RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE WITH 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Over the past several months there has been widespread speculation in the some of the media and among Dems that Russia, and more specifically, Putin, interfered with the 2016 presidential election.   Some have even accused President Trump, certain of his supporters and/or members of his campaign staff with collusion with the Russians in this matter, implying that his election victory is therefore invalid.  Over these several months this matter has been investigated like nothing else since Watergate (by Dems, reporters, Congressional panels, and a special prosecutor), and, to paraphrase former President Obama, not a “smidgeon” of evidence has been unearthed to support that notion.

Give it up, Dems.  Donald Trump is our duly elected president.  He will not be impeached.  He will serve the full four years, and, maybe, even eight.  Focus on the important issues facing America, like the economy, jobs, border security, and terrorism, among others.

That said, as an unintended consequence of all this sleuthing, evidence has recently surfaced supporting the notion that Russia did, in fact, attempt to influence the election by hacking into our voting systems.  But, any issues of wrongdoing involve not Donald Trump, but President Obama.  This story was “broken,” not by Fox News, not by Rush Limbaugh, but by the Washington Post, a notorious left-leaning publication and avowed Trump-hater.

Three Post reporters, Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, contributed to a very comprehensive report on Russian meddling.  Subsequently, their story was picked up by several news outlets (including Newsday).  The following is a summation of their reporting:

  1.  It began in August 2016 when the CIA delivered an “eyes only” report so sensitive that it was to be read by just four people – President Obama and three senior aides.  The report described Russian president Putin’s direct involvement in a comprehensive plan to disrupt and possibly discredit the 2016 presidential election.  More specifically, Putin was seeking to damage, and possibly defeat, Hillary Clinton.
  2. Apparently, Putin and Russian intelligence services had directed hackers to penetrate Dem and GOP computer networks with the intention of uncovering embarrassing or damaging information.  As we know, they succeeded in penetrating the Dems systems, but not the GOP’s.  Approximately, 22,000 emails of various Dem officials were obtained and provided to WikiLeaks, which subsequently publicized them.
  3. Around this time, as a result of the above mentioned report President Obama directed aides to assess the vulnerabilities of our election systems.
  4. At one point, CIA Director John Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Russia’s primary security agency, not to interfere in the presidential election.
  5. Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson offered federal assistance to each state to secure their respective voting systems, but election officials in many states, fearing federal overreach, rebuffed him.
  6. For the next five months the Administration secretly analyzed the CIA report and debated various options for deterring the Russians plans as well as various alternative sanctions.  By September all the intelligence agencies agreed that it was a Russian operation led by Putin directly, and sanctions were appropriate.
  7. The plot was not disclosed to the public, however, until the end of 2016.  During the autumn Obama had given a few speeches in which he mocked Trump and his supporters for suggesting the election was being “rigged,” or even influenced, by Russia and other external parties and flat-out denied that was the case, even though he knew it was true.  Depending on one’s point of view, in this regard Obama was either lying or at least being disingenuous to the American people.
  8. One of the major reasons for the Administration’s maintaining secrecy was its staunch belief that Clinton would win anyway, so why “rock the boat” before the election.  The thought was to deal with it after she wins.  In my opinion, this constituted seriously faulty judgment as Obama allowed political considerations to affect his policy regarding a threat on our national security.
  9. Ultimately, the Obama Administration decided to impose very modest sanctions.  It had a plethora of choices, including very serious economic sanctions that would have dealt a severe blow to the Russian economy.  It is generally acknowledged that economic sanctions are an extremely potent weapon, and we have the wherewithal to cripple Russia’s economy if we choose to do so.  Instead of using this weapon, we merely deported 35 “diplomats” and closed two compounds.  These sanctions served no effective purpose.  They were merely “window dressing.”   Indeed, John Tefft, the ambassador to Russia predicted that Russia would retaliate by expelling a like number of US diplomats from Russia, which would “impair the embassy’s ability to function.”   A senior administration official involved in the process derisively labeled them as merely “symbolic.”  Even worse, these sanctions were not new.  They had been proposed for a different purpose, which was retaliation for Russia’s harassing local US diplomats.
  10. Before he acted, Obama (1) requested a “high-confidence assessment” from the various intelligence agencies as to Russia’s intent and (2) sought bipartisan support from congressional leaders.  This weak and delayed response was very widely criticized, even among Dems, as not being nearly proportionate to Russia’s “unprecedented” attack on our election process.  For example, Senator Adam Schiff stated the Administration’s indecisiveness “often left him with a sense of ‘cognitive dissonance.’ ”  In addition, Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia under Obama, opined “the punishment did not fit the crime. ……Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy…”  McFaul’s view was consistent with that of dozens of current and former officials in the White House and Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security Department, and intelligence services who declined to speak on the record for the Post article.
  11. This action, though puzzling to many, was entirely consistent with Obama’s overly cautious, some would say “timid,” approach to foreign policy during his presidency.  Act only if you absolutely have to and only if backed by a consensus of support from allies both foreign and domestic; don’t rock the boat; and don’t make the situation worse.

CONCLUSION

Well, we all know what happened.  Trump won, and there were no issues with the election process.  Nine months and many investigations later, still nothing untoward has turned up – no voter fraud, no manipulations; the system did not “crash.”  In the White House the post-election mood was “like a funeral parlor,” according to one official.

The irony of this whole matter is that in their zeal to tie President Trump to collusion with Russia the Dems have created an atmosphere where reporters and others have been diligently digging for the “big Watergate-like story.”  Instead, what these reporters found was collusion, lying and incompetence on the part of President Obama.

History tells us that during his second term, with no more elections to worry about, presidents typically become more cognizant of their legacy and become loath to do anything to damage it.  The fear among Obama and his senior aides was that his mishandling of this matter would inevitably get disclosed and do just that.  History will determine if that is the case.

OTTO WARMBIER – NORTH KOREAN PRISONER

Otto Warmbier, the Cincinnati resident and University of Virginia college student who had been released by North Korea and returned home in a comatose state after nearly 18 months in captivity, died this past Monday at the age of 22.  Warmbier had been repatriated in what doctors termed a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and had suffered a “severe neurological injury.”  The cause of the injury was unclear, although the North Koreans claimed it was a complication of botulism.  Sadly, he never regained consciousness, although his family clung to the belief that he had sensed he was home with loved ones.

In a world filled with senseless violence and wanton murder this heinous incident ranks near, if not at, the top.  The NKs exhibited a prime example of their total disregard forhuman life.  It is well-known that the NK government has no regard for the well-being of its own citizens.  For example, there is ample evidence that other than a favored few who live very well, NK citizens have few or no daily necessities.  In fact, many NKs are literally starving to death for lack of adequate food.  Furthermore, arbitrary killings and imprisonment is commonplace.  The government is dysfunctional, except for its ability to intimidate and beat down its citizens.  It is a country in total disarray.

The Wambier saga resembles a plot out of a bad Hollywood movie.  Briefly, Warmbier was convicted of “subversion” after he took a propaganda banner that was on display in the hotel in which his tour group was staying.  The poster said “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-Il’s patriotism!”  Innocuous enough.  We’re not talking nuclear secrets here, folks.   It may have been an ill-advised act, but it strikes me more as a lark a college student might pull not considering what the consequences might be.  Probably, all he wanted was a “souvenir;” he saw the banner and took in on the spur of the moment.  Only an irrational, paranoid country like NK would consider this to be “subversion.”  Unbeknownst to Warmbier, however, the NK government considers this type of act to be subversion, which it takes very seriously.  KCNA, the NK news agency, characterized it as a “hostile act against the state.”

Warmbier’s “trial” and conviction lasted all of one hour.  Once he was sentenced and incarcerated the real nightmare began.  It was very likely that captivity in an NK prison for any length of time would not end well, and, unfortunately for Warmbier, it didn’t.

Otto Frederick Warmbier was born on December 12, 1994 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He was one of three children and was Jewish on his mother’s side.  He was a bright young man. He was the salutatorian of his high school class, and he was majoring in commerce and economics at the University of Virginia.

At the end of 2015 while on vacation in China he spied an advertisement for a trip to NK.  Most of us would be wary of such a trip, but Warmbier was a young college student and, as his father put it, “adventurous.”  The China-based tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, advertised the trip as “safe for US citizens,” so Warmbier probably figured, “why not?”   He was not the only US citizen on the tour.  There were ten others.

On the tour Warmbier became particularly friendly with a Brit named Danny Gratton.  Gratton witnessed Warmbier’s arrest at the airport on January 2, 2016 as the group was preparing to leave the country and gave this chilling account.  “No words were spoken.  Two guards just came over and simply tapped Otto on the shoulder and led him away. …… That was the last time I saw Otto, ever.”  Surprisingly, there is no mention that the tour guide tried to intervene on Warmbier’s behalf or assist him in any way.  In my experience, one of the major functions of a tour guide is to ensure the safety and security of the tourists in his or her care.  The group then just left on their flight.

On February 29, 2016 Wambier “confessed” during a press conference.  Does anyone belief it was genuine?   Human Rights Watch deputy director Phil Robertson disparagingly characterized the process as a “kangaroo court.”  As I said, Warmbier’s trial lasted all of one hour, and he was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor, a preposterous sentence.  HRW called it “outrageous and shocking.”   US State Department spokesman Mark Toner opined that NK was using Wambier for “political purposes.”  In my opinion Warmbier was a pawn caught up in the heightened military, political and diplomatic tensions between the US and NK.

Negotiations for Warmbier’s release had been ongoing for over a year to no avail.  It was not disclosed to NK that Warmbier had a Jewish heritage, as it would have complicated matters and clearly illustrated the idiocy of NK’s assertion that he had acted on behalf of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, OH.  In fact, Warmbier was very cognizant of his Jewish heritage.  For example, he had travelled to Israel and had thoroughly enjoyed his experience there.  He was especially “taken” with the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  He had remarked “just being at a spot that has been so central to Judaism for thousands of years was completely surreal.  The power that emanated from the wall showed on the faces of all those who were near it.”

CONCLUSION

Warmbier was released on June 12, 2017.   Surprisingly, he was not the only American captive in NK.  Wikipedia reports a total of 16 Americans have been detained on various charges since 1996, and three are still being held there.

Warmbier’s condition was extremely critical.  As I said, doctors at the University of Cincinnati who examined described him as being “in a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” what laymen would call a vegetative state.  Brain scans disclosed he had suffered considerable loss of brain tissue consistent with oxygen deprivation.  He was able to breath and blink his eyes, but, otherwise, he was completely unresponsive to his environment.  Barring an autopsy, which the family has declined to authorize, we will likely never know for sure what happened to him.

This situation is outrageous beyond words.  Condemnation has been universal.  President Trump characterized it as a “total disgrace.”  Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about being incarcerated and tortured by a foreign power, went even further, declaring Warmbier was “murdered by [NK] and the US cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers.”

So, what  can we do about it, except bluster?  Forget military action.  That would likely provoke a major confrontation, perhaps with multiple countries, and no one wants to start a war over this.  For years, the State Department has been warning Americans not to travel to NK.  Yet, Warmbier and many others have done so.  Perhaps, an out and out ban (there’s that word, again) would be in order.  In addition, perhaps, the US could impose more punitive sanctions, for example, damage NK indirectly by penalizing those foreign countries that do business with it in some way.  I would think that people smarter and better informed than me could come up with some ideas.

