Monthly Archives: May 2017

Mother’s Day

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Eleanor in London

Cynical me: I used to think of Mother’s Day as one of those fake holidays made up by Hallmark Cards. Not anymore. Perhaps because I am either old or “approaching old age,” I now find it very hard to be cynical about anything having to do with family. In fact, my family nowadays is the only thing I do take seriously – not money, not politics, not social status …nothing.

Mother’s Day last Sunday was particularly joyful for me because both my son and daughter and their families drove down from New York (my son) and northern New Jersey (my daughter). It is fairly rare these days that both families come to our house on the same occasion. Also my sister and her family were there as well as a couple of my cousins.

I spent much of the time with my grandchildren, either playing ball or taking their pictures. I also took pictures of my sister and her daughters and grandchildren. A couple of days later, my son sent me a message asking why there were no pictures of Mom (my wife). I thought about it and decided that it must have been because she spent most of the time in the back where it was sunny while I stayed on the shady front porch. In any case, I was upset that on Mother’s Day, I hadn’t included a picture of my wife in the album I had put on-line and sent to family and friends.

I know that I have a great deal to be thankful for – two wonderful children and four terrific grandchildren. But the person I am most thankful for is my wife, Eleanor to whom I have been married for forty-seven years. Besides giving me loving children, she has put up with my moodiness, anger, impatience and a lot more. She has seen me through one serious surgery and at least two episodes of depression. I sometimes wonder why she doesn’t leave me, and I am so thankful that (as of yet) she hasn’t. It may sound sentimental, but I guess it must be love. And I  know that I love her more than ever.

I think my cousin David, who has struggled for decades with a debilitating disease, put it best in an email he sent me the day after Mother’s Day:

You truly do not have to travel far and wide to see and experience beautiful sights. These photos capture the most precious and magnificent images of beauty there is- your family. Your family right there in and outside of your house. What a lovely [Mother’s Day].

Amen.

Where’s It Written?

 

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This morning I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read the following quote from a college classmate, former Watergate Special Prosecutor, and long-time Democratic Party mouthpiece – Richard Ben-Veniste:  “The president of the United States should not be involving himself in an ongoing investigation by soliciting details about that investigation from the head of the investigative agency. That’s just not the way the system is supposed to work.”  The head of the investigative agency is, as you probably know, the now ex- FBI director James Comey, and the president is you-know-who. I am certainly not an expert on this (and I welcome corrections from anyone out there who is), but I would like to know where it’s written that the president is forbidden to do that? Ben-Veniste would have been on firmer ground if he had said: The head of an investigative agency should never hold press conferences where he exonerates or indicts anyone. That responsibility belongs to prosecutors (the Attorney General), not investigators (the FBI).

I am constantly amazed by the definitive statements people (many of whom should know better) make about what’s legal or illegal, what’s a rule violation and what isn’t, and what’s constitutional and what’s not. One example is the popular belief that the missile strike on Syria was either illegal or unconstitutional because Congress didn’t approve it. The Constitution is not very clear on this, perhaps purposely. Yes, Congress has the power to declare war, but there have been only 11 formal declarations of war and more than 20 undeclared wars and military actions, including the Korean War (37,000 plus Americans killed) and the Vietnam War. The last formally declared war was World War II. There is the post-Vietnam War Powers Act in which Congress tried to limit the president’s power to make war, but that too would have allowed the strike on Syria, and besides, most presidents purportedly limited by the law have declared it unconstitutional and intimated that they would ignore its restrictions if they felt it necessary.

The only way to settle this difference of opinion between the president and Congress is to take it to the Supreme Court. To my knowledge, no such cases have gone to The Court. The reason is that neither side wants to risk the chance of losing, for the losing side would lose the power it believed it had. Both branches are afraid of a clear decision on the issue.

I also doubt that the Supreme Court would want to make a clear, definitive ruling on such a crucial constitutional issue. The Court sometimes hands down rulings with loopholes and a modicum of room for “interpretation.” For example, the Court has refused to decide unequivocally whether “affirmative action,” aka, racial quotas, is constitutional or not. The Justices know that racial discrimination is definitely unconstitutional, so they have ruled that race alone cannot be used by university admissions people. That word alone allows universities to make up other excuses for what is plainly racial discrimination.

And so the universities created the diversity standard; An important mission of the university is to insure a diverse student body. But there are many different kinds of diversity: class, ideological, religious, ethnic, and geographical. But the truth is that the universities want more blacks and Hispanics and thus fewer “whites” (Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish etc.) and Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese etc.). And the Supreme Court ruled that diversity (without defining it) is a “compelling interest” of the university, so affirmative action apparently will live forever, thanks to The Court’s equivocal, politically motivated rulings.

