Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Republican Party

("Up From Greenwich")

In 2008 there was a collapsing job market, a stock market in free fall and  two wars that stretched as far into the future as the mind's eye could see. The Republican party was not an easy fit for anyone, and there were considerations of its imminent demise.

So what brilliant strategy accounts for the reversal, six years later, of its declining fortunes? It is in the relentless attack on the most vulnerable.

Don't extend unemployment benefits, don't raise the minimum wage, don't support health care reforms to insure the basic welfare of the underclass. Rid our society of those who infiltrate from over the borders. These are the enemies.

It is in the negatives that this party has risen from the ashes. Mr. Douthat gives them far too much wholly undeserved support when concluding that they are somehow not the party of the rich.

The Republican party deserves enmity, not praise, for backing into a powerful position predicated on messages of hate, fear and survival of the fittest. If playing to our worst instincts is truly how to attract the middle class and the well to do, then this is very sad commentary on the state of our nation.

The Family Business

When I was a young boy, I admired everything about my dad. I wanted to grow up to be just like him. Since he was a lawyer, that was the field to which I was inevitably drawn. And when I finished law school, after a year's clerkship, my dream of entering the family business was fulfilled. Sadly,  my dad passed away shortly after we began working together.

Neither of my children ever expressed a desire to continue this legacy. My daughter is a speech therapist and appears to be thriving in her work. My son, a student of public policy.  Not that this was a bad thing, it was just one less connection, or maybe a small reflection on how they perceived me and what I was.

That has all changed. For last evening, my son announced that he was now entering the family business. No, not that one. The other one, getting published in the letters section of the New York Times.

Over the past half decade, my son, my entire family, and a community of friends, acquaintances and even total strangers, have been apprised of my unending attempts to see my words in the Times. Remarkably, there have been many successes which has only spurred continued efforts by me and increasing alienation of those around me.

And the one at the center of my self created maelstrom has been my son. Appointed as my personal editor, he has been forever witness to my relentless pursuit of fame, if only in my own head, and fortune, from a writing career destined never to move into first gear.

But rather than be repelled, he has been endlessly patient and understanding, encouraging and compassionate. And through this process, one other thing has happened. He has clearly learned how to spot those writings of mine which are likely to find a welcome home in the letters section of the Times.

Beyond having a far keener and perceptive mind than I, he is a far better writer. As such, whenever we have been in discussion on a topic of import in the news and his analysis seemed clear and correct, I have implored him to "write a letter to the editor."

He has refrained, maybe because he saw me taking all the air out of the room with my incessant pursuit, or maybe because he just did not feel the compulsion, as I did.

Last night, as I opened my cell phone to read my e-mails, this note appeared:
"With dad as my mentor, I wrote this yesterday and thought it felt letter-worthy, so I sent it in. Dad has trained me well."

Underneath, was a note from the NY Times advising that:
"We are considering your letter for publication in the next few days, either in the printed paper and the Web site, or on the Web only. Below is an edited version of your letter."

My heart swelled with pride. I let out several "woo- hoos" or something like that in the middle of a room filled with a family mourning the loss of a loved one. Maybe this was not the best time to tell those assembled of my son's accomplishment and of the great joy I was experiencing.

The note from my son meant more to me than he could ever fully understand. It brought me back to the days of my youth when I looked upon my dad with a sense of awe and enormous pride. I understand that I am far less a being than he was, far less a role model to be emulated. But my son has found in my undertaking, in me, something positive, something worthwhile and has, with his considerable talents, finally decided to join the family business.

Here is his letter as it appeared in the New York Times.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A World Without Pity

It is Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The forces of good in a battle to the death against foreign invaders. This is Rick Perry's Alamo and the National Guard are the last line of defense. Forget that this is not Santa Anna but a group of overwhelmed children.

For Governor Perry, the lessons learned from his 2012 presidential debacle are being played out on this stage. No longer are there echoes of "I don't think you have a heart" for failing to recognize the plight of the young here illegally. For the man who couldn't remember the third Federal agency he would eliminate, or what Governor Romney stood for before he stood for something else, this call to arms is an easy fit. Xenophobia polls well with his audience.

The days of sanity for Mr. Perry and those like him who play to our worst instincts have long since passed. What remains is a vitriol without borders.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Little Rock Nine at the Border

("Tears for the Border Children")

They were but children, who suffered unending physical and verbal abuse. Their arrival was opposed by the Governor of the state and it took the intervention of the President to assure their safe passage. Their escorts were members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.

The year was 1957, the place Arkansas, and the children became known as the Little Rock Nine. They were African Americans seeking to integrate an all white school. They had been chosen based on their excellent grades and attendance at their former educational homes.

