Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New York: An Argument Against the Grinch

I love New York. Really I do. But these kinds of stories just don't seem to happen anywhere else:

"At first, I thought, 'You can't be serious.' Then I realized, what can you do? It's New York." —Matt Dahlman, 27, whose bags were stolen Christmas night at Penn Station, while he was holding the bleeding head of an elderly man who had just fallen down the escalator. [NYP]

Now of course this doesn't hold a holiday candle to the gun-toting Santa who made all of us think it might be time to give up on humanity.

But stealing bags while somebody's trying to help another person is just undeniably bad.

In defense of Manhattan, I must knock on wood as I say I have never, ever had a bad experience in the city. On the contrary, I've met some really nice cabbies, shared smiles with people on a crowded street and even had one close call with a man who turned out to be a good Samaritan in disguise.

I was young. I was clueless. And I was riding the South Ferry subway from Grand Central to visit a relative on Staten Island. For those of you who don't know, South Ferry's the last stop and as the train carried me closer to my destination, my car emptied out until there was no one left but me and one guy. He was a little older than me, he looked a little threatening, and he kept looking in my direction. I was frozen. If I stood up and looked for another car I was certain I'd get mugged. So I sat still and tried to act cool.

He stood up. He walked toward me. I started hyperventilating while trying to act like I didn't notice. But he stopped directly in front of me.

"You should move," he said.

I looked up.

"You should move," he repeated. "It's not safe to be all alone in one of these cars. You're supposed to move back as they start to empty out."

"I didn't know," I whispered.

"It's okay. Need help with your bag?"

"No, no. I can do it."

"Okay, then. You be careful, okay?"

And he smiled at me.

Like I said....I love New York.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lou Dobbs' Dream Come True - Homeland Security and Buttoning Up the Borders

I have never wished as much for a show to fail as I do this one:

ABC is launching a new reality show in January featuring the Department of Homeland Security.
"Homeland Security USA" will feature agents at the country's borders discussing their efforts to keep us safe from the fearsome terrors we face from other countries.

There will be no political agenda, according to producers. Maybe not implicitly, but it sure as hell sounds like it's going to play into this country's growing paranoia about the rest of the world.


The department is cooperating, saying it's a great opportunity to let us know what they do.

So now we'll have an opportunity to see just how dangerous everything is - from the threat posed by neighboring countries to the postcard from overseas.

Don't try to tell me it's a public service. We've learned caution. It'll be a long time before we forget the lessons of 9-11.

It doesn't take much to turn people into a bunch of scared rabbits, especially in an economy that's already scaring the pants off most of us. How wonderful to offer us the opportunity to focus that fear on something outside our control, giving our brains a break from the necessary contemplation of our past mistakes and how we can improve the future! Why, borrowing more than we can afford to pay off isn't the problem - it's that weird stuff some foreign terrorist tries to put in our mail! Everything will be just fine if we just shut down, close the doors and tell the world we're out to lunch!

If you ever watch Lou Dobbs, you'll know this show is probably going to be his Holy Grail. There's not a problem in this country that Lou doesn't think can be laid at the feet of illegal immigrants. Here's one for you, Lou.

I'm not a fan of reality TV. Most programs show us not the best, but the worst in humanity. Shame on ABC for creating a program aimed at fear mongering. Don't try to tell me it's a tip of the hat to those hard-working employees of the DHS. Nobody watches that and everyone knows it.

Fear sells. And ABC is selling fear. Don't you buy it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Chaotic Holidays

The holidays are upon us. The gifts are bought, almost wrapped, the tree is up and though there are no ornaments on it yet, there are lights. It's pretty freaking festive.

But it's going to be a weird one this year. Handsome Significant Other, who broke his knee on the ice last year getting me a package of Oreos, is finally getting surgery on one of his knees...three days before Christmas.

It's an outpatient thing and he'll be home, but we have no idea how he'll feel. Will he be able to climb the stairs or will he sleep on the couch admiring the unfinished tree? Will he finish wrapping gifts or will he stare into the distance in a drugged stupor while I try not to look at what I'm wrapping for him?

Perhaps he'll sit by the fire and wonder how Scrooge is doing.

It's been the weirdest year ever.

He broke his knee, he injured the good knee, he's become a familiar face at the local emergency room. Our last visit was after he poked himself in the eye with a plant. Scratched cornea. Two weeks of agony.

We met NY's governor, Trace Adkins, and I've talked to a slew of interesting people. We elected Barack Obama.

But all in all, I gotta say I'm ready for a new year. This one's been too weird even for me.

Happy new year and better luck to all in 2009!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Executive Orders: When is Bush's Pen Going to Go Dry?

The Race To The Finish is On...and efforts to slow down the Bush Administration's last minute effort to recreate the nation in its own image are mobilizing.

The big giveaway of 300 thousand acres of Utah wilderness to oil and gas companies is being blocked by a lawsuit, at least temporarily.


The Executive Order is a scary thing in the wrong hands. A president signs an order and, with no checks and balances from anywhere, effects change.

Here's the latest health news...


My view, of course, isn't shared by everyone. In fact I found a blog fretting about what our new "Marxist in Chief" will do once he's sworn in.


I find it remarkable that someone who's attempting to restore a democracy that's been hacked to ribbons is labeled a marxist. Did we call Bush a fascist? It's not a reach.

Fascism is an authoritarian or totalitarian nationalist ideology.[1][2] It is primarily concerned with solving the perceived problems of national decline or decadence, by achieving a millenarian national rebirth, exalting the nation or race above all else, and promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.[3][4][5][6][7] Fascists typically seek to form a mass movement of militants who are willing to engage in violence against their perceived enemies. (courtesy Wikipedia)

Fascists don't like democracy, you argue? Neither does President Bush and his sidekick, Dead Eye Dick.

So the Guy in the Oval Office spends his days adjusting the earplugs so he doesn't hear us howling outside his window and signs signs signs.

Here are some executive orders signed before December. There have been dozens since. And once they're signed, it's not easy to undo them.

This one creates a presidential transition council...but specifically says the candidates must be "major party". An effort to create problems if a third party should become viable?


Can't read the original one this one amends...it was done in the 40s. But it relates to social security numbers and privacy regarding federal agencies...and the amendment knocks out words like "shall" and substitutes "may" and eliminates the word "exclusively". It's sketchy at best.


This one's a bit mind bending...its topic is supposedly reorganizing federal agencies to exempt them from certain labor regulations. But what it does is reclassify the departments of energy, transportation, homeland security, justice and the treasury as agencies whose primary function is intelligence and national security. Whoa. Since when? And what might this reclassification accomplish besides the labor impact?


Are you paying attention? If you're not, don't complain about what happens.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheney Okayed Waterboarding: It's Not Torture

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow doesn't usually stutter. She's the queen of smooth. But she was stuttering with disbelief last night and I can't argue.

The vice president of the United States confirmed, in a taped interview, that he authorized the use of an interrogation technique that we labeled torture after it was used against our soldiers in World War II.

Let me say that another way: the use of waterboarding was called a war crime after World War II. Maddow, clearly beyond outrage, pointed out the people responsible were hanged. Our vice president confidently confirms that he authorized the use of this technique at the prison camp at Guantanamo. He stands by his actions.

A plus B equals...you know. Waterboard equals war crime plus official okay equals...war criminal.
But this one's safe, isn't he? We haven't stood up to any of this yet, why would we start now?

Where is the tidal wave of public anger? Where are the headlines? Where are the editorials calling for him to be indicted? I'm not seeing much. Just for the basic story I had to go to the Seattle Times.


You're not angry yet? You don't feel like a chump? Why don't you look at what our vice president was saying two years ago. At what point do we finally stand up, confront this evil and condemn it? No time to read the whole article? It reports on Cheney's defense of waterboarding as a no-brainer, while reiterating his belief that this country doesn't torture. In 2006. Oh. My. God.


And just in case you're still not angry, please remember that Friday is the day the Bush Administration has quietly offered 300 thousand acres of wilderness in Utah's red rock area for gas and oil companies leases. We voted for change - isn't it time we did something to help create it ourselves? Write!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Bush: This Looks Like a Good Place to Drill

The waning days of the Bush administration are proving to be as horrific as the preceding eight years.

On December 19th, Utah's Redrock wilderness is going on the auction block, courtesy our Fearless Leader.

Oil and gas speculators are invited to bid on drilling rights for 300 thousand acres this Friday.

It was all done in classic Bush/Cheney style....they didn't tell anybody what they were doing. According to the NRDC, the plan was hatched on election day and no one even told the National Parks service what was happening until after it was all agreed upon.

Want to scream? Me, too. Go here and write an email to your legislators instead:


If the auction goes through it won't be easy to reverse those leases. And the new administration shouldn't even have to deal with this garbage. Amazingly, while our economy slides down the chute and no one's reaching for the brake in the White House, the outgoing president and his buddies are reserving their attention for getting in some last minute goodies for their oil pals.

The land up for grabs includes Desolation Canyon, an area proposed for national park status. It's just the latest in a long string of efforts to exploit what's left of our land to get at a finite source of fuel. It's short sighted, it's sneaky and it's just bad policy.

If you agree, make noise. Make a lot of noise.


Why Do Humans Suck So Much?

I'm about ready to give up. Seriously. We've got Bernie Madoff and his Limitless Greed, Hank Paulson and his Tunnel Vision, George Bush, who doesn't seem to notice anything except a shoe winging toward his head. We've got Republicans, we've got Democrats, we've got liberals and conservatives. We have, in my opinion, a really stupid collection of beings that call themselves Americans. And every day I seem to find out that our cruelty, selfishness and sense of entitlement is bigger than I thought.

I was collapsed on the couch last night, soaking in the usually-harmless drug of television entertainment. But there was a show on chimpanzees that I came in on about halfway through. It was Nature's 25th anniversary special: "Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History". These were chimps that have been in advertising, in the movies, in the circus. They've been pets. They've been prisoners in medical labs. And they're now in chimp sanctuaries.
The show ended with the release of some of the chimps into a new island - a place where they could wander with no bars between them and the sky. One ailing chimp couldn't bring himself to step onto the grass. Concrete was all he'd ever known. And one aging chimp immediately clambered up a tree and stayed there.

That was enough to rip my heart, but I found something else was even worse. At one point, the man who'd raised two of the now-rescued chimps was found and invited to come visit the animals. He'd had to give them up and they'd been sold, bred and sent to labs. It had been twenty years since they'd ridden in his car or had an ice cream.

"No way will they remember me," he said as they walked toward the cages. "I don't even remember people after twenty years."

But they did. Their joy in hearing his voice was unmistakable. They let down their guard and behaved in ways the staff had never seen. And I fell apart.

Our arrogance and our biblical belief that all creatures are here to serve us has turned us into monsters. We imprison animals and torture them to make sure our mascara won't make our eyes sting. We enslave creatures for our own trivial wants as well as our medical needs. We even eat them. And they know what is going on.

When my kids were young they helped raise two dairy cows for 4H. And long after they'd given up 4H and moved on to other hobbies, they went back to that farm. When they called their cows' names, those cows came running. They know. Don't tell me how smart animals are or aren't - they're aware. And we act like we don't know.

Just when I think I'm aware of all the rotten things we do, I get slapped in the face with one I'd never considered. We'd better hope there is no heaven and no hell, because what we as a species and particularly as a nation are doing is unforgivable.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Madoff: The Last Straw For Wall Street?

It seems the days of equating "Wall Street job" with prestige and money are as extinct as the dodo bird. Tell someone you work on Wall Street and if they don't sneer or throw vegetables at you, they're at least going to shake their heads. Thank Bernie Madoff. His 50 billion dollar shell game may be the weight that sinks Wall Street's floundering reputation. Even hardened Wall Streeters are professing shock at the size, scope and audacity of Madoff's scheme. He's taking people down with him, and the Dow is expected to be dragged down as well. It's massive.

There's an angle here no one is talking about for fear of being offensive, but I'm wondering.
Did Madoff have a Jewish connection? Did he take advantage of a cultural sense of loyalty to line his own pockets?

One NY Times article quotes Palm Beach investors with names that seem to indicate Jewish backgrounds. A charity in the Boston area dedicated to preserving Jewish cultural identity has lost everything with the collapse of Madoff's fund. Did Madoff, whose fund was built on exclusivity and reputation, take advantage of connections that leaned heavily toward Jews to build his massive scheme?

And if he did, is this the latest kick in the teeth for people who are just a generation removed from the Holocaust?

What the fall of Bernard Madoff proves is that just because someone knows what they're doing, because they appear successful and even show steady growth, it doesn't mean that you can trust them.

The Jews have a word for people like Bernard Madoff: shyster.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What About The News?

The Trib is in trouble. The Times is preparing to mortgage its Manhattan offices. Newspapers are cutting staff, cutting corners and cutting their wrists.

It seems inevitable. The Upstart Internet, the blog, the online magazine all offer the news for free and right at our fingertips whenever we want it.

Take it from an insider - when the papers go, the news will suffer. As someone who's worked for an online paper, a television network affiliate and local and regional radio, I can say with authority that the papers are where most broadcast news get the stories they cover. The other media don't have the time, they don't have the staff - they've never been able to do the in-depth, investigative work that newspapers do with the same regularity that the papers offer.

It's not that broadcast journalists aren't capable. They just aren't given the time. How can you break a story when you've got two others to file that day while you're investigating it? Some broadcast journalists do more than two - I remember doing as many as five in one day when I was a young, energetic TV reporter.

Even now I try to break stories before they make the paper - but by the time I've spent two weeks squeezing in interviews between the daily stories, I'm generally reading about my story in the paper.

Newspapers break the stories. Broadcast news follows up and expands the scope. That's how it's been forever. And once the newspapers are gone, the base of the news foundation will be gone, too. The other news media will adjust, but it'll take time. And the news will be pretty pitiful stuff for awhile. They'll all be cannibalizing each other's stories and fighting for exclusives while news is breaking just a mile down the road. There won't be the staff to cover it.

The trouble isn't just hitting newspapers. NPR announced it's cancelling two programs and laying off 64 employees. Watch the cuts continue in the broadcast world. Good thing Wolf and John re-upped with CNN. They're going to be needed if the rest of the staff ends up with pink slips. Perhaps the CNN i-Report idea is going to be the newsroom of the future. Grab your iPhone, get some pictures and send it to the news. Voila. You're a journalist.

Just remember - it's who, what, when, where, why and how. And never say somebody did the deed until they're convicted. We don't want our citizen journalists to get sued for libel.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Oh, Canada

To my neighbors to the north,

My sympathies. Truly. Your country, for many of us in the lower 48, has always been a symbol of a simpler, more functional place. You have socialized medicine and you're where our young men fled for shelter when Washington looked for human fodder for the Vietnam war. We have a sentimental and totally uninformed belief that it's somehow better in Canada. I know people now who have been frantically planning their repatriation in an effort to leave a country that elected George W. Bush for two terms. And now the news from your part of the continent sounds a lot like what we've been through for the past eight years.

Your government is resisting acknowledging that Canada is in a recession. Like us, your problems have been building for some time and are now are crashing in on you. And sadly, like us, you have a leader who is said to be highly partisan, secretive and clueless. According to what I read, your Prime Minister faced a vote of no confidence next week because his Conservative party has failed to offer an economic stimulus package. And instead of facing the problems, his solution was to shut down Parliament.

