Friday, September 28, 2018

Free Fallin'

The current furor over the potential appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is a perfect example of why we find ourselves so polarized as a society. The only voices that are heard are people who have fixed and immovable positions. He’s a rapist or she’s a liar. That’s basically it. There are some offshoots of those arguments, but they are basically anchored in one or the other premise. And herein lies the problem. TRUTH and FACTS are no longer necessary for us, as a whole, to take intractable positions.

The idea that rational thought is a thing of the past is horrifying, but I honestly don’t see a way to turn this around. As social media continues to grow as the de facto news source for the majority of Americans, we get farther and farther away from the search for TRUTH. The TRUTH, has become our truth. If I believe it, then it’s true. That’s the new national creed.

It would be interesting to get into an honest and open conversation about the current situation on Capitol Hill, but what would that conversation be based on? The only thing we have to go on is the 40 year old recollection of two people. I believe that Dr. Ford was assaulted and I believe that she believes that Brett Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her. I also believe that Mr. Kavanaugh is not the saint that he paints himself out to be (who could be?). I believe that he and his friends certainly did things that crossed many lines (both of decorum and the law). However, when it comes to the particular incident in question, he has denied any participation or knowledge of it.  
So where does that leave us in the age of individual truth? It leaves us in opposite castles using catapults to launch bombs at each other. We are incapable of discussing the matter without claiming the other side is absolutely wrong. We reserve just as much anger for those who refuse to take sides, because in the age of individual truth, you are either with us or an idiot/racist/rapist/communist/liar/abuser.

In an age of unfettered access to information, we have managed to become less informed, less aware, less reasoned and less intelligent. We have become petty and selfish as a nation. We have become about the battle and we are no longer about the war. We are shortsighted to a fault. I have no idea how this Kavanaugh situation will resolve itself and frankly, I don’t care. The Heritage foundation has a long list of candidates lined up if this nomination were to fail. They all have similar conservative pedigrees and they will aid in pushing the court firmly to the right.

There will be those on the left who will be filled with great joy if this nomination fails. They will feel some sense of accomplishment. Not because anything was really accomplished in the long run, but hey, a win is a win. A win for individual truth!

I want to pass along some TRUTH. I wrote this back in July of 2016 when I heard the wave of indifference that was being pointed in Hillary Clinton’s direction,

We can be thoughtful and careful when we decide who to vote for in November.
We can act like children and decide to take our toys home. I always thought that people who consider themselves liberal/progressive/socialist had a bigger world view than their own front door. I always thought that it was the conservative/republicans/libertarians who would only think of themselves. I thought they were the ones who could be talked into voting against their own self-interest. 

I can boil this election down to three words: THE SUPREME COURT. If you don't understand the ramifications of those three words, then frankly, you shouldn't be voting.”

I will end this the same way I ended that particular rant from 2 years ago…And that is all I have to say about that. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Lost in Translation

The Academy Awards have come and gone and the ratings continue to be in free fall. They lost approximately 6 million viewers from last year and put up an all-time low in viewership. It is fairly easy to spot the issue, but I’m not sure that the Academy cares. Perhaps when their rights fees are dropped in their next contract, they’ll start to consider a change, because as with most things in Hollywood, money talks and bullshit walks. 

The main issue with the awards show is that Hollywood is no longer concerned with what the general public thinks about their product. They have become experts at self-congratulatory gestures. This years’ list of nominees for best picture contained 2 movies that had crossed the $100 million dollar threshold. The box office totals for the past 7 best picture winners are: $44MM (2011), $136MM (2012), $56MM, $42MM (2013), $45 (2015), $28MM (2016) & $57MM (2017). Outside of a blip in 2011, it’s clear that Hollywood is very happy rewarding movies that very few have seen. 

When the number of possible nominees for best picture were expanded from five to ten in 2009, it was expected that more spots would be available for “popular” movies. The outcry over the fact that the Batman movie, which was incredibly well reviewed but didn’t manage to make the best picture list led to a change. The Academy saw that their ratings were slipping and looked for a way to be more inclusive and to find a bigger audience. However, they have done the exact opposite. They have continued to reward movies that they find interesting, while ignoring what the general public actually goes and sees. The idea of “best” has morphed into small and different. You can actually see movies that are made with the academy award in mind. Movies that meander and have no central narrative are all the rage with the voters these days.

2003 seems to be the dividing point of the new Hollywood. The third installment of Lord of Rings, along with being the highest grossing move of the year, won all 11 of the awards that it was nominated for and everyone in the Academy was apparently embarrassed to have agreed with the public about what was the best movie that year. The blowback was immediate and produced the system we now have. Since 2003, no movie that finished in the top 10 in box office has won and only 3 that finished in the top 20 have won. The average box office for nominees in 2003 was $145MM compared to $77MM this year. That does not even take into account adjusted dollars. If you include the adjusted figure for 2003 ($197MM), the difference becomes even more stark. In fact the only year that the average box office surpassed the adjusted gross of 2003, was 2009 and that was skewed by Avatar, which was at that point, the highest grossing domestic movie of all time. 

There is no rule that says a movie can’t be accessible and artistic. Entertainment and art do not necessarily live in different spaces. Currently the Academy is of the mindset that they do. Perhaps they will swing back the other way or perhaps they will continue along the path of irrelevancy. This is, after all, the same group that once nominated Ghost as best picture. Let that sink in. The Academy decided that Ghost was one of the five best pictures made that year. I realize that the voting members have changed, but they still come from the same place. Would Wonder Woman or Beauty and Beast have made this years’ list worse? They only used 9 of the 10 spots available. Clearly something came in 10th and they decided not to include it. Would anyone have missed The Phantom Thread or Darkest Hour or The Post or Call Me by Your Name? How about a comedy like Girls Trip or a feel good movie like Wonder? Is something that is pleasing to the general public so repugnant to the Academy that they are not even worth consideration? 

I picked the title of this piece based on the 2003 movie starring Bill Murray. That was the kind of movie that would be added to best picture list to show that the Academy still cared about small and “interesting” movies. It finished below the top 50 that year in box office and was the only one the list in that position. However, Lost in Translation looks like a blockbuster at $44MM($60MM adjusted) compared to the Hurt Locker which won best picture in 2009 with a total box office gross of $17MM or the$ 28MM gross of Moonlight. Black Panther’s opening weekend was literally 12 times the total gross of Hurt Locker. The public votes with their dollars and their eyes. If they aren’t spending their hard earned money to go to a movie, then they aren’t going to spend their time watching it get an award. They simply don’t care about things they haven’t seen. The Academy has to understand that or they should go back to having a private self congratulatory party with no one watching. If things continue along the current path, soon they won't have a choice.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I Am Talking to the Men.

I've been talking with a few friends, filmmakers and artists I've known since college more or less -all of them male- about these exposes in the media on Harvey Weinstein's career-long predation on women. After we were done shrugging over our compared notes and impressions about something that we thought everybody already knew about for years, we started blaming everybody,—in particular ourselves and here's why:

Back in the days when I worked at Film/Video Arts in the mid 1990s, this shit about Harvey Weinstein was a so-called open secret, which is to say it was KNOWN BY EVERYBODY. We had not heard about Harvey Weinstein raping anyone -at least I hadn't, but it was common knowledge that he was lecherous on a crazy fucking scale. In 1995, If you knew any actor who had a meeting, or audition, or sitdown of any kind with anybody at  MiraMax, -you let her know what was up: that the Weinsteins were a couple of old-timey era throwbacks who insisted on what agents used to privately call "lay to play" and for the record -I also don't remember anybody making any distinction between the two brothers -except that a male friend of mine, -a formidably sized actor (Chime in on the comments if you want because I know you're reading this -but it's up to you) who nobody would ever fuck with, said Harvey had the potential to get very agitated and physically violent with people who worked for him on a whim (or behaved worse with people who didn't work for him, like waiters and valets), and he admitted to me that he was scared of Harvey because he was one of those big fat rich guys who walked around with that almost maffiaesque sense of entitlement (read: if he got into it with you, and you pushed back and beat his ass, -he would just get several people to come after you later.) All of this was talked about throughout the 90s here in New York amongst small-timers like me who were the location managers, PMs, script supervisors, editors, assistant editors, sound men, ADs, travel captains, line producers, UPMs  et al of the no-budget independent film world -only the actors seemed to be in the dark- they were the ones we always had to tell about it.—AND I mean we HAD to tell them about it in "Scared-Straight" style theatrics, because I remember just about all of them saying something to the effect of "I know what to do if something bad happens" and which point you'd explain to them that if "something bad happens" that's too late. I got really good at having this talk by 1998, but I do remember a couple of actors accuse me of trying to be a "nice guy" (-I now know that's been codified as a new archetype pf passive aggressive beta male asshole whose altruism and friendship is all part of manipulation or guilt tripping in pursuit of sex with a girl he pretends to be best friends with. -it's quite an insult when you are literally trying to steer someone from harm.) Again it was the actors who didn't really seem to know and lately I really wonder why the hell that is or was, until I realized, perhaps it was because - it was pretty much the case everywhere:

"If every DMV office is dirty and grey; why would you think to single out any particular DMV office for being dirty and grey?" 

—Every agency that wasn't run by a woman had the reputation in the 80s and 90s of a fucked up frat house - I didn't know of many production companies that were run by women in those days -just a sign of those times. If it was an agency or production company run by a Gay man, especially a closeted Gay man whose preferences were "known" -you had just as big a freak out about all your Gay friends running afoul of these agencies and companies and their resident molesters-in-chief, -and those conversations between a Straight guy and Gay guy always got fucking weird because no one in this world can get themselves into danger faster that a 20-something year old Gay man who thinks he's seen it all because he lives in New York City: Anybody, -any body can get drugged, raped, killed. This is an industry (Entertainment, music, movies, TV) I reminded a male playwright that was older than me, that literally chews up attractive young men (or even nerdy young men): I reason that if you think that's a fair trade, you're conning yourself as much as you think you're hustling your well-connected mark. Rich powerful men in Hollywood and in New York "disappear" people, lovers and friends once they get "inconvenient" and they do it simply because they can. It's curious how many young Gay -writers, -assistants, -producers, -what-have-you disappeared over the 1990s without any explanation or clue. One day you knew somebody, the next month he'd gone west and nobody every heard about him again.—Just like that. 
If you knew an actor who told you she had a "dinner meeting," you let her know what was up, and on two occasions that I can remember I was asked to drop a friend off and pick them up afterward. Both women asked that I make a point of shaking the guy from office A or B's hand firmly. I certainly let them know, by staring into their eyes that there would be consequences if anything weird went off; I let them know that I was watching, that somebody knew where she was, and at what time and who with... In both cases there was nothing but pleasant dinner and a good bye reported...
but you know what?—Those women didn't get 
those jobs either.
Selfishly, I remember a lot of us were openly relieved that we didn't have a female friend, a sister, a cousin, or a girlfriend who was an actor or musician.
—How fucking cowardly of all of us. 

In the 1990s it was like open season on women and even some young men as soon as no one was watching.
The thing is, -if I had heard this then, -about Weinstein and so many others -doesn't somebody know something now? 
What open secrets are endangering lives by obscuring some obvious monster operating with the privilege and impunity of our inaction, the cover of our laziness, the encouragement of our fear?
Why is our response to whisper, gossip, and ultimately uphold the lies that allow crime and violence to continue behind closed doors?
                                 I am talking to the men.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Culture of Outrage

We live in a society where the only currency seems to be outrage. Every slight, every misstep, every word out of place is met by a cacophony of voices screaming at the top of their lungs about how they feel wronged. The biggest problem in this new culture is that if everything is outrageous, then nothing is.

Public outrage used to be reserved for things that really mattered. Let's take our current natural disaster as an example. When Katrina hit and lives where being lost and the response from the White House was tepid at best, there was real cause for outrage. When Harvey hit and the the first lady wore stilettos to visit Texas, the response was immediate outrage from the press and from social media. This is the state that we've devolved to. Our righteous energy is no longer reserved for the things that matter. It is now unleashed on every perceived wrongdoing from every living human being.

Did somebody famous short a server on a tip? let's persecute them on social media. Did someone wear the wrong color to a funeral? Let's persecute them on social media. Did someone use an inappropriate term when referring to native Americans, or African Americans or Italian Americans or whatever Americans? Let's persecute them on social media. The point is that we have lost the ability to be outraged. What really deserves our energy? The fact that there are statues to dead civil war generals, or the the fact that minorities are being killed in the streets by the people who are supposed to protect them? There is no difference in today's media landscape. It really is all about the next big thing.

Outrage sells, just like sex does. Everyone is yelling at the top of their lungs and the media just jumps to the person or story that seems like it has the most volume. Chris Rock used to tell a joke about gun ownership, where everyone has the right to own a gun, but it cost thousands of dollars to buy a bullet. Our outrage used to cost something. There were limited outlets to express outrage on a large scale. Now it costs nothing.

There's really not a whole lot to say about this. I wish I had some grand scheme to fix to the problem, but the cat is already out of the bag and frankly, it's only going to get worse. We, as a society have lost the ability to focus on the big picture. We are now focused on a micro level, looking for our own personal outrage. Sorry, that's not entirely true, we can focus on a real issue, but only for as long as it takes for the next Game of Thrones episode to appear. I bring up Game of Thrones, because there is the potential for an HBO show, from the makers of Game of Thrones, about the history of America if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. The backlash from an outraged citizenry has been swift and deafening.

Frankly, I'm OUTRAGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Still Waters Run Deep

The events over the weekend in Virginia have shocked and outraged so many and rightfully so. It was a despicable act of a depraved individual that turned a protest march into a bloodbath. However, we, as a nation, should not be shocked by the lengths that individuals will sink to in order to prove a point. That hatred that fueled the murders in a Charleston church is the same hatred that fueled the attack in Charlottesville. This hatred runs deep and wide across this country. It always has and it always will. 

I've mentioned in a previous post that perhaps the election of Donald Trump would allow those on the left to take off their rose colored glasses and realize what country they are living in. Hopefully we are no longer living under the illusion that we have turned some corner or crested some hill on our way to racial and cultural harmony. We thought that the wounds of our past were beginning to finally heal and that we were ready to face a new reality. 

The election of Barack Obama was seen as the beginning of a new age on enlightenment. We had finally put to rest our ugly history. We were in a post racial society were people were judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The only problem was that none of that was true, but the belief in that new America allowed those on the left to become complacent. Their work was done. We had reached the mountaintop that Dr. King spoke of. We had seen the promised land and it was rose colored and beautiful. In their eyes America would never look back. The big picture was complete and the details would take care of themselves. 

Those filled with the racial and cultural hatred, that is so deeply rooted in this country, did not see an age of enlightenment. They saw the election of an African-American to the highest office in the land as an affront to all they hold sacred. There was no complacency on the part of those who hated what they saw. Hatred doesn't take a day off. Hatred is never satisfied with the status quo. Hatred cannot be satiated. Hatred is a 24/7 job. In the age of Obama, those filled with hate may have less vocal and less visible, but make no mistake, they were always there. That is what those on the left cannot forget. 

I've said this before but it bears repeating, complacency is the enemy of victory. The fervor on the left is genuine at this point, but will that translate at the polls? That remains to be seen. We can quickly become comfortable with the status quo when our day to day lives seem to be sailing along peacefully. The hatred that people feel based on skin color, religion, nationality, sexual preference, etc. is very real and it's not going anywhere. I would ask those who are not a member of a discriminated class to remember how you felt when you heard about Charlottesville. I would ask those whose skin color does not immediately make them a target for racism, to think about how it feels to wake every day and know that you have a target on your back. 

The hatred in this country isn't going away. It won't be beaten by slogans about love, or light or fairly tales. The battle will continue forever. It is just as easy to teach hate as it is to teach love. Remember that fact, the next time life feels a little too comfortable. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Dogs of War

The current probes into possible ties between  Russia and the current administration is currently being bathed in the bright lights of the media. Everyday we are continually deluged with stories and talk of investigation tampering and back room deals and the impending explosion of this administration. The fact of the matter is that this couldn't be going any better for President Trump. I can say almost absolute certainty that this investigation will never lead to the removal of the President. Given the current make up of the House, impeachment is off the table for at least 2 years. And given the make up of the Senate, it would impossible to get a 2/3 majority to vote for his removal. I'm not so sure that even Nixon would have lost a vote in the Senate. 

So what do we have? We have a story that provides cover for almost everything else that's going on in Washington. Every other issue has taken a back seat. The Republican leadership in the Senate works in secret on a health care bill that would gut Medicaid, but the bright lights are pointed elsewhere. The President and his team continue to sign executive orders that are dismantling the Obama legacy as if that were his only goal in life. All the issues that we should care about are being affected from education to the climate, but all we hear about is the Russian investigation. 

I am not saying that this investigation is not important, because it is. We should know exactly what the relationship was between the Trump campaign and Russia. We should know if there are business ties that may lead to compromised decisions. However we should not focus on that one topic to the exclusion of everything else. I understand that some on the left go to sleep at night dreaming of Watergate part 2, but our politics have become so fractured that I can't see our elected leaders agreeing on an issue as contentious as impeachment. The President has very loyal supporters who would pounce on any elected Republican who would turn his back on Trump. The thing that politicians care about the most is their own skin. The folks in the House, who face an election every two years, would never even think about placing their own necks on the line for a matter of principle. 

I always think it's possible that Donald Trump might wake up one day and decide that he just doesn't want to do this anymore. Being President is a hard job and he's not particularly fond of doing this kind of work. I never thought that he actually wanted the job in the first place. It was an exercise in brand building gone wrong. I think the only thing that keeps him doing the job is the fact that his ego gets stroked every second of the day. He is the most powerful man in the world and that keeps him in a constant state of arousal. 

Those on the left need to keep their eyes on what's going on everywhere in this administration and not get sidetracked by the shiny object with all the bright lights. That is not where the important decisions are being made. The President is once again playing the left like a puppet. Keep them dancing on a string shouting "impeachment", and keep doing the dirty work outside of the spotlight. As Shakespeare so appropriately put it, "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war". 

Friday, April 28, 2017

100 Days and Counting

The Trump administration has been in place for almost 100 days now and I thought that I might try to summarize my thoughts. The 100 day marker is really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. FDR's first 100 days have been mythologized at this point because of what he was able to accomplish in that time frame. The framework for the New Deal had been put in place in those frenetic 100 days of that administration. It is an almost impossible standard for anyone else to meet. FDR came into office riding a massive mandate given by the American people who were in a panic following the crash on Wall St. and mired in the first years of the great depression. The Democratic party had 72% of the House and 63% of the Senate and those numbers would actually increase in the mid-term election. The country had never been so united in the belief that one party had utterly failed them. Great things were indeed accomplished, although at this point most would believe that the country turned around immediately and that we returned to normal employment rates. That is far from the truth, however. We didn't dip under double digit unemployment until we started to ramp up for WWII, a full 8 years later. Segregation remained the law of the land, we didn't get a national health care plan and women's rights were also largely ignored.

We shouldn't let truth interfere with myth in this post-truth society. FDR saved the world in 100 days and so every President since has had the burden of having to produce a similar miracle, whether one was needed or not. So what have we gotten out the first 100 days of this presidency? Basically it's been a non-stop attempt to undo everything that the previous administration had put in place. Women's rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, sensible gun control are just a few of the things that have come under attack by this administration. Most have been done through executive orders as opposed to legislation but that's mainly because this administration has no real use for Congress. President Trump is used to being a CEO. Things get done with a stroke of his pen, not through an elected board of representatives. He has shown no ability to work with Congress or even to make a good faith effort to work with them. 

To his credit, the President has followed through on some of his campaign promises (the most important of those was to appoint a conservative justice to the supreme court). He therefore enjoys almost across the board support from the republican voters who put him in the White House. Of course the number of things he said he was going to get done on day one is a staggering list, so he hasn't come close to matching the rhetoric of his campaign. He has changed his position on numerous hot button topics like jailing Hillary Clinton, NAFTA, NATO, etc., and most often his change came from very short conversations from people who actually know what they are talking about. 

His staff has been a mess since day one. He has consistently put people in charge of government agencies who have no idea about what they actually do or are openly hostile to the mission of the agency. Climate change denier in charge of the EPA, a hater of public schools in charge of the Education department, someone who wants to eliminate the department in charge of Energy. Not to mention Ben Carson, whose qualifications for the Housing department appears to be that he once lived in public housing as a child. The most head scratching appointment is an unofficial one. His son in law has put in charge of fixing the world. His main qualification seems to be that he married Trump's daughter. 

I guess there's no point in rehashing all the ups and downs of this presidency. I will say that he has approached the job exactly as he said he would. He's an outsider who is trying to run the government like a CEO. If that's what you voted for, then I can understand why you would be satisfied with the job that he has done. For those of us who didn't, it looks like a confused and muddled mess. Maybe it gets better with time, maybe it gets worse. I actually don't know. If I were advising this president, I would propose that he switch his tune on the health care and get a truly universal health care proposal on the table. If he could do that, the Democrats would have to get on board and I believe he could convince enough Republicans to join with them to get something meaningful passed. His base of supporters would have say that he's doing what he promised, so they would have to be on board as well. It would be a political master stroke. The Democrats would be left scrambling having helped this president to secure a signature piece of legislation. The President could then truly say that he did what was right for the people. He would talk about not being beholden to any party. He could talk about a new vision for the country going forward. It would turn the electorate on it's head and would secure the legacy of President Trump. Of course it would take a lot of work and would need the help of more than just his son in law. 

Will it happen? Not very likely because as the President and rest of country have learned in the first hundred days of his presidency, this job is really hard. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Dream Lives On

I'm reposting this for the fourth and last time. I don't think that I could ever say this any better, so I'm not going to try. Hopefully you'll all forgive for not coming up with something new, but I think it's more relevant today than it was when I first wrote it.

" the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope". Those are the words that Barack Obama used in his now famous speech after the New Hampshire primary and it illustrates perfectly his connection with the man whose birthday we celebrate as a nation today. Hope is the tie that binds Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. The hope and the belief that America can do and must do better. Obama's speech not only made the point that the destinies of all Americans are intertwined, but that people must have hope in order to make a better world. MLK's most famous speech was all about hope. It spoke of a nation that didn't exist. It spoke of the dreams of an America where someone like Barack Obama can reach the highest position in the land. They share the dream of a better America. Whether it is an America where people are judged by the "content of their character", or an America where we strive to build "a more perfect union", their goals were the same.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Obama's election is the culmination of MLK's dream. It is clearly a part of what he hoped for, but it is not the end of what he hoped for. Before his death, he was working on organizing another march on Washington. This one was going to be a poverty march. He looked across the country and realized that the underclass had no one to speak for them. He realized that the poor had no voice and no power to change their situation. His dream had expanded to include the poor of all colors. Whites in Appalachia, Hispanics in California, Native Americans in Oklahoma, they all became part of the dream. Injustice will always exist, that is why the dream will never be fulfilled. It is a moving target, as is Barack Obama's dream to build a more perfect union. Obama's words imply that the union can never be perfected, but we must always strive to make it better.

