THE COVID VACCINE THAT ALMOST WASN’T

I love stories like this. Simply love them. It is a story of Holocaust survival against heavy odds. It is a story filled with irony, coincidence and, yes, plain luck. It is a story about Albert Bourla, an immigrant Jew who, as CEO of Pfizer Corporation, spearheaded the development of the first COVID vaccination, which, as you know, has already saved untold thousands of lives. That, however, is not the best part of the story. The “kicker” is that but for the abovementioned irony, coincidence and luck Albert would never have been born. No Albert, maybe no COVID vaccine, or certainly not as quickly. No Albert and untold thousands more people would have died from COVID.

The story began in Greece in 1939. Albert’s future parents lived in Thessalonika, Greece, which was a thriving port city on the Aegean Sea. In 1939 some 60,000 Jews lived in the city in peace and harmony with the non-Jewish population. On September 1, 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland, which marked the beginning of WWII. That, by itself, had no immediate effect on Thessalonika. However, in the Spring of 1941 Hitler decided he would invade Russia. But, first he wanted to secure his southern flank. That decision doomed Greece. Germany invaded Greece on April 6, 1941. The port of Thessalonika was a prime target.

The Jews in the city were doomed. Almost the entire population was quickly sent to concentration camps and exterminated. There were very few survivors.

Two of the lucky few were Albert’s future parents. According to Wikipedia his future mother was literally minutes away from being executed by a firing squad when her life was spared. Her brother-in-law, who was not Jewish, managed this 11th hour rescue by paying a hefty ransom to a Nazi Party official who then interceded on her behalf. His future father survived due to the good fortune of being absent from the ghetto when the Nazis arrived to round up the residents. He went into hiding and survived the war.

After the war the two met and married. On October 21, 1961 they had a son, Abraham. By all accounts Abraham was a brilliant student. He studied veterinary medicine, earning a doctorate in reproductive biotechnology in veterinary medicine at Aristotle University in Salonika.

He joined Pfizer in 1993 as technical director for the firm’s animal health division. In 2001 he emigrated to the US and changed his name to Albert. Albert rose through the ranks at Pfizer and became CEO on January 1, 2019. He became executive chairman in January 2020. In 2020 Institutional Investor designated him as the US’s top CEO in the pharmaceutical industry.

With the advent of the COVID pandemic Albert directed Pfizer to aggressively develop a safe and effective vaccine. To that end, he partnered with BioNTech, a German company. He directed that “financial returns should not drive any decisions.” Virtually all medical and epidemiological people thought it would take years to develop a safe and effective vaccine . Indeed, historically, that had been the standard timeframe. But, by working in cooperation with executives of other major pharmaceutical companies and with the strong support of President Trump it was accomplished in a matter of months by November 2020. The Pfizer vaccine was ready first. In order to expedite matters Albert had taken the calculated risk of mass-producing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine prior to FDA approval so that it would be ready for distribution immediately upon approval. Undoubtedly, this decision saved thousands of lives.

CONCLUSION

Albert is a major figure in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, he is a member of The Business Council, which is an organization of prominent business leaders, and the Business Roundtable a group of business leaders that promotes pro-business public policy. In addition, he is featured regularly on CNBC and in the NY Times.

The supreme irony of this story is that Albert who, but for a fortuitous twist of fate would have never been born, has had a significant role in the development of a vaccine against a deadly pandemic that is benefiting millions of people worldwide, including the descendants of those who sought to eradicate his ancestors.

WEAR A MASK/DON’T WEAR A MASK VACCINE/NO VACCINE

Instead of uniting us, in my opinion our elected leaders have continually been devising new ways to divide us. Some of you may be wondering what I mean by that provocative statement. Read on, and I will explain.

Historically, leaders, and not just those currently in the US, have always realized that the way to maintain their power and control over the masses is to divide the people. Thus, at various times the ruling class has successfully pitted, for example, the haves against the have nots, Protestants against Catholics, both of them against Jews, liberals against conservatives, and the latest, “red” states vs “blue” states. The theory is that if different groups are in conflict with each other they are less likely to question who is to blame for the current calamities, whatever they may be. They are less likely to unite against the ruling class. This has been true whether the rulers were kings, despots, or elected leaders. Very often, the vast majority are so busy dealing with their daily lives they fail to notice what is occurring. History is full of such examples, from the European royalty of the Middle Ages through the 19th century, to the 20th century despots in Russia and Germany, to the current crop of incompetents in the USA. If you doubt me, feel free to research the history yourself.

In my view, the COVID pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity for the ruling class to exert and consolidate its power and control over our daily lives. Yes, COVID is a deadly disease. Yes, its has killed millions worldwide. I get that. Everyone gets that. But, the question is what freedoms and rights have we and will we continue to give up to combat it, and is it necessary to do so? How many of you stayed in your homes, avoided social contacts, made financial sacrifices, or not seen your kids or grandkids because you were scared to do so? Was it worth it? Was it necessary, or was it overkill? Everyone has to decide the answer to that for himself. Personally, I think not. I believe one cannot live one’s life in fear.

There are many examples that illustrate my contention, but for the sake of brevity I will cite only two.

Mask mandate –

For some 20 months I have sat back and watched and listened to the “experts” bloviate with respect to the positives and negatives of wearing masks. Everyone intones “follow the science,” and yet many of our political leaders and medical spokespersons do not. Instead, they choose to follow the politics. Politicians have been imposing draconian policies on the general public, which are not always based on science and which they don’t always follow personally. Their motto is “rules for thee but not for me.” Examples abound. Earlier this year during the lockdown CA Governor Gavin Newsome and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot were photographed eating in restaurants without a mask in violation of their own mask mandates. Nancy Pelosi and Lightfoot had their hair done when the rest of us could not do so. Pelosi has actually threatened to have any congressman who does not wear a mask in the House chamber arrested. More recently, San Francisco Mayor London Breed was caught dancing and singing in a club without a mask. Was she apologetic? No. Was she contrite”? No. Instead, she defended her actions, saying she was “feeling the spirit,” whatever that means. Then, she doubled down by criticizing the “fun police” for reporting on her.

According to WHO contrary to popular belief a mask alone does not provide sufficient protection against the virus, particularly the Delta variant. Therefore, those who assume it does are operating under a false sense of security. Furthermore, not all masks are equal. For example, how many people have you seen wearing a bandanna as their “mask?” How many people fail to clean and disinfect their mask regularly? How many people have you observed wearing a mask over their mouth but not their nose. How does that help? How about people who wear a mask while driving? Alone? What’s that all about? How many people have you observed wearing a mask while exercising? WHO advises not to do so as it impairs one’s ability to breath properly.

Vaccines – [Full disclosure: I have had two vaccines plus the booster, but I have put aside my personal opinions regarding the vaccine for purposes of this blog.]

