Sunday, October 30, 2011

Adios, Rick

You're the governor of a large state and you badly want to become president. In fact, you believe God has called upon you to pursue the office.

The incumbent president is on his heels, facing approval ratings of only 41 percent.

The opposition for your party's nomination looks weak. An ex-pizza salesman who has never held office; an aging libertarian; a former Massachusetts governor who's about as exciting as, well, a Mormon; a Minnesota congresswoman whose sanity has been questioned; a former House speaker whose time has long ago come and gone.

It looks like clear sailing. You've got money and you've got the national spotlight focused squarely on you.

And if you're Texas Gov. Rick Perry, you blow it. You fumble on the goal line. You dribble the ball off your foot.

You call Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," accuse Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of treason, call global warming a hoax and question President Obama's patriotism while expressing sympathy with Texans who want to secede from the Union.

Your immigration policies don't set well with conservatives who also are horrified that you signed legislation that would require vaccination among Texas schoolgirls for HPV.

Moderates question your position criticizing the federal government's right to collect income taxes and support for amending the Constitution to set a nationwide policy on social issues by prohibiting abortion and same-sex marriage.

And faster than you can say "adios, Rick," you find yourself in fifth place among Republican presidential candidates after leading the pack a month ago.

It's time to cowboy up.

So you decide to unveil your economic plan. And what is it? Why, the old flat tax saw that has been largely discredited as unworkable since the Reagan administration. But, hey, it's the basis for Herman Cain's goofy 9-9-9 plan so why not give it a try?

Your plan would set a flat rate of 20 per cent and eliminate estate and investment taxes, which should please the monied set. It also would restrict the federal budget to no more than 18 per cent of the gross domestic product, forcing drastic cuts in government spending at every level.

Your vision was analyzed by Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, who told the New York Times: "There are two things we can say with certainty: It will lower revenue and be a great benefit to the wealthy."

It puts cuts to Medicare and Social Security into play, even though that will be a tough sell to an aging voter base.

And worse, every lobbyist from the Pacific to the Potomac would descend upon Washington to make sure the loopholes, dodges and favored treatment their clients receive under the current tax code would remain in place.

On the other hand, you have secured the blessings of Steve Forbes who thinks the flat tax is the answer to all our prayers. You remember Forbes. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination on the flat tax ticket in 1996 and 2000 and failed miserably. It might be an endorsement you want to forget.

Then, just as you're unveiling your economic plan, you tell an interviewer that there just might be something to this "birther" argument, the theory that President Obama was actually born in Africa and therefore is not an American citizen and ineligible to be president.

It's been dismissed as the delusional fantasy of the political lunatic fringe but, after conferring with your buddy Donald Trump, you decide to trot out the issue again.

Which caused GOP strategist Karl Rove to take you to the woodshed:

"You associate yourself with a nutty view like that, and you damage yourself. And I know he went and he's trying to cultivate -- as all of them are -- Donald Trump, in order to get his endorsement, but this is not the way to go about doing it, because it starts to marginalize you in the minds of some of the people whom you need in order to get the election," he said. "There's a simple answer. Yes, he was born in the United States, yes, he is eligible to serve, and don't associate yourself with sort of this nutty fringe group."

Unfortunately for you, Rick, that horse has already left the barn.

If your idea of revitalizing your campaign is to saddle up with Steve Forbes and Donald Trump, well then Gov. Perry, happy trails to you.

We won't be seeing you next fall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dead Man Walking

Halloween is right around the corner and it’s time to think seriously
about this year’s costume.

Who can I impersonate? Charlie Sheen? Rupert Murdoch? Prince William?
Anthony Weiner? Frank McCourt?

How about an iPhone? A drone? A Chevy Volt?

Personally, I will forgo all these flavor-of-the-month choices and
instead dress as an icon so ingrained in our national culture that it
has at once fascinated and terrified young and old alike.

No, I don’t mean Rush Limbaugh.

I speak of another nightmare-inducing character, the Zombie.
The lurching, brain-eating, flesh-deprived living dead have been
around for a long time, a gift to the world from Haitian voodoo

But they emerged into pop culture status sometime around the end of
the 20th Century.

Many attribute (or blamed) the appearance of zombies in prime time to
George Romero’s classic 1968 cult movie “Night of the Living Dead.”
Made for a scant $114,000 and dismissed by critics as so much trash,
it went on to gross more than $30 million and spawned a number of

That opened the floodgates. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video gave
the zombie community a big boost as did the movies “I Am Legend” and
“28 Days Later.”

In 2006, renown horror novelist Stephen King published “ Cell,”
described as a tale about a young artist on a trek from Boston to
Maine in hopes of saving his family from a worldwide zombie outbreak
created by "The Pulse", a global electromagnetic phenomenon that
turns the world's cellular phone users into bloodthirsty, zombie-like

There’s a storyline that works on so many levels.

