Sunday, February 28, 2010

Frank Rich, David Barstow...And a Nutty World

As usual, the New York Times op/ed column by Frank Rich this morning (“The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged”) was easy reading. It was about the Republican Tea Party. And because Rich mentioned David Barstow’s “chilling” investigation of the Tea Party--Barstow’s NYT article (“Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right”) was printed in the NYT on February 16th—I downloaded the Barstow piece. It was not easy reading. Not because the writing is turgid...quite the opposite, the writing is clear and a very good read. But the subject matter is hard to get through. Although there are, of course, sane and thoughtful people who have allied themselves with the Tea Party because of frustration with the current lack of leadership and disorganization in the Republican Party. But a majority of the Tea Party constituents are (as Dorothy Rabinowitz noted in the Wall Street Journal) “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers and other cadres of the obsessed and deranged”. And that’s hard to read about. Barstow says, “the Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent”. But it’s also a lunatic fringe dump site where proponents of militias taking over Washington, DC meet with “No Government Whatsoever” nutcases and talk about the morality and beauty of dying for one’s country and say things like, “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show”, “you’re either with us or you’re the enemy”, and they chew over the possibility of fighting “another civil war”. And underneath all the rhetoric and bombast, under all the gun-totin’ bluster and ill-thought-out mechanics of getting rid of all government agencies is the very real racism that still exists in the United States. One faction of the Tea Party is a core of folks who despise Barack Obama just because he is black and who want to have done with all government because we now have a black president who has tainted our government forever. It’s not as though the Tea Party has co-opted the Republican Party and has an agenda for a plan to democratically change things. The Tea Party's point is that they have guns, they are pissed and they will use their arms to make their point if given half the chance. Recently, Louis Menand noted in an article in the “The New Yorker” magazine about mental illness and the trend of mental health professionals toward pathologizing depression, that being depressed is not a disease but a very sane response to a crazy world. The emergence of the Tea Party is major evidence of how crazy our world is.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Evan Bayh Tells Why

Frank Rich was off yesterday so I opted for reading Evan Bayh’s (D-IN), “Why I’m Leaving the Senate” in the New York Times Op/Ed page. It was not nearly as amusing and incisive as a Rich report, and I pretty much knew what he was going to say: Times have changed, the Senate has changed, the Senators have changed, nothing is good and trustworthy anymore, the Senate needs to be reformed, the Senators need to be reformed, there’s no honest dialogue anymore. And yeah, that’s what he said. One line actually made me laugh out loud: “In my final 11 months,” Bayh said, “I will advocate for the reforms that will help Congress function as it once did, so that our generation can do what Americans have always done: convey to our children, and our children’s children, an America that is stronger, more prosperous, more decent and more just.” Well Evan, that’s going to be tough, because thanks to the Bush administration, America is not stronger, more prosperous, more decent or more just. But after 12 years of service to your country, it’s understandable that you just want to get gone. And I am sincerely sorry to see you go. (Expect a major digression here.) While reading the Bayh-Why, I was reminded of another Why-I-Left article. The two writers have little in common except their need to put distance between themselves and a political party they held dear. Back in the middle 1950’s, I was working for a Mutual Funds outfit in New York run by Gabriel Gladstone. Oddly, there are quite a few Gabriel Gladstones in the world, but this one would be in his 80’s, if he’s still alive. I was the office secretary and sometime-Assistant Trader in the Over-the-Counter stocks department. The Assistant Trader part was a joke. The Trader was a young hotshot named Jerry Kohn. He took me down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange one time and I could not believe the shouting and yelling and shenanigans of the stock traders on the floor. Oh my! What fun! It was thrilling! But our little operation merely had a tiny room for the OTC trades which was equipped with six toggle switches connecting us with six big Wall Street firms. I can remember only one of them: Kidder, Peabody. Jerry was awesome, I watched him making trades and working the toggles like piano keys and I marveled. But Jerry couldn’t man the toggles all the time, so when he needed a break, I was elected to sit in the hot-seat. I didn’t know anything about buying and selling stocks, but I loved the drama. One time I bought when I should have sold. There were specific things you had to say to the big-guys down on Wall Street (or there were, I have no idea what it’s like now) depending on whether you were buying or selling. I got it turned around. Jerry came back from lunch just in time to save my sorry ass. We also had a few mutual funds salesmen who weren’t in the office much. One of them was a guy named Bernie—I was always relieved when he’d go out on sales calls because he was annoying. He was in his late twenties but acted like an eager, ingratiating nervous little shmo. He gave me agita. I think he and Gabe had known each other years before in Brooklyn. Gabe had the most wonderful speaking voice. He sounded like actor Malachi Throne or maybe José Ferrer. He could have made a living with his voice. Gabe was full of ideas. He had one idea I thought was grand. He decided we should start a monthly magazine about current affairs, mutual funds and OTC stocks. In memory, it seems the idea became fact in the blink of an eye. I remember Gabe talking about starting a magazine he wanted to call Prospectus and all of a sudden we had a dummy copy in our hands. Gabe wasn’t worried about what would go in the first issue because he was turning over the whole issue to an article by one man. The title of this mega-piece was, “Why I Left the Communist Party”, to be written by Howard Fast. This was a blockbuster. It was the first article by Fast appearing anywhere explaining his decision to leave the Communist Party. My memory is that Fast came up to the office a number of times and at least once was on a Saturday. I remember doing a lot of typing and listening to him talk. I think we did the article by him speaking into a Dictaphone and my transcribing it. I thought Fast was very impressive and a really nice guy. Impressive, he was. He had been an important member of the Communist Party. He had written novels and screenplays and he’d been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities gang. AND, he hadn’t named names—I loved him for that. So I typed this mega-piece—25,000 words—into existence. And the first issue came out with a cover screaming WHY I LEFT THE COMMUNIST PARTY by HOWARD FAST. And then the ceiling fell in. The SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) got wind of the magazine and they came in to investigate. It turned out Gabe had used over 50% of his capital for this magazine that had nothing to do with operating a mutual funds venture, which was a big no-no. We were shut down overnight. Sometime in the 1960’s Bernie came back into my life. Well, his name came back into my life. The first time I read gossip about Bernie Cornfeld, I plotzed. I had to sit down and take deep breaths. I knew Bernie had taken off for Paris sometime in 1955 and I was tickled to see him go. But, OMG! He had moved to Geneva, started a mutual funds company called Investors Overseas Services and he had gotten very rich. I began to see pictures of Bernie Cornfeld in magazines. Sure enough, it was my Bernie, a little older but my Bernie none-the-less. I had the feeling he was still annoying, ingratiating and a shmo, but when you’re rich, those things don’t matter as much. When IOS was flying high, it had over 25,000 salesmen. About Bernie Cornfeld, Wiki says: “Cornfeld owned a villa in Geneva, a 12th-century chateau in France, a house in Belgravia, London, and a mansion in Hollywood, as well as a permanent suite in a New York City hotel and his own fleet of private planes. He is quoted as saying, "I had mansions all over the world, I threw extravagant parties. And I lived with ten or twelve girls at a time." He had romances with Victoria Principal; Heidi Fleiss; Alana Hamilton (née Collins - a model and former spouse of George Hamilton who subsequently married Rod Stewart); and Princess Ira of Fürstenberg. “Cornfeld settled in Beverly Hills and moved in a circle of movie industry people. He lived in the Grayhall mansion, built in 1909 and at one time leased by Douglas Fairbanks. Known for his playboy lifestyle, Cornfeld numbered among his acquaintances Victor Lownes, Tony Curtis, and Hugh Hefner, at whose Playboy Mansion he visited and attended parties.” Who in the world would have thought!? By 1967 I was looking to find a new way to make a living. Working as a secretary at magazines like Interiors, Show and Holiday had lost its luster. I still had friends who were connected with Wall Street. One of them who worked at Kidder was amused to give me a WATs tie-line number (now, it would be an 800-number) that was a direct connection to Bernie Cornfeld in Geneva. I thought, what the hell, maybe he can help me get a stockbroker’s license. So one fine day in the beginning of June 1967 I dialed the number and within seconds I heard Bernie say, “Hello”. I said Hello back and identified myself. There was some crackling on the line, then Bernie said, “Hey! How you doin’? What’s up?“ I told him I was thinking of getting back in the Wall Street biz, so I was giving him a call. He said, “You know what? It’s really great to talk to you, but the phones are going nuts here, everything is going nuts here. A war just started in Israel.” Then we lost our connection. It was the first day of the Six Day War. That’s the last time I spoke to Bernie Cornfeld. He was an early version of our Bernie Madoff. In 1969 there were complaints that he’d pocketed funds from IOS and in 1973 he was charged with fraud. Wiki says, “Cornfeld returned to Beverly Hills, living less ostentatiously than in his previous years. He developed an obsession for health foods and vitamins, renounced red meat and seldom drank alcohol. In his last years he was a chairman of a land development firm in Arizona and also owned a real estate company in Los Angeles. He died in 1995.” Howard Fast lived to the age of 89 and died in 2003. I have no memory at all of why Howard Fast had left the Communist Party. And I’m not going to remember why Evan Bayh is quitting the Senate, I’ll only remember that their parties of choice had become onerous and weren’t fulfilling their dreams anymore. If Evan Bayh would be offended by being in the same sentence with Howard Fast, that’s unfortunate. I can only say I would rather be in the same room with Howard Fast than with anyone in the Tea Party or with Sarah Palin.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

All These Self-Serving Apologies, Do I Care?

Public figures screw around, then they call a news conference on TV and say, “I am soooo sorry!” Or sports figures use forbidden drugs, are caught and go on TV and say “It wasn’t illegal when I used it, but I’m sooooo sorry I did it!” For 13 minutes, the unparalleled golfer Tiger Woods publicly apologized on TV last night for the indiscretions that have ruined his life. Why do these folks apologize to us? Actually, I cannot get enough of the gossip! When famous, rich, and/or famously rich assholes are caught doing juicy things that either are illegal or immoral or just plain tacky it’s delicious. I will pretty much watch the debacle unfold before my eyes on TV and glory in it. But what’s with the public apologies? They haven’t done anything personal to me. Do they think I really care? I do not care. And what do these morons expect will happen after a public apology? They want their pre-fall-from-grace lifestyle back, which includes product endorsements, idolatrous love from supporters, perks such as the ability to run for higher political office than the one they currently enjoy, and sports figures want to play their game at their level of competence before the sky fell in. Will the public apology do the trick? Will these idiots get their former lives back? No. In an inverse ratio, as much fun as the public airing of the dirty laundry was, the apology is just as boring. So why do they do it? Because people living off the money generated by these apologees want their lives back too and they are giving their sullied clients profoundly bad advice. It’s not that I want to see Tiger Woods’ life go down the toilet because he couldn’t keep his pants zipped. It’s that I don’t care. Woods and all the other apologees were willingly complicit in marketing themselves as entertainment. And now they have broken the rule for entertainers: You can’t entertain if you are boring. Apologizing is boring. Tiger Woods has bored me to tears since the day after the car crash. The moment Senator John Edwards got caught sneaking a visit to his secret baby-mommy was wonderful entertainment. But then it all went downhill. Hearing details of an indiscretion is boring. I don’t care how or why an assignation is made. I only care about the moment the idiot is caught out. Apologies are boring. Don’t tell me you’re sorry. I don’t care. Just go out and hit home runs. Go out and make impossible putts. Go out and wow your constituents with your oratory. But do not bore me. And if your handlers and agents don’t believe they can sell your ass for endorsements, well gee! That’s tough! But I don’t care. If you can no longer entertain me in the way you used to entertain me, then make room for the next guy. The point is, I don’t care about your personal life. I only care about being entertained. And after the reality show of your public disgrace is over, I don’t care about how or whether you can cope. I don’t care about how or whether you are being rehabilitated. I don’t care about how or whether you have ruined your life. Entertain me or don't. BUT DO NOT BORE ME!!!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

