Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Ongoing Adventures of Tempestuous Tom (Cotton)

In June, 2006, while serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in Iraq, Tom Cotton wrote an open letter to the New York Times criticizing the fact that the paper had published an article detailing a secret Bush administration program monitoring terrorist’s finances. Cotton demanded that three journalists—including NYT editor Bill Keller—be imprisoned for espionage. His letter inevitably gained wide circulation, but after several days Cotton had begun to worry about losing his position—or potentially facing court martial. Not only had his letter angered his immediate superiors, it had reached the desk of Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, who had forwarded it via email to all his generals—sarcastically prefacing it by stating “attached for your information are words of wisdom from one of our great lieutenants in Iraq…” Cotton was subsequently reprimanded for his lack of discipline, lack of adherence to protocol, and refusal to respect his chain of command.
Recent events have made it painfully clear that while Cotton is allegedly “book smart” (a B.A. and law degree from Harvard), he’s completely lacking in common sense and self-restraint. It’s clear that the world must function as Tom Cotton sees fit, or there’s bound to be hell to pay. In fact, over time his impetuous actions only appear to have escalated in . In 2006 his targets were three NY Times reporters; in 2015 his target is the duly elected President of the United States—and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces. Since Cotton doesn’t approve of the negotiations with Iran undertaken by France, Germany, Russia, China, Great Britain and the United States, he has taken the outrageous step of attempting to undermine and subvert the President’s bargaining position by means of a petulant and threatening letter allegedly aimed at the government of Iran, but one can more accurately assume it’s directed at the President of the United States. One might also reasonably question Cotton’s loyalties (and those of his fellow 46 signatories) at this point. After all, these negotiations have not been deeply controversial in France, Germany, Russia, China or Great Britain. What’s really at the root of the “mad dog” Republican reaction?
Meanwhile, Tom Cotton has gone merrily on his way, content to ignore the furor he’s ignited though oddly choosing to briefly address the “the gays of America”—noting that “at least you’re not living in Iran”. He’s left a lot of people shaking their heads. Thanks, Arkansas. It wasn’t enough that Texas foisted Ted Cruz onto the national stage, you had to counter with Tom Cotton?

Netanyahu's Darkness Can't Last Forever

A number of dark days have already passed since Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in Israel.

Fall-out from his pre-election rally in Washington D.C., which was underwritten and choreographed by John Boehner and the Republican congress, continues to this day. Like hyper-excited teen-age cheerleaders, McConnell, Graham, Cotton, Cruz, etc. frantically cheered themselves silly over every pronouncement from the thug-turned-prime-minister-turned-thug.

Netanyahu attempted to derail delicate nuclear negotiations and inserted himself—the Israeli Prime Minister—into the advise and consent role of the American congress. Talk about foreign interference!
Netanyahu returned home from this rather obvious campaign stop and promptly declared there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he is prime minister; directly contradicting his 2009 commitment to that very two-state solution.

Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, Israel under Netanyahu is actively practicing apartheid—a system of unjust laws enforced by military power to restrict the human rights of one specific group, Palestinians, with the aim of keeping political power in the hands of another demographic group—Israeli Jews. They have imposed restrictions on residency, denied repatriation to refugees, demolished homes, illegally seized land and property, imposed restrictions on movement, and practiced discrimination in the allocation of natural resources.
Hopefully, Netanyahu’s “new” extremist coalition government will face renewed demands for peace and justice on several fronts. Since Netanyahu has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to resort to scorched earth tactics, this allows us to dispense with any notions of violence.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) was started by Palestinian political parties, trade unions and political movements in 2005. Signatories have included refugees, Palestinians in the occupied territories, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Although the wheel turns slowly, perhaps this is one avenue well worth re-investigating.
Another, more immediate path, should present itself in Palestine’s membership in the International Criminal Court, which takes effect on April 1st. In spite of the Israeli government’s illegal and ill-advised attempt to intimidate the Palestinian Authority from joining this body by withholding over $120 million in collected tax revenues, the Palestinians are now in a position to refer the status of Israel’s occupied territories to the court for investigation.

In the meantime, the Palestinian people need a symbol in their struggle for statehood. Much as Gandhi utilized protest against the Salt tax to rally the Indian people in their fight for freedom from the colonial British Empire, the Palestinians need something with the same unifying power. I would argue they need look no further than the time-honored olive tree. More than “just trees”, these represent a part of Palestinians culture, heritage and livelihood. For reasons known only to them, Israeli authorities have recently seen fit to destroy over 2000 olive trees in the occupied West Bank.
One perfect solution to Netanyahu’s grim and repressive rule: replant Palestine, with thousands and thousands of olive trees. Life in contrast to death, light in contrast to darkness. Not even Netanyahu can delay change for long.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ted Cruz for President???

I suppose we ought to thank Ted Cruz for effectively undermining what remains of the ultra-conservative “birther” movement by announcing he’s running for President (of the United States). None of his “red meat” supporters will be likely to do much talking about Kenya any longer, since Canada presents a much more serious issue. Ted Cruz is not (as the Constitution specifies) a “natural born” citizen. Heck, Donald Trump is already yapping about this one. However, this is something for constitutional scholars to debate, and I defer to their judgment.
Meanwhile, California’s iconic governor Jerry Brown has pummeled Cruz over a series of ignorant statements and for falsifying facts pertaining to global warming. Brown concluded by stating “It’s shocking, and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.” Climate change, however, is merely the tip of the Cruz iceberg (my apologies).

I would argue that Ted Cruz can, in all fairness, be accused of treason. Among the definitions provided by Merriam Webster: “the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance (presumably not Canada); or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.”
In fact, Ted Cruz and his cronies recklessly and knowingly pursued an action (shutting down the American government for purely partisan purposes) that inflicted a $24 billion blow to the economy of our country. He chose to do this at a time when the economy remained in a somewhat fragile state, recovering from a devastating recession. His actions could have triggered dire consequences, and Cruz was clearly hoping he could bring the Obama administration to its knees. Fortunately for the rest of us, he achieved little more than to provide both pleasure and solace to the enemies of our republic. Cruz was more than willing to inflict financial pain on his fellow citizens (American, not Canadian) since he enjoys one of the apparent perks of being a Senator; he’s also a millionaire.
Cruz has served as an opportunistic thug in the short time he’s been a Senator. Apart from shutting down the government (alienating members of his own party), his greatest “accomplishments” include: opposing immigration reform, vilifying gay Americans, acting as a lap dog for the gun lobby, opposing aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, and, in particular, nattering on incessantly about his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He seems to relish the thought of separating millions of Americans from their newly acquired healthcare coverage. No wonder he’s invited obvious comparisons to the late (though not lamented) Joseph McCarthy—demagogue extraordinaire.

Ted Cruz for President? “Unfit” barely scratches the surface!

Mary Mayhew's Ongoing War Against the Poor and Disenfranchised

Charles Dickens once wrote: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
One might expect that the Commissioner of a state agency named the “Department of Health and Human Services” would exhibit the qualities Dickens mentioned. At the very least, one would hope to see a healthy dose of compassion.
Unfortunately, the state of Maine’s very own Mary Mayhew exhibits none of the above.
After having spent the better part of the past few years on the political defensive, Ms. Mayhew has apparently interpreted the shocking re-election of her mentor, Gov. Paul LePage, as some sort of sign to go on the attack. Unfortunately, she’s attempting to gain political traction at the expense of Maine’s least fortunate citizens; the chronically homeless, those suffering from mental illness, and individuals who are simply “down on their luck”. Mary Mayhew is a strident opponent of anyone who falls into these categories.
It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to stridently oppose an expansion of Medicaid that would have provided health insurance to more than 60,000 low income residents of our state (with the federal government paying 100% of expansion costs before gradually drawing down to a 90% reimbursement rate). It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to oversee the move of the DHHS Cumberland County regional office four miles away from the edge of Portland’s downtown to the Jetport—thereby making it more difficult to reach for those seeking state services/assistance. It wasn’t enough for Ms. Mayhew to oversee the botched $28.3 million contract with a Connecticut-based company (CTS) that consistently failed to provide the service for which it was hired—arranging rides for Medicaid patients. Finally, wasn’t it Mary Mayhew who (along with Gov. LePage) happily forked over a million dollars to the Alexander Group for an impartial and partisan PR report on Maine’s Medicaid and welfare programs—only to have the report exposed as a plagiarized sham?
Now we learn that Ms. Mayhew apparently commissioned an audit of Portland’s City shelters and found “irregularities”…as opposed to her own financial failures and shenanigans?
If Ms. Mayhew is (as some have suggested) entertaining the notion of running for Governor in 2016, then it’s time to rein in the flying monkeys, apologize to the city’s shelter staff and residents, and work to build a state government that focuses on the dignity of each and every human being. She should be willing to support a living wage, advocating the building of safe and affordable housing, and working to provide decent medical services, available to all—which should certainly include first class mental health care (no more Riverview fiascos, please) The people of Maine should expect no less from their (barely) re-elected leaders.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Joni Ernst??? Seriously, what's up, Iowa???

