The GOP Is F*cked…And It’s Bad For America

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“The absolutely pathetic Republican showings in the 2008 and 2012 national elections are on track to be a source of GOP wistfulness this year, as numerous polls show Hillary Clinton set to trounce Donald Trump. As of this morning, The New York Times has the former Secretary of State at an 87 percent November victory likelihood. Memories of the electoral disappointments of 2000 and 2004 prevent relaxed exhalation but given the Republican nominee’s post-convention nose dive and Clinton’s stellar debate skills (if there are, in fact, debates), there’s reason to believe we’ll get through this without a President Trump.

But what will be left of the Republican Party? I don’t pose this rhetorical question as an exercise in schadenfreude.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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Unsolicited Arrogance (October 10, 2013)

“Good advice is often annoying. Bad advice never is.”

-French Proverb

I’m a huge fan of pithy, enigmatic quotes, but the Frenchies couldn’t be more wrong on this account. After weeks of sitting on the receiving end of advice from friends and strangers alike, I can confidently declare that really tone deaf guidance is more offensive than the helpful variety. Although when it comes to perfect strangers, I’d rather prefer they offer nothing at all.

For several months I have been grappling with a progressively debilitating case of pompholyx eczema on my hands. It is a particularly mercurial form of the skin affliction which affects only one of out every 20 eczema sufferers. Its causes are mysterious and there is no known cure. Available treatments offer limited results, are typically expensive (Coming soon in my annual blog series: America’s Healthcare System is Still Broken – Part III, wherein I examine an employed woman with a “Cadillac” health insurance plan dropping $540 on necessary medications at the local CVS), and bear the threat of their own detrimental side effects.

The attacks are affecting my work, exercise and wellness routines and most certainly, my self-esteem. It is my firmly held belief that creative types such as writers are already cursed with inordinately high levels of insecurity and self-consciousness. The misfortune of contracting a disfiguring and crippling chronic condition compounds the pain of profile immeasurably.

For the most part, friends and colleagues who want to discuss my illness and treatment course are loving people who mean well. Though there are times I’d rather reflect on something, anything besides the constant burning itch and unattractive qualities of my hands, I have patiently indulged their collective desire to help. I’m confident that I’d have much bigger problems to deal with if these souls lost interest in me altogether. And there have been times where the sincere pain I see in the eyes of a valued friend, envisioning my suffering, acts as an imperceptible balm for the heart and soul. May I never grow so cranky from inveterate discomfort that I stop appreciating these overtures.

I have noticed a real peculiarity, however, on the part of people who don’t know me from Adam. And it has taken me the more by surprise since I hail from, and still reside in Chicago, a bustling metropolis known for harried citizens who shuffle quickly down the streets, avoiding eye contact at all costs. It’s as though my embarrassing malformation has become community property. I can be quietly minding my business, reading a book or what have you, staring out the window of a CTA train. And it’s just then that an interloper crashes my reverie, feeling fully empowered to question and offer unwanted, asked for counsel about my “problem.”

I give you two anecdotes from the last 10 days, by way of example.

On my way home from a particularly dispiriting workout at the gym, where my hands cracked and bled profusely after relatively mild strength training, a man seated next to me posed the following question: “Excuse me, but I’m a professional chef and I have to ask. Did you burn your hands?”

Before I could organize my thoughts, humiliated blood rushed to my cheeks. I love the anonymity that city life offers and I was suddenly acutely aware that the hated eczema came with a price I’d never anticipated. I no longer blended. Once I recovered from this horror, I grew incensed by the man’s impertinence. The visibility of my affliction does not make it a topic for public discourse, and the whole “I’m a professional chef” declaration seemed to suggest that this show of concern was merely an excuse to talk about himself.

This was one for Ms. Manners. What do the rules of civility say about my obligation to indulge and respond to such unwanted conversation? I downshifted to the sunny disposition I typically reserve for telemarketers and unwashed tavern suitors: a dead eyed, nail-to-the-floor bitch stare accompanied by as few words as possible, spoken with flat affect. To my later amusement, the man seemed to take this disinclination for engagement on my part as a character flaw. I had to appreciate the irony.

But you know, CTA weirdos and miscreants abound, and I was ready to chalk it up as a one-time, annoying encounter. Until last night.

I was on my way home from the pharmacy chatting with my younger sister on the phone. I reached the station where I was to change trains, when a young woman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around briefly and pointed to my cell. I figured she wanted directions or something and would understand to seek them elsewhere. Alas, she wouldn’t let up and I told my sister I’d call her right back. The most creative fiction writer in the world could not have devised what I heard next:

“Sorry to bother you, but you know, doctors aren’t going to tell you that it’s all the toxins in your body causing that problem with your hands. What you need is a colonic. It will clean your system and fix you right up.”

I believe my mind actually went somewhere else for several seconds. I was paralyzed and emotionless, incapable of doing anything more than standing and blinking. Then a well-bred autopilot functionality kicked in. I thanked the women for her counsel, told her I had a train to catch and walked away.

What. The. Hell. My beloved and hilarious friend Beth summarily labeled this “The Magic Poop Theory,” offering me my first genuine laugh of a trying evening.

This pattern of unmitigated gall has instilled more than a wish for invisibility. I am left wondering about the crust of people. When did it become socially acceptable to identify people’s physical ailments and then discuss bathroom cleansing rituals in the same breath? I mean, shouldn’t she have bought me dinner first?

I don’t know if anyone who might be tempted to quiz me about my hands will come across this blog post, but just in case let me be clear. John Q. Public: your desire for information and need to pass yourself off as an expert of some sort pains me more than the pompholyx. Real talk. I am under the care of several physicians and have tried more remedies in the last several months than you can imagine. You do not have the answer, and even if you did, frankly, your disrespect for my personal space and privacy renders me unwilling to hear it.

I read somewhere recently that there is strong connection between chronic conditions and the development of agoraphobia. At the time, I found the relationship puzzling. How could the spirit crushing itch and burn with which I struggle lead to a fear of open spaces? Turns out I was missing the Jean Paul Sartre principle so important to this correlation. Hell is other people, or in my case, outsiders who mistake my condition’s perverse visibility for a “Help Wanted” sign.

State of the Union (January 28, 2010)

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I listened to every moment of the President’s address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal “conservative” George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that’s what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, “I don’t trust government, but I do trust Obama.” I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President’s address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama’s address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship – that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie’s hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy’s mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century’s answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?

We’ve Tolerated ‘Too Big to Fail’ for Far Too Long (July 23, 2014)

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With international disasters and foreign policy imbroglios everywhere you turn, it’s easy to forget that we have numerous domestic issues with which we still must contend. To drill it down even further, we even have problems that warrant attention above and beyond nonstop Republican House attempts to disable Obamacare, either through legislation or lawsuit. And though it’s been hard to put faith in an unbiased justice system of late, I have decided to share our own Jason Easley’s optimism, located in his piece “Federal Court Ruling That Obamacare Subsidies Are Illegal Expected To Be Overturned.

The Great Recession. Remember that? Although it’s been nearly six years since the catastrophic burst of the housing bubble and the subsequent stock market crash of late 2008, and though many experts tell us the worst was over in June 2009, most Americans aren’t feeling recovered. For a host of reasons including, but not limited to, sluggish job growth, stagnant wages, high levels of personal debt and underwater mortgages, the middle and working classes are struggling. And although the Big Banks would like very much for us to collectively forget their culpability in this mess, playing the persecuted victim card as often as possible (see U.S. venture capitalist Thomas Perkins’ letter to The Wall Street Journal, likening the “rising tide of hatred of the successful 1 percent” to the persecution of the Jews during Nazi Germany), their Jedi Mind Tricks have been only marginally successful.

Early this week, The New York Times columnist Joe Nocera brought the issue of the Great Recession back to collective consciousness with his piece, “Did Dodd-Frank Work?” In it, he observes, “There are many aspects of the law on which Democrats and Republicans disagree. But there is one area in which the two sides are largely in agreement: ‘Too Big to Fail’ is still with us.”

I don’t think we need to be financial experts to comprehend that not much has altered with our precarious system. While Bank of America, et al may be out of the subprime mortgage business, and the stock market has come back in a big way since the collapse of 2008, it’s tough not to feel that the financial system’s rebound continues to come at our expense – without us enjoying similar progress.

It also seems hard to believe that if a major institution once again found itself in dire straits, Uncle Sam wouldn’t ride to the rescue. The more things change, the more they stay the same after all and anyone left with the impression that the health and well-being Corporate America comes second to that of human citizens just hasn’t been paying attention.

Moving beyond common sense intuition to actual legislative fact, Nocera points out that, “In one part of Dodd-Frank, the banks are required to write ‘living wills,’ laying out how they could wind down without causing a financial catastrophe. Although they are now on their third round of living wills, the documents are thousands of pages, and the government hasn’t yet told them whether the second round of living wills, filed a year or so ago, passed muster.”

I can’t pass up the opportunity to point out another obvious corporate vs. citizen double standard. Though there are cities in America where it is essentially illegal to be poor and homeless, you can count on one finger how many bankers went to jail over derailing the global economy. And anyone who has undergone a personal bankruptcy proceeding can attest to the dehumanizing, humiliating scrutiny of medical bills, student loan amounts and income. It can take up to a dozen years before any entity will issue an individual credit again. Yet despite the disproportionate bluster, the nation’s banks operate as though they didn’t come to Washington with collective hats in hand little more than a leap year ago. And apparently they are not being held accountable to ensure it never happens again.

What we are left with, in the words of Nocera, is this: “the ultimate problem: We have no way of knowing whether ‘too big to fail’ still exists until we have another crisis. Let’s just hope we don’t have to find out anytime soon.”

Yeah, that doesn’t work. We must demand better of our lawmakers and regulators. What’s that they say about the definition of insanity?

Trinkets From Romney’s Doomed Candidacy End Up in a Bargain Bin Near You (November 27, 2012)

Last week, the day after Thanksgiving ushered in the annual holiday shopping season. Many Americans partook of that bruising and borderline pathological retail ritual known as Black Friday, whereby millions of people invade chain stores at ungodly hours to grab discount stuff they probably don’t need. This was followed by the more civic-minded and measured Small Business Saturday, where consumers are encouraged to support local artisans, shops and outlets in order to buttress entrepreneurship in their local communities. And just yesterday, web surfers in offices all across America gave up their regular work tasks in search of the perfect Cyber Monday deal.

Even if you chose to sit out these cultural rites, there are 26 shopping days left before Christmas Eve. Perhaps you are thoughtfully biding your time, trying to envision that perfect, special gift for the loved one in your life.

And suddenly that consummate gift idea materializes! What do you get for the favorite liberal in your world? Whether they simply seek to commemorate President Barack Obama’s November 2012 thrashing of his Republican opponent, or if they are (like me) always up for a little GOP schadenfreude, the answer has arrived: Mitt Romney collectibles!

According to a report this morning from ABC News, retailers ranging from airport gift shops to online operations to Black Friday stalwart Wal-Mart are offering steep discounts on remnants of Mitt Romney’s doomed candidacy. Great bargains abound, per writer Sarah Parnass, such as “Romney magnets and buttons below a dollar and a ‘Repeal & Replace’ t-shirt, referencing the Republican plan to oust President Obama’s health care law, for less than five bucks.”

As for the official Romney website, reminiscent of the denials of Election Night, the former candidate’s handlers are not yet ready to relegate their man to the white elephant dustbin. In a display of misplaced confidence in the purchasing public, Romney t-shirts remain full priced – but those dying to plunk down $45 for the right to wear an electoral punchline on their torso may take advantage of free shipping!

It’s the little things during the holiday season that bring such simple joy. But alright. Maybe you’re not the mean spirited type. Perhaps you’re a gracious Democrat with a number of right-leaning friends who is too respectful to kick a team while it’s down, no matter how tempting. Fine. You can still take advantage of the Romney super sale! Just pop into the Reagan National Airport “America!” store for a Mittens bobblehead. Give it to your closest GOP buddy along with a musical greeting card that plays 1960 Brenda Lee smash “I’m Sorry.” Try to appear genuine and contrite in the giving. These misguided souls need our support as standard bearers try to discern how to make the Republican Party relevant in the 21st century.

No matter how naughty or nice we’ve been, this year’s holiday shoppers are bound to be more budget-conscious than ever, what with the looming fiscal cliff and the right wing’s continued standoff with President Obama on the issue of revenue increases. Show John Boehner and his ilk your concern by stockpiling bargain Romney stocking stuffers, maybe even put a couple of them in the mail to your favorite Republican officeholders. Obama has yet to begin his official second term and their arguments against supporting the middle class while rectifying our growing budget deficit problem are as trite and tired as the first go round. Remind them them of the electoral embarrassments yet to come from their failed, divisive strategies – with a momento of the election that was supposedly theirs for the taking.

 

Mitt Romney Tells America His Finances are None of Our Damned Business (July 10, 2012)

On Monday, New York Times Op-Ed columnist and economic guru Paul Krugman observed that “the contrast between George Romney and his son Mitt — a contrast both in their business careers and in their willingness to come clean about their financial affairs — dramatically illustrates how America has changed.”

George Romney unsuccessfully ran for President in 1968. At that time, the candidate got in front of questions related to his finances by releasing 12 full years of tax returns, a demonstration of transparency that ought to make those of us in 2012 nostalgic for a simpler time when the people who sought our vote actually treated us like adults. Instead this year, we have another Romney – Mittens – with a far more convoluted financial back story involving blind trusts, mysterious portfolios and offshore accounts, seeking to spoon feed the voting public a bunch of bull. Apparently if he tells America that “there’s nothing hidden there,” we should all act like the hypersensitized lemmings he believes us to be and take his word for it.

Romney has adopted the typical tactic employed by candidates who wish to dodge questions, calling repeated requests for information a mere attempt to distract voters.

Mittens, come on now: how could your refusal to come clean possibly be none of the voting public’s business? You are asking us to entrust you with our very nation and all its resources: military, financial, social and otherwise. Do we need to explain to you that in order to make the best judgment of your potential for stewardship, we need to understand your personal history in depth? If this is something your father understood, why can’t you?

And while we’re on the topic: can we talk about that blind trust? According to a report this morning from Yahoo! News, the “Republican nominee insisted he has little to do with his personal investments because they are managed by a blind trust.

‘I don’t manage them,’ Romney said. ‘I don’t even know where they are.’”

Can I see a show of hands from folks who find this credible? A man who has built a business empire and a Presidential campaign predicated upon his financial savvy, a quality that he claims is powerful enough to warrant the unseating of the highly-competent current Commander-in-Chief, would just love to have it both ways. He is both a wizard and a naive foundling, witlessly trusting those whose job it is to count his millions.

The Yahoo! Report goes on: “Responding to reports that some of his investments have been overseas, Romney insisted his ‘trustee follows all U.S. Laws.’ He added: ‘All the taxes are paid, as appropriate. All of them have been reported to the government. There’s nothing hidden there.’”

The double talk here is literally mind-bending. He is ignorant of his investments, can’t understand why we’re even interested, but rest assured, he hasn’t dodged any taxes. How do we know this? Because he says so. Stop it Mittens. Enough of this. Be a man and release ALL of your financial records and let us make decisions for ourselves, as we have been politically trained to do since we were old enough to vote. No one believes what you’re saying anyway – even the members of your own party. The best way to convince your constituents that you are not hiding anything is to stop hiding. It’s an idea that your father comprehended.

But what else should we expect from a man who has changed his tune on just about every issue before him? The Romney cynicism appears to know no limits.

Tired of Spending (November 29, 2010)

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Having barely survived this past weekend’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and as we the American consumer make our way through Cyber Monday, I am worn out from the retail experience a month away from my family’s interfaith celebration. A collective of Christians, Hindus and Muslims, we are able to reach across the aisle to embrace the secular side of the holiday season: the food, the gifts, the music, and most especially the family togetherness. We pride ourselves on finding the most cost effectively fabulous gifts, and love every moment of the window shopping work it takes to get there. Or at least that’s the way things worked in healthier years.

This annum, I am unemployed – for the second time. My sister and her husband are underwater with their mortgage, after refinancing their home a couple of years before the markets exploded in one giant, universe wrecking supernova. My husband and brother-in-law are gainfully employed but shell shocked by layoff experiences of the past that have set them permanently on edge. My nieces, perfect human beings of ages 11 and 3, have had special education and minor surgical needs, respectively. None of that, as is obvious to every parent in the nation, is anywhere close to free.

Long story short, like too many members of the middle class across the land, my kin and I have taken some hits. And is it just me, or is there something extra depressing about the bottomless worry we are being asked to choke back this holiday season? It’s like we’ve become a country of strong and supportive 1950s June Cleavers, putting on a happy face to declare in our public discourse that America is on its way back. But secretly, we’re popping mother’s little helpers, lying awake in despair, wrestling with the secret suspicion that the American dynasty has jumped the shark irretrievably.

Consider the results of Rasmussen Reports Friday, November 19th poll, released just a week before the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Participants in the telephone query were asked the following question: “When you think about our nation in the context of history, are America’s Best Days in the future or in the past?” The outcome may not be that surprising. According to Rasmussen’s data, “just over one-third (37%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe America’s best days are in the future. Forty-seven percent (47%) say the nation’s best days are in the past, while 16% are undecided.”

There’s a gut check moment. Almost half of us believe that we are collectively worse off, with questionable prospects for regaining what we’ve lost. Another one-fifth of us can’t make up our minds. Considering that some of our “best days,” include the Civil War, the Great Depression and two world battles, it would be dangerous not to pause and reflect.

With this pessimism in mind, the shine appears to be off the once celebrated mass consumption orgy that is the November/December gift giving season. What do you get for the family that has nothing? What gift best says, “you may not have your home, a career, your retirement fund or good credit, but have a Sponge Bob Chia Pet!” And I don’t know about you, but I am less inclined and enthused to spend because the indistinguishable government/corporate sector wants it so badly.

Politicians, economists and market wonks keep waiting for that good old reliable consumer spending to kick in, the force that has never failed to lift the country out of even lengthy periods of recession. But this time around? The unemployed need every penny they can grab just to stay afloat. Those lucky enough to have jobs are trying to take a whack at record levels of personal debt accumulated in the latter years of the 1990s and into the aughts. Those more fortunate still are hoarding cash, finally learning the lesson that nuclear Asian families have been preaching for decades: save, baby, save.

Middle America finally gets it even if Washington and Wall Street have yet to catch up. We’re not going to be able to spend our way out of long-term, fiscally unsound policy. When you expend two decades shipping low to medium wage jobs overseas, when you let housing prices spiral out of control, when the cost of a competitive, first world education carries a higher price tag than a used Bentley, something is out of whack that no Walmart door buster is going to repair.

So although Reuters reported this morning that “total retail traffic will have risen 8.7 percent to 212 million shoppers from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, compared with the same period in 2009,” that bit of good news is delivered with the sobering caution that “it is still too early to say whether retailers will be winners this holiday season, especially if early online and store deals have already gotten consumers to complete the bulk of their shopping.”

As I wandered the malls this weekend with my husband, the air was heavy with something that smelled an awful lot like futility. The pall hung over the low wage, no benefit retail employees, the family carrying reward certificates and shopping lists, yelling at one another to hurry up and get in the checkout line. There seemed to be no joy in a ritual that once spawned the kind of nostalgia that beget great cinematic classics like A Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street. Macy’s is longer a place where dreams comes true. Instead it’s just another tony market where hardworking people with “good” white and blue collar jobs can’t afford to shop.