Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Day, Another Rant

One more thing I’d do if I were in charge...

I’d stop salary payments to all senators and congressmen, the president and all political appointees confirmed by the senate if the government fails to reach agreement on an extension of the debt ceiling and the country defaults on its financial obligations. Pay would be withheld until a deal is finalized and signed by the president. Withheld pay would not be reimbursed once a deal is done. It would be gone with the wind.

Lost Legacy?: Consistency can be a virtue, but it can highlight hypocrisy if not followed.

Tea Party congressmen express outrage that big deficits would strap future generations with backbreaking debt. It’s an honest reason to advocate a balanced budget. Hard to find fault with the warm and fuzzy feeling Tea Partyers have for our children and grandchildren.

Only thing is, they don’t seem to care what type of world they’ll be leaving our offspring. By demanding cuts to, even the dismantling of, the Environmental Protection Agency, the “budget do-gooders” want to bequeath a world with dirtier air, less clean water, fewer national parks and forests, thus removing legacies of that great Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt.

Is the Tea Party so stuck on an anti-government platform it is willing to sacrifice our national heritage and societal advances of the last 120 years? Are regular Republicans so cowed by the Tea Party they are willing to repudiate their own history? Even Ronald Reagan raised taxes. Grover Norquist’s no new taxes pledge would disqualify Reagan from his exalted position.

Follow Me?: Do you take advice from a sibling? Many don’t. Number Track Palin among them. Apparently the 22-year-old didn’t subscribe to little sister Bristol’s abstinence-is-the-best-policy mantra. Instead, he bought into the monkey see-monkey do approach.

After watching Bristol conceive a child out of wedlock (and get rich and famous for it), Track seemingly took the same track, impregnating his high school sweetheart Britta, 21, before they got hitched last May. Recent pictures from a baby shower reveal Britta’s baby bump to be more advanced than normal for two months after nuptials and sanctioned relations.

Ah, well, as I said earlier, consistency can be a virtue, though in this case virtue might not be the right word for a clan that espouses family values but puts more emphasis on creating families than upholding values. Perhaps more appropriate for Palinistas would be the idiom, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If I Were In Charge

If I were in charge....

...I’d order corporate travel programs to boycott all airlines that didn’t pass along to the buyer the funds from the recently expired federal tax on airplane tickets. Except for Alaska and Spirit, to my knowledge, all airlines have chosen to raise fares by an amount equal to the expired tax, reasoning the consumer already is used to paying the higher amount so why not pocket the tax portion no longer being collected for the government. The tax averaged about $20 for a $200 ticket. It’s all very legal, but not really ethical.

I’d maintain the boycott until the airlines dropped the greedy pricing practice. The only way to force airlines to behave is to hit them where it hurts. If it’s too much trouble to boycott all the airlines, then single one out. Within days it will lower prices, no doubt followed by the rest of the fly-boys.

...I’d require all states to pass laws requiring Internet retailers with nexus (offices, warehouses, or other tangible assets) within their borders to collect sales taxes. When the Internet began, it was appropriate to give Web retailers a break. But Internet retailing is quite vibrant these days; the price advantage most cyberspace merchants receive is unfair to brick and mortar companies.

Moreover, those sales tax dollars are desperately needed by state and local governments. They’d also help offset the loss of revenue (from sales and property taxes) when retailers, such as Borders Group, go out of business.

I would exclude Internet start-ups from tax collection liability either for their first five years of operation or until their sales exceed $50 million a year.

...I would require all newscasts and newspapers to show past positions (by date) of politicians featured in stories as a way of exposing hypocrisy or at least changed thinking. It’s truly ludicrous that for the most part only Jon Stewart on The Daily Show goes back to the archives to reveal outright reversals of previously hallowed statements. People (and by that I mean, reporters and editors), let’s get some accountability here, not just for politicians but also for your actions.

...I would disallow government pensions or other retirement benefits for any politician or public servant who resigns because of a sex or ethics scandal (or a felony conviction of any kind), regardless of how many “clean” years he or she served.

...I’d require all politicians to pass an economics class that includes some simple lessons. First, while businesses often resort to cost-cutting measures for short-term profit enhancement, long-term growth can occur only if revenues are raised.

Second, businesses will seek any way they can to increase profits and reduce taxes, even if it means not acting in the national interest, e.g., sending jobs overseas rather than employing more Americans.

Third, cost-cutting can be effective if it does not harm the product, such as by substituting inferior raw materials, or by delivering less value to the consumer.

Fourth, government is analogous to business in that budgets may be balanced by cutting programs, but the value passed onto the public may suffer in the form of fewer police and firemen, lower social security payments, fewer parks, more children per classroom, etc.

Fifth, given the aging of the baby boomer generation and their increased use of Medicare and social security, more revenue generation is required, generally in the form of more tax collections.

Sixth, businesses and individuals often live beyond their current means. They borrow against the future. Individuals do that when they buy a home through a mortgage or make credit card purchases; businesses do that by issuing bonds. There’s nothing sinister or bad in those practices. For anyone in our government to believe it is now a smart move to stifle the future is a repudiation of capitalism as practiced today in the United States.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Multiculturalism Edition

As we continue to reel from the shock of last Friday’s bombing and mass murder in Norway that claimed 76 lives, new aftershocks to multiculturalism emerged from distant lands.

Glenn Beck put his dumb foot into his mouth again. As reported in Britain’s The Daily Telegraph, during his Monday radio show, Beck said, “'As the thing started to unfold and there was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler Youth. Who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.’”

The Daily Telegraph reported, “The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party comprised of teens and preteens that existed from 1922 to 1945.

“Torbjørn Eriksen, a former press secretary to Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's prime minister, called Beck's comments a ‘a new low’ for the broadcaster, who is known for his controversial, often offensive statements.