Before the 2020 presidential election both Biden and Harris cautioned the public that the “Trump vaccine” was dangerous, unproven, and not to be trusted. Forget the fact that the vaccines were being developed by pharmaceutical companies that did this for a living, who clearly knew what they were doing and were taking every precaution. They made it seem as if Trump were concocting a witches’ brew in a cauldron in secret in his basement. It was Trump, and all things Trump were bad and not to be trusted. Once they got elected, however, the mantra changed. Now, vaccines are good, everyone eligible must take them. Those who don’t for whatever reason are “unpatriotic,” “selfish,” and endangering the rest of us. They should be banned from working, going out, traveling, and breathing the air.

Naturally, the media has “eaten this up.” The media loves a controversy. We now have a new division in this country – the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated, and the media has seized every opportunity to exacerbate it. The media blows up every incident without knowing the facts. The latest example is the Carmine’s Restaurant episode of a few days ago. You all know the story. The hostess asked a group pf patrons to show proof of vaccination to eat inside as she is required to do by NYC law. The next thing we know, the group assaulted her. They claim the hostess uttered a racial slur, but as I write this we don’t know if she did or not, and if so what she said. There is no audio. The matter is under investigation. The point is, this is a perfect storm for the media – COVID and race combined. The media is off to the races. Facts don’t seem to matter.

The vaccinated are blaming the unvaccinated for prolonging the pandemic and endangering the vaccinated. Meanwhile, many of the unvaccinated have what they perceive as legitimate concerns and resent being told what they must do. As far as I know, this is still America, or did we all fall asleep and wake up in Soviet Russia circa 1930. Emotion and fallacy have overtaken reason and facts.

Meanwhile, according to the CDC and many other reputable outlets the vaccinated have a much lower risk of infection, even from the much-feared Delta variant. Moreover, according to a recent study published by Forbes the fully vaccinated are only half as likely to catch COVID if they have been exposed to an infected person, and they are less likely to die from it. These are known as “vaccine breakthrough cases.” They have been few and far between, but they have been disproportionally publicized by the media.

On the other hand, the primary concern of the unvaccinated, its affect on fertility, appears to be groundless. The CDC has stated there is “no current evidence” that any vaccine, including COVID would cause fertility problems. Of course, evidence could turn up years from now, so I can understand why a young, healthy woman who wants children would have reservations. Does anyone remember the thalidomide scandal? Briefly, in the 1950s and 1960s the drug, thalidomide, was commonly prescribed for nausea in pregnant women. Later it was determined that the drug caused severe birth defects in many babies.

The medical experts have been wrong continually from the beginning. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical “expert,” has flip-flopped on the mask issue and other aspects of the coronavirus daily (or so it seems). At this point his credibility is “shot.” He isn’t the only one. Most media outlets have repeatedly trotted out “experts” who are not doctors, don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are talking about, but who feel free to give authoritative advice to the rest of us.

The average person is confused and no wonder. The messaging seems to change daily. Wear a mask; don’t wear a mask. You don’t need a mask if you are fully vaccinated. Yes, you do because you might infect those who are not. In fact, wear a double mask. Wear a mask outside. Wear one inside as well, even inside your house. Businesses such as hospitals and restaurants should require all employees to mask up. No, they shouldn’t. Close the schools to in-person classes. No, don’t do that. It is damaging to the kids in various ways. Do all who recover from COVID retain antibodies? Yes/no/maybe. If so, how long do they last? Do we need booster shots periodically? No one really knows, but many act as if they do.

Require your employees to wear a mask. No, you don’t have to do that. Is it even legal? Require everyone to be vaccinated. No, you can’t do that. This is America. We have freedom of choice, and some people have valid reasons for eschewing the vaccines.

The bottom line is this is not a “one size fits all” situation. The best advice is to consult your doctor who is familiar with your medical situation, and follow his or her advice.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? You should be. What should we do? Everyone has an opinion, but no one really knows. Repeat: EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION, BUT NO ONE REALLY KNOWS. Based on my observations people’s opinions are based, in large part, on their news source and political leanings.

As I said above, these aforementioned mask mandates and other restrictions are not about the health of Americans, not even about combatting the virus. Yes, it dangerous. Yes, it kills people, especially the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems and those in generally poor health. Yes, we need to take it seriously. That said, the mask mandate and other safety measures are not about all that. Not really. What are they about? Power and control. That’s P O W E R and C O N T R O L.

Why do I say that? Simple. Despite all the talk about the dangers of the virus and its capacity to spread and kill, our fearless leaders adamantly continue to keep our southern border open to anyone and everyone. That makes absolutely no sense. Migrants have been pouring across every day. Many of them have come from countries with high infection rates and they are NOT tested for COVID. To be clear, the Administration demands Americans wear a mask and be vaccinated, but migrants do not have to be. How does that make any sense. The visuals shown on tv are incomprehensible. It makes me ill just to look at it.

CONCLUSION

In summary, I have concluded;

1. COVID has provided our elected officials with the opportunity to exert control over how we live, how we earn a living, how we worship, and how we educate our kids, among other things. Think about it. These restrictions would have been unacceptable and unthinkable two years ago.

2. Once again, the media has failed to do its job. Instead of investigating they have been enabling.

3. Fear of COVID has caused us to surrender many of our liberties and freedoms little by little under the guise of protecting us from an existential threat. Some changes have been radical, while others have been so imperceptible as to be barely noticed. None of them will be beneficial to our traditional way of life. We are literally witnessing the remaking of America.

4. In particular, the Administration has frequently gone out of its way to criticize the COVID policies of “Red State” governors, notably Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’ Greg Abbott. Here is where the politics come in. DeSantis is seen as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2024. The Dems desperately want to discredit Abbott and turn Texas “blue.” At the moment, COVID cases are up in both states likely due to Biden’s open border policy. Recently, Pew Research has reported that there were 200,000 border “encounters” in July, which is a 21 year high. Furthermore, most of us have seen video of the 12,000 or so Haitians living in squalor under a bridge on the border. Eventually, most of these people will have to be absorbed into the US somewhere, maybe in your neighborhood.

5. By pitting the vaccinated against the unvaccinated the ruling class has successfully diverted our attention from the other problems facing us, such as the economy, crime, energy independence, leaving hundreds of American citizens and green card holders behind in Afghanistan to be tortured and murdered, and our deteriorating relationships with our allies.

5. The virus has become a political football. We have been induced to cede much control over our lives to people who don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are doing. In many cases, they are literally making it up as they go.

