Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Batter Up, Mr. President

Reading Michael Tomasky's piece in The Daily Beast, I had this strange feeling of déjà vu come over me.

My favorite presidential sentence in quite some time was uttered over the weekend by Barack Obama, or whenever exactly he sat down and told The New York Times what it quoted him as saying Sunday: “I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we’ve spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits.”

Seems we've seen this movie before. Obama making a passionate speech about the economy and the middle class. How many speeches have we heard him make - all of them stirring and all of them on the money - only to see everything unravel at the merciless hand of reality. 

Tomasky, to his credit, makes many valid points that bear repeating regarding the overly pragmatic and often criticized president:

For a long time, President Obama was throwing plenty of his own chips into the austerity pot. Liberal economists (Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, Dean Baker) and liberal economics writers (Bob Kuttner, notably) were irate. I was a little more sympathetic to the political realities—contra my friend Kuttner, I never thought, for example, that there was a “Rooseveltian moment” in the wake of the 2008 crash. Indeed the vicious irony of the crash, and the resultant havoc, was that it was exactly large enough to piss off the top 5 percent (who lost large amounts of wealth) but not large enough to piss off the top 40 percent (most of whom, even with the high jobless rates of 2010, did keep their jobs and held on through the storm). Structurally speaking, this is why we got the revolution—the counter-revolution—we got, in the form of the Tea Party. If we’d had 24 percent unemployment in 2009, as FDR did in 1933, Obama would have had a much freer hand to attempt more radical experimentation.

There's a lot of truth in what Tomasky says here. Maybe, in hindsight, many of us on the Left never fully appreciated how difficult it was for Obama to navigate the currents of Washington politics. It's easy for us to say Paul Krugman was right about the stimulus not being large enough - and he was right - but it's also important to remember that the likelihood of getting a significantly larger one through Congress, even with 60 Democratic seats in the Senate, was remote at best. $788 billion, as paltry as that seems given the size of the U.S. economy, was probably as much as Obama was going to get. And get it he did and, in so doing, prevented the next great depression from happening.

It was the same way with healthcare and financial reform. Obama has always been the reasonable one in the room, seeking consensus and the best path to measured, practical solutions. While that may have been off putting to many in his base, it's worth noting that lesser presidents often overreached (Bill Clinton) or flat out punted (George Bush). That's something that tends to get overlooked. The man has gotten results while his predecessors got bupkis.

But then there's the other side of that practical, pragmatic coin that has tripped him up over and over again. Tomasky is right when he points out that Obama has often been his own worst enemy. Chasing after some illusive grand bargain, while laudable, played right into the hands of his opponents, who saw it as a weakness and used it against him. Like it or not, the reason we now have the sequester is because the President naively believed he could strike a deal with a Speaker of the House who didn't have the authority to order a ham sandwich, much less speak on behalf of his caucus.

Painful as it might seem for the White House to admit, the reason terms like deficit reduction and tightening of the belt are so popular these days is because Obama went along with the conventional wisdom of the supply-side nincompoops who gave us most of the deficits in the first place. I have said this from his first day in office: Narrative building is the key to success in politics and it has been by far Obama's biggest deficiency. He has been way too reasonable and given way too much credit where none was due. To put it in terms Lincoln would appreciate, his pursuit of the better angels in others has allowed their lesser angels to get the better of him.

Even now, with just weeks to go before both a government shutdown and a debt-ceiling default, Obama is proposing yet another grand bargain. Again he is proposing a reasonable trade off: a lowering of the corporate tax rate in return for some badly-needed infrastructure spending. The response from the Republicans was predictable as dirt: "no thanks."

In the last two plus years, the GOP-lead House has voted 39 times to repeal Obamacare, with a 40th vote scheduled to take place next week. In the Senate, Republicans have abused the filibuster to block nominations to both cabinet positions and the judiciary.  Anything this president has attempted to do has been stymied by a determined and reckless opposition which long ago stopped being a political party and is instead nothing more than a band of misfit bandits.

The sad truth is that if Obama came out in favor of sunny days, the GOP would accuse him of being anti rain. Everyone with a brain knows this, except possibly the man who should know it best. But now, there are signs that even he is finally starting to accept the fact that when it comes to governing he might have no choice but to go it alone. Hell, he's been pretty much doing that for four plus years anyway.

So, once more, the President has decided to hit the road and take his message to the people. Only this time, he's bringing along some badly needed and unusual ammo. Obama has unveiled a new strategy for how to deal with Congress. Basically, he's decided not to deal with them. Dubbed the "No-Congress Strategy" by Politico, it calls for a series of executive orders from voting rights to job creation to climate change and immigration. That last one is significant because it assumes (and rightly so) that the House has no intention of moving on a comprehensive bill of its own.

No doubt Republicans will be outraged by this and call Obama a dictator. Again. They're very good at that. In fact it's one of the few things they excel at along with holding hearings into phony scandals. Legislating sure isn't. To quote John Boehner, Republicans should be judged not by how many laws they pass, but by how many they repeal. Based on that little tidbit, they've earned a resounding F, since they haven't repealed a bloody thing.

But back to Obama. I have some advice for how the President should handle the GOP when they squawk about his executive orders.


That's right, fuck 'em. Like shit through a goose fuck 'em. For over four years this very reasonable, pragmatic, centrist president has done everything humanly possible to get the other side to meet him halfway. So eager was he to be amenable that when it came to passing healthcare reform, rather than appease his base and go for a single payer or public option, he opted instead for a plan that mirrored an already existing state-run plan that had been signed into law by a Republican governor. Certainly that would get him some street cred among the GOP.

Instead, his reward was to have it branded it as a socialist takeover of the health insurance industry by those very same Republicans. The loudest shouts coming, ironically enough, from the architect of that very same state-run plan, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose name adorns the Massachusetts law he signed into existence when he was governor.

