Uncle Sam

Different vision of America? No argument here.

In his opening speech at the recent Tea Party Convention held in Nashville, former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo claimed that Obama would never have been elected if we'd still had the Jim Crow era "civics, literacy test before people can vote."

Guess he misses the good old days of separate but equal, huh? Amazingly, he was applauded rather than booed off the stage.

Tancredo also attacked "the cult of multiculturalism, aided by leftists, liberals all over who don't have the same idea about America as we do."

Tom Tancredo is right. I don't have the same idea about America as he does, and I thank God for that. America is only the great country it is because it is and has always been a cultural melting pot, built on the ideas and strengths of immigrants from foreign shores melded with the cultures of its native peoples. How dare he try to "whitewash" our vision of America!

My America is painted in multicolored hues and worships a Higher Power called by many different names, or even no God at all -- most of the atheists and agnostics I know are wonderful, kind, humanistic people, who treat their neighbors with more tolerance and compassion than many of the self-proclaimed "righteous." It is from the confluence of all these ideas and differences that we have become a great nation, not because we are an ethnocentric, homogenous society that thinks the same way.

Just take a look at some of our "American" Nobel Prize winners, for example. Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the second woman to win a Nobel prize in Physics after Marie Curie, originated in Katowice, Poland, before emigrating to the U.S. and being awarded the prize in 1963. Luis Alvarez, winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics, was born in the U.S. to a family of Spanish-American descent. Mario Capecchi, winner of the 2007 prize in Medicine, spent his early years on the streets of wartime Italy while mother was imprisoned in Dachau for distributing anti-Fascist pamphlets. Chen Ning Yang, winner of the 1957 prize in Physics, emigrated here from China; Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 prize in Chemistry, from Egypt.

But it's not just the geniuses who have benefited this country. The fabric of our history is woven from the threads of each person who came to these shores seeking to live a life free of political and religious oppression, willing to work hard so that their children could have a greater opportunity to succeed. My great-grandparents were amongst those people. Ironically, so were Tom Tancredo's grandparents, all of whom came to this country from Italy. Now he's trying to pervert the national vision and seeking to close the door through which his forefathers came, denying others the American dream from which he himself has benefited?

Like many Republican candidates this election, GOP Senate primary candidate Rob Simmons has been shifting his positions rightwards and kowtowing to the Tea Party movement, disavowing previously held moderate positions and proudly telling all comers that he carries a teabag next to his pocket copy of the Constitution.

Maybe Mr. Simmons should reread that Constitution, and ask himself if being aligned with xenophobes and racists is something to be proud of. Perhaps he should take a Circle Line trip around New York Harbor so he can re-read Emma Lazarus' words engraved on the base of Lady Liberty, the "Mother of Exiles": "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

That's the idea of America I have. A melting pot America that welcomed my ancestors, and Mr. Tancredo's. If that makes me a "leftist and a liberal" then I'm proud to be one.
Uncle Sam

Not taught in schools (because it's not accurate)

I've been forcing myself to sit through Glen Beck's "documentary" "The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die." In teasers, Beck claimed it contained "history" viewers haven't seen "because progressives don't want you to know about it. It is history that is not being taught in classrooms in America ... it's a ton of information. Information that has been completely wiped from the history books."

Actually, this "history" isn't being taught in classroom because, as Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life at Boston College so succinctly puts it, Beck "lives in a complete alternative universe."

In the very first episode, Beck makes the astonishing assertion that Hitler was a "progressive," based on the mustached one's support for universal health care and access to education. From there he moves on to lump Hitler in with Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, and so he can claim that the worst genocides in history all happened under left-wing regimes.

Georgetown history professor Michael Kazin described Beck's program as "a classic piece of anti-Communist propaganda" which selectively used some facts while ignoring others. "State inhumanity -- under different economic systems -- is a terrible fact of history," Kazin said. "And, yes, Communist regimes were among the worst of them. But Beck is only interested in `exposing' inhumanity on the left. And that's why his film is propaganda."

