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Liberty revised: Rebirth of the Know-Nothings

My father came to this country in 1947…the year before I was born.

Dad had minimal English and began his new life in New York shoveling coal on the Staten Island Ferry.

He was a hard worker and over time his English became functional.  He gained citizenship and got a skilled labor job, repairing heavy oil burners. It was what he did for the rest of his work life and he did it well. Continue reading “Liberty revised: Rebirth of the Know-Nothings”

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Fly the friendly skies of United…

This morning – like most other folks – I saw this video of United Airlines’ forced removal of a passenger for being on an overbooked flight.

It reminded me of two stand-out experiences I had had with United…among many.  It seems like a good time to revisit them.

The more recent took place a few years ago.  I was boarding a plane and saw a short older woman struggling to lift her bag into the overhead compartment.  She was a couple of passengers ahead of me and I couldn’t reach her to help.  There was a flight attendant directly in front of her, watching her.  I called out and said, “Can you help her?”  She looked at me calmly and said, “That’s not my job.”  I replied, “A perfect motto for United” while closer passengers realized the woman’s problem and began to help.

Below is an earlier letter to United, following a crew “mutiny”.  I should mention that United’s response union response and government response were minimal to non-existent.
Continue reading “Fly the friendly skies of United…”

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The interdependence of us all…

Many years ago, while I was living off-campus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I became friendly with the woman who ran the commuter services office. One day, she gave me a quote that I carried in my wallet for many years. I’m embarrassed to say I remember neither the exact words nor the name of the person who wrote them…but the message continues to ring clear.

It was this: As societies grow in population and become more complex, people tend to stumble into one another more often. That is, the actions of one person or group – often unintentionally – impact the lives of others, sometimes with great consequence. Continue reading “The interdependence of us all…”

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Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…


Adrienne Dern was the first vice-president I hired at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.  PHA was much smaller when she joined us but had grown to the point that Pathlight, our newsletter, needed to move to a staff-edited publication.   The patient volunteers who had edited it since it was launched in 1991 had done a remarkable job in creating a quarterly that made a difference in people’s lives.  They gave news how others were living with this rare and incurable disease….and, from that, they gave hope.  Adrienne knew that transitioning the publication in-house had peril.  Pathlight was the soul of the organization and if patients were no longer editing it, their lives needed to be reflected.  It could not be abstract.  During her six years at PHA, Adrienne accomplished that task through the editors she hired and the thoughtful way she trained and supervised them.

Today, I’m pleased to post a brief but pointed guest blog from Adrienne.  I have also included a recording of the speech from which Adrienne quotes as a reminder to us all of how the President of a great nation, the United States of America, used to speak and inspire and move us toward each other, rather than apart.

Adrienne writes… Continue reading “Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…”

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Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3

 

Filmed in 1939 and directed by John Ford, Stagecoach is a wonderful character study of 9 people – mostly unconnected to each other – traveling together from Tonto, Arizona Territory in 1880. They are on a dangerous journey through hostile Apache territory. They range from poor outcasts to society’s elites.

Mr. Gatewood (played by Berton Churchill), is one of the elites. He is the town banker who meets the departing Stagecoach on the outskirts of town. Since his bank is on Main Street, the drivers are surprised. He says he had a last minute telegraph message causing him to rush home and pack a bag.

As the passengers ride in the close quarters of the coach, Gatewood pontificates a message that sounds eerily familiar… Continue reading “Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3”

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Admiral: At the Movies, Part 2

 

 

My last blog post, Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies Part 1, looked at the struggle between a republic and a totalitarian state in ancient Rome…and its relevance to today.

Today I’m back to the movies, looking at the same issues through the 2015 Dutch historical film, Admiral (Dutch with English subtitles).

The Admiral opens with these words…

In the 1600’s the Netherlands is the only republic in the world.

The surrounding monarchies see the young republic as a threat to their own political and economic power.

The Dutch country divided between Republicans, currently in power, and Orangists who want the country to become a monarchy.

In the midst of this internal struggle and the external dangers, Johan de Witt – a Republican – becomes the new prime minister.

In his opening address to his contentious legislators, divided between the Republican Holland and the provinces supporting the Prince of Orange. de Witt says…

I understand your concerns. I do.

There is no one in this country who understands you more than I do.

My father was imprisoned for disagreeing with the Orangists.

I found out what it means to live in a country where you cannot say what you are thinking.

Do you want to live in such a country? I don’t.

I don’t think you do, either.

Let me pose you a question.

We’re a nation of merchants. We sail the seas with 20,000 ships. In trade we all work together…to get better prices and to help each other. And what do you think? Does this work or not?

It does.

Some members became so successful they hardly fit in the benches.

When you do business in the East or the West do you do so as Orangists or Republicans? And why are the English trying to block our shipping routes? To disrupt trade.

Is that because you’re an Orangist or a Republican?

No, the English want to wage war against us because we’re Dutch. Free Dutchmen.

Large monarchies consider our small nation too rich. and too free. and on top of that, we’re a republic. In which all men are free to live their own lives. We decide how we worship God.

No leader is more important than the country itself.

The English begrudge us our freedom. Our freedom frightens them. Because we’re prepared to die for our freedom. Because we paid for our freedom with our own blood.

And I’m asking you. Haven’t you lost a relative to the Spanish or the English? And was that Republican blood or Orangist blood?

No. It was Dutch blood. It was our blood.

Your freedom is my freedom.

I’ll defend this freedom until my last breath.

As the movie progresses, the Orangists who seek to make the Prince of Orange the monarchist head of state, distribute lies to weaken de Witt and make him the enemy of the people, who eventually murder him and his brother. It is left to the king to send The Admiral – the brilliant strategist Michiel de Ruyter – on a suicide mission. After defeating the English and the French, he Admiral’s crime was becoming more loved than the King. The King describes his act as leadership.

Admiral is a film worth watching (it’s on Netflix) as we go through our own crisis of leadership in the U.S.

At the Movies, Part 3: Stagecoach, a 1939 movie with a message for today is next.

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Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1

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As I continue to try to understand Donald Trump’s assault on the country I love, I find myself exploring many sources. This blog and the next I will post are about moments in movies I have seen.

You can judge their relevance to today.

Gladiator was released in 2000. Directed by Ridley Scott, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. Russell Crowe won Best Actor for his role as Maximus, a Roman General whose family was destroyed by the Emperor Commodus, a disruptive and demented figure.

The struggle in the Gladiator is for the soul of Rome, whether it will be governed by a Senate cleansed of corruption, as representatives of the people or by an emperor.

After killing his own father, the great Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, who has told him he does not have the qualities to rule Rome, Commodus, having just become Caesar speaks to his sister, Lucilla… Continue reading “Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1”

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Matteotti and the Despot…

[translates: You can kill me but my ideas will never die.]

Many years ago, I took a college course on the rise of fascism in Italy.

It was a particular interest to me since my father grew up in that nation during that period and I had visited Italy three times in the early to mid-1960’s. It was hard for me to understand how fascism could rise among those I saw as a good people.

As discussed in the course, a turning point toward Italian fascism was the murder of Giacomo Matteotti.

In 1922, Benito Mussolini became the Italian Premier. This followed The March on Rome.

The March was the result of dissatisfaction with the socialist and moderate coalitions that had been democratically governing the nation. The middle class feared a socialist revolution. There was also anger at being badly treated, despite promises from their allies on the winning side, during the World War I peace settlement. Their economy was severely damaged.

In the face of the Fascist Blackshirts who were preparing to enter and take over Rome, the king and parliament lacked the strength to stand up to the threat. Fearing civil war, they offered Mussolini leadership of a coalition government. By the time they realized that wasn’t enough, it was too late.

As the Encyclopedia Brittanica describes it…

Continue reading “Matteotti and the Despot…”

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This way to the egress…

P.T. Barnum was the showman of the 19th Century.

As he was building his reputation, he created his own, more interesting reality. In other words, he lied…but in a way that got people really excited and made him a lot of money.

One of his early profitable hustles was his purchase of a slave, Joice Heth, who he presented as 161 years old, claiming she was George Washington’s nurse. When she died, he arranged for a public autopsy, charging 50 cents per ticket.

During a recent interview with Chuck Todd, Trump said that he took comparisons to Barnum as a compliment. After all, people need showmanship or, as Barnum put it, “The people like to be humbugged.” Continue reading “This way to the egress…”

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An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President

I have stepped away from this blog for the past few weeks to see how you might change as you approach your presidency.

You haven’t.

I could have supported your presidency if only you had said, “U.S. intelligence showed me the facts. Putin tried to destroy our election and our democracy and he will pay a price so this will not continue.”

