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Somehow James Comey, the presumably mild-mannered former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has morphed into one of the most pivotal characters in the recent history of American presidential politics. Not since the days of the never-to-be-missed J. Edgar Hoover, the venal, vicious and racist cross-dressing founder of the FBI, has the Director of the FBI exerted such history-changing influence. And it is reasonable to ask, Lordy, how did this happen?

Even a cursory analysis reveals that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump thrust the game-changing role onto Mr. Comey, although there is no indication that when the role was offered, he didn’t exhibit any reluctance in fully embracing that role.

Consider James Comey’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Between his midsummer announcement that there would be no further investigation of Secretary Clinton and his stunning reversal 11 days before the election that the FBI investigation of the presidential candidate had resumed, Mr. Comey exerted incredibly undue influence on the presidential election and in all likelihood handed an unthinkable upset victory to Donald Tinyhands.

Of course it can be argued that if a private e-mail server was not installed in Secretary Clinton’s bathroom in her Chappaqua home there would have been no story about hidden e-mails, there would have been no death by a thousand cuts disclosure of the content of those e-mails and there would have been no Congressional investigations and there would have been no FBI investigation. And, of course, there would have been no faux savior of democracy role for James Comey to assume.

Similarly, if the coterie of advisors, sycophants and wannabe’s surrounding Donald Tiny hands had not pursued contact with the Russians like besotted sophomore suitors, there would have been nothing for Mike Flynn, Jared Kutsher and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to deny. And then there would be no need to cover up surreptitious correspondence, meetings and a rendezvous in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

And then there would be nothing for the FBI to investigate and no reason for Donald Tinyhands to demand a Godfatheresque ring-kissing pledge of personal loyalty from an appalled James Comey. And then there would be no contemporaneous memoranda penned by Mr. Comey and then there would be Senate Intelligence hearings like the one held on June 7th and June 8th.

However fascinating alternative history might be, it is best left to Harry Turtledove and other authors of that genre. Actual history indicates that Secretary Clinton did create the e-mail server morass giving her sworn enemies just enough morsels of pseudo scandal to bring about the chain of events that resulted in James Comey becoming a key player in her electoral downfall in 2016.

Similarly, by pursuing the fool’s errand of dancing with the devil that is Vladimir Putin, Donald Tinyhands and his henchmen and henchwomen provided his sworn enemies with more than enough reason to sound echoes of Watergate and Iran Contra thereby casting James Comey in the role of Sir Galahad on a mission to save democracy.

By all accounts, James Comey is a decent and dedicated public servant who does not have a devious bone in his body. Nevertheless, Machiavelli himself could not have constructed a series of actions and strategies that resulted in Mr. Comey having such history-changing influence on the fate of over 300 million Americans.

The question is not whether James Comey is a hero or a villain. The question may turn out to be whether the ensuing chaos and turmoil in American politics are the unintended consequences of blind and oblivious dedication to duty.

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It has been said before and it is worth repeating, the best way to boil a frog is to place it in a pot of water and then slowly raise the temperature until, before he knows it, the frog is cooked and ready for dinner. And in some ways, too many ways, the American electorate is rapidly morphing into that boiled frog, especially when it comes to one Donald J. Trump.

When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for president, he was considered a side show, a carnival act who would serve as the intro act before the presumptive main event players like Bush, Rubio, Kasich and all the other forget me nots and remember me nevers that became forgotten in the Trump avalanche. If Trump was considered a danger to America it was because too many people would hurt themselves laughing at his gaucherie, buffoonery and defiance of facts, logic and basic intelligence. And the American Frog barely stirred.

When the Trump campaign started to move into high gear, winning primary after primary notice was surely taken. But his bankruptcies, outright lies, misogyny, blatant racism, invisible tax returns, numerous sexual assaults and multiple frauds (remember Trump University?) were clear warning signs that Donald Trump could be a dangerous man if he ever became president. The needle moved on the water temperature, but again, the American Frog barely stirred.

By the time that he secured the Republican nomination for president, some real consideration of the danger that President Trump could represent to the Republic was a topic of serious conversation and commentary – if only occasionally. After all, it was incomprehensible that women, working class white men and the working poor would vote against their self-interest and actually elect a man who promised to promote programs and initiatives that were decidedly wrong for them. By now the temperature in which the American Frog was swimming, would have been too hot at first, but by now the American Frog was getting used to the heat.

In his inaugural speech, President Trump spoke of the nonexistent “carnage” in this country and set the stage for creating a climate of crisis that so-called strong men from Caesar to Peron have used to justify the exercise of extraordinary personal powers. By then the American Frog was truly cooked, but it has taken awhile for the erstwhile electorate of 2016 to realize that we are now on the verge of becoming history’s biggest entrée.

Beginning with a flurry of blatantly unconstitutional executive orders and institutionalizing nepotism as the new normal in American government, Donald Trump has shown a truly amazing disregard for history, science and the value and importance of constitutional governance.

He has also chosen to erase the visible progress of racial and gender diversity in American society by choosing to surround himself with as many white men as he can find to the exclusion of blacks, Latinos, Asians and women of any and every color. Indeed, the LGBTQI community is now so isolated in the Era of Trump that they may want to keep an eye out for errant Immigration Control Enforcement agents who might get carried away during their deportation sorties.

We have now also learned that in the Era of Trump it can always get worse. And this week, in what appears to be an expression of monumental narcissistic pique, Donald Tinyhands stomped his feet in rage and fired FBI Director James Comey because he didn’t feel that Mr. Comey was a “team player”. What President Trump didn’t mention is that Mr. Comey was relentlessly pursuing the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign, the Trump administration and President Trump himself.

While we know that President Trump treats the Constitution like a soiled Mar A Lago dinner napkin, it is still stunning to find out that he believes that the American people will believe that he fired the FBI Director for his mishandling of the matter of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Somehow we are supposed to forget who was that orange-haired leader of the “Lock Her Up” chants that echoed through the campaign.

It is said that pride goes before the fall. In the case of President Trump, this epic constitutional crisis that he has created with his own Tinyhands is almost a sure predicate to his eventual fall. What we should worry about is whether America falls with him.

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It is way past time that we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. How many times can we endure witnessing the irony of “Black Lives Matter” signs being raised in protest every time a white police officer kills a black American while a few pitiful candles are lit on a street corner when a black person murders another black person?

The statistics are painfully eloquent on the matter. The homicide rate in the American white community is 2.2 per 100,000. The homicide rate in the American black community is 17 per 100,000. Further, 93% of the killers of black Americans are black Americans. The most useful FBI statistics indicate that white police officers kill black Americans about 100 times a year.

It is time that we must walk and chew gum simultaneously. In order to establish any hope of shared public safety and faith in the criminal justice system that every unlawful incident of murder by cop be prosecuted with appropriate punishment being part of the expected protocol.

But it is also just as important that the national black community respond with similar vigor and anger and energy every time that a black person kills another black person. Rationalizing these murders as being cause families does little or nothing to comfort the orphan or widow or parent who has to witness their loved one being placed six feet underground.

The glorification and glamorizing of murderous thug culture with entertainers running around with names like “Murdah” and “Al Capone” and “Young Thug” create a logical connection between destructive culture and destructive behavior. Accepting black people murdering black people as inevitable will doom the national black community to an existence of pervasive fear, violence and hopelessness.

Why is it that “Black Lives Matter” only when the killer is a white policeman? If black police officers were killing 5000 black people a year there would be daily marches and appeals to the United Nations to stop the obvious institutional genocide. But the facts are that black people are killing over 5000 black people every year and the protest and outrage is muted in comparison to the hue and cry over Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland and now North Charleston.

This is not to give a pass to state-sanctioned violence against black Americans. As has been noted in prior columns, the history of this country is stained by the racist murder of black Americans dating back to slavery and Jim Crow and lynching and the continuation of Murder by Cop. Every time a black person is killed under the color of law, the law itself is undermined and compromised. Every time a black person is killed by a police officer or vigilante (see George Zimmerman) the spirit of this country is diminished.

There can be no explanation, no rationalization and no justification for the carnage suffered by black Americans at the hands of officers of the law. But the carnage suffered by black Americans at the hands of black Americans is also horrible and the sheer number of deaths involved should arouse Americans of every hue to rise in opposition to this self-inflicted genocide.

It makes no sense to focus solely on Murder by Cop when the Lurking Monster continues to rampage through the national black community devouring men, women and children literally on a daily basis. It is possible; indeed it is imperative, that we rise up in protest to both categories of killings. After all, the victims of both outrages are just as dead and our voices of protest should be just a loud.

We simply must walk and chew gum at the same time.

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CHAPTER 7
Sture
A friend in need

I have found that most Americans think of Scandinavia as a region of four countries made up of the same people. Most Americans think that the difference between Finland and Denmark is like the difference between Los Angeles and Long Beach – not enough to spend time thinking about it. Clearly their ignorance is based on lack of information.

The Danes hate the Swedes; the Norwegians hate the Danes, the Swedes
hate the Norwegians, and nobody understands the Finns. Or cares.

After all, Finland is a country where the primary form of recreation is dancing the tango (!!!), yet it has a suicide rate just below that of the local lemming community. Even within each of the Scandinavian countries there are serious differences, and that is where my story begins.
Norway has been a monarchy for centuries, and even though there is now a democratically-elected parliament, there is an anti-monarchist movement that continues to believe that the institution is an anachronism that simply has to go.

Before I dropped out of the university in Bergen, I was part of a student anti-monarchist organization and when I came to the United States I continued to stay in touch with my former colleagues.

I should add that, like many student protest organizations, the Norwegian Anti-Monarchist Movement, or NAMM, was not that serious and was certainly no threat to the monarchy of Norway. I remember that when I was at the university, we used to spend most of our time sitting around drinking beer and smoking Turkish hashish, and telling sordid, bawdy jokes about the king and his family.

We composed an inflammatory pamphlet or two along with a few half-hearted demonstrations hardly drew flies and certainly drew less attention. But we thought that, in some way, what we were doing was important, and we managed to maintain an inconsistently consistent persistence about our point of view.

I guess that is why, when I got to New York, I continued to stay in touch with my friends from NAMM who, if the truth be told, were my only friends at school. And that is why I would send a few dollars back to Bergen from time to time to help support the activities of my friends in NAMM.

And, when I say a “few dollars”, I mean fifty dollars here, a hundred dollars there, since there was never a lot of money in the dishwashing business. It all seemed completely innocent and somewhat noble and righteous.

So you can imagine my surprise when two FBI agents were waiting for me at Ilse’s apartment when I came home from work at two o’clock in the morning. Waiting for me!

It turns out that some of my erstwhile friends with NAMM had turned their infatuation with Turkish hashish into a commercial enterprise, selling the potent product in more than a few neighborhoods in Bergen. And, not being satisfied with being minor league drug dealers, they had also accessed the Internet and gotten instructions for constructing a rather primitive pipe bomb which they managed to explode under a Carlsberg (the irony of it all, a Danish beer!!) beer truck in the vicinity of the king’s palace in Oslo.

The FBI agents questioned me through the rest of the night, first at Ilse’s and then at their headquarters in lower Manhattan. I was allowed to go with the very dire warning that I was in a lot of trouble and that I should consult a lawyer as it was very likely that I was going to be questioned again in the near future.

I remember as it were yesterday. I dressed for work at the Water Club that late afternoon feeling absolutely adrift and in a haze. I had been stupid and I had been betrayed by stupid, stupid friends, a really great combination in life. Now every hope and dream of mine was sitting on a tiny bubble of hope that sat in the FBI offices. A place where hopes go to die. I knew that I needed to consult a lawyer and had no idea where to turn.

In retrospect, I imagine I could have asked my employer, Mr. O’Keefe to recommend someone. And maybe I should have. But something told me that it would have marked me forever in his eyes.

No boss wants to hear that a trusted employee is in trouble with the FBI. Just like no boss likes to loan money to his employees or hear about their marital problems. This problem was my problem and it was just too much of a problem to take to my boss.

As I finished dressing for work that evening and came out of the employee’s locker room and into the restaurant area of the Water Club, I spied Paul Taylor at the bar, waiting for his date as it turned out. As soon as I saw him, it was like an inspiration and a revelation. When people speak about an “epiphany”, I now know what they mean, because on that early afternoon, seeing Paul Taylor was my epiphany.

I immediately realized that Paul was not only a lawyer, but he was devoid of obvious pretensions. He was not like a number of people who felt that owning a Platinum American Express Card gave them the right to look down their noses at other people and to act in any way they felt. I don’t know how I knew that. I just did.

Maybe it was in the way that he remembered the names of the waiters and the bartenders, or maybe it was in the solicitous but sincere way in which he treated his guests, male or female. All I know is that all of my intuitive, lifesaving radar told me to talk to Paul Taylor. Now!

