Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Week of Supreme Dread

A tipping point for the national psyche is here as Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia prepare to rule on health care reform, in a decision as predictable as their 2000 vote to put George W. Bush into the White House rather than Al Gore, leading to John Roberts in the chief’s chair of the Supreme Court.

In throat-clearing mode, today's Justices pass up a chance to rethink their Citizens United ukase with a 5-4 bloc vote to reaffirm it against Montana’s challenge to disastrous vote-buying in the state’s political history. Corporations are people, the Justices insist against all evidence of inhuman behavior to the contrary.

Such fading prospects for individual thought and feeling are reinforced by news that computers are inching toward “deep learning” to mimic what goes on in the brain with no bothersome baggage from the human heart.

What will such a 2012 brave new world bring? Beyond chances that overturn of health care reform could create an irreversible downward spiral for Obama’s reelection chances, where will it leave a nation rapidly losing all faith in the ability to govern itself in what used to be an American tradition of optimism—-and, yes, hope.

A poignant reminder of such a bygone world comes with HBO’s “Newsroom,” the work of Aaron Sorkin whose award-winning “West Wing” lifted the spirits of as many as 17 million viewers on network TV during the George W. Bush years.         

A decade later, Sorkin’s unabashedly liberal take on the media reaches a fraction of that many (2 million) on pay TV and draws skeptical, even cynical reviews for theatrical optimism over JFK’s dictum about public life, “You can’t beat brains.”

That may be in doubt these days, but survivors of that period need all the encouragement they can get, as Dan Rather, one of its fallen icons, notes in an approving review:

“There is a battle for the soul of the craft that goes on daily now in virtually every newsroom in the country...It's a fight that matters, not just for journalists but for the country. It centers on whether news reporting is to be considered and practiced--to any significant degree, even a little--as a public service, in the public interest, or is to exist solely as just another money-making operation for owners of news outlets.”

Now, Rupert Murdoch prepares to split his media empire into “news” and “entertainment” entities (say what?) and, barring some religious revelation on the part of John Roberts, the Supreme Court prepares to create chaos by striking down Obama’s health care law.

What psychic world will we be living in by week’s end?

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