The recent hysteria concerning the young who have crossed the border evokes the ugliness of those days. Incendiary comments from public officials clearly intended to bring out the worst in those who can find no place in their hearts for understanding and compassion. Children who are vilified  for the unforgivable sin of the color of their skin or their attempt to seek a better life. Repelling an invasion.

Mr. Blow speaks of locating our better angels. Almost 60 years after Little Rock, we are reminded of how difficult a task that can sometimes be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Governor Christie, Redux

("Christie to Test Presidential Hopes in Iowa Bid")

It is unsurprising that we have not heard the last of the New Jersey governor. With nary a mea culpa, he will endeavor to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. For, as we will be informed, Mr. Christie is still standing after all that his enemies have done to denigrate and destroy him.

Forget about the numerous ongoing investigations. Don't worry about the  unemployment numbers in his state, the train tunnel across the Hudson that never was, the pension fiasco, the Pulaski skyway, or the lives and homes destroyed and not rebuilt after Sandy. None of that matters in this tale.

Instead, we will learn of a man who is not afraid of a fight, not afraid of speaking his mind, who stares down the hard truths of this world with fire in his eyes. He will be a gladiator, a warrior wounded in battle, who remains unbowed and unbroken. In a time where passion is seen as having left the oval office, Governor Christie will be portrayed as the anti-Obama.

And so, in a bizarre way, the governor may suggest that Bridgegate and all of its progeny have done him a favor. While it is a long way from here to the White House, and by all rational examination there would seem to be too much baggage for his ultimate coronation, for the moment the story of the man with the outsized ego and abrasive personality is still being written.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chelsea Clinton, In the Line of Fire

Stop picking on Chelsea Clinton. She has done nothing to deserve your enmity. The fact that people are willing to overpay for her services does not make her a villain. And, it should be more than an asterisk that these monies enrich the Foundation, not the young speaker.

Yes, the Clinton brand can oft times be grating. Yes, Bill and Hillary have certainly put their feet in their respective mouths (let's not go there) on more than one occasion. And yes, there is a great deal of ego attached to the family. But these are people who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives to public service and who have been willing to suffer the slings and arrows along the way.

Attack them for their flaws, but do not attack Chelsea without predicate. She is a young woman who is beginning what might be a very important career, and if she remains in the public eye, will undoubtedly have her own faux pas to explain away. But she should not be criticized in advance, or made to appear unseemly just for joining the family business.

Monday, July 7, 2014

("Beliefs, Facts and Money")

It is pervasive and infects the thought process of those who stand in righteous indignation. It is the George W. Bush weapons of mass destruction theory on steroids. Facts have no place at this table.

It is most reprehensible because it entrenches positions, allows no room for debate, no compromise, no pursuit of a greater good. And, as the article by Mr. Nyhan would suggest, the intention to insert evidence into the dialogue, is enough to exacerbate and offend. It runs the gamut of issues not only on the environment, economics and creation but on gun control, immigration reform and every other problem that demands intellectual curiosity.

We have come to a startling low place. Our politics are diseased, our ability to act removed and we are left merely with accusations and allegations.

For those who believe in the benefits of the mind and not merely the gut, it is an impossibly sad and difficult time. And for those who know better but willingly choose to ignore, it is a moment filled with shame.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Not So Fab Five

("Limiting Rights: Imposing Religion on Workers")

We have now learned, thanks to our less than supreme court, that for profit corporations are people who have some very deep religious beliefs which must be respected.

In the wake of yesterday's determination lays shards of constitutional protections for women. But this was only meant as collateral damage, for the true target of this convoluted mis-conception was President Obama's signature piece of legislation.

For all of us who looked on as the justices opened the floodgates to further attacks on the Affordable Care Act, it should serve as clarion call  to examine the blurring of the lines between politics and the judicial branch. The not so fab five have taken an active role in reshaping the landscape of our nation, impacting the ability of the most oppressed to vote, sanctioning endless financial opportunity for the few to control the election process and reducing to rubble the clearly intended meaning of legislation forged to protect a vast portion of our citizenry. Logic and precedent have been reduced to the role of bench-warmers.

The assault on our rights and our way of life continues unabated and will remain in jeopardy for as long as the starting five is permitted to act with such utter disdain and contempt for the dictates of the Constitution and the citizens of this nation. It is beyond time that we entered into a serious 21st century discussion about term limits for those who sit on this bench decade after decade, impervious and ill intended.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hollow Triumph

The elimination of the last of the known chemical weapons in Syria feels like such a small, hollow victory given the current level of calamity both in that country and in the region.

It is a particularly brutal period for the president's foreign policy. If he inherited a disastrous decision by President Bush in Iraq, recent actions by ISIS remind us how little President Obama has been able to accomplish there. And, as we prepare to put Afghanistan in our rear view mirror, this week's Taliban offensive seems likely prelude to what will transpire once we are gone.

In Syria, there is consideration of our providing funds to arm the opposition to Assad even as he meets his promise regarding turnover of chemical weapons. Even here, what has been accomplished remains murky at best, as any statement of compliance must contain an asterisk regarding potential unreported stashes of such materials.

Like many stories, this one was much larger at inception than conclusion. While we stood on the precipice of yet another invasion, our country shuddered at the thought of more years, more money and more American lives in potential jeopardy. It is difficult to remember those moments with clarity, or to comprehend that for the briefest of periods, the United States and Russia joined together to force President Assad to agree to surrender those weapons capable of inflicting the worst of atrocities on his own citizens.

As we watched Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, it is hard to imagine any set of recent circumstances in which he could have been an ally. We are reminded of that time with today's announcement. Yet,for President Obama, what should be at least a note of triumph has been drowned out by the unrelenting drumbeat of disaster that overwhelms our senses and our headlines.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Trouble in the Bedroom

My wife and I are incompatible in the bedroom.

No, its not what you are thinking, and I am offended that your mind leaped immediately and with a certain level of glee to that conclusion. What I am talking about is much more important. This story is all about noise and temperature.

Growing up, I was somewhat drawn to the gentle tunes that emanated from fans. Maybe obsessed is a fairer description. For most of my youth I could not eat a meal unless the fan that sat above the stove was whirring. Still, a half century later, I get a visceral response to the memory of that humming. Maybe the reason I tend to speak loudly is I had to half shout during dinner.

So too, nothing was more critical to my sleep during the warmer months than the sound of the large attic fan at work. The problem for my parents and my sister was that my insistence I was hot and in dire need of circulating air was not restricted by the outside temperature. There were many a night when the house itself almost shuddered as I wandered into sleep to the sounds of the fan as my parents and sister huddled in their beds under the covers to brace against the cold.

Years later, immediately before I married, I was living in my parent's residence and studying for the bar exam. Many days would find me in my pajamas, books strewn everywhere in my room, the white noise machine merrily humming day and night. My soon to be wife should have been well forewarned.

I am now deep into my fourth decade of marriage and of the many tics and turns that form the person who my wife gets into bed with each evening, this one remains as persistent as ever. And so, it causes me a great deal of comfort that the air conditioning unit in our bedroom announces its arrival with a large whoosh. In operation, it generates the most soothing of tones, like a crooner whose voice brings peace and quiet to the soul. Only, to the rest of the universe in general, and to my wife in particular, the decibel level that emanates is far too high and is accompanied by a most grating kind of banging.

She has tried home made remedies, notably sticking padding in the perceived area of the rattle. For much of the past year, that seemed to do the trick, or at least appease my wife enough that the air conditioner was allowed to live.

We have a service contract on this system, and the experts were recently brought in to work their magic. They seem to have had far less luck or success. Yesterday, as the fan cycled on and I began to fade into slumber, my wife announced that the banging noise was back in full force. The answer, she thought, was to raise the temperature so that the machine did not have to work as hard. It was an interesting concept.

Which brings me to the other issue that takes center stage in our bedroom. What temperature do you find acceptable in your house? Please repeat that, for I want my wife to hear what you just said.

My internal thermostat, and that of my wife, have not been programmed properly. What her body and mind are informing her is appropriate, leaves me just short of openly perspiring. "Take the blanket off you, if you are hot" is not to my way of thinking the correct answer to the question of what temperature the air conditioning has been set at. And her piercing inquiry in the morning, "did you get up in the middle of the night to turn the temperature down" is most often met with either an outright lie or a sheepish admission.

I can only imagine that some version of  this temperature conversation goes on in almost every household throughout the world. For those fortunate enough to have air conditioning, there is a husband arguing his cause and a wife suggesting an alternative theory. Hot or cold, I wager that many a bedroom discussion have little to do with the heat generated beneath the sheets and much to do with the heat caused by opening the windows.

As I write this piece, my wife is sleeping soundly in the next room. I have turned on the air conditioning unit next to where I sit. The morning may be cool enough that I should merely open the window and the door and allow nature to perform its magic. I know once my wife gets up, she will make that suggestion. But for now, this is my domain and my noise. I do think it is getting a little cold in here. I am starting to shiver.