PAGING JOE McCARTHY Tuesday, Dec 20 2016 

Official GuidePost of the Alt-Center (2017-2021)


At last count, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin over Donald Trump was upward of 2.8 million votes. It would have been twice that number except for the millions of votes stolen by Russian hackers in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that would have made Clinton president-elect instead of Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian Candidate.

The second sentence of the above paragraph is untrue, the spurious kind of “fact” we’d be getting from Trump’s early morning tweets if the outcome on November 8 had been reversed. However, anyone who wants to pass it on through the internet is free to do so. There’s no point leaving the field of social media fabrication open to Michael Flynn’s pizza-porn crackpots.

Flynn, as you know, is the retired Army general picked by Trump to be his national security adviser. Among the general’s credentials for the job: He was the honored guest, seated next to Putin himself, at a Kremlin gala sponsored by the Russian propaganda channel RT, which Flynn gratuitously compared to CNN (much like George Patton’s 1945 equivalence of the Nazi party with the Democrats and Republicans, which got Patton removed as commander of the Third Army).

Leonid Brezhnev, Putin’s Communist boss when he served as a spymaster in the KGB, has to be chortling in his grave at the prospect of a White House national security advisor who takes luxury junkets to Moscow paid for by the Kremlin. And now, if the autocrat in Trump Tower has his way, we can look forward to a Secretary of State so much in bed with the Russian dictator he’s been bemedalled as a member of the Russian Order of Friendship.

And what exactly are Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic credentials? As CEO of ExxonMobil he’s spent the better part of recent years wheeler-dealing across the globe not on behalf of American interests but those of his multinational corporation. Not that the country’s interests and ExxonMobil’s coincide. But when they diverge – as when the State Department imposed sanctions on Russia after its takeover of Crimea – Tillerson earned his Order of Friendship medal by lobbying Congress and the State Department to lift those sanctions.

So we’ve come to this. Who would have thought, in the dim, distant days of the Cold War when Joe McCarthy was warning about Communist agents in the State Department, that it wouldn’t be a liberal Democrat but a Republican president who’d open the White House doors to a Russian dictator trained by the KGB?

And what would Tailgunner Joe be saying on the Senate floor at this point? I can see him railing about General Flynn’s dining with Putin (“a disgrace to the uniform”) and Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russian oligarchs (“an enemy within”). And on hearing the latest poll that shows no fewer than four out of 10 Republicans now have a “favorable” view of the Russian dictator, labeling them (as he did the Democrats at the GOP convention in 1952) “the party of treason.”

Sound bite to remember (by those gullible “anti-globalists” who voted for Putin’s poodle):

“There are no nations. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and ATT and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon.”

–from the motion picture “Network,” Arthur Jensen’s (played by Ned Beatty) corrective lecture to Howard Beale (Peter Finch)



A Case of Mistaken Obscenity Monday, Apr 27 2015 

“I’m on television, I’ll f–ing sue you.”
–Britt McHenry, ESPN’s Miss Congeniality, to towing employee

 “That’s not who I am.”
–Britt McHenry, on being reinstated after a feeble one-week suspension from ESPN

The all-sports network’s poster girl for “I’m on TV and you’re a tow-truck peasant” is back on the job, with a lengthy apology for her slobbish behavior: The usual “second chance” drivel, plus a line increasingly used by miscreants, whether the behavior involved be choking your girlfriend or skipping out of a store without paying for lifted merchandise.

McHenry’s patronizing, foul-mouthed outburst? That’s not who she is, says Miss Congeniality. An old Humphrey Bogart rejoinder comes to mind. After being berated by a woman, Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not is asked to excuse her because, explains her friend, “She’s not herself”; to which Bogie snaps, “Then who is she?”

A question ESPN, in Britt McHenry’s case, doesn’t think matters – so long as no tow-truck peasants are listed among its advertisers.

Book review to remember

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
–Dorothy Parker

The Voice and the Veep Saturday, Apr 11 2015 

“There are two kinds of people in this town,” my boss Sam Bledsoe advised when I first arrived in Washington more than half a century ago. “Those that drop names and those whose names are dropped.” His advice, obviously, was to try to be the latter.

Sorry Sam, I tried my damnedest…

About Frank Sinatra, whose life was celebrated this past week by an HBO documentary: I knew him, introduced him to (another name-drop coming) Bear Bryant, and even spent time at his place in Palm Desert, thanks to another employer after Sam, Vice President Spiro Agnew, and his personal aide Peter Malatesta, a Sinatra friend and (if you’re still counting name-drops) Bob Hope’s nephew.

The story that goes with all this empty-calorie self-aggrandizement has to do with the first time I saw The Godfather, back in 1971. Agnew was a guest at Sinatra’s Palm Desert villa and Frank (if you’re going to name-drop the first name is more impressive) asked if there were any new movies the Vice President would like to see. He’d have one flown in to show in his private theater.

Whether as a joke or to test the limits of their friendship, Agnew asked to see The Godfather – a movie Sinatra was said to get ballistic over because it alluded to the mythic rumor that the Mafia had muscled (1) Tommy Dorsey into releasing him from his contract, and (2) the producer of From Here to Eternity into giving him the Academy Award-winning role of Maggio.

Sinatra, to his credit, didn’t flinch at Agnew’s request. So it was that we gathered that evening – the Vice President, Frank, his mother, Dolly, and a few other guests to see the movie based on a novel that Frank hated so much he threatened to punch out its author, Mario Puzo.

Our host’s reaction? Not a murmur during the scenes in which his on-screen character, Johnny Fontane, appeared, but when it came to the scene where Clemenza talks about preparing spaghetti and meatballs, both Sinatras, mother and son, exploded. Clearly, we were led to conclude, whoever wrote the screenplay knew nothing about cooking Italian.

Asked by our host the next morning what he thought of the movie, the Vice President, pushing the envelope, told Sinatra it was okay except for Brando’s don, adding, “You would have been better for the part.” To which Frank, not missing a beat, narrowed his eyelids and, with mock guttural inflection, replied, “You’re right.” Agnew laughed.  So did another person at the table, whose name escapes me.

Sound bite to remember

“I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

–Frank Sinatra, asked about his religious beliefs, circa 1963

The Limits of Satire Sunday, Dec 21 2014 

Sony made a mistake. Not in canceling release of “The Interview” – theater chains had sent word they wouldn’t show it – but in first giving the green light to a satire plotted around the assassination of a real-life political figure.

You say, as Alan Dershowitz does, that canceling the movie was a blow to artistic expression, allowing the dictator of North Korea to suppress free speech? Fine. How about a satirical film about a couple of zany Palestinians who plot – and carry out – the assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu?

Or, like Michael Moore, that refusing to release “The Interview” is caving in to hackers? Fine. Let him produce and try to screen a satire plotted around a couple of dumb-and-dumber rednecks who set out – and succeed – in assassinating a live American president.

Imagine the odds on films like that being green-lighted. Imagine too Alan Dershowitz’s outraged op-ed piece in The New York Times if they were, and Al Sharpton’s organizing a nationwide boycott to shut down theaters that showed them.

Years ago I turned off a “Saturday Night Live” that featured a satirical conversation between Katharine Hepburn and Muhammad Ali, both suffering from advanced Parkinson’s. Somebody thought it was funny. Had I been in charge, I’d have canceled it. Obviously my appreciation of satire and free speech comes up short.

Sound bite to remember 

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

–Samuel Johnson

Aboard the Good Ship Lollipop Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

The candidate’s husband met me at the San Francisco airport that August day in 1967 with what he considered good news: According to the latest poll we were riding high, with a 2-to-1 advantage over our nearest opponent in the special election to fill a congressional seat.

So went my first morning as campaign advisor to Shirley Temple Black, explaining to her husband, Charles, on the drive from the airport that the poll he thought was good was in fact awful. True, we had a 2-to-1 advantage over Pete McCloskey, but it was 12 to 6 percent, with no fewer than eight of 10 voters undecided. That wasn’t bad in itself, but brought on heartburn when the numbers also told us that our candidate had an astounding 98 percent recognition factor among registered votes in San Mateo County.

In short, voters knew her, even liked her (the favorable ratio was just as good), but 80 percent couldn’t see her as their representative in Congress. Though now a mother with two growing girls, people still saw her as adorable little Shirley, dancing with Bill Robinson aboard the Good Ship Lollipop.

It would not, I’d learn in the weeks ahead, be an impression easy to overcome. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, the myth has grown that being an actor gives a candidate a decided edge in campaigning for office. Not so if the candidate, like Shirley Temple Black, is reluctant to play the role set out by professional political handlers (like me).

Shirley had her own ideas about the way she wanted to run for office and that was that. No superficial sound bites, no hedging on the issues, no campaign rallies between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. because the most important thing in her day was to be with her children at dinnertime (remembering, she told me, her own young days when work at the studio came before family gatherings).

Who could argue with that? I’d worked with Barry Goldwater three years before and knew the style: She might win the race, she might lose it, but in either case she was going to do it her own way. What beat us, however, wasn’t so much her style as the Vietnam War. Pete McCloskey, a Vietnam veteran, was against it and had the best of both political worlds on the most important issue of the day.

My candidate that summer and fall of 1967 went on, as we know, to make her contribution as an ambassador overseas, her good cheer and earnest approach to the job serving her and her country well. But had she been elected to Congress, I’m sure, the skipper of the Good Ship Lollipop would have made an outstanding Member – and who knows where it might have gone from there?

Sound bite to remember

“He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, and both his children are adopted.”

–Florida legislator, circa 1970, explaining why Governor Reubin Askew’s political opponents weren’t likely to catch him in any political scandal.

The Forrest Gump Principle Wednesday, Jan 1 2014 

My resolution for the new year – the same resolve I’ve made over the past three decades – is to forgo arguments with those who hold a different point of view on matters cosmic or mundane. Discussions, yes, but not arguments that come under the rubric of the Forrest Gump Principle. Why Forrest Gump? That in a minute. First, the incident that led to my initial resolve on New Year’s Day 1982: At a holiday party I got into a heated argument with a Democratic activist over the state of the economy, in recession during Reagan’s first year as president.

Though not much when it comes to economic analysis, I did know enough to argue that bad as things seemed to be, there was reason for optimism. Christmas sales were up, I pointed out, at an all-time high; to which my verbal antagonist replied, with no hint of irony, “That’s only because people are afraid this might be the last Christmas.”

That settled it. No more arguments trying to change other people’s opinion; though that idiot response did come to mind some years later, when Charlie Thornton, Alabama’s sports information director under Coach Bear Bryant, told me of a communications problem he had following release of the Tom Hanks movie “Forrest Gump.”

Among Gump’s exploits, you’ll recall, was a four-year stint as an All-American halfback playing for Alabama. Not long after the film’s release, Thornton started getting calls and letters from fans asking what years Gump played for Bryant: “I kept telling them it was only a movie, not real life, but they didn’t believe me. So I finally made up a year – 1967 – and they’d go away happy.”

My Forrest Gump Principle, for 2014 and beyond: People are going to believe what they want to believe. Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake; JFK was killed by a mafia hit man hiding on the grassy knoll; the Chicago Cubs are going to win the National League pennant next year.

Happy New Year — let’s hope, not the last one.

Sound Bite to Remember

Every man has his price. If they didn’t, people like me couldn’t exist.

— Howard Hughes

Ike Re-Revised Friday, Mar 11 2011 

As Winston Churchill once posted, all history is revisionist. It all depends on the bias of the writer. Take, for example, the revisionist distortion of Dwight Eisenhower’s civil rights record in HBO’s recent production of the one-man play, “Thurgood.”

The writer-producer in this case, George Stevens, Jr., set out to dramatize the life-and-legend of Thurgood Marshall, the first black member of the Supreme Court and leading counsel in the NAACP’s effort to break down the barriers of segregation in the 1940’s and Fifties.

Having lived in the South during that turbulent period and met Justice Marshall after coming to Washington, I was naturally drawn to actor Laurence Fishburne’s vivid depiction of the man and his times. Then, three-quarters of the way through the performance, came the playwright’s negative account of Eisenhower’s stand on racial equality.

To hear Fishburne’s “Thurgood” tell it, Ike was little more than a closet segregationist, lukewarm if not in fact hostile to the Warren Court’s 1954 decision de-segregating public schools in the South.

There’s nothing new about this negative view of Eisenhower’s civil rights record. It’s been spun for over half a century, since the days when Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was in his revisionist prime.  However . . .Call me a Right-wing eccentric (it wouldn’t be the first time), but that’s not the way I remember the history of that period.  As I recall: (more…)

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