Monthly Archives: September 2016

Things That Scare Me


I love horror flicks.  I read almost every Stephen King book as soon as it is released.  And I still sleep well at night.  Why?  Because I know there is no Jason who will rise from Crystal Lake and kill me if I have pre-marital sex (as seems to be every victim’s sin in Friday the 13th movies). And I don’t believe  bullied students can seek revenge with telekinetic powers (Carrie), homicidal clowns live in the neighborhood sewer (It) or having been the site of a vicious murder results in a hotel being haunted for all time (The Shining).

There are only two King novels which actually gave me the willies.  I have been bitten by a dog (as in Cujo) and experienced the anxiety of not knowing whether I would need a painful regimen of rabies shots.  And there are too many instances of mentally unstable fans, like Annie Wilkes in Misery, who stalk celebrities (John David Chapman/John Lennon or Yolanda Saldivar/Selena) or crave attention and commit violent acts (John Hinckley, Jr./Ronald Reagan).

If I were to give this syndrome a name, it would be “anxiety déjà vu (ADV).” It emerges when one’s fear index rises having witnessed something they have seen or experienced before.  Fortunately, occasions on which I suffer bouts of ADV are very rare and very infrequent.  This morning was again one of those instances.

Several news outlets, reporting on a Trump rally of Iowa evangelicals in Council Bluffs, quoted the Republican presidential candidate as saying.

Raise your hands, Christian Conservatives…everybody.  Raise your hand if you’re not a Christian conservative—I want to see this, right. That’s—oh, there’s a couple people, that’s all right. I think we’ll keep them, right? Should we keep them in the room, yes? I think so. (Source:, September 28, 2016)

Huffington Post reported Trump “appeared to be joking.”  And that very well may be the case.  But even an attempt at humor triggered my ADV.  How can a candidate for President of the United States not appreciate asking people to identify themselves according  to their faith has historical precedence?  Whether those asking were Roman, German or the Islamic State, the outcome has always been the same.

Photograph of the smashed interior of the Berlin synagogueDo I believe Donald Trump is the next Hitler?  No.  But history tells us he doesn’t have to be. Kristallnacht (Chrystal Night also known as the Night of Broken Glass), the most infamous pogrom (violent riot) against German Jews was not conducted by the military under Hitler’s command. The November 1938 event was carried out by German citizens and the Sturmabteilung (the paramilitary arm of the Nazi party).  All the German government had to do was look the other way.

And that is what REALLY scares me.

For what it’s worth.


When Money Facilitates Non-Speech


The issue of whether money equals speech came to the forefront in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) in which the Supreme Court ruled government could not restrict independent political expenditures.  The ruling applied to for-profit corporations, labor unions, non-profit corporations and other associations.

While many people believe Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion contained the phrase “money is speech,” this is not the case.  In fact, no Supreme Court justice has uttered those exact words.  The closest any member of the Court has come to this statement appears in the following exchange between the late Antonin Scalia and Piers Morgan on the July 18, 2012 edition of the latter’s CNN program.

SCALIA: You can’t separate speech from — from — from the money that — that facilitates the speech.

MORGAN: Can’t you?

SCALIA: It’s — it’s — it’s utterly impossible

There was a moment in last night’s debate in which I found myself agreeing with Justice Scalia (something that I must admit does not happen very often). During an exchange about Donald Trump’s promotion of the birther conspiracy and whether it was racist in nature, Hillary Clinton referred to law suits against Trump for housing discrimination.

But, remember, Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans, and he made sure that the people who worked for him understood that was the policy. He actually was sued twice by the Justice Department

Trump responded as follows.

Now, as far as the lawsuit, yes, when I was very young, I went into my father’s company, had a real estate company in Brooklyn and Queens, and we, along with many, many other companies throughout the country — it was a federal lawsuit — were sued. We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do.

His explanation bothered me for several reasons.  First, he brings his father into the discussion implying he was just being a dutiful employee.  Second, he uses the excuse everyone was doing it.  Third, it was a “federal lawsuit” as though only state and local discrimination cases are valid.  But it is the last two sentences which made me think about Justice Scalia and Citizens United.  Even if you buy Scalia’s argument money facilitates speech, it does not relieve you of exceptions to the first amendment’s guarantee of free speech.  You cannot pay the theater manager to give you the right to yell “fire.”  You cannot buy media time and commit libel.

