Category Archives: Blog

From Paris To Pasadena – Our New Normal

Two incidents of interest-

In Pasadena, California, a man dressed in black and wearing a black “beanie” throws an “explosive device” into the Cheesecake Factory restaurant on Colorado boulevard.  No one is injured.  Police believe the man is of either Hispanic or Mid Eastern descent.   The attack happens at 6:08 PM on Thursday.

A world away, in Paris, a man shouts “Allahu Akbar” as he attacks a soldier standing guard near the Louvre Museum with a machete.   One soldier is injured.  The attacker, who was not killed, was shot several times.   He was  wearing two backpacks and armed with at least one machete and possibly two.  Media accounts on the number of weapons, differ.  The attack happens on Friday around 10 AM.

Such are the realities of our “new normal”  which, experts tell us,  will require more and not less cooperation between the West and the Middle East.  A new normal which, those educated in the ways of terrorism caution, will be made all the worse by a travel ban on mostly Muslim countries and additional sanctions against Iran, driving recruits into the arms of Al-Qaeda and Isis by creating the appearance of a holy war, potentially giving Osama bin Laden exactly what he wanted.

The Age Of Trump – Sleepless Nights And Troubled Days

Acid stomach and bad dreams are rare conditions for me.   Recently, they have become increasingly common.  They arrived with the age of Trump.

Night before last,  I was awakened by a dream about the Donald.   I couldn’t remember the content of the dream, only his orange face with white raccoon eyes and blond hair helmet.   A character out of a cartoon horror story.   Woke me right up.

Last night everything was peaceful, until one of our smoke detectors decided to sound off for no good reason around five AM.    It’s a new smoke detector, too.  Bought the thing just a year ago.  It’s hard-wired with a battery backup, so it should still be okay, but it’s not.   Now I’ll have to buy another new smoke detector.  I don’t know how, but I’m pretty sure its connected to Trump.  He probably owns stock in the  smoke detector company and has tiny cameras installed in each one with images fed via satellite back to Moscow.

It”s Nixon all over again, except this time we’re the ones suffering from paranoia, wandering the halls and talking to portraits.   Last night I asked one of my long-dead grandparents for some input.   No response.

The smoke detector alone would have been of little consequence.  After pulling it out of the wall, disconnecting the chord, yanking out the battery and verbally sentencing it to the bowels of hell,  I was able to go back to bed and sleep for a few more hours.   The challenge came when I woke up, flipped open my computer and read the headlines.

Trump had managed to  threaten the Iranians over something that might or might not be an infraction against the treaty they signed(with Trump it apparently does not matter), he had hung up on the Prime Minister of Australia, threatened to send the military into Mexico and suggested to those present at the National Prayer Breakfast that they should pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his show “The Apprentice,” which continues to suffer from a ratings-slump – with Trump suggesting there was no way Schwarzenegger could compete with him in a ratings race on television.

All of this hit me like a brick, as I was  still trying to recover from Steve “Breitbart” Bannon being given a seat on the Nat’l Security Council (while the Director of Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were shown the door), George Orwell’s book “1984” zooming to the top of amazon.com’s bestseller list,  two million Brits signing a petition to cancel a state visit to keep der Trumpenfuhrer out of their country and Vladimir Putin’s decision to once again open fire on those poor people in Ukraine,  just after he had talked with Donald on the phone.   The speculation, is that after Donald refused to lift the sanctions against Russia, Putin got PO’d and told his guys along the border to start shooting.    Again.

You have to wonder if they’ll stop shooting when Donald lifts the sanctions giving Exxon the ability to make billions on all that wonderful Russian oil they plan on sucking out of the ground?  Watch for it.

Beyond Putin and the Russians,  I’m not sure Donald understands the whole potential for the unintended consequences thing.   Not sure he realizes who he now is.

The best suggestion thus far on how to  fix this mess came from Mr. Schwarzenegger, the former Governor of California, when he suggested that he and Trump should switch jobs, giving Trump the ability to prove that he can improve the ratings on “The Apprentice” while putting Arnold in the White House would let Americans, once again sleep peacefully through the night without acid stomachs, Trumpian nightmares or a need to worry about being confronted by whack-a-doodle headlines in the morning.

I know Arnold isn’t eligible to be president.  I know he wasn’t native born, and that a great many people have issues with him following his split with Maria and all,  but hey,  let me have my dreams, okay?  With Trump and a spineless hoard of Republicans in the House  and Senate (except for John McCain and Lindsey Graham), they’re all I have left.

Or perhaps, in one final act of Nixonian desperation,  we should all get down on our knees and pray while wondering whether this latest feud between Arnold and DJT is nothing more than a publicity stunt, designed to bump up the numbers for “The Apprentice.”

Mr. Trump has woven such a terribly tangled web that it is nearly impossible to harbor any hope.   How can it exist in the absolute absence of trust?

A Return To Chicken Noodle News?

Got up today and turned on CNN,  eager to see what Donald Trump’s latest move might be, whether he is going to build a wall around Miami, or maybe threaten to air-drop the 82nd Airborne into  the strawberry fields of  California while Marines from Pendleton march on Sacramento.

Instead of an informed discussion, I got what sounded like a bunch of children trying to decide what news is,  and why Trump’s paid advocate Steve Bannon might be wrong in stating that “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.” Really?  On CNN?   Are you guys going back to the early days of being the “Chicken Noodle News?”

I know about this, because several  months before CNN went on the air they offered me an anchor job.   I had just signed a contract with WMAR-TV in Baltimore, so I had to say no to CNN, much to the chagrin of the executive who offered me the job and who yelled at me on the phone for a good long while before hanging up.    Some months later I was happy to have refused the position, as CNN came to be known as the “Chicken Noodle News.”   They were a startup after all, and it took them a while to get their act together.  One wonders if they aren’t slipping back in time.   That’s what occurred to me as I watched this morning, as they debated the value of Steve Bannon’s outrageous and nonsensical banter about the press keeping “its mouth shut.”

