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Posts Tagged ‘PBS NEWSHOUR’

EGO AS THE ROAD TO DISASTER

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 14, 2019 at 12:37 am

It’s commonplace to read about the role sex plays in motivating behavior. But the power of ego to determine history is often ignored.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61. It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it. But this was something that the North was less and less willing to do. 

Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery—and slaveholders—as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed. And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers: “It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands. But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves. The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming—and vainly warned their fellow citizens against it.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said: “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

And slavery, the mainstay of Southern plantation life, had been ended forever.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

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John F. Kennedy

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro. So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was. And during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October, 1962, humankind almost disappeared as Kennedy set out to make Khrushchev “blink.”

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Donald Trump’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2, 2019 was an occasion for rejoicing among his supporters.

But for those who prize rationality and decency in a President, it was a dismaying and frightening experience.

For two hours, Trump gave free reign to his anger and egomania.  

Among his unhinged commentaries:

“We have people in Congress that hate our country.” 

If you don’t agree 100% with Trump on everything, you’re a traitor. 

“He called me up. He said, ‘You’re a great President. You’re doing a great job.’ He said, ‘I just want to tell you you’re a great President and you’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.'”

Trump attributed these remarks to California’s liberal governor, Gavin Newsom.  On February 11, 2019, Newsom announced the withdrawal of several hundred National Guardsmen from the state’s southern border with Mexico—defying Trump’s request for support from border states.

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Donald Trump at CPAC

“You know if you remember my first major speech—you know the dishonest media they’ll say, ‘He didn’t get a standing ovation.’ You know why? Because everybody stood and nobody sat. They are the worst. They leave that out.”

Once again, he’s the persecuted victim of an unfair and totally unappreciative news media.

“And I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody. I mean, who use its more than I do? But the First Amendment gives all of us—it gives it to me, it gives it to you, it gives it to all Americans, the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right and me the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”

Trump has repeatedly called the nation’s free press “the enemy of the people”—a slander popularized by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. And while Trump brags about his usage of the First Amendment, he’s used Non-Disclosure agreements and threats of lawsuits to deny that right to others.

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“For too long, we’ve traded away our jobs to other countries. So terrible.”

While this remark—like virtually every remark Trump made at CPAC—got rousing applause, he failed to mention that his own products are made overseas:

  • Ties: Made in China 
  • Suits: Made in Indonesia 
  • Trump Vodka: Made in the Netherlands, and later in Germany
  • Crystal glasses, decanters: Made in Slovenia 
  • And the clothing and accessories line of his daughter, Ivanka, is produced entirely in factories in Bangladesh, Indonesia and China.

“By the way, you folks are in here—this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks and I tell you that because you won’t read about it, OK.”

He’s obsessed with fear that the media won’t make him look popular.

“So we’re all part of this very historic movement, a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before. There’s never been anything like this. There’s been some movements, but there’s never been anything like this.”

Trump sees himself as the single greatest figure in history. So anything he’s involved with must be unprecedented.

“But I always say, Obamacare doesn’t work. And these same people two years ago and a year ago were complaining about Obamacare.”

In 2010, 48 million Americans lacked health insurance. By 2016, that number had been reduced to 28.6 million. So 20 million Americans now have access to medical care they previously couldn’t get.

“But we’re taking a firm, bold and decisive measure, we have to, to turn things around. The era of empty talk is over, it’s over.”

  • Trump has boasted that he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “fell in love.” Then he met with Kim in Vietnam—and got stiffed on a deal for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
  • On July 16, 2018, Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

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“I’ll tell you what they [agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] do, they came and endorsed me, ICE came and endorsed me. They never endorsed a presidential candidate before, they might not even be allowed to.” 

Trump can’t stop boasting about how popular he is.

“These are hard-working, great, great Americans. These are unbelievable people who have not been treated fairly. Hillary called them deplorable. They’re not deplorable.”

On the contrary: “Deplorable” is exactly the word for those who vote their racism, ignorance, superstition and hatred of their fellow citizens.

