Skip to content

Letter From Home “City Of Visitors” 5/25/17

May 25, 2017

David McCullough writes a line in his latest book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For that stands out as pure truth. “History is both now and then, today and yesterday.”

Several weeks ago McCullough appeared on the Charlie Rose show and spoke in his usually eloquent way about why people need to see this country’s national parks and historic sites. He spoke about the need to show young people the wonders of the past. James and I were already months into the planning for such a trip that took us to Washington, D.C. and some sites in the general area.   Connecting with the touchstones of the past was exactly the very thing we wanted to do and which McCullough urged.

For ten days we made our way to the famed sites where monuments and buildings have awed millions. To see the Lincoln Memorial in daylight is one thing, as I did on my first trip to D.C. in 1987, but to stand in the lighted wonder at night and ponder the man as on this trip, is quite another.   I found myself talking to many people day after day and asking them their impressions. I sought out ones who I thought might lend the best insights.

As such I asked a black woman who was age 88 what she was feeling about the memorial. It was her first time to see it and being from Jamaica she spoke as one who knew of the power Lincoln’s words gave to those outside this nation. “It is very powerful for everyone,” she said with soft words and dark knowing eyes.

On the backside of the memorial looking out across the Potomac  I spoke to a father and then told his young teenage children about the battle of First Bull Run and how many townspeople took carriages and boxed lunches to watch the battle as many felt the war would be a short term operation.  Hours later the beaten and badly wounded soldiers would be limping or being carried back over the river into Washington.  Some without shoes, others without guns, others without an eye or limb.   It was interesting to see the young look out and hear of the events and perhaps in their mind see history play out.   (As McCullough hoped would happen.)

There were many moments that made me simply stop and be still. Standing inside the National Cathedral makes one grasp how limited our vocabulary is when trying to describe it, but to then hear a symphony play within the soaring structure, as we did Sunday afternoon, leaves one simply breathless. One can only imagine the sound in heaven.

The experiences of this kind are felt in almost every footstep as one journeys the city. The history of the place looms large as we passed the spot where the old jail once stood that housed Charles Guiteau who shot President Garfield just a couple blocks from the AirBnB where we stayed in the gentrified and glorious Capitol Hill Neighborhood.  (The picture above is only a representative view of the area.) He was also executed at that jail. That is not such an odd thing to mention as being a serious history buff I had placed on our itinerary to be at the spot where Garfield was shot at a railroad station. The station is long gone and the Museum Of American Art now stands on the southwest corner of present-day Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue.

There were so many small items and thrills such as coming across the wooden box for the Electoral College votes that finalized the 1968 election and formalized the outcome for Richard Nixon. There was the lunch at the Watergate where my smile never left my face.  We walked on the Hill and came upon a tree planted to honor former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and then another one planted for the legendary Republican Senator Everett Dirksen. While viewing trees Senator Manchin of West Virginia passed and then Senator Markey of Massachusetts walked along with some aides. People watching was grand fun at this location as the news makers passed.

History has been a decades-long fascination of mine. So when James arranged for separate tours to visit Mount Vernon and Gettysburg I can honestly say each of those days I felt akin to a kid on Christmas morning. Traveling by boat up the Potomac River and passing some of the 8,000 acres that made up George Washington’s home and later looking into the room where Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have visited and dined was as if I had stepped into the pages of a Joseph Ellis page-turner.

The horror of Gettysburg is well known but to stand on the battlefields and reflect on the moves and counter-moves that resulted in a most pivotal outcome was sobering. I had read long ago of the moldering bodies that still were present from the July battle when President Lincoln gave his address in November. We passed the hotel where he stayed and saw the second story window of the room where he finished his short speech. But to see the bluffs and hear the stories of battle and grasp how the winds blew that day and carried the smoke of cannon and musket, as bodies lay strewn about was most powerful.

There was one constant to this trip that started from our first taxi ride and continued on each street corner, restaurant, and site along the way.   People were just amazingly friendly.     I think I live in a very friendly city (Madison, Wisconsin) but D.C. was just so much more  so with smiling and nodding heads offering a greeting, or helping out when one looks…well, lost.

James and I were on a street corner about five blocks from the White House with a small map when a very well dressed man passed by and inquired if we might need some help. I joked about my befuddled look being the norm. He then instructed us in how to find our next site to see. He was an older man who worked as a lawyer on K Street.

We had a great conversation with folks from Louisiana at Arlington Cemetery, and grandparents from Ohio who were taking their grandson from Kentucky to Gettysburg.   When I asked the 10-year-old what town he lived in he replied, “I live in a small town surrounded by a small town”.   I told him I knew about small towns too as I came from one that only had three digits in our zip code. The grandparents laughed.

But it was in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where I was able to grasp why everyone was so willing to talk to others, give some help, smile and nod—even on the Metro subway. The lady who waited on us at the counter where we bought another book—we bought several back from various places we stopped—gave me the answer. I had asked that perhaps this all was due to D.C. being in some respects a southern location and some of the charm was showing.   She was from England, had lived in D.C for 17 years, and had a different point of view.   Everyone is friendly, she said, as this is a city of visitors in one way or another. Everyone knows how it feels to need a smile or have some guidance.

We had plenty of smiles given to us and help along the way as we traveled. From flying out to D.C. and then taking a sleeping car back aboard Amtrak to Chicago this trip was the very type McCullough had urged.

FDR’s Bomb Shelter

May 23, 2017

For the past ten days I have been in Washington DC and the local historical sites in the larger area.  Much to talk about in the coming days on Caffeinated politics.  But for now how about some history that most have never heard of before.

In the event of an aerial attack on Washington, D.C., the plan was to whisk the wheelchair-bound president across the street to the U.S. Treasury.

Within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, work began on an inclined tunnel leading from the White House to a dry moat surrounding the Treasury. From there it was just a few feet to the Treasury basement, and safety.

The Treasury is built like a tank, with immense granite foundations and sturdy barrel vaulted cellars. One of the abandoned vaults down in the basement was hurriedly transformed into a 10-room apartment suite, complete with a command center and living quarters for the president. A Treasury Historical Association newsletter recalls that “carpeting and wall drapes were installed to make the vault a bit more habitable, and food and water supplies were stockpiled for the President’s and his staff’s use.”

Let’s Talks About Alcohol

May 23, 2017

Product placement of alcohol brands is on the rise, roughly doubling from “140 appearances in the top 100 films in 1996 to 282 appearances in the top 100 films of 2015,” according to new research. The study found that 44 percent of the 2,000 films they looked at featured a specific, existing brand of alcohol.

While I am no prude I think there is a need to be mindful of the messages that are sent about alcohol in film.

It isn’t just adult films that are heavy on the booze. According to the research, 72 percent of PG-rated films and 46 percent of G-rated films surveyed featured alcohol use. While that number appears to have stayed steady over time, again, brand placements nearly doubled within the 20-year period. For instance, in the 2003 film “Elf”—described as a “good-natured family comedy” by the film review website Rotten Tomatoes—Will Ferrell accidentally pours whiskey into his coffee, and then starts the party at work.

“It can really deliver a lot of alcohol images to an underage group,” Sargent says. 

Sargent compares this trend to portrayals of tobacco use in movies. To stop a flood of lawsuits from states and people seeking compensation for illness and death from smoking cigarettes they had been told was safe, America’s largest tobacco companies agreed in 1998 to a settlement that, among other things, put restrictions on funding product placement in movies. In a study last year, Sargent and others found the depiction of smoking and tobacco brands in movies dropped by roughly half in the years following the settlement.

If similar film restrictions were put on the alcohol industry, Sargent says, “I would bet that you would get the same kind of decline with alcohol.” However, this is an unlikely proposition, as there there is no similar flood of lawsuits against alcohol companies, and Sargent says that the public and lawmakers generally tend to view alcohol as less malicious than tobacco.

World’s Oldest Bookstore

May 22, 2017

You knew this would land on CP.

It has changed hands and locations several times and has been renamed 11 different things. But for 285 years, the Livraria Bertrand, as it is known today, has served Lisbon’s bibliophiles and been a space for intellectual and cultural conversations. Opened in 1732, it holds the Guinness record as the world’s oldest bookstore still in operation

How Did President Bush (43) Handle The Press?

May 21, 2017

(A lot more effectively than Number 45.)

Bush’s view of the press is also personal, and was no doubt shaped by the experience of his father, who sometimes invited reporters to chat or to toss horseshoes, often over the objections of his wife. A former close aide remembers that Barbara Bush, who is similar in temperament to her son, would never speak off the record to reporters, because she believed they would betray her confidence. “She didn’t trust these people,” the former aide recalls.

When the senior Bush prepared to announce his candidacy, in 1987, he gave unusually close access to Margaret Warner, at the time a correspondent for Newsweek. Warner prepared a generally sympathetic profile, but the piece also took into account what she described as Bush’s “potentially crippling handicap”—a perception that he wasn’t tough enough for the job. This notion was captured on the cover by these words: “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’ “

Warner, who is today an anchor on PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” defends the profile, but she believes that Newsweek editors tarted it up by inserting the word “wimp” throughout. “I thought to put that word on the cover—and have it hit the stands the day he announced for President—was a cruel, gratuitous thing to do,” she says, sounding like any defensive reporter who blames an editor. Warner remembers that the Bush family was “hurt and irate”—and that they let her know it.

George W. Bush, like his mother, is known for holding grudges. “Being there and experiencing how something like that plays out and happens can only make you more guarded,” Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, says.

Bush has not totally dodged the press. He gave a one-hour interview, in September, to Brit Hume, of Fox News, and coöperated with NBC’s Tom Brokaw, CBS’s Scott Pelley, and ABC’s Diane Sawyer for lengthy interviews. He has talked to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal but has not given an in-depth interview to the New York Times since becoming President. Nor has he done so with the television anchors Peter Jennings, of ABC, or Dan Rather, of CBS. “I recently did a story on a senior figure in the Bush White House and was told in advance, ‘It better be good,’ “ Jennings recalls. “Which I thought was rather naked. It wasn’t a threat, but it didn’t sound like a joke. There is a feeling among some members of the press corps that you are either favored by the Administration or not, and that will have something to do with your access.” Jennings added that he has interviewed every President since Richard Nixon.

Every modern President has complained about “unfair” and “cynical” reporters and has tried to circumvent the press “filter,” just as White House correspondents routinely complain that their access is restricted, that the Administration is hostile or deceptive. Even President Kennedy, who liked journalists and was masterly in his manipulation of them, complained to the Times about David Halberstam’s early reporting of the Vietnam conflict, and, angry over coverage of his Administration, cancelled the White House subscription to the Herald Tribune.

What seems new with the Bush White House is the unusual skill that it has shown in keeping much of the press at a distance while controlling the news agenda. And for perhaps the first time the White House has come to see reporters as special pleaders—pleaders for more access and better headlines—as if the press were simply another interest group, and, moreover, an interest group that’s not nearly as powerful as it once was.

Donald Trump And Cozy Relations With Russia

May 21, 2017
There is no way to move around  Donald Trump without having Russia come up.Trump’s desire to move on from the Russia investigation, which has plagued his administration in its early days, is understandable. Unfortunately for the president, one big obstacle to doing so will likely be his own words: He has spent decades pursuing—and publicly discussing—business ties in Russia, meaning that his claims to currently have “no connections to” the country strain credulity. 

Trump’s references to Russia go back at least as far as his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, in which he wrote that he was in talks with the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin “about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government.” He attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to seal the deal with a visit to Moscow, during which, according to The Washington Post, Trump “met with a lot of economic and financial advisers in the Politburo,” the Soviet Union’s chief political body. The next year, the real-estate mogul personally hosted the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev at Trump Tower in New York.

According to The New York Times, Trump attempted to rekindle his Russian connections during one of his brushes with bankruptcy in 1996, saying he had never been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow.” Once again, the proposed development, this time an underground shopping mall near the Kremlin, fell through. In the process, though,Trump developed a partnership with a development company called the Bayrock Group, which was founded by a former Soviet official and a Russian-American businessman who has since been implicated in a stock-manipulation and money-laundering scheme involving members of the Russian mob. Over the next decade, CNN has reported, Trump contracted with the Russian law firm Sojuzpatent to file at least eight trademarks in the country. Also during the late 1990s, USA Today notes, “dozens of condominiums in Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan were bought by Russians” who “sought an audience with Trump, whose business acumen they respected.”

Jefferson, Adams, And The Press

May 20, 2017

Grand history.

Early American newspapers were unabashedly partisan, favoring either the conservative Federalists or the Republican opposition that Jefferson had launched in the seventeen-nineties. Take a look at the Philadelphia Aurora, an organ of Jefferson’s party, edited by William Duane (a printer whom Federalists had pursued, unsuccessfully, for sedition in 1799). The edition of October 14, 1800, tells you that your choice lies between “Things As They Have Been” (under Adams):

The principles and patriots of the Revolution condemned. . . .

The Nation in arms without a foe, and divided without a cause. . . .

The reign of terror created by false alarms, to promote domestic feud and foreign war.

A Sedition Law. . . .

An established church, a religious test, and an order of Priesthood.

And “Things As They Will Be” (if Jefferson is elected):

The Principles of the Revolution restored. . . .

The Nation at peace with the world and united in itself.

Republicanism allaying the fever of domestic feuds, and subduing the opposition by the force of reason and rectitude. . . .

The Liberty of the Press. . . .

Religious liberty, the rights of conscience, no priesthood, truth and Jefferson.

The same week, Philadelphia’s Federalist paper, the Gazette of the United States, offered a still more emphatic judgment:



At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is: “Shall I continue in allegiance to





Or impiously declare for



%d bloggers like this: