Sunday, January 31, 2010

Buried Fact

In 2009 the health care and insurance lobbies spent $648 million to promote their causes.

No comment is necessary.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Good For Them!

Obama’s meeting with the Republican Caucus today was a step in the right direction.

They invited him. He accepted. It gave them a chance to ask tough questions and him a chance to respond in a straightforward, effective way. He was well informed, pushed back when appropriate, and reinforced the notion that we expect our elected leaders to solve problems, not engage in an endless pissing contest.

It would be a welcome breakthrough if this opening actually leads to something positive.

The entire session is available on the MSNBC website. It’s worth watching.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Events Of The Day

Notes from the Cynic’s Almanac: What’s scheduled to happen today?

Apple will unveil its “latest creation,” said to be a tablet computer. That’ll wag some tongues. “Wow,” they’ll say, “Jobs is a genius.”

Obama will give his State of the Union Address. That’ll also wag some tongues. Countless pundits will go on line and on the air to tell us what they think. Sound and fury – signifying nothing.

Advocates of Proposition 8 will continue testifying in a San Francisco courtroom. They’ll tell us that the world as we know it will come to an end if gay people are allowed to marry. Oh, dear, what a terrible fate awaits us all.

What’s not scheduled to happen today but will likely happen anyway?

Bombs will go off in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing many innocent people. You can go to the bank on this one (but only to make a deposit – they won’t be lending to you today.) These bomb stories don’t even make the front page these days. Can you imagine what would happen in this country if just one bomb exploded and people were killed or hurt? It would dominate the news 24/7 for days or weeks.

Many hungry people in Haiti won’t get enough food. Or enough medical attention. Or adequate shelter. Blame will be assessed: The US Military isn’t getting the job done. It’s the fault of incompetent NGO’s and bureaucrats. There is no infrastructure. The people of Haiti made a pact with the Devil and God has forsaken them.

Obama will be blamed for – well – everything.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won't be able to top his most recent idea for saving money: Building and operating prisons in Mexico to house undocumented inmates who are currently imprisoned in California.

"We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there is a prison...And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons...The state would save $1 billion that could be spent on higher education." Very creative, don't you think?

Finally, politicians at every level of government from every party will continue to explain, justify and blame others for not being able to get their job done.

Have a nice day!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The 60th Vote

If you are a panic stricken Democrats ready to commit hara kiri because the magic 60th vote was lost in Masachusetts, it might be useful to remember that before the 2008 election the notion that the Dems would come close to a 60-40 majority in the Senate in the foreseeable future was a pipe dream.

Every close contest, and there were several, had to be won by a Democrat.

Arlen Spector needed to change parties.

Al Franken needed to win at the polls and in the courts.

I remember thinking on election night that 56 or 57 would be a landslide. How quickly we forget.

So pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And get to work.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Welcome Back Cynicism

I realized something today. For the past year, since Obama’s inauguration, I’ve not been relying on cynicism to explain my reaction when I’m disappointed or unhappy with what I see going on around me.

Wikipedia has a lot to say about cynicism, some of which is worth quoting here:

An attitude of jaded negativity, and a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people.

A distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled.

I’ve put being jaded on hold. But given what’s been going on recently, I’m declaring the “Year Of Not Being Jaded” complete, finished, over, kaput. I’m welcoming cynicism and its little brother, skepticism, back into my life.

This blog site isn’t called Curmudgeon’s Corner for no reason. They (whoever ‘they’ are) say a curmudgeon is a surly or bad tempered person. Well I’m feeling very surly and bad tempered these days.

The bad guys are winning, and the good guys don’t have the wits or the guts to even fight them, let alone turn the tide. When I look around I see:

Idiots being led over a cliff by false prophets

Bigots stamping on civil and human rights

Self-serving, smarmy politicians whose main job is to get reelected

Fascist news anchors spouting patriotic mantras

Rich bankers getting richer

A right wing Supreme Court masquerading as protectors of basic rights

And a public whose fear and distrust is so strong that it trumps common sense and even their own self-interest.

I wish I could say that having ranted I feel better. But that wouldn’t be the truth.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pointing Fingers

This is a day for pointing fingers.

It’s Obama’s fault.

It’s because of the health care bill.

It’s a vote against Washington and big government.

She ran a poor campaign.

The Democrats aren’t listening.

The economy is hurting people and they are angry.

High unemployment is the culprit.

Congress is to blame.

Neither party is paying attention to independents.

They took Massachusetts for granted.

That’s ten – you’re out of fingers.

They’re all right and they’re all wrong. There is no one answer to why Americans feel the way they do these days. That there is unhappiness in the land is undeniable. That people want to take it out on someone is human nature. It’s easier to blame than to fix the problem.

Where does this leave us? There is no magic bullet. There is no deus ex machina that will come down from the heavens and rescue us. There is no single solution to our multiple problems. But we have to start somewhere.

I wouldn’t begin by blindly following what public opinion polls say people want. Health care reform is a good example. The polls say most people oppose what is being proposed. Not true. If I asked an average American whether it makes sense to insure 30 million people who aren’t now insured, to prevent insurance companies from denying health care because of preexisting conditions and to improve the system without raising the deficit, no way would most people be against it. Their opposition is based on misperceptions and an assumption that if big government is for it they should be against it.

So maybe your longest finger should be pointed at our current lack of accurate, effective communication. To use today’s jargon, we need a compelling narrative. Who should provide it? The knee jerk reaction will be, “Obama.” Yes, he has a role to play, but if he is in the game alone what he does will have about as much impact as a fart in a hurricane.

What’s going on in this country is our game as much as his. All of us. Let’s assume most people in and out of government would like to see a change for the better. Not an unreasonable assumption. If we sit in the stands complaining that the players on the field aren’t doing what we want them to do, nothing will change. Only when people take responsibility for making things better will real change occur.

The way it is now is exemplified by what happened in Massachusetts yesterday. People lashed out with their votes. They voted against the status quo, which was the only choice they felt they had. By itself, that won’t change anything. It’ll just replace one unsatisfactory status quo with another. More is needed.

When will you stop complaining and get on the team?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Moyer Foundation

At a family event in Seattle over the weekend I had a chance to catch up with a cousin I don’t see too often, Gary Pollock. I knew that for the past 8 years he’s been the Executive Director of a non-profit called the Moyer Foundation, but I didn’t know much about the organization or what it does. In the course of our conversation and a subsequent visit to their website, I was impressed both with the work they do and the spirit and commitment that created the foundation.

Baseball fans know that Jaime Moyer is an All Star pitcher with an outstanding record over many years in the big leagues. At the age of 47, long past the retirement age of his peers, he’s still a starter for the Philadelphia Phillies. It is said that his work ethic and competitive fire are major contributors to his phenomenal longevity on the field.

I think there are other factors at work, less visible to the public but evident in the charitable foundation that he and his wife Karen established. I should say that I don’t know the man, probably saw him pitch a few times on TV but can’t remember when, and have no stake in how he is perceived. I’m reacting to what appears to me to be a larger context in which he operates. And in that bigger picture there is a lesson for all of us.

Clearly, Moyer’s success in baseball opened up additional opportunities for him. Many athletes have used their name and talent to further charitable work, and I assume good has resulted from their efforts. But there is something about the depth and quality of what the Moyer Foundation stands for, helping children in distress, that sets it apart. It is palpably authentic. I say it is the heart and spirit generated by Jamie and Karen Moyer’s personal commitment that makes this so.

If you are human you have an ego. That’s a given. But I see no sign that the Moyer Foundation is an ego trip or a way for the founders to get credit for doing good work. That’s what got my attention initially. It looks solid, not flashy. Straightforward, not manipulative. Empowering, not selfish. I’m sure my cousin Gary and his staff reflect these qualities. They are, after all, the people on the front lines every day making it happen. But all this is inside the context created by Jaime and Karen Moyer.

Go to and see for yourself. You’ll be happy you did.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I’ve been searching around in my mind for something to write about other than Haiti. Hasn’t worked.

Usually I’m relatively immune to stories of tragedies. They happen all too often. When they do my defense mechanism of avoidance is triggered. From a distance the details merge into a sorry tale of woe that need not be confronted directly.

But this time the scenes of devastation I saw and the stories of horrendous individual suffering got through my protective mechanisms. They keep recurring.

I was in Haiti once, in the mid-1980’s. I went at the invitation of some people who thought the Breakthrough Foundation (which I was running at the time) might be able to weave some magic and help relieve the desperate poverty that was a way of life for so many Haitians. I concluded that the job was too big for us. To really make a difference would take a massive infusion of resources and a serious commitment from the government and other local authorities, none of which was in place.

I’d seen plenty of slums before I visited Cite Soleil and La Saline, the worst Haiti had to offer, so nothing I saw surprised me. Having said that, the conditions exemplified world-class poverty on a massive scale. Not pretty.

I’ve been thinking of those slums this morning. It may be that the residents are surviving better than others. The lack of power, food and water is not new to them. If their flimsy shacks were destroyed, it’s possible fewer people died inside than if they had lived in large concrete structures. That’s pitifully little to hope for, but who knows?

So long as we’re thinking of hope – we can hope that the infusion of support that will come to Haiti from around the world in the next days and months will be the spark that will ignite a real positive transformation in lives of the people of Haiti. That would be a welcome change.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama's First Year

The author of the following is Professor Robert Watson of Lynn University who was once a writer for the New York Times. 

Professor Watson writes:

Hi friends,

I am always being asked to grade Obama's presidency. In place of offering him a grade, I put together a list of his accomplishments thus far. I think you would agree that it is very impressive. His first six months have been even more active than FDR’s or LBJ’s, the two standards for such assessments. Yet, there is little media attention given to much of what he has done.

Of late, the media is focusing almost exclusively on Obama's critics, without holding them responsible for the uncivil, unconstructive tone of their disagreements or without holding the previous administration responsible for getting us in such a deep hole. The misinformation and venom that now passes for political reporting and civic debate is beyond description.

As such, there is a need to set the record straight. What most impresses me is the fact that Obama has accomplished so much not from a heavy-handed or top-down approach but from a style that has institutionalized efforts to reach across the aisle, encourage vigorous debate, and utilize town halls and panels of experts in the policy-making process. Beyond the accomplishments, the process is good for democracy and our democratic processes have been battered and bruised in recent years.
Let me know if I missed anything in the list (surely I did).

1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending

2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices

3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women

4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq

5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB

6. Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information

7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier's family

8. The White House and federal government are respecting the Freedom of Information Act

9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible

10. Limits on lobbyist's access to the White House

11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration

12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date

13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren't even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan

14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research

15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research

16. New federal funding for science and research labs

17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards

18.. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect

19. Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools

20. New funds for school construction

21. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out

22. US Auto industry rescue plan

23. Housing rescue plan

24. $789 billion economic stimulus plan

25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying

26. US financial and banking rescue plan

27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed

28. Ended the previous policy; the US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards

29. Better body armor is now being provided to our troops

30. The missile defense program is being cut by $1.4 billion in 2010

31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/ protocols

32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic

33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions

34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office

35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job

36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast

37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles

38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales

39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government

40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children

41. Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program

42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return home to visit loved ones

43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions

44. Expanding vaccination programs

45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters

46. Closed offshore tax safe havens

47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals

48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back

49. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry's predatory practices

50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources

51. Lower drug costs for seniors

52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings

53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel

54. Improved housing for military personnel

55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses

56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals

57. Increasing student loans

58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program

59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy

60. Established a new cyber security office

61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.

62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts

63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness

64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient

65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced

66. Improving benefits for veterans

67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration

68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud

69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco

70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules

71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports

72. Authorized discussions with North Korea and private mission by Pres. Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons

73. Authorized discussions with Myanmar and mission by Sen. Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive

74. Making more loans available to small businesses

75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare

76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court

77. Authorized construction/ opening of additional health centers to care for veterans

78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to $100,000

79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel

80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan

81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan

82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans

83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production

84. Returned money authorized for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters

85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket

86. Held first Seder in White House

87. Attempting to reform the nation's healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured

88. Has put the ball in play for comprehensive immigration reform

89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform

90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform 

Oh, and he built a swing set for the girls outside the Oval Office!

Robert P. Watson, Ph.D.Coordinator of American Studies

Lynn University

Friday, January 08, 2010

Charlie Rose

If you read this blog you know I am a great admirer of Charlie Rose. Listening to him and his guests is an ongoing seminar on – pretty much everything.

He recently did his annual “Remembrance” show, honoring people who died in 2009. He showed excerpts from 32 interviews. 32 interviews with 32 extraordinary people. I was struck again by the breadth of his interests and the quality of his intellect.

The people on the show included:

Human Rights Activists



News media luminaries

Representatives of the arts and architecture


Those who made their name in government and politics


They were:

Helen Suzman

Richard Neuhaus

John Updike

Bill Tatum

Horton Foote

Natasha Richardson

John Hope Franklin

Jack Kemp

Marilyn French

David Herbert Donald

Ed McMahon

Bob McNamara

Walter Cronkite

Frank McCourt

Merce Cunningham

Charles Gwathmey

Les Paul

Robert Novak

Don Hewitt

Ted Kennedy

Dominick Dunne

Larry Gelbart

Irving Kristol

William Safire

Richard Sonnenfeldt

Bruce Wasserstein

Roy DeCarava

James Lilley

Thomas Hoving

Yegor Gaidar

Ron Silver

Kenneth Bacon

The show aired on Jan. 1. If you missed it, do yourself a favor and visit the Charlie Rose website to see it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Himalayan Cataract Project

I've just sent the following email to friends of mine telling them about the Himalayan Cataract Project:

For several years now I've contributed financially to the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP). I was inspired to support their work when Dr. Sanduk Ruit, the Nepalese eye surgeon who founded the project, was featured on a TV show I saw. Each year my pride in being an HCP supporter increases, just as each year Dr. Ruit and his colleagues transform more and more lives by providing the miracle of sight.

Today I received a mailing from HCP that included a reprint of an article that appears in the current issue of National Geographic Adventure. I urge that you go to the Himalayan Cataract Project website: and take the time to read this article.

Once in a while it is worth taking a break from the negative news that bombards us and spend a few minutes being inspired. This is one of those times.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Message #1 - Open Your Eyes!

Everywhere I look these days I see messages. Text Messages. Instant Messages. Tweets. So a while ago I started writing messages – to no one in particular. I think it’s time to begin sharing them.

Take a look around. There’s a lot you’re not seeing.

You see the bad stuff, the stuff you don’t like. That gets your attention. I didn’t say you live in the Garden of Eden. I know there’s garbage around. And of course you see and smell the crap. Nothing hard about that. You have a built-in natural ability to zero in on what bothers you. If you’re human it is in your DNA. But why give so much weight to what’s wrong?

At this point don’t jump to the wrong conclusion. Pollyanna is not my middle name. I’m not asking you to pretend that everything is perfect. I’m telling you to Open Your Eyes, to see what you’re not seeing. It’s all around you. It is, in fact, what you see most often, but it doesn’t show up on your radar screen. It has become invisible to you.

It’s life. It’s your life. And you’re not taking advantage of it. It’s passing you by, and you don’t even know it. Or to be more accurate, you’re passing it by and you don’t even know it.

You want some examples?

When was the last time you walked or drove down your block and saw the houses or stores that have been there since you moved in? The ones you’ve passed by a thousand times. Really saw them? Really looked at them?

Or the trees? Really saw them? Really looked at them?

