Tuesday, May 7, 2019

When Will This Nightmare End?

The other day I read a Letter to the Editor in The New York Times from Jay Markowitz. Commenting on a May 2 Op-Ed piece by former FBI director James Comey entitled, “How Trump Co-Opts Leaders Like Barr” (https://nyti.ms/2VDZsEX), he crisply wrote, “In William Barr, President Trump has found his Roy Cohn. When will this nightmare end?”

First, let me say that in the two-plus years that The Donald has been our fearful leader, this is the first time I wrote the consecutive words, “President Trump.” Oh, the downside of accurate reporting!

Now, to respond to Jay Markowitz’s obviously plaintive plea—Not until January 20, 2021, at the earliest, but only if the American people wake up from this nightmare, only if they have not become inured to Trump’s assault on the Constitution and its tricameral form of equal branches of government, only if they have not been lulled into submission or complacency by an economy that continues the remarkable rebound initiated by Barack Obama, only if they have not become complicit or accepting of his destruction of the rule of law, only if the American people believe again that their country’s values are the best export we can offer the world and the best import are people from all creeds, religions and regions who are dedicated to equal opportunity and freedom for all. 

It will be impossible to remove Trump from the White House through impeachment, unless he fulfills his wild 2016 campaign boast—that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes—and Senate Republicans defy all reason and excuse his assault as, in the words of Attorney General William Barr, that of someone “frustrated and angry.” 

It was just such reasoning that enabled me to co-win a friendly contest predicting the length of Trump’s presidency. All but two of the 15 contestants thought he would vacate the White House by April 6 of the second year of his term. Connie Goldberg and I chose his full term as the end date.

Of course, I previously opined that Trump might be emboldened to declare a national emergency and not recognize the 2020 election if he loses. He’s already started to lobby for a six year first term, retweeting a Jerry Falwell Jr. comment that he deserves a two year extension because the first two years of his tenure were “stolen” because of the Mueller investigation. 

The man’s chutzpah knows no bounds.

Trump’s defiance of constitutional norms goes beyond the actions of most presidents to minimize scrutiny of their administrations by Congress. James Reston Jr. argued in The Times that failure to comply with congressional subpeonas is an impeachable offense, as Richard Nixon found out during his impeachment proceedings 25 years ago (https://nyti.ms/2ZVizK5).

But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is in no rush to impeach. “Trump is goading us to impeach him,” Ms. Pelosi said at a Cornell University event in Manhattan, according to The Times. “That’s what he is doing, every single day he is just, like, taunting, taunting, taunting. Because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. But he doesn’t really care; he just wants to solidify his base.”

Her reticence or political savvy aside, the Democratically-controlled House might be more willing to act if it is able to secure testimony from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, both of whom Trump has said should not appear before Congress. Both are privy to information on alleged obstruction of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference with the 2016 election by Trump and his gang of family and aides. 

McGhan is a private citizen; Mueller attains that status at the end of the month. Thus, their willingness to testify would not be subject to Trump’s authority. 

Rather, it would position them as either patriots or more Trump dumpster detritus. 

Trump has repeatedly degraded the FBI, the Justice Department and members of the judiciary. Lately, he has cast the FBI investigation of his campaign as “spying,” a term repeated by Barr during Senate testimony last month. But the current FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, refuted the characterization during a Senate hearing Tuesday (https://nyti.ms/2Wz6isI).

And so, the nightmare continues. Trump’s handpicked FBI chief is staying independent as an officer of the law, even as Trump’s handpicked attorney general, ostensibly the people’s lawyer, has shifted the interpretation of his  role to be defender of the malevolent.  

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Interference at KY Derby a Metaphor for Election

Lots of people are talking about the stunning results from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Of course, Donald Trump has tweeted his opinion, as well. I’m okay with that. There’s no reason he shouldn’t express his views. 

For the record, Trump believes the “best horse did NOT win” because “political correctness” influenced track officials to declare apparent winner Maximum Security (how could Trump not like a horse by that name?) interfered with other horses on the final turn (naturally, Trump would disagree with any suggestion interference affected the outcome of a race. He also took the time Sunday to opine that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress. Obstruction, or as the Churchill Downs stewards called it, interference, was clearly evident in Trump’s post-election actions by anyone save sycophantic Republicans). Track judges stripped Maximum Security of the title and awarded the race to Country House who had finished second by about a length and a half. 

Let’s leave it to racing touts to work out the final results of the Kentucky Derby. I’m more interested in handicapping the 2020 presidential race.

First, a short review of 2016. Trump lost the popular vote but won the presidency by securing 304 Electoral College votes; 270 being the threshold required to win. Despite more voters preferring Hillary Clinton, she captured just 227 Electoral College votes. 

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary lost the election by not attracting a combined 80,000 more votes in Michigan (16 EC votes), Pennsylvania (20 EC votes) and Wisconsin (10 EC votes). That would have given her 273 Electoral College votes, a slight but sufficient margin of victory.

By my calculations, the 2020 race will be determined by more than just the outcomes in those three states. Indeed, the field of battleground states is 12, divided equally between states Trump won and those that polled Democratic in 2016.

Trump starts out with a lock on 195 EC votes from states across the South and the middle of the country. He needs 75 more to win reelection. But 106 of his remaining 109 EC votes in 2016 can be considered in play. 

He won Florida’s 29 EC votes by (round numbers) 100,000; Michigan by 13,000; Pennsylvania by 44,000; Wisconsin by 20,000; North Carolina (15 EC votes) by 170,000; and Georgia (16 EC votes) by 200,000. Given the razor thin Republican gubernatorial victories in Florida and Georgia in 2018, it is conceivable Democrats could flip those states in 2020. Dems won governors’ seats in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2018 after flipping North Carolina in 2016. They retained the governorship in Pennsylvania in 2018. 

For the Democratic standard bearer the challenge begins with a lower sure-win number. He or she can expect 182 Electoral College votes mostly garnered from Northeast and West Coast states, 88 fewer than the needed 270. 

In 2016 Hillary Clinton amassed 227 EC votes. But 44 of those nods could turn to Trump in the following states: Clinton won Colorado (9 EC votes) by 120,000 votes; Minnesota (10 EC votes) by 40,000; Virginia (13 EC votes) by 200,000; Maine (2 EC votes) by 20,000; New Hampshire (4 EC votes) by 3,000; and Nevada (6 EC votes) by 27,000. 

