Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

2009 is about to be another page in the history books and as we look forward to the new year, here are the resolutions that I hope a selected few are making:

1) Rahm Emanuel - Grow a pair of testicles

2) Sarah Palin - Read a book, or a newspaper, or a pamphlet or a menu or anything that might actually contain some useful information

3) John Boehner - Spend some more time working for the people you represent and less time working on your tan

4) Dr. Tom Couburn - Read the Hippocratic oath every day and try to remind yourself that wishing for the death or disability of others is not included

5) Mitch McConnel - Buy a dictionary and remind yourself that there are other useful words included besides no

6) Joe Lieberman - Be thankful that Jews don't believe in hell because there's a special level set aside for people like you

7) Max Baucus and Ben Nelson - Save some of that money from the health care lobby for an early retirement

8) Olympia Snowe - Try to remind yourself that unlike a female lead singer in a band, the world does not revolve around you

9) Newt Gingrich - Announce you're running for President on April 1, so that we can all have a good laugh

10) Keith Olberman - Stop doing the mocking voices because it lowers the perceived quality of your sports commentary

11) Glen Beck & Rush Limbaugh - Come to the realization that (in the words of the immortal Dean Wormer) fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life

That's all for now folks. Have a happy and safe New Year's celebration.

The 10 Things I Think Must Change.

I was inspired by one of Beach Bum’s recent posts and many of Jack Jodell’s and also Stimpson’s pieces this year to do some hard thinking about what’s wrong with the world I live in and what can be fixed or changed. At first I thought: “who the hell am I to suggest anything? I’m no person of importance, I don’t hold a degree.” And then I thought “Wait a minute, I actually live here on Earth.
That’s enough of a reason.

Here are the 10 things I think must change.

Outlaw lobbying.
Not just on America’s K Street, but everywhere on Earth. Corporate influence on the law and regulations must be made illegal and be vigorously prosecuted. No reform or honest lawmaking is possible without the extrication of the corporation and big industry from the process of making the laws that WE human beings live under.

Outlaw media monopolies.
Newspapers, Magazines, Television, Radio and the Internet are too important to the understanding of reality to be left to the likes of greedy oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp.
No one should be allowed to own more than one media outlet.
No one should be allowed to own media outlets in different mediums.
If you are in a particular sector of business (E.G. General Electric owning NBC,) you should not be able to own a media outlet: We know we will never get honest reporting from NBC about its parent company and we know we will never get honest reporting from News Corp. about anything. These immediate conflicts of interest should be obvious to everyone.

House, clothe and feed every human being.
This one is also obvious: There is more than enough wealth in every government on earth to accomplish this, and if there wasn’t? Ask yourself if there is anything else you can think of that is more important, more worthwhile and a better reason for going in to debt? We never question the price of defense, of roads, or of subsidies for big business. It takes very little to guarantee the safety of fellow human beings around the world and here in the United States. No veteran, child or senior citizen should be homeless or hungry -ever.

Legalize all drugs.
You cannot protect people from the things they want. It’s never worked and the enforcement of prohibition laws and the black markets they create around the world and in the United States have killed more innocent people than all the drug overdoses ever will.
If we can handle alcohol, we can deal with everything else.

Guarantee education for all.
People everywhere should be enabled to go as far with their education as they need or want to go. It should not be impossibly expensive to become a doctor or a lawyer. In any case, stupid people are dangerous, so let's get rid of them humanely: with education.

Mandatory draft for all.
This one is for the United States specifically, but would be a good idea all over the world: EVERYONE, man or woman, from age 18 to 50 should have to serve in the armed forces should their country go to war.
That means the President’s children, the sons and daughters of all Senators and Congresspersons, the spoiled asshole princes of Brunei, the kids of all the people working at Lockheed Martin and Halliburton get drafted.
No deferments, no loop holes, no exceptions.
If you’re in a wheelchair you can man a communications terminal near the frontline.
Unless you’re a quad amputee? -you’re going to war.
There’ll be a lot less war if nobody, not a single soul can avoid risking their life in it. When there is a war? -We’ll be sure it won’t be only our dedicated and honorable youth risking their lives for the rich, everyone will really think about what's going on and why.

Outlaw the creation of perennial wastes and toxins.
No one, no individual or company anywhere can be allowed to create artificial substances, materials or compounds that cannot be broken down within 100 years.
If a corporation creates a new plastic, it has to be accompanied by the creation of its own solvent that will break it down into its harmless constituent elements. Substances toxic to humans, plant and wildlife cannot be used in the manufacture of anything, ever.
This is not a big deal, it is totally doable and it’s the way we lived in the 19th century before the entire world got fast, cheap and out of control and the most toxic substances were mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead and smoke.

Invest in the reclamation of raw materials.
Landfills have to be mined for recyclable materials, and our current system of waste management has to be changed to a recycling system. No paper should ever end up as pure waste, no serviceable metals should end up at the bottom of garbage.

Establish a global minimum wage.
People in China should not be making 4 dollars a day while taking a manufacturing job away from a person in a country with higher standards of working and living. We no longer build television sets or computers here in the United States yet America pioneered both technologies… where did all those manufacturing jobs go? To a place where you can pay people 4 dollars day and make them settle for standards deemed inhumane in the United States a century ago. Corporations are moving manufacturing and all kinds of jobs off shore so they can do business as if it were 1810.

And lastly,
Teach the possibility of change as a functioning philosophy to all.
For the sake of our species we need to do away with the destructive notion that things are immutable. We must ridicule and obliterate the idea that things are always the same and that idealism and futility are mutually inclusive outlooks and conditions…
if we are to survive.

