Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New

I find myself considerably out-of-sorts this New Year’s Eve. If you’re a regular Tower reader (thank you!), you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve been ignoring this blog; I haven’t done anything for Blogcritics in about a month, either. It’s hard for me to write about national/world affairs that I’m normally passionate about, or other subjects that generally interest me, when I’m in a funk and feeling as if I don’t particularly care about anything. My apologies if I’ve disappointed you.

My mood aside, I feel inclined to end 2009 – a year I’m not going to miss – by adding one final post here, and will, hopefully, return to Blogcritics soon, too. I’m supposed to be writing an ongoing feature on broadcast journalism, but the content of the news over the past couple of months has been too dispiriting for me to stand back from and analyze.

In the past, for many, many years, I used to spend New Year’s Eve assessing the pros and cons of the past year, and will take this opportunity to do so again tonight. On a personal level, 2009 really wasn’t too bad: no major illnesses or injuries; I maintained this blog (for the most part), and began to reach beyond it by hooking up with Blogcritics and Twitter – all that was good. A few personal, health, financial and legal issues, but nothing I couldn’t/can’t handle. I do count my blessings and concede they are many; it’s really churlish of me to complain, but I can’t help feeling as I do.

The big story for me, as it was for millions of others, was watching Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress become a bigger and bigger disappointment with each passing day: bad decisions/legislation, no decisions/legislation, lack of vision, gridlock, broken promises; and a newer, bigger, even more senseless war. I went into the year with such a sense of hope and excitement, only to have that enthusiasm dashed. Did all this happen because Obama was insincere from the start, or, because despite his best intentions, the enormity of the problems he faced, combined with rabid opposition from the other team and a fractious lack of cooperation from his own, made any other result impossible? I guess 2010 will provide greater indications.

Then there was that pile-up of deaths of notable figures. This happens every year, but 2009 took some especially special people – and not just the big names we can all cite off the tops of our heads, but lesser-known yet vitally-important people; the arts and sciences took especially significant hits in 2009. And I won’t even go into detail about The Economy: everybody suffered in one way or another.

Looking ahead, I can’t at the moment muster up any really positive hopes for the new year, but the one thing that can always be relied on is that there will be both pleasant and unpleasant surprises, for each of us individually and all of us collectively. One of the few things I’m pleased about right now is that the first decade of the new century is over (I say this with a knowing nod to those who believe that won’t actually be the case until 2011…); we’ve survived it. And from hereon in we can stop saying “two thousand…whatever” and start saying “20…whatever.” I like the sound of that better and it reminds me that when I think of the 1900s, I have to remember how different each decade was from the one before and the one that followed, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but so much happened in the 20th century; the world changed wildly throughout it. Change is always hard, but sometimes (resist them though I do) the new things really are better.

What can we look forward to in 2010 and the new decade? I’m psychic, but I don’t know (for those of you who don’t believe in spooky stuff, I should explain that even people with extraordinary intuition and perception can’t read the future like a map; it doesn’t work that way). So I’m hoping that both the year, the decade and I will all turn out better than I feel tonight.

I also hope that your own hurts will heal, your own fears will go unrealized; that your positive plans will pan out and all surprises will be pleasant ones.

All we can do is hope for the best, try our hardest, and roll with the punches. That’s what endings and beginnings are all about, always, regardless the year or decade or century, who’s in charge, who lives or dies. That’s life. So Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Barack Obama: The Vacillation of Now

As I write this, it’s nearly midnight on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, the end of a day during which elections were held in several states around America (including New York, New Jersey and Virginia), largely for governors and mayors and other local officials, an off-year election – not to be confused with mid-term races held half-way through a President’s term and, as a rule, it’s senators and Congressional representatives whose careers are on the line.

In today’s elections, the Democrats won some, the Republicans won some, and the media and press pundits are already blathering about what it all means: was this a referendum on President Obama and is he winning or losing?, what does this posit for 2010 and 2012?, all the political horse race shit that has nothing to do with people’s real lives, and which, for decades, has pushed millions out of the arena of civic and political concern.

But tonight was also the debut of HBO’s new documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, about his historic campaign for the presidency and his election as the first African-American President in 2008. Although, I’m sad to say, it doesn’t tell us anything about him that we don’t already know, it is a well-crafted, important reminder of the sense of energy, faith, optimism, racial dignity, Liberal decency, and immeasurable enthusiasm that accompanied Obama’s campaign and its milestone victory.

With a combination of old-school, beat-the-bushes campaigning and an unprecedentedly sophisticated use of new and established media, Barack Obama succeeded in bringing millions of previously disenchanted, disinterested youth into the political fold, and he gave aging Lefties a sense of we-the-people-déjà vu that we had long ago stopped waiting for.

Of course, the campaign nearly exploded the heads of numerous Republicans, Conservatives, and Vehemently White Americans (you’ll notice I didn’t say racist, because heaven forbid that I or anyone should imply that race was an issue in the campaign and continues to be an issue in Mr. Obama’s presidency…). But Obama’s campaign battle cries: “Change You Can Believe In,” “Yes We Can,” “The Audacity of Hope,” “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” and, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “The Urgency of Now,” drowned out the Doubting Bubbas, as well as the frightened, the reserved, the complacent. He won. And those of us who supported him believed that he and we would change the world. So how did we go from “hepped up and ready to go” to hemmed in and not doing much?

Before I say any more, I want to state that right up until Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic nomination to Obama and gave him her full-throated support, she was my candidate. I didn’t adore her. She didn’t inspire me. I believed she was a true politician (with many of the negative implications that word often carries) who knew how to play with the Big Boys on their turf and give them a run for their money. I believed her balls were as big as theirs, and that her moxie, that “woman element” which set her apart from the pack, added the thrill of another kind of history-making election to what was an essentially pragmatic choice.

I didn’t want to believe in Barack Obama. I had had my political heart broken too many times already. I didn’t want to hope, didn’t want to join The Movement, didn’t want to drink the joy-laced kool aid. I felt I knew what I could expect from Hillary: competent governance, follow-through on a few core issues, a particular dedication to women’s rights, and the frequently-sage private counsel of her husband, the former President.

