Sunday, September 30, 2018

Absolute certainty is the enemy of collaboration, measured judgements and maturity

The search for truth in a boiling cauldron of sex, power, ambition and lies is a dangerous and interminable drama.

The United States political culture, “that boiling cauldron,” is not a culture that either supports or enables the discovery of ‘the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” so help me God! Sending the FBI off to do what is termed a further background investigation of one, Brett Kavanaugh, restricted to the names already known through the courageous evidence of one Dr. Christine Blassy Ford, under the political pressure of irate phone calls, emails and direct confrontations at Senate Office Building elevator doors (Sen. Jeff Flake) was clearly not on the agenda of the sexual-predator president’s radar.

And then, in an off-handed manner to reporters on his way to another campaign rally in West Virginia, for the president to say ‘they have a free hand to go wherever they have to’ is more than disingenuous; it is another of the litany of deceptions, cover-ups and dissemblings that characterize both the chief executive and his nominee’s defense of his appointment to the Supreme Court. As James Comey, fired FBI Director tweeted, “Small lies matter!”

Much has been written and pontificated by talking heads on television, about the dramatic differences in the demeanour of Kavanaugh and Blassy Ford in their respective testimonies. Responses from Republican Senators especially, has been predictably supportive of Kavanaugh, while the Democrats and the #MeTooMovement have almost universally supported Blassy Ford. The line, “A house divided against itself cannot stand!” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seems to echo in one’s mind as one attempts to ingest and to digest the ramifications of the current tabloid-type tragedy.

And it is and will be a tragedy no matter how it is ‘resolved. If the FBI reports nothing additional, and Kavanaugh is confirmed, a higher than 50% of America will consider the process a miscarriage of justice. Ironic, that word ‘miscarriage,’ given that the long-term goal of the right-wing cabal that currently has control of all three institutions of the United States government is to ‘kill’ Roe v. Wade, that so-called ‘settled law’ that permits therapeutic abortions and ensures a woman’s right to choose about her own body.

If, on the other hand, Blassy Ford’s riveting testimony is upheld by even one witness, or the circumstantial evidence tilts in her direction so far that the nominee’s name is withdrawn, voluntarily or peremptorily by the president, Kavanaugh’s supporters will be enraged, potentially hostile and even potentially violent. If the nominee’s demeanour in the afternoon of Thursday’s addended hearing is any indication, and the responses from the lobby that supports his nomination through a media blitz of advertising combine to provide any indication of probable outcomes should his nomination be derailed, this issue, this nomination and this historic moment will continue to fester, to boil and to potentially boil over in the November mid-term elections.

Senator Flake’s move to seek a pause through time for a further investigation, while noble and even honourable, will be a mere hiccup, depending on the evidence that is uncovered, reported to the White House and then, hopefully completely and accurately conveyed to the Senate Judicial Committee. Should Kavanaugh’s nomination founder on the shoal of public opinion, we all know that another equally if not even more conservative nominee will be proferred by the White House with an even more intemperate demand that s/he be confirmed prior to the mid-term elections.

Ironic isn’t it that compressed time, almost into mere seconds, is now the imperative of the Republicans, those same mostly old white men, who considered a full calendar year not to be a problem given the nomination of Merrick Garland by then president Obama on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Time, like money, is a moveable feast or famine, depending on one’s point of view. And in this case, one’s point of view is a direct reflection of one’s estimate of what the public will tolerate.

Rex Murphy has written about the inadequate way in which the media has operated in this debacle. It says here that the public’s insatiable appetite for a trump-infested diet of lies and braggadocio is also an underlying and significant motivation for the other older white men who sit in the board rooms of the major media conglomerates to pursue ratings and profits, regardless of their source or their integrity. Hourly tweeting by the president is not, and never should have been, the staple diet of serious media editors and executives. Just because there is a new technology to which a majority of people are addicted, and to which the media sources have yet to develop a responsible filtering process, we and they ought not to have been overwhelmed and seduced by the president’s narcissistic and tragic ambition. And the Kavanaugh nomination, albeit one for an important life-long position of serious judgement, needed as much as any single piece of business and decision, the kind of serious reflection by the administration, and even more serious reflection by the media. Jammed into a multi-layered sandwich of tweets and rally-blusters-bombs about North Korea, Rosenstein, Mueller, Manafort, Cohen, Flynn, Cushner, NAFTA, and impeachment, the reflective processes of a serious and stable nation have become unravelled and lie in the newsrooms and in the bars and even the lecture halls in tatters and shreds.

The demise of truth, one of the more significant casualties of the war on the establishment perpetrated by the trump-bannon “axis of evil,” and the concomitant rise of “fake news” to take its place has contributed significantly to the great divide in public opinion. Each side considers its view to be based on the facts, when each side demonizes the other, and bases its view on the “justified” opposition to the other.

