Friday, January 17, 2020

Trump's Terrible Transparency

I write this on the eve of the Senate's "trial" of impeached-for-life President Trump. Some may quibble about how transparent Trump is, but if he has a secret life (other than keeping his own secrets), it’s hard to picture it being opposite of the one he promiscuously reveals to the public. That he really is an anonymous philanthropist, a monkish esthete, a gourmand, a collector of Renaissance art.

Trump is beginning to rival Bill Clinton’s bibliographic record, that is, books written about him by the end of his first term. I still think Clinton is ahead in the count, given that Hillary also had a slew of attack books written about her: Melania, far fewer. Trump shares with his fellow impeached colleague, Bill Clinton, a large cohort of detractors. At this point in history, it is hard for younger citizens to grasp the enmity Bubba inspired among Republicans. His service as governor of Arkansas did give him a head start in enemy book writers. Other than losing his lawyer legal status, being impeached didn’t seem to slow Clinton down. And since Hillary ran for president herself, more books continued to appear. Can’t see that happening with Trump, even considering the remote possibility of one of his brood running for office.

The Starr Report lifted the veil on some of what went on with Clinton in his “private” life; but his public life was conducted in a more or less traditional way. He said what was expected. One of his most famous, quotable lines, though, came about where the public and private crossed: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

But, my point is that Trump’s public life is rife with transparency, even more so than his private life. Trump’s public pronouncements are often quotable, more for their shock value, rather than for their rhetoric. Take the subject of oil. Trump likes oil. Trump orated, “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” when discussing pulling out our troops from Syria, leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves. It’s not likely Trump has read much history on the subject, but he was giving new meaning to Clemenceau’s remark, “A drop of oil is worth a drop of blood.” Meaning, in Trump world, he’s all for it. More drops the better! Most presidents, especially in the modern era, spend a lot of time denying that’s why we're so ready to shed blood in the Middle East, especially the Bushes, oil men at heart. But not Trump. He’ll call a spade a spade. And he does that often in his reckless confessional tweets and pre-helicopter-boarding press availability rants.

That’s one reason, if not the primary reason, why he won the 2016 election. His lies and hypocrisies are veined with unpleasant truths now and then. It seems like a type of Tourettes, Trump blurting out the truth uncontrollably. Supporters are often forced to raise the ignorance defense on Trump’s behalf. In that regard there is no bottom.

Take what he is impeached for. That call to the Ukraine president. As Trump himself points out, many people were listening in on the call. Nonetheless, he barges ahead, asking President Zelensky to do him a favor, to investigate the Bidens, in order to get the money, weapons, etc. In many ways it was a surreal event, one television star talking to another television star. I was against impeaching Trump, seeing it as a distraction Trump could mine before the upcoming election. But, as it’s said, Trump forced the House’s hand. It couldn’t let the Zelensky matter slide by, as so much already had.

Ukraine, in many ways, is both a comic and tragic nation. After it declared its independence in the early 90s and the Soviet Union fell apart, attempts were made to erase Russian as the dominant language of the cities (most Ukrainians were bilingual) and replace it with Ukranian. That played havoc with various government documents, manuals, etc. Kiev was a hotspot of real estate speculation and many American corporations, including unions, rushed there to buy up lavish apartments in historic buildings. A new currency was introduced, though none of its coins fit the reliable public transportation system, so the trolley rides were declared free. Many grim ups and downs followed. So much so they needed a television star to become president.

A lot like home, I suppose, though coins and language weren’t our big problems. What happened here was the opacity and fecklessness of our government, but in a different way. Obama’s eight years showed little overall improvement, except for the naming and rule of the 1%. Nothing much changed, except for preexisting conditions. Our last two Democratic presidents who served eight years got stuck on the shoals of health care immediately out of the gate (or dock, or harbor). Given Medicare for All, they seem to want to do that again. Start off with a terrible fight, one that Obama himself only partly won (the quickly jettisoned Public Option), even though early on he was battling with a Democratic Congress. After the first mid-term elections he no longer had that and the rest, as they say, is history.