Talk about balls!

No I think this president has been more than fair and balanced, to coin a phrase which has been badly beaten up by a certain "news" network that shall go nameless for now. He's tried being Jackie Robinson. It hasn't worked. If anything, all it's done is emboldened his opponents and encouraged them to spit on him harder and more often.

At first I thought he might try a little Hammerin' Hank on for size. But then I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that what Obama really needs is a good knock down pitch. And for that, there was none better than Bob Gibson.

Among pitchers, there wasn't a more combative or competitive athlete. He loved winning and hated losing. So protective was he of the plate that he would deliberately throw at batters who dug in and leaned too close to the strike zone. There were no sacred cows in Gibson's universe. Everyone was fair game. If he thought you were a threat to him, you soon found yourself on your ass.

Obama badly needs to channel his inner Bob Gibson or find one fast. He needs a good knockdown pitch. For four and a half years, the GOP has been crowding his plate and smacking him all over the park. It's about time he dusted a few of them off.

Over the next few days, Obama has an opportunity to reclaim not just his administration, but to reshape the entire debate. In hindsight, it was a mistake to seek middle ground with the GOP. It permitted the austerity kooks to embed their bogus message into the body politic. Instead of forging ahead with policies that could've mitigated the effects of the recession and spurred job creation (e.g. demand), Obama was on his heals while Republican policies built up momentum.

Now that it's become painfully clear that those policies have backfired - the sequester has robbed the economy of 1 percent of GDP growth and could cost upwards of 1.6 million jobs over the next 12 months - Obama must drive home HIS agenda and make HIS vision clear and he must do so in a way that the average voter can relate to. If that New York Times interview is any indication, he's off to a good start.

“If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise.”

Simple and succinct. He even manages to co-opt a huge Republican talking point: growth. Tomasky is right. It was always a mistake for Democrats to talk so much about compassion. The problem with leading with compassion is that in a slow economy people tend to be less compassionate and more out for themselves. It's basic human nature.

Of course none of this will make any difference in the short run. Republicans will reject anything this president proposes or does. That's hardly the point. Obama has decided to go long as he should. While the GOP engages in a penny wise, dollar foolish strategy, the President must set his sights on not only next year's midterms but the 2016 election.

Assuming Republicans don't completely blow up the economy by defaulting on the debt - a big assumption - we can expect steady, if slow growth over the next year and a half to three years. That means right about the time Hillary Clinton is accepting the nomination for president at the Democratic convention, unemployment should be just under 6 percent and the deficit around $300 billion or lower. That Republican convention should be quite a hoot whilst they stand around looking for something to pull out of their asses.

I can't wait to see the look on Chris Christie's face as he stays up late on election night knowing he might've beaten Hillary but didn't get the chance because his own party once more decided to nominate another (what did Michael Tomasky call it?) troglodyte for president.

The battle to reclaim America starts now. It's Obama game to lose. Funny, it was always his game to lose. Hopefully, this time he has the courage to do what deep down he knows he has to.

As Bob Gibson would say, batter up!


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tip of the Hat

With the (semi) retirement of David Frum, I was worried that I might not have a worthy winner for this month's feature piece. But then, seemingly out of left field, a surprise contender emerged to save the day. To be honest, I never would have thought him worthy of consideration, but then, as they say in football, on any given Sunday...

Over the many years, Chris Wallace of Fox News has had moments when the journalist in him occasionally reared his head and said hello. His interview of Michele Bachmann in which he referred to her as a "flake" is simply precious. I highly recommend watching it, if for no other reason than the sheer entertainment value it brings. Unfortunately for Wallace, owing to pressures from his employer, the following day he apologized. Apparently journalistic integrity is something that is shunned at News Corp.

But this month, Wallace did say something that was noteworthy and courageous and, even better for him, wasn't something he later recanted the following day. When President Obama delivered his off the cuff speech on race following the Zimmerman verdict, virtually every conservative assailed it as divisive and race baiting. Wallace was a pleasant exception.

On his "Fox News Sunday" show, Wallace rejected the notion that Obama "was stoking racial tensions." 

"I thought he was trying to help both sides of the divide understand, and I thought he was especially moving when he talked about the new generation, talked about his daughters and the idea that the new generation, the upcoming generation, is better than people of our ages were in the sense they're more color blind, they don't see whites see black or blacks see whites as much of a threat.

"I thought he was trying to deal with it in a forthright fashion. Whether it was his race speech during the 2008 campaign or other speeches, this is when the President can be most effective. The speech he gave after the senseless shooting of Gabby Giffords in Tucson about violence in our society--Boy, I sure don't see how you can read this as in any way stoking racial tensions."

Bravo, Mr. Wallace. Your father would be proud of you. Just beware; conservatives who go up against the company line at Fox News, do so at their own peril.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's Global Warming, Stupid!

Ever hear of a town called Norilsk? Until this week, neither did I. Norilsk is a little Siberian town of over 100,000 residents, which has the distinction of being the northernmost city in the world. Temperatures in Norilsk can get as low as -53 degrees Celsius or -64 degrees Fahrenheit. And just in case you were wondering, that's pretty freakin' cold. Forget frostbite, a person could die of exposure within minutes in such an environment.

Care to guess what the temperature was this week in this arctic town? A balmy 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

I'll repeat that just in case you missed it the first time. This week the temperature in the northernmost city in the whole world was 90 degrees. For those keeping score, that was higher than the temperature in New York City.

If you think that odd, try this on for size. Over the last two months, Alaska has been in the middle of one of the worst heat waves since the state was admitted into the Union. Anchorage, a city not usually known for heat and humidity, as of last Thursday had 33 straight days over 70 degrees, just 16 days shy of the record set in 2004. Based on forecasts for the city, that record looks like it will fall.

Now to be fair, it's not like heat waves in the extreme north don't happen. Norilsk has had temperatures that flirted with 90 degrees before. Indeed, the average temperature in July is 65. I checked. And then there's that aforementioned '04 heat wave that (you'll pardon the pun) baked Alaska. These things do happen.

The point is that they have been happening with greater frequency over the last few years. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly difficult to predict and more and more erratic. For instance, just last year, Anchorage had the snowiest winter in its history and that summer saw only 9 days with temps 70 and over.

It is becoming like that all over the world. Strange weather patterns, prolonged droughts, raging forest fires and increasing tornadic and tropical storm activity are rapidly becoming the norm and the consequences are starting to show.

This July, the North Pole - Santa's workshop - was a lake. That's right, a lake. Where there is usually a sheet of ice, water now sits at the top of the world. I hope Mrs. Claus brought her bathing suit. And what about those poor elves and reindeer? I'm not even sure they can swim.

To get back to being serious for a moment, decreasing ice levels spell trouble for the planet. According to a NASA study released in 2012, "the oldest and thickest Arctic sea ice is disappearing at a faster rate than the younger and thinner ice at the edges of the Arctic Ocean’s floating ice cap." This ice, which covers 15 percent of the ocean surface "is diminishing at a rate of 15.1 percent per decade." Many scientists now predict that by the middle of this century the Arctic Ocean will be "ice free" during the summer months.

Melting sea ice means higher sea levels. Cities like New York will be more prone to flooding during storms in the future. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc with the tri-state area and caused severe erosion due to the storm's surge. Lower Manhattan was under several feet of water for days. It was weeks before the city was able to fully restore subway service downtown. Imagine if that scenario played itself out on a regular basis but with storms lesser in intensity than Sandy. It is quite possible that within a few decades, lower Manhattan could be uninhabitable.

But it isn't just rising sea levels that have scientists up at night. As more and more sea ice continues to melt, the Earth's ability to reflect sunlight decreases and the planet absorbs more and more of the Sun's radiation. That translates into higher global temperatures, which in turn result in more ice loss, which in turn mean less reflection and more heat absorption. In short, we're cooking ourselves.

But the biggest concern lies under the ice. Rising global temperatures aren't just responsible for melting ice and rising sea levels; they are responsible for thawing out the permafrost: the frozen ground in the Arctic region.  Why is this a problem? Because if the permafrost were to melt, millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane that have been trapped inside it for thousands of years would be released into the atmosphere. The effects of that happening are incalculable. Global temperatures, already moving up, will likely increase at a geometric rate, thus producing still more greenhouse gases. While humanity would probably survive, huge areas of the planet might be rendered unlivable.

If that scares the shit out of you, it should. This isn't some science fiction drama playing out in front of us. This is all-too real and it's happening right before our very eyes. We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road hoping the next generation will do what we didn't have the stomach to do, or continue to deny the mounting evidence simply because it differs with a particular political viewpoint, ideology or religious dogma. Such shortsightedness is what got us into this mess in the first place. The future is now. This is no longer a question of if but of when and how bad.

Recently, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that carbon dioxide concentration reached the feared 400 parts per million mark for the first time since about 3 million years ago when the Earth was considerably warmer. It was 350 parts per million in the late 1980s. There is no telling where it may be in 30 years or so, let alone the end of the century. If we don't wake up soon, it may be too late to avoid the inevitable catastrophe.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Simply Sad

Initially, I was going to title this piece "What A Dick!" or "Some Dumb Schmuck!", which I'm sure would've gotten a few LOLs out there and even a couple of groans from the more faithful. But to tell you the truth, this isn't funny, not even remotely. Anthony Weiner stopped being a funny a long time ago. Now he is just sad.

It's hard to imagine that not long ago Weiner was one of the bright stars in the Democratic Party. He certainly was one of my favorite representatives in the House. His firebrand style of legislating was a force to be reckoned with. He earned the respect of his colleagues and was feared by his adversaries. When the Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, the conventional wisdom was that Weiner would at least keep the fire lit. As progressives, we were counting on him to put up the good fight and mitigate what we all knew was going to be pretty significant flack from the right.

What we didn't count on was that Weiner's career would end in disgrace in June of 2011 after it was revealed that he sent lewd photos of himself on his Twitter account.  There is no way of knowing what Weiner's presence might've meant to House Democrats during the heated debt-ceiling debate that summer.  But this much is certain; the void he left behind still has not been filled.

And while I'm not one to scoff at redemption, it's clear that Weiner has not learned anything from his fall from grace. Just this week, it was revealed that the former congressman and New York mayoral candidate tweeted yet more lewd photos of himself within the last year.

I say this will all due respect: Anthony Weiner doesn't need a job as mayor, he needs a 12-step meeting and fast.

Standing with his wife at a press conference, Weiner seemed oblivious not only to the seriousness of his actions, but to the gravity of his situation.

"I have posited this whole campaign on a bet, and that is that, at the end of the day, citizens are more interested in the challenge they face in their lives than in anything that I have done, embarrassing, in my past."

What has happened to Anthony Weiner is tragic and sad. But the only thing that could be sadder would be if he were to actually win this election and become New York's next mayor.  His supporters may point to Mark Sanford as justification for backing him. I would say two wrongs do not a right make.

I feel sorry for him. He is obviously sick and I'm praying he comes to his senses, drops out of the race and gets the help he desperately needs, if not for his sake, then for the sake of his wife - who looked shell shocked at the press briefing - and his family.

Read more:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The McCain Mutiny?

I have a question for the entity that is currently occupying the body of the senior senator from Arizona: Who are you and what have you done with John McCain?

Okay, that was two questions. Seriously, what has gotten into old McGrumpy pants? First he joins a group of senators to help pass a comprehensive bi-partisan immigration reform bill in the Senate. Next, he brokers a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid to avoid the nuclear option, in the process screwing his own leader Mitch McConnell. [BTW, as a side note, how would you like to be in dear old Mitch's shoes right about now?]

