Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Sometimes, my beloved New York Times tends to get too liberal and idealistic for my Democratic tastes.

One of the things I love about The Times is that it holds politicians to extremely high standards — as it should, of course — and seldom lowers the bar.

But in an editorial last Wednesday, The Times held President Barack Obama to an unrealistically high bar, in my opinion, when it chided him for deciding to cooperate with a super PAC called Priorities USA Action.

The Times said that Obama’s announcement “fully implicates the president, his campaign and his administration in the pollution of the political system unleashed by Citizens United and related court decisions.”

By agreeing to play ball with a super PAC, the editorial went on, Obama “gave in to the culture of the Citizens United decision that he once denounced as a ‘threat to our democracy.’ ”

The editorial ran under the headline, “Another Campaign for Sale.” The subhead said, “President Obama reverses position and joins the sleazy ‘Super PAC’ money race.”

Yes, the super PAC system is sleazy, and, yes, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 was crazy and has further tainted our elective system. And, yes, it would be great if President Obama had decided to forgo the super PAC route.

But at what cost? Everyone knows the power of money in politics…If you (or somebody supporting you) can go on TV and say your opponent is a dipstick thousands of times more than you can say the same about him (or her), you’re likely to prevail. You have to respond to negative ads, and you need just about equal resources to even try to effectively counteract them.

The Times’ editorial board thoroughly dislikes all the Republican candidates and will undoubtedly endorse Obama for re-election. So, what it was doing in this editorial, it appears to me, was calling on Obama — its candidate — to take the biggest gamble of his political life and run without super PAC support.

Two days after the editorial was published, The Times ran five letters to the editor about the editorial.

Two of the writers sided with The Times’ editorial, and three took Obama’s side.

One of those who sided with The Times, Paul Bloustein of Cincinnati, said: “President Obama is a very principled man, until he isn’t. His decision to use super PAC money in his re-election effort is hugely disappointing…fear of being a one-term president has trumped principle.”

The other writer who sided with The Times, Margaret McGirr, Greenwich, CT, said: “It doesn’t get better than this: watching the very same people who scolded Supreme Court justices for their decision on campaign finance defend setting up a super PAC.”

I agree, however, with the letter writers who said Obama was left with little choice, if he hoped to be re-elected.

Douglas J. Cocuzza of Hackettstown, NJ, said, “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. You are forced to bring a gun or not participate in the fight.”

Also using a fight analogy, Mike Cockrill of Brooklyn said: “If you’re in a boxing match and the judge says you can use chairs, you’d be a fool not to grab a chair when your opponent comes after you with one. Later in the recovery room, you can both discuss whether the chair rule is a bad one.”

(Don’t you love that last line?)

William D. Bandes of Roseville, CA, got the last word:

“You write that President Obama is ‘telling the country that simply getting re-elected is bigger than standing on principle.’ Getting re-elected is bigger than surrender, better than handing the reins over to those who bought government by giving us Citizens United in the first place.”

To be precise, Bandes should have said “better than handing the reins over to those who are trying to buy government” because the super PAC people haven’t yet bought either the executive branch of government or both divisions of the legislative branch.

I completely agree with Bandes that this is a case where the stakes are simply too big for Obama to forgo super PAC money. I sure don’t want any of those Republican dipsticks in the White House. Do you?

What Obama needs to do is get re-elected, hope some conservative Supreme Court justices die or retire and then appoint some justices who will get the court off the errant course it’s been on under John Roberts, Anton Scalia and the dope whom Jack Danforth gave us, Clarence (Coke Can) Thomas.

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Stop the presses!

I got a letter to the editor in The New York Times! The Sunday New York Times, at that.

OK, I’m sorry; I got a little carried away there. Keep the presses rolling; I’ll just tell the story in this humble space, where there’s no deadline and it costs nothing to insert a big, late-breaking story.

So, here’s the deal…I’ve written letters to the editor of The Times several times, but before yesterday never had one published. On Friday, I got an e-mail from weekend sports editor Patty DeLuca saying that a letter I had written about Serena Williams’s tantrum in the women’s final of the U.S. Open on Sept. 11 would be published on Sunday (yesterday).

And, indeed, there it was — one of five letters, all about Williams, that appeared on Page 10 of Sports Sunday.

Four of the letters, including mine, were very critical of Williams’ borderline-threatening, verbal assault on the umpire who called her for a “hindrance” after she hit a ball and loudly exclaimed “Come on!” while opponent Samantha Stosur attempted to hit a return. The penalty cost Williams a game point, and she flew into a rage, just as she did two years ago when a lineswoman called her for a foot fault.

Two years ago, Williams directly threatened the lineswoman, saying, “I swear to God I’ll fucking take the ball and shove it down your fucking throat.”

She also said, “You don’t know me…,” as if to say, “Those who do will tell you that I’ll do exactly what I said I’d do.”

This year, she told the umpire: “If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way, because you’re out of control. … You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside…Really, don’t even look at me, don’t look my way.”

Here’s what my letter, the last of the five, said:

“Serena Williams’s verbal assault on a lineswoman in the 2009 United State Open certainly didn’t seem like an aberration, although many hoped that it was. Confirmation that the incident wasn’t an aberration came in last Sunday’s final against Samantha Stosur.

“Williams is a spoiled individual who resorts to threatening people who stand between her and what she wants.”

Serena Williams cuts loose at umpire Eva Asderaki

Williams’ lone defender among the five letter writers was Sandra Roche of New York. She said: “When John McEnroe behaved outrageously during his playing years, we accepted it as the overenthusiastic response of a champion caught up in the heat of competition.

“Why is Serena Williams being judged by a different standard? McEnroe’s behavior toward chair umpires was far more disrespectful than hers.”

Because I’m  not going to have a chance to rebut Ms. Roche before 1.3 million subscribers to the Sunday Times, I guess I’ll have to do it here — before my core readership of 200 to 300 people. (I appreciate your patronage, dear readers.)

So, why is Williams held to a different standard? Is it because of her color? Nooooo. Is it because she’s a woman? Nooooo.

It’s because McEnroe, while he insulted officials and put them on the spot in front of national TV audiences, NEVER THREATENED AN OFFICIAL…to the best of my recollection. Yes, his behavior was out of line, but there’s a huge difference between calling an umpire “the pits of the world,” as McEnroe once did and threatening to shove a ball down his or her throat.

As happy as I was that The Times published my letter I was twice as happy that Stosur, an Australian, defeated Williams in straight sets.

My curse on her (besides the one in the headline, which I paraphrased from Carnac the Magnificent) is this:

May you never win another major tournament, and may your sister Venus (who’s out of action with an autoimmune disease) come back to defeat you.

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In this summer of Royals Retrenchment and Waiting for Whitlock, here’s something to cheer about.

It’s not close by. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s a universal story that can be embraced by anybody anywhere.

The heroine is a three-year-old filly named Lisa’s Booby Trap (more about that in a minute), who has surmounted a club foot and blindness in one eye to become, in a matter of weeks, the most closely watched racehorse in America.

The hero is her owner and trainer, Tim Snyder, who bought the horse for $4,500 ($2,000 down, $2,500 if she won a race) after the breeder had given up on the horse.

To give you the gist — and the glory — of the situation, Lisa’s Booby Trap has won four straight races, with the most recent win coming Friday in a stakes race at prestigious Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. She paid $5 to win on a $2 bet; the jockey was Kent Desormeaux. Earlier, she had won three races in a row at the relatively small Finger Lakes Racetrack in the same state.

The next step will be a much bigger test. She is scheduled to run at Saratoga on Saturday, Aug. 28, in a Grade III stakes race. Graded stakes are the highest levels of racing, with Grade I being the top, followed by grades two and three. But any graded race is a big deal.

New York racing fans were watching Lisa’s Booby Trap before her most recent win, but it was a New York Times story Friday morning (the day of the race) that catapulted her and her owner into celebrity status. Writer Bill Finley summed it up by saying, “Horse racing is the type of sport…where anything can happen, even a stakes victory at Saratoga by a horse that was a lost cause, with an owner and trainer who never had much more than $2,000 rolled up in his boot.”

Now for the backdrop. Snyder, who is in his 50s, has spent a good part of his life working with “claimers,” the lowest level of racing, where horses can be purchased at set prices before a given race. After the race, the new owner (or trainer) leads the horse away to his barn, while the previous owner gets the prize money, if the horse was fortunate enough to finish in the money.

Snyder’s life changed in 2003, when his wife, Lisa, died of ovarian cancer. Snyder, as Finley told it, went off to California, where he worked odd jobs for a few years and tried to regain his bearings. He returned to Finger Lakes to work for another trainer but set his sights on getting a horse of his own.

From a friend, he ended up buying an unnamed horse the friend had obtained from a breeder. Because of the club foot, the horse had an awkward gait. In addition to the blind eye, she had a shoulder problem. In an interesting juxtaposition, Snyder named her for his late wife and also for a chain of strip clubs in South Florida that he patronizes.

Stuck with the horse’s inherent defects, Snyder began experimenting with different shoes, and, lo and behold, he found a combination that worked. Just like that, Lisa’s Booby Trap began her Cinderella-like transformation.

“The big outfits, the big farms,” Snyder told Finley, “they take a horse like that and push her to the end of the line. If she didn’t have those problems, I’d never have gotten her.”

So, chalk one up for a little guy with a lot of perseverance and for a club footed filly who wanted to run and just needed the right shoes.

What a story it would be if Lisa’s booby Trap won on Aug. 28 and then went on to run in a Breeders Cup race, the world championships, at Churchill Downs in November. People from California to South Florida would be watching and rooting.

Lisa's Booby Trap and owner Tim Snyder (right) -- New York Racing Association photo

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With one incredible story, Michael Hastings has etched a place in the annals of journalism. 

Hastings, of course, is the reporter who wrote the Rolling Stone magazine story — not even on the newsstands yet — that brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Afghanistan war commander whom President Obama fired Wednesday. 

Michael Hastings in Afghanistan -- Rolling Stone photo

What Hastings managed to pull off is an amazing journalistic feat. He gained ready access to McChrystal and his team of advisers for a month, after intending to spend just two days with him. During that time, Hastings played the wallflower, like any smart reporter would, while the general and his aides blazed away verbally at Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser James Jones and other civilian leaders. 

I had never heard of Michael Hastings before this week. Turns out he is a former Baghdad correspondent for Newsweek and a blogger for True/Slant on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In 2008, he had a book published — “I Lost My Love in Baghdad” — about the death of his girlfriend, who had joined him in Iraq and was killed in a 2007 ambush.     

If Hastings, who is about 30, wasn’t widely know before, he has certainly catapulted himself into the public eye now.  

When I read this article, I had two primary thoughts: First, I would loved to have been in Hastings’ shoes. And second, how in the world could McChrystal have been so stupid? 

But Hastings’ answers that big question in his story, which will be on the newsstands Friday. Hastings stood by with an open notebook and running voice recorder as McChrystal painted himself as an outsized egoist who had little or no respect for his civilian bosses. (Writer Jack Shafer of Slate has some interesting comments about giving reporters access for full-blown feature stories.)

Interestingly, the damage was done early in the story. A New York Times story says in effect that Obama had seen enough after reading the first few paragraphs.   

The article is appropriately titled “The Runaway General.” More damaging to McChrystal and his team is the subtitle, which reads: “Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.” 

Here are some key excerpts from the article… 

:: “The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict.” 

:: “Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass.” 

:: “He (McChrystal) also set a manic pace for his staff, becoming legendary for sleeping four hours a night, running seven miles each morning, and eating one meal a day…It’s a kind of superhuman narrative that has built up around him, a staple in almost every media profile, as if the ability to go without sleep and food translates into the possibility of a man single-handedly winning the war.” 

:: “Growing up as a military brat, McChrystal exhibited the mixture of brilliance and cockiness that would follow him throughout his career. His father fought in Korea and Vietnam, retiring as a two-star general, and his four brothers all joined the armed services. Moving around to different bases, McChrystal took solace in baseball, a sport in which he made no pretense of hiding his superiority: In Little League, he would call out strikes to the crowd before whipping a fastball down the middle.” 

On Wednesday, Hastings was interviewed by Tom Ashbrook of radio station WBUR in Boston. Here are two excerpts from that interview…   

Q: What was General McChrystal’s response when his top aides were more or less trash-talking the administration?  For example, when an aide called Vice President Biden, “Bite Me” right next to McChrystal, did the general laugh? Was he in on the game? 

A: Oh yeah, no, he laughed, certainly. You know, this is their humor and I think the humor reflects something more. I think reflects a disdain for the civilian leadership in a way.  

Q: Did they know that you were there?  Did they notice you scribbling notes, Michael?  

A: Oh, yeah. I had my tape recorder and notepad out most of the time.  So it was always sort of unclear to me, you know, what was their motivation of allowing me in and all of this access. I think there’s a number of factors that were involved, but I think an important one is that they had had a number of very flattering profiles done on them over the past year, and so they were accustomed to sort of allowing access and having reporters play ball so they could give them more access later.  Well, that’s not really a game I’m interested in playing. 

McChrystal is the last of many big shots to succumb to hubris, and, thank God, reporters have been there many times to take the snapshot while those big shots have exposed themselves. 

Bravo, Michael Hastings!

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