Friday, March 25, 2016

Can You Believe It? I'm a True Progressive

There’s a quiz going around the Internet which asks 10 questions to determine how conservative or liberal you are. Guess what? I’m a “true progressive.”

“You are 19% conservative and 81% liberal, you are a True Progressive!,” according to my answers about such diverse topics as gun control, military spending, social security and welfare programs.

“You believe in truly liberal principles, such as expanding social security, tuition-free education, and free healthcare for all. You view war as a last resort, and would rather see military spending re-directed towards infrastructure, jobs programs, and the middle class. You understand that progress is made through radical, progressive movements, a political truth you embrace wholeheartedly.”

As if readers of this blog needed any confirmation of my liberal beliefs.

Every so often the John McCain we all wish we could admire surfaces. Not the John McCain who chose Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008, but rather the John McCain who immediately rejected disparaging remarks about Barack Obama’s citizenship and religion when confronted by a female supporter that same year. 

Such a John McCain showed up on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times Friday in a stirring memorial tribute to Delmer Berg, perhaps the last surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of mostly American zealots who fought for democracy in the Spanish Civil War in 1937-38 against the forces of fascism led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Berg was 100 when he died last month.

To the very end Berg was a devoted Communist, not the type of passion you would expect McCain to eulogize. But the Arizona senator did himself proud by conveying the dedication Berg and his Lincoln Brigade comrades displayed during a time when the world watched as “the three most powerful ideologies of the 20th century—Communism, fascism and self-determination—began the war that would continue, in some form or another, for more than half the century until the advocates of liberty, and their champion, the United States, prevailed” (

Too bad we don’t see more of this John McCain.

Bird Talk: Lately I’ve been feeding the birds leftover baked goods. So far I can report they have snarfed up with gusto such ethnic treats as bagels, chocolate babka cake from Katz’s Delicatessen, Irish soda bread, a sesame seed flagel (a flattened bagel), a Fresh Direct banana bread and marble cake. 

Speaking of birds, have you ever heard of the Fraternal Order of Eagles? I hadn’t until earlier this month I sat next to two cheerful ladies on the last leg of their Bangor, Maine, to New York to Minneapolis to Omaha trip for the annual conference of chapter presidents and membership chairpersons. As Linda and Laurie informed me, the Eagles have been around since 1898 (the women’s auxiliary since 1927) doing good works, raising money, all of which they donate to mostly medical related charities, usually more than $10 million a year. 

The Eagles claim to have founded Mother’s Day (take that, Hallmark!), served as the driving force in founding the Social Security Program (you too, FDR!), and helped end age-based job discrimination with the “Jobs After 40” program. Among its distinguished members have been presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Other luminaries included Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Gordie Howe, Max Baer and Tony Orlando. The Eagles also sponsor Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

I’d heard of Elks, Moose, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons, Shriners and Rotarians, and even the Raccoons of Jackie Gleason-Honeymooners fame, but never the Eagles despite their having more than 800,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. They don’t have lodges; they meet in aeries, some 1,500 for the men, 1,300 for the women. 

For more info on the Eagles, go to

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brussels and the True Threat to our Values

Gilda and I have flown into the Brussels airport several times. We’ve walked around Brussels. For that matter, we’ve walked Paris and London and Copenhagen, as well as Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Rome, Florence, Venice, Tokyo, Moscow and St. Petersburg. We’ve walked all over Israel. At least three times a week we are in Manhattan. In short, we’ve been to many places terrorists— Islamic jihadists or run-of-the-mill types—would go to sabotage normal life.

I don’t know how to combat fanaticism. But I am certain it is not through repression. Even in totalitarian states individuals willing to forfeit their lives can blow up complacency. Not deliberate complacency. Just everyday vigilance gone soft because no society can maintain 24/7/365 red alert status against the deranged or misguided. 

So we’re left with trepidation mixed with ernest resolve. Fear of flying balanced by an unwillingness to let the terrorists win in their random assault on our liberties to travel as we please, to dine out, to attend concerts or commute to work.

Fear of new attacks is driving more people to consider Donald Trump a rational choice for president. No doubt fear is a powerful motivator. One can only hope that fear doesn’t trump (pun intended) more rational emotions like decency, tolerance, integrity and compassion. Otherwise, the terrorists surely would have succeeded in toppling Western values.

Are you afraid ISIS is an existential threat to America? Don’t be silly. We are in no danger of losing a battle, much less a war, with ISIS or any other extremist organization or country. Our military is the strongest in the world, in the history of the world.

But America could be lost if we allow our values and system of government to be eroded. Look no further than the Republican scheme to undermine the constitutional process of nominating and confirming an appointment to the Supreme Court because, the GOP says, the next justice would have a long term impact on the future of the country and therefore should be chosen by the next president elected by the people, ignoring the reality that the people chose Barack Obama, not once but twice, to serve for full four-year terms. 

