President Trump as the biblical Nathanael?

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Former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, mentioned earlier this month on the cable news program, Fox & Friends, that he thought President Trump was similar to Nathanael in the Bible.  Here is the only substantive passage about Nathanael from the Bible:

John 1:45-47 (RSV)

45  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  46  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  47  When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  48  Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”  Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  49  Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

Engraving of the Apostle Nathanael. Photo: Getty Images

Engraving of the Apostle Nathanael. Photo: Getty Images

image from: http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentpeople/a/JZ-Nathanael-Bartholomew.htm

Parkinson disease Second opinion: 16 February 2017

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As a final Parkinson’s update, I was able to bump up my second-opinion appt from late March to yesterday.  I have “Parkinsonism,” which is the effects of Parkinson’s Disease brought on by the regular use of Abilify.

Because I have Rem Sleep Behavior Disorder (acting out my dreams while asleep), I have a 50-80% chance of developing Parkinson’s Disease in the future.  This is good and bad news.

As a result, I will stop using Abilify and see if the Parkinsonism goes away or not.  Basically, I don’t have Parkinson’s right now, which is very good news, even though the possibility of it developing later in life is pretty high.

image from:  https://www.drugs.com/abilify-images.html

Saul Alinsky, the left’s “shadow government” and the press

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Breitbart News

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/14/lefts-alinsky-plan-destroy-trump-administration/

The Left’s Alinsky Plan to Destroy the Trump Administration

Associated Press

by Joel B. Pollak 14 Feb 2017

When a former community organizer with little other experience became the Democratic Party nominee for president in 2008, conservatives began inquiring what, exactly, a “community organizer” does.

That led to a surge of interest in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a secular Bible among Barack Obama’s cohort of left-wing radicals in Chicago.  In the White House, as aide Valerie Jarrett so memorably put it, Obama remained a community organizer, using his old tactics to push his agenda.

Now that they have been relegated to the opposition, Obama and the Democrats are not only using the same old Alinskyite tactics, but amplifying them through the media, who will never forgive President Donald Trump for winning the election.  (Far from retiring quietly, Obama has been swift to criticize his successor and encourage left-wing protests against his policies.)

Here are just a few examples of Alinsky’s rules being put into practice in an effort to bring down the Trump administration.

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”  During the 2016 election, the media tried to stop Trump from winning by focusing on his personal flaws, real and imagined.  That failed — so they are targeting the people around Trump.

The most unfortunate victim of this strategy is not former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign this week, but White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, who is the most accessible member of the president’s media team, and one of the most effective.  For making a flippant remark at the end of a Fox & Friends segment, in which she endorsed Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, she is now being singled out for investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.  (What “investigation” is needed?  She was on live television.)

The media are simply throwing whatever they can at the people around Trump, whether it is true or not.  For example, bloggers and journalists smeared Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka as a Nazi sympathizer, in keeping with the ongoing defamation of White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon (both formerly of Breitbart News) as a “white nationalist” and worse.

Sometimes the attacks are not only false, but also personally abusive, such as a recent article in Fusion targeting White House speechwriter and policy guru, Stephen Miller:  “Why does Stephen Miller sound like such a dick?  A voice coach explains.”  MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough’s attacks on Miller have become so openly hostile to Miller, and so personal in nature (“my young, little Miller”) that even the Washington Post seemed genuinely taken aback by the Morning Joe host’s criticisms.

It is worth noting that the media did not press for the resignation of any of the Obama administration officials associated with much more serious scandals — Benghazi, the IRS scandal and the NSA scandal come to mind — even when officials admitted that they had misled Congress and the public.  Now, the media are constantly searching for personalities they can pillory as proxies for the Trump administration as a whole.

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”  In the weeks after Election Day, Saturday Night Live contented itself with weepy tributes to Hillary Clinton.  Now, however, it has returned to comedic form in ridiculing President Trump and his staff.  There is nothing wrong with that — and Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is funny — but what is interesting is that mainstream news outlets, such as CNN, often spend the next several days after each new sketch reporting and re-running Saturday Night Live segments as news.

Politico recently piled on with an entirely speculative report that Saturday Night Live could actually force the dismissal of the White House staffers it has been targeting, including Spicer.  The obvious goal of such “fake news” stories is turn entertainment into a political weapon against the Trump administration.

“If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its [positive] counterside.”  What Alinsky meant was that tactics that would ordinarily be abhorrent — say, rioting on a university campus, or telling the public that members of the government were “Nazis” — would be tolerated, and even celebrated, once they had been proven successful.

The current Democratic Party strategy is not to reach out to the voters they have lost over the past several years, but rather to make the country appear ungovernable, hoping that voters then turn to the Democrats for relief.

In recent protests at Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, Mayor Eric Garcetti not only joined demonstrators in solidarity, but did so at a time when protesters were blocking traffic and disrupting travel.  He was perfectly willing to harm his own city for political gain — normally objectionable, except that it worked.

These tactics will not fade because of one resignation.  Alinksy, after all, advised his acolytes to “keep the pressure on.”  What is happening today will continue throughout the Trump administration.  The government, and the conservative voters who are expecting it to deliver, will have to be just as tough, and even stronger, in the face of Alinskyite attacks.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News.  He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016.  His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

The left’s “shadow government”

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Breitbart News

http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2017/02/17/obama-shadow-government-may-working-undermine-trump/

Insiders:  Obama Holdover ‘Shadow Government’ Plotting to Undermine Trump

Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images

by John Hayward  17 Feb 2017

Several intelligence insiders have come forward over the past few days to describe a “shadow government” of Obama holdovers leaking information to derail the Trump presidency, with National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s resignation their first great success.

There are even allegations that former President Barack Obama himself is actively involved, citing his establishment of a command center in Washington and continuing involvement with activist organizations.

Retired Lt. Colonel Tony Schaffer, formerly a CIA-trained defense intelligence officer, said in a Fox Business appearance on Wednesday:  “I put this right at the feet of John Brennan, and Jim Clapper, and I would even go so far as to say the White House was directly involved before they left.”  He also mentioned Ben Rhodes:

[For video, see:  http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2017/02/17/obama-shadow-government-may-working-undermine-trump/%5D

Schaffer said it was clear that sensitive information that could compromise U.S. intelligence-gathering methods was divulged to the media as part of the campaign to bring down Flynn, by people who had access to beyond Top Secret material.  That should narrow the list of suspects considerably.

The Washington Free Beacon quoted “multiple sources in and out of the White House” on Tuesday to describe a “secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump’s national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Since all news coverage is now driven by leaks of dubious accuracy from anonymous sources seemingly above evaluation, it seems only fair to entertain some insiders who wish to leak on the leakers.

According to the Free Beacon’s sources, the Obama loyalists are highly organized, under the direction of former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, famed for his ability to sell false narratives about Iran to credulous reporters.  His critique of media types as young “know nothings” whose only experience “consists of being around political campaigns” would seem validated by a press corps that eagerly runs with just about anything an anonymous source hostile to Trump feeds them.

Rhodes shoveled a lot of manure to cultivate the Iran nuclear deal, and he is not going to let it go without a fight.  According to the Free Beacon’s sources – one of whom is identified as a “veteran foreign policy insider who is close to Flynn and the White House” – Flynn was targeted because he was preparing to “publicize many of the details about the nuclear deal that had been intentionally hidden by the Obama administration as part of its effort to garner support for the deal.”

Another official who purportedly sits on the National Security Council said “the drumbeat of leaks of sensitive material related to General Flynn has been building since he was named to his position,” and his resignation was “not the result of a series of random events.”

“Last night’s resignation was their first major win, but unless the Trump people get serious about cleaning house, it won’t be the last,” warned a third source, suggesting these Obama loyalists are just getting warmed up.

The American people don’t get to vote on shadow governments or Deep State hierarchies, we don’t get to evaluate their credibility, and we don’t get to ask them follow-up questions.  A good follow-up question for the Free Beacon’s unnamed sources would be how knocking out Flynn could guarantee the continuing secrecy of the damaging Iran deal information he was intent on divulging.  Won’t the next National Security Adviser, or maybe President Trump himself, spill those beans if rolling back the Iran deal is still a presidential priority?  Or is Flynn’s demise supposed to intimidate others from messing with the Iran deal?

Appearing on Breitbart News Daily Wednesday morning, retired Lt. General William “Jerry” Boykin said he didn’t think a “coup” from the Deep State was in progress, but he was quite comfortable with the idea of an organized group of Obama holdovers working to undermine the new administration.  He suggested the actions that led to President Trump firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates were part of the “setup.”

Boykin said it was not surprising that officials left over from a prior administration would be “up to no good,” and would work “preserve the legacy of the last president” by making trouble.  Like the Washington Free Beacon’s sources, he thought Flynn’s resignation was just the beginning of their efforts unless President Trump weeds them out.

The difference between Boykin’s view of nearly inevitable mischief from holdovers, and the WFB’s more conspiratorial account of an aggressive cell of saboteurs, boils down to organization and scope.  It’s the difference between a few relics of the past presidency who will be gone soon, and a persistent shadow government with designs on anything from advancing a few policy preferences to destroying the legitimacy of the new administration.

It’s easy to imagine players in a shadow government sticking together, imagining themselves as brave resistance fighters against the Trump tyranny, which only exists because Russia stole the election from Hillary Clinton.  That’s a fantasy that has become absolutely pervasive in left-wing culture today.

Furthermore, these are holdovers from an administration that believed it was on a messianic mission to “fundamentally transform America,” as the former president famously put it.  They can easily make common cause with longtime bureaucrats who disdain “populist” crusades against unaccountable Big Government.  Very little sinister collusion is necessary when everyone is already on the same page.

Other common theories say the leaks came from career intelligence officials who believe Trump is dangerous and must be undermined to protect national security, or the entrenched bureaucrats of a “Deep State” protecting their turf from Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” agenda.  Those theories could be true as well.  Rogue intel officers and Deep State warriors would be natural allies for the Obama holdovers.

Paul Sperry at the New York Post takes the shadow government idea even further and suggests Barack Obama himself is still actively running the show, which includes not just whisper campaigns in Washington, but street theater across the nation:

When former President Barack Obama said he was “heartened” by anti-Trump protests, he was sending a message of approval to his troops. Troops? Yes, Obama has an army of agitators — numbering more than 30,000 — who will fight his Republican successor at every turn of his historic presidency. And Obama will command them from a bunker less than two miles from the White House.

In what’s shaping up to be a highly unusual post-presidency, Obama isn’t just staying behind in Washington. He’s working behind the scenes to set up what will effectively be a shadow government to not only protect his threatened legacy, but to sabotage the incoming administration and its popular “America First” agenda.

He’s doing it through a network of leftist nonprofits led by Organizing for Action. Normally you’d expect an organization set up to support a politician and his agenda to close up shop after that candidate leaves office, but not Obama’s OFA. Rather, it’s gearing up for battle, with a growing war chest and more than 250 offices across the country.

Sperry points out that Obama is still very actively involved in OFA, which has piled up $40 million in contributions since it formally ceased to be “Obama for America” in 2013 – and it’s just one of a network of Obama organizations.

It doesn’t take a lot of manpower to keep the Beltway leak machine running.  News coverage leading up to Flynn’s resignation referred to anonymous sources dozens of times, but it is likely the same people were leaking to multiple news organizations.  We’re probably looking at a fairly small group of highly motivated loyalists with extensive media connections.

Their work is made far easier by active collusion from Big Media, of course.  One of the most curious details about the final round of anti-Flynn stories is that much of what they revealed was old news, and the material tucked away deep inside the stories helped Flynn’s cause, no matter what the alarming headlines said.

A few people tried to point this out on social media, but their voices were drowned out by the deafening stampede to destroy Flynn and smear the rest of the Trump administration:

With that kind of help from partisan media, it doesn’t take much of a “conspiracy” to undermine the White House.  The media won’t think of it as a conspiracy at all.  It’s just people they’ve known for years, fellow travelers they socialize with, slipping them a little juicy gossip about a president they mutually loathe.

The reality of a “shadow government” is much less dramatic than the name would imply – just a handful of people with lots of reporters in their address books, using strategic leaks to twist the dials on the Beltway media pressure cooker.  Until the White House can find them and neutralize them, it should be very careful about giving them anything to work with.

Trump’s raucous cabinet as an asset

Wall Street Journal

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-method-in-trumps-tumult-1486770583

The Method in Trump’s Tumult

A raucous cabinet can be an asset.  Some of the best presidents, including Washington, wielded disagreement as a tool.

Feb. 10, 2017 6:49 p.m. ET

Say this for Donald Trump:  He does not shrink from controversy.  As the president’s cabinet nominees came under Senate questioning, several expressed clear disagreements with their new boss.  Defense Secretary Jim Mattis presented Russia as a threat; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged action on climate change; budget nominee Mick Mulvaney stood firm for entitlement reform.

Pundits have used these differences to portray a new administration born in disarray.  Yet perhaps we are witnessing something else.  Such frankness from cabinet nominees is a refreshing departure from the customary spectacle of officials robotically repeating their talking points.  President Trump has not only picked extraordinarily capable men and women, he has self-assuredly encouraged them to speak their minds.  “I want them to be themselves,” he tweeted, “and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

President Trump may be rediscovering a venerable method of leadership that has been forgotten in our era of ideological messaging.  Rather than viewing disagreement as a problem, previous American leaders wielded it as a tool.  They surrounded themselves with highly accomplished, strong-minded advisers, and used vigorous debate among them to generate fully considered options for confronting the intractable problems of the day.

The method was invented by George Washington, as the historian David Hackett Fischer explains in his book “Washington’s Crossing.”  As a young man Washington had observed the hierarchal, autocratic leadership of the British military in the French and Indian War.  But he realized early in the Revolutionary War that those methods were unsuited to his task.  The American forces were fractious, culturally diverse amateurs, and the war required constant extemporizing.

President Washington consults with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, circa 1795.  Photo:  Getty Images

This led Gen. Washington to devise a new form of war council.  Instead of handing down battlefield assignments, it was devoted to hearing out impassioned arguments over strategy and tactics among officers of distinct backgrounds and inclinations.  Washington listened and asked probing questions.  When he made his eventual decision, everyone understood why, and knew that it took full account of the risks and uncertainties that their deliberations had revealed.

Prof. Fischer extended his analysis to the presidencies of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt in a 2006 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute (available at C-Span.org).  Washington’s first term had him once again navigating uncharted territory with everything at stake.  Vice President John Adams, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, and congressional ally James Madison were among the greatest men of the age.  They represented key constituents of American society, politics and philosophy.  Washington made creative use of the conflicts among them, notably in the debates over whether the federal government should assume state war debts and establish a national bank—as celebrated in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton.”  Washington’s studied aloofness permitted opinion to mature in Congress and the states, allowed new coalitions to form, and led to serviceable compromises on what had been impossibly divisive problems.

Lincoln and FDR adopted similar methods in similarly grave and momentous times.  Lincoln’s cabinet included eminent political opponents—the aggressively conniving “team of rivals” of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s study—whom the president encouraged to disagree while he listened intently.  FDR fomented competition within highly diverse cabinets and academic “kitchen cabinets” that included prominent Republicans such as Henry Stimson.

Both presidents eschewed ideology for simple, overarching principles—for Lincoln, human equality and preservation of the union; for Roosevelt, fairness and freedom from fear and want.  This preserved tactical flexibility. Lincoln’s motto was “my policy is to have no policy,” while FDR shifted unpredictably from left to right and back again.  Both were secretive and manipulative, and kept friends and foes guessing until the moment to act was nigh—sometimes at their own instance (the Emancipation), sometimes at the instance of others (Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war).

The methods of Washington, Lincoln and FDR have sometimes been adopted by their successors.  Richard Nixon, in his early years, orchestrated intense, often fruitful debates over foreign, domestic and fiscal policy among the brilliant professoriate he had assembled:  Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Arthur Burns, George Shultz, Paul McCracken and Herbert Stein.

Ronald Reagan, at once a libertarian conservative and political pragmatist, was thoroughly comfortable with the clash of ideas.  Early in his first term, he was confronted by a reporter with purportedly scandalous rumors:  Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger had been arguing openly in front of him.  Reagan’s answer:  Of course—that’s their job!  His penchant for ending contentious meetings with a well-rehearsed joke or Hollywood story, to the frequent exasperation of his interlocutors, was his way of standing back and letting the disagreement continue for a time.

Reagan was particularly adept at maintaining independent channels of information and counsel, so as not to become captive to government groupthink.  The classic ending for a White House decision memo is to present three options:  1) Abject Capitulation; 2) Nuclear Annihilation; 3) the Staff Recommendation.  Not infrequently, Reagan would choose Option 7, an utterly different approach concocted on the side with advice from California business magnates or from Milton Friedman or Edward Teller at the Hoover Institution.  The news reports that Reagan was “out of touch” often meant that his staff had griped he was out of touch with their preferences.

