Dispatch from NH Primary: Monday before Election Day

Monday Dispatch – last day before election

Snow expected so we got an early start to beat bad weather.

Met Gov. Christie out of the revolving door into the Radisson in Manchester. Relaxed, friendly, shook my hand.

By the time we walk to Bernie Sanders event at the Palace, snow is falling.
Secret Service searches everyone, even press. Audience of 350, press of 150.

Bernie sounding more nasal than usual, must be nursing a cold.
Memorable lines:

“With the freedom they bought, Wall Street brought this economy into the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.”

“Getting an education in America should not be punished; it should be encouraged.”

Themes are a corrupt American campaign system is undermining democracy.
Democracy is not about billionaires buying elections.

I feel like I’m in a Frank Capra movie and Edward Arnold is about to turn the lights out.

Showtime from 4-6! Guests included Eric Trump, former Congressman, ambassador, and Steve Chaggaris of CBS news. Find on iTunes as podcast or WGCH.com.

We hightail it to Trump rally at Verizon arena, snow coming down. Traffic cop ushers us across a major intersection diagonally across the street- that’s a first. Waaaay around back is press entrance, again secret service, many of them.

It’s a big snow, yet the arena is almost full. Tiny Dancer followed by Andrea Boccelli and the Rolling Stones; I’m at a political rock concert. Crowd a bit scruffy, angry, passionate. The Donald intros his beautiful family, then takes the stage for an hour. Rhetoric in a million directions, constantly interrupts himself with random thoughts and comments, mostly about the nuances and his grievances about the campaign itself. Uses the word “pussy” for mere shock value; the man is a born entertainer, plays to the basest impulses of the crowd. That’s the scary Trump. The inspirational Trump has great ideas and some gutsy convictions. Which one will we get if we elect him?

Tomorrow we begin to find out.


Which headlines will we remember?

The best thing about doing a talk radio show is that I get to decide what you need to hear.  But with so much information coming at us from all directions, what is most important? The Wall Street Journal has a favorite feature on the front page, called “What’s News”.  Daily stories are summarized in no more than a sentence, in no particular order. Among the blurbs are digests of business, politics, health, lawsuits.  Which will have been more important to have paid attention to, ten years from now? Will it be “Dangerous climate change will be essentially irreversible by 2017, the International Energy Agency warned.”  Could it be “A drug that kills fat cells caused significant weight loss in obese monkeys. Human trials could start next year.”  Maybe the most important headline will have been “The US and Europe sought to present a unified stance against Iran following a UN nuclear report. Russian vowed to block new sanctions.”

I ponder the ranking of headlines a lot.  I think about sifting among the news debris for the stories to which we all need to pay attention. Obviously, I cannot answer the question I pose.  If all of us understood the consequences of irreversible climate change, would it really make a difference? Human nature being what it is (rotten),  our lust for creature comforts rather insatiable, I highly doubt that we would change our habits even were we to know the exact date on which all the living creatures on this planet would perish. On the contrary, I can just imagine people taking the opposite tack- living for today in a hedonistic,  devil-may-care fashion.

With the human population surging toward record- breaking levels of diabetes, could it be that a hardly noticed study on obese monkeys will have been the pivotal moment in the fight against obesity? How should I know? I’m still upset about experimentation on monkeys. Why do they deserve to have been force fed to obesity, just so we could find a drug to help us do what we all know we ought to do- shut our mouths and not fill them with sugar every single day? I ask this as a rhetorical question only. Leave the monkeys alone. If you must, experiment on people; we deserve it. Only tell us about it first.

Then there is Iran.  Simple, yet complicated Iran. A President who denies the Holocaust and lives to speak at Columbia University and the United Nations. A saber-rattling , Jew-hating, America- hating, rascist homophobe who threatens the world with nuclear destruction.  Are we to believe his threats?  If so, how dare we not act preemptively to stop him and his army?  If we do not believe the threats, what is the best response?  Do we ignore the bully or stand him down?  President Obama chooses to watch and wait. Watching and waiting can be dangerous. They can mislead an enemy into thinking he has the upper hand.  Perhaps our friends will conclude the same; perhaps they too believe that Iran has the upper hand. As I said, watching and waiting can be dangerous business.

Join me Monday through Friday on the Lisa Wexler Show as we ponder, sift, explore and discover. I promise not to tell you what to think, at least most of the time. I do, however, promise to make you think.






