DEMOCRATIC 2020 NOMINATION UPDATE

You can’t make this up.  The battle for the Dem 2020 nomination has had more twists and turns than a Hollywood “whodoneit.”  For months Joe Biden was the presumptive nominee.  Then, Biden faded as whenever he spoke in public he reminded us that he was a 77 year-old gaffe machine.  Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Elizabeth Warren took turns as media darlings.  Then, one by one, they faded or self-destructed.  Meanwhile, incredibly and against all odds and logic, avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders’ popularity grew.  He had money; he had an organization; he had grassroots support all over the country; and he had a cadre of intensely loyal supporters.  It seemed increasingly likely that he could win the nomination.

His ascendancy was horrifying not only to most voters but also to the Dem establishment.  I and many others have long asserted that Sanders would never get the nomination.  The Dem establishment would simply not allow it.  Not only would his nomination virtually insure four more years of the hated Donald Trump, but it could easily lead to the loss of the House.  They stopped him in 2016; they would do so again in 2020.  It was just a matter of when and how.

Indeed this week the establishment struck.  They struck suddenly and most effectively.  Their plot to derail Bernie was executed brilliantly.

  1.  On the eve of Super Tuesday Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped out and threw their support to Biden.  The timing was right.  Biden had just won the South Carolina primary, which was his first strong showing in any state, and hundreds of delegates were at stake.
  2. Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg dropped out and, you guessed it, endorsed Biden.  His candidacy had been ill-advised from the beginning.  He was never a serious contender.  I believe he entered the race primarily because, at the time, it seemed as though Biden was floundering, and he saw himself as the guy to derail Bernie.   Instead, he embarrassed himself.  He wasted some $500 million for the dubious honor of being filleted on the debate stage, and he won a grand total of five delegates in American Samoa, which most voters cannot find on a globe.  (Don’t feel sorry for him, however.  He still has around $60 billion left, to assuage his feelings, give or take a billion.)
  3. Now, Biden is the only moderate Dem remaining, and the field is clear for him to win the nomination
  4. As a bonus, Elizabeth Warren stayed in the race through Super Tuesday.  Then, after having syphoned off votes that would likely have gone to Sanders, she dropped out.  I am not sure if she was part of the plot, but she could be.  Or, perhaps, she really does hate Sanders and wanted to play spoiler. The fact of the matter is that she no longer had any chance to win, and her timing had the effect of inflicting maximum damage to Sanders’ campaign.   I believe that her presence on the ballot on Super Tuesday swung the results from Bernie to Biden in several states.  For example, Warren got 11% in Texas; Biden beat Bernie by 4.5%.  In Maine she got 16%; Biden beat Bernie by 2%.  In Minnesota she got 15%; Biden beat Bernie by 12%.  If Bernie had won those three states the political landscape would have looked significantly different today.
  5. What were the dropouts promised?  Who knows, but if Biden wins don’t be surprised if they turn up in his Administration.  Already, he has promised Beto, who is strongly anti-second amendment, to be in charge of confiscating guns.  The others?  Even a VP nod is not out of the question.

CONCLUSION

So, now we are down to two – Biden and Bernie.  Sounds like a comedy team, doesn’t it?  (Isn’t that characterization most appropriate?)  The DC and Dem establishment will do its best to support Biden and destroy Bernie.  Just watch the news coverage prospectively.

The nomination is now Biden’s to lose.  I am looking forward to the next debate.  It will be one on one.  Biden will have no place to hide.  Despite all the forces arrayed against him Bernie is not dead yet.  He is not ready to concede.  Nor are his rabid supporters.  I believe the next several months will be verrrrry interesting, if not historic.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – MARCH

Below please find some of the significant events that have occurred in March.

3/1/1932 – In one of the most notorious kidnappings ever, the 20 month-old son of renowned aviator, Charles Lindbergh, was taken from his home. Tragically, the child was later found dead only a few miles away.

3/1/1961 – President JFK established the Peace Corps, which sent volunteers to developing countries to provide healthcare, education, and other basic human needs.

3/1/1974 – Several senior officials of the Nixon administration were indicted for obstruction related to the infamous Watergate break-in.

3/4/1681 – England’s King Charles, II deeded a huge tract of land in the New World to William Penn in settlement of a debt. Appropriately, the area became known as Pennsylvania.

3/4/1789 – The first meeting of the US Congress occurred in NYC.

3/4/1830 – Former President John Quincy Adams returned to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives, the first, and only, ex-President to do so. [Who was the only ex-President to serve in the US Senate? See answer below?]

3/5/1770 – British soldiers opened fire on a group of demonstrating colonials, killing five, including Crispus Attucks, an African-American, who later became celebrated as being the first American to die in the Revolutionary War.

3/5/1946 – The term, “Iron Curtain,” was first used (in a speech by Winston Churchill) to describe the separation between the free countries of Europe and those that were under the domination of the Soviet Union.
3/6/1836 – The Alamo was overrun by Mexican troops, who slaughtered every last defender, including James Bowie and Davy Crockett. “Remember the Alamo” became the inspirational rallying cry for Texans’ fight for independence from Mexico.

3/10/1862 – The US began distributing paper money in denominations of $5, $10 and $20.

3/10/1880 – The Salvation Army was founded in the US.

3/11/1918 – The “Spanish Flu” first appeared in the US. By the end of 1920 it had been responsible for some 22 million deaths worldwide.

3/12/1609 – The British colonized Bermuda (by accident, as a ship headed for Virginia had been blown off-course).

3/12/1888 – The infamous “Great Blizzard of 1888” wreaked havoc on the northeastern US. In NYC it dropped 40 inches of snow over 36 hours and was responsible for some 400 deaths.

3/12/1912 – Girl Scouts of America founded.

3/12/1938 – In the first of many blatant acts of aggression, Germany invaded, and later annexed, Austria.

3/15/44 B.C. – Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Senate by a group that included his friend, Brutus (“Et tu, Brute?”).

3/16/1968 – American soldiers killed 504 Vietnamese men, women and children in what became known as the “My Lai Massacre.”

3/17 – Celebrated in many countries as St. Patrick’s Day to honor the Patron Saint of Ireland, who is credited with converting the Irish to Catholicism in the 5th century.

3/22/1972 – Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender.

3/23/1775 – In a speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry intoned his famous words, “give me liberty, or give me death.”

3/24/1934 – President FDR granted independence to the Philippine Islands, which the US had controlled since the Spanish-American War.

3/24/1989 – The oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spewing forth some 11 million gallons of oil over some 45 miles of natural habitat, creating the one of the largest and most devastating ecological disasters in US history.

3/25/1807 – The British Parliament abolished slavery throughout the Commonwealth.

3/25/1911 – A raging fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC killed 123 in just minutes. The tragedy shined a spotlight on the working conditions of immigrant women who were laboring in the garment industry for long hours and low pay.

3/26/1979 – Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accord peace treaty, brokered by President Jimmy Carter.

3/28/1930 – Constantinople was renamed Istanbul.

3/28/1979 – An accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant created a controversy over the use of nuclear power that still has not been fully resolved.

3/30/1981- President Ronald Reagan is gravely wounded by a would-be assassin. He recovered shortly to resume his duties and later quipped that he “forgot to duck.”

3/30/1909 – The Queensboro Bridge (aka The 59th Street Bridge) opened.

