Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Someone Get Me Rewrite!

Sometimes you need a good editor to make your writing better. I was a good editor, but it’s not easy improving your own text, ergo the thankful acknowledgment by many a revered author to his or her editor. That’s a longwinded way of saying I just realized that a cutesy paraphrase of a biblical saying included in a posting two weeks ago could have been sharpened by an editor. 

Concerning the controversy over the status of monuments to Confederate generals and soldiers, Columbus and other notables, I wrote, “In a variation on what Jesus said, let he who is without sin be memorialized with a statue.” 

Reading that line today I believe it would have been better if I had written, “In a variation on what Jesus said, let he who is without sin be cast in stone.” 

Behind the Scenes: Now that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted in a federal probe linked to the election of Donald Trump, I was wondering, why is it that just those two were named in a scheme to launder foreign money and evade taxes? Are we to believe that Manafort and Gates had the smarts and wherewithal to hide their activities without the aid of lawyers, accountants, bankers and others, perhaps a few real estate agents, who might have provided counsel on how to circumvent without detection federal law? 

I know, you’re probably saying they were caught, so it proves, or at least strongly suggests, they acted alone. I think not. I am waiting to see who else might be entangled in their web of deceit.

Meanwhile, for an eerily revealing behind the scenes look at the dynamics of Manafort, his family, and his alliance with Trump, there’s hardly any more enlightening read than the emails his daughter, 31-year-old Andrea Manafort Shand, exchanged with friends from March through August 2016: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/paul-manafort-daughter-trump-texts_us_59f748b6e4b03cd20b832fe0.

Kelly Turns Green, as in spoiled or rotten. There are few better feelings for a journalist than to be proven correct in an assessment of a character. I feel good that my repudiation of John F. Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff and by many accounts the White House executive looked to as ballast to Trump’s excesses, is being confirmed by Kelly’s own actions.  

Having been shown to be a dissembler of truth when it came to the controversy involving the death in Niger of Sgt. La David T. Johnson and Trump’s condolence call to his widow, Kelly’s appearance Monday night on the Laura Ingraham show on Fox News reinforced his jaundiced view of history. Asked about removing plaques of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from a church in Alexandria, Va., Kelly said,

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

Historians have excoriated Kelly for his depiction of followers of the Confederacy and the idea that failure to compromise resulted in war. Here’s a sample:  http://wapo.st/2gRznMq?tid=ss_tw-bottom&utm_term=.b8f3e02ab210. 

Let’s look at his evaluation of current loyalties, specifically his comment that “It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.” 

Has Kelly been asleep during the repeated assault by states, almost always Republican controlled, to push back against federal laws and regulations in the interests of “states’ rights”? Individual states have fought against the legalization of abortion rights, environmental safeguards, worker benefits, national parks and monuments, voting rights, gender equality and civil rights.

Indeed, a central plank of Trumpism is a dissolution of federal power in favor of state authority. 

Retired Marine Corps general John F. Kelly may have been a solid leader of men in battle but he is a flawed advisor and gatekeeper to the equally if not more flawed leader of our country.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Four American Deaths Spark Another Controversy

They were surprised by the ferocity of the attack that claimed their lives. Questions about prior intelligence. Questions about how quickly military support could reach them. Questions about how and what the families of the fallen Americans were told.

No, I am not referring to the 2012 deaths in Benghazi of four foreign service professionals and the prolonged multiple investigations by a Republican-controlled Congress set on besmirching the integrity of Secretary of State and eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

No, these deaths occurred October 4 in Niger, an African country I would venture to say perhaps one percent of Americans could locate on a map and probably fewer knew we had military personnel stationed there fighting Islamic militants.

One wonders how diligent and aggressive the still-GOP-controlled Congress will be in purusing the tragic events and pursuing accountability. We can only hope that statements about the need for committee hearings will produce more than momentary soundbites.

Into this now politically charged sadness comes White House chief of staff and retired Marine general John F. Kelly, not by his own volition but rather because of the extraordinary but now seemingly day to day bad and/or clumsy behavior of his boss, Donald Trump, who chose to politicize the conveyance of solace and a nation’s gratitude to the families of fallen soldiers. 