"'Young political activists have gathered at Utoya for over 60 years to learn about and be part of democracy, the very opposite of what the Hitler Youth was about,’" he told The Daily Telegraph. “‘Glenn Beck's comments are ignorant, incorrect and extremely hurtful.’"

Ah, the hypocrisy of those with a microphone and hours to fill the air with their venom. Beck’s 9/12 project, it turns out, runs a Tea Party political camp for children 8 to 12 years old...

Any attempt at multiculturalism, especially when it comes to possible romance, breeds dissent worthy of Romeo & Juliet.

In Israel, according to the newspaper Haaretz, rabbis in the Gush Etzion region south of Bethlehem in the West Bank objected to a possible liaison between a Jewish cashier and a Palestinian bagger at an Israeli-owned supermarket that purposely opened in an area where Jews and Palestinians could freely mingle (

It’s not clear from the article if there indeed was a love affair. Nor is it clear whether the bagger left his job voluntarily or was fired under pressure from the rabbis. But the grocer has agreed to keep Israeli cashiers and Palestinian baggers apart except when customer traffic is heavy. Moreover, if the quotes from a local rabbi of Alon Shvut are accurate, it’s not a good situation.

Rabbi Gideon Perl is reported to have said, “I was asked to talk to (owner) Rami Levi and his staff about the problem, and told them that one of the things we had feared when the store opened a year ago was exactly this...You need a whip to teach people a lesson after something like this happens.”

I shutter to think any 21st century rabbi could think in such terms...

Perhaps that rabbi and any like-minded soul should look to Jewish history for some multicultural encouragement.

In the same issue of Haaretz, an article on an archeological find in Tel Tzafit, near the Gaza Strip, revealed possible links between biblical Jews and their arch enemies, the Philistines (

A Philistine stone altar from the 9th century BCE is similar in design to Jewish altars described in scriptures. They might have been bitter foes, but there clearly were cultural relations between the two peoples.

“Every group continues defining itself distinctly, but there’s intensive interaction. Think about Samson for a second,” said Prof. Aren Maeir of the Land of Israel and Archaeology studies at Bar-Ilan University, leader of the dig. “It doesn’t matter if the story is real or not. It’s true he kills them and they kill him, but on the other hand, he does marry a Philistine woman and takes part in their weddings.”

Summer’s Eve Follow-up: Seems I was onto something last Friday when I called out Summer’s Eve’s new advertising campaign for its feminine hygiene product. While it strove for a multicultural effect with three ads featuring white, Hispanic and Afro-American talking vaginas, the campaign elicited immediate reactions from Bill Maher on his Friday night show and Stephen Colbert on his Monday telecast.

Rotten Tomatoes: I like tomatoes. I like being able to get them year-round. But after listening to Barry Estabrook on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show today, it will be harder to swallow them next winter.

According to Estabrook, slave labor, yes slave labor, picks many of the Florida winter tomatoes we eat. Asked to explain what he meant by slave labor, Estabrook said according to court records undocumented workers from southern Mexico and Guatemala might be kept overnight in shackles, they are sold, they are beaten, they are paid subsistence wages and live in ramshackle huts with minimal sanitary facilities. For a full airing of the Estabrook interview, click here: You’ll also find out why store-bought tomatoes don’t taste as good as they used to and are less nutritious.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jobs and Shifting Allegiances

Did you catch the CBS Evening News report last Thursday on the Dawsonville, GA, company that produces customized steel plates using a laser controlled machine? (;lst;1)

The gist of the story was technology has become vital to economic success and a main reason why massive job creation may prove elusive. Impulse Mfg. is enjoying 60% profit increases, but it plans no additional hires because technology has negated the need. A laser-guided machine, for example, can turn out one steel plate in 30 seconds, a task 18 workers previously accomplished in 30 minutes.

There you have it. Manufacturing, formerly a foundation of the middle class, no longer can be relied on to provide a stable economic underpinning in the Rust Belt and other regions of the country. Job losses no longer just result from companies shipping work overseas. Even those companies committed to domestic production have limited opportunities for American workers.

When I studied economics in college, 4% unemployment was considered full employment. It’s not beyond the pale to suggest today’s definition probably is in the 7%-8% range, especially when one considers all the aging baby boomers who lost their jobs in the recession and are finding it nearly impossible to secure comparable work and pay. National unemployment was reported in June at 9.2%.

The subtext of this job dislocation is the impact on national and local elections. The party in power, regardless of fault, often bears the brunt of voter disillusionment. That partly explains Republican gains in the 2010 elections. As we enter the 2012 election cycle, embroiled as we are in the pseudo give-and-take of the debt ceiling extension debate, it’s a toss-up which party will be viewed as the more sympathetic.

Old allegiances are fraying.

As inconceivable as it might have been just a few years ago, poor, young, uneducated white folks are more inclined to support the Republican party in 2011 than they were in 2008. The Pew Research Center’s latest poll, released last Friday, shows these core constituencies of non Hispanic whites have deserted the Democratic party.

“A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years ago has turned into an 11-point GOP advantage today,” according to Pew. “And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a slim four-point Republican edge today.”

Furthermore, “Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less. The GOP’s advantage over Democrats has grown from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites. Republicans have made smaller gains among whites voters who have college degrees (”

Can the shift be explained away merely as frustration with the nation’s economic woes? Is it a racist response to a black president? Is it proof the GOP attracts voters who vote with their emotions, not their brains?

Probably a little, or a lot, of all those reasons.

What cannot be denied, even by the most ardent Republican booster, is the policies of the GOP are weighted toward the wealthy, its support for social welfare and higher education programs is squishy, to say the least, and its job-creation programs so far are non-existent save for calls for lower taxes for the rich, or as Republicans calls them, “job creators.” Of course, even with the Bush tax cuts for the upper crust new jobs have not been plentifully created. (Okay, they can deny it all but they’d be kidding themselves; regrettably, they’re already doing a good job fooling many of the young, poor and under-educated.)

