Showing posts with label Inauguration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inauguration. Show all posts

Friday, January 20, 2017

LA,LA,LA, In La La Land



It might seem disrespectful.  In many ways it was, a silent protest, seeing La La Land instead of our new President’s inauguration, the first one we’ve missed in decades.  It seems like yesterday when we were filled with hope as evidenced by what I wrote exactly eight years ago.  The complete text is at the end of this entry.

After watching the never ending ennui of the Republican primaries and the solipsistic behavior of our new President-elect, how could anyone welcome his presence in the oval office?  And I’m referring to his behavior, not necessarily his policies, which, to be fair, remain to be seen.  We had hoped Obama would have been more effective, but how could he given the illegitimacy narrative so infused by the right and particularly by the new President himself?  All those years contending he was not born here, that he is a secret Muslim, ad infinitum.  It was their objective to block any and everything and for the most part they succeeded.  Still, the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.3% when he took office to below 5% and the Dow has tripled (although I am not naïve enough to singularly credit President Obama for these changes, but his leadership had an impact). Obama was not a “perfect” President, particularly in foreign affairs, but he was a decent, rational person.  Can we say the same, now? 

And now there are accusations of Trump being an “illegitimate” President because of Russia’s interference (not to mention Comey’s).  As there is no evidence that ballot boxes were hacked, he is not illegitimate in the legal sense of the word, but one can reasonably conclude the election was tainted.  One cannot prove an alternative reality but no doubt these events impacted the election results.
 
I had to laugh (or cry) at Trump’s assertion that “we have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.”  You would therefore think that his pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, would have a better excuse for his failure to reveal $100 million in assets and links to a tax haven company, than saying “as you all can appreciate, filling out these government forms is quite complicated.”  After all, isn’t he a genius like all the rest of the Goldman Sachs ringers appointed to the Cabinet?  Not that I have anything against Goldman Masters of the Universe other than when Trump was running he equated them with the “swamp” of the establishment, paying Hillary Clinton for speeches.

But I’ve now read Trump’s Inaugural address which, when read, sounds like many of his impromptu electioneering stump speeches, but pulled together into one dystopian narrative.  I’m ready to embrace a stronger economy, jobs for all, but we’ve been on that trajectory for years now.  Rather than rebutting some of the speech, point by point, NPR has done a good job with fact checking.  Not that facts matter anymore in this post-factual, reality TV world, but here is their take on it.

So, to us the perfect antidote to the malaise of fear and despair over the election was seeing La La Land while the new President was sworn in and fêted.  The movie is a sweeping reaffirmation of the power of music and the arts, and a declarative statement that the American film musical is back.  It’s wonderful that a new generation is ready to embrace this art.  There’s a lot to be said about living in fantasy when one goes to a movie theatre, but it’s another matter to live one’s real life in the real world with leadership in serious doubt.  I hope President Trump transcends all these concerns.

Nonetheless, what a difference eight years make…

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early in the Morning

It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night.  When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.



Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President.  All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.



Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln.  In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy.  Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage.  Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”



The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one.  The two are inextricably intertwined.



I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”



The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality.  This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years.  Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up.  That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.



Walt Whitman penned these words on the eve of another civil war in 1860:



I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.



It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk.  Another freight train is rumbling in the distance.  I hear America singing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inaugural Day Thoughts



Our friends, John and Lois, hosted a second Inaugural party, some thirty guests to witness the ceremonial swearing in of the President and his speech.  What a difference four years make.  Last time it was a euphoric party, imagine, a young black president, imbued with liberal ideals, but with an economy that had already shown signs of complete collapse the joy was somewhat restrained by worry.

Four years later, the intransigence of government compromise has given way to more temperate expectations.  However, none of this detracted from the day, a remarkable, very moving, and humbling exercise of the democratic process with the pageantry instilling a quiet pride and hopefulness in us and the sea of faces that swept across the National Mall.

Everything about it was just about perfect, even the weather cooperating.  President Obama's speech was aspirational and progressive, touching upon many of the themes of his presidency and introducing the sorely needed goal of combating climate change.  Perhaps he will make that the hallmark of his second term as universal healthcare was in his first.  In spite of the overwhelming need to face this issue realistically, action has been lacking.  Here is an interesting pro/con alignment of opinions on this subject (hat tip Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture).

This will become yet another clash in Congress.  To fully understand the severity of political polarization, one only has to read comments about Obama's reelection such as Texas Representative John Culberson's: I grieve for the country....We’re going to throw the emergency brake on as best we can and fight him every step of the way.  Welcome to your second term, Mr. President!

A key phrase from the Inaugural speech, we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it, was also Obama's central point when he was campaigning and will probably be the fulcrum of budgeting and tax reform.  But this is going to be a more complex problem as there are systemic reasons behind this widening gap that go far beyond the reach of mere tax reform legislation.  The New York Times magazine section this Sunday carried a relatively brief but pointed article on "skill-biased technical change:" The rise of networked laptops and smartphones and their countless iterations and spawn have helped highly educated professionals create more and more value just as they have created barriers to entry and rendered irrelevant millions of less-educated workers, in places like factory production lines and typing pools.

Thus, workers having technology skills, mostly those in information industry professions, law, finance, engineering, and medicine, have disproportionately benefited from those skills at the expense of blue collar workers who have been forced into the service economy at lower wages.  Having technology skills is tantamount to buying on margin, being able to leverage those skills for much greater compensation.

So when President Obama tries to put through legislation to reverse this course, it has to take into account not only tax reform, but massive educational reform and the effects of that will not be immediate, but rather long term, maybe measured in generations, like the progress made in civil rights.  Do we have the fortitude and patience?

And, then there is the deficit and reducing the National Debt.  We could embrace the best parts of the Simpson-Bowles plan (so eagerly commissioned by both parties as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and then the results so immediately distanced by both)  No one wants to face up to their recommendations.  Our massive National Debt in part was incurred to save our financial system from ruin, but it did not occur overnight.  Quick and easy fixes are impossible. But, if we get the direction right, and gradually phase in some of the Commission's recommendations, perhaps we can then move forward on that front.

But do our politicians have the right stuff?  This is where presidential leadership is so sorely needed. President Obama threw down the gauntlet in his speech about the need for action -- even "imperfect" action -- a veiled suggestion of compromise.  There were two beautifully crafted paragraphs about the dangers of taking intransigent positions based on ideology in his speech:

That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.  

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.   We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

Finally, a bit of serendipity.  Does life imitate art? I had noted that Aaron Sorkin's 1995 classic The American President, directed by Rob Reiner, was on TV the same night as the inaugural.  We've seen it before but Ann and I, in a "presidential inauguration mood," said, what the heck, we'll watch it again (thanks Encore, no commercial interruptions).  Talk about a feel good movie and how incredibly relevant although made almost twenty years ago.   The focus of fictional President Andrew Shepherd's administration is to pass a crime bill (with assault weapon gun control) and an environmental bill that mandates the reduction of hydrocarbon emissions. Meanwhile, a right wing political demagogue, Senator Bob Rumson, is running against Shepherd's reelection, appealing to "family values" of Americans, by attacking Shepherd's relationship with Sydney Ellen Wade (Shepherd is a widower in the film).  Have things changed so little in the almost twenty years since the film's making?  Unresolved issues of gun control, environmental protection, and campaign character assault go on and on.

The film's President Andrew Shepherd initially takes the high road, concentrating on the issues rather than the personal attacks until he appears at an unscheduled and impromptu news conference and gives an impassioned, unrehearsed speech.  Perhaps all our politicians should see this movie once every four years (I realize that Sorkin writes with his own political agenda -- even I think that eliminating handguns cannot be on the lumped in with assault weapons --  but taking that into account, still there is much to be gleaned from this wonderful and eerily relevant script).  Here is what "President Shepherd" says:

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". I've known Bob Rumson for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she's to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, 'cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I've loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer, and I lost the other 'cause I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. Tomorrow morning, the White House is sending a bill to Congress for its consideration. It's White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a 20 percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I'm throwing it out. I'm throwing it out writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I'm gonna convince Americans that I'm right, and I'm gonna get the guns. We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President.

What a way to cap off Inauguration Day.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pull Up! Pull Up!

Like many people, I feel disillusioned by the first year of Obama’s Presidency. This is probably more my problem as he is a mere mortal and inherited so many crises, long time in the making, deeply ingrained, that he would have to be Superman, flying around the world to turn back the clock of time, to undo faulty foreign policies, reconnect the dollar to some form of the gold standard, change the unrealistic long term promises of Medicare and Social Security, roll back the deregulation of our financial institutions, and I could go on and on, but you get the picture of, perhaps, a society in a spiraling decline. Despite our cries of “Pull up! Pull up!” the ground closes in.

I still think the President could have devoted more of his first year to policies addressing what I called a “new economic morality.” Instead, he had focused more on healthcare, not that that is not also important. But Main Street seems to have been sacrificed at the altar of Wall Street and we are angry. Who truly believes the economic crisis is solved rather than being merely postponed? Let another generation deal with it, the same response of previous administrations. How long can we kick the proverbial can down the road? What kind of healthcare can this nation have if it is bankrupt?

So, I confess, I got caught up in “the dream,” the fantasy that one man, Mr. Obama, could make such a huge difference and in such a short time. I’ve been chastened by disillusion. The extent of my buying into the dream at the time is borne out by an email I had sent to a friend, a mother of a young family, suggesting she read my then recent blog entry. I quote this is below, and I conclude with that entire entry:

“Did you enjoy the inauguration? To me, it was one of those great moments in American history, and I am glad to have been around to witness it and not just read about it. What Obama does with this opportunity, is anyone’s guess but I pray it turns out well for your children’s sake and for those of my grandchildren, if I should be so lucky.

I had an interesting experience the day before the inauguration, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. First, I was plagued by dreams so I got up at about 5.00 am and began to write in my blog. It just flowed as if someone else was writing it. I usually don’t post stuff I write until I have time to ruminate about the piece and do some editing, but that morning was different. So here is what I wrote: http://lacunaemusing.blogspot.com/2009/01/early-in-morning.html

After posting this, I went out for my usual walk as the sun was rising, wearing my radio earpiece. The station was playing the famous Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, “I Have a Dream.” What a magnificent, poignant rhetorical piece, so apt on the eve of this particular Inauguration day. I had forgotten its details (although I watched it live in 1963). So as I walked, I listened, and suddenly in the western sky, with the rising sun, a broad, magnificent rainbow appeared. It deepened during my entire walk and as King’s speech ended it faded (I could get spiritual over this).”

Monday, January 19, 2009
Early in the Morning
It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night. When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.

Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President. All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.

Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln. In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May http://lacunaemusing.blogspot.com/2008/05/open-letter-to-senator-obama.html I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy. Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage. Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”

The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one. The two are inextricably intertwined.

I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”

The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality. This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years. Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up. That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.

It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk. Another freight train is rumbling in the distance. I hear America singing.


.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early in the Morning

It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night. When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.

Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President. All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.

Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln. In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May http://lacunaemusing.blogspot.com/2008/05/open-letter-to-senator-obama.html I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy. Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage. Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”

The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one. The two are inextricably intertwined.

I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”

The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality. This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years. Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up. That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.

Walt Whitman penned these words on the eve of another civil war in 1860:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs
.

It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk. Another freight train is rumbling in the distance. I hear America singing.

.