Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Future Hinges on Voters of Suspect Intellect

Less than two weeks until the fate of the country is decided. Not specifically on the ballot are the futures of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Obamacare, civil rights, voting rights, gender rights, labor rights, nuclear arms control, environmental laws and a host of other issues that will directly affect the lives of most Americans, even if they don’t realize it (for example, those who complain about socialism overtaking our daily existence do not comprehend that Social Security and Medicaid are forms of socialism, as are public schools and public police forces and fire departments).

Let’s be honest. You’re probably as sick and tired of election coverage as I am. That goes doubly for having to see and listen to Donald Trump at rally after rally as he foments crowds into raw meat delirium. How hypocritical of him to blame the media for inciting incendiary behavior.

Now let’s be really honest. You’re probably melancholy, perhaps more than a bit disappointed, maybe even angry that Barack Obama didn’t fire up his faithful in 2010 and 2014 to defend his progressive platform, as the provocateur-in-chief is doing almost every day with his rabble of a following. Had he done so maybe we wouldn’t have so many Republicans currently in office on the national and state levels.  

For now, I am beyond soaking up all the minutia of 435 House races, 35 Senate square offs and countless state house and gubernatorial contests. I just want it to be over, like I wanted the Mega Millions lottery to finally find a winner (I am really disappointed my five tickets contained no more than one of the picked numbers; I didn’t fare any better with Wednesday’s Powerball drawing). I’m even too exhausted to watch Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers skewer Trump, or listen to Brian Lehrer on WNYC public radio impart more reasoned analysis of our disastrous political state. 

That could be the Trumpster’s plan all along. To rope-a-dope us all into submission. 

I wonder how many people under 45 would get that rope-a-dope reference. Muhammed Ali used that strategy on October 30, 1974, in the Rumble in the Jungle fight to tire out George Foreman. Ali allowed Foreman, the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, to barrage him with punches through seven rounds while he nestled on the ring’s ropes, a tactic that allowed Ali to dissipate much of the impact of each punch. His energy spent from swinging lefts and rights to little effect, Foreman succumbed to Ali’s assault before the bell rang to end round eight. 

Why did I pick 45 as the age factor? Because a recent national survey found that just 19% of those 45 and younger could pass a citizenship test if it were required of Americans born in the United States. 

“With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential,” Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which conducted the study, said in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

Citizens 65 and older fared much better, scoring passing grades 74% of the time, the highest mark for any age cohort. (An actual citizenship test is just 10 questions, six of which must be answered correctly. Take a longer—96 question—test by clicking on the “select all questions” button in the link:

According to the foundation’s press release, “The survey also found that:
  • 72% of respondents either incorrectly identified or were unsure of which states were part of the 13 original states;
  • Only 24% could correctly identify one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for, with 37% believing he invented the lightbulb;
  • Only 24% knew the correct answer as to why the colonists fought the British;
  • 12% incorrectly thought WWII General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War; 6% thought he was a Vietnam War general; and
  • While most knew the cause of the Cold War, 2% said climate change.

Simply put, too many of our electorate are dumb. Without basic knowledge of our history, our founding principles and values, it is no wonder that a lying, uninformed autocratic bigot can manipulate the truth and lead a throng of morons to repudiate what this country has stood for domestically and internationally for more than eight decades. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

History, Realpolitik Lessons from Khashoggi Killing

Here’s what history teaches us: When an absolute monarch or would-be-monarch-with-absolute-powers expresses displeasure with someone within their access there are bound to be sycophants who will eliminate the source of that displeasure. 

Did Henry II of England command the death of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, or did he merely express frustration of his one-time friend and current antagonist when he is said to have said, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Who knows? All we do know is that four of Henry’s loyal subjects rode to Canterbury and did away with Becket in the cathedral. 

That was in the year 1170. Yet, even in medieval times kings accepted responsibility for actions taken on their behalf, at least when the murdered is well known and admired by the populace. So Henry accepted blame and took some, light, punishment. 

In 21st century Saudi Arabia—among the remaining principalities that could pass for having Middle Ages morals and values—the monarchy is not prone to accept human frailty or responsibility, no matter how damning the evidence of its complicity appears to be in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime living in the United States. Khashoggi was killed October 2 inside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul by a Saudi hit squad linked to the crown prince after he was lured there on the pretense he could obtain proof he had divorced his wife so he could legally marry his Turkish fiancee (Though Turkey is an Islamic country, it does not accept polygamy.) 

Targeted assassinations of a country’s dissidents are not exclusively a Saudi province. Kim Jong-un has dispatched operatives to permanently silence voices, even those of relatives, he doesn’t want talking about his treatment of North Korea. Vladimir Putin has seen fit to rid the world of Russian truth-sayers about his autocratic rule of Russia.  A common thread among these tyrants is that with impunity they care not that these rubouts may occur on foreign soil. 

(These assassinations are distinctly different from those perpetrated by Israel. Israel has killed terrorists involved in the murder of its citizens and those who incite other to seek its destruction. Similarly, the United States approved the assassinations of al-Qaeda and ISIS leadership.)

The brazenness of the Khashoggi killing, with lurid as yet unconfirmed details of torture, dismemberment with a bone saw, and the pathetic, infantile attempt to explain away his disappearance and subsequent admission of the cause of death, has challenged the sensibilities of many in the Western world and those in the Middle East who are not in the Saudi sphere of influence.

But let’s keep in perspective the fact that Khashoggi was a journalist, a contributor to The Washington Post. Had he worked in another profession, or for a less renowned publication, the American furor over his murder might have been no greater than the outcry over the deaths of the 45 other journalists killed around the world in 2018. 

As he hardly has met an autocrat he doesn’t feel akin to, Donald Trump is loathe to criticize the Saudi monarchy. He is mindful, some say too mindful, of the extensive investment Saudi Arabia intends to make in American arms and aircraft (Trump inflates the price tag, but it is substantial in dollars amounts and the number of jobs it will support). As with other presidents before him, Trump’s response to Saudi indiscretion is tethered by realpolitik. 

The bottom line is America will hyperventilate for a while over Khashoggi’s assassination, Saudi Arabia will remain ruled by reactionaries, and despots will continue to confront, assault and kill their adversaries wherever they choose. Recall that for all his bluster about Saudi Arabia’s complicity in killing Khashoggi on Turkish soil, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, had no regrets about having his thugs attack protesters during his visit to Washington last year. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Trump Admits Kavanaugh Made a "Little Mistake"

It is hard keeping up with all the noise coming out of the Trump administration especially when the biggest noisemaker is an uncensored egotist whose morals have depressed America’s traditional values. 

While addressing supporters at a campaign rally Friday night in Lebanon, Ohio, the misogynist-in-chief railed against Democrats for questioning the character and temperament of Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the Supreme Court. As reported by, “He specifically blamed Democrats for the circus surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, accusing the party of trying to end the judge’s career over a ‘little mistake’”

“Little mistake?” Did Trump just acknowledge that Kavanaugh really was unfit for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court? 

To what “little mistake” was he alluding? Could it have been his illegal underage drinking and failure to acknowledge the illegality, even going so far as to state his drinking at age 18 was legal in Maryland when the state had already raised the legal drinking age to 21? Could it have been to his perpetual lying and obfuscating during his Senate confirmation hearing on subjects ranging from limits on presidential power to his involvement in vetting court nominees while a member of the Bush II administration? Could it have been his attendance at parties where his high school friends gang raped girls, as alleged by Julie Swetnick? Could it have been when he exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez while a student at Yale, as she claims? Could it have been when he was drunk in high school and sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in a second floor bedroom, just as she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee?

Each and every one of those “little mistakes” would have been grounds in past times to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination. But Trump has so eroded Republican values that he won confirmation.  

Now that was a BIG mistake!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

If Sears and Kmart Closed, Would You Care?

Perhaps if you’ve been paying attention to news unrelated to Hurricane Michael or new Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh or the baseball playoffs or the 1,300 point plummet of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Wednesday/Thursday, perhaps you read or heard a story about the possibility venerable, no longer venerated, Sears and stepsister retailer Kmart may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as early as next Monday.  

Chapter 11 is not a death sentence. It is a reorganization tool meant to provide management with the time and financial freedom to resurrect a dilapidated business. Macy’s passed through Chapter 11. So did Best Buy. Plenty of other retailers, on the other hand, went from Chapter 11 into Chapter 7—liquidation. 

For more than 40 years I have been tracking the misfortunes, and occasional fortunes, of Sears and Kmart as they strived for relevance as societal and competitive realities evolved around them. (Once antagonists, Sears and Kmart became stepsisters as part of financier Eddie Lampert’s design to turn them around, or at least turn a profit for himself, by selling off their assets, including real estate and brands such as Craftsman.)

For 30 of those 40 years as editor and publisher of Chain Store Age, I met with the consecutive line of chairmen and chief executive officers of Sears and Kmart. Each sincerely believed his formula (it was always a he, never a she) contained the magic potion to resurrect a flailing business (that’s not a typo, I meant flailing). Perhaps, if Walmart and Home Depot and Amazon had not been imagined Sears and Kmart might have had a chance. But retailing is an industry that rewards innovation, particularly as it applies to efficient distribution. From better locations to quicker dissemination of products from manufacturer to store shelf to, especially in Amazon’s case, a consumer’s home, competitors outdistanced Sears and Kmart in their ability to meet consumer expectations.  

Sears was built with the mythology of the “Father Knows Best” family in mind. Even its one time diversification strategies—Allstate Insurance and the Discover card—reinforced the fulfillment of household needs. 

Kmart sought to capitalize on a growing middle class seeking cheap consumer goods in convenient self-service stores. 

But if the lady or teenage girl of the house needed something stylish to wear, Sears and Kmart were the last places they would shop. A department store or specialty store or Kohl’s fit the bill. Maybe even Target.  

If the man of the house was going to work on a home improvement project he turned to a local home center retailer, that is, before Home Depot or Lowe’s swallowed up their customers, as well. Electronics sales went to Best Buy. Toys to Toys “R” Us—the Sears Christmas Wish Book succumbed long before Toys “R” Us did. 

Kids could be dressed in Sears or Kmart clothing. Until, that is, they were old enough to voice their own apparel preferences. 

Will Sears and Kmart be salvaged or scuttled? Ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you shopped Sears or Kmart? If one or both stores disappeared, would you notice? Would you miss them?

For most of my professional life Sears and Kmart represented major portions of the copy that flowed through my editor’s desk. I walked their stores across the country. I shopped their stores. As recently as two weeks ago I bought some supplies in Kmart. 

Apart from the yawning gap closing the White Plains Sears and Kmart would have on their respective shopping centers, I cannot say I would miss them. I’d experience some personal nostalgia, but, no, I could not say I would miss them.

Monday, October 8, 2018

News Updates: Kavanaugh, Living in a Bubble, Trump's Week, Building a Name and Wiring Rod

Brewski Anyone? As Brett Kavanaugh takes a seat on the Supreme Court consider how awkward it will be at day’s end, any day’s end, when someone, perhaps Kavanaugh himself, suggests unwinding with a beer or two…

The continental political and social divide the country finds itself in is difficult to fully fathom until one encounters real-life proof that the respective sides live in distinctive bubbles with little chance they will meld together.  

Case in point: Recently Gilda met a Harvard law school graduate. A resident of the Washington, DC, metro, he related that he grew up in Kentucky. Yet, upon earning his law degree and returning to his home town he found the region preferred lawyers with social ties rather than legal scholarship. Fitting in was more important than knowledge. 

Gilda and I encountered the same primitive mindset more than four decades ago when we moved to Connecticut. Connecticut had an aura of being a state populated by sophisticated, educated residents. Home to headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. 

But there were plenty of factory workers, as well. Trouble was, in the Lower Naugatuck Valley where I was assigned as a reporter for The New Haven Register, hard times had befallen the workers who toiled in the brass mills of Seymour, Derby, Ansonia, Shelton and surrounding towns. Factories cut back production, laid off workers or closed down completely. Still, the dream of most fathers was to have their sons join them straight out of high school on the assembly line. Few aspired for an education-based escape from the Valley. 

Gilda’s acquaintance went on to detail his Kentucky education. The Civil War, he explained, was called the War Between the States as the teacher said it had everything to do with states’ rights and nothing, nothing to do with slavery. Indeed, slavery was not discussed. The war was hardly studied. Students learned about a few battles won by the South. Imagine his consternation upon being exposed in college and law school to the full historical record.  

Unable to find a job in Kentucky, he took his Harvard law degree to Washington.

Alternative facts. Fake News. Outright lies. When the assault on truth comes directly from the White House it reinforces provincial attitudes that are in conflict with principles of equality and tolerance.

The Week That Was: Whatever it was—a napkin or toilet paper—stuck to Donald Trump’s shoe and clearly visible as he ascended the stairs to Air Force One last Thursday, the embarrassment was palpable, the humor undeniable. He surely can blame an inattentive staff, or maybe Deep State conspirators, for the humiliation seen around the world (could the Deep State really have infiltrated his bathroom, or his dining area?). The trail of paper was as bad as when a wind gust last February swirled through his combover exposing his scalp as he climbed stairs into Air Force One.  

Then there were the optics of Melania’s trip to Africa. Ordinarily, dispensing much needed books to schoolchildren would result in laudable coverage. But the very educational programs Melania was endorsing in Malawi have come under attack by her isolationist husband who has disparaged African countries and who wants to cut aid to them. In one of its few acts of spine and resistance Congress rejected Trump’s budget cuts (  

Perhaps the unkindest but appropriate cut of all, Trump was denied the Nobel peace prize he so desperately covets. Rather than award his still vague peace and denuclearization overture with North Korea, the Nobel was given to Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nadia Murad of Iraq for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. 

How ironic that sexual violence was the dominant theme in the United States last week. Regardless of your opinion on the veracity of Christine Blasey Ford’s claim of sexual assault by Kavanaugh (Trump has moved from saying her testimony was “credible” to her being part of a Democratic “hoax” to discredit Kavanaugh), it is clear that gender relations will be a more hot button election issue in November than the economy, taxes, foreign relations and health care.   

Trump’s campaign for a peace prize, this year or in the future, probably took a hit with his addresses at the United Nations. It took a high degree of chutzpah to stand at the podium of a world organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence and shared values and spout selfish bromides. 

Trump likes to project toughness and a singular focus on America First. He did that to the approval, no doubt, of his base and even to many who liked his no-nonsense non diplomatic rhetoric. How refreshing for them to hear candor at the UN where obfuscation and deceit are practiced arts. 

The UN is the ultimate global entity. Trump all but tore up its charter before the world’s eyes. Patriotism, not globalism, was his mantra. Inside your borders do what you wish as long as you don’t impinge on America’s self interests. 

You could visualize tyrants the world over smiling. The world’s policeman, the country that had corralled their basest instincts, was hanging up its night stick. Abandoning its beat. Throwing away its handcuffs in favor of a free-for-all posture as long as you said nice things about its orange-faced, golden-locked leader. Play to his ego, not his humanitarian sensibilities. 

Okay. Through our archaic political process we elected Trump to a four year term. He can legally reverse the course of U.S. history and with it the future of the world. 

But only so far as we the people enable him. November will be the first referendum on America’s choice for tomorrow. 

Building a Name: If Democrats gain control of the Senate, this year or in some future election, they should move to rename the Russell office building for the recently deceased Senator John McCain. 
Never mind that McCain was a Republican. He was a strong symbol of integrity and patriotism. Though a Democrat, Richard Russell embodied the white suprematist, racist attitudes current among Republicans. Russell served before Southern Democrats converted en masse to Republicans. 

By initiating the renaming of the building, as minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has proposed, Democrats would be sending a message of unity, though to be honest, those who support Trump and his distaste for McCain, would not welcome such an action. To them Russell is an icon. 

The Wire: Lost among all the excitement surrounding Kavanaugh was the postponed meeting between Trump and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. 

Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and more, has at various times been accused of wearing a recording device while with Trump. The New York Times also reported several weeks ago he entertained the idea of organizing cabinet secretaries to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from the presidency. Rosenstein has denied both allegations.

If ever there was a time for Rosenstein to wear a wire, that postponed meeting with Trump would be the day.

Even though Trump has recently said he is not ready to fire Rosenstein, the dissembler-in-chief is not a credible communicator (see above about his thoughts on Blasey Ford). 

So Rosenstein’s tenure toehold seems to be more precarious with each passing day. An announcement of his departure, never officially distributed, was even prepared for dissemination by the Justice Department on the presumption the meeting with Trump was going to occur, according to the Daily Mail ( 

Rosenstein is in a seemingly can’t-win situation. Trump has long wanted him out so someone more to his liking can be installed to control Mueller. So what has he got to lose by wearing a wire so he can capture Trump in his firing element?

Now, we’ve all watched Homeland, Mission Impossible and other thrillers that rely on high-tech listening and speaking devices embedded on a body so as to be non detectable. Surely Rosenstein knows intelligence officials, current or former, who would be willing and able to outfit him for sound. Heck, maybe even Mueller’s team would be a possible link-up option.