I didn’t even touch upon human rights, habitat, healthcare or fossil fuels
What are the 10 things you would change my friends?


Friday, December 25, 2009

General Macarthur

We lost one of our voices this week:
An honest, courageous writer who honorably searched for answers while posing thorny questions out here in this ether. Macarthur Walton held court in this nebulous online world that has been derided as: a waste of time; a medium for mindless recreation; a platform for disseminating lies; a dehumanizing congress that separates rather than connects; a medium that abbreviates conversation to the point of insignificance.

Walton’s explorations on daddyBstrong allowed me to see that critics of discourse on the Internet (Of which I was one, until MyCue23 dragged me into blogging last year on Random Thoughts) are only assessing a nascent medium by its worst examples, like judging the act of cooking by citing a potted meat casserole.

I never had the pleasure of knowing him, only the honor of reading his posts and sharing in some of his indignation. Words have failed me since the news of MacDaddy’s passing into that undifferentiated oblivion which we all must return to. I knew he had been sick but I had no idea to what degree: such were the force of his words and his clarity of thought to the very end that I had no idea was coming so soon.

I occasionally return to the works of Wilfred Owen, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats and lately James Fenton for some perspectives on the loss of our contemporaries and maybe even a little guidance on how to continue as our departed friends and colleagues would insist we do in their damnable and unjust absence.

This is where I came from.
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.

A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.

This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard

- James Fenton

Macarthur Walton will be missed, but not forgotten by any of us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

“Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy. Aye.”

That’s what Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat, representing West-by-God-Virginia said, apparently defying Senator Tom Coburn's hopes AND prayers by just being there alive, alert and well enough to cast his vote today. But I respectfully suggest that Senator’s Byrd’s vote is also for a few other warriors who could not be here to fight: it’s also for Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Sargent Shriver.

Take a breath America.

This is what making history feels like. We’ve been making a lot of it lately, however we may feel about its scale and detail. Regardless of our legitimately dashed expectations, this is history.

Not to have his obstructionist efforts overshadowed, Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said:

I guarantee you the people who voted for this bill will get an earful, when they finally get home for the first time since Thanksgiving.”

--You’re right Senator McConnell, I just called my Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and thanked them profusely for standing up to cowards and sell outs like you.

Merry Christmas, Mitch.
I couldn't have gotten you a bigger present than the number "60."


It's a Wonderful Life

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, except for me who decided that it was a perfect time to try and write something to celebrate my favorite holiday. Now I can't possibly hope to match the eloquence of my co-conspirator here at Random Thoughts, but that doesn't mean that I can't add my own little bit of holiday cheer.

It has been quite a trying year for me but thankfully I've always had this blog to help me keep my sanity. I can't really express how reassuring it has been to come here and read the thoughts of SJ and of the all the great writers that we have come to call our friends. The passion of Jack Jodell, the healthy cynicism of Vigilante, the spiritualism of the incomparable Gwendolyn Barry, the honesty of Mad Mike and the overall brilliance of so many others whose writing reminds me that our country has not lost its way. I'm far too old to expect a jolly man in red suit to be dropping off gifts for me tomorrow night, but I can honestly say that getting a chance to read the thoughts of our new friends and to discuss the problems of day with people whose opinions I respect so much, has provided me with more than even jolly St. Nick himself could carry on that magical sleigh of his. So this Christmas I'm satisfied with all the gifts I've already gotten. Thank you Yellow Dog, Oso, Beach Bum, Manifesto Joe, Will Hart, Tom Degan, Burr Deming, Truth 101 and anyone I've forgotten to include (it certainly was not an intended slight). I'll even thank our occasional nemesis, Sepp. You have all made the year immeasurably better than it would have been without our dialogue.

I couldn't end this without saying a few more words about my partner in crime here, SJ. He is, without a doubt the most talented person I know and besides being my friend for almost 30 years (for which I am forever in his debt), he quite literally saved my life this year. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to read his articles is aware of his talent. That however does not begin to scratch the surface of who he is. I hate to get all sentimental here, but suffice it to say that I'm not sure where I would be without his help.

So Santa, I know you're busy. I just wanted to let you know that you can skip my house tomorrow. My stocking is already full.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


-is only days away and I must confess that for the first time in years I have a vague stirring of emotion; of sentiment, inspired by the season. It has been years, maybe 18 or more, since I last considered Christmas anything other than an empty holiday, dispossessed of its significance by the onset of my adulthood and all of the sober, shrewd skepticism that maturity, independence and knowledge brings.

It was always a time of afterthought, second thoughts, second-guessing and abstract hopes. Christmas was a last catching of my breath before the careening diminuendo of the New Year’s Eve count down. Christmas was a last look over the shoulder at the waning year behind and its happenings, promises and unfulfilled wants. That is what Christmas was to me until about 1992, a year when I started looking forward to getting drunk at parties more than I did being at parties. That was the year that many friends went afar, and remained there. Pining for old get togethers, big dinners and the fraternity of our younger days seemed silly.

Life goes on, and it will drag you along. Working life is a kind of plateau in adulthood. It sets in, and flattens everything, dividing and averaging out all of our emotion, our love and our dread until one day we find ourselves wondering why certain things don’t make us angry anymore or why other things no longer make us happy. It’s important to remember: the things are the same, it is we who change for better or worse.

Maybe the return of Christmas’s personal significance to me has something to do with the coming end of another decade… -my fourth on Earth as a proud, if at times puzzled and angry member of the human race. If you’d talked to me twenty years ago, I’m sure I would have had no idea so much time could pass… and yet 2009 has been a long year. 2009 was “long” in the way the years of my early childhood were long. Time stopped still many times this year, as they used to before summer vacation, before Christmas day and a long awaited gift. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas day in 1976 was the longest period in human history.

