Friday, December 16, 2011


By all accounts, 23-year-old David Hickman (below, left) from Greensboro, N.C. was pretty excited about coming home for Christmas. It is widely reported that he called his mother on November 13 to say so, but that would be their last conversation. On November 14, Hickman, an infantryman, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Critics of the Obama administration contend the president should never have announced in October that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by Christmas. According to some, Obama’s pronouncement only served to make the Iraqi insurgents step up their quest to knock off as many Americans as possible before the deadline. They may be right, and Hickman may be the unfortunate consequence of Obama’s grandstanding.

This week marked the official end of U.S. troop involvement in Iraq. It has been nine years since the U.S. involved itself in the ill-conceived “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Many Americans believe it was not this country’s responsibility to ensure democracy in Iraq. It is now well known that the U.S. entered the war with faulty intelligence and under less than noble circumstances. It is known that President George W. Bush's aggressive stance toward Iraq after 9/11 was a knee jerk reaction that proved ill-fated and fatal for many Americans.

As usual, the numbers tell the story. According to the government’s own figures, here is the human toll: U.S. Troop Casualties - 4,486 US troops; 98% male. 91% non-officers; 82% active duty, 11% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 9% African-American, 11% Latino. 19% killed by non-hostile causes. 54% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 72% were from the US Army.

Here is the ongoing human toll: US Troops Wounded - 32,226, 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries. (Total excludes psychological injuries.) US Troops with Serious Mental Health Problems - 30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home.

We learned from the Vietnam War that the human toll exacts consequences that transcend generations. Vets who are mentally or psychologically disabled try to re-acculturate and live somewhat normal lives, but their injuries and psychological wounds affect spouses, children, co-workers and most anyone with whom they interact. We know anecdotally that marriages crumble, domestic abuse skyrockets and child abuse intensifies among many vets.

And so there was little celebration this week, and there won’t be ticker tape parades or victory services at the National Cathedral or anything to truly mark the end of this war. That is because we know that people who were 20-something when they lost their eyes or their arms or legs or sanity will spend decades trying to right themselves. And we know that many of those 4,486 US troop casualties had children that will never know their parent(s). And we know that people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell who actively engaged the U.S. in this war will not be held legally accountable for their misguided decisions.

It is from the vets themselves that we learn the most about how bad decisions in Washington wreak havoc in lives from coast to coast. Watch and listen to vets recap their own experiences in a CNN report:
The war in Iraq was one of the most significant mistakes I've ever witnessed the American government make. With no weapons of mass destruction, and no evidentiary connection between Iraq and 9/11, 4,486 men and women were ordered to their deaths for absolutely no reason. That is how history will see the Iraq debacle.

It is critical that we recognize now the enormity of the error that was Iraq. I am hoping that our collective realization of the vulnerability and poor judgment of our government officials puts a kink in our blind trust of them. Every reasonable American knows now that we should never have gone to Iraq. If something similar happens in the future, we Americans are likely going to demand far more accountability from the president on down.

Like Vietnam, American history has nothing to be proud of with the Iraq war. Not a thing. And that, all by itself, should tell us Americans to become more engaged with the political process, to more carefully choose who will govern and to clearly convey to them what we expect.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Some years ago when I first walked into Trump Tower in Manhattan I remember thinking, “This guy thinks big – and shiny.” Those were the days when real estate developer Donald Trump was married to Ivana Trump, and together they had turned the Plaza Hotel into the showplace it was always meant to be. Those were glamorous times for the Trumps. The unapologetically ostentatious 1980s. It was a moment when the name Trump was synonymous with the good life, especially when compared to their arch rivals in the hotel business, the Helmsleys. Remember wicked witch hotel baroness Leona Helmsley and her increasingly infirm and senile husband, Harry? They were certainly no match for the beautiful Trumps.

Today one would be hard pressed to associate the word “beautiful” with Donald Trump. The years have not been kind to the Donald. His ego inflated involuntarily to the point where he believes he can either become the next President of the United States, or mightily influence who ever ascends. Trump is a showman. He is a circus ringmaster. He says outrageous things and he often inaccurately insinuates himself into the upper echelons of every cultural stratum. For example, in his latest book, “Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again,” he writes of superstar Lady Gaga, “"Maybe she became a star because I put her on the Miss Universe Pageant. It’s very possible, who knows what would have happened without it, because she caused a sensation.” Further into the book, in an equally ungrammatical fashion, he claims he warned Jeff Zucker of NBC not to move Jay Leno to a different time slot; it was a moment one might think of the Donald not as a real estate magnate, but rather as instant network programming executive. Trump can’t get enough of Trump’s magnificence.

But…you know that. The big news today is Donald Trump, presidential debate moderator. As it turns out it would be a debate between GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich and GOP homophobe loser-in-residence Rick Santorum. Everybody else has declined the invitation to participate in the Dec. 27 debate produced by Newsmax and to air on the ION network. Let’s see if we can picture this: Newt can talk about the social merits of having first graders clean toilets in their schools while Santorum can talk about the evil gay agenda that threatens the fabric of our culture. And Trump can interrupt frequently and talk about Trump.

By the weekend, Trump was reportedly considering canceling the debate. One can only hope. Of course we know it would be cancelled because of lack of participation among the candidates. But Trump put the spin on the potential cancellation by saying it may be necessary because he is still considering running as an independent candidate, and it may be a conflict of interest for him to host a debate.

The political process is sullied by Trump’s Barnum and Bailey sideshow. We are talking about determining who may be the next leader of the free world. Whether you like them or not, most of the GOP candidates have worked their way up through the system to take the giant hopeful leap towards the presidency. Most of them probably do not have the intellect, chutzpah and finances to go the distance, but they each had a steady trajectory. They climbed. Trump, on the other hand, took an express elevator of his own making. He is tailor made for the American pop culture, famous for being famous. Who else can you think of that develops real estate and ends up with his own network reality show, his own beauty pageant, A-list Hollywood connections and now, his own presidential debate?

Still, does the emperor have even a stitch of clothing? One wonders what on earth, other than ego, convinced Trump he has a place in presidential politics. Would he have the first clue what to do as commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces? Would he know even where to begin to navigate his way through a hostile legislative branch of our government? With absolutely no legal training, no legislative experience and no Washington cache, how could he remotely expect other world leaders to assign him a modicum of credibility? It is quite a fantasy leap from TV personality to Chief Executive of the United States of America.

About that ego; this week Trump told CNN host Piers Morgan that he believes he is the one American who should be sent to negotiate trade deals with foreign nations. He told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room” that he was surprised Romney turned down the invitation to the debate because he claims Romney is clamoring for Trump’s endorsement. Rather than owning up to the fact that the candidates are not participating in his debate because it has no value, Trump told radio host Don Imus that they are not coming because "some of them don't have the courage to do it. A couple of them called me and told me, 'Donald, I'm just too nervous to do it.'"

Every election period has these short-lived sideshows. Last time it was Sarah Palin. Some years before that it was Ross Perot. Remember him? This time it’s Trump. Who’s lying in wait for 2016? Snooki, maybe? Justin Bieber? Listen, this too shall pass, or should I say, Trump, too, shall pass. We need to get laser-focused on the critical issues at hand – economy, poverty, social equality, employment, housing, global threats and regaining America’s traditional standing on the world stage. Trump is a blip on the radar screen, but one that is diverting attention from all that really matters. If he truly wants to serve his country, rather than himself, he will take a giant step back and allow the process to proceed as it should.

