Monday, December 08, 2008

The Tower is On Hiatus

Greetings, Tower Visitors:

There's so much to think and write and talk about: the presidential transition, the attacks in Mumbai, the audacity of U.S. automakers, the plight of millions of Americans as the now-official recession gathers speed with each new day, the holiday season & how we should perhaps be viewing it differently this year, etc., etc., and so forth.

All this and more have been much on my mind, but I've been unable to post, because I'm having eye trouble. No major disease. it's something called Dry Eye, which isn't serious as eye ailments go, but it's very irritating and debilitating. The symptoms are blurred vision, hyper-sensitivity to light, a burning sensation & tearing up, and feeling as if a piece of grit or something is in my eyes. I walk around, both indoors and outside, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, because of the light. I can't watch much TV, reading & writing online is extremely difficult, and reading a book, unless it's in large print, is virtually impossible.

Two docs have said the treatment is liberal use of artificial tears, which sounds more like a metaphor for something than eye-drops, but there you go. I'm hoping this will clear up soon, because I miss functioning normally and I very much miss holding forth here in the Tower.

So, until I resolve this problem, I'm taking a blogging break. Wishing you all a happy, healthy, holiday and a joyous, hopeful New Year. See you as soon as possible.

Warm regards,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life, Death and Time

This post is a day late; my apologies.

I know I’m not alone in always thinking about JFK’s assassination every time the calendar hits November 22nd. Just looking at a picture of Jackie Kennedy in that little pink suit brings all the horror and drama and significance of that incredible weekend rushing back to mind. It was a terrible, seminal, and in some ways magnificent moment. Among other things, it killed a dream, ended the openness and access that both the public and the media used to have to public figures, and it made television the unifying social force it is today.

But for most people under 50, the death of JFK is just dusty history, as distant and removed and unfamiliar as the assassination of Czar Nicholas, and just one more thing we tiresome Baby Boomers cling to, like Woodstock and Kent State. Just another day on the calendar; just another date in the history books.

The passage and perception of time, and the understanding of events in their context, are so interesting, as well as mutable and enormously subjective. When I was studying Spiritualism and psychic development, I had a brilliant teacher who often said that time is completely fluid: the present is in constant flux, the future is always changing shape, “and the past is always changing, too,” she used to say, “but don’t tell that to people; it makes them anxious.”

Indeed, the changing past is our constant, disturbing companion, rendered invisible by ignorance and often distorted by malicious intent – invisible, as in: knowing nothing about everything that’s ever happened anywhere, so far as many young Americans are concerned, the ones who giggle as they struggle to name the first US president, but can’t; distorted, as in: those who would have you believe that the WWII Holocaust never happened – and wwii is an audio device. If you live long enough, you could die of despair.

Not to mention the weight of Life’s Big Issues as they impose themselves on the minutia of daily life, sometimes with the suddenness of an out-of-control car barreling onto a sidewalk, sometimes with low-key style, like a gracious best-selling author at a book store signing event, lending an air of wisdom and distinction to otherwise awkward chatter and anonymous autographs.

The latter style presented itself on Wednesday, when a couple of dear friends had their second child, a little girl who was scheduled to be born at noon via cesarean birth; talk about malleable time. The former style was the order of the day on Thursday, when I officiated at a memorial service for a talented young composer who died most unexpectedly the previous week, the close friend of another dear couple I know. Talk about “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (If you don’t know who said that, Google it…!) At their request, I said sage and comforting things without mentioning God or quoting from any kind of scripture – which was fine with me, since God can be of great solace to some folks at times like that, but to others, religion is just an irrelevant pain in the ass, and I totally get it.

On Friday, minutia held sway as I slept as much as possible. Then I awoke in time to contemplate Life and Death while making a chicken casserole for my friend and neighbor of more than 30 years. She’s 94, and we’ve been having dinner together almost every night since last March, because otherwise she wouldn’t bother to eat. She has senile dementia: not as devastating as Alzheimer’s, but very much the same kind of mind/time-fuck for the person who has it and can’t remember much of anything from moment to moment, and, very disconcerting for the people around her, who fear they see their own disintegrating brain and vulnerable future reflected in her frightened eyes.

Then this morning, after CNN left me breathless and nervous about all of the day’s life-and-death current events, I kept myself company while washing the dishes with the 1965 film, Go, Monster, Go, the kind of movie they used to use to great comedic effect on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I won’t bother to explain why, just suffice it to say there was a scene with a bunch of teenagers dancing to rock music. Back in actual 1965, movie scenes like this used to make me nuts, because the terrible made-for-the-movie music they used bore no relation whatsoever to the real music of the day; neither did their klutzy dancing or silly outfits. I used to complain to friends: “In 50 years, people will think this is what the 60s really looked and sounded like!”

Which, of course, they do. Just like people today think the 50s (an era of repression, boredom, and clunky style) was actually like an episode of Happy Days and filled with what interior designers now call mid-century chic. Go figure.

Word of warning: If you didn’t live through it, don’t automatically trust what history tells you about it. And if you did, don’t automatically trust what’s left of your memory. Keep a journal, and remember: time marches forward, backward, and all around you. In truth, we really never know what the hell is going on.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Still Less Perfect Union

Although I’ve been basking in the warmth of Barak Obama’s victory last week, that great milestone is tainted for me by the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which reversed that state’s legalization of gay marriage. And, at the end of last week, watching Charlie Rose’s interview with Kay Ryan, the new U.S. Poet Laureate named in July, really drove home my disappointment.

Ms. Ryan isn’t the first lesbian to be named Poet Laureate, but she is the first openly gay woman to be so honored. Ryan and her partner of 30+ years, Carol Adair, pictured here (left to right) during their wedding ceremony at San Francisco’s City Hall in 2004, are both professors at Marin College and, by all accounts, live a fairly idyllic Gertrude & Alice existence in the city by the bay.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I wrote quite a lot of poetry (much of it pretty good, if I say so myself) and entertained conflicting fantasies of being A Famous Singer and (more sensibly, more realistically, I thought) A Great Poet, just like Gertrude Stein, and also like her, with a loyal, loving Alice B. Toklas-type by my side. As it turned out, I didn’t become a great or famous anything and, being sexually ambivalent (along with being ambivalent about everything else), I never did find my Alice, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Stein and Toklas have always been very romantic figures to me. I’ve read Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas several times; ditto for James R. Mellow’s great biography, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company. My best friend since high school, the artist Charles Chamot, and I, saw ourselves as very Stein and Picasso-like figures and for years planned a trip to Paris together to pay homage at 27 Rue de Fleurus, Stein and Toklas’ apartment and the site of their famous art soirees (imagine living with walls and walls of original Impressionist paintings by all the up-and-coming artists of that influential movement!).

Because of my own mixed emotions, my admiration of Stein and Toklas, and the fact that I’ve always had close gay friends (both women and men), I’ve always regarded gay love as just as normal as straight love – which, by the way, it is. I’ve always viewed gay rights as a civil rights issue, and am proud to say that I played a meaningful role in the early years of gay rights activism. And in my capacity as an Interfaith minister, I’ve performed only three weddings: one straight, two gay.

Forty years after Stonewall, the battle for gay rights is still being fought on many essential fronts. While there is certainly greater openness and acceptance than back in the day, the passage of Proposition 8 confirms that there is still a lot of resistance out there. Obviously, there are many straight people who dislike and distrust homosexuality. The still-oft-raised objection to gay people raising children continues to be based on the mistaken idea that gay people are child molesters; statistics have long shown that child predators are generally straight. And these people who talk about The Sanctity of Marriage at a time when the divorce rate is at 50% and marital infidelity is a national sport (have you seen those horrible TV commercials for, the adultery-dating Web site?), simply refuse to accept the idea that gay love is the moral equal to their own.

Barack Obama was not elected president because racism is over, but in spite of the fact that racism is still very much a part of lopsided American life. Proposition 8 didn’t pass because gays are immoral and undeserving of the legal protection and recognition of marriage, but because sexual fear, hate, ignorance and intolerance are alive and well. Ultimately, Kay Ryan and Carol Adair remind me as much of the many long-term, often lifelong, gay couples I’ve known for decades as they remind me of Gertrude & Alice, who were always recognized as a couple but "discreetly" never said a word about it – and indeed, became ex-patriots in Paris because living openly in America was impossible. Until all love is viewed as legitimate and nothing less, and all prejudice and discrimination become a thing of the past, we will remain an imperfect union no matter who is at the helm.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008








Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

In Conclusion

I can hardly believe that The Campaign Without End will (hopefully) end tomorrow, and I believe it will be a happy ending and we’ll have President Obama replacing President Unforgivable. However, having endured this entire campaign as a concerned and participatory citizen, there are a few things I’d like to say about the electoral process before I return my attention to other matters.

Despite the shortcomings, inequities and peculiarities of this campaign – and there were many – it was a blessing. It inspired America to think and talk about politics again, and brought many new and previously disenfranchised citizens into the political fold. It forced us as a nation to start talking about racism, sexism, and economic disparity, and it put our most pressing national concerns – the economy, education, the Iraq War, oil dependency, the environment, health care, and the Big Three entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) – squarely on the table. Issues such as civil and human rights, Constitutional protections, poverty, drugs, crime, and immigration, among them, got little or no direct attention, but hey, the campaign was only two years long, they couldn’t cover everything. The simple facts of Obama, Clinton, and even Palin, as major candidates, made history; we’ve turned a page and that’s a good thing. And of course, this campaign was the first to reflect the full power of the Internet as a major new medium, one that promoted enormous civic involvement by individuals and permitted the dissemination of much more information than ever before.

That said, it behooves us to acknowledge and discuss now, before we get lost in the happy haze of a new beginning, the problems of the campaign. It was ridiculously, exhaustingly, unproductively too long, and outrageously too expensive. The debates, from the primaries to the final matches in October, were awful; they weren’t debates at all, they were bad press conferences. The campaign also brought into shocking relief just how much politics is a team sport in this country, and to what extent party loyalty impedes truly bipartisan, cooperative governance. It also highlighted the simplistic, narrow vision that many Americans have about their country and themselves; if we keep thinking we’re The Greatest Country in the World, how can we improve and grow?

Media coverage, particularly on TV and in tabloid newspapers, should be roundly chastised for continuing to shape American politics as a horse race, a popularity contest, an opportunity for scandal, and for relentlessly focusing on irrelevant minutia. By the end of this week, they’ll already be discussing, in earnest, the 2012 presidential election, which is a huge public disservice (and should be punishable by death…). Since we as a culture are increasingly driven by information technology, we as a people must start to demand grown-up, nuanced, significant media coverage of all news, especially politics.

And with Election Day now just hours away, it’s time for us to fully consider the value of eliminating the electoral college so that every vote really does count, instead of millions of votes being rendered almost irrelevant, depending on what state one lives and votes in. We also must address the chaotic condition of the voting process, from convoluted registration procedures to dysfunctional voting equipment; The Greatest Country in the World shouldn’t have such a difficult time casting and counting electoral votes.

It is my heartfelt wish that before the next presidential election we can address the many problems just cited. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to true leadership and responsible, innovative and supportive public policy. We survived this campaign. We’ve earned it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lions & Tigers & Bears; Oh, My!




Here's hoping next Tuesday is a real treat!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


One of my dearest girlfriends is in the process of returning to her childhood roots of traditional Judaism and is becoming more conservative/orthodox in her religious beliefs and practices – and getting a lot of flack about it from her other friends. The lion’s share of their objection and surprise is based on their understanding of Jewish orthodoxy as misogynistic, and my friend is a smart, independent, professional woman, a liberal and a feminist who co-authored a seminal book about the history/dangers of illegal abortion in America, and for a living is a corporate trainer specializing in sensitivity workshops about racist and anti-woman behavior/ policies in the workplace. Her response is to explain that the charge of misogyny is incorrect, that, in fact, women are revered in the many forms of Orthodox Judaism, that they are regarded as the keepers of the spiritual flame and deeply respected as the stabilizing core of family life. (Those interested in learning more about modern orthodoxy may want to check out

As a Jew, an Interfaith minister, a feminist, a crone [wise-woman aged 56 or older], and a lifelong believer in calling a spade a spade, I find this all very interesting – especially considering the emergence of Sarah Palin, which has prompted a fierce debate among women about the meaning of feminism, preceded (for the last 30 years or so) by a return to more traditional forms of Judaism by the several generations that have come of age since the Baby Boomers.

Before I get into Jewish specifics, I want to say that for quite a long time, I’ve believed that 20th century feminism (from the early-century suffragists to the nouveau pioneers of the 1970s) has lost its footing in the 21st century; that in our legitimate effort to liberate/empower women and create opportunities outside the home, we have created a serious gap in the structure of modern family life, and in the dynamics of intimate relationships between women and men. I never would or could advocate a return to the bad-old-days, when a man’s home really was his castle, and women were given the life options of housewife/mother, nurse, teacher, secretary, or whore. But if feminism is to continue to grow and maintain a meaningful, positive impact on social change and interpersonal dynamics, we’re going to have to acknowledge – and address – the fact that the freedom and advancement of women has created new and different problems, chiefly a lack of cohesion in family life and outright hostility in men.

Traditional Judaism, from the conservative to the orthodox (and there are many forms of both) is rooted in family strength, guiding faith, study/erudition, service to one’s fellow man, and the power of ritual. This is not a bad recipe for a happy, meaningful life. But the trouble with maintaining ideas and practices that developed thousands of years ago is that they can be incongruous (if not downright unnecessary and undesirable) in modern times.

For example, it made sense for the Jewish culture that lived in the desert 5,000 years ago to use completely separate wooden and porous clay crockery for meat and dairy; there is no underlying hygienic necessity for classic kashroot today. Similarly, it was probably a good idea, back in the day, for a woman to take a cleansing bath at the end of her monthly menstrual cycle, and making a ritual out of it (the mikvah) didn’t do any harm. But today, when women bathe regularly before/during/after their periods, adhering to the idea that women are “unclean” during menstruation can reasonably be regarded as offensive.

The separation of women and men in many aspects of traditional Jewish practice – for example, in synagogue, in school, and at large social occasions like weddings – can understandably be perceived as segregation/ prejudice to the modern mind; the fact that this is done to prevent men from being “distracted” by the innate power and allure of women doesn’t make it any less so. Indeed, “protecting” men from the power of women – the same reason that women are shrouded in virtual tarps in many forms of Islam – seems like plain old lack of self-control and mature socialization on the part of men, in this day age. Even more important, the only real role for women in traditional Judaism is as wife, mother, and homemaker. Valuable to be sure, but, where are the options for women who don’t want to take on this role, or for gay women and men whose existence is not even acknowledged, let alone accepted?

I think it would be a good idea for people, Jewish and otherwise, female and male, who seek the comfort, familiarity and stability of traditional practices, to just say “This is what I want, it works for me,” rather than try to find contemporary explanations/justifications for ideas that are in fact out of sync with modern life. And I think it would be a good idea for society, secular and religious together, to acknowledge the inevitable disruptions that accompany radical social change and look for practical, equitable solutions. Meanwhile, people who choose religious orthodoxy should be left the hell alone by those who don’t – and very, very, vice versa.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I can’t say enough about how impor-tant it is for Amer-icans of all ethnic stripes to remem-ber that Barack Obama is bi-racial. Being bi-racial gives one a very different perspective about race in particular, and dealing with complexities, polarities and convergences, in general. I’m certain that this is part of what Gen. Colin Powell was referring to when he described Obama as a “transformational figure” in his endorsement of the senator today. Unfortunately, this is an intellectual idea and we are living in an era of wholesale ignorance and lack of intellectual curiosity. As a result, in all the recent media talk about The Role of Race in the Campaign, there has been little or no discussion about the unique nature of bi-racialism and its role in making Obama who and what he is.

I think this is because our historically racially polarized nation, for all its genuinely forward progress, is still hugely uncomfortable with (and disapproving of) the deeply intimate form of integration that it takes to produce a bi-racial child. There are a lot of people of all races who are not racist in a hateful or discriminatory way, but who are nonetheless opposed to mixed race procreation. I believe this view is often more about the longstanding desire to preserve one’s culture than it is some fascistic devotion to racial purity. In the main, for example, Jews believe in the importance of maintaining Judaism by rejecting the cultural dilution of religious inter-marriage.

It’s also important to remember that America’s history of our own brand of actual fascistic devotion to racial purity evolved from the economic demands of Slavery. Even though countless enslaved Africans were regularly making their tortuous way through the Middle Passage, it was essential that the slave stock be replenished without incurring the costs of new purchases, which is how the One-Drop Rule came about. “All it takes is one little drop of Niggra blood and you’re a, Niggra, too,” wails Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County as a Civil War-era southern belle who’s losing her mind, because she fears her Mammy is really her Mommy.

And so it goes. Slave owners automatically owned their slaves’ children. And since a considerable number of them were the products of unions between white men and slave women, the One-Drop Rule ensured that the herd would be increased, even if the kid looked white (like me) or very light (like Obama). Out of this was born the ranking of house slaves and field slaves, the former being light skinned (considered more attractive, civilized), the latter dark (those ugly beasts...); and from that came the self-hating hierarchy among slaves themselves that embraced the standard.

These distinctions are not unique to American racism; Apartheid South Africa expressed its version through the categories of blacks, whites, and coloreds, a laundry-based separation that regarded those of mixed race as a separate class, still inferior to whites but to a lesser degree than blacks. Indeed, it is their institutionally racist form of racial distinction that has contributed to our country’s rejection of bi-racial as a legitimate, personal, third category of racial identity, one that has the capacity to enormously enhance one’s ability to be a “uniter,” a transformational figure.

Bi-racial people have always been viewed as race traitors by both races, light enough to often have an easier racial time of it, even sometimes be able to “pass,” and just not-white-enough to be subject to the same laws and most of the same discriminations. Getting past all this confusing shit to a point of understanding, self-acceptance, and a sense of broadly racially inclusive self-identification, is a brain trainer all by itself. If it doesn’t make you crazy, it can make you exceptional.

Bi-racialism is really about racial transcendence, which is a huge part of why Barack Obama symbolizes the future, that day to come when most everyone will be mocha-colored and culturally united by their shared humanity, rather than separated by cultural distinctions which, for all their sentimental appeal, may be obstacles to social transformation. If he wins, Barack Obama will be labeled by history as the first African-American president. If he can lead (“can” in both the sense of permitted and capable) in a truly transformational way, he may emerge as something far more important – and very interesting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The New Right Stuff

Over the past couple of weeks, in observing the swirl of fright-ening current events and the next-to-final throes of The Campaign Without End, then watching last night’s third and last presidential debate, I’ve found myself reflecting on the nature of intelligence, character and experience, and what exactly it takes to make someone fit to lead. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are smart men. But which of them also has the vision, temperament, and natural talent for leadership that ideally one should have in order to be president?

Since the conventions, both men have had ample opportunity to show their stuff to the people, and they have. McCain has shown that he is old-fashioned and uncreative in his thinking, mean-spirited in his attitudes, loose with the truth, erratic in his behavior, and shockingly self-serving in his ambition as evidenced by his selection of the ignorant and wholly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate. In reassuring contrast, Obama has exhibited a clear understanding of 21st century realities, innovative ideas, graciousness, civility, straightforwardness, calm under pressure, and a willingness to properly balance personal ambition with a genuine desire for public service.

But even more important, Obama exhibits high levels of “emotional intelligence” and “cultural literacy.” Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, refreshingly introduced the notion that the qualities of social interaction and self-knowledge, including the ability to empathize, delay gratification, and interpret non-verbal social cues, were as essential to personal success as intellectual intelligence. E.D. Hirsch, in his captivating 1987 reference book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, provided the first volume in a string of revisions over the years that list the facts and ideas related to world history & geography, technology, science, language, the arts, religion, mythology and folklore that someone who regards himself as literate needs to know. One only needs to look at George W. Bush to recognize an essentially homicidal lack of emotional intelligence and cultural literacy. John McCain may not be George Bush - but he, too, lacks these important qualities. (Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is George Bush.)

When McCain talks about “winning” in Iraq, he shows a scary lack of understanding that today’s wars (and tomorrow’s) will not be waged and won in traditional military terms, that today’s enemies are not other nations so much as rogue leaders and cults with zealous determination and considerable technological and financial resources; we need smarts, self-control, diplomacy, and a little sophisticated covert operation to address these dangers. When McCain talks about “spreading the wealth” and “class warfare” in disparaging terms, he reveals a dangerous ignorance of the economic imbalances that threaten our national existence and security. When McCain talks about giving people the “choice” to get the health care they want without government interference, he ignores the fact that most people are trapped in HMOs and other profit-making health service structures that long ago robbed patients of meaningful choices and quality care. When McCain rails against taxes and “big government,” he shows a total lack of understanding of how people need to support a government that really and truly supports them. And when he goes into his anti-abortion spiel, well…

Barack Obama is a young man with young ideas. He understands new media. He connects with young adults. He is dedicated to discussion and diplomacy. He has a personal, spiritual foundation that doesn’t deny scientific fact or attempt to control people’s personal behavior. He believes in both personal responsibility and governmental protections. He understands cultures other than his own. He’s a feminist. He supports affordable, accessible education, public education. He’s not afraid to say “I don’t know” or to take counsel and advice from other smart people. He understands the difference between coming from love or fear, and knows that working from fear is dangerous, not insurance against danger. He’s got a cool head and a warm heart. And he’s got Joe Biden watching his back, instead of Annie Oakley. We need this guy and we need him bad.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Comfort of Leadership

On the news last night, Our President looked as grim and pained as if someone had just kicked him in the balls. He spoke to the country for the umpteenth time during this economic crisis and, as usual, essentially said nothing.

We desperately need a leader who can calm our fears and motivate our best behavior, someone who understands how to soothe and rally. FDR did that for America during the Depression with his renowned fireside chats and, of course, his legendary admonishem, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If Bush were a mensch as well as a real leader, he would say something like this:

“Listen to me, everybody. Things are bad and I know you’re afraid. But sit down, take a deep breath and focus. I apologize for anything I may have done to help bring us to this point. Before I go, I want to do whatever I can to help get us out of it. But I need your help and I need your trust, one last time. We can get out of this thing; we will get out of it, if we’re willing to express our patriotism as optimism and cooperation, and be both brave and generous in the face of what’s happening. It all depends on what each of us does and what we do together.

“To Wall Street I say: traders, counsel your clients, and, clients, keep a cool head. Stop driving the market into the ground and hold tight. Things will bounce back, they always do, but they’ll bounce back better and faster if we don’t let our fears create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stop the crazy sell-off. Show your faith in the companies you’re invested in and help them ride out this storm. Remember that the whole world is following our example of fear and urgently needs our example of courage. This is a chance to show how resilient and resolute and resourceful America can be.

“To the financial industry I say: stand up like grown-ups and admit you behaved irresponsibly – then show you mean it by supporting this country like good and true corporate citizens. Give businesses and individuals the loans they need. Work with the Treasury and the Fed to give folks a second and a third chance to get on their feet and handle realistic mortgages. Remember that money may be your stock-in-trade, but you’re dealing with real people and their real lives, their real homes, their real businesses. Do the real right thing.

“To employers I say: Hold on. Don’t lay people off if you possibly can – and redefine “possible” in a way that takes the greatest good into consideration. Remember that you are one link in a long chain that makes up the economy. And the old adage about the chain only being as strong as its weakest link has never been more true than it is right now. Do your part to be the strongest link you can be. Be loyal to your employees and they’ll be loyal to you.

“Everybody: stay true to your core values. Don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t run. Don’t give in to greed or anger or meanness, because those things are always the byproducts of fear. Nobody benefits from fear, and nobody ultimately benefits by only watching out for Number One. We are all Number One, one country, one people, and if we all put our best feet forward, we can create one great big recovery.”

Alas, I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Buyer's Remorse - Part I

With current events in America moving at warp speed, it’s difficult to absorb the fact that it was just last Friday (three days ago!) that Congress approved the Bail Out/Rescue bill that designates $700 billion in taxpayer funds for stop-gap investments in private investment banks and other investment companies. Today brought a new onslaught of information: Wall Street still has the “jitters” and dropped 370 points more, because they’re afraid the bail out we were told was the only way to avoid economic disaster may not work. And European and Asian markets tumbled as they contracted the fears of our markets like a virus.

Those with economic savvy are pointing out that the earlier bailout of Lehman Bros., plus the $700 billion just approved, plus an additional $200 billion that will in all likelihood be needed, will actually push us well over the $1 trillion mark faster than you can say “We’ll be paying for George W. Bush for generations to come.” Oh, and incidentally, not so you’d notice in the midst of this disaster, but Congress also gave $25 billion to the Big Three in Detroit last week to help shore up the flagging auto industry.

