Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Get a Load of the American Revolution : TURN, Washington’s Spies

Turn: Washington's Spies Heart and Minds

I remember when I was a kid that I didn’t much relate to the American Revolution. My parents emigrated from Italy. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t much interested in Garibaldi either. I blame it all on my boring Social Studies teacher who didn’t seem to like his job. Trust me when I say this because, since my high school days, I’ve known several brilliant social studies teachers who made history come alive. I know the difference.  My point being that my education about the American Revolution came very late in my life.
There’s a TV series now that I watch regularly. It’s the right combination of realism and romance, often sending me to Wikipedia or books or historical web sites to check out scenes, mentions, events in the series.
TURN: Washington’s Spies is  a welcome event for history buffs who like to see history in action.  Includes me. The conflict between Captain Simcoe who leads the rough and ready Rodger’s Rangers and the more orthodox  British Army forces led by Major Hewlett is something I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t watch the show. 
On the other hand, I was aware of the profoundly seriously attitude that George Washington took toward traitors who undermined the Continental Army. The opening scene of one episode depicts the execution by hanging of two men.
 It’s not proven that they exposed General Washington’s Culper spy ring but they were hanged on charges of counterfeiting. It’s pouring rain as the offenders are pushed off the scaffolding in a grisly and shocking scene that pulls no punches. The hangman has flubbed the job resulting in the beheading of one man. The other man keeps his head and was hanged properly. He can be seen vomiting white bile as a soldier steps forward with a pistol to deliver the coup de gras.
It’s the American Revolution form of ‘scared straight’—the executions are a lesson to the observers. The execution depicted of Sergeant Thomas Hickey fits with the official documents of the American Revolution, and so was that of Colonel Bradford who stood beside him on the gallows.  Who knew?
The show is based on a book by author Alexander Rose. Gotta’ give AMC credit for knowing a good thing when they read it.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Man Who (Probably) Won’t be King

By Erich Straub                                  May 4, 2016

It’s only fitting that Donald Trump officially became the republican nominee for president on George F. Will’s 75th birthday. The conservative columnist and longtime trickle down advocate must be crying in his birthday cake. Perhaps sensing the impending doom, he penned a column Monday calling for the party to sabotage Trump in the general election so that Hillary Clinton, whom he probably despises more than Trump, can be the next president. I can think of nothing more festive than cutting of your nose to spite your face.

He’s asked repeated and desperately: what’s become of the Grand Old Party? The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, and now... Trump? The party that is supposed to be all about business and financial discipline is investing its hopes in 2016 in a junk bond that looks like a sure loser? Even though the smartest guys in the room continue to warn them - like the wise uncle who keeps warning you that the shady investment you are preparing to sink your retirement into is a Ponzi scheme - that Trump is a conman.

You can’t slap a 35% tariff on every company that opens a factory overseas, and magically bring millions of manufacturing jobs back to hollowed out cities. You can’t beat Isis by banning all Muslims, and dropping carpet bombs all over the Middle East. Nor can you win with Hispanics, blacks, and women when more than two thirds of each group dislikes you, by simply rebranding yourself and claiming that it was all an act.

But Trump supporters believe all of those things and then some. And they are willing to invest in him; no matter how many times George Will, Mitt Romney, or Bill Kristol hold interventions trying to convince them otherwise. Despite his motto that all he does is win, Donald Trump, the man who will now be king of the party, is the most despised frontrunner (and now presumptive nominee) perhaps in the history of American politics, and the NeverTrumpers won’t let us forget it.

Less than a month ago, it looked as if the Trump Train had been knocked off the track - if not totally derailed - after a series of gaffes and a humiliating loss in Wisconsin. But as always, Trump has rebounded astoundingly and won seven straight states, with a majority in each, and driven Ted Cruz into the political grave that he had been standing over for weeks. While Trump is now all but assured of being the nominee, assuming he can outlast the robust John Kasich who is still clamoring about electability to a room full of crickets, he certainly has a steep climb ahead of him if he is to make all of this worth anything for his supporters.

Although he argues that the early poll numbers are just another ruse in the rigged political system, Trump is not projecting well in November - to say the least. Even in reliably red states like Arizona, where John McCain has held his senate seat since before Trump built his first lemonade stand, Trump is losing and democrats are showing signs of seizing once unthinkable ground. Hoping that record numbers of conservatives will stay home if Trump is the nominee, even veteran stalwarts like McCain could face competitive races without excitement for the presidential nominee.

Aside from their claim that he’s not a real conservative, that’s the primary reason why the establishment is fighting Trump so hard, despite the fact that the voters have spoken. In the past, they were willing to put up a weak candidate and roll the dice, while focusing on holding or expanding their house and senate seats. With a Candidate Trump, they fear it would likely be lose-lose. Every republican’s worst nightmare would become a reality: President Hillary Clinton, a democratic senate, and a liberal leaning Supreme Court in 2017.

They know that they don’t want that, but they can’t seem to agree on a plan to prevent it. Like the democrats in 1968,  the party has become perhaps irreparably fractured,  and now seems to have divided into four separate factions:

1.  The Trumpers – or “Trumpeters” as Sarah Palin calls them. Die-hard Trump supporters who will vote for him no matter what. They have been reliable at the ballot box, representing about 30-40% of the primary electorate, depending on the state, and will likely drive his turnout in November. They are dedicated, but won’t be a big enough group to help him against Hillary.

2.  The Reluctants - moderate and somewhat conservative voters who may have not been in love with Trump at the beginning, but have resigned themselves to the fact that he will be the nominee. They probably preferred somebody like Jeb Bush and then Kasich, but will support Trump before they will allow Hillary to become president.

3. The Never-Trumpers - a mixture of party insiders and donors, neocons, and very conservative voters who will never accept Trump as their nominee no matter what. They supported Ted Cruz either outright or as the only alternative to Trump. They will either stay home on election day or vote for a third party candidate. A small number may even swallow the poison and vote for Hillary.

4. The Party Imploders - a small, but increasing, group of establishment republicans who despise Trump (and Cruz for that matter). They are planning a secret sabotage mission, aiming to see Trump lose in a landslide, so they can tell everyone “we told you so” and rebuild the party before 2020. Sort of like a drug addict who needs to go on a terrible, near death binge to realize just how far they’ve fallen and finally seek help.

Add it all up and yes, Trump is almost certain to lose in November. The NeverTrumpers keep repeating that refrain as if we don’t get it, but what they don’t mention is the fact that any republican is likely to lose in November. Trump is just being blamed for what’s a far deeper structural problem. Most experts believe the republican candidate will start off with around 190 electoral votes (assuming they hold all red states) which means they need to add 80. If she wins all of the reliably blue states that have voted for a democrat in every election since 1992, Hillary will likely start out with 242 electoral votes, meaning she needs just 28 to win.

The map is simply more blue than it is red. In the six elections since 1992, no democrat has scored fewer than 251 electoral votes. The only two who lost - Al Gore and John Kerry scored 266 and 251 respectively - came razor close to winning. If one state flipped the other way the outcome would have been reversed. In that same time, republicans have scored fewer than 200 three times: 1992 (168), 1996 (159), and 2008 (173), and Mitt Romney managed just 206 in 2012. George W. Bush - the only Republican to win in that timeframe - scored just 271 in 2000 (the fewest by any president ever to win1) and 286 in 2004 (by far the fewest of any incumbent to win re-election).

To reach 270, the republican would need to win Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina. Hillary would need to win Florida. That’s it. 242+29=271. She could concede Ohio and all the others and it wouldn’t matter. In other words, Republicans MUST win Florida - and a lot of other states where they are at a disadvantage because of changing demographics and their inability to win over hispanics and younger voters. Yes, a Paul Ryan looks bright and cheery compared to Trump, but he almost certainly doesn’t get to 270 in November either - especially with a large contingent of Trumpeters exiting the party.

While we could debate the merits of abolishing the electoral college (and Trump may try that) in short, republicans have to basically run the table in the swing states (or steal a big blue state) to have a chance of winning. To be realistic, the main alternative to Trump – Ted Cruz would not have fared much better in a general election (and some think would actually do worse). John Kasich does much better in a hypothetical match-up with Clinton than Trump or Cruz. He leads in many national polls, and also in key swing states like Ohio, but pretty much everywhere else in the primary he was either an afterthought, or part of a ruse to trip Trump up, or both.

Marco Rubio was widely touted as the party’s best prospect in what was supposed to be a deep bench, and he was rumored to be the only candidate that the Clinton campaigned was truly worried about facing. He was liked among large sections of the primary electorate, but always seemed to be their second choice and just couldn’t position himself as the clear Trump alternative. Although it seems unlikely, Trump could tap him as his VP to try to lock up Florida where he remains popular.

As Trump proclaims emphatically: “we want winners, not losers”. Like it or not, Kasich and Rubio look like losers. Trump looks like a winner, even though he’s despised by the masters of his own party. You can argue that he’s certainly not the standard bearer for the conservative movement (whatever that is these days), but he is going to finish the primary having won 35 states and over 12 million votes - more than the record set by George W. Bush when he ran away with the nomination in 2000. And he’ll have done it with the establishment, most of the conservative media, and big party donors, having fought him tooth and nail all the way. So, obviously somebody likes what he’s selling.

This election highlights not only the problems of our archaic electoral system, but with the nominating process as well: candidates have to navigate a series of primaries and caucuses spread out all over the country in no discernible pattern or organization. Try to win over conservative, evangelical voters in one area, shift to moderates in another, while wooing party elites and donors, and then lump everything together into something that looks palatable to half of the population. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s a messy system, but perhaps it’s better than the alternative. In the past, the voters had virtually no say in who the party’s nominee was. Even in 1968, when democrats - furious with Johnson and the war in Vietnam - propelled Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to huge wins in the primaries, the party insiders simply overruled them and nominated Johnson’s VP Hubert Humphrey anyway. The RNC wishes they had that power this year, so they could kick Trump to the curb. But pulling something like that would not only play right into Trump’s argument that the system is rigged, but likely result in a bloody mess like the one that unfolded in Chicago that summer.

The party insiders should resign themselves to the fact that it simply didn’t work this year. Voters are just done with everything Washington and increasingly distrustful of the candidates they continually propped up as the obvious choice. They simply were not willing to settle on another bland guy talking about policy issues, medicaid subsidies, and tax reform to balance the budget. Not when they had a torch wielding maniac ready to burn the whole system down, and replace it with a giant wall.

Trump will most likely not be the next president, but all of the experts have been wrong up to this point. He is a wildcard and who knows what tricks he still has up his sleeve. He may be going into the general election with the highest negatives of any candidate in history, but his opponent will be going in with the second highest. It’s a remarkable twist of irony in an already surreal election season. Despite what democrats (and many republicans) may think, Hillary is not invincible and Trump is going to empty the quiver. If she thinks she is going to coast into the white house, she does so at her own risk.

Regardless of what happens, you have to give Trump credit. He started out as a reality show character, displayed almost no policy knowledge (nor desire to develop any), no discernible organization, and refused to play the traditional parlor games of party politics. He didn’t win with smoke and mirrors so much as by sheer force of personality and brand name. He will likely finish as he started, which is a caricature of a candidate. But something strange happened on the way to the carnival: Trump became a major party nominee, dispatching seasoned politicians like it was child’s play, and breaking every written (and unwritten) rule along the way. And this is just the first act. As he says: “I haven’t even started yet, folks”. It figures to be one hell of a summer.


1 - since the present electoral college vote became 538 after the admittal of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

It’s Indiana or Bust for the Stop-Trump Movement (Seriously This Time)

by Erich Straub (contributing editor)

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the NeverTrump movement is getting really, really desperate. The calendar of states is running out and Trump is inching closer and closer to what seems like an inevitability. That’s exactly the narrative he is trying to paint, and it’s working, much to the chagrin of the establishment which has reluctantly staked its hopes of stopping him on Ted Cruz and/or John Kasich, and/or insert any name that doesn’t rhyme with thump.

The two men left standing, who have for weeks been splitting the non-Trump vote, have now come right out and announced that they will form an alliance – sort of – to try to ensure that Trump does not get to the requisite number of 1,237 by July 17. Not only was the announcement clumsily handled, the alliance seems to be built on a faulty foundation. While Kasich has left Indiana to campaign in Washington and New Mexico, he didn’t exactly endorse the Texas senator. When asked if his supporters should vote for Cruz in the Hoosier state, he replied: “No, they should vote for me”.

And while there was talk of a possible Cruz-Kasich ticket to try to unify the party, that idea was scrapped yesterday when Cruz announced that Carly Fiorina would be his running mate (should he somehow get the nomination). Indeed the announcement was as strange as it was desperate. Only once has a candidate announced a vice presidential candidate before clinching the party’s nomination (Ronald Reagan in 1976) and Fiorina does not provide much contrast to Cruz’s rigid identity. Generally, a running mate is supposed to counterbalance the candidate who chooses him or her, and shore up their potential weaknesses. Example: LBJ (a veteran from Texas with establishment support) to JFK (a young outsider from Massachusetts). Fiorina does neither for Cruz.

