Monday, January 23, 2017

Get off the bench

It's been quite a week in the American political arena. The inauguration of the 45th president followed by a day of gatherings across the world has a put our politics under a microscope — and the close-up inspection has not been pretty.

President Trump's inaugural address was caustic. He did not — and cannot — take back the things he has said that have offended many Americans. His behavior can be inappropriate — even childish — but he is, in fact, the duly elected President of the United States. The President of the United States is not supposed to be our spirit animal. He is the lead administrator and one piece of the policy-making authority in the federal government.  Maybe this is why I find the “not my president” discussion offensive. I get that you didn't vote for him but part of being an American and participating in our electoral process means that sometimes we don't get to be the winner every time. Have we been so coddled that we can't stand to hear an opposing viewpoint? Have we had so many participation trophies presented to us that we are mentally unprepared for when something doesn't go our way? If sour grapes of this magnitude were on display after every election, this would be a far less inspiring country. If Hillary Clinton can show support for our system of government by being on the stage while her opponent gets sworn in, I have to believe that the rest of the country can follow her gracious lead.

For the millions of Americans who participated in the events across the country on the 21st, I hope the experience was an energizing one. I struggle to call them “Women’s Marches” because some were broader in theme and some seemed more like anti-Trump rallies. Some rallies seemed right on point and inspired participants to “go high” and make their voices heard while others were (disappointingly) more divisive in tone. Preaching inclusion while telling other Americans they are wrong if they think differently is how we got to this angry place. Instead I hope that participants follow the lead of Martin Luther King Jr. and DO SOMETHING. Note that taking s selfie and calling yourself a nasty woman doesn't actually move the ball. Encouraging tolerance (which means accepting everyone — including people who disagree with you) becoming active in politics, engaging with policy makers and giving your beliefs a voice will make a difference. Mocking Barron Trump and calling the president a Cheetoh on Facebook only makes you look foolish. Finding common ground with an adversary and having fact-based discussions about the issues of the day makes you brilliant.

It’s time that our best, brightest and most thoughtful minds participate in the political process, so if you can be smart and “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” it’s time to get off the bench and engage.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Losing our place in the league

I am no football expert, but I have to believe that the Patriots have a plan in place for the post-Brady era. Of course, we all hope that day does not come for many more years and playoff appearances, but clearly the value of the franchise is too high for the ownership to let the team lose its place in the league.

I am no foreign policy expert either, but even casual observers might note that in recent years, it seems like the United States is not the world power it used to be. How we’ve ignored the crisis in Syria, our dealings with Iran — and most recently, our deteriorating relationship with Israel — makes me think that we’ve ceded our role as a world leader. With a Republican Congress and a Trump White House ready to unwind much of the domestic policy that was thought to be the Obama legacy, I think we may find (for better or worse) that the real Obama legacy is that we’ve disengaged from the rest of the world.

American politics is cyclical. With the exception of Vice Presidents who have attained office through death or resignation, Reagan is the only President to have a “third term” since Roosevelt. However, our position as a world leader has been steady and certainly, our strong relationship with Israel has never wavered until now. I am personally sickened that we have not done more to end the suffering in Syria. It’s a sad day for America when people are being slaughtered and we offer them no protection. And last week, we ABSTAINED from voting on a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. For more than 40 years, we’ve stood up for Israel (in an increasingly anti-Israel UN) and vetoed such resolutions. Secretary Kerry’s remarks following our abstention included. “Israel can be Jewish or democratic, but not both.” I am not certain whether he’s asking for them to give up their heritage or their democracy.

So what’s the plan? We’ve heard a lot from President-elect Trump through Twitter and through his appointments to know that he differs greatly from the Obama administration, but “I’m going to do the opposite” is not a plan either. Maybe Bill Belichick can help.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A trade we need to make

I was at McCoy for Clay Buchholz' first start in AA and at Fenway for his first major league start so seeing him get traded to Philly should make me a bit wistful - but it doesn't. He was a big part of recent winning seasons, but it's time to bring in reliable talent that can bring wins. Now is not a time to whine about the fact that so many good pitchers have left Boston in recent years — or to grouse that we should have gotten rid of him years ago — it's simply time to turn the page on Buchholz and look ahead to 2017.

We also need to be more positive and look forward to better days for Rhode Island. Sure, we have been at the bottom of every ranking for too long to remember — but Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day and four years of a do-nothing Chafee administration did even less for our economy. If you told me just a few years ago that GE Digital or Johnson & Johnson technology were going to put down roots in Providence, I would have laughed in your face, but with the focused leadership of Governor Raimondo, Rhode Island is finally attracting the kinds of jobs we need to pull ourselves out of an economic pit. I have always been impressed with her smarts and her determination to turn Rhode Island around but as a native Rhode Islander (and a pre-2004 Sox fan), believing in something that I have never seen here — economic success — has always been hard to grasp.

