Pages Menu
TwitterFacebooklogin
Categories Menu

Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics, What's Left, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Poker’s Shining Moment

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.47 PM - Edited

 

A Personal Note:  The 2017 World Series of Poker begins this week.  This will be the first WSOP in 25 years which I don’t plan on writing about, or attending.  With poker becoming a faint glow in my rear view mirror, this seems like a suitable occasion to clear out some personal files and post a few (previously unpublished) articles that were written up last year, but never posted.  These next few days, I’ll post some behind-the-scenes leftovers of my final series.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Ryan Laplante might have faced ridicule, and even hostility inside a poker room.

Why?

Because he’s an openly gay man.

Years ago, before being who you are was acceptable to many, the shackles of unwavering expectation sired a strict conformity.  If being gay was widely viewed as unacceptable, then being out about it was downright scandalous within many social and business circles.

It took a while, far too long many would insist, but the poker community became an unlikely coadjutor in the broader at-large struggle for gay rights, and in some peculiarity even progressively far ahead of other arenas of society, especially male-dominated sectors, like sports.  This wasn’t at all expected, and was surprising even, given poker’s jaundiced past where one’s masculinity was once tethered to a cowboy hat, a smoky cigar, and a dirty joke.

But poker turned out to be a most welcoming scene for those considered a little different.  Just about anyone and everyone was permitted to sit down and play — male or female, black or white, gay or straight — so long as the minimum buy-in was posted and no one tried to impose themselves on the competition.  Sure, unrestrained prejudice still burgeoned systematically away from the tables outside the poker room, but was muted once the cards were dealt.  To its credit, poker has acquired a startling egalitarian quality.

This seemingly odd kinship between serious-minded poker players and disparate subcultures which have been the targets of varying degrees of discrimination, including the gay rights movement, came to pass by means of the shared common experiences of society’s outcasts.  Like gay people, poker players too, were once cultural castaways, often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  Perhaps it’s the ability to identify with those who have historically been excluded from the traditional mainstream.  Perhaps this is what makes serious poker players of today generally more tolerant and accepting of others different from ourselves.  Poker players would be among the first to challenge the old adage that being normal is no virtue.

Indeed, we must accept our differences.  That is because so often, we play, we work, we socialize, and we engage is so many activities with others who are not like us.  Sometimes, they are even the opposite of us, and oppose the very things we believe in.  Welcoming those who are different from ourselves isn’t just good for poker — it’s the right thing to do.

_____

Getting here was a rocky road.

There was the time not long ago, July 2007 to be exact, when Rep. Barney Frank made an unlikely appearance at the World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas.  At the time, Rep. Frank, who represented a congressional district in Massachusetts was the only openly gay member of Congress.  He was also a tireless advocate for legalizing online poker in the United States.  Although Rep. Frank didn’t play poker at all, and knew very little about the game, he viewed our cause as his own.  And so, Rep. Frank became arguably the most unlikely proponent for legalizing online poker.  He introduced pro-poker bills in Congress.  He appeared frequently in media and often went out of his way to bring up initiatives supported by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).  His appearance at the biggest poker event of the year seemed to be an ideal setting in front of a friendly audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

I was there, that afternoon, when Rep. Frank — joined by other dignitaries at the Rio — took the microphone to say a few words to rally public support, just before giving everyone the customary tournament opening, “Shuffle Up and Deal.”  However, when Rep. Frank was introduced by name, the crowd’s reaction turned out to be an embarrassment.  About half the room containing a few thousand players, completely ignored the introduction.  Only a few clapped.  Others booed.  A few hecklers hurled shameful insults at Rep. Frank.

I was standing near one particularly boisterous section of the crowd, positioned next to Rep. Frank when I heard someone yell out — “faggot!”  Right there, I nearly lost it, and yelled something profane back into the crowd.  That didn’t help the matter, of course.  It was just my gut reaction.

I was so angry afterward that I had difficulty staying in the same room among so much indifference and hostility.  Desperate for an emotional sanctuary, I walked back to the main casino at the Rio with Rep. Frank.  Along the way, I made a feeble attempt to explain that this wasn’t truly representative of the way most of us felt about what he was doing for poker and the players.  “Don’t worry about it,” Rep. Frank replied.  “I’ve been hearing shit like that all my life.”

_____

Years later, a young poker player named Jason Somerville made his first appearance at a WSOP final table.  That’s a really big deal, especially to a player who has serious aspirations of making poker a career.

Before the finale began, it was customary to introduce each player to the crowd and the viewers watching on the live stream.  It was pretty simple, really.  We normally announced the player’s name, hometown, occupation, plus a tidbit or two provided by the finalist via something called a “Player Bio Sheet,” usually completed the night before.  Some players used this rare occasion of making a final table to call out their friends and supporters.  Others listed interesting things about themselves.  Pretty standard stuff.

Somerville decided to use this occasion to send an important message.  On his bio sheet, Somerville wrote that he was an openly gay man and was active in the fight for equal rights and protections.  He hoped that this public acknowledgement on a major stage would encourage others who were watching, particularly those who might still be comfortable about disclosing something still viewed as controversial at the time.

We customarily followed the wishes of each player, unless something written on the bio sheet was terribly inappropriate (which alone might make for another good column, someday).  After all, this was Somerville’s time to shine under the public spotlight.  If he wanted to acknowledge something personal about himself, then who were we to censor his wishes?

Unfortunately, the announcer didn’t honor Somerville’s request on the bio sheet.  It was simply ignored and the occasion was mostly forgotten.  Somerville never made an issue of it.  But the incident did stick with me, long afterward.  I thought we made the wrong judgement call that day by not following the player’s request.  Then again, at least we avoided a possible repeat of the Barney Frank episode from four years earlier.

One can never predict quite how a crowd will react — especially a poker crowd.

_____

[Reminder:  This previously unpublished article was written June 14, 2016]

Ryan Laplante won the largest non-Hold’em tournament of all time at the 2016 WSOP, defeating a field of 2,483 players in the $565 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event, good for a hefty payday of more than $180,000 — plus his very first gold bracelet.

Then, he woke up Sunday morning to the news of a terrible tragedy.

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took 49 lives when a madman stormed into a popular Orlando nightclub and gunned down more than four dozen people, mostly young gay men.  Since the attack occurred very late on a Saturday night, most of us didn’t hear the news until the following day.

The scimitars for poker and the real world do not often cross.  It’s as if what goes on outside the highly-competitive, almost circus-like arena of the WSOP stands as some kind of island or desert mirage apart from the rigors and ritual of reality.  I recall that a major tournament was even played on the very afternoon of the morning right after the events of 9/11, a disgraceful decision by tournament organizers made considerably worse by the callousness shown by the dregs of humanity — those morally-bankrupt poker players who bothered to show up to play, all while the towers of our national identity were still smoldering in ashes.

The Orlando shooting was certainly shocking, as all terrorist acts are, but to most of us — it didn’t touch us personally.  The deranged gunman who targeted people just for being gay wasn’t personal for me (or others) in the same way it was so very personal to Laplante, and presumably many others.

On what should have been a day of celebration instead had become something far more surreal.  Laplante had been scheduled to receive his gold bracelet on that Sunday, barely 12 hours after the Orlando murders.  Moreover, as was the custom on occasion, I was to be the fill-in emcee privileged to award Laplante his poker amulet.  As horrific images of the Orlando nightclub shooting aftermath were being shown on televisions throughout the poker arena, we were about to award an openly gay man with poker’s supreme honor.

One of the perks of working in an executive position at the WSOP is the occasion to take something to a whole new level.  Indeed, this was a time for elevation and we owed it to ourselves to aim especially high.

That morning, during my drive from home to the Rio, I pondered the unprecedented quandary of just how to handle the upcoming daily gold bracelet ceremony.  This wasn’t just any day.  This wasn’t just any winner.  This wasn’t just a typical five-minute ceremony, with no lingering afterthought.  This was a celebration blunted by a terrible tragedy, fronted by a remarkable young man of courage and conviction fully prepared to use this occasion to educate us, heal us, and make us all better.  It was about making the event bigger than just himself, bigger than all of us.

When I met with Laplante just moments before he was to take the stage and receive his gold bracelet, it became instantly obvious he’d been thinking the same thing.  Gleefully standing upon a stage and going through the usual routine in light of terrible events just didn’t seem appropriate.  What did seem fitting however, was to have Laplante’s fiance, Chris Katona standing on the stage with him to present the bracelet in front of the poker world.  Typically, this honor is reserved only for poker legends and sometimes the relatives of players, mostly wives and parents.  Having two men in a committed relationship onstage together in celebration would be a poker first.  Stung by the tragedy, but also empowered by the occasion to do a pubic good, Laplante agreed with the alternative plan.

At about 2 pm during a tournament break, I took the microphone.  I introduced Laplante as the latest poker champion.  Then, the stage was all his.  No one knew what he would say, nor what to expect.  No one knew how the huge audience — comprised almost exclusively of poker players and tournament staff — might react.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.11.32 PM - Edited

 

Once Laplante took possession of his gold bracelet, next he stepped up to the podium.  Few players opt to speak at these events.  I think I understand why.  Public speaking can surely be scary.  Many players don’t really have much to say.  Besides, no one comes to the WSOP to hear a speech.  Everyone wants to play poker.

This time, the room fell silent.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.05.40 PM - Edited

 

Rather than post my recollections of the speech given my Laplante, instead I’ll let this short video clip (provided by Card Player) speak for itself:

 

 

After the speech ended, everyone in the audience rose to its feet and applauded simultaneously for what seemed to be the longest duration in anyone’s recent memory.  The memorable occasion didn’t make up for past sins, the ill treatment of Rep. Frank or the refusal to acknowledge people for who they are.  The cheers weren’t some false notion that everything now is okay.  But it was a big step in the right direction.

June 13th, 2016 was was very good day for poker.  It was a day to be proud, not because we are, or we aren’t gay.  It was a day to be proud because we’re human.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.07.27 PM - Edited

 

Note:  Special thanks to photographer Antonio Abrego for the photographs.