One panelist,  Brian Stelter, actually said there are so many different kinds of news out there now (paraphrasing) that for some it’s becoming confusing….   No, there are not.   The fact that Stelter doesn’t understand this and that he’s hosting “Reliable Sources,” may be an indicator of just  how  much trouble broadcast journalism is in.

News, is objective, fact-checked for accuracy and delivered by actual journalists who label opinion and speculation for what they are.   News, really is “A first rough draft of history.”*   Everything else, is either a documentary, entertainment programming or BS.   There is also “Gonzo Journalism” and the “New Journalism” literary movement, but all that is beyond basic,  real , hardcore news.

Oh, and since the panel on CNN didn’t seem to get it,  real news people, are supposed to be locked in an adversarial relationship with politicians.   That’s not something you need to get all mushy and apologetic about, it’s the way things are meant to be.  That’s why the founders included free speech in Amendment Number One.   Intro to Journalism, remember?

Stop trying to be so nice to people who are being paid to hijack the truth for an Administration that revels in misdirection and outright lies.   You should be outraged that  they are treating the press like a bunch of fools, not sitting around discussing whether they might be right, sounding like  you’re making excuses for an attack  on press freedoms – or have we  slipped so far over into “Infotainment” that it will be impossible to salvage what’s left of real news?  Maybe that’s the real question and why there are those who even bother paying lip service to a paid advocate like Steve Bannon?

Oh sure, it’s necessary to report on what Bannon says, but don’t act like it requires a lengthy explanation including an analysis of what’s wrong with “the media.”   That just implies that he might be right.   Come to think of it, maybe he is.   Maybe the old fashioned “press” is dead and gone, except for a few bastions of righteous indignation like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.  Maybe it’s wrong to be upset with CNN and their infotainment noodle soup approach to news, making it more acceptable to their audience and more attractive to advertisers.

In the final analysis it’s all about the money, right?   Who cares about history and getting it right and all that other stuff when the bottom line is at stake?   Then again, you have to wonder.  Is a country in which money trumps truth sustainable?

*Quote attributed to various sources.  The argument over who said it first continues.

Trump Is Crazy – Like A Fox (It’s About The Oil, Stupid)

So much of what Donald Trump says appears to be crazy.   Like his recent nutso assertion that three to five million illegal immigrants voted in the last election.  Total lunacy, right?   Well, perhaps.   It is possible that Donald Trump is delusional and needs immediate psychiatric care.  However, it’s more likely that our new President without portfolio (still waiting on his taxes) is a master of misdirection.

While Trump spewed nonsense about the popular vote and raved about the crowd size at his inauguration, he was also signing executive orders re-starting two pipeline projects and bragging about all the jobs they’ll create while the Senate moves forward rubber stamping his fossil fuel friendly and environment unfriendly, cabinet nominees.

Trump’s tactic, creating a wall of controversy and confusion and then hiding behind it, is not unheard of in business.   If done frequently, then eventually, you no longer care whether the person creating the mess is crazy, evil, oblivious or merely incompetent.   You just want the nonsense to stop.   Donald Trump, has been bringing it to the party on an almost daily basis.

Put another way, it’s  difficult to keep one’s eye on the ball when the pitcher appears to be a lunatic, yammering about building a border wall when a study conducted by PEW in 2012 found that “Net Immigration from Mexico Falls to Zero – and Perhaps Less.”   

In 2015 the Washington Post reported that illegal immigration had hit its lowest level in twenty years.  Imagine that, and with Barack Obama, still  in office.

The truth, is that no border wall is needed unless you are eager to repel thousands of kids, sending them back to their homes in Central and South America, where they will risk being killed by gangs.  The Trumpian hysteria is nothing but a dog whistle, misdirection to distract from the real issues like Donald Trump’s tax returns and his campaign’s cozy relationship with the Russians and his push to ignore environmental issues.

The truth about Rex Tillerson, is that Trump’s new Secretary of State,  the former CEO of Exxon, needs the sanctions against Russia lifted so that Exxon can gain access to its huge investment in the Russian oil fields.

The truth  about Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency,  is that Scott Pruitt, is a “self-described leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” according to factcheck.org.

The truth  is that more than one study has concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline won’t create many permanent jobs at all.    One  study puts the number at just 35.   CBS News puts it at 50 permanent jobs from both the Keystone and the Dakota pipelines.

The claim Trump made about the “thousands” of  jobs the pipeline will create isn’t a lie, it’s misdirection.   It will create thousands of temporary jobs, but far few more meaningful good-paying permanent jobs, which is what the country really needs.

So we the people take all the risk from oil spills and contaminated drinking water while oil companies gain all the profits on a product that will, according to one study,  be sold overseas while driving up the cost of gasoline in the Middle West.

In all likelihood Donald Trump, isn’t crazy.   In all likelihood he’s a master of misdirection.   Whether this new President is thin-skinned and unable to control his responses after being attacked is a different question altogether, and possibly something meriting continued concern.   But what he’s doing, what he says, is in all likelihood, not without calculated purpose.

Did you hear about Trump’s latest assertion, that he will lead the charge to uncover “voter fraud” in America?   No matter that studies have already been done, finding nothing wrong.   No matter that anybody who reads already knows this.   What matters for Trump is that it’s another “dog whistle” issue that will distract from his real purpose.  To put forward a Republican agenda heavily favoring the fossil fuel industry.

It’s all so simple, and yet, what are the cable outlets covering this morning?  Trump’s most recent dog-whistle tactic about “moving ahead” with a “major investigation” into voter fraud.  Even after he won the election?   Come on people, you’re being played for suckers and doing a terrible disservice to your viewers in the process. When will you stop taking the bait?

