Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Photographs of the Month

Skylight, Art Institute of Chicago, February 1

Oak Street Beach, February 4

Wabash Avenue Skyline, February 6

North Dearborn Street, February 15

The Art Institute of Chicago, February 17

Cleaners, Granville Avenue, February 17

Devon Avenue, February 17

North LaSalle Street, February 18

South Loop, February 19

Alley, South Loop, February 19

Board of Trade, AT&T Buildings, February 19

Mural, South Wabash Avenue, February 19

Wabash Avenue, February 19

Belmont Avenue CTA Red Line Station, February 22

CTA Howard Street Station, February 23

Fullerton Avenue Storefront, February 26

Washington Street, February 26
Today is the eight anniversary of this blog. Fittingly, my first post was a photograph taken of one of my favorite spots in Chicago, Wolf Point.

It was a spot I used to bring my son when he was a child and in love with trains. There, tracks from two major commuter railroad lines and a CTA elevated line traversed the spot at the fork of the river where the city's first development occurred.

Most of those tracks are covered up now, no doubt a great relief to the residents of the new apartment buildings that have one of the best views of Chicago. But for me and perhaps my 16 year old son, something very special is gone for good. Such is the life of a big city.

594 posts later, and one more series of photographs of Chicago. Who knows what will have changed eight years from now. Hopefully your loyal blogger will still be around this space and you and I can find out together.

Thanks to all my readers, loyal and otherwise, for your generous support and comments.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And now, for something completely different...

Looking back on my posts over the last several months, I seem to have fallen into a rut. When I began this blog nearly eight years ago, I intended it to focus, as the banner at the top of the page says, on "The Urban Experience, Chicago and Beyond". 

But now I can't seem to write anything that is not about Donald Trump. Well he is the President of the United States of course and presidents set policy that concerns cities so... And yes this particular city does have a building that proudly displays the president's name so...

OK not convincing at all, the truth is, I've been obsessed in the recent months and this obsession has gotten the better of me. Way back at the end of December I even made a New Years resolution to write less about Trump. If you look at the blog archive on the right of all the posts I've written so far this year, you can see how well I'm doing at keeping that resolution.

So today I'm giving you the first post of the year NOT about Donald Trump, even though his name has been mentioned several times already in this post. 

Instead dear readers, I give you a pause that refreshes, it's about someone who is infinitely, indelibly, and indubitably more related to Chicago than the POTUS.

It's a picture of Al Capone fishing in his jammies:

Now don't we all feel better?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Keep your friends close and...

Al Pacino as the mobster Michael Corleone
There's a famous line from the movie The Godfather Part II where Michael Corleone (as played by Al Pacino), gives this bit of sage advice to an associate:
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
That's good advice even if our adversaries aren't really enemies, or at least shouldn't be. Simply put, there is no better way to gain a foothold on an adversarial relationship than to be able to get inside the head of the other side, if just to see what's cooking in there.

That said, I'm befuddled why so many Americans are loathe to indulge themselves in the spoken and written words of people with whom they disagree. That goes for people on both sides of the political spectrum, folks who avoid the words of the other side like the plague, as if they somehow might become contaminated by ideas they find objectionable.

For a good part of my adult life I refused to commit myself to an ideology or political party. I prided myself on being a contrarian, the fly in the ointment so to speak, who liked to put the validity of all opinions to the test, most of all those ideas with whom I agreed. In that vein I took pains to be fluent in the language of every side of an argument, in order to make what I considered to be an educated opinion, based upon experience, facts and reason, rather than emotion.

That all began to change after Barack Obama was elected president, and Republicans tripped over each other in order to be the first to declare their opposition to the new administration and anything it supported. Gone were the days of bipartisan compromise; in our government, obstruction was the new law of the land. The joke was that had Obama publicly come out in favor of air, Republicans all over this great land of ours would have held their breath. The GOP it seemed to me, would stop at nothing to get their way not even asphyxiation. In the process, this country became divided to an extent we haven't seen since the tumultuous days of the 1960s.

You might think, having read this far, that I'm about to advocate that the solution to bridge our enormous differences is to immerse ourselves in the words of the other side in order to better understand them. "Just listen to them..." one might say, "...and you'll get where they're coming from." While it may be true that listening might make you better understand the place where the other side is coming from, more than likely these days, if you have a bone to pick with the current administration, or several bones as I do, you're not going to like that place.

Try as I might to grab hold of something, anything, to latch onto, to provide me even a sliver of sympathy for the views of the supporters of this administration, so far, I've haven't been able to come up with a single rational argument to counter the opinions of those people who oppose the current president.

Unfortunately, my contrarian days are over as far as politics is concerned, at least for the time being. I find that to be very disturbing.

So how did we get to this place?

Well as Marshall McLuhan famously said: "The medium is the message."

Many of us see the beginning of the current administration as the dawn of the era of fake news and alternative facts, (among other things). But this stuff isn't new. In addition to being one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane gives an account of the history of American journalism, at least the last 130 years of it. In the 1890s, a young, brash, and fabulously wealthy Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), looking for something to do with his life, decides that "it would be fun to run a newspaper." He settles on the stodgy, old, (and failing) New York Inquirer. The ancient editor of the paper (Erskine Sanford) is aghast when he welcomes young Mr. Kane and his associates, Messers Leland and Bernstein (Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane) into the offices of the paper. He literally huffs and puffs when Kane announces that business as usual, that is to say, delivering the news as merely giving testimony to a string of facts, would be a thing of the past. In other words, if the facts weren't interesting or entertaining enough to print, find some new facts that were, even if you had to make them up.

In the following, one of the most remarkable scenes from the most remarkable of films, a montage of muckraking Inquirer headlines read by the primary target of those headlines, none other than Kane's former guardian and chief nemesis, Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), concludes with a meeting between Thatcher and his surrogate son...

Kane's egalitarian words near the end of that scene inspire applause when the film is shown in public, especially among young, idealistic viewers. Sincere as he may have been when he said them, those words, as Kane's life is revealed through the course of the film, prove to be empty. This scene brilliantly portrays the birth of a demagogue. In 2016, life did not quite imitate art, but came pretty close, as Kane's attempt at a brilliant political career came to a screeching halt after his indiscretions were revealed to the public. In another brilliant (and prophetic) scene, as it becomes clear that Kane will lose the election for governor of New York, in the print room of Kane's newspaper, Mr. Bernstein has a painful decision to make:

Well into the era of electronic broadcasting, newspapers remained the primary source of news for most Americans. Radio, which became popular in the 1920s and a household fixture in the'30s, added two new dimensions to news, intimacy and immediacy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first American president to exploit the new medium's potential to communicate directly with the American people. He did so in a series of thirty radio addresses where he promoted his agenda as well as provided the country a sense of assurance during very troubling times. Despite having been delivered from the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House, these informal speeches (by their day's standards) were dubbed "fireside chats". Interestingly enough, those chats were conceived in part as a means for the president to speak directly to the American people, thereby making an end run around the newspapers who were at the time controlled by his opponents, mostly Republicans.

Radio played a major role during World War II. King George VI of Great Britain delivered the most important speech of his life, live to his people and to the world. That speech was broadcast over the radio on September 3, 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland. In the speech, the king announced  his country's declaration of war against the Third Reich, marking the beginning of the biggest conflagration in human history.

On December 7, 1941, about an hour after the first Zero fighter plane entered American air space, and still in the middle of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans first learned of the attack via radio bulletins that interrupted their regularly scheduled Sunday afternoon programming.
The voices of legendary war correspondents Winston Burdett, Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid and most famously, Edward R. Murrow, came into American homes every night, and defined the art of broadcast journalism.

Despite all that, in its golden age, radio remained predominantly a medium devoted to entertainment, even during the darkest days of World War II when not a single family wasn't directly touched by the war. Listening to programs from that era today, no matter how frivolous they may have been, it's very easy to see how essential that function was.

While some historians mark the beginning of radio as the end of the golden age of the newspaper, print journalism, especially major papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, continued to be the news of record throughout the war, as they remain to this day, despite the objections of the current president.

Radio could have gone away altogether with the advent of television, but it didn't. As TV took over the role as the primary medium of home entertainment in the fifties and sixties, radio reinvented itself. In those days, devalued radio meant it was relatively cheap to buy airtime, even your own station. This meant a proliferation of radio stations catering to the fringes of society, as the much more exclusive television networks, went after the general public.

Starting in the sixties, TV and to a lesser extent radio, started to become the go-to sources for folks who wanted their news quick and easy, while newspapers around the country, began to disappear. At that time, the format of network TV became set in stone, with news broadcasts presented in the early and late evening and entertainment programing sandwiched in between. It remains that way today. Radio in the meantime with much less at stake, became more free-form, and programmers could experiment with different formats and approaches to broadcasting. Stations devoted themselves to niches such as all news, talk, or music programming. Those categories were then divided up into sub-categories appealing to an ever more select group of listeners set apart by age, ethnicity, religion, musical tastes, personal interests, and eventually, political ideology.  

Concurrent with the changes in print and electronic media, society was changing, as the generation who was born after World War II came of age. Without the experience of the unifying, tragic experiences of the Depression and World War II, the Baby Boomers were born into a much more complicated world where good guys and bad guys were not so easily defined. The major news events of their formative years, namely, the McCarthy Era, the struggle for Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Watergate, tore the nation apart rather than unified it. The result if I may be so bold as to say this is that the unifying trait of this generation, my generation, is cynicism.

Simply put, the creed of the cynic is this: "nothing is sacred". The problem with that is there is a deep down longing in human nature; we need to believe in something. That in a nutshell, is why we have religion. Without anything to believe in, a person is a shell, left adrift in the world. For people who are completely devoid of all hope or faith, things usually don't work out very well. On the other hand, if religion isn't your bag, you might turn to another cause, perhaps justice, freedom, patriotism, nature, or simply loving your neighbor. Perhaps you believe strongly in the rights of the oppressed, of women, of minorities, of the unborn, of animals, of whatever. Some people choose less than admirable things to believe in, No need to enumerate them, I'll leave those things to your imagination. Many of our generation want to have it both ways, we want to believe that nothing is sacred, but still desperately want to hold on to something in which to believe. So we pick a cause or two close to our hearts, then determine that nothing (else) is sacred.

The message is also the medium. We, the Baby Boomers, and our successors who have inherited most of our cynical traits, the Gen X'ers, became the most sought after demographic groups for advertisers who paid the bills of the broadcasters during the last forty or so years of the twentieth century. Consequently "the media" have bent over backwards to accommodate us, explaining why cynicism has been such a powerful force driving much of the creative world since the mid-sixties. A British comedy troupe set the bar high for its no-holds-barred brand of comedy which first appeared on these shores in the seventies in the form of their TV show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. For the Pythons, literally nothing was sacred and they pushed the boundaries of decorum and good taste with every endeavor. Their schtick became the defining symbol of detached hipness, which would be embraced by almost an entire generation.

Nothing is sacred became a genre of its own on the radio with the advent in the mid-seventies of talk radio, and perhaps its most enduring invention, the "shock jock". These radio personalities who say or do outrageous things to get attention, made it their mission to defy "political correctness", long before that term was coined, even though at the outset, their schtick was not intended to be overtly political.

Today, the broadcast media have been augmented by a vast array of information conduits made possible by the digital age. It is now possible for anyone, no matter how obscure their interest, ideology, or fetish, to find a website, cable channel, podcast or blog to cater to his or her needs. Unlike the days of old, most people don't receive their news from the same source as we did, back in the day. If you happen to be a news junkie, you have a tremendous number of sources, all coming from a slightly different direction from which to choose. The competition for subscribers, as it was back in Charles Foster Kane's time is fierce. Unlike that time however, today we have agencies that do nothing but check facts, so an honest to goodness news agency with any claims of credibility, has to be accountable for getting its facts right.

News sources today not only have competition from each other, but also from entertainment venues that have pretentions of being something beyond merely entertainment. A good many Americans claim, even boast, that these venues are their main source of news.

One could say that the Pythons and the shock jocks serve as the paradigms for two vastly divergent entertainment outlets that provide information about the world to two equally divergent ideological groups.

Like the Pythons, with their snarky humor, their sense of cool, smart, detachment, and their obsession with the absurd, comedians such as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert turned their late night comedy shows into conduits for news that have been eaten up for years, mostly by college educated white folks on the moderate left.

On the other end of the spectrum, ultra-right commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Mark Levin owe their very existence to the shock jocks of the seventies and the eighties.

These non-traditional outlets of news have resulted in the broadcasting of information that no longer concerns itself with presenting facts or heaven forbid, a meaningful exchange of ideas, but rather, opinions, often in a non stop profusion of righteous, invective filled diatribes, intended to enforce ideas already held by the faithful, often at the expense of the non-believers.

There is little or no accountability as far as accuracy is concerned because these public figures can legitimately claim they are in the entertainment business, not the news business. The only accountability these programs have is to their sponsors whose only interest is ratings. Success along those lines means spoon feeding their consumers exactly what they want to hear. Neither Maher, Stewart or Colbert, Limbaugh, Savage or Levin, expect listeners who don't agree with them to tune in to their programs. If they do happen to tune in, its only gravy for their ratings.

The most common thread between these two groups of broadcasters is their cynicism, obviously pointed in different directions. To the TV comics, traditional American values like patriotism, capitalism, law and order, the second amendment, and Christianity, (with the exception of Colbert), are fair game, while civil rights, women's rights, immigrants' rights and reproductive rights, are sacred cows. For the radio guys, it's exactly the opposite. To the right wingers, words like "liberal" and "progressive", are spoken with the same disdain as words they might use to describe the experience of crawling out of a dumpster filled with putrid, maggot infested meat. But they save their most bitter vitriol for the concept of political correctness. Just as their ancestors the shock jocks, existed to tumble the walls of decency and decorum, the commentators of the ultra right take special joy in belittling the sensibilities of people who value the idea that all people deserve to be treated equally, with dignity and respect, the very things which are in fact the core values of so called political correctness. Then, when they are criticized for their offensive speech, they cry foul that their first amendment rights are  being violated.

Since my current political leanings are closer to those of the TV guys, I never watch them as, if I need to reinforce my opinions, I turn to more reliable sources. Therefore any opinion I have of the late night TV comics is quite useless. But for a sense of perspective, I do listen to the right wing radio guys when I get the chance, that is, until my head starts to ache from banging it against the wall.

The truth is, if you want to keep Donald Trump supporters close to you, in a Michael Corleone kind of way, you need to listen to folks like Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. There you'll find the germ of every excuse, every conspiracy theory, every unfounded charge against his opponents, every red herring, that comes out of the mouths of every Trump supporter, at least those who have stuck by their man after one dismal month in office.

If you wonder for example, where they get the idea that it's ok that Russia hacked into our presidential election, Rush Limbaugh will tell you (erroneously) that all governments including our own, hack into foreign elections. He'll then tell you that "the lying left wing media" will lead you to believe, (no they won't), that the Russians' mischief actually affected the votes in the election enabling Trump to win. If you wonder why Trump supporters have no problem when the president calls the free press, "the enemy of the people", Mark Levin will go into a diatribe about how the New York Times is indeed an evil enemy because 75 years ago, the newspaper rarely mentioned the treatment of Jews during World War II, and when it did, the news was relegated to the back pages. If you question why people think the judiciary who ruled on Trump's travel ban is corrupt, the radio guys will tell you these are the same courts that time and again violate both the spirit and the letter of the constitution and the fundamental rights of all Americans by making rulings enforcing even the slightest form of gun control. And I'll give you three guesses where Trump supporters get the idea that Hillary Clinton is behind the protests against the administration and that George Soros is paying all the demonstrators.

I wrote this post about Limbaugh a few years ago. Back then he was irked because Pope Francis spoke some cautionary words about "unfettered capitalism". Rush excoriated the Pope without realizing, (or more likely, bothering to mention), that the pontiff's two predecessors, whom Limbaugh couldn't praise highly enough, both expressed during their pontificates, the same sentiments as Francis. This is Limbaugh's modus operandi, there is always a modicum of truth in what he says, so you can never accuse him of delivering "fake news", yet he leaves out relevant details that spell out the truth of the story. He's like an add for a movie that prints a quote from a review that says: "this is not a very good movie" but leaves out the word "not".

If you listen to Limbaugh and his proteges, it doesn't take much time to realize they are filled with hot air and their words have little substance. Unlike the left leaning TV comics, the radio guys seldom give voice to the opposition and when they do, they make sure to save the last word for themselves.

What makes them so very effective, is the way they brilliantly take advantage of the medium of radio, especially its immediacy and intimacy, just as FDR did for the first time over 80 years ago. In what other medium could they come into the homes of tens of millions of Americans, and relentlessly bloviate their spite filled rhetoric non-stop for three hours at a pop? If they don't induce a headache for listeners as they do for me, all their huffing and puffing, their ranting and raving, their temper tantrums and moral indignation are in fact, quite compelling. Studies show that when people hear the same thing over and over and over again, pretty soon they will begin to believe it. Being subjected to these guys for any length of time might even cause their listeners to develop a case of Stockholm syndrome, the condition where hostages begin to identify with their captors and their causes, simply out of self-preservation.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Limbaugh and his ilk are largely responsible for the election of Donald Trump in 2016. These guys are extremely popular in the places where the president did well, and if his success can be attributed to the anger his voters feel about their lives, Rush and his minions did a wonderful job of throwing gasoline on their fire.

And they continue to do so. No matter how bad things will get with this administration, every time it lies, ignores the rule of law, incites our allies, or unnecessarily provokes our adversaries, no matter how close it gets to becoming a bona fide tyranny, you can rest assured that its most powerful mouthpiece, the right wing radio dudes, will bloviate on, throwing more and more gasoline onto the fire of discontent among their listeners, convincing them that those of us who support our country, its institutions, and the values it stands for, but don't support this president, are the real enemy.

If there is any silver lining to all this, we can be assured that Rush's listeners won't heed Michael Corleone's advice to keep their enemies close, because Rush won't let them.

I dare say that those of us on the other side, can't afford that luxury.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Coming together, one piece at a time...

This past Tuesday, a feel good moment for opponents of the Trump administration began on the floor of the US Senate when Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren started to read this letter. The letter was written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as it was debating the appointment of one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the position of Federal Court Judge. The letter expressed Mrs. King's deep reservations about his appointment, siting Mr. Sessions' use of "the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."