 

Read More

Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 8 comments

An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

 

 

Changing your mind isn’t a sign of indecision, nor weakness.  Rather, it’s compelling evidence of an open mind reacting appropriately to new information and changing circumstances.

 

Dear Trump Supporter:

This isn’t a lecture.  This isn’t an attack on you.  This isn’t a challenge to your beliefs.  This isn’t a threat to your values.  This isn’t a wag of the finger, nor a snickering “I told you so.”

Rather, this is an appeal to your intelligence.  This is an overture towards reason.  This is a petition for sanity.  This is a plea to do what’s right.

This is about your support for President Donald J. Trump.

Surely, there are many reasons, some justifiable, why you backed Trump — the candidate.  There are reasons you voted for Trump — the nominee.  There are reasons you continue to profess your unwavering support for Trump — the President.  In some cases, these reasons are probably based on noble intentions — doing what you think will keep the country safe and trying to make things better.

Certainly, there are compelling reasons for you to be angry about what’s happened to America.  Fed up with the status quo, you opted for change.  So, you let a raging bull into the presidential china cabinet.  Hoping to drain the swamp of corruption, you wanted a barroom brawl.  You want asses kicked and heads to roll.  Congratulations.  You got what you wanted.

You also wanted to stick it to liberals, the establishment, and the media elite — all of which which you view with mistrust and resentment.  Even though Trump represented just about everything that’s gone frantically wrong with the country over a generation — as a hopelessly out-of-touch celebrity-tycoon owing his notoriety to bombastic delusions of grandeur exploited on a second-rate faux-“reality television” show — Trump promised to ride into office riding the white horse and “Make America Great Again.”  That’s not just a catchy campaign slogan.  It become a national aspiration, particularly for the tens of millions who are dissatisfied and disenfranchised.  Trump’s temper tantrums and brutish insults weren’t viewed as a disqualification for high office, but instead were confirmation of a new and refreshing authenticity, a crude contortion which instantly became an attribute when pitted against society’s straightjacket of political correctness.  Trump’s appeal to our baser instincts — I totally get that.

Yet, it might surprise some of you to know that many of us here on the Left are angry, too.  We held our collective noses while we painfully pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton, even after she and her corrupt cronies at the Democratic National Committee treacherously rigged the primary system against Sen. Bernie Sanders, or any threat to the shady political machine.  Trust me when I say, your outrage against the Democratic Party (which isn’t to be equated with liberalism) isn’t unfounded, nor misplaced.  Truth is, we on the Left also are having our own sort of Tea Party, and this bitter battle promises to continue as we try to win the hearts, souls, and minds of the American working class.

So, you voted for Trump.  And we voted for Clinton.  Yet, we still share similar hopes and convictions.  Disagree?  You want a safe and secure America….so do we.  You want a thriving economy….so do we.  You want honesty in business and government….so do we.  You want good-paying jobs….so do we.  You want to defeat terrorists….so do we.  On and on.  We probably have lots more in common than you might think.

The problem is — by now it’s become pretty obvious that Trump isn’t our savior.  He’s not going to deliver the things you wanted.  He’s already toppled the pillars of his own campaign promises, whether it was “locking her up” or gutting the Iran nuclear deal (which is proving to be a success).  He’s not making Mexico pay for anything.  He’s not moved on revamping our domestic infrastructure.  Sure, he’s constantly bombarded from Democrats, much of the media, and even a few courageous members of his own party.  However, most of Trump’s wounds aren’t the result of obstructionism or hate.   Trump’s wounds are entirely self-inflicted.

It’s come time to re-evaluate your support of this man and ask serious questions about what he’s doing to this country.  Unfortunately, the 40 percent or so of Americans which still support Trump the President gives him more than enough license to hit several more icebergs on this maiden journey into what’s become uncharted historical waters.  However, I’m not sure how many more hits to the right bow we can take before democracy and America’s once-proud standing in the world eventually takes in such a massive leak that the whole shining city on a hill ultimately sinks to the bottom.

I’m begging you to rise up and show some courage.  I know, this isn’t easy.  Given constant peer pressure within our own echo chambers, combined with our own stubborn refusal (some argue a behavioral instinct) to admit that sometimes we’re wrong — this takes a certain valor that’s become scarce within our combative political climate.  Social media, worst exemplified by Twitter and Facebook, now gives everyone “a record.”  How unfortunate.  Whereas before, we could change our minds freely about important people and current events, now it’s not quite so easy given that pride and personal reputations are at stake.  Through our words and posts on social media, we’ve all become painters of a proverbial floor leading to our own constrictive corners, from which there is no escape.

But let’s try and rise above this.  Let’s agree that changing your mind isn’t a sign of weakness, nor indecision.  Rather, it’s solid evidence of maintaining an open mind and reacting to new information and changing circumstances.  Changing your mind reveals enlightenment.

Contrary to Lady Gaga’s hit song, at least when it comes to politics — we weren’t “born this way.”  We weren’t born with any predetermined set of political beliefs.  Rather, we learned them.  Our opinions evolved.  How do they evolve?  Well, most of us change our beliefs based on new experiences and exposure to better, more compelling arguments.  Like science, political philosophy must be evidence based.

Shouldn’t I face the same scrutiny and be asked similar questions?  The answer is — yes.  This might surprise some folks, but many years ago I was a conservative.  Since 1980, I’ve cast ballots for John Anderson, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, John McCain, and even Pat Buchanan.  I also dabbled in Libertarian politics, for awhile.  So, wasn’t born with a hard-core liberal political and world view.  However, personal experiences and first-hand observations (admittedly quite atypical given who I’ve worked for the past — from the Republican Party to the U.S. State Department to the Turkish Government to several gambling-related companies) gradually swayed me towards my current position.  I presume this current position too, shall change over time.  [Also important:  I read a lot.  Some ideas I rejected.  Others I embraced.  That enchantment of new discoveries continues to this day and shall be a part of who I am tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  Let this discovery also be yours.]

One presumes that most of you reading this have changed your opinions over the years, too.  Perhaps you’ve evolved on gay rights, or gender quality, or global intervention, or health care.  I don’t know.  Maybe you’ve come to support Title IX because you had a daughter enrolled in college.  The possibilities for new platforms are endless as we turn the pages of our lives and write future chapters.  The country, power structures, and the people in it — everything changes.  Constantly.  Let’s face it, this isn’t Eisenhower’s America anymore.  We aren’t going back to any good old days.  There is no “again” in making America great.

Trump has now been on the national political stage for about two years.  He’s been President for nearly four months.  Many of you probably expected him to grow into the position.  Many of you thought he would mature into a respected world leader.  Many of you thought he would say and do the things that might unify our country towards a greater common purpose.  Many of you thought he would eventually become — simple as it sounds — Presidential.  Even the fiercest of critics (myself included) falsely believed Trump would be swayed by the immense gravity and majesty of the Oval Office and morph into something resembling a reincarnate of “Give ’em hell” Harry Truman or a “Rough Rider” Teddy Roosevelt.  That optimism did seem plausible.

Yet, over and over and over again, we’ve seen that misplaced faith tested, tattered, and finally trashed.  Let’s face it.  There is no new Trump.  There is no Presidential Trump.  There is only the same old Trump that we’ve seen for the past four decades and well-known all along via all the bogus real estate deals, the multiple bankruptcies, the charges of fraud and federal fines, the cringe-worthy daddy-daughter stuff, the utter desperation to stay famous at any cost to anyone around him, while miraculously somehow managing to remain a humorless, friendless, petty-minded, pitifully insecure tiny man who has sadly dragged us all into the sewer and made the United States presidency all about his own bitter personal vendettas, who lacks the intellectual curiosity, the historical knowledge, the honesty, the humility, the personal judgment, and the panache to hold the office of the most powerful man in the world.  We’ve all been duped.  We’ve been conned.  We’ve been swindled — and most frightening of all, there’s still more than 1,000 days to go in this abomination of a crumbling comedy sketch of an administration, that is, unless what we fear might be the most grotesque case of espionage ever to inflict the American consciousness is proven to be true.

Mounting evidence shows Trump to be a dangerous steward of our trust.  Sure, everyone makes mistakes.  Even beloved presidents and great people of history have erred.  Moreover, all politicians lie.  But the Trump Show is unlike anything we’ve seen before.  Sure, we’ve had incompetent presidents in the past.  We’ve survived occasional instance of corruption.  But this has reached a laughingstock level of ludicrousness once thought to only inflict Banana Republics.  In America, this kind of thing was supposed to be impossible.

Keep this in mind.  You can do the right thing and abandon your support of Trump and still maintain who you are and what you believe.  Forgive me for being redundant, but this is important.  So, I’ll scribe it again:

You can do the right thing and abandon your support of Trump and still maintain who you are and what you believe.

Yes, you can uphold the principle of conservatism or faith or whatever else motivates you.  You can still champion Right-wing causes.  You can still adhere to the mantra of faith, family, and country…..AND realize that Donald J. Trump is a deranged child-monster.

Fortunately, many of your fellow conservatives have already come to this obvious conclusion.  These are hard-core conservatives with plenty of chops.  They not only see the looming Russian conflicts as terribly troubling.  They now realize that a maniacal madman is holding American democracy hostage inside the Oval Office.

Noted conservative stalwarts George Will [George Will pens scathing attack on ‘unfit” Trump for ‘disorderly mind,’ and ‘limitless gullibility’] and Charles Krauthammer [Krauthammer Diagnoses Trump: ‘Beyond Narcissism,” Has Infantile Hunger for Approval] are both above reproach when it comes to carrying the baton for the political Right.  To their credit, as evidenced by repeated scathing criticism of Trump, they’ve proven most capable of rising above petty political partisanship in favor of country (and fact).  Both have written a series of blistering columns questioning Trump’s mental well-being and fitness for the office.  If you don’t trust two of your own fellow conservatives who have come to the conclusion that Trump is hopelessly truncated by his own deficiencies, then what will it take?

How about this?  Ann Coulter.  She’s no snowflake.  But after the latest Russia-gate daily disaster broke a few days ago, where Trump and his flunkies couldn’t even get their cover-up story straight, even the darling of the far-Right finally admitted that Trump was “grotesque” and “a disappointment [Ann Coulter Calls ‘Grotesque Donald Trump a Disappointment].

I know.  Many of you continue to hold out hope and maintain optimism.  Changing your mind does takes courage, and it’s much easier to stay the lazy course.  But blind support for a bad person with worse ideas isn’t worthy of respect.  Blind obedience has been the downfall of many empires.

No, this isn’t a reality television.  Donald Trump isn’t an entertainer paid to amuse you,  War and unemployment and human suffering aren’t categories on a game show.  Now, it’s real.

Trump promised to change the American political landscape and international arena, and he’s certainly accomplished that.  But things are not better.  President Trump isn’t even regarded as the leader of the “free world” any longer.  Colluding with the Russians, recklessly handing over sensitive intelligence to our adversaries, enriching himself and his companies, creating plum positions of power for members of his immediate family, threatening the free press, repeatedly lying about trivial events — the list of ugliness grows longer by the day as to why Trump has lost our trust, and no longer deserves yours.

Discarding your support of President Donald Trump is the best way we can Make America Great Again.

 

Respectfully,

 

Nolan Dalla

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 20, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Killing Bill O’Reilly

 

 

Bill O’Reilly’s crime is pretending to be a writer.  In his awful ghostwritten books for which he parsimoniously takes credit as author, O’Reilly intentionally and maliciously contorts some of the most memorable events in history, orchestrating willful acts of deception destined to mislead and confuse millions of readers.  O’Reilly is a historical alchemist pimping fake history for a fast buck.

 

Conservative blowhard Bill O’Reilly is leaving his decaying throne at FOX News, the veritable sewer of scum he’s ruled for two decades as the circus-network’s clown and ringmaster in residence.  [See Footnote]

That O’Reilly is departing one of television’s most highly-visible and lucrative perches — at least temporarily, until likely being re-hired elsewhere by some desperate channel seeking a ratings-driven battery jump — is a good thing.

However, public humiliation and media scrutiny isn’t likely to end O’Reilly’s twisted carnage as a chronic fabricator of history.  In his wretched “Killing….” series of books, O’Reilly recklessly distorts actual historical events, therefore misleading millions of readers.  His sloppy narratives of what he insists (really) happened to Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton, and most recently Reagan have been debunked incessantly by virtually all academics and credible historians who are far more familiar with the actual account of events than O’Reilly.  The truth be damned, though.  In today’s expository pop culture where one historical account seems as good as any other, where crackpot conspiracy theories grease public interest, O’Reilly’s literary manure has matured into a rose garden of best sellers.

O’Reilly’s ghostwritten alchemy began with “Killing Lincoln,” published in 2011.  At least 12 major errors were instantly discovered by real historians, including one that was repeated numerous times throughout the book.  O’Reilly claimed that Abraham Lincoln made the most important decisions of his presidency inside the Oval Office, which is described in some detail.   That might seem plausible, until checking historical accounts available to anyone curious enough to pursue them and discovering the Oval Office wasn’t added on to the White House complex until 1909, some four decades after Lincoln’s death.  There are many more glaring errors, which can be read HERE.

That was just the beginning.   Hundreds of books have been written on John F. Kennedy and his assassination has been covered to the point of, well — overkill.  Credible authors have spent years, and in some cases decades, tirelessly researching the controversial 1963 murder from every conceivable angle.  Some of these alternative interpretations of what happened are more convincing than others.  Yet somehow, full-time television personality and protagonist Bill O’Reilly — lacking any research skills nor access to new information on the crime of the century — pounced on the Kennedy Assassination in order to make a fast, easy buck.

Churning out what would become a book a year, O’Reilly’s hasty-written follow-up to the surprising success of the Lincoln narrative resulted in “Killing Kennedy,” published in 2012.  If the Lincoln narrative was bad, the recount of Kennedy’s killing was appallingly worse.

Not content with tarnishing the historical record of those terrible tragedies which befell both Lincoln and Kennedy, next it was Jesus Christ’s turn to relive some agony on the cross.  “Killing Jesus,” published in 2013, purportedly told the real story of what happened to the Christian messiah all those years ago when someone like O’Reilly would have been served up as lion food to screaming mobs thirsting for blood.  In an appalling display of narcissism, O’Reilly’s name even appears on the front cover above Jesus’, and in equal font size (the author’s name is in larger print than the previous two books — Lincoln and Kennedy).  Once again, O’Reilly and his accomplices concocted a maelstrom of falsehoods.  One religious scholar uncovered no less than 133 errors which can be seen HERE.

Emboldened by the glaring gullibility of his faithful viewers-turned readers, including millions who inexplicably dismissed scathing book reviews by real historians and were all too willing snatch up whatever rolled off the assembly line of O’Reilly’s fake history factory, General George S. Patton became the next victim of crazed pseudo-fiction.