How absolutely discouraging. How absolutely unfathomable. How absolutely implausible. But it’s true.

The safety net will be pulled from under them if the poor, the young and the least educated elect conservative, Republican politicians. But getting them to see that is like trying to prove a negative. Until they suffer and can be brought back into the Democratic fold, many will vote against their best economic interests. We have only to look at the eight years of George W. Bush to see the damage that can be wrought—failure to acknowledge warnings of an imminent attack on U.S. soil, 9/11, two wars seemingly without end, lower purchasing power for the middle class and working class, no job growth, federal budgets that went from surplus to deficit, and a loss of respect throughout most of the world.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Number Two's Plus More Amazing Hacker-Gate News

During Saturday’s NY Yankees-Oakland Athletics game, a 4-3 loss, announcers Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill wondered aloud why Yanks manager Joe Girardi removed pitcher A.J. Burnett in the sixth inning after he had loaded the bases with two outs. After all, they bantered, Burnett is your number two pitcher. Why wouldn’t you let him work his way out of the trouble he himself created?

What Yankee team have they been watching this year (or last year, for that matter)? Burnett might be their second highest paid starter, but he has not shown he is their number two pitcher when on the mound. If the playoffs were to begin today, Burnett would be my fourth starter, behind C.C. Sabathia, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. (Burnett’s record and steadiness last year were so suspect he didn’t even pitch in the playoffs.)

This year Burnett is 8-8 with a 4.21 ERA.; Garcia is 8-7 with a 3.21 ERA; Colon 7-6 with a 3.29. Clearly the team has a better chance of winning when a pitcher gives up fewer runs per nine innings. I’d even pitch Ivan Nova over Burnett. Though currently in the minor leagues, Nova posted an 8-4 record and a 4.12 ERA before being sent down to accommodate Phil Hughes’ return from the disabled list.

More on Number 2: Yankee fans griped earlier this week on sports radio about Derek Jeter’s lack of pressure hitting. They demanded his demotion from the lead-off or number two spot in the batting order, citing his failure in the Tampa Bay series to repeatedly knock in runs in critical situations.

It’s true, Jeter is not the same clutch hitter of his youth. Compared to other lead-off hitters in baseball, he’s smack-dab in the middle when you look at batting average, runs batted in, runs scored and on-base percentage. Hardly any crazed Yankee fan can accept mediocrity.

But let’s not forget that baseball is a nine-man game. In two out of the last four contests, one run losses to Tampa Bay and Oakland, Jeter had three important late inning hits his teammates failed to convert into runs. Against the Rays he doubled into left center field but was stranded. Against the A’s he twice got into scoring position, first by doubling in the 7th inning and then by singling, stealing second and tagging up to third in the 9th. Jeter’s value has always been as a table setter. The Yankee captain, who wears #2 on his uniform, did his job, but baseball is a quirky game. The Yanks who scored 17 runs Friday night barely mustered 3 on Saturday afternoon. All too often, individual accomplishments are wasted by the inefficiency of your teammates. In today’s game, Jeter knocked in an important seventh run in the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom line: Over the long haul, Jeter remains a positive force high up in the batting order, whether first or second.

Bases Loaded: I finally heard an announcer give the record of a pitcher facing the bases loaded. In today’s Yanks-A’s game, Michael Kay noted batters hit .250 against Mariano Rivera in such situations, as the incomparable reliever tried to close out his 25th save of the season against the stubborn Athletics. Josh Willingham promptly singled to left to narrow the Yankee lead to 7-5. Mo and the Yanks escaped with a victory despite the next batter’s scalding line drive because it fortuitously went directly to Mark Teixeira who stepped on first to double-up Willingham for a game-ending double play. It was Rivera’s 15th consecutive year with at least 25 saves.

Hacker-Gate Update: It’s not baseball-related, but I couldn’t wait to post this. Last week I commented how Hacker-Gate had similarities to Watergate ( Maybe I was stretching a little, but the comparison continues to be bizarrely appropriate.

Word came Friday about the firing of another Murdoch editor because of the hacking scandal. If you haven’t heard or read about it, you might not believe your eyes. His name—Matt Nixson!!! (

Don’t you just love the way the British spell their names? Hacker-Gate's Andrew Coulson vs. Watergate's Chuck Colson. Matt Nixson vs. Richard Nixon. Is there a Deane waiting in the wings?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some Not So Random Thoughts

Here’s a headline of a press release you wouldn’t want to send out if you ran a company:

“Ski Helmets Recalled by Swix Sport USA Due to Head Injury Hazard.”

Though the release stated there were no reported incidents or injuries, it clearly was not the best PR for a company that sells $99 helmets.

Every day scores of press releases come through my email account via PR Newswire for Journalists. I scan the headlines to see if any are unusual or otherwise worthy of further investigation. Here’s one from earlier this week that piqued my interest:

“Do You Know Your Vagina? Summer's Eve® Challenges Women Nationwide to ‘ID the V(TM)’”

Now, I was quite taken by the frankness of this message, so I clicked on the link, only to get the following note: “There seems to be a problem displaying the page you requested.”

Now that really piqued my interest. Okay, someone had the good sense to filter out potentially offensive messages. But I was still curious, so I googled Summer’s Eve and discovered the feminine hygiene company has embarked on an advertising campaign that is raising hackles. I’m not going to weigh in on this controversy, but as a public service, here’s a link to a story with links to the three ads in question. You be the judge: ((if the ads don't load, go directly to the company's Web site,

The outside thermometer registered 100.2 degrees at 2:18 this afternoon (100.9 at 3:06). I know all of you are devout conservationists who willingly heed the call to raise your air conditioner thermostats to conserve energy. But if you have any feelings for me at all, you’d ignore those responsible impulses and power up the a/c. You see, years ago my parents gave me some Con Ed stock. So go ahead, cool down. It’ll do me good. It might even make you a little more comfortable as well.