Halloween, Walmart & “Adult” Trick or Treaters

Watch this TV Commercial: An 8 year old boy, trick or treating, comes upon a basket of candy with a sign saying “Please take one only.”  He takes one piece of candy. Next up the walk is a little girl, maybe age 4. She takes a whole bunch of candy. Boy: “The sign says to take one only”.  Girl: “I can’t read”. Whereupon, the girl skips along her merry way with lots of candy. Close up final shot- The boy stands there with his one piece of candy, looking like a schmuck, feeling like he is being punished for obeying the rules.  The tag- line- Buy Walmart.  Funny, right?  Ha ha.  The little boy is the sucker, the little girl the winner. Now that she actually knows the rules, she feels free to ignore them because she has the excuse of not being able to read.   Is her excuse really a defense?  As a lawyer, I can tell you it certainly does not work that way in our criminal justice system.  Not only is actual ignorance not a defense, but in this case the little girl knew the rule but flouted it anyway. But forget about the law, let’s talk ethics here. Let’s talk about the right thing to do, vs. the thing that you can get away with doing.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mZiu3C_5Xg . I’ve read the comments.  “The commercial is funny, get a life…” It is usually really funny to see other people look like fools. But is it really funny to see a kid look like a fool?  Is that the message Walmart wants to send?

We talked about this commercial on Friday on the show, which you can listen to here: Halloween A PieceA Lisa Podcast. The commercial left me feeling really uncomfortable for a host of reasons. First, I would have been the goody-goody boy standing there with the one piece of candy.  That’s just me.  People like us get taken advantage of in life, because there are other people who have no compunction about taking more of what does not belong to them in the first place.  We goody-goodies don’t like cheaters.  We see this little girl as a cheater, pure and simple, and we hate when cheaters get away with cheating. We have a very highly developed sense of right and wrong, and it often bites us in the tush.  We also have a very large folder entitled, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”.  This little boy honored the request of the candy-giver, and walked away with only one piece of candy.  What is the lesson? Next time, take the whole thing. Don’t leave any candy for the little girl who came after you. Take as much as you can get away with; no one is looking anyway.  We are quite self-righteous, we goody-goodies.My listeners are smarter than I am.  One saw this as an apt analogy to Occupy Wall Street and  the “Greed is Good” ethos. In his view, this commercial was simply a reflection of the way we behave now. We have no moral reservations about getting away with things, about taking more than our fair share. Another said that Walmart was trying to make the point that we adults should buy a lot of candy because kids take more than you think they will take. This point sailed right over my head, so if you are listening, Mr. Walmart, I think you might want to make that point clearer the next time.   Another said that he had viewed the commercial that morning and it had stayed with him all day; he could not believe we were discussing it on the show.  Weird, how sometimes we are all thinking the same things.

Then the conversation morphed, as they so often do. We discussed today’s Halloween parents. The perennial tag-alongs, the ones who can’t cut that umbilical cord and then complain that their kids are too dependent on them.  I found out that some parents actually carry their own bags for candy.  Their own bags! I was speechless, a true rarity. Apparently, there are others who tote newborns and young toddlers on the trick or treating trail. Last time I checked, infants weren’t dining out on Snickers.  The phenomenon of adults crying for their lost youth, lost in the excitement of free candy, would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.  Sad, and also disgusting.  Tomorrow night for Halloween this family will hand out the goodies as usual.  Reese’s, Skittles and whatever else I can buy that I won’t eat myself. Reese’s is the big temptation, but I am passing the extras on to my son.  The same son who, incidentally, would have been the first to grab the entire bowl of candy without even a second thought.  Who said  we goody-goody parents have children that listen to us anyway?  Not I.

Happy Halloween.

Reflections of a Mute

Here it is, the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, our most holiest of holidays, and I wake up mute. Stricken with laryngitis.  What is the meaning of this, I ask?  Why am I voiceless on this particular day, a day I should be spending in shul and with my closest family and friends? Instead of spending time in synagogue, I run to my acupunturist’s office to see if he can do magic to make my voice reappear. Instead of sharing matzoh ball soup with my Aunt Cooky, I am reheating leftovers and watching old movies in bed.  Why?

My first thought is that God is punishing me for something I must have done wrong.  They don’t call it Jewish guilt for nothing.  My second thought is that maybe God is sending me a message that I should get off the radio.  But that can’t be true, since I love it too much.

Laryngitis is familiar territory.  I usually get it about once a year, and always in the fall.  It has a pattern.  If my voice shuts down completely, I am mute for an entire week.  I can drink all the ginger tea in the world, and I do, but nothing will bring it back for at least seven full days once it has gone really dead.  If I am lucky enough to retain a whisper, I can cut that to four days with a good massage.  The massage breaks up the spasm and puts the fluid back where it belongs.

I do seem to contract laryngitis during periods of great stress.  I came down with a memorable case during the week I ran for the Zoning Board of Appeals.  My father stood with me on the campaign trail, pointing in the most endearing way, and saying “This is my daughter Lisa.  Will you vote for her? She can’t speak.”  I won by the way, proving the point that the public prefers politicians who keep silent.  At least that way they can’t break promises they had no intention of keeping.

When you can’t talk, you can’t do a lot of things. You can’t answer your phone, because every time you try, the other person hangs up. You can’t make a call yourself because they think you are making an obscene phone call.  In the days before e-mail (which was not as long ago as it seems) having laryngitis meant that I was on an enforced vacation.  I am an attorney. You can’t make a deal when you can’t talk about it.  For the last five years, I have been on the radio. Even more is at stake now.

This is the beginning of our New Year, a time when we Jews traditionally go inward, asking God for forgiveness as He and we tally our sins. We resolve to repent and do better in the future. We implore God to seal us and our loved ones into the Book of Life for another year. Our tradition is to ask forgiveness by throwing bread in running water, symbolically casting away our old sins and starting the year with a fresh, clean slate.

As I was walking toward the duck pond, bread in hand, I had a revelation. I knew why God had struck me voiceless today.  When you have laryngitis, you are forced to conduct a dialogue with yourself in your own head. People don’t pay much attention to you when you can’t answer them back.  You become a non-person.  Most people aren’t patient enough even to wait for you to finish writing down your sentence on a notepad.  Try pretending to be mute for one whole day and see how much of life you are disconnected from, how you more fully inhabit your own cerebral space.

There is an awful lot of stuff going on in my personal life right now.  I have hard choices to make. This Rosh Hashanah is not as unencumbered as some others; there is so much transition going on with every member of my family. I like things to be settled. I often refer to myself as a tree that plants roots and grows branches.  Downward for a strong and wide foundation, upward for growth and learning.  But life comes at us anyway. Life forces us to be unsettled. Life shakes our complacency. It rearranges the furniture.    No matter how many people I ask for advice, in the end I have to be the decider. To decide well, I need that enforced quiet that comes from having only one’s own thoughts as company.  I need to converse with God and myself.  And I need to be surrounded by enough quiet to hear some of the answers.

I have decided to be grateful for this year’s bout of laryngitis.  Perhaps it will do me some good.   In the meantime, I am praying it will disappear by Monday. I still need to be on the radio.

More on McDowell Case- Norwalk Homeless Mom Arrested for Wrong School District

Tonight the NAACP got into the act, funding legal representation for homeless mom Tonya McDowell, who was charged with grand larceny for the offense of lying about her address on a school form application to send her five -year old son to kindergarten in Norwalk.  They retained Attorney Darnell Crossland, who was introduced to the press as the next Johnny Cochran. With all due respect to the late Johnny Cochran, he will be best remembered as the guy who got off OJ Simpson, guilty as sin of the double murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.  Not sure you want to make that comparison at the outset, if your claim is that Ms. McDowell has been treated unjustly.

The NAACP asserted that Ms. McDowell had been strip searched upon her arrest, and that the officer in charge was instructed to ” search her like they do in Niantic.”  Reportedly, the officer objected, but was told to do it anyway, and complied.  Much hullballoo ensued, rightly so. A strip search for a parent who lied about a school district?  Sounded rather zealous to me, and to many others.  Chief of Police Harry Rilling reviewed the videotape and invited Ms. McDowell’s attorney to see it as well. Conclusion? No cavity search, no real “strip search”.   Did Ms. McDowell lie or were her statements manipulated by others?  At this point, we don’t know.  

 The NAACP also disclosed that Ms. McDowell was questioned by narcotics officers while being charged with this crime, hinting that another agenda was at work by the Police Department, and that they might have been trying to solicit information about drug use in the area. On these facts, the attorney and the NAACP were vague.   Mayor Moccia said  on The Lisa Wexler Show that McDowell was charged with selling narcotics within limits of a school.  More than that, we don’t know yet.

Also disclosed was the fact that the Norwalk prosecutor, Suzanne Mieux, is Mayor Dick Moccia’s stepdaughter.  I didn’t know that.  If so, that might explain Mayor Moccia’s resistance to dropping this case altogether.  He really should.  As more facts come out, it becomes clearer that this woman was singled out for some reason, that she really is homeless, and that the system has utterly failed the little boy.

 I asked Attorney Crosland if  this case was about getting the case against McDowell dismissed, or about making the case that all children should be able to go to whatever school they want , regardless of their residence.  He said that his first duty was to his client, of course, but that there was also a movement to allow residences of grandparents to count as well as parents.  Crosland agreed with this movement. 

Incidentally, Mayor Moccia said that the boy was now attending school in Bridgeport because he was living with his grandmother.  Ms. McDowell contradicted that- she said in fact that they were staying with friends in Bridgeport, not relatives.  The family appears to be truly homeless.  Why won’t Mayor Moccia step up to try and make this case disappear?  If 20 other parents per year try the same thing, and their only punishment is disenrollment, then why make an example of this poor woman?  She needs help, not jail.

Crosland  stressed that he thought much of this was  about tight budgets, about cities trying to save money in tough times. I don’t agree.  Ms. McDowell got caught in the wrong bureaucracy.  A lie to the Housing Authority was not merely a lie on a school application form.  The Housing Authority has legal staff, and they have duties to report falsehoods when they see them.  Once reported to the prosecutor, the issue of judgment arose.  Therein lies the crux. This particular prosecutor chose to go ahead and prosecute this case.  Perhaps if she had done more research about similar incidents in the past, she would have handled it differently. She might simply have brought it to the school’s attention and a due process hearing would have begun, instead of a criminal prosecution.  Now Ms. Mieux’s back is up against the wall.  Politicians like Sen. Larry Cafero are supporting her. She is probably listening only to the people who tell her she is right.  That is what happens sometimes in life. 

 Ms. Mieux, I write this to you. Hear your inner voice and drop the case.  You are going down a road you can’t win.  Homeless parents don’t deserve incarceration, they deserve a hand up.

Norwalk Woman Arrested for Wrong School District?

Maya Angelou cautions to tell the truth, not the facts.  But I like to start with the facts- then maybe, if we are lucky, we can discern some truth.  What we know is that a Norwalk woman, Tonya McDowell, was arrested in Norwalk for lying about her residency so that her five year old son could attend the public schools in Norwalk. She was charged with felony grand larceny for “theft of services” to the tune of over $15,000 which is what Norwalk claims is the cost of one year’s worth of public education.  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/policereports/article/Bridgeport-woman-arrested-for-registering-son-in-1340009.php

What else do we know?  According to Richard Moccia, the Mayor of Norwalk, who appeared on The Lisa Wexler Show , Thursday, April 21, 2011, Ms. McDowell was also arrested for selling narcotics within the proscribed limit of a school.  Ms. McDowell has a criminal record which includes robbery. Ms. McDowell’s last known residency in Norwalk was when she registered at a homeless shelter in 2009.  According to Mayor Moccia, the original criminal complaint came from a private party who complained that she was being physically threatened by Ms. McDowell.  The boy’s father is currently incarcerated.   You can hear the entire interview yourself here:   Mayor Moccia Interview Lisa Wexler Show 4/21 .

So now that we know at least some of the facts, we need to ask: Are these facts relevant?  Do we care about the history or actions of the mother, when the issue really concerns the education of a young child.  Prof.  Boyce Watkins does not think so.  He thinks the mother’s criminal record is immaterial because he believes every child should have the right to receive a great public school education, and in his view, the mom was doing the right thing in lying in order to achieve this end.  Hear his interview on the show as well at  Whole Show April 21 including Prof Watkins .

Why does this case provoke such strong reactions?  Because of Francie Nolan, the heroine of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, whose mother washed floors,  sacrificed, and even lied, so that her daughter could get the education she deserved. We rooted for Francie, we cried when she received that diploma.

This case provokes strong reactions because we all know that where a kid goes to school can determine his or her entire future.  Because we all know that there is injustice, inequity, and too much disparity between our best public schools and our worst ones, often located within blocks of each other. Forget about blocks away from each other- they might as well be worlds away from each other. Because we all know that we have to do better, that no matter what the troubles of the parents, our children deserve better.

Here is the other hand of the story:  The other hand is that adults make choices and those choices have consequences. There are adults that work hard to break the cycle of poverty, drug abuse and crime so that their children can attend better schools, because those adults can afford to pay for them.  For adults  who are poor but who wish for a better life for their kids, there are many government programs and subsidies designed to give those kids a leg up.  Sometimes the kids themselves have to show the initiative and promise, other times it is as simple and as cruel as a winning lottery ticket.

I asked Prof Watkins a pointed question that he could not adequately answer: If you take the position that all kids deserve the best education, then why charge admission of over 50k per year at Syracuse University, where you yourself are employed? Why shouldn’t higher education be subject to the same standard as you would hold the lower grades, and how can you justify earning your salary at an institution which so obviously discriminates on the basis of one’s pocketbook? He couldn’t answer, and neither can we, without admitting something that all of us already know. The world isn’t perfect. Money still buys privileges, including that of a better education. Therefore, one needs to work hard and earn money.  Your other alternative? Don’t have kids you can’t afford to raise.

I can argue both points of view because I’ve seen real life examples of those hard-working adults, and yet I know too that no kid deserves bad parents. No kid should have to be resigned to a fate of hopelessness and poverty because of the unhappy accident of having parents who made poor choices.

What would I do here?  The answer is this particular case seems pretty simple, and I believe Mayor Moccia will do his best to achieve a just result.  On the charge of lying about a school district, an investigation should be held as to where the mother really, truly lives. If she has a residence in Bridgeport, as is being supposed, then her child should go to school there, but the state should be involved to supplement his education with head start, day care and other programs that will be useful to the child and enable the mom to have time during the day to work. The state should help her find a job because with that criminal record behind her, she is virtually unemployable otherwise.  If she is homeless, Mayor Moccia has said that Norwalk has a program to help her and her child enroll in school and job training programs.

On the criminal end? I would drop the charges of grand larceny.  Incarcerating the mom won’t help anyone, and besides, the mother did not do anything to deserve being  jailed. She did not commit an act of violence that would require her to be quarantined from society.  She lied on a school form.  Big deal.  She got caught. I can already hear the pleas of people saying that if she isn’t adequately punished, then what will stop other mothers from doing the same thing?   Nothing ever has and nothing ever will. Until we really address the inequities in our school districts, this kind of thing will keep happening.  It’s hard to blame a parent for trying.

Next stop? Do what is in the best interests of the family.  Maybe this little boy will be tomorrow’s Francie Nolan.

All in the Family

When you are living your life, you do not have the time to stop and write about it. Such has been the case for the last two weeks of my life, on our non-stop, all out, everywhere- at -once book tour, inaugurating our paperback edition of “Secrets of a Jewish Mother” (Penguin/New American Library).  

“Secrets” was a labor of love, written by my mother, Gloria Kamen, my sister, Jill Zarin, and me.  The idea was born in the winter of 2009, the proposal was completed by the spring,  and the writing began on June 25, 2009.  Most of the book was finished before we even signed our book contract.  The manuscript was submitted on October 13, 2009, an auspicious birthday.    Rewriting, with the input of our wonderful editor, Carrie Thornton, took a couple of months. The book was ready to print by Christmas, and released last April.

Since then, the book has been purchased for translation into Chinese, Russian and Japanese.  Recently, the book was awarded a Connecticut Press Club prize.  We added a bullying chapter for the addendum because we thought it was timely and important.

Sometimes you achieve a dream you never even knew you had. Such is the case with calling myself an “author”. The book is personal, the pictures are real, and of my childhood.   Jill wanted us to write a book to create a reason to be together as a family, and she was right.  On the tour, Mom and the two of us have appeared on television, in radio and in newspapers. We are having a ball.  Mom is a born comedienne; if you are lucky enough to meet her in person, you will see that she is truly larger than life.  As she says when we are acting out, “Just remember, girls. You’re the copies. I’m the Original.”  Indeed she is.

Jill slept in my bed for two nights last week. Ginger, too. Poor Sugar felt left out; she ran to sleep with Bill in the basement.  Sister time- when do we ever have that? Precious, rare time together. Would Mom and Dad have otherwise traveled in March to see us for two weeks? No way, Jose. I’m even seeing a Broadway show with Dad on Saturday afternoon. Thank you , “Secrets.”  You are the gift that keeps giving.

By the way, if you want to hear us live in my studio for the Lisa Wexler show, last Friday, March 4th, here is the link http://livewithlisaradio.com/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=listcats&cat_id=152&Itemid=351