Rock Star Journalists

Hackers and bloggers, investigative journalists, whistleblowers and scholars are collaborating in a way that speaks to what the Internet was intended to be. All under the watchful eye of Anonymous.

Celebrity chefs have had their day. The new rock star celebrities are journalists. They’re bigger than the brands they represent and are, in the words of Thoreau, “counter friction to the machine.” They speak truth to power and believe balance and objectivity are bullshit because lies and criminality do not deserve equal time with the truth.

Take, for example, Matt Taibbi and the late Michael Hastings who took Rolling Stone from an anachronistic music industry journal and turned it into a rabble-rousing political juggernaut. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper is scooping American journals at every turn, making them out to be the establishment sycophants they truly are. Sites like Alternet, Truthdig and Truthout are publishing profound progressive material for the world to see on subjects that were formerly under the exclusive purview of local alternative weekly publications. Hackers and bloggers, investigative journalists, whistleblowers and scholars are collaborating in a way that speaks to what the Internet was intended to be. All under the watchful eye of Anonymous.

This is truly the new golden age of journalism. Any question that arises from this statement should be put to rest by the ignominious manner in which the government has assaulted those who challenge it. The cover story in the July 2013 edition of the Long Island Press by Chris Twarowski and Rashed Mian (rock stars in their own right) tells the story of the fearless crusaders of this generation by tipping a cap to the dissidents and truth tellers of old. As we note on our cover image (inset) these were people who were vilified in their time by the ruling class and vindicated over time by the working class. Some are famous, most are not. Yet each had the courage of their convictions and righteousness on their side.

For us, the Bradley Manning trial is the tip of the spear. His revelations, published through Wikileaks, broke open the floodgates and allowed a new journalistic sentiment to pour through. It is not a sentiment shared by the corporately controlled broadcast and print media in the United States, but it is pervasive among this new breed of advocacy writer. And while the indefatigable journalists such as Alexa O’Brien and Kevin Gosztola who are covering it every day are hardly household names, they ought to be. It’s why we chose to pay homage to them in telling the story of PFC Manning.

Recently my wife and I attended a talk at the New School with journalist and author Jeremy Scahill who was being interviewed by the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman about his new book, Dirty Wars. The auditorium was overflowing with attendees trying to catch a glimpse of Scahill who is arguably the biggest rock star in the field of investigative journalism right now; a distinction challenged only by Scahill’s good friend Glenn Greenwald, also of the Guardian, who brought to light the NSA revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, now the most sought after man on earth. The only two people in the audience to receive louder ovations than Scahill were Dr. Cornel West and Scahill’s mentor Amy Goodman. This was a progressive paradise that could have been an advertisement for NPR tote bags.

Ackerman was a solid choice to interview Scahill as he is also well known as a national security and government reporter for Wired Magazine, having only recently made the move to the Guardian. The Guardian’s ascendency in the U.S. is part of the intriguing backstory to the Snowden affair. Just how far under the skin of the U.S. government the U.K.-based news organization has travelled is evidenced by a recent Ackerman story confirming that the U.S. military “was filtering out reports and content relating to government surveillance programs to preserve “network hygiene.””

Network hygiene. Interesting terminology.

Perhaps it is because the Guardian is based in the U.K. that it is immune to U.S. propaganda. What’s so utterly disturbing is that Americans seem to have little defense against it. We swallow terms like “hygiene” hook, line and sinker instead of recognizing it for what it is: censorship. Our media are complicit in this linguistic cover-up, repeating government jargon and name-calling, thereby legitimizing it.

Want to counter the investigative journalism of Jeremy Scahill? Call him a terrorist sympathizer.
Looking to turn the public’s attention Edward Snowden’s revelations of the U.S. illegal data collection and wiretapping of basically the entire planet? Say he emboldened the terrorists.
Frustrated by Glenn Greenwald’s lack of respect for authority? Have lackeys in the U.S. media suggest that he too is a traitor.
Want to teach other would-be whistleblowers a lesson? Lock up Bradley Manning and strip him of all his constitutional rights by putting him in solitary confinement then parade him through kangaroo court under the guise of due process.

The people on our cover didn’t fall for any of this bullshit. They spoke truth to power and several died for their “sins.” But each of them was vindicated over time. Someday, hopefully Bradley Manning will be as well. But this will only happen if the rock star journalists of today continue to burn bright enough to illuminate the dark corporate propagandists that seek to discredit their work and shield us from the truth.

The Long Island Press Drone

Trusting me with a drone is no more ridiculous than allowing the executive branch to unilaterally determine which civil liberties and human rights to recognize, as if an option exists.

This column appears in the July 2013 edition of the Long Island Press.
Follow the author on Twitter @jedmorey

I need my own drone. Not me personally as a citizen (that would be ridiculous) but as a publisher.

A Long Island Press drone (available for sponsorship) would enable us to give timely traffic reports, provide up-to-the-minute surf conditions, look for fugitives and measure the size of the daily sewage leaks from our ever-failing sewer and storm water infrastructure.

The possibilities are endless. Aerial views of town employees driving official vehicles home after work. Spotting sharks too close to shore. You get the idea.

If the American public has little problem with police departments and the FBI using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology and seems indifferent to disclosures that the National Security Agency (NSA) is harvesting massive amounts of its personal data, then it shouldn’t have a problem with journalistic enterprises enhancing their capabilities with drones. Seems logical to me. Though, admittedly, I’m having troubling locating the drone application form on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website.

Recently, my wife and I joined three members of the Long Island Press staff at the premiere of Jeremy Scahill’s documentary film, Dirty Wars—the companion piece to his new book of the same name. The film has been opening to packed houses around the country so I made certain to procure tickets in advance, for fear of being locked out of its debut. When the lights dimmed the five of us comprised exactly 50 percent of the audience.

Well done, Long Island.

Instead of being chagrined by this lack of intellectual curiosity among my fellow Islanders, I chose to view this remarkable display of apathy in a positive light.

