In light of last night’s State of the Union message, this seems like a very good time to return to the lyrics of that Bob Dylan evergreen, The Times They Are a-Changin, written in 1963 (the same year JFK died).  Some may find his lyrics trite, but, if you can get past the adolescent angst, I think there's still some wisdom to be gleaned, no matter what your political perspective: 

Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pens
And keep your eyes open, the chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon, the wheel's still in spin
And there's no telling who that it's naming
Oh the loser will be later to win
For the times, they are a-changin

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he that has stalled
The battle outside raging will soon shake your windows
And rattle your hall
For the times, they are a-changin

Come mothers and fathers all over this land
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughter are beyond your command
Your old role is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin

The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
And the present now will soon be the past
The order is rapidly fading
The first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a-changin

What if a foreign agent came into this country to kill 6,000 and injure 500,000 people?  Do you think the American people would be up in arms demanding the government do something to stop this carnage?

Well, those are the casualty figures quoted by the US Department of Transportation, in support of a ban on text messaging by truck drivers. The law went into effect this week.

Yet, there’s controversy. Apparently, it’s one thing if bad guys kill lots of people, and another if good ole boys in trucks do it.  

Here are a few comments I found related to an story announcing the new law:

Who does Obama think he is?  Moses?  "Thou shalt not text and drive"  Even though I agree that texting and driving is an accident waiting to happen, this is not his business.  Restrictions and regulations on operating a motor vehicle falls under States rights.  Speed limits, seat belt laws, helmet laws, are all up to individual States.  The Federal government has no right to impose laws such as this. 

It is time again for the American trucker to take action and tell the government to kiss off!

So listen up, guys. While you’re pulling one, two or three trailers worth of Wal-Mart products across federal interstates, don’t knit, write letters to your mom, put on makeup, file your nails, practice guitar or perfect your knuckle ball. If you do, expect to pay the price, so someone else doesn’t have to.  

Mobilization Against the War, November 1969--photo by phc
I lived, studied and worked in Washington DC throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Between 1968 and 1972, everyone I knew believed we were headed for revolution.

There had already been bombings, and we knew (people who knew) people who were being investigated as possible radicals, etc. Several had their phones tapped; others saw men in white jumpsuits going through their trash. Thousands of mostly young people had been arrested in various demonstrations in the city, fueling the fires. Given the number of people under 30 who hated the government, a full-blown revolt was a given, not a guess. Just a matter of time until the crazies got their act together.

To prepare for the inevitable, our neighborhood worked out telephone trees and contingency escape plans. We lived only a few blocks from the US Capitol building, a magnet for rebellion. Everyone figured our block could be torched, as happened in other parts of the city during the 1968 riots. I remember putting together a box of stuff I didn’t want to lose. It would be the last thing I grabbed when I left. 
Around 1974-75, something happened: Absolutely nothing! The war was over. Nixon was on his way out. Radicals traded in their fatigues for polyester pants suits, hippy anthems for disco, and quite a few gave up politics for cocaine. By then, I had moved to New York, and no one I met in NY had ever even heard of the revolution that almost took place. It was as if I had arrived from another planet. Go figure.

Mobe, 1969, photo by phc
With this historical background in mind, I bring you an update on the new revolution, which seems to be having a tough time getting off the ground.  
From The New York Times

January 26, 2010
Tea Party Disputes Take Toll on Convention
y Kate Zernike

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment. 

The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny. 

Tea Party events exploded last winter, as increasingly large gatherings protested the federal stimulus bill, government bailouts and proposed health care legislation. While they vary by name, specific tenets and relative embrace of anarchy, such groups tend to unite around fiscal conservatism and a belief that the federal government — whether led by Republicans or Democrats — has overstepped its constitutional powers. 

Tea Party Nation, the convention organizer, started as a social networking site for the groups last year, a kind of Facebook for conservatives to “form bonds, network and make plans for action.” But its founders, former sponsors and participants are now trading accusations.

Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, announced late Sunday that “amid growing controversy” around the convention, his organization would no longer participate. His group seeks to take over the Republican Party from the bottom by filling the ranks of local and state parties with grass-roots conservatives, and Mr. Glass had been scheduled to lead workshops on its strategy. 

“We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement,” he said in a statement. “We were under the impression that T.P.N. was a nonprofit organization like N.P.A., interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”

To continue reading this story, click "Read More" in the lower right corner, below. 
There are some real gems in this piece by David Brooks, pertinent to the understanding of the appeal of the Tea Party movement and other diversions. 

from The New York Times 
January 26, 2010
The Populist Addiction
By David Brooks

Politics,  some believe, is the organization of hatreds. The people who try to divide society on the basis of ethnicity we call racists. The people who try to divide it on the basis of religion we call sectarians. The people who try to divide it on the basis of social class we call either populists or elitists.

