Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Good News With Trump

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In my 40-plus years of watching, studying and laughing at American politics, I have NEVER seen the country as divided as it is now.  I thought things were bad in the 1990s, when conservatives tried everything they could to bounce Bill Clinton out of office – and only succeeded in proving he has a female fetish (like most straight men do), while making themselves look like incompetent assholes.

Then came these last two decades, and the country became even more divided; first under George W. Bush (the poster child for closet alcoholics) and then under Barack Obama (the poster child for grace under extreme pressure and stupidity; the latter two courtesy of the even more assholish conservatives, if that’s actually possible).

But now, with Donald J. Trump in the White House (and his third wife several miles away in her gilded penthouse loft), I’ve been surprised.  Again!  The U.S. even more divided than Neapolitan ice cream.  If it gets any more divided, opposing sides will fall off into the oceans; thus making global warming look like a bad day at the beach.  Then again, if the extremists do fall off into the ocean, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Still, amidst the dim-bulb antics of the current presidential administration, I’ve actually found some bright moments.  Yes, even with a psychologically unstable, orange-tinted, womanizing twit-master like Trump occupying the highest office in the land, there are a few positives.  It’s proof that, indeed, you can make wine from prunes!

  • People realize the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is just as important as the Second.
  • They’ve learned the names of their local congressional representatives.
  • Voting (or not) really does matter.
  • Two centuries of civil and human rights progress aren’t 100% safe and untouchable.
  • Not everything on Facebook or Wikipedia is true.
  • Hispanics aren’t “recent immigrants.”  We’ve been here longer than the Trump family.
  • Neanderthals didn’t die off; they became Republicans.
  • The term “alternative facts” makes less sense than “compassionate conservative.”
  • The nation’s infrastructure, like dams and highways, is under greater threat than gun rights.
  • The inexpensive (meaning, cheap) food we buy at Wal-Mart doesn’t grow or pick itself.
  • Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court actually do impact our lives.
  • Women’s bodies aren’t “hosts.”
  • Not all White males are evil.
  • The British really can get pissed off.
  • The Cold War didn’t end with the collapse of the Soviet Union; it moved into cyberspace.
  • Reality TV is dangerous.
  • Neo-Nazis remain a threat.
  • Politicians who have nothing more important to do than regulate public bathrooms need to be voted out of office.
  • People without English surnames often speak better English than people with English surnames.
  • Building a wall along the U.S.-México border will put a lot of Mexican immigrants to work.
  • Republican politicians have no qualms about eliminating healthcare for poor, sick people; while enjoying their own taxpayer-funded health insurance.
  • Coal mining is as obsolete as it is dangerous and dirty.
  • We need more female politicians.
  • Native Americans have put up with enough shit from the U.S. government.
  • The Kardashians aren’t (and never have been) relevant to anything.
  • President Obama was too nice to his critics, but I still feel he should have been able to run for a third term.  You know…just to piss off the Republicans.
  • American was great long before Trump ran for office.
  • How soon before we can fly to Mars?

 

Image: Gary Larson

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Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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Dead Demos

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In some paranormal circles, “dead time” refers to the period when otherworldly spirits are most likely to be active.  Even though it’s not official – and really, nothing in the paranormal realm is considered official – it’s generally believed to occur between midnight and 5 a.m., with the two to four o’clock hours considered the key time.  Nothing in the political arena – especially here in the U.S. – is considered normal either.  But, for those who didn’t vote for Donald Trump in last fall’s presidential elections, dead time started materializing just as Tuesday, November 8 was turning into Wednesday, the 9th, and it appeared the bombastic real estate magnate was going to be our nation’s 45th Chief Executive.  Trump’s entry into the race nearly two years ago surprised few; his name had arisen more than once since the late 1980s as a potential candidate.  But, as he marched forward – taking out one competitor after another – the mainstream Republican Party stood dumbfounded; recoiling as each individual dropped from the race quicker than a Texan would drop a bottle of warm beer.

And, for the second time in sixteen years, Americans found themselves with a president-elect who didn’t win the majority of the popular, but still managed to garner most of the electoral votes.  The vast majority of liberals and moderates were shocked – and appalled – that such an event could happen again within so short a period of time.  As the Democratic National Party scratched its head, people began to question the validity of the Electoral College system that original framers of the U.S. Constitution had created as a means of spreading the generosity of power.