One thing is certain: the US cannot let this stand.  It would embolden other rogue regimes to commit similar atrocities to our innocent citizens.

 

 

SUMMER SOLSTICE

In the northern hemisphere, the 2017 summer solstice occurred this morning, June 21, at 12:24 am.   As most of us know, the ss is the date with the longest period of daylight, and when the sun’s shadow is its shortest.  Furthermore, in most of the US it is the date on which the sun appears to be at its highest point in the sky.   In extreme northern locales the sun will be “out” the entire day.  In the NY area, where I live, we will get about 15 hours of sun.

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin “sol,” meaning “sun” and “sistere,” meaning “to stand still.”  As the seasons progress from winter to summer in the northern hemisphere, the sun appears to move north in the sky.  On the date of the ss it has progressed as far north as it will get, and it momentarily “stands still” before it appears to begin to slide southward toward the point of its winter solstice.

In most cultures and countries the summer and winter solstices are intertwined with the seasons.  For example, in the US and many other countries the ss marks the commencement of summer.  On the other hand, in extreme northern and southern locations the solstices mark the midpoint of summer or winter.

For many ancient cultures the ss was a festive time.  Most of them were sun worshippers anyway, and the longest day of the year was a reason to celebrate the renewal of life. The recurrent themes, in various forms, were life, light, femininity, marriage and fertility.  (Perhaps, this concept was the derivation of the custom of having weddings in June.)

For example:

  1. The pagan holiday, Litha, which is a celebration of light and life, was celebrated on that date.
  2. Many archaeologists maintain that the ancient culture that constructed Stonehenge intended it to be a crude calendar. The stones do seem to have been placed to align with the sunrise on the date of the ss.
  3. The ancient Chinese marked the date with celebrations of the femininity, the “Yin” forces, and the Earth. Itself. This served as a counterpoint to the winter solstice, which was a celebration of the heavens, masculinity, and the “Yang” forces.
  4. Typically, Native Americans held festivals featuring body paint and ritualistic dances.
  5. In ancient Gaul (modern-day France) the celebration was called the Feast of Epona after a mare goddess that protected horses and personified fertility.
  6. Slavic and Germanic cultures celebrated with huge bonfires.

CONCLUSION

In modern times the ss is a time to celebrate the arrival of summer.  In many extreme northern areas, where the people may not see the sun at all for certain parts of the year, such as northern Sweden, Finland and Norway, people spend the entire day outside.  Many of them decorate their homes, light bonfires, and dance around Maypoles.

I have always enjoyed a warm summer day as much as the next guy.  But, truthfully, to me June 21 is just another day.  Depending on the weather I will play golf, play outside with the kids (or grandkids), go to the beach, or, if it’s inclement, just stay inside.

One final thought on the date, it has always seemed counterintuitive to me that the beginning of summer also marked the time when the days started to get shorter, and I view shorter days as a harbinger of winter.  Whatever, you do, enjoy the day.

DUNKIRK

WWII in the European theatre was almost over before it began.  If I were to ask you to identify the turning point of the European theatre you would likely choose the Battle of  Stalingrad or, possibly, the Allies’ successful landing in Normandy on D Day.  Good choices, and most historians would likely agree, but equally crucial was the rescue operation at Dunkirk in May-June of 1940.  The Dunkirk Evacuation, aka The Miracle of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, took place from May 26 – June 4, 1940.  (The code name was derived from the dynamo room in naval headquarters in the basement of Dover Castle that supplied electricity to the building.)

The lightning German advance through the Low Countries and Belgium in early 1940 had surprised everyone, and the entire British Expeditionary Force (“BEF”), as well as substantial numbers of French, Canadian and Belgian troops, was trapped at the nondescript little beach town of Dunkirk.  Britain had deployed the BEF to defend France after the Germans had blitzed through Poland in a matter of weeks in September, 1939 and then Belgium and the Netherlands in May, 1940.  Outnumbered and cut off with little hope of rescue it appeared that the entire force would be killed or captured.  Had that happened, the British, French and Canadian armies would have been severely hampered prospectively, and the entire course of the war would have been changed.  (Remember, the US had not yet entered the War.)  As the feisty British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill famously put it: “the entire root and core and brain of the British Army” was in grave peril.  Instead, the British people, civilians as well as military, rose to the occasion big-time and “saved the day” in dramatic fashion.

How did this near disaster happen?  In a nutshell, the Germans outfoxed the Allies.  In the 1930s the French had constructed the much-ballyhooed Maginot Line.  Conceived by French Minister of War Andre Maginot, for whom it was named, basically, the ML was a series of fortifications along the French-German border designed to deter Germany from invading France, especially in a surprise attack.   The ML was state of the art in many ways, but it had two glaring weaknesses: (1) in deference to Belgium’s neutrality, the French had not extended it through that country; and (2) the ML fortifications, mostly concrete bunkers, were static; they were designed to repel an attack solely from the east and were useless otherwise.  The theory was that Germany would have to bypass the ML and attack through Belgium through the Ardennes Forest, which was thought to be impenetrable to tanks.  Consequently, the area was sparsely defended.  If Germany were to swing farther north, the Allies would have plenty of time to respond.  Somehow, however, the German Army and its panzers managed to get through the Ardennes, overwhelm the light defenses in the area and split the Allies’ army.  The forces to the south were mostly killed or captured.  Most of those who were captured spent the remainder of the war in prisoner-of-war or labor camps.  The forces to the north were pushed to Dunkirk where they were trapped with their backs to the sea and nowhere to go.

