Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Paul Ryan's Smirk or Scowl



In a few short hours, millions of Americans will be subjected to Paul Ryan's supposed "poker face". The only real question is: will he be smirking, or scowling? As Speaker of the House, Ryan will be seated next to Vice President Biden and behind President Obama as he delivers his final State of the Union address. Ryan’s dark suit will undoubtedly be festooned with his usual American flag pin. Unfortunately, Ryan is unable to grasp or appreciate the incredible strength in the diversity of our nation, so the pin is quite meaningless. If he truly understood, then there’d be no excuse for either his voting record, or for what I’m convinced is the racist manner in which he, Mitch McConnell, and countless other Republican “luminaries” in Congress have consistently interacted with President Obama throughout his two terms. Frankly, their behavior has been so blatant I’m shocked that the word “uppity” hasn’t escaped their lips. Ryan’s disdain of the President has long been palpable, but it’s hardly surprising.
Ryan, who is actually considered a “policy wonk” by some, demonstrated his racist proclivities this past year when he linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work”. Rep. Barbara Lee of California immediately (and quite correctly) took him to the proverbial woodshed. Noting his use of “inner city” as code for “black”, Rep. Lee pegged it as a racist attack.
Ryan is a part of the mindset that would find such statements/views acceptable. Today, nine out of ten Republican supporters are white; and 98% of elected Republican officials are white. Ryan continues to fly in the face of diversity. It’s ironic, then, that he actually held a poverty “forum” in South Carolina last week. Given the fact that Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage ten times since coming to the Congress, and that he envisions one of the “solutions” to poverty as being slashing proven/effective Federal anti-poverty programs and putting them in the hands of the states, it’s hard to take him seriously. Unfortunately, he’s just so dangerous…
As he glowers or glares behind the President this evening, consider the respective messages each man represents. I’m certain President Obama’s will accentuate the positive, while Ryan will embody the party of opposition-with-no-plan. Ryan will undoubtedly make every effort to ensure his flag lapel is in full view, but Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (a band Ryan claimed to be a big fan of) summarized it best several years ago when he called Ryan out for “his rage against women, immigrants, workers, the poor, gays, and the environment”. We’d all best beware of Paul Ryan, smirk or scowl.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A New Year, The Same Old Governor


While we would normally look to the start of a new year with the hope that better times lie ahead, unfortunately Paul LePage remains our governor, so we the citizens of Maine have learned to expect nothing but more of the same.
In what was likely a foreshadowing of things to come, a memorial service was held in front of the Christmas tree in Monument Square on December 21st to acknowledge and offer respect to the 43 homeless people who died in Portland this past year. Yet as the number of these deaths continues to climb, LePage and his notorious aide-de-camp Mary Mayhew (director of Maine’s Dept. of Health and Human Services) offer little in the way of compassion. Instead, they made it clear this past year that they were intent on cutting state funding to the city’s homeless shelters. To quote Randy Newman, “human kindness is overflowing”. LePage and Mayhew would undoubtedly point to Maine’s heroin epidemic as a factor in the number of deaths, and there is likely some correlation. But the LePage “solution” to this problem focuses exclusively on hiring more law enforcement, and on whatever “remedies” are engineered by prosecutors and judges. It should be noted that in 2013 LePage vetoed a bill to make Narcan—a potentially life-saving drug for overdose victims—more widely available, claiming it provided “an excuse to stay addicted”. Furthermore, the LePage administration has done nothing but observe from the sidelines as several drug addiction treatment centers have been forced to close their doors; as the state opted not to pursue a pool of $3 million in federal aid available to states to improve services and increase medication-assisted treatment. God forbid the state should seek federal aid, even in times of crisis!
This anti-federal government posturing is made even clearer when we hear LePage promise to veto a proposal by two courageous Republican State Senators, Tom Saviello and Roger Katz, who are seeking to expand Maine’s Medicaid eligibility. They’re hoping to gain access to federal funding that could be put to good use in Maine’s battle against the out-of-control heroin epidemic. Of course, what Saviello and Katz are actually perceived as supporting by LePage (and like-minded fanatics) is an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, more ominously known as “Obamacare”. Never mind the fact that by expanding Medicaid as allowed by the AFC some 60,000 additional people could be added to the state’s Medicaid rolls. Translation: they’d gain access to health insurance. However, these are not the sort of people LePage or Mayhew are interested in serving. Their opposition to raising Maine’s preposterously low minimum wage ($7.50) to anything even approaching a livable wage, along with recent revelations regarding the mismanagement of Maine’s Food Stamp program (Maine’s SNAP program is the most poorly administered in the nation, ranking dead last) and service delays that effectively punish those in need of food assistance makes their priorities all too clear.
It’s a new year, but we’re unfortunately stuck with the same old Governor.
Postscript: It's apparently going to be a very long long year as well. As I finished this post I discovered the Governor had once again embarrassed himself--and the state--with a racist comment. The man truly has no shame.

Monday, August 10, 2015

GORDON GEKKO TRUMPS THE DONALD


In 1987, Michael Douglas portrayed fictional stockbroker Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street”. This fictional character has come to personify unfettered greed; unfortunately, he also became a “hero” of sorts to a surprising number of individuals who clearly lacked a moral compass… a sad fact that would come back to haunt us all.
In a 2008 speech dealing with the Financial Crisis of 2007-2010, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated that “it is perhaps now time to admit that we did not learn the full lessons of the greed-is-good ideology. And today we are still cleaning up the mess of the 21st century children of Gordon Gekko.” (Rudd was referring to Gordon Gekko’s most famous line from the movie: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”.)
Gordon Gekko’s workplace narcissism provides the perfect segue to a discussion of Donald Trump. Trump certainly shares Gekko’s egomania and narcissism, not to mention his sense of entitlement and firm belief that everything has a price. However, Trump brings other “qualities” to the table cast into doubt whether or not he’s one of “Gordon’s kids”. In fact, if there were any “family” connection at all, it might be Trump as Gekko’s buffoonish and embarrassing (four bankruptcy proceedings?) cousin, several times removed.
While Gekko apparently held both men and women in equal disregard, Trump is a world-class misogynist, on a par with Andrew Dice Clay or Adam Corolla. At last week’s debate when FOX reporter Megyn Kelly reminded him that he has labeled women he doesn’t like as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”, Trump attempted to joke his way out of it by saying he was referring to Rosie O’Donnell. But as the “Washington Post” reported, comments of this can be traced as far back as 1991. More recently, however, he stated (in 2012) that Arianna Huffington is “unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man—he made a good decision.” “New York Times” columnist Gail Collins also fell victim to his sexist rants. The Donald apparently objected to something she’d written about him, and mailed the piece back to her-- after circling her face and writing “face of a dog”. Looping back to Megyn Kelly, she also reminded him (last week) that he had once told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” it would be a “pretty picture” to see her on her knees. An advocate of women’s rights he’s not… Presidential he’s most definitely not.
While Gekko never overtly revealed any racist tendencies, Trump paraded his own racist views on the very day he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President when he trashed all things Mexican, and, as he so poignantly put it, “ others” (non-whites, presumably). Coupled with his sexism/misogyny, the Donald has now proudly demonstrated his unique and boorish one-two punch. When he finally makes that decision and seeks a therapist’s counsel, let’s hope he’ll also choose to address those underlying rage/anger management issues.
In the meantime, let’s hope this “real estate mogul” devoid of core values (contributing to the Clinton Foundation and simultaneously stating Sarah Palin would make a great member of his team???) will begin to step out of his beloved spotlight. When even the fictional Gordon Gekko comes across as a far better businessman and potential candidate, the message is clear: give it up, Bozo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

