Occupy All Streets

The news story about Wall Street insider trading crimes increasing 52% since 2008 is clear evidence that WS’s trust with the American people is broken, not just by the  criminals like Bernie Madoff and the credit default swindlers, but by many professionals throughout the system.  Traders, real estate people, mortgage executives all share the blame.    The savings and loan scandals during the Reagan years taught us nothing and encouraged more systemic fraud.  If the obvious crimes have increased 52% that means more and more people are taking bigger risks and attempting fraud because they continue to see regulators as virtually powerless and punishments as acceptable.   If not controlled, these people will continue destroying lives and home values while resisting logical reforms by purchasing the nearest political hack. They will continue buying protection with ruthless lobbying and media distortion.  52% in an atmosphere where few are punished and some of the worst offenders have been given bonus bucks. Yet, we are still without firm regulations like Glass-Steagle which protected us from 1933 to 1999. 

            

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From Left to Right

 

News sources that must create reaction to hold viewers for the next commercials distort our perceptions. The audience responds with emotion and refuses to accept new evidence if it disputes their worldview. Cheap politicians and polemicists know how to construct ideas and even books that will hold attention but really offer much more heat than light.

The real problems are so complicated they know they can get away with bending truth and telling out right lies. When I was a kid both sides had to treat each other with much more respect to get on the main stage to reach the middle and change things. If they heard something ridiculous, independent reporters would reveal the lies and misinformation. Vietnam reporting that refuted government and revealed Watergate crimes happened before cable and the internet.

Today we practice a different kind of marginalized politics that works on the small percentage that actually bothers to vote. That is why more people have to get involved and demand more from our leaders, citizens and media. We can’t just complain, we have to contribute, educate, cooperate, convert and reach common ground. We have to VOTE! Democracy demands action and involvement…and there are still too many unemployed, uninsured, homeless, hungry and wounded in this amazing country.

How did that happen?

I blame both sides and those in the media who profit by spreading fear and lies.

“Want to fix America? Demand debate. Neither right nor left has all the answers. The solutions come from persuading those in the middle”

That is my pragmatic belief. 

The late Studs Terkel (who wrote a lot about the working poor) said: “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be…That’s what we’re missing. We’re missing argument. We’re missing debate. We’re missing colloquy. We’re missing all sorts of things. Instead, we’re accepting.”

As we give up debate we give up our freedom! When the media debate is continuously rude or impolite it becomes sniping from the edges and nobody learns anything and nothing changes. Some issues demand more time to unravel than 30 second sound bites. The Lincoln- Douglas debates were 3 hours long! They were transcribed and published and people actually read them. That changed American hearts about slavery. Aren’t today’s problems just as significant?

All tyrants dominate information to control the population; which is why the separation of church and state, protected free speech and tolerance is so important. Tyrants always fail in the long run which is why free countries need to continue to promote diversity and dialogue. It is safer than riots in the streets.

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The Great Shell Game

The heroes of the Tucson tragedy are well-known and it is no surprise that so many got involved to stop the carnage and help save lives. That’s what we do, that’s who we are as Americans. We rely on our neighbors to get through the pain. Even when our neighbors disagree with us on how to vote or how to govern, they still deserve our respect and civility.

Most of us lament the meanness of our politics and many place the blame on the verbal cruelty so popular with the some on the far right today. The truth is their language is not going to change as long as two parties exist.

Would the hate talkers have any power without the drama  they create to keep their base focused on fear and anger? Using strong language has always worked when it comes to getting people ginned up and angry about issues that may not be worth any actual outrage.

Winning an election is also no guarantee that the results will ever be respected. Losing becomes an excuse to up the ante of disrespect toward the winner. It is an old shtick, perfected by today’s highly paid professionals.

It’s true, we do have crazies and criminals among us, and we must be vigilant to protect the innocent from monsters who hear voices inside their heads telling them to do monstrous things.

It’s also true that some people use the rude and careless talk of media mavens to rationalize their own violence or threats of violence.

This abuse of emotion in public dialogue becomes an excuse to ignore the real issues that affect us all. It is much easier to get re-elected when you portray yourself as the heroic last defense against the relentless enemy of the culture you claim as the only moral lifestyle.

Sadly, we continue to elect politicians who know how to confuse us with a shell game. A shell game that allows them to abdicate their responsibility to actually govern, create policy or legislate for the greater good. Their shell game hides the fact that they are primarily interested in ensuring re-election by protecting their power base. Why? Because politicos know that actually dealing with the challenges is dangerous. It might mean telling the truth. It might mean raising some taxes, or controlling some guns, or finding a solution to America’s healthcare crisis. It might mean actually negotiating and compromising.

