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September 2010

Are You Better Off Today Then You Were Yesterday?

During the last election I was asked by a friend, “Are you better off today then you were yesterday?”  The assumption was that if I answered yes I should vote Republican and if I answered no then I should vote Democrat.   The problem though is that the question itself is flawed.  The question forces us to consider nothing but our own situation and assumes that this is all that matters in deciding what candidate will be best for us, when in reality we should be considering not what is best for us as individuals, but what is best for all of us as a country.  The American Dream is that we are all given the opportunity to be anything we want to be, but the fact is that while this may be true for some, for others their situation makes it harder to obtain this dream.  Today the line between the haves and the have nots is growing bigger and bigger, the middle class is growing smaller and smaller, and as this next election gets closer we all have to ask our selves, are we as a country better today then we were yesterday? To answer that let’s consider what has happened since the last election.
Today it is illegal to pay women less then men for the same job. (The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act)
Today uninsured children who do not qualify for Medicaid can get affordable insurance through the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Today, Americans investment in General Motors has saved GM from bankruptcy and thereby has saved hundreds of thousands of jobs not only at GM bus also at the thousands of companies that supply parts and services to GM.  With out this investment, which has been fully paid back, the loss of jobs as well as the domino effect on our economy would have been staggering.
Today tobacco companies must disclose all poisons contained in their products, must limit any advertising directed towards minors, and can no longer use words such as “light”, “low”, or “mild” to give the impression of being healthier.
Today our children can not be denied medical insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
Today health insurance companies can not cancel your coverage because you get sick.
Today young adults can be covered by their parent’s health insurance until they are 26 years old.
Today a health insurance company can no longer put a cap on the amount they will cover over your lifetime.
Today for new health insurance plans, preventive medical care is free.  This includes screenings for mammograms, vaccinations, vision screening for children, Autism, HIV, and the list goes on.  For a full list Click Here.
Today, in an emergency, you can no longer be charged extra for out of network doctors or hospitals.
Today the Mathew Shepard Act allows the government to pursue hate crimes motivated by a persons gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and for the first time extends legal protections to transgendered persons.
Today businesses that employ unemployed workers will receive breaks on payroll taxes.
Today our ability to regulate Wall Street, prevent consumer credit fraud, prevent mortgage fraud, and overall prevent financial collapse is stronger due to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. At the signing the President announced, "There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period."
Today our standing in the world community has been elevated due to the open dialogue that President Obama has created with the Muslim world.  While extremists in the Muslim communities will never be our friends, the trust level between the U.S. and moderate Muslim countries and their citizens has increased.
Today peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, moderated by the Obama Administration, have resumed.
Today our mission in Iraq has been completed and our combat troops have been withdrawn, as promised by President Obama, and thousands of our troops have finally come home.
Today our commitment to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban is back on track and hopefully that will end soon as well.
Today it is easier for students to receive Pell Grants for College and the President has doubled the amount of Pell Grants given out.
Today Students will be forgiven the balance of their student loans if they have been faithfully repaying their loans for 20 years.  In addition borrowers will only be required to pay up to 10% of their discretionary income each year on student loans.
Today, if it passes in congress, we have the potential for lower taxes for 98% of our citizens and increases only for the 2% who can afford it.
Today we have the possibility of ending the legalized discrimination in our military against homosexuals.
The answer is, Yes, today we are better, and no matter how loud the Tea Party and their candidates want to yell, no matter how many lies and falsehoods they and their friends at Fox News want to tell us, no matter how often Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh want to claim that we are going to become a socialist nation, that our rights are being stripped away, that the Bush Administration had nothing to do with creating this mess, that President Obama is failing at every thing he is doing, the fact is today we are better.  Yes we may still have a long way to go but the fact is that it will take much longer then twenty months to recover from the economic slump that our last administration got us into.  Have we spent a lot?  Yes, because we are finally investing in rebuilding our own country and not waging wars in others.  We are finally putting the U.S. people, businesses and infrastructure before those of the rest of the world.  Finally we are taking care of business at home, not just overseas.  And to do this it takes time and it takes investment.  In order for a company to prosper and grow it needs capitol, it needs to invest in itself and the same is true for our country.  There is an old saying that goes, “it takes money to make money.”  And for those disillusioned by our President, for those still out of work, and that includes myself, remember this, you elected a man, not a magician.  Just like the rest of us he is human and some of our problems will be solved and some of them will not.  This is a task bigger then any one man or woman. This is a task that requires patience.  This is a task that can not be solved in twenty months or even in one term. And when we go to the polls in November we should only be asking ourselves one question.  Are we better today then we were yesterday? Well are we?


