Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Tough Message for Christine Lagarde

"Christine Lagarde's Tough Message"

Ms. Lagarde's words, while they may have "shaken up" the assembled in Jackson Hole, fell on many deaf ears. Whether it be intellectual incapacity or immutable intent to undermine the presidency, the possibility of the Republican party suddenly "waking up" to the reality of the folly of austerity as the framework for near term economic recovery is about the same as an earthquake and a hurricane hitting New York in the same week. Well, maybe not quite that good.

Aggressive programs to tackle the foreclosure crisis and attack the staggering and stagnant unemployment problem are desperately needed. But this would take federal stimulus and government intervention, both of which are anathema to the Republican mantra. Sorry, Ms. Lagarde, no matter how hard you keep "pushing", that rock won't make it up this Hill.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Credit Worthy

We have been so eager to criticize the President, and to question his capacity to lead, that we lose sight of his accomplishments.

As we watch the last moments of the 42 year reign of Muammar el-Qaddafi and wait to see where the future of Libya lies, there is scant praise for the decision of the President that helped avoid a massacre and precipitate the transition of power.

In an America weakened by its economic crisis at home, and wearied from a decade of fighting 2 wars on foreign soil, the President chose to send us in to Libya for limited, but definite purposes. With cries that he had overstepped his authority, or that his actions were either too little or too late, we entered the fray. And then we stepped back and took a secondary role, merely part of a joint effort to liberate.

So too, several months ago the President faced a decision on making fragile relations with Pakistan even more fragile. He took out Osama Bin Laden under cover of darkness and in the midst of a foreign country who was our theoretical ally in the battle against terrorism. If the mission had failed, the President would surely have faced enormous backlash at home. Even with success, collateral damage with Pakistan was a certainty.

The President made the hard decisions without seeking cover. And, in the bright light of hindsight, who can question what he did?

Certainly, tomorrow will be another day of domestic turmoil The President will be seen as ineffectual for trying to meet the Republican demands, for not pursuing his own agenda strenuously and for failing to figure out how to beat the other side if you can't join them. And all of these issues are legitimate and real, even as some of the problem may lay not with the President himself but with a system of checks and balances that is out of control.

But when we call Obama soft and indecisive let's step back for a brief moment and look at what he has accomplished when free of the shackles that bind him at home. For once, let's give credit where credit is due.

Thoughts as the Earth Shook


1. Is this the stock market crash?

2. Is this the (debt) ceiling collapse?

3. Is this the act of (job) creation?

4. A Republican candidate somewhere just told one truth and the nation fainted.

5. All the collective Republican lies hit the floor.

6. The weight of the campaign contributions to the Supercommittee was too much to bear.

7. Chris Christie rolled over (on a piece of important legislation)

8. Texas had physically seceded from the nation.

9. The Tea Party agreed to say yes, and their platform disintegrated.

10.God sat down to lunch with Bachmann and Perry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Not Guilty, With an Explanation

("District Attorney Asks Judge to Drop Strauss-Kahn Case")

Not guilty with an explanation. It is the prosecutor's unsatisfying and disquieting statement of the reality that allows DSK to walk away a free man. In the larger court of public opinion, it is now the prosecution as defendant, charged with permitting a crime to go unpunished and ultimately unchallenged.

It is certainly unsettling, as one can only imagine what the universe is saying about the American system of bungled justice. But the reality is that the prosecution cannot choose the victim any more than it can the perpetrator. It is not for the State to move forward on every case, every allegation of wrongdoing. There is a process and there are decisions to be made along the way. If ultimately, there is a determination that either a crime was not committed, or that the evidence will not support the prospect of conviction, it is the duty of the State not to proceed. Some of these choices are difficult, and some are difficult to swallow. This is one of them.

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Unwelcome Home for "Heroes"

It began in the aftershock of 9/11. It became a reflexive response in the decade since. The soldiers in their uniforms symbolized the strength and unity of a nation out to right a grievous wrong. Even as questions now abound as to the hows and whys of what we have done over the past 10 years, at least, superficially, the uniform has retained its elevated status.

Yet, while the openly hostile reaction to returning vets from Vietnam is but an embarrassment from the past, we should not be fooled into believing that those who now return from service are treated as heroes once they are in our midst. While it might soothe our souls to talk in reverential terms of those who protect and serve, the ugly truth is that our deeds do not match our words.

As national unemployment figures hover around 9%, the official unemployment level for veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is, according to the Army Times, 15.2%. Internal polls place that figure closer to 20%. Once the uniform of these men and women come off, they are nothing more, and often less than the rest of us.

