Thursday, October 29, 2020

Day 234 Nat'l Emergency: Cruz Control of Twitter? No!

 “Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear? And why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic Super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?”


Them were fighting words from bloviator and Texas U.S. senator Ted Cruz during Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the publishing practices of social media companies. Like many conservatives, Cruz was irate that Twitter and Facebook have not published unfounded allegations of corruptions by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter that Donald Trump and his Trumpian party are trying to dispense in a desperate move to tilt the November 3 election in their favor (https://apnews.com/article/Google-Twitter-Facebook-Zuckerberg-1246ed1fe238971bb2509e0a8f76b0a6).


Perhaps Cruz needs a primer on capitalism as it applies to the First Amendment.


In an Oscar-winning performance (okay, maybe just a Fox News star turn) attacking Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, the Trumpian senator impassionately excoriated Dorsey’s provenance for deciding what the public should be able to read. Censorship is what it is, he argued, especially if it limits Trumpian thoughts.


Actually, senator, the capitalist system you so diligently revere provides Twitter, Facebook and other social media the economic wherewithal to publish.


As to what they publish and choose not to publish, that is a right ensconced in the Bill of Rights. First Amendment to the Constitution, you should know.


It’s not censorship to not publish unfounded accusations, just intelligent monitoring of political prose, no different than the decisions newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations perform every day to audiences that choose to patronize them. No one is forced to read or listen to any media. No media is forced to promote a political party’s agenda. 


Any suggestion otherwise would be a capitulation to a totalitarian system of government, be it fascism, communism, socialism, absolute monarchy or just plain dictatorship. It would be an abdication to the type of autocratic government whose leaders Trump likes. You know, people like Putin, Erdogan, Kim Jong-Un.  


As long as Twitter et al do not violate free speech safety standards, social media enjoy the latitude to publish, or not, anything they like. Americans have more than enough  social media choices if they do not like what Twitter provides.


It is troubling that Trumpians want to turn social media into a government mouthpiece.


Now, I know there are issues both Trumpians and Democrats have with practices of social media companies. But shearing off from them rights enjoyed by other forms of media—publicly and privately held—is not a solution anyone who believes in our Constitution should embrace. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Day 233 Nat'l Emergency: Battle of Flodden Field

 Historical dramas, especially melodramas, are long on drama and soft on historical accuracy. That’s not an observation unique to me, but I was reminded of that truism when watching the second episode of season two of “The Spanish Princess” on Starz.


Entitled “Flodden,” the episode portrays events encompassing a decisive September 9, 1513, battle pitting Scottish lords rebelling against their fealty to King Henry VIII of England. As factually depicted in the series, Henry was off fighting the French in France when King James IV of Scotland chose to cross the border river Tweed into Northumberland as part of an alliance with France. 


James had amassed a formidable army. Henry had left his queen, Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish Princess he married in 1509, seven years after she was widowed by the untimely death of Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur, the heir apparent to the English throne, as regent and commander of the army.


The armies met on Flodden Field, near the village of Branxton, just down the road from Crookham where Gilda and I stayed a year ago with our friends, Dave and Gemma Banks. 


For dramatic effect, “The Spanish Princess” showed Catherine, in full custom-made armor to accommodate her bulging pregnancy, galloping into battle. Historians believe she never made it to Flodden Field from London, though she has been credited with giving rousing speeches in her battle gear along the way encouraging her subjects to take up arms in defense of England. 


The English, according to the cable TV series, were severely outnumbered, with many fighters conscripted from local peasants and farmers armed with pitchforks and other common household implements. In truth, England’s army numbered some 25,000 soldiers. The English vanquished the Scots, killing James and many of his nobility. By some accounts, 17,000 of James’ 30,000 army were killed. Only about 1,500 Englishmen died.


Aside from their mobility being hampered by a muddy, boggy field, the Scots’ weapon of choice—a long lance known as a pike—was ineffective against the shorter, curved-at-the-head weapon—a bill—used by the English. A bill resembles a longer version of a field hockey stick. (Not being a Medieval military expert, I have no idea why a bill would be more effective than a pike.) Though not shown in “The Spanish Princess” battle scene, the English also benefited from lighter, more maneuverable, more accurate cannons. The English also used longbows, said to be “the last effective use of the longbow in English military history.” 


Gilda and I walked Flodden Field with Gemma on a blustery September afternoon a year ago, the wind so biting that we could stand the chill for less than an hour. Our jaunt was a prelude to my attending the annual Flodden 1513 Club dinner commemorating the Scots who perished at the battle more than 500 years go. I was Dave’s guest at the almost exclusively male affair held September 14, 2019, in the Scottish Borders town of Coldstream. Turns out, because of COVID-19 restrictions, it was the last commemoration dinner to be held until the pandemic abates.


One or two of those hundred or so in attendance were women. A similar number of men wore kilts. Bagpipes were played. As befits a gathering of Scots and their border town English mates, plenty of spirits flowed. To my surprise, blended whisky was preferred to single malt scotch, the locals saying single malt was for snobby foreigners.


As much as Americans share a common language with the English, it’s a challenge to comprehend everything a Brit speaks. Anyone who has watched English television broadcasts can attest to that reality. It’s all the more cogent when confronted by Scottish dialect. In other words, I had difficulty deciphering most of the speeches, toasts, songs and other entertainment during the commemoration dinner. 


Just like Gettysburg’s impact on our Civil War, the Battle of Flodden was pivotal in the annals of England and Scotland. English sovereignty over Scotland, though challenged from time to time, never again was in doubt. 


Interestingly, almost a century later, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, her successor was King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of Great Britain encompassing England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Day 231 Nat'l Emergency: My Fling with Gastonia

 I had another six degrees of separation moment Sunday morning as I lay in bed reading The New York Times online.


In an effort to explain Donald Trump’s desperate rush to hold rallies in suburban locales, The Times featured his trip to Gastonia, NC, the county seat of Gaston County, a suburb about 25 miles southwest of Charlotte.


Gastonia “has become a blue speck in a red county, with a majority Democratic City Council for the first time in recent history. And some said they saw new cracks here in the president’s support,” The Times reported (https://nyti.ms/35unAN3).


Forty-four years ago I was offered a job as a reporter on the Gastonia Gazette. Gastonia could hardly qualify back then as a blue speck on any electoral map.


How different my life would have been had I accepted that invitation.


After four years as a reporter on The New Haven Register, the last two as one of the paper’s six suburban bureau chiefs, I left to work as a press secretary for a congressional candidate. 


He lost. Badly. No one was surprised. Not that Michael Adanti, the mayor of Ansonia and a dean of Southern Connecticut State University, was a bad candidate. It was just that incumbent Ron Sarasin was an effective two-term congressman. 


With no job after election day, I was fortunate that Gilda was working as a newborn intensive care nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She was willing to relocate anywhere, except back to New York. 


The first paper to invite me for a tryout was the Gastonia Gazette (now called the Gaston Gazette). I flew into Charlotte on a Sunday, drove a rental car down I-85 and, for the first time, took a room in a Motel 6. For the next five days I “enjoyed” the South’s love affair with fast food restaurants. 


At one time a thriving community, Gastonia had suffered with the demise of textile manufacturing. Back in 1976 it had not yet attained status as an attractive suburb of Charlotte which had not yet experienced its growth as a financial industry center. 


To a Brooklyn boy like me, Gaston County was “different.” Miles and miles of two lane stretches with the occasional wooden shack set back from the roadway. It was easy to understand why several of my trial stories involved coverage of automobile accidents. Nothing too memorable or newsworthy happened during my week in Gastonia.


I must have made a favorable impression or the editor was desperate as he offered me a job on Friday. $200 a week. I told him I had left The Register because it paid just $200. He countered that the cost of living in Gastonia was lower than in New Haven. But college expenses for our not yet born children would still be unaffordable, said I. 


He really wanted me so he upped the offer to $250 and membership in a country club (I don’t think he knew I was Jewish, though to be fair, Jews have lived in Gastonia since 1892). There was one catch, however. Instead of the two reporters he hoped to hire, for $250 a week he expected me to do the work of two staffers. I resisted the call of the South.


A few months later, after also passing up a $200 a week salary from the Annapolis Capital Gazette, I answered an ad for a publication in the one city Gilda did not want to relocate to—New York. I got the job, Gilda agreed we could move to Westchester, and the rest, as they say, is history. 


About 25 years ago we traveled to Charlotte to attend a cousin’s wedding. We took a side trip to Gastonia to visualize what might have been. We had no regrets about our decision to come back to New York State.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Day 228 Nat'l Emergency: Biden Opens a Door

 Did Joe Biden’s devotion to talking policy over polemics provide Donald Trump a path to election victory during an otherwise nothing-new debate Thursday night?


Trump pounced on Biden’s admission that his ultimate, though distant, goal for the United Stars is to transition from reliance on oil and other fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources. Biden said he would eliminate oil industry subsidies.


Trump seized the moment by noting key states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio (states Biden is hoping to win) and Oklahoma are populated by many whose jobs are dependent on oil production. By the time you read this Trump most probably will already have rolled out ads asserting Biden is out to take away their jobs.


Biden’s defense of his position made sense to anyone who carefully listened and, more importantly, cares about global warming and the need to undertake seismic shifts away from carbon gas production. But pitting the planet’s future against the specter of losing one’s job is a hard sell.


Though The New York Times observed that “Significantly, Mr. Biden made no serious error of the sort that could haunt him in the final days of a race in which he’s leading,” I am not so confident. 


Trump will mercilessly exploit the opportunity presented to him. He has to because he failed Thursday night to provide assurance or empathy in his approach to handling the surging coronavirus or his thoughts on how he would unite the country during a second term. Biden did.


The election is 11 days away. Few undecided voters remain. As we saw in 2016, elections via the Electoral College can be won by a sliver of votes in key states, among them Pennsylvania, Ohio and even Texas. 


Biden will be forced to play damage control in those states. He has cast this election as a vote for the soul, character and future of the country. He must hope voters in fossil fuel producing states see beyond their immediate paychecks. 


Friday, October 16, 2020

Day 221 Nat'l Emergency: Election Predictions

Let’s talk Trump.


I mean, why do I write so much about him? If he ever does leave the presidency, will my blog dry up from lack of material to write about? Joe Biden could not possibly be as entertaining or stimulating. Normalcy isn’t as compelling as demagoguery. Or egotism. Or venality. The fiction spellbinder, even one with a limited vocabulary of words like “beautiful,” “tremendous,” and “terrific,” is more intriguing than a truth teller.


I may be underestimating the American public. Seems a majority of those who tuned in to Donald Trump’s and Biden’s dueling town hall meetings Thursday night opted for sanity and civility, not to mention in-depth understanding and familiarity with issues and legislation that could affect their lives. 


Biden’s ABC town hall drew more viewers than Trump’s NBC sit-down which was also broadcast on MSNBC and CNBC, according to Nielsen. Biden drew 14.1 million viewers compared to a combined 13.1 million who watched Trump answer questions from voters and parry with moderator Savannah Guthrie. 


Maybe, just maybe, the electorate is tired of Trump’s tirades and the incompetent way he has handled the coronavirus pandemic.



Trivia Quiz: What famous writing made history in 1776? A clue or two: No, it was not the Declaration of Independence; yes, it was written in English. (Answer at the bottom of this blog.)



Election Results: I just filled out my predictions for an election night sweepstakes my friends Ken and Jane conduct every four years. Last time I picked Hillary Clinton as the winner. 


I am sticking with the Democrat. I predict Biden will secure 53% of the popular vote compared to 45% for Trump, the remaining 2% going to Kanye West and other fringe candidates.


Biden will garner 286 Electoral College votes versus Trump’s 252. 


In other words, the country will remain deeply divided. 


The House of Representatives will see a slight increase in Democratic members to 245. Significantly, the Senate will flip Democratic with a 52-48 majority.


Consequently, a President Biden will have two years to effect change before the risk of losing control of the Senate confronts his agenda. If he’s going to pack the Supreme Court with at least four liberal justices he and Congress will have to act swiftly before Mitch McConnell  (yes, I think he will win reelection) may again be in a position to stymy Democratic nominations to federal courts, including the Supreme Court. 


To be on the safe side, he really needs to add six Supreme Court justices in case any of the three current liberals leaves the bench in the third or fourth year of his presidency.


The sweepstakes questionnaire did not ask about presidential pardons, but I suspect Trump, win or lose, will issue quite a few pardons before January 20, 2021, to Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and anyone else he feels has been wrongly prosecuted for actions involving his 2016 campaign. Trump might also explore the validity of pardoning himself of any crime, such as tax evasion. 



(Answer to the trivia question: It was Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”) 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Day 220 Na'l Emergency: Shame on You NBC

 Thursday morning I sent the following email to Lester Holt expressing my disapproval of NBC’s decision to counter-program a town hall event with Donald Trump opposite a previously scheduled ABC town hall with Joe Biden later that evening:


“Mr. Lester Holt:


“Your credibility and that of the entire NBC News team is on the line with your network’s decision to hold a town hall with Donald Trump at the same time that ABC is holding a town hall with Joe Biden. Counter-programming is an acceptable action when entertainment programs are slotted for air time. But when the issue of informing the public is at stake, it is a deplorable practice that will restrain the flow of information the public deserves to know before making its selection for the next president November 3. 


