All posts by David Macaray

Attention, War Criminals: Prizes Still Available

In the long, confounding history of inappropriate or unwarranted awards and prizes, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger being named the joint winner of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize has to rank at the top of any such list.

Clearly, it ranks higher than Roberto Benigni beating out Ian McKellen for the Best Actor Oscar, in 1998, and way higher than the Chevrolet Vega being named Motor Trend magazine’s 1971 “Car of the Year.”

Kissinger’s fellow co-winner in 1973 was the Vietnamese revolutionary and politician Le Duc Tho.  So the almost saintly Mahatma Gandhi gets nominated for the Peace Prize five times but never wins?  And yet the Teutonic Supercock wins it on his very first try?  Irony doesn’t come in any more bizarre a package.

The Nobel Committee, presumably to prove that, God forbid, they weren’t “taking sides,” chose to honor both men simultaneously.  They honored the man who (along with his accomplice, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara) was responsible for deliberately bombing and killing countless civilians, and the man representing the country whose civilians were being bombed and killed.

Although it was never adequately explained, this particular Peace Prize had to be the product of some twisted international calculus—some preposterous tit for tat—where a powerful, highly mechanized country that was committing the murders, and the largely peasant country whose women and children were being murdered, were elevated to equal status.

To his credit, Le Duc Tho refused to accept the award.  He rightly believed that until there was legitimate peace in Vietnam—which included, obviously, a cessation to the killing and foreign occupation—sharing the honor with Kissinger would be a sham.  Meanwhile, Kissinger had no problem accepting his trophy and placing it on his mantle, doubtless regarding it as evidence of his humanitarianism.

All of this reminds us of one of Mort Sahl’s political quips.  He said that if Richard Nixon saw a man drowning in a lake, fifteen feet from shore, he would throw him a ten-foot rope.  And then Henry Kissinger would go on national TV and solemnly announce that “the president had met him more than halfway.”

Which brings us to the present day.  Not that he’s a “war criminal,” but given the Nobel Committee’s obvious capacity for self-delusion and squirrellyness, would it be totally out of the question for them to give the Peace Prize to Donald Trump?  Award it to him in recognition of his having reached out to the heretofore “unreachable” Kim Jong-Un of North Korea?

After all, even though nothing substantive or remarkable was achieved as a result of the meeting (other than Trump appearing even more Mussolini-like, and Kim Jung-Un appearing even weirder and more inscrutable), the Committee could view this as being the all-important “first step” in normalizing relations.

According to Gore Vidal, there is an astounding amount of shameless lobbying, arm-twisting, and self-promotion accompanying the Nobel Prizes.  Chemists do it; physicists do it; novelists do it.  Everybody wants to be considered for a Nobel Prize, and then, after making the short list, everybody wants to win.

Given Trump’s shallow narcissism and his insistence on being praised and made to look “presidential” at every turn, the thought of this man being awarded something as prestigious as the Nobel Prize is almost too gruesome to contemplate.  We think his tweets are insufferably self-serving now, just wait until he becomes a Nobel Laureate.  He could fly to the moon on the gas it would create.

And let’s not kid ourselves.  Because the precedent has already been firmly established, Donald Trump winning the damn thing is not that farfetched.  President Barack (“Have drone, will travel”) Obama won the Peace Prize in 2009.  Anything is possible.

Adventures in Narcissism

Most of us won’t recall it, but on February 7, 1989, the Milton Bradley Corporation proudly announced the launching of its newest board game.  Modeled roughly on the buy-and-sell machinations of “Monopoly,” this new game was based upon the cult following and commercial exploits of then New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump.

We’re not making this up.  The box containing the game featured a photograph of The Donald himself, looking shrewd and confident, and its snappy, in-your-face tagline was:  “It’s not whether you win or lose.  It’s whether you win.”  Ah, yes, so wonderfully Trump-like.

Hoping to benefit from the success of Trump’s recently ghost-written book, “The Art of the Deal” (1987), the board game was called simply:  “Trump: The Game.” Although serious “gamers” found it a bit too complicated and tedious (the instruction booklet itself ran to 12 pages), its suggested retail price was $25.

In fairness to Milton Bradley, it’s rare for a newly introduced board game to navigate its way into the hearts of America’s serious gamers and amateur enthusiasts.  Because the board game market is so wildly unpredictable, all a company can do is launch its product and hope for the best.  Accordingly, “Trump: The Game” was a bust.

But in 2004, a new opportunity presented itself.  In the wake of Trump’s surprisingly successful TV reality show, “The Apprentice,” the game was reissued in a slightly modified (simplified and slimmed down) form, this time by Parker Brothers, a Hasbro subsidiary.  It was still called, “Trump:  The Game,” but this time the irresistible tagline was:  “It takes brains to make millions.  It takes Trump to make billions.”

Alas, even with the improvements (and Trump’s splashy assurance that a significant part of the profits would be donated to charity) the re-introduced version also failed.   Again, the board game market is a tough nut to crack.

However, now that Donald Trump is president, the time may be ripe for the introduction of yet another version of the game.  Just to be silly, we invented one that would be far simpler than the earlier versions.  Not only simpler but more pertinent.   The game would be called:  “I Didn’t Say That!”  The box cover would have a photo of Trump doing his Mussolini pose, and its snappy tagline would be:  “I’m president, and you’re not.”

The action would consist of 3-4 players taking turns drawing from a deck of 60 cards.  Each card would have three preposterous quotations printed on it.  One of the quotes will have been positively verified to have been uttered by Donald Trump, and the other two will have been made up by comedy writers.  The first player to correctly identify 10 Trump quotes wins the game.

To make it more interesting, the deck will include three “denial” cards.  Each denial card will have a picture of Sarah Huckabee Sanders on its back, and the words, “I didn’t say that!” written on its face.  Any player drawing a denial card will be required to relinquish all points accrued by correctly identifying Trump’s quotes, and be forced to start over.

There will also be a “Banishment” card in the deck.  This is the card no one wants to draw (worse even than the dreaded queen of spades in the game of “Hearts.).  On its back will be a picture of Steve Bannon, and on its face will be the words, “You’re fired!”

The unfortunate player drawing the Banishment card will not only be required to quit the game, throw in his cards, leave the table, and exit the room, he will also be required to leave the house.

In June of 2016, “Huffington Post” reported that, despite Trump’s assurances, it was unable to confirm whether any money earned from sale of The Game had been donated to charity.  In any event, the original board game is now considered a collector’s item.  An unopened box sells today for $150 on eBay.

Real-Life Politics, Union Style

Years ago, when I was president of a fairly militant labor union that represented 700 industrial workers at a Fortune 500 facility, our Executive Board was faced with a classic dilemma: Whether to do what we clearly recognized as the “right” thing, or to open ourselves to charges of cynicism and hypocrisy by doing the “political” thing.

The facts: A very talented journeyman electrician, who’d been employed for 14 years, and to whom I will assign the Biblical name “Jeremiah,” had been discharged for “stealing money” from the company. He did it via time-card falsification.

On a Sunday morning—with only a skeleton crew scheduled to work—he sneaked out, went to a nearby bar, became inebriated, sneaked back in four hours later, and then filed out with everyone else at quitting time. On his time card, in the space marked “hours of work,” he wrote “8 hours.” Once he attached his signature to this document, it became theft.

While his exit was relatively smooth—two security guards (“professional snitches” in the eyes of the union) saw him leave but, not knowing what his business was outside the facility or how long he’d be gone, made no attempt to stop him—his return was clumsy and self-incriminating.

Not only was his absence noticed by men on the crew, but according to witnesses who later came forward, he appeared conspicuously drunk when he showed up. But worst of all, the two guards who watched him leave, were the same two who saw him sneak back in. Accordingly, the following morning, they reported it to management.

When confronted by his boss, Jeremiah blew his one glorious chance of coming out of this thing with minimum damage. After hearing the guards’ report, his boss, a born-again Christian and former maintenance man himself, generously gave Jeremiah an opportunity to fix it. All he had to do was admit that he’d forgotten to note on his timecard that he had left the premises.

Of course, walking off the job without permission was a serious offence, one he would have to answer for. Still, it was an infraction that would likely have resulted in a 7-day suspension rather than termination. But leaving work without permission, being gone for half a shift, lying about it, and then trying to get paid for the time missed was a whole other deal.

The boss very deliberately asked Jeremiah if his timecard was accurate. Indeed, he practically begged him to say that he had made an error. Apparently, Jeremiah thought he could bluff his way out of this thing because after carefully examining the timecard, he stated that all the information was correct.

Which left the boss with no choice but to begin disciplinary proceedings. Once confronted with the accusations and formidable evidence—the guards’ testimony, surveillance cameras showing him leaving—Jeremiah made the egregious error of changing his story several times in the span of 30 minutes, which more or less sealed his fate.

First, he denied leaving. Then he accused the guards of lying. Then he admitted leaving but insisted he was gone only a few minutes. Then he said he had tended to an emergency at his home that was “too personal” to discuss.” And then he finally confessed to being at the bar but swore he was there only to play pool, and that he hadn’t consumed any alcohol.

So the company fired him. As was standard procedure when anyone was suspended or fired, the union automatically filed a grievance, mainly to insure due process. And after a grievance had navigated its way through all the in-house steps, the Executive Board could either drop it, or send it to arbitration.

What made this case even more gruesome was that, unbeknownst to the union, Jeremiah had been caught doing the same thing twice before. Why hadn’t the boss fired him on those occasions? We later learned there were three reasons: (1) The boss was too lazy to take on the paperwork of a termination; (2) he didn’t want to lose a talented electrician; and (3) he didn’t want to see a family man get fired.

As inexperienced as our E-Board was, we were nonetheless a clannish, self-righteous group, which is to say we saw ourselves as more idealistic than a typical union (whatever “typical” was).

Even though vandalism, fighting, horseplay, chronic absenteeism, DOJ (drunk on the job), etc., were serious offenses, we were more tolerant of them than we were of theft. We abhorred theft because when a union member was caught stealing (which was rare), it made us all look like thieves.

Therefore, we were ready to drop the grievance. While we would gladly represent any member charged with theft—examine the evidence, and file a grievance arguing that the termination be reduced to a suspension—the overriding “ethical principle” to which we adhered required that we not bleed for a thief.

But bleed we did. After much argument and heartburn, we concluded that support of the Maintenance Department was too vital to risk. Not that the Maintenance guys would have mutinied, but Local leadership still had much to prove to them. Though Maintenance was a large and influential department, there were no Maintenance men on the 9-person E-Board. The two mechanics who had run for election had both lost. They felt unrepresented.

By a margin of 6-3, with me leading the charge, we voted to send this shoddy grievance to arbitration. Essentially, the “political” had triumphed over the “principled.” To their credit, Maintenance saw the move for what it was—that despite their tribe not being represented on the Board, we were willing to go to the extra mile for them.

It was not altogether smooth. Some of our members went ape-shit when they realized we were “defending” a common thief, and others—the more fiscally minded—complained about wasting $2,500 in union dues on an arbitration that had no chance of winning. They weren’t wrong. We were crushed in the arbitration hearing.

Additionally, I was personally accused of “selling out,” and being a “politician.” Surprisingly, being labeled a “politician” not only didn’t bother me, it pleased me. Somehow, it made me feel like a grown-up. If sacrificing a valued but rigid principle for the sake of the greater good made me a sell-out, then so be it.

In 2010, Congressman Barney Frank noted that the “most principled” group in the U.S.—those who were the most unwilling to compromise, the most unwilling to bend, the most unwilling to back off, the most unwilling to do anything that might sully the purity of the Right Thing—were members of the Tea Party. Politics is nothing if not compromise.

In Praise of the Oscars

I confess to enjoy watching the Academy Awards.  Not only do I tune in every year (haven’t failed to see a single telecast in more than 20 years), I never miss a single minute of the proceedings, which isn’t difficult, given that the prodigious number of commercial breaks allows us to tend to whatever business we need to attend to.

As for the Oscars themselves, let’s be clear.  The show is gaudy, shallow, self-absorbed, phony, pompous, tedious, predictable, and, at moments, as soul-crushingly offensive as watching a wealthy man step out of his limousine and piss on a homeless person.  In other words, the Oscars are everything that Hollywood is.  Great Britain has its royal family, we have Hollywood.

Serious people are always chiding me for watching the show, insisting that the Oscars are a “waste of time.”  That’s the phrase they use.  A waste of time.  As if their lives are so jam-packed with meaningful content, that the notion of spending three and a half hours once a year watching beautiful, impossibly vain people congratulate each other is too frivolous to contemplate.

