Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Chilling Path to Assassination

The recent “crashing” of a Presidential State Dinner by a couple of wannabe celebrity publicity hounds sends chills up my spine, especially motivated by the picture of them being greeted by President Obama. It inspires the unthinkable.

It recalls the unavoidable “A” word, assassination, and to my mind, it is the most serious breach of security in recent memory, the consequences of which might have resulted in the most disruptive act in the history of our country. Indeed, the life of our President, whether we agree with his policies or not, is our most cherished living symbol, the jewel of our democratic aspirations.

If this sounds alarmist it should be, and I am appalled at this lapse by the vaunted Secret Service charged with the protection of the President. In this case, heads must roll and the procedures for the protection of our President reviewed and severely tightened. The celebrity-obsessed media, in my opinion, have been too kind to both the perpetrators and the protectors. It is a dangerous flaw in editorial management and exposes their ignorance and historical illiteracy.

Perhaps I am too sensitive about the subject since it formed the basis for the first book in my Fiona FitzGerald mystery series, “American Quartet”. The title refers to the assassination of four of our Presidents, McKinley, Garfield, Lincoln and Kennedy and a failed politician who replicated these assassinations by random murders that referenced the circumstances of these four assassinations.

While the motivation for these terrible acts were based upon whatever inner demons were torturing these murderers, the fact is that a determined assassin of single-minded purpose can be stopped only by an equally determined and aggressive defense.

Garfield was shot by a disgruntled office seeker who intruded on the President’s party while they waited to board a train in Washington D.C. Obviously he was not well guarded and the assassin easily mingled with the Presidential party. McKinley was shot by an anarchist who had disguised his weapon with bandages. He was well guarded when he stood greeting well wishers at the opening of an important event in Buffalo, New York.

Lincoln as we know, was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth. He, too, was guarded, albeit lightly, but Booth, a familiar face at the Ford Theater knew all the entry and exit points and was easily able to insinuate himself behind the box in which Lincoln was sitting watching the play. He also knew the applause and laughter high points which guided his timing to shoot.

John Kennedy was extremely well guarded by dedicated secret service agents whose ring of protection was easily penetrated by a determined assassin acting out of personal rage. Assassination attempts at Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Ford were miraculously aborted by sheer luck. Reagan unfortunately did suffer the pain of a direct hit by a mentally unstable youth, but survived. The attempt on his life forced a revamping of Secret Service protective methods and changed forever Presidential access in every situation. Apparently it needs even more severe tightening.

What this tells us is that a dedicated and determined killer will, if he or she is so motivated, find a way to activate his or her mission unless thwarted by the most psychologically and technologically sophisticated methods of defensive interdiction. Of course, the Secret Service knows this and all its agents are brave men and women who understand that, if it comes down to it, they will take a bullet meant for the President or anyone else in their charge. They know too, that however efficient their protective ring, it is imperfect and at times luck and coincidence can play their miraculous and mysterious part in the process of protection.

They know too, that it is impossible to prevent all scenarios and surely have gamed all the possibilities of penetration by foes determined to achieve their terrible objectives. Indeed, we often fail to realize how difficult their task is. On a larger landscape, think of how our intelligence agencies must react to counter perhaps untold numbers of terrorists plotting ways to penetrate our defenses and achieve another Twin Towers disaster or kill our leaders.

One shudders to remember that the plane that hit the Pentagon might have been originally aimed at either the White House or the Capitol building with even more horrendous consequences.

Unfortunately, what is dead certain, despite whatever denials or rationalizations that memory often misinterprets or gets glazed over by time, is that there is someone or groups of someones out there bent on an act of assassination or terrorism that is chilling to contemplate. There are those who might call such a statement, unfettered paranoia. I call it acknowledgement of historical precedent, which has illustrated time and again the thin line that separates the human species from evil impulses.

Whether we like it or not we are living our lives in America under a sword of Damocles and are ultimately largely dependent upon government agents to protect us and our leaders.

There are those who might interpret the laxness of our protective ring around the President as representing a creeping paradigm of denial. The high minded absurdity of giving the perpetrators of 9/11 the soapbox of a New York trial in a civilian court, that will certainly stir the hearts of our enemies and encourage them to greater heights of creative destruction, seems to come directly out of the playbook of our enemies.

