. She, Joe and I parted friends and kept in touch for a couple of years. I never forgot how warm and gracious she was. I’m thankful that I got to know her.

Discuss

Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 09:26 AM PDT

Oh, What A Tangled Web…..

by jerrywaxman

                 “Things are not always as they seem…”

Back in April of 2011 I wrote an article called "Watch The Sound Of My Voice (Never Mind What My Hands Are Doing)" in which I alluded to our current president as the best Three Card Monte man or Pea in the Walnut Shell man I’ve ever seen. Why? Because he has the ability to make you believe him. He is a consummate con artist which is not necessarily a bad thing in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, he has never used his prestidigitation abilities to benefit most of us who trusted him and voted for him. Since that time I have not seen any reason to change that assessment. Sure, he has some solid accomplishments under his belt but it feels more like the bait and switch tactics of unscrupulous retailers; you go to buy the advertised product only to find that it is not available but a substitute can be found that won’t match the better quality or lower price of the desired product. Sure, we’ve got health care, but not anything near what we should have or want, and we’ve got something resembling banking reform, which somehow made the banks richer while we got poorer. Sure, we got a stimulus, which worked for some but not for others and was not nearly enough. The fact that he’s allowed Arne Duncan to continue to destroy public education under the guise of “reform” is a crime, but that’s for another article.

To understand this rant let’s go back to the 2008 campaign season. During their frequent debates Barack Obama never let the chance go by to get his claws into Hillary Clinton by mocking President Clinton’s embrace of NAFTA, saying he would not approach trade deals that way. He also took the opportunity to belittle Hillary’s stance on the Iraq War. This was all very calculated as it was strictly to get the support of those progressive Democrats who might have otherwise supported her. He also made a few gaffes that provided insight into his character, especially his God, Guns and Gays speech in rural Pennsylvania and his allusion to Ronald Reagan as a “Transformational President”. But wait! Were they really gaffes, or were they really cold, calculated subliminal hints? His speech in Pennsylvania, which created a big media uproar did not hurt him with the Democrats, and the Alabama/Mississippi sections of Pennsylvania would never vote for him anyway. He also alluded to Ronald Reagan in a positive way. Anytime a Democrat says anything positive about Ronald Reagan you know there has to be an ulterior motive. It was to assure the old Reagan Democrat crowd that they could trust him, and also to assure those independents on the fence that he wasn’t a big city liberal. He also kneecapped Hillary again by adding that Bill was not a transformational figure like Reagan, conveniently forgetting that Bill brought the corporate world into democratic politics in a way that no one before did, and from which candidate Obama benefitted greatly, conveniently forgetting that it was Bill Clinton who implemented NAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, giving us Fox News and spreading Rush Limbaugh’s influence as well as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which overturned Glass-Steagall and opened the way for the destruction of our economy and the middle class. Hold these thoughts in mind as I wend my way to the main theme of this essay-President Obama’s embrace of the Trans Pacific Partnership aka the TPP. I’ve written about the TPP several times so I won’t go into its history so much except for historical context. The negotiations actually began during GWB’s second term, but something that big was going to have to transcend administrations the same way that NAFTA did. Clinton did sign the agreement but the negotiations were all done under the previous Bush administration, which tried to fast track it and failed. It took two years to bring about congressional debate which nearly failed. Vice President Al Gore had to cast the deciding vote in the Senate in order for NAFTA to succeed. And NAFTA definitely succeeded in diminishing us as the foremost exporter nation in the world. It was and still is a terrible deal for the average American.

We have a history of terrible trade deals dating back to the Russian Wheat Deal of 1972, also known as the Great Grain Robbery. Basically what happened was that Russia had a failed wheat crop and had to go to the open market to purchase wheat. We had surplus wheat through our policies of buying up extra wheat production from farmers in order to keep prices stable. We sold them about 440 million bushels at very reduced prices, which benefitted grain suppliers but caused prices to skyrocket and the taxpayers paid the subsidies for years to come. The GAO called it an extremely mishandled transaction that cost us dearly. In our trade deals with Japan we have always allowed them to export to us but our exports to them have been severely limited. The Nixon administration introduced Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which gave the President the ability to negotiate trade deals with strictly an up or down vote in Congress and no debate time or amendment proposals. Congress went along with it because Nixon was trying to open up China and he could not appear weak to the authoritarian Chinese. Basically, Congress gave up its constitutionally mandated authority to approve trade negotiations. The time limit for the TPA expired and has to be renewed, which the administration is eagerly trying to do. Why is a president who is supposedly all for openness and accountability, who as a campaign promise said he would not be involved in this kind of charade, trying so hard to fast track a bad deal for 98% of Americans under such a cloak of secrecy? Haven’t our experiences with NAFTA and CAFTA taught him any lessons? Think hard. Some of the answers will boggle your mind because things are not exactly as they seem. Read MacBeth and Othello again, or for the first time and be aware that even though you know what’s going on, the affected characters don’t, yet Shakespeare handles it perfectly.

President Obama owes Wall Street and many of these transnational conglomerates big time, and everything he’s done over the last five years has been to benefit them with their tacit approval no matter what they say publicly. He’s been aided in this by certain blue dog democrats in congress like Sen. Max Baucus. Yes, the same Max Baucus who not only killed the public option but gave us the prostituted law that the opposition calls “Obamacare”.  Baucus is the point man for the Democrats on TPA and TPP hearings, so that doesn’t bode well. When I posed the question to my sources as to why Harry Reid did not get rid of Baucus as committee chair and replace him with a more progressive senator I was told not to go there, but given no reasons. Hint…”we don’t to wind up like Manning and Snowden and neither do you.” So, understand that Wall Street is looking at the gazillions of dollars to be made at our expense and the administration is going to help them make it. That’s one hell of a payback. It’s also a main reason why Larry Summers, a Wall Street insider who was complicit in the crashing of the economy, was considered for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.

People in the know are figuring that at this time fast track will pass the Senate. It sounds strange but too many Democrats are also beholden to the banks also. Even if it comes down to Joe Biden having to cast a tie breaking vote he’s not going to vote against his own administration. The best chance we peons have of defeating fast track is, strangely enough, in the House of Representatives, where clearly John Boehner has no control over the most radical elements of his party. It’s a perfect chance for the progressives to get together with the tea party types and kill it forever. If fast tracking fails there is no way that it will be revived for the scrutiny it will have to be subjected to. It is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of party affiliation, to call on their representatives to defeat the fast track.

On Friday, September 27 there was an Anti TPP rally at the Communication Workers of America Hall Local 3108 in Orlando sponsored in part by the CWA, Central Florida Sierra Club, AFL-CIO Central Labor and the Orlando Light Brigade. Speakers included CWA member and event organizer James Howe who spoke on the history of the labor movement and its social relevance, Lorraine Tuliano, former president of CLC, who reminded all why we don’t need another NAFTA, Jeannie Economos of the Farmworkers of America who spoke of the dangers to American food producers and farmworkers that is represented by the TPP. Other speakers included Phyllis Hancock, head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, who spoke about how low wages negatively impact minorities, Marjorie Holt, from the Central Florida Sierra Club, who voiced the club’s concerns over the disregard of environmental protections that will happen if the TPP is passed. Yours truly also spoke to the effect that reduced wages would have on the small business community. I was followed by Roger Harris of the AFL-CIO and Steve Wisniewski, President of Local 3108. Both men reiterated labors concerns. The main speaker of the evening was Alisa Simmons of Public Citizen and Global Watch. Simmons has been traveling the country talking to different groups as well as lobbying politicians on Capitol Hill. Her remarks were both enlightening and chilling and she stressed the need for immediate mobilization and action from the grass roots.

The more we learn about the TPP the more dangerous it becomes and we only know a small percentage of what is in these documents. The secrecy behind these talks is as tight as the Manhattan Project. Why? It doesn’t stand to reason that our trusted leaders would sell us down the river for little or no gain, or does it? Nobody wants to give away trade secrets, especially the guy who claims he’s got nothing up his sleeve. Next week there is an unscheduled session in Bali which will be attended by the president’s hand picked point man, Michael Froman, whose sole function is to get our participation passed by Congress. That’s a far cry from a candidate who frowned upon NAFTA and excoriated the banks among other broken campaign promises. So, considering all the factors who can we trust? I’m not sure I have faith in our leadership to do right by us anymore. It especially hurts when you genuinely like a man like our President. Once that faith and trust has been lost it is virtually impossible to regain it. Being the man we voted for would be a good start because the man we have is part of the bait and switch.

The real quote by Plato is:   "Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden."  It appears as a dialog between Phaedrus and Socrates in “The Phaedrus”. Abraham Lincoln said it too in slightly different words. It’s time for this con to end.

Discuss

You have to love Al Capp. He was one of the most outspoken social critics of the mid twentieth century; he made no bones about it, and he did it through his art-the comics. He was the creator of Li’l Abner, the proverbial fish out of water and his comic strip viewed the world through the lens of Dogpatch, Kentucky USA. He poked fun at everyone including other cartoonists with his parodies of Little Orphan Annie, Mary Worth and especially Dick Tracy. His Fearless Fosdick character ran intermittently  for over thirty years and other than the Shmoo, he was the most popular character excluding the Yokum family and the residents of Dogpatch. He also parodied real people such as Charles E. Wilson. Wilson was President of General Motors who became President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense. Wilson made the famous statement “What was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” Capp parodied him as General Bullmoose (“What’s good for me is good for everybody.”) and he eventually became the symbol for corporate greed and the Military Industrial Complex. During the late 60’s he turned to the protest movement and created “Joanie Phonie”, a send up of singer Joan Baez, however he denied it was specifically Ms. Baez. He also commented on the student uprisings in 1968 and created the organization that encompassed SDS, SNCC and all of the others called SWINE (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). When SWINE took over the college campus, the MOB came to take over the school’s administration and addressed them in the mob vernacular as “stoonts.”  The only reason the mob got involved is because it was profitable. The mob did not and does not invest in losing propositions. And that’s where this story begins. Indulge me, dear reader, but you need to have some context about where we are and where we’re going. The mob referred to were the gangsters of the era. The new mob that has taken over is a combination of the Banksters, hedge fund managers and foundations who generously fund education reform for profit. If it weren’t profitable they wouldn’t be in it. These people don’t give money away-they demand their pound of flesh or its monetary equivalent in return.

With that in mind let’s look at the mob’s latest scheme, carefully coded and messaged into the words “choice, failing schools, great teachers, leadership and innovation.” It’s the same old story that’s been going on for years since Brown vs Board of Education spurred the voucher and privatization movement under the aegis of Milton and Rose Friedman ( yes, that Milton Friedman) whose ideas couldn’t gain any kind of foothold until the billionaires started up their think tanks in the late sixties and early seventies. The Reagan presidency gave those ideas potency, if not credibility and they’ve gone full steam ever since. Florida is ripe territory, especially because of former governor Jeb Bush who is part of the whole education reform process, and whose ghost still keeps this state in his grasp.

They tried it two years ago and it didn’t work out all that well. The Koch Brothers’ funded Americans For Prosperity sent Dick Morris and Ralph Reed among others to talk about school choice. Orlando was one of their stops and they met a tone of resistance from the community and protesters. Their coded message was simple-minorities don’t count. Get your kids into a more segregated atmosphere that you control. This time they changed the game plan and targeted the black audience through the Urban League. The message was absolutely the same-get your kids into a more segregated atmosphere that you control. So, under the sponsorship of the Urban League of Florida the “We Care” Traveling Circus was initiated to travel around the state in high minority urban areas disseminating their well-rehearsed and carefully coded propaganda.

They invaded Orlando on September 5 and settled into the Hope Church in the heart of the black community and were greeted by an audience of less than 50 people, many of whom were staff members who had to be there. Publicity was nil and no one would have known it save for a few activists who got wind of it and sent it out via social media. Allie Braswell, president of the Central Florida Urban League hosted the event and declared that his organization held no particular position on the matter, which is suspect for a couple of reasons. First, there was no differing point of view on the panel. No one on the panel stood up to extol the virtues of public schools. Secondly, these type of organizations depend on funding from many sources, including the Gates and Walton foundations and astroturf groups like Students First, whose Florida Executive Director, Troy Bell, was part of the panel. It’s very likely that the Urban League receives funding from one or more of these sources. You can find out by asking to examine their books, which they can’t refuse to do. Braswell is in a tough position because he is basically a good man and I like him. He recently filed to run for the office of Florida CFO but had to withdraw for reasons I’ll not go into because I completely disagree with them. He should have stayed in the race. It’s also possible that he had no control over this because it was mandated at the state level. Let’s give him a pass because he is definitely committed to better education, and he has to do his job. The rest of this cast of characters is a different story.

