My 5 Favorite Political Videos

Some things never get old. Like fart jokes, French kissing and watching Hank Johnson ask stupid questions about Guam. Here’s good old reliable Hank and a few other gems.

#5 – Jones and Morgan. Alex Jones is pushing hard to chew up the remainder of his fifteen minutes. For those of us who enjoy a good conspiracy theory, Jones is a known quantity. But much of America was only recently introduced to him in this now-infamous appearance with Piers Morgan. I actually enjoy joining Jones on the crazy train every once in a while and, sometimes, I allow myself to go all in. There’s nothing wrong with a good conspiracy now and then. Besides, as the adage goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not watching…

#4 – Bachmann and Matthews. Jesus, I do love this woman. And her wife, Marcus. This was the video that propelled Bachmann into America’s consciousness. Bachmann begins the video attempting to poke fun at Chris Matthews but ultimately winds up treating us to a whole pot of bubbling crazy. Oh those eyes.

#3 – Damon on Palin. Full disclosure. I’m like really, really good friends with Matt Damon. At least that’s what I tell people. Actually we’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we’d be awesome friends. In this interview, Damon says what’s on everyone’s mind after John McCain announces his choice of an Alaskan soccer mom as his Vice-Presidential running mate.

#2 – Stewart on Crossfire. The moment Jon Stewart became the most important political commentator of the modern era. And the moment Tucker Carlson’s career basically ended. Seriously, this was Stewart’s moment and he took it. Not only has Jon Stewart forever altered the media landscape and become the political voice of multiple generations, he has completely re-invented an entire genre of news. When we look back at this period in history, many years from now, we will recognize the turn of the millennium as the dawn of the “Stewart era.”

#1 – Hank Johnson. If you’ve never seen this video, you’re in for a serious treat. No setup, no buildup. It speaks for itself.

The Grammy’s, Lin-Sanity, Jon Stewart (and Iran)

This is another column about the burgeoning crisis between the US and Iran. Since I have yet to gain any traction with this issue I have decided to sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout the piece to generate interest.

This column first appeared in the February 16th, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press.

Over the past couple of weeks my frequent collaborator, Dorian Dale, and I have set the burgeoning conflict between Iran and the United States in our sights, determined to bring this potential disaster further forward in our nation’s collective consciousness. But while Whitney Houston’s body is in search of an arena large enough to hold her mourners, talk of the next Great War generates barely enough interest to fill a teacup.

Therefore, I have decided to shamelessly sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout this column in order to reach a larger audience. (References are bolded for navigational ease.)

Iran is the slow moving accident you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s LIN-sanity. For that matter, so is the global economy, the crisis in the Eurozone and the price of oil. Let’s add in the GOP primary season for good measure to bring this tainted stew to a boiling point because the decision-making process in America this year will be guided by partisan politics rather than practical policies.

New Yorkers would be wise to look up from their smartphones for a moment to see what’s really happening. Not only is New York home to the United Nations and ethnic communities from around the globe, it bears visible scars of terrorism. Many of its residents’ livelihoods are directly or indirectly tied to the world financial district, and don’t forget that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is also taped in the city. Moreover, conventional wisdom (if there is such a thing) has it that should the wheels come off the Obama train, our current governor will be a top Democratic contender to challenge whichever GOP dipshit is lucky enough to hoodwink America into voting for him.

One way for Obama to lose the upcoming election is if oil prices continue to get out of hand. As it is, we are already experiencing higher-than-normal pricing during the winter months. Analysts are already warning that if the trend continues and conflict with Iran steers toward the inevitable, oil could hit $200 per barrel this year, translating into approximately $6 at the pump. If this were to happen, Barack Obama’s chances at re-election would be slimmer than Adrien Brody.

Many in the media have dismissed the likelihood of confrontations between the U.S. and Iran as “saber rattling,” but there have been some very real world occurrences that are beyond rhetoric. The attempted bombing of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok this week by an Iranian man and successful assassinations of nuclear engineers within Iran over the past few months have heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. For its part, the United States is positioning itself to defend against the threatened closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a key “choke point” for oil tankers in the Middle East. Along the way, the United States rescued Iranian fishing vessels twice in one week—events that garnered brief, but small international attention as opposed to George Clooney’s performance in “The Descendants,” which has received international acclaim and Oscar nominations.

While the world does its familiar dance of deadly brinksmanship, consider for a moment the case of Morgan Stanley. Never has one company had so much to say about, or perhaps to gain, from the pressing issues at hand. Morgan Stanley embodies the intersection of finance, politics, oil and war more than any other corporation on Earth. If ever there was an example of the “corporatization” of America, this is it. I’m reviving my frequent criticism of Morgan Stanley so we may, in the words of Belgian-born artist Gotye, “Walk the plank with our eyes wide open.”

First off, trying to drill down into Morgan’s structure is like jumping down the rabbit hole in search of Johnny Depp.  The list of Morgan Stanley subsidiaries is a 25-page, single-spaced document with 207 corporations registered on the Cayman Islands alone. What most people, and even some savvy investors, don’t realize is that among them you will find a host of companies directly related to or involved in the oil industry.

Take, for example, Heidmar, a global oil shipping company with 120 vessels. Or TransMontaigne, which controls a third of the oil terminal business in the United States. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Morgan Stanley. Furthermore, Morgan owns $1.2 billion in shares of ExxonMobil and $900 million in shares of Chevron. Oh, and many of the oil futures contracts are traded on the Intercontinental Exchange in Atlanta, which was founded by Jay-Z. No, jk, lmfao. It was founded by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and BP.

Piece this together and you will quickly understand that there are two things of critical importance to Morgan Stanley where the oil business is concerned: price and volatility. When you add to the equation that the leading energy analysts in the world who predict the future price and volatility of oil are from… you get the point.

To borrow from the Occupy Wall Street movement—This is what democracy doesn’t look like.

Now let’s get our conspiracy freak on for a moment and take a look at whom Morgan Stanley is backing for president of the United States. No, it’s not Steven Colbert. Morgan is steadfastly behind Willard “I support military action in Iran” Romney. In fact, it is Romney’s third top contributor in the 2012 election cycle behind only Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, two companies that also know a little bit about gaming the financial markets.

Allow me to go one step further. Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz would be the best thing to happen to Morgan’s oil interests, as they deal mostly in the Western Hemisphere and would benefit greatly from their own prognostications of skyrocketing oil prices. Because the United States is officially now a net-exporter of oil, the American petroleum business and those financial companies that profit from it would experience a boom like never before.

The very thought of gas and oil prices going even higher sends chills down the spine, especially here in New York where we rely so heavily on home-heating oil and transportation in our daily lives. But don’t worry, New Yorkers, we’re in good hands there, too: Morgan Stanley owns the majority stockpile of home-heating oil reserves in the Northeast. Charlie Sheen can only dream of “winning” as much as Morgan Stanley.

 

All photos from the Associated Press. 

Republicans Force Tax Breaks (Down Our Throats). Merry X-Mas America.

In this photo rendered from video via C-SPAN, shows the final vote tally on the bill to avoid income tax increases on Jan. 1. Acting with uncommon speed, Congress moved toward final passage Thursday night Dec. 16, 2010 of sweeping, bipartisan legislation to avoid a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for millions and renew jobless benefits for victims of the worst recession in 80 years. (AP Photo/C-Span)

When the Republicans took control of Congress during President Bill Clinton’s first term, it took a while before the “Gingrich Republicans” imploded. Newt Gingrich rose to prominence as Speaker of the House by helping to craft and deliver the Republicans’ “Contract with America,” a document outlining their legislative initiatives. One of the young Turks in Gingrich’s inner circle was John Boehner, the man who is about to take over the position once occupied by his former mentor.

Boehner has been getting a good deal of face time and ink lately. Although he has been around the national political scene for two decades, the country is now getting to know the man with the tan and the new plan for America. Borrowing a page from the Gingrich playbook and delivering the Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” Boehner has put himself on the front lines of the war against President Barack Obama alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who stated that his No. 1 objective is to ensure that Obama is a one-term president.

Both men are unapologetic when it comes to defending big business, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and political campaign donations. McConnell’s all-night filibuster against the McCain-Feingold bill for campaign finance reform and the infamous incident when Boehner handed out contributions from tobacco companies to his colleagues on the House floor speak volumes about what makes them tick.

And that’s cool. It illustrates who they are and what their intentions are: power and control. But lately the platitudes they’re offering through McConnell’s measured speeches about wanting Obama to change and Boehner’s public blubbering on 60 Minutes sound disingenuous, particularly in light of Republicans strong-arming Congress to push through the Tax Relief Unemployment Extension Bill, extending what are known colloquially as the “Bush Era Tax Cuts.”

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, famously wrote, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.” Perhaps an appropriate update might be: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and shits all over your living room carpet while flapping about and knocking over your valuables, we have to consider the possibility it’s actually an elephant in duck’s clothing.” And this is no lame duck we’re talking about here. In fact, this duck is vibrant enough to hobble America with its arrogance.

The bill has Americans quibbling over the fine points, namely the extension of tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. While this might be deplorable, it’s hardly the most outrageous thing happening at the moment. The bill is essentially a third-round stimulus package that pumps nearly $1 trillion back into the economy over the next two years, requiring the federal government to dig deeper into debt while we attempt to pull out of the Great Recession. It’s a gamble that may actually boost President Obama’s approval ratings in the coming months if consumers begin to feel that things are turning around. Or not.

Either way, the real crime here is the way in which Democrats and Republicans alike have negotiated this bill and the $8 billion of proposed earmarks that come along with it.  What’s remarkable about this number is that it exceeds the entire amount requested in the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 responders who are dealing with illnesses related to cleaning up the toxic aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse. (Watch Jon Stewart’s reaction piece to Republican hypocrisy related to 9/11 – you’ll laugh through your tears.)

The wave of anger that swept away so many incumbents and installed an entirely new cadre of jackals in November was powerful and effective. But anger burns faster than Boehner’s two-pack-a-day habit.

President Obama may be taking hits for being cool and aloof, but by the time the next election cycle comes around he may look like the only sane one in the room. As president, maybe he should be calm, cool and collected. What has me flummoxed is how the tri-state congressmen and senators aren’t publicly losing their minds every day like Rep. Anthony Weiner did with Rep. Peter King – and that was an argument over procedure by two guys who favor the Zadroga bill.While Republicans in Congress have been busy masquerading as thinking, feeling human beings, the Democrats are busy feasting on their favorite meal: themselves. Any hope that they would muster some palpable outrage to aid the Zadroga bill quietly drowned in the tidal wave of tax cut rhetoric. Not even Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the most powerful Senators in modern times, could marshal enough votes to bring the bill forward, let alone raise his voice. As he took the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to “step up to the plate” and pass the 9/11 Health Care bill, he calmly yielded the floor four minutes later. At least Boehner cries when he thinks about billionaires having to pay 3 percent more on their taxes.

Mid-Term Elections

Dubya

Former President George W. Bush indicated last week that his chief regret from his tenure in office was not privatizing Social Security.

Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment… (Sits back in chair and taps finger pensively on chin and whistles a wee tune from the old country.)

Soooooooo, two protracted wars, economic Armageddon, Osama Bin Laden still among the living, a historic bailout (yes, the first big one was his), the greatest disparity in wealth since the run-up to the Great Depression, a blown surplus he inherited and a record deficit he left us with don’t necessarily rank among W’s regrets. This is why the good Lord invented mid-term elections, a time to evaluate the consequences of our most recent electoral decisions and issue a popular referendum to our leaders. And there’s nothing like a stinging recession to draw the ire of the masses—something that was absent during the foggy days of the Bush administration. Barack Obama will have no such luck next week.

The favored prognostications on the mid-terms have a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater feel to them. The recalcitrant Tea Party wing nuts have Democrats flip-flopping and Republicans retrenching, and the polling appears to be more out of touch with political reality than the Dow Jones Industrial Average is out of touch with the economic reality of the times we live in. So, while there is little doubt our elected officials will be wildly tossed about on election night, I don’t think anyone can accurately predict where the pieces will land. This applies equally to the national, state and local landscapes.

For my part, I will assume my normal election night posture. This is my Superbowl. No, this is my Uberbowl. After lovingly putting my children to sleep and sweetly kissing my bride, I take up residence on my couch with a laptop, a television, a home phone and a BlackBerry. Beside me rests a bowl of popcorn and a six-pack of Blue Point Toasted Lager to be consumed throughout the evening. At the other end of the myriad communication devices at my disposal are my dedicated editors and reporters who live for this night as I do, strategically positioned at disparate campaign headquarters so they can send me timely updates and anecdotes; the vast majority of the latter are typically inappropriate and not for publication but amusing nonetheless.

But election night is just the capstone to this wild and bitter campaign season that has been gaining steam since the crowning of President Obama. The weeks and months leading up to this election have seen hope replaced by fanaticism, while an estimated $3 billion has been spent assailing the public with dirty-bomb messaging. The media have spent an unprecedented amount of energy dissecting the sources of campaign financing, which has undergone a sea change due to opaque contributions from major donors. The funding is sheltered primarily by committees organized under the 501(c)(4) designation for non-profits that’s now expanded to include advocacy groups. In recent election cycles major donors and corporations have skirted the funding limitations of political action committees (PACs), which require transparency and place limits on contributions, by donating to 501(c)(4) groups who run political ads. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year to allow the continuation of this practice, which led Obama to courageously criticize the justices during his State of the Union speech just days after this decision was handed down. This action was indeed courageous because rebuking the Supreme Court in such a public fashion is almost taboo. More importantly, his comments were prescient, and we are all living with the results.

But the media’s obsession with campaign financing and public figures such as Karl Rove, who helped organize perhaps the biggest group—Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies—is noise. The Democrats and major backers like George Soros used this loophole to great advantage in the last cycle; but this go-around the Republicans perfected it. Since time immemorial money has been finding its way to politicians. Whether it’s a bag of cash exchanged in a hotel room or a shady “policy group” taking cheap shots in a TV ad over a politician’s war record, campaign cash moves quickly through the Beltway. So while the sheer volume of donations is unprecedented, I find the whole thing quite unremarkable. The only people who give massive sums of money are the people who have it and want more of it.

The argument over secret funding and the anger manufactured from special interest groups preying on people’s fears are what we call gorilla dust. Hopefully Jon Stewart’s rally in D.C. this weekend will indeed restore sanity, and voters will make calculated decisions, not emotional ones. In the waning days of the campaign, when every other television ad is political, newspaper editors make their grand declarations and campaign managers are plagued by carpal tunnel syndrome from tweeting, texting and emailing, do your best to keep your head about you.

Remember that while big things are happening at the top, much of the work is getting done in the trenches. If you’re unhappy with Obama and want to send a message by turning Congress upside down, knock yourself out. Likewise, if you’re tired of the Republicans being the “party of no,” then let Obama keep his House in order. But that lever in the voting booth or oval on the ballot has little to do with the state senator who funded improvements to your library or the town council member who heard your protests at a board meeting and put in a stop sign on your block.

While public tumult is a good thing that keeps our elected officials on their toes and prevents George W. Bush-like amnesia down the road, it can also lead to bad decisions. Or as my father says: everything in moderation… except, of course, on election night in my den.

Politicians and Pundits

The revolving door of transparent allegiances in American media and politics is growing stranger and more ridiculous by the minute.

George Stephanopoulos is hosting Good Morning America and Sarah Palin is on Fox. The mayor of New York City owns several media outlets that bear his name and Tom Suozzi is consulting Cablevision regarding, um, high school sports.

46,990,000 more views than the guy that can get rid of poverty

The revolving door of transparent allegiances in American media and politics is growing stranger and more ridiculous by the minute. That’s not to say the line between elected officials and the fourth estate hasn’t always been blurred. In fact, it has. Almost every generation since the nation was founded has seen political strangleholds over journalism, and many were poorly kept secrets. The role of politician and newsman was, in the beginning, inexorably linked. Bloomberg joins names such as Hamilton, Franklin and Hearst in recognizing the value of owning a bully pulpit such as a newspaper.

But the glut of information in the new-media age and the difficulty breaking through it to proffer your message to the mass public has changed the way we communicate. It’s about how fast you can get your message across when the host cuts to six heads on a split screen and whether yours is the sound bite that sticks. The seasoned politician-cum-pundit thus has a greater ability to navigate this terrain. 

These days, one’s ability to be glib outweighs the capacity to navigate complex situations and explain them to the public.

 The inherent problem is that louder wins, ridiculous rules and shocking carries the day in an age where “Chocolate Rain” by Tay Zonday has been viewed nearly 47 million times on YouTube and Good Magazine’s “End of Poverty” interview with Jeffrey Sachs has been viewed less than 10,000. (Full disclosure: I have watched “Chocolate Rain” 17 times and the Sachs interview only once.)

Tuning out these sources takes a muscle that needs to be exercised, because bad information abounds and is easy to absorb. E-mail chains, perhaps the most insidious form of propaganda, should be avoided at all costs. But if you’re on one of those mass e-mail lists frantically forwarded by “that” friend of yours with subject lines like “Important—This one is for real—Revelations proves Obama is the Anti-Christ!!!!!” and you insist on opening them, do yourself a favor and check out www.factcheck.org.

 By the time this column is published, the president will have given his State of the Union Address and the blogosphere will be jammed with nonsensical comments and responses to every single line of the speech. Some outlets will characterize him as grave and sincere, back on his game and (my favorite) “presidential.” Others will skewer him for double talk, insincerity and call him (another gem) “unfit” to hold office. The intelligent viewer will watch the address on C-SPAN and make up his or her own mind.

 As for the modern political talk show host, let Glenn Beck howl and Keith Olbermann scream. Let Rush Limbaugh make his racist statements and Jon Stewart outsmart them all. And when all is said and said and said, let silence prevail. Silence allows thoughts to come through, and thoughts can be a powerful thing when logically applied to problems, issues and obstacles. And if you insist on listening to the politician turned pundit, make sure you’re listening in stereo, because a mono feed won’t pick up the words coming from both sides of their mouths.