Thursday, May 25, 2017

Reminders


On the same day our dictator apprentice was busy advancing Russian foreign policy by berating NATO allies in Brussels, President Obama was speaking before a cheering crowd in Berlin and meeting with a clearly pleased Angela Merkel.

Besides his nuanced discussion of international issues and democratic governance in a public forum in which audience members asked questions, President Obama provided the succinct message of the day: "We can't hide behind a wall."

The Washington Post noted that in a Pew poll last summer, some 86% of Germans and 77% of Europeans generally said they had confidence in President Obama.  The then-Republican presidential candidate got all of 9%.

CNN noted that President Obama's White House photographer Pete Souzza has been posting his photos on his Instagram account--"And the photos Souza shares seem to be anything but random."

 CNN reproduced several images that showed a clear difference with something in the news concerning the current regime.  I don't know if Souzza was there in Berlin in 2008 when candidate Obama drew a crowd of 200,000.  But that might have been a good photo for Thursday.

Governed By Greed

On Thursday NBC and then the Washington Post reported that indeed it's Jared Kushner: he is the White House official that the FBI/Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in a US election wants to talk to, especially about some of his meetings with Russian officials.

This fits into what seems likely to be the master narrative that someday may emerge from all this.  That a chaotic family empire was rescued by at least one major Russian bank, possibly directed personally by Putin but in any case within his power, and working with Russian government spy agencies.  That these financial relationships (which probably still continue) at some point led to political relationships, so that activity on behalf of the Republican nominee became at least part of Russia's meddling with the US election, with some level of coordination and cooperation between Russians involved and members of the campaign.

This likely involvement is one feature of this regime that is unprecedented in American history.  All the signs are there, from lies about contacts to openly public behavior.  The regime denies what US and allied intelligence agencies all say: that Russia deliberately interfered in the US federal election campaign.   Russian officials, including a known spy, are hosted in the Oval Office more warmly than actual allies, and given highly classified information.

And also on Thursday, when our dictator apprentice spoke in Europe, he made inflammatory statements damaging to the western alliance, calling it into question--sowing confusion and discord that benefits above all that country whose name starts with R.

Why?  Why would Americans act against their own country to benefit a hostile foreign power?  Look at the rest of that foreign trip.  Look at the lovefest in Saudi Arabia, where the White House regime made a $110 billion deal to sell arms to that nation, including weapons that can be used in its known efforts to suppress human rights.  And as many media stories recounted, the deal was chiefly engineered by Jared Kushner.

Soon after that deal was made, another was announced: Saudi Arabia's $20 billion investment in a private US company called Blackstone, which (according to the Bloomberg report) just happens to have financed major real estate deals of Jared Kushner.  Blackstone is positioning itself to make big bucks on infrastructure--which just happens to be one of the few big spending items in the proposed federal budget.

This may not be the first private deal to follow shortly after an official visit by Kushner and his wife Ivanka; China is a country that comes to mind.  Kushner is of course the son-in-law of the dictator apprentice, and Ivanka is his daughter.  All of these family members are involved in international business on a large scale, and none have truly extricated themselves from these businesses and their financial arrangements, including those with the autocratic national government regimes that receive gaudy praise and personal visits and phone calls.

Never has the president had family members in such powerful positions with so little oversight who continue to make deals for their businesses while representing the US government at the highest level.  Never in modern history has a US chief executive refused to make public everything about his private financial affairs.  None has failed to separate himself meaningfully from private businesses.

Why not--except to hide ways to profit by their positions?  Has any White House official ever been in position to profit so much while in government?  And we can only guess what's going on with the Cabinet.  Who is going to keep an eye on them?  Jeff Sessions?

But at least until now, all of this is so far from the immense public scandal it should be, at least judged by history, that the dictator apprentice's company could essentially spit in the eye of the Constitution by refusing to even pretend to take that document's emolument clause seriously, which forbid the chief executive from taking money from foreign governments.  And the story didn't cause a ripple.

Which brings it all back to Russia and the why are they doing this?  It's Greed.  It's greed so large and pervasive through this administration, and so boldly evident, that the word needs to be shouted at a decibel level to shatter human eardrums in order to give some sense of its proportion.  Greed and all that flows from it.

That doesn't explain why a lot of Americans don't seem to care about it, which is the bigger, more profound and more consequential question.  But remember what makes a Dark Age dark.  It's forgetting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Not Healthy, Not Wealthy, Unwise (with Updates)

You're living in a neighborhood you'd rather not live in, or you're having trouble paying the mortgage or the rent, and you see strange people around, probably poorer than you are.  One reason you can't afford to move is the proportion of your income you must spend on healthcare.  So who do you blame?

Do you blame the strange people you can see, or the super rich you have never seen, who run the corporations that export jobs and together haven't raised the average American wage in a decade, who lost little in the Great Recession and have mightily prospered since while you lost and have not recovered?

The ACA at least helps with medical care, and in certain cases it can be the difference between life and death, or some security and certain ruin.  The CBO analyzed the Republican-passed replacement, and found how devastating it will be for tens of millions of Americans--cutting them off from healthcare insurance, offering them extremely expensive policies when they're sick and utterly inadequate policies otherwise.

Michael Grunwald in Politico put it succinctly:

"Obamacare has had plenty of glitches, especially for the small minority of Americans who don’t get their insurance through the government or their employers, but it basically succeeded in taking some of the top 1 percent’s money to improve the health security of the bottom 99 percent.

The GOP wants to take money that the government has been spending on the poor and working class—mostly for expanded Medicaid coverage or tax credits to help moderate-income families afford their premiums—and give it back to high earners.

...what’s really being contemplated is a gigantic redistribution from health to wealth."

This was the agenda all along, and it is behind the regime's proposed budget: enrich the rich.  It's just an extreme version of the basic Republican plan.  It can be so extreme--and so extremely obvious--because of what Shadowy stuff has been stirred up to obscure this, or in the minds of way too many, make it not matter. They don't call it blind rage for nothing.

On a somewhat different matter, when a reporter tweets that a Montana congressional candidate has just body slammed him and "broke my glasses" on election eve, the cynical response has to be, this guy just got elected.  The "broke my glasses" especially.  The Republican candidate was charged by police with misdemeanor assault. We'll see what level of civilization proves out at the polls on Thursday.