At the other end of the spectrum, the least successful modern presidents were the insular Jimmy Carter, who disdained disagreement, and the rigid ideologue Barack Obama, who, in George Will’s formulation, “never learned anything from anyone with whom he disagreed.”  In contrast, Bill Clinton enjoyed mixing it up with conservatives, who were often impressed that the president knew their arguments as thoroughly as they did.

The two Bushes were intermediate cases, both a bit too attached to tidy lines of authority.  When George H.W. Bush called off military operations against Iraqi forces in 1991, immediately after liberating Kuwait, he was being shielded from strong disagreement within his administration among those who believed Saddam Hussein’s invasion was a strong casus belli for removing him from power.  The mistake became horribly clear as soon as the president urged Iraqis to overthrow the dictator on their own:  Within weeks, Hussein’s troops slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and committed unspeakable atrocities.

In contrast, George W. Bush’s 2007 Iraq “surge” was developed entirely outside his administration and strenuously opposed within it.  The outsourcing of military policy, highly atypical of President Bush and deep into his second term, turned imminent defeat into a victory that advanced for the remainder of his administration.

Now President Trump’s leadership style is unorthodox and often unsettling.  His methods, derived from business and popular entertainment rather than politics, are in many respects unlike anything that has come before.  Yet they are not entirely unprecedented.

He forgoes ideology for simple, cross-partisan principles:  America First, safety from terrorism and violent crime, better jobs and schools for the poor and working class, defiance of self-serving elites.  He has filled his cabinet with people of proven talent, including erstwhile opponents Ben Carson and Rick Perry, and named a diversified team of White House advisers.  Mr. Trump cultivates independent sources of information and is unlikely ever to become captive to his staff.  He is unpredictable and uses his talent for drama to keep allies focused and opponents distracted.

Most of all, President Trump is comfortable with controversy and dissent, indeed often incites them to advantage.  His tweets and pronouncements can be outrageous and overstated—Up to a point, Lord Copper!—but they demonstrate a healthy skepticism toward ossified orthodoxy and, critically, are designed to stimulate debate rather than close it down.

For instance, global warming is not a “hoax,” as Mr. Trump has said.  But the public and scientific debates over climate change have involved several hoaxes, one of which is the deliberate conflation of causation, degree, consequence and policy response.  Several of the president’s officials are now propounding the more nuanced view and disentangling the critical distinctions.  Deliberation on an important, complicated problem is opening up.

The result may be similar with the fracas over Russian email hacking during the election campaign.  Mr. Trump’s attacks on the official intelligence report, and his mischievous nod to WikiLeaks, helped show how overcentralized and fragile America’s intelligence establishment has become.  It is indeed “politicized,” in the sense of being organized, at the top, by consensus-seeking committees.  It employs bureaucratic verbiage to mask conflicts of fact and interpretation.  It is increasingly vulnerable to unfiltered information from the outside, leaked or otherwise.  We shall see what President Trump does with a system that asks him to make decisions based on distinctions between “probable” and “highly probable” intelligence estimates, while Stephen Bannon scours the internet for second opinions and counterfactuals.

Mr. Trump’s zest for debate and willingness to defer to subordinates (as he did to Mr. Mattis on the question of rough military interrogations) make him more transparent than his predecessors.  He is not sphinxlike but garrulous and opinionated, not a raconteur but always smack in the argument.  So far, he has been adept at indicating when the time for talk is over, as when he shut down the Republican debates over ObamaCare “repeal and delay” and the House’s overhaul of its ethics office.  That suggests he will be decisive in informing subordinates when the moment has arrived to stand together.  Time will tell, though, how he adjusts to reversals and instances of “mistakes were made,” such as the sloppy immigration executive order, which was a mistake, precisely, of inadequate internal ventilation.

The focus, for now, should be on the quality and diversity of views that inform President Trump’s decisions.  For instance, his intelligence reforms are off to a good start but will encounter fierce bureaucratic resistance.  Success will require pertinacious leadership from the White House.  A key indicator will be whether the hard, granular conflicts, coming from agencies with radically different methods and assumptions, make it into the Oval Office without being homogenized by the director of national intelligence.

A complementary step would be an official, proactive WikiLeaks initiative.  As Mary Graham shows in her forthcoming book “Presidents’ Secrets,” government classification is used routinely to conceal blunders, protect careers and buttress agency prerogatives.  Over the years, many official declassification projects have come to naught.  Nota bene, Mr. Trump:  the president can declassify documents himself.

Mr. Trump should also bring a top economist or two into the White House, to balance and challenge the views of the financiers, business executives and political activists he has already assembled.  Economics cannot do all the things practical men would like it to, but it is a highly developed discipline with many useful insights.  Such as:  A tax on imports is a tax on exports.  And:  Markets compensate for policy changes, always reducing and sometimes repealing the effects that had been hoped for.  Moreover, the consequences of President Trump’s bold tax, trade and regulatory initiatives will eventually be measurable.  That will lead to a new round of debates, more empirical than the ones we are having today.  Economists will be better equipped than anyone to analyze and interpret the data for the president and for the rest of us.

Competition of ideas is a strength of democracy, not a weakness, not only in politics but in government itself.  Although President Trump has his differences (of course!) with Lin-Manuel Miranda, he should take heart from the percussive arguments between Hamilton and Jefferson and the tradition of creative disputation that President Washington inaugurated.

Mr. DeMuth is a distinguished fellow at Hudson Institute.

Norman Rockwell and the loss of political civility

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Wall Street Journal

https://www.wsj.com/articles/norman-rockwells-ode-to-civil-discourse-1486755531

Norman Rockwell’s Ode to Civil Discourse

This iconic painting, from his Four Freedoms series, honors respect for speakers of all stripes.

Feb. 10, 2017 2:38 p.m. ET

Beneath the gray roof of an unassuming white building on Route 183 in Stockbridge, Mass., resides a certain painting.  Its artist created it 75 years ago.  Yet amid the strident shouts, random rudeness and ceaseless cacophony of our current-day United States, that painting, in the quiet within those walls, offers a lesson that can seem as urgent as a breaking-news bulletin.

The name of the painting is “Freedom of Speech.”  The artist, Norman Rockwell, got the idea for it after listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union address in 1941.  In that speech Roosevelt spoke of “four essential human freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

‘Freedom of Speech’ (1943), by Norman Rockwell Photo:  Freedom of Speech illustration © 1943 SEPS licensed by Curtis Licensing Indianapolis, IN.  All rights reserved.

Rockwell poured his heart into creating his Four Freedoms paintings.  He offered them to the U.S. government, in the hopes they would be helpful in raising spirits during World War II.  The government turned him down flat.  But when, early in 1943, the Saturday Evening Post—at the time America’s largest-circulation magazine—published reproductions of the paintings in four consecutive issues, the nation’s response was so emotional and so overwhelming that the government did an about-face, asked permission to put the originals on tour, and used them to sell more than $132 million in war bonds.

Of the four paintings, “Freedom of Speech” has long been my favorite.  And there is a good chance that if Rockwell, who died in 1978, were alive today, it would not even occur to him to make it look the way it does.

If you’ve ever seen the painting, you know what I mean.  The setting is a town meeting.  One man, in work clothes, has risen from the audience to speak.  There is nervousness, and courage, in his eyes; Rockwell makes it evident that the man is likely not accustomed to talking in public.  Other citizens of the town, the men in coats and ties, are in the seats around him.  Their eyes are focused upward, toward him. They are hearing him out; they are patiently letting him have his say.

His eyes, their eyes…that is the power of the painting.  We, of course, have no idea what is on the man’s mind, or whether the other townspeople agree with him or adamantly oppose him.  But as he talks they are listening, giving him a chance.  They know that their own turn, if they want it, will come.  For now, they owe him their full and polite attention.

Such a simple concept. And it’s one that sometimes seems to be disappearing in this era when angry words hurtle past each other like poison-tipped arrows.  Today, when so much public discourse is not just brutal but also faceless, when the back-and-forth is increasingly digitally driven, with invective and mockery flying from screen to screen, dispatched by people with made-up names, there is a constant impulse to shout down, to belittle, to gang up on.  A gentle voice has scant chance in the rising din.  You look at the Rockwell painting, and you ask yourself if that man could expect to find a respectful hearing in our electronic versions of group colloquy.

You contemplate the tableau in “Freedom of Speech,” and the meaning of those eyes hits you.  Rockwell understood:  Only when we look each other in the eye can we begin to solve our problems.  It is easy to eviscerate someone whose eyes yours have never met; it is easy to harangue someone, to make him feel insignificant, if you don’t have to see him.  When Rockwell was distilling America’s aspirations into his Four Freedoms paintings, there was no internet, there were no social media, television sets had not yet taken over the country’s homes.  He took it on faith that when men and women rose to speak, they would of necessity greet each others’ gazes.

If you ever pass through Stockbridge, you can see the original Four Freedoms paintings in the Norman Rockwell Museum, the white building on Route 183.  (The museum has just announced a traveling exhibition of the works scheduled to begin in 2018.)  That man standing up in “Freedom of Speech”—what would be his fate today, in a world where the town meeting is not limited to any single town, where the meeting never stops, never sleeps, where the attendees are routinely invisible and full of casual rage?  Would the man be granted a courteous hearing?  Or, depending on the point he was hoping to make, would he be hooted down, hounded and laughed at by an audience he couldn’t see?  Would he be silenced by strangers?

In the painting there is reverence in all those eyes.  Not because of what the man is saying, but because of the sanctity of the act of saying it.  It is reverence for an ideal that feels endangered today when, too often, the only eyes people see during their public debates are the ones reflecting off their computer screens as they type:  their own two eyes, staring back.

CNN.com’s fake news on Elizabeth Warren

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The following is a Facebook post of mine from yesterday:

On Facebook Trending (in the upper right of your screen), I found a clip of the following headline from today on CNN.com:  “The Coretta Scott King letter Elizabeth Warren was trying to read.”  [http://www.cnn.com/…/elizabeth-warren-coretta-sc…/index.html]

Is that statement true?  Yes.  Does that statement, as a featured headline, herald the truth of the story.  No.

CNN.com ultimately tells the truth of the story, but furthers its dishonesty by purposely coloring the truth with a concoction of partisan rhetoric:  “On Tuesday night, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to read part of the letter on the Senate floor.  Republicans cried foul — charging that Warren violated Senate rules against impugning another senator.  A party-line vote upheld that decision, turning what could have been an ordinary late-night partisan floor speech for C-SPAN devotees into a national story.”

What is the uncolored truth of the story?  On Tuesday night, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to impugn another senator, Jeff Sessions, through the use of a Coretta Scott King letter.  Republicans charged that Warren violated Senate rules prohibiting such impugning.  A vote upheld that decision, turning the attempt into a national story.

This attempt by CNN.com to color a truthful story with partisan rhetoric is a prime example of fake news.

An essential reading on writing truthful journalism is “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell:  http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

Nehemiah builds a wall

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In the early morning hours of January 20, 2017, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for the inauguration prayer service, Pastor Robert Jeffress selected a reading from the biblical Book of Nehemiah with Donald and Melania Trump in attendance.

The following is my condensation of the Book of Nehemiah, focusing on the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem:

(1:1) The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.  (1:3) “. . . the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

(2:3) I said to the king . . . “Why should my face not be sad; when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”  (2:4) Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.  (2:5) Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.” . . . (2:7) Then I said to the king, “. . . let . . . (2:8) . . . a letter [be given] to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, directing him to give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple fortress, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.”  And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me. . . . (2:17) Then I said to them [the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest that were to do the work], “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned.  Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”  (2:18) I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me.  Then they said, “Let us start building!”  So they committed themselves to the common good.

(4:1) Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews.  (4:2) He said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing?  Will they restore things?  Will they sacrifice?  Will they finish it in a day?  Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish—and burned ones at that?”  (4:3) Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “That stone wall they are building—any fox going up on it would break it down!” . . . (4:7) But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, (4:8) and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. . . . (4:11) And our enemies said, “They will not know or see anything before we come upon them and kill them and stop the work. . . . (4:14) After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”  (4:15) When our enemies heard that their plot was known to us, and the God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall each to his work.

(6:15) So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.  (6:16) And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

(7:1) Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, (7:2) I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.  (7:3) And I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot; while the gatekeepers are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors.  Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their watch posts, and others before their own houses.” . . . (7:73) So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel settled in their towns.

(12:27) Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. . . . (12:30) And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.

Translation used was the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

artwork from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehemiah