Voting on the abyss

I was going to tell you that I am seventy years old and this is the most important election in my lifetime. 

I was going to tell you that I voted when Lyndon Johnson was sending young men my age to Vietnam because his Best And Brightest assured him we would Win.

They slaughtered tens of thousands of us.

We slaughtered hundreds of thousands of them.

We didn’t Win.

But this is the most important election in my lifetime.

I was going to tell you that I voted during the Nixon years as that bloody war raged on. But the rage had spread to our own streets, and national guardsmen were shooting young people down on a college campus.

But this is the most important election of my lifetime.

I was going to tell you that I voted when American cities exploded in racial strife and the ghettos seethed with resentment over the the enduring chains of Jim Crow segregation.

But this is the most important election in my lifetime.

I was going to tell you that I voted in the Reagan years, when we trained murderous thugs and overthrew elected governments south of our border so we could “save” their people from communism. 

Want to know what that hapless caravan making its way through Mexico is fleeing? Not communism, but the inevitable fallout from years of U.S.-funded instability.

But this is the most important election in my lifetime.

I voted when we reacted to the deadly attacks of 9-11 by invading a country that had nothing to do with any of it. We went. We’re are still there. We don’t know how to get out. 

Mission Accomplished.

But this is the most important election of my lifetime.

This is the most important election because America is teetering on the abyss. Over the edge is darkness, and once we tumble we may never claw our way back.

We seem more divided white against black as ever Jim Crow intended. We are being fed a steady diet of hate and resentment and fear of The Other. 

We cannot pick up a paper or turn on the television without learning of yet another mass shooting. We are not safe in our schools, the public square or our places of worship because gun possession is held to be sacred above all other American values.  

I was going to tell you that this is the most important election of my lifetime for just one reason.

There is a callous, calculating hate monger in the White House. And every day he finds new ways to divide us one against another. He ridicules and derides and debases. And he delights in inciting the mob that aches to blame someone else, anyone, for their problems. 

All to stroke his monumental ego. 

He is bankrupting America. He scorns nations that have been allies for generations. 

He has a captive Congress whose leaders are without principle or scruples and who will not stop, or even moderate, his excesses.

He is the leader of a party that holds power by gerrymandering, voter suppression and by cynically employing the propaganda tools of fear, bigotry and hate.

He is not on the ballot. But those who empower him are. They are guilty of dereliction of duty and must be turned out.

I was going to tell you that this is the most important election of my lifetime because two more years of Trump unleashed will likely be our undoing. 

That our very democracy hangs in the balance. 

I was going to tell you all of that. 

But do I really have to?

Don’t you already know it?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

 

On the smell of money

And then there was the time Gov. Claude Kirk went to Perry for a little flesh-pressing and back-slapping. 

Perry being a paper mill town, the stench that day was especially ripe. But when Perry’s mayor ventured an apology, Kirk wouldn’t have it. 

“Don’t apologize,” Claude said. “Why that’s the smell of money.”

Claude’s quip resonates when reading about all the brown water that’s lapping the shores of Gulf Coast beaches and offending the sensibilities of millionaire waterfront homeowners in Hobe Sound, on the Atlantic side. 

That filthy water is the look, if not the smell, of money. Although you’d never convince all the business people who make their livings selling the Florida pristine beach dream to tourists. They’re in a panic.

No, it’s the smell of money for the Big Ag tycoons who have for years been dumping their nutrient rich effluent into Lake Okeechobee with impunity. Now, to keep the Rhode Island-sized lake from breaking free of its earthen prison, water “managers” are frantically dumping the filthy stuff into rivers that flow east and west.

And every politician with a dog in the hunt wants to blame someone else for the godawful mess. Gov. Rick Scott liked to blame former President Obama for failing to keep Okeechobee’s dikes in good repair. The Dems blame Gov. Scott for his disdain of environmental stewardship.

But really, they are blaming the wrong villains. And in any case, the bad guys are long dead and buried. 

Lay this one on the doorsteps of Herbert Hoover and Baron Collier. 

Hoover being the President who toured Lake Okeechobee in the 1930s, after a couple of killer hurricanes, and decided we could solve Florida’s killer ‘cane problem, for now and ever more, by locking the misbehaving lake up behind trillions of tons of packed dirt. 

