Category Archives: People

Fran Lebowitz and me

Fran Lebowitz in 2011. Photo by Christopher Macsurak, License

I’ve never met Fran Lebowitz. I enjoy her wit, her humor, and her distinctive point of view. I admire her ability to name whatever elephant is in the room, to say what many think but don’t dare say. I spent a couple of hours in her company (on YouTube) today, so she’s on my mind. In many ways I consider her a kindred soul. She loves words and knows her grammar. So do I, notwithstanding the ungrammatical title of this post. I think that “Fran Lebowitz and I” would be a turnoff to the many people who don’t think proper grammar is necessarily a good thing. Yet I don’t feel right lowering my standards. Actually, these days I don’t feel right about many things.

Like the state of the nation, specifically the impending demise of American democracy. Income and wealth inequality, white supremacy, the shameful state of healthcare in the United States and the alarming diffusion of the Delta variant of the coronavirus are dangers and evils that keep me awake. I deplore the gullibility of the followers of radicalized politicians who lie shamelessly to stay in power. The legislatures and executives who deceive their constituents, encouraging them to indulge, defenseless, in activities that expose them to a deadly virus– these faithless leaders are criminals.

I digress. Back to Fran. She’s decreed that “racism is a fantasy” because under the skin there is no difference among human beings. She’s right. Waving the Confederate flag anywhere, let alone in the Capital (which was largely built by Black slaves) is worse than offensive. It is sickening. Fran believes, and I agree, that if the insurgents who stormed the Capitol on January 6 had been Black, they would have been shot. Justice in America is not blindfolded. Difference in gender, on the other hand, she says cannot be denied. Until men can get pregnant, women will have to resist their domineering. I don’t think there is a woman alive of any color who has not had a “me too” experience.

I love gadgets. Living without my computer is unthinkable and my phone is practically attached to my body. Fran, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that technology has been a boon for mankind. She flaunts her comfortable survival without a smartphone, a computer or a microwave oven. I agree with her that riding the subway and seeing practically every passenger intent on his phone is depressing. According to Fran, eighty percent of even the adults are not reading or talking; they are playing games. They don’t read books or newspapers or talk with other people. In fact, most of the time people use the apps on their phones for anything but talking. Texting has become the preferred mode of communication. Human contact– practically eliminated in deference to Covid-19– is losing the battle as office workers prefer working from home and masking and social distancing conspire to keep strangers from interacting.

In addition to a passion for social justice, I share with Fran the experience of writing block or more like a blockade, as she calls it: “I would not call it a writer’s block. A writer’s block to me is a temporary thing. A month, you know, six weeks. This was more a writer’s blockade. To me, this was very much like the Vietnam War. It was the same timetable, it was on the same schedule as the Vietnam War. I don’t know how I got into it and I couldn’t get out of it.” She has said that writing is “agonizing,” that writing is hardest work there is. “The only job that is worse is coal mining.” And very few people mine coal any more.

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RBG, Nina Totenberg and the friendship that bound them

This morning I read Nina Totenberg’s tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and their 50-year friendship. Lovingly written, the NPR obituary is a series of vignettes that

have little to do with her brilliance, hard work or devotion to the law, or even her pioneering role as the architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in this country. 

“Rather,” Totenberg continues,

they are examples of her extraordinary character, decency and commitment to friends, colleagues, law clerks — just about everyone whose lives she touched. I was lucky enough to be one of those people.

The first story Totenberg relates about her friendship with RBG reveals the depth of the future Justice’s commitment to her friend:

She was still on the D.C. Circuit in 1988 when the Cosmos Club, after years of effort from many of its male members, finally voted to admit women. Against my better judgment, I agreed to be proposed as one of the first female members. But, as it turned out, I was blackballed. While I was happy not to have to pay the significant fees associated with membership, the truth is I was really hurt, and I must have told Ruth about it.

Some time later, RBG was invited to visit the club, and at the end of a tour of its lovely interior, her escort invited her to become a member. As the story was related to me, Ruth paused, and in that quiet, low voice of hers, said to her escort, “You know, I think that a club that is too good for Nina Totenberg is too good for me, too.”

The story of two women, reporter and Supreme Court Justice, and their friendship despite their potentially adversarial professions touched me deeply. If you have read this far, I am sure you will enjoy “A 5-Decade-Long Friendship That Began With A Phone Call.”