The Tea Party - Yell Loud and Carry a Misspelled Protest Sign


Howard Beale, does the name ring a bell?  He was the impassioned newsman from the movie Network who coined the famous line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”  In the movie he became a voice, a voice with a simple message that people responded to.  Today our Howard Beale is The Tea Party.  The Tea Party people apparently are all “Mad as hell,” and they aren’t gonna take it anymore!  In fact they have made this abundantly clear with their rallies, and marches, and, how should I put it, oh so interesting and inventive characterizations of our President and what his “true” intentions are for our country.  If we were to blindly accept what the Tea Party movement tells us, then we would be required to believe that President Obama, most likely was not born in the country and therefore has no right to be president in the first place.  We would have to believe that he hates white people, even though his mother was white, which actually makes him half white, which would mean not only would he have to hate his mother but fifty percent of his own family not to mention himself, well at least half of himself.  We would also have to believe that he is a Socialist, or Fascist, or Communist, or Nazi, all of which apparently to the Tea Partiers is interchangeable, and he wants to turn our nation into a socialist state.  If I’m not mistaken, didn’t the President just reject the idea of government controlled, universal health care, and refused to even include a government run public option in the recent health care insurance reform act?  I guess if I’m gonna fully accept the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, then yes, I am mistaken.
But just to make certain that I fully understood the Tea Party movement I wanted to go by more than just talking points from the liberal media, so I decided to do some research on my own.  I decided to look at Tea Party sponsored web sites and I decided to Google, “Tea Party platform”. The interesting thing wasn’t what I found, but instead was what I didn’t find, and that was a platform.  That is because there is no Tea Party, well at least not in the sense of a Republican Party or a Democratic Party.  There is no actual “party.”  What there really is, is a bunch of sore loser, pissed off Republicans, who got way to comfortable during the eight years of the Bush administration, and for some odd reason were just fine with having a President who wasn’t able to finish a war that we should have been in, who started a war under completely false pretenses, that we shouldn’t have been in, who diverted billions of dollars away from issues at home such as education, infrastructure, strengthening our boarders, investing in small and medium size businesses, and job creation, just to name a few, in order to pay for these wars, who completely deregulated the mortgage and banking industries that led to the eventual collapse of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, a record number of foreclosures and bankruptcies and a complete meltdown of the stock market, with the ultimate demise of Lehman Brothers and the bailout of AIG.  They became all too comfortable with eight years of George Bush running our country into the ground, destroying us financially, and decimating our relations in the world with foreign governments and there people.  I’m not sure what ever happened to coming together as a nation and standing behind the candidate who won, but I guess that doesn’t apply when he supports gay rights, stem cell research, thinks it’s OK for women to have abortions in the case of rape or incest, and is black.
What the Tea Party really is, is nothing more then a backlash, but not a backlash against the Democrats or the President, but against the Republicans.  The fact is, in 2008 the Republicans didn’t simply loose, they were obliterated on all fronts.  The election became more of a referendum on the dissatisfaction of the country with eight years of George Bush and the Republicans, then on the election of Barack Obama.   They became a party with out direction, without focus, and without a voice.  They were lost and so were the people who followed them.  The Tea Party grew out of this.  Unfortunately for the Republicans, the loudest voices became the most radical, and the most extreme in their views.  They became the voice while the mainstream Republicans faded into the background.  And this is where the problem lies for the Republicans.  The voice of the Republican party, the ones to rise from the ashes and speak the loudest are those that associate themselves with the Tea Party movement.  And in this lies another problem for the Republicans.  The voice that is the loudest is also the most disorganized and that is because unlike the Republican party, the Tea Party movement has no central leadership. It is a mish mosh of various groups, with different platforms and with various degrees of radicalism. And this is exactly why I could not find a central platform.  It simply does not exist. The fact is, the Tea Party movement is the best thing that could have ever happen to the Democratic party.  The Tea Party is nothing but a cancer on the GOP.  Instead of bringing them together under one voice that could provide true leadership it has splintered and divided the Republicans.  The Tea Party, of no fault but their own, has come to be associated with redneck bigots, who can’t correctly spell a protest sign and thinks Obama is like Hitler.  Whether this characterization is accurate or not, it is not something that your average Republican congress person wants to be associated with.  There is a reason why the most prominent “politician” associated with the Tea Party movement is Sarah Palin.  It is because most legitimate Republican congressmen and women won’t come within ten miles of a Tea Party rally.
What is most interesting about the majority of the people who make up the members of the Tea Party movement is that they are also the people who will benefit the most from the initiatives of the Obama administration. They fall within the 98% of the Americans who don’t make above $250,000 and will benefit from the proposed tax cuts.  They are the uninsured and underinsured who will be able to obtain affordable health insurance regardless of there employment status or previous medical conditions.  They are the consumers who have been abused by Wall Street, the banking industry and the credit card companies and will now have a voice fighting for them by the appointment of Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  What the Tea Party members don’t seem to realize is that the best thing that ever happened to them was President Obama yet they continue to fight against him as if he is the enemy.  They were perfectly happy with President Bush who fought for big business while neglecting the rest of the country yet they demonize a President who fights for the rights of the middle class.  I understand that there are ideological differences when it comes to issues involved with religion, like abortion or gay rights, and I also understand that many can’t get past the fact that we have a president whose name sounds like none other that we have had in the past, and I further understand that for many in the Tea Party movement the color of our Presidents skin may be an issue, whether they want to admit it publicly or not, but the bottom line is that this administration is focused on the issues that effect the bottom ninety-eight percent of Americans and not only the top two percent earners in this country who can actually afford the higher tax burden.  And further more the fact is that regardless of the party that you follow, the policies of George W. Bush simply failed and that is why President Obama was elected.  It is going to take much longer then twenty months to turn around an economy that took eight years to be decimated my President Bush.  The members of the Tea Party movement decided long before President Obama was elected, long before the Tea Party movement even existed that from day one they would never give Obama a chance, and unfortunately even if things improve for all of us, they never will.  Even if the President succeeds in turning this economy and the job market around, the Tea Party movement will come up with reasons that will have nothing to do with the President and may even claim he hampered the efforts.
In my research for a Tea Party Platform, what I was able to find was a number of different policy statements put together by different factions of the Tea Party movement.  These policy statements were created as guidelines for what to ask local candidates so that a Tea Party member could decide if that candidate fits in with the values of the local Tea Party group.  Candidates were to be asked if they agreed or disagreed with these statements.  These are a sample of the statements that I found:

