Wednesday, April 20, 2016

2016 Election May Be Decided Not by Visions of the Future But by Memories of the Past

Results of the New York primary notwithstanding, the 2016 presidential election is shaping up as a contest between Republican nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” Archie Bunker longed for, or the searing memories Democrats recall of racial, gender and economic bias and inequality.

An unknown factor will be how millennials—women and men—identify with the struggles of their parents and grandparents. Have they forgotten, or never learned, what life was like before women had the legal right to choose the outcome of a pregnancy; before parental child care leave was provided; before voting rights were extended to minorities; before affordable health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions was largely unavailable; when the glass ceiling kept most women in the steno pool and out of the halls of Congress unless they were pages; when southern politicians and law enforcement officials included their KKK memberships in their qualifications for office; when governors and state legislatures routinely denied rights to minorities, including the right to marry a spouse of a different race? 

Many millennials have been drawn to Bernie Sanders. If he comes up short will they rally behind Hillary Clinton or will they sit November out, forgetting the progressive gains of the last 50 years that would be jeopardized during a Trump, Cruz or Kasich presidency and Republican congress?

Speaking on the Charlie Rose The Week show on PBS last Friday, CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett said, “Republicans will rally around the idea that we’ve been a diffident loser-type country, not that that’s true, but there’s a feeling about that among Republicans, a kind of nostalgia. 

“When Donald Trump talks about General MacCarthur and General Patton, he’s trying to revive a nostalgia for an era that is so greatly distant but nonetheless resident” (in the minds of older Americans who are) looking for a “leader with purpose, vision and direction.”

He went on to say Trump supporters “are not hung up on specifics, they’re not even asking for specifics, what they care about is a different and more profoundly aggressive direction for the country and they’re willing to follow it.”

Democrats, on the other hand, would try to remind voters how Republicans mismanaged the economy while George W. Bush was president, said Garrett.

If you’re Clinton or Sanders, reviving memories of times of inequality—in the past and in the present—will sharpen their appeal to party members during the remaining primaries and, they hope, will transfer over to the general election among Independents and Democrats who backed the unsuccessful primary candidate. 

Hillary is trying break the ultimate glass ceiling. Will women, especially millennials who have supported Bernie, accept her candidacy and give her credit for the decades she spent at the forefront of the fight for women’s equality? Will they give her credit for being among the first to champion national health care and the right to parental child care leave? Will blue collar workers stay with a Democratic Party that has fought for decades for their welfare, or will their memories be clouded by the siren song of a candidate who pledges to make America great again but who would lead a party that has advocated reduced social welfare, heath care and education benefits for the masses while pledging tax breaks to the wealthy?

Election campaigns usually focus on the future. Images of change and hope. 2016, however, may well be decided on how effectively each candidate instills in voters’ minds images of the 1950s and early 1960s. Was it a time of prosperity for the middle class amid tranquil, orderly nuclear family life, or was it a time of stifled opportunities  for, and bias against, women and minorities and repressed sexuality? 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bernie Intercepts Pope, Hillary Smiles, Walmart Supplanted

News reports said Bernie Sanders met with the pope during his whirlwind trip to Vatican City. But I’m wondering if a more apt description would have been “Bernie intercepts Pope Francis.”

“This morning when I was leaving, Senator Sanders was there,” Francis told reporters onboard his papal airliner. “He knew I was leaving at that time and he had the courtesy to greet me. I greeted him, his wife and another couple.” The other couple were Jeffrey Sachs, an economics adviser to Sanders, and Mrs. Sachs.

Staying on the same floor at the Vatican City residence where the pontiff lives, Sanders and his wife Jane were said to meet the pope in the foyer of the Domus of Santa Marta as Francis was about to embark to Greece to meet with Syrian refugees. No pictures of their encounter were taken but I could envision a Saturday Night Live-like skit wherein Sanders is pacing the hallway agonizing over the pope’s delay in exiting his room while Jane nudges him they have to get to the airport so they won’t miss their flight back to New York. Sanders is acting like a teenager waiting for a rock star to emerge after a concert. His wife is like a parent who only wants to get away from the long haired, tattooed scrum of young fans.

But let’s be serious for a moment. The trip to Rome was an intelligent move. It linked Sanders to a popular pope and could help him secure votes in the Catholic and Latino communities of New York and California. 

Now for some Hillary time: Did anyone else notice during Thursday night’s debate that almost every answer Hillary Clinton gave was preceded by a smile or a giggle and a “Well, …” She really has to work on being less robotic.

The longer Hillary delays in releasing transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions the more credibility she is giving to allegations she played it soft with Wall Street and would continue to do so as president. 

Here’s what Seth Abramson, an assistant professor of English at University of New Hampshire, had to say on Huffington Post: It makes you wonder … 

Who’s Number 1? If you’re like me and spend Sundays filling in boxes for The New York Times Magazine crossword puzzle, you might have been puzzled by the answer to 16 Down in the April 3, 2016, issue. The clue: six letters identifying the  “company that passed Walmart in 2015 as the world’s largest retailer.”

Now, I spent more than three decades following Walmart as the editor and publisher of Chain Store Age, a retail industry magazine, Internet site and producer of trade conferences. So I was more than a little surprised to read in a crossword puzzle some pretty earth-shattering news, at least as far as the retail industry was concerned. I was further caught off guard after I filled in the blanks and found the answer to be Internet retail pioneer Amazon.

You see, Amazon had worldwide sales in 2015 of $107 billion. That’s quite a tidy sum, but it was less than one-quarter of Walmart’s $482.1 billion!

Ah, but Walmart’s perch at the top of the retailing pyramid, a spot it has enjoyed since 1990, has been supplanted by another Internet upstart—Alibaba Group, China’s gargantuan company that accounts for 10% of the country’s retail sales. Alibaba announced this week its 2015 sales will total $490 billion.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Winners and Losers in Politics and Religion

The winner of the Wisconsin primary earlier this week was … the media!

Forget Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. They might have corralled the most votes in the Badger State, but the real victor was the supposed-to-be-impartial media, you know, those telegenic talking heads who care about ratings more than substance, the sizzle more than the steak. With Cruz and Sanders gaining momentum, the airwaves are guaranteed to be filled with paid commercials for the candidates in the biggest media markets of all (New York and California) and, most crucially, the national conventions of both parties this summer probably will command “huuuge” ratings and corresponding ad time rates.

Far from being neutral, the media have fanned the rhetorical fires by focusing on provocative statements from the candidates and their surrogates rather than on the substantive differences between the contenders. Earlier this week, for example, one broadcast network’s evening news program showed Sanders about to describe the policy divides between him and Hillary Clinton. But just as he was about to give specifics, the network cut away to air catfight comments from each candidate. 

Soundbites rule our national conversation. The media have been complicit in the dumbing down of our political system. And there’s nothing we can do about it. While the rest of us cringe at the spectacle unfolding before our eyes, media moguls are padding their bank accounts. 

Here’s what Leslie Moonves, chairman, president and CEO of CBS Corporation, had to say about Donald Trump and the media’s fascination with him during a presentation at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco in February, according to The Hollywood Reporter: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” 

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? ... The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” he said. (

Whose Side Is God on, Anyway? It’s quite common in sports for teams and players to invoke the help of God. It’s a quaint custom, making God an interested observer to, nay a participant in, the play by play transpiring around Him (or Her).

Darker are pronouncements by some clerics that natural and man-made disasters are unleashed by God as punishment for perceived sins, such as past illicit behaviors that have become accepted, or at least tolerated, acts between consenting adults in many localities. 

Which brings me to wonder, was God sending a message to North Carolinians Monday night when He/She guided Villanova University’s last second three-point shot through the basket, thus giving the Wildcats the NCAA basketball championship and sending the Tar Heels team back to a state that recently chose to deny equal rights to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) community? 

On the other hand, did Villanova, a Catholic school, benefit from a favorable Pope Francis bounce? Of course, the game was played before the pope offered little if any substantive comfort to the LGBT congregation in his 260-page treatise “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), released Friday.

Are trailer parks disproportionally populated by sinful people, or is God just having fun feeding them and their belongings to twisters? 

These are not glib queries. Keep in mind America is a fairly religious country compared to other Western nations. Earlier this week I received a media pitch to review a new book, Righting America at the Creation Museum, by William and Susan Trollinger. 

For those who have not heard of the Creation Museum, it’s in Petersburg, Ky. Since opening in May 2007, the museum is said to have attracted millions of visitors to its displays intended to scientifically demonstrate the universe was created less than 10,000 years ago by a Judeo-Christian god. The museum is said to be “an extended brief for the Bible as the literally true and errorless word of God, and a powerful and unflinching argument on behalf of the Christian right.”

There’s even a “Culture in Crisis Room, where videos depict sinful characters watching pornography or considering abortion,” which brings us back to the modern day inquisition states are mounting against the LGBT community. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have passed laws that allow businesses to refuse service to people that offend a business owner’s religious beliefs. Yes, many of the states are in the Bible Belt, but Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as Illinois, are on the list (  

Mississippi is said to have gone further than any other state in defense of religion. Its recently signed law denies LGBT people marriage, adoption and foster care services from those religiously offended by their lifestyle. They can also be fired or refused employment, while property owners may decline to rent or sell to them. 

It’s all very disconcerting. The Bible is being used to discriminate at the same time it is being used to proclaim tolerance and love. Both sides draw inspiration from it. 

A recent CBS News poll, however, found a less than overwhelming number of people familiar with all that is contained in the Bible. Just 23% said they have read all of the Good Book, 21% have read most but not all, 16% have read about half and 9% have read none of it. Unreported was the status of the remaining 31%.


Monday, April 4, 2016

The Right Revolution

Across America there’s a revolution going on. Too bad it is not the revolution Bernie Sanders is calling for.

Rather, it is a revolution of the Right, rolling back hard won civil liberties. In state after state, funded by the Koch brothers and their allies, conservative Republicans are undoing progressive legislation, denying citizens unencumbered voting, affordable health care, education opportunities and the right to choose their own reproductive options without intrusions and obstacles.

State house after state house, governor’s mansion after governor’s mansion have turned red, the successful implementation of a strategy to take hold of America at the grass roots level.

Hillary Clinton’s or Sanders’ election as president might well ensure a left of center bent on the Supreme Court. But even a flip of the Senate into Democratic hands would not unshackle residents in many states from regressive laws enacted by state legislatures and signed by doctrinaire conservative governors.

In the last two weeks alone examples abound. In Kansas, perhaps the poster-child state for failed conservative dogma, Gov. Sam Brownback is pushing to recall judges who do not hew to the conservative line of permissible death penalty verdicts, anti-abortion laws and tax cuts that reduce spending on education. In North Carolina, the legislature and governor have usurped the right of local municipalities to adopt laws that bar gender discrimination. This brazen act runs counter to long-held conservative thinking that government is best when it is administered at the lowest level possible so that it reflects the beliefs of the most local populace.

Only a threatened veto by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal stands in the way of a law passed by conservatives that would permit faith-based groups to deny “social, educational or charitable services” and employment to individuals who “violate” their religious beliefs. 

The battleground of conservatism versus progressivism is in the trenches of state and local elections for governor, state legislators, state judges, local boards of education, and even to town/county clerks who have the authority to issue marriage licenses (FYI, a measure to permit public employees to deny same-sex marriage licenses is expected to be signed into law in Mississippi).

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed a law that cut state funding to clinics that perform abortions. Planned Parenthood, already denied funding for abortions, may now have to cut back or curtail programs for birth control, cancer screenings and other services for thousands of low-income women in Florida.

States continue to come up with new obstacles women must overcome if they seek an abortion. In Utah, a new law requires a woman undergoing an abortion at 20 weeks or later of pregnancy to be anesthetized to prevent a fetus from feeling pain during an abortion, a condition most medical professionals believe is not safe for the mother and is irrelevant to the fetus because it does not have any neurological sensation at that stage of development.

We have Donald Trump’s revealing faux pas about a woman’s culpability when having an abortion to illuminate the real threat from anti-abortion activists. They seek to criminalize not only the providers but also the recipients of abortions. Their most potent plan is passage of personhood laws that proclaim life begins at conception and anything that harms a fetus would be grounds for prosecution. Personhood status protections would go beyond fetal homicide laws. 

If, for example, a pregnant woman is not wearing a seat belt while riding in a car, she could be charged with endangering the life of the unborn. Similarly, smoking or drinking while pregnant could be prosecutorial offenses. 

Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states have repeatedly passed restrictions on voter rights. They require voters to show state-issued identification cards, they’ve cut back on early voting times and polling places, and are making voter registration more difficult.

The vortex of social and political change clearly can be found in state capitols. Yet Democrats focus their eyes almost exclusively on the big picture—the presidency and the U.S. Senate. Democrats fail to turn out in sufficient numbers for mid-term congressional elections and for too many state and municipal elections. 

They moan when schoolbooks picked by conservatives deny climate change or equate creationism with evolution. They cry foul when states refuse to extend medical coverage under Obamacare to Medicaid recipients. They rail against restrictions imposed on abortion providers and the stripping of funding for Planned Parenthood.

Ironically, it is Big Business that is mounting the most effective challenge to conservative hegemony. Numerous corporations and executives have warned North Carolina, Georgia and other states about the economic fallout repressive laws could generate. 

The threat of losing the chance to host national sporting events, with the millions of dollars in revenue they generate, appears to be more potent than a BankAmerica expressing its displeasure with North Carolina officials. BankAmerica, after all, most probably would not move its headquarters out of the Tar Heel state. But not getting the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament next year could sway politicians to reverse course.

One need only look at Arizona’s example. Republican governor Jan Brewer last year chose not to sign a bill passed by the GOP legislature that would have allowed business owners citing religious beliefs to refuse service to gay people. She made her decision after the NFL threatened to move the 2016 Super Bowl out of Arizona. 

Relying on Big Business, however, is not a long term solution. Democrats must ignite passion that turns into votes for their progressive platforms at local and state levels. Otherwise, the Right will prevail in creating a sub-country of state and local intolerance and inequality regardless of which party controls Congress or who sits in the Oval Office. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Trump Says It Was All a Joke, Says He Really Is a Liberal with New York Values

Donald Trump revealed today his candidacy for the Republican Party presidential nomination was an elaborate April Fool’s hoax to show how bigoted and xenophobic the majority of GOP voters were.

The leading vote getter in the 29 primaries and caucuses already held, Trump said he could not believe how gullible Republican officials and party members were in their desperation to win back the White House. Each time he tried to torpedo his candidacy, as when he dissed senator John McCain and all prisoners of war for being captured, or when he advocated waterboarding and more extreme measures of torture, Trump said he was surprised to see his poll numbers go up. Even when it was revealed he had donated thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns and invited her and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, to his daughter’s wedding, he was able to hoodwink the public into believing it was just business as usual for an entrepreneur like him to curry favor with politicians of both major parties.

In fact, Trump said he was a proud progressive imbued with “New York values.” He said his true colors almost came out when he acknowledged that Planned Parenthood is a valued healthcare provider to many women. Fear of exposure before April Fool’s Day prompted him to double down on anti-abortion rhetoric with his assertion that women should be prosecuted if they obtained illegal abortions. His wives, he said, always underwent legal abortions. “That’s one of the benefits of being rich,” he mused.

Now that the big reveal has been revealed, Trump had another surprise. He’s staying in the race to win it. Who knew, he said, that it would be so easy to vanquish a field of more than a dozen contenders? Who knew how gullible voters were? Who knew how bigoted and just plain dumb they were? 

“There’s nothing in the party rules book that would mandate my dropping out,” Trump said. “Sure, at the convention party leaders could change the rules to deny me the nomination, but they were going to do that anyway, so why not expose the hypocrisy of the process and party faithful now,” he argued. 

Even after admitting it was all a joke Trump said he believes he will still win primaries in New York, New Jersey, California and other states to give him sufficient delegates to win a first round nomination at the Cleveland convention, assuming no changes are made to convention rules.

Trump also revealed he would pick Chris Christie as his vice presidential running mate and, if elected, would designate him as attorney general, as well. “There’s enough of Chris to go around for both jobs,” Trump said.

As expected Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich along with Democrats Clinton and Bernie Sanders, along with leaders of both parties, denounced Trump’s duplicity, but, as in the past, their criticisms fell on deaf ears and brainless minds as Trump’s poll numbers rose in instant surveys run by the media.

It was further revealed that far from feuding with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly Trump was having an affair with her, having ended his secret relationship with Rosie O’Donnell. He also admitted that he is not “really, really rich,” that he is, in fact, close to filing for personal bankruptcy and that his two best friends are a Muslim in charge of security at Trump Tower and an illegal Mexican immigrant who is one of the gardeners at his Mar-a-Lago resort who also trims his hair.