The Thrill is Gone

Jeff Koterba cartoon for June 19, 2015 "Jeb Bush Trump Hillary Clinton Pope campaign"

News of the current presidential race seems to be fading from the headlines. And it’s not surprising. Donald Trump’s shenanigans could hold America’s interest for just so long. And it was only to be expected that the Bernie Sanders phenomenon would lose its shock value after a few weeks.

I bet the huge TV audiences attracted by the first two Republican debates will never be repeated. And if the Democratic candidates get a tenth of those ridiculous ratings, I will be surprised.

I suppose one reason the thrill is gone is that real news has erupted – the terrible massacre in Oregon, for example And Putin’s sneaky bombing raids in support of Syrian dictator Assad.

When such really important things happen, political tomfoolery can’t possibly continue to hold the public’s attention.

The campaign will go on, of course. There are 12 long months left before we get to vote. But I don’t think many of us will be persuaded one way or another. I know I made up my mind long ago, and nothing anyone can say is going to change it.

The malcontents and xenophobes who plan to vote for Trump will never switch to Jeb or even Carly. And the evangelicals who support Ben Carson will go right on praying for him. Eventually. somebody like Marco Rubio could slip between the cracks and grab the nomination.

Not that it matters. All of the Republican candidates offer the same mix of archaic, white male dominated, ignorance -based policies. And the Tea Party is still going to send nut cases to Congress to prevent anything from happening.

On the other side of the ledger, it won’t make much difference who gets the nod from the Democrats, Hillary or Bernie – or even Joe if he decides to run  (no, that guy from Maryland isn’t a factor). They will try their best, as Barack did, to build a brave, new America. But what with Blue Dog Democrats in the Senate and the Tea Party caucus in the House, their plans for hope and change will be an impossible dream.

America will lurch from crisis to crisis, two steps forward and one step back – with luck. Two steps back and one forward without luck (especially if the Republicans win the elections).

But the show must go on even though it’s getting stale. So we’ll still be subjected to stuff like Hillary on Saturday Night Live and Trump insulting all and sundry while promising to make America great again as only he can.

And, as time goes by, we will become less and less amused.


Single-Source Journalism



Reporters used to learn very early in their careers to get at least two sources for their story. A single source is often misleading, sometimes deliberately so.

It’s been a couple of days since that horrible mass shooting in Oregon and investigators are only now sorting out the details. Yet the media were full of “facts” from the start. The gunman had killed 10, no make that 13, even 15, students at Umpqua Community College. The publisher of the local newspaper came on TV to confirm the 13 total.   The number of wounded ranged wildly, reaching as high as 20. At first, the shooter’s age – provided by the state governor – was listed as 20. We heard he had committed suicide.

The media also informed us the shooter was from the Midwest and had been in Oregon for only 48 hours. His family was from England, according to early reports. He had been chatting online with a female student and she might have spurned him, leading to his maniacal rage.

It seems none of this was true.

We are now hearing that the killer was a 26-year-old loser –  identified as Chris Harper-Mercer – who was kicked out of the army after a few months. He killed eight students and a professor. He also wounded several others but the last I heard the total – a lot less than 20 – is still in flux.

The gunman was apparently enrolled at the community college and lived nearby with his mother, Laurel Harper. She worked as a nurse and reportedly bragged on Facebook about her extensive gun collection. They previously lived in California.

Harper-Mercer did not commit suicide. Law enforcement officers shot him. At least that’s what we’re hearing now.

Meanwhile, all kinds of false information has been raining down upon us. Especially from the so-called social media (which the mainstream media culls for “news”). In the flurry of self-important web postings, a different name, Toby Reynolds, also known as Egg Man, was falsely fingered as the shooter.

Why am I rehashing the flawed reporting of the Oregon tragedy? Because it shows you can’t believe everything you read or hear these days.

And that’s sad.  Misinformation can do a lot of harm.

The Pope’s visit to America was tainted after he left, for example, because Kim Davis told the media she had met “secretly” with him and he had told her to “stay strong.” The pundits took Davis at her word, and blasted the pope for supporting a lawbreaker. One columnist even called the pope “a coward.”

But who says Davis was telling the truth?

I don’t think she was. The Vatican has denied the Pope said anything to support Davis in her illegal refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Apparently, there was no clandestine meeting. Davis just happened to be in a line of people who had somehow wangled permission to meet the pontiff on one of his stop-overs. Also, a same-sex couple was among the many, many folks who got to shake the pontiff’s hand and get a few encouraging words from him.

But I wonder whether those who read the original stories have seen the clarifications. Even if they have, the harm has been done. The pope’s historic visit now has a cloud over it.

By publishing the comments of a single source without getting confirmation, the media have once again failed to do their job.

Click for more on Kim Davis and the Pope.


Deja Vu All Over Again

Once again the unthinkable has happened. A crazed killer has gunned down innocent victims who had done him no harm, whom he did not even know.

Once again, outrage has erupted across the land. This morning I received two petitions calling for reform of America’s gun laws. I signed them of course, but with scant hope that they will have any effect. Been there, done that – not once but many times. Too many times.

Once again, President Obama vented his anger on TV and vowed – once again – to fight the powerful gun lobby.

Once again the stricken faces of bereaved loved ones – from past tragedies – appeared on TV, pleading for something to be done.

Experts of every stripe were summoned to explain what’s wrong in this society, why an ocean of blood is shed year after year, and what should be done about it.

But don’t you in your heart know what should be done? Don’t you know there is only one way to cure this epidemic of gun violence?

Of course you do. For, as the President said in his anguish:

 We are collectively answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction. 

As long as America keeps electing and re-electing politicians who feed at the NRA trough, nothing is going to get done. Nothing.

And as long as Americans keep doing that, their hands will be stained with the blood of the innocent victims of senseless gun violence.

(Photo above was posted online by Chris Harper-Mercer, identified as the gunman.)

Click for the Oregon massacre.

Click for the President’s speech.

Click to sign a petition.

Click to sign a second petition.


Beware the Syrian Trap



I was surprised – shocked – by Vladimir Putin’s shameless treachery in attacking Syrian rebels who, according to the media, are backed by the United States. But I was also surprised to find out the US is backing any of the rebels.

The media calls the US backed rebels “moderates.” But I find it hard to reconcile with any kind of moderate philosophy the image of armed men blowing up the scenery and slaughtering people.

OK, so they’re fighting Assad and Assad is a monster. But in the Mideast, who isn’t?

From what I read in the newspaper and on the internet and see on TV, there is nobody you can trust in that part of the world.

If you believe what the Iraqis say, for example, you must  have just come off the bus from the country.

Those same Itaqis who cost the US billions and billions of dollars – and thousands of lives – are now in bed not only with their Shia pals in Iran but also with Putin.

So are the Chinese. While President Obama was treating Xi Jinping to a state dinner and giving him a fraternal handshake, the Chinese president was sending a warship to support the Russian assault on Syrian rebels.

Hey, President Obama! Things are not what they seem, buddy. When Putin tells you he is joining your war on ISIS, you should stop and think. Of course, Putin would want to remove ISIS from his doorstep. But what he wants even more is to prop up Assad’s bloody regime.

Putin has been a pal of Assad’s from way back. But that’s not the only thing that motivates him. He is a former KGB agent, and such people don’t cherish the same ideals as you and I. Human life is an expendable commodity to people like those. Lying is completely normal.

Notions of democracy, freedom, justice and such are absurd in their world. You do what works. And if that includes mass murder, hey, that’s just the way it is.

I don’t know anything about the “moderate” rebels in Syria, but I can see how the “liberation” of Libya turned out, how Egypt is doing under “democracy,”  how nation building fared in Iraq and Afghanistan, what deposing Saddam Hussein did for the Iraqis…

Like Assad, Saddam was a monster. But in his Iraq, ordinary people could pursue their ordinary lives with some assuarance of stability. Not democracy of course. Not justice or liberty or fraternity or whatever. But they could go to sleep at night – most of them anyway – assured that they would probably be gettting up in the morning and going to work as usual.

And Saddam’s Iraq provided a bulwark against Iran. With him out of the way, the Iranians are swarming all over the region. And their traditional allies, the Russians, are moving in behind them.

What does America do now? Now that the genie is out of the bottle?

I don’t know. But I do know this:  An emotional response could be catastrophic. Sometimes you have to curb your anger, however righteous, and swallow your pride.

I think this is one of those times. The world’s major powers are involved in a chess game that could have far-reaching, and unforeseen, implications.

This is a time for brains – not brawn.

Click for more on the Russian attack.

Click for more on China’s involvement.

Click for an analysis of the situation.


It’s a Mad, Mad World



Is everybody going crazy in this nutty world of ours? As I scan this morning’s news, I am struck by the bizarre quality of many of the events being reported.

Perhaps most mind boggling is the revelation that Congressman Robert Brady, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, swiped the Pope’s half-empty drinking glass, obviously believing it contained some kind of Holy Water (lower photo).

How must Pope Francis feel about something like that? He comes to America with a message of love, forbearance and reasonableness, and at least one American takes away the idea that his saliva has magical powers? Can such people even understand what the pontiff was trying to tell them?

So you say that’s just one man – and a politician at that. We all know politicians are not like you and me. They’re weird.

But why do so many weird politicians get elected? I have to believe it’s because the voters are weird.

As Ben Carson’s popularity soars, rivaled only by Carly Fiorina’s, I wonder at the weirdness of the American electorate. Consider these pronouncements by Dr. Carson (top photo):

  • Homosexuality is a choice, because prisoners who are raped become gay.
  • Obamacare is worse than slavery.
  • Americans are living in a Gestapo age.
  • The Big Bang is a “fairy tale” and evolution is a theory encouraged by the Devil.
  • Young, black men get shot because they didn’t have dads to teach them how to handle authority.
  • No Muslim should become president of the US.

Even weirder is his insistence that a fertilized egg is a human being and deserves Constitutional protection as a citizen of the United States. That concept would make taking the morning-after birth control pill first-degree murder, I suppose.

And the retired neurosurgeon says these things in that quiet, amiable way of his, as if everyone must surely recognize their scientific validity. When a famous surgeon, who spent so many years studying science, says things like that, you have to wonder whether he is senile – or just plain crazy.

Dr. Carson’s strange ramblings are benign, however, when compared with Carly Fiorina’s malicious lies.

I don’t mean her fabricated Horatio Alger story about rising from a lowly secretary to CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She was born rich, attended private schools and has two post-graduate degrees. She entered the business world as a fast-tracked management trainee, not as some nondescript “secretary.”

But in today’s politics fictional biographies are commonplace. (Marco Rubio’s fairy tale about his parents fleeing Castro’s persecution is an example. They fled Batista’s Cuba, not Castro’s.)

I can also tolerate Fiorina’s brazen misrepresentation of her career as a CEO. Perception of failure or success is subjective after all, and if polishing our resumes were a crime, most of us would be in prison.

What really sickens me is her slanderous description of  a non-existent scene from a video that supposedly shows Planned Parenthood employees marketing tissue from aborted fetuses. She not only lies about what she sees in the video, she doubles down on her lie when challenged.

But I suppose Fiorina’s brazen fakery is par for the course in a campaign season that has witnessed the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

If ever there was a snake oil salesman, Trump is it.

While these strange events are taking place in America, the rest of the world is witnessing its own horrific weirdness.

There’s the rampant insanity of the Middle East, where friends are foes and foes are friends, depending on the situation, where Israel’s Benjjamin Netanyahu and the Ayatollah Khamenei seem to be vying for the title of warmonger of the year and where Vladimir Putin is weaving his own brand of empire building as millions are killed, maimed and displaced in Syria.

Don’t they all know we are here for a short time only, that they, too, must one day return to the dust they came from?

None of it makes sense. It’s a mad, mad world, after all.

Click for the Robert Brady story.

Click for more on Dr. Carson’s beliefs.

Click for more on Fiorina.

Click for more on the Middle East.

Click for a Mideast friendship chart.


True Grit Matters


 If you ever doubted that golf is a mataphor for life, your doubts must surely have been disspelled as you watched the FedEx Cup playoffs. The talent on display was awesome. But it wasn’t talent that determined the outcome, it was grit.

I know, you are going to tell me how talented Jordan Spieth is. But he doesn’t stripe it off the tee as far as Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson or Rory McIlroy. His iron play is impressive but not quite as crisp as Henrik Stenson’s.

There have been better ball strikers in the game, Tiger Woods in his prime, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson… I’m sure you can add your own names to the list, some perhaps who never achieved fame or riches.

I have to admit that Spieth may be the best putter in the world today. Especially under pressure. And, yes, in golf – as in life – we “drive for show and putt for dough.” But it isn’t just his skill on the greens that makes Spieth a winner, it’s his ability to apply that skill under pressure – at  the moments that count most.

And it wasn’t his putting that won him nearly $12 million over those four days.

It was his character.

For the four days of the Coca Cola Tour Championship were a test of character. The weather in Atlanta was wretched. Under gray skies, often under drenching rain, the world’s best golfers struggled to keep on keeping on. The soggy fairways and even more soggy rough made striking the ball as much a test of will as of skill.  And the wet fairways made the long, tough course play even longer. On the par-four fifth hole some of the most powerful players found it impossible to reach the green in two shots.

If you play golf, you know how hard it is to make a clean strike off muddy turf. Even the best players in last week’s tournament found the ball skidding erratically off the clubface, sometimes floating short of the target, sometimes taking off like a misfired rocket.

The great talents were ground down. Jason Day, who only days earlier was being lauded as the game’s latest superstar, crumbled. Rory McIlroy achieved spectacular moments but he, too, was beaten down by the relentlessly unrewarding conditions. And as his mano-a-mano battle with Spieth wore on, Stenson faltered, finally shanking the ball on his approach to the seventeeth green.

Through it all, Spieth kept grinding, always on task, giving each shot the best he could muster at that time. Patient. Stalwart. Undeterred.

No, this 22-year-old phenom is not the next Tiger Woods. He doesn’t have that kind of talent.

But I think he could be the next Ben Hogan. Like his legendary fellow-Texan, Iordan Spieth relies on the power of mind over matter – on an unsinkable will and relentless commitment as well as on talent.

And in golf, as in life, that’s what makes great and enduring champions.

Photo shows Jordan Spieth after sinking a 47-foot putt in the final round of the Tour Championship.

Click for Jordan Spieth’s win.

Click for more on Spieth.


A Sick Supreme Court



The United States system of government sits on three pillars – Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. I’m sure you know how rotten Congress has become, and you either love or hate the President, but how do you feel about the Supreme Court?

Conservatives are calling for the court’s reform. They were shocked by decisions on Obamacare and gay marriage. Of course, saving Obamacare and legalizing same-sex marriage were majority decisions, and, apparently, political decisions.

The highest court in the land was supposed to be above politics, but over the years Presidents of opposing views have appointed political hacks, instead of impartial jurists, as justices. For once, I agree with the conservatives, this court is far from the one envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

I imagine they had in mind a sober panel of nine sages, whose wisdom and erudition would temper the emotional swings of politics.

But in a land where so many judicial positions are filled by elections, this was an impossible dream from the start.Today’s justices are all, with one possible exception, politically biased.

With Justices Ruth Baer Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer openely liberal, and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts, unabashedly conservative, cases tend to be decided by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is regarded as politically centrist.

I am sure the Founding Fathers did not anticipate that.

As I, too, am politically biased, I celebrate the court’s decisions on the health care law and on same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing the court’s flaws.

While the chief justice is not “conservative” enough for the radical Republicans of today, he is far too conservative for me.

But that’s not my main quarrel with the court. It’s the lack of character of some justices that I deplore most.

Clarence Thomas, for example, is tainted by conflicts of interest, and – as I see it – by his utter incompetence. And Alito and Scalia seem to be either senile or mentally challenged.

Those three are so lacking in common decency that they did not even attend the Pope’s address to Congress.

Catholics all, I imagine they find Pope Francis too caring, too loving, too sharing, too inclusive.

This display of rudeness and hubris is a rebuke to St. Peter’s church and an affront to God. How can such people be elevated to positions of such great responsibility – and assured of their positions for life?

The Founding Fathers must be turning in their graves.

Photo above shows, back row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan; front row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Click for the apparent boycott of the Pope’s speech.

Click for more on the Supreme Court.


The Center Cannot Hold

tea party


 Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The opening verse of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” says it eloquently for me. It seems that more evidence emerges every day that the center cannot hold, that a polarized world is swirling into the abyss.

With House Speaker John Boehner resigning in America and the Labour Party electing Jeremy Corbyn as their new leader in Britain, with Vladimir Putin seeking to rebuild the Soviet Empire, with the European Union apparently falling apart…. With ISIS raging in the Mideast and Israel electing a hardliner as Prime Minister…

With the Mideast in flames and millions uprooted from their homes by endless violence, risking death, starvation and pestillence as they seek refuge in some foregn land…

With just about every new development, the phenomenon persists… Things fall apart. Reconciliation and harmony become increasngly inacessible. Extremism is the order of the day…

In the midst of this catastrophic collapse of global civilization, a radical strain of toxic politics has emerged in America. This movement defies traditionally accepted concepts of civilized behavior and demands the right to be primitive.

It is the culture of the cave dwellers, in which the strong take from the weak, and greed, selfishness and intolerance rule.

There is no room for cooperation, no respect for the common good, no tolerance for those who see the world differently. It’s my way or the highway, take it or leave it, like it or lump it. And – as I used to hear sometimes in Jamaica – “strong man never wrong.”

It’s the message we are hearing from the Republican candidates for President. It’s the doctrine of the Tea Party extremists who ran John Boehner out of the Speaker’s chair, and who are dominating the Republican presidential campaigns.

While that incorrigible centrist, President Obama, seeks common ground with Chinese President Xi Jinping, apparently agreeing at least on climate change and cyber theft, the world around them swirls with hatred and vitriol.

What troubles me most is the apparent popularity of extreme politicians. I suspect this perception is projected by the apathy of the moderates and the fanaticism of the extremists. As Yeats expressed it:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Click for more on Boehner’s resignation.

Click for Yeats’ poem.

Click for Obama and Xi Jinping.

Click for more on Jeremy Corbin.


A Jew’s View of the Pope



Bereligion 1rnie Sanders is not a Catholic. He is a Jew. But he is an enthusiastic supporter of the Pope. That tells me, as much as anything else, how much this new Pope means to mankind.

The Vermont senator, who is a candidate for the presidency, praised the Pope in an email I received this morning. He noted that the pontiff  “is reaching out not just to the Catholic Church. He’s reaching out to people all over the world with an incredibly strong message of social justice talking about the grotesque levels of wealth and income inequality.”

To me, this is a dramatic example of that “common ground” Pope Francis keeps referring to, an example also of the “common good” he urges politicians to pursue.

Compassion, charity and justice are not just teachings of the Catholic religion, or of other Christian faiths. They are advocated by every major religion, including Judaism and – yes – Islam.

Even Humanists, who reject or question the existence of a Supreme Being, acknowledge these moral imperatives.

So you have to wonder at the rage with which America’s right-wing media (and others in the Religious Right) have greeted the Pope’s message.

I am flabbergasted by the unapologetic way in which these hatemongers embrace a pariah philosophy.

They find virtue in greed, oppression, injustice, cruelty, bullying, selfishness, extremism … all the vices I was taught to abhor.

They would destroy our beautiful Earth, not only with pollution but also with bombs and missiles. They glorify looting and  plundering. They advocate violence to resolve any dispuite – large or small.

If ever there was a conflict between Good and Evil in this world of ours, we are witnessing it today. And it’s not between Christians and Muslims, as so many believe. It’s simply between the Good and the Evil in all of us, whatever our race or creed.

Click for right-wing rage.

Click for more on major religions.


The Golden Rule



The most thunderous ovation during the Pope’s speech to Congress today came when he reminded America of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When did you first hear that? In Sunday School? In kindergarten? At your mother’s knee?

Yet we needed the Pope’s reminder.  Indeed, we needed the Pope’s speech.

He gently brought to mind the values and perceptions that have made America the world’s greatest nation. The values and perceptions that could yet make America the greatest society in history. He observed that America is a land of dreams – some realized, some still aspired to.

A land of dreams – and a land of immigrants who follow their dreams to these shores. Most Americans are immigrants, he observed. He, himself, is the son of immigrants.

As the children of immigrants, should we not greet today’s immigrants with empathy?

From immigration to civil rights, from income inequality to global poverty, from the evils of global arms sales to the dangers of religious extremism, from economic injustice to the impending terrors of climate change, the pontiff spoke truth to power – in calm and conciliatory tones, in sober reflection, not in angry denunciation. And Congress listened intently, applauding enthusiastically from time to time.

Pope Francis is well aware of the complexities of politics, and he acknowledges the difficulty of realizing America’s dreams, but he tells us there’s joy and fulfilment in striving to make dreams come true, just as there is in attaining them.

The thorny and divisive issues of our time should be handled in a spirit of cooperation, he advises. Not with extreme and polarizing rhetoric.

Time and again, he evoked the need for dialog, the essential role of discourse in the business of government. And dialog means listening as well as talking. We cannot expect a hundred percent agreement, but we can reach acceptable compromises. That’s how the real world works.

Deal with life and people as you find them, not as you would wish them to be, he said.

As for me, I do not agree one hundred percent with everything the Pope advocates. But I understand his reasoning. If you respect human life, for example, I can understand why you would abhor abortion. But, speaking pragmatically, I witnessed the horrors of backroom abortions as a young reporter and I would not want to go back to those days. I prefer to acknowledge a woman’s right to legally terminate unwanted pregancies. It’s her body after all, not mine.

Interestingly, Pope Francis is not politically partisan on the sanctity of human life. He called – strongly – for an end to the death penalty, which many anti-abortion advocates vigorously support.

That’s the way we humans are – inconsistent.

But the Pope reassures us that humans have the capacity to unite for the common good. And he urges us to talk – or rather, to dialog – with each other to find common ground and achieve that common good.

With provocative loudmouths like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so prominent in American politics today, the Pope’s gentle voice is a welcome reminder that we can reason together in good faith, even when we strongly disagree on individual issues.

And he reminds us that we can make the world a better place if we treat others as we would wish them to treat us.

Click for more on the Pope’s speech.