That Sad Anniversary

No time for something new.  This is from 2009 and will have to do:



It means only one thing to those of us of a certain age. It was the day of days, the event of our national lives. That it no longer is the focus of every succeeding November 22 tells us that one day even September 11 will pass without substantial notice. Yet whether cable television devotes every moment to reliving a national nightmare, its importance remains the same and, as Mad Men showed so well a few weeks back, any recollection of that day can trigger many floods, even among those who, unlike some of us, were very, very young that day.


Yes, I was called up short when Mad men’s creator, Matt Weiner, mentioned that not everyone knows that Oswald was murdered only a few days after the President was killed, since there is no American who was over five years old at the time who doesn’t remember that and the sense, at that very minute, that we had spun completely out of control exactly as Mad Men reminded us.


And, yes, Mad Men was also right in the sense that the world just ended that day and began again, with different values, different history, and different rules. The guilt and sadness over the death of our young President resulted, it is true, in the seminal legislation of our time, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively, and medicaid and medicare also in 1965. But the spirit of the era was gone and gone, it seemed, forever.


Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.



That sense of obligation to our fellow citizens, the articulation of the underpinning of Roosevelt’s New Deal but now in the hands of


a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world



President Kennedy’s death marked the end of an era, not the beginning he had promised us and his hopeful ideals for the country were replaced, first, by the war in Vietnam, followed by the war on the Great Society and then of the New Deal itself. The election of President Obama is the first thing that has happened since then which provides even a hint that we can get back on the path President Kennedy set for us.


But as much as Matt Weiner offered a reminder of how many people have no recollection of November 22, 1963, a diary on Daily Kos the other day shows that the path to darkness remains before us as well. We live in a time when a person with a Jewish sounding last name who blogs about the limits of Sarah Palin’s appeal receives an email about “Why People Like to Stuff People Like You into Ovens.” This is the combustible atmosphere that existed in 1963. Deny that at your own peril.


The diarist advised that we not fear the people who are out there—the “crazies” as Regina Spektor calls them—and that advice is worth trying to heed, but it will not be easy.


Over and over the reminders take over this space.


We are living in a time when a doctor providing abortions is murdered and people cheer or try to justify it.


We are living in a time when elected officials can appear on Meet the Press and justify threats of violence and even the overthrow of our government and are not hooted into an apology or oblivion.


We live in a time when a man proudly brags about the gun he brought to a rally where the President of the United States was speaking and yet this incident gets less coverage than whether some guy tried to hoodwink cable tv (big woop) by claiming his boy was in a balloon.


We live in a time when people are “praying” for the President of the United States hoping for his death.


We live among hate.


Hate cost us a president and almost two generations of progress. It is countenanced today by people who should know better and there appear to be nobody or very few in the Republican Party willing to speak out against it, the way the otherwise racist William F. Buckley did against the John Birch Society

or even Sen Prescott Bush spoke out against, tepidly, the “methods” used by Senator Joseph McCarthy in his anti-Communist crusades.


Part of this day, as every November 22 since 1963, will be spent mourning our late President, but the day should also be dedicated to never allowing this hatred to change our world again.


From Occupying Wall Street to Changing the World

Keith Olbermann was, for once, apoplectic.  They were doing it again!!!  The reactionary forces of the staus quo were at it again, sending the police after The People, intolerant of their cries of anguish and of their mission.   It was the Edmond Pettus Bridge again, Haymarket, the Moratorium Against the War, all wrapped into one.   And now, nobody would sleep on the slab of concrete off Liberty Street, between Church and Broadway a place laughingly called Zuccotti Park. 

 To Others, watching the mish mash of political activists, people with nothing much else to do, tourists, Ron Paul libertarians, anarchists, artists, self described journalists as assorted passersby, and wondering what it all means, it was time to move on, so to speak.  The Village Voice, which has seen a protest or two in its time, front paged an article just before the onslaught which described  

A recent Wednesday night in Zuccotti ParkA woman was hit in the face, an EMT broke his leg trying to break up a fight, and a drunk guy with facial tattoos tried to burn an American flag. People blasted tracks from Watch the Throne, the unofficial One Percent Album of the Year, while four or five brawls broke out over the course of two hours. Everyone was doing everything at once: fighting, eating, dancing, sleeping, smoking.
Everything except demonstrating against our country’s financial status quo, which is the occupation’s raison d’être.

It has been heartening, of course to see the sleeping giant start to stir.  It was a bit scary when people were galvanized to break up meetings discussing whether there might be a better way to insure our citizens against financial catastrophes brought on by illness, was met by indifference or lengthy mourning for a pop star who died under circumstances that some saw as mysterious.  It was awfully disheartening when all the people who demanded change in 2008, decided that if their dreams could not be realized in two years, voting was no longer worthwhile and stayed home, with disastrous consequences.


We wondered where these people were when the money that rules Congress demanded no further talk of a “public option,” much less a Medicaid/Medicare for all single payer health care system.  We asked why, with all the support for change, the new administration was unable to muster support for a second New Deal, but only a tepid program of “stimulus.”


But better late than never.  Here they are.  They are sick of this.  We are the 99, they tell us.  But some of them also say things like this:


 “The point is, we’re holding Wall Street accountable because voting for politicians doesn’t work” 




 we cannot win from within the political system. So we have no choice but to go outside it


It’s revolution or nothing.  Music to those for whom the political system is nothing more than a vehcile to do for those who contribute to their political campaigns.  Why read newspapers?  They are the tool of machine.  Our wisdom, which we obtain by blogging to one another and, seeing the consensus that emerges, assume that these views are the correct ones and the ones than anyone would hold if they only thought about it.


Yet, one look at page one of today’s New York Times and something more important, more useful than setting up permanent tents under an imposing black building, and something that would mean something to the “1%” seems obvious:


toward the bottom of the page:

Older, Suburban and Struggling, ‘Near Poor’ Startle the Census

and smack in the middle of the page:

Vilifying Rival, Wall St. Rallies for Senate Ally


Don’t think these stories are related?  Think again.  Why does “Wall Street” fear Elizabeth Warren? Who are these “New Poor” and who is speaking for them?  Senator Brown?  OWS?


There a plenty of places in Massachusetts to pitch a tent.  Maybe Walden Pond?  And while you are there the town you will be in is called Concord.  An OWS of sorts started there, too. The shots fired there started something, though, and was not an end to itself.


Listen:  electing President Obama was a baby step.  Nothing more.  The Senate was not controlled by people trying to do what needs to be done:  it has people who said they were Democrats, but who voted as if they were Republicans, and, in any event, the rules of the body were perverted to prevent anything from happening unless 60% of the body agreed.  We need to do better; not for those who want change to make noise, sleep in public parks and believe that chanting  one another’s words to each other will alter the world in which we live.


It, too, was a baby step.  A very important one.  Electing Elizabeth Warren would be a bigger one.  Go forth, please, and make the world a better one.

Things to Think About

No time to blog so, instead, just a few reminders of comments past and references to things you might find interesting:

Such as this:
1. Occupation Wall Street. It’s about time but you have to wonder where these people were in November, 2010. If you decide that voting is not worth the effort, your complaints about politicians truly fall on deaf ears. (If, by the way, you think Ron Paul makes sense, or that substituting a flat (or 9-9-9) tax for the progressive income tax is a good idea, you are just a dupe of the people against whom you are supposedly protesting.)
We have, on these pages wondered where you were and discussed how the recipe for change is clear but not something that can fit on a banner (see below for the closest facsimile thereof), but two years after it was first posted here there is now evidence that big trouble could be ahead:
Nothing less than our very system of government is at stake. We are watching the spectacle of a Congress beholden to the contributors who make possible their continued hold on office unable to respond to the call of a vast majority to reform health care, to protect our posterity from the doomsday path on which we have placed our nation and to regulate wizards of finance whose obsession with their self-interest have put the financial security and well being of the rest of us in permanent jeopardy. This is a recipe for disaster all by itself and placed side by side with the fact that we are no longer able to have civilized discourse over opposing views, the future looks bleak indeed….
This is playing with fire, folks. An unresponsive government acting on behalf of its benefactors instead of the people who vote cannot last long. It can last while people are sleeping—which they are—or while they are obsessed by cable driven foolishness about a helium balloon)—which they are, but then something happens and people wake up, though sometimes not for very long. This is playing with fire, folks. An unresponsive government acting on behalf of its benefactors instead of the people who vote cannot last long. It can last while people are sleeping—which they are—or while they are obsessed by cable driven foolishness about a helium balloon)—which they are, but then something happens and people wake up, though sometimes not for very long.

2. Rigged Elections. After a similar period of radio silence, your faithful blogger returned in August 2009 witha rant about how the electoral system is so broken by the way campaigns are financed that nothing is more important, and seems unlikely to be fixed. Lawrence Lessig’s plan, as discussed on Rachel Maddow and in a book he has written presents a lovely pipe dream, but since members of a constitutional convention would be elected in the same way that we have destroyed Congress, it seems unlikely this presents the answer.

His other idea, though, to give voters enough money to compete with special interests might have merit. Something has to give folks or we are sunk: Watch this from Rachel and see what they have in store for the rest of us.
3. Values. Maybe they are right after all. This while thing is a struggle for whose values should shape the country. When you look at it that way, and you know your own values and cannot understand theirs, the impossibility of reconciling these two views becomes very clear.
It was hard for a Jew to not have some of those thoughts while listening to the rituals of our High Holy Days (and observing that the “Values Voters summit” was held in Washington on Yom Kippur, effectively excluding Jews whose “values” might be different.

Still, it is hard to hear the traditional prayers of the season without seeing the disconnect between the two sides of political thought as almost a religious war. Some of us are New Dealers at heart; others see themselves as rugged individualists, in need of no government in their quest for fortune.

And then, we say this:

We pray that all creation will take up Your promise of justice and tolerance….

We shall not hate others; we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. We shall consider the strangers among us as our own…

Teach us more and more to respond to the pain of others, to heed Your call for justice…

In the days to come, we will turn outward and take care of the world around us. We will turn toward each other and foster peace within the human family. We will turn inward and seek wholeness within our souls…

If this is a clash of religious philosophies, hearing an opposing view will be very interesting. It is hard to imagine that people who claim to represent religious thought, believe that a mission to impose one’s sense of morality trumps any sense of connection with the rest of humanity.

But prayer works best as a reminder of higher callings. ;It cannot be an end to itself. “No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor” as Regina Spektor puts it, but prayer alone feeds nobody or makes them warm.

Neither does marching.

But both can help to focus the mind.

Quick Hits

This weekend and next are not going to present enough time to thumbsuck through the many issues which should be discussed here, so, with a tip of the hat to the late, great Jimmy Cannon, herewith a few paragraphs to enrage a few and, perhaps, interest a few others:

1. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee even though his party despises him, and rest of us can not listen to him for five minutes without wanting to scream. He will not be elected president either. When the President is re-elected, therefore, seven million pontificators will kwell about his great comeback, and what it all means. But he will still be a Democrat and loathed by his opponents for that reason and because his father was black. If he can get over those things (as ridiculous they are as a reason to oppose his ideas), he will have, indeed, mounted a comeback. That seems quite unlikely.

2. They went home, read a few polls, and saw that nobody gives a rat’s behind about the supposed “evils” of government spending and regulation or the deficit, and seem more absorbed with our sinking economy and the need to fix bridges, highways and schools. Nonetheless, Congress comes back and decides to have the same fight about the same stupid things and this time think that punishing people who depend on government assistance is necessary if the government is going to also assist people fix what was broken during the last serious hurricane to hit us. The phrase “out of touch” does not even begin to describe how asinine and, ultimately, destructive this is.

3. If Elizabeth Warren becomes a United States Senator in January, 2013, will she still say the things she says now? We certainly need for her to do so, since, despite her professorial background she speaks in direct and clear sentences that even the ignoramuses with whom we share this country should be able to understand: as in “nobody in this country got rich on their own.”

4. By the way, on the subject of proudly stupid, your blogger is honored to see things posted here, then ridiculed, finally show up in regular columns written by people who get paid to do this.

5. If you are trying to convince people against the death penalty (something your blogger does not favor, while recognizing the right of a sovereign state to disagree unless the Supreme Court holds it to be a “cruel and unusual” punishment), don’t try to convince people that Troy Davis was “innocent” unless you can show he had nothing at all to do with the death of Officer MacPhail. With minimal study of it, the issue appears to be whether Davis actually pulled the trigger when the officer was shot, and that, perhaps, the identity of the specific shooter is relevant under Georgia law at least for the imposition of the death penalty. There appears to be no question, though, that he was with others, with whom he acted “in concert” (as the law likes to say) and that Officer MacPhail was killed while preventing Davis and others from doing whatever they were doing to a homeless man. That governments should not be in the business of killing people is one thing; to say that Davis was “innocent” is quite another.

6. On another issue which might enrage a few people, the Jewish person writing this stuff continues to be amazed at how Israel is portrayed in reference to people who have never once accepted the idea of a “Jewish state” to exist within the sliver of land allocated to it now referred to as “1967 borders with mutually agreed to land swaps.” It is hard to see how declarations of statehood are going to bring peace when President Abbas describes the “Holy Land” as the birthplace of “Christianity and Islam” pointedly omitting the reference to one other religion. The current administration of the Israeli government, and their cozying up to reactionary forces in our country deserves much of the criticism it receives, but if having a less than ideal government warranted all that people seem to want to drop on Israel, fairness suggests that the United States should have been dismembered at least during the Bush Administration.

7. John Lackey is flat out terrible, and worse yet, does not seem to notice that. Carl Crawford has been a grievous disappointment though there is reason hope that a second season in Boston might be better. With a now very poor rotation, Youkilis injured and the bullpen overworked, the prospects for a good postseason, assuming hte Red Sox get that far (they will) are not very good. On the other hand, the 2004 team was down, as we always note, 0-3 in the ALCS, and the 2007 team down 1-3 in the ALCS that year, and were far less than perfect teams which won a world championship. Anything is possible. What is certain is that Terry Francona is an excellent manager, the best the Red Sox have had in the 54 years they have occupied much of the concerns of at least one guy. To try to pin this nightmarish September on him is beyond absurd.

8. It is absurd in the same way as people who saw nothing wrong in Vice President Cheney’s company making money off a war commenced by bait and switch tactics and fearmongering, who now want to take the President to task because the government tried to help a company that went bankrupt, render inadequate the word chutzpah (pronounced anyway you want it). Similarly, the people who say that it is time to stop blaming the Bush Administration for our national and international economic crisis either know better and just say this stuff for political advantage, or are way too idiotic to take seriously.

That’s all for now. Happy New Year to those who celebrate it.

Tikkun Olam, Repair the World

The past few weeks said much about who we are, what kind of people we are and how we see our country and our mission.  It included, of course, the need to have our attention brought back to the day when we were attacked as a people and as a nation, and all of that caused many to both weep for what we lost that day, and for the mistakes and waste that followed.

These weeks also have encompassed, maybe illustrated better than ever, the vastly different views that many of us hold, from those of a large number of our fellow citizens.  In short order we have seen audiences applaud one presidential candidate for the large number of executions his state has undertaken since he became its Governor, and another suggest that a person without medical insurance who suddenly is in a coma, be allowed to die as a consequence.

We are told that liberals want a “mommy state” and that the government that does the least is the best government there can be.  We are all on our own.  Regulations should be curtailed.  If you want to eat food, you just have to be careful and take your chances.  If it is true that this view can elect a president and a Congress, then we are no longer the United States of America.  We are just random individuals sharing space.

It is hard to believe we have sunk so low.

Last weekend, for instance, was very difficult for many people. Many of those people suffering lost nobody from their family or a specific loved one, but still it hurt.

For others, it must have seemed to be a bit much.:  It’s been ten years after all.  Maybe for those in the northeast, from Boston from where the planes left, to Virginia, where the Pentagon was attacked, and other buildings (and people) likely spared by the heroism of the passengers on one of the flights, it hurts more than in other places.  It was overwhelming, though, in a way that, say, the tenth year after President Kennedy’s murder, which fell right in the middle of the Watergate crisis, was not.

If music helps one through moments such as this sad one, there was quite a bit around that did the trick.  Most notable, beyond question, was  Paul Simon’s so heartbreaking version of the Simon & Garfunkel song of our youth, The Sounds of Silence, sung by Paul alone, in a baseball cap and near tears throughout, at the Trade Center itself.  It is one of those songs forever changed by this new context.  It will never be the same again

There was, of course, so much more in the air.  One was John Platt’s Sunday Breakfast on the radio station owned by Fordham University in the Bronx, WFUV.  The link posted here will only last about a week for reasons that are outrageously absurd but will have to be the subject of a post on another day, but the 9/11 program is well worth hearing (as, really, all of Platt’s shows are, but this one more than others).  It was not the trite maudlin easily expected music to hammer home whatever message of the day was supposed to be enforced, but a beautiful, diverse collection of songs which said all that had to be said.  As John pointed out, there was more—much more—that might easily have fit into the three hours, but it is hard to quarrel with most of what he was able to squeeze in.

Toward the end of the program, John played this (not the video, of course, but the music)  sung by Ellen Bukstel and written by her, Bonnie Reiter-Lehrer, Nick Annis and Paul Hoyle.

These are the words of that day, but they are the story of our time as well.

Yes, the first two words are in Hebrew and they are particularly familiar to Jews of a certain stripe.  (Perhaps not the fools who think that “teaching the President a lesson” by electing a Republican to Congress is a good idea.  Others).

But the idea that “We are one people. We are one heart. Tikkun olam. Repair the world” is the essential difference in political philosophies.  To those who say: “He has no insurance so let him die.  She has no bridge, so let her build one.  He wants his children to be educated, then let him teach them.  She has no job but that matters not to me” we have our answers:

we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well


If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

Tikkun olam.  Repair the world.

This is what these days are all about.  Can we see that repairing roads and schools far from where we live enrich our own lives, or do we see this as just some government handout to the people who scream the loudest?  Do we see the government putting money in the economy by hiring people to do things for the benefit of us all. to rise all boats—to put money out there that might be spent on a car, and support the salaries of people who might build that car, or do we see this as the product of a government that does not know how jobs can best be made?

Do we demand that government stand by while people die.  Do we see government’s purpose in how many people it can put to death?  Or do we have a different vision for our people and our country?

Tikkun olam.  Repair the world.

We will see in the year to come.

Nine, Eleven (slightly updated)

My daughter was fifteen that day.  When she got home, after seeing some of her fellow high school students whose parents worked “downtown” be brought to the principal’s office to receive news withheld from the rest of the students, she was wide-eyed and scared.  She said today that she still is.  The two young boys who lived next door and thought of her as that nice, big girl, lost their dad, a firefighter, that day.

There are many things worth writing about this week such as whether some imposter has been masquerading as the President, before the actual guy returned the an evening ro so ago (or, perhaps, whether the imposter was the guy who gave the speech the other night). Were it not This Weekend, it would also be worth writing about someone whose postings were always worth reading, even when some other blogger would challenge some provocative thing he said, but who suddenly left us this week.

There is nothing on earth that would allow this blogger to write about anything other than the events of ten years ago. It is hard to remember how and where, but something appeared somewhere that bleated from my electronic pen about how the time had come for presidents to do something other than kiss babies. The idea that the President was doing a photo op while my former workplace was being destroyed seemed to be a monumental failure. In the days and weeks that followed, those views were hardened, especially when some fool tried to claim that nobody could have imagined terrorists hijacking airplanes to fly into buildings, something demonstrably false.


Time is so jumbled up, but the episodes of West Wing where the President just abandons what he is supposed to be doing, in the wake of an emotional visit to the victims of some natural disaster, has forever seemed to express my view of how the presidency and national leadership has been confused with the requisites of public relations and politics. Someday, maybe, a blog can be written about that.


For now, the most that can be said from this post, was said last year. What follows is that, again, slightly edited:




Nine, Eleven


Someday those words will not mean what they do today. Even with Mad Men’s searing retelling of it, November 22 comes and goes these days with very little mention. Even December 7, 1941, which I did not live through, but once held strong meaning, seems to have lost its emotional force and if our parents remember where they were when they heard of President Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, (most of) the rest of us have not taken notice for decades.


My own story of 9/11 is not worth mentioning again. I lost my next door neighbor, and while friends lost loved ones, I lost colleagues.


The first office I could call my own was in Two World Trade Center. It was an odd thing to have your office looking over your shoulder almost everywhere you would go in the city in which I lived. When we moved across the street in the late 1980s, it stayed behind me all the time, and I continued to commute through the Trade Center until about two years before That Day.


Its memory will never cease to bring me to my knees, not in prayer necessarily, or in supplication, but in the force of its horrible terror.


What nine years has done, though, is allowed perspective. On that horrible day, the thought that ran through my head was that the reduction of politics and government to sound bytes, photo ops and feeding the beast of the broadcast media had led to so many deaths because protecting us was now subordinate to fluffery. I learned shortly thereafter, that, indeed, President Bush was reading a book to schoolchildren for a photo op as the Trade Center was under attack and it was many months before we learned of how annoyed he was a month earlier when told of the imminent danger facing our country.


That he was not forced to resign immediately after that became known remains, for me, evidence that we have not learned from our mistakes. That somehow the Republican Party may take control of the United States Congress shows how empty our politics have become. I read the diary of a direct survivor of the attack of that day and just shuddered.


But today, as I hear those names again: a former Boston Bruins defenseman, my next door neighbor, the son of a friend, the brother of another friend, the husband of a woman who has become, at least in someways, a hero to me, the husband of another woman with whom I worked, who has remarried, but will always have a sadness around her, it seems to me that it is time to retire once and for all expressions such as “Ground Zero.”


The name of the place is the World Trade Center: “the Trade Center” to those of us who have come and gone from there so many times. I have been there since, taking the train that runs from Hoboken athat used to be the final and first leg of my daily commute. The name of the station to which it runs was and is called the World Trade Center, and, except for a few months right after 9/11/2001, it has gone right into the Trade Center just as it has since the early 1970s.


Ground Zero sounds like a military site, and the Trade Center was, and is, anything but. In fact, that is the whole point. It is a place where people went to work or traveled through on the way to work. Tourists came to eat at the restaurant on the top of 1 WTC (those “north tower” and “south tower” expressions are from those who do not know the area. Most of us knew the buildings by their address.) It was not a military base, nor a legitimate target for anyone. The people who died there were, for the most part, people who simply went to work and those who tried to rescue them.


And it is right to celebrate, finally, the restoration of the Trade Center as a place where people go to work again. My heart sings every time I see the buildings, more beautiful than the fairly pedestrian ones they are replacing, arise once again.


Those who want to use that other expression, the transformation of the Trade Center into nothing more than the site of an attack or the place itself as a monument to hate should be ashamed of themselves. Its use in a political commercial should assure that the candidate who “approved of this message” be defeated, if not reviled.

Me, My, Mine

Admit it. Many of us never really accepted the presidency of the person inaugurated in January, 2001. This blog, or whatever it was we did back then, insisted on referring to the occupant of the White House as “President” Bush since how he came to occupy that office was so bizarre and so wrong.

Still, when the country was attacked later that year, we turned to the only President there was and some of us even applauded at the speech he delivered to a joint session of Congress a week or so later (even if we thought of the speech more the product of Michael Gerson, and only reasonably well delivered at that.) We wanted a President that week and he was the only one available.

The current President was, in dramatic contrast, duly and fairly elected. He won states Democratic candidates had not won for many years, and his margin of victory in some states approached and vastly exceeded in several significant places the generally accepted definition of a landslide (winning 60% of the votes cast). Somehow, though, and we know why, his presidency has been rejected by those who did not support his candidacy.

The disrespect shown to, the hostility to and the direct rejection of President Obama has been there since almost the beginning. He is foreign, he is disloyal, he is (omigod) a Muslim (or he’s not “as far as I know”). He is referred to by public officials as “Obama” and sometimes, “Barack” and not “the President” or “President Obama,” making a mockery of the close friends of the man who became President in November, 1963, who refused to call the man they knew as “Lyndon” as anything but “Mr. President” or President Johnson.

And now we have the most incredible of them all. The President asks to speak to a joint session of Congress about the most pressing issue before the country today and the Speaker refuses to invite him. Something about important votes that night, or security considerations. (“Ummm, sorry Frank. I know the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor yesterday, but you haven’t given us much notice. Maybe you could come later in the week?”)

There was a debate scheduled that day? Put it off. Delay it an hour (it is being held on the west coast where 6pm would be a better time than 5pm anyhow). The President wants to speak to a joint session. There is only one answer to that request. Even if he were “President” Bush. Especially if he is President Obama.

And, of course, the President gave in. He always does. He was not born in Kenya, but he grew up in Hawaii. They do not flip the bird at drivers who cut them off in Hawaii, but, of course, drivers to not cut one another off in Hawaii.

Here, on the mainland, we revel in how mean we can be to one another. The Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, ostensibly representing people whose homes, lives and jobs were ravaged further by a natural disaster announces that whatever assistance the government can provide them will have to be offset by cuts to programs which assist other people . The Congresswoman who purports to represent the district where these words are written chimes in with the same message, and then denies it when angry victims of a terrible storm (aided by a foolish decision to try to protect them from the noise caused by traffic) question her about priorities and loyalty.

Put all the spin on this that you want. They didn’t say it has to be offset now or the real issue is whether the government should continue to pay for research into developing an electric car. We know better, because you have told us your views of government, ad nauseum: You want it to keep the Canadians on their side of the border and otherwise shrink it to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. You do not like government helping other people with what you consider to be your money even if it was “your money” and the chicanery you employed to get that money, which threatened to send people into the streets without their homes andchildren to go to bed hungry.

Me, my, mine. The mantra of those who have and want more. Why should they have to pay taxes to fund schools if their children are all grown? Why should they care if some elderly person who is not one’s own parent or relative cannot afford medicine, or even food?

The New York Times waded (oh; wrong word) into a story that concerns your blogger and his neighbors, about the massive destruction of our commuter railroad, something essential to many who commute from Orange and Rockland Counties north, and importantly, west of New York City. We are, of course, within the are that pays a sales tax to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a public agency (in that goofy New York sort of way that pretends to isolate it from politics) that operates bridges, tunnels and mass transit in the area, other than those which run between New Jersey and New York.

The issues about the MTA and its general lack of regard to its west of the Hudson customers are not worth discussing here, at least today. what is worth reading, though, are many of the comments below it: the brutish, piggy nastiness of the Santelli/Cantor crowd whose mantra is that if it is not important to me, it is not important.

Try, for instance, “Bill”‘s announcement that he does not approve of the choice others made as to where to live:

Just because you can travel a hundred miles each way for work each day, by rail or by car, doesn’t mean you should.

or, “OT”:

perhaps they should have considered more carefully the risks associated with living 100 miles from their place of work.

or, the guy from South Carolina who describes us as

commuters who wish to continue their lifestyle of big city wages and small town expenses

Well, Bill, it is 55 miles each way for me. Maybe the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is not really necessary as with some of the subway stops in residential portions of Brooklyn. How come some of us pay a toll to cross into and out of Manhattan, but the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges are free? Whose idea was it to build two new large office buildings at the World Trade Center?

And, Mr. Cantor, or Mr. South Carolina, tell me how the people in your states would fare were it not for a military establishment we pay for with our taxes. Nobody has the right to live in the confederacy and take advantage of wealthier states who subsidize their life style.

No. Let’s not go there. This is the debate that was largely inaugurated by the New Deal. 

It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and parts of the United States of America — a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer….

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward

To some people this is an evil socialism. To others it is the only way that government can properly function. There is, Mr. President, no middle ground in this debate much as you love trying to find one. The pigs among us always want one thing: what is good for them personally and immediately. They compare the federal government to running a private household because that make sense to them. The federal government has no responsibility beyond their individual needs.

The rest of us, the vast majority of us, know better. If Pat Robertson and Michelle Bachmann see the hurricane as a sign from God, maybe it is God’s way of saying that the stimulus being proposed is way too small. Here is a hurricane which will require that you spend more money fixing up what you had and, in the meantime, create a few jobs for people who desperately need them.

And we know this, as President Kennedy explained to the people of Arkansas in October, 1963:

which is more wasteful: the waste of life and property and hope or a multi-purpose project which can be used by all of our people? Which is more wasteful: to fail to tap the energies of that river, to let that water flood, to deny this chance for the development of recreation and power, or to use it and to use it wisely? Which is more wasteful: to let the land wash away, to let it lie arid, or to use it and use it wisely and to make those investments which will make this a richer State and country in the years to come?

These projects produce wealth, they bring industry, they bring jobs, and the wealth they bring brings wealth to other sections of the United States. This State had about 200,000 cars in 1929. It has a million cars now. They weren’t built in this State. They were built in Detroit. As this State’s income rises, so does the income of Michigan. As the income of Michigan rises, so does the income of the United States. A rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas becomes more prosperous so does the United States and as this section declines so does the United States. So I regard this as an investment by the people of the United States in the United States.

Choose a side, Mr. President. We know you have, but that you don’t like having to do so. We will be listening whenever you are permitted to address them and when all the Santellis and Boehners and Cantors and McConnells start whining, we will know better.


A friend, not usually one to be overtaken by excessive enthusiasm,said, during the few days after the 2008 election, that it meant that the United States was finally entering the post-racial period we thought might come about after the end of the civil war, after Brown v Board of Education, or, at the very least, after the enactment of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid 1960s and the abolition of the poll tax. We may be on our way there but, at least so far, we have not come close to that day, despite the election of President Obama.

The post-partisan era that the President believes in is not as close to the horizon and it remains uncertain whether it is such a good idea anyhow. After all, things work best when what government does is based on a robust debate about the alternatives, rather than some royal personage simply announcing what fits their fancy. What we have today is neither, though. We have, as has become increasingly obvious, rational debate trumped by made up facts, gossip, and winks and nods suggesting a knowledge of secret truths which are, actually, false. As the wise and observant Kurt Andersen put it today in the Times:

the most troubling thing about [Texas Governor Rick] Perry (and Michele Bachmann and so many more), what’s new and strange and epidemic in mainstream politics, is the degree to which people inhabit their own Manichaean make-believe worlds. They totally believe their vivid fictions.

With that as the basis of our politics, the idea that people will set aside their preconceived goals for the benefit of the country is almost absurd. One thing is clear and undebatable: talking about it does not make it so. Hence, this now oft viewed clip when the President told Mark Ambinder last December about how he expected the debt ceiling to be raised, should be seen as a lesson learned:

Look, here’s my expectation — and I’ll take John Boehner at his word — that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.

Equally certain—or at least virtually so—is the idea that the massive stimulus fueled by government spending, “investment” as the President likes to call it, which our economy desperately needs, will not be enacted in the near future. That is what has the stock market in free fall and why Standard and Poors issued its foolish and ridiculous downgrade of the nation’s credit rating. Republicans have decided that their electoral success is dependent on a poor economy and are determined to make certain that is so. After all, the New Deal prevented them from controlling any house of Congress for over forty years except for two slight blips in the 1950s. Fool me once, as a President, a fool himself, once said.

Indeed, it was former Senator Groucho Marx who famously described the basic policy of the Republican Party with respect to anything a President from the other party might propose:

So, if nothing is possible, why propose anything at all? The White House sucked all of us in the other day—including the guy scribbling this crap—by its flamboyant leak last Sunday about a supposed “debate” in the White House about doing nothing because

Mr. Obama and his aides are skeptical that voters will reward bold proposals if those ideas do not pass Congress. It is their judgment that moderate voters want tangible results rather than speeches.

This article accomplished what, at least this chastened blogger thinks, it intended. It provoked screaming, yelling and gnashing of teeth, including the ones facing this computer screen but an understanding that proposals which cannot be enacted nonetheless serve a purpose.

What we have heard so far is not, in Christine Romer’s words, “cut it.” Yes, it is true that much of what the President actually says and proposes does not get publicized, but the idea that an extension of the so-called “payroll tax holiday,” trade agreements with foreign countries and patent law reform (whatever that is) is going to have any real impact is nothing more than a sad joke. To hear David Axelrod contentiously tell Bob Schieffer a couple of weeks back that he had listed

five things that we can do right away that would have a positive impact on the economy

based on the same tepid half measures (“infrastructure bank”?) which, though useful, are not the kind of thing we need or even want to hear, is to hear people who do not have a clue just fumbling along. Surely they have a better and bigger plan and are just low balling us until they announce it with a big flourish. Maybe the two ideas we heard floating around have some merit or would if tweaked a bit, Joe Nocera’s “fund” to encourage small businesses to hire (though it has been rightly asked why, even with incentives, businesses would hire people to make and sell things when there is no market for such purchases), or the Maddow propagated Steve Benen idea to “approve” what ever stimulus crap Republican members of Congress have themselves proposed for their own districts, on the perhaps wrongheaded view that they cannot oppose what they themselves have demanded (extended perhaps to also include projects proposed by Democratic members as well). Maybe they don’t have merit. Something, though, bigger and better than what we have seen needs t be put before us. It does.

The always crucial Rachel Maddow presented a basis for hope yet again that the President understands this. She reported that, while on vacation, the President is apparently reading Rick Pearlstein’s book Nixonland (which the rest of us might read, too, were it not for the $5 more than usual price that is required to purchase it as a Kindle book). More significantly, she mentioned an article Pearlstein published in his usual haunt, Time magazine, in which he gently explains the part of his book that the President should take to heart:

It concerns the two major axes upon which major national elections get fought. Sometimes they become battles over the cultural and social anxieties that ordinary Americans suffer. Other times they are showdowns about middle-class anxieties when the free market fails. Normally, in the former sort of election, Republicans win. In the latter, Democrats do — as we saw in 2008, when the tide turned after John McCain said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”

Consider 1960. Even with all that ­famous 1950s prosperity, 1959 saw a recession. Richard Nixon blamed his defeat on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to use government to subdue it. John F. Kennedy, meanwhile, enhanced New Deal programs like Social Security — and a promise to extend that legacy with ­Medicare was central to his appeal. People remember the U.S.’s first televised presidential debate for the contrast between JFK’s cool and a frantic and sweaty Nixon. What’s forgotten is what made Nixon so frantic: Kennedy’s unanswerable argument that Democrats had created those programs while Republicans opposed them.

Indeed. This, Mr. President, is the point. Having not yet reached the valhalla where national interest trumps partisan politics, voters expect a president who runs as a Democrat to defend what that party accomplished and to bring those programs forward. They further expect the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan to oppose those efforts. You cannot rise above that cloud and it is foolish to try to do that.

You can say that thing have changed since FDR and can even claim—quite falsely—that President Kennedy was all words with nothing to show for them. Jon Stewart, though, proved all of that to be pointless. The arguments that gave the party of FDR comtrol of Congress for decades after the New Deal are quite applicable today and easy to state: Watch and this, too.

There is little question that President Obama will be re-elected. (Oh, for shame. How can you say that? Look at his poll ratings.) Much of his declining popularity is from disaffected liberals, all of whom will vote for him when the time comes, as will independents who have seen what’s going on and are not ready for any of these Republican candidates.

Unless, though, he is elected with a sweeping and real Democratic majority, which will not happen unless he explains why his election alone will not solve any of the monumental problems facing us, we will waste more time and slide further into oblivion.

Keep reading, Mr. President. You apparently read a lot of FDR books before taking office but found them to be inapplicable to our current times. It is time to reconsider that view.


Hell in a handbasket (special Sunday post)

whatever a handbasket is, or why going to hell in it is notable, this is proof that it is happening.

Where once a president, seeking re-election, said:

This Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent….

Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.

Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.

Again—what of our objectives?

Of course we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education and an opportunity to put it to use. Of course we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged. Of course we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation. We will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing power and to keep it constant.

For these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight

it is now reported that

A wide range of economists say the administration should call for a new round of stimulus spending, as prescribed by mainstream economic theory, to create jobs and promote growth. It is clear that the House would never pass such a plan….

A series of departures has left few economists among Mr. Obama’s senior advisers. Several of his political advisers are skeptical about the merits of stimulus spending, and they are certain about the politics: voters do not like it.

So there you are.

Have a nice day.

Calling Crazy Out

Guy comes back from a brief reunion with family members huddled around a beach to find that, in a week of rollercoaster rides on the stock market, brought on by what Paul Krugman aptly described as the “Wile E. Coyote moment” as we pause in our endless debate about how much to cut from our federal budget to discover that what we need is massive federal spending, the talk of the political folk is about whetherNewsweek’s cover unfairly portrays Congresswoman Bachmann as a crazy woman.

Jon Stewart, of course, had it right. Forget her crazy woman look—it is what she says which mark her as flat out nuts.

But what of it? She will not be president. The White House can only dream of her as the Republican Party nominee and the party knows this. Hence, they dispatched one of their most loyal soldiers, a former National Review stalwart, to just illustrate one of the seventy-five million reasons she cannot win a national election. If it is all that important to you to know just how lost in the rhetoric of the pathetic know nothingism that has plagued our country since its founding, then try to read Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker without screaming into space. Can’t be done.


The more serious issue is whether she is all that far from mainstream Republican “thought” these days. The word “thought” is put in quotation marks because thinking has little to do with it. And, yes, we need to make another reference to the Bush White House “adviser” who in 2004 told Ron Suskind that the “reality based community” just doesn’t get it lest we think any of this is a passing fad.


As our economy and, perhaps more, just collapses under the weight of the two terms we allowed that administration to control the presidency, preceded by a Congress the same party led to impeach the prior president while leaving more important issues to be ignored or decided by a fealty to ignorance, the mainstream press just begins to notice what has been so for at least the 15 years since the “contract with America” was endorsed by an electorate addicted to stupidity.



These “wise heads” suddenly noticing just how crazy these people are when they threaten to prevent the country from paying its debts—and, sadly, this includes our president (a smart man, who grew up not in Kenya, but in Hawaii, going to high school in sandals and thinking the best in people who mean nothing but…) have nothing but themselves to blame. It was only two weeks after the new President was inaugurated, for instance, that Steven Pearlstein (then a sane person) had to explain to his readers that spending is stimulus and vice versa, and to warn about

supposedly intelligent people [who] are horrified at the thought that, during a deep recession, government might try to help the economy by buying up-to-date equipment for the people who protect us from epidemics and infectious diseases, by hiring people to repair environmental damage on federal lands and by contracting with private companies to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.

That was 2009. The same year that even before his inauguration, the President was warned that this was a time to be bold, not tepid and that with an economy then falling at least $1 trillion under its capacity

Mr. Obama offers a $775 billion [stimulus] plan. And that’s not enough.

and a few weeks later, still 2009—and on the same day as the Pearlstein column explained the English language to people obsessed with Laffer curves or something equally discredited—Paul Krugman observed that

most economic forecasts warn that in the absence of government action we’re headed for a deep, prolonged slump….Would the Obama economic plan, if enacted, ensure that America won’t have its own lost decade? Not necessarily: a number of economists, myself included, think the plan falls short and should be substantially bigger. But the Obama plan would certainly improve our odds. And that’s why the efforts of Republicans to make the plan smaller and less effective — to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts — are so destructive.

So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh

So cut the comedy, folks. Maybe it took Standard & Poor’s two years (much less 15) to notice that

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as
America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective,
and less predictable than what we previously believed

but, their track record of noticing problems only after every other person in the world sees them is legendary (and, of course, none of this has much to do with the liklihood of the country defaulting on, say, T-bills).

What’s everyone else’s excuse? The brief rant that appeared here last week, noting that in the face of evidence that the source of the nations’ growing debt (putting aside the more obvious source from the loss of revenues during in a massively declining economy) was not the FDR-inspired “entitlement programs” but unfunded wars and prescription drug programs to help drug company campaign contributors, the Chief Bloviator of what passes for “Washington Wisdom” questioned his guests, by announcing as if it were fact, that

what really drives the debt, that’s entitlement spending, it’s been going on this way and was a ticking time bomb since the ’60s [and] we’re going to solve a political problem but not the underlying fiscal problem, which is what creates our debt

Keep talking, folks. You are doing a great job. Stupid is just plain stupid and treating the stupid as if they are “the other side” of a reasoned argument is not only foolish, it is destructive. See?