At one point, the Germans were closing in on the trapped Allies, and it seemed that victory was well within their grasp.  Yet, the Germans halted their advance. The enduring question is why?  One theory is that the German Army’s commander, Gerd von Runstedt, was concerned about (a) risking his panzers on the marshy ground, (b)  over- extending his supply lines, and (c) exposing his flanks to a counterattack.  Another is that Herman Goring, ever the overly optimistic glory-hound, convinced Hitler that his Luftwaffe could finish off the Allies without the army’s assistance.  In any event Hitler had the army stand down and let Goring have his way.

That proved to be a crucial mistake.  As it turned out, (a) the German pilots were worn out after the prolonged fighting to that point, and (b) more significantly, the planes’ effectiveness was dependent on satisfactory weather, and the weather did not cooperate.

The evacuation was very chaotic.  The Brits did not have enough naval vessels to accommodate all the trapped soldiers, so they scrounged whatever non-military small craft they could.  Even private boats, manned by civilians, participated in the rescue operation, crossing the Channel in very rough weather.  All in all some 700 vessels of various types participated, most of which were non-military.  Meanwhile, the RAF engaged the Luftwaffe in the skies to try to protect the evacuees.

The evacuation went on for nine days.  Some 300,000 troops were rescued, but tens of thousands were killed or captured.  Approximately, 150 planes were lost along with some two dozen naval ships.  In addition, a plethora of tanks, military vehicles, heavy guns, weapons, ammunition, fuel and other material had to be abandoned.  All in all, it was a disaster, but not a knockout blow.  The Brits would “live to fight another day,” so to speak.  In the midst of the post-evacuation euphoria Churchill recognized the situation for what it was and summed it up thusly:  “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory.  Wars are not won by evacuations.”

CONCLUSION

Most historians agree that Hitler’s stand-down order was one of his crucial errors with respect to his conduct of the war.  Hitler may have been a brilliant orator and politician, but he was a poor general,  and his military strategic and tactical deficiencies showed up time and again.  Even his own generals, when interviewed after the war, acknowledged this error.  Von Runstedt characterized it as “one of the great turning points of the war.”  General Manstein, characterized it as “one of Hitler’s most critical mistakes.”  After the war, noted British military historian and theorist, Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, interviewed several surviving members of the German High Command who had been privy to Hitler’s decision-making on the matter.  He concluded that supposedly, Hitler was not that strong on wiping out the remnants of the BEF, because he believed that once it left the mainland, it would never return.  (Another critical error.  I can’t imagine why he would have thought that!)

In any event, we all know how things turned out.  The British people deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their bravery, courage and fortitude.

The story of Dunkirk has been made into a movie, which is currently playing “in a theatre near you.”  I haven’t seen it yet, and I suspect the producers have taken some license with the historical facts, but it should be worth seeing.

FATHERS DAY

On Sunday, June 18, the third Sunday of June, many of us will celebrate Father’s Day.  FD is commonly viewed as an opportunity to gather with family for barbecues, picnics, sporting activities (e.g. baseball, golf or fishing), eat at a favorite restaurant, or attend a Broadway show.  Generally, it is a fun day with family and friends.

The idea of an annual day to recognize fathers was first proposed by Sonora Dodd a resident of Spokane, WA, in 1909.  She wanted to honor her own father who had raised her and five siblings as a single parent.   In her opinion, mothers had their “day,” so why shouldn’t fathers.  At first, she approached her pastor about organizing a special service on her father’s birthday, June 5, but for some reason, perhaps, time constraints, the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.  The initial celebration was held in 1910.

For many years the idea of a “day” for fathers did not catch on with the general public.  The major reason was the fear that it would become overly commercialized like Mother’s Day and Christmas.  In addition, the media was not behind the concept.  Rather than support the idea, they attacked it with sarcastic and cynical articles and cartoons.  FD did, however, have its supporters.  Congress debated a bill as early as 1913, but it did not pass.  Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge spoke out in favor of it.  Margaret Chase Smith, a longtime influential Senator from Maine,  criticized the inequity of Congress’ ignoring fathers while honoring mothers.  Finally, in 1966 LBJ issued a Presidential proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as FD.  It became a permanent holiday in 1972.

FD is celebrated differently in other countries around the world, as follows:
United Kingdom – It is also celebrated on the third Sunday of June.  It is recognized as a day to honor not only fathers, but also other father figures, such as grandfathers and fathers-in-law.  As in the US, typically, people pay a visit and give cards and gifts.  Other activities might include male-only outings [golf, football (soccer), or cricket] or trips.  One significant difference is that the day is not considered to be a holiday, just a normal Sunday.

Canada – Very similar to the UK.  Popular activities would include going to the park, the zoo or eating out in a restaurant.

Russia – The holiday, celebrated on February 23, is called Defender of the Fatherland Day.  All men are honored, not just fathers.  It began as a military celebration and is still marked by military parades.

Mexico – Celebrated on the third Sunday of June.  It is marked with parties and gifts for dads and a 21 kilometer Father’s Day race.

Brazil – It is celebrated on August 2 in honor of St. Joachim, patron saint of fathers and grandfathers.

CONCLUSION

Sports fans, which, let’s face it, include most dads, will have a variety of choices.  In addition to the regular choices of the US Open and MLB baseball many dads (and granddads) attend their kids’ (and grandkids’) sporting events.  Some years, the NBA Finals are on tv, but not this year (congratulations to the Golden State Warriors).  My family will be enjoying all of the above.

FD is one of the few days of the year when the wife will not complain when you watch “too much” sports.  Dads, it is your day. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy it.

US OPEN GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

No Tiger.  No Phil.  No ratings?  That last one remains to be seen, but the USGA and Fox TV will be holding their collective breaths for a close, suspenseful tournament that will attract the casual golf fans.  Despite Woods’ varied issues, golf-related and personal, he and Phil remain the two most compelling figures in the sport, particularly with respect to casual fans.  Phil is not injured; he will be attending his daughter’s high school graduation.  This will be the first Open since 1993 without either of those two present.  Jordan Spieth, three time major champion and one of the game’s brightest young stars, commented, “It kind of makes me feel like we’re maybe ten years down the road” [to a time when Tiger and Phil will be retired from big-time golf].

The 117th Open will commence tomorrow at Erin Hills in Erin WS, about 1 hour southwest of Milwaukee.  For you trivia buffs, this will be the first Open held in WS.   The Open is one of the four major championships in golf.  The others are the Masters, which is held in April, the British Open (July), and the PGA (August).   As in tennis, the majors are considered to be so important that players’ legacies are determined, in large part, by the number they have won.

Originally, the majors were generally considered to include the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateurs.  Those were the tournaments that Bobby Jones won for his Grand Slam.  However, concurrent with the rise of professional golf in the US in the 1940s and 1950s the Masters and the PGA replaced the two amateur tournaments in importance.  After all, it no longer made much sense to include amateur tournaments as majors when most of the best golfers could no longer qualify to compete in them.  The watershed year was 1960.  That year Arnold Palmer, who was the best and most influential golfer at the time, won the Masters and the US Open.  He observed that if he could add the British Open and the PGA he would have completed a “grand slam” equal to that of Mr. Jones.   He failed to do so, but the notion of those four tournaments as the four majors “stuck.”

The Open is always scheduled for mid-June with the final on Father’s Day.  The Open field includes 156 players.  This year there will be golfers from 23 countries, including every continent, except Antarctica.  Golf has truly become an international sport.  The Open includes four rounds of stroke play over four days.  If a playoff is required a full 18 holes are played on Monday.  If there is still a tie the winner is decided by sudden death.  Do you recall the name of last year’s winner?  See below.

Only about half of the players in the field are required to actually qualify.  The remainder gain entry by one of many exemptions.  Some of the exemption categories include:

Winners of the past ten US Opens.
Winner and runner-up of the previous year’s US Amateur Championship.
Winners of the past five Masters, British Opens or PGA Championships.
Winner of the previous year’s Senior Open.
Top 60 ranked golfers.
Special exemptions granted by the USGA. These are usually top-ranked players who, though past their prime, are deemed worthy.
There are other exemption categories, but I think you get the idea.  Those who are required to qualify must survive two stages – Local and Sectional.  There is no age requirement, so it not unusual to find a teenager in the field.  The youngest qualifier ever was 14 (Andy Zhang of China).

CONCLUSION

Some interesting facts about the Open that only the most knowledgeable golf fans would know:
The winner of the inaugural tournament in 1895 was Horace Rawlins, an Englishman.
Last year’s winner was Dustin Johnson.
The record score is 268 by Rory McIlroy in 2011.
The record for most Open Championships is four and is held by four men. Three of them will be familiar to you – Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. If you know the fourth, you are either a golf historian or a trivia buff, and my hat’s off to you (even though I don’t wear one). His name is Willie Anderson. Anderson was an interesting and tragic story. He was born in Scotland and emigrated to the US at the age of sixteen. He was one of the outstanding golfers of his time. He won the tournament in 1901,1903, 1904 and 1905. He was an original member of the PGA Hall of Fame and an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975. Tragically, he died at the age of 31 from epilepsy.

The inaugural Open was contested on a nine-hole course at the Newport Country Club. Only ten professionals and one amateur bothered to enter. They played 36 holes in one day. The winner received $150 out of a total purse of $335 plus a gold medal. By contrast, this year’s winner is expected to receive in excess of $2 million out of a total purse of some $12 million.  I think we can say the tournament and the sport have grown considerably.

Enjoy the Open.  Let’s root for a tight, suspenseful tournament that doesn’t get decided until the last hole.

 

COMEY AND TRUMP

Trump and Comey.  Comey and Trump.  Who was the winner; who was the loser?  Undoubtedly, many of you were riveted to your tv Thursday hoping/expecting to witness something memorable, something “Watergateesque.”  If so, you were sorely disappointed.  There was no “aha” moment, no “smoking gun.”  For the most part, what you got was “he said, he said.”

There was something for everyone.  If you hate Trump, you would conclude he tried to intimidate Comey into (a) backing off on the investigation of Flynn’s purportedly inappropriate communications with Russia, (b) publicly announcing that Trump was not a target of any FBI investigation, and (c) giving Trump a “loyalty oath.”  When those tactics failed, he fired him, unjustifiably.

If you like Trump, you would conclude that Comey testified under oath that Trump was, in fact, not under investigation, and (b) there was no evidence of collusion or obstruction.  Furthermore, the closest revelation to a “smoking gun” was Comey’s admission, under oath, that he had leaked, the content of his private meeting with the president.  Whether or not the actual content was classified is irrelevant.  It demonstrated a lack of loyalty and trust, led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, which may not have been justified otherwise, and may be justification for further investigation.  In this case, the ends most certainly did not justify the means.

Comey claimed that Trump “defamed” both him and the FBI, itself, by asserting that the bureau was “poorly led” and many agents had “lost confidence” in Comey.  In my view, the FBI has been poorly led.  Exhibit A is the manner in which Comey handled the disclosure of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.  He managed to displease both the Dems and the GOP.  Now, the Dems conveniently forget that immediately before and after the election they were heavily criticizing Comey’s job performance and wanted him fired.  Now that Trump has done so, they are defending him.  Tell me, does that abrupt “about face” make any sense?

In addition, Comey testified that he felt uncomfortable being alone with Trump.  Well, boo hoo!  Yes, Trump can be arrogant and tough, but the head of the FBI has to be tough also.  We have all had arrogant, tough or obnoxious bosses.  One has to learn to deal with them.  It’s as simple as that.

Incidentally, where was Comey’s “discomfort” when his former boss, Loretta Lynch, met with Bill Clinton on the tarmac in Phoenix to discuss their “grandchildren” (which Lynch does not have) and their “golf game,” which Lynch does not play?  Was it just coincidence that shortly thereafter Lynch instructed Comey to characterize the investigation of Hillary’s emails as a “matter” rather than an “investigation” prospectively?  That was clearly improper, if not illegal, yet Comey did not speak out about it.  “Inconsistent” would be the overly polite term to describe Comey’s performance during the past several months.

For his part, Trump (a) denies he ever asked Comey to “let go” of the Flynn investigation; and (b) denies he asked Comey to “pledge allegiance.”  He added: “I hardly know the man……. Who would do that?”

Trump’s succinct summary of the day’s events says it all, in my opinion:  “No collusion.  No obstruction.  He’s a leaker.”

CONCLUSION

In my view, the only crime that Comey’s testimony disclosed was his own leaking.   In addition to his own admitted leaking, there is a suspicion he may have been the source, directly or indirectly, of the other leaked information that has plagued the Trump administration.   In this regard, Trump had previously stated that he had launched an internal investigation.  Furthermore, according to multiple news reports Marc Kasowitz, his attorney in this matter, is planning to file complaints with both the inspector general of the Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee.  We will see how that plays out.

I have a feeling that this was only Round 1.  The Senate’s and Special Prosecutor’s investigations are ongoing and will likely linger for several months.  The media loves this.  It drives ratings.  It will do its best to keep the story alive.

Where do the “Trump haters” go from here?  First, they tried challenging the voting results in the Electoral College.  That failed.   Then, they claimed there were voting “irregularities.”  That proved to be false.  Then, they claimed the Russians had hacked the voting machines to benefit Trump.  That has been proven to be false.  Finally, they hung their hats on Comey’s testimony.  That was also a dud.  So, I repeat, what is next?  They would be better served in admitting they lost and analyzing the reasons why, or else they will repeat the same mistakes and lose again in 2020.

The big losers in all this will be the American people.  As long as the government’s focus remains on these investigations, Trump’s legislative proposals regarding healthcare, border security, the economy, tax reform, and other matters that urgently need to be addressed will not be able to proceed.

 

 

ADAM WEST – THE REAL BATMAN

Dozens of actors have portrayed Batman at one time or another on radio, in films, on tv, in commercials, in cartoons and on voice-overs, but, for me and those of my generation the “real” Batman will always be Adam West.  West, who portrayed the famous comic book character in the campy, popular tv series Batman from 1966 to 1968, passed away yesterday at the age of 88.  To many people, the character, Batman, and West are synonymous.  It’s as if Batman were the only role of his career.  In reality, as you will see, West enjoyed a seven decade career in tv, films, commercials and voiceovers.

William West Anderson was born on September 19, 1928 in Walla Walla, WA.  His father was a farmer; his mother was a former opera singer and concert pianist, who, as was customary in those days, abandoned her professional aspirations to tend to her family.  When West was 15 his parents divorced.  He and his mother moved to Seattle where he graduated from high school and Whitman College with a degree in literature and a minor in psychology.  Then, he was drafted into the Army where he primarily served as an announcer on Armed Forces Television.  After his discharge he worked at odd jobs for a while (including as a milkman).

Eventually, he moved to Hawaii to pursue an acting career.  One of his early jobs was as a sidekick to a chimp on a local tv show called El Kini Popo Show.  Sounds funny, but remember Ronald Reagan once played opposite a monkey, and look how he ended up.

In 1959 West moved to Hollywood.  One of the first things he did was to change his name to Adam West.  In his autobiography West explained he chose “Adam” because he “liked the way it looked and sounded with ‘West.’ ”

Perhaps, the best way to view West’s career is to divide it into “pre-Batman and post-Batman stages.  Pre-Batman, he appeared in more than a dozen minor tv and movie roles.  Most were forgettable, but among his more notable roles were in the movie, The Young Philadelphians starring Paul Newman, and guest spots in a variety of tv series, such as Sugarfoot, Colt 45, The Real McCoys, The Rifleman and Perry Mason.  Not much of a resume, but he made a living.

How did West get the role of a lifetime?  The story is that the producer of the show, William Dozer, saw him in a commercial for Nestle Quik in which he portrayed a “James Bond-like character,” and thought he would be “good for the role.”  Whether the story is true or not, it sounds good.  Incidentally, among the other actors who competed for the role was Lyle Waggoner, whom you may remember as the announcer and sometimes performer on The Carol Burnet Show in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Batman ran on ABC for only three seasons (1966-1968), but it was very popular, particularly with the teen and college set.  West and his co-star, Burt Ward as Robin, were also very popular individually, but in the long run the roles hurt their respective careers, because they became severely typecast.  Other roles were hard to come by, although West was offered the role of James Bond in 1970.  He turned it down, because, as he put it, in his autobiography, “the role should always be played by a British actor.”

West’s roles post-Batman were primarily related to playing a version of Batman.  For example, he made an appearance on behalf of the US Wrestling Association in which he engaged in a fake “war of words” with wrestler Jerry (the “King”) Lawler.  Also, he reprised the Batman role in the short-lived and forgettable animated series The New Adventures of Batman, as well as The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour and Tarzan and the Super 7, among others.   Furthermore, he performed guest roles on many tv shows, such as Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Maverick, Bonanza, and King of Queens.  Due to his distinctive voice, West was in demand to do voice-overs in many animated series, including, among others, the Simpsons, Family Guy, Rugrats and SpongeBob Square Pants, as well as a Batman video game.  Surprisingly, West never appeared in any of the Batman franchise movies (nor, for that matter, has Ward).

CONCLUSION

West was married three times and had a total of six children.  In 2012 he was honored with a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  As I said, even though West’s career spanned seven decades, he is primarily remembered for one role.  Ironically, West never took that role very seriously.  He often said he played Batman “for laughs.”  He just had to “pull on that cowl and believe no one would recognize [him].”

Mark Hamill, who met West while, doing the voice-over for the “Joker” in “Batman, the Animated Series,” remembered him as a “wonderful actor [and] so kind.”  Also, Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, tweeted “Adam West was a joy to work with…His positivity, good nature and sense of fun were undeniable.”

Rest in peace Batman.  You will be sorely missed.

D DAY

D Day. That’s all one has to say. Most everyone knows what it was and what it meant. Just the very name conjures up remembrances and images of one of the bloodiest battles and one of the turning points of WWII. The battle has been memorialized in books and movies, and who can forget the poignant image of countless crosses and Stars of David neatly lined up in military cemeteries in Normandy.

Yesterday, June 6, marked the 73rd anniversary of this epic battle. The Allied Forces included 156,000 troops from various countries, including the US, UK, Free France, Canada and Norway, among others, 5,000 ships and landing craft, 11,000 planes, 50,000 land vehicles, and coordinated landings over a 50 mile stretch of beaches code-named Juno, Omaha, Utah, Sword and Gold, truly a massive undertaking. Allied and German casualties have been estimated as high as 20,000 killed, wounded, missing and captured. If you were involved in the actual landing, whether you lived or died was largely a matter of luck and happenstance – two men sitting side-by-side in an LST and the German bullet finds one and not the other. Think about that for a minute. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” depicts this fact clearly.

If you were lucky enough to survive the landing, you became a “sitting duck” on the beach.  Then, if you managed to fight your way off the beach you had to charge into several thousand heavily-armed German troops, which were placed strategically in fortified bunkers.   Once you fought your way past those, you were ready to commence the real battle to liberate France.  Keep in mind, many of these soldiers were just kids as young as 17.

Planning for the operation began as early as 1943. Russia, one of our allies at the time (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) had been lobbying strongly for a second front to alleviate some of the pressure from the Russian Front. Military leaders on both sides recognized the significance of a second front and expected the Allies to attempt to open one at some point. The question was where and when. The Allies were not prepared to attempt such a massive landing until early 1944 primarily because they needed time to build up levels of men and material. Remember, the Allies were fighting in the Mediterranean and North Africa as well. Plus, the US was involved in the Pacific War against the Japanese. Finally, the British’s fighting capacity had been severely damaged in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, when they were lucky that the Germans had not captured or destroyed their entire army on the beach.

The Operation was code-named Operation Overlord. The landing, itself, was code-named Operation Neptune. General Eisenhower was in charge. Indeed, he was in charge of the entire Atlantic Theatre. As the story goes, when he was put in charge his orders were very simple – “Win the War.” No confusion; no limited rules of engagement, which hampered us in Viet Nam and other future conflicts.

The Allies considered four possible landing sites: Brittany, Cotentin Peninsula, Pas de Calais and Normandy. The first two were eliminated primarily because they were located on peninsulas, which would have afforded very narrow fronts that would have enabled the Germans to trap the soldiers in a counterattack. That left Normandy and Calais. Once the Allies decided on Normandy there were many attempts to deceive the Germans into thinking the landings would be at Calais. Historical evidence indicates that the Germans thought Calais the most likely site anyway, possibly because it was closer to England, but both sites were heavily fortified. Indeed, the Germans had planned to fortify the entire coast from Norway to Spain, a so-called Atlantic Wall. This would have included concrete emplacements, barbed wire, booby traps, mines, the removal of ground cover, and, of course, troops and armored equipment. Luckily for us, these fortifications were never completed. Interestingly, although most of the German High Command viewed Calais as the most likely landing site, General Rommel, perhaps the best general on either side, surmised correctly that it would likely be at Normandy.

Accordingly, he increased fortifications in the area, but, luckily for us he was out of favor for political reasons, so some key elements of his plans for defending the area were ignored or overruled. Most notably, some panzer divisions, which he had wanted to place in the Normandy area were, instead, retained in and around Paris. In addition, the German Army was stretched very thinly. Much of its manpower was committed to the Eastern Front and depleted by heavy casualties after five years’ of fighting. Finally, it was relying on captured equipment, which was not of high quality.

One of the biggest unknowns, and one that the Allies could not control, was the weather. Due to the complexity of the operation conditions had to be just so, including the tides, phases of the moon and the time of day. Only a few days of a given month satisfied all criteria. For example, a full moon was preferred to provide maximum illumination for the pilots. Remember, instrumentation then was not what it is now. Additionally, dawn, which was between low and high tide, was the preferred time of day. That way, as the high tide came in it would carry the LSTs farther in on the beach, and the men could spot obstacles, such as land mines, more easily. High winds, heavy seas and low cloud cover were not favorable. The planners were determined to wait for a day with ideal weather conditions so as to maximize the chances of success for a very risky and dangerous mission. In fact, the operation was postponed several times before June 6.

As we know, the operation was a success. Some of the major reasons for this were:
1. The aforementioned missions to deceive the Germans forced them to spread their defenses over a wide area.
2. The Atlantic Wall was only about 20% complete.
3. The Allies achieved air superiority quickly.
4. Much of the transportation infrastructure in France had been damaged by Allied bombings and the French resistance, which hampered the Germans’ ability to move men and material.
5. The German high command was disorganized and indecisive.

CONCLUSION

If, as many historians believe, winning WWII was one America’s greatest achievements, then it can be argued that D Day was one of our greatest victories. Certainly, its success shortened the war in Europe and, in the process, saved countless lives (combatants and non-combatants alike). In WWII we had a clear-cut goal, win the war; the nation was united in support of the war, our government and our troops; we knew who the enemy was; and there was no holding back. Sadly, we have never had such clarity again, and, perhaps, we never will.

 

PRESIDENT TRUMP AND THE PARIS ACCORD

President Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accord, and the Trump haters and the uninformed reacted as if he were out to destroy the planet.  I say, his critics are overreacting.  Mr. Trump’s action does not mean he is indifferent to the future of the planet as some Trump haters and pundits have postulated.  Everybody take a deep breath and repeat after me.  His action was not about climate change; it was about the economy!  Half of you probably think I’m way off base, but read on, and I’ll demonstrate why the president’s decision was beneficial to the US, especially in the long run and will have a minimal impact on climate.  Remember, he ran (and was elected) on “putting America first,” and, to quote former president Obama, “elections have consequences.”  So, as you read this, please take the politics and emotion out of it and use some logic and common sense, (which, as we all know, is not “common).”

  1. The science surrounding the global warming/ climate change issue can be complicated, confusing and even a bit contradictory.  Global warming is the increase in the earth’s average surface temperature due to emissions of greenhouse gases, such as CO2 from fossil fuels or deforestation.  According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) the earth’s average temperature increased an average of only 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit from 1880 to 2012.
  2. Many people point to daily or annual warmer weather as evidence of “climate change,” but that is inaccurate and misleading.  Climate and weather are two different things.  Weather is day to day; climate is weather conditions that prevail over a long period of time – thousands of years or more.  Thus, year to year phenomena, such as El Nino, do not constitute climate change.
  3. Although human activities, such as the emissions of fossil fuels can affect climate change, there are other external causes, such as biotic processes (e.g. effect of the melting of the polar icecaps on the ecosystem), solar radiation, plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions.  Throughout the earth’s 4.5 billion year history its climate has varied widely from time to time, for example, before, during and after the various ice ages.  However, according to Wikipedia, through the science of paleoclimatology (the study of ancient temperatures) scientists have determined that over the last 10,000 years the earth’s average temperature has exhibited minimal variance from the mean.  Moreover, again according to Wikipedia, although 16 of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 17 years and 2016 was the warmest on record the average global temperature has only increased .13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1880.  Is that cause for alarm?  I guess that’s up to each person to decide.  In my opinion, there is cause for some concern, but I don’t view the situation to be as dire as Al Gore and some others have postulated.  I think we would be better off focusing our attention on other issues, such as global terrorism, jobs, the economy and border security, to name a few.
  4.  The stated goal of the accord is to prevent the earth’s average temperature from rising 1.6 degrees.  That is what all the fuss is about – 1.6 degrees.
  5. Each signatory is required to submit voluntary goals for reducing emissions.  That’s right, VOLUNTARY. They are to be reported every five years to the UNFCCC Secretariat.  Provisions for monitoring compliance are weak, however, and will likely be largely ineffectual.  Moreover, there are no penalties for failure to meet one’s goals.  The UN assistant secretary general for climate change, Janos Pasztor, has labeled this a “name and encourage” plan.  I call it worthless.  Can you imagine these goals being enforced?  Who would do it, and by what mechanism?
  6. Even some of the accord’s staunchest supporters think it does not go far enough.  Former President Obama opined “even if we meet every target….we will only get to part of where we need to go.”
  7. The US and other “developed” countries are required to contribute $100 billion per year to “undeveloped” countries to assist them in attaining their goals starting in 2020 for a period of six years.  Obama pledged $3 billion, of which the US has contributed $500 million so far.  What is the likelihood of other “developed” nations “ponying up” their share?   So, once again, the US will be “footing the bill.”
  8. The adverse effects on the US economy would be considerable, to wit:

a.  According to the National Economic Research Associates consulting group the accord will result in the loss of 440,000 manufacturing jobs in the US.  The coal, iron and steel industries would be particularly decimated.

b.  According to Christine Harbin of the Washington Examiner most of the lost output and jobs in these and other manufacturing industries would be transferred to other countries, such as China and India.  Thus, in essence, the US would be subsidizing the economies of these and other countries.  President Trump has derided this as a “massive redistribution of US wealth to other countries,” and I am inclined to agree.  Additional government regulations required to enforce this accord would constitute a further drag on business and industry.

d.  Energy prices would likely increase, making it costlier to heat one’s home and run one’s car.  In addition, businesses would likely pass on their increased energy costs to the consumer.

CONCLUSION

Under this plan:

  1.  We will not be able to evaluate its effectiveness and member compliance for five years.
  2. We will not be able to compel participants to meet their voluntary goals.
  3. The plan’s goals, even if met, will be inadequate.
  4. The US will be “footing the bill.”

I fail to see how the US would benefit from this accord.  Our emission standards are among the highest of any industrialized nation, and we are fully capable of policing ourselves.  As I see it, the primary results would be (a) we shell out billions of dollars annually to fund other countries’ compliance programs, (b) we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis other countries, (c) we eliminate thousands of blue collar jobs, and (d) we significantly weaken our economy.

So, tell me, do you still think this was a good deal for the US?  Once one removes politics and emotion from the equation and analyzes the deal and its ramifications, it becomes apparent that President Trump made the right call.    I don’t know about you, but I think we could find better use for the $3 billion per year within the US.  With a $20 trillion deficit our financial resources, though substantial, are not unlimited.

I welcome your thoughts and opinions.