But it raises a philosophical question:  If the Oscars don’t qualify as being “worthy of us,” what does qualify?  Which is to say, what ISN’T a “waste” of time?  Finding some Russian dude to play chess with?  Reading Proust?  Cleaning out your garage?  Arguably, most of us pilgrims vacillate between Kurt Vonnegut’s view of the world, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s opposing view of it.

Vonnegut: “Our purpose on earth is to fart around.  And don’t let anybody tell you any different.”  Wittgenstein:  “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure it is not to enjoy ourselves.”  And then of course, there’s the celebrated satirist and social critic (and CounterPuncher) Paul Krassner:  “If life isn’t a mystery, then what the fuck is it?”

But back to the Oscars.  As a minor playwright (with emphasis on the word “minor”) I get to hang around with talented actors and directors.   There’s an enormous difference between “working actors” and the “movie stars” we see at the Academy Awards.  In truth, there’s no meaningful comparison.

Whereas working actors are artists applying their craft, movie stars represent a whole other breed of animal.  These people orbit their own sun.  Unfortunately, when applied to movie stars, the term “narcissism” is rendered virtually useless.  Indeed, calling movie stars “narcissists” is as inadequate as referring to the universe as “very large.”

The screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” et al) described the movie star Paul Newman as being a genuinely “humble guy,” which, according to Goldman, was something you don’t often find in Hollywood.

As an example of just how humble Newman was, Goldman noted that his contract did NOT call for a minimum number of close-ups.  Apparently, most movie stars insist on having their mugs fill the screen x-number of times.  Why?  Because, well, they’re movie stars.  But not Paul Newman.  He trusted the directors to shoot the scenes however they chose.

An even “better” (which is to say “worse”) story involved a big-time actress who had the box office clout to get pretty much anything she wanted.  And what she wanted—what she insisted upon in her movie contract—was to have her rear-end prominently featured a minimum of ten times.

This woman was acknowledged by everyone to have a shapely butt, which, according to Hollywood calculus, mandated that it be showcased.  Hence, a minimum of ten close-ups or near close-ups of her shapely derriere.  Julia Roberts’ incandescent smile warrants the same attention.  That signature, 24-carat grill must not go unnoticed.  It needs to highlighted.  And of course, it always is.

Because the Academy Awards are one of the very few “live” events we still get to see on television, every show has at least one embarrassing, unintentionally laughable, disgraceful, or cringe-worthy moment, and this year’s presentation was no exception.

Reminding us of just how gutless Hollywood’s studio executives truly are, they inserted a revolting faux-patriotic tribute to America’s military.  Not only was this segment utterly contrived and out of place, it was obviously done in order to offset the “liberal,” anti-sexist, pro-diversity theme of the evening.

Gutless, plastic, pompous, and excessive.  No wonder the world loves and hates us.

Labor Poised to Be Hit With a Million-Pound Shit-hammer

Photo by Brittany Hogan | CC BY 2.0

In “Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 16-1466”), a case that was inches away from being ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court, but was providentially postponed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, organized labor is now preparing to receive an imminent dose of very bad news.

Upon Scalia’s death, the court stood at 4-4, with justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor voting to deny Janus, and Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito voting to uphold his lawsuit.  Unless something startling and totally unforeseen occurs, Scalia’s replacement, the conservative Neil Gorsuch, is expected to drive the final nail into the coffin.

Essentially, the Janus case hinges on whether a government employee in an “agency shop,” who has chosen not to join the union, is no longer required (per the 1977 “Abood” decision), to pay any union dues whatever.

Addressing that issue, Abood (“Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education)” made it abundantly clear that while a government employee has the right not to join the union that represents him, he can’t do so without having to donate a small portion of union dues.  After all, fair is fair.  It was the union that got him all these goodies.  Freeloaders are frowned upon.

In an agency shop (as opposed to a “union shop,” where union membership is a condition of employment), an employee who truculently chooses not to join the union loses only three things, none of which are going to matter to him.  He loses the right to attend union meetings, the right to run for a union office, and the right to vote in a union election.

Yet, for this “toy rebel,” it’s not what he loses; it’s what he gains.  Not only will he continue to receive the same wages and benefits as a dues-paying union member, he remains entitled to full union representation (e.g., he still gets to use a shop steward to file grievances against management).  Which is why the Abood decision was so vitally necessary.

Alas, Abood is almost certain to be overturned.   And oddly, what makes its reversal so repellent isn’t simply the disgraceful and greedy “freeloading” part.  It’s the naked hypocrisy that underlies it.