She has proven to be a tenacious surrogate for the Cruz campaign since her own presidential aspirations folded after Iowa, but she is an ideologue who appeals to evangelicals and very conservative voters – both groups Cruz already has in his tent. His problem is that he can’t win over moderates or even voters who identify as “somewhat conservative”. Fiorina does nothing to help Cruz expand into these two areas. Rather, she seems to be a big hunk of red meat that Cruz is dangling in front of the Donald in hopes that he’ll take the bait and fall into another trap. Trump’s big problem is that women don’t like him, even republican women, and Cruz is hoping that Trump will be Trump and say something outrageous about her.

Remember, Trump made a series of gaffes leading up to Wisconsin and, instead of making a concession speech after losing, accused Cruz of cheating and began ranting about how the election process is rigged. His numbers began to slide and party leaders who were just starting to come to terms with him being the nominee reversed course and began repeating the warning calls: “You see, we told you! He’s too unstable!” This is Cruz’s only hope at this point. To say the last two weeks have been rough would be putting it mildly. He expected the northeast to be unfriendly territory, but even the most conservative forecasts did not predict the absolute massacre that unfolded.

Cruz won a grand total of 2 delegates in the six states that voted on April 19 and 26, compared to 203 for Trump, and just 11 for John Kasich. Cruz was shut out in five of the six and even failed to get a delegate in Rhode Island’s third district because he couldn’t crack the ridiculously low threshold of 10 percent. Trump pushed his delegate lead to what seems all but insurmountable by sweeping Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, and taking nearly all of New York’s. Cruz’s response was almost as bad as his performance, as he held a rally in Indiana and made a painfully unfunny basketball reference to Trump’s delegate climb by referring to the hoop as a “ring”. That’s not how you win over Hoosiers.

In fact, the biggest surprise was Pennsylvania, a state that Cruz thought he could compete in. Polls predicted Trump would win but only with around 42-45% of the vote, instead he wound up with 57%. Consider this: Hillary won Pennsylvania by more than 12 points – that’s a “huge” win in a large, relatively diverse state. By county, she beat Sanders just 34-33. Donald Trump beat Cruz (and Kasich I guess) 67-0. He won every single county. He annihilated Ted Cruz, beating him in every category, even among voters who identify as “very conservative”. Is that a real sign that voters are consolidating around Trump, or due to the fact that he’s from the area? Indiana will give us the answer to that.

Another reason Cruz has to be discouraged: for perhaps the first time Trump’s campaign proved to have a ground game and outworked him for the actual delegates who were chosen in Pennsylvania, where 54 will go the convention unbound. In actuality, at least 39 of them are either Trump supporters or have pledged to support the candidate who won their district (Trump won all 15 congressional districts by wide margins). Only 6 are Cruz supporters and the other 9 have no preference.That means Trump has a bonus of roughly 40 delegates that could easily put him over the top if he doesn’t get to the magic number by the last primary day on June 7. And his path to 1, 237 which looked increasingly treacherous after Wisconsin, suddenly looks much straighter. Not easy by any stretch, but doable, particularly with Indiana in the bank.

With 30 delegates going to the statewide winner and 3 in each congressional district, whoever wins the Hoosier state figures to clear at least 42 and possibly upwards of all 57. That could likely be the difference between 1,237 outright for Trump and a messy convention vote which is the StopTrump’s only hope. So, Cruz is putting all of his chips (and essentially the NeverTrump movement’s as a whole) on Indiana. Polls show Trump with an 8 point lead, but those were taken before the Cruz-Kasich alliance and Fiorina announcements were made.

Indiana will be the first test for the newly formed StopTrump alliance, although not really considering that Rubio campaigned in Florida and told his supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio, and Mitt Romney called for similar shenanigans in key states. Really, it’s a chance for Cruz who still has not proven that he’s anything more than a factional candidate, much like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum who campaigned as alternatives to the moderate John McCain and Mitt Romney. Like both of them, Cruz has won with hard right, evangelicals, but can’t expand his support anywhere else. Aside from Maine, which held a tiny caucus, he has not won east of Kansas. Trump has swept the east, save for Ohio, the south, and also won in Midwestern states (Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri) and in the southwest (Arizona and Nevada).

And that’s the main reason why the NeverTrump movement is failing despite all of the resources the establishment has expended trying to derail him. First, Trump’s appeal is broader than experts thought and have continued to try to portray. No, he doesn’t have a majority, but his support cuts across demographics and provides enough support that he can win in different areas. Also, voters do seem to be consolidating around him – like it or not. And second, there is no credible alternative to him. There just aren’t enough republicans who are willing to take Ted Cruz instead, no matter how unpalatable Trump may be to them.

Nor are they willing to get behind John Kasich who continues to stake his campaign on the fact that he polls the best against Hillary in the fall. Indeed, those numbers are real and he would give the republicans the best chance at winning in November, but his argument is kind of like a basketball coach arguing that his team should be in the NCAA tournament because they have the best shot to win in March despite the fact that their record is 1-31. Kasich simply can’t win anywhere outside of his home state, and in the northeast where he was supposed to contend with Trump he did manage several second place finishes, but lost by ridiculously horrific margins for somebody who is supposed to be a credible candidate for the party’s nomination.

Even if he loses Indiana (which is a possibility) he may still get to 1,237 or so close that it’ll be near impossible for the RNC to deny him the nomination without severe consequences. But if Trump does win there (and he was endorsed by Bobby Knight who’s probably more popular there than Carly Fiorina) it will be the end of the StopTrump or NeverTrump or AnybodyButTrump (or however you want to classify it) movement. Then the RNC will likely conduct a post-primary autopsy and begin asking itself: What more could we have done? Was the alliance too late? Where do we go from here?

Trump declared himself the “presumptive nominee” at his press conference Tuesday night, a feeling not shared by the establishment or the NeverTrump movement, but increasingly by everyone else. The media is already ratcheting up the Hillary vs. Trump main event, and no doubt salivating at the ratings bonanza that it will be. Although Trump has an argument that many are against him, the media is certainly not one of them.

Also, increasingly voters seem to be resigning themselves to the fact that Trump will ultimately be the nominee – like it or not – and that’s one of the two main narratives Trump is painting: he is going to be the nominee, so they might as well stop fighting it and just embrace him already. This is a smart strategy. The bandwagon effect is real – people want to pick a winner even if it means following the crowd, so falling in line and voting for Trump is essentially the only way to go the closer he gets. Conversely, those who oppose him increasingly grow apathetic to their chances of stopping him, just give up, and decide to stay home. Trump can win by attrition, just as he’s done this entire primary.

Trump is also playing the “fight the system” narrative beautifully, claiming that he would already have the nomination sewn up if it wasn’t for a rigged system that “Lyin” Ted Cruz (and now “1 for 47” Kasich) are using to try to stop not just him, but also the will of the people. And it’s working, an NBC News poll found: 66% of respondents said they agree that the U.S. primary system is corrupt and favors party insiders, and more than half would like to see the system changed.

