Life in Thin Air

I realize the Squid has been a boring series of political screeds of late, for the most part. I can’t help it. I feel like an invisible Thomas Paine, distributing my pamphlets to an invisible New England. I suppose a lot of us invisible types feel that way. (When everyone has a megaphone, all we hear is a big noise.)

But in America there still exists, for now, a place called RMNP – Rocky Mountain National Park. The family and I recently scootered up there, to a great little rented house right off the main drag in Estes Park, CO. That might seem odd, but this wasn’t our first Estes Park rodeo (they have those too),  and we’ve learned the reason downtown is downtown is that it’s the middle of everything. Being smack in the middle of downtown means you are smack in the middle of everywhere you want to go. What’s more, even with a crass commercial “strip” 100 feet from our door (and down the mountain), if we look any other direction we see – you guessed it – mountains. “Slanty living,” I call it, where there’s nowhere to set your water bottle or your camera bag down because the ground is just not flat anywhere. It’s the same in downtown Estes as it is everywhere else (except the golf course).

I love Estes Park not just for its scenic beauty, but also for its built-in mid-century kitschiness. It’s a compact little vision of what American vacationing was always meant to look like: beautiful views, fresh mountain air and sun, shady RV parks, ice cream and taffy, Indian jewelry, and mini golf. Lots of mini golf. We even took the tram up the mountain this time, something we’ve never bothered to check out on earlier trips. It was fantastic. Very trammy, just like you’d expect. 

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But getting up into the park, into the real mountain air – that is the reason you go. It’s materially different, a different feeling altogether than walking around at sea level, buying gum or waiting for a bus or something. You are acutely aware of every moment – every breath, really – because the air is not giving it up for free, the oxygen. You have to work for it. And if you do you get that new energy that will take you up one more vertical foot, or yard. But it’s not unpleasant (for me, though it can be for some) to work for it. To greedily gulp up the mostly-nitrogen air to capture  those few precious oxygen molecules a lungfull offers. It’s a challenge. And the light – the light seems to be somehow unbowed from the atmosphere up there – pure, brilliant – razor sharp, enough to cut through what haze there might be, the misty mountain mornings, within an hour or so. (From our vantage just above the city, our cabin’s big front window captured the whole “bowl” of downtown Estes, and in the mornings sometimes the clouds were lying down on the mountaintops, a misty blanket. It burned off by 10 or so, replaced with that big smiling sun that, as bright as it shines, can be a devil to locate among all those pointy peaks. They shadow one another, or the cloud shadows roam across their glowing granite rock faces and clingy pines.)

And the water – of course all the water up there is snowmelt, erstwhile ice racing down the mountains on all sides to find its new level. Such a hurry! Over polished boulders and rotting aspens and pines, fish flipped out by anglers where it runs smoother on the levels. Crystal clear, but foaming and bubbling too, mountain champagne – you want to stoop by the bank, cup a hand and drink its coldness (but you don’t). Here you can find a peaceful wood at the Wild Basin – near the foot of Long’s Peak, a few yards from that pond where we saw a young moose at play in the still water –a peaceful place that is not peaceful at all, as you step into the woods and feel the momentum of the river crashing over huge rocks and coming together in that unmistakable sound of rushing water gone mad with flight, obstacles be damned. Subtle at first, like a highway in the distance, when you arrive it’s a jet engine next to your ear, yet it’s peaceful noise, nature’s noise, with just you, your family, the rocks and the water and the trees, those immortal sentinels. A kind of cacophonous silence, a blaring quiet. It’s other-worldly, because usually we don’t get to live in this other world – the real world. Usually we’re stuck in the rough copy we made.

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We won’t make a habit of future trips to the Rocky Mountains, it would not be fair to those who suffer from the altitudes. But I at least will probably need to find my way back a few more times, for the refresh. I have an inner, insistent need now, at this part of life, to find such soul-enriching places and promptly suck up the enrichment they offer. My soul depletes—especially during this tragic moment my country endures, when we continue to phone in our former lives in a kind of embarrassed, resigned dull dread while we wait for the other shoe to drop. And the one after that.

