Monday, June 23, 2008


What are the REAL issues in the 2008 Presidential election?

Race. Death.

John McCain’s most endearing quality is embodied in the name he gave his bus – not an airplane (although his wife does have her own private, corporate jet), and not his limo – but his bus. He called it “The Straight Talking Express.” The meaning is clear, the implication so strong the very word, implication, seems inadequate. “John McCain will tell you the truth” – that’s what it says. Who doesn’t want that?

The question then becomes: “Tell the truth about what?” What are the issues Americans have at the forefront of their minds? In our national dialogue, where is the need for truth burning brightest? War? Sure, but look at modern history a moment and you’ll see – war isn’t really much of Presidential election issue. Of the last 7 Presidents (from FDR to W. Bush) only 2 have not had a war: Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. A lot of good that did them. Ford couldn’t beat anybody outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan and Carter, who could only manage a slim victory over Ford, couldn’t beat a washed-up actor, turned California Governor. Peace – or at lest the absence of war – didn’t help either Carter or Ford among voters. And the other 5, well they all said they were “War Presidents” in one manner or another. No antiwar candidate has ever been elected – not in this country.

Telling the “Truth” about war might be overrated in the election between John McCain and Barack Obama.

What about healthcare, gas and food prices, saving Medicare, repairing America’s outdated, crumbling infrastructure, or any of a number of other economic and domestic issues? How important is “Truth” to the voters, on these issues? One way to figure that is to look at the last 60 years of Presidential campaigns and see what those issues have meant. The answer is: not much. Harry Truman first ran on a platform of universal healthcare – in 1948! Since we still don’t have it yet, isn’t it fair to suggest – we really don’t care. If we did, wouldn’t we have elected somebody – anybody – in the last 60 years who supported it?

The same kind of analysis can be applied to every other “standard” issue usually found in an American Presidential election. Promises are made. Promises are then broken or, at best, left unfulfilled. So, again, I ask: Isn’t it fair to say that these issues are not really that important with the voters? We keep getting nothing in return for our votes, yet we continue to vote for candidates who continue to say the same things – over and over.

So, again… What are the REAL issues in the 2008 election?

Race. Death.

Question #1. Will Americans (enough of them anyway) really vote for a Black man to be President of the United States?

I suppose it’s universally accepted that Black Americans will – won’t they? So, actually, the question boils down to whether or not those voters Hillary Clinton so deftly recognized as “white Americans” - will they cast their secret, private ballots for the black guy or will the force of their race (without the “ism”) drive the hand that pulls the lever, punches the card or touches the screen to vote for the white guy?

I think it’s fair to say – at this point in time – no one knows the answer to this question. We will all find out together as the TV networks call one state after another on Election Eve. Some Americans are certain to be disappointed.

Question #2. Will Americans (enough of them anyway) really vote for a man who might die, from natural causes, at any time?

You might think “Age” is the issue, and I’m sure John McCain would like to frame the discussion that way. But, “Age” is not the issue. “Death” is. On this one, its very much like the just deceased George Carlin used to say about air travel: “I’m not afraid of flying. I’m afraid of crashing!”

John McCain wants to be President at age 72 and continue in office until… at least, age 76. Since no President wants to be a “lame duck” on the day he takes office, John McCain is really asking Americans to make him President of the United States until he’s 80 years old. For many, that would be just fine…. If he lives that long!

How reasonable is it to assume he might not – might not live long enough to fill out his term? How normal would it be for a President McCain to simply die in office? Hey, don’t get pissed! Aren’t we looking for “Truth” here?

Look at this small and partial list of people who have died, from natural causes – people who have died a perfectly normal death, not from accidents or acts of violence – in just the last year – and look how old they were:

George Carlin, age 71
Tim Russert, age 58
Bob Anderson, age 75 (George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”)
Bo Diddley, age 79
Yves St. Laurent, age 71
Sydney Pollack, age 73
Jimmy McGriff, age 72
Mildred Loving, age 68
Dith Pran, age 65
Dave Clark, age 64 (remember “The Dave Clark Five”)
Suzanne Pleshette, age 70
Bobby Fischer, age 64 (We’ll always have Iceland!)
Dr. Judah Folkman, age 74 (Harvard Medical School cancer researcher)
Johnny Podres, age 75 (We’ll always have Brooklyn!)
Ike Turner, age 76
Luciano Pavarotti, age 71
Hy Lit, age 73
Tom Snyder, age 71
Tammy Faye Messner, age 65
Liz Claiborne, age 78

If you were running for President, which would you rather be – black or old?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


What makes Tiger Woods stand out as he does, above and beyond all the others who play professional golf, above and beyond all the athletes who play in all sports? Yes, of course his talent is tremendous. Woods is among a tiny group of athletes who, in history, have surpassed their sport rather than just defined it. Along with Babe Ruth in baseball, Jim Brown in football and Michael Jordan in basketball, Tiger Woods has done things nobody else who has ever played his sport has done as well. Like Ruth, Brown and Jordan, he is not just better than his competitors he is bigger than the game he plays.

I think there are two things about golf that help to give Tiger these otherworldly, superhuman attributes; two things about his sport that separates it from baseball, football or basketball; two things that make Tiger the greatest of them all, greater than The Babe, Jim Brown or Michael.

First, all sports are, of course, games that have evolved over time into organized activities. All sports have their own set of rules which serve as the measurements of the game. Tiger’s sport, however, is uniquely unaffected by officials. The golfer’s accomplishments – each and every stroke the golfer takes, every shot the golfer hits – are all to his or her credit, for better or worse, unhindered and unaided by the rulings of, or by interference from a referee, an umpire any other authority figure representing the rules of the game. In professional golf, of course there are officials, but the game, especially when played well, is most always played without ever requiring the appearance of one. Hit your drive in the fairway, or even nearby; then strike your second to the green, or even nearby; putt the ball into the hole; that’s it! The hole is complete and the sole influence upon the outcome is the unimpeded action of the player. In professional golf, the spirit of sportsmanship is so sincere, players enforce rule penalties upon themselves. This happens in every golf tournament, so often that it is not news. It is a rare instance when a rules official is required to make a decision and then, when it happens, there is never an argument from a player – NEVER! In the whole history of golf, there has never been a “winner” determined by a bad call, a missed call or a corrupt official. Try saying that for baseball, football or basketball.

In baseball, football and basketball, not a single second passes, not a single action of the game can take place without a ruling from an umpire, a referee, or some other duly authorized official. Without a determination of balls and strikes, fair and foul, safe or out, there would be no baseball. Football cannot exist without more officials than the average fan can either count or name – quick, in the NFL, what’s the difference between a referee and an umpire? What are the responsibilities of a linesman? Who keeps the official time of the game? How many officials does it take to work an NFL game? Basketball is even more complicated, more dependent upon officials and more influenced by them than either baseball or football. How many scandals have there been involving basketball officials affecting the outcome of games? The term “fix” is well known to every sports fan. The 1919 baseball World Series was “fixed.” Many, over the years, have questioned the “fixing” of both college and pro football games. Basketball seems to be continually fighting claims of corruption by officials in both college and pro ball.

While golf can be, and is regularly played at the professional level exclusively by the players, simply put, without the officials there would be no baseball, no football and no basketball.

Every statistical achievement and accomplishment by every player in those sports is the result of thousands and thousands of official rulings. Nothing in any of those sports officially happens without an official’s ruling. And the same is true for all the remaining, “minor” sports: hockey, tennis, racing, track & field, boxing… you name it. Golf stands alone.

Second, it is only in professional golf that you find a “winner” who has actually beaten every other competitor in the event. In a golf tournament, the winner’s score is matched against every other player in that tournament. You can’t win if you don’t beat ALL of them. Not so in baseball, football and basketball. In those sports all teams do not play all other teams in an equal number of contests, or at all in some schedules. And, in their playoff systems, baseball, football and basketball Champions are selected by having some teams play some other teams, crowning the team that wins all its series. But that team has only played a few of the other teams in the playoffs and even fewer in the regular season. In all three “major sports,” the Champion hasn’t played against many of the teams in their own league - at all, ever - in the course of the entire season; yet they are proclaimed that league’s Champion team. In golf, every week the winner actually defeats every other player in the tournament.

When we view Tiger Woods we see what a “winner” is supposed to be. His victories are not tainted by an umpire’s wide strike zone, a ref who overlooks holding by the offensive line on every snap from center or a basketball official who lets a superstar get away with infractions that would be immediately called on another player.

When America watched the US Open, we saw golfers play the course, and when the tournament was over – when all players had completed four rounds of golf – and two players were tied with the lowest score, we saw those two play each other for nineteen holes before Tiger Woods emerged the US Open Champion. When it was all over, no official could be said to have played a role in the final result.

What sets Tiger apart? He’s earned it. He’s never taken a called strike. He’s never been ruled offside. He’s never had a cheap foul called against him or received the benefit of a free throw he didn’t deserve. He just tees it up; hits it until it falls into the cup; and counts the strokes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We live in the Age of Goebbels, not Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or any of the men and women who have revolutionized human communications in the last half-century. It was Hitler’s propaganda minister, Josph Goebbels who said, “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.” Think about that. It’s not just the “right” of the State (the capital “S” alone is a little frightening, don’t you think?) – it is the ABSOLUTE right. The meaning should be clear enough. You could look it up.

1. To the very greatest degree possible.
2. Having total power and authority.
3. Not depending on or qualified by anything else.

… unequivocal… total… unconditional… conclusive… complete… unqualified…

When they say, “Power corrupts, and ABSOLUTE power corrupts absolutely,” it’s easy to see what they mean.

The implication too is clear enough. Nobody else shares that “right.” Public truth is illuminated only through the State. We do not live in a 1950s style, science fiction version of a totalitarian state. Do we? We live in a free society; a place where freedom of the press allows for the exchange of all information and the expression of all shades of opinion. Don’t we? Goebbels was talking about an evil empire, Nazi Germany, not an enlightened, freedom loving society like the United States. Wasn’t he?

What exactly is “public opinion?” That’s not a trick question. It’s the collective opinion of a large number of people. And how does a large number – millions, for example – of people reach a collective opinion? Through exposure to information, that’s how. Without information, nobody can form an opinion. Without knowing what you’re talking about, you can’t reach any conclusion – even if you don’t know what you’re talking about. You must be informed. You don’t have to be “well” informed, “substantially” informed and certainly not “completely” informed. After all, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. But, you must know something, about something, in order to have an opinion.

Where does all this information come from – for most people, most of the time? That’s also not a trick question. Television, that’s where. The things that most people say they “know” are really just things they’ve “heard” or “seen” on television. Think of a subject – any subject at all – and you’ll soon understand that your own understanding of that subject comes from what you’ve seen and heard in the media, especially – often exclusively – on television. The more you examine your own opinions, the more you will see that your own, personal, first hand experiences in life have contributed very little to your reservoir of opinions on public issues. C’mon now, what do you really know about the war in Iraq? Islamic terrorism? Iranian nuclear intentions? The cleanup after Katrina? The earthquake disaster in China? Gay marriage? The condition of infrastructure in America’s major cities? Global warming? Where would you be without your TV?

How reliable is our data base of televised knowledge? And how much influence has the State exerted on that same data base?

Perhaps the sociologist, Neil Postman, gives you pause to think when he writes: “Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

On the so-called Great Issues of the Day, ask yourself: how much of what I think I “know” is only the illusion of knowing and has instead led me in the opposite direction, away from the truth? And how much of my “information” has come to me under the supervision of the State in the exercise of their “absolute right?”

Is Josph Goebbels smiling somewhere?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Keeping Score: The Comfort Of Certainty

I know some people stop reading when they come upon a sentence that begins, “Forty years ago…” I understand, but I’ll take my chances.

Forty years ago, I became friends with a former All-Star baseball player. We found ourselves with a common interest – we were both deeply involved in what was then called “Negro Programmed Radio.” It was, in the sixties, a startling new, dynamic force in broadcasting and popular culture, growing by leaps and bounds, amassing listeners and advertisers beyond anyone’s ability to measure or even guess how high it might fly. New radio stations programmed for black audiences were popping up in cities across the nation and existing ones could hardly imagine, no less contain, their rocketing success. It was in this exciting and rewarding business environment that I became friends with this former Major League pitcher.

It’s fair to say that both our careers were tremendously successful and our futures seemed to hold nothing but more of the same. I was already used to being a “businessman” and I handled the overall success as well as I did the inevitable daily bumps in the road. My friend, however, didn’t have it so easy. Despite his quick, and well deserved, ascension to Vice President of a major American corporation, he often took what should have been normal and meaningless setbacks, too seriously, too personally. One day we were talking about a particular injustice he was in the midst of dealing with, when he stopped talking practically in mid-sentence, shook his head as if he had just experienced an epiphany, and then he related the “secret” which had been so suddenly revealed to him.

“In business, there is no score!” What he meant was, there was no score that was universally accepted by all participants. Losers often think they’ve won and winners sometimes fail to savor their victory. Why? Because there’s nobody standing there – somebody with authority – able and willing to tell them the score. In fact, he went on to add, in the game of business, “There’s really no end to the game.” He missed the finality, the comfort of certainty professional sports provided. He yearned for the last out; the winning teammates shaking hands and slapping backs; the smiles on the faces in the boss’s box.

Don’t misunderstand me. My friend was no Willy Loman. Oh, no - he was a World Series Champion! What final score tops that one? In baseball he always knew “the score.” He was either the winning pitcher, or the losing pitcher; never favored by some and opposed by others; never told he was a winner by those who actually, in the secret of their office, marked him down as a loser. In baseball, even the guys you don’t like, he told me, and the ones who don’t like you, they all accept the final score – and not only for determining who won and who lost - but for signaling the end of the contest. And then, with the common acceptance of the game’s conclusion came another wonderful thing – the scheduling of another game tomorrow, another game that would begin scoreless and end with finality, with certainty. “We could all go home and get a good night’s sleep,” he said.

My friend found the absence of these absolute measurements in business hard to take, and although he enjoyed a wonderful career in corporate affairs, he never came to peace with the fact there was no scoreboard to check. I know he respected my opinion, but I was no match for the meaning he found in the large numbers that were illuminated on the big board above and beyond the outfield fence.

In his final years, he went to law school and became an attorney. He told me he wanted to practice as a litigator – fight it out in court! I suppose he was still looking for that final score. I didn’t talk to him just before he died, but afterward I hoped he understood the finality of that turn on the mound, the true meaning of a “complete game performance,” and I dearly wished for him that his last thought would have been that tomorrow’s box score would show a nice, big “W” after his name.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Plenty. Somewhere in Howard Dean’s office there must be a picture of Will Rogers on the wall and underneath it the quote for which he’s justifiably famous: “I am not a member of any organized party - I’m a Democrat.” Just look at how inconsistent their rules are for the single most important function they perform as a political party.

Delegates to the party’s National Convention are charged with deciding who will be the nominee for President of the United States. Getting a Democratic President is the very reason the national party exists. Are all delegates chosen fairly, consistently or even with a rational regard for the intention of the voters? Are you kidding me?