So not only is Trump winning and inevitably going to be the nominee, but the system is rigged and working against him to boot. Combine those two and it’s an increasingly uphill battle for the NeverTrump movement to not only beat him outright, but even to keep the nomination from him should he fall just short of the magic number. Exit polls from Pennsylvania show that nearly two thirds of primary voters believe Trump should be the nominee if he has the most delegates and most votes, even if he’s short of the majority.

Donald Trump likes to draw comparisons between himself and Ronald Reagan, but in actuality he owes more of his skill to the Richard Nixon School of politics. Indeed, despite all of his flaws, Trump has shown rare and incredible foresight and ability to seize on festering distrust and anger in the population and manipulate it – just as Nixon did in 1968. Fans at his rallies proudly wave signs that say: “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump” a nod to the phrase that Nixon famously coined.

But there is perhaps no better quote to encapsulate this election than one also made by Nixon, who once said: “Show me an organized campaign to stop Candidate X, and I’ll show you how Candidate X can win”. Well, Trump is Candidate X, and the campaign to stop him is running out of time, and the public is turning increasingly against it – even if they’re not in love with Trump himself. In fact, its last stand likely lies in Indiana where Cruz will need a “Save the Alamo” type rally to keep his slim hopes of the nomination alive, and out of the grasp of Trump’s ever closing hand.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sunset Season of The Good Wife Puts it all Together

The Good Wife Party

The Good Wife "Party" – RECAP: If you had any doubts about Jason Crouse’s ‘intentions’ with regard to Alicia Florrick, you can put them to rest. The lovers have arrived at that critical ‘moment’ where Alicia realizes there is no better time than “now” to say and do what she wants to say and do.   Jason shows he measures up to Alicia’s expectations with a ribbon-wrapped gift in a box – a deed to 500 acres on Mars. Not good.

Oh, and the "Party" is for Jackie and Howard who are getting married in a 'signing'...

You watch the show? Read my full review in the igloo on TVEskimo  Go here: http://bit.ly/1QyrIKP

Monday, April 25, 2016

You Think Donald Trump Would Be an Outrageous President

“Donald Trump’s First Order of Business Should be Reinstating Andrew Jackson” Guest Editorial by Erich Straub


Donald Trump has been told repeatedly - by everyone from pundits, to campaign advisors, and even his own wife Melania - to act more presidential. After all, it’s not “presidential” to go around being a rude, blowhard who insults everyone who disagrees or dares to criticize you. Or is it?

It’s hard to tell in today's political climate where more and more people say they want an outsider and someone who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. In fact, Trump supporters seem to revel in the billionaire’s bizarre antics and take no guff, scorched earth policy when it comes to dealing with everyone from his political opponents, to foreign powers who continue to exploit us like China and Mexico.

Believe it or not, there was a time when the president did act like this, and he was adored by the public: Andrew Jackson. As a 13 year old boy he served as a courier during the revolutionary war, rose to the rank of general as a man and became a national hero for his role in guiding the U.S. to victory in the battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A dozen years later, after serving as a senator, he became a populist favorite among the people when he was drafted for the presidency in 1824, much in the way Trump has energized a large section of the country in 2016.

And like Trump, Jackson was not quite the statesman the office had become accustomed to with the likes of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his rigid and unforgiving personality, he did not take criticism or losing lightly. And much like Trump is forecasting in his delegate fight with Ted Cruz and the RNC should he lose at the convention, Jackson also complained of a corrupt and rigged political system.

Despite winning the popular vote by ten points and securing the most electoral votes (but not a majority) in 1824, Jackson was denied the presidency when Congress, persuaded by Speaker of the House Henry Clay, declared John Quincy Adams (the son of a former president) the winner despite finishing second. I don’t know for sure, but there have been rumors that Jackson labeled Adams a “low energy stiff” during the campaign.

When Clay was named Secretary of State by the newly crowned Adams, Jackson became outraged and claimed that he had been the victim of a “corrupt bargain” by Washington insiders, namely “Lyin Henry Clay”. Sound familiar? One can only imagine what Donald is going to be saying should Ted Cruz become the nominee as a result of a “corrupt bargain” at the RNC convention in Cleveland.

Jackson’s supporters echoed this idea and swept him to the white house in a landslide victory over Adams four years later despite much political maneuvering and dirty tricks. Like 2016, wives were not always off limits either. Adam’s campaign labeled Jackson’s wife Rachel a bigamist, claiming that she was not divorced from her first husband when she married him. The attacks were so fierce and personal, Jackson blamed them for Rachel’s sudden death, as a result of a heart attack, before his inauguration.

In fact, Jackson took insults directed at his wife incredibly personal, vowing that he could forgive attacks on his own character, but not on Rachel’s. Consider this: when his wife Melania was the subject of an insulting campaign ad, Trump responded by tweeting a less flattering picture of his opponent’s wife. When his wife was insulted, Jackson responded by shooting him in the chest - literally. Imagine what the talking heads on CNN would have to say about that. “He really needs to take a softer tone if he’s going to win over the undecideds”.

Indeed Jackson was known to regularly partake in duels, as was custom at the time, and killed several of his opponents. In 1806 he challenged Charles Dickinson an attorney (and expert shot) to duel him after making disparaging remarks about his wife Rachel Jackson. Dickinson fired first, striking Jackson in the lung, but Old Hickory promptly returned the favor, striking Dickinson square in the chest and killing him. Jackson survived, but carried the bullet (which narrowly missed his heart) lodged in his lungs for the rest of his life. It was even rumored that the bullet shifted around and caused Jackson awful coughing fits.

Jackson was also known to have an incredibly foul mouth, so much that his pet parrot - Polly - picked up his bad habit and often swore at guests in the white house. It was even rumored that at Jackson’s funeral, Polly had to removed because she was spewing so much profanity at guests. As far as I know Trump does not have any pets, but he has been known to drop a few bombs in his speeches and at rallies, perhaps most famously when he labeled Marco Rubio (Little Marco) “a pu--y”. Imagine what things a Trump parrot might pick up?

And now the treasury department has decided to move Jackson to the back of the twenty dollar bill to make room for Harriet Tubman. Originally set to replace Hamilton on the ten, the treasury has now conceded to the outrage buffered by the hit broadway rap musical about the founder of the banking system. Don't expect the same outrage to try to save Jackson.

Instead, he is an easy target to kick - he was not well liked by the political establishment during his presidency or after, and his reputation has soured over the years due to the fact that he was a slaveholder and supported slavery in the south, as well as his policy of indian removal which led to the infamous “trail of tears” along the southwest.