If the president’s war powers issue ever goes to the Supreme Court, it would be entirely predictable that The Court would hand down the same kind of unclear, compromise  ruling and the struggle between the executive and legislative branches would continue. Nothing would be settled.

So when you read or hear that a political issue is “written,” always ask- where?

Profile in Courage?

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It is not surprising that Barack Obama won the annual Profiles in Courage award. Supposedly, the recipient is chosen by “a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans.” Call me cynical, but I suspect that the “bi-partisan committee” is merely a facade meant to conceal the reality that the Kennedy family alone chooses the winner. Even though there now seems to be a consensus among Kennedy scholars and journalists that Ted Sorenson really wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, the Kennedys, nevertheless, own the phrase.

Could the Kennedys really believe that Obama is worthy of an award for exceptional courage, or is it merely politics as usual? To be sure, it does seem to take some courage to even think about running for president, but it also takes an abnormal level of ambition. Such a person must experience grandiose fantasies and/or be a masochist. Who else but a masochist with overweening ambition would submit to the endless travel, the rubber chicken dinners, the constant ass-kissing, the obsessive fund raising and all the other tedious and humiliating things that one must do to run for president. An obvious example of the humiliation is that candidates must undergo having every detail of their past revealed, examined, and judged. Since most of the media is Democratic, Republicans have to be especially masochistic, although Democrats do fear Fox News and a few of the popular conservative talk radio stars. And think of the humiliation one must suffer at the hands of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live. In other words, you must be more than a little crazy (and not necessarily courageous) to run for president.

I don’t think the Kennedys were thinking of Obama as a candidate when they decided to award him for courage, so it must have been President Obama who, they believed, was extraordinarily courageous. Here are the examples of Obama’s courage according to the Kennedys: “It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Joseph Kennedy III. That sounds awfully vague, but his mentioning of the “planet” is clearly about the environment and global warming. But where’s the evidence that concern about global warming is not popular? According to a very recent poll by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe global warming is taking place now, and the number of citizens who are concerned about it is at an all time high. Not only that, but global warming is a very big concern for most of those in the coalition of voters who twice elected Obama president .

Another example, cited by Caroline Kennedy, of Obama’s courage (as is usual with the Kennedys) has more to do with the Kennedys than Obama. I am talking about the endless self-serving rhetoric about carrying on the torch: “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”  Finally, the Affordable Care Act is thrown in to support Obama’s grace under pressure.

To me political courage means taking risks that may be unpopular but also could disastrously fail. It took some courage to order the attack on bin Laden’s compound, for it could have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, and have failed to achieve the objective of capturing or killing bin Laden. Now that would have been unpopular. Think of Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages held by the Iranians. Although the failure badly damaged Carter’s chances of re-election (such as they were), it still took political courage. Jack Kennedy was courageous in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, but he then lost his nerve when the operation went wrong. That catastrophic lack of political courage allowed the Soviets to believe they could get away with installing missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy was courageous in standing up to the Soviet challenge, even though he surrendered much in order to end the crisis. So the bin Laden operation is the only example of Obama’s courage that I can think of, and that went unmentioned by the Kennedys, probably because it involved military action.

In reality, Obama was the most  politically risk averse president in my lifetime. Everything he did both at home and abroad was carefully tailored to please his constituency. That constituency is avidly opposed to any sort of military action that lasts more than a few hours. Thus, Obama did not follow through on any of the “red lines” he drew on the war in Syria. And whenever he was forced by circumstances to commit a few soldiers to battle, he did it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. I suspect that many, if not most, Americans are unaware of the presence today of American soldiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That is because Obama wanted it that way:  He spoke loudly whenever he withdrew soldiers from war zones but said nothing when soldiers were going the other way. So while I give Obama credit for courage in ordering the bin Laden raid, I see absolutely no evidence of courage in anything else he did; in fact, I see much evidence of his aversion to risk, which is the opposite of courage. Obama’s award is all about politics, not courage. The Kennedys supported Obama when he was a candidate; the award means that they continue to support him.

Speaking of courage, I have noticed over the years that many Democrats believe it an act of courage merely to be openly supportive of their party. Such people also usually believe that fascism is about to descend on the United States. But what can Democrats possibly be afraid of when almost all of the media, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the education system (from elementary to graduate school)  are owned and operated by Democrats? Still such fantasies are impossible to dispel. As Tom Wolfe once wrote: The dark night of fascism is always descending on America and yet lands only in Europe.

 

 

Go Know

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Writer and editor Dan Rottenberg responded to my post about why my experience teaching school in Philadelphia gradually changed me from a liberal to a conservative. He wrote that I was being illogical in believing that because liberals are wrong about something, they must be wrong about everything. But I speculated (an opinion) that they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures, not everything.

I wrote: “If … most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about? That is a question I asked myself, not a statement of fact. And in the last paragraph I concluded: “If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. The dictionary defines the word must as meaning “logically inferred,” and it defines infer, “to form (an opinion) from evidence.” What I wrote in the last paragraph is an inference (a guess) from evidence – my thirty-five years of teaching English in urban schools.

Still, Rottenberg’s criticism is interesting. It reminds me of the time in 1990 when I got into trouble because of the articles I had written about my experience in the schools. I won’t go into the details, other than it inspired almost every Philadelphia Inquirer opinion writer at the time to attack me in their columns. Donald Kimelman, who was then the deputy editor of the paper’s editorial page, said to me:  Just remember, in this dispute between you and the Inquirer columnists, you are the only one who knows what he is talking about. He meant that none of the columnists had any real experience teaching in big city schools.

So compared to those who have not taught in urban schools, I “know what I am talking about,” but when it comes to other subjects, I only know what I read in the papers, magazines and books, all of which are colored by the authors’ biases. To use Don Kimelman’s words, I don’t know what I am talking about when I infer that liberals must be wrong about and responsible for the failure of many other institutions besides urban schools. It is merely an inference.

Of course every opinion journalist holds forth on subjects that he doesn’t really know anything about. Take my afore mentioned former editor and critic Dan Rottenberg. He recently wrote a piece in which he diagnosed Donald Trump’s psychological disorder. Dan asked the question, “Why…is America’s new president acting like a sore winner?”  And he declaimed himself “uniquely situated to address that question.” Why? “As a financial journalist, I have followed Trump for more than 30 years…” So according to financial journalist Dan Rottenberg, Trump “likely suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).”

Dan first tells us the symptoms of NPD and then gives some examples of behavior that, he says, support his diagnosis. The first one is the way Vice President Mike Pence responded to criticism from the cast of the show Hamilton and being booed by the audience. Trump responded to what I consider rude behavior by the cast and audience by calling it rude and insulting. Dan then tells us how Pence responded, “That’s the sound of democracy.” Indeed, that may be the sound of democracy, but it is also rude and insulting. I am not carrying water for Trump, but I don’t believe that Trump’s calling a spade a spade is evidence of mental illness, nor do I believe that Pence’s reaction is evidence of mental health. In any case, Dan does not criticize the bizarre behavior of the actors towards Mike Pence and the obnoxious behavior of many in the audience. Just ask yourself how Dan and most other observers would have reacted if the same behavior were directed towards Barack Obama instead of the present Vice President.

Another piece of Dan’s  diagnostic evidence is that Chase Manhattan and Citibank lent Trump millions of dollars “without ever conducting an audit of [Trump’s] finances.” Although he does blame the media and the banks for “swallowing Trump’s act,” shouldn’t Dan be interested in why these large, prominent banks did what they did? Perhaps this is evidence of the bankers’ NPD.  I surely don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to big-time real estate developers and banks, but I do know that very rich people borrow money to finance large projects, simply because it pays off in tax deductions to use other people’s money. And isn’t it possible that the bankers’ experience with Trump is different from Dan’s speculation that the bankers merely swallowed Trump’s act. Perhaps these big city bankers have had other dealings with Trump, and they felt confident that Trump would pay them back with interest on time.

Which brings me to something I wrote in an earlier post entitled “Is Trump Crazy?” There are lots of articles out there claiming that Trump regularly “stiffed” contractors, and Dan mentioned to me that he had learned that while “covering” Trump. In the earlier post, I mentioned that I had a relative whose father’s engineering firm worked on most of Trump’s buildings in New York.  When I asked her what her now deceased father thought of Trump, she said that he liked Trump because he “always paid him on time” and was “very straightforward.” That came from a person whose father knew what he was talking about. That makes me wonder about Dan and all the other journalists who  “swallowed” the accusations of some contractors. Is it possible that those contractors may have tried to “stiff” Trump? I doubt that those financial journalists were much interested.

Again, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Trump. I also like and admire Dan Rottenberg. But “covering” someone as a journalist does not qualify one to diagnose mental disorders. Even a professional diagnosis from afar of a political figure like Trump (or Obama) would almost always be drenched in politics. Like me and the world outside of urban schools, Dan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.