The Real State of the Union (January 25, 2011)

Tonight’s much anticipated address by President Barack Obama, almost four weeks into the New Year, is a huge test for our Commander-in-Chief. However, unlike last year, the rub isn’t his ability to withstand peanut gallery heckling (House Republican Joseph Wilson’s famous “You lie!” sneer). Rather, a large section of the American public, myself included, is looking to assess Obama’s ability to keep it real – to look that camera straight in the eye and drop all the b.s. about the nation’s “exceptionalism” and “competitive advantage.” We need the President, struggling with staff overturn and the formulation of an agenda for the final two years of his term, to level with his constituents, to give voice to the hard truths that so many of us have experienced for too long.

We are a nation at a crossroads. Despite the amassing of record corporate profits during the last two years, unemployment numbers remain puzzlingly and consistently high. State governments continue to slide into insolvency, and once stable jobs in the public sector (teachers, first responders, etc) are vanishing in unprecedented droves. We don’t need a cheerleader to sell us the “everything’s looking up!” routine. Things are definitely on the upswing for CEOs, for the NYSE, but not for us. We want to know why this happened and we don’t want to hear it from Timothy Geithner. We deserve to know how to fix our structural weaknesses so we never find ourselves victimized by them again, and to experience comfort in the form of a solid plan of action. It’s not permissible to kick the can down the curb anymore, leaving the hard decisions to future administrations. It’s not fine to play the role of the soothing parent. We are adults and we know we’re hurt. I think Mr. Obama’s poll numbers ought to be the first hint that we don’t believe the “measurable growth” fairy tale.

There is still too much rightful insecurity on Main Street. Millions have been out of work for periods of a year or longer. Those of us who have been lucky enough to secure new employment often find it to be of the contract or temporary kind, transient and without livable wages and benefits. We have no idea if the health care overhaul passed last summer to such tremendous fanfare and Tea Party howling will be overturned before the close of 2011. This is not an exercise in political gamesmanship. There are real stakes involved. It’s hard to formulate a five month plan, let alone a five year one, immersed in so much uncertainty.

I am certainly no defeatist. There is a time and place in tonight’s address for a celebration of our progress, to acknowledge how far we’ve come from the days of late 2008 when it seemed entirely possible that American economic and political relevancy could go the way of the Edsel. However, keep that sort of self-congratulation to a minimum. This is the first generation to fare more poorly than the previous in terms of wage growth, home ownership and educational opportunity. Let’s talk about how we arrived here, and what we’re going to do in the next 24 months to help the once-thriving middle class get back on the road to dignity and prosperity.

How DADT Makes America Less Safe (November 30, 2010)

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This morning as I booted up the computer, I took my typical perusal of the Yahoo headlines, and came across this feature from the Associated Press:

Pentagon Study: Gays Could Serve with No Harm

Ladies and gentlemen, we have just wasted 10 months and untold millions of taxpayer dollars “investigating” good common sense. While badly needed unemployment insurance extensions are in the process of being hijacked AGAIN by Republicans lobbying for the retention of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, we have no problem dithering and wasting scant resources “researching” an issue which almost every other democratic society has resolved by now. In short: if you are fighting two long, costly and unpopular wars, with brave soldiers who have been on three, four and five tours with little rest, you need all the enlisted men you can get and it shouldn’t matter who they’re shagging when the lights are off.

But will the release of this study finally be enough to silence the pandering savants in Washington, such as Senator John “Shill” McCain, who has appeared on every Sunday talk show and it’s brother arguing that a lift of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell restrictions could be “dangerous?” The former Maverick has repeatedly called pressure to promote equality within the armed forces “politically motivated.” Yet how is forcing well-trained and patriotic men and women underground on the basis of pleasing homophobic voters any less so?

As a matter of fact, the outdated debate surrounding this issue of basic human respect is what’s becoming a danger to our national security.

Multiple sources, including The Wall Street Journal, are reporting that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who may have jeopardized a number of international relationships with his document dump to WikiLeaks, is a gay soldier “frustrated” over the treatment of homosexuals by the U.S. military. Now I don’t mean to suggest that this was his sole reason for releasing the documents, but it doesn’t seem that DADT and an open culture of harassing closeted gays helped make us safer in this situation. By all accounts, until his recent break with military code, Manning was a young and brilliant soldier, exactly the kind of man of which recruiters dream.

Or how about former Army infantry officer, Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay solider who served two distinguished years in Iraq combat operations before being transferred to the New York National Guard? America can no longer avail itself of Choi’s loyal services, because after coming out on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, the Lieutenant was summarily discharged. In response, Choi penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress where he queried not only the morality, but the wisdom of the policy, “a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

How are we safer by releasing sharp, intelligent and passionate people because of some archaic, uninformed and backward looking trepidation that gay sex will overtake our army bases and combat zones? It’s ludicrous, and I have news for fear mongers like McCain and the Fox News crew: they’re queer and they’re already here. Manning and Choi are nowhere near the first or only Friends of Dorothy to don combat fatigues.

Although military recruitment numbers are climbing, owing in large degree to a terrifically anemic job market, we as a nation simply can’t afford to let a policy that seemed ill-advised even in 1993 stop our armed forces from functioning at their highest capability. And to that, we don’t need divisiveness or discrimination. We have enough problems on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a travesty. I was disappointed with Bill Clinton’s cave to the right wing to pass it, even as a 15 year-old high school student. Now a 32 year-old woman, I am disappointed in President Obama’s heavy footed failure to show it the door. Mr. President, listen to the Pentagon, listen to your conscience, listen to the pragmatic good sense you seem to cherish so much.

Senator John McCain Still Can’t Accept the Country’s Rejection of Him (March 18, 2014)

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My colleague and Senior Editor, Justin Baragona, did a marvelous job identifying and assessing Arizona Senator John McCain’s hypocritical, warmongering bologna on MSNBC earlier this weekin the aftermath of the laughably suspect Crimean referendum. However, I’d like to take a step slightly farther back in time if we could. I’d like to travel back to last weekend when the ersatz maverick sullied my favorite morning read, the Opinion page of the New York Times.

Though the piece was actually published on Friday, March 14th, it wasn’t until Saturday that I scrolled the headline, Obama Has Made America Look Weak, across the screen of my smartphone. Similar to what I imagine were the conscious streams of many an unprepared liberal, my first thought was: “I hope this is just an ironic hook, but something tells me I am about to read the words of Lindsay Graham or John McCain.”

There are times I hate being right and this was certainly one of those. But it was about to get much worse, with McCain opening his assault with a tried and true journalist trick of the right wing trade: the rhetorical question that actually affirms that which it proposes to query. McCain asks, “Should Russia’s invasion and looming annexation of Crimea be blamed on President Barack Obama?”

The fact that he immediately responds with “No” means absolutely nothing. As Billy Crystal’s titular character wonders aloud in 1980s romantic comedy classic, When Harry Met Sally,“Oh geeze…what are we supposed to do? Call the cops? It’s already out there.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to make a citizens’ arrest of Senator McCain, for a veritable truckload of irresponsible, reactionary 20th century battle rhetoric he’s vomited up on the voting public since President Obama was inaugurated. I said itlast week and I’ll say it again. The lack of public support that McCain and the bulk of his partymates have shown the POTUS in one delicate, dangerous international imbroglio after another, is nothing short of treasonous. Short of the divided loyalties of the Civil War, American history has seen nothing to rival it.

Of many instances in the Op-Ed where McCain claims not to impugn President Obama’s foreign policy as the root cause of the Crimean standoff (before doing exactly that), I think this was my favorite. McCain writes, “More broadly, we must rearm ourselves morally and intellectually to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity.” Yes, pick up the weapons of “American exceptionalism,” which worked so well for us in the aughts. And it is just me or does the Republican party’s 21st century version of national superiority sound and feel an awful lot like the international bludgeon that many on the right would like us to wield in perpetuity? Violent wish fulfillment disguised as patriotism is a special kind of hypocrisy.

Earlier in the piece, McCain not so slyly makes the following observation about the general Obama military strategy: “In Afghanistan and Iraq, military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed.”

Um, yes, yes they have Senator McCain. And you want to know why? I know this is a trifling consideration for your party, but disengagements from money and life wasting Middle East quagmires have been more commonly referred to in the last decade as “the will of the people.” And I won’t even try to ask you to explain where it is that President Obama is supposed to “succeed” in Afghanistan and Iraq where his predecessor couldn’t. Should he continue looking for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction then?

I applaud the New York Times for its long-running and dedicated efforts to bring all voices to the proletariat. But as for Senator McCain, the people outside of Arizona have spoken again, and again and again. They don’t want war. They don’t want shoot first and ask questions later diplomacy. And sir, they don’t want you in charge. Please find a way to support your Commander-in-Chief. Barring that, silence is golden.

Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders (June 3, 2013)

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I am old enough to recall a number of frightening sensations swirling through the nation’s collective psyche immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those who lived in major urban centers were prone to Pavlovian responses of dread at the mere sight of a low flying aircraft. The delivery of an unexpected package elicited fleeting concerns of surprise explosives, and those receiving mail in corporate settings and government offices had to wonder if anthrax could be part of an envelope’s special delivery. It was a rightfully paranoid time.

One source of comfort to be found in terrifying circumstances is knowledge. Knowing your attacker, your would-be assailant, permits power in the form of an action plan. When the culprits of the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities proved to be Al Qaeda-directed terrorists, the nation came together behind an all-out assault upon the foreign groups responsible for our united fear and suffering.

In 2013, the threat of chemical attack by mail has returned, this time in the form of ricin. According to a report from Good Morning America, “The toxin, which comes from castor beans, stops cells from synthesizing proteins so victims can suffer organ failure.” Ricin has experienced pop cultural ascendancy in recent years as a recurring plot point on popular AMC drama Breaking Bad. Anti-hero Walter White, a former mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine kingpin, uses ricin to intimidate and control potential drug cartel enemies.

However, to ascertain the root cause of the recent spate of ricin-laced letter attacks, directed at everyone from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to President Barack Obama, we need not look to the inspiration of fictional characters. Real-life villains exist within the ranks of overreaching lobby groups, inciting chaos under the guise of Second Amendment defense.

Consider the paraphrased text of one such letter delivered to gun-control advocate Bloomberg’s New York office last week. Per a report from Fox News, New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond “Kelly said the unsigned letter says, in so many words: ‘Anyone who comes for my guns will be shot in the face.’”

Now where would this deranged domestic terrorist get the idea that President Obama and Michael Bloomberg, advocates for a safer, more rational exercise of the right to bear arms, might instead demand complete surrender of personal weapons? Let us hearken back to a February 2013 Op-Ed piece in the Daily Caller from National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. Amongst a number of verbal gems, LaPierre included this thinly veiled reference to the Newtown school shootings: “A heinous act of mass murder—either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago—will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.”

Ok but that’s just one quote taken out of context right? LaPierre didn’t really mean to suggest that failed Congressional efforts to institute common-sense universal background checks were a threat to law-abiding gun owners. No one is that crazy.

February 10, 2012, The Washington Times: “All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.”

May 4, 2013, Huffington Post: “‘political and media elites’ have tried to use Sandy Hook and other recent shootings ‘to blame us, to shame us, to compromise our freedom for their agenda….We will never surrender our guns, never,’ LaPierre told several thousand people during the organization’s annual member meeting.”

We are a people that loves justice. The reason that so many incarnations of Law & Order and CSI have experienced television ratings success is because of the appeal of the suspense boilerplate: a crime is committed, guys in uniform discover weapon and motive, emotional trial ensues, outlaw goes to the clink. It’s simple. It’s just. It’s satisfying.

I’m no prosecuting attorney but it seems to me that there’s a direct correlation between the prolific, fear-inciting rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, and the homicidal threats against the lives of pro-gun control elected leaders. Is a bystander who knowingly allows harm to occur guilty of something? If the answer is yes (and it is), then Wayne LaPierre is an accessory to each and every one of these ricin crimes. He may not have supplied the chemicals, but he and his group continue to dish out motive in dangerous, irresponsible bucketfuls.

Haul him to the precinct, turn on the hot lights and file some charges. I’m serious. If it’s illegal to yell “Fire!” in a public place and incite a riot, there should be no distinction between trumping up an imagined threat to the Second Amendment and standing smugly aside as violence ensues.

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.