Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, The Court Should Now Hear The U.S. House of Representatives v. Donald J. Trump

The time has come to find out if we live in a constitutional republic or in an autocratic state. It is time to go directly to the Supreme Court for a decision on the House of Representatives’ powers of impeachment and whether the executive branch can withhold documents and other evidence the House deems crucial to its investigations. 

By an 8-0 vote in 1974 the Supreme Court ruled Richard Nixon had to turn over secretly recorded White House tapes that ultimately revealed criminal behavior by the president in the Watergate scandal coverup. But that was back then, when respect for the rule of law was central to our political essence, regardless of party. We did not have a president who demeaned courts and judges who disagreed with him. And we did not have a president who openly flouted the law, often doubling down on the very crime he is accused of committing. 

Today’s Supreme Court must decide if the Constitution is still relevant. If a president can stonewall due process. If the Founders’ belief in equal branches of government is an 18th century anachronism or if it remains a document a democratic republic nation can live by. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi must give up any hope of White House cooperation for surely Donald Trump has provided no reason or action to maintain that illusion. She must immediately authorize an expedited challenge to the Supreme Court to verify the House’s absolute right to obtain material relevant to its inquiries. The court must reaffirm its 1974 ruling that the claim of executive privilege has limitations when it comes to a legitimate House investigation, that no one, not even the president, is above the law. 

It is counterproductive to waste the nation’s time and patience with thrust and parry politics. The Supreme Court must be asked to accept the challenge and must rule expeditiously. 

Nancy Pelosi, it is your move!

A Red White House: To those who bicker that Democrats are trying to take over a White House they couldn’t win in 2016, let me remind them that a Trump removal would not turn the Oval Office blue. A solidly conservative Republican vice president, Mike Pence, would succeed the dumped Trump. 

In many ways Pence could prove to be more anathema to Democrats as he is more deliberate, more focused, more of an ideologue, more conservative, more religious, more schooled in the ways of governing, and less of a lightning rod than Trump. 

One of the more vexing questions confronting Americans, New Yorkers in particular, is the transformation of Rudy Giuliani from “America’s Mayor” after 9/11 into Trump’s rabid attack dog. 

So, naturally, I was drawn to a New York Times Op-Ed Tuesday with the relevant headline, “What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?”. When I looked at the byline I was more intrigued. I thought the name looked familiar, the uncommon way it spelled Frydman. Hadn’t a Ken Frydman worked on Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade newspaper, shortly after I did some 40 years ago? Sure enough, it was him. 

I checked out his online background discovering Ken not only worked for Giuliani but was actually married by him in a city hall ceremony. For decades Ken carried a picture of the ceremony in his wallet. 

Here was an intimate witness to Rudy’s transformation. So, without further ado, here are two links, the first to the Op-Ed piece, the second to a bio of Ken who has quite an accomplished resume:

What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?

Ken’s bio

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Tribute to Those Who Fought in Normandy

I have been watching war movies almost my entire 70-plus years, one of the earliest I remember being a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis romp called “At War with the Army,” set in 1944 in a stateside training camp. A sergeant, Martin is chafing at the bit to see real action overseas. As I recall it, by the end of the film he gets his wish and is part of the D-Day invasion. Being a comedy, “At War with the Army” does not relate the fate of Martin’s character. 

The beaches of Normandy, code named Utah and Omaha (for American assault), Sword, Gold and Juno (for Allied forces) are hardly sources for humor, as Gilda and I observed during our recent trip to the battlefields. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the ensuing campaign through August 30 to rid Normandy of German forces, more than 53,000 Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen died in the largest amphibian-based attack in history.

Britain and America treated their dead differently. Britain buried casualties in the soil on which they perished. 

Next of kin of U.S. dead had three options: burial of a deceased where they died, internment in Arlington Cemetery, or burial in a plot back home chosen by the family. Three times the choices were provided the next of kin. After the third time, if the remains were buried overseas, moving them would be at the expense of the next of kin. 

Today’s U.S. military treats the fallen differently. All bodies are returned to America. As Arlington is running out of room, the privilege of burial there is restricted to those awarded military honors.

More than 9,380 gravesites in rows upon rows of white crosses sprinkled with the occasional Jewish star is a solemn, beautiful sight at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. A cross or Jewish star were the only religious options. As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” Nor in American military cemeteries. Nor, apparently, were there any Muslims. If dog tags were not found on a fallen serviceman the grave was marked with a cross. 

Only about 150 white Jewish stars break up the uniform look of white crosses. As many Jewish servicemen removed their dog tags prior to entering combat, it is suspected casualties among them were buried under crosses. A rabbi is painstakingly researching Jewish sounding names on crosses to determine if a change in grave marker is warranted.

The only serviceman buried in the NAC who died without service in the Normandy campaign received presidential dispensation to be laid to rest next to his brother. Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, died during World War I, on July 14, 1918. He was a pilot in the Army Air Service shot down in an aerial dogfight. His body was relocated in 1955 to a grave next to his oldest brother, Ted, a brigadier general who died of a heart attack July 12, 1944, weeks after leading the first wave of troops ashore at Utah Beach.  

Last week’s crash in Connecticut of a B-17 Flying Fortress World War II bomber coincided with my viewing a worthy HBO documentary, “The Cold Blue,” aired last D-Day. The film uses outtake footage taken by director William Wyler in 1943 for a morale-building promotional film about the Memphis Belle B-17 and its crew that flew 25 missions. 

Released last year, “The Cold Blue” was directed by Erik Nelson. It intersperses the reminiscences of flight crews (not from the Memphis Belle), now in their 90s, with film shot during missions over Germany and occupied Europe. 

Do the math—more than 70 years ago, the now elderly men were in their low 20s, or younger, when they took to the skies in planes that were not pressurized or heated. At 25,000 feet, with gunports open to the wind, temperature inside was said to be equivalent to the top of Mount Everest, in the minus 20 to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit range. Frostbite could occur within 10 minutes.

At the beginning of the war, according to the documentary, America had but a few hundred B-17s. By 1945 our wartime arsenal had manufactured 12,731. Close to 5,000 planes were lost in combat over Europe. 

The Flying Fortress was known as a durable aircraft which makes last week’s tragedy all the more sad.

Military Units: As noted at the beginning of this blog, I’ve spent many an hour watching war flicks. But I never quite understood how many soldiers comprised each unit size until Rob Dalessandro, deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, provided an overview during our recent Smithsonian Journeys trip to Normandy. So, here goes:

Squad. 12 men. Led by a sergeant.
Platoon. 50 men. Led by a lieutenant.
Company. 184 men. Led by a captain.
Battalion. 900 men. Led by a major.
Regiment. 3,200 men. Led by a colonel.
Division. 15,000 men. Led by major general.
Corps. 75,000 men. Led by lieutenant general.
Field Army. 300,000 men. Led by general.
Army Group. 600,00+ men. Led by general.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Walk in the Park Celebrating God's Creation

Second day Rosh Hashana. Most Jews I know spent Tuesday in synagogues reciting most of the same prayers they did the first day of the New Year’s holiday. Not our family.

Five years ago we decided that a walk through a park was a more intimate and visceral way to celebrate what Jews believe was God’s creation of the earth. It would be more meaningful for our grandchildren (Finley 9, Dagny 7, CJ 4 and Leo 2) and their parents.

We traveled to Ossining at 10:30 am to walk Teatown Lake Reservation’s wooded trail around a lake. The kids picked up acorns and interesting rocks. They observed the occasional caterpillar and turtle in the lake and saw what we assumed were thin tree trunks gnawed down by beaver.

When we stopped for a midway rest we discussed why communing with nature was an appropriate way to honor God’s work. One ritual of Rosh Hashana is a ceremonial casting away of one’s sins by tossing bread into water. As we were not supposed to give food to the wildlife, we instead cast stones into the lake.

At the conclusion of our simple but heartfelt ritual we blew shofar. The kids had plastic ones. Even two-year-old Leo made noise with his horn. I managed quite a few long blasts on our three foot long ram’s horn. I trumpeted several “shevarim,” bursts of three notes, but was windless when it came to “teru’ah,” the staccato nine note sequence. I did blare out a pretty good “teki’ah gedolah,” an extra long call of awakening to the faithful. 

We returned home a little after 1 pm, the same time we would have had we attended services at our temple.  

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ostrich Should Replace Elephant as GOP Mascot

The 19th century political cartoonish Thomas Nast is credited with creating the symbol of the Republican Party, an elephant. Perhaps the mascot should be updated. I suggest it be an ostrich.

An elephant, after all, is said to have a good memory, but today’s GOP fails to remember the values that once made it great—equality of the races (under Lincoln); reverence for the environment and anti-monopolies (under Teddy Roosevelt); disdain for the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower); strategic diplomacy and environmental protections (Nixon, yes Nixon); abhorrence of deficits (Reagan); respect for foreign alliances (Bush I and II).

Under Donald Trump the Republican Party has turned its back on all of these foundational blocks. Moreover, elected congressmen and senators have metaphorically put their heads in the sand so as not to see how Trump is clearly dismantling the rule of law and our constitutional protections of checks and balances.

With the House of Representatives embarked on an impeachment probe after a whistle-blower revealed Trump seemingly pressured the president of Ukraine during a telephone conversation to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, and the subsequent cashiering of the transcript of their talk to a top secret file, perhaps we need to paraphrase one of Trump’s earliest examples of abuse.

Instead of “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Hillary Clinton) emails that are missing,” let’s say the following: “America, if you’re listening, we hope you’re able to see the transcripts of Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president and other transcripts of his talks with foreign leaders that have similarly been  hidden because his staff feared they would reveal Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

Not everyone is convinced an impeachment proceeding is necessary or wise. Surely most Republicans don’t. Some worry it might turn people off, that they might feel Washington has sunk further into dysfunction. On the contrary. An impeachment investigation is the ultimate constitutional function.

This is a test of the American public. Does it want a democratic republic or an autocracy? If Trump is not held accountable for his actions, if his minions are not held accountable for their coverup attempts, we can expect him to continue to stretch the limits of presidential invulnerability. We’ve already seen the pattern being set—one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress without clearly stating Trump was guilty of obstruction, Trump had his conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Very Next Day!!!

The time to impeach has arrived!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Of Castles, Kings, Churches and Wizards

I don’t go to church regularly. I am, after all, Jewish. But I find myself in churches, mostly Catholic ones built half a millennia or more ago, whenever I travel through Europe.  

Last week in Normandy, France, Gilda and I entered some remarkable spiritual edifices. Given their size and majesty, and the sheer engineering accomplishment of their construction, it is understandable how Medieval men and women were transfixed into believing miracles could indeed happen. A religion that started in a manger and matriculated into magnificent stone cathedrals could not be anything but authentic to illiterate serfs and even noblemen.

Consider the abbey atop Mount Saint Michel. Situated on an island with fewer than 50 current residents, the abbey took hundreds of years to build. It is not beautiful, as the Cathedral Notre Dame in nearby Bayeux is. Rather, it is an engineering marvel, rising as it does above a rocky fortress. The Bayeux Cathedral, as well, was a labor of hundreds of years, but it aligns more with the architecture and look of numerous Norman-Romanesque churches in towns and cities one can see throughout the countryside.

The Bayeux Cathedral would be worth a visit in its own right. But for years it garnered fame from a cherished historical artifact, the Bayeux Tapestry. In truth, the nearly 70 yard long creation is an embroidery, but let’s not quibble over semantics. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

Did you ever wonder why William the Conqueror invaded England? Was it merely to seize control of another country? Actually, according to the way the Normans tell it, it was to claim his rightful inheritance. You see, on his deathbed Edward the Confessor, king of England, having no sons, bequeathed his kingdom to a distant cousin, the Duke of Normandy, known then as William the Bastard for he truly was illegitimately born. William was a descendant of Rollo, a Viking warrior chief familiar, by name at least, to fans of the cable series Vikings. Rollo had become part of the French ruling class.

William believed he obtained agreement for his kingship from Harold, an English earl of Anglo-Saxon heritage. But upon Edward’s death Harold assumed the crown. To avenge the double-cross and take what he thought was rightfully his, William invaded England. Harold might well have beaten him at Hastings had he not just hurried down from killing off another invading pretender to the throne, Harald Hardrada, king of Norway, at Stamford Bridge, several hundred miles to the north of Hastings. The weary Harold and his forces were routed, Harold dying from ordinary wounds or, as legend has it, from an arrow piercing an eye as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Subsequently, William was known as the conqueror. His Norman descendants ruled for hundreds of years, much to the displeasure and misfortune of the Anglo-Saxon populace, we have been told for years (thus the Robin Hood myth. Indeed, King Richard the Lionheart, a great, great grandson of William the Conqueror, spent just a few weeks in England as king, preferring his French lands).

As churches go, the structure in the town square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise has nothing to distinguish it. Except for its dramatic part in the D-Day invasion. The Allies deemed it important to seal off the town as it was located on an important road the Nazis could have used to reinforce their defensive positions. Paratroopers descended on the town in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944.

One of them, John Steele, landed on a church spire. He could not free his parachute so he wound up observing the ensuring battle for several hours, all the while pretending to be dead. He eventually was captured by the Germans, from whom he later escaped and rejoined his division. For those who have seen the movie The Longest Day, Steele was portrayed by Red Buttons.

To convey his personal story, and commemorate what the town believes is its place in history as the first community liberated in France, a parachute with a dummy dressed as a soldier is suspended from a church spire facing the town square. It’s a kitschy touch. But it is historical fiction as Steele’s parachute got caught on a spire facing a side street. That would not have made for good cinema so The Longest Day, ahem, took liberties with reality. As do the good citizens of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

The Longest Day was not the only Hollywood reference during Gilda’s and my trip. Before Normandy we spent a week in northern England and southern Scotland. Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland, is the historic location where 38 kings of Scotland were crowned sitting on a high-backed wooden chair atop the Stone of Scone (pronounced “Scoon”). It has also been used for centuries by British royalty, the last time being for Queen Elizabeth II’s investiture in 1953.

For more than 400 years Scone Palace has been the ancestral home of the Murray family, successive Earls of Mansfield since 1776. The first Earl of Mansfield, William Murray, was Lord Chief Justice of England who in 1783 issued a ruling that began the process that led to the end of slavery in Britain.

As important as that action was, Hollywood found the life of his niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, more appealing. It filmed her life story, with liberties, in Belle, released in 2013 ( Dido was the daughter of an enslaved African woman in the West Indies and Captain Sir John Lindsay, a Royal Navy officer. Lindsay entrusts her to Murray and his wife to raise, as they were doing with another great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray. When the two cousins matured they sat for an oil portrait by David Martin. The painting is displayed at Scone Palace. 

Finally (only because this posting is already long), we visited Hogwarts Castle. Or more precisely, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, where the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his family live from November through April, after which tourists invade en masse for the castle, first built after the Norman conquest, is more than just the manifestation of what a castle should look like. Alnwick Castle’s alter ego is that of Hogwarts, the wizardry school attended by Harry Potter.

During our visit a group of enterprising and clearly Potter-struck fans were astride broomsticks attempting to fly into a game of quidditch. Tours of the interior and exterior of the castle were fascinating. I will leave you with one amusing tidbit: The kitchen in olden times was far removed from the main dining hall. They were connected by tunnel. Servants were required to whistle the whole time they transported the food. Guess why?

It had nothing to do with safety. Rather, it was to insure none of the duke’s food was lifted off the platters and eaten along the way. Try whistling with your mouth full. Can’t be done.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Are You Proud To Be an American?

A mainstay of Republican rallies for the last three decades or longer has been the Lee Greenwood’s anthem, “God Bless the U.S.A., with its central theme of being “proud to be an American.” Which conjures up the current question, given the last two-plus years, are you proud to be an American? 

Are you proud that our president dangles foreign military aid to a beleaguered country fighting Russian-backed incursions in the hope it will actively work to uncover dirt on his political rivals? 

Are you proud that our president praises autocrats like Turkey’s Erdogen, Russia’s Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad bin Salman, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un while trashing present and past leaders of allies like Trudeau of Canada, Engel of Germany, May of United Kingdom and Macron of France?

Are you proud that our president encourages his supporters to cry out for the incarceration of his political rivals? 

Are you proud that our president sullies members of Congress who disagree with him?

Are you proud that our president is more concerned with his weather forecasting reputation than the lives of millions coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian?

Are you proud that our president is so fixated on building a wall along our southern border that he has stripped funding for military projects that are needed to educate and train our servicemen and their families?

Are you proud that when our president speaks or tweets it is often impossible to separate fact from fiction? 

Are you proud that our president has turned his back on our country’s historic commitment of being a land of opportunity for the downtrodden from around the globe?

Are you proud that our president rejects science?

Are you proud that Russia interfered with our election without any consequences, that our president believes Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t spook our election and rejects the findings of our own intelligence community that it did, and that our president now wants to involve Ukraine in his re-election bid in violation of federal law?

Are you proud that our president considers whistleblowers “traitors”?

Are you proud that our president has politicized the Justice Department? 

Are you proud that our president has so kowtowed Republicans that they no longer have allegiance to the Constitution but rather to him because they fear his impact on their election/re-election if they publicly disagree with him?

Are you proud that our president has put together one of the most corrupt and immoral administrations in the history of our nation? 

Lee Greenwood recorded the song in late 1983. I’m not too proud to admit I really enjoyed listening to it, so much so that I obtained a cassette of Greenwood’s album that contained it. But I find it increasingly difficult to square his patriotic gushings with the insults Trump has visited on our republic. 

I’d like to be proud again. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Answer Please, What Did You Do?

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?” is a simple but searing question children are apt to ask after their parents have lived through turbulent times. 

It began as a recruiting poster meme in Great Britain during the Great War, World War I. It retains powerful currency, for we have entered another great war, this one without bullets but with trenches dug by unwavering allegiances to politically opposite beliefs in the direction our country is taking under an unorthodox president.

What did you do, congressman and senator, while Donald Trump trampled upon the Constitution, negating the integrity of checks and balances set up to prevent authoritarian rule?

What did you do, cabinet secretary, when you weakened protections on the environment, labor conditions, international relations, alliances with allies?

What did you do, judges and justices, when executive power tried to run rampant?

What did you do, military officers, when your leadership and expertise were mocked by a draft dodger who dishonored Gold Star parents and prisoners of war?

What did you do, intelligence gatherers and analysts, when your findings were discarded and the diabolical promises of our adversaries were believed?

What did you do, scientists and educators, when science, truth and facts were dismissed as fake?

What did you do, immigration and border personnel, when the dictates of a racist autocrat superseded the universal values of family and sanctity of human life?

What did you do, American citizen, when duty called for you to register to vote and to cast your ballot? Did you accept your obligation or did you succumb to passive acceptance?

Did you stay quiet while “truth, justice and the American way” was transformed into lies, injustice and a grifter’s idyllic?

Or did you, at last, finally, rise from your miasma of loyalty to the Office of the President to demonstrate loyalty to the nation, to our ideals as a country of equals and equal opportunity?

We are in a war for the very soul of America. No superhero will materialize to save the day. Each of us will have to undertake the simple but heroic action of saying, “Enough already! Give us back our pride, our values, our integrity, our humanity, our country!”