FOX Presents: The GOP Follies


This Thursday evening (August 6th), the Fox Entertainment Group will premiere the first installment of what they fully expect will be a blockbuster series. Sneak previews and advance reviews have already won the show automatic renewal through November, 2016. In fact, Fox is hoping this series will become an international sensation, influencing millions for years to come. It may well achieve this goal. However, although Fox intended to produce a drama of biblical proportions—a serious study of the human condition—advance word has suggested it succeeds admirably as farce, tinged with an undercurrent of spine-tingling fear.
Headlining the cast for this series will be “The Donald”, a Kenyan-born caricature of a successful businessman. The pompous nature of this character is a tribute to the screenwriter’s imagination. His allegedly “storied” business career proves to be a fascinating mixture of successes and bankruptcies (picture Bozo the Clown on a bungee ride).
“The Donald” quickly reveals many quirks: he’s petrified of, and disgusted by, women who breast feed (believing instead that women ought to be paraded in antiquated beauty pageants). He’s vaccine-phonic, a climate change denier, and apparently has a serious issue with war heroes; particularly those who fought in the Vietnam War (no, “The Donald” never served).
Joining “The Donald” in this cast is a ventriloquist’s dummy (named “Walker”) who, while initially humorous, quickly runs out of steam. The interesting twist here is that there are two ventriloquists manipulating “Walker”; they are cryptically referred to as brothers, and they somehow cast a dark shadow over the proceedings. Your first impression is that “Walker” may be a humorous simpleton; we see him spouting silly rhetoric about teachers, labor unions, and education. Unfortunately, that’s the extent of his act, and he repeats it incessantly. Quite sad, actually.
“Bush” appears to be the patriarch of the cast (interestingly, there is no matriarch, nor is there any female presence at all in this opening installment). “Bush” seems to represent the very notion of entitlement that he professes to abhor. We begin to wonder about his family life. Does “Bush” have siblings? Are they successful? Is “Bush” over-compensating? Yet, in spite of his obvious flaws, “Bush” emerges as a somewhat well-intentioned goofball of a character; sympathetic where others are not.
In direct contrast to “Bush”, there’s a blowhard Texan named “Cruz”. You know from the moment you lay eyes on him that this guy can’t be trusted. He’s written as a villain, and takes to the role like a pig in mud. You get the feeling “Cruz” would be willing to shut/bring down our own government in order to further his own ambitions—and to hell with the country’s safety!
Next in line comes “The Huckster”. A bass player, a preacher, and oh yes, the former governor of Arkansas. “The Huckster” has been treading the boards for years, hoping to make an impact but seemingly content to sell books when the latter is not feasible (i.e.most of the time). “The Huckster” caught the preaching bug when he worked for a televangelist, though to his credit he served “in person” (as pastor in Pine Bluff and Texarkana for a dozen years). An ardent opponent of evolution, gun control, and gay marriage, “The Huckster” is prone to making outrageous statements that have no basis in reality. Don’t let the folksy charm fool you, “The Huckster” can sling mud with the best/rest of them while invoking the name of God to justify his actions.
These, then, are the primary characters in the new drama. There are lesser supporting characters: “El Rubio”. Dr. Ben, Rand “I-want-to-be-Ron” Paul, Bobby Jindal (usually referred to as “Bobby Who?”) and the delicate, sweet flower from New Jersey, Chris Christie. There also appear to be a myriad of bit players, but their names escape me.
The series has its moments of comedy, but falls flat in short order. The one dramatic moment for this viewer occurs when the realization sets in that these individuals are running for President of the United States. It’s a deeply disturbing and truly scary thought.
For those of you who might be intending to watch, don’t. For our friends and allies around the world, our humble apologies. Avert your eyes, cover your ears, and may we never need to speak of this again.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Mighty Hunter, Walter Palmer


One has to wonder what major inadequacy Walter J. Palmer may have been trying to overcome that would have caused him to travel to Zimbabwe and pay over $50,000 to like-minded defectives in order to lure a much beloved lion outside the safety of a wildlife preserve? He was clearly trying to compensate for something given the fact that killing Cecil wasn’t enough for Walter the Mighty Hunter—no, he apparently wanted to make him suffer… either that, or he himself suffers from a severe lack of skill with his little bow and arrow. After being wounded and suffering for forty hours, Cecil was finally summarily executed… then he was decapitated and skinned. You refer to these as “trophies” Dr. Palmer? Hardly. A trophy is something kids win at spelling bees, or athletic events. There was nothing “sporting” about what you did, Doctor. In its way, what Palmer did seems as cold-blooded as one of the ISIS videos.

A study (last year) commissioned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature revealed there are only an estimated 400 lions remaining in the wild in the seventeen nations of West Africa. The population has decreased by almost 50% in the last two decades. As one might expect, this is due to a combination of factors: habitat loss, available prey, and humans who suffer the same blood lust that afflicts Dr. Palmer. It’s clear that Walter Palmer believes he’s entitled to kill whatever he desires, whenever he wants to do so. After all, he has the cash—right? Sorry, Dr. Palmer, but you are not entitled to destroy the beauty and majesty of nature at will. You and your fellow poachers have decimated the world’s population of lions, rhinos, and elephants to the point where their survival has become questionable. You must be so proud, mighty hunter.

Although there’s a measure of comfort to be had in fantasizing about what we might like to do to you and those of your ilk, the simple truth is we’re better than you. We can’t resurrect Cecil—or any of the other animals you’ve “taken” (that’s a truly sick euphemism you used in trying to justify your actions). So, apart from boycotting your business (River Bluff Dental @ 10851 Rhode Island Ave. S., Bloomington, Minnesota 55438), or calling said business (952-884-5361) to voice our disgust at your actions, you’re unfortunately free to resume being the mighty hunter you perceive yourself to be. It would be nice, however, if you were extradited back to Zimbabwe to face charges and a jail sentence.
In the meantime, the rest of us need to pressure our legislators to persuade the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to include lions on the endangered species list. Although it’s unenforceable outside the United States, it would ban the importation of all so-called “trophies” (hides, heads, etc.) that Dr. Palmer and his sort hold dear.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paul LePage: Resign Already!



Let's cut to the chase: Paul LePage should finally do what's best for the people of Maine and resign as
Governor, effective immediately. Of course, the likelihood he'll see the wisdom in this suggestion is nil. Nonetheless,
a strong case can be made.
His first term in office amply demonstrated the fact that he is incapable of behaving like a rational
human being. Instead, he repeatedly embarrassed himself--not to mention the people and the state of Maine.
Nationally, he was widely perceived as a bullying demagogue who refused to engage in open discussion; let alone recognize the value in ever searching for compromise.
As the curtain rose on a second term (a fact that in itself defied all laws of logic)there were those who
somehow expected-- or hoped-- for a more contrite and diplomatic Paul LePage. Unfortunately it has quickly
become apparent that nothing has changed.
LePage had long been eager to risk the well-being of the state on the altar of Tea Party economics, and he quickly proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate Maine's income tax. Then, incensed that Democrats in the legislature had the temerity to oppose him, he vowed to veto every bill sponsored by a Democrat until he got his way. The Legislature remained unwilling to force Maine onto the same road to financial ruin that Kansas is currently treading. Their Tea Party governor Sam Brownback rammed through deep income tax cuts that have resulted in a large budget deficit-- and not the huge growth in economic activity and revenues that he'd promised. Nevertheless, LePage threw a public tantrum (disguised as a press conference), complete with fake Christmas trees and plastic pigs. No one could be certain what it all meant, but it did make the national news where LePage--and Maine--once more became laughingstocks. LePage carried through on his threat and vetoed ten bills (nine of which were subsequently over-ridden), followed by sixty four line item vetoes aimed at derailing the bipartisan budget that had been presented for his signature. All sixty four vetoes were over-ridden by the Legislature in record time. Even many Republicans had reached a breaking point and were exasperated by his behavior.
LePage remained on a roll, however. When he discovered that the Good Will-Hinckley School (a boarding school for kids with complex academic, social, behavioral and emotional challenges) planned to hire Mark Eves (who also serves as the Democratic House Speaker) as President, he suffered a meltdown and notified the school's board that if they hired Eves they could kiss $500,000 in state funding goodbye. It was estimated that this might trigger an additional loss of $2 million in private funding--more than enough to threaten the school's survival. To no one's great surprise, the offer to Eves was rescinded.
Any story involving blackmail is likely to catch the media's attention--and this was no exception, but Maine was embarrassed yet again.
In all likelihood, Mr. Eves will sue Mr. LePage (at the very least LePage violated the First Amendment prohibition against using state funds to exact retribution against political opponents), so the story and the national fallout won't be going away anytime soon.
Now, as a result of such impetuous and arrogant behavior, discussion re: possible impeachment has naturally surfaced.
But Maine is saddled with failed policies that have left our economy ranked anywhere from 38th (America's Top States for Business) to 47th or 49th (Business Insider and Forbes, respectively); we can ill afford additional distractions courtesy of the Cirque du Paul LePage. If he really wants to do the right thing, he should resign. By stepping aside he could still the political waters, assist in healing the almost irreparable damage done to the relationship between the Blaine House and the Legislature, and pave the way for future bipartisan progress. The state of Maine deserves no less.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Greek Pain, German Shame


When Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Greece (through Albania) on 10/18/1940, he imagined a victory to rival the military successes amassed by his Axis partner in crime—the Fuhrer of the Thousand year Nazi Reich—Adolf Hitler. Instead, the Greeks defeated the Italian army and pursued them into Albania. Hitler was temporarily forced to divert his attention away from his plans to stab Russia in the back (which he still managed to do in June of 1941) and bail out Mussolini. With the bulk of the Greek army in pursuit of the Italians in Albania, Nazi Germany launched a brutal blitzkrieg into Greece (joined by an opportunistic Bulgaria) on 4/6/1941. The Germans invested 680,000 troops, 1200 tanks, and 700 aircraft. Greece fell in a matter of months. During the ensuing “triple occupation”, there was widespread starvation (an estimated 40,000 people died in Athens alone), and the Greek economy was destroyed. In addition, between 60-70,000 Greek Jews (81% of their original population) were murdered as Hitler pursued his deranged attempts to eliminate all the Jews in Europe.
Tens of thousands more Greeks died as a result of Nazi reprisals against freedom fighters and at the hands of collaborators. Ironically, many Nazi collaborators escaped punishment for their crimes and became a part of the ruling class in Greece following the defeat of the communists in the bloody civil war that followed on the heels of World War II.
In 1942, the Greek Central Bank had been forced to provide a 476 million Reichsmarks loan (at 0% interest) to Nazi Germany. In 1960, Greece accepted 115 million Marks as what they viewed as partial payment for Nazi crimes. However, in 1990, immediately preceding the unification of East & West Germany, those two German entities signed the Two Plus Four Agreement with the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The Germans claimed that all matters concerning World War II—including further reparations due to Greece—were closed because Germany had surrendered to the Allies and no one else!
However, the Germans and the Troika (European Central Bank, European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund) recently unleashed a second blitzkrieg against Greece, this time in the form of severely punitive austerity measures (for the privilege of remaining in the Eurozone) guaranteed to have a devastating effect on the entire population—except the oligarchy and the banks.
Angela Merkel’s favorite punching bag, the much beleaguered Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, recently renewed Greece’s demand for reparations from Germany—somewhere in the amount of 269-332 billion Euro.
Leading French economist Thomas Piketty has noted that Germany has “no standing” to lecture other nations about debt repayment, never having paid back its own debt after World War II. Instead, Piketty argues that the same debt relief extended to Germany following the war ought to be extended to Greece now. If this doesn’t happen, let’s at least hope that Greece takes their reparations case before the World Court, and prevails. Imagine a humbled Wolfgang Schauble and Angela Merkel visiting Athens to finally hand over such a check: from justice deferred to justice secured.