Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Mean Governor

A guest post from Richie.

My mean governor, Chris Christie of NJ, is against expanding health coverage for poor people, against restoring the earned income tax credit for low wage workers, and he's clawing back affordable housing money from municipalities to patch state budget shortfalls.

And, as a 'fiscally conservative' Republican, his revenue projections were way too rosy, sending the state further into debt, and he's fighting with the Democratic state legislature to pass an across-the-board income tax break that would disproportionately go to the state's highest earners (despite him disingenuously repeatedly billing it only as a 'middle class' tax cut), even though the richest folks don't need it and the state can't afford it. (The Democrats responded with a property tax cut, paid for by an income tax increase on people making over $1 million). Let's not mention that Christie already killed a massively necessary public transportation project, backed mostly by federal and port authority funding, and his Ed Dept lost the state nearly half a billion in "Race to the Top" federal education funds due to in-fighting.

Shockingly, this all apparently makes him an ideal candidate for VP, and as Romney is just weeks away from picking his running mate, buzz still surrounds Christie. Not that the other options are much better. Or, for that matter, is Romney, who is staking his entire campaign on overturning 'Obamacare' (which he, quite literally, pioneered as 'Romneycare' in Massachusetts), and on his business acumen (which (a) is actually quite a different skill set than governing, not to get into a long lecture about microeconomics vs. macroeconomics; and (b) his career had almost nothing to do with job creation, despite his claims, and almost everything to do with wealth creation for his firm and select investors, and if we learned anything from 8 years of George W. Bush, it's that simply helping rich people get richer doesn't necessarily improve the economy or lead to job creation.)

But here's the narrative you'll certainly be hearing in the coming months: Chris Christie is AWESOME because he says what he's thinking and he's not afraid to get feisty with random constituents and teachers, or to lose terrible, awful federal funding for horrible, job-creating things like education and infrastructure. Because we all know that the real problem with America is that our teachers are super-duper wealthy. Or something like that. And Christie single-handedly restored New Jersey to greatness by, I don't know, going to a bunch of Bruce Springsteen concerts? See, not only is Christie AWESOME, he's also COOL! And that makes him an amazing governor, and qualified to be VP, president, or even ruler of the known universe.

Begging on Street Corners

My friends are hurting. While they are not on street corners begging for pennies, that appears almost an inevitable next step. I have heard from them daily over the last few months, asking me to give them something, anything. $3 seems to be what they have now settled on as the minimum they need to survive until tomorrow. Barney, Barack and Bob. The 3 Bs. What chance do they stand in this cruel world?

It is almost comical in a moment where the financial floodgates are wide open and the gush of money from the likes of Adelson and the Koch brothers comes pouring out in what seems like the hundreds of millions, that Frank, Obama and Menendez are still looking to me for assistance. It has the distinct feel of David, without any stones, against Goliath. $3. It sounds so pitifully tiny. One push of a financial button and a million little contributions are negated and emasculated by one of the cabal in Romney's corner.

I am told of all the evils that await on the first day of the Romney presidency. I get it, and so does everyone else who has paid even minimal attention to the shenanigans of the party that has made right the new center, and off the chart right the new wrong. I don't need to be reminded that if I think it is ugly out there now, I ain't seen nothing yet. I get it.

The sky really could fall, if my friends are left homeless this November. But $3. Is this really what stands between me and armageddon?  It seems so early 21st century, so 2008. It looks like the world before Citizens United. The democratic universe has to come up with a new theme song and quickly before they are inundated in a barrage of anti-Obama rhetoric which should come with warning labels, like everyone under 18 must be attended by a rational parent when listening to fiction masquerading as fact.

Even in a moment of unanticipated success, when Chief Justice Roberts inexplicably jumped ship for a nano-second and left his 4 brethren wondering why Obamacare remained upright, there were many ominous signs. Danger lurked even in the middle of triumph. You don't have to tell me what will happen if a Romney administration has a chance to move even one more Scalia look alike on the high court. I get it. But $3?

So my advice to the 3 Bs is to stop begging. You know the laws that are supposed to prevent us from getting all those annoying phone calls in the middle of dinner? You are kind of getting on my nerves, even though I admire and respect what you are trying to accomplish.

As the Republicans would say "man up". Tell me $3 is not enough, not nearly enough. Tell me to get off my couch, go to the window and shout, "I'm mad as hell at the thought of our country being destroyed in pieces by the uber conservatives and I'm not going to take it anymore. And please send $4." That should be more than sufficient to fend off the attack.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


 ("Captain America")

It could be called "Obama Fettered", as it is a tale of a presidency defined by the likes of Merkel, Scalia and Roberts. It is left for those outside the reach of this administration to determine its destiny.

