Friday, November 14, 2008

The Facebook War (on Racists)

A negative, racially tinged backlash regarding Obama’s win was bound to happen. But in the era of social networking and web-based instant information, we are seeing it in its rawest form, and with an interesting new twist.

I recently saw a post on a friend’s page on Facebook titled “Racism is so played out.” It was an online photo album put together by a Facebook member listed as J.W.JAVIS, which according to his account:


The album contains about 40 pictures (at last count) with screen shots of various Facebook members with their full names as displayed on their profile, their profile pictures, and their apparently offending posts, most written in the personal status section, where people are encouraged to write a comment on their status, physically, emotionally or otherwise. The posts range from benignly ignorant to deeply disturbing.

Examples include a post from someone listed as Jaime Sherman saying “Ninety-six percent of blacks voted for Obama for handouts” to someone listed as Linsdey Boggs, whose status was shown as “Lindsey is going to shoot herself before all the (n-word) s get a chance…” One person featured in the online album was Zane A Kerney who supposedly writes: “Nobody likes racists, its against our constitution. that why we must kill all the black people. thats right i said it, every black person who voted for barack should be hung”

The types of people featured in this album seem to be from all over the country. The profile pictures show athletes in game gear including Texas Longhorn lineman Buck Burnette and soldiers, in uniform, including one photo listed as Taylor West who supposedly posts “What do we do!?! The antichrist is in Office now!!! KILL OBAMA!!”

The album has spread virally over Facebook and has crossed over to other social network sites such as MySpace. As is common with Facebook, people can post comments on the pictures, and hundreds of members have added their comments repudiating the people being featured.

What is interesting is that other Facebook members are now addressing them directly. One of those featured in the album is Landon Mccart, quoted as writing in his status page “(N-word)...It's the WHITE House. " He found the album where he was being feature and attempted to defend himself in the comments section (spelling and grammar as posted):

im getting liek 50 millino messages of black people calling me a racist..which i am not..we will get to the status story later..

people have been messaging me RUDE, DIRTY, HATEFUL, RACIST, messages and calling me "cracker"....."white boy".......people have just been very vulgar and obscene...its definitely not neccesary.

the story about the status: (which is NOT racist...)

im always messing with one of my BLACK friends about future prez. obama..which is okay...because hes half white, so i can say stuff about him just as much as the next guy..its not a race thing..hes more white than black..anyway, im not ignorant of race or anything else, i cant even joke with a friend about something without half
of facebook jumping down my throat?? thats not did you even know
my status said that anyway?

Landon touches upon the bigger question – for the most part, status updates are for the eyes of friends only. A Facebook friend can only become so with the permission of the user. However, in these social networking sites, one’s “friends” can easily grow into the multiple of hundreds, not all of whom are especially close or share the same views. What is happening is that as people are seeing their “friends” post potentially racist or damaging comments, they are print-screening the commentary and posting it for the general public to see, thereby exposing the people to the world in a manner they perhaps would not otherwise have wanted to be seen.

The impact of this exposure is real. The Texas Longhorn lineman Buck Burnette was dismissed from his team after these comments were made public and people started to contact UT. According to comments under her picture, Linsdey Boggs was supposedly kicked out of her school though that hasn’t been confirmed. Taylor West’s comments will most likely be investigated by authorities. This doesn’t include the hundreds of hate mail messages people like Landon Mccart must be getting, now that a simple Google search can get anyone within a virtual arm’s distance of communicating with anyone else. JW Javis makes a point to include in each post the following (spelling and grammar as posted):

And he does admonish those who respond to these people with their own racially based attacks.

What is fascinating is how viral the album and the reactions are getting, and how there are thousands of people who are getting involved in discussions around this subject. This is all happening in the plain site of the social networking community, where their comments and views are public along with names and pictures. They debate in sunlight what people have kept quietly hidden in the dark for centuries.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Winner: The Community Organizer

I wonder if Rudy Giuliani now understands what a Community Organizer means.

Our soon to be 44th President won, in no small part, because of his ability to organize all types of communities across the country. Biggest Voter Turnout In 90 Years, record number of new registered voters, a record get out the vote campaign, and the best ground game ever.

Now that Giuliani has seen the results of community organizing, I wonder if he will give it the respect it deserves.

Congrats President Elect Obama.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The "Wassup" Guys Keep it Real

This Youtube video is going seriously viral over the web. It's the original guys from the "Wassup" Commercial for Budweiser in 1999. Here is the original version for your reference.

Well, the guys are back with a political version of the same commercial titled "Wassup 2008" in it the guys are in various states of distress: Jobless, needing prescription drugs, stationed in Iraq, stuck in a hurricane (apparently referencing Katrina), and loosing their shirts in the stockmarket. The end is a plug for Obama, and a plea to vote.

Great Job guys. Way to keep it real.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My "Endorsement" of Barack Obama on

I wrote the below for thefatherlife. com, a pretty cool website for dads.  They asked that I write one of two guest editorials which they are featuring this week, one in favor of Barack Obama and one in favor John McCain.  It will be launched this week. I hope you check it out, and also read the John McCain piece. Hopefully it should help you with your decision making come November. It's not quite an "endorsement" since, after all, who the you-know-what am I? But I am honored the editors asked that I write to represent my views on their site. Check it out!

Why I'm voting for Obama:

With all the speeches, debates, ads, and robo-calls, John McCain and Barack Obama are asking for one thing - to get our vote. It is all we have but it is invaluable because with each vote, one of these men gets closer to being the leader of the free world. That is why who we give our vote to becomes such a personal decision. Here are my own reasons why I will be giving my vote to Barack Obama.

I vote for my mother. She has been self employed for more than 10 years, is a cancer survivor, and struggles with arthritis. Still, she has no health insurance. It is too expensive for her to get, even though she runs a business, and yet, she does not qualify for federal or state assistance, because get this – she runs a business. I cannot include her on my insurance because she isn't a dependant, she's out of state, and my job's health insurance doesn't cover parents. It is my daily nightmare that one day she will turn ill and the cost of her care may well doom her, and then us, financially. The system we have now is broken because it caters to the extremities of the economic classes, and ignores people like my mother, who at 56 still has too much pride to accept a handout and works every day, even on days when she can barely walk without feeling pain. Obama's healthcare plan not only helps the already insured, but also finally helps people like my mother who have fallen through the cracks, offering her the healthcare she needs and deserves.

I vote for me and my wife. Thankfully because of our hard work and our ability to get good educations, my wife and I have accomplished what our parents had hoped we would, a better life for us and our child. But like many people in the middle class, we are worried about this economy and whether the start-up technology company I work for or the media company she works for will make it through this storm. We are responsible financially, but like many, are in danger of being a layoff away from potential hardship. We look at the 700 billion dollars being "invested" to shore up Wall Street, and while we understand it to be necessary, this investment cannot stop there. This country needs to invest in its workforce and small businesses, in start ups and companies that don't offshore jobs. It must invest in the next generation of manufacturing and alternative energy. It must do more than cut taxes for large companies and socialize their losses after decades of privatized gain. It must look out for the consumers who hold up this economy on their shoulders. Confidence must be returned not just to creditors, but to those who are most affected by them. Obama's plan to reward job creators and help incubate businesses, invest in infrastructure, extend transition support to service employees, and engage in fair global trade so that our workers can compete on a level playing field, will bring back the confidence Americans need to continue to strengthen this economy. I understand Obama's tax plan and it does work for the middle class, especially for small businesses, including plumbers. Despite the best efforts of others to confuse the conversation, Obama has the best plan to steer the economy in the right direction.

I vote for my daughter. She will need to grow up in a country that values her education as the means to maintain greatness. She will need access the best there is to offer, and she will need an educational system that promotes all types of learning. When she heads to college, she should not have to graduate with the equivalent of a mortgage in student loans as her parents did, keeping her at a disadvantage vs. her peers. Most of all, she will need to have equal access to everything the world has to offer, and to not have glass ceilings placed above her because of her gender. Obama's plan to invest in education from grades 0-12 and to create better ways to keep college affordable answers her needs and the needs of this country's children.

I vote for my cousin, who is starting to make it on her own. Should she one day be faced with the tough decision of becoming a mother, the choice must be hers, knowing that she has the support of her family in whatever choice she makes. I applaud Obama's position on Roe vs. Wade and for his stance that family planning is best left to individuals based on their own morality and conscious. No one should be forced into a decision either by the government or by lack of options. Instead, they should be provided with real alternatives and support to make a sound choice.

I vote for my friend, who lost his father on September 11th, 2001. For 7 years we have bungled the war on terror by being distracted in Iraq and not capturing the man responsible for this atrocious act. In that time, we have eroded our global reputation and have squandered the opportunity to make the world a more unified, safer place. Cowboy diplomacy has failed, and a new direction of true engagement and cooperation must begin. Our commander in chief cannot simply be a good soldier. A good soldier is needed in the field. A good leader is needed in the Whitehouse. An effective leader must have an unflappable temperament and must foster real cooperation within the global community to fight for peace and security. I believe Obama has the temperament, understanding, and steady hand necessary to meet the global challenges that await him. I am confident that Obama will both draw the Iraqi war to a peaceful and successful close, and mend our position as leader of the free world.

I vote for my generation, who is ready to lead. We are more connected, unified, and diverse than ever. We are ready to fulfill the ideals of our forefathers, and we understand the issues that affect the different kinds of people in this country – Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Whites, Women, etc, are not singular issues, but American issues. We are ready for a candidate that is not judged by race or gender but by his or her merits. We are ready to break from the idea that only a certain type of candidate should lead our country. This election is my generation's coming of age, and Obama is the transforming force that inspires us.

I vote for the future of this great nation. I vote for one America, not division between "real" vs. "not real." I vote in defense of intellectualism. I vote for a true separation of powers and of church and state. I vote for good VP choices. I vote for an end to false populism, litmus-testing and wedge issues. I vote for a President who will use The Constitution to protect rights, not limit them. I vote for the idea that loyalty to country does not require sycophantic acquiescence, because I too am pro-America. I vote because we have nothing to fear but fear, itself, and I won't let my vote be manipulated or clouded by fear. I vote for the American dream, the belief that has made this country great - that with hard work and a thirst for knowledge, even if you have a funny sounding name, you can achieve anything, including becoming the President of the United States. I vote for hope. Therefore, I will vote for Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Palindora's Box

The great Conquistador John McCain and his explorers were lost in the jungle. They had thought they would have found their final destination by now, but the Obama expedition was outpacing them. He could not understand how this previously unknown explorer, new to the jungle and untested in the harsh realities of the conquest, could have made so much ground so quickly. All looked grim until a member of his trusted advisors brought before him Palindora’s box. It was beautiful- like nothing he had ever seen. He knew the legend was that this box would give whoever possessed it the power they seek, but to get this power, they would have to open the box. Once opened, it could never be closed, and the possessor of this box would be stuck with whatever came out of it. The potential seemed promising, but there were those who questioned the motives of the locals who presented the box to McCain. They seem to have done so a bit too eagerly, almost as if to be rid of it themselves. Doubters asked McCain to be careful with this gift and inspect it closely, but McCain knew of only one thing – he must use anything he could to get to get to the lost city before Obama. He was a maverick explorer, and he was used to taking these risks.

McCain presented this new box to his expedition to the jubilation of his faithful. Tired from the trail so far, the explorers had new energy, and it filled them with joy. Without even opening the box, McCain could feel his expedition edging closer to the place they sought. “I need only to show this powerful box, “McCain thought, “I don’t need to open it just yet.” And so he travelled with it close to him in full view of his followers in order to remind them of the power they possessed and inspire them.

But the jungle began to grow dark. The brush got thicker with news of economic woe, and their path became muddy with bankruptcies and bailouts. He lost followers as they began to doubt McCain really knew the path toward the promise land, and Obama, according to his spies, passed him yet again and seemed closer than ever to the fabled destination. Try as he might, McCain could not get himself heard over the calls of the creatures of the jungle, hungry for change and starving for new direction.

Desperate for an edge, he opens Palindora’s box. “Just a crack,” he thinks, “just to quicken up our travel…” but as he lifts the lid, it blows open and from the box spews the ugliest of spirit creatures. They fly like ghosts around him and his entourage screaming wretched things like “Terrorist!” “Arab!” “Traitor!” “Kill Him!” and before he knew it these spirit forces had covered his campaign with a dark mist. He saw his people turn angry and vengeful. Their hatred began to show like boils on their skin. They howled in the darkness as the spirits transformed them into something McCain could no longer recognize. The power of Palindora’s box was now in his possession, but he was no longer in possession of his people. The evil had taken a life of its own. It could not be controlled or contained.

The transformed members of his expedition now lurched forth into the brush, grotesque and spewing all types of wretchedness, chasing after the footprints left behind by Obama’s camp. They where no longer motivated to win, but to destroy. He called to them to regain their civil nature but they no longer heard or heeded his words.

As he looked at the unrecognizable world he created, McCain could not help but wonder if it was worth it. In his quest for power, he had unleashed a contaminated and diseased spirit onto his campaign. And despite this sacrifice, he knew in his heart that he was still no closer to his destination. Perhaps now even further from it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An appeal to single-issue voters – Get over it. Please.

I wanted to take a break from the minutia of the every day mudslinging and talk directly to those who are basing their votes on single issue politics. This is especially prevalent among Latinos who often find local politics or issues relating to their home countries to be equally, if not more important, than issues in the U.S. The best example of this is in Florida, where many people decide to give their votes to the candidate who they feel will be harshest against the dictators who reside in their former countries.

Politics is always local. I have an issue dear to my heart, being a Jersey resident - tort reform. Would I vote for a President based on this? No. With the thousands of single issue items, it is impossible to find any candidate who agrees with everyone, or has even come up with a position regarding every single issue that’s out there.

In the meantime, there are shifts that will impact all of us in this country for the next generation. Our economy needs serious mending, our international policies for protection and diplomacy needs refocusing, our education system needs expanding, and our health care needs to be reformed. How we handle these issues will shape the United States and our position in the world for the next hundred years. The American experiment is at risk, less than 250 years after it began.

The decision as to who we select to lead us through these challenges needs to be decided based on qualities like temperament, intellect, and compassion. These qualities have been tragically lacking in our President for the last eight years, with obvious consequences.

For these reasons, this is the most important election many of us have ever been involved in. It cannot be decided by single issue litmus testing or personality politics. And for that reason, I implore voters, and especially Latinos, to “get over” the politics of the past and help usher in a new way of thinking about what we expect from our leaders.

Would a voter give up a better health care system for a president who publicly bashes the Castros or Chavez? The fact is that despite the saber rattling during the campaigns, the Republicans have never been able to address any Latin American issues decisively. The Republicans have perfected the art of remaining in power by getting people to vote against their economic and social best interests by pandering to personal interests. They have successfully practiced political parlor magic – look into my eyes (or at the pretty pit bull on stage), and ignore what my hands are doing (or more often, not doing)…

But there is hope that more people are starting to see this election differently. A prominent Miami based pundit Jaime Bayly, who in the past has said that he would support McCain simply to “stick it” to Chavez, this week says he is more likely to support Obama because he understands that this country needs a change of direction. Below is my translation of his statement made during his show "Bayly"on Wednesday October 8th:

“I used to be with McCain to frustrate Chavez…I was always with McCain, not for the good reasons, but for the bad reasons. They were “Who does Chavez hate more?McCain, then we must vote McCain.” But no longer. We have to vote thinking about the future of this country, for the love we have for this country, of which we have become citizens. And I truly believe that Obama is more intelligent than McCain and Biden is immeasurably more intelligent than Sarah Palin just as a polar bear is more intelligent than Sarah Palin…”
Like Mr. Bayly, we must get over single issue voting traditions and think about the larger picture. When you see things from that perspective, one clearly sees the continuation of Republican leadership becoming less and less attractive.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tina Fey - wow.

