Sunday, February 28, 2016

What's Next: Super or Stupid Tuesday?

It is dubbed Super Tuesday, the primary intensive day when voters in 11 states will express their preference for whom they want to see as the next president. But depending on how they cast their ballots, it might well be called Stupid Tuesday.

I doubt Democratic voters will anoint Bernie Sanders their favorite. Should he pull off an upset of historic proportions (Barack Obama in 2008 at least had a base of African-American voters to buttress his underdog candidacy), Bernie can expect Republicans to immediately start calling him Comrade Sanders as they imprint on the electorate’s mind the Vermont senator’s socialist leanings.

Based on their behavior during last Thursday night’s GOP debate in Houston, being called a comrade by whomever the Republicans nominate would be tame by comparison to the schoolyard taunts and bickering that emanated from the stage. The three frontrunners who covet being seated behind the desk in the Oval Office (Donald Trump and senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) belittled not just themselves but the presidency, as well.   

How are we to explain how Trump behaves and his appeal? Conservative columnist David Brooks says Trump is a byproduct 30 years in the making: “People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.” (

His progressive colleague at The New York Times, Timothy Egan, thinks Trump acts bizarrely because he suffers from sleep deprivation (

For sheer chutzpah, conservative columnist Ross Douthat places a large part of the blame on Obama’s liberal policies (  With an apparent straight face Douthat blames a president dedicated to inclusiveness for the viciously polarizing, demeaning and restrictive tenor of not just the leading candidate of the opposition but almost all of the other candidates. Douthat, no doubt, would absolve a rapist of guilt by asserting a woman provoked the attack because she was a … woman.

My own view is that the Trump-Cruz-Rubio smackdown, aided and abetted by a host of Republican presidential dropouts, is the offspring of years of raucous, aggressive television best exemplified by Maury Povich and Jerry Springer who encouraged extreme behavior, disrespect, physical confrontations, intolerance. 

Those in-your-face shows have inured us to bad behavior. To disrespecting authority. To reaching the point where a congressman could call the president of the United States a liar during a State of the Union speech and boast about it, or congressmen could dis the Office of the President by boycotting attendance during a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress.

When GOP aspirants to the highest office in the land (with the exception of Ben Carson and John Kasich) behave like poor white trash we know our nation’s character is being tested.

Consider for a moment the fact that neither Rubio nor Cruz, or any other Republican candidate or the moderators in any of the debates, have been able to stymie Trump’s advance with penetrating points and questions on policy. 

(Yes, the media have been complicit in Trump’s rise by not pinning him down on policy and contradictory statements. Trump has taken the offensive against the press—the Associated Press reported that during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Trump said he “wants to make it easier to file lawsuits against newspapers over what they report. He said that if he’s elected, he will ‘open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.’ He added, ‘If I become president, oh, do they have problems.’”)

Trump is exploiting the baser instincts of the public. As Egan reported, “After a protester interrupted his speech in Nevada, Trump said, ‘I’d like to punch him in the face.’ The crowd roared. Trump continued. ‘You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.’ At an earlier event this year, he said a protester should be thrown into the cold without a coat.

If an image of brown-shirted thugs with red and black armbands springs to mind, you’re not alone. And though they were within their legal rights to hold a rally, the Ku Klux Klan’s open display in Anaheim on Saturday was a chilling reminder that bigotry enjoys a divisive hold in too many parts of our country.

So the bottom line is the electorate is to blame for Trump and his cohorts. Voters have not been sharp enough to demand and obtain real answers from candidates. Yes, perhaps the public has been manipulated. Trump, after all, is recognized as a great brand marketer. And a decade and a half before him enough voters chose to want to have a beer with folksy George W. Bush rather than with the cerebral Al Gore. 

So it’s on to Super or Stupid Tuesday at the conclusion of which we might have greater certainty as to the eventual nominees of both major parties. Even if you’re not religiously inclined, let us pray the republic survives these troubled times. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Suggestion for Chris Rock Plus My Oscars Picks; Be Wary of the Gig Economy

Here’s a thought—while everyone expects Oscars telecast emcee Chris Rock to skewer the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with jokes highlighting the failure to nominate for a second straight year even a single black actor for an award, perhaps a more visible and enduring display of protest Sunday night would be for the entertainer to make his entrance on stage in whiteface. 

Daring? No doubt. Provocative? To be sure. Extreme? You betcha. In bad taste? No more so than the academy’s lily-white nomination list and its mostly white, elderly male membership roster.

Rock could still joke about the “benign” discrimination, but the image of him in whiteface would linger in everyone’s minds far longer than any amusing words he might utter. 

As for the awards, here are my choices for the top six categories:

Best leading actor—Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Best leading actress—Brie Larson (Room)
Best supporting actor—Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Best supporting actress—Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Best director—Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Best picture—Bridge of Spies

The Gig Economy: In case you’ve never heard of this term, it’s a modern day euphemism for outsourcing. In other words, hiring freelancers, domestic or foreign, to do work on a job-by-job basis that formerly was done in-house by staff. 

Result? Fewer full-time workers and generally lower fees as freelancers compete for assignments. Lower overhead for companies, lower earnings for workers. For an example of the Gig Economy in practice, listen to Monday’s Marketplace Money Report on NPR:

Net Net Result? While we in America bemoan the relocation of manufacturing jobs to lower wage overseas locales and hope to combat the drain of good/high paying jobs with training for technology-based work, the Gig Economy might undermine that effort. As explained in the Marketplace Money Report, Instapage paid a Vietnamese techie just $200 to design a logo, a fee that surely was equivalent to a prince’s ransom in Vietnam but wouldn’t fill a pauper’s purse in the United States. 

There’s no holding back the tide of technological advance and the globalization of the world’s economy. I’m fortunate to be retired. My mid-30’s children’s jobs probably won’t be affected, I hope. But my grandchildren? It is not a comforting thought to consider the range of employment opportunities in the year 2036 and beyond. 

Bird Talk: Looking out the kitchen window I can report birds enjoy chocolate babka cake, the remnants of which they devoured in short order since I filled the feeders. Previously they’ve savored shredded matzoh, bagels and assorted other flour-based ethnic delights.

Car Talk: Before buying a car three years ago, I pondered getting a Subaru Forester, even going so far as asking the salesman to commit to rearranging the letters of the car’s rear nameplate to Forseter. Alas, we wound up buying a Ford C-Max hybrid, instead.

End of story, until Ellie and Donny went car shopping after their recent move to Omaha. They chose a Forester but resisted my entreaties to ask the dealership to flip the first “e” and “s” in Forester.

My extended family has often contemplated how simpler our lives would have been had my parents, when Americanizing my father’s family name, chosen Forester instead of Forseter. Or even Forsetter with two “t’s.” At least half the time we’re addressed as Forester. One high school teacher of mine called me Fenster. 

Dad, though, wanted something closer to Feursetzer. So Forseter it became. You get to roll with the punches, so to speak, but I still think it would have been cool to drive around in a Forseter Subaru. 

Copy Talk: Three times (at least) in the last few weeks I’ve been reminded the hardest task for any writer is to proofread his own copy. I won’t resurrect my mistakes other than to suggest that sometimes even a faux pas can turn out to be a slick turn of phrase.

Back on January 21, in a piece titled “The Bride of Frankenstein Is Back,” I wrote “(Sarah) 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.”  

I must admit, I meant to write “know nothing Tea Party.” However, when confronted by a friend with the actual text, I justified it by the Tea Party’s history of saying no to everything. 

Quick thinking on my part, but not very truthful. More like Stephen Colbert’s truthiness standard.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Holy Wars: Why Evangelicals Like Trump; Which Is Supreme—God's Words vs. Man's

I think I figured out why evangelicals can support a candidate who is twice divorced, three times married, cheated on two of his wives, uses obscene language in public and rarely goes to church: Evangelicals see Donald Trump as the quickest road to Armageddon and the Second Coming.

Trump, and for that matter carpet-bomber Ted Cruz and bombs-away Marco Rubio, may be the surest vessel to ignite a war that would hasten the evangelical vision of an end to the world as we know it. 

Sure, I might be looney to think this a plausible explanation, but is it any more outrageous than the dribble pundits are giving as to why Mr. Bombast has been able to win two of the first three Republican Party presidential contests, including South Carolina’s primary Saturday where more Bible huggers embraced The Donald and not Cruz or Rubio without first requiring him to repent and be born again?  

