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Category: Media and Journalism

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.

 

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

There is an old adage that says it is better to remain silent and appear the fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. It is an adage that former FBI Director James Comey would be well advised to heed.

For some time now, I’ve been convinced there were grounds to believe something was wrong with Comey. Having listened to the troubled and troubling blather coming out of this man’s mouth, I’ve wondered about how grounded in reality he is. But after listening to all or part of several more interviews he’s given in the past couple of weeks, generated to promote Comey’s recently released memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, I now believe it is irrefutable that there is something intrinsically wrong with this man.

I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so this is not any kind of clinical diagnosis. It’s just my own observations and the non-professional conclusions they lead me to. That said, I do base a large part of my conclusions on my background of having been a U.S. Government employee, a Foreign Service officer, who served in a range of circumstances and who also was entrusted with high-level security clearances over the years of my service.

One just has to listen to the words, and observe the demeanor, of Comey to realize he’s gone off the rails. But in his apparent eagerness to let the rest of us know what a true mensch he is and sell some copies of his book in the process, he also tells us all the idiotic, cowardly, and even illegal things he himself did along the way. As has been asked more than once, what lawyer would allow his or her client to go public with some of this stuff, as Comey has?

Comey is highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he prefers to damn through innuendo and inference and petty comments rather than having the courage to state his beliefs, whether correct or not, plainly. He whines his way through interview after interview, sounding more like a teenage girl (with all due respect for teenage girls) dealing with the emotional angst of adolescence than like a former FBI director.

Asked if he thinks the Russians have anything on Donald Trump, Comey says (with strategic hesitations), “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”

Comey, in his book, belittles the President’s looks, his hair, his skin color, the size of his hands. In doing so, he comes across as petty, if not downright childish. But his intents are transparent, and he cites a widely discredited dossier – now known as the Steele Dossier, named after the British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled it – as the basis for his belief that there might have been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But Comey still says he doesn’t know that the dossier was commissioned and funded by the Democratic Party. It was this same unsubstantiated, politically motivated dossier that now-disgraced former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – hand-picked by Comey himself – presented before a FISA court to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump presidential campaign.

Comey, again in his whiny way, prefaced with those same “I never thought I’d ever have to say this” words, claims the President is morally unfit to hold the office. But what can be said of Comey, who defends these swarmy tactics and who invented new legal definitions to protect then-candidate Hillary Clinton from the prosecution she certainly was due after her blatant abuse of national security interests?

Some of what Comey says would be comical, were it not for the position with which he had been entrusted. I mean, it takes a special kind of idiot to believe one could blend into blue curtains in the White House and thus become invisible to the President, as Comey has described in interview after interview. But even that idiocy is surpassed when Comey says he thought this was a “brilliant” strategy. Along with the moronic nature of this comment comes a clear sense of what a coward this man truly is. He held a high government post and it behooved him to represent that post firmly and with dignity, regardless of his personal feelings about the President. Instead, he thought to try to blend into the curtains. I wonder what some of the agents working under him, facing the real possibility of lethal danger on a daily basis as they go about performing their duties, think of this.

Time and again Comey refers to his wife and even his daughters to explain something or other he did or said. But Comey’s wife and daughters – avowed Clinton supporters, as if that should even matter – were not appointed FBI director. Comey was, and his spouse or offspring should have had absolutely no bearing on how he conducted himself in office. In pulling them into his battles he again shows how unfit he was to hold the office he did.

Comey invents new legal and political defenses to protect himself as well as Hillary Clinton. He has the audacity to say that, prior to his July 2016 announcement letting Clinton go scot-free for the crimes she committed, that he knew whatever he decided would make one side or the other unhappy. Why on earth should such a concern even have entered into his calculations? The FBI’s job is to investigate crimes and present the results of its investigations to the Justice Department and prosecutors to determine how they should be handled. The FBI director is not supposed to be a political figure, and pleasing or displeasing any constituency shouldn’t ever be a consideration. Clearly Comey didn’t, and still doesn’t, understand this.

Again he says that when new evidence came to light in October 2016 that thousands of Hillary Clinton’s official emails wound up on the unsecured computer of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin, and convicted of sexting to an underage girl, Comey says he had to consider what the protocol was for releasing such information in the run-up to a national election. What protocol? What on earth is he talking about? And once more, why should this even have entered into Comey’s calculations? Well, he himself admits that he expected Clinton to win the election and thus didn’t want her to start her presidency under a cloud of illegitimacy.

