Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Harry Chapin - What Made America Famous

From Alan Grayson

It was the town that made America famous.
The churches full and the kids all gone to hell.
Six traffic lights and seven cops and all the streets kept clean.
The supermarket and the drug store and the bars all doing well.
They were the folks that made America famous.
The local fire department stocked with shorthaired volunteers.
And on Saturday night while America boozes
The fire department showed dirty movies,
The lawyer and the grocer seeing their dreams
Come to life on the movie screens
While the plumber hopes that he won't be seen
As he tries to hide his fears and he wipes away his tears.
But something's burning somewhere. Does anybody care?
We were the kids that made America famous.
The kind of kids that long since drove our parents to despair.
We were lazy long hairs dropping out, lost, confused, and copping out.
Convinced our futures were in doubt and trying not to care.
We lived in the house that made America famous.
It was a rundown slum, the shame of all the decent folks in town.
We hippies and some welfare cases,
Crowded families of coal black faces,
Cramped inside some cracked old boards,
The best that we all could afford
But still too nice for the rich landlord
To tear it down and we could hear the sound
Of something burning somewhere. Is anybody there?
We all lived the life that made America famous.
Our cops would make a point to shadow us around our town.
And we love children put a swastika on the bright red firehouse door.
America, the beautiful, it makes a body proud.
And then came the night that made America famous.
Was it carelessness or someone's sick idea of a joke?
In the tinder box trap that we hippies lived in someone struck a spark.
At first I thought I was dreaming,
Then I saw the first flames gleaming
And heard the sound of children screaming.
Coming through the smoke. That's when the horror broke.
Something's burning somewhere. Does anybody care?
It was the fire that made America famous.
The sirens wailed and the firemen stumbled sleepy from their homes.
And the plumber yelled: "Come on let's go!"
But they saw what was burning and said: "Take it slow,
Let 'em sweat a little, they'll never know
And besides, we just cleaned the chrome."
Said the plumber: "Then I'm going alone."
He rolled on up in the fire truck
And raised the ladder to the ledge
Where me and my girl and a couple of kids
Were clinging like bats to the edge.
We staggered to salvation,
Collapsed on the street.
And I never thought that a fat man's face
Would ever look so sweet.
I shook his hand in the scene that made America famous
And a smile from the heart that made America great
You see we spent the rest of that night in the home of a man I'd never known before.
It's funny when you get that close it's kind of hard to hate.
I went to sleep with the hope that made America famous.
I had the kind of a dream that maybe they're still trying to teach in school.
Of the America that made America famous...and
Of the people who just might understand
That how together yes we can
Create a country better than
The one we have made of this land,
We have a choice to make each man
who dares to dream, reaching out his hand
A prophet or just a crazy God damned
Dreamer of a fool – yes, a crazy fool
There's something burning somewhere.
Does anybody care?
Is anybody there?

Harry Chapin.  Musician, author, playwright, humanitarian.  Congressional Gold Medal Winner.  Died in 1981, at the age of 38, in a head-on collision with a truck.  This is what it says on his tombstone, from a song he wrote:
Oh, if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world.
Harry, we miss you.  And we sure could use some more folks like you today.

Monday, September 26, 2011

First Chapter of My Memoir

A Memoir by Dee Newman

Chapter One


Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, according to a number of documented accounts of eyewitnesses, an eccentric spiritualist by the name of John Hendrix told a group of his neighbors at an old country crossroads store that he had experienced a prophetic vision of what the future held for Bear Creek Valley. He informed them that their remote rural area would one day be filled with a vast complex of buildings to help win the greatest war every to be waged and that a city would be built along Black Oak Ridge.

“The center of authority will be on a spot mid-way between Sevier Tadlock’s farm and Joe Pyatt’s place. I've seen it," he told them. "It's coming."

John Hendrix (“The Prophet of Oak Ridge”) died in 1915. He was only 49 years old. He is buried on a hilltop in a subdivision of Oak Ridge named “Hendrix Creek.”

I Owe My Existence

As far back as I can remember my sister Alice has insisted that I owe my existence to her: had she not persistently and persuasively begged my parents for a little baby brother, I would not have been conceived, much less born.

According to our mother my sister did in fact plead “relentlessly” for a little baby brother. Nevertheless, I maintain that I am more beholden to Adolph Hitler, Hirohito, Albert Einstein and Franklin Delano Roosevelt than I am to my sister.

In early August of 1939 after hearing from Danish physicist Neils Bohr that Nazi Germany was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Albert Einstein, in collaboration with and encouragement from physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, sent a letter to President Roosevelt. Expressing his concerns, Einstein advised the president that the United States should begin its own nuclear weapons research program immediately. That same year a small, highly classified research program, later to be known as the Manhattan Project, was initiated by the president to determine the feasibility of producing a viable nuclear bomb.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the top-secret project became an urgent national priority. In September 1942, Colonel Leslie R. Groves was made a brigadier general and appointed military director of the fledgling Atomic Bomb Project for the US Army Corps of Engineers. He replaced the first director, Col. James Marshall, who it seemed lacked the necessary impetus to get the project moving beyond the research stage.

