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Sunday, September 27, 2009

“Talkin’ Glenn Beck Paranoid Blues”: Leninists, Tyrants and Bolsheviks, Oh my!

Well, I was feelin' sad and feelin' blue,

I didn't know what in the world I was gonna do,
Them Communists they wus comin' around,
They wus in the air,

They wus on the ground.

They wouldn't gimme no peace. . .

Dylan was right. It really doesn’t take a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. Apparently, TIME magazine beats the age-old weathervane any day. Because regardless of how you feel about him, the man gracing the cover of this week’s TIME is the embodiment of America’s current temperament— divisive, paranoid and extremely pissed off.

Like him or hate him, one thing is for sure: Glenn Beck certainly has a point of view. And anyone who has listened to Beck’s syndicated radio show or watched his popular FOX news program knows he isn’t afraid to share it.

Steeped in a reverential respect for the past and the lessons history teaches us about the perils of present day America, Beck’s ‘historical’ hysterics have become a staple of his daily diatribes.

It probably wasn’t the intent of the editors of TIME magazine to embark on a journalistic jihad like the one instigated by Edward R. Morrow in the mid-50s when the fabled newsman went head-to-head with a certain sanctimonious junior senator from the state of Wisconsin. But intended or not, there is certainly a correlation connecting that self-promoting politician of a bygone era and this present day, ever-pontificating pundit.

And while the notoriously rabid Red-baiter wasn’t always the most forthcoming with the names of those who he claimed were out to destroy America, Glenn Beck doesn’t suffer from that same affliction. Glenn Beck’s “enemies of the state” list seems to be constantly growing, and Beck isn’t afraid to call them out.

Just three weeks ago, Beck claimed his first victory in his ongoing battle to purge the White House of ‘unsavory characters’ when he forced green jobs czar, Van Jones, to resign after branding the Obama confidante a communist and a radical.

This past week, Beck further perfected the art of demagoguery when he used his bully pulpit to oust Yosi Sergant from his position as Communications Director of the National Endowment for the Arts. Again, Beck led the charge after learning that Sergant hosted a conference call in which the four core areas of the Obama recovery program—health care, energy, environment and educational review—were allegedly promoted to a select group of liberal-learning artists. The presumption, and the central tenet of Beck's tirade, was that supporting the “Obama Agenda” through hip, urbane art would result in a big, fat check from the federal government.

The NEA has long been a target of the Right. And Beck’s indictment of Sergant’s involvement in the conference call certainly pulled no punches. And while Beck masterfully tapped into the growing sense of paranoia that is permeating this country, the fact that he actually raised several good points only made the story more menacing. A few of the more salient—

• From the moment the story broke, the White House claimed it had limited knowledge of Sergant’s call. Yet Buffy Wicks, a ranking office in the White House Office of Public Engagement, was actually on the call. So much for plausible deniability.

• Shortly after Sergant tendered his resignation, it was revealed that the White House had actually scheduled a second conference call with a different arts group. So much for Sergant’s claim that his actions were unilateral and without approval.

• In a last-ditch effort to distance himself from the call, Sergant briefly claimed a third party by the name of the Corporation for National Service sent out the invitation. Yet when Michael Skolnick, the organization’s political director, has gone on the record that both the White House and the NEA asked him to bring the artist community together. So much for Sergant’s claim the NEA was merely a conduit for the call, rather than the impetus behind it.

Exhibit A: Yosi Sargent's 'call' to action [click to enlarge]

And lest it be overlooked, a principal factor in Sergant even getting the NEA job in the first place is due to the fact that he persuaded Shepard Fairey to create the iconic Obama HOPE poster during the 2008 campaign— precisely the type of artist-political agenda alliance he was allegedly promoting on the call in question.

Considering the fact Yosi Sargent resigned just over a week after Beck’s allegation that the administration was using the NEA to effectively blackmail the artistic community into promoting the Obama agenda, there’s no question Beck struck a chord in a country already wracked with suspicion and mistrust.

The fact the best the White House could come up with in response to that charge was, “We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants. [A]nd we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment,” hardly assuaged that suspicion.

