Saturday, July 25, 2009

Choose to Defuse

Nothing like a he said/he said drama to add some sizzle to the summer. Of course, no one--except the two men involved-- knows just what went down in Cambridge, Mass between Prof. Henry Louis Gates, a prominent African-American Harvard scholar and Sgt. James Crowley, who apparently oversees the Cambridge Police department's diversity and sensitivity training. But that doesn't stop us from conjuring vivid versions-- all shaded by heritage, age, experience and imagination-- and sharing them around the water cooler, at coffee shops and on cable TV and talk radio.

I immediately recalled the recounted experiences of a college classmate back in the 1980's. An attractive, impeccably groomed young man, the guy dressed more like a young exec on casual Friday than a student at our artsy college. He was also African-American. And he had just come back from an altercation with the cops in the affluent New York suburban town that bordered our college. "Why did they stop you?" I asked. His expression and response cut through my naive young heart. "Because I'm black." He was stopped simply because he had the audacity to walk through the predominantly white town. And it hadn't been the first time. It wouldn't be the last.

At fifty-eight Prof. Gates must have accrued an arsenal of such unpleasant experiences. His own and those of friends, relatives, colleagues and students. So that well-earned chip was firmly affixed to his shoulder the day he was stopped by the Cambridge Police officers for "residing while black." No one can question the police's obligation to respond to the 911 call that alerted them to a possible burglary. And maybe Gates was annoyed, maybe even utterly obnoxious upon their arrival. But once Sgt. Crowley ascertained that Gates was, indeed, in his own home, he should have left the professor to stew in his own indignant juices.

No one should get hauled out of his own home for being perturbed or even down right rude( or we'd all be in trouble). Remember the cops have the badges,the guns, the authority. It is their job to defuse the situation. So even if Gates was, as Crowley has said, " acting oddly," even if he had been spewing all sorts of colorful language, the officer should have abated the moment. A simple, "Sorry to have bothered you , sir. Have a good day," might have gone a long way. But he didn't and we know the rest; we all saw the humiliating photo of the distingusihed professor in handcuffs.

Since the incident all sorts of people--left, right, white, black--have offered their opinions. Several prominent black professionals and scholars have recounted their own "driving/walking while black" experiences.

And, of course, the most famous voice in the cultural chorus came from President Obama. His comment, at the end of his health care reform snooze conference, woke everyone up. His response:"the Cambridge Police acted stupidly" caused another firestorm. The Cambridge Police Association-- and other police groups across the country-- demanded the President apologize. Red meat right- wing commentators like Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly had a two day feast.

By Friday, Obama did what the Cambridge cop would not: he defused the situation. He called both Crowley and Gates and interrupted a press briefing, acknowldging his words only ratcheted up the rancor. He said both men were good people who had overreacted. He invited them to the White House for a beer. And he thought the incident offered a " teachable moment" for the nation.

George Will, the esteemed conservative white septuagenarian columnist swatted the incident and the President's involvement like a pesky fly (the very act that got Obama into hot water with PETA). "Can you imagine Dwight Eisenhower commenting on a local police incident?" he asked on ABC's This Week on Sunday.Donna Brazille, the African-American Democratic strategist and commentator, echoed the President's sentiments, calling for a national conversation on race. Will countered, " We don't need the President to lead that conversation."

Maybe not. But Obama is a uniquely eloquent man in a unique position. His speech on race--given during the primary campaign--in response to the Rev. Wright controversy-- put forth some uncomfortable truths about race. Who better to speak to a still skittish and guilty nation about our prejudices and fears, about the racial divides that persist in our society than our first African-American president?

