Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Psychopathology of Bob Hartley

It’s largely acknowledged that the Newhart show on CBS-- the Bob Newhart-starring series set in rural Vermont during the 1980's, not the one from the ‘70s set in Chicago-- executed one of the greatest, if not the greatest, final episode in television history. In the final scene of the series’ marvelous eight-year run, Bob’s character-- author, TV host, and innkeeper Dick Loudon-- is struck by an errant golf ball while standing in the doorway of his country inn, then awakes to find himself in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from his earlier series The Bob Newhart Show, which itself ran six seasons ('72 to '78). It’s revealed that the entire second series has been a dream by psychologist Bob Hartley after he had eaten Japanese food for dinner.

There is something near pandemonium when the light is turned on and the studio audience recognizes the set piece for the bedroom of the Hartleys' Chicago high-rise apartment. The Hartleys were famously, and interestingly here, one of the first fictional married couples depicted on television to actually share a bed. And incidentally, the dream must have been one that occurred during the run of the first series, not after, because Bob and Emily Hartley, lest we forget, move to Seattle in the final episode of The Bob Newhart Show. In any case, it works.

As I said, the critical acknowledgement of this finale’s sheer greatness is widespread. It’s almost a reflexive answer for anyone and everyone to name this as one of the great series send-offs. And yet, the praise, in my estimation, has never been effusive enough. What this final reveal also did, and needs to be recognized, was add an entire new layer to the show. First, Bob Hartley was not a dentist or an airline pilot (like his buddies Jerry and Howard), he was a psychologist. As part of his professional career, he would have studied dream theory, most notably that of Sigmund Freud, who believed that dreams provide insight into our hidden desires and emotions. Bob was certainly a person that had repressed a few things. We all are that. Bob’s parents, played by Martha Scott and Barnard Hughes (each in multiple episodes), were not depicted as the warmest of parents, and even Bob Newhart’s observational comedy, upon which both series were based, was rooted in an ethic of Midwestern manners, aloofness, and repression (“Illinois-nice?”). There was more handshaking than hugging in the house where Newhart grew up, at least according to the comedy persona of Bob’s friend, Don Rickles. One of Bob’s co-stars in the second series, Julia Duffy, says in a DVD "extra" that she would tease Bob incessantly about sex off-camera, knowing how uncomfortable he was with the topic.

Freud believed that every dream topic, regardless of content, represented a release in sexual tension, and the last joke of the bedroom scene, and of the entire series, is Bob telling Emily that she “should wear more sweaters.” This is the show’s writers having some fun with Freud’s theory as “Dick’s” wife in the second series, a character played by Mary Frann, became known for her unique, one-might-say-in-retrospect gaudy sweaters. Frann and her character Joanna were statuesque, big-haired blondes, while Emily Hartley, played by Suzanne Pleshette, was a short-haired brunette. But there's more to it: basically every woman in the second series was a blonde and a contrast to Pleshette-- most notably Duffy, but also her cousin Lesley, played by Jennifer Holmes during the series’ first season, and even plus-size Kathy Kinney, who played for laughs the randy town librarian Miss Goddard. Was this wish gratification in respect to hair color, a repressed sexual scenario of Bob's childhood? I wonder what Dr. Freud would say.

Besides its finale, Newhart is probably best remembered for its gradual descent (or ascent?) into surrealism. The first season (’82-’83), the only one in either series shot on video instead of film, was something very akin to the preceding show, a very even-tempered, mature, and adult-oriented comedy-- clever and entertaining, but very much grounded in real situations. It also had that touch of understated melancholy that was so prominent in such late ‘70s and early '80s sitcoms as Taxi and Barney Miller, and even the early-Shelley Long seasons of Cheers. In fact, Newhart was created by Barry Kemp, who had written 14 episodes of Taxi (only three men-- Ken Estin, Glen Charles, and Les Charles-- wrote more). By season five of Newhart, David Mirkin had settled in as show runner, and Mirkin is the man that would, in short time, jump to creating arguably the master surrealist live-action sitcom of all-time-- Get a Life, starring Chris Elliott. By season eight, anything goes. The local TV station, upon which "Dick" hosts the humorously dull conversation series “Vermont Today,” has been sold to the newly-born heir to a vast financial fortune with the station's employees forced to bow to her will, the slow-witted and middle-aged caretaker of the inn has joined a street gang (called the Vermont Hooligans) that rumbles in an alley of their small town with another street gang comprised of middle-aged men, while a peculiar set of brothers from the forest, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, are discovered to be friends with Johnny Carson.

The most vivid dreams occur during the REM cycle of sleep, which typically lasts two hours, and many Americans consider eight hours to be the optimum amount of sleep each night. In an act of perfect symmetry, Newhart was on the air eight years and the last two were the ones during which the series distinctly showed its surrealist bent. (Newhart, along with Northern Exposure, which debuted on CBS within two months of the Newhart finale, are perhaps the only long-running shows in history in which each season would be better than the one that preceded it.) A parade of featured performers from The Bob Newhart Show made guest appearances on Newhart, and once we recognize that this is a dream, this changes our relationship to these characters. Or more accurately, it changes how we see Bob responding to these characters. It's important to be clear at this point: the writers of Newhart were not working towards the surprise ending for eight years. The ambition was not that large. There’s some dispute as to who actually came up with the idea to end the series with Bob in bed with Suzanne Pleshette. The star gives the credit to his wife Ginnie, but at least a few writers maintain that the plot formulated in the writer’s room. What is not in dispute, however, is when the idea came about-- during the summer that preceded the final season.

Already by then, Dr. Hartley’s most neurotic patient in Chicago, Elliot Carlin, played by Jack Riley in 49 of the 142 TBNS episodes, appears in Vermont and a female psychiatrist makes reference to the “quack” that has treated him for years in Chicago. Audiences in the 1980's laughed because they recognized this as a call back to the two actors' previous on-air relationship, but inside of the dream concept, it adds a layer of humor when we discover that Dr. Hartley is tortured by Mr. Carlin even in his sleep. Similarly-- and this incident takes place in season eight, the actor who plays Bob and Emily’s next-door neighbor Howard, Bill Daily, shows up at the Stratford Inn and eventually buys the house next door because he wants to be best friends with "Dick." This episode is really playing on the audience’s memory of the first series, and it’s the one I recommend watching most of all if you want to get a naked glimpse into the subconscious of Bob Hartley. The episode is entitled “Good Neighbor Sam.” It aired January 29th, 1990, and it takes place, chronologically, very deep into Bob's REM cycle. Only nine half-hour episodes separate it from the moment that Bob will awaken. The crescendo of the episode is all of the men in town claiming to be-- and competing with each other to be-- “Dick’s” best friend. "Dick" even resolves the argument by laying some psychology on them about being their own best friend.

Of course, one of those fellows, handyman George Utley, is played by Tom Poston, who had played Bob’s best friend from college, Cliff Murdock (AKA “The Peeper”), in five episodes of TBNS. Though the two actors, Pleshette and Poston, would eventually marry each other years after both series had ended (did you all know that happened?), the conceit in the series was that Emily couldn't tolerate “The Peeper,” who had never matured beyond his college experience and was always pulling Bob helplessly into his sophomoric shenanigans. It would make sense then, wouldn’t it, if, in Bob’s dream, he lives with a different-looking but equally-beautiful woman, and his college buddy lives right there with them in the same house? It is referenced at one point that the Cliff Murdock character, who is always seen visiting the Hartleys in Chicago, makes his home in…yes, that’s right… no, I’m not making this up… Vermont. Now there’s no evidence that Kemp was even aware of this throwaway line from years earlier-- in another series that he never worked on-- when he chose to set his series in that same locale. That is simply TV magic.

As I said at the beginning, the series has always been praised for its inspired conclusion, but I don't feel it's fully appreciated. It wasn’t just a funny gag. The inspiration of that reveal subsequently demands a full re-watching of the 183 Newhart episodes that preceded it, and for that matter, the 142 episodes of The Bob Newhart Show before that. Until March of this year, it was still impossible to see the entirety of the latter series in DVD format, but now everything is out there. I encourage all of you to seek these out, and I also want you to correct people when you hear them, as I did in the first paragraph, refer to the second series as the one that took place in Vermont. That's not accurate. Technically, they both took place in Chicago.

