WRITING AND LETTERS
Liner Notes from the Pol Tunes CD
How this show happened.... Our first rehearsal was 3 days before and about 2 miles from the World Trade Center catastrophe on 9/11/2001, Primary Day in NYC. From dawn until 8:45am, I campaigned for my law partner, Sheldon Leffler, to become Boro President of Queens (he ultimately lost). At noon, I received a pathetic call from a 90-year-old client whose dutiful 48-year-old son had called the prior week to schedule an estate planning review for 9/12. He worked on the 101st floor and didn't survive. That night my wife and I had tickets for The Producers, but Broadway’s lights were dimmed.
Political satire is not always "Ha-ha" funny. It often is a reflection of anger and frustration about terrible events or policies, mixed with our aspirations for a better world. After the 1993 WTC bombing, I wrote “Holy War is a Misnomer” with a frighteningly foresighted verse:
Now, I feel it’s up to each and every one of us, if we don’t want the Trade Center to fall on to us, we gotta make the sure the kids from everyone of us feel loved no matter who they are.
Kerri Lynn (whose cousin and 3 friends died 9/11) did not come to our 9/16 rehearsal. Miriam, Paul and I pondered if a political parody show was still possible. Kerri Lynn came to our next rehearsal, but said that singing my flip lyrics spoofing hypocritical U.S. foreign policy adventures would be like throwing salt on raw wounds. As bombs dropped on Afghanistan, we dropped my George Bush routine to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”:
I’m the President from Texas, my nickname’s ‘double-U’.
I’m fer equality of sexes, if abortion you don’t do.
I’m compassionate, conservative, consistent and serene.
Now, if only I could figure what those gol darn big words mean.
Instead, Paul playfully agreed to strap on a beard and portray Osama in a duet with George W. as both claim "God is on our side!" Using song lyrics I had written recently and years before, we created a relevant show not too insensitive for the times, with the hopeful song “We Can Be Kind” by David Friedman as the finale. We performed 4 times from October 22-30, 2001 at Danny's Skylight Room near Times Square and at Harmony Restaurant in Sunnyside, Queens.
Miriam felt the opening number should define me. As I recalled the influence on my life of Gilbert & Sullivan, the ultimate musical political satirists, I realized that politics, theater and law have always been inter-woven themes.
At age 12, I was Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado. From 1963-66, I attended Music & Art High School in Harlem near City College, which closed for Malcolm X’s funeral in fear of riots and where Janis Ian wrote “Society’s Child” about doomed interracial love. In 1965-66, as part of the “West Side Kids” (including my good friend Congressmember Jerry Nadler and Dick Morris, the political strategist caught in a compromising position during the ’96 Democratic Convention), I campaigned for anti-war congresssional candidate Ted Weiss, who lost in a close recount but succeeded Bella Abzug in Congress years later.
While attending SUNY, Stony Brook from 1966-70 as a poli-sci/theatre double major, I directed How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Trial By Jury, G&S’ spoof of sexism and British laws. Increasingly concerned about the environment and Vietnam War, I volunteered with the fledgling Environmental Defense Fund and helped organize campus activities for the first Earth Day and graduation efforts to donate cap ‘n’ gown money to peace candidates (we wore black armbands instead). My senior directing project was cancelled as Nixon bombed Cambodia, half my cast went to protest in D.C., and the school closed down before final exams. I beat the draft, after much anxiety and a 133 lottery number, with a 1-Y medical disqualification. Victor Kovner was my (anti-)draft counselor. I remember enjoying the lyrics to Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag,
Sarge, I’m only 18, I got a busted spleen, and I always carry a purse…
In 1995, when former Defense Secretary Robert McN wrote In Retrospect, I revised “McNamara’s Band”:
Oh, my name is McNamara, I was the leader of the War,
the one we fought in Vietnam (we’d never lost before),
‘Cause all our information and decisions just were wrong,
But if we’d fought with egos we’d ‘ave beat the Viet Cong!
I attended Columbia Law School (the only law student in Barnard’s G&S Society) while Prof's Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Harriet Rabb pioneered clinical classes dealing with the real world. I cajoled Prof. Al Rosenthal into creating an interdisciplinary environmental course with the Engineering School on noise control. Some Columbia students went to DC to assist in the Watergate investigation.