What the numbers tell us is that it is waaaaay too early to provide meaningful predictions on who will emerge successful. It’s rather like the recent National Football League draft of college players. Experts try to rank the potential of players, but nothing is certain. For every “sure thing” top draft choice there’s a bust. Considered by many the best quarterback ever, Tom Brady was not drafted until the sixth round, almost as an afterthought. 

Your choices are to tune out political pablum and prognostications for the next 18 months or sit back and enjoy (Is that the right word?) the race, without, hopefully, any interference. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tossing and Turning When Gilda's Away

My wife left me last Tuesday. 

Oh, it is not what you think. 

With Donny staying in New York for business, Gilda accompanied Ellie, CJ and Leo back to Omaha. She will be coming home today.  

Being able to help care for our grandchildren is one of the benefits she is reaping in retirement, the freedom to travel on her own schedule, for pleasure or to help out. 

I’m not embarrassed to admit I have had a hard time sleeping when she’s not lying next to me. During my career I often traveled days at a time. Frequently five days a month away from home. 

As publisher and editor I could assign others to travel with me. Ostensibly to help train or support a staffer, it camouflaged a perq of my office to keep me from being alone on the road. It worked during the daytime and through a good dinner but when my hotel room door closed behind me I could not escape the loneliness of being away from home, from Gilda. 

Her trip to Omaha brought the experience back, but in reverse. In my hotel room after dinner I would turn on the TV. I’d be exhausted but unable to fall into deep sleep. I’d set the TV timer only to be awakened from light slumber when it clicked off around 12:30. I couldn’t control the air quality in the room. The room would be stuffy. The pillows were not to my liking. I’d stumble across to the bathroom once or twice. I’d turn the TV back on and for hours watch a bad movie or some silly sitcoms. 

My TV options are better now. I can scroll through hundreds of cable stations with scores of movies. The first night Gilda was gone I watched a West Coast Yankees game and two episodes of Veep before finally closing my eyes for several hours. 

When Gilda’s home we usually go to sleep around 11:30. I wake up around 8. This past week sleep has not come till nearly 2 and has not lasted past 7:30. This blog, for example, was written about 1:30 am, a half hour after I woke up from sleep initiated at the start of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I woke up at 7:07.

For all my complaints, the truth is I believe a partner’s independent short-term travel is healthy for any relationship. Time away allows both partners to more fully appreciate each other. To recharge the excitement of being together. 

I could never have sustained the life of a traveling salesman or similar profession that required extended overnight travel most weeks of the year. 

As much as I “suffered” through this past week, my experience is not comparable to what Gilda went through when I traveled. She was left to care for our children, to feed and, when they were younger, clothe them. To make sure they went off safely to school and back. For most of those years she also had a full-time job. And if it snowed—it always seemed to snow when I was away during the winter—she had to shovel the driveway. No, my seven nights tossing and turning cannot be compared to her years of underappreciated dedication.

There’s no guarantee my sleep tonight will be better with Gilda lying next to me. But hearing her breathing, being able to reach out and touch her arm in the middle of the night, relying on her body heat instead of the heated mattress pad to warm our bed, signals a return to normalcy. To a contentment appreciated for sure by anyone in a lifetime partner relationship. 

Her plane is scheduled to land at Newark airport at 4:30 pm. I’ll be there. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

My Letter in The Times Lights the Way

It took more than two weeks, but The New York Times finally published my letter to the editor, online Sunday and in Monday’s printed edition. 

Back on April 12 two of Thomas Edison’s great-grandsons opined in The Times that “the Department of Energy now wants to roll back new efficiency standards (for light bulbs) signed into law by President George W. Bush and updated, as required, during the Obama administration” (https://nyti.ms/2VDXgtT).

The proposed withdrawal is another example of Donald Trump’s demonic compulsion to eliminate any vestige of progressive action by his predecessors, especially if it smacks of any environmental benefit to reduce the impact of climate change.  

The Edison progeny advocated public and congressional opposition to any plan by the Energy Department to narrow the scope of energy saving standards. 

It was in that context that I sent my letter to The Times. With slight editing to my original submission, The Times ran the following:

“We cannot rely on the Trump administration to do the right thing when it comes to enforcing light bulb energy standards. Instead, private enterprise must lead the way.

“Large chain stores—Walmart, Target, Kmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Costco and Ace Hardware, as well as Amazon—should exert their public service commitment by not buying or stocking less energy efficient incandescent light bulbs.
“Retailers can shine a positive light on the future direction of our country.”

Naturally, not everyone is on board with any plan that would deny consumers the opportunity to buy cheaper 100-watt incandescent bulbs compared to more expensive L.E.D.s. In response to a friend who brought up the issue after seeing my letter, I wrote back, 

“Yes, it will cost more and the poor would be disproportionately hurt. But just as we have required seat belts in cars at a higher cost, just as we require food safety inspections that raise the price of food, just as we have tolls on roads that make travel costlier, there are some mandates that are put in place for the common good. Call it totalitarianism. Or socialism. Or saving the planet for our grandchildren. Doing nothing is not an option for long term survival.”

Here’s how the Edisons put it: “Few actions can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet as cheaply and easily as replacing energy-wasting bulbs with highly efficient ones. The group (the Natural Resources Defense Council) estimates that if every household in the United States replaced just one old bulb with an L.E.D., the country’s overall electric bill would be cut by more than $5 billion in 10 years, and two million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution would be avoided. 

“The savings are so big because the average American household has around 40 lighting sockets, and many still employ energy-wasting bulbs. We need efficiency standards to spur more innovation and ensure that our store shelves carry new bulbs reflecting the latest technology.

“Regrettably, special interests have reared their heads once again. Big bulb manufacturers supported by the Energy Department prefer to take the cheap, inefficient and environmentally harmful path for short-term profits. They would sacrifice our common good for their selfish greed.”

This was not my first letter published in The Times. Eleven years ago, when Allianz was reported by The Times to be near to securing the naming rights to the then new Meadowlands stadium where the New York Giants and Jets would play, I revealed the link between the company and its history of insuring Nazi death camps. To its credit Allianz already had disclosed on its website its association with the Nazi regime. But The Times article merely identified Allianz as a German financial services company (no doubt that is how the company identifies itself in press releases).

After my letter was published The Times followed up with a major story entitled “Naming Rights and Historic Wrongs.” Less than a week after my letter appeared, after intense public rejection of the Allianz overture, Allianz abandoned its bid. Only then did MetLife step in to secure the naming rights (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2010/01/chain-of-one-person-events.html).

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Don McGhan: Patriot or Trump Enabler?

In the pantheon of American patriots who sacrificed position to preserve the republic and avoid a constitutional crisis, how would you rank former White House counsel Don McGahn?  

Is he worthy of adulation for thwarting the worst impulses of a petty president? Should we laud him for ignoring the rants of Donald Trump, the commands of a megalomaniac, the wanton dictates of a wannabe autocrat? For surely on more than one occasion, according to his own testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller, McGhan saved Trump’s presidency by not executing his orders. 

So where do you stand on McGhan? Patriot or enabler of tyranny for keeping Trump in the White House?

Before you respond, here’s a thought to muddle your thinking: Along with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, McGhan is responsible for a decades’ long turn to the right in our federal judiciary. He managed the selections and confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and dozens of lower court judges appointed for life. 

Now what do you say? Is McGhan to be praised or reviled? Trump has him tops on his most current “s— list” because he has revealed the nakedness of Trump’s intellect and disdain for the Constitution. He spilled the beans—on the record—on the dysfunction in the Oval Office. He corroborated previously reported stories, based on sources, that Trump’s aides ignored his directives and assiduously worked to keep him from violating the law or corroding the government. 

Naturally, the denier-in-chief rejected the idea that anyone stifled his impulses, but testimony under oath to the contrary is difficult to rebut, especially since it came from several officials.

Yet, there are those judges McGhan put on the bench. Would America be better off if McGhan had resigned rather than helped Trump stay in office? 

Probably not. Because Mike Pence as a replacement president would have nominated those same judges, if not more conservative jurists. Liberal values were screwed no matter who served as president or counsel to the president as long as Republicans held a majority in the Senate. 

Ideology aside, it may be argued McGhan acted in the best interests of the nation. He forestalled a constitutional crisis. It will be interesting to observe how he reacts and responds to the subpoena Congress just extended to him. 

Attorney General William Barr, on the other hand, has openly displayed his bias. Rather than be the people’s attorney, Barr has shown himself to be Trump’s best defense lawyer. His repeated use of Trump’s catch-phrase “no collusion” was an open acknowledgment that he was conspiring with Trump to undermine the findings of the Mueller report. 

Collusion is not a legal term to be used in the context of the Mueller probe. Mueller found insufficient evidence to say there was a conspiracy with Russia to sway the election. He did not make a judgment on the question of obstruction of justice. Barr did, saying no obstruction occurred. But Mueller’s report provided numerous instances where Trump interfered with the investigation or its legitimacy. 

An unbiased attorney general would have let Congress decide the matter. He would not have pre-judged the question. Unlike McGhan, Barr added fuel to the fire of possible impeachment and constitutional crisis. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Aglow in Sadness From Notre-Dame's Flames

A little more than a week ago I watched, for the umpteenth time, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the classic 1939 film adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel starring Charles Laughton. It is a great movie.

The first time I saw the film I must have been no more than 10 years old. I watched it with my mother, probably as one of the Million Dollar Movies that played each night for a full week on WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York during the 1950s. From that time, indelibly imprinted in my mind was the scene wherein the hunchback bellringer Quasimodo pours molten lead through gargoyles on the roof of the cathedral onto Parisian beggars and riffraff attacking Notre-Dame. 

For years I thought the mob was trying to free the Gypsy maiden Esmeralda from his grasp. He had saved her from the gallows, invoking “sanctuary” inside the church.  

The mob actually was trying to shield Esmeralda from a threatened royal revocation of sanctuary safety. Deaf, Quasimodo had no way of knowing the mob was not attacking him. 

To my young eyes and ears, the spectacle was all that mattered. The hunchback saved the girl. 

Hugo’s book is far different from its various movie iterations. Look it up on Wikipedia if you’re interested in knowing the differences. One thing is a constant—Notre-Dame commands the screen. 

I climbed to the top of the cathedral during my first trip to Paris in August 1966. I arrived at the base of Notre-Dame just before closing time. New visitors were not allowed entry through the main entrance that day anymore. Being a bold teenager of 17, I decided that up the down staircase was good enough for me. I raced up one of the towers, the right one if memory serves me correctly. The climb is 387 stairs. It took about 10 minutes. 

A few steps short of the top a young man descending said something to me I could not understand. Having just spent six weeks in Israel, I reflexively responded, “Mah?,” Hebrew for “what?”. He laughed and answered me in Hebrew that the viewing area was closing and being cleared of tourists. I rushed ahead and managed a short but thrilling view of Paris from above.

I’ve returned with Gilda to Paris several times. Notre-Dame has been one of our memorable stops.

Paris without Notre-Dame in its glory would be like visiting London without seeing Big Ben or Westminster Abbey, Rome without St. Peter’s Basilica or the Coliseum, Jerusalem without the Western Wall or the Dome of the Rock. 

Begun in 1163, the Gothic cathedral was completed in 1345 at a cost impossible to fathom.

Will Notre-Dame be restored? Would the French government sustain such an expense for an expected lengthy restoration? 

If there is a model of hope for a resurrection of the edifice it can be found at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Built by Tsar Peter the Great on the shore of the Baltic Sea in the early part of the 18th century, Peterhof’s elaborate gardens, fountains and buildings were largely ravaged by the invading German army in 1941. Restoration began at the end of World War II and lasted through decades. Gilda and I can attest to its beauty. 

In Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia (“holy family”) Church is slated for completion in 2026. Construction began in 1882, but did not take on its current design until Antoni Gaudi took over as architectural director in 1884. Gaudi died in 1926 with only 20% of the project complete. Gilda liked it when we saw it about 15 yers ago. I didn't warm to it.

These days the French are not a particularly religious people. But the importance of Notre-Dame transcends beliefs. When the shock of the blaze is reduced to embers, a burning desire to rekindle national pride will fuel a revival of the grande dame of Paris.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sharing Voices in a Chorus

On the eve of the 10th day from Wednesday, April 10, Jews the world over will sit down to a seder commemorating the exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. It has become a festival of nationhood, a symbol of freedom from oppression and bondage, a reminder that they should treat the strangers among them with dignity and fairness because, as it is written in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, God “befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

How far we Americans—Jews and non Jews—have come from this biblical ideal. 

Days after celebrating Purim, the holiday that rejoices in the foiling of Haman’s plot to annihilate all Jews inside the Persian empire because they were different, and days before the Passover holiday when Jews became refugees seeking a new life, the Trump administration has vigorously renewed its attack on legal asylum seekers. 

Trump has claimed there is no room in the United States for all the asylum seekers. He made that argument before a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas (on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, of all days). Of course, his facts were wrong (https://nyti.ms/2UpZ1hF).

Reportedly, the purge of officials at the Department of Homeland Security in favor of those who would implement a more repressive immigration policy has been championed by Stephen Miller, himself a great grandson of a Jewish refugee fleeing pogroms in Belarus. How shameful. Miller is a modern day Torquemada, whose medieval family converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Torquemada became a priest and led the Spanish Inquisition against Moslems and Jews who converted but were suspected of less than complete adherence to Catholic practices.

Facebook and Twitter are enlightening sources. Here’s a post from Jackie Calmes. Above a picture of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939, Calmes wrote, “Never thought an audience of Jews would cheer words like Trump’s in NV on Sat against asylum, labeling migrants fleeing violence as threats & saying US is ‘full.’”

Under the picture, a link to an article in Smithsonian Magazine recounting the State Department’s long history of anti-Semitism. The headline: “The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/#V6QqrCfvfc4Ktrpo.03).

Lee Clark on Twitter wrote, “Trump went to Las Vegas and in front of the Jewish people used the same analogy against the South Americans that the country used against the Jews in 1939, the country was full and could not take in any more refugees. Refusing to let the Jew in sending them away Hitler killed all of them. The same thing Trump is doing to the South Americans.”

Words matter. Why is it that when Trump talks about Puerto Ricans or Jewish Americans it sounds like he does not consider them to be American citizens. Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he referred to Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu as “your prime minister,” suggesting that the Jews he was speaking to were not American citizens but rather Israelis, that their loyalty was, at the very least, divided.

The case is being made by some Jews that it is in their best interest to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of Republicans. It’s called “Jexodus”  https://nyti.ms/2Yc2yhO. 

I’m not buying it. I’m not turning my back on millennia of Jewish ideals, like support for human rights, equality, equality of opportunity, support for education, civil rights, community, respect for scientific knowledge.  

The noted astrophysicist Carl Sagan, in his 1995 book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,”  forecast the type of existence we find ourselves in today. Here’s a Twitter post of Sagan’s thoughts from his book from Dan Kaminsky via a Bret Thorn retweet:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

We deserve a leader who would help us reverse the decline, yes, to make us great again, not by dividing us into competitive camps but by uniting us toward a common goal. 

Instead, we are faced with the reality of another Sagan quote from his book: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Biden Drawing Lots of Advice on Running

Joe Biden is getting a lot of free advice lately*. Run; Don’t run. Apologize; Just say you’re sorry, I won’t do it again (hopefully, that is, given that being touchy-feely is hardwired into his DNA). 

Perhaps the best thing to come out of Biden’s #MeToo moment has been the mocking he has endured from Donald Trump and his depraved supporters. Of all people, the misogynist- and philanderer-in-chief should be silent on matters related to violating a woman’s space. On this issue alone, any woman who would opt for The Donald over Uncle Joe, even Creepy Uncle Joe, is beyond redemption, is lost to any Democrat hoping to kick the miscreant out of the White House. 

The Biden contretemps over his pressing-the-flesh form of retail politics has spotlighted the evolution of electoral choices for the whole country, most especially for Democrats. 

Republicans seem content to look beyond most any candidate’s past and even current indiscretions. Hard right policies are more important to them than a strong moral character. Examples abound, including Roy Moore of Alabama and Steve King of Iowa. Let’s also not forget Brett Kavanaugh.

No one has implied Biden had dark thoughts when he invaded the privacy of women and men during his long public career. But by turning his actions of decades ago, or even of yesterday, into an immutable character flaw, those advocating his withdrawal from any consideration of the presidency have transformed the selection of a nominee into a beauty contest rather than a competition of ideas and principles. Young voters, in particular, should care more about the values a leader encompasses and the future he or she projects for them, our country and the world than on a series of unintentionally inappropriate touches. 

Biden has a lot of political baggage he must defend, from how he handled Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to his advocacy of tough criminal laws that disproportionately affected people of color. He should not expect the nomination to be handed to him on a silver platter.

But he should not be disqualified because his service record spans generational changes. Good leaders evolve their thinking, their actions. 

Everyone wanting to be president, including Trump, claims they will work for “all” Americans, that they want to work across party lines. Biden is one of the few, if only, who has that experience. 

He should be given the chance to be compared against those who believe they have a more meaningful vision to unite the country. More importantly, whomever is chosen as the Democratic standard bearer needs to convince voters he or she can defeat Trump.

*For those who may have missed some of the free advice Biden is receiving, here are several links:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“Fahgettaboud” No Obstruction. House Probes Will Continue To Vex Trump

Funny thing about the law. One person’s lie to obstruct an investigation can be another’s chivalrous obfuscation to conceal an infidelity. One person’s suggestion that all the evidence is not yet in to prove innocence or guilt can be another’s hand-washing conclusion, “no foul, no crime.”

Perhaps Melania really does love him. Or maybe she loves the bank account that goes with him. Could be she has a forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, heart. Or maybe, like so many who cast aside a disapproving eye as they watch their retirement accounts soar with the stock market, Melania is comforted by the growth of her personal fortune. 

The charade has gone on too long for me to assume anything less than her deep-throated complicity. 

What can we expect next? Democrats won’t accept Attorney General William Barr’s and Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein’s assessment that no obstruction occurred. They will continue their House investigations. 

Trump will crow daily there was no collusion and no obstruction. By summer’s end, at the very latest by New Year’s Day, he will pardon all whom Mueller indicted: Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Alex van der Zwann, Richard Pinedo and Konstantin Kilimnik, but not George Papadopoulos as it was his loose lips that unleashed the two year-plus investigation into Trump’s campaign and presidency. Only Stone has yet to be convicted or plead guilty. 

You can rest assured Michael Cohen will not receive any clemency. 

One takeaway from the Mueller investigation—lying to a federal official, be it the FBI, a grand jury or Congress, is a crime. Lying to the American people, or your wife, or a reporter, is not. You can go to jail for the former. For the latter, you could lose an election, that is, if the American people have sufficient brain power to care for the sanctity of our nation’s founding principles. 

According to Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller reached no conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice. Barr and Rosenstein did, finding no obstruction happened. Perhaps they reasoned that since Mueller found no evidence of collusion with Russia to undermine the 2016 election there could be no obstruction. It is a simple math problem: nothing times something results in nothing.  

