The Writer

Frank J. Yacenda, a life-long writer, has been a journalist, editor, publisher, a science writer, a diplomat, and a public relations practitioner. See more about him here.

Let Me Be Your Editor

Frank J. Yacenda is a broadly experienced writer and editor who will help you conceive, perfect, produce, and promote your fiction or non-fiction writing project. See more here.

Check Out My New Book

Buying America the Right Way tells overseas real estate investors -- and U.S. ones, too -- what they need to know to get it right when buying in America. See it here.

Author: Frank Yacenda

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Just when you thought the state of journalism in this country couldn’t sink any lower, along comes a week like this past one. I’ve been trying not to say this, trying hard for a very long time, but I think it’s become inescapable. It’s time, I’m afraid, to declare journalism dead, and to give it a burial, decent or not.

This is coming from a recovering journalist. I was a practicing journalist for many years, got a hard-earned masters degree in the field, and later went on to teach journalism at the university level. But that was a different journalism. It was before its untimely demise, back in an age when facts and fairness and accuracy and balance all actually mattered. When a journalist’s ethics and credibility went hand-in-hand. Sadly, it seems these things no longer count in this post-journalism era, otherwise known as the Age of Fake News, we find ourselves in.

I’ll concede there are outposts of journalism that still live. But they have become few and far between. If the profession is twitching in those places, it’s certainly not kicking more generally.

There are some things that went down this past week that top all the general level of noise we’ve become accustomed to. Two stories in particular lead me to, at last, pronounce the profession dead. But beyond those stories, I think it’s more the result of a feeling I’ve had in my heart, a heaviness of spirit, that has become inescapable when I see or read most of what passes for journalism today. A chronic feeling has turned acute.

The thing that first put my hand to signing the death certificate was the report carried by BuzzFeed – BuzzFeed! – late last Thursday, Jan. 17, in which it was stated unequivocally, based on unnamed sources, that the President had directed his attorney, the now discredited and sentenced Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. It would be a pretty big story, I suppose, if only it were true. Which, as it turns out, it apparently isn’t. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a journalist gets something wrong. But that’s not even the thing about this story and how it was treated by others in the so-called profession that initially grabbed my attention and caused me to become so despondent about the state of journalism.

The first thing that struck me was the source of this story. I mean, really, BuzzFeed? We’re supposed to take this to be a serious source for news? That seems ludicrous to me, and then, to my shock and dismay, here were other ostensibly serious journalists quoting the BuzzFeed story as if it were real journalism. One big nail in the profession’s coffin.

In case you can’t tell, I don’t take pop feeds like BuzzFeed seriously. Maybe every now and then a source like that, such as, for instance, the National Enquirer, gets things right, more or less the way a broken clock is right by default twice a day. But overall, this is not a serious source for news. We used to make fun of my grandmother for reading the Enquirer and the Globe, but here were national journalists actually copping to following BuzzFeed and treating it seriously. I think that said as much about the state of journalism as anything.

To prove my point, I took a look at the lead stories on BuzzFeed – just a random sample, mind you, but typical. Here is what they were, in descending order:

  • “If You Grew Up Listening To These 24 Songs Then You Are 100% Gay Now”
  • “29 Useful Kitchen Gadgets That People Actually Swear By”
  • “People Can’t Even With the Announcement Of This Gender Reveal Lasagna” (No, I don’t have a clue what it means, either, but that was the actual headline)
  • “Everything You Need To Know About The Drama Surrounding The British Royal Family Making Headlines in New Zealand” (Silly me, I heretofore didn’t think there was anything I needed to know about any drama or anything else concerning the British Royal Family, much less that merits headlines in New Zealand)
  • “Trending” – trending, mind you! – “The Entire World Is Obsessed That Americans Drink Out Of These”
  • “Get 3/10 On This Quiz And You Know More Than Most About Immuno-Oncology” (That sounded at least a little serious, until I noticed it was “Promoted by Bristol-Meyers Squibb” – that is, paid advertising by the pharma giant, stuck in among the headlines)
  • “Congress Wants To Know Whether Matthew Whitaker Talked To The White House About The Special Counsel’s Response To A BuzzFeed News Report”

Now if you look at that last headline and you’re astute enough to decipher it, you’ll see that the story is essentially political propaganda masquerading as news. Dissecting, briefly, the etymology of it, BuzzFeed, relying on unnamed sources, published a story saying something concerning the Special Counsel, the Special Counsel immediately said the story wasn’t true, BuzzFeed stuck by the reporters’ story (more on that in a sec) despite the Special Counsel’s denial, and then the Dems in Congress (portrayed in the headline as “Congress”) jumped on the false story told by BuzzFeed to further their political agenda, and that is what this story is about. Therefore, the translation of that headline is: “Our Sources Weren’t So Hot After All, But It’s Bad For Trump, So We’re Sticking By It, And So Are the Dems In Congress.”