Although Janus proponents continue to self-righteously couch their argument in high-minded First Amendment rhetoric, this case is about nothing so much as old-fashioned, smash-mouth street politics.

Because organized labor has always been recognized as a loyal and dependable supporter (if, lately, an unrequited “partner”) of the Democratic Party, Republicans have been gnashing their teeth—nursing a grudge going all the way back to the New Deal—over the fact that elections can be won and lost on the basis of labor’s support.

Accordingly, the Republican Party has frantically been seeking ways to turn off the Labor-to-Democrats money spigot.  Eliminating union dues that go directly into an AFL-CIO action fund is one ingenious way of doing it.  One small step for man, one giant leap for the Angel of Death.

But instead of being honest about this strategy, they pretend that encouraging this sort of gutless freeloading (receiving union benefits without paying union dues)  is exactly what the enlightened and visionary framers of the constitution had in mind when they established the Bill of Rights.

All of which leads one to the conclusion that Dante Alighieri, in his “Inferno,” knew exactly what he was talking about.  In Dante’s depiction of the Underworld, each descending lower Circle of Hell represents a “worse” sin.

There are nine levels.  The first, and least sinful Circle, is Limbo, where the spirits of unbaptized souls reside.  Jumping down to Circle Six, we find the heretics.  Dropping another notch, to Circle Seven, we find the murderers.

And a notch below that, in Circle Eight, is where we encounter the “hypocrites, seducers, and liars.”  The Ninth and final Circle is reserved for betrayers and traitors.  Brutus and Cassius (betrayers of Julius Caeser) are there, as is Judas Escariot.

Indeed, even Dante (1265-1321) realized how despicable hypocrites were.  He put them beneath killers.  Apparently, Dante had more respect for a garden variety murderer than an eloquent, sanctimonious hypocrite.  Of course, the ability to appear noble and highly principled has always been a sure-fire way to attract followers.  Rest in peace, Billy Graham.

Labor Poised to Be Hit With a Million-Pound Shit-Hammer

In “Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 16-1466”), a case that was inches away from being ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court, but was providentially postponed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, organized labor is now preparing to receive an imminent dose of very bad news.

Upon Scalia’s death, the court stood at 4-4, with justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor voting to deny Janus, and Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito voting to uphold his lawsuit. Unless something startling and totally unforeseen occurs, Scalia’s replacement, the conservative Neil Gorsuch, is expected to drive the final nail into the coffin.

Essentially, the Janus case hinges on whether a government employee in an “agency shop,” who has chosen not to join the union, is no longer required (per the 1977 “Abood” decision), to pay any union dues whatever.

Addressing that issue, Abood (“Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education)” made it abundantly clear that while a government employee has the right not to join the union that represents him, he can’t do so without having to donate a small portion of union dues. After all, fair is fair. It was the union that got him all these goodies. Freeloaders are frowned upon.

In an agency shop (as opposed to a “union shop,” where union membership is a condition of employment), an employee who truculently chooses not to join the union loses only three things, none of which are going to matter to him. He loses the right to attend union meetings, the right to run for a union office, and the right to vote in a union election.

Yet, for this “toy rebel,” it’s not what he loses; it’s what he gains. Not only will he continue to receive the same wages and benefits as a dues-paying union member, he remains entitled to full union representation (e.g., he still gets to use a shop steward to file grievances against management). Which is why the Abood decision was so vitally necessary.

Alas, Abood is almost certain to be overturned. And oddly, what makes its reversal so repellent isn’t simply the disgraceful and greedy “freeloading” part. It’s the naked hypocrisy that underlies it.

Although Janus proponents continue to self-righteously couch their argument in high-minded First Amendment rhetoric, this case is about nothing so much as old-fashioned, smash-mouth street politics.

Because organized labor has always been recognized as a loyal and dependable supporter (if, lately, an unrequited “partner”) of the Democratic Party, Republicans have been gnashing their teeth—nursing a grudge going all the way back to the New Deal—over the fact that elections can be won and lost on the basis of labor’s support.

Accordingly, the Republican Party has frantically been seeking ways to turn off the Labor-to-Democrats money spigot. Eliminating union dues that go directly into an AFL-CIO action fund is one ingenious way of doing it. One small step for man, one giant leap for the Angel of Death.

But instead of being honest about this strategy, they pretend that encouraging this sort of gutless freeloading (receiving union benefits without paying union dues) is exactly what the enlightened and visionary framers of the constitution had in mind when they established the Bill of Rights.

All of which leads one to the conclusion that Dante Alighieri, in his “Inferno,” knew exactly what he was talking about. In Dante’s depiction of the Underworld, each descending lower Circle of Hell represents a “worse” sin.

There are nine levels. The first, and least sinful Circle, is Limbo, where the spirits of unbaptized souls reside. Jumping down to Circle Six, we find the heretics. Dropping another notch, to Circle Seven, we find the murderers.

And a notch below that, in Circle Eight, is where we encounter the “hypocrites, seducers, and liars.” The Ninth and final Circle is reserved for betrayers and traitors. Brutus and Cassius (betrayers of Julius Caeser) are there, as is Judas Escariot.

Indeed, even Dante (1265-1321) realized how despicable hypocrites were. He put them beneath killers. Apparently, Dante had more respect for a garden variety murderer than an eloquent, sanctimonious hypocrite. Of course, the ability to appear noble and highly principled has always been a sure-fire way to attract followers. Rest in peace, Billy Graham.

We Need to Abolish the Olympic Games

At the risk of sounding mawkishly sentimental, there was a time—decades ago, when this world was vastly larger, more mysterious, more inscrutable—when the Olympic Games genuinely mattered. A time when one could make the argument that the Olympics actually “benefitted mankind.”

Take the Summer Games of 1960, for example, which were held in Rome. It was in Rome where American and European track stars first got to meet athletes from countries that they barely knew existed, much less had competed against. Indeed, it was in Rome where the African runners—those extraordinary athletes who eventually came to dominate the distance events—first made their presence known on the world stage.

In 1960, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, et al, were remote and exotic locales. In fact, they were so remote (this was before the Peace Corps was established) that, farfetched as it sounds, it was unlikely an American would ever meet face to face with any of their citizens unless he did so as an athlete at the Olympic Games.

It was a different age, a different milieu. Not only was there was no TV coverage of the 1960 Olympics, the only aspect of those Games that the American media deemed worth reporting was the comparative medal count of the USA and its arch-enemy the USSR.

But so much has changed since 1960, it’s close to impossible to quantify. Not only is the “magic” gone from the Games, even the novelty is gone. Because today’s world is an infinitely smaller place, who really cares?

To say we have become more cosmopolitan is a profound understatement. “Hey, I met a Kenyan.” An athlete telling someone that he got to shake hands with a Kenyan doesn’t even move the needle on the Human Interest meter. That’s because our mailman is a Kenyan. Or our neighbor. Or our buddy at the health club.

Somalis now post photos of themselves and their families on Facebook. The men are wearing Dockers and polo shirts. There are two excellent Ethiopian restaurants in the city of Santa Monica. Also, let’s not forget that mega-corporations now own the whole shebang. They own it outright. NBC reportedly paid $1 billion for the rights to broadcast the 2018 Winter Olympics. And of course, absurd as it seems, professional athletes are now allowed to compete.

Why any American (even those of the flag-waving, USA-chanting variety) would get their jollies seeing a team composed of NBA stars beat a struggling team from, say, Honduras by 81 points is a mystery. Charles Barkley said that during an out-of-bounds call, an opposing player actually handed him a scrap of paper and a pen, and requested his autograph. The game was a mismatch, but it was still in progress! WTF?

Basically, the Olympic Games have outgrown themselves, and by doing so, they’ve relinquished whatever modest “contribution” they once made to the Family of Man. They’ve gone from a noble and worthwhile experiment to a bloated, self-aggrandizing, and over produced spectacle, having congealed into a caricature of their former self.

And speaking as a life-long track & field fan, the final nail in the coffin has been the proliferation of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). Other than perhaps bicycling, nowhere in the sports world do you find athletes more juiced up with drugs than today’s world-class runners, jumpers and throwers.

Because the “drug detectives” (those overworked and understaffed technicians assigned the daunting task of flagging drug users) are five years behind the “drug innovators” (those creative and highly motivated geniuses who are coming up with space-age performance enhancers that aren’t yet even on the list of illegal substances), the sport will always be suspect.

So let’s end the charade and abolish the Olympics. We don’t need a billion-dollar extravaganza to satisfy our needs. Track fans can catch all the action they want by attending high school and college meets. I’ve done it myself. Gymnastics fans can do the same. As for aficionados of synchronized swimming, well….good riddance.