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2020 Annus Horribilis

And the stars fell out of heaven and the moon could not be found
The sun was in a million pieces scattered all around
Why did you ever leave me, you knew how it would hurt
And now there’s darkness on the face of the earth

Willie Nelson, Darkness on the Face of the Earth

Palo Alto, California, 9-9-2020. Photo by Evan Baldonado

The apocalyptic events of 2020, all coming together, are overwhelming. People are dying. 200,000 dead! and millions infected. Mind-boggling. As are the fires on the West Coast. Who ever heard of orange skies? The pictures are beautiful, awesome, and horrifying. Disasters of epic proportions. Fire tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, ashy skies– Loss and death and destruction everywhere.

Loyalton, California. 8-16-2020. Photo by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett, AP
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her Senate confirmation hearing, 1996

But all that wasn’t enough. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, feminist icon, extraordinary legal brain, unflagging energy, is GONE. After a long, difficult bout with cancer, we should be happy that she is finally relieved of her pain. She was 87, after all; she lived a full life, by any standard.

But I can’t stop thinking of her, what she achieved, what she meant to me, personally. I can’t stop thinking about her, sobbing in spite of myself. In other times, no one would question that her legacy, the liberation of women and of men too, would live on.

But today the world is upside-down. Truth is becoming an extinct commodity, and half the country is convinced that everyone else is deceptive, cruel, and scheming to take over the government or what’s left of it. The other half believes the others are ripping the country apart, snuffing out democracy, shredding the Constitution. The freedom and the ideals that we aspired to, but never quite reached, are dissolving. A nightmare.

Is the world truly coming to an end?

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Plus ça change . . .

Having barely finished writing a review of First: Sandra Day O’Connor An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice by Evan Thomas, the advancement of women’s rights was on my mind.

O’Connor, raised on a remote cattle ranch in the Arizona desert, finished her undergraduate studies and earned her law degree at Stanford University in six years, graduated third in her class and was only 22 years old! A newly-minted lawyer with that record could expect to find a good job at a prestigious law firm, right? Wrong. It was 1952, and no established law firm would hire a woman lawyer.

Determined to work in the profession she had prepared for, O’Connor opened her own firm with another woman, setting up shop in a mall. Later, she found work in the government, and later still, using her shrewd political skills and aided by powerful contacts, she was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the state senate. Within three years, she became the first woman ever to be majority leader in a state senate. It didn’t take long before she ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court as the first woman justice.

At the Court, O’Connor voted mostly with the conservatives during her first decade, satisfied with incrementally advancing the cause of women. With the passage of time, however, she began tacking to the left. Though a conservative, she evolved to occupy the space between conservatives and liberals, becoming the swing vote that determined the outcome in 330 cases, often championing the rights of women, children, gays and minorities.

O’Connor’s frustration at still not being able to land the job she wanted as a lawyer even 12 years after her graduation in 1964 came to mind when I saw this tweet by @sarahoconnor, a reporter for the Financial Times:

In 2019. Still blind. Or worse.

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One woman’s must-see video

MJ Hegar is a self-described ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat. She was a combat rescue pilot in Afghanistan until she was shot down and wounded on a mission. Several adventures later, Hegar is now trying to unseat the Texas Tea Party Congressman John Carter who refused to see her because she wasn’t one of his donors.

She calls her campaign video “Doors.” Doors she’s opened, shut, walked through, and doors slammed in her face. I’m posting her video, not to boost her candidacy, but because it’s impressively made about an even more impressive woman.

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The Notorious RBG

I had heard “RBG,” the movie that celebrates the life and accomplishments of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was good. But I wasn’t prepared for how moving it would be for someone who lived through the times that RBG did so much to change.

If you remember when women’s minds were not valued and their voices barely heard, you’ll enjoy watching the amazing and Notorious “RBG.” If you’re too young to remember, then see it and learn. You’ll appreciate how different your life is from your mother’s (or grandmother’s) because of RBG’s legal triumphs.

“RBG” is a love story. The marriage of Ruth and Marty is lovingly told, as is her fierce belief in the Constitution and her crusade for equal rights.

The movie is fun to watch. The montage of old clips and photos interlaced with Ruth speaking her mind today is very well done. It’s also au courant— Ruth’s kids say she never watches TV, but we see her watching Kate McKinnon’s recent impersonation of her on SNL. She rocks with laughter, her usually sober demeanor dissolving.

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Five Shorts long in imagination

Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.

The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.

The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.

The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.

Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.

Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein  to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.

All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

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Pink Pussyhats

Streaming out of the subway in waves of pink exuberance, New York City women had lost none of the energy from last year’s Women’s March. Signs abounded, screaming opposition to Donald Trump and the harm his decisions have done to American life and the welfare of the planet. America is a nation of immigrants, so DACA and immigration were major themes. Women’s rights— #MeToo, abortion and pay parity— were the other main focus.

There were people in costume, like the man covered with dollar bills and other currencies, all splattered with blood. They were bands. One had a tuba, clarinets, saxophones, a trombone, a melodica, tambourines and, of course, drums. Another was all drums, played by women in blue, dancing and drumming. Fogo Azul (blue fire) wore blue pussy hats. They had everyone in earshot moving and dancing.

Many creative, artistic signs.

“A woman’s place is in the House, the Senate, the White House.”

It doesn’t say ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Norwegians yearning to breathe free.'”

We all enjoyed ourselves, but we appreciated

“Resign. Don’t make me march again.”

The march was scheduled to begin at 71st St. and Columbus Avenue at 11 a.m. My group met at 66th and Columbus at 11:30. By that time,, Central Park West, the main route, was inaccessible from the side streets, so the March was directed up Columbus to join the mainstream on Central Park West. It took us three hours to reach Central Park West at 77th St. A policeman told me that people had to march to 91st St. to reach the end of the line.

The procession began to move a little faster as the shadows lengthened and people peeled off.

At 4 o’clock I was the only one of my party left. I reached Columbus Circle (59th St.) and the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weakening. I told myself it was okay not to continue. I had, after all, marched 22 blocks in three hours only to return to my starting point. I wish I’d had a seat in the helicopter overhead to see the barely moving double flow of enthusiastic people waving signs and making music in a huge demonstration of solidarity.



An sea of pink, pussy-hatted women of all ages–



to grandmas–

Not every pussyhat was worn by a woman.
Although the vast majority of marchers were women, supporting men took part too.




Of the several themes, the most consistent, the one that tied the others together, was anti-Trump anger.

His boastful claim that when he sees an attractive woman he “grabs her by the pussy” was of course the inspiration for the pussy hat.










There were little pussycats

Big cats roared in defiance.







Covered with bloodied currency, this figure embodied scandal and corruption:

Rounding up the usual suspects for Special Counsel Robert Mueller:








Votes, instead of pussies, were proposed for grabbing instead.

Getting out the vote to defeat Republicans and Trump in particular was a popular theme. 








Woman power.









There were references to #MeToo.

Plunder of the Earth was a pressing concern.

And the music played and the marchers danced.











And of course, the Trump Shutdown.


Trump’s unforgettable language.









And finally,



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The New South and the Confederacy

Buried in the turmoil and never-ending work associated with a move from one home to another I’ve kept up with the headlines, but little of real substance. Over a week ago I took a break and came across the transcript of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments.Mitch_Landrieu_2007March01 The mayor represents the new South, the Southerners who acknowledge that they live in the 21st century and understand and accept that slavery and the Confederacy died more than 150 years ago. They belong to a progressive America that has been trying to overcome that old legacy since the 1960s, an America that continues to make progress in the civil rights of people of all colors, genders and ethnicities.

Landrieu was responding to his critics who hold that by removing the statues of Confederate leaders he is erasing history:

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

The truth is that New Orleans is a great city, a “city of many nations … a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” It is also true that

New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

Was the Attorney General listening?

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Recognition of African-American Women in 1960s long overdue


Now, as Black History Month begins, is an ideal time to celebrate the heroism of the largely unsung African-American women who put their lives on the line, fighting next to their men.

Few of the women activists in Martin Luther King’s day—women whose zeal and courage matched his—earned lasting fame. In the 1960s, women’s voices didn’t carry very far, despite the fact that their activism was critical to the movement. The resounding chorus of men, few of whom realized or acknowledged the intelligence and dedication of the black and white women who worked and protested alongside them, all but drowned them out. Of those women, only Daisy Bates, who spearheaded the desegregation of the Little Rock Schools, spoke at the rally that concluded the famous 1963 March on Washington.

