Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Joe "The Plumber" McCarthy Tour

So it's come to this. Desperate and panicked, the former Bush operatives now surrounding Sarah Palin have sent her out to stoke the mob by quoting Karl Marx. Initially, Palin thought Karl was the fifth Marx Brother after Zeppo, but she can see remnants of Marxism from her official state sponsored trips to the Bering Strait with the "First Dude," so she seemed a natural at calling Obama a Communist. Nodding agreement was added to her quoting of the Communist Manifesto by the gravitas of her chief surrogate of the day, Hank Williams, Jr., who was standing next to her in cowboy hat and customary shades. I always take sociological advice from a country singer who once sang he was, "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound."

Just like the other day, when Palin appeared with the vapid Elizabeth Hasslebeck. Who better to introduce a candidate who acts like a game show host than a "celebrity" who's claim to fame was being a game show contestant? But Hasslebeck should spare her lectures on Dialectic Materialism for The View, where she can be debated by a real authority, Whoopie Goldberg. Should McCain/Palin lose the election, I'd like to pitch the networks a reality show where Hasselbeck, Palin, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Laura Ingraham can sit around a table and excoriate those abortion loving, liberal, women feminists types. We'll call it "Mean Girls." Better yet, allow the gun worshippers and abortion zealots to follow Sarah, Todd, Trigg, Track, Piper, Willow, Levi, Bristol and the baby back to Alaska to wait for the Rapture. There's tons of room and some oil too, whose revenues Palin "redistributes" among her constituents. The Mormons have a state; the Jews have a state; The Catholics have a whole country; let's give Seward's Folly to the right-wing Christians and survivalists, and call it Evangelaska.

Palin's red-baiting and accusations of un-Americanism bring back chilling memories of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, who went on a Communist "Witch Hunt" in the fifties that ruined people's lives, reputations, and livelihoods. For young people who don't remember, McCarthy was a bellicose, hawkish, former pilot, super-patriot who, along with his overtly Jewish sidekick Roy Cohn, slandered all those he considered sympathetic to the country's enemies. Sort of like John McCain and Joe Lieberman today, minus the charm. But since the military was one of McCarthy's targets, John McCain should have known better than to unleash this lowest and most dangerous of attacks. Sarah Palin, having no knowledge of history, has no problems slinging around venom like this, but McCain is old enough to know that there are still people alive today, especially in the creative arts, who suffered irreparably from the unspoken "Blacklists" that resulted from McCarthy's inquisitions. It worked for old Joe awhile, but McCarthy's name is forever associated with disgrace and zealotry. This is dangerous stuff for a V.P. candidate who believes that she's the future of the Republican Party to be spouting.

Speaking of Joe, I still can't understand how McCain's entire economic plan is encapsulated in "Joe the Plumber." In fact, if he refers to "JTP" one more time, I'm going to need a plumber. It was bad enough until JTP started showing up at Palin rallies and offering opinions on everything from Socialism to how a vote for Obama assures the "Death of Israel." And to cap it off, country singer Aaron Tippen has signed JTP to a management contract for a future album project. I guess I didn't make it big as a country songwriter because I was too honest. I stood in a room full of Nashville writers who were in my same publishing stable and expressed the opinion that, "Country Music is a celebration of poverty and ignorance." At least that's what Nashville turns out, so Joe The Plumber will not only fit right in, he'll be treated like visiting royalty. There's already a Larry the Cable Guy, so why not?

McCain chose Palin in a fit of pique when the Bush/Rove boys that manage his campaign, refused to let him pick Joe Lieberman. McCain, himself, won the nomination by default, because no one could appease the beast. First, Rudy was a shoo-in until he refused to campaign and began accepting calls from his wife in the middle of important speeches. Then it was Mitt Romney until his magic underwear failed him. Huckabee was too Huckleberry and he didn't believe in evolution, and Fred Thompson was so bloated and gaseous it made you wonder how his trophy wife endured the excessive belching. It was McCain by elimination, and Palin in order to throw the lions to the Christians. That's why at McCain/Palin rallies, you hear a lot of boos, while they are cheering at Obama/Biden events. The Democrats present initiatives and plans, the GOP offers invective and poison.