General Groves, while overseeing the construction of the Pentagon in 1940, had developed a reputation as a ruthless, yet highly skilled and intelligent engineer with tremendous drive, energy, and organizational skills. As director of the Manhattan Project, Groves soon acquired an enormous amount of power, involving himself in nearly every aspect of the bomb’s development. All three of the principle sites throughout the country that were to be used for theoretical research and materials production were chosen by Gen. Groves (site-Y in Los Alamos, New Mexico, site-W in Hanford, Washington and site-X in Oak Ridge, Tennessee).

Within days of taking charge of the project, Gen. Groves ordered agents from the Army Corps of Engineers to secure 56,200 acres of a remote sleepy little ridge and farming valley in East Tennessee. A thousand families from five small rural communities (Wheat, Scarboro, Elza, Robertsville and New Hope) who had lived on the land for generations were given little explanation for the government's sudden, intrusive and forced acquisition of their land.

Abruptly, without warning, thousands of highly educated people as well as highly skilled and experienced construction workers (carpenters, welders, and electricians) from all over the United States and other parts of the world ascended upon that remote rural area. It was an area where change had always been resisted, where most folks lived in houses with no electricity or indoor plumbing and whose children rarely received more than a seventh-grade education.

As they began to apply their skills to build a series of secret facilities, no one, except for a small group of nuclear scientists, knew the mission of the project – to separate, produce and purify large quantities of uranium-235 and plutonium from the natural uranium-238 for use in developing a nuclear bomb.

The site was chosen for several reasons: the small population of these rural farming communities made the acquisition of the land affordable; the long valley was naturally partitioned, allowing each facility to be separated by a series of ridges, providing security and protection from both external attacks and internal nuclear disasters; the area was accessible by both rail and highway; and it had an abundance of clean water from the Clinch River, including hydro-electricity from the nearby recently completed Norris Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

On December 2, 1942, two months after Gen. Groves took charge of the project, in a squash court beneath the old Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, a group of researchers led by Enrico Fermi achieved the world's first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

Two months later, on the second of February 1943, along Bear Creek Valley between Black Oak Ridge and the Clinch River, construction began on Y-12, the code name for the facility that would enrich uranium using electromagnetic isotopes. Nine months later, Y-12 began separating uranium-235 from uranium-238.

Nine miles to the east, on Nov. 4, 1943, 14 months after the first parcel of land had been purchased in Tennessee, the world's first full-scale graphite nuclear reactor went critical at X-10. A year and half later the gaseous diffusion separation plant (K-25) also began turning out weapons-grade uranium, U-235.

In just 30 months, three plant sites were constructed within what was known as the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) and the secret city of Oak Ridge, unable to be found on any map until (1949) after the war had ended, emerged as the fifth largest city in Tennessee, with a population approaching 75,000. By November 1944, Oak Ridge was using 20 percent more electricity than New York City and had the sixth-largest bus system in the nation.

Security was tight. The huge CEW complex (including production sites and residential areas) was completely surrounded by a barbwire fence with guard towers and seven gates. Everyone 12 years and older were required to wear a government identification badge. Access to the city was restricted to workers and residents with authorized government IDs. Five thousand security personnel manned the gates and patrolled hundreds of miles of fencing. It was imperative that the complex not be infiltrated.

The Clinton Engineer Works: The Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant (upper right), the X-10 plutonium production reactor (center), and the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant (lower left) with the "Happy Valley" housing area.


Twelve years earlier in Atlanta, Georgia, my parents met, fell in love and were married on January 2, 1934 (1-2-34). At the time my mother was a photographic retoucher and colorist.

My father was the chief floor judge and trainer for a series of Dance Marathons (promoted primarily as Walkathons) which had begun during the later part of the roaring 1920s.

Throughout the 1930s and the Great Depression, these dance endurance contests persisted to some degree as partially staged performances and genuine endurance events, often pitting a mix of local hopefuls and seasoned professional marathoners against one another. A 25-cent admission fee entitled an audience member to watch the show as long as he or she wished.

During their glory days, though they were very controversial, Walkathons were among America’s most widely attended forms of live entertainment. By the time they began to fade in popularity in the late 1930s nearly every American city of 50,000 people or more had hosted at least one dance marathon.

The endurance contest business directly employed tens of thousands of people during the Great Depression – as promoters, masters of ceremonies, floor judges, trainers, nurses as well as contestants. Indirectly, Walkathons also helped to create thousands of jobs for local economies, keeping small businesses, newspapers and radio stations viable with their promotional and advertising dollars, paying for license fees, renting countless venues, providing local sponsors publicity for their businesses, and utilizing local food concessions for spectators, employees and contestants.

With Atlanta as home base, my parents began traveling throughout the United States, primarily in the South, Northeast and Midwest working for the contest endurance entertainment business. My father was the chief floor judge and my mother a “sitter” or nurse’s aide.

It was during this time they met and became friends with a 19-year-old comedian, Red Skelton and his first wife, Edna. Red was the emcee of the show/contest and used my father and other floor judges as “goats” for his antics. Red would do most anything for a laugh – from drenching my dad with ice water to shooting him with a blank pistol. The last time my parents saw Red and Edna was in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1935. As they hugged goodbye, Red told Dad, “Chink, the next time you’ll see me I’ll be in the movies.” His statement was prophetic.

Between his Walkathon engagements, my father was also a professional pugilist, an established and reputable heavyweight prizefighter. He was managed by Maw and Paw Stribling, who were the parents of Young Stribling.

“Scrib” as he was known to his family and friends was one of the great heavyweights of the 1920’s and early 1930s. He died on October 3, 1933, when his motorcycle was hit by an automobile. Though he was only 28 he had knocked out more opponents and fought more professional rounds than any other fighter in history – a total of 286 recorded bouts, losing only 12. He was never knocked out except when he lost to Max Schmeling, the heavyweight champion of the world, on July 3, 1931, by a technical knockout in the last 14 seconds of the 15th round. The bout was the first major fight to be broadcast live over national radio.

During his short career, he set numerous records, including most fights by a heavyweight (286), most fights by a heavyweight in a single year (55), most knockouts by a heavyweight (127), as well as the fewest number of times ever to be knocked out (1) and that was a TKO. Gentlemen Jim Corbett called Young Stribling "the best heavyweight fighter for his pounds that ever lived."

In the fall of 1935, after suffering several months with malaria and unable to find work, my father jump a series of fright trains west to Boulder City, Nevada, to work on the massive construction project of what was then called Boulder Dam. It was there that my father fought his last professional fight.

One Saturday night after hearing about a nearby boxing event outside of Las Vegas, my father drove over with several coworkers. While hanging out backstage visiting with some old boxing buddies, news arrived that the principal contestant for the main event had been injured in an automobile accident and would be unable to fight. Someone told the promoter that my father was there and suggested that he might be willing to fill in for the disabled fighter.

Out of shape, still suffering from the aftereffects of malaria, my father consented to fight for four rounds of the eight-round bout and give the audience a good show, but would take a dive in the fifth round if he lasted that long by leaving himself open for a knock out. His opponent agreed to the fix.

When the bell to end the fifth round rang my father was still standing. His opponent had not delivered a convincing punch. My father was exhausted and angry. Fighting now only on adrenalin, he continued to leave himself open to take the dive. By the middle of the sixth round, in order to make his opponent angry, my father spit in his face. Still no convincing blow was delivered. When the fight ended in the eighth round my father won a unanimous decision.

Missing my mother, my father, after working six months on the dam, drove back to Atlanta with a coworker. He soon found work as an apprentice with the Georgia Power Company in Atlanta and became a highly skilled electrician, specializing in the laying of underground cable.

The experience and competence he acquired served him well. When many other men and women were standing in soup and bread lines unable to find work, my father with help from his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), was able to secure temporary positions primarily in the South, in Tennessee cities like Chattanooga, Memphis, Kingsport and Spring City. Traveling with his young wife and infant daughter, towing their small trailer home behind them, he earned a living wage for his family when millions of Americans remain destitute.

In the fall of 1943, after returning to Atlanta from a job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, my father through the IBEW heard about a project near Harriman, Tennessee, that needed experienced electrical workers and specifically underground cablemen. Leaving my mother and sister in Atlanta with relatives, he drove 200 miles north to inquire about employment. He was hired on the spot.

For several weeks my father lived with his brother-in-law, Loran Jennings and his sister, Mary, in Knoxville, Tennessee. During that time my father commuted to work and back nearly 90 miles a day. On September 21, 1943 my father wrote to my mother:
Hello Honey,

I received your letter today . . . sure was glad to here from you. I’ve been waiting to see what this job turns out to be. Because of the weather I have only worked 4 days since I got here. It has been raining a lot. I’m working for $1.50 an hr. This will be the biggest cable job I have ever seen. It will be about 2 months before the cable splicing starts.

Go ahead and paint the trailer. I will come and get you in about 2 weeks and you and Mary can go over to Harriman and see about a school and a place to put the trailer. It is 43 miles one way from here to work. Harriman is only 17 miles from the job.

I will try to send you some money Friday night. I hope I will be able to work tomorrow.

Give the booger a big hug from me.

Lots of love to you both,

Within weeks, my father drove to Atlanta to move my mother and my five-year-old sister, Alice, to Harriman, Tennessee. For six months they lived in a trailer park in Harriman. It was there I was conceived, thanks in no small way to the fact that my father, at last, had steady work and a good paying job. In short, I was conceived not because of my sister’s constant nagging for a baby brother, but because my parents could finally afford another child, thanks to the government’s secret efforts to develop a nuclear weapon – an atomic bomb.

Eventually, in the Spring of 1944, they move to a temporary community that came to be known as “Happy Valley”, an on-site construction camp near K-25, consisting of trailer homes and hutments built by the Army Corp of Engineers that in time would housed over 15,000 people.

On November 24, 1944 I was born in the newly built Oak Ridge Hospital.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From My Good Friend Bob Highfill


Richard Dawkins points out that the scientific method was formulated only 350 years ago.

From "The First Ten Years" in A Hundred Years and More of Cambridge Physics:
The systematic teaching of practical physics is a modern development. Until the second half of the nineteenth century was well begun, no teaching laboratory and no regular course of instruction were known . . . All the immense amount of scientific knowledge built up before the 1870's was the result of individual work in essentially private labs.
And, for much of the 150 years that science has been taught, it was only available to the academic elite. The real impact on the thinking of the masses is only just now beginning with the availability of the internet.

Given the dramatic changes that science has brought to our lives in just the last 100 years, one wonders what will happen in the next 200 or so years. And, what will be the impact of scientific thought processes on the religious views of the masses once the majority have been exposed to the teachings of science and the strength and productivity of clear, rational thinking? Will the fables and mysticism of religion be able to sustain respect?