3/31/1968 – President LBJ, who, for many, had come to symbolize the futility and frustration of the Vietnam War, announced he would not run for re-election.

Birthdays – 3/1/1904 – Glenn Miller, bandleader (“Moonlight Serenade”), in Carilinda, IA; 3/2/1793 – Sam Houston, led the fight for Texas independence, Rockbridge County, VA; 3/3/1831 – George Pullman, invented “Pullman Car,” which improved sleeping accommodations on trains, in Brocton, NY; 3/3/1847 – Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, among others, in Edinburgh, Scotland; 3/4/1747 – Casimir Pulaski, Revolutionary War hero, in Poland; 3/4/1888 – Knute Rockne, football coach, in Voss, Norway; 3/6/1475 – Michelangelo, Renaissance painter, in Caprese, Italy; 3/9/1451 – Amerigo Vespucci, explorer and cartographer for whom America is named; 3/9/1934 – Yuri Gargarin, first cosmonaut in space, in Gzhatsk, Russia; 3/14/1879 – Albert Einstein, physicist who developed the theory of relativity; 3/14/1833 – Lucy Hobbs, first female dentist, in NY; 3/15/1767 – Andrew Jackson, 7th President, war hero in War of 1812, in Waxhaw, SC; 3/16/1751 – James Madison, a Founding Father and 4th US President; 3/18/1837 – Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President (only president to serve two terms non-consecutively), in Caldwell, NJ; 3/19/1813 – David Livingstone, explorer and missionary who famously went missing in Africa. When he was finally found by newsman Henry Stanley, the latter supposedly uttered the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” although that might have been an example of Hollywood hyperbole, in Scotland; 3/19/1848 – Wyatt Earp, Wild West lawman and gunfighter, in Monmouth, IL; 3/19/1860 – William Jennings Bryan, known for “Cross of Gold ” speech and for the dubious honor of being only person to lose three presidential races, in Salem, IL; 3/21/1685 – Johann Sebastian Bach, composer, in Germany; 3/24/1874 – Erik Weisz, aka, Harry Houdini, escape artist, in Hungary; 3/26/1911 – Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, III, playwright (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), in Columbus, MS; 3/29/1760 – John Tyler, became 10th President upon the death of William Henry Harrison, Charles City County, VA; 3/30/1853 – Vincent Van Gogh, Postimpressionist painter, in Groot Zundert, Holland; 3/31/1731 – Franz Joseph Hayden, composer, considered to be father of the symphony and string quartet, in Austria; 3/31/1878 – Jack Johnson, first AA boxing champion, in Galveston, TX.

Answer to quiz – Andrew Johnson (TN)

CORONA VIRUS OUTBREAK

Is it time to panic yet?  Has the outbreak of the Corona Virus, aka COVID-19 (the “virus”), reached the pandemic stage?

Based upon my research for this blog, I would say the answers are:  “No” and “probably not yet,” but I can see why some might disagree.  The World Health Organization (“WHO”) has issued a statement that “while it still too early to call it a pandemic countries should nonetheless be in a ‘phase of preparedness.’ ”  That said, it is important to note that the situation has been very fluid, and by the time you read this it may have deteriorated to the point where the above answers may have changed.

With respect to the virus please be advised of the following information, which I have gleaned from various sources, such as Wikipedia and various news outlets, such as tv reports and “The Washington Post.”:

  1. The WHO and other health agencies have complained that much of the information about COVID-19, particularly that which has been available on the internet, has been incomplete, contradictory and infodemic (so excessive as to be confusing and counterproductive).   For example, the virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, possibly at the Huanan Seafood Market, in December, although there have been reports disputing that market as being the source.  There has also been speculation that (a) the virus originally leaked from a lab in Wuhan that was conducting experiments in biological warfare, and (b) infected lab animals were smuggled out of the research facility and sold for human consumption.
  2. The number of people infected has been increasing at an alarmingly rapid pace and spreading geographically.  As I write this, over 82,000 cases have been confirmed in some 50 countries, resulting in over 2,800 fatalities.  Furthermore, on February 25 for the first time the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number inside China.
  3. On the plus side, over 32,000 of those infected have recovered.
  4. To date, after China, the highest incidences of infection have been in South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan.  Officials of each of those governments have been severely criticized for their ineffective and/or slow actions to control the outbreak of the virus.
  5. As one might expect, most of the deaths were patients who were (a) over 60 and (b) had pre-existing conditions, especially respiratory, cardiovascular or diabetes.
  6.  The number of those infected has been consistently underreported, substantially so in some countries.  This could have been due to health officials being slow to recognize the symptoms of the virus (which mimic the flu or pneumonia).  However, some people, notably the WHO’s John Mackenzie and the CDC’s Anne Schuchat, have speculated that, at least in the case of China, there was a deliberate attempt to minimize the situation, possibly, for economic and tourism reasons.
  7.  The common early symptoms are fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue and myalgia (muscle pain).  If untreated, these can lead to acute respiratory distress, severe pneumonia, sepsis, and, ultimately, death.
  8.  The incubation period varies, but most put the outer limit at 14 days.  This presents obvious problems as far as identifying those afflicted before they can spread the disease.
  9. The primary means of transmission is via respiratory droplets, e.g. coughing and sneezing on someone.  It has been estimated that the average sick person is likely to infect two to four others.
  10. So far, there is no effective vaccine to treat or prevent the virus, although several health agencies have been working feverishly to produce one.  The National Institute of Health has reported that it expects to have one ready for human trials as early as April.
  11. As a means of mitigating the spread of the virus public health officials urge people to observe basic hygiene, such as frequent handwashing (for 20 seconds or more), avoiding touching one’s face and mouth, and avoiding being to close to anyone who is coughing or sneezing.  Avoid touching objects, such as door knobs or railings.  The virus can survive on those types of objects for up to nine days.  The use of face masks for those not infected is not recommended, except for caregivers, as there is no evidence that they protect one against infection.  On the other hand, a mask might give one a false sense of security.  Anyone infected is urged to stay at home as much as practicable.
  12. Furthermore, various countries have instituted travel restrictions or bans to infected areas and quarantines of those infected.  Airports, train stations and other points of entry have stepped up their vigilance of arriving travelers.  In addition, many have closed schools temporarily and postponed or cancelled group gatherings such as sporting events and concerts.  There has even been discussion of holding sporting events in empty stadiums.
  13. The US instituted a Level 1 travel watch, which it later upgraded to Level 3 for some areas.  As I write this, the US has had only 60 confirmed cases and no deaths. That makes sense, as I would expect proportionally fewer deaths in countries, such as the US which have a strong health infrastructure.
  14. President Trump has been criticized by his political enemies, unfairly, in my opinion, for the manner in which he has handled this matter.  In a recent press conference he was upbeat and positive.  He urged people to “remain calm,” and he characterized the US’s containment of the virus as “close to airtight.”  He was criticized for those comments by some people.  It’s almost as if they would rather there be more deaths if it were to mean a failure for Mr. Trump.  I find that bothersome.  I believe that in a time of crisis such as this we should put aside political differences and support the president.

CONCLUSION

As stated above, I believe the outbreak has not yet reached the “pandemic” stage.  Although much of the world’s health agencies were slow to react to the danger, it now appears that they are fully engaged.  Also, although the virus has spread rapidly the death rate has been very low, around 3%.