U.S. intelligence had surmised last summer that Russian hackers were trying to infiltrate our voting system.  Now comes proof they actually did manage to sneak their way into it.  Exactly how they were able to do that remains uncertain.  Were votes eliminated, or were votes added?  Was someone in the Electoral College bribed?  Even if no one hacked into the system, would Trump have won anyway?

It’s bad enough that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump garnered their respective party’s nominations last summer.  But they plowed through the campaigns with the lowest favorability ratings of any presidential candidates in U.S. history.  In other words, no one really liked either of those fuckers, but felt compelled to vote nonetheless.  Voting is more of a right and a civic duty than it is a privilege or an inconvenience.  I have to admit that – for the first time since I began voting in 1992 – I went rogue and selected Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  I knew Stein had as much of a chance of getting into the White House as I do of going a month without a mixed drink or a glass of wine.  But it’s always the thought that counts, right?

I’ve always liked Bill Clinton, but Hillary never had much appeal to me.  Most of my friends and relatives voted for her.  A few criticized me for choosing Stein over Clinton; emphasizing that I was inadvertently voting for Trump instead.  I don’t care.  Opting for the lesser of two evils isn’t much of a choice.  I did that in 2004, when I voted for John Kerry.  Regardless, I wasn’t going to be swayed by party loyalists this time.  While Trump is atrocious, Clinton is as hollow as the empty bottles of hair dye she leaves on the bathroom floor.

Yet, as the world looks at the United States – that self-proclaimed beacon of democracy and freedom – with a mix of horror and amusement, the Democrats are still patching up their emotional scars and sorting through the morass.  But let’s pretend for a moment that no one had hacked into our voting system, or that any such attempts were successfully uncovered and squelched months before election day and that Trump still managed to win.  The Democratic National Party would still have to undergo some serious soul-searching and understand what they did wrong.  I can help and have narrowed the fiasco down to three primary issues.

 

Affordable Care Act (ACA) – While millions of average Americans were losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings because of the 2008 economic meltdown, the Democrats curiously focused their efforts on one issue: health care.  Yes, it’s great if people don’t have to choose between a flu shot and the light bill.  But ensuring that citizens will have adequate health care is not nearly as significant as ensuring they have gainful employment.  I don’t know why the Democrats went off into an ideological black hole with this issue.  That Democrats seemed more concerned with the ACA than boosting the economy was matched only by the Republicans’ determination to destroy the program.  Both parties operated within a vacuum.  Nothing else – mainly that economic thing – seemed to matter.

Inequality – The “Great Recession” almost completely destroyed the U.S. economy.  So many factors contributed to the calamity, but the USD 8 trillion housing bubble burst was the primary culprit.  More people than ever before were buying homes, which would normally be a good thing.  But, in this case, people were getting into homes with little or sometimes zero money down.  How reasonable does it sound for someone earning roughly USD 30,000 a year to buy a USD 500,000 house without making a down payment of even 5% of the structure’s value?  Such a practice was inconceivable two decades ago.  But that’s exactly what people were doing.  And both financial institutions and homebuilders were part of the fiasco.

When I got laid off in the fall of 2010 (in the midst of a fragile recovery), my top concern was the job market; not whether I could afford to get my teeth cleaned.  By the end of that year, the “Great Recession” was, from a purely technical standpoint, over.  But to those of us trapped in its putrid residue, it was alive and well and sucking up our savings and maxing out our credit cards.

Between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1% of all payroll employment.  It was the worst job loss since the Great Depression.  When people mention inequality, they’re not referring to racial or gender disparities.  They’re talking about the wealth gap; that ever-widening abyss that separates the middle class from the upper class.  After-tax income has been shrinking for the past three decades, while the cost of living has been increasing.  Sen. Bernie Sanders made this a key point of his own bid for the presidency last year, and it certainly gained a great deal of attention.  But the Democrats seemed more intent on denigrating Donald Trump’s character and highlighting his personal foibles.  People working two or three jobs just to stay afloat financially don’t really care if the real estate mogul fondled a young woman at a beauty contest.  They want to know if they’ll ever be able to stop working so hard for so little.

Illegal immigration – For decades politicians have said, if they want to appeal to Hispanics, they have to devise a comprehensive immigration plan; meaning that illegal immigrants from anywhere in Latin America must be treated better than others.  This ideology assumes two things: that most Hispanic-Americans are immigrants and that we only care about providing sanctuary for people who emigrate to the U.S. illegally from Latin America.  Immigration – legal or illegal – is NOT the top priority for most Hispanic-Americans.  As a group we’re concerned about the same things most other Americans are concerned about: jobs and the economy.