Couldn't get any better you say? Well I hope you're sitting down because this one will bowl you over. In an interview on CNN, McCain had this to say about President Obama's speech on Trayvon Martin last Friday:

"Events like this highlight and emphasize that we have a long way to go.  The president very appropriately highlighted a lot of that yesterday, as only the president can."

I'll let you compose yourself before I continue.



Look, let's get something straight. I will never forgive John McCain for thrusting Sarah Palin on the country during the '08 election. Her ascendency to prominence was the major catalyst for the current state of the Republican Party, and if McCain makes it to a hundred, he will never be able to live down that horrendous decision.

But I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Maybe in his own grumpy way, this is his attempt at repairing some of the damage that he, along with a good number of his cohorts, wrought on the country.

I mean think about it. McCain picked three pretty important issues to go AWOL on: immigration reform, congressional gridlock and race relations. Any one of those three could've sufficed as an olive branch. That McCain chose all three does say something about what little of his reputation there is left and how maybe, just maybe, he'd like to redeem some of it.

I'm not one to be overly optimistic. Let's face it, McCain could say or do something dickish tomorrow and undo all the nice things I just wrote about him. He's done it before.

But for now, at least, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Let's hope this time it's not another freight train barreling down the tracks. 


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spiking the Football: White America's Refusal To Come To Grips with Race

In my last piece on President Obama's press briefing about race following the Zimmerman verdict, I wrote:

"There is not one white person alive, myself included, who can even remotely begin to understand what Barack Obama was saying Friday afternoon; who can appreciate what it must be like to be profiled as suspicious for simply walking down the street and doing absolutely nothing wrong. Not once did my parents ever have to caution me about how I was dressed or worry about whether I would be stopped either by a cop or someone else in authority simply because of who I was or how I looked. That cross was never theirs to bear.  Indeed, none of us have ever known that kind of institutionalized racism."

That is certainly true. And yet, it does seem odd that most of the strongest opinions about this tragedy have come from those very same white people, present company included. I think I know why; at least I hinted as much later on in the piece:

"There are those who will say that racism isn't as overt as it once was, and they are right. For instance, when Paula Deen used the "N" word during an interview, it cost her her job.  A few years back, Don Imus was fired for using racially insensitive words to describe the Rutgers' women's basketball team on his morning radio show. Clearly there are lines the nation has drawn that, when crossed, have consequences."

I wanted to elaborate on this point a bit more, if I may. And this time, my whiteness is very much relevant.

Most of the late baby boomers in this country - that is those born during the 1960s - have never seen, firsthand, the deplorable discrimination that was visited upon the African American population. Most of us knew about this through film documentaries or later in movies like Mississippi Burning, which if you've never seen, you owe it to yourself to watch. It might well be the definitive work chronicling what life was like in the Jim Crow South.

But as shocking and disturbing as that movie was, most of us were but babies when the last vestige of that way of life was being put out of its misery. Thanks to the Civil Rights Act, conditions for African Americans did improve, if only incrementally. Today the South looks nothing like it did 50 years ago. And thank God for that. That's part of the problem. Many of us have no real historical markers from which to draw a reference point. All we know of the South is what we see today, and while some of that is certainly whacked, by no means does it bare any resemblance to that dreadful past.

The result was that most of us grew up with rose-tinted glasses when it came to racial injustice. The overt gave way to the covert. That isn't to suggest that racial slurs were never used. Far from it.  As I mentioned in that same piece, the Long Island neighborhood I grew up in was hardly a melting pot. It was not unusual to hear the "N" word occasionally thrown around. I remember as a teenager how uncool it was to be caught listening to any black music, unless it was Hendrix. When I was a boy, I couldn't get enough of Smokey Robinson or the Temptations or even the Jackson 5. It's funny how kids grow up, isn't it?

Throughout most of the 1970s and '80s, conditions continued to improve for black America and the temptation among many white Americans was to conclude that racism was, if not dead, then certainly in its death throws. To be honest, I certainly didn't give the matter much thought, even as I continued to vote Democrat in virtually every election. I simply wasn't paying attention to more subtle ways that racism was evolving and lingering within society. The income gap between the ultra rich and the middle class became wider and wider during the '80s and even into the '90s. If white America could feel the pinch, then black America was getting squeezed but good.

The problem was both equal parts perspective and deception. Let's look at deception first. There were two pretty significant financial booms that lifted the economy over the last two decades. The former came courtesy of the dot com surge of the late '90s; the latter the housing bubble of the mid '00s. Both were temporary fixes to an ailing economy that had been in decline for the better part of three decades. When the housing bubble finally burst in '07, the economy started heading south but fast.

The Great Recession of '08 was the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression and it devastated many hard-working people of all colors, but particularly blacks and Hispanics. It didn't help matters that minorities were being singled out as the primary cause of the recession. If only they hadn't bought homes they knew they couldn't afford than the rest of us wouldn't have suffered so much, went the bogus charge.

Of course you know who the "us" is. That would be the hard-working white middle class of this country who supposedly grew up ignorant of racial bigotry, but who now had no problem expressing their contempt for what they viewed as the freeloading riff-raff who got all the breaks while they had to bust it just to make ends meet.

And that brings us to perspective. Reverse discrimination has become the latest catchword for many whites who are growing more and more resentful at what they feel are undeserved gains that black America is getting on their dime. How many times have I had to hear some idiot mouth off that the only racism that exists in America today is against white people? Too many, I'm afraid. Whenever an African American or Hispanic lands a job or gets into a university ahead of what we are told is a much more deserving white candidate, it's like the sky comes crashing down.