“It is better to look good than to feel good”- Fernando Lamas as portrayed by Billy Crystal

That sums up in a nutshell what’s going on. The people they are trying to reach don’t pay a lot of attention to politics and many of them are not registered voters. Lots of them don’t have computers or cable so their news intake is limited. They are prime victims for smooth talking con artists who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Make no mistake about it; this was a con of the first degree. Moderator Monica May kept on cheerleading the remarks as they spoke. Here’s how the con works:

1.    The Setup. USF Professor Dr. Bruce Jones talks about the disparity in the public schools and percentages of children who are failing. He’s got great credentials but I get the feeling that the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Only what he wants them to tell.
2.    The Bait. Dr. Ella Thompson of the Florida Dept of Education was supposed to address the Common Core, but all she did was to spout the state line. She knew nothing about budgets and couldn’t talk on any subject except her narrow focus. Interestingly enough, she came to the department at the same time that Rick Scott hired disgraced education boss Tony Bennett. She’s still pretty new at the game, but she reminds me of Rod Paige who never directly answered a question and kept referring everyone to No Child Left Behind without ever bothering to explain it.
3.    The Justification. Isha Haley of Black Floridians Care spoke about starting a whole slew of neighborhood schools with great teachers and fabulous leadership, without ever addressing the pitfalls of no money to start, staff and maintain them. She blamed Brown vs Board of Education for the miseries the kids are suffering today. So, in effect she’s advocating to restore segregation as our society is becoming (albeit slowly) more homogenous. But Boy! She sounded great!
4.    The Hook. As he introduced himself Troy Davis, Executive Director for Florida Students First never mentioned his boss Michelle Rhee, founder of the organization by name. Why? Don’t you think that he would be proud to serve under her? In that audience more than half the people probably never heard of her and have no idea of her cheating scandals and manipulated test scores in Washington D.C. The rest of his speech was all about him and his accomplishments. I’d like to know what connections he has to Tony Bennett since he spent a bunch of time in Indiana. Again, the rhetoric about no excuses and failure is not an option. No charter school child fails because they’re thrown out and the schools don’t give the taxpayers their money back.
5.    The Net. Glen Gilzean, of Step Up For Students cemented the hook and netted the fish by being a little more humble and a lot less arrogant than Davis. The result was the same.

During the Q & A period the questions were rather mundane. There was one charter school Nap Ford that boasted of gains due to tremendous leadership yet no other charters were present to tell their stories. There was one dissenting voice, however. Kathy Hettinger, a Democratic activist took the entire panel to task for their hypocrisy. Hettinger spoke rapid fire and was sometimes hard to understand because as passionate as she is she’s not a good public speaker and many times she opens her mouth before her brain is fully engaged. So, what’s the verdict? Watch the videos and decide for yourselves. My only complaint about the entire evening was that by the time I got home I had missed the first 10 minutes of Vertigo and Bernard Hermann’s fabulous overture. Oh, one other question-what would Al Capp think of this fiasco?

Discuss

Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 02:11 AM PDT

Alan Grayson at the Hungry i

by jerrywaxman

     

“Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose-to make you laugh” W.C.Fields

If you’re of a certain age you remember the Hungry i, the legendary San Francisco club where a whole slew of comedians and musicians got their start. Founded in 1950 the club operated through the mid sixties until the political scene, comedy and music started to change. Performers who either got their start or enhanced their careers include (although not limited to) Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce The Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl, Glenn Yarborough, Tom Lehrer, The Limelighters, Vince Guaraldi, Godfrey Cambridge, Professor Irwin Corey, Dick Cavett, Woody Allen, Orson Bean, Shelley Berman and Barbra Streisand. Many of them recorded live albums there so the name became synonymous with comedy and folk music. John Phillips prior to founding the Mamas and the Papas led the house band. The room itself was just that; bare walls with a performance area.

It was supposed to be an Orange County Democratic Party social event with a hook. If you bought a raffle ticket for $25.00 you could win a dinner with the congressman. The place was a beer and wine bar near upscale Baldwin Park in Orlando. It was supposed to last an hour and a half from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM. The back room of the place reminded me of the Hungry i. The place was packed with anticipation. I was there as a participant in the event and I had no intention of writing about it. I’ve written about Alan Grayson many times. It’s not that hard. He’s a newsmaker and he’s never boring; you also never know what to expect from him which makes him very interesting. He’s become Alan Grayson 3.0, the humorist.

A humorist is different from a comedian. Sure, he can match one-liners and punch lines with aplomb like a comedian yet, like a good storyteller, he sets up situations and keeps you interested until the final moment, reminiscent of O Henry or Mark Twain. He evokes images of Myron Cohen, Sam Levenson, Willie (I’m not Rappaport!) Howard and Lou (Sam, you made the pants too long!) Holtz (not the football coach). If he were to become a writer he would easily fit into the Mark Twain mold. He has developed that demeanor. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he riffed on the bestowment of his title “The most Effective Member of Congress” for close to fifteen minutes. The heavily partisan crowd applauded his remarks and booed rather loudly at the mentions of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio as if on cue; well, it really was on cue because he served as his own prompter. He took advantage of the situation and remarked “I can see the Fox News headlines tomorrow, Democrats boo Grayson.”

I wish I had recorded the event I wasn’t prepared to record the proceedings or take notes so it is difficult to recreate his remarks accurately. His topics ranged from his legislative accomplishments to health care, Medicaid, Social Security, the paid sick time fiasco and the Republicans in congress being mathematically challenged. On a serious note he did reflect on his hand delivery to the White House of three million petitions telling the President to keep his hands off of Social Security and Medicare. It was effective because the White House doesn’t talk about it anymore. If he ever decided to give up the congress gig he could take his act on the road and “lay them in the aisles”.

Finally, the raffle winner, a young woman got her picture taken with him and he remarked kiddingly about his grass roots fundraising from small donors (and I’m paraphrasing) “You mean to tell me I can be bought for $25.00? What if you don’t want to have dinner with me? For $2500.00 I can arrange that.” Wild applause and laughter followed and after that his final quip was “For $5000.00 I’ll never speak to you again!”  
Have Letterman’s people called yet?