Remember, politicians have many faults, but they are really, really good at two things: getting elected and getting re-elected.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – SEPTEMBER

The following historically-significant events occurred during the month of September:

9/1/1939 – The Germans invaded Poland marking the beginning of WWII.
9/1/1983 – A Russian fighter jet shot down a Korean civilian airliner that had supposedly strayed off course during a scheduled flight from NY to Seoul.
9/2/1666 – The Great Fire of London began. It destroyed over 13,000 houses, although it is believed that only six lives were lost.
9/2/1789 – Congress established the Department of the Treasury as the third cabinet department.
9/2/1864 – General Sherman captured Atlanta.
9/2/1945 – President Truman declared VJ Day.
9/2/1963 – Alabama Governor George Wallace dispatched state troopers to prevent the integration of Tuskegee High School.
9/3/1783 – Representatives of England and the American colonies signed the Treaty of Paris bringing a formal ending to the Revolutionary War.
9/3/1833 – The “New York Sun” debuted, as the first newspaper to be “hawked” by boys on the sidewalk.
9/4/1609 – Henry Hudson discovered the island of Manhattan. (Do you know the derivation of the name, “Manhattan”)? See below.
9/4/1781 – Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (in English, The Town of the Queen of the Angels), or as it is more commonly known, the City of Los Angeles.
9/4/1886 – Geronimo, the last and, perhaps, the most famous, Indian chief, was captured.
9/5/1774 – The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.
9/5-6/1972 – Terrorists belonging to the Black September faction of the PLA murdered eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team in Munich.
9/5/1997 – “Mother Teresa” died at age 87.
9/8/1565 – Spain founded the first settlement in America in St. Augustine, FL.
9/9/1776 – The Continental Congress officially changed the name of the “United Colonies” to the “United States.”
9/9/1976 – Chairman Mao Zedong, Communist China’s longtime leader, died.
9/11/2001 – The worst terrorist attack in US history ushered in the War on Terror, which is ongoing. Terrorists hijacked four jumbo jets. Two were flown into the WTC, causing both towers to collapse; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the 4th missed its target (the White House or the Capitol) due to the heroism of some of the passengers on board. Nearly 2,800, mostly civilians, were killed and thousands of first responders have since died or suffered health problems directly related to the attack.
9/12/1953 – Future US President John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in Newport, RI.
9/13/1788 – The US Congress chose NY as the capital.
9/13/1814 – Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while observing the Battle of Fort McHenry from a British prisoner ship in Baltimore harbor.
9/14/1901 – President William McKinley died from gunshot wounds suffered during an assassination attempt eight days previously.
9/15/1935 – The Nazi Germany government enacted the Nuremburg Laws, which deprived German Jews of their citizenship.
9/16/1620 – The Mayflower, with only 102 passengers and a few crew members, departed England for its famous voyage to the New World.
9/16/1908 – William Durant founded General Motors in Flint, MI.
9/17/1789 – The Constitutional Convention approved the US constitution.
9/17/1862 – The Union Army defeated the Confederate Army at Antietam in the bloodiest battle in US military history as approximately 26,000 soldiers died on both sides.
9/18/1947 – The air force was established as a separate branch of the military.
9/19/1893 – New Zealand became the first country to approve women’s suffrage.
9/20/1873 – The NYSE closed for the first time due to the Panic of 1873.
9/20/1973 – Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the much-ballyhooed “Battle of the Sexes.”
9/22/1776 – The British executed Nathan Hale as a spy for the colonials who famously intoned “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
9/22/1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation Proclamation.
9/23/1952 – Vice Presidential candidate Richard Nixon delivered the famous “Checkers” Speech before a national tv and radio audience.
9/24/1957 – President Eisenhower deployed the National Guard to enforce racial integration in Little Rock, AK.
9/25/1513 – Spanish explorer Vasco de Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean.
9/25/1789 – Congress proposed 12 amendments to the US constitution of which ten were eventually ratified as the Bill of Rights.
9/26/1960 – Senator Kennedy and Vice President Nixon participated in the first televised presidential election debate.
9/27/1964 – The Warren commission issued its report that concluded a lone gunman had assassinated President Kennedy.
9/28/1542 – Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo discovered California.
9/28/1995 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat signed an agreement granting Palestinian self-rule of the West Bank.
9/29/1789 – Congress created the US Army, which consisted of 1,000 soldiers.
9/29/1829 – Britain’s Parliament authorized London’s Metropolitan Police Force. They were nicknamed “Bobbies” after Home Secretary Robert Peel, who was the driving force behind the idea.
9/29-30/1941 – Nazi soldiers perpetrated the infamous Babi Yar massacre at which in excess of 33,000 Jews were murdered.
9/30/1938 – British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to England brandishing an agreement with Nazi Germany that he asserted guaranteed “peace in our time.”
9/30/1949 – The Berlin airlift concluded after it had successfully thwarted Soviet attempts to blockade West Berlin.

BIRTHDAYS – Rocky Marciano, undefeated heavyweight boxing champion, 9/1/1923; Christa McAuliffe (the first “ordinary” citizen in space), 9/2/1948; Jesse James, celebrated outlaw, 9/5/1847; Darryl Zanuck, movie mogul, 9/5/1902; Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War hero, 9/6/1757; Queen Elizabeth I, 9/7/1533; Ferdinand Marcos, 9/11/1917; James Cleveland (“Jesse”) Owens, winner of four gold medals in 1936 Olympics, 9/12/1913; Walter Reed, 9/13/1851; General John J. Pershing, WWI commanding general, 9/13/1860; James Fenimore Cooper, authored “Last of the Mohicans,” 9/15/1789; William Howard Taft (27th US President), 9/15/1857; Agatha Christie, renowned mystery writer, 9/15/1890; John Marshall, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 9/24/1755; F. Scott Fitzgerald, author, 9/24/1896; George Gershwin, composer, 9/26/1898; Samuel Adams, Revolutionary War leader, 9/27/1722; Enrico Fermi, nuclear physicist, 9/29/1901; Truman Capote, authored “In Cold Blood,” 9/30/1924.

Quiz answer – It is derived from the Indian name, “Mannahatta,” which translates to “the hilly island.”

World Geography Quiz


Once again, it’s time to test your knowledge. Have fun and no peeking at the internet. No consulting Alexa or Siri.

1.  Each of the following is one of the “Seven Seas” except: a.  Arctic; b. Baltic; c. Gulf of Mexico; d. Mediterranean

2. What percent of the earth is covered by water? a.  60; b.  70; c.  75; d. 80

3.  The southern-most point in Europe is located in which country? a.  Spain; b.  Italy; c.  Albania; d.  Turkey

4.  Asia is the largest continent by land mass.  Which one is second? a.  North America; b.  South America; c.  Australia; d.  Africa

5.  Each of the following countries is landlocked except: a.  Ethiopia; b.  Afghanistan; c. Guyana d;  Paraguay.

6.  The longest river in the world is the a.  Amazon; b.  Nile; c.  Yangtze; d.  Danube.

7.  The Appalachian Trail passes through or borders each of the following states except: a.  NY; b.  Maine; c.  Georgia; d.  South Carolina.

8.  China is the most populous country followed by India.  Which country is third? a.  Indonesia; b.  Brazil; c.  US; d.  Pakistan.

9.  The eastern-most point in the US is located in which state? a.  Maine; b.  Florida; c.  Alaska; d.  NY.

10. Pike’s Peak is located in which state? a.  Colorado; b.  Nevada; c.  Wyoming; d.  Washington.

11. The Mississippi River borders on or flows through each of the following states except: a.  Louisiana; b.  Minnesota; c.  Michigan; d.  Tennessee.

12.  The least populous state is a.  Rhode Island; b.  Wyoming; c.  Vermont; d.  North Dakota.

13.  The Gadsden Purchase included land from the state of a. New Mexico; b.  Texas; c.  Nevada; d.  California.

14.  Russia is the most populous country in Europe. The second is a.  France; b.  UK; c.  Spain; d.  Germany.  

15.  The northern-most point in Europe is located in a.  Finland; b.  Norway; c.  Sweden; d.  Estonia.

16.  Each of the following is one of the world’s continents except: a.  Antarctica; b.  Australia; c.  Central America; d. Europe.

17.  Each of the following is one of the Baltic States except a.  Estonia; b.  Latvia; c.  Lithuania; d.  Finland.

18.  Each of the following countries borders on the North Sea except  a.  Norway; b.  Finland; c.  Germany; d.  France.

19.  The largest of the Great Lakes is a.  Erie; b.  Superior; c.  Michigan; d.  Ontario.

20.  Each of the following countries is located in Central America except  a. Belize; b.  Costa Rica; c.  El Salvador; d. Cuba.

ANSWERS:  (1) b; (2) b; (3) a; (4) d; (5) c; (6) a;  (7) d;  (8) c;  (9) c;  (10) a;  (11) c;  (12) b;  (13) a; 14.) d;  (15) b;  (16) c;  (17) d;  (18)  b;  (19) b; 20. d

Well, there it is. Let me know how you did.

9/11 REMEMBRANCE. HAS IT REALLY BEEN 20 YEARS?

Today, Saturday, is September 11, a date that will always have special meaning for all Americans, indeed for all decent people worldwide. Like December 7 and November 22, September 11 is a date that will, in the words of former president FDR, “live in infamy.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful late summer day in NYC, much like today, pleasant temperatures and a brilliant blue sky. That would soon change. At 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever. Like the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, undoubtedly, most everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the attack. At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC. This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and, later, a third one crashing into the Pentagon. Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed.

Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.

As I said, this year will mark the 20th anniversary of those horrific attacks. They resulted in just under 3,000 deaths. Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation. They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked.  Many victims have only been identified due to their DNA, in some cases many years later.

Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been. Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own. Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter. Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke. Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.

The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs.  In addition to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the many carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later. 

Many of us know or know of someone, such as Jamie Testa, a close family friend, who suffered this fate.  These people were heroes. They didn’t have to be at ground zero. They volunteered to help rescue people who were trapped under the rubble, because that is what Americans do. Tragically, they paid with their lives. Even today, 20 years later, people are still contracting diseases and dying.  Horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11. 

The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder. In addition, in the aftermath health workers noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later. Even now, new cases are being presented. The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past few years. The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding. An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust. Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.

This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever. By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which, as I said, President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.

The ceremonies will continue throughout the day. Some of the highlights will be:

  1. President Biden, the First Lady, and various other dignitaries will pay their respects at the site. There have always been suspicions of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the attacks. A group of some 1,800 survivors and relatives of survivors is opposing Biden’s participation unless he agrees to declassify certain documents they claim will show “much investigate evidence” linking the Saudi Arabian government and certain Saudi officials to the attack. They have released a statement through NBC News stating “we cannot in good faith and with veneration to those lost, sick and injured welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment [to declassify the documents].”
  2. There will be the traditional “moment of silence” at 8:46.
  3. Flags will be flown at half-mast at all government buildings.
  4. The FDNY will host a memorial service at 1:30 at the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral to honor the 343 firemen who perished.
  5. Volunteers will distribute some 200,000 meals to needy NYers at the Intrepid, Sea, Air and Space Museum.
  6. There will be other ceremonies at various locations throughout the country, notably at Shanksville, PA site of the crash of flight 93.
  7. And the ultimate highlight, at least for me, will be when the survivors read the names of every 9/11 victim out loud in real time on tv, including those killed at the WTC (in both 1993 and 2001), the Pentagon and on Flight 93. This is a particularly poignant scene as the readers are typically the spouses, children and/or grandchildren of the victims. In addition to citing the name of the victim some of the readers add personal messages of remembrance. This was omitted last year due to COVID fears. In my opinion, these readings of the names of the victims is a fantastic idea as it helps us to remember the horrific and cowardly terrorists attacks and continue to pay tribute to the victims. Frank Stiller, chairman of “Tunnels to Towers” who lost his wife on that day, characterized the reading of the names “an essential and irreplaceable tribute.” Well said.

In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole. The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17. Air travel was disrupted. Americans’ psyche was severely damaged. The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002. All in all, it took 3.1 million man-hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million.  Internationally, countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility. Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans. Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1. Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them. Who had “dropped the ball?” Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was a failure to communicate and share intelligence and information. For example:

l. The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.
2. The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.
3. The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.
4. The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence-sharing, even with other agencies.
5. The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.
6. None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.
7. In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”

I hope that the coordination and information-sharing among these agencies have been enhanced since 9/11, but I have my doubts. As time has gone on, I sense that we have grown more and more complacent and the various alphabet agencies have resumed “guarding their own turf” rather than sharing intelligence and information for the greater good.

CONCLUSION

Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11. Many believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary. For instance:

1. The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security. In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act. These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties. There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on one’s political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, toward security.

2. Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.

3. Many parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day. The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns. Schools have ramped up security protocols. Some have even hired armed guards. Some people have advocated arming teachers.

4. Many Americans have become very focused on enforcing immigration laws strictly to protect our borders, which has led to conflicts with those who view such an approach as “racist” and favor looser, or even open, borders. Biden’s open border policy has been particularly vexing to many people.

5. On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.

In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation approximately one-third of Americans are under the age of 26, and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event. The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen. Educate your kids!

In addition, I recommend you watch some of the special memorial programming about 9/11 which will be shown on tv this weekend. I have seen a few and they are excellent.

Already, some people are “down-playing” the 9/11 attacks. For example, Rep Ilham Omar, one of the notorious “Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse” who has uttered many disparaging remarks about America and Americans, has summed up 9/11 as “some people did something.” Really? Is she kidding? It’s easy to write off her and others of her ilk as “kooks,” but she does have followers who place credence in what she says.

Every anniversary has presented the heightened danger of additional terror attacks. This year, being the 20th, will be especially dangerous. In addition to the many obvious high value targets, such as ground zero, Times Square, and the Yankees-Mets baseball game there are a plethora of soft targets, such as churches, schools and malls. I believe that America is especially vulnerable due to our open southern border and the recent mass of refugees from Afghanistan the vetting of whom has been haphazard, at best. All of us need to be especially vigilant.

I encourage everyone to find the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It is on the site of the original WTC complex in lower Manhattan. It occupies approximately one-half of the acreage of the original complex. It features two huge waterfalls and a “survivor tree,” which symbolizes resilience and strength. Take the time to stroll around this beautiful area. Take one of the many tours. You will find them most informative. Yes, it is tragic to be reminded of the horror of that day, but, on the other hand, it is uplifting to be reminded of the heroism and resilience of many first responders and even ordinary citizens and to experience the healing that has occurred. Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Undoubtedly, many of you experienced 9/11 firsthand. Please feel free to share your experiences.

