Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heroes and Victims

On the Alex Bennett radio program this morning, its eponymic host discussed the weekend’s latest “pants on fire” controversy, this one involving MSNBC talk show host Chris Hayes.

Hayes is a brilliant young man, editor of The Nation, and as progressive as they come.  He stuck his neck out with comments on his program on Sunday when he discussed the concept of heroism in the context of today’s wars:

"Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’ because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.  I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that."

(As an aside, when was the last time you heard a Fox “News” commentator use a turn of phrase as delightful as “rhetorically proximate”?)

During the weekend of barbecues and parades in commemoration of those who died in our endless wars, it was refreshing to read about a dose of reality. On Bennett’s show, he made the distinction between “heroes” and “victims.” Bennett got it right, too.

No doubt, there are real heroes in the war zone. Men and women who charge up hills to protect their comrades. Pilots who fly into areas defended by surface-to-air missiles to provide air cover for ground troops. Regardless of what you think about the justification for the war, these people are heroes, and some of them will come home in coffins.

But, as Bennett points out, some of those who make that trip to Dover Air Force Base in a box are better described as “victims.” The kid who enlisted in the army because it was an employer of last resort in today’s shitty economy and was unfortunate enough to step on a land mine is a victim. The teenager who joined the Army to get training because she couldn’t afford college and was killed by a sniper attack was a victim.

Whether they were heroes or victims, Memorial Day is a good opportunity to celebrate their lives. Hayes’ comments did nothing to denigrate their service. His comments correctly asserted that the overuse of the word “hero” tends to justify and glorify the tragedies of war. How many abused teenagers from urban areas decide to enlist based on an otherwise unachievable steady job and the chance to be a “hero” overseas instead of a victim at home?

Hayes’ own profession has had a number of heroes. Edward R. Murrow dared to stand up to the demagoguery of a United States Senator, and was criticized for his accurate but disturbing report on the state of prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp. More recently, Marie Colvin was a journalist who gave her life reporting on the turmoil in Syria. By speaking an inconvenient truth, Hayes joined this cadre of journalist-heroes, but unfortunately he kept this status for less than 24 hours.

The day after his pronouncement, Hayes succumbed to pressure from his corporate masters and recanted his remarks. His rationale looks like it was written by the Comcast PR department:

“[I]n seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war.

Instead of educating the American public about the glorification of war, Hayes said that because neither he nor anyone in his family is in the military, he’s unqualified to comment. If that’s the criterion, then neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney should be commenting about the war.

There are genuine heroes who have served this country in uniform. I’m fortunate enough to know one of them, William Brown, an ex-Navy SEAL who went through the Navy’s grueling training regimen not once, but twice. I don’t know what Brown did in Afghanistan and Iraq – that’s classified information – but I admire him for fighting the war against insurgents the way such a war should be fought, by covert actions rather than by massive bombings that produce collateral damage and anti-American feelings. Yet, Brown, a true American hero, was called an “idiot” by Chris Christie.

Not all heroes are in the military. My friend Marie Corfield is a hero. A teacher and single mom, Corfield is a devout supporter of public education and is sticking her neck out by getting involved in the political process as a Democrat running for State Assembly in a predominantly Republican district. She doesn’t need to do this, but she does out of concern for the children of New Jersey. Yet, Corfield, a true American hero, was denigrated by Chris Christie.

Heroism spans many generations. Seventy-seven year old State Senator Loretta Weinberg is a hero. While she could be spending a comfortable retirement with her grandchildren, she chooses to serve the citizens of New Jersey as Senate Majority Leader – a progressive Democrat who is working effectively with the more conservative power brokers in her party while not giving up on her principles. Yet, Weinberg, a true American hero, was the target of Chris Christie’s wrath when the governor urged the press to “take a bat” to her.

The moral of this story is that you don’t have to be in the military to be a hero. You don’t even have to be on Governor Christie’s shit list. We have American heroes surrounding us – from the single mother in Camden who works two jobs while trying to keep her kids out of trouble; to the public sector union workers who accede to pay and benefit cuts so that they and their colleagues can continue to serve the taxpayers; to the soldiers and marines who are maimed physically and mentally and are then all but forgotten by a GOP-controlled Congress.

Let’s observe Memorial Day for the heroes and victims of our wars. And let’s recognize the other heroes in our midst as well.