Obama’s demeanor – Barack Obama is one of the smartest and most verbally gifted men ever to ascend to the nation’s highest elected office.  He had the right message with the right tone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  His demeanor is as remarkable as it is unimposing.  It’s one of his greatest attributes.  But, once in the White House, it became one of his greatest faults.  You’d think someone who came of age in the rugged world of Chicago politics would be a little more forceful.  But I felt Obama was too conciliatory, too nice, and too willing to compromise.  The Republicans made it clear from the moment he won the 2008 contest they were determined to ensure he wouldn’t garner a second term.  Their efforts didn’t pay off: Obama won again four years later.  And, as Obama himself stated in his 2016 ‘State of the Union’ address, there was never any doubt he actually won.  But the level of disrespect and recalcitrance the GOP displayed towards Obama has been unprecedented.  From Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer jutting her finger into Obama’s face (later claiming he intimidated her), I can say without a doubt Obama endured more shit than any of his predecessors.

I’m certain race played a major factor in their behavior.  A gaggle of (mostly) old, White men just couldn’t fathom that a half-blooded Negro actually won the presidency.  So, instead of working on behalf of their constituents (that is, doing their jobs), they opted for the asshole category and tried to stifle Obama at every turn.  If he tried to compromise, he’d be viewed as weak; if he talked back, they’d consider him uppity.  He just couldn’t win no matter what he did.  And I know he could see this.  Therefore, he should have responded accordingly.

Politics in any nation is a blood sport, and the United States leads in the sanguinary nature of this.  Obama needed to get ugly with those clowns.  And not just ugly, but fuck ugly; telling them, ‘Look, I’m president and I run this joint.  You either work with me, or I’ll use my executive powers to slaughter your ass.’  That wouldn’t have earned him any fans among the right-wing crowd.  But he might have earned their respect.  I’ve learned that the hard way; sometimes you just have to stand up and scream at people to get their attention and make them bestow upon you the dignity and deference you deserve.  It’ll definitely piss off some people.  But in politics, like in business, you have to draw the line somewhere and tell people to shut the hell up and listen.  It’s just the nature of both realms.  You may not win any friends like that, but you’ll generally get the job done.

 

Overall, though, I’m satisfied with the Obama years.  One person – even the President of the United States – can only do so much.  History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries.  It’s already treating George W. Bush with more compassion than he deserves.  If the Democratic Party intends to remain relevant in the future, they need to be tougher with their opponents.  But they also need to be more forward-looking and emphasize that we can’t go back in time when things seemed simpler and calmer.  Otherwise, they’ll be digging an early grave for themselves, and only their most devout followers will be in attendance.

Demos.

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Where Are They Now?

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A couple of weeks ago I watched the latest documentary series by Ken Burns, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” It focuses on the three most famous members of this legendary family: Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. They are also three of the most fascinating individuals of the 20th century, and this series only solidifies, in my mind, a deep longing for similar people in public life today. The Roosevelts were much like the Kennedy family of Massachusetts. They were ambitious, assertive, intellectual and strong-willed. Their progressive ideals and bold honesty shoved the United States onto a (sometimes unwilling) forward track. Yes, they were wealthy and traveled in elitist circles. But, for the most part, they had overwhelming respect for their fellow citizens. They were committed to public service, not politics. And, as the United States stumbles from one crisis to the next in this strange, new world of the 21st century, I have to ask where are people like the Roosevelts and the Kennedys now?

The U.S. never has had a royal family. Our official founders technically escaped European feudalism because of the vice grips that small bands of inbred groups had on their ancestral homelands. But, I’d have to say the Roosevelts and the Kennedys come close to American royalty. The Roosevelts produced two extraordinary presidencies, and the Kennedys produced one; albeit a tragically short one. Yet, both families charted progressive courses for the U.S. that ultimately gave freedom to so many of their contemporaries and challenged future generations to keep America as a beacon of democracy.

I’ve always viewed Theodore Roosevelt as a personal hero. It’s odd, considering he had been a sickly child burdened with asthma. As an adult, he suffered from depression. Yet, he grabbed life by the throat and rung every ounce of energy from it. He was a ball of lightning; unafraid to take on the notorious bosses of Tammany Hall and the ruthless titans of industry. A nature lover, he established the national park system.