LABOR DAY

On September 6 we will celebrate Labor Day (“LD”).  As we all know, the holiday has traditionally been celebrated on the first Monday of September.  It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year, (although this year, since LD is late, many schools have already commenced the Fall term).  They enjoy the three-day weekend off from work.  They spend the day with family and/or friends. They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping, baseball games and other sports activities, and barbecues. They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports. [Quiz question: According to CBS News what will be the busiest airport in the US over the LD holiday?] This year, because of the lingering specter of COVID in some areas and among some population groups LD celebrations, for some, will be somewhat muted.  More on this below.  

Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short. In our minds, we transfer the approximately three post-Labor Day weeks of the season to Autumn. But, what is the meaning and purpose of LD?  Why do we celebrate it?  How did it come about?  Good questions.  Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement.  Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US.  For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution.  When all was said and done, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills.  In addition, the labor activism of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force (compared to that of other countries).

It should be noted that union membership has been declining sharply and steadily.  For example in 1950 approximately 40% of American workers were members of a union.  By contrast, in 2019 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number was approximately 11%

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada.  Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day.  That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US.  Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the American Federation of Labor, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY.

Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor.  In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885.  Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated.  The concept spread.  In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday.  The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman.  Pullman, IL, where the company operated, was a classic company town.  All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks.  Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store.

Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”)  In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession.  The company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of many others.  Of course, living expenses remained constant.  These actions led to a strike.  President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and “broke” it with Federal troops.  Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence.

This incensed many Americans, and 1894 was an election year.  So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law.  This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry.  Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date.  Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, because of the CV many people have altered their holiday travel plans.  Increasingly, Americans are being divided into two groups – the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Each group feels strongly about its choice and I will not debate the merits and demerits in this blog, which is about LD. According to ABC News approximately 47% of Americans are still unvaccinated. One’s vaccination status will likely determine the manner in which they celebrate LD (and go about life, in general, for that matter).

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has recommended that unvaccinated persons avoid travelling entirely. I don’t think that is likely to happen, but AAA has predicted that, despite rising gas prices, road trips will be more popular, and fewer people will travel by air, ship, rail or mass transit.  For example, CBS has reported AAA expects in excess of three million individual trips on the NYC area’s tunnels and bridges over the holiday period.

I believe there are two main reasons for this.  Firstly, travel by car offers the safety of an enclosed environment.  Travelers are not as exposed to other people as they would be with the other modes of travel.   Secondly, although the roads could be crowded they are preferable to the frustrations, violence, and general inconveniences one normally encounters at, for example, the airports.

Finally, any and all of the carefully planned travel arrangements will be subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature.  For instance, as I write this many areas of the South and East are still feeling the affects of Hurricane Ida, and in the far West there are wild fires to contend with.

CONCLUSION

One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work.  LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year.  Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their Summer clothes to Fall clothes.  Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

Like other holidays, LD should be a time for all of us to come together and reflect on what makes America, despite its flaws, the greatest country in the world.  Disaffected residents as well as some people in other countries may like to criticize us for our real and perceived flaws, yet foreigners still want to come here, in some cases, desperately.  In essence, many of them are “voting with their feet.”

Despite what you may see on tv or read in newspapers or on social media, most Americans are decent, hard-working, caring persons.  Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes we unite to help those in distress.  Many have donated their time and/or money without being asked and without expecting any payback or even recognition.  If you doubt me, just look at the outpouring of kindness and empathy shown by “average” Americans toward the victims of the catastrophic events in recent years, such as superstorm Sandy and hurricanes Katrina, Irma, Laura, Harvey and, most recently, Ida.

To me, those people, not the destructive thugs and professional agitators one sees on the tv news destroying property, attacking the police, and beating up those with whom they disagree, are the “real” Americans.  It is the proverbial “silver lining” in a very dark cloud.

I hope you all enjoy your LD holiday, however you choose to spend it.  You owe it to yourself after having endured nearly two years of lockdowns, natural disasters, and medical, financial and economic uncertainty.  Feel free to tell me how you celebrated.

Quiz answer: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

NO MAN LEFT BEHIND

Anyone who has served in combat knows the mantra. Heck, anyone who has ever seen a war movie knows it. That mantra was the whole premise of the 2002 movie, Black Hawk Down starring Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, and a host of others. The movie was based on a true story of an actual event in Somalia in 1993. “No man left behind.” Let me repeat that for the benefit of our esteemed political and military leaders who seem to have forgotten it or have chosen to ignore it. NO MAN LEFT BEHIND! American armed forces and those of many other countries take great pride in living by it (and in some cases, dying by it).

The army even followed that principle in the Bowe Bergdahl case. In 2009 Beaudry Robert (Bowe) Bergdahl simply deserted his guard post, just walked off. The army spent weeks looking for him to no avail. As I recall, one of the searchers was killed. Then five years later he resurfaced as a “captive” of the Taliban. What did we do? We traded five senior level Taliban leaders, whom we had incarcerated at Guantanamo for severe terrorist activities, for him. Five senior level terrorists for a deserter! Why would we do something ill-advised like that? Simple. No man left behind.

Flash forward to August 2021 in Afghanistan and our botched departure. Let me reiterate what I have said many times before. This is not about the decision to leave or stay there. Personally, I was and am in favor of leaving, and the latest NPR/PBS/NewsHour/Marist poll found that 70% of those queried opined that the Afghan War was a “failure” and “not worth it,” but I can see reasonable arguments on both sides. This is all about the manner in which we left.

In my opinion, and that of an overwhelming majority of Americans our political and military leaders did everything wrong. Even the man on the street knows that the proper order of exfil would have been American and Afghani civilians first, then our military equipment and records, and lastly our soldiers. One doesn’t have to be a Yale or Harvard graduate or a decorated general to figure that out. One just has to have common sense. I always say common sense is not “common.” This FUBAR was a good example of that. Criticism has been widespread. More on that later.

We stranded not only an unknown number of Americans and Afghan collaborators (Some estimates run well into the thousands.), but also some $85 billion of military material and equipment, as well as comprehensive lists of those who helped us. These people and their families will probably be tortured and executed. Already, there have been multiple reports of Taliban “death squads” going literally door-to-door doing just that.

In the past week, rather than admit he made a mistake Biden has “doubled down.” He has characterized the operation as an “extraordinary success,” telling us that he pulled off the greatest airlift in history and that every American who wanted to leave was exfilled successfully. As he might say, that is a bunch of “malarkey.” He is trying to “snow” us. I may have been born at night, but not last night.

