Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tower is Closing

For the past couple of months, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of ending this blog, which I started in August, 2007.  In the end, I’ve decided the pros outweigh the cons – so this is my final post.

This blog has given me a chance to express my ideas, concerns and opinions and giving up this opportunity was a big “con” in my consideration.  However, I’ve never done the enormous amount of personal and technical work necessary to bring this blog to the attention of a larger audience, and I don’t feel like doing it now.  But by not doing it, I’ve increasingly felt that I’ve just been sporadically and inconsistently screaming into an unhearing void, and what’s the point in continuing if I’m not going to do the work to promote/market Views From the Tower?  For me, the final answer is that there is no point, so it’s time to end it.

That said, I very much appreciate that those of you who have been following this blog took the time to do so, and some of you have often taken the time to send me private emails of response: much praise and sometimes disagreement.  All of it was gratifying, encouraging, and gave me the sense that I wasn’t entirely screaming into an unhearing void.  Thank you very, very much.

As a writer, I certainly intend to keep writing.  I’m working on a mystery novel, something I’ve always wanted to do.  In a way, given my politics, it amuses me and reminds me of the time in the 70s that Eldridge Cleaver moved to Paris and became a pants designer.  But I’m no Eldridge Cleaver and also have no delusion that I’ll become a modern Agatha Christie.  I just want to have some fun (and maybe make a little money).  I haven’t had a lot of fun as a writer and now seems like a good time to do it.  Equally important, I abandoned my relationship with The Tarot about ten years ago and I want to reclaim it.  It enriched my life when I had it and I want that connection again – and that’s a study/practice that takes time.  You may or may not understand what this means, but suffice it to say The Tarot is important to me and that’s reason enough for me.

In general, having turned 60 earlier this year, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to time – time past, present and future.  And December is annually the month in which I give the most thought to time: it’s filled with holidays I no longer celebrate with family and friends; it’s the end of one year and the birth of a new one; and I’m reminded of what was lost in Decembers past.  John Lennon, who was murdered at the age of 40 in December 1980, would have been 72 this year.  His five-year-old son who was left fatherless turned 37.  A dear friend of mine, Stuart Franklin, died in December 21 years ago.  Had my mother and father survived their 70s, they would be 89 and 90 now – a misery I’m glad they were spared, but I still miss them terribly.

I also think about the meaningful, functional time I have left.  I don’t have oodles of it.  Over the past few months, arthritis has settled in my left shoulder, wrist and hand.  Over the past few years, my teeth have started screwing up.  My right knee is prone to slipping out from under me.  My hearing, especially in my left ear, has greatly diminished.  My home and daily routine are both a mess and hugely dysfunctional.  I need the time to get these things together and bring some peace and order to the rest of my time.

So again, my thanks, and my best wishes to all of you, as well as my hope that you have the opportunity to do what you wish and need to do with your time.  Also, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.  Here’s hoping the future brings better times for us all.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A New Level of Nasty


I’ve been so appalled for so long by the policies, “values,” ignorance, stupidity and meanness of the Republicans/Conservatives, I didn’t think it was possible for them to shock me anew.  But what’s been going on for the past two weeks is so stunning, I can’t help but say my piece.

First, let’s consider the real issues that confront America and the world that the Republicans are ignoring: the East Coast is still trying to recover from the devastating impact of Superstorm Sandy; the European Union has fallen back into recession; militants in Gaza have been attacking Israel, which has of course retaliated, and only the President has taken the time to speak out in support of our most important Middle Eastern ally’s right to defend itself; and we’re still teetering on the fiscal cliff.

But what are the Republicans growling about like a pack of angry dogs?  The incident in Benghazi, which they still blame on the President and the UN Ambassador (?!), crying out about lies, cover-ups, improper intelligence, and inadequate embassy security.  The last is especially unbelievable when you consider that shortly before Benghazi exploded, Congress rejected Secretary of State Clinton’s request for additional funds specifically for that purpose.  But the Right is so outraged by their (spurious) interpretations of this event they want to impeach the President and filibuster against Susan Rice’s possible appointment to Secretary of State.  The mind reels…

The Right is also in a spin about CIA Director, General David Petraeus, and his extramarital affair, which has nothing to do with national security, but the sexually repressed and obsessed Right want to make this a political soap opera.