Kelly is a good soldier. By that I don’t mean he is a good tactician or a good leader of men. He probably is. Rather, he is a “good” soldier in the sense that no matter what his commanding officer says or does he will not disavow him. He will not criticize him. He will give him cover to continue behavior that is inappropriate. Maybe like what Quentin Tarantino just admitted to in the Harvey Weinstein scandal (https://nyti.ms/2l0ZZ2N). Hears evil. Sees evil but speaks no evil. Washington and Hollywood: two peas in a pod.

You don’t become a four-star general merely by way of military expertise. Politics plays a part. Schmoozing up your superiors. Making nice to elected officials. Press reports bend over backwards describing Kelly as above the political fray of instigator-in-chief Trump roiling the waters with whomever he has a beef, be it on legitimate matters of policy or personal peccadilloes transformed into public shaming and bullying. 

Throughout it all Kelly has remained steadfast. He dismisses as inaccurate reflections pictures of him pained and distraught as the fulminator-in-chief goes off on one of his tirades. He’s never considered resigning, he says.

But his defense of Trump’s conversation with the widow and family of Sergeant La David T. Johnson, killed in Niger, and his attack on a Democratic congresswoman has opened Kelly to the contentious nature of American politics. Kelly is learning that his words are subject to parsing, as well. He got caught in a big mistake when he wrongly criticized Rep. Frederica S. Wilson for taking credit for securing funding for an F.B.I. building in Miami named for fallen agents (https://nyti.ms/2l33Wnj). 

Here’s an example of what can and has gone wrong. From Thursday’s New York Times: “Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, said Mr. Kelly’s blunt remarks will have impact because of the stark contrast with an administration that has repeatedly lost credibility with the public.

“‘Its great power was you knew he was telling the truth, and in all specifics,’ said Ms. Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist. ‘Kelly comes to the podium and it was credible, and you felt a kind of relief, and respect and gratitude.’” 

I wonder what Noonan thinks now. I wonder how quickly Kelly will come to Trump’s defense the next time—and you can bet the farm there will be a next time—the provocateur-in-chief strains credulity.

My Man McCain: Let’s be grown up about this: Politicians generally are not the most upstanding, unselfish, heroic individuals. Their main pursuit in life is self aggrandizement, most visibly demonstrated by their quest for election, then reelection, through often sleazy deals with benefactors and policy positions crafted to appeal to narrow interest groups that do not necessarily have the public good as their paramount interest.

Which brings us to John McCain. He is an exasperating politician. He is a conservative Republican which implies a proclivity toward defense spending and a less than robust ratification of entitlement programs. Yet he has moments when he is downright noble and heroic.

In 2008 he rebuffed a supporter of his presidential bid after she claimed Barack Obama was not an American or a Christian, that he was “an Arab.”

“No ma’am,” McCain said. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

“He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president,” McCain said. “If I didn’t think I’d be one heck of a better President I wouldn’t be running, and that’s the point. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful, and let’s make sure we are. Because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America.”

With his last sunset visible on the horizon because of an aggressive brain cancer (the same type that felled Ted Kennedy), the 81-year-old Navy veteran, prisoner of (Vietnam) war hero, U.S. congressman and senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate has a biography that will fill a full page of a broadsheet newspaper. In many ways he is like Obama, “a decent person.” 

But I would be scared if he were president because for every intrepid vote to deny the elimination of Obamacare, McCain falls back into party discipline to, for example, support a budget that would reward the rich and gut assistance programs for the needy. From my perspective he keeps switching too often from occasional white hat to near constant black hat.

Tributes to McCain keep poring in. Here’s one from David Brooks in The Times (https://nyti.ms/2zohY5n). And his speech the other night when he accepted the 2017 Liberty Medal Award from the National Constitution Center was a stinging critique of the current state of national leadership and its withdrawal from what made America great. Here’s video of his remarks: https://youtu.be/RoQDCgE9HVU

Perhaps it would be appropriate if McCain had a one-on-one chat with Kelly. Someone, after all, needs to tell the general when it is his duty to correct his superior, even a president. For the sake of the country.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Remedy for Fake News, Parsing Opinions on Media Bias, Racism, Oppression in America, and Recognizing the Departed

Long time between posts so here’s a long (-winded) one touching on several news events since we last engaged (trust me, there’s lots here to reflect on, so please read it all):

One of my mother’s favorite sayings to expose the hypocrisy between politicians, and even her children, engaged in arguments was to liken the debate to “the pot calling the kettle black.” I am reminded of that idiom when I hear Donald Trump decry media outlets, mostly NBC lately, for what he claims are false news stories. 

School Ties I: Arthur, a classmate from elementary school through college, began a dialogue with me about the 24/7 information cycle following a CNN report that “Google and Facebook help spread bad information after Las Vegas attack.”  I agreed with the premise, adding, “Misinformation coupled with insufficient time to ponder, consider, properly analyze, digest, interpret and just plain fact check have transformed the meaning of news and the legitimacy of many news organizations.”

To which Arthur asked, “Is there a solution in a 24/7 global communication environment with rogue and non-state actors?” “Doubtful,” I replied, “though it would help if Twitter and Google and Facebook employed vetters to make sure as much as possible that misinformation is weeded out.”

“Is it realistic to expect IT Geeks to understand the professional responsibilities of the 4th estate?,” asked Arthur.

“I do not expect IT geeks to be doing the vetting. As many true journalists have lost their jobs in true media companies, perhaps Facebook et al would hire these proven fact checkers and truth tellers,” I concluded. (By coincidence, retired CBS newscaster Bob Schieffer told Stephen Colbert this week that over the last 12 years 126 newspapers have closed down. That leaves a lot of journalists out there looking for “legitimate” work.)

Meanwhile, fake news abounds.

A Bully Presidency: Teddy Roosevelt defined the term “bully pulpit,” the use of his position as president of the United States to advocate a personal agenda. Subsequent presidents have refined the practice through fireside chats broadcast on radio, press conferences, televised addresses to the nation and, currently, Twitter. The latter is not my personal preference for conducting matters of state, but I cannot fault Donald Trump for using any tool in his kit to reach his audience. 

It is the way he uses Twitter that upsets me and any other person who has reverence for the office of the presidency and how America’s stature is projected throughout the world. 

No one is going to be able to stop him from tweeting, no matter how reckless his missives are about North Korea, or how disruptive to party unity by criticizing fellow Republicans not hewing to his line, or by inciting racial divide through his embrace of white supremacists. 

It is in his full-throated tweets about professional football players kneeling during the national anthem that Trump has exposed how serious the danger is to anyone who offends his sensibilities. Tuesday morning Trump tweeted, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”

Forget for now that Trump misrepresents why the players are not standing (for those not aware, or equally misguided, they are protesting racial inequality and excessive force by police against people of color). By suggesting tax law and, by extension the Internal Revenue Service, should be used to punish those he disfavors, Trump is entertaining an abuse of executive power à la Richard Nixon who developed an enemies list and sought to have the IRS harass his detractors through audits. 

Trump further displayed his arrogance and compounded his ignorance and contempt for the law and a free press by suggesting earlier this week, during a photo opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.” He also proposed a review of NBC’s broadcasting license because it aired stories he didn’t like. 

Ditka Is Offensive: And dumb. NFL Hall of Fame player and coach Mike Ditka said Monday he was unaware of any racial oppression in America during the last 100 years. After mounds of criticism of his ignorance of Jim Crow laws to segregate schools, housing, water fountains, seats on Southern buses, along with major league baseball’s racial exclusion policy, he apologized Tuesday. He tried to ameliorate his remarks by saying they applied to the NFL, not society as a whole. 

But Ditka ignores the fact the NFL had no black players from 1934 until 1946 (there were a handful before 1934). Only when the Cleveland Rams sought to relocate to Los Angeles did the team integrate as a legal requirement to play in the publicly funded Los Angeles Coliseum. The rest of the league was slow to integrate, the Washington Redskins being the last to do so in 1962, the year after Ditka began his NFL career.

School Ties II: Dennis Prager is another of my elementary school through college classmates. A conservative blogger (https://townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager), author and radio talk show host, Dennis has lately been chiding liberals for dominating the news media and drowning America “in an ocean of lies.” Among those lies are that “America is racist” and that “America oppresses its minorities.”

Let’s parse these opinions: Painting the media as leftist is a right wing canard, part of a campaign of disinformation. It might be true that CBS, NBC and ABC along with PBS lean to the left but Fox News and its affiliates are solidly right. And most local newscasts, especially those of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, lean right. 

One also cannot dispute that talk radio is dominated by conservative hosts. As for major newspapers, they lean left though The Wall Street Journal is a stalwart conservative voice in print. And for every Politico and HuffPost there is a Drudge Report and Breitbart News

As for entertainers, yes, many are liberal, but then there are the country western folks and some heavyweights in Hollywood like Clint Eastwood who are conservative. 

Most sports team owners are Republicans, as are many high profile white players. As for academia, most top rated liberal arts universities do espouse more progressive thought. They are countered by the many colleges founded and run by Christian groups. 

The suggestion that Americans are drowning in an ocean of lies because of the left ignores our liar-in-chief who repeatedly tells lies and repeats them even after they’ve been shown to be false. Moreover, Trump’s press secretaries steadfastly refuse to acknowledge their falsehood, preferring instead to explain away his exact words by implying he meant something else. 

As for whether America is racist, keep in mind that from its inception as a white European offshoot, America treated its native population as an inferior race. It imported blacks to be slaves as they too were considered to be inferior and sub human. 

The Civil War ended slavery but not the attitude toward blacks. Perhaps Dennis forgot about the high school book we read at Yeshivah of Flatbush about Jim Crow laws. Could he really believe blacks have been raised with equal opportunity in this country even after Supreme Court decisions forced an end to segregation? 

The law might require integrated schools but whites have chosen to mostly segregate their children in private schools throughout not just the South but the North as well. Study after study have shown that blacks with equal or better qualifications than whites are rejected for jobs in favor of white candidates. 

Let’s be clear. Racism also exists within minority communities. Light skinned blacks and hispanics are favored not just by whites but often by the minority communities. 

And let’s not forget that Native Americans have been systematically treated as lesser peoples. Treaty after treaty have been violated by whites. President Andrew Jackson even ignored a Supreme Court decision so he could forcibly evict the Cherokee Nation from its land in Tennessee and Georgia. (Is it any wonder Trump reveres Jackson? He placed a bust of Jackson in the Oval Office.) 

Do we also want to forget how America treated the Chinese in the 1800s and 20th century? And the Japanese during WWII? Or how southern Italians, eastern Europeans and Jews were discriminated against in immigration quotas? Oh, and so were the Irish when they first came here. America has a history of discrimination that continues to the present with Trump’s selective ban on Moslem entry to our shores.

As for Dennis’ blind eye toward current oppression of minorities, when was the last time a white person was stopped for a broken tail light and wound up shot dead by a policeman? When even black members of Congress are routinely stopped and questioned by capitol police, there is a problem. Is Dennis not aware of the talk black parents must have with their teenage kids about how they must behave around police, a talk few white parents need to have? 

Oppression does not just mean physical beatings. Minority schools receive fewer assets than white schools. Minorities do not get hired as often even when they are more qualified. Drug laws, especially marijuana arrests, and prison terms are disproportionally enforced against minorities. 

The only area where minorities are favored is sports  (except hockey), but even there inherent prejudice prevented minority representation for decades. 

Yes, we do not have concentration camps, but we have slumlords and prisons where we warehouse minorities.

Trust Me (Again) on This: Back on June 14, I started to write a blog with the following sentence: “It is again fun to watch the NY Yankees.” 

I abandoned writing anything more about the Yankees as I was mindful of past criticism of my preoccupation with the team. But events, including Wednesday night’s dramatic win over the Cleveland Indians, have proven me prescient. 

So it’s on to Houston amid hopes the magical post-season for the Yanks will continue.

Statues of Limitations: In a variation on what Jesus said, let he who is without sin be memorialized with a statue.

We would have pretty empty public squares and parks if we adhered to that bromide.

George Washington was a slave holder. So was Thomas Jefferson. Teddy Roosevelt’s ego prompted him to try to unseat his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. He split the Republican Party in 1912, assuring Woodrow Wilson’s election as president. Wilson was racist and less than enthusiastic about granting women the right to vote. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to be pushed by wife Eleanor on civil rights while failing to enable immigration by Jews fleeing Europe terrorized by Nazi Germany. John F. Kennedy led us down the Vietnam rabbit hole. 

Okay, politicians are easy targets. A few weeks ago I suggested that “for every Confederate statue taken down, how about replacing it with a statue of a true hero, such as a doctor whose breakthrough discovery or surgical procedure has saved thousands if not millions of lives. Jonas Salk. Michael DeBakey. Albert Sabin. Denton Cooley.”

