Two Plus Two Equals Five? You’d Better Believe It

Monday is late author George Orwell’s birthday, and his chilling classic “1984” unfortunately seems more timely than ever.

Winston Smith, the book’s hero, is brainwashed to love dictatorial “Big Brother,” while forced by the state’s thought police to not only say “2+2=5”, but believe it with all his heart__or else.

Perhaps Orwell should have titled the book “2018.” For example, President Trump still insists we are in grave danger from an increasing number of illegal Mexican immigrants pouring over our border, and need a huge, expensive wall to keep them out. But don’t statistics show more Mexicans are actually leaving the U.S. each year than arriving, and that most who do come here are working at menial but vital jobs Americans wouldn’t touch?

No, that’s ridiculous__Mexican rapists are storming our border and threatening our womenfolk! We need that border wall now, and you can be damn sure the Mexicans will pay for it. 2+2=5!

Meanwhile, perhaps weary of bashing Mexicans, Trump has turned a mischievous eye to our northern border, where an even bigger menace plots to destroy us. Yes, those devious Canadians!

According to CNN, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau asked Trump how he could justify new steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada as a national security issue. Trump replied, “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” (uhm, no, they didn’t). Trump later tweet-attacked Trudeau as “dishonest” and “weak.”

But come on__doesn’t Trudeau, and in fact most Canadians, seem honest and super polite? That’s just to make us feel bad! Don’t they keep flooding our borders with diabetes-inducing maple syrup and annoying singers that dominate our radio stations? Deport Drake and Justin Bieber!

Okay, Mexico and Canada are no longer our friends. But take heart__a new amigo has arrived. Of course, I’m talking about that fun guy Kim Jong-un.

“Really, he’s a great personality,” insists President Trump. “He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that.”

Really? Isn’t Kim the same ruthless dictator who starves and murders hundreds of thousands of his fellow North Koreans? Oops, sorry, must have the wrong Kim__this great personality loves his people to death. You’re absolutely right, Big Brother. 2+2=5.

Give Orwell credit. He did try to warn us.

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De Blasio’s Elite School Plan Doesn’t Pass the Test

Mayor Bill de Blasio probably thought he’d make himself a hero to people of color with his plan to diversify NYC’s elite schools by eliminating the admissions test.

Oops.

“I’m not sure if the mayor is racist, but this policy is certainly discriminatory,” Kenneth Chiu, chairman of the NYC Asian-American Democratic Club, said last week. “Our mayor is pitting minority against minority, which is really, really messed up.”

New Yorkers of Asian descent make up the majority of students at NYC’s eight specialized high schools, according to city data. The mayor’s plan, which includes a new way to admit students based on middle school grades and scores on standardized tests, is intended to include more economically disadvantaged students in the elite schools, many of whom are black and Latino — an admirable goal. The problem is de Blasio’s plan would reduce the number of qualified Asian students in these elite schools, a number of whom are living in poverty themselves.

“We are absolutely on the side of equity,” said Soo Kim of the Stuyvesant Association, “but we don’t believe that the solution is taking from one needy community and giving to another needy community.”

De Blasio’s heart might be in the right place, but what he seems to be saying to minority students is “OK, we’ve given you a lousy education since first grade, but now we’re going to make it up to you.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

There are some terrific public schools and charter schools in the city. But taking the top students from every middle school, even those with lousy track records, and placing them in elite schools, serves no one’s interest. Those admitted to a specialized school who have received an inferior education are not only more likely to do poorly in their new highly competitive schools, but to feel poorly about themselves as well.

The solution? Improve resources offered in low-income neighborhoods from kindergarten on up. Create more specialized high schools to meet demand. And eliminate the advantage that pricey test preparation provides by allocating funds so that disadvantaged kids receive the same test-prep opportunities as more affluent ones.

De Blasio’s plan won’t be passed into law before the June 20 end of the session in Albany. “We want to come up with something that’s good for all students,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

There’s a novel idea.

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Conspiracy Theorists Darken America’s Door

From alien invasions to dark conjecture about the Kennedy assassination and 9-11, conspiracy theories have always abounded in this country. But I can’t remember a time in our history when more ugly, hurtful, provably false theories have been spread than the present.

After Roseanne Barr was fired last week for posting a racist tweet about former President Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, few took notice of the equally ugly tweet she sent out earlier that same day. It claimed billionaire and political activist George Soros was a Nazi collaborator in World War II who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered. Although Soros was a child hiding from Nazis during the war, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Barr’s slanderous tweet.

On the conspiracy website InfoWars, Alex Jones had previously claimed Soros “stole hundreds of millions of dollars from Hungarian Jews.”

But this ugly lie pales compared to what Jones did after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Jones claimed the murders were actually an elaborate hoax, and the dead children and their parents were just “actors.”

Since then, mourning families have been harassed and received death threats from those demanding “proof” that their children actually died. Families of Sandy Hook victims are suing, saying Jones “perpetuated a monstrous, unspeakable lie; that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged.”

Deliberately spreading such mistruths is beyond vile. Unfortunately, one of the biggest conspiracy theorists in the nation now occupies the White House.

Aside from praising website weasel Jones for his “amazing” reputation, for years Trump spread the conspiracy that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fake and that he was really a Kenyan. Trump also suggested that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, and that the father of presidential primary opponent Ted Cruz was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

Meanwhile, it came as no surprise when Roseanne Barr’s show was terminated by Walt Disney Corp.’s ABC network. Be assured that virtually every major private company in the U.S. would fire an employee who spread bigotry and lies that damage its corporate reputation. Luckily for President Trump, he doesn’t have to answer to a corporate board of directors.

Who is his employer, anyway? Yipes, it’s us.

See you in November.

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Psst: It’s Alexa, and I’ve Got Some Gossip For You

Dear Alexa:

I can’t trust you anymore.

It was bad enough when you eavesdropped on my private conversations, but now you’re passing them on to others. Shame on you!

True story: A woman in Oregon who only gives her name as Danielle says she was recently having a discussion with her husband. Soon after, she got an ominous call: “Unplug your Alexa devices now__you’re being hacked!”

No, not hacked; their Amazon Alexa device was sending their private conversations to one of her husband’s employees. Dubious, they asked the man for proof.

“You sat there talking about hardwood floors,” he said.

Oh my God. Their “virtual assistant” device was sharing their private chats!

“My husband and I would joke and say, I bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,” Danielle told a Seattle TV station.

Not so funny now, huh Danielle?

Danielle and her husband unplugged all of their devices, then called Amazon. The company apologized profusely, then released a convoluted explanation:

“Echo (Alexa) woke up due to a word in background conversation that sounded like Alexa.” Which word might that be? Rex? Mexico? Sex?

“Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list…As unlikely as this string of events is…”

You think?

The truth is, we don’t know the truth about these artificial intelligence devices, what they pick up and where they transmit our private conversations.

But it gets worse. According to NBC.com, some owners of the device have reported that Alexa is letting out a random, spontaneous and eerie laugh.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Perhaps these “smart” devices are becoming too smart for their own good. Yeah, it’s fun to have them play songs on command. But it’s not fun when they not only listen in on your most intimate discussions, but share them without your knowledge.

So it’s time to say goodbye. For a while, Alexa, you were my trusted virtual assistant. I’m sorry, but now you’ve become creepy. We don’t feel safe with you around anymore, and want you out.

Isn’t that right, Siri?

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Normalizing Piggish Behavior Doesn’t Fly

Honesty is the best policy? Seriously? That’s so 20th century!

I’m too cheap to pay for my dog to fly, so I get a fake “emotional support animal” certificate online. I’m too lazy to walk through a parking lot, so I grab a handicap spot and put up the disabled placard I inherited from my uncle. Hey, if I didn’t do it, someone else would, right?

I couldn’t believe it when American Airlines recently announced you can no longer fly with your emotional support hedgehog, ferret, peacock or rodent. Who does American Airlines think it is? When I fly with my Jack Russell support terrier Rex, the airline now says I need a verification letter from a medical care professional? Hey, no problem, my doctor will write anything I tell him. And if some loser on my flight complains, I’ll scream “dog hater!”

Speaking of which, stop looking at me suspiciously when a wheelchair whisks me and Rex to the front of the boarding line. Sure, I look healthy, but you don’t know what I’m suffering from, now do you? So mind your own business!

And don’t you dare call me cynical. Everybody cheats! At least everyone I know. You say our country is going down the toilet? Don’t blame me, blame our conniver in chief for setting a bad example. Sure, this started long before he took office, but now he offers a handy excuse, so just get off my back, OK?

You say I’m slick and unethical? I say you’re a sucker. So go on and pay that $125 fee for your pet to fly. And have fun walking a mile through the parking lot, when there’s an empty disabled spot just five steps away from Target.

Yes, I read former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent warning about our nation’s growing lack of ethics and integrity. “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what might seem most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America . . . then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Tillerson told graduates at the Virginia Military Institute.

Do you have any idea what he’s talking about? I sure don’t. But hey, that reminds me — Rex and I have a plane to catch!

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Trump Scopes Out Month to Remember

The next month promises to be an exciting one for President Trump.

One of my most unreliable White House sources slipped me the transcript of Trump’s meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly to plan the president’s daily schedule through June. Here’s a sneak peek:

Kelly: Okay sir, tomorrow you watch Fox & Friends from 7 until 9. Just do me one favor? Don’t call in.

Trump: Just for that I will call in!

Kelly: Great. Then at 10 you receive your Intelligence Briefing.

Trump: And at 10:01 I ball it up and throw it in the garbage. Boring crap! What’s next?

Kelly: At noon you have lunch with vice president Mike Pence.

Trump: Are you kidding? That stiff again? Nothing more exciting on the horizon?

Kelly: Yes. On June 12th, you have your big date in Singapore with Kim.

Trump: The blond? Wasn’t she a bunny?

Kelly: Kim Jong-un, sir. The Supreme Leader of North Korea?

Trump: Little Rocket Man! Why didn’t you say so? This is going to be great. When do I get my Nobel Peace Prize? The 13th?

Kelly: Sir, nothing’s been accomplished yet. They might cancel. I don’t trust those guys.

Trump: Did you know Kim’s father said he made 11 holes in one his first day playing golf?

Kelly: That’s why we can’t-

Trump: I made 12.

Kelly: Whatever you say, Mr. President.

Trump: Are you humoring me? I hear that you called me an idiot. Is that true?

Kelly: That’s total B.S!

Trump: Hmm… John, does the name Dick Cheney ring a bell?

Kelly: George W’s vice president?

Trump: That’s the one. Cheney recently said the U.S. should restart “enhanced interrogation.”

Kelly: Enhanced interrogation is torture. Congress outlawed it.

Trump: Fake news! Hey, maybe we can use his torture__I mean enhanced interrogation__ techniques on reporters to get them to reveal their sources on me. That’s brilliant, right John?

Kelly: That’s idiotic. And un-American.

Trump: John, this job seems to be taking a toll on you. I think you’re losing it.

Kelly: Let’s get back to the schedule.

Trump: No need. I’ve decided to hire a guy with the heart of a much younger man. So say hello to your replacement: Dick Cheney!

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The Emperor Has No Loyalty

A doctor, a lawyer and a blacksmith walk into a golden castle. “Greetings, my loyal subjects,” says the emperor. “Who among you is most loyal to me?”

The lawyer, Michael of Hannity, steps forward. “I am so loyal that I would take an arrow for you.”

“And I would let you take that arrow,” replies the emperor. “What about you, Dr. Zorba?”

“As your doctor for over three decades, I am incredibly loyal,” Zorba swears. “I have put out decrees saying you are the healthiest, strongest and sexiest emperor in history.”

“But did you not also spread an evil lie?” roars the emperor.

“What lie?”

“The emperor has no hair?”

“No, your hugeness! I just mentioned that you benefited from the wondrous hair potion I created.”

“So you did say it! Off with him! Seize his records!”

As the palace guards drag off the doctor, the emperor summons the blacksmith to step forward. “And why are you here, loyal blacksmith?”

“I am here to collect my payment for making new horseshoes for your glorious carriage horses.”

“Of course.” The emperor tosses him a bag of coins.

The blacksmith peeks in and frowns. “I was promised 100 gold pieces. This bag holds but three.”

“Because your work was shoddy.”

“Shoddy? No, your brilliance.”

“Shoddy!” shouts the emperor. “If you have a problem, take it up with Michael of Hannity.”

The lawyer confronts the blacksmith. “You supplier ingrate, we’ll tie you up in court for the rest of your life. Off with him!”

Michael of Hannity is now alone with the emperor. “That will teach him to question the emperor!” the lawyer grovels. “Uhm, your magnificence —?”

“What now?”

“Why did you issue a decree besmirching me?”

“Fake news.”

“But your friend Sir Pecker wrote I am a crappy lawyer.”

“You are a crappy lawyer.”

“Then, why did you hire me?”

“Did I hire you? I don’t recall. Guards, seize this wretch.”

As the guards drag off the protesting lawyer, the emperor stands. “No wait!”

Michael of Hannity looks up hopefully. “First, rush to court and fetch that blacksmith,” demands the emperor. He turns to his palace guards with glee. “Then throw those three peons under the royal carriage!”

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Subways Going to the Dogs

Finally the warm weather has arrived! The outdoor cafes, leaves on the trees__and fleas on the subway?

On the downtown C train, a woman carrying an uncaged dog enters the train and takes the last unoccupied seat beside me. The mutt is placed on the floor, and immediately starts scratching itself like crazy.

As I was doing shortly afterward.

Did fleas jump from that dog and bite me? I take a hot shower when I get home and it eases. But hey, it could have been worse. I could have been bitten by a pit bull.

Which is what happened to a woman last week on the 4 train. The dog chomped on her ankle and shoe, while riders screamed “Get him off!” at the owner. Why wasn’t the dog in a container? Because he was supposedly a “service dog.”

Is it just me, or have you noticed more dogs on the subway than ever? Leashed dogs and emotional support/service animals ride with no restrictions, while others must be placed in carriers. Of course, many Fido-loving connivers fetch phony service dog tags on the Internet. Meanwhile, our subways are starting to look like a huge kennel.
I can hear the howls as I write. What do you have against dogs, Vogel?
Nothing. I like dogs. In their place. And unless you are blind (BTW, ever notice how seeing eye dogs are never rowdy?) or have another actual disability, that place is not the subway. Why not?

Let me count the ways. Some people are allergic to dogs, whose dander or drool can set off severe reactions. Some don’t think it’s cute to have your loyal companion licking or sniffing them. Most just want to catch their train__not fleas.

And even more don’t want your pit bull biting them.

“There’s no reason in the world that pit bull was allowed on board”, said MTA chairman Joe Lhota. The transit system “is not open to people with dogs that aren’t service animals or enclosed.” Lhota noted, adding that it’s up to NYPD cops and MTA staffers on trains to handle this.

Meanwhile, I see more and more dogs down there. Cops and staffers? Not so much.

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Ethics In a World of Knockoffs

A woman stands on Canal Street. Nicole locks eyes with her. “You want Louie?” whispers the woman. Nicole nods.

I wonder, Who’s Louie? The woman beckons us to follow her around the corner and scampers down Hester Street. We enter a Little Italy souvenir shop.

Or is it?

Was Louie here? Yes and no. The “Louie” the woman refers to is Louis Vuitton, and affordable counterfeits of his pricey handbags along with those from Gucci, Coach and other designers are available.

Despite repeated investigations, crackdowns and arrests, counterfeit designer handbags are bigger business than ever. And while buyers seem exempt from arrest, the sellers are at risk, and act accordingly.

We are led to a back room, as our contact rushes from the store. Five minutes later, she is back with the phony Louie — which Nicole, a court worker who doesn’t want her last name used, examines carefully. “I don’t even think a pro could tell this apart from the original,” she quietly tells me.

Nicole is one of countless women who can’t afford a $1,000-plus handbag, but like the look. Was it wrong for her to purchase the bag?

“If it was stolen, I wouldn’t buy it,” Nicole says. “But it’s just an imitation, and no one has claimed otherwise.”

Later, we sit in Great NY Noodletown slurping down beef chow fun as Nicole happily sneaks a peek at her quarry. Counterfeit handbags are costing New York State substantial tax revenue, and hurting famous brands. Some of the sophisticated knockoffs are made in foreign factories under grim working conditions, often with child labor.

Should I have guilted Nicole from making the purchase? Experts recently told Vogue UK that some fakes are manufactured in the same factories as the originals, using the same oppressed labor, as more and more designers operate out of China and India. Many of these $40 to $70 fake bags are so close in look, stitching and overall quality to the originals that even experts can’t tell them apart.

If the report is true, one must ask: Who are the real thieves here?

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Your Personal Subway Officer Will Be Moving Shortly

Hooray! Mayor de Blasio is expanding his “friendly faces” neighborhood policing to the subways. Cops will be assigned to specific subway stations and lines, and their names and e-mail addresses made public knowledge. Sounds good. But will it work in real life__and in real time?

According to the mayor, Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs) will be at our beck and call should a problem arise.

But what about in a subway emergency? If the city is increasing the number of cops who patrol subway stations, that’s great, as is knowing their names and faces. But it remains unclear how many more officers will be actively patrolling subway cars. That’s priority #1. In a crisis, will having the NCO’s e-mail really help?

Let’s take what happened last week, when a guy sprawled out across a number of seats on the A train, riders complained, and he pepper sprayed a woman in the face.

Say your friendly NCO is nowhere in sight, and pepper spray guy is coming down the car toward you.

I pull out my cell and frantically e-mail.

“Hi, Officer Friendly! How R U? There’s a guy pepper spraying people in the 3rd car of the A train at the High Street Station. If you are on this train, could you scoot over? Thanks!”

The lunatic gets closer to you, spraying away while screaming “I’m Donald Trump!”

You e-mail again. “Officer Friendly? The guy’s just a few feet away now, still spraying—Aggh! I canned sea! Gelp!”

What are the odds your NCO is going to check his in box and get to you in time? Wait a minute—an answer! Hard to read it with my eyes burning, but I think it says “I will be moving shortly.”

So let’s assume e-mails are primarily for resolving non-crisis situations. According to NYPD Chief of Transit Edward Delatorre, “If the NCO happens to be away, on vacation, or for whatever reason, the NCOs are not available…we’ll make sure somebody gets back to that person. In a perfect world, my vision is that you connect to the officer, you discuss the problem, if the officer can’t resolve it through email, the officer will reach out to the station manager, and maybe set up a meeting.”

Feel better?

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