“Killing Patton,” released in 2014, alleged the former Soviet Union murdered one of America’s most iconic generals.  Truth is — shortly after World War II ended, Patton died from injuries sustained in a freak auto accident.  Lacking any supporting evidence, and often contradicting actual facts, O’Reilly hatched his theory designed to appeal to a plentiful audience of conspiracy buffs, mostly the sick paranoid souls who’ve come to infect the American political right.  When discussing his book, O’Reilly told ABC News:  “I think Stalin killed him.  Patton was going to go back to the United States and condemn Stalin and the Soviet Union, tell the American people these guys aren’t going out of Poland, they’re going to try to take over the world.  And Stalin wanted him dead.  And I think Stalin got him dead.”

In this fourth book, O’Reilly once again returns to his exalted status, as his name is printed in larger typeface than Patton, the book’s subject for 350 cringe worthy pages.  O’Reilly’s name is also capitalized, whereas poor Patton gets the equivalent of riding in economy class.  Read historians’ reaction to the book HERE.

Most recently, Ronald Reagan became the latest debris in O’Reilly’s twisted tornado of historical deception.  Lincoln, Kennedy, then Jesus and Patton might have been fair game.  Some bending of truths might have even been forgiven by his readers before, but now Saint Reagan was the new target.  Predictably, when in “Killing Reagan,” was released in 2016, conservatives finally revealed a conscious and screamed — “enough!”  Right-wing critics from columnist George Will and David Brooks, to the hallowed National Review unmercifully shredded O’Reilly’s completely unfounded bogus claims that Reagan’s 1981 assassination attempt lead to mental instability over the next seven years of his presidency.  Here’s where O’Reilly really crossed the line among many of his conservatives compatriots.  Read more about the epic clash between O’Reilly and Will HERE.

The book on Reagan should have been easy to write.  Of the five historical events covered by O’Reilly so far, that shooting and aftermath of a presidency is the most recent.  Countless witnesses to what happened inside the White House during the Reagan years are readily available to this day, only a generation later, and would likely have contributed helpful information, particularly to someone of O’Reilly’s stature.  Surely, the Reagan Library was also contacted, which contains the most extensive accounts of Reagan’s presidency.  Alas, neither O’Reilly nor his writer-sidekick Martin Dugard ever bothered to conduct any research there.  Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz, nor any of the other key figures who served in the Reagan Administration were interviewed, either.  “Here’s an interesting approach to writing history,” George Will remarked.  “Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.”

Wham.

Given the scathing criticism of each his five books, how to explain them selling by the millions?  My theory is that much of the political right has become so insular they’ve drifted off in an alternate twilight universe of reality.   Not content to purchase nor accept more conventional and respectable fact-based interpretations of history by pointy-headed scholars from leftist academia, instead they seek explanations elsewhere. When one of their own such as O’Reilly comes along, the words (no matter how wrong) are taken as pure gospel, even when unmasked later as falsehoods.

Credit O’Reilly for two things which he’s very good at — theatrics and marketing.  Despite the obvious ideological misgivings, his undeniable popularity with millions of devotees provided a rare golden opportunity to do some serious good, that was sadly squandered.  Indeed, I wish he’d used his lofty platform for could be a noble purpose –promoting the majesty of history and encouraging the discovery of new information on many of the most important events which have shaped who were are and our world.

However, O’Reilly isn’t promoting history in his books.  He’s killing it.

 

Footnote:  The most thoughtful account of Bill O’Reilly’s firing by FOX-News was written by Paul Harris and can be read in full HERE.

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

Bombing Syria: A Prescription from Dr. Feelgood

 

 

Bombing Syria accomplishes nothing.  At best, it’s a guilt-ridding military drill.  At worst, it could be a premeditated diversion by the scandal-plagued Trump Administration.

 

Recent missile airstrikes against Syria are nothing more than a tingling salve applied to our wounded sensitivities, temporarily satisfying mass guilt that “something” had to be done over there in the world’s most destructive civil war.

Those images of poor Syrian kids coughing up blood were haunting.  So, the time finally came to drop some bombs.  Blow up lots of shit.  Make sure the American public was fed plenty of cool visuals displaying the awesomeness of our military.  Mission accomplished.

Back to golf.  What time’s tee-off at Mar-a-Lago?

Oh sure.  Taking “decisive” military action is certain to be popular with some Americans, particularly those who always love waging a good war, just as long as someone else’s kids are fighting it.  Body bags filled with the anonymous softens the blow.  How convenient we can push buttons, instead of landing troops onto beachheads or dropping them into war zones.  Fighting a war remotely with missiles and drones tethered to our fingertips seems far more righteous than sticking a bayonet into the gut of the enemy.  Yet, the carnage is the same.

The trouble with Syrian airstrikes is, they accomplish nothing.  Dictator-President Bashar al-Assad isn’t resigning from office, nor fleeing the country.  He will remain in power, probably for quite a long time given the unwavering military and economic assistance he receives from the Russians.  Assad also continues to enjoy significant popular support within parts his own country, although it’s always difficult to measure approval within an autocracy.

There’s no doubt the Syrian strongman is most popular among secularists.  Ironically, he’s least popular among Islamic fundamentalists.  Oh, what a quagmire for America to be arming militants who fanatically worship the Koran versus a leader who adores classical music and wears double-breasted suits tailored in Paris.

Indeed, when it comes to Syria, there are no good options for us, or anyone else.  There are only bad options, some far worse than others.  Blowing up Damascus, Syria’s capital, might make us feel good in between watching ballgames and making burger runs.  But it won’t create stability or make anyone safer.  It could even make things worse.

We’ve already seen what happens when tyrants are removed from power within the volatile Middle East.  There are no knights on white horses riding to the rescue.  There are only more tyrants waiting in the wings ready to fill the void, usually ready to impose various twisted forms of Sharia Law.  This is the risk.

American military engagement in Afghanistan successfully ended the awful oppression of the Taliban.  Now, fourteen years later, we’re still over there fighting with troops on the ground with no end in sight.  Afghanistan, almost forgotten here back at home, has become the longest war in American history.  U.S. military commanders have warned that we might be in Afghanistan for decades to come.

Sure, it also felt good to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Much like Assad, he was a really bad guy.  It was really satisfying to see him get what he deserved — death by hanging.  Unfortunately, once his totalitarian order dissolved, ISIS spawned out of the chaos, which became an even more dangerous enemy.  Sure, Saddam was terrible.  But there’s no evidence that he ever supported international terrorism against American targets.  The same is true of Assad in Syria.

America took a less active role in ending Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime, even though he openly courted international terrorists and was even responsible for the attack on the Pan-Am Airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.  As terrible as his iron-fisted rule was for most Libyans, history shows, the United States took no significant action for 40 years, all whilst his people suffered unspeakable horrors.

The Taliban, Saddam, and Gaddafi — they’re all gone now.  That’s good, in moral sense.  Justice was served.  But what about the long-term national interest.  Can anyone argue that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are now more stable, or more livable societies?  Can anyone argue the average citizens in those countries are better off with the tyrants deposed?  When it comes to our active role in these conflicts, after thousands of our own lives lost and trillions of tax dollars wasted, haven’t we learning anything yet?

Bombing Syria won’t accomplish anything.  However, it could create an even more dangerous crisis for everyone.  Given Russia’s unshakable support for Assad, combined with the messy political scandal currently plaguing the Trump Administration which includes looming questions about his personal and financial dealings with the Putin regime, this Syrian business could spin wildly out of control.  Right now, it’s a proxy war mostly being fought by Syrians, some with American weapons and other armed with Russian weapons.  Tomorrow, it could be Russian pilots shooting at American pilots.

This all leads to the sticky question about whether or not we trust President Trump to make wise and impartial decisions, free of conflicts of personal interest.  There are reasons for doubt.  Is Trump acting in America’s best interest?  Or, is he acting in Trump’s best interest?  Given all the secret meetings and personal contacts between Trump dignitaries and known spies working for Russian intelligence in recent months, those aren’t questions spun in conspiracy.  They’re entirely reasonable given the circumstances and suspicious timing of events.

Even a best-case scenario for the Syrian debacle actually looks more like a worst-case scenario for America.  If Assad gets overthrown, then what happens next?  Would Islamic fundamentalists take over?  Should we risk yet another massive destabilization in that war-torn region?  Do we want another Afghanistan?  Another Iraq?  Another Libya?  Are we prepared to invest yet another decade stuck in the middle of the never ending conflict between the Sunni and Shia?

When it comes to Syria, we may be stuck with a choice between drinking battery acid and eating a shit sandwich.  Neither option is very appealing.  However, sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Bombing Syria is nothing to celebrate.

 

Writer’s Note:  Here’s a column I wrote in 2013 when President Obama was first confronted with the Syrian crisis.  SHOULD AMERICA INTERVENE IN SYRIA?

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

What Trump Should Have Done on the First Day of His Presidency

 

 

Continuing to Ignore America’s Deteriorating Infrastructure Spells Trouble — Both for Him and for Us

 

I don’t make it a habit of dishing out political advice to someone I loath.

Today, I’m making an exception.

This unsolicited wisdom, if followed, could provide a desperately needed political achievement for the thoroughly inept Trump Administration, now 75 days into what’s likely to disintegrate into the most shameful presidency in American history.  Despite all the current distractions, now seems like a good a time to speculate on how things might have been different.

On day one, President Trump’s very first act should have been the signing Executive Order #1 — rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.  Whatever it took, whatever the cost, whatever the political willpower required to get things moving forward — a massive public works project intent on fixing America’s crumbling roads, bridges, pipelines, dams, and other indispensable groundwork would have instantly launched the new presidency in a positive direction.

Had President Trump simply announced, “I’m here to make America great again,” followed by the public signing of a massive public works project, he might have parlayed that genuine display of goodwill and willingness to govern into something far greater.  That would have been a stroke of bold new leadership.

Imagine the political fallout of that moment, which cannot be overstated given how bad things have gone since then.  Had “rebuilding America” been the first act of the new Trump presidency tens of millions of American workers would have cheered the news.  Maybe roads and bridges doesn’t sound sexy, politically speaking.  But everyone in America understands maintaining them is a vital function of government.  Republicans, despite budget concerns, would have been forced to support Trump’s initiative.  Democrats, the party typically associated with big government, would have been placed immediately on the defensive, backed into a corner — and likely forced to work with the new administration to bring good jobs and construction projects back to their home districts.  Even those of us who despise Trump, the person, would have supported Trump, the president, on the critical issue towards making massive infrastructure improvements.  Who would oppose the prospect of millions of new jobs being created instantaneously?  On day one?  Answer– virtually no one.