I am all for full disclosure, but sometimes intelligent discretion is more appropriate. Case in point: In the June 26 Sunday NY Times Magazine (yes, I am woefully behind in my reading), the editors chose to include survey results for the following question from their Facebook page—"What’s your most memorable Disney-related experience?”

A rather ordinary poll. What fascinated me was the response level and the decision by The Times to print the data. Just 246 people chose to participate in the survey (107 had a positive Disney experience, 91 had a negative one and 48 “commented with an unrelated response”).

What could have possessed The Times to print such paltry feedback results? Rather than show interest, it shows disinterest or apathy bordering on disdain. Sometimes, it’s better not to print results when your sample size is so embarrassingly small and, worse, statistically not representative of the public at large.

Here’s another editorial decision that confounded me: A cartoon in the current issue of The Jewish Week shows two hackers “as the progressive media presents them.” One hacker above the title “Murdoch’s Media” is portrayed as a frowning devil. The other, a smiling angel, is described as “The WikiLeaks Guy.”

Really, people, are we so blind we can’t see the difference between a journalistic abomination and a self-righteous organization?

WikiLeaks is no angel, but its purpose is to expose evil and wrongdoing by governments and businesses. Its goal is transparency, so that the public can make informed decisions about foreign and domestic policies and corporate actions. Murdoch’s Media, on the other hand, hacked private accounts for salacious purposes. Are any national and international interests advanced by knowing the private messages of a murdered girl? Or the musings of Hugh Grant or other celebrities?

Sign of The Times: From one of my professional Internet business networks, here’s an inquiry to sum up the state of our economy—”Can anyone recommend a good debt collection agency?”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Reading

In anticipation of our recent trip to Israel we received a request from Gilda’s cousin. She’s an ex-patriot living on a kibbutz, having emigrated to Israel after graduating high school four decades ago. A grandmother now several times over, Tzvia, nee Harriet, would rather not repeat with the new generation what she considers an omission of parenting, namely, not reading to her offspring English language children’s books to increase their facility in her native tongue.

We were happy to oblige her request to bring books for newborns-to-elementary school age children. We picked out about 20 of our favorites, including Frederick, Corduroy, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and a handful of Sandra Boynton classics.

I’ve mentioned before our preference for giving books as children's presents, accompanied by a short poem I penned several years ago:

Children outgrow clothing,
They tire of toys,
But the memory of reading
Books with your parents
Lasts forever.

Reading to Dan and Ellie was among the most glorious and rewarding of parenting activities. One reading session stands out, about the time Ellie was 10 and Dan 13. Like most young girls, Ellie loved the animated Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. As part of Disney’s promotional campaign for the film, I received a copy of the video and a handsome, illustrated bound version of the Hans Christian Andersen story. After watching the video several times, Ellie asked me to read the book before bedtime.

Ellie, Gilda and Dan piled onto our queen-sized bed for the command performance. All went well until I started reading the last page. In the movie, Ariel was transformed from a mermaid into a woman so she could marry her human sweetheart. But as I gazed down a few paragraphs, I stopped reading. The kids and Gilda wondered what was wrong. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Gilda’s quizzical look.

She was sitting right next to me. I whispered, “She dies.” Gilda said, “Huh?” “She dies,” I repeated. By now Dan and Ellie suspected something was not right. When I told them the original outcome of the story, like their parents, they couldn’t believe it. How could she die?

Perhaps Hans Christian Andersen wanted to give children a life lesson, that not everything turns out for the best. Or perhaps he wanted to nip in the bud any thoughts different cultures could successfully mingle. Whatever.

The Little Mermaid is one of his most endearing and enduring stories, commemorated by a statue of the mermaid in the harbor of Copenhagen. It’s a comely statue, a big tourist attraction but one without the impact one might expect. Indeed, Gilda and I were less than impressed when we saw it during a trip to the Danish capital, as the backdrop to the statue is an industrial portion of the harbor.

About eight years after the family reading, in a repertoire theater production, Ellie played Ti Moune, the lead in Once on This Island, a musical with significant parallel plot lines to The Little Mermaid. Ti Moune is a peasant on a Caribbean island who falls in love with an upper class islander she saves after an accident (Ariel saved a prince from drowning). As in The Little Mermaid, her would-be husband loves her dancing, but, alas, marries someone else. Just as in the Andersen story, she’s given a chance to save her own life by killing him; she resists, proving love is stronger than death.

On the wall above my desk there’s a picture of Ellie dancing as Ti Moune. It’s among my favorite pictures of her.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sinat Chinam

Today, according to the Jewish calendar, is the 17th of Tammuz, historically significant because 1,941 years ago the Roman army breached the walls of Jerusalem, effectively presaging the end of the Jewish revolt and Jewish government in Israel for nearly 2,000 years. Three weeks later the siege of the city concluded with the destruction of the Second Temple, on the ninth of Ab, Tisha B’Av.

The 17th of Tammuz is considered a minor fast day by observant Jews. Minor meaning the fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, unlike the fast of a major day, such as the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) or Tisha B’Av, which lasts sunset to sunset. Most Jews, I’d confidently venture to say, don’t know much about the 17th of Tammuz, aren’t aware it is today, and, even if they did, wouldn’t pay it much heed. I, myself, only became cognizant of this year’s commemoration because of a reference to it by one of our rabbis this past Saturday (for those curious, no, I am not fasting).

