Sunday, December 20, 2015

You Are an Immigrant

Gravestone of Bryan Carroll,
My Great-Great-Great Grandfather
I know it's been said hundreds of times by hundreds of people, but that's not going to stop me...

This is the gravestone of my great-great-great grandfather Bryan Carroll, who emigrated, probably in the 1840s, from County Meath, in the Mid-East Region of Ireland. This gravestone was discovered this year in Upstate New York by family members, and will be repaired next year at our family's expense.

It is a wonderful discovery for our family, the insertion of one more piece into the complex puzzle of our shared history. But in 2015, 165 years after Bryan Carroll died at the age of 45 after what must have been a life of struggle, I am not reveling in this discovery as I should be. I am instead thinking about people in America today who continue to demonize citizens of the world like Bryan.

Bryan was a man who probably found himself in the midst of devastating circumstances beyond his control—in his case, the Great Hunger—which then led him to risk a perilous bid for the very survival of his family. Arriving in America, the Carrolls were probably persecuted for their faith, for their ethnicity, and for their poverty. These are all aspects of the immigrant experience that ring hauntingly true today, but what rises in my mind is the devious fact that all of those who would deny an immigrant his freedom today—all of them—have Bryan Carrolls in their family trees.

And yet, they never ask: What if someone had slammed the door on my family? What if someone had denied Mario Rubio or Rafael Cruz immigration from Cuba? What if someone had denied Mary Anne MacLeod, Donald Trump's mother, immigration from the Scottish Hebrides? What would America be today without these immigrants and the millions of others like them? Without the rich heritage they have woven into the American fabric? Without the hard work they and their descendants have put in to make America what it is today? And what would the world think of America had it denied its freedoms and its bounty to these desperate people? What would Irishmen left to starve in devastating famine think of those who denied them? What would Cubans left to suffer in Communist oppression think of those who denied them?

Fortunately, we'll never know the answers to these questions because we have opened our doors, we have woven a rich multi-ethnic national identity, and we have built a great nation and expanded and protected our freedoms, and we've done it all together.

To turn back the clock on this approach to the world—an approach grounded in generosity, an approach that is the very centerpiece, I believe, of American greatness—would be a betrayal of that very greatness and an admission of weakness and retreat.

I am thrilled that my family discovered Bryan Carroll's gravestone, and I'm anxious to learn as many details of his life as I can. But more than that, I am thrilled to be a citizen of the nation that has relieved the struggles of millions of immigrants like Bryan, and has set the foundation on which our family and the families of all American immigrants have been allowed to thrive.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Turn as a Political Operative…

What Democrats need to do to start winning the political messaging wars.

Campaign Buttons, Mailer/Breslin Mayoral Campaign, 1969
In 1969, the author Norman Mailer ran for Mayor of New York under the infamous slogan, “No More Bullshit.” This is not only a hilarious fun fact, it is a stunning bit of history that sticks in the mind for one reason: political campaigns and operations in America are one of the least creative, most risk-averse species of messaging machine on the planet. Against that backdrop, “No More Bullshit” is a spectacularly courageous innovation. The one exception to this rule that I can think of has been the creation of a Republican Party propaganda arm (a.k.a. Fox News) that has somehow managed to convince millions of Americans that monkeys are flying out of their butts (or the equivalent thereof, anyway). As a liberal, I am frustrated daily by the ineptitude with which liberals respond, which now leads me to try some of my own ideas for political messaging out on you guys to see how they fare.

So what I’ll share here are what I think of as a couple of missed opportunities on the part of Democrats. One is outdated—waaaay after the fact—and one is quite recent. Where Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah deride the Democrats’ ineptitude, I offer suggestions, to wit…

1. Hillary – Don’t Generalize, Demonize

My first example is recent: I just saw this in my Facebook feed last week, posted by the Hillary Clinton campaign in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California:

The issue here is subtle, but significant: Hillary Clinton, in pursuing her ultraliberal bona fides, has decided to take on the National Rifle Association. Key point here: She has decided to take on the entire NRA—an organization of 3 to 4 million members, depending on who you believe—with a series of social media posts and memes like this one. But one of the primary lessons Clinton should have learned by now from the success of the right wing propaganda machine is this one: Don’t generalize, demonize!

Did Fox News take on the entire documentary film industry, which they and their viewers certainly see as left-leaning? No, they demonized Michael Moore (who, incidentally, is an NRA member). Do they ever take on the entire Democratic Congressional Caucus? No, they demonize Nancy Pelosi! In other words, why take on the entire NRA when the vast majority of the organization’s vitriol, and in fact the very vehemence of its right-wing political posturing, emanates from a single monumental American asshole, Wayne LaPierre. The National Rifle Association actually began as a gun safety and education advocacy group that supported stricter gun control laws. It is an organization that has been hijacked by right wing fanatics like LaPierre and their evil financiers in the gun industry. I have to imagine that the organization has at least thousands, and perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of members who disdain LaPierre’s incendiary and senseless rhetoric. Why lump these good people in with one of the biggest idiots in America? Why create more enemies?

My revision of the messaging would go something like this:

And it mustn’t stop there. Once the campaign is launched, each and every public statement Clinton makes about gun violence and the critical need for more reasonable gun laws should include prominent mention of LaPierre.
“These tragedies that are now occurring weekly in our towns and cities make it clear that the vast majority of Americans are right on this issue and Wayne LaPierre is wrong.”
“A lot of us have been trying to tackle this issue for years, but when Wayne LaPierre commands the amount of gun industry money that he does, it’s just impossible to get Republicans in Congress to do the right thing.”
“Wayne LaPierre has lied to you again [about guns in Israeli schools], and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. We know the vast majority of NRA members are law-abiding citizens who favor commonsense gun regulations, but unfortunately their mouthpiece is a right wing extremist who buys off Republicans with weapons industry money.”
See what I did there? A la the second meme above, I shifted the conversation to divide and conquer the NRA itself, an approach that has at least a fighting chance of succeeding, given the NRA’s history as a gun control and safety advocacy group.

And the key here is consistency, not just from Hillary, but from anyone on her staff who is authorized to speak to the media. There must never be a public statement made about gun violence without mention of Wayne LaPierre. He must become the face of the mass killer, so that when the next incident happens (and, tragically, it most certainly will), the first thing voters will think about is his ugly mug, his incendiary statements, and most importantly, his unconscionable position on gun control.

2. Mitch McConnell and the Boon that Never Was

Just before the 2010 mid-term elections, at a point where President Obama had not yet completed two years in office, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement:

Senator Mitch McConnell
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Setting aside the potential extremes of a statement like that, made by a U.S. Senator from a southern state and directed at the first African-American president in U.S. history (and if you think that’s hyperbole, take a look at what happened to gun sales in the U.S. after each of President Obama’s elections, in 2008 and 2012), and setting aside the Republican Party’s abysmal failure in achieving its leader’s “single most important” goal, what McConnell actually did that day, by laying it out in stark terms the way he did, was present Democrats with the talking point of all talking points—a gift that, alas, they somehow managed to squander.

With the exception of a few statements made by Democratic Party leaders like Senator Dick Durbin and President Obama himself, not many others mentioned McConnell’s statement, and when they did the mentions were minor. What the Democrats should have done—in fact, what the memo sent to each and every Congressional Democrat and Democratic state governor should have read—was, each and every time they spoke to the media on any issue whatsoever, they should have led their comments with either direct or indirect mention of McConnell’s statement, to wit,
On the budget (state or federal): “Well, first off, we’re doing our best to work with an opposition whose sole objective is to prevent any progress from being made…”
On national security: “Given that our friends on the other side of the aisle have pledged themselves to the goal of obstructing any progress, I think we’re doing as well as we can…”
On gun control: “The Republican Party, which I think we can all refer to now as the Obstructionist Party, has committed itself to preventing any progress, but we’ll continue to work hard…”
On tax policy: “Our caucus continues to work very hard to find common ground with the Obstructionists, but they’ve been remarkably determined in their single stated goal of preventing any progress, so…”
See what I did there? I created a new term by replacing the term Republican Party with the term Obstructionist Party, which, after all, is exactly what Republicans have grown into over the past eight years. And even without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, one could easily have seen, back in 2010 (and you don’t have to believe me, but I actually did), that McConnell had provided Democrats with the means of rightfully placing the blame for all government intransigence—no matter what the issue or crisis at hand—squarely at the feet of Republicans.

Yes, this is another old Fox News / Republican technique, “truth by assertion”—a.k.a., say something enough times, and people start to believe it. The Republicans’ most successful example of this was the replacement of the term rich people with the term job creators, which of course has no basis in fact. The difference with McConnell’s statement, though, is that it did have basis in fact: McConnell actually said the words, and the comment actually received reasonably wide media attention. It was in the public consciousness, just waiting there for Democrats to snatch it up. As distasteful as it might be for some to lower themselves by taking up devious rhetorical techniques like this, techniques embraced by Neanderthals like Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, the fact of the matter is, the techniques work, and liberals in this country need to start speaking that language if any minds are ever going to be changed.

More importantly, liberals should see the clear difference between job creators and “make President Obama a one-term president,” which is that one is a complete lie and the other is a completely accurate quotation from one of the country’s most prominent Republican leaders. Using aggressive rhetorical techniques might tarnish one’s reputation slightly among the rest of the choir, but in the marketplace of ideas, doing so offers the chance to get the truth out there loudly, thereby getting it into the conversation. And the one thing the obscenely well-funded right wing propaganda machine has accomplished over the past decade is to dominate the conversation.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Permanence, Fear…Love

Thoughts on religion in America and the strange case of Kim Davis.

Kim Davis
The strange case of Kim Davis, the elected County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, who on August 31 began refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her county, has gotten me thinking about my own religious odyssey, and the role of religion—and in particular, Christianity—in American life.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples must have the right to marry no matter where they live in the U.S., Davis was jailed for contempt of court, but subsequently released to the delight of thousands of supporters. This chain of events, predictably, has elevated Davis to the position of Culture Warrior Numero Uno in the eyes of Fox News, Christian conservatives, and Republican Presidential candidates. (Ever the opportunists, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz high-tailed it to Kentucky on news of her release, eager to be on stage with the religious right’s latest cause célèbre.)

And as always and apparently forever, the more one learns about the case of a crusading modern Christian in America, the more bizarre the story gets.

Davis is reportedly an Apostolic Christian, a particularly conservative sect that believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Though it is worth mentioning that there seems to be some confusion about her true denomination, and no congregation has stepped forward to claim her. This is strange because Apostolic Christians do the whole laying of hands thing when someone joins up, and given that Davis only converted four years ago, one would think someone would remember her. Whatever the brand of Christianity that has led her to flout the law and in so doing claim the national spotlight, Davis has probably violated its teachings, since she’s been married four times and appears to have birthed her children—including a son who works in her office and, sharing her religious convictions, is also defying a court order and refusing to issue marriage licenses—out of wedlock.

One report says that Davis claims to have been “ordained by God” to do what she’s doing—sitting in jail for five days on the public dime, refusing to do the job she was elected to do, and now claiming that marriage licenses issued by her office against her will are legally null and void—none of which is particularly surprising, since God has long been the go-to excuse for so many people who decide to do dickish things in this world. But…tending to be more of a contemplative type about things like this, I find myself asking the question, Why? Why, in the 21st century, can’t we, as a species, get beyond this? And these are questions that invariably lead me to recall my own long and deep experience with Christianity.

* * *

My own Christian odyssey is pretty much the opposite of the one Kim Davis appears to have traveled. Rather than sowing wild oats for 40 years and then falling under the sway of a conservative brand of Christianity, I was born into and educated in early life under a comparatively liberal brand of Catholicism, the brand that thrived in California and around the country in the 1960s and led so many white Christians of all denominations to march alongside their African-American Southern Baptist counterparts during the Civil Rights Movement. My parents were typical of the Catholic couples wed in the 1950s, eschewing birth control and begetting and raising nine children, seven of whom (including me) were educated in a then-affordable private school under the watchful eyes of Dominican nuns and Franciscan priests. As a student at St. Frances Cabrini School from 1966 to 1973, I don’t remember much talk of hell. I also remember no readings from Leviticus, no talk of sodomy or homosexuality, and in fact nothing that promoted exclusion over inclusion. (This despite the towering presence of our 4th grade lay teacher, Miss Mock, an incorrigible dyke who shocked our nine-year-old sensibilities the day she unabashedly announced, “Not everyone’s a Catholic. I’m not a Catholic.”)

San Francisco Peace March, 1969
Our many masses at St. Frances did of course feature those vivid, realistic, and macabre images of Christ being tortured—getting lanced in the side and nailed to a cross, etc.—but what I remember most of those years (aside from a certain calliope beginning to find tune in my adolescent loins) is lots of love and lots of song. Nonetheless, I distinctly recall that at around the age of 10 or 11, I used the critical thinking skills the nuns and lay teachers had nurtured in me from the beginning to decide on two things: 1. If there is a God, he’s probably not such an insecure wuss that he needs all of his followers to go into a building once a week to “worship” him, and 2. If there is a God, he’s probably not the kind of supreme jerk who would take people that He created and banish them to a tortuous inferno for all of eternity.

But my own misgivings and eventual fall from the fold aside, the one thing the holy orders at St. Frances Cabrini were able to convince me of was that Catholicism was about inclusion and not exclusion, about unification and not division. And this is the one teaching that has been, beginning in my 10th year and continuing on since then, soundly refuted by both experience and the most basic understanding of world history. Christians kill Muslims and vice versa, Muslims kill Hindus and vice versa, Muslims kill other Muslims and vice versa. It’s a vicious cycle that has persisted for millennia, and when it comes to Christianity in America, you’re either in or you’re out. In the 1960s at St. Frances Cabrini and elsewhere in the nation, that was just fine: you go your way and I’ll go mine and we’ll see how it all shakes out in the next life. In my own family, in fact (and there are dozens of us, four brothers and four sisters, some with large families of their own), we have the Christian and the non. My father is Christian, my mother is not. We nonetheless live with each other and love each other unconditionally as families do all over America. And this is the way it was all over America once, when the division that is inherent in all religion sat comfortably in the back seat and not only didn’t interfere with human progress, but stepped aside so that Christian leaders like Martin Luther King could actually drive human progress. But oh how that has changed. Today we see the term “religious freedom” used to mean my right to deny you your civil rights, my right to deny you services to which you are legally entitled, my right to deny you your basic human dignity. It’s no wonder that—and, ironically, this is the good news—Americans are moving away from religion in record numbers.

* * *

So back to the question, Why? Whether there is a God or not, we—those of us here on this planet—are all humans. There are no gods here, and I suspect there are no prophets either. Some of us are more vociferous than others, more charismatic, more extroverted, more boisterous, etc., but we are all humans. And as humans, we have for millennia, I think, fallen sway for very good reasons to a few key dimensions of religion.

The first is permanence. Religion is forever, so whatever happens today or tomorrow, whatever trials we might endure, from minor frustrations to war and famine, they are trivial by comparison. Saintly knights were gladly drawn and quartered, faithful friars brutally whipped native Californians into submission, and jihadists murder and maim thousands of their countrymen because today is nothing. The real action—the truly permanent—kicks off in the next life, not this one.

The next dimension is fear. Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “a good God-fearing man,” or “a good God-fearing family”? Fear of the wrath of God was instrumental in delivering the species from primitive barbarity to civilization, and even today there are those who believe that without church teachings, their lives would have devolved into thievery, mayhem, and self-abuse.

St. Frances Cabrini Church,
San Jose, CA
And the final dimension I’ll mention is love. As I said before, my own religious experience was awash in love—love not only for our fellow congregants, but for our parents, our families, and our neighbors. Coming up in the 1960s, I recall a youth that had its challenges, but I never recall being very far from a good soak in a warm bath of love. My friends and siblings in our uniforms at St. Frances Cabrini School, my brothers, sisters, and cousins on our weekend beach trips and summer family vacations, the hippies in San Francisco during the peace marches, and of course my own incredible mother and father, who faced down adversities that I will never be able to imagine, all surrounded me with intoxicating vapors of love.

In 1973, as my fellow 8th-graders and I were being prepared for the sacrament of Confirmation, we were visited by a middle-aged couple—about the age I am now—who spoke to us honestly and openly about the challenges they had faced in the course of their long marriage to one another. As we prepared to enter adulthood in the Catholic way, they were giving us a reality check, but they were also sitting before us as a shining example of two people who were desperately in love. Just about a year after this, my own parents split up after 20 years of marriage, but I never lost my faith in the institution or my determination to enter into it in my life, and I have now been happily married to my wife Caroline for more than 23 years.

Strangely, these are the thoughts and images that pass through my mind when I think of the strange case of Kim Davis. Because when I think of the case, I don’t really think of Kim Davis at all. I think of couples like David Moore and David Ermold, who were denied a marriage license by Davis, and the kind of pain and hurt that must have caused them. And I think of the LGBT couples in my life, family members and friends, any of whom could easily be sitting together in 20 or more years just like that couple who sat before us at St. Frances Cabrini in 1973, just two people sharing a long life together, a life full of the trials and frustrations that face all of us, two people who remain desperately in love. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll end up like my parents, eventually separated and then divorced. But that’s okay. Religion has never solved that problem for heterosexual couples and it’s not going to solve it for same-sex couples either, but what’s undeniable, in my mind, is that these couples deserve a chance.

* * *

The Road to Mecca, CA
So the rather simplistic answer to the question Why? that I’ve arrived at is, Kim Davis is fixated on permanence and fear, and has lost sight of the importance of love. Religion is not for me, but I know for a fact that there are congregations out there whose faith is grounded in love, and whose actions bear that out. I’m reminded of an afternoon a few years ago that I spent with my Aunt Monessa, a Franciscan nun, at a Catholic food pantry in Mecca, California, distributing food bundles to the poor. Because those congregations exist, I have no problem with religion. We can live with it. It can bring good into the world. But when the faithful fixate on permanence and fear, we get, at the very least, oppression, and at the very worst, certifiably insane people carrying signs reading “God Hates Fags,” and even jihad.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Gamification Distraction

From video game culture, a broader distraction from the real.

I have for some time had no small degree of discomfort with the whole concept of gamification, an idea and an approach that is now raging—as these things are wont to do—across industry, education, and institutions both governmental and non. The thinking seems to be that gamifying things has the power to radically accelerate the move from intention to action, and there are plenty of good examples that bear this out. In fact, I experienced one such example in my professional life recently, where gamification played a huge role in driving the success of a development program I had designed. More on that later, but the fact is my discomfort remained, which is why I was so thrilled to read Nathan Heller’s excellent review in this week’s NewYorker. It demystifies my discomfort and, I think, clarifies the whole issue.

Heller reviews the new book SuperBetter by Institute for the Future tank-thinker and repeat TedTalker Jane McGonigal. The book is, like most of McGonigal’s career, a celebration of the power of gaming to change lives for the better—nay, the superbetter! It is a prescription for a gamified lifestyle wherein the struggling human adopts McGonigal’s seven principles of the game and thereby transforms daily trials into fun and rewarding challenges one can conquer—kind of like reaching level 80 in World of Warcraft. This SuperBetter lifestyle prescription moves the popular concept of gamification out of the business, commercial, educational, and institutional spheres and into the sphere of daily life. But in doing so, as Heller adeptly explains, McGonigal runs into trouble.

My own brush with the power of gamification was in a business context, where results tend to be funneled toward the positive. Everyone wants the team to succeed. Everyone wants to be able to tell the team they succeeded. And, of course, everyone on the team wants to feel like they succeeded. In my case, my Sales Operations team succeeded in increasing what we called Sales DNA, a term we coined to describe the Operations team’s level of understanding of the Field Sales teams it is charged with supporting. We made little videos that told true stories from the field, packaged these up on a flashy, easy-to-use website, added in lessons, character bios, and thinly disguised quizzes, and gave the team a relatively persuasive management nudge (i.e., an e-mail from the VP) to go check it out. All that might have been enough—the presentation had a cool factor and the content was intriguing and important—but the thing that really drove the traffic to the site was the gamification element: We awarded “Sales DNA Points” for various activities on the site, offered cash awards to the top three point earners, and posted the points rankings twice a week. The results could not be described as anything but a success: Just shy of 100% of team members consumed 100% of the content, performance on quizzes was exceedingly high, and most importantly, a team that is widely dispersed across the globe generated a frenetic  amount of viral activity, posting hundreds of blogs and discussions, many of which generated long threads of commentary and questioning. In the end our metrics showed that Sales DNA had increased dramatically, and I personally received a barrage of accolades and awards for the program’s success.

So why the discomfort? First and foremost, there were some outliers, a few people on the team for whom earning Sales DNA Points became much more important than the true intended goal of increasing Sales DNA. This tilted focus led these people into behaviors uncharacteristic of the professionalism and integrity they normally demonstrate, and it left me discouraged. Despite the fact that the vast majority of the team acted in the spirit of the program, these few individuals required the erection, refinement, and maintenance of guardrails—a huge drain on me and on the organization as a whole.

But I can’t lay my discomfort on the wanderings of a few strays. What disturbs me more is something larger, which is that we in the developed Western world seem to be transforming into a species that requires some surface-level titillation in order to get important things done. The state government here in California, for example, is charged with funding and maintaining a public education system. Why do we need a state lottery—essentially a tax on the poor—to fund public education? Why can’t we all just decide to fund public education—without the games? Another example is the Stock Market, which exists to capitalize companies. Why do we need gambling bets like derivatives, short selling, long positions, and the rest on Wall Street? Why can’t we just decide to capitalize companies for growth—without the games? And in my much less consequential case of Sales DNA, we have a team in Sales Operations whose job it is to help Field Sales. Why isn’t that motivation enough to watch some videos, review some content, and learn about the day-to-day lives of those we’re charged to serve—without the games?

All of this, of course, expresses little more than a bias: a wish that humanity were something other than what it is. In these realms, games are here to stay, but what is encouraging about Nathan Heller’s review is that it makes a compelling case that, in spreading into the realm of self-help, gamification may have finally overstepped. SuperBetter charges authoritatively into the world of self-help, Heller explains, mainly because we are in an era of Fitbits and smartphone weight tracking apps:
Previously banished to the back shelves of the bookstore…self-help is cool again, because it comes with numbers. Progress is trackable, like Venus through the night sky. Data has become our diet.
It turns out, though, that McGonigal’s most compelling data in support of life gamification is actually self-contradictory. One study indicates that P.T.S.D. could be avoided by putting a Tetris game in front of a soldier, first responder, or assault victim soon after the traumatic experience, thus occupying the visual-processing centers of the brain so that the disturbing images cannot attach themselves. In another study, burn victims play a 3-D virtual-reality game while their wounds are being treated, monopolizing their cerebral resources and resulting in a 35−50% reduction in the pain they experience. But far from proving that gamification improves life experience, these examples show the opposite: that it improves life by distracting from the immediate experience. This is not to invalidate the findings or diminish their clinical potential; it is just to point out that it is folly to apply gamification across the whole of life experience, which is for most of us anything but harrowing, and is in fact well worth experiencing closely, mindfully, and free of distraction.

