Thursday, December 15, 2016

Breaking News v. Broken news

Breaking News. Nary a day goes by without seeing that term flash across our tv screens, and  pop up on our smart watches . Watches used to actually just tell time, and newspapers used to actually print the news. As one highly regarded news purveyor, the New York Times, so presciently put it in way back in 1896: We print " All the news that is fit to print". That quote from publisher Adolph Ochs is still emblazoned on the masthead of the nation's most respected news source. Today, the word "print" has taken on multitudinous forms, with most of us now getting our information from non- print sources and hand held mini computers. It is tough to figure out what information is reliable, and what is not. With the emergence of Cybernews, we have lost our reliable filters as to what is and is not fit to "print" . 
     Back in those days of robber barons and major media moguls , Ochs was responding to his competitors tendency to publish salacious headlines and half truths twisted in a way to push forward a particular ideology or agenda. That was labeled "Yellow journalism" back then, when tabloid publications were owned by, among others, William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, another NY newspaper publisher,  focused on crime and sensationalism, and their newspapers were sold on the street for a penny or two. Indeed, that's where the term '"my two cents" came from. These bold new tabloids garnered hundreds of thousands of new readers and recruited lucrative advertising revenue from department stores to enhance their profitability. Presenting the facts as news became secondary to advancing agendas. Our involvement in Cuba at the time, the Spanish American war and the assassination of President McKinley in 1896 were directly attributable to these yellow journalism "rags". Fast forward 110 years, and we see the same scenario playing out, only this time, in the context of "fake news" , and social media,  such as Facebook and Twitter. We now have a toxic mix of misinformation and disinformation available, which can adversely affect the outcome of elections. 
   Guess what? That toxic mix of news, non-news, and fake news worked. And to add insult to injury, this time a foreign government, to wit: Russia , played a significant role in the disinformation campaign. We had cyber-hacking of e mails from foreign spying agencies , and selective leaks of those e mails intended to influence the election .  Everything old ala 1896 became new again, and news networks like Fox News have taken the place of the Pulitzers and the Hearsts, and the casualty of these efforts has been the American electoral system. 
    When you can't separate fact from fiction, and when facts don't matter as much as the belief systems of the media presenting those alleged facts,  you have a recipe for disaster . Not only have we been hacked, we have been had. 
      In order to function properly, a democracy must have an informed electorate. Without that , it doesn't work. It becomes mob rule. Just ask Thomas Jefferson who famously said, " A people who believe they can be both free and ignorant, believe that which never has been and never can be". Without the ability of an informed electorate to make intelligent and critical choices in the voting booth, we are destined to  become the pawns of those who would dupe us. Yes, it has come to pass. Demagoguery has triumphed in the person of our President-elect, and how and if our system will actually survive is a question that hangs precariously in the balance. Only vigilance and paying persistent attention to the machinations of our newly chosen leader can save us from perfidy. 
     Hopefully, in the end, the truth will prevail, but at the moment , determining what is true and what is not is an increasingly elusive goal. The Fourth estate has an incredibly important role to play in the next four years. If breaking news becomes broken news, then woe be we.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rubes united vote

Rubes unite! 

For the last thirty years or so, since the Reagan revolution, we have had some form or another of trickle down economics in play in our country. Here's how it works: tax the rich less so that in theory they will use the money they keep to create more jobs and new wealth. The problem is, it doesn't work. It never has, and it has created the greatest divide between the haves and have nots that this country has ever seen. It has crushed the middle class and robbed people in lower socio economic situations of their ability to better themselves. It has. virtually if not literally , killed the American Dream. The rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. 
   So,  in response, what do we do about it? Blame the black guy who inherited the mess for not fixing it fast enough, and vote Republican. As a result of the despair so many are feeling, we elected an authoritarian narcissist as President because he claimed "I alone can fix it!"  Make sense? Hardly.
    For 55 years of my life, I lived in a place where people who live in trailer parks tend to vote Republican. I say that not in a disparaging way, but simply to describe folks who are unfortunately stuck  in that  lower socioeconomic strata. Time and again, these denizens of the mobile home on cinderblocks world have been their own worst enemies at the ballot box. They vote against their own economic interests. Why the conundrum? 
    With few exceptions, upstate NY trailer park people don't trust the party of Thomas Jefferson. How can that be? The answer is quite simple, actually. They don't trust their downstate big city brethren to do what's right for them, and with good reason. The Democratic Party in New York, which is controlled by the Manhattan type elite,  has never really listened to them, and has  paid only lip service to these "upstate rubes". The rubes resent it, just as people in the fly over sections of our country resent the attitude of the east and west coastal communities . And how do I know that? Because I am one of those "Upstate rubes". I was recruited in 1995 to create the illusion that the NY City politicians were actually listening to the rubes, who had just thrown Mario Cuomo out of office. He got only 17% of the vote  in Oswego County, and that needed to be changed. So,  as a former Upstate Mayor, with an ebullient Irish demeanor , I became the Co- Chair of the state Democratic Party. My job was to bring back the Reagan Democrats. There was a need for the illusion that the party was listening to the rubes. In reality, that was far from the truth. But we did go on to create the Democratic Rural Conference , and that helped galvanize the rube vote for a while. Our motto was "United for voice and victory." We energized the people with the pitchforks. The Democrats started winning again. It didn't last for long. And even Howard Dean picked up the idea and ran with it as DNC Chair with what he called his 50 state strategy. That worked too, and the Democrats for a while, made a comeback. 
    To digress, in addition , and to buttress my rube bona fides, I lived for three of the last six years in SE Kansas, which counts as middle American fly over country. I used to tell my college aged students that I may be from NY, but not the NY they were thinking about. I was from  the Southeast Kansas part of New York. I think they got it. 
     It is the arrogance of the elite ruling class that brings out the rube vote in droves. This election provides ample evidence of that phenomenon. The rubes prevailed. They voted for change over substance because they are frustrated and forlorn and never really listened to. They believed that a tear down the house ersatz billionaire would deliver them to the promised land. They didn't like it when Hillary Clinton called them a basket of deplorable, and more than they liked Mayor Ed Koch's comment , when he ran for NY Governor in 1982 about pick up trucks with gun racks and gingham dresses.
    So this year, Trump won.  And  now we will wait in great anticipation to see what if anything can be done to advance the cause of american rubery.  We will see if If true change is possible,  and whether economic justice is more than just an illusory apparition. Turnabout is fair play. The elites are now marching in protest and the rubes are rooting for the Republicans to bring about that deliverance. Ying meet yang. Yes, we shall see what happens.  But I wouldn't get my hopes up too high. 
  Nevertheless, in the interim , we should stay open to the possibility of success, while still planning  for the worst. And what's the worst that can happen?  A return to despair. Perhaps one day we will all  be singing "Happy days are here again!  ", or perhaps not.  Only time will tell. 
    But as we take a collective deep breath before retreating to our sparring stations in opposite corners of the ring, let's understand that an  early knockout is unlikely. We are in for a multi-round battle. The rubes of this country must re-energize and unite. Once that happens , the fight will be  on, an then real change may actually come about. Meanwhile, the words of Mr. Jefferson come back to haunt us. " A people who believe they can be both free and ignorant, believe that which has never been, and never can be. " A democracy presupposes an informed electorate. Without that, it just doesn't work.  Believe me! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This is not encouraging. Some would say the "s--t show" has begun. The most disturbing part of this news about discord in the Trump transition team is that Trump himself is back on Twitter, complimenting himself and saying only he is in charge and only he knows who will get what jobs. This is alarmingly incompetent, and plays into the narrative that he is manifestly unqualified for the job. Perhaps our only real hope lies with nine members of the Electoral College who, if they became faithless electors, could throw the election into the House of Representatives, from which could emerge, in theory, a sane person to assume the presidency. I have been trying to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, but with the ascendancy and appointment of extremist ideologues like Mr. Bannon as a top advisor, and the internal purges orchestrated by Trump's son in law, this crowd is emerging as the not ready for prime time players, and that is an understatement. Our. Country's cohesive approach to governance, both foreign and domestic, is greatly imperiled. Woe be we.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Time for me to eat some crow. I was wrong. Bernie Sanders,  had he been the nominee, would have won the election. I failed to see that because of my long time loyalty to the Democratic Party and its established leadership. That was a big mistake on my part. I didn't "Feel the Bern" enough. I felt it, but just not deeply. I didn't think a Vermont socialist with a Brooklyn accent would play well in the heartland. I was wrong about that too. 
     In my heart of hearts, I questioned the wisdom of the Hillary Clinton candidacy. I even wrote an essay called "Time to pass the baton" in which I called for Hillary to step aside in favor of Bernie and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. I never published the column. I deep sixed it in deference to Hillary. I was wrong , and the Bernie-ites were right. 
     When I was Co- Chair of the NYS Democratic Party we started the Democratic Rural Conference. It was an attempt to get the elite leadership of the Manhattan oriented Democratic Party to pay attention to the concerns of NY's heartland type voters in the more rural and less urban parts of the state. That strategy worked. Hillary Clinton used the DRC to help build a winning coalition in her Senate campaign, and she won. Howard Dean adopted the concept in what he dubbed the "50 state strategy", and the Democratic Party started winning again. Somewhere along the way, that concept of paying attention to our real grassroots got lost in the shuffle. That was a mistake as well. We need to get back to our roots. We need to listen. We didn't hear the pain.
    Michael Moore, the filmmaker,  did hear it. He got it and his message delivered very plainly and bluntly on the Morning Joe program recently is one that the Democratic Party needs to heed, big time. In essence, he argued that we need to pay attention to Flint, Michigan and Forks in the road type people. They are hurting and the Democratic Party elites are paying them lip service. That is why we lost. I agree. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea maxima Culpa. 
     The road to tomorrow starts today. I agree with Bernie Sanders and Sen. Chuck Schumer that we need new leadership in the Democratic Party. Howard Dean might make good sense, but that could be looking in the rear view mirror. Rep. Keith Ellison , a Michigan Congressman,  who happens to be Muslim, might just be the answer. We need to have an open discussion and settle on bold new leadership . Sooner rather than later. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town. And now after 108 years their north side home team has beaten back the curses bedeviling them, and toddled their way to become the World champions of baseball. It wasn't easy. It was a classic come from behind win, and even when victory appeared at hand, it took an extra inning forced by a late Cleveland comeback, and a nerve wracking rain delay, to seal the deal. 
     The parallels between this year's World Series and the Presidential contest are unmistakeable. Don't get me wrong. I am not comparing the Cleveland Indians to Donald Trump. They are much better than that , but Hillary  is from Chicago, and her toddlin' campaign of advances and setbacks is the political equivalent of the Cubs experience. 
     The last time the Cubs won the series, women couldn't even vote, and now, at last, we may elect a grandmother as President after a 240 year drought. For my money, let's hope her competitor' s late close, and the rain delay are harbingers of hope that truth, justice, and the American way will ultimately prevail to save the day. Yes Virginia, there is a Mighty Mouse ( or in this case Minnie). But No matter who you might be cheering on, it is a relief to know that we are at least in the ninth inning of this contest which will soon be over. 
     Let's hope and pray that no extra innings are required to drag this process out any further. . And let's always remember that winning is winning, and losing is losing. There is no in between. Someone will be the champion, and someone will live to fight For another day. It's the American way. and while I am sure there is no joy in the Mudville of Cleveland today, they accept the results. The contest was exciting, and challenging, and far from being rigged. So be it. All hail the champs! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My suggestion for Hillary tonight:
At the right time, look Trump in the eye, pause, then say " You know Donald, you have been very personal and vitriolic throughout this campaign , calling me Crooked, and crippled, and not fit to serve. You have been very personal, and so , at this last debate, I for once am going to be personal in return,. I will only say this once.
    I saw your wife on tv trying to defend you, what you said, and what it is alleged you did to at least nine women. I felt her pain. She believes you, and I believed my husband too. She claims that your accusers are making it up. That's a natural reaction from a loving spouse. I know. I have been there. If and when the reality hits that what you are defending your husband against was actually true, at least in part, she will suffer even deeper embarrassment and hurt. For her sake and yours, I hope that does not come to pass. But when all is said and done, hurt as I was, i made a choice. I decided to stay with my husband and to work it out. You left two of your wives, and married for the third time. I am still married to the same man, and I still love, and respect him, and thank him for working through the pain with me. 
    But, in the final analysis, my husband is not on the ballot, I am, and I would very much appreciate it if you would let go of the  politics of personal vilification these last theee weeks, and talk about the issues and what you plan to do for the American people. That's what I intend to do going forward, and I  hope you will join me . And whoever wins, let's try to be civil, and. congratulate the winner,  and try to unite this country in the four years to come. Will you join me in that pledge, Donald?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Other people's money

The Republican candidate for President has a history of saying outrageous things, destined to keep himself in the headlines. And indeed he has said some pretty outlandish things, none of which seem to bother his devoted and loyal minions . 
But recently, he said something which should give even his most devoted acolytes pause. He has bragged about his penchant and his ability to use other people's money in the furtherance of his business objectives. Minimizing his own risk and using OPM ( Other people's money ) is his stock in trade, so he brags, as if that ability to lure the unwary investor is a virtue, in that he profits from using their money.
  Let's pause here to remember that Donald Trump is not running for President of the stock exchange. He is running for President of the entire country, and as such would be the Commander in chief of using OPM , other's people's money, to wit , our tax dollars , to achieve the common objectives of the country. 
     I hasten to add that he has also bragged that he pays as little in taxes as he can. I guess that makes sense if you are Donald Trump, because then it is other people's money that is being used to buy jet fighters and aircraft carriers and to pay for the health costs of the elderly and the poor. 
    I am reminded of one of Hugh Carey's favorite lines when he was running for Governor against Nelson Rockefeller's handpicked successor, Malcolm Wilson " Rocky spent our money like it was  his money!" Spending other people's money is what politicians do best. Giving a man like Donald Trump command of the Executive budget of the United States of America to spend OPM is a scary prospect indeed. He professes to be a conservative , but when it comes to spending other people's money, Katy bar the door! Would he do things like buy $10,000 self portraits , and pay off people who won hole in one contests. Who knows? 
    That's why it is really critical to get a look at his tax returns, to see where his money comes from, and what it goes to, and how much of his money goes to the commonweal to run the government , if any. 
If how you spend money depends on whether or not it is your own money or someone else's , let the buyer beware. Big time!