Beck conveniently omitted the murderous right-wing regimes of Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain, Benito Mussolini of Italy, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina and General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, to name a few. Maybe because he'd have to admit that Pinochet's military dictatorship, under which thousands were killed and tortured, toppled the Allende government with the help of the CIA. Or it might be a little embarrassing to talk about Marcos when Beck's idol, Ronald Reagan, was such a good chum.

Having someone like Beck spouting revisionist history is particularly frightening in light of a recent PPP survey, which found that 49 percent of Americans trusted Fox News, 10 percentage points more than any other network. Granted, there was a strong partisan split to the result, with 74 percent of Republicans saying they trusted the network, but only 30 percent of Democrats.

"A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news," said PPP President Dean Debnam in his analysis of the poll. "But the media landscape has really changed, and now they're turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear."

This insular thinking doesn't bode well for informed political debate and it frightens me for the future of our country. Personally, I don't trust any one news source. I try to get information from as many places as possible, including sources overseas, because having lived abroad for 15 years, I've observed the ethnocentric lens through which U.S. news is reported by its own media.

How are we supposed to have intelligent and reasoned political discourse if we only listen to what we want to hear?

Fox persists in tailoring its message, even in what is ostensibly news coverage. Whereas MSNBC and CNN aired live coverage of last week's Q&A between President Obama and the GOP conference in its entirety, Fox chose to cut away with 20 minutes remaining. It was probably once producers realized that the president was taking on the GOP talking points with intelligence and actually trying to have a dialogue about policy -- but that doesn't fit with the Fox narrative. So much for "We report, you decide." More like "We decide what to report so you don't have to question your assumptions."
Uncle Sam

"I'd say now is not the time to focus on politics"

When the 7.0 magnitude quake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, the worst in a century, it left an estimated 140,000 dead (that number is still rising), 250,000 injured and 1.5 million people homeless. Even before the quake, 80 percent of Haiti's population lived under the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. Now the situation is desperate beyond imagination.

Dr. Selwyn Rogers, chief of Burn, Trauma, and Surgical Critical Care at Brigham and Women's Hospital, has been working at a Partners In Health clinic in Saint Marc:

"There is a limitless list of patients ... There were ... people with open fractures ... that are 5-6 days old ... We are seeing ... wounds equivalent to the Civil War era when open fractures were not treated surgically. It is horrific."

Dr. Mark Hyman, in Port-au-Prince, writes: "Two orthopedic surgeons ... started the first amputation without water, electricity, or disinfectant. They used a rusty hacksaw we washed with vodka, lit by camping headlamps in an empty room with a few boxes of supplies we had packed into our plane. Over the last two days, we created five operating areas to care for the 1,200 patients who are still lying on the ground outside in the hospital's courtyard. They desperately need surgery to repair their crushed and broken bones, now festering and infected in the humidity and sweltering Haitian sun. The nurses and hospital staff are either dead or at home caring for their families. In the United States we have ten staff for every patient at most hospitals. There now are only a few local staff left for thousands of patients. They, too, are dead. They, too, have lost their homes."

In the face of such suffering, most Americans have opened their hearts and their wallets, offering money, aid, medical and technical assistance and prayers. But then there's the Evangelical so-called Christian Pat Robertson, who proclaimed that the earthquake was some sort of delayed Divine retribution for a "pact to the devil" the Haitians made in 1804 in order to defeat the French colonists and gain independence.

I'd like to propose that Robertson retire from the airwaves and spend his remaining days in quiet contemplation of St. Francis' prayer:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love ...

where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; ... For it is in giving that we receive."

Another person who deserves to lose his place in public discourse and spend his time contemplating what it means to be a decent human being is Rush Limbaugh, who managed to make this into a political "race card" issue against President Obama:

"This will play right into Obama's hands. He's humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their ... `credibility' with the black community ... It's made-to-order for them."

