THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD

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If you didn’t actually see him say it yourself, you wouldn’t believe anybody who told you about it later.

“No, he didn’t. Stop it. Nobody would suggest injecting disinfectant to treat anything. What am I, an idiot?  You must’ve heard wrong.”

Uh…actually he did.

On Thursday, April 23, Mr. Trump stood behind the lectern in the White House press room at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing and mused aloud whether medical experts should study injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus.  But that was only the half of it. That jaw-dropper followed his original corrective suggestion of subjecting the human body to heat and light as a possible cure.

These witless wanderings followed a presentation from William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, who presented results of a study showing how the coronavirus deteriorates on surfaces and in the air more quickly when subjected to higher temperatures and humidity.  He also said his office was studying how certain disinfectants might kill the virus more effectively than others, referencing isopropyl alcohol and bleach.

Seizing on a connection that doesn’t exist – between humans and Formica – that nobody over three would ever make, Trump began inquiring about using light and heat as part of a potential cure.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan who was sitting next to Dr. Deborah Birx, medical coordinator of the White House Task Force who was experiencing a belief meltdown internally. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”

Deluded into believing he was onto something, and with rhetorical bit now firmly in his teeth, the President next floated the head-spinning theory about the potential use of disinfectants on Covid-19 patients. Continue reading “THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD”

BYE-BYE BERNIE

Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle – again.

Vt. Senator Bernie Sanders bids adieu to 2020 campaign (WireFax News)

In his 2016 campaign, a then 74-year-old Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which had engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.

This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses, Bernie followed up with convincing wins in the first two primary state elections. But then, like in `16, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine, this time in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.

Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.

Thus, Bernie’s call for a progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”. Continue reading “BYE-BYE BERNIE”

WHO TO BELIEVE DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU STAND

“The world is talking about coronavirus,” read a public service announcement from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “But it’s hard to know what to listen to.”

That states the case pretty plainly, I believe. But why is it so hard to know who to listen to in this time when it would seem so important to be acting from a base of consensus understanding? Sadly, I think it’s rather simple and can be traced to a decision made 33 years ago. 

What was known as the fairness doctrine was a policy introduced by the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) in 1949 when television was in its infancy. It was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to not only present controversial issues of public importance to the public, but to do so in a way that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. But in 1987 the FCC eliminated the fairness doctrine and then removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in 2011.

The elimination of the fairness doctrine began an inexorable separation of news outlets into partisan camps while turning the public airwaves into revenue generating profit centers rather than balanced loss-leader information hubs. This evolution of TV news was further accelerated by the subsequent expansion of choice and competition in the form of cable news outlets.

But even as the news was being commercialized and politicized, on a parallel track we saw the continuing loss of respect for and confidence in our major social institutions.

First to remove the scales from our eyes was government due to Vietnam and Watergate. More recently the church came into question via TV hucksterism and the Catholic priest scandals, and then higher education lost faith with its ever-expanding costs and increasingly dogmatic rigidity.

This erosion in our institutions coupled with the lack of a balanced media landscape left the nation with no consensus arbiter of truth.

Today, everyone believes in their own experts. Thus is climate change simultaneously seen as the greatest threat to mankind and an overblown anti-business left-wing hoax. So, too, is the coronavirus either a pandemic so severe that it must be treated with even economically draconian measures, or just a blown-up flu that threatens “a tsunami of economic destruction”.  And what and who you believe depends completely on which side of the idealogical spectrum you stand.

Continue reading “WHO TO BELIEVE DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU STAND”

RUSHMORE NO MORE

Think about it for a second. Let it linger on the mind. We have all been vulnerable, all been in need at some point in our life. Yes, we all know how it feels to be unmoored.

That in mind, tell Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the neophyte president of Ukraine, a man who has the fate of his young nation hanging in the balance that he was under no pressure.

New Mount Rushmore?

Now look back to America, that beacon of freedom and equality shining its light to guide Ukraine away from the benighted ways of a Soviet past and a menacing Russian future.

“Light the way ahead, America. Show us the way forward.”

Now ask yourself how you would react if the President of the United States sent over his private lawyer saying one thing – like pony up those investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election if you want our help – while U.S. State Department representatives were presenting something else altogether – like keep your nose clean and stay out of domestic U.S. matters if you expect our help? What would you do caught in that pincer movement?  Probably react just like the Ukrainians did, by becoming increasingly confused and then just plain scared.

