Some states have passed/are passing laws restricting anyone from providing counseling about abortions. They also want to ban women from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion. Aren’t such laws unconstitutional as a breach of freedom of speech and freedom of movement? And some states want to pass laws that would prohibit the delivery of mail order abortion pills within their borders. Wouldn’t those laws violate interstate commerce regulations and obstruct the functions of the U.S. Postal Service and private carriers? Is the Supreme Court poised to take away more of our constitutional rights?
Saturday, June 25, 2022
The time for pussyfooting around is over. Joe Biden has just 20 weeks to salvage his presidency and, in so doing, nearly a century of progressive legislation, programs and judicial rulings, including Social Security, voting rights, legal contraception and consensual same sex relations and marriage.
He must embark on a non stop whirlwind campaign for Democrats running for the House and Senate, as well as to be state governors, representatives and secretaries of state.
He must challenge the electorate to provide him with a Manchin- and Sinema-proof majority in the Senate by promising to enlarge the Supreme Court with progressive-minded justices who will defend liberties and not endanger Americans as the current court majority did this past week in overturning Roe v. Wade and in lifting common sense restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public.
If Biden doesn’t channel Harry S Truman’s fight against the odds and political pundits he will be faced with two years of Republican control of Congress, their only goal to investigate Biden and his family, ultimately leading to his impeachment.
Biden’s only hope is to barnstorm the country campaigning on reinstating social values that the court has trampled and likely will continue to do so, as Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor stated in their dissent to the abortion ruling, and which conservative Justice Clarence Thomas alluded to in his concurring majority opinion.
No matter how firm the precedent, the Republican majority has telegraphed its intention to return America to a time when states could legislate it was illegal for gays to have consensual relations, much less marry, when states could prohibit interracial unions, when women could not legally obtain birth control contraception.
Even with low unemployment, more people working than ever before, and infrastructure projects underway, Biden cannot win based on an economic platform, not when gas hovers around $5 a gallon, rents and mortgage rates are trending upward, supply chain issues create product shortages and the stock market dives rather than soars.
Biden must harness the anger felt by not just Democrats to the evisceration of longstanding rights. He has to hope rage over unfulfilled and at times restricted social values trumps pocketbook issues like inflation and gas prices.
Now that the right to an abortion has been stripped of federal constitutional protection, will more Americans be prodded to vote for pro choice candidates? Will the inevitable mass shooting between now and November trigger more gun control voters to march to the polls? Having succeeded at the Supreme Court, will the anti abortion bloc become complacent about voting, or will it galvanize its focus to other social issues such as the denial of contraceptive rights and same sex marriage?
And, let’s not dismiss the Trump factor. Will Americans care about their democracy or, in ignorance or rejection of overwhelming evidence presented by the House Select Committee on January 6, will they willingly support candidates who would shred the Constitution and dismantle free and fair elections, or just not bother to show up election day?
Biden cannot wait to find out. No doubt he will be attacked for even suggesting he would pack the court. But erosion of belief in our institutions, first and foremost the Supreme Court, is rampant. When Supreme Court nominees openly lie and obfuscate about their true intentions it becomes a signal to all Americans that the truth doesn’t matter to advance one’s aspirations. That’s how a Trump can arise and spread falsehoods believed by millions.
When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy can deny his condemnation of Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, despite video records of his revulsion, it is plain to see politicians believe a big lie repeated over and over is more accepted by an impressionable public than the actual event they witnessed.
Biden has no choice but to act boldly. He has little time to waste. Twenty weeks. One hundred forty days. Not just his presidency, but the American experiment are at stake.
Sunday, June 19, 2022
I consider my knowledge of American history to be above average. In high school I scored a 99 on the American history Regents exam, perfection eluding me because I included in my essay a fact unfamiliar to my teacher, so he deducted one point.
And yet, Juneteenth, the Tulsa massacre of 1921, the abduction, torture and lynching of Emmet Till, the legacy of Sojourner Truth, the heritage of Buffalo Soldiers, and other facts and figures of the Afro-American experience in America were not part of my education.
As for Hispanic Americans, my learning was limited to the names of conquistadors and explorers—Cortez, Pizarro, Ponce de Leon, de Soto, Coronado. Of course we learned about the Alamo and the evil General Santa Anna who, in reality, only tried to thwart an illegal usurpation of Mexican territory by Americans who wanted Texas to become a slave state.
I am not suggesting my schooling was subpar. On the contrary. I attended top rated schools.
It was just a manifestation of our country’s historic legacy of downplaying the contributions and humanity of the non white portion of our population, whether they came here voluntarily or in chains in the holds of slave ships.
Did we learn of the cruelty of forcibly breaking up slave families by selling off members to other plantations, often in distant states?
Did we learn that the struggling colony of South Carolina became profitable only because West African slaves taught their masters how to successfully plant and harvest rice, what became known as Carolina Gold, which contributed to the financial growth of Charleston as an exporter of rice and, sadly, a major importer of slaves required to work in swampy, malarial, alligator-infested rice fields?
Did we learn the White House was built with slave labor?
Did we learn about the indigenous cultures of Africa, Central and South America and Native Americans?
Not really. While we learned about the Apian Way the Romans built to ease transportation in their realm, we heard nothing of the Incan empire highway system of at least 24,000 miles along the Pacific coast of South America.
Did we learn that as part of a compromise to secure the presidency in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to the dismantling of federal oversight of Reconstruction, leading to the subsequent adoption of Jim Crow laws throughout the South?
Did we learn that Woodrow Wilson, the global thinker who championed the League of Nations, was a Southern-born racist who re-segregated the federal government bureaucracy, thus emasculating a burgeoning Afro-American middle class?
June 19, 1865, is recognized as the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the end of slavery, the abolishment of human bondage.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, signed into law last June by President Biden. Every state recognizes or observes the day, with Texas fittingly being the first to do so, back in 1980.
Nearly 160 years after the end of the Civil War our nation is still enslaved through ignorance and bigotry. Large swaths of our populace throughout every region resist attempts to learn our history beyond the sanitized version fed to elementary and most high school students.
Until we are freed from the shackles of stilted education the prospects of racial equality appear constrained.
Saturday, June 18, 2022
The narrative being put forward by his supporters, even by some Democrats, is that Mike Pence saved our democracy. That under extreme pressure and personal danger to his security and life he chose to resist Donald Trump’s entreaties. Rather than flee the Capitol January 6, 2021, he stood steadfast, albeit in understandable hiding, waiting for the insurrectionists to be evicted. He defended the Constitution from the vandals in the Capitol and their spineless leader in the White House.
His detractors label Pence a coward. A traitor. A disloyal lieutenant to the greatest president we’ve ever had. That’s just mimicking what Donald Trump says. At the Capitol on January 6th the mob was chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” They erected a gallows should they ever find him.
Pence is no paragon of virtues. After all, his appetite for power let him swallow his Christian upbringing and become the running mate of a man whose temperament and mores were the antithesis of his.
Cynics might argue it took more than four years for Pence to grow a set of cojones, to put it crassly. The “Access Hollywood” tape didn’t derail his coveting power. Stormy Daniels didn’t stir any emotions in him. Trump’s illegal pressure on Ukraine to find dirt on Hunter Biden didn’t. Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state to just find him enough ballots to top Biden’s tally didn’t make him run to the ramparts in defense of free and honest elections.
What Pence did January 6 was admirable. But in the year and a half since the assault on the Capitol orchestrated by Trump’s lies and inflammatory oratory, Pence didn’t truly waver in his allegiance to the would-be dynasty-maker-in-chief (does anybody seriously doubt that for Trump the next in line to be president after him would not be Pence but rather Don Jr.?).