MLK led the greatest moral campaign that this country has ever known. He led a generation of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to make this country a better place. Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the WWII generation entitled "The Greatest Generation", however I think that designation should go to those who worked and fought and died so that the dream of America could be shared by all Americans. It is somewhat easier to make those sacrifices when the entire country agrees with you, but when you are faced with the opposition of the majority of the citizens of this country, it takes an extraordinary type of intestinal fortitude to persevere. Barack Obama is not the successor to MLK. As President, his moral compass will not be as consistent as MLK's was. His goals will not be as single minded as MLK's were. They can't be. The job of President is much more complicated and Obama is not just the representative of some of us, he is the representative of all of us. Those who have expectations that Obama will lead a moral revolution on the scale of MLK will be disappointed.

MLK was the leader of a movement that changed this nation forever. Barack Obama is about to become the leader of the country and his election has changed this nation forever. They will always be inexorably linked. The fact that Obama will be inaugurated on the day after this nation celebrates the birthday of MLK would lead many to invoke the term, poetic justice. MLK's dream is alive in Barack Obama as it is in every person who strives to make this world a better place. The Dream and the Perfect Union remain out of reach, but it is in the striving for those things that we tap into the better angels of our nature. It is our willingness to try, regardless of the obstacles in our way, that keeps the Dream alive. MLK would most likely be very proud of Barack Obama, not only because of what he represents, but because Obama is still challenging the nation to be better. Indeed that is ultimately what links them. We can be better, we just need someone to show us the way.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Street Fight

What now? That's the question that millions on the left are asking. For some the answer is to take to the streets or organize rallies or talk about the popular vote or try to overturn or undermine the results of a fairly contested election or hide their head in the sand and refuse to admit what happened last week. None of these actions is going to either change the results of the election or help the Democrats in the next presidential election. 

We on the left (and I certainly include myself in that group), along with the media made a critical mistake when dealing with president elect Trump. We got caught up in the cult of personality. We made the mistake of attacking the person with the belief that the majority of Americans would agree with us that he was un-electable. What we didn't realize is that we got in to a knife fight with a samurai warrior. President elect Trump played the media and the left like a concert pianist. Every attack on him only served to give him more exposure and helped spread his message of being an "outsider". The attitude from the left provided the platform for him to turn his campaign into a crusade. A crusade that spoke to the disaffected in the Midwest in just enough numbers to allow him to defeat an under performing Hillary Clinton. 

The problem right now is that the left is currently continuing along that same path. The protests do nothing to change the outcome of the election. The calls to change the rules of the election after it has already been contested just sound like sour grapes. These kinds of acts only confirm the feelings of those who felt that the Left was hypocritical. We continue to be amazed that our idea of America is radically different from reality. We on the left became very smug in the thought that we had moved beyond the point where an appeal to an entirely white audience could carry the day. We were too busy basking in the post racial glow of Barack Obama to realize that outside of the major population centers, this country is awash in a sea of red. The Republicans control the majority of state legislatures, Governors, school boards, judges, sheriffs and dog catchers across the country. In fact outside of the presidency and the coasts, the post racial utopia is a fantasy.

We still live in the same country that repeatedly sent avowed racists Jesse Helms and Strom Thrumond back to senate, basically until they died. We live in a country where you can get killed for being the wrong color, in the wrong place at the wrong time. We live in a country where state officials would rather go to prison than allow gay people to get married. We live in a country where you get a national following by questioning the birth place of the President. We live in a country where the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual preference can give you an unearned advantage. We all live in the real world and perhaps this election result will finally allow the rose colored glasses to be left behind. 

We on the left became so complacent because of the echo chamber that we limit ourselves to. I remember Carl Rove being flabbergasted that Mitt Romney had lost Ohio and the election because he had been assured by this people that the opposite would be true. The Right and Left have become so insular that they only believe their perceived reality. They have demonized the opposition to the point of being unable to accept that there is merit in any argument on the other side. We have lost the ability to engage in civil discourse to the point that we limit ourselves to one viewpoint. How many facebook friends were lost because of this election? Screaming LIES! RACIST! KILLER! CRIMINAL! SEXIST! ABUSER!, has gotten us nowhere. We are and for the foreseeable future will be, a divided nation. 

So the questions remains, what now? With this election, the Republican message and appeal has been laid bare. There is no longer the ability to claim a lineage to Lincoln. The word compassion is no longer part of their brand. They threw their hat in with their candidate and they are what he says they are. They have finally gone all in on the strategy that presented itself when LBJ pushed the civil rights agenda. They pushed all their chips in and white America responded with an electoral victory. Their path is clear. It's a bright white line that runs through the middle of America. 

The Democrats response should be equally as clear. They can no longer pretend to be based in the center. White America has seen your center and raised you whatever the hell president elect Trump is. The response on the left should be to go all in as well. The secondary causes of the Democratic party need to become their primary causes. Clearly laying out a reality based plan to help those hardest hit by globalization lost out to empty promises of greatness and wealth. The biggest factor in this years election was not a surge in voting from the Right, but a complacency and lack of inspiration from the voters on the Left. 

The Democratic base will naturally grow at a faster rate than it will for the Republicans as we become a less white nation. The pundits talk about Texas and Georgia becoming pink then blue states in the next three presidential cycles. That is all well and good, but I'm fairly sure that the democrats do not want to wait until 2028 to take the White House back. First of all the Left loves diversity, so the era of the dynasties and white males is over. No more Clintons or Kennedys or Cuomos or Roosevelts for that matter. The past is dead and gone. And unfortunately white males just don't inspire the most loyal of democratic voters. Bernie Sanders was great at inspiring the young and the left, but his rallies had the same color spectrum as Donald Trump's did. So to start we need new candidates. The Castro brothers, Corey Booker, Duval Patrick and Kristen Gillibrand are just a few of the faces who should be out front for the party going forward. Sorry, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Your day has come and gone. You can still help the cause, but not in service of your own ambitions. 

Next step is the platform. Equal pay, abortion, immigration rights, civil rights, gay rights, environmental protection, affordable college tuition/student debt and universal health care should now become the primary calling cards of the democratic party. I do understand that these have always been part of the agenda of the party, but they now should become the rallying cries to inspire it's voters. The economic agenda should remain the same, but apparently talking about it does nothing to get some democrats to come out and vote. We continue to experience an unprecedented period of continued job growth. The unemployment rate has decreased significantly and increasing the minimum wage was a significant part of the 2016 platform. None of these things inspired democrats or moved the needle among right leaning independents or republicans during this election. The resources utilized in trying to attract the white rural middle class was significant and the return was minimal. The democratic party has muted its appeal to its most loyal and consistent voters in the false hope of attracting white republicans. This is fools gold and needs to stop immediately. The middle of the road is where dreams go to die.

I think this election result makes the third step one which is already underway which I call realistic enthusiasm. Complacency is the enemy of victory. The democrats have to be realistic about what is a winnable state and what is not. They also have to make sure that they spend the resources and time needed to secure a win. And that amount is equal to all the money you have. Ending a campaign with money left over is a waste. Spend it all and get the boots on the ground to help get the vote out. In fact we already know that the republicans are going to get 60 million votes or so in a general election. We know this because that is the number they've gotten in the last three elections. The so called midwest blue wall came crumbling down by a mere 100,000 votes. Time spent wooing anything other than your base is time lost. The democrats have the votes, they just need to be realistic in targeting and messaging to reverse those losses.