McGonigal will undoubtedly have lots of people gamifying their lives in short order. She is a compelling cult figure who has captivated intellectual sanctuaries like Ted and NPR to the point where I will undoubtedly think of her each time my local public radio station offers the Lumosity brain enhancement game during pledge week. (“Why not just read a freaking book?!” I typically shout at the car radio.) But while Nathan Heller’s review might not have given me vindication for my anti-game bias, it does at least place limits on the spread of the game—limits that will, as more and more lotteries and Lumosities and’s  parade before me, give me some amount of solace.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Marco Rubio Finds a New Low

Marco Rubio, in a single comment on a debate stage, personifies every base debility known to American politics.

It’s no surprise that Senator Marco Rubio is a tool of his Big Money donors, but it is surprising to see the lengths he has gone to lately to keep the donations flowing.

When asked in the first Republican Presidential debate on August 6th about ways to help struggling small business, Rubio decided to use the occasion to attack a favorite bogeyman of Finance Industry–financed Republican candidates, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. These were Rubio’s words:
We need to repeal Dodd-Frank. It is eviscerating small businesses and small banks. 20 — over 40 percent of small and mid-size banks that loan money to small businesses have been wiped out over the — since Dodd-Frank has passed.
He fumbled a bit there, but this time it had nothing to do with cottonmouth. His mind was undoubtedly ruminating for a microsecond a couple of times on whether he should actually go ahead with the bald-faced lie he was about to utter.

His first fumble was whether to say 20 percent or 40 percent, and he tucked away the 20 and chose to go with “…over 40 percent.” This was the Big Lie.

(His second was whether to say “…over the Dodd-Frank law…” or “…since Dodd-Frank has passed…,” and he tucked away the “over” and chose to go with “since,” but this was inconsequential, since it was clear he was blaming the loss of community banks on Dodd-Frank.)

So, cleaned up, we end up with:
We need to repeal Dodd-Frank. It is eviscerating small businesses and small banks. Over 40 percent of small and mid-size banks that loan money to small businesses have been wiped out since Dodd-Frank has passed.
If you’re one of Rubio’s Big Money Wall Street donors, the senator chose wisely in issuing this statement. It blames the loss of the helpless little guy on the Big Bad Government. But if you’re someone interested in truth and in actually doing something to help America’s struggling middle class, the senator did not choose wisely at all, and he certainly isn’t choosing wisely in calling for the repeal of the single most important economic legislation of at least the last 30 years.

Because there is no data anywhere that shows 40%, much less “over 40%” of small banks in America being “eviscerated” at all, not by any force in the universe and certainly not by the Dodd-Frank law. It is true that somewhere between 16% and 22% of small banks in America have disappeared since 2010, but this is just a continuation of a trend that started in the early days of the Reagan administration, when deregulation made it irresistible for Big Banks to gobble up the small ones.

Both Congressional Republicans and their Wall Street financiers have been gunning for Dodd-Frank since Day 1, and even scored a stinging victory just last December, but rarely does one hear a call for out-and-out repeal. In order to issue one, Rubio not only had to fabricate his “over 40%” doomsday (a.k.a. right wing wet dream) fantasy, he had to deftly shift blame for the doom from the perpetrators to his victim. Because Dodd-Frank—even as toothless as Congressional Republicans have rendered it—remains the only weapon We the People have to prevent Wall Street from driving us headlong into another Great Recession, and the law does that by regulating the activities of Big Banks—those same Big Banks that have been gobbling up their smaller competition since the days of Reagan.

Small banks and businesses are not the victims of Dodd-Frank, they’re the victims of unfettered Big Banks—the same Big Banks whose nefarious activities Dodd-Frank is designed to curtail.

Marco Rubio is a relatively young man who has learned well from the masters of subterfuge who dominate American politics. What he is not is a qualified candidate for the highest office in the land.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't Be a Dumb-Ass

New Years Resolutions, 2015...

As I look ahead to the New Year, I like many people find myself in a reflective mood. We ask ourselves, How to make the next year better than the last? How to reduce the stress? How to reduce the frustration and anger?

In previous years (like last year), I would address these questions with fantasy: Like, load the entire Republican Congressional Caucus onto a smuggler’s ship in a Turkish port, point them toward Italy, and set them afloat. But I’m 55 now and getting smarter about these things, so I’ve decided on a much more practical approach, which basically amounts to, Don’t be a dumb-ass. Put more succinctly, Quit doing just some of the dumb-ass shit you’ve been doing on a regular basis these 50+ years, causing yourself untold momentary bouts of, yeah, frustration and anger.

I’ve landed on three things I will no longer do in 2015:

Don’t hesitate to ask for water. It’s a very strange thing I do, whether at a relative’s house or in a restaurant or café, feeling inhibited about asking for water. Red wine and seasoned food leave me feeling like a salted carp lying in the sun, but do I seek the easy relief of a cool flow? No, I suffer, not only for the moment but also afterward, when every organ in my petri dish of a body begins to exact its bloated revenge. Oddly, I do this without very much imagination. Do I conjure scenarios in my head, images of my server or host chiding me, “What are you, a wuss? I got whiskey, I got tequila, I got vodka and gin, but water?? That’s for little girls!” Nope. No imagination at all. I just sit silently with my parched throat, awaiting an Armageddon that could easily be tamed with a tip of the tap. In 2015, no more. Brace yourselves, servers and hosts, and have your tumblers ready.

Don’t drink water from a glass with lots of ice without shaking it first. Okay, so sometimes they give me water without my asking. And if it’s a restaurant, they typically include no less than ¾ of a glass full of ice. This leads to one of the strangest dumb-ass moves ever, which I personally have repeated thousands of times this half-century past: The glass half-empty, the ice cresting what little fluid remains, I tip the glass knowing—just knowing—there’s no way that clod of ice will release and come crashing into my face. But of course it does, because despite the fact that I’ve seen wiser friends and relatives do it thousands of times, I do not shake that glass to loosen the ice before tipping, a simple act that would undoubtedly reduce my blood pressure a few dozen points at least over time. Or—and now we’re getting into crazy talk here—ask for water with no ice! Can it be done? Do they let you do that? Buy a recreational vehicle and drive from state to state? No papers? Of course they do, dumb-ass.

Don’t try to dump four packets of sugar into a cup of coffee all at once. Yeah, you’ve seen me, I’m in Peet’s or the Palace Café (where I sit at this very moment), and I get my big old glass of joe, and it’s strong so I need lots of sugar, four packets at least, and I tear open all four at once and tip them, balancing them in my hand like a surgeon’s scalpel, squeezing just enough to hold them but not so much that the sugar cannot sprinkle gently into my cup, watching it sprinkle, sprinkle. But no, that’s not what happens, is it. Because you’ve seen my surgeon’s grip fail me, releasing at least two of those sugar packets right into the cup, forcing me to dig them out, burning my fingers in the hot joe, trying desperately to calculate how much of that sugar might have actually made it into the cup and how much is now clotted in the soaking sugar packets in my hand. And then, of course, it’s “now what”? And the first answer to that question is always the same: Get pissed at myself for being such a dumb-ass.

Little things, for sure, but added up together, I expect they’ll end up reducing my overall frustration and anger in 2015 by about 10%. And with that kind of emotional capacity freed up, I might even be able to figure out how to get those goddamn Republicans onto that boat.