But, you didn’t. You didn’t come close.

Instead, you attacked our intelligence community. They gave you inconvenient facts. You minimized them before the world. You said other countries hack, too. True but nowhere near the point.

You didn’t stop there. You told us Putin liked you “and isn’t that a good thing”. Your being Our President is not about you or your Brand. It’s about the good of the nation. They are not the same thing.
Continue reading “An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President”

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Joshua Griffis: an appreciation

Josh Griffis died yesterday.

While working at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association for more than a decade and a half, I observed that one of two things generally happens when people get a serious and incurable illness. They are either destroyed or they become heroes.

Josh was one of the heroes.

I first heard about him when he had taken on leadership of PHA’s Omaha support group. Our staffer who worked with him, Debbie Drell, told me how the group was growing and how he was reaching out to the larger support group network to learn and to help.

Shortly after that Josh’s name came up again.  PHA was having a hard time engaging young patients.  Josh and several other became part of an advisory – and later leadership – group that defined Generation Hope.  PHA’s program for patients in their 20’s and 30’s quickly became wildly successful.  The model he helped develop was later used to build seven more special (hard to reach) population groups within our community.

When one of Debbie’s staff left, Josh applied. We knew hiring him would not be easy. Besides his pulmonary hypertension, Josh had a second illness…so rare that it was unnamed…one that caused aneurisms to develop in his body.

We did hire Josh – and never regretted it.   He was deeply respected by PHA’s support group leader network and his fellow staff and fully committed to helping other patients and their families.

One evening, Josh and I were talking about the days before we met and he told me that he had gone to Europe and lived in a monastery for six months, so that he could study their texts in the original language. I realized that, while PH shifted the path of Josh’s life journey, he did not let it change who he was…a bright, intense and committed human being.

Over time, it became clear to Josh and his doctors that the same medicines that were keeping his PH at bay were accelerating the progression of his unnamed disease.

He came to my office to tell me he had made a decision.
Continue reading “Joshua Griffis: an appreciation”

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Rules for you, rules for me: Trashing America in North Carolina

In 1971, I was having a conversation with a friend.  We were both VISTA Volunteers in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  We were taking about his opposition to the Vietnam War.  John said that our leaders should be put in jail for their policies.  I asked him on what basis.  His answer was striking, “Because they’re wrong.”

I didn’t find his suggestion a radical concept so much as a recipe for disaster.  Growing up, one of the most important civic values we learned was that America is nation of rules and laws.  If a rule applied to one, it had to apply to all.  If rules became tools for power, then what made America different and better would be lost.

Over the years, I’ve seen John’s position grow from individual views to a new standard of governance.  Put simply, if you’ve got the power, use it to keep it.

We all know that both parties use the power of their state majorities to create Congressional districts that maximize safe seats and the largest number of seats for their party.  The process is open and claims no logic other than the maintenance of power.  The result has been Members of Congress who are beholden to a single ideology, rather than a mix of ideas.  Taking this approach to its logical outcome, compromise becomes unlikely, if not impossible.  Victory is no longer agreement and progress, it is the destruction of the other party.

A big next step in making America less is now in process in North Carolina.

Forget the names. They’re irrelevant. It is the process that defines us.

Candidate A defeats the incumbent, Candidate B, in a close race for North Carolina governor.  Candidate B is from the party that holds control of the administrative branch of their state’s government.  While the power of the governor to appoint administrative staff and committee members was expanded by his party’s legislative majorities when he came into office, they are now systematically being reduced now that Candidate A from the other party is preparing to take office.

To do this is to further pervert our politics.
To do this is to trash our political system.
To do this is to put another nail in the coffin of American greatness.

Shame.

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The Agnew Effect…

As Richard Nixon was moving closer and closer to being removed from the presidency, another crisis was looming.

That crisis was named Spiro T. Agnew.

As Republicans and Democrats came to agree that Nixon’s sin – lying to the American people – was dangerous and unacceptable in a president, they faced the reality of what would happen when Nixon was gone.

The vice-president, Spiro Agnew, was not fit to serve as president. He was one of the most divisive characters of his time, a rigid and angry person and seemed to have little interest in or knowledge of policy issues, a view shared by Nixon.

During Nixon’s second term – which was when the Watergate crisis threatened his presidency – the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland began to investigate Agnew for financial irregularities while in state office. He had been Baltimore County Executive and Maryland governor.

Agnew resigned the vice-presidency on October 10, 1973, after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of his political corruption, including allegations that his practice of accepting bribes had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president.”                                                    This Day in History

In return for his resignation, Agnew was allowed to plead no contest to tax evasion charges. He received three years’ probation and a $10,000 fine. In 1981, a Maryland court ordered him to repay $248,000 related to bribes he took while in office.

So, eleven months before Nixon’s resignation – as the headwinds were blowing hard against him – an unqualified leader was forced from the position that would replace the president.

Under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, the president nominated Agnew’s successor who then needed approval by both houses of Congress. The then-House Minority Leader, Gerald Ford, became vice-president on December 6, 1973 and, following Nixon’s resignation was sworn in on August 9, 1974 as the only president in American history never to have been voted for as president or vice-president.

So, here’s why all of this matters today…

The CIA has told us that Vladimir Putin rigged our election. It seems to be a part of a strategy to weaken us, decay our alliances and fracture the European Union. In other words, this former KGB man is out to destroy us…in pretty much everyone’s eyes, except President-elect Trump’s.

While President Obama’s unwillingness to confront this attack in the midst of the 2016 campaign will be a lasting stain on his legacy, Trump’s unwavering defense of Putin makes him downright dangerous to our nation’s ability to recognize a major threat to the nation and defend against it.

request is now being made by electors to provide the electoral college members with the CIA’s briefing information prior to their casting their votes.  In other words, they want the best information on whether the 2016 election was rigged.

This is certainly not an easy question. Changes from the status quo never are. However, in times of need and crisis, democracy adjusts for the greater good…and survives.  That’s the lesson of Spiro Agnew and it applies today.

A democracy cannot be built or sustained on a destruction of truth. It needs to be sought out and allowed to take us wherever it takes us. Despite the warts inherent in being a human structure, that is what has always made America great.

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Thank you, John Glenn…

This Saturday morning, I walked the dog, sat down, opened the newspaper and read the headlines and sub heads

CIA: Russia Favored Trump
Secret Assessment of Hacking Effort
Goal went beyond undermining election, agency says

and

Transition Team Targets Energy
Memo seeks identities of many who worked on climate pact, carbon cuts

…and that was just above the fold

I read and thought there’s so much to expand upon here:

  • a president who didn’t react to the pre-election report because his White House “didn’t want to escalate tensions with Moscow…” and be “accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.”
  • a Senate Majority Leader who voiced doubts about the veracity of the CIA intelligence…and whose wife has now been announce as President-elect’Trump’s choice for Transportation Secretary.
  • a 74 question memo from the Trump transition team to the Energy Department to get details on individuals, political appointees, civil service employees and contractors who worked on an international climate agreement or were involved in efforts to cut U.S. carbon emissions.

Then I said, nah.

Either the conversation will move to alt-news efforts to discredit fact-based reporting on these studies…or, like Watergate, so many years ago, these and other stories will fester for a time and then explode.  In and case, there will be plenty of time to address them.

More important today is to remember an American hero, John Glenn.

Astronaut Alan Shepard had the first U.S. manned sub-orbital flight into space on May 5, 1961 (the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, flew a month earlier).

On May 21, 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress about a manned flight to the moon by the end of the decade.  He followed that with a speech to the American people at Rice University on September 12, 1962, setting that effort as a national goal.

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn took a huge step in that direction for us all with the first U.S. manned orbital flight.

Glenn understood that what he achieved was the product of a national effort.  He was the person in the capsule but teams of NASA workers and contractors, national leaders with a vision and U.S. taxpayers made it possible.

His death on December 8, 2016 came 75 years and 1 day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was because of that attack that he joined the Air Force, flying 149 missions in World War II and the Korean War.

The space capsule in which he orbited the earth was named Friendship 7, a name hard to imagine us using in today’s environment.

From 1974 to 1999, he served in the U.S. Senate.  During that time, in 1988, he joined the Discovery crew to become the oldest person ever to travel in space.

Alan Shepard and John Glenn’s flights took place when I was in elementary school and I remember how they and JFK’s We Choose to go to the Moon speech focused the nation and brought us together.  Scientific study became a national priority.  He brought out the best in us and we will miss him.

My friend Andy Field, posted a wonderful story about an interview he did with Senator Glenn many years ago.  I think it tells a lot about the man and am copying it for you.

THE DAY THE NEWS STOOD STILL

Was lucky to cover and interview John Glenn as a Capital Hill reporter over the years….. great guy and an even better sport. We did a tongue in cheek piece about the goofy Weekly World News tabloid saying he and other Senators were actually aliens. I called his office to see if he would “comment” he played along and even spoke in an alien tongue on camera ..admitting the tabloid had finally exposed his secret..and the Mercury launch was his attempt to return to his home planet. He kept a straight face…i was holding back tears of laughter. What a thrill to have met and spoken with one of my childhood heroes!

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Thank you John Glenn for a great ride and your life’s lessons.  Go with humor.  Go with grace. Rest in peace.

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The Monsters have Come to Connecticut Avenue…

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On March 4, 1960, Twilight Zone aired an episode that spoke to Americans coming through the McCarthy era and continues to speak to us today. Titled The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, it was written by the show’s creator and host, Rod Serling.

The story opens on a typical middle class American community. People work together and play together in harmony. They are good neighbors who know each other well.

As the narrator says…

“Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 p.m. on Maple Street. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street – in the last calm and reflective moment – before the monsters came.”

Continue reading “The Monsters have Come to Connecticut Avenue…”

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Truth, Trump and Pizza…

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It’s interesting what stands out when you’re listening…

Last night I tuned in to The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre “Between Americans” (CBS, Original air date December 7, 1941) on WPFW- FM. The show had been written by Norman Corwin and was completed several days before its scheduled airdate – the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

President Franklin Roosevelt had gotten word to William B. Lewis former VP of Programming for CBS several months earlier and asked for a show to be written about American values to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Corwin was reluctantly recruited. It’s a compelling listen…at least the part that was replayed last night and narrated by Orson Welles. The messages about the importance of the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are powerful…as is the definition of America as a series of communities and neighborhoods, working together through belief in common values. 63 million Americans listened across four networks (that’s an amazing 47%+ of the U.S. population of 133,402,000 that year).

Earlier in the day, I watched a wonderful film noir, Northside 777, starring Jimmy Stewart. In it, Stewart plays a Chicago reporter who follows the facts and moves from being certain of a convicted police-killer’s guilt to believing and proving his innocence. It’s a story about truth and the essential role of the press as Americans saw it in 1948, when the movie was made.

Fast forward to the present…

Continue reading “Truth, Trump and Pizza…”

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Abdul Razak Ali Artan: An open letter

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Abdul,

I don’t understand.

You came to the U.S. two years ago as a Somali refugee, after six years in Pakistan.  As refugees, your family wase no doubt leaving a bad situation, taking you – their future. At about the age of 10, you were old enough to remember why they left.

Within two years of arriving here with your family, you had graduated from a community college and gained entry to one of the great public universities in the United States.  Your arrival appears to have been assisted with temporary housing (and perhaps more) by Catholic Charities.

Your Facebook postings express your uncertainty about where to pray on the Ohio State Campus and worries whether, if you did pray publicly , there would be negative reaction.  You felt the U.S. was engaged in a religious war.

So, you drove a car into your fellow Ohio State students and, when you crashed it a student ran to see if you needed help and you came out with a butcher knife.  You injured 11 people you didn’t know.

Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Continue reading “Abdul Razak Ali Artan: An open letter”

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President-elect Trump: Your nose is gonna grow…

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It used to mean something very bad for a president to lie to the American people.  Now, a president-elect is doing just that almost every day.  It has become a daily decaying of who we are.

Yesterday’s tweet by our president-elect is his latest example of over-Trumpeting reality with his lies:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

In truth, no Electoral College landslide (Clinton is 38 votes below 270, Trump is 38 above)

In truth, the only clear fraud is from his Russian benefactors.

So, while he at present has no accountability, president-elect Trump at least needs a theme song.  Here’s my candidate. Johnny Crawford’s “Your nose is gonna grow”.

Take a listen.

From 1958 to 1963, Johnny Crawford played Chuck Connors son, Mark McCain, in The Rifleman.

Here’s a few of the song’s relevant words…

“Go ahead, explain.
But remember, if you lie The boogie man’ll get you
And your nose is gonna grow.

“So remember, if you lie Everyone will know
Remember, if you lie Your nose is gonna grow
And everyone will know.”

We don’t know yet whether the lies are pathological or strategic…but we do know – either way – they are more dangerous for the U.S.

God help and bless America.

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Rigged…

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Yesterday, I picked up the Washington Post and read the headline on the top left of the front page:

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

As an American who believes that a free and unfettered press is essential to the continuation of our democracy, I was shaken by the first three paragraphs in Craig Timburg’s article… Continue reading “Rigged…”

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An evolving conversation…on essential values

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My mom grew up in an immigrant enclave in Brooklyn. When her father died a few short months before the Depression began in October 1929, he left a widow with limited English and three children.

To help support the family, my mom – a woman who loved to read and learn – had to drop out of high school in her sophomore year.

Growing up, I learned a lot from this natural born teacher. Perhaps the greatest lesson was this:

“Always judge people as individuals.”

As a child, I incorporated that as a part of our human and our American values.

I find myself thinking about that often these days, as I hear our president-elect group people into boxes and tweet and speak about them as a single entity.  A particularly disturbing example has been ”the crooked media”. Continue reading “An evolving conversation…on essential values”

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Freedom of the Press: An essential value

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“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”                                                                      A.J. Liebling

Today’s headline – “Viral Fake Election News Outperformed Real News on Facebook in Final Months of the U.S. Election” – got me thinking about how we got to this dangerous place.

Many years ago, while in college, I remember a Sociology professor discussing then new statistics that showed, for the first time, more people were getting their news from TV than from newspapers. He made the point that TV news pieces were by definition brief and that the deeper analysis offered by newspapers would fade. He described this as a danger to democracy.

In those days, TV news departments were seen as a public service. As time went by, that value was decayed by networks and stations whose values shifted to profit as their business became more competitive.

Almost two decades ago, in 1999, Marc Gunther authored a report for the Nieman Foundation.  Titled, The Transformation of Network News: How Profitability Has Moved Networks Out of Hard News, Gunther opened the document with these words: Continue reading “Freedom of the Press: An essential value”

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Orwell on Trump

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

1984

1984
George Orwell

Many years ago, in the summer between graduating from St. Raymond’s Elementary School in the Bronx, NY and beginning high school at Fordham Prep I received a reading list that changed my world.

Fordham sent hundreds of book choices to its incoming freshmen…with the instruction to read any 30.  That summer, from basketball court to beach, I went everywhere with a book.  My view of the world and how it worked expanded beyond the bounds of Parkchester, the housing project where I grew up.

In today’s politics, three of those books stand out: 1984 and Animal Farm, written in 1945 and 1949 by George Orwell and Brave New World written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley.  It’s 1984 that I find myself thinking most about today as I try to understand the confusion our recent election and the debasement of our electoral process.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs   in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them.”     Orwell, 1984

Destroying truth in favor of a chosen reality has been going on in our politics, talk radio, talk TV and the internet for many years now.  if scientific proof is inconvenient, it can be replaced by voices repeated loudly and often. We have certainly seen that in the fight over protecting our environment. It occurs over and over in policy arguments. And, if a political argument is weak, character assassination is a convenient alternative.

“The party seeks power entirely for its own sake.  We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.”   Orwell, 1984

In this environment, Donald Trump was not a surprise.  He was a predictable outcome.  The failure of the parties to produce – to work in compromise – allowed him to present himself as a strong man solution.

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”
Orwell, 1984

Early in the campaign, during the primaries, it was observed that Trump used his rallies and interviews to test his insults and lies. If they got a strong response – they were repeated often.  For example, his assault on Ted Cruz…

“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being —    you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said Tuesday during a phone interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”

If they did not catch with his audience, like a mocking of Bernie Sanders for a hernia operation, they were dropped.

Unlike Orwell’s Big Brother, whose lies required a systematic bureaucratic erasing of the truth, Trump ran his campaign as a one man show…say it loud, say it proud, mix it up with contradictions and convince people that only what you say matters…that you are the only solution.  It’s the show that brings a new reality.

“Power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
Orwell, 1984

So where does this take us?

There are two paths…

The first is that we will find that lying to 325 million people is different from cutting deals with individuals.  The good people who believed in him will remember his words that came before and see them shifting as he takes power. They will reject his opportunism.  The other good people who didn’t support him will continue to assert their democratic role.  America will revert to the core values that brought it greatness through our imperfect union, an open and free society where people can honestly discuss their disagreements.

 The other path is darker.  We further cede our freedom to  the person who said, “I alone can fix it.”‘

For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”      Orwell, 1984

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