The majority of Americans want compromise and co-operation, and we are all sick of the game that has dominated the debate. It led us to two wasteful wars and a financial disaster. Thousands are now unemployed and thousands are losing their homes. Exploiting these very real, very pressing problems in order to capitalize on anger at the ballot box or the Neilsen box is blatant manipulation. We deserve better.

Since the Tucson shooting and the Newtown tragedy many politicians have hidden from media, because they don’t want to answer any questions about the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Even Dick Cheney says that might now need attention. Really? Would he support a new referendum on such an issue? Not likely.  If the majority of Americans do want more restrictions on some weapons and more taxes to support schools, will legislators ever respond to them? We know the politicians listen to the lobbyists and power brokers who line pockets and fill their re-election coffers. It is time they started to listen, to really listen, to the American People.

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Real Americans – Really Caring

I haven’t written anything on this blog for a long while because I wanted to get to a point of clarity about what happened to me on August 15th of this year. That was the day I had the most serious accident of my life. I was on my motorcycle when something strange happened that took the wheels out from under me and sent me flying head first into the pavement. The blow was so shocking to my system that for those few minutes I was paralyzed.  I could not move and I could not get up. The pain was so severe that I thought I was going to die there on the side of the highway. I remember thinking as I slid across the pavement: “I’m going to die, here.”

As the fog lifted I was determined to start breathing again and decided I had to remove my motorcycle helmet or I would suffocate. This effort seemed impossibly difficult at first but I soon regained my breath. Now the pain was subsiding but when I tried to get up I could only move my arms and every thing below my chest was frozen. I could not get up. No matter how hard I tried my body would not respond. I was scared.

At this point a woman in her 60’s appeared above me pointing her cell phone at me. She asked kindly if I was alright and I told her I couldn’t get up. She said to try to relax and that she had already called for help and an ambulance was on the way. Why this elderly white woman had been the first to stop is a testament to her courage and concern about an individual in need. All she saw was somebody injured on the side of the road. Traffic was whizzing by and she felt moved to help. Because she had been the first to stop others saw her kindness and were moved to stop as well. Soon I was surrounded by a large multi-cultural and multi-racial group of Americans who were all doing the same thing. Showing concern for a stranger in trouble. The more people that stood over me the better I felt. That is the strangest thing about this event. They were all like guardian angels that each added to my regaining the feeling in my legs. There was a young Jamaican man who kept saying: “Don’t get up, wait for de ambulance, try not to move.” The last was an off-duty EMT, a young Hispanic. All strangers who wanted to make sure I was going to get help. It was like a page right out of my grade school civics book. Every color of the American rainbow. This is my opportunity to thank those Americans who cared enough to protect me from more injury and risked their own safety and stayed with me until the police and ambulance professionals showed up. I thanked them and encouraged them to be careful getting back to their cars because I didn’t want to be the reason they would be hurt.

I learned, I had broken some ribs and injured my back but that helmet had definitely saved my life. There was a deep dent in the helmet that meant that without it my head would have been smashed like a cantaloupe tossed from bridge. Think about that the next time you see somebody riding without a helmet. If only they understood how dangerous it is.

It takes a long time for ribs to heal and my back now has a crushed thoracic vertebrae (the t-4) and there is the ugly reality that it will never be as good again. It was compressed by the impact and I lost a third of its size. So I guess I’m shorter too. Almost four months later I am still dealing with the intermittent pain that returns every time I try to use my back in the ways I could in the past. I am gradually accepting the fact that it takes a long time to adjust to this injury and that is my fate. The flip side is how fortunate I am to be alive, living with an annoyance and not a crippling injury that could have caused brain damage or put me in a wheel chair. I am one lucky guy. While I have been healing I have had a lot of time to think.

I have asked myself a million times if there was anything I could have done differently to have avoided the accident and have come to the conclusion that it was just bad luck. Crap actually happens. We are all vulnerable to injury and there are no guarantees that life is going to be easy or pain free.

The wonderful thing about this event is my awareness of how generous and kind most Americans are. I am sure that diverse group of Americans that stopped to help me all had different faiths, creeds, lifestyles and politics. None of that made any difference in that moment. They all stopped to help. They cared. They weren’t afraid of each other or afraid of me.