I don't think so.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

From The White House (Weekly Address)

Strengthening the American Education System

President Obama explains that states will have greater flexibility to find innovative ways of improving the education system, so that we can raise standards in our classrooms and prepare the next generation to succeed in the global economy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Creative Writing Weekend and Book Arts Class

Kelly Falzone (a friend) is an awarding-winning poet and teaching artist. This weekend she will be offering a workshop at Art & Soul on creative writing and book making. If you have an interest and the opportunity, I highly recommend the workshop.

From Poet People:
Kelly’s poetry has appeared in Clackamas Literary Review, Poets On:, Squaw Valley Review, Cumberland Poetry Review, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and the anthologies: Essential Love, Not Your Mama’s Cookbook, and Afterwords: writing on grief and loss. Kelly’s work has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, was a semi-finalist in the “Discovery”/The Nation contest, and has been awarded prizes and recognition from the Tennessee Writers Alliance, the Knoxville Writers Guild, and the Chester H. Jones Foundation. Recent theatre projects showcasing her work have included Nashville Actors’ Bridge Ensemble’s New Works Lab, and Green Room Projects’ Conjure Women. She regularly appears with spoken-word artists Ami Mattison and Minton Sparks, and has read her work at festivals such as the Southern Festival of Books and Ladyfest South. A member of both the Key West Writers Workshop and The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, Kelly has studied under the guidance of such master poets as: Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Gerald Stern, Tom Sleigh, Brenda Hillman and Kate Daniels.

To read some of Kelly’s poems click here.

Creative Writing Weekend and Book Arts class
The Deep Dive
taught by Kelly Falzone

Plunge in head first!

Writing is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual practice which provides an incredible opportunity to dive down into the unconscious and hear the voice of the Soul. Spread out over three days, and facilitated by award-winning poet and teaching artist Kelly Falzone, this workshop will be an invigorating weekend of exploration and experimentation. Through prompts and creative play, you will learn how to more easily ignore your internal editor, tap into the unconscious, and follow your writing to its depths. Participants will have an opportunity to share drafts in an encouraging circle, and leave the workshop inspired, with a bagful of new ideas and resources. Sharing aloud is always optional and no prior workshop experience is necessary. All writing levels welcome. Class limited to six to twelve participants.

Students should bring notebook, water bottle, and a sack lunch on Saturday.

Time & Date
September 23, 24, 25
Friday 5:30 - 8:00 pm; Saturday 10:00 am - 2:30 pm; Sunday 12:00 - 4:00 pm

$165 (Co-op $140)

Registration Deadline
Friday, September 16

spacer (1K)

From CREDO Action

We need huge opposition to Monsanto's first straight-to-table vegetable.
No Monsanto GMO sweet corn!
Clicking here will automatically add your name to this petition to major US grocery stores:
Automatically add your name:
Take action now!
Dear Dee,
Right now, Monsanto, the corporation responsible for producing roughly 90% of genetically modified seeds around the globe, is working to bring their new, GMO sweet corn to a grocery store aisle or farmer's market near you.1
Unlike Monsanto's other GMO crops — which are primarily fed to animals — this sweet corn is intended for direct human consumption.
This is the first time Monsanto has engineered a vegetable that could be served straight to your dinner table. And if this unlabeled, and potentially toxic crop succeeds, Monsanto is sure to bring us even more.
As an activist and consumer, you are in a powerful position to pressure leading U.S. grocery stores to reject Monsanto's new GMO corn.
Monsanto's GMO sweet corn is engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup, and to produce the insect-killing pesticide Bt.
If that sounds dangerous to eat, there's good reason.
A past study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that Monsanto's GMO corn led to organ failure in mammals.2 This GMO corn has also recently been linked to a new pathogen causing crop failure and a sharp spike in livestock infertility — as high as 20% — which could potentially pose a health threat to humans as well.3
But shockingly, just as other GMO foods are not required to have special labeling, consumers will have no way of knowing if they're purchasing Monsanto's new genetically modified sweet corn.
Some of Monsanto's GMO corn is already in human food — used to make additives in processed food products — and even in small quantities it's having scary effects.
This past spring a Canadian study found that the GMO toxin inserted in Bt corn was found in the bloodstreams of 93 percent of pregnant women4 — just from its presence in processed grains and highly processed food products.
Now, grocery stores could be on the verge of delivering up this toxic corn, and its toxic effects, in much higher doses and without processing, and we wouldn't even know what we were eating.
We must raise our voice as consumers and urge grocery stores to reject Monsanto's potentially dangerous new product, and stop this dangerous trend of Monsanto-made, straight to table products.
Thank you for standing up to Monsanto and its dangerous GMO products.
Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Ask Don't Tell is History

Today, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is officially over.

Gay men and lesbians in the military no longer have to hide who they are, and the servicemembers who were discharged under this policy can re-enlist.

From The Los Angeles Times


America's costly war machine 

Fighting the war on terror compromises the economy now and threatens it in the future.

Ten years into the war on terror, the U.S. has largely succeeded in its attempts to destabilize Al Qaeda and eliminate its leaders. But the cost has been enormous, and our decisions about how to finance it have profoundly damaged the U.S. economy.