“I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she’s going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out,” Comey told George Stephanopoulis in his initial interview just prior to publication of his book.

And there is your explanation, such as it is.

Once more, Comey shows himself to be a political actor and not the properly dispassionate director of the nation’s top law-enforcement agency. Aside from that, one has to ask, does not the American public have the right to know whether a presidential candidate has broken the law and their trust? Even worse, why would an FBI director make a political calculation about whether or not to release something damning of one of the candidates? It is clear that Comey has had no compunction about casting a cloud over the Trump Administration. It was only because he thought Trump had no chance to win and he wanted to prevent this “cloud” from casting a shadow on a newly elected Hillary Clinton that he went public about the emails found on Weiner’s computer in what has since become known as “the October Surprise.”

As I pointed out in my piece of last June, Comey openly admitted to breaking the law in his testimony before Congress at that time. He admitted to leaking — if not classified, highly confidential information – he had gathered in his official capacity to a university professor with the express expectation that it would subsequently would be leaked to The New York Times. And in open testimony he admitted, in violation of 18 U.S. Code Section 4, that he had failed to report his suspicions that President Trump might have been trying to influence the course of an investigation while at the same time dismissing the words of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging him to call the FBI’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email offenses “a matter” as opposed to “an investigation.” And he continues to make these admissions in his book-pushing interviews.

Now Comey comes along and says that Hillary Clinton was never “a target” of the FBI’s investigation. This ostensibly is how he can justify never having her questioned under oath and exonerating her even before the interview the FBI did conduct with her. This is especially outrageous to me, having held the same clearances, signed the same papers, and bearing the same responsibilities as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did. Without a scintilla of doubt, had I done even a fraction of what Clinton did, I would not only have been a target of an FBI investigation, but I’d almost certainly be languishing in a federal prison as a result of it.

It is unprecedented that an FBI director would usurp the normal role of the Justice Department in deciding on the matter of a prosecution based on the results of an FBI investigation, but Comey didn’t stop there. He went on to invent new legal grounds that let Clinton off the hook for the clear and blatant mishandling of highly classified national security information, as even Comey admitted she had done. And as part of the bigger political plot, Lynch let it all go by, never interceding to assert her authority as AG. Her little meeting on the tarmac in Phoenix with Hillary-husband Bill Clinton just prior to the Comey announcement had clearly made its point. Meanwhile, more recently, as Comey has become such a blabber mouth of all that went down, Lynch has taken some action to cover her own ass in the matter.

Other than I think he should have done it at the beginning of his tenure as President, I don’t fault President Trump for firing Comey which, lest we forget, came at the recommendation of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. As Rosenstein wrote in his memo to AG Jeff Sessions recommending Comey’s termination, “Almost everyone agrees that the Director [Comey] made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives. The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation [of Hillary Clinton’s private email server] was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”

While the inaction of Lynch’s DOJ against Clinton is no surprise, it is something of a surprise that current AG Jeff Sessions has been so slow to pursue his own actions against her or others involved in protecting her and leaking information to the media. Sadly, what comes as less of a surprise to me is how most in the media fawn and idealize Comey. This all started with the initial “set-up” interview on April 15 by (for lack of a kinder term) “journalistic” whore George Stephanopoulos, former Bill Clinton Communications Director and Clinton sycophant. And it has repeated itself through obsequious interview after obsequious interview, where the same questions and responses are repeated, verbatim or virtually so, ad nauseum, while little-to-no attention is paid to the crimes of Hillary Clinton and Comey’s role in exonerating her.

One interview, though, stands out, which is the interview that Fox News Chief Political Anchor Brett Baier did with Comey on April 26. What is most notable about this interview, aside from the questions Baier asked which did probe Comey’s response to the things overlooked or glossed over in the “softball” interviews conducted by others, was that Comey showed up 15 minutes late for it. He had texted that he was “stuck in traffic” to explain his tardiness. Now one has to ask, is it possible for any single human being to be that stupid? Especially for one who had been spending so much time giving on-the-air interviews as Comey was, surely he knew the importance of allowing more than enough time to get to the studio on time. There is the alternative question, too, which is whether Comey was deliberately late because he wished to cut short the interview time and limit the amount of post-interview discussion among Fox analysts? So again we’re faced with this great choice: Comey is an idiot, or Comey is a coward. My call? He’s both.

