An “Enemy of the American People”

A few days ago, The Boston Globe proposed that, on August 16th, newspaper opinion writers write about Donald Trump’s “Enemy of the American People” description of the media. As I write this column, 200 other papers have decided to join the Globe.

If Trump walked up to a guy in a bar (assuming no Secret Service to protect him) and started calling him an “Enemy of the People”, “dangerous and sick”, a “stain on America”, “fake news”,  “very dishonest” – which he’s called the media – he’d very soon be looking at the world through his belly button. But because he’s the President and he’s insulting reporters, those same reporters take the insults and don’t react. Why? Because it’s their job to report the news, not be part of it. So, except in rare instances, they don’t respond to their President, a man whose priorities are a constant tan, fake hair, junk food, and a nearly constant stream of lies, especially about reporters.

How long would you take that kind of treatment if you were a reporter? Small wonder they keep a running tally of his lies.

The biggest lie, of course, is the one about the media being the “Enemy of the American People”. Unfortunately, it is a lie so “colossal”few would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truthso infamously”. (The quotes are from Hitler’s 1925 book Mein Kampf, in which he outlined his strategy of using The Big Lie against Jews).

Let’s examine Trump’s “Enemy of the American People” claim, just for a bit. That would include Walter Cronkite, who first brought the America people the truth about Viet Nam. That would include the New York Times, which published the Pentagon Papers and exposed the lies the American government told its citizens about Viet Nam. That would include Woodward and Bernstein, who exposed Nixon’s crookedness. That would include the exposure of Wells Fargo for stealing from its customers. That would include reporting on the thousands of children abused by priests of the Catholic Church for decades, including this week’s stories about 70 years of priests hurting kids in Pennsylvania.

Anyone can post “fake news” on the web, as Trump does. Not so real reporters. Real reporters, working for real newspapers, have real rules: facts have to be verified, usually twice; stories are screened by real, professional editors. Newspapers do this so readers can rely on them for the truth. Do they always get it right? No. But unlike Trump and other purveyors of really fake news, newspapers correct even minor misspellings, immediately. Check any major paper and you’ll see notes to that effect at the bottom of articles.

Which is why the media are not Enemies of the American People; they are Allies of the American People.

Hey, Mr. President, want to see some real “Enemies of the American People”?

How about the opiod Crisis? How about our crumbling infrastructure? How about Russia, climate change, economic inequality and the shrinking middle class? How the World Healthcare ranking of American healthcare as 37th in the world and the US Educational System ranking of 24th or below, worldwide? How about local gerrymandering and a federal government that tears children from their parents? How about banks that steal from customers, a health system that ignores 27 million Americans, etc…?

How about attacking those – real – Enemies of the American People, Mr. President? How about doing something to actually help the country instead of lashing out like an angry 12 year old?

I’m not talking about policy here, by the way. Debate over policy is healthy, as American as the flag. Debate over policy is the friend of the American People, not the enemy. That’s how we choose our leaders, and how, when, why and where they should take this country.

Nope, I’m talking about personality, not policy. I’m talking about one personality who uses lies against truth, who deliberately turns Americans against each other and against a world we once led and helped make safe, who is damaging the very soul of this country.

I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

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When fear begets anger

Say you come home after a long day at work. Your husband is at the kitchen table with the bills and you sit down for the monthly “which bill should we pay and which should we ignore?” discussion.

Just then Little Joey runs into the kitchen screaming in pain. He got into a fight in the playground and a lower front tooth is tilted outward and dripping blood. The calculator in your mind ratchets up thousands in dental bills and you wonder how you’ll pay them and still eat.

That’s fear.

Then your husband starts yelling at Little Joey for getting into a fight.

Little Joey starts crying. His tooth drops to the floor and, as you dive for it, your calculator goes into overdrive and you scream at your husband that he’s just condemned the family to mac ’n cheese for the rest of your lives.

That’s fear begetting anger.

Politicians have, since the dawn of time, fanned fear as a way of getting voters to vote – for them. Both sides do it. It’s kind of like pharmaceutical ads that target old folks with stomach problems. “Here’s a protein drink that will keep you healthy AND unclog your intestines!” Old guys in retirement homes think, “Hey! I can add a little vodka, drink my dinner – and…! Hey Martha! Let me buy you dinner!”

Trumpites promote the fear of immigrants, people of color, the EU, China, Iran, North Korea, children with binkies (OK, that’s a joke). Democrats promote fear of the Koch Brothers, the end of Obamacare, police shootings, racism, and QAnon (not a joke. Google it).

Each side gets frightened, then angry. Where we once debated policy, we now exchange eye darts and worse.

You have to go back a long way, but there were some presidents who did the opposite. In the 1930’s Roosevelt actually calmed Depression fears with one line: “What we have to fear is fear itself.” (Wouldn’t that be great to hear today?)

Other countries weren’t so lucky in their leaders.  Germany, riled up by Hitler’s fanning fear of the Jews, started WWII. Lenin, and later, Stalin, used fear to take over Russia. Today, dictatorships are spreading from China to South America, as frightened populations vote for strong authoritarian leaders to protect them.

Fear is more than a vote getter; it’s a great way to take over a country.

Today Latin America has 8 percent of the world’s population, but 33 percent of thehomicides. Of the 20 countries with the highest murder rates, 17 are Latin American.  Guess where the people go to escape? US.

Part of our country welcomes them; part hunts them down. Fear and anger flourish on both sides. And now anger is entering voting booths across the country. Anger, unfocussed, can lead to surprising results.

Let’s go back to Little Joey. The bill for re-rooting one tooth is a couple of thousand, but it seems the rest of his teeth also got slightly repositioned in the fight and he’ll need a series of evolving braces over the next two years. The bill is ten thousand or more and your insurance requires you to pay the first $13,100 of medical expenses.

Within a year the stress of pinching pennies gives you chronic intestinal problems. Fear of bankruptcy stalks the family. One day your husband, in an attempt to lighten the stress, plans a weekend at the Mystic Seaport for your family and your best friends. You’re very excited. But he screws up the dates and the friends can’t go. You flip out, accusing him of screwing up deliberately so he won’t have to do the driving. Mouth agape, he reminds you he loves to drive. You spend the weekend yelling instead of going to Mystic. Eventually your miss-directed anger permeates your whole life.  You lose your job, the family declares bankruptcy, and you divorce. Little Joey is so traumatized he never goes to the dentist again.

Now imagine your town is Congress. There’s a family up the street we’ll call the Congressional Healthcare Committee. One member crashes their only car and they scream at each other all day instead of discussing healthcare insurance. Up the street from them is the Armed Services Committee. They’re flipping out over who gets the chair by the window instead of reviewing a new cyber defense system. Near them, the Finance Committee is fighting over who gets best parking spot. And so on.

That’s our government. Fear elected them and anger motivates them.

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The key to good media.

I cut cable several years ago after I found myself clicking through all those channels without finding much and realizing how much that clicking was costing me each month.

The solution was a digital antenna that brings me 43 free channels. It cost less than $100 dollars instead of the well over $1000 – per year – I was paying Comcast. And, for only $120 a year, I get Netflix with tons of movies and other TV shows.


Originally, TV was free in the US, paid for by commercials. England followed a different model. BBC viewers paid a yearly subscription, instead of watching commercials. It gave the BBC steady income, which allowed for consistent, high quality content.

One problem for the US was poor reception in mountainous areas. The solution to that came from John Walson of Mahanoy City in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He put up a huge antenna, let a few neighbors help pay for it, and thus invented cable TV.

Cable TV adapted the BBC subscription model, but with one big difference. The success of cable TV shows was measured by customer ratings, not government bureaucrats.  With steady incomes, companies like HBO and ESPN got great ratings because they produced great content. They helped cable take huge swaths of audiences away from free TV.

Rather than improve their shows to compete with cable, free TV chased larger audiences by chasing the lowest common denominator. Enter “Reality TV” and trashy syndicated talk shows. Free TV is now in an ever-increasing downward spiral.

But cable has an inherent problem. Companies like Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and others are purveyors of hardware, not content producers. With no sense of good content and a well-known disdain for customers, they bundled content good content with lousy content, and continually raised prices, forcing people to pay more, for more channels they didn’t watch.  Cable TV is now fractionalized, expensive and, with the exception of HBO and a few others, boring.

The solution to that was – is – the internet, or streaming.

Viewers hate commercials. And content producers hate financial uncertainty. So primary streaming services – Netflix, Amazon, etc… adopted the subscription model, not the commercial one. And because subscription allows producers to make better shows and movies, they attract more subscribers. That’s why Apple, and soon Walmart, are jumping into it.

Which brings us to TV news and newspapers.

Some cable news producers have followed the free TV model of delivering lower content, which results, inevitably, in lower revenues. The best example is CNN. What started as 24 hours of hard news is now 24 hours of mostly talking heads.

Fox News, by contrast, started a whole new content model: talking head propaganda masquerading as news. They have been followed, with somewhat less success, by MSNBC. The good news: these channels have renewed the public’s interest in politics – a benefit to democracy. The bad news: propaganda destroys democracy.

Things have been looking look bleak for newspapers for years. Because of their 24-hour delivery system, cable news has upended most newspapers. Just last week, The New York Daily News cut its staff in half. Now there are only two big papers in the biggest city in the country. Smaller papers, those without the finances to support strong content, are disappearing like lightning bugs at dawn. Overall readership is at all-time lows.

But circulation is up at The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, AP, and Reuters. Why? Content with an assist from delivery. They still have the most reliable news and, because of the internet, now have the fastest delivery. Reporters file stories on-line, almost in real time. Cable and TV can’t do that. They can’t have LIVE cameras in that many places. Technology has given newspapers a second chance. Now all they have to do is provide better content than cable news.

And the successful ones are. Instead of just covering daily news, they are providing other content, too. As I write this, the BBC News includes stories on climate change (how the Netherland keeps water at bay), and organ donation (The case for more male donors). The Wall Street Journal writes about a paralyzed vet getting back on a motorcycle. Local papers, like this one, cover news that doesn’t make national headlines, but directly effects local readers. All successful papers have opinion writers, unique to that paper, who write about everything from school controversies to mansplaining.

The key to good media is good content.

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The beauty of being taken for granted

You know what I like about being taken for granted? Everything.

My kids take it for granted that I will always stick by them. They also take for granted that I will let them make their mistakes. Just as I made mine in having them.

OK, joke. But there were times….

(If they’re reading this right now, they’re shaking their heads and saying, ”See what I mean? Another corny Dad joke!”)

That’s being taken for granted. If I were to crack a dry, New Yorker style joke, they’d probably all come home for the weekend to take final pictures with Dad, just in case.

Your “significant other” takes you for granted and vice versa. If not, your “significance” would probably be under review. Of course she/he still wants the surprise one-liner once in awhile or a present or two when least expected, but, neither of you wants to, say, forget a birthday or anniversary. That might ignite the “flight or fight” or “adrenal medulla” part of the brain, which, in turn, can activate the stupid part of the brain:

“I left your present at the office.”

“The dog ate the chocolates I got you.”

“Darn that florist! Next year, we’re going to Spain for our anniversary.”

Stupid lying is always a mistake. Ask any politician.

Some people think being taken for granted can be boring. There’s a case to be made for that, I guess. In today’s world anything but a constant adrenaline rush is unusual. On the other hand, remember when the morning headlines rarely included our President’s name? Remember when you had a chat with a friend and the subject wasn’t the President’s latest war threat, sex scandal or enemy? Remember when Presidents were boring?

Boy, what I would give for boring now.

Boring is good for digestion. For example, I try not to check the news until an hour or so after a breakfast, lunch or dinner. And I no longer watch most cable and TV news with breathless headlines like,  “Out of control fires!” “Five dead!” “The rain wouldn’t stop!”

I like PBS News because it’s too boring for adrenalin. (“There’s a new brush fire on the outskirts of Sacramento.” “Five people were killed in a robbery near East Jibip”. “The Phillies game was rained out”). Plus they use full sentences.

Research shows that stores sell more when they gin up adrenalin with loud music and brightly colored displays. Ditto restaurants and bars.  More adrenalin means more sales. Clever, huh.

Taking others for granted and being taken for granted can lower “fight or flight” reactions. That’s one reason people like dogs so much. Dogs take us for granted and we them.

Before he died, I took my French Poodle, Philo, for granted. No matter how many times I wrote about his French arrogance, he never left my side (of course, he never stopped turning up his nose up at me either).

I know some people who are more loyal to their dogs than their significant others. And for good reason: dogs commit until death; humans commit until divorce.

We humans judge everything and everyone. From caveman days forward it allowed us to discriminate between danger and safety, wisdom and stupidity, friend and foe. It allowed us to conquer all other species.

But we can overdo it. We can get petty and lose friends, or never get them. (That person is too fat.  Ugly shirt.  What kind of doofus drives a van. Community college just won’t cut it). And that doesn’t include race or religion.

I have a friend who decided to stop being judgmental about unimportant things, just for a week. Within a few minutes, she failed. So she decided to just try for a day. She failed again. Then half a day, and so on until finally, she tried to stop judging for just one minute. Finally, success. Slowly she increased the time to where, now, she can go for weeks. She has more friends than anyone I know. She’s happier than most people I know.

In relationships, taking and being taken for granted is a sign of love without judgment.  Happily committed couples may argue from time to time, may sometimes “gee” when the other “haws”, or not support the same baseball team. But they don’t judge each other or try to change each other, which is one reason why, according to research, happily married couples live longer than single people.

That’s the beauty of taking and being taken for granted.

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Whose Bully?

To understand what happened last weekend in Helsinki, listen to WIIFM. It’s not a radio station; it’s an attitude, a value system.

WIIFM or What’s In It For Me.

From pioneer days on, our country has valued integrity, individual freedom, helping others, the rule of law, and mutual sacrifice for shared goals. In short, WIIFUS, What’s In It For Us.

After WWII, the rest of the industrialized world was in ruins. But because our mainland hadn’t been attacked, our manufacturing industry was strong and efficient. From aircraft to autos to clothing and food, we had it all. So, we used the Marshall Plan and other programs to help rebuild Europe and Japan.

What was in it for us? Reparations forced on Germany after WWI had not only made it impossible for them to rebuild, they also created Hitler and Nazism. Where we had once happily isolated ourselves from the rest of the world, we now understood that helping others helped ourselves.  So, we helped create the UN, supported the formation of the European Union, and embraced globalization. The idea was that, by intertwining economies, by encouraging shared values, we would prevent a third world war.

It has worked for 70 years and counting. The Viet Nam and smaller wars, even the global Cold War, threatened world peace, but never blew it up. WIIFUS didn’t stop competition; it kept it civil. It didn’t stop enmity from Russia or China, North Korea or Iran, but shared values, as embodied in NATO, the EU and other alliances, mitigated both.

After WWII, the middle class arrived and prospered. Two cars in every garage, colleges filled with assembly-line workers’ and farmers’ children, closets and cupboards overflowed. By the 50’s and 60’s the America Dream had become reality.

Then, sometime in the early 1970’s, European and Asian manufacturing caught up. Over the next 4 decades they roared up to and frequently passed us in steel, infrastructure, automobiles, television, clothes, building materials – you name it.

Over the same time we became complacent about manufacturing and, instead, focused on new industries – computers, software, financial services – that required fewer workers. As a result, real wages (wages after inflation) stagnated, resulting now in a shrinking middle class, growing poverty, and an expanding wealthy class.

And the shared values of WIIFUS shrank.  Where Jonas Salk in 1955 invented the first Polio vaccine and literally gave it to the world, Marathon Pharmaceuticals recently bought a generic muscular dystrophy drug that cost patients $2000 a year, renamed it, and now charges patients $89,000 a year. Where banks once epitomized trust (“you can take it to the bank”), Wells Fargo steals from its customers. Comcast and Verizon, U-Haul and other retailers across the country – all legally lie. Politicians have always skirted the truth; now they’re putting out fake news stories on their own fake news sites.

Where we were once a nation that valued shared values, it’s now all about money and power. WIIFUS – what’s in it for us, has become WIIFM – what’s in it for me.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Ironically, he was elected by WIIFUS people. They remembered the prosperity of post WWII America while struggling with stagnated wages and a rapidly diversifying culture. They felt discarded by the Congress, the Clintons and a Democratic Party that no longer speaks for them. These are people who felt bullied by the new WIIFM values; even so, in Trump they saw someone who said what they feel about big business and big finance, Muslims, illegal immigrants, and “liberal elites”.  He promised to bring back the America they remembered. So they backed him, even with his WIIFM values.

He was a bully, but he was their bully.

Last week Trump did something no American President has ever done. He insulted and attacked our closest European allies, just as he had insulted and had earlier attacked Mexico and Canada, our closest neighbors. On Monday he insulted his ownIntelligence community and praised a proven enemy of the US. All in an effort to aggrandize himself – or worse.

Do they stick by him now, even as the rest of the country is stunned, angry, even scared? Do they see the future, in which, between the debt incurred by his mammoth tax cut and the damage incurred by his trade wars, the middle class will continue to shrink?

Or do they peel away, leaving him without followers and thus without power?

Let’s hope.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)