I bring this bit of Jewish religious lore to your attention because of its applicability to modern times. You see, the fall of the Jewish revolt in 70 CE, according to our sages, was not so much a triumph of Roman military superiority but rather the result of infighting among Jewish sects, not to the level of a brutal civil war, but sufficient to command God’s attention and determination to punish his chosen people. The sages characterized the misbehavior endemic to the sects of first century Judea as a sin of “baseless hatred,” known in Hebrew as sinat chinam.

Increasingly, I find the actions of leaders in both Israel and the United States today rife with sinat chinam.

In Israel, coalition governments have given religious-right parties power beyond their numbers. In wielding their influence, these ultra-orthodox parties have or have tried to impose religious practices anathema to a majority of Jews living within Israel and the Diaspora. Their ideas include proposals to amend regulations governing conversions, marriages, and the definition of who is a Jew. Rather than instill universal support for Israel, these devilish designs have fractured Jewish solidarity.

Here in America, we are experiencing a profound period of intellectual intolerance. Nasty does not come close to describing the tenor of political discourse. The lack of respect both for the person and for the office held by the opposition is palpable.

We are, in short, wallowing in the sin of baseless hatred. You don’t have to be Jewish to acknowledge sinat chinam; Christians believe in it, as well:

There are too few democracies in the world. It would be tragic if sinat chinam led to their reduced ability to contribute to another Jewish concept, tikkun olam (repairing the world, often through social action, community service and social justice).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murdoch Most Vile

Let’s put my biases out front right away—I’m not a fan of Rupert Murdoch. If the investigations of Hacker-gate on both sides of the Atlantic bring down his media empire, I would not shed a tear.

My antipathy toward Murdoch is both professional and personal. It precedes his creation of the vile news outlet known as Fox News (can we really call it a legitimate news outlet?). It began with his 1976 purchase of the NY Post.

I grew up reading The Post. In the 1950s and 1960s, The Post was an afternoon tabloid, liberal and progressive in editorial slant, yet a sensational police- and fire-chasing paper. My parents would buy The Post on their way home from their factory in Manhattan, usually stopping at a newsstand on the southbound side of Flatbush Avenue just before Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.

At first I’d devour the comics—Nancy, Mutt & Jeff, Dennis the Menace. As I grew older I matriculated to the sports pages where Maury Allen, Vic Ziegel, Milton Gross, Paul Zimmerman and Leonard Schecter romanced my interests in baseball, football and the occasional boxing story centered around Floyd Patterson or Sugar Ray Robinson. Next I delved into the social columnists: Leonard Lyons, Earl Wilson, Sidney Skolsky. Finally, with more maturity, I absorbed the political mavens: James Wechsler, Max Lerner, Mary McGrory, Art Buchwald, William Buckley, Drew Pearson, Jack Anderson, Murray Kempton, and a newcomer, Pete Hamill, hired to counter Jimmy Breslin’s man-of-the-street prose in The Daily News. It was a column by Wechsler, a review of a revival of the play The Front Page, that triggered my interest in being a reporter.

When Dorothy Schiff sold The Post to Murdoch, I was crushed by the changes he wrought. I stopped reading as the paper became more sensational in its reportage and more conservative in its editorial leaning. Even after Dave Banks became my best friend back in 1979, I continued to boycott The Post. Dave, you see, was one of Murdoch’s British imports. He succeeded in helping spice up The Post, but then Murdoch dealt me and Gilda, who had befriended Dave’s wife, Gemma, a fateful blow.

Casually asking Dave if he missed his family back in England, Murdoch became wary he’d lose him to a rival back home when Dave replied in the affirmative. So he shipped the Bankses back to merry ol’ England, Dave to work on The Sun, leaving Gilda and me far from merry. He later sent Dave, Gemma and their children Tasha and Tim, to Australia for seven years, giving Dave the ability to say he worked for Murdoch on three continents and making him one of the most sought after commentators in Britain on the trials and tribulations of the News Corp. publishing empire, its chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, and the assorted so-called journalists who have befouled the pact that should exist between news organizations and the public. Indeed, during our recent vacation together in Israel, though he’s semi-retired, Dave’s Blackberry beeped continually with requests for interviews, a few of which he granted to BBC Radio.

Naturally we talked about Hacker-gate. No one loves a scoop more than Dave, or an article that tweaks the high and mighty, be they politicos, royals, or celebrities. But violating a person’s privacy, when not in the national interest, as seems to have repeatedly happened at Murdoch’s News of the World and possibly other properties under his domain, was activity beyond the pale, Dave asserted.

For several days in Israel the four of us discussed the similarities between Watergate and Hacker-gate, Gilda noting both scandals came to light with seemingly small incidents, a sort of rabbit hole that widened into an elaborate warren of nefarious and illegal activity.

Follow the money.

Just as Deep Throat exhorted Bob Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein to pursue the money trail in their Watergate investigation nearly 40 years ago, money is a key, in my mind.

Reporters and editors of the News of the World tapped into the cell phones of thousands of public and private individuals in a frantic chase for scoops in the cutthroat media circus of Great Britain. The News of the World reportedly paid a private investigator as much as 100,000 pounds sterling a year to hack phones. The editor of the paper during part of that time, Rebekah Brooks, claims she did not know about the hacking.

My question is, who approved the expense accounts authorizing payments for the hacking? When the first bill was submitted, didn’t anyone question what it was for? Assuming a lower level editor signed off on it, didn’t senior management, including Brooks and the paper’s controller and auditor, question how and why £100,000 was spent? What, they might have asked, did we get for our £100,000?

It is inconceivable they did not know. It is intolerable they condoned this breach of journalistic ethics. Brooks has resigned as head of Murdoch’s publishing interests; she was arrested today.

As is so often the case in today’s media world, a scoop of cash is the only way to get a scoop of news. But, as Dave pointed out to us, his reporting background instilled in him an understanding of journalism principles lacking in many of today’s media elite. Too often, he believes, chief editors of British papers have been named whose only pedigree has been experience on the entertainment beat. These young editors cared more about packaging than content, about splashy headlines than accuracy, about beating the competition than integrity.

Several of the principal characters in the Hacker-gate scandal are entertainment and public relations firm alumni, including Brooks, current British prime minister David Cameron and his former press aide, Andrew Coulson. Coulson. Sounds a lot like Charles “Chuck” Colson, the convicted Watergate conspirator who counseled Richard Nixon. Let’s not forget that among Nixon’s key advisors were chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and press secretary Ron Ziegler, both former advertising executives. Ah, the Watergate links abound.

I haven’t even touched on Fox News as a reason to put a lid on the poison Murdoch has spread throughout journalism and politics in America and Great Britain. Let’s save that for another day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gazing Over Gaza

One week ago today, from a hill in the Israeli moshav of Netiv Hasara, the northern Gaza Strip unfolded before my eyes. It was a sunny, quiet day.

Six times over the last two days rockets fired from that same region fell inside Israel. No one was injured. Israel retaliated with an air strike. No one was reported injured.

The Gaza Strip I looked out upon, along with Gilda, our friends Dave, Gemma, Phil and Margie, is a rolling stretch of houses and fields, with no outward indication of unyielding conflict. Except, to gaze at Gaza your eyes have to first pass over a security wall, perhaps 25 feet high, topped by machine gun turrets.

There’s a constant breeze in your face as you stand on the hill, a nagging thought in your mind that a sniper could easily pick you off if so inclined. You joke you’re thankful you’re not the tallest one in your group.

We were in Israel the first 11 days of July primarily to attend a wedding and tour the country with Dave and Gemma, best friends from Britain who’d never been to Israel. We traveled to the Sha’ar Hanegev (Gates of the Negev) region to visit with first responder trauma care providers who visited New York in May of the last two years as part of a rest and relaxation program sponsored by Shalom Yisrael, a volunteer group I joined last year (

After a day of touring several kibbutzim, we dined in Kfar Aza, at a home several paces from the spot a mortar shell landed three years ago, killing a neighbor, a father of three and Israel’s national engine-powered paragliding champion. Jimmy Kedoshim, 48, died while tending the garden in front of his home.

I have no doubt there are people on the other side of that fence who want friendship and amity, if not actual peace. Before Gaza became a synonym for incessant, random rocket and mortar fire, there were many friendly exchanges between the two Semitic peoples. As related by my hosts, workers from Gaza routinely came across the border to work in Israel’s fields and factories. Israelis brought their cars to Gaza for repairs. They visited the beaches of Gaza. When a Palestinian fell in love with an Israeli, he sought refuge with his Israeli employer to avoid the death threat his family imposed on him, a sentence eventually rescinded when the affair ended.

It is one of the ironies of this seemingly intractable conflict that people who live in the shadow of terror are among the most pacific of their fellow citizens. Time and again they expressed an affinity for the residents of Gaza, people they mingled and traded with before Hamas took control and turned the narrow strip of land into a missile launching pad.

On the other hand, one of my retired military friends from Tel Aviv has hardened his dovish position of years back. He now fears a Hamas-led Palestinian state on the West Bank—he has no doubt Hamas would take over there from Fatah, as it did in Gaza. Such an eventuality would make Israel’s population centers vulnerable to missile, rocket and mortar fire, would make air travel into and out of Ben Gurion airport hazardous because of ground to air missiles.

In Sha-ar Hanegev, settlements are picturesque villages of single family homes inhabited by hundreds to several thousand residents. On the other side of the fence, multi-story apartment houses dominate the landscape. Its among the most densely populated areas on earth. Yet, Gaza is not a blighted ghetto. Consumer goods abound. Ample food and medicines arrive daily in trucks from Israel.

One wonders what Gaza could become if peace, true peace, settled over the area. Gaza has beautiful beaches, an industrious, educated population.

Fanatics have co-opted the dialogue, on both sides of the fence. Ordinary people just want to live in peace, without fear. Perhaps, in our lifetime, it will happen. As the Arabs say, “inshallah,” God willing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflections on Contradictions

Just back from a 10-day visit to Israel, some quick reflections...

I must be getting old.

Six times I’ve been to Masada. Six times I climbed the snake path to the summit where Herod built his palace and fortress retreat more than 2,000 years ago.

On the seventh time, I rested. I took the cable car to the top and back. Once on the plateau where 900 Jewish rebels martyred themselves rather than submit to Roman rule in 73 CE, I opted to sit in the shade after an hour while Gilda and our friend Gemma trekked on toward the southern flank of the desert promontory overlooking the Dead Sea.

On my first visit 45 summers ago, I slept overnight in a barely inhabitable hostel at the base of the mountain, rising pre-sunrise to climb the rocky trail before the desert heat would make the exercise incalculably difficult. Today, a modern visitor center—complete with a McDonald’s!!!!—greets all who come. I resisted the lure of a kosher quarter pounder and fries, instead choosing from the cafeteria fare three of Israel’s signature foods: hummus, falafel and schnitzel.

Ice Capades: Israelis have wised up, at least as far as ice is concerned.

In years’ past, I would be given a cube or two of ice with my soda. Now, they willingly filled a cup to the brim with ice.

Cinematique: Israelis love going to the movies, but they’re in no rush to get to their seats.

Seats are sold on an assigned basis so you know in advance where you’ll be. Moreover, commercials and previews last about 20 minutes before a feature film starts, so a 10 pm post time gives you plenty of leeway to settle in before 10:20.

If you’re watching a comedy, like Bridesmaids (in English with Hebrew subtitles), be prepared for two-stage laughter. The first stage starts when those reading the text get to the punch line before the words are actually spoken.

A Matter of Taste: Gilda loves salads, but Israeli salads were so enormous they almost got the better of her. They burst with flavor and freshness.

