Monday, May 26, 2008

Remember Pat Tillman?

As we finish digesting our Memorial Day barbeques and close out the holiday weekend, we should remember Pat Tillman. Tillman, an NFL football player opted to give up the glamor and wealth of professional sports and serve his country following 9/11.

Many of us on the left, including myself, never trusted the Bush Administration to prosecute the war against al quaida judiciously. However, the patriotic sacrifice offered by soldiers such as Tillman deserve reverence. They've made the ultimate sacrifice while the rest of us complain about gas prices on Memorial Day weekend and barely acknowledge that we're currently occupying two countries.

As for Pat Tillman, his high profile was exploited by the Bush Administration and the circumstances surrounding his death covered up. As we know by now, Tillman's death was officially caused by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan and did not result from engaging the enemy as the Pentagon originally reported. Below is a video clip of an interview that Tillman's, mother Mary, gave to Katie Couric of CBS News on May 4th. It was MayTillman who vigorously demanded the truth and forced the Pentagon to acknowledge their egregious errors. What disappoints me about this interview is that Couric doesn't ask Mary Tillman if she suspects her son was murdered because of his opposition to the Iraq war.

Tillman had signed up to fight al quaida in Afghanistan and was a poster boy for the war on terror. What if Tillman's opposition to the Iraq war had become public during the 2004 presidential campaign? There was much speculation last year that the Pentagon was really covering up an execution. Perhaps Tillman's mother, who also opposes the Iraq war, would have refuted that theory if Couric had asked. Nevertheless, the question should have been asked.

One wonders how many Pat Tillman's are there who signed up out of a sense of patriotic duty, made the ultimate sacrifice only for the U.S. government to dishonor their memories with falsehoods about their deaths. It seems the public has largely forgotten that our fellow citizens are risking their lives as we occupy two nations.

We're all consumed by rising gas prices and the struggles of our own lives. It shouldn't require a holiday called "Memorial Day" to remember that the men and women in uniform are flesh and blood people and not disposable units. Too many lives have been discarded at the whims of immoral and inept politicians as well as an apathetic public that has tuned out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But hey, I hear the reality TV show Survivor is now accepting applicants as young as eighteen. And American Idol is always fun to watch.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ted Kennedy: The Liberal Lion

The recent news about Senator Kennedy's seizure has me reflecting on the "liberal lion." The first political speech I can recall leaving an impression upon me was Senator Kennedy's concession speech to Jimmy Carter at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. I was eleven at the time and quite stirred by it. Many instead recall Senator Kennedy's inability to be gracious to President Carter on the podium and blame him for Ronald Reagan's victory. For me though, this speech by Kennedy stands the test of time. It was a defiant clarion call against the growing tide of callous predatory conservatism.

Unable to restore Camelot's throne, Kennedy resumed his Senate career and became an indispensable progressive advocate within the legislative branch. While the center of political gravity shifted to the right, Kennedy was a powerful counterweight. In 2002, unlike too many of his cowardly colleagues, Kennedy voiced dissent against President Bush's march towards war with Iraq.

Yes, I acknowledge Kennedy's personal failings. They've been well documented. The death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 when Kennedy left the scene of the accident and failed to immediately report it to authorities was despicable. Unquestionably, he got off far easier than the average person would have. If I were a member of Mary Jo Kopechne's family I likely could never forgive him. That said, this country is far better off for Kennedy's service in the Senate.

Below are four YouTube audio recordings of Kennedy's memorable speech divided in four parts. It's words still echo today.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kudos To Joe Biden

I've always had mixed feelings about Delaware Senator Joe Biden. On domestic issues his support of the bankruptcy bill undermined both wage earners and small business entrepreneurs. However, his home state relies on the financial services industry for jobs so I understood.

In October 2002, Biden showed poor judgment in supporting the resolution to go to war against Iraq. Overall though he's been an articulate voice on foreign policy. I thought his presidential campaign was an honorable attempt at substance over show biz and deserved more attention from the media.

Today, Biden effectively responded to President Bush's disgraceful fear mongering before the Israeli Knesset. Bush was specifically targeting American Jewish voters on behalf of McCain. Jewish voters typically vote for Democrats about seventy percent of the time. Obama has a perceived weakness among that constituency. As an American Jew I was offended by Bush's pandering through fear mongering and appreciate Biden's forceful response.

Iran is a complex and layered society. To learn more about the Iranian people and their system of government, click here to listen to an interview I conducted with Mideast expert Barbara Slavin last year. Slavin's informative book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation had just been published when the interview took place.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Amy Poehler Is So Right

Amy Poehler's latest impersonation of Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live brilliantly captures the Democratic Party's political zeitgeist. Indeed, Poehler's humorous pseudo Clinton illustrates the real subtext behind her message to the party's super delegates: my supporters are racist and I'm shamelessly unscrupulous enough to do whatever it takes to win. Clinton's recent channeling of her inner George Wallace in USA Today last week had me infuriated. She deserves forceful repudiation not merely because of her comments in USA Today but her sinister campaign of race baiting with dog whistles. Even better would be repudiation by the voters of West Virginia tomorrow but that's not going to happen.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Have You Called Mom Today?

The corporate media, blogs and our individual attention spans are understandably consumed by the celebrity hype of presidential politics these days. Mothers Day however offers an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our society and individual families.

Women have made remarkable gains the past forty years. Indeed when Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in their famous 1973 tennis match, women were typically denied credit cards simply for being women. Today women are CEOs, television news anchors and Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House.

As my readers know, I’m not fond of Hillary Clinton but a woman coming this close to the Democratic Party’s nomination for president is a cultural milestone. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in the United States Congress ran for president in 1972 and observed that, “I've always met more discrimination being a woman than being black.”

Our culture has certainly evolved since Chisholm ran for president. As economist Jared Bernstein pointed out to me during a podcast interview last month, women’s wages have increased dramatically in recent years while men with high school diplomas have watched their earning power disintegrate due to globalization. Yet this reality has only added to the struggles and stress of professional moms as well as working class “waitress moms.” Too many moms must lift the household in today’s treadmill economy while their husbands struggle to earn a living wage as manufacturing jobs disappear.

Working is not simply a choice for women today or a legitimate pursuit of career ambition. It’s an absolute necessity. Most families can’t survive without two incomes and the precipitous decline of male incomes have made our treadmill economy steeper. Yet moms still absorb much of the household burdens and parenting responsibilities.

Frequently, it’s mom who carries the weight in today’s treadmill economy while their husbands struggle to earn a living wage. Meanwhile, mom has to simultaneously assuage the ego and pride of those dads who earn less after the plant closed or they were laid off. Also, too many fathers abandon their responsibilities and leave mom to raise their kids without any support.

In many households mom is the CEO within the home and sets the tone for the family as a whole. If mom isn’t happy nobody in the house is happy. Mom is often the one who wakes up the kids who would rather sleep and get them to school. Through it all it’s often up to mom to smile through the adversity, manage the conflicts and controversies between siblings, help the kids with their homework and be a wife to dad. Mom has to be a disciplinarian without losing her temper due to stress. That’s tough. And sometimes mom isn’t perfect and loses her temper when she’s expected to pick up after everyone as dad watches ESPN and kids behave like kids.

And let’s not forget the repercussions for moms from our foreign policy. While most sacrifice little in our military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan we have moms widowed and struggling, or carrying on while dads are compelled to serve multiple tours of duty due to America’s back-door draft. There are also those moms raising their kids and supporting the family while simultaneously struggling to transition their traumatized husbands back into society.

We also have mom warriors serving abroad and risking their lives while the government callously does little to help their families at home. And those mom warriors also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and are expected to seamlessly become mom again when they return home. While were at it, for damn sure we shouldn’t forget the moms in Iraq and Afghanistan living in misogynist cultures who have needlessly lost their children and husbands due to “collateral damage” as the Pentagon likes to call it.

To their enormous credit, moms have great challenges partly because they’ve embraced them and succeeded in rising above them. And of course one person those moms can often call upon when they need a helping hand, advice or a shoulder to lean on are their own moms. Kids often know that in a pinch mom will call grandma in a time of need.

Twenty-five years ago, the most memorable moment of my Bar Mitzvah was when my mother, grandmother and great grandmother stood with me on the podium while Rabbi Katz presented the Torah. Rabbi Katz told the congregation, “We are privileged to have four generations represented up here today. Three generations of mothers who made today possible.” I sensed it was a poignant moment at the time but it wasn’t until years later I realized how much it mattered to have three generations of mothers standing with me.

Bottom line, call your mom today.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Welcome To The Endgame

Below, is a video courtesy of MSNBC, of Obama's victory speech in North Carolina this evening. As of this writing, Indiana remains too close to call. Obama needs to win over sixty percent of the votes remaining in Lake County, Indiana which is a tall order. But not impossible. However, viscerally it feels like the endgame of the Obama/Clinton contest has finally arrived. As for Obama's speech this evening, I find it interesting how he channeled John Edwards with his references to valuing work over wealth. Indeed, there were numerous populist anecdotes. Overall the tone is of a candidate looking to unify the party for the general election.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Just A YouTube Post

I admit it. I have writers block. Even as I've been talking with people about the presidential campaign, phone banking for Obama and debating with friends/colleagues/acquaintances about policy, I just can't structure my thoughts in recent days. Suffice to say I am infuriated at the sensationalized coverage of Reverend Wright and how the media hype has dwarfed the more important issues pertaining to our foreign policy and economy.

Personally, I'm rather burned out by this campaign and it's only May. So much at stake. Our country is in trouble. The times could not be more serious. From my vantage point America is an empire in decline. Our education system is in decline. Our infrastructure is decaying. America's for profit health care system is making us sicker. Republican nominee John McCain is promoting a health plan that would reward employers for dropping their coverage. McCain's so called tax credit for people to buy insurance can't begin to keep up with the rising costs. Our military is overextended as we occupy not one but two nations with a back door draft. The world is poised to run out of fresh water because of global warming. And the campaign continues to become more vapid by the hour.

So, given the vapid discourse I thought I would post this humorous YouTube video entitled "The Empire Strikes Back" from an Obama supporter. It won't readdress the imbalance of the media coverage questioning Obama's "values." Nor will it raise the level of debate about the issues I referenced above. One could fairly argue that I'm just feeding the beast of superficiality by posting it. But for the time being it will make me feel better. And for now that's enough. I'll have more substantive essays and interview posts in the days ahead.