A FINAL NOTE: Trump held himself up for adoration just three days after Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer:

  • Damned him as a racist, a conman and a cheat.
  • Revealed that Trump had cheated on his taxes and bought the silence of a porn “star” to prevent her revealing a 2006 tryst before the 2016 election.
  • Estimated he had stiffed, on Trump’s behalf, hundreds of workers Trump owed money to. 

And, only two days earlier, Trump had returned from a much-ballyhooed meeting in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Trump hoped to get a Nobel Peace Prize by persuading Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal.

Instead, Trump got stiffed—and returned empty-handed. 

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 7, 2019 at 12:10 am

“Is this man simply crazy, or is he crazy like a fox?”

That was the question that Bandy X. Lee, an assistant clinical psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine, wanted to answer.

And she tried to do so as the the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. 

“It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised,” she and colleague Judith Lewis Herman asserted in the book’s prologue.

According to Dr. Craig Malkin, a Lecturer in Psychology for Harvard Medical School and a licensed psychologist, Trump is a pathological narcissist:

“Pathological narcissism begins,” Malkin writes, “when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray and even hurt those closest to them.

“When they can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special despite all messages to the contrary. In point of fact, they become dangerously psychotic. It’s just not always obvious until it’s too late.”

Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, believes that Trump is a sociopath: “The failure of normal empathy is central to sociopathy, which is marked by an absence of guilt, intentional manipulation and controlling or even sadistically harming others for personal power or gratification.”

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But an observer didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to feel frightened by Trump’s behavior at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 2.

For two hours, in National Harbor, Maryland, Trump delivered the longest address (so far) of his Presidency—and of any American President.

“You know, I’m totally off script right now,” Trump said early on. “This is how I got elected, by being off script.” 

And from the moment he embraced an American flag as though he wanted to hump it, it was clear: He was “totally off script.” 

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“How many times did you hear, for months and months, ‘There is no way to 270?’ You know what that means, right? ‘There is no way to 270.'”

Once again, Trump reveales his obsession with his win in 2016—as if no one else had ever been elected President.

“If you tell a joke, if you’re sarcastic, if you’re having fun with the audience, if you’re on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and if you say something like, ‘Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton’s emails. Please, Russia, please.'”

Here he’s trying to “spin” his infamous invitation to hackers in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to intervene in an American Presidential election by obtaining the emails of  his campaign rival. Which they did that same day.

“So now we’re waiting for a report, and we’ll find out whether or not, and who we’re dealing with. We’re waiting for a report by people that weren’t elected.”

It doesn’t matter to Trump that America’s foremost enemy—Russia—tried to influence a Presidential election. What matters to him is that the report may end his Presidency.

“Those red hats—and white ones. The key is in the color. The key is what it says. ‘Make America Great Again’ is what it says. Right? Right?”

Color matters.  Words, ideas don’t. 

“Now, Robert Mueller never received a vote, and neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the attorney general says, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.'”

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are career Justice Department officials. They weren’t voted into office.

“Number one, I’m in love, and you’re in love. We’re all in love together. There’s so much love in this room, it’s easy to talk. You can talk your heart out. You really could. There’s love in this room. You can talk your heart out. It’s easy. It’s easy. It’s easy.”

Trump apparently finds it easy to fall in love—with Right-wing audiences and Communist dictators such as Kim Jong-Un.

“And from the day we came down the escalator, I really don’t believe we’ve had an empty seat at any arena, at any stadium. They did the same thing at our big inauguration speech. You take a look at those crowds.”

Once again, he must brag about how popular he is and how many people want to listen to him.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make ’em up when there are none.” 

By January 21, 2019, The Washington Post found that Trump had made “7,645 ‘false or misleading claims.” He is in no position to talk about integrity.

“But we’re going to have regulation. It’s going to be really strong and really good and we’re going to protect our environment and we’re going to protect the safety of our people and our workers, OK?”

To “protect our environment,” Trump appointed Andrew R. Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 6, 2019 at 1:10 pm

“One man in the free world has the power to launch a nuclear war that might destroy civilization: the President of the United States. What if that man were mentally unbalanced?”