Before the big bailout became a fait accompli, I received an email with a copy of a letter/petition circulated by more than 100 economists campaigning against the measure and pleading for Congressional hearings and taking the time to review the situation and explore other options. Despite what the public was told, there were other options, and there still are. There is also growing consensus that the bailout cannot work, because it fails to address the root of the problem – the free-falling housing market.

There’s every reason to believe that this crisis was severely misunderstood, poorly and irresponsibly presented, and that the public was fear-mongered by Bush & Co. into thinking this boondoggle was necessary. A lot of folks didn’t buy into it and still don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because both the Senate and the Congress did. It was déjà vu all over again of Bush and his bullshit war campaign over the (actually non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction. Instead, the Weapon of Mass Destruction that has most endangered us is our outgoing president. What a surprise.

Everything about this situation is a scandal and a shame of massive proportions. It has been reported that the $700 billion alone could provide health insurance for every man, woman and child in America, and rebuild every crumbling road and bridge. And the next president will be hugely restrained by the wildly increased and already unconscionable national debt enlarged by this maneuver.

What gets me is that both presidential candidates went along with this. Here was a chance for McCain to really behave like a Republican and a maverick and demand that the runaway bailout train be stopped and searched before going any further. But he didn’t. Here was a chance for Obama to behave like a real Democrat and a transformational change agent and …demand that the runaway bailout train be stopped and searched before going any further. But he didn’t either. When the next election comes around, assuming we’re still a voting democracy in 2012, will candidates accuse the incumbent, and each other, of voting for the bail out that sunk us, just as Hillary Clinton was skewered for her initial vote to support Bush’s demand for the Iraq War? She thought she was supporting the commander-in-chief at a moment of crisis. What excuse will either of these men give for their complicity in this insanity?

I do believe Obama/Biden will win out against Sen. McVicious and Gov. Avon Lady. I just hope they’ll be able to do something positive for us all once they get there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of Prayer

Last night was both the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the eve of what would have been my late mother’s 85th birthday, so I lit a Yahrzeit [Jewish memorial] candle in honor of both and thought about the power of prayer.

We’re at an unfortunate spiritual crossroad in America right now, a conflict between believers and non-believers that, in my opinion, is based on a skewed notion that rational faith is an oxymoron. The hubris of Fundamentalist Christianity has come to define all of Christianity in the minds of non-Christians, and Fundamentalist Christianity combined with Islamic Extremism has come to define the idiocy and danger of all religion, especially when it runs sufficiently amok, in the minds of those who call themselves Rationalists.

Very ironically, the Rationalists have something important in common with traditional religionists (extreme and otherwise), in that they believe in the letter of their dogma, which will not concede a difference between spirituality and religion, or that a person can be very much a rational, thinking, even intellectual, person and still engage in some aspect of spirituality. I think that's a very limited perspective.

A religious person fully ascribes to the tenets, scripture and mythology of a particular religion, a person who, as the Rationalists say, believes in the all-powerful bearded man in the sky and stories like the one about the talking snake in the Garden of Eden. I grant that there are billions of people who take this approach to religion and that since the dawn of time it has wreaked havoc on the world. But there are also people who believe in the basic principles of a religion and even enjoy some of its trappings without buying into its fairy tales, who gain personal strength and comfort from their faith and feel no need whatsoever to claim that theirs is the one and only true faith, and damn (or kill, or both) anyone who disagrees. They may not comprise the religious majority, but they exist and they’re a very different ball of religious wax from the norm.

There are also people who aren’t attached to any religion in particular, but put faith in their sense that powers exist that are both different and greater than ourselves, that science cannot explain every mystery, that the world is more than the sum of its evolutionary parts, that life is energy and energy does not die it relocates, that the part of us that feels instead of thinks is what can be called a soul, that history has produced a few particularly remarkable individuals with the power to effect positive change by the quality of their example and these role models are worth honoring (not worshiping, honoring), that what some people call God is a descriptor for a combination of love, kindness, fairness, honesty, compassion and service. Nothing about these ideas is in conflict with rational thought.

Prayer indeed has power that works in several understandable ways. For one, it is a classic example of the placebo effect: if you believe it’s true, you make it true. Give a sick person a sugar pill that he believes is a wonder drug and his body may actually heal. What we don’t know about the power of the mind/body connection could fill an ocean. Second, to pray is to clearly direct concentrated thought and thought is energy, it’s a real thing that exists even though we can’t see it, just like electricity. Humankind has learned how to harness electricity, we’ve learned a lot less about how to control the power of our thoughts, but occasionally we register a blip on the screen nonetheless. So a bunch of people focusing their thoughts on the same thing at the same time can indeed create an energy shift that can be expressed in many ways. In this sense, prayer is a form of quantum physics. Lastly, prayer is an idea that comforts, it can lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, lessen fear, loosen muscles, measure breathing; prayer is a form of meditation.

To dismiss mysteries and unexplained phenomena is to reduce the complexities of life to the three-dimensional meat and potatoes of who-what-where-when, with mixed regard for how and little curiosity for why. That’s not rational, that’s pedestrian. Art and music and elegant language are spirit. The beautiful appearance and intricate machinations of nature are spirit. The non-verbal, unconditional love between people and their pets is spirit. Enthusiasm, optimism, contentment, gratitude are spirit. Service is spirit in action. I have faith in spirit.

And in that spirit, and in the name of the Mysteries of the Universe, I wish you a healthy, Happy New Year. May all your needs be met and some of your desires realized. Rest in peace, Mama.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Singin' the Bailout Blues

Every time I think we’ve reached the pinnacle of greed and bald-faced chicanery of the free market in action, a new instance comes along to show me that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Apparently, the Congressional plan to bailout Wall Street has at last been re-worked and is awaiting final votes from our elected leaders to make this unprecedented situation a nightmare reality.

True, no one knows how much of the $700 billion will actually be dispensed to banks and investment companies, and yes, there is a possibility that this rescue measure will actually reap profits for the government before it’s all over and, certainly, anyone who’s been following this confusing and unfathomable story for the last couple of weeks understands that something had to be done to stem the nation’s economic hemorrhage. But I remain unconvinced that this bailout was the only possible answer, even with some sensible precautions/ provisions, which have now been agreed upon – and that don’t go anywhere near far enough.

I am furious, frightened and heartbroken about this turn of events. If, indeed, Barack Obama makes it to the White House, he will absolutely, positively, not be able to do many of the things he wants to do, because the absence of $700 billion in the national coffers, either in cash on hand or by increasing the already obscene deficit, is a deal-breaker, a plan-changer, a dream-stealer of unimaginable proportions. It won’t be about making hard choices, the situation threatens to leave the next President with very few options.

No We Can’t if we’re dead broke or drowning in debt. We can’t fully and properly reform health care and the Medicare/Medicaid systems, shore up Social Security, improve primary education and fund higher education, pioneer innovative energy solutions, overhaul the military and ensure veterans’ full rights, take creative and sensible steps to really increase national security, address poverty and homelessness, advance scientific achievement, re-build the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, build new affordable housing, reform the prison system, fully restore areas devastated by killer storms in recent years, or anything else that urgently needs doing in the public interest.

What I still don’t understand is why there is no legal punishment for the corporate decision-makers who brought us here; for that matter, why there is no punishment for the government agencies that turned a blind eye to the shady dealings of the free market; and why, even with revisions, the bailout plan offers so little relief for average people in this country.

I was raised in the midst of two standards of personal morality, by a mother who spent years and years with individual companies but wouldn’t bring home so much as a ballpoint pen or a legal pad, and by a father who had no trouble “shopping” in Harlem barbershops or near the trucks that merchandise fell off of. Since my mother took care of the family paperwork, we never cheated on our taxes and we paid every bill without fail. It was very important to her that she (and we) behave honorably in all things. I agreed, but I was confused. I still am.

I know virtue is its own reward, but really, where’s the payoff for the 90% of Americans who are not rich by any measure and who take pride in being self reliant? Where is the humane, even generous, assistance, where are the essential rights and privileges? In developed countries around the world, citizens don’t have to worry about the costs of health care or higher education, because they’re covered. Their homes are affordable. Their jobs are far more secure than ours. We ordinary Americans are routinely punished, whether or not we play by the rules – and there are stringent rules for us, while the Masters of the Universe run wild and free. I think it's fair to say that this is the last straw and something good better come out of this bailout, or a lot of nice, honorable Americans are gonna go ballistic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Cancel the debate in the best interest of the nation? John McCain showed his true colors this week - first shielding Miss Congeniality from the Big Bad Press, then behaving like a kid faking a stomach ache the night before a big test at school. His bald-faced self service is breathtaking. He's bullshitting and fear-mongering just like Dubya. They both make me sick.