Discuss

Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 11:40 AM PDT

Six Not So Angry Women

by jerrywaxman

                                                  “All the world's a stage,
                                     And all the men and women merely players:
                                     They have their exits and their entrances;
                                    And one man in his time plays many parts……”

                                     As You Like it by William Shakespeare

                                                    Prologue

I’m often fascinated by the way life imitates art, or how art reflects life in many ways. Shakespeare’s brilliant discourse on the seven ages of man and our pre-ordained existence is quite apropos to what has been happening in Florida as relates to the George Zimmerman trial. Let’s think in terms of how this whole experience would make a good (or bad) play and let’s call it The Death of Trayvon Martin.

                                                       Act I

                                                      Scene 1

At rise the stage is dark. The sounds of a struggle can be heard and then a gunshot goes off. Lights go up to reveal George Zimmerman holding a gun and Trayvon Martin’s lifeless body on the ground. Blackout.

                                                   Scene 2

This is the exposition scene. What we hear are disembodied voices screaming for an investigation until two characters appear on stage. These two members of the press will introduce all players in the drama and all timelines through their conversations until the March rally. Blackout

                                                    Act II

                                                      Scene 1

The Rally. All speakers including Sanford’s Mayor and Congresswoman Corrine Brown who came to his defense when the crowd turned ugly.

 

                                                    Scene 2


                      The Town Hall meeting in Sanford the following Monda
y

                                                Act III

                                                   Scene 1

         Events leading up to Zimmerman being charged with Second Degree Murder.

                                                     Scene 2

Again the press providing internet chatter from both Zimmerman and Martin supporters, complete with wild conspiracy rumors, racism comments, character assassinations and speculations leading up to the trial.

                                                      INTERMISSION

                                                      Act IV

                                                     Scene1

                                                Jury selection

                                                     Scene 2

                                              The prosecution

                                                      Scene 3

                                                  The Defense

                                                      Scene 4

                                                Closing arguments

                                                      Act V

                                  Judge's charges, deliberations and verdict.

Basically this is just an outline. We can certainly judiciously edit the script down to perhaps three or even two very long acts, just using some pertinent dialog and edited speeches during the trial phase. Jury deliberations are another matter because there’s no archive of them, but the most important parts of this drama are the jury selection process and the judge’s charging of the jury.  Why do I feel this way? That’s simple; the trial was a manipulated process weighted in favor of the defendant. This is not peculiar to this case. It’s just the way the self defense laws are written, exacerbated by the fact that any hard evidence in this case is weak. There were no reliable eyewitnesses that could actually point fingers, nor was there any forensic evidence that showed exactly what transpired. Only three things are indisputable: George Zimmerman carried a gun and got out of his car when advised not to and Trayvon Martin was walking home in the rain so he put his hood up. Since the judge disallowed lots of background evidence on both individuals there’s no way of knowing how the jury would have reacted. The judge and the prosecution both were determined not to make this trial about race, which is almost impossible, yet the defense constantly fed into their fears in summation.

The special Prosecutor, Angela Corey, is also to blame for overcharging Zimmerman. Even though many feel this was a racially motivated incident there was no hard evidence that could prove it and she knew that. She had just sent Marissa Alexander to jail for 20 years for firing a warning shot to keep her husband from beating her. Many experienced Jacksonville lawyers said that the case should never have been prosecuted. Corey also overstepped her bounds by overcharging Zimmerman with Second degree murder. No wonder Rick Scott appointed her; she was the perfect person to weight the trial in favor of the defense. All the state wanted to do is get this mess out of the way and none of Trayvon’s supporters could criticize her for doing exactly what they wanted her to do.

Since this is supposed to be a play, let’s look at the reactions. During the trial itself there were several witnesses whose testimony was at best vague. Compare that with the movie and later a play, Rashomon, which tells the story of three different very clear eyewitness versions of a murder as well as the victim’s version told through a medium.  None of the testimony matches up with any of the others and all different stories are told from personal perspective. Basically, everyone’s testimony is given in their own self interest regardless of what is true. The crucible of the courtroom is the ultimate drama, but only if the evidence is so overwhelming or revealing that the jury cannot ignore it. The real drama here is in the jury’s deliberations and how they arrived at their decision. The best example of this is Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men which was first presented as a live TV drama in 1954 on CBS’s Studio One. Henry Fonda was so impressed with it that it was rewritten as a screenplay in 1957 that starred Fonda. It was also rewritten as a play in 1964.

It’s a pretty accurate description of how jury dynamics can work. In the original versions race does play a part in the deliberations as the defendant was described as Puerto Rican and referred to as “Those People”. Upon seeing the movie again a few weeks ago my reaction to the eyewitness testimony by an elderly white man that the defendant threatened the victim was imagined more than real because in the mid fifties that conversation would not have been in English. This jury was all white men and all native born save one European immigrant. Later versions would include mixed races including Ossie Davis, Dorian Harewood, Edward James Olmos and others, However, I digress. The jury deliberations bring out the attitudes and prejudices of all the members and how they react to new revelations until the final verdict.

One pivotal point in the movie involves Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). Juror #8, who was the lone not guilty voter, is discussing the murder weapon and showing that knives of that kind could be purchased anywhere. The script doesn’t reflect that part of the judge’s instructions to the jury is “not to play detective” and stick to the facts as presented. I’ve served on juries and have been told by the judges not to visit the crime scene or look for my own clues, so that struck me as odd, but it is critical to the outcome of the verdict because several jurors were led to believe that only the defendant had a knife like that. I also agree that a juror should be a detective as much as possible if they are truly seeking justice. Through steady logic Juror #8 convinces several others that there is reasonable doubt (especially for first degree murder). Eventually, Juror #8 and the converted jurors start convincing the others that their preconceived biases are standing in the way of a just verdict. The result, of course was not guilty.

According to reports on the Zimmerman jury the original vote was three for acquittal, two for manslaughter and one for second degree murder. But let’s look at the jury. Five white women and one of mixed blood hardly consists of a proper jury of one’s peers but under Florida law anything less than a capital case allows it, and the defense took full advantage of that fact. Perhaps one African American male on that jury might have made a difference but the defense never would have gone along with it and it never looked like the prosecution even cared. In summation, Mark O’Mara asked the jury to use their common sense and NOT connect the dots and they bought into it. It seems proper that people with common sense would connect the dots in seeking a just verdict. It was a setup for his pursuit of selling them the fear of the other. Let’s call it discrimination rather than racism because in Zimmerman’s mind Martin did not look like he belonged in that neighborhood. Juror #B37 bought into the scenario as did two others. Juror #B29, the lone non white did not.

During deliberations she was persuaded finally to vote unanimous for acquittal for the most part based on the judge’s instructions. That’s an absolute cop out. She should have hung the jury. If her heart tells her he’s guilty then she should have stood by her guns (no pun intended) no matter what the judge said. It’s not a crime and she can’t be prosecuted for it and she could have thrown the whole mess back to the state, which is where the mess deserves to be. If Zimmerman had been convicted on any charge he would automatically appeal the decision anyway, but at least for the time being he would not be free to come and go. Had that happened perhaps a more representative jury would be deciding Zimmerman’s fate in the future.

                                               Epilogue

 We all watched this drama unfold. Some of us watched all five acts and some of us only watched parts of the trial on the periphery.  All of us have opinions based on what we either know or believe. Was the verdict just? Was the trial fair? Do society’s discriminatory attitudes play a part in this? If you think things are wrong how do we go about fixing them?  A.R. Gurney, in his brilliant satire, The Fourth Wall states that plays don’t change the world. Well, don’t you believe it. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw and a host of others have been changing the world, in tiny increments since the dawn of drama. Plays arouse our curiosity. They are not intended to provide answers; they are intended to raise questions. The answers have to come from us.

                           Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
                               As I foretold you, were all spirits and
                                   Are melted into air, into thin air:
                              And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
                         The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
                            The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
                                Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
                              And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
                             Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
                               As dreams are made on, and our little life
                                         Is rounded with a sleep.

                       The Tempest by William Shakespeare  Act IV, Scene 1

Discuss

Tue Jul 30, 2013 at 01:37 PM PDT

The Time Is Now

by jerrywaxman

The Time is now, and not tomorrow, to find that we can cure our sorrows.......

The Time is Now©   by Jerry Waxman 1960

It's the first line of a song I wrote 53 years ago on the death of Billie Holiday. I never finished the lyric. Perhaps someday I will.  What's that got to do with the subject matter at hand? Very little, but it is the right title, and while we're on the subject it has a lot to do with what's going on in our country.  Billie Holiday's untimely demise was the result of her lifestyle, true enough, but the establishment's treatment of her had as much to do with her dying as it did with Trayvon Martin's death, as well as the plight of Walmart and all minimum wage employees being considered interchangeable and throw away people.

Recently in Orange County Organize Now sponsored a petition drive to get paid sick time on the ballot, which was successfully quashed by unscrupulous maneuverings in County Commission chambers with a lot of help by the Chamber of Commerce. The State of Florida got into the act by passing a law preempting local government control of the issue and was signed by the governor, whose name makes me too nauseated to mention.  Item in last week's news: Measles discovered in Orange Co visitor from UK.  What restaurants or tourist attractions did this person visit? Did your food server serve this person? Lots of questions; few answers. But wait! There is someone on the scene who wants to do something about it, and he wants to do it now.

Monday evening, July 29 at 6:00 PM Congressman Alan Grayson (D Fla. 9th Congressional District) held a packed town hall meeting at Barry University School of law, where the crowd was well over 200 people and not an empty seat in the room. The overall subject was workers rights. In his discussion of the minimum wage he wanted it raised to at least $10.50 an hour from its current $7.25 per hour. I want America to be number one not just in military spending, not just number one in the number of people incarcerated, but number one in wages, number one in benefits and number one in a strong middle class” said Grayson, and he backed up his statements with facts and figures that show that businesses would not suffer, as well as the economy would actually improve. Citing a history of the minimum wage, Grayson proved that the age old argument of lost profits is bunk, pure bunk. He was backed up in his statements by Political economics professor Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Dr. Wicks-Lim showed through graphs and charts the impact of the minimum wage dating back several decades. Here's the video of his speech.

Grayson, in a humorous moment of self deprecation played up the story that Salon.com has named him the most effective member of Congress, citing that he has had more amendments passed (5 out of 20) than any other member on either side of the aisle. This is not the bombastic and outrageous Alan Grayson 1.0 of 2008. This new Alan Grayson 2.0 is almost statesmanlike in the way he talks and deals with people, and he has managed to find allies across the aisle who have helped him get his amendments passed. Nor does he just follow the party line; he is fiercely independent  He has written the White House of his intentions to vote against any bill which would cut Social Security and Medicare and under no circumstances would he support chained CPI. He also defied the White House in demanding to see the documents on the Trans Pacific Partnership, which the White House supports and wants to fast track. The public Alan Grayson is getting close to the real Alan Grayson which was not the case four years ago. Yes, he is wealthy and it is no crime. He took a phone business public and profited by it. Something his opponents advocate yet resent him for. His parents were teachers at a time when teachers were not well paid, so he knows the plight of the middle and lower classes and he has the fortitude to stand up for them.

Other themes that Grayson touched on were the Walmart firings of employees who stood up for their rights and paid vacation days. Two of the fired Walmart employees, Lisa Lopez and Vanessa Ferreira both spoke on their actions and firings. Grayson also noted that among all of the industrialized countries of the world the US was dead last in vacation days.  Noting that countries like Germany who has one of the best economies in the world not only pays much higher wages than we do, but also gives almost a whole month of paid vacation days. Grayson also noted that, by law, big corporations in Germany must have at least two workers on their boards of directors.

During the question and answer period Grayson took and addressed questions on Florida's failure to adopt the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid. He also took questions relating to the County Commission paid sick leave fiasco, wage theft and his refusal to allow privatization of TSA security personnel at Orlando's airport. here's the  complete video of the Q & A. Considering the evolution of Alan Grayson from 2008 through now, I can't wait for  Alan Grayson 3.0 to be introduced.

Discuss

Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 10:04 AM PDT

It Isn't Nice to Fool Mother Nature

by jerrywaxman

                                             It's Alive! It's Alive!!!!

Science does have its drawbacks. One of them is how we view scientists themselves. For several generations, because of science fiction stories, comic books and popular movies there is a perception out there of the “Mad Scientist” such as The Invisible Man, or Captain Marvel’s evil Dr. Sivana, or whatever evil scientists is working for Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, or any one of hundreds of misguided souls in fiction. We have to admit it is fun watching good vs. evil play out. One of the best sci-fi movies in the 50’s, Them!, dealt with giant ants that were exposed to atomic radiation as a result of atomic testing in the American Southwest. Since the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were only dealing with the immediate needs of WWII, there was no research dealing with the long term effects of radiation. Let’s face it though, there’s nothing mad about science. To deny that technology as a result of scientific research has benefitted us beyond even our founding fathers’ expectations is willful ignorance beyond belief, or just plain stupid.

