Thursday, February 28, 2019

Yes, Michael Cohen Is a Convicted Liar, But "Rats" Are Often Used to Take Down Crime Bosses

Throughout his examination by Republican representatives Wednesday, Michael Cohen was called a convicted liar. All true. Since he was a convicted liar, their reasoning went, he was not to be trusted, that what he was testifying about Donald Trump’s failings could not be believed. Several GOP interrogators based their disdain for his credibility on their experience as district attorneys or positions in law enforcement. 

They were mimicking the comments of their don, Trump, who has labeled Cohen a “rat,” a moniker often used by organized crime figures to describe a turncoat, someone who provides evidence on the inner workings of the mob. 

Which got me to thinking about the Mafia and how the authorities have been able to topple many crime families. Take, for example, a kingpin of the Gambino famiglia almost surely known to fellow New Yorker and Queens boy Trump—John Gotti. Gotti was brought down by the testimony of one of his henchmen, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. Despite confessing to involvement in 19 murders, Gravano had enough credibility to sway a jury to convict Gotti.

Other instances of felons revealing the scope of illicit activity are numerous, the most recent being witnesses during the trial and conviction of drug lord El Chapo, Joaquín Guzmán Loera. In other words, DA’s and cops rely on liars, murderers and felons of all stripes to convict crime bosses. Here’s a link to some other prominent cases:

Go ahead, Republicans, impugn Cohen’s conviction for lying all you want. Significant from Wednesday’s hearing was the fact that not one Republican defended or denied the substance of the claims against Trump, other than Mark Meadows assertion that he never heard Trump make a racist remark (Meadows, himself, was revealed to have made a racist comment about President Obama:

Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee was a loooong opening act in what may ultimately be the first scene of an impeachment procedure. To go forward the House would have to hear corroborating testimony from Trump’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and others Cohen claimed had knowledge of misdeeds by Trump as candidate and now president. 

It’s a long shot, at best. An even longer shot that the Republican controlled Senate would vote to convict. Best case scenario for Democrats: contentment with more hearings that expose Trump grifting. 

Meanwhile, a wounded Trump—a twice wounded Trump now that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has denied him any hope of a Nobel Peace Prize by rejecting Trump’s denuclearization deal—will be explosive in his battles with Democrats. Whenever cornered by facts, Trump attacks with innuendos, lies and threats. He is sure to unleash a blizzard of tweets.

Speaking of blizzards, it might snow again tonight in White Plains, though not much more than a dusting. So far this winter I’ve used my snowblower just once. 

Lots of other municipalities, some places you’d hardly expect, have been inundated with snow. Tucson provides an example of how locals are reacting to the uncommon: Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Concentrate on Five Key States While Barr Considers What To Do With Mueller Report

Wisconsin. Florida. Ohio. Michigan. Pennsylvania. 

Let me say it another way: Michigan. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Florida. Wisconsin. 

Perhaps you misunderstood. Let me try again: Ohio. Wisconsin. Pennsylvania. Michigan. Florida. 

Drum those states into your brain cells. Nothing matters but Florida. Pennsylvania. Ohio. Wisconsin. Michigan. 

The road to 270 electoral votes goes through Pennsylvania. Michigan. Florida. Wisconsin. Ohio. 

Any candidate too radical to appeal to voters in those five states will not flip the White House from red to blue. That is the ultimate goal in 2020. Hillary lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined 77,744 votes; Florida by 112,911, Ohio by 446,841. Surely a centrist, even a slightly left of center, Democrat should be able to secure sufficient votes in most if not all of those states to thwart Trump’s reelection. 

Forget devising a southern of sunbelt strategy ( If those five states, particularly Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, cannot be won by the Democratic nominee, there is no reason to support the party.

Will the full Mueller report be released? As has been reported by the press and me, Attorney General William Barr has no binding obligation to release the full report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He may well decide to keep to himself the name(s) of anyone Mueller does not recommend for prosecution. As it is believed Mueller adheres to the doctrine that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, that means Barr could quash any hint from Mueller that Donald Trump is part of any Russian corruption of our election system and government. 

Sure, Congress, specifically the Democratic controlled House, could try to subpoena the full report, but there’s a subtler issue at play here. The House is not looking for an actual indictable crime, so to speak. It is interested in impeachable offenses. And those may well be part of Mueller’s report, leaving Barr with a dilemma. 

Is his loyalty to the Constitution greater than his loyalty to Trump? In the last two years we have witnessed too many cases of men and women who have shed principles and morals to sanction the grifting and greed of an unworthy, ill-spoken demagogue who has trampled on national and international institutions in support of despots and racists. 

Will Barr join their ranks or will he uphold the oath of office he took to support and defend the Constitution and the republic?

A friend pointed out Michael Cohen, prior to his testimony Wednesday before Congress, might reveal some illegal acts by Trump but they wouldn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. To which I replied, “Impeachment is a political, not legal-based, act. House would impeach but Senate would not convict at this time.”

Then I tossed out this hypothetical: “But I wonder if Trump would resign if it meant secrets of his empire and dealings would remain secret. Doubtful, but sure to be speculated by some pundits.”

Crazy, no? But it could happen. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Too Much to Read? Here's More

Did you ever muse that there’s just too much to read? Of course, I am not referring to No Socks Needed Anymore, but seriously, there’s lots of intriguing (not necessarily good) journalism out there, so your faithful servant/scribe has taken it upon himself to alert you to articles or videos worthy of your time.

To start, I left out of my last blog a cute-as-a-puppy clip from CBS Sunday Morning’s tribute to Valentine’s Day love:

Sticking with the subject of love, though not the pure kind epitomized by the doggie clip, here’s an eye-popping article on sex workers you might have missed from the Style section of The New York Times:

I cite The Times more than any other newspaper, but I am not elitist when it comes to recommending local media. Thanks to Gilda, who reads the local papers from Omaha and Boston where our children live, here’s a profile of John Pehle from the Omaha World-Herald of a mostly unheralded hero of 75 years ago who saved thousands of lives:

Many consider Robert Mueller a hero. They can hardly wait for the special counsel’s report on the entanglements of the Trump campaign and presidency with Russia. But as this piece from NBC News notes, full disclosure of his findings is not automatic:

She’s not eligible to run for president for more than five years, but pundits already have her hat in the ring for the 2024 election, championing radical solutions to our national and world problems. The irony is that Trump’s declaration Friday of a national emergency so he could build a wall along our southern border (assuming the courts uphold his power to do so) makes freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a nightmare for conservatives (if she wins) and a dreamy candidate for extreme progressives. Here’s Politico’s take on it from a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush:

Elizabeth Warren provided an enlightened explanation of what might transpire in years ahead:  She tweeted, “Gun violence is an emergency. Climate change is an emergency. Our country’s opioid epidemic is an emergency.”

A future president could ban all gun sales, could confiscate all long guns, could limit ammunition sales, all under emergency powers. 

A future president could ban construction along shorelines, could order the relocation of residents along the shoreline, could order the construction of massive sea walls, all under emergency powers. 

A president could postpone indefinitely future elections under emergency powers. 

Sounds crazy but Republicans in Congress have forfeited their power. 

Think the courts will stop it all? Trump has been appointing federal judges who believe in the imperial presidency so don’t look to them for any brakes on presidential power. 

Dictators look for power vacuums to consolidate their hold. Republicans just let the air out of our checks and balances form of government. 

He doesn’t own it anymore, but Trump’s first major Manhattan project, The Grand Hyatt Hotel adjacent to and above Grand Central Terminal, will be torn down, replaced by a scaled down hotel as part of a mixed use development ( I wonder if he has any sentimental feelings about that news. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reflections on the News About Dogs, Tigers, Blackface, Socialism, Messy Desks, the Autobahn

Oh so much news to digest. Racism in Virginia. Anti-semitism from a Democrat from Minnesota. Wall financing or not. Government shutdown or not. Venezuela. North Korea. Iran. Isis. China. 

Where to begin? How about a few of the stories that touched my life. 

A Dog’s Life: One of my regrets in life is never having a pet dog during my adulthood. Gilda and I had three cats at one time, but as anyone who is a dog lover will tell you, a cat is no substitute for a dog. 

Not just any dog. For me a dog cannot be small enough to pick up with one hand. It cannot have a pug snout. It cannot have a yappy bark. 

So why didn’t we have a dog? I could say it was because Gilda didn’t want one, or that Dan’s asthma would not tolerate a dog. Truth is, I’m picky and lazy. Which translates into, I don’t mind walking a dog (when it isn’t too early or too late and definitely when it is not raining, snowing or brrrrr-cold outside). And, most tellingly, I am not the type of dog lover who is OK cleaning up after them. 