In New York lingo, “fahgettaboud” Trump asking FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn, or firing him when he wouldn’t, or firing his successor Andrew McCabe, or continually undermining the credibility of the special counsel and his team. Fahgettaboud Trump openly admitting on television to NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russian investigation. 

We cannot say we weren’t warned Barr would take Trump’s side. In a 19-page memo to Justice Department officials prior to his appointment as attorney general, Barr said the Mueller probe was off-base. “Mueller’s core premisethat the President acts ‘corruptly’ if he attempts to influence a proceeding in which his own conduct is being scrutinizedis untenable,” Barr wrote.

These are times of strange judicial doings. There have been a string of not guilty verdicts in cases of policemen shooting, mostly killing, unarmed or non threatening men of color. And just as I was completing this blog prosecutors in Chicago dropped all 16 charges against the actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly faking his own racial and homophobic assault. No reason given for their action. Chicago’s mayor and police chief are justifiably outraged. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Winners Wanted, Not Almost Winners

Beto O’Rourke is running for president. The ex-Democratic congressman failed in his bid last November to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Sorry, Beto, but I cannot conceive of choosing a candidate for the nation’s highest office if he could not win the support of his own state. We’ve been there before. We muddled through eight years of George W. Bush because Al Gore couldn’t carry his home state of Tennessee. Sure, Beto has more charisma than Al, but I still want a winner, not a close second, as my candidate.

I learned the other day reading a Gail Collins column on Beto that he is so enraptured with the Odyssey that he named his first child Ulysses. Which made me wonder, why didn’t he name his son Odysseus, the Greek name of the heroic character of the epic poem by Homer who spends 20 years away from home, 10 fighting the Trojan War and another 10 on an action-packed journey back to his wife, the ever faithful Penelope? Why did he choose the Roman counterpart name, Ulysses? Was he already playing identity politics because he knew there are more Italian-American voters than those of Greek ancestry? Why didn’t he just call the kid Homer? That way he’d also get the Simpsons crowd behind his candidacy.

For the record, I’m also against Stacey Abrams thinking that coming in second in a tight Georgia gubernatorial race entitles her to think she is the best choice to be the Democratic presidential nominee able to send Donald Trump and his family packing from the White House. 

Ditto for Andrew Gillum, former mayor of Tallahassee and near-winner of the governorship of Florida.  

Where do these people get their hubris? Hubris is another one of those Greek words we should all pay attention to. 

Yes, as Gillum pointed out to Bill Maher last Friday night, Abraham Lincoln failed to beat Stephen Douglas in their Senate race from Illinois back in 1857, but let’s not equate Beto or Stacey or Andrew with our 16th president. 

To Impeach or Not? People who advocate for Trump’s impeachment argue he is unqualified for the job of president. They might be right, check that, they are right, but being unqualified is not an impeachable offense. 

So let’s stop using that argument. Qualified or not, Trump received sufficient votes in states with enough Electoral College votes to win the election. 

The task now is to pick a candidate who can carry states with more than 270 electoral votes. Beto, Stacey and Andrew may excite enough voters to win some primaries but could they win a general election? I’m not convinced.

How Do I Feel? My friend Mark, who will be turning 70 in a few months, asked me the other day if I felt any difference physically now that I am into my eighth decade. Not really, I replied. As a reputed hypochondriac to friends and relatives I told Mark it was all a matter of mind over matter. 

But last night as I was waiting for sleep to overwhelm my too active brain near midnight I cataloged what had transpired since my March 6th birthday:

My dentist told me I needed two replacement crowns and a filling repair. Within a week a temporary crown he installed cracked during breakfast, necessitating a frantic dash to his office;

A prolonged head cold left me with inflamed ear canals; ear drops prescribed by an ENT specialist;

And, most troubling, for the third March in four years I am experiencing back pain near my right kidney. Four years ago I suffered with a kidney stone throughout a most unpleasant flight from London. Fortunately, the pain subsided once I showed up in the emergency room of White Plains Hospital. Exactly a year later what I thought was another kidney stone turned out to be a bladder stone. That ailment required what doctor’s call a bladder blaster procedure and an overnight hookup to a catheter. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking of that predicament. I don’t know how this new pain will be resolved but I do marvel at its timing, always slightly past the Ides of March. 

Was this ache like the mysterious hip pain that afflicted me for about 10 minutes on my 35th birthday, or could it be traced to a muscle strained Monday morning while chopping some lingering ice along the pathway to our yard? As I lay in bed in the middle of Monday night it hurt if I faced left but not if I faced right or remained on my back. By morning the pain was mostly gone, hopefully never to return, at least for another 12 months.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Tribute to Gilda on Her 70th Birthday

Half a century. Fifty years ago Gilda and I started our relationship. Actually, she started it by asking me to escort her to a Christmas get-together at the home of one of her political science teachers. That was the one and only time I ever was in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. 

Gilda is 11 days my junior. She turned 70 Sunday. 

I thought I would tell you how accomplished she is. But I did that a few weeks ago, as far as her professional career, when we celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2019/01/my-my-fair-lady-for-46-years.html).

Today, I’ll concentrate on her non professional side. 

Those fortunate to have eaten a meal prepared by Gilda know how good a cook she is. She didn’t start out that way. The first meal she made for me, a lunch before she embarked with friends on a college winter break trip to Montreal, was spaghetti and a chicken pot pie. She served the latter still partially frozen, the spaghetti overcooked and clumped together so firmly it could be picked up in its entirety with one plunge of a fork. 

I love reminding her of her cooking pedigree. She takes it with grace. She is not shy of elaborating to friends how in her first apartment she decided to make beef stroganoff. The recipe called for heavy cream. She had no idea what that meant and, as her apartment lacked a phone because of a telephone worker strike, she was unable to call anyone for advice. So off she trundled to the local grocer where she lifted up containers of different creams. She decided 8 ounces of sour cream weighed more than 8 ounces of any other cream. She apparently had not seen a container marked “heavy cream.” 

The recipe also called for a clove of garlic. She assumed a clove was synonymous with a full head of garlic.  

Gilda remembers the stroganoff didn’t really taste that bad. I couldn’t say. I was up in Syracuse at graduate school.  

Gilda took time off from work as a nurse to spend seven years raising Dan and Ellie. She enjoyed almost all of that time (okay, not when Dan had severe colic) but drew the line at sitting through kiddie films. Thus, I should not have been surprised when as a family we went to see Disney’s animated Oliver and Company and she disappeared midway through the film. I couldn’t leave the kids in a dark movie theater to search for her. She showed up in the lobby later, having ducked into a screening of Working Woman. 

