Monday, November 28, 2016

A Premonition Moment/ Hillary’s Calamity of Missteps

Sweet Revenge…. It was seven or eight years ago, and a fair distance from home, that Mr. Gripes experienced the moment when a victory by a persona like Donald Trump became inevitable.

Reminiscing a bit, in those days I had a lot of free time, so I’d travel down South or into the Midwest to tour minor league baseball parks: for six or seven days, I’d drive from one city to another – usually small obscure towns – to attend one game per day, typically at night. A lot of driving ensued:  I opted to travel on roads no longer used much, essentially devoid of automobiles, as newer, brawnier federal highways had superseded the older, crumbling thoroughfares.

I was on one of these sojourns, probably in 2010 or 2011, motoring one early evening from South Carolina to Augusta. It was a typically beautiful Carolina summer night, with a full moon dramatically looming through my windshield, amidst gorgeous pines lining the road. Suddenly, I noticed through a thicket of brush and tall grass, a completely empty building – a factory, for sure – on the side of the highway. Nothing stirred, just that imposing structure – and an enormous deserted parking lot adjoining the plant. It was deathly quiet -- I parked and took it all in for several minutes.

It was a very somber, sad sight: the formerly frenetic business of the factory – it had been a ‘textile’ manufacturing plant – must have formerly employed hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals. Now? Nothing but a relic. It resembled a tomb.

Fifteen miles later, another empty factory, vines growing up its walls. I counted about ten or so factories along that road, within 50 miles, all idle.

And, then, in an instant, I was struck, as if I were slapped across my face, by an epiphany: these low-to- middle-income workers, undoubtedly loyal employees for years, after the decision was made to move the plants overseas, were discarded and cast aside as if they were used Kleenex. Bill Clinton with his misconceived NAFTA mess, the large corporations backing the free-trade pacts, and the uncaring political/plutocratic classes, didn’t give one sh_t about these people. Once their employers closed the plants, the laid-off workers were stranded and abandoned, as if they were road-kill. They were betrayed.

Yes, at that moment, I just felt in my gut – I knew! –someday these furious workers, and others in similar circumstances all over the country, eviscerated by very powerful, implacable forces aligned against them, would one day exact a harsh punishment on the perpetrators. It took a long time, and I had no idea in what form it would take,  but Donald Trump’s victory last week surely must have been sweet, sweet revenge to those forgotten workers.

Now allow me to relate to you, my readers, some of my post-election impressions:

Mr. Gripes understands perfectly well you’re as fatigued as I am regarding the length, idiocy and vituperation of this past Presidential campaign, but there’s no way in hell it’s going to change: the networks, i.e., CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, every one of them, benefit financially so extravagantly from an elongated campaign cycle, and because the networks are the main disseminators, by far, of political news to citizens, they will never advocate anything shorter. The manner in which our political campaigns play out is a disgrace to the American democratic process, but we’re stuck with it for a long, long time.
Donald Trump, early in the cycle, complained after a 2-1/2 hour Republican debate that CNN should have shared in the advertising profits coming out of that network telecast. He was absolutely right: CNN broadcast that ridiculously long debate, for one reason: to boost its advertising dollars, knowing that Donald Trump was a ratings bonanza. Overall, CNN, incredibly, made an additional $100 million during the 2016 election cycle, compared to a non-Presidential cycle.  It would serve a network like CNN no fiduciary purpose to shorten campaigns, even though it would serve the national interest to in fact truncate the whole process; but it just isn’t going to happen. As always in this country, the harsh realities of the markets rule.

Now to the actual campaign: 

The most trenchant analysis post-election that Mr. Gripes ran across?  ‘Hillary Clinton forgot that 70% of this country is still white.’ What the hell were Ms. Clinton and her acolytes thinking? Why did the Clinton campaign spend so much time beseeching voting blocs she already had locked up? For example, going around and speaking to women’s groups about shattering the ‘glass ceiling’ must have seemed like gorgeous music to her female supporters, but let’s face it, not one of those affluent, educated, upper-class ladies was ever going to vote for Donald Trump. Hillary was invariably treated as if the coronation were only days away. Singing sisterhood encomiums to adoring female audiences turned out to be a gigantic waste of time. She should have been in Wisconsin or Michigan, communicating with disappointed and angry residents. Sure, everything looked swell for her right up until Election Day: then we were treated to a rendition of the fairy tale, ‘The Emperor – in this case, The Empress – Wears No Clothes.’

The media – and I include every one of the most prominent newspapers and networks [except Fox] – were victims of wishful thinking. Their fervent hope was that Ms. Clinton would win, and their advocacy coverage, often without a shred of impartiality, led them to presume some notions that turned out not at all to be true: what about, for instance, the huge ‘get-out-the-vote’ advantage that Ms. Clinton would unleash on Election Day? That didn’t happen. The huge advantage of Hillary’s advertising ad ‘spend’ over Trump’s? All those dollars didn’t help in the end. [Mr. Gripes’ take on political ads? Viewers either ignore them or tune them out very, very quickly.] 

A tsunami of Hispanic voters for Ms. Clinton would guarantee victories in some of the swing states? Again, an overstatement: in Florida, 30% of Hispanics supported Trump, giving him the state. I suspect the media was not out in the field actually talking to prospective voters, but basically chatting with only Democratic operatives, who knew the press wished for a Clinton win, and so suckered them with overly optimistic projections that were treated as the Gospel truth.

And let’s not forget the damage that Bill Clinton inflicted: the tape revealing Mr. Trump bragging about his predations on women hurt him certainly, but the Republican ploy to bring back before the 2nd debate all the women that Mr. Clinton had preyed upon was a brilliant counter-punch to the gut: after all, Hillary, to save her husband’s and her own political careers, had savaged these same women back in 1992. A lot of undecided women leaning to Trump but upset with the tape revelations and consequently more open-minded about Hillary, might have reasoned, ‘Yeah, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are pigs, but is Hillary really that much better?; she was her husband’s enabler.  It’s a wash. I’m voting for Trump.’

The campaign was just one misstep after another after another….what a colossal screw-up.

And, finally just before I ride off to a Thanksgiving feast in northern New Jersey, a few words on what a Trump presidency might look like:  first of all, I’m not going to prejudge Mr. Trump; let’s see what he’s got to offer.  A couple of things are in his favor: he’s a pragmatist, not a prisoner of ideology; I think he’s an adaptive person. Second, he’s appears not to be another double-talking, dissembling, devious, pusillanimous politician the likes of which we all are sick of. He’s a builder, so he revels in ‘big’ works; that spirit of audacity is something this country needs desperately in its leaders. So, we’ll just have to see what transpires.

Now to some of Mr. Gripes’ doubts and fears: Mr. Trump apparently is going to proceed with a ‘trickle-down’ stimulus to the economy – you know the drill: huge tax reductions will lead to increased business profits, which will lead to increased tax revenues, and, voila, lower deficits. It doesn’t work: Reagan tried it, and deficits soared. George Bush 2nd tried it, it failed then, too, and we were saddled with huge deficits again. And, Trump is going to try for a third time? Moronic. 

Mr. Gripes prays that Donald Trump does not take the muscular interventionist approach to international disputes. Again, we’ve tried this, in the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and it’s been a complete failure: not only has America lost prestige and power across the world, but, maybe worse, its own citizens have lost faith in the American system as well. All of us have been beaten up by asinine and wrong-headed Presidential presumptions about the world. President Trump, please show some forbearance, judiciousness and caution before you meddle and bomb. 

Jim Israel, aka ‘Mr. Gripes’
November 24, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Alas, The Olympics Again/ Money, Money, Mr. Trump/ A Rio Gas Station at 4 a.m.

The Olympics: Same Old, Same Old – Finally, the Olympic Games are over, concluding with a cliché-riddled speech by the head of the International Olympic Committee – ‘every four years, athletes from all countries come together in peace and harmony, blah, blah, blah’ – that kind of empty-headed bull crap.

Mr. Gripes, to his astonishment, watched the competitions much more than he envisioned: I did have ground rules, though, that probably tamped down a bit my incandescent anger at the whole concept of present-day Olympics: I watched no swimming events-- ‘splish-splash, I’m taking a bath’, to me, is monumentally tedious;  I tried to avoid events that were taped, only live events [online, everything was available live, thank God] and I generally avoided most of the star-spangled NBC coverage at night. 

Actually, to be honest, I’m in favor of abolishing this entire extravaganza: shut it down for good.

What do the Games actually accomplish? It forces the selected host countries to essentially bankrupt themselves erecting structures and stadiums that -- you can count on this – will never be utilized again. A colossal waste of money for a nation like Brazil, which is in the midst of an enormous recession, as well as simultaneously dealing with political unrest and scandal [the President of Brazil was impeached a month ago.] What will they get ultimately out of these Olympics? Nothing but huge financial debts that will plague them for decades.

And, the competition is, to use a very au currant word, ‘rigged’. No, races are not fixed per se, but the competition is invariably the ‘haves vs. have-nots.’ The ‘haves’ – and the United States is far and away the leader of the ‘have’ pack – can hire the best coaches, buy the latest equipment, erect state-of-the-art facilities to train individual sports, ‘pay’ the athletes with corporate marketing dollars allowing them to train full-time, and basically outspend by tens of millions what  the poorer countries can afford. Do my readers actually think the swimming competition, for instance, proves that Americans are inherently superior to other countries? Of course not. They just have far more resources at their disposal.

A couple additional comments and then I’ll tiptoe my way out of Rio: Mr. Gripes posited this identical question four years ago during the London games: why must America, the most powerful country ever on Earth, constantly be reassured that we’re the greatest? Is the national psyche that fragile? Can we ever show some humility towards our vanquished opponents? It was bad enough that announcers [especially on NBC at night] never let up on the ceaseless shilling for America. It seems we’re incapable of ever displaying real sportsmanship. We have to dominate and humiliate. For instance: the American women’s Olympic basketball team won all of its games by an average of 40+ points…40+ points! 

The players understood perfectly well that they faced essentially no competition in their games. Massapequa Junior High would have given them more of a contest. Yet, in the team photo taken after the gold medal game, every one of them is ‘vamping’ for the camera, making faces and gesturing for the picture. I found that image obscene. You observe the photograph, and one word comes to mind: bullies. Men, with their raging testosterone issues, can be counted on to act stupidly. You women don’t have to mimic the activities of those idiots. Just be humble and gracious to the opposition.

I’ll leave now with a few things I did like: the long-distance running races, from the 1500 meters to the marathon, were always entertaining [the Africans offered great competition against the big boys]. And, I had the privilege of watching perhaps the most exciting tennis match I’d ever seen: del Potro vs. Nadal in the semis. Great drama. Finally, and definitely not least: the rugby matches were sensational. Speed, power, toughness, and intelligence predominated: that’s rugby. The gold medal was won by Fiji, which had never won a medal of any kind prior to the Rio games. Hooray for the have-nots.

Money, Money Makes Donald’s Head Spin ‘Round ‘n Round…Of all his malevolent personality deficiencies – egomania, cruelty, lack of compassion, obsessive self-love – that would disqualify him for the Presidency in a more rational country, Mr. Trump’s insatiable lust for money stands out.

Money, money, money: I think, after all is said and done, that’s the end-all and be-all of the Trump overweening ambition. His pathological – and it is pathological – thirst for money is what propels him every waking moment. Even the power that would accrue with a Presidential victory is subsumed by his obsession for more and more money.  Everything about him – the pathological lying, the dissembling, an inability to focus for more than a few minutes, a disdain for anything not material to him – stems from a primal and insatiable need to amass as much as he can. And his history demonstrates he’ll do anything – legal or illegal – to achieve his goals.

I’ll give you an example: Mr. Trump establishes Trump University. I suspect everyone connected with the ‘university’ at its onset, including Trump, knew the concept was a scam: naïve and probably not particularly bright individuals, bedazzled by the apparent glamour and success of Trump, sign up for courses purportedly designed by Trump himself – he might say, ‘apply the lessons I impart to you, and you’ll be on your way to incredible wealth.’ Well, as you know, from the start, it was a total rip-off. The courses turned out to be worthless -- but the misery and deception didn’t stop there: there were additional, higher-level courses to enroll in, at increasing cost. 

In fact, ‘students’ of the university are encouraged to max out on credit card loans to take additional courses that cost up to $35,000! And most of these students were probably not in a position to carry that kind of debt. In a just environment, that fraud by itself is a criminal act perpetrated by Donald Trump, and he’d probably go to trial and jail ultimately. He knew his university was a total sham, but you can bet that he took tuition money from essentially ‘innocent’ students gleefully, with absolutely no regrets. He’s a thief, and a rotten bastard.

Let’s look at the bigger financial picture of Trump and his university. At its most profitable, what would it really yield in terms of profit for Mr. Trump? $25 million? $50 million? Why does someone with a net worth of billions bother with a puissant business like Trump University? It’s basically peanuts on his bottom line. But, that’s Donald Trump in a nutshell: a greedy, money-grubbing scoundrel, out to screw people out of every penny they possess.

One can only imagine how much he’s salivating over the donations coming into his campaign coffers now: during July for example, his campaign raised $64 million, which he will split 50/50 with the Republican National Committee – that’s $32 million under 100% control of Trump.. And we’ve got 3 more months to go:  $125 million total could enter the Trump coffers. Do any of my readers actually think that’s going for campaigning solely? No way. He’ll figure out a way to monetize a large part of that sum to his personal account. That’s the way he works. ‘Hand that money over – I raised it; it’s mine.’

He’s already doing it: Mr. Gripes read somewhere that the rates for the suites in Trump Tower that are being rented out to the campaign are much greater than a normal rental would cost. One can only imagine: 8x, 10x. Who knows? But Donald screwing somebody, that’s for certain. And what about his private plane that he jets around in to make campaign appearances? Donald Trump is paying himself an enormous fee to rent his own plane. Count on it.

A successful trip.
And, as a corollary to his money fixation, he’s cheap, too – that’s the other side of the coin. Mr. Gripes recalls when Mr. Trump chose not to appear for one of the Republican primaries, and instead asserts triumphantly that during the time of the debate he’ll raise money ‘for the vets.’ Afterwards, he insists he raised $6 million for the veterans, of which he’ll contribute $1 million dollars to the cause.

Well, after a month, veterans groups start complaining that they have not received the money that they were promised by Mr. Trump. The press gets hold of this, and all hell breaks loose. I doubt the $6 million Trump promised was ever raised, of course, and I suspect he hoped the whole debacle would simply disappear from public view. It didn’t, and he had to – very begrudgingly – finally contribute his million dollars to the vets.

The whole deal speaks so eloquently of the Trump personality: the grandiosity, the deceit, the ‘never will I be sorry’ attitude, and the naked selfishness. He had no intention of forking over that $1 million to the veterans. He didn’t give a damn about his promises. He’s thinking, ‘That money belongs to me, not to those losers.’

The Swimmers and Rio – For his last piece, Mr. Gripes would like to pivot back to Rio and the Olympics and discuss – briefly, I promise – the American swimmers and their 4 am ‘event’ at a Rio gas station.

I would imagine most of you know the basic details of what occurred: Ryan Lochte, the most well-known of the four – and three other team members had attended a party hosted by the French team, and were heading back to the Olympic Village very early in the morning. The taxi stopped at a gas station, where the four men, certainly inebriated, ‘vandalized’ the restroom a bit – broken mirror, kicked-in door, ripped-up wall poster, that kind of petty damage.

They then return to the cab to resume the ride to the Village. While in the car, getting ready to leave, still at the pumps, a ‘security guard’ runs out and sticks a gun through a front window, and makes everyone get out of the car. Apparently, the athletes were then coerced to hand over $70 to cover the damage. And back to the Olympic Village rooms they went.

Initially, Mr. Lochte reported that he and his friends were robbed at gunpoint, and their wallets emptied of cash. Wallets were returned, sans cash, but nothing else was taken. Never happened like that. The Rio police force and prosecutor’s office were absolutely incensed that the Americans besmirched the fine name of Rio – Ha! – with their false charges of robbery.

At first blush, yes, Mr. Gripes was angry with the Americans carrying on like louts – idiots, actually. It’s insane to be drunk, then damage an establishment in the middle of an extremely violent city, where you don’t know the language, and you don’t have the foggiest idea where you are. Besides it’s the middle of the night. They’re very fortunate they were not robbed and killed.

Not exactly.
But my sentiments eventually began to side with the swimmers. Perhaps that sounds incredibly hypocritical, considering my criticisms of American athletes at these Olympic Games – all the showboating and ‘we’re-the-greatest’ boorish behavior that was on display during the two weeks.

But, for this incident, I back the Americans. Oh, sure, the Brazilians make a big stink about the rumored ‘robbery.’ No, no, they insisted, there was no robbery. Nothing happened.

Well, Senor Police Chief, in the United States, where there are real laws, that absolutely was a robbery. You can’t, in Philadelphia, say, stick a gun in someone’s face, and force him to hand over money, for any reason. That’s armed robbery, Big Shot. Or, two days later, the last of the American swimmers still remaining in Brazil has to pay $11,000 to a ‘charity’ to pay his way out of the god-forsaken country. Where I come from, that’s extortion. ‘Charity,’ my ass.

Sorry, you boys from Brazil, despite all your protestations about how Brazil’s honor was defiled by the American athletes, and despite your hope that Rio will now be viewed as a safe city for tourists to visit, no one with half a brain who examines what occurred at 4 am at the gas station that morning is headed for Rio any time soon. It’s a very dangerous place. Cross Rio off Mr. Gripes’ bucket list.

By Jim Israel 
aka ‘Mr. Gripes’
September 1, 2016

For an archive of past columns, go to You will find links to the entire archive on the right side of the page, below the list of tags.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sarandon / ‘Pull Out the Pumps, Boys’ / The Fiasco of Public Education

Susan Sarandon….Not Again?    I’ll be blunt, here at the onset: I cannot stand Susan Sarandon.

The back story: during the 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Ms. Sarandon, along with her lackey husband/partner and the pathetic Phil Donohue -- who, I’ll remind my readers, in order to curry favor with his female audience, wore a dress one day on his daytime show –  went on TV repeatedly to back Ralph Nader, who ran as a third candidate. When I first noticed what Ms. Sarandon and her associates were doing, I was horrified: ‘You may be handing the election to George Bush, you morons.’ Their reasoning? ‘Both parties are the same.’ Guess what happened: Ralph Nader siphoned off enough votes to give the election – electorally – to Bush. And, as far as the parties being ‘the same’, well, George Bush unilaterally charged into Iraq, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 5,000+ Americans, and 200,000 Iraqi. Susan, the parties may be ‘the same’ to you, but Al Gore would never have embarked on a blunder like that.

