Archive for August, 2016

Back Page for Gary; Two Bits for 50 Cent

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Gary Sanchez ...future star?

Gary Sanchez …future star?

Back page stuff: Last week, I wrote about my need in this time of negative news to find a feel-good sports story, one worthy of the back page in a tabloid newspaper. The baseball gods must have read my plea and felt my angst.

They delivered Gary Sanchez, a gift to Yankee fans like myself, in particular, and baseball fans in general. Sanchez, 22, was liberated from the Yankees’ minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pa., as part of the major league’s club purge of aging veterans and infusion of young, potential stars.

Sanchez has been with the Yankees for two weeks and has been named American League player of the year both weeks. No rookie has ever earned that honor back-to-back, never mind in his first two weeks. In fact, the last time an American League player won the award in consecutive weeks was 18 years ago and that was an established star, Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox.

Sanchez was installed as the Yankees’ starting catcher and immediately started hitting home runs, a Yankee tradition. He has not stopped hitting them yet. He has 11 home runs in 23 career games. No Yankee slugger got to that number that quickly and the Yankees’ roster of sluggers boasts such names as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

That’s not all. Sanchez is batting .398, driving in runs and throwing out would-be base stealers routinely with a cannon of an arm. He has energized a slumbering Yankee offense. His at bats have become must-see TV, or, in my case, must-hear radio. The other day, listening to the Yankee game on the car radio, I parked in the driveway at home as the Yankees were batting. Sanchez was due up next. I waited to hear what he would do. No way I was going to miss his at bat. He walked. He has been walked a lot, too, a sign of respect from pitchers who haven’t yet figured out how to get him out.

That will come, of course. The pace he has been on is impossible to maintain, but that’s what makes it back-page material. That’s what is at the heart of the appeal of sports — the wholly unexpected happening. Will he do it again? Oh my god, he did it again! The drama, the amazement, the shared joy of fan and player. The lure that first made me want to start the day by reading the paper from back to front,

The Yankees’ obviously had high hopes for Sanchez when they signed him to a $3 million bonus as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic. But no one could have predicted what his first two full weeks as a major league player would be like. The hope, of course, is that he doesn’t flame out just as quickly as he ignited, but that he settles in and becomes maybe another one of those legendary Yankee catchers. The ones who provided plenty of back page material themselves. Yogi, Thurman, Elston, Jorge. … Gary?

Meanwhile, back in the front of the paper:

50 Cent ... two-bit star

50 Cent … two-bit star

When I read that the rapper 50 Cent was coming to Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson River that is struggling to regain its former glory, I had the same reaction as many other residents of the area: Newburgh? Really? He’s big time. Why’s he coming to Newburgh?

When I got the answer to that question, I had another question. Vodka? Really? He’s coming to Newburgh to shill vodka?

I have since asked myself numerous times whether my reaction to this appearance was somehow exaggerated or misplaced or unfair or even old-fashioned. I have decided that, in fact, my reaction was entirely appropriate and I can’t believe no one else has voiced it.

So … The idea that a world-famous black performer would come to Newburgh, a minority majority city that has had to battle drugs, gangs, drug-related shootings, crime in general, poverty, a sullied reputation and a revival effort that at times smells strongly of gentrification to sell, of all things, vodka in a company in which he is a shareholder struck me as ludicrous and incredibly tone deaf.

And talk about crass marketing. For a $40 bottle of vodka, a fan (more than 100 showed up at the liquor store) could get a bottle with 50 Cent’s signature. (I don’t know if he signs 50 in cursive.) For $240 — the price of a six-bottle case — one could get a photo with Mr. Cent. As far as I can tell, all the money stayed with 50. There were plenty of smiling faces. After two hours, he left, presumably to hawk his vodka at another liquor store.

This left a really bad taste in my mouth. Did he not know anything about Newburgh? Does he not remember his past in Queens? The drug-dealing as a teen. Being raised by his grandparents. Serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Being shot. Did he not have the sense even to say that any money collected from his appearance would go to efforts to fight drugs and alcoholism, to help after-school programs for children, to buy computers for the schools, to fund neighborhood cleanup programs, to promote cultural awareness programs, to help a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, to fund scholarships for talented students who might want to pursue a career in music? Pick one.

He doesn’t need the money. His appearance helped only the liquor store owner and the company that sells the vodka. They’re entitled to want to succeed. And 50 Cent is entitled to want to help make his shares in the company appreciate. But Newburgh deserved better. Be a source of inspiration for Pete’s sake, not a liquor salesman. You’re a star; act like one. Give a performance; raise money to promote revival of Newburgh beyond the waterfront.

On the same day as Mr. Cent hawked vodka, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also visited Newburgh to “unveil a new affordable housing program in which residents can take over properties at little to no cost and get money for renovations,” according to the local paper. Unfortunately, more people were aware of the vodka event than the housing event.

By the way, the name of the booze 50 Cent is pushing? Effen Vodka. Yeah, it’s not funny.

And so it went …

Alt-Right: Trumped-up Name for Bigots

Sunday, August 28th, 2016
Hillary Clinton ... delivering a speech linking Donald Trump to bigots and racists

Hillary Clinton … delivering a speech linking Donald Trump to bigots and racists

By Bob Gaydos

It’s not enough that I’ve had to suffer through the most frightening, embarrassing presidential campaign in my lifetime and, perhaps, in the lifetime of this country, but now I’m being asked to grant legitimacy to the very ugliness that has marred this chapter in American history.

“Alt-right”? “Alt-right”? Are you kidding me? How about ugly, racist, bigoted, anti-semitic, hateful, ignorant, white people who want to blame all their perceived grievances on those who are different from them.

These are the people who never wanted the Civil War to end. Who didn’t want schools integrated or teaching evolution. Who would welcome a return to segregated lunch counters. Who hate the day when Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. Who brandish the swastika. Now they want to start another civil war, led by the biggest con artist ever to claim leadership of a major political party, Donald Trump.

Thank you, Republicans.

Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referred to the most avid followers of Trump as the Alt-Right, a term now being used by mainstream media. With capital letters and everything. This is a collection of hate groups that have been festering quietly in the bowels of the Republican Party for years. Quietly, because even most Republicans are aware that these are not people who are interested in being part of an America that is open and welcome and full of opportunity for all people. These are Klansmen and neo-Nazis and Second-Amendment-spouting “patriots” who want the government to take care of their needs, but ignore the “freeloaders.” Hell, to punish them.

And yes, I blame Republicans for letting this happen because they knew full well the kind of people they were cynically courting for votes and the kind of people they were playing to by refusing to cooperate on any initiative proposed by President Barack Obama. Is it a coincidence that he is our country’s first black president and Trump has freed the racists from the Republicans’ basement? I don’t think so.

I’m glad Clinton spelled out in detail publicly what Trump and his followers represent. She should do more of it, while also spelling out her own alternatives to his fearful message. I hesitate to say that he stands for anything but himself because I think he makes it up as he goes along. He is a pathological liar, a bigot, a misogynist and has a sociopathic need to stir up fear and hatred among the “Alt-Rights” to hear their applause. He gave a scripted speech on how blacks — whose lives in America are a never-ending hell in his view — would be better off voting for him. He gave the speech to a group of white farmers in Iowa. Naturally, they applauded.

It is a sick relationship, enabled by cowardly leaders in the Republican Party who feared losing power and prestige by telling the “Alt-Rights”: You know what folks, in this country we don’t do things that way. We’ve come a long way from those days when skin color, gender, religion, nationality, sexual preference determined whether one was accepted as an American. And, by the way, we’re not going to sacrifice our party’s principles for the sake of a few votes based on hatred and ignorance. So, go find another place to hide.

But no Republican leader said that to them. Instead, they put Sarah Palin on a pedestal and questioned whether their commander-in-chief was really an American..

Alt-Right is not a political philosophy. Rather, it is a fear-based  agenda of white supremacy that is being spread via social media. Their memes offer a message of lies and hate and almost a proud ignorance. Facts and science are irrelevant. It is definitely not conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican. It is fear and hate and white is right and Trump has given it a voice, thanks in large part to the shameless orchestration of Fox News and the cluelessness of all the other news media until it was almost too late.

Trump stole the Republican nomination through bullying, outrageous statements, headline-grabbing and the timidness of many of his opponents, Republican leaders and media commentators. No one had the guts to say he was nuts. Since many of them have belatedly caught on to him, Trump is unlikely to steal the election. In fact, he seems almost intent on losing because he knows he can’t handle the job. It would be a major blow to his ego if he had to demonstrate his ineptitude publicly.

But he has given the cave-dwellers and hate-mongers hope and that is the real tragedy of this insult of an election. They now think they can spread their venom in public without repercussion because, after all, they’ve got a guy running for president of the United States of America for Pete’s sake. If that’s not legit, what is? And now, the media want to give them a legit name like all those other made-up ones — Neo-Con, Neo-Liberal, Far Right, Far Left.

Forget about Alt-Right. Call them what they are: racists and bigots. I say again, any Republican who hears what Trump and his most ardent followers say and sees how they behave and who still says he or she (really, woman?) supports his candidacy is no better than Trump. You are what you say you are. Presidents do not get to issue threats, insults and idiotic statements and change their minds every day.

Clinton has some serious issues to address, but they pale in comparison to what Trump represents. If you support Trump, know this: Your candidate is a fraud, a bigot, a callous, clueless, compassionless, misogynistic, self-aggrandizing bully who belittle veterans who died or were captured in battle and who mocks citizens with physical disabilities.

This is not all right in my America. This kind of “alternative” is unacceptable and does not deserve any special, pseudo-sounding, political movement name so that reporters, editors and columnists can have a shorthand way of saying bigots.

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

And So it Went: ‘2nd Amendment people’, ‘ISIS’ … more Trump ‘do-overs’

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump ... shooting off his mouth again

Donald Trump
… shooting off his mouth again

It was The Week of the Do-Overs: Actually, for Donald Trump and Republicans, it has been nothing but one do-over after another as the disintegration of their party continues in the guise of a presidential campaign.

Most recently, the man “who tells it like it is” and “says what he means” has been going around saying that President Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were the founders of ISIS. That is so absurd on the face of it that only a rabid Trump supporter would believe it. But Trump said it often enough that his spokespersons (the most hapless lot of sycophants in history I have to believe) defended it all over TV. Then Trump did what he always does — a do-over. I didn’t mean it, he said. It was “sarcasm,” he said. His lackies moved on.

Trump also said that if Clinton won the presidency there would be no way to stop her from appointing Supreme Court judges who would not be amenable to conservative points of view. Then he added that maybe the “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. When even Republicans said this was a possibly treasonous call for assassination of his opponent, Trump eventually said, well, he meant that politically they might do it. A do-over.

But there are no do-overs when you suggest that killing your opponent would be an acceptable political act. Not in this country where innocent people are murdered for no reason by deranged men with guns every day and the NRA buys congressional support to defeat any reasonable efforts at gun control. Not when all it takes is for one of those unstable Trump followers to get a gun and follow his leader’s suggestion. Some of them don’t even know what sarcasm is.

Trump is a threat, an insult, a slur, a lie, a boast, an absurdity waiting to happen anytime he speaks. Life to him is one, big do-over. He doesn’t tell it like it is; most of the time he doesn’t know what it’s like. He makes it up. Then, because he’s Trump, he expects to be able to say, “That’s not what I meant” or “the media misinterpreted it” and have everything be OK. He never even suggests an apology for any possible harm his words might cause.

For example, he recently said he “always wanted to get a Purple Heart,” one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard. Trump said it in the midst of insulting a father whose son earned the medal in losing his life in combat saving many of his fellow soldiers in Iraq. Because the man is a Muslim and used the platform of the Democratic Convention to attack Trump’s targeting of Muslims, Trump belittled the man by suggesting he was possibly an ISIS agent. Then, Trump showed how small he is himself (not just his hands) by saying he “always wanted” a Purple Heart and being given one by a veteran was “easier.” Ha ha. Joke.

Thousands of men and women who earned Purple Hearts by being wounded in combat were not amused. They would take no do-overs on this slur. If Trump wants to learn more about these wounded veterans, he can visit the Purple Heart Museum in New WIndsor, N.Y.. It’s not far from where he did his only “military duty” at the New York Military Academy.

But really, this is all the same, week after week. He knows Putin; he doesn’t know Putin. He’s not so sure about supporting NATO allies. What’s a Crimea? What’s the big deal about using nukes? Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. Rather, to use the overworn phrase, he is what he is. A phony, in so far over his head that he is trying desperately to find a way out. The debates are supposedly rigged, he says, so maybe he won’t take on Clinton. The elections are also rigged, he says, so he can’t possibly win.

The ones who really want a do-over are Republican “leaders” who allowed this racist bully to claim their prized possession — candidate for president of the United States. A man with no morals, no compassion, no intellect, no regard for anyone but himself. A man who mocks people with disabilities. A man who says he wanted to punch all those Democrats saying nasty things about him. This, to him, is reasonable discourse for someone wanting to be president of the United States. For shame.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is supposedly OK with Trump avoiding the debates and is his chief apologist. Well, Priebus, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan can go on denouncing Trump’s statements and supporting his candidacy at the same time, but it only makes them look like spineless fools. The know-nothings to whom Trump appeals will stick with them. That’s not enough to save the party of Lincoln. Their day of reckoning is looming.

It seems to me that any Republican with a shred of decency and self-respect, not to mention common sense, should have abandoned Trump and the GOP apologists by now. Any Republican male with a wife or daughters, or both, should have written him off months ago for his comments about women. Any veteran, any Hispanic, any Muslim, any black, any gay, any parent, any woman, any man who respects this country and has hopes for its future needs to look in the mirror and ask, “How can I live with myself if I vote for Donald Trump?”

Evangelicals will have to reckon with their maker.

Some mistakes have no do-overs.   

And So it Went: Two dysfunctional political families trying to survive

Sunday, August 7th, 2016


Hillary and Donald ... heads of the families

    Hillary and Donald
  … heads of the families

By Bob Gaydos

The week began with Donald Trump making inane remarks about always wanting a Purple Heart and arguing with a crying baby. It ended with the Olympics opening to a samba beat in corruption-plagued Brazil. But something else has been rattling around in my brain and I finally figured it out.

For the past decade, the two subjects I have written about more than any others are politics and addiction. While each has its own niche and relevance in the world, I always knew there would come a time when the two merged seamlessly into one. I just didn’t think it would take the most tawdry, depressing, insulting, downright embarrassing presidential campaign in my lifetime for it to happen.

But here we are, my fellow Americans, three months away from having to choose between two of the most disliked candidates in our nation’s history to be the most powerful person on the planet. In 12-step program language: We have become powerless over our political process and our lives are becoming increasingly unmanageable.

At first, I thought this was just a problem for Republicans, many of whom are faced with trying to figure out how to detach from their utterly unmanageable presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Al-Anon, a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics, talks of trying to detach from the alcoholic or addict with love. Love the addict, hate the disease, is the rationale.

However, the group’s members also acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary — for self-preservation — to “detach with an ax.” A few members of the Republican family have done so with Trump and more are in the process of getting up the courage to do so.

More on this in a bit.

What finally alerted me to the dual dysfunction of our presidential campaign — my moment of political clarity, if you will — was the FBI deciding not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, for her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

But they cleared her, you say.  Yes, they did. No crime was committed, they say. But they also said she and her staff were incredibly careless and she showed poor judgment in creating this system, which could have compromised classified information. The FBI and State Department both said it did not, but what struck me was Clinton’s need to ignore established — secure — protocol and install a system over which she, at least theoretically, had total control.

This, I recalled, was not new behavior for Clinton. Her political campaigns — for the U.S. Senate in New York and for president — are famous for her efforts to strictly control and limit all interactions with the news media as well as to carefully manage her public appearances. Not too much mingling.

It’s almost as if, when she feels she is in total control of the situation, she feels comfortable, but if she is not, well, who knows what might happen? There is no trust

Why would any intelligent, capable, successful woman have trust issues?

How about a husband who was a serial philanderer? A successful, charming husband who cheated and lied and paid no serious consequences for his actions, no less. This could prompt some controlling, seemingly arrogant, behavior in anyone who opted not to detach, with love or an ax.

Hillary stayed with Bill and today she is the center of attention. He remains visible and is still respected by many, but obviously is no longer a threat to her peace of mind. He may simply have aged out of the erratic behavior. That happens a lot in dysfunctional families. The “non-problem” spouse no longer has to devote all her energies to making things appear to be normal at home; she really is running things.

So when the “kids” in the Democratic family – the Bernie Sanders progressives — started demanding that things have to change at home, she was able to at least listen. Whether she is able, or willing, to make those changes, however, remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen if she can let down those protective walls and show voters a more human side. To continue the arms-length behavior only breeds distrust among people she’s also asking to like her well enough to give her their vote. It’s foolishly self-defeating behavior for a politician.

If Hillary can recognize that shortcoming and if she can grasp that, as head of the family now, she can let up on some of those reins of control and trust others to help her make decisions, and if she can learn to trust herself in non-choreographed situations, life in the Democratic household will be much more serene. Her life will be more serene.

If she cannot, Bill will still be around, but those Sanders kids are likely to leave home, even if it’s a beautiful, white mansion in Washington, D.C.

For Republicans, the situation is starkly different. Daddy Donald has gone off the rails. He listens to no one, says whatever comes into his mind, insults his allies and attacks anyone who isn’t nice (deferential?) to him. His addiction is the constant need for praise. Where is the next applause line coming from? His erratic behavior is not confined to the home either, but rather is out there for the whole world to see. His buddies in the bar love his one-liners. They think he’s a genius. “Hey, Donnie, you oughta go into politics.”

For the family back at home, it is beyond embarrassing.

As  Al-Anon teaches, those who stay with the addicted individual too long can wind up even sicker than the addict. Today’s Republican Party offers ample evidence of that as party leaders on the one hand condemn whatever bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, utterly stupid thing Trump has said that day and on the other hand continue to support him as head of the family. Shhh, don’t make daddy mad.

Rehab is out of the question. Trump listens to no one. The only healthy way out is to remove the addict from the house, or, as appears to be the situation here, to leave him and set up a new house.

That takes courage and, so far, few Republican leaders — indeed few of the rank-and-file — have shown any willingness to do this. Denial is a killer. Inevitably, the detachment must happen if the family is to survive. How much more suffering the Republican family must endure is up to them.

… And so it went.