In my opinion, clearly, the facts do not support him at all. But, don’t just take my word for it. Below please find a small sample of what others have said:

  1. In his unique manner of turning a phrase Senator John Kennedy characterized the operation as ” ‘unspinnable’ [by spin doctors who make a good living doing just that], and a parade of bad decisions.” He added “you can put perfume on a pig, but it still stinks.”
  2. Congressman Michael Waltz predicted it would “make [the]1979 [hostage situation in] Tehran look like a ‘sleepover.’ ” For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t born yet Iran imprisoned 52 hostages for 442 days, an action which probably cost President Jimmy Carter the 1980 presidential election.
  3. Spencer Brown reported in Townhall that a group of families of 9/11 victims have told President Biden he is not welcome at the 20th anniversary memorial ceremonies and to “stay away.”
  4. Politico has pointed out that in April VP Kamala Harris was bragging she had a “key role” in the Afghan withdrawal plan, but now that it has gone “sideways” she is nowhere to be found.
  5. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opined that the Biden Administration vastly understated the strength and determination of the Taliban. It was operating on the premise that it would take them many months to take over the entire country if they were able to do so at all. They have been proven dead wrong.
  6. Biden and Jen Psaki keep claiming the US has “leverage” over the Taliban. That claim has not been supported by any independent commentator that I have heard. Pompeo bluntly stated that Biden “gave up” whatever leverage he might have had and got little, if anything, in return.
  7. Jennifer Chasmar (Fox News commentator) has criticized the vetting process for those we have rescued. It has been reported that the vetting process is “quick and dirty” and haphazard. Normally, the vetting process takes months or years; the process for these people is expected to take days or weeks. The obvious concern is that terrorists might slip through. That would be the final irony. She reported that 26 GOP senators sent a letter to the White House asking for a detailed description of the vetting process. We’ll see what kind of reply they get, if any.
  8. As we know, some of the allies, notably Great Britain and France, took matters into their own hands and rescued their people their own. Kudos to them, but other allies, such as Canada, have been complaining that the US failed to communicate the dire nature of the situation to them, and many of their citizens remain stranded as well. They have said they feel betrayed and are annoyed at the Administration.
  9. The Overseas Security Advisory Council wondered why the Administration didn’t make any contingency plans as the Taliban was expanding its control over the country the entire summer. Now, the Administration is telling those who are stranded they’re on their own. It has told them to “make contingency plans to leave when it is safe to do so {and] not to rely on US government assistance.” Nice.
  10. How come more people didn’t get out on the last day? The general in charge of the evacuation (not sure who it was after General Miller resigned on Monday) lamented that not many people showed up to be evacuated on the last day, and many planes took off with seats available. Well, a brief investigation would have disclosed that the gates to the airport were locked. Why or by whom no one knows.
  11. Most of the “Gold Star” families were not happy with their meeting with the president. Some of them, such as the McCollum family declined to speak with him at all. According to Jim and Royce McCollum the reason was not political. Rather, they felt that “everything he did (regarding the exfil) was completely wrong.” In a quote that will likely be widely repeated Jim McCollum said he told Biden “you can’t f**k up as bad[ly] as you did and [just] say you’re sorry.” Other families who did meet with him reported that he seemed distracted and insensitive to their loss, and his words and actions seemed “scripted.” Some families said he didn’t even mention their loved one’s name. Hard to believe. Furthermore, Royce McCollum told reporters that Biden never said “sorry for your loss” to them. Was he being insensitive, or did he just forget the names? Rather than focusing on their loved one, he focused on his son, Beau. As we know, Beau had served, but he died from cancer, which they felt “was tragic, but not the same thing.” For me, these comments conjured up the image of Biden on the tarmac continually checking his watch like he had somewhere else he needed/wanted to be. Several of the Gold Star family members averred that they found that most disrespectful and insensitive.

During the last few months beginning in April Biden has been, to put it kindly, disingenuous with respect to the military situation in Afghanistan. For instance:

  1. Several times he insisted that “we’ll stay until all Americans get out.” Now, we have ascertained that the Administration doesn’t really know the total Americans who have been stranded in Afghanistan. I have heard estimates anywhere from a hundred or so to several thousand. Don’t forget, the news has been focused on Kabul, but there are likely many that are stranded in the rest of the country. Moreover, I have not heard the government speak of any plans to rescue them, although some private organizations have done so on their own.
  2. On August 20 and several times thereafter Biden expressed the same commitment to Afghans who had aided our troops over the years. Again, thousands have been stranded, and face certain death, including one who actually saved Biden’s life back when he was a senator and had become stranded in the mountains.
  3. He made the same commitment to “vulnerable” Afghans such as prominent women and journalists. Several news outlets, including the NY Post, Washington Post and BBC have reported that these people have also been abandoned.
  4. Biden has said that the intelligence agencies did not tell him of the exigency of the situation. Said agencies vehemently deny this. From April through the summer it was easy to ascertain that the Taliban was advancing. It was not a question of “if” but “when” they would take over the entire country. It is worth noting that the CIA pulled out its people some seven weeks ago. That should have been a big clue, but Biden and his advisors were clueless.
  5. Biden vowed to continue to provide air support to Afghan ground troops. He has not, which may be a major reason why the Taliban was able to take over the country so quickly.
  6. The NY Post, Reuters, and other news outlets have reported that all summer Biden had insisted that it was “unlikely” that the Taliban would succeed in taking over the entire country. He knew or should have known better and acted while there was still time. He had four months to commence the withdrawal and did nothing.
  7. USA Today and Fox News have reported that Biden recently tried to convince Afghan President Ghani to portray a more positive picture of the situation, in other words, lie, presumably to help Biden’s political situation.

CONCLUSION

This fiasco has been very damaging to Biden’s presidency. It makes us appear weak to both our friends and enemies. He has been trying to deflect responsibility by blaming former President Trump. He is claiming that Trump committed us to the withdrawal plan before Biden took office, and he had to follow it. Of course, that pure BS. Biden was only too eager to undue many other of Trump’s accomplishments and decisions, such as the Wall, the Keystone Pipeline and the Paris climate change accords, to name a few. Obviously, he could undone or modified this as well. Again, he is being, to put it kindly, disingenuous. He is not fooling anyone, except the “Kool-Aid drinkers.”

According to the latest NPR/PBS/NewsHour/Marist poll his approval rating has sunken to a new low – 43%. Normally, a problematic situation such as this is eventually forgotten as it is superseded by other events. It is 14 months until the mid-term elections, a lifetime in politics. By then, the public could be focused on other issues such as COVID or the economy. I’m sure that is the Dems’ big hope. After all, as I pointed out in a previous blog as horrific as the attack on the Benghazi consulate was, which left four Americans dead, that has now largely faded from our consciousness.

That may very well come to pass. But, let’s not forget that the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan have hundreds, if not thousands, of hostages. Don’t be surprised if some of them turn up on Al Jazeera being tortured or beheaded. In addition, they have $85 billion worth of equipment that they could use or sell for cash. Don’t be surprised if we are victimized by multiple terror attacks. Either or both of those scenarios could devastate the Biden presidency and turn over control of Congress to the GOP.

ED ASNER

To the casual tv viewer he was “Lou Grant,” the irritable, irascible but lovable character on the popular Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Lou Grant. He was tough and gruff on the outside but soft on the inside. One of his enduring lines was when he told “Mary Richards,” played by Mary Tyler Moore, “You got spunk. ….. I hate spunk.” Perhaps, he is best known for that character, but his career encompassed so much more. Read on, and you will see.

Eddie Asner was born on November 15, 1929 in Kansas City, MO into a family of Orthodox Jews. He grew up in Kansas City, KS. His parents were first-generation working class immigrants from Lithuania. His father ran a second-hand shop and a junkyard.

While in high school he became interested in acting through a school radio program. After graduating high school he attended college at the University of Chicago. He intended to be a journalist until one of his professors informed him of the low pay in that field. At that point he switched to studying drama. Ed dropped out of college prior to graduation, and worked at a succession of odd jobs, including driving a taxi, working on an assembly line, and working in a steel mill, among others. In 1951 he was drafted into the military. While serving he appeared in various productions at Army bases mostly in Europe.

After he was discharged he moved to Chicago where he helped found the Playwrights Theatre. Eventually, this organization morphed into the Compass Players, and then Second City, which was and is a well-regarded comedy improvisation group. As some of you may recall, Second City was the starting point for a host of comedic actors, many of whom became famous on Saturday Night Live, such as John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radnor.

Next, Ed moved to NYC where he appeared in various Broadway and Off-Broadway productions such as The Threepenny Opera and Face of a Hero with Jack Lemmon. Around this time Ed broke into TV, appearing in episodes of productions such as Studio One, The Outer Limits, Route 66, The Fugitive, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

In 1970 Ed’s career took off when he won the part of Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The show, which was set in a newsroom, also featured Valerie Harper, Ted Knight, Chloris Leachman, and Betty White. It ran for seven years, was very popular and spawned various spin-offs, including Lou Grant, starring Asner.

In his long career the versatile Asner appeared in numerous TV productions. My favorites were his roles as the domineering father, Axel Jordache, in Rich Man, Poor Man, which co-starred Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte, and the captain of the slave ship that transported Kunta Kinte to America in Roots for which he won two of his seven Emmys. Additionally, Asner performed in several “voice-overs,” including Pixar’s Oscar-winning Up and Sinclair Lewis’ novel Babbitt.

Asner’s seven Emmys are the most of any male actor. In addition, in 2001 he was the recipient of the Screen Actors’ Guild Life Achievement Award. Furthermore, he served two terms as president of the Guild. He was known for his strong political views. In fact, that may have been a contributing factor of the cancellation of Lou Grant in 1982 despite the show’s high ratings.

CONCLUSION

Asner was very productive and versatile, performing for over 60 years in various venues as described above. He was married twice and had four children. He was the father and grandfather of an autistic child. He was active in the non-profits Autism Speaks and Asperitech, which trains high-functioning autistic persons.

Ed passed away on August 29 of natural causes at the age of 91. Rest in peace, Ed. You will be sorely missed.

JOSEPHINE BAKER – HOLOCAUST SPY, ENTERTAINER, CIVIL RIGHTS CRUSADER

One of the things I like about stories of the Holocaust is that they illustrate that under the right circumstances, ordinary people who find themselves in exigent situations can accomplish extraordinary and heroic things that one would not think possible. One such example is that of Josephine Baker.

It is likely that not many of you are familiar with the story of Josephine Baker. I, for one, had never heard of her. However, in my view, she led one of the more interesting and significant lives of the 20th century. Read on, and see if you agree.

Despite humble beginnings, as a young lady she was a much celebrated entertainer based in France. As such, during WWII she was uniquely positioned to spy on the Nazis for the Allies, which she did to great effect. Later in life she was a strong advocate for civil rights for women and people of color.

Freda Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, MO. Her lineage was somewhat murky. Her mother had been adopted by her maternal grandparents both of whom were former slaves. I could not find any information about her birth parents. Her estate listed her natural father as a vaudeville drummer named Eddie Carson (who was white), however, her birth certificate lists her father vaguely as “Edw,” perhaps, to disguise his real identity. It is worth noting that Josephine and her family always believed her real father was white, but not necessarily Carson. Her real lineage remains a mystery to this day.

Baker appears to have had a troubled, turbulent and undisciplined childhood. For example, she was raised in a racially mixed low income neighborhood in St. Louis, an area that consisted primarily of rooming houses, brothels and apartments without modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing. Her mother had married a “kind but perpetually unemployed” man, and the family barely earned a subsistence-level income. Josephine spent a lot of her time on the streets doing whatever. As a young girl she began working as a live-in domestic and earned spare change by dancing on street corners.

At 12 she dropped out of school. At 13, she got married. After less than a year she was divorced, and then she remarried at 15. Her relationship with her mother was contentious and turbulent to say the least.

In her mid-teens she decided she wanted to become an entertainer. Her mother objected, telling her that she should stay at home and “tend” to her second husband. But, Josephine was very independent-minded and used to making her own decisions. She joined a dance troupe called the St. Louis Chorus Vaudeville Show, divorced her second husband, and left with the troupe for NY. She performed at clubs, such as the Plantation Club and in hugely successful Broadway revues, such as Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. Soon, she became a featured dancer and was billed as “the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville.” Eventually, her tumultuous relationship with her mother led her to further her career in France.

In Paris her popularity and fame rose to a new level. Baker was one of the first dancers of color to move to France. She always said she “couldn’t stand” America with its overt racial prejudice and segregation lifestyle. Even though she had begun her dancing career in NY on Broadway she always felt she got her big break in Paris.

She specialized in “erotic dancing,” that is, she would often dance virtually nude. Her signature costume was a “banana costume,” which was basically a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas. It was considered very risque for the times, even for Paris. Before long, she was one of the most successful American entertainers performing in France. No less a personage than Ernest Hemingway considered her to be “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”

All of this was preamble for the most significant stage of her life. As we know in September, 1939 Germany began WWII by invading Poland, whereupon France and other countries declared war. Before long, Baker was recruited by the Deuxieme Bureau, France’s chief intelligence agency as an “honorable correspondent.” Her job was to collect military intelligence and pass it along. Due to her occupation and her celebrity she often socialized with high-ranking Axis diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives, which made her uniquely qualified for the job. Nevertheless, this was still very dangerous work. Basically, she was a spy and despite her fame, if caught she would have been tortured and executed.

Later, she moved to southern France where she provided housing, visas and other documents to the Free French. In addition, her status as a famous entertainer enabled her to carry sensitive information, often in invisible ink hidden on her sheet music or pinned to her undergarments, to other countries such as Portugal, Spain, Morocco and South America.

In 1943 she toured North Africa entertaining the Allied troops and raising some three million francs in the process. In 1944 after France had been liberated Baker returned to her beloved Paris. She was appalled by the dire living conditions of its citizens and proceeded to sell her own valuables to raise money for food, shelter, and other necessities for them. Her contributions to the war effort were recognized after the war by none other than Charles de Gaulle, who presented her with the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Resistance and made her a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

After the war she resumed her career, first in France then later in the US and other places. She still chafed at the racial inequities in the US, and often her outspoken nature got her into trouble. For instance, while performing at the Stork Club in 1951 she criticized the club’s unwritten policy of discouraging Black patrons. Then she doubled down by criticizing powerful columnist, Walter Winchell, an old friend, for failing to support her in the aftermath. Winchell responded with a harsh rebuke, which included mentioning what he referred to “communist sympathies,” a very serious allegation in the era of “McCarthyism.” As a result, the State Department terminated Baker’s work visa, which necessitated her returning to France. It would be some ten years before she would be allowed to return.

During the 1950s from her home in France Baker was an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights movement in the US. Upon her return to the US to perform she was appalled by the racial discrimination that was still prevalent [in the US]. She gave speeches at Black colleges, such as Fisk University. She refused to perform before segregated audiences. She became active in the NAACP. She was the only official female speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. As a result of her work and her fame after MLK’s assassination she was encouraged by none other than King’s widow, Coretta, to succeed him as leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She declined, saying “her children “were too young to lose their mother.”

CONCLUSION

Despite her busy lifestyle Baker found the time to adopt and raise 12 children of various nationalities and religious affiliations. She referred to her family as the “Rainbow Tribe.”

Toward the end of her life Baker fell on hard times financially. For example, she lost her castle due to unpaid debts, although none other than Princess Grace helped her out by offering her an apartment in Monaco.

Baker passed away on April 12, 1975, but her influence still lives on. For example:

  1. In 2003 Angelina Jolie, in an interview with USA Today referred to her as “a model for the multiracial, multinational family she was beginning to create through adoption.”
  2. In 2006 Beyonce performed Baker’s signature “banana dance” at Radio City Music Hall.
  3. In 2017 Google released an animated slideshow it called a “Google Doodle,” which chronicled her life and achievements.
  4. In 2019 she was one of the honorees inducted into the Rainbow Honor Walk, which celebrated LGBTQ persons who have made “significant contributions in their fields.”
  5. There have been numerous songs, sculptures and films honoring her life and achievements, too many to mention here.

As I said at the outset, in my opinion, Baker, despite very humble beginnings, led one of the most interesting and significant lives of the 20th century. I believe that outside of the entertainment field she is not as well known as she should be.

AFGHANISTAN DEBACLE II

And so, it continues. Every day millions of Americans rush to find out the latest developments of the Afghan debacle. I have tried to describe it, but I cannot find the appropriate words. One of the worst aspects of this is the inconsistent and, at times, contrary messages emanating from those in authority as I will detail below.

Perhaps, the acronym, FUBAR, describes it best. For the uninitiated, FUBAR stands for “f**ked up beyond all recognition.” One would be hard-pressed to deny that this disorderly, disastrous withdrawal is a FUBAR. Steadfast Biden and Dem supporters have either remained silent or tried to dance around the issue like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Furthermore, as I stated in my last blog, I fear the long-term ramifications will be far worse.

The situation remains very fluid, but as I write this, below please find some of the more significant recently-reported developments:

  1. As reported by virtually all major news outlets, including longtime Dem supporter and apologist CNN, and Administration members, such as Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, the situation on the ground remains more dire than President Biden has been reporting to the American people. For example, in one of his rare press conferences Biden stated that there was “no indication” of any Americans being prevented from gaining access to the airport. He is continuing to deny he received any warnings from the State Department, the military or the embassy. He is claiming Al Qaeda is “gone from the country. On the other hand, there have been multiple reports that they are very much a presence. Spokesperson, John Kirby, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary, tried to “walk back” that assertion saying Biden “meant” Al Qaeda was not a “significant ” threat,” but the damage was done. Austin relayed reports from multiple sources of Americans being assaulted, “beaten,” detained, and harassed by the Taliban. Biden is continuing to deny what we can all see with our own eyes. He is either woefully misinformed, is unable to fully grasp the situation, or he is lying directly to the American people. You decide.
  2. CNN and other news outlets have reported interviewing many people who have been stuck at or near the airport for days. Some have been unable to get in due to chaos at the gates. (They’re open; then, some are closed; then they’re open again.) Others have gotten in, but have been unable to fly out for various reasons.
  3. According to USA Today and other news outlets the US Embassy has issued contradictory advisories. First, go to the airport at your own risk as we “cannot guarantee your safety.” Then, don’t go without “individual instructions from a US government representative.” People are fearing for their lives; they are desperate for clarity of guidance; and they get that.
  4. Pentagon officials have told USA that they are continuing to process people “with the proper paperwork,” but there have been multiple reports of people possessing US passports and/or visas being turned away.
  5. In the midst of all this chaos there have been multiple news reports of airplanes flying out with empty seats.
  6. At times, the gates have been closed. Why? It seems that Qatar, which had been accepting refugees declared it could not take any more.
  7. The US military finally sprung into action, rescuing, by helicopter, 169 Americans who had been trapped in a hotel only yards from the airport. Great news, but it was a very minor victory. Also, British and French troops have been rescuing their own citizens for days, while our soldiers have been ordered to “stand down.”
  8. The Pentagon told CNN it has successfully evacuated 14,000 people since the end of July. Biden has characterized this as “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.” That sounds good, but it is far fewer than the military’s own stated goal of “5,000 to 9,000 … a day.” Moreover, Biden stated we should anticipate that all American citizens will be evacuated by the end of August. Good luck with that. There are reported to be tens of thousands more people still in-country, including Americans, allied Afghanis whom we swore to protect from retribution, and their families. No one, not embassy personnel, not the State Department and definitely not the Administration knows who they are, how many there are, and where they are. As I have said, in my opinion, we will not know who and how many have been left behind until they turn up on Al Jazeera being tortured or beheaded.
  9. The BBC and multiple other news outlets have been reporting that Taliban soldiers are going door to door seeking to exact retribution against Afghani “collaborators” and their family members. Those who have not gotten out are in hiding.
  10. There continues to be what CNN and others have characterized as an “international outcry” over the US’s handling not of the decision to end the war, but of the evacuation, itself. I have not found one positive statement from any world leader or member of the international media.

CONCLUSION

,According to USA Today, Senator Mark Warner, Chairman if the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, both Dems, have signaled their intention to hold hearings on the matter. That would be fine, if they follow through. We’ll see.

Currently, Biden is taking a lot of criticism for this situation and rightly so. According to the latest Reuters poll his approval rating is down to 46%. In addition, there have been multiple reports of a “red wave” in 2022. However, the public has a short memory, especially regarding politics. For example, the September 11, 2012 attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi was a huge story in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election. The outcry over four Americans being killed was fierce. But, at this point it has been largely forgotten, superseded by other events. How many of the four Americans can you name? Can you name any? This is not meant to be a criticism, just reality. See answer below.

The 2022 elections are over a year away. A lot can and will happen in that time, both good and bad for Biden. By then this may all be a distant memory. The primary issues will likely be COVID and the economy.

UNLESS, as I said above, we see public torturing and/or beheadings of Americans left behind. Remember, one of the primary reasons for Reagan’s victory over Carter in 1980 was the continued issue of the US hostages in Iran.

Quiz answer: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith and CIA operatives Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.