His fifth cousin, Franklin, and the latter’s wife, Eleanor, helped move the nation closer to racial equality than anyone had before. Franklin broke from family tradition when he accepted a post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913 in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. He ran for the vice-presidency as a Democrat in 1920. After losing that race, he returned to a simpler life, enjoying his family and earning a living as lawyer. But, in the summer of 1921, while vacationing in New Brunswick, Franklin experienced a life-altering event: he contracted polio; then called infantile paralysis, a frightening and debilitating scourge (usually afflicting children) with no cure or vaccine. Franklin never regained use of his legs and could only stand or walk with the help of someone or something. He persevered, however, and became determined to heal himself as best as possible with lengthy stays at a resort he eventually purchased in Warm Springs, Georgia. There he could languish in a pool for hours, which eased the agony of twisted muscles and constricted joints.

But, Franklin also remained committed to life as a public servant. In 1928, he ran for and won the governorship of New York state. Four years later he successfully ran for president. He ran three more times, holding the office for an unprecedented 12 years.

Like his familial predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t afraid to make bold decisions and launch big projects. Whereas Theodore took on various industries, such as oil and timber; compelled the U.S. Congress to mandate safe working conditions; and commence the national parks system, Franklin forced the federal government to take control of the slew of banks still faltering during the Great Depression; created the Civilian Conservation Corps; and introduced Social Security. Franklin’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and Hoover’s Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, boasted typically conservative attitudes about business and the economy: government had no real role in managing corporations; if a company – or even a bank – got itself into financial trouble, it was incumbent upon that entity to get itself out of trouble. Franklin knew that was true, but he also understood the true scope of the economic calamity afflicting the nation in the early 1930s. People were losing their jobs, their money and sometimes their lives, as banks folded. The crisis was gigantic in scope, and the hands-off approach of the Hoover Administration only exacerbated matters. Roosevelt created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during his first year in office; an entity that would safeguard consumer bank assets and – slowly – reinstill trust in the nation’s financial institutions.

After the U.S. became embroiled in World War II, Franklin’s health began to deteriorate. He hardly campaigned in 1944. But, he didn’t give up. He was determined to lead the nation out of the war. Sadly, he didn’t see the day when America’s enemies surrendered, yet he maintained a high degree of spiritual vigor. He didn’t stop until his body forced him to do so.

Eleanor Roosevelt triumphed as well on many levels, but not really until after Franklin died. Like most of her female contemporaries, Eleanor had few choices in life. She had to be someone’s wife or someone’s mother, but she could never be her own person. A niece to Theodore and a distant cousin to Franklin, she felt uncomfortable in the role of First Lady. But, once she realized how desperately poor much of the nation’s citizens were because of the Great Depression, she pushed her husband to enact the strident and controversial legislation for which he’d become famous; not being given even a smattering of credit for it, of course, until decades later. Almost accidentally, she also became a torch bearer for the burgeoning civil rights movement; knowing that all Americans – regardless of gender, race or ethnicity – deserved to be treated equally. Not long after Franklin’s death, Eleanor prodded his successor, Harry S. Truman, to proceed with establishment of the United Nations and, later, battled for the “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Her tireless efforts towards gender and racial equality made her an enemy of the staid social right-wing (even to the point of receiving death threats), but they helped her carve out her own legacy in the gallery of extraordinary Americans. “No one can make you feel inferior about yourself,” she declared in her book “This Is My Story,” published in 1939.

John F. Kennedy is another personal hero of mine, but not because he was the nation’s 35th president, or an heir to a prominent and wealthy Irish Catholic family. Like his older brother, Joseph, Jr., John Kennedy joined the military during World War II. Joseph was killed in action in August of 1944, and John nearly lost his own life in the South Pacific a year earlier. John had joined the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating from Harvard University in 1940. While commanding a torpedo boat, a Japanese warship rammed the small vessel. Despite severe injuries, Kennedy led other surviving crew members to a nearby island. His back never fully healed, and he suffered with the pain for the remainder of his life.

Before his stint in the Navy, however, John Kennedy attained a modest level of intellectual notoriety. In 1939, his father was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. During a visit to England that same year, the younger Kennedy researched why the nation was unprepared to fight Germany at the onset of WWII. It became his senior-year thesis; a detailed analysis so well-received that it was published as “Why England Slept.” Kennedy launched the space race by challenging the U.S. to “land a man on the moon” before the 1960s ended – which we did.

Other giants of the 20th century shouldn’t go unnoticed: Wilson and Truman, of course, but also Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. Wilson was reluctant to jump into World War I (then called “The Great War”) and envisioned the U.N., which he called “The League of Nations,” a multi-national entity that forced the United States onto the world stage. Truman integrated the U.S. armed forces. Eisenhower jumpstarted the interstate highway system. Johnson signed into law some of the most important pieces of legislation of the modern age.

They were not without their faults. Theodore Roosevelt was essentially a racist in that he believed Caucasians were biologically superior. But, one has to consider that he was a product of his time, so I think he can be forgiven for that. A lot of otherwise good people felt that way back then. Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were adulterers. Johnson may have been a modernist in regards to civil rights, but he also led the U.S. into the quagmire of Vietnam.

The closest the U.S. has to a political dynasty is the Bush family, which isn’t saying much. The Bush clan has produced two of the most dismal presidencies within a quarter century. Therefore, I lament the fact I can’t point to many notable political leaders right now. I placed a great deal of faith Barack Obama, when he first ran for office. Now, I’m disappointed in him. I know it’s not completely his fault. He’s dealing with an arrogantly recalcitrant Congress; a hodgepodge of right-wing extremists who are more concerned with banning gay marriage and instituting creationism into America’s educational curriculum than more critical tasks, such as punishing those responsible for the 2008 economic collapse and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. I’m certainly disappointed in U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who just announced his resignation. Our elected officials are wrapped up in petty battles with one another.

There seem to be no big dreamers anymore – and I don’t know why.

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The Worst Legacy

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This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.

I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.

Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”

Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”

We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.

The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.

Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”

Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”

It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.

But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.

In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.

I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.

Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.

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Iraq Again! Oh, Hell No!

Zombie hand

“It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Colin Clive in “Frankenstein

 

As the United States slowly recuperates from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are suddenly beset with a very real horror show: the rise of militants in Iraq, as well as the collapse of the Iraqi government. Most of us keep smacking ourselves across the face; trying to wake up from what can only be deemed a nightmare. No – a night terror. This can’t be happening. There must be some kind of misunderstanding. The media has it all wrong.

No, they don’t. It is happening. And, we’re all wide awake.

I wish that the brewing fiasco is – at best – a really cruel, heartless joke. But, it’s simply not. The blatant reality is that radical Iraqi insurgents have risen from the crypt of hate and anger to launch an assault on that nation’s fragile government and hapless military. They’ve already taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. It’s surely only a matter of time before they attack Baghdad.

President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 partly on the promise to end the war in Iraq, says another round of military intervention is not likely. But, almost in the same breath, he added, “We have enormous interests there.”

What happened to the good old days, when a president would say stupid crap, but still really believe it with all his heart? Many of us disagreed with George W. Bush, but at least we knew where he stood on an issue. Along with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, Bush hoodwinked much of the nation into believing Iraq had a role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was secretly building a nuclear arsenal. In the twisted logic that only a draft-dodging right-wing lunatic could manufacture, Bush forced the U.S. to switch its attention abruptly from Afghanistan to Iraq. Most of us level-headed folks saw the ruse clearly and still didn’t mind being labeled terrorists. We knew it was a lie. But, Bush was a puppet president for corporate oil interests (in much the same way Warren G. Harding was), so I don’t blame him completely.

But, with nearly 4,500 U.S. dead in Iraq alone – not to forget those who died from their injuries or suicide once back home – we’re faced with a bizarre quandary: sending troops back into Iraq to thwart what observers have ominously deemed the “threshold of civil war.”

Trick question: what’s the difference between the threshold of civil war in Iraq and a total conflict?

Answer: nothing!

The difference is in terminology only. Hearing military and political “experts” trying to define the two concepts is like saying there’s a difference between azure and blue. I knew a guy in college who got upset when people said he was Italian. He preferred the term “Sicilian.” Oh, of course! Silly me! And, just so you’ll know, I’m not Latino. I’m Hispanic! ¿Entiendes?

The U.S. put itself into a quixotic situation with Iraq more than three decades ago when it began funding its war with Iran. That came to an abrupt end in 1988, when Saddam Hussein launched a genocidal chemical attack on Kurdistan. The U.S. also placed itself in a quagmire with Afghanistan when it supported mujahideen rebels in their valiant fight against the former Soviet Union – and then forgot about the Afghan people. One nation doesn’t make a promise of that magnitude to another nation without owning up to it.