Okay, I know what some of you are going to say. BuzzFeed News is a separate part of the operation and is a serious (sic) news organization. Putting aside for the moment that it was BuzzFeed News that broke what is likely to turn out to be a bogus story but won’t retract it, here were the headlines when I looked on this serious “news” side of the house:

  • “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project” (Yup, there it is, the story the Special Counsel has said isn’t true, right there at the top of BuzzFeed News’s “news” feed. Even The New York Times has the decency to publish retractions and corrections, albeit buried inside the body of the paper.)
  • “Transgender Soldiers Are Terrified And Disappointed After The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Trump’s Ban”
  • “Cardi B Clapped Back Against Accusations That Her ‘Twerk’ Video Doesn’t Empower Women In the #MeToo Era” (Pardon my ignorance, but who the hell is Cardi B? And in what obscure way is this news?)
  • “The Biggest Surprises From This Year’s Oscar Nominations” (Not among them, I am sure, is that even fewer people will watch the Oscars this year than last, and the one before that, and the one before that, and . . . )
  • “The Campaign For A People’s Vote On Brexit Has Descended Into Infighting And Splits” (News Flash: And there is coal in Newcastle!)
  • “The Big Design Change For 2020: An Explosion Of Colors Beyond Red And Blue!” (A cross between more thinly veiled propaganda for Dems and a big bunch of “who cares?”)

Okay, now let’s look at the reporters – and one in particular, Jason Leopold – who produced this journalistic masterpiece that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has denied. Leopold, billed as a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and based in Los Angeles, has a checkered past that includes previous false reports, making stuff up as he went along, and even plagiarism (about the worst crime a writer can commit). Salon, after an extended series of unsuccessful attempts to get Leopold to document claims contained in a 2002 story about Navy Secretary Thomas White when he formerly was Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services, wound up pulling the story and apologizing to readers. I won’t detail the lengths Salon went to to get Leopold to document his reporting, but you can read all about it on the New Zealand site Scoop. Leopold’s rebuttal, which reads like a petulant and self-justifying denial of the facts, is there, too. That, incidentally, also was the story where Leopold was credibly accused of plagiarizing several paragraphs from a Financial Times story.

That wasn’t the end of Jason Leopold’s missteps, either. In 2006, Leopold, again relying on unnamed sources, reported on Truthout.org that Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was being indicted on charges related to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The only problem with the story, since taken down by the site, was that it wasn’t true. Columbia Journalism Review called the story “Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism,” a reference to The New Republic writer who just made things up in his stories written over a three-year period with the publication. Further, Leopold’s history includes being fired by The Los Angeles Times for creating a newsroom fracas with a colleague, and the would-be publisher of Leopold’s first memoir, Off the Record, canceling the publication after being threatened with a lawsuit for alleged misstatements made in the book.

Now if the Special Counsel’s denials weren’t enough, and Leopold’s questionable track record didn’t raise questions, public disagreement between the two authors of Thursday’s story about whether they actually viewed the evidence corroborating the allegations cited in the article might have put up red flags. While co-author Anthony Cormier – formerly of The Tampa Bay Times – told both CNN and NPR he had not actually seen the evidence, Leopold later insisted that they had in fact seen the evidence. Is this some minor point that might have been mis-remembered by the co-authors? Not likely. But as startling is what Cormier told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. After insisting in his CNN interview that he was “rock solid” on the story, Cormier told Inskeep, “This is a crime, if it’s true. And our reporting suggests that it is.” What? Full stop. “This is a crime, if it’s true.” If it’s true? What the hell kind of reporting insists something is true when there remains an “if” involved? I don’t know if that would cut it at The Tampa Bay Times, but apparently it does at BuzzFeed. Big nail number two in the coffin.

As if they’re all in an echo chamber, which apparently they are, a slew of Dems in Congress, in tweets and statements, picked up not only on the BuzzFeed piece but on Cormier’s very words, “if it’s true,” and ran with that making assorted threats of impeachment against the President. Quelle surprise!

Wouldn’t all this give an editor cause for concern? Apparently not BuzzFeed’s editors. BuzzFeed stood by the story, and its Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, later tweeted on Friday: “In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”

Okay. That was one of the two stories this past week that led me to declare journalism dead. The other is the story, such as it is, of the standoff between the kid from Covington, Kentucky, and the Native American guy originally from Nebraska. The incident actually took place last Friday, Jan. 18, but it was only after a video of the standoff went viral that the story took off, and the reportage (again, sic) this week has been rabid.

When I first heard this story at the beginning of the week, my initial reaction was, “Why are we supposed to care about this?” If this had happened anywhere else except in Washington, D.C., and in any time other than the one in which we live, it probably wouldn’t even have made the local news. I was gratified to hear someone else – I regret that I don’t recall who – on the radio ask the same question, “Who cares?”

Well, apparently lots of people cared. Not enough to actually get the facts straight, and that includes most in the national media, but they cared. After all, the story – at least as it was perceived – had all the hallmarks of what I’m afraid has come to make stories considered newsworthy in this age of post-journalism: Racism, angry confrontation, demonstrations, and – more than anything – Trumpism v. anti-Trumpism. The media was all over the story: Angry kids wearing MAGA – “Make America Great Again,” the Trump motto – hats confront Native American elder near the Lincoln Memorial. They are in his face, ready to tear him apart, a bunch of racists who hated blacks, Native Americans, anyone except white Americans. They came to Washington to oppose abortion (labeled, in PC terms, “a woman’s right to choose”), and now they were spreading their racism by getting in the face of this poor Vietnam vet.

The only problem with the story was . . . it wasn’t true. But that didn’t stop a maelstrom of national debate, name calling, accusations, death threats, and who knows how many millions of dollars of air time from being dedicated to it. And, as much as we might wish it would just go away, we’re probably going to be hearing about this story for days, even weeks, until something more scintillating comes along to displace it. And then it will just disappear.

Even in an age of biased media, this story stands out for how one-sided the media coverage of it has been. Whether it is CNN, MSNBC, or just about every other news outlet, the only side of the story that was told for days was that of Nathan Phillips, the Native American man. It was as if there was no other version of events. Even CNN’s URL for the interview with Nathan Phillips – still up as of this writing – gives a hint of the bias:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/21/us/nathan-phillips-maga-teens-interview/index.html

I was especially distraught to see stories carried in USA TODAY, written by reporters with Gannett’s Cincinnati Enquirer local newspaper, that were entirely single-source stories, quoting only Phillips, without even an apparent attempt to contact Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High student facing off against Phillips in the actual incident. I used to work for Gannett at the paper, TODAY, now FLORIDA TODAY, that served as the model for USA TODAY, and even though Gannett, even then in the 1980s, was not the paradigm of journalism, I don’t think single-source stories on such a controversial topic would have been acceptable to my editors. But today they are. And the whole country gets to read them.

If you haven’t been in a coma the past few days you know of the death threats made against Sandmann and the other students involved. You know how they have been accused of being racists, how Sandmann “got in the face” of Phillips, how the students chanted “the wall, the wall,” how everyone from members of Congress to state representatives to the usual gaggle of Hollywood celebrities put out terribly nasty tweets critical of Sandmann. One so-called journalist wished the kids would die (he got fired). It didn’t help that the Catholic Diocese of Covington piled on with criticism and threats against the Covington students before they had the facts, either. That’s the kind of age we live in, being first counting more than being right, with the kind of moral righteousness that might otherwise be seen as the less-than-desirable quality of being holier-than-thou.

But if you watched the full video of what went down, you would have seen that the account given by Phillips wasn’t at all accurate. You would have seen Sandmann, smiling silently, facing a man banging a drum in his face, and periodically signaling to this classmates to cool their antics, and those same classmates, most just kids, not even old enough to grow facial hair, being, well, kids.

And if you just paid attention to the national media, you also might not know that the Native American group, some 50 individuals led by Phillips and his drum, attempted to disrupt a mass being held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Sunday night. Or that Nathan Phillips has a violent criminal record, including assault and jail break, or that he never served in Vietnam (a fact you might have picked up on by his carefully nuanced statements about his service, but not by the banners run across the screens of CNN or the questions of TV interviewers). And you certainly can be excused for not knowing about the group that may be the real racists involved in the subject incident, the Black Hebrew Israelites, whom the students said were shouting hateful things at them before the incident involving Phillips took place. Though, if you follow TMZ – another prime example of the state of journalism in 2019 – you might have learned that the venerable Phillips has turned down Sandmann’s invitation to meet and talk things out. Oh, and if you want to see that it’s not just journalism but the state of the readership that has gone down the toilet, just read the comments on that piece. I mean, why bother? All in all, a third nail in the coffin of journalism.

Thus ends a helluva week and, with it, a formerly venerable profession. RIP.

Justice and Other Oxymorons

Justice and Other Oxymorons

On Monday, the editors at Merriam-Webster, the acknowledged delineator of American English, named “justice” as its Word of the Year for 2018. The company cited a 74% increase in look-ups of the word over 2017, and said it was one of the most consulted words throughout 2018.

“The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice,” Merriam-Webster said in explaining its choice, going on to add, “In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

 Indeed, it is. As well as our interpretation, the connotation, not just the denotation, we put on the word. And how it relates to our belief systems, both in the instant and in the bigger scheme of things. And how it works, or doesn’t, in actual practice.

Ironically, I got the news of this selection on the car radio on my way back from St. Pete, where I had my latest encounter for what passes for “justice” in contemporary America. I had filed a motion to hold the miscreant who had destroyed one of my boats, in clear violation of an agreement he had entered into with me and over which the court retains jurisdiction, in contempt. What I told the judge – this was before learning it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – that I was seeking one thing, summed up in a single word, and that word was “justice.” I was boiling things down to their most basic objective, and that word expresses it.

Well, I got some reasoned explanations from the judge, and some references to precedence in prior court decisions on the kind if issue I was raising, and agreement that I had suffered significant losses at this guy’s hands. And what I came away with was . . . wait for it, wait for it    . . . not justice. Anything but. Even, in an oblique way, the judge agreed I wasn’t going to get justice, regardless what I did or the other party did. Sure, I could continue to pursue the matter, at whatever cost and effort it takes, but it wasn’t going to make any difference in the end, as far as the judge was concerned. I was, in the slang acronym that applies in this case, SOL.

So you can understand why the radio report on M-W’s Word of the Year got my attention. It wasn’t the only thing on my mind driving across Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge on the way back when I heard it, given the ongoing and persistent reminders these days of the injustice inherent in our system and those entrusted with implementing it. But it certainly brought the reality of that injustice home once more. In truth, I didn’t have much expectation going into the hearing that I was going to get the justice I sought. This wasn’t my first encounter with the American system of “justice,” including several tours through so-called “family court,” which is an oxymoron if there ever was one, so I was conditioned by experience to know how these things usually go. And in that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

This is not meant cynically – you can draw your own conclusion whether cynicism is justified or not –but what I’ve come to expect is that wrong-doers are more likely than not to be rewarded for their misdeeds, or at best not penalized for them. And the wronged party is, if not outrightly punished – which experience and observation has shown me happens in a significant percentage of cases – left as I was in this case, SOL.

If this was just a personal issue it would be bad enough. But today we were witnessing an American hero, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, facing sentencing (later deferred) for lying to the FBI. Normally one might assume that, as the judge in that case said this morning, this is a serious offense. But put in the context of how the FBI conducted itself in this and related matters, how the FBI, in dealing with Flynn, thoroughly abrogated the standards it imposes on other law-enforcement agencies and, most telling of all, the total inconsistency evident in how individuals who committed much more serious violations of law and national security, Hillary Clinton and many others associated with her, were allowed to skate by, one has to wonder, where is the justice? Looking at the big picture, if you conclude that the American people is SOL if it expects justice, you’d certainly be justified.

I’ve said before that we have a dual system of justice and nothing I’ve seen since then dissuades me from that view. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars chasing after process crimes, like that which Flynn has admitted committing, offenses unrelated to his primary mission, which is finding collusion between the Russians and the President – which, to date, not a single piece of evidence has been shown to exist – futile indictments of Russian oligarchs, and other chimeras. Meanwhile, the most obvious offenses committed by Clinton, which include destroying evidence of her crimes and lying to the FBI, go untouched and unprosecuted.

Then there are the 25 FBI agents in the past year who have been fired, demoted, or resigned for their expressions of bias against President Trump and their unprofessional behavior. Have there been any prosecutions of any of them? Not a one. This includes former agent Peter Strzok, who took part in the questioning of Flynn that later led to the charge of lying to the FBI, even after other agents involved in the interview said they thought Flynn had not lied. It was Strzok, you might remember, who changed the wording of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement to exonerate Hillary Clinton, and then later told Congress, under oath, he didn’t remember doing it. Now Strzok was no low-level flunky. He was head of the FBI’s Counterespionage Section and second in command of the agency’s Counterintelligence Division, and he was involved in every investigation that could help Clinton or hurt Trump. And he’s the same agent who wrote to his paramour at the agency, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, answering her alarmed question whether Trump could become president by saying, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Several other Strzok emails to Page, reported in the Department of Justice’s inspector general report on him, reinforce the same anti-Trump bias. Can there be any question that the dichotomous treatment of Clinton and of Flynn, not to mention the President himself, does not have political motivation behind it? Political motivation within the country’s top law-enforcement agency? And you wonder whether there is not a dual system of justice?

Not to let Comey off the hook, the former FBI head, who increasingly looks like an arrogant buffoon, and a dishonest one at that, admitted the FBI would never have gotten away with what it did with a more “competent” administration. Comey had some other profound things to say after meeting with Congressional investigators behind closed doors on Friday. He said he didn’t learn anything new about the investigation into Trump from the session. Well, Mr. Comey, the point of questioning a witness is not for the witness to learn something new, but for the questioners to do so. Apparently the Congressional investigators didn’t learn much from Comey, either, after he told them an astounding 245 times during the session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. Incompetent or a liar? Take your pick. Great choice. But no prosecution of Comey for the outrageous illegal acts he’s admitted to in earlier sworn testimony to Congress and has even written and bragged openly about since. Equal justice? Where?

I told you in an earlier posting I wasn’t going to forget about these things, so consider this an installment on keeping that promise.

Getting back to my own case, which pales in comparison to these much larger miscarriages – abortions is more like it – of justice, the extent to which justice eluded me in court also applies to law enforcement as well. Before filing the contempt motion that was the subject of Monday’s hearing, I tried repeatedly to get the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to take action against the “Defendant,” and noted how he had violated at least four criminal statutes, which I cited by number and text. Well, speak about wasted effort. One level of the chain of command after another, starting with the deputy who witnessed the damage done and spontaneously termed it “disgusting,” and escalating, insisted it was a civil, not criminal, matter. They even insisted that the State’s Attorney’s office said it was a civil, not criminal matter. This the same State’s Attorney who refused to prosecute a man who allowed his young son, 23-month-old Lawson Whitaker, to die in a hot car, despite clear signs, and even admission by the father, that he was on drugs at the time. And this is the same Sheriff’s Department that failed to test the father for drugs, despite those same clear signs and admission. Pinellas County Prosecutor Bernie McCabe shamelessly went on TV and said he decided not to prosecute the father since he had “suffered enough” by losing his son. He suffered enough? Really? What about little Lawson? How much did he suffer, locked in his car seat in a sweltering car, while he slowly died? At 5 p.m. on the early September Florida day he perished, his body temperature was reported to be 108F. This is the state of “justice” in this country.

I am reminded of something my friend Ed Sanders said back in the 1970s. I knew Sanders when I lived in Woodstock, N.Y., and we worked on some investigations together. If you don’t know who Ed Sanders is, he describes himself as a poet-investigator, and among other claims to fame he is a founding member of the rock band The Fugs. He also wrote the book The Family, which laid out the events that led up to the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family, and Sanders told me he once shared a sleeping bag with Charlie Manson out in the California desert while researching the book. This is what Sanders said to me then about the police, and I think seldom in my life have I heard truer words, which to this day I frequently quote:

“Big crime, big problem. Little crime, little problem. No crime, no problem.”

That’s how it was then, and that’s how it is now. Mostly you’ve got to try to get the police to do anything to you – much less, for you – unless somehow you just haplessly fall into their clutches, often for some insignificant offense that hurts no one. I’m not specifically anti-police, but they’re just one more element of this unjust justice system we have.

Yesterday I was reminded of something else out of the past. I presented the judge with the stack of photos of the damage the “Defendant” had done to my boat and what he stole, since the exhibits as filed online may not have been very clear. He kind of flipped through a few of them as he was telling me I was SOL. Later, I could only think of one thing, the lines from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 masterpiece, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, which go:

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, “All rise.” We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog and then at twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ‘ cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American Blind Justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not what I came to tell you about.

Well, coincidentally – I swear it’s true – I had submitted exactly 27 photos of the damage and also the actual stolen air conditioner, and I absolutely wasn’t thinking of Alice’s Restaurant when I did. The judge didn’t have a seeing-eye dog, but he wasn’t going to look at the 27 photos, with or without circles and arrows or a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. And in the end, I was SOL.

I think Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for Word of the Year is perhaps telling: “Toxic.” And Dictionary.com’s selection says what we get: “Misinformation.” As for “justice,” reverting to Meriam-Webster, an oxymoron – which could be Word of the Year any year — is, “broadlysomething (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.”

Yup, “justice,” an oxymoron, for sure, as it exists in America today.

Illiberal Liberals

Illiberal Liberals

I’m increasingly reminded how very illiberal many liberals are. This used to be a relatively rare occurrence, but in the age of Trump, and with the liberal affliction of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS, reaching epidemic proportions, it’s happening pretty much all the time now.

There are unmistakable signs of this illiberal bent in all sorts of places, but every so often it takes on a personal dimension. Yesterday was one of those occasions. As many of you know, I regularly post my pieces on Medium, a site that supposedly promotes propagation and discussion of all different viewpoints. I say “supposedly,” because like most of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, if your views are liberal they get pushed, and if they’re not, they get buried, banned, shadow banned, or just ignored. I’ve read utter drivel on a variety of subjects, but with a liberal perspective, on Medium that get lauded (approvals are registered by “claps” by readers) with thousands and thousands of claps. Other posters and pieces – and I know this sounds like sour milk, but I do my best to base my postings on actual facts and not just figments of my paranoia or imagination – such as myself and my postings, not of a liberal tilt, are lucky to even get any readers. In general, if Medium promotes a piece, it gets exposure. If it doesn’t get promoted, one might as well throw a piece down a well, and it doesn’t matter how much sense it makes or how well informed it is.

Which takes me back to my story about the personal dimension of liberal illiberality I encountered yesterday. One of Medium’s promo emails, which list several postings site editors view as especially worthy of promotion, included a link that tied back to some piece of (I use the term loosely) poetry that, in less than subtle terms, accused the President of treason for some connection with Putin, which it seems the poster took as fact. It was, I don’t know, about five lines long, and wasn’t even good poetry. Never mind that it contained no evidence or even theory for what would normally qualify as a slanderous allegation, it was enough that this “poet” believed it. And, of course, in true Medium form, he had all sorts of sycophantic clappers. Yea! Great work! Right. Well, not being terribly judicious, I had to say something, so I posted a very simple response, which I think was in keeping with the style and depth of the original posting. What I said was, “Seriously? I mean, seriously???”

Well, next thing I know the poster did what liberals often do when confronted with something they don’t like. He blocked me. He didn’t argue against me. He didn’t ask my reason for posting what I did. He didn’t call me a nasty name, which at least would have been an honest thing to do. He just did the cowardly thing and blocked me, like I was some sort of stalker (believe me, I’m not) or threat to his life or safety (as many so called “liberals” actually are with those with whom they disagree). I’ve been online since the early days of the Internet, and even being the direct and sometimes controversial person I tend to be, I make a point of being reasoned and not engage in ad hominum attacks, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been blocked. And even most of those few times have been by disgruntled former girlfriends. But there you have it – this über-liberal and would-be poet couldn’t handle just four words of dissent with his ill-founded views.

I mean, me, I welcome disagreement. Of course, I love it when someone agrees with me, but I’d rather have someone disagree and say why then just ignore what I say, or do something gutless like blocking me. I’m not afraid of argument or dissent, and I have the facts to back up my positions. I’m even willing to admit when I’m wrong, which happens on rare occasions. Which I guess is part of liberals’ cowardice, because they often don’t base their positions on fact and simply can’t admit when they are wrong.

What happened yesterday isn’t an aberration, either. I have found almost universally it is so-called liberals who are quick to cut off contact when one utters something that diverges from their orthodoxy. This all began for me a few years ago when my oldest friend in the world, a besty since high school in the 1960s, decided I wasn’t liberal enough for him and he cut off contact after more than a half-century of friendship, 50-plus years of putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. In doing so, he accused me of having “changed“ in my views over the years. Funny that, which doesn’t seem like a crime to me, but funnier because it was said to someone who doesn’t really believe most people can or do change, not much. But not being afraid of dialogue, I wrote back and recounted all the key beliefs I held in high school – how I valued the individual and individual freedom, being paramount among them – and how I still was true to them. I also pointed out to him, inter alia, how he supported bombing the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, a not terribly liberal view, in those days. That aside, the point I was trying to make was, while we might disagree in our views, our values, I thought, were pretty similar.

Notice the distinction that I made between “views” and “values.” Views come and go. Values endure. That’s how I see it, anyway. Well, there were two values I guess we didn’t share – engaging in reasoned argument, and the value of friendship – because he never responded. Not then. Not since. After all, he’s a liberal, right, and I’m some sort of lesser person because I’m not. Speak of a holier-than-thou attitude, the hallmark of a hypocrite.

If truth be told, even during the many years when I was sympathetic to supposedly liberal causes and beliefs, I’ve always detested the word liberal. The reason was that it seemed to be a cop out, and people who claimed to be liberals were usually half-assed and didn’t really live by liberal values. I’d rather an honest radical – in some respects, I’m closer to that, radical, than liberal – than a wishy-washy liberal.

So now we’re seeing these self-styled liberals showing their true colors. If the facts don’t comport with their world view, they just change them, or make them up. If they don’t like someone, it’s easier to call them a name than look at their own hatreds and prejudices. The inconsistencies and downright fraud perpetrated on them by their appointed heroes doesn’t seem to phase them, but if someone they don’t like, or are told not to like, is the least bit inconsistent or less than honest, they’re all over him or her like a rash.

This tendency, of course, is most evident when it comes to the President and TDS. These so-called liberals, led by the liberal stoolies in the mass media, are like a pack of rabid jackals. It’s gotten to the point where school kids are bullied for just having the name Trump, so much that they’re driven to want to change their name. And what do they get back? A bunch of ineffectual (though undoubtedly liberal) coping techniques from someone who, if thinly disguised, clearly shares the same view of the President that has led to this hapless kid being bullied (I’m somewhat qualified to comment on what does or doesn’t work with bullies, by the way, having been bullied relentlessly in grade school and even after).

I actually heard someone in the media today say that not only is Trump bad, but anyone who voted for him is equally bad. This is the kind of intolerance, not to mention ignorance, that is gaining traction in so-called liberal quarters.

I’m not so doctrinaire or limited in my view to accuse all liberals of this illiberal behavior, and I do recognize there still are some reasonable liberals with whom one can have a civil disagreement or discussion. That said, in my experience and observation, they are increasingly in the minority. They certainly are not the ones who are in a position to control either social or mass media. And they are not at all on the ascendancy.

If this were an earlier century, I have no doubt that many of these illiberal liberals would be happy to put anyone who disagreed with them into the village stocks and have the general populous hurl rotten vegetables at them. Or worse. Much worse. Now, we get ridiculed or bullied or blocked, as I was by that would-be poet on Medium, or by my erstwhile friend. But as is said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I do wonder what these illiberal liberals would do if they were to get absolute power. Given all the signs, it’s not encouraging.

The Pretense Is Over

The Pretense Is Over

We had an election this week but it would be hard to recognize that. Whether in the media or in the streets, in the halls of Congress or even in the counting rooms of electoral officials, one side seems unable to swallow the results of the voting, which didn’t turn out as it had hoped and been promised. And now, in the aftermath, the pretense of civility, as thin as it might have been, has been cast aside and the true colors of the left are out in the open for all to see.

The left had been expecting a blue wave, a massive Democratic renunciation of the current administration and all that it stands for, and instead the voters returned what, at best, might be termed a blue ripple. While the Dems took control of the House of Representatives – which the party out of the White House does more often than not in off-year elections – it was by a much thinner margin than they had been expecting. Meanwhile, the Republicans deepened their control of the Senate, something that historically has happened only a handful of times in off-year elections, and which in real political terms is far more significant than control of the House.

Even more galling to the Dems was that Republican candidates who had embraced and been embraced by the President did better than the ones who didn’t, to the point where voters cast out such Democratic stalwarts as Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Joe Donnelly in Indiana in favor of Trump-backed candidates. While it wasn’t a big surprise that Heidi Heitkamp, who had angered North Dakota voters by her vote against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, was soundly defeated – just as fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, who had voted in favor of Kavanaugh, was returned to the Senate in West Virginia – the loss of Missouri and Indiana came as a bigger shock.

Apparently, though, it wasn’t enough to simply respect the will of the people and lick one’s wounds and wait for the next election year. Instead, Dems are resorting to some of their old, tried-and-true ways, in places as diverse as Florida, Arizona, and Georgia. The idea, unspoken but obvious by the tactics being employed, is if you can’t win an election you do your best to steal it. We’ll get to that a little later in this piece, but there are more egregious assaults on our democracy under way at present I think need to be discussed first.

Antifa, that group of anarchists that bills itself as anti-fascist but actually embodies and practices fascist tactics, has escalated its violent and confrontational actions to target commentators and journalists it doesn’t approve of. On Wednesday night, an Antifa mob descended on the Washington home of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. They threatened Carlson and his wife – fortunately their four children were not in the house at the time – vandalized their home and car, blocked off streets, and yelled about pipe bombs.

Tucker Carlson, we will fight. We know where you sleep at night!” the mob chanted.

The group’s Twitter feed – which Twitter has yet to take down – carries the same threat in a sticky post, and the group used a practice known as “doxxing” to publish the addresses of conservative commentators Carlson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and others. Meanwhile, left-wing commentators refuse to concede that the attack on Carlson’s home was staged by a “mob,” calling it instead a “protest.” Some protest. Meanwhile, this kind of threatening behavior has become a commonplace as so-called “protesters” drive public figures from restaurants and other public places, egged on by no less than members of Congress, most notably California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Building on the neo-fascist theme, if you weren’t locked in a bank vault all day today, you heard the phrase, “This was a glass-breaking moment,” or some version thereof, repeated over and over, ad nauseum, by the parrots of the mainstream media, as well as by some politicians. Ostensibly what they were referring to was the President’s decision to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General with Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, who will be filling the post on an acting basis. Never mind that the ones using this expression are the same people who criticized Sessions and his initial appointment as AG. Apparently consistency has nothing to do with it when politics are concerned (I already discussed the whole issue of hypocrisy among the Dems, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it).

The real issue, though, isn’t consistency or its lack. The real issue concerns the utterly and irretrievably disgusting use of that phrase, “glass-breaking moment,” on the exact 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – Crystal Night or, as it is otherwise known, the Night of Broken Glass, one of the darkest times in all of recorded human history. It was the night of November 9-10, 1938, when German paramilitary forces and civilians launched a massive pogrom against Jews in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. The exact number killed is not known, though it is estimated in the hundreds, and 267 synagogues were destroyed along with 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses that were damaged or destroyed. Additionally, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht, that Night of Broken Glass, is marked as the beginning of the Holocaust. And it is to this monumental atrocity that these despicable excuses for human beings compare the firing of Jeff Sessions. Given the lockstep lack of originality among most in the media, one has to assume that this choice of phrase was carefully chosen on this specific day. The inescapable question is, now, who are the real anti-Semites?

And just when we thought it was impossible to stoop any lower, Senator Richard Blumenthal, that notorious liar from Connecticut, himself said that this was a glass-breaking moment, this action that is every bit the right of any President, to change members of his cabinet. Let’s not for even the scintilla of a second forget that Blumenthal is Jewish, and Blumenthal’s father fled Nazi Germany for the United States when he was 17 to protect his very life from the evil that had taken over Germany. And now his son was reducing all that to a glib political sound bite. Again, do we have to ask who the real anti-Semites are?

It’s hard to swallow my disgust over all this, but I will hold it down so we can get back to the electoral shenanigans I mentioned higher up in the piece. I saved these for last since, as bad as they are, I think the other things mentioned are even more serious and, as newer developments, pose an even bigger threat to our democratic institutions and way of life. Not that the integrity of our elections isn’t important, since it is, but the threat to electoral integrity is part of our history, considering how many dead Democrats have come out of their graves to vote over the years in various parts of the realm.

Anyway, in my own state of Florida, Congressman Ron DeSantis came out on top Tuesday over his radical opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in what can only be described as a squeaker of a vote tally in the governor’s race, with less than 1 percent separating them. And Governor Rick Scott defeated long-time Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson by an even more narrow margin in the senatorial contest, within the half a percent needed to trigger a machine recount in the Sunshine State. While Scott declared victory late on election night, even without Nelson’s concession, Gillum later actually conceded to DeSantis. Well, that was until those trusty stalwarts of Democratic electoral shenanigans, the Broward and Palm Beach county elections supervisors, took over. And their actions have thrown both key races into turmoil.

Most people in the country above the age of 21 remember the hanging-chad controversy of Palm Beach County that held up results of the 2000 presidential election for weeks. While those events predated the current elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, Bucher seems to be prepared to continue the tradition. And not to be outdone, Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes has a long history of issues going back through her 14 years in the position. Delayed counts, misplaced and missent ballots, and misprinted and destroyed ballots have been chronic issues and have led to several law suits filed against her over the years.

The most recent law suit, filed by Scott against Snipes since Tuesday’s election, has in just the past couple of hours gone against Snipes. Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips found in Scott’s favor, saying in her ruling, “This court finds once again Broward County is under the microscope and being viewed by the entire nation. Hearing argument, this court finds that there has been a violation of the Florida Constitution, the Florida statute public records act and pursuant to the applicable case law.”

The question is whether the problems afflicting the count in Broward and Palm Beach are the result of corruption or incompetence. As the other Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, noted, the kindest judgment would be to say they are the result of incompetence. But after years of repetitive issues, that judgment might be far more kind than is justified. Even incompetents can show some sign of a learning curve.

Meanwhile, counting issues persist in the U.S. senatorial contest in Arizona between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. You might recall that Sinema was telling people it was okay to join the Taliban while McSally was fighting combat missions over, among other places, Afghanistan, and also successfully suing the Defense Department over its policy requiring U.S. servicewomen while stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya when off-duty. In any case, three days after the polls closed Tuesday, some 600,000 ballots remain to be counted, mainly in Maricopa and Pima counties, home of Phoenix and Tuscon, respectively, both Democratic strongholds. And ballots continue to turn up in unlikely places. How can this be, one asks? Incompetence, or corruption? There is that great choice again.

In yet another hotly contested race, the Georgia governor’s race — you will remember this as the race that Oprah weighed in on, in support of Democrat Stacy Abrams — votes continue to be counted, too (are we seeing a repetitive common thread here?), and those pesky missing votes continue to show up. So far Republican Brian Kemp holds a narrow lead over Abrams, and if Kemp’s tally stays above 50% he will avoid a run-off election as called for by Georgia law. But days after polls closed, the counting (and vote finding) goes on. And now CNN has come out with a piece by Van Jones (now there‘s an impartial observer) urging Abrams not to let Kemp steal the election. So much for journalistic balance. But that’s a whole other subject.

We keep hearing from the Dems how they want every vote to count, but it seems the votes they want to count are those favoring their candidates. Disenfranchisement through extralegal and illegal means doesn’t seem to matter to them, except when its their candidates affected. As Nelson’s chosen attorney, Marc Elias – the attorney who retained Fusion GPS on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign to produce the infamous and largely bogus “dossier” that had Trump peeing on a bed in Moscow – said, he didn’t come to Florida for a recount but rather to see Nelson elected.

With all this going on, one has to ask who needs Russians to meddle in our elections when Americans are doing a perfectly respectable job of mucking things up on their own?

I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but all this continues to leave me deeply troubled, and things stay on course in a very negative direction. Negative, and scary.

Historical Footnote and Disclaimer: I know Bill Nelson personally from when I was a reporter in Brevard County, Fla., in the 1980s and he was a congressman, and I can’t imagine how anyone in their right mind could vote for this guy. There, I said it.

 

Crazies to the Left of Me, Whackos to the Right, Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle

Crazies to the Left of Me, Whackos to the Right, Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you

                                                                                          — Stuck In the Middle With You, Stealers Wheel

Do you increasingly get the feeling that this country has gone mad? I mean, really mad? I’ll come right out and say it: I do.

Just look at the events of the last week or so. First we have some whacko in Miami sending out pipe bombs all over the country. And then, with those events still occupying the news, we get some other crazy who goes into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and kills 11 people at a baby-naming ceremony. Either of these events would be deplorable enough on its own and one would think all Americans of right mind would stand together to reject them. But no, not in the current frenetic environment, where everything it seems has to have a political interpretation put on it.

While the pipe-bomb thing was going on every shade of political spin was put on it. The Left said it was Trump’s fault, while the Right hypothesized that it might be some Democrat trying to discredit the Republicans in advance of the mid-term elections. And then, in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting, once more the Left said it was all Trump’s fault while Trump condemned the violence in the strongest terms and somewhere in the clamor calmer minds learned that the killer couldn’t stand Trump and was just some garden-variety loner anti-Semite.

These dichotomous reactions, disturbingly, are becoming pretty reliably predictable. To the Left, of course, everything bad that happens, without exception, is Trump’s fault. This includes some misguided whacko sending out pipe bombs, a crazed anti-Semitic mass murderer targeting innocent people, category 4 hurricanes, rising sea levels, Russians showing up in jack boots at U.S. polling places, and – if it ever comes to pass – Martians landing in New Jersey. It’s not a misnomer when this is called Trump Derangement Syndrome. And on the Right all blame rests with the Democrats and that misleadingly labeled sub-set, the Progressives, whom they say are the real instigators of violence in the country.

Amid this national insanity I somehow, and somewhat unexpectedly, find myself in what arguably remains identifiable as the Middle. I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I find myself condemning violence of any ilk, whether advocated or carried out by anyone of any political persuasion. I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I keep troubling myself with seeking out the facts and not relying on the blather that increasingly marks what one gets told in the mass media. And I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I still value discourse and reasoned debate and don’t go willy-nilly cutting people off because I disagree with them.

Actually, I think I’ve inherited this Middle because all the other shades of middleness receded around it. Mostly this has been the Left moving far away, indeed, in that direction. And the Right, while not moving all that much, taking up something of a fortress position in its direction to defend against the war parties of the Left. While before one could say one was in the mainstream to be in the Middle, lately it feels pretty darned lonely here on this shrinking island.

The divisions brought out by the two big news events of the last week didn’t end with just hurling accusations and inuendo back and forth. No, they go far beyond that. And – I have to say it – mostly the more extreme divisiveness is originating on the Left. For instance, since when has it become acceptable to spurn the President of the United States and shout out insults at him? What has happened to the idea that, even if we don’t like the occupant of the office, we respect the office of President? I was no fan of Barrack Obama or his policies, but I can’t imagine that if he invited me to the White House (spoiler alert: He never did) I wouldn’t have gone. Or, if he came to visit some group I was part of, I wouldn’t have welcomed him. That’s called respect for the office of the President. One can even say it’s common courtesy. But all that has gone out the window when White House invitations regularly are now spurned, whether by athletes, performers, or business people.

But wait, it gets worse. In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the President said he was going to visit the scene of the worst act of anti-Semitism in U.S. history. It’s hard to imagine that he would not do this. It’s equally hard to imagine how he would not have been roundly criticized if he didn’t. But then he’s criticized for actually going, spurned by members of the congregation, and greeted by thousands of organized demonstrators loudly hurling insults at him. Is this the madness America has descended into? At least Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers, whose congregation it was that was attacked, in the end did the right thing and met with the President and First Lady.

“I welcome him as an American. He is the president,” Myers told the Washington Post before the visit. “I chose to take the polite and respectful path.”

Exactly.

Myers had some other words of wisdom to offer. Speaking to his congregation after the killings, he said, “Words of hate are unwelcome in Pittsburgh. It starts with everyone in this room, and I want to address for a moment some of our political leaders who are here. Ladies and gentlemen, it has to start with you as our leaders. Stop the words of hate. My mother always taught me, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing.’ If it comes from you Americans will listen.”

Well, I don’t know how much Americans are listening. Or maybe they are, as the rhetoric of our so-called leaders becomes more and more vitriolic and inciting. There is little talk of unity, of mending fences, of coming together first and foremost as Americans. Instead, every trait, both mutable and immutable, seems to have become a point of division. It goes beyond the political divisions, and encompasses race, sex, religion, class, income, even age, with one group pitted against another, each individual set against every other individual. This divisiveness didn’t start in the age of Trump, but it certainly has not abated, either.

It seems not that long ago when we could be classified as a net-gain society. A gain made by some could be seen as a gain by all. When did we become a net-loss society, when a gain by some becomes a loss to everyone else? It feels like that’s where we are now, and have been for much of this century. It’s more than sad. It marks a fundamental change in our previously optimistic society. And it will be hard to turn it around.

Is this really where we want to be? Is this as good as it gets and it’s all downhill from here?

Well, there’s still some room in the Middle, and I’m going to do my best to cling to this shrinking island and hope the crazies and whackos don’t overwhelm it. Are there any other resistors and residents of the Middle out there? If so, please make your presence known.