Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Playwright notes: Bill Clinton Hercules

This play accurately recounts President Clinton’s early childhood as gleaned from his autobiography My Life. He really did memorize the I Have A Dream speech, he really did shake JFK’s hand, his first memory really is his mother on the train platform. His daddy died before Bill was born and his mama had a bust of Elvis in the kitchen.
The events during the Presidency and governorship actually happened except there is no evidence that the Chinese navy went to Los Angeles to take out the cast of Friends.  There is an eleven-foot statue of him in Kosovo.  President Carter did send the Cubans to Arkansas (but a great unsung hero of his administration, Gene Eisenberg, spoke to Clinton). There was a trashed hotel suite in Iowa after President Clinton had a phone call with Senator Kennedy in 2008.  There really was a bearded hippy Bill who gave a heartfelt speech.  The events of the 1996 shutdown/snowstorm are condensed except it really was one week between President Clinton going Odysseus and the shutdown being over.
He is close with George Bush Sr.  He does not to my knowledge have a problem with Leon Panetta and Alan Greenspan.  He has never said in public that he would do anything else but support Hillary utterly in her political ambitions.  He did say some very encouraging things about Occupy when asked by reporters. 
He re-reads Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troy every year.  Why does he read it every year? What does he find there? How does it feed him? I think it is the joyful ending when the world is a better place.  The miracle of changing people’s minds.
The dream at the end of the play is mine. I dreamed at the beginning of the Arab Spring, asleep in Washington.  I took it to Occupy and my dangerous sign that got me kettled in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral said Justice Is Possible.
I was just picking salad in the garden when the thunder rumbled. Look to the world stage. A storm is coming. Governments collapse (Iraq, Syria). Cities fall into desolation (Detroit, Mosul, Gaza City). Fascism looms in Europe. A Taliban arises in America,  armed with corporate  religious beliefs out of the reach of the rule of law. A despot dismantles the NHS.  Police states replace democracy.  Wars rage. No one speaks for peace.
Except Bill Clinton Hercules.  This character – this play – is a creation that merges Clinton’s best self with Rachel weeping for her children.  He speaks for peace and freedom.   His grasping for life can be yours too. The heroism of Hercules is your heroism.   You are like Bill Clinton who is like Hercules started:  a human with a mother.

I quote Thomas Paine, the man from Lewes who wrote Common Sense. “When my country, into which I had just set my foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir.” Now is the time to make real the promises of our democracy.  

Monday, July 21, 2014


Oranges by Gary Soto 

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The 1992 Bill Clinton Stump Speech

What has changed since then? Twenty-two years later ... 



Ten years ago we had the highest wages in the world and now we’re ten. Ten years ago of the 22 richest countries in the world, we were eighth in the equality of our income distribution and now we’re dead last.


Middle class people have worked harder for lower wages, spent less time with their children and spent more for health care, housing, education and taxes only to get less far.  Poverty has exploded and how could it not? Where could can poor people go when there is no middle class to work into?

George Bush says this can’t be the federal government’s concern. This is for the local government. This is for the thousand points of light.

Well, a friend of mine said it’s kind of hard to be one of the thousand points of light if you can’t pay your electric bill.


We can’t go on like this. If you vote for me this is what I am going to do.


I will give you growth. I will give you prosperity. We will double highway spending, put some people to work. We’ll give dignity back to the working poor. We will change the banking system in this country . . . [DROWN OUT BY APPLAUSE]

Let’s look to other countries. There are places with universal healthcare, a four week paid vacation every year and shorter hours and sick leave for people and for their children. Maternity leave.

We are talking about a politics of empowerment here where we enable people to do things they never thought they could do and then require them to do it. We are talking about spending more money for childcare and healthcare. We are talking about asking managers to stop raising their pay by four times as much as their workers pay goes up and instead by making their profits the old-fashioned way.

We are asking the politicians to show courage to change and come together.

This is the longest lasting democracy on the face of the earth because at every critical juncture in our history we came together and we had the courage to change.

If you are sick and tired of the politics of division and you don’t want a president who will do anything it takes to win but a president who will do anything it takes to help you win, then I ask you to vote for me. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Leon Panetta Problem

So last week I went to the annual data protection update and meeting of the great and good in UK information regulation at Bird & Bird, a law firm unparalleled for its insight and hands-on guidance in data protection matters. It's always a lovely and interesting event.

