Saturday, December 31, 2016

R.I.P. 2016: Remembrances

All I can add by way of tribute are random recollections of where these famous people and their work intersected with my life and sometimes my work.  Often that was during a brief period, though I did follow some over years.

For example, I attended to Alan Rickman's work as an actor and movie director over several decades, and wish I'd had the opportunity to see his theatre work as actor and director.  My appreciation of him just after his death is here.  Reading about him at that time and watching tributes by his peers preserved on YouTube proved he was an even more admirable person than I knew.

But two legendary pop music figures who died this year had mostly brief hold on my consciousness, long ago in the 1970s.  I became aware of Prince when most of the world did, with his Purple Rain movie and album--when he had the #1 film at the box office, #1 single and album simultaneously. (Dorin Thorin, cinematographer for Purple Rain, also died this year.)

 I was intrigued by Prince's musical versatility, stage presence and the unique mix of styles that characterized his music.  But as he shifted his persona I lost interest, and can't at the moment summon a single melody of his in my head.  Well, maybe "Little Red Corvette".

I became aware of David Bowie in the early 70s, this time before most of America.  His classic album Hunky Dory was not a hit in the US, but it was in Boston where I was writing on rock music and other topics for the alternative weekly Boston After Dark/Boston Phoenix.  I remember that our music editor, Ben Gerson, was much taken with Bowie.  Wish I had those pieces he labored on.

Hunky Dory remains the album that I remember, though I can conjure up a number of other Bowie hits in my head, recorded after and also before.  But I didn't follow his subsequent work all that closely--I wasn't so taken with the theatrics of the Ziggy Stardust and subsequent personae.

I admired his acting in The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Hunger, but again I lost track of his subsequent films.  I've got a lot of catching up to do.  Reading his extensive wikipedia bio, I got exhausted just trying to follow his activities through the 1970s.  I do recall reading a story a few years ago about his successful marriage to Iman, a beautiful woman who fascinated me as a model and delighted me as an actor opposite William Shatner in Star Trek VI.  I've noted that some younger folk were much taken with his last album Blackstar, in which he dealt quite consciously with his impending death.

My interest in the music of Bowie and Prince in the 1970s was largely supplanted when I got absorbed in the Asylum Records era--Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, John David Souther, Chris Hillman, American Flyer, etc. and especially the Eagles.  This must partly have been because I could play and sing some of their songs, and I did, and occasionally still do. I think my version of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" has actually improved.

That was one of many Eagles songs written or co-written by one of its founders, Glenn Frey who died in early 2016.  I saw the Eagles live once, along with Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, at a Jerry Brown for President fundraiser in 1976 in Washington.  They had reunion tours and albums in 1994 and 2007.  I should catch up with that music, too.  President Obama honored the group at this year's Kennedy Center honors.

The musicians I listened to but who survived their initial fame are dying off in droves now (Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, a group among those that define 1967-68 in my memory, and both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, though I barely remember them) and the musicians like George Michael who I didn't listen to are joining them.  I wonder how long I'll have the energy to notice, which is not as cynical as it may sound.

2016 saw the end of Muhammad Ali's long sad decline.  I remember watching the 1960 Olympic boxing match in which commentator Howard Cosell extolled the merits of the young amateur American fighter Cassius Clay.  He won that first fight and went on to win the Gold Medal.  He turned pro the same year and began his incredible career.  His name change, rapping persona, and especially his draft resistance in the late 1960s were inspirational and changed the culture.

Another hero of the 1960s was astronaut John Glenn.  His three-orbit ride in 1962 as the first American to orbit the Earth made him an instant hero. He became a personification of the JFK years, an apple pie American who was also a Kennedy Democrat. Towards the end of a distinguished career as a U.S. Senator, he became the oldest American in space when he returned to orbit as a member of the Space Shuttle crew in 1998.