Just want to say - Tina Fey is amazing and Emmy worthy for her Palin impression. I always liked her as a writer and for 30 Rock. But this is unbelievable.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Obama’s '08 Mile – How to neutralize the upcoming onslaught by the McCain campaign

The failing economy, new voter registration in the hundreds of thousands, the erratic behavior of the GOP VP candidate, and the disaster of McCain’s campaign suspension have all worked to Obama’s favor. As the polls show, his lead continues to climb even in states that were not considered to be in play.

So what’s left in the GOP arsenal? I agree with what most of the pundits have been observing on the Sunday shows – McCain’s next surge is to go negative. Deeply negative, and to try to question the integrity of the opposing candidate, and bring up an onslaught of accusations (true or not) of associations, records, etc, in the hopes to muddying the conversation just enough that the public will be too scared to vote for Obama.

The efficacy of this tactic (not to be confused with a strategy, apologies to McCain) will soon be evident. The fact that McCain even has this as an option does speak to the Obama campaign’s continuing challenge of convincing skeptical voters that he is truly like them. Part of it is this country’s obsession with personality politics, and how mediocrity in our leaders is celebrated over intelligence as seen by Palin’s popularity and her Joe-six-pack tag lines.

A storm is coming. McCain has nothing to lose, and in these 30 days to the election, McCain will unleash a flurry of negativity unlike anything we have seen. It is almost certain they will take the low road in the upcoming weeks because it seems to be the only thing that makes traction against Obama. The lipsticked pit bull has already begun, trying to re-link Obama with former domestic terrorists and corrupt local Chicago politicians. Most of these accusations were debunked during the primaries, but can still do reputation damage among voters in crucial states. The Democrats must be prepared to not only weather this storm but come up with a real plan to neutralize it so that voters focus on the issues which McCain has not be able to dominate in – the economy, health care, education and alternative energy.

For a defense strategy that I believe will work, Obama has but to look toward a movie released in 2002 set in Michigan, the state Obama just recently forced McCain to concede. 8 Mile is a movie about working class youth in Detroit struggling to make it and still pursue their dreams. The main character participates in “rap debates” where he matches wits vs. area hip hop hopefuls in front of live crowds, not too dissimilar to the presidential version in that style often trumps substance, the candidates play to crowds, and the battle often gets extremely personal. In the final match, the main character walks onto the stage knowing that the opposing team will surface some potentially damaging events in his life that might sway the crowd in their direction. Rather than allow them to control the tone, he preempts everything that might be said against him, leaving nothing for the opposing party to address. His final line challenges his speechless opponent to trump his own words saying, “ Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me.”

If you can ignore the more vulgar parts of the performance, the brilliance of preempting the opposing side's arguments is the best way for Obama to protect himself and at the same time go on the offensive. He needs to walk into the debates next week, and while on the stump, telling the crowd what McCain is going to do and let them know the desperation from which these tactics come. Additionally, he needs to keep on message and not seem to be reactive, and finally, he needs to not constrain himself by “the rules.” In the movie, the main character runs out of time and the music is shut off, but continues his turn acappella. If in the coming debates McCain starts to attack trying to squeeze in accusations, wether Obama's turn is over or not, Obama needs to respond and respond strongly. If he does this, McCain will have nowhere to go, and his attacks will seem petty and juvenile. The politics of fear have no place in this election, and if handled correctly, Obama can cause McCain's tactics to backfire on him.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How the widower won vs. the Wasilla winker

I’ll make one brief comment on last night’s debate, as most people will be up to their moose antlers in punditry.

Last night one could argue over which candidate best met or beat expectations, saved or hurt their party etc. The spin doctors will earn their money in that respect, though I’m confident the public will make up their own mind after a day or two digesting what they saw.

What I took from the debate was simply this – Joe Biden produced the most personal moment of the entire campaign, of all the candidates, including the primaries.

This moment came after Palin recited her “mantra of the hockey mom,” and made the case that her way of life and her experiences raising a family was a reflection of this country in a way her opponent could not measure.

And in a split second, Biden neutralized that argument and the whole Palin-six-pack mystique, in an unscripted moment that cut Palin’s target audience from under her – women.

The hurt on his face was obvious as he said he doesn’t understand how just because he is a man doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand the hardship of parenting and loss. And the pause to compose himself, the flood of emotion which you could see welling up in his face, and the half sentence he spoke of his hardship after the loss of his wife and child, connected with America in a way Palin’s cutesy antics and rehearsed tag lines never could.

“Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.

I understand what it's like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says, "I've got to leave, champ, because there's no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington. And when we get enough money, honey, we'll bring you down."

I understand what it's like. I'm much better off than almost all Americans now. I get a good salary with the United States Senate. I live in a beautiful house that's my total investment that I have. So I -- I am much better off now.

But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.

I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what? They're looking for help. They're looking for help. They're not looking for more of the same.”
Add to that Palin’s lack of a humane response of any kind, as she continued down her cheat sheet of talking points, and America finally saw Palin for what she was at that moment – a caricature, concocted by a desperate campaign of a dying party.

Of the two images on stage, despite the wonky catch phrases and the “shout outs” to her crew back in the hood, it was Joe who truly “kept it real.” Up until now he’s been overshadowed by the new kid on the block, but after last night, I believe voters, and women in particular, will be curious to know more about his story, and finally understand his remarkable love for family and for the ideals supposedly trademarked by red-state Americans. For independents who want to vote for change but don’t want to be lopped into the “elitist” camp, this is what they needed to come on board.

On a personal note, as a father and husband, I am glad that Joe allowed the world to see that side of him. Too often men of power feel that letting people see their devotion to their families is a sign of weakness. Joe showed America that a Dad in the Senate is just as much a parent as any hockey mom. And with that, McCain has lost the Palin advantage.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

McCain’s Quagmire – His war with the media.

Despite all the speeches and promises, most voters have very little to go on in terms of predicting the type of president the nominees might be. However, their relationship with the public, and the media in particular, can reveal telling methodologies and personality traits that have a high probability of translating to the oval office. After all, most of what the public sees of the POTUS is what the media captures and delivers to our homes and computer screens. The free press as is an integral part of the democratic system. This is the same press that McCain has decided to wage war against. Below are a few reasons why he is losing this war.

Going to war for the wrong reasons:

McCain’s declaration of war with the media was an attempt to connect to “everyday” people at home. McCain could have doubled up his interviews, gotten people to see his “softer side,” or even done more work to appear more approachable. Instead, he decided he needed a war because in his opinion the best defense is offense.

Lack of diplomacy or restraint:

A lack of diplomacy got McCain to this position in the first place, but rather than “talk to the enemy,” McCain (and his VP choice) decided to use cowboy diplomacy filled with bravado and spite. The RNC’s main theme was “Bring it on!” to the media, a rally for the crusade of the conservative right. The overall message: “If you aren’t with us, you are against us – U-S-A!” Rather than inspire fear in the enemy, he rallied them, as indicated by the money raised for Obama that very week.

No understanding of the enemy:

McCain’s war focuses on the networks and the editors of the major newspapers. What he doesn’t understand is that the definition of media has completely changed over the last decade. The people are getting their information from both 24 hour cable news shows to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Even the radio waves are no longer a safe heaven, as Talk Radio programs like Air America are increasingly popular with the disaffected public.

Perhaps more importantly, he has underestimated the power of the blogsphere and of social networking. McCain was not prepared for the onslaught from the underground online masses. Never in history has the common person had the ability to easily express individual beliefs and information and share them with thousands of people instantly. When people like Perez Hilton can become political commentators, McCain’s enemy is no longer clearly defined. The enemy becomes endless, faceless and ever growing.

A weak coalition:

McCains best allies in this war are those who most hurt him. When his top economic adviser Phil Graham calls people struggling in this economy a nation of whiners, Carly Fiorina says he and his running mate aren’t qualified to run a public company, when a spokesman insists McCain invented the Canadian-made Blackberry, when Karl Rove criticizes the “truthiness” of McCain commercials, when his own VP candidate places herself on the top of the ticket, it shows the lack of cohesiveness of his own coalition.

