Category Archives: Culture

An Unwitting Asset

In 2006, comedian Robert Wuhl co-wrote and starred in a two-part HBO special “Assume the Position.”  Wuhl plays a professor in a history class at New York University (the students are actually film majors).  At the outset, he prepares his students (and the HBO audience) for what is to come with the following:

  • Tolstoy said, “History is a wonderful thing, if only it were true.”
  • The key to history is who tells the story.
  • When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

The first example Wuhl provides is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ode to Paul Revere.  Revere was neither the first or the most rigorous messenger when it came to informing the colonies, “The British are coming!” The more deserving hero was Israel Bissell, a postal rider who on April 19, 1775 carried word of the battle of Lexington and Concord from Massachusetts to New York to New Jersey and eventually arriving in Philadelphia on April 24, a distance totaling more than 300 miles.  In contrast, Revere’s gallop from Lexington to Boston was approximately 15 miles.  Unfortunately,  the rhyme scheme “Listen my children and you shall HEAR of the midnight ride of Paul REVERE” rolls off the tongue more easily that whatever rhymes with Bissell. 

“The key to history is who tells the story.”  The same is true of other media. Not only should Wadsworth’s poem been titled, “The Five-Day Ride of Israel Bissell,”  Grant Wood’s painting of the same name as Longfellow’s poem would include an image of the postal worker and one of the two horses he rode over the five-day journey.  And Walt Disney’s movie “Johnny Tremain” would have featured Tremain as a postal service apprentice rather than a protege of silversmith Revere. 

[Cinematic Note:  The “Johnny Tremain” cast included character actor Whit Bissell (1909-96), better known for his roles in “The Time Machine,” “Hud,” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”  I could not find any documentation whether Whit Bissell was related to Israel Bissell.  Even if it is not true, it should be.  Just remember, you heard it here first.]

This week, I found myself hoping Wuhl would revive “Assume the Position” to cover Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. As he debunked popular myths about Revere, Christopher Columbus and other historical figures, Wuhl could start by debunking the myth Trump is the leader of the MAGA movement.  At best he gave it a catchy name and bumper sticker.  Instead he is the unwitting asset of a cabal of more than 100 right-wing organizations who needed a media savvy racist, misogynistic, homophobic isolationist supply-sider to be the public face of its agenda.

This was never more apparent than last weekend when the liar-in-chief claimed he knew nothing about about Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s plan for the first 180 days of a second Trump administration. It’s not that Trump disagrees with the policy recommendations, his enmity is due more likely to the fact the Project 2025 team did the one thing he will not tolerate, taking credit rather than attributing it to him.  From “About Project 2025” on their website:

The project is the effort of a broad coalition of conservative organizations that have come together to ensure a successful administration begins in January 2025. With the right conservative policy recommendations and properly vetted and trained personnel to implement them, WE (my emphasis) will take back our government.

There is no “we” in Trump.  And the very thought that Kevin Roberts did not give Trump the opportunity to claim he coined the phrase, ” a second American revolutionary, bloodless if the radical left lets us,” shifted Trump’s Truth Social thumbs into overdrive.

If Trump thinks civil service employees were running the show during his first administration, just wait until he encounters the 50,000-strong army of Schedule F hires (based on loyalty rather than expertise) vetted by his Office of Personnel Management.  Again, from “About Project 2025”:

Paul Dans, former chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) during the Trump administration, serves as the director of the 2025 Presidential Transition Project. Spencer Chretien, former special assistant to the president and associate director of Presidential Personnel, serves as associate director of the project.

Dans and Chretien understand who will be driving the agenda for a Trump transition and beyond.  That is why they are now part of the Heritage Foundation and not the Trump campaign.  And there will be loyalists throughout every federal federal agency.  However, their allegiance will not be to someone who theoretically should be in office for just four years.  Roberts’ “revolution,” which began during the Reagan years could be there long after Trump is gone.  Schedule C civil service offers only a lifetime of service to one’s country without political pressure or interference.  In contrast, Schedule F provides longer tenure and a career path to become more than just a foot solder in an ideological movement based on your allegiance to the cause.

Donald Trump is not the master of his domain.  He is a wholly owned subsidiary of a conglomerate that was created 64 years ago.  Which explains why you never hear the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society or any other architects of this revolutionary transformation of the American experience complain about the time Trump spends at his golf courses.  That is exactly where they want him to be. 

The only remaining question?  Who will tell the story of this battle for the soul of America?

For what it’s worth.

The Next Closest Thing

During his interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Biden suggested that the only call for him to step down he might heed would have to come from “God Almighty.”  It’s said the Lord works in mysterious ways.  If that’s the case, imagine the following scene between Biden and actors James Earl Jones and  Kevin Costner, reprising their roles as Terrence Mann and Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams.

This excerpt is based on page 67 of the original screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson:

I wish I had your passion, Joe. However misdirected it may be, it’s still a passion.  I used to feel that way.

You got another message, didn’t you?

You’ll think I’m crazy.

I already think you’re crazy.

After a little thought, Ray smiles sadly.

It said, “The man’s done enough.”

Actually, the man’s done more than enough.  But that does not make the decision any easier, although not quite as tough as a fictional John Kennedy faces in my novel In the National Interest.  Kennedy is terminally ill and asks the protagonist Secret Service Agent Mason Rhodes, while aboard Marine One, whether he would rather be “a Wilson or a Lincoln.”

In Biden’s case, he might ask Rhodes, “Would you rather be a Jim Brown or a Muhammad Ali?”  For non-sports fans,  at age 30, Brown announced he was ending his career as a running back for the Cleveland Browns.  At the time he held records for most single game rushing yards, single season rushing yards, career rushing yards, total touchdowns, total rushing touchdowns and total all-purpose yards  In 1964, he led the Browns to the NFL championship.

I need not tell you how Ali’s career ended.  He continued to fight long after family and close friends urged him to stop.  His last two fights, losing his heavyweight title to Larry Holmes and failing to bounce back against Trevor Berbick, were hard to watch.  And each punch added to the accumulated cranial damage Ali suffered over his ring career.

Brown’s and Ali’s respective choices might help us understand why Biden is so determined to stay in the 2024 race for the White House.  Jim Brown, in the absence of free agency, had limited potential in the NFL.  He had to play for the Cleveland Browns at the salary offered by owner Art Modell.  In Terry Pluto’s book “Browns Town 1964,” he describes how Brown’s salary feud with Modell was the beginning of his racial activism.

I remember interviewing Jim Brown and he said, ‘I’m very interested in Black power, but I’m even more interested in green power because green power will give you Black power.’

If football capped his wealth potential, Brown proved he had a better option.  In 1964, he was cast as a buffalo soldier in “Rio Concho,” which led to his cinematic breakthrough in the 1966 production “The Dirty Dozen.”  When filming in London took longer than originally expected, Brown did not attend training camp.  Modell’s response?  He fined Brown $1,000 (real money in terms of a 1966 NFL salary) each week he was not in camp and told Brown he was letting his teammates down, a claim disputed by other members of the squad who knew Brown would be there when they needed him.  One can argue Modell’s actions robbed Brown of even more records and glory as the premiere running back in the game’s history.

A career cut short also applies to Ali, however, in his case, his absence from the ring was involuntary.  At the height of the Vietnam war, Ali was classified 1-A (fit for service) and faced induction in the U.S. Army.  In April 1967, Ali refused induction based on his claim of being a conscientious objector.  Two months later he was found guilty by a Houston jury of violating Selective Service laws.  On June 28, 1971, by a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction, explaining that the basis for the government’s denial of conscientious objection status was flawed.

For most of the time between Ali’s 1967 conviction and his successful 1971 appeal, he was without a passport and was denied a boxing license in all 50 states.  What should have been the prime of his boxing career was taken from him, which is why, this morning, I find even more empathy for Joe Biden as he faces the toughest decision of his political career.