Though our nation can point with pride to the efficiency of our food distribution network, Israeli produce more than matches our output. Indeed, comparing the taste of Israeli cherry tomatoes to those sold in U.S. supermarkets leaves an American feeling decidedly inferior.

Who Knows: There must be an explanation, but I don’t know it.

At the Western Wall plaza, a holy site to all Jews because of its proximity to the Temple Mount, religious authorities, and some self-appointed vigilantes, do not permit men and women to stand together and pray. They don’t allow women to walk around with exposed shoulders.

Yet, along the tunnel tour that hugs the Western Wall along its northern path, at the point closest to where the Second Temple stood, the sexes freely co-mingle in prayer, with no one monitoring female attire.

Religion—go figure!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Flair for the Dramatic

No one could ever accuse Derek Jeter, captain of the NY Yankees, of having an undeveloped sense of drama. Everything he does seems to be tinged with an acute sense of timing, the latest example of which was his dramatic entry into the elite club of 3,000 hit baseball players.

First, Jeter heightened the drama by sustaining an injury just six hits shy of the milestone. Next, he returned in time to set the stage for a Yankee Stadium-setting of the record. Third, the record hit was a home run, an anomaly among Jeter’s general hits nowadays. Fourth, Jeter did not stop at 3,000 on Saturday. He had a day for the ages, going 5 for 5 and knocking in the winning run with a single.

Anyone would remember a 5 for 5 day—Jeter had two of them before. But to add another on the day he stroked his 3,000th hit was an extraordinary bit of theater. It reinforces the flair for the dramatic that Jeter has cultivated throughout his 16-season career.

It ranks with his Jeffrey Maier-assisted home run in the 1996 playoff opener against the Baltimore Orioles; his backhand flip to Jorge Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 playoffs against the Oakland Athletics; his head-first dive into the third base stands after making a running catch against the Boston Red Sox in 2004, a feat he performed three years earlier against the A’s in the 2001 playoffs; his “Mr. November” home run at 12:03 am November 1 to win a World Series game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001; his quick-release-spin relay throw to home to get Timo Perez in game one of the 2000 World Series against the NY Mets; his leadoff homer in game four of that same series.

In short, Jeter has had a highlight reel career now capped with an incredible performance Saturday. And I missed it because Yankee baseball is not broadcast in Israel. At least not in the hotel I stayed in. Oh well, I guess I will just have to wait for YES to rebroadcast it as one of their encore games.

News Flash—I just checked the YES Network schedule; the game will be rebroadcast in 10 minutes, so I’m signing off for my view of history already made.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lift-Off, Deferred

A small story a couple of weeks ago indicated the European Union was considering closing part of its operations in Strasbourg, France.

Not too important a story to most people, but it rang a bell with me. Some 15 years ago Gilda accompanied me to Strasbourg for a speech I delivered to a European sporting goods association. Located in northwest France, Strasbourg is the main city of the Alsace-Lorraine region contested with Germany for decades. Its favorite food is sauerkraut, served with boiled meat. Andre Solter, the famed chef of Lutece, the famous New York French restaurant, hailed from there.

In Strasbourg, waitresses inputted your order and ran your credit card through portable terminals they carried with them to your table. Technology available 15 years ago in France has yet to be adopted in the United States.

But I digress. Today's blog, while inspired by Strasbourg, is another of my self-deprecating stories.

While in Strasbourg, Gilda and I attended Sabbath services at a local synagogue. It was an Orthodox service, so we had to sit apart.

Now, it is customary in most Jewish temples to recognize guests by giving them an honor during the Torah reading portion of the service. The gabbai (head usher, or sextant) came over and apologized, relating that all the honors had been dispensed except that of hagbah, the lifting of the two-poled Torah, a scroll roughly four feet tall and weighing anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds, for about 10 seconds. In some quarters, the spread of the hagbah lift—how many columns of text can be seen by the congregation—is a measure of virility. Anything more than three columns is a good showing.

As a rule, I don't do hagbahs. I don't feel strong enough to sustain even a one column lift. I fear I would drop the Torah, which, for those not familiar with Jewish practice, would demand anyone who witnessed the unfortunate incident fast for 40 days, the length of time it took Moses to receive the Torah from God on Mount Sinai.

No way was I going to subject Strasbourg's Jewish community to the possibility of a foodless 40 days. I respectfully declined the honor of hagbah.

Several minutes later a teenage boy performed the widest hagbah I have ever witnessed—at least 15 columns! The Torah he lifted, the Torah I had deferred an opportunity to lift, was barely 18 inches tall and weighed perhaps 10 pounds.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sink or Swim

I have a new name for my friend Ken. It’s Don, as in Don Quixote.

Ken, er Don, has a romantic notion he can teach me to swim. Fool that he is—a combination of the knight errant with an uncanny resemblance to his loyal squire, Sancho Panza—Don has issued a challenge, that this summer of my 62nd year he will teach me in his pool to overcome my tendency to sink rather than swim.

It is a gentlemanly and kind offer. Worthy of a quest that in times of yore would have received royal support. I hope I am worthy of his trust and effort. I will do my part, as long as he keeps the water temperature above 90 degrees. Usually his pool is a few degrees shy of my comfort level. Perhaps he’ll indulge me by turning up the heat.

It’s impossible to explain the basis of my fear of water. Some of my earliest childhood photos show me cringing in the water while being held by relatives or friends. I clearly was not enjoying myself. I was not a happy camper in those photos.

I failed to learn how to swim despite 14 years of summer camp. My brother can swim; my sister passed the Red Cross instructor course. I made sure Dan and Ellie learned. Dan even became a lifeguard. Gilda can swim.

I couldn’t ride a two-wheeler until Gilda forced me to learn when I was 40 so we could go on family bicycle trips.

