Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The urban jungle

Sunday, April 10th, 2016


Boarded-up tenement. Residence. Boarded-up tenement. Boarded-up tenement. Residence.

Welcome to West Baltimore.

I’ve seen urban decay before, but nothing like this. Yesterday my 13-year-old son and I had the privilege of a guided tour through the worst examples of poverty and despair and hopelessness I’ve ever seen in this country. Worse than Newark, worse than areas of the Bronx or Coney Island, worse than the Atlantic City Inlet, certainly far worse than South Central Los Angeles, worse than, well, any redlined written-off ghetto anywhere near you.


In most of those places, whole neighborhoods are gone — people have moved out. Not in Balmer. In Balmer, the vacant and nailed-shut houses are threaded through the remaining living spaces, like a cancer woven around and penetrating essential organs. There’s still healthy tissue in there — the occasional house with a clean front porch, or bunting, or a mailbox with mail in it. But the dark spots are everywhere.



There’s also nothing to do. By that I mean there are no jobs. Because there are no businesses. There are still people living there, which ought to equal business opportunity (bearing in mind the entrepreneur Magic Johnson’s quote that “there’s always money to be made in the ghetto.”). But no, nothing. And later I learned that the area isn’t just a jobs desert — it’s also a transportation desert. There’s no subway or train or even bus line that comes here; in many cases, if someone could find a job, he’d have to walk two miles to get there. So there’s no way to get to a job, and there aren’t any jobs from neighborhood businesses because there aren’t any neighborhood businesses. Except one kind. The corner liquor store. Found on every corner. Just as you’ve seen on “The Wire.”



The city has counted 15,000 abandoned buildings. But there may be as many as 40,000. They can’t be sure. And judging purely from the evidence of their inner city, I wouldn’t rely on city officials to generate an accurate count because they don’t seem reliable in other ways. There’s also — of course! — a large homeless population that fluctuates between 3,000 and 30,000 people a night. So  you’ve got 15,000-40,000 empty buildings — and 3,000-30,000 people sleeping outside. I don’t need to say anything further; this makes its own statement.

I did get to meet a number of hard-working courageous people in the private and non-profit sectors who are trying to improve the situation. I’m impressed with the work of some of them, and I’m sure that this situation can be improved, because it’s hard to imagine it worse.  Finding a way to replace some of the 100,000 jobs Baltimore has lost in the last 50 years would be an excellent start. Finding a way to help neighborhood businesses sprout up with be great too.

I asked my son what was his impression of West Baltimore and first he said that there’s nothing for people to do there. (Especially children:  we didn’t see any parks, but we did see signs mandating “no ball playing here.”) Then he shared the image that will most stay with him. In some of these buildings, he said, with their windows shattered or a roof collapsed or a wall knocked out, he saw trees growing inside. Whole, large, growing, thriving trees.

West Baltimore is becoming a literal urban jungle.



What took so long?

Friday, April 1st, 2016

According to the LA Times, Donald Trump is  now the least popular American politician in three decades.

That’s less popular than the guy who lied under oath, the other guy who called the President “liar” during a state of the union speech, the people who led us into war against people who didn’t attack us, and the guy who went “hiking” while secretly visiting a mistress south of the border. That’s less popular than the KKK member who ran for governor of Louisiana and his opponent who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for racketeering. Trump is even less popular than Ralph Nader was among Democrats post-2000.


It’s just another success in a long line of similar achievements.


Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Re Donald Trump’s ascendancy into serious contention for the presidency of the United States of America:

One could argue — and I may argue this, after some thought — that this is the triumph of the American concept that anyone — ANYONE — can become President. It’s something we tell ourselves from school age on. The election of Barack Obama, a first-term senator with almost no relevant experience, was another step in this direction, paving the way for Trump, someone with a background completely irrelevant to the presidency.

Re Obama — he turned out to be an excellent president, and one I wish we could keep, someone of fine judgment and character — but note that he defeated a woman with four decades of experience in Washington, DC (starting with the Watergate impeachment hearings). This election cycle, Republican voters have ruled out everyone with real experience (whatever one thinks of that experience): Bush, Pataki, Perry, Christie, Graham, Jindal and on and on — in favor of a bilious naif and two first-term senators.