In reality, it’s somewhat puzzling that Jackson ever made it onto the twenty in the first place, considering that he was ardently against a central bank and paper money to begin with. A strict fiscal conservative, Jackson believed that a central bank gave the federal government too much power, invariably leading to too much debt and allowing the wealthy to build a monopoly. He famously vetoed the recharter of the bank in 1832, in defiance of clay, calling it: “a den of vipers and thieves”.

If, by some chance, he is elected, Trump’s first order of business (right after he begins construction plans for the wall of course) should be to veto the plan to move Jackson from the twenty. Many of our heroes had their flaws and Jackson was no different. He was an American hero who defeated the British, fought for the common man, and brought the country completely out of debt - the only president in history.

Also, in many ways, he is the man who paved the way for the Donald to march his way to the White House, believe it or not.  Upon leaving office, Jackson was asked what the biggest regret of his presidency was, he replied: “not hanging Henry Clay and John Calhoun”. While I can't envision any modern day president saying anything remotely resembling that, somehow coming from Trump it would seem remarkably appropriate.


Note: this article was written on April 14, 2016. Trump has since weighed in on the topic and said that he disagreed with the treasury department’s decision, but has not said whether or not he would overturn it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tear Down That Wall, Mr. Crypto – Flash Fiction

This is a one-page work of fiction. It is not meant to frighten anyone, just to hopefully get people to think and review their opinions. By no means should anyone conclude that the terrorist murders should be demagogued a la Donald Trump. Most everyone knows what needs to be done.

Tear Down That Wall, Mr. Crypto – Flash Fiction

Three anti-personnel bombs exploded in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring hundreds of others. The cheerleading factions in several countries went to work explaining the slaughter.

Some neighborhoods cheered the attacks while the vast majority deplored it. In general, people worldwide were vehement in their condemnation. They blamed the abstractions of government just as the terrorists had planned.

When law enforcement authorities pieced together the origins of the attacks, they raided several apartments in an ethnic neighborhood of Paris and found plans to set off simultaneous dirty bombs in several major cities across the world. The cities weren’t identified but some of the planners were identified by various means, including communications surveillance from “Stinger” aircraft.

Sixteen terrorist operatives and functionaries were arrested.  Along with the arrest of these individuals, law enforcement authorities seized a treasure trove of computers, smartphones, weapons, and purloined radioactive material sold to them by former Soviet scientists in Kazakhstan.

Among those arrested was a senior member of a foreign terrorist operation sent to Europe to direct the ‘death of Europe.’ Hamza Al-Youssef was a sneering, resentful, alcohol-besotted, irreligious hater of western civilization who tried to spit on his interrogators and refused to say anything. 

More than one American intelligence operative had suggested waterboarding. The manner of witness interrogation became the focus of national debates in several countries for just one day before it was displaced in the news cycle by news of the planned dirty bomb attacks.

The operatives who had suggested waterboarding for Hamza Al-Youssef were rebuked and censured by their own government. The censure of the aggressive ‘rogue’ intelligence agents was applauded in some quarters and condemned in others.
Frightened though she was, Hamza Al-Youssef’s number three American citizen wife bravely came forward to say that her husband communicated with ISIS leadership in Libya by a telephone he had left in her possession. She told FBI agents she was not to reveal her possession of the phone under pain of death.  She entered the FBI witness protection program and was ensconced with her five children in a nice neighborhood in Minot, North Dakota.

The smart-phone Hamza’s wife turned over to authorities was encrypted by an American Silicon Valley company of high worldwide repute. The sales success of the Crypto Corporation phones made the company a stock market leader that enriched thousands of early investors in the technology.

The sleek Crypto phones were popular with anyone with the need for privacy:  government, drug cartels, organized crime networks, unfaithful marital partners, child pornographers, hackers, and idealistic high school students who were angry at having their rooms searched by concerned parents.

The FBI urgently needed to unlock Hamza’s Crypto phone to determine the cities where the dirty bomb devices would be exploded. Government sources estimated that 40,000 people would be murdered within the week and that another 400,000 could suffer the effects of long term radiation poisoning
. .
The CEO of Crypto Corporation refused to cooperate with the FBI and became an instant cult hero. The FBI could not convince the Crypto Corporation CEO of the urgency of opening the phone. The FBI Director sought the aid of the President of the United States who made several subtle public statements insuring that corporate secrets would be assiduously protected to no avail.

The popular media championed the cause of Crypto Corporation. Why should a juggernaut of the American economy be forced by an overbearing government to shoot itself in the foot by subjecting its millions of customers to FBI and intelligence agency snooping? The meme was taken up by many ambitious politicians who found in the crisis an opportunity to appeal to their financial supporters in their constituent regions.

It was quite surprise when a top Mafia figure, under indictment through wire-tap surveillance himself, broke from the herd and proclaimed: “What are youse nuts? Open the goddam phone, you mutts! If youse don’t, there won’t be nobody making money around here!”

This amused the public and occupied the news cycle for almost one whole day. But on the following day, radioactive explosive devices exploded in six major cities across the world. 

It turned out that damage and death estimates had been severely underestimated. The world media got right to work lamenting the ‘tragic consequences’ of the intelligence failures and impugning their governments for underestimating the catastrophic nature of the ‘dirty bomb’ threat.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

ABC 's American Crime: Did Taylor Blaine Kill Wes Baxter in Self-Defense?

I don't mean to suggest that the TV serial American Crime follows the path of legal procedurals like Law and Order. It doesn't.  Instead, American Crime relies heavily on audience psychological and emotional reactions to portray a homophobic, hypocritical society in which its troubled anti-hero Taylor Blaine has just shot and killed Wes Baxter, a member of the Leyland private school basketball team. 

I'm really interested in seeing where creator/director John Ridley is going with the legal aspects he's depicting here.  I have to say, the legal drama interests me as much as the psychological torment of the victims, the moral dilemmas of the enablers, and the apologists who try to reconcile all of it. 

Real life doesn't come with labels like 'liberal'  or 'conservative' -- people apply those later, and the labels are only occasionally accurate.  Yet, the shooting in Episode 7 of Wes Baxter and the violent response of Eric Tanner to his attacker puts the self-defense arguments to the forefront. And it is here where liberal and conservative views collide.  Will the self-defense issue be taken on or will it be set by the wayside? 

 Wes accosted the disturbed, battered, and confused Taylor outside the school and threatened to kill him.  Taylor happened to have with him the revolver he’d stolen.  Was the threat posed by Wes sufficient to sustain a claim of self-defense? I’m guessing this will be one of the claims made in the new episode.  

Undermining any claim of self-defense, however, is the scene where Taylor finally uses that notepad he’s been carrying around and jots down some names.  Among that list of names is that of Wes Baxter.  It is some kind of hit list? Premeditated murder is a far different matter than involuntary manslaughter or self-defense.