Of course, the most current news is about the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, within 48 hours.  Carrie Fisher's feisty Princess Leia changed how women appeared in action movies, but I especially admired her writing.  Postcards From the Edge remains a special book.   And I was a Debbie Reynolds fan from childhood.  Her performance in Singing in the Rain, surely one of the most joyous musicals ever made, was brave and indelible.  It looks great on DVD.

Gene Wilder is known as an actor, notably in Young Frankenstein and a segment of Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, but earlier this year I discovered how instrumental he was as a writer in that classic Young Frankenstein film.  Though director Mel Brooks gets the credit, the initial idea and much of the story came from Wilder. (Brooks attention to black and white visual style however is essential to the movie's quality.)  It remains a classic film comedy.  I remember I first saw it with Pat Mitchell, then an entertainment reviewer for WBZ in Boston, later head of PBS.

Besides Jim Harrison and Edward Albee, writers I read who died in 2016 include Umberto Eco, whose work I have mixed feelings about, and W.P. Kinsella, whose novel was the basis for the classic movie Field of Dreams. Gabriel Garcia Marquez himself gave major credit to Gregory Rabassa for his English translation of A Hundred Years of Solitude and other of his works that established his reputation in North America.  Rabassa died in 2016, as did  British "Angry Young Man" playwright Arnold Wesker, Italian political playwright and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, and author of the most beloved American novel of my time, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

Besides record producer George Martin, Beatlesland lost Al Brodax, producer of the film Yellow Submarine as well as the earlier Beatles TV cartoon series, the animation director of Yellow Submarine Robert Baiser, and press officer Tony Barrow. 

Actor Robert Vaughn costarred with David McCallum in the 60s TV series Man From UNCLE.  Others I remember fondly who died this year include the excellent PBS news reporter Gwen Ifill, golfer Arnold Palmer who came from my part of western PA and returned there after utterly transforming professional golf into the major sport it is today, pioneer news broadcaster Morley Safer and pioneer baseball broadcaster (and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher) Joe Garagiola.  The world we know now is due partly to their unique presences.

Among the lesser known figures I want to recognize are journalist Ben Bagdikian, who covered Civil Rights in the 50s and was the reporter to whom Daniel Ellsberg passed the Pentagon Papers.  Bagdikian became a journalism educator and author.  Robert Stigwood was the impresario that made the Bee Gees prominent, through thick and thin and thick and thin and thick.  Pat Harrington, Jr. was one of Steve Allen's original Man on the Street gang, and among his many later roles was the unforgettable man from the Phone Company, revealed to be running the country in the 1967  movie The President's Analyst.

Bob Elliot of Bob and Ray died at age 92.  Alvin Toffler was the author of Future Shock that popularized the 1970s future studies movement.  Whatever happened to that, the future?  And yunz Pittsburghers will remember Chilly Billy Bill Cardille, host of Chiller Theatre, who memorably appeared in the burgh classic, Night of the Living Dead.

May they all rest in peace.  Their legacy and their work lives on.

Not So Rainy December

December is statistically the rainiest month of our winter here on the North Coast, but not so this year.  It was just a shade under the normal (7.87 inches v. 8.12.) which surprised me--I thought it would turn out to be less.  It was certainly less than last December, when we got about twice as much.

Still, we're ahead of last year since October by 5 inches, and some 20 inches more rain fell in calendar year 2016 than 2015.  Which is about the most positive thing I can say about 2016.  (Other than that two of my nieces had their first babies, so my baby sister became a grandmother for the first time--and the second time in the same year.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

R.I.P. 2016 George Martin

I don't have much to add to Adam Gopnik's Post Script on George Martin in the New Yorker, especially as it confirms something I noticed when listening recently to the early cuts on the Beatles Anthology: at first the Beatles were very close to a comedy group.  When he met them, George Martin was chiefly a comedy record producer, and he mostly liked their sense of humor.

Of course both Martin and the Beatles together transcended the category, but that specific early 60s era of lunacy, parody and satire, from Peter Sellers and The Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe and That Was The Week That Was in the UK (and briefly in the US) to the likes of Stan Freberg in the US, was an important aspect of the cultural shift that became what's known as the 60s.