A more hopeful view of things is that there might be some real action to come out of all this after all. At long last we’re getting criminal referrals, from Congress to the DOJ, of Comey, his deputy McCabe, Loretta Lynch, and even Hillary Clinton, among others involved in this twisted frustration of justice, and AG Sessions says investigations are under way. But as I said before, and I’ll say again, I really don’t expect any prosecutions to evolve, other than perhaps of some very low-level actors, if that. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I think there are two distinctly different forms of “justice” in this country – the one for us ordinary shlubs, and the one for the likes of the Clintons and Comeys and Lynches of the world. They get away with things as a matter of course for which the rest of us would be put behind bars.

That doesn’t change my view that something is seriously wrong with James Comey. It just goes to show that one can open one’s mouth and remove all doubt that one is a fool, and most in the media won’t even notice. And if you’re in the right political class, you can openly admit to having committed crimes and no one will do a thing about it.

Let there be no doubt about either of these things.

 

Photo of James Comey by AP – used under fair use provision

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon once again, there are some things that need to be said. If I’m a curmudgeon — I don’t think I am — so be it.

What brought this sudden bout of curmudeonness on, you ask? It began Saturday morning with telephone conversations with two different bankers in Maryland. I’d written two checks to a friend of mine visiting from Albania, repayment of an old debt. She took the checks to a local branch of Wells Fargo Bank (I’m naming names this time), the bank on which the checks were drawn, and someone from the branch called me to verify the checks’ legitimacy. Okay, I can see the point of that, though I wonder if they would have done the same if my friend was American or had, say, a British or Canadian passport and not an Albanian one. I also have questions about the need for a call given that Wells Fargo seems to have policies in place that deliberately make it as difficult as possible for customers to access their own funds. But that is a whole other story.

In any case, one of the checks was for $2,000.00, and the other one was for $9,000.06. I put the numerical amount as I always do, $2,000.00/100 for the first check, and $9,000.06/100 for the second one. And then I wrote out the amount in the proper format, the one I’ve been using for some 50 years virtually without incident: Two Thousand and No Hundreths Dollars, and Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths Dollars. Okay, granted, the proper spelling is hundredths, but close enough for government work since the words spell out what the numerals already show, and in my haste I dropped the “d.” But that wasn’t the issue.

Now, I don’t know, but I think anyone from about the age of 5 should know that a hundredth of a dollar is a cent. A penny. One hundredth of a dollar is one cent, six hundredths of a dollar is six cents. Even misspelled, I’d bet most 5 year olds can figure that out. But apparently this fine point is lost on Wells Fargo bankers, and I had to explain to two different genius bankers that Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths (sic) Dollars was not $9,600, but $9,000.06. The first banker said their branch policy was not to accept checks with the cents expressed that way. That made no sense to me, but finally he conceded and said they’d cash the checks. All good, right?

Not quite. A few minutes later another banker, the first one’s manager, called me, and after a few unnecessary and unwanted pleasantries, she repeated that the branch didn’t normally accept checks where the cents were expressed as they were on my check. She had me read off the amount of the check, and confirm the intended amount. I was rapidly losing my patience with this whole thing, and I told her I’d been writing checks like this for 50 years, it was the proper way to write a check, and what exactly didn’t she understand? She then feigned a brief reconsideration of the matter, and finally confirmed that they would accept the check. Hurrah. I got to tell a banker what should have been obvious to her by reading the check as it had been written. Duh.

Now I have better ways of spending my Saturday mornings than explaining the obvious to bankers, but this whole affair served to remind me the extent to which this country is going to hell in a hand basket. The signs are increasingly everywhere, how far off the rails we’re going, this just being the most recent one. It seems people, and the country as a whole, just get stupider and stupider by the day.

I’ve railed against the madness in the direction we’re headed before, but it’s time to do it again, drilling down a bit this time.

In the course of a typical day, I get messages – obviously written on a phone with a run-away spell corrector – that are virtually incomprehensible. I’m asked questions that I already answered, sometimes multiple times. And I get abbreviated messages that fail to respond to issues I raised. In short, I can almost always tell when someone is writing me from a phone, and the communication is seriously impaired as a result. This is a significant matter, since communication should be primary, not to mention I don’t understand how people don’t go crazy typing and reading on a small screen. Well, maybe they do, and we just don’t have a name yet for this mental illness.

If you’re a parent in this country, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that your little darlings are no longer expected to learn cursive writing. At one point, some 45 states and the District of Columbia had dropped the requirement to teach cursive writing, and the dreaded Common Core was at least in large part responsible for that since Common Core doesn’t require cursive as part of the curriculum. Now blaming Common Cause for stupidity is a bit like blaming phones for errors. It’s the people behind Common Core who are exhibiting their ignorance, and the curriculum is just the symptomatic outcome of that.

There has been some retrenchment in a handful of states that realized the folly of dropping cursive writing from the curriculum, but overall this country is on the verge of entering a new Dark Ages where kids can’t even sign their own names. The idea is that they can do everything on a keyboard, but somehow that seems equivalent to saying they don’t need to learn to walk since they can get driven around everywhere by their parents.

Additionally, as studies confirm, the ability to write, and not just type, promotes some cognitive and motor skills that typing does not. Writing is not the same as typing, and while both skills might be worthwhile, school districts and states don’t want to spend the money teaching both. So out goes cursive writing, and with it one of the traits of an educated person. And people wonder why I’d never put any child of mine in a public, and probably most private, schools.

While this has been going on in more recent years, another long term trend – grade inflation in the nation’s colleges and universities – has been underway for more than half a century. It’s true that a degree of grade inflation began during the Vietnam War years, Recent GPA Trendswhen I was in college. Some attribute this to the desire on the part of many professors to keep students out of the draft, which worked for awhile, but based on my own experience it also probably had to do with the proliferation of pass-fail grading during the turmoil of years of sit-ins, walk-outs, and student strikes that closed some institutions, including the one I attended, for nearly entire semesters. But the grade inflation of that period pales to what has been going on since the 1980s, when grade-point averages have been rising an average of 0.1 points a decade, and the percentage of A grades given has gone up 5 to 6 percentage points a decade.

Since the 1990s, the A grade is the most common grade given in four-year colleges, and As are now three times more common than they were in 1960. At that time Cs were most common, and in my own era, Bs were most common. Now if they don’t get an A, students are at the professor’s throat as if the failing rests with the prof and not with their own performance. If you believe that is because college students have gotten that much smarter since 1960, I have a nice athletic building on a fine campus I’d like to sell you. Very good price. Just sign right here. Oh, wait, you can’t sign, because you never learned cursive. Okay, put your “X” on the line there.

Having been a college professor, I can tell you there is a strong tendency toward treating what are supposed to be young (and sometimes not so young) adults as 50 Years Rise of A Gradechildren. There is a stress on not offending the students, sandwiching any critical remarks in between praise, not being unduly harsh in comments even in the face of abject and repeated refusal on the part of the student to follow guidance. This is called the Student as Consumer Era, and it is indicative of schools that need to cultivate their students to stay enrolled and to pay the exorbitant tuitions and fees charged them and their parents. And instead of challenging their minds and belief systems, these educational institutions allow students to retreat to so-called “safe spaces” and to drive speakers with views divergent from their own off campus, allowing a new form of Fascism and sheltered closed-mindedness to run rampant on college campuses.

Moving from the swamp of so-called education, we have cars that stop themselves or keep themselves in their own lanes, ostensibly so their owners (“drivers” is too strong a word for them) can text and talk on the phone. Things seem increasingly geared toward the lazy and the ignorant. My own car turns its own lights on and off, doesn’t have a key, and tells me how many miles I can go before I run out of fuel. Thank goodness it doesn’t stop itself or do that lane thing, which would be way beyond what I would tolerate of my car. It does open its own trunk, though, for unknown reasons and at very inconvenient times, sometimes multiple times in a row. I guess taunting its owner is part of the deal. I can almost hear it laugh when it does this.

In the course of all these trends, we continue to lose human contact at an almost alarming rate. My most recent two forays into paying entry fees – one at a movie theater, the other at a major conference I attended – were done at terminals. Gone were the friendly ticket girl and the helpful conference gatekeeper, replaced by screens and credit card readers and keyboards. That may all be more efficient, but it’s a bit disconcerting, too. My local Walmart has installed all sorts of self-check-out equipment, but I have never found self-check-out to be faster or more efficient than dealing with a human cashier, and it’s also a tad insulting, I think. If the store wants my money, it should at least have a sufficient number of humans on hand to take it. So, unless I have just one or two items and am in a major hurry, I won’t use the self-check-out.

Meanwhile, the medical profession – one area that might benefit from more, rather than less, technology in enabling improved communication between physicians and patients – remains mired back a century or two. If anyone is able to email their doctor, or even their doctor’s office, I’d love to hear about it. And our prescription drug system seems designed to breed frustration and inefficiency, and we wonder why healthcare costs continue to escalate. I’ve written on these things before, and on the inherent inequities and inefficiencies of the medical system, and the most I’ve gotten in response from doctors is a smile and a laugh, as if I were proposing absurdities.