In baseball vernacular, Glenn Beck is batting a thousand. When it comes to his pitch to the American people that there are certain people in the government determined to destroy our way of life, he is two for two. But Beck best be careful.

In his preface to breaking the Yosi Sargent story, Beck alluded to his penchant for the past. But as any student of history will tell you, the past has a tendency to repeat itself.

And despite his success—or perhaps because if it—Glenn Beck is very close to assuming the mantle of another self-righteous demigod culled from one of America’s darkest chapters in American history...

Well, I fin'ly started thinkin' straight When I run outa things to investigate. Couldn't imagine doin' anything else, So now I'm sittin' home investigatin' myself! Hope I don't find out anything . . . hmm, great God!
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Lawyers, Lepers & Crooks': Can Dylan's Thin Man trim the fat on Wall Street?

You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

And you say, "Who is that

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the first in a series of dominoes that led to the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. And while we're still reeling from the implosion of AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and the half dozen other ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions that did receive government bailout funds, the fleecing the American middle class continues.

Something's happening on Wall Street, and you don’t have to be a financial whiz to know what it is: good, old fashion greed.

Despite the enormous losses suffered by the recipients of the TARP funds, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch—two of the most high-profile beneficiaries of the federal government’s fiscal benevolence—still managed to justify dishing out more than $9 billion in bonuses.

And how’s this for fancy financial footwork? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase actually paid out more in bonuses than they made the entire year. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses, and got $10 billion in TARP funds.

It’s no secret the big Wall Street firms conspire and collude to keep their year-end cash outs at the highest levels possible. But it’s one thing when you’re playing with ‘other people’s money’; it’s something else entirely when that ‘other person’ turns out to be the guy next door who just lost his house.

But it gets worse. Not only did 4,800 Wall Street employees pocket bonuses worth more than a $1 million on top of their exorbitant salaries, it turns out it wasn’t enough. According to a recent survey, 46% of those newly-minted millionaires were “dissatisfied” with their bonuses. And are you ready for the kicker? Nine in 10 had been working on Wall Street for five years or less.

And while none of our behemoth banking institutions were untouched by what, in hindsight, amounted to the financial equivalent of a 'perfect storm,' last week's reminder that the government was unwilling to bailout Lehman Brothers was a frightening reminder of how choppy the seas still are.

It should hardly come as a surprise that Congress would capitalize on this rather auspicious anniversary to turn the spotlight not on the problem, but rather on themselves— which is precisely what they did in typical grandstanding fashion.

Positioned as the first piece of a larger, more comprehensive legislation endorsed by President Obama to increase oversight over financial institutions, last week the House voted on a bill that will restrict how Wall Street executives will get paid in the future.

Billed as a ‘bold, decisive action,’ the reality couldn't be further from the truth. Unless, of course, the old expression, “A day late and a dollar short,” is modified by roughly 365 days and somewhere around $700 billion.

Enter Ben Bernanke. Recently nominated to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke is preparing to cash in a little currency with the president by sidestepping the Congressional pomp and circumstance altogether. Bernanke's plan is refreshing simple: take Wall Street’s bull market by the balls by placing regulators directly inside banks to monitor (and one would assume reject) excess pay packages.

And while the precise job description has yet to be fully fleshed out, this disgruntled Dylanologist knows just the man for the job.

Dark, menacing, boorish and brooding, he is one of the most enigmatic characters from Dylan's canon of bizarre and none-too-usual suspects.

His identity has long been in dispute. When asked in a 1965 interview, Dylan offered a response that was as cryptic as the character in question: “He's a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He's a real person. You know him, but not by that name…”

The president is on the right track introducing regulatory reform for Wall Street. But identifying the problem won’t necessarily solve it.

What we need is someone who’s well connected, someone who can move effortlessly among lawyers, lepers and crooks. Someone who will keep his eyes in his pocket, his nose to the ground, take copious notes, click his heels and do exactly as he is told. We need a man on the inside looking out; not outside looking in.

And who exactly is this inscrutable urchin? This puzzling patsy set up to take the inevitable fall?