If we choose to believe that those who are our neighbors are people we should fear we have lost something wonderful about this country. If we could all remember how dependent we are on the kindness of strangers maybe we can convince our politicians to start treating each other as valued friends rather than enemies. Perhaps they can mature and come up with an agenda that serves us all without breeding contempt and resentment. The next time you hear some opportunistic blowhard on the radio or TV talking about any group or political opponent in a negative way try to determine how much of what they are saying is really pandering to fear anger and ignorance. The forces that try to divide us serve only themselves.

When the flood waters rise or the fires are raging we need each other to survive.

It is time our leaders understood that the American people deserve better than divide and conquer politics.

There are good people making a difference in all aspects of our society. Real heroes who risk their lives, health and wealth for others because they are called to do the right thing. Some of these people may not look like you and some may not have your beliefs but they are all real Americans and they all deserve real respect.

Peace, Shalom and Namaste.

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Facebook Over and Out

After trying it briefly, I deactivated my FB account. I quickly realized that this tool only creates an ugly dependency for communication through FB. I have very few “friends” in the real world but I do have an address book filled with emails of lots of people who contact me (rarely) for some very specific reason. Those people aren’t friends and wouldn’t be interested in developing or maintaining a friendship. They are just people I know professionally. If they want something, I hear from them. They know where I am on the internet thing-a-ma-bob. I’m very easy to find. They are sometimes relatives who may want to do a brief email just to see if I am alive, but they would never call. What would they say? We are too far apart to socialize and never close enough to organise any regular visits. So, they “friend” you on Facebook and you end up communicating indirectly through some kind of community newsletter filled with junk news from other people’s friends you don’t know, and don’t want to know.

Distance is distance. People choose being alone or actually connecting with a particular individual or group of people for a very specific reasons. Time. It runs out and you can’t buy it back.

I have my immediate family and maybe five friends who would know pretty quickly by my non-response that I was gone and unavailable for conversation.

Recently, I tried to contact a former neighbor in NYC and found out he had disappeared. This was a guy I never felt the need to keep in touch with for over twenty years. We were situational friends. He was the guy in the apartment across the hall and we would sometimes socialize, but after I moved out we rarely had no reason to speak and we both chose to move on.  I was walking by the old building and I saw that his name was still on the mailbox inside the doorway. I looked up his phone number and called to see if he wanted to grab a coffee and catch up.

We were neighbors for over 4 years so there would be something to talk about, even if it was just how badly we had aged. His phone was disconnected. As I was turning to leave another resident exited the building so I decided to ask if he knew my old neighbor. I explained that I used to live there over twenty years ago. He looked at me funny like I might be a bill collector or process-server. He decided after a moment I was OK and then blurted out: “I think he’s dead! Oh, yeah, it’s weird, nobody has seen him for over six months and the landlord moved all his stuff out and rented the place to somebody else. I was looking for him months ago to see if he wanted to grab a beer. I asked a few friends and nobody knows anything except he was not well for a long while and now he’s gone. Just gone.
I’m pretty sure he’d dead though, cause nobody just walks away from an apartment full of stuff. Not after living there for over 20 years.”

For some reason this information hit me hard. And then I started thinking about all the “friends” who had disconnected from me (some actually just stopped taking my calls) and all the people I have ignored and been too busy to stay in touch with. All the people who might still be my “friends” if simply knowing of my existence were the only criteria. Not really knowing me but just knowing some small bit of information. Some Facebook info.

It got me to thinking of a possible epitaph or a gravestone.

“Here he lies, all alone. No Family, No Friends, No Facebook.”

If you want to claim friendship make a real effort to personally see someone, email or call.  All the other stuff is just nonsense.

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The Summer Of Etan Patz

I haven’t written anything for this page for a while. Why? Sometimes nothing seems worthwhile. Sometimes nothing matters. Sometimes all you see is sadness. Sometimes it is better to just wait and listen – because there is a message waiting to be heard; a lesson waiting to be learned.

Two things.

We have all suffered loss but loss involving children is the cruelest. In May of 1979, I was living in New York City. Two days after my son’s fifth birthday, a little boy named Etan Patz disappeared from a street not far from mine. He was only six years old and disappeared on his way to the school bus. That summer, everywhere I went, I would see his missing child poster. Every bus, every subway car and all the walls around the construction sites, plastered with his picture. When I saw the picture of his sweet smile it reminded me of my son. I couldn’t imagine the pain his family was feeling. How did they feel when they saw the picture? I would see kids on the street that resembled him and I would stare to make sure it wasn’t the child on the poster. I never actually saw him, of course, and nobody else did either.  It was a sad summer in New York.

