“They Can Never Kill Enough or Steal Enough…”

April 18, 2013

Take Doc Holliday’s (as played by Val Kilmer) insightful line about nemesis Johnny Ringo from Tombstone (1993), and it should also reveal something about our fellow crazy and/or well-off Americans as well. We could easily substitute “Congress,” “Conservatives,” “Corporations,” “The top 1%,” “Republicans,” and “Centrists Democrats” at the beginning of “…got a great empty hole right through the middle of them. They can never kill enough or steal enough or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.” For some, they really do want “revenge” for “bein’ born.” Especially in light of the votes against even a watered-down and nearly useless version of gun regulation through background checks in the Senate yesterday, or the fool(s) responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday.

So many sad and narcissistic people in this country — they could literally take my breath away. And with their denial of climate change, that could very well happen, and right soon, too.


Why Obama Is Only A Failed Centrist President

January 7, 2013

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I don’t say what I have to say about President Barack Obama lightly. But in light of the recent “fiscal cliff deal”  and the negotiations process that preceded it, I’ve now become convinced that Obama will be seen as a pretty good president. Period. Obama hasn’t been a unique president, despite his race or relatively humble beginnings. Obama is hardly a great president, either. Nor will Obama be a transformational president. If anything, Obama falls right in line with every American president since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

The fact is, Obama is a centrist president, beholden to the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, Wall Street and corporate interests, just like Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 before him. That Obama is Black and intellectual in his approach matters little in terms of actual policies or in the path that he and his administration have taken toward incremental policies and half-baked compromises. Based on some of Obama’s policies, I could even make the argument that the President is a borderline neo-conservative, although I don’t think you can generalize this argument to every policy.

This has been an argument I’ve made in my US History courses over the past couple of years. When I’ve raised the idea that Nixon was a liberal Republican, that President Bill Clinton was a neo-con (see the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and TANF welfare reform in 1996 as but two examples), and that Obama is hardly a liberal at all, my students have collectively gasped. How dare I say that Nixon was more liberal than Clinton, that Obama is somewhere between a centrist and a neo-con!

But then I’ve worked with them through discussion to talk about the major domestic and foreign policy agendas of the past seven presidents in comparison to our current president. On so many issues, from the US relationship with Israel to the War on Drugs, from welfare reform to financial deregulation, from a re-escalation of the Vietnam War to the surge in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a nanometer of space of difference in executive branch decision-making. Whether the people in these positions of power have been Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, or Obama and Hillary Clinton.

So I’ve had my students work through parts of Obama’s agenda. The surge and gradual drawing down of US military forces in Afghanistan, in which part of their role is nation-building. “How is that any different from Bush 43?,” I’ve asked. The historic Affordable Care Act, a so-called universal health care bill that fails to cover 20 million Americans and works through complex networks of government subsidies and private insurers, a neo-con plan that failed as an alternative to single-payer under Clinton in 1994. “How is this really a liberal or progressive idea?,” I’ve asked. The continuing War on Drugs, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the highest rates of deportation of undocumented immigrants ever. “But yeah, Obama’s a liberal!,” I’ve said sarcastically in concluding this discussion with my students.

Some folks, like the reformed neo-con Bruce Bartlett, have compared the Democratic Party of recent years to the liberal Republicans of yesteryear. Bartlett, though, has stopped short of calling Democrats centrist neo-cons, which is in fact a much more apt description. Bartlett also stopped short in time, as he argued that the tipping point for the Democratic Party’s movement from left-of-center to right-of-center began with President Clinton in the 1990s. But that’s incorrect. The tipping point began when the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition of labor unions and blue-collar Whites, Southern whites, Catholics and Blacks fell apart as part of a backlash against President Lyndon Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty in the late-1960s.

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the  Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Most Americans, though, don’t have the knowledge or luxury of taking a long view of history and their lives in attempting to put Obama in context. The media’s constant coverage of every trumped-up, imagined or real crisis hardly helps matters, either. They assume on behalf of the public the idea that there are two equal and opposite sides to every issue and every argument, which means most journalists failed geometry in high school. As a result, most Americans believe that Obama’s a liberal because the media consistently makes the false claim that all Democrats are liberals and that a Black guy with a Harvard law degree who used to be a community organizer must be a liberal.

How is a budget cutting agenda that puts Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare on the table as entitlements (and not a paid-for weak social safety net) a liberal idea or policy agenda? How is coming out reluctantly in favor of gay marriage some great progressive stance, comparable to President Kennedy’s speech in favor of civil rights in 1963? How is consistently giving into oligarchic conservatives by pushing hard for a meager tax increase on the most privileged members of our nation — the people who benefited the most from 40 years of policies that have greatly increased the gap between rich and poor — part of a liberal strategy? It isn’t and they aren’t.

Obama being three steps to Congress’ left on gay marriage and a tax increase is an incredibly weak counterargument to the fact that he’s a centrist. And a failed one at that, as his centrism has been based on garnering bipartisan support of weak legislation in terms of socioeconomic appropriations and strong legislation in terms of defense and Big Brother-esque laws. Obama has pushed climate change, long-term unemployment and underemployment, social mobility and real education reform either off his presidential agenda or into the hands of the private sector.

Thank you, but no, Obama’s a centrist, not a liberal. If you want to see a liberal policymaker in action, the nearest place to go these days is Ottawa, not Washington.


“Dr. K All the Way…” & Other Fall Classics

September 28, 2011

Dwight Gooden, aka, "Dr. K," Shea Stadium, 1986. (Source/http://itsonbroadway.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/dwight-gooden-aka-dr-k/).

While the country waits to see whether Congress and the President will find a way to entertain us with political gridlock and endless compromises and capitulation, I realized this week that I have a twenty-fifth anniversary this month. It’s been a bit more than a quarter century since my New York Mets won the NL East division title (their first since ’73), one more brick in their World Series wall that year.

Those not-so-Amazing Mets were a juggernaut that year, having won 108 games and run away with the division lead by the end of June. Gooden was Dr. K., and, along with Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, and Jesse Orozco, led the pitching staff. While Darryl Strawberry was the straw that stirred the drink on offense, along with Lenny Dykstra, Gary Carter, Howard Jones and Keith Hernandez. God, I really loved that team!

Darryl Strawberry home run, Shea Stadium, July 2, 1988. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan).

I really did. I imbued the Mets with all of my hopes and dreams, and saw their wins as a way to see myself as a winner. And whenever they lost a game or a series, I saw myself as having lost as well. I was aware of all of this on some level, that making my life circumstances a parallel story to that of a major league baseball team was, well, a bit childish.

But given my life since the age of eleven, I needed that outlet, that room to be a child, if only for two or three hours a day. In between watching my four younger siblings, washing clothes at the laundromat in Pelham, dealing with my alcohol father and my idiot stepfather, running back and forth to the store, applying to colleges, and facing the hell that was my senior year at Mount Vernon High School. Especially with three AP courses, a touch of senioritis, and a number of classmates at each other’s throats. Including my own.

As the season took forever to wind down (the Mets clinched the NL East division on September 17, more than two weeks before the end of the season), the pre-WFAN station for the Mets (WHN-AM, a country oldies station until the 24-hour group took it over in ’87 and renamed it WFAN) started playing their World Series-or-bust promo, “Dr. K All the Way! — Let’s Go Mets!” So silly, so goofy, so geared toward long-suffering Mets fans. “Is that the best you can do?,” I thought every time I heard the ten-second spot. Apparently it was, and it didn’t matter either way, because fans are usually too fanatic to sweat the goofy stuff.

I became even more involved in rooting for my team as they moved into the playoffs. I’d listen to games in class, between classes, even in between questions, it seemed, in my AP Physics class. To say the least, my grades suffered, and more than a few of my non-Mets-fan classmates berated me in the process. But how could I explain to them the psychic bond I felt to this team? A feeling that somehow, if they, the downtrodden Mets, could pull off the ultimate victory and win a World Series, that I, a nobody, could make my life a victorious one as well. My more affluent and too-busy-being-cool classmates wouldn’t have understood that. As it was, I barely understood it myself.

Fast-forward twenty-five years. I’m no longer a baseball fan, and have no intent to fall back in love with a game I find boring, and with an institution that represents culture and race in America that is so pre-Civil Rights Movement and twentieth century. Most of my Mets still have their rings, even if key players on that team have been or are in prison, recovering drug addicts, and have made and lost hundreds of millions of dollars speculating in the snuff and stock markets (see Lenny Dykstra ’09 HBO Real Sports interview excerpt via The Young Turks).

But I still have that child-like sense of hope and yearning. I just don’t place it in anonymous others anymore. I haven’t lived or died with a team since my Knicks came within a missed 3-pointer by John Starks of winning the ’94 NBA Finals in Game Six. But I do place it in myself, because between God and me, and the others I’ve met and befriended in my life, I’ve been able to move mountains.

