Bush/Gore Part II? The Media’s Familiar, Dangerous Bias

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“[Paul] Krugman perfectly articulates the stifled rage of many politically engaged with an analogy that also underscores the raised stakes. It’s almost hard to believe that America faces a situation direr than the choice between the semi-bland but competent Gore (who must realize that running from Bill Clinton’s record was a huge error), and the leader who would take us falsely into the Iraq while busting the deficit with unprecedented tax cuts.

But let’s remember that George W. Bush actually wanted comprehensive immigration reform. Donald Trump, per his speech in Phoenix last week Wednesday, believes “It’s our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us.” This guy is a hair away from preaching eugenics yet somehow continues to be taken seriously as a candidate for Leader of the Free World.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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A Laborious Summer

Summer in the City

Today is Labor Day, that celebration of the American worker that falls on the first Monday in September. In a lovely explanation provided by the United States Department of Labor, we dedicate the national holiday, “to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

These fine laborers also form our communities, our circles of friends and family. I remember my maternal grandfather Eugene Bosiacki, a WWII veteran who later drove a streetcar for the relatively nascent Chicago Transit Authority. Poppa was robbed a number of times on the job – an era in which drivers carried cash, expected to make change for riders. He was a man of few words so I’ll never know if these episodes frightened him half much as his time spent as a teenage POW in The Philippines. Somehow I doubt it. In the mid-1980s, Poppa was forced into retirement from his final career as a cable salesman. The company was moving out of state. He was well into his 60s and gee, management would love to extend him an offer to relocate after decades of service. But everything is being computerized and well, of course you understand….

I think of my paternal grandmother June Crowley, who juggled multiple waitressing jobs while raising six kids as a single mother in Chicago. After she retired to her own little cottage across the Illinois border in Wisconsin, June had bunions and painful arthritis from years on her feet. But she also relished the satisfaction of having earned her rest and peaceful homestead. No one had handed her a thing.

I’m reflective of my own academic, non-profit, corporate and volunteer labor. The years of under pay and few (if any) benefits. The career reinvention at age 30 that found me pursuing a dream of writing just as the George W. Bush economy fully cratered. The moments I felt hopeless and crushed under the weight of agendas not my own. And the relative career autonomy and satisfaction I enjoy today, a direct result of timely opportunities and relentless self-advocacy.

But Labor Day 2016 is full of other thoughts beyond the worker and his or her struggles and gains. The holiday also traditionally marks the unofficial end of summer and this one, for me, has been unusually hot and painful. I love the heat and any other year, the Windy City’s months of sultry humidity would be received as a blessing. However when one is physically and psychologically stunted by grief, the languid heaviness of the environment depresses an already weak will to engage.

On Memorial Day, recognized as the informal commencement of summer, my dear friend, theater companion and liberal political debate partner Todd died from a sudden heart attack. Prior to his jolting death, we’d been enjoying beer and pretzels at a local German bar in my neighborhood (where incidentally, Grandma June was employed for many years). We looked forward to a series of concerts and other plans for the coming months. We gave each other a warm, long parting hug. Then Todd went home, enjoyed some of his favorite music (per his final Facebook posts), went to bed and never woke up. I’m still struggling to process that such an important part of my daily existence is gone for good.

This past Thursday as Labor Day weekend approached, a colleague for whom I had enormous respect died after a short battle with eye cancer. Her medical leave was just announced that Monday. Three days later she was gone, leaving behind two young children, a bereaved husband and a legion of befuddled colleagues. Didn’t we just have a drink with her at the office summer outing a few weeks ago? Kristin, like Todd, was in her early 40s with so much left to do. When I return to work this week, there will be an interim director in her seat. Why does life move on with sterile logic when it feels like everything ought to stop?

These bookend summer tragedies created a strange, surreal layer of additional thickness, overlaying Chicago’s muggy air. Air that already stifled from winter’s loss of my fur babies, Dino and Meko, as well as the April death of creative muse and master of individualism, Prince. Bob mourned the passing of his beloved godmother in June.  Death is of course, part of life. But how is one to deal with such an endless conveyer belt of emotional punches? I laid down often this summer. I didn’t always get back up without strenuous effort.

I see much celebration over the advent of fall in my Facebook newsfeed. Normally I regret the end of summer too much to welcome the change of season. Because fall has this annoying habit of leading to winter – a cruel set of Midwestern months indeed. This year feels different. My grief will travel with me as I watch the changing leaves fall to the ground, but I feel the sensible need for a rotation of scenery, of a different energy charged with autumn static. The promise of a difficult year approaching its denouement.

