Monthly Archives: December 2016

Carrie Fisher & UN Resolution 2334


Star Wars has a special meaning for me and my wife.  We went to see The Empire Strikes Back the day we got married in 1980.  We own a copy of the original Star Wars trilogy and watch Episode V every July 11th if we are home.  So you can imagine yesterday’s announcement Carrie Fisher had passed away saddened us greatly.

Upon returning home from a short vacation, I turned on CNN hoping there would be reminders of the hours of enjoyment Fisher provided through her films, books and too infrequent appearances on talk shows.  I was not disappointed.  Besides the usual, easy to access clips from Star Wars, her other movies, the one woman show Wishful Drinking and assorted TV appearances, I was amazed at the length the CNN research team had gone to in order to present a full picture of a life cut short.

CNN had even obtained a copy of a then relatively unknown 19 year old’s first audition tape for the role of Princess Leia.  Seated in a wooden chair across from Harrison Ford, Fisher delivers her lines with a much stronger British accent than used during filming.  The CNN commentator parsed the video to explain why Fisher’s audition vaulted her ahead of other well known actors such as Jodie Foster who were also being considered for the part.

Although the headline for almost every on-line and broadcast obituary referenced her iconic role as Princess Leia, each seemed to go out of its way to make readers and viewers understand Carrie Fisher was no one-hit wonder.  She was a talented performer and writer of both books and screenplays.  She was a fighter who constantly battled depression and prescription drug additions to share her talents and experiences with the world.

STOP!  I can hear one of the students in my imagination class interrupt.  “Okay, professor.  We know you are a big Star Wars fan.  And we know you were saddened by Leia’s passing.  But what does that have to do with a UN resolution condemning Israel for building settlements on occupied territory on the West Bank?”  My reply, “It’s just one more example of looking for relationships between seemingly unrelated things and how that relationship helps you understand both issues better.”

Twice over the past four days, I had friends express their anger at Obama’s decision to abstain rather than veto Security Council Resolution 2334.  Their opinion were unsolicited.  We were not talking politics or international affairs at the time.  Maybe they knew I was an Obama supporter and just wanted to hear how I, a Jewish-American, could defend the president.  I listened politely without showing my cards largely because, even though I did have an opinion, I was unsure of the facts which might support my perspective.  Above all, I had not read the full text of the resolution.

And that is when I realized the connection between Carrie Fisher and SC2334.  While print and broadcast media went to extremes to help us understand the entirety of her life, the news associated with the U.S. abstention was painted with a broad, emotional brush.  Media were more interested in exploring the animosity between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or the tension between the out-going and in-coming administration.  Little if any time was spent on UN Ambassador Susan Powers’ detailed explanation of the vote including on-going concerns about both Israeli and Palestinian roadblocks to a lasting peace.  And in most cases, the actual text of the resolution was no where to be found or referenced in American media accounts.

Yes, SC2334 condemned construction of additional settlements in violation of existing UN resolutions dating back to 2003.  But it also contained the following language.

Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,

Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,

Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.

How many of the most ardent critics of the President’s decision not to veto SC2334 are aware of this language?  If only the media would put the same time and effort into explaining a complex geopolitical issue as they do unraveling the history of a cultural icon.

For what it’s worth.


I Am Still Spartacus


Imagine a different ending to the 1960 film version of Howard Fast’s novel Spartacus.  Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) does not die by crucifixion at the hands of Roman general  Marcus Crassus (Laurence Olivier) and is able to watch his son by Varinia (Jean Simmons) grow into adulthood.  In a touching scene, the young boy tells Spartacus he too wants to become a famous gladiator like his father.  While Varinia watches the exchange, hidden behind a curtain, Spartacus warns his heir the risks of injury or death far outweigh the rewards of fame and adoration.

I thought about Spartacus while watching last Monday night’s football game between Washington and Carolina.  In the second quarter, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took a shot to the head while running for a first down.  It was not the first time Newton had been subjected to a blow to the head and is unlikely the last.  For days, sports reporters and pundits questioned whether linebacker Trent Murphy should have been assessed a penalty for unnecessary roughness (which he wasn’t).

In this particular case, I don’t think it matters.  There is a larger issue best raised by the following question, “Are football players the modern equivalent of gladiators?”  First, we need to understand exactly who were the original gladiators.  According to

Not all gladiators were brought to the arena in chains. While most early combatants were conquered peoples and slaves who had committed crimes, grave inscriptions show that by the 1st century A.D. the demographics had started to change. Lured by the thrill of battle and the roar of the crowds, scores of free men began voluntarily signing contracts with gladiator schools in the hope of winning glory and prize money.

In my re-scripted version of Spartacus, the major lesson is experience in the arena changes one’s perspective.  The same thing is happening today.  The November 14, 2014 issue of New York Magazine included an article titled “9 NFL Players Who Wouldn’t Let Their Sons Play Football.”  Among the NFL athletes cited are current and future Hall of Fame inductees Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Adrian Peterson and Drew Brees.  Former Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a spinal-cord injury in 2013, summed it up.

I’m not going to let my kids play just cause of the things I’ve been through in the game and what he has seen so, they can play tennis, golf and all of that, soccer.

As we know, Finley is not an isolated case.  A study at the Boston University School of Medicine showed “33 of 34 players tested post-mortum showed clear signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).”  In June 2015, a federal judge approved a class action settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players who had symtoms of CTE.

There was a second issue associated with the call in Monday night’s game.  ESPN’s Mike Wilbon wondered whether the referees would have made a different assessment if the quarterback had been Tom Brady.  I would hope not, but it does remind us, as with the gladiators, the demographics have started to change.  Before 1946, there were no African-American players in the NFL.  Today, this ethnic group makes up 70 percent of NFL rosters. No one is suggesting these athletes are the equivalent of the original gladiators in the sense they are slaves or conquered warriors.  They play the game by choice and are highly compensated for their talents and performance.

However, there is a growing disparity in the ethnic makeup of those who follow the game and those who play it professionally.  Market research by Brandon Gaille identified 77 percent of NFL fans as Caucasian.  And, as has been well documented, the people who put on NFL football (owners) include no African-Americans.  The white ownership monopoly of NFL teams was finally breached in 2012 when Pakistani born American businessman Shahid Khan purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The point I hope to make is, despite the awareness of the dangers associated with the more violent aspects of pro football, the sport’s continued popularity says as much about the fans as it does about the players.  Americans, who would never risk their own health and safety in the arena, still revel in the clash of these modern day gladiators.  In that sense, not much has changed since the days of the Roman empire.

For what it’s worth.


On Becoming an UNREAL American


Today, the electoral college will more than likely affirm Donald Trump as the 45th occupant of the White House.  He will not, however, be MY president.  Why?  Because on Saturday, Mr. Trump decided people like me are not REAL Americans.  Therefore, my non-recognition of his executive authority is by his choice, not mine.

At his final “thank you tour” rally in Mobile, Alabama, Trump told the audience you are the true “patriots” and “We are really who love this country.”  (Source, Associated Press, December 17, 2016) In Trump world, I am a persona non grata.  I must admit this came as quite a surprise to someone with three degrees in political science, including courses in constitution law and a focus in American institutions, and 13 years in public service.  Throughout my educational experience and years in government, I thought I gained a pretty good understanding of what it meant to be an American.

Now I find myself trying to figure out what it means to be an UNREAL American, who by having rejected Trump’s candidacy, is not a patriot and does not really love my country.  Ironically, I find it much easier to articulate the tenets of my new status than my national standing pre-2016.

As an UNREAL American:

I believe United States sovereignty is critical to national stability.  This includes national elections.  But as a member of the global community, we often need to join with other nations to resolve issues which have no geographic boundaries such as climate change and terrorism.

I believe defense policy should be designed and implemented by civilians (e.g. Secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security) and military strategy by generals (i.e. the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

I believe it is unconscionable to accuse a political opponent of a crime (e.g. mishandling classified information) and then nominate someone for National Security Adviser (Michael Flynn) who inappropriately shared classified information with foreign military officers (Washington Post, December 12, 2016). Or consider someone for Secretary of State (David Petraeus) who was convicted of passing classified information to his mistress.

I have more faith in assessments by the United States intelligence community than the former head of the Soviet KGB.

I believe addressing current and future problems does not lie in time-worn solutions. American innovation is not just about new products and commerce.  It can also be harnessed to respond to social issues such as structural unemployment, poverty and education.

I believe hard working individuals deserve a living wage even if it costs me a few dollars more at the mall or a restaurant or on Amazon.

I continue to support the concept of an electoral college.  It is to elections what the filibuster is in the United States Senate.  It protects the rights of the minority from domination by the majority.  I understand the anger of voters in the South, Rust Belt and Plains States who believe national politics has been dominated by representatives from the two coasts.  And they may be right.  However, I believe it is a disservice to suggest valid economic concerns and hyped fears are caused by scapegoats such as immigrants and Muslims.

I do not believe climate change is a Chinese hoax as evidenced by today’s “red alert” during which Beijing authorities stopped production at 700 companies and restricted use of private cars in the country’s northern provinces. (ABC News)  I doubt China would cripple its own economy in response to a hoax.

I believe it is appropriate for anyone to wish anyone else “Merry Christmas” on December 25th.  For the other 61 days between Halloween and New Years Day, “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” recognizes and honors the religious and cultural diversity guaranteed by the First Amendment.  “Happy Holidays” is not a battle cry in a manufactured “war against Christmas.”

I believe the fact 41.5 percent of eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, for whatever reason, is an affront to those who have fought and died to protect our right to govern ourselves.

As the parent of a daughter who is a captain in the United State Air Force and who has been twice deployed, I have a newly found appreciation for those who serve which I sadly did not have during the Vietnam era.  Through our concern for her safety, I have learned Purple Hearts are earned, not just handed out, and that Gold Star families deserve to be honored and embraced.

I believe my fellow countrymen have a right to protect themselves and enjoy recreational hunting under the Second Amendment.  However, I also believe we should care as much about citizens owning “weapons of mass destruction” (i.e. semi-automatic weapons) as we do about WMDs by foreign adversaries.

I would rather have a president who concedes he has lust in his heart (Jimmy Carter) than one who believes he is entitled to grab a woman’s private parts without her permission.

You know what.  I’m starting to feel damn proud to be an UNREAL American.  And I’m pretty sure I am not alone.  Maybe it’s time to form an UNREAL American political party which reaches out to all current and future residents of the United States who sense they are not recognized as Americans in Trump world.  The experience could be, “UNREAL.”

For what it’s worth.


Let Them Eat (Yellow) Cake


In response to reports by the CIA and ever other U.S. military and civilian intelligence agency Russians were responsible for hacking the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, the Trump transition team released the following statement on December 9.

These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.  It’s now time to move on and “Make America Great Again.”

To understand the mindset the president-elect and his minions bring to the oval office, all you have to do is analyze these three sentences.

First, referring to the entire U.S. intelligence community as those “same people” should be cause for alarm.  This statement suggests Trump and his national security team did not learn the major lesson from the disastrous invasion of Iraq.  THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND THE INTERPRETATION OF INTELLIGENCE.  And a predisposition of how to use intelligence influences the interpretation.

Consider the following.  In 2002, Vice President Cheney sought clarification of an intelligence report which referred to a possible agreement between Niger and Iraq involving the sale of yellowcake uranium.  Yellowcake is a concentrated uranium ore which is an intermediate step in the enrichment of other uranium ores which may be used for nuclear power generation or weapons.   The CIA asked Joseph Wilson who had served as George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, based on his African network, to check out the assessment.  Wilson was unable to obtain a copy of the supposed agreement and found no evidence of a transfer of yellowcake from Niger to Iraq.  He reported his findings to the U.S. ambassador to Niger and her staff who passed the information along to the CIA.

Wilson’s professional assessment was ignored and President George W. Bush used the unproven sale of yellowcake to the Hussein regime as partial justification for Congressional support of a military response, if needed.  Keep in mind, the Bush administration did not merely ignore Wilson’s report.  His wife Valerie Plame was outed by journalist Robert Novak as a covert CIA officer.  Although no direct link between the Bush administration and Novak was proven, Cheney adviser Scooter Libby was convicted and sentenced to prison for lying to investigators about the security breach associated with Plame’s outing.