I am not sorry watching the patchwork Republican majority of free-marketeers, right wing Evangelicals, rich people who hate capital gains and inheritance taxes, anti-abortionists, and xenophobes that has existed for 30 years begin to implode. But it's not enough to merely defeat a party. The philosophy of Gingrich and DeLay, Dobson and Robertson, Limbaugh and Hannity, and Cheney and Bush must be crushed absolutely with a wooden stake driven through it's cold, shrivelled heart. I watched the Democratic Party completely unravel over an unpopular war and ominously repressed societal problems. An Obama victory is not guaranteed, but should the Democrats win, the ultimate irony is that the President-elect will address the nation from Chicago, where exactly 40 years ago, blood ran in the streets and the old Democratic cooalition was trampled and scattered after the brutality and chaos of the 1968 Convention. The mayor then, as now, was named Richard J. Daley. Only this time the candidate is Barack Obama, and he has a clarion call to unity.

"Power concedes nothing without a fight" Barack Obama 10/29/08

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Appeal To Youth

While speaking in Florida a while back, John McCain said, "I'm sorry to tell you, my friends, but there will be other wars." Who's supposed to fight in these wars that McCain speaks of? Not our current military, stretched to the limit. Not me, or my entire generation. We're still busy fighting over the Vietnam War and the domestic cultural shifts that arose because of that bloody conflict. We've been doing that for forty years now, partly because of the disrespect directed toward the military, including the soldiers, who were sacrificed by the "Greatest Generation" for dubious causes, and also the fight over "patriotism," when you find your country is engaged in a murderous and immoral conflict. The American participation in that war ended in 1973, but not before 58,000 men, average age 19, perished. The terrible psychic costs of Vietnam were never resolved at home. We decided it was better not to talk about such unpleasantness and went on a decade long Disco and cocaine bender instead.

I once swore that when I grew older, I would never say "When I was your age," to a young person. When those old geezers were my age, they were still listening to Jack Benny and FDR's Fireside Chats on the radio. How could they possibly relate to my life in the modern era? Having said that, "When I was your age..." we were at war, with a despised president who put us there, when an attractive candidate emerged who was adored by the young. He was a champion of the destitute and the downtrodden. Bobby Kennedy promised to end the war and bring our soldiers home in order to concentrate on the growing domestic unrest exploding in every major city. The similarities between 1968 and 2008 are striking with two exceptions: the draft was feeding my peers who weren't able to take refuge in college into a meat-grinder, and the voting age was 21. Despite being only 20, I had been drafted because of a university's computer glitch, and was emotionally invested in Kennedy's election. You can imagine how crushed we were when Robert Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles, the first act of Palestinian terror on American soil.

Deeply dispirited, my generation chose to withdraw from politics, insuring the election of Richard Nixon, five more years of war and 20,000 more American soldiers dead, plus the beginnings of the nasty, partisan political world that we inhabit today. There are a lot of "what ifs" in this life. Young people voting in large numbers then could have literally saved lives, and my generation, who once believed we were going to transform the world in the cause for good, blew it...big time. Nixon's bag of "dirty tricks" soon turned people cynical about their government and the tactics of "wedge politics;" topics meant to divide people, were used for the first time; and they worked. The Rovian position of "political strategist" has become the politician's preeminent advisor and we have been divided ever since. You can change that now if you remember two things: Assume nothing, this race is far from over; and do not discount the importance of your actions. Go to the polls as if your single vote were going to determine the outcome, and bring a friend with you.

You've seen the best and the worst of my generation. We had a brilliant policy thinker and communicator who couldn't keep his pecker in his pants, and a moral absolutist and former drunk who took this country to war because his Nixon-worshipping neocons convinced him that it was the Lord's will. To paraphrase JFK, it's time to pass the damn torch already. We have lived too long with prejudices that the young never had to experience, and it clouds our thinking. Can you imagine that I never sat in a classroom with a non-white person until college? Once again, we desperately need to alter our nation's course, but still I wonder if the young are aware of the potential political clout that rests within them. Being disqualified from voting in 1968, when my ass was personally on the line, changed me. I am one of the laziest men walking, (it took 28 years to complete my Bachelor's Degree), but I have never missed the chance to vote in a single election since. Now, it's your future that's at stake.