In another reality, Joe Biden would be on the verge of leaving the political stage next January as a successful two-term president.  As the heir apparent to continue the policies and programs of the Obama administration, I have no doubt Biden would have handily defeated Donald Trump in 2016.  The party line was that, following the death of his son Beau, Biden was not prepared to launch a rigorous campaign.  But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd argues just the opposite. On August 1, 2015, Dowd wrote:

Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Unfortunately, it was too late. Obama and the Democratic National Committee were committed to a Hillary Clinton candidacy to which Biden deferred.  The title of Dowd’s column was, “What Would Beau Do?”  Therefore, I cannot help but wonder if this obsession with a second term is driven by regret that Biden did not listen to his dying son back in 2015.  And whether the voice Joe needs to hear is not God Almighty or an invisible specter in an Iowa cornfield, but Beau Biden’s telling him:

The man’s done enough.

For what it’s worth.


The Worst of Times

Americans love to celebrate the events and people responsible for our nation’s 248 year old experiment in government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  Premiere among national holidays is July 4, Independence Day, the day the experiment left the laboratory. Some, such as Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19), laud the addition of previously excluded populations from the full benefit of the American experience.  Though I would argue it is way past time for Congress to designate August 18 a national holiday, the day in 1919 when Vice-President Thomas Marshall signed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  On Labor Day, we acknowledge the work ethic of those who built and maintain the physical and organizational infrastructure that underpins the nation’s economic success.  Others, more observances than celebrations, honor the men and women who fought and died to preserve the principles and institutions that ensure these benefits for future generations.  These holidays represent the best of times, when Americans moved ever closer to the ideal of a “more perfect union.”

Unfortunately, many of these advances are responses to equally sad days in American history.  And as the memory of these events fade in the national consciousness, perhaps it is time for Congress to designate days of remembrance and reflection to remind each of us why so many of our rights and benefits were not automatic.  Let me suggest just a few.

August 20, 1619.  Kidnapped Angolans first arrive in the British colony of Virginia, the beginning of almost 250 years of slavery in North America.

December 6, 1830.  President Andrew Jackson, in a address to Congress promotes removal of Native Americans from their homelands “to relieve Mississippi and Alabama of Indian occupancy and enable those states to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power.”

December 29, 1890.  The Wounded Knee Massacre during which American soldiers killed more than 300 members of the Lakota nation.

May 31, 1921.  Known as the Black Wall Street Massacre, a two-day rampage by white supremacists in Tulsa, Oklahoma resulting in the destruction of black-owned businesses and residences and approximately 300 deaths.

February 20, 1939.  Twenty thousand Americans attend a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden sponsored by the the German American Bund, a pro-Hitler organization.

Each of these events ran counter to the promise embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In this context, I suggest it is time to add one more day of remembrance and reflection–June 24, 2022, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  For the first time in American history, the Supreme Court repealed a right previously granted by the Court.  Furthermore, the 6-3 majority, several of whom swore before the U.S. Senate during their confirmation hearings that Roe v. Wade was settled law, overruled every lower court ruling which upheld Roe.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, who originally heard the case, wrote Mississippi has “…no legitimate state interest strong enough, prior to viability, to justify a ban on abortions.”  On behalf of the Fifth District Court of Appeals, following a 3-0 decision to uphold Roe, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote:

In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions.

Yet, when appealed to the Supreme Court, Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett might as well have exchanged their robes for Melania Trump’s raincoat with the words, “I really don’t care, do you?”  They did not care that every lower court had abided by a deference to legal precedence that they had publicly sworn to honor. They did not care that there was no dissension among lower court judges which is usually required to trigger Supreme Court consideration.   Nor did they care that the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution reads:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Which begs the question of these supposed originalists, where is the specific language in the Constitution which denies women the right to make decisions about their reproductive health without interference from the government?