The government's present response, couched in terms of both economic stimulus and patriotic duty, is the proposed "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011". It is intended to promote the transition of these men and women from wartime "hero" to something other than just another dismal statistic in the ongoing financial crisis.

Further, as is reported in today's NY Times ("More Excuses and Delays from the VA") a lawsuit filed on behalf of returning veterans speaks of a VA bureaucracy so extremely slow and unresponsive as to deny constitutional rights to mental health care and to the timely adjudication of disability claims. While an average of 18 returning vets a day are committing suicide, the agency has no suicide prevention officers at any of its outpatient clinics.

"An Empty Regard" examines the rationale behind the lofty language we use to describe our soldiers. More accurately, an empty regard should be the catchphrase for how these men and women are treated on their return home.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Out of Town Performances

There was Dan Lauria, in a place I am sure he knew nothing about. This was the initial out of town performance of "Lombardi". The actors would work hard that evening to remember their lines, to try to sound natural and real. The director would listen intently for the flat parts that should be discarded, as well as the effective ones to be emphasized. In time, it was hoped this show would be ready for Broadway.

Like the actors I watched that night on the stage in the Berkshires, I now view the political play of Republican hopefuls seeking the nomination as their party's 2012 candidate. Each performer works to refine his or her dialogue. Bachmann, Perry, Romney and the rest of the cast move from stage to radio and tv, and anywhere else their voices can be heard, seeking to perfect their message.

The out of town auditions play in small venues in Iowa and New Hampshire for now, but they will be moving to a city near you sometime soon. Those whose acting doesn't measure up will be cut loose. Pawlenty has already suffered such a fate. Huntsman, Cain and others will follow in short order.

I had trouble that night in the Berkshires envisioning how "Lombardi" could translate to success on the biggest stage in the world. It seemed flat, and forced, lacking in depth and true examination of the heart and soul of its central character. Ultimately, even as it had a limited run on Broadway, it would fold.

As I listen to the words of the various Republicans, there is, much like "Lombardi", the unmistakable air of an unpolished and contrived play. Perry's words strike discordant and ugly tones, Bachmann fumbles and stumbles and Romney seems to have lost his voice completely. If one of the assembled is to become the lead in the Broadway version of this show next November, he or she will need a major rewrite.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Field of No Dreams

("Field of Dashed Dreams")

In the Iowa fields as Rick Perry spoke the smell of manure must have been incredibly pungent.

It is no longer enough anymore to be merely a run of the mill conservative to be considered a true Republican. You have to out-crazy Bachmann if you want to walk (carefully, to avoid the poo) in this field. I feel half- badly for Governor Romney who doesn't stand a chance to be nearly as outrageous as his rivals. Romney does faux-crazy, and it comes off looking, well, faux

This is a field where government comes to die, where it no longer is deemed capable of addressing our concerns and helping to remedy them, but serves best by not serving at all. It is a place that denigrates the President, his party, and the ability of government to lift us out of this mess, and clean us off. In the view of Mr. Perry and those like him, government is to be minimized and brought as close to extinction as possible. And this is his vision of how to lead.

The truth is that it is not all government, only bad government, that is the problem. The truth is that the past administration, which fought 2 unfunded wars, provided ill conceived tax cuts, gave pharmaceutical companies massive handouts and deregulated controls over financial institutions, is bad. The truth is that the present Republican party, focused not on rebuilding our country but merely on destroying a President,is bad. The truth is that it is not government itself, but the Republican party that has been the root cause of the last decade of decline.

In Iowa, Mr. Perry stood in the middle of a field of no dreams. And it stunk in more ways than one.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


She sleeps a lot these days. No more lunch dates at Louie's Charcoal Pit. Often, it is 4 PM before she fights to get out of bed. My sister and I will be on the phone with the doctor this morning to discuss whether it is the progression of her dementia, the medication, or depression. There is such profound sadness.

Her vision is almost gone. She always is complaining that she is unable to see. Any change in lighting is too much. She stares off into space as conversations take place around her, unable to either comprehend or to hear. And the joy of life has vanished.

She asks often where her mother and father are. She reports most days of spending time with her older sister, who passed away many years ago. She has lost her connection to virtually everything around her. Only Hiram's remains.

Hiram's is the hot dog restaurant that sits directly across the street from where she lives. This, among all the thousands of images that once took up space in her brain, somehow is intact. As we approach, she realizes that her day's journey is coming to an end. By the time I make the turn at the light, and enter her complex, the connection is already gone and she wonders where I am leaving her. Her aide takes her purse and helps her up, as she struggles mightily to get out of the car.

