Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Viral Spring #16: Masters of Deceit

-- By Tom Phillips

President Trump is kneeling on the neck of American democracy, and we are gasping for air.  The only thing in his way is the US Constitution, and that will be his next target.  

A classic coup d'etat is in progress, with all the earmarks of tactics school children learned to watch out for in the 1950s.  FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover wrote a book on the truth-defying tricks of the Soviet communist party -- the "Masters of Deceit."  

The KGB's playbook -- adapted from the Bolshevik revolution -- was designed so that a small, determined group could seize power over a large nation, and make it look like the people's choice.  The key was co-opting legitimate protests, turning them violent, creating chaos and confusion, and then presenting the party as the only force that could restore order.  And both the KGB and CIA used this tactic during the Cold War, fomenting unrest as a pretext for seizing power in countries as big as Indonesia, Iran and Afghanistan. 

George Floyd
Now it's come home to America.  Following the police killing of George Floyd, multiple sources reported violence instigated by  young white men, heavily masked, smashing windows and setting fires.  Local people then took the opportunity to pillage, helping themselves to a sliver of America's luxury consumer wealth.  And TV News did its part, constructing a lurid loop of riot footage to accompany the news night and day  -- a misleading mashup that makes it appear the entire country is in flames.     

Just before he called governors to demand a military crackdown, our president talked by phone with Vladimir Putin.  The White House says they had an airy discussion of G7 invitations, the successful US space shot, and steps they're taking to fight the pandemic. Pardon my skepticism but I think there was another item on the agenda.  

Putin, the former KGB whiz kid, is today's Master of Deceit.  The President of the United States is his Apprentice.  Their playbook comes courtesy of the KGB and CIA, which manipulated the world for decades, fooling journalists like me into reporting phony crises that resulted in the rise of client regimes. Now they'd like you to believe those black-clad masked invaders are just irate citizens; that what you see on TV is what's happening in America. 

Do yourself a favor, America.  Walk out into the real world today and see how it compares with the president's fever-dream.  

Then try to breathe. The worst is yet to come. 

-- Copyright 2020 by Tom Phillips 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Viral Spring #15: Old Movie, New World

-- By Tom Phillips 
Omar Sharif as Dr. Zhivago 

With nowhere to go this Viral Spring, we've been staying home, watching old movies we missed the first time around.  I skipped "Dr. Zhivago" in 1965 because I thought it was sentimental claptrap, and it is.  But it's a cultural icon, a landmark for my generation.  Sometime in the not too distant future Hollywood will make a blockbuster tear-jerker about love in the Pandemic of 2020. 

 No one alive can remember anything like it -- a political crisis, wrapped in an economic crisis, inside a global pandemic.  It resembles 1918, with the Russian Revolution bundled in World War One and the flu pandemic.  Paging Dr. Zhivago... 

Then as now, politics comes first.  The pandemic will be over in a year or so.  The economy will follow the nation's health into recovery.  But the political crisis will not be resolved in 2020.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Viral Spring #14: The Glamour of Evil

-- by Tom Phillips 

Yes Sir, Boss: Parscale models campaign gear
When President Trump's  campaign manager Brad Parscale called his media attack machine the Death Star, Democrats mocked him for invoking the Evil Empire from Star Wars, and scolded him for joking about death while the world is in the grip of a Pandemic.  But Parscale didn't apologize, and won't.  "Laugh all you want," he tweeted. "We'll take the win."  

It's the Democrats who are being naive here.  They don't understand that evil and death are part of the president's appeal.     

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Viral Spring #13: The Death Star

-- By Tom Phillips 
Inside the Death Star 

Listen up, everybody:  Brad Parscale, President Donny's campaign manager, has an important announcement,  Brad?  

"For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc. In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time." !!!!

Thus tweeted Parscale last week, shortly after the President threatened to sue him over a poll showing him ten points behind Joe Biden.

The last guy who boasted about an attack before pressing "fire" was Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary for George W. Bush -- who in 2003 called his machine "Shock and Awe." It was supposed to be so awful that the invasion of Iraq would be over almost as soon as it began, with Iraqis panicking at the sight of American power.

Like Rumsfeld, Parscale is super smart and super confident. He says Joe Biden won't know what hit him. So what can we expect from his video game?

