Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Wanna Be Scanned and Groped

There's a growing rage among air travelers against the Transportation Security Administration's new measures to prevent acts of terrorism. The public outcry centers on the 400 new full-body scanners at 70 of the nation's airports, over what some believe is an invasion of privacy, and inappropriate physical contact during the more extensive pat-downs for those who opt out of the scanning. As one irate flyer warned TSA officers during a pat-down last week in San Diego, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

But is this outrage representative of how a majority of Americans view the new anti-terror tactics or is all the fuss coming from just a very small band of protesters who are exaggerating the frustration and opposition of everyone else?

I can only speak for myself. After the horrific 9/11 attacks and the failed missions of both the shoe and underwear bombers, as well as the general daily threats we face from those who wish to blow us out of the sky, I say do whatever the hell you want to me if it means I get to go home alive at the end of the day. And if that means stripping me naked, so be it. Truth is, we're all half-naked at the X-rays now anyway. No jackets, no belts, no shoes...it's just a short hop to no pants or shirt. If you need to put a hand down my pants to check for explosives, grope away. In fact, dim the lights and serve me a glass of Chardonnay and I just might even enjoy it. When you consider all the indignities we already suffer at airports, a little groping is actually a fitting reward, no?

To be honest, I don't get all the outrage. I think it's quite foolish, actually. Have these Americans forgotten about the carnage of 9/11? Have the images of planes crashing into buildings, of bloodied dust-covered New Yorkers running for their lives, been erased from their collective brains? Are they so arrogant and in denial that they're gonna now stage boycotts and other planned disruptions at airports to protest the new measures? Like there's not enough frustrating inconveniences and delays as it is? What are they protesting against anyway, safety?

Listen folks, I have some distressing news for you. You're not that attractive and no one cares to see you naked. Seriously. Please put your narcissism in check. This ain't about you. Have you seen what most air travelers actually look like? It's not like a bunch of randy TSA cops are sitting in some dark room behind the scanning monitors going, "Oooh, here comes another fat 60-year-old, fellas!"

This is about safety and security. Mine, yours, and that of everyone who travels. It's about the safety and security of those working in office buildings, who don't want planes crashing into them. It's about winning. Winning the war against those who wish to destroy us wherever and whenever they can. And that includes the skies. I'm getting sick of hearing about how the new scanners and pat-downs "have gone too far." Funny how no one said that on September 12, 2001. How quickly some forget.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Joy of Glee

Glee, the hottest show on television, gives us a bunch of self-absorbed bratty high school kids, a deliciously snarky cheerleading coach, a doe-eyed Gene Kelly-wannabe Glee Club director, divorce, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, Jew jokes and Down Syndrome.

And if that wasn't enough juiciness for prime-time it also gives us something rare and unusual: music. Lots and lots of wonderfully arranged and choreographed song and dance renditions of both classic and contemporary hits. A prime example of this genius is Tuesday's absolutely brilliant fusion of "Singin' in the Rain" with Rihanna's "Umbrella," which featured a radiant Gwyneth Paltrow in a surprise television role. This hip-hop mash-up literally got me off the couch dancing like a fool with my 6-year-old daughter, who thinks the Emmy-winning Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester is the coolest person since Elmo.

If Hollywood had a brain in its collective Jose Eber-coiffed head it would take note of the show's ginormous success and understand why 13-million viewers each week flock to their TVs like stray cats to a bowl of milk. It's the music. Americans are starving for musicals, the long-lost art form. While this genre continues to thrive on Broadway, it's all but disappeared in film and television.

Somewhere along the line the arrogant nincompoops who run Hollywood decided that they knew best what audiences wanted, and it wasn't musicals. You can also throw westerns, another dying genre, into this bucket of near-extinction The moguls decided that what viewers wanted was big budget comic book superhero movies and reality shows. 'Just give 'em more Spiderman and Housewives.' And so began the colossal dumbing-down of film and television programming.

