Saturday, October 31, 2009

WTF?

I’m not much for computer slang, but every now and then, I pick some up from my daughters. The title of this post is certainly an example. So often these days, in so many domains of life, I find myself asking the question, “What the ….? Today, I will share a few examples.

On The Only Jew Who Has Ever Been on a Major Party Presidential Ticket: Here’s the background:

--In 2000, Joe is a mainstream Democrat who is running a relatively progressive campaign.
-- In 2002, and for years thereafter, Joe’s face on TV is ubiquitous, as he relentlessly defends the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis on their decision to wage war in Iraq.
--In 2006, Joe runs as an Independent against the man who defeated him in his state’s Democratic primary, and yet, when Joe wins that election, the Democrats in the Senate open their arms to Joe like he’s one of their own, giving him a committee chairmanship (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs).
--In 2008, Joe goes on TV once again and takes gratuitous shots at candidate Barack Obama’s patriotism, while openly supporting GOP nominee John McCain for President. Yet after the election, Joe is allowed to keep his committee chairmanship and stay in the caucus. According to such colleagues as Chris Dodd, Joe is a “mainstream Democrat,” who just happens to disagree with the party on a few issues, like the Iraq war. Lord knows, that on domestic issues, he’s still a progressive. Right?
--Last week, Joe announces not only that he will oppose any health care reform bill with a public option but he will join in a Republican-led filibuster if necessary to prevent such a bill from coming to the Senate floor. He says this despite the fact that (a) his state’s polls show overwhelming support for a public option, (b) this is an issue in which progressives on domestic issues virtually all agree, and (c) he has been an outspoken opponent of filibusters for years. WTF?

Does he not feel ANY sense of gratitude to his President and the Party that has supported him over the decades? Does he not care at all about those who lack health care insurance? Does he not realize that this looks like a brazen attempt to pay back the insurance companies in his state – major donors to his campaigns – at the expense of sacrificing various principles that he’s stood for over the years? Finally, does he actually think that the Democrats would allow him to tank health care reform and still keep his committee chairmanship? Hmmm. As to that last question, maybe he could count on the Dems standing by their man. After all, aren’t the Democrats the party of “turning the other cheek” (and I do mean “cheek”). Given what Joe’s gotten away with to date, what’s one more kick in the butt among friends?

On the Idea That in an Obama Presidency, The Whole World Would Share in the U.S.’s Burdens of War: Man was I na├»ve. Remember before the election, when a number of us were suggesting that if Obama won, he would be very popular internationally, he would not be associated with that God-awful Iraq War, and this would increase the willingness of other nations to share with the U.S. the burdens of defending the world against terrorists and other enemies of peace? Well, our President is certainly popular. He’s even won a Nobel Peace Prize. But as a peacemaker, he hasn’t yet achieved any tangible accomplishments. And as for the idea of international support, here we are in Afghanistan – the “good war” that virtually every nation supported – and who is doing all the dying? You guessed it: American troops, and American troops alone. WTF?

OK, so I exaggerate. Here are the actual figures of “coalition” deaths: 904 Americans, 11 Australians, one Belgian, 223 Britons, 132 Canadians, three Czech, 26 Danes, 21 Dutch, six Estonians, one Finn, 36 French, 31 Germans, two Hungarians, 22 Italians, three Latvian, one Lithuanian, four Norwegians, 15 Poles, two Portuguese, 11 Romanians, one South Korean, 26 Spaniards, two Swedes and two Turks, for a total of 1486 troops. By my count, that means that for a country with less than 5% of the world’s population, our troops are supplying 61% of the corpses in this war that virtually EVERYONE supposedly agrees is for the best interests of the world.

It just doesn’t seem fair. And yet where is Barack in appealing to the world that it is time to fight “just” wars equitably, and not simply on the backs of the United States military? Lest I sound jingoistic here, maybe it would help the politically correct out there in cyberspace to put it another way: why should African and Hispanic Americans have to die in disproportionate numbers to keep the people of East Asia and Europe safe?

On the Idea That Anyone Could Possibly Believe that Benyamin Netanyahu is a Man of Peace:

Last weekend, the Washington Post ran an op-ed in which Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made some valid points. He spoke about how Israel should not have to give up all its bargaining chips until the Arabs come to the table. He spoke about how the Arabs continue to refuse to deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and the implication was clear and persuasive: as long as the Arabs stop short of recognizing that right, why should Israelis trust that the Arabs will make peace until all of pre-48 Palestine is under Arab control?