In the twenty minutes before his date arrived I was able to tell Paul my entire sad and sordid story. To his everlasting credit, he showed little or no reaction, but clearly understood the gravity of my situation.

He gave me his card, told me to call him the following afternoon to arrange an appointment to see him before the end of the week. Needless to say, at 12:01 p.m. the next day, I called his office and was given an appointment at 4:30 that day, which would give me just enough time to get to my job in a timely fashion since Paul’s office was at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, not exactly a stone’s throw away from the Water Club. But, of course, I had no choice but to be there.

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CHAPTER 8
Sture
Just like magic

To make a very long story very short, by the time I had gotten to his office, Paul had called one of his ubiquitous classmates from college (Dartmouth) or law school (Harvard), who in this instance worked for the FBI. As Paul put it, “Once I explained to him that you were a Norwegian knucklehead who posed no danger to the security or safety of the United States, it was a pretty simple conversation.”

There was no plea bargaining, because there were never any charges. It was as if the entire nightmare had never happened and Paul Taylor was Mandrake the Magician. I mean it when I say that, from that moment on, I was eternally grateful to Paul, and he certainly has had my full faith, support and loyalty ever since.

The best part is that, aside from not charging me a fee for an invaluable service, Paul has literally never mentioned this episode again. Ever. It was like it had never happened. And for that I am thankful as well.

There are too many people who want to lord their good deeds over you until you are sorry that they ever helped you in the first place. That was not the way with Paul Taylor. I simply consider it my good fortune that he has considered me a friend, then, and in all the years since.

And it has been through Paul Taylor that I learned about The Pride. After my NAMM episode, I could not help but be more attentive to him when he came to the Water Club. Of course he never had to wait for a table again. There were the other courtesies, the best tables with the best views, the complimentary cocktails and bottles of wines and champagne. As far as I was concerned, that was the best that I could do to make sure that Paul knew that I had a good memory.

A few years later it was Paul who suggested that we meet privately. By then I couldn’t help but notice that he had a regular crowd of extremely impressive friends, most of whom were black, and all of whom seemed to have something to do with Wall Street, corporate America or the practice of law.

When I came by his office that spring afternoon, I simply couldn’t imagine what the purpose of the meeting could be. I only knew that a summons from Paul Taylor, my American savior, was reason enough for me. I will confess, however, that there was this nagging, gnawing feeling that perhaps my idiot friends in Bergen had been acting up again. I whispered a long forgotten, brief prayer to St. Ursula, the patron saint of Norway, in the elevator on my way up to his office.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Paul told me that he, and several of his friends, were interested in starting a first class restaurant and wanted to know if I was interested in managing it!

He told me the names of his colleagues, one of which was his ex-wife. He mentioned some numbers regarding the financing of the restaurant. And it was clear that these were big league players. And, as much as I loved Buzzy O’Keefe, I said yes on the spot.

Neither Paul nor I used the term The Pride that day, or at any point since. Indeed, I can’t remember where I first heard it with reference to the coterie of accomplished black men and women in business in New York City. All I know is that as soon as I heard it, it seemed to fit. Lions and lionesses, aspiring to majesty and dominion in the hostile jungle called corporate America and Wall Street.
And, as soon as I heard the term, “The Pride”, I knew instinctively that Paul Taylor and his partners in Dorothy’s By the Sea were all charter members that I had been privileged to have a front row seat to be able to watch all of the inner workings and comings and goings of a truly unique group of Americans.

When I was a young man in Bergen and Oslo, there was no one and no thing in Norway that could have prepared me for what I have learned because of my relationship with The Pride.

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CHAPTER 9
Paul
Get me to the church on time

At some point, long ago in my professional development, I decided to be early for every appointment and function that I planned to attend – at least ten to fifteen minutes. Aside from the fact that it means that I am almost never late for anything, it has provided an interesting advantage, one that I never expected at the outset.

Many of my friends and colleagues have told me that this particular habit is an overreaction to the legend/myth/supposition that black people are always late. Every black person knows the term “CP Time” and most have come to despise it.

As I have told my friends, my habit arose from my reading a biography of Lyndon Johnson by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert Caro. In it, he refers to the fact that Johnson always arrived early to meetings in order to achieve a strategic advantage over whomever it was that he was meeting. This bit of logic struck me the right way and I thought that I would try it. And, believe me, it has worked.