As Gopnik notes, those early audition tapes weren't special in themselves. The Beatles were fortunate in finding the right supporters, like George Martin--to help liberate their unforeseen genius.  That comic orientation would persist--they picked Richard Lester, who'd also been associated with Peter Sellers (as George Martin had been) and the Goons to direct their movies, and continued through John Lennon's books and the group's wonderful Christmas records for their fan club.

That comic sense--parody, self-parody, satire--combined with a Liverpool twist and a British larking about--would transmute through the decade (in the crucible of mind-expanding drugs, the craziness and dangers of nuclear Cold War and Vietnam) into a kind of transcendent, desperate joy, a refusal to submit to despair in the face of possible annihilation.  It would be a major element and effect of the Beatles very individual music.

All of the Beatles were funny, and all in different ways.  George Harrison's spiritual musical expressions were part of that transcendent joy and wisdom, but he also wrote one of their great satires ("Piggies") and later bankrolled Monty Python movies.

In all this, George Martin provided all that Gopnik notes: possibilities found in the musical literature, the willingness and ability to follow creative paths and whims, and a specific taste and ability in executing arrangements as well as constructing recordings that became the definition of a producer.  The Beatles wouldn't have been the Beatles without him.

Like all great producers, Martin worked on records nobody heard with artists that never made it.  But that doesn't diminish his contribution with the Beatles, which extended to the more recent anthologies and resurrections.  He became a curator as well as a co-creator.

George Martin died in March 2016. (My commentary at the time is here.)  His work lives on.

An Italian Connection

Among the many vicious and racist expressions liberated by election results--some unparalleled in my memory which goes back to the open racism of the 1950s--there are the prominent remarks of one Carl Paladino, often described as a highly placed Trump ally.

I won't repeat the remarks, though I will repeat that while such language about African Americans has obviously lived through private exchanges, not even in the 1950s would a public figure make them public.  (Paladino denies he meant to make them public, though he's made similar denials in the past.  His defense apparently is that he's a bumbling racist.)

I mention them because by name and appearance, Paladino seems to be of Italian extraction.  I've noted with great sadness the Italian names that prominently appear in the ranks of reactionaries, xenophobes and racists.

 I've also noticed that as generations of Italian Americans have become "Americanized" and prosperous, they have lost touch with their roots and their ties to their immigrant ancestors.  I saw this in western Pennsylvania but it is probably true elsewhere.  The move to the suburbs seems to more than symbolize it.

I grew up in the 1950s, when Italian Americans were major players in American culture, from Sinatra to DiMaggio.  There were Italian language hit songs on the radio.  Later generations had only the Godfather films, brilliant in themselves but unfortunate in their effects at creating dubious and mostly inaccurate stereotypes.

There were waves of Italian immigration from the late 19th century to just after World War II, but the bulk came in the first two decades of the 20th century--and together with the immigrants from Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe (at first solicited by American companies for labor in coal mines)--led to restrictions and quotas on immigration from those countries in 1921.

My maternal grandfather arrived from Italy just before these first restrictions went into effect, and my grandmother and mother got in later because they were family members.  The quotas from certain countries were further reduced in the National Origins Act of 1924, which a New York Times book reviewer earlier this year called it "the most restrictive immigration law in our history" meant to "protect the country from foreign contamination."

But "foreign" meant something more specific. It meant virtually all Asians, for one thing.  But it also meant Italians, already here in large numbers.  This review also quotes the august Saturday Evening Post from the 1920s:  “If America doesn’t keep out the queer, alien, mongrelized people of Southern and Eastern Europe, her crop of citizens will eventually be dwarfed and mongrelized in turn.” 

That prominently meant Italians, who at the time were not considered "white."  It also meant Poles, another chunk of my known heritage and the source of my last name.  When I was growing up and started having lofty ambitions, I could not help but notice that names like mine (or my mother's) weren't reflected in lists of American writers or presidential candidates.  And if I didn't notice it, others were helpful in pointing it out, even meaning it kindly.

The impact of immigration is complicated on every level.  There is a certain cultural sentimentality that twists reason, along with understandable reaction to nearby change.  On the other hand, racism is racism.

We can attribute the Paladinos of today's America to a combination of a lack of empathy and historical awareness as well as residual tribalism and personal stupidity, in which the culture of greed overcomes any other.  But there's likely also a specific sort of projection, a shadow of shame in the cultural disdain and stereotypes that still follow our ancestral groups.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Defining the Darkness.10

“She has opted for a world in which she has done nothing wrong, and that she need answer only to God. This is a not very rare version of God in America which is often viewed as a godless place, ergo, the most ordinary behavioral ethic may be ignored by Christians. It is a version of religion quite similar to Senator McCarthy’s version of Americanism where all honor and civility can be righteously ignored.”

Jim Harrison
The Road Home

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

As we approach the final Christmas of the Obama Presidency--the comparative Golden Age before the Dark Age Ahead--I'll focus on photos of President Obama with babies and young children. (That is, in addition to the ones I've used before, here  and here. There are so many to choose from.) Every one tells a story, at least one. Happy Holidays.

President Obama with siblings of children killed in Sandy Hook shooting

A Story for Our Time? Well, For Mine Anyway

I had this clock on the wall in my bathroom, blue background, black numerals.  I liked it a lot.  Then a few months ago it started slowing down.  I changed the battery.  Pretty soon it slowed down again.  New batteries didn't help, and eventually it was losing hours.

I got another clock for that space in the bathroom, at a local thrift shop.  It had a gray, pebbled pattern surrounding the face, which coincidentally matches the colors and approximately the pattern of the surface around the sink.  (This is the original stuff from the 50s.)

That's pretty nice, but I still liked that blue clock.  So I mounted it in here, above my computer and to the right.  I decided I would treat it as an old-fashioned wind-up clock that you had to reset every day.  But most of the time I forgot, so it had any old time.  When I wanted to know the actual time, I depended on the computer time down there in the right hand corner.

Then about a month ago, the computer clock stopped telling the actual time.  I reset it using the various Internet clocks, like  The first time it worked but the next time I turned the computer on, it was wrong again.  Then it refused to update--just an error message. At the moment, that clock is off by 5 hours and the calendar by 3 days.

I'm told this may have something to do with a battery that's just for the clock.  It's an old computer.  The operating system is so old that Microsoft won't support it anymore.

  But here's the thing.  The blue clock on the wall started keeping perfect time again.  It has for several weeks now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Bumper Sticker of the Year

Apparently it's been around for a few years, so I should qualify the award as Best Bumper Sticker I Saw for the First Time in 2016.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In California, Resistance is Official

It's not just activists and entrepreneurs, and even not just California Governor Brown.  Elsewhere the Resistance to the coming Nazi Millennium is official, according to the LA Times.

The story notes CA reps to the federal government like Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein and incoming Senator Kamala Harris.  But also various state officials, like incoming state A-G Xavier Becerra, Sec of State Alex Padilla and top members of the state legislatures: Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

There's state legislation already in the works "which would stymie construction of a wall along the California-Mexico border and SB 31, which would prohibit the state from sharing information to a federally compiled registry of Muslims in the United States..."

Among non-officials and including non-Californians, talking up resistance are scientists who attended the recent American Geophysical Union convention in San Francisco where they heard Governor Jerry Brown's fiery speech, among others.  The Washington Post reported on their first street demonstration, and the determination of individual scientists and groups to defend science, especially climate science, against the Dark Agers of the Nazi Millennium.

The scientists confess they have no experience at political warfare.  Politicians on the other hand do--the question is will they have the stomach for it, beyond popular post-election bravado.  It's not very risky in California at the moment, but there's always the Bush-Cheney technique of getting us into a war or two and making support for the reich a test of patriotism.

Are they ready? Nobody seemed to remember the 2000 election, so why would they remember Iraqnam in 2003?  All these nifty Internet tools are useless when everything surprises you.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

That Failed Obama Administration

President Obama gets more succinct and at the same time more complete in listing the accomplishments of his administration.  He did so again at his end of the year, and end of administration press conference on Friday.

"As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent. Today, it’s at 4.6 percent -- the lowest in nearly a decade. We’ve seen the longest streak of job growth on record, and wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past 40.

When I came into office, 44 million people were uninsured. Today, we’ve covered more than 20 million of them. For the first time in our history, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured. In fact, yesterday was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day.

We’ve cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half, doubled production of renewable energy, enacted the most sweeping reforms since FDR to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing Main Street ever again." 

"None of these actions stifled growth, as critics predicted. Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled. Since I signed Obamacare into law, our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs. And the economy is undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.

Add it all up, and last year, the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds and protecting vital investments that grow the middle class.

In foreign policy, when I came into office, we were in the midst of two wars. Now, nearly 180,000 troops are down to 15,000. Bin Laden, rather than being at large, has been taken off the battlefield, along with thousands of other terrorists. Over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack on our homeland that was directed from overseas.

Through diplomacy, we’ve ensured that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon -- without going to war with Iran. We opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba. And we brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could very well save this planet for our kids. And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.

In other words, by so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. That's a situation that I’m proud to leave for my successor. And it’s thanks to the American people -- to the hard work that you’ve put in, the sacrifices you’ve made for your families and your communities, the businesses that you started or invested in, the way you looked out for one another. And I could not be prouder to be your President."


At his Friday press conference, President Obama talked about his administration's policies in Syria.  It was a serious look at a serious process, and is worth isolating in detail.

He brought up the subject in his opening statement.

"Around the world, as well, there are hotspots where disputes have been intractable, conflicts have flared up, and people -- innocent people are suffering as a result. And nowhere is this more terribly true than in the city of Aleppo. For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering. It has been one of the hardest issues that I've faced as President.

The world, as we speak, is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding, besieging, and starving innocent civilians. We've seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel; entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and dust. There are continuing reports of civilians being executed. These are all horrific violations of international law. Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone -- with the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. And this blood and these atrocities are on their hands.

We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through safe corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. And, beyond that, there needs to be a broader ceasefire that can serve as the basis for a political rather than a military solution.

That’s what the United States is going to continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the U.N.

Regretfully, but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the Security Council from taking action on these issues. So we’re going to keep pressing the Security Council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who are in such desperate need, and to ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we’re going to work in the U.N. General Assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement. Because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories, over the long term the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy.

That’s why we'll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government. And that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding. The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to obfuscate the truth. The world should not be fooled. And the world will not forget."

Asked he felt some moral responsibility for the carnage occurring in Aleppo and Syria generally, he said:  "Mike, I always feel responsible. I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced. I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on partly because there’s not as much social media being generated from there.

There are places around the world where horrible things are happening, and because of my office, because I’m President of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer."

But for those who make quick analysis or come up with easy answers, he talked about how seriously these questions are asked, with some idea of process and detail.

"So with respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States.

And throughout this process, based on hours of meetings, if you tallied it up, days or weeks of meetings where we went through every option in painful detail, with maps, and we had our military, and we had our aid agencies, and we had our diplomatic teams, and sometimes we’d bring in outsiders who were critics of ours -- 

whenever we went through it, the challenge was that, short of putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, uninvited, without any international law mandate, without sufficient support from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq, and we had just gone through over a decade of war and spent trillions of dollars, and when the opposition on the ground was not cohesive enough to necessarily govern a country, 

and you had a military superpower in Russia prepared to do whatever it took to keeps its client-state involved, and you had a regional military power in Iran that saw their own vital strategic interests at stake and were willing to send in as many of their people or proxies to support the regime -- that in that circumstance, unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems, and that everything else was tempting because we wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do, but it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap."

Later he concluded: "I cannot claim that we’ve been successful. And so that’s something that, as is true with a lot of issues and problems around the world, I have to go to bed with every night. But I continue to believe that it was the right approach, given what realistically we could get done absent a decision, as I said, to go in a much more significant way. And that, I think, would not have been sustainable or good for the American people because we had a whole host of other obligations that we also had to meet, wars we had already started and that were not yet finished."

He noted that the so-called "safe zones" in Syria are impossible unless they are heavily defended if Russia and Iran don't agree to them.  But that a temporary safe zone, perhaps in Turkey, may be possible in the near future for refugees from Aleppo.

I think this is likely to happen after he leaves office, as Russia's sop to the Nazi Millennium government, and once announced with great fanfare, it will fade away when media attention turns elsewhere.

Meanwhile, this is the Republican's ally, fomenting warfare and testing out their weapons systems in Syria: Russia.  Dark Age Ahead.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Today's Letter is R

R is for Republican. And Russia.

Exploiting the craven weaknesses of American political media has been a Republican specialty since Willie Horton (1988) and the Swift Boats (2004.)  Working with Russia, the new, ever more craven alt. right went full Nineteen Eighty-Four (War is Peace, etc.) and got away with it.

R is for Rabid Right Reactionaries. But the rabid younger reactionaries didn't start it.  That was King of Craven Mitch McConnell, who doesn't give a damn about this country or anything else but partisan political advantage.

As Senate Republican Leader, he organized the total opposition to anything that President Obama proposed, endorsed, approved of or said a kind word about, and did so during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, when the world economy depended on Washington leadership.

But to justify such obvious obstructionism meant amping up the rhetoric to absurd levels, demonizing Democrats and most of all, President Obama.  And an entire empire was energized and expanded to do this.

It in turn gave voice to the racism that the presence of a black First Family in the White House was already unleashing.  That racism had gone quiet, though it never went away.  Repressed for so long, it exploded, and it is out there now as an empowered fact of life.

R is for racism.  It's increasingly ugly, everywhere you look.  Part of the shock some are feeling at the election result is learning that friends and family are more openly expressing it, as well as other reactionary views.

There was of course more to it than that.  But isn't that enough?

So where is it going?  Nazi Millennium.  R is for Reich.

President Obama's press conference Friday was full of uncomfortable truths for the assembled media.  He nailed the political effect of all this, too:

"There was a survey, some of you saw, where -- now, this is just one poll, but a pretty credible source -- 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.

And how did that happen? It happened in part because, for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that’s said is seen through the lens of "does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats, or relative to President Obama?" And unless that changes, we’re going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence, because we’ve lost track of what it is that we’re about and what we stand for."

American Political News Media Suck

In my unremarkable view, there isn't an aspect of the US political system that didn't fail big time in the 2016 campaign and election, save perhaps the people who actually run the actual elections in their communities.

A short list of failures would include: Republicans, Democrats, pollsters and the news media.  Taking just the media for the moment, we've seen this building for years: the decline unto nearly nil of paid reporting, the closing of news bureaus (foreign and domestic) while blatantly partisan "news" media, easily manipulated Internet and social media "news" proliferate and take the previous niches plus more.  So the only kind of "reporting" that exists is the cheap kind: sports and political "reporting," which doesn't involve any real reporting other than reproducing and organizing statements and information provided by politicians and their servants.  And then the endless punditry, almost always on the same topic, using the same tidbits of "information."

Since the game is all about building image or tearing down image, it is an information environment practically designed for what is essentially gossip.  Enter the unholy alliance of Russia, Wikileaks, Republicans and the news media.

A fiction writer couldn't come up with a less likely combination, at least before this year: America's historic adversary and Cold War enemy, the "Evil Empire" that is no longer an empire but is arguably more evil than ever.  Working with the supposed whistleblowers speaking truth to power.  Working with and enabled by the most extreme reactionary major political party on the planet.  Working with and enabled by the American news media system.

As recent headlines tell it, the US intelligence agencies--including the CIA and even the FBI--conclude that Russia intervened (by way of hacks into organizations and individual email accounts) in the US election deliberately to assist the election of Trump, and that this effort was personally approved by Putin.  He is the leader, by the way, who has cynically caused the deaths and suffering of millions in Syria.

There is still some responsible journalism in this country, such as this article beginning to describe the Russian cyber-incursion.  But as I said more than once in this space while it was happening, the Russian hacks and the Wikileaks dispatches only achieved dominance in this campaign because American media fell for it.  They took stolen goods and made stories out of them, whether there was much substance or not (and did so in congressional campaigns as well, as the Times piece notes.)

Few if any of the important issues that the outcome of this election will drastically affect (and this time this wrongly and overused word is appropriate)--will drastically impact--were so widely and loudly disseminated.

Here is how President Obama put it in his press conference Friday:

"When we had a consensus around what had happened [Russian hacks], we announced it -- not through the White House, not through me, but rather through the intelligence communities that had actually carried out these investigations. And then we allowed you and the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.

And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didn’t have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I'm finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip -- including John Podesta's risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

So I do think it's worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations -- which, as I've said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.

This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme. They hacked into some Democratic Party emails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable, because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into, there might be some things that we wouldn’t want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there wasn’t anything particularly illegal or controversial about it. And then it just took off.

And that concerns me. And it should concern all of us."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

That Evil Obamacare

Update: On Dec. 16, President Obama announced that Thursday "was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day."

Here's that evil Obamacare that Republicans can't wait to get rid of.  In talking about the sign-up period now underway, President Obama outlined what all those horrible provisions are, that cause such righteous anger on the alt.right.

So when Nazi Millennium healthcare comes around, come back here and check on what you no longer have...

"Like most Americans who get coverage through, there’s a good chance you’ll find a plan that costs less than $75 a month. And while the enrollment period lasts until the end of January, as long as you sign up by this Thursday, December 15, you’ll be covered starting January 1.

"Now, this doesn’t apply to the roughly 250 million Americans who already get insurance through the workplace, or thanks to Medicare or Medicaid. But here’s what does. Every American with insurance is covered by the strongest set of consumer protections in history – a true Patients’ Bill of Rights.

 You now have free preventive care, like mammograms and contraception. 

There are no more annual or lifetime limits on the essential care you receive. 

Women can’t get charged more just for being a woman. 
Young people can stay on a parent’s plan until they turn 26, and seniors get discounts on their prescriptions. 

Every American can rest free from the fear that one illness or accident will derail your dreams -- because discrimination against preexisting conditions is now illegal. 

And since 2010, we’ve seen the slowest health care price growth in 50 years.

Whether or not you get insurance through the Affordable Care Act, that’s the health care system as we now know it. Because our goal wasn’t just to make sure more people have coverage -- it was to make sure more people have better coverage. 

That’s why we want to build on the progress we’ve made -- and I’ve put forth a number of ideas for how to improve the Affordable Care Act. Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the whole thing and start from scratch -- but trying to undo some of it could undo all of it. All those consumer protections -- whether you get your health insurance from Obamacare, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or on the job – could go right out the window. So any partisan talk you hear about repealing or replacing it should be judged by whether they keep all those improvements that benefit you and your family right now.

One new study shows that if Congress repeals Obamacare as they’ve proposed, nearly 30 million Americans would lose their coverage. Four in five of them would come from working families. More than nine million Americans who would receive tax credits to keep insurance affordable would no longer receive that help. That is unacceptable.

We can work together to make the system even better -- and one of the best ways to do that is make sure that you’re in it. So remember: Sign up on by this Thursday, and your health insurance will be there for you when you wake up on January 1. Thanks everybody, and have a good weekend."

On Dec. 16, President Obama announced that Thursday "was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day."