Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Nader time!

America’s perennial third-party candidate, Ralph Nader, entered the 2008 presidential sweepstakes, on Sunday.

News reports classified Nader as a “consumer advocate,” but it’s been years since the 74-year-old has advocated for anything other than his own narcissistic visions of grandeur.

This will be Nader’s fifth run for president. His top finish in the previous two runs for the top office in the land was 2.7 percent of the vote.

Nader’s reason for running this time is couched in high-minded terms; Nader says its time for a “Jeffersonian revolution;” I’m not quite sure what that means, knowing that he’ll be lucky to top the less than 1 percent of the total vote that he garnered in 2004. No doubt, he’ll get some votes from the cloud of activists that have trouble getting up before noon, to carry their protest signs down to the courthouse square. But a revolution requires a few more votes than that.

Predictably, the two Democrats weren’t pleased, as their party is the one that will be most affected in the general, by any votes that Nader receives. Obama, who has greater pull on the far left, stands to be hurt the most, if Nader’s “piss in the wind” measures up to be anything other than Ralph being Ralph.

“He thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush and, eight years later, I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about,” Senator Barack Obama said a town-hall meeting Sunday, according to CNN.

I’m open to anyone running who thinks they can make a difference but really, Ralph, your time has passed. You’re 74 and a relic of the 60s. As nostalgic as I tend to be, the issues are bigger than exploding Corvairs and tilting at nuclear reactors.

Go home, install that solar panel on your roof and leave the horserace to more relevant figures.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clinton/Obama debate lacks fireworks

Last night’s debate was short on fireworks. Many pundits, in offering their pre-debate two cents worth, indicated that Senator Clinton would have to try to come out, guns ablaze, trying to prod Senator Obama into making a major gaffe. That didn’t happen.

The only time anything close to a heated exchange occurred, was on the issue of healthcare coverage. Clinton also appeared to have some designs on pressing Obama on the issue of plagiarism, and charges that his material in his speeches may have been lifted, without conferring credit.

On this issue, Clinton said, “If your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's, I think, a very simple proposition.”

This brought some cheers, but also a chorus of jeers.

Clinton added, “Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox,” a barb targeted towards her rival's campaign slogan.
Obama was up to the task and shot back that he rejected the accusations that he had stolen language from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, calling the charge “silly season” politics and in a cheeky quip defended his speeches with, “I've got to admit, some of them are pretty good.”

While I still consider myself in the Clinton camp, I thought Mr. Obama acquitted himself well, handled the healthcare accessibility issue well enough (since none of the media people pressed him enough on this) and both candidates were respectful of one another. I still have my issues with Obama on healthcare and accessibility, however. In fact, the differences in both plans are really the difference between healthcare for some and healthcare for all, or true universal care.

Mrs. Clinton, closing strongly, when asked about her greatest personal challenges, alluded to the Monica Lewinsky affair, but demurred that this was minor compared to what “ordinary” Americans go through.

"I just have to shake my head in wonderment, because with all of the challenges that I've had, they are nothing compared to what I see happening in the lives of Americans every single day," she said, telling of a recent visit to wounded servicemen at a new hospital, in Texas.

And in a generous tribute to the man who is threatening to sink her hopes of becoming the first woman president, Clinton said:

“You know, no matter what happens in this contest, ... I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored,” she said, and reached out to shake her rival's hand.

Both candidates displayed a level of class that isn’t always apparent in the political world.

Mrs. Clinton faces an uphill battle and the next two weeks will decide whether she goes on, possibly to the convention, or whether it becomes a two-horse race, between Obama and McCain.

On a related note, I found an opinion piece in the LA Times that helped me understand why Mrs. Clinton has fared well with Latino voters. The article does a good job of dispelling some of the accusations of “racism” being hurled around. The Clintons have been courting the Latino vote for 16 years, going back to 1992. This history and voting track record remains her best hope for pulling out a victory in the Lone Star State.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The audacity of hype
Just what else has Obama wrought?
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 (Boston Herald)

WASHINGTON - There’s no better path to success than getting people to buy a free commodity. Like the genius who figured out how to get people to pay for water: bottle it (Aquafina was revealed to be nothing more than reprocessed tap water) and charge more than they pay for gasoline. Or consider how Google found a way to sell dictionary nouns - boat, shoe, clock - by charging advertisers zillions to be listed whenever the word is searched.

And now, in the most amazing trick of all, a silver-tongued freshman senator has found a way to sell hope. To get it, you need only give him your vote. Barack Obama is getting millions.

This kind of sale is hardly new. Organized religion has been offering a similar commodity - salvation - for millennia. Which is why the Obama campaign has the feel of a religious revival.

“We are the hope of the future,” sayeth Obama. We can “remake this world as it should be.” Believe in me and I shall redeem not just you but your country - nay, we can become “a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world and make this time different than all the rest.”

And believe they do. After eight straight victories - and two more (Hawaii and Wisconsin) almost certain to follow - Obama is near to rendering moot all the post-Super Tuesday fretting about a deadlocked convention with unelected superdelegates deciding the nominee. Unless Hillary Clinton can somehow do in Ohio and Texas on March 4 what Rudy Giuliani proved is almost impossible to do - maintain a big-state firewall after an unrelenting string of smaller defeats - the superdelegates will flock to Obama. Hope will have carried the day.

Interestingly, Obama has been able to win these electoral victories and dazzle crowds in one new jurisdiction after another, even as his mesmeric power has begun to arouse skepticism and misgivings among the media.

ABC’s Jake Tapper notes the “Helter-Skelter cultish qualities” of “Obama worshipers,” what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls “the Cult of Obama.” Obama’s Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience - to such rhetorical nonsense as “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek.”

That was too much for Time’s Joe Klein. “The message is becoming dangerously self-referential,” he wrote. “The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.”

You might dismiss The New York Times’ Paul Krugman’s complaint that “the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality” as hyperbole. Until you hear Chris Matthews, who no longer has the excuse of youth, react to Obama’s Potomac primary victory speech with “My, I felt this thrill going up my leg.” When his MSNBC co-hosts tried to bail him out, he refused to recant. Not surprising for an acolyte who said, “This is the New Testament.”

I’ve seen only one similar national swoon. Growing up in Canada, I witnessed a charismatic law professor go from obscurity to justice minister to prime minister, carried on a wave of what was called Trudeaumania.

But even there the object of his countrymen’s unrestrained affections was no blank slate. Pierre Trudeau was already a serious intellectual who had written and thought and lectured long about his country.

Democrats are worried that the Obama spell will break between the time of his nomination and the time of the election, and deny them the White House. My guess is that he can maintain the spell just past Inauguration Day. After which will come the awakening. It will be rude.

[Don't quite agree? Check this out. Cultish to the max!--jb]

Swayed by history

Barack Obama’s dominant showings yesterday, in Wisconsin and particularly, in Hawaii, where he’s viewed as a native son, clearly show that the momentum’s turned his way in the Democratic race for the presidency.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s hope in Tuesday’s primaries was to run close in Wisconsin, which she wasn’t able to do. It now appears that the flickering flames of her lagging campaign may come down to upcoming primaries, dependent on rust belt voters in Ohio and Latino support in the Lone Star State.

I’m not a Barack Obama supporter. When his name first began being whispered as a potential candidate for president, I thought that he was jumping the gun and getting ahead of the curve of his promising political future. It has been my intention and still is that he should have “waited his turn” and paid some dues.

Obama is a politician brimming with charisma, and possesses topnotch oratory skills. However, being president is much more than being an excellent motivational speaker. He’s untested and unproven in the area of governing. Much of the Obama-rama and the accolades cascading his way smack of emotionalism. Having fallen under the “spell” of emotion during my foray into fundamentalist religion, it’s no prettier when witnessed in the realm of politics. Additionally, Obama has gotten favorable press, by and large, and I think this media “bump” has helped him immeasurably. It will be interesting to see if he continues receiving a free pass from the press when (and if) it comes down to Barack, “the Black Kennedy,” vs. Johnny Mac.

I think Obama, like many men with a quest for power and prestige, is in possession of a certain arrogance and need for public adulation. It’s almost as if they feel entitled to their perch above the rest of us. So far, it seems to have paid off, at least in getting the Democrat nod for the presidency. Given the track record of his party, however, I wouldn’t discount McCain’s chances in the general.

Recently, I have decided to have my wife, Mary, do some guest blogging here at Words Matter. If you’ve read her recent posts, you’ll see that she’s firmly in the camp of Mrs. Clinton. Not only has it given you some respite from my writing and choice of topics, I think it has added a valuable perspective—the perspective of a rational woman, with some life experience, as well as, political passion.

When you’ve spent over half of your life with a person, you develop a level of comfort and trust in that person’s views and opinions. If you know Mary, you’ll know that when she’s passionate about something, she’s hard to ignore. It’s more than just persuasion. She’s also a genuine, relational person. That’s probably one of the reasons why as a salesperson, many of her customers have been with her for years. She inspires a loyalty in these customers that make them stay with her, even when Mary’s changed companies. She also has an intuitive sense about things and especially people that I’ve learned to acknowledge.

After 2004, I changed my party affiliation from “Democrat,” to being “unenrolled.” I was fed up with the Democrats, “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight,” as I liked to call them. I felt lukewarm for Kerry and when he rolled over like a drunk, conceding the race immediately, even though there was considerable controversy in Ohio, with allegations of voter fraud; I vowed I was done with the Dems.

Despite this vow, it’s been hard for me to remain on the sidelines. I certainly agree with others, who contend that in America, our political choices are limited and the shades of political choice are difficult to parse. It’s the old “Demicans” vs. “Republicrats” dilemma all over again. Ignoring my better instincts, there’s something about the horserace that drags me back into the political fray.

My wife has been a fan of Hillary for awhile, but that wasn’t always the case. The major reason for this has to do with reading Clinton’s book, Living History, which came out in 2003. Mary is an avid reader. I’ve never known her not to have a book in progress, plus she’s always listening to an audio book, so she plows through a lot authors and titles. She first read former President Clinton’s book, My Life. She was impressed with the book about the scope his life. She then decided to read Mrs. Clinton’s book, which helped her realize that Hillary was “an amazing woman.” I can already hear the gnashing of teeth of the Hillary-haters, brought on by that statement.

