Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts

Saturday, April 8, 2017

There IS Something About A War!

From the cocoon of craziness, a Presidential butterfly has emerged.  It took just one look at “those beautiful babies” for Donald Trump to extol his virtue of “flexibility,” and do what he condemned his predecessor for even contemplating, a direct strike in Syria without Congressional approval.  It was the perfect confluence of opportunity, being able to engage in a low risk strike to deliver a long overdue message to Assad, throwing raw meat to the public thereby looking Presidential to prop up his approval ratings, while burying the Russian election tamping (and Trump’s possible connection) to the back pages of the Internet. A trifecta of fortuity!

Yes, there is nothing like a war.  Even Brian Williams was waxing poetically on MSNBC “we see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean, “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’” 

Oh, the thrill of launched Tomahawks, beautiful to behold!  Stephen Sondheim’s priceless pasquinade “There’s Something about a War” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) says it all. The complete lyrics can be heard in this YouTube link but here is just a small excerpt to make the point. 
There’s something about a war.
Something about a war
Something about a war
That makes this little old world all right.
A warrior’s work is never done.
He never can get a rest.
There always are lands to overrun
And people to be oppressed.

There’s always a town to pillage
A city to be laid waste.
There’s always a little village
Entirely to be erased.

And citadels to sack, of course,
And temples to attack, of course.
Children to annihilate,
Priestesses to violate…..

Or maybe some of the Village People’s Macho Man lyrics are appropriate in this instance:

You can best believe that he's a macho man
He's the special god son in anybody's land
hey, hey, hey, hey, hey

Macho, macho man
I gotta be a macho man
Macho macho man

Yes let’s all get into the spirit of it.  Not that the Pentagon’s decision (with Trump’s approval) to send the message was the wrong one; something finally had to be done in response to the reported use of chemical weapons, but to get caught up in this one action without having an end game or more importantly a compassionate plan for Syrian refugees, is typical of this chaotic administration. 

Obama tried to involve Congress in the decision to intervene in Syria but the very people now sagely approving the recent attack would not give Obama authority.  Obama, in retrospect, should have just made a preemptive strike without bothering with the Constitution.  He was damned either way.  Trump was already tweeting back in 2013 “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!”  Or the one which is even more telling is from 2012: “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.” 

Who’s desperate now? But as we have been conditioned, no real push back on any of this.  He’s flexible! It’s okay!  There is nothing like a war!

Maybe if Trump is constantly exposed to pictures of Syrian children he will reverse his anti-refugee policy, so antithetical to what this nation stands for.  As one Syrian refugee put it:  Who gets to pick their country?

While hiding behind the shield of being a humanitarian, Trump has flexed his “strong man” muscle, even to the delight of some of his naysayers who have been calling him crazy.  One can only hope that he continues to listen to the professionals in the National Security Council.  Give him credit for removing Bannon from the NSC.  One has to be grateful for morsels of sanity.

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, June 8, 2016

An Even More Dangerous Turn in Political Events

In the wake of Trump’s demagogic displays, I thought it would be instructive, ironic, and as I discovered, somewhat disheartening, to read Barack Obama’s inaugural speech when he first took office.  Such idealism, only to be ambushed by a political party which, as evidenced by their new standard bearer, Donald Trump, would prefer that America be frozen in a snow globe or a Norman Rockwell painting. 

From the onset of Obama’s presidency he was challenged by the Republican base and this morphed into a stone wall of opposition, no matter what the consequences were to this nation.  It was an invitation to disrespect the mere office of the Presidency, perhaps even because it was now occupied by a man of color who said in his inaugural speech: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed --why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Is it any wonder that an ego-maniacal mass-media caricature of a presidential candidate should rise like a Phoenix from the ashes his own party created?

“Let’s make America Great Again?”  By alienating, or, worse, eliminating by deportation or excluding with walls -- physical as well as immigration blockades -- minorities he declares unsuitable?  I thought that was appalling enough until his now well-publicized comments about District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, accusing the Judge of having a conflict of interest as he considers lawsuits against Trump “University.”  Instead of recognizing that this is a serious transgression of the separation of powers, and an act of racism, Trump turned the table on the press, suggesting that reporters who ask about the matter are the racists by merely asking the question – yet another attack on the fourth estate.

Trump’s world view is there are only winners (him) and losers (anyone he chooses to call as such).  He doesn’t want to appear to be weak, and therefore be “kicked off the island.”  No, to show his “strength” he even suggested that if he becomes President he’ll pursue a civil case against the judge, the argument being that his Mexican heritage is an "inherent conflict of interest." Ironic, how many presidents have been schooled in law and now we have a candidate who uses his wealth to routinely litigate or threaten to litigate to bully things his way. We all know how preposterous his litigation threat is and he may think as President he might be able to manipulate the separation of constitutional powers.  He’s already said “I consult myself on foreign policy, because I have a very good brain.”  So who needs advisers, and for that matter Congress, the Judiciary, and the Press?

It is a severely flawed personality trait, one that does not belong in the Office of the President.  It is a form of blame shifting, even paranoia.  Weakness is a trait of a “loser;” thus he must appear powerful by blaming others or circumstance. “All I’m trying to do is figure out why I’m being treated so unfairly by a judge,” he said on Fox News.  About his refusal to release his tax returns: "I have friends that are very rich….They've never been audited." He’s a victim!

This is seriously scary stuff.  During my publishing career I reprinted Gustav Gilbert’s Psychology of Dictatorship in which he said “throughout history social movements of far-reaching consequences have been decisively influenced by leaders, and that the behavior of such leaders is necessarily motivated to some extent by psychological tensions rooted in their individual character development.  We must further recognize the fact that the personalities of political leaders, like all human beings, are largely the products of their cultural mores and social tensions, and that they become leaders only if they effectively express the aspirations (or frustrations) of significant segments of their contemporary society.” Although these words apply to all kinds of societies, they were particularly aimed at those that gave rise to dictators, narcissists who tap into a discordant societal vein. 

Contrast Trump’s call for denying any Muslim immigration to what Obama said when inaugurated: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West --know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  Perhaps overly idealized, but some of these words could be directed to Trump himself: know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Obama and ISIS

Apparently, unlike some Americans I support President Obama’s careful and deliberate assessment of what to do with the extremist terrorist group, ISIS.  We’ve heard the knee-jerk criticism of Obama, an understandable emotional reaction to the sickening images of beheadings of journalists on the internet.  Why is he on the golf course instead of in Washington devising a devastating and decisive response?!!!!  (As if planning and policy comes to a standstill as Obama slices a tee shot.  And as if we have an immediate strategy for dealing with all permutations of such groups.  And as if we can do anything to make this group simply disappear.)

When President Obama takes to the TV tomorrow we’ll hear more specifics about dealing with ISIS, and there is a good summary of what to expect on ABC’s blog.

It’s pretty clear that this is not a “boots on the ground” war, but one similar to what we’ve waged against Al Qaeda.  ISIS is even better organized and funded. It is unlikely we can “defeat them” in the military sense of the word.  They are like a form of the black plague which at best can be forced into remission but is easily activated.  It is an especially dangerous group as they know how to court social media and they are positioning themselves as the long sought after Islamic caliphate.  We’re talking about trying to contend with about 1,000 years of history and religious fervor in that case.

No you don’t march on them; you surgically and systematically degrade their capabilities (as has already been said by Obama).  And of course we must develop collaboration with European and Arab states for containing ISIS, and especially how it is being financed.  Judging by their sophisticated weaponry, more like an army than a fragmented terrorist group, some factions of the oil rich Middle East states would seem to be involved.  Is this a middle-eastern incarnation of the protection racket? Intelligence is needed to identify and choke off those funds.  

Indeed, those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.  As Adam Gopnik recently wrote in his article in The New Yorker, “Does It Help to Know History?ISIS is a horrible group doing horrible things, and there are many factors behind its rise. But they came to be a threat and a power less because of all we didn’t do than because of certain things we did do—foremost among them that massive, forward intervention, the Iraq War. (The historical question to which ISIS is the answer is: What could possibly be worse than Saddam Hussein?)