Let’s just say his eerie, shape-shifting presence made John Lennon feel suicidal, evoked Adam Durtiz’s desire to be someone else, reduced David Byrne’s description to a detached third person account.

That’s right, Dylan aficionados, it just may be the man who saves the American financial system is none other than the inscrutable Mister Jones.

After all, everyone knows the best way to catch someone with questionable morals is to recruit one...

And without further notice
He asks you how it feels

And he says, "Here is your throat back

Thanks for the loan"
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

‘Shot of Love’: Joe Wilson or Barack Obama— who’s the real Judas in this Dylanesque smack down?

Don't need a shot of heroin to kill my disease,
Don't need a shot of turpentine, only bring me to my knees,
Don't need a shot of codeine to help me to repent,
Don't need a shot of whiskey, help me be president.

It’s been a brutal summer for health care. Yet despite the barrage of lawyers, guns and money that have been thrown atop this increasingly combustible pyre, the debate rages on.

At the center of that debate is Barack Obama, the man whose central campaign plank in the recent presidential election was to bring affordable health care to all Americans. Judging from amount of animosity the discussion has engendered, if anyone needs a shot of love right now it's Barack Obama.

Appearing before a joint session of Congress last Wednesday, President Obama laid out his case for universal health care. It was the first time the country has had an opportunity to hear the president get into the nuts and bolts of his proposal. And considering it very well may be his last, there’s little question Obama chose his words with infinite precision.

The same, however, cannot be said for Joe Wilson, the Republican Congressman from South Carolina, who impetuously yelled “You Lie!” when Obama said extending health care to all Americans would exclude the insuring of illegal immigrants.

And while Wilson’s contempt for Obama may have caught America by surprise, those diligent Dylan fans in observance were struck by something else entirely— the eerie resemblance to the infamous 1966 concert in Manchester, England, at which a disgruntled folk fan called Dylan, “Judas!” for 'betraying' the movement.

And while Keith Butler’s comment certainly struck a chord in the otherwise unflappable singer, Dylan’s indignant, ireful response was pitch perfect— “I don’t believe you. You’re a LIAR!!” he snarled before quickly turning to The Hawks and defiantly instructed them to "Play fucking loud!"

It was in that moment that the folk singer became a rock icon.

A disgruntled fan calls Dylan ‘Judas!’ at a 1966 concert in Manchester, England

In the aftermath of last Wednesday’s incident, the press has had a field day. Sadly, however, the debate over health care has gotten lost in the weeds.

Perhaps this was Wilson’s plan all along. As a former immigration lawyer, Wilson knows all too well that while the president’s bill expressly forbids insuring those who are in this country illegally, just because illegal aliens don’t have a health care option available to them doesn’t preclude their employers from purchasing it for them—driving up the costs for all Americans.

But by vilifying Wilson in the press—effectively casting the South Carolina congressman as Judas—we have all been misled.

In the end, it just may be Obama—not Joe Wilson—who ends up playing the role Judas as a result of this unfortunate incident.

Joe Wilson calls President Obama a ‘liar’ on the floor of Congress

Our 9-month love affair with the poised 44th President of the United States has made us susceptible, vulnerable and over-trusting, not only of him personally, but it has forced us to turn a blind eye to the lurking, malevolent agenda of those who will soon be an integral part of the larger health care debate.

Obama very well may have the best interest of the millions of uninsured Americans in this country. The vultures, however, are circling. And the moment we give Barack Obama the unconditional love he so desperately craves by passing his legislation without thoroughly vetting it, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the malpractice lawyers will descend on us like the Roman guards in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Joe Wilson may no longer have a place at the table as a result of his ruefully inappropriate comment. His ‘betrayal’ of the president, however, has taught us all a valuable lesson:

It’s one thing to admire the men and women who lead us; falling in love with them is, however, the kiss of death…

Doctor, can you hear me? I need some Medicaid.

I seen the kingdoms of the world and it's makin' me feel afraid.
What I got ain't painful, it's just bound to kill me dead
Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head.
I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love.
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