Last Night in Greenburgh 5-25-07

Last Night in Greenburgh

“New Faces for a New Future”


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 25, 2007



Last night at the Greenburgh Town Hall, Paul Feiner and his new running mates showed that they were the far superior team to lead Greenburgh into the future. Paul, Sonja Brown, Kevin Morgan, and Judy Beville and their nominators, exuded class, determination, and vision, something that has been patently lacking on the Greenburgh Town Board for the last number of years.


Paul, of course, has been legendary in both Westchester County and Greenburgh for more than 30 years. Not only did he start his political activism as a teenager, but, as an elected official, his accomplishments and triumphs have been unparalleled in the post war Westchester County political history. He has been the innovator par excellence, and second to none as an administrator. People should not forget that it was Paul who started the tradition of serving in every department and learning from the “grass roots” how the town really worked. It was Paul who understood intimately the needs of the “people in the field” who were the backbone of Greenburgh’s success. His accomplishments are too numerous and remarkable to be listed here. But his independence of action and spirit has driven Paul to reach out to all the citizens of Greenburgh and not just the narrow partisanship of party. One can just weigh the “thank you” books in his office or remember the old walls of the former Town Hall that were papered with well-wishing accolades from his countless fans and admirers, to understand his incredible service to the community. Open space and tax conscious citizens of Greenburgh know full well of his hard work.


It is not unusual for Paul to be counter-intuitive to the bosses of the Democratic Party. They seemed to be intimidated by all the “loud mouths” and “crazies” that hang out at Town Hall twice a month. The Board has caved into these “nitpickers” and self-appointed guardians of the public commonweal so much that Board meeting have become a one act interminable bore. Open government has morphed into an endless diatribe of faux experts venting their wannabe frustrations. Paul has handled all of them with grace and tolerance, but that has just fed their appetite for more confrontation and spite.


But, with regards to last night, every one in attendance witnessed the “real” next generation of leadership in the personality, character and souls of Kevin Morgan, Sonja Brown and Judy Beville. Not only was their message clearly articulated with spirit and wisdom, but it was aimed at breaking the “clubby atmosphere” that was obviously was “bleated” by Board members Bass and Barnes. This unlikely twosome, gives credence to the age-old characterization that “politics make strange bedfellows.” It wasn’t long ago that Bass showed his ungratefulness towards Tom Abinanti, the County Legislator. It seems Bass, even though he nominally worked for him, wanted to push him out of his own seat and slip into it while it was still warm. It was like the old “musical chair” game we all played when we were young. But this time Abinanti wasn’t enjoying the party and the balloons popped in Bass’s face. In a typical case of ordering drapes for someone else’s office, Bass wound up with the bill from Calico Corners, but no windows to dress up.


Bass and Barnes bent over backwards to praise each other in their limpid and uninspiring speeches. There is no doubt from this observer that Barnes has run out of energy, and with fuel prices at an all-time high, it is time for a new model. On the other hand, Bass who was appointed to his position, and ran unopposed last time with Barnes, has never had much of a record to be proud of. Wherein Barnes served with distinction in the distant past, Bass has been a “water boy” for Board critics like Bob Bernstein, the self-appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ed Kraus, and the chief bean-counter and nit-picker of them all, the former Republican Francis Sheehan, the current Board member. Now they both serve on the Board and their ambition and rivalry seems to put them at odds with each other. Their only commonality is their ambition and hatred for Paul.


Sonja Brown and Kevin Morgan will bring a blend of incredible energy, experience and diversity to the Board. Their records regarding public service and commitment to people is second to none. The legislative dictatorship that has resulted in stalemate, obfuscation and unbridled jealousy, authored by Bass and Sheehan, will be broken forever. The public won’t be fooled by this faux love-fest along with the patronizing joint announcements by Bass and Barnes. They have had four long years to pad their records, but these 48 months only reflect non-accomplishment, rancor and flip-flopping. Both Morgan and Brown will start off this campaign running and bring that energy and dynamism back to the Town Board.


The party of course rewarded the Town Clerk with another non-ringing endorsement. She barely got a majority of the delegates, and the comparison between the energy of Judy Beville and her record of achievement, and the tired old visage of Ms. Williams, was obvious to all who looked with open eyes, and a non-prejudicial heart. Judy will bring a new urgency to a job, long saddled with the tiredness and arrogance of unchallenged incumbency. Now that Ms. Williams is in a real race, we will see her record exposed to the light of public scrutiny. 


The district leaders were split last night between the last two party bosses, the current incumbent Suzanne Berger, who has never run for office, and ancient Bill Greenawalt, the former boss, who was had a history of splitting the party. Greenawalt, who has run for office countless times, has never won. He ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in 1970, way back in Nixon’s time, but was handily defeated by surprise winner Bill Dretzin in the primary. Then Greenawalt ran on another line and split the Democratic vote. This insured that the Republican candidate, Peter Peyser, would succeed liberal Democrat Dick Ottinger, who had surrendered his seat and was running for the Senate. He has embellished his spotty resume by being rewarded with positions on various boards by the state party leaders, who gave us defeat after defeat, up until the recent victory by the fiercely independent Eliot Spitzer.


The final runoff vote between Berger and Greenawalt, did not show any unification within the party. It wasn’t a ringing, but a clanging endorsement for Berger, who barely raised her totals from 49% to 56%. On the other hand, Greenawalt, who never knows when he is beaten, thought that he deserved the party’s designation again. He probably created too many enemies in his tortuous and contentious role as party leader. Current party boss Berger, who has been quietly engineering this coup for years, will have to defend her role in bringing a large contract for her law firm to the Greenburgh Town Board. She has shown her obvious prejudice and disdain towards Supervisor Feiner on numerous occasions. At a rally for John Kerry, at Rudy’s Beau Rivage, she wouldn’t even let the Town Supervisor speak. Conventionally one would expect fairness from a party chairperson. Her role is to be supportive to her own party’s elected officials. But she seems to be of the school that has been weaned on revenge and ambition. Paul has been beating the party’s choices for decades and though he is the most successful and experienced elected official in Westchester, he is still young and vigorous. His 24/7 attitude and work ethic is legendary, and his ideas have been on the cutting edge of political thinking for decades. This year will be a comeback year for sense and sensibility for the Greenburgh electorate. Paul and his strong and vigorous team will, once in office, re-shape Greenburgh’s future in a more progressive and dynamic way. A small turnout in the last political cycle that was marred by an 11th hour smear by Paul’s opponents won’t happen again. This time, the party boss will think twice about slandering the Feiner slate. Let us not forget that she was the lawyer for Juettner and Sheehan, who appeared before the Fair Campaign Practice Board, and were chastised for their lies and smears. As party chairperson she should have distanced herself from the gutter political tactics of Sheehan and Juettner. But she jumped in with both feet, and the Fair Campaign Practices Commitee burned her toes.   


Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee

c/o League of Women Voters of Westchester

Room 12B, 200 Hamilton Avenue, White Plains, NY 10601

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­(914) 949-0507 / fax: (914) 997-9354





October 4, 2005                            CONTACT:            Stephanie Sarnoff, Chair

                                                                                    276-0760 day



The Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee (FCPC) met on September 29, 2005 to hear post-election complaints filed by Kevin Morgan and Allegra Dengler against Francis Sheehan and Diana Juettner, all having been Democratic candidates in the September 13th primary election for two open seats on the Greenburgh Town Council. The complaints stemmed from alleged misrepresentations in the campaign literature distributed by Mr. Sheehan and Ms. Juettner.



Mr. Morgan and Mrs. Dengler complain that their positions on Choice were falsely described in the literature distributed by Mr. Sheehan and Mrs. Juettner.



While the Committee is not in a position to decide the definition of “pro choice,” there is no evidence that Mr. Morgan said that he favors restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. The inference that Ms. Dengler is not “100% Pro-Choice” is based solely on a private conversation and not backed by other evidence.



Mr. Morgan and Mrs. Dengler complain that their positions on Indian Point were falsely described in the literature distributed by Mr. Sheehan and Mrs. Juettner.



The allegations made in the campaign literature fall within the realm of normal political discourse.



Mr. Morgan and Mrs. Dengler complain that Mr. Sheehan and Mrs. Juettner’s campaign literature is false when stating: “As a Planning Board member he (Mr. Morgan) initiated the vote to waive a public hearing on a final subdivision and voted to allow the subdivision. His company then purchased the land he voted to subdivide, and is now developing it.”



The statement is misleading because the implication is that he had an interest or knew he was going to acquire an interest in the subdivision at the time he was voting on the issue, when in fact he did not acquire the property until a year later when it came on the market.



If a candidate or campaign wishes to quote from this Finding, the Committee requires that the Finding be quoted in its entirety.  The Committee regards selective quotation of its Findings as a violation of fair campaign process.


The purpose of the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee is to promote a climate in which candidates conduct honest and fair campaigns. The Committee encourages candidates to conduct campaigns openly and fairly, to discuss issues, to refrain from dishonest and defamatory attacks, and not to use campaign materials that distort the facts.

The Committee does not sit as a censor or political discussion nor as a body to enforce election law or make legal decisions. Its task is to accept written complaints about alleged unfair campaign practices and to determine whether the action complained about is indeed unfair. Among other things, the Committee will consider to be unfair any campaign practice that is a misstatement of a material fact or that misleads the public.

The Committee has no power to compel anyone to stop doing what it has found it be unfair. If the Committee acts on a complaint, it will release its findings to inform the public. The Committee may choose not to consider a complaint; in that case, a hearing is not held and the parties to the complaint are so notified.   


Statement of Principles of the Committee, as stated in its Manual, available at www.WATPA.ORG. The Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee believes that candidates should conduct their campaigns in accordance with the following principles:

Ø      The candidate will conduct a campaign for public office openly and fairly. The candidate will discuss the issues and participate in fair debate with respect to his/her views and qualifications.

Ø      The candidate will neither engage in nor be involved with unfair or misleading attacks upon the character of an opponent, nor will the candidate engage in invasions of personal privacy unrelated to fitness for office.

Ø      The candidate will not participate in or condone any appeal to prejudice.

Ø      The candidate will neither use nor be involved with the use of any campaign material or advertisements that misrepresents or distorts the facts.

Ø      The candidate will clearly identify by name the source of all advertisements and campaign literature published and distributed.

Ø      The candidate will not abuse the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee process in order to obtain political advantage.


The candidate will publicly repudiate materials or actions from any individual or group that would violate this Statement of Principles.


Members of the Committee: Stephanie Sarnoff, Chair; Milton Hoffman, Vice Chair;

Susan Schwarz (& Interim Coordinator); Susan Pace Guma; Ruth Hinerfeld; Barbara Jaffe; Burton M. Leiser; Robert E. Peterson; Ernest Prince; Evelyn Stock














Corcoran on Holmes 5-22-07

Corcoran on Holmes

His Remarks about FDR’s Temperament


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 22, 2007


Thomas Corcoran met Oliver Wendell Holmes when the Justice was 85 years old in the fall of 1926. He had a long white mustache, thick white eyebrows, and blue-grey eyes. He spoke with a Brahmin Boston accent and was a Unitarian. He clerked for him for 12 months, and they developed a close friendship until his death in March of 1935. Holmes did not allow newspapers in the house and smoked Cuban cigars from SS Pierce. Holmes did not want to use a cramped office in the lower level of the US Capitol, where the court convened, before the Supreme Court building was erected.


Holmes did not allow newspapers in his house, and he used to tell his clerks, “If anything important happens, my friends will tell me.” He didn’t allow a typewriter; everything was hand-written, and after the notes were finished he burned them in his fireplace.


Holmes would take a car service to the Court wearing a black frock coat. He left Corcoran behind to conduct his research. In the afternoon they would stroll in the park and discuss various subjects from philosophy to war and religion. He was not a consciously anti-Catholic, which Corcoran was, but grew up in an age that free-thinking individuals and intellectuals found the conformity of the church a “horror.” Corcoran was his first Irish Catholic clerk, and Holmes was amazed, and wondered, “How the hell a practicing Irish Catholic from Boston could have gone to a place called Brown University, where the president was a Baptist minister.”


By the way, at Brown, Corcoran, who was born in Pawtucket, RI, to a local second-generation Irishman named Patrick, was first in his graduating class of 1921. His father was Pawtucket’s leading lawyer and a Democratic politician.  He earned his way partly as a dance band pianist and as a winner of scholarship prizes. Though well to do, his father insisted that his three sons learn to work with their hands and find ways to pay their own way!


After graduating from Harvard Law School he stayed on an extra year to the fall of 1925. He had been chosen the notes editor of the Harvard Law Review in his second year and was either first or second in the class during his three years. In 1925 he was chosen as one of nine doctoral candidates to be groomed for the Harvard Law faculty. He even authored, with his famous mentor Felix Frankfurter, an article “Petty Offenses and the Constitutional Guaranty of Trial by Jury.” Frankfurter had been sending law school graduates to clerk for Holmes since 1915, and also for Justice Brandeis after he had been appointed to the Court. Even the famous Francis Biddle, a future attorney general in FDR’s cabinet, who was his clerk in 1908, said, that “Holmes wanted his secretaries to deal with certiorari, balance his check book, and listen to his tall talk.”


