Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our Man for All Seasons

The suggested toast was Stoli — mixed with milk of magnesia.

We chose not to imbibe of that particular concoction,  but loudly toasted the man we called “The D.”

Derick January Daniels would have been 87 years young on Dec. 5.  He was the most unforgettable person in our lives.

Lois and I had separately come totally under his spell when we met at the Detroit Free Press more than half a century ago.  Everything positive that happened in our careers from that point on — and there was a lot, for each of us, including Pulitzer Prize journalism — we owe to him.

“There is about him a certain magic,” an uncle once said about The D. The uncle and Derick were part of a clan of giants in journalism and in Democratic party politics.  The Daniels family owned and operated the Raleigh News and Observer, one of the great newspapers of the South.  Two members of the clan were also members of presidential cabinets.  

Derick J, Daniels
c. 1966, Detroit
My personal favorite was Derick’s great grandfather, Josephus Daniels, who was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson, and later served as Ambassador to Mexico under FDR.  As a jazz aficionado, I appreciate that the music, which originated in New Orleans, spread throughout the country largely because Josephus directed in 1917 that no prostitution would be permitted within a five-mile radius of naval installations. The directive effectively shut down Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans where most of the best of the jazz musicians found employment.  The musicians rode the rails and the riverboats to new gigs in Kansas City, Chicago, Memphis, New York and  elsewhere.  The Jazz Age was born.

Despite the great journalistic traditions of the family paper, Derick, a journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina, chose never to work for the News and Observer.  He made his own legend, first as a reporter for other papers in the South, then as an editor.

Pete Willett, a wire service editor and executive and something of a legend in his own right, introduced me to Derick when The D was beginning to shape a prize-winning staff at the Detroit Free Press in the early 1960s.  What a wonderful era in which to be young, to be newspapering, and to be doing it for Derick January Daniels!  I soon learned what Derick’s longtime friend and colleague, Mort Persky, learned when they first met years before on a paper in South Carolina: “He could inspire you to do things you never knew you could do.”

One day at lunch, The D mentioned an article that had also caught my eye, about a feature called Watchem that a Houston paper had introduced.  It involved recording telephone calls from readers and using them as fodder for published public service items.  I told Derick I thought it was a good idea that could be made great if . . . 

. . .a few months later Action Line appeared for the first time, on page one of the Free Press.  Kurt Luedtke, the only person I know of who owns both a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar (for the screenplay of “Out of Africa”), joined the team from the outset; Lois and others came on board for the launch.  The column became the talk of Detroit, Free Press circulation rose by more than 35,000 daily, and journalists came from around the U.S., from Europe, from Latin America, to observe and ask questions.  

Derick became a figure of importance not just in our professional lives, but in our personal lives, as well.  He seemed to have an extra-sensory perception of when certain friends needed him.  Once, in a dark period for me, he turned up in New York asking me to join him for paella at a restaurant in which he had just invested; I was rejuvenated.  On another occasion when my spirits were lagging, he invited us to join him and his party aboard the yacht Fantastique for a Mediterranean cruise out of the Port of Cannes. When the captain ran the yacht aground and we had to be rescued at sea, Derick snapped his fingers and said, “We will find another yacht as fine as this one, or we will rent a villa.  The party will go on!”

And it did.  It always did when The D was in charge.

Derick became a senior executive of Knight Newspapers, then of Knight-Ridder, then president and chief operating officer of Playboy Enterprises. His flamboyance, charm and gold lame jumpsuits put him in the gossip columns.

But to me he was and will always be the chain-smoking editor with one blue eye and one brown, exuding magic, inspiring me to do things I never knew I could do, yet at once the guy who wanted his own epitaph to be: “I wish I were half the man my dogs think I am.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Suffering for Others' Sins

Today in America all the clocks are striking 13.

“There’s no such thing any more as facts,” said Scottie Nell Hughes, an influential member of the new leader-to-be’s ruling team.

The former chief of his political campaign said the Pussy Grabber’s serial lies were “presidential” simply because the president-elect said them.

As a people we have been taken through a looking glass into the land of Tweedledee:”If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.” 

Or back into George Orwell’s 1984: “What you say or do doesn't matter; only feelings matter.”

What is most disturbing is not that this terrible, irrational thing has happened to our country; it is that most of the millions who voted for it do not give a damn.  

When the person who will lead the country demonstrates his open contempt for the protocols of diplomacy, and his ignorance of contemporary world affairs, they applaud.  They continue to believe that the new regime will “make America great again.”

“Ignorance is strength” in Orwell’s 1984.  The prospective Secretary of Education in the new regime is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who wants to make America great again by destroying its public schools, as she already has done in the city of Detroit.

“War is peace” in Orwell’s 1984.  Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, appointed to be secretary of defense, has already served the cause of American greatness by ordering the Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre, when American troops shelled and bombed a wedding party in a small village on the Iraq-Syria border, killing 42 civilians.  He was among the first commanders in the history of warfare to use depleted uranium and white phosphorus on civilians, leaving a legacy of cancer and birth defects.

“Freedom is slavery” in Orwell’s 1984.  Sen. Jeff Sessions, an unreconstructed confederate from Alabama, will head the department of justice in the new regime.  Even in a Republican-controlled Congress he was considered too racist to be a federal judge.  His department of justice will create and perpetuate injustice.

In Alice’s looking glass land, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.”  And so in the new regime, the secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, will serve humanity by dismantling the health programs that provide care for more than 130 million Americans.  The man who would oversee the ethics and fairness of American businesses, Wilbur Ross, is a billionaire who brought us the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, where 12 miners died.  Ross refused to shut down the mine despite 12 roof collapses in 2005 alone, and 208 citations for safety violations.  

Chris Hedges, perhaps this country’s most important contemporary writer, put it this way:

Trump and his coterie of half-wits, criminals, racists and deviants play the role of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s novels “The Hamlet,” “The Town” and “The Mansion.” The Snopeses rose up out of the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family—which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality—are fictional representations of the scum we have elevated to the highest level of the federal government. 

As in 1984, “the past is dead, the future is unimaginable.”  It is in the hands of con artists and mafia capitalists, of hate-mongers and post-truthers, of conspiracy theorists and ethically-challenged billionaires, of men and women who are contemptuous of the law except as they can bend it or use it for their own enrichment.

Hughes, who proclaimed the death of fact in these new United States, explained that “everybody has a way of interpreting” what is true or not true.  But, as Friedrich Nietzsche warned long ago, “whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

In public utterances, the Pussy-Grabber has promised to round up Muslims and undocumented immigrants, to order “waterboarding and far worse,” to exercise unprecedented presidential authority over everything from foreign policy to flag burning.  Orwell again:  “The object of persecution is persecution.  The object of torture is torture.  The object of power is power.”

Millions of Americans either refuse to see all of this, or see it and find nothing wrong.  Some of the punditry tell us the problem is us, we never listened to these people, and now we must listen and learn.

Bovine excrement!  These people have nothing to teach us!  The regime they have installed cares not a whit for the common man.  They have given us over to the Snopeses.  They deserve their fate — but the rest of us, alas, will have to suffer it along with them. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Lethal Arithmetic of Now

“This must be how it feels to lose a war,” a friend remarked on the morning of Nov. 9.

His perspicuous remark haunts me as the names and faces of our new regime emerge.

One can almost see the lines of occupying troops marching into our cities and towns, barking commands in a strange language, flying unfamiliar ensigns over our public buildings and places, taking obscene advantage of our wives and daughters, looting and pillaging at will from the bombed-out shells of our homes.

We are now the subjected, the oppressed.

A friend of my vintage was doing his personal arithmetic the other day.  An aging retiree, he has up to now been able to meet all of his basic needs with enough money left over to travel a bit, visit the kids and grandkids.  His income consists of Social Security, a modest defined benefit pension and the required minimum distribution from an equally modest IRA.

The new regime means to do away with all restrictions on the financial chicanery of corporations, which puts my friend’s pension fund at risk.  It has announced its plan to do away with Social Security, which would further reduce his income.  It will eliminate government involvement in health care, taking away the insurance that now covers 60 per cent of his prescription medicines and virtually all of his doctor and medical bills.  His IRA is invested in a conservative mixture of stocks and bonds.  It plunged precipitately in 2008.  In the volatile financial market to come, the billionaires in the new government will do just fine; my friend could be wiped out virtually overnight.

Even before the election, the pharmaceutical industry warned us to expect a 19 per cent increase in the cost of our medications.  Now, with no government restraints at all, the increase almost certainly will be much greater.

My friend, like so many aging retirees, requires life-sustaining prescription medications for a condition that only a few years ago would have meant certain death.  “We may come to that again,” he said.

If the new regime simply takes away his prescription insurance, he will be required to spend every penny of his Social Security income, plus a substantial portion of his pension income, just to buy medicine.  If either of these sources of income vanishes, or is significantly reduced, he will have to choose between eating or getting the medicine that keeps him alive.

If the new regime eliminates Medicare, as it has said it will, my friend will no longer be able to go to the doctor, or to the hospital if his condition worsens.  Medical care will become, for him, a luxury he can no longer afford.

He will die.  Painfully and ignominiously, for his is a condition that, if unmedicated, is accompanied by severe pain.

Every day when he looks out his window at the quotidian parade of mankind, he knows that of, say, every ten  passersby, at least five voted in favor of this new regime, voted to put him to death, slowly and painfully, in the hell that used to be the United States of America.

Do you hate them? Are you bitter? I asked him. 

“Maybe not bitter,” he said, “but sad and fearful.” 

Like the Poles after Hitler took over their country eight decades ago.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Now Brown Cow?

As the Pussy-Grabber assembles his cabinet and administration, it becomes increasingly clear that the democratic republic of the United States is breathing its last.

The dysfunctional mish-mash that emerges will be as much a puzzle to the rest of the world as it will be a disaster for its resident small-r republicans.

At some point the millions who voted sanely will reach the point of willingness to join an armed insurrection.  Only then will they realize that it’s impossible,  Literally all the firepower will be on the other side, in the hands of the vengeance-crazed supporters of the regime and the militarized, racist police.

Consider the  enormous military force the authorities brought to bear on the unarmed, peaceful protesters at Standing Rock, who were seeking only to protect their drinking water from pollution by pipeline.  Now imagine if millions, armed only with axe-handles and bolt-action .22s manufactured half a century ago, sought to overturn the Pussy-Grabber’s regime by violent protest.

First there would be the massacre, the slaughter of the activists.  Then. as the Pussy-Grabber promised during his campaign, their families would be rounded up and tortured and slain. What remained of the citizenry would be forever cowed, heiling the white supremacist bullies running the zoo.

What recourse other than a doomed insurrection offers a ray of hope to the poor souls inhabiting this nightmare?

Precious little.  Even as the Pussy-Grabber clumsily puts together his team of rogues, the so-called opposition party is a raffle of fools and weaklings floundering like beached whales.  While the Pussy-Grabber rounds up monied thugs to tear apart the very departments (health, education, public safety) they are ostensibly meant to manage, the Democrat party struggles pitifully to “rebuild”  in the wake of the electoral disaster it has just inflicted upon itself.  Having shot itself in the foot, it will try to make a better holster.

What the country really needs is a viable left that will seriously and effectively oppose the worst threat to democracy in the history of the nation.  Each day that passes without intense efforts to form such a coalition diminishes the chances of its ever happening.

Thus, absent an effective opposition, the Pussy-Grabber will quickly acquire absolute dictatorial power over the country.  Almost certainly he will eventually sail his ship of fools into global war.  

The consequences are too terrible to imagine, although many have tried.  Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Road” offers the most optimistic scenario.  Read it and weep.  Weep for the America you grew up in.

Monday, November 28, 2016

'Tis a Puzzlement . . . or a Conspiracy

The way things are going in this sorry land, how can you NOT be some kind of conspiracy theorist?

See, the Rooskies hacked Hillary because they wanted the Pussy Grabber to win so that all those loans he has from Russian oligarchs would enable Putin to dictate U.S. policy in Madagascar.

OK, maybe not that one.

How about the latest goings-on in the media world?  Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like . . . .

First, there was the business with Jill Stein and the Greens raising all that money for recounts in states where the Pussy-Grabber’s margin was razor thin.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania.  The rust bucket rebellion.  The Greens said they didn’t want to help Clinton, necessarily, they just wanted the American people to have a degree of certainty that their electoral process was safe and sound.  Well, the Clintonians said, if that’s the case, we’ll join you in initiating recounts because, while we’re not sore losers, we think the American people have a right to know if they can trust their electoral process.

Then the New York Times  came out with a strange piece saying “the Administration” has one hundred per cent faith in the integrity of the American electoral process.  At first, the Times didn’t explain who in “the Administration” said this or why suddenly at this time they issued a “statement” exclusively to the Times.

This seemed passing strange to a lot of journalists familiar with the old-fashioned standards of the Times regarding attribution by name, rank and serial number.  Even several former Times journalists joined the chorus questioning the story.  Hastily, the Times rushed out the text of the “statement” by “the Administration” with a weird introductory paragraph written by Times editors.

That paragraph said the “statement” was issued by “the Administration” because the Times asked for it.  With all this hullabaloo about recounts and fake news and such like, well, the Times just decided that  maybe “the Administration” might want to quell people’s fears about the integrity of the election system.  “The Administration” would not  say which of its officials wrote the statement, or what his/her position was in “the Administration,” or even characterize his/her level of importance within “the Administration” hierarchy. Why would the Times agree to such terms?  Well, because  . . . .just because.

Next, less than 48 hours later, the Washington Post came out with an eerie story about the recent wave of fake news, producing a list of 200 news aggregators and reporting agencies that were said to be guilty of soliciting fake news from the Rooskies and rushing it out to the unwary public. The Post learned this from a murky outfit that crawled out from the cyber-woodwork only last August; refuses to identify any of its operatives; whose alleged collaborators deny having anything to do with it; and whose executive director was only too happy to give the Post juicy quotations  about the success of this Russian disinformation campaign — but who wouldn’t give his name for fear of reprisals. Reprisals by whom?  Wouldn’t say.

Got that?

Nameless, faceless officials of “the Administration” . .. .  Nameless, faceless agents of an outfit nobody ever heard of, whose credentials are chimeras, whose spokesman may or may not even exist . . . . assuring us of “integrity,” decrying “false news” by issuing false news . . . .

I give up!  If there’s no conspiracy here, somebody tell me, what the hell is going on?  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Man to Walk Through Fire For

The rancid orphan of wealth who is about to lead our country to new depths of depravity has put his venality on display once again with his coarse and ignorant comments about the death of Fidel Castro.

In the vastness of world leadership the Pussy-Grabber is to Castro as a flea is to an elephant.  In condemning Castro as “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,"   he merely betrays his utter incapacity to deal with the complexities of a deeply troubled world.

A better understanding came from Deena Stryker, the Philadelphia-born journalist, author and cosmopolite.  She wrote: 

I contemplate with dismay what the world has become: a battlefield between a small group of Muslims that have taken the world's fastest growing religion hostage, globalization, led by my own country, a global left that no longer has the faith, and a rising right that looks different from its forerunners and whose impact will be felt worldwide. Few countries have had leaders so determined to lift their people out of poverty and those of us who witnessed his efforts, can only wonder how much longer it will be before the rest of the world's South catches up to Cuba. 

Anthony DePalma’s masterly obituary in the New York Times captured the man and his era:

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

It was Batista who had been “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people.”  But he was our dictator.  American corporations fattened their profits on Cuba’s natural and agricultural resources even as their bribes fattened Batista’s bank accounts.

At first official Amerika welcomed Fidel as a colorful revolutionary who would restore democracy to Cuba. Henry M. Wriston, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations when Castro came to power, said he was “was everything a revolutionary should be.”  But when he began to nationalize  American businesses in Cuba, the U.S. turned on him and he turned toward the Soviet Union and a version of communism that was unique to his regime.

He ruled Cuba like a tyrant.  It was perhaps the tactic of necessity against the giant enemy 90 miles away, which tried over and over again to assassinate him and overturn his government. As the ruler of a tiny island nation  he became a figure of worldwide influence and importance. His efforts to eliminate poverty never entirely succeeded, yet the strides made in medical care, education and science were monumental.  

Expatriates in Miami hate him.  Freedom seekers throughout Latin America worship him. Yet everyone in the world — except possibly the Pussy-Grabber — recognizes that he was a giant.

I was a young journalist covering minor league baseball when his revolution began.  One spring the local team came out of spring training with a Cuban second baseman.  When I learned that he had operated a machine gun for Castro’s beleaguered guerrilla brigade in the Sierra Maestra, I asked him what it was like to fight for the charismatic rebel leader.

“I would walk through fire for that man,” he said.  “Because of him, today my family has food on the table, and I can come here to the USA and play ball.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

'Thinly Thought Through'

 The give-him-a-chance crowd will find much to like about  Donald’s on-the-record session at the New York Times yesterday.

The Times’s editorial board  did, too, although it expressed alarm about “how thinly thought through" many of his opinions on important issues were.

“Thinly thought through" is a good phrase.  It applies particularly damningly to mainstream media coverage of the entire 2016 election process.

Take “those damn e-mails.”  Beaten to death in print and on the air, yet no serious investigation ever found any criminality.  But what about the equally serious concerns over Donald’s possibly criminal business and tax escapades over the year?  Virtual silence; the possible criminality in these affairs has yet to be determined. 

Donald appeared to back away yesterday from some of the extreme positions he took during the campaign, positions that were never thoroughly enough explored back when they were uttered, when complete vetting might have had an effect on some voters.

He sort of conceded that maybe human activity did contribute to climate change, that maybe torture as official policy in combatting terrorism wasn’t a very good idea and that promises to “lock up crooked Hillary” wouldn’t actually be kept. 

But even as these modest concessions emerged, the Times writers and editors in the session largely fulfilled their publisher’s promise at the outset.  What would follow, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told Donald, will be “the easiest questions you’re going to get this administration."

Donald has demonstrated throughout his business career and his campaign that he is a serial liar.  He has even contradicted himself in the same sentence, on certain occasions when he actually spoke in lucid, complete sentences. He switches good cop, bad cop roles with the seamless ease of an accomplished television performer, which he is.  

The TV performer uttered some mildly flattering words about the Times yesterday even while repeating his claims that it treated him unfairly and reported inaccurately about him during the campaign.  More than once he suggested that he could “change” the paper’s reporting on him, but how? by bullying, lying or . . . . . what?  We aren’t sure, are we?

That’s his skill.  See?, the give-him-a-chance crowd is saying, he has an “open mind.”

In fact, nothing he said at the Times yesterday changes the established record about him.  He is still the boastful Pussy-Grabber.  He is still the same con man whose phony “university” defrauded thousands of gullible people.  He is still the same guy who stiffed laborers and small contractors, who reveled in rubbing well-tailored elbows with gangsters and drug kingpins,  who left investors holding the bag in countless bankruptcies (which are still going on), who publicly ridiculed people with physical disabilities and who promised to build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it.

The wall nonsense didn’t even come up at the Times yesterday.  But the Israel-Palestine conflict did.  Apparently sounding sincere, Donald said he’d like to resolve that conflict and at last bring peace to one of the most troubled areas in the world.  A noble goal.  And who would be his agent to achieve that goal?  His son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

C’mon man!  Buying that isn’t “giving him a chance.”  Buying that is buying a “degree” from Trump University.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Donald's Good Pal, Nigel

The Pussy-Grabber has made an unprecedented incursion into the affairs of a sovereign foreign government by calling for the United Kingdom to appoint Nigel Farage as ambassador to the United States.

The UK has refused.

Farage and the Pussy-Grabber are birds of a feather.

Farage led the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union (Brexit).  

He is a climate change denier.  When Prince Charles appeared before the European parliament to urge it to take a leadership role in the battle against climate change, Farage, a member of the parliament, remained seated during the standing ovation for the prince’s speech.

Like Donald, Farage believes that so-called “legal tax avoidance” is smart.  He has diverted income into private companies and into offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes, and, like the Pussy-Grabber, refuses to release his tax returns while running for public office.

He’s a big fan of coal power despite its harmful effects on the environment and public health.  Like the right-wing neanderthals of the U.S., he opposes wind power as ”disgusting ugly windmills.”

Like the Pussy-Grabber, he uses the word “disgusting” frequently in dismissing critics.

Farage says there is no link between handgun ownership and crime,  even though most responsible studies attribute the UK’s low violent crime rate to its strict control of handgun ownership.

Farage fantasizes the existence of “a fifth column” of Islamic extremists determined to destroy the United Kingdom.  He approves of Donald’s proposed strategy of internment for Muslims in the United States.

When the Pussy-Grabber’s infamous remarks demeaning women became public, Farage excused them as “alpha male boasting.”  

He  describes himself in Trumpian terms: “quite ballsy, good on a platform, unafraid of the limelight, a bit noisy and good at selling things.”  He is an alcoholic stockbroker’s son who, even as a high school student, was identified by a teacher as having strong “racist and fascist leanings.”

Bannon.  Flynn.  Gingrich.  Giuliani.  Sessions.  Putin.  Farage.  Donald’s kind of guys.

Is there any hope of saving the republic?

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Cadillac Revolution

Chris Hedges, one of our most important contemporary writers, has just published “We Are All Deplorables,” a perceptive essay that articulates the reasons why the white working underclass rallied behind the candidacy of Donald.

What it misses is the vast pool of white American voters — especially women — who are not particularly distraught economically but yet angrily and even vengefully supported the new Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.  They remind me of a mini-episode I witnessed on a local road not long ago.  A nicely-coifed, meticulously-garbed, blue-haired lady of some means was driving her Cadillac sedan ever so slowly in a no-passing zone.  The frustrated male driving behind her, obviously in something of a hurry, honked and flashed his headlights trying to urge her to get a move on.  She blissfully ignored him.  When at last there was an opportunity to pass, he glared at her as he roared by.  She rolled down her window and gave him the finger.

A woman who runs a prosperous family business — inherited from her parents — smugly but coyly made it clear to me just before the election that she would be voting for Donald.  “I’ve been around shop workers all my life,” she said.  “I hear worse things (than what Donald said about women) in the shop every day.”  A virtual finger.

As for the prosperous physician who supported the Pussy Grabber in a mood of anyone-but-Hillary, I can understand that Obamacare was at the heart of his decision.  Obama himself publicly acknowledged that a single-payer system would have been the best way to fix our terrible health care system, but before even putting a proposal on the table he sold out to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and to the Republicans in congress.  Only the 22 million Americans who had been without health insurance but now possess it could possibly be happy with Obamacare.  But my physician friend and others who think the Pussy-Grabber will make health care better by destroying Obamacare will be sadly disappointed.

I’m certain there is a deep-seated seam of racism inside many of the well-off whites who voted for Donald.  These are people who kept their feelings in the closet in the years after the Civil Rights Act was passed.  Now here was a candidate for the highest office in the land saying the same things they had been ashamed to say for all these years.  Suddenly the  Pussy-Grabber made it OK to hate and resent the progress of brown, black, red and yellow people and to say so publicly.

While racism played its part on the election of Donald, it alone can’t explain the phenomenon. Rather, what happened was the coming together of many streams of discontent with the System, the Status Quo.  Certainly the fact that our first Black President failed to make things materially better, and actually continued some of the worst policies of his predecessor, fed another stream of protest.  The Hedges essay superbly documents how important was the economic desperation of a white underclass.  The false patriotism of flag-worshipping, war-hungry, kick-‘em-in-the-ass American Rambos played its part. Democrats will be blame-gaming these and other factors for a long time to come.

But my metaphor for this election is the blue-haired white lady in the Cadillac, smugly giving everyone the bird.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Problem of 'Fake News'

There is much ado these days about "fake news” on Facebook and other social media.  Manufacturers of such falsehoods are said by some to have contributed to Donald’s winning the presidential election.  Indeed, one highly-paid writer of such untruths claimed that he alone won the presidency for Donald.

The New York Times exposed and deplored “fake news” in an article last Friday; President Obama railed against it in public comments during his trip to Europe.

Movements are afoot to curb it.  Facebook, the most prominent target of “fake news” adversaries, says it is continuing to take steps to deal with the “fake news” problem.  One move entails creating a commission to review suspect articles and excise those found to be untruthful. But, as the superb investigative journalist  Robert Parry reminds us, who verifies the veracity of the verifiers?

Who gets to decide what is real and what is not real?,” he wrote.  “And – in an age when all sides propagate propaganda – when does conformity in support of a mainstream ‘truth’ become censorship of reasonable skepticism?”

If a commission of major news media were to determine what’s real, what’s not, one might wonder if, say, the deemers included the New York Times of Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and David Sanger, or the Wahington Post of Leonard Downie and Fred Hiatt.  Frying pan to fire?

In a Media Essay in The New York Times, John Herrman wrote:

“‘Fake news’ as shorthand will almost surely be returned upon the media tenfold. The fake news narrative, as widely understood and deployed, has already begun to encompass not just falsified, fabricated stories, but a wider swath of traditional media on Facebook and elsewhere. Fox News? Fake news. Mr. Trump’s misleading claims about Ford keeping jobs in America? Fake news. The entirety of hyperpartisan Facebook? Fake news. This wide formulation of ‘fake news’ will be applied back to the traditional news media, which does not yet understand how threatened its ability is to declare things true, even when they are.”

How would one classify the work of satirists of contemporary affairs such as The Onion or Stephen Colbert?  Forty years ago a judge held that such satire was fair comment when he dismissed the $6 million lawsuit filed by then  Mayor Frank Rizzo against Desmond Ryan of the Philadelphia Inquirer who, in his column called “The Skeptic,” imagined a conversation in which Rizzo (who opposed putting women on the police force) said:

“I mean, who really wants broads on the police? What about you’re having a fight with the wife and givin’ her the back of your hand when the Polack down the street puts the squeal in. You want some bull dyke come chargin’ on your property all ready with a swift kick in the lasagnas? No way. Not while I’m mayor.”

The very fabric of effective satire, and what makes it funny, is that on its face it’s plausible.  And if the unsophisticated read it and think it’s true?  Shame on them.

The Internet is an incredibly valuable tool in this modern world, but it is, alas, one that can lend credibility to lies.  I used to take delight (until the volume of such messages made the practice too time-consuming) in debunking the falsehoods forwarded to me on e-mail by gullible acquaintances.

There are, of course, those like the Trumpistas who will gleefully circulate certain bits of fake news to further their own agendas.  Donald’s nominee for national security advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, did just that several times during the recent campaign, tweeting lies about Hillary Clinton that he surely knew were lies.

As I was writing this post, a friend forwarded me a longish e-mail that is full of obvious falsehoods regarding Warren Buffet, the U.S. Congress and other public issues.  My dilemma: shall I spend three hours researching and documenting the truth on all of this, or should I ignore it and go out to lunch?

I’m thinking of a reuben.  No fries.