But it wasn’t to be. Because a huge population of disparate people, many of them leading hard lives, believed they had found a man who could and would change the world – for the radically, differently better. And in the time between the Democratic Convention and Election Day, I found myself caught up in the hope and excitement. Even when the greedy cowards of Wall Street and the financial industry sent the country (and much of the world) tumbling down the economic rabbit hole, I kept faith with Obama.

He was cool. He was commanding. He seemed ready, willing and able to take on awesome problems that hadn’t even been on the table until the last days of the campaign. I thought he was trying to make peace with an intractable enemy and that this was a good thing. I thought he was getting a raw, hateful deal from the opposition. I thought the President was splendid during his first 100 days, and I still had hope. And I thought a lot of his problems were coming from the Democrats, who were (and still are) doing an unfortunately effective imitation of Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”

But now it’s a year since the election and just a few months short of that since Obama took office. And while I like some of the things he’s said and done, I’m rocked and shocked by his overall performance and stunned that nobody around him seems to be reminding him that when you’ve got the power you should USE IT!

Former President Lyndon Johnson, who, it turns out, was one of the best, most innovative and truly socially-caring presidents of the 20th century along with FDR, was completely tainted by the Vietnam War, which basically killed Johnson’s Great Society along with hundreds of thousands of people. I fear Afghanistan can do the same thing to Obama – except that what Obama’s ultimate legacy will be is now a mondo question mark, because he’s not behaving like the Nouveau President we were sure he would be.

I know the Right genuinely believe he’s a Socialist, but to those of us who thought he would be a come-out-fighting Liberal, he’s behaving like a Centrist wimp. He’s made a mess of health care reform, allowing Congress to craft a sloppy 1,900-page bill that, among other things, betrays women, and which is not likely to provide the service and security we as a nation were promised. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing about the economy except giving aid and comfort to the enemy (Wall Street and the banks) while millions of ordinary people are losing jobs and homes faster than a middle-aged man shedding hair. He’s talked a good game to the LGBT community, but he hasn’t actually done squat.

Indeed, all of the messes and injustices and expenses that Bush left him have only been exacerbated; he can’t control his own party; and he’s spent immeasurable political capital trying to achieve bipartisanship with people who hate him at the expense of real change and genuine relief for the people who still love and support him, even though we’re deeply distraught, confused and disappointed.

As was said about the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, who was revealed to be a fake, “he’s not a bad man, he’s just a very poor wizard.” Maybe Obama sincerely wanted the change he inspired us to believe in and just doesn’t know how to do it. Maybe he conned us. At this point, we can’t tell. Emotionally, I would prefer incompetence to deception, but only the future will tell.

Mr. President, my advice, my request, my heartfelt plea, is that you stop playing nice and start playing hardball. Use your power, throw your weight around, and force those fractious Dems to get in line. Be a great one-term President rather than a mediocre two-termer. Remember who your friends are. During the campaign, you told us it wasn’t about you, it was about us. Well, now it is about you. So, whataya gonna do about it? And when? Because we really are in the midst of the Urgency of Now.

This article was first published on Blogcritics earlier today.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Prize

Yes, I'm still on hiatus, but I can't let something as monumental as a sitting American President winning the Nobel Peace Prize pass without comment.

When Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the Peace Prize, it was a meaningful gesture to make up for the mixed blessing of his contribution to the world. When President Obama was awarded that Prize this week, it was a meaningful mixed-message about his contributions to the larger world and his own country.

As an avid supporter of Barack Obama, I'm very pleased that he won the Prize. It is still a great honor, even though the Nobel committee lowered the bar considerably by previously bestowing it on people like De Klerk and Arafat. And I'm glad that Mr. Obama said he saw the win as "a call to action," a prod to further success in peacemaking, rather than a reward for a peace job completed and well done.

I'm proud of him for taking bold, original and effective steps towards improving America's standing abroad and for advocating diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of age-old conflicts around the world. But I'm still shocked by the President's recent comments at the UN, indicating that to achieve a viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel should return to its pre-Six-Day-War-borders. That's not peace, it's surrender, and the President and his advisers should seriously reconsider this unfair and unreasonable solution.

Unless Obama truly uses the Peace Prize as a power tool to speed up our exit from Iraq, get us completely out of the futile bog that is Afghanistan, and totally depart from the Bush-era approach to handling prisoners of war and terror suspects, my feelings will continue to be mixed. I am certainly allowing for the fact that he's only been in office for less than a year. But he has not yet really begun to deliver on the change he asked us to believe in, nor has he been forceful enough in advancing a truly progressive agenda here at home. (Tomorrow, during the Gay March on Washington, he'll have an ideal opportunity to do something substantial.)

At the end of the New Day, Barack Obama cannot be a Peace Prize winner and a wartime president at the same time. While it is worthy that he's made great strides abroad, it's way past time to make greater strides at home. Peace in America means
meaningful health care reform, leadership-quality environmental legislation, and rescuing the middle class from the clutches of the banks, Corporate America, and the vast economic inequities between rich and poor.

Americans tend to be xenophobic about everything and everyone that is not us. Considering the mess left around the world by Cowboy Bush, Obama's success in the international arena is remarkable. But as he himself knows, it's nowhere near enough, not out there, and certainly not here. He still has a lot of work to do to finish earning this award.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Autumnal Hiatus

I’m pleased and proud to announce that I now have my own column on Blogcritics ( It’s called

NewsWire, and you can get to it by going to the main site, clicking on the TV/Video category, and if you scroll down the homepage of that section, you’ll see, on the right, a sub-group called Current Features, and you should be able to view the NewsWire title, as well as my logo/icon: an old-fashioned weather-vane, complete with rooster and the four outstretched prongs, each with a directional letter on it: N E W S.

Click on the icon and it should take you to my column’s homepage, which is (or soon will be) topped by a banner, featuring a B&W photo of old-fashioned telephone/utility poles with wires strung from one to the other, many of them, alongside an empty highway leading to a distant horizon. I’m relying on the Blogcritics tech staff to put this together, because all I can manage to do is write and upload an article.