In choosing their nominee for President, the Democrats involve their actual members – “the voters” – in less than two-thirds of the several states, plus a few non-state locations. In those areas where voters help to select the nominee, they do so under varying and different rules, regulations and procedures. The Democrats who live in Iowa don’t follow the same rules as those who live in neighboring Illinois, Wisconsin or Minnesota, or in places far away like Maine, Oregon, Alaska and Florida. The two states with the largest number of Democrats, California and New York, assign delegates differently from each other. Rules and regulations, instructions and procedures for operating a caucus are so complicated and detailed it is nearly impossible to find two caucus states that actually make their delegate selections exactly the same way.

In the caucus states, the allocation of delegates is separate from the actual caucus voting and the procedures employed in this process are even more obscure and confusing and subject to manipulation. Not all caucus votes are equal with regard to the possibility of assigning delegates. As with the notorious Federal Tax Code, it takes a highly trained and educated expert to completely understand the intricate workings of the Democratic Party caucuses. And, as is also the case with our taxes, the experts themselves are often misinformed, mistaken or just plain wrong.

You would think the remaining states, those holding primaries - not caucuses - would be easier to comprehend in their procedural rules and more fair in the sense that they do operate in a system of one-voter/one-vote. How can you screw that up? You count the votes and you have a winner – then you allocate your delegates accordingly, right? Wrong.

As it is with caucuses, not all primary votes are equal with regard to the possibly of assigning delegates. In many states, voters in certain “locations” count more than voters who vote in other “locations.” Why? Even here the reasons are neither consistent nor easily understood. What is certain, however, is – a candidate who does well in some places, within a primary state, earns more delegates than another candidate who does well in other areas, within the same state. You do, in fact, in state after state end up with two candidates who each have a similar number of votes, yet one gets more delegates than the other. Yet the delegate variance in every state is different. Does the average voter know why this happens? Are you kidding me?

You don’t learn much listening to the talking heads on TV. These folks, who have studied the rules and regulations of the Democratic Party because they know they’re going to be on-the-air talking about it – that’s their job – differ in their own assessments of the same vote totals. And even they often can’t explain the results.

Its not only that one candidate may garner more votes than another, the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that a candidate’s vote advantage may not be reflected in the overall delegate selection. To make matters worse, some caucus states don’t report their actual vote totals at all, while some others do - although the vote totals mean nothing in the way of delegate allocation in those states.

One state, Texas, had both a primary and a caucus – on the same day. Clinton won the primary. Obama won the caucus. The vote totals favored Clinton, but Obama actually emerged from Texas the winner in delegates. Those are the rules. You think that makes sense? Are you kidding me?

And then, there’s the silliness of the Democratic Party staging primaries and caucuses in places where the Democrats who participate aren’t really voters at all. Why do they have a caucus in Guam (“Where America’s day begins!”) or the Virgin Islands? Why is there a primary in Puerto Rico? The last time anybody checked, there’s no one in Guam, St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John, and nobody in Puerto Rico who’s eligible to vote for President of the United States when it really matters in November. Why should they be involved in picking who runs? Why not ask the Dutch or the Swedes or the English to vote? How about the good Democrats in Omen or Kuwait, Mali or Peru?

Really now - should people who can’t vote in your election pick your nominees? Are you kidding me?

There is one thing I’m not indignant about - the so-called Super delegates. Frankly, I think having them is a good idea. They are the people who really run the party and it makes them responsible for the party’s ticket. Most organizations rightly belong to those who daily breathe life into them. As far as I can see, its their party – that’s the right way to do it.

In a “normal” election year, when a clear frontrunner emerges early and wraps up the nomination in February or March, the party may have as long as six months to regroup, organize and mobilize behind the obvious nominee, plenty of time to prepare and to come together in unity for the upcoming general election. But, what happens when you have a year like this one – 2008? There’s precedent, you know… the Republicans in 1976, the Democrats in 1980. Each of those parties lost the general election. And now this time. Has the Democratic Party screwed itself? If so, its their own fault. Can this be fixed? Sure, but not for this election cycle. The rules can be changed to make things better the next time around. What are the odds that might happen? If Will Rogers’ wisdom holds true, the answer is – are you kidding me?