 Who are the good guys? Who are the bad?  By the same token, is Eric Tanner? a victim or perpetrator of violence as he’s attacked by an enraged sex partner in a desolate location.  Eric fights back and survives the attack. We don’t know about the other guy, his attacker, last seen writhing in pain in his car. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

FX Channel : People Versus OJ Simpson

The second episode of FX Channel's People v. OJ Simpson wasn't as good as the first one, my full recap of which can be seen here: Episode One 

I expect there will be better to follow.  In this second episode, the car chase was obligatory but it went on almost as long as the real thing. I watched a few hours of the real thing when I'd returned home from my job that day.  This second episode added some scenes which you couldn't get from watching the real thing.

Throughout the car chase, Simpson is depicted as having a revolver to his head the entire time, crying and whining and say gee whiz oh my how can this be happening to me?  Well, you slaughtered two people, dummy, and you were being treated like a crown prince.  This celebrity treatment is made very clear in the episode and that is good.  My opinion of the suicidal scenes is that they were exaggerated, and I wonder now about Jeffery Toobin's book upon which the series is based.  There is often a chasm between book and film so likely Toobin didn't exaggerate or dramatize as the FX production did.

Here's the thing though.  Simpson might have thought of killing himself (if only) but a better guess is that he had a flair for the dramatic and was already trying to present a defense for himself. He was a very public guy, accustomed to being worshiped, very full of himself (and rightly as a football player) and also very violent and given to self-indulgence. Short way to say that I found the suicide scenes very fake, prolonged, and maudlin.  The love-fest among his family and friends while he's piling down the highway with AC was also gag-producing, though you may forgive close members of his family, who would be certainly bereft.

Anyway, the car chase over, we can get on with the story, an interesting one from both a legal and a social standpoint.  The Johnny Cochran character is well cast and John Travolta does a highly entertaining Robert Shapiro.  Kardashian?  He looks good, real, nice job there and a good mock-up of the Kardashian brand.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


 I believe the evidence is irrefutable that Steven Avery murdered Teresa Halbach. But what did the ID Discovery Channel have to say about it in their January 30 one-hour special devoted to the crime? 

One of the more miraculous feats of the TV presentation is how Investigation Discovery presented in one hour  most of the information contained in the 10-part Netflix series “Making of a Murderer.” And far more.
As a long time armchair crime fighter, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time watching the extended version.  ID Discovery presented a great deal more information than Making of a Murder co-creators Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi had, and in far less time.
To learn why Steve Avery's defense counsel is tilting at windmills, click right here:  ID Steven Avery is Guilty

Friday, January 22, 2016

John Ridley's American Crime : Preparing for the Storm

 RECAP:  Frustrated with the stonewalling of Leyland school headmistress Leslie Graham,  Anne Blaine goes first to the police and then to the newspapers.
She’s announced to anyone who would listen that her son was raped at a party celebrating the basketball team’s success. The party was hosted by Kevin LacCroix, a black teenager from a wealthy family.
Headmistress Leslie Graham is worried more about the reputation of the prestigious private school than she is for Taylor Blaine, the alleged victim of sexual assault. Class privilege, sexual identity, and race are all part of the combustible mix of ingredients that form the basis for the series drama “American Crime.”


EPISODE 3:  The Times-Herald newspaper has sent a reporter to get the story about the alleged sexual assault of Taylor Blaine at the exclusive Leyland private school. Taylor’s mom tells the reporter she doesn’t want her kid’s name in the news so the reporter must work around that limitation. There are major problems at the LaCroix house when Kevin LaCroix, age 18, is mentioned in the story.  Kevin’s enraged dad stops short of throttling Kevin who insists he had nothing to do with whatever really happened to Taylor Blaine.
The Times-Herald reporter goes to the headmistress to get the school’s  version.  Leslie tells the reporter she took action to suspend team co-captain Eric, and then engages in a bit of victim blaming. The kid (Taylor Blaine) had no business binge-drinking, she says.
One of the many things contributing to the popularity of the series is the clever way it’s presented. Lots of in-your-face close-ups, foreboding off-screen voices, jarring camera shots all contribute to a feeling of audience unease. This kind of cinematography can sometimes wreck a film or make it seem pretentious, but here the austere documentary style is consistent and works to advantage.  Whoever’s directing the camerawork has the right intuition, knowing when to pull back as well as when to put you up close.  It’s all very uncomfortable, of course, just as things can be in real life.
To read the entire review, click here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Mariel Raines, Superhero: A Short Story of Love and Terror

Mariel Raines actually met Abdel Houte only once. You might have thought they would have met sooner since they lived in the same apartment house in Brooklyn.

Big cities were like that – cold, impersonal, teeming with life, hermetically sealed. People locked into their shrink-wrapped lives. City dwellers pop up and down into subway platforms like gophers, appearing one moment, disappearing, reappearing again. You didn’t know their names, you didn’t remember their faces, you didn’t smile at them or say anything because it was safer to be stuck in your own life and safer yet they were stuck in theirs.

On occasion, but very rarely,  you might recognize someone you’d seen before in the same coffee shop, the same laundromat, the same night club or grocery store or subway platform but it would mean nothing, nothing at all.  People were all walled off from each other in their loneliness.
As for the people who lived in the same apartment building you lived in, you generally knew nothing about them. You couldn’t even match their names or faces with the apartment numbers on the bank of buzzers at the entrance to the building. People moved in, others moved away. New tenants often didn’t bother to change the names on their apartment buzzers or used assumed names with good reason. There were people whom you thought it might be nice to meet but you couldn’t somehow. You whisked past them on the brownstone steps or maybe you watched them sadly through the one window of your apartment that had a view of the street as they walked to the subway.

Then there was the case of Mariel’s mystery man, the hunky guy who seemed to show up nearly everywhere that Mariel went. That was the name she gave him – mystery man. She spotted him at the supermarket, the bank she used, the coffee shop she favored, even the medical building where she got her annual checkup. It was creepy and exciting, and raised bumps on her skin. Mariel once found herself standing next to him at the subway ticket kiosk. Mystery man turned toward her. A shiver went through Mariel when their eyes locked. Mariel’s heart fluttered. It seemed for a fraction of a second that they might finally speak. But the man nervously broke eye contact, looked away as if he’d done something wrong. Mariel stiffened as she moved past him toward the turnstiles. After that rare close encounter, she never saw him again, never wanted to.
A second great coincidence of city life was that Mariel Raines of 1630-A Apt. B-3 Flushing Ave once did manage to meet Abdel Houte of 1630-A B-26 Flushing Ave. They were thrust together in one of the great happenstances of city life, as if manipulated by invisible hands.  But who was Abdel Houte?