No Exit plan:

Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of McCain’s war is he has no strategy for peace. He needs the media and he knows it. Without them, McCain must spend his money promoting his own message via commercial channels, which will cost him much more than the 85 Million he has in his campaign to use. This is probably why the Campaign is looking to test to limits of fundraising under the rule limits. Should he win, he will need the media to recapture the hearts and minds of half of America, and have at least the semblance of a honeymoon period in the White House.

Instead, McCain accuses commentators (wrongfully) of being Obama supporters, shows visible testiness on air, and even limits their access to his VP, only allowing interviews at their discretion and when Palin is practiced in her talking points.

This is no way to plan for an end to his war. The last thing McCain needs is to delve into a perpetual battle with the Media, or whatever gains he achieves, even that includes the White House, will be short lived at best.

Best hope – a surge.

His only chance at winning this war is with the surge he gained by picking the moose hunting hockey mom who calls herself various types of aggressive animals. The Surge, at first glance seemed to be working. His polls went up, his based was energized, and for a while, he seemed to have an upper hand. But he has squandered this surge with lies and questionable tactics.

McCain is looking for another surge, a way to keep the media on defense so he can push his agenda through. He tried with the “lipsticked pig” controversy, which backfired. McCain’s best chance to victory is to claim victim and get his people to be angry at supposed unfair accusations. His strategy is to pick a fight, a reason to be angry because he hopes it produces the attention he needs.

His war continues to expand:

McCain is now expanding his war from the media to wall street, first by calling for resignations of the SEC chair (of which he has no jurisdiction), than trying to connect his opponents any way he can to the fall out. People have begun to see the pattern emerging – rather than find a solution to a problem, McCain looks for an enemy to destroy.

There can be no victory without the people:

Eventually, McCain will need to end his campaign against the media, in victory or defeat, he will move on. While he is busy battling the media, the people continue to struggle. As was evident this week, he can distract people with his surges for some time, but the reality on the ground will keep taking forefront.

By continuing to fight, he risks not only his chance at the presidency but his legacy. McCain risks being seen not as a maverick but as a marauder, and may very well go down in history as a man who, in order to win an election, lead himself into his own personal quagmire.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On The Wall Street Meltdown

In 2006, around the middle of November, I was working at a one of the largest brokerage houses on Wall Street, which shall remain, for this exercise, nameless. I had been working there for close to 8 years in various functions, the latest of which was as a junior middle market institutional sales guy.

I was at a party for my friend’s birthday, and at that party after a few drinks, we were talking about what normal Latino educated “elitists” talk about after a few drinks – politics and the economy. During that conversation I said to my friends “CDOs. That is going to bring this market down.”

To be sure I knew very little of what I was talking about at the time. CDOs were all the rage, and at my firms, they were THE premier product to sell, due to it’s high margin and apparent ability to return high yield with little risk. My friends asked me why, and I didn’t have a real answer, but I did say – “No one knows what these things are. But they are being sold like hotcakes. Clients have no clue, the banks don’t really have a clue, but as my boss made it clear to my team, “if you aren’t selling structured product, you ain’t sellin’”

It wasn’t till a year later, after I had left my firm and had attended that year’s version of the same event, did one of my friends bring up my apparent premonition. Now, I am no Miss Cleo, so this isn’t about that conversation. But this is about the last two years and how this crisis was waiting to happen.

There are going to be a lot of smart people, economists, politicians (except the ones running for president apparently) who will dissect this event and attribute it to a lot of causes. Regulation or deregulation, greed, the housing crisis, lax credit, etc. I will let them battle that out because most of this is “above my pay grade.”

There isn’t much I can say in terms of specifics of my experience during my last years in Wall Street, mostly because I’m sure I signed something that limits what I can say. But I will say that in general, the banks were ravenously competitive and struggling to maintain quarter over quarter and year of year growth, while the fees they could charge for most of their basic products, selling equities, bonds, mutual funds, etc, were in a perpetual free fall. Sell side research was, to put it mildly, difficult to value, and more clients could transact for next to nothing with online or prime brokers. In order to stay competitive and in the black, brokerages across wall street became more and more dependent on selling exotic securities, structured products like CDOs, credit swaps, etc, because they were high margin products (meaning lots of hidden fees) and couldn’t be bought and sold in the general market.

In a seemingly separate observation, Wall Street is generally known for its high turnover, but post millennium, that turnover became the standard. Entire sales/trading teams from other firms were poached along with their client lists, and restructuring of middle management seemed a constant. Loyalty to firm seemed a useless value, as most senior management came from other firms. There was a general joke that it was easier to move out than up, and I was given advice multiple times that if I wanted a significant pay raise at my firm, I’d be wise to leave, spend some time at a competitor, and than come back.

Another thing to mention was the business unit structure. For many at large brokerage firms, competition was heaviest not with other firms, but with other desks within their own team. To drive margin, P&L (profits and losses) were measured on a desk-by-desk, day-by-day, team-by-team basis. Any business coming from clients where credited to the desk. This often caused units to fight over clients especially when firms began to silo teams by product group rather than client. In my opinion, this produced a situation where short term wins and profitability overshadowed long term risk of a product or the market. It was about that day’s wins, and that team’s revenue. Not much else mattered.

To me, the combination of a virtually illiquid product understood by too few, sold by people with little institutional memory, who’s goals were about short term profitability over long term risk, spelled trouble. I think that was what drove me to start thinking that the future looked bleak.

A year later, the mortgage crisis is in full swing, and it was a matter of time before the underlying components of most of the structured products started to unravel. Most of the firms who did well selling these products did so in part by saying to clients they would always make a market in a security. Which usually implies (though not overtly due to regulation) “if you need to sell it, we’ll buy it back.” No one intended to actually HAVE to make a market during a crisis on everything they had previous sold to customers. But lo and behold, that happened. The structured desk who had produced superstars where now dragging the profitability of the entire firm, and with the amount of product that was in the market, it was a matter of time before these banks were crushed under the weight of their own making.

How this will play out is anyone’s guess. If I had to make a guess, stand-alone brokerages will be a thing of the past, gobbled up by mega banks and if they are lucky, able to function as subsidiaries.  But for me, this is very personal. I had drinks with a former colleague in a crowded bar filled with distressed looking suits. She told me how international clients were frantically removing all their exposure to US counterparts. She wondered if her function would survive in this post merger world, just as she was preparing to plan for children. A cousin who now lives in Miami told me she worked at one of these firms for almost 10 years and the money she set aside in her 401K was now all but gone. Another family member is sure to be unemployed. None of these people are the 335K salaried Wall Street royalty the newspapers like to portray. While that number may be the average salary, just like in the US, that number is heavily skewed by a decimal-percentage of people at the top, with the vast majority of people making much, much less a year.

Where do we go from here? We will see, however, I find it interesting how in a crisis many of the Wall Street leadership begs for government intervention, while they vote and lobby for Republican ideals of deregulation and tax breaks. It’s like the atheist who, now on a raft in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks, decides he had better begin to pray.

Those who vote with the conservative right talk about how they don’t want their tax dollars to pay for other people’s health care, yet here our tax dollars are paying hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out firms who’s demise was caused by their own risk/reward miscalculations.

Despite all this, no party can claim that they have a full grasp of these events or their ramifications. This is a tragic event on all accounts, as one of the pillars of America's service based economy is in the middle of a very public unravel.  We are truly in a precarious position when one of the foundations of our global strength can no longer hold its own.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Obama's Brass?

In March, during the primaries, I wrote: “So it’s a good thing to see that Obama's got some teeth as well. And I think the masses need to see that as a good thing as well, and not be all dejected and "oh my god, Clinton ruined the race ‘cause now Obama's got to be negative..." Pllleeeaaaasssseeee.”

In that note, I was commending Obama for showing some teeth and fighting back on some of the things the Clinton’s were doing during the campaign. At the time I supported Hillary, mostly because I thought she was the better fighter. I called her a “Mongoose” ready to take on the snakes of the Republican Party.

Obama of course won that contest and like I promised, I am supporting him 110%. I’ve donated, I’ve signed up to make calls and even travel to a battle ground state, as long as the state is Florida ;-).

