Spending time recently on a different kind of writing, but recent events have convinced me it’s time to speak up on the state of our nation and culture. I’m extremely saddened by the shootings last week in Santa Barbara and conclusions being drawn (and not drawn), as well as the recent Veterans Administration issues that have gone from the back-burner to headlines.
It’s long past time that we take action on these issues, and if long-running trends and the nature of public discourse is any indication, America appears poised to do nothing, which just isn’t an option any more.
There are a great many things we can say about this country, and most of them are uttered on television every single day. However, the long-standing trend of our government’s inability to act in times of crises, deferring instead to the status quo or, even worse, selfish and corporate interests, has created a nationwide malaise with some very clear cut results.
An article in The Onion throws last Friday’s massacre in Santa Barbara into relief. America has a crisis related to mass shootings and its politically-enabled gun culture, and no one is doing anything about it. And that’s not OK. Every time these events occur the same pattern results: intense media scrutiny, surface analysis, prurient details emerge, those close to the occurrence ask for action, the NRA swings into action, politicians shy away from the issue, more guns are sold, the pace of these tragedies increases so that when the next one occurs we do the same thing all over again with no divergence from the pattern.
Does anything feel new to you about the latest episode? We are averaging approximately two of these tragedies per month for the last five years. There are virtually no new gun laws anywhere in this country in the wake of Columbine…Aurora…Newtown. Just last week, the NRA labelled the Center for Disease Control’s announcement that they were considering research into the statistics behind mass shootings as “immoral.” Immoral research. That’s a new one.
Meanwhile, the NRA tactical talking points, which have basically consisted of “The 2nd Amendment” (a twisted interpretation) and “arm the good guys” have slowly expanded to include the phrase “mental health issue”. All of these are crafted toward preserving the NRA’s strategic objective: “More Guns.” But what’s insane is that the NRA are the ones pointing the finger and crying “immoral.”
The Isla Vista shootings have so many of the characteristics of previous events, with some notable exceptions. Both the things that are the same, and the things that are different are worth exploring.
At first blush, the patterns include: young, white, male perpetrators, disaffected and with latent anti-social tendencies and/or borderline psychological issues, enough fire-power to attack dozens or even hundreds more people than were actually assaulted, written or audio-visual manifestos, and the proximity to schools.
What’s different this time? Fathers of both one of the victims and the perpetrator have vowed to make it their life’s work to impact this horrific American trend. We’ve heard cries for activism in the wake of these disasters before, but this time seems a little different. Perhaps the parents of the Newtown tragedy would tell you otherwise. As a defense attorney, victim’s father Richard Martinez seems especially qualified to lead the charge here.
Even more significant, and an extremely new wrinkle in this case, is that both the shooter’s parents and police KNEW about this threat well before the deeds were acted out. We have become so accustomed to these stories that a fact like this may play out like just another sound-byte. Rest assured, it is a big deal that police were in this guy’s home days before the event, with his 140-page manifesto well under way and a cadre of guns and ammunition mere feet away behind his bedroom door.
Think about this: they knew this guy was disturbed, and a threat, and information was available that could have enabled the police to stop this incident completely (even the killer himself said so), yet nothing was done. They went to his apartment, talked to him, and found him to be quiet and shy, but a nice kid. I wonder if they would have pushed harder if the color of his skin was darker? Despite the fact that nearly all of these mass shooters are white. And men.
Yes, it’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. But that shouldn’t stop us from drilling down into the issues and changing the game to prevent it from happening again. In fact, it should make us even more determined. When I try to wrap my head around this, the one thing I keep coming to is: information. There was information available to help prevent this tragedy, and it didn’t get into the hands of the right people at the right time. The mental history of the perpetrator, the actual threat he pre-announced, and his purchase (apparently “legally”) of several guns and hundreds of bullets.
NRA tactics of obfuscation aside, but with the privacy issues raised by the Edward Snowden affair taken into consideration, how do we make sure that the totality of this information, all knowable to us in advance, is put together to prevent future tragedy? The answer I keep coming back to is: a database.
A database that keeps track of all restricted firearms sold in the United States. A database that keeps track of all bullet purchases over 100 in the United States. A database that can be accessed by police and/or government agencies with judicial oversight so that investigations can be facilitated by the information and monitored by the courts. This is one of the failings of the NSA Security breaches uncovered by Edward Snowden – the information exists, but there’s no oversight on its dissemination.
And, ideally, a database that can be cross-referenced with a list of potential threats to the public peace, also with oversight. These would include, ex-convicts (including violent and sex offenders), documented mental health risks, and those who use public media sources (i.e., blogs, YouTube, etc.) to propagandize their violent intentions.
Here comes the oft-heard refrain – none of the bad guys will register their guns. Only the good guys. First, if the onus is on the gun sellers (and the manufacturers) to comply, you are at least forcing this commerce to the margins. Does it make anyone feel any better that Elliot Rodger’s guns were purchased legally? Had they been registered, and that information made available to law enforcement acting on a tip with judicial oversight, they would have known that a potential threat was in possession of heavy fire power and, in Rodger’s words, “it would have been all over.”
Moreover, we have no way of knowing that cars and drivers have registrations and licenses, respectively. Except that when something happens, we do. This is both a form of monitoring and controlling potentially aberrant behavior, and a deterrent against bad behavior and illegal activity. We’ve been trying the other way – no registration, no management of the issue at all, and always, to the NRA’s delight, More Guns, and where has it gotten us?
In addition to a new policy that will aggregate and allow police and the public access to known threats who possess or have recently purchased weaponry, we have got to come to a 21st Century realization that the gun and bullets manufacturers are not to be treated as both a financial entity with the same for-profit rights as any other business that sells a product. The 2nd Amendment requirement to keep an armed militia in the United States does not equate to an individual’s “right” to have unfettered access to weaponry of mass destruction with absolutely no way for our institutions to know who’s got what.
We as a people need to get clear on this, and make this stance abundantly clear to our elected officials. Immediately. And in every election. Just as we have registered sex offenders so that we can keep tabs on them, we need to have the ability to see who is making large purchases of weaponry and bullets in our society and we do that because we need the information to help stop future tragedies like Isla Vista. As bad as this tragedy was, a locked sorority door was the only thing stopping this gunman from achieving his stated ambition: murdering every single woman inside the Alpha Phi sorority house.
Along with saying yes to CDC research on the topic and supporting private research into this malady as well, the U.S. Congress should create a bi-partisan task force to analyze gun control laws and best practices of all the industrialized nations so we might understand why we have far and away the highest frequency of unnecessary handgun deaths in the industrialized world. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Japan, not as vested in the rights of gun manufacturers and owners over the safety of the general populace, have successfully addressed tragedies like the ones that continually happen in the U.S.. They have taken action, and they have had positive results. Why not U.S.?
It’s unacceptable for the United States to be the lone hold-out on this issue, while death tolls continue to rise and our citizens – our children – are in danger. Every other country in the world responds to these types of crises with clear and decisive action. America’s history of in-action on this topic doesn’t make us exceptional, or better in any way. It just makes us stupid.
Let’s stop being stupid about guns in America.
Please. Enough is Enough.
TROUBLE BREWING AT V.A. >>> I was saddened to see that long-time American General and war-hero Eric Shinseki is becoming a political scapegoat in the Veterans Administration scandal. General Shinseki had been appointed to clean up a mess and ended up getting slimed himself. It sucks when we put good people onto a tough job and then the nature of the job does them in.
General Shinseki’s long years of service merit better treatment, and at least President Obama has been standing behind him until now. Recent right-wing attempts to make him the fall guy for a bureaucratic and political problem of their own creation could backfire in the face of a little truth-digging by journalists on the chronic under-funding of the VA. I hope that both Democrats and Republicans of Conscience (a rare breed indeed) will put aside the politics and fix the issue without turning a good man into political road-kill.
And even though it may not benefit them in the upcoming mid-term elections, I would like to see Republicans put the money where their mouths are and get behind our veterans – whom they put into harm’s way with a drummed up War in Iraq – by voting sufficient funds for them to be taken care of such that these issues of neglect at the hands of our very own government are a thing of the past.
#YESALLWOMEN >>> I’m not sure I totally get the true meaning of this popular, new hashtag, but I’m certainly a supporter of the issues it is here to represent. The rise of misogyny in both the public sphere and political discourse (Republicans and “Legitimate” Rape) is both alarming and counter-evolutionary. Women have been encouraged to share their stories of abuse and harassment at the hands of men, and I would like to share my own story of harassment as both a means of empathizing with the cause, and to offer yet another perspective to the conversation.
While working at the Walt Disney Company in 1990-91, I was sexually harassed in the textbook definition of the term by a high-ranking executive in the department of Feature Animation. The perpetrator was male, knew that I was in a committed, heterosexual relationship, yet continued to make unwanted advances, proclaiming that “Michael Eisner is gay,” peppering business conversation with sexual innuendo, and propositioning me on multiple occasions with phrases like “I’ll give you the business…” during one-on-one strategy meetings.
I was 27 years old at the time, working 70 hours a week at Mauschwitz, trying to make good on an extremely high profile opportunity, and this egotistical and sociopathic individual literally destroyed my career at Disney, an opportunity that I’d worked tirelessly to create for over six years in the film and TV business. When it ended, I was improperly discharged by Disney after having told Corporate HR about the issue in detail. I was left jobless with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a debilitating skin condition it took four years to fix.
In addition to the time, money and career impact, I was left with a tremendous feeling of rage and loss. Unfairness was only the tip of the iceberg for me. Complete disillusionment. I chose not to sue because that’s not how I solve problems, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve watched our society victimize good people like Anita Hill and even Michael Ovitz (who coined the phrase, “Gay Mafia” at Disney) in years since. While part of me wishes I’d spoken up in a public way at the time to stand up to the bullying of a miserable human being, and to prevent him from ever doing it again, my life has been better off for not having filed suit.
But now that people are telling their stories, I feel like it’s time for me to share mine. And to join the chorus of those who wish to oppose sexual politics, sexual bullying, and the general weaponizing of sexuality in our society. Maybe this is about gender. Maybe it’s about orientation. Maybe it’s about tolerance. Most definitely it’s about power. But I definitely think, at its core, it’s time for all of us to stand up and fight for equality. The freedom to be who we are. The freedom to associate with and marry whomever we want. The freedom to walk our streets without power-mad machine gun-toters threatening our peace.
And it’s time we started to get behind the idea that “all PEOPLE are created equal” and make it part of the bedrock of our society. This is something I believe deeply and passionately. Thanks for reading long enough to allow me share my beliefs with you.
I’m a sports fan. I played everything growing up in St. Louis, and I love playing or even watching a great contest, I’m inspired by the best, and worst, or us in action, and am a huge fan of what sports can teach us about the rest of our lives.
So I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi with interest, and there are a few takeaways that I’d like to share. First, and foremost, the trend I’ve noticed in watching the broadcast, and this is viewed through the prism of NBC’s coverage, is that it’s all about US. That is, it’s America against the world. As if we as a country are always facing down the world’s challenges, and are expected to come out victorious.
Granted, the NBC coverage is geared toward an American audience. But the Olympics is a forum for all countries to compete, and the stories of victory, and defeat, are all equally interesting to me no matter which country generates them. I’m sitting here watching the Bode Miller show, I mean the Men’s Super-G Alpine event, and I now know more about Morgan, Bode’s wife, than I do about the two people who somehow by accident managed to beat the greatest skier in the history of the universe.
All due respect to Bode, who has won as many Alpine medals as any Olympian ever, and is now the oldest person to win an Alpine medal, but it would have been nice to have learned a little something about the WINNER Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, and silver medalist, also an American, Andrew Weibrecht. Not to mention Jan Hudec, the Canadian who had the nerve to TIE Bode for the bronze. How emasculating!
By the way, how cool is it to watch the racers super-imposed on top of one another as if they’re racing the course at the same time. You can see who’s ahead at one point, and when someone overtakes them on the way. Awesome!
There are parallels here to the world outside of sports. American media, almost without exception is rigorously focused on the U.S. as the center of the universe. And I’m sorry, we’re just not. In fact, we’ve been pretty much screwing the entire planet non-stop since the turn of the millennium.
When I go to Europe and get a healthy dollop of BBC and al-Jazeera World News, I learn so much more about the actual News of the World than on any broadcast in the U.S. I don’t think this is good for us here in America because let’s face it folks, we’re slipping.
Bode’s tie for the Bronze may ultimately be a satisfying achievement, but I know that the medal standings with America Number 3 isn’t nearly good enough for the America first-ers who expect us to be the best of everything because, well, America is just THE BEST. Except that, we’re not.
And while I’m absolutely fine to see America where we are in the Winter Olympics “standings” – The Olympics aren’t really a team sport in and of themselves – it’s cool that the Netherlands has the most medals (because I love Holland!), and host Russia is doing well , too (because the Russians are cheaters and the spy on everyone…no, wait…).
Being the best at the Winter Olympics isn’t really the leadership I think it most important for this country to achieve. In fact, being Number Three is absolutely fine and something we should strive for in a handful of other disciplines, especially ones that count for a lot more than The Olympics. Or any sport for that matter.
Did you know that in 2013 America was ranked 17th in the world out of the best countries for education, according to a global report by the education firm Pearson. Can you imagine if we were 17th in the standings at the Winter Olympics? Or the Summer Olympics? The sky would be falling for sure. What’s wrong with America? But 17th in education, not a peep.
Where do you think America stands in a recent Bloomberg study of the world’s most efficient health care systems? How about 46th out of 48? How do you feel about that? The Bloomberg study isn’t talking about the best health care, but quality as a function of cost.
As a country, we spend the most money as a percentage of our GDP (a jaw-dropping 17.2 percent; finally, something we’re the best at), and the second most money per capita (just behind the Swiss). But what we get for all that money: 46 out of 48. Just when you were feeling sorry for those poor doctors who worked so hard to get through medical school for a mediocre $400,000 median income.
And then there’s that little nugget that health care is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, in years when we weren’t crashing the world economy with our Too Big to Fail Recession and foreclosures led the pack. All indications are that those bankruptcies do not include any doctors who have been victimized by the impending socialization of their profession.
There are some who say that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to the free world since the Nazis invaded Poland. And there are others who say that while the Affordable Care Act is imperfect, it’s an important start. A start on the long road to fixing our incredibly low standing in the world in a category that counts a heck of a lot more than Shaun White crashing in the Half-pipe.
No time like the present to get our priorities in order.
Next week – the socio-political significance of Bob Costas’ pink eyes.
2014 at last! Now Ed Snowden can be a Hiro, not a traitor. What would have happened if the SnowBlower had simply raised his hand and told the boss that something didn’t seem quite right about all The People’s data illegally going into NSA hands? Do you think they would have given him a pat on the back and said, “You’re Right!! Let’s fix this immediately and quietly based on your recomendations to repair any damages to Human Rights without suffering a major loss in World Credibility?”
Or maybe they would have just tossed him in jail and thrown away the key.
I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
But I for one am glad he had the guts to run away. Corrupt Authority is seldom gracious when facing its own failings. And I believe there was stuff in that million document dump we needed to know about. Call me a surrealist. An Anti-Denial Literal. I want to know these things. Especially when so many of so few scruples would do anything to keep The Truth from us.
Remember The Graduate, when Ben was trying like hell to get to the church and tell Elaine Robinson that he loved her? And the look on everyone’s faces as Ben tried to bust in on the wedding? Angry, rabid, vicious snarling looks of contempt and pure hate? That was what the Establishment threw at Mr. Snowden when he went all James Bond on us. All it would have taken was one person with a jail cell, or one with a gun, to put an end to his expose. Information retrieved.
Freedom is fragile, indeed. Not to mention a concept whose definition varies with the definer.
Has anyone else noticed the relativity of the prefixes Hiro and Fuku? I dare you not to think about it. I’m trying, and it’s not working. One thing someone said about the ongoing calamity at Fukushima has stuck in my craw, and it’s the best reason for us to never build another nuclear power plant ever again. It was: “a nuclear bomb going off in a warehouse full of nuclear bombs.” I never want that to happen. Or even be a remote possibility. Anywhere. There is nowhere to run from The China Syndrome. Not yet, at least.
Just read that Iraq is in the middle of a Civil War, only now al-Qaeda is involved, which it wasn’t before America invaded. I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The same thing happened in Iran, only it took 35 years of “diplomacy” on America’s part to delay the inevitable. The Obama Administration has done a very good job keeping this recent development off the radar. Ah, The Middle East. Never too far away from telling the rest of the world: FukU.
It’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s real from what’s made up in this world, don’t you think? Is it the media, or the messengers? That’s why I’m trying extra hard to pay attention to the message. If there is one. So often, there isn’t, just more things. Every day I’m finding new reasons why Things are over-rated; moreover, the attachment to them is at the root of so many problems. But I still love a good movie.
Here are my favorites from 2013. It was a very good year for film. Though it was no 2012. List will continue to evolve up until Oscar time.
- The Way Way Back
- Saving Mr. Banks
- Lee Daniel’s The Butler
- This Is the End
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- 12 Years a Slave
- Ron Burgundy: The Legend Continues
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- American Hustle
- Fruitvale Station
And that’s about it for now.
One more thing: =
Have a great 2014!! More to come…
Alright. That’s enough. I can be quiet no longer. Thought I could take some time to duck into the cocoon and figure a few things out but the whole world is falling apart and I refuse to go quietly…
It’s been 50 years since the assassination of JFK, an inflection point in America and American politics. The murder. The mystery. The conspiracy. Or not. It began an age of modern wonder. A nation borne of the belief that there is more to life than the selfish desires of the ruling class begins to realize that it’s not so easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who’s really in charge here, and who needs to be protected from whom. I believe this paradox and the breakdown of the efficacy of the 2-Party System are at the heart of our problems today.
Quick: Edward Snowden – Good Guy or Bad Guy? Is it or is it not fairly easy to tell? To me, he’s a Good Guy. A brave and very good guy who took a chance when he’d seen too much go too wrong for his idealistic mind to handle and he did something in a world where virtually no one else would. Especially someone living as a millionaire on Hawaii. The guy gave up something there. Against the blinding desirousness of human nature.
But wait – Obama says he’s a criminal. John Kerry says he’s a traitor. If they’re wrong, is the Conservative Right right? No! I don’t know much, but I know for sure that US conservatives are KILLING us all, slowly and in every way they can from all sides. But they, like our Democratic politicians, believe it’s wrong to undo the secret doings of the US Security Juggernaut. Is it? I DON’T KNOW!!!
I do know this: there are some serious problems in our National Security State, not the least of which is that a “liberal” president is doing some seriously hawkish shit. Pinned between a rock and a hard place, is President Obama the hunter or the hunted? Fox News is so consistently wrong about everything, fascist double-speak being what it has become, perhaps our “Socialist” president is so very Not Socialist that he’s JUST LIKE ONE OF THEM.
No he isn’t!! I hope…
But sometimes, he is, and it’s beginning to look a lot like the Conservative pinscher movement is succeeding with it’s long-term initiative, “40 Years of Backasswardsness.” We’ve made it through the last 13 with precious few winning streaks of smooth sailing. Not that our ever-warm-ing weather isn’t delightful from time to time.
Let’s take a moment to treasure the many wonderful things that have transpired on the international stage since Bush/Cheney cast its dank shadow across a wary cosmos. Miley Cyrus: what a breath of fresh aire!! 2012 was a great year for movies!! Dance music revolution, Baby!! And Manny Pacquiao! Can’t let a little War, Depression and National Security Anxiety keep us down. For long.
But it’s confusing out there…
We didn’t actually bankrupt the country thanks to Ted Cruz, although we came perilously, hilariously close. Can you imagine how interesting it would have been if we had defaulted on the National Credit Card and the Banks of the Rest of the World OWNED our asses and could deliver their terms to us servicing their unpaid debt?
I mean, how merciful have American Banks been to those bankrupted by the Housing Crisis over the past few years (a crisis eclipsing only the Health Care Crisis for Bankruptcies Created since 2008)? Even after getting their asses bailed out by the US Government like they were a victim of a Hurricane. Like the one Republicans chose not to provide emergency assistance for to East Coasters hit by Sandy.
The only reason we might expect International Banks to be kinder to us in the face of a failure to fork over the funds is that nearly EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD is more generous to its own citizens than the United States of America is to ours. Or at least the least wealthy 90% of us. Funding banks before citizens in the face of crisis after crisis. Serving up the lower class to pointless war after unwinnable military action year after year and then sweeping the casualties under the carpet.
And of course, this little brain-byte of the year that would change a lot of minds if more Americans had heard AND understood it: America is the ONLY developed country in the world that doesn’t consider health-care a basic human right. Oh, and let’s cut a few billion dollars out of food stamps with lagging employment and out of control income inequality. The rich of this country aren’t satisfied with simply having all the money. They want to crush the under-class to “teach them a lesson.” I’m here to tell you — we’ve all got a lot to learn.
Look at the way this country competes. From the athletes, from baseball players to Tour de France winners who cheat (and not well enough to avoid being caught). Don’t look too long, but take a look at how people compete on television reality shows. What a bunch of lying, cheating, scheming and under-handed meanies these people are and how quickly will they trade their integrity for money!
Of course, it trickles down from the top. You can trick the Congress, the media, the people into a $10 trillion war and virtually no one will raise a hand to say that it’s wrong and we should stop. Instead of hunting them, or kicking them out, we need more Edward Snowden’s in our country.
Watching the government fund its own military boondoggle in the Middle East then relocating U.S. companies to Shell Governments in the region to avoid US taxes and oversight. Halliburton is the de facto government of any country it occupies because it has all the money. Now they can start a war anywhere they want without anyone’s permission. And don’t kid yourself: they kept the skeleton key to the National Security vaults, just in case. Now tell me – both Edward Snowden are outside of the United States. Which of the two do you think we should let back in?
The choice is clear. It shouldn’t be Obama-Care. I think all of us have done a great dis-service to the nation by calling it that. A PR ploy the conservatives won with and won big. It really is about the Affordable Care Act. The Provide Health Insurance of Some Kind to Everyone and Lower the Aggregate Cost of Providing Universal Coverage to Prevent Socio-Economic Discrimination From Screwing the Poor, Underprivileged and Unfortunate and The Prevent Doctors, Pharmaceuticals and Insurers from Leeching The Middle Class Act.
Good guys and bad guys: sometimes not so clear. But occasionally, we can see the glimmer of life in a situation through a person, a perspective, or our understanding of the truth and what we hope in our best hearts for the world to be.
Doesn’t matter who’s for what, when, where or why. Forget the transitive property of guilt or greatness by association. What I want for Christmas is everyone in this country to have a safety net to support him or her while they make an effort to live their lives productively and peacefully.
That’s the ideal Marathon Black Friday Deal: a country willing to be better to its citizens, including and especially the underprivileged and unfortunate among us. Trade a little bit of that power, and a tiny taste of all your shiny money Wealthy 10% and give us all a chance at the peace and prosperity our forefathers who you love to misquote tried so desperately to bequeath to all of us. Thirteen years of that and I promise you we’ll opt for 130 more. At least. Is that at all an option for you Libertarians and Fiscal Non-Taxarians? Does it appeal on any level? If so, let’s give it a shot. And I don’t mean guns. Seriously. No guns. Peace. Please?
Achieve Your Potential.
With great love, deep respect and the best intentions:
AWAKE THE SLEEPING GIANT
So immersed in music, it’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to crank out a Brief. But a combination of Republican pre-Sequester Petulance and a Post-Oscar Hangover have moved me to words. Strong words. Have at thee!!
OSCAR HEADLINE: SETH MACFARLANE WORST OSCAR HOST EVER!!!
Was the opening bit with William Shatner merely ironic, or utterly prophetic? Perhaps both, but certainly the latter. I will make the case that not only was Seth MacFarlane the worst Oscar host in the 85-year history of the Awards, but that Sunday night’s television broadcast was by far the worst Oscars show in the history of the Academy Awards.
I take my movies seriously. Perhaps not as seriously as I take the US government intentionally sabotaging the US people and economy (see below), but to me, movies matter. And while 2012 was a lot of things, including not the end of civilization as we know it, it was, in my opinion, the best year for motion pictures…Ever.
Seriously. I can’t think of a year with more Oscar-worthy films, including most of the Best Picture nominees, and three more that were worthy of that 10th and final slot: Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, and Dark Knight Rises. Since the Academy upped the number of best picture noms to 10, each year there have been films that didn’t quite belong but got that extra marketing push – “A Serious Man”, “The Blind Side,” “Toy Story 3.” Watch those three and then “Moonrise Kingdom” and tell me which of them deserved a nomination. Personally, I’d add “Chicago” to that list, but I digress. Again.
How can you justify the greatness of the last year in motion pictures with the absolute monstrosity of unfunniness, unprofessionalism, and unkindness that transpired last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood? You can’t, because that Oscars show sucked on every single level except for one. I’ll get to that later.
First, the host. Seth MacFarlane may be a brilliant creator of satirical, politically incorrect TV animation. His first film was a hit. I didn’t see it, but let’s just assume that it was the funniest movie of 2012. That still doesn’t make him a smart choice for hosting the Oscars. Johnny Carson. Billy Crystal. Seth MacFarlane? All comedians. All white. Whatever. But Mr. MacFarlane’s humor is not merely self-referential and highly inside-joke oriented. It’s also mean-spirited in the exact way that another recent Awards show hosting disaster was as well: Ricky Gervais.
Mr. MacFarlane’s jokes made Ricky Gervais stint at the 2012 Golden Globes seem dry, witty, under-stated and self-effacing by comparison. In addition to walking back nearly every on of his own jokes (at least, at some level, he was aware of how not funny his material was), and semi-un-ironically meting up a next day headline that was all too real during the broadcast, Mr. MacFarlane managed to:
1) Be the 9000th comic to not hilariously reference the Chris Brown/Rihanna fiasco
2) Pointedly insult Daniel Day Lewis’ epic performance in “Lincoln”
3) Create the most not funny moment in broadcast television since OJ Simpson was found not guilty (the Lincoln joke; more on that in a moment)
4) Use his own film creation, Ted, to make five infantile, lowest common denominator jokes about Jews and Hollywood
5) Make Mel Gibson seem sympathetic
6) Close the show by calling out all of the “losers” by name in song
To shine just a little bit of a spotlight on MacFarlane’s horrendous Lincoln faux pas before it is swept away into the dustbin of history, here’s the joke:
“This is interesting, Daniel Day-Lewis, not the first actor to be nominated for playing Lincoln. Raymond Massey portrayed him in 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois.” This is true. I would argue, however, that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”
Without biting down too hard on the sheer stupidity of the joke, it’s non-funniness, the proximity of Stephen Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tony Kushner, Tommy Lee Jones, and the principals from “Lincoln” a few feet away, and the fact that he’s talking about one of the greatest people in the history of the planet getting shot in the head, think a moment about the subtext of so many unnecessary gun related deaths in this country and around the world.
The audience actually booed, in a subdued reaction given the epic-ness of his fail. Was this not the Oscars, it would have been appropriate to hurl rotten tomatoes at the offender. As someone with a well-documented, irreverent sense of humor, I would call that maybe the least funny joke in the history of modern civilization, for its breadth and depth of base offensiveness, the number of people who heard it, and for the miscalculation of context and occasion.
It wasn’t just a bad joke. It was quite possibly a career-defining moment by a man of clearly questionable taste, if not talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he apologizes for it one day soon, in addition to the almost apology he made immediately afterward, and many other flat out shitty jokes he made throughout the night. If he doesn’t disown the joke, I’d say the guy’s jumped the shark as a humorist and he might want to read a book on comedy to get him back on the funny track. Last night, most of his material was either not funny, flat out pathetic, or worse.
In addition to the wretchedness of Seth MacFarlane’s hosting – which made Letterman’s turn seem sprightly and James Franco convivial by comparison – the show did seem endless, and nearly a dozen comments by MacFarlane noting same didn’t help, didn’t add any much-needed humor, and only served to highlight that he was hosting a show that he thought sucked. On that count, and that alone, he was absolutely right. It did. Suck. Hard.
Also note that the vast majority of presenter jokes were not at all funny or interesting, and the embarrassments that were Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s presentation, and The Avengers’ Oscar moment were each beyond squirm-inducing. And while this may be piling on, the addition of Michelle Obama to the Best Picture award presentation came off as politically correct, awkward, and cloying, even for the Oscars.
Without analyzing too, too deeply, those nasty play-offs featuring music from “Jaws” when speeches went a tad too long (speeches we could have enjoyed in their entirety had they cut ten stupid, self-referential MacFarlane jokes and Jennifer Hudson channeling Michael Bolton clubbing the baby seals of good vocal taste in our minds) rudely destroyed several of the most important moments of the night.
Those ominous chords must have been in the mind of both Jennifer Laurence as she rushed toward the stage to get her thank yous in on time, and Ben Affleck’s Evelyn Woods acceptance speech that I’m sure most of the world would have rather heard in real-time rather than at 78 speed. As opposed to, say, a four-part William Shatner gag by, for and about Seth MacFarlane.
Last, but not least, the sound engineering was completely atrocious, smacking of bad production choices, unprofessional technical work, and marring the single biggest selling points of the show: the tribute to the musical film over the last 10 years (really? That many great movie musicals in the last decade?), and live performances by Barbra Streisand and Adele.
If you are, or know, who the genius was who suggested placing the orchestra for the biggest night in television in a tiny room nearly half a mile away from the event at the Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine (they even bragged about it during the show) and piping in the sound while Barbra Streisand sang her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, congratulations!! You are, or know, someone who could be a Republican political strategist!!!
The sound drop-outs on that number had even Barbra – say what you want, the lady is a pro – looking baffled. I’m not sure what it sounded like in the theatre, but to those watching at home, it was like the orchestra was on a voice-call via AT&T. Father, can you hear me…now?
For Adele’s number, easily the most eagerly anticipated moment of the night, her mic was so low during the first verse that no one, not even Adele, could hear her singing. You see, when Adele sings, it’s kind of important that you can hear her voice. And she can’t just pump up her volume because she had vocal chord surgery not too long ago. That’s why we have that amazing 20th century innovation the Volume Knob at our disposal. Someone must have woken up by the time the second verse started, because the volume jumped in time for us to actually hear her vocal on the second go round.
OK, let’s assume the Jennifer Hudson moment didn’t totally suck, and even belonged in the show along with all the “Chicago” mentions (over…rated…). And give some credit to the one actually funny moment of the night – the “Sound of Music” moment with the von Trapp Family – Missing!!
Easily the worst Oscar broadcast ever. Period.
I knew the show was in trouble when producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron inserted themselves in their own Oscar pre-show – chock-a-block as THAT was with awkwardness via Kelly Rowland, Kristin Chenoweth, et al. Chenoweth sings like an angel, even while vocally-apologizing for that nasty closing number with MacFarlane, but speaks like a chipmunk sucking helium from a balloon animal.
The producers gushed that this was the moment they had waited for all their lives. They even had Seth MacFarlane mention them by name in the opening moments of the show. After Oscar 2013, these two should be grateful that their day jobs let them make a living producing the ABC series “Smash.” Because their night job was a train wreck that hasn’t been seen on the Oscars broadcast in 85 years, including radio. And so it came to pass that the best year in movies yielded the worst Oscars ever.
What did you think of the show?
AND IN OTHER NOT FUNNY NEWS >>> Presidential assassinations: not funny. Ever. AIDS jokes: still not funny. Calling a nine-year old Oscar nominee the C-word: definitely not funny, even from The Onion, which usually is funny. And Republican-manufactured fiscal crises that further decimate the lower and middle classes while benefitting the upper class and government bureaucrats – seriously not funny.
LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE >>> The passing of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who among other things stood up to American Conservative intransigence in the face of the AIDS epidemic in the name of humanity and common sense, is a powerful context for this week’s foolish and completely unnecessary government “sequester” which will once again impact America’s ailing economy – on purpose, by Republicans.
Facing diminishing support from the American electorate, and resorting more and more to the sort of schoolyard dirty tricks pioneered by Karl Rove from his days with the Nixon campaign and forward, the Republicans are America’s political equivalent of a spoiled child holding his or her breath until their face turns blue. Gerrymandering, illegal vote-blocking tactics, holding up legislation and appointments, and changing campaign finance rules to favor its constituents are all tried and true tactics.
But the “manufactured crisis” ploy, outlined by Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” and utilized now for the third time in less than two years – Government Shutdown 1, Debt Ceiling 1, and Sequester 1 – are only serving to diminish American’s opinions of Republicans. The party has the lowest approval rating in the history of approval ratings polls, and the Republican House’s approval rating has somehow managed to dip below 10%.
President Obama, who is neither perfect, nor a Saint, is taking the right tack here by pushing Congress to solve this problem rather than letting it fall to the automatic cuts that were never intended to come to pass. We need to get our government whipped into shape in terms of solving these problems proactively, rather than dragging out to the deadlines which are hammering markets, hiring, productivity, and creating a sluggish economy that Republicans are marketing back to us as a result of Obama’s failed policies. It’s the Republicans fault. We know it. And it’s time for us to do something about it.
They sold us on the Iraq War. They were wrong, and it cost us more than $10 trillion. They convinced America that Obamacare was a bad idea, and took the House on that sentiment. Yet Obamacare is going to save this country billions, eventually trillions of dollars. And giving the House back to conservatives was the third worst election choice this country has made since Nixon.
So in addition to getting past these issues, we need a campaign to convince America to eject stagnant Republican leaders from Congress and give the President a Democratic majority that he can use to get this company moving. A campaign to STOP REPUBLICAN INTRANSIGENCE. It’s time. It’s the only way.
One of my favorite quotes of Dr. Koop – “What bothered me most, as I reflect, was the lack of scholarship by Christians – as if they felt that by leaning on a theological principle they didn’t have to be very accurate with the facts. People talk about knee-jerk liberals. The liberals have no corner on that market; I’ve learned there are also knee-jerk conservatives. Christians should be involved in politics, and use their Christian principles, morality and ethics in the process. But they shouldn’t jump over the process and voice their beliefs as the only possible outcome.”
It’s time to rid this country of the knee-jerk conservative policies of obstinacy, of my way or the highway, and the perpetual Republican roadblock. Time to stop the opaquely racist, anti-women’s rights, pro-rape dialogue that has become a cornerstone of the Republican platform. Conservative cries that legislating controls on assault weapons that kill innocent citizens in increasing numbers amount to abridging some sort of constitutional right for each citizen to possess the means to mass murder.
It’s time for conservatives to join the discussion, join us in this millennium, and stop breaking our system. And if they won’t do it, and frankly, there’s little hope that they will, we need to vote them out of office ASAP so we can get this country moving forward again.
REMEMBERING AN ALL-TIME GREAT >>> In 1985, I was in Durham, NC for the Dinah Shore Classic, and it was my first day on the job as a news intern at WTVD Durham. I was sent to do a remote interview with Dinah to open the 6:00 news on a Saturday night. With less than five minutes before the hour and the start of the show, Dinah tapped out and I had a real problem. An opening segment interview, with no interviewee.
I went to the front desk in a panic, and they let me scan the guest list for a quick substitute: are there any celebrities staying here? I spotted Stan the Man Musial’s name, called his room, told him I was from St. Louis, and we were in a bit of a bind. He instantly agreed to join me for a remote with the studio. With less than a minute till the start of the six o’clock news and the very real possibility of three minutes of dead air dawning on the entire news team, Stan walked over to the cameraman and I by the pool. We mic’d him in an instant and he was ready to go.
Without a shred of ego – no surly questions like, “Why are you asking me now?” – Stan graciously filled in for Dinah Shore to do the interview, rescued our 6:00 news show from a three minute improv by the lead anchor, and helped a St. Louis-born newsroom rookie in a moment of need. Humble, honest, and real, Stan stood in for the interview, and in less than 200 seconds we wrapped. The consumate pro. I was told that everyone in the newsroom stood up and cheered. They cheered again when the camera guy and I returned later that evening.
A few hundred yards away by the Jacuzzi, Harlem Globetrotter great Curly Neal and his daughter were taking in the action on the hotel’s front lawn, and when we were done with the remote, Curly walked over to us and enthusiastically asked Stan for his autograph. Stan, in turn, asked Curly for HIS autograph, and joked that if I’d just walked over that-a-way I would have gotten a “real” celebrity to open the show. I then had the privilege to spend thirty minutes of my first day in the broadcast news business shooting the breeze with two of the greatest athletes and nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
As an athlete, and a human being, Stan Musial was the epitome of integrity, humility and graciousness. In an era where athletes are paid millions and aggressively decline the designation of role model, recognizing a Stan the Man in our midst – male or female, in any profession – signifies that being of outstanding character and leading by example makes one worthy of the mantle. No, you don’t become a role model by virtue of what you do. You become one, and I believe the best kind of example in our world, by being great in addition to doing what you do. Epitomized by Stan Musial in words, actions and spirit 100%.
BOB COSTAS ON STAN THE MAN >>> Here is a video link to Bob Costas’ brilliant eulogy for a great athlete, and an even better human being:
FILM FAVORITES OF 2012 >>> The best films of the year in the best year for movies in many years:
1. Moonrise Kingdom – A masterpiece. Best of the new millennium
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild – How did director Benh Zeitlin get a performance like that out of a 7 year old?
3. Life of Pi – A visual and spiritual feast
4. Zero Dark Thirty – Politically shaky but a motion picture tour de force nonetheless
5. Silver Linings Playbook – A quirky relationship story raised to high art
6. Argo – Terrific telling of a unique and true story
7. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan should be Peter Jacksoned
8. Skyfall – Best. Bond. Ever.
9. Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln
10. Django: Unchained – Quentin’s funniest picture is patriotic yet problematic
11. Cloud Atlas – Ambitious, sprawling, splendid
12. The Avengers – Non-stop fun
TBD – on my list of films to see ASAP.
1. The Hobbit
2. Searching for Sugar Man
3. The Master
UNSUNG HEROES >>> With so much auspiciousness on a single day — the re-inauguration of Barack Obama on MLK Day — it’s a reminder that we are surrounded by greatness and abundant potential. So much to do and so little time. And while we celebrate the doers, as we should, it’s also important to acknowledge those who support those who do.
For every person who gets things done, there are many unsung heroes who helped to get them there. For the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for President Obama, there are so many people who gave, voluntarily and involuntarily, helping them ascend to greatness. As they said in “Grease” — if you can’t be an athlete, at least be an athletic supporter!
So here’s to those who help others reach the top of the mountain. The karmic assist. The tough and unsung part of the job. The dirty work. The pencil pushing. The boring stuff. They may not get the glory, but the greatness and gratitude are theirs for all time.
HOT MOVIE TRENDS >>> With Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer and Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters pointing toward a new trend in film, let’s take a look at upcoming releases with terrifying twists on history coming to a Cineplex near you:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: Zombie Decapitator
Manti T’eo in “The Vanishing Part Deux”
Noah’s Ark of Death and the Giant Giraffe Eating Sperm Whale
Barack Obama: Boehner Buster
Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh: Gridiron Sibling Death Match
Saw 07: Dick Cheney’s Torture Chamber
Lance Armstrong in “I Never Called You a Fat Witch”
The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Chainsaw Massacre
Bulletz, Ballz and Bitchez — The Ray Lewis Story
The Last White House on the Left
CALAMITY JONES >>> Having survived the Millennium Bug, the Rhapsody, Armageddon and The End of Days circa 2012, perhaps now America can get back to the process of slowly and selfishly destroying the world via materialism and ignorance. Or we could take a deep breath and begin working towards solving the world’s problems as individuals and a society. It’s not sexy, or great television, and it won’t sell a lot of papers, but it’s a plan with a future.
GUN VIOLENCE REALITIES >>> It doesn’t really matter what you, or I, or even the more sensible members of the NRA want. The American government has allowed the gun sales industry, which dominates the NRA but doesn’t comprise the majority of its members, to dominate our domestic policies. These policies have turned America into the biggest propagator of weapons in the free world, and the home of more gun homicides and more mass shootings than any nation in the world.
Social theory predicts this, and we are – by blind greed and undisciplined profit motive – enabling gun tragedies every day we don’t slow down the sale of guns and bullets and the management of the sale of implements of death. Americans have a choice. For too many years, we have allowed the will and resources of a minority of profiteers to cajole and manipulate our government into commoditizing our social well-being and public safety in exchange for personal financial benefit.
The choice is ours. By acting today, we can stem the tide of violence and loss that profits the few who make millions every time innocents are slaughtered in our society. Or we can allow the basest among us to keep what could and should be the leading nation of the world on this and other issues a laughing stock when it comes to guns. It should be an easy choice. Let’s fix our gun problem, America!!
THE $1 TRILLION PLATINUM COIN >>> In case you needed actual proof that the people running this country are the dumbest in the history of civilization:
We can spend $10-30 trillion on a completely worthless war.
We can go $16 trillion in debt because of this war.
We can sit idly by while the people who generated the war vote not to pay off the debt that they created because we really need to stop spending on stupid things like healthcare, education, and government benefits we all paid for.
And we can watch it all go to hell while those people bring it all down because they can’t win an election any more.
Or we can print a $1 trillion platinum coin and move on.
I say, let’s move on. Print the freaking coin.
WHOLE FOODS CEO CRIES FASCIST >>> Then apologizes. After a national boycott effort is born.
Knowledge is power. I now know that the CEO of the chain where I buy 80% of my good is selfish and an ignoramus. America’s healthcare problem is more than just a debit on Whole Foods’ corporate ledger. Mr. Mackey, as the CEO of a major corporation, you need to educate yourself on both the realities of healthcare in modern America – it’s not just about Doctors getting paid. It’s about a system corrupted for years by bad government policy, bad business practice, and inhumane principles that have made our country less healthy.
That a company such as Whole Foods – its intrinsic and extrinsic values created in context of the problematic system its CEO is blathering about so unintelligently – is led by someone who doesn’t get it is a reason for customers to question their loyalty and stockholders to question their investment. Mr. Mackey stuck his feet deeply into his own mouth on this one, again, and needs to shed his Libertarian dogma to understand the issue as a human being, not just another elitist corporate executive multimillionaire whose politics validate his economic circumstance.
And while he’s at it, Mr. Mackey ought to enroll in a course on socioeconomic theory so that when he opens his mouth on relevant issues something salient and factual comes out.
SAID THE POT TO THE KETTLE >>> Did Fox News really criticize Al-Jazeera for selectively airing and omitting stories as a form of bias? Perhaps all broadcasters should drop all news networks that do that. Right, Fox?
ANTICLIMAX MUCH? >>> After 30 days and 25 Bowl games of basically no consequence, the national championship game was a game for about 3 minutes. Time for a tournament. Again. For real.
FILM ECON 101 >>> 2012 was the best year for quality American Motion Pictures in recent memory. And, not surprisingly, it was also the best year for the film business at the box office in years. Can we draw any conclusions from this? How about, make product, and your business may limp along, ups and downs. Make the best product, and you will expand your possibilities to experience great success. So for the US Film Industry, here’s the five, ten and 25-year plan: Make Better Films!
FAVORITES OF 2012 >>> The best films of the year in the best year for movies in many years:
1. Moonrise Kingdom – A masterpiece. Best of the new millennium.
2. Life of Pi – A visual and spiritual feast.
3. Zero Dark Thirty – Politically shaky but a motion picture tour de force nonetheless.
4. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan should be Peter Jacksoned.
5. Silver Linings Playbook – A quirky relationship story raised to high art.
6. Argo – Terrific telling of a unique and true story.
7. Skyfall – Best. Bond. Ever.
8. Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln.
9. Django: Unchained – Quentin’s funniest picture is patriotic yet problematic.
10. The Avengers – Non-stop fun.
TBD – on my list of films to see ASAP.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. The Hobbit
3. Searching for Sugar Man
4. The Master
If ever there was a time for Americans to stand up to the tyranny and wrongheadedness of the Republican Party, it is now. How wrong do they have to be how many times for us to say, ENOUGH!?!
In 2000, under President Bill Clinton’s this country had balanced its budget for the first time in decades. We stood by while the Bush Administration applied its voodoo economics “mandate” to the US tax code (a phrase coined by W.’s father), immediately turning our surplus into a deficit and initiating a downward spiral to the American and World economies that reached its nadir just a month before G. W. Bush left office in 2008.
America had $3 trillion in accumulated debt back in 2000, and by the time Bush left office, 8 years, three wars and a full-scale worldwide economic meltdown later, America was $12 trillion in debt, and counting. Where were the deficit hawks back when Bush cut taxes in the midst of the best economy in the history of this country? And how do you get to be a deficit hawk, a supply-sider and an anti-tax conservative all at the same time anyway? Policies like those could ONLY benefit 1 or 2% of Americans, at best. And they have.
Republicans have been wrong about every major policy decision in this country since the millennium began. From racist and sexist rhetoric, policies and campaigns, to tactics of obstruction and the publicly stated #1 strategic objective of “preventing Obama from winning a second term.” To brinksmanship and downgrading the American economy in 2011 to the Citizens United lawsuit that enabled politicos to waste north of six billion dollars in the 2012 elections. With all of that, Republicans lost those very same 2012 national elections, and they lost big.
So what makes John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think, with all of that history so freshly burned into American minds, that they can take the American economy hostage AGAIN without repercussion? Republicans have been holding back America’s economy from leaving the Great Recession Republicans started, and now they believe they have the juice to maintain all of Bush’s wrongheaded tax cuts AND force spending cuts to “entitlements” (which aren’t really entitlements at all; they are services we’ve paid for) and be willing to flush the US economy down the tubes yet again and get away with it?
Well, they can’t do it again if we don’t let them. And we can’t let them this time (or ever again if you ask me) because the stakes are too high and it isn’t what We the People want. In fact, the mandate belongs with Obama, the Democrats, and the vast majority of Americans who have been reeling from bad Republican policy for the last 12 years, and who spoke loudly and clearly less than a month ago at the ballot box.
The Good News is that Republicans are between a rock and a hard place this time. Truly. An agreement before January 1 that does all the things that Democrats were elected to do — keep middle class tax cuts intact, increase taxes on the wealthiest 2% (c’mon – the 2% who have done unbelievably well while the entire rest of the country has suffered), and keeping government services like Medicare and Social Security largely on track for those of us who have paid for them – is the critical next step in an economic comeback architected by the Obama Administration and Democrats. Government can reform programs for the old, poor and needy once it solves the revenue problem. When we get past this needless melodrama we will be on track to see growth in both American and World economies. Until Republicans screw it up again.
If no agreement is made before January 1, things get even more interesting. The ramifications of the fiscal cliff deal impact everyone, but Republican constituents will feel the brunt. Taxes will go up most on higher incomes, but the middle class will also be stung by rising tax rates and an increase to the Payroll Tax. And that’s something all parties have been told American voters don’t want. Loud and Clear. I believe raising taxes across the board will actually help our Debt problem and the country. But politicians aren’t arguing about whether or not the middle class should get further tax relief. And by the time taxes for 2013 get paid, rates likely will not have gone up on the middle class regardless of whether cliff negotiations end before or after the New Year.
So we’re really arguing about letting tax rates on the wealthy few revert to the Clinton era. That may impact upper-income conservatives (half to two-thirds of the 2%ers?), but it won’t hit the majority of Americans who are growing more and more frustrated with Congress, its less than 15% approval rate, and the lagging recovery which if it hasn’t dawned on them already, Democrats and voters will soon be able to pin squarely on the Republicans for holding up a deal to fight tax increases against a tiny portion of the population. The writing is on the wall. It’s so obvious, even moderate conservatives are starting to get it.
No matter how or when it goes down, it’s likely that none of the “fiscal cliff” provisions will ever see the light of day. Rendering all of this public hand-ringing political theatre, albeit theatre in very poor taste. However, if we don’t get a deal before the New Year, or even as we approach the Christmas holiday, what IS going to happen is that the stock market is going to tank and holiday sales – which this economy counts on in a big way – will suffer. And THAT will hurt the economy and all of us far more than the pittance of tax increases or cuts politicians are quibbling over.
Who has the biggest stake in the stock market? Is it the lower or middle class? No, it’s retirees counting on their 401Ks for long-term security, and the wealthy. Just like the Recession of 2008, and the Stalemate of 2011, the Fiscal Cliff represents a huge financial boondoggle for the wealthy few. If you know it’s coming – tipped off by Boehner’s “stalemate” comments, for example – you can get out of the market before the bloodletting begins, have your cash on the sidelines, and buy cheap when the “crisis” becomes “real.”
When things go back to normal, which happens inevitably, and they have to before the 2014 mid-term elections or Republicans will lose the House, too, the upper-most class will have made enough investment gains to offset any new taxes on those gains and the relatively modest tax increases Republicans have been crusading against like it’s the Spanish Inquisition. In truth, the only thing we have to fear is Republican policies themselves. This is why Democrats need to frame this showdown NOW as a compelling reason for America to vote Republicans out of its House majority in 2014.
What can the rest of us do? With Congress as it is now and no further pressure brought to bear, the Republican minority has a license to print money for its upper-class constituents simply by holding the economy hostage every year or two.
1) Insist loudly and strongly to all who will listen that Congress DO IT’S FREAKING JOB and fix this impasse IMMEDIATELY.
2) Do not give into the dogma that results in panic whenever the US government manufactures a crisis. Do not pull your money out of the market AFTER it drops because that’s how you lock in a loss. Those who make money in these crises either get out long before the rest of us know what’s coming and get back in cheap, or they see it through until the market normalizes and the fog from the self-inflicted wound lifts.
3) Encourage Democratic legislators not to capitulate to Republican minority demands that benefit a tiny fraction of Americans. Tell them to get the economy back on track by reverting to Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthy that had our economy roaring until we the Bush tax cuts and War on Iraq sent us tumbling.
4) Recognize that the problem with our government time and time again is bad Republican policy designed to benefit the over-privileged few and work toward ending the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. This should be the long-term strategic objective of Democrats during this impasse and they must not budge.
5) Ask Congress to handle the revenue issue now, the government programs later, and also to look into other sources of revenues from protected classes such as oil companies and religions like many debt-free countries do to address our Debt going forwawrd.
The fiscal cliff isn’t nearly as cliff-y as many would have us believe. As long as we don’t get jumpy, and don’t give into Republican demands, there’s no need to fall. At all.
With last Tuesday’s decisions finalized, thankfully without the need of Supreme Court intervention, let’s take a look at the hits and misses of the campaign and the vote so we can learn our lessons and focus on the future.
The Undecided Voter Isn’t So Dumb After All
You can’t really blame a voter for not loving their choices in the past election. In my opinion, Barack Obama has done a fantastic job as President, under epically difficult circumstances. But the Democratic Party, Obama’s campaign, and $6 billion dollars worth of mostly negative campaign FUD never really clarified what we were voting for. So when it comes down to a few million people not thrilled with what they’re hearing having to make a decision on imperfect to downright untruthful campaign fodder, we are all lucky they got it so very right.
Americans Aren’t Engaged Enough in the Process
Ultimately, the American people are going to have to do some reckoning about their politics. The Parties are too narrow and not serving our interests. Moreover, the People are fundamentally disinterested, uninformed, and unwilling to engage in meaningful debate about the election process, except for those times when “crisis” is invoked. Politicians are not proactive in responding to their constituents (unless the constituent is money), and Citizens are not proactively taking action to ensure a government that works. For example, the House of Representatives has a 15% approval rating, and yet we elected the exact same majority we did two years ago. Are politicians to blame? Yes. Are the American people to blame, too? Yes again.
Being Rich and/or Powerful Doesn’t Necessarily Make You Smart
Thank you Karl Rove and Donald Trump for putting cherries on top of a nearly perfect Election Day. Victories by Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren (perhaps the most compelling candidate in the whole election) along with defeats by Rape Foot-In-Mouthers Akin and Mourdock, the unseating of nimrod Allen West and the near-defeat of ding-a-ling Michelle Bachmann all give America much to be thankful for heading into Turkey Day.
Rove’s on-camera meltdown may have been one of the most satisfying (if temporary) political reversals of fortune ever. And it happened on Fox! If any of you ever have the pleasure of dropping $400 million of influence on a country’s election, and if you happen to support a bunch of losing candidates with that investment, I hope you will wind up with $400 million or more of valuable self-knowledge. Having the most voi$e out of 300 million other fellow Americans is as privileged a position as there is in the world. If you can’t handle that with grace, class, and an understanding of simple math, maybe you shouldn’t be in charge of so much capital.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s deranged Tweeting rampage further reinforces the conviction that above and beyond the money, the property, the self-promotion, the bluster, the ego, the hair, and the general misanthropy, Mr. Trump is himself a Deranged Tweet.
You want Smart? Try Nate Silver, Elizabeth Warren, Jon Stewart, Joe Biden, and our own President Obama for starters.
Rules of Social Etiquette Apply in the Macro and Micro
It’s one thing to be cynical enough to run a Presidential Campaign on alleged standing as a Financial Genius when your wealth and reputation were built on the calamities of millions of your American peers. It’s another to whisper sweet nothings to voters in public while speaking pure ill of the masses (i.e., 47%ers) in private. And it’s yet another thing to make up a story about how cutting taxes on yourself and all your wealthy peers will actually result in more revenues for the Federal government when the math says otherwise. Personal integrity matters. Don’t talk behind others’ backs. Do unto others. And not just the wealthy others.
Lose With Grace and Dignity, Please
Mr. Romney’s concession speech was the most honest and sincere moment of his entire campaign. I was turned off by the cynicism, lack of real ideas, unwillingness to disclose pertinent information, and the overall shallowness of his campaign. But he conceded admirably and I’m almost certain his failings are as closely linked to a lack of self-awareness as they are to a pathological lack of integrity (see Rove and Trump, above).
My hopes and prayers are that the vocal minority will take at least a step toward the greater good, setting a course for individual and collective success. Obstruction has gotten us nowhere from 2010 to 2012. If constructive collaboration becomes the best phrase to describe the next two years, we will all be the better for it.
The Social Agenda of the 20th Century Won’t Cut It in Century 21
Maybe there is a New Majority in the US. Maybe it isn’t just about white men and the people they influence when it comes to vote. Perhaps the increasing numbers of Asians, Latinos, Women, Young Adults, Gays and nearly every other demographic other than Caucasian Men (the one I happen to be in) voting overwhelmingly for Democrats is a transparently wrapped message for Conservatives, especially Ultra-Conservatives. And the message isn’t, let’s deport everyone who isn’t white.
The rape dialogue was a disgrace. Alienating women by massacring women’s rights vis-à-vis abortion backfired badly. Thinly veiled racism isn’t very invisible when the discrimination is pointed at you. The immigration policy war of words has had an impact on the national level. It may even lead to Republicans losing power in Texas. Read that twice just to be sure: It may even lead to Republicans losing power in Texas. Ooh. Ow.
Math and Science are Real
The Ultra-Cons don’t believe in Climate Change. And they didn’t believe the polls going into the election. Although they do believe in owning the voting machines on Election Day. No one has ever accused Conservatives of not knowing where the bread is buttered.
Which is why it’s not surprising that some conservative pundits, including Dick Morris, have fessed up to making up election data to sway undecideds with the “news” that Romney was doing better in the polls than he really was. If you don’t believe in numbers, there’s nothing wrong with making some up.
After this election, in which New York Times math wiz Nate Silver correctly predicted all 50 states (he got 49 right in 2008), the polls were actually under-stating Obama’s popular vote and electoral vote leads, and everything went pretty much the way everyone (who believes in math) thought they would, Conservatives who can count have increased their power base within the party.
Then there’s the electoral math whereby a candidate focused on 1% of the voters (some of whom are Liberal to begin with) proceeds to alienate women, the youth vote, every single race that isn’t the Caucasian one, Liberals and the 47% would seem unlikely to carry a majority of votes in the States and/or the Electoral College. Which makes one wonder how they got 48% of the vote when all was said and done (ahem, Tax Cuts).
And if Math 101 in 2012 wasn’t enough, Hurricane Sandy’s profound timing put an exclamation point on Climate Change Doubters’ question mark by inundating the city of New York and the Jersey Coast. God? Nature? Science? Maybe All of the Above?
The Only Way To Go is Forward
The 2012 Elections were one good idea away from having one good idea. Had any candidates – other than Elizabeth Warren, who has lots of good ideas, and the big-picture success of the Obama Administration – shown a knack for forward-thinking or big ideas, Tuesday might have been a decidedly different day. Mitt Romney’s Five-Point Plan was 5 points shy of having a point. 3 points shy, a specific tax loophole mentioned here or there, and who knows? That’s too close for comfort if you ask me.
I have a few not-so-original ideas about how the next four years might look (like 1996-2000 minus the Lewinsky scandal; slash military spending, return tax rates to 1998, less regressive social dialogue…) and, for starters, one original, new idea that I’ll share with you now:
There is approximately $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in U.S. revenue currently in foreign countries, and a debate about whether to tax that money at 35% (current policy), 5% (the Republican plan), or somewhere in between.
I’m a fan of somewhere in between. Five-percent is a non-starter. We are $16 trillion in debt. No radical tax holidays until that number is below, say $10 trillion, OK? But the way to make sure that the money we repatriate in any level of tax discount is put towards job creation is to make policy that specifically rewards job creation.
You want a tax discount to 30% plus incentives? OK. Put the tax money in an escrow-type account and distribute the funds back to corporations who create new jobs. They can pay down new salaries (rather than re-hire already existing positions) as well as healthcare benefits using the credited taxes. Let them do whatever they want with the remaining 70%. If we’re going to take a penny less in taxes from corporations who have leveraged America’s standing to make big bucks overseas, let’s push as many dollars as we can towards job creation.
Conversely, if we don’t want the government in the job creation business, let’s not pretend that tax cuts are a viable form of job creation. Tax cuts for the wealthy are entitlements for the rich. Let’s start moving entitlements for the wealthy towards incentivized policy that will benefit everyone and we will all be better off. And why should all of us be better off?
I’m not going to make this about what might happen if Mitt Romney is elected President, because, frankly, it’s unthinkable. I’m not going to make this about Republican racism, or sexism…the Republican War On Women or the Republican War Against FreeWill, or the Republican War to Redefine the Definition of Rape and Other Thinly Veiled Conservative Hate Speech. I’m not going to do it, and you can’t make me.
I have no intention of reminding you about the diseased economy that the Bush Administration handed President Barack Obama in 2008. Or discussing the Karl Rove Foundation to Enslave Humanity’s $300 Million Campaign to trick American voters in 2012. Or bringing up the Republican Congress’ Conspiracy of Obstinacy.
I’m not going to take the last few moments before Decision 2012 to dwell on any of those things because they are negative, and nasty, and quite frankly beneath the dignity of this country. They’re beneath the People of the World who desperately need America to rise above the shenanigans of a vocal minority of pathological Ultra-Conservative zealots and pseudo-ignoramus theocrats so we can continue the slow but steady process of fixing what Bush and Co broke. So let’s be clear about that.
What I’d like to do is take a moment to say THANK YOU to Barack Obama, who has somehow managed to turn the tide of stupidity that marked the first 8 years of this millennium and give us at least a tiny bit of HOPE via CHANGE. Just like his campaign promised. Barack and Crew put a tourniquet on the hemorrhage of unemployment, helped to reverse the freefall of the stock market and increase the value of the dollar. Since 2008 we’ve had upticks in consumer confidence and private sector jobs, and corresponding increases in American pride, along with the vastly improved standing of our country in the Eyes of the World.
At long last, the beginnings of a viable Health Care Package to upgrade an inhumane health care system that had become the number one source of bankruptcy prior to deregulation crashed the banking system. Barack Obama’s administration finally put an end to the multi-trillion dollar Ultra-Con boondoggle that was the War in Iraq — the real culprit leading to the explosion of the U.S. National Debt. President Obama ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.
The first four years of his presidency have rehabilitated the perception of this country and the U.S. Presidency itself by virtue of his diligence and hard work. By the way, through last Wednesday, President Obama took 72 days of “vacation” in his first 3 5/6 years in office. Compare that to 1020 days for George W. Bush in 8 years. That’s one thousand and twenty vs. seventy-two.
Not that it matters because it’s not going to happen, but no one can tell you what a Mitt Romney Presidency would actually look like because he has retracted or contradicted every assertion he made on the campaign trail in his shameless, integrity-free, desperate chase for the brass Oval ring. On the other hand, we can be pretty sure what the next four years will look like, especially if we continue to out the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks and Scott Browns and Paul Ryans of the world so that we can dislodge the Republican obstructionism that’s held us back from an even faster recovery.
The second four years of the Bill Clinton Presidency might have been the best four years of the last 40. Let’s hope the next four years with President Barack Obama can extend the process of unlocking this country’s tremendous potential and continue to undo the damage of the Ultra-Cons. So I can continue to not have to talk about their epic mis-deeds for many years to come.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for voting today. Thanks for being a part of this Grand Experience.
If you watched the first of three Presidential debates last night like I did you likely came to the same conclusion that many have, including all sides of the mainstream media – Mitt Romney won.
Let me repeat that: Romney won the debate. I won’t say fair and square because it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t square, but he kicked President Obama’s ass up and down that stage last night in Denver and it’s as much Obama’s responsibility that it got away from him as it is to Romney’s credit that he won in just about every category you can a debate in. Except for a couple of very important ones.
Last night’s debate was the equivalent of a baseball team losing Game 1 of the World Series 10-2. We better not be looking at a sweep because we can’t afford to have a Mitt Romney presidency, a fact even more apparent after last night. But first, let’s take a look at what the President did wrong and needs to improve upon if he’s going to turn around the massive turn-around that happened last night.
First, he needs more and better energy. The President seemed at turns tired, frustrated, annoyed, flustered, ineffectively long-winded, searching to organize his thoughts while he spoke, and generally not in good fighting form. If we lived in a more advanced society with a more informed and engaged electorate, some of these things might not matter so much. Though many of them would. But the President’s energy and demeanor were almost as much a cause for him losing the debate last night as the two more substantial reasons, and has got to change in debates two and three.
What are the two more substantial reasons, you might ask? First, Obama had no meaningful, concise takeaways from the night. Call them zingers, call them talking points, call them Madison Avenue-style taglines, the President has got to be able to sum up his policies, his record, and his vision in a way that can be spoon-fed to the American public or he will fail in his bid to gain re-election.
One of many things Mitt Romney did well last night was speak directly to the people who can help him win the election. He lied his ass off from start to finish, both about his “plan” (or lack thereof), the President’s record, and a ton of statistics about the American economy, but it only matters inasmuch as having real facts in play will effect our real lives should this incredibly dishonest and irresponsibly unqualified socio-political aristocrat ascend to the Presidency.
However, getting elected President right now is as much (or more) about selling the idea of your Presidency as it is selling yourself as a good candidate to do a tremendously difficult job. How else can you explain how America elects and re-elects a George W. Bush President? Other than the fact that he stole the first election in Florida.
George W. Bush is the worst President this country has ever seen, by several country miles, in its illustrious history, and Barack Obama may be one of if not the best. But if Mitt Romney can sell the American people the idea Barack Obama is the worst President ever, he will win in November. That’s the sales job he’s trying to do, and he was the winning salesman Wednesday night.
If President Obama believes that because he’s President, because he’s done a tremendous job under difficult circumstances, because he ultimately has truth and competence on his side, and because what Mitt Romney is selling is bullshit about the past and blatant fantasies about the future, he is wrong. Dead wrong. There is a sales job to be done here, and even a sitting President can’t be above that.
Selling sucks. It’s hard work, requires lots of lying and BS, and can often be a truly thankless job, especially when you don’t get the sale. It’s OK, even great, to be the salesman who doesn’t lie, BS and oversell. But it makes the job even harder, and thus you have to be willing to work even harder to make that “good” sale. After four years of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders every day, does President Obama have the energy to execute on the sales part of this election? I certainly hope so.
Issues and ideas Obama left almost completely untouched last night: the 47% fiasco, government shouldn’t tell people what medical services they can have and yet the Republicans emphatically oppose a women’s right to choose, Romney hasn’t mentioned one loophole he would close. Not 1!! The President should have outright dared Mitt to name a specific in his plan. He should have asked for three, and said he’d be encouraged to hear one. Slam-dunk not even attempted.
The second substantial place where the President failed to get the debate job done last night is arguably more important than the first, especially in this election. Sure the absence of a clearly articulated vision is an issue, along with his meandering prose, the lack of concise take-aways, and the maddening penchant for waxing on and on about his beloved Great Aunt who, along with 47-90% of the American people) Mitt Romney and his elitist conservative billionaire friends could care less about.
Romney’s Job One last night was articulating a vision, as well as climbing out from under the well-deserved impression that he was an incompetent asshole with utter disdain for the majority of the electorate. Obama is a sitting President who has done an extraordinary job under near-impossible circumstances, and the truth is on his side, and the side of the work he’s doing.
Which is why President Obama should be armed mentally and literally with tons of information and real, verifiable statistics that he can refer to supporting both the factual achievements of his first four years in office, and refuting the unprecedented avalanche of lies that Romney uttered all night long. The truth is on Obama’s side, but if he can’t summon up the information to back up his achievements he’s going to lose the election. Right or wrong.
Points last night where Obama needed a long and verifiable list of facts to refute Romney’s lies and tremendous twists of factoids included: the dollars worth of closed loopholes it would take to offset a $5 trillion tax break (could take $20 trillion in closed loopholes to make up for that revenue…), Romney’s $760 billion healthcare claim (a hugely deceptive comment left completely unrefuted), the $100 billion in green tax breaks versus $2 billion a year for the oil companies (how about a $10 trillion war in Iraq fought for the oil?), and the 42% of GDP comment from Romney comparing us to Spain when the real number is that we spend 24% of our GDP
Romney dropped his un-facts, by the way, with an affable-enough grin on his face which, though forced, also reinforced that not only was this candidate capable of articulating an idea or two (vague or mathematically impossible though they may be), he’s also not the socially inept ideological horse’s ass he’s betrayed himself to be for the last month of this campaign. Had Sarah Palin pulled off an act like this in her debate, who knows who would have been debating on that stage last night, both as incumbent, and as challenger. Shudder to think that.
And yet, shudder to think that the President can’t come up with efforts in the next two debates that will leave last night’s lackluster performance in history’s dustbin. One concern is that the President may be insulated by Yes-Persons and staffers who will convince him that he needs to remain “above the fray” and thus more Presidential. Or even worse, that last night’s debate was not a fiasco. It was. Last night’s debate was one of the low-lights in the history of this country, while at the same time one of the highlights of Mitt Romney’s life. Much in the same way that 9/11 was a low-light for New York while simultaneously being the greatest gift America’s Radical Right ever received.
Did Obama seem more Presidential to you last night? In the real world, he’s the guy who’s doing a great job leading this country. In the imaginary world of faeries and unicorns, where a disturbingly high percentage of the American public both lives and votes (47% is too high; 5% is too high), the President’s challenger clearly has the ability to lie like Nixon, seem not fully responsible like Reagan and W., and act like he’s got a plan like Palin and at the same time win the first Presidential Debate.
Let’s hope, for all of our sakes, President Obama brings a more vital offense in the form of easy-to-understand statements of his achievements and vision, along with a much stronger defense, namely, facts to refute Mitt’s cavalcade of lies, to the next of these Dog-and-Ponies. Because while winning a debate doesn’t make Romney qualified to actually be President, not winning a debate makes Obama vulnerable to lose the election. And America simply can’t let Romney finish the job George W. Bush and Company started.