Monday, July 2, 2018

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press

How about by Presidential Executive Order?  Or just behavior?

I’m still recoiling from the murders of five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis including a feature reporter, Rob Hiaasen.  Hiaasen’s career began at the Palm Beach Post, our local paper.  We all feel a personal connection. Writers there remember him and one, Howard Goodman, has written the definitive article on the incident: The targeting of journalists has to end

As Representative Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said on CNN “This president plays with fire. He has deliberately demonized the press and journalists. To call them the enemy of the people is a remarkable statement from the head of our government. And that puts every journalist at risk. Now, he didn’t do what happened yesterday in Annapolis, but he certainly helped create a climate … where it’s fair game to go after the press. And where does that end? And that’s what I worry about, that sooner or later it leads to this kind of tragedy.”

This is essentially reiterated in Goodman’s article:  “No one has inflamed the present atmosphere more than he, this man who occupies the highest office in our land. He has set a tone which he feeds at every rally and almost every day on Twitter.”

“I am not blaming him for Thursday’s tragedy in Annapolis. But I do charge him with injecting a sense of hatred into the soul of this nation that journalists do not deserve and which — in a country with more guns than people — may all too easily turn into bloodshed.”

However, is it no wonder?  Consider what has come before:

"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

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

“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

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

We have looked and found the heart of darkness.

This is where the lines converge, a 2nd amendment run amuck and the perpetual debasing of the 1st amendment, lambasting the press.  Until we can get our priorities straight, expect more gun violence and subsequent “thoughts and prayers.”

Journalists must be protected.

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, one in February and the other in May.  The Journalist Protection Act would make it a federal crime of certain attacks on those reporting the news. They’ve merely been “referred to committees on the Judiciary”:

Sponsor:              Rep. Swalwell, Eric [D-CA-15] (Introduced 02/05/2018)
Committees:      House - Judiciary
Latest Action:    House - 02/05/2018 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Sponsor:              Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT] (Introduced 05/24/2018)
Committees:      Senate - Judiciary
Latest Action:    Senate - 05/24/2018 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Which will pass first, this Act or a Trump appointment to the Supreme Court?  As our 1st amendment is undermined, and any action on the banning assault weapons unlikely, what kind of a nation are we becoming?

For an answer, the cautionary words of Mahatma Gandhi, captured in art by Jani Leinonen, “Your Beliefs” ---

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Woody Guthrie’s American Song to be staged at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Poster art by Caroline Von Feilitzsch

The ensemble musical revue opens on Friday, July 13 for a three week run.  American Song is a celebration of the life, writings, and music of Woody Guthrie, as well as the vibrant American spirit.

The musical, which was conceived by Peter Glazer, features more than two dozen of the legendary balladeer’s songs, including his best known piece,  “This Land is Your Land,” as well as many other favorites such as “Do Re Mi,” “Bound for Glory,” “Hard Travelin’” and "Union Maid.”  In addition, all the dialogue was compiled by Glazer from Guthrie’s writings.  He was a folksong poet, with an uncanny ability to capture the vernacular and the travails of the common man. 

He describes his symbiotic relationship with “his” people in a 1946 poetic ode called “The People I Owe,” which is excerpted in the opening speeches of the show:

. . . I have heard a storm of words in me, enough to write several hundred songs and that many books. I know that these words I hear are not my own private property….I borrowed them from you, the same as I walked through the high winds and borrowed enough air to keep me moving. I borrowed enough to eat and drink to keep me alive. I borrowed the shirt you made, the coat you spun, the underwear you fixed, and those socks you wove. I went on and walked down my road, you went on and walked your path. And the weather's winds, snows, sleets, ices, and hailstones cut down the oat straw, beat through the car top, knocked holes in shingles and went through awnings broke window lights, but never separated our works. Your works and my works held hands and our memories never did separate. I borrowed my life from the works of your life. I have felt your energy in me and seen mine move in you.

There are obvious comparisons of Guthrie’s experience to the contemporary world’s divisiveness, income inequality, and immigration woes.  But this musical revue is apolitical and instead is a celebration of what brings us together as a nation, of what it means to be human.

Bruce Linser is the show’s Director.  Linser is the manager of Dramaworks’ The Dramaworkshop and just came from  a very successful production of Avenue Q which he directed for the MNM Theatre Company.  When asked about the upcoming show, Linser said “this is an experience to bring people together.  I hope audiences will be surprised by the sheer joy and relevancy.  Guthrie was incredibly passionate about storytelling.  And what he was saying he was also singing, making this ensemble theatrical experience moving.  Even though an ensemble, I approach it as he would any musical: it must tell a compelling story.  Ironically, Guthrie’s tragic flaw, his restlessness, might have deprived him of even more fame when he lived.  But that was his strength, telling the tales of people who were marginalized from all over the nation, from the migrant workers to those toiling in factories organizing unions.”

Four families, three of them related with fifteen children, from the Dust Bowl
in Texas in an overnight roadside camp near Calipatria, California
  Dorothea Lange, Photographer, March 1937

The cast of five actor/musicians features Cat Greenfield, Don Noble, Sean Powell (who is also the musical director), and Jeff Raab, all making their PBD debuts, and PBD veteran Julie Rowe.  They will be joined onstage by musicians Joshua Lubben, Michael Lubben, and Tom Lubben, West Palm Beach-based triplets who are familiar to many South Floridians as The Lubben Brothers.
Woody Guthrie

The actors supply the drama and the poetry while the energy of Guthrie’s songs is amplified by the Lubben Brothers, all classically trained musicians, but drawn to the American Folk Tradition.  It is their own mission statement: “Music brings community.  As a family that plays music together, we desire to bring others into the same unity we have come to love.”  Talk about type casting!

When asked about their feelings about Guthrie and this show in particular they said (singularly of course, but one might begin a thought while another completes it): “This is the first time we’ve gone so deeply into Guthrie’s’ music.  We’re familiar of course with his big name standards, “This Land Is Your Land,” “So Long It’s Been Good to Know Yah” and see him in the great American tradition of folk storytellers.  He tells the story of a part of America that has been forgotten.  The images in the show are very powerful and organic, demonstrating a disenfranchised people’s faith and hard work, trying to build their lives and make a better one for their children.  Guthrie eloquently expresses the essence of the American Dream in his folksongs.”

“Although at times we find ourselves going back to our classical roots, performing classical concerts as well, we always get together at least once a week to sing folksongs, from Afro American spirituals to folk songs of today.  We simply love to discover ones from America’s past and to sing them.”

“We think this experience is going to be very different than the usual concert performance.  The latter must just sound good, one off, but playing each day in a structured show allows development and of course, as you are playing before a different audience each day, those performances can be slightly different, responding to the audience.  We love the way the actors in the play depict three different periods in Guthrie’s life, a moving way of showing a multifaceted human being.”

The joy and the energy of the Lubben Brothers can be seen in their rehearsal of Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” about how dust bowl migrant workers were turned away or poorly treated at the California border.  Sound familiar? So before Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, there was Woody Guthrie.  He gave rise to so many great singers who were champions of the common man.  It is indeed a time to celebrate and come together at PBD Don & Ann Brown Theatre in West Palm Beach, July 13 – August 5.  For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042 or visit

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.