From Esquire.com It was a Biblical beatdown. Getty BY CHARLES P. PIERCE AUG 22, 2017 While the president* was fastening on his Serious World Leader face Monday night, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin, was facing a carefully tailored audience at a CNN “town hall” in Racine. Because Ryan is […]
Category Archives: American Society
Makeshift floats in the festive parade, the red wagons and strollers laden with blankets, coolers, picnic baskets and the occasional toddler wound their way from far-flung parking spots to the beckoning beach. In 2003, temporary crutches made it rough going for me, but nothing could keep me from East Hampton’s Main Beach on the Fourth of July. Ever since I can remember, I had gloried in the fireworks, lying back on the sand, gazing at the night sky exploding with color.
Thousands of people were converging toward the sand, passing me and my group of friends and family as I labored forward. Then one couple spotted me. They stopped, saying, “You need this more than we do,” insisting I ride in their kids’ red wagon. I clambered aboard, slightly embarrassed but grateful for the lift. The other adults shouldered the picnic gear that I had displaced and took turns pulling me along. And so we continued, wending our way, laughing and joking with friendly strangers— teens, toddlers, parents and grandparents, all in high spirits and filled with anticipation.
I usually eschew crowds, but the convivial throng at that annual celebration was suffused with bonhomie, a shared feeling of community that bound us together. At the beach, we gingerly threaded a path through the clusters of beach chairs and blankets until we could claim a patch of sand. All around us families were spreading their blankets. Picnic baskets opened, disgorging bowls of potato and chicken salads, bags of sandwiches, grilled chicken, guacamole and no end of other goodies. Sodas popped and drinks poured. Boisterous children barely contained their excitement. Crowning their heads and circling their necks, glow sticks began to fluoresce as the day faded into twilight.
Night fell gradually, and the crowd ate the last of the brownies and cookies and the cakes with red, white and blue icing. Flashlights began to sparkle sporadically.
At last it was nine o’clock, and all eyes turned eastward, caught by the first soaring rockets. They burst in midair, showering fire and ice. We settled back, dazzled by the red glare and starbursts that morphed into hearts and atoms of gold and blue and green. Humongous umbrellas and giant jellyfish commandeered the night sky, eclipsing the stars until they decayed, trailing sparks that fizzled and sank into the ocean.
When the show came to its inevitable end, we gathered our detritus, packed the leftovers and reluctantly left the beach. Though traffic choked the local roads and made for a seemingly endless crawl, it couldn’t spoil the good feeling. It didn’t stop us from returning year after year.
But that was long ago … What the traffic couldn’t do, the piping plovers did. I don’t begrudge the little birds their right to nest on the beach. I am a conservationist and I believe we should protect endangered species and not drive them to extinction. But it’s been 12 years, and I resent the little critters who have appropriated so much of the public domain and deprived us of a tradition that had lasted 90 years.
Even more, I bristle at the appropriation of the flag by the Alt Right. The “patriots” who want to take their country back— Back to where? To when? To the time when native Americans were fighting to save their homeland from European invaders? Or later, when the descendants of those Europeans enslaved the people they captured on another continent? The patriotic pride of “E pluribus unum”— out of many peoples, one nation— that we took for granted is now problematic, because the “pluribus” are being imprisoned and deported, their mosques and synagogues bombed and defaced.
I do hope the piping plovers proliferate and I dream of the day when the sharp divisions that now divide us dissolve. Then Main Beach will open to everyone and the fireworks will again dazzle at the twilight’s last gleaming.
Though I dream in vain, in my heart it will remain … the memory of time gone by.
I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.
When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.
In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.
How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?
American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.
Buried in the turmoil and never-ending work associated with a move from one home to another I’ve kept up with the headlines, but little of real substance. Over a week ago I took a break and came across the transcript of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments. The mayor represents the new South, the Southerners who acknowledge that they live in the 21st century and understand and accept that slavery and the Confederacy died more than 150 years ago. They belong to a progressive America that has been trying to overcome that old legacy since the 1960s, an America that continues to make progress in the civil rights of people of all colors, genders and ethnicities.
Landrieu was responding to his critics who hold that by removing the statues of Confederate leaders he is erasing history:
There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.
The truth is that New Orleans is a great city, a “city of many nations … a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” It is also true that
New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.
America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.
So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.
And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.
Was the Attorney General listening?
Privacy is such a quaint notion. Since 9-11, we have become inured to having our personal belongings searched at theaters, airports and the lobbies of big buildings. Records and recordings of our calls reside in humongous government data warehouses, ready for scrutiny and analysis. We know that if we use the super-convenient transit credit cards like New York City’s Metrocard or drive past tollbooths with EZ Pass, we are leaving an easily followed trail of our comings and goings. Wayward husbands can no longer “hike the Appalachian Trail” in Buenos Aires with impunity. Credit cards, customer loyalty programs, just about anything that makes everything we do easier and faster comes at an unspoken price. We willingly and often unwittingly divulge intimate details that would have been unthought of only a few decades ago. Our faces are recorded by cameras in the street, at building entrances, public spaces and elevators.
One of the many devices we can rely on is a thermostat that can be remotely controlled. The Nest knows when you are home and figures out when to raise or lower the heat. It tracks your energy use and like Santa, sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and it continuously relays all this information and more via the Internet to the company that made it. Amazon, Netflix and Roku know of your predilection for porn and what kinky action turns you on. Or not.
Your smart phone, as you know, is constantly sending out your MAC address, a unique identifier that can be tracked very precisely to determine exactly where you are, how you got there, how often you go there and where you go afterwards. Retailers can track you in their stores. The signals from your phone disclose which displays interest you, based on how long you ponder them and whether you subsequently buy the product. Storekeepers may also use this info to fine-tune the arrangement, positioning and content of their displays. We’re all familiar with the way Google and Facebook analyze what we write and the links we click to profit from that data.
Drilling down, merchants now know who is driving by their billboards and how many of those drivers are buying the advertised merchandise. According to The Boston Globe (May 19, 2016), “the nation’s largest billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., is bringing customized, pop-up ads to the interstate.” Using data gathered from 130 million AT&T subscribers, augmented by phone apps that corral millions more, “Clear Channel knows what kinds of people are driving past one of their billboards at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday— how many are Dunkin’ Donuts regulars, for example, or have been to three Red Sox games so far this year.”
All this information is for sale, and it is probably impossible to control.
Even Trump must have been surveilled. Clearly, not directly by his predecessor. At the very least, the same devices that hover over all Americans will have collected data that can easily be exploited by any of the agencies that spy for the government. Did Trump gut the State Department and cripple Justice to hobble investigations of his Russian connections? He may have anticipated the exposure of some of the tentacles of his Russian deals, corruption and collusion.
Surveillance cameras photo by Quevaal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.o0
International Women’s Day in New York City— beautiful, brisk, and perfect for marching, cheering, chatting, comiserating and consoling. Women of all ages and all colors were united in their will to resist the Trump agenda. If women were striking, I did not see them. But the women I did see were marching for their less fortunate sisters who did not have the luxury of taking time off from work. They demonstrated their solidarity with the many women in the US and around the world who work very hard for long hours and minimal pay. Some are not paid at all. They marched for equal pay, reproductive freedom and the health care they now have with the Affordable Care Act. They marched to restore clean air and clean water, and public education for their children.
Eight-year old Ravan Peterson (below, left) was delighting everyone who heard her with her enthusiastic support of women everywhere. “Women are stronger than men.” She said she was “marching to support all women, but especially women who are suffering all over the world.”
Women’s rights are human rights. Wear red in solidarity with women across the US and in more than 30 countries. March 8 will be A Day Without a Woman, in which women who can will take the day off from paid and unpaid labor and avoid shopping.
Show up at town halls and petition your members of congress to repair Obamacare. Speak up for the gutted EPA, clean water and clean air. Insist on the importance of public education, of the arts and of a social safety net to provide the necessities, like nutritious food and health care to those who can’t provide for themselves. Defend regulations that were put in place to protect people from predatory lenders, to safeguard public health, to keep the stock market honest. The fabric of American democracy is being rent by a blitz of lethal blows. You know of others that also affect you personally. Stand up! Make yourself heard! There is power in numbers.
Read Emily Crockett’s “The ‘Day Without a Woman’ strike, explained.” She’s done a masterly job of examining the “gendered revolt” kicked off by the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images