Conspiracy: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

I think it’s fair to say that in the wake of the government shutdown and the laughable antics of the Tea Party, the GOP had their asses effectively handed to them in this latest election. Tea partier Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia was summarily defeated. So too Dean Young of Alabama. New York City elected its first democratic mayor since the early nineties. Democracy reigned across the land, despite voter ID laws designed to keep minorities and Democrats from voting.

All of it: the shutdown, Ted Cruz’s filibuster, the obstruction led by Tea Party wing-nuts has badly shaken the President. Except – it hasn’t. Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. As it stands, this fringe element of the GOP shouldn’t have nearly the voice or the power to sabotage the US government. Yet, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering, they have infiltrated congress to wield their strange and horrible revenge.

obama-coolBut something about it doesn’t sit right in my stomach. I suspect the story goes deeper than we’ve all been led to believe and that maybe Obama’s calm exterior is the clue we need to put it all together. Remember Syria? That country somewhere across the water from us, in the middle of a whole bunch of other countries that I can’t pronounce/know who they are? Remember how they were going to throw us into a third foreign conflict that had conservatives beating the drum wars (have the ever stopped?) and liberals picketing, recycling our fathers’ protest-wear of the 1960s?

In short, it was a chess game, the likes of which none of us saw clearly until the hand was dealt in John Kerry’s “slip” that if Syria was willing to give up their chemical weaponry, we were going to launch the missiles that were aimed at Syrian targets. It sounded to the world like an offhand comment, an impossibility, and an excuse to pacify the itchy fingers at the helm. But Syria, with Russia’s support, surprised us. They agreed. And most of us let out a sigh of relief.

And it was only after the smoke cleared that the public was able to see why Obama was able to keep his cool in the face of another bloody war: he knew what he was doing. He saw three steps ahead of any of us and played it out. Nothing to get all nervous about folks. I got this.

And so when I see that coolness in the face of domestic conflict in Congress that has organized opposition to every single thing he has ever proposed, I wonder how he doesn’t snap. Just once. Just a bit. An eye-roll. A bitten lip. A shouted obscenity.

But no.

So let’s look deeper at the actual result of the Tea Party’s invasion of the GOP. They have hijacked a powerful political party and taken away their credo of fiscal responsibility and small government and replaced it with a religious dogma that would stump Jesus. Conspiracy theorists have only grown more staunch in their assertions that Obama is really a Muslim socialist intent on waging war against the very country he purports to love. They’re waiting for the axe to drop. They think it might have something to do with his healthcare reform, that there has to be a sinister element to his attempt to revamp a disastrous and corrupt system and put affordable provisions in for the less fortunate among us.

Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman haven’t stopped to take a breath in their campaigns to enlighten the people to his evil doings. Fox News, in their fair and balanced efforts, pauses naught in their anti-Obama “news,” and Mitch McConnell has vowed to never stop his wave of obstruction. It’s enough to make a leader flip the eff out.

But not this guy.

Consider for a moment how his calm exterior has been a Teflon cover to which none of their vitriol sticks. Consider how the Tea Party-led GOP has succeeded in defeating food stamps for the very poor in hard economic times while clinging to tax breaks for the very wealthy, how redistricting has made their racist motives apparent to the masses, and how they shut down the entire government just to stage a temper tantrum that served only to illustrate how contemptible their positions have grown. Finally, consider how the Tea Party has succeeded where no Democrat ever could: in dividing a once-powerful club whose power was unmatched by anything the world had ever seen. Consider Obama’s ability to play a long game. Consider his chess-playing acumen.

Then tell me that Obama isn’t the biggest sponsor of the Tea Party “patriots.”

(Slow clap, Mr. President. And don’t worry – I’ll keep this between you and me.)

Hoisting Atrophy

When watching current County Executive Ed Mangano and former county executive Tom Suozzi fight to be the one to circle the bowl next, it’s hard not to get caught up in the partisan bickering.

suozzi manganoIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. If politics is your sport, nothing compares to retail politics at the local level. No irrational exuberance surrounding national figures with long coattails or embarrassing blowback; just a good, old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground slugfest where committee members rule the day. This year’s election is one where ideology takes a backseat to patronage in the battle of the bureaucrats. This is small ball, baby.

It’s been a while since I pulled my thoughts out of the national and international clouds to take a look at what is happening here at home. So forgive me as I reminisce for a moment before handicapping the county executive race in Nassau County, far and away the most interesting local political story of the season.

A little more than a decade ago I ran for mayor in my hometown of Glen Cove. In doing so I found myself on the opposite end (and losing side) of the Suozzi family machine. While this was my adopted hometown, I was a so-called carpetbagger living in the feudal regime run by generations of Suozzis. The race was so parochial, my opponent even sent out a campaign flyer that told the good citizens of Glen Cove that I was untrustworthy because I was born in Canada. Glen Cove is the land of homemade pasta sauce, not maple syrup. I never had a chance.