More than a quarter century after the fact, I also detect a troubling lack of academic study on the topic. More recent groundbreaking series such as Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are subjected to a heavy dose of deconstruction, but Newhart deserves to be among those that are being carefully-dissected. In truth, it often gets dismissed as a mere afterthought even to the first series. That should be a non-starter. I want to read professional theories about the metaphor of the three woodsmen-- that trio of parentless brothers that bag their food in the forest and possess only two names between them. I want to study the meaning of the congenital liar in "Dick's" subconscious that informs much of the first two seasons only to disappear, then to contemplate the shallow yuppie that speaks increasingly and inexplicably in alliteration, next to decipher each one of the dimwitted townspeople against which Bob’s alter ego labors as an island of sanity, and finally to comprehend the psychosexual symbolism of all those blondes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Monsters and losers

President Trump says he doesn't believe the word "monster" is strong enough to describe the perpetrators of the pop concert bombers in London. "Loser" is the word he says he will be using... the same word he used to describe Mitt Romney. He's a fourth grader.

---

We're still obsessing over Russia, yet right out there in the front yard, Trump is selling $110 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the country that produced 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. Now we can guess at what is to become of the law passed in 2016 that allows relatives of the victims to sue the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their deaths.

---

Confederate monuments are coming down all over. First, New Orleans, now St. Louis? Yesterday, St. Louis' Forest Park witnessed protests, counter-protests, and finally, a revamping of a statute to now include a spraypainted anarchy symbol and a Black Lives Matter sign.

---

I've never had much to say on this blog about the health care debate. What can be said? Only single-payer will work. Everything else will be a dismal failure. You cannot have humanity, compassion, and Christianity, and also have a profit motive. I get confused as to how "Trumpcare" can be called immoral but "Obamacare" isn't. Both pieces of legislation leave millions without coverage.

---

I haven't watched a minute of the NBA playoffs. Has any North American team sport featured such a competitive imbalance at any time during our lifetime? Generally speaking I believe the NBA to be the closest thing to professional wrestling that is not professional wrestling, but if the outcomes were actually illegitimate, these wouldn't be the outcomes they would be giving us.

Incidentally, I believe the NFL to be the closest thing to dog fighting that isn't dog fighting.

No, you got me, mixed martial arts is probably that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The James Comey Affair

The Russian Federation and the United States of America are both well-established oligarchies so it was inevitable that the gangster capitalists at the top of our government would eventually be in business with theirs.

It’s curious, isn't it, how fired FBI director James Comey could graduate-- in such a short time-- from being the architect of Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat to being the most public martyr of Donald Trump’s lust for power? I have in my hands this quote about Comey just a few weeks ago from Democratic Senator Charles Schumer: “I do not have confidence in him any longer.” And this from Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters: “The FBI director has no credibility.” Let's start there. These are the obstacles you put up for yourself when you traffic in partisanship over principle. It makes it difficult to maintain credibility. You're left hoping that you just have more than the other side.

The president has no business firing the man who’s leading an investigation into his alleged improprieties. The perceptions alone make it a terrible decision on Trump's part, and now word comes today that Trump had asked Comey to end his investigation into Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Comey refused. So, yes, this is something akin to Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" in 1973, when he fired the attorney general during the Watergate investigation. Trump may have been ignorant of his White House history. He's a plutocrat who believes that he can run government like a business, and many Americans agree with him that that's how it should be run. This is how that looks when it's put into practice.

Nearly everyone in Washington has wanted Comey out since last summer, so let’s not be disingenuous about this, and, as always, let’s not pretend that the FBI is immune from politics. Protecting us from liberty has been the overriding motivation of the Bureau since its creation 106 years ago. Their agents raided the offices of-- and arrested-- left-wing journalists that opposed the U.S.’s entry into World War I. Even dissidents that were American citizens were deported as part of the nation’s original “Red Scare.” They did it again to student anti-war groups during the 1960s, while simultaneously running a wiretap on Martin Luther King Jr., working to immerse him in scandal and discredit his movement. The Bureau is so permanently stained by the shit-smear that was J. Edgar Hoover that it warrants a disbandment of the entire organization. Every player in this current story is so corrupt that it’s hard to come away from it with any hopeful feelings at all or to maintain a durability in one’s stomach. The financial relationship between Trump, Inc. and the Russian oligarchs remains sketchy to the senses, but despite what you hear inferred, there is no evidence whatsoever that Russian action influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in any way.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, one of the planet’s most principled-- and courageous-- men, had the most notable quote of last week. He tweeted, "Set aside politics: every American should condemn such political influence in the Bureau's work... This FBI director has sought for years to jail me on account of my political activities. If I oppose his firing, so can you." Snowden is more of a man than I am, or than anybody is. Comey has referred to Snowden as a "fugitive," and said in 2014, "I'd love to apprehend him so he can enjoy the benefits of the freest and fairest criminal justice system in the world."

With those words "freest" and "fairest," he may have been describing waterboarding and torture. As Deputy Attorney General in 2005, Comey endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding and sleep deprivation of up to 180 hours. He came in with the Bushes, was on an Obama short list for a Supreme Court nomination in 2009, was named FBI director by Obama, supposedly helped Trump beat Clinton in the election, and then got fired by Trump, angering Democrats. Tell me again the differences between the two parties?

They re-aired an interview with Comey on 60 Minutes Sunday night, one in which the director attempted to explain why the FBI needed unprecedented powers to intrude upon our electronic devices, why Google and Microsoft should be compelled to weaken encryption and share your data with the surveillance state, and why we should allow them, as we've seen transpire, to make our private information more vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and criminals. I'm sure the rot is systemic at the Bureau, but I came away muttering to myself, is there any way we can possibly fire this guy a second time?

---

Emmy’s Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Role this year should go to Michael McKean on Better Call Saul. You know McKean, the veteran of Christopher Guest movies, This is Spinal Tap, and if you go far enough back, “Lenny Kosnowski” on Laverne & Shirley. The episode that will be submitted for his nomination and win this year will be last week’s “Chicanery.” Masterful.

---

It's only May 16th and the Cardinals are back in their familiar first-place position in the National League Central division. I use the word "only" because this lofty height has been reached despite a 3 and 9 start to this season, their worst in my lifetime. The Cubs are 3.5 games off the pace, in fourth place, under .500, with several of their well-promoted stars-- Rizzo, Schwarber, Russell, Baez, Zobrist, Arrieta, Lester-- flailing, and their anticipated dynasty looking more and more every day like that 1980’s New York Mets dynasty that the world now refers to as the “’86 Mets.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

McGwire adds to his honors

The Cardinals gave us some wonderful news on Friday. We the Fans have voted Mark McGwire into the team’s Hall of Fame. He will be enshrined in August, along with former World Series heroes Pepper Martin (’30, ’31, and ’34) and Tim McCarver (’64, ’67, and ’68).

The night McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998-- and did so with four weeks still left in the season-- club CEO Bill DeWitt told the gathering at Busch Stadium II that Big Mac’s uniform number 25 would one day be retired by the Cardinals. Almost two decades later, the retired slugger lives in the shadow of a Congressional testimony he was required to give in 2005 regarding steroid use in the game, and number 25 has been worn by both current bench coach David Bell and now outfielder Dexter Fowler.

McGwire, along with Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, saved baseball in 1998. I was there and I watched it happen. Mac retired after the 2001 season, lived a mostly-private life for a period of almost a decade, then returned to be the Cardinals hitting coach in 2010. In 2011, he earned a World Series ring-- his first with the Cardinals—and that fact was one that made me deliriously happy at the end of that one-of-a-kind season. He has since served as the hitting coach for the Dodgers and now the bench coach for the Padres, both teams closer in physical proximity to his off-season home in Irvine, California, but the Padres will certainly permit him to break away from their club during the first weekend in August for a little soiree back in his wife’s hometown.

Now, in addition to having a ring, he will own one of the Cardinal red sport jackets given by the team to their Hall inductees and will be invited to join, on the field each Opening Day, a fraternity that holds these other living legends: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog, Bruce Sutter, Tony LaRussa, Mike Shannon, Willie McGee, Jim Edmonds, Ted Simmons, Chris Carpenter, Joe Torre, and fellow 2017 inductee McCarver.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Public service, and other old-timey ideas

Former President Obama accepting $400,000 for a speech from a Wall Street brokerage house is a terrible decision on his part, one that, in addition to being potentially quite damaging to his legacy, and to his political party at this particular moment in history, reveals that a possible ulterior motive has been running through his career in public service.

The criticisms he’s facing over his cash grab have nothing to do with the fact that he’s the first black former president cashing in, as some are suggesting. All the other former presidents, we’re told, have supposedly done the same thing. And this action cannot simply be dismissed as harmless because he has left his public office. Liberal apologists still don’t understand the nature of the corruption that engulfs their government so it’s little wonder that they’re so often and easily lied to. You see, it’s very inexact to suggest that the man can no longer be bribed because he has returned to private life. No, this $400,000 check is, in fact, the payoff for services already rendered. President Obama, and not Private Citizen Obama, kept the commercial banks tied to the investment banks. He saw to it that nobody went to prison for causing the U.S. economy to collapse into a dumpster fire of fraudulent promissory notes in 2008. He made sure that the Tim Geithners, the Larry Summerses, and the Ben Bernankes kept their tentacles upon the wheel of the American financial state. In contrast to his sharp campaign promises to the contrary, he made sure that the “too big to fail” banks were not broken up at all, and in fact, by the time he had left office, were bigger than they had ever been.

It’s reminiscent of Clinton, to be sure, to make such a naked grab for the root of all evil. That conditioning is presumably why so many Democrats don’t have a problem with Obama doing it. Bill Clinton and his wife rode their repeal of Glass-Steagall and their neo-liberal trade deals to more than a hundred fat, post-Oval paydays. They became an industry unto themselves-- and for themselves. A full five years after the Occupy Movement began marching on Wall Street and sitting in for change at Zuccotti Park and points all across the country, Hillary chose to ignore that breeze of political revolution and build her national presidential campaign instead upon a series of speeches delivered to the nation’s financial elite, the transcripts of which we’ve never been permitted to see. She hadn’t noticed that the Occupy forces were protesting a Democratic White House, and that their future support couldn't be taken for granted. Her team, and almost the whole of the Beltway media, dismissed the protestors as a fringe element, even impugning them as something that was physically dirty.

For his part, Obama has never been perceptive enough-- or hasn’t care enough, to attempt reform upon the system. Considering recent events, it’s clear he was never going to attempt before he had his own chance to cash in. He permitted the Clintons, the architects of the demolition of Liberal America, back into the inner circle of Washington power, elevating the candidate voters had soundly rejected during the 2008 primaries, first, to the head of his State Department, and then to the top of the party’s presidential ticket for 2016, even over the executive aspirations of his own vice president. The irony is that Obama’s own political rise to the top owed directly to the fact that he was a ballot alternative to the Clintons.

It’s also incorrect to be claiming that “everybody does it.” NO… They don’t. Harry Truman didn’t do it. Post-presidency, he turned down $100,000-a-year corporate positions in the early 1950’s, returning home to Independence, Missouri instead. Then Jimmy Carter did the same in the early ‘80s, choosing a continued public advocacy as his alternative. But it is true that “most everybody does it,” and at all levels of American government too, and that’s almost the precise, overarching reason why this country is turning into a shithole.

And it leads me to a final, uncomfortable truth on this topic: Once you have eliminated those two-party, us-versus-them hypocrites who can almost always be found at opposite ends of the same argument both pronouncing that a certain thing is good for their team while being bad for the other, we seem to be left with a distinctive line between those that are bothered by Obama’s “cashing in” and those that aren’t. I tend to believe that the question affirms an individual’s own truth-- would he or she… that is, would you do the same thing? Or would you decline? Where do you stand? And don’t just blurt out that first answer. Give it some thought. That’s your soul to which you’re affixing a price.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The non-negotiable

Bernie Sanders, the only Democratic Socialist in either the United States Senate or House of Representatives and the most popular politician in the country, is hearing it from the Hillary-bots, who are not slinking away quietly or ashamedly, as the future demands. Sanders' concerted effort to bring economic justice back to the forefront of interest for one of the two corporate national parties has now been extended to include his support for… gasp… an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska.

For Hillary’s most loyal supporters, this outrage informs us that the goal posts have been moved considerably-- and in less than a year’s time. The endorsement creates an opportunity to further defame the motives of Sanders, a politician actually so pure in spirit and in public record, and so fundamentally different than the slimy Clintons that her long-time supporters seem to find it impossible to trust him in the slightest. Omaha’s Democratic mayoral candidate, Heath Mello, for whom Sanders and new DNC chair Tom Perez both campaigned this week, has said that he personally opposes abortion, and, as a Nebraska state senator, supported a 20-week ban on aborted pregnancies, but has said he would not work to limit the right of access to abortion as mayor. This is almost precisely the same position on the abortion topic staked out by Virginia’s U.S. Senator Tim Kaine when he was tabbed as Clinton’s running mate last summer. Clinton’s supporters at that time promised us though that Kaine had been painstakingly vetted and could be trusted on abortion rights despite his clearly-expressed anti-abortion religious beliefs and his voting record in limiting access to the procedure.

As Bernie Sanders has staked out a most popular, but politically-uncommon position against economic inequality, an issue Clinton cares not at all about, that clean contrast presents an opportunity for David Brock and the hatchet men on Clinton’s team to exact their knifing skills-- honed on Anita Hill-- upon Mr. Sanders. Because the Vermont Senator is so committed to this one particular issue, they argue, he must be willing to sacrifice any other socio-political cause that you might possibly care about, whether that be LGBTQ legal protections, gun control initiatives, or abortion rights. Again, that public record of Sanders sets the lie to all such attacks. He championed gay rights decades before Clinton came around on them. Her conversion on gay marriage didn’t take place until the exact same week that it took place on-air for television’s Bill O’Reilly. He strongly opposed the Defense of Marriage Act when Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996. Bernie’s NRA voting record is less than 5%, and he has never been daunted in his full-throated vocal and voting support for women’s autonomy over their own bodies.

The “Bernie Bro” political invention-- that is, the supposed backlash last year by angry white men on the left against Secretary Clinton-- is actually diametrically opposed from reality. Sanders’ highest approval ratings, among his sky-high approvals, are with women, millennials, African-Americans, and Hispanics. He fares lowest in surveys with white men. These attacks from the protected self-interest of others continue to be a by-product of Bernie’s selfless, yet daunting and presumably-exhausting efforts to reform a political party that I have argued repeatedly could be more easily replaced than reformed. The apologists, like Salon’s Anna March, continue to argue that the Democratic Party platform is a progressive one, forgetting that neither the platforms of the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party actually mean anything. It’s only the votes that are cast, the actions upon those platforms, that matter. Indeed, Sanders is a divisive force in the party. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be worth shit in the role. He’s attacking a cancer. Aggressiveness is required. Egos get bruised. The Clintons and President Obama were apparently not divisive to the Democratic Party, except so far as they hemorrhaged legislative seats at both the federal and state levels to such an extent that the party has been left an empty shell. But hey, they kept the party together. The party leadership apparatus, anyway. It’s true that that has never been challenged before now.

You still read it all over the comment sections of these news articles. Clinton got legitimately more votes than Sanders. He only won caucus states. Okay, let’s grant those. Hillary was more popular with Democrats. That wasn’t-- and still isn’t-- the point. The point is that he was more popular with Americans, and would have performed better in a head-to-head race against Donald Trump, the one-on-one conflict that the Clinton team claimed was too important to be entrusted to a Socialist with unkempt hair. Most Americans sit out the caucuses and primaries-- most of us precisely because they are electoral events sponsored by the two deeply unpopular major political parties. On election day, though, the independents come out, and of course, they looked at Hillary in 2016-- a personality they never particularly liked anyway, and then saw being chosen via coronation by her party-- and they went running in the opposite direction. They were denied a Bernie Revolution so they defaulted to a Trump one.

Then and now, Hillary’s supporters-- the once-proud center-right triangulators who now tar their opponents with that same insult (when they’re not busy calling them sexists, racists, or traitors) accuse Bernie of owning the unmitigated gall to define all by himself what is a progressive and what is not. In their next breath, they declare, as March does directly, that you cannot be a progressive if you are not pro-choice. It's a controvertible sentiment anyway, but one that misrepresents Bernie’s message in any case as he makes the wholehearted and unappreciated effort to go state by state, city by city, town by town, and save the Democratic Party from itself. March argues that this is no time for the Democrats to “(take) us girls for granted,” but who exactly is doing that? It's a faulty premise. African-Americans are taken for granted by the Democrats, if anybody is. They vote for Democrats at a clip of better than 90%. Meanwhile, a majority of white women (53%) voted for Trump. If they’re being taken for granted by Democrats, the phenomenon didn’t start with Bernie Sanders, and they've already left.

Reproductive rights are non-negotiable, they say, yet they let slide countless other social and economic issues that negatively and disproportionately impact women-- notably, yes, income disparity. Abortion rights absolutely is an economic issue. The only proven cure in the world for poverty is a woman's control over her own body, but do the second wave feminists still standing behind Hillary, who are clearly gassed at this point, even care about these other economic issues? They do seem to care about the pay scale difference between men and women, but not the one between rich and poor. If they did, they wouldn’t cozy up anywhere near the Clintons, who blew up the vital line of demarcation between traditional banks and investment banks while championing NAFTA into law and driving down wages in a “free trade” race to the bottom. They may claim to care about any other women’s rights issue that's out there, but support for abortion access, as this dustup confirms, is still the only one used as a litmus test for the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Transforming this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace

Good news! Bipartisanship is returning to the capital! The national news media can stand down. After almost three long months, the military state (along with the Kushners, we're told) is pulling Donald Trump back into the folds of the Washington political consensus.

Tomahawk missiles were launched against Syria early Friday and Senators McCain and Graham, Schumer and Pelosi, the Clintons, and nearly the entirety of the Fourth Estate approve of Trump's handling of the imminent global threat that is Bashar al Assad, one of the few secularist leaders in the Middle East, a man who’s fighting, with the aid of the Russians, against the Islamic State and other rebel groups backed by Saudi Arabia, but a man who never once made a financial contribution to the Clinton Foundation. Trump, the man we were told was a mental incompetent, is now showing that he’s worthy of respect, don’t you understand, as NBC’s Brian Williams marvels at how "beautiful" is America’s firepower. Fareed Zakaria declared on CNN over the weekend, regarding the military strikes, “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States” (last night). Bombing translates to maturity in Washington circles. The grown-ups inside the shadow government are back in charge.

Don't lament, though, liberals. Your representatives inside the Beltway are still committed to bringing down the president. Don’t go limp on them now. They just have to switch tactics to continue the crusade. They don’t have the moral authority to criticize the violation of international law that’s he has committed because it’s well-known that their man, our man, former President Obama, wanted to do the same thing-- that is, target the Syrian government with his attack. The Obama War Department had already dropped a number of bombs on Syrian innocents, but the Democratic president was rejected by the Senate in his bid to target Assad installations. Assad is the target now by stated purpose, and unlike the terrifying missiles seeking blood and death that Trump now deploys, the 26,171 bombs that President Obama dropped on Muslims just during the calendar year of 2016 alone were filled with candy hearts and gum drops.

The agreed-upon justification is that Assad gassed his own people-- you know, those same people we now care deeply enough to defend militarily but that can’t be accepted within our borders as refugees. (The old “bomb-and-ban” from the post-9-11 playbook.) This alleged crime by Assad came less than two months after Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice boasted to National Public Radio that the U.S. had succeeded in getting the Syrian leader to surrender his stockpile of chemical weapons. I guess the investigation is complete as of Friday.

The Democrats have been played for fools again as Trump executes his politically-motivated hit upon the Syrian government and the host of innocents. They can’t criticize the attack because their militaristic posturing since 2001-- including Hillary Clinton’s repeated criticisms of Obama for failing to target Assad-- preclude it, yet Trump only stands to gain in the polls at home by starting a war. That one never fails to fly here. As Trump targets Vladimir Putin’s top ally in the Middle East, the bombing also does damage to the Democrats’ claim that Trump is Putin’s puppet. Because the Democrats can’t shake themselves of their “Putin controls the White House” narrative, they’re left to grasping at conspiracies with new angles, that Trump warned Russia about the Syrian strike before it was carried out. Ooh. I guess they don’t consider that “heads-up” an act of diplomacy, though Russia is-- applicably noted in this context-- not a country we’ve declared war against.

Especially confusing in these topsy-turvy political times is how Democrats transformed themselves in just one day last week from proponents of the argument that Trump is a dangerous sociopath to getting behind the greatest example to date of the supposed mad man’s violent aggression. All along the campaign trail, the man said he would bomb the hell of 'em, and that he is doing. He said he would target the families of terrorists, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t do that exactly with his targeted strikes in Yemen back in February. And now he’s the Commander-in-Chief for all of the people. Presidential. He unleashed the missiles and unzipped the missile from his pants.

Democrats and Republicans continue to have everything in common in respect to military and foreign policy. Neither party has a plan for peace other than to continue the bombing and killing of innocents. They murder to posture. It took Trump fewer than 100 days to break his campaign promise and rally behind the U.S. tradition of forcing "regime change" upon other sovereign nations, less than three months to involve us in another war that does not impact our national security in the slightest, except as it serves to create more terrorists. This particular attack is historically notable in that it commenced exactly 50 years and three days after Martin Luther King delivered his speech at Riverside Church and his historic declaration that the United States “was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Chuck Berry's funeral

Fateful circumstances-- that is, a Cardinals game and a Chris Rock concert-- led me to St. Louis this past weekend and to the public viewing tribute to Chuck Berry as he lied in state at the Pageant Theater on Sunday. The Father of Rock and Roll died on March 18th, and his family opened up the doors of this theater to the general public for a viewing of the body five hours before the private funeral service on Sunday afternoon.

It was an interesting mix of people in line around my brother and me. It seemed to be largely local people. We were the outliers as visitors from out of town and out of state. Directly behind us in the line, which wrapped about two city blocks early in the morning, were the proprietors of the city’s most iconic music store, Vintage Vinyl, which is located down the street from the Pageant and directly across from Berry's star on the city's Walk of Fame and a statute of Berry. Next to them happened to be the mother of a college football coach that just signed on as a graduate assistant with my alma mater, Iowa State University, for the 2017 season. You find out that it's a small world when you talk to people.

A team of limousines were lined up on a closed off block of Delmar Boulevard even six hours before the funeral. Inside the venue, Berry was laid out in a casket just below the theater’s stage. He was to be buried in his signature Captain’s hat and with his red Gibson ES-335 guitar. I must say that the body looked magnificent. The casket was flanked on either side by a pair of well-dressed guards in white gloves. Imposing is the wrong word for their appearance, impressive is the right one. We were encouraged to sign a guest book, which we did, and a program was handed out. During our time passing by the body, “Maybellene” played overhead. That was Berry's first hit record in 1955. Near the casket, a large floral arrangement in the shape of an upright guitar was a gift from the Rolling Stones. The first 300 members of the public in an auxiliary line at 11 am were given entry passes for the private service, but we were destined to be on the road by that time. Had we waited, we would have easily made the cut. Among the luminaries that would be on hand for that event were the frequent Berry collaborator Johnny Rivers, KISS’s Gene Simmons, and TV’s Paul Shaffer.

Chuck Berry was committed to the earth late in the day on Sunday. He already belonged to the ages.