That is the big picture, three step process for the democrats to get back to presidency. Candidate/Platform/Realistic Enthusiasm. So what do we on the Left do for the next two years while we wait for 2018? We fight for what we believe in. We fight President Trump over every policy that doesn't fit our agenda. We fight every political and judicial appointment that doesn't meet our standards. We fight with our words and deeds and votes. We fight with a new understanding of our opposition. We fight knowing what this country is capable of. I'll say it again, complacency is the enemy of victory. I'm going to end with something I wrote a while back.

We fight because " the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope". We fight because senior citizens should have not have to chose between food and medicine. We fight because American Individualism is not an open invitation to social Darwinism. We fight because Gay and Lesbian are not dirty words. We fight because we believe that all men are created equal. We fight because we believe that people should be judged by the content of their character. We fight because having tens of thousands of people die each year because of a lack of affordable health care is morally unacceptable. We fight because having thousands of children go hungry in the richest nation on the planet is morally reprehensible. We fight because every child deserves access to an education that will prepare them to compete in the global economy. We fight because torture committed in our name is still torture. We fight because everyone should have the right to marry who they chose. We fight because we only have one planet. We fight because diversity makes us stronger, not weaker. We fight because the status quo is unacceptable. We fight because a lie repeated often enough must not be permitted to become the truth. We fight because women deserve to paid the same as men. We fight because our veterans deserve to be treated with respect they have earned. We fight because the expenditure for the Iraq war could have paid for health care for every man, woman and child in the country who cannot afford it. We fight because the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We fight because the forces massed against us never take a day off. We fight because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We fight because as FDR put it, at the height of the Depression,

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of the those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little".

 Never stop fighting 'til the fight is done. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Cause Endures

We finally really did it...famous last words from the Planet of the Apes. We as a country have finally decided to elect a game show host as our leader. I have no explanation for the results last night except to paraphrase Patton Oswalt who said, " We are way more sexist than we are racist, and we're pretty fucking racist". 

We will have to live with this result now for the next four years at least and from the fallout from this for maybe a generation. Such is the democratic process. We take a chance every four years and the people decide who they want as a leader. Sometimes we choose hope, sometimes we choose fear, but we always get to choose. That's really the biggest takeaway from last night. I'm not happy with the outcome, but I am satisfied that the democratic process was served last night. 

As I have stated before, we get the leaders that we deserve. That may be a harsh statement, but it's true. Our broken and divided country will be led by someone whose rhetoric smacks of all the hallmarks of a despot. From locking up political opponents to shutting down press access to singling out people based on race or religion, it all sounds very much like so many of the dictators that we have around the globe. 

Our saving grace is that we have a judicial and legislative branch to provide checks and balances. The problem is that they will now be in the hands of the same party. No more gridlock. No more shutting down the government. It's onward and upward with the agenda that we, as a country have voted for. And as hard as that may be to accept, it's the truth. We as a country have voted for the Republican agenda and all that stands for. If you read their platform, it sounds scary. I can only hope that general ineffectiveness of Congress and the in fighting within the party itself will slow the rate of that change. 

We will be stuck with it however. The mid terms are two years away and the chances of changing the balance in the Senate or the House will continue to remain only a faint glimmer in Nancy Pelosi's eyes. Democrats seem to have a problem showing up at midterm elections. Now it seems they have a problem showing up for general elections. Hillary Clinton lost Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by 1%. Her vote totals are down by about 5 million from 2012. Those 5 million disinterested, disillusioned or disaffected voters are the difference between a landslide and a loss. 

We as liberals, progressives, democrats or whatever we are calling ourselves today, have no one to blame but ourselves. We couldn't help ourselves from piling on the Hillary Clinton hate train. All she has done is give her time and efforts to public service for the last 40 years and all we can do in return is react with faint praise at best. All public servants make mistakes. Hell, even the sainted FDR sent Asian Americans to internment camps and refused integrate the armed services. Hillary has done nothing to deserve the apathy and downright hostility she faced from her own party faithful. That, however, is an argument for another day. 

Four years is not a lifetime and two years will be over before we even realize it. Life as we know it didn't change last night and it will not change the day after Inauguration day. We will be in uncharted waters though. We have no idea what is coming with then next administration. Can you honestly say that you know what our foreign policy will be? or our domestic policy? Education, energy, etc. We will all take the leap of faith together as a country. Those who voted for this administration may take it with their eyes open (instead of tightly shut in sheer terror), but it is still a leap into the unknown. I would ask everyone who is predicting Armageddon to remember that eight years ago, Fox news had entire specials devoted to the nightmare that was about to take place. Our country was supposedly going to be unrecognizable in four years. Our children were going to be sent to camps to be programmed, our guns would be ripped from our cold dead hands and economic disaster would leave the country a wasteland. 

People today are asking what are they supposed to tell their children. You  tell them that the democratic process worked the way it was supposed to. That doesn't mean that your candidate or point of view always wins and that the goal of a republic is work within the system for the betterment of our country. We must strive to make this a successful transition and and a successful presidency. If you are truly a patriot, you don't take your toys and go home just because you didn't get your way. That is too often the way that we react to a losing election. Are we better than our opposition? I certainly hope so. A loss like this definitely stings but as Ted Kennedy famously said after his run for the presidency came to end "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die". 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Let's See What's behind Curtain Number 3

Mercifully, election day is less than a week away now. All presidential election cycles are drudgery, but this one has seemed like a particularly long hot lifetime in hell. I have always said that Donald Trump has a hard ceiling of about 45-46%. I didn't believe that his support had fallen below 40% and don't believe any poll that his him above 46%. The question comes down to the battleground states and whether Hillary Clinton can garner enough support in those states to win. I don't believe that we'll be breaking any new ground on Tuesday. South Carolina, Georgia and Texas will remain solidly in the Red. The only state that provides any real chance for a change is Utah, but even that may remain Red.

I don't believe that she hits 50%, but I think that a solid three point spread will be enough for her to garner about 300 electoral votes. Not a mandate of any kind, but these days, a win is a win. Now if the unthinkable were to happen and America decides to pick curtain number 3, then it's going to be an interesting 4 years ahead. I won't be moving to Canada (or anywhere else for that matter), but it's going to be a different world. Just like every election, this one will come down to who can turnout their voters.

Every 4 years I hear that this is the most important election of our lifetimes and the certain Armageddon that will follow if we elect the wrong person. I have somehow managed to survive through all of those doomsday scenarios. I'm fairly sure I'll make it through this one as well. I've had good and bad times under both parties. I have an obvious preference, but my life is basically unaffected in a major way  by who occupies the White House. I hope the majority votes the way I will, but if they don't, I'll still have to go to work the next day and my bills will still be due at the end of the month. I won't be getting a check in the mail if Hillary wins and I won't be getting a deportation notice if Trump wins. So let's be civil people. Go out and vote on Tuesday and then get back to your life because it's not going anywhere.

I'm really going to miss President Obama.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sweet Land of Liberty

The QB of the San Francisco 49'ers decided that he was going to protest on-going inequality and injustice in this country be choosing to sit during the national anthem. He had chosen this form of protest for all three of the pre-season games, but it was not noticed in the previous games because he wasn't dressed to play. His decision has brought a storm of protest. The thoughts range from he's a spoiled millionaire to he's disrespecting the military to he needs to get out of the country. 

First, his money has nothing to do with whether he has to right to voice an opinion. In fact, if he was a truck driver no one would have cared what he did during the national anthem. He does not forfeit the right to protest simply because he's rich. He is using the platform afforded him because of his status to make a point. 

Second, since when did the flag and military become synonymous? I certainly don't think of the military when I see a flag and when this country had won the revolutionary war, one of the first things that was done, was to dissolve the military. What exactly did our flag stand for then? Kaepernick made it pretty clear that he was not thinking of the military when he made his protest. 

I find it almost amusing for people to get so apoplectic about a show of civil disobedience. The irony that this country was founded on the principle of free speech and the right to protest against your government, is seeming lost on those who would denounce his actions. I heard one commentator say that what the basketball players did at the ESPY's was the right way to protest, but this was the wrong way. I guess Kaepernick is now one of the "bad Negroes". I guess the only way to protest is to do something as innocuous as a speech promoting unity. 

When Muhammad Ali refused induction into the armed forces, he took a stand based on principle. He was hugely unpopular because of it. People talked about how much this country had done for him and how ungrateful and unpatriotic he was. Political stands that don't ruffle any feathers and let those in vast stretch of middle America sleep comfortably at night end up doing and meaning nothing. Kaepernick's action will cause a reaction. It may be mostly negative, but it does bring to light the continuing issues in this country. 

The majority of people will continue to ignore the issue and focus on the act and that is the problem. We, as a country, feel so much more comfortable focusing on anything but actual injustice. Maybe it's because we feel powerless to affect any change. Maybe it's because we are afraid to look into the mirror and see who we actually are. I honestly don't know the answer. What I do know is that Kapernick has the right to sit, stand or do whatever the hell he wants during the national anthem and for whatever reason he wants. I also know that people have the right to criticize him, stop watching him, call him unpatriotic or a spoiled brat. They have the same rights. One does not supersede the other.

There is no law dictating behavior during the anthem. There are suggestions, but you cannot be fined, ticketed or jailed for failing to stand unless you are an active member of the military. I'm pretty sure that kaepernick is not an active member of the military, so he's free to do what he wants. By the way, I'm just as guilty as the rest of the country, since I've spent this entire column talking about the act instead of the issue.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Caution: Children at Play

The presidential election is a few months away. We now have time to take an honest look at the candidates and decide which one is best suited to run the country for the next four years. We have time to look at the qualifications of each candidate and try to project how they will govern. We have a chance to listen to their plans for the future. We have a chance to consider how their choices are going to affect us in our everyday lives and the lives of our fellow citizens of the world. We can be thoughtful and careful when we decide who to vote for in November.


We can act like children and decide to take our toys home. I always thought that people who consider themselves liberal/progressive/socialist had a bigger world view than their own front door. I always thought that it was the conservative/republicans/libertarians who would only think of themselves. I thought they were the ones who could be talked into voting against their own self interest. 

I can boil this election down to three words: THE SUPREME COURT. If you don't understand the ramifications of those three words, then frankly, you shouldn't be voting. 

And this is all I have to say about that. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

The Unbearable Cheapening of Life

Once again re-posting something from the past. This one is from 2008 and again from 2013. Some of the references are a little outdated, but the song remains the same. The same things keep happening over and and over again. We seem hardwired to frame our lives as "US against THEM". The individual parties change but the sentiment remains the same. We always seem to find a way to devalue the lives of THEM. THEY are criminals, poor, rich, stupid, over educated,vicious, passive, racist, tree hugger, egg head, sub-human, ignorant, religious zealots, non-believer, privileged, black, white, brown, northerner, southerner, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Pro-life, Pro-Choice, republican, democrat. But the truth is that THEY are just people who deserve the right to live their lives, raise their families, have their opinions and do their jobs without the fear of summary execution. THEY, in short, are US. 

There are those that will accuse me of being a whiner or playing the victim card or the race card (whatever the f&^K that means), but until you've had to walk a mile in the shoes of someone else, you shouldn't judge them. The question I would ask is how many indignities does someone have to suffer before they have a legitimate right to complain? How many times does a society have to show that it considers you a less valued member before you can cry foul? How many times do have to be made to feel almost sub human before you say enough? How many times do you have to passed by for less qualified people who just happen to be white before you have the right to make some noise? How many times have I have heard people say that the racial problem would go away if people would just stop bringing it up. That always amuses me because it reminds of the attitude of many Southerners during the civil rights era. There are many quotes from people saying that there was no racial problem in the South. It was those agitators from up North that were stirring up the blacks. It's amazingly easy not to question a system that works in your favor. I have lived in NYC for 30 years and you would be amazed at the number of times that a minority has been "accidentally" shot or otherwise abused by the police. The amazing thing is that during all of the time that I've been here, there has never been an "accidental" shooting or incident of brutal violence by NY's finest against anyone who wasn't "of color". I find that an amazing coincidence. And I might have chalked it up to coincidence if I hadn't been subjected to sub-human treatment at the hands of the NYPD myself.

There is some notion in the press that this is some kind of transformative event, but even if the improbable happens and Obama were to win, the facts on the ground would remain the same. The richest of us will continue to maintain and grow those fortunes on the backs of the poorest of us. Racists and bigots would continue to be racists and bigots. Who you know is still going to be more important that what you know and the police will continue to "accidentally" shoot and abuse minorities.This piece is probably a little more rambling than I would have liked it to be, but I'm just God damned tired of people trying to tell me what me what my reality is. or why I shouldn't feel the way I do about the police. Or why we don't live in country where the color of your skin can give you an advantage. I don't live in that fantasy land. The real truth is that America can be deadly if you happen to be in the wrong place and are the wrong color. Do you think that we would have heard of either John McCain or George W. Bush if they were born into the same circumstances as Obama? Comedian Chris Rock tells a joke about the fact that there wasn't one white person in his audience who trade places with him in spite of the fact that he was rich. That may have been intended as a joke, but it is also the reality of America.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Where Lives Might Be Saved Someday, the Answer Is Never "Do Nothing."

Reposting something written by SJ. Unfortunately, just as relevant today as it was the day it was originally posted 3-1/2 years ago. Do we learn nothing? Isn't doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome the definition of insanity? All or nothing politics makes for very bad policy. How many innocent people have to die before we as a nation can discuss this issue as adults? 

Just because we can't or won't solve every aspect of a problem doesn't mean we can't solve any aspect of that problem: Gun violence is what I'm referring to obviously in light of yesterday.
In this interconnected life we live, in the developed world in which even our most emotionally driven responses can been twittered, texted, or IM’ed across all of our acquaintances familiar and distant, there have been some asinine responses to yesterday’s massacre in New Town. I say asinine because that’s the only word I can think of when people put culture, politics, or personal liberty above their own personal safety and the safety of others.
I've received messages and seen responses to posts on Facebook like: 

“Gun control laws don’t solve anything!!!”

Statements like this of course reach the heights of stupidity as there are already several regulations and laws regarding gun ownership that nobody would strike from the books (Violent felons released from jail barred from handgun possession, age restrictions and so on) -already governing our lives in different parts of the country. Few would argue their necessity. The one constant refrain I hear over and over again from people so in love with their guns that no massacre can make them rethink anything is this: gun control hasn’t stopped every violent attack, therefore it is useless. –Well can’t the same be said of every single law ever enacted? The answer sadly is yes, -but no sane person would say that homicide laws should be struck because they didn’t prevent a neighbor from being killed, or in the case of Friday’s assault, the mass murder of several children.

Personally as someone who has no small history with guns (I’ve had them pointed at me in aggression more than once before I even turned 18, and I’ve returned the favor more than once) and as no stranger to firing ranges, I am intimate with them as weapons and tools. In the nineties my familiarity with guns was often a skill, an ability that got me hired often as an AD on independent film sets where I’d be asked to “clear” a weapon before handing it over to an actor or stunt player, then keeping it under lock and key until the production was over. I’ve never questioned the need for regulation and laws in a city where people’s proximity to each other makes for daily conflicts that can turn lethal if the conditions are right.

My feelings about guns and especially certain accessories is this: laws governing the possession of assault rifles and high capacity magazines are inefficient when they enable any shooter to kill as many people as they want before they can be stopped. Gun control isn’t ONLY about eradicating every single gun on the street, much can be done to ensure that high capacity magazines, assault rifles, armor piercers –in short all the weapons of choice for mass murderers are not as accessible as, say aftermarket exhaust parts, because in the end, the fact that a killer can bring down as many people as he wants because his ammo will never run out, is often the deciding factor in whether Police response will be effective in saving many more lives or many less.

I’ll say it again, just because we can't or won't solve every aspect of a problem doesn't mean we can't solve any aspect of that problem:
-That problem is weak gun control and a culture that insists any legislation on arms is an affront to liberty no matter how many children get killed.
-That problem is America’s Gun Lobby.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Too sad for words

In honor of my favorite athlete of all time, who passed away yesterday, I'm reprinting something I wrote back in 2006.

Ali-Frazier III. The Thrilla in Manila. The final meeting of boxing titans. Ali had christened the fight in his then famous "poetry". He said, "It's gonna be a killer, and a chiller and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila." As if the fight needed any more buildup, Ali decided to dub Frazier the gorilla, which did nothing to lessen the already substantial animosity from the Frazier camp. On October 30, 1975 Ali and Frazier would wage the greatest heavyweight fight of all time. The battle was so monumental that neither man would ever be the same again. They left not only their blood and guts in the ring that night, they left whatever was left of their youth as well.

 Ali and Frazier fought for the first time on March 8, 1971. The fight that was billed as the fight of the century and lived up to that billing. It was quite possibly the greatest sports spectacle of the century. It featured the first meeting of undefeated heavyweight champions. Ali was coming back from a three year layoff after having his title stripped and being prohibited from boxing due to his refusal to enter the armed services. Frazier had stepped into the void created by Ali's absence and had won the title in the heavyweight championship tournament. Ali had a couple of tune up fights and declared himself ready to reclaim his rightful place atop the heavyweight division. Ali and Frazier were friendly during Ali's boxing exile, with Frazier even giving Ali money during a particularly rough stretch. Once the contracts were signed however, Ali began to taunt Frazier in public. He called him ugly and an Uncle Tom. He painted Frazier as the "white man's champion". He claimed to be the people's champion. He turned the fight into a battle between the status quo and the voices for change, between the old and young, between black and white, between rich and poor. Frazier didn't want any of it and he grew to hate Ali because of the taunting. The fight itself was an epic battle. Ali dominated the early rounds with his speed and his jab. Frazier, a notoriously slow starter came back in the middle rounds. The fight was fairly even as they entered the last five rounds of the fight. The years away from boxing had robbed Ali of his ability to dance around the ring for 15 rounds. As the latter rounds became more of a flat footed slugfest, the fight swung in Frazier's direction. Frazier knocked Ali to the canvas in the 15th and final round with a thunderous trademark left hook. Ali somehow managed to pull himself up at that count of 4, but the decision was never in doubt. Frazier had defeated him and could now lay rightful claim to the true undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

The second fight in the trilogy took place in January of 1974. Neither man was champion at that point. Frazier had been knocked senseless by George Foreman in Jamaica a year earlier and Ali had lost to a previously unknown boxer named Ken Norton. Both were at the crossroads of their careers. The fight was held at Madison Square Garden in New York, which was the same venue as their first fight, it had none of the majesty of that fight however. Ali continued to taunt Frazier and Frazier continued to build animosity toward Ali. They even tussled on Wide World of Sports while doing an interview with Howard Cosell. Ali was probably just acting, but Frazier was dead serious. The fight in the ring was neither as interesting nor as close as their first fight had been. Ali won easily, although Frazier did score with a number of punches. The fight was really the beginning of the end for Frazier. He would fight only four more times before retiring. Ali went on to fight 15 more times after the second Frazier fight.

The third fight was supposed to be easy for Ali. He had just recently regained the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire and Frazier was perceived to be at the end of the line. Ali didn't train heavily for the fight but Frazier threw everything he had into preparation. He wanted to shut Ali up once and for all. The fight took place at an indoor arena that had no air conditioning. Under the TV lights the temperature soared well above 100 degrees in the ring. The humidity was stifling. The only ventilation in the building was in the form of fans that were ineffective in battling the heat and only served to circulate the already searing air. Ali was confident as he entered the ring. He felt that he would be able to take Joe out in the early rounds. Joe had another thought in mind. The fight started in the familiar pattern of Ali - Frazier fights. Ali dominated the early rounds. He peppered Frazier with jabs and power punches that Frazier seemed unable to stop or dodge. The fight began to turn once again in the middle rounds. Frazier pinned Ali to the ropes and began to pound at Ali's midsection and score left hooks to the head. Ali tried his rope-a-dope technique which had been so successful against Foreman, but Frazier proved too smart an opponent to simply punch himself out. He was much more economical and precise in his attack than the outclassed Foreman had been. As the fight wore on Ali knew that he was in for a battle. In one of the clinches he said, "Joe, they said you were done", "They lied to you champ" was Joe's only response.

The later rounds saw Ali's punches begin to take a toll on Frazier's face. His head became a misshapen lump of bruises. His eye were swollen and his vision became compromised. Ali seized the advantage. He produced pinpoint power shots to Frazier's head and started to build a lead. Frazier did not stop punching however. He hurt Ali on numerous occasions as the fight wore on. Ali was later quoted as saying that those later rounds were as close to death as he as ever felt. The heat and Frazier's relentless attack pushed him to the brink of quitting. His corner pushed him out for each round and he continued his attack on Frazier's face. A series of shots in the 13th round sent Frazier's mouthpiece flying into the crowd, but he never stopped coming forward, absorbing punishment, but also dishing it out. Frazier's corner wanted to stop the fight after the 13th round but he convinced them to give him one more round. In the 14th round a nearly blinded Frazier absorbed a vicious beating from Ali and his corner did indeed call it quits before the start of the 15th. In the tape from the fight, you can see Frazier arguing with his corner about stopping the fight, but in the end his trainer, Eddie Futch, had the final say. Ali, upon seeing that the fight was being stopped, got off his stool, raised his hand and then collapsed onto the canvas.

Both men had absorbed a tremendous amount of damage in the fight. And while Frazier's face looked the worse for wear, it was Ali's body that had suffered the most in the fight. Ali always gave up his body in order to protect his face and Frazier exacted an enormous toll during the fight. Ali was under a doctors care for several days after the fight, while Frazier was able to walk away in generally good condition. Joe Frazier would once again lose by knockout to George Foreman in his next fight after which he retired. Frazier had a short lived comeback a few years later in which he fought only once, but basically his career ended that night in Manila. Ali said after the fight that he was going to quit and most people believe that he should have. Of course he wouldn't. He would go on to lose and then win the title one more time and he would suffer ignominious defeat at the hands of Larry Holmes in an ill advised comeback. Ali is now afflicted with Parkinson's Syndrome, which means that although he doesn't have Parkinson's he has all the symptoms of a sufferer of the disease. It's a more scientific term for what used to labeled "punch drunk". His speech has been affected to the point that he doesn't speak in public anymore. His limbs shake uncontrollably and his movement is limited. His continued boxing activity after that night in Manila is probably the main reason for his condition today.

The thrilla in Manila was an epic struggle between two extraordinary fighters. Both men were past their primes, both had already secured their places in boxing history, both had nothing left to prove, but on that night they showed the world something more than just a championship bout. They were no longer fighting for the heavyweight championship, they were fighting for the championship of each other. They had split the first two fights and the winner of this fight could forever claim victory over the other. Neither of them was willing to give up that fight. They both fought to the edge of death to prove something, not to the world, but to each other. Ali won that night, but paid a heavy cost by continuing his boxing career. The effects of his decision to continue to fight have made him a shadow of the person he used to be. Frazier is still relatively healthy today and while he says that he harbors no ill will toward Ali today, there has to be a lingering thought in his head that perhaps by losing, he was the ultimate victor that October night in Manila. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Party of Palin

The Trump tidal wave is about to wash the Republican brand out to sea in its wake. The group that is so proud to wrap themselves in the title, "party of Lincoln", is about to become irrelevant. I'm not saying that the party will disappear, but it will no longer be able to make a claim to the lineage of Lincoln. The Party, which so proudly adopted the southern strategy in the 60's and doubled down on that with the Lee Atwater tactics of the 80's, is about to fully reap what it has sown. 

In the last election cycle, I thought that Sarah Palin was the ultimate payoff for what had been done to the Republican brand over the past 40 years. I was incorrect. She was merely the town crier for what would be the ultimate invasion. As the Vice Presidential candidate, her jingoistic, vapid and simplistic slogans electrified the crowds, however she was not the main voice of the Party. The crowds ate it up though. So much so that John McCain became the warm up act for the red meat that the crowd hungered for from Sarah Palin. When a supporter said that Obama was a Muslim, McCain immediately said that he was not. That was clearly not what the crowd was looking for. They wanted blood. Sarah gave it to them, but unfortunately, she was not at the top of the ticket. 

Those of us who fancy ourselves as political observers should have taken more notice of the Sarah phenomenon. For while she and John didn't win the election, it was clear that at the end what the crowd wanted was more of her and less of him. The foreshadowing was clear, we just chose to laugh it off. Sarah Palin became a punchline of sorts because she had no substance to back up her lack of substance. Her family life became fodder for the tabloids, she quit her job in government and tried to become a reality star with terrible results. She even started her own pay TV channel, which apparently no one outside of her family subscribed to. She basically made herself irrelevant, but the blueprint that she left behind was there for someone to pick up and run with.  

So now we have someone who runs on the same sort of empty, jingoistic slogans, but has the semblance of substance behind him. Perhaps not since the days of Huey Long have we seen this type of appeal be this successful. "Make America Great Again" is just an updated version of  "A roof over every head and a chicken in every pot". The promises have no basis in fact and there is no way to accomplish them. First of all, just like the people who wanted to take America back, I ask the same question, whom and what do you speak of? Take America back from whom and what time period are we speaking of when we refer to the greatness of America? It must be a rhetorical question because it has no logical answer. 

The problem with the Republican party is that it has courted the angry white voter for some time. It has used the dog whistle call to let them know that they have a home in the Party. They have created or accentuated the idea that "America" is being stolen, watered down and lost to... (pick your minority group) for so long that they don't really know how to do much else. Every election cycle, they pick an issue (integration, abortion, immigration, gay rights, welfare, health care) and frame it as an "us against them" issue. Everything has been black and white, for lack of a better term. They blow their whistle and wait for the angry American to show up at the polls to maintain their position in the pecking order. 

The biggest aid to the call to arms in the last 20 years has been Fox News. Fox News broadcasts propaganda and alarmist rhetoric as fact. According to the Murdoch mouthpiece, real Americans and the American way of life are under attack every day from the forces of evil. Is the President a Muslim? Fox News can't be sure. Will the President open up camps to indoctrinate our young people? Fox News can't be sure. Will the Democrats bring about Armageddon if they control the White House and Congress? Fox News can't be sure. Is there a war against Christians? Fox News is pretty sure there is.  Is global warming real? Fox News is very sure that it's just a hoax cooked up by the people trying to ruin this country. That type of nonsense "journalism" broadcast into the homes of millions every night has made America a less intelligent country, and it has also made us an angrier country. 

Until now, the Republican running for president has always been able to maintain the cover of "compassionate conservatism" while still managing to blow the dog whistle call to the minions. Sarah Palin had no such pretense of maintain. Pat Buchannan was not afraid to paint the country as conflict between good and evil, but he lacked the disarming charisma and charm of Palin. His argument came across as scary to too many, even in his own party. Palin never looked scary. She was however spewing the same kind of rhetoric that excited the voter who believes that their way of life is under attack. 

Donald Trump has never claimed to be a compassionate conservative. I take that back. Donald Trump has claimed to be everything under the sun. His opening salvo in his run for the nomination was to claim that Mexicans are rapists and that he was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Many in the media laughed at the idea that he could be taken seriously. What many, including myself, missed was that the angry voter, that the Republicans had courted for so long, had grown tired with pretense. The rise of the Tea Party after the election of Barack Obama should have been a warning to the Republicans that their voters were growing wary of pretending to be part of system. They didn't want incremental change, they wanted to blow the whole thing up. The Republican party thought that they could control the Tea Party, but as we have seen on numerous occasions, they can't. 

Donald Trump doesn't really stand for anything. That has allowed those angry voters to latch on to his brand of populism. His followers don't want to work within the system, they want to start something new. In poll after poll, the Republican primary voters have spoken about the appeal of an outsider. They are looking for someone who is not a Beltway veteran. They want someone who speaks to their frustrations and who can shake up the system. They are looking for a transformative figure who will lead them to the promised land of relevance. They want to matter. They want their voices to be heard. They don't care about gay rights or immigrant rights or abortion rights or welfare rights, they only care about their right to be heard. They believe that they are losing the war for America. They believe as Fox News has told them over and over that their religion, their guns, their families, their very way of life will be lost if they don't make a stand. 

The saddest part of this story is not that their are so many Americans who believe that they are under constant attack. The saddest part is that they have put their faith in someone who is so unworthy of it. I think the perfect ticket for the GOP in 2016 would Trump/Palin. It makes perfect sense. She  opened the door and showed the way and he went barreling through. It would only be fair that he join up with the heart and soul of the new Republican Party, The Party of Palin. God have mercy on us all. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Berning Down the House

I almost never post,  but I felt the need to say something about Bernie Sanders. I like Bernie. I think he is a very valuable voice in the political debate. I think it's great that he's inspiring more young people to get involved in the political process. 

He has crossed a line with me. When you start criticizing this president for what he hasn't done, you make an enemy of me. I have criticized this president for the pace of his actions. I have criticized this president for giving up too much. I have criticized this president for not doing everything that I hoped he would be able to do. HOWEVER, I AM NOT RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AS A MEMBER OF THE SAME PARTY AS THE SITTING PRESIDENT! I also understand that this president has faced unprecedented opposition from the republican party. I also understand that the same people who would stand up to criticize this president for not getting things done are the same people who sat on their hands as the republicans strengthened their hold on the House and regained control of the Senate. 

Bernie is talking about a revolution taking place because of all the people that he has brought into the process. Is he talking about the same people who only get out and vote in presidential elections and then sit around waiting for all their dreams to come true. Is he talking about the same people who refuse to vote in off year elections because they are just too busy to be bothered. 

Go ahead and criticize all you want Bernie, but there are lots of Democratic voters out there who think rather highly of this president. Go ahead and say how things would be different if you were in office. Go ahead and rely on the army of followers to help you change Washington. Go right ahead and drag this president through the mud, but you do it at your own peril. There exists a coalition of voters that got this president into the White House. Young, white voters certainly represent a portion of those, but if that's all you've got, then good luck to you as you go forward. 

I honestly don't care how nuanced or qualified your criticism is, especially when put in the context of how better you would be at the job of uniting the country. If you think that a northeastern, self proclaimed democratic socialist stands a chance of uniting the country, then you are incredibly delusional. As I said at the beginning, I like Bernie. I know that his heart is in the right place. Attacking this president though, is a misstep of major proportion.

If Bernie does end up as the Democratic nominee for President, I will happily pull the lever for him. I would never vote against my own self interest. Just remember that the last time a democratic nominee tried to distance himself from the outgoing president of his party, he ended up losing by a hanging chad.