But now with the nomination behind him, Obama seems to have sort of chilled out – And with McPalin gaining steam I ask again – Obama, let’s see some teeth man!

One of my favorite movies is Glengarry Glen Ross, and in particular, the monolog by Alec Baldwin as Blake, the superstar salesman who opens up the movie with sound advice to the main characters.

“You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes BRASS BALLS to sell real estate.”

So it does to become the POTUS, and go toe to toe with the Rove machine. Nobody campaigns like the Republicans. Their whole mantra is play to the crowd, keep it simple, and attack, attack, attack. This is not a “ten paces turn and shoot gentlemen’s duel he’s having. This is backyard UFC type of stuff, complete with folding chairs and ladders, meaning quite frankly, there ‘aint no rules.

The Clintons know this very well and have the scars to prove it. They are after all, the only team since 1992 that’s beaten the GOP machine. Obama can do well to learn some tricks. Perhaps that will be the subject of discussion during his lunch with Bill on Thursday.

Obama’s got some spunk when he wants to show it. Coincidentally enough, he used the lipsticked pig reference (are you reading my blog, sir?) just today, which brought the Republicans to an uproar. That’s what I’m talking about. Make ‘em mad, because when they are mad, they make mistakes. For example, as they try to twist the pig reference to claim victim, the only thing they do is show their own hypocrisy and penchant for whining.

We need more. We need to see some podium pounding, brow wrinkling declarations like “We will not let the Republican’s trick us again!” “McCain and Palin are two sides of George Bush!” “Palin is a liar and a cheat!” Obama needs to release his own pit bulls from their pens and on the talk shows including “Fox” to raise the necessary objections. He can’t rely on Keith Oberman to do all the work – I love that big guy, but he’s starting to sound silly.

Also, Obamaniacs everywhere (myself included) need to see energy and emotion coming from Obama/Biden. They don’t need to see thoughtful and civil responses on the Sunday talk shows. We need some “bring it, busters!” to get people fired up and motivated. He can’t laugh this off as I’ve seen him do when a talking head describes to him the latest junk from the GOP. The dismissive laughter at the crazy McPalin tactics can come across as condescending, which is an arrow in the wrong quiver. He needs to take them to task.

Start with Obama’s stump. He needs to get the energy up during the attacks because that’s what makes the news. He needs to defend his policy on the war with a backdrop of veterans. He needs to challenge McPalin to come up with actual details of their tax plan. Most of all, he needs to remind everyone that McPalin is anti-choice, anti gay and anti-environment every chance he and his crew get. As for the interviews, he needs to show that he’s upset at the smears, and it’s got to stop.

In the very near future, Obama needs to step it up a notch. People are looking for him to show that he’s got “the brass” to get the job done.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Putting Lipstick on the Pig

Before my current job, I spent close to 10 years at a major brokerage house on Wall Street. My early years were during the bubble and the subsequent fall out.

Around 2002, there was a commercial that hit the airwaves that alluded to unethical practices by many of the top brokerage firms during the IPO craze, selling companies with little or no fundamentals in order to fill the ravenous need by investors to catch the next internet superstar.

The commercial was by direct online broker Schwab and it focused on a room full of brokers preparing for the next selling campaign. In it they admit the lack of fundamentals of the subject of their sale, but are more motivated by selling incentives etc. The rallying cry to the "pretend" sales force was “Let’s put some lipstick on this pig!” and it became an instant classic. Publically, brokerages were outraged at what the commercial did to ridicule investment professionals and how it eroded investor trust. Privately the line became the inside joke of almost every campaign in the foreseeable future. You know when I started hearing that joke again used regularly? When CDOs became the product du jour. I kid you not.

Palin’s “Pitbull vs. Hockey Mom” brought back memories of this line, as it should have any person who was on or dealt with Wall Street during the turn of the century. I wondered how quickly the comparison would come up. But it didn’t. Strange. It seemed so very obvious – animals with lipstick? Com’on guys…nobody? Not even the great John Stuart? Wow.

The media is still licking it's wounds from the "pitbull's" attacks and her handler's accusations. They are being overly careful with their comparison so as not to appear sexist or unfair, even if that means not stating the obvious.

Thank goodness for bloggers, eh? Before I go on, for P.C.'s sake, let me state early on that this is not about Palin the woman. This is about the McCain/Palin the ticket, and the new “Maverick” mantra. Is this newly re jiggered campaign of McCain/Palin simply more lipstick on the pig of a campaign being run by the Republicans? From what I can gather, nothing has changed. Why has the campaign gotten such a bump? "Service" was boring and "Country First" was pretty dull, but the "Maverick" team? Now there is some smart marketing. Change the packaging to sell the product that didn’t sell before – the essence of the "lipsticked pig."

Even the new team seems like more of the old team. The Vice Presidential nominee is a former governor with no national or international experience, who comes from oil country, is a disciple of the Christian conservative right and has a great smirk and “awe shucks” demeanor. Doesn’t this sound a lot like George W circa 2000? What’s the difference here? Lipstick?

And the platform – has that changed at all? There seems to be no change of policy concerning Iraq, taxes, choice, immigration, healthcare or the economy, other than maybe to go more towards the right. This is the same platform that this country is now trying to dig itself out from. How has this escaped the minds of so many people who are now so eager to support the people in power who are responsible for the last 8 years?

But just like during the tech bubble, most people are not paying attention to fundamentals. The fault of the overexuberance of the internet bubble lies with both the stock peddlers as well as the greed of the individual investor. I remember brokers telling me that despite clients having a low risk tolerance assessment when opening accounts, if their portfolios didn’t perform in the double digits, the clients would transfer their money to brokers who promised he/she would. It was impossible to convince clients that fundamentals were more important than comparing returns at the country club.

Republicans are good history students. That, and they expect very little of people. They believe, rather, they are relying on the belief that people don’t listen to fundamentals, that they would rather “feel connected” to a candidate than pay attention to policy. Based on the recent bump in poll numbers - could they be right?
Before the convention, McCain was the keeper of a lonely and unwanted pig. Now with this new, lipsticked GOP ticket, it seems the Republicans have gotten more people to ignore the smell.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How Not to be an "Elitist"

I’ve learned something very valuable from the RNC these last few days. For many years, I never truly knew what an elitist was. Thank you RNC for clearing it up for me. I don’t want to be an “elitist,” so by watching your convention and what you define as elitists, I’ve written the following steps to avoid for myself and others like me.

  • Don’t come from a major metropolitan area
  • Don’t work for NBC, CNN, the BBC or any other media network except FOX News
  • Don’t loose your regional accent
  • Be educated, but not too educated. One degree’s enough for you
  • Don’t show you’re well read unless you can do so in a regional accent
  • If you volunteer for something, it has to be connected to something that directly benefits you and/or your family. Helping strangers is verbotem
  • Speaking of foreigners, don’t know any foreign languages. Speak American, because you are in America. And don’t let any foreigners think you are cool, especially the French or Germans.
  • Don’t write a book, or if you write one, don’t get rich off it.
  • Marry up. If not, she had better be a teacher, nurse, or some other expected profession, and not someone you met at your haughty-taughty job
  • Make sure you have sons, and that they go to the military. Otherwise, what’s the point
  • Don’t be seen with other successful friends that look like you if you don’t look like the rest of America. One “elitist” is enough for any picture thank you very much
  • Don’t mention you can understand someone else’s point of view. Fair discussions are for elitists
  • Never change your mind even when you change your mind
  • Don’t move up too quickly from your born economic status. If you do so within your own lifetime you are an elitist
  • Don't give pretty speeches. Unless you are attacking someone.
  • Most of all, have a gun. Be sure you have pictures with dead animals.

I hope I can do these rules justice in order to gain your "good opinion."


Sorry guys, I couldn't resist...

On Palin and the Real Republicans

We have much to thank Governor Sarah Palin for this morning. What we have seen is the soul of the Republican Party. Her speech, riddled with ridicule, sarcasm, condescension and spite (and they have the nerve to call us the “angry left”?) has let the cat out of the bag in terms of what is hiding behind McCain’s party.

The ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing, Palin’s “awe shucks” accent and diminutive stature did little to hide the ferocity of her demeanor. For the unbelievably homogenous crowd at the RNC, her speech was the proverbial “red meat” they desired. That meat was bloody Alaskan game, and the frenzy it produced was worthy of a discovery channel shark week special.

But the rest of us have something to thank her for as well. Because for some time, the Republican Party (the REAL Republican Party) had been uncharacteristically and reluctantly hiding behind the not so extremist views of their standard bearer McCain. For the most part, it was difficult to argue that McCain was a typical Republican, because he isn’t. It’s the reason he was getting luke warm support from his own party. Over the last few years, he’s been paddling his way back to the right-wing to get their support, and Palin is that guiding light to their shore.

Her personal family issues aside, Palin should scare this country out of its complacency in this election. Palin is a Buchannan disciple, and she has brought the culture war back into this race. She will try to bring back the old favorites to wrestle away the discourse from change – Democrats will raise your taxes, take away your guns, steal children from your wombs and have gays getting married in your living rooms. She attacked Obama with the glee of a high school cheer leading captain berating the chess club kid, favoring style over substance and going for crowd reaction over reality. The fact that she pounded on Obama so hard on being a “mere” community organizer in his 20’s (while she was doing what, PTA?) shows the callousness she and her party have of the efforts of others to help the very same people they try to say they identify with.

This is the Republican Party we’ve come to know and hate. To start, it reminds us of the hypocrisy of their cultural snobbery – the reason Palin’s daughter is of such interest to the media is not because they want to attack her kids, but because her pregnancy is such a glaring antithesis of Palin’s “abstinence only” stance of sexual education. It reminds me of Marcia Cross’s character in "Desperate housewives," who’s culturally conservative rigidity forced her to banish her gay son and "fake" a pregnancy to cover for her teenage daughter. I am not saying Palin did the same, but it shows how ironic and uncontrollable life can be to those who wish to control life so much.

The other reason Palin best reflects the Real Republicans, is because of their ability to confuse the debate with their cultural demagoguery so that voters will vote against their economic and social best interests in order to adhere to the fundamentalist code of right wing morality. They laud “service” as if no other party has ever served or died for this country. They shout “USA! USA!” not out of pride, but out of defiance, both to the world and to those who disagree with their beliefs, hijacking patriotism to conform to their limited view of what it means to be an American. They belittle the masses of people who are suffering under their watch and try to equate change in leadership with some type of apocalyptic scenario where people no longer “know their place” and “the good people of America” will be overrun. They are the first to wrap themselves in the flag as if the appropriation of those colors shields them from criticism or debate. They do the same with the military, hiding behind “supporting our troops” to assail those who would criticize them for placing these troops in harms way.

Best reflecting what is behind the horned-rimmed glasses are the speakers who warmed up the crowd, Huckabee, Romney, and my favorite hypocrite and political opportunist – Rudy Giuliani. Along with Palin, they now constitute the four horse men of the Republicans leading this new charge.

The problem is that many will not see past the mommy machine and the cute kids to what lies underneath. A work colleague of mind who I don’t consider overly conservative said his wife cried during her speech because she could relate to her as a mom. What? Being a mom is universal and all parties have them. The Nazis had moms. The fact that the Republicans flaunt this part of Palin but protect her from criticism by pulling the sexism card is typical hypocrisy, but may work in their favor. The media is scared and doesn’t know how to proceed, a position they were bullied into by the cadres of conservatives who last night openly mocked the only thing in this country that continues to keep the powerful in check in both parties. It is because of the press that the Republicans struggle, not because of bias, but because they shed light on the scandals, cronyism and ineptitude that came to characterize this administration and era of Republican leadership.

The challenge for the Democrats is that they must realize they no longer fight for the presidency but for the soul of this country. This is a tougher fight then they can imagine, one the Clintons (I feel) had anticipated all along. Now that Obama is the leader, those who support him need to show their true worth by not loosing focus and maintaining the energy and drive that brought him this far. Those who support Hillary must join the fray as equals, because they can best combat the Republican’s anti-intellectual, anti-media war. Hillary needs to join the fray – Obama needs her more than ever or he WILL lose Middle America. Biden will do his part no doubt, but Hillary is best suited to battle Palin for the hearts of the “working class,” (AKA "White folks").

As far as McCain is concerned, he has in essence, made himself irrelevant with his “maverick pick.” His party is no longer thinking of 2008, but of 2012, when they can promote their star cheer leader to the top spot. They can now truly ignore him (poor man) and focus on their moose hunter. Palin is the true reflection of their party, and we want to thank her for reminding us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

To Watch or Not To Watch

For a few weeks now, I've been writing for a site It's a site written by and for dads.

Lately I've been writing movie reviews for them. Here is my latest on WALL-E and the new MUMMY movie. I feel lucky because most of what I've written for them has made the cover of the site. This time the editor of the site referenced my review in his own note.

I created a rating system for the movies I review that's a bit different than what's out there. Besides the typical 4 star rating, I give it a WORTH IT! or WASTED! rating.

Here's the criteria:

The rating system is for dads who need to know one thing- Is this movie WORTH IT to:

* Pack up the kids, bags, etc and trek to the theater - or
* Find a babysitter so Dad can have a date night - or
* Cash in brownie points with the Mrs. so he can go with his buddies

If it doesn’t fit these simple criteria, the movie gets the WASTED rating, which means - don’t waste the precious time you have, wait for video/cable when you can squeeze it between chores, work and sleep.

I thought that would be pretty unique for a site focusing on fatherhood, because for many parents, it doesn't matter as much if the movie is good or not, but is it worth the time and or/energy to actually go?

Single/childless people may not understand what that means, but when you have to worry about babysitting, make sure the kids are fed, changed and clothed before you leave, making sure the cell is charged in case there's an emergency, that you have the cash to pay the babysitter and/or are willing to return the favor to the person giving you the free night pass, a night out becomes a very conscious and purposeful decision. On the flip side, if you decide to take the kids with you, a whole other series of complications arise - is the theater kid friendly, do the bags have diapers/wipes/juice boxes? What if the kid freaks out at the movie? How close are the bathrooms? Do we eat before or after the movie?

For some parents, no movie is worth all this effort or worry, at least not for the first couple of years. My brother in law for example, once "marveled" at how his sister and I can still go out at all because they haven't seen a movie in two years...You can imagine my facial expression when I heard that.

Babies do change everything. However, a baby need not make you a prisoner in your own home. For one's own mental health and the health of the relationship, parents NEED to find time to simply go out - both together and separate from each other.

Movies may not be the escape of choice - it could be dinners, pick up games in the park, or even a spa visit for a message. Couples need to support each other by taking turns taking care of the kids so the other person can have some "alone time" and more importantly, work hard to find time together.

The challenge is finding something that is worth the time it takes to responsibly make the decision to go. Hence my new rating. It's an awful feeling for a parent to go through all that effort to try and enjoy something as an adult, and realize you've wasted your time because the movie/play/restaurant was either bad, just OK, or could have easily been replaced by something you could have done at home.

Still, the effort needs to be made, and hopefully my reviews and my WORTH IT/WASTED ratings will help some dads decide how to spend the few moments they have to enjoy something for themselves.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wesleyan Does it Again...

Man, I have to say, I am so proud of my alma mater!

Today's big political headline is over a federal judges ruling that White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counsel, Harriet Miers can in fact be subpoenaed before congress to testify about the politicization of hirings and firings within the justice department.

For those not in the know, this scandal is pretty huge despite the little media coverage, as it implies our own Department of Justice were actively descriminating in their hirings and firings of US Attorneys based on political views and connections, with the intention of influencing investigations in key battleground states in order to favor Republican candidates. It lead to the shameful resignation of this country's first Latino US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and a constitutional battle between the executive and legistlative branches of our federal government.

If true, this could be a bigger scandal than Nixon's Watergate. It is no surprise then, that the Bush-led Whitehouse has tried to block any and all investigations into this event, claiming "executive priviledge" so that the president's aides don't have to testify under oath.