Trump’s Dangerous High-Wire Act


It’s one thing for President Trump to go around recklessly calling anyone he disagrees with (or who has ever criticized him) a “liar” or “traitor” or “crook” or “loser.” Apparently, this behavior is what an insecure and bullying former real estate man-child regards as a projection of presidential leadership. On the other hand, one can argue that it was this cringe-worthy adolescent behavior that got him elected in the first place.

But Trump’s latest iteration of the classic “smear job” has the potential to not only come back and bite him on the rear end, it has the potential to irrevocably cripple his presidency. When he unwisely (what else is new?) and precipitously launched a public attack on the vaunted FBI, he made what could be a fatal error.

While Trump adheres to no ideology (prior to and during his campaign, he made dozens of outrageous and contradictory assertions, including criticizing the Citizens United decision, suggesting higher taxes for the wealthy, donating money to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial race, and asking why there “can’t be Medicare for all?”), he is still, nominally, a Republican. As squirrelly as this man has shown himself to be, he was nonetheless elected as a Republican.

And being a Republican still means something to the Party faithful. Even in this period of goofy recalibration, being a Republican still represents a belief system. Among other things—going all the way back to the Turbulent Sixties, with its riots, bombings, street theater, and scary black people—it means that a Republican president is automatically going to be regarded as the titular and spiritual leader of the Law and Order Party.

Law and Order. These words are emblematic. They speak of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and John Mitchell. They speak of Stability. Civility. Respect for Authority. These were hallmarks of traditional Republicans. No beards, no long hair, no protests, no demonstrations. The Republican Party and Law and Order went together as naturally as vodka and regrets.

And there was nothing that represented the glorification and moral excellence of Law and Order more than the FBI. As much respect as decent, down-to-earth Republican families had for their local police force, it didn’t come close to the unabashed awe and admiration they had for the FBI. A boy or girl who aspired to join the FBI was a source of enormous pride to any Republican family.

Of course, for students, anti-war protesters, and the counterculture in general, it was the exact opposite. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Intimidation) was anathema to anyone who considered himself remotely “progressive.” As emotionally charged as this now sounds, in the year 1970, the FBI was seen to represent everything one might expect from a federal goon squad determined to establish a Fourth Reich.

And now Donald Trump, the spokesman of the Law and Order Party, has taken it upon himself to trash the Bureau. To denigrate it. To subvert it. Either to save his own skin, or deflect prying eyes, or avoid embarrassment to his family, Trump and his team have attempted to depict Robert Mueller, a life-long Republican and decorated combat Marine in the Vietnam war, as being a low-class shill for the Democrats, if not an outright “traitor.”

How ironic would it be if the blowback from hardcore, mainstream, pro-FBI Republicans results in Donald Trump being….being what? Impeached? Censured?

In any event, this improbable episode has made one thing abundantly clear: Donald Trump has shown himself to possess the most under-developed, infantile political instincts of any president in the history of the Republic. This dreadful mixture of arrogance, bluster and ignorance takes one’s breath away.

Finally, Some Good News for Labor

Could it be that the worm is finally turning?

On Friday, January 19, it was announced that journalists, copy editors, and other workers at the LA Times, long regarded as one of this country’s great daily newspapers, had voted to join a union.  Why was this particular election so special?  Because it marked the first time in the paper’s 136 year history that its employees had ever been represented by a union.

According to the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which monitored the election and counted the votes, Times employees, by a whopping mandate of 284-44, voted to affiliate with the NewsGuild-CWA (Communication Workers of America).

As for being regarded as a “great” newspaper, people can quibble all they like, but they can’t deny the fact that the Times’ unambiguously anti-union, pro-corporate ownership (beginning with the Chandler family) was able to largely keep the editorial side independent and separated from the business side.

Besides regularly endorsing Democratic candidates over Republicans in state and national elections, the LA Times has featured such left-wing columnists as Harry Bernstein, Robert Scheer and the late, great Alexander Cockburn.  I was privileged to meet Harry Bernstein in the 1980s, during an industrial strike, and began a long and gratifying correspondence with him.

As for the new union, its first order of business—before local union officers even sit down to negotiate its inaugural contract—was to request that Tronc, Inc. (since 2000, the parent company of the Times, and also the owners of, among others, the Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Orlando Sentinel) fire Ross Levinsohn, the paper’s despised publisher and CEO, who’s been accused of blatant sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Levinsohn, a slick, photogenic corporate creature with a winning smile, a marketing and public relations background, and virtually no experience as a reporter, journalist or anything resembling a “newspaper man,” has been accused of encouraging a male chauvinistic “frat boy” environment at the paper.  Levinsohn himself has twice been named as defendant in lawsuits alleging sexual harassment.

Of course, for anyone who has followed the tortuous anti-union history of the LA Times, October 1, 1910, will forever be regarded as the ruination of any chance management and labor had for reaching any kind of agreement.  It was on that date that over-zealous, pro-union thugs planted dynamite at Times headquarters.

The explosion and subsequent fire wound up killing 21 people, and injuring more than 100 others.  The LA Times, which referred to the dynamiting as the “crime of the century,” has remained stubbornly, almost “metaphysically,” non-union ever since.  Until last Friday.

In 1911, two members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, brothers James and Joseph McNamara, were charged with the bombing.  Due to the intensity and vehemence of the Times’ anti-union crusade, the case became a cause celebre of the labor movement.

The AFL (American Federation of Labor) hired noted attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the brothers.  Before going to trial, James pleaded guilty to setting the bomb, and was sentenced to life in prison.

So now the LA Times has joined the proud, collectivist ranks of the unionized.  It was a huge move, an historic move, one that will finally offer the employees an active voice in determining their own fate.  In any event, it has to be taken as a major step forward for whatever remains of the American labor movement.

Great News for Organized Labor

Could it be that the worm is finally turning?

On Friday, January 19, it was announced that journalists, copy editors, and other workers at the LA Times, long regarded as one of this country’s great daily newspapers, had voted to join a union. Why was this particular election so special? Because it marked the first time in the paper’s 136 year history that its employees had ever been represented by a union.

According to the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which monitored the election and counted the votes, Times employees, by a whopping mandate of 284-44, voted to affiliate with the NewsGuild-CWA (Communication Workers of America).

As for being regarded as a “great” newspaper, people can quibble all they like, but they can’t deny the fact that the Times’ unambiguously anti-union, pro-corporate ownership (beginning with the Chandler family) was able to largely keep the editorial side independent and separated from the business side.

Besides regularly endorsing Democratic candidates over Republicans in state and national elections, the LA Times has featured such left-wing columnists as Harry Bernstein, Robert Scheer and the late, great Alexander Cockburn. I was privileged to meet Harry Bernstein in the 1980s, during an industrial strike, and began a long and gratifying correspondence with him.

As for the new union, its first order of business—before local union officers even sit down to negotiate its inaugural contract—was to request that Tronc, Inc. (since 2000, the parent company of the Times, and also the owners of, among others, the Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Orlando Sentinel) fire Ross Levinsohn, the paper’s despised publisher and CEO, who’s been accused of blatant sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Levinsohn, a slick, photogenic corporate creature with a winning smile, a marketing and public relations background, and virtually no experience as a reporter, journalist or anything resembling a “newspaper man,” has been accused of encouraging a male chauvinistic “frat boy” environment at the paper. Levinsohn himself has twice been named as defendant in lawsuits alleging sexual harassment.

Of course, for anyone who has followed the tortuous anti-union history of the LA Times, October 1, 1910, will forever be regarded as the ruination of any chance management and labor had for reaching any kind of agreement. It was on that date that over-zealous, pro-union thugs planted dynamite at Times headquarters.

The explosion and subsequent fire wound up killing 21 people, and injuring more than 100 others. The LA Times, which referred to the dynamiting as the “crime of the century,” has remained stubbornly, almost “metaphysically,” non-union ever since. Until last Friday.

In 1911, two members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, brothers James and Joseph McNamara, were charged with the bombing. Due to the intensity and vehemence of the Times’ anti-union crusade, the case became a cause celebre of the labor movement.

The AFL (American Federation of Labor) hired noted attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the brothers. Before going to trial, James pleaded guilty to setting the bomb, and was sentenced to life in prison.

So now the LA Times has joined the proud, collectivist ranks of the unionized. It was a huge move, an historic move, one that will finally offer the employees an active voice in determining their own fate. In any event, it has to be taken as a major step forward for whatever remains of the American labor movement.