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Giving Advice to Bubba

Posted by Howard Denson on October 27, 2018 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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Nearly all of us have watched the comedy specials with Jeff Foxworthy, and we all know we have to be careful what we say around rednecks a/k/a other Bubbas. We also know that the last thing that Bubba says to another Bubba is apt to be, "Hey, Bubba, watch this!"

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You know that, and I know that, but a certain Cheeto-Head in high political office hasn't a clue. He has built a career as a huckster saying every little thing that pops into his head, never mind accuracy, sanity, tact, or wisdom. In fact, those four words are the least-likely to be associated with the 45th President.

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Since the Putz of the U.S. is only interested in hornswoggling the rubes, he freely admits to lying . . . saying anything to close a deal. That behavior goes against our whole history of supposedly choosing honest leaders. Americans generally don't support those who deceive, trick, dupe, outwit, fool, delude, cheat, take in, bluff, hoax, mislead, misguide, lead on, defraud, double-cross, swindle, gull, finagle, or get the better of others, especially when they are clients, customers, or employees. We expect them to be held to a higher standard. For example, Carl Sandburg's popular biography of Abe Lincoln told of the time that Honest Abe figured out that he had short-changed a customer. He set out walking to the customer's farm miles away and set the account right.

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We may revel in other anecdotes, but let's just focus on one other. Harry S. Truman as a haberdasher went broke during one of the frequent recessions and had to declare bankruptcy. It took some time, but he paid back his creditors.

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In political and social discourse, we owe a debt to Socrates, who argued that we must define our terms. Socrates came out of the school of sophists, who generally taught that the end-all and be-all of education was the knowledge of how to win a debate, specifically a court case. Socrates went beyond that low standard as he searched for truth itself, and, yes, yes, we know how that turned out for the old man.

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Generally speaking, in Western democracies for the past half-century, we have enjoyed a standard closer to Socrates than to Trump. A case in point is the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960s. Each candidate treated the other with respect and each was more than aware of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of a century earlier, but the underlying goal was to suggest to voters that JFK or RN would make the better actual POTUS than the other guy. They argued nonsense, but, in part, it was about what to do about Quemoy-Matsu islands off the coast of Red China. After the election, the topic was dropped.

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Any political movement will have its whack-jobs who advocate silly positions: On the right, they label everything socialism because (alas, alas) communism fell out of favor despite its Great History in the Forties and Fifties. On the left, both parties need to be thrown out and a wonderful New Pure Party formed. Sometimes the whack-jobs push aside the established party, as has happened with the Once Grand Old Party.

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Under such circumstances, Socratic agreement regarding terms disappears. If one side says it favors treating asylum seekers with dignity, the other side says, no, no, it really favors open borders. If one side says people who have lived in the U.S. most of their lives and have become Americans and should have a shot at citizenship, the other side says, again, they want open borders. Neither is true, of course. It is also noteworthy that neither the left, the middle, nor the right is focusing on the real problem: gangs and cartels that are driving people from their homes and causing them to flee to the U.S.

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Careless rhetoric aside, we also need to acknowledge another problem: Some listeners of political rhetoric have no filters and lack the ability to discern B.S. from reasonable exhortation. Mr. Cheeto-Head essentially says, "People know what I'm saying."

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No, Mr. C-H, they do not.

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Let's go back to the days of wind-up watches, and three people are standing outside a café. A fourth person comes up and asks, "What time do you have?"

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One person says he has 10:15 . . . the second says 10:16 . . . and the third has 10:17. You and I would assume that they were setting their watches by different instruments. One may go with the town clock. The second may want a two-minute margin for appointments and sets his watch to run faster.

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However, some individuals will leave wondering why two of the three have lied to him. He or she has no gray-area and, if on the paranoid side, may find just one more effing reason to doubt what's being told to him.

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Exhortations to violence overwhelm our TV screens and newspapers: "Lock her up . . . Somebody ought to kick him. I'll pay the legal bills . . . Someone needs to 2nd Amendment her/him. " And so on.

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Bubba can deduce that, if it is safe enough to advocate an action, it has to be safe enough to carry it out.

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Ah, but a defender after the bombing of a gay nightclub might say, "There are good people . . . on all sides."

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The opposite is also true: There are wicked people on all sides.

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To prove this point, let's look at Scotland's Macbeth . . . not the historical one who very likely was a decent enough fellow. No, let's look at Shakespeare's rendering of him. The Bard's Macbeth was rocking along, being a loyal and valiant soldier for King Duncan. One day, he and Banquo came across three weird sisters who predicted that one day Macbeth would be king. That fascinated the daylights out of the old boy, who wrote to his good lady about the encounter. Wicked thoughts went through her head, and the pair manipulated events to kill Duncan and frame the guards and Duncan's sons.

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Most of Shakespeare's villains were Christian scoundrels. If they had been sociopaths, a killing would have meant nothing, but they could not commit a major crime at midnight and resume life as a loyal and valiant citizen. They end up poisoning themselves. Their subjects are poisoned, too. Some take the evil as conduct that is now approved. Others shy away from the malefactors. If the king will kill Banquo, what is to stop him from doing me in next?

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Cheeto-Head is not capable of self-examination and change, but, in theory, he could improve his standing and his sanity by following these old precepts.

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1. Say what you mean.

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2. Mean what you say.

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3. Don't be mean when you say it.

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Oh, and a fourth recommendation: Whenever possible, take the high road.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Bubbas and rednecks have their virtues, as can be proven by Tom Wolfe in his seminal essay, "The Last American Hero": "People would cut and shoot each other up over honor. And physical courage! They were almost like Turks that way."

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Wolfe was writing about stock car driver Junior Johnson: "In the Korean War, there were seventy-eight Medal of Honor winners. Thirty-two of them were from the South, and practically all of the thirty-two were from small towns in or near the Appalachians. The New York metropolitan area, which has more people than all these towns put together, had three Medal of Honor winners, and one of them had just moved to New York from the Appalachian region of West Virgilua. Three of the Medal of Honor winners came from within fifty miles of Junior Johnson's side porch."

It is in Our Genes

Posted by Howard Denson on October 23, 2018 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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I forget which time-travel story it was, but part of the conflict featured a pain-in-the-derriere co-worker or supervisor who would gas on about the romantic way that his parents met back 30 or 40 years earlier. He set the scene so dramatically that, when the protagonist went back to that time, he managed to step in, to borrow a cigarette or check the time at the crucial moment, and those two particular love birds never met and his nemesis was never born.

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The point? In each generation, if just one sperm and ovum did not get together, you and I or an individual would not be here. I have written before that, if we go back 20 generations of grandparents, we would have 2,097,152 instances of when egg and sperm united to produce a human.

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It's not very helpful to look up "generation" for it could mean anywhere from 20 years minimum to Old Testament You Gotta Believe It standards of 969 years for Methuselah. Apparently we common mortals were designed for only a 30-year lifespan: We would have young???uns at 15, care for them until they had genital hairs, and then croak.

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If we do use the 30-year standard for the 20 generations of great-etc.-grandparents, plus our parents, that takes us back 630 years to 1388.

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That was the time of England's Richard II, who came to power even though he was a narcissistic butterfly. Eventually he was overthrown by Henry IV, who added Richard II to his butterfly collection, either by starving him (most likely) or having a hot poker shoved up where the sun does not shine (a long-time royal factoid or myth).

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Aristocrats compared their lineage and argued, by God, I am the one who should be king. Often several had valid claims. That is the trouble with genealogy and family trees. Originally they were for determining Power. Among commoners with wealth, lineage determined inheritance. All of the family's land went by and by to the oldest son. Sons #2, 3, and 4 had to settle for careers in the church, the military, or (gasp, gasp) mercantile interests. If you were a common varlet who mucked the stables, your lineage simply did not matter. If you were a common female, your virginity was neither here nor there. In fact, if you became pregnant, you could pick up extra change being a nurse maid.

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Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski told actors playing parts that they had three questions to answer regarding their characters' roles: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Stan the Drama Man might also add: What do I want?

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Some individuals love to recite their lineage and show that they are related to Elizabeth R, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and so on. As a metaphorical burro, I am accustomed to plodding along, flicking flies with my tail and munching on cacti. I do not expect to find a Man O' War, Citation, Whirlaway, or Seabiscuit in my lineage.

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When I was reading up on the lineage of famous people, I was amazed that Mohammed had hundreds and thousands of descendants. I will not try to track down this book, but the famed one in pre-internet years may have included such illuminati as Sonny Tufts, Tab Hunter, and Oscar W. Underwood. Every presidential cycle (except for 2016) we learn that Presidents A, B, and C were distant cousins of Presidents X, Y, and Z.

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Frankly, I am more interested in the British connections, but practically all of my relatives came to the New World in the 1600s. I can not go to Dorking and find a store run by William Howard Denson in 1830. Hell, we had been here for about 200 years.

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My curiosity about possible Creek or Cherokee great-etc.-grandmothers led me to one of the respected DNA sites . . . where I struck out on my Native American blood. Instead of citing the DNA data off the top of my head, I checked it again and discovered the science had improved and my results changed. I am now 62 percent English, Welsh, Northwest Europe; 35 percent Irish and Scottish; 1percent Norway (down from 12 percent); 1 percent Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples, 1 percent (including or plus another 1 percent for Ivory Coast/Ghana). According to these data, I no longer have Europe West, Spanish/Portuguese, Russian Caucasus, or Mali/Senegal.

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Time passed, and I became curious about any Neanderthal blood, so I spit in a tube and sent it off to a second respected DNA site. It was like a card game. I will swap you a Creek and a Cherokee for a Neanderthal. Success! This site said I had 1.4 percent Neanderthal in my genetic heritage, as opposed to the overall average of 2.1 percent. (An African would not have the Neanderthal percentage, since his or her forebears stayed put and did not pick up any hominid genes.)

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A big selling point for the second site is to relate your DNA to geniuses. You have to wade through some jargon to get to the good stuff: "Your deep ancestry tells you what maternal and paternal branches of the human family tree you belong to, also known as your haplogroup. Each haplogroup has a name expressed with letters and numbers -- like Q2, J1c, R1b1a, R-M222, and so forth. Our current scientific understanding allows us to identify both parental haplogroups for men (maternal and paternal) and one for women (maternal)."

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My considerable Scottish blood made me skimp on their offerings. The outfit offers different packages for various ages: present-120K years ago; 65K-120K; 45K-65K; 25K-45K; 12K-25K; 0-12K. I was told: "Although you likely shared common ancestors with many geniuses in more recent times, we only track your direct maternal (mother's mother's mother') and direct paternal (father's father's father') line for both you and the genius. In your case, your most recent genius match on one of those two lines was 45,000 years ago." They did not add,"Sorry that you were too cheap."

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The second service gets into discussing the maternal and paternal lines, calling them "A Mitochondrial Eve" and her "counterpart . . . Y- chromosome Adam." If you want to be linked, tenuously, with geniuses of this or that sort, you might find a connection with Charles Darwin, Nicolas Copernicus, King Tut, Ramses II, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Francis Drake, Martin Luther, Petrarch, Genghis Khan, Leo Tolstoy, Queen Victoria, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Marie Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Richard III, Nicolas Tesla, and, yes, even Jesse James.

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Actually, instead of looking for heroes (so often they are rare or really created more mischief than they were worth), I am interested in any connections with villains. I am not related to Jesse James but there may be a connection with "that dirty little coward [Robert Ford] who shot Mr. Howard [Jesse's alias at the end] and laid pore Jesse in the ground." On the Stephenson side of my family, there is a Ford line, and some kin are buried in the Ford Cemetery in Arley, Alabama. One Ford was Dr. David Burton Ford, a gentleman who went to Arkansas in the 1800s.

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You may be scoffing that all of this is of little or no consequence. If so, you are a kindred spirit to Mawmaw, my paternal great-grandmother, Matilda Kilpatrick Price. I struggled to get the names of her parents and grandparents. She managed to remember those, but simply could not recall the others' names. She was proud of the way her mother could read the sky and give impressive predictions about the weather.

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I do know that my maternal grandfather, Joseph Burton Stephenson, had a greater impact on my life than pick any two or three names from the Genius List above. After his death, I would wonder, "What would Pappy do? And it helped me to resolve a problem." Other forebears went into my soul: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens (not a particularly nice man, by the way), Robert Frost, Abe Lincoln, but also Robert Lee (but not the quirky Jefferson Davis), Emily Dickinson, the music makers, and the descendants of Cro-Magnons who decorated surfaces.

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Oh, and putative great-etc.-grandmothers who filled clay bowls from springs in what would become Walker County while their siblings hunted for deer, pig, or rabbits. Sorry, they have been with me far too long for me to let them go.

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--30--

A Crime of Darkness

Posted by Howard Denson on September 25, 2018 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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When I was a flunky journalist assigned to the Bessemer News office of The Birmingham News, I wound up one day covering a rape trial in the courthouse of the Bessemer Cutoff, the southern section of Jefferson County.

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Prosecuting that day was the assistant district attorney for the Cutoff. Let us call him Mitch McGoogle, although I am fairly sure he is no longer above ground. The accused was on trial for allegedly raping his daughter. The noble McGoogle was wrapping up the case for the jury and reminded them that so often rape was (and still is today) a crime of the darkness. Usually there are no witnesses.

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The defense said the father would not do such a thing. The daughter had problems, and this was her revenge against him. The case was simply a matter of he said-she said. (Remember: This is before the days of DNA testing and rape kits.)

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It is not surprising that the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

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I do not recall writing any story about the trial. Small town newspapers sometimes find excuses for, ah, focusing more on the positive. Maybe there was an unforgettable blurb.

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Paul Harvey on radio back then would have a ???rest of the story,??? and, indeed, after I left the Cutoff, there was an arrest in the case. The FBI or Justice Department had been tracking corruption in the Cutoff and wound up arresting (wait for it) Assistant DA McGoogle. The noble public servant had been running a protection racket for various concerns, including a bordello at a service station for truckers where I used to fill up my Mercury Marauder. (Like clueless characters staying at Miss Reba???s, I had no idea what went on there.)

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The events leading up to the Cutoff trial that day had taken place one to three years before charges were made, and a conviction was hard back in those pre-DNA days.

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That brings us to today, along with questions about what can be proven in a court of law involving rape/attempted rape several decades ago. Like as not, it was a crime of darkness back then, and, besides a statute of limitations concern, it may be impossible to figure out what happened. We say we abhor sexual assault against minors, but the clock ticks here, too. California wanted to retroactively extend a statute of limitations for sexual offenses committed against minors, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 ruled in Stogner v. California that the attempt was an unconstitutional ex post facto law. Besides that, evidence dissipates or disappears . . . and witnesses move on with their lives or forget what they saw or heard . . . and it was probably dark, anyway.

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After an extended period, it may be impossible for Justice to be done. A church-goer may be comforted by the prospect of The Last Judgment. All of those who escaped Justice on earth would face a power that sees all and knows all, even what happened in the dark. Such a concept comforts even the agnostic or atheist, if only as an intellectual exercise. Others may say we are energy and, as such, cannot be created or destroyed. Perhaps when our stardust disintegrates, the wicked and those with negative life forces will attract each other and have pockets of a universe that is particularly unpleasant.

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If there is no justice in a court for a long-ago transgression, often there are penalties. For example, someone applies for a job, and the credentials look good. The prospect interviews well and makes a positive impression. The application features a list of references, and someone in an office is assigned to call the references.

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Did you write the letter that Mr. McGoogle was highly qualified?

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Yes, he has the qualifications, but there was something I didn???t want to put in the letter. McGoogle can???t keep his hands to himself. He hits on women all the time. If they complain, he says that they tried to kiss him first and that he???s just enough a man to kiss back. And???

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If I were on a screening committee, I would NOT recommend McGoogle for hiring. As management attorneys constantly remind employee groups, people do not have a constitutional right to be on the faculty of a particular school or to work for Acme Insurance Company.

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I think that the Book of Leviticus or maybe the Book of Bubba reminds us, ???Chickens do come home to roost.???

What's Up, Mitch . . . and Chuck?

Posted by Howard Denson on September 18, 2018 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)
By HOWARD DENSON

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The confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate have not gone well, thanks to deliberate actions dating back a couple of years. .

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Ideally, a hearing would be forthright, ask all the pertinent questions, and have all partisans satisfied that the system worked. Then the nominee would be voted on and be approved by a margin of 95-5 or so. .

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That doesn't work, however, when the system is short-circuited. It started in earnest when Mitch McConnell circumvented the U.S. Constitution and refused even to give a hearing, with an up or down vote, to President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. McConnell claimed they didn't have to give a hearing in a year when there's a presidential election. .

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That was horse hockey and horse feathers and had never been tried under Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and the rest of the presidents. McConnell pulled the notion out of his hat, although the smell suggested it came from elsewhere. .

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The Republicans then gloated at the fury of the Democrats. The Dems went berserk like Yosemite Sam, screaming their heads off and firing off their metaphorical pistols. Mitch chortled, no doubt viewing himself as Bugs Bunny--someone who will mind his own business, but retaliates when someone tries to Elmer Fudd his bushy tail. .

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Alas, Mitch and Chuck Grassley, neither is you is a Bugs Bunny, and I knew, and still know, Bugs. .

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No, today's GOP is (hang in there; this is some deep writing in the political sciences) Wile E. Coyote, trying to put one over on Yosemite Sam instead of the Road Runner. .

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The Yosemite Sams fire off their pistols on the internet and on cable talk shows. The Elmer Fudds on Fox can stutter their excuses, but Americans know what's up, Doc. You see what I mean? .

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Roadrunner teaches the Sams how to erect roadblocks and paint tunnels that Wile E. can drive into at 90 miles per house, and, of course, our Wile E.'s are stupid enough to do it. .

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In a saner world, what would occur? .

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In society at some point, girls and women will promptly report acts of sexual aggression and harassment. We have not reached that point yet since we have had decades, even centuries, of males exploiting and denigrating females. The males are often like Bluto, grabbing and carrying off the damsel. Time passes before women are able to confront their humiliations, and the passage of time helps the Bluto-minded male to avoid being accountable: "Never happened. She's a slut anyway. Wacko female. Are you going to believe me, with my titles, or that Olive Oyl?" .

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At one time, people bought into the deflections, but times are a-changing.

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In Congress, here are a few changes (or returns to more sensible days) for them to consider: .

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--If the president sends a nominee's name, it's voted upon, yes or no, within 90 days. If the Congress fails to act, the President has the nominee sworn in as a Justice, Cabinet officer, or whatever. .

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--The hearing doesn't freeze out testimony. Everything is heard and evaluated. .

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--For the Supreme Court, nominees will answer directly about their positions concerning key issues of the day. No more ambivalence, vacillation, or obfuscation. If either party is trying to put an ideologue on the court, let the positions and philosophy be clear. .

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--Nominees should be aware that even obscure events have a way of coming to light. They should testify truthfully. Bill Clinton in his days of Whoopee and Woes was asked about a certain relationship and knew that a stain on a blue dress could yield DNA evidence and hang him if he lied. Parties may also be obscure ("I was never there" ), but photos, especially today, may surface to prove a matter one way or the other. .

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The process needs to shape up. .

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That's all, folks!

Acting like a King?

Posted by Howard Denson on September 14, 2018 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

The talking heads on cable TV were dissecting Donald Trump and his ability as president, and one of them said he was acting as if he were king of the United States. He acted alone (as much as he could), he didn’t delegate very much, and so on.

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 Since I am a voracious reader about cabbages, kings, presidents, and prime ministers, I was grumbling at the screen for getting it wrong.

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Earlier this year, I wrote a column in which I argued that Trump was more like the head of a family business (see "A CEO or Grumpy Hotelier?") . Daddy founded it, or took it over close to the time that his father had gotten the business going, and Daddy called the shots. Some family businesses chug along in a satisfactory business, but we also hear horror stories about individuals hired by the family. It turned out to be a nightmare. Daddy would second-guess everything. He would call all the shots, and, when things screwed up, he ranted and raved at the kids for not getting a damned thing right. Eventually, they might be able to kick him upstairs, as chairman of the board. And so on.

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All analogies break down at a certain point, and mine hits the wall when our “family business” is the executive branch of the United States of America. When the cranky, quixotic, and erratic Daddy has access to the nuclear button and the like, everyone worries about his stability. When George III went off the deep end, the Brits had a regency as his eldest son took over. The power really resided with the prime minister, but you don't like having your supposed head of government cackling like a chicken at a grand ball for visitors.

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Now, let’s look at the analogy involving kings and queens. We Americans typically only know the monarchs of the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. We may not know about the “regular” monarchs and the constitutional monarchs. Regular monarchs in England included Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James who assembled the Bible translation. The latter gassed on about the “divine right” of kings and totally ruined his heir to the throne. Charles I believed the nonsense, was imprisoned, sent hints to France to invade and put him back on the throne, and, of course, got his head snicked off.

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After that, the Restoration came along, and all those governed under the control of Parliament. If they got out of line, they could be driven into exile (as happened to James II) or they could have a date with the hatchet-man. In America, we are lucky to keep up with Mary (of William and Mary), Anne (aka “Brandy Annie,” because she liked to tipple), the four Georges (especially the third one whom our George Washington fought), Victoria, Whoozits I and Whatever II, and finally Elizabeth II (who is immortalized in TV series, as was Victoria).

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And France? Every monarch is named Louis and occasionally Henri. One Louis got his head cut off as did his queen Marie Antoinette. If we watch The Three Musketeers, we may remember that the royal couple were Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. An important character in Dumas’ novel is Cardinal Richelieu (played in various films by Vincent Price, Charleston Heston, and Tim Curry, all known for their ability to portray villains.

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With Richelieu, we have a villain. Many of his policies were not popular, but he also wanted to make France great again, mainly by diminishing the power of the other aristocrats. You could argue that he wasn’t much as a cardinal for Rome, but he was a heck of a prime minister for France. Unfortunately, he reinforced the notion that the king had a divine right to the throne. Louis XIV came along and showed what great fun a Sun King could have in building his own palace complex in Versailles, plus financing wars right and left. He made it to old age, but, until it was too late, Louis XVI never discovered he had a sign on his back saying “Couper ma tête” (or “Cut my head off” ).

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Effective kings and queens needed CEO’s to run the government while they performed royal roles or whatever. Henry VIII relied upon Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer. When they failed to, say, get the church to okay a divorce from a queen, they could be found wandering the halls of power looking for their heads. Elizabeth wasn’t as bloody-minded and found great luck in the assistance of father and son, William and Robert Cecil. Robert helped James to govern the newly acknowledged Great Britain.

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Over a century later, Parliament let everyone know that the kings and queens were not calling all the shots anymore. The very first prime minister on the scene was Robert Walpole. In about 1720, he consolidated power among the ministers and became The Minister, and he taught everyone to shape up. They did, and the constitutional monarchy was in place.

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Modern presidents of the U.S. have had their equivalents of the Cecils, Richelieu, and Walpole. Typically, they are the chiefs of staff, and the best examples in recent years are James Baker, on the Republican side, and lesser lights in other administrations. They see that things get done and that their bosses don’t get weighed down in trivialities.

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Most American presidents know that the office will make great demands on them and that it will make them or break them. To a great degree, they have to learn on the job. Truman watched FDR and got an insight into what the office demanded. Ike knew the military chain of command and adapted it to the White House. The Bushes watched their mentors (Reagan and Poppy) and slid into the position.

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JFK (and Bobby and Teddy) was like a prince in waiting. Their father had only been an Ambassador to the Court of St. James (i.e., England), so they had a sense of what was expected. JFK’s opening months were not that successful, but he learned how to be president after the Cuban crisis.

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One effective quality of the politician/monarch-in-waiting is the training that occurs. This is the way an effective prince/princess communicates. (Some, like Princess Margaret, never catch on.) When it comes time for each to assume the mantle of leadership, he or she is ready.

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In America, we have a new creature in our political zoo, an individual who claims he can be president, be his own chief of staff, run businesses simultaneously, and even participate on cable in the capacity of an entertainer.

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That individual is a disaster waiting to happen . . . and, in fact, is likely to precipitate the disaster by some blunder that a better-trained executive would have avoided. A trainee can’t hope to be the quarterback of a team, to be the coach, to throw the ball, to get credit for catching it, etc.

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Presidents WILL get sidelined at some point, and they owe it to the country to have set up a good team, with competent backups. FDR had ups and downs (and eventually a “down” that took him out). Truman had pretty good health, but Ike wound up with heart troubles, and the “team” needed to take over. Physically, JFK was a mess, but he had a team in place—which did have to take over one November day in Dallas. Reagan had similar injuries, and the RR team had to take over until the crisis passed.

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It WILL happen.

Whitewater Fallout Plagues Trump

Posted by Howard Denson on August 26, 2018 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON  

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The blinding insight had to have come from the Almighty. I was struck on the road to Five Points when I had an epiphany: namely, that much of Donald Trump's troubles can be traced to two matters. He's corrupt to his eyeballs, of course, but he's also reaping what was sowed by the Republicans going after the Clintons.

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Remember the Whitewater scandal? Only vaguely, eh? Well, this grew out of the formation of the Whitewater Developmental Corporation in 1979. Bill and Hillary were living in Arkansas on what is chump change to highrollers. They were encouraged to buy into a land deal that should yield a profit after a few years.

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It seemed like a good deal, but, when Bill closed in on the presidency, suddenly it had great relevance. Critics tsk-tsked that this or that business deal was intertwined so much with possible conflicts of interest and the like that (good gracious!) the sky was falling, the sky was falling!

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So thirteen years later investigations began, trying to find something, anything, to smear the Clintons. There were three separate inquiries, with the last one being in 2006, twenty-one years after the fact.