Love her or hate her, for more than three years Gina Raimondo has been single-minded her goal of attracting new businesses to Rhode Island and her hard work is paying off. Democrat or Republican, progressive or conservative, Rhode Islanders must give her props for articulating an economic development vision, getting elected on that platform, executing on the policies needed and relentlessly pursuing and persuading until that vision happens. At the same time, she has led the charge to invest in skills and education in a way that lets companies know that we're serious about creating a good workforce here. Statewide kindergarten, computer science for all, free standardized tests and the other too-numerous-to-name programs that have shown that she is serious about making Rhode Island a destination for companies who need a highly educated workforce. The recently announced Wexford development is particularly exciting since it has the ability to spawn just the kind of businesses this our workforce will be able to sustain - right in our own backyard.

For those who want to complain that there are too many tax dollars going into these projects, I challenge you to find a state where there are no incentives available to attract companies. She has not lured a start-up with a back room deal and "double or nothing" funds, she has persuaded established and successful companies to give Rhode Island a shot.

So I propose a trade of a different kind — and I am going to make it my New Year’s Resolution too. Let's shake our crappy, negative attitude about Rhode Island. This is a great place to live and it’s just getting better. Let’s view our state as others do — a place with tremendous attributes that can use a little freshening up — and join our cheerleader in chief with a more positive outlook.

Monday, December 12, 2016

There’s bias at every base

Red Sox fans remember well the excitement surrounding Pablo “Panda” Sandoval’s arrival in 2015 as well as the disappointment we felt when he emerged bigger and slower to start the 2016 season. While big athletes exist in many sports, his proportions were worrisome in a sport where speed and agility are key. When his belt actually gave way in the middle of a game, the wrath of fat-shaming Red Sox fans knew no boundaries. One headline screamed “Pablo Sandoval’s Belt Lost Its Will to Live Mid-Swing”. Shoulder surgery ended his season and mercifully took him out of the camera’s range.

Last week — some eight months after the belt-busting episode — a picture of an almost unrecognizably svelte Panda was tweeted out. I don’t know what the number on the scale reads, but he may need to be renamed Baby Panda or Skinny Panda or Pool Noddle, but he can no longer be tormented for his size.

The interesting thing about Sandoval’s plus-size episode is that it provides us with the starkest example I’ve seen of a double standard I’ve seen. Even before the belt-busting incident he was absolutely tormented by the headlines: “…weight a serious issue”, “once gained 21 pounds in 21 days” and my favorite: “needs babysitter to control weight”. His weight is of course relevant to his profession — while five extra pounds are not a problem, forty extra will slow him down — and certainly his contract obliges him to stay in top physical shape.

I don’t ever want to be in the position of defending Donald Trump, but thinking about how Panda was raked over the coals, does anyone remember the pageant winner who was fat shamed by Trump? Are the circumstances different? Or does the media just hate the messenger?

At a time when everyone is still talking about the election that the media bungled badly and the epidemic of fake news, the term “media bias” is thrown around with abandon but I think most people have no idea what it means. My eyes pop out of my head when I hear, “I read the Boston Globe — the Herald is so biased.” Newsflash: everything has a bias because reporters are human and they write pieces from their own viewpoint. You may prefer one bias to another, but everyone has one. You can disagree with one’s perspective and choose only to talk to people who agree with you and you can choose to read only the articles that are pleasing to you, but it doesn’t mean that the opposing idea is wrong.

While this sounds a bit didactic, we seem to be on the verge of stupidity in wanting to block out ideas that are in conflict with our own. I am struggling to negotiate conversations with adults that I used to find intelligent and while trying to drill a healthy skepticism into my kids. I tell them to read what you want, believe what you want, but at least make an effort to a discern the speaker’s viewpoint and to think about why someone might believe something different. And of course, take the time to fact-check anything you want to share online. Unless it’s about super-slim Panda - I’ve seen the proof. Pitchers and catchers report in 60 days … it can’t come soon enough.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It’s not easy to field a whole new team

Since the election, the news has been full of rumors, fake articles and some legitimate information about President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks as well as the transition itself. It seems as if the news media is still scrambling to come to terms with the outcome of the election and some writers seem legitimately surprised that the President-elect has the ability to hire his senior staff and appoint a cabinet (many of whom will require the advice and consent of the Senate). He can hire Satan as a senior advisor: it’s his prerogative and no online petition is going to make him say “oh darn, people who didn’t vote for me don’t like my choices, I should pick someone that makes them happy.” Sorry folks, not going to happen.

I’ve never served on a presidential transition but worked on transition teams for two Rhode Island governors and these days I wince every time I look at the news. Transitions are incredibly tough. Hours are long, expectations are high and more people are critical and disappointed than helpful and understanding. Bottom line: I do not envy Trump’s team right now. Not only do they have a challenging boss, but they are getting unfairly hammered on several fronts. FYI: the Secret Service determines how to protect the president-elect and there’s nothing they can do to control the Manhattan traffic. They also have a ridiculously immense job to do in a very short period of time. Baseball GMs publicly wring their hands each year about finding one or two new players to round out their team. The Trump people have to identify, vet and hire about 4,000 new employees between now and January 20th.  Those 4,000 current employees are happily serving the Obama administration so the chance that they would eagerly stay aboard (if asked) to serve President Trump is less than likely.