That said, the day after the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show picked a wire fox terrier as its Best in Show, here are vintage photos of dogs in New York accompanied by a roundtable discussion of why we obsess about dogs in general, followed by an adorable video of golden retrievers making themselves indispensable to human pleasure:

From my own dog experience, here’s a link to a post from eight years ago:

Sticking with an animal theme, were you aware of a Hangover-like incident in Houston involving a tiger?

Clairvoyant: In the wake of the Virginia blackface scandal swirling around the governor and state attorney general, three days ago in my last block I suggested yearbooks would be a new source of background checks of prospective hires. Well, it didn’t take long for yearbook checking to hit the mainstream news media. 

Consider this report from Wednesday’s CBS News (caution: some of the images are disturbing): 

Socialism Bad, Right? Not necessarily. At least that’s one of the takeaways from Donald Trump’s support of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez. Guaidó is seeking to displace Nicolas Maduro as the country’s president. 

Maduro has a well-deserved reputation as a socialist dictator who currently is denying humanitarian aid to his countrymen because it is from the United States. But as Ozy points out, the contest between Guaidó and Maduro is not capitalism vs. socialism. Read on:

For another viewpoint on the duplicity in Trump’s antipathy toward socialism, consider former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s analysis:

Don’t Mess With Me: Enter Gilda’s and my shared home office and you would immediately be able to identify which is her desk and which is mine. My desk is so cluttered that I do not compose these blogs there—too messy. 

During my decades as an editor and publisher my desk was, shall we say, a repository of facts and figures, large and small. To anyone who would ask I would aver that I knew exactly where any specific paper could be found. 

The company president was not convinced. During one of my business trips he ordered one of our assistants to clean my desk. Naturally, when I returned to the office I was aghast. Livid. I threatened to fire the assistant if she ever touched my desk again. A toothless threat—I promoted her to copy editor shortly thereafter. 

I don’t have that option with Gilda so every so often, when the papers start slipping off my desk onto the floor I clean up, mostly by stacking them neatly but sometimes throwing some out. But I am comforted by a recent article in Ozy supporting the argument that a messy desk if a sign of a creative mind:

Speeding Along: Last week The New York Times reported  Germans were incensed that some politicians were advocating a speed limit on their cherished autobahn ( 

If you’ve never driven on the autobahn let me assure you it is a thrill-a-second. Here’s how I described my one and only time as a frightened passenger: 

“During my first trip to Germany, in 1996, to attend the EuroShop conference in Dusseldorf, I was invited by the team from Boston Retail to tour some stores. They had rented a car, a large Mercedes sedan, with a driver. I sat in the middle of the rear seat with an unobstructed view of the speedometer. German cars measure speed in kilometers per hour. It’s a simple computation to convert the number into miles per hour. Simply multiply it by 60%. 

“When the speedometer needled its way toward 160, I could barely contain my anxiety as I also had an unobstructed view of the traffic in front of us, which at that moment was no more than two car lengths ahead. It wasn’t that our driver was a tailgating daredevil. Every driver on the autobahn was spaced the same one to two car lengths behind the car he was trailing. To travel less than 96 miles per hour would endanger all. 

“Of course, that means when a car slows down, because of snow, fog or some other reason, there is a chain reaction should any one vehicle not brake to the precise slower speed. Large pile-ups are common in Germany.”

Much to my relief we did not encounter any trouble. But I do not look forward to my next trip on the autobahn.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Let's Go to the Yearbook, then the Videotape

It has become a common practice for anyone involved in a hiring process to first check an applicant’s social media pages before extending an employment offer. Conversely, it is not unusual for smart candidates to scrub their postings of any offensive or questionable entries. 

With the Brett Kavanaugh and Ralph Northam debacles as guidance, it seems we have descended into a new level of background exposure—high school and college/graduate school yearbooks. How better to know the person sitting anxiously across the desk from you than to gaze onto his or her adolescent picture and wonder what “real” image might be found within the pages of a yearbook? As if actions of a decade, two decades, or more, ago have relevant bearing on the values and character of the adult in the room.

Does anyone doubt that in most Southern states blackface pictures similar to those in Northam’s medical school yearbook could be found in high school and college yearbooks from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? 

Yet, I return to my stated belief that the high jinks of youthful indiscretion should not be a disqualifier. How a candidate, or an elected official, comported him- or herself in adulthood should be paramount. 

In other words, short of a criminal act, such as that alleged against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, there should be a statute of limitations for dredging up old behavior deemed inappropriate by today’s standards.  

Politicians, especially those seeking the ultimate higher office, must practice patience. Yes, the 24-hour non-stop news cycle demands comment. How about a simple, let’s wait for all the facts to come out before rendering judgment? The rush to judgment practiced by too many today might make for a good soundbite but demonstrates little capacity for contemplative decision making.

No doubt part of the equation considered by politicians is how specific voter segments will respond to allegations. It has been presumed that blacks, so crucial to any effort to unseat Trump from the Oval Office, would be clamoring for Northam’s removal, by his own choice or through impeachment. 

Leading Virginian pols, black and white, have called for his departure. But do we know what a majority of black voters feel about him?

According to a poll by The Washington Post/Schar School, more Afro-American voters in Virginia (58%) say Northam should stay on as governor compared to those who want him to resign (37%). (

Not surprisingly, the poll demonstrates that the black community is not monolithic. Consider the controversy over Adam Levine and his group Maroon 5’s halftime show during last Sunday’s Super Bowl. Several black performers rejected the idea of headlining the show as a way of expressing solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er quarterback who sought racial justice against police actions by beginning the take-a-knee protest during the national anthem before games. Kaepernick has been unsigned for two years, what his supporters claim is coordinated and racist retribution by team owners and the league. 

Consciously or not, the National Football League went out of its way to spotlight black entertainers at the game. Chloe x Halle sang “America, the Beautiful.” Gladys Knight sang the national anthem. Travis Scott and Big Boi performed with Maroon 5. Most of the players in the NFL’s own TV ad were black. 

It’s time to step back and reflect on what’s good for Virginians. The end result might not complement what we want to see, but one yearbook picture—even if it represents a thousand words— does not speak for the progressive deeds of a lifetime.

Let’s Go to the Videotape: Sportscaster Warner Wolf made an impressionable career from his signature exhortation, “Let’s go to the videotape.” Now in retirement in Florida, videotape has captured his rebellion against a vestige of racial oppression.

According to a one paragraph story in The Journal News, “Sportscaster Warner Wolf is facing a felony charge after police said he damaged a sign outside his (Naples) Florida community because it included the word “Plantation,” which he considers racist. Collier County records show Wolf, 81, surrendered Thursday on a felony criminal mischief charge and was released. The sheriff ’s office said Wolf long complained about his community’s name, Classics Plantation Estates. Deputies say surveillance video shows Wolf removing the letters Nov. 30. They say he gave the letters to a security guard, telling him to pass them to the property manager. Damage is estimated at $1,100. Wolf declined comment Saturday and his attorney didn’t immediately return a call.”

Bravo, Warner!

Friday, February 8, 2019

To the Barricades: Socialist Dems Under Attack

To much applause from his party apparatchiks during the State of the Union speech Tuesday night Donald Trump voiced the oft-repeated trope America will never become a socialist country. 

“We are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control. We renew our resolve that America will  never be a socialist country,” said the demagogue-in-chief.

To which I would respond, go back to school, Donald. What about Social Security? Unemployment insurance? Disability insurance? Medicare? Medicaid? Farm subsidies, energy subsidies, food stamps? National parks? Public transportation systems? The Tennessee Valley Authority? The list could go on and on. 

We live in a republic imbued with democratic and socialist policies and programs. Yes, the country may have been founded on the pursuit of liberty (for all but the enslaved) and independence (except for slaves), but it was not done without coercion (think slavery), domination (government sanctioned slavery) and control (slavery once more). What’s more, today’s Republicans want to remove liberty and independence from women’s reproductive options through coercion, domination and control. 

Casting Democrats as socialists may be the newest fear bogeyman by a bully who has already labeled Hispanic and Muslim immigrants the source of most evil in our country ( He could succeed in his dark portrayal if Democrats do not fight back immediately and vigorously.

With rare exception senior Americans have come to rely on their Social Security checks arriving each month. Some even rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver them. Democrats need to educate the electorate that Democrats initiated Social Security and that Republicans have for years tried to dismantle it.

Democrats need to begin an ongoing advertising campaign pointing out all the support programs they started amid the Republican record of dissent and budgetary cutbacks.

Turn the discussion away from socialism to social welfare and healthcare programs.

Pose: Were you struck as I was by the posture Trump took during his speech? (Take a look at the picture accompanying this article: Often pursing his lips, Trump thrust his chin up and out, like…like Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. All that was missing was an upward thrust of his right arm at the beginning. (Look for yourself at video from a 1934 speech at Taranto, Italy:

And, as long as I’m comparing Trump to an Italian dictator, does anyone else conjure up images of a Mafia don when they see Trump walking around in an open overcoat (no doubt cashmere) while his capos are comfortable in just suit jackets? 

Chutzpah à la Trump: The definition of chutzpah used to be when a man accused of killing his mother and father seeks mercy from the court because he is an orphan. That explanation, advanced by Leo Rosten in his book “The Joy of Yiddish,” can be supplanted by the racist-and misogynist-in-chief calling out Virginia Democrats for their acts of racism and alleged sexual assault. 

No doubt the image of Democrats in Virginia has been tarnished. To call out their faults, however, Republicans would have to explain how they overlook Trump’s repeated falls from grace. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

If All 3 Democrats Resign, GOP Can Say, "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus"

And Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …”

I don’t usually quote from the New Testament, but it seemed appropriate to cite the text from John as it relates to the circus-of-a-state we are witnessing in Virginia as the governor and his two potential immediate successors—the lieutenant governor and the state attorney general—are caught up in sexual and racial improprieties, both the alleged and real kind. 

As Christine Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday, “Well, it seems everyone in Virginia is wanting when it comes to being without sin.” 

While Republicans basically abandoned any ethical principles with their selection of Donald Trump as their standard bearer, Democrats have an-eat-their young attitude of moral purity. 

Their unforgiving puritanical stance is combined with rush to judgment alacrity. 

Here’s where dedication to purity becomes problematic. We’re not dealing with the entertainment industry, a la Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, where individuals, scores of individuals, had their lives traumatized. No. In the mess of a commonwealth called Virginia, the lives of millions are at stake. 

If Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, resigns, first in line to succeed him is Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat. If Fairfax resigns, he is succeeded by Atty. Gen.s Mark Herring, also a Democrat. If Herring resigns, he is succeeded by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, Marvin Kirkland Cox, a conservative Republican. 

Now, before you finish howling gleefully or despondently, add this peculiarity to how Cox finds himself poised to become governor if all the Democratic dominoes tumble: Back in 2017, the race for control of the 100-seat House of Delegates was settled not by voters but rather by the drawing of lots. 

Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican incumbent David Yancey wound up with the same number of ballots in Virginia’s 94th District. The winner was chosen by a random drawing of one of their names out of a bowl. Yancey was chosen, giving Republicans a 51-49 majority of delegates. Cox was elected speaker. 

What would it mean in Virginia? Northam advocated for expanding Medicaid, stricter gun regulations and protecting abortion rights. Cox would not. Keep in mind Northam’s victory was decisive, 53.9% vs. 45.0% for Republican Ed Gillespie, in a race widely seen as a referendum on Trump and his policies.

In no way am I condoning Northam or Herring for wearing blackface almost 40 years ago. Nor am I siding with Fairfax in his defense of alleged sexual misconduct 15 yers ago.

I am suggesting that context and, sometimes, pragmatic politics need to be considered.  

Northam was not even 25 when he appeared in blackface in 1984. Herring was 19 in 1980. Though young, both men should have known better, but in the context of growing up in Virginia, where just a little more than a decade earlier interracial marriages were illegal, appearing in blackface was a common act. And, in 1976, Gene Wilder appeared in blackface in the film Silver Streak with Richard Pryor.  

More relevant to the dialogue about Northam and Herring is their behavior since their blackface days. By all accounts known to me, they have been free of racist acts. 

The case of Fairfax is more troubling. Justin Fairfax was 25 when he allegedly forced a woman to perform oral sex on him. It is entangled in the #MeToo moment. To read Vanessa Tyson’s statement about her prior disclosure to friends of the alleged assault is starkly familiar to testimonies provided by victims of known predators ( 

I don’t want to see Virginia regress into a red state. I also don’t want to see Democrats embrace a holier-than-thou stance toward potential presidential candidates if their so-called transgressions occurred decades ago (as is the case with Joe Biden’s Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing flub or Kirsten Gillibrand’s past support of unrestricted gun rights). 

Republicans would like nothing more than to cast Democrats as hypocrites in the morals arena. Yeah, right. As if the public, at least the thinking public, would not see them as pots calling the tea kettle black. 

Yes, Virginia, if all three Democrats resign, Republicans will have a right to say there is a Santa Claus, so let’s not give the GOP a present, and a possible path to Trump’s reelection.