Thursday, September 17, 2009

You Lie!

September 7, 2003 a president stood at a podium, facing a room full of "distinguished gentlemen" and spoke the greatest lie ever spoken. Nobody shouted "you lie!", nobody showed disrespect by waving pamphlets and placards of protest, nobody asked how would we pay for it. The result, nations were dragged into war, countless innocent paid with their lives and a people were morally and financially bankrupt in the eyes of the world.

Six years later another president stands at that same podium and makes a speech, hoping to bring that same group of "distinguished gentlemen" to fix something that is broken to the core. He attempts to bring to the people of a so called "wealthy nation" health care that works for all and not a few. Quality care that everyone is entitled to as a human right. He attempts to unite the congress to work for a common good. He is heckled, shouted at, called a liar, socialist, Marxist, fascist, communist, terrorist and is compared by the right wing to the most hated man in history, Hitler. Never in the history of the United States has a president been heckled during a speech to the congress. This is a new dark stain and a sign of the times that will be recorded for posterity.

We have seen images on TV of absolute chaos and pandemonium on the assembly floor of South Korea, India, Iraq and other nations where congressmen come close to fist fights, smash furniture and show disrespect to their office. Now the United States has joined those ranks. In a vote 240 to 179, the House of Representatives officially rebuked Republican Joe Wilson for disgracing the office of the president by calling him out in the middle of his speech to the nation. The unfortunate aspect of that vote is that 179 members of congress did not find Joe Wilson's action objectionable. He got away with a slap on his wrist when he should have been firmly censured. The dignity of the congress which as it is, is at an all time low, has now fallen even further.

In a recent interview president Jimmy Carter acknowledged that the reason we are seeing such outbursts and rising opposition to President Obama and his policies is because he is not white. The color of his skin is causing deep seeded racism to surface in ways never seen before. His eloquence, intellect, dignity and poise is falling by the wayside for many, just because he is half black. Imagine what would have happened if he was full black.

The fact of the matter is that in politics, which is mostly "poli-tricks", the people are habitually lied to by their leaders. Be it Obama, Bush or Kennedy. In retrospect one has to gauge the impact of those lies and the larger context they were framed under. There is a lot to disagree, debate and discuss about what a president proposes. But to instinctively respond due to deep seeded prejudice is deplorable.

The right wing everywhere operates on the fringe. This time around the Republican party has been hijacked by the fringe as they see no other way to mount an opposition against a popular president. This in no means is a recent trend. Truman faced it from Senator Joseph McCarthy, Kennedy faced it from the religious right and Clinton faced it as they tried to pin the murder of Vince Foster on him, when in fact he had committed suicide. To understand how the right wing operates in America today, it is worth reading Max Blumenthal's carefully researched book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. He makes a crystal clear analysis of how the Republican party has transformed from being the "big tent party" to an entity that embodies only virtues of extremism, much like any fundamentalist group out there. He also talks about how radio disc jockeys and media ideologues like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are deliberately painting the current president in a certain light, in order to serve the agenda of the extreme right.

As the battle lines are drawn in the murky world of politics and media, one thing is for sure, lies are transparent and can be concealed and camouflaged only for so long. Public display of one's prejudice is tolerated only by a few. And you cannot shape public debate on policy via deceit and deception. You have to come clean. It is what it is.

Friday, September 11, 2009


It is that time of the year when we in New York look to the sky and remember that ill fated morning. A moment in time etched onto every New Yorker's being, like a hot brand seared onto the skin of an animal.

Today "nine-eleven" has become just a phrase which is often used and abused to define a turning point in the time line of our recent existence. An endless amount has been said about how the world changed since that September day in New York. Wars ignited, countless killed and incarcerated, countries turned into fortresses and a heightened mistrust of the other growing all over the world. Instead of revealing my thoughts about the obvious, I thought I would share my 9/11 story. A memorial to my memory. Here it is.

September 11th 2001 6:30 AM: my plane took flight from Hancock Airport, Syracuse, on the dot. The previous night I was restless and stayed up flipping through mindless television until 2 AM. I was awake by 5 AM to catch my flight. As the Airbus soared over the clouds there was a sense of peace. The golden sun shone on the silver wings as the plane swayed to the left to go down on JFK airport. There in the far distance I saw the monolithic twins jutting out of the concrete jungle, bold indestructible and timeless. The sky was clear as far as I could see and below me the Atlantic’s ripples shone, speckled with boats leaving ribbons of surf. We touched down at 7:30 AM and within no time I was in a yellow taxi stuck in the middle of Atlantic avenue with the morning traffic reminding me I was back in chaotic, polluted, beautiful Brooklyn. There was still that sense of peace from being in the air and life seemed normal on the ground. By the time I completed my mildly frustrating taxi ride and rang the doorbell it was 8:15 AM and she was surprised to see me back home early. I wanted to surprise her and kept my arrival a secret. I had chosen the right day for it. My three-year-old daughter was delighted to see me. The lack of sleep was taking its toll; I was groggy and irritated. It was time for my daughter’s daily chariot ride to school. As I bent down to tie her shoelaces we heard a loud bang. She remarked, "Daddy I hear thunder" I said it must be a balloon popping. That was the first airborne missile made of jet fuel and bodies smashing into one of the twins. Having ignored the sound, the two of us started our routine journey to school. As we came out of the gate George, my friend from across the street stuck his head out of his window announcing that a plane had crashed into the twin towers. For a moment I was worried, but then I thought it must be an unfortunate accident, a Cessna must have lost its bearings.

As I reached the end of my street, I could sense there was something wrong. When I looked up at the sky, there it was the hideous remains of dead souls in the form of thick black murky smoke. All heads around me were looking skyward and I was walking in a rush unaware of the scale of the events to follow. A young lady walked up to me and said another plane had just crashed into the towers. I thought to myself "why is she telling me this?" When I looked around I noticed strangers talking to each other. I thought, "well, there goes the rumor factory." As we crossed Flatbush Avenue the city was already screaming of sirens. But when I saw an army of fire engines charge past me- that’s when I knew there was something seriously wrong.

We moved along and made our way to school. There was palpable tension in the air but nobody knew where it was coming from. As usual I led her into her classroom, packed away her stroller, and headed home. As I reached the main street, the chaos was tangible. Minutes later the New York skyline was engulfed in a thick gigantic white cloud, and I was back in no time to pick up my daughter from school. On our way back we saw streams of people covered in white powder pouring into Brooklyn. They walked like an army of zombies with their Kabuki faces expression less and dumb struck. In my mind they were walking in slow motion. They had seen the twins fall. Everybody else saw it on TV over and over again, but what I saw in their eyes was death, and what I saw on TV was concrete.

September 11th 2002; it’s a year since I flew from Syracuse, and I have seen the planes on TV go into the towers countless times from every angle possible. Much to the credit of the camera savvy American public. And every time I see it, there is no telling what goes through my being. As my train crossed the Manhattan Bridge today, meandering into the great metropolis, I took a moment to gaze in the direction where the twins once stood. I could not help but see the planes on their hellish journey once more in my mind.

9-11-2002 was a magical day much like the day I flew from Syracuse: clear blue sky, the balmy sun shining high in the sky. But this time there was a bright white cloud hanging over downtown. It was as if three thousand doves were looking down in reflection on a large hole surrounded by tall buildings a place where they once worked. Trailing behind the large white cloud were other smaller clouds forming a trail exactly in the direction the black smoke blew on that grisly day. Now all that remained was a large field of empty earth - a painful reminder of people dying saving people, people being vaporized into thin air in an orange mushroom and people jumping through blown out windows in hopes of flight. As we all watched the concrete fountain come crashing down, did anybody see faces of the three thousand or so reported missing? They said they were able to find the remains of only sixty people, where did the rest go? They all looked down today from that white cloud, as President Bush shook hands with their loved ones around a sacred circle of flowers. As tears came down their faces and as children tried to make sense of the gathering, the moment was lost in a media haze, as the shaking hands and the ritual took precedence. Then came speeches of patriotism, revenge and resolve.

And then came the war. It is what it is.