In those brief moments when the shackles are loosened, we see a President who has taken out Bin Laden, taken on a Libyan tyrant and freed the innocent migrant youth at home from punishment for sins they did not commit. When left to chart his own course, this President has done some things very right.

But his legacy is most strongly tied in by, and tied up to, errors of omission and commission by his predecessor, filibustering, a conservative Supreme Court and a course championed by others of  mistaken, sometimes brutal austerity here and abroad.  Often he has seemed more witness than participant, given only the best seat in the house to watch the unfolding world events.

Thursday's anticipated ruling seems likely to further weigh down what appeared to be the signature accomplishment of this presidency, legislation that moved the health care system at least part of the way forward. And President Obama, with hands tied and feet bound, can only watch and wait. It is not what we, or he, had envisioned.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Favorite Teacher

Another tale about my alma mater has found its way to the front page of the New York Times ("Retired Teacher At Mann Recalls Sex With Pupils"). It is a story whose 15 minutes I thought was passing, but I misjudged its reach.

Tek Young Lin might have been my favorite teacher during my 6 years at this school. I was an indifferent student and remember little of the particulars in any of my classes. But there was a gentleness to this English teacher and an appreciation for the larger universe that permeated his conversation and his actions.

I was not alone among my family in being drawn to this small and soft spoken man. My father, both during my years at HM, and even thereafter, talked fondly of Mr. Lin and of the garden that he grew in the middle of our campus. There was a world outside the classroom, he seemed to be saying, equally important to understand and celebrate.

It is not entirely shocking to me that those who have been the subject of Mr. Lin's "crossing boundaries" appear less harsh in their recollections of him, and more reticent to damn him. It is impossible for me to conceive that the brutal and prolonged actions allegedly undertaken by Mr. Somary were similar in nature and scope to those of Mr. Lin. The haughtiness and arrogance of the former seemed no where evident in the man tending to his garden.

This is not intended to excuse the actions alleged to have occurred, and those to which he has now admitted. Mr. Lin did much more than cross boundaries. And for that, decency and morality demand remorse and recognition of the errors committed, notwithstanding that he is now 88 and long since living 3000 miles away from the school in the Bronx. For the actions he has taken, no time nor distance can make them less immediate, less present or less wrong.

But, I hope history does not judge Mr. Lin in the same light that has been cast upon the others in revealing the sordid underbelly of this previously invulnerable institution. As with all else in life, there are differences and distinctions. At least for me, this story is more personal and more nuanced. I guess, for many of us, it is this ambivalence, this uncertainty of how or what to feel, that pulls at us now, and will continue to do so as this much longer than 15 minute story continues to unfold.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The King and I (and Bruce)

This is a letter of apology to "Bruce", almost 47 years overdue.

My wife was rummaging through a massive cardboard box of memories earlier this week. With the Facebook mandate that every person attending a high school reunion locate and upload a photo of themselves as an irrepressibly cute child, she was undertaking this task when she happened upon it. Buried somewhere near the birthday card from my mother to my father in 1948, apologizing for not giving the birthday present he wanted (the birth of my sister, referred to as "him", who was born less than 2 weeks later) and exhorting my dad to "smoke heartily" (I can only imagine that cigarettes were the substitute gift) was a manila envelope containing 2 photographs. Accompanying these images was a typed and signed letter of September, 1965. It was from the original King (with all due respect to King James and his recent elevation), Arnold Palmer.

In the summer of '65, I had just turned 13. I was finishing up my eighth and final stay of 2 months at Camp Akiba. I began as a 6 year old, part of the Midgies division. From there, I moved on to the Bunks, then the Tunks and Sunks. I didn't stay long enough to make it to the final rung of the ladder, the Dunks.

My camp cubby was next to the bed I dutifully made each morning, being certain the hospital corners were nice and tight, so that my area would pass morning inspection. The cubby held not only all my clothing but also a stack of  post cards, pre-addressed to my parents. Several times each week we were required, before dinner, to advise our mothers and fathers of the unadulterated fun we were having. In the days before cell phones, computers, and omnipresent video, this was our only method of communication.

Letters home from those days were also located within the confines of the cardboard treasure chest my wife happened upon. One note advised that I now had a girlfriend. Joy Lutsky became the owner of a different sweater of mine each summer, as this girl from Passaic repeatedly accepted a material representation of at least the thought of "dating" me every July and August. But I am digressing.

Sometime during that summer, I must have taken it upon myself to forward a postcard to the King, as one of the hordes in Arnie's army. A few of my cards were not pre-addressed, in the very slim chance that I would voluntarily decide to write to someone other than my folks. I don't know what I said but I clearly wrote not only on my behalf, but for my friend Bruce. The problem is, try as I might, I have not one image or recollection of this person.There were only about 8 people living in each bunk, so it would be very hard not to have at least some moments of memorable interaction with every person housed within your quarters. And, I spent many summers with the same group as we moved in lock-step up the food chain of camper hierarchy.

Could this have been my version of "Harvey"? Was he an invention? Possibly he lived in another cabin, and we merely bonded in our mutual admiration of everything Arnie. While I am drawing nothing but blank space, I believe that he did exist, and somewhere in the recesses of what remains of my mind, I am convinced that this must be so. There is no other rational explanation.

Mr. Palmer's letter thanked me for contacting him and expressed appreciation for his legion of followers. He spoke of enclosing photos, signed by him, acknowledged to each of its intended recipients. The King asked only that I make sure that the photo earmarked for Bruce find its rightful owner.

Almost a half century later, even with the technological advances that have brought long forgotten friends back in contact with one another, there are limits to what we can accomplish. My self appointed task is to leave no stone unturned in determining the whereabouts of the boy with one name.

I have an obligation to live up to the mandate the King issued to me when he was in his prime and I still in my infancy. Some things, no matter, the time and distance, are too important to cast aside. And so, I hope to one day soon deliver the photograph, and my apologies, in person to my good friend, whoever he may be.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Misdirection of America

("Opinion on Health Care Law Reflects Ad Spending" and "Romney's Personal Touch Pays Off With Donors")

It is the misdirection of America: voices in opposition to health care reform by those who would most benefit from its provisions, and significant contributions to the Republican coffers from auto dealerships who may well owe their continued existence to the actions of President Obama, contrary to Mitt Romney's stated objection.

It is a moment in which reality has lost its relevance.

In what feels like a matter of seconds after Romney was buffeted by criticism from would be presidential candidates in his party, the money is flowing in, and the president, as has too often been the case over the course of this administration, is searching for ways to try to capture the hearts and minds of the public.

Maybe this is but the honeymoon period for Romney, having cast aside his primary opposition and now basking in the unfettered spotlight. But it looks very ugly all around. I keep waiting for something, anything to bring this country back into focus. However, the unassailable truth of the moment is that those with big money, seduced by Ann's cookies and an accessible candidate, promote their own self interest, while simultaneously convincing many, with little, to support a candidate who would do nothing to protect and provide for them. When this financial spectrum coalesces on both ends, I fear greatly where we are headed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another K for the Rocket

("Clemens is Found Not Guilty of Lies in Denying Doping")

To paraphrase Yogi, I am 90% certain he is not innocent, even if I am 100% certain he was found not guilty. There can be a chasm between verdict and reality, which is filled with everything from prosecutorial ineptitude, to witnesses who carry far too heavy baggage, or juror belief that the penalty requested does not fit the crime committed. Reasonable doubt can take many forms and, as we have seen in the most famous of recent criminal trials, another former sports icon walked away from a murder many now believe he committed.

This is one more victory for the Rocket as another strikeout victim heads back to the bench.  Was it hubris, the ultimate belief that he was stronger than even the Federal government, that drove him to fight the charges? Was it his quest to assure his legacy and his place in the Hall of Fame? Or was he actually set up by a former disgruntled employee, a victim of Congressional headhunting and the frenzy to eradicate steroids from the game no matter the cost to the individual defendant?

Andy Pettite, certain of his recollections in earlier comments, on the stand announced he was 50% sure he might have "misremembered" his best friend's admission of guilt. And maybe, like him, I am misremembering all the damning evidence that came to light and Clemens' unseemly allegation blaming his wife as being the actual steroid abuser in his family. But I think not.

 At least for me, innocent and not guilty still remain way more than 60 feet 6 inches apart.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Parallel Planes

Two months ago I turned 60 years of age. I have found it to be unsettling and uncomfortable, and for this I have blamed my father.

My dad did not live to see his 62nd birthday. The days after he turned 60 were difficult ones, filled with hospital visits, physical deterioration and a grim reality that he was facing an obstacle that could not be overcome.

I have equated my sudden issue with days survived on earth with my dad's struggles. Like some wall that has to be scaled, I have to reach a birthday beyond his last, and then this feeling that grips me will disappear. But I don't think that it is fear of an early death that is the catalyst. Rather it is the troubling thought of losing, in very short order, the common life experiences shared by father and son.

For while my dad has been gone for over 3 decades, I have always been able to draw on images, photographic and internal, of him in parallel life plane to me. By my 62nd birthday, that will end, and an enormous void will be left. What will fill it?

Where do memories come from when there is nothing to remember? How does my dad continue with me on a journey that for him never happened?

I am a numbers person. I find figures as something with meaning and depth far beyond their original intent. My marriage is now of longer duration than that of my parents. I have already moved into certain uncharted territory and I am concerned that future days will only serve to accelerate the distance between my father's life and mine.

I find it surreal that my emotional connection to my dad remains so strong after all these years of separation. I expected that life's natural pulls would have taken me further and further away from him. But that has not occurred.

And so, on this Father's Day, I worry about a path never taken. My hope  is that 2 years from now, on Father's Day, I will still find my father waiting for me, ready to incorporate my continuing adventure as his own .No longer parallel planes, but one. A forged universe, not further apart, but together.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Statue of the Lady


("Obama to Permit Young Migrants to Remain in US")

The announcement took the first steps to correct a grievous injustice. We have for far too long failed in our duty to be a land embracing the "tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

It is only an ugly, narrow minded perspective that would find that those children and young adults, whose sin was being born to the "wrong" parents, are not welcome in our midst. Republicans, as always, found error in the President's unilateral action. Nothing to protect the most vulnerable ever gains the support of those on the right.

There is skepticism that this is but an election year ploy, and the President's undistinguished record on immigration gives some credence to that concern. Hopefully, his retort to a reporter's inquiry that "this is the right thing to do for the American people" will serve as a clarion call to reevaluate an overall policy of exclusion and deportation that cannot succeed. More importantly, it should not succeed for it is antithetical to our foundational obligation to be a moral, just and inclusive society.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Washington Nationals and the Presidential Election

In their first incarnation in 1901, the Washington Nationals/Senators were a lousy team. From their inception, for over a decade the losses outweighed the victories. It was not until 1912 that the capital of the nation was home to a winning team. And, coincidentally or not, it was in that year that Woodrow Wilson became the first Democrat to sit in the oval office in the 20th century.

There has always been a fascination with finding harbingers in events seemingly unconnected to the presidential political process. Chief among the sports connections, at least in the province of the nation's capital,  might be the so called "Redskins rule". This found a direct link, at least from 1936 until 2004, in the outcome of the last Washington Redskin home game and the decision of the nation on the President. If the last game was in the win column, so the theory went, the incumbent would remain in power. On November 4 of this year, the Carolina Panthers will appear in Washington to pre-determine that Tuesday's election.

I would suggest that one consider adding the Washington baseball franchise to the discussion. The Washington Nationals were reborn in 2005 and have suffered, much as their predecessors did, through a succession of early failures. In 2012, one hundred years after the first winning season in the history of the franchise, there is another Presidential election, and another baseball team on the rise. The Nationals are in first place and seem poised to bring success to a franchise that has tasted defeat far too often.

If history is meant to repeat itself, and all of us believe somewhere in the recesses of our minds that everything inevitably does, then what does this mean for the first Tuesday in November?  After all, we have already had a Democrat elected to the highest post in the land in the 21st century. Will the first winning record since the rebirth mean a repeat of the success for the party of Wilson exactly one century later? Or does the initial glory for the team, mean that the Republican party will likewise rise to glory again? I would ask Nate Silver to shed light on this conundrum.

I am wearied by political pundits and prognostications based on unrelenting polling data. I want certainty and clarity and I believe that the connection between the 1912 team and the 2012 team provides the answer. If only I could find it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not a Drop to Drink

("An Election Half Empty")

I would modify Mr. Bruni's terminology from hopelessness to helplessness, and from reference of morning in America to mourning in America. There is a depression, not a decline that is setting in, and it is an emotional as much as economic one.

Congress is in lockdown mode and will be so for the foreseeable future. Europe and beyond are in a crisis in which the other shoe may drop squarely on our head. Our country, our world, is ugly and getting uglier by the minute.

