Monday, September 18, 2017

Going, Going, Gone


By Reginald Johnson

  A little bit of the spirit of Bridgeport died yesterday when the Bluefish played their last game here. My wife and I went to a number of games over the years, and whenever we did, we had a great time. We’d see old friends, make new ones, and often see some pretty good baseball. And there was always a happy ambiance --- lots of families with kids in their baseball uniforms cheering wildly for the Bluefish, fans jumping for joy when they caught foul balls, people laughing at the goofy Bluefish mascot or singing along when the loudspeaker would blare Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack!” when an opposing pitcher was driven  from the mound by a Bluefish rally.

   As others have pointed out, the coming of the Bluefish 20 years ago seemed to lift the morale of a city that had been demoralized by years of industrial plants leaving town, a general economic decline and City Hall corruption. The Bluefish were the perfect tonic for the Park City. People thronged to the “Ballpark at Harbor Yard” as Bluefish stadium was known in the early years and the team enjoyed great popularity.

 After a number of years there was a fall-off in attendance and there were reports the team was having financial struggles.  I don’t know all the details of the situation, but city officials were also reportedly concerned about the future financial viability of the team. The Bluefish paid rent to the city for use of the publicly owned stadium.

  Still, the team had a strong and loyal fan base and the team did pretty well over the years getting into the playoffs  a number of times in the Atlantic Coast League and winning a championship. It was a point of pride for Bridgeporters and fans in the area to say ‘we have our own professional baseball team – the Bluefish.’

A Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game in August

   But Mayor Joe Ganim, returning for a second go-round as mayor after serving a term in prison for corruption carried out during his first stint as the city leader in the 1990s,  apparently felt that the Bluefish did not have a great financial future and the city might do better using the stadium site for something else. It all came to a head early this year when the city put out a request for proposals for use of the stadium and indicated that the use could either be baseball or some other entertainment. The Ganim administration eventually accepted a plan from a concert promoter who has proposed a series of concerts at the stadium. The proposal still has to be accepted by the City Council.

   The city may have had legitimate financial concerns about the future viability of the Bluefish staying in Bridgeport, but it is not clear whether the plan for more concerts in the city is really a sound idea, either. For one thing the Webster Bank Arena already hosts concerts and officials there have indicated they may have legal issues with the new plan for concerts at Harbor Yard. Also, it should be noted that the concerts at Seaside Park that went on for a number of years called The Gathering of the Vibes had to be ended a couple years ago because the promoters were way behind in their payments to the city for use of the park.

   I have to admit I am partial to baseball, so the idea of a new concert site in the city in place of baseball just doesn’t grab me.  It seems to me that more could’ve been done to try to save the Bluefish and keep them from leaving Bridgeport. Possibly some creative means could’ve been brought into play such as having the University of Bridgeport take over the use of the stadium and participate in a different payment plan with the Bluefish to the city. The UB baseball team already uses the Bluefish field for its games.

   I didn’t get the impression that Mayor Ganim was at all sentimental about having to part ways with the Bluefish, which is too bad. It’s also ironic since it was Ganim --- in his first go round as mayor who brought the Bluefish to Bridgeport as part of a redevelopment plan for the South End.  While Ganim did a lot wrong in his first tenure as mayor one of the things he did right was bringing in the baseball team and the arena.  Now, sadly, it is Ganim who is letting the Bluefish go. The man who brought in the Bluefish didn’t seem to understand in the end how much the team had come to mean to its fans and the city.

   So the word is the Bluefish may now move on to some city in North Carolina, although the details of a move have not been finalized.

Now I know in a small way how the fans felt in Brooklyn when the Dodgers left town in 1958. It’s a sad day for Bridgeport.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blocking Detente

By Reginald Johnson


   There’s a possibility for making a better relationship between the United States and Russia, but the knives are out.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met last week in Hamburg, Germany and had what appeared to be a very constructive meeting. The two discussed a range of issues including the war in Syria, the battle against terrorism, cyber security and the charges of Russian meddling in the US presidential election last year.

    The two leaders were able to strike an agreement for a cease-fire in a section of Syria and coordinate with each other in the battle against ISIS. They agreed to disagree on the claim of Russian hacking.

   According to Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, the Trump-Putin  meeting may augur a new day in Russia-US relations.

  Cohen said the meeting represented a “potentially historic new détente, anti-Cold War partnership begun by Trump and Putin.”  He noted that the relations between the two nuclear-armed superpowers are at their lowest point in decades.

  “What we saw today was potentially the most fateful meeting between an American and Russian president since the wartime (World War II),"  said Cohen, who witnessed the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings in the 1980s.  “The reason is the relationship between the US and Russia is so dangerous.”

   But Cohen, speaking on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox television on Friday,  hours after the meeting, cautioned that the proposed new partnership will likely come under “vicious attack.”

   How right he was. Over the next few days there was a fierce pushback. On Sunday,  three longtime critics of Trump and Russia took to the airwaves to criticize Trump’s performance in Hamburg and blast the idea of a partnership.

  Neo-con senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said it made no sense to forge a new agreement with Russia without punishing Russia first for the alleged cyber attacks in the US election last fall.

  They and others keep insisting that Russian responsibility for the hacking is flat fact, despite serious doubts raised by a number of cyber experts, the fact that the report on the hacking was done not by the FBI but by a company hired by the Democratic National Committee,  the fact that the company’s  chief technical officer is an anti-Putin Russian émigré and the fact that a full National Intelligence Estimate on the hacking,  involving all 17 intelligence agencies, was never done (contrary to assertions by many politicians and the media).

  Speaking on the NBC show “Meet the Press,” Graham said Trump gave a “terrific speech” in Poland earlier in the week on his European trip, but then had what he called a  “disastrous meeting” with Putin in Germany.   The senator said the president has a “blind spot” on Russia and his attitude that we should  “forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber attacks is to empower Putin and that is exactly what he is doing.”

  McCain criticized Trump’s tweet over the weekend that he “looked forward to working constructively with the Russians” --- actually, a thoroughly laudable goal, in my view.

  But McCain demanded that Putin must pay a stiff price for the claimed hacking. “Otherwise he’ll be encouraged to do it again,” he said.

  John Brennan, former director of the CIA, also appeared on “Meet the Press” and made similar criticisms about the alleged hacking and Trump’s seeming soft attitude towards it.

   ( I have to digress a bit here. It’s amazing how discredited figures like Brennan can be trotted out by NBC to weigh in as esteemed authorities on issues of law and proper behavior. Under Brennan , the CIA conducted drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that killed many civilians --- a breach of international law. The agency also used unlawful interrogation techniques, including torture, in dealing with prisoners in the years following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. When a Senate committee began investigating the torture claims, the CIA was reluctant to cooperate and in fact spied on the Senate staff investigators by hacking  (yes, hacking!)  into their computers. But now those days are over and Brennan is suddenly an expert analyst on TV, inveighing against hacking by Russia.)

 As typified by the “Meet the Press” show hosted by Chuck Todd --- who did not bring in a guest who offered a more favorable view of Trump’s Hamburg meeting – the media coverage of the Hamburg meeting, Putin and Russia in general has been decidedly negative.

   On Friday evening, NBC reporter Richard Engel hosted a show called “On Assignment” which presented a scathing, and very one-sided report on Putin and Russia. Basically, he and the guests on the show portrayed Russia as a criminal state where Putin operated as a Mafia boss working with wealthy oligarchs. The show described numerous mysterious killings that have taken place in Russia and outside, in which dissidents and government critics have been murdered. Some of the stories were chilling and had the ring of truth.

However, Engel presented little in the way of countervailing theories in his piece on  the various murders as well as the bombing of an apartment building which killed hundreds of people, and which critics say was ordered by Putin. Government officials were not given any chance to rebut the claims of illegality. Putin was painted from beginning to end as a brutal killer who can’t be trusted.

While some of the claims of Russian government criminality may be true, I have to be skeptical when a reporter is portraying a person or officials as having committed acts of gross illegality or murder but does not bother to give the accused a chance to respond.

 Given the one-sided presentation and the timing of the show --- aired on the evening of the day of the Trump-Putin meeting – the show came across as a hit piece designed to undermine any notion that working with Russia or Putin was a worthwhile goal.

  The avalanche of criticism of Trump and Putin from both Republicans and Democrats continued on Monday on shows like MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  hosted by bitter Trump critics Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski.

So the demonization of Russia, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump goes on, undermining the prospects of a more positive and less dangerous relationship between the superpowers. Given the size of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals and the areas of the world that could be flashpoints for conflict between the U.S. and Russia, like Syria and Ukraine, that is a shame.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

US Mayors: Cut Military Spending

By Reginald Johnson

 Mayors around the country are rallying against President Trump’s federal budget plan, which slashes funding for social services and urban needs, while increasing the military budget.

The United States Conference of Mayors, which represents hundreds of small and large cities,  recently passed several resolutions which demand that Congress oppose Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in military spending and instead put the money back into human needs including housing, education, health care and job creation.

  “Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the United States Conference of Mayors urges the United States Congress to move our tax dollars in exactly the opposite direction proposed by the president, from militarism to human and environmental needs,” said the resolution.

  A second resolution, introduced by New Haven, CT Mayor Toni Harp, calls on the mayors of each of the member cities to promptly hold public hearings that examine what each city department  needs to carry out their goals and what they could accomplish if funds were available that now go to the military.

 That resolution also urges legislative bodies in all cities to pass resolutions “calling on our federal legislators and the US government to move significant funds away from the military budget to human needs.”

  A number of mayors around the country in recent weeks have expressed concern about the negative impact that the Trump $4.1 trillion budget plan for 2018 would have on their communities. The budget proposal calls for deep cuts in funds for Medicaid, food stamps, education, environmental protection and housing. The budget would wipe out some programs altogether, such as the community development block grant, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, for instance, said the budget would have a “hugely negative impact” on the city. New York stands to lose some $912 million in federal aid, if the budget is approved.

Several peace organizations, including the US Peace Council and CODEPINK reacted enthusiastically to the action by the US Conference of Mayors.

  “The Peace Council applauds the resolve of major city mayors to dramatically cut the US military budget and to take the funds saved to provide money for jobs education, housing, transportation, seniors, youth, rebuild our roads, bridges public transportation and much more,” said Henry Lowendorf of the US Peace Council.

  “The mayors understand how pouring the wealth of our great country into building war machines and waging wars around the globe does not make us more secure. To the contrary, this gigantic military budget is strangling our country and the many unnecessary wars only generate death, destruction and enemies.” said Lowendorf, who chairs the Greater New Haven Peace Council.

  Medea Benjamin, of CODEPINK,  said “We are very excited that the entire US Conference of Mayors, from major metropoles such as New York City and Los Angeles to small rural townships, understand that the resources being sucked up by the Pentagon to wage endless wars overseas should be used to address our crumbling infrastructure, the climate crisis and poverty at home and abroad. Congress and the Trump administration should listen to these mayors, as they reflect the needs and hopes of their constituents, not the greed of corporate donors.”

   New Haven’s Board of Alders earlier this year passed a resolution calling on Congress to reduce the appropriation for defense and divert that money into human and social needs. New Haven is one of a number cities and towns around the country that have passed such resolutions.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Activists to Blumenthal: Stop Supporting War

By Reginald Johnson

      HARTFORD --- A coalition of peace activists is criticizing U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn for supporting President Trump’s recent decision to launch a missile attack on Syria.

    Members of the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition recently submitted petitions to Sen. Blumenthal’s office saying that the attack only served to kill more people, make more enemies and contribute to more terrorism.

   “Your support for President Trump’s bombing emboldens the recklessness of military escalation. It emboldens Trump’s wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. It enables Trump to threaten war with North Korea, China, Russia and the world,” the petition said.
  The group also wrote that by endorsing the missile strikes, Blumenthal was “in actuality” supporting Trump’s proposal to expand the approximately $600 billion military budget by $54 billion. This means more war and less money for social programs like Meals on Wheels, school lunches, food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, they said.

   “Bombing abroad kills us at home,” the petition reads.

   The statement implores Blumenthal to "Stop Supporting Wars" and "Fund Our Cities."

Peace activists confront Sen. Richard Blumenthal over his support for Syrian missile strikes.

 President Trump ordered the missile strike on April 7 in response to what the administration claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” by the Assad government in Syria days earlier that killed more than 100 people.

  Trump’s decision to launch the strike --- consisting of 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean at a Syrian airfield --- has won bi-partisan support.

  Blumenthal issued a statement saying that the U.S. attack “sent a message to the murderous Assad regime and his enablers, Russia and Iran.”

    However, the senator did question the legality of the missile strike, since there was no congressional authorization and also noted that the administration needed a broader strategy for dealing with Syria.

   Days after the American strike, members of the coalition decided to protest outside Blumenthal’s office at Statehouse Square and submit the petitions.  The senator heard about the activists gathering and came outside for a brief meeting with the group before he headed off for another appointment.

   Blumenthal listened politely to various comments questioning the U.S. assault, but gave no ground.

  Steve Krevisky, a professor at Middlesex Community College told Blumenthal he was skeptical about the claim that Syrian government forces were responsible for the chemical attack. He noted that initial claims that Assad had used chemical weapons in 2013 --- which nearly prompted an American military response at that time --- were proven wrong after an investigation.

  Blumenthal commented, however, that “there is a lot of evidence” that Assad was guilty this time.

 Henry Lowendorf, of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, also said how the Iraq war – which left hundreds of thousands dead, millions of people displaced and spawned ISIS terrorism ---  was based on the false assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

  “We’re not getting the truth,” he said.

  He also lamented the fact that Congress keeps paying for massive military appropriations, which underwrite the cost of wars.

  “You can’t say stop the wars as long as Congress keeps signing the checks,” he said. 

   “Right,” said Blumenthal, then saying “believe it or not, I have another appointment to go to.”

  The senator said he was glad he had a chance to speak with the group and then left.

Demanding an end to U.S. intervention in Syria

  Asked later how he felt the impromptu meeting with Blumenthal had gone, Lowendorf said, “I think Senator Blumenthal listened to us as best he could, but I don’t think he hears us. I think what he hears is the military-industrial complex, and that’s what he supports.”

   Krevisky said that going forward, “we need to be out there mobilizing” against war. “A lot of us were part of the Vietnam era protests, and they had a very big impact. We need to be out there in large numbers. A lot of us feel that way and that’s why we set up the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition, to achieve something like that.”
(The next meeting of the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition is Saturday, May 13, 10 a,m.-12 noon in the student lounge at Middlesex Community College in Middletown. For information contact Joe Wasserman at, or Steve Krevisky at or Henry Lowendorf at