Most of all is the extraordinary poor sportsmanship expressed by Mitt Romney & Company about Republican losses in the election.  Talk about a lack of self-awareness, not to mention out and out dishonesty!  Their shameless efforts at voter suppression backfired and actually motivated voters to come out – so, of course, they’re now claiming voter fraud contributed to the President’s re-election.  In addition, according to them, Mr. Obama “bought” the election by promising “gifts” to “minority” voters and women.  I’m expecting my toaster oven and blender any day now…

The Right is trying to understand why they lost – but they just can’t accept the possibility that voters disliked their double-talking candidate and draconian policies.  A few voices are suggesting that perhaps the GOP is out of touch with a changed and still-changing America – particularly the fact that white men no longer rule the roost.  Grover Norquist contributed the idea that Romney is a Poopyhead.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I wish those states who want to secede would just go ahead and do it.  Unfortunately, I fear we’re stuck with each other – and they indeed have weapons of mass destruction.

I’m outraged by this multi-faceted Republican/ Conservative tantrum.  They were horrid and mean-spirited (read: racist) and ridiculous before all this, but now they are showing themselves as willing and able to say anything to justify themselves and their failed ideas.  The comments made this week, particularly by Mitt Romney, John McCain and Paul Ryan, bring the dysfunction and bubble-dwelling of their party into the sharpest relief possible.  If cooler, smarter, better-informed, and more honest heads don’t prevail soon, the Grand Old Party will become the Gone Old Party.

Part of me wishes they would indeed just self-destruct and disappear.  But the greater part of me that believes America needs a strong two-party system can only hope they’ll come to their senses and become a legitimate alternative to the Democrats.  I’ll still probably disagree with them, but I’d like to see a political battle of honest, differing ideas instead of dishonest, unexamined, meaningless rage.

I wonder if Mexico will take Texas back or the states that want to leave the union will just have to go it alone?   

Friday, November 09, 2012

Good News…Bad News

I was, of course, delighted and relieved that President Obama was re-elected and the Democrats maintain the majority in the Senate.  I’m wary but hopeful that Republicans, at least some, recognize the major changes in American demographics and attitudes and understand that if their party is to remain viable, they have no choice but to reject the far-right-as-you-can-go fringe and move more to a workable center in order to actually help run the country – which they can now do, since they failed to achieve their primary objective: making Barack Obama a one-term president.  I was also very pleased that both marriage equality and the decriminalization of marijuana made strides in a few states.  All of this is good news.

But, now that the nation has managed to suffer through this seemingly-endless campaign, there is a considerable amount of bad news to contemplate and correct  – and some of it isn’t “news,” just situations, some fairly recent and others that have been with us for quite a long time.

Let’s begin with the length and cost of this election: two years and $4.2 billion.  The rest of the Democratic World (yes, Virginia, there are over 170 democratic countries) manage to hold elections in just six months to a year.  Why can’t we?  They also manage to not spend billions of dollars or euros or whatever currency they use, and the funds raised aren’t largely comprised of “dark money” (unidentified individual and corporate donors) in massive Super Pacs.  These two situations alone hugely undermine the truth/reality of our democracy, let alone its ability to function.  The fact that more than half the country didn’t vote at all is directly tied to these two factors.

The lack of voting can also be attributed to political cynicism and fatigue on the part of the citizenry; the inability of the two parties to agree on facts – which are different from opinions and perceived solutions to problems big and small; the willingness of both parties to fight dirty and outright lie; the hugely disparate methods of voting, from registration to voting to counting the votes; the outrageously blatant voter suppression that went on during this election cycle; the distinction of “important, battleground states” that make many people in and outside those states feel that their votes are meaningless; and, most of all, the existence of the long-outmoded Electoral College.  These issues pose a valid question: given these factors, why should anyone feel obliged to take an active interest in politics, let alone leave the comfort of home to go out and vote?

Last but most assuredly not least is the media – from daily television news coverage to the “debates” to coverage of the results on Election Day.  Let me take these issues in reverse order.

When I was a kid and then a young voter, there was such a thing as “No electioneering near the polls.”  You couldn’t even enter a voting station wearing a political button.  Then, the three major broadcast TV networks (which was all we had) didn’t begin coverage of the results until the West Coast had largely closed its polls.  These practices were designed to not influence voters on Election Day itself and they were sacrosanct.

In this day and age, however, we have 24/7 news channels: three majors (Left, Right and Center) and a few minors.  Their Election Day coverage began at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, which amounts to electronic electioneering near the polls.  This isn’t good; this isn’t right.  We also have legitimate news sources as well as blogs and social media on the (relatively) new-fangled Internet, which operates on its own 24/7 spectrum in the space-time continuum and is governed and controlled by nothing and nobody.  Sounds great in theory, but a lot of Internet power is in the hands of irresponsible, disreputable and self-serving persons and groups.  What can be done about this?  Lastly, we have polls and pundits.  Polls and pundits are nothing new, but we now have a monumental number of them, some of them credible, others not.  Combined, they contribute to the divisiveness and dullness of political information, not to mention a serious blurring of factual news and both informed and uninformed opinion.