Every giant cultural shift starts with a small step or episode.Integration in the south started with Rosa Parks on a bus and defiant black citizens at lunch counters.Maybe the end to racial profiling can be brokered over a beer between three men at the White House. Let's just hope Sgt. Crowley doesn't demand to see President Obama's ID.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'Birther' Pains

Lou Dobbs is bad for America's health. The border blasting broadcaster has apparently joined the crazies in the Obama "Birther" movement. On his radio show he almost agreed with a whackadoodle caller who insisted President Obama is not a United States citizen, and therefore anything he does in office is illegal.Dobbs said, "I'm starting to think we have a document problem. You suppose he', I won't use the word "'undocumented'"

Come on, Lou, cash in that one-way ticket to Crazytown. The President was born in Hawaii in 1961. Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state on August 21, 1959. Surely you don't need to be a math whiz to figure out the Prez. made the citizenship grade by nearly two years.I know, I know, you find his birth certificate, which can be viewed online, even on the right wing site, World Net Daily, " peculiar." Something about the raised stamp? You want to see a "long form" certificate. And if he came up with that, you'd need affidavits from dead doctors, dental records, DNA samples and Obama's bronzed baby shoes.

Really you don't want to be like that cuckoo-for-Coco puffs woman who stopped the Castle town meeting in Delaware, waving her own birth certificate in a baggy from the 1950's and a little plastic flag, demanding to get her country back and ordering everyone in the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, right there and then. Just because it made her feel all warm and patriotic, I guess, as she shouted " he's a Kenyan citizen." The fact that everyone complied is scary. Funny, too, but pretty scary.

There are nutso " Birthers" filing lawsuits, trying to get out of military service. I'm sure some will use Obama's so-called "illegitimate" presidency as an excuse to not pay taxes, to not eat their vegetables or God forbid, stop watching American Idol.

Those of us still exploring life in Saneville know racism is at the cynical, bitter heart of the "Birther" movement. These people just can't accept a Black man as their president. That whack job who killed the poor guard at the Holocaust Museum was one of these nuts. You don' want to be among them, Lou. Really, you don't. Rush, maybe, but not you, Lou. You're not that far gone. Not yet.

And now when America is in the midst of so much economic turmoil, when so many people are really hurting, when we have to tackle big issues like health care reform, job creation, education, not to mention all those pesky global issues,we need voices like yours that had once been strong and clear to empower, encourage and educate. Not to distract, divide, deride.

Return that Crazytown ticket before it's too late, Lou. I'm pretty sure the new health plan won't pay for the extensive psychiatric treatment all these wackos need. Don't be one of them.

Give yourself a good mental floss and come back home.

Drive safe. Play nice. think peace.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Won't Get Mooned Again

The guy who took that first small step for man, that first giant step for Mankind, wants us to stop shooting for the Moon.

Neil Armstrong, who stepped down on the surface of the Moon forty years ago--on July 20, 1969-- thinks America should set its sights higher. To Mars. In a rare joint appearance on the eve of the big anniversary, the Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, all echoed that lofty aspiration. Aldrin, the second guy to step on lunar territory ( Collins stayed aboard the Mother Ship), said, "America, do you still dream great dreams? Do you believe in yourself? Are you ready for a great national challenge?"

The Moon landings were historic, of course, and inspirational. Not only did they round out President Kennedy's promising legacy, they served as a peaceful stand-in for the Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviets.

That is if we really made those landings. Yep, there are those who believe the whole program was one big hoax, cooked up in an elaborate collaboration between NASA and Hollywood. The granddaddy of hoax hucksters, Bill Kaysing self-published, We Never Went to the Moon:America's 30 Billion Dollar Swindle in 1974, shortly after the Apollo Moon program was scrapped. The movement picked up steam in 1978 after the release of the the film Capricorn One, about a faked Mars landing. On the heels of Vietnam and Watergate, with growing skepticism about the government, more people latched onto the hoax theory. But it was always a small cadre. In a 1999 poll, only 6% of Americans believed the Moon landings were a hoax. But after a Fox TV special: Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? aired in 2001, the number of skeptics jumped to 20%.

And they're still at it. Fly through cyberspace and you'll find a slew of sites dedicated to proving the hoax theory; some feature characters recreating a plausible Hollywood orchestration. Recent revelations by NASA that they had misplaced videos of the original landing--and then had to to get what video they recovered digitally re-mastered-- only fueled the hoax hucksters engines. But there is solid independent evidence to support the landings' veracity including images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing the landings, astronauts standing on the moon, science experiments and even-- in the case of Apollo 14-- footprints.

So it seems the Moon landing hoax is not well grounded in fact. And that's a relief. Because if you buy that, you'll have to wonder about Woodstock, too. Maybe it was just a Hollywood movie musical. And what about those Miracle Mets? Maybe they're just a myth. That one I'll never believe.

As for the laudable manned mission to Mars, it's a pretty expensive dream. According to most reports, such a program would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 Billion dollars a year,for say, 10 years. You do the math. That kind of money could fund health coverage for a lot of Americans. So given our current economic straights, a manned Mars mission seems like reaching for the stars. But that,of course, is the most American of all American dreams.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Selective Hearing

I think Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly took Lindsey Graham out to dinner the other night and stuffed him silly with knuckle sandwiches and pitchers of bitter GOP Kool Aid. How else can you explain his abrupt mood shift from day one of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings to day two?

In his opening statement, Sen. Graham graciously acknowledged, "You're going to get confirmed. Unless you have a meltdown, which I don't see happening." The next day, he came in fixin' for a fight, brimming with reports from " unnamed" lawyers suggesting the nominee was a bully on the bench. "Do you have a temperament problem?" Excuse me, Senator. You're saying Judge Sotomayor, who handled a tough grilling on everythinmg from abortion rights to affirmative action and the Second Amendment with authority, grace and humor needs anger management classes? Come on. She even managed to spin cartwheels around countless questions by you, Sen. Sessions, Coburn et al on her unfortunate " wise Latina woman" comment. Over and over. And she did it with the million dollar smile her pal the cosmetic dentist designed and a cast on her leg!

Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't ask tough questions of a nominee for the highest appointed gig in the land. It's a lifetime deal, I get that. And you don't agree with her philosophically, I know. But, let's not make her out to be some crazy left-wing thug. She's got seventeen pretty moderate years ( so moderate some real libs aren't thrilled with her either) on the bench.

And she's not having a meltdown. She's getting confirmed. She saved baseball, for God's sake. She is the face of America. Deal with it.

But just imagine how much more entertaining these hearings would be if we had a different nominee, someone like say, Judge Judy. Or Nancy Grace. Either of these firebrands could easily have a meltdown of nuclear proportion, one that would leave the Capitol all aglow. Like Chernobyl.

So take a sip from your GOP Kool Aid, Sen. Graham, close your eyes and lean back in your over-sized Senate hearing chair. Here's a snippet from Judge Judy's fantasy hearing:

Judge Judy: Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Sen.Graham.

Don't even try that one on me, Sen. Sessions. On your best day, you're not half as smart as I am on my worst day.

Beauty fades, as you well know, Sen. Coburn, dumb is forever.

And now a glimpse from Nancy Grace's hearing:

Nancy: Put Hatch up on the screen. Put him up. I want to see his face
when I don't answer that ridiculous question. I know they're guilty. I don't have time to sort out the facts. In case you didn't know, Michael Jackson's still dead. And I haven't read the " Tot Mom's" commissary list in weeks. Listen to this, Hatch, she's feasting on beef jerky and Velveeta. And she's luxuriating in her 8 by 10 cell, doing her nails, too, in something called "Pretty in Pink Prisoner." That's right, get Hatch back up there. I said, Pretty in Pink beef jerky, Senator.

Ah, what combustible fun it would be.

But back here in the real world, Sonia Sotomayor will easily slip into the big robe. As you said, so eloquently on that first sane day, Sen. Graham, " elections have consequences." And one of them is the President gets to fill in the new Supremes.

Just wait 'til he has to fill a vacancy from your side of the bench. Get ready to smuggle in lunch from Rush Limbaugh's ex-housekeeper. But, don't worry. Obama might be in a generous mood. He might even fly in the Dancing Itos for halftime entertainment.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Animal Husbandry

So much for whatever happens in Vegas, staying in Vegas. Nevada Senator John Ensign's extra-marital shenanigans which had been overshadowed in the last few weeks by the odd antics of his fellow republicans Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin are back in the news. And it looks like we've hit the jackpot. For repubs the jackpot is the sort perps found themselves in on NYPD Blue. For libs, we're talking about the kind Ensign's dad,a retired casino mogul hated to pay out.