Mary contends that on the basis of reading her book, she believes that HRC is a person motivated by the desire to do good and make a difference in the lives of others, especially women and children. Oddly, these qualities, and her advocacy for these groups, which, by the way, are certainly a matter of public record, often get overlooked. Instead, we have commentators on both the right and the left criticizing her for her ambition, her brashness, for being “too tough,” and even going so far as comparing her to Shakespeare’s, “Lady Macbeth.” These very same qualities and strengths are lauded in men, particularly if exhibited during the battles of political blood sport.

On Friday, Mary came home with Living History, in audiobook form. While my wife is out and about most of her work day, my 9 to 5 experience involves days on the road and then, playing catch up in the office. This week, my only time behind the wheel has been traveling 20 minutes to work and then, back home.

The first cassette of the 18 that make up the audiobook of Living History was sitting on my seat, Tuesday (I had President’s Day off) morning. Mary had mentioned that she’d feed me a tape at a time, to see if I wanted to continue.

Driving to Lewiston, for work on Tuesday, I was captivated, hearing the genesis of Mrs. Clinton’s life and her surroundings. Granted, autobiographies tend to highlight the better qualities and minimize those things that are less flattering. Still, hearing about where she came from, her experiences growing up in Illinois and the stories of her parents and the town where she came of age struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s because I’m spending almost all of my time away from work detailing my own life story, growing up in a small Maine town, for a new book. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for people’s stories about their formative years, but for the past two days, Living History has been difficult to pop out of the cassette player, before turning the car off and heading into the office, for work.

I’ve enjoyed reading author and radio personality, Studs Terkel’s books about the American experience. While Terkel was born in 1912, he didn’t publish his first book until 1957, when he was 45. Another decade would pass before Division Street was released. I recently picked up The Studs Terkel Reader, which I’ve been going through, a chapter here, a chapter there. Some of my favorite stories have been the ones taken from Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.

Mary and I journeyed westward towards the Chicago of Studs Terkel, in July, 1983. We ended up marooned in the post-industrial graveyard of northwest Indiana. Both 21, married less than a year and expecting our first child in December, we drew upon whatever inner strength we had, a reservoir we weren't aware of at the time, but one that was put there by the experiences of our past.

I couldn’t appreciate it at the time, but the archetype for our journey to Indiana, had been forged by another young couple, nearly 60 years earlier. My paternal grandparents, Michael and Anna Baumer, had journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean, from Kleinschwand, Germany, aboard an ocean liner. They arrived and passed through Ellis Island, on January 11, 1924. From there, they made their way to Lisbon Falls, where my Opa worked at the Worumbo Mill and put down the root that I would be later become grafted into.

As I listen to the audiobook narrator read Hillary’s story, I recognize that like Mary and I were forced to, she’s been drawing on her own personal reservoir of strength, one that is rooted in the story of her own mother, forced to fend for herself, at the age of four. Later, her mother, Dorothy, deprived of love and affection early in her life, managed to learn how to love and nurture her own daughter. Living History is a testament to her story and her impartation of strength to her firstborn child. Women from Hillary’s generation, the ones that broke away from typical gender roles and stereotypes, were spurred on by their mothers. While her father (shaped by many of the same depression era experiences Terkel chronicled) certainly helped shape the woman she would become, countless times, particularly when struggling with Wellesley and being away from home for the first time, it was her mother that demanded that she "tough it out," rather than return home, which would have satisfied her father. I think her mother, the woman who Hillary wrote, “cried the entire 1,000 mile trip back to Park Ridge,” recognized that if Hillary returned home and went to school nearby, she would never tap her true potential.

For a period of time in my life, I truly believed that incrementalism and parsing of minimal differences made supporting a presidential candidate meaningless. My recent experiences with workforce training have revealed that government programs can make substantive differences in people’s lives. I try to imagine what could be accomplished if training dollars were reinstated and I had the opportunity to double the number of programs I was able to run. Hence, my political beliefs have modified into a more pragmatic approach than in the past.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The real Roger Clemens

It's been a long time since I've thought of myself as a fan of Roger Clemens.

After exhibiting much promise and being hailed as the next Nolan Ryan, he exploded with a breakout year, with 24 wins and his first of six Cy Young Awards, in 1986, for the Red Sox. Clemens went back-to-back on the Cy Young train, capturing the coveted pitching award again in 1987. After several more solid years during the late 80s and early 90s, including a third Cy Young, in 1991, he let himself get fat and lost his competitive fire. 1993-1996 saw Clemens win no more than 11 games, as he made numerous trips to the DL and only occasionally reverted to the pitcher that once regularly dominated AL hitters.

On September 20th, 1996, in one of his last starts in a Red Sox uniform, “The Rocket” struck out 20 Detroit hitters, at old Tiger Stadium, including Ken Phelps, four times. While this game meant nothing, with both teams out of playoff contention, Clemens showed that he still could dominate major league hitters, when he wanted to.

Then, after not getting a guaranteed fourth year during contract negotiations with the Sox, Clemens became a baseball mercenary, motivated by money, more than anything, heading north to Toronto first, and then, back stateside, in New York.

This Roger Clemens, who drew the ire of Red Sox fans, won three more Cy Youngs; two in Toronto (’97 and ’98) and another for the "evil empire" (in 2001).

When he left Boston, after the 1996 season, Clemens was going to be 34-years-old. Conventional wisdom, pre-steroid era, was that a power pitcher, like Clemens, had probably seen his best years and performances. Only Ryan and a handful of other power pitchers had been able to dominate hitters well into their late 30s. Clemens would actually win 18 games, at the age of 41, in 2001, pitching for his home state Astros, in Houston.

While Boston fans who followed the club pre-2004 have never fully forgiven Clemens for his betrayal, many had managed to put aside our strong dislike of Clemens, and had adopted, somewhat grudgingly, an acknowledgement of his accomplishments; some of us even managed to work up some measure of admiration, albeit with much difficulty.

Many of us, once again feeling betrayed that we cut Clemens any slack, is now reveling in his recent disingenuous charade, feigning innocence and doing his best to throw his former trainer, wife and just about anyone else, under the bus, his narcissism on display for the baseball world to see. That’s exactly who I’ve always known Roger Clemens to be. A stupid arrogant jock, who turns out, is a cheater. Rather than credit his hard work, we now know he’s been “juiced,” like Canseco, Bonds and all the other baseball cheaters out there.

My hope is that like Pete Rose, he spends the rest of his days in baseball purgatory, forever banished from the Hall of Fame and finds himself plastered prominently as one of the poster boys for the game's steroid era.

On a related note, could the members of the congressional delegation have been any more pathetic, especially Republican hypocrite extraordinaire, Dan Burton, from Hoosierville? What a bunch of worthless suck ups!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The change is Hillary!

I was born in 1962, and I grew up during the 1970’s.

It really was a great time to grow up. I could ride my bike down to the local store and get a Popsicle for 12 cents or a candy bar for 10 cents. There was actually penny candy. I would meet my best friend at the corner—we both had a love of reading. We would ride our bikes to the public library and get a basket of books or go to the high school swimming pool for open swim where it cost a quarter for three hours of swimming bliss.

Other things I remember—smiley pins, peace, not war, singing “where have all the flowers gone” in folk Mass, seeing the names of the missing in action of our young men in Vietnam after the nightly news, getting a POW bracelet and realizing my person became missing on my birthday, Watergate, women burning their bras and the Equal Rights Amendment.

I was the youngest of four children. I had two sisters and one brother. It was a traditional family of the time, where my father went off to work and my mother stayed home. My mother was different than other mothers. She was a little older as she had me at 34, which was considered “old” in 1962. She also encouraged her daughters to do things even if it wasn’t common for someone of their gender. My two sisters and brother and I were an equal opportunity household when it came to lawn care. We had a huge lawn. I will mention that we had like three or four lawnmowers and hopefully, one would work. In my friend’s family, the brother or father would end up with the duty of mowing the lawn. In our family it was shared, between the siblings. I don’t remember my brother sharing in the housework duties; I will have to ask my mother about that.

I remember my mother with some of her lady friends starting a league of women voters group in town. I also recall my mother inviting her friends over for a brown bag lunch and they had to talk about a certain pre-determined subject (no gossip). The time I overheard them they were discussing the pros and cons of the various presidential candidates. It got interesting, as the ladies at the brown bag lunch represented both major parties.

My best friend Pam and I spent a lot of time together. We met before Kindergarten. I helped her zip her coat, so our horrible mean kindergarten teacher wouldn’t yell at Pam.

We were both Catholic and spent time at CCD (church school). When we were in 5th or 6th grade, our priest was going to come to our class and perform the Catholic Mass. Our priest was actually a Monsieur (a “higher up” in the Catholic world) and really a nice person. I told him that I didn’t think it was fair that girls couldn’t be alter people. At that time only boys could do the duties. My husband was an alter boy, growing up in a nearby town. ERA had not gotten to the Catholic Church in 1973. Pam and I couldn’t be alter girls. Our priest decided to let us be alter girls at the mass that was held at our CCD class in the neighbor’s home. It was a big deal in our life...Unfortunately we couldn’t perform the duties at church. That was one of the many disappoints that I had, early in life.

When I used to attend the Little League games that my friend Pam’s brother played in, there weren’t any girls playing. The town didn’t even have summer softball. Pam and I did swim competitively, as that was a sport both sexes could take part in.

Fast forward to the early 1990s and my son played Little League baseball and youth hockey. There were a few girls playing both sports. One of my son’s female friends played on her middle school hockey team and I remember opposing fans yelling, “get her!” They hated seeing a girl playing hockey with the boys. From the 1970s to the 1990s, females moved forward, but a lot of people still didn’t accept it. I was very happy when that one female that my son played youth hockey, earned a full scholarship to a division 1 school to play hockey. You go girl!

When one of my closest and dearest friends graduated from her high school as valedictorian, she planned on pursing a nursing degree. Her parents were happy about it. My friend recently told me that my father pulled her aside and said “you are smart enough to be a doctor; you should be a doctor.” She came from a good home where her brothers mowed the lawn and she stayed inside to do housework. She said that no one had faith in her like my father did. That is how most females grew up during the 1970s.

The females of my son’s generation have had many opportunities that my generation has not. The generation before me had even less.

At my Democratic Caucus I was standing outside handing out information about Senator Clinton. Some of the men had some really demeaning things to say about her. This came from supposedly “open-minded” Democrats. I thought back to the ice rink—“Get her!”

I don’t think many of the young women who are be supporting Barack Obama realize how ground-breaking Hillary Clinton is. I knew little about Mrs. Clinton until I read her autography, a few years ago. Yes, I am still an avid reader. Luckily, I don’t have to ride my bike to my local library as I would have to go for quite a long ride. I was blown away when I read where Hillary came from and what she has done in her life. When I was hankering to be an alter girl, Hillary Rodham was attending Yale Law School.