I can’t prove it scientifically, but trust me, waiting for my “Jackie Stewart Rev-A-Matic Competition” AFX Ho Scale slot car race set with magna traction chassis cars was longer than the “100 Years War”… which we all know didn’t take 100 years.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve hoped for so much.

I yearn for a proper future, a good life for my friends, for my neighbors, for my mother, for my country, for my generation, for my time and my world. In this way, I feel genuinely connected, for possibly the first time in my life with the writers whose work has informed my own. I feel, after this year of rancor, spite and triumph that I understand Charles Dickens, as I didn’t before. I understand now that when he wrote of Ebenezer Scrooge, he was writing chiefly of himself. Scrooge, is a profound confession by a man of letters terrified at the way he may have misspent his life amongst his fellow human beings. This year, I’ve been thinking of Charles Dickens’ various imagined worlds, his assorted “Englands” as too many in our country try to pretend that intolerance, indifference and greed aren’t aspects of hate.

Cruelty is not a perspective. It is violence, and when it’s done to the least of us: the defenseless, the poor, it is unforgivable.

Dickens introduced two children to me in A Christmas Carol. They are stark, inelegant allegories: “Ignorance and Want.” The Ghost of Christmas Present brings the hideous twins to Scrooge in the story with a warning:

"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

Here's hoping the writing on the boy's head and the damage inside his skull can be undone.

I am hopeful and optimistic for the first time in many years. Although 2009 brought the death of my beloved uncle, and the death of a life long friend, it also brought the end of the Bush administration, it brought the confirmation of a non-Conservative woman to the Supreme Court, it brought a man of formidable intellect to the White House. 2009 brought the end of abuses too numerous to mention in our country’s name.

And yet there is much to hope and wish for:

Real lasting peace in the world: the kind of peace that allows people to listen and see clearly the liars in their midst.
More money for schools: so that our kids grow up to be the smartest work force they can be.
Health Care Reform: even if we can only pry from the lobbyists an inch at a time.
I’d love to see the America that actually manufactures the goods it consumes again. I would love to see an America where electronics and technology and even our fuels and energy are generated stateside. I’d love to see an entire world of nations that create jobs everywhere and don’t eliminate livelihoods just to make the rich, richer.

Feed and clothe every man, woman and child.

I may not live to see it all, but as in years past, I just can’t wait for it all to get here.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Rest in Peace MacArthur.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Age of Reason

I have certainly been among a vocal group who have been critical of the Obama administration and some of their policies. I criticized their policy in Afghanistan. I have criticized their seeming lack of commitment to real health care reform. I have criticized the justice department for not going after the crooks who ran the last administration. I have been critical of their lack of focus on our crumbling public school system. I have been critical of the President turning his back on supporting the cause of gay and lesbian rights.

That being said, I am quite sure that the alternative would have been much, much worse. The Obama campaign was one which soared on the idea that Washington was broken. They made change the linchpin of their campaign and people attached their own hopes and dreams to that theme. However, the idealistic tone of the campaign has been replaced by the realism of trying to govern in this era of obstructionism. It was clear from day one that the Republicans had no intention to work with this President. Their leadership has always signaled that if Obama can get things done, regardless of whether they help the country, then it was a losing proposition for them. The Republican strategy has been to complain about any solutions offered by the Obama administration without offering any solutions of their own. They have lied and stoked their base into a frenzy and have to a great extent been able to control the message coming out of DC.

The Obama administration, for their part, has proceeded with a minimum of drama. As was the case during the campaign, they seem to be sure that their long term strategy will ultimately be successful. Their were many times during the primary and Presidential campaigns that I wanted them to strike back against their opponents. The Obama campaign never took the bait. They had a long term strategy and they basically never deviated from it regardless of the situation on the ground. The major exception being the speech on race that Obama was forced to give after the videos of Reverend Wright were released. I think that the ability to stick to a strategy and stay on message served the Obama campaign very well. I'm not sure that it works as well when it comes to running an administration and winning the hearts and minds of the public. During the campaigns, the enemy (so to speak), was clearly defined and embodied by an opponent. As President, the other side now has literally hundreds of opponents to deal with. A single strategy to defeat a single opponent simply does not work as well, when attacks are coming from everywhere. The White House needs to do a better job of getting their message out to the American public. They need to let people know exactly what they are doing to help them. They need to let people know how they are working to improve their lives. They need to let people know how different this administration is to the one that it followed.

The enthusiasm and hope that the supporters of the Obama campaign had, has been dulled by the consistent onslaught of negativity coming from the opposition. By allowing the Republicans to shape the message of the media, the Obama administration has given up their advantage. Now there is reason for some supporters to feel disillusioned, but for the most part I believe the disappointment comes from perception of the facts as opposed to the actual facts. This is a conflict between idealism and realism. Pragmatism is the place where dreams go to die, and dreams do die very hard indeed. After living through the nightmare of the two Bush Presidencies, the soaring oratory and big ideals of candidate Obama seemed like the answer to the dreams of so many. Supporters sent money, knocked on doors, stuffed envelopes, wrote impassioned blogs, made phone calls, talked to their friends and neighbors with the understanding that if Obama were elected, everything would be different. They would finally have someone in the White House who had the same agenda as they did. They would finally have someone in the White House who would take on the special interests. They would finally have a voice at the center of power that spoke for them after so many years in the wilderness. And after the pure exultation of election night, the reality of trying to bring change to Washington DC has smacked a lot of people in the face.

People have suggested that they will not be as enthusiastic about supporting the President the next time around. We already have polls suggesting that a huge majority of Republicans will be voting in the mid term elections while a bare majority of Democrats say the same thing. This feeling of malaise amongst Democrats and Independents who voted for Obama comes from how the message is being framed. Everything that has been done by this administration has been constantly criticized by the Republicans. From questioning Obama's birth certificate to suggesting that health care reform would lead to death panels killing older Americans, the ridiculous claims have come fast and furious from the opposition. The Obama administration has answered these claims, but never with the fervor or volume with which they were made and as we have seen over and over again it is the person who yells the loudest that gets the most attention.

The Obama administration has retained its campaign strategy of sticking to the agenda and not letting the outside noise distract them. The health care debate is a good example of that. I wrote an article back in August that suggested that the White House knew all along where this debate would turn out and that everything that happened along the way was simply window dressing. The administration insisted on first trying to get a bipartisan agreement on health care reform. Looking back (and even at the time) most will admit that this was a waste of time. However the President had promised during his campaign that he would seek to find middle ground with the opposition and this was the first high profile policy debate that would test this promise. We may look back now and say that the first five months of the health care debate were wasted in an attempt to find some or any Republican support, but the President was simply fulfilling a promise made to the American people. The President's supporters on the left have railed about the fact that single payer was never on the table, however candidate Obama always said that we would have to work within the private health insurance system. Some have simply forgotten that point or assumed that the President was just saying what he needed to say. I am now sure that the Obama administration always knew that the debate over health care reform was going to come down to a fight between Democratic Senators. The White House was secure in the fact that they could achieve health insurance reform but were less sure about what other health care reform could be achieved given the deep divisions within the party.

There is nothing wrong with a long term approach or in being able to anticipate the outcome of a debate. However since most people in the country are not privy to the inner workings of the White House, their attitude comes off as extremely nonchalant. To the outsider it may look like the White House was not fully engaged in the debate or that they did not have a hand in the outcome. I'm sure that neither could be further from the truth. The seeming lack of a sense of urgency from the White House is just a manifestation of the "no drama Obama" strategy from the campaign. And while this approach may indeed work well in the long run, in the short term it leaves those who worked so hard and invested so much in this campaign, feeling a little cold. The idealism of the campaign has now run head on into the reality of actually running the country and fending off attacks from outside and inside the party.

Idealism is a necessary part of the political process. Without high ideals, even baby steps are never taken. It took this country 100 years after the slaves were released to produce a piece of legislation that guaranteed the rights of the descendants of those freed slaves. None of that would have come about without the idealism of those who believed that the country should and would do better. But just think of how many people worked and believed and tried to bring about some semblance of equality, only to die without seemingly ever moving the needle. Our ideas and our ideals are what give us hope that tomorrow will be better than today. The campaign of Barack Obama galvanized those ideas and ideals into one recognizable force. It would have been impossible for the Presidency of Barack Obama to live up to the numerous dreams that were built into the smiles and tears of those who celebrated that victory last November.

But I would ask those who are wavering in their enthusiasm for the President to define exactly what is it that he has done that is contrary to what he said he would do. He will increase the level of troops in Afghanistan, as he said he would do. He has worked to bring about the first meaningful health insurance reform ever enacted, as he said he would do. He has guaranteed health care for millions of children around the country. The stimulus package helped stave off a potential depression. He has helped to rehabilitate the reputation of the United States in the international community. He has tried to move forward on climate change. There are still many more issues to deal with. Education, the deficit, job creation, terrorism, etc., etc., but there are still three years left in his administration. It would be unfair to judge someone after a job is only 1/4 completed. It would be like complaining that the trim isn't done after painters were only 1/4 through the job of painting your house. I am willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt on most of the issues that he has yet to focus on. I am sure that he has a four year strategy in place. Perhaps he focuses on education next year. Perhaps he decided that education reform was best handled in an election year because it should be universally popular. Perhaps he's decided to wait until his third year to tackle "don't ask, don't tell", because he knows it is a potentially divisive issue. The President and the people around him are smarter than I am and while I can get fairly impatient at times, I have to believe that every scenario has been discussed and planned for.

The Obama administration must do a better job of getting their message out to the people. They cannot lay back in the hope that eventually the news of the day will turn in their favor. It is a fact that 20,000 teachers have jobs here in New York because of the stimulus money. Why don't more people know that? Given the state of the public schools here in NY, I can't imagine the chaos that would have ensued if the number of teachers and administrators had to be decreased by 1/3. The White House should be pointing to that number and to those like it around the country to show exactly what the stimulus money is doing. Don't just site numbers like 1.4 million jobs saved or created. What does that mean? How do you quantify that number? The Republicans have attacked that number as bogus. Well if you actually show real people in real jobs that would not have existed without the stimulus, it makes it harder to refute. I'm sure the people on Fox would never report about the number of state employees who still have jobs because of the stimulus, but if the White House made more of a point of emphasizing these positives, I'm sure the message that is reaching the public would change.

Joe Biden und Barack Obama in Springfield, Ill...Image via WikipediaIdealism and reality can coexist quite comfortably among the supporters of the President. Idealism is the engine that drives realism. Idealism provides the dreams, realism provides the policy. The next three years are going to be driven by the hopes and dreams of those who voted on that fateful day last November. Those dreams may not always be paid off in full, but I believe that we can rest assured that will be addressed in the full light of day. Every dream and every hope can't be addressed immediately and it is up to those who dreamt and hoped for something better to allow this administration the time it needs to work toward those goals. I will probably still be impatient at the pace of Washington DC, but there is nothing that can be done about that. I will probably still write angry articles about the Obama administration from time to time, but then idealism is almost never practical.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tower of Babel

Oral Roberts died a couple of days ago and just as with the passing of Jerry Falwell, I say goodbye and good riddance. For some reason America has turned to these so called "men of faith" for moral guidance over the past century. From Father Coughlin spewing his anti-Semitic message over the radio in the twenties to today's kinder, gentler anti-gay speech from the likes of Rick Warren, Americans have looked to these people to reinforce their own bigoted views.

America is currently faced with a choice of being a nation that cares for its own or abandons those that it deems unacceptable to the proverbial wolves. Health care reform has been debated on this site and on many other sites ad infinitum, and yet we have yet to hear from those who are supposedly our moral compass. Where are the religious leaders standing up for the weak, the sick, the poor? Isn't that supposed to be at the point of the teachings of Jesus? Aren't those who benefit so handsomely from teaching the supposed word of God responsible for standing up for those among us who are unable to do it themselves. The 50 million uninsured in this country are probably among the least likely to vote. The poor and the sick don't spend their time trying to lobby Congress. They don't drop off checks for their representatives. They don't get invited to the White House to share their views on how to get the economy going. They are too busy trying to survive until tomorrow. They don't have the luxury of time.

Our so called religious leaders in this country should be spending their time looking after the concerns of the least among us. Instead they spend their time railing against gay marriage and comparing gay sex to bestiality. I guess they ask themselves, what would Jesus do, and decide that he would try to make as much money as he could while advancing a political agenda that excludes and stigmatizes millions of people. The tens of thousands of people who will die this year and the millions that have died since the health care reform debate was introduced over 50 years ago, all are screaming from the grave. Where are the religious leaders who are fighting for our cause? Where are the funding drives to help pressure Congress into passing some meaningful legislation? Why are the Mormons spending untold millions around the country to prevent consenting adults from showing their love for each other by having their union sanctioned by the state? Wouldn't that money be better spent on trying to help people get decent health care? Wouldn't that money be better spent trying to save a few of those tens of thousands that will die this year because they couldn't afford simple preventative care?

Televangelists tell their flock that they are preaching the word of God. They are put on earth just to do God's will. I can only hope that they are talking about the God of the Old Testament. You know the one, the mean, angry and vindictive God. The God who would make his most faithful followers sacrifice a son or suffer years of devastation to prove their loyalty. A God who would keep Moses from seeing the holy land because of a small transgression. I am fairly sure that God would come up with some new level of suffering for those who are now profiting in his name. When money becomes the goal of your supposed religious endeavor, then the only thing that you are worshiping is the almighty dollar.

I believe that there is nothing that can be preyed upon more by the unscrupulous among us than a persons faith. The promise of everlasting life is a powerful tool in the hands of those who would twist that belief for their own benefit. It's very clear why the most visible religious leaders have remained silent on this issue. They are protecting their money source. Taking a stand would cause some of those dollars to stop flowing and that is clearly unacceptable. However, by not taking a stand, they have thrown their hat in with those who prefer the status quo. They have taken a stand with those who would tell those uninsured who will die this year that they should have been born rich. They take a stand with those who tell the uninsured and under insured that they don't care if they have to chose between medicine and food. They take a stand with those who tell parents who cannot afford to take their children to the dentist that their children simply aren't worth the effort.

I suppose I've been hard on those who preach for profit. As a group they have done good things. They have helped many, but I am sure that the number of people killed or who have died in the name of religion outnumbers the number of people who have been helped. So as our "religious leaders" sit this one out, I personally long for the day that faith is no longer has a dollar sign on it. I long for the day when people can observe whatever religious practices they would like without having to pay for the privilege. I long for the day when faith is a personal and private choice. Perhaps then we could do away with these supposed moral leaders whose priority is to live as comfortable a life as possible. Perhaps then our country will live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence. I believe that we are a compassionate and caring people, and left to our own devices, we as a people would do the right thing. We don't need to be led down a path by someone whose morals we use as a substitute for our own.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Legislating the Obvious

New York Governor David Paterson signed Executive Order No. 33 on Wednesday December 16, 2009. Executive Order Number 33 expressly prohibits New York State agencies from discriminating against any person on the basis of their gender identity and its expression in any and all matters pertaining to employment by the State.

I am shutting my eyes and imagining a deafening applause in New York City. I have to use my imagination because so many of the people who needed this protection are long gone. Taken from the city by the AIDS epidemic and others lucky enough to die of old age will never get to know the supreme satisfaction of having their rights guaranteed by the state they paid taxes to, within the country many of them served.

In the 1980s I marched with grass roots activist groups like ACT UP in Washington DC. Those groups and the people who lead them changed the world. The plethora of changes in law, and just as importantly, changes in the support by medical research companies, Pharmaceutical companies and government funding for the development of drugs has meant that AIDS is no longer an immediate death sentence today. It’s a different world. It all happened at the urging of all of the people who marched alongside their fellow Americans in response to the Reagan and Bush administrations’ institutional disregard for all of the dead and dying in the 1980s. During that time I weathered no small amount of animosity from Gays and Lesbians in the activist community who questioned my motives and sincerity because I wasn’t a Gay man. It gave me an inkling of what White college students must have felt in the 1960s when community organizers mistook their lack of common experience for a lack of dedication or commitment.

But I marched.