In addition to the abovementioned health hazards there has been and will be a strong economic impact from this virus.  China is a significant trading partner of not only the US but also many other nations.  The inevitable disruptions to its economy will have a significant impact on the economies of the rest of the world.

The financial markets have already reacted to this, perhaps overreacted.  When President Trump urged people to “remain calm” he was referring to investors as well.

In a macro view, I would like to point out that the world has survived many pandemics thrughout recorded history.  Many of you will recall the SARs outbreak of 2003 and the Asian Flu of 1956-58.  In addition, historians will recall the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the Black Death of 1346 – 1353.  Those were scary as this now appears to be, but I believe we will survive.

 

BERNIE SANDERS

As I write this, despite the overt and covert opposition of most of the Dem leadership and much of the mainstream media, Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has been thriving.   To wit:

(1)  He has won the popular vote in all three primaries that have been contested to date (and by a wide margin in Nevada, which has a diverse electorate).

(2)  He has continued to raise considerable amounts of money.  To this point, he has raised more than any other candidate, except for self-funding billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg.

(3)  He is generally acknowledged as the Dem frontrunner.  Furthermore, the preponderance of the campaign contributions he has received are from small donors suggesting broad support of ordinary people.

So, how did this happen?  What is his appeal?  Do a large plurality of voters actually support Socialism?  Can an acknowledged Socialist actually be elected president?  Can he be stopped?  If so, by whom?  All good questions.  I’m not sure I have the answers.  I’m not sure anyone does, but read on and I will give it my best shot.

To understand Bernie and his political philosophy it is necessary to go back to the beginning.  Bernard Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 to a Jewish working-class family in NYC.  His father was a paint salesman.  Often, he would complain bitterly about societal inequities that he perceived to be the cause of his lack of success.  One might surmise that this influenced the development of Bernie’s economic and social beliefs.  Money was tight.  His older brother, Larry, recalled that although there was money for essentials, like food and clothing, “major purchases, like curtains or a rug were not affordable.”  Both parents died relatively young.  His father was 57; his mother was 46.

Bernie was an outstanding athlete.  His elementary school basketball team won the Borough of Brooklyn championship one year.  In high school he was captain of the track team, and one year he placed third in NYC in the one-mile race.  He was less successful in politics.  He ran for president of the student body and lost, finishing last.

He became interested in politics at an early age, particularly the rise of Nazism in Europe.  Much of his family had emigrated from Poland and Russia.  Those who had remained behind in Poland were murdered in the Holocaust.

He attended Brooklyn College for one year and then transferred to the University of Chicago from which he graduated in 1964 with a BA in political science.  By his own admission, he was a “mediocre” college student.  He characterized the schoolwork as “boring and irrelevant.”  To him, “the community was more important to his education.”

Bernie began to exhibit his Socialist bent while at the U of C.  The 1960s were a period of violent protest and upheaval, and Bernie fit right in.  He became very active in the nascent Civil Rights Movement.  He joined the Young People’s Socialist League, which was the youth adjunct of the Socialist party in the US.  Additionally, he became a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), of which he served as chairman of the university’s  chapter.

In 1968 he moved to Vermont.  In the 1970s he ran for political office several times as an independent and lost every time.  In 1981 he was elected mayor of Burlington and served four terms.  As far as I was able to discern from my research, this, at the age of 53, was his first real job.  Prior to this, he had relied on the financial support of his wife and girlfriends and government support.  In 1990 he was elected to the House of Representatives.  He was elected to the Senate in 2006.

In my opinion, his career in the Senate can best be described as pedestrian.  He has only sponsored a few bills that actually became law.  He developed a reputation as a quirky maverick.  Most of the time he was registered as an independent.  I maintain that he only switched to the Dem Party because he wanted to run for president as a Dem.

He managed to avoid military service during the Vietnam era.  Was he a “draft dodger?”  Perhaps, although his supporters deny it.  We do know he was strong critic of the war and applied for a conscientious objector deferment, which was a common ploy among draft dodgers at the time.  It was denied, but by then, he had “aged out.”   You can evaluate his actions for yourself.

Consistent with his Socialist/Communist political leanings he has visited Cuba, where he tried unsuccessfully to get an audience with Fidel Castro, Nicaragua, where he met with the pro-Soviet Sandinista Government leaders, and Russia, for his honeymoon.

This, then, is the candidate who somehow has managed to become the front runner.  How?

  1.  The promise of “free stuff” is very alluring and hard to resist.  For example, at first, glance, who wouldn’t be in favor of free single payer healthcare for all, even undocumented immigrants?   Who wouldn’t be in favor of a guaranteed income or of having their suffocating student loan debt, which for many is in the six figures, paid off?  On the surface, helping the oppressed and persecuted by opening our borders doesn’t seem so bad.  Why not help those less fortunate than us?  In view of all the murders annually, why not toughen gun laws?  The Green New Deal will benefit our environment.  What’s wrong with that?
  2.  It’s only if and when one analyzes these policies and others that “warts” show up.  The most obvious problem is that there is no way to come close to paying for these pie-in-the-sky plans, and that, my friends is the crux of Socialism.   No one even knows how much these policies will cost.  Estimates have run as high as tens of trillions of dollars per year.
  3.  Many of Bernie’s supporters have no idea what Socialism is and what damage it would do, especially the version he is preaching.  They need to be educated.  If they realized what it means and what it has done to other countries that have tried it, they might change their tune.  Typically, Socialist ideas sound good, but they simply don’t work.  Bernie’s version of Socialism has never been successful anywhere.  Contrary to what he claims, it’s not the Scandinavian version.  Even the president of Denmark has disavowed it.  It’s the type that has plagued the economies of Russia, Cuba and Venezuela, among others.
  4. Bernie has taken advantage of a weak field.  The other candidates are too old, too timid, too inexperienced and/or too reluctant to put forth policies that mainstream voters favor.  Instead, they have misread the electorate and have allowed Bernie to pull them too far to the left.
  5. I believe that for some of his supporters, their support is a “protest” vote.  They don’t really support his ideas or even understand their significance.  They just don’t like the current system.  They feel it is not working for them.  They are unhappy and want to try something else.
  6.  Bernie has a way of explaining his ideas in a positive way.  He’s an excellent public speaker, almost mesmerizing, akin to an evangelist.  Someone, a reporter or a rival candidate, needs to force him to explain them, in detail, expose them.

CONCLUSION

Due to the foregoing, I firmly believe that Bernie’s election would be disastrous for the American way of life.  The key question is can Bernie be stopped or is his candidacy inevitable?  At the present time, he definitely has momentum, but his nomination is not inevitable.  Nine months is a lifetime in politics.

The power brokers in the Party are adamantly opposed to his nomination.  They perceive that it would lead to a decisive Trump victory.   I agree.  I can visualize a debacle similar to George McGovern’s defeat in 1972.  The Party leaders and their allies in the media are determined to derail a Sanders nomination as they did in 2016.  Their latest trick was to bend the debate qualification rules to qualify Bloomberg to participate.  That tactic backfired miserably due to Bloomberg’s inept performance.  But, you can be sure they will keep at it. There is still time to thwart Bernie’s candidacy, but the Dems need to (1) find a moderate candidate who can appeal to the mainstream of the Dem Party and (2) follow the steps outlined above.

Who could it be?  I don’t know.  Maybe, there isn’t anyone who is up to the task.    If you have any suggestions, to quote the late Ross Perot, “I’m all ears.”