It is a time for a woman to be given the opportunity to run the show in the USA. Currently, according to Parade Magazine, there are 13 other female heads of state in the world. It is time for a women president in the USA. She is the best qualified. America thinks they are so with it, but we have yet to have women at the highest level in our country

I get a lot of emails. I have split my adult life between being a Republican and Democrat and for a very short time, I was as a Green. I get information from all sides. I know how the other side thinks.

A few months back, I received an email. I am not sure the exact date as I deleted it. The email told about Senator Obama coming to Maine. I was interested as I really like the opportunity to see candidates in person. I am a closet political “junkie.” Then I read the email and I realized it was a fundraiser and I had to pay $25 to see him. I emailed the person who was the contact. I told him that I wanted to see Senator Obama but I wasn’t a supporter yet. I asked where Senator Obama would be speaking for free. The Obama organizer said I would have to pay to see him in Maine. I replied that I could understand that they needed to have a fundraiser, but they should have another event for free. Even if it was for a 10 minute event. That way people like me could hear the senator and maybe become a Senator Obama supporter, or “groupie.” The organizer indicated that I could go to NH and hear him for free, if I wanted. I thought it was odd that I have heard many candidates for free, such as Dick Chenney, John Edwards, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean. I hadn’t supported any of them, until I saw them in person. I didn’t get to hear Senator Obama, as I wasn’t going to part with my $25.

I have asked Obama supporters why they support him. The answers are pretty much the same. “We want a change in Washington. It’s time for a change.We want to bring the country together. We want to bring Republicans, iIndependents and Democrats together. We want to unitify the country.”

I am the same age as Senator Obama and like I said earlier, I have spent half my adult life as a Republican and the other half a Democrat. The right dislikes what the left stands for, and the left dislikes what the right stands for. I know first hand as we cannot talk politics with my husband’s family. We were not on speaking terms during the last presidential election. At Thanksgiving, I had a seating plan to keep the Republicans separated from the Democrats. Don’t you think the rest of the country will feel the same way about their party and their views? We just need to all get along. It is easy to say but harder to do. I know first hand.

Have Obama supporters drunk the kool aid and think Obama will just go to Washington even without having any experience and track record and will just work together with all and everyone will play nicely in the sandbox? While we are at it, we also want to end world hunger, Aids and child abuse. Just saying we want a change doesn’t make it happen.

I want change from my business-to-business sales job and so I am going to be an airplane pilot. Oh, I don’t have the experience and yes I wear glasses so it really wouldn’t work out too well. I do want change, so miracles will just happen. I will have 20/20 vision and I will fly international, not domestic, because I want to see Italy. It’s my change, so I can dream.

We do need a change but the change is Hillary! Give the girl a chance. Listen to her. She has something besides merely saying “we need a change.” She has qualifications and policies to back up her talk. It’s not just empty words.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Democracy happens

[The scene outside Portland High School, as voters waiting to get inside to caucus-Portland Press Herald photograph]

Yesterday was an amazing day, here in the Pine Tree State. In an age when far too many people choose the safety of their living rooms and the anonymity of online social networking, over face-to-face contact, neighbors and fellow community members squeezed into schools, fire stations, town halls and other central meeting hubs to caucus for Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In a town like Durham, it’s a rarity to get to meet new townspeople, neighbors and even radio talk shows hosts who live in the town. Yesterday’s caucus made it possible to get a sense of who some of our neighbors and fellow Durhamites are.

While my wife and I had our preference for a candidate who did not win, I can’t say I’m totally disappointed, as democracy, disorganized, sometimes dysfunctional and even occasionally irritating, worked imperfectly, but it worked. Say what you want about the caucus system, 46,000 Mainers voted with their feet (the previous high for Maine was 17,000 in 2004), enthusiastically endorsing their choice for a candidate.

Our local caucus saw 119 people show up (the previous high was 42, also in 2004). We ran out of forms, the line snaked out the door of our local fire station and into the parking lot and people were jammed in like sardines in a can, but when all was said and done, we caucused for our respective candidates and the wheels of democracy turned, albeit squeakily.

It’s been a crazy weekend here in our household, between snowstorms, candidate’s rallies and fitting in an interview for my upcoming book.

Look to this space for an update and some additional thoughts on caucus Sunday, later in the week.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The clear and present danger of local talk radio

[Saturday, at the Lewiston Armory, spreading the gospel] [The Hillary sisterhood]
[Hillary, after the town hall, signing autographs]

[I’m pleased to welcome a new contributor to Words Matter. While you may remember Mary from previous guest posts (including this one), I’ve now given her carte blanche to do some reporting and offering her thoughts on the political campaign, as it rolls forward.—JB]

I have to admit that I don’t listen to much talk radio, like I once did.. I do a lot of traveling for my job and 80 percent of that time each week is in my car. Instead of listening to talk radio and getting all wound up, I now listen to a lot (and I do mean a lot) of books on tape (thank you Portland Public Library in Portland, Me ). I also listen to my local television news station, WCSH, on the radio.

Yesterday, I was on my way to the Hillary Clinton town meeting, being held in Lewiston. I decided to turn on the radio to WGAN, at around 10:15am.. The main reason I turned to this station, which I hadn’t listened to for ages, is that on Wednesday, my husband was listening to WGAN and found out that Bill Clinton was coming to Portland the next day. I figured that WGAN must have informed news. Also, my husband had mentioned to me in passing that Barbara Merrill, the former gubernatorial candidate and now hosting a talk show with Phil Harriman, and would probably have some commentary on both Senators Obama and Clinton, since they were visiting the state on Saturday. I voted for Barbara Merrill when she ran for governor. She lost to our current governor, John Baldacci. I thought Barbara and Phil would be able to give me some additional information about the events leading up to the democratic caucus this Sunday.

As I drove to pick up my sister, so we could both see Hillary together, I listened to Merrill’s Inside Maine show. They were talking about the political happenstances around the state of Maine. It has been an exciting weekend for Democrats in the state of Maine. With visits from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Former president, Bill Clinton, had been in Maine on Thursday night, and Senator Ted Kennedy, as well as Chelesa Clinton had also come to Maine and were campaigning on behalf of their respective candidates. And then we had the big events of both Clinton and Obama in Maine, in Bangor and Lewiston (Clinton).

Around 10:30, Merrill mentioned that she had an exclusive interview with Senator Obama. He was going to be speaking later that day at the Bangor Auditorium and I thought that it would be great to hear the interview. Then the hosts mentioned in passing that “wasn’t Bill Clinton at Becky’s Dinner this week?” It was as if Merrill and Harriman were confused. One of them mentioned that the “locals must have ignored Bill.” (My husband informed me afterwards, “it was probably the right-wing Harriman that disparaged Bill Clinton). I thought Inside Maine hosts should be a little better informed. Is this a paying gig for Phil and Barbara or do they provide their services for free?

Barbara and Phil pay close attention! Rob Caldwell had an exclusive interview with Mr. Clinton and it was well done and informative. In the interview, Caldwell captured the former president speaking about his role as an ex-president, now campaigning for a family member running for president. President Clinton spoke about how a former president should handle himself.

On the other hand, these local hosts didn’t seem to get how key this interview was. They said something like “wasn’t Bill’s visit to Becky’s Dinner on maybe, WCSH?” Again, clearly confused. This interview was important to Caldwell and the folks at WCSH, as well as others. I was on my way to work on Friday morning and yes, I was listening to THE TODAY SHOW. I was waiting for my caffeine to kick from my morning cup of coffee, when I heard Matt Lauer say that they will be hearing from former President Clinton, when one of our affiliates in Portland Maine, WCSH, spoke with him. This was a national story, as Caldwell’s interview was the first time that the former president Clinton had mentioned specifics about some of his recent difficulties campaigning for his wife.

Both Merrill and Harriman were absolutely clueless about this. They once again resorted to their corny joke about how “the locals must have really loved (hahaha) seeing Bill Clinton at Becky’s Dinner.” What’s their problems, anyway?

Then, it was time for Merrill’s big exclusive with Senator Obama. I was expecting to learn a lot more about Senator Obama’s campaign for the White house and how it would affect Mainers. Senator Kennedy, the day before, while on a campaign stop mentioned about a bill not passing for the much needed fuel assistance for Maine people. If Senator McCain had voted for the bill, it would have helped many Mainers who need fuel assistance to stay warm this winter.

Before the interview I thought that the interview would hit hard about the many Mainers who are struggling to stay warm this winter (Senator Kennedy knows it), or how about families just keeping their homes from foreclosure, or having jobs that that pay a living wage, or health insurance for those without. Instead, Merrill opened with a question about Mainers being so concerned about the environment and Al Gore’s possible role if Senator’s Obama wins the presidency. Good lord! The environment is very important but does Barbara Merrill not read or listen to national polls? Obviously not! In this presidential election, Americans have shifted their focus. Their number one concern is the economy. I think the economy would mean jobs or lack of them, and of course would cover having enough money to pay your fuel bill, as well as mortgage.

I was getting more and more irritated, listening to Merrill hack away at what could have been a very informative interview with possibly our next president of the United States. And Barbara! Don’t even try your attempt at humor regarding a Patriot football trade. It just doesn’t come off. I shut the radio off after the interview in disgust!

Let me wrap up with three points. First of all, thank God the exclusive interview with Senator Hillary Clinton airing on February 10th on WGAN is being conducted by John McDonald. Secondly, I am so glad Barbara Merrill didn’t win the governorship for the state of Maine, even though I foolishly voted for her—Governor Baldacci you are doing a good job! And lastly, I know why it is not healthy for me to listen to talk radio.

WGAN take a closer look at your hosts. It’s time for a change!!!!
FMI on the Clinton campaign and the real differences between her and Barack Obama, check out this excellent website. You can actually cut through the hype and compare resumes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The ascension of John McCain

The ascension of John McCain, from presidential also-ran, to front-runner, gives hope to everyone, toiling in obscurity, funding gone, hoping for the “Eureka!” moment.

McCain’s presidency appeared dead in the water, during the mid-summer dog days of July. While no one, other than political pundits and a few bloggers were tracking the horserace, articles like this one were asking what went wrong with team Johnny Mac.

Today’s announcement of Mitt Romney’s exit from the race is interesting. Will hard-core idealogues on the right finally bury the hatchet and get behind McCain? Does their support really matter and are the followers of Rush, Hannity and Glen Beck as significant as these right-wing windbags pontificate to their listeners that it is?

McCain is an enigma. The “straight-talker” from 2000, a bona fide American hero, who captivated voters in New Hampshire (trudging to 101 town hall meetings), and also, the pariah, now persona non grata to the “noise machine” crowd, on the right end of the political spectrum.

I personally don’t get the right’s obsession with Mitt Romney. For testosterone-fueled white males, McCain should be their man. Christ, the guy endured a 5 ½ year ordeal as a POW that no human being should ever have to go through. He still can’t lift his arms above his head today, as a result. As David Foster Wallace wrote for Rolling Stone, in 2000, during McCain’s first run for president,

But the point is that with McCain we know, for a proven fact, that he’s capable of devotion to something other, more than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches you can feel like maybe it isn’t just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it’s maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit; the guy does want your vote after all. But that moment in the Hoa Lo office in ’68 – right before he refused, with all his basic normal human self-interest howling at him – that moment is hard to blow off. The fact is that John McCain is a genuine hero of the only kind that Vietnam now has to offer, a hero not because of what he did but because of what he suffered – voluntarily, for a Code. This gives him the moral authority both to utter lines about causes beyond self-interest and to expect us, even in this age of Spin and lawyerly cunning, to believe he means them. [ from “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub,” from Rolling Stone Issue #838 (April 13, 2000) ]

It’s really hard to listen to someone like Limbaugh, shit on McCain, the hero. Limbaugh, a man who engaged in behavior befitting a derelict, destroying his own hearing because he felt the need to indulge in “hillbilly heroin,” and then, that “great American” that he is, with his “talent, on load from God,” vehemently denied it, until he got painted into a corner. This very same man who refused to serve, while McCain served his country and nearly paid for it with his own life.
[Note: Limbaugh avoided military service by having his physician certify his medical unfitness due to an "inoperable pilonidal cyst" and "a football knee from high school.” Ryland Meyr, his football coach in high school said Rush played one year of varsity football and that he remembered no injuries to Limbaugh.]

During the last eight years of Bush, the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping and Guantanamo torture, I had grown to despise Republicans. Actually, my loathing of the GOP had more to do with the sycophantic, post-Reagan revisionism, that’s still quite fashionable with the likes of Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher and the other right-wing choirboys. This right-wing talk show crowd makes you forget about Republicans like Olympia Snowe (from my home state), who btw, said that McCain was "as authentic as you can be."

Romney is a fake as counterfeit bill. The Republicans had a field day with a fellow Massachusetts native, John Kerry, calling him a “flip-flopper.” Seems to me that Romney wears that label well.

John McCain’s positions have remained steady. While he could have gotten a handler and employed spin doctors, he stayed true and steady on immigration and the troop surge, many on the right ridiculing him for it, now unable to get over it. But none of that really matters, post-New Hampshire and then, even more remarkable--his amazing running of the gauntlet, across the map on Super Tuesday.

The following quote, from Dwight Eisenhower distills the essence for what I believe is our political hope for the future.

“It is only common sense to recognize that the great bulk of Americans, whether Republican or Democrat, face many common problems and agree on a number of basic objectives.”

Colin Powell talked about a “sensible center.” I think a lot of people, whether they self-identify as either liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats essentially support the same policy positions on major issues. I consider myself a left libertarian and I'm fed up with partisan politics.

Still, because people allow themselves to be swayed by partisan idealogues, who surprisingly, get more than their fair hearing in a variety of mainstream sources, these disciples of division are able to maintain a following, devoted to party politics and ideologies. Meanwhile, solutions to problems in healthcare, energy policy and the perpetuation of the military/industrial complex continues, even though the will of the people is for better roads, socialized healthcare and meaningful education and safer schools for their children. [for more on independent politics, see Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics, by John P. Avlon]

The real example of what America needs is FDR, not Ronald Reagan. Only devotion to balkanized political dialogue coming from the Kool-Aid crowd, keeps the airwaves and information channels jammed with white noise.

I think McCain’s success and the rejection of someone like Romney, as well as the groundswell of young people around Obama’s message of change, indicates that elements of the U.S. electorate may be breaking free from a politics of personal destruction and a movement towards meaningful change may be on the way. I certainly hope so. It will take a herculean effort to reverse the destructiveness of the past eight years.

I like to call this new energy, around McCain, capturing moderates on the right and some of the new voters coming out for Obama and even Mrs. Clinton, “the politics of the common people.”

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hapless 'hounds get pummelled

I visited Moxietown on Saturday, as I said I would.

Walking into the LHS gym (which I recently found out was built in 1952, for $140,000) always brings back many memories.

It was on this floor that I labored as a basketball player, one who was big on heart and short on jumping ability. This year's Greyhound squad seems destined to finish the season without a win. I continue to wonder why the town's high school basketball fortunes have fallen so far. I'm thinking part of this will be fodder for the book. In fact, spent a good part of the day working on the manuscript that will be Moxietown.

I had a chance to visit with people from my past. It's a rare visit back to LHS, particularly at a sporting event, when I don't run into people that played a part in who I am. Inevitably, these visits bring back recollections, some hidden and some brought back into clearer focus.