I painted banners. I silk-screened shirts. I drew artwork for flyers… and I marched. I marched miles in DC and again back home in New York. This was back when I was younger and I really did think the people had the power. I’ve often wondered why, if it worked, does it happen so rarely today. In particular there has always been a strange disconnect between the G, L, B and the “T” in GLBT in New York. Intuitively, it’s almost a predictable schism. The Transgendered are by far the most marginal people in any community. When you look at the “Rock-Paper-Scissors” game of Class-Race-Gender-Sexual Orientation-Identity in America, the Transgendered will often find themselves on the outside -even amongst Gays, who I sadly found out can possess their own backward Conservative reflex just like everyone else. When it came to civil rights, the Transgendered had to wait some years before being brought into conversations about protection and equality under the law. Gays and Lesbians as a whole are still waiting for the larger civil rights communities (themselves now an established institution some fifty or more years down the road) to call Gay Rights: Civil Rights. I don’t see the NAACP coming around anytime soon to take up the cause of Gays and Lesbians among their own broader goals.

Among religious groups in America, there is disagreement about a great many things, but they almost all agree on the exclusion of Homosexuals and the Transgendered. The Religious Right and the Social Conservative movement is largely defined by their refusal of America’s Gays and Lesbians. The Transgendered are generally not on the Moral Majority’s radar and with their at best diminished presence on the Gay Rights agenda, the Transgendered are the only group in America that anyone might be able to argue face more obstacles than our Native Americans.

The Transgendered have been “on the outside of the outside” for most all of recorded history. Their ongoing plight speaks to injustices that are more related to infantile reflex than any superficial claims about our social fabric’s fragility or insistences on religious orthodoxy. Much is said and worse is done in the name of righteousness and intolerance.

Tolerance is not weakness.

Tolerance is a moral and ethical strength. The Moral Majority and the Far Right would have us all believe that recognizing the humanity and asserting the normalcy of ALL Americans is a weakness of character, as if guaranteeing or simply letting someone undesirable exist is a character flaw, a sign of society’s decline. Nonsense.

I’d argue that today’s signing of Executive Order Number 33 is in fact another step towards our eventual ascension: America’s rise to meet the promise of the principles behind our Constitution,

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Oral Roberts is dead and Transgendered Americans don’t have to worry about government treating them like non-persons –in New York State
It's no small thing. It's a good day.

Governor Paterson remarked glibly today that if you want to get anything done in government, you have to do it yourself. I suppose I’d say in response that sometimes, if you want to accomplish the obvious, you have to act just as boldly Mr. Paterson.

My tired feet in 1988 thank you Governor, as do future generations.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I’ve had some profoundly nasty, vitriolic arguments with people over the years about politics. Being a Progressive, pro-union, working-class Liberal who listens first before engaging most issues means I’ve been invariably pegged as too radical for some and not angry and doctrinaire enough for others.
Six years ago, when I worked one of the worst jobs I have ever had, (I know I should never complain about being employed, but this was a terrible, soul-sucking gig that operated out of a tiny 12-foot by 12-foot computer room that had to accommodate 3 hapless human beings and their terminals) I had the misfortune of having a graveyard shift that overlapped with that of one of the most miserable pricks I have ever encountered in any workplace. We all know the type: walks in tired, complains about every aspect of his life, the unfairness of the world, how little he has in the way of luck, money or good fortune. (-Meanwhile the man was married to a beautiful woman, had a beautiful son.-) This man sighed more times per minute than a front tire weeping its air from a flat.
This was one miserable, unhappy, bitch-of-a-man and whenever he was done moaning he set about trying to make conversation, -generally about politics. He made a point of talking to everyone as though they had voted for George W. Bush. He was a Columbian national who was in the process of “naturalizing” toward citizenship and having a tough go of it. Despite all I have written about him thus far, I should add that he was extremely intelligent, knowledgeable about a great many things, well-read, -if given to believing elaborate conspiracy theories generally more common amongst Anti-Semites. Surprisingly, like too many South Americans I have known, (My parents hailed from the Dominican Republic and I speak Spanish fluently lest you think, I too am being a xenophobe) he was a matter-of-fact racial bigot who was often annoyed when told to watch what he said.
I just didn’t respect this man. I took great glee in embarrassing and exposing him when he’d attempt to bait me with leading questions. He had a favorite; one of the most naive questions anyone can ask an American:
“How can you stand it?”
The presumption within that question is a judgment: an implication that we do stand it. That we somehow let it happen. As if the deck isn’t stacked against the average citizen from up on high.

What is going on right now in America is criminal. I don’t care how many handfuls of morons spill out of buses with “Obama=Hitler” signs, -that’s not the nation, it’s not even the nation’s elbow… it’s more like a cyst.

The Public Option is now gone. The Republican minority got its way thanks to a bunch of asshole Democrats who decided to use the GOP’s dogma as an excuse to weasel away from defending the poor and the working class -who don’t have a lobby, -who can’t get in to see a Senator because they’re too busy just trying to survive in this once-growing economy the GOP shot down the toilet for the last decade.

After what happened at Walter Reade Hospital this decade, I don’t give a fuck what any Republican has to say on the subject of Health Care, Hospitalization, Medical costs or the efficiency of anything ever again.

Joe Lieberman can go burn in the hell for what he and his fellow sell-outs are consigning 50 million people in America to. These corrupt sycophants had better be made to pay for their lack of integrity in the next election cycle. I’m sure Jack Jodell or another blogger with his prosecutorial honesty will give us their names.

Howard Dean said last night that he is among those who accept replacing the Public Option with a Medicare buy-in for Americans between the ages of 55 and 64. Those who read Random Thoughts know that I respect Mr. Dean and that I hold him in a very special regard, but he doesn’t honestly expect me to believe that he’s okay with people under 55 being in basically the same situation they were in yesterday:
-at the mercy of an industry that will let you die if it costs them too much money.

Every Representative, every single Senator who ever accepted campaign support from the Health Care Industry and opposed the Public Option, and the Single Payer System before it -should be made to explain how they had no conflict of interest, -how they weren’t bought outright.

Because they were:
Orrin Hatch and Max Baucus are as corrupt as politicians come.

For the first time this afternoon I asked myself: How can I stand it?” For the first time I’m thinking:“Maybe that asshole I worked with in 2003 was right about Americans and their complacency, their ignorance?”
We have politicians who absolutely do not care about working people and we have working people who absolutely do not care about each other or themselves. I thought rational self-interest, or saving our industries (like Automotive) at the very least could be counted on as a reason to insist on medical coverage as a right, not a rare and expensive privilege.

I’m looking out of my office window onto Times Square. It’s a fittingly grey, cold and rain soaked Wednesday. The news of this “compromise” is being flashed across several digital running boards, gigantic screens, and video billboards and nobody, not one single person is looking up from their shopping to see what’s going wrong with their world, their nation, and their lives.

I am disgusted.

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Where Have All Papa's Heroes Gone?"

-is what David Bowie sung in “Young Americans” after his fictional heroine in the first choruses is the victim of a crime.

It’s a strange song as its lyrics express a nostalgia for an era that, at the time of the song’s debut, had not yet passed into memory. He asks if people remember their President Nixon among other rhetorical questions about the times and mood… as if anybody in America could ever forget Watergate. Bowie seemed to be singing about how American lives “blow by” in some respects, urged by panic, national tragedy, failed expectations, the dashing of grand but personal hopes and the day-to-day pressure of making ends meet in a country where freedom is ironically mitigated and qualified by how much money you have. In this Bowie has something in common with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sad understanding of life in America.

"Where have all Papa's heroes gone?" is a question I mull over in my head from time to time. David Bowie was not singing about anybody’s “papa” in particular of course, not mine, not yours, nor his. The implication seems to be that heroes always belong to another generation, and that maybe we can’t see them clearly or feel their significance until they’re gone. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we Americans try to rush out of the present so damn fast… so we can get a look and some much needed distance to appreciate things in scale, -unblinded by our proximity to greatness.

“Hero” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. As a born skeptic, rewarded early in life by disappointments in people and things, it’s not a word I’ve ever used to describe anybody, except characters in fiction. Maybe I don’t feel I have the right to bestow it. It’s no small thing to call someone a hero. You are imparting a responsibility as well as conferring an honor… maybe that’s why we often wait until they’re dead?

Clearly, firemen, and our military are heroic people. They are heroes beyond understanding as they do things for hourly wages that most people would not do for any amount of money in the world; running into burning houses, patrolling streets where armed adversaries lie in wait, but those are, for the most part anonymous groups.

While it may be “jaded” to say: “there are no heroes,” it is certainly false to say so.

A more appropriate question to ask is may be: -Where have they gone?
In this age where entertainers, celebrities, professional athletes and political demagogues so easily capture our imaginations; our attention once held by accomplished persons, scholars, civic leaders, inventors, artists, writers, doctors, healers, and yes Presidents, is diffused and scattered -where are those individuals we would call heroes without embarrassment, qualification or excuses?

Who can I name without feeling like some silly thoughtless flatterer in search of someone to worship?

-And that’s the real truth isn’t it?

It feels weak, even juvenile to name someone a hero today. Perhaps, in our modern insistence on sober equanimity and self-reliance we just can’t afford them anymore.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The End

For once, I’ll be brief.

The Public Option is in more danger now than it ever has been since the moniker was coined. It’s closer to being dropped than at any point since it became the substitute for the Single-Payer System that was excised before the bill took shape. A few so-called Conservative Democrats, (Joe Lieberman and others) have said they will block the entire Health Care Reform Bill if the Democratic Caucus doesn't agree to weaken the public option.

Joe Lieberman and his fellow sellouts are standing against 50 million uninsured human beings in America. These men are standing against working mothers, single parent households, the recently unemployed, the homeless and infants.

Yes. That's right, in my opinion, Senator Joe Lieberman doesn’t care about babies. has formed an emergency petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking him to not dilute the Public Option.

Sign the petition here and tell Harry Reid to FIGHT as though he were Sargent Shriver or somebody with real balls:

Are you gonna let Joe Lieberman determine the outcome of Health Care Reform?

Forward this link:


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Running to Stand Still

I wanted to revisit an article that I wrote back in January. It was my wishlist for the Obama administration. I know this is probably premature, but I think that as the year draws to an end, it's a valid exercise to see if we have made any progress toward fulfilling those goals.

Let's start with the "war":

"My first issue for the Obama administration is Afghanistan. Concurrent with our withdrawal from Iraq, the President has already said that he will be increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The issue that I have with the war in Afghanistan is the same one I had with Iraq. There is no real definition of "victory". We are essentially fighting a guerrilla war against small bands of terrorists across a vast stretch of land. I really would like to know what our ultimate goal is in Afghanistan. Is the goal to wipe out the Taliban and all the terrorists in the area? If so, that seems to be an unreasonable goal. Is the goal to set up a government that is capable of withstanding the challenges from the Taliban or a similar terrorist group? That also seems unreasonable... A long term occupation of a country in the Middle East only leads to the breeding of more extremists. Without an exit strategy, we risk a never ending war and the creation of a new generation of people who are dedicated to our downfall."

As we now know, the Obama administration will be sending an additional American troops to Afghanistan, along with asking for increased participation from our NATO allies. My question still is, what is the goal? If the goal is to train the Afghan forces and build up their defenses, then I don't understand why that would require so many additional troops. Does it require over 100,000 American troops to train soldiers? How long will it take to get that job done? When are our troops coming home? How many more trillions can we afford to spend on an unwinable war, when we have so many problems at home? Are we making ourselves safer or are we just creating a new generation of people who are bent on our destruction? I guess tonight the President will give us his vision of what the future holds for us in Afghanistan. I will be looking for some answers and hopefully we'll get some because we haven't heard anything from this administration so far that makes me think that we are any closer to bringing our troops home.

"The second issue on my list is health care... It seems almost inconceivable to me that this country, which is still the richest on the planet by far, would allow it's citizens to die needlessly because they can't afford a visit to the doctor or dentist. How can any of us sleep at night knowing that there are children who will die needlessly because of simple infections? How can we allow people to be saddled with mountainous debts because the treatment that saved their lives, wasn't covered by their insurance? How can we continue to make people chose between debt and death? ... The lobbyists for the drug companies, the lobbyists for the medical profession, the lobbyists from the insurance companies, are all going to be applying as much pressure as possible to make sure that this gravy train keeps on rolling. The human cost in lives lost and lives destroyed is never taken into account."

Obviously there have been thousands of words written on this blog and on many of our friends blogs on this issue. As we know the Democrats gave up the idea of single payer without a fight. The administration has been on the defensive from the beginning and they continue to fight it out with members of their own party over just how much the health insurance companies will be allowed to get away with. I personally think the whole debate was handled badly by the administration. They gave up their best bargaining chip before the game even started. They have negotiated from a point of weakness and allowed the foes of reform to lead the debate. That being said, we might actually be on the verge of an historic first step in health coverage. It won't be everything that it's supposed to be, but it's a hell of a lot better than nothing. And as someone said, every great journey begins with a single step.

"My next issue is education. President Obama is an example of what a superior education can produce. Unfortunately, our public schools, are for the most part, incapable of producing such a person. We have allowed our public schools to fall into such a state of disrepair that practically every parent who can afford an alternative takes it. The teachers in our public schools are underpaid and overwhelmed. The facilities are crumbling and pushed to their limits. The textbooks are as outdated as the technology. We put programs in place to try and improve performance, but they are not adequately funded. No child left behind is a great idea, but if there is no follow through, then there are many who are left behind. The election of President Obama will give our children hope that they can become anything they want, but our public education system will give them their first taste of reality. Something must be done and done quickly. We are losing generations of kids to crime, to drug addiction, to hopelessness. Obama is in the best position of any President of modern times to address this situation. He has the ability to inspire, but more importantly, the children of this country need more than inspiration, they need a better system. The kids are willing to meet the system half way, but we cannot ask them to do it all themselves."

Literally nothing has been done. I haven't even heard the words "education reform" from the lips of a major player in the Obama administration. Having the President tell kids to stay in school is nice, but the problems that the kids have to deal with still remain. Why are spending trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan when we have all but ignored the education of our own children? What will it take until and administration takes public school education reform seriously? Why don't we make all of our elected Representatives have to send their children to public school? And not one of the magnet schools either. I think everyone elected to Congress, presidency or named to the cabinet should have to put their kids in one of the local schools in Washington DC. I'm sure that public education would get some attention then. I've asked this question about the health care debate before but, why don't our publicly elected officials care about the people who elected them? Is it so hard to ask them to actually attend to the needs of their constituents. I'm sure the Republicans and Democrats would have different approaches to reform, but if it affected their kids, at least they would have an approach. The lack of attention is shameful.

"The last issue for today is probably the most important and that is having an Executive branch that acts in accordance with and respects the Constitution...President Obama said in his inauguration speech that the choice between safety and our ideals is a false one. I can only hope that he will live up to that statement...It will be tempting to hold on to some of the measures that were put in place under the previous administration, but the President cannot allow us anything less than a complete repudiation of those methods and measures that are counter to our Constitution. This country was founded on the ideals of freedom and transparency, let us hope that we are seeing a return to what made us great."

Well, this hope went out the window pretty quickly. The Attorney General has huffed and puffed, but there are still no real investigations into the transgressions of the previous administration. If the President says that he wants to "look forward not backward" one more time, I might spontaneously combust. Some of the prisoners at Gitmo will actually get a trial, but some innocent detainees had to be sent to a distant island nation, because no one would have them, even though they had done nothing. There are still others at Gitmo (and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan) that will never see the light of day. We won't know who they are or what they supposedly did, but they will be detained (apparently in perpetuity) in our name. This administration hasn't quite been the open book that they said they would be and at times have been downright paranoid (like when they refused to release the names of people who had visited the White House). The air of secrecy that surrounded the Bush White House seems to have infected the Obama White House as well (having an active fight with the Fox "news" Network seems childish and the kind of thing the Bush administration would have been crucified for by those of us on the Left). I wrote an article back in April about what Constitutional rights actually remain, so I won't go over that ground again. Let's just suffice it to say that it hasn't gotten any better under this administration.

That's about it. One out of four. I guess at this pace, we might actually get some real change over four years. I'm generally kind of pessimistic by nature, but I'm still willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have a master plan to tackle all the issues that matter to Progressives and Liberals alike. Perhaps we need to be more patient. Perhaps time will make all of this criticism seem silly. Perhaps, but it's hard to tell a starving man to wait his turn. We've been starving for so long, that I guess we may seem a little greedy. I can wait my turn, but I can't wait forever.