A book called “The Zombie Survival Guide” made the New York Times
best seller list recently and today we have two TV series, “Death
Valley” on MTV and “Walking Dead” on AMC, that are g-rated (for
ghoul). There are at least 20 zombie movies reportedly in production
this year.

It’s clearly a great time to be undead.

So why are we so fascinated with zombies? Vampires, at least
recently, are portrayed as darkly handsome, even swashbuckling and

Zombies are basically disgusting, shambling about in various stages
of decay. When I think of zombies I think of people in line at a DMV
office. Or myself before I have coffee in the morning.

One explanation is that many books and films cast zombies as the
unwitting victims of science run amok, a rogue virus or experiment
gone wrong, leading to our destruction. It’s not an unfounded fear.

Then there’s this: “The construct of the zombie — the mindless
stumbling about — feels increasingly like our world,” said Steven
Schlozman, of Harvard Medical School and author of a zombie novel.
“...What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly
disconnected and disembodied. It feels zombie-like.”

That’s all well and good but the fact of the matter is we all love a
good scare and zombies fill the bill.

They come in droves and although they can be killed with a shot to
the head, the fallen are replaced by dozens more, stumbling toward
you, arms outstretched, mindless. How many dead are there? Billions?
I don’t like the odds.

As blogger Ben Croshaw wrote, “ To our ‘us’ they are eternally
‘them.’ No redeeming qualities, no moral ambiguity.”

What makes them particularly scary is that, except for some cosmetic
difficulties, they look much like us. Just a bunch of friends and
neighbors and relatives who want to dine on our brains. Not a
pleasant way to go.

As for me, my time as a zombie will be short-lived. Too many people
take this stuff seriously.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Politics, Bought and Paid For

The president's job bill, introduced with great fanfare at a joint meeting session of Congress last month, went down to defeat with a resounding thud this past week. Much to no one's surprise.

Democrats say it's because the GOP opposed the bill for political reasons: they wanted the economy to remain in bad shape.

Republicans, in an opinion voiced by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said that "Democrats have designed this bill to fail - they've designed their own bill to fail - in the hope that anyone who votes against it will look bad."

Instead of leadership, we get what sounds like a playground spat.

So goes the spirit of compromise and concern for the greater good as the nation teeters on the precipice of an economic emergency.

Looking on are 14 million unemployed Americans who must feel as though they are engaged in a game of chess with Death. There's no way they can win.

It is no wonder that protests are erupting on all sides of the political spectrum while respect for our leaders has fallen to an alarming low.

Can President Obama or Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or Ron Paul stem the tide of anger in this country? Do they stand for real change? The skepticism is palpable.

And how have the grass-roots movements that have emerged recently approached this problem?

The tea party activists claim their members support reduced government spending, opposition to taxation in varying degrees, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit and adherence to an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.

All well and good, but it's hard to understand how this philosophy will undo the real problem facing the country: The corrupting influence of money in our political process in which our elected representatives are beholden to big-time donors and influence-peddling lobbyists.

This isn't checks and balances. It's gridlock. Don't expect common sense and compromise when both parties are errand boys for special interests.

And don't ask the tea party. They remain silent on the issue.

The message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters gets lost in the gaggle of causes that dot the movement: everything from the jobless and the truly concerned about that to anti-war activists, anarchists and Marxists.

But one point worth noting, as articulated by blogger Glenn Grenwald: "Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power - in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions - is destroying financial security for everyone else?"

If the Occupy Wall Street forces accomplish nothing else, they have struck a chord that resonates with the American public.

Public animosity toward the country's major financial institutions is on par with the deep negativity aimed at Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Public distrust of the federal government is growing, and well documented. In the new poll, more than two-thirds of Americans say they view Washington unfavorably, including nearly half who hold "strongly" unfavorable impressions, the poll said.

But there's just as much negativity directed at Wall Street financial institutions. Fully 70 percent of those polled view such firms unfavorably, with strongly unfavorable mentions outnumbering strongly favorable ones by 8 to 1.

So much for the view that the Wall Street protesters are a bunch of unkempt hippies looking for a handout. Or "law-breaking troublemakers," in the words of tea party activists, who apparently forgot their organization was named after an incident that had its fair share of property destruction and civil disobedience.

Where will this all end? I remember watching anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the early '60s that consisted of a couple of dozen placard-waving students. It seemed sincere but innocent.

That movement soon grew to one that by 1967 attracted 100,000 protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and was responsible for the most divisive political drama of the late 20th century.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is as real and potentially game-changing as the anti-war activism of the '60s and '70s.

History could repeat itself if our elected representatives don't understand that their political gamesmanship and allegiance to those who have the financial means to buy it must end.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Post Mortems

Questions we were asking ourselves this week:

Does anyone really care about Hank Williams Jr.'s redneck political views? Is Chris Christie too fat to ever be president? How soon until Amanda Knox appears on "Dancing With the Stars"? How many shopping days until Christmas?

Weighty issues all, and ones this column chooses to ignore, at least for now.

Instead, we offer a little humor courtesy of the Washington Post, a paper not usually known for levity. After all, the federal government is its neighborhood beat and it's hard to laugh through clenched teeth.

