Review: “The Post”

Most of the plot of “The Post” takes place over a few days in 1971 when the Washington Post released parts of the  Pentagon Papers, detailing what was going on behind the scenes in the government and military before and during the Vietnam War.

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the paper’s publisher, with great sensitivity and nuance. She conveys so much with a slight raising of an eyebrow or trembling of fingers. Tom Hanks plays the hard-driving Post editor Ben Bradlee with appropriate business-like bluster, although letting his personal feelings show in some scenes when he is alone with Graham or his wife.

I was a child living in rural New England when the Pentagon papers were released. We were somewhat sheltered from the protests and intrigues about the war, but there were certain things about that time that I remember and that resonated for me while watching the film.

First was how much I admire Katharine Graham, who was a woman in a position of power in a field dominated by men and also dealing with the overwhelmingly male realms of finance and government. There are several scenes in the film that accentuate the uniqueness of her position in that timeframe. After the death of her father and her husband, she inherited the job of publisher of the Post and succeeded in bringing the paper from being a local Washington one to national prominence.  The Pentagon Papers story was a major part of that rise in stature, which continues to this day. The Washington Post has been breaking major stories on the inner workings of the current White House and on the Russian influence investigation.

Second was where my brain jumps every time I hear the name Daniel Ellsberg – to the phrase “Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.” I remember news coverage after the Papers came out about efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had been the source of the secret study to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist had been broken into by an FBI and a CIA agent to try to find materials with which to blackmail Ellsberg and this was covered in the news media.

I hope that no one is breaking into offices in the present day, but it is a stark reminder of how chilling it is to have the government try to interfere with the freedom of the press. Toward the end of the film, there is a quote from the 6-3 majority Supreme Court decision that allowed the Times and the Post and other papers to continue to publish stories from the Pentagon Papers. [What follows is probably not the exact quote from the movie, but it is taken from the concurrence of Justice Black. The Supreme Court document can be found here.]

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

I hope people will think of this every time the President denigrates the press or says that a member of the press is lying when they are actually reporting or says that the press is the enemy.

The United States needs a free press today as much as it always has. It is an absolute necessity for the health of our nation and our democracy. I thank director Stephen Spielberg and everyone involved in “The Post” for the timely reminder.
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news response

I try to keep up with the news, both here in the United States and internationally, but it is getting more and more difficult to do, especially regarding the federal government here. It seems that every day has so many important news stories that I can only hear summary reports on most, delving into detail on only a small fraction.

One story that is more and more alarming is the interference of Russia in election campaigns, both here in the United States and around the world. During the 2016 election campaign, I was disturbed about the role of Russia in the Democratic National Committee hacking. I was also disgusted that Congressional Republican leaders blocked a unified response to the threat under President Obama.

Even more shamefully, that denial/lack of response persists both among most Republicans in Congress and with the current executive branch.

Meanwhile, more and more evidence has been found of Russian meddling in our election and many other countries, especially European ones, have experienced Russian interference as well. These countries are actively taking countermeasures, but the United States federal government is not.

Among the people, the response to the situation is mixed. Some of us are alarmed and making a point of staying informed and alert. Some companies, media, and state and local governments are putting in policies to counteract as much Russian interference as they can.

The problem is that the Republican lies about Russian meddling are believed by some of the people, making them particularly vulnerable to further foreign influence and adding to the bizarre discounting of facts and mistrust of the mainstream press that made the whole mess possible in the first place.

This division is dangerous to our society and our democracy. It appears that what Russia wants is to destabilize democracies.

I’m very much afraid that they have succeeding, in part, here in the United States.

We cannot and must not let them change our fundamental structures of government and daily life. Many of us are and will continue to fight for our American values.

We must prevail.
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SoCS: US news

All or nothing tends to be the reaction to watching news coverage in the US these days.

Either people are glued to the breaking news and twists and turns of the current government or studiously avoiding the news.

One facebook friend was discussing this on her timeline this week. She is a “watcher.” She says it is like watching a train wreck; she can’t turn away.

Other friends, who used to watch the news on a regular basis, are taking a mental health break. They are avoiding the news because it is causing too much stress.

I am in the “watching” camp because I am trying to stay on top of developments so I can continue to write to elected officials on a variety of topics of concern. It is stressful, though, especially with the stresses of everyday life in addition.

Who knows? At some point, I may switch over to “nothing.”
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SoCS: interference

Late in the night, about an hour before the media blackout before the French election, a lot of the documents from the Macron campaign, mixed with some false documents, were dumped onto the internet. Four minutes before the blackout, the Macron campaign put out a statement, but the media is not allowed to distribute or discuss it.

It looks like this was caused by the same Russian-backed agency that interfered in the US election last year.

These attacks on democracy need to be recognized as cyber-warfare. No one other than the French people, full informed with facts, should be determining the outcome of their election. No one other than the United States people should be determining the outcome of the US election. We know that their was interference from Russia in our last election and we are dealing with the dire consequences.

NO foreign interference! NO “alternative facts”!
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another debate

Tonight, there will be a debate among the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, has failed to gain traction with voters, so most eyes will be fixed on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Sanders and Clinton are close in the public opinion polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to award delegates for the nominating convention.

There is one aspect of the race for the nomination and the general election that I feel is important but that isn’t being discussed much in the press. While Sen. Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, he is not a Democrat himself. While in Congress, he has caucused with the Democrats, while retaining his status as an Independent.

Among the US electorate, there are more voters who are independent, that is, not registered with any political party, than there are voters who are registered Democrats or Republicans.

In some states, such as my native Massachusetts, independents can decide on the day of the primary which party ballot to vote; in others, such as my current home state New York, only registered members of the party are allowed to vote in that party’s primary.

I am an independent, so ineligible to vote in the primary, which is especially vexing this year as I am a supporter of Senator Sanders, but will not be able to vote for him in the New York primary.

The story that many in the media are missing is the possible impact of independent voters in the race.  In states with open primaries, Senator Sanders may draw significant support from progressive independents, while he may poll more poorly in states with closed primaries where only registered Democrats are allowed to vote.

The interesting thing to study is whether how well Sanders polls versus potential Republican rivals is due to his increased appeal to Independent voters. If so, it is something for the Democrats to keep in mind in choosing a candidate who can appeal to and energize the most voters in the general election.

In the United States, turnout is the most important factor in elections. A candidate who can marshal not only the party that nominated him/her but also the independents is the one who will win the election.
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JJJ 2016

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