Somewhere – perhaps on the title page, but I really don’t know, will appear my permanent description of the column:

News is the lifeblood of participatory citizenship. Sometimes it's tainted with errors, sensationalism or dull stupidity; sometimes it's accurate, insightful, and genuinely informative. As (sadly) newspapers give way to screen-based news sources, TV news programs play an increasingly-important role in helping us understand what's happening in America and around the world. NewsWire monitors everything from the Sunday morning network/cable line-up, to PBS' Friday night roster of news/current affairs programs (and irregularly scheduled specials, like Frontline), to the comedy-news shows (Bill Maher especially, but also Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), to the broadcast networks' nightly newscasts and the cable news channels' 24-hour fare. We don't cover everything every day (or even every week), but we eventually touch on it all – to let you know about the style and content of what's happening onscreen (and, when possible, behind-the-scenes).

As you can imagine, it’s going to take a while to get this going and establish a rhythm for it. Meanwhile, to make the process less stressful, I’m putting the Tower on hiatus through October; I’m sure that by November, I’ll be able to juggle both. I love writing Views From the Tower and have no intention of abandoning it. But NewsWire will allow me to immediately reach a broader audience while focusing on the subjects that fascinate me most: the news of the day and the couch potato medium that delivers it.

I’ll be sending announcements (to my corps of regular readers…) each time a NewsWire post goes up, and, of course, I’ll let you know when the Tower re-opens (I’m thinking: fireworks, maybe a Goodyear blimp…). Meanwhile, I hope you’re entering what will be a cool and lovely fall season. Don’t miss the glorious change-of-season colors, if you’re somewhere that the seasons do change. Either way, hang in, be well, and looking forward to hearing from you on NewsWire.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sweet Mary (Mary Travers 1936-2009)

When I was around eight years old, my mother bought me the Halloween costume of my choice that year: Beatnik. We bought it at Woolworth’s, where it lay in a plastic bag among the similarly packaged ghosts and witches and skeletons. It consisted of a long-haired, platinum wig attached to a black beret and came with a long cigarette holder. I don’t remember if it also came with a black turtleneck, but I do recall being dressed in a little black outfit and that my mother did my make-up, complete with heavily darkened eyes and very pale lips. I knew about beatniks, because my parents were into jazz and other “hip” things. I thought it was all very cool.

Two years later (1962), I discovered folk music and bought my very first album with my very own money. It was Peter, Paul and Mary’s debut album and there was Sweet Mary: the quintessential hipster with the darkened eyes and pale lips. I loved their music and I was enchanted by her. I remember sitting in the living room listening to that album over and over, and looking at the album cover photo: two handsome young men with goatees and a beautiful blonde, all leaning against a brick wall. I think it was on the stage of The Bitter End, a now-legendary folk club/coffee house in the heart of Greenwich Village. That was the album with “If I Had a Hammer,” which became a Number One hit, as well as other songs that rang through my head for years (and often still do): “500 Miles,” “This Train,” “If I Had My Way,” “Cruel War” (which I was singing to myself just the other day), “Lemon Tree” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,”

It was Peter, Paul and Mary who brought a kind of clean-cut accessibility to the often-grungy-and-intimidating folk scene. Their melodic beauty gave a much-needed softness to important songs by Bob Dylan (like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”) that literally helped put Dylan over the top, despite his own odd, nasal, talk/sing voice. Their clear political courage and well-developed social conscience, sans stridency, helped bring many into the counter-culture fold. And as the years passed and their albums mounted up, they became symbolic of radical social change in a very pleasing package.

When I learned of Mary Travers’s death from cancer at the age of 72 yesterday, I felt as if a dear friend had died and a vital link in my chain to the past had been broken. Rest in peace, Sweet Mary. Thank you for the years of beautiful music, and for helping to shape my life.

Monday, September 07, 2009

On Labor Day: The Indignity of Unemployment

In the 1970s, one of my earliest jobs was in the fund raising department of a non-profit employment agency that specialized in finding work for those who were then still called “the handicapped.” Our pitches for support always emphasized the importance of “the dignity of work” for those who were in some way limited, yet longed to be self-sufficient. I was a young wage-slave consumed with fantasies of fame and fortune rather than guided by clear career goals, so naturally I hated having to get up early in the morning and schlep to an office bathed in fluorescent light where I performed largely dull, clerical tasks and often spent the day waiting to leave. But I loved getting that paycheck every two weeks (paltry though it was), contributing at home, and sustaining at least some of my necessities and all of my indulgences. So I totally understood the dignity of work, and was continually amused by the irony that our supporter base was comprised largely of the very rich, extremely social and primarily female – a population that for the most part had never worked a day in their lives and were preoccupied with the dignity of shopping, grooming, and supervising their housekeeping staffs.

More than 30 years, numerous jobs, and 11 years of self-employment later, I find myself among those whom we now call “the differently abled.” I’m reminded daily of the truth of the dignity of work and miss my capacity to be part of the full-time work force. As I used to say when I was making a half-way decent living, “I like to know where my next soft-shell crab is coming from.” These days, I take pride in coping with a fixed income and trolling three different supermarkets for sales. I haven’t had a soft-shell crab in years.

But I’m still among the lucky ones, because I still enjoy the dignity of supporting myself in some way. On this, the first Labor Day since the nation fell off the edge of our flat economic earth, millions of Americans can’t say the same. According to today’s New York Times, reporting on statistics from the Labor Department and a Rutgers University study, the dignity of work is in outrageously short supply. We’ve reached 9.7% unemployment nationwide, based on an irritating scale of miscalculation – meaning that unemployment figures are based on the number of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and employment figures include those in the military, who are underpaid for their national service and, in the main, have no civilian jobs to come home to.

The real numbers show that 17% of the population is unemployed, severely under-employed, and/or have reached the point where they are “discouraged from seeking employment” (English translation: exhausted, defeated, and out of viable options). A full 20% of Americans work only part-time, although the majority would prefer full-time work. And 11.3% of veterans (those who survived their military “jobs”) are unemployed. These are the folks who used to know the dignity of work and who now live with the crushing indignity of unemployment.

Some of them also know the misery of homelessness and the insult of public assistance. In New York City, for example, those on welfare get their rent paid and receive $67.00 every two weeks for all their other expenses. They also receive food stamps in peculiarly-calculated insufficient amounts and the ordeal of health care via Medicaid. This is the gravy train of entitlements that conservatives begrudge the men, women (and their children) who would give their right arms for the dignity of work – but that would put them in the disadvantaged population of the differently-abled who, along with both younger and older workers, have been hardest hit by this brutal recession the pundits have started telling us is slowing down.