In this environment it will be next to impossible to generate any enthusiasm for the coming election. Obama cannot point to an amorphous brighter day as he could what seems a lifetime ago, but must now rely on defending and delineating efforts that have failed to elevate us, no matter where the fault may lie. Romney would seek as a solution to resurrect, with minor revision, those policies that brought us such calamity.

On most days now, it is hard to even find the glass is half empty. In the middle of a depression, there is, it seems, not a drop to drink.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Terrible Secrets

 ("The Horace Mann School's Secret History of Sexual Abuse")

We stepped into a universe that, for many, could be overwhelming and intimidating. We entered in seventh grade, "lone and helpless wanderers on a dark and stormy sea." Horace Mann was an institution in which we placed our trust to mold us physically, emotionally and intellectually.  We were supposed to emerge, six years later, prepared to overcome all the hurdles that life would inevitably place in our path.

I walked into Horace Mann 48 years ago, in tie and jacket, one of a class of about 100 boys. Shepherding us on our journey were a group of male teachers, not motivated by economic greed, so we believed, but by the pure joy of being able to mold a collection of bright, curious and eager young minds.. For at least one of these teachers, there was apparently a very different stimulus.

I remember Mr. Somary being eccentric, but that was not out of the ordinary in this environment. Some teachers were contemplative and almost brooding. One tried to show us the joy in flowers and to literally stop and smell the roses. In retrospect, were there reasons to question the path into which we were being drawn? At least for me, there was never any hint of danger in this eclectic gathering.

Did the school miss the obvious signs? Mr. Somary apparently began his journey into darkness almost half a century ago. Was this a 50 year cover up, meant to preserve the reputation of an institution at the expense of those who were vulnerable and exposed? Was this the academic equivalent of the Catholic church?

The article certainly points us in that direction. And there may be some very real truth in this indictment. I have heard the stories of suicide. I have listened to some who have railed against the school, its pressures and maybe something else much deeper that only they knew about. I await the tales that will inevitably now come tumbling out in waves.

I am disheartened if any of those around me were suffering a private hell that robbed them of everything that this school was supposed to provide. I am disappointed and disillusioned to think that there may have been a cover up of abuses that were not supposed to touch any school, but most certainly not this one.  Horace Mann was to be "the beacon that would light the way to life and liberty".  For those who may have felt the uncomfortable hand of Mr. Somary when I was a student at Horace Mann, and whose lives were profoundly and forever shackled by this terrible and terrifying secret, I am deeply saddened.

Monday, June 4, 2012

They Shoot Horses

("In Hockey Enforcer's Descent, A Flood of Prescription Drugs")

The unadulterated truth is that professional athletes are interchangeable commodities. Whether it is the hockey goon, the middle linebacker, the Tour de France rider, or the racehorse on the track, the individual needs are sublimated to the owner's bottom line. These businesses are not there to coddle or protect, but to produce revenue.

If a global study of all National Hockey League teams were undertaken would any of us be surprised to see many replications of the Boogaard tale? Left to monitor and regulate its own abuses, which franchises will choose compassion over profits?

Unless the economic ramifications of turning a blind eye to these abuses outweighs the gain, no man, woman or horse is safe.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stagnation by Choice

("Slowdown in Economy Could Reshape Fight for Presidency")

Quick. What image comes to mind of Romney, Boehner and those on the wrong/right when the depressing employment numbers were announced yesterday? Go ahead, you can say it. Yes, a smile. No, more like a wide-mouthed, tooth exposing grin. Such is the state of disrepair in the political arena.

While our workforce screams for expansion, there was a diminution in the government employment roles of about 22,000 per month throughout 2011 and another 5,000 per month so far this year, according to the most recent report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the field of education employment by both the state and federal government fell over 3% last month.

This country, this presidency, this economic revitalization has been hamstrung by the inability to create the jobs that W. and Clinton were able to generate with the support of both parties. Looking back further, if the hiring policies of this administration had duplicated those enacted  under Ronald Reagan, then, it has been suggested that  1.3 million more people would now be in the workforce and unemployment would be at 7% or even less (Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 4, 2012).

There is, and has always been, a solution, or at the very least, a lifeline. But all we will hear from those on the wrong/right between now and November is that the government is the problem, not the answer. And the truth is that the government, judging by the grins you and I are now envisioning, is indeed the problem. It is a sad state when so much pain is intentionally inflicted, when economic stagnation is a reason for some among us to be happy. When stimulus is a four letter word to those who want to reclaim the office of the President, the recovery doesn't stand a chance.