Trump voters, other than die-hard Republicans, were, say, charmed by his bull in the china shop approach. They wanted the cardboard facades of propriety torn down, looked for the ugly truth exposed, and it was. What they didn’t count on was that the destruction wouldn’t stop and would only get worse. That wan hope that Trump would become more presidential disappeared quickly, though this week’s pious Senators’ swearing to impartiality by Chief Justice Roberts for the impeachment special shows the cardboard facade is still intact.

The drone killing of Soleimani was the latest example. First, what passes for the new Washington establishment, the Tea Partiers Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pompeo, try to give it a bogus legal foundation, the odor of propriety: the imminent danger, etc. When that doesn’t hold up, Trump says it doesn’t matter. Most of his voters think killing bad guys is the way to go. And no one I heard, when Trump was threatening Iran if they retaliated, saying the response would be very fast and any war would be quickly over, he was actually implying the use of nuclear weapons, something Trump continues to flirt with. He would like to add that as a first to his many firsts, the first to use such a weapon since WWII. Cultural sites? Who cares about them? Many of his voters agree. It’s refreshing for them to have someone in power who shares their dark desires. Kill whomever. Bomb whatever.

The long simmering scheme to tar the Bidens with Ukraine’s help has succeeded beyond Trump’s own half-assed dreams. If his plan had worked, with the 3 Stooges, or Marx brothers, help of Giuliani, Lev Parnas, the Fox lawyers team, we would have held the momentary spectacle of television star Zelensky announcing the “investigation” in Kyiv (it took nearly 15 years for them to change the transliteration spelling in the US to a Ukrainian version), then silence would have descended until and unless Biden became the Democratic nominee. The effect would have been minimal. Instead, there has been months of coverage, daily hammering away, the Biden mess spread everywhere and to everybody. Hunter the hunted, now haunted.

Trump does not have the innocent naivete of Jerzy Kosinski’s Chance character in Being There, the book and movie. Of all Trump’s lacks, naivete is not one of them. He, too, is a television era creation; he and the medium grew up simultaneously. As he loses his mind growing older, television/cable is more equipped to fill it with endless follies. His knowledge and conversation is spiked with scrambled information he gathers from his television and his “confidants”. He makes little effort to be independently informed.

Hillary Clinton lost in the states she needed largely because of the-not-bothering-to-vote crowd, Bernie Bros and others soured on Hillary, who might have cast a ballot, but left the choice for president blank, Obama supporters who couldn’t drag themselves to the polls for the old white lady who called them predators, along with the happy nihilists who decided to throw the dice and vote for the china-shop destroyer.

It’s always hard to imagine Trump as a fellow who came of age in the 1960s, as so many of us have. He was a premature suit, his father’s protégée, not a fringe wearing hippie, or beatnik, or any sort of counterculture product. He trusted people over thirty, especially Roy Cohn. Alas, our generation, those of us who were such products, have received their fatal comeuppance. Imagine, now that we’re in the Raging ’20s, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, any number of ’60s figures in the White House now – Donald Trump, the twisted hybrid of Yippie and Yuppie, has outdone them all.

Monday, July 1, 2019

To Impeach or Not to Impeach

Both modern 20th century presidential impeachments, Bill Clinton’s and Richard Nixon’s, one enacted, the other nipped in the bud by resignation, happened in each of the president’s second term. This is not a small matter. The problem with the Trump impeachment quandary is that this push for impeachment comes on the heels of his election, midway in his first term, thereby thwarting the recently expressed will of the people (or the will of the electoral college.)

