So, Trump, what are you running on?

So, Donald J. Trump, what are you going to run on in November?

  • On over 20 million unemployed Americans — more than at any time since the Great Depression in the 1930s?
  • On the 1.284 million coronavirus cases in the United States with almost 80,000 deaths, or 28 percent of the 272,000 who have died around the world?
  • On the fact that, globally, the death rate is 34 per one million, while the death rate in America is 232 per one million?
  • On your chaotic, actually non-existing national coronavirus strategy, with little testing and tracing and with every state fending for itself?
  • On a dysfunctional national health care system, which has failed the country as it was needed the most, and as you still continued to end Obamacare?
  • On your growing isolation in the world in the middle of a global pandemic, as you stopped funding WHO, the World Health Organization, and declined to participate in a world-wide vaccine donor conference?
  • On the forlorn voices and heart-breaking stories of all Americans, as seen through the 21 victims in today’s New York Times, who now discover that America is brutal country, without a safety net, and where those who lose their jobs also lose their health insurance and even their home, and lose hope?
  • On his impeachment?

In 2016, Trump ran on MAGA, “Make America great again,” and he won, barely. He was, I have argued, incredibly lucky to do so. He lost the popular vote but captured three key states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – by a total of only 68,000 votes, enough to win the Electoral College and capture the presidency. To win in November, he needs to be lucky again but with a now highly motivated Democratic Party, he also needs to find new voters, beyond his faithful base. But he has shown no inclination, and no ability, to do so. The coronavirus has shown him at his worst, a clueless non-leader, and, now, polls show that seniors around the country have soured on him. In RealClear Politics poll averages, Trump trails Joe Biden nationally by 4.4 percentage points and in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and even in Florida, Trump’s new home state.

This time, Donald J. Trump does not have much to run on — it’s hard to run on fear,  scandals, incompetence, crisis, but, most of all, on chaos. It’s hard to run when 57.6 percent of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track and when only 35 percent think the country is heading in the right direction.

Still, it’s going to be a hard-fought election. But, as former Republican Peter Wehner wrote in The Atlantic, the coronavirus will likely be when everything changed and when Americans saw “the con man behind the curtain.” Instead of uniting America during this pandemic, Trump has divided the country even more. But under Trump, as George Packer wrote, also in The Atlantic, about America as a failed state, nothing will change, when change, fundamental change, is so urgently needed.

That’s why November is so important and why it can’t come soon enough. We need to end this nightmare.

“Welcome to Sweden:” Oj, oj, oj…that was really embarrassing!

“Oj, oj, oj,” as the Swedes say…oh, boy! That was embarrassing. No, it was more than embarrassing, it was really, really bad.

I am talking about the new TV-series “Welcome to Sweden” that premiered last night on NBC. I knew nothing about it beforehand, and I didn’t know that it had been produced by Swedish television channel TV4, and then bought by NBC.  Shame on TV4 for taking the easy way out and playing on all the clichés about Sweden and Swedes: stupid accents, drunkenness and drinking songs, naked men in the sauna.

It was all supposed to be funny, and intelligently joking about nations and people and their traditions is certainly fair game, and can be funny. But “Welcome to Sweden” was not funny, not at all. I suppose it could have been if the acting had been good. But it was atrocious, and it was especially sad to see splendid actress Lena Olin lending herself to this superficial spectacle,  which, on top of everything, was brutally interrupted time and time again by commercials during its 30 minutes.

I haven’t read any reviews by the Swedish media when it premiered there in March. Maybe they liked it, and maybe I have missed something? No, come to think of it, I don’t think I have. I just hope that the coming segments will prove to be better than this disastrous start.

The Republicans: “The cowardice in the many”

“John Boehner holds the nation hostage because the Tea Party holds him hostage. The problem with modern Republicans is not fanaticism in the few but cowardice in the many, who let their fellows live in virtual secession from laws they disagree with.”

The words are from Garry Wills, emeritus professor of history at Northwestern University writing in The New York Review of Books under the title “Back Door Secession.”

Wills goes on to say what the people behind these efforts are doing resemble “the pre-Civil War virtual secessionism—the holding of a whole party hostage to its most extreme members”… and that “the presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

Where are we? Where is America heading?

“Fruitvale Station” — don’t miss this film!

I saw the movie “Fruitvale Station” tonight, about the tragic fate of Oscar Grant, shot down by a policeman for nothing at a BART Station in Oakland, California on New Year January 1, 2009.

The new film, a debut by 27-year-old Ryan Coogler, has been lauded by the critics after having won the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. It’s easy to draw a parallel between Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan — “Wallace” to every fan of “The Wire” — and Trayvon Martin, both young black men, almost boys, and both killed for no reason by white men.

It’s a superb and sad drama that happens to be a true story about America. Don’t miss it!

And now, Detroit is officially bankrupt…

Detroit is now, officially, bankrupt, and it’s time, again, in telling the history of this once great city of Detroit — home to the automobile as well as to The Supremes — to remind of the book, “Ruins of Detroit,” by two young French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.Ruin in Detroit

Their photos tell the tragic story better than any words of how Detroit’s decline has created a city of poverty and neglect and decay — an urban tragedy.

And then, it’s time, again, to ask the question – how could America let this happen?

Detroit United Artists Theater

Here’s my favorite Star Spangled Banner — Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

As always, it will be a day full of parades and fireworks and outdoor grilling, and, of course, it will be a day with many, many different versions of the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, some good, many bad, for it is a “tough song” as the New York Times writes today.

For me, it will be my first Independence Day as an American citizen, and as I prepared for the day and to really sing it for the first time, I made sure I knew the words, but I also came to think of the many versions I have heard through the years and which one had really hit me.

I thought of Jimi Hendrix’s version at Woodstock way back in 1969. It is still without comparison. I also came to think of Whitney Houston belting it out so magnificently at the Super Bowl in 1991. But, in the end, I concluded that Marvin Gaye’s version at the NBA All Star Game in Los Angeles in 1983 is my favorite — simple, beautiful, personal, with impeccable rhythm and perfect timing. Here it is. Enjoy! And Happy Fourth!

There are scandals, and then there are real scandals…

The Republicans are smelling blood. Finally, after four years of a scandal free Obama first term, they seem to say, we got him!

And they can’t help themselves, comparing Obama to Nixon, who resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal – now that was a real scandal! – and suggesting that Obama should be impeached…

The Washington Post main editorial today is pretty good, although comparing Obama to Nixon is not only “silly,” it is really stupid. I have for quite a while lamented the trend of the Post’s editorials becoming more and more neocon in its views on foreign policy, particularly on Syria and the Middle East, but here the paper is right on the money:

  • The Benghazi talking points scandal is “no scandal whatsoever,” but there was “no cover up” and “no conspiracy” to deceive the American people.
  • The broad search of telephone records among AP’s reporters went way too far, but there is no record that Obama knew anything about this.
  • The IRS targeting of Tea party groups is “horrifying and inexcusable,” but there is no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of this practice.

Second term presidents often seem to get into trouble…must be something in the water in the White House. But this is not Watergate nor is it Iran-contra. They were real scandals.

Still, of course, this won’t go away.  The Republicans want to nail the president, but in their desperate eagerness, they are overreaching, “making a political circus” of the tragedy in Benghazi, as Philadelphia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin recently wrote. The real scandal, she continued, is how the Republicans are “dishonoring” the memory of the four dead Americans in Benghazi.

The Republicans: a party stuck in the last century

Robert Draper’s article in today’s New York Times Magazine about the Republican Party and its future is a must read for anyone interested in American politics.

But it must be most depressing reading for all Republicans, because the party’s future seems very dark.

As a young Republican pollster puts it in the article:

“We’re not in the 21st century.”

And when female and male so-called ”swing voters”  in various focus groups respond to the question of what they think of when the word “Republican” is mentioned, they say:

”Corporate greed; Old; Middle-aged white men; Rich; Religious; Conservative; Hypocritical; Military retirees; Narrow-minded; Rigid; Not progressive; Polarizing; Stuck in their ways; Farmers; Racist; Out of touch; Hateful.”

And here is what the same “swing voters” say when asked about the word “Democrat:”

”Young people; Liberal; Diverse; Bill Clinton; Change; Open-minded; Spending; Handouts; Green; More science-based.”

And Marco Rubio, the new Republican star and the party’s savior in the next election, is dismissed rather mercilessly by president Obama’s campaign strategist David Plouffe, who says:

“The Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio, the Tea Party Cuban-American from Florida. You know what? We won the Cuban vote! And it’s because younger Cubans are behaving differently than their parents. It’s probably my favorite stat of the whole campaign. So this notion that Marco Rubio is going to heal their problems — it’s not even sophomoric; it’s juvenile! And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos.”

As I said, read it!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/magazine/can-the-republicans-be-saved-from-obsolescence.html?ref=magazine&_r=0

Obama on guns — and his State of the Union finally took off

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union last night was not, I am afraid, a speech to be long remembered.  It was good, but ordinary, although at the same time “extraordinarily ambitious,” as Ezra Klein writes on his Wonkblog:

“Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed tonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it’s been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There’d be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country.”

That is unlikely to happen, as Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus writes, but if Obama meets his most significant and realistic goals – “immigration reform, even modest steps on gun control, an end to the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, a free-trade agreement with Europe and, oh yes, implementation of Obamacare — and manages to keep the economy growing, even if slowly, that’s not a bad list. Plenty of two-term presidents have done worse.”

What Obama mentioned in his speech is clearly popular with the American public, according to Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky but “the Republicans just sat there like statues ignoring” them. They are such crybabies every day about what Obama allegedly does to try to make them look bad. They’re doing plenty well at that themselves.”

“Long gone,” writes The New Yorker’s John Cassidy on his blog Rational Irrationality “is the era when he (Obama) treated Republicans as reasonable men and women with whom he could do business. Nowadays, he is in permanent campaign mode. With the ongoing dispute over taxes and spending still far from decided, he is intent on rallying his supporters whilst depicting his opponents as crazed ideologues and craven defenders of the privileges enjoyed by the ultra-rich. “

Well, ok. Still, in my view Obama’s fifth State of the Union never really took off until the end and when the subject was guns and gun control. “They deserve a vote,” Obama repeated time and again:

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote; the families of Newtown deserve a vote; the families of Aurora deserve a vote; the families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.”

And the President returned to his them from the Inauguration about inclusiveness, about “us” and “we.”

”The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.  They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker thinks that Obama’s urgent message that “they deserve a vote” may come to serve “as the rallying cry for 2013,”  and so “if last night was any indication, the two years to come will be far more confrontational. “

So, no political peace is to be expected in Washington.  But Obama, a much different and more self-confident President than in his first term,  got to say his peace, and he made his troops happy.

Will President Obama finally take on the gun lobby?

”We’ll see what happens. Obama still has to do something other than speak”, writes Amy Davidsons today on her blog ”Close Read” in The New Yorker.  Exactly!

ObamainNewtownBut President Obama’s speech last night to the grieving citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, was not like his speeches in Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; or Fort Hood, Texas — scenes of previous mass killings during his first term as president – it went further, maybe even a lot further. And it had a different tone, more impatient, sadder, but also more full of resolve, and — more political.

We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,”  he said and promised something he had not previously promised during his four years in the White House:

 ”In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

These sentences have resulted in the new hope that Obama, for the first time — finally, is ready to take on America’s culture of weapons and the country’s laws on weapons, or lack of laws. Can the tragedy in Newtown become the ”the tipping point?” We don’t know, but the pressures on the president to do something and fight for what he seems to believe in — to fight the “good fight” — even if that fight does not produce a victory against the gun lobby and its many supporters in Congress, have increased rapidly and markedly since Newtown.

What he can propose is well illustrated on the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog.” But the fight won’t be easy, regardless of strategy and proposals. There are no simple solutions, because the fight concerns a key issue for the American society. It’s about the “god Gun,”  as the historian Garry Wills writes on the New York Review of Books’ blog, which:

  • Has the power to destroy the reasoning process.
  • Has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine.
  • Has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter.