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.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Even the umpires couldn’t fix this game

We’ve all watched a game where an umpire makes a terrible call and it changes the outcome. In the post-mortem of the 2016 election, one can make the case that the results were inevitable before the final teams were chosen. Despite the best efforts of the umpires — the media elites — the odds were never in her favor.

I’m certain that brings no comfort to her or her supporters, but the 2016 presidential race was going to be a “change” election. For more than a year, national polls asking their version of  “do you think the country is on the right track or the wrong track” were getting a very firm “wrong track” with most polls showing that between sixty and seventy percent of Americans believed that the country was headed in the wrong direction. When that many likely voters agreed on the “directional” question, there’s little doubt that President Obama would not get a so-called third term with the election of someone who pledged to continue to govern along the same ideological path. Voters were determined to make a change.

I am not sure how that giant red flag was missed by so many — perhaps her own pollsters had nightmares about this simple number — and with good reason. I can’t imagine they ignored it, but instead they probably reasoned with it: if you are up against a candidate that is perceived as racist, sexist and bigoted, surely people won’t vote for him if they have been informed of the horrible things he has said. Perhaps they assumed (or hoped) that the change people were looking for would be satisfied by a woman president or even by flipping the Senate. Either way, the narrative developed by her campaign highlighting her experience and contrasting it with his shortcomings completely backfired, motivating dissatisfied Democrats to vote Trump and inspiring people who wanted change to turn out and vote, bigly.

I have to believe that the big red flag of change was also missed because of the smoke coming from the media elites. I have a tremendous amount of respect for reporters — it’s a thankless job and can be a dangerous one — but I have to wonder about the producers and editors who could see these poll numbers and glossed over that directional question, instead choosing to highlight President Obama’s healthy job approval number. Or how about those whose coverage of a Trump rally included only Trump’s offensive comments rather than note that 10,000 people in the audience were clapping and that they had waited three hours to get in? While they hoped to help her get elected, the smokescreen effect was so thick that everyone missed the story. Everyone bought into the narrative that America couldn’t possibly elect Donald Trump, so the shock was huge — uuge.

I don’t know that President-elect Trump was destined to be our agent of change, but the role seemed to be written for him. With a country is screaming for something different, he was outsider with sky-high name recognition in a primary field chock full of governors and senators who were shocked by his bad manners and could barely defend themselves.  Most could only stand there and elaborate on their weakness: they had been part of the government that voters were hell-bent on rejecting. The media elites were so tickled by his candidacy since he was someone that Clinton could surely beat that they practically ignored the others and followed him around with his own camera pool. They went to mock him and highlight his lack of depth on the issues and instead they raised him up as a legitimate candidate with hours of free media. They gave him a satellite uplink while the others shouted into Styrofoam cups with strings attached. 

Many Bernie Sanders supporters are wondering if his brand of change would have won the election. Certainly Sanders had attracted huge crowds of the very voters that ended up voting for Trump — and Clinton did not inspire women or minorities to vote — but would an aging socialist have embodied the kind of change people were looking for? We’ll never know.

In the days and weeks to come, there will surely be a very thorough post-mortem by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic party and the national media. My ultra curious mind would like to know if Wikileaks has any more juicy e-mails to share that show whether there was a voice of truth inside the campaign or if everyone was too consumed reciting the narrative they’d been given to think for themselves. While looking back will be instructive — and will perhaps highlight a “never again” moment for many — looking ahead is the only thing most of us should do. There’s a new team on the field and it’s time to watch what they will do.

Monday, October 31, 2016

There’s always next year - but not for us

As I write this, the world of baseball is preparing for a massive celebration in one Midwestern city as another will be mired in misery for at least another year. Candidates across the United States are facing a similar fate — either they win or they lose on November 8th and the day will either go down in their personal histories as a good day or a bad one. In many races the voters are ambivalent about who they elect, particularly in local races where they may be choosing between neighbors or long-time acquaintances in a small town.

In the race for President, feelings are not as friendly and there is no lack of passion among the supporters of the two candidates. This race has gone beyond the most unrealistic movie script that could have been written and now has hit upon every -ism and many words not okay to print. Stories on the campaign include charges of treason, espionage, infidelity, voter fraud and money laundering. At this point, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction and I have to believe that many voters are so disgusted that they are committed to sitting out this election. It’s a sad state of affairs when both candidates have a more than 50% unfavorable rating. That’s right - as of this writing, 59% of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump and 53.4% had an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

If voters are so inclined, they can also write in a candidate for President — or any office. It’s fun to go back and look at what candidates are written in each year. There are always those who lost in the primary and we can expect many to write in Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney this year. Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse are perennial vote getters along with None of the Above. I think Tom Brady might be a good choice this year.

If it’s any consolation, there are some interesting local races and ballot initiatives in Rhode Island, so there’s still a reason to show up. I have been impressed with the number of local races that are contested and with the spirited — but good-natured — debate that has ensued. I will add a shameless plug for the ethics reform campaign I’ve been working on and ask people to approve question 2. It gives the Ethics Commission oversight of the General Assembly and allows it to investigate and prosecute violations of the Code of Ethics. If ever there was an issue that we can all agree on, I think it’s this one: Rhode Island deserves a more ethical government. I am hoping it can win with at least 75%.

For baseball teams, players and their fans, there’s always next year. Next year brings another 162 games of opportunity and the chance to win it all. It will be no solace for the fans of the Indians or the Cubs but there is at least the hope for redemption. No such luck for the American electorate. Barring a resignation or impeachment, we’ve got four long years of acrimony, anxiety and anger until we have a chance to make a change in the White House. Let’s make the best of it.

Don’t forget to vote!