Disclosure: I am proudly working on Marie Corfield’s campaign because she is a hero.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Broke It; You Fix It

“We” refers to the Baby Boomers; “You” are the Gen-Xers and your progeny, and “It” is America.

Senator Richard Blumenthal was the featured speaker at a recent college commencement. In addition to the usual charge of “go and do great things” that he gave to the graduates, he suggested that his generation, the Baby Boomers, is the first one that will leave America in a worse condition than it was when they came of age. How true.

The history of America as governed by the Boomers is punctuated by two major events and dozens of actions by the Boomer‘s elected officials.

The dominant event defining the Boomer’s impact on the arc of American history is the Bush Recession. Even more than 9/11 and its related events, the Bush team's actions show how far we have strayed from American ideals. The greed of the banking and “investment” industry, the offshoring of jobs, and the prioritization of corporate welfare over the well-being of the disadvantaged all run counter to the goal of improving the quality of life for all Americans.

Of course, the 9/11 attacks played right into the culture of greed and power that the Bush Crime Family enjoyed. The attacks gave them the go-ahead to grow the military-industrial complex, suppress constitutional rights, and rape the environment in the name of cheap energy.

There’s another insidious aspect to the way the Boomers exercised their power. For the first time in American history, a generation worked diligently to suppress civil rights rather than to expand them. Under the first Boomer president, Bill Clinton, the “Defense of Marriage” Act codified the restrictions of rights for a large segment of the American public. And across the country, at the state level, these rights are being denied through constitutional amendments and legislative actions. Rather than expanding voter’s rights, the Boomer generation has pulled back those rights in the name of suppressing essentially non-existent voter fraud.

Speaking of voter fraud, the impact of this generation’s abuse of power will be with us for a generation to come. The egregious outcome of Bush v Gore by a group of extremist activist Supreme Court “justices” is just the tip of the iceberg. No doubt, Roe v Wade and perhaps even Brown v Board of Education will be reversed or severely compromised before the Boomer Court retires. Not since the 1857 Dred Scott decision (which my Einstein of a congressman posited as the most important Supreme Court decision of the last 15 years – sort of tells you the type of folks that get elected by the Boomer generation), has the Court been so wrong.

Now we have an opportunity to elect another Boomer to the White House. Mitt Rmoney epitomizes all that is wrong with the Boomer generation – making money without adding value, concern for corporate personhood over people, greed over compassion.

Not everything the Boomers have done is negative. We gave the world the Beatles, we made tremendous strides in medicine, and we deployed the Internet. But unless we decide to invest in our people instead of overseas wars and corporate welfare, this generation will be remembered in history as the one that quashed the American Dream. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ten Reasons to be Afraid of Mitt Romney as President

  1. Supreme Court Justice John Yoo
  2. Secretary of Education Michele Rhee
  3. Secretary of State John Bolton
  4. Attorney General Chris Christie
  5. Secretary of Defense John “Bomb Iran” McCain
  6. United Nations Ambassador Sarah Palin
  7. Secretary of Health & Human Services Newt Gingrich
  8. Secretary of Homeland Security Joe Arpaio
  9. Secretary of Treasury Paul Ryan
  10. Ambassador to Switzerland Michelle Bachman

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Cheap

Spirit Airlines, a “low cost” carrier, just announced that they will charge $100 to passengers who show up at the gate with carry-on luggage. This is just one more step in making airline travel more onerous for customers.

Suppose other businesses decided to lowball basic prices and charge customers for “extras.”

A restaurant would charge $2 for a napkin, $5 for a high chair for toddlers, and $10 for premium seating away from the kitchen.

A supermarket would charge $2.50 for use of a shopping cart, and $1 to ask a clerk to point out the aisle where the tomato sauce is found.

Buying a television set? You will be charged $25 extra if you want the remote. After all, you could just get up off the couch and change the channel at the set.

Did you want your doctor to put a clean sheet on the exam table rather than re-use the one from the previous patient? That’s an extra $7.

A la carte pricing has its place. A nominal fee for handling a bag is now the norm, and like the frog in the pot of boiling water, passengers have gotten used to it. So they can plan and budget for this. But a $100 fee from an airline that touts $9 fares on its web site is a bit excessive.