It's this simple. If young people come out in numbers and vote, Obama will win. If they don't, he won't. And history is not on your side. Young people might have saved us from a second Bush term, but registering on campus is not the same as going to the voting booth and pulling that curtain shut. In every election since Nixon, young voters have disappointed those candidates who depended on them. Just ask Al Gore. Early voting seems to be the way to go, but first-time voters might enjoy the chaos of election day. If you don't know, you must call or Google your city or state's Election Commission to find out your polling place. Don't wear your campaign gear or some zealot will make you turn your T-shirt inside out, and bring an ID and prepare to do battle with those who would challenge your rights. You have the power to decide this election, and if we do it right this time, you also have the ability to redeem a lot of forgotten or discarded dreams. If I could, I would come and beg each of you individually, please vote.

If you don't receive this message, it's because your parents wouldn't send it to you.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The McCain Mutiny

I haven't seen rats desert a sinking ship this fast since we sank the Bismark. Kathleen Parker was first to say the V.P. nominee had no mental clothing, followed by George Will, Charles Krauthhammer, Christopher Buckley, David Brooks, and finally Peggy "1000 Points of Light" Noonan. In other words, the "Intellectual" Conservatives that the red state voters so disdain, have thrown in the towel on the McCain/Palin ticket. So who's left? The Evangelicals who believe that Jesus is a Republican and Palin would just make a nifty president; the fat cats who not only will get fatter in a GOP administration, but will escape further investigation for their nefarious deeds; followers of particular "isms," from Protectionism to Zionism; and pocketbook voters who can't stand the thought of their taxes supplementing anyone's food stamps. And I am so weary of listening to rich people whine about Capital Gains Taxes. A capital gain is free money that your existing money earned for you while you weren't looking. Another of my father's sayings: "This is a great country, but the dues are expensive." Why not just be grateful for any capital gains and pay the fucking tax?

In the final Presidential debate Wednesday, I fully expected McCain to begin rolling steel marbles in his palm, turn to Obama, and say, "Ahh, but it was the strawberries!" Nothing has worked for him. Not Bill Ayers, or "Lipstick on a Pig," or suspending his campaign to fix the economy, or his latest manufactured outrage about Rep. John Lewis. And certainly not the selection of Sarah Palin, who has proven to be Bush in Spanks: just as dumb but twice the ambition. From simply a visual point of view, McCain's pallor made me question the wisdom of High Def TV. At times he alternated from appearing like Casper, the unfriendly ghost (or was that Spooky?), to becoming so red-faced, it looked like his head was going to explode. No wonder they prop Cindy up there at every, single speech. She would have sat at the table with John on Wednesday, but she has already become the Yoko Ono of the campaign.

Senator McCain has made the classic Hillary Clinton mistake in his run for the presidency. He altered who he really was and accepted a persona created by Karl Rove and his hapless, outdated advisers in the belief that the old politics would get him elected. Even his colleagues said they don't recognize the current John McCain, and that's a shame for those who have followed his political career. If you were able to see McCain's comments at the Al Smith Dinner in New York last night, after the hilarious jokes, the Senator paid a genuine and heartfelt tribute to the achievements of his opponent, ending with "I can't wish you good luck, but I do wish you well." This is the honorable John McCain that I remember working with Sen. Feingold for campaign finance reform, or saying that this country does not torture for the reciprocal safety of our own soldiers. It's sad to see him end his career like Bob Dole, wandering around muttering "Where's the outrage?"

I give credit to Sen. McCain for not shoveling through the Rev. Wright muck again, but the constant references to "Joe, the not-quite Plumber," more than created an alternate living, breathing straw man upon which to base a bogus argument. McCain may have been aiming for the "Joe Six-Pack" vote, but he lost every former Hillary supporter when he mocked a "woman's health" in air-quotes as a potential reason to have an abortion. Personally, I believe that life begins when the doctor slaps your ass, but what I, or anyone else thinks is irrelevant to the woman facing that decision. It's not the government's business either. But Obama is the first Democrat yet I have heard say that "Nobody is pro-abortion," and tackle the issue. McCain also doesn't understand that his $5000 tax credit to buy health insurance does no good when HMOs disqualify anyone with pre-existing conditions. There are thousands just like me who can't purchase health insurance at any cost. For the past several weeks, McCain has been asking crowds at his rallies, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" The shame of this election campaign is that we never got to see the real John McCain, until it was too late.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Raiding The Whorehouse

It was one of my father's sayings about stock market declines; "When they raid the whorehouse, they take the pretty ones along with the ugly ones." They all look suspect to me now, but in the case of AIG (American International Group), that's one particularly ugly whore. Only days after receiving an $85 Billion dollar bailout from the Fed to keep from going belly up, the company spent a half million dollars on a "retreat" for company employees at an exclusive California resort/spa. Congress is insisting they pay back the half-mil, while approving another $35 Billion for the company in additional aid. Of course, it's beyond outrageous, but a revealing glimpse into the mentality of today's corporate America. Talk about a group of people who have become dependant on government largess, and they're all wearing suits and carrying Blackberries.

My sincerest sympathy goes to those who have been crack-backed by the decade of gains that have just been wiped out. I feel your pain. I retired from the field of play after the tech stock bust of 2000 and am still licking my wounds. That's when I finally realized that the market; the Dow, NASDAQ, futures, commodities, you name it, was an insiders' game. If you're someone like me, the only way to make money is if you're lucky enough to bet on the insiders' side. It's like the casinos. It's a rigged deal and the odds favor the house. And just like the casinos, market institutions are always coming up with new ways to bet. Only instead of Blackjack, Keno and craps, they call them financial instruments, derivatives, puts, and calls. You can make money betting a company's stock will go down. In fact, that's probably one of the only ways left to make money in stocks.

I come from a family of investors. When I was a little boy, my parents had to explain to me why my Grandfather had given me 50 shares of Nabisco for my birthday instead of a toy truck. After I understood, when my Mother took me to the grocery store I would always insist she buy Vanilla Wafers, just to support the company. The stock market seemed like a private club, or some mysterious Masonic order with closely held secrets. My Grandfather, who came to this country with nothing, would buy a stock and hold it for a quarter century before he sold. He taught my father the same principles of buying shares in a solid company with a future and holding on to them forever. That sort of conservative wisdom helped put me through college, but the internet age changed everything.

Part of the insiders' game is that they don't teach you about the stock market in school. You have to learn it from other insiders, or go to special schools where they teach this stuff exclusively. I learned from sitting with my father about the intricacies of the game. I entrusted my investments to him my entire life because he was better than any broker; he was smarter than most, did better research, and he actually cared. He kept books of moving averages that he would track using his own methods. When a stock broker would show him his new car, my father would say, "I want to see your clients' new cars." He would explain he was such a conservative investor because, "My father got wiped out in the Stock Market crash of 1929. A broker jumped out of a high window and landed on his pushcart." It was the same for 70 or so years. Then he got an online account.

My father had persuaded me that my intuitive judgement was as good as anyone's and if I did the proper research, I could make money in the market. When I pulled the trigger on my first online trade, it was as big a rush as drawing a straight-flush. It was like having a loose slot machine in the house. I was way up for awhile and began imagining myself as having some latent ability to think a step ahead of the herd, but then the herd trampled me. I'll spare you the gory details, but I was left bewildered and feeling guilty that I had failed because I was too impulsive or my research was flawed. I had read books by everyone from Lee Ioccoca to Melvin Van Peebles. I looked at as many as five separate sources for expert opinion before making a trade, but made the mistake of falling in love with the "pretty ones" and holding on to them too long. I took my lumps and bailed out, no wiser but certainly sadder. I didn't even get a free buffet out of the deal.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that my online brokerages, first Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette, and then Harris Direct, were under investigation for their sales practices. It seems that some of the "experts" giving presumably impartial advice had financial interests in many of the stocks they were supposed to be reviewing. Both companies promptly went under and class-action lawsuits were filed, but because of lack of a paper trail and institutional candor, I could never prove that the shares I purchased were tainted by someone else's personal interest. It helped my pride to know I wasn't a total fool, just a sucker and a mark. But it hurt my pocketbook just the same. That's how I know they're a bunch of thieves going in. In the end, they even got to my father. Dad, had who maintained the same investment philosophy his entire life, was lured into a group of clients given exclusive access to IPO's(Initial Public Offerings), which created so many instant millionaires in the 90s, and soon found out that part of his ass was missing. Dad was smarter than me, he had other assets. My financial plan is now probably much like yours; vote for Obama and pray.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"That One"

Here we were all settled in to watch a civil debate and John McCain goes all Uncle Remus on us. His referral to Obama as "that one" can be interpreted one of two ways. First, as an elementary school teacher would refer to a class of mischievous children, or worse, as someone who has a little Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus) in his soul. "That one." It's ugly. It's a dehumanizing remark and suggests the referenced person is somehow "the other." At best, it is sneering condescension, and at worst, McCain may as well have called Obama "tarbaby." That was another old Uncle Remus tale that Disney made one of their classic full-length animated movies about, but they only break it out for White Citizen's Council meetings these days. Try buying a copy of "Song of the South" online while singing "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah."

The things that seep from the subconscious when you're on live TV are amazing. McCain told one audience member that he had probably never heard of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae before the current economic crisis. Why would he assume that? The young man was sitting there in a jacket and tie like everyone else, and he had just asked a question about economics. Oh yeah, he was black. Who let the dogs out? Whoo, whoo, whoo. "That one." What else could explain McCain's contempt for Obama except an old boy mentality of exclusivity? Over the course of the debate, McCain's voice grew into an urgent whisper, like an exasperated Washington insider who can't believe he is about to get his ass kicked by a black man still in his first Senate term, sort of like Hillary Clinton in wing-tips.

Last night's debate in Nashville only solidified the image of John McCain as old grouch. He kept referring to the country's need for a "steady hand on the tiller" while he is already being coached by Cindy like Nancy Reagan giving Ronnie his cue. Melody asked me, "Why is she up his ass all the time? No one else's spouse has to stand there like an attendant." I answered, "I guess his advisers must think it makes him look younger." When McCain's prima facie case for bad judgement, Sarah Palin, said, "I think the American people are looking for something fresh and new," she couldn't have been referring to McCain. God help us if McCain should die in office and leave the country in the care of the weather girl.

Speaking of weather girls, there was no mention in the debate of Bernadine Dohrn or William Ayers, which was a welcome respite from Palin's obnoxious repetition of Obama "palling around with domestic terrorists." There you go again, Joe, pointing fingers at the past. Personally, I would enjoy meeting the Ayers' to talk about back in the day, but I doubt that I would walk away from the meeting with a desire to bomb the Pentagon. "That one." And if McCain knows, as he assures us he does, how to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, why doesn't he go ahead and tell somebody? It didn't help matters that the McCains immediately left the hall, leaving the Obamas the opportunity to shake hands and generally look gracious on television. Who's really "that one" in this contest? "Thar he," spoke the pointing man while McCain exited, stage right.

The open contempt John McCain displays towards his opponent is disturbing, and his dismissal of Obama as a worthy adversary is insulting, especially on the heels of the "Bailout/Rescue Plan" that McCain "suspended" his campaign for, failing to stop worldwide markets from going into freefall. I much preferred Obama's choice of Warren Buffett as Treasury Secretary over McCain's suggestion of the woman who founded eBay on the same day that eBay laid off 1,000 employees. When the hock shops are hurting, you know times are hard. If this were a movie, Obama came off as William Powell and McCain looked like Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster. Tonight, I saw John McCain do an illusion worthy of David Blaine; he turned into Bob Dole. And by the way, the Beach Boys' version of "Barbara Ann," that McCain sings "Bomb Iran" to, is a weak cover of the original, doo-wop classic by The Regents, 1961. JFK was President and John McCain was already in the Navy. Just wanted to clear that up.