If I learn to swim, I don’t anticipate taking up water skiing, scuba diving or some other exotic activity. But I might shed my fear of water and antipathy to pool parties.

While I’m learning to swim this summer, Finley also is taking his first swimming lessons ( Read the July 8 "Little Fish in a Big Pond, er, Pool" entry, though I'm biased and think you'll enjoy all of the stories about Finley.)

What are the odds my 20-month-old grandson will learn before I do?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No New Taxes

It's playing out on national, state and local levels, the latest being Minnesota where trying to pass a budget without raising taxes has led to a partial shutdown of services. What does no new taxes, coupled with the mantra of a balanced budget, really mean?

A lower quality of life for all but the richest of our society.

It means cuts in mass transportation subsidies. Cuts in medical benefits and research. Cuts in education. Cuts in park and recreation facilities. Cuts in veterans benefits. Cuts in food safety. Cuts in drug inspections. Cuts in clean air and water control. Cuts in labor safety laws. Cuts in anti-discrimination enforcement. Cuts in law enforcement. Cuts in fire protection services. Cuts in financial regulatory services. Cuts in prison systems.

It means overcrowding on subways and buses. It means higher fees for medical services. More crowded emergency rooms. More students per teacher in the classroom. Fewer opportunities to visit our national heritage monuments, and when you do get the chance, you'll be cheek to jowl with your fellow citizens during the restricted hours of operation. Fewer programs to reward military veterans for their service to the country. More danger and uncertainty each time you swallow a pill or a morsel of food. Each time you drink water or breathe air. More danger that you'll work in an unsafe environment, that your supervisor will be able to discriminate against you. More danger from criminals walking the street because an overcrowded prison system cannot take any more inmates, more danger from fire not being contained fast enough to save lives or structures, from schemers plotting to steal your investment money.

It's a very seductive message, no new taxes and a balanced budget. Hardly anyone likes to pay taxes, though my father used to say he'd welcome the prospect of having to pay $100,000 in taxes because it would mean he'd have had a very successful year.

There's a deeper meaning to the siren call of no new taxes and a balanced budget. By resisting higher taxes on the wealthy, by resisting cutting tax loopholes and subsidies for selective industries, Republicans are saying it's okay if those on Main Street have to pay more for essential services, just don't tax me and my friends on the Gold Coast and Wall Street, we who live in gated communities with private security forces, we who send our children to private schools, we who can afford the best doctors and medical care money can buy.

The most fascinating question in politics today is how mainstream Americans have accepted a political party and ideology counter to their best economic interests. The working and middle classes have latched onto a party committed to their perpetual serfdom. Equally at fault are Democratic leaders who have not embraced the changing values of the electorate for a leaner and more responsive government.

No new taxes. To win back voters, Democrats must forcefully explain the implications of no new taxes and a balanced budget. They must graphically show what a Republican/Tea Party budget would mean to daily life in America. Perhaps a series of 15 second commercials depicting just what would be lost is in order. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to veterans services. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to food and drug inspections. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to Medicare and Social Security programs. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to mass transit, including air traffic safety. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to air and water quality. Fifteen seconds to describe cuts to police and fire departments, to the Wall Street and bank regulators, to the prison system.

It's time to go on the offensive.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Learning Essentials

Have you heard the folksy New York Life commercial, the one where the insurance agent extols his family values and ends with him talking with his daughter about her school day?

"Sabrina," he says, "I heard you learned subtraction today."

"Yup. Until I was full."

I identified with that end line. I can remember learning math to the sweet taste of chocolate chips. I was pretty good at it while the candy lasted. Well, maybe through 11th grade.

Our son, Dan, had a similar educational experience during fourth grade, getting rewarded for good work with M&Ms, a confection Gilda and I did not stock in our pantry. Indeed, we had no treats around the house, partly because Dan was allergic to milk products as an infant and we encouraged him and Ellie to eat fruit and vegetables, not candy.

We discovered Dan's incentivized learning regimen after his annual visit to the dentist revealed five cavities in a heretofore pristine mouth. Under questioning, Dan readily confessed his teacher gave him candy for correct answers. Ah, the perils of an intelligent mind. Once we had the teacher stop the candy trail, and substitute carrot sticks, he didn't get another cavity. Ever. Fortunately, it did not stymie his education, proving, at least to us, chocolate is not essential to learning.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Home Rule Blues

Happy 4th of July.

Since it's the day our nation celebrates its freedom, I thought I'd talk a little politics for a change (stop smirking).

It's mostly a truism that Republicans and conservative-leaning citizens believe the best government is the smallest, one that is as local as possible. In other words, federal statutes should not take precedence over state laws, state laws should not supercede municipal ordinances, for after all, who knows better than the people closest to the ground what is right and appropriate for them. The corrollary is Democrats prefer big government—the greater the scheme, the more universal the import, the happier liberals and progressives are, for the common folk cannot be trusted to know, much less do, the right thing.

For example, Democrats believe in universal health care. Republicans want to limit at the local level federally sanctioned abortions.

At least that's how I've always seen government explained. The GOP wants less big government and more local home rule, Democrats want more, period. But now, it seems, Republicans are caught up in a seemingly hypocritical position. They are working against home rule when it comes to home fries and other fattening foods. GOP-controlled state houses and governorships are passing laws restricting a municipality's freedom to regulate food within its borders to control obesity and other health-related concerns (

It's a classic sop to business interests that moan the burden of regulations, some of which may differ from one community to the next, thus driving up the cost of adherence. It's a logical argument to make, but it really flies in the face of the grassroots-knows-best mantra the GOP normally espouses.

I guess it's another example of Republican thinking that business knows better than local citizens or their representatives. Business, it seems, can fatten its wallet by fattening up the rest of America.

OK, enough speeches from my soap box. Get out and enjoy the day. Hot dogs for everyone.