Which is why it does and doesn’t matter if the job stimulus passes in whole, in part or even not at all. I need to take that same optimism, that same hope, convert it to more hard work, and find a way to infuse it in my son, so that he can run the race, even if and when I can’t. In the process, I hope he find heroes he can look up to in the fall, even if they are fleeting ones.


The Ultimate Satan Sandwich

August 3, 2011

Titan in natural color, Cassini spacecraft, April 16, 2005. (Source/http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06230) - In public domain.

With the passage of the debt ceiling/budget cuts deal that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) called a “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich” on Monday, it became clear that conservative politicians are only patriotic when they can make money off of misery. We know that the conservative/reactionary/Tea Party agenda is to ensure that the legacy of the New Deal and liberal America is as charred as the dinosaurs were 65 million years ago. And with it, our futures and the future of kids like my eight-year-old son.

But how will we get to a future with no future, you ask? How will this capitulation — oops, I mean compromise — between President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lead us into the event horizon of a black hole? It will be because the reactionary Republicans and the diffident Democrats will make one big effort to save the US and world economy, to create jobs and wealth. All while breaking treaties, threatening world peace and destroying the environment in the process.

Forget about “drill, baby, drill” and the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) issue. Think bigger. Think fictitiously big. Think Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. It’s not only the second largest moon in the solar system (after Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede), and double the size of Earth’s moon. It’s the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere, about ten times as dense as our own. It also has a huge reservoir of organic molecules and hydrocarbons in its atmosphere, and liquid methane and ethane all over its surface, at least as verified via the Cassini spacecraft and its unmanned fly-bys since 2004. Some scientists believe that there’s enough liquid methane and other hydrocarbons under and on the surface and in the atmosphere to power the current world economy for the next fifty million years.

Land of liquid methane lakes, as radar mapped with false color mosaic, North Polar Region, Titan, October 11, 2007. (Source/ http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/?IDNumber=PIA10008) - In public domain.

Because many of our fearless conservative leaders don’t believe in global warming/climate change — but do believe in making money — they would see the recent discovery of the stuff on Titan not as a place to explore the possibility of life. Instead, it would be a grand opportunity to solve the world’s energy crisis. Of course, they’d have to admit that there is such a thing as peak oil, and then have ample evidence that the world has reached peak production to boot.

So, say it’s 2014, and everyone from OPEC to the UN to Exxon Mobil has reported that we’ve reached the outer edge of peak oil. If the neo-con/Tea Party types are still in control of the House of Representatives, or worse, in control of the Senate and the White House, there wouldn’t even be a debate. They’d put together a bill to push through a $100 billion package for NASA to work with Exxon Mobil, Shell and Halliburton in sending a team of scientists, petrochemical engineers and drillers to figure out how to pump Titan’s frigid air and hydrocarbon lakes into massive tanks to return to Earth for our consumption. The companies would have to match the $100 billion package dollar for dollar, which they would do, of course.

If Obama’s in his second term with a divided government, though there would be more protests from environmental groups, climatologists, and grassroots organizations than even with a President Mitt Romney, it wouldn’t matter. With the promise of as many as five million new jobs in three years, and 150,000 jobs to support the Titan “Oil” Pumping mission within the first six months, the majority of anxious Americans would endorse this plan.

Obama would talk about “honoring America’s commitments” to space as exploration. He’d complain about the need to protect the Earth from even more disastrous and accelerated climate change, not to mention the wasting of financial and scientific resources that could leave Titan a moon-sized example of an EPA Superfund site if the mission somehow set the moon’s atmosphere on fire. Obama would even bring up green alternatives for using the Sun and solar system to supply the world’s energy needs. Then he’d fold like a warped desk of cards.

This would violate the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United States, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in 1967, and by half of the countries of the world in the forty-four years since. Not only are we not suppose to have nuclear weapons in space, the more immediate intent of the treaty, but we’re also prohibited from claiming any part of outer space as an individual nation, as they are the “common heritage of mankind.” The act to drain Titan as a petrochemical resource unilaterally would break the treaty, and leave other space-faring nations into a new and potentially dangerous space race.

So, whether Obama or a semi-fictitious Republican president, the world would compromise with the US government, allowing this cockamamie scheme to move forward without the threat of war if they could receive a twenty-five percent share in whatever hydrocarbons are recovered from Titan. In exchange, a new treaty is signed promising a thirty percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2040, made up for by a twenty percent increase in green energy over the same quarter-century.

McDonald's McGriddle breakfast sandwich, the ultimate Satan sandwich, at 420 calories, September 27, 2006. (Source/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/u-suke/253343509/Yusuke Kawasaki). In public domain under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

All a great idea. The ultimate Satan sandwich, because if such a mission to Titan succeeds, the new Kyoto Accords wouldn’t mean a damn thing. We’ll be burning methane until we all have to buy oxygen tanks in order to breathe.

Though this is a fictitious scenario, it’s based on a reality that has been unfolding in our country for decades. The unfortunate truth is, between the lustful servants of money and corporations and capitulating national leadership, this Satan-sandwich-story is more of a possibility than us seeing a human being walk on Mars. At least in my lifetime.


For the Love of a Lockout & an Impasse

July 30, 2011

DeMaurice Smith watches as Colts player Jeff Saturday gives Patriots owner Bob Kraft a much-needed hug, July 25, 2011. (Source/NESN).

For the past few weeks, we’ve watched an NFL lockout and the political theater of a debt ceiling impasse play out in Washington, DC. Both have captured so much of the media’s attention that when an explosion occurred in Oslo, Norway on July 22, it initially ran as a ticker report on MSNBC and CNN (thank God for the BBC, then). It’s been Goodell v. Smith, POTUS v Boehner for most of May, June and July.

At least until Monday afternoon. When the decertified NFLPA unanimously agreed to continue the practice of compromising away their collective bargaining power to create significantly better employment conditions and even better pay for all of its players in order to make some money now for a chosen few. But none of that mattered. Everyone was giddy over the start of “real football” again. With wall-to-wall coverage on every cable sports channel, as well as not-so-insignificant attention on cable news. Players were hugging owners. And there were reports of a Washington Redskins trainer jumping into the arms of an ESPN 980 beat reporter on Tuesday after their facilities opened. Our long, 133-day national nightmare was over.

Well, not really. Not with the US Government three days away from defaulting on $14.3 trillion in debt

Boehner, Pelosi and President Obama in same room, The White House, December 9, 2009. (Source/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

because Rep. John Boehner — another cheap Cincinnati-area, rich White guy — wants a balanced budget amendment and cuts to what remains of our New Deal and Great Society era social safety net.

For many, it appears that President Obama is all but ready to give him many of these cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Provided that there isn’t a balanced budget amendment component in the plan. Even the idea of raising taxes on those who’ve robbed our nation blind and want to keep their riches has been given short shrift by Congress and by our news media.

What makes this situation as shitty as it sounds is the fact that this argument is occurring in what is officially a double-dip Great Recession and the most sluggish recovery in the US since the 1930s. Republicans think they’ve figured out a way to corner the President and the Democrats while simultaneously holding up principles they never had during the ’80s and the ’00s. President Obama’s been stomping around like he has an ace up his sleeve, but refuses to clue the public in on what he plans to do by August 2 if his repeated attempts at so-called bipartisanship fall apart with our struggling economy.

This is a serious situation, and it does have parallels with the NFL lockout. In both cases, billionaires have leadership in their pockets to keep the masses from getting a nanometer of what they need and want. In the case of most NFL players, who get pounded over and over again for a median salary of $325,000 a year, better pay, much better working and safety conditions, and better collective bargaining conditions. In the case of most Americans, some sense of economic stability, government responsibility and affluent Americans and greedy corporations paying their fair share in taxes.

But this is where the similarities end. The fact is, many an American tuned out the stalemate on Capitol Hill the moment Rich Eisen asked, “Are you ready for football?” Monday afternoon on the NFL Network. I mean, who cares that social welfare in this country, fairly meager to begin with, will be slashed severely? While the military-industrial complex and the Pentagon get a budget level that’s higher than over ninety percent of the economies in the world? Who cares that if the federal government doesn’t pay its bill, millions will be out of work, and the unemployment and other monies we all receive will be worth less, and could become worthless?

Herd of sheep, July 30, 2011. (Source/zerohedge.com)

None of that’s important in our world of idiot, imperialistic, and secretly greedy Americans. “Give me football, give me football!,” is our cry. Let’s complain about Kevin Kolb’s contract with the Arizona Cardinals, and not Boehner’s contract on America. Let’s decry a standoff between billionaires v. hundred-thousand-aires. But remain as silent as tranquilized sheep while Congress and the President take our futures into the event horizon of a black hole. Is the mantra of it only takes hard work to become rich in America so strong that people who aren’t don’t know when the shepherd’s about to slit their throats? Yeah, I think so.


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