An Aside to the Reagan Shooting Anniversary

Thirty years ago tonight, I was doing a weekly jazz show on the public station where I lived. When I got in, the Operations Manager said I’d have to join PBS LIVE at the top of the hour…and that was really hard to do. I laughed a bit, and said I’d joined NBC news live every evening for 4 years, it wouldn’t be a problem. The General Manager, with whom I’d gone to college, also found it amusing.


Just before the top of the hour, I was ending a song, and was reminded that I had to join the network, and had to be EXACTLY on time. I said, “No problem. I’ll come out of the record (which were still being played 30 years ago!), do the weather, a legal ID, and join PBS exactly at the top of the hour.”  The Operations Manager and about a half dozen staffers were in the studio watching…they didn’t seem to think this was possible. My buddy the General Manager was in the hallway just smiling.


Of course, everything worked perfectly. Just like riding a bike, you don’t forget how to join a live network broadcast after you’ve done that for years and years. Yes, after the update about the President’s condition in the newscast, the jazz rolled on!


They say moments like the Reagan shooting are defining moments. Having been through the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, and the shooting of President Reagan, I am one of those who can tell you exactly where I was when each occurred. If you were around then, I bet you can too!



Health Care & Bargaining-A Real Story

On Friday, March 25th, the Vermont House passed single payer health care. The Senate there is looking to follow suit, and the governor will sign it…making Vermont the first state in the country to have a program similar to Medicare for all its citizens. Even after this, they still have to get federal permission to put it into effect under ERISA before 2017- they have introduced and amendment in Congress to move the waiver date to 2014, which is endorsed by President Obama.


Contrast this to the Wisconsin situation where a law has just passed stripping government workers of collective bargaining rights.  While this really looks more and more like a blatant union-busting tactic, let’s say for the sake of argument that it really is just to cut costs.


To bring this down to the individual level, I offer my own story in a nutshell. Just about a year ago, I had to have major surgery…without which I would have a nasty cancer by now, and would be on the way to a lousy and slow demise. While the health insurance of my previous employer would have paid for surgery, they would have only paid for the old fashioned “crack your chest open” way…which the Chief Surgeon and Professor of Medicine I was seeing at UCSF Medical Center said would have worked, but cuts through the vocal chords. Since I use my voice for a living, that would have saved my life, but would have been a career-ender.


With the good UNION insurance I have through my present employer, a product of collective bargaining, I didn’t have to choose between a much shortened life and miserable slow death and ending my career and becoming homeless. I was able to have a type of “minimally invasive” surgery only performed at UCSF in San Francisco and a handful of other medical centers around the country.


For all our problems in this country, we are still the richest in the world, and our people shouldn’t have to make such choices! Think about that the next time you hear about “death panels!” Those already exist…they are the people that say “no” at insurance companies, in order to fatten their bottom line at the expense of peoples’ lives and quality of life. To me, profit at the expense of my life doesn’t seem like the American Way!


Operation Odyssey Dawn & The War Powers Act

With all the noise from the right and left on President Obama’s leading the US into the Libya “no-fly zone,” and “all necessary means” to protect Libya’s people from Moammar Gadhafi’s brutality (and it would be nice if there was a standard spelling of his name), it seemed a good time to look at an overview of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (which is commonly called the War Powers Act.)


The act was passed by Congress to re-assert it’s role in the use of US armed forces abroad in hostile situations. While the Constitution gives the President the Commander in Chief of the armed forces role (Art. II, Sec. 2), it also gives Congress the power to make declarations of war, and to raise and support the armed forces (Art. I, Sec. 8.)


In fact, various Presidents over the years have committed US forces some 125 times without the declaration of war or later Congressional approval. The formal declaration of war has only been made twice in the last 100 years, World War One and World War Two.


During the operations in Kosovo, President Clinton noted that he considered the War Powers Resolution constitutionally defective. Members of the House filed suit. The court ruled in favor of the President, holding that the Members lacked legal standing to bring the suit; this decision was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. See Campbell v. Clinton, 203 F.3d 19 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from this decision, in effect letting it stand.


This decision gives a President wide latitude to exercise the Commander in Chief power, which makes calls for impeachment seem like just a lot of partisan throat clearing.


A Need for A Facebook for Neighbors?

According to an article at, Everyblock, the hyperlocal news source, has relaunched itself as a community site. “We’re shifting from a one-way newsfeed to more of a community-empowered website,” says EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty. “Instead of going to the site to passively consume information, we’re going to offer a platform for posting messages to your neighbors, to discover who lives near you.”


Holovaty goes on to note that sites such as Facebook enable you focus on neighbors, not necessarily people you already know. In addition to the neighborhood-specific news, business reviews, crime reports and real estate listings the site delivered previously, new features encourage users to share and discuss local news, meet one another and coordinate neighborhood activities.


My question is whether people will actually care about reaching out to neighbors in this way…in other words, is this a product trying to fill a need that’s not really there?


Beaming Electricity-Pipe Dream?

The devastation from the quake and tsunami in Japan, aside from the obvious terrible human losses and destruction of structures also raises another issue…transmission of power. The nuclear reactor problems are getting a huge amount of media attention, as they should. In the meantime, people are without necessities like food, water, & shelter.

It’s worth noting that not so much information is coming out as we have seen recently in Egypt, Tunisia, and other places where unrest has or may overturn regimes. It’s likely that a lot of this is due to the loss of electricity…which we rely on for daily needs, from household to running gas pumps. It goes without saying that it also runs the computers and cell towers that enable smartphones people use to post updates on the web.

An interesting thought for the future…transmitting the electrical power through the air without wires, so it could be rerouted virtually anywhere. No, I don’t have the plan for this, nor the capacity to form one, but offer this as a thought starter to perhaps find it’s way to some brilliant scientific minds out there. If we can beam radio waves around, how about figuring out a way to safely and economically beaming the actual electricity? Ok, geniuses…the ball’s in your court!

Corporations- No personal privacy

The Supreme Court today ruled 8-0 that corporations do not have a right of personal privacy which would prevent disclosure of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts said that, despite the use of the terms “person” and “personhood” in describing corporations (and perhaps walking corporate rights back a tad after the Citizens United decision of last year), AT&T could not claim that a FOIA disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

The FCC had released some information under an open records request, but withtheld other documents over concerns that business secrets or humans’ privacy might be compromised. The trade secrets protection for corporations still stands.

Justice Kagan worked on the dispute while at the Justice Department, and did not take part in the case. (FCC v. AT&T, 09-1279).