When Corcoran became secretary to Holmes, the two read all of the Old Testament, Montaigne’s essays, and much of Dante’s Inferno, which he read aloud in English while the Justice followed in the Italian text. After the Justice finished a book, he would carefully record the title in a small notebook. By the time of his death in 1935, Holmes had read more than 3475 books and had written down the title of each since 1881. He had asked that the notebook be destroyed after his death, but his dear friend Corcoran, smuggled it out of the house and gave it to the Harvard Law Library.


After considering the pleas by Sacco and Vanzetti’s lawyers to have the Court review their case, and therefore stay their execution, Arthur Dehon Hill, the chief lawyer for the defense made a visit to the Justice with his legal team. Hill, who was a close friend of Felix Frankfurter, who also opposed the executions, visited the Justice at his home in Beverly Farms. After a two hour effort, Hill implored Holmes to issue a writ of habeas corpus, which would have required a review of the evidence. Holmes listened attentively and though sympathetic to their argument rejected their plea. Corcoran, who was upset by the meeting, asked Holmes, “But has justice been done, Sir?”


Homes turned and looked at his clerk, “Don’t be foolish, boy. We practice law, not  ‘justice,’ which is a subjective matter. A man might feel justified in stealing a loaf of bread to fill his belly; the baker might feel it justified for the thief’s hand to be chopped off, as in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The image of justice changes with the beholder’s viewpoint, prejudice or social affiliation. But for society to function, the set of rules agreed upon by the body politic must be observed – the law must be carried out.”


As to the remarks regarding President Roosevelt’s visit to the home of Justice Holmes, the inaugural speech of March 4, 1933 had set the tone. The speech had left Corcoran cold, and he stated, “I found the his words vague, unspecific to a fault.”  He spoke of his misgivings about FDR to Holmes and the old man replied –(according to Joseph Lash “how much was fact and how much was Tom’s embellishment will never be know –“)


“Franklin is just like his cousin Theodore. He has a second class intellect but a first class temperament.” And that, be believed, was precisely what the nation needed in its time of crisis. But of course Corcoran later stated it quite differently.


Holmes “supposedly” remarked that he (FDR) was “a second rate intellect, but (had) a first-class temperament.” (Denied by Oliver Wendell Holmes to his death!) According to Corcoran, Holmes, when he met FDR at his home, confused him for a moment with his old rival Theodore Roosevelt. Holmes was thinking that TR has a “first rate-rate intellect with a second rate temperament.” Then in contemplation he reversed it with FDR. He never thought FDR was a “second-rate” intellect, but second to his 5th cousin!


Corcoran, nicknamed “Tommy the Cork,” by his future mentor FDR, moved on to work for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which became a model for several other government agencies. He and Ben Cohen were recommended by Frankfurter to write the Securities Act of 1933, and from then on they were partners: Cohen the writer and Corcoran the persuasive lobbyist. Corcoran wound up spending eight tumultuous years in the center of the heavy action of the New Deal. Conflicts started to arise in the White House over the vituperation from the mouth and pulpit of Father Coughlin. The president had sought support in his struggle against Coughlin and had received it from Cardinal Mundelein and Bishop Sheil in late 1938. When Mundelein, who was gravely ill, died, it was left to Bishop Sheil to denounce Coughlin and support the president. According to several accounts, following Bishop Sheil’s speech in October 1939, President Roosevelt decided to send a message to Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York that Coughlin was a liability. The so-called gist of the message was that if Coughlin was not silenced and removed from the air, the IRS would be instructed to look into the personal finances of the nation’s leading Roman Catholic bishops. This never has been corroborated and if it this conversation did happen, the IRS was not needed. New rules were instituted by the National Association of Broadcasters, which limited the selling of airtime to “spokesmen of controversial issues.” Later on Corcoran seemed to take credit for elevating the liberal Bishop Sheil to Mundelein’s place as head of the archdiocese of Chicago. But, the more conservative Cardinal Spellman of New York replaced Sheil as the most important Catholic spokesperson. Later on Corcoran and Spellman who loved politics, became friendly, and it was Corcoran who claimed that he introduced Spellman to Roosevelt. Spellman became nominally close to the Roosevelts and was the first priest to ever celebrate a Mass in the White House. Eventually Spellman wore out his welcome with the Roosevelt inner circle, and the president noted that the administration’s highest ranking Catholic official, James Farley, “doesn’t like Spellman.” It didn’t help or bode well for the flamboyant Corcoran that they were closely associated, and he was so visibly involved with the politics of the church.  Eventually after playing a minor role at the 1940 Democratic convention, Roosevelt went to Harold Ickes and told him it was time for Corcoran to leave the RFC, and then after the election, “either come back into government or do whatever he may feel like doing.” Of course after the election there was much inside maneuvering by Frankfurter and others to find the proper role for Corcoran, and also limit the theoretical damage he could do to the White House with all of his wheeling and dealing.


It was suggested by Justice Frankfurter, in a letter to the president, that he be appointed a Special Assistant to the Attorney General, and to await a definite assignment. The president closed the letter by noting that Corcoran had been “fond of quoting Holmes as your great exemplar. Fundamentally, he was a great soldier in life and merely on the battlefield. Ask yourself how he would have answered the call.” FDR was using Corcoran’s emotional attachment to his late and beloved mentor to convince him to sit quietly for a while.


Of course, Corcoran was getting the message. Even though he had great regard for the president, he had seen him drop other close advisors. Corcoran, in retrospect, remembered an amusing vignette from the 1936 campaign. He was up at the Hyde Park home of the president’s working on a speech with Missy LeHand, the president, and Peggy Dowd. A neighbor dropped in on the president and brought a pheasant that he had just shot. The president loved game bird and couldn’t keep his mind off that bird for lunch. He stated, “A fat pheasant was the perfect dish for four companions.” But a few minutes before lunch was to commence, Mrs. Roosevelt arrived with her secretary and the president’s mother. The table was re-set for three more, and as the president was wheeled into the dining room, he whispered to Corcoran, “Tommy, I am about to perform a small miracle. There might be a political lesson in it for you. I am going to carve and serve that bird so that each lady at the table is convinced she is favored with the choicest portion. Sorry, boy, there won’t be anything left for you but the Pope’s nose.”


Therefore at the start of FDR’s third term, the president was carving up the choicest assignments for his favorites. Corcoran remembered the pheasant story and decided finally to leave the government. His earlier desire to be Solicitor General had been thwarted and he realized that his ambition to be eventually appointed to the Supreme Court was quite possibly quashed forever. He was right.


Corcoran left government, but in many ways he was still in the center of the action, and being well compensated for his efforts. He was soon signing up clients and since he had developed the reputation of a skilled operative in government, he quickly became know as a “fixer” in private practice.


Over the years, Corcoran became one of the most powerful insiders in Washington history. At his death in 1981 he was thought to be the first person to “fully appreciate the symbiotic relationship between the executive branch, the Congress and corporate America.” (From David McKean’s biography Tommy the Cork, “Washington’s Ultimate Insider from Roosevelt to Reagan.” Other stories about Tommy Corcoran can be found in Joseph Lash’s Dealers and Dreamers, and Kate Louchheim’s The Making of the New Deal.)


The Connections:Music, The Synagogue and Politics -5-8-07

The Connections:

Music, the Synagogue and Politics


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 8, 2007




The other night my wife Linda and daughter Dana, who was visiting from Boston this weekend, went to Temple Beth Shalom on Rte 9 in Hastings to hear a wonderful evening of music performed by the synagogue’s resident choir. Their program “Fascinating Rhythm,” combined choral and solo pieces that started with a musical adaptation of Psalm 150, called Hal’luhu. Interestingly, our Cantor, Ms. Robin Joseph, sang it and Benjie-Ellen Schiller, our former Cantor from Bet Am Shalom in White Plains, wrote the music. The program advanced beautifully with wonderful and moving solos by Will Berman, Joan Nelson, Carol Siege, and Irene Steiner. All of these numbers were accompanied by the marvelous harmonizing of the choir.


The Beth Shalom choir is a group of volunteers who have brought marvelous music to the ears of its Congregation for many years. Even though we are only members for a few years, we enjoy hearing a synagogue choir again, after many years as members of a Reconstructionist temple. Rabbi Ed Schecter, who is a precious asset to the congregation, besides being a great guy, has a remarkable sense of humor. He gave some insights on the independent spirit of the choir and how they operated in their own special world of collegiality. Ed always has interesting metaphors comparing past Jewish liturgy to current needs and in many ways reminds me of the late great rabbi Max Maccoby. Maccoby was the first rabbi I was aware of at the Free Synagogue when I lived as a child in the city of Mount Vernon. Rabbi Maccoby, was a student of the late Stephen Wise, who was one of the most important Jewish leader of the 20th century and the founder of the Free Synagogue of New York. By the time Wise married my parents in 1935 he was famous and a confidante of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


The roots of the Free Synagogue emanated from the mind of Rabbi Wise in 1905. Rabbi Wise, who was from Portland, was under consideration to be installed as the Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. When he learned that the temple’s board of trustees would review his sermons, he withdrew his name from consideration. He was interested in a “free” synagogue that would appeal to Jews from all of the three then existing movements. He started to hold services in the Lower East Side, and the Hudson Theater, on 47th Street and in 1907, at the Savoy Hotel, with hundreds of followers, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the father of the future Secretary of the Treasury, was selected as president of the new synagogue. The Free Synagogue held services often at the Universalist Church of Eternal Hope on West 81st Street, where, in 1910, over 1000 people attended a service. Wise reached out to all of Judaism’s branches, and with his great success and message, the congregation was able purchase several brownstones on West 68th Street, before they built their new and current synagogue and headquarters there in 1950. Unfortunately, Rabbi Wise did not live to see the opening of the new location. He died suddenly on April 19, 1949, only one month after celebrating his 75th birthday at a gala diamond jubilee ceremony in his honor. Interestingly the senior Morgenthau resigned as president of the temple in 1919 over an argument regarding Zionism, which he opposed. His son, Henry, who was a close confidante and friend of FDR, was also not pro-Zionist, but worked acidulously to expose anti-Semitic actives in the State Department that restricted immigration of Jewish refugees. Morgenthau brought to FDR’s attention the many delays and obfuscations that were put in the path of refugees seeking asylum. After the War Refugee Board was created more than 200,000 Jews were saved. Morgenthau, whose stewardship at Treasury was unprecedented, handled over $370 billion. This was more than three times the amount of money than all 51 of his predecessors had been responsible for, and it was accomplished without a scandal. Whether from a latent sense of guilt, because of his failure to press the Jewish immigration issues with FDR, the disaster of the Holocaust, or the premature death of his wife, Elinor Fatman Morgenthau, and the influence of Ms. Henrietta Klotz, his long-time assistant, Morgenthau changed his attitude towards Israel and Zionism. In the days and months after his mentor FDR died, Morgenthau felt very uncomfortable with the new president, Harry S Truman. When Truman planned to travel with Secretary of State James Byrnes to the Potsdam Summit in July 1945, Truman became painfully aware that Morgenthau was third in line to become president. If he and Byrnes were killed in a plane crash, there would be a Jewish president. This thought disturbed many, including the president, who was “thought” to be a great friend of the Jewish community. Morgenthau, at the end of the war in Europe, became acutely aware of the full scope of the Jewish disaster that faced the survivors of the Death Camps. He asked Truman if he could bring up the issue of “displaced persons” with the Cabinet. “Truman, who considered that this was none of the secretary of the treasury’s business, ignored his requests.” (Mostly Morgenthaus, by Henry Morgenthau III, Ticknor & Fields, NY, 1991, page 408.)


Morgenthau heard authoritative rumors that Fred Vinson would replace him in the cabinet. When he learned that he was going to be immediately replaced, he resigned. Truman refused to tell Morgenthau about his decision, and sent Samuel I. Rosenman as his emissary. Because of his concerns over the situation of Jewry in Europe, after the death of his wife Elinor, Morgenthau became, in his post-governmental life, an advocate for Jewish statehood. He was greatly influenced by assistant Henrietta Stein, (1901-1988) an Orthodox Jew, whom he hired in1922 to help him with his paper the American Agronomist. Henrietta eventually married Herman Klotz and remained a close confidante and guardian of his interests, and after her resignation from government service in1946, she became an executive in the “Bonds for Israel” drives. The split in American Jewry regarding Israel was most acutely addressed by the senior Henry Morgenthau’s remark to his famous son, before he died in 1946, at the age of ninety. His advice was, “Don’t have anything to do with the Jews, They’ll stab you in the back.” (Mostly Morgenthaus, page 411) But Henry, Jr., who was very much his own man, proceeded to accept the general chairmanship of the United Jewish Appeal. (Jon F. Garfunkel met Henry Morgenthau III, a fellow Princetonian at the Boston Public Library and signed the above book!)


Of course with my parent’s connection to Rabbi Stephen Wise, our move to Mount Vernon, and our need for a synagogue, my parents naturally gravitated to the Free Synagogue. By the time we moved to Mount Vernon in late 1945, the new home of the synagogue had been relocated to a wonderful location on North Columbus Avenue, not far from the Bronxville border. Rabbi Max Maccoby, a student of Rabbi Wise, had founded the Free Synagogue in 1927, and it was there that I came in contact with him as a youngster in the early 1950’s. Interestingly the new synagogue was used as a collection place and storage for arms for Israel in its War of Independence. Earlier, and before the temple was built, the location was used as a “safe” house for runaway slaves on the “Underground Railroad” route to Canada.


Maccoby, a soft-spoken man, who was prematurely white-haired, was a wonderful storyteller and specialized in tales from Pinsk and the Pale of the Settlement. He had a wonderful charm about him, and his droll stories about “nail soup,” and the struggles of the shtetl always made me realize, from an early age, that our idyllic life in Mount Vernon was something unique in our history and not to be taken lightly. Of course the Free Synagogue was affiliated with the Reform Movement, and we did have a choir. We never saw who they were. They were ensconced in a small room above the pulpit and when they sang it was like a hearing some heavenly chant that floated down to the congregation. Of course, fifty years ago, people acted and dressed differently than today. Everyone in those days came dressed in their finest clothes, and it seemed that almost every woman had a hat and a mink stole or a fur wrap, and every man from the age of thirteen was dressed in a suit. Today, even on the High Holy Days, the dress code seems much, more casual.


Max Maccoby died suddenly in 1956 and his memorial service was held at the Free Synagogue just over fifty years ago on March 3, 1957. I recall vividly the sadness in the Jewish community of Mount Vernon and especially with the Free Synagogue family. This happened not to long before my Bar Mitzvah, and I never warmed up to his successor Leon Jick (1924-2005) Rabbi Jick left Mount Vernon in 1966 for Brandeis and became the Director of the Center for Jewish Studies for the next 24 years. It is never easy to fill the shoes of a legend. Just ask Harry Truman.


Meanwhile, I am not sure whether Rabbi Ed had any connections to Mount Vernon, but his wife, the former Laurette Fagan, was, I believe, from Mount Vernon. I had first met her about 45 years ago when she was a young gal and living with her parents in Eastchester. When we joined Beth Shalom, I was re-introduced to her, and I have been incredibly impressed how warm she is and dedicated to the synagogue.


After the death of Maccoby, and with my disenchantment with Rabbi Jick, my family left the Free Synagogue. My sister had been confirmed, and my bar mitzvah was celebrated in May of 1958. My family was ready for a change. After that period, I went to High Holy Day services with friends at the Sinai Temple, the other Reform Synagogue, on Crary Avenue, in Mount Vernon. Sinai had a wonderful Rabbi named Henry Enoch Kagen, who served there from 1937 through 1969. Later when the Jewish community started to shrink in Mount Vernon, the old Free Synagogue building on Columbus Avenue was demolished and most of the property was sold to Sunrise, an assisted living facility, and the Sinai Temple was sold to a church group. The new Sinai-Free Synagogue congregation relocated on a small parcel of land on the right side of the former grounds of the original Free Synagogue stood.


In the same way we were connected to Rabbi Wise and Maccoby, the musical program the other night re-connected me once again to the music of my youth and George Gershwin, the composer my parents loved most. It is well known that music has always played a large part in the cultural and religious life of the Jewish people. Just recalling the great pianists and violinists of the 20th century, one could easily name an all-star team. Rubinstein, Horowitz, Gould, Heifetz, Menuhin and Stern, would be arguably at the top of a list of scores of masters. In the legitimate theater we know as Broadway, Berlin, Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Kern, Dietz, Schwartz, Lerner, Loewe, Fields, Bernstein and others dominated the musical comedy arena from the 1920’s to today. But the greatest of all the American musical geniuses would be George Gershwin, (1898-1937) who with his brother, Ira, (1896-1983) led this domination of popular music, and the musical theater.


George had been exposed to the Yiddish musical theater at a young age, but not because of religious devotion. Unlike his older brother Ira, he was never a Bar Mitzvah, and his parents were not particularly religious. As a young man, in 1915 he was invited by Boris Thomashevsky to collaborate on a Yiddish operetta with Sholom Secunda (1894-1974). Unfortunately, Secunda, who thought that the seventeen year old could not read music well enough, rejected the project. Secunda would later become famous for his piece Bir Mir Bist Du Schoen in 1932. Who knows what would have come from that potential association? Gershwin never spoke out about his connection with material from Jewish sources, and he is thought of as a quintessential American composer. Many experts note the similarities between Gershwin’s melodies and motifs with many of the Jewish prayer chants and secular pieces. It even seems that S’Wonderful, was lifted from Noach’s Teive (Noah’s Ark), and another number from the Goldfaden operetta Akeidas Izxhok (The Sacrifice of Isaac.) George even attempted to write a Jewish opera, the Dybbuk, for the Metropolitan Opera. He even signed a contract with the Met on October 29, 1929, at the behest of the financier Otto Kahn. He abandoned the project when he learned that the rights to the original play were controlled the composer Lodvico Rocca.


With George’s great melodies and Ira’s witty and sophisticated lyrics, American popular music was changed forever. George Gershwin, who triumphed first in the “Tin Pan Alley” era (West 28th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue) with “Swannee” (1919), went on to write great show music for Broadway reviews and then did his own shows, Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1930) and Of Thee I Sing (1931). He abandoned Broadway for the more lucrative Hollywood movie market and wrote the movie scores for Damsel In Distress and Shall We Dance both in 1937, the year he was stricken. Previously he had written the most famous American opera, Porgy and Bess, (1935), and wonderful concert pieces like, Rhapsody in Blue (1924), An American in Paris, (1928) The Concerto in F (1925) and the Cuban Overture, (1932). All in all, Gershwin music has been featured in at least 145 movies.


The last part of the concert began with young Ms. Katya Stanislavskaya, originally from Odessa, Ukraine, and most recently from Philadelphia where she earned a Masters in Piano from Temple University. She played a stirring, though condensed version of the Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin also recorded a condensed version for radio, and it has been played often. I was first introduced to Gershwin music via my father’s long play 78’s that featured Oscar Levant as the pianist. My father, and his brothers all played musical instruments, but he had given up playing the piano long before I was born.  But every once in a while he would sit down at our piano and play the piece Dardanella, by Felix Bernard and Johnny Black (1919). We had a complete collection of Gershwin’s symphonic pieces, on long play 78’s, with the master, Oscar Levant, (1906-1972), who was Gershwin’s great friend, at the keyboard. Levant was from an Orthodox Jewish family and was born in Pittsburgh. After the death of his father he moved to New York City with his mother and studied piano with Zygmunt Stojowski. He later went to Hollywood in 1928, where he became friendly with Gershwin and had parts in twenty movies. He played well enough to study with the master Arnold Schoenberg, who offered him as assistantship. But her felt he was not worthy and turned it down. Levant was a famous neurotic, but nonetheless a fabulous wit and had a loyal and large audience from his appearance on the show Information Please and the Oscar Levant Show. He was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable collection of wits during the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Later on he was a sensational regular guest on the Tonight Show with the great Jack Paar.


Alexander Wolcott, the rotund host of the Roundtable, who was best known as the character that the classic comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner, was based, said about Levant, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can’t fix.” Levant, a true wit, is most famous for saying, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity, and I have erased that line.” But that wit could get him in trouble over the airwaves. He was taken off the air after saying, upon news of Marilyn Monroe’s conversion to Judaism, “Now that Marilyn is kosher, Arthur Miller can e– her.” Levant said he didn’t really mean that, but despite his apologies, his quip was a bit too risqué for the censors of that day. Levant starred as himself in the 1945 biopic of George Gershwin aptly titled, Rhapsody in Blue and was featured in the hits The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and An American in Paris (1951) with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. They say unfortunately he never really got over the death of Gershwin, and that this loss was the cause of his ever-constant melancholia, which resulted in his bouts of depression and frequent nervous breakdowns.


My first experience with a live rendition of the Rhapsody was at the Radio City Music Hall at the 1954 New York premier of the film Knock on Wood, with Danny Kaye, a complicated comedy about a ventriloquist who gets confused with a spy. It was a typical Kaye film, and though the story line was sophomoric, and trite, he was great. As most New Yorkers know, Radio City is located in NYC, on 6th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets and the theater holds 6200 patrons. In those days Hollywood films premiered at the big New York theaters for exclusive runs. After a few weeks, the film could open in theaters that had to be at least 50 miles from New York. That is why most people had to travel to Stamford to see a first run film outside of New York City. I can still remember seeing The Ten Commandments in Stamford in 1955 and Star Wars, twenty-two years later in 1977. In 1954 and for years later, I assume, there was a large live orchestra that played a classical piece each performance, along with the precision dancing of the famous Rockettes. That evening, Rhapsody in Blue was played, and I was astounded. I had never heard a live orchestra before, and I was so impressed by the music that I begged my father to drive to Sam Goody’s record store on Central Avenue in Yonkers, to buy Andre Kostelanetz’s (1901-1980) Columbia Masterwork’s version with the aforementioned Oscar Levant at the piano. I still have that 33” rpm record in my record library.


In David Ewen’s biography of Gershwin, he told how the Rhapsody was born. “Suddenly an idea occurred to me. There had been so much talk about the limitations of jazz, not to speak of the manifest misunderstanding of its function. Jazz, they said had to be in strict time. It had to cling to dance rhythms. I resolved, if possible, to kill that misconception with one sturdy blow. Inspired by this aim, I set to work composing. I had no set plan, no structure to which my music could conform. The Rhapsody started as a purpose not a plan.” While Gershwin was on a train to Boston to appear for the premier of Sweet Little Devil, he worked on the opening theme. “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattly-bang that is so often stimulating to a composer.” As he road along, he thought, “I hear it as a sort of kaleidoscope of America- our vast melting pot, of our national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” Later on in New York, while playing at a party, he recalled, “As I was playing, without a thought of the Rhapsody, all at once I heard myself playing a theme that must have been haunting me inside, seeking an outlet. No sooner had it oozed out of my fingers than I realized I had found it. Within a week of my return from Boston I had completed the structure, in the rough, of the Rhapsody in Blue. The combination of hard work, the arrangements of Ferde Grofe, who orchestrated the work, and the support of Paul Whiteman who brought it to Aeolian Hall, combined to make musical history.


Charles Burr, the music reviewer in the 1950’s, said, in retrospect, “that a lot of Gershwin’s music is lonely music, homesick “blues,” and terribly sad. This combination of sadness and vitality is another of his hallmarks. They were in him in greater abundance, apparently, than in his successors.” In a sense maybe Gershwin’s music was a metaphor for the long-suffering Jewish people. On one hand, a terrible sadness emanating from its history of being a victim for two thousand years, and on the other hand an optimistic sense of survival and inventiveness. As usual, in life we all deal with the bitter and the sweet.


While in Hollywood Gershwin, who was a prolific worker, developed terrible headaches and experienced the smelling sensation of burning rubber. Because nothing would alleviate the pain he sought psychiatric help and turned to Dr. Philip Lehrman, who was the father of my great friend Lynne Lehrman Weiner of White Plains. Dr. Lehrman was the last student of Sigmund Freud and Lynne had the unique pleasure of sitting on the laps of both Freud and Gershwin, two of the most important individuals of the 20th century. Dr. Lehrman (1895-1958) could obviously be of no help to the composer. Eventually Gershwin was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor, and fell into a coma. He was operated on and surgical procedures were quite primitive in comparison with today. According to the clinical analysis of the day, nothing then could have been done to save him. Most conclude that if had survived the operation, he would have lost enough of his brain functions to be cognitively disabled.


Of course I never met Dr. Lehrman. He died eleven years before I met Lynne and her husband John Weiner. In 1958, I was an eighth grader in Mount Vernon and I was a Bar Mitzvah boy at the Free Synagogue. But, after 1970, I did know Lynne’s mother Wanda Lehrman quite well. She lived with the Weiners until late in her life, and we often talked about politics, but I never knew anything about her husband until years after her passing.


My great friend, coach and mentor, the late Henry Littlefield, whom I met when I was sixteen, first mentioned to me that every one was connected within a few generations. My mother went to the Yiddish Theater in the 1920’s and met the great playwright, critic and friend of George Gershwin, George S. Kaufman at the 2nd Avenue Yiddish Theater, where Gershwin met Sholom Secunda. Kaufman, another member of the Algonquin Round Table, with Levant and Alexander Wolcott, wrote the Man Who Came to Dinner about the aforementioned Wolcott. My parents were married by Rabbi Stephen Wise, and we all knew and loved Rabbi Max Maccoby who was a friend and disciple of Rabbi Wise. Rabbi Wise was an intimate of Franklin Roosevelt, who was very friendly with Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who became a convert to Zionism, and an invaluable supporter of Israel in his last twenty years of his life. Of course Linda and I have been friendly with the Weiners for 37 years, and her father treated George Gershwin in the last year of his life. The Weiners were in Israel in 1949 and took part of the famous “Operation Magic Carpet,” that transported 45,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel from 1948 through 1950. The Weiners took the only films of the event and therefore chronicled some of the amazing work of Captain Robert Maguire and the 380 flights of the small Alaskan Airways.


There is no real evidence that Gershwin, Wise, or Morgenthau, all giants in their separate fields, ever had any real contact with each other. Certainly they were well aware of each other, and Wise and Morgenthau were both confidants of FDR. But I saw my own connections, and therefore, I feel that we are all interconnected in one way or another. It just takes a little time to see where the pieces fit into the puzzle. Music has always been a great unifying force in all cultures, and in its own unique way it has intertwined itself into a passionate and melodic cry for G-d’s acknowledgement. The synagogue still serves as the central place for that crying out. And in the synagogue, like any other place of worship, the calls for social justice are heard the loudest, and with all of our politicians, if the cry is loud enough, they usually get the message.



Republicans Move in on Reagan Country May 4, 2007

Republicans Move in on Reagan Country


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 4, 2007


I did something that I have rarely done in the past; I listened to a group of Republicans debate. There is certainly a vast difference between these men and their philosophy and the Democratic hopefuls. For starters, I was impressed with some of their perspectives on our porous borders. Unfortunately, the President, who is their leader, not mine, has had an “open border” policy for six years, and it has failed miserably. Aside from the immigration issue, one thing for sure that came across to me, any supporters of women’s issues or rights, should better watch out with this group of flat-earth, creationists and flat-taxers.


These cooking cutter conservatives bent over backwards to leap into the sarcophagus of the “Great Communicator,” who when he testified at the McFarlane-Poindexter trials, stated, under oath, that he couldn’t remember over 400 times. The ghost of Ronald Reagan has now completely replaced the fetid image of the GOP as the party of “McKinley and Hoover,” who brought us imperialism and depression. Against this field, even old “Tricky Dickie” seemed like colossus.


Meanwhile how about a library with “Air Force One” hanging from the ceiling? I was sort of hoping that it would fall on the whole crowd! But seriously, these guys are frightening. They want to suspend government, turn the clock back on rights, eliminate inheritance taxes, fight until the last drop some one else’s blood, and bomb Iran. I was also incredibly amazed that some of this “gang of ten” did not believe in “evolution.” Maybe they should see “Inherit the Wind.”  I was also impressed with the utter idiocy of the “out-of-step” candidates Brownback, Huckabee and Tancredo. Those three could easily audition for a revival of the “Three Stooges Morph into the Three Blind Mice.” Therefore, since they are out of the equation, as much as Congressman Paul, who is a total non-entity, nothing more should be said about them. Former Governors Thompson and Gilmore came across as a bit more earnest, as they compared veto records on taxes. Of the two, I leaned to Gilmore as a bit more stable and sensible, if that were possible. Congressman Duncan Hunter, who seems like a pleasant sort, was lost in the back some place and though not as dense as the “Three Stooges” is also forgettable.


Therefore we, the public, were left with the big three: Giuliani, McCain and Romney. This trio has flip-flopped on many social issues, and their stances on foreign policy, vis-à-vis Iraq, has been confusing to say the least. McCain, the biggest critic of the Bush administration’s incompetence, seems to be the biggest and most vocal supporter of the so-called “surge.” McCain to me looked old, and old hat. He has the most schizophrenic record of the “gang of ten.” He is has the most consistent rightwing voting record, but seems to be the most unreliable Republican in Congress. Paradoxically, he has been a loose cannon, can work with the Democrats, and is the least progressive. Rudy Giuliani is, in reality, an opportunist and a hypocrite. He spent eight years in New York City as Mayor, and through most of those years he was well liked and respected by many. He was decently accommodating to the uniqueness of liberal New York, and therefore came across as quite pragmatic. In the last few years before 9/11, he got bogged down with the Brooklyn Museum and other silly issues, became quite testy with the press, the public and protesters, and had squandered most of his good will and political currency. Certainly, with regards to race and race relations, he failed. That flaw doesn’t seem to affect his standing with the average “yahoo” in the “Red States.”  Rudy will get more heat in the coming days from his previous thoughts and actions regarding, abortion, the religious right, government’s role, his connections with Bernard Kerik and corruption, and his own three marriages, his estranged son, and his obvious inconsistent morality. Just ask Donna Hanover! 


We are left with, it seems, the inevitable candidate, the former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Many may have forgotten his father, George, who was once the head of the now defunct American Motors and a three-time governor of Michigan. George, who was born in Mexico and was descended from polygamous Mormon grandparents who fled America, also wanted to run for President. Upon his return from a “fact-finding” trip to Vietnam in 1967, he claimed that he was the victim of “the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get.” Later on he opposed the war. But the “brainwashing” issue stuck, and he faded from consideration. His son, the super-rich, Mitt Romney looks downright Reaganesque with his full head of combed back, Brylcreme-coated hair. He came across well poised, prepared and presidential. He was able to skirt the issues of his philosophical inconsistencies, and his ability to be an affective manager came across. So for my money he’s on the move! One thing for sure, you won’t hear the term “brainwashed” from his mouth.



George Bush and His Veto Pen-May 2, 2007


George Bush and His Veto Pen


Richard J. Garfunkel

May 2, 2007


The big news inside the “Beltway” is that Georgie boy, the self-proclaimed “Uniter” and “Decider,” laid down the gauntlet at the feet of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and vetoed his second bill from Congress. That’s big news in the “Blue” states, where we, the so-called “bleeding heart” pinkos of the left, moan and groan over the fate of the world. But it is what it is. The Congress did not override the veto because the deciding votes were not in the hands of the Democrats. It was up to the Republicans to abandon the Bush catastrophic policy and basically end the war. For whatever it is worth, historically it was a Democrat Congress that finally pulled the plug on the losing hand that was being played in Vietnam. What was the result of that action? The war ended! Americans and Vietnamese weren’t dying any more as a result of our military actions. Our Vietnamese friends and allies, who could flee the country, did, and the ones who remained were killed, jailed or re-educated. Would that have happened after another one or two years more of fighting? Yes! The Democrats escalated the war, and Nixon, who lied about his “secret plan” to end the war, was responsible for more deaths, with less results than Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. The real political casualty of the “plug-pulling was not the Democrats. Carter replaced the disgraced Nixon-Ford administrations and his failures were responsible for the so-called Reagan Revolution. In the 1980 and 1982 elections the Democrats maintained their large leads in the House and did lose the Senate to the GOP. By 1984 the Senate was back in the Democrat’s hands and they held the house solidly until 1994. Therefore de-funding Vietnam did not cause a seismic shift in voter sentiment. The shift came with unhappiness with Carter’s term and Clinton’s first two years! Today, Vietnam is flourishing, as capitalism and market forces take root. Are they a threat to Cambodia, Laos, or Thailand? No!


Meanwhile back to the subject of vetoes. Our country has not had a great deal of experience digesting Bush vetoes. Unlike other presidents, George has had very little use for his veto pen in the past six years. Basically it has been collecting dust in the SMU vaults with the rest of his papers and personal history. Where Bush has had built up his writing skills, has been with his vaunted use of the “signing statement.” Congress passes a law, and Bush uses his new type of veto. He takes his pen out of his “pocket” (remember the “pocket veto”) and writes his own interpretation of the law, thus the “signing statement.” Most presidents have speechwriters, but George has a staff of grammarians, experts on elocution and spelling bee winners. None of us can forget the trouble former Senator Dan Qualye, who the GOP nominated for the Vice-Presidency, got in when he was challenged by the word “potato.” Qualye, who in his high school years was famous for singing the old Ira Gershwin lyrics, “You say potato and I say potahto, you say tomato and I say tomahto, oh, let’s call the whole thing off…” should have known better. But back to George the 43rd, the latest George in a line of kings of America that previously should have ended with the Hanoverian, George the 3rd. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and women can’t help avoid or ameliorate the Bush grammar, syntax, and vocabulary gaffes when he is not guided by his “handlers.”


Of course the “signing statement” is George the 43rd’s “veto” policy elevated to an art form. He will sign the law and not enforce all, or only some parts, of it! Over the past six years, George has seen fit to veto only the “Stem Cell” bill. Medical research must be on the backburner for the flat-earth thinkers that make up his core support. Even the late President Warren Harding, whom Gaston Means, in his best selling book, The Strange Death of President Harding, asserted that his loving wife Florence Mabel Kling de Wolfe Harding had poisoned him, had six vetoes in his shortened presidency. The medical records say that the handsome and silver-haired Harding died from ptomaine poisoning contracted from “a mess of King crabs smothered in butter” on his way back from a voyage to Alaska in 1923. But Means asserted in his best-selling 1930 tome that old Florence was the culprit. A number of other excuses were often bandied about. One claimed that that she feared the shame associated with the looming “Teapot Dome Scandal,” and another was over her insane jealousy regarding Harding’s extra curricular dalliances with the young Nan Britton in a White House closet. Of course, many historians doubt that Florence would have “lost her cool” over Nan or even Nan’s illegitimate child. Warren Harding had at least four affairs before his dalliance with young Nan. Two included ones with Carrie Philips for fifteen years, and another with Grace Cross, a secretary, from his years in the Senate. He also had fathered an illegitimate child with one of Florence’s best friends. Morality has never been the long suit of the GOP!


So returning to the issue of vetoes, even the gin-swilling, poker-playing roué President Warren Harding, had time for reading legislation and had the “guts” to use his pen. Therefore one has to go back to President James Garfield, who, I am sure would have liked to have had the opportunity to veto a bill or two, but was deprived of that pleasure by the assassin Charles Guiteau. Garfield was shot while he was walking in the old Sixth Street Railroad Station in Washington, DC, along with his entourage that included his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine (The continental liar from the State of Maine). He was on his way to his 35th Williams College reunion and had been president for less than four months.


The records for vetoes are held by three Democratic presidents; the late and beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the all-time record, 635, Grover Cleveland, the runner-up, with 414 and plucky Harry S Truman with only 250. Interestingly, during FDR’s time, as with George the 43rd, the Congress was controlled by his own party. But FDR, unlike Bush, had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to his own party! Both Truman and Cleveland had to spar with more recalcitrant Congresses that were either in opposition or narrowly divided.


Of course, over the past six years, Curious George wasn’t that curious or concerned about the level of GOP pork that bloated the deficits to astronomical levels. His buddy from Alaska, Senator Ted Stevens, the longest serving GOP Senator, with 35 years under his belt, arrogantly included his $300 million Gravina and Knik Arm “bridges to nowhere” in a piece of legislation. He already has an airport named after him, so why not a few more bridges. Of course he threatened to resign if his  “earmark” did not go through, but thankfully the money was eventually directed towards Katrina relief. Though the bridges were stopped for now and his threat never materialized, he’s still in his comfy Senate seat. Talk is that there will be other opportunities for these bridges to be built (with other misdirected funds) and they will eventually serve (service the taxpayers) about fifty people.


The Bush deficits were certainly helped by his tax-cutting buddies in the Senate. They made sure that their super-rich constituencies would have their estates preserved intact, the capital gains taxes lowered and other “perks” enhanced. The “spinmeisters” of this current class of Laffer-Stockman-Friedman supply-siders, believe that their policies have caused revenues to climb. But cooler, and more analytical heads cite the Clinton era corporate tax increases as having made the difference. It seems that the giveaways to the super-rich haven’t made a real and overly positive impact with the IRS. Of course, in this vein, the late Franklin D. Roosevelt said, in his 2nd Inaugural address, in 1937, “…the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”  In concurrence with that reasoning, my conservative friends accuse me, and whom I support, of the policy of “re-distribution of income.” No, I answer, “I believe in high taxes on the rich!” Of course we are certainly the world leader in newly minted billionaires and our major supplier of cheap goods, China, seems to be catching up quite quickly. Unfortunately hedge fund managers that make hundreds of millions per year can’t spend enough to prop our economy, which still depends on the “real” increase in middle-class earnings.


Therefore our schools and the surrounding infrastructure are declining rapidly and cost of repair is soaring. As the billionaires retreat to their gated communities the middle-class savings rate continues to shrink to negative numbers, and the services people really depend on, education, transportation, healthcare and housing soar out of sight and reach. But, of course, the age-old answer about America is, “love it or leave it” or “where is it better?”


It seems, in the cold, cool, light of dawn, and it has been in the news lately, we have an expensive country to run here. Our military alone has a budget that is equal to the military budgets of the rest of the world! Despite that fact, we still cannot root out Al Quieda and Iraq’s warring factions continually have the skill and numbers to harass and maim our troops. Of course the famous military philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld used to say, “You go to war with what you’ve got.” Well it seems, on the ground at least, we have what Dubose Hayward and the Gershwin’s wrote in Porgy and Bess, “I’ve got plenty o’nuttin.” With all of our missiles, super-carrier groups, nuclear submarines, and stealth fighters and bombers, we can’t raise enough men and women without gutting our National Guard and Reserves to carry on an effective occupation and counter-insurgency. On the local front, it’s quite costly to run our police, fire, sanitation and local educational institutions. But what else is new?


Therefore our 140,000 soldiers in Iraq, of whom many are not combat troops, must deal with an unfriendly and highly dangerous country of over 26,000,000. In the City of New York, the home to 8 million or so peaceful souls, it takes 40,000 police personnel to keep order. Are we missing something here? Has anyone in the White House looked at the size of the armies of occupation in Germany in 1945? Of course Germany, a country of fifty plus million, was beaten down and its infrastructure pulverized after 6 years of total war. The Germans were basically starving and dependent on our largess and we needed millions of men and women.


So of course, on May Day, the bill for funding future operations was delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the “Decider” on this 4th anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” rose up in indignation and told the public that the Democrats were not going to “starve” the troops under his “watch.” Their mission was sacred and without these extra $100 billions it would be lost! The bill was vetoed, the veto was not over written, and we are back to square one!