Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ideology Running Amuck

As of July 1, barring a stay from a federal court, if a woman wants to get an abortion in Kansas, she may well have to leave the state in order to get one. The state has passed a new law that imposes strict regulations on abortion providers – many of them unnecessary in order to perform their basic functions – that is nothing more than an attempt to accomplish legislatively what the Right has been unable to do judicially: overturn Roe v. Wade. Behold, some of the new requirements of the new law.

All facilities must be set to a temperature between 68 and 73 degrees; have a janitor’s closet at least 50 square feet; have an operating room 150 square feet; feature separate dressing rooms for staff and patients; have 13 different types of drugs on hand; require the patient to stay in the recovery room, which by the way must have a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees, for at least two hours after her procedure, even if the procedure doesn’t require anesthesia. Oh, and the final kicker, all private insurance providers are prohibited from including coverage for abortions in their general policies (except when the mother’s life is in jeopardy).

From the assault on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, to the birther bills that have popped up in no less than ten states, to the voter-id law in Ohio, and now Kansas passing what will undoubtedly be the first of many copy-cat laws to prevent women from gaining access to birth control, the Right’s Sherman-like ideology march on anything it opposes is as predictable as it is dangerous. And you thought this was about fiscal prudence.  Yeah, and that bridge in Brooklyn is still for sale.

Republicans know the clock is ticking on them. While the country may be somewhat right of center on financial issues, when it comes to social issues – gay rights, pro choice – it is crystal clear that it has come a long way since the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best. No matter how loud the Right shouts about family values, it ends up looking like a bad situation comedy that is about to get canceled.

And it isn’t just the social issues where Republicans are running out of time. A careful look at the nation’s demographics reveals some rather disturbing trends that don’t bode particularly well for the Grand Old Party. By the year 2050, white, non-Hispanics will comprise only 52.5% of the country’s population. In 2000, that percentage stood at 75.7%. Considering that whites comprise almost 90% of the Republican base, this is a major problem; a problem that Republicans are attempting to cure at the ballot box. After all, it really doesn’t matter what percentage of the population minorities constitute if some or all of them can’t legally vote, right?

And that is why this next election is so vital. Republicans know full well that if the economy improves enough by next fall, they are finished. They are counting on a financial meltdown over the debt ceiling issue to build on the gains they made in last year’s midterms. If they hold the House and win the Senate and White House, they will be in an excellent position to ostensibly undo everything that threatens them and their grip on power. Imagine environmental laws, financial regulations and the like virtually wiped out of existence. Imagine the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being challenged and subsequently reversed.  As John Lennon might say, it's easy if you try.

Imagine children being taught that creationism is a science, or that the South’s secession from the Union during the Civil War was simply about state’s rights, or that America’s treatment of its indigenous population wasn’t nearly as horrific as they have been led to believe by the liberal elites. It’s already happening in many schools in the South. Don't think it can't happen elsewhere.

The only way the Right can prevent their inevitable slide into oblivion is through one of two ways: changing at its core what it stands for and represents, which, given the proclivities of the majority within its ranks, seems highly unlikely; or suppressing the multitudes who stand to challenge its primacy. Guess which path they’ve chosen?

Watershed years are rare indeed. 2012 is shaping up to be the motherload of them all.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All Ahead Flank

As many of you may or may not know I spend a considerable portion of my lunch hour and drive home listening to conservative radio. The likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin dance through my head as I digest my pizza and traverse the rush-hour traffic. The reason for such self-abuse? To quote Michael Corleone, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

The latest buzz in that deranged echo chamber of the Right stems from the expected persecution their favorite daughter – Michele Bachmann – is going to get in the weeks and months ahead. Witness the backlash over the Chris Wallace interview when he had the nerve to ask the queen of the Midwest if she was a flake. Now I'm no Wallace fan, and the question was out of line, but he's the only one at Fox News even attempting to ask probative questions these days.  His interview with Carly Fiorina, in which he asked her what programs she’d be willing to cut in order to balance the budget, and her subsequent deer in a headlight’s response, virtually wrapped up the election for her rival Barbara Boxer. Every once in a while I get the feeling Wallace actually wants to be a journalist. It’s just a shame he works for Roger Ailes.

Of course the greater issue – the thing that drives the wingnuts absolutely over the edge – is the fact that even in Iowa, their beloved champion is in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney, the man the Right loathes with all the passion of an exploding star. The latest poll shows Romney holding a one-point lead over Bachmann. If Bachmann can’t beat out a “RINO” in America’s heartland, how can she be expected to win the rest of the country?

Which brings me to the heart of the matter. The Right’s whole take on what they view as “pure” conservatism and how it will prevail, while appealing to the frenzied and restless hoards who hang on their every utterance, is flawed and counter-productive to their overall objective, which is winning a general election. They would have you believe that the reason George H.W. Bush and John McCain lost is because they strayed away from the message and abandoned their core principles; principles, mind you, that the electorate fully embraces, naturally. The 2010 midterms prove that point brilliantly. Don’t you just love convoluted logic? Especially when it’s wrong.

The truth is that George H.W. Bush lost for two reasons. The first was an economy that was bottoming out after eight plus years of Reaganomics; the second was Ross Perot. As Jimmy Carter found out the hard way, third-party candidates have a nasty habit of hurting incumbents. And as far as John McCain goes, he was actually running neck and neck with Barack Obama when he chose the witch queen from the north as his running mate. After a brief bump in the polls, which is normal after a convention, McCain’s approval ratings began heading south as more and more people – especially independents – began taking a closer look at the Governor of Alaska.

The simple fact is that ideology almost never determines the outcomes of general elections. When you break down the electorate what you find is that roughly one third is conservative, one third is liberal and one third is somewhere in between. It’s that last third that has the biggest say in who wins and who looses. The 2010 midterms was a referendum on an ailing economy, nothing more. The wave of Republican victories was far more an anti-incumbent sentiment than a pro-conservative mandate. Just like Democrats had done in the elections of ’06 and ’08, Republicans have overreached in their conclusions about cause and effect and, as a result, seem poised to embrace a path that will inevitably lead to failure in 2012.

The good news for them is that apparently, despite all the hysteria from the talking heads, registered Republicans seem less concerned with ideology than with picking a nominee who gives them the best shot at defeating Obama next year. That Bachmann is trailing Romney in the one primary she should be decidedly ahead in, indicates a willingness to bend somewhat on orthodoxy and embrace a sort of pragmatism, heretofore thought impossible by yours truly. And that is bad news for the White House. As I mentioned in a previous post, Romney is the only Republican candidate at the moment who stacks up well against the President and who actually has a chance of beating him in the general election. If enough Republican voters start to figure that out, they may well swallow hard and pull the lever for Mitt, regardless of what El Rushbo and Little Lord Fauntleroy say about it.

Of course it’s way too early to predict where all this is headed. The “recovery” is on life support, Iowa is still months away and anything can happen between now and November, 2012. Let’s not forget that at this time in ’07, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. We all know what happened the following year. To predict anything based on a recent poll is absurd, given the volatility of the economy and the general angst of the voters.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paul Krugman: An Economist for All Seasons

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I have a lot of respect for Paul Krugman, and have quoted him on several occasions.  Of all the economists out there, he is the only one who has been proven right.  He was right on the bubble that eventually burst in the summer of '08; he was right when he urged the Fed to take over struggling banks to directly open up credit lines; he was right about the stimulus not being big enough, warning of a repeat of the Japanese lost decade; and he was right when he rebuked the inflation fear mongers as early as '09.

And now he is sounding off on his supply-side colleagues, once again, but his warnings, like the earlier ones, seem to be falling on deaf ears.  It's hard to argue against religion, especially when so many seem drunk on it.  I reposted this article from his Conscience of a Liberal blog in its entirety.  Debunking false doctrine is the hardest occupation of all.

June 26, 2011, 4:03 am
Wrong Wrong Wrong

Bruce Bartlett points out something I had forgotten: the 1993 Clinton tax increase wasn’t the first time conservatives predicted doom from any rise in tax rates. They did the same in response to the Reagan tax hike of 1982 — and yes, the sainted Reagan, after cutting taxes at the beginning, raised them repeatedly thereafter.

What actually happened, of course, was a V-shaped recovery — Morning in America — which was mainly due to Fed policy, but got credited to the 1981 tax cut. And the 1982 tax hike got sent down the memory hole.

The story I knew was about that Clinton tax hike, which was supposed to send the economy into a tailspin.

Let’s also mention the Bush tax cuts, which were supposed to produce a vast boom, and ended up being followed by the weakest recovery of modern times.

The point is that these people have been wrong about everything — and yet tax-cut magic is the official religion of the GOP.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It’s My Tea Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

If you’ve ever spent more than a few minutes with me, you’ll know I have, shall we say, more than my fair share of pet peeves.

Some of them include drivers who insist on driving slow in the left lane, people who feel compelled to talk on their cell phones in crowded restaurants and customers who waste your time by asking you every conceivable question about a product only to walk out and buy it someplace else for a few dollars less (Can you tell I used to work retail?).

But my number one pet peeve – the one that drives me up the wall the most – is when grownups insist on acting like little children when they can’t get their way. Hell, four-year olds would have more sense than these idiots.

Case in point, Eric Cantor’s recent decision to take his ball and go home during the debt ceiling talks, because after getting an agreement in principle to significantly slash government spending from Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats, he balked at even the hint that such cuts would have to be accompanied by revenue increases, e.g. eliminating the Bush tax cuts for people earning over $250,000.

For the last five weeks, the Treasury has been ostensibly shifting around various funds and juggling accounts to come up with payments on the interest the United States government owes. Out of all the non-discretionary spending that the federal government does, none is more mandatory than that payment. Failing to make it would signal a default of epic proportions that would send shockwaves through the international markets and trigger an economic collapse that would eclipse the latest recession by a significant margin. And yet, with all that is at stake, the House Majority leader, when he didn’t like what he was hearing, stormed out of the talks like a spoiled brat.

As if that wasn’t brazen enough, Cantor’s stunt was followed closely by the announcement that Senator Jon Kyl was also pulling out of the deficit talks. It seems spoiled brats travel in pairs these days. Seldom has such stupidity and immaturity posed such a menace to so many, but these are the perilous times in which we live. Spurred on by the hubris of a Tea Party movement that neither possesses the intellectual capacity to appreciate the enormity of the problem at hand, or the emotional inclination to acknowledge the long-standing virtue of give and take, GOP leaders, on the whole, find themselves locked in a quandary. If they bend even a little in an attempt to avert financial disaster, they will most assuredly face serious primary challenges next year; if they fall in line with their brethren, they face the wrath of the voters in the general election who will hold them accountable for their obstinance. A catch-22 to be sure, but then that’s the price you pay when you bed down with the likes of Mount Rushbo.

The problem is that the whole damn country is paying the price for these juvenile delinquents’ behavior. While almost everyone can agree that long-term deficit spending must be curtailed, only the most ardent and defiant of supply-side apologists hold onto the canard that tax cuts pay for themselves. In the last ten years alone that fairytale has robbed the Treasury of $4 trillion in revenue. Add the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and you have almost half of the national debt right there. Now add in some long overdo defense cuts and trim the fat out of some other sacred cows that probably needed a shave anyway and you’re well on the way towards balancing the budget. Maybe not this year, or even within the next couple of years, but most likely within a decade. And that’s a goal most “reasonable” people can wrap their heads around.

It seems to me that the only responsible thing to do is for all parties involved to put away their preconceived notions and do what most of the country is demanding of them: solve the problem instead of pretending that failure is an acceptable option. Because it isn’t, and if by August an agreement is not reached to increase the debt ceiling, all hell will break loose. If that happens an awful lot of people are going to be profoundly affected, and the vast majority of them will vote accordingly in 2012.

Now that Barack Obama has decided to get personally involved in the talks, he might just try this novel approach. How about a dollar for dollar split? For every dollar of revenue increases you give me, I’ll give you one dollar of budget cuts. Take that Tea Party, put it in your pipe and smoke it. And for those on the Left who would scream bloody murder at the concept of such deep and potentially draconian cuts to badly needed social programs, it is also time to grow up and swallow hard. If you can bring about an end to the Bush-era tax cuts and trim a badly bloated defense budget, it is foolhardy to assume you aren’t going to take some lumps of your own.

If Obama truly wants to be perceived as the adult in the room, he can do what most adults do when surrounded by little children: he can take charge. He can start by reading out the spoiled brats who keep insisting on listening to their misinformed friends who got them into trouble in the first place. And that includes friends on both sides of the school fence.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Keith 2.0: Countdown Returns to Cable TV

This Monday night Keith Olbermann returns to the 8:00 p.m. timeslot with his “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” program. The show, once a staple of the MSNBC lineup, will be seen on Current TV, Al Gore’s network. Just think Conan O’Brien – NBC to TBS – only worse.

While followers of the progressive show wonder whether it will retain the same signature zeal and sting it had when it aired on MSNBC, this ad – featuring Olbermann in all his self-absorbed glory – promoting the show’s debut should hopefully put to bed any lingering doubts.

“The free flow of information has been thwarted, dissenting voices silenced, and for every story there's a flurry of heavily biased corporate-sponsored spin that can distract even the most engaged viewer. And every day we're left with a bit less clarity. Until now.”

Ahh, how refreshing to hear that golden voice so eloquently and skillfully articulate such undeniable wisdom. Whatever else you may say about dear old Keith, know this much: the man was never at a loss for words, or ego for that matter. He left the most progressive network on cable TV, where he was part of team, for a chance to start his own empire; an empire that as of now consists of one subject and, naturally, one king. How apropos.

But then those who know Olbermann best aren’t surprised that he would opt to, as Milton might say, “rule in his own kingdom than serve in someone else’s.” The suits at MSNBC, while hardly the stifling overlords our dear hero would have us believe they were, nonetheless had a nasty habit of reminding the emperor that he wasn’t the only paragon of reasoning in the joint. Silly things like rules and standards only served to crimp his style and bruise an ego as fragile as fine china in the middle of a bull stampede. At Current, he can do pretty much do any damn thing he feels like without any body stealing his thunder or checking his copy. Hail Caesar!