Despite experiencing the tremendous success of simple pleasures like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, High School Musical and Deadwood, the industry just falls right back into its pattern of cookie-cutter offerings. It sees the success of these projects as an anomaly, not a trend-setting barometer. It's as if they're saying to us, "It's just a fluke that you like this stuff. We know that what you really want is more Batman and Survivor."

And then there's Glee. Huge kudos to its creators for being truly creative and innovative. For giving people across all generations spectacular, intelligent original entertainment. The program delivers on every conceivable level. It makes you laugh, cry, think, get angry, sing out loud and, well, dance like a fool in your living room. So why isn't there more ground-breaking programming like this on television?

What Glee shows us is that viewers still hunger for quality. For originality. For something different. For shows that break the mold and succeed in turning old-fashioned into new-fashioned. I'm not saying it's easy, but that's why they're sitting on the studio lot and I'm sitting on my couch. They get paid way too much dough to give us so much brainless fare like the Kardashians.

Another distressing sign came this week as CBS announced the canceling of its long running show Medium, another terrific program with almost 7-million viewers. My money's on some cheaply produced reality show taking its place.

Thank God for cable...and Glee.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sen. Kyl Puts Party Politics Before Protecting America

Congratulations, voters. Your newly victorious Republicans are already starting to deliver to you. That is, if unparalleled obstructionism and inertia is what you expected.

One of the first measures to be killed in Congress's lame duck session is the so-called New Start treaty which would force the United States and Russia to pare back their nuclear stockpiles and resume mutual inspections; inspections that took place every year since the Cold War except last year. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, not to Sen. John Kyl (AZ), the GOP's point man on the issue. That New Start is President Obama's top foreign policy goal clearly makes it The Party of No's top priority to defeat it. Nice of Kyl to put partisan politics before the nation's safety.

Imagine if it were Democrats blocking this bill. Imagine the incendiary rhetoric and fear mongering that would follow. Imagine the chorus of, "Democrats cow-tow to Russia and allow them to out-Nuke us!" We'd hear how the "Socialist Obama regime empowers its communist ally!" The Republican spin machine would be operating in overdrive spitting out the message and talking points about how "Americans are threatened by Obama's inability to protect the U.S. from Nuclear attack!"

So why is that Kyl and his Nattering Naybobs of Negativity will be given a free pass on this? It's because Democrats are spineless. It's because the left lacks a potent spin machine. It's because the much hyped "liberal media" is in truth nothing more than Keith Olbermann and his one million viewers. When it comes to defining the issues and, more importantly its opponents, the Democratic Party is simply neutered.

Nuclear proliferation is a very serious issue. It impacts the war in Afghanistan, the threat from Iran and the risks to America posed by terrorists. But apparently it's not as important to Kyl as helping Sen. Mitch McConnell make sure Obama is not re-elected in 2012.

Friday, November 12, 2010

George W. Bush as One of the Greatest Presidents of All Time?

In the days and weeks following the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks there was unequivocal support for the United States on the world stage. "We are all American" became the global rallying cry. At home, partisan bitterness disappeared, and red and blue America became red, white and blue America. Chants of "USA! USA! USA!" dominated sporting events, and the nation hadn't seen such uniform patriotism since World War II. They say events make the man and, to be sure, this was George W. Bush's moment to transcend his dubious past and go down in history as one of the country's greatest presidents.

The release this week of Bush's memoir "Decision Points" has put the focus once again on his presidency and his legacy. He's on a whirlwind image re-defining campaign, hitting the talk show circuit in a desperate attempt at redemption and to prove his wisdom and relevancy.

It's easy to reflect back and consider just how close Bush came to historical greatness, yet how far he swung away from that unparalleled opportunity to instead be considered one of the worst presidents ever. 9/11 was his defining moment, just as WW II was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Americans forgive and forget an awful lot in times of war and national tragedy and it was, for Bush, a missed opportunity of epic proportions, and one that shaped the world for many years still to come. It was the proverbial fork-in-the-road, and Bush took the wrong turn....with catastrophic consequences.

This week we've been shown countless times the photo of Bush atop the mountain of rubble at Ground Zero, his arm around that shell-shocked fireman, megaphone in hand, highly emotional yet projecting calm and steely assurance that America will recover and roar back stronger. Even after eight miserable years of his administration's militaristic and economic carnage, it's still hard to look at the picture and not feel a connection to him, even a respect for his leadership at that very tumultuous time. But that reverence passes quickly, and we are left with a great sense of loss knowing that for him and the country, that moment was a critical turning point in both his legacy and the fate of the nation. For both, it was all downhill (pun intended)from there.

It was easy on that fateful day to forget how Bush, James Baker and the Supreme Court stole the 2000 election. Our anger dissipated, and we rallied around our president and countrymen. We were one nation. But we lament that Bush wasn't able to build off of that moment on the rubble. The decision to invade Afghanistan and hunt and kill the Taliban, which sponsored, housed, funded and trained al Qaeda, was the right one. No one balked. Not Democrats, Republicans, Congress, the media, Wall Street or Main Street. The action received the full support of the country.

But one has to wonder how history would've changed for Bush, America and the world had he stopped there; had he focused 100% in Afghanistan on destroying the Taliban and al Qaeda, and tracking and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. His popularity would've gone through the roof, and history would judge him as favorably as FDR. He would've presided over America during one of its absolute darkest days, providing leadership that would've restored not just national security, but Americans' collective sense of pride and patriotism. Instead, he saw a different path for himself. One that would drive a serrated wedge right down the heart of America and amongst our overseas friends and enemies alike.

His decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 sealed his fate. This was an unnecessary war. An unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation under false pretenses and manufactured/misrepresented evidence. Iraq, as we now know, did not, as the Bush propaganda claimed, possess WMD nor had it any connections to al Qaeda. It simply posed no threat whatsoever to the United States. Yet the Iraq charade was where Bush was overrun by neocons like VP Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who turned the once-promising leader who commandingly stood on that pile of 9/11 rubble into a manipulated puppet who exhibited an astounding lack of intellectual curiosity.

Unfortunately for him and the country, Bush ultimately would not be viewed as the wartime president who protected America and its people, lifted the nation's spirits and restored America's greatness. He did not tap the monumental international post-9/11 currency and use it to his or the country's advantage. He did not become a healer and uniter who rallied the world behind us as we fought the terrorist enemy. Instead, he sent thousands of troops to die in an elective war which took the U.S.'s military and intelligence focus off Afghanistan and al Qaeda, allowing bin Laden to escape into the treacherous northern mountains of Pakistan. He squandered $1-trillion fighting this unjust war of distraction, and together with an unregulated Wall Street and massive tax cuts to the rich, sent the country's economy into a tailspin that we're still digging out of. On the political front, he became the great divider, allowing Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, with help from despicable propagandists like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, to foment unprecedented partisan vitriol, which today paralyzes Washington.

Especially this election cycle, heightened by the controversy over the planned Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero, we've seen animosity and hatred of Muslims consume millions of ignorant Americans. We've seen fear-mongering Conservatives attempt to conflate Islam with terrorism much in the same way the Bushies conflated Iraq with 9/11. In retrospect, by invading Iraq and sending the country into a bigotry-fueled feeding frenzy, Bush ultimately allowed the terrorists to win. As we recovered from those horrific attacks on 9/11, what should've been America's brightest days as a nation have become our most embarrassing. It was not just the Twin Towers that came down that day, but the towers of tolerance and American values. And that's the real Bush legacy. A few folksy hours of Today Show and Oprah damage-control cannot and will not change that.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Why Won't Republicans Answer this One Simple Question?

They ran on a platform almost exclusively about shrinking government and America's $14-trillion debt. And they got elected, sweeping the House with 63 seats and six Senate pick-ups. But since election day, ask any Republican in the House and Senate exactly which government programs they plan to cut in order to cut the $1.3-trillion deficit and they become back-peddling rambling idiots, offering more spin than the washer/dryer section at Sear's.

Sunday morning's news shows, the first since Democrats received what President Obama called a "shellacking," were awash with partisan rhetoric about swollen debt, angry voters and "taking the country back." But substance was in short order.

On NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory hammered South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint to be specific in detailing the programs Republicans would slash, in particular, whether they'd touch defense and/or entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. DeMint was clearly uncomfortable with being put on the spot, and after repeated dodging and regurgitating endless talking points, Gregory persisted in pressing him for specifics. Again, DeMint fidgeted and cleared his throat so much I thought they'd wheel in an oxygen tank.

It's like a disease. I've not seen one Republican leader, from DeMint to Rep. John Boehner to Rep. Eric Cantor to Sen. Mitch McConnell, answer the "which specific programs would you cut" question with a straight answer. That's because their campaign platform was based on smoke and mirrors and disingenuous politicking. All designed to dupe a frustrated, angry and desperate electorate. The truth is, they won't cut defense spending, they won't touch Social Security and Medicare, and they won't touch veterans benefits, which they all admit.

Let's put the numbers in perspective: the Unites States budget is $3.6-trillion. Approximately $2.2-trillion, or 61%, goes to fund Social Security, Medicare and defense. The remainder is split between the following: 14% to safety-net programs that aid struggling Americans (i.e. food stamps, child-care assistance and unemployment insurance); Vets/federal retirees 7%; transportation infrastructure 3%; education 3%; scientific and medical research 2%; and 5% misc. Another 6% goes toward interest payments on the debt. So if you take the major entitlements, defense and veterans off the table, as well as the debt service, that leaves about 16% in discretionary spending, or $576-billion available for cuts. Not a lot to work with especially given all the fiery campaign rhetoric about the GOP's magical fix on the economy through reduced spending and big cuts.

Now here's the kicker: throw in a loss of $700-billion over 10 years which the government would lose in revenue if the Bush tax cuts are extended for those earning over $250,000--which the GOP is aggressively pushing for--and that's a whole lotta fuzzy math.

To be sure, Republicans are quite good a spin. Much better than Democrats. After eight years of runaway spending during the Bush years, where the GOP controlled both the House and Senate for most of that time, they quite successfully convinced voters last week that they were the fiscally-responsible party who should again be given back the controls to reign in Obama's and the Democrats' excessive spending. Voters apparently have very short memories. And as the above numbers prove out, Republicans' promise of smaller government and cutting the deficit and debt is a promise they won't be able to keep.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Voters Have Spoken...or Have They?

It was a great night for the Republican Party, with remarkable House, Senate and gubernatorial victories across the nation, as well as impressive state and local wins. And it was a terrible night for voters, whose bipolar behavior may cause the worst political gridlock these next two years that Washington has ever seen.

Republicans and Tea Party braggarts are beaming that voters have spoken.
But have they? The truth is, I don't think they've said much of anything.
Rather, what they did Tuesday instead was grunt and groan, letting out
unintelligible gasps of exasperation. These schizophrenic voters, with their
short memories and misguided rekindled love affair with Republicans,
demonstrated what an angry, impatient and uninformed electorate is truly capable of.

To be sure, the economy still faces many challenges and unemployment remains unacceptably high, as it was in 2008 when Barack Obama and Democrats were swept into power. Yet while we give our presidents four year terms, these voters expected a miracle fix in just two, utterly ignoring the progress he did make and the fact that the GOP opposed him virtually uniformly on every single measure he tried to pass for them. So they punished Obama and sent him an even more obstructionist body of Republican opponents, ensuring that even less gets done for them these next two years. And who does that hurt the most? The poor, the middle class, the sick, the unemployed, the elderly, and everyone else the Republican Party traditionally hurts. It hurts those who are most impacted by the struggling economy and slow-moving jobs recovery. It makes no sense at all. Voters simply brought back to power the very same people who screwed things up for them in the first dang place. Hey voters, are ya forgetting why you gave controlling victories to Democrats in 2006 and '08? Apparently so.