Later, I revised “In a Little Tin Box” from Fiorello! about political corruption:
With a little cover-up…a little cover-up...
our machinations they’ll never stop.
And to protest our purity, cry ‘National Security!’…
I did my own personal VISTA program by working with a developer of government-assisted housing
rehab in the South Bronx. And I performed G&S in the chorus of the Light Opera of Manhattan as
a haughty Member of Parliament marching in Iolanthe singing:
Bow, bow ye lower middle classes, Tan, Tan-ta-ra, Tzing, boom!
From 1981-83, in a major federal ballot-access conspiracy lawsuit, I co-represented an insurgent Democratic candidate against Queens County boss Donald Manes and others (Weiss v. Feigenbaum,
Manes, et al [558 F. Supp. 265 E.D.N.Y. 1982]) after learning the judge presiding in state court had recently signed the Manes’ machine nomination petition. My partner, Paul Kerson, called the rigged state case “a kangaroo court with Alice-in-Wonderland rules” (Always clever with words, Paul was once asked if our small firm, Leavitt & Kerson, was anything like Sullivan & Cromwell. “No,” he said dryly, “they’re dead.”). Later, Paul was approached by another state judge who cautioned, “You don’t light a fire in the church!” and told Paul he might someday become a judge himself if the case was dropped. I rewrote Iolanthe as a fund-raiser and changed the original MPs boast from:
We are the Peers of highest station; paragons of legislation;
leaders of the British nation… to
We are the Pols of deepest entrenchment; from county leader to
lowest henchmen, we sit in Boro Hall and on the bench…
And the lyrics of “Spurn Not the Nobly Born” (sung to the unresponsive peasant heroine) from :
Blue Blood! Of what avail art thou, To serve us now? Though dating from the Flood… to
Patronage! Of what avail art thou, To serve us now? Think, he could be a judge through Patronage!
Our show ended with the Manes character pattering the famous nightmare song,
And our power was strong, but I
guess not for long, and I wish that
the lawsuit was over.
Ironically, in 1986 Manes killed himself while caught in a web of corruption. In 1980, I was elected to NYC Community School Board #30. My Queens district served 21,000 students with 56 native languages spoken in their homes. As a believer that public schools are the foundation of a democratic society, I was gratified to see the excellent efforts of most teachers and administrators despite the endemic underfunding that continues today.
In 1994, as Sunday school music teacher at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, I taught the modern song “I Believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows…” opposite the ancient Hebrew anthem “Ani M’amim” (“I believe in the coming of the Messiah”), which Jews sang on their way to the Nazi gas chambers. The rabbi asked me to meet an eccentric 93-year-old congregant, Ferdinand Nacher, nephew and protégé of Ignatz Nacher who led one of Germany’s biggest pre-WWII brewery conglomerates. Ignatz’ empire of factories and beer gardens was stolen (“Aryanized!”) at gunpoint by the Nazis in 1934 via the Dresdner Bank as agent. The spoils became Hitler’s seed money. Ferdinand yearned for more just recompense than what was provided to family heirs in a 1956 Berlin settlement. My wife, Betsy, and I took this wheelchair-bound man (who died in 1996) to see Schindler’s List.
Because Dresdner had a Wall Street branch, we sued in Queens Supreme Court based on NY Banking Law prohibiting operation while in possession of stolen funds. Nacher vs. Dresdner Bank (Index #10103/94), possibly the first US corporate case based on Nazi era atrocities, preceded the Swiss bank revelations by three years. We also filed administrative claims regarding former East German properties and ultimately with the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future.
In July of 2001, years of steadfast effort with colleagues Paul, Joseph Yamaner and Sebastian Schutz started to bear fruit for Ignatz’ surviving heirs. Our first legal fees enabled me to produce this show and CD. Many thanks to my family and office staff for putting up with me, and to my friends Tony Lana, Mike Crehore, Susan Shaw, Rob MacKay, George Custance, Steve Cornell, the Carasimu Family at Harmony Restaurant, Paul and Kerri Lynn for their wonderful input and performances, and Miriam for her talent in whipping it into shape.
Dear Friend of POL Tunes,
I HAVE DECIDED TO SEEK THE DEMOCRATC NOMINATION TO BECOME THE BOROUGH PRESIDENT OF QUEENS. Please visitwww.MarcCrawfordLeavitt.com to learn about and hopefully support LEAVITT For Our COMMUNITIES. Queens the multicultural heart of the greatest city in the world, and I want to join you and others to make it even better.
What follows is an ongoing series of Op-Ed style essays and remarks that comprise a developing "Golden Rule Agenda" of Initiatives to improve our citizenship and the democratic process. Most importantly, the influence of big money in our system must be mitigated. NYC's Public Campaign Finance System, including the 6 to 1 match of contributions up to $175 from NYC residents, makes my candidacy possible.
As we experience the difficult economic downturn, I strongly feel that the estate tax should not be repealed. To do so would be egregiously regressive, because it affects only a tiny fraction of fairly well-to-do families. From an economic vitality point of view, Warren Buffett worries that yet more wealth controlled by aristocratic inheritors would be like "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics."
The Supreme Court has upheld at least the concept of limiting individual contributions to political campaigns, albeit while striking down Vermont’s courageous plans for "cleaner" elections and raising free speech to the highest financial pinnacle. Free TV time for bona fide candidates at regularly scheduled intervals well before elections is, for me, the clear antidote to the influence of big money and the need for incessant fundraising. 21st century democracy requires it to survive.The Court’s rejection of President Bush’s claimed "Guantanamo authority" is a small check on the USA military-industrial complex. Our new President Obama is clearly moving in the right direction. Perhaps he has read Chalmers Johnson, author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" and "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic," who is frighteningly persuasive.
I look forward to receiving your comments.
Marc Crawford Leavitt
June 21, 2007
Remarks of MARC CRAWFORD LEAVITT at the Hearing of the
City Council of NY Government Operations Committee
Regarding “Clean Money, Clean Elections” legislation
Good afternoon. My name is Marc Crawford Leavitt. I am a homeowner in Queens, a lawyer, and a citizen who volunteers with several civic, social service and academic organizations. I am also a political satirist. One of my parodies to the tune of “I Write the Songs,” popularized by Barry Manilow, starts:
I’ve been alive forever, and I wrote the very first laws.
I have the might and the power to enforce them
I AM MONEY, AND I WRITE THE LAWS!
Another of my satires about the 2001 mayoral election is not intended to specifically criticize our Mayor, who I generally feel has been doing a very good job, but to deplore the current national reality where it seems that to run credibly for high office you have to be a multi-millionaire, a celebrity, or a hereditary politician (and Arnold Schwarzeneger is all 3!). It parodies “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall…”:
A hundred dollars per vote at the polls, a hundred dollars per vote,
To make sure the Democrats happen to fall, a hundred dollars per vote at the polls… (spoken: Keep singing for four more years).
In my law firm of Leavitt, Kerson & Duane (that’s John Duane, brother of Tom), four of our current or former members have held elective office, and I myself served a 3-year sentence on Community School Board 30 in Queens from 1980 to 1983. Our service to clients does not include being paid as lobbyists.
In the early 1980s, I was part of team of pro-bono attorneys in a federal civil rights ballot access case representing an insurgent candidate against the Donald Manes political machine and the powers-that-be (Weiss et al v. Feigenbaum, Manes, etc al, 558 F. Supp 265, EDNY 1982). The Aaron Weiss case exposed many wrongful practices that were impediments to democratic elections and improved the ballot access process.
I have also been a Trustee of the City Club of New York, the esteemed non-partisan good government group responsible for numerous initiatives over the decades which we now take for granted, such as the ballot brochure mailed to all voters listing each candidate and their qualifications (which deserves much broader distribution). Back in the 70s, public campaign matching funds was just an idea discussed at the Club’s own Governmental Operations Committee led by the late Saul Hoberman and Sidney Dean.
But now we are in the 21st century. Money is still the mother’s milk of politics, but media and communications plays a bigger part than ever. Our City has the most aggressive matching funds program the nation, and that’s terrific. The Clean Money, Clean Elections system is the next generation of improving our democratic system, and I support the concept. I also ask the committee to consider further steps.
