Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's at Stake In Iowa and New Hampshire

Let’s get down to brass tacks. For Democrats the presidential election is not going to be about a revolution. Rather, it will come down to protecting the domestic legacy of Barack Obama and the myriad of progressives who preceded him and extended equality and opportunity to millions of minorities, be they of color, religious sects or gender, not to mention the tens of millions of middle class families of all backgrounds created by legislation and regulations that supported and protected workers. A Republican victory, whomever is the GOP standard bearer, would roll back 80 years of progressive legislation and enforcement.

So the question boils down to, which Democrat has the best chance of keeping the Oval Office blue: Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or Martin O’Malley?

O’Malley might be a good man. He has not aroused any semblance of passion behind his candidacy. On the other hand, as much as Sanders engenders passionate followers his phenomenon is reminiscent of the debacles fostered four decades ago by anti-Vietnam War candidates Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Perhaps it is because too many Democrats are too young to remember or have not been taught the consequences of a quixotic candidacy, they are ignorantly eager to adhere to Sanders’ banner. They would follow him to sure defeat in a presidential election even against a divisive Republican such as Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. I’m sorry, but the country is simply not ready for a Social Democrat, a Jewish Social Democrat, born in Brooklyn, to be president.

Clinton is not an ideal candidate. But her pluses outweigh the minuses. Last time out in 2008 her campaign engendered more passion. Fatigue might have set in this time among many of her supporters, but as November grows nearer I believe they will be re-energized by the prospect of electing the first woman president, especially someone who has the wide-ranging experience she possesses.

Her challenge once securing the nomination will be to bring into her tent disaffected Bernie-backers. Otherwise, as Hubert Humphrey and the nation found out, a less than solidly unified Democratic Party will result in a Republican victory and this time the winner would be much more regressive than Richard Nixon.

Nixon had to work with a Democratic Congress and Senate. Both houses will be Republican in 2017. Imagine the social network legislation, the worker-consumer-environmental protections and the civil rights laws that would be gutted by a triumvirate of conservative Republicanism. (Are you shuttering at the prospect? I did when writing that sentence.)

Most importantly, the next president may well have the opportunity to nominate two to four Supreme Court justices and countless lower court judges. If you cherish the advances of the last 80 years you cannot countenance the prospect of a judicial system tilted to the right for decades to come.

So as Iowans go to their caucuses Monday and New Hampshirites troop to the polls eight days later let’s hope they have perspective. Bernie has been a useful diversion, especially in this age of Trump when crazy passion seems to be restricted to Republicans.

Hillary doesn't need a coronation. But the party, the nation, will not benefit from sidetracking her nomination.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Political Blame Game: Obama, Hillary, ISIS

So I watched the Republican debate Thursday night. What did I learn? Not much as to specifics of what the candidates would do if elected, but I did learn that all of our problems can be summed up in three words—Obama, Hillary and ISIS. Oh, and it was confirmed again that debate moderators are more interested in he said-he said schoolyard squabble questions than asking candidates to outline in detail their plans to govern. They let the hopefuls get away with plugging their Web sites for their full position statements, as if the average voter will spend much time rummaging through the BS to be found there alongside calls for donations. The moderators let the candidates evade questions and only once, by my count, did they follow up an answer with another question.

The world, at least the United States, would be a better, safer place if a Republican sat in the Oval Office, they said, not daring to remind voters it was a Republican president in the White House when we were attacked on September 11 and subsequently when we began two destabilizing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention it was that same Republican president who presided over the cratering of the U.S. economy. 

Primaries are times to duke it out, so let’s consider attacks a valued, if sometimes demeaning, means of assessing how a candidate responds to criticism. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were the targets of most of the barbs. Neither distinguished himself as presidential material. They obfuscated their respective positions on fixing the illegal immigration dilemma. 

As for the other five men on the stage, they were almost afterthoughts, though I wonder how a seemingly solid thinker like John Kasich would have fared in a less vitriolic campaign season. 

Local boy Chris Christie apparently decided his best tactic would be to smear Hillary Clinton’s qualifications any time he was called. It was hard to tell who he thought endangered the republic more, ISIS or Hillary. 

It also was not startling to hear the pretenders castigate the outgoing incumbent president. But, like many a political representation, inaccuracies abounded. Consider the Associated Press’ fact-checking on several claims by Cruz:

“CRUZ: ‘We have seen now in six years of Obamacare that it has been a disaster. It is the biggest job-killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums skyrocket.’

“THE FACTS: Lost jobs? Since the time Obama signed the health care law in March 2010, the nation’s jobless rate has fallen from 9.9 percent to 5 percent. The economy has added more than 13 million jobs over that period.

“Lost insurance? The share of Americans without coverage reached a historic low of 9 percent last year, according to the government’s National Health Interview Survey. More than 16 million people gained coverage since 2013, just before the law’s big coverage expansion got underway.”

Ah, well, let’s chalk it up to politics as usual.

On the other hand, there’s a feeling going around that President Obama deserves a lot of blame for the sorry state of Democratic head counts in the Senate and House of Representatives ( 

Yup, he earned his fair share of responsibility by not working hard enough for his party’s candidates during the mid-year congressional elections. But let’s not pin all the blame on him. 

As a party Democrats failed to project the positive aspects of the car industry bailout, the passage of Obamacare and the resurrection of the economy. 

More importantly, Democrats—leaders and rank and file party members—have failed to see the small picture, the importance of winning elections on the state and even more local levels. Losing governorships and majorities in state houses has left them vulnerable in national elections. Based on the 2010 census, GOP-controlled state houses have redistricted (gerrymandered) congressional seats to give Republicans an almost insurmountable majority in the House through 2022. Thus, even if a Democrat wins the presidency, he or she will be stymied by Republican majorities in Congress. We are in for stalemated government for at least the next six years. 

Obama can be blamed for lots of the problems Democrats face. But as Cassius explained in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Questions to Trump the Trumpless

With the first votes ready to be cast Monday in the Iowa caucuses, how much do we really know about the positions of the Republican candidates. Sure, we know they all want to repeal Obamacare and undo virtually everything he has accomplished. But specifics are sorely lacking, at least to my general knowledge and perhaps to yours as well. So, with The Donald not on the stage Thursday night (at least as I write this), here are some specific questions I’d like to see asked to and answered by the Republican contenders (some might remember that I posed similar questions last September):

  1. Should worker health and safety be protected by OSHA? If not by OSHA what recourse would workers have under your administration?
  2. Which cabinet departments and government agencies would you eliminate? Would you replace any of their functions?
  3. Do you believe in a federal minimum wage? If yes, what level should it be at? Should it be pegged to rise with inflation? 
  4. Do you believe in the Social Security system? At what age should workers be entitled to collect social security? How would you protect its solvency?
  5. In a global economy what incentives would you favor to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States?
  6. Should the federal government own any land, such as national parks or wildlife refuges? If not, how should the government dispose of that land?
  7. Are there any Defense Department programs you would eliminate?
  8. After scrapping the Affordable Care Act, would you replace it with a different form of health insurance available to all Americans? Are there any aspects of the Affordable Care Act that you would retain? 
  9. How would you replace the non abortion-related health care provided by Planned Parenthood if you defunded it?
  10. Does the federal government have any obligation—legal or moral—to help its less fortunate citizens?
  11. Should there be any restrictions on voter registration such as producing a valid ID or driver’s license?
  12. Should medical marijuana be legalized in all states?
  13. Should marijuana for general use be legalized?
  14. Do you support stem cell research? Would you impose any restrictions?
  15. Would you build a wall along the border with Mexico?
  16. Would you restrict immigration from any country, region or religion?
  17. Should the federal government have any role in education?
  18. Is there a need for campaign funding reform?
  19. Do you favor any form of regulation for Wall Street, banks and the financial sector?
  20. What is your plan for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure?
  21. Does ISIS or any Islamic fundamentalist group pose an existential threat to the United States?
  22. What and from whom is the greatest threat to our country?
  23. Are you in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact as currently negotiated? If not, what changes would you want?
  24. Do you believe in “personhood,” the concept that an embryo has the same rights as a fully born person, such as the right of inheritance and the right to sue for damages if injured in an accident?

I am under little illusion that any of these questions will be aired but at least you know what I would want Megyn Kelly and her Fox News cohorts to ask. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Spoiler Alert and Snowmageddon Update

Spoiler Alert: Former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg is considering an independent run for the presidency.

Can he win? If not, who might benefit from his third party candidacy?

The New York Times says Mayor Mike might jump into the race if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz captured the Republican Party nomination and if Bernie Sanders secured the Democratic nod. Or if he believes Hillary Clinton is too damaged to win the general election after winning her party’s nomination.

Doubtful Bloomberg could win outright. His pro-choice and anti-gun stances make him an unlikely choice in most southern and western states that generally vote Republican. He would have to lock up all the true blue states Democrats usually secure and some swing states, such as Ohio and Florida. That would be hard even against a weakened Hillary. Splitting the vote with Hillary would shift those states into the GOP column.

Best case prospectus is that none of the three major candidates would garner the required 270 Electoral College votes to be named president, thus throwing the decision into the House of Representatives where each state delegation gets to cast one vote. Such an event would be more traumatic than the 2000 election decided by the Supreme Court. 

If enough state delegations controlled by Republicans are turned off by the prospect of a Trump or Cruz presidency, Bloomberg just might squeeze into the White House, but that’s a real far-fetched scenario. What probably would happen is that Republicans would believe they wouldn’t be able to control Bloomberg so they’d take their chances with Trump or Cruz.

It must be nice to have a billion dollars available for an independent run to save the country from itself. If Bloomberg were running as the standard bearer of either the Democratic or Republican party I would seriously consider voting for him. But as an independent, he’d be a spoiler, not just in the election but for the country he so very much wants to save.  

Snowmageddon Update: During Saturday’s snowstorm I asked Gilda if she were pregnant. She laughed, knowing I was referring to her puttering around the house, cleaning the front of our stand-alone freezer, reorganizing the pantry, and in general engaging in nesting activities commonly associated with child-bearing time.

Outside our side yard windows where I have hung bird feeders, stocked Friday with extra seed, there was a frenzy of activity. Blazingly red cardinals, bright blue jays, red bellied and downy woodpeckers, along with female cardinals and lots of chickadees and sparrows—nearly 50 in all—competed for access. Surprisingly, few squirrels roamed the top of the snow looking for spilled seed. 

One of our patio tables had a mound of snow close to a foot high. The other, more exposed to the wind, was covered by less than an inch. 

I ventured into the mud room. Gilda had thrown out nearly half of the literature (my biased word for the assortment of paper reminders and magnetized business cards) that has obscured the front of the freezer for decades, literally decades. She was obsessed with cleaning. I’m a hoarder. We engaged in civil, comical discussion. Why, she wanted to know, would I keep outdated MetroNorth train schedules when it’s easier to look up online current timetables? Why? Because I’m a hoarder. 

Don’t get the impression I just sat around doing nothing. I did two loads of laundry. 

During a lull in the blizzard around 3 pm I spent 45 minutes clearing the driveway and front walkway. Nine inches of soft powder, good for snowblowing, bad for snowball making, had fallen. Truth be told, the real reasons I went outdoors was to see if The Times had been delivered (it had) and to replenish the bird feeders.  

No sooner did I sit down to input my toil in this blog but Gilda informed me the buzzer had sounded—it was time to take my clothing out of the dryer. I tell you, there’s no end to a man’s work around the house.

In case you’re wondering, the snow blocked out any energy production from our solar panels. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snowmageddon, Trump's Promises and Press Talk

Snowmageddon: The East Coast is bracing for its first major snowstorm of the winter season. I’ve got gasoline ready to pour into my snowblower (hope it starts) and snow shovels ready to be pushed in case the forecasters are off slightly and we get just a few inches and not the half-foot or greater amount of snowflakes on our driveway and front walk. I even braved Costco early Friday to stock up on birdseed (Gilda and I have little need for milk or bread). We are loaded up on lots of DVR’ed movies and TV shows, so we will not lack entertainment should we be snowed in.

Pity the poor family that scheduled a Saturday wedding or bar/bar mitzvah. It snowed on Gilda’s and my wedding night 43 years ago this Thursday, but not until all our guests were inside enjoying the festivities. They trekked home in some six inches of snow. 

For sure Saturday won’t be a good day for sit down restaurants, though take-out Chinese and pizza shops should do well if they offer delivery (pity the poor delivery driver). Snow plow contractors finally will be able to justify tooling around for months with plows attached to the front of their four-wheel drive vehicles. And energetic high school kids will reap rewards from shoveling their neighbors’ lots.

Aside from the loss of overtime by municipal and state road clearing crews plus the lost revenue by independent contractors, the lack of snow has had other unreported economic ramifications. Fewer motorists have had to frequent car washes, for instance. Yes, hardware stores may finally sell their inventory of shovels and ice melting pellets, but they have lost out on impulse sales earlier visits to their stores might have generated. Shoe shiners haven’t had to restore slushed-up leather while auto collision shops have had fewer fender benders to straighten. 

Less snow and warmer weather have meant more people have been outdoors, eating out and shopping, though not for winter coats and other cold weather paraphernalia.

The obvious big losers in the Northeast have been ski slope operators and the businesses that rely on their clientele to patronize their coffee shops, boutiques and lodgings.   

Trump's Promises: Perhaps you thought I have been too harsh in my critiques of Donald Trump and his wacked-out supporters (oh no, there I go again demeaning the mentally challenged). Just in case you need more convincing as to the absurdity of his campaign, take a few moments to read through this exhaustive list of Trump’s promises, courtesy of Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post:

You might find the comments section quite entertaining, as well.

Press Talk:  One of the traits his supporters admire is Trump’s free-wheeling, non-politically correct speech. His no-holds-barred delivery is 180 degrees apart from the seemingly careful, programmed pronouncements from Hillary Clinton. Listening to her the other day during an NPR interview in Iowa, I was amazed and impressed (and I don’t mean those terms to be construed as all positive) by her responses. She rarely answered a question directly. Rather, she first chose to provide background information so her positions would be grounded in context, at least the context she wanted the listener to have.

I was reminded of my own interviewing experience, not when I did the questioning but rather the times I was on the receiving end of the interrogation. Now that I’m no longer a paid journalist, a word to the wise: If at all possible, avoid being interviewed. Interviews exist in a “no control” environment where words may well be taken out of context even by the best of reporters. 

When I answered questions from reporters, on average about once a week, concerning retail trends or specific companies, I spoke very slowly and carefully and always with lots of context. It was ego-boosting to see myself quoted, but I never took for granted that my words would be construed as I intended. 

So cut Hillary or any politician, for that matter, a little slack when you see them answering questions. A misspoken comment can cost the presidency. Just remember what happened to President Gerald Ford when he (wrongly) said during a presidential debate in 1976, “There is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” His administration was booted out of office one month later. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Bride of Frankenstein Is Back

The bride of Frankenstein is back on the hustings to haunt us.

Not content to have been chosen as her party’s 2008 nominee to be a heartbeat away from the presidency—but thankfully not elected—Sarah Palin now wants to influence the choice of the next Republican standard bearer. She’s thrown her support behind Donald Trump, a classic example of the blind leading the blind.

As populist speakers Trump and Palin are the mouths that roared. They can fire up an audience. But they lack depth, the ability to put together comprehensive programs based on a complex and nuanced understanding of an issue. Trump’s idea to solve the illegal immigration problem—build a wall paid for by Mexico and throw all 11 million illegals out—is a soundbite solution that fails to consider the legal status of children, the disruption of families, the economic impact of reduced labor in many industries where Americans do not want to work, such as on farms or meat/poultry processing plants, not to mention the absurdity of audaciously expecting Mexico to pay for a wall. But hey, it sounds good on the stump.

