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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Earth Day and Science March

Happy Earth Day! Sending out good thoughts to all those working in the environmental movement, to the earth itself, and to all its inhabitants. Earth Day this year was chosen as the day for the March for Science, with the main march being in Washington DC, with satellite marches around the country and the world.

It’s sad that we need marches to remind us of the importance of science and of protecting our environment, but there are definitely some people who need reminding. The science march emphasizes the importance of scientific research and advances and of scientific education and literacy in the general public, while celebrating the contributions of science to our world, particularly the contributions of those who have been traditionally underrepresented among scientists, such as women, indigenous people, African-Americans, and Latino/as.

In that spirit, I want to honor two scientists in my family.

First, my older sister who has just retired from decades of work as a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s and doctorate from Indiana University.  After post-doctoral work at the Cleveland Clinic, she came to NIH for the remainder of her career, where she worked on projects to add to our knowledge of how to fight disease and promote wellness. Today, she participates in the Science March in Washington, DC.

Second, my younger daughter T. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and last year completed a Master’s of Professional Studies in conservation biology of plants at State University of New York – Environmental Science and Forestry. She is passionate about plants and hopes to build her career around restoration ecology. Nothing makes her happier than pulling out invasive species so that native plants can thrive! Right now, she is working in Missouri for their Department of Conservation with a study of the effects of fire on prairie plants. She is marching for science in Springfield, Missouri.

I am proud to have these two women scientists in my immediate family! I appreciate their contributions and that of their colleagues across all scientific fields.

I think today is a good day to reflect on how important science is to our lives. Medical science and biology are important in decisions I make every day. I am especially drawn to environmental science and geology and often use that knowledge in my advocacy on environmental and climate change policy and renewable energy. Computer science makes B’s job possible. The list could go on and on…

There is a Sci/Cli March today in Binghamton, a local mash-up of this weekend’s science march with next weekend’s climate march. I had hoped to attend, but I don’t think I will be able to make it. I’ll be marching with them in spirit, as well as with my sister in DC.

Science rules!

SoCS: March On!

Here in the United States, we are doing a lot of marching these days.

I participated in a sister march for the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st. These marches took place throughout the United States and around the world, even Antarctica! We had about 3,000 participants in Binghamton, although we had expected only a few hundred.

There have since been other major marches, including one for indigenous rights.

April will see two major marches on Washington with satellite marches elsewhere, one for Science on April 22, which is Earth Day,  and a Climate March on April 29. I wish I could be in Washington for both of those, but will probably have to settle for a local combined march.

The marches themselves are energizing, but the larger point is that people use them as educational tools to raise awareness of important issues and then continue their advocacy through follow-up actions. That has been an encouraging thing that we are seeing in the US this year, that so many people are getting involved in civic life at a new level, so…

March On!
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “march.” Join us! Find out how here:


Bernie Sanders on what he wants

Weeks ago, I wrote about what I, as a Bernie supporter, want moving forward.

In today’s Washington Post, Sanders writes about what he – and more importantly – his supporters want.  He actually mentions the twelve million people who voted for him in primaries, but he has many more supporters than that. Some, like me, are independents who live in closed primary states. Others are people who caucused for Bernie in their states, but who are not tallied as votes for him due to the state caucus rules.

The list of issues that Senator Sanders highlights is not exhaustive, but it is expansive, emphasizing yet again that Sanders’ campaign was never one-issue, as his critics had characterized it.

I hope that the Democrats will seek to address these issues and earn the enthusiastic support of Bernie’s supporters of all political affiliations.

I take the recent energy and actions by the Congressional Democrats as a positive sign that  the party is finally putting the needs of the people above the special interests.

Bernie has been calling for a revolution, not a violent one but a political one.  Let’s use the momentum of the current moment to make it happen.

It’s what being a democratic republic is all about.