Not one of Abdel Houte’s teachers would have described him as a genius. His community college grades were marginal. He loved numbers but kept that talent hidden. With his thick black hair, overgrown at his ears and neck, he was neither good looking nor particularly unattractive. Abdel Houte’s was a face suspended in an unremarkable purgatory of urban faces. His closest friend was his cousin Murad, a brilliant and engaged student who had skipped a year of high school and was enrolled at MIT.
Still, Abdel wasn’t stupid so much as he was opposed to people he didn’t understand. When he failed to graduate and dropped out of community college, his mother explained: “He only does what he wants to do.”
What Abdel wanted to do was to have money in his pocket.  His reasoning, in that regard, had much to do with the influence of Murad, who had stayed in touch with relatives in Tunisia. These relatives were merchants, had established a thriving grocery chain and export business operating throughout the Middle East and Europe. There was talk of expanding operations in the United States beginning in New York. It was in consideration of a future opportunity that Abdel decided to pursue a career in the grocery business.

Abdel Houte found a job with Halal Hayat, a Middle Eastern grocer with stores in Brooklyn and Queens. But though the owners of Halal Hayat were bearded and devout, Abdel was disappointed they seemed unwilling to share their private lives with him. Feeling left out and mistrusted by his bosses, Abdel quit Halal Hayat and found employment with the Egyptian owners of Al-Gadana Meat and Grocery. When weeks later he found out that were but Coptic Christians, he quit Al-Gadana and tried unsuccessfully to get on the unemployment rolls. He was furious when he received a letter denying benefits. His cousin Murad was home on a semester break and explained the legal reasoning contained in the form letter.
            “It says, Abdel, that you cannot collect unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job.”

            Abdel needed no further proof that the machinery of the western world was out to get him. Murad waited until his cousin’s rantings abated, and cautioned him against jumping to conclusions. Murad’s warning had no effect on the hand that ruled the world, the hand  which had already concluded that Abdel Houte of Apartment B-26 would meet Mariel Raines of Apartment B-3, just down the hall. But who was Mariel Raines?

            Mariel Raines was brilliant but that was usually the last thing you noticed about her. So many other adjectives came to mind when anyone first met Mariel.  For Mariel’s intelligence had always been eclipsed by her striking physical beauty.

Following the path of least resistance, therefore, she became a popular but mediocre student who excelled in gymnastics, soccer, and basketball. She was tall, well-proportioned, with fine long muscles. Though she was aware that people were attracted to her, Mariel believed the attentions bestowed upon her were exaggerated and would occasionally respond with a short list of her faults.
“Look at my mouth, Janice,” she vamped for the benefit of her friend. With two fingers on each side of her mouth, Mariel would pull her lips apart to reveal healthy pink gums that were, in her own self-image, slightly more prominent than her teeth. “I’ve got horsy gums.”
“Yeah, whatever. Horsy gums. Sure, first thing guys do is pull your lips apart like that,” Janice said.

“It looks like I’ve got my mouthpiece in,” Mariel persisted. “That’s what Jarod says anyway.”

Janice sighed aloud. “Do you have to filter everything through Jarod?”


This short story, of which you have just read an excerpt, can be purchased and read for $.99 cents. You can afford $.99 cents, can't you? And then you may want to put in  another two cents worth by writing a short review.  Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Buy it here:  Mariel Raines, Superhero


At the burial ground of her sister, Maria Altmann , played by the legendary Helen Mirren, confides to a friend that she needs a lawyer to look into some legal issues pending with regard to her sister’s estate. It so happens that this friend has a son, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), recently graduated from law school, loaded with debt, and looking for a job.
Woman in GoldRead the Review -- click here:  Woman in Gold

Sunday, December 20, 2015


RECAP:  At the end of Episode Two of the 3-Part series “Childhood’s End,” the children have this strange, faraway look in their eyes.  “What is happening with our children?”   Clearly, the alien world has an interest in them, for purposes that are yet unknown. Peretta demands that Karellen come clean and divulge the secret purposes he has kept from the earthlings. When he refuses to answer, Peretta grabs Ricky’s shotgun and shoots him. He might have died had not Ricky revived him with the power syringe Karellen has given him to heal his own fatal illness. “Karellen, what happens to the children?” Ricky asks. The episode ends with Amy Greggson giving birth to Jennifer, an infant with those now familiar strangely glowing eyes.  This is the child the Overlords have selected to lead earth to its new destiny.

To read about the 3rd and final episode of "Childhood's End," click here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Showtime Documentary Film “Iverson”: The Messenger

There are many stories that have little meaning for mainstream America but which have touched countless lives in little known corners of America.   The story of Allan Iverson is one such story. 
  Part of the former basketball superstar’s life story can be seen in the 2014 documentary “Iverson.”  Showtime television presents the documentary primarily for its sports fans, but its resonance is broader than you might expect. It’s an interesting documentary, one worth seeing, and one both heart-warming and heart-burning at the same time.   

It opens at an outdoor basketball court at the Boys and Girls Club Virginia  where pre-teen boys are asked by the filmmaker what they think of Allan Iverson. It’s riveting right away because a couple of the kids announce they are his cousins. Yet the variety of opinions offered by these unabashed little commentators is funny, charming, and revealing of what is to come.

The first thing the kids note is that Iverson’s “got a bad attitude.” Another says, “He’s a good player on the court but I don’t take up for him in public.”  Another complains disapprovingly, “When he came here to talk he didn’t sign no autographs, he just walked off the court.”

There will be some people who, upon hearing this, will be confirmed in their negative opinions of the 11-time NBA All-star player.  For them, Iverson is another one of “those people” who set a bad example for the “youth of America.” But these kids are the “youth of America” and the opinions they have are a reflection of the celebrity basketball star image they’ve gleaned from their parents and the media.

I hit the pause button to look at the faces of the children. Losing the words, you see gleeful faces, puzzled faces, suspicious faces, disinterested faces, and faces grateful for the least bit of attention. Their splintered syntax is right for the neighborhood but wouldn’t pass muster with English teachers in white middle class suburbs. Nonetheless, these boys get an “A” for candor and honesty. Because these kids, like Allan Iverson, are not about appearance so much as they are about “keeping it real.”  “Keeping it real” more or less defines the controversial Allan Iverson.   

The intro scene then fades into a song: “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” The director wants us to take a deeper look, to see if there’s something we missed of the Iverson story.
Iverson’s story is first of all an NBA basketball story. But there is another story behind it, a human story, and one which changed the very nature of the way people see themselves. Why would I, a white, middle-class suburban Republican, be interested in a documentary about a ghetto bad boy basketball star? I guess it’s because, though I have always been white, I haven’t always been a middle-class suburbanite.

I know what the odds are to rise above one’s situation, and I’m also part of the world that loves an underdog. Allan Iverson is the underdog, the rebel, the outlier, the guy who wasn’t supposed to succeed. He’s a basketball Rocky Balboa or an equine Seabiscuit, the gangly horse who wasn’t supposed to win the race against Triple Crown winner War Admiral, on November 1, 1938.

How do underdogs win?  They work harder. They outhustle the field of the more fortunate. They are hungry – often in the literal sense. Or like Buster Douglas, they have one great fight in them, and bring it on the night that will change destinies. Yet like Mike Tyson, Allan Iverson had the sort of life that has unfortunately became too often generic: raised by a single mom in a project house where there was insufficient food and scant electricity.  

I first heard about Allan Iverson while teaching at an alternative high school in Pennsylvania. One of the best kept secrets about the teaching profession is that the teacher gets at least as much education as the students.  My students ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-two. Most were male and nearly all of them had been down by law. I’m not a small man but a couple of my students were huge, big enough and strong enough to lift  me up and throw me out the windows to the parking lot two floors below.

Why that never happened was because of two important things. Firstly, I could summon some serious muscle in a hurry if I needed it. Secondly, my survival depended on knowing where my students were coming from, and in communicating with them in two languages – theirs, and my own.

I taught Language Arts and Social Studies in the conventional way, but in an ‘alternative school’ it was important to have outlets other than the state’s curriculum.  Our basketball court was a good outlet for those times when raging hormones and tribal instincts combined to create potentially dangerous situations. During tense times, we’d convene an emergency impromptu meeting where we’d decide to take them out of the classroom to the basketball courts and let them form teams. The team leaders had Iverson team shirts. Everyone tried to play hard like Allan Iverson. Afterward, we’d return the students to the classroom and pick up where we’d left off.

Attendance at my school wasn’t voluntary; every one of my students had been kicked out of the public schools for drugs, fighting, general rebelliousness, chronic truancy, petty crimes and more serious ones, too.  Allan Iverson was their hero.  He’d had a life that was just like theirs – run-ins with the law.

In an interview with CBS sports, director Zatella Beatty, talks about how difficult it was to get direct access to people familiar with Iverson’s arrest in 1993 for his involvement in a violent altercation with some white youths at a bowling alley. Her California crew were not accustomed to the privations and dangers of the Virginia neighborhoods where they had to film. They had their equipment “taken,” as Beatty puts it, but survived to make this interesting film.
 Iverson served only four months in prison, because his sentence was commuted by then governor Douglas Wilder. Later, the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction for insufficient evidence. The incident stigmatized the seventeen year old basketball and football star and the stigma carried with him into the NBA when it was thought that teams would refuse to sign him. It was all about image for sports in America or maybe, as the Hip-Hop artists of that era would have it: “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

The documentary “Iverson” starts about where the basketball star’s career intersects with an explosion in the music world.  Hip-hop had become prominent as music, and as style, though many people worried that it was destroying America’s youth, that it was promoting gang activity. Maybe it does that, but it’s not all a monolith as some would have us believe. Some forms of hip-hop tell a story, and sometimes it is an ugly true story whether the rest of the world wants to look at it or not.  

In a sad and somber appearance before the press, Allan Iverson announced his retirement from basketball October 30, 2013. “I’m happy with the decision I’m making,” he says, but he doesn’t look at all happy. He looks sad and wistful as the narrator tells us “Allan Iverson could have been the most popular athlete the NBA’s ever had.” Cut to a shot of Iverson speeding down the court sideline and Tom Brokaw saying “You can’t take your eyes off of him.” So there are lots of highlight shots and fan reaction, his popularity in China, and Europe, his appeal across cultural lines.

But then the documentary launches into the low points of Iverson’s career, mainly attributed to his refusal to conform to the clean cut image that creates cash for sports CEOs.  One such low point was when he was thoroughly bashed in the press for missing practices and for wondering out loud why everyone was making such a big deal of it.  Iverson’s press conference opinion so galled the sports world that sportswriters were talking about his “rant” ten years later. At least one writer has since been  plucky enough to dig deeper into why Iverson, many years into his career, missed practices.  Dan Favale, writing for Bleacher Report in August, 22, 2013, reported that Iverson was trying to extend his career, having received that advice from another basketball star, Gary Payton. Payton reportedly advised Iverson to limit time spent in the poundings of practice sessions.

Iverson was asked if the press reaction and national condemnation he received was fair to him. “All they want to do is dig up some dirt on you,” Iverson tells; his host on a television talk show. Many high profile media types piled on. Liberal Chris Matthews felt he must show his contempt for Iverson’s style and personal choices:  “He’s got the reputation for what might diplomatically be called ‘ungentlemanly behavior.’” That was Matthew’s delicate and almost profligate term for people born into situations they couldn’t themselves even survive.

In the many little intercuts of direct interview with the retired Iverson, Iverson narrates as the camera tracks row after row of project houses or small cottages where he remembers, thirteen year old kids hiding bedside dumpsters snorting cocaine. “Chuck, hit that, hit that,” they encouraged him.  “No, I want to be an NBA star,” he thinks. 

The quandary for Iverson and for the wayward youths in the classes I taught was how to get off that hopeless destructive track. People can talk about the neighborhoods, they can throw money into the neighborhoods, but unless you’re in it, you don’t really get it. In Iverson’s case, sports gave him a direction. For my own wayward students, Iverson gave them inspiration and a reason to believe they could do it too.  Some of my students, I know, did manage to break the well-worn cycle of wasted lives. And really, the way things are – “some” mild success is doing pretty well.

There are bitter notes in the documentary but there are plenty of touching moments, too, such as when the filmmakers interview boyhood friend Jamie Rodgers, described by Iverson as  “the only white boy in an all-black neighborhood.”
               “He used to get picked on a lot or whatever and I used to just look out for him to make sure he was ‘aight’,” Iverson says.

 I liked hearing that, that Iverson wasn’t a hater like some of his detractors. I could somehow identify with it. Though I wasn’t the only ‘white boy’ teacher in a predominantly minority populated alternative school, some of my own student quasi-gangsters were looking out for me too. When things got dicey, or when some young man had a meltdown or went postal and started throwing furniture and fists around, some of my kids looked out for me, too.

I sometimes tried to think of who would inspire kids like I had. How much traction could I get by holding up models of success like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet?  No, it was Allen Iverson who taught them the value of hard work. Like Allen Iverson, my guys were having to do as well as they could with what little they had started with. Allan Iverson, for all of his faults, was the perfect messenger for what I needed to do. 

And so I thank him, and also Zatella Beatty for making this story in film.