A Look at the Far Side

Short takes . . . .

1) The New York Times reports that Republicans running for election or re-election to the US House of representatives don’t need to be concerned about the Hispanic vote. That’s because they don’t need them. Geography and the population distribution have taken care of that issue. And so — while GOP strategists warn that alienating Hispanics will prove costly in the 2016 presidential election — local Republican in many districts candidates are basing their hopes of why we have to keep immigrants (they mean mostly Hispanics from Mexico and other Latin American nations) out with restrictive new laws and building that fence higher and longer.

We get some of that even in New Hampshire, which is hardly beset by immigration issues Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown, the truck-driving former losing politician candidate from Massachusetts, keeps urging that we must “Save the Borders.” Perhaps he means keep out anyone from Massachusetts? Or Vermont? Not sure. Whatever, it’s a cry that makes little sense when it serves in place of sensible, considered immigration reform. Shame on Scott.

2) The Republican’s ludicrous demand for a travel ban from West African nations to save American from Ebola has been pretty much abandoned now. I wonder if the publisher of the Manchester Union-Leader here in NH has realized that yet and so altered his position to fit into the newly stated position of the Republican party (which wants travel visas instead of a ban)? The notion of a travel ban was always far-fetched and part of the GOP’s lunacy over Ebola. (Can we calmly remember that as of today we have one death and two reported cases in the United States?).

Certainly there has been a bungled response to Ebola in several areas, at the state, local and federal levels. But we are nor unsafe. And comments we read the other day from a woman who lives Louisiana expressing fear because she’s only 300 miles from Dallas is unbelievable. Sort of like Union-Leader editorials.

3) Speaking of idiots, consider Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, who is — regrettably — a state representative in our friendly little state. He was quoted the other day as calling DemocraticCongresswoman Annie Kuster is “ugly as sin.” Yep, not a misogynistic bone in his body, eh? and apparently not much in his brain. His comment was presumably aimed at helping Kuster’s opponent, Marilinda Garcia, who promptly and to her credit denounced Vaillancourt’s words.

Vaillancourt, of course is something of a creep. Several years ago he gave the Nazi salute in the chamber of the state house. But here’s what worse: have you taken a look at Vaillancourt’s photos? They show a fat, balding, baggy-eyed, middle-aged man whose smile resembles nothing as much as a sleazy used car salesman. I’d call it ugly as sin except that I don’t want to appear sexist.

A Journalistic Shame

The quality of journalism in New Hampshire takes a serious hit almost every time the publisher of the state’s largest paper, The Union Leader, picks up his pen. Or launches his keyboard. Joseph W. McQuaid has demonstrated time and again that his grasp of complicated issues is tenuous and his processing of them is challenged. His latest editorial offers ample documentation.

In an editorial he ordered placed on the front page of this morning paper — possibly to the embarrassment of some very good, thoughtful employees — McQuaid offered some dense thoughts about Ebola highlighted by calling President Obama’s policies in confronting the epidemic “crazy.”

Mr. McQuaid is upset about the potential spread of Ebola, which is a reasonable thing to do. But he’s flaming hot about the President’s failure to ban all travel to and from West Africa to the United States. He believes this because — and here he leans on right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell’s savage, witless conjecture — that Obama no longer cares about protecting the American people. That’s right. The President who drives Republicans crazy doesn’t care about letting loose a medical epidemic in his own nation (do try and remember he wasn’t born in Kenya, Mr. McQuaid).

This is lunacy. It is irresponsible, shameless, unprofessional journalism. It makes the editorial page of this newspaper seem even more juvenile and empty than it often appears. Although, reading its editorial page — imagined by Mr. McQuaid and his legions structured as sort of a junior version of the Wall Street Journal albeit minus intelligence, reason, insight and logical opinion — leaves readers with the impression that serious issues routinely can be dealt with with brevity abetted by simple-mindedness.

Here’s what’s behind it: Republican strategy, although slightly perverted. Few mainstream Republicans are calling the President crazy. But the party’s extreme conservative hirelings have devised a strategy to make everyone fearful in general terms. They want voters to see the nation is not working because there are so many threats and our President is overwhelmed (or maybe underwhelmed).