And most importantly, they did not care the reasoning behind their decision, embodied in Alito’s majority opinion and especially in Thomas’ concurring opinion, opened a Pandora’s box that potentially nullifies legal precedence and settled law in every previously decided case. Thomas specifically pointed to past decisions related to the right to contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut), bans on homosexual activity (Lawrence v. Texas) and gay marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges).

…in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,”

Notably, Thomas left out Loving v. Virginia, without which he could possibly have been prosecuted and jailed for having married his white, insurrectionist wife, ironically, named (drum roll) Virginia.

June 24, 2022 is a truly sad day for America which needs to be observed annually.

For what it’s worth.

Two Verdicts

This post is not a comparison of the verdicts in New York and Delaware.  It is about the second verdict delivered by a jury of Hunter Biden’s peers.  One completely overlooked by the post-verdict analysts on every major news outlet.

Most of the attention is being paid to the political impacts, especially which of the two major presidential candidates is the beneficiary of the guilty verdict.  The early consensus was Joe Biden, for the following reasons.

  • The split screen with Biden’s respect for the rule of law on one side versus Donald Trump’s ranting about a rigged system on the other, a contrast that should resonate with still undecided voters.
  • Voters with family members and friends who are dealing with drug addiction will identify with the pain the Biden family faces in the wake of the guilty verdict.
  • A guilty verdict in the “friendly confines” of Delaware undercuts Trump’s and his lemmings’ malarky that Hunter had the benefit of a venue populated by individuals who likely had voted for a Biden (Joe or Beau) at least once.

However, there is one more reason.  With this jury’s demographics, most legal pundits thought a hung jury was likely.  And were surprised it took just three hours of deliberations for the panel to reach a unanimous decision.  I would argue the quick result was due largely to those very demographics and the fact that members of a  jury can put aside their partisan loyalties, but it is infinitesimally harder to cast out their values.

Delaware is ranked #12 in the U.S. for gun law strength, according to the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety.  In recent years, the state legislature has enacted laws that include:

  • Increasing the age for handgun ownership from 18 to 21.
  • Requiring a permit to purchase a gun.  To obtain a permit, applicants must provide their fingerprints and attend gun safety training.
  • Increasing protection for victims of domestic violence.
  • Requiring secure storage and preventing child access.
  • Prohibiting certain assault weapons originally designed for military use.
  • Limiting magazine capacity to 17 rounds.
  • Repealing special immunity for gun manufacturers.

In other words, it did not matter who the defendant might be.  Delaware residents favor sensible gun safety regulation, and their 12 representatives on the Hunter Biden jury would not be hypocrites and selectively apply this core value.  As another recently convicted felon would say, “This jury would convict Mother Teresa of violating gun laws in Delaware.”

This jury, by convicting the president’s son, may have further tilted the sanity scale in favor of a Biden victory in November.  A recent decision by the 5th District U.S. Court of Appeals, “ruled that drug users shouldn’t automatically be banned from having guns.” (NBC News) If affirmed by the Supreme Court, the justices will again be siding with a minority, Americans who believe the Second Amendment is absolute.  Today, a carefully vetted sample of Delaware voters, told America they believe universal background checks are not too much to ask of someone who wants to own and operate a deadly weapon.  They believe no one needs an assault weapon to ensure their personal safety.  They believe law enforcement, following due process, should be able to confiscate guns from individuals who represent an imminent danger to themselves and others.

In short, MAGA world believes drug addicts should be able to purchase firearms.  Joe Biden supports sensible gun safety laws.  And his refusal to intervene in his own son’s violation of such laws is proof positive of his commitment to this position.  One more irrefutable side-by-side comparison of the choices voters face this November. 

Ironically, Biden previously scheduled an address at a Washington, D.C. training session for gun safety activists, sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safety, three hours after his son was convicted of violating federal gun purchase and ownership laws.  Attendees would have understood if he cancelled and went to be with his son in Delaware.  But that’s not who he is.  Unlike his presumptive opponent, being president is not about public versus personal interests.  Joe Biden understands the connection between the two and that there is time for both.

For what it’s worth.