That is the premise of the 1965 novel, Night at Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel. 

At the time of its release, its plot was considered so over-the-top as to be worthy of science fiction:

Iowa Democratic Senator Jim MacVeagh is summoned to Camp David, the Presidential retreat, by President Mark Hollenbach. MacVeagh is expected to become Hollenbach’s next Vice President. But he becomes alarmed that Hollenbach is clearly suffering from intense paranoia. 

He wants to develop a closer relationship between the United States and Russia—while cutting ties with American allies in Europe. Moreover, Hollenbach believes the American news media are conspiring against him with his political enemies.

Only one person possesses evidence that Hollenbach is losing his grip on sanity—his mistress, Rita.  Desperate to retain his power, Hollenbach orders the FBI to investigate both MacVeagh and Rita.

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So why was a 53-year-old novel released in 2018? The answer lies in two words: Donald Trump.

In a November 30, 2018 review of Night at Camp David, Tom McCarthy, national affairs correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian, writes:  

“The current president has seen crowds where none exist, deployed troops to answer no threat, attacked national institutions – the military, the justice department, the judiciary, the vote, the rule of law, the press – tried to prosecute his political enemies, elevated bigots, oppressed minorities, praised despots while insulting global allies and wreaked diplomatic havoc from North Korea to Canada.

“He stays up half the night watching TV and tweeting about it, then wakes up early to tweet some more, in what must be the most remarkable public diary of insecurity, petty vindictiveness, duplicity and scattershot focus by a major head of state in history.”

From the beginning of his Presidency, Trump aroused fear—based not only of what he might do, but that he might be mentally unbalanced.  Consider: 

On March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, he accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election:  

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”  

“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”  

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”  

A subsequent investigation by the Justice Department turned up no evidence to substantiate Trump’s foray into Presidential libel.

Donald Trump official portrait.jpg

Donald Trump

Trump’s shoot-first-and-never-mind-the-consequences approach to life has been thoroughly documented.  

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, he fired nearly 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions. The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

Among these targets were:

  • His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton
  • His fellow Republican Presidential candidates
  • Actress Meryl Streep
  • News organizations
  • President Barack Obama
  • Comedian John Oliver
  • The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
  • Singer Neil Young
  • The state of New Jersey 
  • Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

And during his first two weeks as President, Trump attacked 22 people, places and things on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.  

Trump’s vindictiveness, his narcissism, his compulsive aggression, his complaints that his “enemies” in government and the press are trying to destroy him, have caused many to ask: Could the President of the United States be suffering from mental illness?

One who has dared to answer this question is John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist. 

Image result for Images of Dr. John Gartner

John D. Gartner

Gartner graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received his Ph.D in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, and served as a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for 28 years.

During an interview by U.S. News & World Report (published on January 27, 2017), Gartner said: “Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”

Gartner said that Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism,” whose symptoms include:

  • anti-social behavior
  • sadism
  • aggressiveness
  • paranoia
  • and grandiosity. 

“We’ve seen enough public behavior by Donald Trump now that we can make this diagnosis indisputably,” says Gartner, who admits he has not personally examined Trump.  

More of that behavior was on full display on March 2, 2019 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.  

For more than two hours, Trump delivered the longest speech (so far) of his Presidency to his fanatically Right-wing audience.

Facing a hostile Democratic House of Representatives and a potentially explosive report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump threw down the gauntlet.

“JUST ANOTHER WEEK IN CALIGULA’S ROME”—AND TRUMP’S WASHINGTON

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 5, 2019 at 12:16 am

“Just another week in Caligula’s Rome.”

That was how conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks summed up President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. for the week of February 24 to March 1, 2019.

Every Friday Books faces off with liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields on The PBS Newshour. And on the program for March 1, the two men found common cause in sizing up the appearance of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee two days earlier.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields on “The PBS Newshour”

During that hearing, Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer:

  • Condemned his former boss as “a racist, a conman [and] a cheat.”
  • Confirmed that Trump had instructed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn “star” Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Provided the committee with a copy of a check Trump wrote from his personal bank account—after he became President—“to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made.”
  • Produced “copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.”