The argument that such a trial will illustrate our moral values pales beside the ultimate value of the human species, which is survival. Yes, I can still thrill to the great injunction of Patrick Henry and his over-the- top rhetorical cry of “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.” Despite its heroic trappings it is an odd and hopeless choice. Death presumes there can be no hope of liberty. And the absence of liberty assumes that death is the only option. How about “Give me liberty and the courage to fight for it by whatever means necessary”.

But the case of the White House crashers whose names I will not use as a personal protest to their sick celebrity drenched ambitions must be examined with relentless energy. The next crasher might achieve the unthinkable that will surely unhinge the nation in ways too horrible to contemplate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sarah Again

One should be given combat pay for defending Sarah Palin in Manhattan. The other evening at a lecture, a s0-called distinguished author of political tomes reflected on the declining state of conservatism and cited Sarah Palin as the reincarnation of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who stirred the ire of the country by accusing a huge swath of the State Department as being card carrying communists.

Hearings were held and eventually the Senator, an authentic alcoholic, was exposed as a liar and a fraud, chastised by the Senate and tossed into the rubbish bin of history where he belonged. The ugly comparison ticked me off enough to challenge the author much to the consternation of the passive audience who had been nodding their approval throughout the lecture, which struck me more like a rant against Governor Palin, and despite being cloaked in snobbish intellectual certainty seemed far more virulent than I had heard in other Manhattan venues.

Aside from the emotional and inexplicable ugly abuse heaped on the Governor, the characterizations of her as stupid redneck trailer trash, a lousy mother and ignoramus, the final fallback position comes down to this: Is she qualified to be President of the United States?

In defense, I often try to answer the question with another question which goes something like this: Would you deem qualified for the Presidency a failed small businessman of limited oratorical talent who had never gone to college? A puzzled expression usually falls over the face of my interlocutor, then a wary grimace suggesting that I am asking a trick question, which, of course, I am. When the answer is a doubtful shrug, my riposte is that “you probably wouldn’t have voted for Harry Truman.”

It is important to note that when Harry Truman was President he was excoriated as being a hack politician, an ignoramus, a dumb Midwestern hick and hardly fit to step into the shoes of President Franklin Roosevelt who had chosen him as his Vice President for his fourth term for purely political and demographic reasons, and then rarely consulted him or met with him in person. Truman is now revered as an iconic President who led us into the postwar era, saved Europe and opened America to its greatest prosperity in history. History is always a better judge of “qualifications” than under the pressure of contemporary political events.

In dealing with this conundrum, I have been recalling the suggestion of my great late friend John David Garcia whose seminal book “The Moral Society” was conceived by him as a lasting testament to save our society from ignorance and eventual decline. In that book, amplifying a suggestion by Plato, he recommended that people who stood for office in a democratic system should first be formally educated in governing, certified by a degree, then only those who had been certified should be further credentialed by running for a legislature at the lowest level in a town council, for example, or running and being voted in as a Mayor, then moving on to run at the State level and after election to gain experience in State legislatures or the executive branch as Governor.

Only after being vetted by that experience would a politician be qualified to run for the national legislature or for President. One assumes that there would be a pool of certified politicians eligible to run with the experience in governing that would assure that they have the qualifications to participate in the complicated process of governing.

If that system were adopted we would not be conflicted on the question of qualifications, in much the same way lawyers or doctors are licensed or qualified by testing and a board of their peers. In the system we employ today, the only qualifications are age, citizenship, ambition and the ability to come up with enough money to buy staff and time and space in media.

In our present system, any jackass with the ability to raise a potful of dough can run for office and get elected to influence the most important decisions that impact directly on our lives. A wealthy person who has made a splash in business or has inherited family money can buy his way into Congress or an executive position like Governor at his whim. His election is not guaranteed of course, but his chances are directly proportionate to his wealth or the ability to raise money and hire people to fashion his or her presentation designed to manipulate the voters.

The goal is to package and brand a politician to fit the demographics of his target audience, the voter, and get him to “buy” the manufactured brand. Anyone with enough money can hire the people who are experienced in packaging and branding. We only learn hat we have been hoodwinked after the fact when we discover that the person we voted for was a mirage created by experienced manipulators. It is the Achilles heel of our current system, imperfect, messy and often insulting and destructive. But, as Churchill, has opined, the best of the worst.

I have always believed that John David’s Garcia’s idea was an improvement of our present system.

Obviously, we are very far from his dream of a qualified and credentialed pool of politicians from which to choose. Nevertheless the vetting process of starting at the bottom at a town council and working one’s way up the ladder does exist. Tip O’Neil was dead right when he concluded that “all politics is local.” To me it suggests that governance is learned at the lowest levels, where the give and take, the balancing of views the compromises and small battles are fought which hone the skills and credentials of politicians and qualify him or her as someone worthy of our support.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin and her qualification for higher office, at least by the standards suggested above.

Palin was a member of the Wasilla, Alaska city council from 1992 to 1996 and the city's mayor from 1996 to 2002. After an unsuccessful campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Alaska in 2002, she chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from 2003 until her resignation in 2004. She was elected Governor of Alaska in November 2006. Palin became the first female governor of Alaska and the youngest person ever elected governor of that state.

Oh yes, and she does have an undergraduate college degree, unlike George Washington, Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland and others. And for all you teachers out there, the alleged trailer trash’s Dad was a teacher of science in the local public school system. And to all those hard edged alleged feminists, to my mind she qualifies as well as a poster girl of the feminist movement, going head to head in a man’s world while balancing the rigors of being a wife and mother. And she needs no defense as an inspiration to parents with physically challenged children.

‘Nuff said. Frankly, I doubt if the dyed-in-the-wool Palin haters will change their minds. Hate is the most difficult of all human emotions to expunge.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Go Sarah

In my daily Manhattan world, where most of my friends and acquaintances are old style political groupies of a distinctly liberal bent, nothing gets them more riled, really riled, hyper-irritated, when I mention that I admire Sarah Palin.

They fuss and fume to such an extent that I have serious qualms of the effect on their physical health. Some, I can tell by the clenching of their fists and the sudden burst of color on their complexions, are on the verge of combat.

Frankly I am baffled by the extent of their antagonism. It is visceral, mouth foaming and indicates a kind of existential hatred I have rarely seen in the political arena. In my view it is completely irrational and fed by the snobbery, elite exclusivity, and a circumscribed media of like-minded, anti-Palin views that feed, reinforce, inflame
and buttress their antagonism.

Up front let me tell you why I admire Sarah Palin. I like the fact that she has a point of view of many of the women I met in my many years of living in the West: independent, family oriented, tough, opinionated, fearless, unafraid to air their grievances, and, above all, comfortable in their own skin.

She reminds me of the kind of women, heroines of yesteryear, who pioneered the western frontier and were willing to take on all the hardships inherent in putting down stakes in an unforgiving and dangerous land. I know this will sound absurd to many of my friends, but in some way, she reminds me of Hubert Humphrey who had been dubbed by the media as “The Happy Warrior.” Hubert, an old style liberal, jumped into the fray with a smile, a sense of humor and an unshakeable optimism. Unfortunately, his political future was trashed in Chicago by ugly protests and overreaction by the authorities.

I like Sarah’s competitive spirit and love of sports, her joy in the outdoors and its many wonders, including fishing, hunting, (yes hunting for all you effete New Yorkers who love eating red meat) skiing and hiking. I like the idea that she took on the good old boys who ran their fiefdoms in Alaska politics and bashed them at the polls. I like the idea that she took on the challenging balancing act of being a working mom in a demanding political job, and I have no doubt that she is fiercely devoted to her kids, to her country, to her parents and her friends.

Although she has obvious old fashioned values which I grew up with and understand, she has not shied away from modern mores and has grappled with the difficulties of raising children like most families dealing with the perils of child rearing in this ever more permissive society. It amazed me that she didn’t go into a depressive funk at the way the media treated her daughter, especially the ugly ridicule of Letterman.

Harry Truman, one remembers, was so pissed off with a music critic at the Washington Post who dissed daughter Margaret’s singing debut that he wrote a nasty letter to the critic in which he called him a son of a bitch. Frankly, Sarah showed remarkable restraint and should have kicked Letterman in his overactive you-know-whats for insulting Bristol.

Parents are often blindsided by adolescent peer pressure and their children’s foolish self-inflicted mishaps. She was also roundly criticized for exploiting her kids by taking them to the convention and on the campaign trail. Would it have been better to have left them home with a caretaker or a relative? Ask that question of millions of working mothers and check their response.

If anyone took the trouble to really delve into her record as both Alaska Governor and her excellent work and acknowledged expertise in the energy field, it would dispel the notion that she is stupid, which is the way the elite media has portrayed, pummeled and persecuted her. She is a realist, frank and open, big hearted and decent.

Maybe she wasn’t quite up to par on current events at the time of her hatchet job interview with Katie Couric, a fading media star who insults the fact that the great Walter Cronkite once held sway on that network. Anyone with experience in the news business knows that it’s pretty easy to make a jackass out of someone if you’re determined to do it, especially if you also control the editing.

Oh yes, she is enormously attractive, with movie star good looks, which, in her case, might actually be a political negative. Still, she has done wonders for women in specs who were often categorized as less than pretty. Remember all those Hollywood movies where the bespectacled woman removes her glasses and her boyfriend suddenly swoons with rapture over her beauty. I think she looks just great in glasses and probably has done wonders for the optical trade.

I may not agree with all of her political views and statements, which is par for the course, since I often disagree with everything in the lexicon and views of most politicians of whichever party. Review the campaign promises and rhetoric of the present occupant of the White House and compare it with the reality of those promises and you will know what I mean. He is hardly an exception. Few, if any politicians, will ever get passing grades on that test.

What I take issue with is the utter nastiness and Sarah bashing in the media that this woman has endured. It is far beyond the pale of political combat. It has been hateful, riddled with snobbery, bigotry and pure mean-mindedness.

When Sarah Palin is discussed in my social circles, she is characterized as trailer trash, ignorant, unfit, uneducated, downright stupid and worst of all, a lousy mother. Not only is she accused of exploiting her children for political gain, she is blamed for her daughter’s early sexual promiscuity and her family is characterized as hopelessly dysfunctional. And this passes for political dialogue in modern America?

To counter these rather disgusting comments, especially when they are particularly venomous about her family life, I ask these brilliant nose-in-air critics to look to their own families and honestly confront their own foibles and imperfections. It becomes dangerous territory since most people are rather touchy and in denial about their family histories, especially if they are divorced, have less than perfect children, and have squabbles that have poisoned their own lives. I put half the families in America in that category.

Then there is the matter of her intense Christian faith which has been fair game for the media. These are the same folks who once supported and gushed over the born again Jimmy Carter.

Women seem to be the most vitriolic and outspoken in their critique of Sarah. Indeed, isn’t she the personification of what women have struggled and fought for, someone who follows her passion and ambition in the work place, competes vigorously with her male counterparts and manages to fulfill all the rituals of motherhood and maintain a loving family life? Isn’t that what women wanted when they burned their bras in Atlantic City and started their long delayed revolution for equal treatment?

To depersonalize my inevitable counterattack I will often cite the family lives of some of our revered politicians of both parties and heroes of the snob media, stalwarts of the marriage tradition of “faithfulness”, e.g. the Kennedy brothers, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and (sorry folks) Thomas Jefferson, a certified pedophile and a host of others whose personal lives are less than stellar, far less. As for parenting, I’d declare that off limits in this discussion.

This defense of Sarah is not rooted in her presently perceived qualifications to become President of the United States, a possibility that induces apoplexy in my social circles. I’m not beating the pots and pans for such an outcome, but I don’t completely rule out the possibility.

We have elected the allegedly qualified who turned out to be monumental duds. Recent history has Jimmy Carter’s Presidential legacy to reckon with and there are many of older vintage who have been disappointing examples of Presidential leadership. Indeed, the overqualified often stumbled. John Adams comes to mind.

None of these comparisons will matter to the Sarah haters. They will continue to spew their hatred and declare this admiral woman a danger to America as if she was the female reincarnation of Adolph Hitler. She will continue to be harassed by the same media elitist snobs, continue to be treated with disdain. If I was an Alaskan who voted for Sarah I would be offended as hell by people who think I was some Neanderthal moron for voting for Sarah as my Governor.

But then, the people in my daily circles in the isolated precincts of Manhattan will never surrender their prerogatives as masters of the universe, poseurs and keepers of the flame of intellectual superiority. Truth to tell, I often fall into that category and love the contention and combat of my peerless native city. Growing up in the old Brooklyn, before gentrification, and rooting for the old Dodgers, I guess I’m programmed for an underdog defense, and rooting for Sarah stirs my juices.

Frankly, Sarah needs no defense from me. She has the stamina and feistiness to rise above the endless array of targeted torment being spewed over her by the media snobs, many of whom will die off as their vaunted power bases splinter and break up into a thousand niches by the onslaught of digital technology and the Internet.

A Presidential perch is a long shot for Sarah. Out of my social circles in the alleged wastelands between the coasts, she has found a vast crowd of ordinary Americans, often described as the great unwashed, made up of working folks, many of them unemployed and disillusioned by the empty promises of the smooth talking and elegant speechifying of the people currently in charge, who feel some kinship with this very exotic political orphan.

The great Ivy Leaguers of both genders who are leading America over the cliff to financial ruin and their colluders in the worst Congress in recent history, who apologize for American exceptionalism, butt kiss our enemies and deny the ongoing phenomena of brutal Jihadist terrorism, will one day have to reckon with the likes of Sarah Palin.

Monday, November 2, 2009

SONY Reader to Offer Special Promotion of Fiona FitzGerald Mysteries

On Tuesday the SONY reader will begin a promotion that bundles all of Warren Adler’s Fiona FitzGerald mysteries into a special price download that is a “must read” for anyone who really wants to know the truth about what happens behind the scenes in the nation’s capital.

The Fiona FitzGerald Mysteries

Fiona FitzGerald is a single, smart, sexy, strong-willed woman in her early 30's. who is a D.C. homicide detective. Because of her expertise in the mores of Washington she is given the assignment to solve those homicides that involve important Washington political and diplomatic figures. This acclaimed series has been hailed by critics as providing rare insight into the American power structure and the deviousness and corruption that occurs behinds the scenes.

Never underestimate the power of failure. Four seemingly unconnected D.C. murders stimulate Fiona FitzGerald's sense of history. She delves into a disturbing obsession of a socially prominent but failed politician.

Fiona FitzGerald uncovers a political sex scandal of massive proportions. Who could concoct a sexual conspiracy involving six men from the highest offices in the country - a great American Sextet!

When an infamous reporter whose poison pen had destroyed many careers, is found hanging from her Watergate apartment, the elite of Washington rejoice. Fiona FitzGerald is on the case again.

The rain uncovers two bodies and Fiona FitzGerald is baffled. Both murders points to a powerful man dubbed as "Senator Love." Besides solving the mystery, will Fiona submit to him?

A powerful pro-life Senator is found dead in her nightgown. Looks like suicide but Fiona FitzGerald knows better. Things get more baffling when one shocking clue contradicts the whole case.

A Supreme Court Justice that Fiona FitzGerald once had a past with is the target of her investigation into the brutal sadomasochistic murder of the daughter of a prominent lawyer.

Washington, DC’s struggling underclass and the U.S. Capitol’s socially prominent and politically aggressive upper strata collide in a horrifying crime. Homicide Detective Fiona FitzGerald once again battles prejudice and privilege to uncover the truth, confronting her own demons – and the violet-eyed wife of a powerful politician determined to erase the sinful secrets of the past.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mainstream Media is in its Death Throes

The so-called mainstream media, once defined as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the three major network TV stations, no longer have a monopoly on the opinion making process in American life.

Why belabor the obvious? We all know why. Eyeballs are migrating to the Internet, that vast endless, timeless cloud of information that assaults us 24/7 from every corner of the globe. When eyeballs migrate, the money as defined by the advertisers migrates with them. The less eyeballs, the less revenue, the less revenue, the less investment by the media.

When the revenue decline reaches the tipping point, money dries up, shrinkage occurs until there is nothing left to shrink and the media entity dies or morphs into something else. That is what is happening now. The old media is dying. The new media is building on the corpse of the old media and it is too early to tell if the business paradigm for the new media will ever prosper. It might even die faster than the old media.

Television and radio has split its audience into tiny pieces. There are now hundreds of television channels and thousands of radio channels, and gazillion channels on the Internet. The Tower of Babel now extends into infinity.

Mainstream journalists, many of them now in save-the-world mode (ever since Watergate made celebrities out of investigative journalists) truly believe that we are losing our ability to prod the government into transparency, to uncover corruption and generally serve the public good. Thus, they contend, that the resources to expose the sins of government are drying up, splintering, becoming less effective. They have a point.

The new media now on the Internet e.g., the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Politico and on and on believe that they will fill the gap and become, if not what was once known as the mainstream media, the go-to media. Maybe. Politico is now morphing back into print with a local angle news sheet. They had better have deep pockets.

Those of us who grew up with the traditional mainstream media have, to say the least, mixed feelings about its demise. With fewer outlets we were more like a family, more connected. We knew what each outlet stood for. The public conversation was limited by comparison with today, but comforting since those of us who cared could embrace the information flow. We thought we were getting all sides of all arguments, that our press and speech freedoms were secure. We probably were. Sooner or later, corrupt politicians were exposed by the press and many removed or incarcerated. It amazes me that one crop of crooks are quickly replaced by another crop.

In New York when I was growing up there were eleven dailies. Now, there are three and who knows how long they will survive?

Were we unduly influenced by those who controlled the media? I’m not sure, since the line between the business side of the press and the news side seemed like a pretty wide chasm. Economic desperation may be diluting that ethic. Ideological lines have blurred and the media appears to manipulate its content and layout to favor the particular bent of its sixties influenced editors and reporters. Their nostalgic output seems a lot less subtle than it used to be.

As an ex-newspaperman, I know that editorial placement, headline writing, and the way stories are constructed by length and detail, can make spin often hard to spot. As a former practitioner both as editor and reporter, I can spot a bent story at a hundred paces. On the Net, the same process holds, but usually we know the ideological zone upfront.

In today’s media environment a few big public companies actually control a vast array of competing media. When one conglomerate owns a big basket of unruly entities, it is difficult to get them all to dance to the same tune. Besides, it doesn’t really matter to the operators. Their principal objective is revenue and profit. By and large, they are not selling ideology. They are selling eyeballs and ears. The more they deliver, the more they can charge advertisers. That’s business, and the business of business is business. If it sounds crass, it is.

So far, the migration of the mainstream traditional media to the Net has been a rocky road. It is also a rocky road for the so-called new media e.g. Politico, Huffington, and many others. I’m sure they’re credible but I’m not certain that they have as much influence as they claim. They, like many of their on-line competitors are still in start-up mode and have not yet reached a sustained profit, without which they will eventually fold or become something else.

An exception is the Wall Street Journal, which has paid subscribers on the Net, a lucky early choice with its mostly upscale target base. But most of the on-line media is free and dependent on advertising. I’m still uncertain, despite the hype, whether the advertising is paying off. In other words, everything on the Net that is defined as media e.g. the news business, and other forms of information peddling is still up for grabs.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain. Everything, not only media, is changing. And I do mean everything; delivery systems, marketing, content, medicine, the whole ball of wax. No sooner than we think we have it in our grasp then it moves somewhere else with the speed of light, perhaps faster. Everything that is, perhaps even what is commonly known as human nature.

The center is not holding because there is no center. Marshall McLuhan was spot on. The media have become the message. Google has proved the point. It and its copiers are swiftly becoming the media.

I suppose the trick will be how to keep up. Even this attempt at analysis will be obsolete the moment it is written. Remember that play: Stop the World- I Want To Get Off.

Forget it. It’s spinning too fast. It’s making me dizzy.

How about you?

Next Blog: The Dying of the Celebrity Culture

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dumb and Dumber in the White House

Growing up in New York in the thirties and forties, there were at least eleven daily newspapers, all spouting varying opinions from both left and right perspectives. Offered by the news organizations were a potpourri of praise and anger, mostly anger, at perceived abuses, both social and governmental.