We can thank, ruefully, John McCain for saddling us with Palin, perhaps the least qualified person ever to grace a national election ticket. Even the discombobulated retired admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s vice presidential choice in 1992, sounded erudite compared to her.

Palin gave birth to the no-nothing Tea Party which only wants to tear down government, or, in her case, find excuses for behavior and commentary beyond the pale. She was such a good family role model that her daughter not once but twice had a child out of wedlock. And after her son was recently arrested for assaulting a woman she blamed his behavior on President Obama’s alleged indifference to the trauma American servicemen, including her son, suffered during their deployment in the Middle East. 

But here’s the problem with Trump and Palin: Too many of our fellow citizens are willing to give them a pass. They are willing to gamble our country’s future because they feel left out of its present. They forget that without Obama’s stewardship our economy would have tanked from mismanagement under Republicans; they forget that Obama has been president during one of the largest job creation periods in our history; they forget that the stock market has more than doubled under Obama (even with the recent downturn) and with that the value of their retirement plans; they forget that the car industry would have all but vanished without Obama; they forget that 17 million more Americans are now covered by health insurance (yes, Obamacare is imperfect but it is better than no insurance); they forget that Obama has championed alternative energy sources and that our country is now less dependent on imported oil; they forget that fewer illegal immigrants are crossing the Mexican border. 

Do they really want another land war in the desert? Do they really want the wealthy to get richer, with more and more influence? Do they really think in a global economy manufacturing jobs will return to our shores? Do they really think that investment in education and physical infrastructure can be postponed? Do they really think there is an armed forces anywhere in the world equal to ours, that we need to invest in new, costly armaments to fight 20th century wars while our true enemies take aim at real vulnerabilities in our power grid, our Internet and communications networks, our ports of entry, our water supplies? 

All they want to do is focus on a bogus claim that Obama wants to take guns away from individuals; or the misguided belief that ISIS can be carpet-bombed into oblivion; that nuking Iran is an option; that their lives would be better if the federal government stopped watching out for product and worker safety, that worker conditions would be improved if only unions would go away, that bosses would benevolently offer adequate raises and health care benefits. 

I don’t know about you, but it depresses me to write these things. Does it depress you to read them, depressing because you realize I am not making this up? 

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Ties to Bridge of Spies

Gilda and I have seen lots of movies over the past three weeks, the best of which, in my opinion, we saw Saturday night. Bridge of Spies tells the mostly-true-to-life story behind the exchange of prisoners among the Soviet Union, East Germany and the United States. 

In return for sending convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel back to Russia, America received U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (shot down during an aerial spy mission over Soviet territory) and student Frederic L. Pryor (charged with espionage in East Berlin). To scrub fact from fiction, here’s a link:

(Of the 11 movies we’ve seen, in descending order, my top flicks:
Bridge of Spies
The Martian
The Revenant
The Big Short
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max: Fury Road

How could I not like Bridge of Spies? From the History vs. Hollywood Web site I was reminded that the prisoner exchange transpired on February 10, 1962, the same day as my bar mitzvah.

Even without that coincidence I identified with Bridge of Spies. During one of my trips to Dusseldorf for EuroShop, a once-every-three-years massive trade exposition, I made a side trip to Berlin. I traveled on February 16, 1990, just three days before the section of the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate was to be torn down.

I walked many of the same streets the Tom Hanks character followed in the movie, entering East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, then down FriederichStrasse, a main avenue. It was a rainy, sometimes snowy, day. Chilly down to the bones. I had the sniffles, just like Hanks had in the movie.

With their political order tumbling around them, East German border guards were as friendly as a Wal-Mart greeter. And why shouldn’t they have acted kindly? No longer armed, their main job function was to let German nationals pass through while smiling pleasantly at foreigners and directing them to exit where they entered East Berlin. It seemed to be a petty rule, but no more inconvenient than being told in an American department store that gift wrapping could be obtained only in the basement or some other out of the way location.

Along FriederichStrasse I encountered a wide range of visual stimuli. Just as an East German movie character complained that the Russians hindered reconstruction efforts after World War II, I observed many buildings in various states of bombed-out disrepair a full 45 years after the war ended. Intact buildings were generally drab apartment house blocks that made our inner city projects seem stately. 

The disparity between the two sides of Berlin was evident from two cars parked next to each other, one a boxy, eight-foot Russian-made Lada, the other a sleek, four-door Mercedes. Both cars were in front of the Grand Hotel, one of the more impressive hotels I had seen in any major city of the world. In the main lobby burnished wood, marble, chrome, plush carpeting and a majestic central stairway transported any visitor from the gray and gloom of a failed utopian vision to a world of privilege and pomp. The Grand Hotel was not for every, or maybe any, casual comrade. Room rates back in 1990 ran over $200 a night.

Before I left Berlin I chipped away at the Wall. I had stopped at a Woolworth store in West Berlin to buy a small chisel and standard-sized hammer. I soon discovered how pitiful my purchases were to the task at hand. The reinforced concrete gave no quarter. You couldn’t even classify as pebbles the pieces I managed to dislodge.

Standing next to me was a man with a huge sledgehammer and 30-inch chisel. He was breaking off softball-size or larger chunks. He took pity on me and offered me his tools. As I remember it today, my new efforts were hardly more rewarding. He took pity on me once more, and gave the Wall a few choice whacks for me. I left Berlin with a bagful of souvenirs, most of which I gave away to family, friends and colleagues at work. I kept the two largest pieces, one to display in our living room, the other to be mounted on a plaque and hung in my office. It, too, is now in our living room. 

One more tie-in to Bridge of Spies—during a trip to Russia five years ago, Gilda and I saw wreckage of the U-2 spy plane in Moscow’s Central Armed Forces Museum. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Great (Pizza) Debate. And the GOP, Too

OMG! Did you see the latest news from the debate? No, I am not talking about Thursday night’s Republican Party presidential gabfest (okay, maybe later in this post I will, but not now). More importantly, The New York Times reported Friday the decades-old epicurean debate as to which pizza shop serves the best pies in New Haven, nay, the world, might be drawing to a conclusion.

Sally’s Apizza has an uncertain future. You can’t say you’ve ever been to New Haven if you have not tasted and gone to gastronomic heaven gorging on Sally’s pizza, though some would argue (incorrectly) that Frank Pepe Napoletana down the block in Wooster Square serves the best pies. For details on what might bring this cousinly rivalry to an unsatisfying conclusion read The Times

It wasn’t because I wrote this blog around lunchtime that I waxed nostalgic about Sally’s and the other eateries Gilda and I frequented when we lived two years in New Haven (1975-1977) and two more before that in Seymour, some dozen miles away, while I reported for The New Haven Register as she earned her nursing degree at Bridgeport University and then worked in the newborn intensive care unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital. 

On my reporter’s salary of $7,800 to $10,000 a year we didn’t have much spare change back then. Though expenses were far lower than today’s (gas was about 33 cents a gallon until the oil embargo of 1973 jacked it up to about a dollar, while home heating oil soared from 5 cents a gallon to 50 cents), eating out was a luxury. Even McDonald’s was a treat not to be indulged in too often (btw, back then McDonald’s and Friendly’s had almost exclusive fast food coverage where we lived, though I vaguely remember one of the first Subway stores in nearby Ansonia). 

My salivary glands do get a workout when I recall three restaurants we patronized when we wanted to splurge or celebrate, especially after Gilda started bringing home a paycheck. For seafood we’d go to Jimmies of Savin Rock in West Haven. Sundays we would dine at the Bar B Q-Rest in Milford along Route 1 for a lobster special dinner—a one pounder for just $2.95. 