Seriously, who in their right mind opposes making sure our roads and bridges are safe?  It’s was a sure-fire home run.  A can’t miss idea.  A consensus builder.  A national initiative.  The ultimate act of placing “America first.”

That’s how President Trump should have kicked off his new administration.  Had that been the strategy, he would have won “bigly” on that single issue, leading to unforeseen bipartisan cooperation which could have produced additional common political ground.  The foundation for a working relationship would have been bronzed.  President Trump could have rightly called himself a “unifier,” if only for a day.  Perhaps most important, it would have been the right thing to do for America.

Well, none of this happened, of course.  Instead, President Trump spent his first day attending three inaugural balls, which was to be expected.  He also signed four executive orders.  Two of those acts dealt with staffing his new administration.  One was the reversal of a housing program instituted by the Obama Administration which made new homes more affordable to low- and middle-income Americans (not sure why there was so much urgency to reverse that policy).  The fourth and final act of the day was dismantling parts of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), although Trump admittedly “had no idea healthcare was was so complex,” as he remarked later.

The nation’s infrastructure might as well have been a manned trip to Mars.

Alea iacta est.  The die was cast.  The death spiral began.  On the following day, President Trump began spinning mindless fantasies demonstrated by a bizarre visit to Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters where he spent much of the solemn occasion bitching about media coverage and lying about inauguration attendance.  From there, the lunacy train pretty much ran off the rails and has been flipped upside down in a ditch, ever since.  Oh my, what could have been instead.

Weeks later, President Trump finally raised the forgotten infrastructure issue for the very first time during his faux-State of the Union-style address to members of Congress.  His remarks elicited loud cheers from both sides of the aisle, and even drew high praise from his most vicious critics.  For the first time Trump was even called “presidential.”

Once again, President Trump had a rare golden opportunity to lead and to make good on a critical campaign promise that was important to everyone in the nation.  Unfortunately, the words didn’t match the actions.

Another month-and-a-half has elapsed, since then.  During that time, President Trump released his first proposed federal budget.  Guess what?  Inexplicably, and to everyone’s astonishment, his budget slashes spending on infrastructure!  There’s no trillion dollar increase investment in America.  Once again, Trump is lying.  He talks a big game out in front of the folks while continuing his adoration tour of self love.  Then, when ink meets paper we actually see that his policies obliterate the funds necessary to so the job.  It’s yet another bait and switch.  Here’s the latest update on Trump’s false infrastrcuture promises and mess:  Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Be His Biggest Con Yet

So, what happened?  Well, perhaps this administration is just way too caught up at the moment in Kremlin-gate.  One can see why that would be a distraction.  Perhaps Trump is too busy focusing on the musical chairs within his own staff, which continues changing by the minute.  Maybe Steve Bannon misplaced the smeared cocktail napkin on which the nation’s priorities were scribbled.  Who knows the real reason why infrastructure now seems like the last thing on the president’s mind.  Trump’s out on the golf course so often (13 times, so far) that he’s forgotten all about America’s deteriorating roads and bridges and water supplies.  I guess it’s hard to see rusted bolts from the 18th hole tee-box at Mar a Lago.

Whatever the reasoning, if reason even exists at all, President Trump is blowing it — big time.  He’s blowing it policy wise.  He’s blowing it politically.  Trouble is, this isn’t just bad for him.  The consequences are far worse — for us.

This isn’t an problem that can wait much longer.  It’s not like another four years can go by without taking some significant measures.  If roads were arteries, then we’re an overweight nation with a three-pack-a-day habit and cholesterol levels off the charts.  We don’t just need a new diet and an exercise program.  We need electric shock therapy.

There are other Flints out there waiting to detonate.  Years ago, we saw what happens when critical infrastructure is ignored.  Seven people died needlessly when a bridge servicing an interstate highway collapsed in Minneapolis.  Last week, another bridge collapsed in Atlanta.  These might seem like isolated incidents, but the reality is — the ice is melting fast on the lake and we’re all exposed on a warm spring day.  One recent study found that a whopping 59,000 bridges across America are structurally deficient.  Each one of these roads and bridges is a ticking time bomb.

Here’s an idea:  Instead of wasting our precious national treasury constructing a worthless border wall with utterly no benefit to most Americans, that money should instead be spent on things that really matter.  We’re realizing now that making America great again wasn’t a sincere promise, so much as an empty slogan.  The infrastructure issue was just a cheap applause line for Trump during his feel-good campaign, intended to opiate millions of Americans into believing he’s really committed to governing when his actions have revealed that he’s the antithesis of governance.

Our roads are cracking.  Our bridges are swaying.  Like Trump’s unraveling presidency, it’s just a matter of time before things start to collapse and disaster occurs.

 

 

Read More
css.php