There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Senate to vote on a presidential nomination within a specified number of days. But by suggesting that in the last year of office a president should not nominate a justice Senate Republicans are emasculating the powers of the chief executive. By extension, they might also argue that a president in his last year in office should not conduct foreign policy, should not advocate legislation, should not command our armed forces. All these tasks would affect the future of our country, as would a successful nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate has a right to reject a nomination but it is constitutional malfeasance to not even meet with, interview or schedule a vote on the president’s choice. 

Would-be presidents Trump and Ted Cruz would like to abrogate our values in other ways pertaining to the ISIS threat. Trump wants to legalize torture and kill families of terrorists. Apparently indifferent to causing civilian casualties, Cruz wants to carpet bomb ISIS strongholds. He also wants to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods (in the U.S.) before they become radicalized.” 

Cruz seems to be advocating a medieval “ghetto” solution. Perhaps he could ask Muslims to make it easier for police to keep track of them by “voluntarily” wearing yellow crescent armbands. After all, such a private citizen solution to our country’s problems have a long Republican history dating back at least to George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” initiative to bolster the safety net rather than have government provide for the needy, George W. Bush’s call for consumer spending as a response to the September 11 attacks, and Mitt Romney’s belief that illegal aliens would voluntarily repatriate to Mexico.

Confronted with their draconian pronouncements, Trump and Cruz have waffled between doubling down or retracting or modifying their statements, oblivious to the impact such original comments would have throughout the civilized and uncivilized world. Diplomatic-speak is not a language that falls trippingly off their tongues.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

AIPAC's Trump Invite is Taking PC a Step Too Far; Is Trump Simply Misunderstood?

I am ashamed, embarrassed and angry. I am ashamed, embarrassed and angry that an organization that purports to be American and Jewish has invited Donald Trump to be a speaker at its annual policy conference.

AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, has for years asked leading presidential contenders to speak to its assembled thousands. Hillary Clinton was also invited.

But political correctness should be put aside when it comes to Trump. He surely does not practice it and neither should AIPAC in this instance. Disinviting Trump would not be seen as showing favor toward Democrats. After all, leaders of the Republican Party, including all remaining contenders for the presidential nomination, have denounced Trump’s style and substance for encouraging hooliganism and behavior that is un-American.

I am ashamed, embarrassed and angry that under the cover of political neutrality AIPAC has offered a platform to a bigot, a misogynist, a racist, a nativist, a bully, a neofascist. Trump should not be handed an opportunity to strut before an audience that should be repulsed by everything he has espoused during and prior to this campaign. Supposed devotion to Israel should not be an excuse for legitimizing a candidate who inspires modern day brown shirt tactics and who has advocated policies in defiance of the U.S. constitution and international law.

AIPAC has compromised its standing as an organization with Jewish values. Did AIPAC not learn anything from Trump’s appearance last December before the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum? Did it not observe that he is a stereotypical anti-Semite?

For sure there will be Jews at AIPAC who are Republicans, who are dismissive of President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who don’t like Bernie Sanders. That’s politics. It is always appropriate and important to invite speakers with diverse viewpoints. But imbuing authenticity and legitimacy upon a demagogue like Trump is shameful for a Jewish organization.

AIPAC should immediately rescind its invitation to Trump. I doubt it will. I had not intended to go to the AIPAC conference. If I had the opportunity, I would picket Trump’s appearance. At the very least I would urge all who are attending the AIPAC conference to show they care about the quality and dignity of our nation’s government by walking out en masse as a protest to Trump’s presence at the podium.

The principled thing to do is to take a stand. We are not talking here about Trump’s right to speak. His campaign can pay for all the venues it chooses for him to spout his venom. By inviting Trump AIPAC is bestowing a mantle of legitimacy on evil. For that I am ashamed. Embarrassed. And angry.

Is He Just Misunderstood? Yes, he’s really just a misunderstood fella. Few friends. Uncomfortable around strangers. His ego is easily bruised. “Deep down, he’s a very nice guy,” Abe Wallach told The New York Times.

Wallach should be in a position to know. He once worked for Trump as head of the billionaire’s acquisition team. In a personality profile in Sunday’s paper under the headline “For Trump, Friends in Few Places,” Wallach followed up his nice guy appraisal by saying “but he can’t let go and just be nice because he fears that people will take advantage of him. Donald is actually the most insecure man I’ve ever met. He has this constant need to fill a void inside. He used to do it with deals and sex. Now he does it with publicity.” (

I can attest, secondhand, to Trump’s insecurity. About 15 or 20 years ago one of my editors, Marianne, went to a retail technology conference in Hilton Head, SC. Trump was an attendee.

