Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Underpinning Kamala Harris' Popularity Wave


Turns out I am part of the wave Kamala Harris is surfing towards the lead of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls. 

Right before dinner Monday evening I did something I normally resist: I answered a land line telephone call from a number I didn’t recognize because the screen indicated the caller emanated from New Haven where Gilda and I lived 42 years ago. 

An elderly gentleman—I could tell he was elderly by his slow, raspy voice, his cheerful colloquial demeanor and the way technology challenged him—said he was calling from the Quinnipiac University national poll. 

Having employed consumer researchers for my magazine for more than 30 years, I am a sucker for surveys if they don’t interfere with what I am doing. He caught me at a good time. 

I haven’t chosen a preferred candidate, though I have opined that Joe Biden should be given a chance to strut his stuff to determine if he is 2020 qualified and not stuck in a 20th century time warp. Sadly, last week’s initial debate revealed him to be slow-footed in word and thought. Donald Trump must have been salivating at the prospect of squaring off against him.

On the other hand, Harris followed up on her sharp questioning of Trump Supreme Court nominees with a piercing attack on Biden. For those who later complained that she bushwacked Biden with a well planned foray, I say it showed she would be adept at confronting and countering Trump during a debate (assuming the chicken-in-chief agrees to participate—mark my words, he will at first reject any debates and then, in what he, in his own mind, will consider a majestic concession, will agree to debate three times). I want a candidate who prepares, does homework. Biden’s people had prepped him, but he failed to rise to the occasion. 

So I gave Kamala Harris a vote of confidence, though not an unqualified endorsement as I yet don’t know enough about her.

“A new national Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, July 2, shows Biden, who once led the field by around 20 points, now clinging to a two-point lead over California Sen. Kamala Harris, 22 percent to 20 percent,” The Daily Voice reported. (For you political nerds, follow the link to Quinnipiac's release: https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2631)

Now, one debate does not a president, or a party nominee, make, or break. But the winds of change are blowing hard, fueled by Trump’s take-no-prisoners stands on immigration and the detention of asylum seekers, census citizenship questions, tariff wars, relations with allies and Russia/North Korea/Iran, climate change and a host of other issues.  

Biden’s early strength came from the Afro-American community and senior citizens. It is dissipating. Biden is a “Yeah, I’m comfortable with him” vote. Harris, on the other hand, will ignite passion among black and hispanic voters, and among old-time liberals. Unless he shows more vigor during subsequent debates Biden would be no match against Trump. Harris has shown herself to be a sharp inquisitor and someone who could hold her own against a man.  

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Be Careful Whom You Trust


Some people are trusting. Perhaps too trusting. 

Take, for example, this recent message on a residential association bulletin board: “We live on XYZ (I redacted the actual street name) and will be travelling during the last two weeks in July and need someone from July 17th through July 29th to come by once a day to feed our cat, take in the mail and water our vegetable garden.”

Hello burglars, or at least those who monitor the Internet for leads on which locations are most vulnerable to easy pickin’. I’ve often wondered why people post pictures of their extended time away from home during their trips. Couldn’t they wait until they returned to make their friends and family envious of their time in the sun or on the slopes? Those postings are open invitations to those with less than socially acceptable behavior to drop by for some extra curricular “play while the cat’s away.” 

In the above cited message, of course, the cat will be home, but it probably is not trained to protect home and hearth. Given today’s Internet-capable ability to hone in on addresses, providing the dates one will be away and the street of one’s home is pretty, oh, let’s just say, it, STUPID!

Oh, one more thing. The person in need of a daily house monitor included their name! Again, STUPID! Why not just leave a key in the front door or, better yet, leave it unlocked?

Am I being paranoid? I don’t think so. What do you think? Are people too trusting for their own good?


Speaking of trusting, Donald Trump’s just completed trip to Japan and Korea, both South and North, if you consider 20 steps inside a corrupt, repressive country a bona fide visit to Kim Jong-Un’s dictatorship, exemplified his foreign policy approach. It is all based on personal appeal. 

George W. Bush thought the same way at first, as when he initially met Vladimir Putin and said he “looked the man in the eye and found him to be straightforward and trustworthy.” Bush said he looked into Putin’s “soul” and believed he could do business with the man, so much so that he trusted him enough to invite him to his ranch. 

Yeah, Putin gave him, America and its allies the “business,” all right. 

Trump believes Putin didn’t interfere in the 2016 election and accepts his word that he will not interfere in the 2020 election. Trump’s security and intelligence chiefs tell him otherwise. He rejects their analyses. 

Trump believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had nothing to do with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Why, because MBS, as he is known, told him so. But U.S. and United Nations intelligence findings say he is responsible. 

Trump trusts autocrats over his own advisors. 

Trump seeks personal relationships with despots, believing, somehow, they are eager, or at least willing, to enhance the position of the United States over their own country’s interests. 

By contrast, when he has to deal with substance, such as the issue of climate change during the just concluded G-20 meeting in Japan, he is incapable of displaying mutual cooperation with our traditional allies (https://beta.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/as-g-20-reaffirms-fight-against-climate-change-trump-again-stands-apart/2019/06/29/d3d96f22-9a68-11e9-830a-21b9b36b64ad_story.html?outputType=amp).

Trump is a world class spinmeister. Without achieving any concrete breakthroughs, he has positioned his photo-op meetings with Kim and with China’s president Xi Jinping as building blocks to foreign affairs victories. 

Even his detractors hope he is on the road to success. But wariness abounds that he is being played and that America will wind up no closer to achieving Trump’s objectives of denuclearization of North Korea and a more even-handed trade agreement with China.


Can You Trust The NY Times? The Times is still the gold standard of reporting. But its copyediting/proofreading increasingly leaves something to be desired. As a former editor I read most things with an eye toward what might be wrong (I’m not perfect myself, but at this juncture in my journalism career I am not being paid to get everything right). 

Twice in the last few weeks I spotted the same mistake in two different articles—the printing of “though” instead of “through.” I blame whatever spell check program The Times uses and the laziness of copyeditors/proofreaders to actually read content for clarity. 

A June Op-Ed by Thomas Edsall on meritocracy contained the following sentence: “Much resentment focuses on the way in which the meritocracy is selected, though the education process, and on the winnowing effect of extensive standardized assessments that seek to measure and validate cognitive skills” (https://nyti.ms/2IC9RbK).

Did you catch the mistake? He meant “through the education process.” Hours after I read the piece The Times corrected it before I could send off a note to Edsall.

But a June 2 profile of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi and who The Times called “the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates” still contains the “though/through” mistake: “His military is the Arab world’s most potent, equipped though (should be “through”) its work with the United States to conduct high-tech surveillance and combat operations far beyond its borders” (https://nyti.ms/2EMnuE4).

I know spell check has been a godsend to many a writer. But copyeditors/proofreaders need to be more careful. They are supposed to be the last line of defense against errors. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Detention Centers or Concentration Camps: A Disgrace, Inhumane and a Blot on US Conscience


Most of my relatives on my father’s side killed by Nazis and their collaborator thugs never made it to a concentration or extermination camp. My father came to America in January 1939, two months after Kristallnacht. His family was rounded up in Ottynia and surrounding shtetls in what is now western Ukraine. Back then it was part of Poland. They were transported to Szeparowce Forest near Kolomya to be slaughtered and buried in mass graves. 

My mother came from Łódź in 1921 when she was four. Not surprisingly, she never talked about family left behind, family she never really knew. I’m sure they existed, only to be interned in the Łódź Ghetto, the second largest ghetto after Warsaw’s. Its victims included 210,000 Polish jews. Tens of thousands died in the ghetto. Tens of thousands died in the Chelmno extermination camp or in Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

A ghetto under Nazi rule was a defacto concentration camp. Unsanitary conditions. Meager food provisions. Overcrowding. Restricted egress and ingress. Involuntary confinement. Illness often resulted in death. 

If many if not all of those conditions appear strikingly similar to what asylum detainees, particularly children, are experiencing along our southern border with Mexico it is not surprising that activists are labeling detention facilities as American concentration camps. 

Throughout our centuries-long history Americans have not been inclined to view repressive conditions of non whites as problematic. Too few demonstrated against the sardine-like packaging of captured Africans in the holds of slave ships bound for North America and South America. Visit a historical plantation outside Charleston, SC, and you’ll see accommodations were not much better for slaves that survived the ocean crossing.  

Native Americans did not fare better. They were restricted to less than optimal land. If their land later proved valuable they were physically displaced, even in violation of treaty or a favorable Supreme Court ruling. Donald Trump’s hero of a president, Andrew Jackson, disregarded a Supreme Court decision in favor of the Cherokee Nation and marched them in a trail of tears to the Oklahoma territory. To this day life on a reservation—even with new-found gaming income—is not what one would covet. 

Japanese Americans were forced to live in so called internment camps during World War II. George Takei of Star Trek fame spoke out from personal experience, having been interned in two camps with his family from the age of five. He agreed concentration camps have sprouted up along our southern border (https://mol.im/a/7164365).

Here’s another person who knows evil when he sees it: Ben Ferencz. He is 99 and the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. Trump’s family separation policy is a “crime against humanity,” he says (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-border-crisis-nazis-nuremberg-trial-ben-ferencz-family-separation-migrants-un-a8485606.html).

Let’s be clear. Though deaths have occurred, there is no government program to kill undocumented immigrants, be they outright illegals or asylum seekers. But there is also no viable program to deal in a humane way with those crossing our border. The answer is not to build a higher, impenetrable wall. 

As my friend Rabbi Robbie Harris posted on Facebook, “These detention centers may not be ‘concentration camps’ in the sense that the Jewish people suffered under Nazi Germany. But they are in any case a disgrace, inhumane, and a blot on the conscience of the United States of America. So it probably does not matter in the end what we call them.”

Sometimes it takes a face, or a body, to aggregate the rage and compassion felt by strangers around the world. So it was when the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, Syrian of Kurdish background, washed ashore after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 as he was trying to flee his country’s civil war. Earlier this week 23-month-old Valeria and her father Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico, the last leg of their journey from El Salvador.

And, of course, the face of Anne Frank is well known. A victim of Nazi persecution, Anne did not die in a gas chamber. She died from typhus contracted from the unsanitary conditions in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (here are two stories on conditions in the Clint, Tex., border station where children are being detained: https://nyti.ms/2Iw1fEH and https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/inside-a-texas-building-where-the-government-is-holding-immigrant-children).

On Thursday Gilda and I, with her cousins from Israel, spent three-plus hours at Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage walking the special exhibit, “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” 

I’ve been to many Holocaust memorials, in America, Israel and Europe. New facts always reveal themselves. New images. 

One such image chilled me. It was from 1928. Hitler was at at outdoor event. He was standing next to what became known as the “Blood Flag,” so called because the swastika banner was bloodied during the failed Nazi coup of November 9, 1923, in Munich. He wasn’t just standing next to it. He had a tight grasp on the lower quarter of the flag.

I don’t suspect Trump of knowingly emulating Hitler when he caresses the American flag at his rallies, but his oratory of demonization and dehumanization of his enemies, real and imagined, powerful and weak, is a page right out of Hitler’s playbook. With a melding of such images in my mind, how could one disagree with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he said during the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night: “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump, and there’s no question about that.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Will Biden or Trump Be Target at Dem Debates?


Chum is filling the waters surrounding Joe Biden, bringing in political sharks eager to rip his candidacy to shreds. At times, inadvertently, Biden himself contributes to the bloody waters. All the while his Democratic rivals are doing Donald Trumps’ unspoken bidding in weakening his appeal. 

With each passing day, each revelatory past and present quote or vote, Biden is discovering for the first time that being a campaign frontrunner means the dissection of the corners, sometimes the dark, obscure corners, of his public life and his family’s private lives is fair game (
https://mol.im/a/7167911).

Biden can take small comfort that other candidates are under intense scrutiny. For Bernie Sanders it has meant explaining how a self-proclaimed socialist became a millionaire (a book contract and book sales). Bernie’s wife also has had to answer questions about her business conduct. 

Elizabeth Warren has earned veteran status answering queries about her heritage. Native American or not? Who really cares? Only those, including Trump, who care more about appearances and less about the substance of a campaign to ease the economic burden of struggling families. 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is finding out how one nationally reported incident involving the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white policeman can dispel the tranquility and image of a well-run city. 

But it is Biden who has the most baggage from four and a half decades of public life in Washington. Votes he is proud of. Votes he regrets. Votes he once was proud of but now regrets. The press is eager to cite his shortcomings either through its own investigations or through “oppo” research provided by Democratic and Republican detractors. 

Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination—the first debates are Wednesday and Thursday nights in Miami—he or she will face an incumbent whose integrity and character are shameful but irrelevant to much of the electorate. Yet, he or she will be held to a higher standard. 

Not fair, but surely true. Which leads us back to Biden. How should the acknowledged-by-all-frontrunner deal with the Chinese-water-torture drip of negative stories? Should he explain those were different times? Should he apologize? Should he recant and state new positions as he did with the Hyde Amendment restriction on federal financing of abortion (he’s now against any restriction)?

Or should he let the voters decide if he is Trump-challenger worthy? I’m inclined to pick that course, combined with selective usage of the recant and restate option. 

No candidate will emerge perfect and unscathed during this looooong nomination process. The media will do its share of nitpicking and hole punching. Other Democrats, on the other hand, must refrain from poisoning their brethren. They must remember the real objective is unseating Trump. It means nothing to secure the nomination if the prize eludes the nation because of party fratricide. 

They also must keep in mind that national elections are won by appealing to the broadest section of the electorate. Most Democrats and Independents are centrists, not radicals. The country is tiring of Trump’s extremism. It is not looking for a pendulum swing all the way to the left. Voters are seeking equilibrium with traditional American values. Democrats would be wise to heed the words of Charles Sykes, a conservative Wisconsin-based political commentator on how not to blow the election (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/06/25/democrats-trump-election-2020-227215?cid=apn).


“She’s not my type.”: In other words, if she was, then, yeah, maybe I would have done it. 

That, in essence, is Trump’s latest defense against a claim of sexual assault in his pre-presidency days. Pictures at the time repudiated his alibi of never having met E. Jean Carroll. So he falls back on a frat house response to date rape. Nah, I wouldn’t touch her ’cause she’s not my type. 

As if that ever mattered to an oversexed, entitled-believing misogynist who has been outed for cheating on his two previous wives and on his current spouse just days after she delivered his fifth child. He at first denied the Stormy Daniels tryst but her version of their encounter apparently is the factual one. 

Undeniably Unreliable: I was amused by this AP headline above an article on fallout from Trump’s last minute decisions not to strike Iran for shooting down an unarmed American surveillance drone and for postponing the start of an ICE roundup of illegal aliens:

“AP Analysis: Trump moves show him to be unreliable partner” (https://apnews.com/a47ecf2848ee4df5a6cf62e84c35bed8)

I was amused because Trump’s personal history has time and again shown him to be an unreliable partner. He has cheated on all three of his wives. He has stiffed numerous contractors for work they have done on his properties. He has defaulted on loans. His businesses have declared bankruptcy six times. He has bilked thousands of customers who enrolled in his “university.” He has reneged on deals he made with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. 

People! Hello! What more proof do you need before realizing he is not to be trusted?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

My Supreme Court Nightmare


I had a nightmare last night. Not while sleeping. I had woken up as I often do in the middle of the night. I picked up my iPhone to view the most popular stories on The New York Times website. 

I read several articles before opening an analysis by Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan Law School professor (https://nyti.ms/2Y7UsXg). If he is correct, the country I have inhabited for more than 70 years might radically change. 

In that newly formulated country programs such as Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration and Medicare would be invalidated because their rules and regulations were not voted on by Congress. Rather, they were formed by administrators never elected by the people. 

This topsy-turvy approach to government could come about if a conservative majority on the Supreme Court reasons that rules regulating these programs violated the Constitution because administrators and not Congress authorized them. 

For decades it has been the conservative dream to exterminate New Deal and subsequent liberal safeguard and safety net programs, beginning with Social Security. Politicians might consider Social Security to be the third rail of politics, to be touched at the risk of losing election or reelection, but the justices on our highest court sit for life. They need not worry about tenure. 

The nightmare I am describing has already started to form. Long-held legal precedents have been overturned. Though they might have sworn allegiance to “stare decisis” during their confirmation hearings, justices may conclude that verdicts by earlier Supreme Courts were flawed, thus releasing them from their vows of upholding precedent. 

It can be only a matter of court terms before Roe v. Wade and other key liberal beliefs are put asunder by the currently constituted court. The result will be government by the powerful, increasingly represented by special interests and Big Business, with little or no congressional or federal oversight. 

This nightmare is a legacy of those Americans who so reviled Hillary Clinton that they voted for Donald Trump or Jill Stein of the Green Party. Or didn’t vote at all. Elections, we are seeing, have consequences. 

My nightmare kept me awake for an hour. There were no imaginary monsters to dismiss from memory. There were real life demons—Trump, McConnell, Thomas, Gorsuch, Alito, Roberts, Kavanaugh. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Trump Is at Yogi's Proverbial Fork in the Road


I wonder what his good friend Bibi is telling Donald Trump about the need to show strength in the face of unprovoked attack, about the need to strike quickly to teach miscreants a lesson that Israel, er, the United States is not to be trifled with. Of course Bibi Netanyahu would like nothing more than the U.S. annihilating Iran’s power. Ditto the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Trump and some of his advisors, notably National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, want regime change in Iran. They hope to see an Iran not led by a religiously despotic ayatollah. Iran’s last regime change occurred in 1979. Since then the United States has had six regime changes led by half a dozen presidents with divergent world views. Given this historical perspective it is more likely there will be a new president of the U.S. before a new ayatollah with a fresh view that America is not satan. 

Rather than react rashly to the downing by Iran of an unarmed intelligence gathering drone early Thursday morning, Trump trod cautiously, even providing Iran with a plausible explanation for the assault, that a stupid officer went rogue and fired the surface to air missile that shot the drone out of the sky above the Strait of Hormuz. It was an uncharacteristic response from Trump. 

Or was it? A certified bully, Trump, it could be said, reacted just as any bully would when confronted. He cowered at the prospect of actual confrontation. Iran is not like Syria that was in no position to retaliate when Trump twice ordered cruise missiles to strike Syria after Bashir al Assad rained down chemicals on rebels. 

Perhaps Trump’s wariness was the result of an underreported fact about the incident. The drone was capable of flying at 55,000 feet, a height believed to be above Iran’s defensive capabilities. Wrong. “That is a demonstration by the Iranians that they have that capability, something the United States will take note of in the future,” according to The New York Times.

Perhaps Trump’s pulpit has more than bluster. We learned Friday morning he authorized three strikes on three targets. But with 10 minutes to spare, he cancelled the counterpunch. 

Politico reported he said he felt such a move was “not proportionate” to Iran’s attack on an unmanned drone. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” Trump tweeted.

Besides Bolton and Pompeo, and perhaps Vice President Mike Pence, the only disappointed faces most probably are in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem. No one should embrace the idea of a war, but a proxy war by America against Iran would be welcome in those Middle Eastern capitals, even if Iran fulfilled a threat to retaliate by launching missiles into their countries. “Minor” damage and casualties would be a small price to pay for the elimination of an existential threat. 

Iran has complicated the calculus, asserting it exhibited restraint by not shooting down a military transport carrying 35 servicemen that accompanied the drone (how they knew the number of passengers was not explained). 

Trump is at a critical juncture. Yogi Berra allegedly said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Trump must now choose the path his administration will take and project during his presidency. He blasted Barack Obama for not following through on his threat to punish Assad for use of chemical weapons. 

Few people especially politicians believe Trump is a man of his word. With scant credibility to marshal international or domestic allies Trump must engage a strategy few believe he has any idea how to originate, much less implement (https://nyti.ms/2L3jliS). 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Questions for Democrats From Me and The Times


To get an Op-Ed piece published in The New York Times you have to give the paper a three-business-day window to review your submission. The Times says it will contact you if they plan to use it. Otherwise, you’re free to publish it anywhere else it might be deemed worthy.

Last Friday night I emailed to The Times 10 questions that should be asked of each Democratic presidential hopeful during next week’s debates. Apparently, great minds think alike, because The Times had been working on a similarly themed idea which it unveiled Wednesday. The Times formulated 18 questions to which 21 candidates provided video responses (https://nyti.ms/2NbBe1Z). 

Having not heard back from The Times by Wednesday night, herewith are my questions (since expanded to a dozen): 

1. Will you support the eventual Democratic party nominee and not run a third party candidacy?

2. What will be your first five executive orders upon taking office?

3. Given what we now know about Donald Trump’s activities before and after the 2016 election, would you support a criminal prosecution of Donald Trump?

4. What action by the Trump administration has most enraged you and how would you counteract it?

5. If the Senate remains in Republican control, how would you counter Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stranglehold on legislative affairs moving forward?

6. What steps would you take to improve our trade position vis-a-vis China?

7. How would you stem the flow of undocumented immigrants across our southern border?

8. Which country or entity or concept is America’s number one enemy today and in the future?

9. Should the Palestinians have their own state or should they become citizens of Israel and other Middle Eastern states where they reside?

10. What is your position on the impact and viability of technology companies, banks and investment houses that have grown “too big to fail.” Should they be broken up or more intensely regulated? 

11. Are some Afro-Americans entitled to reparations? How would you define reparations?

12. What steps would you take to improve health care?

For those who chose not to click on the link to The Times feature, here’s a list of its questions (added benefit: each question is linked to the candidate responses). You decide whose queries, mine or The Times, were more incisive.