As a result of all this, we have daily news coverage that can frequently rot the brain the way sugar causes cavities.  News outlets spend more time on gaffes,  scandals, taking things out of context, and on the political horserace than they do on major issues.  Right now, before President Obama has even been re-inaugurated, much of the media are speculating about the horse races of 2014 and 2016.  This does not help politics or elections seem meaningful; it’s like sport for news/political junkies.  I totally ignore major/minor league athletics because they bore and annoy me.  With this kind of political coverage, why should many citizens feel differently about politics?  Then there are the debates the media moderate and broadcast.  These might be helpful if they truly covered all the important issues of the day.  But they don’t.  They’re rigid, limited and vary in format in a way that does nothing to help bring issues to the fore.  Is this any way to run a railroad?

If indeed America is to remain a democracy and if we’re going to continue to have elections big and small that actually mean something, then we must (no ifs, ands or buts) reform election law from financing to process.  And if we’re going to continue to have 24-hour news cycles (and that’s not likely to change) on TV and online, modern journalism must honestly re-assess its strengths and weaknesses and how they use their time.  Currently, public television (which those who apparently don’t watch it seem to think consists largely of children’s programming; so not true!) and C-SPAN are the only outlets I’m aware of that routinely produce and air a diversity of documentaries and panel discussions on major political issues, both fiscal and social, on a regular, ongoing basis.

So, while I’m glad my guy won, I’m definitely not a happy camper about the dysfunction of political contests and the media that cover them.  Once we manage to not fall off the fiscal cliff that is currently of serious concern, I hope our leaders and our media will make the time to examine and clean up their acts.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Woman Issue

Since we’re just three weeks from Election Day, I think now would be a good time to remember that there are other important considerations besides The Economy (unemployment/debt/deficit/taxes) and the country’s biggest-ticket-items: Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health care.  Of course all this is critical – especially since the Presidential opponents have significantly different ideas about how to handle them.

But the “ancillary” issues that are dismissed in some quarters as "distractions" are in fact very important.  They literally define what our country is now and what it will be in the future: our culture, our values - not in some uptight religious sense, but having a collective, humane agreement about what matters.  Most of these issues have something to do with women, because the category of "woman" overlaps or underpins almost everything else.

All the major stuff, plus:
the future of the Supreme Court, green energy, effective foreign policy, youth and adult education, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the erosion of hard won civil- and voting-rights, Gay Rights and Marriage Equality, immigration and the Dream Act, progressive science, the environment, infrastructure, reforms and regulations, the arts and humanities, fighting voter suppression and the lie of voter fraud - all the things that are the essence of our democracy and literally civilize us and make us great.

Women’s rights, woes, and unbalanced status in America and around the world personify the very real culture clashes that define our times.  And it's an outrage that it's happening here in America.  After decades of struggle to earn the right to vote, not to mention personal autonomy, property ownership, professional opportunity, pay equity and more, women are now in real danger of losing control of our own bodies due to a growing lack of basic and preventive health care, and access to legal abortion and contraception, some of which require enduring intrusive, unnecessary medical procedures and stressful waiting periods.  The repeal of Roe v Wade is a very real possibility in a Conservative/Republican administration.

However, the greatest problem women face – to a much lesser extent here in America but to a vast extent around the world (particularly but not exclusively in the Muslim World) – is atrocious oppression, abuse and violence.  You’re no doubt aware of the 14-year old Pakistani girl who was recently shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist because she wrote a blog and spoke out against the Taliban and advocating education for women.  According to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “The United Nations mission in Afghanistan says it verified 34 attacks against schools in just the first six months of this year, ‘including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures, particularly of girls’ schools’.”

And let us not forget the routine honor killings, stonings, cutting off women's noses, acid attacks, indentured servitude, sexual slavery and rape as a tactic of war and cultural intimidation that are central to radical Islamic Shariah Law.  In addition, throughout Africa and elsewhere, female genital mutilation is traditional.  More recently, the gang rape of lesbians in order to “turn them into proper African women” has become common, as well as the rape of young girls (including infants and toddlers) because it’s believed that sex with a virgin will cure or prevent AIDS.

While most of this behavior is not an American issue per se, some of it is.  Rape, sexual slavery (of children and women) and severe domestic violence are very much American problems – particularly growing violence against girlfriends by teens and young men.  And there are millions of educated-but-ignorant young women who cluelessly ignore these matters and truly believe they're living a solid post-feminist reality.  The have no real understanding of history and are contributing nothing to the existing, still-valiant struggle - because "feminist" has become an old-fashioned, bad word.  They're the Starbucks Generation.