Friday, May 8, 2020

Viral Spring #12: Life in Stir

   -- By Tom Phillips

In 2011, a 59-year-old North Carolina man held up a bank, then waited for police to come and arrest him.  He was sick, uninsured, and wanted to go to prison to get health care.  Here in New York, many young black men say prison is the only place they've ever eaten regular meals.

Prison offers educational opportunities and a chance to make long-lasting friendships. It also gives you freedom to think and create.  Many authors have found inspiration behind bars -- from Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet to Eldridge Cleaver and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  And Martin Luther King  made his most profound and moving plea for racial justice in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  

Not to romanticize incarceration; it's a drag at best, violent and life-threatening at worst.  Boredom and rumination are your worst enemies -- with little to do in present time, you can get hung upside down in the past.  It takes discipline to stay in the present, and not think about the future -- i.e. when will this be over?  It ain't over 'til it's over.

 But now that we're all under house arrest, those of us who have our own living space should count our blessings.
Plaque near Thoreau's cabin site, Concord MA  

Chief among them is the radical simplification of life.  Work has dried up, travel is out of the question, restaurants and bars are closed, meat is scarce, parties are banned, money sits in wallets with nowhere to go.

In a way our souls have transmigrated to an earlier America: e.g.Walden Pond in the 1850s.  Like Henry David Thoreau, we sit in our cabins, alone or with a lone companion, contemplating ourselves.  And like Thoreau's contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson, we must rely on ourselves.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Viral Spring #11: Poetry in a Pandemic

-- By Tom Phillips

One of my stay-at-home pleasures this Viral Spring has been perusing my friend Bill Christophersen's new book of poems, his fourth and I think his best. Like the ancient seafarer whose song closes this collection, he deliberately steers into the worst kind of storm -- the so-called post-truth moment that poisons the world's discourse today. And like the seafarer he comes out banged up, weatherbeaten, exhausted, but alive and articulate. I wrote something like a review, but since Bill and I are long-time friends and collaborators --  thick as thieves -- let's just call it an "appreciation."  

Rarely does a collection of poetry begin with a headline – but Bill Christophersen is a journalist as well as a poet, and he knows from a header and a lead.  The headline is the title – Where Truth Lies – in three syllables, the crisis of the world today.  The Pandemic is just the latest case in point: we can find where truth lies, only by finding where it doesn't.   

The difficulties of this quest, seen and unforeseen, are the plot of this Odyssey of epistemology, testing experience and language for the presence of truth.  Not much pans out.   

Objects gather dust, lose their emotional charge -- the ferris wheel he jumped at 18 creaks on in middle age ("The Wheel").  Memory bobs and weaves ("Tip of the Tongue"). Fiction sucks with “dark vapors” ("The Rise of the Novel").  Poetry itself prevaricates – “a license to deceive" ("Lies").  Speech loses its nerve and curdles in the throat ("The Right Thing").  

And yet there is a metal that can be truth-tested. He finds it in a newspaper story of murder with a blunt instrument – an aluminum baseball bat ("Being Here Now"). And in the title poem, truth bides its time, conceals itself and finds him -- in dreams and dust-balls, in misread blurbs that morph into indictments ("Where Truth Lies").  He sums up the quest with a spring-cleaning haiku: "Beneath the shag rug /the vanished salamander’s /sooty skeleton."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Viral Spring #10: Culture Wars

-- By Tom Phillips

While the Culture Wars rage between conservatives and liberals in middle-American battleground states, here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan they've gone intramural.  Though nearly everyone's to the left of center, in this fifth week of quasi-quarantine some people are starting to lose it with strangers. The main issue is wearing masks, which Governor Andy has ordered everyone to do unless they can stay six feet from their neighbors.  Most people are complying, but not all. 

Masks are mainly to protect others from catching the virus.  Wearing one makes a statement; not wearing one makes another.  Enforcement is up to the individual.  The cops are totally uninvolved.

My wife Debra takes it seriously, and more.  Since masks became mandatory she has turned our dining room table into a sweatshop, turning out cloth masks for family, friends and neighbors.  We wear them religiously on our daily walk in the park.  Those who don't get a long "look" from Debra.  That's her form of enforcement. I just look away.  Others are much more aggressive.