Wednesday, May 30, 2012

David Brooks, Please Stop Giving Us History Lessons

("The Role of Uncle Sam")

Mr. Brooks suffers from a severe case of amnesia. His implicit accusation is that policies of the Democrats have created this economic quagmire. But the reality is not that bleeding heart liberals have interfered with big business or spent carelessly or needlessly. Rather, it was the ill conceived and unfunded intrusion into Iraq and Afghanistan, the unneeded and uncalled for tax breaks for the wealthy, the unfathomable handouts to big pharmacy and the unrestricted excesses of big banks that proved the catalysts for the debacle. It was not the size of government but the choices the government made under Bush that proved our undoing.

And it is not that this administration has not tried to rectify these mistakes. Our troops are out of Iraq, we are slowly disengaging from Afghanistan and our policy has now shifted to surgical strikes where the actual enemy can be located. There have been repeated attempts to reset the tax rates at levels more fundamentally fair .By way of health care reform, the impact of inappropriate subsidies will be reduced. And there is legislation, if not implementation to reign in the excesses in the financial markets.

It is not for lack of vision by the Democrats but lack of cooperation by the Republicans that policies sought to be enacted have been tabled or defeated. Obstructionism has become a word clearly and undeniably central to the strategy of those in control of the House.  Mr. Brooks speaks of the Hamiltonian tradition rejecting efforts to "divide the country between have and have nots". But there can be no confusing that the theory of government espoused by those on the right does just that, as it leaves those who are suffering to fend for themselves by cutting off their life support in desperately needed aid and cutting off funds that would educate and elevate them. It makes the poor pay for the mistakes of Bush and preserves the ever escalating wealth of  the well to do, protecting their tax incentives as "job creators".

Mr. Brooks loves to give us all history lessons, to show that his is a voice of reason predicated on a deep understanding of our roots and our culture. But it is just subterfuge and misdirection. This is not about the founding fathers at all, but a debate about our moral compass, a question of righting the wrongs of Bush and moving forward to regulate the excesses, cut out the cancers and provide opportunity to live and to achieve for the least among us. And, oh by the way, get us out the Republican created recession in the process.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


 ("Up for Bid, A Piece of Perfection)

56. Try as the memorabilia experts might to turn 27 straight outs into a million dollars,  56 will never belong to Don Larsen.

For all of us who grew up idolizing the Mick, 1956 is not even remembered only, or maybe even most importantly, for the World Series gem. It was in that year that the greatest Yankee of my youth emerged a triple crown winner.353, 52, 130.  It is harder to win this title as a hitter than to throw a perfect game. There have only been 16 winners of the triple crown since Abner Doubleday invented free agency. And only 2 Yankees in all their glorious history have stood at this pinnacle (the other being Lou Gehrig in 1934).

As to the 'other' 56, in 1941 Ted Williams hit 406. That was the last time the .400 barrier has been broken, over 70 years ago. And oh, by the way, that accomplishment did not garner the Splendid Splinter the MVP award. No, the greatness of that achievement paled next to the spring into summer of DiMaggio. While the statistics of Williams were staggering, as he hit 37 home runs, walked 147 times and had an on base percentage of over .550, he could not match the unfathomable hitting streak of the Yankee center fielder. From May 15 to July 16, come hell, high water, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nothing and no one stopped Joe D.

Maybe the Larsen jersey and pants will fetch a million dollars, as the 56 day auction starting on the 56th anniversary of the perfect game unfolds. And who wouldn't want to own perfection? But for me, and for countless other Yankee fans, Mantle's year of greatness, and DiMaggio's trip into waters uncharted before or since, resonate far deeper.

If we are to celebrate 56 this year, tell me when a bat that DiMaggio used during his streak, or the cleats that ran the bases underneath the magnificence that was the young Mantle in 1956 are going up for bid. Larsen may borrow 56 for a moment or two this year, but he has to promise to give it back to its rightful owners.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lobby

The lobby has recently been remodeled. The revolving glass doors open up into a room with high ceilings and more than ample light. Upon entering, on the left there is the counter for the doormen.  2 men stand, idly chatting.  As I walk in, I am greeted warmly by both of them. Even though I do not live here, mine is a face they recognize and a story they know only too well.

It is in this lobby that I find my mother. She is sitting, at a rather odd angle in her wheelchair. There is a pillow resting behind the small of her back, to help try to alleviate some of the discomfort. She seems to be sliding downward a little. There is a band-aid over the bridge of her nose. It was not there yesterday.

Mary sits on the couch next to my mother. "What happened"? She tells me that my mom was with the woman from hospice yesterday when she fell forward out of the wheelchair.

I touch my mom's nose gently. "What are you doing?" she asks rather brusquely. "Mom, you fell earlier and banged your nose a little. I just wanted to make sure you were ok". She relaxes, taking my words as assurance of my intent.

The lobby is my mom's de facto living room. It is from here that she can sense, if not quite see, everyone who scurries to and from their appointed rounds. There is activity and she wants to be a part of it, or at least near it.

She complains about her back pain. "Mom, do you want to go upstairs and lie down?".  "No" she replies, as I can tell that she is not ready to signal her retreat into isolation.  I wheel her up and down the lobby for several minutes.

There is a second couch, nearer to the entrance. A man, younger than my mom, sits here. He is clearly in the early stages of decline. I have seen him often as I hurry to the elevator. For him, like my mom, this area has added significance.

He engages us in conversation. "Do you want to see the pictures of my granddaughter?" I admire her great beauty, and he smiles broadly. I am sure I will not be the last today, or in future days, to view and comment on these same images.

I worry about my mom being an intruder in this space. I worry that others might voice objection that this is not a nursing home and that she should not be down here expanding the boundaries of her apartment. I worry that her sudden cries, looking for her mother, or shouting for Mary, who is right beside her, will not always be tolerated.  I worry what some will think about her habit of removing her dentures.

Soon, fatigue and aches overcome her. I wheel my mom into the elevator and back up to her apartment. Shortly she will be back in bed, separated from the rest of society in so many ways.

Despite my reservations, I hope that tomorrow  my mom and I spend more time in the lobby. It is, after all, to her and therefore to me, a window into life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Ugly Ride

 ("Of Bile and Billionaires")

The problem is the line between Wright and wrong has now been obliterated. The masquerade that might have descended upon us as political advertisement was not pulled because of pangs of conscience, or dictates of law, but anticipated low ratings. Bottom feeding by the very rich is the new normal.

The top 1% of the top 1% now unabashedly step into the light. The politicians are no longer the main act, but only the sideshow, thanks to the beast unleashed by the Supreme Court.

Whether Ricketts or those like him is the last thing many voters want or need is irrelevant. Will we boycott their products, not attend their games, protest in the only way that has any meaning? Will we impact their pocketbooks? If we don't, who has the power to stop them? The unfortunate reality is that this genie is out of the bottle, and stuffing him back inside is not within rational contemplation. We should all get ready for a very ugly ride from here to November.

The Man in the Mirror

My son said something about "quality time with his sister". Even my pleas were to no avail. And thus my fleeting thoughts of attending the Mighty High Music Festival vanished.

Late last evening  I heard the apartment door creak open. From under the covers, in my darkened bedroom, I half screamed "How was it?". The answer was one word."Woodstock". As my children entered the room, my daughter did the head weaving, arms waving, body twisting movements demonstrating what she had just witnessed. Grateful Dead, welcome to Tuxedo Park. There was, of course, the obligatory "Jerry" siting. And the marijuana. Everywhere. It permeated the clothing, enveloped the sky, and made an unmistakable statement.

"And was there anyone like me?"

 My son smiled. "Well, there were people your age, but none of them were anything like you. They were long haired and bearded." It was clear that much more than a physical difference separated us.

 The problem is that the face with the crow's feet, the lines in the forehead, the shadows, the gravitational downward force of  everything, the eyes that have witnessed 60 years and hair that is holding on for dear life in the few remaining places it has not long since abandoned, none of that is me.

While the truth is I was a disappointment as a hippie, my locks too wispy, my drug use too limited, my commitment to any cause too fleeting,  this did not alter my vision of myself.
I was the young face in the middle of that crowd last night. I was the one traveling the country chasing the music. I was the one swaying back and forth, the living embodiment of my own image stuck forever in my head.

I was at the Mighty High Music Festival even as I lay in bed, mostly asleep, waiting for that door to open. And though no one saw me there it is only because they were looking for the man in the mirror.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hedging for Dollars

 ("JP Morphing")

I hope they include "Hedging with Derivatives" in the summer lineup on the Home and Garden network.

After reading for days about the JP Morgan debacle, I have little clue as to what actually transpired. Mr. Dimon's "morphing" explanation fits in perfectly with the abstract images that accompany this exercise. "If you place your derivative in direct sunlight for extended periods of time, it can morph and overwhelm everything it touches".

The "Volcker rule" has no chance of being an effective backstop. It is like trying to cut back Audrey II  in the "Little Shop of Horrors" with a pair of scissors. Banks like JP Morgan have not only grown too big to fail, but too powerful to control. Mr. Dimon and other giants in his industry now live in their own universe. They speak a language we don't comprehend and perform tasks that defy definition or restriction.

We may eventually get regulations that "trim around the edges" but it appears a virtual certainty that "Hedging with Derivatives" will be a very long running show. You can bet on it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Winning, Losing and Everything in Between

There is a chasm that separates the Republicans from the Democrats not only on the economy but also social issues. "Winning the News Cycle, Losing the Race" correctly asserts that the stalled economic engine will be the centerpiece of this year's election as it must be every time the pain is felt so acutely throughout our nation. But that does not mean that social issues lose all relevance, or that matters that matter stop mattering.

The President must define himself by the moments that present themselves in the governing of this country. Which ones will resonate in November are unknown now. But are "race, guns, God and gays" any less critical now then they were when Mr. Dean spoke almost a decade ago? Should the President not set forth his vision, and push forward his platform because these issues might not ultimately be the ones that cause the most votes to be cast in his favor?

This week my son suggested to me that the President's position on same sex marriage would help galvanize the young voters.While I wish that this were so,  I don't know whether the continuing effect on that generation of a tepid recovery will keep their energy and enthusiasm to a minimum. But that did not make the announcement less momentous.

The President, I am certain, will have volumes to say on the obstructionist tactics of the last 4 years, on the failed ideology of Bush and the fixed intent of the Republicans to resurrect those same core principles that precipitated our economic decline and their desire to protect the welfare of the well to do at the very human cost to so many others. There will be plenty of time and space devoted to the competing views on who brought us to this dance of seemingly perpetual economic stagnation and who we should go home with.

But that is not, and cannot be the only thing we discuss. If the shortcomings of the Republicans and the corresponding strengths of the Democrats are not examined and emphasized at every opportunity on race, guns and gays, then the President will have indeed failed in his most essential role of trying to lead by word and deed. If we aren't told of the attempts to keep minorities from the polls, if we don't learn of the power of the NRA in effectuating policies, if the President were to remain silent on "don't ask, don't tell" and on marriage equality for all, then what would  the President be?  No, Mr. Douthat, yours is not an appropriate theory of how to campaign or govern.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sticks and Stones

Terrible phrases have become a part of my universe this week. "Hospice care", "pain management" and other terms that have meaning far beyond the words themselves. There is discussion of visiting nurses, music therapists,social workers and even a chaplain. I sag under the collective weight.

My sister and I stare at one another as we sit in the dining room. In her bedroom, my mom sleeps, or does what has now become her version of sleeping. She sometimes mumbles and at other points lets out small yelps of discomfort. I try to make small talk with my sister, asking about matters that in other circumstances might have some meaning. Even my refuge in writing my thoughts down has seemed like a waste of effort.

My mom's 2 remaining siblings now call me to ask for permission to visit. What must be going through their minds?

And what must my mom be thinking? I hope she is not aware of the place she now inhabits. I recall in the early days of her decline how she would speak of what was happening, fighting to regain control over her own thoughts and the arc of her life. Now, this is what remains.

Still there are moments. As the doctor stood over my mom yesterday and gently prodded and pushed, my sister and I stood vigil. Questions were asked as to where the pain was being felt. I rephrased the words, trying to get my mom to comprehend and respond, to no avail. As I pressed in, I said to my mom, "I love you". She opened her eyes slightly and responded with the same words back to me. "We then have a mutual admiration society". She seemed to smile, or at least that is what I saw in my eyes.

It is the next phase. Throughout this long painful journey, there has always been something else lurking, something worse. It was this.

My sister and I listen to the doctor as she recites the doses and timing of the medications. Choices have to be made about quality versus quantity of days. These are ugly, awful conversations. Through it all, my mom lays but a few feet away. I worry that something that we have said may be registering with her.

Earlier this week, we sat at the kitchen table with a representative who was to make a recommendation on hospice care. Son and daughter answering questions and signing documents plotting the future of their mother. "Have you thought about funeral arrangements?" How do you respond to something like that?

These are days filled with a terminology reserved for the worst moments. These are times when the sadness in the eyes of my sister is almost palpable. These are hours that have meaning but no good purpose.

I turn to walk out of the apartment. My gaze fixes on the dining room table and the paper that sits there. The large letters on the top of the form advise, in no uncertain terms, of the instructions for those emergency care people who enter.

"Sticks and stones...". It is a lie.