This fact, though given short shrift most everywhere, including by Leader Pelosi, provides some lame substance to the president and his supporters' rhetoric of the Democrats wanting to stage a coup, to seek revenge for an election they should have won, etc. Though, for complicated reasons, the second term presidents, Clinton and Nixon, didn’t seem to be newly elevated figures ripe for political defenestration. Nixon, one needs to recall, had actually won his second term by a landslide, an electoral college one, in any case. Clinton, too, had won comfortably. But after serving five years or so both presidents had acquired a shop-worn aspect. Their failings had accumulated and their occupation of the White House had reached a tipping point.

Trump presents different, but not entirely foreign, similarities. One curious, but often overlooked aspect of Bill Clinton’s initial election, was how revealed his life had become. His campaign was shot through with publicized scandals, like Trump, mostly involving women and Bubba's randy ways. Indeed, Trump continues to get a pass on his abuse of women because of Bill Clinton's legacy. And there was, in addition, his avoidance, like Trump, of the Vietnam era draft. Before Clinton won his presidency, and shortly after, there had been many attack books published about him, more, by my count, than any previous contemporary president. In Nixon’s case, his long checkered career had already exposed him to the voters as a flawed vessel, and most of his faults would become more extreme after he was elected the second time. Nixon, as he once claimed, had been kicked around.

Ditto Trump. He likes to brag about how “transparent” he is and in any number of ways that is true. It is unavoidable, like Clinton and Nixon, for voters who were paying attention, to claim that these men were pigs in a poke. Trump looked impeachable before he was elected. And, for so-called low information voters, testy swing voters, those who want to throw the bums out, none of it seemed to matter.

The 2018 election was in its way an impeachment of Donald Trump. The Republicans forfeited congressional seats that surprised even them. The breakdown of voters by sex and race showed which voters Trump lost, or, finally, had second thoughts about who they may or may not have voted for in 2016. Buyer’s remorse was at work.

The shock was that the election didn’t seem to matter. Democrats won the House, but it was quickly made clear that the victory was gelded. With all the current worries about the Imperial Presidency it became obvious that the Senate held the most power, especially when Trump managed to finally find a sycophant Attorney General who actually had a demonstrable intelligence. William Barr, corralling the Department of Justice to be an adjunct of the White House and, coupled with the Senate’s undying allegiance maintained by the oily swamp-creature Mitch McConnell, lets Trump sit atop a formidable fortress.

But the Democrat-controlled House continues to fire spit balls at the Trump castle. Who actually thinks that if the House began impeachment proceedings its enhanced legal powers wouldn’t be similarly rebuffed and laughed at by Barr and McConnell, mucking up and delaying the process? All the House has is the power of the purse, which it doesn’t choose to use. Note the collapse on the Border bill. The representatives still want to spend money.

But, as voters did in 2018, let the people speak. Voting Trump out of office is the only way impeachment and the necessary conviction can occur. Power to the People, as the 60's slogan goes.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What's the Matter with Virginia?

Winning a Trifecta is rare, as any bettor could tell you. Having the top three Virginia politicians mired in scandal, all of whom happen to be Democrats, is quite a statistical coup. The final dispositions of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the state’s attorney general are still very much up in the air and it would take another leap of high coincidence to believe all three of them will eventually resign.

Gov. Ralph Northam, the first offender, has thus far made a botch of most everything. Part of his charm, allegedly, is that he’s not a “polished” politician. Oh, you don’t say? He’s proved that. The man in the middle, the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, has another problem, unrelated to the blackface applications of the other two, since he himself is Black. His alleged offense is sexual assault. (This trio makes up a perverse Oreo cookie; the sweet white innards is the public's usual prurience regarding such subjects.) A woman charged forced oral sex on Fairfax's part. One problem with such a charge is that reading the description of the alleged event hardly cheers anyone up and most readers would rather peruse transcripts of state agricultural or waste management committees. On the heels of that, another woman has surfaced, claiming rape, spelling doom for Fairfax, a lot of people assume.