Watching the “official” Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address left me with a question that keeps gnawing at my gut: what the heck is wrong with Iowa?
Joni Ernst, the freshman senator from that state read off the response (watching her eyes follow the teleprompter became fairly distracting; she possesses a certain Bachmannesque quality whereby you expect a counter-clockwise movement to develop at any moment), and she nearly drowned in her own sea of platitudes before the first few minutes had passed. She’s a mother, she’s a soldier; she came from poverty, not privilege. She shared her story of plowing the fields, working construction, and owning only one pair of shoes. You would think we’d be safe in assuming that here is a legislator with genuine empathy, and perhaps an understanding of income inequality.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In doing a little research into her record, it became obvious that Iowa replaced Senator Tom Harkin with a right-wing extremist. What’s up, Iowa?

Ernst talked about stagnant wages, but she vehemently opposes any increase in the federal minimum wage. She talks about the virtue of being raised to live simply, but demonstrates a fanatic allegiance to the 1% by opposing any tax increases that could affect them adversely – even if it means enacting a series of proposals to benefit the Middle class: universal free community college, guaranteed paid sick leave time, cutting mortgage costs, and tripling the childcare tax credit. Ernst is so determined to gut the Affordable Care Act that it sounds as though she’s perfectly likely willing to sacrifice the insurance policies acquired over the past two years by over 10 million previously uninsured Americans. What’s up, Iowa?

Ernst is an anti-choice extremist who supports fetal “personhood”. Ernst is an avowed opponent of same-sex marriage. Ernst has consistently called for state nullification of federal laws, even as the courts consistently rule this unconstitutional. Ernst recklessly called for President Obama’s impeachment and referred to him as a dictator. It’s clear she has no real understanding of our nation as a whole, of its checks and balances, and of due process. In her extremism she’s called for the elimination of the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency (a fierce opponent of Clean Water legislation), and the IRS (given their popularity this is a brave stance indeed!). What’s up, Iowa?

One thing Joni Ernst does love is guns; here, there, and everywhere. No questions asked.
Tom Harkin was such a thoughtful Senator… what’s up, Iowa?

Monday, October 6, 2014


November 4th is fast approaching, and, with all due respect, I find myself
hoping you’ll withdraw from the race. Frankly, I had hoped that Libby Mitchell
would withdraw from the race in 2010, and officially endorse you. Yes, I was one
36.5% of Maine voters who supported your candidacy for Governor the last time
around. In fact, I have a long history of supporting 3rd parties/independents—specifically, the Green Independent Party. However, there comes a time when
imminent danger forces practical decisions. Governor LePage is that imminent
danger, and the state of Maine simply can’t afford to be saddled with four more years
of his failed and divisive policies. The damage he’s inflicted goes hand in hand
with the embarrassment he’s caused.
You’re clearly a very intelligent man, so it must be apparent that Mike Michaud
is a much more formidable candidate that Libby Mitchell proved to be. His support
will not be evaporating as hers so dramatically did. I derive no satisfaction in pointing this out, but it’s actually your poll numbers that appear to be steadily declining; from 20% in a March 31-April 5th Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll to 15% in a June 12th-18th Portland Press Herald poll. The most recent (Portland Press Herald) numbers show your support at 12%.
It’s impossible not to respect your very early support for Maine’s Marriage Equality,
not to mention your consistent pro-choice position. In fact, I find myself in agreement
with you on a variety of issues/goals:
Investing in Maine’s infrastructure
Modernizing/upgrading our communications networks
Restarting the Job Training Initiative (that LePage gutted)
Regulation reform
Growing Maine’s farms & fisheries
Offering assistance to distressed communities
Offering tax credit for repayment of student loans
Branding & promoting Maine

Heck, it’s all good stuff, but I can’t imagine Gov. LePage opting to support a single one of the proposals or programs that you hold dear. What it all boils down to is that Paul LePage must go. We can’t risk another four years of his temper tantrums or his stagnant economy. We deserve batter than crumbling infrastructure and broken dreams.
All the numbers suggest that Mike Michaud is the candidate most likely to topple this failed governor. I hope you’ll seriously consider the possibility of withdrawing from the race, thereby guaranteeing a Michaud victory on November 4th. I believe you and Mr. Michaud actually share a good deal of common ground—and I don’t think the same can be said about you and Mr. LePage. Please don’t gamble with Maine’s future, Mr. Cutler, the stakes are much too high.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Remembrance of Paul LePage

