Tuesday, December 29, 2015

If Republicans Ruled the World

Republicans don’t like wishy-washy, lukewarm, so-so or flip-flopping. What they do like is all-in for the long run, no matter what, come hell or high water. They like taking a stand and then giving their brains the rest of the day off.

In short, Republicans like pledges.

In the past, Republican leaders have signed pledges saying they won’t raise taxes. One can pretty much assume they have signed a pledge never to take any action not first approved by the NRA. They have signed pledges during the current primary campaign to support the Republican nominee, even if it comes down to the GOP elephant in the room, no one wishes to talk about. Now in Virginia, they want Republican primary voters to sign a pledge saying they will only vote for the Republican candidate in the general election.

I can see their point.

Nothing is more disconcerting for a sports team that once commanded tremendous fan support than to find themselves losing those fans because “things ain’t going well.”

If a sports team goes from winning to losing, their fair-weather fans are the first one to leave and are slow to come back. This couldn’t happen if sports fans signed pledges the way churches make parishioners do every time they want to build a new wing.

The same goes for supermarkets and department stores. If a store is, “your friendly shopping place,” it should always be your friendly shopping place. It shouldn’t have to keep bribing its customers with deals and promotions to keep them from taking their business to that brand new store opening across the street. Not when a single loyalty oath would do the trick.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

President Trump Throughout History—6th Installment

President-elect Trump at Valley Forge


Throughout history, people have admired my letters, then my speeches, then my radio addresses and finally my tweets. People have looked to my words for inspiration and sometimes, I think, just to feel better about themselves.

I’m honored to think that just by saying something, I can make other people feel better about themselves. That is, I suppose, the mark of a great man and I recently said as much to my dear friend Dr. Seuss, who I’ve collaborated with on several occasions. I told him point blank, “I am a great man.” You can ask him. He might put it a little differently, but essentially that is what I said, “I am a great man.”

Some of my greatest moments, though, the moments I have been most proud of, and my family will back me up on this, have been those times when I didn’t say anything. I know. It’s hard to believe, but trust me.

One of those times was Christmas night in the winter of 1776. The Redcoats...and I have to say, I’m kind of a flashy guy myself in a non-threatening way but for the life of me I don’t understand bright red uniforms in a war, but anyway, the Redcoats were camped in Trenton and we were on the other side of the Delaware River in Valley Forge, freezing our asses off. You know, now that I think about it, I think they were Hessian soldiers in Trenton so forget all that stuff about Redcoats.

But we were freezing our asses off so I told Washington to stop being so stupid. I told him it was time to turn the tide of the war around. I showed him how a surprise attack would catch the Germans off-guard, which pretty much goes without saying, because that’s what a surprise attack does. Am I right? Of course, I’m right. Why wouldn’t I be? Still, I remember saying it anyway.

Even back then, I had a pretty good success rate so once I put the idea on the table, I was pretty sure Washington would see it made sense. I have this knack for these kind of things—these idea things. Anyway, Washington listened and the decision was made to sneak across the river.

Things were going good until Washington’s inexperience almost killed the whole deal.

I was in my boat, hunkered down so no one could see me when I looked over and saw the general. He was standing up in his boat in that all familiar but annoying, “hey, look at me” pose, flag unfurled behind him and I’m not sure but there might have been someone piping on a fife and someone else beating his drum.

There was another guy in another boat painting the whole scene, for what reason, I don’t know...maybe for the general’s Christmas card. I couldn’t help thinking, why don’t you just send a Currier and Ives over to tell them we’re coming.

Anyway, I signaled over to Washington to sit his ass down and stop showboating, which given that he was in a boat and putting on a show, really was showboating, in the worse way, or the best way—I dunno.

These are my thoughts on showboating. If I’m doing it and it’s called for and it’s done in good taste, it’s okay. But if someone else is doing it—I mean really? That’s just the way I feel.

The good news is that in spite of Washington’s antics, we made it across the river and caught the Hessians with their pants down.

Long story short, I went on to win the war, but the country elected Washington its first president. I think that picture had a lot to do with it because I actually have more bankruptcies than Washington has war victories. Go figure.

As a businessman, I can certainly understand the art of self-promotion. I’ve got to hand it to him. That picture was huge.

Nevertheless, I swore to myself that day that I would never let another man—whether it be some bum on the corner or the father of our country—get the better of me.   

Sunday, November 15, 2015

President Trump Throughout History - 5th Installment

President Trump announces moon landing

“Usually, announcements from the Rose Garden take place during the day and announcements at night come from my Oval Office. However as you know, there’s nothing usual about anything I do.

“I’m doing things a little differently tonight because I’m making a very special, very huge announcement. If you look over my shoulder, you’ll see a full moon shining behind me. I don’t know which shoulder but its’s one of them. I suppose if I stood in just the right spot, that moon would almost look like a halo to some of you. I don’t know what that would mean although I suppose it would mean something but that’s for you to decide.

“Anyway, what I wanted to say, and I thought out here under this beautiful moon was the only place to do justice to what I want to say, is that today or tonight—I don’t know what it is on the moon but sometime in the last 24 hours my country has landed some men on the moon. I don’t know how many exactly...I’ve been told two and I have no reason to doubt them but it could be more or it could be less...I do know it’s at least one. If it isn’t, then somebody has some explaining to do but I’m sure it’s at least one, and probably two men that have landed on the moon, which you can see right there over my shoulder.

“I hope I’m standing in the right spot because I sure it’s a spectacular sight to see.

“Another president said we would land a man on the moon but frankly I don’t think he knew how the hell we were going to do it, and it probably wouldn’t have gotten done—it might have but I don’t think so—unless I was here to see it get done.

“As you know, there is no one better at completing big projects. I have huge hotels and casinos everywhere but even I have to admit this is really huge.

“Landing two men on the moon—and I have in fact been told that it was two men. I guess there are three men up there so I don’t know why the third man didn’t land on the moon...maybe he just didn’t want to because there are a lot of people who simply don’t recognize opportunity when they see it, but even landing just two men is really huge.

“As president, I promise to find out why the third man didn’t also land on the moon because being accountable to me is one of the demands I make of these brave men in the space movement. All I can say is he better have been really sick or he’ll be out so fast he won’t know what hit him.

“I’ve just been handed a paper containing the first words spoken by the first man on the moon. It’s pretty good. Here’s what he said.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“Does that sound right? I dunno. It sounds like he was trying to hog all the credit because weren’t there two men. What did the other guy say? I suppose it doesn’t matter.

“All I would add is, it hasn’t been a bad day for Trump either.

“Good night. God bless America and me—and the man or men on the moon. I’m only kidding about the man on the moon. Well maybe not...I guess now there is a man on the moon...or two...I dunno.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

President Trump Throughout History—4th Installment

President Trump addresses the 1st Woman’s Rights Convention

in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York


“I am very happy to be able to speak to you ladies today. It’s not as if I didn’t have other things to do. My staff tells me Europe is ripping apart at the seams, even as we speak. I’m guessing immigrants will be knocking at our door and in some cases breaking that door down. That’s okay as long as they follow the rules, although I suppose breaking the door down is against the rules, or should be.

“What I’m trying to say is, if we’re going to be letting all these rabble-rousers and trouble makers in...and some of them might be good people but the odds are—and being a casino man, I know something about odds—but the odds are pretty good that some of them will be bad or at least not as good as they should be.

“So if we’re going to let them all in or some of them in, we ought to first take care of our women folk, who have been here from, I’m guessing, as early as when the Mayflower landed.

“As most of you know, women would be hard-pressed to find a more loyal ally than me. Not that you’re going to need my help in this struggle. I was talking to Suzi Anthony a little earlier—and I hope no one takes this the wrong way—but there’s a woman that looks like she can handle herself in a street fight. I’m not saying she ain’t pretty, all I’m saying is she looks ready—if you know what I mean.

“And what about Lucretia Mott, named, my staff tells me, after that Roman matron who was supposedly raped and then committed suicide, and I’m thinking what parent names their kid after someone like that. Talk about being born under a bad sign. Personally, I like traditional names like Ivanka or Barron or The Donald.

“Anyway, I think woman suffrage is a good thing if it means no more suffering and if it doesn’t mean what I think it means than I don’t know why you gals got your panties all tied in a knot over what now, as I look at it deeper, is a pretty confusing name. But this whole woman-voting thing is such a radical idea that I’m kind of liking it the more I think about it and I’ve been thinking about it for...help me out someone...how long have I been up here? Five minutes? Really? I dunno, it seems a lot longer.

“Anyway, if I could, I have just one suggestion. Take it or leave it, but take it from me...take it. I know what I’m talking about.

“So this is my point. Why Seneca Falls? I mean you gals couldn’t find a more obscure place to hold a rally unless you held it on some desolate cornfield in the middle of Iowa. I don’t know if you’ll be having any more rallies. My guess is this suffering woman line you’re pushing isn’t going to go away overnight even if it is already getting old fast.

“We have a saying in the real estate business. Location, location, location. I gotta tell you, from what I’ve seen, Seneca Falls isn’t the location you’re looking for. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a location anyone in their right mind is looking for.

“That said, I think I can help you girls and what girl doesn’t need a man’s helping hand when the times get rough? I’m opening a brand new hotel, right on the oceanfront in a town that no one has ever heard of but believe me, everyone will be talking about it now that I’m there.

“They’ll be a huge hall where you gals can get together and not only do your business but also do your nails. You can kick back in a luxurious lounge or walk the boardwalk or just relax in our beautiful spa. That’s right, Suzi. Thirty minutes in that spa will do you a world of good. Did I mention the Continental breakfast?

“Sure you have complaints. Who doesn’t? Well, I don’t but that’s just me, but you gals can showcase those gripes in a beautiful setting where not only you, but everyone listening to you can feel better about themselves. Believe me, the first step in getting better is feeling great. And I have never felt greater, or better, or better than great, which I don’t know if there is such a thing but if there is, I’m there.

“God Bless America, me and women.”



Saturday, November 7, 2015

President Trump Throughout History—3rd Installment

President Trump at the Berlin Wall

“Ich bin ein Berliner.”

A huge roar erupts from the crowd that seems to catch even the president by surprise. After several minutes, he speaks.

“Thank you. Thank you. That’s very nice of you. I don’t even know what that means but someone on my staff said it would draw a huge response and I guess he knew what he was talking about, even as it turns out, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“They’ll be a little something extra in that man’s paycheck come the end of the month, and when I say a little something extra, you can bet it will be a big something extra because I don’t do anything little. I don’t even understand how a little can be extra. Doesn’t extra mean more?

“Anyway, I’m here today to talk about this wall, and I gotta say, this is the ugliest wall I’ve ever seen. I’ve looked all over and I can’t find a name anywhere.

“Who builds a wall this huge and doesn’t put his name on it?

“I’ll tell you who. Someone who isn’t proud of it. That’s who. And I don’t blame him. This is the drabbest, ugliest, most depressing structure I’ve ever seen, since the time I had to level half of Atlantic City to put up my Trump Casino.

“As I look at the bleak tenements and broken infrastructure on the other side of this wall, I wonder if its purpose isn’t so much to keep people in as to keep them out.”

Another aide whispers something in President Trump’s ear.

“I’ve just been informed that the purpose of this wall, indeed the only purpose of this wall, is to keep East Berliners in East Berlin. Well, that explains a lot but it doesn’t explain everything.

“It still doesn’t explain why it has to be so ugly. All the barbed wire and graffiti and holes boarded up with broken doors and ugly rock piles. And the landscaping. Don’t even get me started on the landscaping.

“I mean, if you’re going to build a wall, even a wall serving a bad purpose, it just doesn’t make sense not to take some pride in it. No one ever said a bad wall can’t at least look good. A paint job wouldn’t hurt it.

“Whoever is in charge of this wall and I assume someone is in charge—I’ve just been handed a paper with someone’s name on it. Really? Garbo...Gorba...Gorbachechowicz...looks like Gorba the Greek to me...”

The same person whispers something else in President Trump’s ear.

“I’m told his name is Gorbachev. That doesn’t even sound German to me. Whatever. I guess when in Berlin, do as the Romans would do.

“Anyway, all I’d like to say to this Gorbachev fella—if in fact that is his name—is this.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Tear it down and put up a new one—one that Germans on both sides of it can be proud of and I wouldn't be embarrassed to stand next to.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

President Trump Throughout History—2nd Installment

President Trump announces the Louisiana Purchase

“Today, I am happy to announce a really big deal—one of the biggest deals I have ever made and I’ve made some pretty big deals. Those of you who know me well and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t know me well because I’m always out there for everyone to see. I’m not one to shy away from the spotlight. Maybe I don’t know everyone but I’m pretty sure everyone knows me...anyway, before I get too far off track, like I said, today I’m announcing a really huge deal. It’s so huge—and people know I only do really big deals, but this deal is so huge I’m not even going to call it a Trump deal because I really don’t have to. People are going to call it a Trump deal anyway.

“Besides, there are plenty enough deals to call Trump deals, so I ain’t worried. But this deal is so huge that I’m going to call it—and you have my permission to call it this too...no hard feelings. I’m calling this deal the Louisiana Purchase.

“No one in the whole history of deal making has gotten so much for so little. By the way, I certainly didn’t start the history of deal making but I did write the book on it. I will say this. Deals have been going on forever but they didn’t start getting huge until I started making them.

“I love you too. Someone out there just couldn’t help himself and I appreciate that.

“So I know people will want to know how a deal this huge went down and I’m going to tell you. The simple truth, without throwing a lot of gobbly-gook details out there that even I would have a hard time explaining—or understanding for that matter—if I didn’t have the best deal makers in the world working for me. I simply told them to go out and make the best deal ever and that’s usually all anyone has to hear if they know what’s good for them.

“No huge deal is easy. If they were, they wouldn’t be huge. To make this deal a reality, I had to go up against one of the most powerful men in the world. He’s not as powerful as me and I’m sure he knows that now, but he still has a lot going for him. I don’t want him to feel too bad because I might need to make another deal with him in the future.

“I have to say this Napoleon feller probably thinks a little bit more highly of himself than he should because he has all those medals hanging from his shirt, which I’ve been told, most of them he gave to himself. Frankly, I don’t believe in medals because if you have to go around tooting your own horn, how good can you really be? I’ve always said, you do something, you put your name on it so everyone knows who did it and that should be all the credit anyone needs. You don’t need medals. If someone sees something with my name on it and they like it, that’s not tooting my own horn because that’s someone else tooting my own horn. I will say this, I hear a lot of tooting everywhere I go.

“In fairness to this Napoleon, he does seem to have a lot on his plate right now and many would say this is a good thing. Many of them would sometimes be right. But maybe he has too much going on. I’ve been making deals, usually unusually huge deals, since before this Napoleon guy was a whore’s son scavenging around the streets of Corsica for his next meal. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he seemed a little bit tired...I don’t know if overwhelmed is the word, but what the heck, I’m just putting it out there. He seemed a little bit distracted by everything going on and it didn’t take me long to discover he was also pretty cash strapped. The third strike he had going against him was he didn’t have a clue about what he had in the first place.

“He had half the empires in Europe under his thumb and must have decided he didn’t need something as insignificant as a territory.

“Once I recognized this, I said to Napoleon, ‘Come on down.’

“To his credit, and I believe in giving credit where credit is due—the opportunities just don’t come up that often—Napoleon answered my call.

“Before he knew what hit him, I had bought the richest piece of landscape this side of Fifth Avenue for nothing more than chump change, which is almost as good a deal as when we got Manhattan for a handful of trinkets, which I suppose I could have done better but even I can’t do everything.

“Anyway, talk about a deal, and believe me, people will be talking about Trump’s purchase—oops, my bad—about this Louisiana Purchase for years to come.”



Thursday, November 5, 2015

President Trump Throughout History

President Trump announces a new government

“Well, I told you I’d do it and I did it. Our country finally has a Constitution and I can honestly say, it’s a lot better than the last one we had and I’m guessing you know who to thank. You’re welcome.

“A lot of good men came together with many good ideas—and a few bad ones, but that’s okay because the good news is I was there to keep an eye on them. I know how to make a deal. I know how to get results.

“Speaking of results, I’ve looked at the final product and I have to say—and this isn’t boasting because as I’ve said before, it’s not boasting if it’s true. I don’t know what you’d call it—maybe toasting—truesting without the rue because I never rue anything—and some other stuff thrown in there...oa...I dunno what that’s all about.

“Anyway, what I’m saying is this final product—and I’m going to call it a Constitution...I don’t know what others will call it, but I think Constitution is appropriate. I have to say it came out pretty much the way I thought it would when I got into these talks. And I really mean it when I say these were all good men and I don’t want to hog the attention.

“I’ll only say, I did steer them in the right direction because that’s what great leaders do and great leaders get great results. I think anyone reading this document will agree, it is a really great document and I’m just happy to have played a role—some will say a big role—I’ll just say a role and leave it to others to say how big a role I played, but if they say a big role they won’t be wrong.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Robfogel Paper Warehouse

     I was back in Rochester following a most successful freshman year at Lowell Tech—in fact, it would prove to be my only successful year at Lowell Tech, but who’s counting? The point is, I needed a job.

How I arrived at the Robfogel Paper Warehouse escapes me, like so many other details from that now ancient, but still revered by me time known as the sixties. It must have been networking to some extent because I didn’t even know there was a Robfogel Paper Warehouse.

Shipments of all sorts of paper products arrived at the warehouse to be repackaged and redistributed to local businesses by the small cadre of Robfogel truck drivers. A railroad track ran right up to their back door and every three or four days, a boxcar filled with paper products was dropped off at the warehouse.

I was hired along with a guy I knew only as Red, who was going into the marines at the end of the summer. Our job was to load the trucks each morning and then unload the boxcar, stack its contents onto pallets and stack the pallets in the warehouse.

With a great deal of anticipation, we’d break the seal and push the large door aside to discover what products we’d be unloading. If our boss knew, he wasn’t letting on. Every job began the same way—find a box at the top, in the middle, pry it out and then work our way to both ends. The two of us went home each day looking like we’d spent the day in a sweat shop, which wasn’t that far from the truth.  

All through high school, I had worked as a janitor at Annunciation, both the school and the church. I always enjoyed the physical nature of the work—pushing and pulling those heavy old-fashioned mops across 10-foot swaths of hallways and classrooms. What I discovered working at Robfogel was that I really didn’t know what physical work was.  I also discovered just how big a boxcar is—about 6,000 square feet, and how much paper stacked bottom to top, end to end, one can hold. I also learned just how all encompassing the term paper products could be.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What’s in a Name?

It’s possible to make money playing cards. Some people even get rich doing it. But for the vast majority of people, playing cards means killing time.

If you’re playing cards, you’re not cutting the grass, fixing that leak in the sink, or painting that room.

You’re not doing something that will create lasting value or lead to accomplishments like writing the great American novel or simply figuring out where the garden should go to produce the most beans.

Still card games can be fun.

Winning almost any card game you play depends on getting what we call the “Trump card.” What can we say about the “Trump card” except that it is the epitome of short term success? As achievements go, getting a Trump card is among the shallowest accomplishments—entailing little more than dumb luck. It is the American-Dream-lite—all you ever wanted for the shortest time possible.

By short term, I’m not even talking about the often sought after and seldom realized fifteen minutes of fame. Fifteen minutes is an eternity compared to the length of satisfaction gained from acquiring a Trump card, which might last only a few moments before another Trump card comes along…and another…and another.

Trump cards are like coins in a penny roll—worth little more than a dime a dozen and practically useless. They’re like jokes in a vaudeville act—“I got a million of them.”

Try remembering the last Trump card you had or anticipating what the next one will be. You’ll know it when you see it and will forget it as soon as it’s out of sight.


Ah, but for that fleeting moment, that brief snippet of a second when you slap that game clincher down on the table and then look up to see the faces of your opponents, that Trump card becomes not only a winner but a measure of its holder’s self-worth. It calls out to that small world of people sitting around that table, “This is huge, look at me, read 'em and weep.” In short, the player holding the Trump card is declaring for all to hear, but let’s be honest, mostly for his own ego, the awesomeness of being him.”

Trump cards can come in any shape or size. Well, that’s not true. But any card can be a Trump card. A Joker can be a Trump card. A wild card can be a Trump card. A Joker posing as a wild card can be a Trump card. For Trump cards, the general rule is there is no rule. Anything goes.

The Trump card is no more than a simple solution to a minor challenge. Nevertheless, in that most idle moment of participating in that most self-indulgent activity, this challenge—whether it be drawing an ace or picking up a lowly deuce—is the only thing that matters. In that moment, the Trump card is as good as gold. 

Yes, it’s as good as gold but gold isn’t everything as most wise men will tell you. Smart people don’t gold plate their golf clubs because they know that all the gold in the world don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing. Neither do smart people gamble away their homes or risk their futures anticipating a Trump card.

There are more decks of cards than guns in America and while every card in each of those decks can be a Trump card, most of the time, most of those cards are losers.

Whether in a deck of fifty-two or a hand of seventeen, a Trump card is nothing more than a means to an end—a fleeting moment of excitement and short lived entertainment—nothing more than a good way to kill time until something better comes along.

So back to the point, what’s in a name?

