Thursday, January 26, 2017

Listen, Mayor de Blasio. In addition to standing up to President Trump, why not stand down from his security?

Donald Trumps's personal security involves littering New York most
fashionable avenue with dump trucks, blocking traffic, creating congestion,
murdering retail businesses and then sticking New York's taxpayers with the
bill. (Photograph: NBC News)
New York was once the only American city that had its own foreign policy, distinct from, and in fact in direct contradiction to, the foreign policy of the United States.

That was under the administration of one of Donald Trump’s political cronies, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who didn’t give a flying fiddlestick what the State Department or the President  of the United States wanted because Giuliani was…well, Giuliani.

Yasser gets the heave-ho
 —a case in point:
On Monday October 23, 1995, Mayor Rudy Giuliani noisily ejected PLO leader Yasser Arafat from a concert at Lincoln Center that had been scheduled to entertain world leaders in town for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. President Clinton condemned Mr. Giuliani’s “embarrassing breach of international diplomacy” and former Mayors Dinkins and Koch joined the chorus of those embarrassed that the mayor, who had personally selected Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, had injected politics into the celebration.
By the way, this account was reported, with another paragraph gushing approval of the ejection, by the New York Observer, a weekly newspaper owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But that wasn’t the only embarrassment perpetrated by the out-of-control mayor. That same year, Imprudent Rudy declared Fidel Castro  persona non grata during a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

Relics of Giuliani’s Independent Republic of New York persist to this day. The corner of Lexington Avenue at East 37th Street, was renamed “Hermanos al Rescate,” or “Brothers to the Rescue,” under the Giuliani administration. Last I looked, decades after Giuliani crawled back under his rock, the street signs were still up.

The Hermanos al Rescate corner commemorates the badly planned and disastrously executed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by some Cuban exiles, a rescue that never rescued anybody. Nothing wrong with commemorating it anyway, I suppose — except that the Cuban mission to the United Nations is right on that street corner.

Imagine if, in a foreign country, right in front of an American embassy, some municipal government renamed a block “U.S.A. Sucks Street.” Get the idea? Now let's shift the subject slightly 

The war of the mayors

Presently, there's an incipient war brewing between the Trump administration and the mayors of several important American cities, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Haven, Syracuse, and Austin, among them. 

These are considered “sanctuary cities,” which essentially means that to the extent possible, the cities will not assist in the rounding up and deportation of undocumented aliens, including those who grew up here and for all intents and purposes are at least as American as Melania Trump.

Rudy Giuliani established the precedent for this kind of defiance, but it now has Donald Trump foaming at the mouth. He declared that if you dare — dare! — not spend your city’s precious resources busting down doors and arresting hard-working immigrants and their essentially-American kids, you “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.”

In other words, go along with Trump or he’ll grab you by the p-p-p-purse strings and twist so painfully, your city will fall apart.

New York, at least, has an antidote to that. Trump lives here, almost smack dab in the center of town, in a multi-multi-million dollar skyscraper. He has been coming back to New York — and evidently plans to keep coming back — just about every weekend.

This is a busy street corner in a shopping and business area that is also attractive to tourists, tens of thousands of pedestrians, and many thousands of motor vehicles of all sorts. Consequently, the Secret Service alone can’t possibly provide the President with presidential security. 

Garbage trucks, killed retailers,
and other signs of Donald Trump

The Secret Service has turned to the New York Police Department, which blocks off streets with sand-laden garbage trucks, floods the area with patrolmen and paramilitary equipment, stops pedestrians to inspect their baggage, and constantly disrupts the city, and which by the way is also killing walk-in customer traffic at Tiffany’s and other high-end merchant shops.

All those costs the taxpayers — of New York and not of the rest of the United States — about a million bucks a day in out-of-pocket costs for police salaries, overtime and other charges. So far, the Republican Congress in Washington  has generously offered to compensate the city to the extent of $7 million, or about a week’s worth of security. After that, Congress seems to be saying, the other 51 weeks are on us.

Well, hell no! If the Trump administration is going to shaft us for not letting our cops waste their time running around trying to sort out who’s an undocumented immigrant from who merely has a dark skin, and then busting waiters and nannies instead of hard core thugs — and then Congress shafts us with miserly compensation for presidential security — let’s not provide any presidential security.

The old Giuliani
defiance trick

It’s time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to pull a Giuliani, by pulling every cop in New York off the Trump security detail. If Trump wants to keep coming to New York and upsetting everybody’s life for his own convenience and pleasure, let him pay for it himself. Or let the U.S. Government pay for it.

But with caveats: No blocking off the streets any more. No barricades against pedestrians. Donald Trump can pack his own lobby with all the Secret Service and private gumshoes he wants,  but the police state stops outside the front door of 725 Fifth Avenue. Further, any government vehicles of any kind illegally parked or otherwise impeding traffic at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street will be subject to ticketing and towing.

What can Trump do? Cut off funds that he and Congress have already cut off?

Oh, and one more modest proposal, Mayor de Blasio. Let’s rename the street corner. Instead of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, it should be called Short Fingers Avenue and Really Low Ratings Street. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Signs of the times

I'm late with this, I know. But I need to say how delighted I was with the massive outpouring of outraged women in New York yesterday.

At about 5 p.m. on Park Avenue in the East 30s, women were streaming home from the demonstration site about a half mile to the north. Most of the ones I saw were twenty-somethings, enthusiastic, energized, and evidently raring for more.

There were so many of them that they jam packed the subway, not only at my stop- but at several further uptown and closer to the demonstration, causing delays and crowding that required the New York Transit Authority to take special measures. It was the first time I have ever been delighted about being delayed in the subway.

I boarded a downtown-bound train at East 33rd Street. Many of the young women were entering the subway at the same time. Some were evidently strangers brought together by the event. They were exchanging contact information, always a good sign. I suspect it means that they're not done yet. It means, perhaps, that they're barely getting started.

So I am not quite as wary as others that this will be another flash-in-the-pan demonstration with no followup. My feeling is, they're in it for the long term.

Watch for young people, particularly women, to start getting actively involved in politics. These will not be Hillary Clinton followers. Instead, they will be Democratic Party leaders in the not-too-distant-future. Yesterday was not a day of demonstrations. It was the birthing of a revolution that will drive out the reprobate old guard of both parties and bring us, in time, a more just society.

What I found especially heartening was the young demonstrators' sense of humor — terse combinations of irony and mockery, in the placards they waved. It's always a good sign when demonstrators are laughing. It means they sense their own superior power. And that they know they shall overcome.

A few signs were abandoned in various place after the massive demonstration. Let me share a couple:

And this one via Connie Schwartz Harris:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Donald, Melania, Jabba the Hutt, and the secret messages of body language

Uh oh! 
Am I the only one who noticed the body language when Donald and Melania danced to "I did it my way" at the inaugural ball?

By the time I thought to grab my iPhone and punch in my access code, I had missed some of the best shots, but the one above will do. Study it carefully.

Notice that Donald's long right arm is wrapped sinuously around Melania, and that he appears to be tugging her toward him. He also appears to be pressing his hips against hers.

She, on the other hand, is leaning away slightly, even as he tries to lean in. Her arms are not wrapped around his. She is merely touching his shoulder.

The expression on her face is difficult to read. But she hardly appears happy and bubbly in this shot. And although she did occasionally smile while they danced, she didn't smile often. If anything, as in this picture, she was a bit grim.

Now don't get me wrong. Melania is getting a lot from this marriage, including several places more spectacular to live in than the White House, where she can also live. Further, money and power are sexy, and now President Trump is endowed with formidable amounts of both.

On the other hand, I refer you to Jabba the Hutt,* another man with a not-skin-color complexion, Now there was a dude with money and power if there ever was one, but honestly, how many women would want to share a bed with him? Fortunately for American womanhood, Jabba was as fictional as half the stuff Donald Trump states as fact.

So I ask several questions: 

•While she claims to be staying in New York for the sake of her son who is attending private school here, how often will Melania visit Washington on weekends? 

•Will Melania and Barron move to the White House next year, when Barron can attend school in Washington, D.C. (Perhaps even one of Betsy DeVos' soon-to-be-funded-with-taxpayers'-money private schools?)

•Or will Melania find yet another reason to hang in New York?  

•And if Melania stays in New York, will the President find solace by wrapping his arms around some other age-inappropriate lovely?

•What's in the Trump prenup? If Melania ever chooses to fully escape the marriage, will it be financially worth her while? Or is she only a bird in a gilded cage

And will the marriage last forever, or just until Donald Trump's last day in office?

Stay tuned.

But wait before you go. Because I've also just discovered this priceless performance. (I'm definitely not talking about a TV spot that you may have to sit through before the performance begins):


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Well, if Donald Trump is furious with fake news, what does he read?

This cranky blog recommends the Weekly World News to the
President Elect. It has cool photographs that document everything,
and I frankly believe every word in it. Like the article above.
I suspect President Elect Trump may already be reading the Weekly World News. I mean, it's his kind of newspaper. Consider:

•No word contains more than three syllables.

•Every photograph documents something. Or other.

•There are no long, boring details that were probably planted by the U.S. intelligence community. Instead. Weekly World News keeps its stories short, so you don't have to read too long.

•None of the news in Weekly World News is "fake news." It's all as real as the hair on Donald's head.

Esquire magazine recently broke a story saying that the Trump administration may do away with the  White House press room. Well, can you blame him? All the press does is break bad news, like stuff that he tweets or he says. So it must be fake news.

On the other hand, I suspect that although he may get the press out from under his roof,  President Trump may give Weekly World News a desk right next to his in the Oval Office. That way they can cover all the true stuff that they will be able to see and Photoshop sit comes straight out of the new President's brain.

Aliens and newspaper reporters, you'd better watch out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Can you diagnose this "problem child?"

Unfortunately, he's too old to be sent up to his room 
for a time out.

Here's the official list of symptoms: 
   ▪       Often loses temper
    ▪       Argues with adults and authority figures
    ▪       Refuses to comply with adult requests
    ▪       Blames others for his mistakes
    ▪       Deliberately annoys people
    ▪       Is easily annoyed by others
    ▪       Is angry/resentful and spiteful/vindictive.

These are the symptoms of a personality disorder in six year olds called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD. reports that “If a child exhibits four or more of these behaviors for six months or longer he would likely be diagnosed with ODD…”

PsychoCentral also reports that “A common trait of kids with oppositional Defiant Disorder is that they often see themselves as victims and feel justified in acting out.”

So there you have it, folks. Or rather we have it. And what we have is a six-year-old with a severe personality disorder about to take charge of the economy, court appointments, healthcare, education, the military, and launch control of the nuclear bomb.

What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, January 06, 2017

Legal system and pharma to heart patients: “Drop dead”

When the wolves of pharma aren’t disemboweling their 
own customers, guess what they try to do to each other?
So by now you probably know about the likes of Martin Shkreli. He’s the price-gouging drug entrepreneur whose Turing Pharmaceutical company bought a drug called Daraprim, used to prevent fatalities in certain HIV patients. Then Shkreli raised the price from $20 a pill to $750 a pill. And smirked.

As if to prove that a woman can be as greedy, mean, and cold-blooded as Shkreli, there’s Heather Bresch, the $18 million a year CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical. She got the price of EpiPen, a commonly used lifeline for diabetes patients, up from $100 to $608.

“The greed is astounding, it’s sickening,” said Congressman John Duncan. And he’s a Republican, not some bleeding heart liberal like me.

But now comes news from Bloomberg Markets indicating that when greedy pharmaceutical companies aren’t going for their customers’ throats, they’ll go for each other’s.

Thus we get the war between Amgen on one side, and Sanifi and Regeneron on the other. It’s all a bit complicated, but as usual it boils down to "your money or your life," with sick people getting the short end of the stick. It works pretty much like this:

Amgen sells a drug that lowers cholesterol called Repatha. Sannifi and Regeneron have a drug called Praluent that does similar things but with lower dosages. Both drugs treat patients who have high cholesterol, but who can’t tolerate older and cheaper drugs called statins. In some cases, access to a non-statin drug that lowers cholesterol could mean the difference between life and death.

But never mind all that. There’s money at stake. Amgen sued Sanofi and Regeneron for patent infringement. Sanofi and Regeneron claim that parts of the Amgen patent are essentially bogus because they're overly broad, so the patent should never have been granted. 

Amgen demanded that Praluent be removed from the market. Sanofi and Regeneron protested that the patent wrongly gives Amgen control not just of its own drug, but of an entire category of medication. Let me use a layman's analogy here and posit that this is similar to the maker of one patented antibiotic claiming it should have the right to all antibiotics. 

Praluent helps patients who are able to take lower doses of their drug than are available from Amgen’s Repatha, and that taking it off the market would cause significant public harm, say Sanofi and Regeneron.

Bloomberg Market Reports:
Robinson [the judge] also noted…that she felt like she was “between a rock and a hard place” — between protecting the rights of a winning patent holder and the benefit to the public of having another drug on the market that can potentially stave off heart attacks.”