Ensign, in case you forgot, confessed to having an affair with the wife of his former chief of staff, Doug Hampton. The wife, Cindy also had some sort of gig as a bookkeeper on the Senator's campaign(and managed to get her salary doubled during the illicit interlude). The exact timeline is murky. The affair started around Christmas of 2007 and lasted, according to Ensign through August 2008. Hampton--the hubby-- who said he was told by the senator both " I'm in love with your wife," and " you can't work for me anymore" in the same conversation, claims the passionate fling burned out after a few months. However long it lasted, the way it ended--and just who was involved--is what will continue to dog Ensign, who by the way, is the only veterinarian in Congress.

Here's where you need a scorecard and maybe a movie director (after tackling both Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons,Ron Howard may be up for the task). While in D.C. Ensign lives at someplace called the " Prayer House" on C Street with a few other right-wing, religious politicos including Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn. The house is designated as a church and run by a shadowy group known as The C Street Fellowship or The Family. According to Harper's writer Jeff Sharlet, who infiltrated the group and penned the new book, The Family, these Christian power brokers often call themselves " The Christian Mafia." They advocate "biblical capitalism" and training people to " take over the world." Of course, they don't only appeal to right-wing repubs. Doug Coe the group's leader,who often praises Hitler's tactics, urging his followers to use them to spread the group's fundamentalist agenda in his sermons,has been Hillary Clinton's spiritual advisor for years. The group also hosts the mainstream National Prayer Breakfast which has featured keynotes from luminaries like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Bono!

And in case you're keeping score: Mark Sanford is also involved with The Family. And Sen. Coburn says he can't testify at a Senate hearing or trial because he's a doctor. Okay, he is; but he's an obstetrician. So I doubt that doctor-patient confidentiality business applies. Unless Ensign is starring in a real life version of Junior. And if he is, his reality show should knock the Octomom and John & Kate off the air.

After being outed by Doug Hampton, members of the group including Coe's sons and Sen. Coburn strong-armed Ensign into writing a Dear Cindy letter to his paramour; they even drove him to the FedEx office to be sure he mailed it. After escaping his guards, Ensign supposedly called Cindy to tell her the letter was on its way and to disregard its contents, all written under duress. The next day, according to the cuckolded husband, Ensign rendezvoused with Cindy in Sin City.

The Family also instructed Ensign that the Hamptons had to "fade away" and "be made whole." This is where Ensigns mommy and daddy come in. They dipped into their casino coffers and paid the Hamptons $96,000 to help them start life anew in Colorado and get the heck off their baby boy's presidential campaign trail (anyone ever think he was a contender before all this nonsense?). If it was silence they were after, they didn't get it.Doug Hampton is hitting his own bitter media trail. As for the elder Ensigns, they don't see what the big deal is. They say they were just showing" a pattern of generosity" towards the Hamptons as they have shown, over the years, to others. Tell that to the IRS.

Doggone it. Ensign thought he was free and clear. But now it looks like even GOP stalwarts will have him back in the desert by summer's end. He may have to return to his old profession. Should be a natural transition. After all, they must be fighting like cats and dogs in the Ensign household.

POLITRIX: Those bemoaning the apparent loss of both Sanford and Ensign and maybe even Palin as GOP 2012 contenders, expect comebacks from Rudy, Romney and maybe even Newt. But don't leave Larry Craig off the wish list. After all, the disgraced former Idaho senator is known for his wide stance on many issues.

PALINS on PARADE Gov. Palin's ex-almost son-in-law Levi Johnson knows why the Mavericky One called it quits. The young dad, who's courting his own fifteen minutes and a book deal, says it's all about the Benjamins. " She was very excited about a book and reality TV show," he said. Bravo execs must be on the phone making the deal. The Real Maverick Housewives of Wasilla will stick a spear in those Jersey girls.