Although Trump’s skills as a reality television star are serving him well, these election results are not just about Trump. They reflect an attempt to throw over experience for something newer, something “outside,” something entertaining.

Respect for the dead

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Respect comes from honesty. You can’t respect opinions if they aren’t honest, and you can’t respect people if you aren’t honest about them.

So, out of respect for the late Antonin Scalia, I have this to say:  Sure, he was a “strict constructionist” — until it came to Bush v. Gore, that is, whereupon he and the rest of the majority on the Supreme Court twisted themselves into pretzels to halt the recount and name Bush the “winner.” Without Scalia, we would’ve had no Iraq war, hundreds of thousands of people would still be alive, thousands of soldiers and civilians wouldn’t have been horribly maimed, and we’d have trillions more in the treasury.

Think about that.

And ask yourself if that isn’t what should go onto the tombstone. Out of respect for the truth.

This gets my vote

Friday, February 12th, 2016


Yesterday at a luncheon, a woman with a mic was asking rhetorically, “What do we call that thing where you do something again and again, expecting a different response?” I leaned over to the woman next to me and said, “Voting.”

One thing I would vote for again and again is “Candidate Confessions — a 2016 Cabaret,” a show about all the “major” 2016 presidential candidates (it’s tough to call them “major” when they’ve even included Jim Gilmore) that the folks at Second City in Hollywood were nice enough to invite me to. If you think it would be hard to make  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz look even more absurd, this show will change your mind. As a cabaret, the show is built around original songs, almost all of them funny and unexpected. I especially enjoyed Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz competing for who could be more “Latino” (with Bush trotting out his Mexican wife), Chris Christie finally getting to sing his version of “Born to Run,” and Carly Fiorina whipping up a new spell for us. Big, big highlights:  a spot-on Ben Carson (courtesy of Choni Francis) so funny it was hard for me to recover from; a closing number (also by Francis) that alone makes the entire show worth seeing; and anything that prominently featured Sarah Oliver (especially that Fiorina bit).

If you’ve got an hour or so and prefer your laughable politics to be on stage, go see this.

The good news

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

For Carly Fiorina, ending her campaign provides another opportunity to fire people.

My Iowa caucus prediction

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow. I’ve been following the polls closely, as well as a great deal of press coverage. Also, I have been to Iowa, to lose about a hundred bucks in a casino a few years ago, and to stop in at a strip club with friends. (Female friends who thought it would be fun. But the club was closed.) Given my obvious expertise, expertise that puts me on equal footing with anyone on MSNBC or Fox News, I feel confident that I can make this prediction regarding the caucus results:  I predict that the winners will be a Republican and a Democrat that the majority of Americans don’t want as president.

In fact, I 100% guarantee this will be the result.

Enough is more than enough

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Six weeks ago, I posted “Ho hum, another shooting.” By some estimations, there have been almost four dozen more mass shootings in America since then.

It appears to be too much to ask that elected representatives do something about this. One of my friends on Facebook theorized that the gun lobby effectively owns Congress. But you know what there’s even more of than NRA supporters?


And parents, especially middle-aged parents with children in college, or with grandchildren out and about, tend to vote in large numbers. So if Congress is afraid of alienating the gun lobby, maybe the best solution is to make them more afraid of alienating the parental lobby worried about their offspring getting shot up.

So now I’m encouraging everyone to join Everytown for Gun Safety.

As I stated back here (in reference to another of the 355 mass shootings so far this year in the United States), I’m not anti-gun. I actually like guns. I’m anti-gun-massacres.

Everytown for Gun Safety (note from the name: they’re not “taking guns away”) has a common-sense platform for reducing gun violence. The organization was formed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats and, perhaps most importantly, mothers who were sick and tired of shootings.

Please visit their website by clicking here, learn more — and join. Because when our political power outweighs that of the NRA, we’ll be more likely to stop mass shootings.

Sole support — update

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Lincoln Chafee just confirmed that he although he’s dropping out of the presidential race, he is available for consideration as vice-president. But he does have to pick up his dry cleaning first.

Sole support

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Lincoln Chafee has dropped out of the presidential race.

I’m sure his supporter will be disappointed.