Scientists by their very nature are looking for ways to improve our lives by coming up with labor saving devices or life saving medications since Ben Franklin experimented with lightning and Isaac Newton and Galileo explained their theories of gravity and the universe, or Louis Pasteur defying the medical wisdom of his day. Scientists do not start out to do evil. How they end up doing so has more to do with human nature than science. Science is only a tool to be used. Unfortunately it has also been usurped by the greed factor in human nature, and it is the one thing about humans that has not changed in the thousands of years we’ve been on the planet.

When John Francis Queeny founded Monsanto in 1901 doing harm was the farthest thing from his mind. He had been in the pharmaceutical industry for three decades and his father in law, Emmanuel Mendes de Monsanto, was a wealthy investor in the Caribbean sugar industry. The result of his first product was the sugar substitute, saccharine. Over the years Monsanto went through a metamorphosis dealing in industrial chemicals, but also pesticides like DDT, which when introduced was looked at as a miracle for farmers. It took generations for the long term harmful effects of DDT to show up resulting in the pesticide being banned in the USA in 1972.

Over the years Monsanto, as a result of both mergers and acquisitions grew and changed its product lines, again, not with evil in mind, and there were some definite winners- L-dopa, a new process for acetic acid, Astroturf and light emitting diodes. There were also those that did as much damage as they did good, Agent Orange being one such product. The analogy about The Manhattan Project is apropos because Charles Allen Thomas, President of Monsanto from 1951-1960, and Chairman of the Board from 1960-1965 was asked by Gen. Leslie Groves to co-direct the project with Robert Oppenheimer. Thomas refused, however he did conduct research on the project from his Monsanto laboratory and did contribute to the making of the atomic bomb. It took several years before the law of unintended consequences caught up with atomic research and the arguments about its good vs. bad are still going on. So it is with Monsanto.

During the decade of the 80’s the Monsanto started selling off its chemical and pharmaceutical businesses and got into biotech research, which had a different business model developed by Genentech. Under this model the biotech company invests heavily in research and development in order to attain biological patents on its products. The investments are recouped through rigid monitoring and enforcement of those who use the patented product. Monsanto elevated this to an art form, especially when you consider that the company either owns or controls most of the crop seed production in the world, and it has been patenting its GMO seeds now for over twenty years. It also produces the herbicide Roundup, which allows farmers to grow more crops in the same space. This is where the current controversy begins.

As a company that does agricultural R&D it has every right to come up with new products which benefit farmers and by extension, us. We, in fact encourage such endeavor. If that research, however, has not looked at the long term effects of product use then that’s a mistake that has to be corrected. It seems, just as in The Manhattan Project, that too many companies, in order to maximize profits, rush products to market without fully testing or disclosing the harmful effects of their products. There’s a reason why the pharmaceutical industry has to disclose lots of information in their advertising about the risks of taking their drugs. There’s no such restriction on Monsanto or any of the food brands that use their GMO seed products. Why? Because Monsanto lobbies very heavily to keep it that way. Monsanto also has the clout to keep reports detrimental to their claims from being published. It doesn’t make sense that all of these food companies who have to label their ingredients with percentages of fats, salt sugar and other things that consumers need to know aren’t willing to add a statement about GMO content in their labeling. It seems that when you’re playing around with nature and creating in essence Frankenfood we should have some say in the matter of whether we should be buying it or not. It should be our choice. Otherwise it creates suspicion and distrust and we don’t need any more of that than we already have.

                                       Dr. Lynn Unruh lecturing on GMO foods

On Saturday, June 8 the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, sponsored by the Florida School of Holistic Living and the Homegrown Local Food Cooperative and the church’s Green Team hosted a lecture, Genetically Modified Foods: From Frankenfoods to Frankenpeople? The lecturer was given by Dr. Lynn Unruh, PhD, a professor of Health Management and Informatics at UCF. Dr. Unruh is also a registered nurse. Through film and a slide presentation, Dr. Unruh discussed the extent of genetically modified food in the American diet, and what is thought to be a risk to human health and future food production. She also discussed policies to curb the presence of genetically modified organisms in our food, such as legislating mandatory labeling of GMO in the state of Florida as well as elsewhere. After discussing the types of plants that have been genetically modified Dr. Unruh held up supermarket products that contain these plants. She also discussed how all the research that supports Monsanto’s position is funded by groups, such as the Hoover Institute that are sympathetic to them. Opposing research is either blocked or ignored by both regulating agencies and food manufacturers. Dr. Unruh then presented a video that interviewed scientists, doctors and farmers who believe that GMO products are a likely contributor to human or animal illnesses.The far reaching effects of Monsanto’s products are also believed to have contributed to crop failures in certain kinds of cotton which bankrupted many farmers, especially in India, and caused many of them to commit suicide. There is also some evidence with many of the chemicals used in Roundup, which are getting into the food supply and into the ground water. This could cause huge environmental problems in the future, and no official agency appears to be involved in figuring things out. The group was especially interested in the campaign for mandatory labeling One of the groups mentioned was Food and Water Watch Here’s the link to their website.

On the consumer end it’s just not that easy to buy non GMO food at your local supermarket. Here’s a partial list of the brands that are regularly using Monsanto products: Aunt Jemima, Aurora Foods, Banquet, Best Foods, Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Cadbury, Campbells, Capri Sun, Carnation, Chef Boyardee, CocaCola, ConAgra, Delicious Brand Cookies, Duncan Hines, Famous Amos, Frito Lay, General Mills, Green Giant, Healthy Choice, Heinz, Hellman’s Hershey’s Nestle, Holsum, Hormel, Hungry Jack, Hunt’s, Interstate Bakeries, Jiffy, K.C. Masterpiece, Keebler/Flowers Industries, Kellogg’s, Kid Cuisine, Knorr, Kool Aid, Kraft/Phillip Morris, Lean Cuisine, Lipton, Loma Linda, Marie Callender, Minute Maid, Morningstar, Mrs. Butterworth, Nabisco, Nature Valley, Ocean Spray, Ore-Ida, Orville Redenbacher , Pasta-Roni, Pepperidge Farms, Pepsi, Pillsbury, Pop Secret, Post Cereals, Power Bar Brand, Prego, Pringles, Procter & Gamble, Quaker, Ragu, Rice-a-Roni, Smart Ones, Stauffers, Schweppes, Tombstone Pizza, Tostinos, Uncle Ben’s, Unilever, V-8.