The Fixer

For three hours, yesterday morning, Donald Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche argued that Michael Cohen, a self-admitted liar, tax evader and thief is not the reformed citizen the district attorney of New York wants the jury to believe.  Joshua Steinglass, who presented the People’s closing argument, rebutted this assumption when he reminded the jurors:

He had a legal title, but he wasn’t in the Trump Organization legal department. He didn’t answer to the general counsel, he answered to the defendant directly, He got the jobs no one else wanted. The jobs that the defendant wanted to keep quiet.

We didn’t choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn’t pick him up at the witness store. The defendant chose Michael Cohen as his fixer because he was willing to lie and cheat on his behalf.

What Steinglass could have said, but probably chose not to because an immediate defense objection would likely be sustained by Judge Juan Merchan, was evidence throughout the trial that Cohen had been replaced as Trump’s “Mini-Me” by none other than (drum roll) Todd Blanche. Consider the following when Blanche took a page from his client’s playbook, projecting his own behavior on Cohen.  At the end of his closing statement, Blanche ticked off the many times Cohen had lied.  Then he suggested Cohen was still lying, loudly accusing Cohen, syllable by syllable, of “per-ju-ry.”

However, Blanche’s role as the latest in a long line of Trump fixers was evident from day one of the trial.  In his opening statement, Blanche claimed Trump never had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels.  Yet, provided no evidence to substantiate this highly suspicious assertion.  Trump no longer needed Cohen or Hope Hicks to “deny, deny, deny!”  He now had Todd Blanche.

Again, with no evidence, Blanche argued that the payments to Cohen were for legal services, despite the fact the transaction was listed in a footnote to Trump’s 2017 financial disclosure statement as follows.

In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as “reportable liabilities” on Part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen. Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 – $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero.

We now know, based on Trump Organization’s CFO Allen Weisselberg’s handwritten notes, this “transparent” statement was false since the value of the transaction was actually $420,000, not in the range listed in the footnote.

More direct evidence came from the defendant himself.  In a May 3, 2018 tweet, Trump wrote:

Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement (my emphasis), a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.

Blanche later proved his client demanded more of his fixer than simply lying.  He also had to cheat in service to his client.  And cheat he did during the trial.  His first defense witness was a paralegal who had constructed an Excel spreadsheet of phone records between Cohen and attorney Robert Costello even though the actual phone records were available.  Blanche used the reconstructed data to claim there had been over 75 calls between Cohen and Costello.  However, during cross-examination the paralegal admitted he did not differentiate between calls in which the two actually conversed versus those that went directly to voicemail, resulting in double-counting the number of actual conversations.

But best evidence of Blanche’s willingness to do anything for his client came in his closing statement when he told the jury, “You cannot send someone to prison, you cannot convict somebody based upon the words of Michael Cohen.”  During the next break, Judge Merchan reprimanded Blanche for a clear violation of the rules which forbid attorneys from addressing potential sentencing.

You know that making a comment like that is highly inappropriate. It is simply not allowed. Period. It’s hard for me to imagine that was accidental in any way,

When the jury re-entered the courtroom, Merchan provided the following curative instruction.

In the defense summation, Mr. (Todd) Blanche asked in substance that you not send the defendant to prison. That comment was improper and you must disregard it. In your deliberations, you may not discuss, consider or even speculate as to matters related to sentence or punishment.

Merchan considered this violation so egregious, he added an addendum to the standard jury charge this morning reminding jurors they “may not speculate about matters related to sentence or punishment,” that being the the purview of the judge.

There is a quote about legal strategy attributed to Carl Sandburg. “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”  That may still be true in most cases.  However, if your client is Donald Trump, Sandburg might add, “If that is not enough, lie and cheat.  That is what your client demands of his fixer.”

Michael Cohen served as Trump’s fixer for 10 years.  But not in Judge Merchan’s courtroom.  That title now belongs to Todd Blanche. The only remaining question is whether Blanche will one day be on a witness stand being vilified by a future Trump fixer for things he did in service of Mr. Trump.

For what it’s worth.