To those of you lucky enough to be employed, I wish you a much-deserved happy Labor Day. To those of you still mired in the quicksand of unemployment, I wish you a swift rescue by the marketplace and government that, to a great extent, are enjoying the Indulgence of Indifference and Delusion.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

I am emotionally very moved, intellectually/ politically greatly inspired, and physically drained by last night’s and today’s tributes to Ted Kennedy and his dignified twilight burial. It is amazing to me that while his colleagues on the “other side of the aisle” rightly came to respect and appreciate him, I’ve seen so many comments from the public that still harp on Chappa-quiddick – even though the senator frankly and frequently acknowledged his human flaws, foibles, and serious mistakes, then worked for decades of his adult life to redeem himself through tireless public service. How interesting that human memory can be so short when it comes to the good, and so long when it comes to the bad – and how entitled many people feel to be judgmental in a very ugly way!


Although I greatly appreciated today’s extensive media coverage of Ted Kennedy, it is nonetheless unfortunate that the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005) got rather lost in the news shuffle. A bit of attention was paid, but as has been the case over the past four years, American media – and much of America – seems to have consigned Katrina to history, when in fact, the physical ravages of that killer storm are still hugely evident all along the Gulf Coast; the displacement of many thousands has yet to be restored; and the existence of those who remain or have returned despite enormous obstacles, rivals the misery of those in the slums of a Third-World country.

New Orleans, in particular, is unique in its place in American history and culture – African-American history and culture in particular. The lack of vigorous rehabilitation of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf is a national shame, but it looks like the Obama administration, despite the many urgent issues on its plate, will find the time and resources to focus attention on this situation with a competence, concern, and swiftness that his predecessor did not.


I want to introduce you to my dear friend and longtime colleague, Nadine Hack, the president and CEO of beCause Global Consulting, Inc. As it says on her company’s Web site, “Nadine B. Hack is recognized internationally for her proven expertise in strategic planning, creative problem solving, insightful policy analysis, and politically sensitive negotiations, she has provided innovative guidance to and created crucial partnerships for institutions from multiple sectors and has imparted tactical direction for their various campaigns, collaborations, and special initiatives throughout the world for over three decades.”

Recently, Nadine made a vitally important post on her company blog, entitled “Women, Girls and Philanthropy,” a rousing endorsement and enlargement of the issues (and solutions!) raised by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their New York Times Sunday Magazine article (8/23/09), “Saving the World’s Women/The Women’s Crusade” and in their new book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide. Their work details the great success and enormous future potential of micro financing, which, with pathetically-small amounts of money by First World standards (usually less than $100), women are able to start their own businesses and lift themselves, their families, and often their communities, out of poverty, as well as oppression and abuse.

I heartily encourage you to read both the Times article and Nadine Hack’s blog; the latter offers many linked references to other written resources and active organizations. Practical and transformational social initiatives, and fascinating reading!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Care Reform: Can Our Grief Spur Success?

Since early Wednesday morning, American media has been singing Sen. Edward Kennedy’s praises, explaining his history of dedication and virtually unparalleled accomplishments – both for the record, and for the edification of the uninformed. He was a strong supporter of health care reform (not just recently, but for decades), and I know I’m not the first to suggest (and hope) that current reform efforts may have a better chance of success now, in Teddy K’s honor and memory. In other words, don’t send flowers, send a “public option” to the floor – and pass it!

Ted Kennedy was a lifelong, unabashed liberal – not like many of today’s liberals: frightened, unfocused, humorless and more concerned with political correctness than political effectiveness – but rather, a person who believed in human equality as a given, and who championed fairness, dignity, opportunity, and the appropriate support of government for all Americans. He was a rich man from a rich family that believed the rich had a moral obligation to share the wealth through philanthropy, patronage, service and, yes, taxation in balance with their bounty – a lost concept called noblesse oblige that even the early 20th century “robber barons” (John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, John Pierpont Morgan, et al) embraced. Journalist E.L. Godkin (1831-1902) once observed that “Plenty of people know how to get money; be rich properly is, indeed, a fine art. It requires culture, imagination, and character.”

That was the kind of wealth the Kennedys cultivated, the values of which John F. and Robert F. tried to promote before assassins stopped them in their tracks. But their baby brother, Edward M., took up the mantle. And, as fate would have it, the tragedy and scandal of Chappaquiddick that kept him out of the White House did not prevent him from settling-in in the Senate for 46 years and redeeming himself in the public eye by leaving his distinctive, and distinguished, mark on legislation for civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor (he was chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at the time of his death).

But perhaps most important, he came to define bipartisanship by working with unique effectiveness with colleagues on the other side of the aisle. It is in this spirit, in recognition of this kind of political teamwork, that I sincerely hope that Democratic politicians across the land will learn how to behave like Democrats again, and Republican politicians will remember that compromise and cooperation do not constitute disloyalty to their party and its values (whatever they are in the post-Bush/Sarah-Palin era).

The health care reform bill currently in debate and under attack is a mess. It should be clarified, simplified, expanded, and identified in non-clinical language that everyone can understand: Medicare for All – a complete “public option.” To be sure, Medicare as it is, and a new Medicare for All policy, require a major clean-up, streamlining and overall upgrading of the system. But it can be done. Ted Kennedy would have known how to do it, and how to sell it to the strident opposition. We can only hope that his death will breathe new life into the health care reform effort.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Reform: WTF?!

It’s beginning to look like not even a semblance of public health care will be part of the ultimate structure of health care reform. I expect self-serving obstructionism from the Republicans. But I feel betrayed by what I can only view as the cowardice of the Democrats, from the president on down.

Before President Dubya took us into the Iraq War for no legitimate or sensible reason, literally multi-millions of people protested in the US and around the world on the same day, but Bush didn’t flinch. He was abandoned by most of the world community and was only able to assemble an international military coalition of the D-List, but he went right ahead. And in the course of his two terms, he managed to set American democracy back by centuries, nearly nullified the Bill of Rights, sunk us into unprecedented debt, and laid the foundation for the global economic crisis by lessening regulations/ restrictions on everything but the American people. And he got away with it.

But now, the Democrats can’t manage to zip their pants up in unison, let alone forge ahead with radical, necessary, health care reform – and there are a dozen other equally-enormous issues they haven’t had a chance to run away from yet. They’ve allowed themselves to be defeated by a series of well orchestrated Town Hall protests, a well-funded media scare campaign, the inevitable objections and dirty tricks of Republican colleagues (including MySpace rants by the Wicked Witch of the North), and, I assume, their fear that they won’t be elected again if they dare to try to use the power they won.

It bears remembering that it was after the Clinton health care reform efforts failed that American medicine was turned into an HMO system designed by the insurance companies to protect themselves and cut their losses. What do we think they’ll do now that they’ve seen they’re still more powerful than the government and the will of the majority of the people? Why won't the Democrats unite, then stand their ground? Why have they allowed ignorance, lies, and relatively modest resistance to beat them even before they’ve really begun? Why hasn’t their media campaign been as large and hard-hitting as the opposition’s? Why did the president leave it to Congress to put together that huge, sloppy, unintelligible bill? And if we can’t get the change we were promised now, when will it ever be possible?

Barack Obama needs to have an epiphany, an essentially politically suicidal determination to do what has to be done. He should call yet another press conference and say this:

“We are the only country in the world where health care is a business instead of a service and I’m going to stop that, because that’s what I was sent here to do. You – politicians and the public alike – have been reciting a string of terms – socialized medicine, death panels, all kinds of crap – and you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You are putting your trust in the insurance and pharmaceutical companies instead of your own government. You are confusing competition with democracy and putting the profit of the health care industrial complex ahead of your own best interest.

“So, it stops now. I’m putting forth a government-run, non-profit health care system that will serve everybody and cost far less than it does now – essentially Medicare for everyone, but an updated, improved Medicare. I’m going to put the insurance companies out of business. I’m going to make the drug companies toe the line, and if they don’t, I’ll put them out of business, too. And I will smash any Democrat who doesn’t back me up. Pretend I’m a white Republican and just get in line.

“America, if you don’t like what I’m doing, you can vote me out in 2012. But so long as I’m here, I’m going to do what I know is right – just like my predecessor, who believed he was a messenger from God. I’m going to drag this country into the 21st century before we fall so far down it’ll make the Fall of Rome look like a holiday sale at Wal-Mart.

“I won’t be stopped by your outdated Cold War mentality. You can call me a Socialist or Daffy Duck, I don’t give a damn. I was handed a platter of crap when I came into office and none of the “public servants” on either side of the aisle have done anything but get in my way. I’ve had it with all of you. A big change is coming and if you don’t like it, tough! I’m the president, we’re in trouble, and I don’t care what you think or what you say. Any questions?”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock at 40

Unlike many of my friends (one of whom still has the tickets he bought and never had to use), I did not go to the Woodstock Music Festival, August 15-17, 1969. That was the summer I was 17 and I spent it in England, primarily London. I watched the televised moon landing in a local pub, where, as Neil Armstrong set down his famous foot for man and mankind, the bartender said to me, “Well, you Yanks have made it!” and gave me a free beer. I left England before the fairly-as-famous Isle of Wight festival (that Bob Dylan did participate in, unlike Woodstock), thereby missing the two key pop-culture events of my generation. But even if I’d been here (or there), I wouldn’t have attended, because I was a hippie in spirit only, not in the physical sleep-on-the-ground, frolic-in-the-rain-&-mud kind of way. I loved the creed and music of the 60s, but I saw no reason to give up my bed and air conditioner in their name.

I did, however, get to visit The Beatles’ Apple Records and meet Derek Taylor, their longtime publicist, to whom I’d been given entrée by a popular young folksinger who was a close friend at the time. The Beatles were in the process of breaking up like a bad marriage and the Apple offices looked like they were under siege, with lots of boxes being packed and young assistants literally running around in a dizzy panic. The tall, slim Derek sat serenely cross-legged in his tall, round-backed Panama chair and said calmly, “This is what the end looks like.” I never got to meet a Beatle, but Derek gave me a 45 of Give Peace a Chance autographed by John and Yoko, the first joint I’d smoked in weeks, and a pass to a recording session at Abbey Road Studios (it was either Johnny Mathis or a symphony, I don’t remember which).

When I think of Woodstock now – the festival, not the town – I think of it as the last gasp of 60s sensibility, which struggled to be seen and heard through the Disco 70s and truly died with John Lennon in 1980. The 60s were the original days of “yes we can,” audacious hope, and change we not only believed in, but genuinely made. We kinda changed the world, but not in the ongoing way we thought we would. My generation – now aging, preoccupied with its waning health and wealth and doting on its grandchildren – has come to be reviled for our youthful excess and envied for the fact that we got to have loose, crazy sex in the last era before AIDS. We had faith and we had fun and we took action, and we were cool and looked cool before what we were got mainstreamed and diluted.

Remembering Woodstock – the era, not the festival – makes me sad now, because it turns out we were more wrong than right. Love is not all we need, nobody is willing to give peace a chance, one’s body can’t handle LSD after the age of 40 (and who in their right mind wants to trip now?), and we can’t stop the current wars which, like the one we fought against, are bleeding us dry for no good reason. A lot of us died young and most of the rest of us are deeply, deeply tired.

From 1981-2001, my family owned a rustic little condo in West Hurley, New York, which is just a few miles from Woodstock – the town, not the phenomenon. In order to survive economically, Woodstock evolved from a quiet artists’ community into a tourist monument to an event that took its name, but was held 50 miles and light years away. I loved the town of Woodstock and I miss it. I’m sure things are hoppin’ up there this weekend – to their relief and dismay. It’s not easy being the keeper of a flame you never lit. For the rest of us, it’s business as usual – or whatever it’s become since the Crash of 2008. For me, today is a wistful memory of my youth, the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, and time to clean up the kitchen. Time marches on.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anniversary Greetings From the Tower

This blog is two years old today. If it were a person, it would just be learning to walk and talk. I know that feeling. I’ve been writing since I learned how to “letter,” in fact I clearly remember learning how to print and then how to write in script and finally how to type, not in the proper “asdf–jkl;” way, but in my own haphazard combination of touch-typing and looking down at the keyboard, which is what I still do, at about 60 wpm – as fast as a sentence needs to go. I used to walk better than I do now, but I’m working on it. And I talk just fine; some would say too much, too directly, but I ignore them. I have learned to listen – and also how to tune out when necessary.

I began this blog because I wanted to express my opinions about…everything; to write for myself, which in my 35+ year professional writing career I had done too little of; and to speak out on behalf of Smokers’ Rights and Fat Acceptance.