So it wasn’t the “same people.”  Maybe it was a typo.  Maybe they meant “some people.” Like then CIA director George Tenet, who assured President Bush on December 12, 2002 the case for WMDs was a “slam dunk.” (Source: Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack)  As we know, the cost of misinterpreting intelligence can be devastating.  One can only imagine the consequences of totally denying intelligence.

Second, the Trump team’s view that 30 days equals “a long time ago” confirms Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz’ assessment, “He has no attention span.”  What are the implications for an administration in which the chief executive is easily bored.  Does he turn to his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, someone who has ironically mishandled classified information and spread conspiracy theories,  and says, “Just take care of it, Mike.”  What could possibly go wrong.

Third, in the same sentence the Trump team claims a victory of historical proportions.  I would chalk this up to supporter hyperbole except the president-elect has repeated this well-documented falsehood during his “thank you tour.”  To correct the record, “out of 58 presidential elections, the winner has received more electoral votes in 37 contests.”  (Source: NPR Fact Checker)  In Trump World, facts do not matter, even on the most inconsequential matters.

Finally, “Make America Great Again” includes the clarion call of “America First.”  Forget the latter phrase was the rallying cry of U.S. politicians, businessmen and citizens who supported neutrality in response to the German invasion of other European countries at the beginning of World War II. One of the tenets of the America First Committee charter was, “American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European war.”  Isolationism was the order of the day.

During the 2016 campaign, “America First” was also a response to what candidate Trump claimed were efforts by the Clintons to create a new world order which threatened U.S. sovereignty.  As we now know, “America First” depends on who benefits.  Candidate Trump could not wait to get to the bottom of speculation “Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors. (Trump, October 13, 2016, West Palm Beach, FL)”  In contrast, to quote Trump’s latest pawn Al Gore, documentation of Russian cyber attacks on U.S. sovereignty is “an inconvenient truth.”

We were told not to worry.  The campaign was all show.  On the Thursday following the election, Trump told Today Show viewers, “I will be so presidential, you will be so bored.”

That was 35 days ago,  In Trump-speak, that’s what the transition team means when they say it was “a long time ago.”

For what it’s worth.


You’re Fired


Damn, I love sports.  But not for the reason most people do.  Yes, great competition is exhilarating.  And it is an escape.  Ask New Orleans Saints fans after Hurricane Katrina. Or Yankee fans after 9/11.  Equally important, sports is a parable for life.  It helps us understand aspects of the world which may seem totally unrelated.

Take the discussion on ESPN’s Mike and Mike program this morning concerning the firing of Wake Forest radio announcer Tommy Elrod.  After an extensive investigation, Wake Forest determined Elrod, who had been a player and assistant coach on the university’s football team, shared or attempted to share game plans with opponents.  In response to Elrod’s firing, athlete director Ron Wellman said:

I’m deeply disappointed that he would act against Wake Forest, our football team and our fans in such a harmful manner by compromising confidential game preparation information.

Why is this story important?  It reminds us there should be consequences when individuals betray the trust others place in them.

I wondered whether the president-elect would have also fired Elrod if he were athletic director.  How does he feel about people who break the rules or betray a trust?  If his tenure as host of the Apprentice is any indication, Donald Trump does not tolerate cheating.  In November 2010, Apprentice contestant Anand Vasudev was “fired” for violating guidelines associated with a challenge.  The host seemed equally perturbed when Vasudev denied having violated the rules after being caught.

But that’s not really the issue today.  In the on-going saga of Donald Trump and his campaign team versus the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, the president-elect is not the athletic director.  He is Tommy Elrod.  And he deserves the same due process Wake Forest afforded Elrod.  There needs to be an extensive investigation.  If there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers, we need to know that.  The Trump presidency needs to begin without any question of illegitimacy.

To continue the analogy, Congress is the Wake Forest board of trustees and athletic department.  And if the evidence demonstrates a clear betrayal of the public trust, the co-athletic directors of Congress–Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan–need to demand Trump not take the oath of office.  They need to paraphrase athletic director Wellman:

We are deeply disappointed you would act against the United States, its cherished institutions and its citizens in such a harmful manner by compromising confidential information obtained illegally by a foreign power.

Mr. President-Elect, you’re fired.

For what it’s worth.