Since many of you missed it, I’ll give you the upshot of the film. Dirty Wars shines a light on the secret, corrupt and illegal wars being conducted against nations we are not at war with. Scahill’s meticulously researched, first-hand accounts of the devastation being wrought by the excessive utilization of drones have put the Obama administration in an awkward position. The recent NSA spying revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden in The Guardian further compound the administration’s problem with respect to human rights and civil liberties. The fact that the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama has brought more charges of espionage (a charge that potentially carries the death penalty) against Americans than all other presidents combined speaks volumes about Obama’s desire to silence critics and whistleblowers alike.

Further, the fact that the administration was forced to admit to killing four U.S. citizens (that we know of) with drone strikes abroad doesn’t seem to have rankled too many of my fellow Long Islanders that much, either. So, like I said, I’m taking this as a tacit show of support for the Press acquiring its very own drone for “surveillance” purposes.

There is one more thing. Because I am licensed by Nassau County to carry a weapon and am the owner of the Press, it’s only logical that my drone should be treated as an extension of me and should also be armed. You know, just in case. Rest assured that I would only use it to strike “high-value targets” who threaten our way of life here on Long Island. And, of course, before using my drone for surveillance purposes or (insert flowery euphemism for assassination here) I would seek approval from my secret hand-picked cadre of advisors from the Press.

That’s how the government programs work. And everyone is cool with that, right? CIA Director John Brennan comes up with a targeted kill list; runs it by a whole bunch of people in the executive branch, then asks the POTUS for permission to pull the trigger. That’s, like, so many people (from one branch of government) who have to determine (rubber stamp) who gets killed remotely in countries that we’re not at war with (except as designated by the executive branch under a perverted interpretation of authority granted under the AUMF law—look it up.) Surveillance in this country goes through just as arduous a process. The NSA has to ask the secret FISA court for permission in secret to secretly wiretap anyone so long as everyone involved keeps it a secret. Just in case, as Edward Snowden confirmed for us, the NSA has been secretly listening to everything we’ve been saying for quite some time now. They even made secret agreements with outside contractors to build secret facilities to store any and every piece of data secretly collected from around the world.

Arduous indeed! This is the process the president recently called “transparent.”

Because commercial licenses for drones have been suspended until the FAA issues new guidelines for their use, I’m invoking my privilege under the First Amendment to procure and operate my drone. How so? My drone is essentially like having a super-reporter on staff. Therefore its actions and the data it collects should be protected as free speech. (If unlimited campaign contributions are protected as free speech, this argument can’t be too far off-base.)

We are numb. Since 9/11 we have stood by passively during the greatest erosion of domestic civil liberties since the Alien and Sedition Acts and allowed our government to commit atrocities in faraway nations that have succeeded more in fostering antipathy toward our country than the purported purpose of protecting the homeland. Corporate media have furthered the government narrative instead of being a bulwark against it, thus normalizing egregious and unconstitutional behavior in the name of national security. Trusting me with a drone is no more ridiculous than allowing the executive branch to unilaterally determine which civil liberties and human rights to recognize, as if an option exists.

The overarching point that must be understood is that the Obama administration has amplified the assault on our rights in a way that would make Richard Nixon blush and Dick Cheney chortle villainously. The president has discarded every protection granted to the citizenry of the United States—and by proxy the world—that he is sworn to cherish and uphold.

Unfortunately, my ridiculous example of purchasing a drone is about as serious as the discourse taking place in the media regarding Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. These two men understand what is at stake right now more than every corporate shill actor hired to read news that has been vetted and approved by the government and corporate masters they serve.

U.S. Military ‘Power Grab’ Goes Into Effect

“It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

Pentagon Unilaterally Grants Itself Authority Over ‘Civil Disturbances’

By Jed Morey
Twitter: @jedmorey

This column originally appeared on www.LongIslandPress.com

The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefitted from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “War on Drugs.” For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.

The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.

Click here to read the new rule

The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:

Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.

Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

A defense official who declined to be named takes a different view of the rule, claiming, “The authorization has been around over 100 years; it’s not a new authority. It’s been there but it hasn’t been exercised. This is a carryover of domestic policy.” Moreover, he insists the Pentagon doesn’t “want to get involved in civilian law enforcement. It’s one of those red lines that the military hasn’t signed up for.” Nevertheless, he says, “every person in the military swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States to defend that Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of the new procedures that govern military command on the ground in the event of a civil disturbance relates to authority. Not only does it fail to define what circumstances would be so severe that the president’s authorization is “impossible,” it grants full presidential authority to “Federal military commanders.” According to the defense official, a commander is defined as follows: “Somebody who’s in the position of command, has the title commander. And most of the time they are centrally selected by a board, they’ve gone through additional schooling to exercise command authority.”

As it is written, this “commander” has the same power to authorize military force as the president in the event the president is somehow unable to access a telephone. (The rule doesn’t address the statutory chain of authority that already exists in the event a sitting president is unavailable.) In doing so, this commander must exercise judgment in determining what constitutes, “wanton destruction of property,” “adequate protection for Federal property,” “domestic violence,” or “conspiracy that hinders the execution of State or Federal law,” as these are the circumstances that might be considered an “emergency.”

“These phrases don’t have any legal meaning,” says Afran. “It’s no different than the emergency powers clause in the Weimar constitution [of the German Reich]. It’s a grant of emergency power to the military to rule over parts of the country at their own discretion.”

Afran also expresses apprehension over the government’s authority “to engage temporarily in activities necessary to quell large-scale disturbances.”

“Governments never like to give up power when they get it,” says Afran. “They still think after twelve years they can get intelligence out of people in Guantanamo. Temporary is in the eye of the beholder. That’s why in statutes we have definitions. All of these statutes have one thing in common and that is that they have no definitions. How long is temporary? There’s none here. The definitions are absurdly broad.”

The U.S. military is prohibited from intervening in domestic affairs except where provided under Article IV of the Constitution in cases of domestic violence that threaten the government of a state or the application of federal law. This provision was further clarified both by the Insurrection Act of 1807 and a post-Reconstruction law known as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (PCA). The Insurrection Act specifies the circumstances under which the president may convene the armed forces to suppress an insurrection against any state or the federal government. Furthermore, where an individual state is concerned, consent of the governor must be obtained prior to the deployment of troops. The PCA—passed in response to federal troops that enforced local laws and oversaw elections during Reconstruction—made unauthorized employment of federal troops a punishable offense, thereby giving teeth to the Insurrection Act.

Together, these laws limit executive authority over domestic military action. Yet Monday’s official regulatory changes issued unilaterally by the Department of Defense is a game-changer.

The stated purpose of the updated rule is “support in Accordance With the Posse Comitatus Act,” but in reality it undermines the Insurrection Act and PCA in significant and alarming ways. The most substantial change is the notion of “civil disturbance” as one of the few “domestic emergencies” that would allow for the deployment of military assets on American soil.

To wit, the relatively few instances that federal troops have been deployed for domestic support have produced a wide range of results. Situations have included responding to natural disasters and protecting demonstrators during the Civil Rights era to, disastrously, the Kent State student massacre and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee.

Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”

At the time German was referring to the military’s expanded surveillance techniques and hostile interventions related to border control and the War on Drugs. And in fact, many have argued that these actions have already upended the PCA in a significant way. Even before this most recent rule change, the ACLU was vocal in its opposition to the Department of Defense (DoD) request to expand domestic military authority “in the event of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high yield explosive (CBRNE) incidents.” The ACLU’s position is that civilian agencies are more than equipped to handle such emergencies since 9/11. (ACLU spokespersons in Washington D.C. declined, however, to be interviewed for this story.)

But while outcomes of military interventions have varied, the protocol by which the president works cooperatively with state governments has remained the same. The president is only allowed to deploy troops to a state upon request of its governor. Even then, the military—specifically the National Guard—is there to provide support for local law enforcement and is prohibited from engaging in any activities that are outside of this scope, such as the power to arrest.

Eric Freedman, a constitutional law professor from Hofstra University, also calls the ruling “an unauthorized power grab.” According to Freedman, “The Department of Defense does not have the authority to grant itself by regulation any more authority than Congress has granted it by statute.” Yet that’s precisely what it did. This wasn’t, however, the Pentagon’s first attempt to expand its authority domestically in the last decade.

Déjà vu

During the Bush Administration, Congress passed the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill that included language similar in scope to the current regulatory change. It specifically amended the Insurrection Act to expand the president’s ability to deploy troops domestically under certain conditions including health epidemics, natural disasters and terrorist activities, though it stopped short of including civil disturbances. But the following year this language was repealed under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 via a bill authored by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who cited the “useful friction” between the Insurrection and Posse Comitatus Acts in limiting executive authority.

According to the DoD, the repeal of this language had more to do with procedure and that it was never supposed to amend the Insurrection Act. “When it was actually passed,” says the defense official, “Congress elected to amend the Insurrection Act and put things in the Insurrection Act that were not insurrection, like the support for disasters and emergencies and endemic influenza. Our intent,” he says, “was to give the president and the secretary access to the reserve components. It includes the National Guard and, rightfully so, the governors were pretty upset because they were not consulted.”

Senator Leahy’s office did not have a statement as of press time, but a spokesperson said the senator had made an inquiry with the DoD in response to our questions. The defense official confirmed that he was indeed being called in to discuss the senator’s concerns in a meeting scheduled for today. But he downplayed any concern, saying, “Congress at any time can say ‘we don’t like your interpretation of that law and how you’ve interpreted it in making policy’—and so they can call us to the Hill and ask us to justify why we’re doing something.”

Last year, Bruce Afran and another civil liberties attorney Carl Mayer filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration on behalf of a group of journalists and activists lead by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges. They filed suit over the inclusion of a bill in the NDAA 2012 that, according to the plaintiffs, expanded executive authority over domestic affairs by unilaterally granting the executive branch to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without due process. The case has garnered international attention and invited vigorous defense from the Obama Administration. Even Afran goes so far as to say this current rule change is, “another NDAA. It’s even worse, to be honest.”

For Hedges and the other plaintiffs, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the government’s ever-expanding authority over civilian affairs has a “chilling effect” on First Amendment activities such as free speech and the right to assemble. First District Court Judge Katherine Forrest agreed with the plaintiffs and handed Hedges et al a resounding victory prompting the Department of Justice to immediately file an injunction and an appeal. The appellate court is expected to rule on the matter within the next few months.

Another of the plaintiffs in the Hedges suit is Alexa O’Brien, a journalist and organizer who joined the lawsuit after she discovered a Wikileaks cable showing government officials attempting to link her efforts to terrorist activities. For activists such as O’Brien, the new DoD regulatory change is frightening because it creates, “an environment of fear when people cannot associate with one another.” Like Afran and Freedman, she too calls the move, “another grab for power under the rubric of the war on terror, to the detriment of citizens.”

“This is a complete erosion of the rule of law,” says O’Brien. Knowing these sweeping powers were granted under a rule change and not by Congress is even more harrowing to activists. “That anything can be made legal,” says O’Brien, “is fundamentally antithetical to good governance.”

As far as what might qualify as a civil disturbance, Afran notes, “In the Sixties all of the Vietnam protests would meet this description. We saw Kent State. This would legalize Kent State.”

But the focus on the DoD regulatory change obscures the creeping militarization that has already occurred in police departments across the nation. Even prior to the NDAA lawsuit, journalist Chris Hedges was critical of domestic law enforcement agencies saying, “The widening use of militarized police units effectively nullifies the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.”

This de facto nullification isn’t lost on the DoD.

The DoD official even referred to the Boston bombing suspects manhunt saying, “Like most major police departments, if you didn’t know they were a police department you would think they were the military.” According to this official there has purposely been a “large transfer of technology so that the military doesn’t have to get involved.” Moreover, he says the military has learned from past events, such as the siege at Waco, where ATF officials mishandled military equipment. “We have transferred the technology so we don’t have to loan it,” he states.

But if the transfer of military training and technology has been so thorough, it boggles the imagination as to what kind of disturbance would be so overwhelming that it would require the suspension of centuries-old law and precedent to grant military complete authority on the ground. The DoD official admits not being able to “envision that happening,” adding, “but I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter.”

Afran, for one, isn’t buying the logic. For him, the distinction is simple.

“Remember, the police operate under civilian control,” he says. “They are used to thinking in a civilian way so the comparison that they may have some assault weapons doesn’t change this in any way. And they can be removed from power. You can’t remove the military from power.”

Despite protestations from figures such as Afran and O’Brien and past admonitions from groups like the ACLU, for the first time in our history the military has granted itself authority to quell a civil disturbance. Changing this rule now requires congressional or judicial intervention.

“This is where journalism comes in,” says Freedman. “Calling attention to an unauthorized power grab in the hope that it embarrasses the administration.”

Afran is considering amending his NDAA complaint currently in front of the court to include this regulatory change.

As we witnessed during the Boston bombing manhunt, it’s already difficult to discern between military and police. In the future it might be impossible, because there may be no difference.

 

 

Photo: U.S. Troops in Afghanistan (Photo: Senior Airman Sean Martin, U.S. Air Force)

The Press is Going Monthly. Here’s Why.

Since the days of WLIR and WDRE, breaking new ground is in our DNA. It’s who we are, so it’s what we do. So while it may look as though the Press is downshifting, in reality we are moving forward full throttle.

Ten years ago, in January of 2003, we published the first issue of the weekly Long Island Press after several months of experimenting with a bi-weekly music publication called the Island Ear. Transforming the Ear into an alternative newsweekly, something every major market except LI had, made sense on several levels. I’m offering this bit of history to answer a question I hear frequently: Why on earth would you willingly go into the newspaper business?

It’s a good question. These are the 2000s, after all.

At the time, our company owned and operated 92.7 WDRE/WLIR-FM, the heritage alternative rock station in New York, and the first of its kind in the nation. Complementing WLIR with an altweekly, particularly a strong, independent-minded paper that the Island sorely needed, made strategic sense. Moreover, we were running a music and event venue called the Vanderbilt in Plainview and a newspaper came in handy when promoting acts outside the format of the radio station.

These were hectic and exciting days. We were not without our foibles and gaffes (biker brawl, anyone?), but we had a lot of fun and, for a while, everything worked. Gradually, however, pieces of the company and people began to break away. The radio station was sold to Univision and the Vanderbilt was sold to Nassau OTB. Then my business partner and I went our separate ways; he stayed in radio, and I ran a restaurant inside our former facility and took the helm of the newspaper.

There are many more details, some sordid and bitter, some joyous and downright funny. But along with countless memories, they have washed away under the bridge. Throughout it all, without even realizing it, I was falling madly in love with the newspaper business. I was smitten with the Long Island Press. The staff, the words, everything. I fell in love with the work and remain hopelessly committed to it today. (Being a lousy restaurateur helped solidify my path.) To say that our industry has changed would be a gross understatement. Despite the public’s increased appetite for news and information, the splintering of interests and fragmentation of channels have presented a challenge to traditional media outlets. General interest publications such as news magazines and daily newspapers have suffered terribly during the digital revolution; alternative weeklies have declined in revenue and circulation during this period as well, though not nearly to the same extent. But it was enough to make me begin pondering a different relationship with my muse.

To be in love with your work is a gift, one that none of us takes for granted. And despite the Chicken Little prognostications for our industry, we had a good year, which has allowed me to make this decision from a position of strength instead of with my back to the wall. If anything, once we stopped resisting changes brought about by the Internet, it became a blessing instead of a curse; the growth of our digital platforms gave us the ability to disseminate information as quickly and accurately as Newsday. This eye-opening process has freed our minds from the mental constraints of the physical publishing world. Ultimately it has given us permission to ask ourselves what we want to write instead of racing to meet artificial deadlines with material we are forced to write.

On a business note, the two primary consequences of reducing the frequency of the Press is producing a bigger book and increasing its circulation. Essentially, going monthly means we are able to add news and features that satiate our artistic and journalistic desires, while staying true to our role in the marketplace.

What is our role, you may ask?

Our stated mission is to inform, entertain and educate the opinion leaders of Long Island. Our practical purpose is to make Newsday suck less. (Delicacy is not my specialty. Sorry.) Professionally, we establish a bridge between intelligent and discerning readers and the advertising community. We are essentially a vehicle for commerce and social engagement and the purveyors of truth on the Island. As the conscience of the local media and the only outlet courageous enough to challenge conventional wisdom, we take our responsibility very seriously.

The decision to transition from weekly to monthly didn’t happen in a vacuum. The success of our sister publication, Milieu magazine, and the growth of our small business program, the Bethpage Best of LI contest and App, have enabled us to grow as an organization. As we look forward to 2013, we see a jam-packed production schedule that includes 10 glossy issues of Milieu, several specialty publications, and a new project you will see on newsstands beginning this month. Our company is the custom engine behind Living Out, a new GLBT publication on LI, published by David Kilmnick and the staff of Long Island GLBT Services Network.

Since the days of WLIR and WDRE, breaking new ground is in our DNA. It’s who we are, so it’s what we do. So while it may look as though the Press is downshifting, in reality we are moving forward full throttle. It’s as though we have suffered from a multiple personality disorder all these years and are finally setting our personalities free. The Press as our professor in a corduroy jacket and leather elbow patches, Milieu as our stylish and confident feminine persona, Bethpage Best of LI as our inner entrepreneur and Living Out as our free-spirited, gay side. (Still working on a title for the foul-mouthed, neurotic Mets/Jets/Isles fan publication.) It’s been an honor to publish the Press for the past decade. Hopefully you’ll be as excited as we are about our next 10 years as a monthly. After that, we will probably just download directly into a chip surgically implanted in your skull.

Obamacare

On myriad levels, Obamacare is a good plan, and ultimately I am in favor of seeing it fully implemented. But if we eliminate emotion and politics, it’s fair to say Obamacare is only half of what is required.

Affordable? Maybe not. Necessary? Likely so.
Part 6 (of 8) of the Off The Reservation special election series in the Long Island Press

It has been said that death and taxes are the two irrefutable realities of our existence. By declaring the act that seeks to prolong death for every American to be a tax, the U.S. Supreme Court has neatly fused them together, making the debate surrounding Obamacare an inescapable reality unto itself.