If, by some wretched chance, we do send our military back into Iraq, here’s what I’d like to see happen:

  • Initiate a military draft. Every 18-25 able bodied person (including women, Jews, Mormons, conservative Republicans and rich kids) will have to serve in some kind of capacity. No exceptions!
  • Raise taxes on the wealthiest 5% of American citizens. Since many of them are the ones who propagated the war in Iraq and subsequently benefited from it, we need half of their income to go into Pentagon coffers.
  • Cease all foreign aid. This includes Israel. Unquestionable financial and political support for Israel by the U.S. is another reason for the 09/11 attacks.

It’s only fair all of the above should occur, as the U.S. roars back into Iraq like a repo man going after a late-model BMW for the third time. But, I also think it’s only fair I should be rich and famous without working too hard for it. After all, I’m attractive (in the right black light) and intelligent. Why should I struggle so hard?

Will the U.S. boomerang its troops back into Iraq? I can only hope not. But, you know how that goes.

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No Thanks to You!

gop

Last week I received a notice from the National Republican Party announcing a fundraiser in my city, along with a request for a donation. It was signed by the Party’s national chairman, Reince Priebus. This suburban Dallas community where I grew up is, like much of the rest of Texas, staunchly Republican. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race since 1994, when Garry Mauro won reelection as state treasurer; the same year Ann Richards lost her gubernatorial reelection bid to George W. Bush.

Returning home from the gym late one Saturday night a couple of years ago, I noticed a “Tea Party” sign in a neighbor’s front yard. I wanted to stop and spray-paint a swastika on their walkway, but I didn’t have any spray paint on hand. Besides, they might’ve had security cameras hidden somewhere. For years now, there’s been a billboard off Central Expressway, just north of downtown Dallas, asking: ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’ It’s a blatant reference to the ongoing idiotic questions about President Obama’s birth place. If you know how much it costs to put up one of those signs, you might also realize the same money could fund a school lunch program.

Part of the problem is that, on average, only about a third of eligible voters in Texas actually make an effort to cast a ballot. I think many of my more centrist and independent-minded fellow Texans simply feel their vote won’t make a difference and / or Republicans will win anyway, so why bother. I certainly don’t want Texas to swing to the opposite side of the political spectrum, such California, Illinois or Massachusetts; where people are regulated and taxed into oblivion and political correctness is practically a part of the state’s constitution.

I’m actually put out by our two major both political parties – Republicans AND Democrats. I feel strongly that the Republicans are bullies, and the Democrats are wimps. President Obama has capitulated too much to the bull-headed GOP and lost any credibility, from my perspective. As I see it, the U.S. is essentially leaderless right now.

Hence, my disgust when I received the mailing from Priebus. I mailed it back, but with this handwritten message:

 

“Mr. Priebus,

Remove my name and address from your list. I have no desire to contribute money to the GOP. Your party screwed up our economy in the first place, but you won’t take responsibility for it.”

 

Off to the side, I scribbled:

“Trickle down doesn’t work. And, I’m no fan of Obama either!”

 

I included this last bit of verbiage, so Priebus and his gang will know I’m equally disgusted. I’d hate for anyone at that level to feel so targeted.

But, you must read between the lines. Here’s what I really wanted to say:

 

“Take my name and address off your fucking list, you good-for-nothing, piece of shit, Neanderthal! Your party fucked up the economy big time with your stupid tax cuts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (wars started by a pack of fucking draft-dodgers), and total deregulation of the banking and housing industries. All of that together is what fucked up this economy – not the Affordable Care Act, which is total bat-shit, as far as I’m concerned. You fuckers have taken too much of my money in taxes already and you haven’t done a goddamned thing to help the economy, except the same stupid, fucking, trickle-down bullshit that you’ve been pushing through since that incompetent dumbass, Ronald Reagan, held office!”

 

But, they probably wouldn’t understand my outrage. Sorry to yell like that in front of you nice folks. Damn, though! I feel so much better!

Since the envelope is postage paid, I found a thin piece of rock in the back yard that I inserted along with the note. Might as well maximize it! I would’ve sent a flattened piece of my dog’s fecal matter, but they’re not good enough to receive even that.

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