By the time the common folk figure out what’s going on the damage will have been done and the billionaires will have all that lovely new money stashed away in their offshore accounts.   The environment and our international image be damned.

This isn’t about immigration or crowd size or voter fraud, it’s mostly about big oil.  Again.

Dump The Surrogates, Cut The Crap

This goes beyond Kelly Ann and her “alternative facts.”

There was a time, not so very long ago, when there were  no  so-called “surrogates” espousing biased views on almost every cable network and Sunday morning news show originating in the U.S.   You know they are biased.   You know exactly what they are likely to say, so why bother?

Surrogates are a huge waste of time except for network executives who care more about  ratings than in doling out valid information to an already dazed and confused public.   A hazardous condition made worse by the  presence of surrogates.

The people who own and run the cable shows like the biased blather because it is more exciting than a collegial exchange of valid information.   Excited yammering draws more viewers and gets higher ratings than calm, measured discussion by journalists, scholars and intellectuals, doing their best to be objective in the pursuit of keeping the public informed rather than misinformed.

No so very long ago none of these surrogates would have gotten on the air.  Anywhere.   They would have been regarded for what they are, public relations (pr) people, who are being paid to promote a product.   Not so long ago we would have said, “If all you want is to promote a product, then buy some air time for your ads.”   Not so long ago, if their politician bosses wanted to make a point, they would have been forced to release an official statement or to go on camera themselves and be held accountable at a real press conference,  closed to all but the legitimate press, where they would have been obliged to answer questions from real reporters.

Not so long ago, lies were not tolerated.   If a politician told an obvious lie, he or she would be called out on it.   If they dodged the question again and again, then reporters would back one another up, demanding an answer to the question again and again, until the politician gave an answer that made sense or he or she gave up, leaving the news conference in disgust, cursing the media for being unreasonable for demanding the truth.   It was a sure-fire  way of exposing “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,”  (Thanks to Al Franken).

Mostly, the press doesn’t do that anymore.  Over the years, they have become more akin to Victorian ladies and gentlemen, far too proper and soft to take off the gloves and go after self-serving politicians and  pr-people, leaving us with a confusing toxic soup bubbling over with various ingredients, including but not limited to, pundits, journalists, politicians, surrogates, pr-people, actual experts, scholars, bloggers, Russian-influenced operatives, lobbyists, fake news promoters, aunts, uncles, and friends of friends.

Not that long ago, it would have been unthinkable to hire a former politician or government insider to fill the job of a journalist or news talk show host.   It would have been seen as knowingly poisoning the profession and risking a loss of  public trust.    Difficult to imagine?   Well, that’s the way it was.  Upholding the public trust was paramount, and if not exactly paramount, then at least having enough power to push back with vigor when the  sales department complained about a given news item hurting the ratings and maybe losing an advertiser.

Is it any wonder the public’s respect  for the press is low?    Or, pardon me, it is no longer “the press,” it is now “the media,” and far less dignified than in the 60’s, when we were viewed as watchdogs and the ultimate protectors of the public’s trust.

Not so long ago, accuracy was all important.   You were allowed to get something wrong once.   You would be yelled at, ensuring you understood the serious nature of your infraction, but that would probably be it.  Screw something up two or three times, and you were out.   Fired.   Gone.   Simply put, not worthy of the profession and its intractable need to uphold the public trust through accuracy.

Not that long ago, that’s the way it was.  What we have now, is media soup, and  the misinformation, disinformation, general confusion and lack of respect it spawns.

It will be up to the media to fix this.   Government isn’t likely to try, and if they do, it will be done in a manner that is to their advantage, making it easier for them to avoid the truth.   That is to say,  making it easier for them to lie.

The question then, is how to motivate commercial broadcasters and cable tv outlets to change their greedy ways, putting the public trust above profits.  Therein, lies the rub.

Dumping surrogates and cutting the crap would be a place to start, along with cancelling the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.   Those of us in the press aren’t supposed to be quite that chummy with politicians, advertisers and their lobbyists.  We’re supposed to be adversarial.   Enemies of alternative-facts, not grinning party-goers, accepting whatever blather the politicians and corporate hacks might hand out turning our positions as serious journalists into an evening of good-natured fun with the enemy.

They still need us a whole lot more than we need them.   Something else that’s been forgotten as infotainment and profits have overtaken hard-bitten journalism and the respect that it commands.

 

Ladies And Gentlemen, Place Your Bets

Talking with Fareed Zakaria this morning on CNN,  Katrina vanden Heuvel of “The Nation” said it’s her belief that Donald Trump is “disruptive and not transformational.”    She also noted that we have to wait and see what he is able to accomplish.

Of course.  However, at this point in time it appears his failure to deal with reality about the meager number of those in attendance for his inauguration will be eclipsed only by his inability to keep the promises he made to his base going forward.    From there, it’s a question of how much his base will put up with before they join the millions upon millions of women (and others) who already oppose his Presidency.

Will the Republican dominated Congress sit there doing nothing, even while threatened with losing their majority in 2018 as Trump continues to be Trump, denying reality to both the press and the world?  Or will Donald J. Trump come around?   Will the leopard change its spots, becoming someone he is not, letting others with more experience in government and geopolitics guide his actions? Doubtful.   He’s already an old dog,  his experience rests with business not politics, and that’s just not his style.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Evan Halper compares Mr. Trump going to Washington, to Mr. Schwarzenegger going to Sacramento in 2003, where he was going to beat the “girly-men”  in the state legislature into submission.   For those of us who lived through Arnold as Governor of California, this is deja vu all over again.  The girly-men in Sacramento turned out to be a political brick wall.

According to Halper, “He experienced how swiftly a populist crowd-pleaser could go from harnessing rage to watching it ricochet in the wrong direction. Adoring crowds who reveled in his pledges to restore integrity and common sense to government turned on him when bureaucratic bloat failed to shrink.” -LAT’s

Bookies are setting their odds, one giving even-money that Trump won’t get through his first term without resigning or being impeached.   Others, are less optimistic.  An Irish bookie is giving four to one odds that Donald Trump will be impeached before the end of his first term.

It’s going to be interesting.   At the very least, it will be fascinating to watch while the press tries dealing with a president who denies reality.   At the most, it could be costly and very dangerous.

1.20.2017

Thought I was going to be able to get through this, that I would be able to watch it from a distance without going nuts.   Then I turned on CNN and saw the Donald boogieing down with Toby Keith and realized that just won’t be possible.  The bizarre conflation of Donald Trump in his expensive New Yorker’s  topcoat with cowboy Toby Keith goes directly to the question of just how badly this billionaire from Manhattan has snookered the fur-wearing,  country-western, Second Amendment crowd.

I cannot watch this madness unfold any further.  I will, therefore, be joining those of you who will be hiding under your beds, getting stoned, drinking heavily or doing God knows what to survive this national hijacking. We got through Nixon. Hopefully, we’ll get through this. It may be time for the weird to turn pro again. It might be the only way to defeat the bad craziness that is upon us.

To those of you who are now expressing buyer’s remorse because you voted for Trump, it’s too late.  You just jackknifed into the shallow end of the pool.

To those who voted for Trump out of desperation, I can understand your feeling that the government was so badly broken that you were left with no other choice. I disagree with what you did, but I can understand desperation.

To those of you who have no idea why those of us who opposed Trump are so upset, it’s because your vote for DJT signaled your approval of avarice, deceit, sexism, racism, mocking the physically disabled, nixing affordable healthcare, Trump’s cozy relationship with a Russian dictator and the destruction of general decency.

It’s going to be a very long four years. Intellectuals and the press already stand accused. Before long the library will be in flames.

God bless us every one.

RO

A Bogus Inauguration?

Why do so many people keep dancing around the truth – the fact that without Russian hacking coupled with FBI Director Comey’s ill-timed and out-of-policy email pronouncements – Donald J. Trump, would, in all probability, not be on the doorstep of becoming the next President of the United States?

Putting it plainly, we, dear friends, are in one hell of a mess.

Hillary Clinton, was leading in the polls, remember?   And then, just days before the election, FBI Director Comey decided it would be a good idea to link her to Anthony Weiner.   It turned out to be totally baseless, but her numbers took a four point hit.  The right-wing propaganda machine went to work and Mrs. Clinton,  never recovered.

There are those who would argue that Comey’s “bombshell” letter, implying a link between Clinton and  Weiner (when there was none), leading to pics of Mr. Weiner’s throbbing member all over the internet and television news, coming just eleven days before the vote, had no impact on the election.  Really?   Give me a break.

Take it back even further.    Try and imagine the campaign without the email scandals, or the FBI releasing information about the server investigation, which, it turned out, contained nothing chargeable.

Hillary Clinton did nothing that merited being charged, Comey said, and yet the FBI failed to follow its own policy by releasing information regarding an ongoing investigation.  Once again, Director Comey was doing all he could, intentionally or unintentionally,  to torpedo the Clinton campaign,  and in doing so, playing right into Russia’s hands.

At this point it really doesn’t matter whether Comey did it to intentionally attack Hillary Clinton, or if his judgement (and possibly the judgement of his boss Loretta Lynch) was just that horrible.   The damage was done.

Stop pretending it never happened and that it doesn’t warrant a major investigation into not just the impact but the motivation of those involved as Donald Trump continues to do all he can to promote his friend and ally Vladimir Putin, and Putin, does all he can to return the favor for Trump, with a huge oil deal for Exxon hanging in the balance in Russia as Mr. Trump tries to assign the job of Secretary of State to the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, much to the delight you can be sure, of Vladimir Putin.

At the same time, Mr. Trump seems determined to do all he can (and tweet all he can) to insult our time-tested friends and allies in NATO.

Take off your blinders.  Connect the dots.  Remember that the Russians hacked both Clinton and Trump, but only released damaging material on Mrs. Clinton and appear to be withholding whatever they might have on Trump.  Think about it as you watch Donald Trump being sworn in on Friday.   Imagine Vladimir Putin standing by his side as Trump raises his hand and pledges to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  

Kudos to those public officials and celebrities who are refusing to attend, which would only lend unspoken approval.    Kudos to members of the press who refuse to accept nonsense as being acceptable.

Blaming the media and placing restrictions on our free press will be among of the first signs that the ship of state is in danger of going down. Watch for it.  The Trump camp is already making noises about closing the White House press room.

As the Ben Bradlee character so aptly put it in All The President’s Men,  “Nothing’s riding on this except the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.”

At this moment in time we need all the Ben Bradlees we can get our hands on.

It Comes Down To Compassion?

Unable to sleep, troubled by an ongoing metaphorical mental picture of a horse being out of the barn, galloping  full-speed toward a cliff from which there may be no return, no salvation, I pick up the remote to switch on CNN and Don Lemon.

And there it was.  After years of wondering why there is such a division in thinking between the political poles of left and right, suddenly it became very clear.   It came from a cancer survivor.

There was Jeff Jeans,  cancer-free for five years he said, a former Republican, and former opponent of the Affordable Care Act.  He is now making the rounds on the talk shows after being featured on a town hall with Paul Ryan.  He spoke about his conversion to compassion.

That’s what changed him, he said, a conversion to having compassion.   It took a trip to death’s door to get him there but now he has it.   Simple compassion.

Before being confronted by cancer, he said, he felt that any and all government programs were bad.  And then the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” saved his life.