Call me a curmudgeon if you like, but somehow this all feels like we’re headed off the rails with no way back. Maybe, as the illustration says, you’ll get it eventually, but by then it might be — probably will be — too late. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Am I only the only one who feels this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this, regardless which side of things you come down on.

Charts from http://www.gradeinflation.com 

Stop the Madness

Stop the Madness

I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, since I’m not, really, but there are some things that just need to be said about how things clearly are headed in this technological world we inhabit.

News of interactive appliances, self-driving cars, bots and algorithms that determine what gets fed to us over the Internet has gotten to be pretty much old hat. Those things would be enough to give us pause, but no, nothing is about to stop there, it seems.

It’s bad enough that we have to fear our washing machine or refrigerator turning us in for some transgression, or feeding our habits to an advertising program that will just try to sell us more stuff we probably don’t need. And if I can’t open the door of the fridge to see how much milk or eggs or cream cheese is left, someone really needs to put me out of my misery, and soon. But things have already reached that stage.

There is a way of looking at things that seems to have gotten lost in the quest to come up with the next technological advance. It’s pretty simple, really: Just because it’s possible to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it. That’s where we’re at, maybe already well past it, and the lesson seems to be lost on those who are planning our “brave” new world of technological wonders. It’s time to stop the madness, though I’m not encouraged by what I see and hear about almost on a daily basis now.

Take cars, for example. Now there’s a subject. Some of us actually don’t want our car making decisions for us. Cars that stop on their own, keep us from wandering into the next lane, open and close their own doors, and which park themselves already go further than some of us, those who were taught to drive properly and enjoy being in charge of the process of guiding a machine down the road, want. Now we’re looking at cars, and even trucks, that drive themselves. They’re already out there, sharing the roads with us. But apparently that is not enough for those who think up these things. The next step – I am not making this up – are cars that will carry on a conversation with us while they drive us around.

Am I some sort of raving radical when I say I don’t really want to have a conversation with my car? I don’t even like riding in taxis since I’d rather not converse with the driver. How much less will I want to speak with a machine? Just guessing here, but I’d say a lot. A really lot. A lot a lot. What could my car even have to say that would interest me? At least with cab drivers I can learn about other cultures and the kinds of things that brought them here. I really don’t need to hear from my car how things were in Korea or Mexico or Canada or wherever before they came here, or how they’re running hot and they just don’t feel up to par these days. And suppose their hearing or grasp of the language isn’t so good? One can only imagine the misunderstandings that might ensue.

Now we’re hearing about pills that send out little signals so that our doctors can spy on us and see whether we’re taking the bloody things as they’ve instructed. I can’t get my doctors on the phone or even send them an email, but now they’re going to be listening in on what’s going on inside my stomach? Sorry, I don’t think so. The manufacturers of these spybot pills say they’re perfectly safe. Well, I’m less concerned about that then I am about what other purposes they might be put to, like programming our refrigerators not to let us touch the bacon or the ice cream that dwells within them. Or someone hacking into those interactive pills to find out more about us, things our insurance company or Russian scammers might want to know.

We’ve become so hungry to consume that having packages delivered to our doorstep isn’t enough anymore. Now Amazon is offering “in home” delivery – literally, their delivery people will come inside our home to drop off our latest gizmo. But do I want strangers coming into my home? Hell, no. It’s bad enough they know where I live. I certainly don’t want them crossing the threshold and coming inside. And I don’t care if some hidden camera or Alexa, Amazon’s other way of getting into our house and life – and two more things I don’t want in my home — is there to observe them.

Increasingly bots and algorithms determine what we read, what ads are fed us, what vids pop up on our computer screens. Google thinks its algorithms are so smart they can tell where we are and feed us local ads. Ha, Google. FYI, I don’t live in Chicago, nowhere within a thousand miles of it, even if my ISP is located there, so you can stop sending me all those ads for vendors in the Windy City. We’re still a long way from when these things will be fool-proof, if ever, but meanwhile they’ve been unleashed on us. For instance, now we read that with the YouTube Kids application – Google owns YouTube, too, if you didn’t know – the algorithms are feeding the little darlings cartoons in which the characters drink bleach, appear as gore-covered zombies, or get it on with other characters. With parents increasingly substituting screens for actual parenting, who couldn’t see this coming? Nothing like a bot to handle the babysitting, right?

When I was a kid, my dad would take me outside on cold nights to look through a telescope at the moon and the planets. I wonder how many parents and kids do that today, and I’d be willing to wager that the only way most kids today see celestial bodies, if at all, is on a screen.

More and more we’re seeing machines and electronics and robots taking over ever-more things that used to be the province of people, of actual human beings, to do. We’re told that many manufacturing jobs will never come back because technology and robots have replaced the workers that used to be in them. And while the machines, for all their faults, get smarter and smarter, it seems people are getting dumber and dumber, with no end in sight for either trend.

There has been a question on my mind for a very long time, long before the popular future vision began to become a reality. And that is, if machines and technology can do all this stuff, what will people do? Or more precisely, what will people do to earn a living to pay for all these luxuries, all these gadgets, all these robots and technological advances? The vision of the future was a place where people could live lives of total leisure, never having to lift a finger. It seems that’s what the people developing these technologies have in mind, but is anyone thinking about the economics and the politics of it all?

I can just imagine sitting at home drinking mint juleps, prepared by Alexa, and watching on a screen as my self-driving car heads out on a scenic road that I get to enjoy vicariously from my living room. Drones are dropping off packages I’ve ordered online and bots carry them inside, while my robot vacuum cleaner does the den and my refrigerator orders up restocks of the bananas and hot dogs. My imaginary kids are playing video games and learning about life from cartoons, and all the while ads and click-bait stories about celebrities pop up on screens all over the house.

If that’s my life, who is paying for it? I can easily see a society – we’re almost there now — where a permanent underclass is forced to support the more privileged among us. Proles who support members of the Inner and Outer Party (thank you, George Orwell, for painting such a vivid picture of this notional future in the perhaps prophetic Nineteen Eighty-Four, the year in the title maybe just four decades early).

At one time we used to worry about big corporations taking on too much power and controlling our lives too much. Yet, these new corporations of technology have become bigger, more powerful, and with more influence on our lives than any ITT, GM, IBM, or AT&T of the past. Somehow we’ve come to see the Googles and Apples and Microsofts of the world as benign, looking after our well being and making our lives better and easier, and not as the profit-making, market-share-grabbing machines that they are. Maybe a comparison could be drawn with the Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation of 1987’s RoboCop film.

I also have to wonder what politics all this will lead to, with the political order mirroring and supporting the economic one. Already we’ve become polarized and divided almost as never before, and I can only see this trend growing as our societal dialogue becomes increasingly fractured, splintered, and Balkanized, with each individual picking and choosing what version of reality he or she prefers. And with the decline of the national dialogue and the dumbing-down of the population, it will become easier and easier for Big Brother (who also comes to us from Nineteen Eighty-Four) to simply manipulate and control a society whose creature comforts and diet of electronic pap fed them will take precedence over more traditional political values, like dissent and the freedoms of speech and association.

Already otherwise intelligent people appear to have a hard time writing anything that exceeds 140 (or 280, for the truly verbose) characters, and what at one time would be intelligent correspondence and debate has been reduced to gibberish, repetition, and name-slinging. A large proportion of the population sees the world through the medium of a phone, and the quality of their communication reflects this.

I’m not going to claim that technology is inherently bad – after all, I’m writing this on a laptop computer, and the thought of doing so on a typewriter is a chilling one – but we need to think about how far things can be carried before the beneficial becomes detrimental. Like I said near the outset, just because it’s possible to do something doesn’t mean it should be done.

It’s time to stop the madness.

Why I Don’t Care About the Russia Thing

Why I Don’t Care About the Russia Thing

Let me say it right up front: I don’t give a ruble (which is not very much) about the Russia thing. There, you’ve got the main point, right in the lead. Now let me explain why I don’t care about it.

First, let me say that I’m convinced that corruption has become so deep-seated in our political process that it’s become as American as apple pie and F-150 pickups. Same with incompetence. That’s as American as our so-called public education system and our inability to solve such problems as urban blight and poverty. It’s not that I’m happy with these things, since I’m not. But they are realities, just as the compass orientations of sunrises and sunsets and the phases of the moon are. It makes no more sense to rail against these overriding problems than it does to argue for new coordinates for the sun or a different schedule for the moon.

That might sound like a cop-out to you, and fair enough. In a way, it is. But that’s just touching the surface of things. It’s just setting the stage for the other things I have to say, the things I have to say about why I don’t care about the Russia thing. Did I tell you I don’t care about it? It’s true. I don’t.