If Pence truly wants to establish himself as the voice of reason and responsibility in the Republican Party he needs to vocally call out senators, congressmen, state officials, Fox News luminaries and other right wing blowhards who continue to spout the belief that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen by Biden.
He needs to denounce Trumpism. On Friday, Trump indicated if elected president again he likely would pardon 800 rioters arrested at the Capitol. He claimed only one person died during the melee. I wonder how the families of the four other fatalities feel about Trump.
Pence needs to do counter Trump loudly and often, not just to pump up his own stature but also to encourage the process of a return to normalcy within his party. The issues are not abortion, gay rights, or any other wedge issue. The issues are whether Republicans can be expected to accept facts as facts, whether they can accept defeat graciously without illegitimate cries of foul and fraud, whether they will swear allegiance to the Constitution and not to an individual.
A return to traditional American political values is necessary to make our country a more perfect union.
Trump, however, is challenging reality and such notions in the extreme. Friday he claimed only one person died in the Capitol riot. The actual number was five. Despite repeatedly being told by his legal staff and judges, many of whom he appointed, that there was no truth to his cries of election fraud he continues to espouse them to an eager yet duped audience. Trump’s cries to the contrary, Pence could not void any Electoral College slates or ballots. He could not start a process to make Trump the winner of the election.
Pence must muster the courage to forcefully rebut Trump every time The Donald spits out another stale whopper. He’s been quiet too long. He’s still a hero in the making.
Friday, June 17, 2022
Assuming you were alive back on this date 50 years ago—June 17, 1972—do you remember what you were doing that evening or during subsequent days when details of the Watergate break-in, described by presidential press secretary Ron Ziegler as a “third rate burglary,” came to light?
I can’t. And I had the “good fortune” to have encountered some of the principals of the political scandal that rocked and continues to rock the very foundation of our democratic republic.
Some background: In March 1972 I was pursuing a master’s degree in newspaper journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. For one of my courses the class embarked on a week-long field trip to Miami to cover the presidential primary of both parties.
We rode a bus from Syracuse, stopping, as I recall, in Washington for a briefing by Jeb McGruder, deputy director of CREP, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. For his involvement in Watergate, McGruder served seven months in federal prison for conspiracy to wiretap, obstruct justice and defraud the United States.
After the briefing our bus trip continued south. I slept most of the way, waking up momentarily as we passed a billboard depicting a Ku Klux Klansman bearing a flaming cross welcoming us to North Carolina.
In Florida I was assigned to follow Congressman John Ashbrook, a conservative from Ohio, who was challenging Richard Nixon’s nomination for a second term, an endeavor on a par with George McGovern’s Quixotic quest in the general election eight months later.
My time trailing Ashbrook was less than exhilarating. I joined some classmates and we wangled a ride on a Goodyear blimp for the next day. Or so we thought. We were pre-empted by the film crew for Walter Cronkite. Uncle Walter wanted some local background film for CBS’s primary night coverage. I never got another shot at a blimp trip, though I did once ride in a helicopter, but I digress.
Unlike many of today’s journalists I was not inspired to choose my profession by Woodward and Bernstein, the youthful Washington Post reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize by “following the money” to unravel the mysteries of Watergate and the presidency of Richard Nixon. I had chosen my career path more than 18 months before the Watergate break-in.
That path took me to Washington in February 1972 for another journalism class. I interviewed White House reporters on the dangers of pack journalism. I briefly met Ron Ziegler who passed me onto one of his nondescript aides.
It was at the end of that visit that I encountered the man himself. As I was walking the driveway from the West Wing toward Pennsylvania Avenue I heard the sound of people running. I turned to my left to see about half a dozen men surrounding a man who had come out of the Executive Office Building. He was briskly making his way toward the White House. Though it was winter he wore no overcoat. His eyes locked onto mine, he smiled and waved. I did not return Richard Nixon’s greeting.
After graduating I began my newspaper career at The New Haven Register. I profiled Ron Sarasin, a Republican state legislator trying to unseat seven-term Democratic Congressman John Monagan. Aided by Nixon’s coattails Sarasin won.
