Monday, January 20, 2014

Kiss Chris Christie Goodbye

    To the tune of:
Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
     (public domain)
by Gus Kahn and Randy Haspel
Kiss Chris Christie goodbye/ Goodbye Christie don't cry.
You tried to close the bridge to Fort Lee/ Because the mayor said you were portly.
The scandal has you on the ropes/
There go your presidential hopes.
Your nose grows longer when you lie,
So kiss Chris Christie goodbye.
This is going to be fun. Everyday in every way, new revelations emerge, not just about the ugly political payback which snarled traffic from Ft. Lee, New Jersey to the George Washington Bridge, but about the entire workings of the Chris Christie administration. There will be hearings, and subpoenas, and witnesses, and great political theatre, all over the misuse of public infrastructure to punish a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse the Governor for re-election. Christie's "may this buck be passed from me" speech at a press conference defies logic. When Christie says the chocking traffic jams were ordered by members of his staff without his knowledge, that can mean only one of two things: either he's a liar or a fool. In either case, he has effectively disqualified himself from the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. It's technically possible that Christie never heard about the bridge debacle. It's called "plausible deniability." It's an old Nixon trick. He might have told members of his staff, "Go and do what you have to, just don't tell me about it." In this scenario, Christie is like the lawyer, Tom Hayden, in The Godfather, who doesn't wish to hear information that could make him liable in a court proceeding. But if Christie's closest aides pulled off this entire stunt under the Governor's nose without him noticing, then he's an idiot, and we've already had one dumbass president. 
Among this oddball cast of Jersey Shore, somebody's getting immunity from prosecution, and then it all spills out, right on the clean carpet. Christie is already under a federal investigation regarding how his administration spent twenty-five million dollars of government aid after Hurricane Sandy to promote tourism. At the request of NJ Democratic Senator Frank Pallone Jr., the Inspector General at HUD conducted a preliminary review of the expenditures and found enough evidence to justify a complete audit. Among the findings were that Christie hired a public relations firm close to the Governor's office, even though another firm's bid for the job was for two million less. The difference was that the linked-in PR firm offered to feature Christie and his family in commercials touting the Jersey shore while the other firm did not. Seeing Chris Christie on a beach has the opposite effect from the commercial's intent and would encourage me to find another place to swim. Then there is that additional two-or-so million dollars that Christie cost his state by declaring a special election because he didn't want to be on the same ballot with newly elected Senator Cory Booker.
The latest accusations come from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, another Democratic mayor who had the temerity not to endorse the Governor's re-election campaign. Zimmer accused the Christie administration of holding Hurricane Sandy relief funds hostage to her approval of a real estate deal  benefiting an outfit called the Rockefeller Group. When she balked at the proposal, the hundred million dollars in governmental aid that flooded Hoboken had requested was reduced to the $300,000 that they received. A Christie spokesman replied that the allegations were, "outlandishly false," but after the Governor's adamant denial, Mayor Zimmer told CNN that, "I stand by my word." Then Zimmer went off to a meeting with U.S. Attorneys. Other stories have surfaced about the Governor leaning on people or meting out punishment to his foes. The New York Times reports stories of "a former governor stripped of police security at public events," and a university professor who lost state funding for pet projects because of negative comments he made about the Governor. This is the behavior of the potential future President of the United States. For Christie to claim that he never heard a word about it is like Clinton saying, "I never had sexual relations with that woman."
We've already been through this once. Every bit of this activity is reminiscent of the Nixon administration: the dirty tricks, the political payback, the persecution of perceived "enemies," the lying, the cover-up. Who needs this again? It will make for entertaining TV in the coming weeks, but Christie can kiss his presidential ambitions goodbye. The tired cliche, "stick a fork in him," seems appropriate in this case. I would never make fun of the morbidly obese, but the Governor has gone and gotten that lap-band stomach operation that seemed to work so well for Al Roker and Al Sharpton in preparation for a 2016 presidential run, and it ain't ever gonna' happen. He may as well reverse the procedure and start eating again. Then he can truly become another fat-cat Republican also-ran in the ongoing implosion of the party. Christie's apologetic statement that "I am not a bully," caused an airborne public flashback directly to Richard Nixon's famous quote, "I am not a crook." Whether it was public denial or merely self-denial, the same is true in both incidences. Richard Nixon was a crook and Chris Christie is a bully. Make that, "was" a bully. Need I say, "the bigger they come?"


Monday, January 06, 2014

Olympic Dreams

One good thing about staying alive for awhile is, if you haven't pickled your brain, you have personal recollections of occasions that later became historical events. Specifically, I still recall the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the controversial events surrounding the games. In a backdrop of international student uprisings during that fateful year, the unrest had come to Mexico. For starters, student-led protest marches against the Mexican government's political suppression, particularly of labor unions, grew to half a million by August, the month of the opening ceremony. Ten days before the games were to begin, the Mexican president made a fateful decision and troops ordered by the government to break up a crowd in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas opened fire, killing dozens and arresting thousands more in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Critical voices in this country began expressing concern over the Mexican government's ability to furnish adequate security for the games, yet off we went, colors flying.

During the Games themselves, the 200 meter race gold medalist Tommie Smith, and bronze medalist John Carlos, turned a typical medal ceremony into one of the most dramatic and iconic moments in Olympic history. Having split a pair of black gloves in advance, the teammates bowed their heads and raised their gloved fists in a black power salute when the National Anthem began to play. This was the summer after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and only two months after the murder of Robert Kennedy. The civilized world was railing against apartheid while race riots had erupted in over 100 cities in the United States. Smith and Carlos' bold act of defiance in the face of what was sure to be a fierce, if not violent, backlash, illustrated that beneath the facade of unity presented by the national Olympic team, race relations were deteriorating at home. Both runners were suspended from the national team and were banned from the Olympic Village. The famous photograph of the event clearly shows that both men are wearing black socks with no shoes. During a ceremony forty years later at the annual ESPN Espy Awards, when the pair received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Smith explained that this was to represent black poverty in America. Their dissent was the lasting impression of the Mexico City Olympics. For that simple reason, I hope that during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they have the grandest, wildest Gay Pride Parade that the old Soviet Empire has ever seen. Maybe something along the lines of the ones they have in Key West, except more flamboyant.

Russian President Vlad "The Impaler" Putin, the quasi-dictator whose soul was memorably examined by George W. Bush, has been forced to issue statements in recent days stating that despite Russia's recent spate of cruel anti-gay laws, both gay athletes and their guests would be welcome in Sochi without fear of arrest or deportation. In addition, Putin granted amnesty to two members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, who were serving jail terms for their guerrilla performances critical of the president, and he pardoned an old Kremlin rival whose popularity made him dangerous enough to be locked-up. This doesn't guarantee protection from roving bands of skinhead-type groups whose brutal attacks on homosexuals are currently making international news, or from terrorist bombings, like the New Years' twin attacks in a town near the site of the Games. Putin's promise of "total annihilation" of the terrorists should be cold comfort to the athletes who will be living in what is leading up to be an armed camp within a police state. The anti-gay sentiments in Russia have only been stoked by Putin who last June, signed a law allowing the police to arrest tourists or foreigners suspected of being gay, or even pro-gay, and detain them for up to fourteen days. In July, Putin signed legislation banning gay couples from adopting Russian-born children and put into law a bill classifying "homosexual" propaganda as pornography, subjecting anyone advancing a sympathetic viewpoint toward the LGBT community to arrest and fines.

In return, President Obama made a point of meeting with gay activists during his September trip to the G2O Summit in St. Petersburg and has announced that neither he, Michelle, nor Joe Biden will attend the Olympics, the first time since 2000 that a president, first lady, vice president, or ex-president has not participated in the opening ceremonies. Putting an additional piledriver to Putin, Obama has appointed several famously gay athletes and officials to his personal delegation, including tennis legend Billie Jean King, and women's ice hockey medalist Caitlan Cahow. After years of declining to answer questions about his sexuality, figure skating star and Olympic delegate Brian Boitano has publicly come out just in time for the games. Ready or not, the rainbow connection is coming to Russia. In an editorial, the New York Times reminded readers of a provision in the charter of the International Olympic Committee that states, "every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind." With any luck, we might get to witness the U.S. Olympic delegation to Sochi practice a little sport with old "Pooty Poot."