Friday, March 17, 2017

Last year Tony Toccone and Lisa Petersen adapted Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel, It Can't Happen Here, into a play at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  They avoided updating the setting to reflect the ongoing election, preferring to stay in the Depression era when fascism was a palpable threat.  Lewis had teamed up with John C. Moffitt to first stage the book in 1936.

Since the rise of Trump, many periodicals have called attention to the novel.  However, critics then saw Lewis' principal inspiration as being Huey Long, who was toying with the idea of a run for President before being assassinated the same year.  Lewis certainly gave "Buzz" Windrip a down-home feeling, but he was projecting the rise of autocratism in Europe on America.

Oddly enough it was Roosevelt who took on an authoritarian air after his victory in 1936, as he tried to stack the Supreme Court in 1937 to obtain favorable rulings on his New Deal legislation.   Congress blocked these efforts, dealing the President one of his biggest blows in office.

For these reasons and others, I thought it would be fun to revisit the book and draw our own conclusions.  All readers are welcome.  Please feel free to comment.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Trump's Left-hand man

There seems to be an odd alignment taking place in politics.  Listen to Dennis Kucinich defend Trump's allegations that he was wiretapped.  Kucinich also came out very favorably on Trump's first major speech to Congress.  He has become a Leftie apologist for Trump on Fox News, defending numerous positions the President has taken, including Syria.

Kucinich views Trump as a "transitional figure," although it is pretty hard to discern what that means.  It seems our erstwhile legislator thinks Trump will force a reassessment in traditional party alignments.  He is oddly optimistic that the new President will take a softer approach to climate change and foreign policy than his rhetoric suggested during the campaign.  However, Trump's first two months in office has pretty much made it clear that this will be a pro-fossil fuels administration and that its foreign policy will not be a radical departure from that we have seen the last 60 years.  Nevertheless, Kucinich is willing to "see how this plays out."

The former Ohio representative has always been one to move to the beat of his own drum.  He was a vocal critic of the affordable health care when it was being moved through Congress back in 2009 and 2010, preferring the single-payer plan the House Democrats first proposed, and was very critical of Obama throughout his administration, particularly of the ongoing drone war.

He has become the Ron Paul of the Democratic Party, pitching from the left wing of the Libertarian Party.  In part because he has an ax to grind.  The congressional district he once represented in Ohio was merged into another, forcing an election against fellow Democrat Marcy Kaptur, which he lost.  Rather than take his ire out on the Republican legislature that merged the districts, he seems to be venting his anger on the Democrats who didn't vote him back into Congress, preferring Kaptur instead.

Since then, he has not only been pitching up at Fox regularly, where he is a paid contributor, but also at CPAC conferences like this one in Cleveland.  Dennis said he felt comfortable holding a joint interview with the notorious Steve King, and proudly boasted he wasn't afraid to work both sides of the aisle in Congress despite the many obvious differences.

That may help explain why he is dredging up a phone call with a foreign official from 2011 in defense of Trump's wiretapping allegations.  He was only made aware this "extralegal tap" took place when the Washington Times offered him a tape of a conversation he had with the son of Moammer Qaddafi.  The meeting took place in a Chinese restaurant in Washington in 2015, four years later.

Kucinich claims it was within his constitutional rights to communicate with Libyan officials, having cleared it with the House general counsel.  No attempt apparently to reach out to the state department or the president, whose authority on such matters he was overstepping.   He really played up this call, suggesting it might have been used as a homing beacon for a drone strike, so he used a disposable cell phone to receive the call to minimize such risks.  Sounds like he had a lot of contempt for the White House.

This story appears as far-fetched as Trump's 3:35 am morning tweet.  The tape apparently turned up in Tripoli, so it is just as likely Libyan authorities were monitoring the call, if such a call even took place.  After all, we are relying on an infamous right-wing newspaper that was using the call as part of its smear campaign in regard to Hillary's role in Benghazi, which Kucinich seemed to have no problem playing into it.

Even odder is how Kucinich can square Trump's willingness to side with Russia in Syria with his own opposition to Obama's engagement in Libya?  The civil war that started back in 2011 has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent decades and is the prime cause of the refugee crisis in Europe.  If Dennis Kucinich is any indication, the Libertarian Left has lost its moorings.