Of course the real problem for Olbermann will be ratings. Though carried on virtually every outlet out there – with the exception of Cablevision on Long Island – the 8:00 p.m. timeslot is hardly the barren wasteland it was when he first joined MSNBC and helped turned it into the progressive powerhouse it currently is. He will have a difficult time prying away enough viewers from his former employer, not to mention the other competitors like Fox and CNN to make a significant dent in market share. You don’t take your ball and go home for five months and then expect everything to resume as though nothing had happened. Not even Olbermann is that na├»ve.

My guess is that it will take several months, if not a whole year, before his ratings return to their once “lofty” status. Fortunately for him, Al Gore and company aren’t nearly as “demanding” as MSNBC would be. Translation? His royal highness will be able to grow his kingdom as he sees fit without the usual money-grubbing of an otherwise profit-making network looking for an instant return on its investment. And who knows, all this might end up working out like a charm for him.

For now, the Current TV lineup on Monday looks like this:

7:00 – The OxyContin Express
8:00 – Countdown with Keith Olbermann
9:00 – Gateway to Heroin
10:00 – Life and Death on the Border
11:00 – Countdown with Keith Olbermann
12:00 – Gateway to Heroin

Yep, real riveting over there in Al Gore land. The snickering you hear is coming from the suits at MSNBC. I’ll just bet Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and company are shaking in their boots over the impending threat.

All kidding aside, I wish Olbermann well. He is an important voice among progressives, and these days we need every voice we can get out there. I just wish he took himself a little less serious. His departure from prime-time cable was ill timed and ill advised. Now that he is back, the hope is he can channel his energy effectively to make a difference. I, for one, am eager to see the 2.0 version, even if, for the present, I’ll have to do it via youtube.

Good luck, Keith. Go get ‘em!

The Last Word on Weinergate

Now that Anthony Weiner has seen the light and finally ended this embarrassing chapter in his life by resigning from Congress, I wanted to share some, hopefully, last thoughts on the matter.

Any attempt to somehow lay the blame for this shameful and incredibly stupid act at the feet of the media is just flat out wrong. Period. The decline of the mainstream media over the last couple of decades has been well documented, and not only by me. As for Andrew Breitbart, there isn’t a rock big enough for him to crawl back under if and when he ever decides to redeem what little of his soul is left. But however tempting it may be to lash out at Breitbart, CNN, and the rest of the rat pack, when all was said and done, the one responsible for the Congressman’s fall was Weiner, and Weiner alone. It was his conduct, and his alone, that led to his demise. What could’ve been a brilliant career is now gone. And that is the only epitaph befitting this tragedy.

And for those who thought he should’ve stayed and fought it out, I can only say the following: from what crack pipe are you smoking? Yes, I know the way his Party threw him under the bus was pitiful. But then political parties have been doing that ever since the days of Nixon. Once you become a malignancy, there is only one thing left to do: remove you. The fact was that Anthony Weiner had become the political equivalent of a leper. Whether he had resigned or not, whatever chance he had of being an effective legislator was gone the moment he finally admitted what he did. To hold out any hope he could survive this is the epitome of denial.

With all that was riding in 2012, Democrats could ill afford this albatross hanging around their necks. Anthony Weiner had become the story. Not Medicare, not the debt ceiling. There was simply too much at stake to allow this farce to continue. Give Weiner this much, he knew when to call it a night. Punch lines are essential for comedians; for politicians they are almost always fatal.

And, finally, for myself, what disappoints me most isn't the deed, or even the denial of the deed, but the political cost it extracted.  Let's face it, on a scale of 1 to 10, what Weiner did constitutes maybe a 3, 4 at the most.  But on the stupidity meter, it might as well have been the proverbial 11.  The loss of Anthony Weiner will have profound consequences for the Democrats, not only in next year's election, but in the years to follow.  Forget the New York mayoral race, which I always thought was a waste of his talent anyway, what he brought to the floor of the House was a rare commodity.  A fearless proponent of progressive causes is almost a dying breed these days.  For Anthony Weiner, it was a calling.  That he has now deprived his Party of that calling is the thing which disappoints and angers me the most.  He should've known better, and because of his poor judgment, millions may well pay the price.   

And now, the tough part begins.  Democrats must scramble to find another wolf among their flock of sheep.  Good luck! In GOP land they are practically salivating over what has happened these last two weeks.  The Weiner circus has allowed the focus to be shifted away from Paul Ryan and Medicare.  It has allowed Republicans to exhale somewhat and get some wind back in their sails.  And that is unforgivable.  In politics, there is one rule: never let your opponents off the mat.  Those who forget that rule, almost always rue the day.  As George Patton would say, “Never pay for the same real estate twice.”  But then, again, we are talking about the Democratic Party, aren't we?  The Party that keeps paying over and over and over again for the same stupid mistakes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret About the “Recovery”

TARP stabilized the financial sector; the auto bailout kept GM and Chrysler from going into receivership; the stimulus prevented the economy from plunging into another Great Depression. Unless you live in the bubble that is the Republican echo chamber, these facts are indisputable. And yet, more than two years after these measures were taken, the nation is still dealing with stubbornly high unemployment numbers. To add insult to injury, the prospects for a dramatic turnaround seem remote at best. Like it or not, we are in the middle of a “jobless” recovery.


Well for one thing, the amount of jobs that are being added each month – and it’s important to note here that we have witnessed 15 straight months of private sector job growth after enduring more than 24 consecutive months of job losses as a result of the recession – is not nearly sufficient to significantly put a dent in the unemployment rate. In a good economy, with unemployment around four or five percent, those numbers would be good news. The best you can say about job creation these days is that we don’t appear to be going backward; at least not yet. Unfortunately that’s as good as the news gets. The fact is that for a robust recovery to occur, the economy would have to be creating two to three times the number of new jobs each month. Had that been happening all along, the unemployment rate would’ve been around 6% by now, and well on its way to 5%, perhaps even lower.

So what went wrong? In two words, nothing and everything. Let’s look at the last word first.

While TARP was crucial in preventing a chain reaction from occurring within the banking industry, the lack of oversight in it proved its undoing. The fact was that the bulk of the money the Fed poured into the banks was never “loaned” back out as was intended. In deed less than 10% went back out into the market. Fearing the crash that never happened, banks hoarded the money, which propped up their bottom lines, but ultimately did little for the financial markets that were stuck in neutral. By January ’09 the majority of corporate America found its credit lines all but frozen. Unable to borrow the capital they so desperately needed to grow their businesses, these companies began slashing payroll just to stave off bankruptcy. It wasn’t until the late spring of that year that credit began flowing again. By then the damage had been done.

With respect to the stimulus, I have beat this dead horse for more than two years. While it did keep the economy from plunging off the cliff, it was never a stimulus in the traditional sense of the word. Paul Krugman, as early as January of 2009, pleaded with the Obama Administration for a $1.5 trillion stimulus. Fearing he might not get anything, the newly elected president opted for a middle of the road approach that was laden with tax breaks that Republicans demanded and projects that were not immediately “shovel ready.” While a hefty portion of it provided badly needed relief to states facing major budget shortfalls, on the whole, the $787 billion dollar plan was the economic equivalent of plugging a dike. It kept us from drowning but did little more. The result was a steady rise in unemployment throughout ’09, and while the private sector has added more than 1.8 million jobs since January of 2010, we still have a substantial percentage of the workforce either unemployed or under-employed.

So now what?

Virtually every economic indicator shows corporate America enjoying the highest level of profits in almost a decade. The banks, once thought to be on the verge of collapse, are healthier and bigger than ever. Wall Street, after losing more than half its value in early ’09, has rebounded with a vengeance. From a low of 6,547 in March of ’09, the Dow climbed all the way back to just shy of 13,000, a little over a thousand away from its all-time high of 14,164 in October of ’07, before settling back down to around 12,000. Clearly Wall Street is doing quite nicely.

So, if everything is just peachy keen in corporate America, why then haven’t we seen higher job growth numbers in the private sector? This is the point where we talk about the word nothing. In a word, there’s nothing wrong with the economy. That’s right folks, nothing, nada. The patient, once on life support and fighting for its life, is now up and about and walking around the corridors of the hospital fit as a fiddle and itching for a discharge. The reason unemployment remains so high is because most employers want it that way. Period.

Understand, this isn’t some ideological war, like the one most pundits immerse themselves in to curry favor among their supporters. This is about profit motive, pure and simple. The issue is not one of liquidity. Virtually every economist aggrees there is no shortage of capital. The economy has been walked back from the edge of the cliff by prudent, if conservative, fiscal policy; the problem is that it now finds itself in the middle of a swamp in the rainy season. The real problem comes down to demand. When employers feel they can get the same level of productivity as they had before the recession out of their current workforce, while at the same time showing record profits to their shareholders, there is little incentive to rock the boat as it were and add overhead, i.e. additional employees. To the extent that employers do add staff, they are opting to go with short-term, temporary workers, rather than go the traditional tried and tested method that brings with it the added cost of benefits. It’s simple arithmetic. When you can get two plus two to equal five or even six, you’d have to be crazy to argue the point. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Except it is broke, and broke but good. And the real danger is that it isn’t very likely to get “fixed” any time soon, regardless of what happens in the next election. That’s the dirty little secret of the recovery. The key players in this tragedy are doing just fine, while the rest of the country is recuperating from the worst case of addition by subtraction in decades. Until and unless corporate America can be made to see that the emperor has no clothes and is freezing his ass off, we will continue in this “jobless” recovery and millions of would-be employees will wonder if they will ever again taste the fruits of their labor; fruits that not that long ago tasted oh so sweet.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Idiots’ Delight

As many of you know, this column – in all its many incarnations – has for the most part highlighted the shameful escapades of Republicans and conservatives, with the odd Democratic and liberal exception. And with such frequent flyers as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, et al, all distinguishing themselves, small wonder they have enjoyed such lavish attention. That is until this month.

For the first time since I started this column two years ago, all three finalists will be from the Left. I do not make this decision lightly. In deed, given Sarah Palin’s recent revision of old Paul Revere’s famous and historic ride, you could say it was the most difficult decision I’ve made in quite some time. But the truth is that this month’s winners – as painful as it is for me to admit – have earned the honors accorded them. How bad do you have to be to out-slime the likes of an Andrew Breitbart? Pretty bad, as you will soon see.

Without further ado, the envelope please.

Anthony Weiner. When your last name is the stuff of every juvenile joke imaginable, one would suppose you might take special care not to fulfill every wish of the late night comedic jet set. Well, apparently Mr. Weiner didn’t get the memo. The recent revelation of the Congressman’s conduct has not only made him the laughing stock of Washington, it has all but put an end to a seemingly brilliant political career, while at the same time seriously jeopardizing Democrats’ chances of retaking the House in 2012. Talk about a triple play. If Weiner manages to survive this scandal – and it’s less than 50/50 he can – he will go down as the best escape artist since Houdini. My bet? He resigns within a month. Nice goin’ putz.

Ed Schultz. I don’t like Laura Ingraham anymore than the next progressive, nor for that matter any of her “colleagues” on the Right who make it a habit of engaging in the sleaziest form of pseudo-journalism imaginable, but that is no excuse for Schutltz’ choice of words in describing Ingraham on his radio talk show. MSNBC’s decision to suspend him was not only just, it should serve as a reminder to all on the Left that tit for tat isn’t going to cut it. Lowering yourself to your opponent’s level may bring some temporary measure of satisfaction, as I’m sure it did for Schultz, but in the end it only undermines the very thing you’re trying to bring to the discussion in the first place: namely credibility. It must’ve been humiliating for Schultz to publicly apologize to Ingraham on his cable news show. Good. Maybe the next time a liberal gets it in his brain that he can become the Left’s Rush Limbaugh, he’ll think twice before debasing himself.

Benjamin Cardin. The Democratic senator from Maryland takes the cake for what may be the most outlandish thing any member of Congress has said in quite some time. Given what we have witnessed in just the last two years, that’s quite a feat. Cardin went down to the floor of the Senate and denounced Russia for prosecuting “whistleblowers” in their government. A perfectly laudable stance except for one tiny fact. Cardin has recently introduced legislation that, if enacted, “would broadly criminalize leaks of classified information” making it a felony to do so. The bill doesn’t even provide for a “public interest” defense. In other words you can’t argue that potential damage to the nation’s security by the disclosure was outweighed by the benefit it brought to it. Nor does the bill distinguish between good leaks and heinous leaks. Wow, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. We haven’t seen anything this egregious since the days of Joseph McCarthy, and from a Democrat, no less. Nice job, Senator. I bet your constituents are just popping their buttons over your patriotism!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cooked Weiner

The admission by New York Representative Anthony Weiner that it was he who sent the photo of himself, and not some anonymous person who “hacked” into his Twitter account, will no doubt have reverberations throughout the political landscape, not to mention profound consequences for Weiner himself. Even if he manages to survive the ethics committee investigation that Nancy Pelosi has called for, his reputation has been so badly tarnished he might never fully recover. Assuming he wins reelection, and that is a big if, he will be but a shell of his once mighty self. And from a purely political – and, yes, selfish – stance, that will be the ultimate tragedy here.

Anthony Weiner is one of the best Congressmen in the House of Representatives, a fierce proponent of progressive causes and a thorn in the side of conservatives. His loss, if it comes to that, would be a terrible blow to Democrats going into a pivotal election next year.

And the saddest thing of all is that Weiner could’ve avoided all this had he just come clean when the story broke and admitted he did it. The half-assed explanations he came up with never went over. Nobody was buying it. Even close friend Jon Stewart was having difficultly (you’ll pardon the pun) swallowing the story. Expecting that all he had to do was say he was the victim of a prank and that this would go away was not only arrogant, it was downright stupid; especially given the political climate we live in today. The days of Camelot are well behind us. Every reporter knew full well about the affairs that Jack Kennedy was having. All turned a blind eye to them. That was then, this is now. Politicians who fall are almost certain to be exposed (again, pardon the pun) sooner or later. In the end Weiner left himself no choice but to fess up, unfortunately a dollar short and a week late.

If he had simply come right out and said, “It was me, I did it. It was stupid and childish and I am deeply sorry for the pain my actions have caused,” he would’ve caught some flack over it. But by waiting eight days to state what was becoming painfully obvious to an awful lot of people, he has not only made himself look like an ass, he has put his very career in jeopardy; a career that was as promising as any in Washington.

The moral of this story should be painfully apparent. When you screw up and get confronted, don’t (again the pun) dick around. Just admit it, and move on. Sooner or later the truth will come out. In Weiner’s case, the truth has not only failed to set him free, it now threatens to take away everything he holds near and dear. And for that he has no one else to blame but himself.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Conversation With An Alien

Just the other day I was hanging out with one of my newest friends: an alien who recently escaped from Area 51. I know that area is supposedly fictitious, but trust me, it exists; my friend is living proof. He’s either an alien or the weirdest looking human who’s ever existed. His name? For now, let’s just call him Engelbert. Seems he was listening to the radio after they captured him one day and he heard the song, “Release Me” and it made him long for his home planet so much it brought a tear to his one eye. Which is quite a feat considering his race doesn’t have any tear ducts. The rest, as they say, is history. Hey, it could’ve been worse; he might’ve been listening to “Can’t Touch This.”

Anyway, after we stopped off at a local pizzeria and got a couple of slices – old Engelbert can really throw down the Sicilian – I thought it would be a good idea to head back to my place. Figured the less exposure the better. There wasn’t a paper bag big enough for my friend’s head and it was a little early for Halloween, so it was home sweet home for the both of us.

I gave Engelbert the remote control and he immediately started channel surfing. In no time at all he discovered what the vast majority of Americans already know: that despite a plethora of viewing choices, the sad fact is there isn’t all that much worth watching on television. Some reality TV, cable news channels reporting on the outbreak of tornado activity, and a lot of crime shows. My friend sat mesmerized by the dichotomy. “Your race spends most of its time either pretending they’re someone they’re not, or glorifying death and destruction.” I had watched Law & Order for years and never would I have come to that conclusion. It took my friend less than five minutes to arrive at it.

And then he flipped to Fox News and we began watching Hannity. Ugly, vile, disgusting, and completely devoid of any integrity, pure and simple. My friend could feel the contempt I had for this man, and the pained expression on my face as he continued to watch it was as obvious as the, well, whatever that was on his face below his eye.

“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned for my well being. “He infuriates me to no end,” came my reply. “He distorts the facts and twists the truth to suit his own narrow agenda. He spews hatred and is a hypocrite.”

He continued to watch and after a few minutes, added, “He does seem to have some very definitive opinions which are clearly biased. How long as he been on the airwaves?” “Too long,” I quipped.

Having pity on me, my friend switched the channel to MSNBC, and for the next few minutes we watched Rachel Maddow. My friend immediately noticed I was considerably calmer and commented on my newfound demeanor. “You clearly agree with her views.” “What’s there not to agree with?” I replied. “She’s obviously right!”

My friend looked puzzled, as though I were speaking to him in a foreign language, which I thought ironic since he was after all an alien. He continued to flip back and forth between both programs, pausing just long enough to get what he thought was an earful from both hosts, and after about a half hour or so proceeded to turn the set off and sat silent for a minute or two staring at the blank screen.

I finally interrupted his seeming wistfulness. “What’s the problem? What’s troubling you, my friend?”

“I don’t get it,” he finally said.

“Don’t get what?” I queried.

“You clearly preferred one program over the other, did you not?”

“Well, yes, I should think it was obvious. Didn’t you?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know enough about your country, much less your world, to determine who was right and who was wrong. Clearly from what I saw, the woman – it was Maddow, right – seemed more calm and easier on the senses, than the man – Hanny I think it was – but I must be frank with you, from where I sat the two seemed quite similar to me.”

“WHAT?!” I screamed back at him. “Are you crazy?”

“I don’t believe I am. I was simply making an observation based on what I saw and heard.”

“How can you be so blind and deaf? Hannity is a pig and a racist who hates people and deliberately lies to achieve a political objective.”

“That may be so; I don’t know him well enough to either confirm or deny your charge. But insofar as how both people comported themselves, it was very difficult to tell them apart. Both held strong viewpoints that were clearly biased toward their own agendas (is that how you say it), and both seemed overly zealous to the point of being argumentative, even derisive, towards anyone who disagreed with them. And while I could tell you clearly favor one over the other, I’m just letting you know that, as far as I could tell, there was no discernable difference between them.”

“Wow,” I said, flabbergasted. “I invite you over to my house and in less than an hour you proceed to insult me. I would’ve expected someone with your level of intelligence (why do humans always assume that visitors from another planet have superior intelligence?) to be able to tell the difference between reason and myopia. Clearly I overestimated you.”

“I am sorry if I disappointed you, that was not my intent. I gave you my honest opinion, based on my observations. Apparently it has elicited a rather emotional reaction in you. Perhaps I should leave.”

“Perhaps you should.”

He got up and headed for the door, but before leaving he turned around and said a few parting words to me.

“You are a most amazing and perplexing race, did you know that? What makes you amazing is how diverse you are and unique you are. In spite of your differences you have achieved many great things. Before being captured, I had the chance to visit many worlds and I have never come across a race as adventurous and as ingenious as yours. No is a word not written into your DNA. I am almost envious at how much you have accomplished in so short a time.

“And yet, with all the great moments in your history, it is those very same differences that continue to haunt you and threaten your very existence. That is the perplexing thing about you. It is the paradox which defines you. Even now your politics is corrupt and broken and your leaders are unable to lead. Your passion is both your best asset and greatest shortcoming. You allow it to possess you and if you are not careful, it will eventually destroy you.

“I have seen it happen on other worlds; people so driven by their own narrow-mindedness that they cannot see the very forest for the trees. Most of them end up being consumed by their own arrogance and righteousness. Your race stands upon a precipice, dangling precariously between greatness and oblivion, and even now you cannot see the darkness in your own heart or the threat it beckons. I feel both sorrow and great contempt for you.

“I hope you are somehow able to break free of your primitive tendencies as a race and achieve the ultimate greatness that awaits you. But I fear the task maybe beyond your abilities. You insist on engaging in pity and trifling debates among yourselves while you whittle away the potential in front of you.

“In one of your golden books – I believe you refer to it as the Bible – there is a phrase that goes like this: ‘Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.’ Your own prophets predicted your demise and yet you proceed at full speed toward your epitaph. Such a waste.

“But I have said too much. I bid you my leave. Good luck, my friend; I feel you will need it.”

And then he shut the door behind him. I stood there stunned and speechless. I had just been read out by an alien, an ugly alien by the name of Engelbert, no less. I was furious at my friend for having the gall to come into my home and preach to me about not only my faults, but the faults of my entire race. Who did he think he was anyway? And then it hit me, I wasn’t angry with him because he had the nerve to say those things; I was angry with him because he was right. He nailed me; he nailed the whole damn human race.

I ran out the door after him.

“Where are you going?” I asked him.

“Home,” he replied.

“Home where? Area 51? You broke out of there.”

“No, my home world. I think I’ve traveled enough.”

“You mean, they’re just going to pick you up and take you back home? They’re up there?”

“We’ve been up there for quite some time, studying you.”

“How long?”

“We first visited your planet many years ago. As I said, you fascinate us.”

“Well you just can’t walk around town looking like that. You’ll never get two blocks. I’ll drive you. Come on get in.”

He got into the back seat and we proceeded to drive out of town, all the while Engelbert was giving me directions. After several miles, he finally told me to pull over so he could get out. “This is it,” he said.

“Wait,” I implored. “You have to tell me, are we gonna make it?”

“I don’t know what the future holds for you; your destiny is in your own hands.”

“I thought all you aliens had some kind of clairvoyance. You can see into the future.”

He smiled at me. “I think you’ve been watching way too much of that television of yours. We’re mortal just like you.” And then he challenged me. “You want to make sure you make it? Then change who you are; don’t settle for what you’ve been. Become the species you’re capable of being. Your existence doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s your choice.”

He reached out his hand to mine and shook it. “May whatever Providence you worship to smile upon you and guide your steps.”

And with that he got of the car and walked away into the darkness. As I started driving back home I saw a bright white light in my rear-view mirror. I jammed on the brakes and got of my car to see what it was, but as quickly as it appeared it was gone just like that. I got back into my car and resumed my ride back home.

As I pulled into my driveway I was filled with a sense of melancholy, and not because I knew I would never see my friend again, but because it began to dawn on me that maybe, perhaps, we just didn’t have it in us to change who we were after all.

I’d always considered myself a fairly reasonable man, and yet there I was, unmasked by someone I had known for only a few hours. He hadn’t just read me out, he nailed me right where I lived. And I didn’t like it one bit.

As I walked into my house, I knew our goose was cooked. There’d never be anyway we could extricate ourselves from this fate. Like being married to the mob, it was too ingrained into our collective conscious. We could no more divorce ourselves from it than a fish could live on dry land. Case closed.

I was exhausted. It was getting late. It was after midnight and I had to go to work the next day. But try as I could, I just couldn’t shut my eyes, so I did what any insomniac would do. I turned on CNN, and in no time at all I was fast asleep.