Tree Lighting Sparks Memories

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting is upon us, and the giant spruce will remain lit through Jan. 7. The event brings back memories that seem more appropriate for a poem than prose.

So here you go:

Tonight they’ll be lighting the Rock Center tree.

And floods of sweet memories will pour back to me

Of a young Brooklyn boy on his way to “the city.”

(“Brooklyn’s also the city!” would only draw pity.)

Those gigantic blond people blocking my view

Did not look at all like the neighbors I knew.

But tourists were part of the whole magic scene,

As the colored lights shined on pine needles of green.

The Christmas tree lighting drew loud gasps and cheers

As I looked up in wonder and mom held me near.

The skaters below were a dazzling sight

As they whirled ’round the rink on this mystical night.

These beautiful people of such style and grace

(Tho’ there always was one who’d fall smack on his face).

While I watched from above as ice queens below twirled,

I was so mesmerized by this magical world.

There were no TV hosts then to guide us along

No Roker, no Lauer, no one singing songs.

There was no Pentatonix and no Gwen Stefani,

Just my mom and my dad and my goofy friend Lonnie.

But that’s all we needed, my family and me,

And my friend and the rink and the lights and the tree.

This magical memory won’t fade away,

A tradition that carries on right ’til today.

The smiles on the faces, the season’s first snow,

New York at its best, and it still makes me glow.

The sights and the sounds and the sweet chestnut smell

As the lights filled the plaza — and our hearts as well.


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Holiday Warmth in Chilly Climate

In these stressful times, it’s vital to remember what we are thankful for. This Thanksgiving, people who get together only on the holidays may be shocked by guests’ political views. Careless seating arrangements can turn such formerly innocent Thanksgiving questions as “Who likes white, who likes dark?” into total chaos.

All the more reason to remember that in 2017, family and friends are more important than ever. So unless you all agree on the state of the nation, avoid political discussions at all costs!

But sometimes that’s easier said than done. In that case, take a deep breath and look across the table at someone you care about deeply. Think of the classic Jule Styne-Jimmy Durante lyric, “Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to? Love is the answer!”

That song, “Make Someone Happy,” says it all. And now’s your chance to create that warm holiday glow.

What to do first? Be on time! Smile. Give hugs. Share stories. Go around the table and say what you’re thankful for. Then go around again and tell the host and person beside you what you love most about them. Don’t hog the drumsticks. Don’t force your delicious, homemade cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie on someone who hates it. Be happy yourself — it’s contagious.

It’s not surprising that Thanksgiving ranks only behind Christmas as America’s favorite holiday, according to The Harris Poll. No obligations, no gifts, just gathering with loved ones to give thanks and stuff our faces with goodies (in fact, stuffing ranks just behind turkey as our favorite holiday food, according to the poll).

While President George Washington called for a national day of thanksgiving in 1789, it didn’t become an annual celebration until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it in 1863. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date from the last to the fourth Thursday in November.

And here we go again. The weather is finally starting to turn cold, and unfortunately, the political climate remains even chillier. It’s time to create our own warmth.

And it starts with family and friends. In the end, that’s all we’ve got — “the real stuff in life to cling to.” Keeping that in mind, have a happy Thanksgiving!

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The Super Rich Finally Catch a Break

Confused about the latest tax cut proposals out of Washington? Some of us will win, some will lose, but one thing is becoming clear: super rich people stand to super-duper benefit.

And it’s about time! After using tax dodges and loopholes available only to them, including hiding huge sums of cash in offshore accounts, some of our wealthiest citizens still actually had to pay taxes last year — and it really stressed them out.

Thankfully, President Donald Trump and Congress are coming to their rescue. Haven’t the wealthiest among us suffered enough? For example, last month five members of the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, made a collective $5 billion in one day without lifting a finger, when the company’s stock price shot up.

Which put enormous pressure on them. What to do with this unexpected windfall? Buy another house or two? Three or four new cars? Or just park the cash in a foreign bank or shell company? The pressure must be agonizing.

But isn’t this a bit obscene, you ask, especially when many of us must work two jobs just to get by? How many homes, cars and yachts can billionaires own? Many! Who do you think is putting bread on the table of luxury car and yacht salespeople? The filthy rich, that’s who!

