Thursday, May 18, 2023

A Day in Court, Tracking Body Armor, Question for Trump, Book Bans

 I fulfilled my civic responsibility as a citizen Wednesday by presenting myself as a potential juror for the New York State Unified Court System. 

My original reporting date had been May 12, but my call for duty had been deferred three times until May 15. So by 9:15 am, when I am normally still in bed, I found myself inside the Westchester County Daronco Courthouse in downtown White Plains awaiting possible selection as a juror for one of my peers either seeking redress for a perceived financial wrong or a verdict on their guilt or innocence for an alleged infraction of the penal code.

With some 90 other civic-minded citizens I sat through orientation films about the judicial system, one featuring Janet DiFiore, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, another narrated by Byron Pitts, a former CBS News correspondent. I admit to falling asleep through parts of both films, though my transgression was not as obvious as the man several rows behind me who audibly snored his way through much of the double feature, much to the amusement of everyone within earshot.

The clerk segregated us into three groups, the first being told they were to report to the courthouse in Yonkers the next day. Two groups including mine were sent to second floor waiting rooms awaiting trials that might begin depending on attorney consultations currently underway. After waiting 30 minutes, my group’s case was settled. Thanks to Commissioner of Jurors Dr. Betty L. Campbell’s “one (case) and done” policy, we were dismissed from any further New York State jury obligations for the next six years.

I cannot say justice was served Wednesday, but my portion of the judicial system was resolved to my satisfaction. For the record, I awoke this morning at 9:45. 


Body Armor: Given that under the guise of defending the Second Amendment Republicans will do nothing to try to prevent the proliferation of military-style assault rifles like the AR-15 frequently used in mass killings, perhaps governments should try a different tack. 

How about tracking people who buy body armor, as it seems the vast majority of mass murderers dress in body armor during their killing sprees? Look no further than Monday’s murderous attack in Farmington, NM. The 18-year-old who killed three women wore body armor as he wielded an AR-15. 

While it could be argued an AR-15 might be grabbed quickly to defend one’s home if under attack, donning body armor is not top of mind during a home invasion.  Authorities would be wise to monitor those who purchase the preferred outfit of mass murderers. 

I can think of no legitimate reason why a civilian needs body armor. It is not meant to be worn for target practice, or for mock war games. It is worn only if one expects to be shot at, as when one becomes a mass shooter. 

Question for Trump: CNN’s Kaitlin Collins was rewarded for her persistence in interviewing Donald Trump last week. She will host a new weeknight show CNN is putting together for the 9 pm time slot.

Try as she might, she couldn’t get Trump to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 presidential election. He would only say he would accept the count if the election “was not rigged,” his code words for “only if I won.”

My good friend Richard Greenfield thinks the proper question to ask Trump is, “Mr.  Trump, should you win the 2024 election, will you leave office on January 20, 2029, regardless of who your successor is, as required by the Constitution’s requirement that no one can serve more than two terms as president?”

Richard believes Trump “would not answer that with an unequivocal ‘Yes,’ but would say something along the lines of, ‘We’ll see,’ or ‘If it were a fair election.’ 

“Anything other than a ‘Yes’ would be truly informative.”

Banned in Boston: From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, books and other media that were “banned in Boston” used to be a source of pride for the creative, cultured community. But today’s proliferation of book and other media bans has spread disturbingly wide across America. It includes materials that spotlight our nation’s history of slavery and repression of minorities, the struggles of the LGBTQ community and extreme violence including warfare. 

So what should be done with a book that includes depictions of incest, rape, genocide, fratricide, witchcraft, slavery, infidelity, torture and idolatry? 

All that and more uncivilized behavior can be found in the Bible, Old and New Testament. Should Bible stories be banned, or at least withheld, from the impressionable minds of toddlers and young elementary school children? 

Imagine if atheists gain control of a city hall or school board. Could they, would they, ban the Bible? 

The absurdity of that possibility highlights the absurdity of any media bans, though I do believe anyone who seeks “Mein Kamph,” “The Protocols of Zion” or similarly extremist, racist, repressive media should be counseled and monitored. 

Which brings me to a recent notification I received from which hosts my blog. For writing about Trump back in August 2017, Blogger sent me the following three weeks ago: “This post was put behind a warning for readers because it contains sensitive content as outlined in Blogger’s Community Guidelines.”

Damned if I know who and how I offended. I asked Blogger for clarification but have not heard back.   

Friday, May 12, 2023

Kudos CNN for Showing Future Choice We Face

Bravo CNN.

The town hall forum the news network aired this week from New Hampshire, attended mostly by Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, enabled Americans of all stripes to see in sharp relief Donald Trump as he mauls his way to a third presidential nomination. 

Bluster. Disdain for the truth. Revulsion at being questioned. Misogyny. Equivocation. These traits and more were visible for all to see. 

If they were so inclined.

Unfortunately, judging from audience reaction and subsequent news articles, many, too many, Republican voters are willing to accept his character flaws. He is, after all, entertaining, and that, it seems to me, to be the primary reason he is able to garner votes from almost half of the electorate that chooses to cast a ballot for president.

CNN was gutsy in producing the Trump-a-thon (hard to call it an interview when Trump repeatedly talked over attempts by his interlocutor Kaitlin Collins to ask new questions and to pin him down when he spoke mistruths or failed to provide concrete answers. Should Trump be part of any candidate debates it would be wise for the sponsoring organization or network to insist on a “pitch clock” of, say 90 seconds, for him to talk before his microphone would be cut off. The same 90-second rule would apply to all speakers.).

What we learned from the CNN encounter is that Trump relishes living in the past, or at least what he perceives as his “past glories.” And that Granite State Republicans like that. 

As gutsy as CNN was, most Republican bigwigs have displayed twin gutlessness, first in not calling for the expulsion of deceitful George Santos from the House of Representatives and, second, for not saying Trump Redux is too much to abide, even against a flawed Joe Biden candidacy.  

Sure, some highly placed GOP’ers decried a return to pettiness, falsehoods and unpresidential behavior. None renounced his policies, just his decorum and truthfulness, though on the issue of support for Ukraine, Trump seems to be out of step with more global-thinking Republicans. 

Will Trump be able to reel in enough suburban voters, especially women, to win in November 2024? It is a sad commentary on the psyche of the American electorate that the question is not an idle one.  

Monday, May 8, 2023

A Visit by Shalom Yisrael Puts Focus on the Past

 In case you’re wondering where my acerbic wit and incisive commentary have been hiding these last few weeks, let me assure you I have not been practicing my Rip van Winkle impression. 

Rather, for the last two weeks I have been engrossed in Shalom Yisrael of Westchester’s post-Covid reconstituted program of bringing deserving Israeli women to New York and Washington for a fortnight of touring and, more importantly, relationship building between Jewish communities. 

This year’s six-pack of guests came from northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. All but one retired, they all stay active by volunteering at the local regional hospital, Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. The youngster, at 50, supplements work and hospital duties by being an EMT Ambucycler. “Ambucycles are regular motorcycles used by United Hatzalah volunteers throughout Israel to make sure they get to emergencies within the first few minutes,” often before ambulances can arrive. 

Since 2010 I’ve been involved with Shalom Yisrael, with Gilda sometimes housing a guest, hosting a buffet dinner for participants and SY volunteers, but mainly coordinating a three day trip to Washington, DC. 

The Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, a tour of the Capitol, a stop for pictures at the statue of Albert Einstein, and visits to several Smithsonian pavilions. I’ve been to the National Holocaust Museum more than a dozen times. 

Each visit I am impressed with the number of students from across the country that are exposed to the evil and depravity of Nazi Germany and its henchmen in lands conquered by Hitler. And I wonder, how is it that there can still be Holocaust deniers among us? 

Each walk-through I find samples of exhibits current with news and events of our time period. 

One of the first pictures displayed is of General (and future president) Dwight D. Eisenhower at Ohrdruf concentration camp April 12, 1945, with his explanation, three days later, as to why he bore witness: 

“The things I saw beggar description…the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering … I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations werely to ‘propaganda.’”

How unfortunately prescient Ike was. 

A few steps further in, as the tableau laid out in blood-curdling detail the rise of Naziism, more chords of today’s reactionary thinking were evoked—book banning. 

To my knowledge we haven’t had formal book burning escapades, but can it be too far off when local activists have successfully had books like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Beloved,” and “Of Mice and Men” removed from schools and municipal library shelves? 

Here’s how the Holocaust Museum described events 90 years ago: 

“In the spring of 1933, party officials and members of the Nazi students’ organization raided libraries and bookstores in 30 cities and towns across Germany. They removed truckloads of books and cast them onto bonfires. On May 10, more than 25,000 books were burned in Berlin alone. The book burnings were not spontaneous: they were a calculated, coordinated effort to ‘purify’ German culture. The students worked from prepared blacklists of books deemed ‘un-German.’ Some of these books were by Jewish authors; most were not…

“Also incinerated were books by the non-Jewish American novelists Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos. Writings by the American women’s rights activist Margaret Sanger were destroyed, as were those by Helen Keller.”

As writer and philosopher George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given that American eighth grade students are falling behind—The New York Times reported last week that “about 40 percent of eighth graders scored “below basic” in U.S. history last year, compared with 34 percent in 2018 and 29 percent in 2014—our future increasingly is looking grim.