As it happened, Marianne and Trump were seated at the same dinner table. The rest of the 10 attendees came from small chains headquartered in small cities and towns across America. In that pre-Apprentice time, few knew of the not-yet-realized reality TV star. He, in turn, showed little interest in them after he discovered Marianne worked in Manhattan. He showered her with attention, she told me upon her return to New York. Alas, they haven’t spoken or seen each other since.

Blame Obama: It’s commonplace among Republicans to blame President Obama for all of the ills that afflict our country, and for that matter, the world. 

Now it comes out Trump’s race for the presidency can be placed squarely on Obama’s shoulders. According to another Times article, Obama’s ridiculing of Trump during the April 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner galvanized The Donald to seek stature as a legitimate political force (

Surely a classic example of the law of unintended  consequences. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Danger Ahead: Trump Isn't the Only One Pivoting

The great pivot has begun.

Confident he has the Republican Party presidential nomination sewn up, Donald Trump has begun to moderate his positions to make his candidacy more attractive to establishment Republicans plus independent and Democratic voters who are a) ignorant, b) forgetful, c) forgiving, or d) just plain anti-Hillary.

That racist-, misogynist-, nativist-, fascist-sounding candidate of the last eight months? Oh, Trump would have you believe that character was just the opening gambit in a negotiation to become the next person to lay his hand on a bible and recite the oath of office administered by chief justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts, the same chief justice Trump has vilified as a “nightmare” and “disaster” for conservative values.

Trump says he is the best negotiator and this deal, to be successful, will truly require an artful play. But as much as The Donald may pivot to the center to modify his positions on building a wall and having Mexico pay for it, restricting entry into the country by all Muslims, rounding up and kicking out of the country 11 million illegal immigrants, and other extreme ideas including ordering the military to commit war crimes, Trump has miscalculated one vital aspect of his Mephistophelean plan.

Having unleashed the devil inside his followers, Trump is powerless to restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of the beastly mob. They’ve been riled up by cursing and gutter talk of mugging protesters, of bombing Muslims back to the Stone Age, of ridiculing political opponents not for objections to their ideas but rather because of their physical attributes. Trump has galvanized his acolytes to the point where they endanger the physical lives of protesters as well as our nation’s treasured right to peacefully protest.

So the grand pivot to the center has little chance of succeeding in this Internet age when everyone’s cell phone makes them, as Mitt Romney found out four years ago with his infamous 47% speech to what he thought was a sympathetic audience, an instant muckraker.

But there’s another pivot underway that is equally discomforting. It is the pivot of thoughtful Trump detractors who reason that Trump is not as bad as Ted Cruz and given the choice of the devil from New York or the devil from Texas, the former is more tolerable than the latter because of his unorthodoxy, because of his “New York values,” because he is known to compromise or, in his jargon, negotiate, and not be rigidly doctrinaire like Cruz.

Probe deeply into all the Republican candidates—those still running and those who have fallen away—and you will find, even inside teddy bear, hug-worthy John Kasich, extreme conservatives who believe in trickle down economics, who reject climate change reality, who care not for women’s health or their equal status, who would undermine the civil rights of minorities, and who believe the best foreign diplomacy is combat-based.

On the other hand, they believe inside Trump resides a man that can be controlled or at least reasoned with. He’s a businessman, as he often relates. He’s only after the best deal.

So they pivot their contempt for all things Trump. They don’t see, or don’t want to see, the parallel to what the intelligentsia and commerce-crowd believed in Germany in the early 1930s in their desire to see the Fatherland become great again. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Omaha Unbound

Gilda and I walked into the daycare room last Thursday afternoon to pick up Cecilia whom we hadn’t seen in person in nearly three months, since her family’s move to Omaha. Cecilia took one look at me and started to cry. Apparently an 11-month-old has some difficulty translating facetime images into flesh and blood figures.

She quickly recovered her poise aided by the comforting presence of her dad, Donny. For the next five days Cecilia bonded anew with her grandparents from New York. When we brought her to daycare Tuesday morning prior to our return to White Plains, our reactions had transposed. Gilda and I fought back tears (unsuccessfully, I might add) while Cecilia eagerly jumped into the arms of her caretaker, Katlyn. She had no idea it would be six weeks before we would see each other again.

By then she would have celebrated her first birthday. Perhaps she would be walking on her own. Perhaps she would have a small vocabulary beyond her babbled mmmaammmammmammama.

How Gilda and I envy grandparents who live a reasonable distance, say, no more than an hour, from their grandchildren, as we did before Ellie, Donny and Cecilia moved from Brooklyn to Omaha.

I guess there’s only one cure for missing grandchildren—embark on another visit. That’s exactly what I’ll do, this time with a quick trip next week to see Finley and Dagny in Massachusetts. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Authoritarianism Threatens Our Democracy

I’m beholden to my friend Cathy Hotka for posting a most troubling but illuminating article on the implications and ramifications of Donald Trump’s rise to prominency in the Republican presidential race. The article from analyzed the rise in authoritarianism, its acceptance as a political force not only as it pertains to the United States but also in other countries now and beyond 2016.

I can’t find a link that easily directs you to the article, so you’ll have to work a little to find it. But it will be well worth your time and effort if you care at all about the future. So here’s the drill: go to and in its search function type in “The rise in American authoritarianism.”

 It is a long article but disturbingly pertinent to the convulsions emanating from the political hustings this year and perhaps for years to come as our country, and others, try to cope with social, demographic and economic changes and military/terrorist threats from outside and even inside our borders.

With each passing day Trump and his supporters seem to channel behavior last seen in Italy and Germany more than 75 years ago. Could it possibly be that people under 40 don’t truly understand the evil of the Hitler-Mussolini era? My generation grew up watching World War II-based  movies. Many of our fathers and uncles served in the armed forces. We knew why we fought fascism. Today’s young voters grew up on Star Wars. The evil empire was bad but it was a sci-fi abstraction, even if it was a stand-in for totalitarianism. 

Regrettably, too many young voters have little understanding of how life was different before women reached the level of achievement they currently enjoy. Even young women see nothing historic in electing a woman president. They don’t appreciate what it was like to live during a time when seeking an abortion, for whatever reason, was a crime. Many young people have little understanding of how different life was for Afro-Americans before the Civil Rights era (unfortunately, the Supreme Court apparently believes racism has been vanquished, leaving no need for a vigorous defense of the Voting Rights Act). Too many lack perspective on the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict. 

As the article explains, Trump’s appeal is not just to the uneducated. Take the time to read the article.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trumping Christian Values Plus Déjà Vu Threeway

Though I keep few cookies around the house—I’m diabetic, you know—I’m thinking of ordering a box or two of the thin mints proffered by our local Girl Scout as a sign of solidarity with the organization after the Catholic archbishop of St. Louis questioned whether Girl Scouts are in sync with good Christian values. 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is scaling back ties with the Scouts because of the organization’s support for transgender rights, homosexuality and other issues (

Cookie protests are au courant these days, what with Donald Trump saying he has sworn off Oreos ever since Nabisco moved its bakeries to Mexico. But I digress. 

The hypocrisy of those professing to expound religious values can be seen from the accompanying link, courtesy of Francis X. Clines. You will note the archbishop is no angel when it comes to protecting children:

For another perspective on evangelical Christian values as they relate to support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, read Peter Wehner’s Op-Ed piece in The New York Times If you have time and inclination, also read some of the thousand or so comments his column generated.

Trying to topple Trump has become a full-time job for Republican party apparatchiks and pundits. To no avail (at least until results of Super Tuesday are known). Comedian John Oliver spent 22 minutes of his TV show Sunday night defanging the Trump myth, including a segment on The Donald’s original family name—Drumpf. Again, if you have the time, it’s well worth the effort:

If you can correctly state that a rotund figure like Chris Christie can angle for something, his endorsement of Trump means he is seeking the attorney general’s job in a Trump administration.

Christie and Trump share similar podium traits. They are bombastic bullies who enjoy shouting down protesters, with Trump going so far as to endorse Nazi-like tactics such as pummeling dissenters. How Christie, a former U.S. attorney, can support someone like Trump who has expressed unconstitutional thoughts, confirms the selfish vindictiveness he harbors and instills in his supporters whom we have already seen were willing to snarl traffic on the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee mayor for failing to endorse Christie’s re-election.

Déjà Vu Threeway: Reports circulated Monday that Republican Party establishment insiders are pondering the notion of backing a presidential run independent of the candidate chosen through the party’s primary system and ratified by the national convention if that candidate is named Donald Trump.

So let’s take this idea step by step to its logical conclusion:

1. Trump becomes the GOP candidate, enjoying second line status in polling stations across America.

2. GOP leaders engage in figurative hand-to-hand combat to choose an alternative slate acceptable to the Rubio-Cruz et al factions of the party.

3. Trump goes ballistic, raining down more fire on them than on the Democratic nominee.

4. Lets assume that nominee is Hillary Clinton.

5. Against a divided Republican field Hillary wins, thus becoming the second Clinton to win the presidency in a three-way race. For you young’uns, in 1992 Bill Clinton defeated incumbent president George H.W. Bush and independent Ross Perot.

6. I’ll repeat a previous forecast—assuming the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, they will attempt to impeach Hillary on charges related to alleged misuse of her private email server while secretary of state. 

Just keep in mind—we’re considered the greatest democracy in the world.