The New York Times
William Bernbach, a titan of Madison Avenue who died in 1982, said, "If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic." The spinmeisters for Ram trucks must have taken Mr. Bernbach’s admonition to heart. With a Super Bowl commercial that used as its soundtrack a sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years earlier to the day, they got the notice they wanted. Much of the reaction, though, amounted to a richly deserved thumbs-down.
The sermon was Dr. King’s "Drum Major Instinct" speech, given in Atlanta in 1968 two months before his assassination. Everybody, he said, had this instinct — "a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first." But it had to be harnessed, he said as he went on to equate greatness with service to others. Ostensibly, the Ram commercial was an appeal for people to serve. But who’s kidding whom? The goal was to sell trucks, with Dr. King’s voice as pitchman.
The sheer crassness led to instant condemnation on social media, including speculation about what might be next — maybe trotting out James Baldwin to hawk "The Firestone Next Time"? Critics were hardly mollified by word that Ram had the blessing of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser of Dr. King’s estate. The estate has not always been his staunchest guardian against posthumous commercialization.
It might serve history a tad more faithfully to note other appeals that Dr. King made in that Feb. 4, 1968, sermon. For one thing, he was appalled by the way many people went into hock to buy vehicles they couldn’t possibly afford: "So often, haven’t you seen people making $5,000 a year and driving a car that cost 6,000? And they wonder why their ends never meet."
While we’re at it, he also didn’t think highly of advertising gurus — "you know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion." He continued: "They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love, you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff."
For that matter, Dr. King might well have been talking about a president a half-century in the future when he expounded on the need to rein in the drum major instinct, for otherwise it becomes "very dangerous" and "pernicious."
"Have you ever heard people that, you know — and I’m sure you’ve met them — that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves?" he said. "And they just boast and boast and boast. And that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct."
In the sermon’s finale, Dr. King said that he thought about his own death and funeral. It led to these ringing words: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."
He did not ask to be a huckster for a line of trucks.
The Orange County (California) Register
President Trump’s decision to keep open the Guantanamo Bay detention facility might score him some political points with those under the wrong impression that the facility is actually valuable to American national security, but it is fundamentally wrong.
Framing this policy at the State of the Union address as delivering on a campaign promise to keep the facility open, Trump’s move reverses a 2009 executive order signed by President Obama to close Guantanamo, the Cuban outpost where nearly 800 men over the course of its operation have been detained, but which now holds just 41.
The decision unfortunately does nothing more than reaffirm American commitments to a facility that is not only fraught with a legacy of torture and human rights abuses, but which is also demonstrably ineffective for American national security purposes.
As the past nearly two decades have shown, the facility is poorly situated for getting much done. According to Human Rights Watch, of the 780 men who have been held at the Guantanamo base, 731 were ultimately released without charges. Of the eight people convicted by military commissions, three saw their convictions overturned and three others were at least partially invalidated.
According to the organization Human Rights First, of the 41 detainees left at the Cuban facility, 23 are not currently charged with anything and are being held indefinitely, 10 are to be tried in military commissions, five have been cleared for release and only three have been convicted.
From a simple financial perspective, the facility makes little sense. More than $6 billion has been spent to operate the Guantanamo lockup, while only a handful of detainees have ever been convicted by military commissions or federal courts. This contrasts with hundreds of people — 443 as of 2014 — convicted on terrorism charges and held in American federal prisons.
At a cost of over $440 million a year to operate, it is difficult to see how keeping the facility going makes very much sense when federal courts and prisons can do a better job at lower cost while also being more consistent with international norms and what should be American values with respect to due process and human rights generally.
To the latter point, Guantanamo has long been an embodiment of all that has been wrong with the way the United States has pursued the "war on terror." The use of torture, indefinite detention without a trial and the squandering of billions of American taxpayer dollars to run the facility have done far more to undermine America’s reputation than to protect the American people.
President Trump, in keeping the facility open, may think he is presenting a tough front on terrorism, but all that he is really doing is wasting considerable resources for a facility that hasn’t actually been all that useful in combating or dealing with terrorism.
It would be far more valuable for those remaining at the facility to actually have their day in court and be held accountable accordingly. Throwing more money at a costly, ineffective facility with such a disgraceful record is the wrong move.
The winter Olympics this year is set against the looming menace posed by one of the world’s most dangerous regimes — North Korea. Whether Pyongyang and the U.S. continue to trade threats of nuclear destruction is a challenge for politicians, diplomats and military strategists.
That’s one shadow cast across this Olympiad. The other transcends international conflict and boundaries, and stretches far beyond the world of elite athletes. That is the still-festering scandal of Lawrence Nassar, the U.S. gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused scores of young female gymnasts over two decades. In the past few weeks, more than 250 girls and women, many of them former Olympians or hopefuls, told their harrowing stories of abuse and betrayal. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in that case.
Earlier this week, just days before Friday’s opening Olympics ceremony, a Michigan judge sentenced Nassar to another long stretch in prison — up to 125 years — on separate charges.
You won’t hear much if anything about these cases during the Winter Games. We understand. These are different games, different venues, a different time.
But we hope the millions of viewers, many of them youngsters (and their parents) who harbor their own Olympic dreams, heed the lessons of those gymnasts. The Nassar victims spoke about how they trusted Michigan State University to protect them. And its leaders failed. And how they trusted team coaches and trainers. Those authority figures, too, failed. And how they trusted their parents. And they, too, failed to suspect, to heed signs — failed to imagine that a trusted and famed doctor could be a monstrous predator.
The scandal’s tally — careers ruined, lives haunted — is immeasurable. Investigations continue, as do civil court cases. The legal fallout isn’t over, not even close.
But what we hope ends, now and forever, is the culture of disbelief, fear and silence that muzzled victims and discounted their claims. We wrote recently that a culture of vigilance must envelop all children. That means even suspicions of misconduct should set off a chain of responses. No dawdling. No second-guessing. This culture of vigilance elevates a sense of urgency to stop abusers.
Remember that word, urgency. In the Nassar case, the FBI investigated for more than a year but "followed a plodding pace" moving back and forth among agents in three cities, The New York Times reports. Evidence of wrongdoing mounted but the inquiry moved with "little evident urgency." In the interim, at least 40 girls and women say that Nassar molested them. The implication: With more urgency from the FBI, many of those victims could have been spared.
Let these, the first Olympic Games in the #MeToo era, open a million conversations among children and parents and with other adults, be they troop leaders, coaches, counselors or clergy. Let these games deter predators who might believe they, too, can abuse young athletes — any young people — in the guise of treatment or leadership or authority because no one is watching.
Every parent, coach, trainer, is now on notice. If they hear something, if they suspect something, we hope they’ll say something. And follow up — with urgency.
Youngsters around the world eagerly watch the Olympics. They dream of performing on those slopes, on that ice, in those stadiums before ecstatic crowds. This is a time to celebrate the exploits of these amazing athletes, who have earned a turn in the spotlight. But also to remember that in the shadows, predators can lurk. Not just in the gym, but in every organization, club and after-school activity where children play and learn.
Stopping these predators isn’t just a team effort. It is every individual’s duty.
The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina
The number of deadly train collisions keeps piling up years after Congress mandated that railroads install an automatic-braking technology to prevent such accidents. Congress must end the delays and demand that railroads implement positive train control systems nationwide without delay.
Before Sunday’s crash in Cayce that killed two people, there was the Amtrak derailment in Washington state that left three dead in December. There also was the derailment in Philadelphia that resulted in eight deaths. One person died when a transit train crashed into a New Jersey terminal. Hundreds were injured in these and other accidents.
After each collision, there was renewed talk about the need to implement the positive train control system Congress ordered in 2008. While the railroads expressed regret over the accidents, they also argued that the high cost of the system and the complexity of installing it made implementation extremely difficult.
Those explanations would carry more weight if at least some of the industry hadn’t been using them since the National Transportation Safety Board put the technology on its "most wanted" safety improvements list in 1990.
We get it. With estimates ranging from $10 billion to $22 billion, it will take a lot of industry and federal money to completely implement the system. But as the human toll mounts with each accident, that cost doesn’t seem so extreme. Indeed, while railroads have spent billions installing the equipment on some of their tracks, they also have found money to spend on new trains and stations. There’s more work to do, and available funds should go to safety measures rather than amenities.
In its simplest terms, positive train control is akin to a smart autopilot system that serves as a backup to the humans running the trains. It can override a train’s controls if it is going too fast or goes through a signal.
While the NTSB had been pushing for the technology for decades, it was a crash near Los Angeles that killed 25 people in 2008 that pushed Congress to mandate that the technology be in place by 2016. Still, the railroads complained that they would have to shut down on Jan. 1, 2016, if they didn’t get an extension.
So Congress allowed the railroads to kick the can down the road to the end of 2018, when more than three-quarters of railroads are expected to have the technology installed, but left a loophole that could push implementation on some lines to the end of 2020. It’s past time for Congress to insist that railroads finish the job.
A House subcommittee that includes Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., will take up the train technology issue on Feb. 15. It’s up to lawmakers from both parties to push for rapid full implementation. Lives depend on it.
Each new preventable accident is an unwarranted tragedy. Congress must stop the delays and get the railroads to install positive train control on all of the nation’s railways to prevent the next catastrophe.