New York City cannot mandate free public TV time. The argument that the airwaves belong to the public and therefore should be used on some regular basis to be available both for public service and to help voters decide among candidates is obviously a national issue. But the City Council could lead the way with an advocacy statement for our congressional delegation and two innovative concepts:
- Free print ads on mass transit vehicles for bona fide candidates.
- Prime-time TV purchased by the City and made available at no charge in regularly scheduled time slots to bona fide candidates.
Here’s some brief arithmetic on how it might work. 51 Councilmembers + the Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate + 5 Boro Presidents + 5 District Attorneys = 64 offices. Assume 5 primary candidates for each office = 320. Assume each candidate gets two 5-minute time slots for a total of 3,200 minutes or about 54 hours. Divide that into the 6 weeks prior to the election for 9 hours each week, 3 hours on each on three weekday nights on different TV channels. Fine-tuning of the program could save money by boro-specific broadcasts on cable TV.
Provide a free technical crew to help candidates produce their time slots and mass transit ads.
Advertise the TV time slots to the public so the citizenry gets used to the idea of consistently scheduled election information as the years go by.
Duplicate the process for the general election assuming only two candidates for each of 64 offices, so we need only 1,280 minutes or about 22 hours.
I don’t know the cost of 76 hours of TV time per election cycle, but I am certain that the result would be major improvements in the awareness and involvement of our citizens and in the democratic process in general.
Marc Crawford Leavitt
July 3, 2006
My remarks at the Sunnyside Kiwanis Flag Day Parade last month are set forth below, as published in our local Woodside Herald. Pictures of me in my stars-and-stripes tie playing the flute will shortly be visible on my website www.POLTUNES.com(as in political cartoons) where previous essays and comments can be viewed by clicking the "Op-Ed" page.
The overwhelmingly pervasive influence of money continues to threaten our precious democracy, but recently there have been some hopeful, if mixed signs.
The estate tax has not been repealed, which would have been egregiously regressive. From an economic vitality point of view, Warren Buffett worries that yet more wealth controlled by aristocratic inheritors would be like "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics."
The Supreme Court has upheld at least the concept of limiting individual contributions to political campaigns, albeit while striking down Vermont’s courageous plans for "cleaner" elections and raising free speech to the highest financial pinnacle. Free TV time for bona fide candidates at regularly scheduled intervals well before elections is, for me, the clear antidote to the influence of big money and the need for incessant fundraising. 21st century democracy requires it to survive.The Court’s rejection of the president’s claimed "Guantanamo authority" is, very indirectly, a small check on the USA military-industrial complex. I recently saw an interview with a very concerned Chalmers Johnson, author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" and "The Sorrows of Empire:Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic," and he was frighteningly persuasive. The collective downfall of Tom DeLay, Randy Cunningham and Ken Lay is recognition that there are, eventually, lines which must not be stepped over, but the overall problem is massive.
Lois Murphy in PA and Paul Hodes in NH are two Democratic congressional candidates I am supporting in their challenges to incumbent Republicans. In December, my great American musical parody "OklahomaSTAN! The 51st State"was performed to raise funds for Lois (check my website for song lyrics), and I will be joining friends from the West Queens Independent Democrats to campaign in both districts. I hope that a balance in Washington will be positive, but I am far from confident in either party at this time.
However, I remain confident in the ability of Americans to strive to make things better (and I am currently drafting an essay with the working title: "Faith, Hope, Charity, Democracy and Taxes- the Disconnect").
Happy Independence Day!
Marc Crawford Leavitt
June 16, 2006
Remarks of Marc Crawford Leavitt
Op-Ed Published in the Woodside Herald, Queens, NY
As we celebrate our American Flag today, I want to read to you excerpts of remarks of Frederick Douglas, the great black American anti-slavery leader, who was asked in 1852 to speak at a July 4th celebration. This was 11 years before President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.
Frederick Douglas spoke:
Fellow Citizens: Pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principals of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?…
Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!
This quote is from "The People Speak" edited by historian Howard Zinn.
So why did I want you all to hear this today? It is because the freedom that we celebrate today in honoring our flag is often based on dissent, on people who want things to be different, to be better. I remind you that less than a hundred years ago women could not vote. There is a debate going on in the US Senate about whether it should be illegal to desecrate our flag. I heard one commentator on radio say that he thinks people who destroy an American flag should be put in jail, but he doesn't care if they destroy the flags of other countries.