“It is an accepted fact that NBC promoted Donald Trump as a successful businessman for its “Apprentice” show despite the fact that he was not successful. NBC gave him the aura of success which helped him dupe the public. Now your news team is complicit in Trump’s plans to downplay Biden’s visibility to the American public. 


“NBC News has several avenues to express its dissociation with the decision to air the Trump town hall. First, you, Lester Holt, must unequivocally state you were not involved in the decision and that you object to it. Second, as a sign of your objection you should boycott tonight’s and Friday night’s Nightly News broadcasts. Third, during the town hall NBC News should do immediate fact checks on statements by Trump. You cannot allow him to fabricate falsehoods.”


NBC’s and Holt’s response: Silence. Nada. In fact, Holt anchored the evening news telecast Thursday night and promoted the network’s town hall without identifying ABC as the network carrying the Biden town hall.


NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, the town hall moderator, did try to correct some of Trump’s comments. Overall, however, there can be no more appropriate word for what NBC did than SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. 


Friday, October 9, 2020

Day 214 Nat'l Emergency: Is There a Derek Jeter Moment Within Any NY Yankee Tonight?

 With the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays playing a winner-take-all game Friday night to advance to the league championship series against the Houston Astros, is there anyone among the Yankees who has a Derek Jeter moment in him to commemorate one of the first, if not the first, milestone event in the career of the Hall of Fame shortstop and team captain?


If you are a baseball fan, a Yankees fan, and especially a Derek Jeter fan, you’d know that Friday night is the 24th anniversary of Jeter’s imprint on Yankee history. With the Yankees trailing the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium in the first game of their best-of-seven playoff series, Jeter’s seemingly innocuous fly ball to right field should have been caught by Tony Tarasco at the base of the right field wall. 


Instead, 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out with his glove and deflected the ball. The ruling on the field awarded Jeter a game-tying home run. The Yanks went on to win the game in extra innings. Jeter’s magical moment started the team on its trek to renewed glory. After not winning a championship since 1978, the Yankees under manager Joe Torre won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. 


Back when they won it all in 1977-1978 and then in the Torre-Jeter glory years, owner George Steinbrenner spent lavishly to put the best team money could buy on the field. His sons (Hal and the recently deceased Hank) have been more circumspect about spending, but this year the bankroll loosened up. The Yankees signed pitcher Gerrit Cole to a record nine year contract. He rewarded them with a win in game one of the series against the Rays. On just three days rest, instead of his normal four days off, he will be expected to produce another postseason payroll dividend Friday tonight. Will he rise to the Jeter moment?


Giancarlo Stanton is another high-priced player. He just missed a home run Thursday night that would have tied him for the record of six home runs in six consecutive games. Oh well, he will have to settle for five in a row. Can he begin another streak Friday night?


If you think I’m going to make my way through the rest of the lineup, you’re wrong. Just as Jeter was a rookie in 1996 on a team with bigger stars, a Jeter moment could be attained by anyone. Let’s see who rises to the occasion.


Instead, my memory of the Jeter-Maier home run goes back to where I was that fateful evening. I was not at home watching play unfold. I was in Middlebury, IN, addressing a sales meeting of the Syndicate Glass Co. It was the last place my boss, John, and I wanted to be as we were and still are big Yankees fans. But Syndicate was a longtime advertiser and had requested a market presentation to enhance its salespeople’s understanding of the retail market.


As we awaited our turn during their sales meeting, John and I  alternated sneaking out to get updates on the baseball game. As I began my talk the Orioles were leading 3-2 after 3-1/2 innings. 


My standard presentation lasted from 45 to 60 minutes with another 15 or more minutes for questions. I was motoring along as fast as I could so we could get back to the game when a salesman asked how the cost of labor was impacting retailers and their suppliers.


I turned to Lenny, Syndicate’s president, and matter of factly asked how many people worked in his manufacturing plant. 


“About half,” he deadpanned back. For a moment, what I now classify as a Jeter moment, there was silence, then uproarious laughter from his staff. 


Lenny had ad-libbed his response, but from then on I planted that gag whenever I talked before an industry group. 


You never know from whence inspiration or a magical moment will come. I’m hoping at least one Yankee channels an inner Jeter moment to secure a victory. The timing could not be more perfect.