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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It’s Not Fun to Live in the R-U-S-A

After numerous shady occurrences, from his less-than-credible re-election to hacking our elections, has Vladimir Putin really been invited by President Donald Trump to visit the White House? The Kremlin says yes, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirms the two have discussed meeting in the “not too distant future.”

Here’s an advance copy I received from a highly unreliable source of the speech Putin plans to give here:

“Greetings American comrades! I am humbled that President Trump has honored me with a visit to your beautiful White House, although I have advised him to change the Oval Office drapes, the furniture and the attorney general. He and I were delighted to discover we have so many dreams in common, from doing away with presidential term limits to jailing journalists and political opponents.

“Some dare suggest your president is somehow compromised, a ‘Putin puppet,’ as one reporter who recently disappeared put it. I can assure my American friends that no one ever tells your stable, genius president what to do or say. Isn’t that right, Donald?

“As our talks progressed, a visionary idea struck me: Why not merge into a super force? As a fan of American baseball, I told him it’s like Giancarlo Stanton joining Aaron Judge on the Yankees. What team could be more powerful? Who could challenge us? Incredible! A winner! Trump agreed.

“So, hold tight to your babushkas — the United States and Russia will soon merge into one powerhouse nation! The name we’ve chosen? R-U-S-A. President Trump thinks it’s catchy and marketable, and an offer he can’t refuse. I will keep the title of president, while he chose the designation ‘world’s most brilliant leader.’ Both our national anthems will be maintained, honored and respected (anyone taking a knee in protest during their playing will be kneecapped). In addition, a joint national anthem titled ‘RUSA’ has been composed, to be debuted by the exciting new vocal group ‘Jared and the Useful Village Idiots.’

“So now let’s hear everyone sing loudly: R-U-S-A! It’s fun to live in the R-U-S-A! Did I spot someone out there not singing along? Lock him up!”

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PC, Funny, Or Just Stupid?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently told a Harlem Baptist church congregation that Jews “have no rhythm.” Was this our governor showing he’s not politically correct, trying to be funny, or just being stupid?

I vote stupid.

Cuomo said Catholics and Baptists share many beliefs, but Catholics “do it without the rhythm. But we try. We are not as without rhythm as our Jewish brothers and sisters.” He then pointed to Jewish political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, moving to the music in the front pew, and called his movements “ugly.”

Oy vey. Being politically correct used to mean being respectful of others, but now is viewed as being rigid, humorless and dogmatic. Donald Trump is president partly because Americans are sick of political correctness. Trump campaigned on being non-PC, honest and blunt, not a liar or bigot. You be the judge on how that turned out.

Meanwhile, I don’t think Cuomo is prejudiced, but he did violate the two basic rules when trying to be non-PC. The remark has to be funny, and must have some truth to it.

I’m not going to waste your time listing Jews with rhythm. OK, here’s a few: Billy Joel, Paula Abdul, Pink, Drake, the Beastie Boys, Bob Dylan and Adam Levine (yes, I’m pushing it here). For God’s sake, Jewish Brooklynite George Gershwin wrote the song “I Got Rhythm.”

But I digress. Whatever you think of Trump, he did tap into something real. Americans are tired of walking on eggshells. For example, Halloween used to be fun, but now scolds go haywire if a woman dares dress as Pocahontas. (Bigotry! Cultural appropriation!)

As Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” (formerly “Politically Incorrect”) puts it, “The PC police has to stop lecturing us on what Halloween costumes are appropriate, and leave Halloween for the people it was created for: middle-aged gay men.”

Do you find that funny, or offensive? Cuomo meant no harm with his remark, and seemed miffed anyone would not find it amusing. I’m certain he would be the first to laugh at another politician telling a similar joke containing a moronic stereotype about Italians.

Sure he would. Absolutely.

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Is Privacy a Thing of the Past?

Has Facebook reached its tipping point?

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book of the same name, a tipping point is “a moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

The recent school shooting in Florida and the massive student response, including huge rallies this past weekend, may have been the tipping point on finally passing sane gun laws, while Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive behavior toward women seemed to have been the last straw regarding predators getting a pass on sexual harassment.

Last week Facebook reached its own moment of reckoning with the revelation that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained personal data from 50 million unsuspecting Facebook users in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before a Congressional committee to answer questions on how such a breach could occur.

Facebook collects information on everything from our birthdays, families and friends to where we live and work. I’m shocked that this info could be misused. Maybe because I’ve been too busy dealing with the fallout from my personal data being stolen from Equifax, Target, and eBay.

Have you recently filled out a fun quiz on Facebook designed to trick you into revealing personal data? Join the crowd. We have been mindlessly relinquishing our privacy, and are now paying the price. Sure, it’s nice to get birthday wishes from scores of friends (some whom you wouldn’t recognize if you tripped over them), but is it worth the tradeoff? Did you think Zuckerberg is letting you share photos of your cat out of the goodness of his heart?

Facebook is far from the only social media network profiting from your personal data, and monetizing personal information is nothing new. But when it is used for questionable purposes, and without our knowledge, a red line has been crossed.

Mining personal data affects everything in our lives, from getting a job or loan to being detained at an airport. Too many vital decisions are already made without our knowledge, input or consent. If we don’t demand laws mandating a ban on unauthorized data collection, we only have ourselves to blame.

Feel free to comment on this column. Just remember, I know where you live. Kidding! (Or am I?)

 

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Say Hello To My Little Staff

“My! People seem to come and go so quickly here!”  (Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz).

You can’t quit, you’re fired! seems to be the new catchphrase of The Apprentice, White House edition. The number of those either quitting, reading termination tweets or being dragged kicking and screaming from the White House seems to have surpassed the number of trains departing Grand Central Station at rush hour.

Last week it was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The week before was economic advisor Gary Cohn, and the week before that communications director Hope Hicks. Now rumored to be on his way out is national security advisor H.R. McMaster, although White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted “no changes at the NSC.” Which means McMaster should start packing his bags pronto.

Meanwhile, a trip down memory lane brings a tear to my eye. Remember Omarosa? Spicey? The Mooch? (no, I’m not talking about treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who allegedly flew with his wife at taxpayer expense to Fort Knox to view the solar eclipse. He’s still around).

As special counsel Robert Mueller draws the noose tighter, the sharper rats quickly scurry from the sinking White House ship. The Democrats shocking Congressional seat victory in a rock solid Republican Pennsylvania district last week was the canary in the coal mine for the GOP.

When Mueller releases the information he is methodically gathering (my bet is late fall), every Democrat in the U.S. will be lined up to vote at 6 a.m. Election Day. By January, a Congress of cowards who put party over patriotism will be history.

How will this all end? The last scene from Scarface, with Al Pacino as a raving Tony Montana, comes to mind. I see a defiant Trump stepping from the Oval Office, no one left at the White House to stand beside him except a quivering Stephen Miller, as the Feds charge up the stairs.

Trump bellows “Say hello to my little friend!”, but Miller has dived under the desk. Donnie Darko is now all alone, ranting about the great ratings this will receive, as the Feds drag him out.

As this plays out on live TV, a standing ovation fills American living rooms across the land. Ding dong, get your popcorn ready!

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2018: Pride and Tolerance

If you had the luck of the Irish

You’d be sorry and wish you were dead…

When John Lennon sang those biting lyrics in 1972, he was lamenting how the Irish suffered for decades under British rule and oppression. In the mid 19th century, the potato famine drove more than a million starving Irish from their homeland, seeking a better life in America.

Not that the Irish were in clover when they landed here. Newspaper classified ads read “No Irish need apply.” They were quickly branded as dirty, animalistic criminals stealing the jobs of real Americans. Sound familiar?

Cut to 2018. On Saturday, the Irish will march proud and free down 5th Avenue, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with millions watching and cheering on the sidelines and TV.

Organizers have grown more tolerant over the years, finally allowing a gay group to march under its own banner in 2015. While some hailed the decision, others grumbled, including Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who called it “contemptible.” The parade continues to become more inclusive, despite complaints from those for whom tolerance seems to be a dirty word.

“The St. Patrick’s Day parade is a New York City tradition, but for years Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride,” said Bill de Blasio, who as mayor boycotted the parade until 2016. “Finally they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”

The spirited and hopefully peaceful parade, which dates back to 1762, will run from 11 a.m. through 5 p.m., and can be viewed from 44th to 79th Streets on 5th Avenue.

For the Irish, as well as women, gays, immigrants and those of all religions and colors, the words of John F. Kennedy, our first Irish-Catholic president, still ring true: “I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience…The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

Or as Lennon sang: If you could keep voices like flowers

There’d be shamrock all over the world.

Sounds like a plan. Enjoy the parade!

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Melania & Isabelle: A Tale of Two Immigrants

The EB-1 visa program allows immigrants who’ve achieved greatness in their fields to live permanently in the United States. Nicknamed the “Einstein visa,” it is reserved for a special few with “extraordinary ability.”

Immigration expert Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute said that only the top 2 percent of people in their fields qualify, telling The Washington Post that the “quintessential award you want to put on the application is Nobel Prize.”

Melania Knauss didn’t earn one of those, but in 1998 she snagged a famous boyfriend. She met Donald Trump at a party and they began dating. Two years later, Knauss was featured on the cover of British GQ, photographed nude on a fur rug on Trump’s private jet.

Did the former Slovenian model, now first lady Melania Trump, qualify for the EB-1 “extraordinary ability” visa she got?

Then what about Isabelle Muhlbauer of Jackson Heights? Muhlbauer is a Dreamer, an immigrant who was brought here illegally and who attended Baruch College. She was an intern at Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office of veterans affairs casework department.

She now works as a paralegal in the Veterans Assistance Project in the New York Legal Assistance Group, Muhlbauer told The New York Times. “I have the opportunity to work with a team that is committed to helping the low-income veteran population in NYC get access to the benefits they earned through their service.”

That is, if Muhlbauer isn’t deported. “I had hoped to attend law school to further advance my career in public interest law, but given the current uncertainty of what will happen with DACA, it’s become increasingly difficult to plan for the future,” she said.

The Supreme Court declined a request last week to immediately decide whether the Trump administration can end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation. It gives Muhlbauer and thousands of other law-abiding people like her breathing room until Congress or the courts act to make the Dreamers’ status legal — or not.

Meanwhile, with a green card, Melania Trump was now able to petition for her parents, who are obtaining U.S. citizenship under what her husband disparages as “chain migration.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

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