Who Elected The Blond Bear?

There was a television documentary in the Sixties, in the depth of the Cold War, that examined how nuclear war with the Soviet Union would impact two cities in the United States:  New York City and Tucson.  New York was an obvious choice, given its prominence, but Tucson?  In the 1960s, Tucson was home to a Strategic Air Command (SAC) facility and ringed by an array of 18 Title missiles armed with nuclear warheads, which made it a primary Soviet target.  The documentarians’ cold assessment:  at least a million people would perish in New York City; nobody in Tucson would survive.

A few days after that documentary, I dove under my desk at school as a siren wailed, a Death Banshee signaling a make-believe nuclear attack.  My school was less than ten miles from Tucson’s SAC base and pretty much in the bullseye of the missile ring.  I had seen the documentary, yet I played along, diving under my desk with my classmates when the siren wailed, acting like it would make a difference when I understood if I wasn’t incinerated by the fireball I’d be pulverized by the shock wave.  We knew a lot about the effects of a nuclear blast back then, as we knew we were helpless pawns in history’s most dangerous chess match.  That’s why we visited Jellystone Park.

There’s something about rehearsing your own annihilation that makes you want to escape into a cartoon world where nobody dies and enemy spies are clumsy dolts.  The fertile minds of Hanna-Barbera gave us such a world, although it wasn’t a perfect escape.  The bad guys who were foiled by Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his pal, Bullwinkle the Moose, were named Boris and Natasha.  They were laughable and inept in their attempt to spy on Americans in places such as “Frostbite Falls, Minnesota,” in service of the evil “Pottsylvania,” a stand-in for the Soviet Union.  The good guys always won.  Meanwhile, in “Jellystone Park,” we rooted for a bad guy to win:  Yogi Bear.  Proud, brown Yogi chafed at being confined to Jellystone and constantly battled his white overseer, Ranger Smith.  There were echoes of the real world in Frostbite Falls and Jellystone, but no bombs, nooses, or fire hoses.  That all stayed in the world we escaped.

The bears and spies remained.  Today the bears are not the fecklessly amiable Yogi and the spies are not the bumbling Boris and Natasha.  They spy on us, turn us against each other, weaponize our speech, steal our secrets, tell us lies, and organize us into mobs.  The spies are not Boris and Natasha but “Doris and Natasha,” human listening devices disguised as tourists who trolled at least nine states from the Vegas Strip to Times Square, learning about American DNA so others could fashion a pathogen to attack it.  They assaulted us with a virus built from our own cultural genetics and, in a close election, may have chosen our President.

When Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein announced the indictment against 13 Russians for unlawful interference in the 2016 election and other crimes, he carefully noted the document did not state the Russians tipped the election.  That’s the standard line among politicians and commentators and makes sense, to a point.  When several causes might logically lead to a result, it’s difficult to isolate any one as singularly responsible.  To exploit an old metaphor, when you focus on the straw that broke the camel’s back, you disavow the contribution of all the other straws.

The Russian campaign to help Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton might have been the final straw.  One cannot disregard Clinton’s self-inflicted damage from the private email server or former FBI Director James Comey’s errant cannonballs, both of which hurt the Clinton campaign and narrowed the polls.  But would they have been enough to give the election to Trump without Russian agents who spent millions to purchase phony political ads, create fictitious Internet users and groups, organize Americans into flash mobs, and even pay actors to portray Clinton in prison garb?  Would they have been enough without Russian efforts to attack Clinton and encourage Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for Trump or just sit out the election?  Would they have been enough without Russian efforts to suppress the black vote through social media messaging?  And would they have been enough without Russian support for Jill Stein, whose vote totals in two key swing states exceeded Trump’s winning margin?  It used to be an article of faith that there was no reason to believe the Russians elected Trump.  The indictment shows it’s at least possible, if not more likely than not.

That should trigger a political Pentecost and stampede to action, since American democracy is in peril.  Our leadership is failing us.  The President cannot make a negative comment about Vladimir Putin and disparages evidence of Russian interference.  His allies in the House and Senate, who must have kept their fingers crossed when they took the Oath of Office, either fail to call him out or conspire with him against law enforcement.  The Democrats are a minority party unable to take the car keys while the Republican elephant has vodka on its breath.

Fortunately, we still have elections and the basic wisdom of the American people.  All of us can point to voters’ decisions that may not strike us as wise, but that’s a consequence of pluralism.  Democracy is a marathon, not a sprint, and we usually wind up at the front.  Americans may not be perfect, but we have what it takes under the circumstances.

We only have to be smarter than the average bear.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


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The Year of the Dog

Salty was on the 71st floor of World Trade Center Tower 1; Roselle was on the 78th.  Both were at work when terror struck on 911, serving as guide dogs for their blind masters who worked in the building.  Salty and Roselle were yellow Labrador retrievers, trained at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, and had been with their humans since the late 90s.  When the plane hit the building and panic, death, and chaos surrounded them, Salty and Roselle went to work. 

Salty was sitting next to Omar Rivera, blinded 14 years earlier by glaucoma.  Omar grabbed for Salty’s leash and the dog calmly threaded his way through people and debris to the fire escape.  At one point, a well-meaning but unknowing co-worker tried to grab Salty’s leash, thinking the dog needed help.  Salty refused to leave Omar’s side and made it clear he had everything under control.  It took 75 minutes to descend 71 floors to the lobby.  They were a few blocks away when the tower collapsed.  Salty had saved them both.

Roselle was asleep when the building was struck by the aircraft 15 floors above the office where she and her human, Michael Hingson, worked.  Michael was blind since birth and met Roselle in 1999.  Roselle, like Salty, rescued her human companion, along with 30 others who followed them down the fire escape.  About half way to the lobby they passed several firefighters who were climbing the stairs and Roselle stopped to greet them.  After descending 1,463 steps, Roselle and Michael were on the ground floor.  As they left the building, Tower 2 suddenly collapsed, spewing debris that showered on them.  “She saved my life,” Michael said later.  “While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job. While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.”  She led Michael to a subway station, where she rescued a woman who had been blinded by flying dust and debris.

The reason I’m thinking about Salty and Roselle, as well as Trakr, who discovered the last human survivor of the 911 attack, is because we are about to commence the Year of the Dog in the Chinese Calendar.  Now, for a thought experiment.  Remove all the dog references in the foregoing paragraphs and substitute the word, “Rooster.”  I know:  you can’t.  It’s impossible to imagine the same scenario if Salty and Roselle were roosters.  Dogs rescued their humans and others.  A rooster would have been a cock-a-doodle-do-nothing.  It’s time to bid farewell to the Year of the Rooster, also referred to as the Year of the Cock.

Was it ever!  “The year of the Rooster is a time to cockadoodle-do about your accomplishments,” writes Avia Venefica in whats-your-sign.com.  According to chinahighlights.com, one of the lucky colors of the Year of the Rooster is gold and the lucky directions are south and southeast.  Can you think of anybody who rose to prominence in the Year of the Rooster, who likes to crow about his accomplishments, loves the color gold, and escapes to his favorite property (Mar-A-Lago) in the Southeast?  Yes, the Year of the Rooster was the year of the crowing, strutting, gilded rooster who rules the Oval Office. 

The waning year was also the year of Harvey Weinstein and boorish males eager to drop their trousers and flash their roosters at vulnerable women in board rooms, casting studios, even medical offices.  They strut and puff out their feathery chests, brandishing spurs and combs while crowing about their greatness, oblivious to their loathsomeness.  They include the First Rooster, with his “Access Hollywood” braggadocio who sympathizes with wife-beaters, but not their victims.  He defended his “Access Hollywood” remarks as “locker-room banter.”  It’s not locker room.  It’s barnyard.

Roosters have their place, but mainly they strut, crow, fight and have their way with hens.  Compare that to the wonderful array of dog behaviors.  Dogs can read our emotions, can tell when we are lying, and can even detect cancer.  Have you felt a special bond when you look a dog in the eyes?  So did the dog.  Both of you experienced an Oxytocin rush, accompanied by a sensation of bonding and connectedness.  Dogs and humans are wired to love each other.  Can you imagine an Oxytocin rush when you look into the eyes of a rooster?  Or Donald Trump?

What of the Year of the Dog?  Ms. Venefica writes, “the year of the Dog is one of understanding, faith and devotion,” that has a “kind of advocate feel to it.”  “Those who have no voice to speak are somehow able to get their point across in the year of the Dog,” she adds.  “Those who cannot stand on their own, will somehow have the support they need. This year is all about acknowledging those we have forgotten, and paying mindful respect to the unspoken heroes who deserve it.”  The dogs will lead us faithfully and bravely through the rooster tail of dust and debris spawned in the wake of the most dysfunctional individual ever to sit at the Resolute Desk.  What a year it can be for victims of sexual assault and harassment, for the rural poor dealing with the opioid epidemic, for Forest Rangers striving to preserve our natural reserve, for minority individuals still battling red lines and inchoate racism, for Dreamers and their families, for victims of sex trafficking, for the disabled, for the land, air and sea.  This is a year to roll up our sleeves, pull up our boots, and chase off the roosters.

Time to let the dogs out.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


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The Nunes Memo and Trump’s Greatest Fear

The Nunes memo was not just a “nothing burger,” it was a double-whopper nothing burger that drew derision and disdain.  It’s a pundit’s piñata, with commentators hammering the memo and its hyperventilating advocates.  MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program aired a video mashup comparing the hype over the memo to Geraldo Rivera’s “Al Capone’s vault” fiasco, featuring horse poop hucksters like Sean Hannity, who said the memo uncovered “the biggest abuse of power … in American history.”  That’s like conflating a sex fantasy with syphilis (Capone sub-reference intended).  But the memo might inadvertently suggest Donald Trump’s greatest fear.

The memo is not only insubstantial, it’s illogical.  Nunes claims the FBI submitted a misleading declaration to surveil Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor on Trump’s campaign team.  He alleges the FBI failed to disclose that some of the evidence in the declaration came from a source funded by the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  “I don’t believe that somebody like Mr. Page should be a target of the FBI,” Nunes told Trump News, “especially using salacious information paid for by a political campaign…”  The “salacious information” is in a dossier prepared by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who had been hired by research firm Fusion GPS to investigate Trump’s Russian connections. 

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Devin Can’t Wait

Nowadays men lead lives of noisy desperation.
– James Thurber

Devin Nunes, a California Congressman with the I.Q. of a trilobite, is the scary clown in the Trump circus, tasked with undermining the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by Trump and/or his family members and staffers.  His mission:  to create the illusion that the investigation is an illegitimate political attack by the FBI, headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and facilitated by high-ranking officials of the Justice Department.  His method, according to the New York Times:  a secret memo, written by Nunes without the input of the Justice Department or F.B.I. and without Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, which Nunes chairs.


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