Many of these costs were unnecessary. We chose to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with a small, all-volunteer force, and we supplemented the military presence with a heavy reliance on civilian contractors. These decisions not only placed enormous strain on the troops but dramatically pushed up costs. Recent congressional investigations have shown that roughly 1 of every 4 dollars spent on wartime contracting was wasted or misspent.

To date, the United States has spent more than $2.5 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon spending spree that accompanied it and a battery of new homeland security measures instituted after Sept. 11.

How have we paid for this? Entirely through borrowing. Spending on the wars and on added security at home has accounted for more than one-quarter of the total increase in U.S. government debt since 2001. And not only did we fail to pay as we went for the wars, the George W. Bush administration also successfully pushed to cut taxes in 2001 and again in 2003, which added further to the debt. This toxic combination of lower revenues and higher spending has brought the country to its current political stalemate.

There is only one other time in U.S. history that a war was financed entirely through borrowing, without raising taxes: when the Colonies borrowed from France during the Revolutionary War.

Even if we were to leave Afghanistan and Iraq tomorrow, our war debt would continue to rise for decades. Future bills will include such things as caring for military veterans, replacing military equipment, rebuilding the armed forces and paying interest on all the money we have borrowed. And these costs won't be insignificant.

History has shown that the cost of caring for military veterans peaks decades after a conflict. Already, half of the returning troops have been treated in Veterans Administration medical centers, and more than 600,000 have qualified to receive disability compensation. At this point, the bill for future medical and disability benefits is estimated at $600 billion to $900 billion, but the number will almost surely grow as hundreds of thousands of troops still deployed abroad return home.

And it isn't just in some theoretical future that the wars will affect the nation's economy: They already have. The conditions that precipitated the financial crisis in 2008 were shaped in part by the war on terror. The invasion of Iraq and the resulting instability in the Persian Gulf were among the factors that pushed oil prices up from about $30 a barrel in 2003 to historic highs five years later, peaking at $140 a barrel in current dollars in 2008. Higher oil prices threatened to depress U.S. economic activity, prompting the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates and loosen regulations. These policies were major contributors to the housing bubble and the financial collapse that followed.

Now, the war's huge deficits are shaping the economic debate, and they could keep Congress from enacting another round of needed stimulus spending to help the country climb out of its economic malaise. Many of these war debts are likely to continue to compromise America's investments in its future for decades.

For years, the public failed to adequately question how it was possible that we could spend and borrow so freely, with so few consequences. But now the painful legacy of these decisions has become clear. Throughout the past decade, Congress routinely approved huge "emergency" appropriations to pay for the wars. This process preempted the usual scrutiny and debate that accompanies large spending bills. In part, this is because the U.S. lacks the basic accounting tools necessary for informed debate. Our future debts from the war are not listed anywhere in the federal government's budget. We don't even know for certain where the money has been spent. The Pentagon hasn't produced a clean financial audit in the 20 years since government auditing began, nor has it developed an accounting framework that would allow an assessment of the future costs of current decisions. This has almost certainly increased the overall cost of the war.

Our response to Sept. 11 has weakened both the current economy and our future economic prospects. And that legacy of economic weakness — combined with the erosion of the credibility of our military power and of our "soft power" — has undermined, rather than strengthened, our national security.

Nearly 10 years into the Afghanistan war, the violence in that country shows little sign of abating. August was the deadliest month of the war yet for U.S. troops, and there were also multiple attacks on Afghan security forces, government officials and civilians. The surge in violence comes as NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. But tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel are scheduled to remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2014.

The costs of fighting the war on terror have already been far higher than they needed to be. The U.S. should not take on even greater war debt without understanding the true costs of continuing down that path.

Linda J. Bilmes is a faculty member at Harvard University. Joseph E. Stiglitz is a professor at Columbia University and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics. They are coauthors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict."

From The White House

"This is not class warfare. It's math."

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a plan for economic growth and deficit reduction that details how to pay for the American Jobs Act while also paying down our debt over time. The plan, which is being sent to the Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, offers a balanced approach to further reduce our nation’s deficit and get our fiscal house in order, based on the values of shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.

The President’s plan lays out a blueprint that will enable Washington to live within its means, something Americans across the country have been doing for years. And the balanced approach means that no one group has to bear the burden alone. It means that everyone – including millionaires and billionaires – has to pay their fair share.

The plan, which will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion, includes many of the proposals the President has previously discussed -- closing tax loopholes for oil companies and hedge fund managers and asking the very wealthiest and special interests to pay their fair share. It also includes difficult spending cuts and making adjustments to strengthen programs like Medicare and Medicaid for future generations. As part of the plan, the President is also calling on Congress to undertake comprehensive tax reform to simplify the system, make it more fair and efficient, and lay a stronger foundation for economic growth:
It comes down to this: We have to prioritize. Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount -- by $4 trillion. So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal? Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both.  
Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.  
This is not class warfare. It’s math. The money is going to have to come from someplace. And if we’re not willing to ask those who've done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit and we are trying to reach that same target of $4 trillion, then the logic, the math says everybody else has to do a whole lot more: We’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor. We’ve got to scale back on the investments that have always helped our economy grow. We’ve got to settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports, and schools that are crumbling. 
That’s unacceptable to me. That’s unacceptable to the American people. And it will not happen on my watch. I will not support -- I will not support -- any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.
According to Jack Lew, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, taking the steps outlined in this plan would bring the country to a place, by 2017, where current spending is no longer adding to our debt, debt is falling as a share of the economy, and deficits are at a sustainable level.