Coretta Scott King (Getty Images)
Mrs. King was referring to investigations, brought on by Sessions in his role as U.S. Attorney for the State of Alabama in 1984, that focused on allegations of voting fraud in that state. Mrs. King wrote:
The investigations into the voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government. Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident. Then, when Blacks; realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.  
Mrs. King went on to allege that under Sessions' direction, elderly black voters were harassed into testifying before a grand jury, then forced to make grueling 180 mile journeys to Birmingham, when much shorter trips to Selma could have been easily arranged. Many of those voters, according to Mrs. King, announced they were never going to vote again. She also noted that Sessions targeted in his investigation, members of the American civil rights movement, who were active in the sixties with her husband Martin.

Coretta Scott King equated Sessions' actions with the disenfranchisement of African American citizens, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965.

She concludes her letter this way:
I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgement, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.
It turned out that Mrs. King's letter was never entered into evidence, or for that matter, the public record, by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Strom Thurmond. Despite that, other testimony against Sessions convinced the committee to deny President Reagan's nomination of Sessions to the post, in a bi-partisan vote of 10-8.

Fast forward thirty one years and Senator Jeff Sessions once again found himself before a senate committee, appointed by another president to another high government position, that of Attorney General. It was during the debate before the Senate vote to confirm his nomination, where Senator Warren attempted to read Mrs. King's letter.

During her reading of the letter, Senator Warren was interrupted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invoked an obscure senate rule against "impugning the motives and conduct of a peer." Not surprisingly, the senate, completely along party lines,  voted to shut Senator Warren down. Undeterred, she took her message to the public where she read the letter in its entirety on MSNBC and elsewhere. Mrs. King's letter which before this week had never seen the light of day, has taken on a life of its own as it has been published widely since the senate kerfuffle.

McConnell, as the Republican who led the charge of congressional obstructionism the moment Barack Obama took office eight years ago, only furthered his reputation as the most despicable, laughably hypocritical politician on Capitol Hill (despite some very strong competition), among nearly all Americans to the left of a little right of center. This was Mitch McConnell's explanation for his actions on the senate floor the other day:
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. 
In uttering those condescending, authoritarian, patriarchal words, Mitch McConnell unwittingly created a rallying cry for anti-administration Americans, especially those who are female members of the species. If as many people suspect, Warren throws her hat into the ring for the 2020 presidential election, you can expect the words, "nevertheless she persisted" to be the theme of her campaign.

Despite the delicious euphoria that resulted from all that, not to mention the serious misgivings many people have about Jeff Sessions regarding his record on civil rights, he was approved almost entirely along party lines, to become our next Attorney General.

I bring that up not to bemoan yet another member of the president's cabinet with questionable credentials; Sessions is more than likely one of the most qualified of all of Donald Trump's appointments (which is not saying very much), but to speak of the tremendous symbolism in this country, of taking away someone's right to speak.

That is not to say Mitch McConnell violated Elizabeth Warren's first amendment rights of freedom of speech. The senate has its rules, however arcane, and McConnell was within his rights to call Ms. Warren on violating them. Yet no matter how much within his rights he was, there is at least to the American psyche, something so deeply sinister in silencing a person, that any effort to do so, as McConnell proved (although he may not realize it), is usually self-defeating. Had he given Warren the ten minutes or so it would have taken to read Coretta Scott King's letter, the whole issue would have blown over, after all, Sessions' approval by the Senate was already in the bag.

As it worked out, Warren, the wronged party, at least in the eyes of those who support her, now has the ammunition, not to mention the slogan, to move up the food chain and become a bona fide leader in the Democratic Party, as well as a legitimate contender for her party's candidate in the next presidential election. In trying to silence her, McConnell turned Warren's inside voice, into a roar.

Those of us opposed to the current administration should learn a great lesson from this. There was another episode last week, that on the surface was another feel good moment for the opposition. However unlike the Warren/ McConnell flap which in the long run will certainly be scored as a victory for Warren and the opposition, last week's event in every way possible, was a resounding defeat.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post describes Milo Yiannopoulos as a "Breitbart writer and sleazy professional troll, (who) has built a career out of stoking Pavlovian outrage and censorship attempts from the left in order to build his audience on the right." Yiannopoulos is a rising star in the alt-right whose name pops up everywhere on social media via provocative memes, YouTube videos and his Twitter account.

Yiannopoulos has been banned from Twitter, but like everything else on the Internet, his tweets will live on into perpetuity. In enforcing the ban, the company emphasized their policy of "prohibiting participating in, or inciting targeted abuse of individuals." Yiannopoulos targeted many individuals in his tweets but the straw that broke the camel's back, was most likely his tweet war with actress and SNL cast member, Leslie Jones, which included images likening the African American celebrity to a gorilla.