It’s inconceivable that there are still people who think they’ll be fine after the Republicans repeal Obamacare, because they will still be covered by the Affordable Care Act.  Inconceivable. But those people do exist.  You can see them if you watch enough tv  or take the time to read.

Before his conversion, Jeff Jeans said, he was a “Libertarian-leaning Republican,” who believed in material things.  Now, he says, he believes health care is a right and not a privilege to be  afforded only by those with pockets deep enough to pay the going price, whatever that might be, dictated by the “every man for himself” free traders who think everything will be just fine if only government will just get out of the way.

That’s what he believed before being diagnosed with cancer.  Before he needed Obamacare to  pay the bills so that he could live.   Before he learned that compassion is a real living thing and that without it we are no more than wild dogs snarling and snapping over the scraps thrown out by a butcher’s helper preparing the finest cuts for the rich folks who live behind a tall fence up on the hill.

Can it be just that simple?    Can it be  such a simple thing as half the country having no compassion?   How can so many of these people call themselves Christians, going to church on Sunday and still be without compassion?   Can you even imagine Christ without compassion?   Aren’t they one and the same?

Is that why so many of us who already believe, if not  in Christ then in compassion, lie awake nights, wondering why the horse has been set free,  while compassionless Republicans chop their way through political hash in Washington, designing bills to destroy the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with nothing, because that’s what they have, absolutely nothing but the idea that government programs are bad,  compassion and caring be damned.

End affordable healthcare.   Gut Social Security and Medicare.  Cut assistance to the poor.   Kick out the Dreamers, split up families, send the immigrants packing behind a big, beautiful wall, covering your deceit with one lie after another, telling the already misinformed that it will all be so beautiful and good if only they continue to follow, unthinking, unquestioning with faith in ongoing ignorance, abandoning compassion.

And so the horse tumbles into a bottomless black hole from which there may be no salvation.   Is that what it will take for greedy unbelievers to learn compassion?   Must we all go over  the cliff with them?   Will there be any coming back after the fall, or will we find ourselves in some brave new world, ruled by an unholy alliance between Russian oligarchs and Trumpist corporate chieftains, the poor crushed under the boot heels of those who believe that “might makes right” – children and the elderly left to their own devices while the wealthy few keep the gold for themselves, comforted in their certainty that only  they deserve what they have because they are better than all the rest because they have never had to feel the sting of being at death’s door without the ability to pay for life-giving care?

Surely the hand of God has delivered the wealthy few to live in a privileged bubble, with no need for the compassion of government interference.

And so the horse gallops toward the cliff while untold numbers of Americans can’t sleep at night wondering if there will be any return from the fall.   If  compassion will in the end trump greed, delivering us from the evil of raw and mindless financial lust and all the suffering that goes with it.

 

A Little Suffering…

For my mental health and general well-being, I am going to try and get through an entire piece without mentioning politics, DJT,  Julian Assange, or any of the assorted political madness with which we are currently confronted.   Okay, here we go-

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The snow filled screensaver that is winter in Maryland has finally returned.  Great white flakes floating to the ground, reminding me of Minnesota and California, which would be contradictory, except that I’ve lived in both states.

Folks here in Maryland are in the habit of running out and shoveling the snow away in stages, before it gets so thick that they’ve got a real job on their hands.   Not like Minnesota, where Scandinavians enjoy the pain and suffering that comes with letting the snow pile up for two or three feet before going out in freezing temperatures to do some real heavy lifting, coming back in exhausted and covered with sweat, eyebrows frozen and their long-johns caked with ice where they poke out just above their felt-lined rubber survival boots reinforced with heated socks.

One winter years ago, after a really heavy Minnesota snow,  my buddy Jim Sonstegard and I thought we’d make some serious money shoveling out driveways.   Our first big take was cutting a deal to shovel out Johnny Bolstad’s house for five bucks.  That was five dollars for both of us, not five dollars each.  Johnny had done well for himself and it wasn’t because he threw money around carelessly.  Anyway, this was in the 60’s.   Gas was 28-cents a gallon, so five dollars would buy more than just a couple of trips to the twin cities.

The snow was probably five feet deep where it was blown up in a big drift against Johnny’s garage door and two to three feet deep all the way out to the street.   It didn’t look all that bad until we were about one-third finished and it hit us that we had two-thirds still to go.  I don’t remember how long it took us to clear the whole thing, just that at some point in the process we decided  it would be our one and only job of the day.   We might have been young but we weren’t stupid and we came to a mutual understanding about a need for cost-effectiveness, long before the term was in vogue.   Anyway, my Swedish heritage and Jim’s Norwegian blood had suffered far enough to satisfy any need we had for earning our keep through frozen exhaustion.

The snow reminds me of California, because, after more than thirty years in the sun,  I was, quite frankly, getting tired of nearly the same weather each and every day, month after month, year after year.  “Another lousy day in paradise,” my friends in the tv business used to call it.   There is some truth in that, as generally, the weather in Southern California is wonderful, until you get tired of it or the earth moves reminding you of the price you must pay for the near-normalcy of the almost non-stop Mediterranean climate.   There are also periods of extreme heat that would fry a lizard, if lizards were stupid enough to crawl out from under their rocks,  but that usually passes without too much damage being done.

Here in Maryland,  things are more temperate.  The winter, in fact, isn’t all that bad compared to Minnesota  where it grabs you by the throat, threatening to kill you sometime in early or mid-December, and not letting go until April – if your luck holds out. In Maryland we get about half of that, with January snow hanging around until March.  Not that bad really, more like a long winter vacation in Big Bear or Mammoth before winter makes way for spring, and everything turns green again.

Our friend Susan, has a farm over in Carroll County with a big house with a screened-in porch.   That’s where we were sitting, eating lunch one day this summer when I took a look around at the scenery all bathed in green, the trees,  the fields, the birds and her horses crossing a pasture single file and proclaimed, “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.”    “That’s what Jack used to say!” Susan responded, referring to her late husband.   The place is just that beautiful, throughout the year.

It’s like living in a painting, or maybe a screensaver, with gently falling snow.  A screensaver that changes with the seasons, making Maryland  one of the most underrated states in the Union.  A perfect balance between the torrential rains of the south and the bitter Minnesota-like winters of New England.

Please don’t tell anybody.   If word about how great this place is gets around I’ll have to move again, and I’m running out of places to go.   Right now I have to run outside and shovel out the driveway while it’s still in stage one. Doesn’t bother me a bit though.  A little suffering is good for the soul, and compared to Minnesota, this is a piece of cake.

2016 Takes Parting Shot, Killing Father Mulcahy

What the hell’s going on?   Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and then a day later her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and now on the final day of the year William Christopher?  Father Mulcahy of the the “4077th Mash?”

I have to think Mr. Christopher was killed by 2016,  a parting shot and final insult from what had to have been one of the all-around crappiest years on record.  Not a bad year in terms of disease or mass dying here int he U.S., it’s not like some heretofore unheard of plague swept the land.  No, it was just kind of crappy.    Not a pretty word, but the only one that seems to fit.

We’ve had years that were far worse in many respects, especially war deaths, but when considering dirty, disgusting, damaging, depressing politics with two presidential candidates nobody really wanted, followed by a group of celebrity deaths,including a mother and daughter all lumped together near year’s end and who knows how many black men, women and children gunned down on the nations streets, 2016 may be one of the worst years ever.   It’s is, at the very least, one of the worst post-2001.

And now this miserable year has taken one last parting shot, killing, of all people, not some evil jerk, but Father Mulcahy.

Wish I could say that 2017 has to be better, but I can’t.  Not with the Trumpists already at war with their own party and a sitting president.   Not with a group of people who have convinced their base that so much that is good and hopeful about the United States needs to be done away with so that we can protect the illusion of an attack on the Second Amendment and defend against a non-existent war on Christmas or the false and disgusting allegation of Mexican rapists overwhelming our southern border.

2016 was the wonderful year that conned us into thinking political “surrogates” were credible conduits of information on television while we  were assaulted by “fake news” on the Internet, like the bogus story about the death of American author Herman Wouk.   If you’ve forgotten, Wouk wrote “The Winds of War,” and “The Caine Mutiny.”

I’ve been watching “Winds of War,”  Wouk’s monumental book turned into a seven-part docudrama mega-series for television in the 80’s.   It’s free on YouTube.   Apart from some wonderful acting and a sensational story, it serves as an uneasy reminder of how badly power corrupts.  How lying, thin-skinned bullies must be confronted without hesitation.   Of how, as Sinclair Lewis reminded us so many years ago, we should never think that “It Can’t Happen Here.”  That may be the uneasiest part of all.

I’ve just watched part 5 of “Winds of War.”   Partly based upon a non-existent threat from Poland, Hitler and Mussolini, both mad with power,  are about to drag the U.S. into the war in Europe.   We got through that, so we’ll probably get through this – whatever “this” turns out to be.   It’s difficult to tell when a president elect appears to be in league with a foreign dictator, even if by no means other than supportive rhetoric, in a country that has at various times threatened to bury us and most recently hacked into our electoral process and is currently planning God knows what.

Don’t be fooled, William Christopher may be dead but Herman Wouk remains one of America’s greatest living authors, and one of his greatest works, “Winds of War” is free on YouTube.   Be forewarned though, some of the parallels with our contemporary political situation just might scare the hell right out of you.

We might do well to remember the words of journalist and author, Sydney Schanberg, who said, “Genocide, is just around the corner, all the time……it didn’t end with World War II.”    Mr. Schanberg,  is among those who passed away in 2016.  His book,  “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” was adapted for film as “The Killing Fields.”

 

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P.S.  The piece above was originally posted (briefly) with the name of Bob Denver of “Gilligan’s Island” fame instead of William Christopher.  I wrote it that way the morning of December 31st, inadvertently creating a piece of fake news because I was faked out by the Internet.

Somebody apparently thought it would be clever to circulate an old report from CBS News on the death of Bob Denver from 2005.   Well, they got me.    I saw the post, coming from another friend in the journalism business, and believed it to be the final insult of 2016.   I felt compelled to write something, and so I did.   I wrote the piece above, but about the death of Gilligan and not William Christopher.

Later, a member of the Boston University J-School  facebook page I sometimes post to read the piece and gave me a heads up that I had screwed up, that Denver had been dead since 2005.   I took the piece down, relegating it to a trash file on my website, pledging that I would go and resurrect no more.

Then, this morning, I woke up to read that 2016 wasn’t done with us after all, that the mild mannered padre’ from Mash, William Christopher, had died at his home in Pasadena.  I again felt compelled to write something but there was no need.   I had already written it the day before.    All I had to do was remove Bob Denver’s name and insert the name of William Christopher.

So now, finally, hopefully, goodbye and good riddance to 2016, a year I ushered out by writing a piece on fake news that turned out to be fake news.   Not by intention but by fluke.    But then, it’s been one hell of a fluky year.   Who really believed the American people would put Donald Trump in the White House?

RO

 

Carrie Fisher 1956-2016

          photo: wikipedia

One of Hollywood’s peculiar axioms is that celebrities generally die in threes and it has just happened again.    Carrie Fisher has passed away after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to L.A. She  was only 60.   I  can say “only,” and claim a certain affinity for her passing as I am 68 and suffered my heart attack ten years ago on the Hollywood Freeway.   I was one of the lucky ones.   They got me to Cedars Sinai with enough time for a surgeon to make repairs to my arterial plumbing.  But there’s more to the story than that.

Some years ago I was sent out to interview Carrie Fisher and Beverly D’Angelo. Can’t remember what they were both involved with at the time, probably one charity or another, but my photographer and I were sent out by KTLA to shoot the interviews at a park in Beverly Hills. Pretty sure that by sheer coincidence it was Will Rogers Park,  a spot later made  infamous  as the location of George Michael’s arrest.

I don’t remember much about Ms. Fisher, except that she was very nice. That’s what you remember years later, not the substance of the interview but how you were treated, particularly by a celebrity like Fisher whose parents are entertainment royalty, and she was very nice. So was her mother Debbie Reynolds, whom I interviewed between shoots for the movie “Mother” at the Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood.   I was interviewing Ms. Reynolds, about the death of another Hollywood legend, Gene Kelly.

Saddened to hear of Ms. Fisher’s death and of the deaths of Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Michael. Happily, Ms. D’Angelo and I are both still among the living. I worked for her father Gene, when he was General Manager of WBNS-TV, in Columbus, Ohio. Beverly and I had a nice chat about those early days back in Columbus, when we met for an interview one day years ago, at a park in Beverly Hills.

Oh Deliver Us Please From The Donald

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It’s a struggle to get it down on the page, the madness is coming so fast and without regard for human decency.   Deception like greasy machine gun fire cutting down any and all that get in its path, as the truth is laid to waste somewhere out on the I-95 between New York,  DC and Mar-a-Lago.

How are we supposed to deal with a president who leaves his wife at home in Manhattan and instead will apparently present his daughter as the figurative first lady of the United States?    How are we supposed to handle this in our oh so proper Christian nation now being hit by huge Republican overtones shot through with the heaviest of family values?   Is this daughter as first lady thing as perverse as it seems?   Can you even imagine what the huddled masses would be saying if a Democrat tried to pull this familial switch?

Is there anything Trump can’t get away with, as he ignores daily intelligence briefings, telling his followers not to fret,  that he is so incredibly intelligent that he can afford to avoid intelligence which he can’t possibly have because he’s refusing to hear it?

He ignores science, nominating climate change deniers to lead or mislead the EPA and the Department of Energy.   He has nominated the CEO of one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, a man with no experience outside the oil and gas industry, to be Secretary of State while Bloomberg reports that there are now more green energy jobs than oil and gas extraction jobs in the U.S.   All of Trump’s nominees to date are aging white men, which totally ignores the nation’s  demographic reality.

What form of intellectual hoodoo is this?   Is there anything the Trumpists won’t find acceptable?

Those with the ability to identify the madness continue to cry out for the country, for our futures and the futures of our kids and grandkids while Donald J. Trump, not yet in office, but on his way, gets into a Twitter snit with the Chinese government over their capture of a U.S. Navy drone, something he really needs to just stay the hell out of at this point as we still have a real president to deal with it, while those of us who know the hazards headed our way argue on Facebook over the degree to which we must accept this man and what we can and cannot do now and in the coming four years to try and preserve the Republic.

A wasted argument perhaps, as we sink further and further into picayune times,  led by picayune people,  becoming increasingly picaynish, greedy and backward,  while those who have not yet fallen into a political coma cry out for a giant of mind and spirit to deliver us from this madness, at the same time fearing that all the real giants might be dead, bought off or contained.

Trump Taps Badenov For Top Security Job

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Washington, D.C.    12/18/2016

Catching the entire DC press corps by surprise, President-elect Donald J. Trump has withdrawn the name of Lt. General Michael Flynn to be his National Security Advisor, and has instead named international covert operations expert Boris Badenov to the post.

Neither General Flynn nor Badenov’s long time partner Natasha Fatale, could be reached for comment.

A Republican favorite for years, Badenov is expected to be widely accepted in Washington DC circles.  Reached by phone, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said,  “Sure Russia’s a big deal and yes we’re concerned about those damn tweets but this Badinov thing could prove to be the President-elect’s finest moment.”

In addition to regular appearances on “Dancing With the Stars,” Mr. Badenov previously worked for both the Nixon and George W. Bush Administrations.    Although it was never verified, he was thought to be a key advisor to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and largely responsible for the invasion of Iraq and the  failure of the U.S. Government to act in a timely fashion following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Badenov reacted to the appointment by phone saying,  “Ve vill kill moose and squirrel fast and nasty, and for fat orange Donald I do it on the cheap…..bwahahahaha.”    The reference to “moose and squirrel” is believed to be some kind of twitter code.

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12/18/2016 putinspeepshownewsservice.moscow  

NOT FAKE NEWS — DO NOT GO TO YOUR NEAREST PIZZA PARLOR TO INVESTIGATE — NOT FAKE NEWS

White Noise – The New Normal

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You turn on the nightly news hoping for some valid information.   Possibly something you really need to know delivered by seasoned, investigative journalists on whether the Russians might actually be partially responsible for the election of Donald J. Trump, and if so, what Putin and his henchmen expect to gain from the deal? Or maybe something that will clarify why Jill Stein has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and other battleground states while, at the same time, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has just surpassed the two-million mark and some perfectly credible and intelligent poll-watchers are talking about the need for the Electoral College to overturn Trump’s election, because, at the very least, there are just too many unanswered questions?

That’s what you hope for. What you get is a superficial rundown on who Mr. Trump has not picked for several cabinet offices.  A process John Cleese has compared to a pirate captain picking his band of cutthroats.  But, like a gunfighter with sand in his eyes, broadcast news, where most Americans go for their information,  stumbles forward, as though this election of a billionaire headline-seeker from Manhattan who refuses to release his tax records or put his businesses in a blind trust and praises the governing style of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as being business as usual,  followed by an in-depth analysis of how well the stores did with their day-after-Thanksgiving Day sales and what might happen on the newest big sales day in America, the Saturday that follows the day-after to be followed by “Cyber Monday”….blah, blah, blah, blah.

Your value as a customer appears to be far more important than your status as a citizen. At least that’s the way it feels, doesn’t it? Hasn’t the importance of markets superseded national interest, and isn’t the media just going along to get along?   They would be better off just giving the first five minutes of their show to John Cleese and letting him talk.

Maybe it’s just me. There’s this thing that happens, you see. It’s not uncommon, I’m not sure that it has a name, so I’ll call it a “thing.” It takes place when people who have been doing something for a very long time look back over their years of endeavor and begin to complain about how much better the profession was twenty or thirty years ago. For me, this led to discussions with other broadcast journalists about whether the perception is real or imagined, the argument being that our observation is hindered when viewed through the mist of time. Perhaps everything looks better in retrospect? Or maybe not?

Cronkite is dead and all the pretenders to the throne are coming up short. Not because they can’t do the job, but because the business parameters of the job have changed. At least it feels that way. This is what happens when profits trump journalism (pun intended) and the best intentions of kids coming out of journalism schools are dashed upon the rocks by broadcast news operations thoroughly co-opted by promotion and sales departments as ratings become all-important, driving real journalists away from a once-beloved profession where they are increasingly seen as a danger to profitability.  I’ve had more than one conversation centered on the question of whether anyone would watch a real newscast if someone had the gall to put it on the air.

To date, no one has.   Even PBS is now running ads and is therefore under a degree of pressure from the companies that support their broadcast, whether they’ll admit it or not.

Fear of the truth, even a little fear,  benefits authoritarians, tyrants and bullies, who seek to trivialize anything that questions their motives. Don’t take it personally America, you thought it was the truth but it’s only business.   According to the AP, “PolitiFact checked 77 Trump statements and found that 76 percent of them were Mostly FalseFalse or Pants on Fire.   In other words, for every four statements Donald Trump makes, only one of them is true, according to the site.”

No, Virginia, climate change is not a lie invented by the Chinese, there were not “thousands of people” celebrating the attacks of 9-11 in New Jersey, most whites are not killed by blacks,  and on and on and on.   The Washington Post reported in November of 2015,  “Trump has lied so many times about so many things during the past week that it’s difficult to keep track of all of them. But it doesn’t matter whether one focuses on Trump’s attitudes about crime or American Muslims or trade policy. He lies about all of these issues. And he will continue to lie as long as it works for him.”

And he has.   His latest big lie, unsupported by any factual information is his contention that “millions” voted illegally in the presidential election.  Not true, and he is being called out by the media on this latest big lie.  The problem, is that it took them so many months to get here.  In the beginning, they thought he was a political joke and they let him get away with rhetorical murder.  Now that it’s too late, they’re finally telling it like it is.  Donald Trump is a liar.

One of the smartest people on political talk tv, Fareed Zakaria, dared tell it like it is when he called Trump a “bullshit artist.” Pretty sure he did it only once.   I can only imagine the execs at CNN spitting out their Sunday morning coffee as they watched Zakaria  giving his audience the unvarnished truth.    Good God, we can’t have that.   Not on cable tv.

What have we come to when the truth is seen as liberal raving from the left and lies on the right,  driven by a massive FOX/Limbaugh media machine, are viewed as common sense?  Is that an environment where progressive thinking has even half a chance? The truth, is that it’s a brand of insanity, or at the very least, mass hysteria.

The fact that only the Electoral College stands between Donald J. Trump and the presidency has already been lost on most major broadcast outlets who are moving forward with their time-tested credo of give the people not what the need but what they want, and your ratings will rise!   The country will suffer in the process but remember, it’s only business.

Journalism should be a quest for the truth, not white noise designed to placate advertisers.  It’s a key to our democratic way of life. That being the case, we should all be eager to turn on the network news each night for a daily perspective on what’s really happening. A daily dose of the truth. Instead, we see otherwise excellent journalists being forced to do a dance of false equivalency, presenting both sides of an issue as though they carry equal weight, even though one side is obviously false and should be called out and crushed for being rhetorical blather.  If you have no need for objectivity whatsoever, you can always turn to FOX or right-wing talk radio.  The lefties can get pretty carried away too, but to say they are comparable to the right would be a false equivalency to the max.

Whatever you do, don’t read a newspaper or watch France24  or Euronews tv,  because you’ll be amazed at what’s really happening out there.  Journalism should be a clear light,  the enemy of tyrants, bullies and liars. In this new age of false equivalency, downright fake news on the Internet possibly assisted by the Russians and Orwellian “newspeak,” we are surely threatened by its demise.

Or perhaps I can’t remember things all that clearly anymore. Perhaps Cronkite going to Vietnam to see what was happening for himself and then coming back and telling us it was time to release ourselves and the Vietnamese people from the ongoing indentured hell of that war – perhaps this is all illusory?  Maybe Ed Murrow, never held the witch-hunting demagoguery of Joe McCarthy and his right hand man Roy Cohen (Trump’s mentor) up to the light of day which helped end their assault on decency?   Maybe Dan Rather and Sam Donaldson didn’t refuse to be intimidated by any number of public officials?  Or maybe I’m right.  Maybe there has been a sea-change in the way news is gathered and presented and maybe that’s why it all feels like nothing more than just so much white noise.   Nothing more than an irritant to be avoided.

However, there may be an even bigger question.    For network news outlets to provide the truth would mean telling millions of Americans not only about the political crisis we currently face and the potential danger it represents to the Republic and the world,  it would also mean admitting that nearly half the electorate voted to make it happen.

Strangely enough, the Europeans seem to be more worried about our current situation than many Americans are.   Just as they were more worried when they advised George W. Bush against launching his military misadventure in Iraq, leading to the formation of ISIS,  and a host of other problems.   Probably because they are better informed.