Partisanship, to the degree that it has not only permitted but exacerbated the breakdown in the functioning of the democratic institutions, showed its pre-eminence in the vitriolic self-defence offered by Kavanaugh on Thursday afternoon. Touted by some as the ‘new leader of the Republican Party, Kavanaugh may have, consciously or not, traded in his application for the Supreme Court job for a new office, as Chairman of the Republican Party under trump.

If that is what happens, Kavanaugh will have written his own career biography, given the obvious vacancy of leadership in the Republican Party and the minimal qualifications for any aspirant, following the example of the president, to avoid, pay off or simply deny criminal, moral, ethical turpitude, mostly with cash a willing dupes.

On the other side, Dr. Blassy Ford, trembling, frightened, tremulous and clearly authentic in both her narrative and her demeanour, generated a 201% increase in the calls coming into the National Sexual Assault hotline on the day of the joint testimony. Sexual assault, sexual impropriety, sexual entitlement and sexual relations have become so radioactive, politically, legally, culturally in this climate that the lives of both protagonist (Kavanaugh) and antagonist (Blassy Ford) have been threatened. Inevitably, also, that radioactivity has over-flowed into this nomination and confirmation process.

To turn a blind eye to the direct and indirect responsibility on the president’s shoulders for the current state of the union would be irresponsible. To turn a deaf ear to the calls for an FBI investigation, as the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were determined to do until Sen. Flake called a “time out,” would also be irresponsible. In a nation in which mental health treatment is so glaringly and blatantly and deliberately absent along with any tolerance and acceptance of ambiguity, uncertainty, balance, and shared responsibility, a measured consideration of the complex and mutually exclusive narratives by the Senate, the media, the #MeTooMovement, the #TimesUp movement and the opinion polls  seems inconceivable.

The archetype of the war model of “fight-to-the-death” pervades American history, including the Civil War and ensuring battle for civil rights that continues today, including the incarceration of thousands of innocent and mostly men too poor to be able to fund bail, including the willful murder of innocent black men by white law enforcement officers, including the addiction to video war games. The income war of disparity between the rich and powerful against those without political voice, clout, cash and connections, and the ubiquitous power dominance of white males, as evidenced by the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee….all of this portends a protracted conflict, without even a glimpse of reconciliation, between the genders.

Reporting, and making judgements on the reporting that distorts/omits/distracts from so much of the nuanced complexities and ambiguities only serves the intellectual appetite and capacity for reductionism, simplicity, and a binary view of the universe.

Unless and until some significant steps are envisioned, written about and tolerated in the public media that embrace uncertainly, ambiguity, tolerance of different opinions, along with the capacity to debate with authentic dignity, including the deployment of an agreed body of facts, there is little likelihood that this historic moment will resolve in a way that provides light in a pitch-dark tunnel where a trump presidency is not only possible, but apparently looking forward to a second term.

And, for the trump cult, sexual assaults, innuendo, and mal-feasance be damned!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Kudo's to Bob Woodward...and NO mr trump it is not fiction

Scheduled to appear in bookstores on the anniversary of 9/11, Bob Woodward’s latest OPUS, Fear, could be more devastating to the current administration than those four hijacked were to the nation back in 2001.

Reputed for this obsessive concentration on detail, carefully checking of sources (not merely a corroborating single, but multiples), Woodward is by far the most credible, trustworthy and serious scribe to put a journalistic microscope on the White House since the inauguration in January 2017. Airing taped “teasers” from the hundreds of hours of tapes he amassed while researching this tome, Woodward has also provided what could be a fatal blow, in the public arena, where the question of the tenure of the administration will be decided, indirectly, if not directly.

Quoting Mattis and Kelly, (Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff respectively) on trump, Woodward notes Mattis’ having answered the president about why the U.S. is friendly to South Korea, “Because we are trying to prevent WWIII!” Kelly, in another episode aired during the last twelve hours, acknowledges this is the worst job of his life, and wonders what they are doing there.

Woodward’s voice on the brief audio clip with the president, points out that he tried to reach the “boss” by contacting several people, including a lunch with Kellyanne Conway, who, “surprisingly” failed to pass the message along the pipeline paving the way for Woodward to speak directly to trump. While sorry that they were unable to speak directly, Woodward clearly wants both the president and the world to know that “I have been very careful” in his work. When asked, ‘Do you name people, or just say ‘sources say’? Woodward points out that he asserts in the book that on a specific day, the named people met to discuss, including the name of the president” and then goes on to detail the discussion.

This is no Hollywood reporter (ala Wolfe) nor an ambitious and transformed acolyte and former Apprentice show participant (Amarossa), nor is it a vengeful Comey emerging from a high profile firing as Director of the F.B.I. This reporter, now Associate Editor of the Washington  Post, is revered (along with Carl Bernstein) for this work on Watergate. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the administration, despite all the cataract of denials already beginning to flow (Mattis says he would never speak about the elected president in such contemptuous terms), to shove this piece of work into the trash-bin of “fake news”. And even among the trump cult, (it has to be named as such, given the obsessive-compulsive consumption of the tsunami of lies, deceptions, cover-ups, projections and outright braggadocio of what Megan McCain aptly dubbed the “tyranny of the tweets” in her father’s eulogy), there will have be  some, however miniscule, elevation of consciousness, perhaps just to the point where they might consider calling, emailing, texting or even tweeting their member of Congress, too long asleep, and too long self-gagged to begin to utter opposition and even penetrating public criticism of the president.

Yesterday’s opening of the public confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, including the arrest of some 70 protesters who interrupted the chair several times, laid bare several important facts, for all to see.

First, one has to wonder the size of personal ambition of a man (reportedly a strong family man, youth athletic coach, former alter-boy and former White House staffer under George W. Bush) to permit his name to go forward under a nomination from a president who is already an unindicted conspirator (re. Michael Cohen). Would Kavanaugh not know, as anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last eighteen months would know, that the clouds of suspicion, interrogation, investigation, accusation and even potential conspiracy/collusion have been gathering over the White House since before the 2016 election.

Of course, a life-time appointment to the United States Supreme Court is the holy grail for legal minds in the United States, the highest rung on a very steep and long ladder of accomplishment, status, recognition, professional security and reputation. And for conservatives, the opportunity to “stack” the nine-member body with right-leaning legal judgements for the next half-century is a prospect that many of the trump and Republican marching band would almost literally “die for.”

Nevertheless, having not only permitted his name to go forward, but gratefully praised the president for the “confidence placed in me,” Kavanaugh has stepped into a very tippy canoe, to say the least. And the irony and the historic significance of the release of the Woodward book on the opening day of his confirmation hearings cannot be either missed or ignored by the American people, and especially the U.S. members of Congress.

Having already served under former Special Prosecutor, Ken Starr, in the Clinton debacle,  and already written both in favour of and in opposition to the chief executive’s legal  for investigation, subpoena, indictment while in office, Kavanaugh has already exposed both himself and the president to the obvious and legitimate charge, already voiced by many Democrats and a few lonely Republicans, that he has been nominated by a president seeking protection should a subpoena land on his desk from Special Prosecutor Mueller, be refused and then litigated in the Supreme Court, following his possible confirmation.

Having also written thousands of opinions on such significant subjects as torture, Roe v. Wade, gun control and the already mentioned presidential immunity, (many of which pages have been embargoed by the White House) and also having  written some 300-plus decisions as a member of the Court of Appeals of the Third District, presided over by Merrick Garland,( the Obama nominee who suffered the ignominy of complete and utter excommunication by Republican senators, prior to the 2016 election) Kavanaugh is a legitimate target for serious challenge by Senate Democrats.

Women, especially, are concerned that Kavanaugh will become the final nail in the coffin of a woman’s right to choose to have a therapeutic abortion. Access to this service is already being curtailed in many states through decisions of state legislatures to restrict permission to doctors who also have “privileges” at local hospitals, and to demand the conditions in clinics meet or exceed those in hospitals for the right to be licensed to perform abortions. Planned Parenthood, for example, is highly vocal, incensed that what had been considered “established law,” Roe v Wade will be chipped away into oblivion, with a guaranteed five conservative votes on the Supreme Court, should Kavanaugh be confirmed.

The forces of dissent, disapproval, disparagement and even impeachment continue to grow, not to be dimmed either by the publication of the Woodward tome, or by the mounting evidence of a “blue wave” of energized Democratic voters who have already secured the nominations of surprisingly visionary candidates in New York, Boston, and potentially even in the south.

Woodward’s exhaustive work, coupled with his platinum reputation, and his professional gravitas, landing on 9/11, 2018, only 60 days prior to the Mid-term elections is undoubtedly going to fuel animus among trump voters as well as among the growing millions of voters, both Independent and Democratic, who, hopefully, are awakening to the seriousness of the tightening noose around the administration’s collective and singular neck.

Citing “fear” as his title, and diagnosing the “nervous breakdown” of the administration, Woodward has pounded his key-pad hammer into the two most  vulnerable spots in the administration’s body politic. It is the paradox and irony that the fear within the president (the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader, according to John Kelly) projected onto the American people, as a methamphetamine concocted in the White House basement, to vacuum all those  free-floating fear radicals that haunt the middle of the country, the outback, the angry white men and women who have already taken their trump-toxin that, taken together, could render the administration the author of its own ultimate demise. With all the growing and credible evidence of a “nervous breakdown” claimed by Woodward, people inside the country and around the world have to be both worried and exercised about the potential damage trump and his band of thugs have already, and continue to inflict.

Woodward, almost single-handedly, has turned the tide against the charge of fake news levelled hourly against the national media. Woodward has also compiled and published a compendium of more than circumstantial evidence, available to everyone able to read to reflect upon personal civic responsibility, and take hold of that most valued democratic right, the vote, in November.

 Should the legal charges process either take too long or subvert the public’s collective wisdom, the ballot box is the last and best resort for a nation on the brink of disaster.

Is there a Medal of Honour of a Purple Heart equivalent for journalists? If not, it is time to create one!