Yiannopoulos and his supporters cried foul, claiming the company was violating his free speech. In a statement published in Breitbart, the alt-right website for whom Yiannopoulos works as their tech editor, he wrote this, using tag words and phrases (which I took the liberty to emphasize) which come up again and again, ad nauseam in the writings of the alt-right:
With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
The incident helped put Yiannopoulos on the map, he is now one of the leading darlings of the ultra conservative right with more "adoring fans" than ever. He was wrong about one thing. Far from being the end of Twitter, that social media outlet now serves as the public voice of the President of the United States.

Last week, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley campus. You can look at the troll of the ultra right, Yiannopoulos' decision to speak at the historic bastion of left wing radicalism in two ways. Either you can give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he sincerely wished to open up a meaningful dialogue with people who have quite different opinions from him or... you can believe he only wanted to start trouble in order to get attention.

Given his history, it's kind of a no brainer.

If you don't know the story by now, you can probably guess what happened. Yiannopoulos drew a huge crowd to his appearance, some supporters, lots of protesters. About 150 masked men and women, about one tenth of the total number of demonstrators who were there, broke down police barricades, smashed windows, tossed Molotov cocktails, and threw firecrackers at police. All in all the rioters caused about $100,000 damage to property. Conferring with the police, the university, out of concern for public safety, called off Yiannopoulos' appearance. 

Despite the fact that the University of California, Berkeley approved of the talk, regardless of the threats of protest and violence they received, in the blink of an eye, Yiannopoulos and many of his supporters claimed the university denied him his freedom of speech. The following day the president in his favorite means of communication, tweeted:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
Many opponents of the administration, especially those on the left, while not defending the violence, still felt a sense of vindication that Yiannopoulos and his provocative message bordering on "hate speech" were silenced.

That only played into the hands of the ultra right, who used the incident to claim that those on the left, normally the first responders when a breech of the first amendment takes place, really only care about the freedom of speech for those opinions in which they agree.

Like much of what comes out the mouths of this group, that is a blatant lie. They fail to mention that one of their favorite targets, the ACLU, has countless times defended the freedom of speech of people holding a vast array of political ideologies, from Yiannopoulos' right to call Leslie Jones a gorilla, to the right of Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish village of Skokie, Illinois.

Of course people have short memories, and folks anywhere to the left of Attila the Hun had to scramble to spin the story to deny that anyone's rights were violated.

The incident turned out to be a win win for Yiannopoulos, Breitbart, and the president, and a defeat for everyone else, especially for reason and truth.

In the February 6th issue of Atlantic Monthy, David Frum wrote an article called How to Beat Trump: What Effective Protest Could look Like. Frum, a conservative writer who once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush, is steadfastly against Donald Trump, not so much for ideological reasons, but because he feels (as do I), that the current president is setting a dangerous precedent as he has little or no concern in upholding the United States Constitution.

Speaking about the deficiencies of the tactics of the left as far as protests go, Frum writes that...
...left-liberal demonstrations are exercises in catharsis, the release of emotions. Their operating principle is self-expression, not persuasion.
The problem with the left, Frum suggests, is their micro management of issues close to their heart, rather than a view of the big picture, preventing a general consensus that would lead to a unified front capable of drawing enough voters to win back the presidency. In a radio interview I heard with Frum last night, he said that so divided are liberals in this country amongst themselves, their protesters are "not preaching to the choir, they're preaching to the mezzo sopranos."

There is no better example than the election last November where thousands of steadfast supporters of Bernie Sanders, refused to vote for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. Either they reasoned that as the recipient of tremendous support from the Wall Street establishment, Clinton was no better than Trump, or they felt anger toward her because they erroneously believed she stole the election from their man, or they bought into all the Republican jargon that suggested she was a criminal who was just a little less truthful than Pinocchio, or all of the above. I don't have the numbers to back this up but I truly believe that had most of the Sanders supporters who either sat out the election or voted for a third party candidate, actually voted for Clinton, Donald Trump might not be sitting in the White House today.

Many Democrats blame Clinton for not being a strong enough candidate to beat Trump. Perhaps that's true. But the choices in this election could not have been more clear, and it is my sincere belief that everyone in America who could have, but didn't vote for Hillary Clinton last November, deserves to have Donald Trump as their president.

Of course that's all water under the bridge and hopefully we learned our lesson. In picking a president on election day, we have a choice between two credible candidates who are ready made, right off the rack. We can't tailor them to suit our individual needs like we can a computer system or a new car.

Actually, voting for a president is a lot like buying a used car,. We get to pick between two cars sitting on a lot, a blue Ford Fiesta and a gray Chevy Cruze. Sometimes both are in running order and frankly it's a tossup between the two. Sometimes one is a tad beat up yet perfectly drivable while the other looks shiny and new, but is a lemon. You really want that snazzy custom silver Corvette convertible but it's way out of your price range and besides, it was sold an hour ago. In short, the 'vette, just like the perfect candidate, wherever she or he may be, is not an option.

Now that the election is over, those of us who steadfastly believe that Donald Trump has no business being President of the United States, have a serious decision to make. He's the president, pure and simple, we as a people do not have the power to impeach him or kick him out of office, that's the job of Congress, if they so choose. The only legitimate way to change the government is to make our voices heard to our elected officials, and ultimately, through elections, the next one being in November, 2018.

It's unlikely that the president and his cabal of advisors are going to listen and take heart. They have made it abundantly clear that anyone who is not on their side, is their enemy, and dissent, only strengthens them. Besides, there are term limits and the president already is showing frustration with leading the country which he is quickly learning is not at all like running his own company. Who knows how long he is going to put up with it.

Unfortunately we can't count on an imminent impeachment or the president taking his toys and going home.

But the members of Congress are in it for the long haul and those of them up for re-election in two years will soon have to answer to their constituents. It's up to those of us who are dissatisfied with the current administration, to make our voices heard to those senators and congressmen, that we will not allow the laws and values that this country has held dear for over two hundred years, held hostage by an administration who has in three short weeks shown time and again that they have no regard for such things.

As I have said over and over, this is not a struggle between left and right. An administration who openly communicates their actions with the public through the use of "alternative facts", i.e.: lies, a president who has openly derided judges who rule against him in points of law he has no knowledge of, and who has expressed his belief in the use of torture to achieve his goals, clearly is not an administration who plans to rule with liberty, truth, justice and decency in mind.

And so it's in our hands. We need to come together as a people who cherish liberty, truth, justice and decency. If that means setting aside our differences, then so be it.

If we truly value freedom of speech, we must make every effort to allow all views to be freely expressed, even if those views disgust or horrify us. The truly horrible views will damn themselves, while denying the right to express them only gives them credibility by giving their speakers the moral high ground as victims who are denied their rights.

If we value the truth, then we must be steadfast in speaking the truth, and not broadcasting news that is not verifiable or outright wrong. We can't condemn the other side for broadcasting "fake news" if we do the same.

And if we truly care about decency, we must learn to treat those who disagree with us, not as they might treat us, but as we would want to be treated. We cannot discount the millions of Americans who voted for Trump who feel their lives are somehow compromised. As we do not like sanctimonious people preaching to us about what is moral and what is not, we should not be that way either.

Many leaders of the Republican Party today and the current administration, knowing their base is rapidly diminishing, have shown time and again, they will do anything in order to win. If we stoop to their depths, we are no better than they are. The only way decency can win in the end is to unite Americans of good will, both on the left and the right, to fight for American values as we have understood them for over two hundred years.

I truly believe there are more Americans of good will than not. I believe that most Americans are not racists, but people who care about their families, their communities, and their country, in that order, just as we do. We need to convince them that we're on the same side. Like them, we understand that we can't just invite terrorists or other criminals into our country to do their will. By the same token, we cannot completely close our doors to people from other countries who simply wish to make a better life for themselves and their families, just as this country DID NOT close its doors for our ancestors. We believe that all Americans should have the opportunity to jobs, health care and safe communities, but we also must point out that times are changing, that the ship of high paying, unskilled jobs sailed away a long time ago, and that the real key to success today, is education.  And we believe that no force in the world is stronger than America when its people come together and work for the common good, not when they sit back and let demagogues take over and decide what is best for us.

Our job in the opposition is to make our case before all Americans of good will, showing them that we are not all that different than they are, showing them that we love our families, communities and country, just as they do.

Even more important, we need to learn the same about them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

We are living in scary times. In my nearly sixty years on this planet, the world has experienced other scary times.  Just in my lifetime, we've seen war, the threat of global nuclear annihilation, economic collapse and terrorism, and those experiences pale in comparison to the things my parents' and grandparents' generations experienced. But I don't know of a time in the past century when Americans seriously questioned the future of this nation and its core values, as they do now. We have a president who appears to have zero respect for the constitution and the rule of law, especially when it comes to the restrictions it places on his office. During the campaign, he expressed a higher regard for the dictator of Russia than for the President of the United States. He and his administration have demonstrated time and again that they have no particular interest in freedom of speech, unless it is their own. The POTUS has made it clear he has no intention of giving up his huge stakes in worldwide business interests and the issues of conflicts of interest they will inevitably create. This administration's utter lack of regard, even contempt of facts is downright appalling. Perhaps most disheartening of all is the fact that many of my countrymen and women are perfectly OK with it.

As I can remember exactly where I was upon learning the news of nearly every horrific event in world history that took place in my lifetime, I will never forget the moment I read the statement made by a top advisor in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway, when she used the Orwellian term "alternative facts" to describe blatant lies the president made through his press secretary, to over-inflate the size of the crowd at his inauguration. It was at that moment when it occurred to me that this nation might very well be doomed. If this administration could so overtly lie about trivial, easily verifiable stuff, imagine how they plan to deal with the important issues that take place behind closed doors. I didn't feel much better last Sunday when this same advisor lamented the fact that to date, no one in the "mainstream media" has been sacked for criticizing her boss.

It's becoming clear that the division in this country between supporters of the POTUS and everyone else, is becoming deeper and deeper as we speak, which seems to work to the advantage of his administration. Like so many totalitarian wannabes, this administration seems to draw its life-force from the ability to create a home grown enemy. And that enemy is anyone, wherever their political leanings may lie, who has the nerve to criticize them.

This leaves those of us with misgivings about the current administration in a quandary. Do we openly protest the administration, thereby fueling the fire in the bellies of the president and his supporters who are looking for any excuse to repress the liberties of their detractors? Do we do so subversively much like the bumbling, crazy (like a fox) Good Soldier Švejk, the eponymous character from the series of novels written by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek? Or out of fear of retribution do we just keep our mouths shut, hoping the storm will pass over our heads without causing too much damage?

This is not my paranoia speaking, I know people who have chillingly called for marshal law to suppress the demonstrations that are taking place throughout the country. The president himself has expressed his enthusiasm for using strong arm tactics. In a tweet last week he threatened to "send in the feds" to Chicago in order to control this city's growing murder rate. This weekend he signed an executive order to ban the entry into the United States, of people from specific nations, including many green card holding legal residents of this country. Even small children were not spared, one of whom was reported to have been handcuffed for several hours during his detention at Dulles Airport in suburban Washington DC last weekend. Amazingly, the president's press secretary told the country that it is perfectly acceptable to handcuff a five year old child, who turned out to be a US citizen. After the incident, the press secretary, Sean Spicer said this:
To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong. 
You read this stuff, at least I do, and wonder if there are no ends to which the administration would not stoop in order to achieve their objectives.

Yet there are folks who are perfectly happy with the way things have been working out since the president was inaugurated a scant twelve days ago at this writing. It's not something new in history, that people of a nation, fearful of the unknown, would choose security over liberty. These arrangements seldom work out well. The current administration is only happy to oblige the fearful, taking advantage of an existing atmosphere of anger and resentment, and blowing it completely out of proportion. One school of thought has it that the protests that have taken place since the inauguration, especially the very small handful that have erupted in violence, only work to the benefit of the administration, as for them it would be justification for the use of force to quell the violence. Once that begins, where will it end?

An even more cynical, but not outrageous viewpoint, is that the administration is well aware that, rather than promoting safety, its actions over the weekend, suspending the arrival of refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya, will only exacerbate anti-American hostility in the Muslim world, making terrorist attacks all the more likely. The resulting crisis would then justify the suspension of constitutional rights in the name of "national security". Steve Bannon, the president's right hand man (or is it the other way around?) has written that he is in favor of the need to tear down society in order to rebuild it, which in his world view it would seem, would mean an oligarchy ruled by Caucasians, with a few useful Christian values cherry picked out of scripture thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure but perhaps non-Caucasians could live here if they wished, they would just have to tow the line, and bow to the master in charge.

How things have changed in a mere generation. Judging from the following words advocating understanding among the people of the world, and an open door to this country, you might think the man who spoke them was a progressive, liberal Democrat. You would be quite wrong:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here." --Ronald Reagan
Eighty four years ago, a president on the verge of a new administration, facing a much more difficult challenge than the current president as he entered his new administration, told a struggling nation that:
...the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself, - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Until now, for 228 years, American presidents have told their country not to fear, that by working together as a nation, there is no problem we cannot solve. In the meantime, dictators have told their subjects to fear everything, but leave it to them, in their hands, and in their hands alone, they will solve all the nation's problems.

The struggle against the current administration is not a struggle between the left and the right, between Republicans and Democrats. It is a struggle for liberty, truth, and common decency, in other words the values that Americans of good will have shared for over two centuries. Fed by the fear and anger inspired by a handful of opportunistic demagogues who draw their very breath from our division, many of us seem to have lost those values over the past year.

But we as a people are better than that. We protest out loud whether it be on social media, in the halls of Congress, or out in the streets, over the injustices of this administration. We do so not because we are crybabies and sore losers, but because we are Americans, and because we love our country.