Tag Archives: U.S. politics

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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No Defense Here

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At some point in the late 1960s, a Mexican-American guy got arrested in Dallas for a series of robberies.  The incident garnered some media attention, but was pretty much a non-event.  Until someone at my father’s workplace mentioned it.

An older White man approached my father and said something to the effect that the police had arrested “your brother Rodriguez.”  He knew what the old man was talking about.  My father promptly reminded the man “my name isn’t Rodriguez, and that guy isn’t my brother.  Now shut your ass and leave me alone!”

The old man apparently was offended at my father’s brusque language and complained to the company owner, another old White (albeit Jewish) man who said something to the effect of, ‘What did you expect?’

My father often found himself in such uncomfortable situations; where some Hispanic individual would do something stupid and / or criminal enough to get media attention, and some non-Hispanics would assume my father was guilty by association.  It actually still happens.  A lot.  Just ask Black men when other Black men get arrested.  Or Hispanic men.  Or Native American men.  Even in this second decade of the 21st century, in a post-civil rights America, crime still often bears a Black, Brown or Red face.

That mess stormed into the public conscious last week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed a 2005 conversation with an entertainment journalist as “locker room banter.”  With a monster hurricane having just ripped through the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast and the Zika virus still a threat to public health, this is what the American media and much of the American public has focused on: eleven-year-old verbiage from two old men trash-talking on a bus.

The dialogue hasn’t discouraged Trump who is roaring ahead with his campaign – undoubtedly one of the most bizarre in recent memory – even as one woman after another jumps forward to proclaim they’ve fallen victim to the type of actions the business tycoon describes in that brief snippet.

There’s no getting around it: what Trump said in that piece is deplorable, and his attempt at an apology is as sincere as a 13-dollar bill.  Even before then, I didn’t like him.  But, aside from the rancor bubbling over this mess, it’s amazing the number of men who are also publicly proclaiming their ardent respect for women and disdain for Trump.  Athletic coaches at the high school and college levels are gathering their young male acolytes to warn them that such talk about females will not be tolerated.

Personally, I don’t feel the need to refute Trump’s so-called “locker room banter.”  I don’t have a guilt complex over it and I’m not hopping up and down trying to convince any female within ten feet of me that I’d never talk that way about them.  And neither should any other man.

Since high school, I’ve spent time in men’s locker rooms and can say without wincing that I’ve never heard men talk like that about women.  Men say all sorts of stupid shit in locker rooms, but I cannot recall anything of that sort.  As a writer, I’m prone to listen in on other people’s conversations.  I’ve always wanted my characters to speak and behave as normal as possible, so they’ll be more realistic.  Yes, men do talk about sex in locker rooms.  (And, in other Earth-shattering news, the sun rises in the east.)  I’m certain women engage in similar talk, even though most won’t admit it.  Men also talk about body parts.  Mainly their own body parts.  Usually, though, we talk about work, home, family, cars, sports, our individual exercise routines – but never something so vile as sexually assaulting or molesting women.  I know some men have talked openly like that.  I’ve just never heard it.

But it’s not enough to point out that most men don’t talk in such a debasing manner about women.  It’s more important to realize that most men don’t act that way either.  The vast majority of men don’t harass and / or sexually assault women.  I know that contradicts feminist ideology, but it’s painfully true.  Men are much more likely to assault other men or even themselves than they are women.

Yet, while plenty of people like Trump think their wealth and power make them better than the rest of us, there are others who latch onto the Trumps of the world in the hopes of improving their own station in life.  Trump surely has no genuine respect for women overall, but a number of women swoon over men like him daily.  This is one thing that upsets most average men.  Women often claim they want a man who is honest and fair-minded.  But, as some men view it, women really just want a man with lots of money.  Even some of the most successful and well-educated women often still expect the men in their lives to earn more than them.  Why?  Just in case said woman decides she’s tired of working?  I don’t know.

Women, on the other hand, often say their lack of opportunities in life put them in a position where they’ve had to find men who have money, or at least a job that pays above minimum wage.  On average, women still earn less than men, but women are superseding men on the educational front.  If you break that down from a racial viewpoint, the gaps grow even larger.  Gender politics, like racial politics, is ugly, and no one wins the argument.

I’ve heard more than a few women engage in “locker room banter” – in public – in front of me and other men.  I’ve endured my share of harassment from both women and men.  It was never caught on video or audio.  And I rarely complained out loud about it.  I knew few would believe me, especially because I’m a man.  Therefore, I understand how some women feel about life in the work place during years gone by – long before the term “sexual harassment” was ever created.

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards once advised young women to complete their education and not depend on a man to take care of them; “when the Prince is middle aged with a pot belly and a wandering eye, you’ll be glad you have a degree and can support yourself if you have to.”  As expected, social and religious conservative across the state and the nation dumped their snarky bile on Richards; denouncing her as anti-family and anti-marriage.  Richards shrugged it off, even after losing her 1994 reelection bid.

Trump is in a class all his own – and I don’t mean that in a good way.  He’s harking back to those golden years gone by; when people didn’t have to be politically correct, especially White male people.  But, as part of that elite and much-reviled 1%, he obviously believes his wealth and power give him license to say and do whatever he wants.  Plenty of people in his social class possess such self-righteous haughtiness.  Despite all his money, Trump is still little more than a loud-mouthed bum.  He’s a disgrace to all men – White or not.

My paternal grandfather once said you can dress a donkey up in silk and satin, like a thoroughbred horse, but eventually it’ll start bucking and kicking like the animal it truly is.  Now, I don’t mean to disrespect donkeys by comparing them to Trump.  Talk about being disrespectful!  But I think you get the idea.

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I Hope Ted Cruz Runs for President

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz splashed onto the political scene two years ago when he easily won the seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Well-educated and highly intellectual, Cruz was a championship debater at Harvard University and, in 2003, became the youngest Solicitor General in the state of Texas; a role he served in until 2008. Unlike many first-year senators, Cruz quickly established himself as a rugged individualist by being blunt and outspoken. He held true to his base by bashing anyone and anything that didn’t fit his narrow agenda: taxes, regulation, the federal government, and, of course, President Obama. While the Republican National Party was already moving in a more staunchly conservative direction, Cruz seemed to break off his own small faction that slid even further to the right; making Hitler and Stalin look like tree-hugging liberals.

In September of 2013, Cruz incited a shutdown of the entire federal government over funding for the Affordable Care Act. He spoke on the Senate floor for 21 uninterrupted hours and was hailed as a hero by his “Tea Party” acolytes. Cruz and his Republican cohorts were unwilling to reach even a modest agreement with Democrats and Independents on funding the government; so on October 1, 2013, it essentially shut down. Approximately 850,000 workers were furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report for work with paycheck dates. The 16-day stalemate was the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history and cost about $24 billion. As usual, whenever government officials skirmish, average citizens bore the brunt of the shutdown.

Now that Republicans are scheduled to take control of both houses of Congress next month, Cruz is demanding that funding for any of Obama’s programs – namely the ACA – be severed and any presidential appointments be thwarted. In other words, Cruz is pushing for nothing to get done so he can prove his point.

For all of these reasons, I sincerely hope Cruz runs for president in 2016. Not because I like and admire him. I want to see his arrogance get shoved down his throat.

Cruz is already positioning himself for a run. He’s engaged in the vital prerequisites: he’s visited the state of Iowa several times (Iowa is where the nation’s first voting primaries are held each election cycle); he’s solicited a bevy of affluent donors; and he’s expressed his unmitigated support for Israel. All he has to do is give a speech at Bob Jones University saying he doesn’t think Negro slavery was all that bad, and he’ll be good for the Republican Party’s nomination.

But I think once Cruz enters onto that stage, spouting off his vitriolic rhetoric and twisted views on American values, he’ll be shocked to learn not everyone loves him. His right-wing extremism will become apparent. Politics has a way of cutting people down to size. I sincerely feel Cruz will get diced up quicker than squid at a sushi restaurant.

A brief examination of Cruz’s voting record shows his true dimension. Among other things, he’s voted against funding for highways and transportation (three times); the “Bring Jobs Home Act”; the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act”; “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”; the “Minimum Wage Fairness Act”; the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act”; the 2014 “Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act”; the 2013 “Employment Non-Discrimination Act”; and the 2013 “Student Loan Affordability Act.”

There is one seemingly innocuous fact about Cruz that may play into the hands of his opponents: he wasn’t born in the U.S. He was born in Canada; something from which he doesn’t shy away. Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was born in Cuba and lived under the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In 1957, Cruz managed to escape Cuba and arrive in Texas with only 100 U.S. dollars and the clothes on his back. He had supported Fidel Castro, but now claims he didn’t know at the time that Castro was a communist. There’s a politician, if I’ve ever heard one! In the 1960s, Cruz met and married Eleanor Elizabeth Wilson. Eleanor was born in Delaware to Irish- and Italian-American parents. Rafael and Eleanor Cruz moved to Alberta, Canada where they worked in the oil industry. In 1974, the Cruz family (now including little Ted) moved back to Texas. Rafael and Eleanor divorced several years later. Why they abruptly relocated to Canada in the first place and when exactly they were married and divorced remains unclear. But doubts about Sen. Cruz’s citizenship keep surfacing.

In order to qualify to be President, the U.S. Constitution states, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

The precise definition of “natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States” has confounded plenty of legal scholars and amateurs. To many of us, it simply means that you were born in one of the 50 United States, a U.S. territory, or a U.S. military base. But, if at least one of your parents was born in the U.S., then you are a U.S. citizen. My mother, for example, was born just outside of México City in 1932; yet she and her three siblings were U.S. citizens because their father was born in Michigan in 1902. Does that mean she’s qualified to run for U.S. president? I’m not certain. I don’t think she’d want the job anyway; she’d scare the crap out of too many people.

The issue of U.S. citizenship in relation to the presidency has come up before. In 1964, when Barry Goldwater garnered the Republican Party’s nomination for president, some speculated he wasn’t qualified, since he’d been born in Arizona, three years before it became a state. In 1968, when George Romney sought the Republican nomination, he didn’t avoid the fact he had been born in México in 1907. Both of his parents had been born in the U.S. and allegedly fled religious persecution by relocating to México where they and fellow Mormons set up a Mormon colony that still exists. (In reality, the Romneys wanted to maintain their polygamous lifestyle.)

The right-wing hysteria surrounding President Obama’s birthplace and birth certificate is well-documented. The self-righteous “birther” gang maintains that Obama was born in Kenya, like his father, and not in Hawaii, as the president’s birth certificate declares. Some people still don’t realize Hawaii is one of the United States. When I worked for the wire transfer division of a bank in the 1990s, we’d invariably get calls from branch offices asking if a transfer to Hawaii was domestic or international. Not much was made of the fact Senator John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, when it was still a U.S. territory.

Ted Cruz tackled his own citizenship last year when he released his official Canadian birth certificate and then renounced his Canadian citizenship. I’m sure Canada was heartbroken.

Citizenship matters aside, Cruz may feel self-assured about a presidential run. Anyone who dares to tackle such an office has to be extremely self-confident and just a little bit arrogant. Cruz will find, though, that he has to appeal to a much larger base of people than the gaggle of conservative hardliners that orgasm with his every word. For one thing, he’ll have to appeal to Hispanics. That’ll be especially tough. I guess you have to understand the Hispanic identity in the U.S. Cuban-Americans don’t like to be dubbed “Hispanic” or “Latino” because that places them in the same category as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, etc. For some ungodly reason, some Cuban-Americans – Rafael Cruz among them – think they’re superior to other Spanish-surnamed peoples in the Western Hemisphere. As comedian Paul Rodriguez once noted, “When Mexicans enter the U.S. illegally, they take them to jail. When Cubans enter the U.S. illegally, they take them to Disney World.”

Ted Cruz will have no choice but to court Hispanics – and everyone else, regardless of ethnicity – if he wants to live in the White House and be considered the “Leader of the Free World.” It won’t be easy for him; not at all. He won’t be able to justify his extremist views to a broader audience. Then he’ll find himself on that sushi board. And me, personally, I think sushi is disgusting.

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Slammed

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It’s been one month since the midterm elections, and a lot of people are still smarting from the results. But several folks saw this coming. As expected, the Republican Party has retained control of the House of Representatives and taken the Senate. But, few anticipated the GOP would garner such high numbers. Moreover, Republicans have attained most of the state governorships. Here in Texas, the GOP has won every major state-level office for the fifth consecutive election cycle. A Democrat hasn’t won a state-wide office since 1994, when Garry Mauro won reelection as State Treasurer. By the time the current crop of officeholders finish their respective terms, Democrats will have been shut out of state-level offices for two decades.

Texas Democrats had hoped this year would be theirs; that they would recapture at least one office, preferably the governorship, but at least maybe attorney general or state treasurer. But they didn’t. They lost – in the worst way. As usual, most voting-eligible Texans failed to turn up at the voting booths this year. In fact, Texas had the lowest rate of voter turnout than any state in the union – roughly 4.75 million people, or 28.5% of the vote-eligible population. In the Dallas – Fort Worth metropolitan area, some local officials blamed the damp, cold weather for the dismal response. Really? I recall an election in India several years ago where some people were being carried in on their deathbeds – literally! – to cast a ballot. Overall this year’s midterm produced the worst voter turnout since 1942. That particular year was understandable: the U.S. had just entered World War II, when many young men had already joined the fight overseas. Men were much more likely to vote than women back then, plus there were a slew of voter restriction laws – especially in the Southeast – to keep poor and non-White voters from casting ballots. But that was then; things have changed considerably in 70 years. I don’t just find the low voter response appalling. I find it disgusting. What happened?