I think the debate is missing the point. We respect our flag not only by honoring those who have served our country in the military but also by doing our best every day to respect and tolerate every other person. As chair of this year's Ben Shaw Kiwanis Essay Contest, I was very happy to read the wonderful remarks of students from seven neighborhood schools about how one person can make a difference in bridging cultural values. Some of those students are here today, and they are wearing medals that are of precious value.
Yes, I am proud to be an American, but I do not believe in the phrase "My country, right or wrong." I believe in making it better. Thank you. Happy Flag Day.
DECEMBER 8, 2005
"WE ARE ALL ANTI-TERRORISTS"
Marc’s Remarks upon being honored by Sunnyside Community Services, Inc.* at the Benefit Art Auction
Thank you for this honor.
I’ve lived in Sunnyside for over 30 years, and I am ever so grateful to be part of such a caring and tolerant community.
When I joined Ben Shaw’s law office nearly 20 years ago, he told me: "The first thing you do is join Kiwanis."
I responded, "What’s that?" Well, as a subsequent club president, I’ve since learned that Sunnyside Kiwanis includes business and civic people who volunteer to help our community to thrive.
Beverly Keegan, Ben’s right hand legal assistant, told me that over 30 years ago, Byron Stookey came to a Kiwanis meeting to talk about creating a senior center. Ed Lynch promptly provided desk space and a phone, and one night thereafter Byron found himself actually locked up inside the funeral parlor. After some frantic phone calls, he was released, still alive!
Ben drafted all the organization documents to create SCS in 1974. When he and Byron were honored at an SCS event, Byron quipped: "I can understand you honoring me, but Ben Shaw, he’s just a front for Beverly Keegan."
The point is that many, many people over the years have helped make SCS what it is today, staff, volunteers, consultants, and even the people that SCS serves, not just the ones who get recognized. It has been my pleasure to work with and get to know many of them, including many of you here tonight.
Finally, I want to say something very clearly: All of us who help and support SCS are ANTI-TERRORISTS! That’s right. Anti-terrorists. Because the caring and respect and tolerance we all manifest is the best weapon in the so-called War on Terror.
I have tremendous respect for our men and women in uniform (including my niece Sarah who is now training in the Army for deployment in Iraq), and for the sacrifices they and their families have made. But it is my ardent belief that America’s image and the entire world would be better off if our foreign policy were based as much on the Peace Corps as the Marine Corps.
My wonderful wife, Betsy, is a pediatric physical therapist, and among her patients are several children of Iraq veterans who were exposed to depleted plutonium. These infants are missing fingers or hands.
There is a better way to manifest America’s values, in our community (complete with immigrants who are tied with other nations), and as a beacon for the rest of the world. It is what SCS does every day in our multi-cultural community of Sunnyside, a veritable United Nations of Queens, from after school programs to home care to citizenship classes and everything in between. SCS manifests the Golden Rule, which is infinitely more valuable that any quantity of oil.
Again, thank you very much for this honor, my fellow anti-terrorists.
*NOTE: Sunnyside Community Services (www.SCSNY.org) is a not-for-profit community organization founded in 1974 which is allied with United Neighborhood Houses
August 26, 2005
The American Dream is Our Strongest Weapon Against Terrorism
Published in the Woodside Herald, Queens, NY
The 7/7 London bombing repercussions were all over the newspapers. I was one of the very few caucasians riding the #7 Flushing subway train, traveling to the Queens Supreme Courthouse on Sutphin Boulevard (which my law partner has poignantly nicknamed "the capital of the known universe"). Queens, of course, at over 2.5 million people including undocumented immigrants, would be perhaps the 5th biggest in the US if it were a city by itself. It is probably the most ethnically diverse place in the world.
I personally knew one terrorist victim. He was the dutiful son of a 90 year old client and had called me from his World Trade Center office to schedule an estate planning consult for him and his Mom for 9/12. We are now wrapping up his estate.
I personally knew 2 people who died in Long Island Expressway accidents, a local barber and folk singer Harry Chapin. My partner has two life rules: 1. Be skeptical of personal checks from strangers, and 2. Avoid the LIE like the plague.