In hindsight, we probably should have seen it coming, but it all seems so surreal now. He had been elected Governor with roughly 38% of the vote, fueled by the self-proclaimed Tea Party, a demoralized Democratic state party that many feared was intent on shooting itself in the foot, and an independent whose outsized ego was not yet readily apparent.
The warning signs were immediate, and all too frequent. Given the state’s economic malaise, Governor LePage somehow determined that his first act of any consequence ought to involve abducting a mural (under cover of darkness) from the Department of Labor—ostensibly because one of his supporters astutely recognized it as an example of North Korean-style propaganda (not for what it actually was—a depiction of labor history). While the 62% of Maine voters who’d opposed him did their best to ignore him, the Governor nevertheless provided comedic relief to a country in need of a good laugh.
Unfortunately for Maine’s hard-working people, and anyone interested in constructive and civil political dialogue, it became increasingly difficult to keep his irrational pronouncements and occasional tantrums out of the hands of the media. After all, if a good story proves elusive elsewhere, it’s tough to ignore the one that drops right into your lap.
While on the campaign trail, he assured his supporters he’d tell President Obama to go to hell. Once in the Blaine House, he assured anyone who’d listen that the President hated white people. This was undoubtedly around the same time he was telling the NAACP they could “kiss his butt” for daring to question his decision not to attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Bangor and Portland. Donald Trump’s notoriously thin skin resembled elephant hide when contrasted with that of former Governor LePage.
It wasn’t long before major policy failures such as completely bungling a deal with Kestral Aviation that would have brought up to 600 new jobs to the Brunswick area (apparently Maine was not “open for business”) became lost in a sad circus sideshow.
In response to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection banning BPA (and its link to numerous health issues in young children and fetuses) in all reusable food and beverage containers sold in the state, LePage rejected the science and suggested the worst that could happen was that “some women may have little beards”.
One could assume there are many ways to take on the IRS without offending millions of other people, but Governor LePage had clearly eluded his handlers yet again when he likened the IRS to the Gestapo. He was allegedly discussing that agency’s role in enforcing the Affordable Care Act that had just been upheld by the Supreme Court, but who can be certain?
Who can forget his comment regarding Vaseline, or the lack thereof, in criticizing Democratic State Senator Troy Jackson during deadlocked budget negotiations?
His words and deeds had pretty much warned us the day was coming. He told us his greatest fear in the state of Maine was newspapers, and while sitting in a fighter jet simulator he wistfully expressed the desire to find the Press Herald building “and blow it up”. His aides maintained he was “clearly joking”.
But then along came Sovereign Citizens. The FBI still considers them a domestic terrorist organization that (among other things) believes the government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, the Sandy Hook school shootings, and is plotting a Christian holocaust via mass collection of firearms. So, why did Governor LePage choose to meet with this group? His handlers maintained it was reasonable to expect he’d meet with a wide range of constituents. They offered no explanation, however, as to why he then met with them eight times.
Mike Tipping, author of “As Maine Went: Governor Paul LePage & the Tea Party Takeover of Maine” revealed LePage bought into several of the Sovereign Citizen conspiracy theories, had a sheriff look into a number of their demands, and had his legal staff draft an opinion on the group’s contention that Democratic leaders of the state legislature should be arrested and executed (for “treason”, naturally).

After the outcry surrounding this particular story, things seemed to plummet downhill quickly for the former Governor. He turned up one morning outside the headquarters of the Maine Army National Guard in an agitated state, red-faced and furiously chain-smoking Camels. No one present could fully understand his rather incoherent demands, but he apparently believed he had the authority to issue arrest warrants for Justin Alfond, Mark Eves, and a host of other political opponents. He clearly expected the National Guard to carry out these arrests. It will always be remembered as a very sad moment by all who witnessed it as the former Governor and a handful of hardcore supporters were corralled and gently led away.
In hindsight, it was a very good thing that Governor LePage made sure the hospitals in Maine were paid the money they’d been owed. As a result, we can all be sure he’s getting the excellent care, and rest, he so clearly deserved. One thing’s for sure, things have certainly been much quieter since Governor Michaud was elected back in 2014.

I.M. Muhral
Somewhere in Maine
August, 2017