My election series of columns has thus far made clear arguments in favor of re-electing Barack Obama with respect to the stimulus, deregulation, foreign policy and appointing justices to the Court, with Obama winning three of the four topics convincingly and a split decision on Wall Street regulation. When it comes to healthcare, I must admit that I am struggling a bit. Perhaps you can help.

Intellectually, I am a fan of a single-payer healthcare system. In America, this would essentially mean Medicare for all, with no option for private health insurance. The administrative cost and paperwork associated with patient care would be a fraction of what they are today and with the advent of electronic medical records an argument can be made that there are significant efficiencies to come. Practically, however, this is essentially the Canadian system and it is far from perfect.

My family is originally from Canada and most of my relatives still live there. While there is no question that general care is indeed more affordable, available and efficient, critical care is a problem. My aunt died prematurely due to the ridiculous lengths she had to go through to receive a proper and thorough diagnosis. But this painful anecdote belies statistics that suggest the mortality rate from disease in the US and Canada is nearly identical.

Doctors in the United States are compensated much higher than doctors in Canada; but this applies mostly to specialists and not general practitioners. Therefore, in Canada there are far more general practitioners per capita than in the United States. Perhaps this implies that although critical care is less available, greater access to preventive care mitigates the severity and incidence of diseases that require critical care. Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know, just looking at Long Island for example, that we have universal healthcare because the emergency room at Nassau University Medical Center is just about the busiest place on the Island. This is why I am in favor of an attempt to cover every individual in the United States and, for the most part, a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”


When I began working for my father 18 years ago, we covered 100 percent of healthcare costs for our employees. Now, we can only afford to cover half. Moreover, this “half” is far more expensive than the entire amount was almost two decades ago even on an adjusted basis. It’s why I find it insulting when people suggest that Obamacare is crushing small businesses already. The fact is, Obamacare hasn’t been fully implemented yet, but this is the first year that two very significant things happened to our business:

  1. We were reimbursed several thousand dollars by our insurance company because they had failed to meet the minimum standards under Obamacare for the amount of money that must be allocated to actual care, and not administrative costs.
  2. This is the first year the insurance company didn’t attempt to raise our premiums by double-digits.

So, as a small business owner, I have already benefitted from a plan that hasn’t even been fully implemented. Moreover, it puts my business on a level playing field with other small businesses I know that skirt the rules by paying their people as independent contractors simply to avoid offering them health insurance.

There are other great parts of this legislation such as extending dependent care, outlawing the practice of declining coverage for anyone with a pre-existing condition, closing the Medicare “donut” hole for seniors, mandating electronic records, and identifying best practices across the nation. But I have heard time and again that Obamacare will ultimately result in a massive decrease in reimbursements for physicians— forcing them to see more patients to sustain current income levels—thus jeopardizing the quality of care.

This is a practical sentiment that I can sympathize with, but many of my friends who are physicians have been complaining about this for years. This isn’t an “Obamacare” phenomenon; this is a “healthcare-as-it-currently-is” phenomenon. And while I agree that adding millions of additional people to the insurance pool is beneficial for insurance companies and detrimental to the earning potential of physicians, access to preventive care and wellness visits is undoubtedly a positive step for America. I’m hoping my physician friends weigh in on this to express their viewpoints because I know many of them are tired of being businesspeople and accountants and simply want to get back to caring for patients and growing as doctors.

The politics surrounding Obamacare have drowned out any and all reasonable debate surrounding this issue. The mere fact that the GOP vehemently opposes this plan that was originally crafted by a conservative think tank, touted by Republican legislators and actually adopted fully by a Republican governor now running for president should indicate how toxic our politics are. On myriad levels, Obamacare is a good plan, and ultimately I am in favor of seeing it fully implemented. But if we eliminate emotion and politics, it’s fair to say Obamacare is only half of what is required. The real drivers of cost in the system are the high-cost liability insurance, rampant pharmaceutical dependence encouraged by advertising that is unnecessary and unethical, an overly-litigious culture that forces physicians to order unnecessary tests simply to thwart potential claims, paying doctors and hospitals per procedure instead of paying for the care the patient requires, and the extraordinary cost of end-of-life care. If over the next decade, Obamacare is married with serious attempts to tackle these issues, then it has a shot at not just succeeding but being a model system. If not, it will likely lumber along as a quasi-failure but no worse than had we done nothing at all.

WEEK 6 goes once again to the POTUS.

PHOTO: Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law, March 23rd, 2010. The act is the most sweeping healthcare reform since Medicare and based largely on initiatives created by conservative think tanks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Justice

Sorry to be morbid but there’s a strong statistical possibility that one of the current justices will move on—whether retiring or expiring—in the next four years and that the next president will once again be called upon to nominate someone for the highest Court in the land.

Preamble
We’re a few weeks away from the presidential election and at the halfway point in this series of columns. Therefore, before we tackle this week’s issue, it’s appropriate to pause and assess the current situation.

In the first election column I referred to this series as a summit quest; a challenge to leave more nonsensical items of the campaign silly season behind and equip ourselves only with the truth as we tackle important issues. In it I also laid out a few irrefutable facts and circumstances that would serve as underlying assumptions, or “base camp,” for our climb and warned that the closer one gets to the summit, the thinner the air would become. Little did I know how prescient this analogy was; even former Vice President Al Gore blamed President Obama’s horrific debate performance in Colorado on altitude sickness.

Whether it was his fumbling answers or Mitt Romney’s Cosa Nostra-like threats to public television—kissing Big Bird on one cheek while plunging a knife beneath his wing—our ascent must take into consideration current events and the candidates’ performance. As far as the first debate is concerned, Romney took command of the evening and ran the proceedings as though he was giving a Power Point presentation. He was concise, efficient and direct, never once allowing the facts to stand in his way. Obama was riddled like Sonny at the Causeway as jubilant Romney fans took to the airwaves and social media to pounce on bewildered liberals.

Great fun.