Nearly 3 million people ride the London underground daily. Almost 60 died in the tragedy of 7/7: a 99.997% safe per trip (but I wonder how many accidental deaths occur).
Approximately 7 million ride NYC mass transit daily. Over 200,000 ride the LIE daily, and there are about 1,500 NY car crash fatalities each year. More cops watching speeders would probably save lives, but we’re content with the current level of enforcement.
So why has anti-terrorism and security spending become the top priority to the detriment of social needs and education? I am reminded of a sign in the aquarium at Roanoke Island, NC: You are twice as likely to be killed while trapped in a sofabed accident than from a shark attack. The security question is worth an examination of American psychology and who benefits.
The US economy appears solid for corporations in this era of globalization, but much less secure for too many American families as jobs spill out of the country to other parts of Thomas Friedman’s flat earth. Oil company profits are at a peak. My secretary, who commutes 40 miles from the house she could afford, is struggling with high gas prices. Corporate officers, whose top salaries can be 1,000 times that of the average worker (a few decades back the max was more like 40 times), don’t have to fight the war on terrorism that is protecting worldwide travel and commerce. As the old saying about General MacArthur goes: "Old soldiers never die… young ones do." Nearly 2,000 so far in Iraq plus tens of thousands injured and maimed, God bless their sacrifice.
Americans are proud of our flag and the dedication of our armed services. It makes our chests swell as we obliterate "them," those foreigners who attack our lifestyle and freedoms. Celebrating the plain goodness of Americans, or their non-military service to others, somehow seems less patriotic. Have we forgotten when over 40 years ago President Kennedy asked us what we can do for our country?
Personally, I think our foreign policy should be based as much on the Peace Corps as the Marine Corps. I believe in mandatory National Service, with youngsters of both sexes choosing how to serve their country either in the military or in the fields of education, health or the environment. The American value (pun intended) of service to others and to country would surely be fostered.
Nearly 4 out of 5 residents of Queens were born in another country. Most are pursuing the American Dream, working hard and raising kids, not causing terror. Or they are among the million-plus kids attending NYC public schools like 1 out of every 40 public school attendees nationwide. (Ponder this: the cost of just one stealth bomber at over $2 billion equals about 20% of the annual budget of the entire NYC public school system.) Tolerance and respect for individual rights are the grease that allows our US capitalist machine to function relatively smoothly.
We could further promote our American Dream of prosperity by a national program with the scope of the GI Bill to promote both education and first time home ownership for all moderate and low income people. Eligible family members could earn credits by successful attendance in accredited programs, from college or community college to trade school or parenting courses, which could be "cashed in" on account of the down-payment for a new home. This effort to foster home ownership by the "home-less" could be funded by a 1% sales tax on houses over $1,000,000, and the subsidy could take the form of a zero interest second mortgage that would be paid off upon sale or refinancing, and thereby be recycled.
Philosopher/scientist Jared Diamond writes about the dilemma of advanced societies: "At best, they do good by providing expensive services impossible to contract for on an individual basis. At worst, they function unabashedly as kleptocracies, transferring wealth from commoners to upper classes... The difference between kleptocrat and wise statesman, between a robber baron and a public benefactor, is merely one of degree… [One way] for kleptocrats to gain public support is to construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy… [which] helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other… [and] gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others. At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks." ("Guns, Germs, and Steel," p. 276-278).
I was very proud that my country joined others to help Iran when its people suffered a devastating earthquake. I wonder why we can’t spend more for efforts that help people worldwide to appreciate and learn the constructive humanitarian and economic achievements of Americans. Why does so much of our foreign policy have to be associated with weapons and force?
Clearly, we should spend appropriate amounts for security and the military. And every life is precious. But if our society accepts the LIE accidental death toll, not to say the thousands of preventable deaths from diseases, can’t we reorient our thinking to spend more on enriching and polishing the American Dream like a beacon for all to see and admire? Surely people everywhere mourn when an unarmed aid worker is killed (whereas some cheer when a US soldier or mercenary security person falls).
Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has observed: "Nothing can excuse or justify an act of terrorism, whether it is committed by religious fundamentalists, private militias, people’s resistance movements – or whether it’s dressed up as a war of retribution by a recognized government… People rarely win wars; governments rarely lose them. People get killed. Governments molt and regroup, hydra-headed. They first use flags to shrink-wrap peoples’ minds and smother real thought, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the willing dead." ("Power Politics," p. 126). "[They] will use the climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny free speech, lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut back on public spending, and divert huge amounts of money to the defense industry. To what purpose?…Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease." (Ibid, p. 118-119).
I exited the #7 train amid a multi-ethnic group of people on the way to work or school. In Queens we mostly tolerate and respect each other, and we have the police and the legal system to deal with when we don’t. Most of us try to follow the Golden Rule. We hate terrorism, but we know it is the price of insufficiently sharing the American Dream with the rest of the world. The gems in Ms. Liberty’s crown are tolerance and knowledge and caring. Security is important, but as the back-up system.
P.S. The 7/24/05 New York Times demographic survey cited "Minus 57%: Largest change in hate crimes in a borough from 110 in 2000 to 47 in 2004 in Queens."
November 10, 2005
TOO MUCH MONEY IN POLITICS?
by Marc Crawford Leavitt
Published in Times Ledger Newspapers in Queens from Woodside to Bayside
Of course there is too much money in politics. But a bigger question is: "DO WE VOTERS CARE?" The media is driven mostly to "horse-race" coverage of political campaigns because most of us don't have the civic pride to take more of an interest. Or we have become too cynical to think that our vote makes a difference, which is surprising after Florida's 2000 presidential election (where your vote counts, and counts...).
Fernando Ferrer is a candidate with heart, some good ideas, and some money. Michael Bloomberg is the financial 800 pound gorilla that most of us agree has done a pretty good job as mayor while being Manhattan-centric and less aware of the lives of average people. Personally, I am deeply offended that he or any office seeker is allowed to use personal wealth to so severely skewer the democratic process. As a musical satirist in 2001, I parodied the song "A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall..." with "A Hundred Dollars Per Vote at the Polls, a hundred dollars per vote, to make sure the Democrats happen to fall, a hundred dollars per vote at the polls..." Keep singing for 4 more years.
It is sad that for high office these days you have to be a multi-millionaire, a celebrity, or a hereditary politician. Arnold Schwartzenegger is all three (hereditary via Maria Shriver of the Kennedy clan)! But can we do anything about it?
Public Campaign Financing is a start. But it must be matched with free TV time and free access to other media like bus ads and billboards so bona fide candidates can get out their message unfiltered by the media. Debates should be mandatory at regularly scheduled prime times sufficiently early in the process to have impact. Our technological 21st century prowess demands these reforms to encourage citizen participation and avoid the circus nature of politics
New York City, with its 4-to-1 match for contributions up to $250 is at the forefront as usual. But if we citizens want better politics, we must be willing to pay for it with our taxes, our contributions and our effort. I sent $250 to Freddy Ferrer and he will get my vote, even though I am pleased with much of Mike Bloomberg's efficiency oriented actions. I also contributed to Robyn Sklar, Green Party candidate challenging my councilmember Eric Gioia. Eric has earned my vote and a modest contribution because I agree with most positions he has taken and admire his energy. At the same time I am disturbed that he has raised an exorbitant war chest of contributions for a local race, much of it from outside the district. Presumably he, and others such as Councilmember David Weprin and William Thompson (neither seriously opposed), are looking to the future.
Last night, at the Common Cause "I Love an Ethical New York" fundraiser at the Museum of Natural History, Calvin Trillin repeated his challenge to corporations and individuals who contribute to both candidates to explain why -- without using the word "bribe." I don't think he was aiming his wit at me as I try to foster democracy in my council district. At the event I handed to President Bill Clinton the CD of the political cabaret show I performed post 9/11 including, to the tune of "I am Music and I Write the Laws" popularized by Barry Manilow, my parody "I Am Money, and I Write the Laws."
Money will always play a big role in government. But vigilance of groups like Common Cause can improve our democratic process, as they did this year with Albany reforms like elected representatives actually having to be present to cast a vote. We citizens can make it better also, starting with two things on Election Day: Think, and Vote.