This Summer of Horrible News- Get Away From It If You Can

GLOOMBERG-NEWS-222x300

- The 7-year-old son of an Australian member of ISIS is pictured holding the decapitated head of a soldier, a photo distributed on social media by his father.

- A white towel drapes the corpse of 18 year old, Mike Brown, an unarmed black man, two days from starting his first day at college, shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri last weekend.

- Far-ranging rockets fly into the night, aimed at Israeli citizens while shells land in “safe” places housing Palestinian refugees, wounding and killing women and children.

- Another 135 people die in a single day from the deadly Ebola virus, now spreading through West Africa.

- An actor and comedian who captured our hearts for over three decades with his obvious love and passion for life, kills himself- the victim of a deep depression.

- An airliner with 300 innocents aboard gets shot out of the sky over Ukraine and it is days before repatriation of the bodies and burials can take place as armed insurgents keep even investigators from reaching the scene.

- Thousands of Central American children who survive a 1,300 mile trek to the American border escaping violent gangs in their home countries, are dispersed throughout towns and villages in the U.S. while the government decides what do with them. In many of those towns, angry protestors demand the children leave and let it be known they are not welcome.

- American politicians forget the art of compromise and the business of governing grinds to a halt as partisan gridlock leaves our Congress as one of the least respected institutions in the nation, unable to address any of the country’s problems.

These eight news stories have one thing in common. These are the headlines of our summer of 2014. I am not alone in remarking about how bleak and horrible the world seems right now. Certainly, for those of us who work in the news business, where these dismal stories are part of our normal routine, it is hard to take. And for those not in the media or journalism worlds, it is all equally appalling and sad.

There is only one answer to this as far as I can tell. The world, despite our best efforts, is not going to fix itself. But you do have the power, mostly, of determining what information you receive. So unplug. Just disconnect every now and then. Don’t watch the news. Stay away from news web sites. Go outside. Breath clean air. Go for a walk. Take in a comedy club. Go to a baseball game. Rediscover your partner.

We all need to take a break from this horrid summer of news. For our own mental health.

Tough Guy Putin Not Looking So Great

Putin Tough Guy

Shortly after the Winter Olympics, back when Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and was making moves into eastern Ukraine, he seemed to become the darling of some of the administration’s harshest foreign policy critics.

After the action in Crimea, former New York Mayor, Rudi Giuliani, seemed to admire how the Russian leader was so decisive, telling Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, “[H]e makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader,” Giuliani said.

In March, Sarah Palin, said this to Sean Hannity:

Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

Rush Limbaugh weighed in too:

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

Michigan Congressman, Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee:

Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles.

You get the drift.

Regrettably for the man who would wrestle bears and drill for oil, it would appear that the luster is now off the big crush. Being connected to the downing of a civilian airliner has that effect. But now it’s getting even worse. Even Europe, deathly afraid of imposing serious sanctions against the Russians for fear of hurting their economies, is beginning to stir. The leaders of Britain, Germany and France had a telephone conference over the weekend and appear to be heading for more substantive actions against Putin.

The Dutch, who suffered more fatalities than any other nation in the downing of the Malaysian airliner, were described at first, as being in a deep state of shock and mourning. But now, after the Russian separatists who control the accident site continue to reportedly restrict access to international investigators; after the disturbingly callous and incompetent handling of the remains of the dead becomes more and more evident- they are described as furious.

Turns out, or so it seems, that Mr. Putin was not playing chess very well. That would require one to look several steps ahead. He doesn’t appear to be the “long-view,” strategic type, to say the least. In fact, I’d say he’s been revealed to be playing a game of one-dimensional checkers all along.

He also strikes me as the type who, when sensing he’s on the losing side, will never give in, and instead of losing graciously, is more likely to upend the entire checker board and stalk off, blaming it all on a sudden gust of wind. Very manly, indeed.

Cleveland- The New Epicenter of the Universe: LeBron, the GOP, Johnny Football

July 11, 2014 1 comment
He's baaaaack...

He’s baaaaack…

They were spurned almost four years ago to the day. It was on ESPN’s special program, “The Decision,” one of the oddest blends ever of marketing, entertainment and sports “journalism,” that LeBron James announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to Miami and in an instant became one of the most vilified athletes in pro sports, despised not just in Cleveland but especially in Cleveland (and greater Ohio in general).