As stunned as I was by this turn of events, it changes nothing with respect to my analysis of the election because both President Obama and Gov. Romney have substantial records and demonstrated beliefs that are far more illuminating than the debates. Moreover, our country’s challenges remain the same, as do the circumstances in which we live. It’s why policies and issues are more important than one’s ability to annunciate them in less than two minutes. I’m not questioning the importance of the debates as far as campaigning is concerned, but nothing said between the two men can alter what they have done in the past or where we are today.

But the home stretch of a campaign puts everything under a microscope, and no one can predict what might become a turning point. The tragic event that occurred at our embassy in Libya on Sept. 11th was immediately and inappropriately politicized by the Romney camp. The White House followed up with its own (ongoing) gaffe by not forthrightly acknowledging the strong possibility that this was an organized terrorist attack and not an impromptu protest that spun out of control. But, here again, as maddening as Obama’s reticence in this matter is, his patience demonstrates why his approach is more preferable to the blustering rhetoric coming from the right.

Here’s why: As the evidence mounts from that night, it seems increasingly clear that this was indeed an organized terrorist attack. Therefore, it should be dealt with in the same covert manner that we have been conducting our affairs for the past four years. Overreacting in this part of the world, particularly in a state as fragile as Libya, can have devastating repercussions. If we had responded with immediate force like the George W. Bush “shoot first, look for WMD’s later” approach when the images first appeared of Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body being carried by unknown Libyans, then we would have missed that they were actually Libyan civilians who had found the ambassador alive and were calling for help. When none were found, they put Stevens into a car and took him to a hospital.

The world around us is so fragile. What some regard as callousness on the part of the president should be viewed as his understanding of this reality.
With that consideration, let us soldier on to this week’s chosen issue. The first few columns in this series took a detailed and practical look at the economy, deregulation, foreign policy and the stimulus. This week is more personal and I will keep it brief.

Justice
One of the most important aspects of the presidency is the opportunity to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. For some presidents, it has been their most enduring legacies. Four of the justices are currently in their 70s, and the average American lifespan according to the Centers for Disease Control is 78. Sorry to be morbid but there’s a strong statistical possibility that one of the current justices will move on—whether retiring or expiring—in the next four years and that the next president will once again be called upon to nominate someone for the highest Court in the land.

While we believe the collective American conscience has evolved beyond horrifying decisions such as Dred Scott, even the current Court is capable of alarming incompetence. Consider the Citizen United decision or simply read the following remarks made recently by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia at the American Enterprise Institute:

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”

This type of spiteful and irresponsible attitude must be quelled by stacking the Court with thinking and feeling individuals.

Hopefully, Citizen United will someday be repealed. Ironically, perhaps an Obama Court will someday reverse one of his most dangerous acts thus far, which was to sign into law the indefinite detention provision of the NDAA 2012 bill last year, one of the greatest encroachments on our civil liberties in decades. Lastly, as the father of two daughters, I have no choice but to take the Republican Party at its word with respect to its desire to take away a woman’s right to choose. Sticking our heads in the sand and saying, “Oh, that will never happen,” ignores the Republican platform, their campaign promises and actual bills Republicans have put forward in Congress.

Because Obama has already demonstrated his tendencies with respect to the Court through his appointments of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, we know where he stands. During his political career, Mitt Romney has stood on all sides of virtually every issue and therefore offers little insight into the type of nominee he would proffer. But his acquiescence to the most radical conservative wing of the Republican Party is troubling enough to inform my decision in this case.

This court once again sides with the incumbent.

 

Leader of the “Free” World

Romney’s platform is devoid of nuance. For instance, his plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan asserts, “The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.” Only on Planet Romney does America have leverage over a nuclear Pakistan and Hamid Karzai.

 

LEADERSHIP

Part 3 of the Special “Off The Reservation” Election Series in the Long Island Press.

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden traveled to Afghanistan during the transition to the Obama presidency to gauge the war effort on the ground. After meeting with Afghan leaders, American field generals and soldiers who had served multiple deployments, he returned home to report his findings to the incoming president. His synopsis confirmed what most suspected about America’s forgotten war; there was no good news. We were losing the war.

More troubling, according to Biden, was that nearly everyone he spoke with had a different impression of what our mission was. Intelligence confirmed that al-Qaeda hadn’t operated in Afghanistan in more than two years, perhaps longer. The Taliban was prepared to return at a moment’s notice, having found safe harbor in neighboring Pakistan. The Afghan economy was devastated and any efforts to train Afghani-led forces were futile due to the overwhelming rate of illiteracy among the population and the underwhelming amount of resources being given to our troops on the ground.

The provisional government under Hamid Karzai’s tepid and erratic leadership had not yet been affirmed by a national election and his administration was becoming increasingly corrupt. A combination of protracted war and drought had shattered the local economy and secular tensions and age-old blood feuds among various ethnic groups made the politics impossible to navigate, particularly with no clear objective as to why and whom we were still fighting. These factors, along with an impossible terrain, made an Iraq-style surge improbable and unnecessary in the eyes of many advisors. Nevertheless, in 2009 Obama was now Commander in Chief and it was time to make good on some campaign promises.

For months, Obama frustrated generals, media outlets, Democrats and Republicans—anyone with a stake in the outcome of the war. Even his most ardent supporters derided his Vulcan-like demeanor and refusal to commit to a plan of action. Not only had Obama received full cooperation from the Bush administration during the transition, he possessed a surfeit of intelligence information, an experienced team of advisors, and the support of the American public. And yet, days turned to weeks, which turned to months.

None of the options before him were good. All carried risk. But in order to place the risk in its proper context, there was one piece of critical information that the president was missing—something that no briefing could possibly clarify.
Shortly before midnight on Oct. 28, 2009, President Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base. As midnight passed and the calendar turned a page, he stood in the darkness flanked by military personnel as the bodies of 18 dead soldiers whose calendars ceased turning somewhere on the desert battlefield were carried from a military cargo plane. In his book, Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward describes how after saluting the fallen and meeting privately with the families for the next four hours, the president of the United States “slipped back in the helicopter, switched off the overhead light. No one said a word during the 45-minute flight to the White House.”

No fanfare. No flight suit. Just a solemn acknowledgement that this mission was far from accomplished and that there were human beings beneath those fatigues.

