Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
E.L. Doctorow, who died on Tuesday, was one of the great storytellers of American literature. With Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, The March, Billy Bathgate, and other novels, Doctorow was able to interweave US history with worlds of his own concoction so that readers could barely discern the seams. He was a master of historical fibbing that explored universal human dilemmas. And he was, as far as I could tell, a lovely man. Doctorow was for decades a contributor to and supporter of The Nation, where I once worked, and I had the thrill to be in his company on several occasions. I don't recall whether he told me this or I heard or read it in an interview, but Doctorow once remarked that when he initiated a novel he usually did not know how it would unfold—an astounding comment given the intricacies and strength of his narratives.
My most meaningful encounter with Doctorow occurred several years ago, when my family had the chance to spend the afternoon with Doctorow, who at the time was living in a house next to the home of our mutual friend, Marc Siegel, a writer and doctor. At some point, Doctorow told us a story of his earliest days as a writer, when he was a boy growing up in the Bronx (very close to where my mother had lived at the same time). Some of the details are now hazy, but it went something like this:
My good pals at Huffington Post have announced a momentous decision: No longer will they treat Donald Trump—a.k.a. @realDonaldTrump—as a serious political candidate and afford him coverage in its news and politics verticals. Instead, they will relegate the tirade-prone and traffic-generating tycoon to the entertainment section. I'll let them explain:
After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won't report on Trump's campaign as part of the Huffington Post's political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump's campaign is a sideshow. We won't take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you'll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.
Trump has indeed turned an important event—a major political party selecting its presidential nominee—into a stretch Hummer-sized clown car. A Trump-dominated GOP contest does have the feel of a super-charged reality show, with political consumers (that is, the audience) on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next Trump tweet—Trweet™—blasting another foe or critic. ("Hey Pope Francis, you suck!") Trump is campaigning as a bombastic buffoon, playing to the crowd and inspiring love-hate viewing. Yet, I believe my dear comrades at HuffPo (and I hope they will link to this article) are wrong.
On July 14, humankind will hit a historic marker: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will glide past Pluto, the dwarf planet that marks the end of the solar system, and at 7,800 miles above its surface, it will start snapping photos. By the next day, homo sapiens on Earth will be able to see the first close-ups of this down-graded planet. Though the $728 million, nine-year mission was nearly derailed by a technical glitch, New Horizons has already zapped back movies and pics of Pluto, including what the clearest image to date of the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon. But the money shot is a few days away. No doubt, the guys and gals at mission control are on the edge of their seats, waiting for this galactic Kodak moment.
Finally, we'll get to see what mysterious Pluto truly looks like. And what might that mean? Dwayne Day, a space historian, has an interesting take. In an essay forthe Space Review, he boldly states, "Pluto is going to change us." Some of the change, he predicts, is, well, predictable. First off, there will be the scientific impact: "Every time a spacecraft encounters a new object in our solar system we are surprised. Every single time. And Pluto is going to surprise us and rewrite our textbooks." A taxpayer can say, "I certainly hope so." And a subsequent change in space policy, Day observes, might ensue: "The deluge of Pluto science may create a new group of Kuiper Belt Object scientists interested in using Hubble and other telescopes to search for other objects, or even lead to approval of another mission to head out into the Black, way out at the corner of No and Where."
But there's more. Day speculates that the flyby and the images it yields will change our culture, perhaps influencing our music and movies. He notes, "The 1994 crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter inspired the 1998 movies Deep Impact and Armageddon and dozens of movies, TV shows, and documentaries about the dangers of killer asteroids. The 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission inspired the 2000 movies Mission to Mars and Red Planet." So perhaps one day a futuristic True Detective will take place on the tiniest and farthest planet.
But the most intriguing change Day ticks off is political:
The Pluto flyby will change our politics. Wars will not end because of a tiny spacecraft flying past a distant object in our solar system. There are over seven billion people on planet Earth, and most of them may not even hear about this event. But some will hear about it, and they will realize that it is an American spacecraft doing this, just as they saw an American rover land on Mars and American spacecraft orbit Jupiter and Saturn. NASA is one of the greatest goodwill ambassadors that the United States has. NASA demonstrates American ingenuity and quality and capability. It is the ultimate example of soft power, convincing other countries that the United States is a country to be admired and befriended. This is not a big thing, not a ratchet of a gear in global power politics. But this flyby, this accomplishment, adds a marker in the plus column for America’s standing in the world.
The gang at ISIS might not be impressed. But this feat—the United States spending close to $1 billion so the entire world can learn more about the far reaches of the solar system we share—does convey a positive message about the nation. We're not just a country that has promoted torture, pioneered death-by-drone, and poured climate-changing emissions into the atmosphere. We're exploratory emissaries for the human race. Earth, meet Pluto, courtesy of the USA.
In one of the most Mitt-esque comments of the 2016 campaign (so far), Jeb Bush, a man who made millions through family and political connections, said on Wednesday that "people should work longer hours" in order to expand the US economy. Really? Stressed-out Americans, some juggling more than one job, ought to spend more time toiling at work? Bush was practically saying that 47 percent of Americans don't take enough responsibility for the economic good of the nation.
Naturally, Dems and others pounced on this very 1-percent-ish remark. And Team Jeb—or as he might put it, Team Jeb!—rushed to the fire with pails of cold water, claiming that Bush had been talking only about underemployed part-time workers. One problem: in his original comment, Bush did not indicate he was only referring to part-timers who crave more hours. Oops.
Americans who do work are hardly lazing about. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, Americans employed full-time worked an average of 47 hours a week. Almost half worked over 50 hours a week. In fact, American workers spend more hours on the job than those in other large, industrialized nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
So telling them to work more is quite Romney-like. Maybe they should eat cake, too.
A few years ago, Mother Jones did a special report on the "Great Speedup"—the phenomenon in which greater productivity (some of it based on Americans working longer hours) yields higher corporate profits but not higher wages. The article included several charts highlighting the overworking of Americans. For Jeb Bush's benefit, here are three of the most relevant:
Hillary Clinton: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP; Selina Meyer: HBO
This week, the State Department released a large batch of the emails that Hillary Clinton sent and received (on her personal account via a private server!) when she was secretary of state. The media, naturally, dove into this pool and quickly found the most amusing items among the 3,096 pages. One day, Clinton had heard about a Cabinet meeting on the radio and asked her aides, "Can I go?" Another time, she emailed the protocol chief at State, "Can you contact your protocol friend in China and ask him if I could get photos of the carpets of the rooms I met in w POTUS during the recent trip? I loved the designs." She once struggled to get a fax machine to work. Her emails showed how she and her lieutenants assiduously worked the press to get positive coverage. They revealed interesting details of her close relationship with author and political operative Sidney Blumenthal. But overall, this trove of emails—the first of several to come—depicts Clinton as an earnest public servant toiling away on important affairs of state (global food security, Afghanistan policy, climate change, and international women's rights) while often operating in a Veep-like world, as in the HBO comedy in which Julia Louis-Dreyfuss plays a vice president-turned-president who must contend with absurdities and indignities large and small as she handles the gravest of matters.
These emails chronicle several scenes that could appear in the television show. At least, it would be easy to envision President (or Vice President) Selina Meyer in these situations.
* On December 17, 2009, Clinton zapped senior aide Jake Sullivan an email titled "Argentina." She noted, "The FM [foreign minister] just told me that Arturo…had insulted their country. He was very upset and said I needed to do damage control. Can you figure out what he's talking about?" (She might have been referring to Arturo Valenzuela, then the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.) Within two minutes, Sullivan replied, "On it." And Clinton responded, "He's standing right inside the door here." In other words, it's awkward; hurry. Imagine Meyer stuck like this: The Argentine foreign minister is waiting for me, I told him I had to go to the bathroom, but now I have to tell him something about Arturo.