Consequential Disparity (July 13, 2010)

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In a 2010 reality of rising costs, flat wages (for those lucky enough to have a job), foreclosures, 401k loss and just about every social, political and environmental ill you can dream up, one of the few free sports left to us “small people” is the amusement of watching the rich, famous, powerful and greedy stumble over their own hubris and excess to fall on their pretty faces.

Admit it people – last Thanksgiving was a real downer for a lot of us. But witnessing the fallout of Tiger Woods smashing into a fire hydrant before the world became aware that he was an epic manwhore, was good clean fun for those not named Elin Nordegren (side note: I wonder if she noted the irony before she decided to place a well placed swing at her hubby’s cranium). Tiger, as we have all seen by now, will be more than OK, even if he lost his family in the process. His wealth, fame and prestige are (largely) intact. Tiger is definitely not one of us, is he?

Because for the rest of the world, the ones who swim upstream in the ever thickening sludge of actuality, had we made even one of Tiger’s mistakes, our lives would be effectively over. Had we been the ones to crash our vehicles in the fog of an Ambien coma, I think arrest, if not a heavy fine, would follow in short order. If we made a mockery out of our own image as a solid, sober family man, only to be exposed as a total hack, we would not be able to pick up business as usual after hiding from the media for a couple months. Respect would be lost, prospects forgone, and a broken family in the “real” world cannot be atoned via a large alimony payout.

And now we get to the heart of my post. Is anyone else demoralized by the consequence-free environment in which the top 1% of the American public lives? I extend benefactors’ rights to corporate and non-human entities, as well as the golden ones who enjoy society’s free ride. I realize it is not good for my soul to root for the downfall of anything, but it feels cold and alone out here sometimes in the place where the laws of physics rule. In my world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But not so for the banks, BP, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Roman Polanski, or our favorite whipping boy of the moment, Mel Gibson.

Charlie Sheen held a knife to wife Brooke Mueller’s throat last Christmas. We are now approaching mid-August while Charlie decides which option he likes best from the probationary roulette wheel. Meanwhile, he has gotten a huge raise from CBS for the next, and possibly last season of his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Our man Charlie was hardly a choir boy before this. Anyone want to wager on the fortunes of you or I had we found ourselves in a similar scrape?

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl in the 1970s, and has enjoyed 30 years of freedom as a European citizen and Oscar winning film director. On Monday, Switzerland effectively closed the book on any hope of justice served, by denying the U.S. government the right to extradite the pedophile. Let’s just say I had been caught en flagrante with a grade schooler. Mary Kay LeTourneau anybody?

Wall Street is hiring again. The very charlatans who led us into this prolonged economic predicament are back and feeling better than ever, while the rest of us choose between groceries and filling our prescriptions. BP has been allowed to lie and fuck up everything it touches for months, but we all know that in the end, they will survive, even if the same may not be said for the Gulf of Mexico. If I went to the shores of Lake Michigan right now and dumped even one gallon of crude into the bay, I would be arrested as an eco terrorist (rightfully so) before I had time to get back to my car.

What I am trying to get at folks, beyond the larger, obvious and unchangeable circumstance of life not being fair, is that it isn’t only the financial gulf that widens perceptibly between the haves and the have nots. There is, quite literally, a whole separate reality for the privileged, that may go a long way toward explaining the seemingly disproportionate current anger of the middle and lower classes. We are so helpless, even after playing by the rules, while those who flaunt every one of society’s guidelines, fly away unencumbered, free to continue worsening the lives of those around them. And they will, because unlike the rest of us, they haven’t learned a damned thing

Dear God, Make Me a Walrus, So I Can Swim Far, Far Away… (June 24, 2010)

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So much bad juju has beset the already beleaguered Obama administration this week, it has been difficult to keep up. Even for the small purposes of organizing this post, I hardly knew where to begin. But let’s dive right in, shall we?

General McChrystal apparently has an Icelandic volcano to thank for his undoing. It’s been said that the now former Afghan Commander’s diarrhea of the mouth was the result of an ill-fated bus trip, replete with cheap beer, that the General took with his team and Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. Had McChrystal given me a ring before he began drunkenly castigating members of the President’s cabinet, including the too-often mocked Vice-President, I would have told him what I learned myself the hard way long ago. “Car bar” is not the time for serious office discussions. Especially in front of a young, anti-war media representative with a tape recorder.

A brilliant military career thereby goes up in beer bongs and President Obama must deal with the implication that he is an armed forces chief without control. With the controversial surge about to ramp up in the Afghan region, this PR mess could not have come at worse time. Americans are tired of war, especially battles that are strategized in a reactive, discombobulated way. How do we support the administration’s plan when its ground leaders are insubordinate? Black eye #1 for the week.

Moving onto Federal New Orleans judge Martin Feldman, who ruled this week that the administration’s 60-day moratorium on deep water oil drilling was “arbitrary and capricious.” Republicans just love to howl about “activist liberal judges” who try to rewrite law. But tell me where in the Constitution it says that the judiciary branch can override a perfectly reasonable Executive Order just because they don’t like it? Come to find out (surprise!) that Feldman is a right wing oil guy. The bench ruling will almost certainly be overturned, but this is an unnecessary red tape headache that opens a window for oil companies to return to business as usual, even as crude continues to blacken the Gulf. Obama must respond to the public impression that his orders are easily flouted. Black eye #2.

What makes Feldman’s decision the more confounding is that the Executive Order was rescinded, even as it becomes more apparent each day that we are far from having a handle on the BP deep water trainwreck. Congress summoned Big Oil Executives to the Capitol the week of June 9th, with the idea that maybe something could be learned from the disaster response plans of BP’s competitors. Instead, we discovered that the only preparations these avaricious corporations had was to dig, baby dig and ask God really nicely not to let anything bad happen. But in case a oily walrus (not seen in the region for upwards of three million years) should happen ashore, they knew how to clean him right up!

And only yesterday, BP reported that two cleanup workers had died, and the containment cap partially subduing the gusher, knocked off by a robot submarine. More lives lost that will never become the front page news story it ought to be. Is it “capricious” Judge Feldman, to expect some resolution to this now months long horror story before going back into the Gulf with more deep water drills? I wish the families of these dead men, and the 14 who perished during the initial explosion, had been present in court when the judge handed down his decision. I doubt he could have located the gumption to look them in the eye.

BP and the White House are evidently no closer to solving this tremendous environmental and economic crisis than they were eight weeks ago. The idea that everyone responsible for this mess ought to be in jail, instead of floundering in a safe and comfortable office, permeates the American mindset incrementally. Black eye #3.

The President, blameless or otherwise, has been humiliated at every turn this week. About the only thing that has gone right for Obama is his meeting with grass-roots gay activists at the White House on Tuesday night. As major metropolitan locales throughout the country celebrate their annual “pride” festivals, GLBT leaders wanted to discuss the administration’s progress in repealing the embarrassing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military recruitment policy, the ongoing fight against Prop 8 in California, and an overall strategy platform which includes a hate crimes bill, expanded benefits for gay State Department employees and unpaid family leave to care for gay partners. The community remains disappointed in Obama for the slow pace with which he and his team are working to address these issues, but they continue to remain “hopeful and optimistic.” During a week like this, consistent faith can only be looked upon as a “win.”

While one ruckus after another disrupts the flow of regular business, it is almost easy to forget that Americans await action on other serious issues like energy, immigration, unemployment, and the fiscal crisis experienced by nearly all 50 States. This latter situation presently accounts for the once bedrock educational and human service networks coming apart at the seams. No funds means no resources, which threatens not only families and children in the present tense, but additionally places the next generation at risk as well.

I would like to recommend that Obama begin to wade through the disorganized cesspool of his agenda by creating a new cabinet post: Secretary of Shit Storms.

Insecurity (May 4, 2010)

National Security

What do Arizona’s new immigration law, the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast, South Park, President Ahmadenijad of Iran’s address to the UN, and the weekend bombing attempt in Times Square, all have in common? Well according to this blogger, these are all issues which expose the weaknesses of our national security. Until recently, I have not paid the attention to this overarching issue that it deserves. I have spent time chasing the “sexier” topics of elections, banking reform, the economy and the repeal of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” but national security is not a conversation so easily digestible. It is slippery, hard to pin down, and for that reason I believe, fails at times to hold the notice of myself and other Americans.

But in truth, most issues facing the U.S. today can be directly correlated to some national security concern. We can’t just wait for catastrophes like 9/11, Shoe Bombers, or Christmas Day granny panty wearers from Yemen, to make us focus. The cluster of current events which I mention above are a live testament to this truth in the following ways:

1. Arizona went rogue and created its own immigration laws, in part, because there has been inadequate response to protecting our borders at the Federal level. I am in no way defending the plan the State came up with, but there is a real sense of frustration out there on both sides of the political aisle, and across the nation. Obama has quite the full plate right now, but we need to prioritize reform. Or one day, it won’t be just jobseekers hopping the fence, but sinister people who have figured out that our porous boundaries are a great way to do us harm.

2. The BP oil spill, and the company’s completely lackluster response to stopping and cleaning up the leak, does a lot more than harken us back to the Exxon Valdez disaster of the late 80s. It creates more chaos in an already vulnerable region – highlighting the downside to remaining an oil-dependent nation. The lost oil supplies damage our environment, and leave us more prone to remain under the thumb of “black gold” – rich Middle East nations.

3. Which brings me to South Park and the Times Square bombing plot. Recently, in honor of the show’s 200th episode, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker did an irreverent sendup of the Muslim religion by depicting the Prophet Mohammed – in disguise. Nothing is safe with these guys, and anyone with a sense of humor ought to know that. Jon Stewart and myself were more than a little miffed when Comedy Central chose to censor the episode without the creators’ consent. And I maintain that free speech requires more bravery than the network showed. But then…..Faisal Shahzad drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder loaded with amateur explosives into Manhattan and parked it guess where? Very close to Comedy Central’s New York headquarters.

4. And finally we have President Ahmadenijad of Iran, an asshat of epic proportions. I am glad that 95% of the world can come together to agree on that. But since UN headquarters are located in the U.S. (and again in Manhattan – poor folks), we have to deal with the indignity of letting this man deplane and tread on our land, so he can spout the garbage that spews from his hate filled mouth. Yesterday, reports had it that Iran’s leader attempted to escalate the nation’s “nuclear showdown” with the U.S., even with the looming threat of economic sanctions. As long as this man remains in power in Iran, no one is safe. Walkouts from his fiery rhetoric won’t accomplish anything – not with a man who violently puts down civilian protests at home.

As stated at the opening of this post, I am no national security expert, and do not have any good ideas for a comprehensive plan to ensure the protection of our nation and its citizens. I just think it’s pretty clear that we need one. Like 10 years ago. Up to now, we look like the proverbial boat that started springing leaks in the late 1990s, with nothing more durable to plug them up than a cork here and there. Corks pop, and the sounds I’ve been hearing when I turn on the television or surf the web are the noises of a thousand little bursts.

Thoughts?