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

It is impossible to discuss Black history without discussing the slave trade. Since February has been designated as Black History Month,  I thought it appropriate to publish a blog on the topic discussing not only the sordid history of slavery, but also the many significant accomplishments of AAs.

Slave trading is as old as recorded history.  Ancient peoples, such as the Egyptians, Arabs and Romans, among others, were active practitioners.  Before the industrial revolution took hold, slaves were essential to do the back-breaking physical labor required, such as, for example, building the pyramids, tilling the fields, and rowing the huge warships. Basically, if you lost a war you were either killed or enslaved.  Slaves were not viewed as people.  They were perceived as property to be bought, sold, raped, beaten, or otherwise mistreated.

Most present-day African-Americans (AAs) are the descendants of slaves that were transported from the west coast areas of Africa to the Americas from the late 16th century through 1865.  Most of these slaves were captured in raids conducted by white slave traders, however, it was not uncommon for African chiefs, (for example, those located in Benin and Mali), to sell black prisoners of war to these “slavers.”

The slaves’ passage from Africa to America, which normally took six months, was beyond brutal. Without going into too much graphic detail, the trip, itself, was probably worse than what awaited them at the end.  First of all, the slaves were separated by gender.  Men were generally put in the ship’s hold where they were so crowded that often they had no space to lie down.  Starvation and disease were rampant.  Many slaves died en route and were dumped unceremoniously overboard.  Women were kept closer to the crew.  Rape was common.  Occasionally there would be a rebellion, but these were quickly and brutally suppressed.  All in all, some 12 million AAs were transported to America in this manner, but countless others never made it.

The first slaves arrived in present-day US in 1619 at the ironically-named Point Comfort near present-day Hampton, VA.  This was some 30 miles from Jamestown, which, as some of you will recall, was the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  The English settlers treated these early arrivals as indentured servants, rather than slaves, and released them after they had completed their period of indenture.  However, before long, this practice was replaced by outright slavery.  It is estimated that only about 5% of the slaves were transported to the American colonies.  The vast majority were shipped to the West Indies, or even South America, where the working conditions were significantly more brutal (harder work and inferior food and medical care) and the death rates substantially higher.

Quiz question: What was the first American colony to legalize slavery? Answer below.]

In early America, owning slaves was common.  Many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. For example, Thomas Jefferson owned some 200.  Before you condemn them for that, however, consider that slave ownership was a symptom of the times in which they lived, and I do not believe it is appropriate to judge them by today’s standards as many are wont to do. It has been documented that even some free blacks owned slaves.

By the early 19th century slavery had become more commonplace in the South than the North. Without going into excessive detail, slaves were an economic necessity to work the vast plantations that produced cotton and other crops on which the South’s economy depended. Meanwhile, the North had become more industrialized and less reliant on slave labor. The two regions were on a collision course that ultimately resulted in the Civil War, followed by Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” laws, and segregation that lasted well into the 20th century.

AAs have distinguished themselves in every war. For example, the first person to give his life for freedom during the Revolutionary War was an AA, Crispus Attucks, who perished at the Boston Massacre in 1775.  Some 5,000 AAs fought in the Continental Army, side by side with whites. Therefore, technically, the US Army was integrated before it was segregated.  Even after the British and their loyalist supporters offered to free any slave who joined their side, many AAs stayed loyal to the Revolution.

During the Civil War approximately 200,000 free blacks and former slaves fought with the Union Army both before and after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
During WWI the armed forces were still segregated, and most AA units were relegated to support roles.  Even so, a few units, such as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” did see combat. That unit ended up serving on the front lines for six months, longer than any other unit, and 171 of its members were awarded the Legion of Merit. Moreover, Corporal Freddie Stowers of another unit was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.  Sadly, somehow, the Army (intentionally or not) “misplaced” his paperwork at the time, but his surviving sisters received it on his behalf from President Bush 41 in 1991.

Nearly 2 million AAs served in the US military during WWII, once again, in segregated units. Many of them, such as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, did so with distinction.  Over 700 AAs were killed, and many more were wounded.  Undoubtedly, their bravery and patriotism was one of the factors that led President Harry Truman to order the integration of the armed services after the War.  AAs have continued to serve with distinction in every war since.

CONCLUSION

Presently, most people would say the US is divided racially (as well as politically, economically, socially and geographically).  That is problematic, but, I maintain we have made significant strides as a society.  Critics should try to put things in perspective.  We’re not perfect by any means, and we should strive to improve, but name me a country that is better.

AAs have made innumerable contributions to society in all fields of endeavor.  Below please find a brief list.  Most of these names should be very familiar to you.  Due to space limitations I am sure I have omitted some very important people.  Feel free to make additional suggestions to the list.

Civil Rights

1. Martin Luther King – In my opinion, the most influential American civil rights leader ever. His espousal of non-violent protest won over many whites as well as blacks. His assassination was a tragedy for the civil rights movement.
2. Rosa Parks – The simple act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus was a landmark event in black civil rights history.
3. Frederick Douglas – Escaped slave who became one of the leading abolitionists of the 19th century.
4. Harriet Tubman – Escaped slave who was an integral “conductor” of the “underground railroad” in the 19th century.  She made in excess of a dozen trips and rescued an estimated 70 slaves without losing any of them.
5. Jesse Jackson – Renowned and influential civil rights leader for over 40 years. Ran for President in 1984 and 1988.
6. Sojourner Truth – Influential 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. Fought for equal rights for women as well as blacks.
7. Ida Wells – Civil rights activist, journalist and newspaper editor. Relentlessly investigated and exposed lynchings, which were all too commonplace in the South at the time.

Politics

1. Barack Obama – Served two terms as President of the US. Regardless of your opinion of his political philosophy, he was the first AA president.
2. Shirley Chisholm – First AA congresswoman (1968-1983). Ran for President in 1972.
3. Douglas Wilder – In 1989 became the first AA to be elected governor (Virginia).
4. Carol Moseley-Braun – First AA senator (Illinois).

Presently, there are thousands of AAs holding elected office and dozens who hold or have held significant government positions, such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, and NSA Head Condoleeza Rice.  Furthermore, the 2020 presidential campaign featured AAs, such as Corey Booker and Kamala Harris.  Others will likely follow and, perhaps, win.

Sports and Entertainment –

There are a plethora of examples in this field, but, to my mind, these four stand out.

1. Jesse Owens – “Stuck it” to the Nazis by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 demonstrating that AAs were not inferior as many thought at the time.
2. Jackie Robinson – Broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball in 1947, paving the way for thousands who have followed and will follow, prospectively.
3. Muhammed Ali – World champion boxer and an inspiration to blacks worldwide.
4. Oprah Winfrey – Strong media personality and role model to AAs and women, in general.

Answer to quiz question: Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Kudos to you if you got it right.

DEMOCRAT PARTY DEBATE FIREWORKS

The ninth Democratic presidential candidates’ debate last Wednesday night in Las Vegas was everything that the previous eight were not.  It was contentious, entertaining, and, at times, chaotic.   The knives were out.  Politeness and gentility were nowhere to be found.  On many occasions, the candidates were interrupting and talking over each other.  After a while, the squabbling became excessive and detrimental to the process.  In my opinion, there were several sidebars, which I will discuss below, but the overriding result was the devastation of Bloomberg’s candidacy and, with it, the Dem Party’s Plan B for the nomination.

Can he recover?  History shows that nine months is a very long time in politics, so it’s possible.  But, at the moment it is hard to see how.

There were several minor skirmishes, such as Buttigieg criticizing Klobuchar for misremembering the name of the president of Mexico and Klobuchar retorting “are you calling me dumb?  Are you mocking me?”  It seems like those two have real issues with each other.  Evidently, they realize that they are both running in the same lane, moderate (relatively) Midwesterner, and only one of them can survive.  However, the main event featured the absolute annihilation of Michael Bloomberg.  In previous blogs,  I had asserted that Bloomberg was a poor debater, and it showed.

All the others ganged up on Bloomberg who, for the most part, was unable to defend himself adequately.  He just stood there passively, like a deer in the headlights, seemingly too stunned to come up with any retort.  I don’t know if he was inadequately prepared by his advisors or if he just “froze.”

He was attacked for various policies, but the most damaging were (1) his “stop and frisk” policy, (2) his hostility toward women, and (3) his attempt to “buy” the election.  There were many “zingers,” but the most telling and memorable was Warren’s characterizing him as “a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians.”  That’s the kind of line that will resonate and be remembered.  I don’t know if that represented truth or hyperbole, or a combination of the two, but it probably doesn’t matter, and Bloomberg did not deny it.

Additionally, she scored points against him for his various non-disclosure agreements that many women had signed.  She challenged him to disclose them, but he refused.  Again, he had no effective retort.  It got to the point where one almost felt sorry for him.. Almost.

In the aftermath, the liberal media was relentless in its criticism.  Even the airheads at CNN and MSNBC were brutal in their assessment of Bloomberg’s performance and depressed as to its meaning.  The following is a sampling of some of the more memorable comments: (1) they “tore the skin off him;” and  (2) Bloomberg “was the Titanic to Warren’s iceberg;”  Viewers of “Morning Joe” were treated to the site of Joe Scarborough trying to calm down a “panicking” Danny Deutsch who was lamenting that Sanders was “running away ” with the nomination.  The general consensus was that the real winner of the evening was Donald Trump, and I would agree.

CONCLUSION

How did the Dems get into this mess?  How has it developed that an admitted Socialist appears to be the runaway favorite for the nomination?  More importantly, how do they extricate themselves  from this mess?

As to the former, there are a lot of theories, but I believe that the primary reason is the weak competition.  Sanders has his hard core of supporters, but it is nowhere near a majority.  He has  been thriving against a weak, timid, divided field that is devoid of a strong moderate.  No one has been willing to stand up for “traditional” moderate Democrat policies.  They’re all deathly afraid of the twitter crowd, which, due to its aggressiveness, wields considerably more power than its numbers would suggest.  They don’t seem to realize that the twitter crowd’s opinions reflect merely a small slice of the electorate, not the majority.  The anti-Sanders crowd has to coalesce behind a moderate alternative with the courage to speak out.  I think a majority of the Dem voters are waiting for such a person.  Where is he or she?

As I and many others have been predicting the Dems are likely headed for a brokered convention.  Since it appears that no one candidate will have secured a majority of delegates the power brokers will probably have to decide the matter in the proverbial “smoke-filled room.”  So much for transparency.

Who will emerge as the candidate?  Your guess is as good as mine.  It could be anyone.  Hillary?  Patrick Leahy?  Biden?  Bloomberg? Someone else?  I believe three things are certain: (1) It will NOT be Sanders.  (2)  His supporters will not react well to being “screwed” twice in a row.; and  (3) The “winner” will lose to Trump, possibly in a landslide.

 

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – FEBRUARY

February may be the shortest month, but there has been no shortage of significant historical events during the month. For example:

2/2/1848 – The US-Mexican War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The US paid $15 million for a huge swath of land that encompasses parts of present-day CA, AZ, TX, UT, NV, NM, CO and WY.
2/3/1870 – The 15th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote.
2/3/1913 – The 16th amendment to the Constitution was ratified authorizing Congress to collect income taxes.

2/5/2020 – The Senate votes to acquit President Trump of all Articles of Impeachment.

2/6/1933 – The 20th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which changed the presidential inauguration date from March 4 to January 20.
2/6/1952 – Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of the UK with the death of her father, King George VI.
2/8/1010 – The Boy Scouts of America was founded by William Boyce.
2/9/1943 – In one of the bloodiest battles of WWII the US captured Guadalcanal after six months of intense fighting. The KIA included 2,000 Americans and 9,000 Japanese.
2/10/1967 – The 25th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which clarified the procedures for presidential succession.
2/11/660 BC – The date of the founding of the Japanese nation.
2/11//1990 – Nelson Mandela was released from a SA prison after 27 years.
2/12/1999 – The impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton concluded with a “not guilty” verdict.
2/13/1635 – Boston Latin, the first taxpayer-supported public school in America, was founded in Boston.
2/14 – Celebrated around the world as St. Valentine’s Day.
2/14/1849 – Photographer Mathew Brady took the first photograph of a US President in office (James K. Polk).
2/14/1929 – The infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, as members of Al Capone’s gang, posing as police, gunned down members of the Bugs Moran gang.
2/15/1898 – The USS Battleship Maine blew up under mysterious circumstances while anchored in Havana harbor. Although culpability was not proven, this incident precipitated the War of 1898 with “remember the Maine” as the chief battle cry.
2/15/1933 – A failed assassination attempt on FDR resulted in the death of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.
2/19/1942 – The US commenced the internment of Japanese Americans.
2/20/1962 – Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit.
2/21/1965 – Former Black Muslim leader, Malcolm X, was shot and killed in NYC.
2/21/1972 – President Richard Nixon arrived in China for the first State visit with communist China.
2/23/1991 – US ground troops initiated Operation Desert Storm versus Iraq.
2/24/1582 – Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar. The latter has become the standard worldwide.
2/24/1867 – The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. The Senate acquitted him by one vote.
2/27/1950 – The 22nd amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which limits the president to a maximum of two terms or ten years in office.
2/27/1991- Operation Desert Storm concluded.

Birthdays – Hattie Caraway, Bakersville, TN – 2/1/1878, first woman elected to US Senate; John Ford – 2/1/1895, Cape Elizabeth, ME, Oscar winning director; Elizabeth Blackwell – 2/3/1821, Bristol, England – first female physician in US; Norman Rockwell – 2/3/1894, NYC – artist and illustrator; Thaddeus Kosciusko – 2/4/1746, Poland, Revolutionary War hero; Charles Lindbergh – 2/4/1902, Detroit, MI, first non-stop solo cross-Atlantic flight; Aaron Burr – 2/6/1756 – killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; George Herman (“Babe”) Ruth – 2/6/1895, Baltimore, MD, generally considered best baseball player ever; Ronald Reagan – 2/6/1911, Tampico, IL, entertainer, 40th President; Charles Dickens – 2/7/1812, in England, British novelist; Sinclair Lewis – 2/7/1885, Sauk Center, MN, novelist and social critic; William Henry Harrison – 2/9/1773, Berkeley, VA, 9th President (died after having served only 32 days); Thomas Edison – 2/11/1847, Milan, OH, inventor; Abraham Lincoln- 2/12/1809, Hardin County, KY, 16th President, preserved the Union, freed the slaves; Charles Darwin – 2/12/1809, England, author; Galileo Galilei – 2/15/1564, astronomer and physicist; Susan B. Anthony – 2/15/1820, Adams, MA, women’s suffrage pioneer; Sonny Bono – 2/16/1935, Detroit, MI, entertainer; Nicolaus Copernicus – 2/19/1473, Poland, first to declare the sun, not earth, was the center of the solar system; George Washington – 2/22/1732, Westmoreland County, VA – “father” of US, 1st President; W.E.B. DuBois – 2/23/1868, Great Barrington, MA, AA educator; William (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody – 2/26/1846, Scott County, IN, reputedly killed 4,000 buffalo; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 2/27/1807, Portland, ME, poet (“Paul Revere’s Ride”).

BERNIE VS. BLOOMBERG

In my not so humble opinion, regardless of what the polls may indicate, regardless of the bloviations and inane comments from the journalists and political analysts who take up space on CNN, MSNBC and the networks, make no mistake about it.  As I write this, the race for the Dem presidential nomination is between Bernie and Bloomberg.  If you doubt me, read on.

Each of the other candidates has, over the course of several months, exhibited severe and increasingly obvious flaws – too old, too slow, too prone to gaffes, too disingenuous, and/or too inexperienced.  None of them has given any indication that he or she will be able to garner the broad appeal necessary to win the nomination, much less the general election.  Instead, they have been falling all over each other to run as far to the left as possible.  They are engaged in the political version of the limbo (how far left can you go). As a group, they are further to the left than the average Dem voter.  History tells us that is not the formula for winning a general election.  One wins by controlling the middle.  The Dem nominee will need a GPS to find the middle.

Each of them has enjoyed a brief moment in the sun as the darling of the Dem establishment and the mainstream media, only to have their candidacies implode.  For example, remember Kamala Harris and “Beto” O’Rourke?  Where are they now?  Long gone, is where.  Elizabeth Warren’s prospects have diminished severely, weighed down by one lie and exaggeration too many.  Joe Biden, the former presumptive nominee, has been exposed as a bumbling, fumbling and stumbling out-of-touch has-been.  Every time he speaks one wonders what inappropriate and embarrassing inanity will come out of his mouth.  Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy will eventually be exposed by his lack of experience as merely a mediocre mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana and a lack of appeal to AAs and Hispanics.  I predict the remaining pretenders will be weeded out one by one over the next month, perhaps, even as early as “Super Tuesday.”

The Dem 2020 campaign has devolved into a “stop Bernie” movement.  Party donors and insiders are horrified by the prospect of a Sanders nomination, and Bloomberg is widely seen as the latest, and maybe the last, chance to stop him. To be sure, Bernie has a hard core of devoted, loyal supporters.   He did very well in Iowa and NH.  If he wins in Nevada and does well in SC he will have huge momentum going into “Super Tuesday.”

So far, Bloomberg’s poll numbers have been boosted primarily by the outrageous amount of money he has spent.   Supposedly, he has spent in excess of $400 million.  This has give rise to the criticism, by some, that he is trying to “buy” the nomination.  (By comparison, Bernie has spent about $40 million.)   Can he keep up that pace?  In a word, yes.  He has untold billions.  But, sooner or later he will have to go out and talk to people in uncontrolled environments.

On the negative side, Bernie has espoused extreme, some would say, downright scary and unrealistic, positions.  He is an avowed socialist, some would say communist, who says what he means and means what he says. He has tried to compare his brand of socialism to that practiced in Denmark and other Western Europe countries, but even the president of Denmark has strongly denied such similarities.  Simply put, his core policies – open borders, Green New Deal, forgiving college tuition debt, single-payer free healthcare for all, and huge tax increases, to name a few, would destroy the US economy and bankrupt the country in short order.  So far, he has been succeeding in a diverse field with many candidates, but I fail to see how he could win a general election running on that platform.

However, I don’t see Bloomberg as being able to stop him.  Firstly, he is an uninspiring speaker and probably a subpar debater (although I have not heard him actually debate anyone).  Up until now, he has avoided big rallies.  He has limited himself to small audiences where he can control the questions.  In my opinion, his speaking style is a cure for insomnia.

Secondly, his signature achievement as mayor of NYC was “stop and frisk.”  By all accounts this policy was a big success as far a getting guns off the streets and reducing crime.  However, minorities viewed it as targeting them unfairly and, therefore, as racist.  His campaign strategy has been to apologize for the policy.  This has come off as disingenuous and demeaning.

Finally, as an old, rich, white guy I don’t think he will appeal to voters outside of the NYC- DC bubble.

CONCLUSION

As I said, Bernie has gathered a hard core of supporters.  They are intensely loyal to him, and they are still smarting from 2016 when they insist the Party insiders “stole” the nomination from him.  That does not augur well for a peaceful, orderly convention in Milwaukee.

In my opinion, the Dems have brought this mess on  themselves.  They have put forth a slew of mediocre, at best, candidates, none of which has exhibited broad appeal.  As I said, in many cases, they have chosen to embrace extreme left positions that are not in accord with most voters.  The result is that the likely nominee is an extreme candidate, who, in reality, is not even a real Democrat, who, at this point, will likely be very difficult to deny the nomination, and who would have virtually no chance to defeat President Trump in the general election.  Does anyone else see this as reminiscent of the extreme candidacies of Goldwater in 1964, McGovern in 1972?  We know how those turned out.

Yes, the Dems need a strong moderate candidate who can beat President Trump, and as of now they don’t have one.  I believe they are in trouble.

THE RAGMAN’S SON

Last week we lost a Hollywood icon.  Many people believe he was, in fact, one of the last members of Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” (Generally considered to be from 1915-1963 the GA was characterized by glamorous movie stars and the few dominant studios, such as Warner Brothers and MGM, that controlled them and the industry as a whole.)

From unbelievably humble beginnings, he became one of the most famous and successful entertainers of his generation.  He achieved fame primarily as an actor, but he was also a successful writer, director and producer.  His life was truly an example of what one can achieve in America with hard work, determination, talent, and, yes, a dash of good fortune.

Issur Danielovitch was born on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, a small city in upstate NY near Kingston, the only son (along with six daughters) of poor Jewish immigrants from present-day Belarus.  The family changed its surname to “Demsky,” after an uncle who had previously adopted the name.  Such Americanization of names was very common among immigrants who wanted a fresh start in their newly adopted country.  So, Issur Danielovitch became Izzy Demsky.  Izzy changed his name, legally, to Kirk Douglas just prior to entering the Navy.

In his 1988 autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son,” which I have read and strongly recommend, Kirk described what a “ragman” did thusly: “buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes.”  To characterize the Demsky family as “poor” was an understatement.  According to Kirk, “even … in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung of the ladder.  And I was the ragman’s son.”  It is truly amazing to me how a person with such dire beginnings could rise to the level that Kirk did.  Read on and, hopefully, you will appreciate the level of his determination to succeed.

Growing up, Kirk worked at a succession of mostly menial jobs, anything to earn a few dollars for the family.  A few examples were, selling snacks to mill workers in town, delivering newspapers, gardener, janitor, busboy, waiter, and wrestling in a carnival. There were too many to list all of them here, but you get the idea.  According to his Wiki bio Kirk worked at some 40 jobs before he became an actor.  In his words, he considered his home life to be so “stifling” that it “lit a fire under [him].”  He was “dying to get out.”