The canyons of Utah proved to be such a place (but also high in the sky, a bit ironic for canyons). So too the canyons of Chicago or New York – electric cities– where the thrill to the soul is more man-made but no less evocative of that unnamed thing—the essence of life—the thing that escapes our book of days and visits us only when we set it aside for a respite, a rest, a difference. Such moments, we think – the fleeting moments, almost invisible as if glimpsed out of the corner of our soul’s eye—such moments are a brief delve into what our world was meant to be for us, before we lost our way: bright, electric, alive, immediate, moving—moving—never at rest, but always at peace with its wild self.

 

 

 

 

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The Trickster and the Fool

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It’s disheartening to see the U.S. – North Korea kabuki theater performed again and again, always to the advantage of the Kim dynasty and the disadvantage of the West. The dictatorship has one unerring talent: the ability to fool American presidents into playing their zero-sum game. It starts with the rhetoric – bombast hurled at the new U.S. leader in hopes it will be returned (worked like a charm this time around). Then the nuclear brinkmanship (the reason for NK’s program being diplomatic leverage), and the ensuing worldwide panic, followed by the “high level” talks that pull all threatened parties into the mix (China, South Korea, Japan, etc.). The cumulative effect of these actions and their media-grabbing headlines is the only one the Kim dynasty is interested in, namely worldwide recognition of the power, legitimacy and importance of the North Korean regime.

But Kim, like the American president, is playing mostly to a domestic audience. The message? “It would be dangerous to remove me during this (never-ending) crisis.”

Americans should (but probably don’t) remember that this all played out previously, in 1994 under the Clinton administration and later between 2006 – 2007, as the Bush administration announced a “path to normalization” with Pyongyang. For both “agreements” North Korea had agreed to demolish its nuclear development facilities (!) and in the 2007 negotiations provided (doctored) footage to prove it had done so. Clinton and Bush were, of course, hoodwinked as today’s evidence shows. The 1994 Agreed Framework and 2006-2007’s so-called Six-Party Talks were nothing but stall tactics. The result is a nuclear-armed North Korea, now with ballistic missile capabilities. Soon they will have a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, if they don’t already, capable of striking anywhere in the world.

Today, apparently, the regime released three American prisoners , two of them having been scooped up under the current U.S. administration in order to create the leverage Kim is now strategically ceding. This is of course part of the wider, long-range gambit, which also includes a seeming cool-down between the two Koreas. Now the U.S. president will become overconfident. He will strut into the summit trap Kim has set thinking he has “the advantage.” (It’s The Art of the Deal, you know.)

I predict that at the peak of bilateral negotiations, per the dog-eared script, the Kim regime will find an excuse to introduce delay after delay as they produce false promise after false promise, backed by false evidence, their mission having already been accomplished: widespread media coverage of their power and influence, and a U.S. regime that has completely lost face by walking into their predictable, time-worn diplomatic trap. My question bares repeating: How will he react?

This is why the Obama administration refused to even engage with North Korea – they knew from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s experience that there was nothing in it for them. Unless sponsor state China does something about the Kim regime’s recklessness, there is nothing to be done by any other parties short of starting a world war:  China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran versus an isolated United States.

I hope it comes out differently this time, I hope North Korea is serous about denuclearization. But I’ve never seen the sun rise in the West.

Update: When I’m right, I’m right. Also – that was fast.

Nebraska – Let’s Usher In the Future

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Republican Senator Orrin Hatch recently said publicly that it’s “ridiculous” for terminally ill Republican Senator John McCain to request that the Republican president not attend his funeral.

Perhaps Orrin forgot that the president publicly denigrated McCain and impugned his honor during the president’s disgusting 2016 campaign. As a reminder to Hatch, the president said of McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” (McCain’s fighter jet was shot down over North Vietnam. He helped his fellow prisoners of war endure years of torture under the North Vietnamese at the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career in Congress for decades, up to and including his dying days. He was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.)

It’s really time to reconsider a knee-jerk party-line vote for your local GOP rep when they refuse to call out people like this.

We can do better. Much better. Right here in Nebraska we have outstanding, smart, fair-minded moderate candidates like Jane Raybould for Senate, Kara Eastman for Congress, and Bob Krist for Governor (OK he’s older than Ricketts but a far better choice than Dollar-Store Lex Luthor – unless you’re a fan of prison riots). Nearer to home there’s my old friend Nancy Meyer for NRD, friend-of-friends Megan Hunt for NE legislature, and probably someone in your own district who can help restore the separation of powers both in Washington and in our ailing, one-party-rule, would-be Kansas economic disaster.

This is not a partisan appeal. It’s an appeal to decency, to the simple, quaint notions of honesty and ethics in government. Some decent leaders remain in the Republican party (for some reason), like my State Senator John McCollister. But let’s face it – they are the last of the holdouts in a party that is no longer what it was when John McCain was running for president, a party being subsumed into the current president’s populist insurgent cause. It is a lost cause.

That’s all – please think, then vote.

Update: On Thursday morning (5/10/2018), a White House aide named Kelly Sadler joked that Arizona Sen. John McCain’s opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel is nothing to worry about because “he’s dying anyway.”

Contest of Wills? No, a Developing Constitutional Crisis

The news is so frustrating. The media – out for ratings, just like the reality show star in the White House – portray our developing constitutional crisis as some kind of battle royal between two outsized personalities. The sense we get from the media is that we’re watching the trash-talking preliminaries of a heavily anticipated title match (although, of course, only one party to the fight is engaging in the trash talk). The idea is that we’ll have this big battle, and the winner will take all as he is showered with accolades by his loyal fans. The loser will vow to rise again, saying “wait till next year”. Then it will all be over, and we will shut off the TV and go to bed, satisfied that it was a very exciting man-to-man contest.

But that’s not what’s happening, not at all. What’s happening is we have a secretive, lying, cult-like, bullying, paranoid, ignorant, truth-averse, and very likely criminal gang squatting uneasily on what should be a presidential administration. They fear the revelations of truth and the application of the law so much, they and their co-conspirators in Congress appear willing to go above the law, to exercise raw power in challenging hundreds of years of legal and institutional precedent, in order to protect themselves and their cash cow – what the rest of us call the federal government. Anyone who threatens to reveal the truth they eliminate if they can, or try to intimidate into silence if they can’t (yet). They are not administrators, they are a modern day confederation of mobsters. They are looters and anarchists who demonstrate on a daily basis their utter contempt for the rule of law and for our democracy’s institutional norms.

Should they prevail, there will be no “next year” for this republic and its few dedicated defenders. We know how the “five families” ended up in the long run – they took everyone else down with them.

And opposed to them, we have a dedicated REPUBLICAN war veteran and prosecutor of lawbreakers, an administrator of justice, who has served honorably and with distinction for decades under Republican and Democratic presidential administrations alike (real ones). He runs an experienced legal team working quietly, professionally, humbly and methodically in the cause of justice.  The team has already secured guilty pleas from several of the administration’s former foot soldiers and lieutenants. There will be more. But, as opposed to the unhinged daily stream-of-consciousness tweets (mostly lies and fabrications) from the reality show star, their story is as yet untold. Seizing on that legally and procedurally necessary information vacuum, the mob attempts to explain the character of the investigation  to us as a witch hunt (without explaining to us why a Republican career legal professional would conduct a witch hunt against a presumably innocent Republican president).

The media should stop pretending this is a contest of wills devoid of legal or moral context. Based on all we’ve seen and heard, this is people at the top levels of government—in concert with an antagonistic foreign power and self-aggrandizing criminal leak weasel–attempting to bring down this republic and everything it stands for. They do it all in the name of ego and personal gain, allied with the most ignorant and self-serving among our citizens, their hallmarks being contempt for truth, ethics, morality, justice, or any other admirable quality that exhibits even the smallest trace of human decency.

Saint Putin

I keep encountering people who seem to think Putin is some kind of heart-pure Diogenes, coming on American TV and telling us how screwed up our system is, and how our political system is the SOLE reason for all our problems. Never mind that he was actually here, as is his and the KGB’s tradition, to rub it in for his own amusement (and his people’s). He’s to be admired by Americans now. Because Megyn Kelly (or whatever her name is) sat there dumbstruck (emphasis on dumb) while he rattled off a string of spying/meddling/etc. accusations (which are true for both countries, of course, not just the US).

So for the record: Putin denies any and all involvement in the 2016 campaign (which is a denial of documented fact). He – in a Trumpian move – instead offers up that it is YOU who are guilty of (insert crimes here). I guess he showed us! Just not with any evidence.

We seem to have come to a place where Trumpers have had to manipulate their brains into thinking that the president was right when he (under orders)  excoriated the US for its own “evil deeds” whenever Russia’s 2016 Trump campaign (Moscow branch) was brought up. To do this, you also have to believe – Trump-like – that it’s a zero-sum game, that “both countries do it” so “both countries” are equally “evil.” Just two powerhouses duking it out for the spoils, right? To the president, who remains to this day “neutral” on Russia (!) there is no moral question. After all, he just appointed a CIA director who not only willingly tortured American prisoners, but who participated in a cover-up after mistakenly torturing an innocent person. What morality? It’s all about WINNING.

And that is somehow patriotic and in line with traditional Republican attitudes on Russia, yes? That there is a moral equivalence between the Russian kleptocracy/dictatorship and (what’s left of) American democracy? Or, if we’re not equivalent yet – we’ll get there?

Yes. That’s the new patriotism – Putin is all right, just looking after his “Russia First” interests, murdering rivals and invading neighbors. This paves the mental pathways for accepting a morally bankrupt president as legitimate. Because in the Trumpian world, everyone’s equally morally bankrupt. And everyone’s legitimate – until proven guilty.

How Will He React?

So – what will happen? We are all waiting around as more and more damning evidence comes in, more White House staffers walk, or are indicted, or plead guilty. We are at a point – with the indictments, guilty pleas, and talk show gut-spilling – a point where we all can see into the workings of this administration. And we see – those of us who still want to see the truth – that the workings are corrupt, lawless, and not in the interests of the nation.

We have seen the president destroy, belittle, demean, abandon or at least excoriate everyone around him, from the media, to Democrats, to Gold Star families, to the many women who accuse him of assault, to porn stars with NDAs, to federal judges, to his attorney general, his secretary of state, to “Republicans” (perhaps forgetting he is one), to his top advisers, and of course most significantly to every national security/law enforcement agency we have. Of course, we have NOT heard even one word of criticism leveled against Russia or Putin. Nor has the administration spent one dime of the millions authorized for State Department counter-measures to Russian interference. Nor has the administration bothered to implement the legal sanctions imposed by Congress against Russia. With, of course, no explanation.

One day soon, Meuller will arrive with the goods. We know what he will tell us – that the president is a crook, a self-dealing fraud, liar, grifter and lawbreaker whose only concern – whose ONLY concern – is and has always been what he can gain personally and for his family via the presidency. He will tell us that, in fact, due to the Russians’ having “cultivated” trump for a number of years (and likely “compromising” him given his ravenous sexual appetite and taste for teens), then having worked with Trump and his campaign to intervene in the 2016 election process (see: Don Jr., Hope Hicks and the hastily constructed memo of lies), the president is indelibly tied to the Russians, indebted to them in terms of their help with the campaign and, likely, literally indebted to Russian oligarchs and others who have funneled cash his way (not to mention the money laundering that has gone on at Trump properties). He is owned by Russia, and has been quietly working for them since day one. I don’t have to prove it. The media reports as a whole, the data we’ve seen dripping out of the various investigations taken as a whole – not to mention the transparent actions of the administration itself and the growing list of indictments and guilty pleas-  have already confirmed it. For further proof, I direct you to the current attempts by Trump’s corrupt allies in Congress – Nunes, Gaudy, etc. – to begin construction of the “alternate” reality they are desperately hoping will supplant “real” reality in the minds of Americans already inclined to believe whatever anyone says that might shield Trump. These are the (totally fabricated) ideas that the FBI/NSA/CIA are  (suddenly) rife with corruption, that Hillary and the Obama administration were the Russia “colluders”, that Obama “abused” the FISA warrant process to “out” Trumpian enemies, etc. All so much bullshit, but what else is new from this pack of self-serving liars?  We all remember the seven-year-long Benghazi fiasco, right? Or at least how much money was wasted on it?

