Like 79 percent of America, I was more than a little disappointed that the upstart, underdog, Cinderella Kansas City Royals lost Game 7 of the World Series (especially with the tying run in KC's Alex Gordon on 3rd and the Great Debate over whether he could have scored on the game's next-to-last play). But at least they lost to an epic performance by the Giants' Madison Bumgarner -- arguably the most amazing sports accomplishment of the 21st Century so far. Like the proverbial stopped clock, George Will was actually right when he said this, that "baseball is only a dull game to people with dull minds."
"We can't lose this next generation -- we have to keep teaching them what it means to be an American -- the American exceptionalism that so many of us do embrace."
I rarely get a chance to say this, but Sarah Palin was right -- although it all depends on what your definition of the words "American exceptionalism" are. Some conservatives like Palin seem to think that America is an exceptional nation simply by divine right, which I always thought was something of an insult to the 5 billion other people that God created and planted on non-American soil.
I've been thinking a lot the last couple of days about UberX -- that's the ride-sharing service where you use your smartphone to summon a ride from a regular driver in his personal car, for less money than a taxi -- not to mention Spotify, Airbnb, Facebook,. In other words, all the things out there that save us money by devaluing or possibly eliminating the middle-class job that used to provide them. If you want to get fancy, call it "the sharing economy."
Here's the ironic reason that I've been pondering this. Sunday night, I was here at the Daily News for my usual weekend editing shift, i.e., editing the stories turned in by our staff of amazing reporters. But as news filtered out about a dramatic undercover sting by the Philadelphia Parking Authority that impounded the cars of five UberX drivers, because PPA insists the service is illegal, there were zero reporters available. Our staff has shrunk dramatically over the last decade -- mainly because fewer people buy a newspaper (and see its ads) while more people find news for free on the Web. And one of the reporters who normally works on Sunday was out on an unpaid furlough, another cost-cutting move. So I was lone editor and reporter here in the heart of America's fifth biggest city, writing the damn Uber story myself. I found myself covering "the sharing economy" of transportation -- thanks to the "sharing economy" of news.
In 2014, we don't even give a second thought to the services that we used to pay other people to provide. I can't remember the last time I used a travel agent or even had to deal with an airline reservation agent, thanks to Travelocity, Expedia, etc. -- and most likely you can't either. Of course, in the near future, some of the hotels that you might have booked on Travelocity will be gone, as more and more people use Airbnb, the UberX of accommodations, to stay in somebody's spare guest room instead of the Holiday Inn Express down the street. Journalists like me whine a lot (see previous paragraph) about job losses in the newsroom, but I feel equally as bad about the rows of classified-ad takers down the hallway that have disappeared, thanks to free advertising on Craigslist.
There's been a lot of talk over the last day about the new book by former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who's something of a hero in conservative ranks for reporting extensively on stories that the right-wing thinks are being ignored by the rest of the media, like the "Fast and Furious" affair, or what really happened in Benghazi. But what Attkisson is now best known for is her claim -- which she first made on the Philadelphia airwaves on Dom Giordano's WPHT radio program, now amplified in the book -- that her computers were tampered with and that the U.S. government is likely to blame.
The most important thing that a journalist has, of course, is her or his track record of credibility, and Attkisson's backstory is not good in that regard, thanks to a long history of reporting on the debunked supposed link between vaccines and autism. Since the mid-2000s, Attkisson has gone to this well repeatedly -- using the fabled network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite to dish out scientifically unsound misinformation. The tragic result of her bad reporting -- and evangelizing by a few high-profile celebrities -- has been parents refusing to vaccinate their kids -- some of whom got sick, some of whom even died. (More here.)
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof -- but much of Attkisson's computer-hacking account is credited to uncheckable, unnamed sources. In other words, her proof is not extraordinary at all. In a way, the whole controversy is unfortunate, because while it's difficult to take Attkisson very seriously, the underlying notion -- of excessive government spying, which could easily be turned against political opponents or journalists exercising their 1st Amendment rights -- is indeed a clear and present danger, especially under the Obama administration.
The subhead on this op-ed by legendary 1970s NYC police corruption whistle-blower Frank Serpico says it all: "I should know."
Today the combination of an excess of deadly force and near-total lack of accountability is more dangerous than ever: Most cops today can pull out their weapons and fire without fear that anything will happen to them, even if they shoot someone wrongfully. All a police officer has to say is that he believes his life was in danger, and he’s typically absolved. What do you think that does to their psychology as they patrol the streets—this sense of invulnerability? The famous old saying still applies: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (And we still don’t know how many of these incidents occur each year; even though Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act 20 years ago, requiring the Justice Department to produce an annual report on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers,” the reports were never issued.)
It wasn’t any surprise to me that, after Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, officers instinctively lined up behind Darren Wilson, the cop who allegedly killed Brown. Officer Wilson may well have had cause to fire if Brown was attacking him, as some reports suggest, but it is also possible we will never know the full truth—whether, for example, it was really necessary for Wilson to shoot Brown at least six times, killing rather than just wounding him. As they always do, the police unions closed ranks also behind the officer in question. And the district attorney (who is often totally in bed with the police and needs their votes) and city power structure can almost always be counted on to stand behind the unions.
A lot of liberal folks like to laugh at the Republican candidates (not to mention closet Republican Andrew Cuomo) who respond to questions about climate change by blurting out. "I'm not a scientist!" But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie just proved that he not only is he not a scientist -- for a whole weekend he ignored the advice of the best medical experts on the planet -- but he's certainly not a rocket scientist, politically speaking.
Christie's bizarre imprisonment of the nurse and caretaker Kaci Hickox -- who arrived from taking care of Ebola patients in Africa at Newark International Airport and was confined to this tent (pictured above) despite testing free of the virus -- was one of the most bone-headed. tone-deaf and cowardly moves that I've seen recently by any politician...and that's saying a lot. Today, after a well-deserved public backlash, Hickox was allowed to return home to Maine.
Christie and his underlings have a knack for hindering the free movement of citizens -- have you already forgotten about the George Washington Bridge? -- and a knack for making dumb, arbitrary, authoritarian decisions. And Christie seems still hellbent on running for president in 2016? Can you imagine someone in the Oval Office making such rash, imperial decisions on a scale 50X larger? Me neither.
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Chicago for the Online News Association confab was seeing the announcement of a new award to permanently honor the memory of James Foley, the journalist who was taken hostage by Islamic militants in Syria and executed in a videotaped beheading earlier this year. I'm in awe of someone like Foley and his passion for wanting to inform and educate people about the world, fully aware that he was risking his life to do to so.
On Sunday, The New York Times spoke to other hostages released, escaped or rescued from the so-called Islamic State, to learn of their life in captivity and about what happened to Foley before he was killed. The treatment of the American hostage was even more brutal and barbaric than anyone could have imagined -- proof that those with alleged ambitions of a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East are really little more than two-bit murdering thugs and hoodlums. The Times reported:
The story of what happened in the Islamic State’s underground network of prisons in Syria is one of excruciating suffering. Mr. Foley and his fellow hostages were routinely beaten and subjected to waterboarding. For months, they were starved and threatened with execution by one group of fighters, only to be handed off to another group that brought them sweets and contemplated freeing them. The prisoners banded together, playing games to pass the endless hours, but as conditions grew more desperate, they turned on one another. Some, including Mr. Foley, sought comfort in the faith of their captors, embracing Islam and taking Muslim names.