Which feeds in (you should pardon the expression) to America's benefits for the poor that so many people seem to bitterly resent: Welfare and Food Stamps.  Separately or combined, they barely provide the ability to survive.  Although many Americans picture Welfare recipients as burly black men laying around the house watching 60” televisions, and Food Stamps recipients as people using these benefits for non-nutritional purposes, like buying booze and frequenting strip clubs.  These stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The vast majority of people on Welfare and Food Stamps are white women and their minor children and their lives are brutal.  These women are generally unskilled, under-educated to the point of illiteracy, and plagued by severe mental/ emotional problems, too.  (Abject poverty, constant worry and social disdain can do that to a person.)

Which brings us back to the fact that women’s health, safety, freedom and prosperity are very much an important part of the 2012 campaign – domestically and as a foreign policy issue.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made great efforts and some strides in the area of women’s rights by vocally supporting education, professional opportunity and personal freedom, and forcefully speaking out against horrific violence and oppression of women.  Republican John R. Bolton – George W. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. and a specialist on security and arms control – is said to be Romney’s top contender for Clinton’s post should he win the Presidency.  Do you imagine Bolton would make the crises and needs of women a top priority as he travels the world?

How women's issues are addressed – and whether they are addressed at all – will, for years to come, be a revealing part of what kind of country we are and strive to be.  I don’t believe that Romney/Ryan support heinous violence against women here or abroad.  But I also don’t think they have the awareness, sensitivity, and concern we need in the White House, Congress and Senate.  For example, important legislation that would have helped combat extensive sexual slavery in America has been defeated numerous times by Republicans.  They want small government, but they want it to be just big enough to control women, especially sexually.  How long can women here and abroad be denied, defiled, and controlled by men with much power and little compassion?

Human beings are more important than money, but ironically, a greater empowerment of women in all ways would be a genuine boon to our economy and those of developing countries who are nonetheless determined to keep women in the Dark Ages.  So gentlemen, please don’t forget your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and all the other women in your life when you vote next month.  And ladies, don’t forget the life and liberty you protect may be your own – and perhaps those of our sisters worldwide.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Just Give Us Some Truth

Note: Sheer vanity about my political insight forces me to tell you that I wrote this post last night before I watched Washington Week, Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, and a couple of other news analysis programs.  If you saw them, too, you understand why…

As much as I’m angered by political apathy on the part of many of my fellow citizens, I can’t deny the rationale for their disengagement, given the current “we’ll do whatever’s necessary to get your vote” political climate.  I’m rather aggravated (read: enraged) that in some quarters of the Right, when the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Monthly Jobs Report announced a national decrease in unemployment – down to 7.8% in September from 8.1% in August – this modest but meaningful improvement was deemed manipulated by “those Chicago guys,” implying the President and/or his “corrupt” cohorts in the Windy City had cooked the Labor Department’s stats.

I’m also downright insulted that Mitt Romney had the chutzpah to say he was “completely wrong” about his description of 47% of the public; not that he described an idea “inelegantly,” but just plain wrong.  And we’re supposed to believe he really means this!?

When I began writing this post, I heard John Lennon’s song, “Just Gimme Me Some Truth” running through my head (check out the lyrics) and I had a sense of political déjà vu all over again.  So, let’s take it from the top.  The Right so despises Barack Obama that they will try to discredit anything that even slightly indicates his policies are having a positive impact on the economy.  Accordingly, when the Jobs Report showed unemployment at its lowest point since Obama took office – and also revised the July and August numbers as down by an additional 40,000 and 47,000 respectively – the Right smelled conspiracy like a dead mouse behind the refrigerator.  The Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, dismissed this implication as “ludicrous” and, indeed, there was no evidence of any irregularity.  But the Right remains unconvinced.  They’re also not entirely sure the sky is blue, but that’s another matter…

Then, in his ongoing effort to turn his well-coiffed head any way the wind blows, Mitt Romney disavowed what he clearly believes in his heart-of-hearts.  To be fair, on the tape of Romney’s speech to funders, his 47% statement is clearly a reference to campaign strategy: that a large segment of the population isn’t worth his pursuing for votes.  In that regard, “it’s not my job to worry about those people” is true.  Where he screwed up was in his vehemently warped, insulting, unguarded description of “the 47%” as people he clearly doesn’t like, respect, understand, or have the ability to change.  His tone and message are obviously genuine.