They were talking about it again on the news this week and how he became the first missing kid on the milk cartons. He became a symbol for every abducted, murdered, abused and mistreated child since.

That story reminded me of one that nobody talked about on the news this week. In November of 1987, Lisa Steinberg, age six, was murdered by her “adopted” father Joel while he was in a crack cocaine stupor. He was a lawyer and was paroled and released from prison in 2004. I’ve never understood how that could happen.

I guess someone had to forgive him and assume he is safe out on the street near children again. It takes a leap of faith I have a hard time understanding. But I am not by nature a naturally positive person.

The other news story that hit me hard this week: The woman, who after being mauled, blinded and maimed by a crazed chimpanzee, expressed her regret and sadness at the death of her friend who owned the chimp. That chimpanzee tore off her face and hands and left her blind.

She said she can’t stay angry about what happened to her. She doesn’t want to live in anger.

She is hoping for new prosthetic hands, so that she can learn to feed herself, and she needs new face construction with lips so that she can eat more easily. She was also planning on going to a relative’s college graduation and doesn’t want to be hidden away from the crowd. She wants to be included and feel all the happiness and joy around her. She wants life.

Now, I have no idea if she is a naturally positive person. Perhaps she was always optimistic, generous and helpful. Her desire to help her friend control the chimp was what led to her injuries. Her attitude shames me and maybe shames us all. She doesn’t want to live in anger. She doesn’t want to live in sadness.

She wants life. Life – with all its difficulties.

A message and a lesson.

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Osama Ben Nissan’s Rolling Times Square May Day Barbecue

OK, I have been lucky. Very, very lucky. A man once came out of the subway and pulled the trigger on a hand gun as I walked by. He was out of ammunition. I found out later he had just shot someone down on the subway platform. On June 28th, 1983, I drove over the Minus River bridge about 20 minutes before it collapsed and killed three people. A tornado preceding Hurricane Ivan skipped over my house in Florida and killed a man less than two miles away. There have been many other nearby tragic events in my lifetime. I guess if you live long enough you will inevitably find yourself in proximity to a lot of bad bad things.

Saturday night, I was just two blocks away from the infamous Nissan propane bomb car. I didn’t hear a thing about it until the show I was attending ended after 8 o’clock. It was a great night in New York City. We had just enjoyed the live broadcast of a “Prairie Home Companion” at Town Hall. A big thrill for me because I have been a fan for 35 years. My friends and I had been so entertained by the show we had seen that we were probably immune to the fear vibe that was building all around us. We had a chance to speak at length to PHC cast members Fred Newman and Sue Scott after the show and we were all still a little buzzed by the contact with such amazing talents. Out on the street, word spread rapidly as we heard rumors of a bomb scare, or a possible car explosion, from members of the crowd blocked off from entering Times Square. I was shrugging it off and making jokes about Jack Bauer and “24” filming a segment. None of it seemed real.

By the time we walked to a nearby restaurant details were filtering through but no one seemed concerned or even alarmed. Outside of our restaurant, I noticed two novice police officers examining a compact car that was left at an odd angle to the curb. Someone had left it unattended and the two nervous cops were looking underneath. I peeked into the car and noticed a yellow Broadway Playbill and a sweater in the back seat. “Looks like a theater goer, there’s a playbill in the back seat,” I said out loud. The two young cops heard me and said, “What? What did you say?” I repeated my statement and they went back to looking at the car from all angles as I walked away. That was the first inkling I had that something more serious than a phony “bomb scare ” was going on. Up to that point, I assumed that someone had called in a bomb scare to one of the other shows starting at eight o’clock, just to create some havoc on a Saturday night. Something about the expression on the faces of those two young officers was alarming. Those cops had obviously been briefed to cover every possible threat. They were scared – and didn’t want to screw anything up.

By the time we left the restaurant it was obvious by the chatter around us, the blocked streets and the massive police presence that something more ominous had occurred. The thought that this just might be a ruse or a distraction to pull the mass of police officers to Times Square away from another bomb site near Grand Central or Penn Station came to mind. I guess I’ve seen too many terrorist movies since 9/11.

Riding home on a late night Metro North train I was surrounded by the typical Saturday night party crowd. Laughing, talking, some even drunk. They were all winding down from their night on the town. It was business as usual and no one seemed aware that some of us might have dodged a bullet. Sometimes you get lucky.

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