Gun Control Momentum Shift: Media Coverage, John Lewis And Republicans In Flight

Contemptor

“Nothing has changed. Except the year. And maybe, just maybe, the approach of our journalistic and elected advocates.

This is not 2004, when the last assault weapons ban lapsed and a struggling, incumbent President George W. Bush floated a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage with much success. Instead, it’s 2016, one year since marriage equality became the law of the land. And now it’s the year that the Democratic House Caucus, muted since the 2010 midterm election “shellacking,” finally stood up to the disingenuous Ryan agenda that makes the majority of us less secure by every measure. Georgia Representative John Lewis, a Civil Rights legend, reminded the nation this week that fulfilling civic duty with courage doesn’t have to be a lost art. Under the threat of much panicked, procedural bullshit intended to silence his voice, Lewis spoke to the chamber on behalf of a weary nation.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

What Margaret Thatcher Meant to Me (April 11, 2013)

What Margaret Thatcher Meant To Me

As an American child born in 1978, I recognize that I was not personally impacted by the “Iron Lady’s” apparently cold personality and extremely conservative views and agenda. I cannot identify with the vindication presently experienced by the “Battle of Orgreave” miners, a group who appear to have ample reason to wish ill upon Thatcher’s soul. While I feel a certain level of repugnance toward a group of men who have adopted the slogan, “I enjoy a good swim. But if someone asked me what my favourite stroke was I’d say Maggie Thatcher’s,” I understand that I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. I wasn’t there when Thatcher’s anti-union reactionarism all but decimated a number of English working-class towns, and the livelihoods that went with them.

I know that in my own country, I have borne witness to the rise and reign of Reagan conservatism, a phenomenon that has stratified personal wealth, creating a seemingly permanent underclass of hard-working, law-abiding citizens even as corporate criminals and the top one percent have reaped exponentially larger profit margins. I know that when my parents came of age, the words “homelessness,” “AIDS” and “crack” were not part of the national lexicon and that in numerous ways, the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush only worsened a number of these social crises. I am aware that Thatcher and Reagan enjoyed an intensely warm relationship and I can only infer from anecdotal evidence that the Average Joe has much to lament from this historical meeting of the minds.

But I am also a woman. And I can tell you from personal experience that when it comes to discussing Thatcher’s legacy, that’s a tough space to occupy.

As an impressionable grade school student and avid reader in search of role models (finding none at home), I came across a series called Women of Our Time in the library of my tiny Lutheran place of learning. Marketed to children in the third to sixth grade range, the series offered abridged, age-appropriate biographies of some of the most important, female public figures of the day. The book devoted to the life and career of Margaret Thatcher was the first selected and devoured. I went on to procure every other title in my parochial school’s limited holdings, and was thus introduced to such figures as activist Winnie Mandela, painter Grandma Moses and humanitarian Mother Teresa.

For profound reasons, and despite the fact that I have read thousands of novels and biographies since that time, I have never forgotten that series, or the first female subject I encountered. I was able to take for granted that it was perfectly normal for a woman with Aqua Net helmet hair, a string of pearls and a handbag to oversee the business of the second most powerful democracy. From the vantage point of 2013, I envy my younger self, as yet unaware that there would be presumptive lawmakers, overreaching religious factions and male supervisors ready with a hair trigger finger to ignore, roll back or otherwise void the advances of my gender.

As an impressionable third grader, the simplified biography of Margaret Thatcher taught me that I could be a tough as nails prime minister – or not. It was my choice and nobody else’s. I carried that self-confidence with me everywhere and used it as a blunt instrument to protect myself when family, society and religion began to tell me “no.”

And that’s what Margaret Thatcher means to me – a symbol, an idea, an ambition. I’ve progressed passed the junior lit. phase of my academic discovery. I do not canonize Thatcher. She stood for much that I abhor. But I cannot join in some of the hyper-liberal celebrations of her demise. To do so would be to wrong the opened vistas her very existence promised my younger self.

Obama in India (October 6, 2010)

Now that the media seems to have shot the appropriate holes in Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s outlandish claims that the President’s visit to the subcontinent will cost taxpayers $200 million a day, we can focus on what’s important about this journey. On a personal level, I will be paying close attention to the events of the next few days, because the diplomatic trip represents the collision of two vitally important worlds for me. On the one hand, I feel the need, like RIGHT NOW for Obama to pivot and change strategy, to regain the approval of the American public in order to avoid becoming a one-term President. As much as I may lament the public’s bad opinion of our Commander-in-Cheif, facts are facts and on Tuesday, we learned that independents and moderates have turned from “the One” in droves.

Secondly, India, the birth nation of my husband and home to my in-laws, is one of the two fastest growing economies on the planet, along with China. Given that, it is almost hard to believe that the landing of Air Force One in Mumbai will be the first of the President’s term. So much takes place in the region that is critical to America’s interests: the war in Afghanistan and security concerns in the larger Af-Pak region, oil, energy and climate change issues, outsourcing, education and more.

Finally understanding after Tuesday’s rebuke that Americans care about one thing and one thing only right now – jobs, jobs, jobs – Obama is using this instance of foreign outreach as an important opportunity to demonstrate his new focus on domestic problems. The Associated Press quotes the President as stating his mission thusly: “As we look to India today, the United States sees the opportunity to sell our exports in one of the fastest growing markets in the world. For America, this is a jobs strategy.”

However, this diplomatic exchange is far from one-sided, and on the other hand, we have the interests of India, a nation far less enthralled with our current leader, and nostalgic for the outsourcing/H-1 visa boom of his predecessor George W. Bush. Beyond that discussion, India remains concerned about our ties to its enemy and neighbor Pakistan. It wants acknowledgement and respect for what it has accomplished, in terms of economic and military growth.

According to certain factions within India’s political environment, the visit is off to a rough start. According to the Indian Express, “[political party] BJP on Saturday voiced disappointment over US President Barack Obama making no direct reference to terror emanating from Pakistan in his first speech on arrival in Mumbai, saying his words were not backed with action and intent.”

On a somewhat more humorous, though still serious note, AllVoices is reporting that in anticipation of Obama’s visit to the Gandhi museum, the coconuts from surrounding trees are being removed. This is to prevent angry, tempted locals from lobbing the fruit at the visiting President.

Clearly, it’s going to be an interesting and politically charged few days. Tense as our leader’s tour of India will be, I for one welcome the opportunity to shift the headlines away from Republican party gloating.

BufBloPoFo 09 DayTwo (March 15, 2009)

If you had the power to put together the most perfect, end-of-the-universe, nothing-better-was-ever-made repast, using whatever ingredients you want, and with whomever you’d like as your co-diners, what would you want? Tell me about one little bit, or all fourteen courses. Tell me about venue, about background music, about which box of wine goes best with which flavor of ramen noodles.

I have invited two temporarily resurrected men, Tim Russert and Jesus, to my place for dinner. Joining the three of us will be one person who remains of this world, Madonna. I have offerred to prepare a zesty vegetable lasagna from scratch. I have chosen a veggie meal because Jesus and Madonna are both Jews, and I do not keep a kosher kitchen. I understood from Tim Russert’s waistline while alive that he is not a picky eater. I set three plates at the bar in my kitchen, and pour three glasses of red wine. Madonna only sips gingerly at hers, requesting a bottle of Kabbalah water alongside her plate. Tim Russert and Jesus start sucking it down. We all know Jesus was a pretty fun wedding guest. Tim Russert came from a blue collar Irish background. ‘Nough said. I keep a plate for myself on the side. I will eat (and drink later). I do not want to be distracted or compromised whatsoever as we begin our discussion.

Wine has reddened the cheeks of Tim Russert and so he introduces a lively debate on the current economic crisis. Russert heatedly lays the blame at the feet of George W. Bush, though he does admit that the U.S. had been a little too lax about a lot of things in the last twenty years. Jesus is of the opinion that he sort of likes Obama’s Robin Hood approach to his most recent budget plan. However, realizing he may have said too much, Jesus grows a little sheepish. The son of God ought not to appear to pick sides, he says, so can we all keep what he said under our hats? It’s not exactly a lie, and thus we wouldn’t really be breaking any commandments. I tell Jesus to relax and poor him another glass. Madonna, who charges $200 or more to see one of her shows, apparently doesn’t realize there is a recession at all. Nevetheless, Jesus is always one to find a silver lining, and though he encourages the Material Girl to get to know some of the “little people,” he nonetheless commends Madge on the adoption of the formerly impoverished David Banda.

As we move toward the dessert course, a homemade banana bread pudding (in this fantasy, I have miraculously learned how to cook. Perhaps the divine intervention of Jesus?), the discussion moves to the subject of children. Jesus, just like Michael Jackson a couple millenniums later, obviously loves them (However, He pointedly resents the Gloved One’s use of “Jesus Juice” to calm them down – J endorses no such product), but immediately lets us know not to believe everything we read. The Da Vinci Code is just a work of fiction and there were no Jesus Juniors. I can barely mask my disappointment. Tim Russert, by now a little intoxicated, grows misty eyed at the thought of his now adult son Luke. I show him a clip of Luke working on behalf of NBC news during the McCain/Obama debates and he is done for. Madonna has three children from three different fathers (fine, the last one was adopted). Jesus knows it’s 2009 and doesn’t want to come off as a prude, so he stays quiet during Madonna’s confessional.

Tim Russert can barely stand by the time we finish our meal. Jesus tells us the coolest thing about being the Son of God is his immunity to basically, well, everything. He hoists Tim up on his shoulder so they can begin the walk back to heaven. Surprisingly, it’s not that far. Madonna has a chopper on top of my roof and will fly off with her boy toy, 22 year-old Jesus Luz. She realizes the irony of sleeping with a pretty young thing that bears the name of the Chosen One, and accepts that as further proof that her bed hopping is indeed all part of God’s plan.

What Great Recession? Wall Street Remains Unoccupied By Ethics (May 23, 2015)

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Nearly seven years after the American economy foundered under the worst global recession since World War II, it seems nothing much has changed with regard to the behavior of those that brought us collectively to the brink. While the nation’s bankers and mortgage lenders were certainly assisted in their shenanigans by the middle and working class-looting policies of George W. Bush, which resulted in a 35 percent decline in median household wealth, Bush 43 has long since been shuffled into retirement. Meanwhile according to report this week fromThe New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, Wall Street malfeasance is alive and well.

In Many on Wall Street Say It Remains Untamed, Sorkin mines new data from a joint survey conducted by The University of Notre Dame and Labaton Sucharow LLP. The project, entitled The Street, The Bull and The Crisis: A Survey of the US & UK Financial Services Industry, engaged “1,200 traders, portfolio managers, investment bankers and hedge fund professionals both in the United States and Britain” in an effort to find out how the culture has changed in the wake of the Great Recession.

The results, for the overwhelming majority of us who would like to avoid such painful, debilitating economic calamities in the future, are not encouraging. Ross summarizes the Notre Dame/Labaton report as follows, “Rather than indicating that Wall Street has cleaned itself up, it suggests that many of the lessons of the crisis still haven’t been learned. And the mind-boggling settlement numbers, as well as stringent new rules, like the of Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul in 2010, appear to have had little deterrent effect.”

Among the data highlights of the survey:

  • A third of Wall Street workers who earn more than $500,000 annually self-report that they “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.”
  • “Nearly one in five respondents feel financial service professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment.”
  • Almost half of the over $500,000 crowd shared that law enforcement and regulatory bodies are ineffective “in detecting, investigating and prosecuting securities violations.”
  • A third of respondents “believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their company could incentivize employees to compromise ethics or violate the law.”

Though America has voted itself a much more competent and empathetic POTUS in Barack Obama versus the reckless mismanagement of “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush, the data from the study makes clear that the conditions are ripe for a crisis similar to the subprime mortgage scandal to occur. It’s only a matter of time. The unchastened criminals, having suffered nothing personally as a result of their misbehavior, are going about business as usual. As Sorkin writes, “Wall Street is…risk-taking and those who seemingly do it most successfully find that edge of the line and get as close to it as possible without crossing it.”

But as we know, the experts have crossed that line and in a culture where power, money and recklessness have a sexy image, in a regulatory climate where repercussions rarely go beyond a light wrist slap, there is little reason to reform.

But perhaps all hope is not lost. After all, thanks to Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Presidential campaign conversation includes ideas for balancing the “all gimme while the working man suffers” imbalance between Wall Street and the proletariat. Our own Jason Easley wrote Bernie Sanders Plans To Make College Free By Raising Taxes On Wall Street this week. She quotes Sanders as saying, “At a time when the wealthiest people in this country have made huge amounts of money from risky derivative transactions and the soaring value of the stock market, this legislation would impose a Wall Street speculation fee on Wall Street investment houses and hedge funds.”

Wall Street looted the country by operating in the shadows, conducting transactions so complex and murky that most lay people couldn’t understand them. Meanwhile, the Republican political establishment of the Bush II years was all too happy to look the other way. Discourse and study are not synonymous with action of course. But they offer an enormous advantage versus the willful ignorance of the early aughts.