Obama, on the other hand, was cool, gracious, came across as very presidential, and put McCain in his place when he said the president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time. What McCain (and his ignorant sidekick) can't do is lead or grasp complex issues.

Maybe some good can come out of all this fiscal misery and political garbage. Let's say it in unison:


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Straight Talk

Between the hysterical babbling press, the partisan commen-tators, and both presidential candidates walking on eggshells every time they speak, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of emotion, and a positive dearth of clarity. Someone should write a brief, plain-talk, objective, executive summary of the essential policy differences between the presidential candidates. Nobody asked me, but I’d like to take a shot – no revelations, just the basics.

Barack Obama and the Democratic Party believe that government should play an active, positive role in citizens’ lives, providing certain assurances, rights, privileges and benefits that people can count on for the necessities of a decent life. They believe eight years of George W. Bush have nearly destroyed this country. John McCain and the Republican Party believe that government should play a small and limited role in people’s lives and instead allow personal initiative and the activity of a free market in all things to determine what people have. As exemplified by the Republican Convention, McCain and The Republicans say little or nothing about Bush, who is the head of their party as well as the nation.

Obama’s position on the Iraq War is that it has been a dreadful mistake, devastating for this country in its human and financial toll and degraded perceptions of the US around the world. He would seek the soonest-possible responsible exit strategy and literally reinvent US military policy to reflect the new circumstances, alliances and dangers of the 21st century. John McCain believes that the decision to embark on the Iraq War was necessary because he thinks we went there to get the people who attacked us on September 11th. He feels any attempt to end the war without a classic military victory would be a disgrace to America. He believes The Surge has been successful and we should see the war through to its military conclusion, however long it takes and whatever the cost. He thinks anyone opposing his view of the war is being a quitter, unpatriotic, and dishonoring the troops.

Both candidates call for the maintenance of competent, efficient, and productive government operations in all areas, as free as possible from undo bureaucracy, mismanagement, fraud, partisanship, and deference to special interests. The Democrats see this as a prelude to better service to the American public through improved entitlement programs and other initiatives, while the Republicans champion greater government efficiency as the path to fewer government services and benefits, and less regulation of business and industry.

Obama has been outspoken and specific about his support of the protection and enforcement of individual liberties, most especially personal privacy; free speech; freedom from discrimination and harassment; religious freedom balanced by secular governance; just and humane treatment in criminal matters; autonomous reproductive decisions; and the right to bear arms within reasonable limits to avoid the incidence and increase of gun-related crime. McCain approves limits on personal privacy through government surveillance at will, sees benefits in far less separation of church and state, justifies torture, opposes reproductive freedom, and believes the right to bear arms should be unfettered.

Both Obama and McCain call for fair taxation. Obama wants to decrease taxes for the vast majority of people, increase taxes on the wealthiest 5% and on American corporations, especially those that have benefitted from outsourcing and downsizing. McCain believes in as little taxation of any kind as possible and is particularly concerned about business being burdened with taxes that they claim will hinder their growth, profitability, and ability to provide jobs for Americans.

Obama advocates an energy policy that is active, innovative, impartial, cooperative, and focused on achieving energy independence, options, and fair prices through the development of alternative energy sources. He believes energy needs must be balanced with environmental concerns. He accepts the scientific reality of global climate change and its damaging impact. McCain proposes an energy policy that focuses on the development of new oil resources throughout the US, including the environmentally controversial drilling in the arctic. Cheaper gas prices a.s.a.p. is a key goal. He remains skeptical about the cause and scope of global warming.

Obama wants to craft an economic policy that also is active, innovative, impartial, and cooperative, focused on expanding business and industry, and both increasing and ensuring full and fair employment. He supports unions and collective bargaining. McCain advocates an economic policy that relies on the expertise of American business and the wisdom of the free market. He thinks it is necessary and reasonable for businesses to outsource many of their functions to other countries where labor is cheaper than here. He believes protecting business and banks is the best way to revitalize economic growth and that unions are a hindrance to this end. He still advocates the classic "Trickle Down" theory.

Obama wants to undertake a detailed reexamination and revamp of major government policies, particularly those related to poverty, immigration, national security, and foreign affairs, in order to come up with creative new initiatives and fair solutions. McCain believes that cutting government costs and responsibilities, as well as enforcing existing prohibitions, is largely sufficient to address these national problems.

Obama proposes comprehensive, government-funded health care – physical, mental, dental, elder/special needs, experimental, catastrophic, long-term and hospice. McCain calls this socialized medicine and advocates maintaining the privately-owned, profit-oriented health care industry while providing modest tax cuts to better enable Americans to provide their own health insurance and treatment.

Obama believes in practical access to life-long quality education and training, and proposes a fair exchange of government funding of higher education for a stint of public service. McCain believes in personal initiative substantial enough to warrant privately-funded scholarships, and endorses vouchers for K-12 education rather than a major investment in the overhaul of public education.

Obama guarantees the sanctity, protection, and improvement of Social Security. The same goes for Medicare and Medicaid, unless and until such time as new health care policies and programs render them obsolete. McCain makes no such promises.

Barack Obama’s running mate has decades of leadership, legislative, and executive decision-making experience, a thorough understanding of domestic and foreign policy, and a proven track record of working effectively with disparate constituencies. John McCain’s running mate does not.

Barack Obama is not a Muslim. He and John McCain are both practicing Christians.

Bone up. There will be a test in November.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

American Vampires

For the past few days, I’ve been ponder-ing three subjects: the advent of Repub-lican Vice Presiden-tial nominee Sarah Palin; today being the seventh anniversary of the World Trade Center attack; and the clever new HBO series True Blood, based on the wonderful Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris. They all seemed connected, but I couldn’t quite figure out how. Then yesterday, within a few hours of each other, while searching for other images I found the picture of Dubya that illustrates this post (apparently it’s available on T-shirts), and a friend sent me an article about the status of the 2008 campaign by Camille Paglia entitled “Fresh Blood for the Vampire” (available on Salon), and it suddenly came together.

Vampires are currently as popular as Beanie Babies were in the 90s, in fact, there’s a flourishing vampire subculture. We’re not just talking about youthful, cartoon Goth, we’re talking about mostly normal looking adults with an active vampire obsession. It seems that not since the magnificent vampire books by Anne Rice took the nation by the throat 20 years ago has America had such a love affair with the sexy, captivating, undead (or, as the advocates of vampire rights in True Blood call them, “life-challenged Americans” who just want to “come out of the coffin” and be part of mainstream society). There are numerous other offerings in vampire fiction, including a children’s series; several major non-fiction tomes on vampire history; vampire discos, social clubs and dating services; vampire dentistry for those who elect to go through life with genuine fangs; and of course, a nest of vampire Web sites.

Why is this phenomenon happening here and now? I think it’s because (at least in part) George Bush has been draining the lifeblood out of this country for the past eight years, and the horror that began with the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC in 2001 and continued with the double wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has left us ravaged, bereaved, and in desperate need of both comfort and distraction. Real monsters – like Bush, McCain and Vampira Palin – are too difficult to cope with for a lot of people, especially when they’ve lost loved ones or homes or jobs, or are just astutely aware that many of the essential tenets of our democracy have been eroded into dust. Add to that a large dose of inflation/ recession, killer weather, impossible gas, fuel and food prices, the wholesale aging of a once-vibrant generation, multiple instances of toxic vegetables, and the mind-numbing mediocrity of reality television and, well, it’s enough to make anyone want to engage in an exotic fantasy.

Paglia, who is enthusiastic in her support for Obama, says in “Fresh Blood For the Vampire” (she sees the aged, unvanquished McCain as the vampire): “In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.” I love the outspoken, contrary, fresh-thinking Camille Paglia, but I think her appreciation of Palin and her conviction that America could survive Palin’s ascension to power should it come to that, is dangerously misplaced.