After the 2007 – 2008 financial downturn – a period in which the U.S. came as close to a completed and total economic collapse – people felt their elected officials simply weren’t responding to their needs. President Obama and the Democrats inexplicably focused their energy on passing a healthcare bill and reforming the immigration system. The latter was labeled an attempt to appeal to Hispanics; once again, assuming Hispanics only care about immigration in the same way women only care about abortion and gays and lesbians only care about same-sex marriage. Sweeping assumptions like that are an insult and always dangerous. It’s bad enough, though, the Republican Party was determined from the moment Obama won the 2008 presidential elections to obstruct his agenda. Every conservative lout from Dick Cheney to Mitch McConnell stated publicly and emphatically they wanted to make Obama a “one-term president.” Fortunately, they failed. But they and the Democrats have failed miserably over just about everything, mainly the economy.

My gripe with Obama is his overt willingness to compromise. His first major capitulation to the Republicans came in December 2010, as the Bush-era tax cuts were due to expire. The GOP literally threatened to withhold votes on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, if tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations weren’t kept in place. Obama bowed to them; declaring openly that he didn’t want “the hostages” to be harmed. In December 2010, the Democrats still held majorities in both houses of Congress, and the President could have very well issued an executive order extending the benefits in question. But he backed down. And that’s when I began to lose respect for him – in the same way I’d long lost respect for most elected officials.

In 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized just how bad the Great Depression really was, he made the bold – and shocking – decision to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations (the same ones who benefited from hefty Republican-spawned tax breaks the previous decade) to stimulate the economy. He convinced these people that such hikes would benefit them, too, in that more Americans would be able to enter the workforce and pay their own taxes, plus have money left over to buy goods produced by a variety of industries. It made sense. The policy worked to some extent, but the 1929 collapse had been so bad, the positive effects weren’t immediate. Thus, economists and the politicians who think they know so much have been debating the logic of this move ever since.

The Democrats failed on another front regarding the economy. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder never indicted anyone in connection with the recent financial calamity. Anyone with at least half a brain knows it didn’t happen by chance. It wasn’t the inevitable result of market ups and downs. Major banking entities such as Citigroup and Fannie Mae were key players in the debacle. Both helped to create the massive housing bubble at the turn of the century, replete with outrageous features such as zero-down purchases and mortgage-backed securities. As the crisis worsened towards the end of 2008, Citigroup managed to convince the federal government to give it a life-saving multi-billion-dollar loan. But it also began laying off people at its various offices across the globe. Fannie Mae, along with Freddie Mac, also received a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded bailout; this one in 2009. Yet that investment didn’t become profitable for taxpayers until this year. The average American worker hasn’t seen a lot of positive returns on their “investments” to save the “too-big-to-fail” banks. Those lounging in the economic ivory tower certainly have. For example, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, received a $16.2 million compensation package for 2011, despite a serious drop in corporate profits. The following year Blankfein urged Americans to consider a later retirement age.

“You can look at history of these things,” he told CBS News, “and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”

How thoughtful. In February of 2009, two months after I earned my college degree, the engineering company where I worked held their annuals employee reviews. Due to budget crunches, my then-manager told me, they couldn’t afford significant salary increases. So, while my living expenses continued to rise, my salary essentially remained flat. I was laid off the following year.

People like Blankfein are part of the current problem of wealth inequality in America. That the Obama Administration neglected to prosecute the scoundrels responsible for all those business closings and job losses – again, this didn’t happen by accident – is reprehensible. If I rob a convenience store of a hundred bucks and get caught, I’d be sure to serve some serious prison time. Hedge-fund managers who manipulated the stock market seem immune to the most egregious of financial indiscretions.

Still, the economy has rebounded since Obama first took office. The unemployment rate, which reached a high of 9.9% in April 2010, now stands at 5.8%. GDP growth stood at negative 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 and is now at 3.9%. The national deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2009 and now is $564 billion. That all brings up yet another complaint. Why didn’t the Democrats highlight those facts? In his 2012 reelection bid, Obama proclaimed, “Bin Laden is dead, and GM is alive.”

It was simple, yet effective. For many of us, though, the economy really hasn’t recovered. Wages remain stagnant, and jobs are tenuous. We’ve become a contract society.

Moreover, I don’t really blame many people for not voting. I understand the frustration with the hollow words and obstinacy of some candidates. Wendy Davis, for example, began her campaign for Texas governor by attacking her opponent, Greg Abbott, instead of highlighting her own accomplishments. I think it was about 6 months into the campaign before she ran a more positive ad; one telling her life story. Voters really get put off by such animosity from the start. Criticizing the opposition is a dubious tactic. It’s almost as if the individual is hiding something nefarious about their own past. That’s essentially how George W. Bush won his two presidential terms: he had no redeeming qualities, so his campaign team attacked the other guys. And some voters fell for it.

I don’t know what the immediate future holds for this country. With Republicans now in control of the U.S. Congress, I foresee further adolescent bickering between people who are otherwise educated business professionals. I don’t envision economic improvements or tax relief for us regular folks. It’s depressing. That Mars One venture is looking more and more attractive.

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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

broken_promise_by_don_paolo

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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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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