A half-century later, black and white women organized massively: On January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of women marched not only in Washington, but in cities and towns across the U.S. Their voices reverberated throughout the world.

Here are some of the African-American women of the 60s whose stories must be told again: Continue reading

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How low can he go?

Donald Trump never ceases to amaze.

Charlie Brotman

Charlie Brotman

Charlie Brotman has announced every inaugural parade since Eisenhower’s second in 1957 to Obama’s in 2013— 15 parades and 10 presidents. He’s been called the presidents’ eyes and ears, cuing them when to salute or stand or sit. He is 89 years old, and a few weeks ago he lost his wife after 65 years of marriage. He was already preparing for the next inaugural, writing his script. He has said that this singular job has kept him going, given him a way to deal with his grief. But a few days ago he received an email from the Trump transition team informing him that he will no longer continue to do the job he lovingly fulfilled for what would been 60 years. He was summarily fired with no reason given. A Trump donor will take Brotman’s place.

Once again, the president-elect demonstrated that he is incapable of empathy, that he lacks the most basic humanity, that his only concern is Donald Trump and what will gild his ego.


Photo by dbking from Washington, DC – _MG_9498Uploaded by traveler100, CC BY 2.0,

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The morning after

I didn’t realize how deeply I felt about a victory for Hillary till I found myself crying when I finally accepted that Hillary wasn’t going to make it. Like so many others, I was stunned. Literally dumbfounded. 

This is a huge amount to process. Every woman I meet is walking around dazed, zombie-like. It doesn’t sink in. It will take time to accept the unthinkable. We are truly in uncharted waters.

There is no question in my mind that if Hillary, with all she’s accomplished, were a man, she would easily have won. Women know this. Sexism was blatant when she competed with Obama eight years ago and now it’s back with a vengeance. The double standard applied in the 2016 presidential campaign boggles the mind. In what universe would a man with Hillary’s experience and accomplishments run neck and neck, let alone lose, to a challenger like Trump? Why was his record of fraud (Trump University), racial redlining in his housing projects, indiscriminate lies, sexual predation, etc. so easily swallowed while she was vilified for crimes she didn’t commit?

What will a Trump victory mean for women? For access to safe abortion when necessary? For indigent women’s access to contraception? What will it mean for the immigrants, especially Muslim and Latino?

It’s over now. It’s over for Hillary and for many of her contemporaries who fought so hard for civil and women’s rights and were finally closing in on the unattainable prize. That cohort may not live to see a woman in the White House.

We will have to move on. Rather than expend energy on speculation, it behooves us to continue to fight the good fight. Each of us has to find her own way to continue and contribute to the struggle.

A version of this is at Women’s Voices for Change:

Post-Election Opinion: ‘We Can’t Allow Ourselves to Be Daunted’

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Republican hypocrisy

Donald_Trump_(2016)A live mic betrayed Donald Trump in an unguarded moment by recording his lewd remarks and confirming that he is a sexual predator. That mic, not unlike the “defective” mic he blamed for losing the first debate, confirmed the ample evidence we have of his unsavory character. Governors, senators, former cabinet members, congressmen and other prominent Republicans are running from Trump like rats abandoning a sinking ship.

Really? Really! Where were they when he mocked the disability of a New York Times reporter? Where were they when Trump impugned John McCain’s war record  war record because he was captured in Vietnam? Where were they when he insulted the parents of an American soldier who gave his life to protect his comrades, disparaging their Muslim religion (and retaliating for Mr. Khan’s scathing denunciation at the nationally televised Democratic convention)? Where were they when he called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals and worse? Where were they when he sent our allies reeling by saying he would not honor our 67-year commitment to NATO?

Now the Republicans attack their presidential nominee? He is sinking in the polls and they don’t want to go down with him. If Trump had been leading in the polls, we wouldn’t hear a peep from the Party.

What particularly galls me is the condemnation by Trump’s former boosters. What Trump said to Billy Bush is no worse than what many men say to each other about women. I’m not a gambler, but I would bet the farm that most of Trump’s critics have used the same language and that some of them are gropers too.

Why is that video the straw that broke the camels back? It is not unusual for men in power to sexually assault, verbally and physically, their female subordinates. (Remember Roger Ailes?) I have written about women who successfully sued their bosses for such conduct in a review of “Because of Sex” by Gillian Thomas. Trump’s lewd comments and sexual assaults are nothing new. He insulted, as he did all his rivals for the nomination, Carly Fiorina as a woman. He was just unlucky that the incident was recorded.

I am disgusted by the tape, but before it surfaced I was appalled by his racism, ignorance, corruption and boldfaced lies throughout the campaign. The millions who voted for him excuse and condone his lies and failings as a human being, let alone as a candidate for the presidency. How different are they from him?

All the Republicans who perpetuate an inferior status for women by infantilizing them and assuming the right to control their bodies are guilty of a kind of sexual assault. Is legalizing sexual assault with a mandatory vaginal probe less violent than “grab[bing] them by the pussy”?

Please! Donald Trump is who he is. Republicans chose him to occupy the Oval Office. Now they are stuck with him.

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PM Theresa May: Cool, tough and commanding in leopard-skin heels

Theresa_May_-_Home_Secretary_and_minister_for_women_and_equalityThe first female prime minister of Great Britain was called ”The Iron Lady.” What will we be calling Theresa May, who is following Margaret Thatcher as the second woman ever to be PM? May has been likened to Thatcher, but Germany’s Angela Merkel may be a more apt comparison. Both are strong women, competent, stubborn, no–nonsense heads of state.

Not surprisingly, men have called May “A bloody difficult woman” and “Ice Maiden” with “no small talk whatsoever—none.” Yet the former prime minister, David Cameron, grudgingly admitted, “She is instinctively secretive and very rigid, but you can be tough with her and she’ll go away and think it all through again.”

May was the only major candidate in the contest for Conservative leadership who did not support Brexit, the populist push for Britain to exit the European Union. But her advocacy for remaining in the EU was very low key. That was an astute political strategy on May’s part, because though it put her on the losing side when the Stay camp lost, she was able to quietly cross over to the winners. “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” she famously said as the newly minted PM.

Read more . . . Portrait of Theresa May, Britain’s Second Female PM

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Dropped from Fox News, Roger Ailes makes news

ex-CEO Fox News Roger Ailes

ex-CEO Fox News
Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes plummeted from the heights of political and media power in only 15 days, brought down by a star he had created and tried to destroy. CEO of Fox News since its inception in 1996, Ailes built the news organization into a right-wing juggernaut whose influence and profitability is the envy of every other network. Ailes’s fall is mythical: he fell precipitously, brought down by one of the many women he allegedly exploited and intimidated during his entire tenure at Fox News.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson fit into Ailes’s—and consequently, Fox’s—desired mold: she is blonde and beautiful, a former Miss America. But she is no bimbo, despite her on-air persona. She is a classical violinist and an honors graduate of Stanford University who studied at Oxford University as well. Carlson showed her mettle when—tiring of what she alleges were Ailes’s continuing demands for sexual favors and his retaliation when she refused to accede—she worked with a lawyer to prepare a lawsuit against the Fox CEO, charging sexual harassment and retaliation. Ailes has denied the charges.

Read more …

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Notorious RBG speaks her mind


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court justices are human beings and as such they have biases. The difference between them and everybody else is that they don’t express their opinions publicly.

Except when they do.

Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” on national television in defiance of President Obama at the 2010 State of the Union. The President had just criticized the 10-day-old Citizens United decision. In the last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denounced presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, calling him “a faker” who “really has an ego.”

“I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said, articulating what many, including Republicans, believe. “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.”

Expressing these sentiments publicly landed her in hot water. Trump called for her resignation and Republicans deplored her action. No surprise. But so did just about everyone else, including liberals and progressives. What was shocking was where she said it, not what she said. No one doubts that she is a liberal Democrat. No one could expect her to back Trump and his unconstitutional proposals that jeopardize the freedom of the press and the rights of free speech and religion, due process and equal protection.

Perhaps RBG believes the prospect of a Trump presidency is so dangerous that she was willing to scrap protocol and jeopardize her legacy to cry out from her bully pulpit.

To preserve the appearance of impartiality and foster faith in Supreme Court and its ruling, the justices don’t take sides in public. The fear now is that RBG might be forced to recuse herself in any case involving Donald Trump. But that is unlikely. In the history of SCOTUS no justice has been compelled to recuse him or herself.