These two attitudes — populism and elitism — seem different, but they’re really mirror images of one another. They both assume a country fundamentally divided. They both describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers.

Both attitudes will always be with us, but these days populism is in vogue. The Republicans have their populists. Sarah Palin has been known to divide the country between the real Americans and the cultural elites. And the Democrats have their populists. Since the defeat in Massachusetts, many Democrats have apparently decided that their party has to mimic the rhetoric of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. They’ve taken to dividing the country into two supposedly separate groups — real Americans who live on Main Street and the insidious interests of Wall Street.

It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.

Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.

Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

So it’s easy to see the seductiveness of populism. Nonetheless, it nearly always fails. The history of populism, going back to William Jennings Bryan, is generally a history of defeat.

That’s because voters aren’t as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time: First, that the rich and the powerful do rig the game in their own favor; and second, that simply bashing the rich and the powerful will still not solve the country’s problems.

Political populists never get that second point. They can’t seem to grasp that a politics based on punishing the elites won’t produce a better-educated work force, more investment, more innovation or any of the other things required for progress and growth.

In fact, this country was built by anti-populists. It was built by people like Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln who rejected the idea that the national economy is fundamentally divided along class lines. They rejected the zero-sum mentality that is at the heart of populism, the belief that economics is a struggle over finite spoils. Instead, they believed in a united national economy — one interlocking system of labor, trade and investment.

Hamilton championed capital markets and Lincoln championed banks, not because they loved traders and bankers. They did it because they knew a vibrant capitalist economy would maximize opportunity for poor boys like themselves. They were willing to tolerate the excesses of traders because they understood that no institution is more likely to channel opportunity to new groups and new people than vigorous financial markets.

In their view, government’s role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair — to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance. Theirs was a philosophy that celebrated development, mobility and work, wherever those things might be generated.

The populists have an Us versus Them mentality. If they continue their random attacks on enterprise and capital, they will only increase the pervasive feeling of uncertainty, which is now the single biggest factor in holding back investment, job creation and growth. They will end up discrediting good policies (the Obama bank reforms are quite sensible) because they will persuade the country that the government is in the hands of reckless Huey Longs.

They will have traded dynamic optimism, which always wins, for combative divisiveness, which always loses. 

Connecticut Republicans are so taken with the success of Scott Brown, they’ve asked Brown's brother Bruce, a security alarm salesman, to consider running for office in their state. In this television interview, Bruce says he’s looking forward to a Mitt Romney/Scott Brown ticket in 2012.

If appearance is to be our gold standard for picking candidates to run for the presidency, make mine George Clooney/Brad Pitt.  Actually, when you think about it, actors make the best puppet candidates because -- unlike unnamed rogues -- actors are accustomed to following direction and masters at convincing the audience that every word they utter is sincere. 

View more news videos at:

haven’t been able to write for a week, in part, because the election of Scott Brown took the wind out of me. 

Funny thing, Brown drew most of his votes from suburban Boston. Out here in the boons, where cows rule and people might think no one pays attention to issues, Coakely led 2 or 3 to 1. Brown's message---which, frankly, was hard for me to discern from the two debates I watched, as well as his advertising—certainly resonated with a lot of people. 

The only concrete issue I heard loud and clear was health care reform, which he vowed to quash. Brown promised he would place the 41st vote against it so the people of Massachusetts would not lose their relationships with their own doctors. Apparently, many of those who elected him do not read the newspapers (or blogs), otherwise they would know that health care reform is a non-issue in this state, since we already have mandatory insurance, our own form of public option, etc. Maybe they don't want the rest of the country to have what they already have?

Whatever. If this election taught us anything, I think it’s this (in addition to what all the usual pundits have written):

1. Never underestimate the power of sex appeal in an election. 
2. Assume all voters are ignorant, then educate them.
3. Underdogs have an unlimited advantage, no matter what the issue. You can always find something to combat.
4. Political parties don’t like to spend money on campaigns unless they must. The Democrats thought they were going to get away cheaply on this one. The Republicans never lent a hand until they smelled blood in the water, then the millions poured in to bring campaign workers from Texas, of all places.
5. Even in 2010 and even in Massachusetts, a woman---no matter how accomplished or respected---will fall beneath the wheels of a not-so accomplished guy in a flannel shirt if he plays the testosterone card, implying she’s (what?) not a “real woman", in some way. Pick-up truck, indeed! What a gimmick!

The message we must take from the nationwide elation over the election of Scott Brown is a sizable population is still hungry for the George W. Bushes and other regular Joes --the ones with the square jaws, the straight talk and the uncomplicated names -- who say they are man enough to take the air out of those we elected a short year ago to get us out of the mess those same Joes left us in.  

Why is that?


I’m pleased to publish a guest post today written by Frank Almaguer, US Ambassador to Honduras from 1999-2002, and a friend of mine for about 40 years. 

Frank and Antoinette were my neighbors in Washington DC while they were between Peace Corps assignments. We’ve been friends ever since. 

Both Almaguers gave many good years to the Peace Corps, working in several Central American countries and at headquarters in DC. Antoinette was the Haiti desk officer. Later, Frank served as a senior official for USAID at a number of posts in Central and South America.  

I visited the Almaguers in Panama while Frank was assistant director for USAID. We toured the countryside, and I remember an unusual housing project he was anxious to show me, where people could own their own land in what was once a shantytown on the edge of Panama City. Later, we all headed north for a weekend holiday, and visited a successful coffee coop perched high in the mountains near Costa Rica. These were typical of the economic development projects Frank oversaw for USAID, helping Panamanians help themselves. 

In 2004, he served as US delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Today, Frank is assistant secretary for the Secretariat for Administration and Finance for the Organization of American States, an international organization that grew out of the former Pan American Union, and whose members are the 35 independent states of the Americas, including Haiti. (Note: The OAS is not a US government agency.)

Antoinette, a regular reader of this blog, asked me to post this letter her husband sent out today to friends and family. It describes another on-the-ground charity you might want to donate to, directly:

Dear All:  

While we may get tired of all the solicitations that are going on around the world, every penny is badly needed. 

The text-messaging tool has been a tremendous way to mobilize resources.  However, those funds become available only when the donor pays his or her phone bill.  That could be a month or two from now. 

The urgency right now is for the basics in human survival: water, food, and sanitation. These things cannot wait!  

I am strongly recommending that you contribute whatever you can to the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the development and disaster relief foundation affiliated with the OAS.  

PADF, the natural disaster relief arm of the Organization of American States, has more than 150 people working in Haiti on economic development, disaster mitigation and protecting human rights. PADF is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C.

I am making this recommendation not because PADFis linked to my employer, OAS.  Rather, I know PADF's work and I have known its director, John Sanbrailo, for 30 years.  I can vouch for the integrity and commitment of the entire PADF staff, as well as for John's competence and compassion. I just transferred $100,000 to PADF from the OAS accounts.  

At this point, Exxon, FEDEX and Bank of America, among others, have made significant cash and in-kind contributions to PADF.  For example, early this morning, a FEDEX plane landed in Port-au-Prince delivering water purification supplies and medicines.

Their Web site is, or call a special toll-free number to make a donation: (877) 572-4484.

By all accounts, this may be the single biggest natural disaster to afflict the Western Hemisphere in a century.  Every little bit helps.  Pass this on to others.

Love to all,

Read this on-the-ground report from the former director of PADF:

Today, January 15, marks the first anniversary of the amazing landing made by US Airways Flight 1549 onto and into the Hudson River. It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since those stunning 3 minutes. Who will ever forget the image of 155 people standing on the wings of their plane, waiting to be rescued in the icy Hudson? 

More than half the survivors have spent a few days together in New York. Today they’ll return to the crash site by boat, then get a chance to personally thank the captain, crew, rescuers and others who helped them through the ordeal, at a special dinner.

According to a story published earlier this week in The New York Times, “For a lot of us, it’s closure,” said Tracey Allen-Wolsko, a passenger who has been involved in organizing the get-together. 

Closure. Yes, it’s important to wrap up loose ends if you are to survive the after-effects of survival, whether you have lived through an act of war, a violent crime, years of child abuse, a horrific accident or even a catastrophic hurricane or earthquake. 

You need to go back to the scene, safely. Have your fears acknowledged and understood. Get your questions answered. Hear what others remember about the event. Then, face down the demon and see that you can walk away from it, unharmed. 

Without closure, PTSD will keep many from moving on with their lives, even if they think they are fine. 

A few years ago, I heard a story on public radio about several people who survived a brutal mid-day bank robbery. Robbers randomly assassinated customers and employees, then locked the survivors in the vault on their way out.

Years later, those who survived still talked about what it was like to stand in a bank line one second and come face to face with death, the next. By the time they realized what was happening, the horror was over. 

Although many years had passed, disbelief, anger and survivor-guilt remained. You could hear it in their voices. PTSD therapy and emotional support helped some, but not others. One woman still had trouble sleeping.  A man couldn’t seem to follow through on projects, or build close relationships. 

While I listened to this story, something odd happened. An emotional dam burst inside me. Sobs welled up from I-don’t-know-where.  At first, I thought I was just mourning for those unfortunate people caught in a bank robbery. Then I realized I was mourning for myself for I, too, had my own near misses while plowing through life's minefields, and had never dealt with them properly. 

Why not? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that most people – even family – don’t like to listen to other people’s problems. Also, if they see you’re sitting before them and appear to be fine, they doubt you were ever in any real danger. If you were, there’s always the possibility you brought it on yourself, right?

Funny, because (most of the time) we don’t blame the passengers when a plane falls out of the sky. But, if a person is raped, robbed or beaten by a spouse, we might. 

We fully expect soldiers to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, but what about people who have walked in on a robbery, or were raped by a trusted friend or family member, or beaten by a partner in a fit of rage? Or those who faced danger on the job? Maybe they watched a man shot and killed through the lens of their own camera, and wondered if the next bullet had their name on it. Or maybe, they saw their world swallowed up by an earthquake, or watched a loved one wash away in a flood.

Dear readers, I know at least one of us found herself at the butt-end of a gun on her own doorstep. Another made a crash landing in a small plane, and one was hit broadside by another aircraft in a runway accident.

Certainly, anyone who’s seen battle deserves all the help and support they can get. I’m glad we hang yellow ribbons, erect billboards thanking veterans for their service, and salute them in annual parades. Public displays of appreciation can go a long way to heal the wounds of trauma. 

But we don’t give the same support to victims of street crime, domestic crime, natural disasters and run-of-the-mill accidents, even though you can get just as dead.

I believe every victim needs to know someone realizes how close they came to death and is glad they made it. They need to know they had a right to be scared, and fully deserved their second chance at life.  

If we can’t throw that person a parade, erect a billboard or celebrate their survival with a dinner, at least we can offer an ear, a hand or a hug.  Or, use the Flight 1549 celebration to say “thank goodness” for all survivors.  

So, here’s to you, Sully, the crew, the survivors and the rescuers. And, here’s to everyone who’s ever wondered if they were going to breathe another breath, and then did. 

Tracy Kidder wrote an op-ed for today’s New York Times. I’m posting it here in its entirety for your convenience, but you can find it at

January 14, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor

Country Without a Net

THOSE who know a little of Haiti’s history might have watched the news last night and thought, as I did for a moment: “An earthquake? What next? Poor Haiti is cursed.”

But while earthquakes are acts of nature, extreme vulnerability to earthquakes is manmade. And the history of Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters — to floods and famine and disease as well as to this terrible earthquake — is long and complex, but the essence of it seems clear enough.

Haiti is a country created by former slaves, kidnapped West Africans, who, in 1804, when slavery still flourished in the United States and the Caribbean, threw off their cruel French masters and created their own republic. Haitians have been punished ever since for claiming their freedom: by the French who, in the 1820s, demanded and received payment from the Haitians for the slave colony, impoverishing the country for years to come; by an often brutal American occupation from 1915 to 1934; by indigenous misrule that the American government aided and abetted. (In more recent years American administrations fell into a pattern of promoting and then undermining Haitian constitutional democracy.)

Hence the current state of affairs: at least 10,000 private organizations perform supposedly humanitarian missions in Haiti, yet it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Some of the money that private aid organizations rely on comes from the United States government, which has insisted that a great deal of the aid return to American pockets — a larger percentage than that of any other industrialized country.

But that is only part of the problem. In the arena of international aid, a great many efforts, past and present, appear to have been doomed from the start. There are the many projects that seem designed to serve not impoverished Haitians but the interests of the people administering the projects. Most important, a lot of organizations seem to be unable — and some appear to be unwilling — to create partnerships with each other or, and this is crucial, with the public sector of the society they’re supposed to serve.

The usual excuse, that a government like Haiti’s is weak and suffers from corruption, doesn’t hold — all the more reason, indeed, to work with the government. The ultimate goal of all aid to Haiti ought to be the strengthening of Haitian institutions, infrastructure and expertise.

This week, the list of things that Haiti needs, things like jobs and food and reforestation, has suddenly grown a great deal longer. The earthquake struck mainly the capital and its environs, the most densely populated part of the country, where organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations have their headquarters. A lot of the places that could have been used for disaster relief — including the central hospital, such as it was — are now themselves disaster areas.

But there are effective aid organizations working in Haiti. At least one has not been crippled by the earthquake. Partners in Health, or in Haitian Creole Zanmi Lasante, has been the largest health care provider in rural Haiti. (I serve on this organization’s development committee.) It operates, in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health, some 10 hospitals and clinics, all far from the capital and all still intact. As a result of this calamity, Partners in Health probably just became the largest health care provider still standing in all Haiti.

Fortunately, it also offers a solid model for independence — a model where only a handful of Americans are involved in day-to-day operations, and Haitians run the show. Efforts like this could provide one way for Haiti, as it rebuilds, to renew the promise of its revolution. 

To contribute to the Partners in Health relief effort in Haiti, click here.