Update: Apparently this assault was witnessed by, of all people, Fox reporters, and it seems to have been a good deal uglier than the reporter's tweet suggested.  According to NPR:

According to three Fox News reporters who were in the room preparing for an interview with the GOP nominee, Gianforte "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground ... then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, 'I'm sick and tired of this!' "

The Ginaforte campaign claims the reporter was the aggressor but witnesses from Fox News make that awkward for Fox News to agree with.  Meanwhile the Borowitz headline is REPUBLICAN HEALTH-CARE PLAN LACKS COVERAGE FOR INJURIES RESULTING FROM BODY SLAMMING.  Satirical but true.

Apparently there's a lot of early voting in Montana in this statewide race, so nobody knows the possible impact of this story on an election that experts guess is close.

Second Update: The Republican Ginaforte won the Montana seat in the US House of Representatives.  Before he goes to Washington, he'll have to answer to the charge of assault on a reporter.  Who knows, he may get a medal for it from this White House.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Me and the Future

I started this blog with the future as its intended main subject, or at least its orientation.  Because I was looking forward from the present, with the past as a resource (including my own past), my age didn't seem to matter.

In the past year or so, since I turned 70, I began to be uncomfortable with this approach.  The "Captain Future" moniker denoted a certain irony, a particular playfulness about an heroic mission, but that no longer seemed enough.

There are two basic problems.  First, for a number of reasons that include my age, I've become more of a stranger to important features of contemporary culture.  I don't follow the latest popular music, I've given up trying to be at least familiar with the latest films and television, and more recently even the latest books.  The names of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar winners as well as the celebrities about whom the supermarket tabloids have frenzied stories about, are mostly complete blanks to me.

This is part of a natural turn away from the rolling present, with what now appear to be wearying and meaningless repetitions.  Especially after the last election, I felt the same way about politics.  I wore myself out over Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes.  And it changed nothing but my blood pressure.  I knew pretty much what was coming with this regime, though I confess it's happened faster, more thoroughly and relentlessly than I might have expected.  I didn't want to be doing play by play on self-defeating politics--especially not on that level--anymore.

So even before the election I had planned to transition out of this site into something that dealt more directly with my concerns as I age, as well as a site that seemed more honest about my point of view as it is particular to my age.

I didn't do so, partly out of inertia (a characteristic of aging, of course), partly because as small potatoes as this site's 10,000 hits a month may be, it's not nothing.  But the decisive factor was the world of pain I would likely be inviting by labeling a site--and myself--by age, and especially by my generation.  I couldn't think of an identity that would cover what I wanted to do.   And I definitely didn't want to be limited by defending the appallingly vilified baby boom generation.

So I've stuck with this site, though I've gradually added posts that reflect my newer point of view, which is from being older.  I am interested in the past I experienced, and look to it for texture and meaning, even if it isn't the most serious stuff in the world.  But I've noted that in terms of "hits" (which suggest but do not guarantee readers) these posts did pretty well. "The Lone Ranger Rides Again" is right up there with "100 Days of Solipsism."

(On another of my blogs, the less visited but personal favorite called A Blue Voice, the all-time most popular posts are my autobiographical exploration of "Christmas 1951."  I've thought about abandoning this blog for that one, and who knows?  I may still do it. But it currently gets far fewer visitors.)

But the point about writing about the future is, I don't necessarily share enough of the same present with the cultural mainstream.  I don't have the same references, I certainly don't have the same experiences--especially since I don't have (and don't want) a smart phone, nor do I text and skype and so on.  I'm not on Facebook or any social media.  So my experience is from an outsider, a minority point of view.

Well, maybe it always was.  And maybe, even without announcing my age and generational membership in every post like one of those smarmy "full disclosure" statements after 18 paragraphs of praising your employer or your brother's new book, I will almost helplessly indicate my point of view by the very references and even the vocabulary I employ.

In any case I'm not going to keep up any pretenses. Part of that is the attitude that suddenly arrived with my retirement from the comical responsibilities I did have for the past decade or so.  It happens to be perfectly expressed by one of those maddeningly repeated slogans on t-shirts and mugs: "Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired."     

But there's also another pretense I'm giving up, which is that I'm competing for readers (sorry, I meant clicks) and power on the Internet.  If I cared about that, I'd be flogging this stuff on Facebook and Twitter, as well as learning all the dubious tricks of attracting "traffic."  You know what? Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired.


Now back to the future which is already in progress... I said there were two basic problems I was dealing with in writing about the future (I should really make this another thread but...you got it.)

The second is the H.G. Wells problem.  At the end of his life, in the midst of his final illnesses, Wells wrote his final book, called Mind at the End of Its Tether.  Seventy years later, in his 2016 end of the year rants on The Well,  science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling chose it as a cautionary tale about old guys writing about the future.   

He called it a "tragically ludicrous last book" that's totally apocalyptic. "In this book, the great speculator is elderly, exhausted, politically disillusioned, fatally ill and also the Atomic Bomb has been detonated. So he's like: Welp! That's it! No More Future!"

"For him, yes, that's true," Sterling notes. "Personally, he's toast: no more HG
Wells."  He calls it "just human egotism and frustration talking. Like: things didn't go my way, and the threats seem dire and mounting, and, therefore, there can be no world."

That's unfair to Wells and his work, but there is that one undeniable point: at a certain age, the end of the world is certain and likely to be soon.  That is, the end of the world for you.  There is the possible bias on your judgment therefore, to at least emotionally conclude that the world is also fated to end soon for everybody else.

Well, Wells wasn't wrong exactly--some of the failures he described may well be implicated in civilization's apocalyptic ending in historical time.  For me, it would be comforting to be able to believe that it's only my age that makes me fear for the future.  But as time goes on it becomes clearer to me that the climate crisis alone--and certainly in conjunction with the Fifth Great Extinction that's on track to happen--is going to vastly change the course of the future, and by most peoples' standards, for the worse.

There's plenty of evidence that those changes have begun, and plenty of science to suggest that the disruptions are going to get worse.  I have my ideas about the nature of the future into the next century, and it's not all shiny and bright.  There are a lot of hardships ahead in coming decades.  But there are also lives to lead that in some ways may be better lives, at least in terms of purpose and meaning.

But I have to be sensible that my intuitions may be colored by the imminence of my own future ending.  The nice way of putting it poetically is as a candle that flickers for awhile and suddenly blows out.  But the image that returns to me is of a figure bobbing in the ocean, suddenly disappearing into the depths and instantly covered by the sea, with no indication that anything was ever there.

But just as being old may color the future darker, being young colors the future just as much, and probably more violently.  An attraction to images of doom for some, but also identifying with the heroic survivors.  Or an anxiety, even denial, and an angry demand for hope.  The future is a fraught subject for everyone.

Besides, being older can also color the future brighter, based on doomsdays already survived.  In any case, it seems important to declare the age bias.  I just don't quite know how to do it.  But for the moment, it won't be by consigning myself to a geezer ghetto on the Internet, or by becoming an online Baby Boomer punching bag.

My philosophy of the Internet is "If you build it (or write it) they will come, or not."  As I wrote on another and since abandoned site: "This is the Internet I believe in: access to a backlist forever, from anywhere, at any time. An Internet for individuals as well as the swarm of the moment."

Maybe I don't go viral, but who wants to be a disease? I'd like to have readers, even lots of readers, who (by the way) really aren't the same as "clicks."  But in the end I write because that's what I do, that's been my purpose.  The Internet publishes it, for any reader in the world to find.  Anytime.  Now....or in the future.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Psychology of Tyranny.3: Invasion of the Internet Snatchers

On every imaginable issue, the current Washington regime is relentlessly and invariably choosing to do or propose what is cruel, unnecessary, shortsighted and destructive--in other words, evil.

But this swarming rule of the societal Shadow occurs while there's another notable phenomenon: the Internet as the playground for the unconscious.  The two look to be related.

First there were the extreme right wing blogs.  They not only promulgated extreme views, they used extreme language of ad hominem accusation, derision and vilification.  They specialized in demonizing their ideological--and soon mostly political party--adversaries.  Perhaps they were imitating extreme right talk radio, but they made their mark accelerating it.  Some--such as Brietbart--became rabid right institutions, allied with both the official R party and such precursor movements and organizations as white separatists and the Klan.

Then came the toxic commentators (many, as we now know, on the payrolls of extreme right organizations and at least shadow components of the Republican Party, if not the party itself) and the trolls.  They infect every thread on every subject, driving out sincere and thoughtful discussion, destroying the possibility of nuance or simple correction, and driving away disgusted and demoralized readers.

But politics is not the only Internet septic tank.  The centralization of everything in a few "social media" sites has made them the magnets of evil.  The Guardian's articles on Facebook and its struggles to control these raging manifestations of the societal Shadow suggest the extent of its reign.

Some of this is obviously due to the lack of control over these outlets--there are few or no gatekeepers for comments or social media posts, nor are there any standards for sites that call themselves political or news sites.  When the name of the game is attracting attention ("attention" being the old word for "clicks"), the more outrageous the better.

But if that's all this was about, it would likely have died down by now.  Instead it's gotten worse.  Together with hackers and various other criminals using email and other online manifestations to steal and extort, the rampant exploitation of Shadow violence and hate threatens to collapse the Internet entirely.

With the Shadow loose and growing stronger as it consumes and incorporates everything available to it, like some 50s horror movie Blob, it has moved from the murky underworld to the bright screens everywhere, and now into political power in the USA.

From 100 billion dollar deals for arms dealers to suicidal policies on the climate crisis to destroying lives by subverting healthcare and threatening the already threadbare safety net,  the rule of evil rages on, with self-righteous contempt.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Psychology of Tyranny.2

Probably the key concept in the theory of the unconscious is that it works its will irrationally by convincing you that you are behaving with complete rationality.  So it isn't that certain "fake news" items simply find gullible minds.  Those stories find minds primed to believe them by unconscious fears, resentments, anger, envy plus combinations of all that and more.  Supported by your own group affiliations.

So many Americans believe that crime is rampant and perpetrated by minorities and immigrants, that immigration is taking away their jobs, that foreigners are terrorists especially if they are of a certain religion or ethnicity.  They believe that whites and/or white males are discriminated against, and a black President favored blacks who got a free ride while they suffered.

 Facts say otherwise.  But there are places to go to find these beliefs reported as facts, and certainly there are politicians who live off these beliefs, one of them the current resident of the White House.

Certainly there are cases of all of these things being true.  So they become inflated for ideological and political purposes, and amplified by Fox News etc.  Blaming minorities and immigrants for the plight caused primarily by big business and the super-rich has long been an effective weapon the rich yield to keep power.  They did it when they owned newspaper chains, and they do it now when they own cable news conglomerates.

But the fears are ancient, of the Other, the strange.  Desperation feeds fears, causing people to act in self-destructive ways.  One of those ways politically is to oppose societal support--for instance, government supported healthcare for all---even if it benefits you, as long as it doesn't benefit the people you believe are evil, lazy and/or immoral.

That's behind the cruelty of the Republican healthcare plan, and the reported budget proposals to slash Medicaid and other programs for the poor.  It doesn't matter that the white majority benefits from these programs more than anyone else.  It's a combination of the image that nonwhite benefit most, or just that nonwhites benefit at all.  Update: So even though as Politico reports the regime's budget proposals hit their own voters hardest, they might not care--as long as Others are also hurt.

It also leads to situations in which the Republican administration's attack on Obamacare while the Republican House passed an extreme and unworkable replacement is causing so much uncertainty and chaos that insurance companies are bailing, which Republicans then use as an argument in favor of their plan that is causing them to bail.

Ideological arguments in the William Buckley era used to paper over these motives.  But that pretense is over.  Hardly anyone bothers anymore.  It's the naked unconscious, the Shadow operating in the light.  What could be clearer than threatening a black Congressman with lynching for daring to advocate impeachment.

Expressing such sentiments is extreme, but what was too extreme for prime time a few years ago is now mainstream.  The unconscious is loose.  It is the emperor in the invisibility cloak.

Friday, May 19, 2017

No Wiretaps Necessary: Mouth Always Open

Comedy, Steve Allen once said (and more famously, Alan Alda's character in a Woody Allen movie) is Tragedy plus time.

But that was before the blizzard of all news all the time. Now the comedy is coterminous with the tragedy, and embedded in it.  (Could that be a definition of what used to be called "black humor" but isn't anymore because it's possibly a micro-aggression?)

Friday's news included two "bombshells" (in mediaese): A Washington Post story said that the FBI (now Special Counsel) investigation on Russia connections includes as a person of interest someone who is currently a highly placed White House advisor and close to Homemade Hitler.  I haven't seen speculation yet on who it might be, but Jared Kushner fills that description best, although Steve Bannon is another possibility. Kushner is already known to have met with Russians close to Putin.  Both are on the foreign trip now underway, which suggests they might run out of liquor on Air Force One.

The other big noise is summarized in the New York Times headline:Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation.
By Friday evening the other shoe dropped on that story: Nut Job Comey accepted a Senate committee invitation to testify in public session, something I thought was unlikely otherwise due to the ongoing federal investigation.

There's plenty more about our dictator apprentice, most of it self-inflicted, leading to this observation: the Daily Beast quotes a former FBI investigator: “On a big case like this, the ideal thing would be a wiretap on your number one subject,” Gomez added. “But in this case, you don’t need a wiretap. He just comes right out and says it.”

This article is also notable for extensive quotes from a current White House official who went off the record to go off on his boss.  He's one of the people left behind to answer the phones while our dictator apprentice and his likely co-conspirator are flying around on Air Force One, where his foreign hosts are telling reporters that their attitude is basically that the circus is coming to town.

A trip which inspired another gallows humor headline: Trump to Speak on Islam: What Could Go Wrong?

Maybe a better definition now would be: comedy is tragedy plus caffeine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Good News for the Regime

Once their addled brains settle down, the White House regime should realize that today's surprise appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate the Russian connections may well the best thing to happen to them in weeks.

With the FBI investigation in question and Comey's reputation attacked, lots of people were talking pretty freely through the media about what they know.  That may well stop now.  FBI sources are likely to dry up, Comey won't say anything to Congress in public sessions, etc. and Mueller has a practice of not making public statements about ongoing investigations--which is what tripped Comey up in the first place, several times.

So the White House could experience something it hasn't in awhile: silence, or at least less noise on the Russia connection.  There may well be news stories because there are so many related investigations now, and reporters are dug in on it, but things are likely to get quieter.  For awhile.

Maybe a long while, because Mueller's brief as special counsel is extensive.  But what he's charged with investigating poses significant dangers for the regime.  According to the Atlantic's reporting on the appointment memo:

Mueller is authorized to take over the investigation that Comey confirmed to Congress in a March hearing. That includes “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise from directly from the investigation.” It also gives Mueller authority to look into other crimes noted under a statute that establishes the special counsel, “such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; and to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.”

If he believes it is necessary, Mueller “is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

Needless to say, matters affecting a White House incumbent are fraught, and speed would seem to be important.  And this isn't the only problem in the ongoing crisis that is this regime.  But it maybe won't be making so many relentless headlines for at least awhile.  This surprise appointment may have done the White House a favor.  But it may not be so good for the rest of us, if this matter drags on in relative silence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Winner


click image to see complete version
Congratulations to Maximiliano Gambin of nearby Arcata High School for this digital art piece that just won the 2017 national Congressional Art Competition.

Says a press release from our Member of Congress Jared Huffman:

Max is a participant of the high school’s Arcata Arts Institute, an innovative pre-professional program for students dedicated to the arts. From the ninety entries received, Max’s artwork was selected among the county finalists by a panel of independent judges.

Bluff Called

Today's White House scandal is profound: the New York Times revealed that former FBI Director James Comey recorded in a memo made directly after a White House meeting and circulated among staff that our dictator apprentice suggested Comey drop the FBI investigation into the then recently fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

As Politico put it: "But the accusation, which suggests Trump tried to interfere in a federal investigation into one of his top associates, represents one of the most serious allegations against Trump to date."  

The White House denied it.  But here's the thing: our dictator apprentice tried to intimidate Comey last week by suggesting there are tapes of White House conversations that could discredit whatever he said.  Although Comey himself hasn't said anything publicly since, and even declined to testify before a congressional committee, it's very unlikely that his former FBI associates are talking to reporters--and reading them memos on the phone--without Comey's knowledge.

In other words, Comey and his associates are calling the incumbent's bluff (as was suggested they would.)  And in doing so, produced what could be only the first revelation of a high crime.

Meanwhile, CNN provides a very useful brief summary of what's known about the now notorious White House meeting with the Russians, including their ambassador known as a spy, the secrets revealed and the fallout today.

Update: And an end of the day Politico story on the self-described worst day (yet) of the White House regime, and another on the day that may have broken away congressional Rs.  We seem to have moved from cartoon to grand opera.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Another Russia Connection?


Another day, another bombshell involving our dictator apprentice and Russia.  The Washington Post: "President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State."

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

The Washington Post broke the story but the New York Times verified it independently in this way: "President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday."

Many other media outlets repeated the story, either not believing White House denials (since the regime lies so often) or seeing through more credible non-denial denials that dispute what the story did not assert.

How did these officials know, if they weren't necessarily in the room?  The Times story notes: "It was only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, that it was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the former official said."

As these stories indicate, it's not an actual crime for our dictator apprentice to instantly de-classify something, but it compromises both the allied government that provided the information and their sources within the Islamic State.  And as another story says bluntly, it may get people killed.

And of course, he gave it to Russia--to a couple of Russian officials already implicated in the whole Russia Connection series of investigations.  He gave it in a meeting in which American media was kept out completely but Russian media got in to snap the pictures--of the incumbent grinning and shaking hands with the Russians, after he conspicuously refused to shake hands with the prime minister of Germany, officially a close ally.

If you're looking for a mega-conspiracy, try this one: a near-certain outcome of this violation of intelligence-sharing among nations is that fewer nations will share what they know about, for instance, terrorist plots underway.  Such intelligence led to the US foiling an unknown number of plots on America during the Obama administration, for instance.  So this makes a successful terrorist plot more likely. And what is the one thing that is all but guaranteed to galvanize the country behind the perhaps no longer-apprentice dictator?

Anyway, this story is just beginning to create a firestorm in Washington, though these things do tend to burn themselves out pretty quickly in the news cycle.  Repercussions currently rumbling through the intelligence agencies and military, as well as within allied governments and maybe even (who knows?) the US Congress, can only be imagined.  But they are likely to be longer lived.

Yet once again the actual political impact will depend on public reaction, particularly from Republican voters.  Today I came across another story that may help explain why the spectre of a US leader cozying up to and perhaps colluding with America's most persistent adversary for the past 70 years--the dreaded enemy and pervasive bogeyman of the Cold War--has not yet impressed Rs very much, let alone revolted them.

In what would seem to be a completely unrelated story, several news outlets including People reported:  "Torch-wielding protesters, including a prominent white nationalist, rallied around a statue of Confederacy leader Robert E. Lee slated for removal and chanted racist slogans in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday night."

