What’s A Little Assassination In The Big Picture?

WWII was really cool for the US. We helped rid the planet of some very bad actors.  We were heroes.

We won, not because we were smarter than the Nazis or Japanese; they were both very smart. Nor did we win because we had better weapons – at least until the end, when we had the A-Bomb. The Germans had better tanks, army, planes, (they were the first to use a jet in battle, for example), at least in the beginning. The Japanese soldiers had a better Navy and more highly trained troops in the beginning.

Most historians and military experts agree that we won WWII primarily because of our industry; we may not have had better weapons, but we produced more of them, and more of them, and more of them…

There was another factor, too: allies. We fought with allies like England, much of Europe, China, and others. We were key, but the allies – together – won the war.  

One other factor: leadership. The US took two years to get into the war. Why? Because, we’d done our bit to help Europe in WWI and twenty-one years later, in 1939, the country simply didn’t want to do it again. Franklin Roosevelt knew better than to impulsively pushing a war the population didn’t support. Instead he spent two years readying the country psychologically and industrially for a war he knew was inevitable. And when it arrived at Pearl Harbor in 1941, while not completely ready, we were a lot better prepared than we had been in 1939. That’s good leadership.

WWII is pretty much the last time this country got into a war it really needed to fight. I say “pretty much” because you can argue the Korea War wasn’t a “war”; it was a “police action”, but very necessary to save South Korea. The Viet Nam War was actually defined by Congress as a “military engagement”, one step below “war”. You can argue that it, too, was necessary, but would probably lose. 

Those are just two of many military actions over the last 75 years – some necessary, most not, in which much time and treasure – human and financial – has been spent trying to recreate the glory war of WWII.

The most recent was a few days ago, when Trump ordered the assassination of another country’s general. 

It’s important to note, General Qassim Suleimaniwasn’t part of some religious cult, like Bin Laden or al-Baghdadi. He was a general of a sovereign nation.  Assassinating a leader of a sovereign nation is considered an act of war by most countries, including – and especially – Iran. We’re now at war with Iran. 

Keeping in mind it’s a different time, let’s compare this new war to just these few aspects of the glory war.

Industry: Roosevelt had spent two years preparing our industry for war. Our current industrial capability, already far below China’s, has been shrinking for the last year. 

Allies: China is not an ally. Britain still is, but France and the rest of Europe aren’t the fans they once were. The Middle East… I can’t think of a single fan there, except possibly Saudi Arabia, but then, we’ve sort of let their assassination of a US reporter slide, so they kind of owe us. Iraq would like us out, but still needs our military, so they just burn our flags. I guess Canada would stick by us against Iran, maybe. Mexico? A weaker “maybe”. The ally pool has also shrunk.

Leadership: 13000 lies and counting by Trump. Even his fans admit he and the truth aren’t exactly bedroom buddies, something his extra curricular bedroom buddies can loudly attest to.  I wonder if anyone is counting the insults he’s aimed at our allies. In terms of preparing the country for war, he doesn’t do fireside chats so much as set fires with his twitter chit-chat. The country is as divided now as it was in Civil War times. Trump is not Roosevelt.

War: Trump justified the assassination by telling the world it was a “targeted killing” as opposed to an “assassination”. Why? Because a loophole in US law allows a “targeted killing”, but not an “assassination”.   

Bottom line: no matter what words he uses, Iran considers it an act of war, and Trump cannot turn that around with one of his fantasy-land denials.

So, with few loyal allies left, a country trillions in debt from 19 years of existing war, a shrinking industrial base, and a population sick of war and constant political conflict, what’s a little assassination in the big picture?

Stupid.

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Why Nobody Eats Chicken On Christmas

Long ago the only chickens in the world lived with Santa at the North Pole. He was a nice old guy and the chickens felt safe with him. Plus, the baby chicks got the first pick of Santa’s presents.

One Christmas Eve, Santa trudged through the deep snow, past his bright, red sled, over-flowing with presents, toward the barn. It was time to harness his reindeer for the long night of leaving presents for all those good little boys and girls (and the naughty ones, too. If it must be known, to Santa all little boys and girls are good.). 

When he opened the barn door, he saw the most shocking sight of his life. Dancer wasn’t dancing; he was lying on the floor, licking ice-cream off of his nose! Prancer wasn’t prancing; he was on the floor next to Dancer, crunching on Christmas cookies! Blitzen’s head was inside the freezer and Santa could heard loud slurping!

Rudolf’s bright red nose was no longer bright or red because it was covered with chocolate icing. When he saw Santa, he opened his mouth as if to say “Merry Christmas!”, but what came out was a loud “B-u-u-ur-r-p-p-p-p!”, followed by a moan.

“What happened here?!!” yelled Santa. The reindeer froze. 

“What happened here?!!”  Blitzen yelled at Dancer. Dancer froze.

“What happened here?!!” Dancer yelled at Donner. Donner froze. 

“What happened here”!!” Donner said to Rudolf. Rudolf burped again.

That’s when Santa noticed that the plates and bowls, the ones his elves had filled with Christmas cookies and cake, were strewn all around the barn – empty!!!

And, and at the feet of every reindeer was at least one empty ice cream carton!

The reindeer moaned and rubbed their tummies. 

There was no way they could possibly pull his sleigh tonight. How would all those children get their Christmas presents?!  Oh No!!! He rushed out of the barn.

And immediately tripped over Charlie Chicken.

Now, chickens in those days had no red topknots and no red beards. In fact, they were just chubby birds covered with white feathers, so white, they looked like the snow. 

Which explains why Santa didn’t see Charlie Chicken. 

And instead of three toes, chickens only had one, which was flat and slipped in snow.

Which is what happened when Charlie tried to get out of Santa’s way. 

“O-o-o-o-f-f-f” went Santa. “O-o-o-o-f-f-f!” went Charlie Chicken.

’What’s wrong?”  Charlie said as they got up. 

“Oh my!” said Santa as they got up. “The reindeer ate all the ice cream and cookies and cake. Now they’re too sick to pull my sleigh!”

Well, Charlie Chicken didn’t hesitate. He put one of his stubby little wings on Santa’s shoulder and asked just one question: “How do reindeer fly?” 

“Oh no, that’s a secret, Charlie, a very secret secret. I couldn’t reveal that. Goodness…that’s part of the magic of Christmas for all those little boys and girls.”

Charlie pointed at the other chickens, “Chickens like the magic of Christmas too, Santa.” 

Santa looked around to make sure no one was watching. He told all the chickens to close their eyes. Then he sprinkled snow on Charlie and twelve of the biggest chickens in the flock, shouted “Merry Christmas!” three times, and told them to flap their wings. Hard. 

They suddenly left the ground in all directions.

“Yippee!” “Look out! here I come!” “Oops, sorry Santa”.  

Once they had “found their wings”. Santa harnessed them to his sled, with Charlie in Rudolf’s spot, and told them to get a running start.

They ran as hard as they could, and… and went… nowhere.

“We have no traction!” said Charlie Chicken.

“You have no traction! “ said Santa.  And then, “Oh! I can fix that!”     

Santa took his whip and, ever so lightly, flicked it at the feet of each of the twelve chickens. There was a slight puff of snow and suddenly each foot had, not one toe, but three – three very sharp toes, perfect for gripping snow and ice.

“On Charlie Chicken! On… uh… the rest of you guys!”, yelled Santa, and off they went, up into the sky, as fast and straight as the reindeer ever went.

The presents, every one, were delivered to children all around the world, just as they had been with reindeer. And not a single child saw Charlie or any other chicken, which made the reindeer happy. 

Charlie and the chickens, too.

To thank Charlie and the other chickens, Santa gave them souvenirs of the trip: spiky red hats, and floppy little red scarves, which, along with the three toes, have been part of chickenhood ever since. 

And that’s how Charlie Chicken saved Christmas and why no-one – EVER – eats chicken on Christmas.

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Jenna’s Gifts

I am writing this story on Jenna’s 73rd birthday, but it’s not about the gifts she received. It’s about the gifts she gave to two very lucky people. 

The story starts last August, at a sprawling house on the Hudson River. A woman with a high-pressure job is visiting her mother and step-father.  She sees him wandering the house, sighing. 

He has just learned his ex-wife, Jenna, has cancer. Incurable cancer. Because he is a retired doctor, the woman doesn’t try to ease his anxiety by questioning the “incurable” part. Instead she asks about the path cancer takes when it takes someone down. He describes “Loop Ileostomy Surgery” and colostomy bags, unpredictable medical costs, pain, and hospice services.

She knows of Jenna, who had once acted on and off Broadway, but like most in that career, was not wealthy. So, after the divorce she tried other careers, even starting a doll-making company, but that failed, too. Now, like many older people with few means, she lives, without complaint, in a rented room, supported by Social Security and food stamps.  

Jenna is in a short-term post surgery rehab, but can’t go back to her room because there is no one to nurse her, much less help her with the stairs.

“What am I doing?” the stepfather says to no one. “I don’t know where she’ll live, how she’ll survive.” 

There is a brother, a Viet Nam vet, but he and his wife work full time while caring for his dementia-ridden mother-in-law. There is a son, who is married with three children in a 5000 square foot house, but has been silent about helping. 

Pretty grim story, huh.

Actually, no.

The woman walks outside to her mother. “I’m taking care of Jenna”, the woman says. “She’s moving to my house.”

Her mother and stepfather point out the obvious: she’s never even seen an colostomy bag, much less emptied one, she travels extensively for her job, she’s volunteering to see and feel a lot of pain. 

The stepfather and brother thank her profusely. They, and the son, insist on paying for any medical or hospice services.

She picks up Jenna on Sept. 3. Instead of just grim, the next three months are also fun. They play Cole Porter CD’s and Jenna sings. They talk. They watch movies, like Showboat and All About Eve.  

“Adam Sandler’s ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’ made her laugh so hard!” the woman says, also laughing.

They dance – sort of. “Walkers aren’t called walkers for nothing”.

She and Jenna “youtube” how to change a “colostomy apparatus”. She laughs at the memory. “You should have seen us!”

She asks her son, who is at college 45 minutes away, if he’ll help when she travels. “Absolutely”. And he, too, masters the 30 minute colostomy procedure. 

“Jenna had never had a dog,” she says. “From that first day, my Huskie never left her side.”

Over the next three months, the 72 year old and 49 year old talk about everything from religion to politics to dogs and kids to acting and singing. There is caretaking and mentoring. There is pain, but also a unique connection. 

The brother calls every day. 

As Jenna fades, the woman lifts her in and out of bed, spoon feeds her, carries her to and from the bathroom. 

But cancer’s path is unaffected. 

“When I asked to give her morphine she said ‘I’m not going to spend my last days on drugs,’” says the woman. “I didn’t know what to do.” She pauses. “Eventually I got tougher and convinced her, which made those last days easier.”

Where were the promised hospice nurses and services? “Medicare only provides five hours a week for the last few weeks,” she says. “My son and I did the rest.”

The brother? “paid for medical costs and a nurse for part of the last few days.” 

The stepfather, the son? 

“I don’t want any hard feelings.” 

Jenna leaves her cancer the Monday before Thanksgiving.

And the gifts? “I knew there would be pain. I didn’t expect so much laughter, her life stories, her wisdom. I learned so much about her, about me, about friendship, about the man my son will be.” She stops for a moment. “About what elders have to give us if we’d just let them. About what family should be – but isn’t – in this country.” 

Yesterday, over 60 people attended a celebration of Jenna’s life, then went back to their lives. Today, Jenna’s 73rdbirthday, the woman and her son celebrate their own lives, too, forever changed because of Jenna’s gifts.

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Are Democrats Losing The Impeachment Battle?

Bill Clinton was impeached in the 90’s, not for oral sex from an intern, although that was the real issue, but for lying under oath.  He defended himself in the Senate and eventually won. Why? Because the country – not to mention the Senate – didn’t think a married man getting oral sex from an intern was grounds for removal of – at that time – a pretty effective President. 

(“OK, the lie was bad”, a friend of mine said at the time, “but look at what he lied about. Come on!”)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that whole impeachment process was not just judicial, with witnesses and lawyers and the Supreme Court Justice. Nope, it was a PR fight, too, and Clinton had won.

He established a campaign war room that applied a “leave-no-attack-unanswered” strategy. Even though he did, in fact, lie under oath, he convinced the public to give him a pass. And they convinced their Senators to give him a pass.

The Republicans didn’t know what hit them.

But they learned. Today, they are applying the same strategy.  Trump has hired former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Salegh to direct impeachment communications. 

They have been immediately effective. 

Republicans and their surrogates- during TV and radio shows, in Congressional hearings, or newspaper interviews – use the same exact lines over and over again: “the process is unfair”, “no quid pro quo”, “no direct evidence”, “it’s a rush to judgment”, “let the courts decide”, and “they’re trying to undo the 2016 election.”  

The Democrats, meanwhile, continue plodding through the legal requirements of Impeachment, referring to Republicans in formal, even cordial terms, and maintaining “decorum”.

That worked against Nixon in the 70’s, but today there is Fox News, Social Media, and podcasts reaching out to a populace that doesn’t trust lawyers or Congress.

What the Democrats should do is what Trump is doing: fight for the hearts and minds of the public. Because if anyone or anything will sway Republican Senators, it will be the public.

One small example: Congressional Democrats refer to their opponents in respectful and formal tones as “the Minority”, the time honored way to reference them. Republicans refer to their opponents, not as the “Majority”, but as “Democrats”. Their tone is disparaging and dismissive. The message: Democrats are bad guys, the enemy. 

Democrats need their own PR team. They need a multi-media strategy unrelentingly focused on Trump’s bribery, obstruction of Justice, abuse of power, and anything else they can throw at him. They need surrogates trumpeting it in every corner of the media world.  

While their PR team is pursuing that strategy, the Congressional Committees should subpoena every person Trump ordered not to testify. When they ignore the subpoenas, the Committees should take every one to court. 

Yes, those cases may stretch into the spring. Yes, they will invariably end up at the Supreme Court, which could rule well into the fall campaign.

“Oh, Golly! We can’t have that!”, say the Democrats. “If we do, Trump will accuse us of trying to influence voters and the election!”

So what? Isn’t goal removing Trump from the Presidency? Would they rather rely on hearings to convince a public already tired of hearing about the hearings?

A sensible, rules-driven impeachment, the kind imagined by the Founding Fathers, is no longer possible. Trump has infused Clinton’s strategy with steroids, turning a sober presentation of facts into a no-holds barred barroom brawl.

As you read this, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, is in Ukraine, finishing a multi-part “documentary”, really a PR piece, supporting the thoroughly debunked theory of Ukraine interference in the 2016 election and continuing to smear Joe Biden. That bit of propaganda will probably air right in the middle of the Senate trial.

Are the Democrats ready to counter that? I doubt it.

This whole thing reminds me of a scene in “Raiders of The Lost Arc”. Harrison Ford is being challenged to a sword fight by a bad guy. The bad guy waves his sword in a menacing manner, whereupon Ford draws, not a sword, but a pistol, and shoots the guy. He changes the rules. End of problem.

Every leading Democrat, from Pelosi, to Schumer, to Schiff, to Nadler would do well to watch that scene. 

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When Does A Lie Matter?

When Does A Lie Matter?

The House Judiciary Committee will meet this week on the Impeachment “Inquiry”. They asked President Trump to attend, maybe even testify as a star witness. As you might imagine, Trump considered it. (“Wow! A star! The ratings would be boffo!”) 

His lawyers were pretty sure he’d be caught lying to Congress. So, the star declined.

Jeez, poor Democrats!  Just can’t get the ratings.

There are various estimates of the total number of lies told by Trump since he got elected. But most are above 10,000 or more. His supporters are not bothered by them; his opponents are very bothered by them. 

Here’s the Merriam Webster definition of a lie: “marked by or containing untrue statements: FALSE”. 

And here are a few examples – in no particular order – from the last few years.

         November 21, 2019 – “Today I opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas that will bring high paying jobs back to America.” (Fact: The plant opened in 2013.)

         October 16, 2019 – “The Kurds are much safer now.” (Fact: Scores of Kurds have been killed, thousands displaced since U.S. withdrawal.)

         June 5, 2018 – Philadelphia Eagles players stayed  “in the locker room for the playing of our national anthem” or “were kneeling”.  (Fact: None of the Eagles kneeled.)

         October 16, 2019 – speaking about immigration cases, Trump said, “We have thousands of judges.” (Fact: There are around 400 immigration judges in 63 courts.)

         April 22, 2018 – North Korea has “agreed to denuclearization” (Fact: They haven’t agreed.)

         December 11, 2017- “Black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country.” (Fact: It’s fallen almost yearly since 2004.)

         March 3, 2019 – “The FBI said (former national security advisor Michael Flynn) wasn’t lying. ” (Fact: Flynn admitted to lying.)

         January 21, 2017 – “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Fact: Trump was on the cover 11 times, Nixon 55 times.)

         February 7, 2017 – “And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years.” (Fact: It was higher in the 1980’s and 90’s.)

         February 16, 2017 – “We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” (Fact: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – all won bigger margins.)

         February 24, 2017 – “Obamacare covers very few people — and remember, deduct from the number all of the people that had great health care that they loved that was taken away from them — it was taken away from them.” (Fact: Obamacare increased coverage by a net of about 20 million.)

         May 5, 2017 – “We pay the highest taxes anywhere in the world.” (Fact: Belgium and at least 14 others pay higher income tax rates.)

         January 26, 2017 – At the GOP retreat on Jan. 26, Trump saidthat Philadelphia’s murder rate is “steady, I mean just terribly increasing.” (Fact: The homicide rate in Philadelphia has been steadily declining over the past decade.)

         July 25, 2017 – “We have nearly doubled the number of veterans given approvals to see the doctor of their choice.”  (Fact: The increase was 26 per cent.) 

In today’s world, with lies flying all around us from big pharma, big oil, big chem, big…whatever – does it even matter? So, one excuse for Trump is, “Get over it!  It’s all around us.”

But you know where it isn’t? At the ground level, where you and I and most Americans live. Whether conservative or liberal, we rarely lie to each other, and if we do, it isn’t in excess of 3000 times a year.  

It’s because of something most Americans – really most peoples – share: the need to trust each other. And our leaders.

And that does matter.

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