Bernie recently said he believes many of his supporters did vote for Trump in the general election, particularly in the Midwest.  It appears the Left has turned on the Democratic Party and having nowhere else to go many Leftists lodged their protest vote with Trump.  The odd thing is that Kucinich seems to be actually aligning himself with Trump, touting the president's infrastructure pipe dream and other parts of his agenda on Fox News.

Why is anyone's guess?  We have to figure Kucinich is smart enough to know that Trump has long dealt in such pipe dreams.  The Donald was going to resurrect Atlantic City back in the early 1990s with the grand opening of his Taj Mahal.  The city was declared bankrupt in 2016 and taken into receivership by the state of New Jersey. The Taj Mahal had gone belly up long before.  Sadly, this is what has happened with most of Donald Trump's ventures so why should anyone, particularly a tenacious bulldog like Dennis Kucinich, have any faith in Trump's plans?

It seems a lot of persons want to ride the Donald's coattails to celebrity status, maybe even make another bid for Congress or the Presidency itself in 2020.  Kucinich tried twice before in 2004 and 2008.  He didn't get very far with either campaign because his ideas sit too far on the Libertarian left for many voters beyond his former Congressional district to identify with him.

Before his 16-year tenure as the US Congressional Representative of Ohio's 10th District, he was the youngest mayor of Cleveland at the age of 31.  It was a tumultuous two years which even saw the mafia take a hit out him for trying to clean up the city.  Cleveland was on the verge of bankruptcy but Kucinich refused to go through with a fire sale of the city's assets, particularly its publicly owned electric utility, which earned him the enmity of the local mob that had its eyes on this utility.  He lost the subsequent municipal election but won the hearts of local residents for standing up to the banks and the mob.

It's the kind of play a guy like Trump would make, so I suppose this could be another reason Kucinich feels he has found a kindred spirit in the President.  I well understand the frustrations that Lefties have with the Democratic Party, but they would be truly fooling themselves to think Trump represents their interests.  Trump's little trip to Flint, Michigan, was nothing more than a photo op, just like that little jaunt down to Louisiana when the floods ravaged the state last Fall.  He has no real interest in the American people.  The only thing he is interested in is protecting his brand name.

If Lefties like Kucinich genuinely want to see the country invest more in itself then I suggest they start by retaking cities like Cleveland and putting their plans into action, not lodging protest votes against the only political party we have that offers anything akin to a European socialist vision for this country.  The health care plan the Republicans are currently promoting to replace the Affordable Care Act should make a guy like Kucinich cringe.  And, you can bet that whatever "infrastructure plan" the Republicans eventually propose will be one that favors oil companies and other major industries not local redevelopment projects.

Unfortunately, the Lefties in this country are mostly talk and little action.  They love to stage rallies to call attention to themselves but rarely if ever offer a constructive plan much less vision of what they hope to accomplish.  Even Bernie, who I love, was notoriously vague on how he would pull off many of the promises he made on the campaign trail.  But, Bernie at least understands the legislative process, which it appears Kucinich never really made the effort to learn.  Too busy trying to negotiate backdoor peace deals with Libyan officials I guess.

He is perfect for Fox News, filling the void left by Alan Colmes, whether it be engaging in faux debates or offering Leftist support of Trump's agenda.  Good luck, Dennis, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fearless Girl takes on Wall Street

A Day Without a Woman sounds like the title of a campy science fiction movie from the 60s, but it was an attempt to show the world how important women are in the work force.  Unfortunately, it didn't gain the kind of groundswell the March on Washington and its sister marches did, and left some women wondering if this was more about privilege, as many women couldn't afford to take the risk of striking against their employers.

Nevertheless, the general strike created plenty of photo opportunities, keeping the issues of equal pay and health care in the public light.  On the same day, the little tiny country of Iceland, with the highest representation of women in parliament, went one step further by passing legislation that forces businesses to prove they are paying genders equally.  Little chance of that here in the US.  Most states have equal pay laws but they go largely unenforced.

Politicians pay lip service to the idea of equal pay.  Even His Trumpness tweeted how much he respects women.  It's the kind of patronizing attitude many women are rebelling against, but unfortunately just as many women seem to accept the status quo.  How else to explain that 54 per cent of white women voted for Trump?   So, yes, it is a matter of privilege, but not quite the way news pundits are presenting it.

This is why the attempt to evoke Lysistrata failed.  Unless you can get the overwhelming majority of women on board, these kinds of protests are doomed, and usually end up working against women in the collective American mind.

The news media loves presenting the women's movement as fanatical.  Some years ago, Rush Limbaugh coined the term "Feminazi" and it has stuck.  It didn't help matters when the organizers of the Women's March on Washington turned a cold shoulder to pro-life feminists, which was heavily reported in the conservative press.  Many pro-life feminists turned out for the march just the same, as they feel the issue of feminism is much broader than choice, which has been at the center of the movement ever since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  However, it is not likely that the National Organization of Women will bend on this issue.

That's exactly how conservative politicians want it.  They know there is a lot of sympathy for a number of issues the feminist movement promotes, but as long as these politicians can create a divide over the issue of abortion they can effectively splinter this movement.  This has been the case in party politics as well, and why less than half of white women voted for Hillary in November.

You'd be hard pressed to find a woman who doesn't support equal pay for equal work, which was what this "strike" was about.  However, the stigma of "feminism" keeps many women from showing their support in public.  So, it seems a greater grass roots effort is necessary to make more women feel comfortable with such a "movement."

A greater awareness of the discrepancies needs to be shown, and this means reaching out to men as well.  The value of a woman goes far beyond equal pay and to the way she is treated in the work force.  Too many companies objectify women.  Not just restaurants like Hooters but throughout the workforce and especially in the entertainment industry.   Not much has changed since the images Mad Men and Masters of Sex presented of the late 1950s.

Women may have greater access today but it comes at a price.  They are constantly being graded not just for their ability but for their looks, and are expected to remain "feminine."  The double standard is nowhere more apparent than in sports, where lady tennis players are still required to wear skirts in most tournaments.  The internet is filled with images of nubile young women athletes constantly being graded for their looks.  When women come across as too masculine they are often "shamed," as has been the case with Serena Williams throughout her long illustrious career.  This is just as true in everyday life, which is how we end up with terms like "bulldyke."

The entertainment media could do much more to help shatter these stereotypes but for the most part plays into them.  Even women's magazines have a tendency to objectify women.  Noah Berlatsky points out in this article from The Atlantic that many women's magazines still use the same tropes from the Victorian era, not to mention that the women represented are often very attractive and helped feed many a young boy's erotic fantasies before discovering Playboy, as these magazines are readily available in most homes.

For these and many other reasons, the women's movement needs to be taken to a much broader level, not continue to be narrowly defined by spokespersons and pundits, whether from the left or right of the political spectrum.  The situation at Fox was a valuable "teaching moment" but now seems largely lost because the news media has gone right back to the same old double standards.  Maybe what we need is a day without the objectification of women, reminding us that women are a valuable part of our life at every level.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Rocking Horse Presidency

Just when it seemed that the Trump administration had found its footing, one of its key figures turns out to be neck deep in what is quickly becoming Russiagate.  The wily little former senator from Alabama wasn't forthcoming during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General and now finds himself on the hot seat.  Not only that but Donnie Jr. and his son-in-law Jared are similarly being implicated in the confidence game the Trump campaign played with Russia to undermine Obama's sanctions back in December.

All this came after the news media essentially gave His Trumpness a free pass on his Address to the Nation, heaping all sorts of praise on him for having found his presidential bearing after one month.  Van Jones, one of his fiercest critics, even opined that Trump could very well be a two-term president if he keeps giving speeches like that.

It wasn't like Trump offered any broad bipartisan plan.  What the media reported favorably on was his tone, with many comparing the speech to that of Reagan.  Music to Mr. Trump's ears, but he still chose to freeze CNN out of the loop the next day, with Mr. Pence skipping a stop at the cable news studio in favor of other news outlets.  So much for playing nice.

CNN seemed willing to shift the narrative but allegations of Sessions' link to the Russian ambassador has forced the little weasel to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation.  This opens the door once again for journalists to investigate this matter even deeper, as Congressional Republicans so far have dragged their feet.  The media should have never dropped its guard in the first place, but those favorable polls following the speech probably had them thinking the public is tired of their critical stance and wanted them to look on the bright side of the Trump administration.