Collier being the southwest Florida developer who championed construction of a cross-Everglades highway – the Tamiami Trail – thereby enabling development to explode on both east and west coasts.

They both seemed like good ideas at the time.

But locking up Lake Okeechobee turned it into a cesspool. 

And Tamiami Trail – a marvel of early 20th Century highway engineering – turned out to be an incredibly efficient dam with which to disrupt the natural flow of water south through the River of Grass from – surprise! – Lake Okeechobee.

“Everglades National Park is so water-starved they even have alligators dying. This is what is so idiotic! That you get too much water north of Tamiami Trail and then all the deer population is drowning and you’ve got starvation of water just to the south in Everglades National Park,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has said week.

When you come down to it, what’s polluting Florida’s formerly white beaches right now is arrogance. This notion that we can reengineer our wet and spongy peninsula and force it to submit to whatever we want to do with it – build condos where mangroves once sprouted, put up big box parking lots that plug aquifer recharge. Ditch, dike and drain swamps so a thousand subdivisions can blossom. Build highways to reach ever more remote stretches of developable land.

Arrogance is the history of Florida, folks.

Want to accommodate barges? Channelize the Apalachicola and make the Ocklawaha disappear. Is that winding, twisting Kissimmee River a nuisance to “progress”? Straighten it out. Hey, what’s with all those algae blooms up and down the St. John’s? Can’t be all that runoff, urban and agriculture.

And Florida is still flush with a surplus of arrogance. That’s why new high-rises are still going up on Miami Beach even as rising sea levels flood the streets. It’s why virtually every natural spring in the state is in decline. 

And seriously, with Florida’s drinking water stored beneath our feet, what sane person would even think about fracking down there for oil and gas?

Arrogance comes in small doses as well as big ones; hence the push to open up wetter, spongier eastern Alachua County to west Gainesville-style development. And hang whatever unintended consequences lurk down that well traveled road. 

Because that’s what we do in Florida. To paraphrase Uncle Walt, if we can imagine it we can build it.

Now we just need to figure out how to market brown beaches to tourists?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

    

We. Are. This. Close

Woke up wild-eyed this morning. 

Glanced at my Rage-O-Meter. Tweeted my hellbent mob to stand by.

Check, check and check. 

Hmm, maybe running a pint low on my enthusiasm gap. 

Seriously, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth. And keeping a full pot of sustained indignation aboil is sooo exhausting at my age. Honestly, I don’t know how Trump’s boomer fanboys (and gals) do it. 

I can’t even stay awake late enough to see Baldwin sim his Carrot Top simper on SNL. 

Still, looks like we (aka The Left) are just about ready for the election. 

Seriously, we are this close (thumb and index finger held a hare’s hair apart) to winning the open borders socialism that we’ve talked about like it seems forever in my Wednesday night secret cell marching order meetings cum beer-and-pizza socials. 

This close Comrade!

Not really supposed to say this until The Day After. But the alt-right had it, um, right.

We did weaponize women (love ya Taylor). 

And blue-screen Redneck Nation (sing it Willie). 

You think that was hard? 

For our next trick we’re gonna turn your Bud Lite into Vitamin Water. 

And pry your assault weapons out of your cold, undead fingers. 

And enroll you in forced feminism indoctrination summer camp (Volleyball!).

Just like you said we were gonna do if we won.

Listen, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you don’t have enemies. 

This close, I’m tellin’ ya. 

Oh, I’m maybe getting ahead of myself. 

Can’t really say what The Donald and Vlad and the Kochs and Fox are cooking up by way of a November Surprise. 

Tax cuts for pit bull owners. 

Mobilizing the Rolling Carbon Corps on Election Day so libtards in their Priuses can’t find their polling places in all the smoke.

You, know, the nuclear option.

Seriously, don’t put anything past them.

But we’re this close.

To unlocking up Hillary.

To forced Medicare For All.

To making everybody live in bio domes.

And ride bicycles. 

And eat low carb, high fiber diets.

And drive EVs. 

And use transit.

And live simply so that others may simply live.

And save the whales. 

And admit that climate change isn’t a hoax.

Its gonna’ be so cool.

Better than making the cover of the Rolling Stone.

We’re.

This.

Close.

(Ron Cunningham’s official motto is “What Fresh Hell Is This?”