As a passive observer, one might say - wow! How in the world are they getting away with this? Doesn't this fly in the face of the freedom and democracy we claim to protect? How would the US ever recover as the moral leader of the world if this were indeed true, and who has to power to make sure we get to the bottom of it?

It seems that person is U.S. District Judge John Bates. Who, if you read his bio, is a Wesleyan University grad ('68). That's right, folks. Wes grads are everywhere, as recently observed by my boss where I work. And they are indeed making the world a better place. If you want to know a bit about his decision and it's impact, check out analysis from another Wes grad, David Lindoff who knows much more about this than me.

I just thought I'd bring this up because while Wesleyan often shines with it's famous entertainers and athletes in a celeb obsessed world, it's cool to give "props" to a different kind of influential alumnus who is making a difference. Way to go Judge Bates.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Optimum's Triple Play and the Sneakiness of Advance Billing

Just a warning to all those who like me, thought they were getting a good deal with Optimum Online's Triple Play voice, Internet and cable plan.

The deal is as short as the 7th inning stretch, and will cost you a lot more once your 12 months is up. But more than that is a questionable billing technique that had me reeling at the end of the call. - Advance billing.

The plan starts out as described, 29.95 for each service, plus all taxes, fees, surcharges etc...add premium services and it ranges from $112 to about $125 a month. Still not bad math wise if one would pay for it separately.

Then the "deal" ended. My next bill was for $245. WHAT?

I called Optimum and their service center rep sounded like she was at a crisis hot line. She knew what was coming.

"Now that the promotion is over, you are being billed a month in advance for your service."

"What? Why?"

"That's how we bill."

"Wait a minute. I was a client of Optimum before the promotion, I joined your promotion for 12 months, and NOW you are deciding to send me a bill for 2 months for me to prepay? That's not fair."

"I understand sir. That is our billing practice. Were you to cancel your service, we would credit you back any unused portion of your bill."

Now my Wall Street/Bronx Boy monster kicked in.

"And what are you doing with that cash in the meantime? Do I get interest on that money"


"So you are saying that I'm to give you $140 in advance of any services rendered, you are going to sit on that money until I cancel, and then simply "credit" it back to me, without any interest? I know you guys are getting interest on that money - what are you doing with it? What happens if the prices change? Do you understand that doubling a bill on someone without warning is not good customer service?

"the prepayment was indicated in your .....(blah blah read fine print told ya so blah blah)"

I stopped listening.

"I'm going to have to make some decisions here. I can understand the prices going up at the end of this promotion, but if I've spent a year paying for services rendered, then all of a sudden I am being billed a month in advance for services not yet provided, this is dramatic shift and I don't think I want to do this."

"That's for you to decide sir."

And decide I will.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The iPhone Swap

So an interesting development, I've come to be witness in the world of Apple iPhone. 2G iPhone owners are doing an cost-less "swap" into the 3G phone, selling their 2G devices overseas, making up the cost of their new phones. In a surprising trend, 3 of my work colleagues who were 2G owners sold their phones - 2 via eBay, 1 via Craigslist Europe, for about $300 USD + postage. That money more than makes up for the cost of upgrading to the 3G version. One of my colleagues actually got $400 USD for a second iPhone, which was kept in very good condition.

Surprisingly, the $300 USD sales were completed within a few hours, the $400 USD sale within 24 hours of posting, and the money was sent lightening fast from Germany, Miami and Texas. I suspect that the buyers were moving the 2G phone's abroad, where the 3G version is less used and the 2G versions can be overridden to work with other international cell phone providers. I also suspect that the $300 price is a bit low as it looks like whoever is gobbling up the phones so quickly is probably also making a bit of margin.

So for those who bought the 2G phone and are looking for way to get the new version - this looks like a cost-less swap for upgrade. Good Luck.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why "West Side" revival is not a good "Story".

I was very surprised by my initial reaction to the recent NYT article “Jets? Yes! Sharks? ¡Sí! in Bilingual ‘West Side’ “ To describe it quickly, I responded to my friend who forwarded it to me – “Oh No. This is awful...”

I felt this knot in my gut. Not unlike that cringing sensation I got a few months back when a relative of mine made a very "conservative" and slightly racist statement while dining with me and my liberal-leaning friends.

I would suspect that many people would wonder why I reacted that way. After all, “West Side Story” is a classic! A masterpiece of music and dance, extremely successful and has stood the test of time. It is part of the musical canon studied by artists across America. I myself sang “Something’s Coming” as a solo for my high school graduation. What gives?

Nostalgia aside, there are so many things wrong with the idea of a “West Side Story” revival that may not be obvious to the general person. When I think about what it has done and what it could do again to the image of Latinos, and Puerto Ricans specifically, I all but wish the new production never makes the live stage.

Let me first acknowledge that “West Side Story” introduced to many the actual existence of Puerto Ricans on the American landscape. Before the 1957 Broadway production, most of America didn’t even know what or who Puerto Ricans were. “West Side Story” correctly reflected a phenomenon that would shape the US over the next century– Latino immigration. It also launched the career of Rita Moreno – a record breaking actor who was the first female and Latino to win all four major entertainment awards, a feat very few have accomplished of any nationality. “West Side Story” was indeed groundbreaking for its time in its remake of the Romeo and Juliet story and for its ability to keep audiences singing its score for decades.

Cut 50 years, and now Arthur Laurents wants to bring back the musical, this time with a “grittier” motif and having the actors speak Spanish with each other, apparently during some highly passionate, “bilingual sexual spats” and some translated changes to the songs.

It is obvious to most anyone I know that this revival is in response to the great success of today’s Latino-themed Broadway musical whose title is also derived from a New York neighborhood, “In the Heights.” Less anyone make any further connections between the two shows, let’s be very clear - These two musicals couldn’t be more different from each other. One is a story of battles between “natives” and “new comers” to the US, the other a story of an established community adjusting to gentrification and changing economic times.

“West Side Story” has themes within it that in today’s world are tired and cliché. The images of knife-toting youth, loud and over-sexed women, and dark-skinned aliens on US soil are depictions many modern day Latinos would rather not have revived on stage. These archetypes have shaped and limited the scope of Latino characters in American entertainment for decades. While the love story in it tries to transcend race and culture and speak of tolerance, the songs and supporting scenes have been a thorn in the side of Latinos for years. For example, I know of many Latina women named Maria who have had to endure listening to men crone “Maria…I met a girl named…Maria…” when being introduced, even in professional settings like the office and in academia. The song “America” is littered with stereotypes, and while they are uttered by the Puerto Rican characters among themselves, the images they project of life as Latinos create lasting negative impressions on audiences that then shape their biases and interactions. It’s also an inaccurate depiction of the immigrant experience – very few Puerto Ricans, or other immigrants, despite economic hardship or any other reason for immigrating to the US, would ever describe their birth country as “You ugly island . . . Island of tropic diseases.” “West Side Story” did for Latinos what mob movies did for Italians. While creating great entertainment, it limited the possibility that certain types of people could be anything other than certain types of characters.

The Spanish translations will not bring credibility or authenticity to the story. The New York Times article mentions that Mr. Laurents went through much effort to consult with Latin American writers from Argentina and Colombia but fail to note that Argentine and Colombian Spanish is distinctly different from the Spanish spoken by Puerto Ricans. This is a weak and poorly researched attempt at authenticity. In the 1950s and 60s, the New York Puerto Rican community were already into its 2nd generation, and it’s those children that are reflected in this musical. For the majority of youth during this period, Spanish was not their first language, it was their parent’s. If anything, Mr. Laurents should be integrating local urban slang for that generation of youth. I had conversations with my parents who grew up in NY during this time and while Spanish was spoken with elders and at home, the language of the street was as English as it is today, minus the horrible accents represented by the non-Latino actors in “Brown-face” who played in both the original Broadway show and its movie adaptations.