As reported by People, the Washington Post and others, those slogans included the Nazi slogan "Blood and soil" and--strikingly--"Russia is our friend."

The controversy is ostensibly over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.  The Mayor of Charlottesville condemned this brief but vivid protest, noted the KKK implication of the torches as meant to intimidate black citizens, and said "such intolerance is not welcome here."  To prove his point, an even larger counter-demonstration was held the next night.

But why "Russia is our friend?"  Another story, in the Intercept, suggests this:"The pro-Russia chanting reflects the high regard many American white supremacists have for blond, blue-eyed Slavs."

Multiple intelligence agencies in the US and in other countries agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere and did interfere in the 2016 US elections, against Hillary Clinton and in favor of the electoral victor.  The connections and perhaps cooperation and collusion between Russia and R campaign officials are being investigated, though no one knows how thoroughly or for how long.  But when all is said and done, it seems likely that the connection began with business deals, likely in violation of a number of US laws.

So the origins of the connections on this level are likely to be financial and political opportunism.  But beyond a general identification with the incumbent, could his support, particularly his repeated embracing of Putin and Russia from the campaign forward, be resonating on another level with a substantial number of his voters?

Although there is clearly at least one white supremacist working in this White House, declared white supremacists may be a small part of the Republican party leadership.  Many Republican voters would likely dislike the designation.  Yet it seems that various versions of white supremacy loom large in the Republican shadow--that dark and powerful area in the unconscious.  Denying it to themselves, and of course denying the unconscious itself, simply adds to its power.
At this point, this particular Russian connection is a hypothesis suggested by this one event.  But if it is true, our dictator apprentice's praise for Russia could be yet another dog whistle heard within the twisted and ultimately racist subcultures that together have become the Republican Party, officially running the US government.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers Day

A Happy Mothers Day to my family's new moms, nieces Sarah and Megan; their mother and new grandmother, sister Debbie; sister Kathy and niece Chris; my partner Margaret and her daughter Amanda, celebrating together in Menlo Park.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Psychology of Tyranny

Contemporary culture is doomed as long as it ignores the realities of the unconscious.  As outlined by Jung, the theory of the unconscious was a major advancement in human civilization, a potent tool for making true progress, and we've thrown it away.  It's as if a few years after its discovery, electricity was discarded.  All the mechanistic and reductionist substitutes from neuroscience, behavioral psychology and computer sciences won't cut it.   This arrogance is our undoing.

Deep in the unconscious is a social need for the group to nurture and protect and define the individual.  Also for the group to partially but powerfully define itself in contrast to other groups.  All that is virtuous becomes the property of your group, and all that is evil defines the other.

In the 1950s Jung applied this analysis to the Cold War.  There were differences and conflicts between the West and the Soviets that were real, with real consequences.  But each side exaggerated an evil cartoon portrait of the other in order to get the public support necessary to spend resources on arms and related activities of defense and aggression.  The power of the unconscious was engaged.

Now the spell of the Cold War is over.  The thermonuclear weapons still exist, and the missiles to deliver them, and the political conflicts still exist, though all at a somewhat smaller scale.  But it's the spell that has been broken, to such an extent that the real political threat, a potentially existential political threat, of Russia interfering in US election processes and perhaps burrowing within the White House, does not evoke the frenzied reaction it would have decades ago.  The opposite appears to be true.  It barely seems to register as a threat at all.

But back then, it was potent far beyond conscious control.  The US and the West demonized the Soviets, and anything that could be labeled communistic.  "It is the face of his own evil shadow that grins at Western man from the other side of the Iron Curtain," Jung wrote in "Approaching the Unconscious," his contribution to a book of essays meant for the general public that was published a few years after his death in 1964, titled Man and His Symbols.

That specific enmity is apparently over, but in the US it has largely been replaced by an internal one.  It goes by the name of "polarization" of political parties, but it is much deeper and more profound.  Especially reflected in the 2016 election, it has become a divide as psychologically, culturally and politically profound as the US v. the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

One potent example: neither side believes anything that the other side says.  And that extends to previously common media forms and outlets, as well as previous sources of authority such as academic experts and scientists. The standards that used to apply to judging accuracy and credibility are irrelevant, perhaps even more cartoonishly than in the Cold War.

In fact I can't get the image of living in a cartoon world out of my mind.  Perhaps we are that much less literate or that much more ignorant.  But the defining role of the unconscious seems like a very large component.

This all applies to the situation we and the whole USA find ourselves in this moment.  It's all evident in two pieces that appeared today.  One is a an opinion piece titled "GOP's choice: Love America or Back Trump."  The premise has to do with the kind of norms common to both parties in the past, and eventually operational in the Watergate crisis, derived from the Constitution, written and traditional law and standards.  All are at the very foundation of our Republic, our culture, our self-defined nation. That's what the author means by "love America." But it is not yet clear that these norms are accepted or seen the same way by leaders and members of both parties anymore, either institutionally or among voters.

The other piece delineates the consequences of this extreme polarization in the current Constitutional crisis.  Philip Bump in the Washington Post hauls out the statistics to show that while the current White House regime has historically low poll numbers overall, it is fully supported by 84% of Republicans.

According to this analysis, the White House incumbent's support and the overall R support for their own party are just about the same, and they are replicated in virtually every answer to questions on policy as well as overall approval.

The numbers suggest a potentially terrifying thought: that the already extreme R party has become a party that identifies with our apprentice dictator, especially as the media outlets that Rs believe are credible remain loyal to him.

He has taken the reigns of the unconscious, and with them he might yet become the complete dictator.  Bump writes that without a significant drop in R party loyalty to him, there is no political motivation for R officeholders to hold him accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors, or even to risk investigations.

Democratic voters do not possess all virtue, and must be careful to spot their own shadow in their portrayals of Republicans.  President Obama said as much the other day: "At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma not just in others but in ourselves."

This point, easily dismissed as cliched or wishy-washy, is actually a profound warning about the power of the unconscious.  But neither does this or anything else said here imply that the two sides are equally right and wrong.  It is clear that the unconscious in the form of anger, bitterness, envy, fear and hate is in the saddle and rides the Republican party.  If that cannot be overcome, the Republic is in real peril.

On "the Tapes"

First the coverup, now maybe the tapes.  Apparently the idea is to replicate Watergate except  get away with it.

Anyway, this tidbit from The Hill:

Comey hasn’t spoken publicly since his surprise firing Tuesday. But those who know him have told news outlets he’s confident any recording of the conversation would reflect well on him. “He hopes there are tapes,” one Comey confidant told NBC News. “That would be perfect.”

Goodnight Swamp

Notes at midnight...

When news and visible human drama explodes on a certain subject, with something even more dramatic than the last thing happens twenty minutes later, it feeds the addiction some of us remember from Watergate.  (The difference from Vietnam is: in Watergate, we were only the audience.)

So when the news stops or slows, or when your questions raised in highly dramatic fashion earlier aren't answered, aren't even remembered, it gets frustrating on many levels.

Thursday was packed with news or what appeared to be news.  But it was also very frustrating for what seemed like a day of not very good reporting, and officials--especially members of Congress--unable to clearly communicate much of anything.

The big news was the apparent admission by Homegrown Hitler himself that yeah he fired Comey over the Russia investigation.  Yeah, he mostly did suggest it, but to make an ironclad case for that really did involve some creative editing, and (involving the hapless White House press briefers) skipping over words that were meant to say something else.

And what happened to yesterday's big question about the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe?  Did he in fact volunteer to the White House chief of staff that a news story saying the FBI was investigating R campaign ties to Russia was "BS."
If true, this seems improper discussion of an ongoing investigation.

Did McCabe actually say this?  He appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, and made headlines for contradicting some White House assertions and insisting that the FBI was pursuing the Russia investigation very seriously.  But did anyone ask him about this purported interchange with the White House?  I looked in vain for any mention of it in any story.  Even Rachel Maddow, who made such an issue of it on Wednesday, had nothing to say about it Thursday.

Our apprentice dictator said in an interview on Thursday that former FBI director Comey told him in two phone calls and in person at dinner that he was not being investigated.  If that's true, these were also improper conversations about an ongoing investigation.  It's hard to believe it is true, but I wonder if anybody will bother asking Comey about it, if they ever get the chance.

Well, nothing to do now but try to sleep it off.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Obstruction

Here's the thing everyone should take into consideration: with the current dictator apprentice in the White House and his regime, there are no rules.  There is no conventional wisdom that applies.  At least, not so far.

By conventional wisdom, this crew wouldn't have made it past the first Republican primaries.  By conventional wisdom, they didn't have a chance to seize the White House.  By conventional wisdom, they couldn't...they wouldn't...etc. etc.

Maybe the realities reflected in precedents will finally catch up with them.  But...

In this fast moving situation, which is no longer coalescing around matters of competence and judgment but of obstruction of justice, corruption and treason, a number of stories came out today about how investigations won't stop.  Prominent stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times in particular quoted angry FBI agents who swore they will keep investigating, and that the White House regime had made enemies of them.

No doubt the blood was up today, and no one can underestimate the effects of institutional resistance.  But all it may really take is for the Justice Department to direct the FBI to stop the investigations, and cut off the money to support them--with the help of an acting or interim or newly installed director like the interim one now who is a Homemade Hitler loyalist--and they will stop.  Only impeachment would change that, and only a change in the majority party in especially the House would make that a possibility.

Obstruction of justice is now obvious.  As stories made clear today, Comey was fired because he was investigating the Russian connections--political and financial--and secondarily because he wasn't concentrating on investigating leaks to reporters that cast the regime in a bad light.  (One of the first of these stories was here in Politico... With sources evidently inside the White House.)

Moreover, this wasn't the first time.  A Newsweek story quotes Senator Schumer:
Schumer noted “they fired Sally Yates,” whose “urgent” warnings to the White House about Flynn’s dealings with the Russians went unheeded for three weeks. “They fired Preet Bharara,” the federal prosecutor who was looking into Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s trading in medical and pharmaceutical stocks, Schumer said. “And now they’ve fired Director Comey, the very man leading the investigation” into Trump and his associates’ dealings with Russia. “This does not seem to be a coincidence,” the four-term New Yorker said.

But accountability rests with Congress and the voters.  In two excellent pieces in the New Yorker, Evan Osnos describes the precedents and the politics that operated in critical situations in the past.  The first was a longer piece on the alternatives for getting Homemade Hitler out of office, published before the Comey termination.  The second was more specifically about what happens as a result of the Comey termination.

Briefly, Osnos writes that the most important factor is public support.  With our apprentice dictator's poll numbers historically low and trending lower, congressional members of his own party have less reason to risk their own political futures by defending him.  When support is so low, the chances of the opposition party winning lots of seats in the non-presidential year elections have been very good, and in this case it would mean the Republicans losing their majority.

If the Democrats win a majority in either house, they would control the investigating committees with the power to subpoena.  If they took the House, they could initiate impeachment.  But even fearing this possibility could motivate Republicans to abandon their albatross, Osnos writes.

This may already have started, Osnos suggests.  At least one conservative R House member supports an independent commission, and only a few Rs in the Senate would be needed to join Ds in voting for something similar, within the Senate at least.

Update: However, there is a difference from the past that could prove fateful: polarization.  The rabid right has taken over the R party, and this regime has captured even more.  As the Washington Post points out, R voters are remaining loyal, supporting the regime by 84%.   

There are other possibilities for legal actions, in state courts for example and even perhaps in the courts of other nations, regarding the underlying activities that involve international financial malfeasance and the security of western allies.

But will these precedents actually operate?  They may have operated within the context of an America and a power structure that no longer exists.  It's best to be on guard for the unprecedented, at least so far in American history.  Other parts of the world have experienced the jolting takeover by a totalitarian despot.  In some such cases their conventional politicians and press and people didn't recognize--didn't believe--what was happening.  Until it had happened.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Dictator Rising

By firing the FBI director investigating the regime's Russian connection for a stated cause so absurd that it is boldly and transparently a lie, the apprentice dictator in the White House took a major step towards creating a totalitarian police state.

No regime has ever been so obvious in seizing political control of the federal justice system for its own corrupt ends.  That the Republic is so endangered at this moment is a shock, but not a surprise.

The details are all just details at this point, meant to divert attention from this central consequence.  This is a dictatorship in the making.  Resistance to be effective may need to be as swift, and certainly relentless.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Courage



The media headline from President Obama's speech accepting this year's Profiles of Courage award from the JFK Library inevitably was his defense of Obamacare, and his call for members of Congress to display courage in supporting its substance. The quotes were largely accurate and obviously President Obama knew what the headline was going to be, but these were only a few lines in the speech, and missing the context.

He didn't bring up the topic of the Affordable Care Act out of the blue.  First of all, its passage was, according to CNN, one of the reasons he was given the award: The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation said Obama received the award for "expanding health security for millions of Americans, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and leading a landmark international accord to combat climate change."

It is an award honoring President John F. Kennedy, whose birthday this month is 100.  As a senator, JFK authored the book Profiles in Courage, about eight US Senators throughout history who exhibited principled courage in difficult political situations.  As President, JFK proposed the healthcare program that became Medicare.  His younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy, championed an expansion to all US citizens to make healthcare a right.

 In his speech, President Obama told a story about how Ted Kennedy walked the halls of the hospital where his young son was fighting for his life and talked to people there worried that they couldn't afford the next cancer treatment for their children.  He made healthcare his cause, and shortly before his death, urged President Obama to make it his first legislative priority.
Welcoming President Obama to Boston on Sunday

So in talking about courage in Congress, it was completely in context for President Obama to remember those who voted for the ACA, knowing they might lose their next election because of it--and many in fact did.  After talking generally about John and Bobby Kennedy as inspiring him to enter politics, he said:

"Our politics remains filled with division and discord, and everywhere we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe and clan, and anger at those who don't look like us or have the same surnames or pray the way we do.

And at such moments, courage is necessary. At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need the courage to stand up to dogma not just in others but in ourselves. At such moments, we need courage to believe that together we can tackle big challenges like inequality and climate change. At such moments, it's necessary for us to show courage in challenging the status quo and in fighting the good fight but also show the courage to listen to one another and seek common ground and embrace principled compromise."

He spoke about the beginning of his presidency and the courage it took to vote for the Recovery Act, to support the auto industry and regulate Wall Street, and especially, the complex and previously impossible task of what came to be called (by his opponents) Obamacare:

"And there was a reason why healthcare reform had not been accomplished before. It was hard. It involved a sixth of the economy and all manner of stakeholders and interests. It was easily subject to misinformation and fearmongering.

And so by the time the vote came up to pass the Affordable Care Act, these freshmen congressmen and women knew that they had to make a choice. That they had a chance to insure millions and prevent untold worry and suffering and bankruptcy, and even death, but that this same vote would likely cost them their new seats, perhaps end their political careers.

And these men and women did the right thing. They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage. Because of that vote, 20 million people got health insurance who didn't have it before."

Many lost their seats in the 2010 elections, his said. And this was the context for his comments on the future:

"It was a personal sacrifice. But I know, because I've spoken to many of them, that they thought and still think it was worth it.

As everyone here now knows, this great debate is not settled but continues. And it is my fervent hope and the hope of millions that regardless of party, such courage is still possible, that today's members of Congress, regardless of party, are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth even when it contradicts party positions.

I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn't take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential. But it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm, those who often have no access to the corridors of power.

I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right."

But then President Obama expanded his examples of profiles in courage to include ordinary people who sacrificed for their families, who did the right thing even when it was difficult.

He included political activists who worked nonviolently for change. And he powerfully restated his credo for involvement in creating political change, ending with a ringing call to keep the faith and keep working for the future:

"I know that the values and the progress that we cherish are not inevitable, that they are fragile, in need of constant renewal.

I've said before that I believe what
 Dr. King said, that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice," but I've also said it does not bend on its own. It bends because we bend it, because we put our hand on that arch, and we move it in the direction of justice and freedom and equality and kindness and generosity. It doesn't happen on its own."


"And so we are constantly having to make a choice because progress is fragile. And it's precisely that fragility, that impermanence, that is a precondition of the quality of character that we celebrate tonight.

If the vitality of our democracy, if the gains of our long journey to freedom were assured, none of us would ever have to be courageous. None of us would have to risk anything to protect them. But it's in its very precariousness that courage becomes possible and absolutely necessary.

John F. Kennedy knew that our best hope and our most powerful answer to our doubts and to our fears lies inside each of us, in our willingness to joyfully embrace our responsibility as citizens, to stay true to our allegiance, to our highest and best ideals, to maintain our regard and concern for the poor and the aging and the marginalized, to put our personal or party interest aside when duty to our country calls or when conscience demands.

That's the spirit that has brought America so far and that's the spirit that will always carry us to better days."

Another video and full transcript of the speech is at TIME.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Towards A Positive Future on the North Coast

Volunteers assemble a small section of a much larger array
Here on the North Coast of California, the future became tangible with the launch of a community-scale solar array micro-grid by the Blue Lake Rancheria, a 91 acre federally recognized and sovereign tribal nation.

“This is our piece of Earth that we’re not going to leave," said Arla Ramsey, vice-chairperson of the tribe, as quoted by Lost Coast Outpost. You can’t pick a reservation up and move it. So if we’re going to live here, and our children are going to live here, or seven generations from now, we have to keep it healthy and clean, and that’s our goal.”

According to  "decentralized energy" website reporter Diarmaid Williams:

Funded in part through a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission's Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, the system allows the reservation to operate independently of the power grid in coordination with local utility Pacific Gas & Electric. This project incorporates the largest solar array in currently in operation in Humboldt County... is estimated to save the Tribe over $200,000 in annual energy costs, will reduce at least 150 tons of carbon per year and will grow Tribal clean energy jobs by 10 per cent.

The Lost Coast Outpost story continues:

The rancheria worked with an array of technology experts, national labs, local businesses, the state and PG&E. Plus, for almost a decade, the rancheria has developed a close relationship with Humboldt State University and its Schatz Energy Research Center, which played a key role in making the microgrid a success.

“The kinds of technology we’re installing and integrating together, it hasn’t been done before,” said SERC founder Peter Lehman. “So this project and the knowledge we gain from doing this, the lessons we learn from doing this, are going to be applicable in many situations in this country and around the world. So that’s how progress occurs — there are pioneers, and we’re the pioneers in this project, and people follow on after the pioneers.”

The Eureka Times-Standard added this:

California Energy Commission commissioner Karen Douglas said Californians across the state are stepping up to address the affects of climate change. “This is a real example of how we can help meet our greenhouse gas goals,” she said. “ ... There’s a community resource here as a result of this project.”

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Republicans To Vote Today To Begin Death Panels for Americans

Update: This bill passed with only Republican support.  Washington Post: Betrayal, carelessness, hypocrisy: The GOP health-care bill has it all."  Regardless of what happens next in its likely protracted and dubious journey through the Senate and back to the House, damage has already been done.  As the Post notes: "Tragically, the repeal-and-replace effort is causing so much uncertainty that, even if this bill dies in the Senate, it may unravel the existing health-care system."  Tragedy for real people, all to serve the greed of the few.  More on the politics if you're interested, as I am not.

The Republican leadership in the House announced to reporters that they will call a vote today on their latest Obamacare replacement plan, which contains provisions that will in effect create death panels to decide whether Americans with preexisting conditions will live or die.

At the same time, Republicans insist that Americans with preexisting conditions will be covered.  In comparison to the actual coverage guaranteed in Obamacare, this is perniciously false.

What the Republican's latest bill provides, according to reporting, is a complicated system that will allow for states to place people with preexisting conditions in a separate category, with much higher insurance premiums.  Those who are unable to pay these higher premiums may be eligible for federally paid relief, but there is an amount stipulated that will be available for these costs--an amount that analysts say is far too little.

Therefore,  there will be what amounts to rationing of these funds.  Some bureaucracy will need to be empowered to make the decisions of who gets the money for insurance and who does not.   If these panels decide you don't get it, or you don't get enough to afford the insurance, you may well have been handed a death sentence.

Today Obamacare is working for millions of Americans, especially those with preexisting conditions.  It isn't perfect, but in every possible way it has worked remarkably well, while the federal deficit and debt have gone down.  It has helped in ways that were unpredicted--for example, by helping a 50% drop in personal bankruptcies, which are often caused by healthcare costs.

There is no reason for this bill--especially for rushing this bill for a vote without the Congressional Budget Office estimate of its impact--except to give the regime a notch on their gun.  

And there are so many reasons this unusually cruel bill should never even be seriously considered, in particular for what it says about Americans telling other Americans that their lives don't trump political games.

This vote could come as early as 10 a.m. eastern time.  

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Gift

Robert Silvers receiving the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama at 
the White House, July 2013. Without naming Obama, Zadie Smith's 
tribute suggests that Silver admired him greatly  as  a "kind of genius." 
 So this moment must have been a wonderful one,
 and you can see that in his eyes.
The latest New York Review of Books, while functioning as usual as its spring art issue, also contains a number of tributes to its last founding editor, Robert B. Silvers, as well as salutes in this issue's advertisements.

I noted Silvers recent death in a previous post, and several years ago I wrote about this periodical's brilliant articles on political and geopolitical matters from the very beginning, when it was one of the most important sources on the Vietnam war in the late 60s.  That function continues.  For example in this issue, Jonathan Freedland's piece ("Dover and Out") is the best single narrative on the UK's suicidal Brexit process that I've read anywhere.

  But several of the just published tributes prompt me to focus less on content than on Silver's and the NYRB's effects on writing.

My afore-linked piece on a single issue of the NYRB prompted my only contact with Robert Silvers, which was an out of the blue email from him: "I was touched by what you said about the paper. During 46 years, I’ve never read a piece in which a writer said what was actually in an issue."

These tributes make me only more envious of those that had written for him.  All the writers agree that his genius was in editing to clarify but to maintain the writer's own voice, which is a rare editorial quality. But it was not necessarily an easy process. Mark Lilla for instance:

"Bob at work on a manuscript resembled nothing so much as a Jesuit spiritual adviser, minus the collar, helping the novice refine his raw inner awareness. It was a vocation, in the strict sense, an expression of magnanimity. He was determined to see that a book got the appreciation and criticism it deserved. But even more, it seemed to me, he wanted the writer to understand himself better than he already did. You say this, and you’re on to something, but what does it really mean? What are you trying to say? Bob had a profound abhorrence of vagueness. It was the cardinal sin because it was cowardly, a self-evasion. More than once I wanted to tear the hairshirt off. Icarus, c’est moi. He never permitted it because he was more loyal to me than I was to myself."

What were the enduring values that Silvers' editorial mission championed?  Former NYRB editorial assistant Nathaniel Rich summarizes:

"Good writing is capable of bringing to life even the most arcane subjects. Big ideas demand vivid prose. Academic jargon is fatal, as are stock expressions, terms of art, empty metaphors. Dead language not only obscures the ideas it means to describe. It blocks original thinking. Many writers will say that Bob brought out their best prose. He did more than that. He brought out their highest thoughts.

Clarity of prose leads to clarity of mind. And without clarity of mind, moral clarity is impossible."


As Lilla also points out: "In reading the Review, you always learn something."
Even if I didn't experience Silvers' editing, I absorbed some of this ethic simply by reading what Silvers' referred to as "the paper."  I'm sure it shaped my writing to some degree, and my reading.

But Lilla goes on to offer the ultimate tribute to an editor:

" In reading the Review, you always learn something. In writing for Bob, you became something. It was a gift none of us really deserved. But what gift ever is? That’s what makes it a gift."

What Was It For?

"The use of public office for private gain is the textbook definition of corruption," begins the Rolling Stone article, which goes on to say:

"In only 100 days, Trump has upended the country's anti-corruption norms by numbing everyone with a steady stream of serious improprieties that would have been treated as major scandals – if not impeachable offenses – during any other modern presidency."

The article calls it "corruption fatigue," a mind-boggling concept after barely more than three months.  But it's more than that.  The Americans who voted for this regime knew what they were voting for.  They knew they were voting for this kind of corruption, though perhaps not on this scale.

It speaks also to the steady erosion since Reagan of the distinction between public and private institutions, functions and funds.

That perhaps is why, while the big dailies and other major media report on it, they don't often call it "corruption."

So far, only publications like salon, the New Republic, and Mother Jones, plus columnists like Jonathan Chiat will use the word.

It's a potent word, or it used to be.  It has always been the greatest political sin.

Moreover this brazen corruption in the White House is accompanied by the regime's efforts to weaken anti-corruption and ethical standards laws and enforcement.

It includes as well the raiding of the federal treasury (current and, through tax schemes, future) by the super-rich, most directly rewarding those who specifically supported the regime and the Republican Party.  It can be more generally applied to the raiding of the ultimate commons, the Earth.

Given all the other catastrophes underway, and the relentless mind-numbing outrages blasting through the media from the White House, this may seem low on the list of priorities.  But, as playwright David Hare asked in a related context, "If democracy didn't care to defend what was owned in common, what was it for?"

Sunday, April 30, 2017