Saturday, November 19, 2016

Lust for Life May Ease the Aging Process

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” Henry David Thoreau
Another year, another birthday. Every year as another birthday approaches, it confirms what my mother once told me, “The older you get the faster time goes.”
Which brings to mind George Harrison’s lyrics: “Each day just goes so fast, I turn around it’s past.”
Though there are those who prefer that the only thing they want for their birthday is not to be reminded of it. That may be on the minds of the first Baby Boomer wave who arrived at a milestone this year.
The first signpost of growing old came after decades of being a devoted fan of rock and roll when I began to take little notice of up-and-coming artists in the 1990s, preferring the classic rock bands and music of my g-g-g-generation.
In fact, all it takes is one song to bring back memorable moments.
It struck a chord again that I was past middle age when professional sports managers and coaches were generational peers and rookies young enough to be my children.
Emerging movie stars were also half my age 25-30 years ago.
There’s no elixir or concoction to postpone the aging process, but I don’t see myself or my peers as old as our parents seemed at our age. Of course, I’m looking at it from a Monday morning perspective.
If biologically feasible, delayed aging might be uppermost on a few bucket lists — as long as good quality health could be maintained. I can’t imagine it’d be much fun living longer if you’re experiencing chronic maladies, serious afflictions or worse.
Some might prefer wealth as a life altering option, but money, as The Beatles reminded us two generations ago, can’t buy love nor does it assure happiness or excellent health to enjoy it.
Of course, as fast as science and technology advance, who knows what’s in store to prolong life in the next 50 years.
In just the last half century, the average life span has been extended at least five years since the first Baby Boomers were born. It is estimated that by 2040, the average life span of Americans will be 84 for women and 80 for men, which makes 41-42 middle age.
Today, however, some treat aging as something to be ashamed of or vain about, validated by escalating cosmetics and pharmaceuticals that superficially delay the aging process. There are an estimated 20 million cosmetic surgeries annually. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but though Botox, collagen or cosmetic surgery offer temporary beauty and may boost one’s self-confidence, ultimately, they can’t suspend the natural aging process.
When you read the fine-print disclaimers (with prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses) for those products, you realize they’re not magic concoctions or unattainable fountains of youth.
Regrettably, our culture stigmatizes aging like it’s a plague. Movies, television and other forms of entertainment typically promote superficial and external characteristics. But what is often overlooked coinciding with wrinkles, gray hair and other traces of aging, are experience and wisdom that eludes youth. The chief reason youth is coveted and targeted by advertisers is because younger spenders, with fewer responsibilities, tend to have more disposable incomes than their elders.

After this year’s Academy Awards presentations, a controversy ensued about Hollywood’s lack of diversity in the Oscar nomination process, but the movie industry should be held equally accountable for ignoring performers over 40, instead of treating them like they’re over the hill or washed up, by rarely offering them coveted starring roles.
A study of the top100 grossing movies of 2015 revealed that only 11 percent of major speaking roles went to actors over 60. Worse, only 27 percent of some 4,000 roles went to women over 40. The only actresses over 60 to star in those films were Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and the lesser known Lin Shaye. Yet, actors over 60, like Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Michael Keaton, continually land leading roles more often, and are often paired with actresses young enough to be their daughters, who are sometimes depicted as their lovers. Sorta like art imitating life.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the workplace in the next decade as some Baby Boomers, out of financial necessity, remain in the workforce to reinforce savings even as they reach the traditional retirement age of 65. Will employers force them out as part of the “natural order” for younger replacements with lower pay scales or allow them to stay and leave on their own? Up until now, the courts have not been as generous with age-discrimination lawsuits as they have with claims of sex and racial bias. With an aging population, perhaps that perspective will be softened.
I’ve met people older than me who seem younger because of their attitude, yet I also encounter people younger than myself who act like old fogies — and they’re only in their 40s!
We can’t do anything about getting older, but we don’t have to get OLD.
When I get together with friends I’ve known since junior high school, and their wives, they don’t appear as old as their chronological ages, perhaps because that would make me old, too.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself as old in the context of what I thought was old when I remember my grandparents. Heck, they were old when I met them as a child!
Does that mean 70 is the new 50?
I prefer the mind-set that one is as only as old as one feels. There’s that adage that goes: Just because there’s snow on the roof, doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace.
That may have a sexual innuendo, but it could also apply to one’s fire for life, which shouldn’t diminish regardless of age. When that fire is quenched, you are old!
It’s also helpful to remember what Mark Twain said on the subject: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Long, Strange Trip Ends in Stunning Upset

Shock and awe. That’s what the day after Election Day 2016 feels like. Today’s gray skies over metro New York are perfectly matched with the angst of disappointed Clinton supporters.
After watching hours of election returns and slowly realizing what was unfolding, I had, as it turns out, a feeling of false optimism. It was confirmed when I woke up to discover the nastiest presidential campaign in history ended with the most unqualified candidate who ever ran for the office was our 45th president.
What I wanted to be a nightmare was real. Two of the most stunningly, cringe-worthy words in the English language today are President Trump. I squirm just writing that.
Election Day greeted the sunrise with uncertainty, but hours after sundown, with most of the votes counted, half of America started to squirm. As results were analyzed, it became apparent that Donald John Trump had defied the polls to propel him to the nation's highest office and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s quest to become America’s first female president was crushed.
After conducting an aggressive campaign, marred by too many unconfirmed accusations of unlawful activity, Trump supporters boomeranged his iconic message back at Clinton: “You’re fired!”
Heading into the homestretch last weekend, polls indicated Trump had closed the gap, though Clinton still held a slim margin. Still, after sixteen or so months of disturbing rhetoric, assorted allegations and disputed revelations, compounded by the FBI’s unfounded October E-mail surprise, the nation opted for the populist not the politician.
Republicans, saddled with the most unstable horse after the primaries, have retaken the White House after Barack Obama’s positive and progressive presidency. Let’s hope they don’t make any changes to reverse the successes of the last eight years.
Following week after week of racist remarks and insufferable comments about women, veterans, Hispanics and Muslims, many political observers presumed the Trump campaign would falter after hitting more bumps and potholes than New York City streets. Yet, he prevailed in the primaries and gained momentum with his presidential campaign. A few weeks ago, his crusade appeared to weaken when a 2005 videotape emerged, in which he casually boasted to groping and kissing unsuspecting women, some of whom subsequently accused him of unwelcome sexual advances. But, when the smoke of suspicion cleared, his mission was barely deterred and maintained its enthusiasm.
His campaign suggested there was “a big hidden Trump vote in this country” and that component obviously surfaced with him getting the proverbial last laugh.
When Trump emerged victorious from the Republican primaries, most pundits presumed Hillary Clinton would likely have been defeated by any other GOP opponent. Nonetheless, the GOP loyally — albeit reluctantly and desperately — supported Trump even when his rants became wilder and countless endless pledges for change lacked any depth.  However, even a flawed Hillary Clinton — investigated multiple times and never accused of any wrongdoing or other unverified scintillas of misconduct — was the better, much more suitable, common sense candidate. Ultimately, she won the popular vote, but in the American political process, that is not always the path to victory.
For nearly a decade the American character has been sharply divided into red — largely conservative Republicans — and blue — Democrats and a sprinkling of progressives. This acrimonious polarization was set in motion with the emergence of the Tea Party eight years ago, and gained momentum following Barack Obama’s inauguration. As its far right agenda developed, it was a magnet for clusters of the Republican Party that weakened bipartisanship and gridlocked a dysfunctional Congress. Donald Trump’s victory is the ultimate fallout of that movement.
To some extent, Donald Trump’s appeal is logical. He tapped into the anger and frustration of a disgruntled electorate that perceives traditional political change as nothing more than the same old wine in a brand new bottle. However, his self-serving approach, mixed with a superficial, inflammatory narrative was often disturbing and, sometimes, deranged. Trump supporters blindly accepted the latter and became less concerned with the former.
It remains to be seen if Trump reins in the contemptible, irrational ravings perpetuated during his unrestrained campaign, to quell the atmosphere of fear he encouraged and assuage the anger of devoted supporters. By his inauguration, Donald Trump has to present a rational strategy to reassure everyone he insulted and offended for months that he will be the American, not just a Republican, president. 
For more than a year, in the primaries and ensuing campaign, Trump dominated the national political scene, frustrating, angering and irritating opponents, while fostering a devoted following. Now it’s time for Trump to prove to them, and to those who loathe him, that he’s not only worthy to be president, by dialing back his malicious campaign demeanor to restore confidence to a profoundly restless nation.
Despite imperfections, American democracy will withstand the challenges of a Trump presidency. Even so, this recent campaign miserably failed to reconcile, or even slightly transform, the collective dissatisfaction that permeates this country. Trump’s victory was not overwhelming, but it demonstrates that Republicans and Democrats must make concerted efforts to turn around the antagonism that led to the stunning election of a plainly unqualified candidate.
Nine days after Halloween, it feels like America’s was tricked into recklessly electing a sanctimonious, self-absorbed, paranoid racist. Perhaps, as the Trump presidency evolves — and he attempts to live up to his campaign slogan to make America great again — he can cultivate an atmosphere of reconciliation to disperse the mood of an overwhelmingly disillusioned and dissatisfied nation, as opposed to his devil in disguise public persona.
Mock up cover of
an unrequited dream.
Eight years ago, much of the nation was energized following the election of the first African-American president; Trump’s self-styled anti-establishment triumph, however, neither elicits the same the coast-to-coast vibe nor the equivalent passion. Some dread a Donald Trump presidency doesn’t become a clear and present national nightmare.
After he was declared the winner early Wednesday morning and Hillary Clinton conceded, Donald Trump said, “It is time for us to come together as one united people. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.
Nevertheless, based on his tumultuous and divisive campaign rhetoric, not since the Civil War have the words to the preamble of the U.S. Constitution — in order to form a more perfect Union — been more critical and in danger of becoming more ambiguous.
As time and the gloomy mood of those embittered by yesterday’s results perceive any glimmer of optimism, perhaps we’ll remember this long, strange presidential race with these Bruce Springsteen lyrics, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

Vote — Because We Don’t Need Another Civics Lesson


The political process is inspiring to some and mind-numbing or unexciting to others. Whether one is a flag-waving, flag-pin wearing patriot, a cynical fence sitter or simply uninterested, remember that voting is an opportunity not available to many citizens in other countries.
By the time Americans finish high school, most should understand that voting is a privilege for which millions have fought and died. That lesson, though, is hardly taken seriously as evident by the fact that only about half of registered voters commonly go to the polls for presidential elections.
There are always voting options. Choices may not always be the cream of the crop, but, if you prefer one candidate or a single issue, that opinion is conveyed with your ballot. Some voters also assert their right not to vote, no doubt due to apathy or a notion that their vote isn’t relevant in the grand scheme of things.
Sixteen years ago, when the counting and the arguments were over, Democratic candidate Al Gore amassed most of the popular vote by a razor-thin margin, but lost, in one of the closest presidential elections in the nation’s history, which led to a dilemma not seen since 1888. After a compulsory delay and a contentious 5-4 decision, Republican George W. Bush became the first Supreme Court-decided president in American history. There had been questionable presidential elections before, but the results, even when close, were never challenged to the degree they were in 2000.
That shouldn’t happen again. But it could.
When the Founding Fathers drew up the Constitution, they surely had worthier intentions in mind than sidestepping the popular vote. It puts a damper on the premise of democracy.
That exceptional outcome may have validated excuses for apathetic non-voters. Nevertheless, if just one tenth of one percent of those who stayed away had voted in 2000, the results probably would have been different.
On the other hand, the number of eligible voters expected to vote on November 8th is roughly 55 percent, compared to nearly 60 percent eight years ago and almost 58 percent in 2012. While those numbers are slightly higher than previous elections, it is still disappointing that more than a third of registered voters do not to participate.
On a positive note, with only a few days to go before Election Day 2016, it’s been reported that a record 30 million early ballots have been cast nationwide.
However, it doesn’t solve the dilemma of the archaic Electoral College, which bestows the ultimate decision in presidential elections, and, once and for all, should be abolished. That, however, requires a constitutional amendment, which is a cumbersome process.
Chosen by political parties and voters, the Electoral College comprises 538 electors, who officially elect the president and vice president several weeks after the popular vote is tallied. It was the outcome of a compromise when some framers were concerned that the populous North would outnumber the sparsely populated South. It is, nonetheless, incompatible for modern politics. (The presidency, by the way, is the only elective office not determined solely by the popular vote.) Every state gets one electoral vote for each senator and representative. (New York and Florida have 29 each, while California and Texas have 55 and 38, respectively.) Most states use a formula where one candidate may win by a single vote, but gets all the state’s electoral votes.
The presidential election process needs to be restructured to create an uncomplicated one-person, one vote, winner-take-all direct election. Whoever amasses the most popular votes is the winner. Period. No electors. No Supreme Court. No nonsense.
Foremost, the integrity of the process must include safeguards against voter fraud, uncorroborated charges of rigging and guaranteed beyond reproach. Obviously, in a close race, the loser may challenge the results, leading to painstaking procedures to settle disputes. (The integrity of next week’s election has been under suspicion for weeks. According to some media reports, Republicans and Democrats have hired attorneys and poll watchers in battleground states where discrepancies might occur.)
This year, 32 states have some form of voter ID laws. In addition to stricter ID regulations, more than a dozen that passed laws restricting voting rights, including cutting back voting hours and making it more difficult to register. When the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act three years ago, it made it easier for states to set up voting barriers. Next Tuesday, seven states will require voters to show photo identification to cast their ballots. In 2012, only four states required it.
Practical changes should be established to guarantee that the voices of all Americans could be heard. Moving Election Day to the weekend — on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid conflicts with religious observations — might make it less complicated for those with weekday excuses.
Years before the chaotic 2000 fallout, one constitutional law expert said the Electoral College was “a train wreck waiting to happen.” We lived through that wreck and endured a three-week delay before an outcome was known. We stand on the brink of another accident waiting to happen.
After lots of grumbling, nothing’s changed and the possibility of another blemished — albeit not rigged — election still exists. To avoid potential voter erosion, restore confidence and remind registered voters that every vote is critical, it should be determined whether the Electoral College still makes sense.
Those troubled by the accuracy of the vote or troubled by the nastiest campaign in memory, coupled with an erosion of trust in our political system, should put those concerns aside since campaigns are hardly ever civil, but elections should be.
Voting is a civic duty. Every eligible person who participates is exercising their Constitutional right. At one time, not all American citizens could vote. African-Americans couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t vote. Non-property owners couldn’t vote.
Even with a few pockets where voter suppression may crop up, current laws are designed to give every qualified citizen the right to vote.
Thomas Jefferson said it best, “An elective government is the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power.”
Until our rights are threatened or curtailed, Americans tend to take our freedoms for granted. Every four years we have an opportunity to exercise a valued right that more than half the world has never known. That right should not be squandered.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sober Observations in the Wake of a Political Milestone

(Original published November 13, 2008)
It’s now nine days since America elected its first African-American president. Seconds after 11 p.m. (ET) on a crisp autumn night in New York City when the polls on America's West Coast closed, and the 14 networks reporting on the election declared Barack Obama the nation's 44th president, you could almost hear a distinct sigh of relief, followed instantly by a collective, joyful cry of "We did it!" ripple across the nation.
But since that watershed moment, conservative media commentators — some of whom only halfheartedly endorsed John McCain merely because he wasn’t a Democrat — continue to howl over spilt milk. Rather than offer any grain of reconciliation, they relentlessly carry on their attacks on Obama without even affording him the customary hundred days to settle in.
Remember, this is the far right faction that had as much influence for John McCain mistakenly choosing unqualified conservative political neophyte Sarah Palin for his running mate just to soothe their dissatisfaction with him, as anything else.
On New York 1, conservative commentator Curtis Sliwa ranted the night after the election and called it an "Obamanation," another term from his dictionary of nonsensical malapropisms.
On Sean Hannity's radio program, the host agreed with a caller, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq and who called the election one of the "worst moments" in the history of our nation. The man clarified his remark, noting it had "nothing to do with race," but rather "Barack Hussein Obama's" left wing politics.
For the next four years, regardless of President Obama's successes — or failures, they'll continue to spew their rage and incessantly criticize his every move. But if they can't come up with a more suitable alternative than Gov. Sarah Palin as their Great Right Hope for 2012, it may fuel the progress of moderation nationwide.
                                                                                   ***
Despite a campaign rife with fear-mongering and bogus innuendos, John McCain bowed out with poise and class on Election Night with a gracious, hands-across-the-aisle concession speech. The former POW showed his true character — that was practically nonexistent throughout his campaign — that I was drawn to eight years ago when I was tempted to vote for him if he won his party's nomination. That was before George Bush's rat squad spread a vicious lie that he fathered a black child out of wedlock, which ruined any chance he had to top of the GOP ticket.
If McCain would have displayed that positive quality, and criticized President Bush's policies more, he just may have edged Barack Obama — even with his vice presidential albatross, whose flame flickered as quickly as it sparked the campaign after the convention.
                                                                                   ***
For the time being, the international community has turned from loathing the United States, during eight years of the Bush Administration, to admiring us for electing the first non-white president in our 232-year history and coming to the realization that that's not what America is really like.
Not only was Barack Obama's victory a milestone in American history, it was a significant moment that saw a few states that had been red for decades — and strongly supported George W. Bush four years earlier — turn a bright shade of blue.
But before optimists think America is becoming a lot more tolerant and open-minded, they should realize that while several coastal blue states voted heavily for Obama their voters rejected propositions for such liberal issues as extending gay rights.
                                                                                     ***
In closing, I must note that I didn't anticipate what the impact of Barack Obama's historic victory would mean to black Americans — until election night. (It took me a while to appreciate the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring “I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.) But when I watched the stirring victory celebrations in Grant Park in Chicago and on the streets of Harlem in Manhattan, the exhilaration and teary-eyed faces of citizens of all shades moved me. (On the other hand, the crowd gathered in Phoenix to hear Sen. McCain concede looked like it was 99.44 percent Ivory Snow white.)
Ever since the Supreme Court integrated schools over 50 years ago and Congress passed laws to end segregation in the Deep South 40 years ago, black Americans have been — for the most part — patiently waiting to see how far they could progress in a nation where many tend to remain a benignly neglected minority as the ugly specter of racism has yet to be justly overcome. Despite seeing advances of successful African-Americans in all levels of government, including the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, in corporate America, in higher education and as thriving civil servants, few blacks — and few whites for that matter — ever thought they'd see a descendant of an African become president in their own lifetimes.
One hundred and forty five years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, 53 years after Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama, more than 40 years after ancestors of former slaves were given the right to vote, 36 years after Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the nation' first black woman in Congress who ran for president when Barack Obama was not yet a teenager, America has its first president of African-American heritage.
Across America, for many aging civil rights leaders, who paved the way for equal opportunities in the 1960s, plus the many freedom fighters who died for the cause, electing a black president is the pinnacle of their struggles for equality.
Somewhere in heaven, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is smiling as he watches a piece of the vast dream he envisioned — "a nation where (people) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" — fulfilled.
It's certainly great to celebrate a triumphant election in which a black candidate inspired a diverse electorate to catapult him to victory, though it will be much more challenging to transform the uncompromising attitudes of bigots who unfailingly defend barriers to combat explicit — and tacit — racism in America.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Springsteen Memoir Is Born to Be Read

My interest in Bruce Springsteen’s recently-released memoir contrasted sharply from the anticipation I experience before going to one of his concerts. I’m usually aware of some of the songs he’s likely to perform in three-four hour shows, due to set-list postings on social media. However, with a traditional proclivity for variation, there are commonly a few spur-of-the-moment additions midway through the show.
Months ago, when news spread about the forthcoming Springsteen memoir, I expected to learn more about the rock and roll star I’ve appreciated for over 40 years than just the requisite publicity gleaned from press releases and tabloids. I’d been looking forward to reading Springsteen’s autobiography, which debuted at number one on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list and remains in second place after three weeks, since I ordered it from Amazon early last summer.
Having recently finished reading the 508-page book, I certainly know a great deal about the performer I first saw live at Madison Square Garden, as the opening act for Chicago, in 1973.
I read the jacket synopsis then saw there were 80 chapters, averaging about six pages each. The first connection that came to mind was a typical new Springsteen record, comprised largely of songs under five minutes. (One of my favorite Springsteen lyrics from “No Surrender” is: “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.”) For Springsteen, however, shorter songs are not always standard. Many from his vast catalog are six-ten minute epics that are frequently extended in concert.
In one passage from the book, Springsteen’s longtime manager, Jon Landau, advises him that “longer is not always better,” then added, “Neither is shorter.”
Accordingly, the brief chapters reminded me of distinctive concert moments between songs when Springsteen recounts stories from his life. In “Born to Run,” the compressed episodes are more intimate and, perhaps, were cathartic as he wrote them in longhand over a seven year period.
  A pattern emerges early in the memoir as Springsteen cleverly sprinkles several of his, as well as other, song titles to suit the narrative.
I generally read popular fiction with a few non-fiction titles and memoirs mixed in every now and then. Among the latter have been pleasing autobiographies by Harry Belafonte and Keith Richards, plus the excellent 2012 Springsteen biography, “Bruce” by Peter James Carlin.
Springsteen is quite candid about some personal issues, yet he plainly fails to mention the names of the countless women he dated before he met Julianne Phillips, his first wife, and his current spouse, Patti Scialfa. One has to wonder if he feels wrong to kiss and tell, keeping them out of the spotlight, or just views them as fleeting moments.
As Springsteen writes about constantly changing, discarding or altering albums in progress, it confirms years of rumors about his obsession over complete control of what he eventually issues. Though sometimes seeming like it borders on the manic, the results of his body of work are proof that his passion has led to his overwhelming success.
One revealing passage that indirectly hit home is when Springsteen writes about first hearing himself on the radio: “I was standing on a street corner before a college gig in Connecticut as a car pulled up to a light and I heard ‘Spirit in the Night’ blasting from the radio, your number one rock ‘n’ roll dream come true! You never forget the first time.”
He later adds, “…forty-three years later I still get the same thrill when I hear new music of mine…”
I totally relate to that sentiment because I was thrilled when I saw my first byline in print on a front-page article in 1977. All these years later, I still get a kick when I see my name under a headline for the occasional freelance story I write.
An especially emotional chapter concerns Clarence Clemons. Springsteen vividly recalls his first encounter with the “Big Man” in Asbury Park: “I looked at the back of the room and saw a big black figure standing in the shadows. There he was. King Curtis, Junior Walker and all my rock ‘n’ roll fantasies rolled into one. He approached the stage and asked if he could sit in.”
He later incorporated Clemons becoming an E Street Band member with lyrics that always gets a roaring crowd response, in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “…the change was made uptown when the Big Man joined the band.”
Springsteen’s friendship with Clarence Clemons grew and intensified over 40 years until his death five years ago, as is evident in the following: “Clarence was elemental in my life and losing him was like losing the rain.”
For months at concerts, following the tenor sax man’s death five years, an image of Clarence Clemons was featured on a screen behind the band.
Though an editor more than likely compacted and smoothed out some rough edges, the crystal-clear prose about his youthful memories, especially in the early chapters, is pure Springsteen, similar to the hundreds of songs he’s written throughout his career. The writing is powerful, illuminating and, at times, poignant, particularly in the last portion of the book when he writes about family, his devoted relationship with the E Street Band and bouts with depression and therapy that affected him over the last thirty years.
Some elitists over the years have criticized his lyrics that portray hard-working blue collar characters, while he has amassed a fortune. Springsteen candidly writes: “I’m glad I’ve been handsomely paid for my efforts…but I truly would have done it for free.”
Regardless of whether or not you’re a rock and roll fan, or never appreciated Springsteen’s appeal, set aside any preconceived notions, not only for what you’ll learn about Bruce Springsteen, but because this autobiography, by one of the genre’s all-time influential musicians, recounts how he followed his heart and nurtured what many dream, but few achieve. “Born to Run” is a distinctive memoir that gives both casual readers and longtime fans a detailed and insightful account of Springsteen's life and work. 
For years, his fans have recognized his value and talent as an exceptional songwriter, but, now, closing in on a highly successful, prolific half century music career, Bruce Springsteen’s appealing, comprehensive, revealing memoir proves it all night that this native New Jersey rocker was also born to write prose. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

2017 Social Security COLA Hike Ain’t Too Sweet

A day before the final 2016 Presidential debate, the government announced that Social Security beneficiaries were in for a raise next year. So much for the good news. The bad — very bad — news was that the average increase would be a measly $5-a-month. Though that’s five dollars more than this year, when there was no increase, it’s considerably disappointing for many recipients on a limited fixed budget.
What is especially infuriating is that elected representatives in the House and Senate voted themselves a respectable $3,500-a year hike for fiscal year 2017, which began October 1.
Social Security got negligible attention in the spring primaries and has been pretty much ignored since the presidential campaign got underway. While it’s common knowledge, as well as a GOP platform issue, Republicans, some of whom deem it an excessive entitlement, are eager to cut, slash and privatize Social Security, before it is projected to hit rock bottom in 2034.
Democrats, on the other hand, strongly support kinder, gentler reforms. Hillary Clinton, in fact, proposed increasing the payroll tax limit on wages, which is presently less than $119,000, but is projected to increase about seven percent in 2017. She’s opposed to reforms that would reduce benefits for low and middle income recipients and pledged to continue benefits for the future for those who supplement the system. Unlike many in the GOP, Clinton does not support privatization. Nonetheless, while she’s willing to work with Republicans to maintain the program’s viability, she does support payroll tax increases for those with higher incomes.
Many of the nation’s 60 million retirees, which significantly changes every year as more and more baby boomers stop working, depend on Social Security to supplement their nest egg incomes. Mind you, they have been contributing to the system since they began working and anticipated the funds entitled to them in their golden years. Social Security benefits also go to widows, orphans, the disabled and veterans. Nonetheless, this is the fifth straight year of historically low increases, which is based on cost-of-living adjustments. In the last eight years, there have been no increases three times and it’s never been higher than two percent. COLA is based on prices for necessities, like food, housing, clothing, transportation, medical care and education. With inflation essentially stagnant for the last several years, COLA has hardly budged.
Energy and gasoline prices have dropped in the last year, but medical care has gone up, to offset the effects of inflation.
Improbably, this is one area where Donald Trump veers from the Republican platform and has vowed not to cut Social Security benefits, while promising to tackle the program’s long-term dilemma without raising taxes. Yet, like so many of his plans, he has yet to offer more than shallow specifics.
Social Security’s future is gloomy and Congress needs a sound strategy to reform it.  But, first on the agenda, it must alter the formula to determine subsequent COLA to guarantee current and soon-to-retire seniors a modest, if not comfortable, annual increase.
While federal legislators enact rules that affect Social Security, it has no effect on corresponding hikes for Senate and House members.
Most Social Security recipients would undoubtedly agree that Congressional salary increases should be tied to COLA rates, so our elected representatives understand how retirees cope with an annual pittance. After all, federal legislators already have plenty of perks, supplemented by taxpayers, that most Americans crave, so perhaps it’s time representatives’ pay hikes are based on work output, which, for do-nothing  lawmakers would result in insignificant increases similar to those they serve.
Anything less than a practical modification to the annual cost-of-living-adjustment will compel more and more seniors to seek other methods to augment incomes just to pay for essentials or force them to progressively learn to tolerate lower standards of living.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Stand Up America — for the Right to Sit!

A little over a year after the dispute over one regional icon vanished, an argument over another American — albeit more respected — ritual is thriving. 
Despite controversy, QB has
not turned his back on America.
Shortly after Flag Day 2015 came and went, a debate that clearly represented enduring racism, not to mention treason, erupted. The banner in question was the standard of the Confederacy, which waves on or near buildings in several southern states. Some refused to remove it, even as it brazenly flew alongside the Stars and Stripes, but a few skirmishes eventually led to the removal or relocation of some Johnny Reb banners.
A new storm is now brewing over respect for America’s national anthem. In this case, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the Star-Spangled Banner at a pre-season football game last weekend to protest oppression of black Americans and other minorities. No sooner was the incident disseminated by news and social media, than an outbreak of controversy escalated.
Kaepernick’s modest dissent basically focused on concerns that time and again confront urban neighborhoods. While double-standard pigskin enthusiasts readily excuse players accused of rape, domestic assault and drug use, even ex-cons, they reacted like they wanted to stone the biracial 2013 Super Bowl-winning quarterback who refused to stand.
Rather than examine the essence Kaepernick’s dissent — supported by ample statistical evidence opponents would be prudent to rally to reverse the injustices of our judicial and law enforcement systems, not passionately object to a single protest.
When certain incidents infuriate them, blacks are admonished to protest peacefully. Well, that’s precisely what Kaepernick did! He didn’t shout or scream. He didn’t physically attack anyone. He didn’t violate laws or randomly vandalize property. He kept his mouth shut and calmly remained seated. That’s the model of civil disobedience!
As a matter of fact, Donald Trump’s message of dissatisfaction to “make America great again” — which recently spotlighted black communities, boldly displayed on campaign hats, unites supporters. Yet, they seem to be among those most upset over the quarterback’s passive action, while they applaud Trump’s negative attitude.
In an interview published as the controversy snowballed, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Adding, “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Adversaries obviously do not comprehend Kaepernick’s gripe that, regardless of their improved status in the last 50 years, blacks in America are imbued with a 300-year history of slavery, servitude and segregation.
Those who object to the quarterback’s “lack of respect” are almost certainly unaware that, though it is rarely violated, the NFL policy for players on standing during the Star-Spangled Banner is not mandatory. Will all those promoters of patriotism and Monday morning quarterbacks now boycott games until it becomes compulsory? There’ll be a December heat wave in Green Bay before that ever happens.
Love of country should be evaluated by respecting and valuing our freedoms, not symbols or icons. The revival of “love your country or leave it” mentality is as hollow today as it was when it condemned Vietnam War dissidents decades ago. Furthermore, it shows a lack of understanding of the First Amendment, which plainly sanctions such action. Sometimes it seems those who disagree with protesters misinterpret constitutional amendments, merely to satisfy self-serving partisan needs.
More importantly, since it is particularly lacking in the current presidential campaign, all sides need to respect the right of free expression, whether or not you approve of the opposing opinion.
Despite what some Americans may think, the Star-Spangled Banner is not about honoring veterans. The national anthem honors values of equality and justice for all, for which America stands. When those ideals are not upheld or are violated, which Colin Kaepernick and others feel occurs too often, sitting is a valid form of protest.
Kaepernick explained to reporters that his protest was not to disrespect veterans. Though he sat during the national anthem, he said he “has great respect for the men and women that have fought for their country.”
Take a left to enhance freedom.
All things considered, freedom means you can dispute actions and opinions, but don’t force others to live by your personal beliefs.
Symbols and gestures often become signs of respect and devotion to a cause, however, no laws should mandate proper respect for them. At the end of the day, standing or saluting is executed according to one’s conscience, not any degree of patriotism.
Keep in mind that a key lesson for youngsters is to stand up for oneself. Colin Kaepernick learned that lesson well verified when he remained seated.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Time For GOP To Terminate Trump's Royal Scam

Potential GOP headstone after Election Day. 
In spite of a crucial intervention, following months of incessant shenanigans, outlandish ad-libbing and unrestrained intolerance — and enough red flags to line a Moscow May Day parade — Donald Trump continues to behave unmanageable as he refuses to heed whatever advice was offered by GOP leaders and campaign staffers. Consequently, previously cheerleading Republicans are steadily conceding their allegiance in the 2016 presidential race, opting to either cross the political spectrum or just sit this one out.
Besides the anticipated bump, following the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton has benefited from another round of hysterical Trump ravings to extend her lead to larger than it was, at this point, during Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, with less than three months until Election Day.
You don’t have to be a political science buff to understand that the American political system is flawed, especially after Bernie Sanders’ campaign focused on a few blemishes in the establishment. However imperfect, for better or worse, it has been more than successful for 240 years. Electing Donald Trump would upset that trend, which some prominent Republicans recognize, albeit, belatedly.
After nearly eight years of unrelenting, calculating criticism of Barack Obama, the GOP realizes it misjudged their candidate and is now saddled with the most unfit, unqualified, uncontrolled candidate to ever undertake a presidential campaign. Donald Trump has done more damage to the GOP’s reputation than any opponent could ever hope to achieve, while he basks in the limelight of media coverage and his legions’ euphoric responses.
Trump managed to top himself, with his latest rant last Wednesday, when he said “(President Obama) is the founder of ISIS.” To emphasize the point, he repeated the idiotic comment three times and also proclaimed Hillary Clinton the radical terrorist group’s “co-founder.” He reiterated the point the following day. Even more sadly, his obedient audience cheered the comments.
Incidentally, according to numerous sources, ISIS launched in 2004, during a Republican administration.
This ludicrous attack parallels Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s random references about individuals as communists with irresponsible insinuations, not clear-cut corroboration.
Nonetheless, Trump’s faithful followers, like ISIS recruits, are a restless, discontented flock, which aligned with the first maniac who preached to a mob mentality, deceptively pledging to enhance, rather than threaten, their lot in life. 
Yet, even as he lags in recent polls, Trump sometimes behaves like he’s not concerned about the outcome, acting like he may not want to be president. Last week, he made remarks that should have raised eyebrows for veteran Republicans when he suggested his heart’s not completely in this White House crusade.
In a CNBC interview, Trump admitted, “At the end (of the campaign), it’s either going to work or I'm going to have a very, very nice long vacation. I think we're going to have victory, but we’ll see.”
So, as he impairs presidential politics, is this just a lark for the blundering billionaire?
Even if we ignore Trump’s misguided, largely crude supporters, it’s impossible to overlook the countless misspeaks and skewed facts he’s uttered over the course of his primary quest and post-RNC campaign. Nevertheless, many Republicans refuse to repudiate this unstable political neophyte.
After clearly being powerless to reel him in and divert his speeches to sustain the party’s traditional platform, steadfast allies must demonstrate an iota of integrity, throw in the towel, abandon what once was urgent necessity and, without equivocation, sternly renounce Donald Trump.
Faithful Republicans stood on the sidelines while Donald Trump dominated primaries as opponents dropped out one by one, more than likely assuming Trump train would eventually self-destruct. However, while the campaign progressed and he trashed Hillary Clinton, as well as several prominent Republicans, it accentuated the candidate’s persistent outlandish conduct and brash self-promotion, and Trump prevailed. Despite a desperate effort to disrupt it, the billionaire’s battle snowballed, leaving Republicans facing ominous consequences as Election Day approaches.
Continuing sympathetic GOP support for their embarrassing candidate, despite the likelihood of his defeat in November, will certainly create a stain across the political spectrum long after Trump’s reckless rhetoric stops echoing across the media landscape.
The best option to make America great again would be for Donald Trump to withdraw, but his super ego makes that highly unlikely.
At this point, the rational alternative for the Republican Party to preserve any degree of integrity would be to defect, abandon the SS (Sinking Ship) Trump and watch it submerge below the political horizon.
Those Republicans, who refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump’s gotta go, apparently can’t see the forest for the sleaze.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bipartisan Politics Is Not Always Even-Handed

(To commemorate National Left Handers Day, August 13, I repost this column, first published on July 3, 2008)
Whoever wins the November presidential election, the new Commander-in-Chief will be a lefty —guaranteed. Liberals shouldn’t get too keyed up and conservatives shouldn’t fret. It has nothing to do with red and blue politics. Both Barack Obama and John McCain are left-handed.
Since 1974, four of six presidents (Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush being the exceptions) have been left-handed, as will the next one. Perhaps this distinction will spur positive changes, as well as long overdue attention, for us right-challenged citizens. We’re fed up with society’s built-in biases that keep us down!
Obviously, correcting biases against lefties will never be on any political agenda, primarily because lefties’ lives are not greatly adversely affected. However, I can assure you, from personal experience, that there is an extra effort left-handers sometimes must execute in a right-hand dominated world.
Narrow-minded, intolerant right-handers have no idea what it’s like to be a lefty. Did you know portions of the Bible single out left-handedness, as if it was some kind of transgression? Does that mean God is a righty?
A line in Genesis reads: “The right hand confers blessing and signifies strength, while the left hand is treacherous and deadly.”
Another goes: “A place at one’s right hand is the seat of honor and dignity.” If you’re seated on the left, guess that means no dessert for you?
There’s also this familiar passage from Luke: “In like manner, both the passivity and inferiority of the left hand are apparent…forbidding us to let our left hand know what the right hand is doing.”
The effect of those biblical biases led to witch hunts and consequences for left-handed individuals in the Dark Ages.
Did you know that in religions with half-male and half-female images, the latter is always on the left? Medieval coats-of-arms indicating a bastard in the family contained a bar slanted to the left.
Almost any night on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity disparage extreme liberals as leftists. But, coming from them, it’s flattery!
Does anyone want to be on the receiving end of a “left-handed compliment?”
Left-handed people have to put up with such everyday right-handed items as scissors, school desks, bicycle gears, corkscrews, can openers and most musical instruments. The bulk of sports equipment is made for righties, leaving lefties to use “special” gear, which also inhibits them from using friends’ baseball gloves, golf clubs or hockey sticks.
Most tools favor righties, pants with single back pockets are always on the right side, three-ring binders and spiral notebooks make it slightly uncomfortable for lefties as they interfere when writing on the front side of a page (righties suffer the same dilemma when they use the back of a page).
As the high-tech era emerged, computer mouses (mice?) are easier for righties than lefties. (At work I use my right hand for the mouse, but at home, it’s on the left. Go figure.)
Then there are and military rifles, which I discovered may hazardous for lefties. Many years ago, in Army basic training, I soon realized the M-14 was not lefty-friendly and I quickly adjusted. As the weapon was fired, the cartridge ejected just past my face. In some cases, it almost hit me, which could have resulted in a minor burn from the heated shell casing. It subsequently became second nature and I earned an expert marksmanship medal with the weapon.
Nonetheless, that’s what makes lefties sorta special since we have to demonstrate our flexibility by adapting to items manufactured for righties.
In major league baseball, left-handed pitchers are highly regarded and efficient ones are eagerly sought to bolster staffs and bullpens. Without a proficient lefty or two on a roster, the chances of a winning season are greatly diminished.
In the early 20th century the New York City Board of Education frowned upon lefties. My maternal uncle was born a southpaw, but when he attended elementary school, his left hand was forcibly tied behind his back (!!!), so he was forced to write only with his right hand. All his life he did everything with his left hand — except write.
Sometimes, combating left-handedness can be absurd. Eight years ago the New York City Council took up the issue of left-handed discrimination. After a trio of Queens high school students petitioned their councilman, who was right-handed, he introduced legislation requesting a study of whether left-handers should be protected against discrimination. Smarter right-handers prevailed and the proposal died a swift death.
Despite the obvious intrinsic cultural bias, studies have shown that left-handers are inherently more intelligent and more creative. In all modesty, this writer tends to agree.
Right-handers will always have an edge, as long as left-handers comprise only ten percent of the population. Nonetheless, it’s time for even handedness and there’s no better time for changes to commence than August 13th — the annual International Left Handers Day. There are no parades, no celebrations and it gets scant recognition. It’s merely a day for left-handers to remind everyone else that in a right-handed world, lefties deserve rights!
Left-handedness cannot be treated as some kind of curse or disability. The next time you see a left-hander struggling, don’t judge the individual a klutz, lend a right hand, because there but for genes go you.
All the same, no can anyone explain why lefties have dominated presidential politics in the last 35 years.
I’ve been a southpaw all my life. Maybe I coulda been Commander-in-Chief. Nah, you don’t get weekends off.
(P.S. Both 2016 major party presidential candidates are right-handed, but Hillary Clinton’s politics are, gratefully, far to the left of Donald Trump’s, who’s not only Right, but constantly wrong.)