I hope I don’t have to explain the Russia thing. Turn to almost any radio, TV, or print news or commentary, and you’ll hear or read probably more than you want to hear or read about the Russia thing. It’s almost impossible to ignore it, as much as you might want to. And depending on the slant of the medium to which you have turned, it’s either the worst thing since (pick one) Watergate/the Vietnam War/the Civil War/the beginning of recorded history, or it’s overblown and (in the words of former Obama-era Special Advisor for Green Jobs Van Jones) “a big nothing-burger” ( to be fair to Jones, if that’s called for, he later clarified his statement to mean that nothing will come of the Russia thing, not that it wasn’t significant, in his view).

Russian Rubles
Photo FreeImages.com/2happy

So now here’s where I come down on this. It’s not that I don’t think corruption and incompetence are inconsequential – lord knows we’ve been saddled with both for most of this new millennium, which has gotten us where we now find ourselves – but just that I think things need to be put into perspective. And there has to be some sort of fair apportionment of blame and punishment, if there is to be any at all. And at the moment, I don’t think there is any likelihood of either, whether perspective, or fair apportionment of blame and punishment.

As I’ve said in previous postings, it shouldn’t come as news to anyone that the Russians, and before them the Soviets, have been meddling, or at least trying to, in U.S. affairs for decades and decades. The earnestness with which it’s declared that there was Russian attempts to influence our elections is equivalent to Captain Renault, in Casablanca, declaring that he was “ . . . shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on here!” Oh, come on. Grow up, will you? At least Renault knew he was play- acting, which is more than can be said about our hysterical mainstream media and the Democratic side of the aisle.

There also is zero evidence that even one vote was changed or influenced by whatever Russia might have done, or not done. But there is tons of evidence that the internal corruption of the Democratic Party (not based in Moscow, last time I checked) had enormous influence on the outcome of delegate selection despite the results of many state primary elections in which Bernie Sanders came out the winner, or close behind, versus Hillary Clinton. Now one can reasonably argue that there is little chance Sanders could have bested a Trump, or almost anyone else the Republicans put up, but that isn’t the point. The point is the influence that Democratic National Committee corruption and incompetence had on the selection of H. Clinton as the Democratic candidate, or at least on the margin of delegates voting for her.

One can argue endlessly over whether it was the Kremlin that hacked and then released the tens of thousands of DNC emails – 44,053 emails and 12,761 attachments in the first tranche alone, released in July 2016 by Wikileaks – or an intermediary, or an independent third party. Wikileaks head Julian Assange, once a darling of the left, insists it wasn’t the Russian government, but he won’t divulge who the actual source was. Regardless, it was the substance of the emails leaked, more than who did the leaking, that, if anything, had an impact on how American voters viewed Hillary Clinton and the Dems. When I was a Foreign Service Officer and had a close call to make, the equation I’d put into play is how, whatever the decision was, it would look on the front page of the Washington Post. This apparently was not an equation that ever occurred to the top people of the DNC, like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, John Podesta, or many other top operatives within the DNC and the Clinton campaign. So instead of admitting to what they did, it’s easier to point the finger at the Russians and say it’s all their fault and, by some sort of illogical extension, Donald Trump’s fault, that things turned out as they did.

But things go beyond this, to one of my key issues about why I don’t care about the Russia thing. And that is the lack of impartial imposition of either justice or injustice, depending on how you see it. For her entire time as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton used a private email server to conduct official State Department business, a clear violation of law and regulation covering handling of classified material, as well as any official government communication. Again, drawing on my experience having been in positions of trust handling highly classified materials, and familiarity with the documents I had to sign acknowledging my acceptance of the stringent requirements for handling such sensitive materials, I have never for a moment doubted that, had I done what Hillary Clinton did, I would have been put in prison. Which is where she should be. But instead, the political powers that be shielded Clinton from prosecution, with none other than FBI Director James Comey inventing a whole new legal concept, called “intent,” to exonerate her from prosecution while at the same time confirming she had broken the law. Pretty good line of reasoning, and one I bet a lot of criminals wish they could call on in their own defenses.

Regardless, what Hillary did almost certainly harmed national security far more, and provided more help and succor to the dreaded Russians, than anything Trump might have done.

But wait, it goes beyond that. Comey, in public testimony, admitted he had demurred to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s suggestion that he refer to the Clinton investigation as “a matter” rather than as an investigation, and that isn’t called “collusion” on the part of Lynch and even Comey himself. But when President Trump asked Comey to conclude his investigation of Russian involvement in his campaign, after Comey on at least three occasions confirmed to Trump he was not the subject of the investigation, that is categorized as “collusion” and “obstruction of justice.”