It seems the Post has an ongoing feature called the Style Invitational. It all started in 1993, when editors asked readers to come up with a less offensive name for the Washington Redskins. The winner suggested Baltimore Redskins.

The Invitational recently included a contest in which readers were invited to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter and supply a new definition.

The results are both clever in their execution and descriptively accurate. Consider:

Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

But wait, there's more.

Coffee: The person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted: Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

Esplanade: To attempt an explanation while drunk.

Willy-nilly: Impotent.

Negligent: Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

Rectitude: The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Pokemon: A Rastafarian proctologist.

Oyster: A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

Circumvent: An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Another contest asked readers to make up a word that has three consecutive letters in alphabetical order.

Among the entries:

Coughin: A small enclosure designed especially for smokers.

Mno: The kind of response that makes you want to ask her again.

Noplow: Washington, D.C.'s, snow emergency plan.

In other forms of humor, a contest challenged readers to add novel similes to the "men are like...," "women are like..." genre.

The top winners:

Women are like flashlights: Ones with two D's aren't always the brightest, but they'll do when the lights go out.

Men are like Swiss army knives: No matter how useful they appear, they mostly just pick teeth and open beer bottles.

Teenagers are like a freshly bottled wine: They might be palatable seven years from now.

Men are like the TV yule log: They're easy to turn on, but you're not going to get much warmth out of them.

Who knew there was such humor in Washington?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Coffee Talk

I've never been a big Starbucks fan, first and foremost because I'm not a coffee addict.

If I do crave a jolt of java, I want a plain old Cup of Joe, not a soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha frappe topped with espresso shots and made from beans grown by monks on a small volcanic atoll in the Pacific.

Besides, if they don't give you a free refill, I'm not interested.

Then there's my adverse reaction to massive chain operations that plunk down a store on each and every street corner. I'm told that in downtown Los Angeles, in a rectangle formed by Figueroa, 3rd, Olive, and 5th, an area less than a third of a mile on its long side and less than a quarter mile on its short side, there are nine Starbucks. I believe it.

The company was audacious enough to open a store in Beijing's 587-year-old Forbidden City several years ago until protests by the citizenry concerned with preserving their culture closed it down.

It would be like selling lattes in the Lincoln Memorial.

But I've recently become a convert to Starbucks and it happened without one drop of their product touching my lips.

My conversion came courtesy of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who like many of us, is angry with the political gridlock in Washington and the effect it is having on the American people and the economy.

Writing in a recent issue of Newsweek, Schultz outlined a plan of action to shake things up in language that is both bold and refreshing for a corporate leader.

"I've recently persuaded more than 100 top executives to sign a two-part pledge," Schultz said. "First, they'll make no political donations until there's a courageous, long-term, bipartisan debt and financial security plan that addresses both entitlements and revenues; second, they'll commit to continue making investments that accelerate job growth.

"Why would I turn to activism?" he wrote. "Because, like so many Americans, I'm outraged. Four billion dollars was spent during the 2008 election cycle, and an estimated $5.5 billion will be spent for 2012. Meanwhile, people are out of work, the economy continues to founder and nothing is getting done in Washington.

"This is no longer a crisis of leadership. It's an emergency. The lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials today, as they have put partisan agendas before the people's agenda, is stunning and outrageous.

"Just think about what all that campaign money could do for the education system, for the social services that our politicians are poised to cut.

"Just think about how the petty bickering in the halls of Congress has degraded the brand reputation of America around the world," Schultz wrote. "This might be the kind of leadership we have come to expect, but it's not what we deserve.

"...I've heard from thousands of Americans I've never met, expressing support and gratitude. Like-minded business leaders have committed to doing what we can to ignite job creation, regardless of what's taking place in Washington.

"At the very least, we can work to inspire confidence to counteract the damage our ostensible leaders are doing inside the Beltway. In other words, we need to unleash an upward spiral of confidence that reverses the cycle of fear and uncertainty plaguing our country."

I suggested in a column last week that our elected representatives should have their pay and benefits cut unless they pass meaningful legislation dealing with jobs and the economy, admittedly a real longshot since they would have to vote to punish themselves.

Schultz scores a bull's-eye by attacking contributions, a mainstay of political survival. And as a longtime contributor to the Democratic Party, he's putting his money where his mouth is: no donations to President Obama who he has financially supported in the past.

Joining him in this effort are some notable giants of industry including Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AOL; Millard Drexler, chairman and CEO of the J. Crew Group; Warren Bennis, founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at USC; Dan DiMicco, chairman and CEO of Nucor Corp.; Bob Greifeld, CEO of NASDAQ; Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks; Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange; Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods; Myron Ullman, CEO of JC Penney and Co. and many others.

So far, 22,269 people who agree have taken the pledge to withhold campaign contributions, according to Schultz's website, Upward Spiral2011.

That's not a tidal wave. Yet. But with another six months of congressional ineptitude, it might become