Friday, April 28, 2017

Lessons We've Learned in 100 Days, Just 7% of a Presidency

What’s the betting line on Donald Trump hoping, wishing, praying that TV writers go on strike May 2, thus silencing his many late night television critics including Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, John Oliver and Trevor Noah? 

The last strike, from Nov. 5, 2007, to Feb. 12, 2008, gave President George W. Bush a little breathing room, a 100-day respite from nightly deprecation, disdain, ridicule and humiliation.

100 days. Hmmmm.  Where have I heard that time span before?  Oh, yeah—100 days, as in the first 100 days of a new presidency.

The obsession with Donald Trump’s first 100 days sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is suffocating. The media, naturally, have a stake in advancing this obsession. It makes for good copy. Strong ratings. But let’s not give the bloviator-in-chief a pass. He, after all, last October at Gettysburg outlined in detail what he would accomplish during his first 100 days as president. He even issued a contract with the American voter.

Given that Republicans have tricameral control of the government—the White House and both chambers of Congress (actually, now that Neil Gorsuch has donned his supreme black robe the GOP has quatracameral control)—I would rate Trump’s tenure in office a solid B, not for achievement, but rather for the learning experience it has accorded us.

Let’s face it. Any Republican elected president was going to nominate a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. As well, a GOP president would cut funding to Planned Parenthood and international abortion providers/counselors, as Reagan and Bush I and Bush II did. And he (a she is still not possible) would be dismissive of climate change, though probably not as ignorant as Trump is. And he’d suck up to the NRA.

What Trump has provided is a civics lesson on checks and balances as intended by the Constitution. Moreover, he and his cadre of acolytes have shown us what autocracy and dictatorship can sound like, as when Stephen Miller said the president can do what he wants, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions denigrated a state (Hawaii) and a judge for thwarting the administration’s plans to punish sanctuary cities. 

It was reprehensible during the campaign when Trump maligned a federal judge involved in a lawsuit alleging fraud at Trump University. Trump is not a lawyer. He reacted tempestuously, as he does whenever confronted. But Sessions is a lawyer; he’s supposed to be the nation’s top lawyer. For him to question the checks and balances role of the judiciary as defined by the Constitution is a clear reflection on what the Trump administration thinks.

We also cannot ignore the lesson we have been given on the Holocaust, first by Trump not including any mention of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany in his statement on Holocaust Memorial Day, but also by Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s outrageously inept explanation of why Bashar al-Assad’s chemical warfare attack on his people was worse than what Hitler did during World War II. 

Trump and family and his appointments are a continuing lesson in conflict of interest examples. Be honest—had you ever heard the word “emoluments” before Trump? 

We’ve also come to appreciate the insidious actions Vladimir Putin and Russia have inflicted on our democracy and other elected governments around the world.

For his part, Trump’s near 100-day tenure has enlightened him to the complexity of government, from his difficulty getting Obamacare repealed and replaced to the layered relationship between China and North Korea. It’s not as easy as he thought, he has admitted. Too, while he criticized President Obama for issuing executive orders instead of working with Congress to pass legislation, and for excessive golfing outings, Trump has fallen into the same trap. But unlike Obama, his party controls both houses of Congress.

Populism helped transport Trump to Washington. Populism also is behind resistance to Trump, though maintaining a high level of involvement will be difficult to sustain for four years, or even 18 more months until the next congressional election cycle.  

Perhaps the saddest lesson of Trump’s nascent presidency is the susceptibility of a vast segment of the public to fake news. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found slightly more than half of Republicans (52%) believe Obama wiretapped Trump Tower despite there being no evidence it happened and numerous statements by heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies that it didn’t happen. They believe it because Trump repeatedly said it did. 

It’s the “big-lie-repeated-often-enough-becomes-truth” syndrome. How sad that the American public has lost faith in traditional media to expose falsehoods. How sad that the American public has become so bifurcated that extremists on both sides of the divide set the national dialogue. How sad that “compromise” has become anathema to politicians. How sad that gerrymandering has negated the need to compromise. Perhaps not since the Civil War have families been so divided on the outlook for domestic tranquility.

It may seem longer, but Trump’s first 100 days is just 7% of his term of office (assuming, he’s not re-elected). How much damage could he do? David Brooks of The New York Times ended his Friday column calling Trump a “political pond skater—one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.”

I disagree. Trump will have an effect that may not be reparable in four or eight years on the global environment, on domestic clean air and water, on America’s standing in the community of nations, on our internal ability to work together as a people toward a common good. 

If ever we needed the escape of political satire to get us through the next 100 days and beyond it is now, so please, let’s not have a TV writers strike.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Close Encounters with Jackie Kennedy Onassis

In case you missed it Jackie Kennedy Onassis was back in the news recently. In his tell all memoir Jim Hart wrote that the widowed former first lady of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and widow of Aristotle Onassis asked him to arrange a date for her with Alec Baldwin, then a 33-year-old actor. Jackie was nearly 62.

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this week the now 59-year-old Baldwin recounted that for him it was a blind date, though he downplayed any suggestion it could be classified as a date. Hart had asked if he wanted to see the play Dancing at Lughnasa. They waited at Hart’s apartment (by the way, Hart was married to Carly Simon at the time) for Baldwin’s date to arrive when in flowed Jackie Kennedy Onassis. 

When it was time to go, Baldwin related, she said it would be more discreet if she left the building before them so the paparazzi would not photograph them together. At the theater Baldwin said she sat a row ahead of him. Baldwin provided no indication they went out socially again.

Several days after the broadcast I was swapping stories of encounters with famous people during lunch time at the Omaha Jewish Community Center on Deli Friday. I had joined Doug at his table. Shortly, Steve made up our threesome.

Doug recalled the time back in late 1973 or early 1974 he went with his brother Robert to see Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in Good Evening on Broadway. It was a series of comedy sketches by the incorrigibly satiric duo. The brothers scored great seats—fourth row center orchestra. Two rows, in fact, behind Jackie Kennedy Onassis and members of her family.

Throughout the first act few in the audience knew she was in the theater, but once intermission began her presence became well known.

Perhaps not as well known as it should have been.

The second act began with Cook placing a chair at center stage followed by Moore placing a chair slightly behind him to the left. From Cook’s movement the audience surmised he was driving a car.

Their dialogue, as Doug recalled, concerned Moore’s trepidation at his forthcoming initial speech in the House of Lords, to which Cook commented that he would like to be famous one day.

And then the bombshell exploded.

Cook said he knew how to become famous. He only had to emulate Lee Harvey Oswald and kill somebody famous.

Assuming you were as startled as I was to hear that dark comedy, imagine how the Kennedy family must have felt. Doug recalls no public reaction but to this day, some 44 years later, he wonders if Jackie knew in advance about the black humor Cook and Moore projected.

One of the perks of my being a field editor on Nation’s Restaurant News back in 1977, I told Doug and Steve, was being able to dine at some of the classier eating spots in Manhattan. One day, I found myself with co-workers Liz and Peggy having lunch in an expensive, over the top restaurant off Park Avenue in the mid-East 60s. The décor was gaudy—lots of mirrors and gold accents. 

As it had recently made its debut, the restaurant (long since closed) had yet to be discovered by the lunchtime crowd of power elites. It was, to be honest, rather thinly patronized that day. Aside from we three, only one other table was occupied. As I looked around I saw two people sitting at the table, a professorial-type man with unruly grey hair and a strikingly composed, thin, raven-haired woman with big glasses, eating a salad.

As Peggy’s back was to the other table, I whispered to her to glance in the mirror to see the reflection of what I thought was Jackie O. Instead, she twisted her body for a full frontal look and then, in no semblance of a stage whisper, blurted out, “It’s Jackie Kennedy!” 

I shrank in my seat, but Jackie didn’t bat an eyelash. A perfect example of being cool, calm and collected to what must have been a common occurrence in her lifetime.

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Illuminating Journey Down South to Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine

Passover, the quintessential Jewish holiday of liberation and national identity ends Tuesday night. Exodus from four centuries of slavery. A time when Jews came together for a seder, traditional or not, hopefully to reflect on the values of human rights and the history of oppression, not just to their brethren, ancient and modern, but to all people including this year Syrians under fire in their native land and dispersed as refugees throughout the West, undocumented immigrants in America, the starving multitudes in eastern Africa, and, yes, even those Palestinians who would recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace as they too would like to live.

Gilda and I recently toured Charleston, SC, Savannah and St. Augustine for two weeks. It was as much an architectural embrace of some of our nation’s earliest cities as it was a passage back in time as we absorbed some of the history of the coastal Atlantic southern states.

Forty percent of the near half million souls who survived the barbaric, inhumane voyage as cargo from West Africa across the Atlantic Ocean on a journey from freedom to slavery in colonial America and the nascent United States came to our shores through Charleston (another 12 million were sent to South American and Caribbean lands). Charleston was considered the richest city in the New World until the importation of slaves was halted by Congress in 1808.

Anyone, virtually anyone, associated with merchant trading and shipping in Charleston engaged in the slave trade. That included Jewish merchants. They might not have had as many slaves as a plantation owner but Jewish households possessed slaves who, we were told by a Jewish guide, would often be included in the Passover seder ritual. How strange that must have been for slaves to hear a story of liberation and exodus while forced to live in bondage in, at the very least, figurative shackles. Is it any wonder that the song “Go Down Moses” with its haunting refrain of “Let my people go” became an anthem for their release?

Growing up in Saratoga Springs, NY, Gilda lived in a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing to Canada. But there was a southern spur to the railway. From the beginning of the 18th century, slaves fled south from Carolina and Georgia to Florida while Florida was under Spanish rule. Escaped slaves need only convert to Catholicism to be granted freedom in Spanish Florida. However, Florida changed hands several times over the next century. When the British and Americans ruled Florida their liberty vanished. Many former slaves fled again, this time to the Bahamas.

An irony of slavery in South Carolina is that the enslaved West Africans had the skills and experience needed to make the colony successful. The original crops planted— indigo, tobacco, sugar cane and cotton—did not flourish. But the English had brought with them an asset that changed their fortunes. Their West African slaves came from rice growing regions. They suggested the Carolina plantations situated along riverbanks were suitable for rice cultivation.

Unlike cotton, growing rice required lots of water and constant attention. Constant attention, in the region’s malarial and alligator-infested waters, required lots of manpower. In other words, lots of slaves. 

Dismiss the notion that just any ol’ slave would do. Plantation owners had specific needs and culled their purchases from a diverse but skilled assortment of human possibilities.

Far from being ignorant toilers, slaves were prized for their expertise in carpentry, masonry, smithing, barrel making, basket and net knitting, rice farming, and boat construction. Highly skilled slaves were often rented out by their owners to other plantations and businesses. They possessed the skills and trades necessary to clear land and channel waters to build rice paddies, plant and maintain rice, and separate the kernels from the hulls. 

A highly profitable cash crop sprouted up along the coastline. Carolina Gold—rice  exported to Europe—made plantation owners among the wealthiest Americans. Before the Revolutionary War Charleston was richer, more important, than New York, Boston or Philadelphia. As early as 1750 it was not uncommon for the gentry of Carolina to summer in Newport, RI, to escape the heat and mosquitoes of their plantations.

Rice grown on Middleton Place plantation outside Charleston made its owners one of the elite families of colonial and antebellum America. The Middleton family played a part in the momentous times of the era. 
Henry Middleton served as the second president of the First Continental Congress. His son, Arthur, signed the Declaration of Independence. Arthur’s son, Henry, became governor of South Carolina and a minister to Russia. His son, Williams, signed the Ordinance of Secession prior to the Civil War. 

King Cotton is a phrase often associated with the South and indeed, after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, cotton production, and slavery, expanded exponentially as America developed more lands westward of the Atlantic. Rice, however, made planters wealthy, at least until the end of the Civil War. 

With the end of slavery, cheap labor disappeared. Plantation owners encountered new competition from more mechanized rice farmers in upland counties, while a series of devastating storms destroyed most of the dykes that formed their rice paddies. Today, rice production is mostly a historic foundation of coastal South Carolina’s past.

The state tree of South Carolina is the palmetto in honor of the service it provided during the Revolutionary War. To prevent the British from capturing Charleston, Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of the harbor was constructed from palmettos trees. In late June 1776 a British fleet of nine warships pounded the fort but cannonballs simply bounced off the soft, resilient palmettos. The navy retreated after sustaining damages. Attacking by land four years later, the British succeeded in taking Charleston. 

One of the more spectacular sights of Charleston and Savannah are the Live Oak trees. An oak tree, to me, had always conjured up images of a tall, stately tree that shed its leaves each fall. Live oaks, however, retain leaves throughout the year.

Often draped in Spanish moss (an epiphyte plant that is not harmful to other vegetation), live oaks have numerous expansive limbs that can span as much as 100 feet. They provide abundant shade and give the tree a majestic look. Live oaks can live for hundreds of years. Their deep, strong roots preserve them during storms, even hurricanes. 

During our time in St. Augustine Gilda and I stayed in a bed and breakfast on the oldest street in America, Aviles Street, which dates back to the 1570s (parts of the B&B, the Casa de Solana, trace their construction to the 1760s). 

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established city in the United States, having been founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida's first governor

I could be wrong but I believe most Americans, especially those who grew up and were educated along the Eastern Seaboard, the region of the original 13 British colonies, do not fully appreciate the contributions of Spanish colonials to the development of America. Our orientation is toward our link to Britain.

It is illuminating to realize the list of Spanish introductions to America includes horses, cattle, pigs and citrus fruit. But that’s not all. Here’s a link to a BuzzFeed article recounting 14 contributions Latinos have made to America:

The by-no-means-comprehensive-list becomes all the more interesting and poignant given the attitude Donald Trump has taken toward the Hispanic community.

Friday, April 14, 2017

He's No Anti-Semite But Sean Spicer Is A Peter Principle Poster Child

I don’t believe Sean Spicer is anti-Semitic. I think he is a living, breathing example of the Peter Principle in action, someone who has risen to his level of incompetency. 

By all accounts, Spicer served ably as a PR flak for Republican organizations before being named White House press secretary. He even founded his own public relations firm. But the daily glare and grind of having to justify, explain and defend a president and administration that is constantly shifting positions and oftentimes tweeting out falsehoods would trip up even the most agile wordsmith. Spicer got caught up in a moment of downward momentum. Who among us has not been tongue-tied when confronted by a penetrating inquiry from a boss or spouse or partner? Have you ever stood before television cameras under bright lights for 30 minutes answering question after question from skeptical, cynical interlocutors? 

No, Spicer was no anti-Semite. He was regrettably, for him, exposed as incompetent and more than a little ignorant. So send Spicer to a Holocaust study camp. Instruct him in the details of the Holocaust. 

Spicer’s ignorance of history fits the pattern of ignorance exhibited by Donald Trump’s appointments. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t know basic education theories. Rick Perry has no knowledge of, or background in, nuclear energy which he is empowered to control as energy secretary.  Environmental Protection Agency commissioner  Scott Pruitt thinks he knows more about climate change than the overwhelming majority of scientists. 

I don’t think Sean Spicer does his job well. He should resign or be fired. But not because he is anti-Semitic. 

Trump 2.0?: Now that he has fulfilled his promise to restore a conservative balance to the Supreme Court with a probable anti-abortion stance, Trump may just may be on the verge of transitioning toward a more centrist presidency. At least that’s what numerous political analysts are spitting out these days. They cite his admission that running the government is more complex than candidate Trump thought it could be and that many of the positions he took on the hustings are just not viable or appropriate now that he’s in office. 

On Thursday the AP included the following list in a story on his reign (of terror—my descriptor): 
“Over the past 48 hours, the outsider politician who pledged to upend Washington has:
“- Abandoned his vow to label China a currency manipulator.
“- Rethought his hands-off assessment of the Syrian conflict - and ordered a missile attack.
“- Turned his warm approach toward Vladimir Putin decidedly chilly and declared U.S.-Russia relations “may be at an all-time low.
“- Decided NATO isn't actually obsolete, as he had claimed.
“- Realized the U.S. Export-Import Bank is worth keeping around.”

Those are all fine and good transitions, but he remains a mean-spirited executive of uneven temperament, especially towards issues that affect women and the health of Mother Earth. Last week Bill Maher’s New Rules segment included a scorching rebuke of Trump administration actions. See for yourself:

Trump has declared war not just on American women seeking control over their bodies but on women throughout the globe who need affordable, attainable health care. On Thursday, he signed a bill rescinding an Obama-era rule prohibiting states from denying federal funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood if they also provide abortion services. Federal law already restricts funding for abortions. Trump’s signature now imperils the ability of organizations to have sufficient monies to offer preventive care to women including breast examinations, family planning and reproductive health services for mostly low-income families and the uninsured. 

In late January women the world over took a hit from Trump when he re-instituted a Reagan-era ban prohibiting foreign aid to health care providers who discuss abortion as a family-planning option. Those put at risk by Trump’s actions include many of the poorest women in the world who live in countries where abortion is legal. 

Low-Tech Protection: Here’s a low-tech way to protect pedestrians from terrorists driving trucks into crowds as has happened in France, Sweden, Israel and Germany—Erect cement or metal barriers in front of buildings such as department stores, museums, government offices, theaters and tourist attractions where people are known to congregate. 

After The Oklahoma City federal office building bombing in 1995, real estate owners began placing barriers in front of their structures. They were placed there to stop car bombs from getting too close to the buildings. But the barriers could serve the additional function of keeping trucks and other vehicles from mowing down people on the sidewalk. Though a test in Germany found concrete barriers to be less than ideal, they would limit the havoc from a terrorist attack ( 

European cities already fence off parts of sidewalks where they don’t want pedestrians to cross. It would not seem to be too cumbersome an effort to shield areas where crowds gather. 

Speaking of crowds, Ted Bernstein, the legendary copyeditor of The New York Times, must be rolling over in his grave given the excessive mistakes that find their way into print on paper and on line. Since the Internet sharply reduced the time from article conception to distribution mistakes have skyrocketed. 

They’re not all typos. Many times they are the wrong words correctly spelled, as in this example from an article on the size of the inauguration crowd I read in the print edition of The Times earlier this week:

“Upon being sworn into office, the president began to silence federal agencies from speaking out on the social media platform after the National Park Service’s official Twitter account posted side-by-side images comparing the size of the crows at Mr. Trump’s inauguration.” 

Did you catch the mistake? Spellchecker didn’t as “crows” is spelled correctly. The online version of the story published the intended word, “crowd.” 

Change of Phrase: It used to be Israel was said to be the only true democracy in the Middle East. Now, with elections in Tunisia and Lebanon, among other states, Israel has begun identifying itself as “the Middle East’s only haven for free speech, women, and minorities.” 

It’s a commendable position but not nearly as solid as its former claim, made all the more slippery by its control over 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Did You Know Dilbert creator Scott Adams is a conspiracy theorist?

On April 6, Adams posted an article on his website claiming that the fatal Khan Shaykhun chemical attack in Syria two days earlier was a “manufactured event” designed to provoke a response (

That’s enough to make the bottom of my necktie stand up and shriek, “Noooooo, don’t make me put Dilbert on my no-read list!” 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bombs Away: Actions Have Consequences

I cannot denounce Donald Trump’s decision to punish Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for his alleged chemical weapons attack on rebels and civilians earlier this week.

In truth, ever since Assad ruthlessly bombarded rebels and residents of Homs and Aleppo several years ago I was in favor of targeted military strikes to educate Assad that actions, particularly inhumane actions, have consequences. I wanted President Obama to issue a warning, and follow through on it, that he would systematically destroy Assad’s palaces, government buildings, and state infrastructure after any attack on civilians. But Obama didn’t, and one consequence of his inaction was the mass flight of millions of Syrians who felt insecure in their homeland, an exodus that has had significant international repercussions.

I am not ordinarily a war monger but I do believe a civilized country like ours has a responsibility to defend and protect the innocent against heartless slaughter or natural disaster, wherever they live. We did so in Bosnia. We did not during the Rwandan civil war. We are failing to do so in the humanitarian crisis of famine in East Africa.

We are not the policeman of the world. But we are the richest and mightiest nation. And the freest. We have some obligations to the rest of humanity.

Donald Trump will discover his actions, his words and those of his administration, have consequences, as well. Assad, it is reasoned, felt empowered to drop chemicals on Khan Shaykhun after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated his removal from office no longer was U.S. policy. Now it may be.

Beyond Syria the military response has implications for our relations with Iran and North Korea. Trump has more than hinted he would unleash American forces to deny both countries the ability to develop nuclear weapons. Will their leaders be more circumspect now that they’ve seen Trump’s trigger finger is primed for action?

Presidents who successfully flex their muscles are apt to do so with impunity until catastrophe reins them in. Trump has all the leadership characteristics of a strong man who demands to get his way. He thinks in the moment. He is impulsive. Long term analysis is not one of his strong points. Nor is adherence to prior statements. Back in 2013 Trump tweeted against military action in Syria, especially without prior congressional approval.

Obama was more strategic in thinking so he deferred military intervention in Syria, North Korea and Iran.

By striking Syria, Trump may have set the United States on a new course of action with as yet unknown consequences.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Car Talk II: Time to Check Your Automotive IQ

Time’s up! Time to check your automotive knowledge. A passing grade for the car talk challenge posted a few days ago ( or on Huffington Post at is 85. 

Score one point for identifying a car name from the clue and another point for identifying the division of the parent company manufacturer. Top score: 116.

Pirate sword.  Cutlass. Oldsmobile
Trail of Tears nation. Cherokee. Jeep
Ballet.  Firebird. Pontiac
Unbroken horse. Bronco. Ford
Coastal town. Malibu. Chevrolet
TV science show. Nova. Chevrolet
Sharp-toothed fish. Barracuda. Plymouth
You can’t fly without one.  Pilot. Honda
Texas border town.  Laredo. Jeep
Nickname for Prince Henry of Portugal. Navigator. Lincoln
Mediterranean island. Capri. Mercury
Native American chief. Pontiac. Pontiac
Wisconsin city. La Crosse. Buick
Zodiac sign.  Taurus.  Ford
African leaper. Impala. Chevrolet
Old Movie detective. Falcon. Ford
Kitchen Cleaner. Comet. Mercury
Songbird. Skylark. Buick
Wino’s libation. Thunderbird. Ford
Automotive scion. Edsel. Ford
Long trip. Odyssey. Honda
California city.  Monterey. Mercury
Princess of Argos. Electra. Buick
Shofar source. Ram. Dodge
Mountain lion. Cougar. Mercury
Prince of comics. Valiant. Plymouth
Rocket.  Mercury. Mercury
Mischievous creature. Gremlin. AMC
Stinger.  Hornet. AMC Or Hudson
Unsafe at any speed. Corvair. Chevrolet 
Zodiac sign. Aries. Dodge
Fighter plane. Spitfire. Triumph
#53.  Beetle. Volkswagen
Actress Ruehl. Mercedes. Daimler-Benz
Conquistador’s quest. El Dorado.  Cadillac
Free roaming steed. Mustang. Ford
French explorer. La Salle. Cadillac
Spanish explorer. De Soto. Dodge
Australian region. Outback. Subaru
Fish. Stingray. Chevrolet 
Novelist C. S. ???  Forester.   Subaru
Metro-North station. Fleetwood. Cadillac
Famous rock. Plymouth. Plymouth
Fast cat. Jaguar. Jaguar
Naval ship. Corvette. Chevrolet
Manhattan street.  Hudson. Hudson
Los Angeles suburb. Bel Air. Chevrolet
Jamaican bay. Montego. Mercury
Miami boulevard. Biscayne. Chevrolet
Resort lake. Tahoe. Chevrolet

Extra credit: 
Legendary Arthurian island. Avalon. Toyota
Fifth brightest star at night. Vega. Chevrolet
Shakespeare play. Tempest. Pontiac
French Auto race. Lemans. Pontiac
Space shuttle. Challenger. Dodge
Pregnancy casualty. Rabbit. Volkswagen
Half a tech duo. Packard. Packard
Downton Abbey Actor. Bonneville. Pontiac

European principality. Monte Carlo. Chevrolet

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Education of a Reporter and Teachers' Salaries

When I began my journalism career at The New Haven Register back in 1972, my immediate boss, Don Anderson, a gruff, cigar-chomping-but-never-smoking old-line bureau chief with a crusty exterior but a soft heart, instilled in me several principles. First and foremost, no matter what a source tells you, there’s always a story to be found and retold in the paper. I learned that the hard way on my first assignment. 

I was to find out why a multi-unit housing development in Derby, Conn., had not been completed. After telling Don several times there was nothing to report, he suggested two alternatives. Either I could go back out and find the real story behind the delay in construction or I could pack up my desk and never come back. As if to emphasize he was not kidding about the latter option, he picked up my heavy Royal manual typewriter and flung it across the newsroom. Hardly anyone stopped what they were doing. Apparently he had done that before. 

He wasn’t finished with my “training.” He appeared ready to heave me out a third floor window. I wisely deferred to his experienced take on the respectability and credibility of developers following through on their real estate promises. I soon discovered the Derby project had been mothballed so the developer could pour more of his resources into a different project in nearby Oxford. 

Another of Don’s biases expressed itself in his disdain for teacher union contracts. Like too many of the residents of the Lower Naugatuck Valley—the mill towns of Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton—Don thought teachers were overpaid considering they “worked” just 180 days a year and then only from around 8 am to 3 pm, with two months off during the summer and assorted national and religious holidays the rest of the year. 

Perhaps he was relating their salaries to the paltry compensation The Register paid its reportorial staff. I don’t know what Don made, but two years later, when I became the bureau chief of West Haven, Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge, I earned just $200 a week. I was one of seven bureau chiefs on a staff of 100 reporters. Even in early 1970s incomes, Register salaries were low. You no doubt can understand why the Newspaper Guild won a unionization ballot in 1974. Our salaries were immediately frozen pending a contract agreement. More than two years later, some six months after I left The Register, a contract settlement raised a bureau chief's salary to close to $400 a week. 

I was reminded of Don’s antipathy toward teachers by the passing of a respected high school teacher described in my previous blog post and by a Facebook posting by a recent Meredith Menden about the value the public receives from educators. I’ve reprinted it for your edification (full disclosure—my sister Lee’s a retired elementary school teacher and brought Meredith’s commentary to my attention):

Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do—babysit!

We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and planning—that equals 6-1/2 hours).

So each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now, how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585 a day.

However, remember, they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.


That’s $585 X 180 = $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6-1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute—there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000.

$50,000/180 days = $277.77 per day / 30 students = $9.25 / 6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student—a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)