My daughter Alex, after recently spending time with my Mom, was shaken. "It was the first time that she had no idea of who I was. It made me cry". There was nothing I could say to help ease her pain.

I settle for the crumbs now as all the big pieces are lost... She likes the food that I cut up for her and put on her plate. She slept less fitfully last night. She perks up a little listening to the old time music, humming and swaying slightly. There is so little left, just the crumbs. And Hiram's.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In the World of the Damned

("White House Debates Fight on Economy")

It is the worst of both worlds. While the financial crisis continues unabated, the Democrats contemplate whether to support an additional stimulus package, which they believe will have no chance of passage in the House of the fiscally irresponsible, or rather suggest small measures which might become law, but will do little to reverse the economic chaos. Damned by their adversary if they do try big ideas, and damned by their own if they don't.

This has been the central plight of this administration from the start. While the Republicans, fueled by the Tea Party, have offered their own vision without compromise, the Democrats have not. This was first evident in the health care debate. To the consternation of many, the single payer option, deemed unwinnable, was discarded before the fight even began. Thus, the discussion was not of competing beliefs, but of the Republican mandate against the Democratic request. It moved the conversation and the legislation further and further to the right. And the result is but a watered down version of the Romney health care plan.

Republican intransigence and Democratic "pragmatism" has only increased over time as the Republicans have grown more emboldened with each success. The debt ceiling fiasco, the latest, and most devastating example of this endless pattern, cut over 2 trillion dollars from an economy that can ill afford to be less than it is today, and brought the threat of imminent calamity to our doorstep.

As a Democrat it has been painful to watch the President and his party compromise the life out of their principals and their vision. It has made them weak and ineffective. When the White House discusses where to go from here, decide for demanding bold and decisive action. It may not, and probably will not, win the votes of the opposition but it will win respect from so many who have grown weary of negotiation solely on the Republican's terms. It is past time to stop talking in half measures and tepid proposals.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Fibrillation

("As Dizzying Week on Wall Street Ends, Danger Lingers")

This week has been like watching a ventricular fibrillation. And this morning, the doctor has advised us of the likely reasons: "complex risk models and algorithmic analysis.... respond(ing) to fluctuations in global currency markets", "high-frequency trading firms which employ computerized lightning-fast buying and selling" and "leveraged exchange-traded funds".

Doesn't it all have the vague odor of something like "credit default swaps"? It seems too complicated and too remote. The computer pairing with the unregulated to exacerbate our concerns, accelerate the wild swings, and turn what we hoped was just a blip on the monitor into a full blown heart attack.

After hearing the diagnosis, we shake our heads, curse our fates, and fail to take the necessary (legislative) action to bring our symptoms under control. And the cardiologist will be on call again next week.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Looking Away

("Cameron's Broken Windows")

As the fires rage through the streets of London, we remain, as always in denial. Their unemployed and disaffected youth are not ours. Their wrong turn into an austerity program, cutting off hope and the possibility of a better tomorrow for those in dire need of a reason to believe, are not ours. When we look into the mirror, we don't see our faces in the shattered glass.

America has a problem in grasping the obvious. Greece has nearly collapsed under the weight of economic restrictions that have made it without capacity to pay its debts. Lessons like we are seeing throughout Europe, as countries contemplate more contraction as a way to somehow grow, go unlearned.

Instead, we plod forward, about to begin discussions of the committee of 12 on the most reasonable way to slit our own wrists. Meanwhile, we watch as London burns and those who have been sacrificed in the name of some greater good, respond.

It appears that we are on an inevitable march towards the burning streets and broken windows of London. When the next protests in our country, whether they be in Wisconsin, or just down the street from you, turn ugly, don't say we weren't warned. We were just looking away.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In the Rubble


("While the Markets Swoon")

It turns out that we didn't actually have to default on our obligations to throw the world economy into apoplectic turmoil. We have accomplished the wondrous feat of paying our bills and still creating a crisis of confidence.

I know that money rushed into US Treasuries in the aftermath of our nation's downgrade, which would be humorous if we still had a sense of humor. But no one is laughing these days, and we can ill afford to repeat the charade of the last several months. Hopefully, what we are witnessing is but a momentary, if monumental, response and that the world, and the world markets will soon find its equilibrium

But if there is a lesson to be learned, and there should be, it is that the reckless abandon with which the Republican party threatens our destruction must stop. Their efforts to damage the opposition have instead cast a much wider net and taken down the very value of this country. For all that Standard and Poors has missed in the past, and all that it has miscalculated in the present, it is correct in its assertion that we are a nation that no longer instills trust. And that is a loss far greater than any stock market decline.

It is past time for the Republicans to stop being the bully and start being a productive partner.Hopefully this week's events will wake them up to the reality of what their actions have wrought. If so, then maybe there is a silver lining buried somewhere within all this rubble.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Are We Missing?

I remember Obama's ascension. The demise of the Republican party was imminent. Sarah Palin was an ill fit for a misfit group who had orchestrated us into chaos. We watched the stock market in free fall, the financial market disintegrating. We were hurt and hurting and we had a defined villain. And there was a hero come to our rescue.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our brave new world. The Republican party did not go quietly into the night. From a position of political weakness and uncertainty they formulated a plan based not on reworking their vision, but merely on stopping the Democratic vision from becoming reality. And Obama and the Democrats were ill prepared to beat back the attack. Their strength seemed to sap day by day, as they found themselves in a dog fight. And they didn't know how to battle like this.

As the Republicans found the holes to exploit, the filibuster and later the manufactured debt ceiling crisis, they made Obama and the Democrats look so unsure. The Democrats lost control of the dialogue. And dialogue was what we had expected, more than anything else to be what Obama would be able to control. He was so bright and so right, and yet there was something critical missing.

It has always appeared that he was one step behind. Always on the defensive. Never able to convert hope into something real. He has been such a disappointment as a politician. Unable to beat off the bully and unwilling to even try.

Why? It is getting to the point where many have even stopped asking the question, and when that happens it is a serious problem. When we stop caring about the reason, when we stop distinguishing the good guys from the bad, when we throw up our hands in disgust and merely conclude we have had enough, then there is an administration in distress.

If we are missing something, now is the time to reveal it. Show us in broad and bold strokes that you are greater than what we have seen and what we have come to expect. Demonstrate that November, 2008 was not a mirage and that what we invested our spirit on and our energy in that remarkable day was not a waste. We want to see Barack Obama before it is too late for us and for you.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

No Apologies Please

("The Tea Party, Take Two")

I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Nocera's position that he must apologize for comparing the Tea Party Republicans to terrorists.

What I believe to be most egregious is that this party makes false and damaging accusations of Democratic "death panels", ridiculous contentions of the President "pallin' around with terrorists," and moronic challenges that he confirm the truth of his birthplace, all without a hint of a mea culpa.

However, when Mr. Nocera correctly characterizes what Kurt Andersen, in his op-ed today ("The Madman Theory") describes as "a Republican party dominated by actually unhinged reckless fanatics itching to wreak havoc on America," then all hell breaks loose.

When one party must beg forgiveness for even the hint of a breach of civil discourse, while the other relentlessly goes about its business of maliciously and deliberately destroying the fabric of this country without so much as a whisper of regret, there is something seriously amiss.

I would suggest that Mr. Nocera write another op ed apologizing for having issued today's apology.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Need of Great Yankee Philosophers

("Stocks in Worst Tumble in 2 Years Amid Global Worry")

As the famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "it's deja vu all over again". I had a similar feeling in the pit of my stomach in October of 2008, as I looked on helplessly while my investment portfolio value shrunk and threatened to disappear. At that time, it was new and frightening. Now it feels old and sickening.

Warren Buffett told us then to stay the course. Have faith in the government to right itself, don't panic. Invest and hold, for in the long run, we would be healthy and prosperous again. Mr. Buffett would soon thereafter put a great deal of money where his mouth was, seemingly as a way to assure us of a better tomorrow.

I need Mr. Buffett, or someone else who appears prescient, to tell me to stop worrying, because I certainly don't see the light at the end of this tunnel. Our country has been taken prisoner by the destructive and ill conceived policies of the party of the wrong, on the farthest of the right. The result is a weak economy made weaker, seemingly susceptible to falling flat on its face in the next strong wind.

I see most of the rest of the world either in civil war or in worse financial shape than us. Where can I turn to feel any sense of comfort or hope? Another former Yankee?

"Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you? What'a that you say Mrs. Robinson, Joltin' Joe has left and gone away." I search desperately for that reassuring voice but today I hear only the sounds of silence.

Calm my spirit Mr. Buffett, please. If you can't help us, maybe Yogi will have to do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011



I laughed, as I found myself in total agreement. I am, if there must be only one word to summarize and crystallize the thing that is most me, "inept".

I was in California, with Jo, for our annual visit with very old and dear friends. I had just composed a short post about my experience in this alternate universe. Word of my writing "prowess" had circulated, among those assembled at that evening's party. At one table, my friend was describing my virtues as a parent, an athlete, a writer, and a person of compassion. "Yet", he said, "if I had only one word to describe him...". He called me over from the other side of the room to verify his assessment.

By way of infinitesimally small sampling, yesterday Jo asked me to button a slightly damp shirt that had recently come out of the wash. After several minutes of frustration and elevated protests, the job was handed over to Richie. The day also included a moment where I found myself unable to sign out of gmail as I stared at a screen without answers.

For those who love me, it is a continual exercise in head shaking. How can anyone, so apparently capable in one moment, be in the next, in one word, so (you know) ?

When making a bed becomes a point of pride, you know there is something seriously amiss.

When I was in college, my roommate and I lived in an apartment and cooked our own meals. That is to say he cooked, and I cleaned. Well, that was until he got so fed up with how badly I performed my assigned chore that he became both the cook and the cleaner. I became merely the eater.

Once, at my aunt's house, I was asked to remove a window air conditioner from a second story window and place it on the floor. The crash destroyed not only the air conditioner, but the entire heating system that sat below.

If I take a pull-cart to play a round of golf, I often find the clubs fallen on the ground as I am unable to secure the bag in its designated place.

I look at the world with a quizzical gaze wondering why something appears continually amiss.

My friend likes to say that I have trouble buttering my toast. I don't think it is an easy task getting that mass from knife to plate and then spreading it over a rough and uneven surface. It is an art I have not really mastered.

And so I laughed at my friend's description, even as those who knew me only a little seemed impressed by the magnitude of me, and by the fact, as I so often point out, of all my published writings.

As we were at a party celebrating the birthday of my 2 dear friends, I was certain there would be a bottle of champagne soon opened. The task of taking the cork out of what seemed to me its permanent and rightful position, was not something I would be assigned. Not unless the room was empty of others, my body was covered in armor, and my eyes shielded with impenetrable lenses.

My friend told me that he would trust me with his life, just not with making him a hamburger on the barbecue. While in many important ways, my friend believes I have limitless possibilities to succeed, I know that in others there are only boundless opportunities to fail.

Fairy Tales

("Jockeying Anew in Congress in Next Budget Fight Phase")

It is but one more assault on our intelligence. It is what Paul Krugman refers to as the "confidence fairy" in just another form. Are we really supposed to spend the next 3 months investing our energy and pinning our hopes on the 12 wise men who will lead us to a new, saner world?

When the ultimate power to decide lays not in the hands of this committee but rather in the votes of a Congress which have shown absolutely no ability to wrest control from the hands of the radical right, we can be certain that, at the end of the day, there will be no taxes (read my lips) to help fund this $1.2 trillion mandate. And the required cuts to military spending, when no resolution is agreed upon, will somehow be offset by other measures so that the weak, the poor and the unemployed will bear the brunt of our misguided decision to tighten our collective belts (read as "their" collective belts).

We know that this group of 12 will be filled with partisan picks and angry rhetoric. And when the fairy dust has settled, they will lead us not out of the wilderness, but right back to square one. The ugly truth is that it is time for us to grow up and stop believing in fairy tales. Sorry, Peter Pan.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Now What?

And now what? Where do we go from here? How do we generate the spark that we so desperately need to rekindle the housing market? What do we do to keep the millions who have been pushed to the ranks of the unemployed from fading into oblivion? We have taken away the capacity of the government to create and have it left it only with the ability to destroy, to make less than we already have. Where do we turn?

What do we do to prevent the procedural fiasco that we call government from continuing on its path to nowhere? How do we rectify a process that permitted the health care debate to turn into an endless filibuster debacle? When the will of the majority in the Senate has been sublimated and 50 has become 60, what next? And when what should have been the briefest of exercises in agreeing that our country is obligated to pay the debts it has already incurred instead becomes a vehicle to threaten our own mutilation, what then? When the Republican party leads from behind, and the Democrats, who were elected to take this country out of the Bush era and into the sunlight, have no opportunity to bring us anywhere close to their land of promise, what does our future hold?

Until we focus our efforts on assuring that those who are elected to lead can do so, we are powerless. And if we are powerless then the opportunity exists for those who should have no voice, to shout and threaten and carry on and take us to the brink. If we don't pay attention to everything that has gone wrong and if we think that somehow it will all just go away, we are more than sadly mistaken. When the next crisis arises, and it is just around the corner in whatever form it may take, and substance is subsumed while process controls, don't say we weren't warned. And don't act surprised. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for the last 30 months, shame on me.

Now, before we get so small we fade away to nothing, is the time to start moving in the right direction. Destroy the right of the filibuster to do more than was intended, take away the power of the vote on raising the debt ceiling to reshape our democracy. Plug up the holes, that have become giant sieves in our government. Regain the power that was intended before the Republicans made a mockery of our system. Now is the time to pay attention to the details of governing. NOW.