But the dream of a half dozen straight NBA titles was emphatically silenced by the San Antonio Spurs who demolished the Miami Heat in the finals and now LeBron tells Sports Illustrated- he’s going back home. This is a way worst Cleveland team than he left so it’s not a bid for immediate glory. It seems to be entirely because it really is home. Home for LeBron (he’s a native of Akron). Home for his wife and family.

Is all forgiven? It seems so. Clevelanders who were burning his jersey four years ago will now be greeting him at the airport with flowers. The Cleveland basketball team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, has even taken down the letter he wrote four years ago calling LeBron a coward. One Cleveland fan tweeted, “It’s pretty amazing how much one man can economically change this city…I just bought a headband for no reason.”

Cleveland, if you haven’t heard, is a hard luck town. No Cleveland team has won a title in any sport in half a century. They come close a lot, which makes it all the more painful. They’ve had great athletes, like LeBron and NFL running back, Jim Brown and former slugger Manny Ramirez. But Cleveland teams have a long and tortured history of leaving their fans just short of euphoria.

The decline of the manufacturing economy has not been kind to Cleveland or Ohio either. Granted, it was not an official Chamber of Commerce video, but I remember not that long ago, watching a hilarious promotional film about Cleveland that ended with “And hey, we’re not Detroit!”

And didn’t they used to be known as “the mistake by the lake?” Or was that Municipal Stadium? I forget. Well, no longer, people. Cleveland is way more now than just the home of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, the Republicans announced they were holding their 2016 Presidential convention in Cleveland. Earlier in the year the Cleveland Browns signed Texas A&M Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. He’s currently slotted as the #2 Quarterback though he’s quickly established himself as the #1 hardest drinking and partying NFL QB since Joe Namath.

So here’s to you Cleveland! Not sure there are any titles in your immediate future, but you sure as hell will be getting a lot of attention. For now, anyway, you are the center of the news universe. Congrats, or something.

The Iraq Muddle

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So let’s get this straight. Somehow, unbeknown to U.S. intelligence agencies, a major army constitutes out of thin air and in the space of about ten days captures huge Iraqi metropolitan areas and now threatens the Iraqi capital.

In the north, Kurds take over a major city they’ve been eyeing for about a thousand years. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers also fold like tents leaving millions of dollars of munitions, tanks and helicopters in the hands of an advancing army so extreme in its beliefs of Sharia law and a hardline Islamic state that, they have actually been disowned by Al Qaeda.

The only thing standing in the way of ISIS (Iraq/Syria Islamic State) and Baghdad are volunteers formed after Friday prayers- oh- and our good friends, the Iranians, who have pledged to help defend the capital.

Who’s to blame for the possible collapse of Iraq into complete and utter chaos?

Here’s a possible list of suspects:

1) The British. They’re the ones who sat in some fancy room after the end of World War I and drew up the boundaries of Iraq with apparently zero thought given to the politics of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country; the Kurds to the north, the Sunni and the Shiites.

2) The Bush administration. Not the first one, the second one. The first Bush White House never completed its invasion of Iraq or toppled Saddam Hussein because of the uncertainties of what might occur if a sudden power vacuum were to open up smack in the heart of the Middle East. Plus, we had no interest in accidentally starting and getting involved in a bitter civil war. The second Bush administration did what it did, and praise them or scold them, the fact is the war and its aftermath ended up putting a Shiite leader in place who has spent the last 8 years taking out several centuries worth of anger against the minority Sunni population that had previously lorded over the majority Shiites.

3) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Not only has he alienated the Sunnis, but it is reported his government is corrupt as the day is long; so corrupt, in fact, that in Mosul, a city of about 2 million people that just got taken over by ISIS, the violent invaders have actually improved city services by, among other things, ending frequent power outages. Of course, in the decree they made public upon their takeover, women are not allowed to leave their homes and anyone in violation of their strict interpretation of Sharia law will be hung or have their feet or hands cut off. But they do get air conditioning.

4) The Obama administration. Responding to an electorate weary of war, and now the victim of what his defenders call disingenuous and hypocritical attacks from those who started the war- his administration has, nevertheless, presided over a national security and intelligence apparatus that has pretty much missed one of the biggest developments in modern Middle East history.

Nice work everybody!

Students at UC Santa Barbara Bravely Tell Media to Go Home

(Courtesy: Los Angeles Times)

(Courtesy: Los Angeles Times)

It is one of the staples of 20th and 21st century life that wherever calamity strikes, the media soon follows with microwave and satellite trucks, camera and audio people, producers and reporters. They take over entire towns or city blocks, create parking headaches and traffic jams and manage to intrude on communities that probably would prefer to suffer, grieve and eventually heal- in silence. All of this is mostly for television and it’s all to give the background scene for the all-important TV stand-up reporters need to do to deliver that definitive air of authenticity.

No sireee, this ain’t no live shot from the in-studio satellite news desk with a reporter reading from barely edited wire-service copy; no- this is where the Channel 11 Action News Team proves there’s no disaster too distant that they cannot intrude on any given community’s pain- instantly and live.

By the way, it’s the immediate suffering and grieving that provides the money shots. We never actually get to the healing part because by then the micro-wave and satellite trucks have left and no one cares much or even remembers the given tragedy that occurred some six months earlier.

At UC Santa Barbara, the students decided to revolt and good for them. Turns out that before taking his own life, Elliot Rodger, the misogynistic 22-year-old who shot, stabbed and rammed six of the students to death, and wounded 13 others in his bloody rampage, killed his final victim at a little shop called the I.V. Deli Mart. It was the perfect place for the media circus to invade and encamp for the next 4 or 5 days that the story still had legs.

But the students started intruding back. They got in the background of the reporter stand-ups and they waved signs. “Our tragedy is not your commodity,” read one. “Stop filming our tears,” read another. “Remembrance not Ratings,” read a third. “Let us Heal!” and “News Crews Go Home!” rounded out the sudden anti-media protests.

Bravo to the UC Santa Barbara students and community. And the next time it happens and the anchorman/woman asks the reporter what that ruckus is in the background, for once I’d like to hear something like this: “Well, those are residents of the devastated community repulsed by the fact we are exploiting their grief and suffering. Back to you, Jim.”

My Son: The College Grad

Charlie Garcia 2

After damn near two decades of day care, pre-school, private middle school, public high school and then busting his butt at the university level, real life beckons my son, Charlie Garcia, as the child I brought home wrapped in a blanket one cold January day 22 years ago, graduates with an Audio Engineering degree from Middle Tennessee State University this Saturday.

I know the economy still kind of sucks, Charlie. You’d be forgiven if you feel a little trepidation about entering the great American work force. But here’s why I know you’ll be alright, son.

I think you were 15 when it hit you; when music became not just a fascination but a passion. When it became a direction in life. And like the good, practical Capricorn you are, you dissected every element of what it would take to live your life dedicated to a creative craft. And you have stuck with it with dogged determination. You can count on one hand, my friend, the number of human beings who get a notion of what they want do with their life at that young an age.

That was about the time we met Alex, a real-life audio engineer working in Manhattan, who agreed to meet with us in Greenwich Village one Spring afternoon and who laid out the not-so-glamorous realities of life in the music business. Wrapping up a recording session at 4am and setting up for the next session at 7am. Making good money mixing rap, even if it was classical quartets that were the true love of his creative life. Ah- compromises.

I remember the portable, digital, recording “studio” I had in my apartment that you used to cut your very first mixing teeth, playing a blue telecaster you would later fix up and own as one of your main performance instruments.

I remember the song you wrote called City Lights, inspired by the twinkling beauty of New York City as seen from the 18th floor of a West Side apartment, a song that appropriately enough, was simply about the joy and angst of writing music.

I remember the young man who in his heart of hearts, wanted to be a record producer but fully understood that to get there, you have to know every aspect of music. You need to write and perform. You need to understand music theory and sound waves and acoustic properties. You need to engineer. You need to edit. You need to mix. You need to manage artists. You need people skills and you need the artistic vision to take your projects from inception to fruition.

And then there is the matter of fear- like that you feel none. Who else meets one of the top music producers in the business at a festival, gets his business card and just a few months later, happens to be in Athens, Georgia, rings him up and ends up sharing lunch with the dude who first recorded R.E.M.. Same with the way you are on stage and performing- no fear. Just tenaciousness…and joy.

This is why, in the long term, you will succeed, Charlie. Because the whole time I’ve known you, if you didn’t have the natural skill, then you worked your butt off to get where you needed to go. Whether it was intense physical training so you could be a goalie on your varsity high school soccer team. Or relentlessly practicing guitar, or piano, or drums or banjo or whatever instrument had most recently made its way into your soul.

And if you needed a little extra cash, you never had any qualms doing honest, physical labor, like tearing down walls and floors for a contractor. Success is not something that has ever been handed you. You have achieved it through sweat and effort. You have never lacked in the area of striving and desire.

I suppose there’s some aspect of genetics that plays a role in creating a young man with such character. But that doesn’t do justice to the effort you put into life every day. I know your incredible mom, Laurie Spencer, who raised you largely by herself while I recovered from one journalistic layoff or another, gets the lion’s share of the credit for the kind of man you’ve become- but even that doesn’t do justice to the fact it’s you who have learned life’s sometimes hard lessons and emerged as a strong, gentle, loving, balanced human being.

I suppose I should get some credit for supporting you emotionally and financially, and, yes, it gives me a measure of pride that you graduate with zero debt to your name. But it has been you who got through the drudgery and the glory of four years of college- growing, challenging yourself, discovering; open to all things professional, spiritual, personal.

So let me let you in on a little secret. Your future is unlimited. Your potential is enormous. But success? You have already earned it. You are already a successful man. And in achieving that, my friend, you have ultimately made me a success as well.

Congratulations, Charlie Garcia.

Hank Aaron Fears Racism is Still Alive- Racists Prove Him Right

April 16, 2014 1 comment

San Francisco Giants v Texas Rangers, Game 4

Forty years ago, as he was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, Henry Aaron was the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. Now 80 years old, Hammerin’ Hank is once again the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. His offense? He told USA Today reporter, Bob Nightengale, that he thought the nation still had a way to go on the race front and that today’s racism is particularly insidious because as he put it:

“The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

I’m not sure what they’re actually wearing these days, but they are clearly armed with internet access and computers. Nightengale reports that in response to Aaron, the Atlanta Braves baseball club has received a torrent of the nastiest, racist e-mails you could ever imagine:

“Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”

And there’s more:

Marion calls Aaron a “racist scumbag.” Ronald won’t attend another Braves game until Aaron is fired. Mark calls Aaron a “classless racist.” David says that he will burn Aaron’s I Had A Hammer autobiography.

Oh good, book burning- another sign of enlightened tolerance.

As reporter, Nightengale, puts it quite eloquently- the difference between 1974 and 2014 is that back then, Aaron had the gall to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time homerun king, today, he had the audacity to speak his mind.

Mr. Aaron has kept a good sampling of the hate mail he received forty years ago- as a reminder of what he and Jackie Robinson and dozens of other black players had to put up with. It was when he was asked why he still has all those hate-filled attacks filed away, that Aaron responded with the sentence above- the sentence that has proven his point so vividly and so sadly.

Back when I worked at CNN, Hank Aaron ran a BMW dealership in Atlanta and he wanted the CNN Radio newscasts pumped into the showroom for his customers to get the latest news updates every half hour. Hank loved CNN back then. He was close to Ted Turner and then CNN President, Tom Johnson. We gave Hank’s dealership access to the CNN Radio feed and he very graciously sent back an autographed baseball that I have proudly on display in the living room of my Pentagon City apartment.

I used to look at that baseball from time to time and think, wow- signed by the legitimate home run king of all time. Today, I look at it and see a baseball signed by a kind and wise man who counters hatred with the sword of truth. And it makes me even prouder to have an artifact that, to me, now also stands for the righteous but elusive goal of social justice and racial tolerance.

Please- keep speaking your mind, Hank. Your words in 2014 are as powerful as all the lumber you ever used to pass the mighty Ruth all those many years ago.

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