Photo art by
In the sixteen years since that depressing election, have we heard one word of remorse, contrition or confession from Queen Sarandon that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong? Not a word. I suspect Queen S will never admit error, ever; she’s a colossal egotist. And, the hubris…my God.

The history lesson is not the end of the story, unfortunately. In fact, stunningly, Ms. Sarandon doubles down in the upcoming Trump-Clinton 2016 election contest. 

A month or so ago, I nearly choked on my morning bagel and peanut butter, when I read that now Ms. Sarandon is ‘thinking of voting’ for Donald Trump. If Trump is elected, Ms. Sarandon explained, ‘some feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution faster. If he gets in, things will really explode.’

What! There she is, after her Bush-Gore disaster, tacitly acknowledging that a Trump victory won’t be so bad. We’ll have that revolution after all.

Yes, her comments prompted Twitter to blow up with scathing criticism, so vicious that she backtracked the next day, saying she does not support Trump. But Mr. Gripes knows where her heart is.

I don’t have a clue what motivates Ms. Sarandon. But she sure as hell does not know history: revolutions, especially modern ones, leave in place regimes that are worse than what was replaced: look at Egypt, for example: many of those young kids advocating revolution in the plaza in Cairo a few years ago are now sitting in horrific jails, with very long prison sentences imposed on them by an extremely repressive government. A ‘flower-child’ revolution of the sort that Ms. Sarandon is praying for will not happen here; something much more sinister would occur. Put that Donovan record away, Susan; it’s not the 60’s anymore.

I’ll wrap this up shortly, but still have one question for Queen Sarandon and her hopes for Trump: you’ve lived basically a charmed life. Beautiful houses on both coasts, healthy children, plus you’re still working at an age at which the vast majority of actresses can’t sniff a role -- and you’re getting paid handsomely for one dopey movie after another. You’re very fortunate to be living a free, essentially unburdened existence, one that 99.9% of the rest of us cannot possibly attain. Queen Sue, what’s bothering you? Mr. Gripes doesn’t get it at all.

Pull Out the Pumps, Guys…. Last month, on April 15, I attended, with my wife, a college-alumni function at Yankee Stadium up in the Bronx prior to the game that night between the Yankees and Tampa Bay. As I took my seat after the party and turned my attention to the action on the field, I was taken aback by a strange sight: every player, every coach, in fact anyone in uniform, worn a uniform with ‘42’ on its back. No other numbers at all.

Then, instantly, I remembered: this was an annual homage to the great Jackie Robinson, a Brooklyn Dodger who wore 42, and the first black man to play major league baseball. If you pick up any book relating the experience that Mr. Robinson, a very proud, combative individual, went through that first year, 1947, you’ll likely be awed that anyone, especially someone of Mr. Robinson’s personality, could have gone through that by, essentially, turning the other cheek. That pacific attitude was his marching orders from his general manager; if he had acted violently or vengefully at all, the ‘negro’ movement in baseball could have been delayed another 20 years.

But, in the inevitable hagiography that Mr. Robinson has accrued since his early death [of acute diabetes, at the age of 53], it’s often overlooked that Jackie Robinson was not a young kid who, by good fortune, was blessed with great talent for the game. He surely was gifted athletically, but he was much more than that. For one thing, and I believe this was one reason he was chosen to integrate baseball, he was a fully grown-up, mature adult, who had in fact graduated with a Bachelors degree from UCLA and who had served as an Army lieutenant during World War II. Not your cookie-cutter ‘aw-shucks’ 19-year-old with ungodly talent.

He was also a man of great fortitude and principle: during his career, in fact, during one off-season, he was offered a job to play with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. He declined. We’re talking here of a second job that probably would have paid more than his salary with the Dodgers. Mr. Robinson simply did not want to be put in the position of being a clown, a court jester, a grinning entertainer for white people, which is essentially what the Globetrotter enterprise is all about. Jackie was not about to take on a Stepin Fetchit persona of ugly subservience, for the sole purpose of amusing white people. Jackie’s pride wasn’t going to allow that.

He was also very intelligent, and resourceful. I’ll recount one incident: it occurred in Mr. Robinson’s first year in professional baseball when he played first base for the All-Black Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues:

In those days, The Monarchs, for road trips, travelled in two buses to accommodate the players, the manager, and other team employees. On the first road trip, the buses make a pit stop at a gas station somewhere in the Deep South: Jackie jumps out, and asks to use the bathroom.

     Station owner: ‘You can’t use the restroom. No Negroes allowed. That’s only for white people.’

     Jackie:  ‘All of us need to go to the bathroom. Now, which way to the restrooms?’

     Owner: ‘Listen, I told you: you can’t use the restroom.’

     Jackie: [To the bus drivers filling their tanks]: ‘Pull out the pumps. We’re leaving.’

     [Writer’s note: each gas tank had a capacity of around 50 gallons -- 100 gallons between the two buses.]

     Owner [alarmed]: ‘Ah, what the hell are you doing?’
     Jackie: ‘You’re saying we can’t use the restrooms? Then we’re leaving….Unless you let these fellas [pointing out his teammates, still in the buses, hanging out the windows, aghast at what they were seeing and hearing] use the toilets, we’re out of here. Come on, guys, I told you, pull out the pumps.

     Owner: ‘Ah, Mister, now let’s just wait a minute. [He pauses -- a sale of 80 or 90 gallons of gas about to go up in smoke, perhaps a week’s worth of business.] Yeah, OK, you can use the restrooms, but make it snappy.’

And so, Jackie’s teammates marched off and ‘integrated’ the bathrooms. 

I love this story. The gas-station owner may have been a violent, incorrigible racist who hated blacks -- maybe even wanted them strung up on tree limbs -- but he caved because of the money. Jackie intuitively knew what would make that bigot flinch; hard cash would trump over racism every time. [Later on, the ploy worked with hotels, too.] Mr. Robinson and his black brethren had triumphed.

The Ongoing Education Disaster… Donald Trump has spewed all kinds of nutzo ideas over the last few months; some are so ridiculous, [Mexico paying for the round-up and repatriation of 11 million immigrants living here is an all-time beaut] that even Mr. Trump can’t possibly believe them. But, every now and then, he expresses an opinion that Mr. Gripes absolutely agrees with.

His advocacy of abolishing the Department of Education, to Mr. Gripes, makes perfect sense. What the hell has it accomplished? I’m not going to rattle off statistics to prove my point, but Mr. Gripes has a distinct sense that educational policy in this country, despite ongoing expenditures in the gazillions, has been a total disaster. Let’s stop the charade that our schools are furnishing the necessary tools for our children to compete all over the world, and save billions of dollars by closing down the cabinet department.

Oh, for sure, the affluent, who live in upscale communities, have perfectly fine schools. The more well-off, with their substantial political clout, get sufficient funding for their local schools, you can bet on that. That’s not the case with lower-income, urban, inner-city students. The schools serving them are abysmal.

What’s going on in these urban public schools? Let’s look at New York City: I’m a resident and generally familiar with education policy here in New York. Education, simply, is a disgrace and a fiasco. And the money spent on schools is scandalous: in the 2015-16 school year, in New York City, $21.6 BILLON will be spent solely on education, and that figure, incredibly, doesn’t even include the run-away, bloated teachers-retirement pension debt accumulating exponentially as we speak.

And what kind of product do we get with that kind of money? Zilch, nada, nothing. Oh, yeah, every few years there’s a policy overhaul with a new master plan; hard-core testing was introduced a few years ago, and was to be the grand solution to the educational failures of the past four or five decades. It didn’t work out as anyone with half a brain knew it wouldn’t: teachers started teaching to the tests, the inevitable test-cheating scandals began popping up, then school districts started opting out, and the initiative soon was as doomed as the Hindenburg.

Nothing ever gets better in these schools: yes, there are a dozen or so terrific high schools in the city but they are, in reality, ‘show-horse’ schools. The vast majority of schools are terrible. [I’ve passed by on occasion Stuyvesant High School, the top public school academically in the city, and, for what’s it worth, all I see are Asian students filing into the building.] The reality is that the worst teachers are dumped into the poor areas, and the school buildings themselves are often in deplorable condition, in need of urgent repair.

The macro-politics of urban education almost guarantees nothing will change: the Democratic Party absolutely depends on city unions like that of the teachers for not only votes, but donations and ‘get out the vote’ volunteers as well. Thus, federal funding is always rubber-stamped, without any real accountability. [Mr. Gripes has a suspicion that the two parties have had for a long time a tacit understanding: the Democrats get their billions, with token opposition, for urban education and social programs, and, in return, the Republicans can count on many billions to fund, for instance, new military programs and crop price supports, with little opposition. Wink, wink: Grease my palm, I’ll grease yours.]

Obviously, the Democrats, kowtowing to teachers unions and the like, don’t really give a damn about educating the urban poor. It’s all about protecting teacher jobs and their ridiculous retirement pensions. Once upon a time, a union like the UAW, in hand-to-hand blood brawls, fought Henry Ford’s black-jacked goons around Detroit in order to be recognized as the bargaining agent for auto workers. Now? If a city requests a commitment – small, for sure -- from the union to pay for a sliver of medical insurance coverage, all hell breaks loose. It sure isn’t your grandfather’s union any more.

Despite his despair that there’s no hope regarding our schools, Mr. Gripes will forge ahead and suggest some solutions: [again, I’m talking about New York schools.]
First, the ‘consultants’ must go. What in God’s name do they do, besides earn huge salaries, and create an enormous bureaucracy? I don’t get it: these ‘consultants’ are supposed to be all about improving the lot of students, but nothing’s gotten better for years. So, fire them all if you have to, and save many billions. Teachers that I’ve known tend to be dedicated souls, and can get along just fine by themselves, without all the meddling from over-educated, bobble-head consultants. [Again, the consultancy contingent – white, affluent, liberal -- is a sizable Democratic voting bloc, and politicians naturally would be averse to diminishing its size. The Democratic Party basically says, ‘The more, the merrier. We need the votes. To hell as to how we’re going to pay for all of this. Let the guys after us worry about that.’]
Second, charter schools appear to work: it’s apparent that charter schools do a much better job of educating our children than regular public schools.  So, let’s convert 100% of the schools into ‘charter’ schools. Every public school becomes a charter school. Of course, the teacher union will squeal like a stuck pig, since they have less control over charter schools. Tough sh_t. If a teacher or principal objects, and they shouldn’t because there are less disciplinary problems in charter schools, he or she can quit, or, as a last resort, fired.
Third, the rotten, burnt-out teachers and principals must be rooted out, and eliminated. It’s a tough, exhausting task teaching children. I advocate, in fact, compulsory retirement at a specific age – 62? -- for teachers. Push the lifers out, and let young teachers open the windows and bring some fresh air into classrooms.
Finally, perhaps most important, we shift the overall goal of education in public schools to a much more directive type of learning: We operate the schools as ‘occupational opportunity’ sites. Students in junior high could all tested for particular natural skills and talents they may possess, i.e., those that test out positively for math or computer proclivities are directed to that type of study; some may have aptitude for law enforcement work, or cooking, or physical fitness, or engineering, or carpentry, or nursing, or auto mechanics, or administrative skills….whatever. Latent abilities are encouraged, always with an eye on the needs of the labor force. 

I’m sure you’re wondering how do we pay for all this. Well, I’d dismantle the towering city educational bureaucracy, to start with; then, I’d take on the teachers union, and ‘claw back’ some terms during the next contract negotiations. Bottom line, something’s got to be done with the carcass we’re living with now: otherwise, looking years ahead, this country is in big trouble. China, Europe, Japan et al. just laugh at us for the unmitigated disaster we’ve created over the past 40 years. It’s shameful we’ve come to this.

May 31, 2016
By Jim Israel, aka Mr. Gripes

Friday, April 8, 2016

The 'Greatest' Generation? / The Journal / A Dawn in Boston / Trump, Matthews & Hillary

The Greatest Generation? My father was a member of the so-called ‘greatest’ generation. He enlisted in the Army right after Pearl Harbor, joining up by March 1942. He didn’t have to enlist; in fact, it was a significant sacrifice as at that time my dad’s burgeoning medical practice was beginning to take off; he could have put off any military service for a year or two, at least; he ‘knew people,’ according to my mom. My father loved this country, which had afforded him great opportunity. So, he was compelled to ‘fight’ and defend his country in a great war.

The ‘greatest’ is accepted as the gospel truth now: that my father’s story was one of millions of soldiers’ stories defining the ‘greatest’ generation. I say this with the utmost respect and humility toward my dad and his contemporaries, but I disagree. The truth is that every generation whose young men had to fight in wars is the ‘greatest’ generation. War is such a catastrophic and horrific endeavor that every veteran of any war must be honored, and no one group should be singled out as special.

Tom Brokaw, who never was in the military at all, has made a ton of money off a couple of books he’s written about the World War II generation [One title: ‘The Greatest Generation’] He is of a mind that indeed those men were special, and unique. I’ll put aside the issue of whether Mr. Brokaw should ‘exploit’ these soldiers for his own fortune, and strongly counter that every soldier who’s fought in combat, whatever side he was on, is a monumentally courageous figure. Mr. Gripes has read all kinds of warfare history and combat fiction, and the one overriding truth he’s gleaned from the literature is that each soldier, in every war, especially the foot soldier [infantry], deserves our respect.

Allow me to cite Neil Sheehan, a correspondent in Vietnam for the New York Times during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, recollecting a battle scene in November 1965 that he may have witnessed: [NY Times, Nov. 13, 2015]

“Shortly after dawn the next morning [at the site of a battle that had taken place the previous day in Pleiku, in the Highlands of Vietnam] hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers, in loose-fitting khaki fatigues that blended well with the terrain, rose out of the elephant grass and rushed C Company’s foxhole line, seeking to overwhelm it. When the fight was over, only 40 men of the approximately 100 men in the company were not wounded or dead.

       ‘But the North Vietnamese attackers never managed to break through that line to threaten the battalion position because the men of C Company, First Battalion, Seventh Calvary, fought and died like the young lions they were.

‘They, and so many others who fought in Vietnam, were as great as any generation that preceded them.  Their misfortune was to draw a bad war, an unnecessary war, a mistake by American politicians and statesmen, for which they paid.’ [Writer’s note: Amen.]

I’m in awe of the sacrifice and courage of these young American boys, who were thousands of miles from home fighting in an absolutely alien and hostile environment. They’re heroes, and so are all the others – friend or foe – who have fought in that most horrific and gruesome activity of men: war. There is no one ‘greatest’ generation. Every fighting soldier in every war merits our honor and genuflection.

Op-Ed at the Journal  One of Mr. Gripes’ late-in-life passions has been the ‘Wall Street Journal’. My left-wing friends, of course, frozen in their unyielding political snobbery, would probably not line a cat’s litter box with the Journal, much less ever read it. Conversely, if Mr. Gripes were to be stranded on a distant Pacific Ocean atoll, the Journal would be the one newspaper he’d ask for. It’s probably the only print newspaper making a profit these days, and the reportage among its news pages is written by superb journalists [with great sportswriting, by the way]. Plus, no one covers business scandals like the WSJ. The editorial and opinion pages, though, are farcical: they are a one-trick pony – ‘regulation, regulation, regulation’ is killing American entrepreneurship – that’s the message all the time. Hey, WSJ, wake up: lack of regulation gave this country the massive 2008 subprime recession. Regulation, in fact, protects the Wall Street big shots from themselves, and their insatiable and often-reckless lust for yield and profits.

A Spring Rock n Roll Memory: a long time ago, on the eve of a rugby game in Boston I was to participate in, Mr. Gripes got roped into attending a bacchanalia of sorts. At about 5:30 in the morning, having dozed off on a sofa, I awoke amidst the detritus of the all-night affair: empty bottles of wine, vodka and beer, inert bodies strewn all over the living room floor, next to plates of half-eaten hash brownies. I had slept for no more than 30 minutes. Groggily, and alarmingly, I realized my dilemma: I was completely exhausted, and I had a game in about 5 hours. Holy sh_t, I thought, I could get myself killed. There was no way I could run one yard. But I kind of got myself galvanized, and decided to go for a slow jog to clear my head. I step outside, heading for a running path along the Charles River.  
Once outdoors, I saw that it was a beautiful Boston morning, with the sun peeking over the horizon. The day glittered. Suddenly, out of a townhouse’s upper floor, I hear, loudly, ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ by George Harrison. The absolute perfect melody and lyrics for that occasion: the rising sun right in front of me, displaying its healing power and magnificence, and the Harrison tune were in total synchrony. In that instance, I said to myself, ‘I can get through this.’ Later, I played all 80 minutes of the game, and survived. I have held on to Harrison’s miracle ‘siren song’ moment ever since. After all this time, I thank you, Mr. Harrison. 

Every quadrennial Presidential race starts out with journalists insisting that the electorate wants more substantial coverage of ‘meat-and-potatoes’ issues, yet election coverage always devolves into a numbers game – polls, polls, polls. Why? Because the political reporters are lazy – in-depth substance takes patience, time and a lot of drudge work. So, instead of issues, we watch twerps like Chris Matthews ‘ambush’ Donald Trump, and get him to assert that a woman who gets an abortion should be punished. Mr. Matthews achieved this by running his rat-a-tat-tat motor-mouth, spewing off some incomprehensible questions, and basically confusing Mr. Trump.
Photo Illustration by Ben Israel and

It was a ‘GOT-CHA’ moment, the ‘Oscar’ moment for journalists like Matthews; afterwards Mr. Matthews is toasted by his colleagues as if he’s Woodward or Bernstein, even though his ‘moment’ is actually nothing more than a juvenile display of celebrity-driven American journalism at its worst. To Mr. Gripes, Matthews performed like an infantile, aggressive, and discourteous brat. Later, on his show, Charlie Rose, in an incomprehensible gesture, offered his congratulations to Mr. Matthews. Shame on you, Mr. Rose.

Be Careful of What You Wish For  Mr. Gripes issues a warning: if Democrats manage to help Republicans derail the candidacy of Donald Trump, that action may initiate the nomination of an alternate candidate who’s much more likely to beat Hillary Clinton. Sure, it’s gleeful to beat up on Trump, and these days everyone’s doing it, but if he’s defeated at the Cleveland Republican convention, the fun and games for the Democrats will be over. The Republicans may nominate a much less divisive candidate who could very effectively run against Hillary, who’s a victim of bad timing – 15 or twenty years ago, she’d have been an excellent choice, but she appears so old-fashioned and boring these days, mouthing the same old platitudes – she’s undeniably a very weak candidate. Her moment, I’m afraid, has passed, and that’s perilous for Democrats. If Mr. Gripes were a Democratic operative in 2016, he’d do whatever he had to do to assure Trump’s nomination. Otherwise, it could be Doomsday.

Jim Israel aka Mr. Gripes
April 6, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

Get That Cop Killer Back, Mr. President / ‘The Revenant’: Trailer Trash / See Ya, Governor….

Bring the Cop Killer Home, Barack….  Mr. Gripes certainly agrees with the ‘opening up’ of Cuba after 60-plus years. During those decades and decades of sanctions which accomplished nothing, America managed to humiliate itself over and over again in dealing with the Castros. [Bay of Pigs? The Keystone Kops couldn’t have handled that ‘invasion’ any worse; An exploding cigar? One of the CIA’s brightest bulbs thought that one up in an attempt to kill Fidel]. And yet, within ten years after the Castros depart, I will wager Cuba will be a strong ally of the United States [look at Vietnam now]. We have too many historic ties and mutual interests.

But, President Obama, put your foot on the brakes for a moment, will you? Because one matter has to be dealt before you let the Castro thugs feast on all the bulging wallets of tourists coming to Havana, or all the American business interests dying to invest in the huge Cuban reconstruction that’s inevitably arriving. Their months are watering, I bet. Again, none of this rebirth can happen until the cop killer Joanne Chesimard is returned to this country. Not in six months. Now.

A back story is in order: [as published in the NJ Lawmen magazine]:

‘On May 2, 1973 New Jersey State Troopers James Harper and Werner Foester were on patrol on the New Jersey Turnpike near New Brunswick. They stopped a car carrying three occupants.

‘As the occupants were being questioned, the driver and female passenger suddenly came up with semi-automatic pistols and opened fire. Trooper Foerster was shot twice in the chest, and Trooper Harper was hit as well. The female [Chesimard] then proceeded to take the service revolver from the injured Trooper Foerster. She pointed it at the wounded trooper and shot him twice in the head, execution style, killing him. [Italics added.] Mr. Foester left a wife and two children behind….’

Ms. Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Front, was subsequently arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life plus 26 to 33 years in prison. Regrettably, her incarceration was short-lived: some of her ‘revolutionary’ associates facilitated an escape from jail. She eluded authorities for seven years, before she managed to get to Cuba, where the criminals Castro welcomed her as a ‘freedom fighter;’ she’s lived in Cuba ever since, for 32 years, in ‘relative comfort’ according to one account.

In this country, Congress in the next session will take up the issue of sanctions on Cuba. There’s a split right now: some in Congress want more vigorous sanctions; others, a complete cessation of sanctions. Mr. President, you’re holding a hammer, which is one thing – besides guns and brute force – that the Castros understand perfectly well.

Why not, Mr. President, get on television, and announce the following: [Show some anger and disgust for once.]

‘You [bastards, under his breath] return the American fugitive and killer Joanne Chesimard to the United States immediately. I want her on a plane to New York within 72 hours, non-stop to JFK. Before you tell me ‘no’, let me remind you we can hit your country with even more severe sanctions. Besides, the Cold War is over, and she’s worth nothing to you, not a damn peso. In fact, she’s a liability, because we’ll never forget.  If you refuse me, just remember this: we got Bin Laden, and we’ll get her one day. So make it easy on yourselves, and give her up.’

Swapping a worthless pawn from a long-ago time for an opportunity to get their greedy, bloody hands on a huge pile of American money and commercial acumen, the Castro brothers, I think, won’t hold on to Chesimard longer than a nano-second if they’re delivered an ultimatum.

‘Our apologies, Chesimard, but the reality is you’re no longer welcome in Cuba. Bon voyage, and we’ll send flowers and a bottle of Bacardi’s as you cross the threshold to your gorgeous maximum-security-jail-cell home.’

Show some cajones, Mr. President. Drop the Harvard-Law-School pose for five minutes. Be pissed-off, and take on the pathetic Castros. We got Americans back from Iran and North Korea. This should be a piece of cake. Get Chesimard back. It’s way overdue.

‘The Revenant’: Gripes Says No Way -- It’s time, friends, once again, for one of the Gripes patented ‘trailer’ movie reviews. Mr. Gripes would much rather avoid squirming in some movie hall, seething and punishing himself for being such an idiot in passively agreeing to view some two-and-a-half hour piece of dreck; consequently, trailers have become his ticket.

You see, Mr. Gripes has developed a method to avoid the torture of bad movies: he examines the short trailers preceding the main feature, on the lookout for cinema he knows instantly he’d hate. A trailer runs for, what, four or five minutes, more than enough time for Mr. Gripes to make another ‘snap’ judgment. I not only save $12 or $15 bucks later on, I retain a shred of self respect by not wasting a couple more hours of my dwindling days on earth.

But the planets have to be perfectly aligned to discover one of the trailer movies I’m going to review. The movie has to have a tremendous amount of build-up and publicity, and contain a huge star or two, so Mr. Gripes can skewer with great delight the pomposity and self-regard of the film and its protagonists. In a previous trailer review, I observed about 75 seconds of Oprah’s thespian skills [she portrayed the mother of a butler working in the White House] and some ghastly casting – Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower! -- to recognize instantaneously I had come upon a Holy Grail of trailer movies. ‘The Butler’ was a gift from heaven.

Now another movie presents itself, and it’s a beaut: ‘The Revenant’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Folks, I won’t be going to see it any time soon.

Let’s start with the angry, perhaps rabid Grizzly bear: as you’re no doubt aware of, Mr. DiCaprio was set upon by the aforementioned ferocious animal and almost became the bear’s lunch. Somehow, Mr. DiCaprio, all 175 pounds of him and an Olive Oyl frame, bested a beast that probably weighed over 1,000 pounds, in the possession of incredible speed, endowed with huge claws and a demonstrably inhospitable demeanor.  Could I have suspended my disbelief and admired Leo’s invincibility? Not for a second.

[A digression about that bear: I don’t care how vicious the bear is, or how brave Mr. DiCaprio seems, my rooting interest was, and will always be, with the animal. If he [or she] could talk, it would say: ‘Listen carefully, Good Lookin’, I live in this forest, 5,000 or so generations of my ancestors have been here before me, and descendants  will live here long after me -- in relative harmony, I’ll add. So, holster your goddamn weapons, put your hat back on, and get the hell out, or I’ll tear your legs off. ’]

Nothing about ‘The Revenant’ appeals to Mr. Gripes. As I write this piece in New York City, it’s 1 degree, with a wind chill of 15 below, outside. Just getting to the supermarket involves putting on seven layers of clothing, a Herculean task in itself, and still being frozen half-to-death when I hit the streets. Mr. DiCaprio in the movie deals with much worse: snow drifts the height of the Himalayas, raging white water rivers, and impenetrable forest. Plus, Leo looks exceedingly uncomfortable: I would be, too, if I had to endure a rough, unfinished animal hide on my sweaty, bare skin. To Mr. Gripes, wearing that rustic, itchy coat would be a far greater ordeal than grappling with some enraged bear, that’s for sure. I never was one for camping, either – too much work. Watching Mr. DiCapro attempting to survive the ultimate camping trip holds absolutely no pleasure for Mr. Gripes. Again, too much exertion. I’d rather read a book in the library.

How Hollywood works is a mystery to Mr. Gripes. Here’s a movie that is essentially a remake of a Grizzly Adams tale; the hero manages to emerge from all kinds of catastrophes with body and mind intact. ‘Revenant’ looks like one of those over-the-top, Cecil B DeMille mega-productions that is fundamentally nothing but a jacked-up wilderness tale, propelled by a prototypically huge studio marketing effort. It all hinges on the handsome countenance of its star, Mr. DiCaprio. An Academy award for best actor seems inevitable, considering all the press and praise being lavished on the star these days. The big push is on.

But, in reality, it’s a ‘small’ movie, saddled with big, big pretensions, with actually very little to offer. Perfect for a Mr. Gripes trailer review.

Good Bye, Governor -- When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out of the Republican Presidential nomination race a week ago, it was the first time Mr. Gripes had exhaled in about a year and a half. I was scared to death of a President Christie. I’ve lived through Nixon, the Republic outlasted Reagan, and by the grace of God we managed to survive the woefully overmatched George W. Bush, too, but Christie in the White House? Mr. Gripes would pack his bags, buy a one-way airline ticket to New Zealand, and depart on a midnight flight the same day.

I’ve watched Christie closely for six or seven years now, since he was elected. He’s a dangerous man, entirely ruled by egregious self-interest and egotism, without a whit of governance skills, except for one talent: he could have run one hell of a race against Hillary Clinton; in fact, I would have taken odds he would have beaten her.

All politicians lie, and lie all the time. New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio always is proclaiming what a great ‘progressive’ he is, but he’s now become nothing but another low-rent ward-heeler bent on his re-election. The instant his so-called progressive agenda works against him in terms of popularity, i.e., his harsh words for the police, he drops that agenda, and kisses the butts of the police union. I’m not against backing the police, per se, but this is a demonstration that there are no core beliefs when it comes to any of these guys. They’re phonies, all of them. [Except for Trump, maybe.]

Well, Mr. Christie was the worst of them. ‘Duplicity’ is his middle name. When he ran for re-election in New Jersey, in an attempt to show he’d be the one ‘unity’ candidate that both Democrats and Republicans could vote for in the 2016 Presidential election, he and his cronies withheld SuperStorm Sandy aid from some municipalities, all of which happened to be localities led by Democratic mayors who did not endorse him. One mayor of a northern New Jersey city, who refused to back Mr. Christie, was told by Christie’s lieutenant governor in a subsequent meeting that no aid would be forthcoming and if the mayor had the nerve to bring this matter up, the governor would ‘deny it, and no one will believe you.’ That exactly is what occurred in the wake of BridgeGate.

So, I say thank God for the George Washington Bridge fiasco that Mr. Christie must have known about and likely initiated. The wantonly aggressive act of preventing cars from crossing the bridge had the fingerprints of Christie all over it. That hurt him nationally more than any other factor. Everything about BridgeGate reeks of Christie the persona: ruthless, cruel, vindictive, bullying, and above all zero concern toward his constituents. Screw New Jersey, he probably reasoned, I’m on to much bigger things: this was all about Christie’s overarching ambition to be elected President.

Look at how he handled his Presidential run: he was never home, spending day after day, week after week, in New Hampshire hoping to jump start a campaign by doing well in the primary there. Most senators or governors would at least try cosmetically to cover their asses, and pretend to take care of home business. Not Christie. He was completely absent, and made no bones about it.

His ego crushed him, finally. New Jersey is absolutely fed up with him. Most of my in-laws live in New Jersey, and occasionally we drive out to a family event, and see everybody. They’re mainly Republicans, and two or three years ago, virtually all of them thought Mr. Christie was the cat’s meow – they enthusiastically supported him. This was probably a little after Sandy, at the peak of his popularity. Well, six months ago, we visited again, and not one of the same people expressed any support for him. In fact, the feelings were exactly the opposite; for instance, Sal, very conservative, and a big Christie fan once, simply told me, ‘I hate him.’ His New Jersey poll numbers? He’s at 35% now in terms of popularity, which is absolutely dreadful.

But Chris Christie, I’d hazard a guess, will be back. Mr. Gripes recalls vividly a very angry and bitter Richard Nixon, in 1962 the day after he lost his bid for the California governorship, at a press conference, declaring famously, “Now you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.’ I thought he was finished. But, that didn’t happen: through an enormous drive to succeed, and incredible perseverance, Mr. Nixon made it all the way back. Chris Christie, with that will and ego, could be back, too, one day. I fervently hope not.

Jim Israel, aka ‘Mr. Gripes’
February 18, 2016