Friday, February 10

Lost appetite

As Published in The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC, 
Feb. 10, 2017

Dear Editor:

It is Sunday morning. I am enjoying my coffee and have finished the front and Opinion sections of the newspaper. As I start on my second cup, I pause to express my dismay to learn from Steve Bailey’s “S.C.’s poverty wage trap.” a  worker at Church’s Chicken in North Charleston is paid $8 an hour. In this day and age? In this community? In an environment where food workers have minimum opportunity for tips this is unsatisfactory to this reader who enjoys fried chicken occasionally. But not anymore from Church’s.

/s/ Francis X. Archibald

Sunday, February 5

The horrific cost of racial prejudice

A reminder...

Years ago, I wrote book reviews for The State, Columbia, S.C. These were of new books thought to be of interest to eclectic readers of the newspaper. It isn’t necessary, however, for a book to be fresh off the publisher’s presses to warrant a review.

If a stimulating book hasn’t been read earlier a review is still justified in spite of its having been published more than 15 years ago. I finished such a book this week.

In 2000, David Lehr, M.D., published “Austria Before and After the Anschluss,” sub-titled, “Personal Experiences, Observations, and Comments.”  (Dorrance Publishing Co., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222, 361 pp.)

In this memoir, Dr. Lehr, the Professor Emeritus at New York Medical College, whose research work has been published worldwide, succeeded in reminding us of the horrific cost of racial prejudice.

Dr. Lehr was born in Austria and had completed his studies as a doctor when the Germans took over Austria in March 1938. Rather than being the first victim of Hitler’s Germany, as some Austrians claim, Austria welcomed the Nazis, according to Dr. Lehr. In many instances, Austrian Nazis outdid their German counterparts in hostile actions against Jews and other minorities. Antisemitism was the order of the day. 

(Germany began some material compensation of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution around 1951, while it took Austria more than another 40 years to follow suit.)

In Vienna, Dr. Lehr writes, Jewish-owned automobiles were confiscated, homes and businesses looted and taken over, bank accounts seized, students kicked out of school, and men, women. and children were assaulted in the streets, all simply because they were Jews. 

Jews who wanted to emigrate while it was still possible were unable to take any money with them and had to sign over all their possessions before they could obtain an exit visa. Without a friend or relative in a foreign country willing to help people were stranded without recourse. Eventually, most of these same people were rounded up, sent to concentration camps, and ultimately killed.

(Holocaust victims are estimated to number 11 million, six million of which were victims simply because they were Jews.)

In his 90th year, Dr. Lehr wrote of his struggle throughout the 1930’s with his medical studies, some eventful incidents in his practice, and the personal tragedy of his family, which miraculously managed to be united years later in the United States. When the Anschluss occurred on March 13, 1938, life for Jews took the most unimaginable and dreadful turn. The horror which awaited them (and the other Jews of Europe) was unknown, unprecedented and terrible in its outcome. 

There were isolated positive encounters with “the very best and noble in Austria’s truly patrician stock,” but these were few and far between before and after the Anschluss. Dr. Lehr makes the point that remembering a positive act by a caring person stands out forever in a maelstrom of horror. 

Dr. Lehr felt a responsibility “to lay bare the tragic truth of the Austrian Holocaust.” He felt it was owed to the fallen Jews of Austria and to history. I believe he has done a good job of it. 

Monday, January 16

Hidden Figures

When the credits began to roll at the end of Hidden Figures I sat in my seat and then began to clap my hands and slowly other customers joined in and applauded the film and the captivating story based on actual events it portrays. The applause continued for a minute or so and then we began to file out of the theater.

Variety's chief film critic Peter Debruge has nailed a detailed review of this film spot on. If you think a story about three talented, capable, strong and determined African-American women and the race to put Americans in space and on the moon is some sort of fantasy, then read his review and better yet go see the movie. 

It is a wonderful film, suitable for all ages and makes me proud to be an American. Not proud of race relations in the last century, but proud that an overwhelming majority of Americans overcame prejudice and recognized the talents of people whose skin color was different from ours. 

In these, the early years of the 21st Century we still have a long road to travel to truly be "one nation under God," but the story of these three women should help us travel that road. 

Sunday, January 15

Leave your dog at home

On Sunday I saw a picture in The Post & Courier, Charleston, SC, of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster sitting at his desk in the Lt. Gov.’s office playing with his bulldog Boots. McMaster is due to become Governor of SC when Mrs. Haley moves on to the United Nations next week. Will the dog be in the Governor’s office?

I thought this is some kind of crapola. Who does McMaster think he is bringing his dog to the office? Bobby Kennedy, who brought some big hound called Brutus, I believe, to the Attorney General’s suite in the Justice Department, and scared dozens of government employees. Franklin Roosevelt who had Fala by his side all the time; I cut FDR some slack since the White House was where he lived and worked. 

Obviously, I am out of touch with many current opinions and practices. Today men marry men, women marry other women, some men take up with goats, etc, etc. You get the picture that yesterday’s “aren’t done's” are today’s “par for the course.” 

Nestle’s, for example, allows its 1,000 plus employees to bring their dogs into its City Place headquarters in Gatwick, Scotland, daily.

Slate has published an extensive article on the subject. I found it interesting among these pros and cons someone finally asked, “what does the dog think about all this?” 

Personally, I believe if a dog likes to run around, bark at the delivery man, chase cats, and bite people who think his tongue hanging out of his mouth is an invitation to pet him, he should stay home and greet you at the door with a tennis ball in his mouth.

Now all the dog lovers in the world need not jump all over my bones. It is simply this man’s opinion that dogs are probably better off at home and non-dog owning employees ought to be allowed to get on with the work at hand without having to acknowledge the boss's dog. 

Saturday, January 7

Putin Influenced the 2016 Election

President-elect Donald Trump’s ego is so huge he cannot let himself believe his election was aided by Russian preference for him over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Yet, the American Intelligence Community has made the assessment that the Russian government, at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, did in the 2016 election cycle conduct an influence campaign combining cyber activity with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or “trolls.” (The full report can be found here.)

The goal of this influence campaign was to discredit Secretary Clinton, compare her unfavorably with Candidate Trump, and cast doubt on the fairness of the democratic election process in America. 

There is no evidence that voting machines or ballot counting processes were compromised. Such was not the goal of the influence campaign. The goal was to work on people’s minds, on their thinking and ultimately affect their decisions. We know Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million. (President-elect Trump claims he won the popular vote “if you discounted millions who voted illegally.” No one has found those illegal voters.)

The election was decided by the voters in three key states: The differences are in Michigan 11,900, in Wisconsin 22,871, and in Pennsylvania, 68,236. These three states account for 46 electoral votes. If Clinton had won these states, she could have sealed the presidency with 274 total electoral votes.

South Carolina is where I have made my home since 1959. I am originally a native of Massachusetts, but I have come to deeply love South Carolina and the people in it. All of this despite the fact that this is a Red state, one of many, and the good lord himself, running in this day and age as a Democrat, would likely run second. 

South Carolina was one of only six states to vote for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and has voted Republican since, except in 1976 when it voted for fellow southerner Jimmy Carter. Voters in South Carolina were not likely targets of the Russian influence campaign, many were undoubtedly unaware of it and have difficulty, like President-elect Trump, in believing it. 

The Russian influence campaign was not aimed at Red states. It was aimed where people are likely to shift from time to time, to put it bluntly where thinkers still live. It doesn't take much to swing a vote. If you can find a little doubt that is where to go to work. Plant a seed, nurture it, repeat it over and over and a vote is swung. This was the purpose of the Russian influence campaign designed to be helpful to now President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump Needs Blind Trust

Letters to the Editor
The Post & Courier
Charleston, Sc 29401

Dear Sirs:

I don't begrudge President-elect Trump his holdings, reportedly an interest in some 500 enterprises all over the world. I am, however, in that part of the citizenry that says Mr. Trump ought to put these holdings into a blind trust, not have them continue to be actively managed by his children. I am talking about a trust so opaque sixty forensics scientists with magnifying glasses could not figure out where anything is.

Mr. Trump cancelled a news conference scheduled for December 15 to discuss this issue but promised to do so before he is sworn in on January 20th.  If this is like making his tax returns transparent I won’t hold my breath. 

It doesn’t matter how smart Mr. Trump is, when he is President Trump he is going to get new information and fresh news every waking moment of his life. This knowledge is going to impact his decision making - whether on behalf of the country or himself - particularly if he remains conversant with his holdings as “managed” by his children. It will be supremely impossible to do otherwise.

What does a conflicted President of the United States do if the leader of country X threatens to wipe out the President’s holdings in X unless the United States does what X wants? Knuckle under? Sacrifice a pile of wealth? Go to war?

Published December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 22

"Workers on routine" - an appreciation

From 1962 to 2016, the population of the United States increased to 322 million, up from 186.5 million, an increase of more than 72 percent. This remarkable growth went unnoticed on a daily basis by most Americans, until, like drivers on the LA freeways, they began to suspect all the growth was in their backyard. 

One part of the American scene that did not keep pace with this bursting through the seams growth was the federal workforce. Every two years, however, politicians rant about the size of government and promise to cut back the number of federal employees. 

Over the last fifty years or so, the federal civil service grew at a slower rate than the population it serves despite the needs and demands for services which became more complex and diversified with the increasing population. (Fair Disclosure: I worked federal civil service from 1960 to 1979 in national security management positions.)

There are 2.663 million federal civil service workers and more than half of these  are employed in three agencies: Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the Veterans Administration. The man on the street would probably agree these workers are essential to security and safety and the care of those who bore arms for America.

President Lyndon Johnson referred to federal employees “as workers on routine.” This “routine” has become more complex and the skills and competence required more demanding as the years have passed. Analytical ability, judgment, discretion and personal responsibility are the norms today, a far cry from the mostly clerical workers of the 1950s.

Cabinet head appointments are all the news right now with a new administration being formed. But it is the “workers on routine” who will continue to explore the universe, hunt for criminals, attend to the public health, send out the Social Security checks, and backstop the servicemen and women who defend the shores. 

(The statistics in this overview came from the January 2017 issue of narfe, publication of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.) 

Thursday, December 15

Bean soup and the third rail of politics

Question of the Day: When the dining room is serving two-bean soup and the two people ahead of you each get a bean does this mean your soup is only water?

Buckle your seatbelt: The political roller coaster train left the station on November 8 and has been slowly climbing to the highest peak where on January 20th the brakes will release and America will begin a rocking and rolling four-year ride the likes of which have never been experienced in this country. The era of Trumpism will have begun. We will all be screaming our lungs out before it is over. 

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Celebrating the centenary of the Russian Revolution:  Most of the old Bolsheviks of the last century are long gone (good riddance). Nevertheless, next year will note the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and it will be interesting to see to whom homage is paid. Lenin is hardly mentioned these days; Stalin continues to have some mileage, but  all those who came after him are minor leaguers. Khrushchev almost started a world-ending nuclear war but that’s a negative even diehard old Soviets are likely to ignore. Sheila Fitzpatrick wrote in the Diary (London Review of Books, Dec. 1, 2016) that in the early days of Communism passive peasants listened and agreed to everything proposed to them at village meetings until at the last moment someone yelled “fire” and the whole crowd vanished before signing. Something similar probably awaits all the hoopla Putin will throw at the Russian people (and the rest of the world) for whom the Revolution is an “outright embarrassment.”

54 Million Will Die Cursing:  Congressional Republicans want to shrink the size of government and lower taxes. There is talk of “privatizing” Medicare or issuing “vouchers,” but a better topic would be increasing mental health services for anyone who votes to take Medicare away from 54 million people, most of whom are seniors. Seniors may have a reputation for not being able to remember what they had for breakfast but take away a benefit like Medicare and their final words will be a life long curse on those who voted to do so. Tip O”Neill said it best decades ago: “Medicare is the third rail of politics, touch it and you’re dead.”