Friday, December 9, 2011


If Rick Perry hadn’t already sealed his unfortunate political fate, his latest campaign ad should put a cap on his candidacy. Watch:

At this point, knowing as we do that Perry is not going to represent the Republican party in next year’s election, this ad has broader implications. Look to your left on this blog and you will see the story of Jonah Mowry, the young boy who is tortured by other children who belittle him because of his sexuality. If Jonah Mowry turns on the TV and watches the ad you just watched, how will that affect his own personal development? Here he sees the Governor of Texas, a GOP presidential hopeful, essentially telling him that he is worthless, and telling him that people of “faith” would never be able to validate him as a human being, because he’s gay. That’s what Rick Perry accomplishes with this video. Ostensibly he made the video to bolster his chances of being president, but its effect on the culture around him is anything but presidential. The ad will go down in this year’s campaign history on the same level as Herman Cain’s cigarette smoking ad and last year’s Christine O’Donnell “I’m Not a Witch ad.” The difference this time is that the damage from this ad is already done.

Someone should have told Rick Perry, in the lyrics of the Broadway play, “Into the Woods”… Careful the things you say; Children will listen. It was irresponsible and borderline cruel of Rick Perry to approve of the ad and to tape it and allow it to be distributed. Trusting in the general reasonableness of the American people, as I do, I believe this ad will backfire on Perry. Within hours of the ad’s release, video parodies had hit the web in force. Rick Perry impersonators appeared in settings similar to the one in the ad, starting their messages out with statements like, “I’m not afraid to admit I’m an atheist,” or “I’m not afraid to admit I’m an asshole.” Sophomoric humor to be sure, but remember humor is often just the stylized expression of rage. I think Perry’s ad elicits feelings of rage among many of us.

The number of gay children and young people who have taken their own lives in the past few years because society messaged them that they were inadequate human beings has skyrocketed. The Jonah Mowrys of the world are numerous and often desperate. Rick Perry’s actions fuel the fires of their discontent in a way that could invite further fatalities. If I could ask Perry one question now it would be this: How can you defend your contention that you want to strengthen the country when through your own words you marginalize and attempt to weaken entire segments of the U.S. population?

Perry’s blanket dismissal of the rights of gay American service men and women is arrogance personified. Perhaps he has forgotten about people like U.S. Army Major Alan Rogers,(left) a gay service member who died while on patrol in Iraq in January, 2008. Would Perry diminish the fact that Rogers sacrificed his life for a country that made him hide his homosexuality in order to fight for it? I wonder how his dismissive attitude would go over with the family of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, reportedly the first U.S. soldier to be killed in Afghanistan after President Obama’s repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Both Rogers and Wilfahrt were blown up by IED’s. Blown up, while serving their country. And somehow, in an ill-conceived 30-second campaign spot, Rick Perry equates the human rights of these young men with an issue of holiday celebrations in grade schools. It is disgusting.

The political process has gone awry, fixating on issues that are not germane to the public interest. The public is served by a focus on dignity, in the form of respect as citizens, the right to work for a living and the privilege of owning a home in America. The public is further served by presidential candidates who understand that one’s sexuality does not define him or her. Alan Rogers and the hundreds of other gay soldiers who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom were there with the same patriotic intentions of all other service men and women. When Andrew Wilfahrt’s (right) body exploded he felt the same terror and ripping apart of his flesh that any other soldier feels at the moment of impact. All who loved them felt the same flood of grief that befalls any other dead soldier’s survivors. Rick Perry is obviously not enough of an evolved human being to comprehend this.

It is time for Rick Perry and others in this GOP race who share his limited, bigoted mindset to step down from this race and quietly disappear into the masses. We don’t need them, and we most certainly do not need anyone to lead this country who cannot understand their responsibility to respect all American citizens, regardless of their biological makeup.

Monday, December 5, 2011


You have to hand it to a guy who resigns from his candidacy for President of the United States by quoting a Pokemon movie. Herman Cain appeared in front of his would-be new campaign headquarters on Saturday, to announce that he will “suspend” his campaign. Then he steps down from the stage with Motown music playing in the background. There was barbecued food and general revelry, as if it were Cain announcing his candidacy, rather than ending it amidst various allegations of sexual wrongdoing.

Cain’s timing is perfect: His hijinks become the closing bookend for a year when bad boys around the globe were hogging the headlines with their own sexual junior highisms. I mean come on: Congressman Anthony Weiner was sexting women from the gym, while considering a run for Mayor of New York City, just as his wife found out she’s pregnant. And his antics were tame compared to bad boys like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who stands accused of forcing a New York hotel housekeeper to have sex with him.