HE's SMART ENOUGH: For those worried that Al Franken,( who was finally sworn in as Minn. senator), doesn't have the temperament for Congress, fear not. I interviewed the former SNL writer/comedian/Air America host a few years back, and found him smart, serious, and I hate to say it, a tad on the dull side. His pal, Newsweek's Howard Fineman concurs, labeling the former Harvard math nerd, who btw, also co-wrote the acclaimed, dramatic Meg Ryan film, When a Man Loves a Woman, "sometimes as dull as watching paint dry." And gosh darn it, people like him.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Northern Over-Exposure

Things are kooky on Planet Palin. Well, kookier than usual.

Sarah Barracuda is calling it quits. Governor Palin's not only not seeking a second term as Alaska's chief executive, but she's out-Sanfordizing Mark Sanford and ditching the last eighteen months of her first term. In a jittery, often incoherent speech, Alaska's mavericky governor invoked lame ducks, dead fish, basketball analogies,and the wisdom of refrigerator magnets. Huh? Sounded like she threw the speech together about as quickly as she convened the hasty press conference, which was so last minute only a small cadre were on hand. And most of them were the First Dude and the neighbors. Oh, and some loud birds, who underscored the folksy nonsense.

Someone surely spiked the moose jerky. This speech was so rambling, the performance so disjointed, the logic so loopy, Tiny Fey couldn't have made it any funnier if she pickled her brain in whale blubber. One minute Palin bemoaned apathy: "Only dead fish go with the flow," the next minute we're in the middle of a basketball court:"A full court press is picking away at us" And before long, she was even plucking a line out of the General MacArthur handbook: "We're not retreating; we're advancing in a different direction."

Okay, I get it. Sarah Palin's leading by not leading. Winners always quit, after all, and quitters always win. She's quitting because " the troops never give up." Right. And she's got some Pipeline left to sell you, too.

In her upside down world there is some wisdom. Well, of the self-interested variety.Without her official government shackles, Palin's's free to put her fifteen minutes of fame into overtime and overdrive, roam the lower forty-eight in pursuit of lucrative venues for her incoherent speeches (her price tag is reportedly in the $200-250,000 neighborhood),radio and TV talk show deals, Neiman-Marcus shopping sprees and those pesky presidential campaign issue Berlitz courses. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, of The Weekly Standard and Fox News calls her abrupt resignation surprising, but " maybe a good move, " noting it could give her time to become educated on the issues. Another republican guru, Ed Rollins, thinks Palin may have come close to political suicide. " she's becoming more of a kook than a serious candidate." Becoming?

Of course cynics might suggest Palin's pulling out now to avoid further ethical inquiries. There have been fifteen so far, and more may be on the way. The bills for her legal woes are already topping $300,000 and mounting. She was quick to point out how frivolous and politically motivated all the claims have been. And she's been vindicated. Well, mostly, kinda, sorta. There is that scathing article by Todd Prudum in Vanity Fair, featuring blistering comments from former McCain aides who charge they couldn't get Palin to prep for the Katie Couric interview and use words like hard-to-handle, lightweight, narcissistic and unelectable to describe her. And John McCain's daughter, Megan's working on a book, too. And since she's never had a kind word to say about her daddy's former running mate, I doubt the chapter on Palin will be brimming with accolades. Then again, the Gov's got her own $4.5 million dollar book deal. So she'll have time to write... well, I mean, meet with her ghost writer.

Among her fantasy spinmeisters there's at least one character who suggests the governor's ready to throw in her lipstick-stained towel. She'so disenchanted with politics, Palin is ready to pack in all her public aspirations for the warm, quiet hearth of her family. Right. Like I said, she's got that piece of Pipeline up for grabs.

Don't get it? Too bad. As the magnet on her parents' refrigerator says, " Don't explain: friends don't need it. And your enemies won't believe it anyway."

Still, for those who had visions of a Palin & the Plumber ( as in Joe) bumper sticker adorning the back of their SUVs, there's still hope. Whether she'll be on the 2012 Republican ticket or a Fox News show, Sarah Palin's not ready to simply fade away. Here's the question: does Sarah Palin enjoy the spotlight and seeing her own reflection in it? You betcha!

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.