2017 Was a Terrible Year

December 12, 2017

2017 was a terrible year, and no it was not only because Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20th, although inaugurating Number 45 certainly didn’t help matters. 2017 was a terrible year because of devastating hurricanes and wildfires, senseless mass shootings, grotesque men preying upon women, a further descent into incompetent government, and the loss of some of my favorite celebrities – Mary Tyler Moore, Fats Domino, George “The Animal” Steele, Chuck Berry, and Batman ( Adam West, the real Batman).

2017 was a terrible year because in both the public and private sectors feelings of shame and personal embarrassment took a big hit as people we thought we knew and admired contributed to a decline in our collective culture. Lying became an acceptable form of behavior; cheating on all levels was commonplace; bullying of the innocent was a regular occurrence; anger and intolerance exploded; and the values that we as a nation took for granted began to be chipped away.

2017 was a terrible year because those who controlled the levers of public power saw a need to replace a process of governing based on moderation, consensus, and compromise with mean-spirited partisanship and unnecessary favors for the rich and well born. Rather than building on the past and reforming what didn’t quite work, the mantra was reject and repeal. Meanwhile the gap between the rich and the rest of us got wider and wider.

2017 was a terrible year because the world stood on the brink of war, agreements designed to improve life were ignored or violated, millions of people were displaced, and far too many people and their governments could not muster the courage to open their hearts and their wallets to those in desperate need. Not In My Backyard became more than a slogan, but a way of looking at the space outside our homes, and not caring one bit.

And 2017 was a terrible year because what progress may have been made to create an integrated society took a big hit as racial, ethnic and religous tensions escalated, people forgot who Jesus made friends with, phony patriotism took over sporting events, and those who pump billions into our economy doing work that we shun were told to get out.

I am a big believer in hope as a way of dealing with those people, events and conditions that make our great country less than what it can be. 2018 is right around the corner and one can only hope that it will be a better year as we bring that terrible 2017 to a close. Let’s keep hope alive.

 

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Tax Cuts or Entitlement Cuts?

December 6, 2017

Americans of all ages should not only be focused on the tax cut debate currently swirling around Congress but more importantly the long term impact of those cuts on yearly deficits and the nation debt. It is estimated that the cuts will add about $ 1.4 trillion to the national debt- already over $ 20 trillion- causing migrane headaches among deficit hawks, those who are getting nervous about interest payments to cover our treasury bonds, and the AARP and millennial generations who will have to pick up the tab for the gifts to corporations and the wealthy.

Since I am part of the AARP generation and our daughters and grandchildren are a few generations behind, the real story about the Republican tax bill is what will happen down the road to the entitlement benefits for grandma and grandpa and how will the youth of America be forced to deal with a certain budget crisis in order to get the nation’s finances in order?

The reason Republicans and conservatives in general are not talking that much about the deficit and national debt is that the end game of the tax cut is a shrinking of government entitlements. The shifting of money to Wall Street, corporations and the wealthy is just the first step in dismantling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. After the GOP gets its fiscal pound of flesh from the middle class, the next step is to take on the deficits and debts that the cuts created, and the best way to do that is to chip away at the so-called “budget busters” that so many Americans rely on.

Taking on the entitlements in the name of ” fiscal responsibility” can be accomplished in two ways- substantially reducing benefits for grandma and grandpa while selling privatization schemes to the young as replacements for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Since these next steps in the Republican plan to shrink government entitlements are years away, the current legislation is being touted as putting thousands of dollars into the pockets of Main Street Americans in the near term. The political plan of the GOP is thus a small five year bonus to the middle class followed by the inevitable attack on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

If you thought that the tax cut bill was a fierce battleground separating the two political parties, just wait until the skyrocketing deficits and debt call into question the fiscal strength of the United States requiring deep cuts in government programs to be replaced by 401K Social Security, privately funded Medicare and charity tax incentives for those poor receiving Medicaid. So for all those Americans receiving either a meager bonus or a huge cash reward with the Republican bill, enjoy your refund check. But always keep in mind that these short term gains are only the first step in dismantling the entitlements that have become an integral part of the safety net in our country.


The Trump Kids

November 27, 2017

President Trump’s children from three marriages have gotten more attention than most offspring of a chief executive, especially the oldest “kids”- Eric, Donald and Ivanka, and the other “kid” by marriage, Jared Kushner. If there is a common thread that links the Trump family is that dad named his children from his marriage to Ivana to high profile campaign and later White House positions with vague job descriptions and questionable authority. One year into his presidency and the Trump “kids” have added little of value to their dad’s administration and more importantly are a national embarrassment.