Kirk would do any job to earn a few dollars.  Legend has it he even spent a night in jail just to have a place to sleep.  I suppose in his desperation “three ‘hots’ and a cot” sounded not so bad.

Supposedly, Kirk decided he wanted to be an actor from the age of five.  In high school he acted in several  plays.  Following graduation in 1934 he didn’t have any money for college, so, after talking his way into the dean’s office at St. Lawrence University for an interview, he somehow wrangled a student loan, which he supplemented with some of his many part time jobs.

After graduation in 1939 he managed to obtain a scholarship to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC.   While there, he met two aspiring actresses who would have a significant impact on his life: (1) Diana Dill, who would become his first wife and the mother of Michael Douglas, and (2) Betty Jean Perske.  Who was Betty Jean Perske?  Perhaps, you know her as Lauren Bacall.  Bacall, who was eight years his junior, later wrote she had a huge crush on Kirk, but he was not interested in her as she was “clearly too young [for him].”

Kirk joined the Navy in 1941 where he served as communications officer aboard ship.  He was medically discharged in 1944 due to an injury whereupon he returned to NY to resume his acting career.

Initially, he was focused on becoming stage actor.  However, the aforementioned Lauren Bacall recommended him to Hal Wallis who, as it happened, was looking for a fresh face for his film, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.”  He got the part.  Ironically, his film character, was a weak insecure, alcoholic who was dominated by his strong, ruthless wife (played by Barbara Stanwyck).  That was to be the last time he played a weak character.  As we all know, he made his career playing strong, heroic, tough characters.

Kirk appeared in some 90 movies in a career that spanned over 60 years.  Though known, primarily for his acting he was an extremely versatile entertainer.  He was also a producer and a director.  Furthermore, he appeared on tv and on the stage many times, and he wrote ten books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Kirk’s breakthrough role was in “Champion” where he played a tough, selfish boxer.  According to film historian Ray Didlinger Kirk “absolutely nailed” the part.  Moreover, “Variety” described the movie as “a stark, realistic study  of the boxing rackets.”  The movie earned six AA nominations, including Kirk as Best Actor.  Its success convinced Kirk he should specialize in “strong” roles, prospectively.

Furthermore, he became more aggressive in his personal life.  He was determined to take firmer control of his career.  For example, he broke his studio contract and formed his own producing company, Byrna Productions, which was named after his mother.

As a producer, Douglas had a tough reputation.  He worked hard and he expected his actors to do so as well.  He was intense and direct, which likely offended some actors, but that was Kirk.

Kirk’s peak period was the 1950s and 1960s.  During this time he churned out one success after another.  He continued to play strong, independent, tough characters and utilize his rugged good looks highlighted by his signature dimple.

There were many memorable movies, too many to list them all, but some of the most famous of these films included “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), (another AA nomination), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954) (featuring an underwater wrestling match with a giant squid), “Lust for Life” (1956), (in which he played the famous painter, Vincent Van Gogh), “Paths of Glory” (1957), “The Vikings” (1958), “Spartacus” (1960) (perhaps his signature performance, and featuring the signature line “I am Spartacus.”), and “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962).  During this time he appeared with many of the leading actors and actresses of the era, again, too many to mention here.  In addition, he appeared on tv many times.

“Spartacus” was significant in another way.  As many of you know the 1950s was famous, or perhaps, infamous, for the Hollywood blacklist.  One of the blacklisted writers, Dalton Trumbo, was the screenwriter for the movie.  Kirk insisted that Trumbo be given full on-screen credit.  Although it was an open secret that blacklisted writers were actually writing movies under other names it was not acknowledged, publicly.  Kirk’s action was a big no-no, but given his status as a megastar he felt he could get away with it, and he did.  Some claim that that effectively “broke” the blacklist (although there is some difference of opinion).

A significant event occurred on the set of The Vikings.”  Kirk’s co-stars were Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who also happened to be the parent of Jamie Lee Curtis, who was around 10 years old.  As Jamie Lee told it, one day while riding her tricycle she pedaled it into a pool.  Kirk dove in and rescued her from drowning making him a real-life hero in addition to a cinematic one.

CONCLUSION

During his long career Kirk received dozens of awards.  Some of the highlights included an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, three AA nominations, the Presidential Medal of Achievement, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Moreover, he is designated #17 on the American Film Institute’s list of “greatest male screen legends.”

He was married to his second wife, Anne, for 65 years, very rare in Hollywood where marriages are often measured in months, not years.  They met in Paris while Kirk was filming “Lust for Life.” Anne had been born in Germany as Hannelore Marx, and her family had emigrated to Belgium prior to WWII to escape the Nazis.  One reason why the marriage lasted so long was that Anne chose to overlook his frequent affairs.  Her attitude was that “as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”

Kirk’s final public appearance was as a presenter at the 2018 Golden Globes” with his daughter-in-law, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Douglas attributed his good health, vitality, boundless energy, and longevity in large part to his tough childhood and early life pre-acting.  Additionally, there was a large measure of luck.  In 1991 he narrowly escaped death when a helicopter in which he was riding collided with a small plane.  In 1996 he suffered a stroke, which impaired his ability to speak (which he recovered after several months of therapy).

He often credited his mother, Bryna, for his aggressive nature and for developing the philosophy of “gambling on yourself.”  In “The Ragman’s Son” he characterized himself as a “son of a bitch,” adding “I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood, and I feel pretty good about it, because that’s me.  I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive.”  Frequent co-star, Burt Lancaster, once commented “Kirk would be the first to tell you that he is a very difficult man.  And I would be the second.”

Kirk and Anne were very philanthropic.  They donated to many non-profit causes, such as medical facilities, schools, an Alzheimer’s treatment facility, and various playgrounds in the US and Jerusalem.

Kirk died at his home in Beverley Hills on February 5, 2020 of “natural causes.”  Rest in peace Kirk.  Your life and career epitomized the American “rags to riches” dream, and was an inspiration to us all.  You will be sorely missed.

ACADEMY AWARDS

“He looks just like my Uncle Oscar!”  So said Margaret Herrick, the Executive Secretary of the Academy in 1931 when she first laid eyes on the famous statuette.  Fortuitously, columnist Sidney Skolsky was within earshot.  He memorialized the comment by including it in his byline, and the moniker “stuck.”

To be sure, that sourcing is not universally accepted.  For example, according to one of Bette Davis’ biographies, she named the statuette after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson.  However, the Herrick story sounds like the more plausible one, so I am going with it.  In any event, the Academy adopted the name officially in 1939.

The Academy Awards, aka the “Oscars,” is hosted annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winners of AAs are selected by the Academy’s membership.  It is the oldest and most prestigious of the awards. This year’s awards, the 92nd, will be presented on Sunday, February 9 at the Dolby Theatre in LA.  The awards have been televised since 1953.  ABC has televised them since 1960.

For the second straight year there will be no host.  Why?  Well, despite declining ratings, the powers that be at ABC have determined that last year’s “hostless” format was such a success they have decided to continue the practice.

Personally, I preferred having a celebrity host.  In my view, the best ones were Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal, each of which hosted several times.  To me, they added humor and spice to the proceedings.  In my view, the Awards have fallen victim to the “new normal.”  Cutting edge humor is out; dull and boring is in.  God forbid the host should offend anyone or anything.  You may recall that last year Kevin Hart was supposed to be the host, but he ran afoul of the twitter PC Police, and he got the “boot.” Yes, his tweets were somewhat controversial, but they were several years old, and he did apologize.  But, that was not good enough for the PC Police, so he had to go. Welcome to modern, progressive America, where one is penalized for what he did or said years ago. Best to monitor your kids’ tweets and Facebook entries verrrry carefully.

The “In Memoriam” segment was introduced in 1993.  It is one of my favorite segments.  It is always very poignant, and I expect this year will be no exception.

For me, the biggest drawback to the show is its length and pace. It’s supposed to be three hours, but good luck with that. The 2002 show was the worst, lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes, but who’s counting.  DVR, anyone?

Some little-known facts about the AAs:

1. The initial AAs were presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before an audience of approximately 270 persons. This year, by contrast, it is anticipated that the awards will be televised and streamed live to some 30 million people in some 225 countries around the globe.  Impressive numbers?  Perhaps, but the estimated audience pales beside the 57 million who viewed the awards in 1998.  As has been customary, they will be preceded by a elaborate ceremony, which will feature celebrities parading before their fans, the media, and a television audience on the “Red Carpet.” Some people actually prefer the “Red Carpet” to the show, itself.

2. In 1929 the award winners, 15 in all, were disclosed to the media three months ahead of time.  For a few years, beginning in 1930, the winners were disclosed the night before.  Since 1941, however, the identities of the winners have been sealed in envelopes and guarded like the proverbial “crown jewels” until they are disclosed, with much fanfare, at the ceremony.

3. Since 1950 the ownership of the statuettes has not been unencumbered. Legally, neither the winners nor their heirs are free to sell them on the open market without first offering them back to the Academy for $1.  Although they are gold plated and only cost about $500 each to manufacture, their value on the open market would be substantial.  For example, a few years ago, a pre-1950 statuette sold via on-line auction for $861,542.

4. The voting membership of the academy is not very diverse.  It is overwhelmingly Caucasian, male, and elderly.  More on that later.

5. In order to be eligible for the Best Picture Award, a film must be a minimum of 40 minutes long, must have opened in LA County by December 31 of the previous year, and must have played there for seven consecutive days.

6. Other than Best Picture, only the members of each branch vote for the nominees in that category. For example, only directors nominate candidates for Best Director.  The entire membership votes for the winners, as well as for Best Picture.

7. For many years, the awards were presented in late March or early April. Beginning in 2004, however, they were moved up to late February or early March.  Now, they are presented in early February.  The reasons for this were (1) to shorten the intense lobbying and advertising campaigns of the Oscar season, which had become excessive,  (2) to avoid competing with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in mid and late March, which has grown very popular, (3) to avoid conflicting with the major religious holidays of Easter and Passover, and (4) to take maximum advantage of February being a “sweeps” month.

8. From time to time, some critics have accused the Academy of bias, for example:
a. Favoritism toward romantic dramas, historical epics, family melodramas, and historical biographies (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and “Annie Hall”) at the expense of action films or sports films. Often, these so-called “Oscar-bait” movies have won at the expense of more popular and enduring films such as “Star Wars,” “Goodfellas,” “Hoosiers” and “Raging Bull.” I have long felt that there has, at times, been a disconnect between the preferences of the Academy voters and the general audience.  For example, this year’s favorite, “The Joker,” grossed about $334,000, far behind “Avengers’ Endgame” at $858,000.
b. Sentiment has, sometimes, led to awards for popular entertainers or those who have been denied in the past. Also, some awards have been given more for a distinguished career than for the most recent individual performance.  One notable example was John Wayne winning for his performance in “True Grit” in 1969.  Wayne had been one of the most popular performers for three decades, but he had never won an Oscar.
c. Every so often, charges of racial bias have plagued the Academy.  For example, a few years ago, some critics decried the absence of nominations such as “Straight ‘Outta’ Compton” for Best Picture and Will Smith for Best Actor in “Concussion.”

This year some have criticized the “lack of diversity” among the nominees.  The noted best-selling author, Stephen King, who has strong liberal credentials, was nevertheless roundly criticized for defending the slate of  nominees as quality over diversity.

These aforementioned critics have cited the composition of the voting membership, as noted above, as being the primary cause. I’m not so sure. Through the years there have occasionally been curious snubs, such as Eddie Murphy being passed over (in favor of Alan Arkin) for his superb performance in “Dreamgirls.”  I did not see “Compton,” so I can’t comment on that.  Smith’s performance was worthy of a nomination (although, which nominee would he have replaced?).  However, I don’t believe those omissions are cause for protests and boycotts. I agree with King.  Furthermore, I am definitely not in favor of a quota for nominations of minorities and women as has been suggested.  As long as the nominations and Oscar voting are subjective, there will always be some that are overlooked. Our society is too PC as it is. Part of life is dealing with disappointments.

9. I recall a few puzzling choices for Best Picture in past years, cases in which the winning picture was soon forgotten and an also-ran or two became a classic or at least substantially more popular or memorable. For example:
a. 1977 – “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Unless you’re a big Woody Allen fan chances are you don’t remember “Annie Hall.”  “Star Wars” was a mega-hit and spawned several sequels as well as ancillaries such as toys and games.
b. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane.” “Valley” has been long forgotten, and “Kane” is on many “short lists” of the best movies ever.
c. 1990 – “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” I saw “Dances.” It was a nice movie, but “Goodfellas” is a classic gangster film with an all-star cast (DeNiro, Pesce, Liotta) and is on tv frequently.
d. 1940 – “Rebecca” beat “The Grapes of Wrath,” a powerful drama about the Depression-era California migrant workers starring Henry Fonda, among others.
e. 1998- “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan.” “Shakespeare” was soon forgotten (and, perhaps, Harvey Weinstein exerted some undue influence on the voting) and is now no more than the answer to a trivia question, whereas “Ryan” was a classic WWII movie with an all-star cast headed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon).  Who can ever forget the classic D-Day landing scene?
f. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which few recall and is never on tv, beat “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is a Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and which is on tv annually.

I could go on.  In fact, I could write an entire blog on just this sub-topic, but you get the idea.

A brief quiz, call it a “quizette:”

1. Who has won the most Academy Awards?
2. Only three movies have swept the much coveted awards for best picture, director, writer, best actor and best actress. Can you name them?
3. Who was the youngest actor/actress to win?
4. Who was the oldest?
5. Three movies hold the record for most Oscars with 11.  Can you name them?

6. Which actor/actress has won the most AAs?  Has the most nominations?

7. Can you name the Best Picture winners for the last two years?

See answers below.

CONCLUSION

I know you are all anxiously awaiting my predictions, so here they are:

Best Picture – “Joker”
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”
Best Actress – Renee Zellweger – “Judy”
Supporting Actor – Al Pacino – “The Irishman”
Supporting Actress – Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”

What are yours?

Enjoy the awards show as well as the “Red Carpet,” although I strongly recommend using a DVR to get through the many “dead spots.”

Quizette answers:

1. Walt Disney – 22
2. “It Happened One Night” (1935); “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1976); “Silence of the Lambs” (1992).
3. Tatum O’Neal (10) in “Paper Moon”
4. Jessica Tandy (81) in “Driving Miss Daisy”
5. “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” (2003)

6. Most acting Oscars – Katherine Hepburn – 4; most nominations – Jack Nicholson – 12

7.  2018 – “The Shape of Water”; 2019 – “Green Book”