I still believe in Smokers’ Rights, but I’ve thrown in the towel on that one. Smokers have no rights and never will again. Not in the foreseeable future, anyway. I also still believe in the FA movement, but I haven’t made any friends within it, because I have this silly idea that being fat is often connected to what and how much one eats. Those aren’t the only reasons, but they play a big role; just ask anyone who starves on a regular basis in order to not be fat. But my sister and fellow FA-ers choose to focus on the genetic and other legitimate physiological factors that cause/maintain obesity, because they think that “it’s not our fault we’re fat” is the only pathway to Fat Acceptance.

I disagree. I consider “size-ism” to be a legitimate social- and civil-rights issue, regardless of how and why fat people are fat. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes and this should just be accepted as fact, but it isn’t. Many people who are not fat regularly discriminate against people who are, and they’re often downright hateful about it. But I no longer believe there is a pathway to Fat Acceptance. Those of us who are fat are going to have to fight this battle forever while knowing we can’t win. It’s about having self-respect and self-esteem in the face of rejection/recrimination and standing up for oneself instead of apologizing for who and what one is. I think that pretty much defines life for people of all sizes. And while I still see the need for/value in pointing out discrimination and ugly attitudes toward fat people, I no longer believe it’s going to result in Acceptance. People who are not fat will always think that people who are fat and are not doing everything possible to change, are crazy. Like I said, I’ve learned to tune out when necessary.

So now, as MizB VIEWS FROM THE TOWER enters its third year, I’m more interested in and concerned about the broader social and political issues – local, national and global – that have a genuine chance in hell of resulting in change for the better.

These issues include: racism, what and why and how it’s still a very real part of the American psyche and needs to be examined and changed; feminism, what it is and what it means in the 21st century and how modern feminism should be an integral part of larger social struggles (and vice versa); poverty and homelessness, which are increasing in fact but decreasing in public awareness and concern; American politics and economics, both of which are in trouble, outmoded, and fail to serve the common good; climate change and the environment, because the upheaval in nature has been stupidly politicized and insufficiently addressed; immigration and our collective failure to recognize the karmic legitimacy of the changes in our population; religion, its dangers and its blessings, and the inability of those who rightly reject those dangers to recognize the existence and value of a more peaceful, loving, less structured and essentially generic kind of spirituality; the gifts and thefts of technology, which are creating a more interconnected world but, ironically, are also resulting in less real communication; and contemporary culture, its banality, ignorance, aliteracy, social amnesia, tawdry values, and descent into barbarism.

If there’s time, I may also add beauty and decorating tips.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Risky Business

Do you know what “risk avoidance” is? According to, it is a “technique of risk management that involves (1) taking steps to remove a hazard, (2) engage in alternative activity, or (3) otherwise end a specific exposure.” English translation: it means what business does to cover its own ass, even if that entails screwing their clients, their employees, their customers, and/or the public at large. When companies lay off hundreds, if not thousands, of employees in order to decrease costs and increase profits, that’s risk avoidance. When health insurance companies reject legitimate claims, discontinue the coverage of individuals or companies who file too many claims, or deny coverage to persons with pre-existing conditions, that’s risk avoidance.

And when stores and banks cancel your credit card, decrease your credit line, or increase your interest rate – even if there is no balance due, or you’ve been making your payments on time – that, too, is risk avoidance, and it’s going on right now at an alarming (and what should be an illegal) rate. Banks, in particular, are taking these measures now to “protect” themselves before the new federal banking regulations take effect next year – and the health insurance companies are following suit, post haste.

I found this out first hand last week when my elderly living room air conditioner breathed its last cool breath and died. I’ve had a Sears account since 1981 that had a $7,000 credit line and a zero-balance-due. I hadn’t used the card in nearly two years and in the past 10-15 years had hardly used it at all. But I held on to it, and kept it clean, because I own my apartment and am therefore responsible for the maintenance and replacement of all major appliances. I have no cash reserves or other credit resources – but I felt “protected” in the event of a household emergency, because I had my Sears card.

So, imagine my surprise when I got on the phone to Sears to place an order for a new air conditioner, only to discover that the order would not go through because my account had been closed in June due to “lack of use” – and, that Sears no longer owned and managed my account; that privilege had been turned over to Citibank, minions of which explained in no uncertain terms that once an account is closed, for whatever reason they see fit, there is no way to reactivate it and my only option is to reapply for a new account. I told them that I had not been informed that Citibank now owned my Sears account, or that my account was in danger of being closed unless I used it, or that it had in fact been closed when it was. They didn’t respond. I told them what I just detailed above, also explaining that I’m single, disabled, have no living relatives, live on a fixed income, and have a poor credit rating. I told them, “I know, and I’m sure your company knows, that if I reapply, I’ll be denied.” They didn’t respond. I did reapply. But it will be a month before I receive their inevitable rejection.

In the end, I sold some belongings I did not want to sell. Nothing fancy or particularly expensive – but put all together, it was enough to buy a new air conditioner (which I did not buy from Sears). I did what I had to do. What I’ll do if my stove or refrigerator go, both of which are 32 years old, I don’t know.

What I do know is that Citibank could care less and the reason they “can’t” reactivate a closed account is because they choose not to. Sears could also care less. As far as they’re concerned, it’s all about “what have you bought from us lately?” and if the answer is “little or nothing,” the fact that I started shopping at Sears in the 1970s, spent quite a bit of money with them, and paid off my account in a timely and proper manner throughout the 80s and 90s means nothing, because they no longer have personal business relationships with customers. Almost no one does. In America’s “mall culture,” relationships have been replaced with anonymity and discount bargains created by exploitive labor practices.

I also know that mine is an increasingly common, important story. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this has had their own story in reply. People I know whose affairs are in good standing have had credit card limits reduced, accounts canceled, home equity loans rescinded, interest rates raised to three, four and more times the previous rate, and in general, have been the consumer victims of companies (banks!) practicing “risk avoidance.” The irony, of course, is that they are not really risking much of anything, since their losses are largely tax deductible. But they’re unwilling to take manageable risk and reasonable loss or even endure the possibility of it. To them, all loss is unacceptable; profit is the only game they’re willing to play.