But for Brooks, far more was at stake than the individual accusations:

“To me, it was more of a moral occasion, more than anything else. What it illustrates is a President and, frankly, Michael Cohen who long ago decided that celebrity and wealth is more important than being a good person. And they have dragged us all down there with us.

“And the people they have dragged most effectively are the House Republicans, a lot of them on that committee, who decided that they were completely incurious about whether Donald Trump was a good guy or a bad guy or a really awful guy, that—their own leader, they didn’t seem to care about that, but they were going to rip the skin off Michael Cohen.

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Michael Cohen testifying before Congress

“And so they attacked him. And what struck me is how moral corrosion happens, that you decide you’re going to defend or ignore Trump. And then to do that, you have to morally distance yourself from him. And then you have to morally distance yourself from him every day.

“And, eventually, you just get numb to everything. And so [Ohio Republican Representative] Jim Jordan and other people on the committee were saying, oh, we all knew this, like, it’s all unremarkable. And so that’s—that’s how moral corrosion happens.”  

During the hearing, California Representative Jackie Speier asked Cohen: How many times did Trump ask you to intimidate creditors?

Cohen estimated the number at 500. 

For Shields, this counted as especially despicable behavior: “And—but the thing about it is, when he stiffed those small business—the plumbers and the electricians who did the work in the Trump projects, and he came back, and Donald Trump loved to hear about it, I mean, reveled in it.

“Now, I mean, at what point do you say that there’s no honor here? I mean, there’s nothing to admire.” 

Shields was equally appalled by the refusal of Trump’s Republican committee defenders to condemn his moral depravity—as a businessman or President.

“If you can’t deal with the message, you shoot the messenger. And that’s what their whole strategy was.

“The very fact that not a single member of the Republican committee defended Donald Trump or what he was charged or alleged to have done, to me, was revealing. They just decided to go after Michael Cohen.”

So why have Republicans aligned themselves with such a man? 

Republicans don’t fear that Trump will trash the institutions that Americans have cherished for more than 200 years. Institutions like an independent judiciary, a free press, and an incorruptible Justice Department.

He has already attacked all of these—and Republicans have either said nothing or rushed to his defense.

What Republicans truly fear about Donald Trump is that he will finally cross one line too many—like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And that the national outrage following this will force them to launch impeachment proceedings against him.

But it isn’t even Trump they fear will be destroyed.

What they most fear losing is their own hold on nearly absolute power in Congress and the White House. And the riches that go with it.

If Trump is impeached and possibly indicted, he will become a man no one any longer fears. He will be a figure held up to ridicule and condemnation. 

Like Adolf Hitler.

Like Richard Nixon. 

And his supporters will be branded as losers along with him.

Republicans vividly remember what happened after Nixon was forced to resign on August 9, 1974: Democrats, riding a wave of reform fever, swept Republicans out of the House and Senate—and Jimmy Carter into the White House. 

House and Senate Republicans can imagine a future without Trump—but not one where they disappear.

If they are conflicted—whether to continue supporting Trump or desert him—the reason is the same: How can I hold onto my power and all the privileges that go with it?  

“GREEN BOOK” AND ITS TIMELY MESSAGE

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 26, 2019 at 12:07 am

“The [Oscar] winners included Regina King, Rami Malek, Alfonso Cuaron, Spike Lee—a group of people from very different backgrounds representing films that tell nuanced stories about diverse experiences. 

“And then the top honor is given to a film that many people have criticized for being an overly simplistic story about race told from the perspective of a white savior.”

So argued Ari Shapiro, a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR’s award-winning news magazine. He made his comments the day after Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 91st annual Academy Awards. 

Green Book is a 2018 biographical drama set in the Deep South of 1962. It’s based on the true story of a concert tour by a black classical and jazz pianist, Don Shirley, and his driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga.  Mahershala Ali plays Shirley and Viggo Mortensen plays Vallelonga.

