42 and 44: American Pioneers

‘You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson challenged Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey.

“No, I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back,” said Rickey.

Jackie Robinson, whose uniform No. 42 was retired by Major League Baseball, died Oct. 24, 1972. The first African-American major-leaguer’s ability to turn the other cheek to abuse and bigotry when he broke into baseball after World War II paved the way for other black ballplayers.

Sixty-two years later, our first African-American president followed a similar path. Barack Obama, president No. 44, knew that while America made progress in tolerance over decades and might be ready for a black leader, it wasn’t going to tolerate an “angry black man” as president.

Both Obama and Robinson had to endure bigotry-driven versions of “You don’t belong here!” From Newt Gingrich suggesting Obama might have a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview to Sarah Palin mocking Obama’s “shuck and jive,” many Republicans used thinly veiled racism to attack him. Was the birther movement anything but bigotry? Obama’s birth in Hawaii was never in question until he ran for president, when a relentless demand for his “real” birth certificate sprang forward, led by Donald Trump.

Frustrated that Obama didn’t retaliate strongly enough, some liberals were clueless as well. It wasn’t because Obama was weak. It was because he refused to be baited into an angry retort, thus increasing his chances of defeat in 2012.

Nearly 70 years after becoming the first African-American in Major League Baseball, Robinson is remembered as a class act on and off the field, a man who played the game with grace.

And today, as the clock winds down to the presidential election, it’s time to recognize the grace and dignity shown by Barack Obama, the Jackie Robinson of U.S. presidents. Whatever our political beliefs, we should appreciate the class he has shown throughout his tenure.

Mr. President, your taking the high road in the face of ignorance and bigotry will be remembered long after all of us are gone. Thank you.

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What If Columbus Met Native Lives Matter?

In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue . . .

That’s probably the last carefree verse ever written about Christopher Columbus. After intense lobbying by leading NYC Italian-Americans, Congress proclaimed today — Oct. 12 — a federal holiday in 1937 called Columbus Day.

Since then, Columbus’ legacy has come under scrutiny. Depending on your age, background and education, the name Columbus conjures up an image of a man who a) discovered America; b) discovered the Bahamas; c) discovered a group of unsuspecting natives he could exploit and terrorize; d) discovered the three-day weekend.

Did Columbus discover America, or did he invade it? In 2016, descriptions of Columbus run all over the map from visionary to America’s first terrorist.

When Columbus encountered the Taino natives of Hispaniola (he never set foot on our mainland), the explorer forced them into slavery and made them collect gold under the threat of mutilation or death.

Yet we still honor his name. It would take an act of Congress to eliminate Columbus Day as an official holiday. Many have backed off from the celebration as the explorer’s less heroic deeds have become more widely known. Hawaii and Alaska, which have large native populations, don’t recognize the day, while South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead.

Meanwhile, some U.S. cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It wasn’t long ago that American Indians were portrayed in movies and other media as godless savages. Columbus recorded in his diaries that Tainos “would easily be made Christians because it seemed to me they had no religion.”

Today, many people question the Black Lives Matter movement. “Don’t all lives matter?” they challenge. Of course they do. But what if there had been a Native Lives Matter when Columbus arrived? Things would have been different if the natives had political savvy. But they were innocents.

While most recognize today that minorities aren’t lesser peoples to dominate, too many still ignore that truth. That’s why Black Lives Matter exists. And that’s why Columbus Day celebrations will likely soon be a thing of the past.

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Will Bad Mike Show Up for Sunday’s Second Debate?

This Sunday, Donald Trump will try to rectify his lackluster performance at the first presidential debate.

Of course, it wasn’t Trump’s fault.

“They gave me a defective mike!” Trump complained to reporters. “I wonder—was that on purpose?”

Trump might be on to something__there were some issues with his microphone. Indeed, the word salad coming from his lips could only be caused by a technical glitch, or yes, sabotage!

Like a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy, the distorted mike (or mic, if you prefer) spewed all kinds of nonsense that Trump couldn’t possibly have meant to say. For example, when discussing the taxes that pay for our military, roads and health care, Trump’s statement that “good citizens pay their taxes” came out sounding like “not paying taxes makes me smart.”

When he expressed sympathy for the millions of Americans who lost their homes when the housing bubble burst, it sounded like he was happy about it because he could profit from their misery.

And when he talked about ISIS, which has existed for about a decade, it sounded like he was saying Hillary Clinton has been fighting ISIS “her entire adult life,” which is about half a century.

Bad mike!

But that’s not all.

The mike started making him sound nearly illiterate. When Trump said “I’m going to cut taxes bigly,” many wondered if that’s even a real word. But his son Eric helpfully explained afterward that his dad said he will cut taxes “big league,” not “bigly.”