Vintage Russian Car
Photo FreeImages.com/Ivaylo Georgiev

Going still further, now we have this meeting last June involving Donald Trump, Jr., and the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Here is where things get unbelievably smelly, and there are growing indications, if not actual evidence, that this meeting, and the entire supposed scandal, were actually engineering by Democratic operatives in an effort to frame the President and his son. One can reasonably argue that Trump Jr. should not have taken on this meeting, but it is now known that Fusion GPS, a group that initially worked with anti-Trump Republican candidates before turning to assisting the Clinton camp, set up the meeting with Veselnitskaya. This same group was responsible for release of a whole rack of salacious, and false, accusations concerning Trump Sr., including the now discredited report that he had engaged Russian prostitutes in a golden shower incident in a Moscow hotel.

If that is not enough, we see Veselnikskaya posting statements supporting anti-Trump demonstrations in Chicago on her Facebook page, but even that isn’t the punch line. The real punch line is when we see that Veselnikskaya was permitted into the U.S., after her visa application was denied, on what is called humanitarian parole, granted by, once more, former-AG Loretta Lynch. She additionally remained in the U.S. even after her parole expired in January 2016. Again, drawing on my consular and diplomatic experience, granting of humanitarian parole is an extraordinary measure, usually reserved for children and others seeking family unification, for emergency medical treatment, or for urgent refugee protection, outside normal visa guidelines. I have never heard of it being granted in a case like this, and the political implications are too hard to ignore.

Now Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson says he will plead the Fifth if forced to testify before Congress. Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Diane Feinstein have both said they want Simpson subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Just to pose the question, if Fusion GPS is blameless in all this, why would Simpson need to hide behind the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering the committee’s questions?

Russian Street Kids
Photo FreeImages.com/Chris Greene

It’s now known that Obama knew of Russian efforts at meddling in the electoral process going back as far as July. But he failed to take any action until after Trump’s election when he imposed sanctions on the Russians, in December. Why would the President ignore what has now become such a big issue? There can be only one plausible explanation, which is that he never expected Trump to win and he didn’t want to muddy the political waters with his knowledge. But once Trump was elected, then the knowledge became the basis for attempting to embarrass the President-elect and to bolster the Democratic campaign to question his legitimacy.

One other key issue has gotten short shrift, and that is the extent of leaks coming from within the intelligence community and elsewhere in the government, Many of these leakers are actually committing felonies, releasing classified information to the media, and even Comey himself copped to being a leaker during his Senate testimony in June. But to date no one has been charged or prosecuted for these offenses.

Finally, we get to the media (how could we not?) Ever since the results of November 8 came in, it’s been “all Trump, all the time” for the mainstream media. Normally I wouldn’t object to the media trying to get to the heart of things – after all, I used to be a journalist, too – but where have most if the media been through the onslaught of scandals that cascaded out almost non-stop during the Obama years? Ask most Americans, and I would wager few have even heard of, much less could describe, the Fast-and-Furious scandal, the IRS scandal, or (though a few more might) the VA scandal. Most would not be able to tell you what happened at Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, or why the Obama Administration (including Hillary Clinton and then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and the President himself) chose to tell the American people a lie about the cause of those events for weeks and weeks afterwards. And it has never been made clear, in most U.S. media, why or how Hillary Clinton broke federal law and put U.S. security in jeopardy by her careless, callous, and illegal use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. And I could go on beyond these most notable scandals – there are many others most Americans have never even heard about — but the point is made.

Now we’re inundated with this Russia thing, and we’re to believe that not only were laws broken and our election stolen, but that treason and high crimes and misdemeanors were committed by the President and members of his close team. To which I say, first, bullcrap, and second, so? Even if these accusations are true, for which there is no evidence, why the unfair prosecution (whether in the media or the judicial system) of Trump when so many egregious offenses committed by Clinton, Lynch, Comey, Rice, and others, including Barrack Obama, go virtually unmentioned?

Meanwhile, real issues facing the country, ranging from healthcare to tax reform, from what to do about ISIS to what to do about Afghanistan, and on and on and on, get shuffled away under this tidal wave of the Russia thing and the one-sided coverage of “all Trump, all the time.”

Like I said earlier, if justice, or lack thereof, is to apply to one party, then let it apply to all parties. Until it does, and there is no sign that it will, then, no, I don’t care about the Russia thing.

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