Politics has never been the sport of gentlemen, and smart people understand this and view the game as crooked overall – but still worth watching and taking sides on.  That’s because Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a serious game that actually affects people’s lives.  But when the usual bullshit increases exponentially and fair play is callously cast aside – through outright lies and voter suppression, for example – it has an effect on Americans opposite to the one desired: instead, interest and ticket sales (votes) plummet.  Who wants to watch a viciously rigged game played without the restraint of general rules?  To much of the public, politics in the main has the stench of that dead mouse behind the refrigerator and all it inspires is the desire to eat out.

For his part, the President’s debate passivity followed by his campaigning indignation is further proof that he doesn’t want to be perceived as an “angry black man” – which he is and has every right to be.  I keep fantasizing that he’ll come out for the next debate wearing a dashiki and a huge Afro wig – just to scare the “BeJesus” out of his opponent and already-frightened White America.  But of course, he won’t; he can’t.

So we’re confronted with two politicians who aren’t being fully truthful: one by outrageous commission, the other by pragmatic omission.  Either way, it’s not being straight with the public, which is a sad and perilous state of political affairs.  Just give us some truth – and please give us a break.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ich Bin Ein Berliner Redux

No fair-minded, honest, political junkie can deny that Mitt Romney’s assertiveness, vigor, and semi-specifics stole the show in last night’s first Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign – much to the consternation of we on the Left who were hoping (and expecting) that President Obama would wipe up the floor with his clueless, wealthy, Conservative opponent.  Alas, he did not.

Rather than brimming with the passion, energy, and details he has demonstrated on the campaign trail, the President came across as passive, petulant, exhausted, disengaged, and either unwilling or unable to challenge Romney on several of his glaring departures from his ultra-Conservative, bumbling, stump speeches.  Anyone who saw last night’s contest but hasn’t been paying attention to this endless horse race until now, could easily come away with the notion that Mitt Romney is a strong, reasonable alternative to Obama.  It doesn’t matter that this isn’t so; appearances are everything.

Indeed, as I watched the Obama-supporting pundits last night and early this morning tear their hair out over the fact that Mr. Obama didn’t challenge Romney’s doesn’t-add-up tax plan, hit him over the head with the revealing 47% fiasco, remind the proud businessman that a nation isn’t a corporation, or mention any of the vital social and cultural issues (women’s issues, in particular) that are a critical part of this campaign, I was reminded of an amusing historical moment and comedian Eddie Izzard’s comments about it.

In June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed a huge, adoring crowd in Berlin.  In an effort to convey his spirit of solidarity with post-WWII West Germany, he told them “Ich bin ein Berliner,” intending to mean “I’m one of you.”  The crowd went wild – even though “Ich bin ein Berliner” literally means “I am a doughnut,” referring to the popular German dessert.  The correct phrase would have eliminated the “ein.”  But as Eddie Izzard has said, “It proves once again [that in public speaking] it’s 70% how you look, 20% how you sound, and 10% what you say [that matters].”

Last night’s debate proved anew that this formula is true, in large part, I believe,  because  the President couldn’t politically speak truth to aspirational power.  He couldn’t say “I saved this country from falling into another Great Depression after GWBush fucked everything up,” or “It’s a miracle that I was able to get anything done when, from Day One, your party was dedicated to having me fail and getting rid of me,” or “I’ve had to govern while being continually accused of being an anti-business Socialist, not being a Real American in my understanding of this country, not being a native-born citizen, and being a Muslim who’s trying to have the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood take over the White House.”  And most of all, he couldn’t say “What really burns your ass is that a black man is in charge, and you’d like to ‘take the country back’ to the multitude of inequities of the 1950s.”

Until a few years from now, when the post-presidency “a look into the Obama White House” books come out (yes, I know there are already a few), we probably won’t know why the President chose to handle the first debate as he did – and it had to have been a deliberate decision, because there’s no doubt that Mr. Obama has a mass of facts at his fingertips.  For example, during a speech in May of this year at the NanoTech Complex at the State University of New York in Albany, Mr. Obama said: “Companies get tax breaks for moving factories, jobs and profits overseas.  They can actually end up saving on their tax bill when they make the move.”  This is something that Mr. Romney claimed to know nothing about last night, despite his own business history of considerable outsourcing.

So, I encourage my fellow Obama supporters to not lose heart.  There’s still plenty of time for Romney to put his foot back in his mouth while speaking out of both sides of it.  And, there are still three more debates (two presidential, one vice-presidential) to come, during which, I’m confident, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will land hard punches on the Far Right that Romney alternately embraces and rejects, depending on who he’s talking to.  It ain’t over ‘til the proverbial fat lady sings – and I’m not even humming…

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Businessman Romney vs. Presidential Candidate Romney

Ignore for a moment Mitt Romney’s stated Conservative values, attitudes, and policies, whether he believes them or not (who knows?).  Even ignore the fact that he’s a very rich man with a fuzzy, flawed view of the different kinds of people and struggles within the 47% he contemptuously lumped together, as well as everyone else who’s not rich.  The thing to keep in mind is that Mitt Romney is a senior corporate executive, not just in his past experience, but in his business view of political leadership.  There seems to be considerable sentiment that America needs a businessman at the helm, rather than a politician.  But Romney is proving them wrong.

Many Americans have come to dislike, mistrust and ignore politicians, dismissing them all as corrupt, self-serving and/or ideologues.  Of course there is more than a nugget of truth here.  But corrupt, crazy, blatant hatred and disrespect, and a lack of bipartisan camaraderie weren’t always the norm.  So, I still believe that many politicians become so because they genuinely want to serve the public good.

Unfortunately, I don’t think serving the public good is Gov. Romney’s motivation.  He doesn’t think like a sincere public servant, he thinks like a dedicated businessman.  For example, he doesn’t take the long view; businesspeople think in terms of business quarters and how they’ve performed.  He also doesn’t connect the dots among the many issues a nation faces and over which a president must preside simultaneously.  Very few of society’s problems exist in a vacuumwhereas in business, a malfunctioning situation may be isolated in one or more specific areas, or cohort, as Romney said the other day.  In life, a cohort is a friend.  In business, a cohort is a team, department, or division. 

As in business, Romney’s focus is on money – overhead and profit, in business; in political terms, the economy, deficit and debt.  He objects to spending in general and taxing the rich in particular.  But he does not see the connections between many social issues and why spending and taxing are needed, e.g., the connections between unemployment and outsourcing, downsizing, public service and private sector employment, primary/higher education and adult training, poverty, health care, child care, et al, the sum of which will shape our future.

Mitt Romney has taken on the role of politician in his years-long effort to become President of the United States.  But he doesn’t understand how to function in big time, hardball politics.  Like a good businessman, he understands the importance of delegating, so he has essentially delegated his campaign.  He’s laying low to avoid conflict and association with all his own untimely and revealing remarks , leaving his subordinates to fight the fight and take the heat.  In essence, Romney doesn’t understand that political leadership must quickly give way to national, governmental, personal leadership.  Politics and business are not the same thing, and confusing or interchanging them is bad business and dangerous politics.

It’s significant that Romney famously said corporations are people, and, that on a recent stump speech, he used the word “company” when he meant to say “country.”  When Romney says corporations are people, he’s not referring to a corporation’s human life/workforce.  He means a business entity, the legal paperwork that creates the foundation on which corporations function, is a person.  It’s a whole other kind of wacked “personhood.”

If Romney understood the rules and dynamics of social leadership as well as he understands the same things in business, he might be a force to be reckoned with (I still think he’d be a dufus, but let’s just say, for the sake of argument…).  The problem is Romney thinks being president is essentially being the CEO of the USA.

He wants to streamline and downsize and purge systems and personnel (citizens) that are not making the corporation…er, the country…profitable.  He’s more concerned with Return on Investment for his stockholders (the infamous one percent) than the contributions and needs of his stakeholders (workers and everyone else).  He wants to keep power and information close to the vest, and have his Cabinet function like a rubber-stamp board of directors – like any good CEO would.  This is a close race and Romney is a disaster waiting to happen.

I wish Romney would get out of politics and go back into business.  He might conceivably do some good.  With any luck, he’ll be available as of November 7th.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Important Correction – and – a Word About Bad Political Judgment & Timing

Now it's time to discuss the political ramifications of yesterday's events.  In my post yesterday, I was incorrect in saying that Gov. Romney criticized the President’s initial response to the extremist attacks in Libya and Egypt.  That is not what the Republican/Conservative presidential contender did.  In point of fact, what Romney did was much worse and demonstrated a level of bad political judgment and timing that should give every American “independent” and “undecided” voter serious pause.  It wouldn’t hurt if it gave a few Republican voters pause, too.

What actually happened was this.  The American Embassy in Cairo got wind of possible pending attacks in response to a movie trailer that had appeared on the Internet.  In an effort to avert the attacks, the Embassy issued a statement on its own authority (e.g., without the knowledge or approval of The White House).  This is the statement they issued:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Right after Romney learned of the attacks and without the full facts about their resulting fatalities – and without waiting to hear to anything directly from The White House – he issued this statement:

“I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi.  It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Needless to say – or, rather, in this political climate, unfortunately necessary to say – this in no way was a reply to the President’s actual response (made later in the day after the facts were in), nor “the Administration’s” response.  This was an uninformed politician’s effort to make premature political hay out of a sensitive, dangerous, international event – thus proving that to Mitt Romney, understanding and speaking about America’s foreign policy really is “a distraction” (as he recently, stupidly said).

