Posts Tagged ‘American’

Connecting the Dots on Five Lives

Sunday, December 10th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

F80B818B-215B-4E63-966F-0F72A70D1F07  I have always looked at my function as an editorial writer/columnist to not simply subject readers to my opinions on a variety of topics, but rather, to try to help them connect the dots: A plus B equals C. Or maybe it doesn’t. Here’s why.

     This past week, five prominent figures in American society died, one after another, and it seemed, at least to me, that the dots were literally screaming to be connected: Charles T. Munger, 99; Rosalynn Carter, 99; Henry Kissinger, 100; Sandra Day O’Connor, 93, and Norman Lear, 101.

     At first glance, the only obvious dots were their ages. All had lived past 90, two had reached 100 and two just missed. Good living? Good genes? Coincidence?

     Not being a big believer in coincidence, I had to take a closer look.

     Charlie Munger was the lesser-known half of the founding partners of the Berkshire-Hathaway investment conglomerate, headed by Warren Buffett. Munger was vice chairman.

       On Wall Street, everyone is always interested when Berkshire-Hathaway takes a financial stake in some company, or sells one, because of the company’s phenomenal success. Buffett usually gets the public credit, but he attributes Berkshire- Hathaway’s success to a piece of basic investment advice he got a long time ago from Munger: “Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.”

     Buffett has always preached that same philosophy, irrespective of all the bells and whistles and charts and algorithms others use to try to game the market. Munger would have been 100 years old on New Year’s Day.

     Plains, Ga., is as far from Wall Street philosophically as one can get, but Rosalynn Carter and former President Jimmy Carter made it their home base through all 77 years of their marriage, dedicating their lives to promoting peace, social justice, mental health advocacy, caregiving and also, long after their years in the White House, helping to build homes for those of limited means. Humanitarian is a word Rosalynn Carter did proud, as First Lady and even more so later. 

   “I was more of a political partner than a political wife,” she once wrote. Jimmy agreed. Indeed, she was a major factor in his 1976 election to the presidency. Yet it would be hard, even in these times of political anarchy, to find anyone to utter a negative word about Rosalynn, the world-traveling humanitarian from Plains.

    Of course, when it came to being known and influential around the world, few could outdo Henry Kissinger, secretary of state for both President Nixon and President Ford. Unlike Carter, however, there are plenty of negative opinions to hear about Kissinger to go with the positives.

     He was a constant presence on the world diplomatic scene during the unpopular Vietnam War. Some of his policies, including carpet-bombing of nearby Cambodia, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, to this day bringing anger and scorn from many. But his efforts regarding Vietnam also brought him a Nobel Peace prize.

    Kissinger is also known for his “shuttle diplomacy” in the Mideast and is credited with helping Nixon renew diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, a major diplomatic accomplishment. Indeed, he had still been quietly active in recent years in trying to revitalize tense U.S.-China relations.

    Diplomacy of another sort was a trademark of Sandra Day O’Connor, who, of course, will always be known as the first woman to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan chose a fellow California politician in making the historic nomination and that political background was evident throughout her tenure on the court, not in a partisan political way, but in her recognition of the place of public opinion in the court’s decision-making process and her willingness to set aside her moderate/conservative views when she felt it proper to agree with the more liberal justices. It made her the quintessential swing vote in her 25 years on the court. Since her retirement from the court in 2006, for better or worse, every new justice has been a judge, not a political figure.

    When it came to acknowledging public opinions, though, Norman Lear was without peer. The creator of TV sitcom classics All in the Family and Maude, as well as Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and Good Times, he introduced social and political commentary into popular TV shows, often going where other producers feared to go and letting people actually laugh at their own behavior.

   He received many awards for his shows, but he didn’t confine his outspoken tendencies to TV shows.  

    Lear was also an outspoken activist, supporting liberal and progressive causes and founding People for the American Way, an advocacy group that countered the growth of the Christian right in political debate. A strong supporter of the First Amendment, he also purchased, for $8 million,  one of 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence published on July 4, 1776, and took a road trip around the country with it so that Americans could see it firsthand. He was a proud American.

    And maybe it’s as simple as that. Maybe that’s where the dots connect. Each, in his or her own way, was not only a proud American, but someone who contributed significantly to the American experiment. Some may have disagreed with them from time to time, but these five, with nearly 500 years of life among them, used their years to the fullest. Each lived a life worth remembering.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in/residence at zestoforange.com.

The Syria Conspiracy: One I Can Believe

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump, Assad and Putin

Trump, Assad and Putin

I have never been a fan of conspiracy theories. The JFK assassination? No. The 9/11 building collapse? No. The DNC plotting against Bernie Sanders … Well, OK, two out of three.

To my thinking, most conspiracy theories require: 1) a predetermined attitude on the motive behind the conspiracy (“the government doesn’t want us to know because …”); 2) the willingness to disregard facts (or lack of facts); 3) the belief in the absolute commitment of lots of people over a long period of time to keep a secret; 4) the further belief that the people involved in the conspiracy are actually capable of pulling it off, or at least trying to.

So here’s my conspiracy theory: Trump, Putin and Assad set the whole thing up. The chemical attack, the missile attack, the denials, the warnings from Trump, the threats from Putin. All according to script. Yes, it’s a morbidly depressing theory and so, in some respects, I hope I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m right.

To hatch any sort of conspiracy, there must be something to gain for each of the conspirators. Each must also be able to lie with a straight face, over and over and over again. Being a pathological liar helps. Also, the conspirators must be willing and able to carry out whatever deeds, however unseemly, that are required to promote the fiction they are trying to sell. People will be hurt. Being self-absorbed and demonstrably unconcerned about the welfare of others is also a useful characteristic.

That sounds like Trump, Putin and Assad. In this case, it’s not even hard to believe, let alone conceive of such a chilling conspiracy.

Trump’s motive? Pick one:

  • He doesn’t how how to be president.
  • People think he stinks at the job and he can’t stand rejection.
  • He couldn’t close the deal on the health care plan.
  • People mock his tweets.
  • Judges keep rejecting his executive orders.
  • Even Republicans in Congress couldn’t avoid investigating links between a growing list of Trump campaign aides and Russian hackers to sway the election in his favor. It would be good to get people’s minds off that.
  • People think he’s Putin’s puppet.
  • He likes to act tough.
  • It sounded like a good idea at the time.

OK, so Trump is not the brains behind the plot. Putin is. To get Americans, especially American TV news outlets, to stop focusing on the FBI and CIA and Congress probing whether Trump and Putin are in bed together and, you know, maybe someone committed treason, have Trump order a military strike that has humanitarian justification written all over it, even though it probably won’t accomplish much militarily. A feel-good military action, like attacking someone who has just used chemical weapons against unarmed civilians.

Putin: “Whaddya say, Assad, are you willing to do it again? I know the press will be bad, but that’s nothing new for you. Trump will just mess up one of your airfields with a picturesque nighttime missile strike. TV will eat it up. You’ve got plenty of airfields and we can get your troops and mine out of harm’s way ahead of time. We’ll deny you did it. I’ll talk tough to Donald. He’ll talk tough to me, or better yet, have my buddy, Rex Tillerson, talk tough to me and you.

“Everyone will get nervous. I get to stay in Syria and help you keep your job and the world forgets about Ukraine. My people see me showing a tough Russian face. They can’t earn a decent living in Russia, but they like that image. Meanwhile, your people are even more frightened, convinced that you’re a maniac, willing to kill them in the most horrible ways to retain power. I admire that in you, by the way.

“Americans, of course, will see a bold, decisive president. When Rex comes to see me next week, it will be like old times, in more ways than one. Somehow, we will strike a diplomatic deal. Put down the knives, so to speak. Maybe talk about lifting sanctions in the future. I agree to focus more on fighting ISIS. You agree to a safe zone. ‘Well done!’ the headlines will say. A lot of Americans will believe that Trump has changed overnight from an uncaring, bumbling narcissist to a bold, compassionate leader.”

Assad: “You really think people will believe that about him?”

Putin: “Look, we have to help him. He’s too valuable an asset. Besides, they believed him when he said he’d make America great again. Launching missiles always sends that message.”

Far-fetched? I truly hope so, but all conspiracy theories worth entertaining are. All you need for such an outrageous plot to succeed is three men who have shown no compunction about harming people if it makes them feel more powerful, who have demonstrated a disregard for international law, who possess an uncanny ability to lie, and who have incredible power at their disposal. Also, a public eager to let the story line reinforce their view of how the world is supposed to work.  That is: The good guys win, and we’re the good guys.

Now let’s talk about those contrails.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

It’s not such a grand, old party today

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump, the face of today's Republican Party?

Donald Trump, the face of today’s Republican Party?

I almost don’t know where to start with this. The disintegration of the Republican Party, from a proud political party dedicated to the advancement of its view of the American way of life into a hostile, bigoted, fearful, reactionary group beholden to wealthy forces that care only for enhancing their own way of life, has left me confused, angry, fearful and sad.

It’s not just the sorry collection of presidential candidates the party has put forth. Nor is it just the inability of a Republican-led Congress to do anything but oppose every initiative by a Democratic president and, out of pique, shut down the entire government. And it’s not just the utter disrespect the party that constantly spouts patriotism demonstrates for the Office of President at every opportunity.

What confuses and saddens me the most is the apparent willingness of rank-and-file Republicans and Republican officials at every level of government to sit quietly by as if to say that everything Trump, Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Christie, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush, Paul, et al say is OK. No problem. So it’s a lie. So it’s hateful. So it’s racist. So it’s stupid. So it’s unconstitutional. So it’s inflammatory. So it’s really not the American way. So what? We’re okay with it.

Why do I feel this way? Because I don’t hear any Republican saying otherwise. Have you heard a Republican mayor, council member, county legislator, county executive, state legislator, governor, district attorney, etc. say publicly that Donald Trump’s utterings are racist, fascist and play to people’s fears? That they could lead to violent behavior on the part of individuals who feel justified because, after all, they are only responding to the words of the leading Republican presidential candidate?

I haven’t. Not one. Republican presidential candidates only began dumping on Trump recently when he said that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. Some party leaders joined them in criticizing Trump. This was apparently one Trump too much for them. It’s not what America stands for, they said. Not what the Republican party stands for, they said.

True. But Trump has been saying ugly stuff like this for weeks with no one complaining. Especially no rank-and-file Republicans. Did they expect him to stop on his own?

I know they’re out there, those rank-and-files. I live in the middle of them. And I know that some of them certainly don’t agree with much of what Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Paul, Bush, Carson, Christie and the rest have had to say about immigrants, guns, global warming, and Planned Parenthood, not to mention threatening Social Security.

While I have never belonged to any political party, I understand and respect their function in our society. I don’t understand how longtime Republicans have let a super-conservative, ultra-religious, anti-science, anti-education, anti-government, anti-fact fringe element take control of their party without managing so much as a murmur of disagreement.

Sarah Palin was the warning flare. She was photogenic, but embarrassingly dumb. But she was the Republican candidate for vice president. Trump, Cruz and Carson are merely the culmination of years of Obama-bashing and dancing to the orders of Fox News and the brothers Koch. As the messages grew angrier and uglier, always rooted in fear and fiction, Republicans marched merrily, unquestioningly, along.

To Donald Trump. An adolescent bigot and misogynist with a huge ego, a couple of billion dollars in the bank and no allegiance whatsoever to the Republican Party. How dumb is that?

If Republicans now blow their party up in a desperate attempt to convince Americans that the American Way is the way of old, angry, closed-minded, resentful, greedy, white men who are constantly being told the government is their enemy, Rupert Murdoch will lose no sleep. His Fox News puppets will find another flock to boost their ratings and sell their books. The Koch brothers will find others to carry their water, selling their principles for generous campaign contributions. And Trump will go on being Trump, a reality TV star divorced from reality.

A two-party political system depends on at least a minimal effort by both parties to work together for the common good. If one party is, instead, intent on opposing everything the other proposes and does so in an increasingly hostile, intractable manner, there is no governing. It’s merely making lots of noise, fueling fear and anger among voters in the hopes of gaining power. It is a cynical, dangerous philosophy that can infect the entire body politic if allowed to go unchecked. That’s why I am frightened of this unwillingness by Republicans to call out the fear-mongers in their midst.

The Republican Party has been festering for years under the threat of Tea Party retaliation for those who dare to disagree. Just look at the sorry example of former House Speaker John Boehner. That festering sore has erupted in the form of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and all the rest.

Even George Pataki, former New York governor and comparatively sensible Republican presidential candidate, is not immune. Pataki has declared, correctly, that Trump is “unfit to be president.” But with his showing in the presidential polls at less than one percent, Pataki felt it necessary to declare war on ‘’radical Islam.” Send in the troops, kill them all, he Tweeted. His poll numbers didn’t budge.

He has obviously been in the wrong political party from the beginning of this campaign, but not to worry. Pretty soon there won’t be a Republican Party, at least not one to which he and all those other silent Republicans once belonged. That Big Tent they once spoke of has been folded and stuck in the garage. Sorry, women, Mexicans, gays, blacks, Muslims, college students, union members, atheists, scientists … Maybe some other time.

There’s nothing grand about this old party today.

 

Dreaming an American Nightmare

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

obama tan suit

President Obama … no strategy on ISIS?

I dreamed an American nightmare.

I dreamed President Obama conducted a news conference and when asked about additional air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria he said, “We don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the ISIS threat.

Then I realized I hadn’t been asleep at all, and that the president’s verbal shoulder-shrug was the real thing – sign language that translated to: We’ll have a strategy when we have a strategy. Here we are, 13 years after 9/11 and we kinda, sorta know what to do.

This is unacceptable. Not having a strategy against an implacable enemy doesn’t sound quite in the spirit of keeping 300 million people safe.

White House spokesmen can spin it all day long – and spin it they did after President Obama’s news conference – but in the end the fact remains that the President of the United States of America had just finished letting the world know, and letting ISIS know, that he hadn’t yet come up with a strategy for dealing with ISIS.

This is pathetic, not to mention dangerous, because you and I both know the reverse is true – that ISIS has a strategy for dealing with the United States. So oughtn’t President Obama have a plan that goes beyond “Don’t know; see me in a week?”

Asking people to wait for such a plan is asking too much because ISIS is no ordinary foe. It has been conducting a homicidal war against just about everyone in the Middle East. It has murdered two American journalists and several prisoners of war in a manner so unspeakable that ISIS has erased its name from the roster of the members of civilization.

ISIS has weapons and experienced soldiers and the will to use both. It has been described as “the real deal” when it comes to who represents the greatest danger to the Middle East, to Europe, and to the United States. It poses a direct threat to the U.S. because, as some intelligence officials believe, some of ISIS’s more ardent adherents are here in America right now because they live here. ISIS’s description as “an imminent threat” to the United States was not from someone with a loose mouth and no facts, but by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. And Hegel didn’t say this one hour ago, which might have given Obama an out for not yet having a strategy. Hagel said it in July. And the ISIS threat has been known far longer than that.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry had a piece in The Times over the weekend in which he acknowledged that America can’t deal with ISIS alone. It needs partners. “With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry said.

Sounds great, but I wouldn’t want to be the diplomat sent by Washington to, say, Berlin to ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel for troops and cash on behalf of an American president who has no strategy.

Someone at the White House must remind President Obama of the danger the nation faces. He also needs to be told that he leaves himself open to ridicule when he asks allies for help but has no plan.

On Wednesday, President Obama said the United States would not be intimidated by ISIS. Very tough, very bold. But it’s not a strategy.