Or the flowers? Really saw them? Really looked at them?

Or more importantly:

When was the last time you really looked at your child? Really saw his/her face as if for the first time?

Or really saw your wife/husband/partner/significant other/lover?

Or really looked at the other important people in your life?

And more:

When was the last time you really saw the stars? Or the moon?

Or really saw whatever may be close to you – the mountains? The sea? A field of corn or wheat?

When was the last time you really looked at whatever you would say if I asked you to tell me what you think is beautiful?

Open your eyes!

I remember the first time it dawned on me that I wasn’t really seeing what was right in front of my eyes. I was working in lower Manhattan, near City Hall. Almost every day I’d walk along Broadway on my way uptown or downtown. On one of those days, at lunchtime, I was headed somewhere. I was totally in my head, having a conversation with myself about something or other. And then, for no particular reason, I stopped.

I looked around. It was one of those unexpected moments when lightning strikes. Enlightenment descended on me. I realized that I had walked several blocks past some wonderful old richly decorated buildings and hadn’t seen them. Nor had I seen the people I’d passed, the store windows, the traffic – nothing. Had something been in my way or had I felt endangered, I would have snapped out of my reverie. I was a practicing member of the “Oblivious Walkers” club. And I’m sure my fellow pedestrians belonged to the same club.

So I was fixed, right? From then on I’d be one of the aware ones. And it can be the same for you, right? Wrong. The enlightenment phenomenon doesn’t persist. It goes away. You will forget. And in the blink of an unaware eye you will lapse. In less than the time it takes to say “oblivious,” you will again be oblivious.

Is it hopeless? No. Not if you remind yourself that your natural state is to be oblivious, and then start to see again. Repeated practice helps. From my living room I have a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. A world-class view of a world-class icon. Yet, I’m embarrassed to admit that unless I intervene with myself I can go days without noticing it. So I have a practice. Every morning when I sit down to read the papers I remind myself to look out to see the bridge (or the fog that is covering it.) Most mornings I remember. But even after 20 years of practice I can easily forget.

This is about living life fully, being alive. Why would we not do that?

Try seeing what is familiar like you see what is unfamiliar in a new place, someplace you’ve never been before.

When you are in a new place you see with new eyes. Everything is unfamiliar. You pay attention. You are alert and hypersensitive. You are interested. Try looking at what you’ve seen many times before with these same new eyes. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve been missing.

Open your eyes!

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Rose Bowl

Happy New Year!

This afternoon Oregon will play Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Except for a West Coaster’s preference that the Pac-10 beat the Big Ten I don’t much care what happens. That wasn’t the case 56 years ago, on Jan. 1, 1954

I was in the middle of my junior year at UCLA. By beating the hated Trojans in the last game of the ’53 season we’d earned the right to play Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. I was an avid Bruin. Being in the Rose Bowl was a big deal. I was determined to make the most of it.

I don’t remember much about New Year’s Eve except that a few buddies and I partied and didn’t sleep. We arrived in Pasadena well before dawn to make sure we had a good viewing spot for the Rose Parade. That it was cold and misty didn’t dampen our spirits. Our adrenalin level was off the charts, more than enough to keep our enthusiasm at a fever pitch.

Even though we had about four hours to kill between the parade and the game we decided to head to the stadium. We had tickets for the UCLA student section, but the seats weren’t reserved. We wanted to be near the front of the line when the gates opened. Of course, there was no line. It was a mass of bodies all juggling for position. But we were near the front and well placed to make a dash for good seats.

We did brilliantly. We were halfway up the stands on the 45-yard line. Everything was in place for a great afternoon. The only thing left to happen was for us to win the game. Didn’t happen. We lost 28-20. While the overall experience was special, I was very disappointed at the result.

Wikipedia reminds me that my expectations were perhaps too high. Michigan State had won national championships two of the last three years and was near the top this year.

As I said, who wins today’s Rose Bowl isn’t too important to me. But I’m sure to check in on the game from time to time – for old time’s sake.