If the name’s Trump, it’s rump.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Time for Action

     I've written about campaign finance before and this piece pertains somewhat to the subject. Our elections suffer greatly because how much money a candidate can raise supersedes what new ideas he can come up with. Our election process is in this state because nothing has been done  to address this problem. Both parties are at fault.  In the fifty years since Rep. Wright called for campaign finance reform in his Harpers Magazine article in 1967, politicians have devoted all their efforts in regard to campaign finance reform to getting an edge rather than solving the problem.
     But it is also about learning a bigger lesson: Fix problems when they are still fixable.

Time for Action
     Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright recently died. He was expelled from the House for shady money dealings, coincidently at the hand of Newt Gingrich, who would himself be tied to shady money dealings. Prior to his expulsion, I never paid much attention to Wright, even though he had served in the House for over thirty years.

I have to admit when Wright’s problems first surfaced, I concluded for myself that he was nothing more than another crook who had used the system for his own personal gain.  But then I read an article written by him for Harper’s Magazine in 1967 and was impressed by this quote.

“No facet of American life cries our more loudly for reform than the dingy gray area of political campaign financing, which casts a lengthening shadow across all else we do in our elective political institutions…The price of campaigning has risen so high that it actually imperils the integrity of our political institutions.  Big contributors more and more hold the keys to the gates of public service.  This is choking off the wellsprings of fresh, new thought and severely limiting the field of choice available to the public…One curious by-product of big money in politics is the slick, shallow public-relations approach with its nauseating emphasis on ‘image’ at the expense of substance.”

After reading that quote, I decided I might have been wrong. Maybe he was not so much a bad man who had used the system, as he was a weak man who had let the system destroy him.

Keep in mind this quote is from 1967.

Kennedy and Nixon spent a total of $20-million in their 1960 campaign, one that was so close, probably every nickel spent was necessary.

The 2012 presidential election cost about $2.5-billion.

The 2016 presidential spend-off is predicted to exceed five billion dollars with one billion coming from just two guys. It is helpful to remember that actual expenditures in this country for almost anything, almost always go beyond predictions.

At this rate, a trillion-dollar election cannot be too far down the road. That’s a lot of 30-second ads, balloons, and yard signs—all for a job offering $400,000 and all the abuse you can stand.

It should be clear to everyone that all three branches of government have failed in their effort to reform campaign spending. Reform has never been the goal; only getting an edge. I don’t even know if it’s possible to stop this train wreck we call the election process.

Maybe we shouldn’t even try. Perhaps we should write it off as the cost of doing business. That would be the business approach to throwing that much money down the toilet.

Possibly there is a lesson to be learned from Speaker Wright’s experience.  Maybe we can find another area where this “slick, shallow public-relations approach with its nauseating emphasis on ‘image’ at the expense of substance” is actually causing the nation more harm than good.

Whatever the cost of addressing global warming—and I’m not a scientist, so I am going to defer to the scientist on this one—wouldn’t it be better, and cheaper, to act now rather than later. As with campaign finance reform, the cost of doing nothing far exceeds the price of doing something in a timely manner.
For that matter, wouldn’t it be better to approach every problem facing our nation this way: immigration reform, rebuilding our infra-structure, addressing student debt, and yes, improving Obamacare instead of continually trying to dismantle it. Our politicians talks about American exceptionalism, but everything they do speaks to mediocrity.    

It's time for them to embrace that ‘can-do’ spirit they are always talking about—the one our forefathers had, which they seem to lack? With all the problems facing our nation and the world, wouldn’t this be a good time to do something—something besides giving the people that are buying our elections a tax break?

If they did this, and I know it is a big if, but if they did, maybe, just maybe politicians wouldn’t have to spend a billion dollars telling us what a good job they do.


Monday, April 27, 2015


As some of you may know, I recently spent two weeks in Kathmandu with my daughter, Jessica. It was an amazing trip, and as one might expect, an enlightening one. I learned a great deal—both by reading up on Nepal in preparation for the trip and by my own observations once I arrived there.

Kathmandu is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, 50,000 inhabitants per square mile. That is a fact I read.

...if Legos were earth tone
What I learned from observation is that those people live in a city that is constructed much the way a child would build a Lego village. Area wise, Kathmandu is not that big. Rooms are continually being added to current living space by simply building out and up from existing structures.

I also observed some of the most crowded streets imaginable. I’ve walked the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Saigon, and San Jose. They were crowded but for the most part the vehicles stayed in the streets and the people stayed on the sidewalks. This was not the case in Kathmandu. There were only streets—narrow streets at that—and everyone used those— pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, Pedi-cabs, animals. The shops came right out to the streets, oftentimes with their wares stacked alongside the curbs, which were not really curbs but rather ditches for the rain to run off.

The honking of horns and ringing of bells never ceased, not for a moment. Vehicles turned corners blindly with only a horn to alert anyone in their way. They would pull up within inches of those in front of them—whether approaching or coming from behind—and use their horn to announce their presence. Motorcycles literally pulled into shops to make way for larger vehicles.

What I noticed, with all this congestion and continual noise around me, was that no one ever seemed to lose their temper. I never saw anyone flip someone the finger. I never heard anyone curse. I heard no threats. I didn’t even see dirty looks. People just got out of the way or waited for the other to get out of the way.

It was the same with merchants—who like merchants round the globe, did everything in their power to make a sale. They would follow you on the street, initiate conversations that never seemed to end, promised the moon, good luck or everlasting salvation if I bought their product. But when a sale was obviously not going to happen, they simply walked away. No parting remarks, no bad feelings.

The people of Kathmandu are very friendly and helpful—almost to a fault.  
This driver definitely did not know
where he was going.

Jessica and I rode in Pedi-cab once when the streets became so difficult to navigate, the driver got out and pull his vehicle along, with us in it. The first time this happened we were so caught off guard that we stayed in our seats, probably thinking the driver was simply getting the cab out of traffic. The second time it happened, we got out, paid the driver and walked alongside him.

There were times where the drivers seemed to be driving around in circles—it is not farfetched to think even they could get lost in a city so crowded—but they never gave up. A lot of businesses say they aim to please and customer satisfaction is their only goal. These drivers didn’t have to say it. They’d drive through hell to get you where you wanted to go.

School children walking arm-in-arm filled the streets at all hours of the day and were always smiling.

I met some very nice people in Kathmandu. I came away with a strange notion that maybe there is something mystical about growing up in the shadow of the Himalayas. The people I met weren’t full of themselves. They seemed down to earth, satisfied, and at peace living in what I viewed as a hectic and demanding world.

All these observation led me to the conclusion the people of Nepal are very special people indeed.

No one deserves a tragedy such as the one that struck Nepal last week. And yet, sometimes that is the only reaction we can come up with. Of course they need monetary aid, medical assistance, food, and water. Rebuilding will take years, decades perhaps. They will get all that, and I know for a fact they will appreciate it.

Still, I can’t help thinking. These people did not deserve this.
Many of these thousand year old temples have been destroyed.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Let's Talk About Speech

A version of this piece appeared in The Virginian-Pilot, on Sunday, April 5. under the title, "The Price of Free Speech." The only substantial difference between both pieces is this version illustrates what three billion dollars worth of 30-second political ads look like.

There’s speech, and there’s free speech, and then there’s really expensive speech—speech only money can buy.

In its 2002 Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court essentially upheld the idea that corporations are people—people entitled to free speech. They got around the obvious problem of corporations lacking vocal cords by falling back on the age old premise that money talks.

The only question then became how far would corporations/people run with this idea? Current estimates seem to indicate pretty far.

The Koch brothers, who are in and of themselves two people and happen to own numerous corporations, making them a whole bunch of people, have elected to allow their corporation’s money to speak for them. They plan to speak—no shout—almost a billion dollars into the 2016 election cycle, much of it in the form of miss-quoted and taken out of context sound bites.

For those of you who might have difficulty comprehending a billions dollars’ worth of 30-second ads, picture a pile of horse dung stretching from the earth to the moon and back again. Now picture that stack pouring out of your wide-screen HD TV into your family room.

The money the Koch brothers intend to spend is equivalent to a five dollar donation by every registered voter in the country. We have all experienced situations where a single shouting individual in confined quarters is able to drown out everyone else. It’s frustrating, unfair and generally unproductive. But two brothers drowning out 200 million voters is ridiculous—only because we have made it so.
On face value, it is easy to see why the courts have compared corporations to people and their money to speech. It's called representation. And it is easy to understand how corporations have abused their right to free speech at everyone else's expense. It's called, "Whataya gonna do about it?"

What is harder to understand is why we let them get away with this travesty.

I’m currently reading two books. The historical biography, With Malice Toward None, The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates, depicts one of our most revered presidents being mercilessly ridiculed and portrayed as an imbecile by the opposition party when he was in office.

The other, That’s Not What They Meant by Michael Austin is a political rebuttal to what Austin sees as the misrepresentation of the Founding Fathers by the political right wing.