She wouldn’t be normal if she didn’t complain once in a while. Kindness from and to others is her most fervent desire. When it is not proffered or appreciated she is not happy.

Gilda exults in her time outdoors, be it in her garden, in private or public gardens we have walked, or during almost daily constitutionals around our neighborhood. With the aid of fluorescent lights during the winter she turns our basement into a hothouse of geraniums lifted up from her garden before fall’s first frost.

She reads several books at a time, a history or biography along with a novel. She reads three newspapers a day, the online versions of The New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Omaha World Herald, the last two as a way of keeping up with developments where Dan’s and Ellie’s families live. She also reads Internet news sites, especially the US DailyMail.com, a site that she admits has some pretty weird stories but she notes oftentimes has more information on breaking news and current events sooner and in more detail than The Times. 

Family and friends are exceedingly important to her, part of the reason we expanded our home after our children went off to college. A modernized kitchen with a larger dining room and living room meant we could accommodate more guests. For Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Thanksgiving Gilda spends weeks cooking for large groups of friends and family. Many Friday nights she welcomes the Sabbath with friends who get to savor her cooking and her newfound skill, baking challah.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Gilda’s accomplishments is that she is a self-taught success. It is not blasphemy to report that her parents did not provide effective role models. Her father Irving travelled frequently and was not a dominant presence in the family. He died suddenly when she was nine. Her mother Rose offered little by way of comfort or example. She could not cook, so Gilda never learned. She did not welcome any of Gilda’s friends into their household. Rose was a simple woman with little curiosity, gumption or industriousness. She convinced Gilda’s sister to work in an office rather than attend college. She would have liked Gilda to do the same, but Gilda chose her own path. 

Naturally, she would not pay for Gilda’s college education. So Gilda enrolled in Brooklyn College, a commuter school that at the time cost about $100 per semester for tuition and books. Gilda worked to pay her own school costs as well as buying her own clothing and other living expenses. One could say I am indebted to Rose’s penny-pinching ways for enabling Gilda and me to find one another. Fifty years ago. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

My Link to Purdue Pharma, Maker of OxyContin

News Bulletin: With Lawsuits Looming, OxyContin Maker Considers Bankruptcy (https://nyti.ms/2UAmOY8)

Reporters make choices every day. Which stories to write. How much play should they get. Which sources to use. Which to name. (One thing reporters don’t get to decide is the headline for their stories so don’t blame them for misleading, suggestive or provocative headlines. Of course, for my blog I write the headlines as well.)

Like most people reporters have innate biases. They try their best to be objective. They have sources who are favorites. By that I don’t mean they are friendly drinking buddies, though many an article may see the light of day after the bottom of a shot glass or beer mug has been drained. What I mean is that reporters may overlook the misdeeds of a politician or policeman if that favored source can provide dirt on another pol or cop, usually someone with a higher rank or a juicier violation. 

In the annals of reporting, Drew Pearson and his protege Jack Anderson are famous, some would say infamous, especially as it relates to Pearson. They were muckrakers. They exposed shady dealings and behaviors among Washington elites. 

I started reading Pearson’s and then Anderson’s syndicated “Washington Merry Go Round” column in the 1960s. It appeared most days in The New York Post, back then a liberal tabloid. Pearson, or maybe it was Anderson, justified the use of unnamed, dirt-spilling sources by asserting it was okay to ignore a source’s indiscretions if he or she disclosed damaging information on a more powerful sinner. 

like the adage “one wouldn’t eat sausage if one could see how it is made,” investigative journalism is not always clean and pretty. Tradeoffs are common. 

Which brings me to a story from my business writing career. Half a century ago a regional variety and discount store chain called Rose’s was headquartered in Henderson, NC.

Rose’s. It was not a huge success, which prompted the president of our company to ask a predecessor editor of Chain Store Age why he did not write any tough articles about Rose’s. Because, the editor replied, he liked the Rose’s executives and didn’t want to embarrass them. 

Fair enough. Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post. Having written that many of my blogs are prompted by my past association with current events or people in the news I must confess that almost daily I am confronted with a moral dilemma. 

There in print in The New York Times on several recent occasions was the name of a casual friend from my teenage years. It wasn’t the first time he was identified. He was, after all, the president and chief executive officer of Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin. The drumbeat of news surrounding his involvement in one of the nation’s most pressing crises kept gnawing at me. 

I knew his family. We prayed in the same synagogue on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. His father was our kosher butcher. His parents’ marriage in a displaced person camp after World War II is a beautiful story of triumph. His mother’s wedding gown was crafted from white parachute silk. The gown has been handed down to many brides and last I recall is displayed in a museum. My parents socialized with his parents. One summer we were counselors in camp. I knew his sister and brother. 

Shortly after Gilda retired earlier this year from her position as a nurse practitioner for spine surgeons two of our friends had spine surgery with one of the doctors she assisted. During their recuperatory period they took OxyContin. Used properly it is an exemplary pain killer with minimal chance of addiction. OxyContin provided the intended relief. Our friends are recovering nicely. 

For his involvement in the opioid tragedy unfolding in our country my adolescent acquaintance was fined $19 million and barred for 12 years from involvement in any government-financed health care program. 

There. I’ve said it. Or at least as much as I care to. I made my choice. You’re free to uncover more particulars. I will continue to wonder how my acquaintance sleeps each night knowing there are thousands, tens of thousands, whose lives have been forever damaged by the misleading and deadly aggressive marketing of OxyContin. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thoughts on College Admissions, Manafort, Impeachment, Farm Aid and a Cautionary Tale

The audacious scandal of parents of privilege paying a collective millions of dollars to trick the college selection process into accepting their children into prestigious schools evoked memories of how I and many of my high school classmates chose our institution of higher learning. 

During senior year at Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn my classmates and I met with one of our math teachers, Morris Turetsky, who doubled as the college guidance counselor. Moe, as we called him, was diminutive, balding, cherubic, if such a look can be ascribed to a man who seemed to be in his late sixties or early seventies. He often held index cards below desk level when conducting class, his personal cheat sheets. He spoke in clipped sentences in a street-smart voice. (Years later, after Gilda and I had our children, the rabbi of the synagogue we joined in White Plains was his son, Arnold, a spellbinding orator.)