1.   The Right to Life is a Constitutional right, therefore innocent human beings should have legal protection from conception until natural death. If you hold any exceptions please state them.

   -   Abortion due to rape or incest is not an option according to most Tea Party factions.

2.   The regulation of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere should be left to G-d and not government and I oppose all measures of Cap and Trade as well as the teaching of global warming theory in our schools.

   -   Apparently to the Tea Party, global warming is just a theory with no scientific evidence to back it up and G-d forbid they talk about it is schools.  Why this has become a political issue I have no idea.  Maybe it’s guilt or simply denial that we were responsible for f—king up the planet.

3.   Marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, any other type of Union is not marriage.

   -   That’s right, g-d forbid a gay couple should have the rights as any other couple in this country.  No heterosexual couples ever screw up their kids lives.

4.   Children should not be placed into foster homes where the parents are homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered.

   -   But having children in homes with opposite sex couples who are sexual abusers, drunks, drug users, physical abusers, and so on is apparently fine.  It’s only homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered persons that are called out.

5.   Parental consent should be required for sex education that teaches more than direct abstinence.

   -   We all know that if we don’t tell kids about sex, they won’t do it.

6.   Only US Citizens should be allowed to vote and a photo ID should always be required to vote.

   -   Exactly when did we start allowing non-U.S. citizens to start voting?

7.   I oppose the don’t ask, don’t tell policy of the military and believe that all same sex partners should be banned from combat duty in the military because of the propensity to transmit blood borne diseases in the theater of battle.

   -   Are you telling me that in 2010 these people still believe that AIDS is only a gay disease?  They oppose don’t ask don’t tell not because it’s discriminatory but because it stops them from openly discriminating against homosexuals!

The truth is that the Tea Party movement is as American as apple pie, and over extending our military.  It is people exercising their freedom of speech and their right to protest.  The problem is that like my father used to tell me, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The Tea Party was created by those that supported the health insurance lobby as a vehicle to protest health insurance reform.  The Tea Partiers, regardless of how misguided they are, are loud, vocal, and consistently out there, while the Democrats and progressives are not.  The Democrats in 2008 were given a gift of being unopposed in both the House and the Senate and with some exception that gift was squandered.  Had they banded together, had the President stopped trying to make friends on all sides, real change and progress could have been made instead of the limited progress that we have seen.  Democrats now risk loosing an advantage that they had due to a small minority that is yelling the loudest.  Not even the Republicans want to be associated with the Tea Party movement but they will take that any day over a Democratic majority.  In Network, what got Howard Beale noticed was his passion, his anger and his voice.  Whether he was right or wrong was irrelevant.  He yelled as loud as he could, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”  If the only people in this country who are going to yell as loud as they can, that they are mad as hell, are the Tea Partiers, then once again it will be the lunatics that will run the asylum and in 2012 we may all have to get behind President Palin.


A True Survivor, A Miracle Maker


"...I have tried to keep memory alive... I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices."  — Elie Wiesel

One of my favorite TV shows that I watch religiously with my wife is Survivor.  Their motto is Out Wit, Out Last, Out Play.  We watch weekly as contestants battle for immunity or reward.  We see them battle, suffer and loose weight, but of course in the end only one comes out victorious, only one becomes that seasons Survivor.  The only problem is that I can’t help but thinking when I watch that show, these people are not true survivors.  For them that word just does not fit, and that is because I knew a true Survivor, I knew Al. 
Al and Sonia Nisenbaum are the truest of survivors.  Both Alan and Sonia are survivors of the Holocaust.  Al was born in February 19th 1925 in Lubin, Poland. He was one of nine children.  When the Nazis invaded Poland Al was only a boy.  He was separated from his family, and besides one of his brothers who also survived, he never saw his family ever again.  Al was sent to Auschwitz and while he was a prisoner of the Nazis he spent time at a total of six different concentration camps including Majdanek, Blechhammer, Budzyn, Gleiwitz III, and Dachau from which he was liberated.  When the war ended he was only 17 and was sent to a displaced persons camp.  He had been educated at the Yeshiva before the war and could speak fluent Hebrew.  In the DP camp he became a teacher.  One of his students was a girl who was only fifteen at the time.  Al taught her Hebrew and he was so taken by her that they soon married.  In the DP camp they had a daughter they named Linda, and soon moved to America to start a new life in Chicago.  Since then Al and Sonia had two more daughters who all married and collectively gave them seven grandchildren.  Al and Sonia’s first daughter, Linda married Harry, who’s parents David and Mimi, were also Survivors.  I was fortunate enough to marry Al and Sonia’s first grand daughter and together we gave them two wonderful great-grandchildren.
Many times I have heard my wife tell me that she was a miracle child, because if just one of her four grandparents had not survived the Holocaust she would not be here today. But the truth is so much more.  The truth is all of Al and Sonia’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are miracles, and not only are they a testament to the strength, will and determination of Al and Sonia to survive and then prevail, but they are also a testament to the failure of the Nazis and their senseless attempt at the ethnic cleansing of Europe.  Alan went on to accomplish so much in his life.  He was able to turn the most unimaginable experiences in his life in to a triumph, and he set the bar on how to be a good person as high as it could go.  He was kind and generous, smart and funny.  He became not only a successful business man but a community and religious leader as well.  But through it all he always put his family first.  He had an appreciation for life that only someone who had been through what he had been through could have.  As a seventeen year old man, in a DP camp he never dreamed that one day he would be a man in his eighties, surrounded by loved ones that were his family.  He never dreamed that he would have three daughters who he would all get to see marry. He never dreamed that he would have seven grandchildren and attend two of their weddings, and finally he never dreamed that he would get to sit at the Passover table next to his great-granddaughter who could not wait to sing songs with her Papa Al. Papa Al died this past Friday but he will live on forever in the family that he left behind.  He was one of the true survivors and he will truly be missed by everyone that came to know him.  Papa Al may never have won immunity or a challenge for reward, but in the game of life he definitely Out Wit, Out Lasted, and Out Played.



Glenn Beck’s Dream is King’s Nightmare


I woke up Saturday morning and realized that I had entered Bizzaro World! The strangest things were happening and it just did not make sense. For example I turned on the television and before me I saw a rally that seemed to be commemorating the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech except that it was being hosted by Glenn Beck and the keynote speaker was non other then Sarah Palin, and to top it off the rally was attended by nothing but a sea of white people! It just did not make sense. There was barely a minority to be found. But the weirdest thing was that on stage was Martin Luther King’s niece, a parade of African-American singers and speakers who all looked like they had shown up to the wrong rally. And all everyone was talking about was “restoring honor” and giving America back to the people. I thought that was what happened when dubya left office and the vast majority of Americans voted Barack Obama and the democrats back into power. I was waiting for Rush Limbaugh to walk out on stage with an African robe on and start singing “We Will Overcome”, hand in hand with Beck and Palin. I swear, it was the weirdest thing! Then I realized that I had not entered Bizzaro World at all but had instead woken up to a normal day and this was really going on!