Saturday's Greyhounds' opponent was Winthrop High School. The Ramblers have been ranked #1 or #2 in Class C for most of the season. They have an athletic squad, anchored by Division I prospect Sam Leclerc. The hapless Greyhounds entered the game minus three of their top players, including their leading scorer, suspended for academic performance (or lack, thereof).

The undermanned Greyhounds were no match. With Lisbon's tallest player listed at 5'1o", the more athletic Ramblers pummelled them on the boards. Leclerc and 6'4" Tim Gingras, a state champion high jumper, were constantly able to jump over the backs of the smaller and less athletic Greyhounds, for easy putbacks.
Interestingly, Winthrop coach Dennis Dacus seemed to see the need to press the Greyhounds, for much of the first half and into the 3rd period, despite being up by some 30+ points. Better, he kept Leclerc in the game until 3:08 left in the game. At the time of his departure from the game, Winthrop was up 85-37. I know a number of Lisbon parents were less than impressed, as was the former Lisbon soccer coach, who I grew up with and played sports with two of his older brothers.

I understand that a coach walks a fine line between keeping his team sharp for the impending playoffs and not letting his better players lose their competitive edge. But how about calling off the assault early in the 3rd?

I wasn't particularly surprised. My dislike of Winthrop sports (not necessarily the town) runs deep and I still bristle, thinking back to some of the things that occurred from my basketball days, when we were in similar situations and the Winthrop coach at the time, a man I have never thought much of, regularly ran up the score on opponents. He also condoned taunting and catcalls, which carried over to baseball, where we handily thumped his teams. This man was a longtime coach in Winthrop and I'm sure is still in the area. Dacus seems to be cut from the same cloth, but then again, this was my first chance to see him in action. Obviously my first impression left me a bit nonplussed, eh?

I'll shut down my thoughts on this. I plan on seeing some playoff basketball. I may have the chance to file an additional report, at some point, on the Ramblers.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Are sports failing our youth?

I'm headed to my HS alma mater, to watch some boys b-ball. Now why would I want to watch a team that is 0-16 play and probably get pounded, once again? Let me give you a hint: it's tied to the new book and I need some field research. BTW, I once played HS basketball and endured a 1-17 mark, my junior year, so I know a bit about what I'll be covering.

If any of my Maine readers have been following the brawl, last Saturday night, in Lawrence, between the Lawrence Bulldogs and Lewiston, here's a bit of info you didn't read in the paper. While I don't condone students brawling, nor fans entering the fray, I have it from a reliable source that a racial epithet was involved, directed at the Lewiston young man. Having spent some time combing the state's back roads, let me say that this doesn't surprise me. [Here is a newspaper account of the incident in the "hometown" paper of the Bulldogs. Don't forget to read the comments-JB]

I ran across this great contribution from a reader, who posted this at, a site devoted to Maine HS basketball. I couldn't say it any better than this parent, from Calais. It ties well with last Saturday's ugly incident in Lawrence and other happening around the state, connected with this winter's battles on the hardwood.

Go Greyhounds!

Athletes and Punishment

What a year. A player arrested for OUI. A northern Maine team trashing a locker room. A fight during a game (the youtube video showed a much less drastic event than the posts described). A fight in the parking lot. A player contacting an official. And these are just the ones talked about here - how many athletes lost eligibility today with report cards coming out?

Someone much smarter than me once described rules or law as the miminum accepted behavior in a society or group. When did we decide high school athletes, coaches and programs only had to comply with the lowest accepted behavior?

When did we stop demanding and expecting more from them? Isn't that lesson inherent in making players dress up on game days; sign conduct codes beyond the regular student body; retiring numbers; posting records in lobbies and on the wall; hanging banners; etc... Aren't we supposed to be telling them that the more they give to their community the better they and the community will be? When a high school kid gets arrested for OUI is whether he/she plays anymore basketball the biggest problem in his/her life? When kids are yelling racial insults at each other, is their sports future the biggest worry for that town? When fans and parents rush the floor and a team needs an escort to safely leave a school, is the duration of suspensions the biggest safety worry for that school?

Why do we expect coaches, administrators, state agencies and similar organizations to fix this problem? I've got four kids playing sports - two on varsity, one in junior high and one just starting in rec ball. If their grades drop, if they drink, if they drink & drive, if they call someone "n", if they trash a lockerroom, the school and coach will have no decision to make. They will have a freshly laundered uniform to give to a replacement player and my kid will be working hard to make the team next year. I don't mean to imply that the parents of the players involved in these situations aren't doing the right thing - I have no idea about any specific situation or how any specific family is dealing with their child. I'm simply trying to raise the point that maybe we need to look inward to find the cause and solution to what seems to be a tough year. I'm in Washington County and I know nothing about the Teer kid or that situation beyond what is posted on this site. However, I have some admiration for two sets of parents (his and hers) and the coach if in fact they all discussed expected behavior at the start of the school year and then held that young man (and woman presumably) to their consequences when their behavior didn't comply with expectations. Isn't this young couples lives' more important then his basketball team's won/loss record?

This post is longer than I meant it to be when I started, anyone from Calais won't be surprised I talked too much. Any before everyone takes a knee jerk reaction to it, do me a favor, take the kid(s) you love and care for to a quiet spot and tell them they mean more to you than the outcome of the next competition. Remember, it is our job to raise them into good adults, it is not our job to raise them into good high school athletes.