Like many of my cohorts, I was a first generation American, my parents having emigrated from Poland, my mother in 1921 when she was four, my father at 28 in 1939. Neither attended college. My mother graduated high school. My father probably had no more than a sixth grade education in Poland, though he did earn what may be liberally considered a high school equivalency degree from night school classes in New York.

When meeting individually with Moe, more often than not, his counsel was, “Save your parents’ money. Go to Brooklyn College.” 

At the time, Brooklyn College cost $50 per semester plus books, usually no more than another $50 ($200 for an academic year). BC was a commuter school, so students lived with their parents. By comparison, annual tuition at the University of Pennsylvania cost $1,770 in 1966 with another $1,000 in room and board expenses, $180 for a general fee, $100 for books and $450 in personal expenses. 

Viewed another way, in 2016 inflation adjusted dollars, the cost of attending a full year at Brooklyn College was $1,504; at Penn, $26,303. 

Moe wasn’t wrong. Brooklyn College could save my parents lots of dollars. And at the time, Brooklyn was highly ranked among the nation’s liberal arts colleges. 

His advice did not fall on deaf ears. Of the 110 students in my graduating class, I and 58 others matriculated to Brooklyn College. Another nine enrolled at City University of New York sister colleges. Fourteen chose Ivy League schools; another dozen opted to leave Brooklyn to attend MIT and universities such as Wisconsin, Rochester and Chicago. 

Do I regret not leaving the friendly confines of Brooklyn for the out of town college experience? At times. But it would be hard to regret my years at BC, meeting Gilda and embarking on the career path I took. 

Does Manafort Have Any Regrets? One wonders if Paul Manafort has any regrets now that he has been sentenced to serve seven and a half years for a variety of federal crimes. Keep in mind he cannot appeal his punishment as he pleaded guilty to the crimes and was at the mercy of the two judges who sentenced him in separate courtrooms. 

Mercy was exactly what he was seeking, appearing as he did in a wheelchair both times, a complication of his alleged gout. Gout is often cast as a rich person’s ailment, commonly brought about by indulging in foods such as shrimp, lobster and red meats. 

Doubtful Manafort will enjoy such tasty fare in any federal lockup (assuming he is not pardoned by Trump), but here’s an interesting tidbit from lobster history. An abundance of lobsters in Colonial times caused the crustaceans to be considered a poor man’s food. “The meat was so reviled that indentured servants in one Massachusetts town successfully sued their owners to feed it to them three times a week at most,” according to gizmodo.com. You decide if you believe it or not.

Smoking Gun: Trump has latched onto an assertion by one of Manafort’s judges that his trial had nothing to do with collusion with Russia. Trump is braying, “No collusion,” as justification for ending any investigations into his 2016 campaign and administration, and certainly no reason to consider impeachment.

I’m with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on this one. Without “smoking gun” evidence, impeachment hearings would further divide the country and almost certainly solidify and possibly expand Trump’s base. Without, and maybe even with, a smoking gun the Republican controlled Senate would not convict. 

So we’re stuck with Trump for his full term. But I am all for extensive congressional investigation of Trump’s actions, his campaign, his businesses, his taxes, indeed, anything Trump, as a counter-balance to his authoritarian style of governing. A constant drumbeat of Trump’s duplicitous dealings exposed will undermine his legitimacy.  

Farm Aid: Farmers are said to be among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Yet, they have not been rewarded for their loyalty (another example of Trump’s one-way loyalty street). 

Here’s an article from Bloomberg News outlining Trump’s budget plans for farmers: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-11/trump-to-farmers-love-you-but-still-cutting-your-subsidies.

Cautionary Tale: Wealth does not protect one from mishaps, including medical mistakes. Ego apparently led to the untimely death of a billionaire diamond trader intent on reversing his undercompensated manhood: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6777961/Billionaire-diamond-trader-65-dies-penis-enlargement-surgery.html

Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Look Back at Life Magazine March 7, 1949

Ever since Gilda retired two months ago our lives have changed in obvious and some not so subtle ways. We no longer wake up before 6 am to get Gilda to work in Manhattan. We often can stay in bed past 9 or even 10 am, and I am talking weekdays! With eight hours or more of sleep I believe my apnea is diminishing. 

I won’t bore you with more details (maybe in another post) except to say that her retirement meant we were able to celebrate my 70th birthday together all day Wednesday. Truly enjoyable. 

But to return to my opening comment about changes to our lives for one more example, Gilda has embarked us on a decluttering crusade worthy of Marie Kondo. Having tackled our attic in pre-retirement mode, she thrust her shovel into the detritus of our children’s former bedrooms and the living room. Marie Kondo says jettison anything that doesn’t give you joy. Of course, that presumes joy is shared, or not, by both partners. As a mild hoarder I can attest that I find more joy in our miscellaneous possessions than Gilda does. 

Which brings me to the central theme of this blog. Gilda wanted to throw out a collectible issue of Life magazine dated March 7, 1949, the day after I was born. Now, I know many people collect facsimiles of a newspaper front page of their birth day, not realizing that the stories reveal what happened the day before their birth. 

Life magazine was a weekly back then. Each issue costs 20 cents; yearly subscriptions $6. 

Leafing through the edition I retrieved from the disposal pile, I paused to read interesting editorial and advertisements as current back then as they are today.  Israel was a topic of debate in 1949, the year after its founding. A letter to the editor from Walter Fried of New York, N.Y., stated “I am glad to see that your attitude toward the new state of Israel has changed” from being against the formation of the new state “or rather you were against the way in which it was formed.”

Turning the page I came across an ad for an Anglia economy car built by Ford in England. What intrigued me was the gas mileage for the 4-cylinder two-door vehicle—up to 40 miles per gallon! Most cars today cannot match that efficiency. 

Bryce Harper just signed a 13-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million. It is part of free agent legacy in baseball attributed to the actions of Curt Flood in 1969 and later by Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith in 1975. But how many of you know about Danny Gardella and his 1949 battle to invalidate the reserve clause that bound players to their teams even after their contracts expired? Read more about Gardella’s bid to crack the reserve clause by clicking on this link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Gardella

Presidential pique with journalists as well as presidential cussing did not begin with Donald Trump. Or with Harry S. Truman. Life noted his displeasure with Drew Pearson, reporting, “Pearson approached the President face to face after a press conference—and some observers had the impression Truman would gladly have taken a swing at Pearson if a Secret Service man had not moved in.” 

Jim Acosta of CNN, are you paying attention?

Life further noted that Truman used the term “s.o.b.” in public, a rare display of vulgarity by a president back then, but apparently not in the age of Trump. 

