Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Our Continuing National Nightmare

One of the last times I wrote about politics in this blog (having made the futile promise to myself to stay clear of the topic to preserve my sanity), was after the midterm elections:  “I had only one wish for the Midterms: gain the House, although like most moderate progressives, I was rooting for Beto, Gillum, et al.  Still, I sleepily emailed ebullient messages to a few friends at 3.00 AM declaring ‘victory’ with the subject heading ‘bring on the subpoenas.’”

How na├»ve I was.  We now all know the effectiveness of subpoenas when the Attorney General is a shill for those under scrutiny.  Instead, investigate the investigators his boss suggests.

For a while I fantasized that maybe indeed Biden might be the best qualified candidate to “unite” the nation and make nice with the Republican Party so things can get done.  It was a dreadful, misplaced hope I now think.  Remember the Merrick!  (Merrick Garland, that is, the Obama appointee to the Supreme Court who was kneecapped by Mitch McConnell.) 

The critical nature of winning the 2020 election is no better spelled out than in a recent article in The Nation by Edward Burmila, “Empty Calls for Bipartisanship Could Doom Us All.”
Among his salient points are the following:

*Joe Biden’s assertion that President Donald Trump is an “aberration” in the Republican Party is naive at best and revisionist at worst

*Birtherism and Tea Party rhetoric about taking back “our” country were a product rollout, a test marketing of Trump’s politics of white identity

*The Democratic Party seems unable to recognize the seriousness of the moment. It is only luck that the right has not yet found a skilled autocrat

*Imagine what that person could accomplish with the support of a pliant Republican Senate and conservative-packed federal judiciary

*The Democratic Party has an opportunity to influence what happens next. It will not do so with empty promises to unite Americans.

*It is imperative that the eventual Democratic nominee articulate a worldview based on the belief that public policy, not markets, can address social and economic problems, with specific proposals to that end. If ever there was a time to be bold rather than to play it safe, this is it. Without a compelling alternative, ideologues like Trump will succeed by filling the vacuum with a simple—and vile—worldview.

OK, then, what kind of public policy?  We are dealing with a populace who is anti government everything.  Bring on chaos is their mantra.  They have it with their leader. The conventional extreme left progressive “wisdom” of promising to take care of everyone from cradle to grave is not going to sweep Trump and sycophant Republicans out of office.  This is where I disagree with the implication of Burmila’s argument.  There must be a place for “markets” or progressives will merely defeat themselves.  But I agree with the urgency of Burmila’s call to action.  Boldness is required.

This is underscored by Bret Stephens’ opinion column in the New York Times this weekend, “How Trump Wins Next Year” 

He argues that around the world recent elections have ushered in Trumpian populists or have solidified ones already in office, in India, Australia, the Philippines, Israel, Brazil, and Italy – and what is about to happen in the UK.

The core of Stephens’ line of reasoning is:

The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.

When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” it went, while “we are concerned with the end of the month.”

Stephens accurately accuses the left of being their own worst enemy: … it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it’s a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.

He makes the point, and here is where my thinking and his especially conjoin, that moderate liberals of the past, a Tony Blair or a Bill Clinton -- and while neither could be held up as perfect politicians (in particular Clinton’s moral failures) -- that neither would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.

So where is that person?  Far be it for me to speculate who that should be.  Perhaps as the primaries develop that person will emerge, but I fear that if it is someone from the far left or a reach-across-the-aisle placater singing 'Kumbaya', we will have missed our opportunity to turn back this wave of populist, know-nothing, nihilism.   

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Gathering Storm

We seem to be watching the slow motion creation of a dystopian plutocracy. Obfuscated by the administration’s contrived crisis of dealing with undocumented immigrants and horrific scenes of families being separated, is an alt-right agenda of dismantling the so called social net.  Stories such as a recent one in the New York Times are hidden by other events of Trump’s creation. 

Highlighted here are some salient points from the New York Times article of a few days ago, “Behind Trump’s Plan to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net”.

I have depended on the Times for the Truth all my life and I see no reason to disbelieve any of this about “a small army of conservatives [who] have produced dozens of initiatives like the cabinet reshuffle proposal, with the goal of dismantling the social welfare system.”

·       *Among the most consequential ideas is a proposal to shift the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a subsistence benefit that provides aid to 42 million poor and working Americans, from the Agriculture Department to a new mega-agency that would have “welfare” in its title — a term Mr. Trump uses as a pejorative catchall for most government benefit programs
          *Mr. Trump, for his part, joked on Thursday that the plan was “extraordinarily boring” before TV cameras in the Cabinet Room.  But being boring in an all-too-exciting White House has provided cover for a small army of conservatives and think tank veterans who have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the American social welfare system from the inside out.
          *Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former adviser,…believes the attack on social programs will be one of Mr. Trump’s most enduring policy achievements.
          *Philip G. Alston, a New York University professor and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agreed with Mr. Bannon’s assessment. “My sense is they are making very considerable progress, even though no one is paying much attention,” he said.
      *As president, Mr. Trump would become so bored with the details of domestic policy that aides long ago stopped sharing all but the most top-line specifics of their plans — including the reorganization, according to several people who have worked closely with Mr. Trump.  If Mr. Trump is fuzzy on policy, he is acutely attuned to the perils of offending his base, especially older voters.
      *The core of Mr. Trump’s safety net policy is an expansion of work requirements to foster self-sufficiency among recipients of food assistance, Medicaid and housing subsidies to reduce dependence on the government. “Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency,” Mr. Bremberg said. Its real purpose, advocates for poor people claim, is to kick hundreds of thousands of the needy off the federal rolls, to cut taxes for the rich
      *By early 2017, Heritage produced a government reorganization plan that served as the initial template for Thursday’s announcement. They also drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, about half of them aimed at domestic programs for poor people or Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.

The first part of the plan, cutting taxes for the upper 1%, has already been implemented.  What remains to be seen is the long term impact of those cuts on the deficit; most economists agree that GPD growth will not offset those cuts. This leaves an ever growing national debt, something the Republicans staunchly opposed before and now seem to be content with.  When cries of deficit spending reach a crescendo in the future, their “Trump card” may be to throw the neediest 42 million Americans under the bus in the name of fiscal responsibility. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I have my morning routine. It hasn’t varied much through the years.  As soon as I rise, I get dressed for a brisk walk around my neighborhood.  Out the door, I decide on the route, except on Sundays (when my walk takes me to the local 7-Eleven where they carry the Sunday New York Times) and Wednesdays (when I go to the gym to keep tabs on my walking speed and endurance).

The Sunday walk is my favorite though, crossing a golf course, over to Route 1, and then north to the 7-Eleven.  It is a good match: the store opens early and I am normally underway as the sun is rising.  The town golf course had been redesigned by Jack Nicklaus (a local resident) since I’ve been doing this hike.  Naturally it was dramatically changed by him, but in this case an improvement over what there was before.  The greens, small lakes, and undulations make it a special municipal course. Just a few weeks ago, however, the multilevel diving board adjacent to an Olympic size pool was suddenly removed.  Insurance costs forced the town to do away with the iconic high diving platform.  
Here Today
Gone Tomorrow

I’m observant during my walks and notice things out of place.  As I cross the parking lot in front of the golf driving range an older Lexus RX 350 is usually parked there, someone out practicing early.  It wasn’t there this past Sunday as I went on to get the newspaper.  I didn’t think much of it, other than maybe he’s gone for the summer.  I had never met him, only having noticed the car.

I’ve been reading the Sunday New York Times since college.  I can’t imagine getting through a Sunday without it, and I like the walk to get it.  When we first moved here, I had it delivered. But there were frequent delivery and temporary hold problems.  But as I prefer to read the physical paper, not the online edition, I was relieved to find a store in walking distance from our home that carried it. 

I entered 7-Eleven last Sunday and immediately saw some things askance.  Sale bins were where the newspapers normally resided.   They never had sales.  The lady who has so graciously handled my “Sunday business” (we’ve had a pleasant, chitchat relationship) behind the counter was joined by two other employees, ones who normally are not there at that time in the morning.  The newspaper rack – now in the back -- was depleted but thankfully there was one copy of the Sunday NYT left.

She detected my consternation and said “you got the last newspaper we will ever have delivered here – the store is closing in a couple of days.”  I was stunned.  “I’ve been coming here for about ten years, every Sunday, there’s no other store in walking distance, are you relocating?”  No, but fortunately she was being transferred to another store, some ten miles away.  So at least she was not losing her job.  For me though I have lost my Sunday routine, one I valued. I wished her the best, knowing I will never see her again.

I began my walk home, searching my iPhone for the next closest 7-Eleven, one I knew I’d have to drive to, but as I would be in the car anyway, I could consider going to the beach for my walk.  Perhaps make some lemonade from lemons?  I found one a few miles away. They answered the phone after a few rings. “Do you carry the Sunday New York Times?”  “No,” click.  I’d have to search more when home.

Crossing the parking lot in front of the golf driving range on the return, I saw that RX 350 pull in and an elderly gent got out.  “Good morning,” I said to the man whose car I had noticed for so many years.  He returned the good morning so I said “you’re late today, I usually see your car and you are already on the range.”  “Got a late start today,” unexpectedly adding, “Where are you from originally?”  (He sized me up as not being a native Floridian; perhaps the Times under my arm was a clue.)  I looked at him more carefully, a little taller than I, thin, in fairly good shape, and I thought maybe ten years older.  “New York City, you?”  “Yeah, I lived there for several years after WW II working for WR Grace.”  “Funny,” I said, “I used to deal with one of their divisions, Baker and Taylor, a book distributor, during their conglomerate days.” 

He said he was in shipping logistics after the War.  He didn’t look old enough to be in WW II, so I asked.  “I’m 92,” which shocked me.  I told him my father was a Signal Corps photographer in Europe during the War and he replied “I was first in the European theater and then shipped to the Pacific” (which my father had feared would be his fate after Germany surrendered).  He then said “I’m eligible to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.”  “Such an honor,” I replied “but I think you have at least another ten good years before having to think of that.  You’re in great shape, still teeing off every Sunday!” He chuckled.  Briefly we looked at one another in silence.  The sun had finally risen above the trees.

I said, “Memorial Day is next week and my father will be very much on my mind, and I, for one, am grateful for your service.  Just want you to know that.” “Thanks,” he said, “it’s a sad day for me, remembering my buddies, some who died during the war and then the others who I’ve simply outlived.”  As he gathered his clubs from the back of the car he cheerfully said, “well, hope to see you around another Sunday.”

No sense telling him that this was probably my last Sunday walk by the golf course, but it put my inconsequential change issue in perspective.  “Yes, see you around,” I said as I walked across the golf course, with the last paper delivered to a store that is vanishing and Memorial Day on my mind.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mentoring and Remembering

I didn't think I'd get around to writing anything for a while, but I can't let this go by.  There is a remarkably beautifully written piece by Philip Roth -- In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor -- in yesterday's New York Times, which one can read on several levels.  It is a eulogy, a profound testament to the power of mentoring, insight into the fine line between literature and non-fiction, and a condemnation of "the scum in power" -- what one could call government at certain stages of American history.  Roth is referring to the McCarthy era when his former high school teacher, mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Lowenstein was "mauled in Congress’s anti-Communist crusade of the 1940s and 1950s."

The main character in Roth's I Married a Communist was shaped by his friend and Roth says "the book is, at bottom, education, tutelage, mentorship, in particular the education of an eager, earnest and impressionable adolescent in how to become — as well as how not to become — a bold and honorable and effective man."  But it is also about that era when his friend and mentor was branded as "political deviant" and lost his job as a teacher for six years: "I refer now not to a boy’s but to an adult’s education: in loss, grief and, that inescapable component of living, betrayal. Bob had iron in him and he resisted the outrage of the injustice with extraordinary courage and bravery, but he was a man, and he felt it as a man, and so he suffered too."

Being a teacher, Bob was in the position of being a mentor to many.  I had had thoughts of going into teaching instead of publishing (actually, I had no thoughts about the latter, I just needed to work when I got out of college -- I think of myself as an "accidental publisher").
Good teachers are mentors by design and I have been lucky enough to have two during my impressionable high school and college years, and remarkably we are still in touch and continue to be part of my life, my high school economics and political science teacher, Roger Brickner, and my college English teacher Martin Tucker.

But I've been a mentor too in my career (and have been mentored by others in the publishing world) and although I rarely see them, I am lucky enough to have an email relationship with several former colleagues, some of whom I've known almost from the beginning.  The last entry made an oblique reference to one who contacted me after 44 years, Mary.  Well, hat tip to her for passing on this brilliant piece of satire by Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker, which sort of ties everything up regarding this entry -- a new shameful era in our political history, the Senate having the "the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people."

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, he said that the people of Newtown, Connecticut "deserve a vote" on gun control, little did he imagine that a watered down version that focuses mainly on background checks would fail -- a shameful example of NRA's control of our politicians  We got our vote.  Hopefully, all will remember when those Senators are up for reelection.

And to the city of Boston, great sighs of relief to the refrains of Sweet Caroline.....

And when I hurt,
Hurtin' runs off my shoulders