Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ostrich Should Replace Elephant as GOP Mascot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Very Next Day!!!

The time to impeach has arrived!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Of Castles, Kings, Churches and Wizards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Are You Proud To Be an American?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you proud that our president rejects science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d like to be proud again. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Answer Please, What Did You Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Rand Paul and Farmers Might Think the U.S. is a Capitalist Country, But Socialism Abounds

Making the rounds of Facebook lately is the following quote attributed to Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky. Paul is a libertarian conservative. Here’s the quote: “Our Founders never intended for Americans to trust their government. Our entire Constitution was predicated on the notion that government was a necessary evil to be restrained and minimized as much as possible.”

Interesting. On the other hand, do you think the Founders considered a future with automatic rifles and machine guns? Or a future with medications that could prevent the dissemination of life-threatening contagious diseases? Or the instant communication of radio, television, cable and the Internet with their potential to undermine freedom? Or the ability to mass produce food and the need to safeguard its production and consumption? Or trains, planes and automobiles and the necessity to regulate their use? Or the depletion and pollution of clean water and air? 

Perhaps the Founders didn’t always get things right. They did, after all, sanction slavery. Rand Paul and his originalist brethren need to realize the Constitution and its amendments are templates for a governing philosophy that requires modifications based on the evolution of mankind’s technical and scientific abilities to do good and evil. 

The Constitution and amendments need to be interpreted in light of changes in reality. As the Bible is. Western society has gone beyond the literal “eye for an eye” doctrine of penalties for actions intended or not. 

So, too, must our unassailable reliance on a late 18th century document. 

A recent New Yorker article on Wisconsin farmers and their loyalty to Donald Trump contained the following from a dairy farmer: “I’m not in favor of any kind of socialism,” he said. “We’re a capitalist farm.”

As much as that farmer professed a disdain for socialism I wonder if he realizes just how much “socialism” he and his fellow sodbusters receive. Based on U.S. Dept. of Agriculture data, the Environmental Working Group computes that from 1995 through April 2019, farmers received $390.9 billion of federal subsidies. Wisconsin farmers pocketed $9.113 billion, ranking the state 16th among those accepting federal support. 

As a nation we don’t have a problem with creeping socialism in this country. Rather, we have a problem with people failing to understand how socialism—how the “means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”—is embedded in our everyday lives. 

Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid. Food stamps. Public schools. Free and subsidized school food programs. Energy subsidies. Subsidies that pay farmers to limit what crops to plant and how much their acreage should yield. Yada, yada, yada.

We are awash in government giveaways. Some may quibble about individual handout programs. Overall, we are better for them. 

Rand Paul might think government is “a necessary evil,” but he would be wrong. His state of Kentucky, according to WalletHub, is the third most dependent on money from Washington ( A year ago, WalletHub estimated that for every dollar Kentucky sends to Washington, it receives $2.61. Just imagine how poorly Kentucky would fare if it didn’t receive its share of our “socialist” government.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Visit to Normandy's Past and Present

Allianz haunted me on Gilda’s and my recent trip to Normandy. Just two doors down from our headquarters hotel, the Mercure, in the picturesque seaport of Honfleur, an Allianz office sign greeted our week’s comings and goings. 

Long time readers may recall Allianz, a German financial services company, had sought to procure naming rights to the Meadowlands stadium the New York Giants and Jets were about to open in September 2008.  It was only after my letter to The New York Times pulled back the curtain on the company’s historic profile as an insurer of Nazi extermination camps, slave labor plants and concentration camps, plus its reluctance to honor life insurance policies absent a death certificate, that public outrage forced the teams to quickly abandon the $25 million proposal. Instead, the Giants and Jets play their games in MetLife Stadium (

Haunting aside, our stay in Honfleur was idyllic. Cobblestoned streets in the quaint downtown, difficult to navigate, at times made one look to the ground and away from centuries old structures. Some of the buildings have outcroppings on the second and third floors, a successful Middle Ages attempt to add square footage to residences that were taxed based on their ground level frontage. 

Escaping bombardment during World War II, Honfleur boasts France’s largest wooden church with a separate bell tower. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, St. Catherine Church is beautiful inside and out with a spire that dominates the skyline. 

A tourist attraction for natives and foreigners, Honfleur restaurants specialize in seafood. Streets are lined with small shops which curiously did not stay open late as they would in American tourist venues. Perhaps mid-September is beyond the shopkeepers’ expectations for tourists willing to splurge on delectable chocolates or chic scarves and tops, or just plain kitschy souvenirs. 

As in most any French community, fresh—really fresh—baguettes and pastries attract passersby. To walk clutching a two foot long baguette makes one look instantly like a local. 

From the window of our room in the Mercure we could see the graceful Normandy Bridge, at one time the longest suspension bridge in Europe. Though rain was forecast for the full week after we departed Sunday, Gilda and I reveled in the sunny 60-70 degree temperatures with soft breezes that greeted us every day, making our explorations of the Normandy coast, including D-Day beaches, and nightly promenades exhilarating. 

We had come to Honfleur on a Smithsonian Journeys tour program with 25 others from across the States. Informed by local experts and Rob Dalessandro, deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, we learned the history of the region that spawned William the Conqueror, who prior to his invasion of England was known as William the Bastard because he was born out of wedlock. We marveled at the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral and the Bayeux tapestry (really an embroidery), some 70 yards in length that depicts the story behind William’s invasion. We traced and climbed the unimaginable construction feat of Mount Saint Michel; we learned how the area’s signature Camembert cheese and apple cider are made, and enjoyed tastings of the products. From a descendant of a member of the Resistance we heard of life under the Nazi occupation. We somberly reflected on the bravery and sacrifice of American and Allied servicemen, along with the logistical feat of D-Day during visits to Utah and Omaha beaches, the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and the symmetrical, egalitarian gravesites of more than 9,000 Americans who lost their lives on the shores of Normandy June 6, 1944, and the subsequent fighting in the region for the next 90 days 75 years ago.