A few weeks ago the military was chastised for the poor condition of housing for servicemen and their families. Here’s a headline from Life: “New Army Has a Housing Scandal. It finds that Fort Dix GIs live in shacks and even a chicken coop.”

Inside Life’s 138 pages fashion was presented, as well. The big trend of the day—“Slit skirts, they show a little more leg.” The slits could be from four to nine inches long, in back or up the side of the skirt. 

“The new style has an interesting by-product: under the right conditions of light and motion a spectator can catch a fleeting glimpse of the long-veiled upper calf and knee.” 

Sacré bleu! Can nothing be left to the imagination!?!

With the failed Trump-Kim Jong-un summit in Vietnam fresh in mind, here’s Life’s March 7, 1949, nine page report, “Indo-China: It is rich, beautiful colony which France may lose.”

The prescient series of articles came five years before France withdrew from Vietnam after its defeat at Dien Bien Phu and 26 years before the last American died in a war that took 58,220 U.S. lives and some 3.2 million Vietnamese from the North and South. 

Life ceased weekly publishing in 1972, the year I began my career as a journalist. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On Reaching Three Scores and Ten

I reached a biblical milestone of life today, three score years and ten. Seventy. 

Did you ever wonder how we developed the idea that 70 was a full lifetime? Here’s one explanation, as drilled into me during my formative years attending a Jewish day school. 

Genesis V states Adam died when he was 930 years old. He was, according to Jewish exegesis known as midrash,  supposed to live a full 1,000 years. Here’s what the sages say happened:

God previewed to Adam all of his future descendants. Adam was saddened to see one baby die almost at birth. In a gesture of compassion Adam donated 70 of his years to that newborn, leaving his own lifetime at 930. 

Turns out that newborn’s fate was to grow up to be King David, who lived to be 70. A perfect fit. 

But David was a wily fellow. You don’t get to be a king— 40 years as monarch, seven in Hebron, 33 in Jerusalem— without some street smarts. He knew the lore about his lifespan. He wanted more. So, according to the rabbis, David devised a plan to thwart the Angel of Death. He reasoned that as long as he was studying Torah death could not overtake him. He studied day and night. 

Not to be denied from fulfilling his mission the Angel of Death had his own tricks. He caused David to be distracted from learning by simulating a voice calling him. When David got up from his desk the Angel of Death tripped him into a fatal fall. 

I am not making this fairy tale up. This is what they taught early elementary school students at Yeshiva Rambam in mid-1950s Brooklyn. 

As I write this a thought just entered my mind. Could this fable about a fatal fall be the reason elderly people fear falling, why a fall often precedes the end of life for so many seniors?  How serendipitous that Jane Brody, the health columnist of The New York Times, recently wrote about ways to minimize falls. Her article noted that in this country an elderly person dies as a result of a fall every 19 minutes (https://nyti.ms/2NsluE9). 

Half a lifetime ago, on the morning of my 35th birthday, I woke up with a sharp pain in my hip. A pain of unknown origin. I had not recently bumped it. I had not strained it playing ball or exercising. It just hurt. A message from within that my structure was finite. 

The pain lasted perhaps ten minutes. Maybe less. Never returned. As I have never angsted over advancing age I did not ascribe the pain to anything more than coincidence. 

I would be fooling no one if I said I didn’t think of my mortality. I don’t contemplate achievements I might leave unfulfilled. Rather, I project out years—how old would I be when each grandchild celebrates their bar or bat mitzvah. How old until they graduate college, get their first job, marry. Will I live to be a great grandfather?  

Lest you come away from this truth-telling wondering about my frailty, in mind and/or body, please worry not. I am for the most part sound in both respects (even if some family members and friends complain I am a hypochondriac). 

Blogging assumes some obligation to reveal inner thoughts, so I let you in on my political leanings, some family history and days to come. Nothing more. No birthday surprise today. Till next time … 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Bernie Sanders Came Home to Brooklyn I Knew

In the quadrangle where Gilda and I walked (not always together) more than a thousand times between classes at Brooklyn College, Bernie Sanders kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign Saturday. 

For Bernie it was a return, somewhat, to his roots. He grew up about a mile away, in a three-and-a-half room, rent-controlled apartment at the intersection of Kings Highway and East 26th Street. I passed that corner twice every day on my bus ride to and from my elementary school. Bernie attended Brooklyn College for one year, 1960, before transferring to the University of Chicago (

BC was and still is a commuter school. Students go home for the night, generally to their parents’ residence, not to a dormitory or fraternity/sorority house. When Gilda and I attended in the late 1960s BC had some 30,000 students. After our marriage and move to Seymour, Conn., outside New Haven, Gilda had to explain to Jewish women, amazed at our good fortune to have found a fellow Jew among the student body to wed, that it was nearly impossible to escape dating a member of the tribe back then as Jews comprised an overwhelming majority of those enrolled.

Sanders is considered a radical by some because of his label as a Social Democrat and his advocacy of progressive programs including universal health care, free tuition at all public universities and a $15  hourly minimum wage.

Truth is, BC was a hotbed of radicalism from the time it opened its doors in 1930. Leftists and Communists were plentiful on campus (http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/bc/index.html). Extremism gave way to more mainstream liberalism by the 1950s. Until the mid 1960s male students were required to wear ties with sports jackets or suits; women could not wear slacks. 

By the time my freshman year started in September 1966, BC had become a rather folksy place. You could wear jeans and hang out in the cafeteria all day, if you’d like (as I did). The campus did close down during the Vietnam War protests as the decade came to a close, but the atmosphere as I recall it was nothing like the student revolt at Columbia University in Manhattan. 

Though a part of the City University of New York system, Brooklyn College nationally was considered a top liberal arts institution. Only students with an above average combined SAT and high school grade point score could attend. All at a cost of $50 per semester, equivalent today to $391.33. Books were extra. 

The year I graduated Brooklyn adopted an open admissions policy to anyone with a high school degree. The campus quickly changed. No longer could it be cast as a “white bread” campus. Academic standards deteriorated. It took several years before the open admissions policy was reversed.

The campus Bernie Sanders visited Saturday has been greatly transformed by new buildings on both sides of Bedford Avenue. Guarded gates now surround entrances from the neighborhood of single family homes and moderate height apartment houses. A few years ago, during a nostalgic tour of the Brooklyn of our youth, Gilda and I talked our way past a security guard to gain entry to the campus. Memories overwhelmed us. Good memories.