Be that as it may, these stories all have remained, for the most part, on the surface of the public’s consciousness. In the Age of Trump, it is a familiar surface. But we have learned a lot of minstrel show history. When I looked at the offending yearbook photos of Gov. Northam, I was struck by any number of things. One being, Who is the other fellow, whichever one it is, in the KKK outfit and will we ever know his name? Though the governor currently contends that he isn’t even in this particular photo, which somehow ended up on his yearbook page. Given the ongoing coverage we have also been informed that white folk wearing blackface on special occasions was popular throughout the state in the '80s.

I was a bit more interested in Northam's photograph (I presume it’s him) lounging in front of a Corvette, a new one at the time, back in the early '80s, which shares his yearbook page spread. Virginia medical students seemed to have a lot of money, evidently. They certainly appeared carefree, at least about what the future might bring. Mark Herring, the AG, another wanna-be black entertainer, at least had the familiar excuse of being an undergraduate, rather then a medical student, when he showed up in shoe polish.

The ‘80s were the Age of Reagan, when the rich really began to separate themselves from the poor (the wage gap, particularly), and the wealthy began to swan around the big cities, recovering somewhat from the ‘70s, when they kept their display of wealth a bit more circumspect. Again, unless you lived through the ‘80s, it’s hard to exaggerate the extent of so-called White Male Privilege afoot. Second Wave Feminism was in its adolescence in the early 1980s.

Now, we have Billionaires flaunting themselves as political saviors. Why, we even have a supposed Billionaire as our current President, though one reason given for Trump’s not-seen-taxes is that they would reveal the fact he is a mere Millionaire, not Billionaire.

But, Howard Schultz, the coffee maven, possible presidential candidate, wants to be called a man of means, avoiding a label that somehow doesn’t have the same appealing ring it once might have had. It is yet another coincidence just how similar Schultz, the Starbucks man, is to the McDonald’s man, Ray Kroc,. They both sold supplies to small shops -- in Kroc’s case, mixers and the like to hamburger joints, and, in Schultz’s case, equipment to coffee sellers. Both went out to visit the shops that bought so much of their wares and, in both cases, they had the insight to take them over and multiply them. Schultz and Kroc, their enterprises' success roughly two decades apart, differed on clientele: Coffee shops needed to look more high-end, appealing to a slightly more educated class in the 1980s. Chic, rather than family friendly. Starbucks, hinting of the sea and Moby Dick; Big Macs, in the 1960s, hinting of weight gain.

Schultz now wants his very ordinary intelligence employed to run the country. Or, at least, hand it back to Trump, a different sort of huckster entirely than the Coffee Boy, which is likely what Trump would dub him. Both Schultz and Kroc had the right idea at the right time. Many have had the right idea at the wrong time.

But, the Schultz/Kroc coincidences still pale when compared to the current Trifecta of follies in Virginia. No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part II

Starting with his nomination I was taken with Kavanaugh’s first pitch: That he was a great family man, a friend of women everywhere, a coach to his girls, practically a feminist, though he didn’t claim that, just let it be implied.

It reminded me of the political tactic that had been used successfully by Republicans against Democrats for decades. Attack the strength of your opponent. This was crystallized during John Kerry’s campaign for president, though used before. The Swift Boat attacks. Kerry was known as a Vietnam vet, a plus against the stay-at-home George W., as he went in and out of the National Guard, depending on his whims, it appeared.

It’s always been overlooked, except by me, that when W.’s father picked Dan Quayle for his veep, H.W. was playing a long game. He knew someone of that generation had to soften up the hard ground of the Vietnam war conflict and Quayle was his sacrificial Hoosier. He took the heat for his guarding the golf courses of Indiana during that war; that generational battle was fought during the campaign. Bush I was preparing the road for a future presidential run by his son. Little did Bush I know that he was actually helping future candidate Bill Clinton. Had Quayle not preceded him, Clinton would have had even a harder time dealing with his lack of service, his credited draft-dodging, his letter of thanks to the draft board.

In any case, what Brett was doing by trumpeting his women-friendly credentials was a variation on the Swift-Boat strategy. He and his handlers obviously knew that his history in high school and college might come up and this was their preemption of the issue. It almost worked.

Dr. Ford’s “letter”, its existence, must have entered the rumor mill, or Kavanaugh might have been forthcoming about possible youthful minefields. Why else parade his women bonafides so flagrantly?

It turned out the scorpion stung itself. And it all came crashing down when his first accuser and he himself testified. The only rational reason I could find for Kavanaugh carrying on the way he did is that he already assumed he would never get on the Court. The only thing that counters that is that he is already on a Court, a not unimportant one. Obviously Trump wanted his pick to fight back, but what transpired had flop sweat and desperation all over it. Anger, rage, because he had already lost. He wasn’t out to persuade.

One less (never?) quoted remark in his “unhinged” (the commonest description) testimony needs some attention. When he claimed he had already picked four clerks, all women, to serve him on the Supreme Court. I’d like to see their pictures. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by smart, lovely women? Kavanaugh favors harem professions, my term for men who are the boss of many women at once. Male dentists are the most obvious examples. One man and a cadre of women “assistants”.

[The above was written before Justice Kavanaugh was sworn in, before the 50-48 vote, but I will just leave it be and carry on.]

The Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, of Yale, is credited with saying that the new Justice likes a certain type of female clerk. I have yet to find a group picture, but, some day one will doubtless appear. But, I’m sure it’s a harem well worth spending time with.

Obviously, even in the Trump Era, I can still be surprised, since I thought Kavanaugh wouldn’t, in the end, make it onto the Court. But I was once again wrong. Susan Collins fulfilled all the predictions that she was a creature of the Republican leadership, not an independent thinker. Her confirming speech will doubtless be preserved as a lesson in self-delusion, but her squawking voice seems to be a curse that long ago has been visited upon her. Her transformation into an owl may, or may not, be final by 2020.

I tweeted during the final days that if Kavanaugh got on the Court it would be a new, indelible definition of White Male Privilege. As if we need more definitions.... Also, he and Clarence Thomas doubtless high-fived each other when they first met. At least, George H.W. Bush didn’t publicly apologize on behalf of the nation to Thomas.

What Justice Kavanaugh chiefly represents is just the most public signpost of what the Republicans are getting away with in Congress and legislation as Trump continues with his clown show, taking up so much space in the public’s (and media’s) consciousness. This was always the dread, that the Donald would distract and they would act. And now the dread has increased and, given that surprises still happen, I can’t imagine what the world will look like if the Democrats don’t win the House in less than 30 days.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part I

The SCOTUS nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is a creature of Washington, DC, and the problems he is going through now are also a large part of his success. Kavanaugh is first and foremost a Suit, a guy who has credentialed himself as a GOP operative, and he shares a number of attributes with other past DC scandal figures. His roots go back further than Anita Hill; they reach into history, at least, to the Nixon administration, the Watergate episode, complete with eager young Washington GOP lawyers, especially the group that was adept at “ratfucking”.

Kavanaugh reminds me of Donald Segretti, memorialized in the film of Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President's Men. Kavanaugh is not as smarmy as portrayed by the actor in the film, his sad monologue full of self-pity – though about the same amount Kavanaugh showed in his Fox News interview. Indeed, Kavanaugh is a few steps above Segretti in the career advancement sweepstakes. He’s a federal judge, after all, another lifetime appointment.

Kavanaugh has an odd connection to Donald Trump. Being nominated to the Supreme Court might be the same sort of catastrophe for him as being elected President has been for Donald Trump. Everything was going along swimmingly until Trump reached the top. Trump and his circle was shocked and awed when he won. It’s been downhill for them since, though the Republicans in Congress have had a field day. The supposed runner-up for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, should take note and be happy she has a good permanent job and decline any further offers.

Over the last few decades I have watched with some alarm while the bro culture has produced so many successful Republican male lawyers and financiers, Wall Street types riding Harleys: Heavy drinkers, most athletes of a sort, womanizers, hale, hearty and well met. Capitalists all, they seemed; with rare exception they favored the GOP. They did produce the ubiquitous use of the modern phrase “toxic masculinity,” which first entered common usage in the early 2000s. Previously, the rise of Microsoft, Apple, facebook, etc., seemed to cement the hegemony of single-minded men, though that tech crowd was softened somewhat by their West Coast geographies. The East Coast made the men meaner; Washington, DC, or as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used to refer to it, SOG – seat of government.

Given what we know now about Kavanaugh, it looks like Yale finally managed to civilize young Brett, or, at least, teach him that being drunk all the time didn’t lead to success. He seems to have changed his vices to excessive NBA basketball tickets, or, it is suspected, gambling. I, too, went to a Jesuit all-boys high school, one that shares the “men for others,” motto, though I did tweet recently that Brett should adjust the motto to Men Atop Others. I went to my high school in the early 1960s and, to say the least, the social mores were far different than those of the 80s. God knows what the Jesuits were thinking at Georgetown Prep, but supervision didn’t seem to be a priority. Though alcohol consumption has always been the most approved Catholic failing. And Jesuit high schools remain all boys to this day, the last bastion of single-sex exclusivity.

Given his background working for Bush II and Ken Starr, both tainted figures, Kavanaugh does seem to play fast and loose with the truth; he employs a sort of pragmatic lying, well sanctioned by politicians and their staffs in DC. When it came to his clerkship with his “mentor”, Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned after decades of sexual harassment, Brett took the former wrestling coach Rep. Jim Jordan’s ignorance defense: seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing.

I am writing and posting this the day before the scheduled public hearing, which appears to be mismanaged by both sides. Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t appear to realize that a smaller room and one camera will truncate the spectacle and make it less Anita Hill-like than she might want. But, unfortunately, we will all see – or not. In our present culture everything can change in a day. Take this as Part I; Part II will follow.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Cuba and Carnage

I went to Cuba last January and I’ve had a long, sketchy history with the place. In the 1970s I hung out at the Center for Cuban Studies down in the Village, being interested in the woman who ran it. I managed to avoid being blown up by anti-Castro Cubans when they put a bomb outside its door one night I didn’t visit. And I had lunch with a Cuban UN representative at Jean and Leonard Boudin’s home on St. Luke’s Place, complete with armed bodyguards. Leonard was Cuba’s lawyer for a time back then. And, some years later, Cuba played a role in a novel I wrote called Criminal Tendencies.

But, like most Americans, I had never been there, till the Obama administration made travel less onerous, or illegal, and a number of publications began running “People to People” tours. I had never gone on a tour, fully escorted as they say, but I decided, Why not? I booked one sponsored by The Nation, a magazine I had written for over the years, but not lately. I could imagine the demographics: Old lefties wandering among the ruins. I wasn’t disappointed.

A picture was taken of most all of us in front of the U.S. Embassy, which is close by the esplanade, the Malecon, the picturesque road next to the water with a view of Old Havana. Barack Obama was still president, but just barely. Donald Trump was to be inaugurated in a couple of days, right before our departure. Out with old, in with the new. I couldn’t imagine Trump’s speech for the ceremony (and I didn’t hear it), since it seemed impossible for him to sound sincere or eloquent. I heard bits after my return. “American Carnage,” indeed.

Now, it appears, the embassy was the scene of unseen carnage, some sort of sci-fi attack, as it is described, rendering personnel there with hearing loss and other disturbing brain and behavior problems. I seem to have escaped unscathed. But, visiting Cuba was both sad and dispiriting. Our group stayed at a hotel near the Hotel Nacional, the Capri, allegedly the first hotel in Havana built by the Mob in the 1950s, newly reopened after it too was blown up by anti-Castro Cubans in the 1990s. One section, with bright red doors, was not in use, the large casino attached to the high rise. There was a pool and a nice bar on the roof, convivial with happy vacationers. It was all very Las Vegas in the ‘50s, if that’s your taste.