Since when has being humanitarian and compassionate been a bad thing? Limbaugh went even further, urging people not to donate to relief efforts. "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax."

If helping Haiti might possibly benefit Limbaugh's political enemies, then Haiti must not be helped. What will it take for the GOP to denounce this creep?

Kudos to former President George W. Bush. "I don't know -- what they're talking about," he said of Limbaugh's claims. "I'd say now is not the time to focus on politics."

Fortunately, most Americans have ignored Limbaugh. A Zogby poll found that 64 percent of citizens have either given to aid relief or plan to give. Our nation, at least, understands, if Limbaugh does not, the words of I John 3:17: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
Uncle Sam

When it mattered most, Dodd stood up

Late Tuesday, I got a breaking news alert that Senator Chris Dodd planned to announce his retirement. I'd just finished writing today's column, but given this news, I started over. Overnight, the playing field had changed.

To say that the last year has been difficult for Chris Dodd is an understatement. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he's been a lightning rod for public anger about the near-collapse of the banking system in 2008. Many feel he took his eye off the oversight ball with his quixotic presidential run and was too beholden to the financial interests he was meant to be overseeing. He never recovered from the AIG bonus affair, for which he was blamed somewhat unfairly, having been thrown under the bus by the current administration. And the Countrywide mortgage scandal refused to go away, despite Dodd having been cleared in an investigation by the Senate Ethics Panel.

On a more personal level, the senator lost his sister in July, and in August, one of his longtime friends and closest Senate colleagues, Senator Ted Kennedy. While serving as acting chair of the HELP committee on Kennedy's request, working Herculean hours to make progress on health care legislation, Dodd himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Given all this and uninspiring poll numbers, it's not surprising that he's decided to call it a day.

While in some ways this is a relief for Connecticut Democrats, who faced the possibility of losing a critical Senate seat, Dodd was a veteran politician who worked hard to bring about many important pieces of legislation, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has prevented over 50 million Americans from having to choose between losing their job and caring for their family in need. It's all too easy to let the last 12 months overshadow Dodd's long and distinguished record of service, but I admire him greatly for the sentiments in his retirement speech:

"I have been a Connecticut senator for 30 years. I'm proud of the job I've done and the results delivered. But none of us are irreplaceable. None of us are indispensable.

Those who think otherwise are dangerous. The work to make our nation a more perfect union began long before I was elected to the Senate, and it will go on long after I'm gone. Our country is a work in progress. And I am confident it always will be."

It's hard not to contrast Dodd's words and with the "I will not let this result stand," statement of Connecticut's other senator after losing the Democratic primary in 2006.

For me, perhaps the most lasting legacy of Chris Dodd is that when others were silent under the egregious excesses of the Bush administration, he was not afraid to speak the truth to power because, in his words: "America stands for a transcendent idea. The idea that laws should rule, not men. The idea that the Constitution does not get suspended for vengeance. The idea that this nation should never tailor its eternal principles to the conflict of the moment, because if we did, we would be walking in the footsteps of the enemies we despised." For that, I cannot thank him enough.

Before the cameras stopped rolling on Dodd's retirement speech, Connecticut's Hamlet, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, finally abandoned his "To run or not to run" role and declared himself in the running for the seat, which must have had GOP primary contenders Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon reaching for the Tums. A fortuitously timed Public Policy Polling survey gives Blumenthal a 30 point or greater lead over all of the potential Republican rivals.

Thanks to Chris Dodd, this Connecticut Senate seat will most likely remain blue.
Uncle Sam

Let's vow peace and goodwill like we mean it

A fresh scented fir tree lovingly decorated with ornaments of great sentimental value, each with a story of where it was bought or who made it as a kid. Piles of gaily-wrapped presents peeking out from beneath the fragrant branches. The family gathered around singing carols and drinking hot chocolate and eggnog. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Well, that's my fantasy anyway. See, I'm Jewish, and so I've never celebrated Christmas, but all my Christian friends did, so I grew up with a very strong case of Christmas envy. On my street, you can tell that we're the Jewish family -- amidst the houses bedecked in holiday lights, our house stands dark and undecorated, except for the Chanukah menorah, which we light in the window for eight nights. There are a few other Jewish families with similarly unlit houses, and I bet those parents get the same "How come we can't have lights and a tree?" that my kids ask me and I asked my parents ... one of the challenges of being a religious minority.

This lifelong Christmas envy was part of the inspiration for my first novel, "Confessions of a Closet Catholic," in which the main character, Justine Silver, a vertically challenged, frizzy-haired Jewish girl obsessed with chocolate (sound familiar?) gives up being Jewish for Lent. It's a humorous exploration of faith and family relationships, but I wrote it as a way of answering some of the serious questions that bemused my teenaged self. Questions like "What does faith mean to me personally, as opposed to just being something that my family does?" and "Why do we all fight each other in the names of our different gods instead of looking for the things we have in common?"

Apply that to the political realm, and you've got my greatest wish for the New Year -- that we try to look for our shared goals and beliefs instead of focusing on the issues that divide us. I also hope that politicians and media figures will stop for a moment before they open their mouths to consider the dangerous ramifications of their rhetoric. I've started a big new writing project and one strand of research involves the "experiments" perpetrated on twins by the notorious Josef Mengele, so I've been reading a great deal about the concept of "racial purity." It's made me extremely uncomfortable to hear concepts like "ideological purity" being bandied about in political discourse, particularly when the same people who are touting that concept are leading rallies against health care reform at which they stand in front of banners depicting Holocaust victims, and appear to be unconcerned by the use of such imagery.

These times of economic hardship are scary for all of us. History has shown that periods like these provide fertile ground for extremist ideas to take root, because as Depression-era radio personality Father Charles Coughlin, leader of the Christian front and well-known anti-Semite, said: "Someone must be blamed."

But how about instead we take a step back from the brink and search for those ideas we share in common; for example, the love we have for our families, and our country. How about we try to figure out how each of us can do our part to shed light unto the world?

As for me, I've learned to enjoy my neighbors' Christmas lights without any pangs of envy. They bring cheer and illumination to the darkness of the Winter Solstice, and best of all, I don't have to do any work to put them up or take them down. I just sit back and enjoy the beauty. Merry Christmas!
Uncle Sam

Taking new roads in the search for heroes

One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jill Sobule, has a song named "Heroes," to which, I've mused, she'll have to add a few verses as I watch yet another of Tiger Woods' mistresses come out of the woodwork: "Why are all our heroes so imperfect? Why do they always bring me down?"

From Woods to John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Steve Phillips, David Letterman, Nevada Sen. John Ensign and Mel Gibson, guys who have been held up as role models and who have often pontificated about the sins of others (yes, I'm looking at you, Sanford, Spitzer, Gibson and Ensign) have turned out to have ... er ... feet ... of clay, just like the rest of us.

Perhaps it's just the fulfillment of Lord Acton's dictum that "power corrupts," be it by being unable to keep your John Thomas in your trousers or by having amnesia about the issues that were important to you when you were elected to office.

Take Joe Lieberman. I'm happy he's a man of principle. I just hope for Hanukkah he receives the gift of being able to identify those principles and stick to them -- like on the filibuster, for example. On Nov. 22, 1994, back when he was a Democrat and still relatively new to the halls of power, Lieberman held a news conference with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Saying it was time to bury "a dinosaur," they announced legislation to curtail the power of the filibuster.

"(People) are fed up .... frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and ... partisan tugs of war and forget why we're here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today," said youthful Joe.

Who's the dinosaur now? I guess 15 years of political games and pharmaceutical and health insurance company donations take their toll on one's principles, 'cause these days Joe is wielding that same filibuster like a drunken sailor in a barroom brawl. But it's not a political game now. No, after two decades in Washington, that same filibuster has become a "right."

"I have no other choice," Lieberman told reporters on Capitol Hill last month. "I've got to use the right I have as a senator to stop something that I think is going to be terrible for our future, which is the public option."

Perhaps this constant disappointment with politicians and celebrities is why I'm a strong believer in StoryCorps. I first became involved in 2003, when my sister and I interviewed Dad for Father's Day. In 2006, I took my son, and he interviewed me as part of our "one-on-one" day in New York. Part of that clip was played on NPR's "Morning Edition," and subsequently was made into an award-winning short by Rauch Brothers Animation, "Q & A." Friday mornings on NPR, instead of being subjected to the latest infidelity or political flip-flop, one hears stories of incalculable worth, straight from the hearts of Americans. Interviewees receive a CD, and an archive recording is kept at the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, thus creating a rich audio tapestry of American life.

Facebook users can help support StoryCorps by voting today for the organization to win $25,000 from Chase Community Giving. It's worth doing, because after listening to even one of these recordings you'll realize there's no such thing as an "ordinary" American.
Uncle Sam

GOP condoned anti-Semitism at health rally

The day before last week's historic health care vote in the House of Representatives, an anti-health-reform rally was held on the steps of the Capitol. Initiated by the new Inciter-in-Chief Rep. Michelle Bachmann (watch your back, Sarah P!) on Fox News, it was sponsored by the House Republican leadership and billed as a GOP press conference.

At the event, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the House health reform bill "the greatest threat to freedom I have seen in my 19 years in Washington."

Really? So providing health care to the uninsured is a bigger threat to freedom than say ... warrantless wiretapping of American citizens or denying an American citizen the right of habeas corpus?

Never mind me. Readers all know about my "radical" views on freedom and civil liberties. But is Boehner calling the folks over at the AARP, who at the very same time were having a press conference to endorse the House bill, freedom haters, too? Somehow, I don't think my AARP-member dad, a lifelong Republican currently trapped in the Medicare "donut hole" -- one of the problems targeted by the House bill -- would take too kindly to that.

It gets worse though. Here's David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

"[The] G.O.P. `Tea Party' on Capitol Hill opposing health insurance reform invoked disgusting Holocaust imagery and outright anti-Semitism. Top Republican Party leaders including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) stood before a crowd that included a banner protesting health care reform and displaying corpses from the Holocaust. Yet another sign charged that `Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds' [sic]. Such vile invocations of Nazi and Holocaust rhetoric have been condemned in recent weeks by rabbinic movements, The Interfaith Alliance, and The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants."

Remember Cliff from Cheers? Actor John Ratzenberger riffed on the Obama's not from here theme: "We have to remember where their philosophy comes from. It doesn't come from America. It comes from overseas. It comes from socialism." And the crowd shouted "Nazis! Nazis!"

This tells you something about the educational level of the people in the crowd, as they'd apparently never studied the difference between National Socialism (Nazism) and socialism of the "collective or public control of the means of production" variety. I mean, they both have socialism in the name. Why bother to actually understand the epithets you're throwing around?

That there were idiots, bigots and anti-Semites at this rally doesn't surprise me given that it was initiated by Bachmann. But what I can't understand or forgive is that while all this was going on and afterwards, the GOP leadership stayed silent and continues to do so, and thus condoning and, not only that, institutionalizing this despicable behavior. The only member of the GOP who spoke against these sickening displays was Cantor, who rather weakly called them "inappropriate."

Politico's Glenn Thrush reports that Boehner spokesman Michael Steel claimed: "Leader Boehner did not see any such sign. Obviously, it would be grossly inappropriate."

I asked a member of the state committee CT GOP why there was no repudiation of such signs from the party leadership in Washington. He too employed the see no evil approach: "Seeing as I wasn't there myself ... I have no idea what really was going there" -- this despite reports in the Washington Post.

As Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel said, "This kind of political hatred is indecent and disgusting." That it is happening under the GOP's aegis is even more so.
Uncle Sam

Lieberman selling us out on healthcare

"I have long supported the goal of universal health care" ­-- Senator Joseph Lieberman, September 2006.

"I can`t see a way in which I could vote for cloture on any bill that contained a creation of a government-operated-run insurance company "¦ It`s just asking for trouble." -- Senator Joseph Lieberman, October 2009.

Will the real Joe Lieberman please stand up? Well, I think he has. Because despite his lip service to universal health care when he was in a tough re-election fight, history has shown that whenever there`s a chance to pass health care reform, you count on Joe to vote against it.

On Tuesday, Lieberman announced that he`ll support a GOP-led filibuster of any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program -- even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out.

Lieberman has been on the record as opposing the use of a filibuster on legislation he plans to oppose. So why is he now in favor of using such a procedure to hold the health care reform process hostage?

It`s not as if Sen. Lieberman is representing the views of the majority of the nation`s citizens or of his constituents. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll found firm support for a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Other surveys have found similar results. In fact, respondents in the NYT/CBS poll were overwhelmingly in favor of a Medicare-type public plan (65 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed and 9 percent offering no opinion), which goes beyond what is proposed in any of the current bills.

Here in the Nutmeg State, residents support giving people the option to buy health insurance from a government plan by a 64-30 majority, according to a September 2009 Quinnipiac poll.

So why is Lieberman acting in direct opposition to his constituents` wishes?

The senator told Politico that he "very much" wants to vote for health care reform but that he`s worried about stifling "the economic recovery we`re in" or adding to the federal debt. He added that he`d vote against the public option plan "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."

Say what? The Senate proposal calls for a public health insurance entity that would compete against privately run plans. It would be financed by the premiums paid by its customers just as private plans are, not subsidized by taxpayers. What taxpayers would pay for are the subsidies to help lower-income people pay for coverage -- these would be available to pay for private coverage too, and would be in the bill with or without the public option. The goal of the public option is to provide choice. And for those of us who are self-insured with the option of one insurer to whom we pay exorbitant rates increasing by 18-20 percent a year, that`s a good thing.

Given this, Lieberman`s complaint that a public option would create an expensive new "entitlement" seems "¦ irrational.

What`s the real issue? Well, Connecticut is home to several big insurance companies, who don`t want competition. One of Lieberman`s top 10 campaign contributors in the 2006 election was Aetna. Another was Purdue Pharma. Yet Connecticut`s other senator, Chris Dodd, has been a firm supporter of the public option.

Sen. Lieberman should respect his constituents` wishes and vote for the public option plan instead of being a roadblock to reform. He said he was for universal health care before the 2006 election. It`s time he votes that way, instead of just paying lip service to the idea when he`s up for re-election.
Uncle Sam

Rell is not what she appears to be

Just as some commentators suggested that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize merely because he was not George W. Bush, some of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's heretofore astonishingly high approval ratings had to do with the fact that she was not John G. Rowland.

Also contributing to Teflon Grandma's seemingly undentable ratings was her unwillingness to take a stand on pretty much anything except that Connecticut residents should take "staycations." Having strong opinions may win you fans but it also gets you hate mail. Take it from me.

"Change agents don't have high approval ratings," state Rep. David McCluskey (D-West Hartford) observed to the New York Times back in April. "Change agents are the ones who polarize people. She is not a risk taker. She is playing it safe."

Potential Democratic challenger for governor, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, said in the same article: "I think the governor has proved to be very adept at watching the polls and staying ahead in the polls."

Rell's then press spokesman Chris Cooper defended his boss: "People trust the governor's leadership in this fiscal crisis, because they see someone who is standing up for them "� What they have not seen is a hidden agenda."

Maybe that's because just how closely the governor was watching the polls and the lessons in political chicanery she'd learned from John Rowland before she, in his words, "threw [him] under the bus," were just too well hidden. Tucked away in a $220,000 taxpayer-funded contract between the state Office of Policy and Management and UConn Professor Kenneth Dautrich for a "government efficiency study," was a lot of time spent on focus groups considering the governor's popularity and perceptions as a leader against then likely opponent Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and other clearly political issues.

Let's talk a little bit about leadership, because you'd think a real leader wouldn't need a poll to tell her what to do. "A leader comes to the forefront in case of crisis, and is able to think and act in creative ways in difficult situations," says Business dictionary.com. But Rell is like the ultimate Oz -- just don't look behind the curtain! She presented a balanced budget -- counting on the fact that voters wouldn't look too hard at the numbers because it relied on assumptions that conveniently ignored a $2 billion shortfall, so when pushed came to shove she could blame the problem on the Democratic Assembly.

But that's not leadership. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, "It's important for leaders to tell hard truths." I'm not sure Gov. Rell would know to tell a hard truth if it stood up and slapped her in the face with a smoked haddock.

Harvard Business School professor Nitin Nohria said of Winston Churchill that he was a great leader because he was a pragmatist who could deal with difficult realities but still have the optimism and courage to act.

Whereas the major characteristic of Rell's governorship? Inaction. She signed the Gender Neutral Marriage statute but only because she had to. She didn't sign the budget -- she didn't approve of it -- but she didn't veto it either.

Two probes have been launched into the $220,000 UConn Study: one by the auditor of public accounts and Attorney General Blumenthal into whether "state tax dollars have been used for other than strictly state purposes," and another by UConn's Office of Audit Compliance and Ethics to determine if Dautrich's research "violated any aspect of UConn's code of ethics." Voters need to take a hard look at the Grandma behind the curtain.
Uncle Sam

Violence was wrong then; it is wrong now

Last weekend I watched "Bobby," and while I agree with the IMDB.com critic who said it should have been called "Waiting for Bobby," the last 10 minutes, which wove actual documentary footage of the events in the Ambassador Hotel back in June 1968 with the fictional film stories, were profoundly moving. I sat with tears streaming down my face as I listened to the words Bobby Kennedy spoke the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated; the heartfelt and eloquent speech of April 5, 1968, in which he talks of "the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives."

Forty years later, Kennedy's words ring true; unfortunately, with more relevance than ever.

When you have pastors like Steven Anderson and Wiley Drake praying for the president's death and media figures like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh stirring the pot of hate, is it any wonder that the number of presidential death threats has increased 400 percent over those received by the previous incumbent?

Last weekend, a poll showed up on the social networking site Facebook asking if the president should be assassinated. Possible answers were: "Yes," "Maybe," "If he cuts my healthcare," and "No." The third party application that allowed users to construct their own polls has now been disabled and the Secret Service is investigating.

Meanwhile the FBI is investigating the death of part-time census worker William Sparkman, whose body was found hanging from a tree in a Kentucky graveyard with the word "Fed" scrawled across his chest.

In interviews with Politico, five former Secret Service, FBI and CIA officers expressed concern that the current climate of "supercharged political vitriol" could lead to violence.

I met Sen. Chris Dodd for the first time recently, and he was asked about disturbing signs seen at Connecticut Tea Party protests. "It is a scary time for people "¦ they are worried "¦ frightened "¦ and we have people out there fanning those flames," he said.

"Fear and anger are the easiest emotions to arouse; the more difficult ones are the better angels'; those are the hard ones to bring up and sustain, particularly when things are going south on you. "¦ I'm less inclined to fault someone who's out there [protesting] than I am those major media outlets who seem to revel in it and add to it and throw fuel on it every night. "¦ We are a very civilized people, but we've seen historically civilized people' do some unimaginable things as societies."

As I sat in synagogue Monday, I prayed for our country, and wondered if it's possible to bridge the divide, to step back from the madness. I must believe so, because without hope, one can't go on.

But the words of Bobby Kennedy still ring in my ears and my heart:

"What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

"No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

"Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily -- whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence -- whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded."