Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Inciter-in-Chief — David Remnick in The New Yorker on the new legacy of Trump.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln arrived at the East Portico of the Capitol to deliver his first Inaugural Address. The nation was collapsing, the Southern slave states seceding. Word of an assassination conspiracy forced Lincoln to travel to the event under military guard. The Capitol building itself, sheathed in scaffolding, provided an easy metaphor for an unfinished republic. The immense bronze sculpture known as the Statue of Freedom had not yet been placed on the dome. It was still being cast on the outskirts of Washington.

Lincoln posed a direct question to the riven union. “Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric,” he said, “with all its benefits, its memories and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it?” The South, in its drive to preserve chattel slavery, replied the following month, when Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. Even as the Civil War death toll mounted, Lincoln ordered work to continue on the dome. “If people see the Capitol going on,” he said, “it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”

That was the first Republican President. The most recent one woke up last Wednesday in a rage, his powers receding, his psyche unravelling. Donald Trump had already lost the White House. Now, despite his best demagogic efforts in Georgia, he had failed to rescue the Senate for the Republican Party. Georgia would be represented by two Democrats: the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the first African-American and the first Jew, respectively, to be elected to the chamber by that state’s citizens.

At midday, Trump went to the Ellipse and spoke at a rally of maga supporters whom he had called on to help overturn the outcome of a free and fair election. From the podium, he said that the vote against him was “a criminal enterprise.” He told the crowd, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He raged on like a wounded beast for about an hour, thanking his supporters for their “extraordinary love” and urging them to march to the Capitol: “I’ll be there with you.”

Trump, of course, would not be there with them. Cincinnatus went home and watched the ensuing riot on television. One vacant-eyed insurrectionist had on a hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” written across the chest; another wore what the Times fashion critic described as “a sphagnum-covered ghillie suit.” Then came the results of Trump’s vile incitement: the broken windows and the assault on a pitifully small police force; the brandishing of the Confederate flag; the smug seizure of the Speaker’s office. A rioter scrawled “Murder the Media” on a door.

The insurrection lasted four hours. (As of Friday, there were five dead.) Once the Capitol was cleared, the solemn assurances that “this is not who we are” began. The attempt at self-soothing after such a traumatic event is understandable, but it is delusional. Was Charlottesville not who we are? Did more than seventy million people not vote for the Inciter-in-Chief? Surely, these events are part of who we are, part of the American picture. To ignore those parts, those features of our national landscape, is to fail to confront them.

Meanwhile, with less than two weeks left in Trump’s Presidency, some of his most ardent supporters are undergoing a moral awakening. An instinct for self-preservation has taken hold. A few Cabinet members and White House officials have resigned. Former associates, once obsequious in their service to the President, have issued rueful denunciations. The editors of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page determined that, while removal under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, as demanded by the Democratic congressional leadership, is “unwise,” the President should resign.

The millions of Americans who understood this Presidency from its first day as a national emergency, a threat to domestic and global security, can be excused for finding it curious that so many are now taking the exit ramp for the road to Damascus three years and fifty weeks later. How surprising can Trump’s recent provocation be when for years he has served as an inspiration to bigots everywhere, to damaged souls plotting to mail pipe bombs to journalists and to kidnap the governor of Michigan?

This dawning of conscience is as bewitching as it is belated. The grandees of the G.O.P. always knew who Trump was—they were among the earliest to confront his most salient qualities. During the 2016 campaign, Ted Cruz called Trump “a pathological liar” and “a snivelling coward.” Chris Christie described him as a “carnival barker.” Mitch McConnell remarked, with poetic understatement, that Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues.” And Lindsey Graham warned, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.” He added, “And we will deserve it.”

Trump’s influences, conscious or not, include Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, and more, but his reality-show wealth, his flair for social media, and an attunement to white identity politics made him a man for his time. And, when he won, nearly everyone in the Republican establishment capitulated and sought a place in the firmament of power: Cruz, Christie, McConnell, and Graham; Mike Pence, William Barr, Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao, Rupert Murdoch, and so many others.