So Sick of the God-Whiners

Why is God doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this? If there is a God, how can he make innocent people suffer? Whimper...moan. Listen up! All the suffering in the world is caused either by random acts of nature and/or mankind’s stupid and cruel tendencies. And now that we’ve gotten so smart about being able to influence nature, many of nature’s random acts of destruction are aided and abetted by mankind’s malfeasance. Who released radiation into the atmosphere without knowing what the effects would be? It surely was not God. Who keeps testing nuclear weapons even though we know it causes cancer and creates havoc with our auto-immune system? Not God. Who has been using virus- and germ-killers willy-nilly without realizing that by killing one virulent strain of disease another will take its place? Most assuredly it was not God. Who lets every idiot who has mayhem in his heart have a weapon that is capable of destroying hundreds of people? Not God. Who lets the pharmaceutical firms peddle killer-drugs like candy? Not God. When a child is maimed or killed by a drunk driver it is the act of a human being at the height of his or her wantonness and ignorance, not God. If it makes you feel better to blame God for your suffering, or if it’s nice to think He has singled you out for special favors, go ahead...the positive force in our lives that is God doesn’t really care. But the one thing you can be assured God won’t do is reach into your life and personally manipulate it like a puppet on a string. Because the way you handle your life and its demands is your job, not God’s. The other irritatingly silly thing to listen to is nonsense about the devil. The devil didn’t make anyone do anything, ever. The devil is a convenient construct to explain mankind’s tendency to be callow, mean and malicious. But our own nastiness has sufficed since the beginning of time to create mischief and malevolence. We never have needed the machinations of an überbastard to inflict pain. And here’s one more nauseating and absurd question from the God-whiners: Why doesn’t God stop all the horror and pain on earth? The answer is: We have the God-given human-kindness, compassion and smarts to end much of the suffering on our planet. It’s our job, not God’s. If we don’t want our world anymore, it’s not God’s job to save it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Frank Rich Is Right and He’s Wrong

Frank Rich was right on January 31 when he said we must never forget (and consequently, we must ever remind) that the Bush administration caused all the problems the United States and the world is battling now and for decades to come. Therefore, I will constantly remind, like right now: DO NOT FORGET, the Repubs caused every problem President Barack Obama is having to deal with. And additionally, the Repubs have no right whatsoever to blame anything on Obama. And they have no right to complain about one single thing...the Republican Party caused ALL of our problems. That done, I must point out that today Frank Rich is ignoring a conspicuous element of the Sarah Palin phenomena in his New York Times op/ed piece--"Palin's Cunning Sleight of Hand". Rich said, “Liberals had a blast mocking Sarah Palin last weekend when she was caught addressing the Tea Party Convention with a cheat sheet scrawled on her hand. Even the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, couldn’t resist getting into the act and treated a White House briefing to a Palin hand gag of his own. “Yet the laughter rang hollow. You had to wonder if Palin, who is nothing if not cunning, had sprung a trap. She knows all too well that the more the so-called elites lampoon her, the more she cements her cred with the third of the country that is her base. Her hand hieroglyphics may not have been speaking aids but bait.” That is no doubt true. I’m not persuaded that Palin could have come up with the idea, but she surely is canny enough to have latched onto the ploy once it was presented to her. Rich went on to say, “The Palin shtick has now become the Republican catechism, parroted by every party leader in Washington... Incredibly enough, this message is gaining traction...The GOP populism is all bunk, of course. Republicans in office now, as well as Palin during her furtive public service in Alaska, have feasted on federal pork, catered to special interests, and pursued policies indifferent to recession-battered Americans. And yet they’re getting away with their populist masquerade.” Rich seems to think that Palin, with the backing of the Republican Tea Party, is a force to be reckoned with, even though she and the Tea Party have no substance. Rich quoted David Broder to back up his fear: ”The Dean of the Beltway press corps, the columnist David Broder, cited Palin’s “pitch-perfect populism” in hailing her as “a public figure at the top of her game” in Thursday’s Washington Post.” Calm down guys. Take a deep breath. Rich noted that in her question-and-answer session last weekend, Palin’s “only concrete program for dealing with America’s pressing problems” was to say, “It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again.” Oddly, that may be exactly what has happened--a divine intervention. Rich and many other politicians, writers and commentators have apparently forgotten that Sarah Palin--the populist paragon the Republicans are placing stage-center as the embodiment of all things GOP, past and present--is incapable of hewing to any ideology except her own self-interest. If God has picked Sarah Palin to lead the Republican party, as she herself has declared, then God has chosen someone who will inevitably betray her minders, her writers, her party and her supporters because it is her nature to do so. Sarah Palin is this era’s “Face in the Crowd”. She is our Arthur Godfrey. She is Joe McCarthy and OJ Simpson. Sarah Palin is fatally flawed and she is powerless against these flaws. She must break faith and desert, she must foul her nest, she must implode and destroy everything in her path. It's her nature.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parsing Mary Matalin

Describing the form, part of speech and function of the word matalin. Matalin is the feminine form of the noun gasbag. However, matalin can be verbized, as in: matalined. As a verb, matalined is used in much the same way as scorned, derided, or disrespected. The function of the noun matalin is as the subject of a sentence: “A prominent Bush administration matalin was on CNN last night pooh-poohing global warming.” The function of the verbized form of matalin is to express the action in a sentence: “Mary Matilan matalined the entire idea of global warming last night on CNN, as is her wont.” However, to parse is not necessarily to understand. And I will never understand Mary Matalin. As a Republican strategist, as a colleague of Karl Rove’s and member of the ultra-conservative war-mongering WHIG (White House Iraq Group) which lied the Iraq War into being, as the editor of the Swift Boat Veterans book that maligned John Kerry, and as the far-right virulently-biased political contributor on CNN who toes the Cheney partyline, I will never understand Mary Matalin. How did she get to be the mendacious Bush administration-apologist gasbag that she is? I can only imagine she was infected with a toxic Lee Atwater virus in 1987 and never recovered.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Palin Faction Charmed By Hubris and Ignorance

Granted, seeing a rube outsmart city slickers can be satisfying. But how long will it be before Sarah Palin publicly turns on her newfound Tea Party supporters to show she’s slyer and more canny than they are. Perhaps Palin thought she’d be seen as cute and naive when, inevitably, the cameras would show she had used her left hand as a crib sheet during her speech at the Tea Party Convention last Saturday night. And sure enough, we’re being treated to pics and videos of Palin glancing down at her left hand where she had scrawled the words “energy”, “tax cuts” and “lift American spirits”. We’ll never know if Palin thought this ploy through and decided to use it as a gimmick to enhance the ”lovable hick” character she likes to portray; or was she so arrogant as to think no one would notice because she was playing her “dazzling personality” role? In the end, it really doesn’t matter, because today she’s put on her “gutsy Sarah against the mean media” face and she says she will fight them by mocking them. There are things we know about Sarah Palin by observing her. She will never become thoroughly knowledgeable about the economy and foreign policy because she can’t. She cannot study and bone up in any real way, just as George W. Bush was incapable of deep thought, study or analysis. And just as GWB knew he wouldn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting involved in being president because others would do it for him, so Sarah Palin assumes she will get by on her looks, quick-study-and-forget-it performances and that the wonks will forcefeed whatever information she needs. Sarah Palin is sure in her bones that all the really powerful people in Washington, DC are also faking it. What would be the point of studying and learning and keeping all that info in your head if you didn’t have to? That would be absurd. To paraphrase a line in “A Thousand Clowns”: Sarah Palin’s superficiality runs deep. Fortunately, time is on the side of the folks who view the possibility of a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy as a monumental disaster. In time, Sarah Palin betrays everyone--husband, family, friends, political allies, running mates, voters, minders. It's a character flaw and she's powerless in its thrall. It's her nature. Who among her supporters today will be in her camp in six months? A year? My guess--few, if any.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Palin Says She May Run for Prez in 2012

Saturday night, just before giving the keynote speech at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, TN, Sarah Palin told Chris Wallace on Fox News regarding her run for president in 2012, “If I believe that that is the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin would be absurd to not consider what it is that I can potentially do to help our country...I won’t close the door that perhaps could be open for me in the future.” Here’s what is bad about that idea. It’s not so much that Palin is ignorant. It’s not so much that Palin has never for one minute thought about what’s good for the country and always puts her desires of the moment first and foremost, it’s not so much that Palin is self-absorbed and childish, it’s not so much that Palin can’t run her own life intelligently, let alone run the most powerful country in the world. Although all of above is important, what is bad about the Tea Party giving Sarah Palin any credence whatsoever is that she is a willing tool. The United States has already been through eight years of having another ignorant, narcissistic, immature, ego-driven willing tool as President in the person of George W. Bush. And the biggest problem with his presidency was not his personality quirks; it was that he was an ignorant know-nothing loser wanna-be and he had to be advised and controlled by a cadre of advisers who drove the USA into bankruptcy, wrongly pushed the country into an unnecessary war, and gave extraordinary powers to themselves. It is astonishing that yet another group of Republicans is courting yet another, attractive, intelligence-challenged, arrogant, vain, puppet who will read prepared speeches and do as the advisers say or else. Else? Else be put on medications that will ensure compliance. One can only wonder WHY? Are there no knowledgeable, intelligent, thoughtful, trustworthy, reliable, steady, honest persons in the Republican Party? What’s with the attraction to uninformed, grandiose, borderline sociopaths like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin?

Monday, February 01, 2010

More Blackwater Crimes and Misdemeanors

First, let it be said that yesterday Frank Rich wrote in his Sunday Op/Ed piece that it is ridiculous for President Obama to adhere to, and I quote, “the Beltway’s unquestioned cliché that one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind...who dreamed up that canard?” Amen! Who did dream that up? And for sure...I will NEVER stop blaming the George W. Bush administration for the mess the whole world is in and will be in for years and years to come. One of those messes is the unnecessary BushWar in Iraq and all of its fallout, one example of which is the disaster caused by the US Department of Defense’s use of Blackwater mercenaries. The New York Times reported this morning: “The Justice Department is investigating whether officials of Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi government officials in hopes of retaining the firm’s security work in Iraq after a deadly shooting episode in 2007, according to current and former government officials.” The NYT’s “so-what” paragraph (which is the retelling of what we already know for the benefit of morons who don’t read the news) reported that, “A federal judge in December dismissed criminal charges against five former Blackwater guards implicated in the episode, but Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently announced that the Obama administration would appeal that decision.” Regarding the latest inquiry into Blackwater shenanigans, the Justice Department has obtained two documents from the State Department regarding alleged Blackwater bribes. Document One is a handwritten note in which a Blackwater representative tells a senior official at the American Embassy that Blackwater had hired an Iraqi lawyer to make “compensation payments” to the 2007 shooting victims. The other document is an email response from a senior Embassy official warning Blackwater not to bribe the Iraqi government. The Iraqi lawyer in question is Jaafar al-Mousawi, who was the chief prosecutor in the trial of Saddam Hussein. According to the NYT, Mousawi said that in February 2008 he had worked with top Blackwater officials to spend up to $1 million to compensate the Nisour Square victim’s families and that he had consulted with Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki about the payments. The NYT also said: “According to the document, as described by the two government officials, the Blackwater official said the firm had hired the lawyer hoping that the lawyer’s close ties to top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, would help Blackwater obtain a license to continue operating in Iraq." Oh yes, indeedy! Yummy stuff! And may Blackwater (now known as Xe Services) and its religious zealot founder Erik Prince and his far-right religious nut pal, James Dobson, who was a spiritual mentor to George W. Bush, all rot in hell!