The din was loud, a Tower of Babel of opinions. There were public parades and protests. The Daily Worker was at its zenith. Hate speech and hate news outlets were commonplace. It was one big free speech and free press orgy, a massive free- for-all.

Having grown up in that atmosphere, I am appalled by the White House’s attempt to put the squelch on Fox News. Free speechers and free pressers should be up in arms. Every media outlet in America should be castigating the administration for instigating such a desperate act of deliberate discrimination. It cannot masquerade as merely depriving access. You and I both know the dirty word, censorship, the enemy of free speech, the scourge of a free press.

Indeed, the first act of a dictatorial power grab is to silence critics. Hitler did it. Stalin did it. Chavez is doing it. Castro did it. And on and on, wherever a nation is under the heel of a dictatorial government. If the so-called powers that be can get away with this, then every outlet for free expression will soon be under siege.

This is the way dictatorships acquire absolute power. If it works, expect other outlets to follow. It’s like a virus and, heaven forbid, it might even extend to the Internet, as it does in such places as China, Iran, Russia, and other nations that restrict free speech, especially in many Arab lands and Africa.

By the so-called acceptable media not standing up to this distasteful and dangerous act by a new and obviously inexperienced administration, the media is collaborating in this travesty. Where the devil are the critics? Where is the outrage? Does the President get a pass on this?

And since when does the White House decide who qualifies as a news outlet? Obviously their definition is based on a blatantly false and ridiculous premise that Fox is “merely” nothing more than talk radio. Is that the next step? Muzzling talk radio hosts?

My defense of Fox News is based solely on their right to say whatever they damned please, whatever their biases and predilections. I once got into a fist fight in a Washington bistro with a major newscaster after alleging that TV News was becoming little more than entertainment. Pow! was the newscaster’s immediate response. He considered himself a serious journalist and he was. It happened around midnight and we were both two sheets to the wind, but, in an odd way, we were both partially right.

Nor is this the first time that Presidents have tried to isolate their critics. Imagine if George Bush decided to take action against his critics. His press conferences would be the least attended events since Mark Twain cancelled a performance because of a sore throat.

It was Harry Truman, when President, who said if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Our new President and his advisors, who are obsessed with control, just can’t get it through their heads that an open society demands differing opinions, debate, protest, rudeness, emotional outbursts, loud noises, strained nerves and bad tempers. Democracy is a sloppy form of governing. But our shrewd founding fathers instinctively knew the dangers of forced censorship and made the free speech and our free press the very first amendment to the Constitution.

Don’t think our Constitution came easy to those august participants. They were a recalcitrant group of strong minded cunning argumentative individuals and what they hammered out was nothing short of a miracle. The sycophants around the President should reread the travails of President John Adams and how his attempt at censorship trampled his political career.

The President has said he doesn’t lose sleep over this attempt to throttle a free press. He might slumber peacefully, but there are a lot of us out there whose worries about encroaching governmental attempts at censorship interfere with our tranquility and do induce some bad dreams.

Frankly, I do believe that there are many journalists who are offended by the White House’s heavy-handed tactics. It has got to make them uncomfortable, even if their bosses are not losing any sleep over this tactic. The fact is that trying to pull the curtain down over Fox news, whether you agree with their predilections or not, is an egregious wrong-headed stupid, dumber than dumber and chilling idea.

Perhaps this rant might seem somewhat hysterical. No, I don’t believe the White House has a sinister long term plan to control the media, although it certainly might want to slap down its opponents. But perception presents its own dangers and to be perceived as deliberately punishing one’s critics does induce in some of us an inflammatory reaction….like this one.

Worse, as was true of all Presidents who tried this before, it does reflect a certain naivete and inexperience and is bound to create, aside from outrage, a loss of credibility.

Maybe some smart staffer should poke the President in dreamland, disturb his sleep and tell him that this action was a stupid idea.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The President's Secret Thoughts-a Speculation

Perhaps it is merely force of habit, but I often find myself imagining what powerful public figures are really thinking as they act in ways that impact on our lives. Unlike psychologists and psychiatrists, who make a lifetime study of human motivation and rely on data that has been acquired scientifically by repetition, experimentation, observation and insight, the novelist operates purely on instinct and imaginary license.

That said, I can’t help wondering what our President is thinking as he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. He surely knows in his gut and admits that the prize is aspirational, based on his rhetoric and not on his accomplishments.

In his private thoughts, I truly believe he is sincere in that he wants to do everything he can to realize his aspirations as he has defined them in his speeches; to make the world a better place, to persuade people to put down their arms, to compromise, to rely on peaceful means to resolve conflicts and bring warring factions together for the common good. Surely, he is sincere when he aspires to ban all nuclear weapons, and, in general, help banish starvation, disease, and inspire governments to operate with compassion and decency.

His thoughts, too, surely reflect the obvious, that he is the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, with the persuasive clout to provide the guidance to accomplish his sincerely stated goals. Yes, he thinks that the Nobel Peace Prize, while premature at this stage, puts a respected world stamp on his intentions and gives him permission to take bolder steps to bring peace to the world, and to create a legacy that will celebrate his name as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, peacemaker in the history of the world.

That is certainly a noble goal and why shouldn’t he privately think that this is within the realm of possibility. After all, he has risen from obscurity at practically warp speed to become the most powerful leader in the world. He has got to think that he has been blessed, that he has been chosen, anointed perhaps, to save the world. People have responded to him with worshipful adoration. Does this baffle him? Perhaps it did at the beginning. Surely he must be asking himself: “Why me? Where has all this adoration come from? Have I been anointed?” Dare he deny by whom? It is impossible for him, or anyone with such a record, to deny the spiritual component of this question.

He has got to be thinking: “I have been chosen to achieve a mission of peace. I must now do everything in my power to fulfill that mission.”

To do this, he surely thinks and believes that people are more good than evil; that the various manifestations of cruel manipulation by tyrants, dictators, despots and oppressors can be ameliorated without bloodshed; that cruelty, selfishness and fanaticism can be banished by reason and example; that suicide bombers and those who brainwash them can be rehabilitated; that borders can be redrawn and protective walls demolished by reasonable compromise; that terrorists can be reborn into good citizens--that fanatical religious leaders can be redirected into tolerance and respect for other faiths, and that through powerful rhetoric and eloquent persuasion, mortal enemies can learn to live peacefully with one another.

He must believe that he now has been given permission to move ahead and attempt to force compromise, assure warring parties that there is more to be gained by peaceful negotiation and cooperation than by bloody confrontation. He must think that to do this, America has to act more like a brother among nations, an equal partner, rather than an elite exception. He must think our hope for a peaceful future lies with the concept that created the United Nations, which he believes is still the organizational structure, the ultimate forum, that will bring about world peace.

It is time, he must believe, that America must exercise humility and dispense with any action that might seem heavy handed or self-righteous by others. He must see this not only as a rejection of his predecessor’s legacy, but an endorsement of his own stated ideas.

He must believe that he has been licensed as preacher, moral arbiter, a kind of world trigger for mass inspiration which commands that we must all learn tolerance for all religions, and accept our differences and our various ways to acknowledge a supreme being. Instinctively, I sense that he believes in such a divine force, which would cover the mystery of who anointed him.

Surely he has read the Old and New Testament and is reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s immortal words: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

As a politician, he believes he is a realist, understands history, and knows that the story of civilization is a long blood drenched narrative of good versus evil, with good, in the end, destined to be the ultimate victor. Indeed, the word destiny he knows lives deeply in his psyche. He must see his destiny as a well-lighted path ahead, which he has been called to follow. Indeed, is it possible for any man to resist such glorification? I don’t think so and it is a cause for concern.

Yes, he knows that he is wise to the ways of politics and he has assembled a team of experts to advise him about how best to implement his message into action. He trusts them to tell him the practical truths but knows that he must make the hard decisions. He is well aware that the buck stops with him. Or, he speculates, is there some mysterious force that guides him?

Of course it is impossible to know the truth about his secret thoughts. Nevertheless, considering his miraculous rise, his visible glorification, the admiring crowds, the endless applause, the magical wonder of it all, can he resist the temptations of this mass adoration and the illusion of anointment?

How he answers that question within the deep confines of himself and acts on its personal implication, can very well determine the fate of America and, perhaps, that of the whole world.