The landmark case of Fisher v. University of Texas was a case in point. Never mind that under the university's own guidelines, Fisher still wouldn't have gotten in - she only graduated in the top 12% of her class, not the required 10% - the fact that a black student got in was enough to set off the legal fireworks, not to mention the waterworks. The poor thing had to suffer through four years at Louisiana State University. Imagine her indignity if she didn't have the opportunity to go to college at all like a lot of African Americans and Hispanics, or if, when she got out, she had to contend with a 19 percent unemployment rate like African Americans and Hispanics do on a daily basis.

Cry me a river, sweetie!

Perspective has become a four-letter word in White America today. A lack of perspective has prevented many whites from not only having a true understanding of the historical context of racism, but of appreciating its lingering effects in the culture. It also has prevented any kind of empathy from developing. It is through empathy that people learn to appreciate the suffering of others.

Are there instances where blacks and Hispanics are afforded special treatment based on their race? Of course there are. Is such treatment the norm in American society? Not by a long shot. The facts are irrefutable. Despite the odd exception or two, whites continue to enjoy a privileged status in the United States. I have not met one white person who would trade places with a black or Latino. Not one.

But that has not kept the peanut gallery from crying in its beer. Witness the Zimmerman defense team after the verdict of not guilty came down. One of the lawyers actually had the gall to say that had their client been black he never would've been charged. Talk about rubbing salt in an open wound.

But he was hardly alone. Over the last seven days, I have paid close attention to a lot of the comments about the trial and have come to an unalterable conclusion. Apart from the fact that the verdict was celebrated by many, apparently the only way some whites can come to grips with race in this country is for the rest of us to shut up about it. When Obama commented about the verdict, he was accused by the far right of playing the race card. When an African American president can't even speak about the struggles of his own race without causing a hissy fit, you know the nation is in denial mode.

To be honest, I don't know if white America (or at least that part of white America that keeps embarrassing itself) can ever get beyond this phase. For centuries, whites had it all. Sharing is not in our nature.  I can only speak from my perspective. I'm not feeling terribly optimistic about the future.

To even suggest with a straight face that the only racism in America today is reverse racism is to display a stunning degree of ignorance with respect to the role race has always played in our history. And, sadly, it is an ignorance many whites wear proudly.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Moment of Candor and An Opportunity for Reflection

Friday afternoon, Barack Obama took time to address the nation not as the President but as an African American and it was one of the more heartfelt and emotional moments of his presidency. Speaking primarily off the cuff and without a prepared speech, the President spoke from his heart. For a man who has carefully chosen his words and who has been deliberately guarded, sometimes to a fault, the candor with which he spoke was refreshing to say the least.

When he said that Trayvon Martin could've been him 35 years ago, it was the closest we have ever seen this African-American President come to openly acknowledging his race. He has so much wanted to be like his child-hood hero, Lincoln, but the simple and undeniable truth is that he could never be Lincoln and I suspect, deep down, he always knew that. He was and is the Jackie Robinson of politics, for better or worse. The first of his race to reach the big leagues and that reality has weighed heavily on him. And for a brief moment, Barack Obama let his hair down.

He neither lost his composure nor dipped into the pity pot a lesser man might have. In that respect, at least, he was Lincoln, insofar as he refused to bow to his lesser angels. But he did read out, in his own way, a nation that still, despite the gains it has made over the last few decades, has a long way to go to put the issue of race to bed. 

"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

"And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

"And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear."

There is not one white person alive, myself included, who can even remotely begin to understand what Barack Obama was saying Friday afternoon; who can appreciate what it must be like to be profiled as suspicious for simply walking down the street and doing absolutely nothing wrong. Not once did my parents ever have to caution me about how I was dressed or worry about whether I would be stopped either by a cop or someone else in authority simply because of who I was or how I looked. That cross was never theirs to bear.  Indeed, none of us have ever known that kind of institutionalized racism.

So when the President says that he could well have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, he isn't exaggerating; he is simply being honest. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that a black man who openly expressed a desire to one day become president could have found himself on the wrong end of a rope for such an expression.

Those who naively believe that we have somehow arrived as a nation and have come to peace with our past, just aren't paying attention. It's easy to focus on the South - Florida, in particular, seems to have gone completely off the rails - but the truth is racism exists everywhere. There is virtually no area of the country immune from it.  35 years ago, I was a teenager living in a very white neighborhood on the south shore of Long Island. If you were black in that community you were obviously lost. I probably went to high school with a dozen kids just like George Zimmerman.

There are those who will say that racism isn't as overt as it once was, and they are right. For instance, when Paula Deen used the "N" word during an interview, it cost her her job.  A few years back, Don Imus was fired for using racially insensitive words to describe the Rutgers' women's basketball team on his morning radio show. Clearly there are lines the nation has drawn that, when crossed, have consequences.

But those lines are superficial at best. The fact is the nation is more polarized now than it was even twenty years ago. You can cut the racial tension in this country with a knife, that's how bad it has gotten. Trayvon Martin felt that tension and paid dearly for it. He was not the first and he will certainly not be the last.

Like most progressives, I thought the election of Barack Obama would allow for a healing process to begin. America, I thought, had finally turned a page. Nothing could've been further from the truth. Far from healing the wounds of our past, Obama's presence seemed to exacerbate them. The country may have seen fit to elect a black man, but it was hardly ready for that same black man to exercise his authority. Witness the uproar over the images of Obama with his feet up on the Oval Office desk or the press conference where he had a Marine hold an umbrella for him. Never mind that other presidents before him had done the same thing, the fact that it was Obama touched a raw nerve within a certain segment of the population.

There have always been two sets of rules in this country: one for whites and one for everyone else. It has been that way from the beginning, even before the Republic was founded. The gains that African Americans made first during the Reconstruction period and later during the 1960s, while significant, never dealt with the underlying systemic problems that, to this day, continue to persist. 

