Monthly Archives: February 2020

Downplaying the Coronavirus

The presumptive President of the United States, Donald Trump, says the Democrats are “politicizing” the coronavirus, that it’s “their new hoax” – that’s what he was saying at a rally yesterday in South Carolina. Of course, Trump isn’t our “presumptive” president at all, he’s for real in the role – and that could mean woe is us.

The President, of course, has placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating the federal response to the virus threat. From Trump’s tone yesterday, Pence shouldn’t have much to do, and we know that’s not the case at all.  The first death from the virus has just been reported in Washington State, And the virus appears to be spreading up and down the West Coast and heading inland.

Scoffing can be taken too far. Defenders of the President say he didn’t call the virus itself a hoax.  But if there were ever a time for choosing one’s words carefully, this is it and Trump spoke rather spitefully.

There are times when Trump’s handling of his nation-leading job seems as much prompted by whimsy as reality, and this is one of them.  We should be expecting more of the President – caution in the face of a health hazard that threatens us all. Yet the coronavirus is “the Democrats’ new hoax”. We couldn’t let that one pass by. That wouldn’t be fair to a nation whose apprehension is growing  over the prospect of the virus spreading from coast to coast.

Let’s hope it doesn’t, but let’s not downplay the possibility either.

One Company’s Stalwart Ministry

Nehemiah has a Biblical ring to it, yet the Nehemiah Manufacturing Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, doesn’t produce Bibles but a variety of household products, along with second chances for many of its workers.  The Wall Street Journal introduced many of us to Nehemiah recently under the headline “The Company of Second Chances”.

Another way of putting it is that, along with Downy and Febreze, Nehemiah deals in fairness. Workers with criminal records “make up around 80% of the company’s 180 employees,” the Journal reported. The staff includes a social-service worker “to helo employes with anything from finding housing to staying clean.”

How many companies have employees who have issues that may bear on their job performance but keep them to themselves? Probably a lot, but do they minister to them? Not very likely.

“Nehemiah’s hiring process typically includes q session with a member of the social service team who scrutinizes applicants’ histories and current support systems,” The Journal reports. “Applicants also sign a release that allows the team to contact the agencies that provide them with housing, drug treatment or other support.”

If this sounds like meddling in a job applicant’s life, it’s intended to bolster their prospects for holding a job and staying straight along the way. This caring approach my be catching on The Journal notes in a sidebar story on Nehemiam that “has tried to help other Cincinnati companies open their workforces to those with criminal pasts,” a role it had until this fall “when Nehemia handed the job to Cincinnati Works, a nonprofit.”

A relational approach to hiring and supervising employees isn’t only fair but is in everyone’s interest and should be standard among enlightened managements. It increases everyone’s chances of succeeding in trying times.

At a previous job, one employee “was escorted off the premises by armed guards after the company determined he had lied about his past.” On his first day at Nehemia, the company’s chief executive shook his hand.

If It’s In The New Yorker, It Must Be So (Or At Least Well-Written)

I’ve been a subscriber to The New Yorker magazine for 20 years or more. Earlier, my dad used to tell me about New Yorker writers he met as a bank manager on Times Square  (when The New Yorker was located there) and who sent their best wishes to me when I left home for college.

The New Yorker features simply great writing on a host of interesting subjects. In the current issue, the two pieces I’ve read so far are about the reenactment of Underground Railroad trips from the era of slavery and a discussion of whether Jeanne Calment really was the oldest person who ever lived when she died in France, at 122, in 1997.

The New Yorker is approaching its own centennial, having been founded by Harold Ross and his wife Jane Grant, a New York Times reporter, on February 21, 1925. “Ross,” advises Wikipedia, “famously declared in a 1925 prospectus for the magazine: ‘It has announced that it is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.'” It is, however, edited meticulously.

“Shortly after the end of World War II, John Hersey‘s essay Hiroshima filled an entire issue.” There was this editors’ note: ” “TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors.”

Yes, for scrupulous, occasionally historically conscious writing and editing, there’s no better place to turn than The New Yorker. It’s “host” is Eustace Tilley, the name given to the “19th century boulevardier languidly inspecting a passing butterfly through his monocle” who graced the cover of the first issue.


The Meaning of Fairness

So, just what is “fairness,” what does the term mean? We’re prompted to discuss that because we’ve come upon a website, The Patriot Post, that claims “the word ‘fair’ has become an all-purpose statement of moral superiority tinged with victimhood.”

That’s just not so. To us, fairness means equity, one of the terms The Patriot Post rules out. The term needs to be viewed in whatever context fairness is being considered – even-handed and due regard are synonyms. Fairness isn’t a child’s term of spite.

It’s important that we know our terms, that we have basic agreement on what we’re discussing. Fairness is a kind of moral gauge, L. Sun writes in his 2013 book, The Fairness Instinct. Even-handed treatment is instinctive in young people, until they get to feeling that they’re being crossed up by older people.

We view fairness as the hallmark of civility, a starting place for discussion,  listening and learning. “Maybe there is something to that” ought to be our reaction when we encounter a new point of view, one that merits closer listening, not a spiteful retreat. It’s a word requiring awareness, not hunkering down.

Fairness is thus a term worth burnishing (as in building a website around it). You don’t have to be Robin Hood, not at all, to be mindful of practicing it. “Stop, look and listen,” is how it begins, and it leads to justice and compassion.

Newspapers No Longer at Our Doorsteps

Grinding ever onward, no downward. That’s the fate of America’s newspaper industry, and perhaps the most trusted means of keeping the nation’s people informed. Now  McClatchey, the country’s second-largest newspaper chain, is filing for bankruptcy.

As these dire developments in print journalism continue, start counting the minutes of actual news on the nation’s evening television newscasts. We’d bet they’re declining too. Will it matter so much what actually happens in the nation – its cities and towns – if fewer and fewer people are reliably informed about the daily news?

Some of us used to deliver newspapers to customers’ doorsteps daily and Sunday and felt we were performing a service in doing so. We felt we were helping to hold our communities and, yes, the nation together. (And making some pocket money too.)

Yet here’s the Sacramento Bee, the newspaper that started the McClatchey chain, saying that the Chapter 11 filing will allow it to restructure its debts and, it hopes, “shed much of its pension obligations”. There are “10 pensioners for every single active employee – a reflection of another economic era.” Well, gee, somebody had to gather the news and get those newspapers out. What happens to them now? This is all beginning to sound  pretty ghastly.

And there, on the NiemanLab digital site, the bankruptcy story is accompanied by a YouTube video.

Does it matter what happens in public life if nobody is reading  about it, and barely listening either? Sounds like an information crisis exists, but who is to confirm that’s so?   A teenager on his bicycle hasn’t left that information on your doorstep, and won’t.

‘Without Fear or Favor’ – A Standard Impaired

Without fear or favor – that’s how justice is supposed to be administered in fairness to all. Yet more than 1,100 former officials of the U.S. Department of Justice, advises NPR, “are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign after his department lowered the prison sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump.” They must sense that something is amiss in the halls of justice, and so it seems to be.

Yet, despite the appearance of malpractice, President Trump still isn’t satisfied: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr,” he tweeted, “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”

“Taking charge” – That’s astounding, as all those retired Justice Department officials seem to agree: “To Julie Zebrak, who’s among the former DOJ officials who signed the letter, Barr’s behavior shatters a cardinal norm that has been in place for decades: that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions should not be influenced by the White House.”

In running a government like America’s, it’s both fair and expected that the rules of due procedure will be adhered to.  Yet Ms. Zebrak adds: “We are all watching in a really rapid and terrifying way the undermining of the department and the diminishment of the rule of law. We have to sort of speak up and speak out when we can.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment. That’s not fair, either, if there’s anything to be said for President Trump’s action. All sides deserve to be heard.