As a Republican candidate (hard to believe, I know), I briefly found myself in the fascinating world of the Nassau County GOP. My first (and last) general meeting at GOP headquarters in Westbury was as if I had set the dashboard clock on my DeLorean to 1950. The nearly all-white and graying crowd milled about greeting one another with hearty slaps on the back while the power brokers huddled quietly in the corner of the room whispering among themselves and occasionally surveying the crowd. Gradually, everyone took a seat in a folding chair facing a large map and a podium where chairman Joseph Mondello presided over the meeting.

“This is a business!” he bellowed on more than one occasion. Mr. Mondello’s countenance would move from ashen to crimson within seconds as he addressed the audience alternately with the coolness of a CEO and the vigor of a college football coach. The overarching message was that we were to adhere to the script, send our money directly to headquarters and essentially fall in line.

pullquoteThe lessons I learned from this experience will stay with me forever. My 15 minutes of fame in Glen Cove has all but faded away, allowing me near perfect anonymity as I watch the lawn signs sprout up all over town with this year’s crop of candidates. My hope is that the politicians who occupy positions on the ballots, whether it’s Brookhaven, Southampton or Glen Cove, have gone to where the action really is: knocking on doors. There is no more authentic or humbling experience than standing in someone’s living room and listening to what they want from their local officials.

Which brings me to the two men atop the Nassau County ticket who are appropriately playing small ball, and in doing so, missing the larger picture altogether.

When watching current County Executive Ed Mangano and former county executive Tom Suozzi fight to be the one to circle the bowl next, it’s hard not to get caught up in the partisan bickering. And there is some great “inside baseball” going on here. Suozzi says Mangano is responsible for Nassau’s $2 billion debt. He’s not. Mangano claims to have presented balanced budgets. He didn’t. Suozzi attacks Mangano for being soft on gun control. This is grasping at straws. Mangano asserts that he has made progress on the property tax assessment issue. He hasn’t.

The biggest disconnect of this race, however, is ideology. The truth of this contest is that the two parties these men represent are indistinguishable from one another.

The assessment situation is fixable. But it must come from Albany—and the nine Long Island senators hold the key. Unfortunately, neither Mangano nor Suozzi will cop to this admission because each is cozy with law firms that extract exorbitant fees from tax grievances.

Both men share an antipathy toward labor and favor privatization. Mangano spends an inordinate amount of time cozying up to donors and Suozzi spent his political off-season consulting for an investment bank and commissioning works of art. In everything they have done and represent, they are shills for corporate America and complicit in an overall scheme designed to liquidate taxpayers, privatize public works, and ride the status quo deep into the ground.

It’s hardly their fault, mind you. Our troubles in suburbia are so thick that there is an air of inevitability to our decline. Mangano and Suozzi know it, which is why this is the ultimate bureaucratic contest. As voters, this election comes down to which starting lineup you want on the field playing in a game that won’t affect the outcome of your season. Got a buddy sandwiched in a cubicle in North Hempstead waiting to return to a cushy county job? Vote for Suozzi. Have a relative in the county who needs three more years to pad his or her pension before retirement? Vote for Mangano.

Want real change and a chance to redefine our future? Sorry. Not on the ballot.

Either way, I’ll be glued to my television as usual, watching Jerry Kremer and Larry Levy narrate the inevitable. And loving every minute of it.

A Parent’s Acceptance

I love him for who is and who he is becoming every day. I love him despite the fact that he is showing early signs of Republicanism.

I had my first suspicions about my son when he was around three years old, which is consistent developmentally with what I’ve read about it. Although he was raised on a steady diet of folk tunes a la Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary, he started showing signs early on. I remember tantrums that lasted for hours when he wouldn’t get his way, full on displays of anger and frustration. And though I’d try to meet him halfway, like saying, “The red sippy cup is in the dishwasher, here’s a blue one,” he’d be  unresponsive and uncooperative.

Later, after his sister was born, I noticed some more troubling tendencies. If I asked him to share, he sometimes flat-out refused. When pressed, he might comply, but he’d divide his spoils in unequal proportion. He seemed to want all the goods for himself: toys, sweets, attention. Now, don’t misunderstand, he loves his sister. He believes that she deserves love, affection, and even protection, but he just thinks that these should be gotten of her own volition. That he is bigger and has easier access to the toys on higher shelves or a brownie on a counter where she can’t reach isn’t an unfair advantage to his point of view. He even once said that if God wanted her to have these things, he would have made her the older, taller, stronger one.  He thinks his birth order is the natural order of things.

He loves toy soldiers. He sets them up on the landscape of my dining room table, complete with all terrain vehicles, tanks, and jeeps. He’s accumulated hundreds of these plastic guys that hurt bare feet just as much as a legos when you step on them. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Every Toys R Us gift card results in more military accoutrements. And no matter the state of our budget, he refuses to curb military spending.