Also, as I have told my friends, the truth is that almost every culture believes that lateness is a group characteristic. When I was in Tel Aviv I was introduced to the concept of “JP Time” (Jewish People’s Time). And when I was in Tokyo, references to “JP Time” (Japanese People’s Time) by my Japanese law firm hosts truly flew in the face of the myths and legends regarding Japanese efficiency and reliability. I know that many of my Italian friends use the term “IPT” (Italian People’s Time”) and are amused to find out that black people have a similar phrase. Clearly we all need a little help trying to be on time.

Being able to get to functions like Winner’s funeral before the rest of the lemmings gives me an opportunity to observe – who’s in attendance, who is with whom, who is trying to align with whom – that kind of thing. I know that this has a certain voyeuresque aspect to it, but we all observe other in one way or another, being early simply provides me with my own peculiar perch. Kind of like sitting in the catbird seat, as the old Yankee broadcaster Red Barber was known to say on occasion.

As the car pulled up to the Riverside Church, I could not help but notice, standing like some mute, granite sentinel, Grant’s Tomb. This final resting place of the alcoholic warrior, the frightfully, almost poetically corrupt president and his absolutely anonymous wife is a huge, silent, stone commitment by humanity to the belief that there may be something more to life than life itself. At least that’s my guess.

There has always been a lot of that going around, of course. We call them pyramids, burial grounds, burial mounds, skyscrapers, multi-use sports arenas. We all want to be remembered.
I know that I want my son to not only know me, but to remember me. Not just as a good father but as someone who is there for him on an absolute and unconditional basis. In this life and in all the lives to come.

And then I was in front of the Riverside Church, its massive doors facing the nearly frozen Hudson River. The service was scheduled to begin at ten, and it was just turning on nine. A few dozen people huddled in front of the church, speaking in low, almost frozen tones. While I saw the faces of a number of people that I knew, I didn’t feel compelled to meet and greet just yet. I had come extra early for a reason – and funerals have really come to bother me anyway.

That morning I figured that a walk across the small park across the street from the church would give me the assurance that I could maintain my composure. It would also give me time to think about Joel’s e-mail note and to rethink a strategy that was already starting to take form in my mind. And it would also give me time to think about Samantha.

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CHAPTER 10
Paul
Taking that stroll down memory lane…

Samantha Gideon was the lady of my life at that time, all other amorous experiences and fun frolics. I would guess that if I were to have described our relationship at the time, I would not have objected to the use of the word “serious”. In retrospect, if she hadn’t died, there is every reason for me to believe that she would have been the mother of the little boy that is sleeping upstairs from my home office right now. Of course life is full of those elusive “might have beens” and “could have beens”, when, of course, all that really matters is what is.

On that January morning, there was no way that I could see that far into the future. I just knew that I missed her. She was a singer, and quite a good one. She was just not fortunate enough to have experienced the life-changing serendipity that would get her the stratospheric recording contract that would let her talent carry her to deserved stardom.

She did have a contract with one of the major cruise lines. So I am reasonably certain that she had been singing “Guantanamera” and “Impossible Dream” and “The Greatest Love” for the umpteenth time the night before.
She was way beyond adamant that I not use any of my contacts, friends and relationships in the music business to try and help her.

I had once tried to surreptitiously arrange for her to have an audition and she found out. Even though the audition represented the chance of a lifetime for her, it was almost the end of our relationship – right there on the spot. She wanted to do it her way. Which meant no help from me.

On one level I understood her desire and need for independence. On the other hand, this was something about Samantha that I never really understood. After all, from my perspective I had (and have) helped people who have meant so much less to me. I have helped them because I could.

What’s more, I know that Samantha could not have possibly believed the mythology that anybody actually made it “on their own”. I always thought that if I was simply an acquaintance, someone else in her life, Samantha would have permitted me to help her, and her life would have been so much different. Although I guess she would still be dead right now.

Instead, to the day she died, she stubbornly clung to the notion that she had to succeed without my help, assistance or participation. The only thing she would accept from me was my support. And that she had. The fact that she never let me be a contributing factor to her success is one of the few regrets that I carry in this life.

And so, I was walking away from the church, headed west towards the river, alone with my thoughts – thoughts about Samantha – thoughts about Winner. Thoughts about warm sheets that had cooled too soon that morning, thoughts about…..
“Paul! I knew I would see you here.”

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