Once again, bad, bad mike! How bad? A “hot mike” usually means it’s on, but not at the last debate. Trump’s mike was literally hot, making the poor guy sniffle, sweat bullets and consume gallons of water.

Who would do such a thing? It might have been the mysterious 400-pound man lying in bed that Trump said during the last debate might have hacked the Democratic National Committee. Who knows?

So if you see an obese gentleman lurking around the stage on Sunday with what looks like either a microphone or a meatball sandwich tucked under his arm and it’s not Chris Christie, you’ll realize that, despite what many, many people are telling me, Donald Trump is definitely not paranoid.

Definitely not.

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Robots, Self-Driving Cars and You

 Oh my God, the robots are taking over! We’re doomed__doomed!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s become clear that while we may or may not be doomed, the robots are indeed taking over. The latest example is the government’s recently released guidelines for self-driving cars.

Tesla, Google and Uber already have test versions of their driverless cars on the road in cities across America. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is among those predicting that by the year 2021, self-driving cars will dominate in urban settings, according to USA Today.

Nearly 40,000 died last year in this nation in automobile-related accidents, and President Obama believes driverless cars can save tens of thousands of lives annually.

Makes sense. Robot drivers are less likely to get drunk, drive without a license, text while driving or rubberneck at the scene of a pileup. On the other hand, I wonder how these hypersensitive cars will react in NYC, with jaywalkers constantly darting into the street. Will they be jamming on the brakes every 10 seconds?

But there’s obviously a bigger picture here. Not only are robots replacing humans behind the wheel, but behind the work desk, in warehouses, senior homes, you name it.

Robots aren’t just taking over in the workplace. If only. As songwriter Steve Goodman prophetically wrote years ago, “there are those who make love to machines, that don’t talk back and are easy to clean.” Men’s Health Magazine recently ran an article entitled “Why This Guy Fell in Love with a Sex Robot.”

The real question is, where can’t a robot function better than a human? How about writing songs? A robot can go through every combination of notes in record time and come up with a pleasing melody. The lyrics might be a different story. Is a Grammy-winning song co-written by Hank Human and R-3071 in our future?

Finally, I believe it’s only a matter of time until we have robot politicians and presidential candidates. Why not? They can be programmed to be experts in world and domestic affairs and come up with optimum solutions, without the corruption and demagoguery.

Actually, it’s too bad such technology isn’t available in 2016. Pretty sure the robot would win in a landslide.




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Sneak Preview of Trump-Clinton Debate

Threatening to draw Super Bowl-sized ratings, the long-awaited first presidential debate of 2016 arrives Monday. Moderator Lester Holt of NBC News will offer six topic segments, then let the candidates duke it out.

According to their track records, the debate should go something like this:

Holt: The first subject health care. Mr Trump, why don’t you start?

Trump: Hillary, are you dying? You look lousy. What’s wrong?

Clinton: I feel nauseous every time you speak.

Trump: I feel nauseous every time I look at you.

Clinton: I’ll bet you say that to all the girls.

Trump: Not at all. My Melania’s a 10.

Clinton: Are you talking looks or IQ?

Holt: That’s enough! Health care! What will you do about Obamacare, Mr. Trump?

Trump: I will abolish it.

Holt: And replace it with what?

Trump: Something much better.

Holt: Such as? Be specific.

Trump: Something terrific.

Holt: Secretary Clinton?

Clinton: I will keep and enhance it, and include a public option allowing those under 65 to buy into Medicare. I’ll also urge Congress to pass funding to fight the Zika virus.

Trump: Boring!

Clinton: Oh, and that’s right, increasing funding for the mentally ill.

Holt: Let’s move on to international issues. What would you do about Aleppo? Mr Trump?

Trump: I feel terrible for those who have contracted Aleppo. It’s a serious disease. But I plan to build the greatest, hugest Aleppo colony the world has ever seen.

Clinton: Hah! Aleppo is a city!

Trump: I knew that. I’m kidding. Humorless Hillary!

Holt: Mr Trump, you have called Russian President Vladimir Putin a great leader. You do know that he locks up political opposition and murders journalists who write something he doesn’t like?

Trump: Like I said, a great leader.

Clinton: He was KGB!

Trump: The rapper? Even if he did all these things you say, which people tell me isn’t true, if he compliments me, I’m not supposed to compliment him back?

Clinton: Exactly!

Trump: That’s very rude.

Clinton: What’s rude is invading Ukraine.

Trump: Never happened.

Clinton: It did so.

Trump: Did not.

Holt: On that note, I’m afraid our time is up. Thanks to Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton for appearing, and God help us all.

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The Know Nothing Party Reborn?

How would you feel if you drove into a gas station and asked the mechanic to fix your carburetor, and he answered, “What’s a carburetor?”

That’s exactly how those who are dissatisfied with their presidential choices this year and considering voting for a third party now feel. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson recently revealed himself to be clueless on one of the most important issues of our time.

Johnson is desperate to get to 15 percent in the polls so he can participate in the presidential debates (the first is on Sept. 26). So, he broke the hearts of many who viewed him as a viable option when he answered a query about war-torn Aleppo, Syria, where refugees are trying to escape to other nations.

Proving that ingesting large quantities of pot might not be the ideal preparation for a presidential run, Johnson replied to a question about his solution to the crisis in Aleppo with, “What is Aleppo?”

Hello? Our next president should be familiar with that city, and its situation and implications for us. But the sad truth is, Johnson isn’t alone in his ignorance.

Donald Trump continues to reassure us about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, saying his pal Putin “is not going into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down!”

When Trump promised this, Putin had already stormed into Ukraine.

Just as you’d want to trust the knowledge and ability of your car mechanic or surgeon before engaging their services, shouldn’t you seek the same level of comfort in the person to whom you are about to turn over the nuclear codes?

But this year’s candidates are not making it easy. Even Hillary Clinton, who usually comes across as the know-it-all nerd in the class, recently vowed that, “We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again.” More than 4,600 troops are already stationed there.

So on Sept. 26, let’s see debate moderator Lester Holt pin the candidates down on basic facts and issues, and not let them squirm out of answering. Trump wants to dump Obamacare and Clinton wants to enhance it — but where are their specific plans? How will they deal with growing U.S. income inequality?

And yes, what will they do about Aleppo?

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From Trauma to Hope: A Child of 9-11’s Journey

Can it really be 15 years since 9/11?

On Sunday, we honor those who lost their lives that terrible morning. Meanwhile, many surviving first responders continue to suffer with illnesses linked to Ground Zero exposure.

But all the victims and survivors weren’t in the towers. And all weren’t adults.

Helaina Hovitz was 12 years old when she stepped out of IS 89, just blocks from the WTC, into a living hell.

Her mom worked at Rockefeller Center and dad in Staten Island, and neither could make it downtown to get her. When her neighbor Ann dashed in to pick up her son, Helaina begged, “Take me with you, please.”

The three bolted through the school doors to blinding smoke, falling bodies, and crumbling towers, as Ann told the kids to cover their faces and run for their lives.

With crews digging through rubble and the air still toxic, IS 89 was no longer safe. When Helaina and her friends were shipped to a school uptown, its students couldn’t understand why planes flying overhead made their new classmates so jumpy. One day, a passing truck loudly backfired, and the IS 89 group ran or hit the ground. “The other kids just stared at us like we were crazy,” Hovitz recalls.

The reporters soon found the displaced kids. “Did you see people jumping?” they’d demand of the traumatized children, waving microphones at them.

As she moved through her teens, Hovitz tried to muffle the panicked voices in her head with drugs and alcohol, drifting into abusive relationships and paranoia. Eventually, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

With help and resilience, Hovitz eventually dug her way out, and became a journalist highlighting positive stories. She recently launched a news service called Headlines for the Hopeful, and her book, “After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey Through Darkness to a New Beginning,” describes her decade-long spiral into addiction and battle to heal.

Although Hovitz seems to have emerged on the other side intact, her PTSD is triggered in times of stress.

“I know that as much as ‘fear’ can stand for ‘false evidence appearing real,’ ” she says, “it can also stand for ‘face everything and recover.’ ”

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Labor Day Isn’t Just About Ribs and R&R

What comes to mind when you think of Labor Day? Summer ending? Barbeque? Football season fast approaching?

All are valid. But how about working people’s rights, dignity and fair wages that many of your ancestors fought so hard to achieve?

Maintaining those rights is why now, over 100 years after the first Labor Day Parade in NYC, people still march all over the nation. In 1882, unionists proposed a day be set aside to honor working people. Today we salute that tradition.

It’s become trendy to knock unions, and some of them deserve knocking. But before the union movement, this nation was cursed with sweatshops, child labor, and other horrid working conditions that plagued America in the early 20th century.

Many workers had their skulls cracked open marching for fair wages and decent treatment on the job. Today, even those Americans who never belonged to a union benefit from the reforms they achieved.

Meanwhile, some politicians belittle these contributions and seem intent on destroying unions and the protections they offer.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has relentlessly demonized and crippled his states’ unions, virtually ending collective bargaining for teachers, sanitation workers and other employees.

It’s no accident that income inequality has risen as union membership has declined. An Economic Policy Institute Report released last week shows that the share of men in unionized private sector jobs plunged from 34% in 1979 to 10% today.

Many feel that the economic deck is stacked against them and income inequality has spiraled out of control__ and they’re not wrong.

Those marching in this year’s Labor Day parades just want to see cops, teachers, nurses and other working men and women get a fair shake. They don’t take sick days, fair pay, and safe conditions in the workplace for granted. They know that without constant vigilance, they can easily disappear once again.

So if you’re at a barbeque, the beach, or just relaxing in the backyard today, take a moment to think about the real meaning of Labor Day.

Those who sacrificed their bodies, jobs and livelihoods so you could have this day off to relax and enjoy life.

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Summer Bugs New Yorkers in So Many Ways

Look up in the sky. Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a flying roach!

If you’re a city lover who says you’d only move when cockroaches fly, better start packing. This hot, humid summer has enabled the roaches to spread their wings (yes, they have wings) and take flight.

“With more heat, they have more use of their muscles,” American Museum of Natural History bug expert Louis Sorkin explained to the website DNAinfo. “The more activity, the more flight.”

Cockroaches are amazingly hardy and athletic, as any New Yorker who has turned on a bathroom light and seen one scramble in zig-zag patterns that a football running back would envy can attest.

While a rarity here, flying American cockroaches are often seen in more humid areas such as Florida, where they’re known as palmetto bugs. (Sounds much better, doesn’t it?) They fly up to palmetto and palm trees in search of food. In NYC, all they have to do is glide over to a local trash can.

Sorkin has spotted local flying roaches in the museum’s basement. Have you seen any yet?

Speaking of strange critters, a woman strolled onto the D train last week and tried to sell riders live crickets and worms. After a group of teenagers jostled her, she supposedly lost it, according to the New York Post, tossing the crickets and worms into the air. When they landed on some passengers, all hell broke loose.

Then some genius pulled the emergency brake. Now they were stuck for a half an hour on the Manhattan Bridge, as the AC shut down and sweaty passengers went berserk. Didn’t I see this movie? Who let these (expletive) crickets loose on this (expletive) train?

The cricket and worm lady “started banging on the doors and trying to climb out the windows,” rider Chris Calabrese told the Post. “Everyone had crickets on their arms. My girlfriend was crying.”

A half hour later, the cootie express pulled into Brooklyn’s DeKalb Avenue station, and the cops removed the woman, who later claimed to be an actress pulling a “prank,” from the train. Yep, just another day on the subway.

Hang in there. Counting down to Labor Day.

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Take This Job and…Wait, Not So Fast!

Think your job is lousy? Believe me, it could be worse.

Take it from Sokunbi Olufemi of CWA Local 1182, which represents NYC traffic agents. “Our members get assaulted almost every single day,” Olufemi told dnainfo.com of the agents, whose average income is $30,000 a year.

Last week, two traffic agents were pelted with eggs by a finance worker when they ticketed his Lexus parked on a Williamsburg street. He then challenged the agents to a fistfight, but ran off and hid in a nearby building when they called the cops. Mr. Lexus came running back out in a panic when a tow truck arrived. Fun job, huh?

Or you could be a NYC cabdriver. Talk about high stress. Try maneuvering around potholed streets and dealing with drunken passengers who take off without paying the fare — or puke in your backseat.

The NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission last month voted to limit the number of hours a driver can work to 12 a day, or 72 hours a week. “We don’t have a long day every day,” taxi driver Nino Hervias protested to The New York Times, although he admitted to recently starting work at 6 a.m. and driving straight through to 11 p.m.

One job you probably wouldn’t want is being a NYC sanitation worker — especially when dodging vermin and handling garbage in 90-degree heat. But don’t answer too quickly. While the starting salary is a modest $33,746 a year, it jumps to $69,339 after only 5½ years.

Those in private sanitation are really hauling it in, with some earning wages in six figures — and up. Earlier this year, Noel Molina, who works as a driver for Crown Container, told CNN Money he earned $112,000 in 2015.

Molina dropped out of school in the 10th grade. His helper Tony Sankar (who rides the back of the truck and makes a mere $100,000)  also never graduated. “Guys who went to college might not earn the kind of money I make on the back of a garbage truck,” Sankar notes with a smile.

Meanwhile, cabbies continue to drive to exhaustion trying to eke out a living, while traffic agents continue to be regularly abused. “I’ve seen my workers with blood all over,” Olufemi told dnainfo.com. “It’s crazy. We need more protection.”

Maybe your job isn’t so bad after all.

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