Palin reminds me of a couple of demonic “p.r. gals” I worked for briefly, full of cozy smiles for clients and press, but shockingly hateful, wildly demanding and completely clueless with their staff. In a Palin story that has just surfaced, a waitress in Alaska reports that she served lunch to the Governor and some of her cronies the day after Obama unofficially clinched the nomination and heard her exclaim: “So, Sambo beat the bitch!” That, and everything else about her, gives me…pause.

Today, as we once again cast our eyes on Lower Manhattan and remember that day not so long ago when nearly 3,000 people were incinerated and we as a nation descended into a quagmire of heartbroken fear, it’s important that we remember that we cannot resurrect the dead, nor should we try. And we dare not once again put our future in the hands of those who would drain the life out of our nation with their ignorance, arrogance, greed, conceit and religiosity. There isn’t enough garlic to go around.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day 2008 - It's Still the Economy, Stupid

With Hurri- cane Gustav storming towards the Gulf Coast and the Repub- licans trying to salvage their convention in the face of it – not to mention the millions of Americans preparing to head for the mall in areas not plagued by homicidal weather – it’s easy to forget that today is Labor Day. But especially this year, Labor Day should not be forgotten.

The US Department of Labor explains that Labor Day is celebrated annually on the first Monday in September and is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers… and the
“…contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.” The holiday was first celebrated in New York City in 1882 and after campaigning by union activists and acceptance by more than two dozen state referendums, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894. It was conceived as a day of parades and festivals and major speeches by labor leaders, businesspeople and politicians. It was always intended to be a joyful day off for working folks, but not a socially unconscious barbecue.

As I write this, two million people from Texas to Alabama along the Gulf are settling in for the night somewhere other than home. State and federal efforts to evacuate the region and not repeat the unconscionable nightmare of Hurricane Katrina seem to have so far been successful; those who were physically or financially unable to get out under their own steam were apparently dispatched in a decent manner. But as this AP photo of Gustav evacuees in a shelter in Tyler, Texas shows, the displacement for many is still hard going, and what people will return to when it’s over, nobody knows.

Unfortunately, the millions uprooted by Gustav, most of whom are American workers, are not the only American workers who won’t be going to work on Tuesday. Per, the country lost 51,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate (a misleading figure to begin with) rose to 5.7% from 5.5%, which is the highest rate since March, 2004 and the seventh consecutive month of job losses for a 2008 total to date of 463,000.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are nearly nine million unemployed Americans – but that number doesn’t reflect those persons no longer receiving Unemployment Insurance; those in the military (many of whom have no civilian jobs to come home to); those working one or more part-time jobs and barely making ends meet; high school and college kids who need part-time jobs and can’t find them; the retired and disabled on inadequate fixed incomes; or those who have full-time jobs acquired in recent years that provide a fraction of the salary and benefits of their old, longstanding jobs, the ones that were downsized through corporate mergers/bankruptcies or outsourced overseas.

Fewer people will be shopping this Labor Day and those who do will be buying less and making every effort to pay the cheapest prices possible. Huge problems, and a great many of them, face America on this election year Labor Day, but none so urgent as the wholesale under-employment and outrageously increased financial difficulty (if not outright poverty) of the vast majority of Americans. We are not contributing nearly as much strength, prosperity and well-being to our country as we want and need to.

My heart goes out to the citizens who call the Gulf Coast home and who at this moment have no idea what level of crisis they’ll have to deal with after Gustav leaves. Considering that relatively little improvement was made in the three years since Katrina, it doesn’t look good for them. And until all of the politicians courting our votes this year show that they understand that a seriously damaged work force makes for a seriously damaged America – and then do something about it – it doesn’t look too good for the rest of us, either.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama Kids

If you read Barack Obama’s website, you’ll note that there are frequent refer- ences to “The Movement.” For Obama’s earliest supporters, many of them in their teens, 20s and 30s, their involvement to date has not been in a political campaign, but in a social movement for progressive change; Obama is not their candidate so much as their hero. So it was not surprising to read the article in today’s New York Times, “Political Realities May Pose a Test to Obama’s Appeal to Young Voters,” which explains that some of these young folks felt “marginalized” in Denver and, in general, are feeling uncomfortable about their hero’s behaving like a politician. “We understand the politics of compromise…,” says 19-year-old Ian Bowman-Henderson, “…but we picked him because we didn’t want the same kind of politics – that’s what set him apart.”

Just the other night, I was talking to a friend about the Democratic Convention, and I said that I was happy for these kids that they had a movement to be part of, recalling how connected and productive and grown-up I felt as part of the movements of the 60s and 70s. But as I learned when I volunteered for the McCarthy for President campaign, the rules change once you start working the big room, the White House. That’s just how it is. Working within the system means just that.

I sincerely believe three things: (1) Obama is a politician who is also a genuine leader, one of the first we’ve had in a long time; (2) Obama indeed wants to bring a fresh approach to American governance, but he has to get elected first; (3) Obama cannot win without the efforts of his young, brave army for change. He needs his Movement to hang in with him in order to make it. Let me say that again: Obama cannot win without the efforts of his young, brave army for change. He needs his Movement to hang in with him in order to make it.

If you’re serious about wanting to effect meaningful change in this country, you cannot afford to be impatient or over-sensitive or self-involved, let alone petulant. Being truly connected, productive and grown-up requires drawing strength from within yourself and from each other, as well as the object of your adoration. And you have to trust your leader to know what’s necessary as well as what’s good, and stick with him for the entire process.

It’s much easier, much less frustrating, to not care and to not be involved in making change. It’s hard work and the fun part is small – but the larger, ultimate victory can be thrilling. Can you imagine how differently the country might have developed if, in the wake of the King and Kennedy assassinations in 1968, people had engaged in unprecedented mass expressions of non-violence and commitment to peaceful change, instead of rioting or walking away, and letting McGovern lose to Nixon?

You must register everyone you can, convince the unconvinced and undecided, rouse the politically lethargic and soothe the politically enraged. You must remember that the disciplined, committed conservatives will be working very hard to defeat you. Nothing can change, or be repaired, or be achieved, unless Obama gets elected first. Mahatma Gandhi told his followers, “Even if what you do is of little significance, it is of vital importance that you do it.” Play whatever part you can, no matter how small. Don’t lose heart, don’t lose sight, don’t let go. The weary veterans of past campaigns are depending on you.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Savoring the Moment

This is a picture of my parents, an inter- racial couple who were married for over 45 years. These lifelong Democrats did not live to see an African-American accept their party’s nomination for President, or to vote for him this coming November. They were great fans of the Clintons and I often wondered during the primary epoch who they would have been rooting for leading up to the convention, and if they would have been in agreement on their choices. But I have no doubt that after hearing Obama’s acceptance speech, they would have answered the call for Democratic unity and gotten behind Barack. They would have enjoyed this convention, and been deeply moved by the historic milestone of the first black candidate of a major party officially launching his full campaign on the 45th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And they’d have gotten a special kick out of the fact that Obama is actually biracial, just like their own sole offspring. We shared many conventions together. I’ve missed my folks a lot this week.

I’m securely on board the change train. Obama spoke very well, talked very straight, and said the things that needed saying. I liked the way he took John McCain head on without being insulting or mean; that he warned against the Republicans’ tendency to “make a big campaign about small things”; that he referred unflinchingly to long-contentious hot-button issues: abortion, gun control and gay rights, among them, and called for sensible compromise in an imaginative approach that is undeniably new in American politics. He cited more than two dozen specifics of his strategy for change and, overall, succeeded in looking forceful and presidential.

I’ve absorbed just a little of the Republican commentary on the Democratic convention and have been absolutely stunned by their nastiness, outright lies, deliberate misinterpretations, and playing all the other cards of obfuscation and fear in the political deck. I imagine that John McCain watched Barack Obama’s acceptance and went into a swoon of fury and surprise; what else could explain his selection of a conservative hockey-mom for vice president? I think Obama will make chopped meat out of him in the debates, and that, much like Humphrey Bogart as the uber-paranoid Capt. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, McCain will unintentionally show his anger and lack of qualification and be felled by them.

Meanwhile, Obama has to get elected, which I’m now more hopeful will happen, thanks to the army of 85,000 campaign workers who were energized by the convention and its history-making candidate. Peggy Noonan, the brilliant political writer with seriously wrong-headed views, said in today’s Wall Street Journal that “Mr. Obama left a lot of space for Mr. McCain to play the happy warrior next week. He left the Republicans a big opportunity to wield against him, in contrast [to Obama’s seriousness], humor, and wit, and even something approximating joy.” Joy? If the Republicans are joyful, all that feeling reflects is the contentment and sheltered reality of the nation’s upper crust. That any working and middle class persons connect with those people never ceases to amaze me.