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Now, I was always lived in Southern states, especially Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and it's a fact of life that anyone in such a state would wind up doing business with a high proportion of friends who were in business. There would be countless chances for possible conflicts of interest.

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Another fact of life is this: No businessman or woman in small states (or any of them probably) can afford to have the books checked out from thirteen to twenty-one years before.

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The business will have inevitably cut the corners here and there, and, if a vigorous audit is conducted, the people running the business will not have much of the needed documentation to prove they were on the up and up. They will lack the paperwork . . . and they will have forgotten what the hell happened two decades before. In addition, death and greener pastures will have seen many of the business employees become unavailable.

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A ninny who admires Trump is bound to exclaim, "Then we should leave Der Leader alone!" Normally that might work, except for these problems: That man has a well-documented history of fraud and financial shenanigans. Investigators don't have to go back twenty-one years to find them. They are continuous.

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Let's run through some presidents of the 20th Century and today.

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Teddy Roosevelt was financially secure because his father left a substantial fortune to his family. In addition, TR was a prolific writer, and his books brought in needed revenue. He had land deals in the West that didn't work out, but he was conscientious in paying his debts.

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William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson had backgrounds in the law and education respectively.

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Warren G. Harding was a newspaperman and a businessman. He was surrounded by crooked associates while president, but he himself (more of a skirt-chaser) was not personally seeking wealth.

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Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding at his death. He was known as Silent Cal and was an upright New Englander.

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Herbert Hoover went from being a poor orphan to a rich man, thanks to his mining engineering work. He never took a dollar from Uncle Sam during the time that he was food czar under Wilson, a cabinet member under Coolidge, or president.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of course, came from a wealthy family and focused his efforts into duplicating what TR had done in politics.

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Harry Truman went bust during depressions in the Twenties, but the former haberdasher paid back every cent he owed people. He was never a wealthy man, and the president pension was implemented to help out him.

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Dwight Eisenhower's life in the military separated him from banksters and the like. He increased his bank account when he published his memoirs.

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John F. Kennedy relied on his father's wealth, and, if any investigations were to occur, they might have a field day examining Joseph Kennedy's various financial deals.

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Lyndon Johnson was a wheeler and dealer out of Texas and couldn't bear up to intensive audits and investigations.

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Richard Nixon, for all his faults, was not driven to find the big buck as Der Leader today is. His "currency" was power more than cash.

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Gerald Ford was a straight arrow. Ditto for Jimmy Carter, who sold his peanut business to avoid any conflict of interest.

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Ronald Reagan was not driven to chase the dollar. He was able to pay his way thanks to his film and television career and later to his ability to represent the General Electric and Big Biz.

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Poppy Bush was fairly stand-up. His own father was a wheeler-and-dealer, but, once the basic fortune was made, George H.W. didn't have to keep running after the dollar.

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The righties still rant about Bill Clinton, alleging all sorts of corruption, claiming he made obscene profits from Haiti and those contributing to his Foundation. They are usually shy on any documentation and proof. Primarily, like Nixon, he was more interested in power and influence than mere wealth.

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Dubya had some questionable loans or assistance, but he managed to get into the governor's mansion and then into the White House. He was definitely looking the other way while Dick Cheney's buddies at Halliburton were making out like bandits.

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Contrary to the National Inquirer-style attacks on Barrack Obama, he and Michelle had modest incomes, and, like Eisenhower, used publishing to bring in their wealth.

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That brings us to Trump. Lazy, ignorant, disinterested in national affairs and other countries, greedy, sleazy. Driven by Mammon and his love for himself.

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And his supporters are braying, "The economy cancels out all his flaws."

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No, folks. It doesn't.

Society hurts her more than her brain injury

Posted by Howard Denson on July 29, 2018 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (2)


By ANNE B. BREEN

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For the past 10 years, my family and I have shared with my 17-year-old daughter sadness, pain and isolation brought on by a severe head injury she sustained at the age of 7 when she was struck by a car driven by a drunken driver.

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Many people are killed by such an injury. Many people are left maimed, both internally and externally. Many people sustain brain injuries of which they are unaware until sometime later, when changes in behavior and abilities occur.

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I am just thankful that my daughter is alive.

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I have seen the plight of the brain-injured person who strives to function in a society where excellence in appearance and performance are too highly valued. Many times, these people are victims of society's defects. If they are fortunate enough to survive their trauma, they become victims of society's deficiencies.

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Because of the accident, my daughter was robbed of many gifts with which she was born and which were naturally meant to flourish in her. She has worked tenaciously in the aftermath at improving her body and mind and has received the support of friends and professionals.

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After she lay comatose for over three months, however, her damage was extensive and severe. As a result, some of her behavior is different, and at times she must be hospitalized. Sometimes her appearance is different. It is difficult for her to comprehend certain ordinary facts, while it is easy for her to express through poetry her aesthetic feelings. She is not ordinary. She is a paradox.

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Throughout these 10 years, I have seen her suffer for her differences. For many years there was no appropriate slot for her in school, and she was forced to compete with those more physically and mentally adept. She lacked social skills, was ostracized by her peer group, and many times was victimized by jokes and cruelty.

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There were no resources for her. She was unique. But she has no visible physical handicap, only an impaired brain.

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Last week, she had to again be hospitalized. I watched my tormented child as she entered the austere police car to be transported to the hospital. People gathered around in curiosity to gaze upon the scene. Was this a criminal? (After all, criminals are placed in police cars, aren't they?)

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Will the punishment go on forever, or will society see the need for a change? Let's take care of our injured. Let's nurture them. Let's expand our research for them. Let's make use of them as precious resources.

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Medically we are making advances, but sociologically how far have we really come from the concept that a person with a defective brain should be locked in the proverbial tower room to be feared and hidden?

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Does this primitive attitude affect society's desire to help?

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I don't know what my daughter's fate will be, but I do know one fact. We are not alone in this experience. Each day, more unfortunate victims are affected.

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I never thought it would happen to my little girl, but it did.

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: This originally appeared as the lead letter on the editorial page of The Birmingham News on July 30, 1984.)

A CEO or a Grumpy Hotelier?

Posted by Howard Denson on July 27, 2018 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)
 


By HOWARD DENSON

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You don't have to be as gray-haired as I am to recall The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (Morrow, 1969). It started out as satire as the authors pointed out that outstanding individuals receive promotions up to the point they are finally incompetent. They struggle to do a job beyond their skill set. .

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That brings us to organizations and businesses, of course. If you are managing a small hotel, for example, you have positions of support to fill and to rely upon. The general manager will rely on a guest service manager to handle front of house concerns. A housekeeping manager would supervise the service staff and make sure linen is changed, floors vacuumed, etc. A chief engineer would tend to the gizmos that handle heating, cooling, elevators, and the like. Public relations would be handled by a sales and marketing manager, while the restaurant and room service would fall under the purview of the food and beverage manager. .

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For a large luxury hotel, take the above positions and triple them. This conversation won't list them all, but someone will be in charge of parking and the handling of special events. The small hotel might host a small retirement party for Miz Peasbody of Acme Finance, whereas the large hotel might handle a convention of the statewide Finance Managers Association . . . or even a national convention. .

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The hotelier is not alone in the small-LARGE challenges. Someone may do an adequate job as head of Moe, Shemp, and Larry's Body Shop, but put the same person in charge of General Motors and the individual may quickly have a meltdown. .

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A small company may even be a family affair. It started when the old man, Gus Grumpimetzer, was twenty-six and borrowed 500 bucks from the bank to set up a business. It was hard going, but finally the old man paid it back and expanded the business. Then Gus bought the building they were in, and his two sons and two daughters acted as gofers when they weren't in school. Finally, Junior was old enough to take over, but the grumpy old man still wanted to call all the shots. Family members gave each other looks that asked, "What are we going to do?" But nobody said anything because they didn't want to have a family row. Finally the old man is convinced to retire as acting manager/president and become chairman of the board. He still wants to micromanage and change everything, but it comes more in spurts. He drinks a bit more than he should but is agreeable to playing more golf. Everyone in the family tells him he ought to go on the pro-am circuit, and he is vain enough to believe it. .

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When Mama dies sooner than she should have, he throws himself back into his work until his kids convince him he needs to travel, and on one trip he meets Trixie Begonias, twenty-five and absolutely fascinated by the wit and wisdom of the wealthy old man. The children don't give each other meaningful looks because they have structured the company so that, if a sweet young thing snagged Gus, she would get only a modest portion of the family's wealth. .

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Imagine what would happen if (by some miracle) Gus had been selected to run General Motors. He was accustomed to running things by instinct, by his gut, by the seat of his pants. He would order something done on a Monday, change his mind on a Tuesday, and not cancel the original order. He would also chew out the heads of departments for not reading his mind. .

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Let's take one more step and imagine what would happen if Gus had been elected president of the U.S. .

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No, no. Forget that. That's too much of a stretch. .

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Instead, here's a quick rundown of how various presidents have worked with their staffs and cabinet. .

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Let's begin with FDR. Roosevelt served three full terms and had more than established how the federal government departments would work. He had a devious or mischievous side and did like to play them off against each other. Even so, the FDR Machine operated with a high degree of efficiency. .

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He was not effective in bringing VP Truman up to speed and didn't even say, "Oh, by the way, we're working on a bomb that will blow up the enemy . . . and maybe the world." Despite this, Truman stepped into the driver's seat for the FDR Machine and changed the radio to"Give 'Em Hell, Harry." .

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After 20 years of Democratic rule, the country was ready for another party, and the voters liked Ike. The former general understandably brought brought a military structure to the White House and executive branch. On his first day, a WH employee handed him a letter that had arrived that day. .

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The general handed the letter back and told staffers never to give him anything that hadn't been evaluated and hadn't been given a stamp of assurance that it definitely needed to be seen by the president. .

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You have the general at the stop, the colonels, the majors, the captains, and the lieutenants. Each had his job in the WH structure. .

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Each cabinet secretary would be the equivalent of a colonel. Individuals shared their information, as required, and the general/president could come across as an effective leader. .

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Little scandals occurred, such as Ike's Sherman Adams accepting a vicuna coat and Persian rugs. .

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JFK came in huffing and puffing about the out-of-date practices of Ike and his minions. Kennedy and Bobby made a fine tandem act, although they screwed up when they didn't cancel outright the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Soviets figured he was an easy touch and began putting missiles into Cuba, and finally JFK learned how to be president.

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Then Dallas came along, and VP Johnson took JFK's organization and pushed it more toward what he had seen under FDR, Harry, and Ike. .

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Presidents learned the value of an effective chief of staff, and political scientists can wax eloquently about Howard Baker and James Baker. .

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Overall, Gus the grumpy hotelier would need to learn these basics in order to be an effective president:

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*You don't spend your time messing around with trivial stuff (e.g., scheduling who uses the WH tennis court and when, letting cable TV dominate your schedule; having an opinion about everything instead of several key things. .

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*You say what you mean, you mean what you say, and you aren't mean when you say it ..

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* You hire good people and let them do their jobs. .

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* You don't pull major announcements out of your hat. You use your metaphorical colonels, majors, etc. to iron out any wrinkles that may be in your plans. .

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* You share information with your staff and chain of command. In the past (prior to telegraphs), some generals and admirals liked to keep things close to their chest and keep their subordinates in the dark. By contrast, Admiral Horatio Nelson liked to discuss battle tactics and strategies with other captains and lieutenants, believing that, when they understood the nature of the campaign, they would be able to capitalize on any mistakes that their opponents make. .

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* You strive to give credit to others instead of taking all the credit yourself. .

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If you follow the above tips, you have a chance of being known as an adequate president, perhaps even one in the top quartile. Reputations can still be ruined by things beyond your control. Hoover faced the 1929 stock market crash seven months after he was sworn in. Carter faced turmoil in the Middle East and especially the Iran hostage crisis. .

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In retrospect, although the cards may have been stacked against them, their countrymen recognized that they did the best they could. .

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A hotelier might not know to do that.  

When RFK Was Killed

Posted by Howard Denson on June 7, 2018 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (1)
By HOWARD DENSON

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I was sharing an apartment in Birmingham with my brother John. As a flunky journalist on the Bham News copy desk, I had to get up at 4:15 to make it to work at 5 a.m. John had left on the toilet seat a note that said RFK had been shot in California. I was stunned (even though I was a Goldwater supporter in '64 and for Nixon in '68.

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At work, the news room was filled and busy as reporters got reactions from local notables or wrote about RFK's visit to the state. On the copy desk, Bob Hawkins was staring dumfounded at a "redline" edition from the day before. (That was the edition with all the final stock listing.) He had written the headline for the front page: "Do or Die Day for RFK." He had done it (won the California primary) ahd then he had died.

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Some time later, the JFK-RFK supporters told Ted Kennedy, "You're all we have now . . . and you're not good enough."

Divine Rights of Cabbage Heads and Kings

Posted by Howard Denson on June 6, 2018 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

Li'l ol' Donnie Trump's lawyers are having another go at justifying the principle of the divine right of kings (or, in his case, someone who is the president).

 

 

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You can go back thousands of years and find claims that the king is on the throne because of God's orders. Especially with James I of the U.K., he was arguing that you must accept what the king orders unless you are defying God . . . and we know THAT won't do you a bit of good.

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There's a big problem with the divine right of kings and POTUS's: Only the monarch himself will find that it's solid logic. James' predecessor, Elizabeth I, knew that any sane monarch needed to train his or her antennae on the country to make certain that policies weren't contrary to the wishes of the people. Elizabeth knew, of course, that her grandfather, Henry Tudor (future Henry VII) had killed Richard III to snatch away the crown.

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Elizabeth also knew that her father, the king, had snicked off the heads of her own mother and    Queen Catherine Howard. Kings had a lot of power, obviously, but they could find themselves calling "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" if someone else got antsy for the throne.

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James I (aka "the wisest fool in Christendom") indoctrinated his son Charles about the divine right, and this fool pushed it to the limit just as the Puritans were setting up a Commonwealth republic with Oliver Cromwell as the dictator. Charles crossed the line while imprisoned and wound up having his own head snicked off.

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When the Restoration occurred with his son, Charles II, people were walking on egg shells, trying to make nice-nice. Charles II knew that he shouldn't step over the line and that the ultimate power lay with Parliament. Charles II presided as king for almost 25 years and was called the "Merry Monarch" because of frolics with his lady friends.

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His brother, James II, came to the throne with a Catholic inclination and crossed the line right off the bat. A "glorious revolution" occurred when William and Mary (his daughter) were invited to take over the throne.

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Let's gallop forward in time and cross the channel to mention Louis XVI, a good steady chap with a solid head on his shoulders. Unfortunately, the Revolutionaries snicked it off and then removed his wife's head, too, proving that divine rights are one thing, but headbones attached to the neckbones are greatly to be desired.

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More galloping, and we are in America today, where a former New York City "mare" is arguing, in effect, that the president has a divine or constitutional right and can't be touched.

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Oh, really? Lincoln's successor was nearly removed. Andrew Johnson survived impeachment because the Senate lacked ONE vote to reach the 2/3rds needed for conviction.

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Nixon wasn't impeached because of his resignation. He realized that he wouldn't have the numbers to stay in office.

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Clinton was impeached but not convicted because (among other things) most males would lie about extra marital oral sex.

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So li'l ol' Donnie does have a line that he had better not cross. If he, in effect, claims a divine right, his counselors have to argue that he views himself as a king.

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That might not be a good road to travel.

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