So again – what will happen? At the point that we receive the truth – will the truth win out? Will it be accepted as truth? And if it is – what then? Pence has lived  a textbook life since becoming VP of the “I am completely out of the loop” variety. So of course he is, and has been since day 1,  hedging, ready to assume the presidency in the event all is discovered. But my guess is that Meuller will find that everyone in the campaign is guilty, so Pence will also be damaged goods.  And what if, as it appears, the Russia meddling was not limited to propaganda and coordination with the Trump campaign, but actually extended to manipulation of voting counts in the crucial swing states Trump won – unexpectedly – by razor-thin margins? Do we undo the Trump presidency?

Maybe. But that scenario leaves out Trump’s die-hard, reality-challenged supporters in the alt-right media and in our corrupt Congress. We already know they will refuse to believe the truth (because they are Post-Truth people). They will believe the ‘alternate fact’ stories being spun up right now by Trump’s allies (see above), because they like that reality better than the real reality. And after all, what value does truth have for these people? It just gets them in trouble.

And Trump? How will he react to being totally exposed, once and for all, as a fraud and a crook – and a traitor? It’s anyone’s guess, but in the past his practice has been simple – NEVER back down, never apologize, never admit error (let alone guilt of treason). But that doesn’t work if you are being removed from office – he can’t sue his way out of that humiliation. It will be final and complete. It will shatter his fragile illusion of himself and his even more fragile ego. As a man sadly deluded into thinking he’s perceived as a great president, it will ruin him.

And at that moment – when his downfall and his humiliation are complete, when he realizes he will be the first president to be forcibly removed from office, and thus realizes he is an utter failure – at that exact moment he will still have the ability to independently launch a first strike nuclear attack.

The only positive in that scenario is that there are currently no U.S. first strike plans that target the United States.

 

Post-Politics

I was just watching the end of a concert by a favorite band, The XX. It was sort of an epiphany – you’d have to see the concert, but it is simply a show full of love. These kids love one another (I’ve seen them in interviews) and I believe they love their fans for giving them a voice. And their fans love them.

It used to be you could just assume folks put love in the “plus” column, unless they’re jerks. But need I tell you? Jerks are on the rise.

And not just love. Everything that goes into it, into art, into soulful expression – into taking that risk of putting yourself out there, in whatever form, to affirm that love is good, to make yourself vulnerable to ridicule by expressing admiration for warm emotions, for friendship and respect. For honor, which is based on honesty, and truth, which is required for honesty.

It appears you risk being some kind of snowflake. Be that as it may, it’s a risk the vast majority of us are still willing to take. Only a few have found this time to be an apt opportunity to reveal an inner, coarser self, one that had heretofore been kept under wraps.

But they are a noisy few!

What my eyes and ears tell me, though, when witnessing an XX concert or a flood of “mad” emojis under a Pence speech, is that they are few in number compared to those who simply want to live and let live. The problem? Of course, it’s simple – though relatively rare, white Christian nationalism is now concentrated in the political class, more specifically the Republican party. This is having, for some, a legitimizing effect on what would have been scandalous behavior not ten years ago.

I mean, remember when you could get impeached for lying about a blow job?

When the governor of Nebraska goes into open battle with public higher education and Planned Parenthood, going so far as to call Nebraska a “pro-life” state (where he is dying to execute his prisoners, but never mind) – this reveals a deeper corrosion that preceded the president’s slimy rise to power. Ditto Walker, Brownback, Christie, Sessions, Bannon, Miller. They were waiting for him as one awaits a savior.

And the Joe Blows out there, with the aid of Facebook, are ascendant in their new nastiness, their on-script, imagination-free on line bullying and harassment.  Feeling their new “legitimacy” [sic] and testing out those “button-pushing” words!

I was never able to imagine how the right-wing political class would normalize Trump. I thought it impossible. And I was right – the man refuses to even pretend to be civilized. But I was forgetting that for a significant minority, it was not necessary to normalize the president’s boorish behavior.

To them, he was already normal.

In this, I believe many of us are “post-political,” in that we know we are members of a sane, rational majority. But we have little representation in the central government or in our region, both of which are seas of deepest, now-darkest red. Our leaders are leaders in name only. They are sectarians. They don’t identify with us, they don’t represent us, and they don’t want to. We are sailing different seas, every day. Our paths do not cross. Or if they do, it is to oppose each other’s ideas.

They are becoming to me as I already am to them – irrelevant.