Archive for October, 2016


Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

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A young man I know in another state has a very different political outlook from mine. Like many people, he re-posts memes on Facebook to support his positions. He’s a good person, but the sources he cites often exhibit poor taste and lack credibility. I checked out one source—a Twitter account. I was disturbed. Moreover, the attitude it represents is more widespread than you might think.

This particular Twitter account posts on Facebook very aggressive pro-Donald Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton material. Freedom of speech? Sure. Support Trump? Their right. But pay heed. The account’s primary theme is “Keep America American.” Its secondary theme: “Peace Through Superior Firepower.” Its graphics include a skull and skeleton hands holding a knife and a gun. I hear echoes of “Keep Germany German” and see the similar symbols of the Nazi Waffen-SS.

We often associate this thinking with rednecks, white supremacists and gun nuts—those people “out there.” But many small-town and rural people are wonderful and all-too-often falsely maligned. The fact is, prejudice exists everywhere.

In last Tuesday’s New York Times, Michael Luo, deputy Metro editor, wrote of a “minor confrontation” with a well-dressed woman on Manhattan’s expensive Upper East Side. Luo and his family were waiting outside a restaurant and apparently in the woman’s way. She passed by then from down the block yelled at them, “Go back to China.” Luo was born in Pittsburgh.

If some people think it’s critical to keep America for Americans, what does being an American mean? The Constitution states that anyone born in the United States—like me—is an American citizen. Our laws also enable people born elsewhere to become citizens if they fulfill residency requirements and pass a test. My grandparents became citizens 102 years ago and with them my father, who was 11. I have friends who became naturalized American citizens far more recently.

Yet some people scorn the Constitution they preach about upholding and place limitations on who they recognize as true Americans. White and Christian? You’re good. Black, brown, yellow or red? Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist? Forget the Constitution. Forget our laws. Some things, as Donald Trump reminds us, are only words. So should Mike Luo go back to Pittsburgh? Maybe—if Pennsylvania was never part of the United States. Or unless, as one of Luo’s readers responded, you’re blue-eyed and from Sweden like her.

The final weeks of the presidential campaign will be fascinating and disturbing. Neither candidate is sweeping Americans—recognized or not—off their feet. But one candidate retains an unwavering commitment that ethnicity and religion do not define who is or who isn’t an American. One doesn’t.

I’d like to believe that after the election, tempers will cool and we’ll all go back to normal. I can’t. We’re living with a new normal—an increasingly divided citizenry and, in some quarters, increasing racial hatred in what eight years ago was (falsely) termed a “post-racial” nation.

We’ll continue to hear “Keep America American.” New demagogues will shout about upholding the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for their own ethnic group and denying it to others. Doing so in the name of patriotism, they’ll mock the nation they claim to love and weaken the nation they seek to strengthen.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out Post something on Facebook, too. And let’s hope that all Americans are up for what comes next.

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Last Sunday, Hall of Fame sportscaster Vin Scully retired. His 67 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers offered a model of civility too often missing in our nation. What made him, in addition to his upbeat and warm persona, a prototype for American political and societal behavior?

Certainly, you’ve got to be good to broadcast for one team over 67 seasons. Vin, a native New Yorker, came to Brooklyn Dodger baseball in 1950 at age 22. Harry Truman was president. I remember his broadcasts fondly. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Vin went west. Angelinos took to him immediately. So many fans at the ballpark listened to him on transistor radios that his voice carried across the Coliseum then, starting in 1962, Dodger Stadium.

Objectivity set Vin apart. Although paid by the Dodgers, Vin was never a “homer.” Yes, he wanted the Dodgers to win. But his broadcasting was impartial. He freely gave credit to opposing players and never covered over Dodger mistakes. Season after season, he remained gracious and respectful to everyone.

Interestingly, Vin worked alone long after “color men”—mainly former ballplayers—invaded the broadcast booth to root for the home team and tell fans what an announcer should know about the game. Vin knew a lot. Yet he never intimated or stated outright, as many color men do, that he knew things his audience didn’t.

The consummate professional, Vin kept listeners and TV viewers up to date on the game, avoiding the obvious for the TV audience while providing strategic insights as required. He never rambled on about extraneous matters as do so many announcers today. His stories always related to the players and baseball. Vin also understood when to remain silent and let the crowd paint the picture.

Consider his eloquent call on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta when Henry Aaron of the Braves broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding home run record. While Aaron, a black man, rounded the bases and the crowd roared, Vin said nothing. Then, after teammates mobbed Aaron: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. This man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South while breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol… What a marvelous moment for Henry Aaron.”

Civility well describes Vin’s relationship with baseball fans and everyone around him. He never put down opposing players. He never complained about bad calls. And making an incredible gesture, he retired at the end of the regular season so that the Dodgers, not Vin Scully, would be the focus of the upcoming playoffs.

Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale University, wrote a wonderful book, Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1998). His thesis: People should treat each other with respect even when they have very real differences on serious issues. While civility—call it good manners—may sometimes seem contrived, it remains critical to maintaining democracy and extinguishing sparks that can flare into violence.

If our major presidential candidates—and I particularly cite Donald Trump—practiced the civility exhibited by Vin Scully, we’d likely feel much better about the upcoming election.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out Post something on Facebook, too. And the next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone, maybe listen to the other person before you respond—with civility

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