This is not Trump country

OTTAWA: Now I see why Donald Trump has a mad-on about Canada.

Just walk around this grand capital city of rough granite and brown stone perched on the edge of the Ottawa River and you’ll get it. 

Listen, this town wouldn’t even be here if the Canadians hadn’t been so freaked out about a possible  American invasion during the war of 1812 that they terra-formed a lock-and-canal system through the wilderness lest the enemy blockade the St. Lawrence River.

But that’s ancient history. Point is you can’t walk around here today without seeing In-your-Face-Donald signs overt and subtle. 

One restaurant serves a dish called “Love Trumps Hate.” Shops proudly display smiling photos of a young, energetic and articulate leader who is the anti-Trump in every way.

Not Justin Trudeau, although I’m sure they like him too. 

No, Ottawans are still infatuated with Barack Obama, whose last official visit was in 2016. Bakeries sell Obama cookies. 

Not that Canadians are all that vocal about our prez. Rage and anger tend to be an American bumper crop. North of the border they prefer to farm affability. 

“Give a message to your president…” our city bicycle guide began. And then he hesitated, shrugged and dropped it. Discretion being the better part of Canadian valor.

No, this is decidedly not Trump country.

Up on Parliament Hill a bronze suffragette brandishes a banner proclaiming “Women Are Persons.” 

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s still mulling that one over in the D.C. Swamp.

And on a bridge spanning the Rideau Canal, there is an outdoor display of photos and graphics asserting that the Canadian government believes climate change is real, serious and must be confronted, not denied. 

“Climate change impacts human health, the economy and natural resources,” we are informed. While Canada touts wind and solar, it is all coal all the time back in the presidential bunker formerly known as the White House. 

Meanwhile, people are lining up at Ottawa’s National Gallery to see its latest exhibit: Anthropocene.”

That being the theory that the Earth is entering a new geological epoch in which human activity, not nature, is permanently altering the planet. 

“Humans now change the Earth’s systems more than all other natural processes combined,” the exhibit argues. As evidence it offers startling aerial view photos: City-sized plastic landfills in Africa, oil refining on the coastal Gulf of Mexico, tundra tunneling in Russia, fracking in Wyoming.

There is a haunting video of the mass incineration of ivory tusks seized from elephant poachers that should make you cry if you have an ounce of compassion left in your soul.

Viewed from the 25,000-foot level, some of the images – copper smelting in Arizona, oil bunkering in the Niger Delta – at first look like lovely surrealistic art forms. Until it dawns on you that all the strange colors and weird shapes are, literally, earth-changing events.

That’s not Dali. Those “swirling, marble-like patterns are the result of leached heavy metals held in tailing ponds at an Arizona mining-smelter operation.”

But you don’t have to go to Canada to get schooled on this brave new world we are carving out for ourselves. Just visit UF’s own Harn Museum and see its new exhibit: “The World To Come: Art In The Age of Anthropocene.”

These artists “display a mastery of human power over nature”…all the while attempting to keep their “optimism in check and nihilism at bay.”

Oh the irony. Our down-to-earth terra-forming has literally become a unique art-form all its own.

Oh Canada. Oh America. Oh Donald!

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

(Published Oct. 7 in the Gainesville Sun.)

 

Don’t scare the horses

I’ll just say this and let the chips fall where they may.

Ron Cunningham is a liberal.

I know, you’re shocked. And appalled.

“But you told us you were a progressive, Cunningham.”

Yeah, that’s just something I say in polite company so as to not cause anybody vapors or scare the horses.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being, you know, the L-word. I hear they may even have a cure for it now over at Shands. A vaccine maybe. 

But I’m not taking the cure. I’m just going to stop humoring the absurd but carefully manufactured mythology that we liberals are aliens from outer space out to Destroy Civilization As We Know It. 

Truth is, most of us are perfectly reasonable carbon-based life forms. 

Oh, and don’t call me a socialist either. Not that there’s anything wrong with socialism. I’m just not all that social a guy.

Apropos of nothing at all, I see that Andrew Gillum (also not a socialist) is officially The Most Liberal Candidate Ever Nominated For Governor Of Florida. 

Everybody says so. Trump. DeSantis. Newspaper nabobs of negativity. 

How liberal is he? Gillum wants health care for all. He wants to crack down on gun violence. He wants us to stop turning our rivers gunk green and our seas dead red. He favors quality public schools. And he wants to tax corporations more to help pay for it all.

Gee, doesn’t sound so bad when you say it fast like that.

Anyway, it’s not just Gillum who’s finding his liberal voice in this Age of Trumpian Discontent. 

Heck, ole Willie Nelson himself is helping Democrat/liberal/socialist/progressive (choose one) Beto O’Rourke take away Ted Cruz’ U.S. Senate seat. 

“Beto embodies what is special about Texas, an energy and an integrity that is completely genuine,” Nelson said.

Sing it Willie. 

Admittedly some of his fans think this is, um, one toke over the line, even for a guy who never passed up a toke in his life. “Let me know when you come back from your bad acid trip” an ex-Red Headed Stranger groupie grumped…I mean tweeted.

But polls indicate that Beto’s got a fighting chance in red Texas, as does Gillum in red tide Florida. So maybe this whole idea of liberals being persona non grata in American politics is no longer being swallowed hook, line and sinker by the electorate. 

Not that the Republicans haven’t tried long and hard to shame us libs into shutting up and sitting down. They’ve done it for virtually my entire adult lifetime, and mostly it’s worked pretty well for them. 

It worked when they convinced voters that George McGovern – who had one of the most dangerous jobs in World War II, bomber pilot – was unAmerican…unlike Dick “I am not a crook” Nixon. It worked years later when they got another war hero, triple amputee Max Cleland, tossed out of the Senate to make room for a Georgia fried chicken king.

On the notion that losing two legs and a forearm to enemy fire does not a patriot make. 

But I’m not sure it’s working still. Some early election results this year indicate that voters are beginning to think that good government may actually require more than tossing rolls of paper towels at hurricane victims.  

So liberals of America unite! It’s time to be loud and proud. We have nothing to lose but the phony “libtard” rep that GOP shape-shifters have been furiously trying to graft onto us since the 1960s.  

Voters are wising up. Thanks, Donald. 

(Published in the Gainesville Sun, Sept. 23.)

Gloppitta-gloppitta Brett

If you are a fan of 1960s era dark comedies (aka the golden age of macabre laughs) you couldn’t watch Brett Kavanaugh’s histrionic display of self-serving rage on Thursday without thinking about the “gloppitta-gloppitta” machine and the Button Defense.

“How To Murder Your Wife,” was one of the darker comedies released in 1965. Its own marketing campaign lauded the film as “One Of The Most Brutal, Fiendish, Sadistic, Bloodcurdling Comedies Of Our Time!”

Naturally I loved it, but I was 17 and, well, you know teenage boys, right Brett?

Anyway, Jack Lemmon played Stanley Ford, confirmed bachelor and cartoon artist with the hottest syndicated strips in America, the adventures of secret agent “Bash Brannagon.” 

Long story short, after a night of drunken revelry and subsequent blackout (funny how that happens) Ford wakes up in the morning to discover himself married. The new mystery woman in his life (Italian actress Virna Lisa) speaks no English but she’s beautiful and solicitous to a fault.

Domestic life soon turns Ford fat and complacent, and in a Walter Mitty moment of spite, he produces a strip in which alter ago Brannigan murders his wife, deposits her body in a cement mixer (the gloppitta-gloppitta machine) and proclaims himself a free man again.

Seeing the strip the new wife disappears in the night (and who can blame her?) which leads the police to think Ford really did the dirty deed and then bragged about it via Bash.

Which brings us to the Button Defense. 

During his trial Ford fires his incompetent lawyer and pleads his own case before an all-male (naturally) all-married jury. In a stream-of-consciousness oratory about the joys of bachelorhood and the indignities of marriage, Ford tells the jury he did it (he didn’t) draws a chalk circle the size of a button and invites the boys to “imagine if just by pressing that button you could make your wife disappear.”

Whereupon the guys in the jury box spontaneously acquit, give Ford a round of applause and carry their hero out of the courtroom on their shoulders – leaving the women in the spectator seats to shudder in horror.

Isn’t it funny how life imitates art?

It isn’t difficult to imagine the Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee shouldering their guy Brett out of the hearing room and into the hallowed chambers of the Supreme Court in a triumph of partisan politics against all logic, common sense and decency. The only difference between Ford’s Button Defense and Kavanaugh’s rant was that Lemmon carried off his role with an actor’s sly wit and hail-fellow-well-met smoothness that our boy Brett couldn’t hope to match.

On the other hand, Kavanaugh didn’t have to. He could afford the indulgent luxury of raving  about Democrats destroying his life and traumatizing his wife and children knowing that the confirmation in the bag no matter what. 

Lemmon at least had to con the suckers into ignoring the evidence. Kavanaugh hardly had to bother. 

“How To Murder Your Wife” was a satirical ode to male privilege writ large. The Kananaugh confirmation farce is the same – only more irony than satire, more tragedy than comedy. The movie at least had the virtue of being Hollywood unbelievable. And it even had a happy ending, with Ford’s wife returning and the two of them presumably living happily ever after in a household where the man rules the roost. 

The Senate sanctification of the next Justice of the Supreme Court offers no such happy ending, unless your idea of sheer bliss is sticking it to the liberal snowflakes and putting uppity women in their place. 

In the Age Of Trump reality has become more bizarre than make believe. Women are chattel. Men get away with murder, figuratively if not literally. And the boys who will be boys get to live happily ever after. 

Like it’s 1974 all over again

On Christmas break in 1974 Dave Smith and I took a road trip to Washington, D.C. and on into Pennsylvania.

Dave was editor of the Independent Florida Alligator and I was his managing editor. And these momentous times indeed for two young journalists to go to D.C. 

Richard Nixon was gone. Our U.S. Senator, Ed Gurney, freshly indicted for influence peddling, had one foot out the door. 

Helen Thomas got us into a White House press briefing. And William Raspberry invited us to the Washington Post, where we chatted with Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.

Heady stuff for a couple of guys who aspired to ink stained wretch status.

Oddly, though, none of that moved me to write this column 44 years later. 

Rather, it was something that Dave said in passing as we motored north into the American rust belt, past belching smokestacks, over polluted rivers and through communities that reeked of the effluvia of the post-war Industrial Age.

“What have they done to my country?” Dave asked. 

An excellent question then. Even better now. 

At that time the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection was just four years old. It was signed into law by a Republican president after DDT had driven the American bald eagle to the brink of extinction, oil spills had blackened California beaches and an entire river, the Cuyahoga, had burst into a chemical-fueled fire. 

Thank goodness those days are behind us. 

Listen, except for the algae choking Florida’s rivers, the red tides that are killing marine life, the fact that South Florida is sinking, – not to mention rising ozone levels, raging wildfires, dying coral reefs and slowly acidifying oceans – things are looking…well…

Like it’s 1974 all over again. 

Only now the EPA has gone over to the enemy. 

Stay with me here and try to follow the logic.

They tell us that if we don’t reverse Obama’s fuel efficiency goals, 1,000 more Americans each year will die in auto accidents because driving will be cheaper and we will want to do more of it. 

That’s bad.

But we also must reverse Obama’s emission limits on coal plants even though that will cause 1,400 additional premature deaths a year. 

That’s good.

Because, you know, the War On Coal. Plus, windmills kill birds.

And if the folks running the EPA sound like a bunch of verbal contortionists they are not alone. Over the past eight years we Floridians have stood idly by while our leaders in Tallahassee have systematically dismantled state environmental enforcement and gutted our water management districts. 

All of which brings me back to Dave’s question: What are they doing to my country?

They aren’t doing anything. We are. 

Not doing anything, I mean.

Those people that weaponized the EPA against us? We elected them.

Ditto the politicians who are dragging Florida to the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Listen, Nixon and Congress didn’t create the EPA because they woke up one morning feeling green. 

They did it because a well organized and vocal environmental movement had gained enough momentum by the 1960s to force elected officials to act lest they lose their jobs.

Nobody in public office worries about that anymore. The pols act like the only things we care about are guns and abortion. And they are kept in office by the lobbyists – big ag, big oil, big chem – who bankroll their campaigns.

That’s got to stop. Starting this year. 

As we get closer to the election we will talk more about which rascals need to be thrown out before they kill us with contamination. 

And shame on us if we don’t do it.

(Published in the Gainesville Sun Aug. 26, 20188)