Monday, February 27, 2017

Choosing the Right Title for Trump, Truth Be Told

The children’s ditty that only “sticks and stones can break your bones but words or names can never harm you” has been upended or, in Trumpian terms, disrupted, by the petulant responses The Donald has to any negative commentary on his physique or reign of terror.

Which leads me to the statement, I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t call him president. Or 45, as some scribes have used when pointing out his rank in presidential succession. Nor is he entitled to be called commander-in-chief. He has failed to earn the respect that traditionally accrues to the occupant of the White House.

Rather, aside from using his name, Donald Trump, or just plain Trump, or Trumpster, or the aforementioned The Donald, to the best of my abilities I am no longer going to confer on him the legitimacy of calling him president. Instead, I will refer to him by any number of sobriquets that through words and deeds he has earned the right to be called, including:


Truth Squad: It is not enough for the media to point out, after the fact, the fabricator-in-chief’s misrepresentations. Corrections must be done in real time as Peter Alexander of NBC News did during the 77 minute press tirade a little more than a week ago when the dissembler-in-chief falsely stated his Electoral College victory was the biggest since Ronald Reagan.

So the question is, will Democrats arraigned before the huckster-in-chief during a joint session of Congress Tuesday night sit idly as he misleads the American public or will they shout out “Not true” when the Trumpster tramples on the truth?

You may recall Republican Congressman Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” when President Barack Obama addressed Congress on his then-proposed health care plan. Wilson later apologized for the breach of decorum and was widely criticized by members of both parties.

Democrats especially said they never treated George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan with such disrespect. But these are extraordinary times. We have a president who not only flirts with untruths but does so repeatedly even after the truth has been pointed out. We have a president who demeans other elected officials, war heroes, allies, immigrants, other nations and their citizens,  indeed anyone who does not see the world through his gold-tinted glasses. He has diminished the office of the presidency and the reputation of the United States. Perhaps a taste of how the British prime minister must stand before the House of Commons each week for 30 minutes and respond to the vocal challenges of the opposition party would bring some humility and context to the cyberbully-in-chief. 

Absent that quaint parliamentary custom the American alternative of an after-presidential-address-address is insufficient to convey and correct the damage to the truth a big con man like Trump can foist on a naive and uninformed public.

Will they do it? Will Democratic senators and representatives rise to the status of the vocal opposition even at the risk of being censured by their respective houses of Congress?

Probably not. Pity. They would have forgotten how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell muzzled Senator Elizabeth Warren a few weeks ago as she read a letter by civil rights icon Coretta Scott King. They would have forgotten how McConnell would not allow the Senate to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. They would have forgotten how House Republicans over and over again investigated Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi tragedy and her email server, yet have shown no inclination to probe Putin-puppet-in chief’s ties to Russia, his conflicts of interest and Russian interference with our elections. They have forgotten how the Tea Party disrupted their town hall meetings six and seven years ago but now that the GOP is in the majority Republicans are avoiding standing before their constituents at town hall meetings.

The time for staid, polite adherence to the norm is long past. Politics is a blood sport; it is time for Democrats to inflict some pain, even if it means interrupting a speech to set the record straight. The truth demands it.

Republicans at the Barricades? Given the minority status of Democrats in Congress, at least for the next two years, conventional wisdom is that any hope to limit the excesses of the Trump administration rests on the precarious shoulders and patriotism of Republican members of the House and Senate.

Early indications are we are witnessing a hunchbacked GOP that is more than willing to ditch its patriotic duty in exchange for electoral dominance.

There are exceptions, at least in verbal stances, though the real test in voting one’s conscience has been lacking. Only Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks and rejected Betsy DeVos as secretary of education despite her obvious lack of qualifications for the position. 

 DeVos, in turn, argued against Attorney General Jeff Sessions who wanted to rescind the Obama rule allowing transgender students to use the school bathroom of their choice. But when confronted with the reneger-in-chief’s backing of Sessions despite his campaign pledge to support the LGBTQ community, DeVos knuckled under rather than take the admirable path and resign. So much for standing up for principle.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina have been caustic in their evaluation of Trump actions. But they have yet to cast decisive votes against him. 

The bottom line is the public should not count on Republicans to counter any Trump initiative no matter how shameful it is, how obvious a conflict of interest it may be or how any nominee might lack the experience or credentials to effectively manage the people’s interests. 

Can We Talk? Some people criticize Trump for his inarticulate, incomprehensible English, as if that should automatically disqualify him from office. 

Yes, all my educated friends, listening to Trump is an assault on our ears and brains. But let’s not forget we live in a bubble of intelligence. I’ve met many real estate developers during my publishing career. Some of the most successful could barely string a proper sentence together. 

And let’s also not forget that George W. Bush was equally challenged compared to Bill Clinton’s verbal facility, yet he sat in the Oval Office for eight years. So buckle up. The ride will be bumpy. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Oscars Time: Reflections on My First Grown-up Movies

It is Academy Awards time Sunday night, so naturally my non Trump thoughts are focused on the silver screen. This year’s host will be Jimmy Kimmel. I don’t have high expectations he will exceed or even match past enjoyment of seeing Billy Crystal emcee the gala event, but to be totally honest, I am probably too conservative, or should I say traditional, in my taste of comedic genius on Oscars night as I grew up watching Bob Hope host countless Oscars telecasts. I was disheartened when he lost his emcee spot back in 1969.

I’ve gotten over it. Though I see more flicks nowadays while sitting on the couch in our den I still enjoy the experience of going to the movies. Which brings me to the following question:

Do you remember the first films you saw in a movie theater? I don’t mean kiddie cartoons or even Disney full-length features, which in my case would be animated classics like Bambi, Fantasia and Lady and the Tramp. I mean the first grown-up movies you saw in a movie house, not on television.

The three movies that seem to be anchored in my memory as my first exposure to cinema are an eclectic trio. One is the 1953 comedy The long, Long Trailer starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as newlyweds who spend their year-long honeymoon driving a motor home trailer across the United States.

The second is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 The Trouble With Harry. Starring John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine in her film debut, the film is a comic mystery whodunnit and what-to-do-with-it when Harry’s body is found in a field of a small Vermont town.

The biblical epic Samson and Delilah starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar round out my memorable threesome. Gilda thinks I saw this Cecil B. DeMille movie on television since it came out in my birth year, 1949, but I remember seeing it in color and our family didn’t get a color TV until 1962, so I’m sticking with my vision that I saw it as a re-release a few years later. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, it was re-released in November 1959 when I was 10.

I don’t believe either of our parents took me and my older brother and sister to these movies. I suspect our babysitter, next door neighbor Madeline, did, though I might have been taken to Samson and Delilah by our mother.

For sure she took us to see The Ten Commandments at Radio City Music Hall in 1956. Before the movie we ate lunch in a nearby Schrafft’s restaurant.

A year before or after, as our mother recuperated in a hospital from what I believe was gall bladder surgery, our father took us to see Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, a taut English-language Israeli picture about doomed soldiers during the country’s war of independence.

As my brother Bernie is four years older, he had the unenviable burden of taking me along when he went to the movies with his friends. Back then a ticket bought you two movies. One double bill I vividly remember was Glenn Ford in Torpedo Run, a World War II submarine story, and James Mason in The Decks Ran Red about a mutiny aboard an old freighter skippered by Mason. Even more memorable to me at the impressionable age of nine was the coming attraction for Steve McQueen’s first movie—The Blob, about a red slime man-eating extra terrestrial.

The promo so scared me that I stayed away from sci-fi movies until the day I graduated eighth grade in 1962. Several of my classmates chose to go to the movies after we were dismissed at 1 pm. The nearest theater was showing a double fare of horror: Godzilla followed by Rodan. I’m still creeped out by the opening scene of Rodan wherein Japanese miners discover a prehistoric egg that hatches into a flying Pteranodon.

The theater had no qualms letting half a dozen 13-year-olds enter unchaperoned. Three years earlier, however, my 12-year-old sister had difficulty buying tickets for us to see Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in 1959’s Operation Petticoat. We were deemed too young to see this risqué-for-the-time comedy. Lee and I had to try several movie houses before one would let us in.

Not that they were great movies, but I recall only one other double feature that I believe I saw with Lee. The first movie was A Pocketful of Miracles starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis in a 1961 Frank Capra remake of his Apple Annie 1933 classic Lady for a Day. The second feature starred Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse in 1958’s Party Girl about a mob lawyer and the woman he loves.

For a more complete record of movies of my formative years, I have to include 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Otherwise, as that was one of his favorites, my brother Bernie would label this blog as fake news (OMG, I just can’t get away from Trump no  matter how hard I try).

Monday, February 20, 2017

In The Age of Trump Live for Today, Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Bring

Welcome on this Presidents’ Day, on this the end of the first month of a new presidency, to the Age of Trump where The Donald rules, where we live for today because who knows about tomorrow.

Don’t bother drinking the water. The Donald thinks it is okay to permit coal companies to flush their mining waste into our rivers. He doesn’t worry about pipeline leaks so he is okay with placing an oil line under the Missouri, longest river in our country.

Have you bought any TrumpAir bottles yet? You soon may have to as The Donald doesn’t believe in the Clean Air Act or the Paris climate change accords for environmental protection.

Those safeguards are based on science but Trump World doesn’t believe in science.

It also doesn’t believe in education. No reason clouding people’s minds with data that might conflict with the alternate realities Trump World is creating.

Speaking of creating, creationism is the preferred theory of Trump World. God must have ordained Trump World’s existence—those godless Russians couldn’t have had anything to do with The Donald’s election victory.

In the Age of Trump every black-skinned, brown-skinned, yellow-skinned person is a terrorist. They must be contained, kept out of America. Those who have managed to get here prior to The Donald’s ascension to leader must be watched, registered and, if possible, sent back to their country of origin.

Don’t bother looking to the media for information. Alternative facts form the foundation blocks of Trump World. All the media print or air are lies and fake news. Even media Trump believes support him, like Fox News, spread falsities, like reports of terrorist attacks in Sweden. You just can’t trust the media in the Age of Trump.

Most presidents and world leaders think of the future. In the Age of The Donald think only of the present. Don’t worry about retirement savings. Your investment counselor has been freed up to do as he pleases. He is under no obligation to invest in your best interest, so there’s no recourse if you question his judgment. 

Don’t worry about getting seriously ill and having enough money to pay medical bills. In the Age of Trump there is no affordable care while Medicaid and Medicare will be revised so only the rich may benefit, the better to limit our entitlement expenditures so we can spend more on the military and homeland security to keep all those terrorists on the other side of the wall that surrounds our 49 states.

Oh, did I forget to mention that rising ocean levels will swamp all but the highest points of Hawaii, so it no longer will be a state. And that we no longer will have to deal with that pesky issue of what to do with Puerto Rico—make it a state, keep it as a territory, or let it become an independent country. Well, it will join Atlantis under the waters of the Atlantic.

After the Eastern Seaboard, including sad to say Mar-a-Lago, flood from rising sea levels, Trump World will build a 30 -foot high sea wall along our eastern and western coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico. The sea walls will link up with the beautiful wall Mexico will pay for along our land border. Soon, the last section of our walled state will be completed across the 49th parallel as those refugee-loving Canadians cannot be trusted to keep terrorists from filtering down from their utopian land.

Don’t think this will all change with the next election or two. Trump World is cleansing voter rolls of his so-called three to five million illegals who voted in the 2016 election. He and his Republican-controlled state governments are also making it harder for any person of color to register to vote.

No matter. The Donald has set up presidential succession for the next three administrations, culminating with the first woman, first Jewish, president. Ladies and gentlemen, hail to the chief—Ivanka Trump Kushner.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Memories of a Bible Contest, Russian Vodka and a Ponytail

Every now and then contemporary events reported in the media evoke memories of my past. So it was with last Tuesday’s New York Times article about a Bible quiz of the Tanach, the Jewish Old Testament (BTW, The Times refers to the Jewish Bible as the Tanakh, but I prefer a transliteration of the Hebrew that is more gutteral, hence the “ch” ending  of Tanach with a sound similar to the beginning of the Yiddish word “chutzpah”). 

Anyway, to return to the present and memory at hand, here’s a link to The Times article:

Fifty-seven summers ago, as an 11-year-old, I competed in the first Bible quiz at Camp Massad Aleph in Tannersville, PA. I was well prepared for this endeavor, having attended six years of intensive Jewish instruction at Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn. Of course, all the other contestants my age had similar preparation, though not from Rambam. They came mostly from other Brooklyn Jewish day schools: Yeshivah of Flatbush, or Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, or Yeshiva Bialik, or Shulamith, an all girls school.

Preliminary testing of the 300 or so campers culled the finalists down to three boys from my age group. Years before feminism took hold, camp administrators realized it would be wrong not to have a girl among the finalists. 

She sat next to me on the stage in front of the assembled camp. I can’t remember her name. Nor do I remember any of the questions. I do remember we were the two final contestants and that she answered a question that stumped me. 

For her victory she received a large Bible. As the runner-up, my Bible measured half as large. Same complete text, but in a much smaller font.

Za zdorovje: The Russian toast “for health” is a cruel joke these days, given the outbreak of deaths from tainted vodka. As reported in The Times, a cheap substitute for vodka presumably made from ethanol actually contained methanol which is deadly.

At least 76 unsuspecting drinkers in Irkutsk have died from imbibing the lethal mixture. (

It is not the first time bad vodka has killed Russians. When Gilda and I took a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow back in 2010 we were told about the time Mikhail Gorbachev tried to cure excessive drunkenness by limiting the sales of vodka in state-run stores to one bottle a month. Thirsty Russians resorted to distilling their own brews. But their vodkas exceeded the safe 40% alcohol levels and many became ill or died.  

Ponytail Down: Two weeks ago during a monthly poker game, Gregg asked aloud if I was still retired. Told I was, he wondered, again aloud, why I didn’t have time to get a haircut. 

Normally a reliable reader of this blog, Gregg had missed or forgotten the December 29 posting in which I wrote I was growing a ponytail to fulfill my wife’s request. Alas, my curly hair becomes a Jewfro which is not, as Gregg diplomatically observed, always appealing. So last week I told Gilda my valiant try at a ponytail would be sheared away. 

While sitting in the haircutter’s chair, I was reminded that about 30 years ago she was set to cut the ponytail that our son Dan had grown during day camp. “Set to cut” because upon further inspection she spotted an all-too-common invasion in any camper’s hair—lice. 

An application of Rit resolved that problem. A week later Rosie clipped off his tail which for many years he kept in a clear plastic storage bag. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two-State Solution Only Way to Avoid Discrimination and End of Jewish State

Donald Trump says he will leave it to the Israelis and Palestinians to decide if there will be one state or two in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. What may appear to be quite accommodating on his part as he strives to become the ultimate presidential deal maker of a peace between the two parties would in fact be a recipe for a destiny of disaster and discrimination.

Trump’s sideways embrace of a one-state solution emboldens hardliners on both sides of the intractable problem. Israeli right wingers will see it as a wink and a nod toward usurpation of more and more Palestinian land. The inevitable outcome of such a land grab would overturn democratic principles long cherished by Israelis and their supporters abroad, both Jewish and non.

To retain its Jewish identity after taking over land where 2.7 million Palestinians live, Israel would either have to expel them to neighboring Arab states or deny them equal rights, keeping them as a permanent, disenfranchised underclass. Otherwise, within decades voting age Palestinians would outnumber Jews within an enlarged Israel.

It is inconceivable to me that Jews, who for millennia suffered expulsions and inferior status, would countenance such actions upon another people, that they would spurn the natural desire of another people to have their own homeland.

Hard line Palestinians favor a one-state solution because of the demographic balance of power and the long-game calculation that, as with South Africa, the world will not tolerate their suppression. No matter how many patents Israelis register that improve human life, at the end of the day the Jewish state will be trampled under the weight of history.

A single-state solution simply and tragically solidifies the worst, most intolerant sectors of Israeli and Palestinian societies, those who want hegemony not compromise, those who savor hatred not enmity, those who view religion as a cudgel not a balm for mankind.

Bibi Netanyahu’s unequivocal demand that Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and that Israel retain security control of the land west of the Jordan River is appropriate and in no way should thwart Palestinian participation in any peace talks, given what transpired in the Gaza Strip after Israel withdrew from the captured territory.

A two-state solution can and must be hammered out. Trump’s ambivalence toward endorsing a distinct Palestinian state may be a negotiating ploy but it sends a counterproductive message to extremists on both sides of the conflict. 

American Jews are conflicted, torn between two countries they most care about–Israel and America—and the democratic, progressive values both countries have long espoused. A nation cannot claim democratic values while denying rights to those within its areas of jurisdiction.

The United States experienced its defining moment more than 150 years ago. Patriots—and they thought of themselves as patriots—argued for, fought for, and died for the right to keep another human being as property. Southerners were wrong to believe people of color were inferior creations.

Seven decades ago prejudice-almost-two-millennia-old culminated in a holocaust also based on a belief that a group of people were inferior creations.

Today Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, must confront its future amid dangers within and without its borders.

Outside its borders the threat is evident. Inside, however, the threat is equally real from hardline right wingers whose zealotry demands an expansive Israel in the West Bank. At the same time, ultra Orthodox religious zealots deny the validity of divergent sects within the Jewish faith. They are pursuing an exclusive theocracy that Netanyahu has permitted in his determination to remain prime minister. His spineless response to discriminatory religious provocations erodes support of Israel from Diaspora Jews.

No one should underestimate the existential threat posed by Palestinian and Arab intransigence towards its existence, particularly not during this time of Islamic terrorism that condones, even encourages, suicide missions. It is safe to say Israel’s borders, whatever they may ultimately be, would be the most vulnerable in its history.

But that does not provide justification for keeping nearly three million Palestinians in a condition lower than second class citizenry. It does not provide justification for its legislature and executive branch to override a judiciary ruling forbidding expropriation of Palestinian property. It does not provide the moral high ground Israel once deserved and was accorded.

It is impossible for Israel to negotiate a two-state solution, peace and mutual recognition with no one on the other side of the bargaining table. But it is equally impossible for Israel to continue indefinitely as the governing authority over West Bank Palestinians. Annexation of territory is not a long-term solution. New settlement construction on disputed land is not a long-term solution.

Asking the military to enforce a politically divisive position undermines Israel’s national character. Remember Vietnam. An unpopular war tore America apart.

It bears repeating: A nation cannot claim democratic values while denying rights to those within its areas of jurisdiction. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Flynn Debacle Reveals There's No Security Without a Confirmation Process

The country is nearing completion of a mostly bruising confirmation hearing process for Donald Trump’s cabinet, a prelude to what no doubt will be an even more debilitating and exhaustive fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch.

Even before we get to that high drama, we will be engaged in the possible resignation or dismissal dance of Trump’s national security advisor. The choice of retired general Michael Flynn was controversial from the get-go, but it could not be stopped as the position did not require congressional vetting or confirmation. 

But Flynn, whose reputation as a loose cannon preceded his selection, has apparently provided an audible example of his undisciplined howitzer-like disposition. Secret tapes of his conversations with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump taking office reportedly reveal he talked about the possibility of lifting the sanctions President Obama imposed on Russia. It would have been a violation of the Logan Act for a then private citizen Flynn to have done so. Moreover, he denied such conversations to Vice President-elect Mike Pence who proceeded to tell the American public no such dialogue occurred. 

Washington is a city where politics is a blood sport. Any hint of impropriety can, and usually does, mortally damage an official (just ask Hillary Clinton about her email server or Benghazi experience), especially someone entrusted with the nation’s security.

Of course, we’re dealing with Donald Trump here, a man who never likes to retreat, so he may well excuse Flynn’s misconduct as he did last week with Kellyanne Conway’s shilling of his daughter Ivanka’s apparel line on Fox News, a violation of federal law.

Back to the confirmation process. Mostly, so far it has been what might indelicately be called a “circle jerk.” Even Betsy DeVos, who provided eminent evidence that she lacked essential knowledge of the department she would oversee, passed the low hurdle Republicans have set for the people to whom they are willing to commend our nation’s future.

Chalk it up to politics. Get used to it, at least for the next two years, probably four and, god forbid, six or eight.

But as disheartening as the process has been in having a cabinet chosen and consented to by the Senate, at least there was some vetting, some disclosure of the thinking that informs and propels the men and women who will have the president’s trust and ear.

Nothing of that confidence and assurance has been afforded the public for the individual who has Trump’s most immediate access (and I’m not referring to Melania). What do we really know about Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, other than his employment history at Goldman Sachs and most recently the alt-right media site, Breitbart News?

For sheer terror-of-an-answer read the following Huffington Post analysis of Bannon’s apocalyptic thinking. Read it and wonder how it is possible that our laws do not require public inspection of the chief strategist to a president and to anyone named to a president’s National Security Council, as Bannon most recently was. Read it and cower under your blanket:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Longing for No News Alerts That Scare The Hell Out of Me

I think I was like most teenagers growing up. I generally knew what was going on in the country and the world in the early and mid-1960s. I watched Walter Cronkite on CBS and listened to his colleague, the avuncular Eric Sevareid, dispassionately analyze current events and long term trends. And there were huge stories for both Cronkite and Sevareid and their fellow broadcasters to parse. The Cuban missile crisis. The civil rights movement. The assassination of a president. The Great Society initiative. The growing war in Vietnam. The space race.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1966, however, that I became aware of a need to listen to news every hour on the hour. Keep in mind that WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York did not become a 24 hour news station until August 1967.

I absorbed the importance of listening to news headlines every hour from a high school graduation present my parents provided—a trip to Israel. As I would ride the Egged buses across Jerusalem or Tel Aviv I would notice passengers intently listening to news broadcasts upon each hour.

Living during a perilous time in that nation’s history—that phrase applies to every moment of Israel’s 68-year history, but I digress—Israelis not only wanted to know the latest news. They also were listening for broadcast codes to alert them should their reserve units be called up.

A year later, during the Six Day War, I became obsessed with knowing the latest news from Israel. For good reason—my sister was in Israel, ending the second year of study abroad. Our family had no way of knowing if she were safe, where she was, what she was doing (turns out she was packing crackers for the soldiers). 

Naturally, after I became a journalist, I continued, to this day even in retirement, to turn on the radio at the top of each hour. For decades it was to hear if anything traumatic had transpired in the Middle East. Now, in addition, it is to hear if anything Trumpatic has traumatized (at least half) the nation.

I obviously do not agree with what our new president and his sycophantic Republican House and Senate are doing. But let’s be honest. Nothing was not foretold during the campaign. 

Hearing the hourly news keeps me abreast of the latest rollbacks. That’s what we have so far. Donald J. Trump is bringing us back to the pre-Obama years. He is doing what Obama did to Bush II-era regulations, what George W. Bush did to Clinton-era regulations, what Bill Clinton did to Reagan-Bush I era regulations. You can’t blame the public for feeling whipsawed by the constant change, the feeling on both sides of the aisle of one step forward then two steps backward.

We want transparency from our elected officials. What could be more transparent that the money grab schemes of the Trump family? What could be more blatant than Trump’s assertion that the public doesn’t care? Republican elected officials have shown they don’t. And so far, average GOP Joe Citizen hasn’t shown he cares either. 

Even on forced repatriation of illegal aliens Trump has been no more extreme than the deporter-in-chief Barack Obama (more than 2.5 million sent back to their countries of origin). Yes, the separation of a woman from her family made for heartrending visuals last week but if Trump’s storm troopers round up criminals of whatever stripe he would be acting within the bounds of socially acceptable power, even if a portion of those deported are no more dangerous than any street corner drunk or check kiter.

What any sane person doesn’t want is a violation of fundamental trust in our government and country. We don’t want truth to be undermined by “alternative facts.” We don’t want science to be rejected and supplanted by alternative theories. We don’t want our commitment to international leadership to be replaced by isolationism, a void to be filled by Russia and/or China. We don’t want our status as a nation of immigrants to be sullied by fear. We don’t want our cherished Constitution and its rule of law, as protected by an independent judiciary, to be trampled. We don’t want the long march of equality for all religions, people, gender and sexual orientation to be stalled. We don’t want to fall into the abyss like past empires that rewarded a sliver of oligarchs while the populace struggled to maintain dignity and economic independence.

And so we listen to the news every hour to see and hear the latest excess from a White House turned into a golden goose by a leader who never had to worry about his next meal, who never developed empathy for those who did, who never had to burnish in the crucible of public opinion a plan to help the less fortunate, who never engaged in any domestic or international exchange if it did not directly impact his personal wealth, who treated the public as rubes with money for the taking through shady construction deals and phony education programs, who denigrates our institutions, our elected officials and our judiciary even as he cozies up to dictators who murder their opposition, muzzle the free press and subject their people to deprivation so that they and their acolytes can live comfortably. 

A Saturday Night Live skit provided an apt closing to this blog posting. In it, a People’s Court judge tells Trump, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, he’s doing too much. She pleads with him, “I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah 55 Years Ago Today

Fifty-five years ago today I became a man, at least according to Jewish tradition. I celebrated my bar mitzvah on February 10, 1962.

Like today there was snow on the ground, between three and six inches. It crunched as I walked the three and a half blocks to our Orthodox shul where I was to share the morning’s glory with Mark Fortgang, another 13-year-old I casually knew from the playground of Public School 254 on Avenue Y in Brooklyn. 

Unlike Mark, I attended a Hebrew day school, Yeshiva Rambam. But being a timid fellow, I deferred, as he did, reading from the Torah (the first time I finally read Torah was at our son Dan’s bar mitzvah 29 years later). We split reciting the haftorah while I complemented my transition to adulthood by leading the musaf service, having spent months preparing with our synagogue’s cantor, Willy Cohen, who lived two doors down our block of attached row houses on Avenue W.

My father was so enthralled with my prayer recital that he 
had me audio tape it for friends in Israel. He borrowed a reel-to-reel tape recorder for me to chant into. The tape was converted into records. But when we played the discs before sending them overseas we heard a disturbing background noise. It was the voice of our neighbor Charlie talking on his ham radio set. His transmissions apparently came through our contiguous row house electrical lines. We had previously experienced interference from Charlie on our television set, but this was beyond the pale. There was, however, nothing we could do about it.

Even though it was the dead of winter, the bar mitzvah party began at 9 pm at the Aperion Manor on Kings Highway, the same catering hall where my brother celebrated his bar mitzvah four years earlier. After hors d’Ouvres guests feasted on an appetizer of Sweetbreads Regence with rice followed by roast prime ribs of beef, stringbeans amandine, Idaho souffle and derma Farci (you don’t find stuffed derma, or kishka as it is known in the Yiddish vernacular, on too many bar mitzvah party menus these days). In case you’re wondering how I recall the food selections, it took me a couple of hours but I finally located a copy of the menu inside a box of old photographs.

For the party I wore a rented tuxedo sports jacket, burgundy with black stripes. Very chic. I liked the way I looked. My ears didn’t stick out too far that night. I think I had a good time. Hard to say from the commemorative album, though in all honesty, I and most of my peers were really awkward looking. To the music of the Perry Colen Orchestra, I partnered with Adina Berzon for the first dance, a twist, if I’m interpreting the picture in the album correctly. Upon further review, my ears did stick out. Ah, well …

The Aperion Manor is long shuttered, and so is Yeshiva Rambam elementary school, but the neighborhood I grew up in has mostly stayed the same. The houses are well kept. I have no way of knowing if the residents are predominantly Jewish as they were back in the 1950s and 1960s. My parents’ home was purchased by their next door neighbor, a Greek family. 

A few years ago Gilda and I drove by my parents’ home on our way to Coney Island. As we stopped to survey the street, we were recognized and invited to see how the neighbor had changed the inside of the house. She had modernized the kitchen, the first floor bathroom, and the basement where my brother and I slept as teenagers and where my mother transformed the open layout into a party spot for our sister’s sweet 16. 

Now that Ellie and her family moved from Brooklyn to Omaha more than a year ago, no one from our immediate family lives in Brooklyn. Only memories, almost all good, reside there for me. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

American Values In Death Spiral, An Unintended Consequence Of TrumpAction

Two weeks into the death spiral of our national values, some fears about a Trump presidency have morphed from assumptions to realities.

Donald Trump does not see governing as the give and take of ideas and beliefs. He sees it as a top down hierarchal management system, like a business where the chief executive officer, even in publicly traded companies, has the final say and the minions have to obey his commands or they are shown the door. 

Dissent, even if it is along disputed constitutional grounds, is not tolerated, as acting Attorney General Sally Yates found out Monday night after she questioned the legality of Trump’s temporary ban on entry to the United States from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Trump is used to having his dictates implemented. Government, however, doesn’t always follow a straight path. One wonders how he will react to two Republican women senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, rejecting his nominee for secretary of education. 

Perhaps a clue can be seen in his advocacy of the “nuclear option” to limit filibusters for Supreme Court nominations if Democrats try to foil his pick of Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the seat left vacant a year ago by the death of Antonin Scalia. Trump thought it appropriate to call for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “delay, delay, delay” consideration of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. But he’s not amenable to similar treatment by Democrats. For Trump all the rules must be tipped in his favor.

Trump’s executive style has not been tempered by years of migrating up the leadership ladder. He doesn’t have a rags to riches story, or even a J. Pierrepont Finch ascent from the mailroom (really the window washer’s perch) to the corner office (for those oblivious to the reference, check out “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”). He was born to power and privilege. As long as he stayed out of prison he was destined to take over his father’s business.

From the start he was an autocrat. He  never had to learn the art of answering to anyone. If he ran into problems financially, he sought bankruptcy protection. If he didn’t want to pay the agreed upon price for a project, he stiffed contractors.  

‘“My sense is that Trump takes no one’s counsel but his own. That’s bad management, period,”’ Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford and the author of “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t,” said in a New York Times article assessing Trump’s first weeks in office. 

Effective leadership “requires an openness to being challenged, and some self-awareness and even humility to acknowledge that there are areas where other people know more than you do. This doesn’t mean decisions are made by consensus. The person at the top makes the decisions, but based on the facts and expertise necessary to make a good decision,” said Jeffrey T. Polzer, professor of human resource management at Harvard Business School.

It’s just two weeks. He could shift his management style, though it is highly doubtful. The real damage to America is that he has imbued a meanness of spirit to his dictates. He is not governing for the full population but rather for the minority of voters who he was lucky enough to have live in enough states to provide him an Electoral College victory. 

He is entitled to follow through on many if not all of his campaign pledges. But unlike his spoutings on the hustings, his actions from the Oval Office carry consequences, some of them unintended. TrumpAction after TrumpAction puts people’s lives at risk.

Trump’s advocacy of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his acceptance of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and a reported interest in withholding funds from the Palestinian Authority released by former Secretary of State John Kerry, no doubt thrilled hard liners in Israel and their American backers. But, individually and collectively, these actions are likely to incite more terrorist attacks within Israel and against Americans domestically and internationally. It won’t be his life sacrificed.

Trump’s passionate desire to rid the world of ISIS and other Islamic terrorists is laudable on its face, but his implementation has been dreadful. His executive order to temporarily ban entry to America from seven predominantly Muslim countries and to indefinitely suspend the relocation of Syrian refugees gives jihadists a public relations coup suggesting the United States is at war with Islam. It also has divided families and failed to recognize the contributions many Muslims made to assist American forces combating terrorists in their native lands. 

His decision to cut off funding for international groups that provide abortions or even advise pregnant women of their right to choose will endanger women’s health. It may very well lead to more at-risk pregnancies and births and more children born into poverty. As The Times stated in a precis of an article on the impact of the funding cut, “Health workers say President Trump’s ban on abortion counseling will hurt even those health services that do not involve abortions.” (

Moreover, Trump has indicated he wants to cut back foreign aid that is meant to help the impoverished. America First, after all.

Trump wants to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions and abortion counseling. He ignores the non-abortion related health care Planned Parenthood provides to women which encompasses 97% of the organization’s activities.

Women will have abortions even if Trump is able to reduce the number of legal, medically safe procedures at Planned Parenthood clinics and other registered facilities. Only many of them will not be performed by licensed practitioners in safe environments. Deaths are sure to result. So much for his concern for the sanctity of all life.

Trump’s decision to deny funding to sanctuary cities places more lives at risk as municipal governments have to cut back social services or other programs to compensate for reduced or eliminated federal monies. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says federal funds, up to $500 million in 2017, are used to protect the port, the airport and to keep homeless veterans off the streets. Without those funds the safety of the rest of the country could be impaired.

His approval of the Standing Rock oil pipeline under the Missouri River imperils the safety of drinking water to millions of downstream residents, not to mention it violates the sanctity of Native American lands. 

Trump appears to be acting as if still in campaign mode. And so does his chief apologist, Kellyanne Conway. When called upon, frequently, to defend her boss, Conway reverts to attack mode, pointing out the flaws in candidate Hillary Clinton or the Obama administration rather than explaining the ramblings and rants of the leader of the free world, at least as now constituted.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer added salt to the wounds of internal dissent when he said those at the State Department who questioned Trump’s immigration ban “should either get with the program or they can go.”

‘“Debate and dissent are essential to reaching any thoughtful outcome,”’ Lindred Greer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business told The Times. “Comments like Mr. Spicer’s ‘will discourage anyone from speaking up. You end up with group think, an echo chamber where people only say what they think the president wants to hear.’”