But what struck me most in both books was the role speech has played in our history—back when it was just speech.

In the 1780s, there was a heated debate regarding states’ rights versus a strong central government. The opposing sides spoke directly to their opponent’s arguments by publishing and circulating their own positions in pamphlets and newspapers for everyone to read.

Approximately three score and give or take a few years later, as Lincoln would say, the nation was still deeply divided over this question of states’ rights. While campaigning at a political rally in Chicago, Stephen Douglas, a powerful political voice in a country, was taunted relentlessly but rather than give in or drop out he decided to take his message to the people. He crisscrossed the state speaking anywhere and everywhere to get his message out.

His opponent, Abraham Lincoln, decided to follow him and address the same people with his own message. Neither man spoke only to friendly audiences or forced anyone to listen to them. But the people came and they did listen. Their face-offs became known as the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

A 30-second ad is nothing more than a tidbit of banality crammed alongside several other tasty but otherwise nasty ads, all randomly tossed between mindless sitcoms like a juicy portabella mushroom-bacon-cheeseburger sandwiched between two deep-fried chicken breasts. It differs from an actual exchange of ideas because with discourse, you actually have to say something.

True, a speech can also contain a lot of jibber-jabber but that’s because jibber-jabber is also an inalienable right. Still the simple act of writing something down on paper or saying something that can be transcribed on paper forces people on both sides of the issue, as well as those reading the arguments to be a little more reflective.

The question is not, why do we let the Koch brothers spend millions and soon billions on effective yet expensive, senseless TV ads? The question is why do we make these ads worth their money?

Maybe money is the same as speech. If so, our country is suffering through a period of speech inflation right now. Speech has gotten way too expensive, to the point where 30 seconds is all anyone can afford—and only billionaires can afford that.

But if money is speech and speech is money, so also, time is money. There's no reason why the voter's time can't be money better spent. Voters make a serious mistake if they put any stock into any 30-second ad promoting any politician or policy, without first investing a little of his own time to learn the facts that might lead to a better understanding of the issues. Voters are also the only ones who can turn the investment in that ad into a serious mistake by the big spender who thought it was a good thing to put his money where his mouth should have been.
Meaningless car ads might be the best way to get us into a showroom but they shouldn’t be what gets us into a voting booth nor be the basis for what we do in a voting booth.

Electing leaders and choosing policy is too important. It should take more effort and cost less money, because free speech ain’t worth nothing unless it’s free.   




Friday, February 6, 2015

Eastward Ho!

This story was written in 1977, shortly after Kath and I arrived in Kill Devil Hills, NC. Since then we have both made numerous more trips, together and separately, by plane and by car. But this particular journey was the biggest one of all—the one that changed everything.
This trip took place in February 1977. Married just two months and unable to find work in Long Beach we had packed all our belonging—a sofa, a table, a desk and a lot of other stuff, and headed east.


   In 1804, President Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore and create a trail to the West Coast through the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.  In 1806, some 28 months after they had left civilization behind, they completed their journey.

   Settlers traveling in wagon trains later used the trail they created.  They made the same journey—under favorable conditions—in a matter of just months.  Later, the railroads would cut the time even more.  But even as the length of time was shortened, one factor remained the same.  The country still had to be crossed.  It had to be seen, felt, endured, and finally conquered.

   Such is not always the case today.  Such was not the case in 1972 when I took my last cross-country jet flight.  Under the auspices of the United States Army, I was flying at half fare.  Everything in the military is either half-rate, half-mast, or double time, but that is another story.  The point is that with the Army paying and American Airlines flying, I was afforded the opportunity to cross the country in nearly five hours.  Lewis and Clark spent more time feeding their horses—the first day.

   That is how it is today.  Businessmen joke about leaving a Holiday Inn in New York and flying to Los Angeles where they stay in another Holiday Inn.  They don’t miss a meal and they don’t lose any sleep.  And never once do they see a road sign, stoplight, or detour.  It’s like going to the opening day baseball game and then six months later reading in the paper the final standings and missing all that happened in between.

   It was for this reason that my wife and I looked upon our upcoming journey with particular excitement.  We were moving from Long Beach, California to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  Possibly no one else in the history of mankind had done such a thing.  But more important than the destination or the fact that it was a cross-country trip, was that we were doing it cross-country.

   Like a Depression era documentary being shown in reverse, we were loading our treasures into a trailer and crossing the country to what we hoped would be a better future.