Marx addressed some of these issues from a sociological perspective in his 19th century critique of capitalism, Das Kapital. The continuing economic crises that are endemic to capitalism pit competing groups of workers against each other for the limited available resources. For centuries, whites enjoyed a unique and lofty status in society at the expense of their black counterparts who were enslaved and then, at the conclusion of the Civil War, denied their legal rights.  As blacks began to gain ground, economically speaking, they began to compete with whites for jobs and resources that hitherto belonged exclusively to whites. The backlash was both predictable and inevitable. What we are witnessing today is the culmination of a decades-long slow burn within a segment of white America that not only resents the loss of their privileged status, but has taken it upon itself to do everything possible to turn back the clock.

Of course that's physically impossible. No matter how hard they try, the nation is NOT going back to the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best. The genie isn't going back into her bottle. That's the good news. The bad news is that, for the foreseeable future, we are going to have more tragedies like what happened in Florida and more innocent blood will be spilled. Frankly, I don't see any way around it. Black America isn't going backward and that part of white America that can't deal with an ascending black America seems determined to "stand its ground."

The simple truth is that until we address the 800 pound gorilla that has been living among us for centuries and sit down and have an adult conversation about race and economics, we will never move beyond this sad chapter in our history. We will still be fighting the same Civil War we assumed was decided over a century ago.

I appreciate the fact the the President is optimistic about the future and he's right about one thing: our kids are better than us. I'm just not as optimistic as he is. The problem with kids is that they grow up to become adults. And invariably they inherit their parents' worst fears and prejudices. That's when all hell breaks loose. Just last week, a 29 year old adult was acquitted of killing a 17 year old teenager.

I wonder what a 17 year old George Zimmerman would've done that night. Probably would've stolen Trayvon Martin's skittles. 


Monday, July 15, 2013

Rhetorical Questions

Robert Reich poses a rhetorical question in Salon.

"Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth.
"Would you call this treason?
"If not, what would you call it?
"And what would you do about it?"

Actually, I would call it a coup.

But the real question that Reich didn’t ask and the one that begs to be answered is how on Earth can a population, only a few years removed from the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression and still suffering from its effects, continue to fall for such an obviously treasonous act by said small group of wealthy people?

The words of the incomparable W.C. Fields seem a fitting answer to that rhetorical question.

“Never give a sucker an even break.”


Saturday, July 13, 2013


Mark the time and remember it well, for it was at that precise moment on July 13th, 2013 that six jurors in Sanford, Florida acquitted George Zimmerman of second degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

If you were surprised by this verdict then you simply weren't paying attention, not only to the shoddy job the prosecution was doing in this case, but to the simple reality that in some parts of this country it is still okay for a white man to shoot a black kid and make it sound like he was the one who was the victim.

The unmistakable and undeniable fact was that if George Zimmerman had simply listened to the 911 dispatcher and stayed inside his car, Trayvon Martin would still be alive today. That the prosecution never drove home this basic fact is inexplicable. Indeed, the way they tried this whole case defied logic, starting with the insistence to charge second-degree murder when most legal analysts believed a manslaughter charge was called for. Indeed it was the judge who allowed for the lesser charge of manslaughter to be considered by the jury, NOT the prosecution.

But let's put the facts of this case aside, since it was obvious from the get go that facts would not be the deciding factor. An all-white jury (save one Latina) sitting in judgment of a white man (albeit part Hispanic) accused of shooting an unarmed black teenager in a southern state. What could possibly go wrong?

In a word, everything.

Does anyone with half a brain believe for an instant that if a black George Zimmerman had shot a white Trayvon Martin he would be a free man tonight? That was meant as a rhetorical question. The answer is Zimmerman would be starting his 20-year prison term as we speak.

This was never about some ridiculous stand your ground law or whose voice that was on the tape. For the record, I couldn't give a shit and the prosecution shouldn't have given one either. Even a first-year law student knows that all ties go to the defense. But then a first-year law student would've done a much better job trying this case than Dewey Cheatem and Howe.

This was always about race. From the moment Zimmerman got out of his car and approached Martin it was all about race, particularly Martin's race. Hoodie or no hoodie, Martin was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was an African American in a white neighborhood. And for some that is simply inexcusable.

With all the strides that have been made in this country over the last few decades, the sight of a young black man walking down the street of a white neighborhood still sets off a certain percentage of whites in this country. They simply can't stand the fact that black people are allowed to move around freely among them. George Zimmerman was more a hero than an executioner to them. He wasn't just standing his ground, but all of their ground collectively.

It matters not that Trayvon Martin was no threat to anyone. His crime was that he refused to listen to a white man who told him to stop. And for that he lost his life. And now, thanks to an incompetent legal team and six blind jurors, his killer is free to do the same thing again the next time a black teenager makes the fatal error of believing that, even in 21st century America, he is equal to a white man with a gun and a giant chip on his shoulder.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

If At First You Don't Succeed, Run for the Hills

Both Roll Call and PoliticusUSA are reporting that House Republicans, frustrated at the farm bill debacle, have decided to waive the white flag, as it were. They have dropped the food stamps provision of the bill and instead will permit an up and down vote on just the farm-only portion. The food stamp provision, according to a GOP leadership aide, "would be dealt with later."

Yeah, much later.

This clusterfuck was brought about when GOP leadership introduced the Southerland amendment, which would've meant drastic cuts in nutrition and food stamps. House Democrats balked at the amendment, which prompted House Republicans to accuse them of reneging on their promise to deliver enough votes for passage.

But the real reason the bill went up in flames is that 61 Republicans who voted for the amendment, ended up voting against the bill, thus ensuring its defeat, a fact Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi drove home rather cleverly.

Reportedly, Eric Cantor, in a closed-door meeting, ripped his colleagues a new one. I would've loved to have been a fly on a wall in that room. Between John Boehner's horrendous lack of leadership and the inmates now running the asylum, things are starting to fall apart in GOP land.

If you thought this performance an embarrassment, just wait till the GOP puts forth its immigration bill. I hear "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" museum will be sending a representative to Washington when that turkey comes up for a vote. That is assuming it even makes it out of committee.

This would be hysterical if it weren't so sad.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Waiting for the Tsunami

Contrary to what some in the peanut gallery might say, I was NOT around 65 million years ago when the asteroid that hit the Earth wiped out the dinosaurs. Though it's likely they never knew what hit them, I would've given anything to have seen the expression on their faces as that giant wave swept over the land and carried them to extinction.

Cataclysmic events like that are often sudden, violent and lasting. Notice we don't have any dinosaurs around these days? Nature adapted and life, somehow, went on. If there is one constant in the universe it is that change is inevitable.

Change comes in many forms, not just biological. Societies change and with them social mores and values. It's hard to imagine that only a few decades ago, it was illegal in some states for a black man and a white woman to marry. Now, aside from the occasional stare from an ignoramus, it's not even noteworthy. I can't tell you how many young people I run into who are in relationships with members of other races and ethnic and religious backgrounds. Only a generation ago, that would've been almost unthinkable. The stigma from the respective families would've been overwhelming. Trends like this should come as a reminder that no matter how much a society may resist it, change comes anyway.

The same is true for gay and lesbian couples. It wasn't that long ago that they had to hide their feelings towards one another for fear of retribution. The recent Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA, while not the perfect solution, nonetheless was an important step in the long journey that that community has had to endure. It will take a few more years, but, eventually, the day will come when all people, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, will have the same right to marry the love of their life. That day cannot come fast enough.

Even the recent setback concerning the Voting Rights Act, was a temporary roadblock. Population demographics are changing in America and the country is slowly moving towards a more diverse, inclusive and tolerant society. The forces which resist such changes may have won an important battle at the Supreme Court, but the war, for them, is already lost. It's possible a few voters will lose their right to vote in the next couple of elections, but as the numbers of minorities continue to swell to the point where they eventually become the majority, those who did this will face their own extinction.

I could go on and on. Women's reproductive rights, global warming, evolution, you get the point. These issues have only one eventual outcome and no amount of delay tactics, legal haranguing or obstructionism can prevent them from being fulfilled. [Though in the case of global warming, time is of the essence.]

That is the good news that awaits America. That is why, despite all the nonsense with which we've had to contend these last few years, I remain optimistic about our future. The agents of intolerance and bigotry can shout as loud as they want. Time is NOT on their side. They know it. That's why they're acting the way they are. The voter ID laws that are being passed now are nothing more than a futile attempt to delay the inevitable and prolong a past that long ago died and was buried.

The world that they grew up in and loved so dearly has passed on and they simply refuse to let it go. Fortunately for the rest of us, the decision to let it go doesn't rest with them. It rests with ALL of us. Time marches on and could care less who is a willing partner or not.

For those trapped in the past, the asteroid has already struck, the ash cloud is rising and the wave is building momentum as it heads for shore. The end for these Neanderthals will not be as swift as it was for those dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but like their ancient brethren, it will be just as lasting.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Progressives "R" NUTS!

Guess who just got his membership to the progressive caucus revoked?

Oh, well, I was never much of a company man anyway. Just ask any of my former employers. I've never flown in the same direction with the other birds.  Had to go my own way. What I didn't count on, and what I never expected to see, was how many of the flock seemed hellbent on flying headlong into the side of a building.

Maybe I should explain a little. The other day I wrote a piece about how progressives needed to cool their jets and see the forest for the trees. It was essential that they come to grips with the realization that the ideal candidate - the one they've been searching for ever since Bobby Kennedy was stolen from them - doesn't exist. And if by chance they did manage to find one, the likelihood of that person winning a national election was remote at best. Elizabeth Warren came to mind.

I cited Ralph Nader's candidacy in 2000 as proof that progressives are often their own worst enemy. Nader's presence on the Florida ballot all but guaranteed the election of George W. Bush. Yes, I know the Supreme Court's decision to stay the recount was the final death blow, but the simple and undeniable fact was and is that had Nader simply heeded the advice he was given by many of his supporters and pulled out of the race, Gore would've received an additional 12,000 votes. The whole Bush v. Gore scenario would never have played out in the first place. For good measure I added that those who voted for Nader were "no better" than their Tea Party counterparts on the right.

Suffice to say that didn't sit too well with the overwhelming majority of those who read the piece. Apparently, I hadn't realized just how well regarded old King Ralph still is among the faithful.  The thought of being compared to the Tea Party was more than most of them could stand.  The responses ranged from obtuse and convoluted to sheer denial to out and out rage. One guy actually told me to go fuck myself. Poetic, if nothing else.

Okay, I realize that these people do not represent the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats or even independents out there - thank God. The problem is that, in a close election, they can still fuck up a sunset and that deeply troubles me. When one of the comments says, and I quote, "Nader only got 5 percent of the vote," I don't know how to respond to that. ONLY? Seeing as how Barack Obama won the popular vote by 4 percent, I'd say 5 percent is pretty damn significant. 5 percent is the ball game, especially in a close election.

I cannot reiterate too deeply just what the stakes are, not just in 2014, but in 2016 and probably going forward. The threat that the Republican Party poses is nothing to sneeze at, or shrug one's shoulder at. It certainly demands from all of us that we soberly deliberate what our actions should be and what consequences those actions are likely to entail.

Those of you who still feel that a vote for an establishment Democrat is a wasted vote, should consider the ramifications should Republicans take the Senate next year and the White House in 2016. The recent decisions handed down by the Supreme Court make it all too clear that the future of the nation and the last fifty years of jurisprudence are at stake. A "conscientious" vote for a candidate who has no chance of being elected - Jill Stein, for example - based on some misguided and misplaced set of principles is no vote at all; it is the height of irresponsibility and it can have tragic implications for millions.

I am tired of the McGoverns, the Mondales, the Dukakises and the Kerrys. There is no solace in losing, especially when winning is right there in front of you. So you don't like the NSA program. Fine. Go out and vote for a candidate who says they will stop it, and then when that candidate loses, you'll have to contend with the Republican who will not only continue that same dreaded program, but role back civil rights for minorities, scrap head start, end Medicare and Medicaid once and for all and destroy every other liberal initiative imaginable. Think the voting rights gut job was bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet. And, just think, you made it all possible by "voting your conscience."

Way to go, genius!

George Bush didn't say or do a lot of things that turned out right during his disastrous two terms in office, but one thing he did say rings loud and true and progressives should take heed to remember it.

"Elections have consequences."

They certainly do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Ralph Nader Syndrome

It's happening again. The natives are growing restless. Every few years or so progressives get disillusioned about their leaders and they start day dreaming about alternatives. And, almost without exception, every time they do so, the dream turns into a nightmare.  

Barack Obama is George Bush 44, who's spying on all of us and ordered the hit on Michael Hastings, didn't you know that? Hillary Clinton? Well she's just another neo-liberal who voted for the Patriot Act and, before she became First Lady, defended Walmart. Yes, Walmart, the anti-Christ of retail.  Imagine a lawyer defending pond scum like that. Perry Mason would never do such a thing.

It was thirteen years ago that progressives, pissed off at Al Gore - over what, I have no idea - turned to Ralph Nader as their savior and deliverer. And how did their savior and deliverer repay their devotion and loyalty? By gift-wrapping the state of Florida for George W. Bush, that's how. Thanks to their obstinance, progressives saddled the nation with ole shit-for-brains for eight long years.

Okay, I get it. The '60s never died for you. At heart, you're the same hippie your parents were. You've refused to stop playing those Grateful Dead records, you've never gotten over Bobby Kennedy's assassination and somewhere out there is that perfect candidate who won't be corrupted by the system and who will lead us all to the promised land.  A Jimmy Stewart for the 21st century.

I want you to know two things: 1. I want that same candidate; and 2. I also want Santa Claus to bring me a Mets' World Series championship before I die. And, while he's at it, world peace, too. Knowing the Wilpons the way I do, I'm guessing world peace will come first.

Seriously, folks, it's time to put down whatever it is you've been inhaling, because it's killing your brain cells. I have dreams too, but then I wake up and realize I live in the real world. It's not the world I would want, but it's the only one there is.

I hate being the bearer of bad news, but here goes. Not only wasn't the revolution televised, it's over. And guess what? The good guys lost. That's right, boys and girls, the war is over. George Washington is spinning in his grave and Thomas Jefferson just threw up all over John Adams, which, if you know anything at all about Jefferson and Adams, should come as no shock. The two hated each other's guts.

It was Bill Maher who once said, "We have a center-right party, and a crazy party. And over the last thirty odd years, Democrats have moved to the right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital." Notice how there was no mention of a "C" in Maher's statement? That's because there isn't any. John Anderson and Ross Perot were never going to prevail anymore than Teddy Roosevelt did in 1912.  And that's because of this little thing known as the electoral college. It kinda precludes 3rd party upsets from happening. Think of it as the Republic's way of defending itself from the fringes.

Look, I don't have anything against wish lists, or vetting candidates vying for my vote. And, no, I don't think we should settle for just anyone with a pulse. We should never apologize for having standards, nor should we refrain from calling out our leaders when they have fallen short of expectations. But this idea that the lesser of two evils is no choice at all is the sort of thing that leads to disastrous results at the ballot box.

Don't believe me? Take a gander at the other side of the political aisle. You may think the Tea Party crazy, intolerant, myopic, racist and dangerous. They are certainly that. But there's also one other thing they are: they're idealists. And to a man, woman and child they truly believe in their cause. They are not corrupted by the system; indeed, they despise establishment Republicans as sellouts. And they are willing to pay whatever price they have to, to protect the beliefs they cherish most.

After cresting in the 2010 midterms, their fortunes have since plummeted. They were trounced in 2012 and, unless they come around, will likely cost the GOP congressional seats in next year's midterms, not to mention the White House in 2016.

Think they care? Shit no. They are defiant as ever. Crazy people usually are. It's their one glaring weakness. In their world, it is better to lose on principles than to win by compromising.

Sound familiar? It should. Every single one of you who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 is no better than your Tea Party counterparts. Yes, I realize that hurts. It was meant to. I'd rather you hate my guts now than hate yours down the road.

And speaking of down the road, I'm hearing some rumblings that a certain first-term senator from Massachusetts is seriously being floated as a possible 2016 Democratic candidate. Let me put the kabash on that once and for all.

I love Elizabeth Warren. She's genuine and she's fearless. I wish we had a dozen more like her in the Senate. To be frank, I have a better shot at winning the presidency than she does. My fear isn't that she wouldn't make a good primary candidate, she would; my fear is she would actually win the nomination and lose to Chris Christie or Marco Rubio in the general. That thought keeps me up nights. It should make you shit your pants.

Hillary is flawed, no doubt about it, but then who isn't?  Barring an as of yet unforeseen candidate that can hold his or her own in 2016, she is still the best hope Democrats have of doing something they haven't done since 1948: win more than two consecutive presidential elections. And winning counts. Just ask John Kerry. I'll gladly take Clinton, warts and all, over the alternative.

For, in the final analysis, if it comes down to a choice between the candidate who is either a sellout or has been corrupted by the political process and the one who's crazy, I'll take the former any day. The former can be reasoned with; the latter belongs in a rubber room, not the Oval Office.