You must be reeling. We know the feeling down here, Canada. For eight years, we've watched civil rights erode in the name of national security. We've watched the opposition party frantically try to object, try to create a coalition, and fail. We've acknowledged that our government has been run by a pack of strategists whose goal was personal gain. We went to war to line their pockets with money. They lied to us to make sure we didn't look too closely. Thousands have died. We have watched our standing in the world community crumble, watched our government slap away offers of friendship after we were attacked by terrorist thugs. We watched thousands of our own neighbors wait in horrific conditions for help that was withheld after Hurricane Katrina. We have been ashamed. And we have nursed a long simmering anger.

Finally, finally we have had enough. It took a combination of anger, fear, a war and an economic crisis to finally get this country to pull in a different direction, and that was aided by an opposition candidate who was finally savvy enough to understand how the party in power plays, and be ready for whatever they tried. It worked. And I cannot explain to you the dimensions of the exhalation that swept across this country after election day. Perhaps you felt it where you are.

We are afraid, Canada. Our economy is as bad as it's ever been. The parallels between today and 1929 are inescapable. But for the first time in a very, very long time, we have hope. We believe that our government is headed by people who will be trying their best to turn this sinking ship around as we all start bailing water.

You are where we have been for the past decade, Canada. Don't wait as long as we did to make sure your government is working for you. We wouldn't wish this on our worst enemies, much less our favorite neighbors.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tranmission Transition

The Big Three automakers have come back with their best deal. They drove their own vehicles to DC to present it, leaving the corporate jets behind. They want more money than they first asked for, they're willing to give up their salaries at the top, but they're going to cut thousands of jobs.

This isn't working for me.

I got an email from Michael Moore this morning and he's got a much better idea.

Accept, he says, that the car companies will go through whatever money they get and need more. It's logic. No one's going to buy cars anytime soon.

So, instead, stop making cars. Start manufacturing mass transit and electric cars. Retool and create what we're going to buy or need once we come out of this.

How do companies going broke do it? Instead of giving them money, he proposes a government takeover. Buy them. Put capable auto people in charge with marching orders to put that massive manufacturing machine to work making something that will have value in a new economy.

It's brilliant. Keep people working, keep the revenues those plants generate in taxes coming in through some carefully crafted plan - either real tax dollars or credits to state and local governments.

I wrote to the Obama transition team this morning and passed the idea along. And I can't tell you how amazing it feels to be asked what I think by a president-elect, and know he's actually having people reading the responses and making use of them.

Haven't written to the team yet? Go to change.gov
They're waiting to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Official - December Has Arrived and It's a Recession!

It's taken a year for them to admit it, but the braintrust in Washington is now admitting that we've been in a recession since last December...and that means it's already lasted longer than many past downturns. When will it end? We have to hit bottom first.

Suze Ormon, who I get a big kick out of and whose common sense I admire, predicted the stock market would bottom out at around 8000 when I saw her a couple of months ago. I'll bet she's revised that forecast.

Jim Cramer, the madman of CNBC, is making a lot of 'sell!" noises when he talks about Wall Street and I recently spoke with someone who has done just that. Her broker advised her to pull out whatever she had left and just keep it in cash for awhile. "Wait and see," he said.

My kids, both of whom you might expect to find ensconced in dorms at a college, are each heading to work, with school dropping to a part time activity. It's not because of the economy - their reasons are as individual as they are. But I find myself thinking that perhaps they're doing the right thing - their classmates will be graduating in a couple of years and will very likely be finding themselves doing any job they can get just to make ends meet. At least my kids will be working, hopefully safe on the twin merits of their abilities and seniority.

What about us? We hang on and we hope. It's going to be close. And I take some strange comfort in knowing that as things go from bad to possibly worse, we're all in this together. How can you feel like some kind of cosmic target when everyone you know is facing the same pain?

We will come out of this. Everything is cyclical. And it's this generation's turn to understand what hard times feel like. Perhaps the lessons we learn will make us a better society.