Defenders of our president say there was not only no quid pro quo suggested during his July 25th call to the Ukraine president, but that there was no pressure applied at all. And that President Zelenskiy agreed when asked.  But you get down on the ground and bring out the political barometer and you’ll feel plenty of pressure. Because when Ukraine is hanging on by its fingernails as a new democracy with an emasculated former empire on its border anxious to reanimate that past glory at your expense, and the USA is ostensibly your new big bro protector who suddenly seems to be looking in the other direction, man, if that isn’t pressure please tell me what is. Continue reading “RUSHMORE NO MORE”

POLARIZATION – THE REAL HEALTHCARE ISSUE

As a genuine outpouring of bipartisan sadness attends the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md) – laid to rest in Baltimore on 25 October – perhaps this is the proper time for America to address the number one healthcare issue confronting its citizenry in this its 243rd year. 

Partisan rancor grows more heated with each passing day, starting in the embattled White House where Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham defended the president’s tweet attacking his critics as “human scum”.  “People Who Don’t Like Trump ‘Deserve’ To Be Called Scum.”

Trump followers and haters alike have long since come to define our national interests in more apocalyptic terms even as a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls searches for supporters in the run up to the 2020 election.

As I take in these troubling symptoms, I can’t help but recall my travels to Rwanda this past June (2019) where the central East African nation was commemorating the 25th anniversary of its 1994 genocide during which one million people were slaughtered in a scant three months time.

Travel is almost always instructive, not just for the perspective one gains IN another place, but FROM that distance as well. Continue reading “POLARIZATION – THE REAL HEALTHCARE ISSUE”

JONI MITCHELL AT 75

Joni Mitchell in November 2018 at age 75

Yesterday, November 8th, was Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday, an occasion celebrated by friends and well-wishers at a concert in  L.A.  The iconoclastic Canadian singer-songwriter did not perform, gone mostly silent since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.  Yet throughout her legendary career, Ms. Mitchell penned words and sang notes that spoke to the human condition like few before or since.  

In one of her most acclaimed songs, Both Sides Now, she sang how she’d “looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions, I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

While clouds were Mitchell’s metaphor for both life and love, she was equally perceptive with “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day” as even in acquiring experience we lose time in the exchange. 

Yet if the ethereal Ms. Mitchell is to be fully appreciated, it is in the realization that only those who have the capacity to see both sides, who can stand, at times only fleetingly, in the shoes of another, who may one day comprehend their own illusions as carefully constructed mechanisms meant to help navigate the great yawning maw that confronts each of us everyday. 

It is only when we can see beyond our own narrow self-interest that can we come to grips with our humanity such that it might dovetail with the illusions of others, and thus acknowledge life as a pitching current in which we all move inexorably to the see (sic).   Continue reading “JONI MITCHELL AT 75”

A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11

 It has been 17 years since that fateful day. To a growing number of young people, 17 years is a lifetime, and the day itself no more than a history lesson, or a museum exhibit. But for those old enough to have experienced it, 9/11 is a day etched into our collective consciousness never to be forgotten.  

Today, as memorial services take place in Lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia and an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I offer one from the world of running first posted in September 2011. 

Continue reading “A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11”

ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA – THE WHAT IF MAN

6 Sept. 2018 – How’s this for being on the horns of a dilemma?   Either stay with a duly elected but “amoral” president who “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, or go with an unelected cabal made up of “many of the senior officials in his own administration who are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations”?  

Oh, my!

The blame, dear friends, lies not with the one called Trump, though he is the locus of the dilemma.  No, he is who he is, who he has been for many, many decades. No surprises there. Nor can blame be apportioned to the wide enough swath of America that got him elected in November 2016. 

They didn’t love him (OK, some did), they just hated you, the Washington establishment. Hated you for your mindless disregard that left them without a sense of their traditional homes, jobs, infrastructure, affordable education, etc. Trump wasn’t their guy so much as he just wasn’t yours. He was  the cudgel you gave them to say NO with and they swung it enthusiastically.

No, this erratic, unfit executive belongs to the Republican Party and its cynical leaders who sought to ride the raging bull long enough to pass tax cuts, strip away regulations, and pack the judiciary before the beast would need to be put down.

“Why are we putting so many resources in South Korea?” Trump wonders aloud. 

“To avoid WW3!” says SecDef James Mattis in utter disbelief. 

Amorality aside, he just doesn’t know any better. Studying was never his thing. Making stuff up on the fly is what got him this far in the family business. Do not expect him to change now because the responsibilities are exponentially greater.

Unfortunately for us, that leaves him particularly unprepared for the task at hand, like a TV actor after the writers have left. This is a president without Mark Burnett to produce the Reality TV show.

But as Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told Brett Baier on Fox News, “In the last 100 years, the Republican party has held the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives in only 20 of those years. And we are not going to squander that opportunity.”

That’s the key understanding. “We are not going to have this very long, so let’s make the most of it.”

There’s is purely a transactional relationship. Regardless of his qualifications, let’s ride this guy until he implodes, gambling that we can get what we want before the country gets what it deserves. 

In a binary world of Trump v Clinton, where one choice will impact the Supreme Court for a generation in your favor, the choice is a no-brainer (just like their president). So hold your nose, say your prayers,  and pull that voting lever.

Of course, in for a dime, in for a dollar. So when insiders lay open the sucking chest-wound of an administration led by a virtual child, Mitch McConnell has nothing to say about the scathing New York Times Op-Ed from a senior White House official talking about resistance within the administration to many of the dangerous inclinations of the amoral president. This is realpolitik in its purest form. Continue reading “ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA – THE WHAT IF MAN”

SUMMER IN THE CITY

Earlier this month it was the far west dealing with unrelenting heat that fueled devastating wild fires up and down the coast. This week it’s the east coast that’s broiling. Pity the poor players having to deal with the conditions at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

And while it may seem we are experiencing yet another indicator of that oft mentioned bugaboo Climate Change, these spells do come around every now and again on their own. I found the following recollection in one of my old journals that brought back a particularly wild ride one hot summer’s night in the city.

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Reeking tendrils of humidity stewed street stench wafted through the city like a hangover from the 1968 sanitation worker’s walkout.  The city sucked.  So off I headed to Boston to ride it out. Not that Boston was any bargain, but at least the beaches were proximate and, at the moment, free of medical waste.

The train, I figured – five hours from Penn Central to Boston’s Back Bay – a tranquil change from the jet whine life I was leading at the time. Plus, traveling by train felt like riding through New England’s backyard.

There was no real hurry, though no understanding, either, of how often the trains ran.  This was still pre-internet, pre-smartphone, but if the airline shuttles worked every half-hour, then the trains would probably go on a similar schedule, right?

I arrived at Penn Station at 6:40 p.m. as the last of the day’s commuters battled for already fouled air space.  Fixed-wing floor fans attempted to do what only an advancing ice age had a prayer to accomplish, cool the joint.  Instead, the fans fueled the street reek and knocked the walking weak off balance as they neared the piles of uncollected trash.  But I was already in a weekend state, oblivious to all the ill winds and foul moods, as well as one step ahead of the medical waste that was reportedly still bobbing off the Rhode Island coast.

When I got to the ticket counter, the Amtrak attendant informed me that the last train – the 6:50 p.m. – had just departed, making tomorrow morning the next best opportunity. So much for flying by the seat of my pants, or moving by rail.

Hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing could well have won me over, but instead I wandered back out onto 34th street looking for a taxi to take me to the Marine Air Terminal, maybe even in time to catch the preferred 7:30 Pan Am shuttle.

The Wednesday night rush was just about over, but Midtown to the Marine Air Terminal in 20 minutes or so?  Odds were I’d have to make the less attractive 8 o’clock Eastern flight out of Laguardia instead.

The first cab in line along the curb was taking on a passenger with the listless spirit that such heat and humdity reduces most people to over time.  But as I approached cab number two, the muted sound of steel-drum music leaked out before the driver leaned over the seat and flung open the back door, releasing the full sound of the steel band tape.

“Hi, need to go to the Marine Air Terminal,” I said in something just shy of a shout to be heard over the music. “The Pan Am shuttle takes off at 7:30. Any chance?”

Turning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, the rasta mon driver informed me with a smile as wide as the car grill that “dere ah nuh problem, mon.  I be da champ.”

Pulling out with a squeal of soft rubber on the hard roadway began a journey into the cauldron of New York City Streets.  From behind, a chorus of honks flared as the driver hung one arm out the window and began using it as both a traffic signaler and speech punctuator.

“Hey, yuh nuffi be gettin’ yuhself in a jahm, mon,” he lilted in his Jamaican patois as another cab honked angrily at his brusque entry into the flow.

“You actually think we can make it?” I asked. “I can always take the eight o’clock out of Laguardia.”

“Dat’s so, mon.  But weh yuh a do?   No betta ride dere is. But mi tell yuh da troot.  Hope him ah nah too pissed off.”

And with that, he cranked the steel band tape even louder and lurched into the next lane with enough g-forces to pin his passenger against the far door. Settling for a second, he turned from the wheel, and over the seat offered a joint he had pinched between his thumb and forefinger. “And dis for yuh,” he said, holding his own inhalation deep in his lungs.

Like a sump pump dredging old bowels, the streets of New York City had become a global warming performance lab.  Not that it slowed my driver one iota.

“Woooooo, momma,” he crowed as he hung half way out the window, banging on the door, and honking wildly at a passing lovely.  “Just yuh pon dat bit a fine stuff.  Mi be bock, sweedeart, so yuh can ride wid mi.”

Like mi told yuh, me am da champ, mi ago get yuh to dat plane, what yuh tink?”

In our curb-to-curb wake, even the most seasoned New Yorkers leapt clear, mouths agape. On we rushed in a blur of yellow, aimed as much as driven by the rasta man in an open-neck cranberry polo shirt. Traffic lines and red lights seemed more like suggestions as we took turns on what seemed nearly two wheels.  The rasta man was loosening the lug nuts on his ride, and that of his passenger, too.