Bad boys are just bad boys, no matter what they do for a living or how much power they crave in their professional lives. And their egos generally somehow enable them to maintain their high profile public personas, convincing themselves that nobody will ever know about their duplicitous lifestyles. It really is stunning how not one of them seems to understand that privacy in public life is now history. It does not exist. A half century ago, JFK and his brother Bobby Kennedy could each take their turns having sex with Marilyn Monroe, and even the reporters who knew about it wouldn’t dare reveal it. But that was then.

Fast forward to 2011 and we’re still waiting for justice to be served in the case of John Edwards (below, right), the sleazebag scandal monger from the last presidential campaign. Edwards, you will recall, allegedly funneled money from his campaign to one Rielle Hunter, his secret squeeze who actually bore their daughter. While the wheels of justice turn as slowly as possible, we’ve also had to live through the very public battle over the sex tape he and Rielle made during the campaign. Sex tape. Presidential candidate. Welcome to 21st century America.

But 2011’s main scandal players were not limited to the U.S. Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister of Italy finally resigned a few weeks ago. His departure follows various periods where his name was attached to words like mafia, prostitution, tax fraud, perjury and embezzlement. But our favorite Silvio charge has to do with his alleged sex for cash scandal with an underage Moroccan dancer named Ruby Rubicouri (you simply cannot make this stuff up). Miss Ruby met the Prime Minister when she was working as a dental hygienist and he was being treated after being attacked with a marble statue by a disgruntled citizen.

All of it begs the obvious question: Are men innately pigs? Edwards was married to a woman who was fighting stage four breast cancer when he got Rielle Hunter pregnant. One of Cain’s accusers claims they were in a car headed for his corporate headquarters, when he pulled over and ran his hand up her skirt – kind of like a junior high boy might do to live out his masturbatory fantasy. I guess it depends on your definition of “pig.” Was John Edwards simply a pig disguised in matinee idol’s good looks and great suits? Was Silvio Berlusconi (below, left) an Italian pig whose reported multi-billions caused him to believe he was invincible? The Italian version of Teflon Don, you might say.

There are those who say both politics and sex are all about power. Nothing more. Nothing less. Maybe rich and powerful men simply cheat more richly and powerfully than their average Joe counterparts. But interestingly, they only get away with it until they don’t get away with it. The other day a female comic on TV said, “When was the last time we heard rumors like the ones we’re hearing about Herman Cain that did not turn out to be true?” Where there’s smoke and all that, you know. She’s right. There isn’t much you could say to me that would convince me that Herman Cain is not a pig. A more respectable pig would come forward and say, “I did it and I’m bowing out of the race.” Instead, Cain came forward and said ‘I didn’t do it, but I’m bowing out of the race for my family’s sake.’ And he said all this just as people who are close to his family have come forward to reveal the Cains are not exactly the Cleavers.

Cain, Edwards, Weiner (below, right), Berlusconi and their Hollywood counterparts such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ashton Kutcher are simply high profile examples of arrogance personified. Memo to all of the above: We citizens out here are not going to get real involved in your behind-closed-door dalliances unless you throw it in our face. And every time you start to feel a bit cocky about how much you are getting away with, you need to remember that you’re not getting away with it. We may as well be seated theatre style in your bedroom. Why is it that we get that but you don’t? And why is it that you can’t simply study the legacy of people like David Vitter, Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer to truly know that it’s only a matter of time until things come tumbling down? Way down.

Listen, combine one part predatory mass media with one part puritanical American consciousness with one part “Gotcha” and you’re nothing more than Herman Cain – powerless, jobless and without the adulation you crave so mightily. It’s a predictable recipe for public humiliation and ultimate dreaded anonymity. It is more about arrogance than ignorance. And it repeatedly leads to men who are in the prime of their careers predictably and rapidly disappearing. Just ask John Edwards who these days kicks around his South Carolina mansion worrying about whether he will go to jail. It’s a slippery slope boys.