We have allowed ourselves to become a nation of faceless consumers instead of recognized citizens, loners instead of members of a community – big or small, real or symbolic. People made fun of Hillary Clinton when she cited the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” But it does take a village, not only to raise children but to sustain us all. Only we don’t have villages anymore. We have cities and gated housing “sub-divisions” and wild, rural country – all of it territory where it’s every man for himself (as we used to say…). A friend of mine from Nigeria tells me there’s an expression in his country that translates as: “the people in your life are your garments.” But we don’t cover each other here.

This all feels especially pertinent right now, because while I support President Obama’s well-meaning determination to reform health care and rein in the banks, I don’t believe that banks, insurance companies, health care providers, major corporations, or any profit-based enterprise will allow themselves to be controlled. They’ll find loopholes in any law or just flaunt whatever law interferes with their prime directive: make money by any means possible, any means necessary, at the cost of anyone or anything that isn’t them.

So, I’m writing this to give you a heads up. If your credit rating is good, don’t assume that this will protect you, or that it will stay good, despite your best efforts. If you have access to ample credit, don’t assume that will continue to be the case. Don’t let your cards lay dormant and don’t pay them off in full on a regular basis; that doesn’t make you a good profit center – it makes you a risk. And we are, all of us, living without garments in a cold climate of risk avoidance that is riddled with what criminal law defines as “depraved indifference.” Personally, I’m planning on saving cash in a coffee can and flying as low beneath the corporate/financial radar as I can. As long as the powers that be are indifferent to my well being, I’d prefer that they not know I’m here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Filling the Emptiness of August

August begins today and it seems that everyone and everything that’s able to, is going on hiatus. Even if they can’t go anywhere, people are finally using their vacation days. Shrinks all over Manhattan are packing late into the night. And Congress is heading out of Washington next week faster than you can say “campaign fund raising.” Even President Obama will soon join his Mrs. and the girls, who are currently staying at Caroline Kennedy’s in Martha’s Vineyard (or so I hear).

But for many of us, life will go on as usual – and for all of us, health care reform is still hanging in the balance. Earlier this evening, the news reported that a few improvements were made to the battered 1,000-page bill before it was kicked out of committee today. That’s good to hear, but I’m relieved that this process will be forced to slow down for a month, because nobody, including the President, appears to have read this tome in its entirety – and who can blame them? With the bill in its current verbose form, our elected leaders are being asked to vote on poorly and confusingly-written fine print, rather than on an inspiring proposal of sweeping concepts, clear intentions, specific policy parameters, and freedom from extraneous, unrelated crap.

The writer/editor in me is confident that this could (and should) be about 100 pages prefaced by a well-worded, ten-page executive summary, a document that any Rep. or Sen. could read at poolside anywhere in the world. Instead, they’re going back home (or wherever) with only whichever party line they’re tied to wrapped around their heads. And not for nothing: I have so had it up to here with the fractured, bickering Democrats; will they please stop trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

I’m hoping (forgive me for my naivety) that all of them (on both teams) will fill at least some of the emptiness of August with generous, big-picture contemplation of what health care reform really means: ensuring that all 300+ million Americans have ready access to quality and need-specific medical treatment, care that they can either afford or will receive free of charge.

Among the things I’d like them to consider is that the United States is the only country in the world where health care is a profit-making enterprise – a great big fat profit-making enterprise for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies; medical equipment manufacturers and retailers; hospitals, clinics, doctors, and home health care agencies – a major money-maker for everybody except patients and employers.

The Republicans/Conservatives and their fellow travelers have very successfully convinced a lot of Americans that any government health plan would be an administrative disaster and a shortcut to socialism, thanks to their many-multi-million dollar smear campaign, aided (it shames me to say) by their p.r. and advertising minions – the same message that warns we’ll be forced to give up the doctors we have and like, the coverage we have and are satisfied with, and that medical decisions will be made by government bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors.

If this weren’t such a serious issue, their propoganda would crack me up, but it’s very serious and their campaign is working. It’s working because nobody is even suggesting that health care should not be a profit-driven business. Americans are generally ignorant about the health care programs in other countries and they've simply bought into lies about their rules, options, procedures and effectiveness. And of course, my favorite lie: that the patient/doctor relationship will be sullied – when in fact, for most people, there are no meaningful patient/doctor relationships, and care decisions are made by insurance companies, not doctors or patients. Indeed, denying legitimate, necessary care is often standard operating procedure, even to the point of causing the death of patients, because keeping people healthy costs insurance companies too much, which angers their stockholders.

The anti-reform advocates never point out that Medicare, for all its high cost and inefficiency, is still run substantially more effectively and much more cheaply than private companies. Ditto for the Veterans Administration’s medical services, which are eons away from any sort of medical utopia – but both offer more bang for the buck than the profit makers.

I also fervently hope that all Americans, whether they’re luxuriating in the emptiness of August, or are so busy, worried, tired, and heat-frazzled that they feel they just can’t cope with this awesome, cumbersome problem, will find the time and strength to do a little research as well as contact their Reps. and Sens. and tell them what you need, what you want, and what you expect of them if they expect your vote in 2010 (or any other time).

You may also wish to contact President Obama and let him know what you think and how you feel. As I’ve said before on this blog, I think he’s overly concerned with trying to garner bipartisan support, too willing to compromise on the health care plan (in the quest for that support) and too eager to get something passed because he believes something is better than nothing. I disagree. I say a new but weak/confusing plan is worse than the status quo. The health care industrial complex is out to get Obama and he should use the power he has to fight back hard. The man who says Lincoln is his hero should know that you can’t please all of the people all of the time – so don’t even try; just do the right, progressive, all-encompassing, full-throated thing: craft and get the Democrat-dominated Congress and Senate to pass nationalized, non-profit health care.

For your information and convenience, click on and read one or more of the following from PBS programs: program transcripts and special online articles about health care from Bill Moyers Journal, particularly the interview with Aetna’s former VP of Communications, Wendell Potter. A Frontline report on health insurance companies dropping customers who dare to file claims. Health Care Crisis, an online site and TV program of facts and resources. A report on health care from the news program Now. And program information plus online extras from these programs, too: Remaking American Medicine, Second Opinion, and Who Cares: Chronic Illness in America.

I couldn’t copy the link to the full text of the bill (my browser’s too old…), but you can find it at; just search for Health Care Bill HR3200. Also, here’s the site for a fairly cogent short summary of same: Real Clear Politics.