“Be careful up there,” I requested meakly.

“Ah, mon, please nuh worries.  Wi gat it so. Yuh be wit da champ.”

And with that he leaned over and covered the first syllable of his name on his taxi license to the right of the meter, revealing only the letters C-H-A-M-P, as is last name was Longchamp.

“He may well have been “Da Champ” alright,” I thought, “but let’s hope I live long enough for him to collect his belt.”

The Caribbean beat poured out onto 8th Avenue through the fully opened windows and swept into the 90+ degree heat. Fatality seemed but moments away. But, then again, so did the Marine Air Terminal.

As we continued, Mr. Longchamp produced some of the finest upper body car dancing seen in years. I squeezed my arm rests a little tighter even as the driver’s hands left the steering wheel to dance and wave at the frightened citizenry outside.

“I know dis town like I know da lines of mi hands,” he declared taking a turn onto FDR Drive at 62nd Street.

It had become obvious that flowing along with Monsieur Longchamp was the only road to deliverance. Negative vibing would’ve proven counterproductive at this point.  So I began to shoulder-roll in the backseat as the beat suggested.

By this time, I felt like I was reliving the chase scene out of the Gene Hackman movie The French Connectionas the Triborough Bridge toll booth blew past on the left, while to the right a light haze clung steamily to the Manhattan skyline.

Honk and laugh and dance and roll, Mr. Longchamp’s party wagon rocked on, a mini-Martinique carnival of two. It seemed getting to the Marine Air Terminal in under half an hour had been picked up as a challenge by Mr. Longchamp back on 34th Street. Who cared if the traffic never made the Pan Am shuttle at 7:30 a viable target as we roared by the Marine terminal exit, hopping lanes like drivers didn’t get shot for doing one-tenth of this in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, three long tokes of his island pot had the daring driver in a blissful state and me in a more tolerant one. Which made his missing of the exit to the Eastern Shuttle Terminal not wholly unexpected or upsetting .  A few retraced turns, though, and “nous arrivee”, and with more than enough time to crawl aboard the 8 p.m. flight north.

I thanked my host almost as much as he thanked me.  Then, only after graciously declining his offer to drive me all the way to Boston, did we complete what had been a 21:35 ride.

A big tip to go with the $17.80 fare, an exchange of addresses – cause Monsieur Longchamp was going to send me  a copy of his steel band mix tape – and I was once again on foot, a tad awash in an adrenalin rush and marijuana haze, but still with my New York Times and a lasting memory firmly in hand.

END

RIP JOHN MCCAIN

With the passing of Senator John McCain at his home in Sedona, Arizona on August 25, 2018, we find ourselves both a greater nation for having had him amongst us, but now a lesser one for having lost him. Today, the enduring qualities of duty, honor, and country that animated his life, and helped guide the nation through his six decades of public service have lost one of their great champions. This is especially so when compared to the qualities exhibited by the man who currently sits in the Oval Office, or rather, is next up on the 10th tee. 

Perhaps only tangentially apropos, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden penned an article this past week regarding what he called the mythologizing of football and its over importance in the American psyche. Three things, wrote Layden, led him to his keyboard.

…a young athlete’s death (in Maryland), football fans’ frustration with rule changes designed to damage fewer brains, and a millionaire coach (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer) getting wrist-slapped for apparently ignoring an assistant coach’s repeated abuse against a woman…Each case is part of a football ecosystem in which the game itself is propped up as bigger and more important than anything that stands in its way. 

And since disquieting news comes in threes, last week also saw the Dayton, Ohio school board announce a new academic standard for athletic eligibility, whereby students must now maintain a minimum 1.0 GPA on a scale of 0 to 4 in order to play sports. That’s right, students must achieve a grade level of D to remain eligible, a standard which suggests that athletic eligibility is more important than the education it was once meant to support. 

The passing of Senator McCain with his old-world sense of duty, honor, and country; Tim Layden’s observations about the inflated role of football in today’s America; and Dayton’s new scholastic eligibility regulations are not isolated indicators (Going Soft).  Instead they represent the latest reminders of a troubling erosion in the standards that designed, built, and fortified this nation over the course of two-plus centuries.

As ever, the road before us is twisting and beyond our GPS ability to ascertain. Yet if we come together and remain true to the principles embodied in John McCain, those challenges will be ours to manage and control.  Conversely, if we continue in our headlong rush to split apart, we risk careening off the righteous path bestowed to us by our forefathers while reengineering society’s basic underpinnings and values, values which today already proclaim “I like people who weren’t captured”, “truth is not truth”, and “crime is not crime”.

RIP, John McCain. May your memory continue to light our path and strengthen our resolve in what promise to be troubled times ahead.

END