Do you doubt this? Consider the words of Sen. Rand Paul, speaking to conservatives, presumably Mr. McQuaid among them, “The problem of government now is getting government to work.” Really? Who keeps it from working? Who shuts down the government? Who refuses to pass legislation? Who refuses to govern? The answer to all those questions is conservative Republicans, or rather conservatives like Mr. McQuaid who have a ludicrous, childish sense of government.

Rigorous thought, opinion shaped by facts, a far-reaching intelligence and curiosity should be the hallmarks of a good, edifying and challenging editorial page. Those qualities are as conspicuously absent at the Union Leader as common sense and decency are missing from Mr. Sowell’s column. Mr. McQuaid’s front-page plea is strictly politics. Low-down, dirty, cringing politics.

The Union Leader’s editorial page and Mr. Sowell’s column are nothing less than a disgrace. Shame on their perpetrators. They do no honor to the people and policies they endeavor to support.

Back to You, GM

Headline: General Motors has issued 74 recalls covering almost 30 million vehicles.

Which answers the question: What is the worst business organization in the world?

And which brings up the second question: Why would anyone buy a GM vehicle?

Seriously. There’s a darn good chance any GM-made car you purchase is going to be seriously compromised, regardless of whether it’s old or new. And if you have any doubts about that, consider this: General Motors has stopped shipping some of its 2015 models to dealers because of concerns they may stop unexpectedly, speed up unexpectedly, catch fire unexpectedly or just somehow crash into something.

Why not just put your money in bitcoins and buy a bike with what’s left?

These recalls, lest you forget, cover just about every vehicle Gm makes. If they still made Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles, you can bet they’d be back in the shop, too. Actually, if you still have one of those models, it’s probably back in the shop anyway. At General Motors, quality is an occasional thing not to be confused with coffee breaks.

Here’s what really seems amazing about this to me: Mary T. Barra, GM’s CEO, still has her job. Of course not everything horrible at GM has happened during her watch — there’s blame to be spread among inept and callous executives aplenty — but her insistence before Congress that GM has a new culture dedicated to safety doesn’t preclude that culture seemingly quite leaky. If she worked for Toyota, she would already have had the good sense and human decency to resign, if not to consider hara-kiri (just kidding about that).

Every change of seasons brings with it news of more GM recalls. And don’t think these recalls involve only the cheapest of brands. Nope, not at all. There are a bunch of Cadillacs — the model that passes for the best GM produces — included. And — get this — police cars are now involved! What a relief that must be to the nation’s cops: their cars will now have less chance to explode unexpectedly while they’re in pursuit of criminals. Who, by the way, ought to include all those GM executives who refused to heed warnings from their engineers about defects in all of these vehicles.

In fact, couldn’t we get a new TV reality show going in which GM cars race toward GM executives and we see which cars can brake in time to avoid striking them? OK, just kidding about that.

I guess.

You’d Better Believe It

Some of the more unusual news items spotted in recent weeks:

Carnival Cruises reported a 34% rise in earnings for the last quarter. Really? I’m going to guess that none of that came from passengers who boarded Carnival cruises over the last year or so and found themselves trapped by illnesses on board, mechanical malfunctions or perhaps by the Carnival-owned ship that capsized off the Italian coast. Carnival ought to refund that profit to all those who got stuck on the company’s ships.

Cadillac is moving its headquarters from Detroit to New York City. The company says the move will help it reach more luxury car buyers. Really? Maybe if Cadillac made better cars, they could sell more of them, regardless of where the headquarters building is located. The facts are — as anyone who drives them can attest — there are many brands much superior in manufactured quality than Cadillac, among them Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, Audi, Lexus … and more. I can remember the good old days when Cadillac was a synonym for classy. And Dwight Eisenhower was President.

Scientists report extreme weather caused by climate changes will endanger both coasts and make Detroit a “desirable garden city.” Great timing, Cadillac.

Apple says it has sold more than 10 million iphone6 smartphones in less than one week. Really? Darn, and I thought it was going to be a collector’s item. Does Apple practice some form of mass hypnosis, or how else are we explain such a huge national craving for a product that is overpriced and so patently unnecessary?

Researchers in Italy have completed a far-reaching study about the benefits of art. This sounds really good, until you read about the exact nature of the study: scientists found that looking at a beautiful painting while being shot in the hand with a painful laser beam hurts less than when looking at an ugly painting. Yes, but did they try Andy Warhol?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell says the league is going to crack down on players who are involved in domestic violence. And in other news, the Pope has moved the Vatican to Las Vegas in order to get closer to sinners.

Re-Elect Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

We’re seeing a relentless succession of television ads for candidates these days, almost every one of them either negative, out of context or totally lacking in truth. Take it for a fact that when a candidate in a political ad says he or she is going to tell you the facts that the facts will be nowhere in evidence. No political party and no candidate in my hearing escapes this regrettable observation in election 2014.

Still, there are a couple of things that we ought to be aware of in going through these ads. And let me be specific about one race: the election for U.S. Senate between the incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and the Republican challenger Scott Brown. Their campaigns have mostly focused on what’s wrong with the other candidate, and a lot is said about Brown being a carpetbagger from Massachusetts and Shaheen being an Obama clone. Never mind that. In as civil a way as I can view it, here’s what’s important about this race.

Brown is a Republican who claims he will be an independent. Unfortunately I don’t find much evidence to back this up, and it seems likely that if and when he arrives in the Senate, he will join a party who whose members have largely been unwilling or unable to participate in the governing of the country for the last six years, so earnest has been their determination to keep President Obama from doing so.

The Republican Party is currently the party of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who are, sadly, among the least formidable intellects to have led the GOP in in recent times. The party includes the likes of Ted Cruz and his Tea Party colleagues, whose brand of convervatism has done created more alienation than affection in America. I don’t doubt anyone’s belief that they are acting in the nation’s best interests, but the results so far suggest that interest has not been well served by their style of governing, or rather their disinclination to govern.

I don’t believe Scott Brown is a bad person. I disagree with much of what he says, but then political advertisements don’t exactly encourage strict adherence to truth. As a person, Scott Brown seems reasonable and likable. But how that might translate into a senator from New Hampshire who is part of a Republican Party which projects a negative, exclusive philosophy and which seems to have no serious focus beyond opposing the President leaves me wondering if this is really the best thing for our country.

So we come down to the bottom line: while Jeanne Shaheen may provoke some measure of disappointment — she is a politician, after all — she has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to look beyond provincialism and partisanship to vote often for what she believes is better for America. I don’t agree with all those votes, and I’m a Democrat. But I have respect for her. I have some respect for Scott Brown as well, but I’m not convinced Scott Brown will be able to rise above the partisanship of his party.

The Last Straw?

Way past the point you imagined the nation’s airlines couldn’t get any more disdainful of the traveling public, they have managed to do exactly that.

In case you missed it, here’s the headline: American Airlines has just re-configured the schedule at its Miami hub to put its hundreds of daily landings and departures closer together, what is called delicately “peak scheduling.” The airline says this will enable it to put more passengers from connecting flights on board and thereby earn more money. “An additional person per flight will make a difference,” a spokesman for the airline told The Wall Street Journal (whose reporter Scott McCartney does a terrific job of keeping up with these shenanigans).

Think about the meaning of this for passengers this for a moment, please. There now will be much less time for passengers to make connections (imagine how bad weather will complicate that throughout the entire system). It’s not enough that American crams passengers into tiny seats on crowded flights, now they want more. You can bet that additional rows of minuscule seats in the generously named coach section will soon be a part of all of their flights. Do you have some sense of how difficult this is going to make the process of transferring bags from one flight to the next? Less time means more bags won’t make the connecting flights. Enjoy.

And this incredibly irresponsible corporate decision means that the airport will now have periods of intense activity followed by periods of not much. How wasteful is that? Vendors in the Miami airport are already unhappy, reducing employment because passengers no longer have any time to stop. On a cheerful note, however, Americans says it will be hiring more people to deal with those hectic scheduled moments. Wow.

This is happening at Miami, but other airlines are apparently planning the same thing for their hubs. Mmmm, makes you want to climb on a plane, doesn’t it?

Last year when I wrote about the awful idea of merging of American and USAir — which of course is now a fact of life — I didn’t see this coming. The crowded flights, crappy seats, rising airfares and increased fees I did correctly forecast (being right still doesn’t feel very good) at the time. But this was a bad surprise, sort of like the sushi that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Frankly, I can’t think of another corporate entity in this country that has so little regard and respect for its customers, that treats them as animals. Unless, of course, they have lots of money and are willing to spend it. I think it’s shameful, and I think we need a serious dose of federal regulation of the industry, in spite of my lack of faith in the federal process.

I’ve said for well over a decade that the airlines are not your friends. Don’t be deceived by anything they do. They are not on your side unless you are wealthy. And if you’re smart, you’ll do everything possible to avoid giving them your money. Think about it.

When the News Isn’t Newsworthy

Let’s talk about the nightly news programs on the major networks. Let’s talk about them at least partly because that’s more satisfying than watching them. To put it bluntly, the state of television news has seldom been worse. Maybe back in the 1950s when anchormen (no women back then) smoked the cigarettes of their sponsor as they read the news was worse. But not by a lot.
Consider ABC News these days. Under Diane Sawyer’s watch and now that of pretty boy David Muir, the nightly half-hour newscast has become too much of a touchy-feely program, devoted to self-help items and a kind of “pop” news that downplays hard stories in favor of nice-people stories. The day’s complex, significant stories — think Ukraine, ISIS and the Middle East — get slight shrift at the top of the news while the bulk of the program is given over to stories that are more properly showcased in People magazine. NBC and CBS are better — how could they get worse? — but they have not much more room to proclaim superiority.

As part of their cost-cutting moves, the networks have trimmed the number of foreign correspondents so that they rely on freelancers to cover important stories on a regular basis. The other night on NBC, for instance, we were treated to a story about political unrest in Pakistan as reported by a correspondent in London, about 2,000 miles away. Similar occurrences on other networks suggest we’re not getting the fullest story of anything that doesn’t happen in this country or perhaps London or Paris. (Yes, I know correspondents get to war scenes, but they seldom stay there very long; the network’s bean counters find that is not conducive to the bottom line. And the bottom line is what it’s all about.

The root of a lot of this problem goes back several decades when television stations hired consultants to help them find new audiences. The consultants agreed that news programs needed more accessible, pretty anchors reporting a kinder, gentler sort of news to appeal to a younger audience. Things like serious stories, foreign news, cutting-edge interviews were not appealing and hence could be safely dispensed with. Anything visual — think weather-related stories and crime — would boost ratings. So that’s what everyone did, the networks and their local affiliates. That legacy continues, regrettably.

It’s always been true, and acknowledged by the likes of Walter Cronkite, that you cannot rely solely on network news programs to acquire an understanding of important and world issues. That is even more true today. Those who do so are woefully under-informed about everything that matters. No kidding.

If you believe that awareness of the world around us is important, then you’d better read The New York Times or The Washington Post or one of a small handful of serious daily newspapers (not including USA Today). If you’re not, then you are not a clueless citizen of this country.

And that could mean you’re one of the three co-hosts on the Fox Morning Show. This is surely the stupidest news/entertainment show on television, and that’s saying something the low, low bar. The other day those three shamefully dumb people laughed off the Ray Rice woman-beating video which occurred in an elevator by suggesting everyone should learn to use the stairs where there’s no video. There ought to be a way to put people like this out of their self-imposed misery. Everyone could start by turning off their program.

Let’s Fight

The battle over space in airline coach cabins just turned into a real-life battle. We all read with about the passenger who attached a “knee defender” onto the seat of the passenger in front of him to prevent her from reclining her seat. Bingo. She tries to recline, can’t, gets upset, guy behind her says too bad I want my own space, and she throws a cup of water on him. Result: the plane is diverted from its intended destination, and both unruly passengers are removed.

End of story. Almost.
The tale of revenge or rudeness, depnding on your viewpoint, has stirred quite a commotion. Social media folks are declaiming opinions, pro and con. The airlines have no specific rules against using a knee defender, but the in-air regulations that nothing be done that might interfere with the flight can be used in this case. As for the passenger who tossed the water, well, technically that’s an assault, and that’s seldom the right thing.

I’m sympathetic. I’ve had that middle seat and found myself inhumanly squeezed when the passenger in front of me fully reclined the seat. It’s awful. And while you may consider the person who wishes to recline to be thoughtless of others — correct on that count — they paid for their seat, and it relines, so they are quite entitled.

So who’s really to blame here? It’s as plain as the water dripping down your shirt: the airlines. Who is it that created the sub-human seating plan in coach these days? Who deliberately shrank the size and space for passengers in order to cram more seats and paying customers on each flight? And who is using the crowding to try and persuade more passengers to pay more money for slightly larger (but still uncomfortable) seats?

If you’re a coach class passenger — and by the way, you’re paying about 25% more than you used to four years ago to get the lowest fares four years ago. And that doesn’t include the myriad extra fees that have helped to raise airline profits to new heights (and allowed them to improve first class and business class seating at the expense of coach passengers).

To put it pleasantly, the airlines are finding new ways to screw coach class passengers. The airlines are not your friends, as I’ve been saying for years. It’s difficult to be charitable about corporate entities so disdainful of a large segment of their customers.

PBS Spells No

Once upon a time, PBS presented to Americans the very finest examples of our musical culture. Such programs as “Live from Lincoln Center,” “Great Performances” and “Live from the Met” offered viewers a wonderful sampling of classical music, opera and dance featuring some of the greatest and most admired artists in the world. That’s what PBS used to do, anyway, and I say that with sadness and regret and now some growing anger.

What has replaced that programming are low-brow shows such as “Antiques Roadshow,” surely the dullest and most predictable non-reality entity on television, along with self-help shows with the well-worn likes of the Suze Orman and Wayne Dyer and an increased number of pledge week appeals for money which specialize in showing aging doo-wop groups from the 1950s and ’60s. What a sad ending for PBS.

The network recently announced its 2014-1015 program lineup. Yes, “Downtown Abbey” is there again — to my delight, although the PBS insistence on delaying it months beyond the first showing in Great Britain is another instance of misguided management. But the rest of the season is notably mostly for the total absence of classical music. There’s no classical dance. And there’s only one opera, “Porgy and Bess.” (If you happen to like jazz, you’re out of luck once again as well.)

In brief, it’s a pathetic lineup that speaks to a diminished sense of values on the part of the people who run the network. I of course cannot say it will cost PBS viewers because I have no way of knowing. But I do know it will cost them at least one viewer — me. And it will cost them my pledge, too, because I will no longer offer my financial support given their lack of interest in what interests me.

There are network programs of some quality, to be fair about it. But more and more I am seeing lower-level programming come to the fore with an emphasis on pop culture. What else would you call the appearance of Lady Gaga and a repeat showing of “Cats” from nearly 20 years ago?

All of this does indeed make me sad and disappointed. I feel abandoned, my companionship no longer desired. I don’t expect that to matter in the big picture, but the executives who oversee PBS need to know they have divorced me, not the other way around.

Plenty of Shame to Go Around

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. To wit, the conflict between the Israelis and Hamas.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of this ages-old clash in the Middle East. Does anyone? But I don’t believe you have to be terribly nuanced when to grasp the level of mindless killing and destruction going on now in Gaza. And how many words have been wasted once again on who is to blame?

The answer to that is, obviously it would seem, both sides. Leaders on both sides through the years have demonstrated an appalling lack of vision, have turned a deaf ear to the needs of their people and have justified murderous rampages with rank platitudes. A plague on both of them.

Yes, Hamas has shown it cares nothing for the welfare of the people it claims it wants to protect and lead. It has shamelessly put those people at great risk and failed them time and again. It is a terrorist organization which shows no evidence of a sense of morality. And thousands of people have been killed and so many more made homeless solely by their failed, misguided actions.

And yes, Israel has a right to defend itself against violent attacks that deliberately target civilians. Israel is a democratic nation — something the warlords at Hamas can only imagine — and that merits respect. But precisely because it is a democratic nation, it must rise above the eye-for-an-eye tactics that diminish the nation in the world’s eyes. Israel says it does not target schools and hospitals and civilians. I can believe that. But when the result of your own militarism is attacks on schools and hospitals and the deaths of hundreds and thousands of civilians, what’s the difference? Residents of Gaza who have nothing to do with Hamas must wonder.

The leaders of Hamas and Israel jointly share responsibility for the horror now underway in Gaza. They seem unable and unwilling to move beyond their own hatreds. A lasting peace in the Middle East will forever elude these narrow-minded worshipers of chaos. And it is their people who will continue to suffer as a result. Shame on them. Shame on all of them who pursue paths of infinite pain, death and betrayal.