But what possible reason would Glenn Beck have for hosting a rally of all white people to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech? And what did King have to do with the messages that Glen Beck and Sarah Palin have been preaching to the far conservative right wing and the Tea Party movement? And how come the only black people that were there were on stage? Maybe I’m making too much of this. After all, there was no talk of Obama being a socialist or questioning his religion. Their was no talk of comparing Obama to Hitler, and Sarah Palin only spoke of the bravery of our troops. The Tea Partiers did not bring their traditional anti-Obama signs and the overall tone seemed to be as peaceful as could be. At first glance it appeared that Beck’s rally turned out to be nothing but a peaceful get together, with out the traditional Beck/Palin messages, celebrating King and the hope for a better tomorrow. But at second glance, maybe the first glance is the actual problem.

You see when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at that rally in 1963, which was called “The Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” his message was not directed simply to those who followed him but to all of America, and his message was consistent with all that he had said before that day. What made King so great was that even though his movement was ignited by the social and economic injustices to the African Americans at that time he recognized that for all Americans to prosper, no single group could be held back. His message was always positive and he never used hateful or incendiary language to forward his movement

The organizers of the 1963 rally, which besides King also included many labor leaders including those from what is now the UAW, were not only preaching civil rights but also economic equality for all. Flyers from the rally called for a push back against "the twin evils of racism and economic deprivation," and recommended massive federal intervention, in order to bring jobs to the unemployed, both black and white, the kind that Beck would call socialism and a take over of America. A. Philip Randolph, vice president of the AFL-CIO at that time, and the one who actually conceived of the 1963 march, the man who got King involved, and who in 1964 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson was the first speaker that day. In his speech he said, “"Our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not. And we know that we have no interest in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty."

The problem is that Beck’s message is nowhere near the dream that Martin Luther King preached that day in 1963 and consistently throughout his whole life. Kings message was for Social and Economic justice for all, yet in Beck’s skewed and warped misinterpretation of the civil rights movement he said that “They weren't crying for social justice…” When Rev. Al Sharpton came out and spoke about Kings dream, that it was “ not to put one black candidate in the White House," but to "make everything equal in everybody's house,” Beck responded with “That is not the Dream, that is a perversion of the dream,” when in fact that was exactly what the dream was. Becks hateful speech has gone so far as to numerous times compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler. He has said that he expects that during this administration we will see dogs and hoses turned on the people. He has said that we will be enslaved by everything from taxes to the health care reforms. He has blatantly called President Obama a racist and has asserted that he has an agenda to “settle old racial scores through new social justice.” While King called for an expanded role by the government to fight poverty and joblessness, Beck equates government intervention to addicting the public to heroin. King called for an economic bill of rights that would "guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work". In contrast Beck called a guarantee to the right of a job, “Marxism.”

The truth is that if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today and still preaching the messages that he preached in the 1960s, he would be all over Glenn Beck’s blackboard because there is nothing even remotely similar about the views of these two men. In a 1961 speech to the AFL-CIO, King said in regards to the distribution of wealth and jobs for all, “Yes, before the victory is won, some will be misunderstood. Some will be dismissed as dangerous rabble-rousers and agitators. Some will be called reds and Communists merely because they believe in economic justice and the brotherhood of man. But we shall overcome.” King could easily have been speaking of Glenn Beck who has said, “It's economic justice, which is socialism, which is forced redistribution of wealth, which is Marxism.”

Today we have a nation that just as in the 1960’s is filled with the haves and the have not’s. The middle class is slowly disappearing and the distribution of wealth is grossly imbalanced. Today the abuses of Wall Street have created mega millionaires all while manufacturing jobs have been eroded and gone over seas. Joblessness at the time Obama took office was at 700,000, our banks were failing, our auto makers were about to go under, foreclosures were at an all time high, and very little was being done by our government to bring jobs back to our nation. And just like in the 60’s, joblessness in the African American communities far outweighs joblessness by any other social group. If alive today Martin Luther King Jr. would be preaching the same dream that he was preaching that day in 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, of social and economic equality for all. Just as he did in the 60’s he would be calling for an expanded roll in government to help solve these problems. He would be calling for economic reforms and a reform of Wall Street. He would be calling for jobs programs just like he did in the 1960’s and for a strengthening of our education system that did not include vouchers that the poor could not afford. He actually would be more in line with President Obama then with Glenn Beck. In 1961, speaking to the AFL-CIO, King said,

“This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality -- that is the dream.”

Glenn Beck did not “restore honor” or “reclaim the civil rights movement” as he had hoped to. Instead he dishonored King’s message, King’s dream and the legacy of a man who if he were alive today would be so proud to see how far we have come but would still be fighting for how far we have yet to go.

Interview With Participants at the "Restoring Honor" Rally: