Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work

What are you supposed to think when a policeman calls from the open window of his police van to the driver of the car you’re riding in, “Would you do me a favor and stop ahead and just pull over?”

Let’s break that down: “Would you…?” “…do me a favor” and “just pull over?!” Such courtesy… finesse… tact… coming not from just any everyday policeman, but a New York cop! “Would you…?”

Just ten seconds earlier, Mark, steering his car as we rolled north on 8th Avenue, said, “He’s going after someone.” And, seconds later, “It’s me.”

“He,” it was clear, was someone in a police car. But why? Mark hadn’t run a read light, wasn’t speeding, swerving or even changing lanes. We weren’t carrying stolen goods and couldn’t pass for drug pushers on the deadest of dog days.

Mark has a BMW. (That’s what happens when you’re making it in show business—and you’re a showman.) Bizarre as it seemed to me, I thought, but didn’t have time to suggest: Is it possible he wants to ask about the car? I went for the light joke instead: “He recognizes us! Not me, so it must be you.”

Mark’s laugh was interrupted by the deferential officer of the law pulling up next to him and asking the unusual suspect to do him a favor. “Would you… just…?”

By the time the car had come to a stop, Mark had his driver’s license in hand and was extending it to the officer, who declined it. Another police officer appeared at the window on my side of the car, asking to see my identification. If you’re noting that I’m not calling them “cops” or “New York’s finest” or anything of the like, it’s primarily because I don’t want you to read a New Yorkese-fuhgeddaboutit accent or any dialect into their words; both men spoke clearly, unaffectedly and well.

The officer on Mark’s side asked if either of us had had a radiology scan or been treated with radioactive materials. Mark, never at a loss for words, jerked his thumb toward me. Several hours earlier, I had undergone a PET/CT scan, which entailed receiving injections of radioactive materials. In effect, my insides were lit up. Both officers nodded knowingly; they were stopping me! While Mark and his officer started chatting amiably—is this too much?—mine asked what I’d been treated with. I had no idea. I described this metal cylinder that had dangled from my arm for an hour prior to the scan and the officer nodded again. Both men explained that I had been picked up by their radiation detectors. “Your tax dollars at work,” one of them said as they produced and showed us hand-held radiation devices.

“This is what you do?” I asked, wondering if the device could read my level of amazement, or how impressed I was. I think that was the second time I heard, “Your tax dollars at work.” These men ride around New York City’s streets all day, on the prowl for terrorists, saboteurs, mad bombers, malcontents and garden-variety grouches with short fuses. I didn’t fit the profile. The officer proudly showed me his detection device, roughly the size of a stone-age cell phone. As he waved it nearer and farther from me, the needle on the meter reflected higher and lower readings. I was notably radioactive.

I was also intrigued, and brimming with questions the officer seemed to enjoy answering. When it struck me that he was standing in a light rain answering them, I quickly apologized and moved to let him off the hook, but he put himself right back on it, assuring me he was fine.

At that point, we both heard the other officer telling Mark about a woman whose radioactivity uniquely triggered their detectors. Completely by chance, they had picked up alarm signals from the ground beneath their feet. They nimbly deduced the signals were emanating from the pipes submerged below the street’s paving. They followed their instincts and their meters into a nearby office building, continued to a particular floor and to the door of a ladies’ room. And waited for its occupant to emerge. When she did, they asked her, with apologies, the same line of questions they asked me. Sure enough, she’d just had a PET scan with radioactive materials. What the detectors had picked up from the pipes was the high level of radiation from her waste matter.

It only remained for them to emphasize that we are surrounded by radiation, but at safer, lower levels. It was time for our tax dollars at work to go back to work. “My” officer, becoming one of New York’s finest now in my eyes, extended his hand to me and said, “Whatever you were scanned for, I hope it comes out all right.” I’ve had mixed and many dealings with the police before, but none of them ever ended with a handshake.

Not many days from now, we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. At some point over the ten years since that day, our city took a major stride toward protecting everyone in it at any random time, and took no credit for it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Pinch of Politics and Finance

Now they’ve done it! Now we know the legacy Republicans are leaving their children—and, indifferently, ours: the triple-A downgrading of America. So, while everyone (but other Republicans) is pointing a finger at them, I’d like to point a fist. Fie on them!

Up with the rest of us. You can’t keep a good country down, and while we don’t look, or feel, so good right now, we remain the best there is. It’s not the U.S. that’s on its way to being debased, it’s the Republicans who are already there.

I don’t know about you, but if John Boehner calls, I’m not in. An elected public servant entrusted with one of the highest offices in the land snubbing the President of the United States, ignoring the president’s calls during a crisis! Who does he think he is? A man who couldn’t keep his eyes dry during a roll call shedding nary a tear over endless weeks of events that plausibly had half of the Capitol wearing Depends! I think I know who he is, a shit in sheepish clothing—but who does he think he is?!

And wetting the pants she apparently wears in her family, glee-stricken Michele Bachmann gushed this about Uncle Sam’s shiner: “We just heard from Standard and Poors. When they dropped our credit rating. What they said is we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position—we should not have raised the debt ceiling and instead we should cut government spending, which was not done, and then we needed to get our spending priorities in order.” Other than “and” and “the,” there is not a correct word in the Bachmanspeak logorrhea.

I have been asked, in “Comments” on my previous blog piece, “The Capitol Hill Compromise”: “Does this blog represent the ‘civility’ that the president asked for?” My straight-from-the-heart answer is that this blog represents the "civility" the President asked for and has never received—certainly not from the opposition, reference to whom, by any name, was omitted by the commenter. Do I have to point out again that the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives not returning his president’s phone calls was at one and the same time an egregious and a tiresomely typical example of one party’s incivility?

Civility reigns as far as I’m concerned—in my private life as well as on this blog—in all things except when it comes to the hostile politics of The Grand Obstreperous Party. My commenter continues and so will I—but civility dictates I let the commenter go first: “We are ALL Americans, my dear Ray, and if we don't all work together to seek peaceful solutions to our common goals we will be driven to civil unrest by the lunatic fringes of both parties. ( See Greece, London)” (Here, my civility obliges me to acknowledge having respectfully corrected the commenter’s misspellings. But…) I heartily agree with the observation. Well, almost heartily—I’m not sure about the streets being occupied solely by “the lunatic fringes of both parties.” Public protests and demonstrations are contagious. The Brits got the inspiration from the Arab Spring, and—“lunatic fringes” or just plain angry folks—our frightened and frustrated working class and jobless citizens, catching the fever from once-merry England, will do their damndest as well as their best to make themselves heard.

Inevitably, looting will follow, and as appalling as that prospect is, is it any worse than the looting that goes on within the walls of Wall Street? The wild market swings of the past six to eight business days were not haphazard events, nor will the predictable ones to follow be. A lot of wealthy people are getting a lot wealthier by the day, buying on the up and selling on the down, driving prices in the direction they want them to go for sport and capital gains. I don’t hear them griping about a downgrade or see signs of them stuffing money under their mattresses. The call of the wild is “To market, to market!” where they’re having a field day, every day. Mindful of a rainy day, they, along with prudent or panicked moneyed interests—and China!—are putting the “mattress money” into, of all things, S&P AA+rated U.S. Treasuries.

An investment adviser described it as “a very emotional market right now.” Brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Capitol Hill Compromise

Unless you were born or married on August 2nd, you have nothing to celebrate today. Unless the Tea Party is your idea of a wingding.

This is what the Republican Party has bequeathed to America, what Rush hath wrought, what Murdoch and Fox News have dished out and shoveled out wholesale—the undigested mental droppings of the untried and untrue. The Grand Old Party licked its lips, rubbed its palms together and threw open its doors for the Tea Party—it’s party-time!—and, here’s gratitude for you, they’ve snubbed its leaders, drowned out its conservatives and for all intents and ill purposes, all but high-jacked the GOP, taking the USA along for the ride (down). Whether bedecked as colonial clowns or congressmen and congresswomen, they see themselves as patriots.

I hold the Republican Party responsible for them. Now it, and we, are stuck with them—the bedbugs of politics, an infestation none of us can neatly get rid of.

Everyone in Washington, it’s become conventional to say, is at fault for the mess the country is in—a mess that neither began with the debt ceiling crisis or ended with “the deal.” Very American to distribute the blame, very noble to share it. That’s old boy, locker room, prep school nonsense. I could fault the Democrats for a lot of things that aren’t right, starting with the way the president has governed, or failed to, continuing with his advisers and the party leadership. But it’s the Republicans who kindled, stoked and fanned the debt ceiling fire, who fueled so much of what led up to it with their own prior profligacy, who paved the paths to the hell we just endured with anything but good intentions.

I wish I weren’t always so inclined to be rough on Republicans, but damn, they are so rough on the rest of us! I’m tired of them, tired of their shenanigans, their conniving, their hypocrisy. Unfounded?

Republicans keep talking about the legacy they don’t want to leave their children. But, despite being a party that doggedly opposes change, “the legacy” is never the same.

The legacy they say they don’t want to leave “our children” (No Republican answer is complete without citing “
our children.”) is, interchangeably, national debt, a welfare state, legal abortion, big government, gay marriage, et al. It’s also insistently de facto free immigration, de facto amnesty for immigrants, de facto but no statutory immigration law, “immigration” ad nauseum. In plain fact, they don’t want to leave their children with untidy immigrants.

It follows that the Party of No has effortlessly become the Party of Don’t, as well. But it’s high time to ask: what is its Do? "Cut spending" seems to be the only answer it has.

The ubiquitous
they say no one won the debt ceiling battle. That’s more conventional nonsense. The Tea Party won. Its unconscionably reckless members got what they wanted. But, get this, they’re complaining that it wasn’t enough! By giving in to them, both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have encouraged them. This ground gain isn’t an end for them, it’s just the beginning. Bedbugs don’t just run rampant, they suck blood.

In the scheme of things, it was the Democrats who capitulated because they were more reasonable. If you’re a Member of Congress and you can’t be a statesperson or a leader, you can still, at the least, be more reasonable. There is nothing wrong with being reasonable. Republicans should try it.