Shortly after this trip, Obama would reveal the strategy for the war in Afghanistan under his presidency. One by one, he delivered his orders to his senior officials, including Gen. David Petraeus. According to Woodward, “When [Petraeus] later learned the president had personally dictated the orders, he couldn’t believe it. ‘There’s not a president in history that’s dictated five single-spaced pages in his life.’”

THE “FREE WORLD”

The world is a big place and Afghanistan occupies only a tiny sliver of it. What I appreciate about the president’s thought process is the scope of it, which stands in stark contrast to the single-mindedness of the Bush administration. We are still losing the war in Afghanistan, but our troops are withdrawing. Our operation in Iraq is finally coming to a close. And despite the most recent wave of anti-American sentiment fueled by an inflammatory film about the Muslim prophet Muhammad, we are balancing foreign affairs. While Obama’s nuanced approach has been marked by miscalculations, it takes into account the whole field of battle, which may not always include armed conflict.

The ground is shifting beneath us. African nations are beginning to subdivide like cancer cells and we may even witness the reconciliation of North and South Korea in our lifetime. In surveying Afghanistan, Obama understood that the real war was with Pakistan. Moreover, our relationship with Pakistan has always been built on half-truths and double-dealing. The Pakistani secret police, the ISI, serves up lies to our operatives half of the time; the trick is to figure out which half. Obama also knows that our presence is virtually meaningless to Pakistan compared to its long-standing feud with India. Deftly managing this dynamic results in better intelligence on al-Qaeda members who move between Pakistan and Afghanistan and as far as Yemen and Somalia with impunity; just as breaking the back of the Assad regime in Syria is more devastating to Iran than drawing artificial lines in the sand.

This is only a fragment of the backdrop against which we are being asked to elect our next Commander in Chief. From dangerous encroachments to our civil liberties at home to the casual over-reliance upon drone strikes abroad, there is plenty of criticism to be hurled Obama’s way. But like so many issues this campaign season, foreign policy is yet another area where Mitt Romney falters.

Romney’s platform is devoid of nuance. For instance, his plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan asserts, “The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.” Only on Planet Romney does America have leverage over a nuclear Pakistan and Hamid Karzai, a man whom the CIA admits is a chemically imbalanced, erratic manic-depressive. He lambastes Obama for allegedly refusing to support uprisings in Iran, calling it a “disgraceful abdication of American moral authority,” while at the same time condemning Obama’s support of the uprising in Libya.

Mitt Romney is already promising to write checks we can’t cash. From empty threats of force against Pakistan to declaring he will aggressively “disarm North Korea,” Romney has already displayed a remarkable ignorance. He’s also playing a dangerous game with Benjamin Netanyahu, pitting the Israeli Prime Minister against Obama in an effort to woo the Jewish vote at home. Romney ignores the success both the Bush and Obama administrations have had covertly disrupting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and he underestimates the galvanizing effect a unilateral attack on Iran would have in the Arab world against both Israel and the US.

Even more troubling is the team of foreign policy advisors Romney has assembled, which includes several Bush administration retreads, two members of the Heritage Foundation—the sham conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers—and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, an enthusiastic supporter of rendition.

Despite several initial missteps on the world stage by the Obama administration, it is imperative we maintain continuity with a nuanced approach and maneuver to achieve greater stability abroad; if for no other reason than to prevent the catastrophic return of Bush-era foreign policy that a Romney administration would bring. The world has had enough of American bluster, particularly when we no longer have the financial wherewithal or popular support to back it up.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama and Maj. Gen. Daniel Wright (r) salute the remains of army sgt. dale r. griffin of terre haute, ind. during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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. 

Betting Long on the Island

In a world of shrinking newsrooms, Long Island has so far managed to remain a haven for journalism and educated opinion spanning a breadth of perspective.

I’m privileged to serve Leadership Huntington, a local nonprofit serving those open to learning about and getting involved in our town. One cornerstone is an intimate 9-month community leadership program that explores the Town’s history, government, businesses and nonprofits.  We explore issues, build relationships, and find we are not alone. What happens in Leadership stays in Leadership, but you can bet that at some point someone will assert that we live on Long Island, pay its taxes and endure its challenges because Long Island is the best place to live. Debates ensue and I wonder – Is it? Is this fish of an island feeding on the Eastern Seaboard really “all that”?

I think so, mostly because it’s my fish with four generations of family, all they’ve built that can’t be moved, and scores of relationships built over lifetimes…and I do like the food. Where else are corporate franchises so pressed to compete with high quality, reasonably priced local fare? Oh, and Dairy Barn — I’m not the biggest drive-through fan. I favor a world where people get off their rears periodically, but I do love Dairy Barn…

Long Island is a pretty place with sandy beaches and beautiful trees, but it’s hard to find open space among the people. Too many trees have given way to greedy sprawl. It’s hardly the only place with good cooking and historic towns. Much as I love my people, I could just visit. I have plenty of far-flung friends inviting me to be their much more affordably-placed neighbor. When I left for five years, there really was one thing I missed…

Local Media.

I’m from New York, land where the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are just a few resident heavyweights. You can get them anywhere, though, and they’re globally relevant. However, I never realized how valuable Newsday and News 12 were until I lived where local reports were scarce. Worse, they were neither substantive enough to have weight nor local enough to matter, at least not by standards I took for granted. I missed the incredible resource Long Island has in diverse platforms for local voices. There are many quality publications. Here are my favorites:

The Long Island Press is everywhere. Its sticker price belies its content.  I’m the kind who reads Rolling Stone for its in-depth reporting, and I LOVE that I can pick up a local parallel for free and find hardcore, follow-the-money journalism, with an edgy intelligence that’s doesn’t kowtow to a PC, ADHD world, but speaks frankly and maintains a daring willingness to say what it sees….the best, the worst, and all manner of mediocrity.

Then there’s the Long Island Business News, which I find more sincere and filled with facts I can use than the Wall Street Journal. Even their advertising can be newsworthy and there’s real interest in highlighting those trying to make a dent, and helping the rest of us simply trying to make a living. I may be alone in getting a rush when I receive my annual Book of Lists, but I’ve seen enough wonks maintain boxes of papers for reference to think not. I’ve also spent enough time squished into spacious venues to know I’m not alone in jostling to connect and be inspired at their celebrations highlighting the region’s greatest hopes and most profound legacy-leavers.

Closer to home (Syosset’s my address, Huntington’s my home), I relish the Long Islander.  Founded in 1838 by the great poet and newspaperman Walt Whitman, it offers a depth and breadth to Huntington that some states would be lucky to have. Some criticize staffers for being too involved. I understand this concern, generally, but this is very local. I’m glad they’re transparent about being part of the community they’ve haunted for nearly two centuries. It seems to inform rather than skew reporting. They’re more balanced than others who don’t acknowledge local interests, and cover what they find important rather than immediately popular. Staffers do seem encouraged to make a difference on their own time. They’re good neighbors who take their responsibility to their community seriously.

Then there’s the Corridor, whose nexus is Route 110. Here, honesty in influence reaches a whole new level. It’s not advertorials they’re selling, exactly, but they tell you precisely who the top sponsor is by making that the cover story. All original, all the time, the Corridor illustrates people behind the machines.  Beyond paying sponsors essential to the business model, the passion is for giving a lift to new entrepreneurs, BIG ideas, and exploring opportunities, potential pitfalls and newsworthy events. The potential is enormous.

In a world of shrinking newsrooms and vanishing rags; where you read articles in sixteen publications that have copied each other word for word, Long Island has so far managed to remain a haven for journalism and educated opinion spanning a breadth of perspective. This is not easy – intelligence doesn’t come cheap even if you can get writers to give their best for free, and that just doesn’t seem right if we can avoid it. I’m proud to budget my subscriptions, duly note the advertisers, and contribute whatever I can to keep the presses – and their reporters — running. After all, they not only enlighten debates on whether this Island is worth the challenges, they help us see how we might address them. They’re also one of the main reasons I love this place.

Women’s Intuition

When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them.

On the 18thday of the Occupy encampment at Zuccotti Park, I paused to photograph a curious scene. An older man with a tight gray beard was leading an unlikely group in an acoustic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” People of every age and background, from a family with young children to a construction worker, had gathered on the steps leading to the area of the park known as “The People’s Library” to join in song. The only giveaway that I hadn’t accidentally stumbled through a wrinkle in time and landed sometime in the 1960s was that nearly everyone was recording the moment with a camera phone.Midway through the song, our musical guide abruptly stopped the music to address the ragtag bunch before him. “Why are there no women in this song?” he pondered aloud, with his guitar dangling from its strap and his arms spread wide. “Because men are responsible for screwing it up.” Before continuing with the song he proclaimed, “Let’s hope there are more women in power so we can have more humane decisions.”This scene was only one of several captivating pockets of Zuccotti Park, and my attention was soon drawn elsewhere. Weeks later when reading a piece about celebrity influence in the Occupy movement, I noticed a picture similar to the one I had captured on the steps that day. As it turns out, the gentleman serenading the group was Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary fame. Two things immediately occurred to me. The first was that Yarrow questioning Bob Dylan was beyond rhetorical, as he probably could have asked him directly.  (Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it was Peter Paul and Mary who first recorded it.)

The second thing that came to mind was that my friend and former editor-in-chief of the Press, Robbie Woliver, would be gravely disappointed in me for not recognizing Peter Yarrow and grasping the significance of the moment; a realization that was made clearer to me in researching the origins of the song. As it turns out, the first public performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind”—it would become one of the seminal anthems of the ’60s protest movement—was at Gerde’s Folk City in 1962. Robbie and his wife, Marilyn Lash, co-owned Folk City for several years in the 1980s.

Yarrow’s timely reappearance at Occupy Wall Street underscores the similarity between the anti-establishment, anti-corruption sentiment of the 1960s and today. Further, his comments regarding the negative male influence in world affairs are perfectly in context with the situation on Wall Street. When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them. Sure, there are stand-outs such as Wendy Gramm, but even in her case it can be argued that her depravity pales next to that of her husband. As the saying goes: Behind every terrible woman is an asshole. (Or something to that effect.)

History is replete with examples of men behaving badly to the detriment of civilization. Citing women as the reason for some of our bigger peccadilloes—Helen of Troy causing the Trojan War, Eve getting us all kicked out of the Garden, yada yada—is a favorite device of the male historian. Leading up to and during the financial meltdown, omniscient wizards such as Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin eschewed the warnings of women like Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 to 1999, and continued their blitzkrieg of destruction. These guys keep breeding more insufferable free market ideologues like Tim Geithner, who fought Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011, who railed against the concept of “Too Big to Fail.” To the free market jerkoffs like Greenspan and Geithner, Born and Bair were considered “difficult.” That’s man-speak for “tough.” Creative wordplay like this is how we men diminish effective women; better to be a bastard than a bitch in the worlds of high finance and government.

The most notable among all of these “difficult bitches” today is the earnest and brilliant Elizabeth Warren, who is running for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat in Massachusetts against fluke incumbent Scott Brown. The funny thing about that race is that for Warren, this seat is actually a consolation prize from President Barack Obama. After leading the fight to create and organize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was the presumptive nominee to head the agency upon its formation. Shockingly, however, the POTUS buckled under pressure from Senate Republicans, who threatened to block a Warren appointment, and instead he installed the even more hardcore and controversial Richard Cordray to the position under a recess appointment.

While I might not be able to spot one of the world’s most famous folk singers even when he’s performing one of his biggest hits in front of a crowd at a demonstration (it’s even worse when put that way, isn’t it?) I do have a keen sense of irony and a dark sense of humor. It’s why I can appreciate that while my gender has driven the world’s economy in the ground, they did so in pursuit of an ideology set forth by a woman. Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is doubled over with laughter watching obsequious and dim-witted men like Alan Greenspan trip over themselves in an attempt to become the Howard Roark of finance or John Galt incarnate. Ayn Rand is the Helen of Troy of the economy, the Eve of financial catastrophe, the…

(Did ya see what I did there?)