No, Justice Ginsburg dreads Trump’s disregard for the law and willingness to trash the Constitution. I believe that she may well have gone out on a limb in a valiant, though reckless, effort to preserve American democracy.

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Pope Francis unites religious leaders at 9/11 Memorial

Now that the whirlwind visit of Pope Francis to the United States has come to a close, I urge people of all faiths, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, to watch and contemplate video of the pontiff’s visit to the September 11 Memorial.

Pope Francis watches Rabbi and Imam embrace

Pope Francis watches Rabbi and Imam embrace

The multifaith service was deeply moving, perhaps more than any other event on his schedule, because it showed avowed enemies embracing one another and praying for peace together.


Catholic cardinals sing along with Jewish cantor in Hebrew

The service (not “interfaith,” but “multifaith,” because each religion keeps its own identity) was awe-inspiring and painful. Painful, because the memorial brings to mind the bitter conflicts and hatred that rage in many parts of the world and that were brought directly to us at Ground Zero. At the same time, the visual proof that human diversity can be mobilized to work together for the common good is awesome.

Continue reading at Women’s Voices For Change

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Bring in the clowns and be wary

I stand by my assessment of the second Republican debate as “fun,” though most people disagree. I had fun watching Trump’s antics, both his words and his body language; Christie’s sharp wit and Bush’s evasions. Perhaps I was able to enjoy the marathon debate because I can’t bring myself to take these people seriously, I can’t wrap my mind around the possibility that one of these clowns could potentially be President of United States. I still have faith in the electorate.

I admit that’s not fair to Fiorina, Paul or Kasich. They were the grownups in the room.

CarlyFiorinaIf only Carly hadn’t described the Planned Parenthood videos with such relish. Her intent to discredit an organization that provides health care — including, but by no means limited, to contraception and abortion — for women is shameful. The videos are indeed gruesome and shocking, but they were assembled and highly edited by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress. Until she began to talk about the videos, I was admiring her preparation and steely gumption in facing down Trump.

But she totally lost me when she lunged into her fear-mongering vilification of Planned Parenthood. I’m left with the two alternatives: Either she, a smart and well-read woman, knows the truth about PP but decided to cater to the far-right wing with deliberate lies; or she’s not so smart, not capable of critical thinking, not able to distinguish propaganda from truth and facts, which would have rendered the rest of her performance and previous accomplishments impossible. Either scenario disqualifies her as an aspirant to the highest executive position in the world. She has some nerve accusing Hillary Clinton of lying at every opportunity.

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A remarkable week in June

What a week!

It began with the mourners for the Charleston massacre victims. Their appeal to take down the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state capitol swelled to a national demand to remove all symbols that glorify the Confederacy and tacitly condone slavery.

The Supreme Court handed down two momentous, life-altering decisions. The first, King v. Burwell, upheld the Affordable Care Act, saving it from a precipitous collapse that would have snatched healthcare away from the millions who were previously uninsured. It also ensured a significant legacy for President Obama. The following day, on Friday, June 26, the Court affirmed in Obergefell v.Hodges  that LGBTQ citizens will no longer be treated as second-class citizens, denied the right to marry anyone of their choosing. The Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights, the Court ruled, applies to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.

The week was capped by the Charleston tragedy, as President Obama gave the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. After he spoke, Obama grew silent, then gave a plaintive rendition of “Amazing Grace” that will not soon be forgotten.

From mourning to celebration: June comes full circle to a fitting close. Gay Pride parades and festivals mark the Stonewall Riots that propelled gay activism and culminated in a victory unforeseen in 1969.

Democracy is not dead in the U.S., as many fear. This week it made a stunning recovery.

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Brian Williams redux


BrianWilliamsSadNBC is bringing back the disgraced Brian Williams, not to NBC, but to MSNBC, the ratings-challenged cable arm of NBC. It is a practical solution: the network would have to pay Williams many millions to break his contract. It was for five years and a reputed $10 million a year, signed just before the scandal broke.

Good times

Good times

Williams is well-liked, a celebrity, known not only as the serious evening news anchor, but also as the witty guest of Jon Stewart and host on SNL. He will surely boost the sagging ratings of MSNBC.

But writing in the NYT about Williams’s return, Jonathan Mahler asks some pointed questions:

Do the tall tales that Mr. Williams told about his time in a war zone — and, apparently, about a number of other stories he covered — make him fundamentally untrustworthy, and thus unfit to report the news? If it doesn’t, why not put him back in the job that he did so well and so successfully? If it does, why is it O.K. for him to land at MSNBC? Are its standards for truth somehow lower?

So much of the network newscast is merely fluff, infotainment. Hard news represents a small portion of the news program pie. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow have no counterparts today. If a personality pulls in a big audience share, integrity is no match for entertainment.

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Does NBC value audience share over integrity?


Brian Williams, NBC’s former number one news anchor, is back in the news. According to the “Washington Post,” NBC’s internal investigation of Williams’s exaggerated reporting has already confirmed eleven instances in which what Williams publicly reported was not exactly what he had witnessed.

The investigation came on the heels of the accusation made last February by soldiers who were with Williams in Iraq that the news anchor had repeatedly lied about being in a helicopter with them when it was shot down. As a result, NBC suspended Williams for six months and he retreated into silence, invisibility and presumably, shame.

The “embellishments” of his exploits made Williams’s reporting more dramatic and therefore more interesting. That may be the reason NBC, who must have noticed that Williams’s tales became more exciting with each retelling, did nothing. Williams was drawing the largest audience share of all the networks’ competing evening news shows.

The New York Times” reports that the investigation has identified details that Williams added to his story of a Hezbollah missile attack in Israel in 2006 and discrepancies in his accounts of how he acquired a fragment of the helicopter that crashed during the mission to kill Bin Ladin in 2011. His eyewitness accounts of the Arab protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and even of Hurricane Katrina are also being called into question.

Until the scandal broke, Williams had everything: good looks, engaging personality and a quick, dry wit which he often displayed to good advantage when sparring with Jon Stuart on the “Daily Show.”  When I was a journalism student at Columbia, he came to speak to our class. Since I got my news by reading newspapers rather then watching television, Williams was little more than a name to me, and I was impressed with his story-telling skills, affability, and above all, his sense of humor. He was actually quite funny. I don’t think he had yet started making the rounds of the late-night shows. He wasn’t yet the celebrity he later became.

One comment in particular that he made stayed with me. It was so important to him to appear impartial, Williams said, that he told no one how he voted, not even his family. That certainly sounded like an exaggeration at the time, and now, I realize it may well have been.


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Emmy Noether, mathematical genius

Emmy Noether's Google Doodle

Emmy Noether’s Google Doodle

Emmy Noether was no less than “The most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since higher education of women began.” according to Einstein. The reason you’ve probably never heard of her is the profound sexism that was rampant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though she was prevented, as a woman, from enrolling in university classes, she obtained permission from her professors to audit. After graduation she taught at the Mathematical Institute of the same university (Erlangen) without pay for seven years.

Noether’s work revolutionized physics with groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Today, on her 133rd birthday, Google honored her with a Google Doodle that included references to her work in topology, ascending/descending chains, Noetherian rings, time, group theory, conservation of angular momentum, and continuous symmetries.

“The list keeps going on and on from there!” writes Sophie Diao, the author of the Doodle, “Noether’s advancements not only reflect her brilliance but also her determination in the face of adversity.”

Read more about Noether at Vox.

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Larry come Nightly

LarryWilmoreBy Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | When he named The Nightly Show, Larry Wilmore made clear his strong connection to The Daily Show, where he was Jon Stewart’s “Senior Black Correspondent.” Nightly follows Daily in several ways. Most obvious is the literal: night follows day and the two shows are broadcast back to back. Wilmore reprises the role he played on Daily, where being black and how that colors living in American society was his beat. In Nightly, Wilmore widens his scope to encompass all the pressing issues of the day, but blackness is always present, whether in the spotlight, hovering in the background or embodied in the show’s name.

Read more . . .

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The day Jon Stewart couldn’t laugh

Like many people, I’ve been watching clips of Jon Stewart’s finest moments in the wake of his announcement that he will be retiring from the Daily Show. In one of the very best, he isn’t funny at all. It was his first show after 9/11. I remember wondering along with everybody else how he would manage — if he could manage — to be funny at a time when the tragedy and the pain were so raw.

When he returned, Stewart captured the national mood. He embodied it. He knew the moment didn’t call for funny, though he did say that comedy and laughter are exactly what was needed at a such a time. He didn’t try to hide his emotion. Barely able to hold back his tears, he repeatedly had to pause and compose himself. He sniffled and his voice broke. “I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair,” he said. And he talked about Martin Luther King.  Continue reading


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Misremembering is real

BrianWilliamsSince I wrote about Brian Williams’s fall last night, the “coliseum culture” has all but overtaken the media. Some journalists, like David Carr on the Times’s media beat and columnist David Brooks, try to be fair— sort of. Those who defend Williams (up to a point) comment on the triviality of Williams’s tall stories compared to his history of accurate reporting. (Though his entire record is now being avidly scrutinized for other instances of misrepresenting his experience or falsifying his accounts.)

I assumed that Williams’s war stories were attributable to his vanity, a kind of self-aggrandizement. David Carr and Jon Stewart believe that Williams came to a point where his judgement was swayed by his celebrity and influenced by the “infotainment” that has largely taken over network news. But I wasn’t fair to the beleaguered news anchor. I assumed my theory was true; I didn’t consider other possible motivations.

Now I know there is an even more plausible explanation that isn’t being considered.

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Obama, the Crusades and American values

Monks bless Louis IX as he sets off on 7th Crusade

Monks bless Louis IX as he sets off on 7th Crusade

President Obama tripped in a snare at last week’s annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Essentially warning the pot not to call the kettle black, the President reminded the members of Congress and leaders of many faiths that no one is sinless, and that vicious atrocities have been committed in the name of religion by many peoples throughout history, including Christians and Americans. The spark that kindled a roaring flame was this:

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

No one likes to be reminded of his own transgressions. Many deny them, expecting others to join them in denial. One of these is former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R):

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.

He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

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Marching to Selma

Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., 1965

Civil Rights Marchers rest between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., 1965

The birthday of Martin Luther King and Selma, the movie, made me think of an old friend, a New Yorker,  who spent a year in the South at the height of the civil rights movement in 1964-65. Karen, a “nice Jewish girl” from Long Island, was teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. “No white person ever came there,” she told me. She “lived in color,” learning first hand what it meant to be black.

Karen is exceptional in many ways. An activist practically from birth and by breeding, she was a Freedom Rider, one of the Northerners who rode buses south to take part in the civil rights marches and protests. She marched to Selma, met MLK and spoke with him.

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Do black lives matter?

Why is so much attention being paid to the Paris murders at Charlie Hebdo, and hardly any to the massacre of an estimated 2,000 people in Nigeria, mostly women, children and older people?

Victims of the massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram

Victims of the massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram

The terrorist army Boko Haram has been killing people for five years. They abducted 200 school girls last April to use as sex slaves.

Where is the urgency to stop Boko Haram and their murderous raids?

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Sonia Sotomayor stirs it up with brains and salsa

Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

From my review of Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice for Women’s Voices For Change:

At the end of her first term as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 2010, Sonia Sotomayor began work on her memoir. In her best-selling My Beloved World (2013), she describes the trajectory that lifted her from a seemingly hopeless beginning as a Puerto Rican child in the Bronx public housing projects to the pinnacle of the American justice system. The brains she was born with, combined with the discipline and self-reliance she needed to stay alive as an 8-year-old who was left to manage her own diabetes, fueled her rise from the projects to the Supreme Court. Along the way, she earned a Princeton degree with highest honors, a law degree from Yale, a job as an assistant district attorney in New York City, and then a judgeship on a federal district court bench.

Court reporter Joan Biskupic picks up the story where Sotomayor left off. Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice is less a biography than a political history. Biskupic was intrigued by the symbiotic intersection of the rise of Latinos in America and the unlikely ascent of the Puerto Rican justice. “Sotomayor had the intelligence and perseverance to do what no other Hispanic had done,” writes Biskupic, but she also needed a constellation of factors, both strategic and fortuitous, to breach the bronze portals of the highest court of the land. Biskupic examines how America’s changing culture and demographics worked in Sotomayor’s favor, and how she used the wheeling and dealing and political strong-arming behind the nomination and confirmation of judges on the federal bench to her advantage by enlisting well-placed supporters and powerful advocacy groups.

Continue reading …

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Election in Puerto Rico

Follow Natasha Del Toro on her electoral tour of Mickeyrican Florida:

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