Friday, January 27, 2017

Protect Our Free Press

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence, and no hard work. You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Stephen Bannon

“You [the press] always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”
Kellyanne Conway

“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
Donald J. Trump

"Never forget. The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy. Professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it."
Richard Nixon to his national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a taped 1972 Oval Office conversation

We all know how it ended in the Nixon administration when he was forced to resign in August, 1974.

But it’s different this time as Trump and his ministers of propaganda are “crazy-makers.”  There is a concerted effort to make the lie indistinct from reality. Responsible journalists must stand united with the facts, clearly pointing out the dangers to the Republic.  We, the citizens, must take up each and every infringement of the Constitution and iniquitous Executive Order with our representatives, focusing on the mid-term elections to bring about an effective opposition Congress – and the removal of the “ministers of propaganda.”  

Fortunately some former congressional staff members have put together “A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.”  It is better to read that, join local groups, than reacting to every Presidential tweet and proclamation, chasing our tails with frustrated tweets and retweets.  Even though it’s been only a week since the inauguration, it seems like a lifetime in dog years. 

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.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's a Twitter World

Finally have been forced to join Twitter, as it has (unfortunately) become the news feed of choice.  The restrictions of 140 characters might appeal to some people.  I find it abhorrent as one cannot tell a story in that space, only a brief, fleeting emotion (or invective in the case of “some”).  Still, for late-breaking news (both fake and real) it’s a medium that needs to be reckoned with.  So, this old dog is trying to reckon.

From time to time I might post a string of Tweets here that tell a story, such as watching Obama’s moving farewell speech, then seeing a Tweet on Ben Bradlee’s memoir about Nixon’s accusation that the Press fabricated Watergate, and then, coincidentally on the very next day, seeing Carl Bernstein (live, not on TV) talk about Watergate and the role the Press still plays, even in this treacherous “fake news” environment.  Mr. Bernstein still has the right stuff – an impressive speaker.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Hunters

How many men start out as an F-86 pilot during the Korean War and then become a writer over the next 50 years?  James Salter wasn’t prolific, but great nonetheless.  I had already read what has been considered his best works, Light Years,  All That Is and A Sport and a Pastime

I’m generally not “into” war novels (although will never forget reading Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, tears streaming down my face reading the concentration camp chapters), so to this point I had avoided Salter’s first novel, The Hunters.  Perhaps this is also because I had seen the movie version on Turner Classic Movies, staring my favorite film noir actor, Robert Mitchum (also with Robert Wagner and May Britt).  The novel is very different from the film, hardly bearing any resemblance, other than a story of F-86 fighter pilots during the Korean War.  Salter’s novel is so superior, but of course it’s literature, not Hollywood.  Salter must have agonized over the changes that were made to his novel for the screen version.

Cleve Connell arrives at Kimpo air base at the height of the Korean War.  There, the F-86 pilots do a dance of death with their MIG-15 enemies.  Connell learns this dance means to hunt or be hunted, kill or be killed, a path to fame or ignominy.

The wonder of flying, only decades after flight itself was pioneered by the Wright Brothers, is encapsulated by Salter, an experienced F-86 pilot.  This novel could not have been written without that credential or by a person indifferent to the joys of flying.  Cleve is ready for one of his early missions, congregating with the other pilots while waiting to go out to his “ship” as they referred to their F-86’s:  He was not fully at ease. It was still like being a guest at a family reunion, with all the unfamiliar references. He felt relieved when finally they rode out to their ships. Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the fifth time. It was still all adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening. Cleve rejoiced in it.

Cleve fantasizes about turning his flying skills into a sport, becoming an ace (5 kills).  He romanticizes to his wingman, while being aware that it’s not necessarily the best prepared pilots who become aces:  Odd. Everything about this ought to be perfect for you and me. Here we are, by sheer accident, in the most natural of worlds, and of course that means the most artificial, because we're very civilized. We're in a child's dream and a man's heaven, living a medieval life under sanitary conditions, flying the last shreds of something irreplaceable, I don't know what, in a sport too kingly even for kings. Nothing is missing, and yet it's the men who don't understand it at all that become its heroes.

By then, though, he is already transitioning into some self doubt, even after a brief burst of confidence after his first kill.  Soon he sinks into an even larger sinkhole of remorse, and finally finding an acceptance of his self worth in the end.  He is tormented, directly or indirectly by his arch rival, Pell, a man he learns would claim unsubstantiated kills or even put his wing-man in harm’s way to get a kill….he hated Pell. He hated him in a way that allowed no other emotion. It seemed he was born to, and that he had done it from the earliest days of his life, before he ever knew him, before he even existed. Of all the absolutes, Pell was the archetype, confronting him with the unreality and diabolical force of a medieval play, the deathlike, grinning angel risen to claim the very souls of men. When he dwelt upon that, Cleve felt the cool touch of fear. There was no way out. He knew that if Pell were to win, he himself could not survive.

But these opportunities for wins frequently were the consequence of just sheer luck.  The squadron flew three or four missions a day and pilots are not assigned to all.  Some came back their noses blackened, the fuel tanks dropped, indicating a dog fight while others do not see MIGs during the entire mission.  Cleve’s pick of the litter tended to be in the latter category while Pell’s were in the former, so no wonder.

The Hunters is a well developed novel, gathering momentum to the end, becoming so compelling one can’t put the book down the deeper you get into it.  Although a war novel, it is written by a then young writer whose prose, you can tell, would lead him to greatness, not in the air, but on the page.