The address was riddled with the half-truths and lies we've come to expect from Trump.  Politifact pointed out his whoppers, such as continuing to insist nearly 100 million persons are out of work, failing to consider that the vast majority of these persons are either retired or in school, and do not participate in the work force.  He uses this hyperbolic rhetoric to try to convince Americans we are in a deep shit hole, despite conventional unemployment figures like the U4 and U6 that put the unemployment rate at 4.7 and 9.4 per cent respectively.  This simply doesn't fit into his narrative so he continues to peddle the same campaign rhetoric that won him the presidency.

Unfortunately, the major news outlets refuse to hold him accountable to facts.  Most of these outlets want to stay on his good side so that they don't get frozen out of the White House Press Corps as was the case with CNN, the Washington Post and other major news outlets.  If Trump is trying to delegitimize these press outlets, it isn't working as the Washington Post and New York Times are both recording a spike in subscriptions and CNN is enjoying a surge in viewership.  In other words, it pays to remain on the Donald's bad side.

Yet, the staunchest criticism is coming from late night comedy, as it was during the Bush years.  MSNBC did manage to catch an unguarded Trump practicing his speech in his limo, which became instant fodder for jokes, but it too became the brunt of jokes by Seth Meyers, who skewered the media coverage of His Trumpness' speech, noting all the faux anticipation and salivation that followed.  It was like a debutante ball for Trump.

Never mind that the guy signed an executive order to erode the clean water act earlier that day, while proclaiming himself an "environmentalist."  Or, his brazen use of the widow of a Navy Seal to promote his strong relationship with the military, without owning up to the failed raid.  He first blamed the military for the botched raid, then had Sean Spicer try to play it up as a "successful operation by all standards."  It's this ability to play both sides of an issue that keeps the media off balance and leaves the public to wonder where Trump actually stands on the issues.

Nothing is more confusing than the Russiagate scandal that is unfolding.  It is clear that Trump's campaign and congressional advisers met with Russian officials during the campaign and transition period, but Trump continues to insist it is no big deal.  Everybody does it!  As a result, much of his constituency feels the same way.

His advisers were actively engaging Moscow and giving Russian officials the impression that his administration would immediately move to lift the sanctions Obama imposed on their country in late December.  This flies in the face of the Logan Act, and points to a clear attempt to undermine US policy that is in direct response to Russian aggressive acts over the past two years.

Because of the pressure put on him by the media and members of Congress, Trump has backed away from lifting the sanctions, which no doubt has left the Kremlin feeling uneasy.   As a result, they are increasing military movements in the Baltic region.  This has led Sweden to reinstate the draft, and other Baltic countries to increase military spending.

To a large degree, Trump feeds off this confusion.  It has long been his modus operandi in the business world to create a volatile market which he feels he can take advantage of.  However, when dealing with governments, such a tactic undermines confidence and gives foreign leaders false impressions that very well could plunge regions of the world into chaos.  All we have to do is look at the lessons of WWI and WWII and most recently the Ukraine.

There is no clear idea who his most trusted advisers are.  We hope that he listens to General Mattis and VP Pence, who both support a strong NATO and European stability.  However, it seems he is drawn more to the rhetoric of his son-in-law Jared and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who both have used conservative media to promote conflict.  Bannon undermined Pence's recent European tour by offering support to separatist movements in the EU.

Many of the high rollers that support Trump are profiteers and a war pays big dividends.  There is a huge private military industry that profited immensely from the Iraq War and no doubt feels that it could profit even more from a larger global conflict.  Trump himself has intimated war several times, even implied that maybe we would get another chance to seize Iraq's oil supply.  Freudian slips?

Whatever the case, the media should never drop its guard with Trump.  It should continue to challenge him on every issue and force him to define his overall policy, which to this point he has not done.  His executive orders have largely been superficial, designed more to give the impression that he is a "decider."  However, as Fareed Zakaria correctly pointed out, we shouldn't confuse motion with progress, comparing Trump's first month in office to a kid on a rocking horse.