This year, it kicked off with two speakers, one from the Ministry of Justive high up in the EU (where they are drafting new data protection regs even as we speak)(except it does seem like a phenomenally leisurely pace to workhorse Americans like myself) and from the ICO, the Information Commissioner's Office, the people enforcing the data protection regs in the UK.

They were both impressive, insightful, well-versed in their subject matter and authentic human beings. They both mentioned that they were working to address the "Snowden Revelations". So they talked about EU regulations that would fine private businesses for inadequately disclosing data breaches, and they talked about prosecuting prison authorities that lost USB sticks with names of prisoners, but I didn't really hear anything that addressed the Snowden Revelations. Right? Essentially, the Snowden Revelations are about how the government itself with minimal oversight (two drunk Lords) had aligned itself with the NSA, accepted the NSA funding of the GCHQ and were using Finfisher and other software to listen to everything we said. What came out at the same time as the Snowden Revelations in the UK was the degree to which the police classified activists as terrorists and targeted groups with infiltrators in the past. It became clear that at a minimum 20% of our Occupy membership was likely undercover MET police.

Now, it's nice to fine prisons for stupid mistakes, but these guys got up and said that the principals of privacy and data protection enshrined in the EU constitution and the common law were SACRED. They agreed they were sacred. Yet the biggest violator of these sacred principles is their employer. So the poor dude from the Ministry of Justice got ahead of me in line at the coffee break and I laid all this out for him. To his credit, he spoke from the heart, about the IRA bombings and murders when he was growing up in London, and how he thought national security was a legitimate interest that outweighed privacy at the discretion of the government.

But his eyes were troubled when he said it.  The exception has become the rule, the greatest violator of our freedoms is the state itself. Now that I am 47 I am mellowing and I actually feel bad for the people that I lay into.

My father-in-law Sir David Williams wrote Not in the Public Interest, a legal treatise on the state secrets/national security exception to transparency in democracy and government. He warned that this exception could swallow the rule. He was right and that was back in the 70's.

In Bill Clinton Hercules, Bill calls it the Leon Panetta problem. This comes from the Vanity Fair article about a year ago about the Obama administration. The article recounts how Hillary when she was Secretary of State was complaining about drone killings to Obama in front of Leon Panetta, who was at the time Secretary of Defense. Panetta laughs at her complaints, leans over the table sneering and says, "you just don't get it, do you?"

Well, in the play Bill says this:

Nothing in my life has infuriated me like that sentence from that man. Not Starr. Not Gingrich. Not Greenspan. Because right there’s the failure of the rule of law, right there’s the failure of democracy, right there… in one snide little comment.
What he’s saying is that there is no branch of government more powerful than the CIA. We are running things, sweetheart. Democracy is ”window-dressing”. The secret forces are in charge. How can you not get it?”

Leon Panetta.... What the hell happened in Washington while I was gone? 9/11 does not justify that…

So anyway, this is what I was thinking about at Bird & Bird while these kind men said they were addressing the "Snowden Revelations". That really they weren't. 

And yet I have hope that they will, that they are men of good faith who will get there. I have hope that the brain trust in data protection law will turn their attention - perhaps surreptitiously - to protecting our data, ourselves, our democracy - from its greatest threat, their own employer. I hope. I hope. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On the Pulse of Morning

 by Maya Angelou 

Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, January 20, 1993.

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.
Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers -- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours -- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ode to Ida Lillian

Ode to Ida Lillian and Grief Poems
(Rachel Mariner)

Words can ease pain mildly if there is truth there.
An ice pack of words.
But I found nothing.
There are sappy ones, forgivably sappy, but not my thing.
Where is heaven exactly?

There are poems telling the grievers to buck up.
Look for the baby in the sunshine and stars and . . .
No thank you, completely unacceptable.
I need a poem that shows just the grief.

But pure grief is too painful.
Maybe especially for the poets.
Even Shakespeare softens the blow with a joke, a hope, an upswing.
Today that would be a lie.

I want a poem that tells of Ida Lillian Kuller.
Especially beloved.
The epicenter of earthquakes in hearts up and down the Eastern seaboard.
The poem should depict her house in ruins, toppled, wreckage.
I need a poem where far-flung friends wonder about so much pain.
And hate their helplessness.
Scroll furiously on an iPad past poems not good enough.
Still they stare and scroll and wish.

This is the grief poem I need.