Some Republicans (to my surprise) have quickly spoken out against Romney’s untrue and untimely remarks.  Others (hardly to my surprise) are standing firm, parroting the “official” support statement.  As Gail Collins explained in her New York Times column this morning:

The Romney campaign, according to CNN, helpfully passed out suggestions for supporters who might want to defend Mitt. (When asked whether he was too quick on the attack, loyalists were supposed to say: “No. It is never too soon to stand up for American values and interests.”).”

Folks, this incident may hurt Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the presidency, but it very well may not – because millions of Americans are still not paying attention and still think all politics and politicians are the same, and what they say or do makes no difference in their own lives or those of others.

I don’t know who or what is most disheartening: Mitt Romney’s clear lack of presidential intelligence, strategy and gravitas, or the American people’s clear lack of active citizenship by watching, analyzing, and engaging in the political process (voting!!!).  I fear that between both of them, we may all be seriously screwed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Where Are the Moderate Muslims?

We are still just getting a clearer picture of yesterday’s attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff.  A similar angry, armed mob also attacked the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, which resulted in more general destruction, injury, vandalism and demonstrations of Muslim extremist hatred for America.  What we have not seen, as usual, nor are we likely to see, is a swell of protest against these actions from moderate Muslims – not in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, or most important, Muslim-Americans.  Why not?  Where are the Moderate Muslims?

I do not condone the sentiments and often the behavior of those who are Muslim-phobic in this country, and I fully understand that most Muslims worldwide are not extremists engaging in or supporting of terrorism and political violence.  But it becomes increasingly irritating to not see this larger Muslim World stand up to the extremists – the violent, ignorant, bullies – in their ranks.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

These most recent incidents were apparently set off by an obscure, amateur video that is extremely anti-Islam and, of course, deeply insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.  And as stupid as it may seem to us, the extremists believed the video was a blockbuster Hollywood movie that was going to be released to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

According to today’s New York Times:

“The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by Sam Bacile, whom The Wall Street Journal Web site identified as a 52-year old Israeli-American real estate developer in California.  He told the Web site he had raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film.  ‘Islam is a cancer,’  Mr. Bacile was quoted as saying.

“The video gained international attention when a Florida pastor began promoting it along with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as ‘International Judge Muhammad Day.’  In a statement on Tuesday, the pastor, Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., called the film ‘an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam’ and said it ‘further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad’.”

Lest you’ve forgotten, it was Mr. Jones who, a while back, thought threatening to burn a copy of the Koran would be helpful in fighting terrorism and strengthening positive relationships between the US and Muslim nations.

I don’t want to devote too much space to noting that in today’s impossible 24-hour news and politics pace of life and governing, it is regrettable that Gov. Mitt “Foreign Policy is a Distraction” Romney felt both obliged and entitled to immediately criticize the President’s initial response.  After all, in the middle of The Campaign, everything is fair political game for a kick in the balls.  “America First,” indeed.

For the record, Obama’s “objectionable” statement was as follows: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

No, I want to concentrate on the fact that contemporary, moderate, ordinary-folks-just-like-you-and-me-Muslims have never collectively done anything to disparage the brethren who are making them look bad and are doing nothing to make the world better – in general or for Muslims in particular – with their violence, hatred and, frankly, a complete lack of sense of humor about themselves and what they believe in.

If you really believe in what you say you believe in – whatever that may be – you don’t get crazy every time someone writes a book or draws a cartoon or makes a movie that offends you.  You let it roll off your back at the least, and peacefully protest about it at the most.  And it would also have been nice, in this instance, if the protesters had given the US some slack, given our support of the Arab Spring and our efforts to avert a Libyan genocide.

To his political detriment, President Obama has consistently tried to walk a fine line between improving relations and communication with the Muslim World and maintaining a consistently supportive policy with Israel.  For his efforts, he’s been accused by the radical American Right of being a Muslim; and rejected, even reviled, by American Jews for not doing enough for Israel.  Instead, Obama and the US have been attacked by Muslim extremists who have no understanding of a culture in which ideas are expressed that are not shared by government, religious leaders, or the populace at large.