If we were feeling really flush with cash, or maybe on our way back from a family visit in Brooklyn, we would stop along the New England Thruway at Valle’s steak house either in Stratford or West Haven. Valle’s often ran a double lobster special. Gilda liked the prime rib dinner, but my favorite part of any meal was dessert, a large chunk of devil’s food cake smothered in whipped cream. Alas, the Valle’s chain closed in 2000. 

Okay, enough about food. Let’s get to the real red meat, Thursday night’s GOP debate. But first, here’s a truism reporters learn early on in their careers, but upon retirement and writing a blog it gets less and less important—never sit on a story!

I relate this bromide because Thursday afternoon I started typing a posting on Ted Cruz’s crude attack on Donald Trump and his “New York values.” Instead of pouncing on the subject I deferred, thus allowing Trump and other pundits to rise to the Big Apple’s defense. Ah well, you’re not paying me to be first with news and analysis. Besides, I was enjoying my time with Gilda during her day off.

Anyone who thought ISIS or some other foreign entity, such as Iran, Russia or North Korea, posed an existential threat to America should have come away with a clearer perception of who really could take down the United States—Barack Obama and his co-conspirator Hillary Clinton or any other progressive who might get the opportunity to break our economic system by imposing higher taxes and more regulations and by getting the opportunity to nominate three or four left-leaning supreme court justices.

All right. This was classic campaign rhetoric. What struck me most was the almost complete absence of understanding of the complexities and nuances required of a successful presidential candidate. Take, for instance, Cruz’s opening salvo (no doubt he could not believe his good fortune to be asked the first question). Though it was about jobs and the economy, Cruz launched into a diatribe meant to raise the boiling point of every red-blooded South Carolinian in the audience and anyone else listening who believes gunboat diplomacy is preferable to respectful communication. 

He excoriated Obama for not mentioning in his State of the Union speech the 10 sailors captured by Iran after they meandered into Iranian waters. Cruz promised if he were president a country that captured any of our servicemen or servicewomen and forced them to kneel in humiliation would “face the full force and fury of the United States.” Oh boy, are we ready for cruise missile launches to resolve situations that peaceful diplomacy could diffuse within 24 hours? 

Ben Carson at times exhibited a sense of humor but, to my thinking, not enough understanding of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Carson wondered how rancor and name calling had become so commonplace in our society. Surely, he opined, it did not come from our Judeo-Christian roots.

Huh? Is he ignorant of American history? Puritans, who came to this land seeking religious freedom, denied it to anyone who failed to practice religion as they did. That’s why Roger Williams was forced to leave Massachusetts to found Rhode Island on the principles of religious tolerance and separation of church and state, as well as respect for the land rights of Native Americans.

Did Carson not realize that our Judeo-Christian value system was a foundation of slavery? 

Did Carson not realize that our Judeo-Christian values failed to open the doors to millions of would-be immigrants from the Far East and eastern Europe, many of the latter group who were Jewish?

Yes, there are many good Judeo-Christian values, such as communal help for the poor and underprivileged, but most Republicans prefer bootstrapping rather than government assistance programs or increases in the minimum wage (which they’d really prefer to do away with altogether as they would Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare). 

I’ve worked myself up enough so I won’t dissect the rest of the GOP field.  Have a good weekend.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Belated New Year Thoughts on Blogging, Water, Solar, Lost Hats, Blimps, Guns and Foreign Students

Happy belated New Year. 

If it seems more time is passing between postings, you’d be correct. Last year I wrote 79 rants, er, blogs, compared to 85 in 2014, which was a reduction from 107 in 2013, which was 49 fewer than the 156 posted in 2012 and even that was 31 below my all-time production high of 187 in 2011.

Can I explain away this verbal shortfall? Somewhat, though some might discount my excuses. First in my mind is that for the last 16 months I have been driving Gilda to and from work Monday through Wednesday. That’s four to six hours behind the wheel each day, depending on traffic. Writing takes time, and, more to the point, the driving is exhausting. So blame Gilda if you crave but don’t get more blogging.

Second, for the last three years I have had a real estate license. I mostly help my friend Linda, occasionally co-hosting an open house, or erecting For Sale signs, or securing information from city/town hall records. Maybe I work a couple hours each week, not a lot, but enough to carve into my writing time. So blame Linda, as she’s the one who talked me into getting my realtor’s license.

Third, in response to several comments, I’ve reduced the number of blogs devoted to sports. After all, no one has replaced Derek Jeter on the New York Yankees as copy-worthy. 

Fourth, I’m to blame for just being … lazy. Lord knows there’s enough craziness out there, especially during this presidential election cycle, to keep me busy multiple times each week. Yet I too often fail to exert myself. Lethargy prevails. But what good is retirement if you can’t be excused for just goofing off? 

Okay, now that I’ve explained myself, here are some thoughts I hope interest you:

Water, Water Everywhere: Amid all the rainfall out West and the flooding along the Mississippi, not to mention how my backyard looks after last night’s and this morning’s monsoon, we should not lose sight of the real water problem that exists around the world—there’s a growing scarcity of potable water that threatens to be the next reason nations go to war or regions within our country dispute federal water management policies. 

Water has become more expensive than oil. Not really. Just seems that way. While clearing out some old files, I came across our city water bills for 2003. For the full year we used 10,200 cubic feet of water, equivalent to 76,301 gallons, at a cost of $73.80, or .0009672 cents per gallon. For 2015 we used 11,000 cubic feet of water, 82,285 gallons, at an annual cost of $220.60, or .0026809 cents per gallon—a 177.2% increase per gallon over the last 12 years. 

Had the price just increased by the cumulative rate of inflation (29%), our price per gallon of water would have been .0012476 cents for a grand total of $102.66. 

Solar Savings: At least we are saving money on our electricity usage thanks to our solar electric panels. Eight months into the program we’ve saved nearly $700. Equally important, we’ve reduced our ConEd dependence by nearly 5,000 kilowatts.  

Hats Off: I’m bummed out. I lost one of my favorite baseball hats, a promotional gift I received back in 1994 to celebrate the release of That’s Entertainment III by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Actually, three hats came my way. I kept two and gave one to my art director, Milton, after he said he’d like one. 

The hats are quite pliable, making it easy to fold into a winter jacket pocket. I think I lost the hat in a movie theater while watching the new Star Wars flick. 

Bottom line—I preferred the hat over the movie. and by that I mean both Star Wars VII and That’s Entertainment III.

Hot Air Rising: Today’s CBS Sunday Morning aired a piece on the evolution of the Goodyear blimp. It reminded me of my quixotic attempt to bum a ride on a blimp moored in Miami.

Back in 1972, as part of a graduate journalism program at the Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University, my class covered the Florida presidential primary. We were stationed in Miami. I was assigned to follow the campaign of John Ashbrook, a conservative Republican congressman from Ohio. He had little chance of winning, especially in the Miami area, so I had lots of free time. Two of my classmates and I came upon a Goodyear blimp moored at a field. The blimp was there for coverage of a sporting event some days later. We talked up the crew who promised us a free ride the next day. When we arrived Tuesday morning at the mooring site, the blimp was not there. Seems Walter Cronkite’s crew had been ordered to film Miami vistas for that evening’s election coverage. I never forgave Cronkite for pre-empting my chance to float in air.

Bang Bang: Christmas Day I headlined a blog post asking if you found an AR-15 under your tree, Seems I wasn’t too far off from the truth. 

Click on this article from Britain’s The Daily Mail and you’ll see some extraordinary pictures of “Americans showing off their new weapons at the firing range the day after Christmas - including a woman’s custom-made pink anti-tank rifle”:

I fail to understand why anyone needs such personal firepower. 

Finally, Some International Humor you might identify with, courtesy of my brother-in-law David, who along with my sister Lee, has participated for several years in a university program to house foreign students in the Los Angeles area. Here are three “thank-you” notes received from Chinese parents by one program host:

“Thank you for teaching my son to wash dishes.”
“Thank you for teaching my daughter to make her own bed.”
“Thank you for teaching my son to cook and heat up his own food.”