Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Oh, To Be Wrong Again

As the story goes….two friends go to the racetrack. They are losing every race but notice that the couple in front of them are winning big. One friend suggests the other follow the couple, stay close behind and lay your money exactly where they put it. Ten minutes later he returns with two hot dogs a beer and a coke.

That’s me, the guy on the wrong line. I have a history of losing. If someone had followed me for the past sixty years and done exactly the opposite as far as buying and selling real estate, he’d be a very rich man today. It doesn’t get much better in politics.

At age fifteen in 1948 I knew everything, in absolute terms. Armed with stacks of leaflets I scampered from door to door, from floor to floor of apartment buildings, just ahead of the superintendent. This was Truth I was putting under each door like some sort of messianic zealot. I was convinced Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party had it right. Of course, they didn’t win a single state.

I voted for Eugene McCarthy rather Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Big mistake. In 1972 I was out there again ringing doorbells for George McGovern. He carried Massachusetts and lost the other 49.  

Never trust a political junkie. We know too much which is to say we know nothing. My calculus is based on the past which can be misleading in times of epochal change. Trump’s victory in 2016 and his takeover of the Republican Party signals an upheaval of the old two party agendas.

I look at the constituencies and see a greater number of moderates than either polarity suggests. The far right makes noise. The Bernie left is equally passionate but they would seem unelectable since their numbers are less than the sum of the 4-5 candidates in the center. I see no sign yet of any of them dropping out. Perhaps each is counting on a brokered convention determined by establishment Democrats. In the meantime Putin and Trump relish a Bernie Sanders candidacy just as I recall salivating over a Trump nomination. My most recent blunder.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong….again. Could it be that the Democratic Socialist will draw from that vast pool of disaffected voters who normally sit it out? Maybe it takes a rabid anti-Trump Populist to defeat the pseudo-Populist, Trump; not a reasonable, dispassionate Centrist but a firebrand, unashamed Socialist with a clear, hard-driving narrative and enough savvy to make space for the Never-Trumpers, traditional Democrats and Independents.

I still believe the overwhelming imperative is to oust Trump before he eviscerates our government with incompetent toadys, pardons everyone from John Wilkes Booth to Bernie Madoff and puts the planet at risk with his monarchical impulses. 

The prospect of a Bernie Sanders candidacy must be regarded seriously as our consensus nominee. The very idea goes beyond my vision and therefore might be another instance of  the new landscape which escapes my historical grasp.   

If Sanders goes into the July convention with a ten point spread over his nearest rival but less than a majority, I believe the Party will crown him the winner by acclamation. To do otherwise would be political suicide. I’m girding my loins for such an outcome. Maybe this time around Bernie can make the association between Socialism and Social Tea Biscuits and he’ll ride his horse into the Oval Office.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Scanned, Scoped and Snipped

The bad news is that Trump is still the guy in the Oval Office. The good news is that my pancreatic and liver biopsy is negative ....which is the most positive news I could be getting after being scoped, scanned and sniped. I was hoping that maybe Trump was all a bad dream and I'd be waking up to greener pastures but that will have to wait till November.

I must admit I enjoyed having a couple of hours subtracted from my consciousness. Given the toxic Zeitgeist it is an attractive alternative. Easier than moving to Canada.

For a while it seemed that my entrails were enacting their version of Trump America or, as John Dean famously put it to Nixon, that a cancer was growing on the presidency. The words, suspicious, lymph nodes, biopsy and pancreas are not the sort one wants to hear in the same sentence. 

Instead I'm told words like like normal and benign. .Even if normalcy has never been a state devoutly to be wished for in this case I'll take it, as long as I can still cultivate my eccentricities.

Now I must get the word to my organs so they can do as they please as benignly as my DNA commands them. Let them stage a a Bernie-like insurrection. Let them overthrow their humdrum secretions. Go ahead, speak Truth to Power but just don't go wild and colonize the ducts and connective tissue... and no regime change.

Now I must return to the barricades, pancreas and all. This is History we are living. I wouldn't want to miss this chapter as America wakes.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What Breaks

By the dawn’s early light

breaking news can break your heart.

But the heart grows by breaking

into chamber music. Breakfast is

buttered by the sun. Humpty-Dumpty

broke into a yellow scramble,

then reassembled as omelet, as amulet.

Today has never happened before

with this morning’s minion

until now with its bulletin from the East.

This light through yonder window breaks

more urgently than ignorant misspelled tweets

giving songbirds a bad name. Together

we break bread, break into song,

decontaminate the air with random grace.

The beacon of America is broken.

How many will it take to change the light bulb?

Strange how bro and ken spell split,

not as pea soup or bananas

but split into pole dancing at extremities. 

The newspaper screams yesterday’s news

of a brokered convention, of a party

severed at the seams, fracked

and breaking like waves on the beach

with enhanced interrogation of the shoreline.

Today we break new, go for broke.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

What Were They Thinking?

2020, USA, is not unlike 1932 Germany. Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party held a minority in parliament. The combined numbers for the centrist Social Democrats plus the Communists on the left could have defeated the fascists. That the extreme left stubbornly chose to remain pure in their ideals and did not join in a United Front is the tragedy of the 20th century.

In the past twenty-five years from Lewinsky to Zelensky our political landscape has drifted far to the right. Arguably it set the conditions for a proto fascist like Donald Trump to rise to power and trash the Constitution.

Opposition to his second term now has echoes of Germany’s bungled defense against Nazism. The election in Nov. 1932 made it clear that a distinct majority opposed the fascists. The two major parties who stood in Hitler’s way reached 47% in parliament compared to 31% for the Nazis. If the minority far left party would have joined forces with the centrist Social Democrats the Holocaust may have been avoided. But they did not. They chose to remain pure in their agenda and not contaminate their minds with compromising ideas. They defined the moderate Social Democrats as the enemy and spent their political capital against them. When the Fuhrer took over as Chancellor he immediately banned the Communist Party, and murdered the leaders. So much for unyielding purity.

My reading of the Iowa and New Hampshire results shows the aggregate vote for the three Centrists at 54% compared to the combined Progressives at 44%. Much as my heart leans toward Bernie and Elizabeth my head demands joining the Centrist candidate whomever that may be. And I hope it isn’t Joe Biden.

Taking the pulse of the body politic is a high art. It is particularly difficult when much of the electorate is moribund. However it strikes me that the sum of Never-Trumper Republicans, plus Independents plus traditional Democrats plus low-information disengaged voters is significantly greater than the Progressives. As Bernie Sanders’ support drops precipitously among the elderly and people of color this broad coalition of Centrists is our best hope. Ousting Trump is the only issue; not healthcare, not immigration, not gun control, not climate control…and yet all of them would be addressed by any of the candidates in one form or another.

By the time a United Front was organized against Hitler it  
was too late. The Democrats must come together very soon to 
nominate the candidate with the broadest base. Egos will be bruised. Supporters bitterly disappointed. Get over it. It’s called politics. To the millennials I say, learn how the game is played. 

Compromise is the operative word. And money is required 
to offset the Koch Bros., fossil fuel industries and Big Pharma. 
Being sanctimonious about not accepting corporate funding impresses me not at all. First we must win the White House and Senate. Then we can pass campaign finance reform.   

The consequences of another term for Trump are of a magnitude never imagined before in our history or the planet’s survival. The usurpation of executive power will continue as Trump lives his out his pathology. Our grandchildren will ask, as we asked of the Germans, What were they thinking.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Searching for Watchables

Most evenings Peggy and I waste quality time scouring our streaming sites in quest of a watchable movie or series. I have a feeling we’re not alone. Folks of a certain age have little patience for the computer-generated action thrillers churned out by studios targeting fourteen year-olds with big-screen comic books. We’ve also had our fill of Scorsese’s mobs which romanticize power or Tarantino’s orgies of revenge. There are enough gangsters in the White House.

Add to this our aversion to horror, brutality, Nazi-era depravity, apocalyptic dystopia, monsters or graphically depicted diseases ala mode. There must be a wide spectrum between all this and the Hallmark-type faith-based mush. I suppose this is what to expect from a country engaged in endless wars with domestic violence on the rise and hate groups legitimatized by the administration even as we profess evangelical religiosity.

We yearn for images and narratives of people in relationship; something with a touch of soulfulness conveyed in the visual language of cinema.

Yes, I know the world has changed. And yet something human prevails even though Barbara Stanwyck and Spencer Tracy are still dead. There has been no one to replace Jean Arthur. If Gregory Peck were alive he’d get my vote for President.

We have an array of choices presented by Amazon, Netflix, Acorn and Kanopy; thousands of movies to choose from and yet it’s a nightly chore. Of the past twenty films seen only two or three have been English language and these are Canadian or British. Most of the watchables are Asian, Israeli/Palestinian, Turkish, Iranian, Hispanic or European.

We yearn for the creativity of Krzysztof Kieslowski whose films are zingers which probe and penetrate the human heart. Dennis Potter also had the chops to lay bare the inner landscape with emotional resonance. Both directors are gone but very present by the void they left.

Perhaps we are knights-errant like that man from La Mancha tilting windmills, lost in time. I’d like to believe the art of cinema is still alive beyond murder and mayhem, as evidenced by the current oeuvre of Nuri Bilge Ceylon, Wong Kar-Wei and emerging artists in South Korea and South America.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Super Bowl and Why I Watch It

Yes, I know it looks brutal because it is and people bet and lose money they shouldn’t have and the half-time shows are beyond my threshold of endurance and owners are selfish and largely conservative and militarism and phony patriotism are on display and who really gives a damn??  And yet……

It is a distraction from Trumpian politics of deceit and predetermined outcomes. At least the game cannot be hacked by Putin, influenced by Mark Zuckerberg or subverted by Mitch.

Because it taps into my reptilian brain dating back 40,000 years to Uncle Igor or Otto who thought they had to defend their cave by scrimmaging in the mud with the cave across the river.

So I can sit on my couch and pretend that it matters while the players pretend that they care.

So as a history buff I can relive World War One when trench warfare and a few yards won the day.

Because fans have a knack of growing fangs for a few hours and identifying with their team if they win or disidentifying if they lose.

Because exercising our lungs and exorcising our rage every now and then cannot be a bad thing. Freud, I think, would agree.

Because sports are a human drama unrehearsed and un-rigged. Nor will the team with most points be declared the loser, overturned by some archaic electoral contrivance.

Because for those of us who understand the game football is the most brainy, most analytical of them all with volumes of plays to be memorized and countless strategies and assignments for each player on the field. It is chess with stretchers. The game will be won as much by the coaches who have devised defenses against their opponent as by the uniformed men on the field.

I almost forgot the huddles. Imagine all the Brotherhood that brings.

Sort of like a junk food and drink-Thanksgiving enough to make us crapulous. It is one of the few communal experiences shared across the spectrum though I prefer to watch it alone. It shall be my time to confront the mystery of life where rationality doesn't reach.