Some 35 years later I ran into the former three-term congressman and subsequent Washington lobbyist at a Food Marketing Institute conference. Mutually bewildered to see one another, I explained my being there as editor and publisher of Chain Store Age. He was there as first spouse, his wife having recently been installed as president and CEO of the supermarket industry association.
Like many, I followed the developing Watergate story through newspaper and television reports. I saw only a smattering of the televised Senate Watergate hearings during the summer of 1973.
Gilda, on the other hand, watched all of them as she was between jobs and awaiting the start of courses to become a registered nurse. To pass the time she crocheted what we call her Watergate quilt.
For the Labor Day weekend break in the hearings The Register secured an interview with one of the Select Committee’s members, Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker, an outspoken Republican critic of Nixon. The interview would take place Friday afternoon at Weicker’s home in Greenwich.
There were few reporters in the newsroom that hot, languorous Friday afternoon. For a reason never explained to me, I was chosen to conduct both the interview and take pictures of the senator and his family.
I had to be there by 3 pm. Weicker’s home was almost an hour from our newsroom. I floored my Chevy Vega, fortunately not hitting any traffic. My car had no air conditioning. I sweated profusely from trepidation and the near 90 degrees and high humidity weather. I looked forward to sitting in Weicker’s air conditioned home.
Not to be! This scion of a co-founder of the Squibb pharmaceutical company had a colonial style home with NO AIR CONDITIONING!
The interview/photo shoot over, I raced back to New Haven to file the story that evening. Weicker had not related to me anything he had not already publicly stated about Nixon and Watergate, with one prominent exception: He categorically rejected any suggestion that he would launch a presidential campaign in 1976 based on the fame he had garnered from his service on the Watergate committee. My story began with that pronouncement. The Associated Press picked up the story and ran it nationally.
Weicker was true to his word. He did not run for president in 1976. He waited until 1980 to seek the GOP nomination. Ronald Reagan won it and the presidency.
About three years ago Gilda and I stopped in New Haven for the best pizza anywhere, at Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street. I spotted Weicker sitting at a table at the far end of the restaurant. Weicker, for those not familiar with him, is an easy person to spot. He is about six and a half feet tall. I was about to walk over to exchange greetings when I noticed him exiting from a side door.
I was more lucky meeting up with Ron Ziegler in his post-Watergate career. Ziegler headed the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. He used his political connections to bring domestic and international politicians and commentators to the retail drug industry’s national convention. Vendors used their clout to bring in top notch entertainment.
The year I attended the NACDS conference in 1992 speakers and entertainers included former and future Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former Nixon speechwriter and New York Times columnist William Safire, Bob Hope and Liza Minnelli.
Impressive. But the real reason I attended was the conference was held in Maui. Gilda and I had no qualms enjoying one of the perks of my publishing office.
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Not many parents can say their child is an approved Gerber baby, cute enough to represent the children’s food, clothing and accessories brand. Gilda and I can.
With the passing last week at age 95 of Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby selected in 1928 to represent the brand, there’s been renewed interest in babies that receive the Gerber seal of approval.
Back in July 1983 our 18-month-old daughter Ellie qualified. More precisely, she was a Gerber toddler posing as a Gerber one year old.
Total strangers would tell Gilda how beautiful a baby Ellie was as she was pushed around in her stroller, three-year-old big brother Dan walking alongside. It got so bad we feared all the attention would negatively affect Dan, no slouch himself in the looks department, to keep hearing praise of his sister and nary a word about how handsome he was.
So how did Ellie win Gerber’s approval? When she was 18 months old my magazine, Chain Store Age, signed Gerber to run an eight-page advertising supplement featuring its expanded baby accessories product line. We would design, create and print the piece. We always tried to produce supplements at the lowest possible expense, so we asked around our company if anyone had any babies who could model for us. For free.
Gerber wanted babies no older than 12 months. Ellie would have been too old, but since she was small for her age our art director, Milton, submitted some of our family photos for Gerber’s approval which came immediately.
Ellie and Gilda journeyed into Manhattan to the photographer’s studio downtown. Gilda dressed Ellie in Gerber’s pink one-piece pajamas with white sleeves and white Peter Pan collar with stitching along the edge, a bear face outlined across her heart. She was given a bright pink cube to hold.
Uptown in my office I anticipated the beginning of a lucrative child modeling career. Ellie had always had a keen sense of when the camera was focused on her. She became even more lustrous before the lens. With the Gerber photos to be taken that morning we’d have a ready-made portfolio to bring to modeling agencies.
All set for the one hour shoot, Stan (the photographer) pulled down a sheet of white background paper on which Ellie was to stand. She went ballistic! As Gilda related to me, it was the worst hour of her life. Not Ellie’s life. Gilda’s!
Ellie was inconsolable. She cried to the extreme. No amount of cajoling by Gilda or Stan could get her to stop. She pouted and bawled for 60 minutes. Somehow, Stan was able to snap four pictures that could be sent to Gerber. Remarkably, Gerber chose one for the back cover of the supplement. We keep a framed print of that picture in our living room.
Ellie had her moment of stardom, but Gilda advised if I had any hope of a future modeling career for our daughter, I would have to be the one to take her to future shoots.
I chose not to give up my day job.
Friday, June 3, 2022
There’s no way of knowing when the circle of life will complete its orbit, or how many side trips it will make along the way.
Back in 2010 a notice from our temple said a man from Riverdale was seeking bone marrow donors to treat his acute myelogenous leukemia.
Ordinarily I’m embarrassed to say I would have paid little heed to the plea for help. I’d always shied away from even considering the thought of a bone marrow donation. I shuddered at even the test, which I thought entailed needles into one’s elbow, though I soon learned it was rather benign, a simple cheek swab to determine compatibility. The actual bone marrow donation also had passed from being needle-scary to the painless routine of giving blood.
This time I was drawn into the request by the man’s name—Matt Fenster. I didn’t know him at all, I knew nothing about him other than he was suffering from leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Yet I felt a certain kinship with him.
You see, in high school I had an Israeli teacher who for some reason could not remember my last name was Forseter. He always called me Fenster, so much so that my friends started calling me Fenster as well.
With his name as a sign of to be brave, Gilda and I drove to the testing site, only to be turned away because we were 61, one year older than the donor age limit. We gave a donation but were bummed out we couldn’t do more.
A year later we learned Matt Fenster passed away, leaving four young children.
Fast forward to Friday. Our high school class scribe who keeps us abreast of happy and sad news of fellow alumni and their families sent a note relating that Leah Fenster of Riverdale had become engaged to Gabriel Miller, the grandson of one of our classmates.
It took minor Internet searching to discover Leah was Matt Fenster’s daughter.
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Ripped from the Headlines: Grandparent Wannabes Sue; Theft, Not Murder, in the Cathedral; Mona Lisa Assaulted
Taking care of one’s parents is a time-honored tradition in India and many other cultures. When we moved to our current home 40 years ago one of our neighbors was an Indian husband, Filipino wife and their young daughter. Kamal was one of several sons who emigrated to America, attended universities and earned professional degrees. By agreement among the brothers, another sibling, the youngest son, stayed in their ancestral village to care for their parents. The young man was not trained for any occupation.
When their father died the American-based brothers brought their mother and sibling to America. Again, by agreement, they paid for their brother’s delayed education. Their mother spent several months a year with each brother.
All well and good. Now comes a new wrinkle in parent-child relations. A middle aged Indian couple is suing their son and daughter-in-law “on the grounds of ‘mental harassment’” because they have not provided a grandchild after six years of marriage. They are seeking a grandchild or $650,000 in damages (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/29/world/asia/india-couple-grandchild-suing.html?smid=em-share).
Ooh boy! Gilda and I waited almost six years to have a child. My brother and his wife waited almost six years. As much as our parents wanted the next generation to be forthcoming, their stoicism never rose to anything more than sarcastic prodding.
However the civil case turns out in India, it made me wonder if grandparents might have legal standing to sue a child and their spouse if a grandchild does not live up to their expectations. Could they sue for incompatibility and receive damages?
Moreover, if tragedy befalls a grandchild, would grandparents have the right to seek redress from anyone responsible for denying them the pleasures of grandparenting?
You may think this whimsy is just another example of my silliness. But we are treading on heretofore unimaginable legal constructs in the aftermath of the expected Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade and the imposition in many states of restrictive right to an abortion.
In those states there is increased talk of banning all forms of contraception. Also being discussed is the personhood of an embryo which could put at legal risk anyone who does anything to jeopardize the safety of an unborn, even a woman who, say, drinks alcohol or takes drugs during a pregnancy.
Theft in the Cathedral: Brooklyn is known as the borough of churches, many of them stately, stone structures serving a large Roman Catholic population. During the year before our marriage in late January 1973, Gilda lived in a ground floor apartment on 65th Street in Bensonhurst, a mostly Italian Brooklyn neighborhood of single- and two-family attached homes and six story apartment houses.
Two weeks before our wedding the community was rocked by the theft of jeweled crowns and other gems valued at more than $100,000. The crowns adorned a portrait of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the Roman Catholic Votive Shrine of Regina Pacis on 65th Street.
It was not the first time the crowns had been pilfered. The first time was in 1952. Then, the stolen goods mysteriously showed up eight days later from an unknown source. Speculation that the culprit had been “persuaded” to return the crowns by local Mafia dons could not be proved, but you know how local folklore has a way of cobbling out the truth. Here’s a link for a more complete story of the 1952 caper: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/blog/2009/08/05/regina-pacis-and-case.
I don’t know the outcome of the second theft of the crowns (our wedding, followed by a next day move to Connecticut, dampened any interest in tracking the story; a Google search also failed to shed any light on whether the crowns were recovered), but another robbery of religious relics has just transpired, this time in Park Slope, a short stroll from where our daughter and her family lived before moving to Omaha.
Somebody, or somebodies, used a power saw to steal the altar’s solid gold tabernacle and decapitate a statue of an angel in St. Augustine Cathedral. The theft is estimated at $2 million (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/nyregion/stolen-tabernacle-brooklyn-church.html?referringSource=articleShare).
These high profile robberies require lots of planning, a familiarity with the sanctuary and its security features. One would hope that during their reconnaissance the thief or thieves spent at least a few minutes praying, and not just praying for the success of their heist.
Mona Lisa Defaced: Well, not exactly. Let me explain.
Seeing the Mona Lisa up close and personal at the Louvre in Paris is not easy. There are long lines and set, limited, viewing times. One enterprising man used the charade of being a wheelchair-bound woman to get priority access to the famed da Vinci portrait. The better, it turned out, to pummel the glass that protects the painting first with his fists and then with cream from a pastry. The Mona Lisa was not damaged (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/world/europe/mona-lisa-pastry-louvre.html?referringSource=articleShare).
I’ve been fortunate to have seen the Mona Lisa several times, though my first encounter almost eluded me. As a 17-year-old in August 1966, I went to the Louvre with the then husband of my Parisian cousin Miriam. He was a struggling painter who spoke no English while I, despite two years of high school instruction, knew barely enough French to ask which way to the library (“Ou est la bibliotheque”).
We meandered our way through hall after hall of the vast museum, I, sadly, not able to take advantage of his expert commentary. I was mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, though he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues in what my memory casts as a basement setting of forms and shapes of marble of equal weight and importance.
Shortly after I had walked past it, he ushered me back to view the Mona Lisa—back then the da Vinci portrait was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. Anyone could spend as much time as they desired staring into her eyes and at her enigmatic smile.