Political News in Brief Will Resume in March

My husband and I are flying to Florida in the morning to meet up with family for a beach vacation. I’ll return to the news in March. Meanwhile, here are links to good overviews of the week’s two biggest stories: the firing of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and Trump’s first solo press conference as president.

Flynn episode ‘darkens the cloud’ of Russia that hangs over Trump administration” (Washington Post)

President Trump Seems Determined to Continue the Permanent Campaign” (NPR)

Stay informed :-).

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Political News In Brief: January 2-8

I’m a political news wonk who’s worried about the prevalence of low-information Americans. I understand that working people, especially families with children, haven’t the time to delve into the news. But now, as a retired educator, I have the time not only to read the news (instead of just grabbing sound bites off the TV or radio) but also to provide a kind of national news digest for those with busy lives. That’s one of my goals for this blog: to sum up, as I see it, the major political stories of the week as often as I can. At this time my primary news sources are the New York Times (NYT) and National Public Radio (NPR). Here’s my first edition.  

TOP STORY OF THE WEEK

Heads of Intelligence Agencies Meet with Senators and then Trump shortly before releasing their report on the Russian Hacking to the Public 

“A united front of top intelligence officials and senators from both parties on Thursday [Jan 5] forcefully reaffirmed the conclusion that the Russian government used hacking and leaks to try to influence the presidential election, directly rebuffing President-elect Donald J. Trump’s repeated questioning of Russia’s role” (NYT).

On Friday (Jan 6), top intelligence officials provided Trump with a two-hour briefing, concluding that “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office.”

Shortly after Trump’s briefing, these officials released their intelligence report to the public in what the NYT called “a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them.”

According to the report (as summarized by CNN), Putin’s motives for hacking and leaking embarrassing Democratic emails included undermining Americans’ faith in the democratic process and “discrediting Secretary Clinton because [Putin] has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime.”

While the election itself is legitimate – for example, no evidence exists that voting machines were hacked – the intelligence community is confident that there was Russian interference during the campaign.

OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST

Republicans’ Rocky Ethical Start to 2017

In a secret meeting on Monday night (Jan 3), House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).  Under their proposal, the OCE would no longer serve as an independent ethics watchdog. Instead, the foxes (U.S. representatives themselves) would watch the hen house. One reason given for the change was “to prevent the office from pursuing investigations that might result in criminal charges” against House members. When the news got out, public outrage arose. And by the time the new congress was sworn in on Tuesday (Jan 4), House Republicans had abandoned the proposal. An independent OCE remains, at least for this session of Congress. (Full NYT story here)

In a related ethics story, NPR reported (Jan. 7), “The Office of Government Ethics is raising alarm over the pace of [Senate] confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, saying Saturday that they have yet to receive required financial disclosures for some picks set to come before Congress next week.”

“Make America Sick Again”

With the Republicans set to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA, popularly known as Obamacare), the new Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, in a parody of Trump’s campaign slogan, declared on Wednesday (Jan 4) that the Republicans were on a path to “Make America Sick Again.” Meanwhile, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence said that Trump’s first order of business would be to begin the repeal of the ACA through “a series of Executive Orders,” the very kinds of action Obama was repeatedly criticized for using. (Full NPR story here)

“Michelle Obama’s Emotional Farewell” 

This past Friday (Jan. 6) on TV, I watched Michelle Obama give her last speech as First Lady. NPR described her talk as “a passionate pep talk to the nation’s young people.” “That’s my final message to young people as first lady,” she said. “Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.” I was overcome with emotion and, along with school counselors standing behind her, cried.

Janis Joplin and Me

Lazarus and I rolled into San Francisco squeezed in the backseat of an Alfa Romeo convertible. It was the last leg of our week-long adventure hitchhiking across the country. The driver and his girlfriend offered us a place to crash, a townhouse in the Haight-Ashbury district that served as both a small commune and a psychedelic poster company. And – talk about luck! – they gave us tickets to Winterland’s Halloween BallTrip or Freak

The ball, called “Trip or Freak,” was that night, Halloween 1967. The performers were the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin. It’s Joplin’s performance that remains the most vivid memory of my hippy sojourn in SF.

What struck me at first was her outfit – especially the bikini-like top with two halves of a coconut shell covering her breasts, which seemed rather risqué to my college-girl eyes. And she was in constant motion. As she dove deeper into the first song, her sexually-charged energy increased. I stopped dancing and, mesmerized, just watched – and listened hard. The soulful way she belted out a song blew me away. I’d never seen or heard anything like that.Janis Joplin at Monterey Pop Festival

I completely agree with David Walsh, who wrote in his review of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, “anyone who saw Janis Joplin in person, especially in a more intimate space, is not likely to forget it…. I have never from that time to this seen a performer as generous and as giving—and as vulnerable. One almost inevitably fell in love with her.”

Although offering a feminist analysis would not have occurred to me at the time, in retrospect I also agree with Lorraine Ali, who wrote in her Los Angeles Times film review, “The reaction of audiences, who were floored and almost blindsided by the sheer passion of Joplin, illustrates what a true anomaly she was in a rock world populated almost entirely of men. Joplin didn’t wave the flag of feminism, she embodied it.”janis film poster

Walsh and Ali were writing about Amy Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue (trailer). This film, the first full-length documentary about Joplin, was released Friday (12/4/15) in major metropolitan areas nationwide. None of the listed theater locations are near me; so I may have to wait until PBS’ American Masters airs it, which, according to the film’s official site, will be in early 2016.

After that amazing first night in SF, I continued to live and work at the psychedelic poster commune. My hitchhiking buddy, a chemistry graduate student named Steve who changed his name to Lazarus after his first LSD trip, soon journeyed on; I never saw him again. Eventually I grew disillusioned with the scene, flew home, and in January resumed my role as a college sophomore – forever changed: more self-assured and with a greater appreciation for the kindness of strangers. All round, it was an excellent adventure.

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Image Credits:

“Trip or Freak” poster designed by Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin. For details about the poster’s creation, see this discussion by PosterCentral’s Pete Howard. 

Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the 1997 Monterey Pop Festival (found on Pinterest without attribution).

Janis: Little Girl Blue poster (Jigsaw Productions). 

Recommended Youtube videos:

Amazing Joplin performance of “Ball and Chain’’ at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (Youtube) 

Another amazing Joplin performance, “Piece of My Heart” live in Germany 1968, with audience participation

Joplin’s Greatest Hits, all audio exceptwith a photo and table of contents

Documentarian Ondi Timoner interviews director Amy Berg about her new film Janis: Little Girl Blue