Our days were full of lectures and encounters with the “people,” a number taking place at the Hotel Nacional, just down the street. It is an impressive place, still capturing its aural of by-gone wealth and status, though in the same way as a number of England’s lesser castles display. It, like the rest of the country, has fallen on hard times. Our embargo and sanctions have been very successful, and the Cubans have suffered the blows of the fall of the Soviet Union and the cratering of Venezuela, both implicated mightily in the failing economics of the island. Tourism has taken over as a replacement and we spent a lot of time in new Chinese buses being taken here and there.

Many Cubans announced they want to expand the tourism sector. Given the crowded streets and roaming hordes, I couldn’t see how they could fit any more Chinese buses and ambulating foreigners anywhere. Havana seemed overstuffed. And, it appeared to be falling down. A shocking number of buildings do collapse each week, either 30 or 300, I can’t recall, though either figure is alarming. I wasn’t taking notes. Havana doesn’t resemble Key West, or the American Southwest, or anywhere else I’ve been. It looks, I imagine, like Spain, since Spaniards were its colonizers for centuries. And Old Havana seems to be a calendar of those years, ancient buildings, some semi-restored by those who get remittances from American relatives, others just in the process of falling down, though still occupied. The Lower East Side, where I lived in the late 1960s, was in far better shape back then, long before gentrification. Gentrification is a forlorn dream for Cuba’s glorious old city.

It was all very sad. The Cubans I met all seemed to be pleased with the Americans wandering around. We took a side trip to Vinales, a tobacco growing region’s small village busily building B&Bs. On the way we stopped at a teaching hospital (Latin American Medical School) and listened to a talk by a physician who was the dean of students. They send their graduates to under-served countries around the globe. She was a compelling figure, most likely in her fifties, and Fidel Castro, who had died a few months earlier, almost inadvertently was mentioned and she momentarily choked up, a show of emotion that surprised me. When we reached Vinales, after a tour of a tobacco farm, sitting at a very make-shift cantina, the local guide, responding to a question, also became emotional speaking of Fidel. So, high and low, they really seemed to love the man.

Unlike Vietnam, which, after our barbarous and useless war, has been brought into the American orbit, their former peasant economy being a source of cheap labor for Ralph Lauren, Nike, and other apparel and shoe manufacturers, Cuba remains an outlier and it shows. That’s what happens, I suppose, when you educate a whole population, make them literate and informed. They don’t want to become cheap labor. Though, in Cuba, professors and doctors seem willing to be taxi drivers and bartenders in order to work in the tourist world, where they can get their hands on the more lucrative cash side of the country’s idiotic two-currency system.

It’s sad in Cuba, and doubtless more so, since Hurricane Irma raked the countryside and flooded parts of Havana. More buildings will crumble. And America’s vengeance for losing the country and never killing the Castros (see the recent JFK assassination semi-dump) continues unabated and, post-Obama, redoubled.

The HuffPost version (10/31/2017) can be found here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ken Burns, Boy Capitalist, and The Vietnam War (Part II)

What the 18 hours of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War were was exhausting. I kept wondering about the demographics of the viewers. How many young people were watching this? Was the audience only aging Baby Boomers? Somebody must know. As usual in Ken Burns’ projects it was as much human interest as history. Indeed, if you didn’t already know a lot about the history of the Vietnam war, you wouldn’t be able to fill in the roughshod way Burns and Novick raced through those years. But, unfortunately, their project will become history, since it will be watched by a generation that prefers watching over most anything else.

Here are some odd things it would be helpful for watchers to know: Speaking of the friction college students felt when they were “ranked”, grade-point averages implied, in order to retain student deferments. Ranking drew protests, but, unmentioned, it was the “Selective Service Qualification Test” that was administered widely and was given preference. I took it in the spring of 1966. If you scored high enough you didn’t lose your 2-S deferment.

Social scientists, then as now, worked with the military to arrange their own Darwinian methods for selecting soldiers to be. Now, it is torture that occupies them, then the draft.

The narration mentions that “banks” were bombed. It didn’t mention the radicals favorite targets were branches of the Bank of America, since it is one of the film’s major backers. The Weathermen were said to have blown up a statue of “six policeman.” It would be helpful to know that statue commemorated the Haymarket Riot, where seven, not six, policeman were killed, and the statue itself only featured one policeman, with his arm raised in an unfortunate position, presaging the Nazi salute some three decades down the road. The gathering at the Haymarket Square in Chicago was supporting the 40 hour week back in May of 1886. It eventually became the rallying point for May Day celebrations around the world, honoring workers, but not in the U.S.

In an early episode, Benjamin Spock is mentioned writing about children injured by napalm, but no mention of the Boston 5 trial in Boston in 1968 where he was a defendant because of anti-draft activity. There is, I suppose, a reason the series is called The Vietnam War. The war predominated and there was very little of the anti-war movement and its offshoots. There are other documentaries on the anti-war movement, but none got, or get, the play Burns and Novick’s has enjoyed.

There were other lapses. The documentary’s talking heads were barely identified. One of the most egregious was John Negroponte, notorious for his work in Central America. Wherever Negroponte went, death squads sprang up. To say the least, no one speaking was saddled with a full biographical notation. Most just were ID-ed by their affiliation: “Army”, “Air Force,” etc.

As was Tim O’Brien, who gets the documentary’s last word, which was “endured.” He was reading from his short story, “The Things They Carried.” Given all the horror that was covered, Burns and Novick seem to privilege endurance over all, the humanity of the ordinary person, despite all the evidence to the contrary. What was interesting was the coverage and the unstated linkage of that war with the present day. Especially, the foreign involvement presidents partook in: Nixon, primarily, getting the South Vietnamese to delay peace initiatives until after Nixon’s election. Reagan running against Carter did the same thing with the hostages in Iran, not released till after Reagan’s inauguration, through back channels, arranged by his old OSS and CIA buddy, Bill Casey. And, of course, The Donald and the Russians.

And, it was illuminating the difference between the Oval Office tapes of LBJ and Nixon. LBJ’s did seem to be used in the service of history, whereas Nixon’s were in the service of the prosecution and his removal. There was a lot that was illuminating. Such as the numbers. Over 300 thousand Chinese going to Hanoi to free up a like number of Vietnamese to carry on the war. The amount of war material supplied by the Soviets and the Chinese. Higher-up North Vietnamese sending their children to Europe for education during the war, avoiding their own sort of draft. Burns and Novick are after, it seems, all sorts of equivalencies. The Americans were heroes, the North Vietnamese were heroes. It's their kind of history, remaining sunny even during the slaughter.

Almost no one seems to think the war was a good idea, though there are some who seem to think we could have done it better. When we cut and ran out of Saigon is portrayed as a stain of sorts, how the South Vietnamese were better allies than we were and there is a tinge of regret, as if we somehow should have found a way to “win”. There was no winning, though it is implied the hope was always for some sort of South Korea solution. Yes, we should have remained in South Vietnam forever, as we seem to be heading to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan forever, is the import. The plea heard occasionally in the series was that they – the South Vietnamese – would tell us to leave. And that would have been peace with honor. Ah, yes, it is pretty to think so.

Back in the day, I thought the war was fought for all the usual reasons, natural resources, strategic location, Cold War ideology, etc. But, it is most ironic, and not covered by the film makers, that nearly 60 thousand Americans were killed, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, so Ralph Lauren and Nike and other apparel and shoe manufacturers could have access to cheap labor. No one in the anti-war movement, no matter how cynical, ever offered that as a reason for the war. The only other thing, the only positive thing, it seems to have created was the growth of Vietnamese immigrants, and the younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans. But it is still impossible to be thankful for that war for any reason.

The HuffPost version that ran on 10/06/2017 can be found here.