The unexpected outcome of the 2016 campaign further complicates the transition process. While the Clinton team probably had a full transition plan outlined and had many senior staff and cabinet positions assigned, the learning curve for Team Trump is very steep. The Clintons had a unique and intimate understanding of how the federal government and the Office of the President runs — they didn’t need to “measure for curtains” — they already had the dimensions. Making things even more difficult is the fact that Trump is not “of Washington” (which was a positive on a the campaign) and does not have a huge network of experienced and like-minded individuals who would like to join his team. If he hires people with no relevant experience, he can expect sharp criticism and if he appoints people who have years of government or DC service, he’s not “draining the swamp.” He is damned no matter what he does.

I’m not suggesting that anyone support the new President’s policies or endorse his behavior, but I wanted to note that he is in the middle of an incredibly challenging time and the first real test of his administration. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Just say no to fake news

November is a dark month for baseball fans. It’s too early to talk about spring training and the hot stove isn’t even warm — there’s just not that much to say right now. Rather than just making stuff up (about Ortiz wanting to return one more season but worried about the “Trump effect”), I’m not even going to write about baseball this week.

So who’s to blame? TRUMP!  Yes, let’s blame him. It’s definitely his fault. Now share this with everyone you know on Facebook and say “Here’s the proof: it’s Trump’s fault that Ortiz is not coming back!” I’ve saved you the trouble of having to think for yourself or even read a short sentence. Now that you’ve saved all your friends and neighbors from the truth, go back to playing Candy Crush.

All kidding aside, we’re all a bit to blame. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, information reduced to 140 characters and a language down to letters (ICYMI: TTYL), we’ve dumbed ourselves down so far that we’ve actually lowered our own IQs. In the last 10 years, circulation for the Providence Sunday Journal has dropped by more than half and many of us are getting our news from online sources — not journalists — but sources who make money from advertisers based on the number of clicks that their stories receive. So my “Ortiz considers return for second farewell season” story could be a goldmine and the real story — that there’s little to report on our retired hero — gets as many views as the ProJo classifieds.

During the presidential campaign, fake news was abundant and supporters on both sides were (and are) guilty of sharing and promoting untruth all over social media. I was hoping it would die down a bit but a quick look at my Facebook feed and I can see that Steve Bannon is both Satan and a populist. While I hope social media goes back to being a safe place to view cat videos and share common stain fighting techniques, it’s incumbent on all of us to push back on the wave of fake news.

Start by being a bit skeptical. Are you clicking on things that are tempting but sound crazy (lose 20 pounds watching TV!) or are you getting our online news from a reliable source? When you read a newspaper or watch the news do you think about the sources they cite or the perspectives that the reporter sought? There are no unbiased sources of information since the people putting the stories together are (presumably) human and produce their pieces from their perspective, but paid journalists have reputations to maintain and aren’t just looking for a quick click.

Be careful what you share. Don’t circulate clickbait, block it from your page and “unlike” anything that isn’t legitimate. In the pay-per-click world, your “likes” are gold. And of course, share your newfound discipline with your children. If I could count the number of conversations that started, “Hey Mom - I saw this thing on Tumblr…” and ended with the equivalent of “ okay, so Grant IS buried in Grant’s tomb,” I’d have my very own media empire.

If in doubt, just remember what Nancy Reagan said, “just say no” to fake news. OMG. JSN.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A new team takes the field

Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the election, we have a new President of the United States. You might find him repugnant, you may find to be a breath of fresh air. As of January 20, 2017, he is the President of the United States.

You can complain about the electoral college system or you may wish you lived in a swing state, so your vote would “matter.”  President-elect Trump still won in a fair election under the process set out by the U.S. Constitution.

You might blame others for voting for Trump — or not choosing to vote at all — we each have the right to make the choice that’s best for us. You may feel “robbed” because the first woman President has yet to be elected or you may feel relieved that she wasn’t. The new President can choose who he wants to run his administration.

You can say he’s not your President, but as long as you are a U.S. citizen, he actually is.

You have options of course. You can threaten to leave the country, share fake stories on Facebook, and criticize every move he makes. It’s a beautiful thing to live in a country where you can despise and mock your leader and have no fear of repercussions. You can also choose to go down a more meaningful and productive route for your anger.

One of my friends had a “Think globally, act locally” poster in her room throughout our college years. At the time I didn’t think too much about what it meant, but it resonates today. Individuals that might be frustrated by who we’ve elected at any level of government have the option to put their energies to work in any number of ways from volunteering and advocacy work to running for office or managing a political campaign. Here in Rhode Island we have amazing organizations that always need support — from the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Nonviolence to the East Bay Food Pantry — and something for every other need in our community. Your commitment can be huge or it can be minimal and the choices are literally endless: be a mentor, walk a shelter dog, pick up litter, volunteer in a school, thank a veteran, shovel a sidewalk. There’s really no limit to the ways people can contribute locally.

I get it if it all seems like too much work — especially since hitting the “share” button on Facebook requires no thought and even less effort — but if you REALLY care, use this election as a reason to engage locally and make a real difference in your community in a way that matters to you. One President can’t ruin a country or make it great again, only the people can do that.