I’m giving myself the privilege of ignoring McCain and his minions for the weekend, so I can just enjoy the extraordinary fact that an African-American with a world-class mind and an innovative biracial understanding of polarizing issues is running for President of the United States. My parents would have wanted it that way.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Audacity of Defiance

After I watched the third night of the Democratic Convention, I saw the film The Defiant Ones, Stanley Kramer’s 1958 classic tale of racism and redemption starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. For those of you under 50 or just not a fan of old movies: The Defiant Ones tells the story of two prisoners escaped from a chain gang, one black, one white, neither enamored of the other, forced to work together to survive because they’re chained together. Animosity gives way to cooperation, but they are ultimately overwhelmed by the powers that be, and betrayed by someone who could have been an ally but is corrupted by a desperate need to escape her circumstances, too. In the end, by the time the men are caught, they’re unchained, but united by friendship. It occurred to me that the movie could be viewed as an interesting and disturbing metaphor for the 2008 election.

Those who believe that racial prejudice and social division in America – still the unconfronted elephant in the room of this campaign – have been largely overcome by law and time, are (a) mistaken and (b) not understanding the true process of unity. Whites and non-whites will never band together because of social dictates to do so, but rather, because everyone will finally recognize that our mutual survival depends on our ability to cooperate. And our ability to cooperate will inevitably arise out of our capacity for dealing with confrontation, then rising above it. Both our unspoken woundedness and our politeness are keeping us apart.

I’ve long believed that our country would never unite unless there was some massive calamity, like California breaking off and floating out to sea, or we were visited by aliens from another world; not until we were faced with the little green men would we be able to accept the black, white, brown, yellow and red of our shared humanity. The task ahead for the Obama/Biden team is to effectively convince White America that the Iraq War and the national debt are a massive calamity and we’ve already been visited by aliens: the Bush Administration and its neo-con devotees who live in a rarified other world and are green with greed and self-interest.

During his acceptance speech tonight, I hope Barack Obama can find a compelling and appealing way to explain that we are indeed chained together by recession, inflation, oil-dependency, corporate outsourcing, the cost of war mongering, the burden of debt and the stress of insecurity. I hope he’ll say that if we unite to survive, we can overcome the powers that be before they destroy us. I hope that argument can convince enough white people to vote for a black man. Otherwise, it’s back to the chain gang for us all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Portrait of a Lady

The much-anticipated speech by Michelle Obama on the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention was preceded by a folksy speech by her brother and a biographical film produced by Ken Burns and narrated by her mother. It all left me feeling good, but very subdued. She looked lovely in a light green dress against the stage’s blue background (enough color differential to stand out but not look too bold...) with a broad expanse of décolletage (not revealing, just enough to subliminally say I’m Open...).

She spoke beautifully and her accomplishments, detailed in the film, were undeniably impressive. So I found it discomfitting that she had to do what she was there to do: make herself and her husband seem less scary to White America. The reason she had to do this was, of course, never acknowledged, let alone addressed: the fact that there are millions of Americans who have had no first-hand experience of middle-class blacks – and that’s really what they’re revealing when they say they don’t yet know who Obama is.

White society has been programmed by pop culture and the news media to think that the black underclass and its hip-hop/pimps & hos ethos are what define African-American perspective and experience. They don’t understand that Michelle Obama’s deliberately Mom-and-apple-pie performance was born not of political artifice, but of the genuine and demanding values of the black middle-class, which is historically rooted in church, family, community, education, and a stringent work ethic. As a group, they are very private, proper, focused, and firmly cognizant of the fact that to be black and successful in America still requires that one be ten times better (more disciplined, more proficient, more accomplished) than the white competition. And it’s always competitive, always, and exhausting, because you can never let your guard down.

Understanding this demographic profile helps explain why the Obamas can seem aloof and elite, a little stiff, a little humorless, somehow insincere. A few years ago, I worked closely with a middle-aged black woman who was the president of a long-established non-profit organization. She confided to me that, as was once expressed by writer Toni Morrison, she does not entirely trust white people. She has many valued white colleagues and good white friends, but there is a part of her that is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. If Mrs. Obama privately feels much the same, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, nor could I fault her.

The best part of Michelle Obama’s appearance was the very fact of it. You could see the pride in the expressions on black faces throughout the hall, young and old alike. Here was this poised, pretty, black woman, a successful lawyer, a loving wife, a devoted mother, a loyal daughter, standing before them preparing to be First Lady. First Lady! It was a triumph a long time comin’. But this is politically correct 2008 and we’re not allowed to use the “R” word, so nobody could give voice to the miracle.

Who would have thought that when we finally had a black presidential candidate we’d have to pretend not to notice? Race, its mysteries and its miseries in our divided America, will continue to rear its pointed little head as the campaign continues. I wish this convention could crack it open, like a piñata filled with spiders and stars.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

In past presidential election years, I’ve always looked forward to the conventions. The Republicans consistently offer constructive aggravation: enough bullshit, self-righteousness, heartlessness, cluelessness and corn to inspire sputtering rage and get my heart racing. Conservatives are my cardio. I’m confident I’ll get my work-out again this year.

The Democrats are a dramatic comedy, it’s always a mixed emotional bag with them. They engage me as I look at the delegates who, despite all their silly campaign “flair,” radiate with a fair amount of intelligence/literacy, a refreshing quantity of diversity, and a few gratifying moments of grace. I’m happy to see the old warriors and the new hopefuls and the treasured icons. I still remember with teary fondness JFK Jr.’s appearance at the 1988 Democratic Convention: John-John, the toddler who saluted his slain father’s coffin, all grown up into a smart, dashing young man not yet a media rock star. And I remember the pride and hope and exhilaration I felt hearing Barack Obama speak for the first time at the 2004 Convention. A friend called me right after and said “We’ve just heard the first black President of the United States.” A lot of blood and politics under the bridge since then.

This year, I feel like I’m about to tune in to the finals of American Idol – only in this case, the eventual outcome really matters. There were times over the past 18 months that I thought we’d never get here and it’s still three more months to Election Day. So it’s essential that the Democrats put on a really good show, since it seems that’s what politics is in 21st century America, where the cashiers at fast-food restaurants press register keys with pictures of food instead of numbers. And they shouldn’t worry that the TV ratings for the Convention won’t come anywhere near those of the actual American Idol (neither may the subsequent votes), it must still be spectacular. It has to have the power to wash away the heavy crusts of cynicism, bitterness, indifference and distrust that coat so many Americans. Like George Burns said when they asked him what was the secret to great acting, “The thing about acting is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you got it made.”

We need some creative liberal artifice to combat complacent affluence, war mongering, profiteering and oppression. The conservatives cry “Class warfare!” like it’s a bad thing, but we are in the midst of a most desperate class war and the poor, working class and middle class are losing, big time. The Democratic Convention must be a splendid kick-off to the battle royal ahead.

The mainstream media has done and is doing a piss-poor job of covering this campaign with any real measure of gravitas and humor, intelligence, and insight. I hope they shape up for the Convention and the remainder of the campaign – but I also hope I win the lottery; I’m not getting my hopes up. But hope springs eternal.

This is some of what I’m not hearing anyone say:

Because nobody wants to discuss race forthrightly and intelligently, no one has explained that Barack Obama may occupy the social category of African-American, but he is inherently biracial; I’m biracial and I know how this works. He is, by every fiber of his being, a conciliator. He has not been equivocating about his views and positions, he has been seeking common ground with the opposition. George Bush has no concept of the Loyal Opposition. Have his ignorance and arrogance made everyone forget what negotiation and compromise look like? Is our microwave impatience so all consuming that we don’t understand you can’t effect significant change quickly, or all at once, or before you get into power? Obama is not a revolutionary, he’s a change agent, there’s a difference.

Joe Biden may in some ways be the epitome of traditional Washington, but he’s also a decent guy with working/middle class sensibilities who is well-known, well-respected, and knows how the system works. Since dismantling the system before you have something concrete and effective to replace it with is, to say the least, counter-productive, it’s important to have a senior associate who’s got your back. Obama and Biden don’t make a good show-biz team and that’s unfortunate; that’s what Barack/Hillary would have been. But they make a good leadership team. Do we remember leadership?

This country is in astonishingly serious trouble and four more years of Bush-style governance could destroy us. Obama/Biden are not a panacea, but they are a viable alternative to genuine disaster. We should try not to make the Ancient Mayan prediction of the end of the world in 2012 a self-fulfilled prophecy.

I’m polishing up my non-flat, non-high-definition, TV screen. I have to remember to buy popcorn.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The President is Screwing Women Who Screw

An infuriatingly underreported action was taken yesterday by President Bush and his henchman at the Department of Health and Human Services. The August 21st press release issued by the HHS, headlined Regulation Proposed to Help Protect Health Care Providers from Discrimination, describes a new regulation, now formally and officially “proposed,” that would “…increase awareness of, and compliance with, three separate laws protecting federally funded health care providers’ right of conscience… ‘This proposed regulation is about the legal right of a health care professional to practice according to their conscience,’ HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. ‘Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health care degree’.”

As someone who has written countless press releases and practiced the delicate art of The Spin for a living, I am humbled by the audacity of the double-speak of this announcement and outraged by the insidious implications of the proposal. What it means in plain English, as the Boston Globe pointed out in a July 30th editorial warning against this measure (“A New Attack On Birth Control”), is that the “…proposed new regulation would expand the definition of abortion to include any form of contraception that can work by stopping implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. This can include common birth-control pills, emergency contraception, and the intra-uterine device, or IUD… The potential impact of this new rule on the more than 500,000 hospitals, family planning clinics, and medical offices that receive any form of federal funding could be dramatic… The proposed rule, while claiming to protect the rights of nurses and doctors, would interfere with patients’ rights. A woman seeking treatment could be denied birth control and not even be aware that the service was available – only denied to her because of the unexpressed personal beliefs of the practitioner…”

Why are the anti-choice zealots – including the one who heads the HHS – opposed to birth control, the very practice that prevents unwanted pregnancies and therefore decreases the incidence of abortion? Because the anti-abortion movement has always been less about abortion itself and more about punishing women who are sexually active. They are, first and foremost, anti-sex and anti-woman as an autonomous being. And most dangerous of all, these fanatics feel completely justified in imposing their views of morality and proper sexual behavior on everyone else.

Here in America, we officially claim shock and disapproval of the treatment of women in other cultures, particularly countries where the strictures of Islam and other socially conservative beliefs hold sway. Yet through indifference, ignorance and a complete lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the situation, most Americans – including women – behave as if the reproductive health and freedom of women are secured and unchallenged. That ain’t so, as this proposal demonstrates. President Self-Righteous promised the Religious Right a going-away-present and this is it. And despite vociferous opposition from Congress, clergy and the medical establishment, this proposal is set to become law in 30 days. Planned Parenthood regards this as one of the most outrageous assaults on the personal rights of women ever proposed and is launching an all-out campaign to defeat it. I urge you to visit their site and do whatever you can to support their efforts. The right to sexual freedom you save could be your own.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What's Going On?

The awkward progress of the Campaign Without End knocked the wind out of me this week. I’m dismayed by how feeble Obama has seemed since his triumphant return from overseas and the out-of-the-limelight status produced by his ill-timed vacation, while McCain has started looking and sounding stronger. The usually-eloquent Obama essentially stuttered through the faith-themed town hall shindig, making a wincingly uncomfortable proclamation about Jesus as his personal savior that rang hollow (and obligatory) juxtaposed against McCain’s more straightforward story about his encounter with a Vietnamese prison guard who turned out to be a compassionate fellow Christian. Then Obama equivocated through a clumsy definition of wealth that would justify a tax increase, while McCain’s classic tax-and-spend assault sounded friendlier than Obama’s sensible objection to a $10-billion-a-month bill for the Iraq War. McCain’s objection to a few-million-dollar study of the DNA of bears seemed more on the mark. How is this possible?!

For the first time, I feel like it’s starting to look as if McCain could actually pull this thing off – not because people want more years in the Bush, but because they still don’t understand what Obama actually wants. Is this a déjà vu of Stevenson vs Eisenhower? Obama’s youth in comparison with McCain’s antiquity is starting to appear like the inexperience Obama has consistently been accused of – and little Cindy McCain’s sympathy-inspiring sprained wrist isn’t helping matters. I’d like to believe that the upcoming Democratic Convention will set things back on track, but it’s the Republicans who will have the last prime-time-gala word before the election. I’ve been thinking that ballooning costs and the obvious recession would aid the movement for change, but now I’m wondering if the fear born of hard times will overwhelm people’s anger and make playing it safe and familiar seem like the more appropriate path. Are the Democrats really going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

There’s no doubt in my mind that Hillary, the more traditional of the two Democratic options, would have known how to beat McCain at his own game – which is why she was my candidate of choice in the first place. But I urgently, sincerely, want to see Obama free us from eight years of dangerous, expensive, damaging idiocy. I hope Obama will recognize this odd and unfortunate turn of events and battle it quickly with stronger, more direct language and descriptions of policy. I hope he will not select John Kerry as his veep, which has been rumored of late. I hope he will deign to fight a little dirtier, whatever that means, if that’s what it takes. And I hope John McCain dozes off with his head in his soup at some major public function. Political times call for desperate measures. And crazy dreams.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Year in the Tower

It was August 12th last year that I launched MizB’s Views From the Tower and in the usual manner of the computer/ Internet/digital world where one year equals seven in the speed of change, the blogosphere has gotten much larger and more powerful in its social impact. For me, this blog has been a personal catharsis, a welcome platform for my opinions, and a very happy adventure in writing for myself (as opposed to writing for hire), something I’ve done precious little of in recent decades.

It occurred to me as I was contemplating this anniversary and examining my blog with as much of an objective eye as I could ogle, that I’ve said almost nothing about myself as a writer. (If I were in therapy, I could spend a small fortune working that out.) So, for the record, here are the Cliff Notes of my credits: After writing lots of poetry and songs in my teens and with no serious focus on becoming a professional writer (I was too busy being fixated on the turmoil of the times and having fantasies of being a singing/songwriting star), I fell into my third full-time job: a junior publicist/talent coordinator for a company that produced traveling photo trade shows. For many years, p.r. was one of those professions that people fell into, like Alice going down the rabbit hole, a step down for journalists, a step up for writing wannabes. These days people go to school for it, but either you have a gift for language and the art of persuasion or you don’t.

That was the start of a 30+ year career as a p.r. and business writer/consultant that eventually included stints as a staff writer at HBO, the director of editorial services for the PBS flagship station Thirteen/WNET in New York, staff writer at a few entertainment p.r. firms (becoming vice president at one of them), running my own freelance writing business for 11 years, and teaching p.r. writing at NYU’s School of Continuing Education. I co-wrote a book on the promotion of independent film and worked on behalf of scores of A-list clients/projects in live entertainment, television, social service and civil society. I wrote hundreds of press kits and executive/ celebrity interviews, and thousands of individual press materials, as well as numerous op-eds, client proposals and campaign strategy plans. I was extensively published, often verbatim, but almost never with a byline; a well-established ghost. Then I got sick at the end of 2003 and went into hiding until I started Views From the Tower last summer.

A good friend recently said he thinks my blog is an incongruous combination of the genuinely profound and the outright crazy and I should separate them into two blogs – and, of course, I understand which subjects he feels fall into which category. This is precisely the sort of sensible counsel I myself gave to a number of difficult clients over the years. But having spent my writing life doing the bidding of others, I’m now taking great pleasure in doing my own thing and expressing the real me: an incongruous combination of the genuinely profound and the outright crazy. I’m at that liberating age where I don’t particularly care if people think I’m one or the other or both. And considering that life as a whole in 2008 is dangerously short on profound and absolutely drowning in crazy, I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of difference.

I’ve put virtually all the time I’ve spent on this blog into writing/designing it and almost none into promoting it which, given my background, is both revealing and stupid. I plan to get the word out this year. I don’t really know who my audience is, but I suspect I’m an acquired taste, like olives and sushi. No doubt the coming year will reveal who’s out there. Meanwhile, I thank those of you who have been visiting me in the Tower this past year and hope you’ll continue to stop by. And please leave comments more often, if you would; I’m eager to know your responses and to learn what’s on your mind in your tower. Anniversary greetings!