If the vast majority of Muslims just want to live their lives and practice their religion in peace, they must show some collective gumption and stand up for sanity and order.  If they don’t, the extremists will make it even worse for them, as well as incur reprisals that would otherwise be unnecessary; it will be a self-fulfilled prophecy, realized in large part by those who stood by and did nothing.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Conventionally Speaking

I watched all of both the Republican and Democratic Conventions and found both of them informative, fascinating and revealing.  I watched them on C-SPAN so I wouldn’t be harangued by in-the-moment media analysis or irritated with commercials.  Then, over the several nights of both events, I watched analysis on PBS and the Cable Big Three (MSNBC, CNN and FOX).  I no longer pay any attention to the Big Three Broadcast networks that pay nothing to broadcast (and never have) yet still pay no attention to their civic obligations as massive media institutions; screw ‘em, let them play football while Rome burns.

I’m saddened to learn that convention viewership was low and that by and large, Republicans/Conservatives and Democrats each watched their own conventions but not each other’s.  I can only hope the debates will inspire greater and more bipartisan viewership.

And it’s too bad more people didn’t watch, because the differences between the two conventions were stark and very important.

The Republicans were stiff; many of the speakers were more politically self-serving than anything else; the delegation was (as usual) glaringly Caucasian; and the messages were clear.  Barack Obama is the most terrible, dangerous thing to ever happen to America and if Romney/Ryan win, they will undo as much Obama policy as they can and run the country like a corporation.  They made obvious their devotion to Norman Rockwell-like families and marriage; their belief in having as little government as possible doing as little as possible (except where women’s autonomy is concerned, of course); talked endlessly about God and taxes; and showed nothing but contempt for social issues, social programs and the poor – to the very minimal extent they addressed them at all.  They also outright lied about several matters, then afterwards announced they “would not allow this campaign to be controlled by fact-checkers.”  That’s true chutzpah.

In contrast, the Democrats produced a much more lively show.  The music was hotter, the speakers were numerous, diverse, and largely fired up and ready to go.  The delegation was a greatly mixed, cheerful crowd, with many people in outrageously fun get-ups.  But they weren’t there to play.  The primary topic of discourse was the Man of the Hour: Barack Obama.  There was much commentary from speakers about what he’d accomplished (Obamacare, the auto-bailout, ending the war in Iraq, getting bin Laden, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” etc.) and an obvious understanding that much more needs to be done, on the economic front especially.  But as Bill Clinton accurately observed, “No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have cleaned up the mess that was left for him in just four years.”

What was most heartening about the Democrats was what I can only describe as their humanity – a sensibility I sure didn’t feel from the let-them-eat-rice & beans GOP.  The Dems talked about community and citizenship and the fact that we’re all in this together.  They emphasized that while government should not be involved in everything, there are good and important things government can and should do.  They repeatedly referenced women’s rights, from pay equity to complete control of our health care, including reproductive freedom.  There were several gay speakers and broad support throughout the hall for GLBT rights, including marriage.  They talked about the fairness of The Dream Act, new energy initiatives, science, climate change and the enormous importance of affordable education and retraining working people whose skills are outdated.  There was assurance that the very young, the elderly, the disabled, and, singularly, returning veterans, would be protected and supported.  The said a “civilized society” looks forward, moves forward, works cooperatively and doesn’t leave anyone hanging out to dry.

Neither party was coy or closed about its values, priorities, positions or beliefs.  They couldn’t be more clear in their differences about who and what they want to serve.  Both parties also had interesting omissions in their statements.  The Republicans in general and Romney in particular said nothing about the Afghanistan War, the troops, or his party’s platform!  The Democrats didn’t mention the Stimulus Package during the president’s first two years.  The Democrats also didn’t say outright that a corporation isn’t a person and a country isn’t a corporation and a president isn’t a CEO and the Cabinet is not a Board of Directors.  The Republicans didn’t say a word about civil service, service, which is what government is about – service and leadership.

I’ve often been upset with Barack Obama over the past few years.  Even allowing for the obstructionism and outright hatred he was faced with from Day One, I thought he was at times too eager to cooperate and compromise with a Disloyal Opposition that was more dedicated to making him a one-term failure than they were in helping the country and its people.  They see the world – and the country – as a business deal.  That’s a very bad thing.

I appreciate that many people have lost faith in the political process entirely, who think that both sides, all sides, are corrupt and dishonest and not worth getting out of bed to vote for.  I don’t deny that political chicanery abounds.  But if you’d seen these two conventions, you would know that the Republicans have officially become right-wing extremists controlled by the Tea Party fringe, and the Democrats, however disjointed and disorganized they are at times, are still the party who cares about everyday people.  To them, the “bottom line” is not the whole story.  So please listen, please watch – and please vote.