I have one firm rule in my house. No guns. I hate them. Hate. Them. When he was born, that rule carried over to toys, but like most children, he found a way to make them out of sticks in the yard, legos, his fingers. And after he received his first Nerf Strike Blast Rifle purchased by a well intentioned friend on his fourth birthday, he’s been stocking up his arsenal at a steady pace. The fact that my husband loves the Styrofoam darts as much as he does doesn’t help my cause. Once, when I’d had enough, I attempted to confiscate his weapons, but he threw such a fit, saying that it was his right to own them. He thinks that right extends to even the NERF® N-Strike Elite Rapidstrike CS-18 Blaster, which has a clip that holds 18 Elite Darts. With a range of up to 75 feet, it’s got long-range striking power and a lightning rate of fire.

My firm rule has met nothing but obstruction.

His father works in the mortgage industry, so it’s understandable that he would show an interest in finance. Yet, in a manner reminiscent of Alex P. Keaton, he seems to favor the big banks. “Bank of America looks good, right Dad?” he has been known to say. “How about Chase?”  He is not put off by the slicked back hair and unnatural coloring of Angelo Mozilo or the posturing of Jamie Dimon.

I love this kid. I love him with a love that encompasses the entirety of my heart, that knows no boundaries. I love him for who is and who he is becoming every day. I love him despite the fact that he is showing early signs of Republicanism. (We don’t talk about it much in my family, but his maternal grandfather was a Republican. It’s one of those things that skips generations.)

He doesn’t realize it. In fact, he attempts to mask it by telling us what we want to hear, by voting for Obama in his school election last year, and in his homework.
Nothing but a cover-up

But I know it. I knew for sure last night when we went shopping for Halloween costumes. Among the zombies and witches, the make-up kits that let you recreate blood and gore, there sat the masks. Clown masks, skeleton masks, that one from the movie Scream. And Obama. He picked that one up right away, then set it back down, looking under and beside it.

“What’s the matter, son?” I inquired after him, thinking something was wrong.

There was.

“Where’s the Mitt Romney mask?” he asked, not-so-innocently.


I wanted to tell him the truth. That the world is pretending Mitt Romney doesn’t exist anymore. That we want to pretend he never happened. And that the politicians rising in his wake are even more extreme, more outrageous, more zealous than he was. And that Paul Ryan is even still employed by the US government.

But that was a horror story too scary for even those surroundings.

Instead I took a long look at my son. And with a deep breath, I readied myself for all that is to come: his own self-realization when he figures out what this is inside of him, the bravery that it will take to come to us with this truth, the truth that he was born this way. I tried to imagine and accept the day when he says that he wants to marry a Republican.

But I’m not ready for that.

Let’s just say I’m evolving.

How the Grinch Stole America

Inspired by Ted Cruz’s reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor.

Every Who in America

Deserves healthcare,

But a faction of Republicans

Think that isn’t fair.


That faction hates Obama, his whole administration

They’ll be happy with nothing but psychic castration

of the Democratic party and all that they’ve worked for:

Especially entitlements that are aimed at the poor.

But healthcare, “Oh this comprehensive bill

That is the one thing we really must kill.

Even though it’s been watered down,

Negotiated and shredded,

And made into the law of the land where it’s headed!

No, we must stop it! And right in its tracks!

We’ll come up with a plan that’s light on the facts.

Fervent obstruction – that’s what we do!

Blatant destruction of all that is good.

And when it’s all over,

When the smoke clears,

When the Whos realize we’ve preyed on their fears,

We’ll make something up

And put it on Fox news.

We’ll all get behind Bachman and Cruz.”

It might be that Boehner’s head isn’t screwed on quite right.

Some say that his tan was sprayed on too bright

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his balls were two sizes too small.

But whatever the reason – his balls or his tan,

Boehner sat on the Hill without a plan.

And in came the Tea Party with crazy beliefs

To cave to the rich and to give no relief

To the people out there who got them elected

Who saw in Obama not Christ resurrected

But a man with dark skin who was their greatest threat

The biggest socialist that they’d ever met.

Whose father was Kenyan and who hid his college papers.

It was enough to give old Southern women the vapors.

But the worst part of all wasn’t the unprovable facts,

But the fact that this left-leaning commie was black.

That’s the one thing they hated – the blacks blacks blacks blacks.

They hated that more than corporate tax.


His legacy was healthcare, so they vowed to defeat it.

Personal responsibility was their idea! They felt so cheated.

So instead of supporting it as they had in the past

They vowed to kill it and with it, the middle class.

“Repeal it again!” they cried, (forty-two times)

And they took up their time, not preventing crimes,

By legislating the laws that focus on safety

Like restrictions on guns – no that would be crazy.

They took over the House and made it their business

To obstruct and destruct and to ask no forgiveness.

They were deaf to the voices of people who need it

Welfare recipients could all just go beat it.

No matter that the people, like Cindy Lou Who,

A girl without money, just like me and you.

Whose mother is sick and they aren’t insured.

Because if you’re poor in the US there isn’t a cure.

And Cindy Lou has been home all semester

Her Head Start program was lost in sequester.

Her mother can’t work because they can’t afford a sitter.

And the steady decline put her health in the shitter.

She always worked, paid her taxes, did her fair share,

And now, when she needs it, they wanna defund Obamacare?

“You have the right to pursue happiness –

Whatever that means.

But healthcare is not part of the American dream.”

But the law was held up by the highest court in the land,

And Ted Cruz, well he got up to take a stand,

A filibuster to defund it – and he was sober.

But it was all set to start in October.

His idea didn’t work, the wheels were in motion,

But Cruz is playing a long game, he wants his promotion.

They would take the whole government and shut it right down!

Boehner’s like, “This isn’t a game, I’m not fucking around.”

But it’s too little too late, it was out of his hands.

He was backed into a corner and gave into demands.


And Obamacare came,

And in all the confusion,

The Whos failed to see it was just a delusion

To keep them from seeing the hostile takeover

By those who wanted to give a makeover

To that old paper that started it all

That said that we should be governed for all

And not a small faction

That represents one percent

(A very small fraction)

And quiets dissent.

But when a small group plots against us

That’s called sedition.

Like a cancer, it’s a preexisting condition.

The tyrannical forces didn’t come from the left.

It was gotten in plain sight, it was a blatant theft.

It came without guns, it came without tanks,

It started when they deregulated the banks.

We opened the door for the Tea Party bigots

And now the current’s too strong to turn off the spigots.

We need is to issue some slips that are pink

To start over in Congress before the ship we’re on sinks.

What we need is what they call a market correction –

We need to remember in the midterm election.

The End



Ted Cruz’s Elusive “Moment”

The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

My son is at that age where popularity and coolness have entered his consciousness. As much as I try to instill what’s important, it’s almost impossible to insulate yourself from the desire to be liked by as many of your peers as possible in the third grade. And so I see him trying: his hair is gelled into a perfectly coiffed faux-hawk. He can’t resist jumping on every opportunity to be the funny kid in class. And when a joke lands, he can’t keep from repeating it, until that dead horse is laying on his Air Jordan high-tops. He doesn’t have the life experience or maturity to know that cool happens when you stop trying (so they tell me) and that the more you try to contrive a funny moment, the less it is. To quote the movie Mean Girls, “Stop trying to make [it] happen.”

Our political superstars have risen up through the ranks in reality show-type peaks of popularity, in moments that have caught the public’s attention in just the right way, at the exact moment we were ready for it. Barack Obama’s poignant speech at the DNC in 2004 was a welcome break from the blandness of the candidates who had been presented in front of us, making them look old, boring and unintelligent by comparison. It was the platform from which he would later rise to the highest office in the country. Sarah Palin had her moment at the RNC four years later when she was thrust onto the world’s stage as John McCain’s running mate. Despite the fact that it would later be proven that she had a casual relationship with honesty and intelligence, she was a welcome diversion from the uptight white men who dominated the right. It was so powerful that she still commands huge audiences on speaking tours and on Fox News.

You’ve likely only heard of Wendy Davis of Texas since she famously filibustered the Senate in order to stave off crippling anti-choice laws in Texas. She drew ire from Governor Rick Perry and failed in her effort to stem the tide of anti-abortion legislation in her state, but that doesn’t matter. Because her stand against the vaginal-probe wielding Texas legislature captured the voice of the zeitgeist at the moment women’s rights abuses all over the country, but especially in Texas, were coming to a head. Davis’s filibuster, in her Mizuno Wave rider pink sneakers, was the moment a political star was born. She will likely use this momentum to run for higher office, and will be afforded newspaper column inches and prime time news show minutes for the foreseeable future. The political world is hers to lose.

So it makes sense why ambitious young politicians would attempt to skip the whole put-your-time-in-and-see-how-this-government-thing-works in favor of creating their own political superstar moments and rising to fame. This is a political culture brought to you by American Idol and other reality-show based fame contests. The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and  Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

Ted CruzThese freshman politicians keep trying to find shortcuts by having their “moments.” You could see how badly Marco Rubio wants it. You could smell it on Rand Paul.

Case in point: Ted Cruz. Yesterday, Texas Senator Cruz threw his hat into the ring for super-stardom by staging a filibuster to defund the Affordable Care Act. Hey! If it worked for Wendy Davis, why wouldn’t it work for Cruz? Unfortunately for him, he sought to answer this question on the Senate floor, and not in his own head. And not by staying on topic and waging a legitimate filibuster, but by reading Dr. Seuss and his twitter feed in what wasn’t even a real filibuster. He was actually talking to hear himself speak, and to see himself on television screens and in column inches. But he’s become not the newly discovered darling of the Republican party that he’d hoped, but largely a joke who proved that he doesn’t understand how the government works or what a filibuster actually is. Even though he spoke for twenty-one hours, there was no way his “filibuster” could impact the Senate vote on the government funding bill. And so it was an empty grab for attention.

And that’s what I have tried to get across to my kid. You can’t force a moment to happen. You can’t contrive it. You can’t chase it. You have to put your head down and do your work. Because the harder you try, the more desperate you’ll seem.

And desperate never won a popularity contest.




Over Our Dead Bodies

And while Congress busies itself by threatening to defund Obamacare at the risk of shutting down the government, we lay more Americans to rest.

Capital flag at halfmastIt was almost perfect. Or as perfect a mass shooting could be. The assailant was a black guy first of all, which helps the narrative that fuels the bottom line: Fear. If we could stay afraid of black guys, then we could feel justified in arming ourselves. And then it came out that the Navy Yard in DC where the shooting occurred was a “gun free” zone. Which plays even more perfectly into the hands of the NRA. “See that?” various right-wing news sources alleged. “The idea of a gun-free zone is a joke. It invites massacre. It is the opposite of a solution, which is, as we’ve been saying all along: More guns. Not less. Never less.”

Except there are some holes in that narrative. The first is that the Navy Yard was “protected” by gun-wielding guards. Just like Virginia Tech was. Just like Columbine.

The second was that the black guy obtained his gun legally. This throws a chink in the armor of one of the underlying threads of logic on the right that says that gun control is a fool’s errand because it only robs the good guys from getting the guns to protect the rest of us from bad guys with guns. Because we’re supposed to believe that black skin and bad are synonymous. This proved unfortunate when so many other American terrorists were white guys.

What the Navy Yard shooting actually does is to bring light to insufficient gun control laws. Because we have evidence – evidence that we don’t need time after time – that armed guards are not bullet proof. That they are not the lone answer. We know this, but we are not loud enough.

What we also know is that obtaining ridiculous multiple round assault weapons is too effing easy. That the background check safeguards are not enough. The assailant had multiple red flags including gun incidents and mental heath deficiencies that did not prevent him from obtaining a legal weapon. And while Congress busies itself by threatening to defund Obamacare at the risk of shutting down the government, we lay more Americans to rest.

So how about this? What if we go back to Congress with this equally off-the-wall idea that they can have Obamacare. They can dismantle it and defund it. They can rob the people of this country of their right to affordable healthcare. They can eliminate the right of Americans to be covered for pre-existing conditions. They can tell their twenty-five year old children that they are not eligible under their healthcare. We can continue to overpay in criminal capacity and max out our emergency rooms with non-emergencies. If they will do one thing: give up their guns. Australia-style. Turn them in. All of them. Rescind the second amendment, effective immediately.

Never happen, right? Pie in the sky?

Absolutely. And the left usually doesn’t work that way. We pass common-sense legislation through trickery and negotiation, through force and trial. And it comes in millimeters, and so watered down from its original form that it is unrecognizable. And the worst part? We’re grateful.


Because the Tea-Partiers have gotten a stronghold on the Republican party not by making sense, but by being loud and insistent. So much that their ridiculous ideas get credence in the mainstream just by wearing everybody down. Vote to repeal Obamacare forty-two times? Threaten to shut down the government? Fine. Give up your guns.

Let’s meet them where they are. They are not meeting us up here in rationality. Let’s start at batshit nuts and get the conversation that needs to be had out there. Remember in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson’s
character outcrazies the criminals? We haven’t tried that yet. What if our Democratic congresspeople took on a new persona that said, “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me, I got a bad reputation, like sometimes I just go nuts,” Mel Gibson-style (minus the anti-semitism.)


Might we bring serious gun control discussion to the forefront of the American conversation? Might we scare the right into doing what they know is the right thing by intimidating them with our own brand of crazy? Because twenty children mowed down in Newtown didn’t do it. So I say we go extreme. We’ve been so careful to say, “No one is taking away your guns,” to the right. And it hasn’t worked. So let’s start there and maybe we’ll negotiate ourselves down to something that actually makes sense. At the very least, might we expose them for what they are: excruciatingly irresponsible. And nuts.

And then let’s consider this. Is the idea of gun confiscation as crazy as shutting down the government unless the Affordable Health Care Act is defunded?

The answer to that shows just how far off course this country has gotten.


America’s Exception to the Rule

What separates us from the third world and from the tyrants that run that world is not that we have weapons of mass destruction and that we are prepared to deploy them, but rather the opposite. We’re exceptional not for military might but for our restraint.

obama/putinKnow what’s funny? The conservative protest against a peaceful solution to the Syria conflict is absolutely consistent with the commonplace bloodlust of the party of “life.” And by funny, I mean disheartening. But I will give them this: unlike the flippity-floppity liberals, at least they have consistency on their side. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, the right come out en mass against gun control.

Let’s take a look at some of Obama’s changing positions. First, he says he won’t get involved unless they cross his self-imposed red line of use of chemical weaponry. Check. Then, he actually wants that threat to have teeth. He follows up like he said he would. And his position is this: unless Syria is willing to give up their chemical weapons, we’re going to start killing some people up in here. And then they agree. And Obama has the wherewithal nerve to agree. Punk.

The idea that John Kerry made a blustering mistake that “accidentally” led to a peaceful resolution is disingenuous. Say what you will about Kerry, ketchup, motorcycling photo ops with Assad, the man has put his time in. They don’t misspeak at that level, not with war at stake.

And to say that Obama was played for a fool by Putin says more about the “patriotic” right than it does about Obama’s intelligence level, which has never, through two elections and a near-constant six-year litany of insults, ever been called into question. But that’s okay. We need opposition to hold our leaders accountable. We need to question the motivations of our politicians, and we need to speak up when those questions meet with unsatisfactory answers. That’s the duty of the electorate.

In his Op-ed in the New York Times, Putin disparaged the United States in general and Barack Obama in particular for considering this country “exceptional.”  He asserted that this kind of attitude is dangerous and while it may seem unpatriotic to agree, I see his point. This kind of untouchable mindset, the kind that wallows in superiority, is a breeding ground for ignorance, which could be very dangerous indeed. And yet, America is exceptional. We are a country born of conflict and debate, and have built into our founding documents the elasticity to grow in fits and spurts. We foster disagreement here.  We might not like what people say about us. There is no way that Putin’s words appearing in a mainstream newspaper didn’t irk the shit out of a big portion of our populace. But find me a pissed off citizen who doesn’t equally believe in his right to say it. That’s our exception. It’s what makes us different.

What Putin actually meant, by throwing Obama’s words and those of the preamble back into our faces, is the word “superior.”  But that’s really beside the point, isn’t it? And the fact that Putin is wrong about us, doesn’t mean that Barack Obama is right. If you take a look at the people of Walmart, it’s hard to make a case for the hierarchy and evolution of humanity with America at the top of that food chain. But let’s take a look at Congress. They don’t make it easy either  – yet what separates us from the third world and from the tyrants that run that world is not that we have weapons of mass destruction and that we are prepared to deploy them, but rather the opposite. We’re exceptional not for military might but for our restraint. Putin said, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.”  We can take this not as fact – commonplace? Really? But as food for thought. The times where the US has lived up to its place in the world have been when our leaders were thoughtful and analytical where others have been knee-jerk reactors. And this mindset carries down from a Constitution that promises thoughtful action into our legal system which tries to enforce that view.

Barack Obama has the dual obligation to be commander-in-chief and also to uphold and protect the Constitution. These should not be in conflict but as of late, they often are. Let’s take a look at the credo of United States to which Putin refers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This was a credo born in revolution, asserting that we, the underlings of the modern-day world, had the same inborn rights as those abroad. It was the cry of the vulnerable to the strong. The fact that we have risen up as one of the world’s superpowers absolutely suggests that we have a responsibility within that world. As we are now one of the biggest, that very credo allows that we need to offer our help to those in the position from whence we came: vulnerable, small, and un-equal. Exceptional, but not in a good way.

On a micro-scale, this is the way we need to address the growing problem of gun violence in this country. If the victims are the little guys, the gun manufacturers are the tyrants. And the inherited role of the United States is not to kowtow to the big guy, but to help the vulnerable. We have muscles upon muscles in this nation, and sometimes the smartest action is to flex them. The right would have us land a punch with every conflict. Or pull a trigger.

Yet, we might do well to remember our roots. And by doing so, become the exception.


Will We Remember?

I was a quiet observer, trekking uptown through swarms of people who smoked in the streets of a midtown packed, like it was a street festival. We looked up and the day tingled with a feeling of something different, new, no school today.

And the pictures of the towers started to go up on Facebook last night. And as we are counseled not to forget, I wonder what it is that makes us hold on so strongly.  I understand that this was important, that the towers were not only physical structures that held the flesh and blood of so many people who lived and loved, were fathers and sons, daughters and mothers, but perhaps more. Perhaps they were the force field that was supposed to signify the divide between us and them and that what shocked us all so much, myself absolutely included, was that the divide was so easily conquered. They  broke in with a fiery hellish fury – into our country, and into our consciousness. To some, into our conscience. 9/11 was the day that a war began. To some, it is much more personal than that. And to many, it will never end.

There’s a part in us all that likes to take ownership of tragedy.  To say, “I was there,” to stake a claim that we feel more than the guy next to us, or across the country from us.  It’s a cousin to that original feeling, the one that held us separate, that divided us.  I don’t know what you feel. Though I was in Manhattan that day, my ears were turned off to the screams of sirens, my heart to the fall.  I was a quiet observer, trekking uptown through swarms of people who smoked in the streets of a midtown packed, like it was a street festival.  We looked up and the day tingled with a feeling of something different, new, no school today.

No, it wasn’t until my train peaked through the tunnel eastbound and my exodus was complete that the sound came rushing back into my ears. In the safety of my bathroom that night, in a shower that washed the smell of soot from my hair, I felt.  I felt terrified.  And I felt that the world of foreign policy and boring pages in front of the style section of the New York Times were coming to get me, to shake me into wakefulness, so that I knew that it was all real – that people in pictures or who moved across the screen from me in the blue light of the television were actual. That speeches made from the pulpits of politicians held meaning. That legislation was connected to something that could affect even me.

Lines were drawn that day. Divisions that had been invisible then are now etched in permanent marker. Divides crept into our country dressed in red and blue, invading our neighborhoods, and working their way into our hearts and minds, disguised as truth.

And I think that maybe the towers didn’t signify divisions between us. Maybe they were buildings full of people. Maybe projecting symbols on them does a disservice to the people who loved – and lost – them. Especially as we’ve seen near endless death ever since.

Of course we won’t forget.

But will we remember what we learned?9/11

Con Man Overboard: Wall Street Prepares to Pull the Plug

Fat Cat on the BeachLately I’ve been thinking a lot about the economy. Not our economy, the shadow economy run by the corporate masters of America. You can’t see it. No one can. But trust me, it’s booming.

It’s estimated that trillions of dollars from corporations, wealthy individuals and governments of small and corrupt nations are teeming through offshore accounts, robbing the home countries of domestic tax revenues. An Economist special report on offshore tax havens in February of this year cites, “James Henry, a former chief economist with McKinsey,” as saying he “believes the amount invested virtually tax-free offshore tops $21 trillion.”

Corporations, now considered people by the U.S. Supreme Court, like to refer to this money as “dry powder” just “sitting on the sidelines” waiting to be invested at any time. Indeed it is, in the most nefarious way possible.

In this magical world of paper finance the “too big to fail” banks are royalty. Since the banking collapse of 2008, they have emerged even bigger, far more profitable and just as leveraged.

Margin debt ratios, the extent to which financial institutions are leveraged in equities, are once again at pre-crash levels. After cooling off in the initial aftermath of the crisis, banks have steadily dipped their big toes back into the debt pool and begun packing on leverage at alarming rates. What’s even more insulting than the obvious recklessness this presents is that they’re not even using their own funds. The Federal Reserve has directed the U.S. Treasury to print money like mad since the crash in an effort to maintain liquidity within the system, with the banks all-too-happy to gobble it up. Given the ridiculously low interest rate environment maintained by the Fed since this time, it makes sense that the banks would take cheap government money and reinvest it.

It’s where they have invested it that warrants examination.

The easiest place for the public to spot the massive flow of liquidity is in the equity markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has more than doubled since it bottomed out near 6,600 immediately after the crash. And while some corporations have indeed posted substantial profits the past couple of years, overall performance and profitability are nowhere even close to explaining the gains on the Dow.

bank pull quoteThe next, most obvious place bank liquidity showed up, was in the commodities markets. The price of oil and certain agricultural products have been high for so long we have forgotten how outrageous the pricing truly is. Non-productive speculation in the commodities market has been upwards of 50 percent over the past few years, a phenomenon Dodd-Frank has yet to fix. This essentially means that nearly half of the price that you pay for a given commodity such as gasoline or milk is due to a bunch of high-frequency traders sitting at computers in Atlanta, Chicago and London.

Cheap, easy money from the Fed also means the dollar is relatively weak compared to foreign currencies. This works to the advantage of U.S. export companies, for now. But if our money is cheap, then by definition the flipside of this equation is that money is expensive in other places. The combined effect of a weak dollar and rampant speculation means that we are basically exporting inflation around the globe. The problem here is the timeless axiom: “What goes around, comes around.”

There are a couple of policy issues at play right now that should give everyone in the United States pause. The first is that the Federal Reserve has already indicated that its bond-buyback program is slowly coming to an end. As such, interest rates are gradually beginning to climb. Anyone with an adjustable-rate loan should pay even closer attention to this trend. The other consideration is that the rules of engagement in the swaps and derivatives markets haven’t changed all that much since the banking collapse. Therefore, there are still hundreds of trillions of dollars at stake in markets that no one can see.

Now add to the mix that regulators believe they will finally be able to put in place position limits on a good chunk of the activity in the derivatives market by the end of the year, and we are set for a few hairy months of fast and furious transactions as companies look to close out riskier investments. These factors alone foretell a period of volatility, particularly when the “recovery” hasn’t been so robust. Oh, and there’s a little matter of who will be the next chair of the Federal Reserve, which actually matters. A lot.

Having just vomited a bunch of financial mumbo-jumbo, now let me go back to where we began.

I’ve just given you a cursory explanation of why I believe we’re in for some serious upheaval in the financial markets between now and the end of the year. Over the next couple of months I think we will see interest rates continue to climb, a huge (albeit temporary) sell off in the commodities markets as the dollar rises and regulations tighten, and the equities market will be pounded. All of these things, were they to happen, would of course negatively impact most Americans. Higher loan costs, reduced value in pensions, and the beginning of inflation would be crippling to the American economy right now considering how tenuous the recovery is and how, according to the Associated Press, four out of five Americans are either living paycheck to paycheck, unemployed or working part-time, or below the poverty line.

Guess who will be just fine?

Because the banks are still allowed to engage in proprietary investing–meaning they can own the actual products they trade on the markets–and have trillions of “dry powder” sitting “on the sidelines,” they are more than poised to take advantage of what lies ahead. They’ll be dictating how, when and to what extent it will happen and doing so without leaving fingerprints.

Think of it like the mafia. Banks are like caporegimes and hedge funds are their hit men. Using government money the banks pack on debt and send funds to their offshore subsidiaries that, in turn, invest heavily through the hedge funds registered to places like the Caymans or Virgin Islands. Any time the big banks want to pull the plug on the equities market, they’ll do so without hesitation because they’ll have 10 times the money betting that it does.

It’s the perfect con.

Good thing we’re on to them. The corporate elite and the politicians who do their bidding will have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool the American public again. Unless, of course, there’s some big distraction like a new war in the Middle East or something. But that would be truly ridiculous.

There’s no way we’d ever fall for that old gag again.

RIP Bradley Manning

We cannot save Bradley. Bradley Manning is dead. Chelsea is the answer to the vultures who feed on the deaths of others. She is the phoenix who rises from the ash.

Bradley Manning is dead.

The confused and conflicted boy who was perhaps naively idealistic and relentlessly patriotic, who believed in the USA with a conviction that brought him to the fire-filed deserts of Iraq – while most of us sat in our houses and read about it in the newspapers – has left this world. We can argue that he was too good for it, or that he wasn’t good enough. We can say that his revelations – famous or infamous, depending on your perspective – were malicious and dangerous at worst, merely stupid at best. Or you can say he was a hero, and hold him up as a martyr, someone who died for a cause bigger than himself, who threw himself at the mercy of the court (martial) and let his act be a message to the rest of us, to the wide-eyed idealists who might still live within our hearts.

That is how I will mourn him.

From his ashes, a woman will named Chelsea will arise. She’s older than Bradley. Most likely, she’s a bit more cynical. She carries with her the scars of captivity, humiliation, and injustice. She’s seen ugly things. Death, destruction, murder, war. She knows what it’s like to live in close proximity to murderers. She knows the deadened horror of an emotionless voice ordering  “Keep shooting, keep shooting,” while children hover in a van ratcheted with bullet holes and voices rise with pride – not shame – declaring, “I think we whacked them all.”

She has a rough road ahead of her, but her conscience is clean.

We can argue about the proper use of pronouns, the timing of Manning’s transgender revelation, or the twenty-five dollars a month it would cost the state for the hormonal therapy she asks for, but what remains clear is that the presence of Chelsea marks the end of the tortured life of Bradley Manning. I don’t know that things will ever be easy for Chelsea, not with what has come before her, not with the uncertainty and the imprisonment of her future. But as she embraces the gender by which she identifies, the relief she feels will free her from the shackles of what was Bradley.

I read Patty Duke’s autobiography, “Call Me Anna,”  when I was a teenager. It told of a childhood interrupted by stardom in her turn as Helen Keller on Broadway and then as identical cousins on the Patty Duke Show. What struck me then and has stayed with me ever since was the trauma she relayed when her managers/guardians changed her name to Patty and told her “Anna is dead.” The person she’d been, identified as, was simply gone. In her place was a manufactured child star. That she struggled to reconcile the two identities for the rest of her life speaks to the importance of identity.

I encountered a similar sentiment in an undergraduate education course on the exceptional child. This course introduced me to every kind of affliction that could befall a child (and eventual student.) During a documentary whose title I don’t recall, the narrator explained that to a parent of a child who is not what that parent expected or imagined, there comes a mourning process, as if the child the parent thought he or she would get was dead. It’s only after this mourning process for what was that there can ever be room for acceptance for what is.

While it takes time and work, this is a transition for us too. The line is drawn in the sand marking who were were and who we are to become. We might not all have been innocent in the before. Some of us might have known of war crimes. Some of us promoted war for either financial or righteous reasons. But what connects us all is that none of us are innocent now. Now we know. We have the knowledge of civilian murder in Iraq on our hands. We know that drones strike beyond their targets. We know about torture and we know that the Constitution is applied arbitrarily. We know that only some of us are entitled to quick and speedy trials and some are at the mercy of military tribunals, facing trumped up charges not seen for almost a hundred years.

What we do about it determines who we will be, what kind of country we will accept, and what kind of humanity we demand of ourselves.

We cannot save Bradley. Bradley Manning is dead. Chelsea is the answer to the vultures who feed on the deaths of others. She is the phoenix who rises from the ash.


Chelsea Manning

Now it’s time to save ourselves.