“It’s also becoming clearer why people are voting for Trump,” the Associated Press reported. “Nearly half of Republican voters in South Carolina said Trump is the candidate they trust most to handle the economy, more than double the proportion who said so of any other candidate, according to exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research.”

That explanation also falls under the banner of an “article of faith” as the truth behind Trump’s golden touch shows it to be rather tarnished. Admittedly, he is a fabulous brand marketer, the brand being himself. But article after article has uncovered a less than strong bottom line performance by companies he has led or been associated with. 

Puncturing his aura of business respectability will be the main challenge his Republican foes face if they have any hope of derailing his candidacy. The challenge would fall to the Democratic standard bearer should Trump secure the GOP nomination. 

Paradoxically, maybe evangelicals are hedging their bets by supporting Trump. If they truly believe he is best for the economy, maybe they really think they’ll be around for a long time and need to worry about their personal finances.  

Whose Words Should Be More Lasting? When did man’s words become more important than God’s (assuming, of course, you believe in a God, as all the candidates for president profess to do)? When did it become illegitimate to interpret man’s words but not God’s? 

“The Constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is to be interpreted as originally meant,” asserted Marco Rubio last week, one of many who pounced on the still warm body of the newly deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia to expound a philosophy that would bind our nation to many of the the mores and values of the late 18th century. 

Scalia was the chief protagonist of “originalism,” a belief that all truths could be found in the words of The Framers of the Constitution and any amendments subsequently passed. He was a deeply religious Catholic, but apparently he did not find anything wrong with deviations from the Good Book, the Bible, interpretations that have transformed religions for more than 2,000 years. 

Christians and Jews, after all, don’t adhere to all the dictates God commanded. We don’t exact an eye for an eye, anymore. Nor do we stone people who violate the Sabbath. God seemed okay with polygyny. Some Mormons still do, but they are the exception to the rule in most Western cultures. 

According to Scalia, “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution. The problem with a living Constitution, in a word, is that somebody has to decide how it grows and when it is that new rights are, you know, come forth. And that’s an enormous responsibility in a democracy to place upon nine lawyers, or even 30 lawyers.”

Yet, the history of religion is that sages have always interpreted God’s meaning and intent. Western societies are apoplectic about Sharia Law as practiced in religiously orthodox Islamic countries because devout Moslems do not accommodate their civil practices to modern times. If you’re into stoning adulterers, or perhaps you prefer cutting off the hand of a thief, catch a plane to Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan.

But here in the United States, we don’t administer Sharia Law-like punishments. We’ve evolved. Apparently with God’s blessings or at least understanding, as thunderbolts from above have not wiped out huge swaths of our population (let’s not consider, for the moment, why natural disasters—tornadoes, floods, hurricanes—seem to be more frequently visited upon regions with more evangelicals than other areas). 

Keeping our laws attuned with current values is recognition that times change (hopefully for the better). If religious leaders (not all, but many) can adapt some of God’s prohibitions, if they can refine their approach to homosexuality, for example, thus affirming that the Bible is a living document, then why should we not be able to interpret the Constitution for modern times. The right to privacy, for example, had a narrower scope back in the 1780s. 

Architects have found that flexible structures withstand earthquakes better than rigidly constructed buildings. So, too, our nation if we measure our laws against the science, technology and mores of the time we live in.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Twenty Years Ago Today

Temperatures modulated in the mid-50’s in White Plains today. How different from this past weekend when wind chill temperatures dipped below zero. How different from conditions 20 years ago today when a blizzard dumped 10 inches of snow, stranding me in New York, preventing me from flying down to Orlando for the annual SPECS conference produced by my magazine, Chain Store Age. 

For six hours that Friday morning I sat in the Courtyard Marriott in Rye waiting for an airport shuttle to trudge its way through the snow. None came. All around me vacationers and business travelers expressed their frustrations. One couple vented they had planned three years to fly to New Orleans to partake in the following Tuesday’s Mardi Gras festivities. The blizzard was sure to deprive them of their once-in-a-lifetime experience, they lamented. 

Ordinarily, a delay traveling south would have been an inconvenience easily overcome the next day. But more distressing news happened that day 20 years ago. When I called Gilda to inform her I was returning home she told me my mother had passed away that afternoon in a hospital in Washington, DC, as she awaited surgery to amputate a second leg below the knee because diabetes and smoking had impeded circulation to her limb. She was 78.

Twenty years. I look out my kitchen windows and the memories of my mother are slowly melting away like the remnants of the snow on the grass in our yard. Our children were 17 and 14 when she passed away. How much do they remember their grandma, who, sadly, suffered from mild dementia her last few years? Dan recalls he loved her chicken soup. As a young child, he knew whenever we went to my parents’ home in Brooklyn he would be fed well. And he always knew when they would be visiting our home for, miraculously, cake appeared on our kitchen table. 

As a light snow trickled down Monday I queued up a tape my brother Bernie recorded of our mother 30 years ago. With each passing sequence another of our treasured family stories tumbled into the realm of folklore, assuming, of course, that the testimony I was viewing was the real history and not her memory of the moment.

We had always been told the first time our father eyed my mother, in his store on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he fell off a ladder, not because of her beauty, but at the sight of her wild and frizzy hair. Not so, Mom related, though she did not disagree with the description of her hairdo that day. 

Nevertheless, Kopel walked her to the subway station and secured a date for that Friday night. When he rang the doorbell of her family’s apartment, he failed to recognize the now dolled up Sylvia. That part of the story rang true to form.

The next part contradicted family lore. We had been told they went to see Die Fledermaus, an operetta composed by Johann Strauss II. Perhaps not. According to the tape, they went to a production of a different Strauss operetta—The Gypsy Baron

During their whirlwind courtship—six weeks from first date to a Sunday, September 6, Labor Day weekend wedding, with two weeks or more apart due to separate vacations they took over the summer—a favorite story of our mother was a time our father took her to a friend’s apartment. 

Speaking Yiddish, his friend asked if they would like to be alone, to which my father replied, also in Yiddish, “No, this one I am going to marry.” Unbeknownst to my father, Sylvia was fluent in Yiddish. Only on the tape, Mom said they spoke German which she also understood. 

A story about one of Mom’s late teenage boyfriends also came under revision. She’d often tell us that after her father moved the family to an apartment on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx, a beau stopped calling on her. Years later when she met him by chance, the fellow, an apprentice linotypist, explained the Grand Concourse address had placed her above his station in life. 

An interesting commentary on social status, but the version on the tape had Mom relating that the move that sabotaged their relationship was to an apartment on West 99th Street off Broadway in Manhattan.

Elsewhere on the tape, Mom’s laudatory stories about my high school days evoked no corresponding corroboration within my memory bank.

What isn’t in doubt is the positive influence she had on the lives of her children. When most wives stayed at home, our mother worked full-time as an equal partner with our father in their factory that produced half-slips and panties sold mostly to chain stores across the country. At the same time she actively participated in PTA programs and other social groups while also cooking family holiday dinners that could serve as many as 40 participants.  

She taught my brother and me to play ball. She made sure we went to Broadway shows and the opera. She took us to the Catskills. She enrolled us in private Hebrew schools and eight week sleepaway Jewish summer camps. She made our house the center of activity featuring Friday night poker games with my brother’s friends. 

She opened our door to overnight guests, prompting her to call our home Malon Forseter, malon being the Hebrew word for hotel. Her dinette table was never too full. Unexpected guests were met with the standard retort, “I'll just add another cup of water to the soup.”

Sylvia was a confident, independent woman, best exemplified by travel to Israel and Europe by herself in the mid 1950s when she was just 40. 

I looked over what I wrote two years ago in a Father’s Day tribute to our mother and thought I’d conclude with the same last paragraph: 

My brother, sister and I don’t dwell on the last decade or so of her life when she no longer was the vibrant source of our family life. It is enough to know that together with our father she molded us into the people we are today. And we are happy with the results.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Message and Scalia's Enduring Impact

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re anything like me you're elated, but curious, as to why you have not heard radio advertisements from Rocky Moselle pitching the International Star Registry as the perfect way to express your love by naming a star for eternity after a beloved. 

A quick Google check revealed the following amusing news item from satiric “International Star Registry runs out of stars, launches International Grain of Sand Registry.” 

Here’s the full text of the pie-in-the-sky, tongue-in-cheek item:

NEW YORK - Rocky Moselle, Spokesman for the international Star Registry, reported this week star names for all of the stars in the universe were sold out during this busy Christmas shopping season. Because experts believed the star inventory in the universe was infinite, the company was shocked by this sudden inventory depletion. In response to this crisis, the International Star Registry has announced plans to launch a new venture entitled, "International Grain of Sand Registry" which will allow the same gullible customer base to purchase and copyright a name for a grain of sand somewhere on earth. Also being market tested is the “International Blade of Grass Registry.”

For many years I was able to convince my family it was sacrilegious to celebrate Valentine’s Day and, for that matter, Halloween as Jews aren’t expected to honor saints, so St. Valentine’s Day was a no-no and Halloween, also known as All Saints Day, was definitely beyond the pale—no trick or treating for you, Dan and Ellie. 

Several years ago, after the kids had flown the coop, Gilda informed me we were henceforth celebrating Valentine’s Day with greeting cards, though gifts were not required. I acquiesced. This year I again dutifully bought Gilda a card, only to be newly informed we no longer had to exchange cards. Go figure.

Seven Inches: Months ago we ordered a floor mat for the wood floor in front of our kitchen sink. We asked for a 93-inch custom length to exactly fit between cabinets on either side of the sink. 

When the mat arrived it curled up slightly at one end. I measured. It was 94 inches. I called the company. A representative apologized and asked if I’d like a replacement. But he cautioned that custom work permits a manufacturer to deviate from the desired specifications by as much as seven inches. My next mat could be as small as 86 inches or as long as 100 inches, or anywhere in between. 

Who knew ordering a custom mat could be such a gamble?

I opted to keep the original.

And Now for Some Serious Thoughts: Even in death, influential, conservative, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia will have a lasting, profound effect on the future of the United States.

The debate on the propriety, though not the legality, of President Obama nominating a successor during his last year in office will reverberate throughout the primary and election seasons. That’s a given, as is the Republican-dominated Senate’s refusal to approve any Obama nomination before the election.

More lasting will be the impact on voter turnout next November as each party will no longer be talking about the abstraction of the next president having the power to shape the court. Scalia’s death removed any doubt that voters themselves will have a direct say in the bent the court may take for the foreseeable future.

It will be a get-out-the-vote contest in every borderline state, not just for president but for Senate seats, as well. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reflections on Lincoln’s Legacy vs. Today’s GOP; For Democrats, The Wonk vs. the Prophet

Abraham Lincoln was born 207 years ago today. Our 16th president was the first to win under the banner of the Republican Party. We know highlights of Lincoln’s presidential career: ending slavery, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, preserving the Union, along with instilling a vision of America through inspiring speeches including The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. 

My goodness, how far today’s GOP stalwarts have drifted from Lincoln’s vision of a nation of equals blessed with equal opportunities. 

Even in the midst of the most partisan conflict in our nation’s history, Lincoln invested in infrastructure, both physical and strategic. Consider these accomplishments by Honest Abe (courtesy of learnodo-newtonic.comand ponder if his would-be successors would sustain his achievements, much less propose and enact similar measures:

*Lincoln signed a bill that chartered the first transcontinental railroad. Republicans today hardly want to invest in rail transportation improvements or any form of mass transit;

*Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act. The act gave each state 30,000 acres of federal land for each member in its congressional delegation. The states sold the land to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Republicans today are cutting funding of Pell grants and other expenditures for education; 

*Lincoln signed The National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864, laws that helped shape today’s national banking system and its support of a uniform U.S. banking policy. Republicans today want to limit the powers of, or eliminate, the Federal Reserve; 

*Lincoln signed the first of the Homestead Acts, allowing poor people to obtain land. Republicans today are against virtually all federal assistance programs; 

*Lincoln established the United States Department of Agriculture. Republicans today decry as excessive government regulations pertaining to farming, agriculture, forestry, and food; 

*Lincoln favored a progressive income tax. He signed the Revenue Act of 1862 that established the Office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue along with taxes based on tiers of income. Republicans today want to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, a successor to Lincoln’s tax office.

The Wonk vs. the Prophet: If you watched the Democratic Party debate Thursday night all the way to the end you were rewarded with the appearance of a third character on the podium. Joining policy wonk Hillary Clinton and prophet of revolution Bernie Sanders was a passionate candidate of change and context hidden from view for nearly two hours.

In the final moments of a substantive debate on policy, experience and differences, the smoldering fire inside Hillary erupted. Not just in words but also in demeanor she seized the imperative as to why she deserved to be her party’s nominee and the nation’s next president.

Too bad only those wonky enough to stay with the show till its conclusion were rewarded with this transformative moment (do not fret, loyal readers—here’s a link to her closing statement: 

For those who abandoned the debate midstream the passion vote skewed toward Bernie, an adept debater who masked few policy details with populist rhetoric no less appealing than past leaders who advocated revolution. For after all, who would follow a boring revolutionary?

By the way, throughout the debate Sanders displayed a timely, if insensitive, cough, timely in that he never coughed while he was talking but did so repeatedly during Clinton’s answers. To her credit, she never flinched or looked over in annoyance. As a good policy wonk she plowed straight ahead spouting facts and figures without too much emotion, until that closing argument.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don't Call Me Plus Anger Management

I’m not answering my land line telephone anymore unless I can readily identify who the caller is. Despite registering our number on the National Do Not Call list, we are being pestered by solicitations and scam calls, the most recent of the latter being an admonishment to respond or face a Treasury Department enforcement action. The gall of these con artists is that, unlike callers who want to sell you something, they actually leave a message on your answering machine with a call back number. Brazen. 

As I know I don’t owe any back taxes it is easy for me to dismiss these bullying intrusions into our household. I wonder, though, what impact these calls might have on citizens who have a balance due the federal government or those, such as the elderly or uneducated, who are uncertain. Might they think the bogus call is real and rush to send money to clear their accounts? Apparently, many have.  

“This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam,” according to a February 2 Internal Revenue Service press release.

Problem is, the IRS is about to unleash private debt collectors on the populous, a provision dumped into the Highway Bill last December. So taxpayers, delinquent or not, may get more calls demanding payments. How to tell the bogus from the real, the wheat from the chaff, will be a task of biblical proportions. Some prayer might be in order.

Anyway, if you do need to reach me, call my cell phone. Or leave a message on my land line. As the saying goes, “Leave your number and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Looking Back and Forward in Anger: Everyone seems to agree the mood of the public can be described as “angry,” an emotion being exploited by politicians who want enough votes to build walls to protect our American way of life, forgetting for a moment there is disagreement about what exactly constitutes our American way of life. 

“One thing that baffles me is that many of the angriest voters are also those associated with communities of faith. By what logic can the devout commit the sin of anger, and resist the call of its antidotes, the virtues of forgiveness and understanding?”

Gosh, I wish I would have authored those lines. I commend to you the full text of an Op-Ed piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan in Thursday’s New York Times. Boylan is a professor of English at Barnard College (

BBC News asked a New Hampshire resident his thoughts on the primary election and the direction of the country. He responded it was important to get back to the values upon which our nation was founded. Asked to explain, he said one couldn’t do anything on one’s land without getting a permit. In other word, too much regulation.

Sounds simple enough. You’d think a landowner should be permitted to do as he pleases on and with his property. Until you realize that seemingly actions of personal choice, such as not putting a fence around a swimming pool as required in many communities, could have disastrous, often fatal, unintended consequences should a toddler fall into an unattended pool. 

A few years ago a man in a Westchester community used his home to buy, sell and store mercury, a health risk not only to him but also to his neighbors. I could go on and on citing similar examples as to why regulations are necessary for the general good and welfare, but I’ll spare you. 

No doubt there are rules that defy reason. Most regulations, however, were enacted to counter practices that hurt or had the potential to harm the population. We should treasure the intent and the value of such regulations, not dismiss them as as anti-American.

I’m also puzzled by the antipathy toward unions among much of the electorate, especially those who yearn for a return to yesteryear, to simpler times, to a time when income from manufacturing jobs forged a thriving middle class. 

Do these people not realize union membership was a bulwark of those times? Who do they think negotiated better pay? better health care benefits? better retirement benefits? paid vacations? better working conditions? better education benefits? better safeguards against indiscriminate layoffs? Do they really believe employers, out of the goodness of their hearts, would provide workers  with any but the most meager of salaries and benefits? 

Sure, union leaders have at times abused their power. Overall, though, unions have benefitted society. The failure of current workers to recognize the value of unions goes hand in hand with the failure of women, men too, to appreciate the long-term commitment Hillary Clinton has had to equal opportunities, regardless of gender. 

Here’s a contribution I recommend under the provocative title “All the terrible things Hillary Clinton has done — in one big list” (

Friday, February 5, 2016

Forgetting the Message Behind the Music

Another one died Wednesday.

I can’t say that as I approach my 67th birthday next month I find myself paying more attention to obituary notices. There’s no truth to the cliched joke that I check the obits each morning to make sure I am still alive. Truth is, I’ve always found the recounting of an individual’s life to be among the most fascinating and interesting articles in a newspaper. 

A few years ago, at a luncheon for mostly retired journalists eager to hear Gail Collins, an acquaintance from back in the early 1970s when her husband and I worked at The New Haven Register, I sat next to a veteran reporter from The New York Times. His career covering police and politics had downshifted to part-time work on the obit page. Most of the history of the renowned, he confirmed to me, was pre-written. Only the most recent news of the deceased required immediate input by deadlines made ever tighter because of Internet editions.

No doubt, like many of you, I’ve been startled and saddened by the seemingly weekly revelation that another icon of the rock scene of the 1960s and 1970s has passed away. Not that they were young. David Bowie was 69, Glenn Frey, 67, Paul Kantner, 74, Signe Anderson, 74, and Maurice White, who died Wednesday, was 74. To some it must have been amazing that they lasted as long as they did given the abusive lifestyle many rockers lived decades ago. 

Here’s another truth—I knew few if any of them by name (don’t fret, I knew David Bowie). Oh, I knew their groups, even sang along with many of their songs. However I would not survive the first round of a game show contest if I had to match a band’s name with a specific song.  

But ask me to identify the music from a Broadway show circa 1943-1970 and I’d possibly run the table. Perhaps that’s one reason I so enjoyed Ellie’s star turns in musical theater productions during her teen years, though the plays she performed in were written later than my sweet spot years.

I’m not trying to be sentimental in my appreciation of the music of the deceased and nearly so. Read Timothy Egan’s genre eulogy instead:

If you must mourn, lament members of a generation now in their middle age who have forgotten the message behind much of the music of their youth. Love, peace, tolerance, equality. Instead, too many have embraced the message of anger and exclusion espoused by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

I get it. Not everyone was a liberal back in the 1960s. But there outta be a law, or at least an admonition—you can only listen to someone’s music if you share their values. I’m okay not playing Ted Nugent. Let’s check the playlists on Cruz’s and Trump’s iPhones. And those of Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Rick Perry, as well.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Marcomentum Assaults the Constitution

Next January 20th the president-elect will swear the following oath of office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Does anyone see a conflict with the following statement?:

“We are clearly called, in the Bible, to adhere to our civil authorities, but that conflicts with also a requirement to adhere to God’s rules. When those two come in conflict, God’s rules always win (emphasis added). In essence, if we are ever ordered by a government authority to personally violate and sin, violate God’s law and sin, if we’re ordered to stop preaching the gospel, if we’re ordered to perform a same-sex marriage as someone presiding over it, we are called to ignore that. We cannot abide by that because government is compelling us to sin.”

Pundits are calling his surge in the polls “marcomentum,” but, to my way of thinking, with that statement, handsome and wholesome-looking Marco Rubio has disqualified himself from being president by asserting that God’s laws—if there is a God—supersede man’s. That might hold true in a theocracy like Iran or the ISIS caliphate but here in the United States we have always valued separation of church and state. 

Until now, apparently. Besides, who’s to say who gets to interpret God’s law? Catholics? Jews? Muslims? Protestants? Hindus? Shintos? Mormons? Which of their respective sects gets to adjudicate what God meant, which of the laws must still be followed? The Bible and Koran condoned slavery, prohibited the eating of pork, permitted multiple wives and admonished believers to live according to rules modern cultures consider barbaric. 

The Framers of the Constitution were quite clear in creating a separation between church and state. No pope, no ayatollah, no cleric would be supreme above the law. Neither would a president. 

Sadly, Rubio is not alone among Republicans who would place their religion above executing the law. Among candidates still in the race, include Ted Cruz. And through his comments on restricting Muslims from entering the country, even U.S. citizens, count Donald Trump among those who would violate the Constitution. 

Also sadly, acceptance of religious diversity is fading in our land. During his visit to a Baltimore mosque Wednesday, President Obama appealed for tolerance. But derision greeted his visit from quarters that have reviled almost all of his actions during the first seven years of his presidency. How could it not when almost three out of 10 Americans (43% of Republicans) think he is secretly a Muslim, according to a CNN/ORC poll last September? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Once Election's Over, Here's What to Expect

If you’ve ever wondered if I have a warped mind, here’s proof in the form of strange post-election scenarios that drifted through my mind as I tried to fall asleep Sunday night. Each one-step-before-absurdity prediction is not dependent on any other for it to come true:

*Michael Bloomberg’s third party candidacy will prevent Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump from securing the required 270 Electoral College votes to become president. As directed by the Constitution, the choice of president will be left to the House. As Congress is dominated by Republicans, the GOP representatives will promote their own Speaker of the House—Paul Ryan—to the presidency!

Fooled ya—Ryan is ineligible, as are all but the three highest polling candidates in the Electoral College election. Given the choice of Trump, Clinton or Bloomberg, the House will choose Trump.

*Hillary and Bernie Sanders will not make it through the nomination process. Hillary will be indicted for the classified email scandal and choose not to continue her campaign while Bernie will suffer a medical setback and have to withdraw. An open convention will select vice president Joe Biden as the Democratic Party candidate. Biden will tap either Missouri senator Claire McCaskill or Texas congressman Joaquin Castro or his brother, Housing & Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, as his running mate. Biden et al will win. 

*Showing how magnanimous in victory he could be, and in his desire to channel Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals” cabinet strategy, President Donald Trump will make the following appointments:

Secretary of State: Bombs away Lindsey Graham;
Attorney General: To return the nation and the Constitution to the late 18th century, Ted Cruz;
Secretary of Transportation: A governor of a state millions travel through every day, with lots of experience making poor bridge and tunnel decisions, Chris Christie;
Secretary of Energy: Who better to protect the coal industry than Kentucky’s own Rand Paul;
Secretary of Labor: Mr. union-buster himself, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker;
Secretary of Health & Human Services: A difficult choice from among a plethora of right-to-lifers and personhood advocates but Rick Santorum wins over Mike Huckabee;
Secretary of Commerce: Let’s see if Carly Fiorina is the face of America Trump wants to project to the world;
Secretary of Homeland Security: Trump wanted to keep this portfolio for himself but was talked into appointing Ben Carson as the perfect symbol of the danger of appearing to be sleeping on the job of protecting America;
Secretary of Agriculture: Bobby Jindal needed a job now that he’s no longer governor of Louisiana. Maybe being in charge of the nation’s food supply will fatten him up a little;
Secretary of Education: Rick Perry. Oops, I forgot. Perry wanted to kill this department when he ran the first time for president. 
Secretary of Interior: She wasn’t running but Sarah Palin’s endorsement should be worth something, especially since she’s such an avid hunter, even from aircraft. And let’s not forget her “drill, baby, drill” pro-oil, anti conservation battle cry.
Secretary of Treasury: Marco Rubio couldn’t handle his own finances, but let’s let him try balancing the nation’s books;
Secretary of Veteran Affairs: Another candidate from 2008—Trump considered him a loser for getting captured, so why not saddle John McCain with one of the biggest headaches in the country that will surely have more veterans to service given The Donald’s desire to increase our military involvement in the Middle East;
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Not a very sexy cabinet post, perfect for Jeb Bush;
Finally, a new cabinet post will be created—Secretary of Religion, headed by Mike Huckabee who has proclaimed, “Exercising Religious Liberty should never be a crime in America. This is a direct attack on our God-given, constitutional rights.”

*Hillary Clinton will be sworn in as president only to become not just the first female commander in chief but also the first to become part of the first husband-wife team of presidents of the United States to be impeached. 

I have no doubt the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would vote to impeach Hillary over the alleged misuse of classified emails contained on her personal computer while she was secretary of state. The Senate, however, will once again rise to the defense of a Clinton by failing to muster the required 67 votes to convict. The toll of the impeachment proceedings, however, will hamper Hillary’s first two years in office.

Uh-oh, this one could actually come true.