As Alaska Notches 56 Years Since It Became a State, a Note on Ruth Gruber’s Role in the March to Statehood

On this date in 1959 Alaska became the US’s 49th State. Til then the Interior Department had a big hand in administering the territory, though there was also local government. Spanning 1941-46, Ruth Gruber—now 104, and the most senior living member of FDR administration—worked in the Cabinet-level department, and during that time served in Alaska as Secretary Harold Ickes’ Special Representative to the region. Her work there began in Spring 1941, a strategic place to be, especially when just six months later the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor. After Hawaii, Alaska was the US’s other key Pacific outpost. She was a natural for the role in Alaska, which she got at age 29, as Harold Ickes had read her 1937 book I Went to the Soviet Arctic, a travelogue she wrote after becoming the first journalist or scholar—Westerner or Soviet, male or female—to travel in Siberia and observe the country’s population centers above the Arctic Circle. She explains how she got that earlier opportunity—after a Letter of Introduction to Soviet specialists by the mentor and Arctic explorer Viljalmur Stefanson, in her terrific memoir Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent. One role she took on in Alaska was the establishment of homesteading in the vast land, anticipating especially the appeal the offer of land to settlers could have for US troops being demobilized as WWII ended. Her efforts helped lead ultimately to statehood, not even fifteen years following war’s end. You can read much more about Ruth’s career in her 18 books, 6 of which I helped her publish, many available nowadays from Open Road Integrated Media, and in my many blog posts about her, linked to here. Here she was photographed with local people.

A Welcome Rebuke of the NY Times by its Public Editor Prompts the Question “Why Does this Keep Happening?”

I’m glad the Public Editor at the NY Times Margaret Sullivan has harshly criticized the paper’s flawed reporting in a Dec 12 article that conflated and badly confused the messaging activity of the San Bernadino shooters with their social media posts, though I wonder with a rueful what good it will do now, with the false accusation already raised by Ted Cruz at Wednesday’s debate that the Obama admin had supposedly overlooked public posts showing a radical bent, when what the government didn’t know about were actually the conspirators’ private messages. The latter are a form of online expression that no surveillance methods under discussion in the United States would have seen, nor been able to prevent the plot from unfolding. One thing that might’ve prevented it—more hurdles to buying weapons and explosives—wasn’t even mentioned at the debate. Editors’ Note be damned, the Repubs will surely continue to use this falsehood to attack the president, Hillary, and all DEMs. The New York Times is so often infuriating and disappointing in its coverage. Its very importance, which I concede, makes it all the more important that they stop making errors like this, but they seem to happen every few weeks. You can read the original article at this link, which now has the Editors’ Note appended to it at the bottom; and Sullivan’s column at this one, or in the screenshots below. 

Why There Will Be No “‘Etch-A-Sketch’ Moment” for Donald Trump

Despite Donald Trump’s continuing defiance of political gravity, with poll numbers that continue making him the clear front-runner, I believe that even if he wins the Republican nomination—which does seem increasingly possible—the kind of extreme primary campaign he’s running, which seems likely to go all the way to the convention, will in the end next November 8 lead to a victory for the Democratic nominee. Winning the Republican nomination this year, after this ratcheting cascade of race-baiting, hate and belligerence, augurs a general election campaign in which Democrats will be able to once more successfully motivate and activate voter turnout among the wide and deep coalition that elected Pres Obama twice. It’s still possible, I guess, that all the norms of American politics are in the process of being reset by the mega-wattage of Trump’s celebrity, and there could be external events that influence the outcome, and I must account for the media’s infatuation to this point with Trump, but consider that this will not be a mid-term electorate, when Democrats do often fail to motivate its base. Also, despite Trump’s feints toward populism, like his disapproval of trade deals, which suggests he will try to poach on Democratic voters, on a key pocketbook issue, he opposes raising the minimum wage, and even said in a debate that he thinks wages are too high now.

To borrow a phrase from the 2012 campaign, if Mitt Romney was unable to execute an ‘etch-a-sketch’** moment, in which positions he took in the primary were not erased before the general election, as he and his campaign aides had hoped they would be—then Donald Trump, who makes Mitt Romney seem like Adlai Stevenson, sure as hell won’t be able to do this, either. No, if Trump’s at the top of the ticket, or Ted Cruz—who blogger Paul Waldman today suggests may, ironically, become the last hope of the futile Republican establishment—I believe Democrats will turn out in sufficiently huge numbers in the key states to deny Republicans the White House. It will definitely be an anxiety-producing year, but after all the noise, bluster, and severe social disruption, with media often failing to cover the stories and issues well, I believe that as the Republican candidates continue to plumb the basest parts of the American psyche, and worse ugliness, a Democrat will ultimately be elected president.

I must add two things before closing this post.

1) I think all the above means that the V-P selection by the DEM nominee will be extremely important, more so than most presidential years. Particularly if Trump is the opponent, the running mate will be the one tasked with parrying the daily insults, barbs, and baseless allegations made by him and his campaign. If Hillary is the nominee, for instance, we can anticipate the fulminations and barrage of accusations that would be uttered in stump speeches, high-profile convention moments, and in advertising. The same for Bernie Sanders, whose embrace of democratic socialism is sure to elicit emphasis on the second word, more than the first. I don’t want to begin naming possible picks for the candidates, as it’s premature, but will return to the topic later on this blog.

2) I know that you, dear reader, may think I am off-base in my analysis, or am overlooking important factors. I’ll add I know these issues have many facets. As the campaign continues, I may well alter my view of the essential dynamics prevailing in the race.

** This is what Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney campaign manager, told John Fugelsang on CNN, as reported by ABC News on March 12, 2012 [Source]: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.”

Helping People Feel Better During a Lousy Week

A Facebook post of mine that I published this past Thursday night, Nov 19, is having a very wide popularity, more than I anticipated when I put it up. I was inspired to share by Farzin Yousefian and Samantha Jackson, the Toronto couple pictured here who, before their recent marriage, decided to donate to a charity the money they’d up till then been planning to spend on a big wedding reception—enough money to sponsor a family of four Syrian refugees in Canada for one year. It’s had more than 800 1000 people ‘like’ it on Facebook, with 150 shares, from among my Facebook friends, of course, but also by people I don’t know. That’s because I choose to label my posts as ‘Public’ on Facebook, and not just for ‘Friends.’ Meantime, a link I’d created from the News article about their generosity, which I used to make the post, has been passed along nearly 1,500 more than 2,000 times Friday as of Sunday night. It’s elicited many kind comments, and one bigoted hater, whom we as a group rebutted and rebuffed. I see the reception for the post as a good-news story about a truly feel-good story, amid a week when so much malevolent violence and xenophobia was coursing through tmany countries, including the US and Canada.

I should add I label my posts as ‘Public’ on Facebook, because I don’t fear what other people may say, and I enjoy engaging with the occasional stranger who makes a comment about something I’ve shared, and quite often gain new followers this way. Only rarely does somebody like the hater today crop up. I had an internal debate, and a public one with a few friends on the thread about the bigot, as to whether I would leave up his vile pronouncements, or delete them. In the end, I blocked him, because it became clear he just wanted to fight with me and others on the thread, but I did leave up his remarks, and our rebuttals, as a record of one person’s mindset, and our collective response, in dedication and memoriam to all people suffering in war, especially civilians, non-combatants, who are suffering right now so much, fleeing perilous devastation at home. Thanks to all friends and new people who read the original Facebook post, and this blog post, which is sort of meta to the first. The funny thing is, had I thought of it Thursday night, I might’ve blogged about the couple, and drawn a lot of that traffic to my sites, but I seized on it for Facebook, and am really very glad I did.

Also, please note that friends and readers who want to, may donate to a fund organized by the couple. The money they donated of their own, plus funds from friends and family who followed their directive and contributed have mustered more than $17,000, when $27,000 is needed to settle and shelter a family of four in Toronto for one year. You may follow this link, then look for the drop down menu where it says, “Select a designation for your gift,” and look for “Samantha Jackson & Farzin Yousefian.” I just donated.

Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative Accepting the Hillman Prize for Public Interest Law

As a followup to my recent Storify post about the 2015 Sidney Hillman Foundation Prizes, here’s video of the moving speech by Death Row attorney Bryan Stevenson.

Jeb Panders to RW Jewish Donors, Says he Consults his Brother on Israel

Jeb Bush’s statement about GW Bush and Israel was basically a pander to his audience that he thought would land well with the fat cats in the room, where the host was Paul Singer, a sort of Sheldon Adelson wannabe. For much of the rest of the country, I believe it will come off as a weird sort of toxic brag, conjuring up nightmarish memories of the last Bush presidency. Here’s the Washington Post story on Jeb’s supposedly private meeting with those donors.

A Righteous Celebration of #SocialJustice and #AdvocacyJournalism at the Annual Hillman Prizes


Laird’s Applejack, an American Liquor Since 1698!

Fascinated to learn that Laird’s Applejack, a tasty liquor still available nowadays was made in the Americas beginning in 1698! In the fine print is also the info that around 1760 George Washington obtained the recipe and arranged to distill it for the imbibing citizens of Virginia. Producers of one of my fave TV shows, “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” could practically do product placement of Laird’s on their show! Please click on the headline above for a full post with pictures and a classic W.C. Fields comedy movie video clip.