Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

I thought of FDR's famous statement during the recent spate of human stampedes at our airports and malls. With the actual terrorist attacks at airports in Brussels and Istanbul fresh in people’s minds, it didn’t take more than some loud noise to cause panic at a mall in Raleigh on Aug. 13, the next day at JFK in New York, at a mall in Michigan on Aug. 20, at another mall in Orlando on Aug. 25, and then, the latest, at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 28.

There were no cries of “Fire!”, no explosions, no gunshots. We have become so sensitized to actual terrorism that a sudden noise can start a panic in a crowded area, such as an airport terminal or a mall. Those who would commit terror are probably having a good laugh at us.

Unfortunately, the emergence of terrorism makes it difficult to assuage our fears. Can we be unduly critical of that handful of  travelers or shoppers who, for whatever reason, became frightened and began to run, setting off a wholesale panic? This problem is not easily solved by Roosevelt's dictum.

But there is a great difference between his statement — a call for sober reflection on dealing with difficulties — and the stoking of fear by Donald Trump. His mantra is that we are doomed if we don't elect him president. He capitalizes on every violent incident that may or may not be related to terrorism — such as a shooting in Chicago. He would have you believe that crime is rampant across the nation, when, in fact, it has been declining for the past several years.

I believe that the leaders of ISIS would like nothing better than to see Trump elected president. It would create the perfect atmosphere for massive recruitment by ISIS and al Qaeda. Terrorism would multiply, both in the Middle East and in countries around the world, including the United States.

So how do we combat terrorism and the fear of it at the same time? First, we must not elect Donald Trump president. Second, we must intensify commitments with and by other countries — especially those in the Middle East — to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda. Third, we must increase our efforts to curb terrorist recruitment. As for the fear factor, uniformed security forces at airports, malls, and other places of large gatherings, must be increased. The more their presence is felt the less likely it is for either an actual terrorist incident to be carried out or for “false alarms” to result in panic.

Donald Trump's bluster notwithstanding, there is no easy solution to eradicating terrorism from the planet; it has all but replaced warfare between countries. But while FDR's statement may be somewhat simplified — spoken during the pain of the Great Depression — it certainly trumps Trump's cure: “We're gonna bomb the shit out of ’em!”    


Friday, August 19, 2016

Special Privileges

After reading a column in the Washington Post about a move in Congress to excuse taxation on the medals won in the Olympics — the winners of which receive not only the medals, but $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze — I thought back to my two-year stint in the Army during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1952.

My last of three Army bases was Fort Eustis, Virginia. In my company were several noted sports figures — Willie Mays the most notable. Among others were Ed Roman, the center for the City College basketball team — which a year before had won both the NCAA and NIT tournaments, but then became enmeshed in a betting scandal; Vernon Law, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Fran Rogell, fullback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I remember one other sports luminary: Sandy Saddler, the world's featherweight champion. While I was in the base hospital, having undergone a minor operation, Saddler, dressed in fatigues and sporting an enormous ring, paid us a cheering-up visit. He regaled us with stories about his career and answered questions about boxing.

Although there was a military draft — through which I came to serve, thankfully not in battle — all these stars had been recruited with assurances that they would not be sent overseas, that their primary duties would be carried out in their respective sports.

But the scandal of providing safe service to sports luminaries hit the fan, so to speak, and an Army investigation into the situation resulted in reassignment of the officer in charge of this charade to Fort Knox, where he apparently served nobly guarding our gold bullion, and genuine basic training for the sportsmen in my company.

Special privileges may be found in almost every aspect of our culture, from business to sports, to entertainment. I, too, benefited from it: I had the privilege of playing catch with Willie Mays on a bright afternoon in the fall of 1952.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guilt by Accusation


In 1898 that word shook France. It was the headline of an open letter to a Paris newspaper by the French author Emile Zola, accusing the French military of framing Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army, as a traitor. Zola accused the military of using anti-Semitism to gain the conviction.

At the time of Zola’s letter, Dreyfus had already begun serving a five-year sentence on Devil’s Island. But thanks in no small measure to Zola’s letter, new evidence was uncovered which revealed that another officer was the culprit. Dreyfus was retried in 1899, and in a strange legal decision, he was re-sentenced to 10 years, then pardoned!

Dreyfus resumed his military career. He was promoted to major, fought in World War I and died in 1935.

Such is the power of accusation. But unlike Zola’s use of it on the side of justice, today it is the common currency for nefarious purposes in politics — especially in the campaign of Donald Trump.

Not a day has gone by when Trump or his surrogates have not accused Hillary Clinton of every evil imaginable — including suspicions that she may have had something to do with the death of Vince Foster, deputy White House counsel during the first few months of Bill Clinton’s first term.

Trump called Foster’s suicide “very fishy.” (Well, that’s not exactly an accusation; let’s call it an innuendo — accusation’s slippery cousin.)

Remember his debating delicacies: “Little Marco,” “Lying Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb”? His favorite these days is “Crooked Hillary.” And the other day he added “bigot” to his list of epithets for her. But the most egregious accusation that Trump's warped mind cooked up was that President Obama and Hillary Clinton “founded ISIS.”

Proof? You don’t need any for the unquestioning supporters of Mr. Trump. And where did he call her a bigot? At a rally in almost all-white West Bend, Wisconsin, about 40 miles away from Milwaukee, which is 40 percent African-American.

My voice is not as powerful as that of Emile Zola, but let me make an accusation. Donald Trump is a bigot, a misogynist, a sleazy human being — and, oh yes, a crooked businessman. Where’s my proof? It’s in every report of his numerous business dealings and in every one of his campaign speeches. As they say in court, I rest my case.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Gold Medals and Lead Balloons

I’ve been watching the Olympics and election campaign coverage alternately on TV. The difference is striking.

No, I’m not referring to the fact that one is a feast of fantastic sports events and the other is a race for the presidency. I’m referring to character. Aside from my jaw-dropping admiration for the athleticism on display in Rio, I’ve actually found myself choked up by the camaraderie and good will displayed within teams, between teams, and by every nation — East, West, North and South. The closest thing to animosity was the questioning by a U.S. swimmer as to whether a Russian swimmer should have been allowed to compete based on a doping charge.

The world I witnessed at the Olympics is nowhere to be found in the inflammatory, isolationist and dangerous campaign of Donald Trump.

Sometimes a confluence of disparate events — such as these two — brings truth into sharp focus; in this case, how the beauty and brotherhood displayed in Rio shatters the dire depiction of our nation and the world by Mr. Trump.

Remember Paper?

Time was when you would write a letter on a sheet of paper — with pen, pencil or typewriter — place it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and send it off to someone who would be the only person able to read it — unless he or she wanted to show it to someone else. No hacking, no cherry-picking for partisan purposes — ergo, no scandals. Ahh, the good old days.

Now just the mention of emails sends shivers down the spines of those in government or business who send and receive loads of emails daily. The email hot seat is currently occupied by Hillary Clinton, who happens to be running for the presidency. We don't know at this writing how greatly her email problem will affect her candidacy. I suspect that she will overcome it, and, on January 20, 2017, she will occupy the Oval Office. At least I hope so, given the alternative.

But the problem goes deeper than the hacking of emails for political dirt. With all its marvels, computer technology has opened the way for scams, pornographic seduction, robbery of bank accounts — and there is even a call by some in government to return to paper ballots as a guarantee against digital interference with voting machines.

I realize we can't go back to the old days and old ways — nor should we — but the advent of  sophisticated computerized chicanery is frightening. It's a Pandora's Box that Pandora never dreamed of.