Mr. Laurents promises to diversify the cast, but Latino actors playing these roles will do very little to modernize the play unless he does work to change the image of the characters they would play. There is some hint in the article that Mr. Laurent’s intends to equalize the two gangs in the story. However that leads me to my other point. There were gangs in New York in the 50s and 60s. We get it. Do we need to create harsher portrayals of these gangs, adding more violence to “modernize” the story? Doesn’t the musical “Grease” show us that suburbia also had gangs? Do we need grittier, more violent portrayals of the T-Birds, Scorpions and Pink Ladies to make these characters more authentic?

“West Side Story”, while ground breaking in it’s time, needs to allow for more modern musicals like “In the Heights” to take the mantle and help shape a more positive and uplifting image of Latinos in entertainment. Broadway enthusiasts and movie buffs will forever acknowledge the foundation Mr. Laurents and the creators of “West Side Story” laid for future generations to build upon, but unless the characters, songs, and message are entirely rewritten to better fit modern times, I can only see this revival damaging the progress that’s been made to date.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life is for the Living

I had a very intense July 4th Weekend. My daughter had her 2nd Birthday which we had at our house and did our best to accomodate about 10 toddlers and their parents as they came to share the event. My mother came from Florida to join us as well. We had a great time and it was great to see my family together and happy.

That same weekend my father passed. He had been bed ridden for some time from a series of strokes, Parkinsons and Alzheimers, and recently was no longer able to take in food. The hospital transfered him to a hospice where they kept him comfortable. I got the 4AM call on the 4th and then waited for details from one of my half sisters as to next steps.

I wasn't very close to my dad. He was the personification of a rolling stone, and was afraid that responsibility would one day catch up with him. He was a satellite figure in my life who would show up from time to time (graduations, weddings, etc) and who never did me any harm in the literal sense. He had correctly assessed that he was not the fathering type, and while that put extra burdens on my mother, I've grown up to accept that decision vs. the alternative.

His illness and death brought together his other children, my half-siblings, all of us adults and with families of our own. During his life we were all isolated from each other and depended on him to bring us together, a task he failed at miserably. We now know that it is up to us to maintain a close relationship with each other, and to bring our children and spouses to know each other and stitch together these seperate pieces of cloth into a patchwork of a family that previously existed in DNA only.

The death of one's father is always traumatic. In my particular case it was surreal, as I share his name and have the greatest physical resemblance of any of my siblings. I had to endure seeing that name on hospital beds and funeral signs and hear it over and over during the prayer ceremonies. I had to look at a face that was in essence an older version of mine lying in bed and then in a coffin, and remind myself that this was indeed a seperate person. I'm sure this experience will have a lasting impact on me, but I feel that psychologically I am in a good place. For some time, I've known and been proud of the fact that while our names and features are similar, I am nothing like my father, and thankfully so.

Life is for the living. I cannot go back and change the past, but I can make sure I am the best father I can be, and I can build a solid relationship with these former strangers who are my siblings. I will do these things not neccesarily to honor my father, but ultimately for myself, and for the next generation of "Guadalupes" growing in this ever complicated world and can use guidance and positive influence in their lives so that they know that responsibility is not something to run from, but to take on with pride and purpose. I hope I can provide some of that guidance.

I am thankful for the life I have and for the people in it. I could not imagine myself without my wife, my daughter, my family or friends. They are what motivate me to keep going. I mean what is life without a child's smile, a loved one's touch, or a friend's voice? To me life is one big series of events, shared with people you care about. I wouldn't miss any of it for the world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gabby's Birthday

Today is my daughter's birthday. She's two. But if you ask her, she'll tell you "FOUR!" and insist on that no matter how much I say two. It's become a game she plays with me. I say: "Gabby how old are you?" "FOUR!" "No Baby, say 'two..'" "FOUR!...giggle."

I guess it's not a big deal, except there I am talking to my daughter who is claiming to be twice her real age. Oh boy. Does it start this soon?

I'm reading a book by Meg Meeker MD," Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters - 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. " I am now officially freaked out. I have but 18 years to influence this impressionable young creature into becoming a well adjusted, independent and confident young lady. 2 years down, 16 to go. Just how quick is 16 years....Well, I just went to my 10th year college reunion, and I swear I feel like I just graduated.

Good news is, so far so good. She's "wicked smart" and a total music fanatic, a requirement in our house. Today we brought her to look at her new preschool she'll start next week. She loved it and didn't want to leave. She won't be one of those kids who cries a whole lot when daddy drops her off. She'll say bye, turn around, and start commanding the play room.

I can't believe two years ago she was this cherub that I could hold with just my hand and forearm. So much happiness packaged in such a small body, it just grows and grows exponentially every year. I can't imagine what the future holds, but whatever happens, I know that the love will continue to grow.

Happy Birthday to my little Gabriela. I love you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Review of The Incredible Hulk

Here's a review I wrote for on the new movie "The Incredible Hulk."

Review: The Incredible Hulk

By: Miguel Guadalupe

June 16, 2008

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Just landing from the highs of their recent release Iron Man, Marvel did not disappoint with The Incredible Hulk. Ed Norton plays the cursed Bruce Banner, whose initial oversight in basic scientific safety precautions condemned him to a life on the run and made him afraid of his own blood pressure. Similar to his role in Fight Club, Ed's character is in essence two – one mild mannered, one extremely dangerous. The difference of course, is that the Hulk is a physical incarnation of Banner's animalistic id, as opposed to simply a schizophrenic break.

Anger Management might have been the other title of this movie, as the theme repeats itself consistently, from Banner's clumsy Portuguese warning in Brazil ("You won't like me if I'm hungry..."), to Banner and Betty Ross's ride in a New York taxi. The reflection of the very different people we become when we are angry will make anyone question themselves the next time they are tempted to yell at the slow car in the passing lane.

As with Marvel's previous hit Iron Man, the supporting cast of characters are a small galaxy of stars, with Liv Tyler as Elizabeth (Betty) Ross, who is the only thing or person that can calm the beast in Banner, William Hurt as General Ross, the overprotective father who's ability to unleash the resources of the US Army makes for one very dangerous family feud, and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, an aging elite soldier who wants a bit more than to simply turn back the clock on his physical self.

Interesting plants for classic Marvel fans that show signs of paying off in the future:

- General Ross refers to "The Super Soldier Serum" developed during the World Wars, and how that was a precursor to his work. This is an obvious reference to Captain America's origins, which we may get the pleasure of knowing more about soon.

- Banner's initially helpful university professor Sam Sterns, AKA Mr. Blue, will become The Hulk's nemesis "Leader," as you saw his cerebellum grotesquely enlarge as he absorbed Banner's blood into an open head wound.

- And of course, the team referred to by the special guest at the end of the movie is none other than the Avengers.

The Marvel formula is showing signs of working: keep true to the comic character, get a VERY good actor as the central figure, and keep the supporting cast strong and engaging. The Incredible Hulk commanded the ground just as Iron Man controlled the skies, and their eventual meeting in a future episode promises to be an action-packed, star-studded blockbuster that will change the way we see comic based action movies in much the same way the Matrix series changed the way we saw science fiction.

Marvel has thankfully revived The Hulk brand from the dead, where Ang Lee and his most awful version had placed it not five years ago. Louis Leterrier does a good job in keeping true to the genre and keeping the characters real and likable. The special effects maintained the humanity of the title character, a far cry from the dark and un-seeable CGI heavy Ang Lee version. Notable mentions include the fantastic way they captured the Brazilian favelas, and the very detailed way the Hulk fight scenes where put together. Both the Hulk vs. Blonsky and the Hulk vs. The Abomination scenes were pretty technical and well choreographed.

What's missing might be some of the "believability" that captured audiences for Iron Man. In that movie, one could almost imagine oneself in a high tech suit flying the skies, less so a gamma ray poisoned green behemoth with anger issues. That is not a flaw in the movie itself, but just a reminder of the diversity of stories and characters that is the Marvel universe. Another issue may be that this Hulk movie is almost portrayed as the sequel to Iron Man, almost a sub-plot that is leading up to something bigger. We all know Marvel has big plans for it's universe, but they may have sacrificed some of The Hulk's individuality because of it. Despite this, The Incredible Hulk makes the audience hungry for more of Stan Lee's creations on the big screen.