But listen, hundreds of thousands of people die of heart attacks every year. Big deal. On the other hand, a buck’s a buck. And in the case of cholesterol lowering drugs, it’s likely billions of bucks. So — are you surprised? — the decision, at least pending appeal, goes to Amgen. What about heart patients  who could benefit from Praluent, perhaps more than Repatha? 

They can drop dead.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

In Yellow Springs, Ohio the police department has grown bigger. Has it also grown needlessly mean?

The current Yellow Springs police force. When too many cops
have too few problems to police, some of them might create
a few problems of their own.
Peaceful, pleasant Yellow Springs, Ohio is best known for its quirky character, for being the home of Antioch College, and for what passes, at least in southern Ohio, as a fairly vibrant and growing food scene.

At the college they grow much of their own food, organically of course, on their own farm. Downtown, the Winds CafĂ© has a kitchen so innovative, I'd bet it could survive even in fussy New York, and it also offers a respectable wine list. I hear other restaurants in town are pretty good, too, although, as an only rarely-visiting New Yorker, I haven’t had a chance to try them all.

As for the cops — well, out-of-control police in Yellow Springs were all but unheard of until recently. Note that I am familiar with some police matters in Yellow Springs stretching back to 1954, when the late Russ Bradley was police chief there. (Later he became county sheriff.) Sample 1954 police matter? 

One night, the burglar alarm began clanging at at the only drug store in town. Chief Bradley rolled out of bed, put  his police uniform on over his pajamas, phoned up the town’s other two cops, and got to the drug store just as a pair of escaped convicts from a West Virginia penitentiary, and the girlfriend of one of them, fled from the busted-into drug store with all the medicinal narcotics they could grab and carry. They headed south on Ohio Route 68, which also serves as the main drag of Yellow Springs, where it's called Xenia Avenue.

The Yellow Springs cops set out in hot pursuit, siren blaring. Only problem was, their rattle-trappy old police car couldn’t keep up with the souped-up vehicle the bad guys were driving. So the cops radioed ten miles down the road to the county sheriff’s office in Xenia, which set up a road block.

Meanwhile the  escaped con burglars,  correctly fearful that they were going to get caught, decided not to get caught while in possession of narcotics. So they began tossing the stuff out of the car windows. The following morning, the entire Yellow Springs Police Department (was it really only three people back then?) and the Greene County Sheriff’s officers, had to hike along the sides of the ten mile stretch of Route 68 from Yellow Springs to Xenia, policing up pill bottles. You can’t make this stuff up.

When all this happened, I was still a high school kid in Brooklyn. But some years later I was in college editing the Antioch College student newspaper, which was job printed each week by the Yellow Springs News. One day, while waiting for the press run to finish, I came across a bound volume of all 1954 issues of the Yellow Springs News, and it was there that I found the story of the escaped cons, and the girlfriend, and the pills. Enterprising hotshot boy reporter that I was, I decided to go looking for them and to write a story about them.

The story never got written. The reason why is a long story in itself. But I did actually find and have a chat with one of the perps, the girlfriend. Her name was Marjorie Liefbar, and when I found her her, she was running a brothel at the corner of Fourth and York Streets in Newport, Kentucky, about 75 miles away. The joint pretended to be a greasy spoon called The Fourth Street Grill. Starting early in the evening, the door was locked. Whenever somebody knocked at the door, Marge would open it and say, "Sorry, the grill's closed, honey, unless you want a woman."

“Russ Bradley?” she said to me. “Sure, I remember that sumnabitch hillbilly. I grew up with him. I can remember when he didn’t even know how to wear shoes!”

Bradley eventually became county sheriff and was replaced by one of the first black police chiefs in America, a kindly gentle man named Jim McKee. McKee dealt non-violently with some explosive issues in his time, including a large demonstration in front of a segregated barber shop in 1964 that led to the arrest of 106 demonstrators. 

You’d think that a small town police chief who managed to bring off an operation of that size might revel in it, but not McKee, who had some sympathy for the people he was arresting. “It was the worst day of my life,” he said. 

Even Bradley, redneck that he was, made sure that he and his department were peace officers, not disturbers of the peace.

Contrast that with the current Yellow Springs police department. If I counted the number of heads in their web page group photogaphs correctly, the department has grown to eleven officers and seven dispatchers although the population of the town has not appreciably increased. 

And now, when there’s trouble in tiny Yellow Springs, people are less and less surprised when the instigators turn out to be the cops. Or perhaps the Keystone Cops would be a better handle.

Earlier this year one officer was dismissed from the force after several incidents that were judged to be “appropriate” police behavior or “within Policy” but “not a good fit for the village.”  What happened during those incidents? Well, according to the Yellow Springs News, in one case the parking lot behind the Gulch [a local bar], Officer Whittemore smashed the car window of a longtime local resident who had refused his requests to provide identification and open the car door. The woman, who had had too much to drink and decided to not drive home, was waiting in her car for a ride home, according to an interview with the woman, who asked not to be identified. However, according to Whittemore’s report of the incident, the woman’s car keys were within her reach, which is a violation of the Ohio Revised Code if a vehicle’s owner is intoxicated. After breaking the window, Officer Whittemore forced the woman, who continued to resist, out of the car, threatened her with a Taser, handcuffed her and charged her with disorderly conduct, obstructing official business and resisting arrest.
Of course, with the windows rolled up, one can question how the officer knew the sleeping woman was intoxicated.

In another incident
Officer Whittemore stopped a 22-year-old local man as the young man was walking on Xenia Avenue near downtown at about 9:30 p.m. on May 30. According to Whittemore’s written report on the incident, the man looked “agitated” and also walked too near the police cruiser as Whittemore was parked in the Speedway parking lot. Whittemore followed the man down the street, then pulled in front of him at the Mills Park Hotel, where the man refused to stop. Whittemore reported that the man smelled like alcohol and pulled away when Whittemore grabbed his wrist, resulting in a struggle and the young man being forced to the ground. When the man continued to resist, he was threatened with Tasing, handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
So the officer is off the force. Problem solved, right? 

Not so fast.
On New Year’s Eve this year, the villagers of Yellow Springs celebrated a “ball drop” — a small town version of what happens in Times Square. Shortly after midnight there was an incident. 

Precisely what happened was unclear but, according to newspaper reports, police drove their car into a crowd of revelers on a short commercial street, aptly named Short Street, that runs perpendicular to Route 68. Their sirens were howling.

What was their intent? To “disperse revelers,” according to the Yellow Springs News. Why disperse at only eight minutes after midnight during a New Year's Eve celebration? Not clear. Nobody was breaking any laws by celebrating the new year. Maybe the cops unilaterally decided that the crowd had stayed up past their bedtime. The police chief, at least initially, has failed to come up with an explanation. There is a town council meeting tonight and perhaps more will come out then.

Meanwhile, the cops pulled out their tasers and one, or possibly two people were tased, one of them possibly by accident. And one witness told the Yellow Springs News, “I told saw an officer grab the head of the man and throw him to the ground.” When the man on the ground attempted to get up, the cop tased him again, the witness said.

The Yellow Springs News also reported
Kurt Miyazaki, a co-owner of the Emporium, said he tried to talk to the three police officers in two squad cars as they moved slowly through the crowd. He was not sure of the identity of the officers, two men and one young woman/ 
Miyazaki said that in a peaceful way he asked police what they were doing, and warned that they could be provoking people. One officer responded that they were just doing their job, while the others did not respond. The police were not talking to people in the street, he said, but were simply driving their cars with the sirens blaring.
So I guess the intent of the police wasn’t noise control. And then this:
According to Berman, when she asked a local officer at the scene why police were attempting to clear the street so abruptly, the officer, whose name she didn’t know, said this was standard practice for the New Year’s event. However, Anita Brown, who has attended the event for about 25 years, said she has never witnessed it before.
And this:
According to Gardner, also a longtime attendee of the ball-drop who was in the crowd, one young man approached a local police car saying he wanted to help and was told to back off or he’d be arrested. Someone pushed against the police car door and the officer exited the car, after which several officers chased the man down the street.
Let me take a wild guess here as to what’s really going on. There are too many cops for a town the size of Yellow Springs, population under 5,000. They don’t have enough to do. And so, like a working dog left bored and alone at home for too many hours, they invent jobs for themselves.

Dogs invent jobs like chewing up the furniture and breaking things. Cops in Yellow Springs, it seems, find ways to create incidents that would be crimes, or at least misdemeanors, if it were ordinary citizens doing what the cops are doing to keep busy.

There has been talk that the local police force needs retraining. I would suggest that what they need is replacement. And that their ranks need to be thinned out. You can’t train people to have common sense.

P.S. The Yellow Springs News is now reporting that the village's police chief has resigned. An investigation concerning what happened is ongoing, with results expected to be reported on January 30th.