 It is especially disturbing since Unilever is not an American owned company but it owns iconic Brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Breyer’s, Lipton, Hellman’s, Ragu, Knorr, Klondike, Good Humor and Promise among others. These are just the products that have been in the spotlight. Who knows what other brands are involved. Supermarkets are also selling their own brands, and yet we don’t know who is supplying them. What’s worse is that the cooking oils on the shelves, especially those made from soybeans, are not represented on this list, but the owners of those brands, Con Agra Procter & Gamble and others  are. The J.M. Smucker company does not appear on the list yet some of their brands do including Pillsbury and Hungry Jack. Crisco is also a Smucker brand. The bottle of Crisco oil in our pantry says that it was made 100% from soybeans. According to Wikipedia, Smucker was a heavy contributor in 2012 to a $46 million dollar political campaign known as "The Coalition Against The Costly Food Labeling Proposition, sponsored by Farmers and Food Producers". So, what’s up with that? If it’s Smucker’s isn’t it supposed to be good? How do we know if we don’t know what’s in it?

Are we talking evil here? No, we’re not. We’re talking corporate mindset, which protects overhead, inventory and profits over people. Even if they’re wrong in their thinking they’ll protect their profits first, and let’s face it, they buy the best legislators they can for insurance. The law of unintended consequences will produce adverse results in due time. Remember that scene in The Bridge over the River Kwai where Alec Guinness has his “Oh My God, What Have I Done” moment? Perhaps it will happen in corporate America. After all, Victor Frankenstein didn’t intend to create a killer.

Discuss

Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:18 PM PDT

Chasing Jill Stein

by jerrywaxman

     

Sometimes fate can fall into your lap when you least expect it. During the presidential campaign season I not only advocate for various causes, but I tutor and manage progressive candidates for low level elective office from Circuit Judge to Soil and Water and City or County Commission seats. I knew of Jill Stein only casually when she was nominated by the Green Party thinking to myself “Oh well, another name on the ballot,” but she really piqued my interest when she and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested for disturbing the peace at Hofstra University protesting the presidential debates on Oct.16. Two more arrests happened in quick succession during the heart of the campaign. She was again arrested in Texas on Oct. 31 for trespassing while bringing food to the Keystone XL pipeline protesters. She and Honkala were arrested again on August 1 in Philadelphia during a sit-in protesting Fannie Mae foreclosure policies. Crazy, said I. In the heat of the election, where she needs every vote she can get she goes out and gets arrested three times! I wish every candidate had that kind of courage. Images of Eugene V. Debs crossed my mind. Stein is a natural successor to Ralph Nader and her thought processes are very much in line with his, without the hard edges. With all due deference and respect to Nader, he could be hard to take. Stein has plenty of charm and charisma and when you are in her company she makes you feel special. What she lacks are people who will vote for her and her Green Party.

A little more than two months ago Jim Howe, a labor and Green Party activist whom I met during Occupy Orlando asked me to cover the Anti TPP rally in Tampa which I did and I wrote an article on it called The Enemy Beneath. There was also another planned rally in Orlando in May. During this period of time Howe asked me if I would like to meet and interview Jill Stein, who would be at the Florida Green Party conference May 25, 26 & 27. I immediately answered “Of course I would!” So, I started reading up on Jill Stein’s history from every resource I could find. Most of what I found is readily available on line and I needn’t go into it, other than the fact that a life threatening condition changed her into a nonpareil activist, and eventually caused her to run for elective office. In the interview she describes that incident in an almost hilarious way. After doing the research I had a pretty good idea what she was about but there were some gaps that I wanted filled so I was really looking forward to it. Howe informed me that I was scheduled for a full hour at 9:00 A.M. Saturday morning. I thought that was terrific; I could drive over Friday evening, get the interview and get out of Tampa early.

          “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley”—Robert Burns

There was a Green Party get together in a coffee house Friday night where the main speaker was talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to it because I spotted my friend Billy from Occupy Tampa who traveled to DC with me in December 2011 and got arrested on the Supreme Court steps. I spotted Jill Stein across the room and eventually made my way to her, but not before I had made a comment on a question to the speaker about the impact that the J Street lobbyists are beginning to have. When Jill and I finally met she thanked me for my J Street comments. I told her that I was looking forward to the interview in the morning. Unfazed, she asked me “What interview?” It seems that everyone who arranged the interview neglected to inform her about it. After conferring with the Green Party Coordinator, Friedmann Buschbeck, who was her official escort for the event, we agreed that the interview would take place a little later in the day, and we may not get a full hour.

That meant that I had to alter my schedule. I had to attend the conference, which I did and at the same time I could record Jill’s remarks to the attendees, do the interview and perhaps get to see a friend, Bill Bucolo, in St. Pete who is heading up a statewide environmental caucus for the Democratic Party. No such luck! She didn’t show up until 11:00 and went right into her hour long presentation. I did make a lunch date with Bill in St. Pete because Friedmann and I agreed that we would do the interview after the March against Monsanto, around 4:00. Here are the three videos of her presentation. Here also is another video of Jill at the March Against Monsanto.

During lunch Friedmann called to say there was a change in plans and that they would be coming to St. Petersburg to give a talk at the History Museum at 7:00. So, there I was stuck for a few hours and I’d have to wait until the speech was over. After a full day of events and speechifying I’m wondering if she’ll be in any condition to do the interview. When she finally arrived she looked as fresh and perky as she had in the morning and I was just hoping she’d be in the mood after the event.

Friedmann and I agreed that the interview would take place as soon as the program was over. There were a few other speakers before her, and by this time a capacity crowd had assembled, including another friend, Jay D. Alexander, who occupied Washington D.C. with me. Jay ran unopposed for local office and is now an elected official in St. Petersburg. Jill’s speech was too long to get in one take so here it is via part one and part two. Here’s the video of her Q&A.

Finally, at approximately 9:15 that evening after a very short break we got to do the interview. Twelve hours late but well worth it. Before we turned on the camera I complimented her on her stamina and commented that her unflappability and poise when talking and answering all sorts of questions reminded me of some of the best con men in the business selling time shares or shady securities. I meant it in a good way and we both had a chuckle. She revealed things about herself that are not generally reported. She talked about her life as a child. Her very middle class existence, and even though she graduated from Harvard, she originally started out at Radcliffe, which gave me a lot more to work with. She took a year off before going to Harvard Medical School to become a professional musician, but she gave it up because she found it too difficult. We talked about her poetry, her favorite books and she revealed that she’s not the reader in the family; her husband is. I had wrongly assumed that Don Quixote was her favorite read. What she did reveal was that although she is technically adept, she has the soul of an artist. Here’s the complete interview and it’s well worth the look.