Voters' inexplicable, illogical and counter-intuitive shift back to the right is without question the over-riding takeaway from Tuesday's midterm elections. As NBC's Tom Brokaw marveled, "There's a wild bull loose in the arena, and it's the electorate." But there's so much else to comment on that I'll just list a few key thoughts and observations in no particular order:

-The super-rich trio of Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Linda McMahon proved that pouring GOPzillions of your own money into a campaign won't buy you victory. And, it's borderline criminal that they spent $200+-million on such selfish, ego-fueled pursuits. Think of all the good that money could've been used for.

-A delusional Christine O'Donnell declaring in her concession speech: "We have won! We were victorious because the Delaware political system will never be the same....The Republican Party will never be the same." I guess that's what you say when you were literally embarrassed out of an election because of your bizarre comments about evolution, mice-cloning and masturbation. This witchy nitwit then arrogantly gave advice to her winning opponent Chris Coons, the New Castle County Executive and Yale Law School grad, to listen to Delawareans and to watch her moronic 30-minute campaign video so he can get in better touch with voters' needs. Get on your broom and leave us alone already.

-Although it was way too close for comfort, thank heavens that that other cracked Tea Potter Sharron Angle in Nevada lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Had she won, I think I'd have moved to Canada with Alec Baldwin.

-Tuesday's results, for sure, badly damaged Sarah Palin's stock. Her biggest failure was in her home state of Alaska, where her personal, vitriolic hate campaign against incumbent Lisa Murkowski, the write-in candidate, and her support of lying Tea Party loon Joe Miller, appears to have backfired. Angle's and O'Donnell's losses are a huge embarrassment to her as well.

-Tea Party favorite Ken Buck's loss in Colorado is a major win for Democrats and another solid repudiation of Palin-esque radicalism.

-A cocky, arrogant Rand Paul declaring "There's a Tea Party tidal wave" and that "We've come to take our government back." Get ready, as the new Senator from Kentucky who claims we are "enslaved by debt" will, as MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell warns, likely kill any effort to raise the debt ceiling, currently around $14-trillion, which would result in America's default and cause a global depression. Something chilling to think about.

-During MSNBC's election coverage, a frustrated Chris Matthews to an evasive Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who responded to every question with the same mindless partisan spin: "Are you hypnotized? Has someone put you under a trance tonight?"

-How one of the smartest, most dedicated most honest politicians with unparalleled integrity like Wisconsin's Russ Feingold can lose his Senate re-election bid. Utterly disheartening, and devastating for his state's residents and, quite frankly, for America.

-The GOP's impressive gubernatorial wins will now strongly favor Republicans in the redistricting process and hurt Obama in 2012.

-After Miller, Angle, Buck and O'Donnell's losses, is Tea Party extremism dead? Has the "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" crowd been marginalized? And let's not view Paul's Kentucky win, where he replaced the retiring conservative Jim Bunning, or Florida's victory, where Democrat Ken Meek and independent Charlie Crist's boneheaded strategy to give newcomer Marco Rubio a split ticket gift, as an indication of Tea Bagger success. These two guys got lucky.

-Happy that Bill Owens retained his NY 23rd Congressional seat in the district that hasn't seen a Democrat win in over 125 years.

-Frustrated that the Republican Revolution of 1994 gave them 12 years of Congressional rule while Democrats imploded after just two years (or four, if you count the small majority after the '06 midterms)

-With all their talk of "listening to the people" (as in, 'most Americans don't want health care reform'), you can bet the first thing Republicans will try to do is extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which costs the government $700 billion, despite the fact that most Americas are firmly against it.

-The new House Speaker John Boehner so overcome with emotion over his long-awaited ascent to the top spot that he sobbed uncontrollably through his victory speech. Hey, I thought Democrats were the wussies? First Glenn Beck and now Boehner...is this the new and improved sensitive Republican Party? The guy literally came unglued with glee.

-And as Boehner was feigning humility by saying that Tuesday's victories are not a cause for celebration, GOP chairman Michael Steele and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, along with other giddy right wingers, were reveling in their new found success and literally getting drunk with power. "Get ready for a big ride," Barbour boasted. Yeah, a frustrating, gridlocked road-trip filled with Republican arrogance, elitism and staunch opposition to everything Obama seeks to accomplish. Strap on your seat belts, America...