Sounds like a man who deeply wants peace and is simply pragmatic? Sounds like a sincere advocate of a two-state solution who is understandably concerned that his people get a fair piece of the pie and cannot allow them to make too many concessions unless the other side makes equally profound concessions of their own. Right?

Think again. When Barack Obama called for a freeze of West Bank settlements, Netanyahu would have none of it. This was the opportunity to jumpstart the peace process under the auspices of an American President who is uniquely equipped to appeal to the Palestinian people. And yet, on some of the very land that Netanyahu wants us to believe he’s prepared ultimately to deal to the Palestinians, Netanyahu tells Obama to pound sand and authorizes the settlers to build more homes. WTF?

Netanyahu says one thing to the American media in the form of published words, and says something very different in the form of actions. In that sense, he’s no different from Nobel Laureate Yasser Arafat. They both have come across to me as less interested in peace than they are in a win-lose solution. And they both think the American public is REALLY stupid. The sad thing is, like Arafat before him, Netanyahu just might be right.

On the Idea That All Drug Use on the Part of Athletes Is Equally Reprehensible:

You may have read this week that Andre Agassi admitted that in 1997, the year when his tennis ranking drastically plummeted, he was taking crystal meth. But did you read that the indignant Martina Navratilova with furious with Agassi, claiming that by taking that drug and then denying what he did, his conduct was no different from Roger Clemons’ steroid use? WTF?

Am I missing something, or was Clemons taking a performance enhancing drug, and Agassi taking a performance detracting drug? In other words, didn’t Clemons prove himself to be a cheater, whose victims include baseball players throughout the minor and major leagues who needed to abuse their bodies in order to keep up with the Rocket? And in Agassi’s case, isn’t the only victim an eight-time Major Championship winner who has to go to bed every night with a 22-time Major Championship winner and wonder what more he could have done with his career had he, like his wife, Steffi Graf, given 100% effort throughout his prime.

Don’t be so self righteous, Martina. And leave your old rival’s hubby alone.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

MISTRUST

Time Magazine has for years selected the “Person of the Year.” Last year’s award winner was a slam dunk: Barack Obama. Who else was even close? Sara Palin? Mohammad Ahmadinejad? Ashley Dupre?

Now humor me for a moment. What if the issue wasn’t selecting a person, but a word? What single word best symbolizes 2009? In past years, winners might have included “amazing” (1969 – the year of the moon walk … and the Mets first World Series championship), “reunification” (1990 -- West and East Germany are no more), “terrorism” (2001 – a year so crazy even Kubrick couldn’t have imagined it), “tsunami” (2004 – the year of the greatest such disaster in history). And, of course, “blowjob” (1998 – the year the world vigorously debated what it really means to have “sex”).

This year, no single event has captivated the attention of the world. But from my vantage point, there does seem to be a word that captures the mood of my country, if not the entire planet. From the title of this post, you’ve probably guessed the word I have in mind.

Just look at what happened in this past week. According to an Associated Press article, “The Treasury Department ordered seven big companies that haven't repaid their government bailout money to cut their top executives' average total compensation — salary and bonuses — in half, starting in November. Under the plan, cash salaries for the top 25 highest-paid executives will be limited in most cases to $500,000 and, in most cases, perks will be capped at $25,000.”

It sounds un-American, right? Aren’t we supposed to be committed to free enterprise? Personally, as much as I hate capitalism, I hate the alternatives even more. And yet, this week, I was cheering the Treasury Department’s move and haven’t heard a peep of criticism from anyone else, which is really what’s fascinating. Most Americans have developed such an incredible distrust for corporate executives generally, and Wall Street executives in particular, that just about any amount of executive pay cuts would be popular.

Of course, I did say MOST Americans. There’s another large group – mostly in flyover states, but you’ll also find them in coastal exurbs and a smattering of right-wing suburbs, like McLean, Virginia – who sees in such a development clear signs of a creeping socialism. These defenders of the American Way might not appreciate the job that Wall Street has done as of late, but they sure wouldn’t tamper with the ability of hard-working Americans to seize whatever paychecks the market will bear.

But that’s not to say that the tea-baggers and ditto-heads are any less trustful than the rest of us. Whereas people like me won’t be satisfied until the top marginal tax rate goes back to at least 70% -- it was 90% under Eisenhower – the tea-baggers won’t rest until Barack Obama and his minions have been put out to pasture. How you ever seen a group of people so unwilling to treat a new President like a legitimate leader? Even when W was elected in the most questionable manner imaginable (in a “democracy” of 300 million, he lost the popular vote, but won the Politburo vote of 5-4), once Gore conceded the election, Americans of all stripes recognized that W was our President, for better or worse. But don’t for a second think that the Fox News crowd would extend the same courtesy to Barack Obama. He’s viewed, plain and simply, as an enemy combatant. When he stumbles, they rejoice. Even when he’s trying to bring the Olympics to American soil, they still wish him harm. They probably even mock his dog. And Lord knows, that whenever Barack Obama takes a position on anything, they reflexively oppose it.

That, my friends, is a climate of mistrust. And unfortunately, this climate is not merely a domestic problem. I’ve spoken at length lately about the Middle East Peace process and have offered several diagnoses for that seemingly intractable mess. But truly, it all comes down to one word: mistrust. Both sides are talking to the other, and yet neither is listening. There’s no point in listening to anyone if you don’t trust him. You’ll hear words, but they won’t reach your heart.

Speaking as a Zionist, I can confirm that when Arab leaders talk about making “concessions,” we have no reason to trust that these wouldn’t simply be temporary stop-gaps en route to the ultimate goal of one Palestinian nation controlled by Arabs and with a Jewish minority. Palestinian leadership from the time before Israel’s creation until the present has been resolute in demanding the right of Arabs to return to their homes in Israel, and in asserting the superiority of the Arab to the Jewish claims over the Holy Land. Invariably, Palestinians stop short of recognizing a “Jewish State.” In their ears, a word like Zionism sounds like nothing more than a synonym for racism. As a result, when a Palestinian speaks about a two-state solution, we fear that they are really pining for a two-STAGE solution, which will leave us as stateless and as vulnerable as ever.

Then again, when it comes to Middle East Peace, we Jews don’t have a monopoly on mistrust. And trust me: the Palestinian mistrust is every bit as understandable as our own. The Palestinians have come to see the Jews as a brutal, oppressive, occupying force. They each have stories to tell about specific Israeli atrocities, and about the generally dehumanizing conditions in which they’ve been forced to live. They see Israeli politicians, like the current Prime Minister, as the faces of evil. And when they hear these politicians talk about peace, they simply laugh it off as a sham. According to the Palestinian narrative, a man like Netanyahu tries to pretend that he wants peace so that he can stay on good terms with other world leaders, but in reality, he has no intention ever to provide the Palestinians with a viable state. As far as the Israeli Government is concerned, Palestinians will tell you, the Palestinians can have the prison-camp known as Gaza and the less desirable real estate in the West Bank, but that’s it. No more. And they better be gracious when they hear an offer or they won’t even get those scraps of Swiss Cheese.

So yes, this doctor has no problem diagnosing the problem. But how do we treat it? How do we rekindle trust?

The answer is that we work on various fronts. We participate in local Jewish-Islamic dialogue societies. We support NGOs that facilitate joint enterprises and other forms of cooperation between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. And … we attend events like the one I’m about to promote.

It’s happening on December 6, 2009 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the 6th and I Street (N.W.) Synagogue in Washington D.C. You can read all about it at www.yesmep.org. It is sponsored by a fledgling organization in which I have been an active member: Yes We Can – Middle East Peace (or YES-MEP for short). If you go to that website, you’ll not only read about the event, but also see our mission statement. Immediately, you can tell the goal of the group: it’s attempting to be a big-tent coalition where people with different points of view, but who all desperately pine for Middle East Peace, can work cooperatively toward that goal. The December 6th event will bring in musicians, actors and speakers from the United States, Israel and Palestine for what figures to be an absolutely “amazing” afternoon (perhaps not worthy of 1969, but light years beyond our current standard).

So please, folks. Make the trip. Show your support. And get inspired to make a difference on this issue. This problem won’t be solved right away, but with your prayers and your hard work, it will be solved.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

AN OPEN LETTER TO JEREMY BEN-AMI

On October 13, 2009, the Jerusalem Post published an open letter that you addressed to Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the United States. You wrote as the Executive Director of J-Street, which you described in five words: “the new pro-Israel lobby.” The explicit purpose for your letter was to “reiterate an invitation” to Ambassador Oren to attend your organization’s conference in Washington, D.C., which begins on October 25th. You also voiced your concern about how “the connection to Israel for a large number of Jewish Americans has become strained over time,” particularly with younger and more progressive Jews, and added that Jewish-American progressives “have not traditionally been attracted to pro-Israel lobbying,” You quoted Ambassador Oren’s spokesman in indicating that the Ambassador has "concerns over certain policies [of J Street 's] that could impair Israel's interests." Your central point seemed to be that Israel has not been served well by AIPAC, the most prominent Jewish-American lobbying group, and that it would be wise to embrace the progressive voices that are truly pro-Israel despite the fact that they have often questioned a number of its government’s policies.

Well, Jeremy, if I may call you by your first name, I am one of the progressive voices you seem to be talking about. I am the coordinator and a co-founder of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington. I have recently authored a book, Moses the Heretic, that criticized Israel for occupying so much land over its ‘67 borders and for refusing publicly to adopt the ultimate goal of sharing Jerusalem. That latter goal continues to be important to me, as does the idea that the ‘67 borders – or something close to them – remain the eventual outcome of a two-state solution to the Palestinian/Israeli dispute. I was also exasperated with the way that Israel waged its recent war in Gaza, especially its decisions to deny the Arab population basic necessities and to preclude the media from entering Gaza, where they could report as objectively as possible about the situation. Moreover, I staunchly disagree with statements by the Israeli leadership to introduce pre-conditions before entering into peace discussions with the Arabs; like President Obama, I don’t believe that dialogue constitutes “appeasement,” and so I would urge Israel to speak to members of Hamas, among other Palestinian officials, and share some of the ways in which we sympathize with their position. Notably, I would urge that my fellow Jews stop looking at Palestinian nationalism as an artificial and illegitimate movement, and instead strive for a two-state solution in which a viable Palestinian state can peacefully exist beside Israel. Indeed, it saddens me when I see a sign in front of a synagogue that says “We support Israel in its struggle for peace and security.” To me, the appropriate sign would read “We support Israel and Palestine in their struggle for peace and security.”

Is that progressive enough for you? It sounds like a rhetorical question, but truly it is not. For in the past several months, as I have gone from “author” to “activist,” I’ve spent a lot of time working with the so-called “peace community,” which as you know is progressive to the core. J-Street is a holy name within this community. So you should be proud of that. But to be candid, I often find myself extremely troubled by what my fellow peaceniks are saying behind the scenes. Nearly everyone calls him or herself “pro Israel” and an advocate of a “two state solution.” Nearly everyone seems to be OK with thinking of Israel as a “Jewish, democratic home,” to use words from your letter to the Ambassador. But when pressed, they commonly admit that, in their vision, the ultimate nature of this “Israel” will be very different than the solution that Ambassador Oren or I would advocate. You see, these “pro-Israel,” “two-state” advocates recognize that Arab birthrates have been much higher than Jewish birthrates and that more Arabs might wish to immigrate to Israel than Jews. From those premises, they commonly conclude that if we draw the map more or less according to the ‘67 borders, even “Israel” would primarily be populated by Arabs by the end of this century. And here’s the rub: they don’t care. To them, the idea of a Jewish homeland means a place where Jews are safe, and they believe that if “Israel” is democratic and has as substantial Jewish population (albeit a minority), the melting-pot Arab/Jewish nation that would emerge can be counted on to protect the legitimate aspiration of Jews for a home. Oh, by the way, they prefer the term “Jewish homeland” to “Jewish state,” because the latter sounds to them like a place where Jews have more rights than non-Jews, and a homeland is simply a place where Jews can live and enjoy equal rights (like they do in America).

In addition to having behind-the-scenes discussions with my fellow peace-loving progressives, I’ve also attended multiple talks in the area in which panels of experts express their positions on the topic. The panels typically include representatives from the “right” and the “left.” And what I’ve found interesting here is that while some of the mavens on the left identify themselves as “Zionist,” they seem to devote little if any time to fleshing out what that means. They’re too busy criticizing Israel, it seems, to explain to my fellow peaceniks exactly how central Zionism is to their philosophy. I have to be candid with you once again: when I contemplate the J-Street Conference, I envision one jeremiad after another about Israel’s abuses and what needs to be done to ensure that Israel adopts “Jewish values.” But I envision very little being said to convince the left that unless the Arabs recognize the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, they will never convince the Israelis to make peace. In other words, I have trouble imagining that one-tenth of the attention given to the legitimate claims of Palestinian nationalism will be given to the legitimate claims of Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, as it is more commonly known.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of your organization. Perhaps the peaceniks I know are not representative of your progressive community, and that the left-leaning mavens I’ve heard speak in such muted tones about their so-called Zionism were merely just warming up their vocal cords. But you will forgive Ambassador Oren and others in Israel if they are not so convinced that the American-Jewish left are as pro-Israel as they claim to be.

Here’s my request for you: convene a conference that would make my progressive non-Zionist friends every bit as uncomfortable as it would make Ambassador Oren. If that isn’t possible, at least smoke out your membership so that they can admit that their Zionism (if it exists at all) is skin deep, and that by “pro Israel” they really just mean “pro Middle Eastern melting pot.”

We will never have peace in this region unless everyone can trust each other. You and I might not like the positions of the Jewish right, but at least everyone knows where they stand. The Jewish-American left needs to be equally transparent. Good luck in holding a conference that brings people’s true attitudes to the surface.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO EARNING
WHAT YOU ARE GIVEN?

Call 2009 the Year of the Beneficiary. It has been a time of corporate welfare like we’ve never seen before. Investment bankers, come on down! We’ve got your bailout check, and it’s got more zeros on it than you’ve ever dreamed of. Car makers, come on down! We’ve got quite the goody bag for you too – not as fat as Wall Street’s, but still worthy of Sumo Wrestling.

This year, taxpayers have been dolling out more billions for failed capitalists than there are stars in Carl Sagan’s sky. And why? Because, we’re told, these companies were “too big to fail.” In today’s America, once you get as large as a whale, the sky is the limit. Apparently, America wants to reward blubber. And the funny thing is, the worse you suck at your corporate job, the more you get in taxpayer donations. Are we a generous country or what?

Now, it appears, the spirit of generosity has moved overseas. And yes, I’m referring to yesterday’s joke of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Mind you, it would hardly be fair to compare yesterday’s beneficiary with the ones from Wall Street and Detroit. Unlike the titans of AIG and GM, Obama hasn’t demonstrated himself to be inept at what he does. Then again, he hasn’t really accomplished much either, now has he? I guess he saved Wall Street with all the bailout money, if that’s what you call an accomplishment, but that shouldn’t qualify him for a Nobel Peace Prize. The last I checked, peace meant “world peace,” and not peace of mind for Goldman Sachs.

As an Empathic Rationalist, I’m duty bound to say to myself, wherever applicable, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” That’s not a statement of theology, or even of belief, but a simple thought that we should always consider what it’s like to walk in another’s moccasins. If I were a conservative American, I’d be positively furious with the Nobel committee. I know this because it’s easy to imagine the shoe being on the other foot, and someone like, say, John McCain or Sara Palin coming into the White House, giving a couple of speeches, and then being slapped with a Nobel simply for winning some sort of beauty contest with the right wing judges. That’s precisely the mirror image of what happened here: the left-leaning committee in Oslo fell in love with the cut of Barack’s jib and slapped the tag of hero on him … even though he has nothing tangible to show for his efforts other than as a political candidate (and as a baron of bailouts). I’d say that this is an insult to Nobel Prizes, but then again, once you’ve decided to honor Arafat, you’ve lowered the bar all the way to the ground.

It’s pointless for me to engage in speculation as to why the Nobel committee thought that Barack needed a bailout – couldn’t they let him fail first? – or what they could have possibly identified as one of his peacemaking accomplishments. I’m neither insightful enough to understand their true motivation, nor creative enough to imagine that accomplishment. But what is clear is that in the domestic political arena, they did Barack absolutely no favor. Quite the contrary -- this gift has invigorated Barack’s enemies. Again, imagine Sara Palin with a Nobel simply for giving a few orations like the one she delivered at the GOP Convention to rave reviews. I don’t know about you, but if I saw her accept the award simply for yakking and smiling, I’d be fuming that she’s the most dangerous demagogue since Hitler. Hopefully, Barack’s opponents won’t see him in that light – Lord knows I don’t, for I find his speeches to be as sincere as they are intelligent – but just because he isn’t a demagogue doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous to those whose ideology differs from his.

Any politician who seems to get what he wants without having to work for it can be dangerous. W was such a politician in the period right after 9/11, and as a result, he hammered through that absurd war in Iraq. Reagan was also such a politician due to his clear vision and avuncular manner, and as a result, he gave us our sharp inequalities in wealth. As for Barack, given the incredible devotion of so many of his supporters and the loving embrace he gets from the media, you could understand why his opponents fear that he will soon enough get a free ride as well. The Nobel Prize will only exacerbate those fears.

So, Oslo, from one who has high hopes for Barack but still sees him as just getting started on the job: Thanks, but no thanks!

Speaking of not having to earn what you get, I’ve been neglecting the most blatant example of all. Has anyone noticed the New York Yankees’ lineup lately? Batting first, Derek Jeter. Batting second, Johnny Daman. Batting third, Mark Teixeira. Batting fourth, Alex Rodriguez. Batting fifth, Hideki Matsui. Batting sixth, Jorge Posada. We’re talking about Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers. We’re talking about a team that spent more on players this off-season ($423.5 million) than their playoff opponent, the Minnesota Twins, is even worth ($356 million). For most baseball fans, this is like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, or like the U.S. Military against the Armed Forces of Grenada. But for the people who run the Yankees, this is like … it’s like being the CEO of AIG and getting $180 billion dollars to play with. That was the contract that the Yanks recently paid to acquire Teixeria, who hit last night’s walk-off home run. The only other Yank to drive in a run last night, Rodriguez, took a mere $275 million in his contract with the Yankees.

Frankly, baseball isn’t my favorite sport, but I get the impression that if I were the General Manager of the Yankees, my team would still make the playoffs every year. Nice work if you can get it, wouldn’t you say?

When you realize that the Twins put their roster together at less than 1/3 the cost of the Yankees’ roster, I guess they should claim a “moral victory” that they forced New York into extra innings last night – before losing to the Yanks for the ninth time in nine games. But there are no moral victories in the playoffs, and that’s what makes this so absurd. The Twins are the American League’s best team in flyover country. The only teams with more wins are in the huge market cities of New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Comparing the Twins to the Yankees on the diamond is like comparing the standardized test scores of the students from Beverly Hills High School with those from a well-run, but poor school in the Appalachians -- it won’t matter how good the principals or the teachers are in Appalachia, the kids from Beverly Hills will come out on top every fricken time. [The only difference, I guess, is that they don’t televise the supporters of Beverly Hills High high fiving each other after the test scores are released, and they don’t have “journalists” talk about the test-score tally like it’s some sort of honest competition.]

For the Yankee management and their well-fed fans, victories, playoff appearances, and even World Series titles aren’t earned. They’re simply acquired via donation. The team plays in a crowded megalopolis with large pockets of extreme affluence. They can afford to raise ticket prices and investment bankers, lawyers, and old-money types will still come in droves. With the revenues that roll in every year, the team can also afford to purchase the one or two best free-agents in baseball. Last year’s #1 guy was last night’s hero, Teixeira. Next year? Who knows what player the Yankees will purchase with their excess revenues. But you can guess that he’ll be the best player in a town like Kansas City, Milwaukee, or Clevelan even if he turns out to be the eighth best hitter in the Bronx.

In a couple of days, the season figures to be over for the valiant Twins, and they will be left to enjoy the memories of being the winner of one of Major League Baseball’s “Minor League” Divisions. Their players will then be forced to stay home and sit around, while the folks in New York and LA play on. In that regard, the Twins will be joining countless millions of Americans who also will be hanging out when they’d rather work, though in this case we’re talking about people who will be actively looking for a job … and one with health care benefits. Sadly, the Year of the Beneficiary hasn’t helped them in the slightest. Indeed, the reports are that even though Wall Street is rebounding nicely, Main Street figures to suffer for years.

And therein lies the problem with all these gifts. Our new motto is “Pigs get fed, and hogs get fed more.” We honor baseball teams for refusing to share revenues with their competition. We reward most the corporations that fail us the most. And we honor Presidents as heroes before they’ve done anything heroic. As for the little guy, we’ve got bupkis for him … just mounting deficits, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and corrupt Major League baseball.

Oh well, at least the football playoffs will be coming in a few months, and then it will all get better. In football, you see, they share revenues, and that’s why last year’s winner could come from the flyover steel town of Pittsburgh. It’s not a town where people win the Nobel very often, or where corporate execs swim in bailout money. In fact, many people don’t even realize that it has a baseball team. (Could you name one member of the Pittsburgh Pirates? I sure can’t.) But it is part of America. And I suspect there are people there who have actually performed more acts of heroism to date than my beloved President, Barack Obama.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

CLEARING BRUSH

At the end of the Presidency of George W. Bush, CBS News encapsulated what is perhaps the single greatest element of that Presidency’s disgrace. Here’s the description: “According to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, today's trip marks Mr. Bush's 149th visit to the presidential retreat [Camp David]. The planned three-day stay, during which the president is being joined by family and former and current aides, will bring his total time spent at Camp David to all or part of 487 days. Yes, that's 487 days. And Camp David is not even where the president has spent the most time when not at the White House: Knoller reports that Mr. Bush has made 77 visits to his ranch in Crawford during his presidency, and spent all or part of 490 days there.”

That’s 977 days – or more than a third of his Presidency -- spent in those two vacation spots alone. Frankly, the number is mind-boggling. I always thought the job of President was a demanding one, yet Bush made it look like something any of us could handle, assuming we don’t mind if the world suffers the consequences.

To us Democrats, Bush’s basic apathy toward his duties as President came to be symbolized by one activity: clearing brush. This was Bush’s own description of how he enjoyed spending some of his time at the ranch in Crawford. Perhaps Bush found it to be cathartic, for surely even a lazy, party animal like him would have found his 5 1/3 years in the White House to be stressful. Personally, the idea of hanging out in West Hell-hole Texas, slashing through weeds sounds a lot less enjoyable than, say, flying to Paris (France, not Texas), Rome (Italy, not Georgia), or Copenhagen. I’ve been to Paris and Rome, and loved them both. But I’ve never been to Copenhagen. I’ve always wanted to know what ol’ Hans Christian Anderson saw in it that was so damned inspiring.

I’ve had Copenhagen on my mind this week for obvious reasons. But what’s anything but obvious is how best to characterize those Republicans in Congress and those pundits on Fox News who slammed President Obama for a one-day trip to the capital of Denmark. I can understand faulting him for encouraging Chicago to get the Olympics when the money could be spent differently, such as on social welfare programs. Needless to say, though, that wasn’t their complaint; these aren’t the types who typically pine much for such programs. The complaint, and I still can’t believe I’m saying this, is that Barack Obama decided to take one day off to fly to Europe at a time when more important things were happening at home. They couldn’t point to any great crisis -- just to the idea that the most important thing on the nation’s plate this past Friday was not whether to snatch the Olympics from Rio.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t recall these troglodytes whining when Obama’s predecessor took off month, after month, after month, after month, after month … ( I’d do that 32 times but my fingers were getting bored). So how can they look at themselves in the mirror after dumping on a President for a taking off on a single today? Yes, I know, he didn’t really “take off.” He did what has become de rigueur for national leaders who want their countries to host the Olympics – he made the requisite face-to-face appeal to the pompous decision-makers. I consider that official Government business. But let’s say I’m wrong, let’s look at that trip simply as a day off. Why should that subject him to abuse, if Bush’s 877 days off weren’t worthy of note? And … when it turned out that his appeal didn’t get the job done and a U.S. city wasn’t chosen to host the Olympics, why did the Fox News pundits feel free to get on TV to laugh their ample asses off at our defeat?

In fact, this all made me wonder, when we do play in Olympics during Obama’s Presidency, are the Fox types going to publicly announce that they are rooting against the American athletes, just like they rooted against the idea of America hosting the Games? I ask, because this particular brand of American patriotism known as the modern conservative movement is kind of confusing to me. If I wasn’t so diplomatic, I’d characterize these pundits and Congressmen as hypocritical, petty, unpatriotic ... Oh never mind. There are so many words that can be used for these people, and none is a compliment. Maybe we should stick with “enigmatic.” That sounds benign enough. And frankly, I’m almost beginning to feel sorry for these clowns. They’re so blinded by their resentment toward Obama and his staff that they don’t even know how to assume an aura of sanity.

Face it guys, Barack is playing for your team. He’s even leading your team. If you see him strike out, then laugh all you want. But please, don’t do it in public. It makes you look like you’re rooting for the other guys, whoever, wherever, and whatever they might be.