The two men are polar opposites: Shirley is cultured and eloquent; Vallelonga is streetwise and volatile. Shirley is used to dealing with the cream of New York society. Vallelonga is used to dealing with its dregs—as a nightclub bouncer. 

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Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley

Gordon Correll [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

When his nightclub closes for renovations, he responds to an ad by Shirley for a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South.

This is 1962, a time when a black Air Force veteran, James Meredith, must be given protection by deputy U.S. marshals when he enters the segregated University of Mississippi. White and black “Freedom Riders” are canvassing the South, sitting at segregated lunch counters and often being attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan and equally racist Southern police.

In fact, the title of the movie—Green Book—is derived from a travel guide written for blacks venturing into the Deep South: The Negro Motorist Green Book. Written by Victor Hugo Green, its purpose is to help blacks find motels and restaurants that will accept them.

And as Shirley and Vallelonga make their odyssey through the South, they find themselves staying at separate hotels—and sometimes together, after Vallelonga slips Shirley into his own room.

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An AV Film review called Green Book “a kind of comforting liberal fantasy, a #NotAllRacists trifle that suggests that our deep, festering divisions can be sutured through some quality time on the open road, resolving differences over a bucket of KFC.” 

At the start of the movie, Vallelonga throws away a glass after a black construction worker drinks from it. But during his tour of the South, he becomes increasingly sympathetic to the plight suffered by Shirley—and other blacks forced to daily endure a series of humiliations.

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Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga

Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

According to television critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon: “Green Book is a feel-good movie. It doesn’t really require a lot of critical thinking or self-analysis. You know, people walk out t of the movie feeling that, oh, well, racism is over, we’re good. So I think those are the things that are going on.”

Actually, the film makes clear that some people will always be racists. Thus, Shirley finds himself repeatedly forced to eat in the segregated rooms of the hotels where he’s to play concerts. And he’s almost murdered by a group of racists when he makes the mistake of going into a whites’ only bar. He survives only because Vallelonga arrives in time to rescue him.

And Shirley proves just as great a friend to Vallelonga. He introduces the semi-literate bouncer to the power of the written word by helping him craft articulate, heartfelt letters to his wife.

Toward the end of the movie, Vallelonga and Shirley are pulled over by a Mississippi police officer. Shirley’s “crime”: Being black—and out at night. When the officer insults Vallelonga, Tony punches him—and he and Shirley wind up in jail.  

Shirley asks for permission to call his “lawyer”—and the man he dials is Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy, in turn, calls Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Barnett is already having his share of troubles with the Kennedys, and he orders the police: Let those men go—now! 

This scene underscores the importance of electing people who will stand against injustice. Watching the release of Vallelonga and Shirley, it’s impossible to imagine the Trump administration intervening in such a manner.

At the end of the movie, Shirley visits Vallelonga’s home—where he’s warmly received by Tony and his family. The film’s end credits reveal that the two men remained friends until they died, within months of each other, in 2013.

In 1950, a Western called Broken Arrow-–starring James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise—told the true story of a friendship between a white man and an Apache. For many Americans, this came as a revelation.

After decades of seeing Indians depicted as bloodthirsty savages, audiences saw that there were those—among red men and white men—who could rise above prejudice and see each other as worthy of respect.

The lesson of Green Book is exactly the same. And it’s needed now more than ever.

SING A SONG OF TREASON

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 22, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on February 19, former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe said it is possible that President Donald Trump is a Russian asset.

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Andrew McCabe

“This President is undermining the role of law enforcement, undermining the role of our intelligence infrastructure and negatively impacting the men and women of the FBI, and across the intelligence agencies, (and their) ability to protect this country on a daily basis,” McCabe said.  

With this in mind, it’s time for a musical salute to the country’s would-be Commissar-in-Chief—and those treason-supporting Republicans who keep him in power.   

* * * * *

ACT ONE: THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD
(To be sung to the tune, “With a Little Help From My Friends”)
 
What would you think if I ripped off some kids?
Would you walk out and not vote for me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll feed you a line
And I’ll try not to laugh cynically.
 
Oh, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, I can lie with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, you’re gonna fry with a little help from my Vlad.
 
What do I do when the bank calls me in?
(Does it worry you to be in debt?)
How do I feel when I need rubles fast?
(Do you worry Vlad might say “Nyet”?)
 
No, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, I can lie with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, you’re gonna fry with a little help from my Vlad.
 
(Do you need anybody?)
I just need someone named me.
(Could it be anybody?)
As long as it’s me–me–me–me!
 
(Would you believe in a love at first sight?)
Yes, it happens with a mirror all the time.
(What do you see when you turn out the light?)
It stays on so that my face can shine.
 
Oh, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, I can lie with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, you’re gonna die with a little help from my Vlad.
 
(Do you need anybody?)
I need a Gestapo that kills.
(Could it be anybody?)
As long as it kills I get thrills.
 
Oh, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
With a little help from my Vlad.

* * * * *

ACT TWO: THE DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENCY
THE TRUMPY SKUNKY
(To be sung to the tune of “The Hokey Pokey”)
Trump lets the Russians in,
He kicks the press corps out.
He slips Vlad secret stuff
And he gives a “Treason!” shout.
He does the Trumpy Skunky
As he sells the U.S. out.
That’s what he’s all about.
Trump loves the KGB.
He hates the FBI.
He dares not tell the truth
‘Cause his whole life’s just a lie.
He does the Trumpy Skunky
As he sells the U.S. out.
That’s what he’s all about.
Trump tells interpreters:
“Don’t let on what I do.”
He lives to spread his hate
Just like all good Fascists do.
He does the Trumpy Skunky
As he sells the U.S. out
That’s what he’s all about.
Trump lets the Russians in
He kicks his lawyers out.
He screams “I’m innocent!
And he gives a “Treason!” shout.
He does the Trumpy Skunky
As he sells the U.S. out
That’s what he’s all about.

* * * * *

ACT THREE: RETRIBUTION FOR TREASON
TRUMPY TRAITOR
(To be sung to the tune, “Rockin’ Robin”)

He Tweets in the White House all the day long
Screamin’ and a-schemin’ and a-doin’ what’s wrong.
All the Special Agents in the FBI
Hope he goes to prison till the day he’ll die.

Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Go Trumpy Traitor
‘Cause they’re gonna bust your ass tonight.

Every act of treason, every act of crime—
America has never seen a bigger slime.
Bob Mueller’s ready, the cops are closin’ in
To put a grand finale to your reign of sin.

Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Go Trumpy Traitor
‘Cause they’re gonna bust your ass tonight.

Well, Eric’s getting ready for his next big steal
While Daddy hugs Ivanka—who lets out a squeal.
Don Junior’s got the Russians coming once again—
It’s party-time for traitors and their lives of sin.

He Tweets in the White House all the day long
Screamin’ and a-schemin’ and a-doin’ what’s wrong.
Handing out secrets to the KGB
The biggest Right-wing traitor that you’ll ever see.

Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Go Trumpy Traitor
‘Cause they’re gonna bust your ass tonight.

Well, Eric’s getting ready for his next big steal
While Daddy hugs Ivanka—who lets out a squeal.
Don Junior’s got the Russians coming once again—
It’s party-time for traitors and their lives of sin.

He Tweets in the White House all the day long
Screamin’ and a-schemin’ and a-doin’ what’s wrong.
Handing out secrets to the KGB
The biggest Right-wing traitor that you’ll ever see.

Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Trumpy Traitor (tweet tweet)
Go Trumpy Traitor
‘Cause they’re gonna bust your ass tonight.

PRESIDENTS: WHY SOME ARE LOVED, SOME HATED, SOME FORGOTTEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2019 at 12:54 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

FDR 1944 Color Portrait.tif

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.png

John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared JFK’s wit and good looks with LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates.  Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg

Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism—power was the only motive he would recognize.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump: Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

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Donald Trump

Since taking office two years ago, he has:

  • Viciously attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Publicly attacked Federal judges whose rulings displeased him. 
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing an investigation into Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.  
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

NANCY PELOSI: THE LION AND THE FOX: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 7, 2019 at 12:07 am

Donald Trump couldn’t believe that Nancy Pelosi meant it when she politely refused to let him give his State of the Union address in the House of Representatives until he reopened the Federal Government.

He dared her to say plainly that she would deny him access. 

THE LION

So she did—issuing a statement saying that the speech was off—until the government reopened. 

Soon afterward, Trump agreed that the State of the Union address would have to be postponed.

Related image

Donald Trump

THE FOX:

Pelosi didn’t let herself be drawn into any Twitter slugfests with a semi-literate dictator. She could well afford to sit out the shutdown, since only the Fascistic Right truly believed she was responsible for it. 

And she capitalized on the unexpected help she received from one of Trump’s highest-ranking officials: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Asked on CNBC if he knew that many Federal employees had been reduced to going to food banks, Ross—a billionaire—said yes, but he didn’t understand why.

His suggestion: They could just take out a loan.   

“So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it, and we’ve seen a number of ads of financial institutions doing that. 

“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest. But the idea that it’s ‘paycheck or zero’ is not a really valid idea.” 

Wilbur Ross Official Portrait.jpg

Wilbur Ross

It was a remark worthy of Marie Antoinette’s reported (but inaccurate) dismissal of the miseries of impoverished French citizens: “Let them eat cake.”

And Pelosi didn’t hesitate to point it out:

“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake,’ kind of attitude? Or ‘Call your father for money?’ Or ’This is character-building for you; it’s all going to end up very well—just as long as you don’t get your paychecks?’” 

As CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza saw it: “What Pelosi seems to understand better than past Trump political opponents is that giving ANY ground is a mistake. You have to not only stand firm, but be willing to go beyond all political norms—like canceling the SOTU—to win.” 

And Julian Zelitzer, another CNN political analyst, agreed: “Pelosi did not hesitate to use her political power aggressively. From the start of this process, she has remained steadfast in her insistence that closing the government was not a legitimate way to make demands for new forms of spending. 

“While sometimes Democrats become leery about seeming too partisan and not being civil enough, Pelosi and the Democrats stood their ground. She drew a line in the sand and stuck by it.” 

When Republicans claim that Democrats aren’t being “civil,” they mean: “They’re not doing exactly as we tell them to do.”

And of course Republicans tried to convince voters that Trump had not threatened to shut down the government—and then had done so. Republicans like Texas United States Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz repeatedly railed against the “Pelosi-Schumer shutdown.”

But the vast majority of voters weren’t having it. They had seen the original broadcast where Trump made his threat. And if they had missed the original, there were plenty of re-broadcasts of that moment on news networks to alert them.

As Pelosi and Democrats held firm, Republicans began getting desperate.

  • They were being depicted in the news as extortionists while 800,000 of their fellow Americans suffered.
  • Those businesses that served them—such as grocery stores and auto repair shops—were being starved of revenue.
  • There was legitimate fear that the entire airline industry might have to shut down for lack of enough air traffic controllers to regulate air traffic. 
  • Worst of all for Republicans, chaos at airports threatened the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people traveling to and from the upcoming Super Bowl. Most Americans might not know the name of their Senator, but they take their sports fetish seriously.

By January 25, the 35th day of the shutdown, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 53% of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown. His popularity had fallen to a historic low of 37%. And 60% disapproved of how he was handling negotiations to reopen the government. 

So, on that same date, Trump did what his Hispanic-hating base thought was impossible: He caved. 

He walked into the White House Rose Garden and said he would sign a bill to reopen the government for three weeks.

And, for Pelosi, the sweetest moment was yet to come. 

Nancy Pelosi

True, Trump had said he would not give the State of the Union address on his originally scheduled date of January 29th. But eventually he would.

And when this happened, Pelosi would be sitting directly behind him—along with Vice President Mike Pence—the whole time!

Unlike Trump, who revels in bragging about how powerful and brilliant he is, she wouldn’t have to.

Simply sitting behind him, no doubt trying hard to suppress a smile of glee, she would nevertheless remind the audience that she was the one who taught this failed businessman “the art of the deal.”

NANCY PELOSI: THE LION AND THE FOX: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 6, 2019 at 12:12 am

It’s one of the most famous passages in The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s classic work on Realpolitik.

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

As House Minority Leader and then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi proved she was both.

THE FOX: 

On December 11, 2018, Pelosi—then House Minority Leader—and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

And, true to his love of publicity, Trump made sure the meeting was televised live on TV.

Nancy Pelosi 2012.jpg

Nancy Pelosi

Trump soon moved to the matter he truly cared about: Demanding $5.6 billion to create a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border: “And one way or the other, it’s going to get built. I’d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown. We will see what happens over the next short period of time.”

“One way or the other”—“so doer so”—was a favorite phrase of Adolf Hitler’s, meaning: If he couldn’t bully his opponents into surrendering, he would use violence.

PELOSI: I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown. You have the White House—

TRUMP: Did you say Trump—

PELOSI: A Trump shutdown. You have the White House— 

TRUMP: I was going to call it a Pelosi shutdown. 

Chuck Schumer official photo.jpg

Charles Schumer

TRUMP: The wall is a part of border security. You can’t have very good border security without the wall.

PELOSI: That’s simply not true. That is a political promise. 

[By “political promise,” Pelosi meant this was an appeal Trump made to his hardcore base. which he expected to re-elect him.]   

SCHUMER: Twenty times you have called for, “I will shut down the government if I don’t get my wall.” None of us have said—you’ve said it. 

TRUMP: Okay, you want to put that on my—I’ll take it.  You know what I’ll say: “Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other…I will shut down the government. Absolutely.”

Trump, determined to bully Pelosi and Schumer into bending to his will, didn’t realize he had just set himself up for disaster.

Trump shut down the government on December 22. About 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

And Trump told Congressional leaders the shutdown could last months or even years.

For Trump, “the wall” was absolutely necessary—but not to keep illegal aliens out. They would go over, under or around it.

The real intent of the wall was to keep Trump in—the White House. 

Trump’s fanatical base believed that a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border would stop all illegal immigration. And he knew that if he didn’t build it, they wouldn’t re-elect him.

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

  • For weeks, hundreds of thousands of government workers missed paychecks.
  • Smithsonian museums closed their doors.
  • Trash piled up in national parks. 
  • Increasing numbers of employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)—which provides security against airline terrorism—began refusing to come to work, claiming to be sick.
  • At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) many air traffic controllers called in “sick.” Those who showed up to work without pay grew increasingly frazzled as they feared being evicted for being unable to make rent or house payments. 
  • Due to the shortage of air traffic controllers, many planes weren’t able to land safely at places like New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
  • Many Federal employees—such as FBI agents—were forced to rely on soup kitchens to feed their families.
  • Celebrity chef Jose Andres launched ChefsForFeds, which offered free hot meals for government employees and their families at restaurants across the country. 
  • Many workers tried to bring in money by babysitting or driving for Uber, 

THE LION:

Pelosi, unlike many Democrats, realized this was America’s version of the Munich Conference: Democrats must hold firm against a tyrant’s extortionate demands. Otherwise, every time Trump didn’t get his way, there would be no end to such shutdowns in the future.

From the start, Pelosi insisted that Democrats would not surrender to threats of a government shutdown. And Democrats held firm, refusing to make concessions on the wall.

Second, Pelosi publicly stated that Trump could not make his annual State of the Union speech in the House of Representatives until the government was re-opened.

She politely cited as her reason that the building would not be “secure” owing to the shutdown and the nonpayment of the men and women who would be charged with its protection.

Since both the House and Senate must jointly issue an invitation to the President to make such an address, Pelosi’s veto effectively scotched Trump’s appearance. 

For the publicity-addicted Trump, who revels in pontificating to adoring crowds, this was a major blow. 

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