If you’re sick of bad health care in America, make use of August by making lots of noise!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Fragility of Hope

I’ve been very sad this weekend, because of a synchronistic series of events that clarified my growing sense of dismay about Barack Obama’s approach to some major issues, and the promise of a unique, new, young president that is beginning to feel broken.

Friday afternoon, I gave a little editorial counsel to a friend in p.r. who’s working with a conservationist client, which naturally brought the many environmental problems that besiege us to the forefront of my mind. Then Friday night, I watched Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. His guests included two “radical” environmen-talists: Mary Sweeters, organizing manager of the controversial Greenpeace USA and Erich Pica, director of domestic programs at Friends of the Earth, an influential organization with 77 chapters worldwide.

Greenpeace USA recently staged a dramatic act of civil disobedience by scaling Mt. Rushmore and unfurling a massive banner from its famous presidential heads that said "America honors leaders, not politicians. Stop global warming." When asked to explain their purpose for the demonstration, Sweeters said, “Here you have four great presidents who really stepped up when they were faced with some of the biggest challenges that our nation has seen. And we felt like we wanted to send President Obama the same message. That we want him to step up in a similar manner and really lead the country the way that it needs to be led.”

Erich Pica seconded the emotion by explaining that the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill, which recently squeaked through Congress and will soon be further eviscerated in the Senate, is toothless and totally devoid of American global leadership, because it sorely lags behind the rest of the industrial world. He said: “The bill doesn't reduce global warming emissions in the United States fast enough…[and] the emission reduction targets are just inadequate… It strips away the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions…which is a key tool that environmentalists have been using to shut down coal plants. …It gives away a tremendous amount of money. Hundreds of billions of dollars to the polluting industries that have, essentially, caused the problem of global warming. The Duke Energies, Shells, Conocos of the world. Gives a lot of free giveaways in terms of permits…and…this is kind of overwhelming the entire system: it relies on Wall Street to help solve the problem of global warming…by allowing them to manage the trading system that's created underneath this bill.”

I’ve certainly known that there was grumbling in many quarters about the inadequacy of the bill, but I didn’t know any of the specifics until I saw this program, and I didn’t realize the extent to which the president has been actively advocating for [debilitating] compromise. Indeed, in his prelude to the interview, Moyers quoted a recent piece in The Economist that said of Obama, "Rather than shaping public opinion, he is running scared of it. And so, even more, is Congress."

On Saturday, I got a panicky e-mail from Planned Parenthood explaining that the Health Care Reform Bill currently being crafted in Congress is being lobbied against by literally dozens of anti-choice groups who want to see shocking restrictions on women’s health care (not just decreased access to abortion, but a lessening of basic, routine, women’s health care, including contraception) built into the program; in other words, giving more women even less than they’re getting now. I was naturally incensed. At Planned Parenthood's request, I sent letters to my congressman and senators. And I always use my legal Reverend title on such letters and petitions, to give the appearance that this is the sound of the status quo clapping...

Then Saturday night, I saw Anderson Cooper’s pretty-good CNN report on the president’s recent trip to Africa, during which he and his family visited Cape Ghost Castle in Ghana: a fortress, a port, an underground city of indescribable slave dungeons where, over several hundred years, literally millions of Africans were brought and gruesomely imprisoned and tortured before being stacked and stored like cargo on slave ships that took them to the Caribbean and The New World.

This is not part of the president’s personal history, but it is for the First Lady, a direct descendant of slaves and slave owners. The president spoke poignantly about the eerie horror that still lingers like a mist over the place, and what a powerful impact the visit had on him, his wife and their daughters – whom he told to try and imagine what it must have been like for the millions of free humans who were captured, torn away from everything they knew, were treated like beasts and transported like inanimate objects to a life of brutal slavery in a far away land. He also told them to imagine what it was like to be in the slave business or a slave owner, to have complete and ruthless power over the lives of others -- not to sympathize with them, but to better understand the human capacity for inhuman behavior.

Barack Obama is a man who understands pain and injustice and suffering and bondage. He’s a man with affection and respect for the earth. And, I still believe he’s a very smart politician who wants to be an effective and meaningful president, to do good, to do right. I believe he wants this just as much as he wants to make history with a magnificent legacy. You can’t be a shrinking violet and become president. You have to crave power and want to use it.

Which is why I, like a growing number of other Americans, am feeling disappointed, confused, even betrayed. In his effort to transform Washington into a place where law and policy are made in a spirit of unity and cooperation, with everyone having a place at the table where they can sit with dignity and feel they’re being heard, he’s losing sight of something important: he won! He has the power to make the kinds of changes he believes in and that he made us believe in.

But he may blow it, because he’s trying to show that he can play the game better and in a new way. How he achieves what he wants to achieve seems to be as important to him as the goal itself. I think that was a marvelous idea. I don’t think it’s going to work. I think the time has come for him to do the right things by (you should excuse the expression…) any means necessary. Force it down the opposition’s throats. That’s the power of power!

I got addicted to the NBC-TV series The West Wing (pictured above) when it went into syndication on Bravo a few years back. I watched it avidly, repeatedly. It was like comfort food. In the midst of the George W. Bush administration, the idea of an educated, eloquent, caring president surrounded by a staff of bright idealists was enchanting. Interestingly, after Obama was elected, when I watched The West Wing, the dream seemed to pale against the reality.

The series’ President Bartlett was also a liberal who wanted to play the political game smartly – and as a result, as the series progressed, he didn’t accomplish most of what he wanted. In a pivotal episode, “Let Bartlett Be Bartlett,” the president is chastised by his chief of staff for playing it safe, and for being more concerned with winning a second term than getting the job done. By the end of the episode, the president confesses to being weary of a sense of pointlessness and failure, and vows to do what’s needed, even if it means he doesn’t get re-elected (which, by the way, he does, of course).

I say it’s time to Let Obama Be Obama. Be the firebrand, the shaman, the Minister of Hope you were during the campaign. Don’t sell your constituency of believers down the river in an effort to win the support of those who will never be on your side. We need new climate policy. We need new health care policy. But they have to be good, meaty, make-real-change policies. We need to put people ahead of banks and corporations, to put Main Street ahead of Wall Street.

Let Obama Be Obama. Let the revolution begin.