Monday, September 8, 2014

The World War III Version- Bill Clinton Hercules

When I was in college, the drama society put on Jail Diary of Albee Sachs. the true story of a white South African lawyer repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for his anti-apartheid views. Real triumph of the human spirit stuff. Great play and great performances. It sticks in my memory mostly for a comment made by Jim Young, the artistic director for Wheaton College theater at that time. When asked if he was satisfied with the performance, he said he would be satisfied when the audience was so overwhelmed that they held hands and cried, and then all got on a plane to South Africa, vowing never to depart until apartheid was dismantled. When apartheid was actually dismantled, he would be satisfied.

I have truly come to admire his high standards.

It is boring and wanky to write about what it means to be an artist and what the process is of art. This surprised me: I would complain to my friends about the small difficulties I experienced in Edinburgh and they would say in all earnestness (because these are European friends I am talking about) that they empathized with the artistic process. As if the suffering were mandatory. At this I would shake my head. Maybe an eye-roll. I don't believe in that stuff. I'm here to cut to the chase.

What play do I write that gets people holding hands and crying, and promising to each other that they will stand up for justice and democracy? What play is that? Because I need to write that play very quickly. I'm getting stressed out.

I don't know about you but I am completely freaking out here over ISIS, Ukraine, Gaza, Scotland, Ebola, NATO, the Ministry of Justice - like I can't even be on Facebook for more than a second before it all gets too much for me. World War III is in the air. People are terrified.

In this panic, in this deference to leaders and to war that I am sure is upon us, in the scourge of racism and fascism consuming England, I want to do the right thing by my children and I know you do too. I want to build a better world for them. For decades the middle class have looked only inside their own houses, to the welfare of their own children, the size of their own extension (I just had planning permission granted)... but now blood and tears are spilling out of Eastern Europe and out of the Middle East. It may be that we will not have the luxuries of our consumerist decades in the future. It may be that we will be forced by circumstance to look outside our own houses. It may be that we still can better the world. It may be that justice is possible.

And whether it is unrealistic to imagine the scourge of war, surely it is a sound use of time to imagine a better world, to plot against the panic, to see our way clear to the standards of democracy and justice set by our mothers and fathers. Remember our heroes. Remember the rule of law that stirred our hearts in law school. Show trials? Secret courts? Mass surveillance? This is what we have now? What choice do we have but to stand up for what we believe in? No one is more surprised than I am that this is the message. But it is the message.

If I'm not mistaken, we are all sleepwalking into WWIII. I hope I am mistaken, but it is a dim hope. I want like Jim Young for people to hold hands and cry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


So I am reading and re-reading and re-reading some more the Lev Grossman trilogy - The Magicians, Magician King and Magician's Land. There is a part I keep re-reading, where the hero, the magnificent and geeky Quentin Makepeace Coldwater graduates from Brakebills - the real upstate NY Hogwarts - and Dean Fogg talks to the graduating class about magic. Putatively magic. Actually, maybe, I hear Grossman talking about writing.

"I have a little theory that I'd like to air here, if I may. What is it that you think makes you magicians?" More silence. Fogg was well into rhetorical-question territory now anyway. He spoke more softly. "Is it because you are intelligent? Is it because you are brave and good? Is it because you're special?

"Maybe. Who knows. But I'll tell you something: I think you're magicians because you're unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. Hefeels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

"Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.

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.