The interview is over and we’ve all been invited to a party. Now I know that I’m not going back to Orlando that night.  It also gave me a chance to catch up with Jay, who is still trying passionately to restart the CCC, and has lobbied Congress incessantly about it. At the party Jill said her goodbyes and we hugged in the way that long lost friends do. I felt tired, of course, yet giddy about the whole experience.

Discuss

Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 06:24 PM PDT

Senior Power

by jerrywaxman

If you’re watching certain TV programs that treat grandma and gramps as doddering old folks then you need to read this. If the TV commercials that tout the new painless lubricated catheters via Chuck Woolery, or Joe Theismann hawking his new prostate pills, or Wilford Brimley with his sundry products, Fred Thompson or Robert Wagner begging you to reverse your mortgage are too much for you to endure, then this is also for you, if only to make you aware that seniors today are not as gullible as marketers would portray them. These new pitchmen are the next generation of senior snake oil salesmen after Art Linkletter and Arthur Godfrey, Joe Weider and Jack LaLanne. Just think what it will be like when Justin Bieber and Angelina Jolie start doing it in 50 years. The pitch won’t change a lot, but the products and their paid shills will. Seniors have always been ripe prey for swindlers and charlatans. Fortunately, there is a cure for this. It’s called factual information.

The Florida Alliance for Retired Americans is located in Wellington, Florida. Its president, Tony Fransetta has built the organization’s membership to 200,000 over the years, and no grass grows under his feet. Fransetta, at age 78, keeps up a pace that people half his age would be envious of. The same goes for his board members, who attended the 2013 Annual Convention and Board meeting on June 3rd and 4th in Orlando. The Alliance is made up of mostly retired union members, so they have a united purpose.

Just like any annual board meeting, the agenda called for reports from the president on down through officers, committees and clubs. Old business was discussed and future meetings planned. Since this was a convention of seniors and former union members and activists there were several guest speakers dealing with diverse issues that affect seniors. One of the event sponsors was Humana and their reps Barbara Wagner and Sherri Johnson spoke on health care. Many Central Florida state legislators spoke including State Representatives Linda Stewart Dist. 47, Randolph Bracy, Dist. 45, Victor Torres Dist 48 and Karen Castor Dentel Dist. 30. State Senators included, Darren Soto Dist. 14 and Geraldine Thompson Dist.12. Also speaking was Susannah Randolph, District Director from Congressman Alan Grayson’s office. Notably absent were any officials from either the City of Orlando or Orange County Government. Strange too, because the city operates several senior centers that would greatly benefit from an alliance with FLARA. Well, unrealistic soccer stadiums and creative villages are much more important playing around with old people. It’s also strange that Property Appraiser Rick Singh didn’t attend either since he publicly announced a month ago May’s County Watch meeting that he was aggressively reaching out to seniors to notify them of the tax breaks they qualify for and that there were employment positions open for just that purpose.

Featured speakers covered a range of fields including health care management, Social Security and oddly enough, buying American products from American companies plus environmental concerns.

                    Buy! Oh noble buyer, buy your merchandise from me!
                    (Bazaar of the Caravans, from Kismet by Wright & Forrest)

Oh, if only it were that simple. Today there are hundreds of retail outlets and thousands of manufacturer brands available. Isn’t the free market wonderful? Sure, if you don’t care where your money goes. American retailers for the most part are not buying from American suppliers, so a large part of their buying power is going to businesses outside the USA. What’s worse is that many American made products are not owned by Americans, which means that the profits don’t stay in the USA; they go into the pockets of foreign owners, which means that those profits are not taxed here. It’s going to get even worse if The United States foolishly signs on to the Trans Pacific Partnership, but that’s another story.

Roger Simmermaker has written two books, My Company ‘Tis of Thee and How Americans Can Buy American, on how to buy things that are made in this country. He regularly sends out e-mail alerts on products. His company is called Consumer Patriot Corporation. Here’s his website, www.howtobuyamerican.com, and you can sign up for his newsletter and buy his books through it. Roger actually is employed by a government contractor and this is not how he makes his living, however, he is passionate about buying American and this is his passion. In his books he cites over 2400 products that are made here and the list is growing. Even this informed audience was shocked to learn that soaps like Lever 2000 are owned by a British and Dutch consortium. Heinz has recently been bought in part by investor Warren Buffet, but 50% of Heinz is foreign owned. Who knows what will happen there. Do you like Budweiser, Coors or Miller beers? That’s nice. Busch Brewing, Miller and Coors are now owned by a Belgian Multinational and a couple of Brazilian billionaires. As Simmermaker explains, if all the foreign owned American companies were actually paying taxes on their profits we would not have the revenue and debt problems we now have.

    When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, one hasn't got time
                                       for the waiting game  

(September Song, from Knickerbocker Holiday by Kurt Weil and Maxwell Anderson)

The most compelling speaker at the event was Laura J. Feldman, Grassroots Manager of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare. She has a great sense of humor and knows her subject intimately. It’s almost impossible to blurb or sound byte what she said, so here’s the video of her presentation. Unfortunately, people kept bumping into the tripod so the video is a little shaky. What Ms. Feldman pointed out is that what you don’t know can definitely hurt you.

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water, Cool water. And way  
       up there He'll hear our prayer and show us where there's water, Cool Water.

                 (Cool Water by Bob Nolan with the Sons of the Pioneers)

Adrienne Katz from the Orange County League of Women Voters gave a presentation on the water crisis that’s facing Florida. The League is right now working on a petition drive to preserve Florida’s water and land conservation heritage. Katz gave a brand new audio-visual presentation on how fragile our eco-system and especially water really is. Seniors need to know these things because the quality of our drinking water affects their health.

What came out during these presentations is that too many seniors pay too little attention to issues that affect them. They accept what the corporate media tells them and once these myths are in their minds it’s awfully hard to get them to see the truth. A group such as the Alliance, which has millions of members nationwide is constantly striving, through lobbying and information sharing, but they need to get more members who will be involved. After all, who is going to protect us from Pat Boone?

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