Part of the bargain was ideological: if Trump came through with tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, and appointed conservative judges, then the humblings could be absorbed. Graham would overlook the way Trump attacked the war record of his close friend John McCain, as long as he got to play golf with the President and be seen as an insider. Cruz would ignore the way Trump had implied that his father was somehow involved in the assassination of J.F.K., as long as he could count on Trump’s support in his next campaign. And Pence, who hungered for the Presidency, apparently figured that he could survive the daily humiliations as the President’s courtier, assuming that his reward would be Trump’s blessing and his “base voters.” But, as Trump’s New York business partners knew, contracts with him are vapor; the price of the ticket is never fixed.

Donald Trump still has millions of supporters, but he is likely a spent force as a politician. The three-minute-long speech he gave on Thursday night, calling for an orderly transfer of power, was as sincere as a hostage’s gunpoint confession. He may yet be impeached again, two feet from the exit door. He could return as a TV blowhard for hire, but in the future his most prominent place in public life may well be in a courtroom.

In a disgraceful time, Joe Biden has acted with grace. He has been clear about the magnitude of what’s ahead. “The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy, of decency, honor, respect, the rule of law,” he has said. But repairing the “national fabric,” as Lincoln put it, is only part of what awaits Biden. So many issues––the climate catastrophe, the pandemic, the racial crisis––will not tolerate delay or merely symbolic change. The moment will not tolerate distractions. Donald Trump is just days from his eclipse. It cannot come soon enough.

Oh, Natural — Mark Jason Williams in Huffington Post on his first nude vacation.

For our first vacation together, Michael proposed we go camping.

As a 40-year-old lifelong New Yorker whose idea of “woodsy” was Central Park, this wasn’t my thing. Yet I wanted to be agreeable and expand my horizons. Browsing campsites online, Michael chose one that was all-male and clothing-optional.

Now I was terrified.

“Come on, what better way to get in touch with nature than being au naturel?” he asked.

“Until you get poison ivy or a tick in places you wouldn’t want to,” I quipped.

Still, days later I sat in the passenger seat as we drove through cornfields and nothingness in search of the campsite.

“I feel like we’re about to inspire a Stephen King story,” I said.

I was relieved when we found the entrance to the camp, marked by hand-painted letters on a rock, but wasn’t sure I wanted to proceed. Michael pointed out two men who were in their early 50s and dressed in calico button-downs.

“They look normal,” he said. I peered behind their backs to make sure they weren’t carrying hatchets before getting out of the car.

Checking in at the main office, we were greeted by a shirtless innkeeper ― a 6’4” bear with grey chest hair and double nipple rings. When he stepped out from behind the counter, I realized he was completely nude. I knew this place was clothing-optional, but I didn’t expect to see a guy’s … uh … s’mores … so soon.

“Here’s a map. I’ve circled a few trails. This one leads to the play area,” he said.

“Play area?” I asked.

“Gloryholes, slings. The usuals,” he replied, matter-of-factly.

“Ah, right. The usuals,” I blushed. I turned to Michael, hoping for a similar reaction but he was unfazed. A 45-year-old public health professor and “sexpert” who led workshops on sex education and well-being across college campuses, nothing ever made him turn red.

I admired Michael’s maturity, something he attributed to being the son of U.S. diplomats and growing up overseas. On our first date, a casual hamburger dinner we’d agreed upon after chatting for a month on OkCupid, I was smitten with his tales of living in Lebanon, Cyprus, the Philippines, Germany and Australia ― all before he was 10. Yet I worried I wasn’t sophisticated enough for him.

Unlike Michael, I grew up as a sheltered, closeted gay kid in a conservative Catholic family from Yonkers. My parents’ idea of an exotic vacation was the Jersey Shore. When I left home, at the age of 18, it was to move just 25 miles south to Manhattan. In my mid-20s, I still hadn’t fully come out and lacked the confidence and curiosity to go to sex parties or pick up men at bars, like my friends. In my older years, I felt like the world’s most boring gay guy. I was someone who enjoyed sex in a bed with the lights off, and my wild side was watching “The Golden Girls” and eating peanut M&Ms.

Michael assured me that my hang-ups didn’t matter. “I just want you to be comfortable,” he’d say. I tried my best. At times, I allowed myself to get out of the way and let his pragmatism and my whimsy intertwine in a way that felt both natural and nice. But despite our best efforts, being with someone who was so confident in himself, in and out of the bedroom, only made me feel insecure.

The innkeeper continued his rundown of the camp and pointed out the areas where guests needed to keep covered-up.

“Just near the road mostly. Some of the neighbors can be a bit stuffy,” he told us.

Glad you have standards, I thought, feeling like a total prude.

Michael and I collected our belongings and walked to our cabin. I was surprised to find a charming little house that was remarkably clean, but grew uneasy when I couldn’t find the bathroom.

“There isn’t one in here, it’s shared,” Michael told me.

I freaked out. Apparently, I missed the concept of camping where beds and a roof were considered big-time luxuries. Sitting on our porch, I noticed we had a view of an outdoor shower, built on what looked like an altar. I wondered if we paid extra for that.

I hated this place but was determined to make the best of it. Michael and I did the usual camping things like boating and building a campfire, which I enjoyed. The other guests were all pretty friendly, if a bit cruise-y.

While Michael wasted little time shedding his clothes and his inhibitions, I remained a bit more reserved, eventually agreeing to go skinny-dipping. When a man yelled “yummy,” at me, I thought, Thanks? Wait, no, I’m taken.

But was I? Michael and I had been together for almost a year, but never used the word boyfriend. I assumed we were exclusive but we hadn’t actually discussed it. To be sure, I broached the subject later on a walk through the woods.

“I don’t like the term boyfriend. It makes me feel like I’m in the eighth grade,” Michael said.

“But I need a label,” I replied.

“Why?” he asked.

“So I know if I should be sleeping with other people or not,” I blurted out.

It was at this moment when we accidentally came upon the “play area.” It was a circle of some sex swings, a crucifix, and a port-a-potty with a hole on the side.

“Ewww, is that what I think it is?” I asked.

Michael confirmed, then took my hand. “Let’s keep walking,” he suggested.

“Do you want to try something?” I asked, sheepishly, and to my surprise. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to give it a go, but I didn’t want to limit Michael’s experiences.

“This isn’t my thing,” he confessed. “This isn’t why I wanted to go away with you.”

I felt better but still couldn’t wait for camping to be over. Roughing it, clothing-optional or otherwise, wasn’t for me — especially having to leave the cabin to pee in the middle of the night. The next day, we drove a few hours and checked into a hotel. Our new room (with a private bathroom!) had a pink, heart-shaped Jacuzzi, mirrored walls, and a faux fireplace.

“You booked the honeymoon suite?” I asked. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

“I got the last room they had, I didn’t know it was like this,” he said. I was disappointed, yet relieved. Finally, something that made him uncomfortable.

“Well, we have to try the tub,” I said, attempting to put some romance back into our trip. Later, we poured some wine and got in. I became lightheaded, nearly passed out, and felt sick for the rest of the night. Michael applied a cold washcloth to my forehead and we watched “Judge Judy.”

As Michael comforted me, I suddenly felt worse. When he’d asked me to go away with him, I was thrilled. I saw this as a pivotal moment in our relationship ― if things went well, maybe we’d discuss moving in together. But if this was a test, I’d failed. And not because I’d fallen ill.

Thinking back to Michael’s earlier comment at the play area ― “This isn’t why I wanted to go away with you” ― I realized that I’d been so focused on sex, and on myself, that I overlooked Michael’s acts of tenderness and his emotional needs. Worse yet, I’d reduced our relationship to “are we sleeping with other people or not” when it was so much more than that.

I wished we could go back to the woods and have a redo. Or, at the very least, I wanted to lift my head from that fake down pillow and admit the truth: I only want to be with you … because I’m falling in love with you.

I tried to say the words, but I choked. It was the first time I’d ever felt this way about someone and the emotions unnerved me. This probably wasn’t the best time to think about other men, but my mind drifted to past relationships. There weren’t many, but I started to see a pattern. I’d date a guy for a month or two and we’d mostly have sex and watch TV. We were physical, but not intimate. Then they’d dump me.

I always blamed myself. I was too cold, too guarded, said the wrong things. Yet things were different with Michael. I was still self-conscious, but his calm, patient demeanor helped me relax. I opened up in ways I didn’t expect, telling him about everything from how I spent my childhood battling leukemia to my love for professional wrestling. Now, as Michael laid next to me when his leg gently brushing against mine, I felt more secure than ever. But did he love me? What if the answer was no? What if he was only tolerating being with me because it was after midnight and we’d had four glasses of wine? I’d already messed up so much that I feared saying the wrong thing and pushing him away for good, which would make for a really awkward drive home. I grabbed my phone and looked up bus schedules back to Manhattan just in case.

It took me 20 minutes to realize my insecurities were raging out of control. If Michael and I were going to move forward, I had to let myself be vulnerable. I finally found the courage when he fell asleep. I whispered I love you and it was barely audible and totally cheating, but at least the words were no longer just in my head.

Thankfully, Michael and I continued dating. A year later, he suggested another camping trip. I agreed, as long we picked a place where the cabins had bathrooms and the “play area” was reserved for badminton and archery.

Walking in the woods, Michael reminded me of the moment I’d asked him if he was my boyfriend. While that term still didn’t feel right, it wouldn’t be long before we discovered the best word to call one another — husband.

Doonesbury — Now what?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day

One hundred and two years ago today — November 11, 1918 — the guns fell silent across Europe, marking the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I. It used to be called Armistice Day. Today is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

My father (left) and his twin, 1944

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day

One hundred and one years ago today — November 11, 1918 — the guns fell silent across Europe, marking the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I. It used to be called Armistice Day. Today is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

My father (left) and his twin, 1944

 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day

Today is the 97th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I in 1918. It used to be called Armistice Day. Today it is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cary Gossard Dunn — 1906-1952

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Cary Gossard Dunn was my great uncle, the younger brother of my maternal grandmother. He was born in 1906 in Indiana, one of four children. He married and had two children of his own.

I never knew him; he died in March 1952, six months before I was born. I knew he served in the military and had heard that he had been part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy in 1944. I don’t have a picture of him, but I remember seeing one in my grandmother’s photo album: a young man with familiar family features and a smile that he shared with my grandmother.

In May 2011, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law went to Arlington National Cemetery to find Uncle Cary’s grave. For some reason, the cemetery administration has no record of his burial, but through his daughter Susan they located it and took some pictures.

After I saw this photo I wrote to Susan and asked for information about her father’s service:

He was with the 467th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and was in the original landing at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. His rank was Captain and he saw service in Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland before returning to the states in 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He left the military for a brief period of time, but rejoined and was promoted to Major and taught ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh for about two years. He was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1949 and was sent to Okinawa in 1950 where he worked as an engineer at Kadena AFB. He died of cancer at Barksdale AFB, Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 12, 1952 at the age of 45.

I wish I had known him. Given his siblings’ long lives (my grandmother lived to be 95), I would have been able to learn about what his service meant to him as I was becoming aware of my own feelings about war and peace, and to put a real connection between the stories I read in history books and the lurid tales depicted in the Hollywood movies about the war.

Susan’s description of her father’s service captures the simple facts, but like the men who served and tell their stories in such tales as Band of Brothers, the simplicity does not tell of the pain and the burden these men and women carried in service to our country then and now, and the honor and pride they have in doing their duty without any other thought than protecting the rest of us.

Rest in peace, Uncle Cary. Thank you.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Short Takes

Cease-fire in Ukraine will take effect on Sunday.

Mr. Secretary — The Senate confirmed Ashton Carter as the new Secretary of Defense.

Federal judge orders all Alabama county officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

F.B.I. Director James Comey addressed the issue of police and African-Americans.

President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act.

R.I.P. David Carr, media critic at the New York Times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

Today is the 96th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I in 1918.  It used to be called Armistice Day.  Today it is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Veterans Assistance

A surprising bit of good news from Capitol Hill:

The Senate has approved a bill making it easier for veterans who’ve endured long wait times for VA medical care to receive treatment from local doctors instead. The measure closely resembles a bill approved Tuesday in the House. Lawmakers say they are optimistic a compromise version can soon be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate bill, approved 93-3, would authorize about $35 billion over three years to pay for the outside care, hire hundreds of doctors and nurses and lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico.

Kudos to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for blasting this through.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Short Takes

The White House says the Taliban threatened to kill Sgt. Bergdahl if news of the swap had leaked.

One dead in shooting at a university in Seattle.

GM released the internal report that said corporate negligence and incompetence led to the ignition switch flaws.

Senate confirms Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the new Secretary of HHS.

VA reform bill gains bipartisan support in the Senate.

The Tigers lost again to the Jays.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Shinseki Out At VA

By now you’ve heard this.

Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities.

In a statement Friday morning after the meeting, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Shinseki had offered his resignation from the post he has held since the beginning of the president’s administration. “With regret, I accepted,” Mr. Obama said.

“He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problem,” the president said, adding that Mr. Shinseki told him that “the V.A. needs new leadership to address it. He does not want to be a distraction.”

Although the calls for him to go came from both Democrats and Republicans, it was the noise from Congress — the same people who failed to pass legislation increasing funding for the VA while at the same time spending billions on the wars that created the huge backlog at the hospitals — that made it politically impossible for him to stay.

Just like in baseball, they always fire the manager but never the owner…the one with all the money.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Reading

Why Is The VA Underfunded? — Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation wants to know.

Though Republicans might not understand, it takes a lot more than bumper stickers to support the troops who fight their wars. It should be a no-brainer, but it seems like those who have determined to politicize the situation at the VA have forgotten the primary reason so many veterans are in such dire need of care to begin with, and why the scandalously cash-strapped department has been so hard pressed to provide it. As I said on Face the Nation this week, without considering the historical context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—namely, that they were both unnecessary and prosecuted with a stunning degree of ineptitude—and without considering Congress’s history of underfunding veterans healthcare, it’s irresponsible to dive-bomb the White House with finger-pointing and grandstanding speeches about who needs to resign, and when.

There’s plenty of blame to go around concerning the massive failures of the healthcare system in the Veterans Administration. Both the media and politicians are focusing on administrative failures at the top and are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who heads the federal agency, as if such a high-profile decapitation will fix the problem.

But members of both parties agree: It will not. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Politico, “It shouldn’t be about a political scalp. It should be: How are we going to improve care for veterans?” And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) belittled his colleagues’ knee-jerk demand for a cabinet-level resignation: “I’ve never seen [the tactic] work yet…. I’ve only been around twenty years.” Even Bob Dole has dismissed the notion that Shinseki should be forced out. Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, wrote in a Politico op-ed, “As a disabled veteran myself, there is no one I would rather have heading up the VA now, in this turbulent time, than Eric Shinseki. In my experience, he is the best there is.” Cleland should know; in addition to being, like Dole, a genuine war hero, he also served under President Carter as administrator of veterans affairs (the predecessor position to Shinseki’s) from 1977 to 1981.

Obviously, the creation of secret waiting lists at VA facilities is horrible. There is no excuse for such dereliction of duty, especially when it again puts the lives of our brave veterans in danger after they’ve already been made to face enough. Simply put, those who are responsible for making these lists should be fired. And if their actions are determined to have been illegal, then they should be prosecuted for criminal activity.

But just as obviously, we need to recognize that those actions were not ordered by Shinseki, himself a veteran twice awarded the purple heart (and, as you might recall, the Army Chief of Staff who—presciently—dared contest the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz notion that postwar Iraq could be reconstructed with a mere 100,000 troops). Moreover, under Shinseki’s watch, the VA has cut the backlog of veterans-benefits claims by more than half. Veteran homelessness has dropped by twenty-four percent since Shinseki made it a priority in 2010.

[…]

It cannot be repeated often enough that, none of these politicians who involved us in the reckless and unjustified wars of the 2000s has ever been held adequately responsible for the massive damage they have done to our finances, international standing, military readiness, and health of our veterans. It might be convenient to pin all of the hawks’ failings (and they are legion) on Eric Shinseki’s shoulders, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests, but it would be morally, historically and economically bankrupt to do so. It would suggest that we, as a nation, do not actually value the lives and health of our soldiers over the political and financial imperatives of our ruling class. It would suggest that we consider our troops to be nothing more than rent-a-cops, called in to do security for the big event, then forgotten the next morning.

Today’s lesson is quite simple: after conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans. Forever. Even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes. Even if that means taking politics out of the VA and focusing instead on the welfare of our veterans. That we have politicians and members of the media who need to be reminded of this is a disgrace.

Conservative Comedy and Other Myths — Frank Rich looks at why right-wing humor struggles to find an audience.

The right, like the left, has a habit of overplaying the victim card. Given that there are many out A-list Republicans in Hollywood, from Rupert Murdoch to Clint Eastwood to David Mamet to Adam Sandler, it would seem that all the paranoia about left-wing McCarthyism is unfounded. If anything, the history of networks’ canceling liberal comics, whether the Smothers Brothers in 1969 (CBS) or Bill Maher in 2002 (ABC), is more pronounced. Still, the hysteria of the anti-Colbert claque made me look at the right’s case again.

And at first glance, there is something to it. Conservative comedy is hard to find on television once you get past the most often cited specimen, Dennis Miller. But is this shortfall the fault of a left-wing conspiracy to banish brilliant dissident talent from pop culture’s center stage? As a conservative Christian stand-up, Brad Stine, has argued, people think “the left is funnier than the right” solely because the right hasn’t been “given the same options.” Or are conservative comedians languishing in obscurity because they just don’t have the comic chops to compete with Colbert, Jon Stewart, and their many brethren? What do conservatives find funny, anyway? Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?

[…]

Anger is a mighty source of humor, but it takes talent to refine a crude gusher of rage into comic fuel. Eric Golub, a fringe comic so far right he actually glories in the label conservative, has figured this out. “To blame Hollywood liberalism—which does exist—is an excuse,” he told Politico last year. “Maybe some of the conservatives that are trying are just not that talented.” To see Golub’s point, sample the comic stylings of one vocal complainer about Hollywood’s suppression of non-liberal humor, Evan Sayet, a former Maher writer who turned right after 9/11. His stand-up may have killed at the Republican Jewish Coalition banquet in Santa Monica, but it’s not remotely ready for prime time except as a vanity presentation on public-access cable.

Good Luck, Grads; You’re Gonna Need It — Thomas Frank on the woes of commencing life with a degree and debt.  (PS: The only people worse off than you are your teachers.)

Welcome to the wide world, Class of 2014. You have by now noticed the tremendous consignment of debt that the authorities at your college have spent the last four years loading on your shoulders. It may interest you to know that the average student-loan borrower among you is now $33,000 in debt, the largest of any graduating class ever. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, carrying that kind of debt will have certain predictable effects. It will impede your ability to accumulate wealth, for example. You will also borrow more for other things than people without debt, and naturally you will find your debt level growing, not shrinking, as the years pass.

As you probably know, neither your parents nor your grandparents were required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college. Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany and Argentina and Mexico.

But in our country, as your commencement speaker will no doubt tell you, the universities are “excellent.” They are “world-class.” Indeed, they are all that stands between us and economic defeat by the savagely competitive peoples of Europe and Asia. So a word of thanks is in order, Class of 2014: By borrowing those colossal amounts and turning the proceeds over to the people who run our higher ed system, you have done your part to maintain American exceptionalism, to keep our competitive advantage alive.

Here’s a question I bet you won’t hear broached on the commencement stage: Why must college be so expensive? The obvious answer, which I’m sure has been suggested to you a thousand times, is because college is so good. A 2014 Cadillac costs more than did a 1980 Cadillac, adjusting for inflation, because it is a better car. And because you paid attention in economics class, you know the same thing must be true of education. When tuition goes up and up every year, far outpacing inflation, this indicates that the quality of education in this country is also, constantly, going up and up. You know that the only way education can cost more is if it is worth more.

In sum, you paid nearly sixty grand a year to attend some place with a classy WASP name and ivy growing on its fake medieval walls. You paid for the best, and now you are the best, an honorary classy WASP entitled to all the privileges of the club. That education your parents got, even if it was at the same school as yours, cost them far less and was thus not as good as yours. That’s the way progress works, right?

Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth: college costs more and more even as it gets objectively worse and worse. Yes, I know, universities today offer luxuries unimaginable in the 1960s: fine gymnasiums, gourmet dining halls, disturbing architecture. But when it comes to generating and communicating knowledge—the essential business of higher ed—they are, almost all of them, in a frantic race to the bottom.

According to the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty, only about 30 percent of the teachers at American colleges these days are tenured or tenure-track, which means that fewer than a third of your profs actually enjoy the security and benefits and intellectual freedom that we associate with the academic lifestyle. In 1969, traditional professors like these made up almost 80 percent of the American faculty. Today, however, it is part-time workers without any kind of job security who are the majority of the instructors on campus, and in general these adjuncts are paid poorly and receive few benefits. That is who does the work of knowledge-transmission at the ever-so costly, ever-so excellent American university: Freelancers. Contract laborers.

Doonesbury — Labor pains.

Friday, February 28, 2014

GOP Votes Against Veterans

The Republicans would rather start another war in the Middle East than pay to help the people that fought the last one they started on a lie.

Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans.

In a 56-41 vote Thursday, the motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill failed, as Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican roadblock.

GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) voted with Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow a GOP substitute amendment to get an up-or-down vote because it included Iran sanctions, which he said were unrelated to veterans’ issues.

“I hope all the veterans groups have witnessed all the contortions the Republicans have done to defeat this bill,” Reid said Thursday. “Shame on Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help veterans.”

Remember that the next time you’re stuck in traffic behind an SUV with a bumpersticker that says “WE MISS BUSH” and “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Today is the 95th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I in 1918.  It used to be called Armistice Day.  Today it is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Short Takes

Egypt’s cabinet offered to resign as protests in the street get bigger.

The Dow fell 250 points after the Supercommittee announced it had failed.

President Obama signed the bill to provide tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.

Power Up — FPL plans to spend $1 billion to upgrade the nuclear power plant in South Florida.

R.I.P. John Neville, actor and former artistic director at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario.

The Tigers’ Justin Verlander is the American League MVP and the Cy Young Award winner for 2011. (I told you he would be.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Short Takes

Syria — Government forces cracked down even harder.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak goes on trial.

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have reached a settlement over PTSD.

The Senate failed to end the deadlock over the FAA.

Despite the averting of the default, the stock markets didn’t do well yesterday.

Tim Pawlenty has some friends in Florida.

The Texas drought exposed a missing piece of the Columbia shuttle debris.

There was some severe weather in South Florida yesterday.

The Tigers beat the Rangers.