But what about the doctor credited with being the father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims? Seems he operated on black slaves without anesthesia or informed consent. In New York City and Columbia, SC, protestors want statues of Sims removed (https://nyti.ms/2vLDZfD).

In other words, it is difficult to find unimpeachably deserving humans (even statues dedicated to animals are not immune to criticism, as Gail Collins of The New York Times noted: https://nyti.ms/2yOv3ok).

Which brings us to the man of the moment past, Christopher Columbus. By many accounts Columbus was vain. A self-aggrandizer out to make his fortune.
Columbus was a product of his times. Which means he acquiesced to religious authorities and did not think it barbaric to invade settled land and forcibly impose Catholicism on the inhabitants. He was a tyrant as a governor. 

But should his statue be removed from public display? I think not. Columbus opened up the Age of Discovery, though there is little doubt, if not Columbus, someone else would have crossed the Atlantic to more fanfare than Leif Erickson did hundreds of years before. 

I am not unsympathetic to the desire to recognize Indigenous People of the Americas and Caribbean. They should be memorialized while statues of Columbus should include information about the impact he had on their cultures and lives. 

Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, is not a comparable figure to Columbus. Lee, and other Southern military figures and politicians, had a clear choice—fight for preservation of the Union, or lead an army of insurrection against the Union, the keystone purpose of which was to extend the brutally cruel and inhumane practice of slavery. Nothing Lee did before or after his fateful decision to choose the latter course of action can justify treason, much less his being honored by statues, the purpose of which is clearly meant to glorify the South.  

Romo Time: It’s a measure of how old I am and how young or unknowing some sports reporters and many fans are that I am befuddled by the football world going ga-ga over Tony Romo’s debut as a game analyst. As reported in The New York Times, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback in his first year as a CBS commentator is being hailed as a “play-calling whisperer” for his ability to prognosticate the next offensive play (https://nyti.ms/2fGPu2D). 

By far the best seer of the next play was Al DeRogatis. A former All-Pro defensive tackle for the New York Giants, DeRo would mesmerize listeners of WNEW-AM radio with his knowledge of the game and ability to predict the offense Charlie Conerly, Y.A. Tittle and their successors would run. Paired with play-by-play announcer Marty Glickman, DeRogatis enticed fans like me to muffle the sound of the television game broadcasts so we could simulcast their radio transmission.   

This less than fulfilling Giants season aside, one of the worst losses in team history was the day in 1966 NBC tapped DeRogatis as the color analyst for its national broadcasts. Giants games have never been the same.

As if Giants fans currently did not have enough team anguish, we were saddened this week by the death of Y.A. Tittle. To me, he was a seminal figure, perhaps because with his balding head he resembled my father, though Dad hardly possessed his athletic skills. 

To football fans he is most remembered by an iconic photo taken during one of his last games in 1964, when he was 38. Having been crushed by a 280-lb. Pittsburgh Steeler lineman, Tittle is pictured on his haunches, his shoulders drooped forward, his face in a daze as blood drips down his helmetless head. I remember seeing that play. 

For the prior three seasons Tittle had led the Giants to the NFL championship game, all losses. With our quarterback staring blankly at the grass before him, the future of the Giants was as bleak as it appears for this year’s 0-5 team (https://nyti.ms/2yT1pOU).  

Playboy of the Western World: I never met the recently departed Hugh Hefner but I did stay at one of Playboy’s resort hotels. Okay, I’m exaggerating, a little. By the time I stayed at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wis., the hotel had long passed its heyday as a pleasure spot. The only bunnies romping around and bopping their tails were the short, four-legged kind. 

My memory of the hotel is one of loss, specifically the loss of a business account that had yielded $100,000 each year. We lost that business because I am a lousy golfer.

My magazine in 1998 and 1999 co-produced a retail conference for Siemens Nixdorf (SN) in exchange for $100,000 annually in advertising. Each meeting ended with a golf tournament. I had successfully avoided playing in 1998 when the conference was at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. 

Though I begged off playing in 1999, SN’s national sales manager insisted I join his foursome. We’d be playing a scramble format, requiring each player to be responsible for at least one shot per hole.

Golf is most definitely not my game. I could not hit a decent shot all afternoon. I was frustrated. Siemens’ national sales manager was infuriated he did not win his own tournament. My magazine lost an account it took us 10 years to recover, and then only after the sales manager left Siemens.