You can read the entire proposal that was submitted to the Joint Committee or read an overview in this fact sheet. You can also watch the video of the President's remarks:

From Daily Finance

What do Tea Party congressman feed their families? On Monday, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a member of Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus met with MSNBC's Chris Jansing to discuss President Obama's proposed tax increases on the wealthy. Using his own income as an example, Fleming gave an interesting glimpse into the world of Tea Party economic theory ... and economic justifications.

Unlike many of his fellow legislators, Fleming's taxes would rise under the Obama plan. This is because, in addition to his $174,000 congressional salary -- which is far below the minimum threshold for Obama's tax increases -- Fleming also pulls in an impressive $6.3 million from his investments, including several Subway franchise restaurants and UPS stores.

However, Fleming was quick to explain that he only brought home a small portion of his $6.3 million gross income. As he told Jansing, "That's before you pay 500 employees, you pay rent, you pay equipment and food. The actual net income of that was only a mere fraction of that amount." In fact, according to Fleming, he made a comparatively paltry $600,000.

While decidedly less than $6.3 million, Fleming's $600,000 is still nothing to sneeze at: Given the $49,455 that the median American household brought home in 2010, the congressman's yearly income equaled the take-home pay of more than a dozen average families. But, as Fleming noted, even that princely sum was not all it appeared. In order to create more jobs -- and, not coincidentally, expand his business -- Rep. Fleming needed to invest more money: "By the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment ..."
So, let's see: $600,000 minus $400,000 for reinvestment leaves $200,000 that Fleming has budgeted to "feed his family." In other words, the congressman's yearly food budget is more than the total take home salary for four average families.

And how many people does Fleming's $200,000 feed? Well, the congressman and his wife Cindy have four grown children. Assuming that the pair still has all of their children living under the same roof, the USDA's food allotment under its "Moderate-cost" plan would total $378.90 per week, or $19,702 per year. So, Congressman Fleming is budgeting more than 10 times the average yearly food cost for a family his size.

When Jansing pointed out the vast gap between the average American salary and Fleming's, the congressman responded: "Class warfare has never created a job."

Apparently, however, it puts a lot of food on the table.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Arson at the Narrows

A year and half ago as many of you know the Cumberland Basin (middle Tennessee) suffered massive flooding. The Harpeth River rose twenty feet above the tunnel here at the Narrows. As a result of the flood the tunnel was clogged with large tree trunks.

Several weeks ago someone (lacking foresight and judgment) torched the tunnel. The Kingston Springs Volunteer Fire Department were unable to extinguish the fire. Under the extreme heat generated by the fire huge limestone slabs fell from the tunnel's ceiling. Fortunately, the bridge over the upstream opening (though damaged) remained standing, allowing those of us who live within Bell's Bend of the Harpeth to enter and exit. Here are a few photos of the aftermath. The first photo was taken the morning of the day after the fire was set.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

From Crosscut

Bill Moyers: Americans are caught in a dire position

The veteran public broadcaster and author talks about Republicans, Obama, journalism, and the faltering prospects for Americans in a society ever more dominated by wealth: "Look, this is serious. America is practically self-destructing."

By Robin Lindley

This article is reprinted with permission from George Mason University's History News Network. The longer History News article is here.

Bill Moyers has devoted his career to educating, informing and inspiring the American public, in the conviction that, as he put it, “the gravediggers of democracy will not have the last word.”  He is best known for his groundbreaking television documentaries, which have earned him more than 40 Emmy and Peabody awards, including lifetime achievement honors from both, and virtually every other major television journalism award. But he has also helped make history.

Moyers grew up in Texas, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (he was ordained as a minister at the age of 20), and worked on then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson's 1960 presidential campaign. He helped found the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy and ultimately became its deputy director. He served President Lyndon B. Johnson as special assistant and press secretary from 1963 to 1967 and played a key role in many of Johnson's innovative anti-poverty and civil rights intiatives. that came out of the LBJ’s Great Society. The American Journalism Review named him “the best White House press secretary ever."

After leaving the White House, Moyers became publisher of the Long Island newspaper Newsday. He first appeared on public television in 1971 with the first iteration of Bill Moyers Journal. It ranged beyond the politics of the day to explore ethics, philosophy, and spirituality. Moyers ranged even further in his subsequent series, Creativity and A Walk Through the Twentieth Century, and several programs on American poets.

Moyers became a news analyst and correspondent for CBS News, but resigned in 1986 to form his own production company, Public Affairs Television. With his wife and creative partner, Judith Davidson Moyers, he has produced Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home, Genesis: A Living Conversation, Healing and the Mind, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, What Can We Do About Violence?, On Our Own Times: Moyers on Death and Dying, Moyers on Faith and Reason, NOW with Bill Moyers, and, once again, Bill Moyers Journal. His books include volumes based on those series as well as Listening to America, A World of Ideas I and II, The Language of Life, Fooling with Words, Moyers on America, and Moyers on Democracy.

Moyers’s work is fueled by a deep knowledge of history, a passion for justice and public service, a profound concern for his fellow citizens, a love of language, and an appreciation of the ethical underpinnings of the issues he tackles. His deft storytelling and prodigious research and erudition provide context and analysis that are sadly lacking in much of what passes for journalism. As one observer noted, Moyers has dared to imagine that members of his audience are willing to think and learn.

Despite his ostensible retirement, Moyers, now 77, continues to lend his unique voice to the national conversation and, inevitably, to speak truth to power. In his new book Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (The New Press), he presents more than 40 engaging interviews from the program's 2007 through 2010 seasons, from the waning days of the George W. Bush administration to the dawn of the Obama era. His subjects include satirist Jon Stewart, historian Howard Zinn, novelists Louise Erdrich and John Grisham, anthropologist/activist Jane Goodall, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, actor-author John Lithgow, economist James K. Galbraith, scientist E.O. Wilson, poets W.S. Merwin and Nikki Giovanni, and many more. The topics range from democracy, justice, poverty, race, war, and predatory capitalism to religion, science and creativity. New introductions provide historical context for each conversation.

Moyers recently agreed to an exclusive interview for the History News Network. Over the course of two weeks he responded by email to questions about his new book, his career, his brushes with history, his writing process, and more.

Robin Lindley: You are a masterful interviewer and — unlike many journalists today — always scrupulous about providing historical context for each interview subject, as evidenced in your new book. How do you choose interview subjects and prepare for interviews?

Bill Moyers: Thanks for the compliment. Truth is, I’m okay at interviewing but better at editing. I prefer a long conversation that I then trim to essentials. It’s the closest I ever get as a journalist to craftsmanship. Remember Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth? Those six broadcasts came from 26 rambling hours of conversation during which I got lost more than once. I enjoyed the lengthy sessions with him but they would have been incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in the lingo of mythology. By leaving the excess, including much of the lingo, on the cutting room floor — well, it was a cutting room floor before digital editing came along — we got to the essence of his ideas, to the stories, and the series became one of the most popular ever on public television.

There’s a figure in every stone, if only the sculptor can pare away the excess, right?  Well, there’s a shape in every conversation. You carve a little, step back and look at it, then take the scalpel and carve again until — eureka!  That’s the part of my work I most enjoy. Over all these years, I’m pleased to say, not a single guest has complained about the result. Now I’m jealous of my peers who do live interviews so well. But I’m not nimble on the high wire with the clock ticking. I need to listen at length, then sit with my team and edit as faithfully as possible until we find the inner arc of the experience.

How do I choose my guests?  By preparation, intuition, and convergence. I read widely — magazines of every stripe. By midnight my bedside is strewn with clippings from the stack on the floor. There are books in various stages of reading all over the place — some by my chair, some on the floor, a couple on my desk, always a paperback at the ready if there’s a traffic jam or the train is slow. I scour  Web sites.

Newspapers are my daily bread. I started as a cub reporter on my local paper. The publisher paid me extra to help him prepare a widely circulated newsletter called “News Tips” — gleanings from many sources — so it became a habit for me to read and rip. Now I read six or seven papers a day — at least two from abroad, two or three big ones here at home, as well as the weekly in the small town where we retreat on the weekends. Not every story in every paper, obviously. Every newspaper is full of surprises. The article you didn’t intend to read — right next to the one you felt you must read — turns out to be the most interesting of all, and you weren’t even looking for it.

I also watch several newscasts, mainly out of habit but also because I want to know what several million other people are watching. I listen to public radio. Especially programs like Planet Money, Radio Lab, On Being with Krista TippetOn The Media, and some of the local interview shows on our first-rate public radio station here in New York. You can’t beat these people for story telling. Their radio does for the ear what 3-D movies do for the eye.  And I tune in to a right-wing radio show occasionally. Most of them use the same talking points so you don’t have to listen long to get the conservative line of the day.

If you like Bill Moyers as I do and would like to read the entire article click here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

From The New York Times

September 14, 2011

Beyond ‘New Atheism’


The Stone is featuring occasional posts by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, that apply critical thinking to information and events that have appeared in the news.

Led by the biologist Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion,” atheism has taken on a new life in popular religious debate. Dawkins’s brand of atheism is scientific in that it views the “God hypothesis” as obviously inadequate to the known facts. In particular, he employs the facts of evolution to challenge the need to postulate God as the designer of the universe. For atheists like Dawkins, belief in God is an intellectual mistake, and honest thinkers need simply to recognize this and move on from the silliness and abuses associated with religion.

Most believers, however, do not come to religion through philosophical arguments. Rather, their belief arises from their personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center.

In the last few years there has emerged another style of atheism that takes such experiences seriously. One of its best exponents is Philip Kitcher, a professor of philosophy at Columbia. (For a good introduction to his views, see Kitcher’s essay in “The Joy of Secularism,” perceptively discussed last month by James Wood in The New Yorker.)

Instead of focusing on the scientific inadequacy of theistic arguments, Kitcher critically examines the spiritual experiences underlying religious belief, particularly noting that they depend on specific and contingent social and cultural conditions. Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning. This “cultural relativism” argument is an old one, but Kitcher shows that it is still a serious challenge. (He is also refreshingly aware that he needs to show why a similar argument does not apply to his own position, since atheistic beliefs are themselves often a result of the community in which one lives.)

Even more important, Kitcher takes seriously the question of whether atheism can replace the sense of meaning and purpose that believers find in religion. Pushed to the intellectual limit, many will prefer a religion of hope if faith is not possible. For them, Tennyson’s “‘the stars,’ she whispers, ‘blindly run’” is a prospect too bleak to sustain our existence. Kitcher agrees that mere liberation from theism is not enough. Atheists, he maintains, need to undertake the positive project of showing how their worldview can take over what he calls the ethical “functions” of theism.

There are those — Dawkins, for one example; existentialists like Sartre, for another — who are invigorated at the very thought that there is no guiding power in the universe. Many others, however, need convincing that atheism (or secular humanism, as Kitcher prefers) has the resources to inspire a fulfilling human life. If not, isn’t the best choice to retreat to a religion of hope? Why not place our bet on the only chance we have of real fulfillment?

Kitcher has a two-part answer. First, he offers a refined extension of Plato’s famous dilemma argument in “Euthyphro” to show that contrary to widespread opinion, theism is not in fact capable of grounding the ethical values that make life worthwhile. Second, to show that secularism is capable of grounding these values, he offers a sophisticated account of how ethics could have evolved as a “social technology” — a set of optimally designed practices and norms — to satisfy basic human desires.

Kitcher’s case is open to serious objections, but it has the conceptual and logical weight that is lacking in the polemics of the scientific atheists. It also lets Kitcher enter into genuine dialogue with believers like the philosopher Charles Taylor, whose defense of religion in “A Secular Age” offers an essential counterpoint to almost everything Kitcher says.

For a long time, meaningful engagement between believers and nonbelievers was, especially in the United States, blocked by an implicit mutual agreement: religious belief was exempted from challenge, provided it remained within a private sphere of religious life, and was not asserted as relevant to any issues of public concern. Over the last few decades, however, conservative Christians have rejected this agreement, particularly over issues like abortion and evolution. The scientific atheists, led by Dawkins, rightly responded with their aggressive insistence that militant believers justify the claims they wanted taken seriously in the public sphere.

The resulting polemics cleared some murky air but now have little use except to keep assuring each side of the other’s perversity. Kitcher’s secular humanism reanimates the debate, promising much needed serious reflection on whether the divine can or should be eliminated from our moral lives.

Such a debate may not result in a victory for secular humanism. But even if it does, secular humanists would still face the much greater practical task of embedding their convictions in secular versions of the religious institutions, rituals and customs that even today remain vital fixtures in our social world. But Kitcher’s challenge, unlike Dawkins’s, is one that reflective believers have no easy way of evading, and meeting it may well seriously revise their understanding of their faith.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


FBI Teaches Agents: ‘Mainstream’ Muslims Are ‘Violent, Radical’

By Spencer Ackerman 

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.
Focusing on the religious behavior of American citizens instead of proven indicators of criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing makes it more likely that the FBI will miss the real warning signs of terrorism. And depicting Islam as inseparable from political violence is exactly the narrative al-Qaida spins — as is the related idea that America and Islam are necessarily in conflict. That’s why FBI whistleblowers provided Danger Room with these materials.

Over the past few years, American Muslim civil rights groups have raised alarm about increased FBI and police presence in Islamic community centers and mosques, fearing that their lawful behavior is being targeted under the broad brush of counterterrorism. The documents may help explain the heavy scrutiny.

They certainly aren’t the first time the FBI has portrayed Muslims in a negative light during Bureau training sessions. As Danger Room reported in July, the FBI’s Training Division has included anti-Islam books, and materials that claim Islam “transforms [a] country’s culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.” When Danger Room confronted the FBI with that material, an official statement issued to us claimed, “The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced.”

But these documents aren’t relics from an earlier era. One of these briefings, titled “Strategic Themes and Drivers in Islamic Law,” took place on March 21.

The Islam briefings are elective, not mandatory. “A disclaimer accompanied the presentation stating that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government,” FBI spokesman Christopher Allen tells Danger Room.

“The training materials in question were delivered as Stage Two training to counterterrorism-designated agents,” Allen adds. “This training was largely derived from a variety of open source publications and includes the opinion of the analyst that developed the lesson block.”

Not all counterterrorism veterans consider the briefings so benign. “Teaching counterterrorism operatives about obscure aspects of Islam,” says Robert McFadden, who recently retired as one of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service’s al-Qaida-hunters, “without context, without objectivity, and without covering other non-religious drivers of dangerous behavior is no way to stop actual terrorists.”

Still, at Quantico, the alleged connection between Islam and violence isn’t just stipulated. It’s literally graphed.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Photos from the Narrows

From Al Gore

Today, people from around the world will join hands to create 24 Hours of Reality. Together, we're going to focus the world's attention on the scope, scale and impact of the climate crisis.

24 Hours of Reality begins at 7 p.m. Central Time on Wednesday, September 14. Over the course of the day, there will be 24 presentations across 24 time zones in 13 languages. I'll be presenting in the final hour at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Use our simple tool to set a reminder so you don't miss it.

Together, we're going to take a stand against the "new normal." We're going to remove any doubt stirred up by deniers.

Together, we're going to catalyze urgency around an issue that impacts every one of us.

Find a presentation in your language or your part of the world and use our tool to schedule a reminder email. You'll receive 15 minutes before the event.


Make sure you're a part of this event. Make time. Tell your friends and followers you're participating and encourage them to join you.


Al Gore
Founder and Chairman
The Climate Reality Project