Which is why Trump and Congress are looking to give these troubled kids a break. The elimination of the estate tax will mean the children of these heirs will also never have to get their hands dirty working, thank God.

“The deal is so bad for rich people, I had to throw in the estate tax just to give them something,” Trump actually said. Sad!

This explains why Congress keeps seeking creative new ways to help their suffering benefactors. Perhaps they will propose a steak-and-lobster exemption. No longer would the wealthy have to pay sales tax on these pricey meals, whether purchased in a restaurant or when the help runs out to fetch them. Of course, Congress will insist this is really geared to help cattlemen and lobster fishermen — the working man!

Who will eventually pay for these innovative tax breaks for the neglected rich? Hint: Are you standing in front of a mirror?

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A President Rages as the Noose Tightens

The president is still furious.

The Washington Post and The New York Times won’t let up on what they call “illegal activity” conducted by people on his campaign team. Worse, they now suggest that the president may be involved in what some call a betrayal of our democracy.

This is all fake news, he screams, as White House staff hear him rage through the doors of the Oval Office. He was not involved in wrongdoing, he says over and over. The lying press is our enemy!

But now, a special prosecutor is involved, and calling witnesses, as the noose slowly tightens. Will those closest to him take a plea deal and spill the beans? Whom can he trust in his inner circle? And the hardest question: Is he legally liable, and can he actually be impeached?

An aide testifies that not only did the president know all about these illegal activities, but that he might have secretly recorded all Oval Office conversations. If the special prosecutor gets his hands on these recordings, it indeed could be grim news for the president.

A few advise that before things get out of hand, he should fire the special prosecutor. Most on his legal team say that would only make it worse.

The president fires him anyway. A constitutional crisis erupts. All congressional business freezes, and the stock market plummets. The president appears to be in full meltdown, alternately screaming and teary-eyed.

The Democrats introduce a resolution for the president’s impeachment. A few Republicans decide to put patriotism over party and join them. The president’s poll numbers hit bottom. A bipartisan congressional delegation tells the president it has counted the potential impeachment votes, and he is doomed.

Realizing all hope of surviving the scandal has vanished, the president resigns, angrily proclaiming his innocence to the end. Protesters outside the White House gates chant, “Jail to the chief!”

Richard Nixon’s helicopter takes off from the White House lawn, as he waves defiantly. Gerald Ford is sworn in as president. The Watergate scandal has finally come to an end. Our long national nightmare is over.

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POTUS: The Ultimate Status Symbol?

Has the presidency become just another status symbol for billionaires, like yachts and arm-candy wives?

Since Donald Trump became president, other billionaires have sent out feelers for the 2020 election. They’re thinking that if a rich reality TV star with no political experience who bragged about groping women can be elected president, why not them?

Billionaire investor and reality TV show host Mark Cuban told The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd he is considering a 2020 run. As a Democrat? Republican? Independent? Doesn’t seem to matter much to Cuban, who said he would have accepted an offer to be either Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s running mate, according to Dowd. Hmm . . .

Meanwhile, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg also seems to be testing the waters, planning to visit all 50 states before 2017 ends. For those intoxicated by the idea of a President Zuckerberg, a quick viewing of “The Social Network” should sober you up.

But it’s not just male billionaires under consideration for a possible run. When New York Post columnist John Podhoretz called Oprah Winfrey the “Democrats’ best hope for 2020,” she tweeted, “Thanks for your vote of confidence!” Pollster Nate Silver tweeted, “She’s running.”

In ancient Rome, bread and circuses bought off the masses too apathetic to keep up with corrupt politics, until the empire crashed. Today, substitute tax-cut trickery and TV for “bread and circuses,” and you’ll see how our too-easily distracted population is pointing America toward that same cliff.

So let’s hope our 2020 choices aren’t only rich celebrities. The way things are going, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a reality show titled “POTUS: Let’s Choose America’s Next President!” featuring Trump, Cuban, Zuckerberg, Winfrey and God knows who else vying for the ultimate status symbol.

Imagine the excitement! With the outdated Electoral College under attack, perhaps you won’t even have to get off the couch__just tweet your preference. The winner becomes president, the runner-up vice president, and one lucky viewer ambassador to France.

Never happen, you say? All I can say is, please direct me to the local U.S. Copyright Office, pronto.

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Attack of the Hollywood Phonies

Much has been written about Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. But much like Bernie Madoff became the symbol of Wall Street corruption (has anyone else gone to jail?), Weinstein’s abysmal behavior is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hollywood’s sexism, bigotry and hypocrisy.

While patting themselves on the back for progressive values, many of the Hollywood elite have engaged in not only sexual abuse of females (and males) who work for them, but also blatant ageism and racism.

In 2016, Chris Rock hosted the Oscars, which had no African-American, Hispanic or Asian nominees (hashtag: Oscars So White), and launched the show with, “You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist!”

In 2010, 165 Hollywood writers settled a lawsuit alleging that networks, studios and talent agencies blocked writers older than 40 from employment on dramas or sitcoms. At the time, top-notch older writers would omit Emmy-winning shows from their resumes, fearful that it would give away their ages. The class-action suit was settled for $70 million.

Similarly, actresses are sometimes informed that they’re not young enough to play someone their actual age. In 2015, according to Vanity Fair, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, at 37, was told she was too old to believably play the love interest of a 55-year-old man!

Many on the right chortled when politically liberal Weinstein’s repulsive behavior was revealed. But they weren’t laughing when Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and host Bill O’Reilly were figuratively caught with their pants down at the network. Like Weinstein’s actions, Ailes’ and O’Reilly’s sexual harassment of female co-workers was an open secret at the company, but the men’s power to destroy careers made victims afraid to come forward.

In an age when everything is politicized, this behavior has nothing to do with left and right, and everything to do with power and money. And if you think it’s bad in show business, what about the men (and women) not in the public eye who abuse their power?

The victims of these entitled creeps aren’t famous, just ordinary people without a platform. Until we look at the bigger picture regarding such abuse, those victims will continue to suffer in silence.

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The Greatest President Ever?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that not only is President Trump an extraordinary president who gets things done (except a health care bill, the Mexican wall, and…okay, let’s not nitpick) he may well be the greatest president in history. Don’t believe me? Let’s go right to the horse’s um, mouth.

“With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” said Trump. “That I can tell you.”

And that he does, over and over. But why so modest, Mr. President? Did Lincoln ever build a “great, beautiful wall” between us and Mexico? Did he make Mexico pay for it? No, and no. At least Trump promised it. Will it ever happen? No way, Jose. But what an astounding idea!

Trump gave us an early peek at his magnificence when he proclaimed his inauguration crowd the biggest in history, even though comparative aerial photos clearly showed that wasn’t true. But great men don’t care about such mundane things as facts, conjuring their own “alternative facts”, as nimble Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway explained.

Speaking of which, to those who questioned Trump’s response to the recent, devastating hurricanes, particularly in Puerto Rico, where the mayor of San Juan pleaded for help as the president golfed and tweeted about football, Trump simply replied “We are doing a great job.” So there.

Last week experts warned Congress that North Korea might have the capacity to launch an electromagnetic pulse attack that can shut down the U.S. power grid and kill 90% of Americans within a year. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. was setting up lines of communication with North Korean president Kim Jong Un to prevent such a doomsday scenario.

The next day, Trump said Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” Then we learned Tillerson called the president a “moron”. Trump responded “if he said that, I guess we’ll just have to compare IQ tests, and I can tell you who’s going to win.”

We are constantly amazed that such an intellect now occupies the Oval Office. Sadly, as Trump has discovered, only those who share his level of intelligence can appreciate his greatness.


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Ignorance is Killing American Ideals

Students’ screams drown out an invited campus guest. The president curses a peacefully protesting football player and demands he be fired. And the words “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” now seem almost quaint.

A week ago, President Donald Trump asked in a tweet why the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn’t investigate media companies that report “fake news,” which in Trump-speak means real news he doesn’t want you to hear.

A week before, the College of William & Mary’s Black Lives Matter chapter prevented a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia from speaking by rushing the stage and screaming, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The ACLU would be the first to defend the free speech rights of Black Lives Matter if the same were tried on a member.

Social media has created a world where a growing number hear only ideas they agree with, and being confronted with a different point of view makes them furious, burst into tears or both. What they don’t realize is that shutting down the speech of others is a slippery slope, eventually leading to them being muzzled as well by the powers that be.

The First Amendment guarantees free speech, allowing even hateful white supremacists the right to protest peacefully in Charlottesville, Virginia. They crossed that line when they attacked counter-protesters, and one white supremacist is accused of deliberately driving his car into a crowd of them, killing Heather Heyer.

When those in power decide what speech is allowed, they’ll always ban speech that offends their values or is critical of themselves. Which brings us back to the man in the White House. He wants to expand libel laws, which would limit and punish free speech.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis believed the best way to counter bad speech is with good speech — not enforced silence. And while left wing groups shouting down speakers on campus and Trump demanding that peaceful protesters be punished might seem at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they are, unfortunately, both working to undermine our democracy.

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The Final Days of an American Hero

We all know what makes a hero. Bravery. Conscience. Honor.

John McCain is a genuine American hero. He was shot down during the Vietnam War and tortured by the Viet Cong. When they discovered he was the son of an admiral, his captors offered to release him. McCain refused unless his fellow prisoners of war were also released.

Five and a half years later, he came home, wounded but unbowed, entered politics, and has honorably served for three decades in Congress, four years in the House, and 30 in the Senate.

McCain is now in his final battle. My mother had brain cancer, so I know how it goes. Judging from his recent interview on “60 Minutes,” so does McCain, and the 81-year-old accepts his fate with dignity and pride in a life well lived.

Just 11 days after brain surgery, McCain flew from Arizona to Washington to cast the deciding no vote on a slapdash health care bill he believed was rushed through.

The president desperately wanted this bill passed to chalk up a win, and he belittled the senator. Indeed, McCain seems to hit a special nerve with him. Perhaps knowing he can never attain the bipartisan respect McCain garners, our draft-dodging commander in chief regularly attacks McCain, besmirching everything from his military service (“He’s not a war hero . . . I like people who weren’t captured”), to his vote on health care (“Disgraceful!”).

After the president recently mocked McCain at rallies in Alabama and elsewhere, many, including former Republican congressman and current cable host Joe Scarborough, reacted with disgust. “You have a man who is dying, and you’re using him for political punch lines?” Scarborough asked incredulously. “You have no humanity.”

I didn’t vote for McCain for president, but I would take him in a heartbeat over the national embarrassment now occupying the Oval Office. Our president can brag about his supposed billions, and stick his name on glitzy skyscrapers while stiffing the suppliers that helped build them, but he knows there’s one thing he can never buy: class.

McCain is the personification of class. And honor. And America. Thank you for your service, sir.

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Are You Smarter Than a Monkey?

In 2011, a monkey found a misplaced camera and took a selfie. The monkey could not have known that this innocent act would turn into a major, six-year lawsuit about ownership of the photo.

Naruto the monkey recently settled for 50,000 bananas plus 25 percent of profits from future sales of the image.

OK, only the second part is true. Representing Naruto, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals settled with camera owner David Slater. The money will be used to protect Naruto’s Indonesian habitat.

“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals,” said a joint statement.

Do animals have the same legal rights as humans? How did Naruto manage to take such a clear, well-framed photo? And are animals learning from humans how to be self-indulgent? (Monkey see, monkey do?)

Meanwhile, humans continue to embarrass their fellow primates, taking grinning selfies in such inappropriate situations and places as funerals, car crashes, the World Trade Center memorial and life-threatening, raging storms.

Just this month, a Florida man took a photo on the Key West coast as waves crashed nearby at the height of Hurricane Irma. As he preened for the picture, a wave engulfed him and dragged him toward the raging ocean. Dazed and punchy, he wobbled to his feet. The results of the near-fatal encounter taught the man not only to respect the awesome power of nature, but also to reflect on his own excessive narcissism.

Kidding! He actually grabbed his cellphone and took another photo.

Nearly two weeks earlier, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. In such a massive storm, animals, like humans, seek higher ground. In Houston, snakes slithered around homes, while footage from the suburb of Missouri City showed alligators swimming laps in a woman’s backyard.

A representative of Gator Squad, a Texas alligator-relocation company, felt the need to offer two directives: Don’t panic, and resist the urge to take selfies with alligators. I believe even Naruto would instinctively know better than that.

Monkeys and humans: Remind me again, which species is more evolved?

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