Eric, the so-called smart one, has stayed away from government and is running the family business, which by most accounts has declined in net worth and brand recognition. Donald Jr., often described as the weak one much like Fredo from the Godfather saga, could likely be headed for the big house as the Russian collusion investigation moves forward. Ivanka, the well-dressed one, doesn’t really have a role, except to look beautiful and serve as a good-will ambassador to far away places. Jared, the presidential adviser, has been described by many in and out of conservative circles as the ” worst adviser to a president in recent memory.” Tiffany, the daughter of Marla Maples, is in law school and appears to have no interest in even being shown in photos standing next to deal ol’ dad, and Baron, the son of Melania and Trump, is a real kid, kind of a lost boy living in the White House.

Usually the family members of a president stay out of the limelight or follow their own career caring little to be associated with the mess that is Washington politics. But it is clear that President Trump sees his administration as a family business where his children use their positions to make money. It’s growing increasingly obvious that the Trump presidency is about using government and public policy to increase the bottom line or at the minimum to make friends in the corporate world who will owe their good fortune to Donald and the “kids.”

The Trump presidency and the family business is so much like many of the authoritarian regimes in Latin America,the Middle East and Africa where dictators rely on their gaggle of relatives to ensure trust and obedience in exchange for a cut of the wealth generated by government control and influence. Democratic values are unimportant and a drain on money making; a mix of capitalism and nepotism are what drives government.

What is a problem for President Trump and the “kids” is that although weakened this country still has an independent judiciary and functioning law enforcement agencies led by honorable men and women who still believe in the rule of law. It will be interesting to see how long the “kids” benefit from the power of their dad. It would be nice, though, to see the kids return to real estate and selling shoes.

 

 

 


Sexual Harassment or Tax Harassment?

November 20, 2017

There is nothing like a good ol’ sex scandal to take the American public’s attention away from what really matters in their lives. Sure sexual harassment is a plague that far too many women have had to endure as lecherous bosses and co-workers make professional relationships toxic. As many have said, we may be a moment in our national culture where women in the workplace begin to be treated as equals rather than as sex objects.

But the so-called tax reform juggernaut that is being pushed through the Congress hits at the heart of every American’s pocketbook. Sexual harassment may be a debate topic at a local watering hole, but it seems that in the real world of everyday life money trumps sex ( sorry for the terrible pun). Granted that matters of fiscal policy are often difficult to grasp as there is talk of deductions, rates, arcane rules, and loopholes. Yet tax policy is really quite simple and can be summed up in one question, ” who benefits and by how much?”

It may be good for the media bottom line to get viewers to watch as the likes of Spacey, Moore, Weinstein and Franken squirm in front of the cameras or make some lame statement from a rehab  country club. Taxes, however, affect all of us and the answers to the question of ” who benefits and by how much” are not the difficult to determine. By most accounts the big guys and gals in corporate headquarters and in the gated communities will do extremely well under the Republican plans currently being debated, while most of us, who are transfixed with sexual harassment stories, will likely get a few crumbs and only for a relatively short period of time. In fact many of us either in high tax states or with mortgages over $500,000 could take a beating.

Since the tax policy is headed for a political conclusion by the end of the year, it would be wise for Americans to stop asking each other who got outed today for being a sexual jerk and switch to discussing the ” who benefits and by how much” question, after all its about money, a lot of money, and most importantly it is our money. A word to the wise – keep your eyes on your wallet not the boorish behavior of Hollywood and Washington bad boys.

 


Women Rule

November 8, 2017

Much has been made of the victory of the Democratic Party in Virginia and the impact of the message it sends to Republicans and President Trump. The real story of the election returns both in Virginia and elsewhere, however,  is the rise of women to positions of governmental responsibility and leadership. This could be the beginning of the Year of the Woman in American politics.

In Virginia 12 of the 16 seats that flipped Democratic in the House of Delegates were won by women. In my home state of Massachusetts two women who were first-time candidates won elections for mayor, one over a guy who said that his opponent was a stay at home mom while he had a full time job. Talk about a huge sexist miscalculation.

But besides the victories of women, there is mounting evidence that the ol’ boys club of politics may be facing  more and more female challengers.  Organizations such as Emily’s List and She Should Run are reporting that there are thousands of women who have expressed an interest in running for political office. With the victories in the Virginia election, the number of women seeking to enter the governmental fray will likely increase even more.

This burst of female political energy was bound to happen not just because of recent sexual harassment charges, but also because women have had enough of men making public policy decisions on equal pay, contraception, workplace advancement and health care.  Male office holders running for re-election against a woman in 2018 should be very scared. What’s that old saying about ” Hell hast no fury, then a woman scorned.” Hillary will not be the first female president of our country but her legacy may be encouraging the sisterhood to take up the fight for woman power.

Now before this analysis of women in politics gets out of hand, men still dominate the governing landscape and turning the tables on generations of male control is not going to happen with one election cycle. The ol’ boys will still be around suggesting that these female entrants to politics are novices who aren’t ready for “prime time.”  But what the ol’ boys don’t understand is that they may be up against a political movement that will be difficult to stop. The Tea Party was a movement, Trumpism was a movement and now Women Rule may just be the new movement destined to shape our politics and the direction of our country. Women got the right to vote in 1920; 2018 and beyond may be the time for women to get governing power.

 

 


Football or Baseball

October 31, 2017

Some of you may remember the classic George Carlin comedy routine in which he compares football and baseball by describing the language of both sports. As Carlin saw it, football has a distinctly militaristic tone –  marching down the field, blitzes, sacks – while baseball has kind of a milk toast verbiage – pop-ups, runs, errors. Football also has a special kind of fan base, action aficianados – those that love hitting and tackling, while baseball fans are a more serious lot -patient, number-crunchers.

Because this is fall, the World Series and the National Football league games overlap and this year there can’t be a more stark contrast between the two games. While the NFL is embroiled in a desperate controversy over players taking a knee, owners threatening to fire players and calling them ” inmates” and our president wrapping the game in the flag, baseball has become a breathless series of exciting and interesting games that keep people glued to their wide screens till the wee hours of the morning.

For most of the last twenty or so years football has become America’s game as baseball was viewed as too boring. But just maybe the Astros-Dodgers series has turned baseball back to America’s game.  Football still gets great ratings, but fans and pundits say the game is the sport that is getting boring and also brutal as name stars get carried off the field with neck and head injuries and field goals dominate the scoring. Meanwhile, home runs are flying off the bats of the Astros and Dodgers, reckless base-running is the norm, and god-like pitchers hitting the strike zone with supreme accuracy keep viewers in awe.

The American sports fanatic may be tiring of a game of concussions, political statements, threatened boycotts, and billionaire owners who get paranoid when African-American players challenge the system. Instead there is baseball, which may be slow and deliberate but in this age of stress could just be the calming influence on viewers and the nation. Personally, I hope the World Series goes to Game 7 so this country can witness a beautiful sport that is far from boring and requires special skills  of concentration, timing, and power that have been downplayed in football to be replaced by helmet hits to the head.


Who Shot JFK?

October 23, 2017

President Trump’s decision to release over 3,000 pages of still classified documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy is sure to restart the debate over who killed the President that sad day in Dallas. Over 40,000 books have already been published on President Kennedy, most on the question, ” Who Killed the President?” This release of the documents is certain to get the presses rolling again on new conspiracy books. Talk about a cottage industry.

The debate over the Kennedy assassination intensified over the years as many Americans did not believe the Warren Commission report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; in fact currently polls point to nearly 60% of Americans who believe that Oswald was part of a larger conspiracy. The conspirators include the Mafia, the CIA, the military, the Cubans, the FBI, the Russians and a whole host of shady characters with ties to right-wing groups and anti-Kennedy haters. Despite the scientific work of forensic experts who examined the bullets, police radio transmissions, the path of the shots from the Texas Book Depository and the now famous Zapruder video, the conclusion was that there was only one shooter with one rifle ( no mysterious second shooter on the grassy knoll ).

And yet now over 50 years later there are still doubts about “Who Killed JFK?” It is always difficult for many Americans to come to the conclusion that one man acting alone was behind the murder of the century, so these documents may shed light on the unanswered questions that the Warren Commission failed to address or hid from public view. But don’t count on any new blockbusters, just more conspiracy talk that will fill the airwaves and the Internet. What the documents will do is just rekindle the assassination talk and disappoint those who feel that Oswald couldn’t have acted alone.

But if you are an anti-Trumper you will certainly see the President’s decision to release the documents as another savvy ploy to keep the media and the American people occupied instead of turning their attention to Russian meddling, sexual harassment, Obamacare, tax policy,  dead soldiers in Niger,and white supremacy. Americans love a conspiracy more than the dismal details of legislation, law suits, electioneering, and the dark side of our national psyche.

Maybe the mafia, the CIA or the Cubans did conspire to kill John Kennedy but what would such information ( certainly not incontrovertible proof) do other than further erode confidence in government? It is better to think about the loss of a promising and visionary president cut down in the prime of his life.