Sunday, June 30, 2024

You deserve better...


You deserve much better. 


These days since the first “debate” have been a kind of Rorschach test for America. What did we see in that pale drama? What does our reaction tell us about ourself. It needs to be decoded.


First, the US deserves and needs better candidates for the “highest office in the land,” or what used to be called “the most powerful job in the world.”


Response was immediately seismic and the aftershocks continue. It may become nothing more than a forgotten moment 90 days on, or it could generate a true “gut, head and heart check” by US citizens, the people who ought to care for the democratic republic they’ve inherited. 


Those two old men on the stage were not the best of our political system. It’s been said “democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” Surely there are better ways if not better monkeys.


The first response of commentators, analysts, and political operatives was “my phone was blowing up!” That is the first take away?! As a sidebar, our phones have changed the way we think and act. Such “neural switching” also short circuits reason, calm and thoughtfulness. Witness the dither and tizzy. All emotion, shoving deliberate thought aside. That is the way of things now.


There was much over which to be concerned, but holy cow, we appear to have now created a sub political speculation game, Biden withdrawal? What about what to do with Trump dishonesty soaring to new levels of outrage. Should a network stage a debate if it cannot challenge the lies? 


It was painful to see Biden struggle for words. He is 82, had a cold, had been over prepped and not handled well by his debate team. He faltered and hearts sank. There is no excuse, but there are explanations. 


His opponent was in normal hyperbolic form, mugging for the camera, lying, fantasizing and evading most questions put to him. He clearly pulled Biden out of his plan.


The end of the night, Biden scored on substance, Trump scored on performance so the world was left with an old man who stumbled and an old man who lied and evaded questions. Their presidential records are vastly different. So are their life stories and their character. The debate was one night against a life of record.


Replacing a presidential candidate, late stage, is not the same thing as changing pitchers-one guys leaves the mound, another comes in from the bull pen but everything else in the stadium remains the same. Candidate organizations and campaign staffs and offices are not a corporate headquarters. Trying to tool a change of that magnitude is risky at best. It has never worked before. But some Democrats are worried enough to hope for a magic ticket. 


If Biden were to exit, it would open a battle that would inevitably damage the party,  and angering elements. There is a history of those who did not get their way, pouting and not voting or voting for a third-party candidate. Many Democrats believe Kamala Harris would deserve the opportunity, but there are many who do not. Her popularity is curiously low. Navigating a change of ticket to find someone who could defeat trump is uncertain. Only Joe Biden has beaten him. There are several other candidates rising in the party, potentially Trump thumpers, but the game is stacked against them at this moment.


Here is a difference in this cycle. Democrats are fretting out loud. The New York Times and others editorialize Biden needs to go. The Republicans are afraid to speak of their fuhrer’s wild deceits and excesses like claiming his opponent believes in ripping babies from the womb and putting them aside to die.(Can you believe that was said?) None of the republican gruppenfuhrers and oberfuhrers dare challenge the maga cult leader. The message here is loud and clear.


The character of political media, and the election industry deserve a close up. This self-selected sub phylum has been in a frenzy about a Biden exit. Some puff up arguing it is “good for the nation.” It takes audacity to suppose you know what is good for America, arguing for a quick fix, where there is no such option, and while the cry you raise is in tremulous hysteria. As a friend said, everybody should take a deep breath. Biden blew a debate, but he is still being Presidential, and has had by most measures, major success. Trump still whines about the election he lost, is a convicted rapist, felon and faces further legal jeopardy.

There is history to guide us here, as we speculate.

In the last years of Reagan’s second term there were serious questions about his mental acuity, evidence of the dementia that later claimed his life. He was slower, but he governed. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919 and in the next 2 years his wife Edith ran the executive branch of Government.(That was before the Presidential Succession Amendment) Franklin Roosevelt was gravely ill in his final years, presiding over US efforts in WWII, negotiating with Churchill and Stalin. If Biden were unable to finish a second term, or chose to retire, Kamala Harris is a better option for American democracy than Trump under any circumstances.


So, maybe back away from the ledge and lower the blood pressure and ignore the media hype. It was a tv show, a media creation, not a summit meeting. It was not as though he drooled through the 90 minutes and scored no hits. Look at the video of his appearance later that night or the next morning. America is safer with an old Joe than an old Trump. As I noted, this election is about forces larger than either man. These men are surrogates for values. It is about a system. It is about truth. It is about democracy or an authoritarian cult.


Still, voters deserve better options, but you have only one good choice.

See you down the trail. 


Monday, June 24, 2024

What America Waits?

                                                     What sort of America awaits?


A mile marker on the freeway to a “post-November America” is when two old men debate. I use the words old men, because I own it and know something of this stage of life. America would be better served by younger candidates, though that doesn’t mean an old man, or old woman couldn’t do the job, given they have the skill and capability.


The age question is real, but is the least of our concerns. We have more serious problems.


What version of America will rule? Which America will prove itself to be the decisive vote? 

Option 1 A majority of people who have grievances, are fearful, paranoid, delusional, who believe lies, deny reality and give laud to an unsound narcissist, who some believe is a messenger of God.

Option 2 A majority of Americans who acknowledge though our government is not perfect, it has worked for two centuries as we grind out an evolution of a culture that tries to share equality, guarantee human dignity, lead the world in disciplines of order, security and that believes in nation of law even if flawed in its application and making. 


This is larger than two men. They are pawns of history on a board of existential stakes. Some understand this consequence. Some do not. 


It is not too much of a distillation to say it is a choice between the America of history since the founding, good and bad, or a nation subservient to authoritarianism, deceit, revenge, a merge of narrow religion and government, where we betray allies and tart up ourselves for the highest bidder. 


There was a time when this was impossible. It is shocking the twice impeached ex -president is even a candidate and, more grievously, that he is supported. Trump is a disaster on almost any index of governing. He is a traitor by most standards. The video of him bowing to Putin while selling out the US Security Community is an historic nadir. His role in the insurrection should be disqualifying. The now convicted felon threatens to again bring his trash, avarice and incompetence to another attempt to break America for the benefit of Russia, Saudi Arabia and his own pillage, pilfering in a further degradation of American history and ideals.  Why is he even in public? Why does anyone give him anything but the back of their hand?


The hardest to take and the most heartbreaking thing about our faith in America is that he has  millions of supporters. That’s the thing about a democracy, you are free to support who you wish, even if he is as his Secretary of State called him, “a fucking moron!” But he is a moron who is the favorite of millions. 


Ignorance is rampant and on the rise in this nation that once took pride in education. News deserts, the collapse of old fashioned media with its attempt at balance and a focus on facts, in tandem with an educational failure in a culture of celebrity worship have produced millions of folks who don’t know any better. That fact, they don’t any better, is a damning evaluation of the culture and a spike to the heart of American aspirational values. 


Trump supporters are not thinkers as the public fraud conviction of Fox News and lesser minions of the rightwing propaganda mill have demonstrated. It’s like surviving the first swing of Jonestown kool-aid and coming back for another cup even as everyone drops dead.


Watching them, listening to them, seeing them interviewed, reading about them, speaking with them, the elder MAGA supporters remind me of those hapless kids in high school who got D’s or barely passed civics, government and history. They were nice enough, just not informed and not very curious about current events. Now those peers are at the end-years of life, and they are angry and out for revenge but still no better informed. 


It’s cruel to say the younger MAGA crowd is stupid or malevolent, but there it is, before our eyes. Testosterone over load. More blood to that region than to the brain. Pay close attention, draw your own judgement. 


Trampling on American history or betraying the ways that have kept us a nation doesn’t mean much to people who don’t know that stuff. These are not people who have fretted about a delicate balance of power, the power of lobbyists or the creeping influence of big money. Law, respect, and civil debate means nothing to people who back a man without moral character, decency, a sound mind, or a belief in anything but himself. Lack of the teaching of government, and short shrift on history produced a culture that doesn’t know how to advance because they have no idea of where they have been. They simply want to stick their finger in the eye of the government. And some resent the color and the faith of those who are not like them.


The Republican party has been captured by a chimera, born of their sins of single-issue zealotry and race bating politics that began with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” Today’s Republican party is on the road to theocracy,  willingly enforcing their limited concept of religion on everyone, especially those who choose to think, believe or worship in other ways, or who may see the purpose of faith as something other than forcing rules and narrow mindedness. Republicans adopt the same foundational frame of belief as the Taliban, Isis, and Iran’s ruling clerics.  If that America prevails, we begin a new paradigm in American behavior. The rise of arrogant ignorance brings to mind mob rule, authoritarianism, theological fascism. 


The Democrats have their problems. The modern party has always been a family feud with the most progressive wing being like the rebellious teen or the kookie Aunt or Uncle with strange ideas. But that wing has also pushed against an inclination to sell out or forget those on the margins. It is not pretty, but the in-house debate has been good for the party and good for American history. It took loud mouths and passion to win women and Blacks the right to vote, to get Title IX passed, to end the deceptions and senseless war in Viet Nam, and etc.  Do you appreciate social security, Medicare, safe food, clean air, safe factories, safe cars? Some of those kookie ideas are not so kookie. Do you want another 4 years of trying to undo the American Health Care act? Wouldn’t we be better serviced by a Congress that gets down to kicking the ass of the insurance/medical complex that puts profit ahead of patients?


Wouldn’t it be great if the US had a solid and well-reasoned immigration policy, instead of piecemeal kicking the can down the road like we have done for a century. Biden worked a deal, with all sides, to make progress, but a toad in a Maga hat had it killed. How can you reason Trump is good for anyone, except himself. 


I fault the Democrats for morphing, moving away from an abiding passion for working and middle-class Americans. Bill Clinton moved the party right and made business friendly decisions that sewed the seeds of trouble for industrial and working Americans. Biden is working back to the old base. The party has grown more effete and focused on identity classes instead of a national commonweal. But the Democrats are diverse and there is a spectrum from moderate to liberal. They speak critically of their own policy. In the MAGA Republican cult they speak ill of the felon in private but bow to him publicly. 


Joe Biden is the oldest President in history so it is natural to wonder about that. Aside from George HW Bush, his resume and Washington experience is best of modern Presidents. He is, as historians will document, one of the most productive in history. His legacy and influence will mushroom as the billions invested in American communities and new industries begin to be seen. 

Most Americans, even his own party suffer from shortsightedness. His legislative record is nothing short of astounding, considering the bitter and gall filled legislative branch of government. In another age the media would be stumbling over each other in telling the story. But too few pay attention to mainstream media, most Americans measure success in the most selfish of ways, and even if the Biden Economy is historically good, and the market is historically high, if we pay more for groceries and gas we think the sky is falling, never asking, or examining how exactly does a President control that? Most Americans never think about the Federal Reserve, or bother to look where there is genuine price gouging, or how large corporations have seized record profits. 

It’s the American way to think of the President as Daddy Supreme. Presidents have always gotten the blame. He is old, he walks in a stiff manner but his presidential record is blue ribbon. He has been instrumental in leading NATO, and strengthening alliances that are future looking. Instead, we focus on the optics. We are shallow, and getting more so because the depth of our news and information seeking is on our hand screen, flying by in memes and emojis and quick reels. 


This is the first Presidential election with so many dead newspapers, stripped down and failing media, and a generation of clickbait. TickTock and Instagram have more sway than journalists of institutions like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN or the BBC. We are down rabbit holes. 


Still, who do prefer as daddy supreme? What kind of human being do you want making the hard decisions? Who do you trust?


Some in this nation think Biden is a demon, eating babies. They put Trump on a flag with Jesus. It’s laughable, we are living in a farse, a sci-fi movie plot where a bleach blond air head somehow gets to put his finger on the nuclear button. And for this very reason it is not funny.


So, two old men with long histories, with track records, with evidence of character writ large. Two fathers, two husbands, two men who hold values, who have beliefs and goals.

Really, given this focus, given these choices, how can there be any question about what is good for America and what is the poison?


So, which America will prevail? What crowd will handle the government, navigate the ship of state?


And then after November, how will we live with each other? That is for another day.


See you down the trail.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Festival of Smiles---Livin' the Live Oak Way

    The Live Oakies gather for the 36th joyful weekend of music and just plain good times, family style. Regular readers will recall it's all to support KCBX FM, Public Radio for the California Central Coast. 
    The sounds are extraordinary. If you are music fan, check this site for the impressive lists of artists who have played and etched memories at Live Oak.

    Here's your annual trip out of the regular rhythm of your life to the place of Peace, Love and Dirt. As you know it's great for people watching. This year we watch
the man with the beads and the food truck heroes as well as the good vibes.

    Do you have a favorite frame?
    Hope the trip gave you a few moments of pause, from whatever else may be on your screen.
    Listen for an up and coming blues/country/Americana singer from Bozeman Montana, Madeline Hawthorne. Charisma, voice, songwriter and a great band behind her. 

    Peace, Love, Dirt

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

"Your task will not be an easy one..."

       The following scene and conversation occurs on Utah Beach, one of the D-Day invasion beaches.    

  "The beach was wind-swept, large and angry. The gray sky hung low over the rough, choppy water, and the surf pounded the beach with an animosity. An ominous pall seemed to hang over the place. Old enforcements and battle walls, pillboxes, and even strands of barbed wire were visible while cattle grazed over the dunes in fields where one of the decisive engagements of mankind's warfare had played out in blood.

    "You can sense the terrible loss just standing here," Tim said, more to the wind than to Stroutsel, whose face was turned toward the beach, he seemed to be looking beyond time."

    Stroutsel cut the misty wind of the beach with his gravel-like voice. "'Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.' Solomon, from Ecclesiastes, Calvin, it would do well for all of us to remember it."

    They stood wrapped in silence and reflection as if in a place of prayer as sand and wind and salt spray assaulted them. Stroutsel faced squarely into the wind, and oblivious of Tim's presence, in calm still voice spoke,

    "Baruch atah Adonai--Blessed art thou, O Lord, my rock who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle. My loving kindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge."

    Tim stood transfixed by the moment, and the sweeping emotions that girded them against the ghosts of this killing beach.

      "We are a mere breath, our days are like passing shadows," Stroutsel's voice began to fade as he walked north, his eyes cast on the sand, looking out to the sea. Tim let him go."

        It is a scene from my 1994 novel Sanibel Arcanum, in the chapter Island Darkness and a Norman MidnightNow an old man, Stroutsel as a boy had been part of the French Resistance after escaping Germany when his parents and Jewish family were sent to a death camp. Tim Calvin was in France to speak with Stroutsel.

        I had spent time in Normandy, researching the D-Day beaches, cemeteries, memorials and historical sights associated with WWII. There is a hard earned reverence that one cannot help but to sense.
        These last few days boys who fought on those beaches, who watched friends die and who endured the hell of it 80 years ago have been back. They are men now100 or in their late 90's. In their weakened and rheumy voices they've been telling us what it was like, though today one vet said, "you never forget."


“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely ... I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. General Dwight Eisenhower 

        We are in their debt.

        See you down the trail.