Settling a discrimination case out of court may relieve you of certain legal responsibilities, e.g. producing documents, depositions, testifying in court and publicly admitting culpability.  It does not, however, imply innocence.  Just the opposite.  The settlement represents compensation for damages.  If there were no damages, why settle?  Isn’t that the argument Trump now makes for NOT settling law suits involving Trump University?

On that basis, the Scalia/Morgan exchange could be paraphrased as follows.

SCALIA: You can’t separate a non-verbal admission of culpability from — from — from the money that — that is used to settle a law suit.

MORGAN: Can’t you?

SCALIA: It’s — it’s — it’s utterly impossible.

I rest my case.

For what it’s worth.


Who’s Fault Is That


As America prepares to watch the first of the presidential debates, the media has spent most of the last three days discussing strategies and how the expectations for each candidate will affect public perception of who wins and loses.  Not that anyone should be surprised by this.  But it does suggest the media has learned absolutely nothing in the past two weeks.  Just 10 days ago, all three cable networks were lamenting how the Trump campaign had played them with his 30 minute infomercial about the new Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Trump had promised a major announcement about his five year campaign to discredit President Obama’s status as a United States citizen.

On the September 18 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, a panel of media “experts” including Carl Bernstein complained Trump officials had advertised the event as a “press conference.”  Instead, after Trump’s 37 second terse and inaccurate assessment of his role in the birther conspiracy, he left the stage without any opportunity for attending reporters to question him.  As part of the discussion, the show’s host Brian Stelter had the following exchange with CNN political reporter Jeremy Diamond.

STELTER: So, do you find yourself, I’m going to put on the spot here — do you find yourself struggling to figure out how to cover this kind of campaign, but not a normal campaign, a campaign where there are more misstatements than usual, where it feels like we’re being played sometimes by Trump?

DIAMOND: Well, I’ve been doing so for 15 months. So, at this point, I think I’ve gotten used to it to a certain extent.


In other words, what Diamond admitted was Trump was controlling the narrative and there is not much the media can about it.

Are you kidding me?  Who owns the microphones?  Who owns the cameras?  Who decides what goes over the airwaves and what doesn’t?  In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen Covey divides situations into two circles:  concern and influence.  The circle of concern includes those elements over which you have no control and one should not waste energy trying to change them.  Focus should be on elements within the circle of influence where the individual or organization can control the situation.  Candidate’s access to free air time is absolutely within the networks’ circle of influence.

Later in the conversation, Stelter and Diamond continue:

STELTER: Jeremy, talking about control briefly, what could be done differently? Give us an idea what have could be done differently.

DIAMOND: I mean, it’s hard to say, you know, at this point. I think that reporters are trying as hard as they can to continue to ask tough questions, to continue to press Donald Trump, to continue to force this campaign to really do more press availabilities, you know?

After 15 months of being jerked around, you have no ideas?  Then I have a couple.  First, fire Diamond and his colleagues and hire reporters and executives at CNN who do have ideas about how to stop being played by candidates and their surrogates.

Second, CNN and the other networks could say to both candidates they will NO LONGER show campaign events live.  If the candidates give reporters an opportunity to question them about the content of their speech, they will then show both the event and the follow-up Q and A.  If candidates want time to voice unchallenged statements, they should have to pay for it.

The next time you hear someone in the media complain about their ability to cover political candidates, just remember, they have no one to blame but themselves.

For what it’s worth.



Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee


Many of you will remember the picture on the right of NBC News political director Tim Russert and his now-famous, low-tech white board.  Early in the evening, Russert predicted the 2000 election would hinge on the outcome in Florida.  And after weeks of recounts and legal challenges, everyone was congratulating Russert for his foresight.

There’s just one problem.  The election should never have come down to Florida.  The Sunshine State only mattered because Democratic candidate Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee by four percentage points.  And unlike Florida, where Nader and a poorly designed Broward County ballot contributed to George W. Bush’s margin of victory, the three independent candidates–Ralph Nader, Harry Brown and Pat Buchanan–tallied just 1.3 percent of the total vote.  In other words, the people who knew him best, rejected Gore in 2000.  Flip the Volunteer State’s 11 electoral votes and Gore carries the electoral college 277 to 261 even after losing Florida.

In 2004, Garrison Keillor suggested, during Prairie Home Companion’s annual joke show, John Kerry had a similar problem.  “People outside the Northeast don’t know Kerry, and people from the Northeast know him too well.”  Whether this was a factor in the election is not important.  What Tennessee voters and Keillor are telling us is maybe we should pay more attention to people who have real experience with presidential candidates.

Which brings us to 2016 and a fairly unique situation.  For the first time since 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt ran against Wendell Willkie (though born in Ohio, Willkie lived in New York at the time of the election), both major candidates reside in the same state.  This is only the fourth time in the history of presidential elections this has been the case.  And they are more than mere residents.  Hillary Clinton served New York as U.S. Senator for eight years.  And the Trump Organization headquarters are located in Manhattan and most of his early real estate projects were built in the tri-state region.

So what are Empire State voters telling us.  Remember, when he announced his candidacy, Trump boasted he was going to flip New York which is among the bluest of the blue states in presidential elections.  Yet the average of 30 polls in New York show Clinton with a 17.3 percent lead as of September 21.  Why is this important?  According to Nate Silver’s 538 Now-Cast, if the election were held today, Clinton would win with 280 electoral votes to Trump’s 250.  And the pundits will be focused on Ohio and Florida.  But the fact is the outcome would be reversed if Trump carried his own state.  If New York’s 29 electoral votes shifted to the Trump column, the final tally would be 279 for Trump and 251 for Clinton.

Only twice in American history has a candidate lost his home state and still won the presidency–James K. Polk in 1844 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  There’s probably a good reason for that.

For what it’s worth.


The Case for Due Process


In a previous post, I shared The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s observation you can both support Black Lives Matter AND be pro-police.  I still believe that.  In fact, my pro-police side was affirmed several times over the weekend following the largely unsuccessful terrorist bombing in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.  (NOTE:  Though this is hardly a laughing matter, it did remind me of a segment from the early days of Saturday Night Live titled “Dangerous, But Inept” which profiled among others Gerald Ford’s attempted assassins Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sarah Moore.)

For the three days following the bombing, life again imitated art as the arrest and arraignment of accused bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami could just have easily been episodes of  CSI and Law and Order. Through meticulous detective work and forensics, law enforcement officials quickly identified Rahami as a suspect and issued an all points bulletin which generated a tip as to his whereabouts.  On Monday Morning, Rahami was taken into custody following a gun battle in which one officer and Ramani were injured.  Within 24 hours, Rahami was charged in federal court on several criminal counts including use of weapons of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use.  Additionally, he faces state charges including attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

This is EXACTLY how our system of criminal justice was designed to work.  Everyone involved from police to prosecutors to first responders who tended to the injured deserve our praise and gratitude.  Now that the primary suspect is in custody, one would hope those appointed to try Ramani for these crimes continue to adhere to constitutional principles.

No one should be surprised that Donald Trump immediately questioned whether Ramani was entitled to medical treatment and due process.  At a Ft. Myers, Florida rally he told his supporters:

But the bad part, now we will give him amazing hospitalization. He will be taken care of by some of the best doctors in the world. He will be given a fully modern and updated hospital room. And he’ll probably even have room service, knowing the way our country is.

And on top of all that, he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer. His case will go through the various court systems for years and, in the end, people will forget and his punishment will not be what it once would have been. (Source: NPR, September 19, 2016)

Contrary to evidence dozens of terror suspects have been tried and convicted in U.S. courts since 9/11, CNN sadly took the bait and raised the question, “Does bombing suspect deserve due process?”  Viewers were quick to counter this inquiry including a tweet from @goddamnedfrank  which read, “CNN is now normalizing fascism, questioning the rule of law and the civil rights protections enshrined in the US Constitution.”

But Arlo Guthrie is again whispering in my ear, “That’s not what you came here to talk about.” Here are the questions I have concerning the response to the Chelsea bombing.  There is no doubt Ramani was armed and dangerous.  He proved it by engaging in an exchange of gunfire prior to his capture.  He wounded a law enforcement officer.  He resisted arrested.  I doubt anyone would have felt authorities where unjustified in using “deadly force” in response to this perceived threat.

But they didn’t.  In this case, where the suspect posed a far greater risk than many of the individuals now being championed by Black Lives Matter,  he was disarmed and taken into custody.  And unlike the young black men who have died due to the use of “deadly force” whether justified or not, Ramani will have his day in court.

Here are my questions.  “If law enforcement officers can disable and capture the most dangerous among us, why is this not the case in instances associated with traffic violations and petty crimes? Although I have not seen a detailed medical report, Ramani appears to have been wounded in the right arm and right leg.  Are police officers involved in the shooting deaths of some of these black men so poorly trained  marksmen they are not capable of incapacitating a suspect short of death?  And why doesn’t CNN focus on the denial of due process in cases where law enforcement, in addition to its legitimate and necessary role in the criminal justice system, also becomes judge and executioner?”

For what it’s worth.