Category Archives: Politics

Bridgegate vs. Benghazigate 1/15/14

My prediction that Bridgegate would bring down Chris Christie was, in a word, wrong. In my follow-up column, I was equally wrong to assert that Bridgegate, and other allegations of malfeasance by the Christie administration, would prove to be more consequential than Fastandfuriousgate, IRSgate, and a lot of other mostly Forgottengates.

Bridgegate vs. Benghazigate 1/15/14

by H.B. Koplowitz

The right claims the mainstream media have paid more attention to Bridgegate than Obamacaregate, IRSgate, Fastandfuriousgate and Benghazigate. Not true.

The MSM didn’t bash the botched rollout of Obamacare? Really? Who hasn’t heard “if you want to keep your insurance” as often as “time for some traffic problems”?

Fast and Furious? The MSM has covered the ill-conceived “gunwalking” scheme initiated under George W. Bush’s administration and continued under President Barack Obama, the tragic deaths of border agents and the congressional hearings and federal investigation, which basically exonerated Attorney General Eric Holder.

The MSM also covered IRSgate and tea party accusations of political persecution by Obama. Less reported was the fact that progressive groups were also “targeted” by the IRS because a mushrooming number of partisan organizations on both sides were seeking nonpartisan tax breaks they didn’t deserve.

Benghazigate has also been extensively reported on, from the anti-Muslim film to former UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s talk show mishaps to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s humbling appearance before a congressional committee. If, after the fact, the Obama administration publicly minimized the terrorist connections to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi for political reasons, so what?

More serious is the allegation that Obama and Clinton didn’t authorize a rescue mission for the same reason. But politics wasn’t the only consideration. There was also the very real possibility that a high-risk rescue operation could turn into another “Blackhawk Down,” with more American deaths and perhaps hostages.

The right claims the MSM wouldn’t be so obsessed with Bridgegate if Christie weren’t a Republican front-runner for president. Duh. Democrat or Republican, it’s called vetting, which should be done sooner rather than later. And so far, the media have found evidence of at least six instances of malfeasance by the Christie administration, not including the ongoing cover-up, that could one day turn into civil lawsuits, criminal indictments and/or articles of impeachment:

– in 2010, Christie’s appointed attorney general, Paula Dow, fired county prosecutors and quashed a 43-count grand jury indictment against Christie supporter and Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout, who was accused of public corruption;

– in 2012, Christie decided to spend $12 million of state money and inconvenience voters to hold a special election for a vacant Senate seat three weeks before his own election, ensuring popular Democrat Cory Booker wouldn’t be on the same ballot;

– in 2012, the Christie administration slashed Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s request for $100 million in Superstorm Sandy federal relief funds to $300,000, after the Democrat wouldn’t endorse Christie for governor;

– in 2013, as Christie was ramping up his re-election campaign, his administration spent $4.7 million in Superstorm Sandy federal relief funds on tourism ads starring the governor and his family, rejecting a $2 million bid for an ad not featuring the governor;

– in 2013, Christie officials rescinded offers of “new access to state commissioners, who hold the purse strings for many Jersey City services,” after its Democratic mayor, Steve Fulop, declined to endorse Christie; and

– in 2013, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, told David Wildstein, one of Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority, which oversees the busiest bridge in the world, to cause some traffic problems in Fort Lee, perhaps to punish the town’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie.

Taken separately, some of these incidents might be written off as hardball politics, dirty but legal tricks, or the power of incumbency. Taken together, they add up to a pattern of abuse of power, of misusing government agencies and public funds for the personal political benefit of one person, Chris Christie.

Bridgegate is less Benghazigate than Watergate, which deservedly got a lot of coverage in its time. Politics aside, Christie has become a celebrity, a caricature, like the bullying “fat ass” Eric Cartman on “South Park.” So here’s another way to evaluate the media coverage: Which deserves more attention, government officials causing a massive traffic jam on the busiest bridge in the world, or a Lindsay Lohan fender-bender? As Christie would be the first to say, what a stupid question.

© 2014-21 H.B. Koplowitz

Chris Christie and Bridgegate 1/10/2014

Closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in 2013. (Marko Georgiev/AP)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a new book out and has been making the talk show rounds to rehab his image in apparent preparation for a 2024 run for president. Everyone seems to have forgotten “Bridgegate,” the plot to cause traffic jams at one of the busiest bridges in the world to punish a New Jersey mayor for not endorsing Christie’s 2013 reelection run, which he won in a landslide. Here’s a reminder.

Chris Christie and Bridgegate 1/10/2014

by H.B. Koplowitz

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said “I am not a bully” during Thursday’s marathon news conference, he seemed to be channeling his inner Nixon. Once upon a time, another chief executive embroiled in a scandal, President Richard M. Nixon, told the American people, “I’m not a crook.” It turns out that Nixon was a crook, so it’s curious why Christie would use the same phrasing.

Parallels abound between what has become known as Bridgegate, and the original gate, the Watergate scandal. Both involve chief executives accused of abuse of power and a cover-up, with the central question being what did they know and when did they know it. If history is repeating itself, Gov. Christie will eventually resign in disgrace.

The Watergate scandal began on June 17, 1972, when five men were caught trying to bug the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Bridgegate began on Sept. 9, 2013, when the Port Authority closed two of three local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, causing gridlock throughout the city.

President Nixon was going to win re-election in a landslide against Democratic Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, just as Christie knew he was going to be re-elected handily. But to beef up his presidential credentials, he wanted to “run up the score,” in part by spending $24 million of state money to hold a special election to fill a vacant Senate slot, so popular Democrat Cory Booker wouldn’t be on the same ballot.

In Watergate, the cover-up began with stonewalling, as Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler tried to laugh off the break-in, calling it a “third-rate burglary.” In Bridgegate, the cover-up began with officials blaming the lane closure on a non-existent traffic study, and the governor laughing off his involvement, quipping he was “working the cones.”

In Watergate, two dogged reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, followed the money from the burglars to Nixon’s campaign fund, triggering congressional and judicial investigations. In Bridgegate, two dogged reporters from the Bergen Record, John Cichowski and Shawn Boburg, traced the lane closures to a Christie appointee, triggering legislative and judicial investigations.

In Watergate, there were allegations of an enemies list, dirty tricks and a unit within the White House that retaliated against political foes, including the break-in of “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist’s office. In Bridgegate, there are allegations of operatives in the Governor’s Office who retaliated against political foes, including the 9/11 of political pranks, the week-long traffic snarl in a city whose mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, had declined to endorse Republican Christie in his re-election bid.

The Watergate scandal exploded when the existence of a secret taping system in the Oval Office was revealed. Nixon attempted a “limited hang-out,” releasing expurgated transcripts of the tapes, which were damning enough to ramp up the scandal. Bridgegate exploded when the existence of texts and emails between the Port Authority and the Governor’s Office were revealed. Officials released redacted copies of the communications, including one in which Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, tells David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie and appointee to the Port Authority, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and he replies, “Got it,” ramping up the scandal.

In Watergate, Nixon blamed the wrongdoing on his aides while denying he had personal knowledge. In Bridgegate, Christie did the same.

In Watergate, Nixon fired senior advisers implicated in the scandal, including John Dean, H.R. Halderman, John Ehrlichman and the “big enchilada,” Attorney General John Mitchell. In Bridgegate, Wildstein and another Port Authority Christie appointee implicated in the scandal, Bill Baroni, resigned, and Christie fired Kelly and withdrew his support for two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien to become head of the state Republican Party.

In an effort to derail the Watergate investigation, Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus when they refused to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. In Bridgegate, Christie bodaciously nominated his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd — Kelly’s former boss — to become the next state attorney general, who would be in charge of any state investigation of the scandal.

In Watergate, Nixon held an emotional news conference during which he said, “I’m not a crook.” In Bridgegate, an “embarrassed and humiliated” Christie told reporters “I am not a bully.”

If history continues to repeat itself, the un-redacted communications will be revealed, and they will include a “smoking gun” implicating the governor. There will be more revelations, more investigations and more hearings, in which former and current Christie aides will be put under oath to either take the Fifth or give self-serving testimony. Some of them will spill the beans and some will go to prison. Impeachment proceedings will crank up, and realizing he lacks the votes to win, Christie will resign, be pardoned by his successor, and New Jersey’s statewide nightmare will finally be over.

H.B. Koplowitz is the author of “Blackspanic College” and “Misadventures in Journalism,” which are available at Amazon and his website,

© 2014-2021 H.B. Koplowitz

Where I was on 9/11

From fall 1998 – spring 2002, I taught journalism and advised the student newspaper at a mainly Black and Hispanic community college in South-Central LA. I later turned my experiences into a book called Blackspanic College. This excerpt recalls where I was on 9/11:

Blackspanic College:

Chapter 8:

Fall semester, 2001

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I awoke to my clock radio, which was tuned to National Public Radio. Still in a dreamlike state, I heard somber voices saying something about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, a second plane smashing into the other tower, the Pentagon being struck by a third, and that every airplane over the entire country was being grounded. At first I thought it was an updated version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio hoax. I rolled over and turned on the TV, where every channel was showing the Twin Towers crumbling, on a loop. My heart sank. This was real.

I checked my emotions and was relieved I wasn’t feeling a flicker of guilty glee that Wall Street yuppies and the military industrial complex had just taken a hit. We may not like to admit it, but sometimes we secretly root for the bad guys — Bonnie and Clyde, the Unibomber, O.J. — so toppling the dual symbols of capitalist America and poking a hole in the Pentagon could easily have stirred up some anti-American sentiments left over from Vietnam that were recently inflamed by the bizarro election in Florida, U.S. Supreme Court putsch and ascendancy of the right-lurching Bush II junta.

9/11 was one bodacious move. But as I lay there gaping at the TV, all I was feeling was dread. And it was with a sense of shame that I realized, at that moment at least, I was glad that Bush and the ruthless rattlesnakes around him, rather than wishy-washy Al Gore — whom I’d voted for — was in the White House. Suddenly, I didn’t want my mommy, I wanted my daddy.

I wondered what the students at Southwest College were feeling, and tore myself away from the TV to rush out to the campus for my afternoon classes and to rev up my students for the biggest story they would ever cover. I should have known better. By the time I got to the campus, it was nearly deserted.

Finally, one of my new students arrived. I’d assigned Lakita to cover a Black Student Union meeting previously scheduled for that morning. At the time it seemed like a fairly simple meeting story,although I didn’t understand why a school that was 80 percent black needed a BSU (except as a place for former student body presidents to go, as June had become the head of the BSU after losing the rescheduled ASO election to Willie). But Lakita had tears in her eyes and said she couldn’t write the story.

“Why not?” I asked, thinking she was probably upset by the terrorist attacks.

“Because the meeting was all about you.”

“Me?” I said, incredulously. “What are you talking about?” 

“They called you a racist.”

The whole world had changed, and so had mine. 

More on Blackspanic College: 

Dick Gregory at 84: Feisty to the end

The writer and date having photo taken with Dick Gregory for $10. Gregory’s nephew, comedian Mark Gregory, is at top right.

Dick Gregory died Aug. 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Before Richard Pryor, before Eddie Murphy, and before Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Chappelle, there was Dick Gregory, who in the 1950s and ’60s smashed through the color barrier separating black comedians from white audiences. Once dubbed the black Mort Sahl for his political humor, he is one of the lesser-known pioneer black comedians — or, as he would say, comedians who happened to be black — in large part because he put activism ahead of show business.

On March 26, 2017, the 84-year-old comic, civil rights activist, author and holistic health advocate performed for one of the last times before his death, at a nearly full house at the Improv in West Palm Beach. It was kind of like going to see Bob Dylan, or back in the day, Lenny Bruce. You go to pay your respects, hope they do their best, but prepare for something less, which is what happened at the Improv.

Not that the audience was disappointed. We got to see vintage Gregory. Feisty, contrary, racial, cosmological and conspiratorial. Lots of MFs, b- and n-words. (His nephew, rising comedian Mark Gregory, who served as Gregory’s warmup act, chose to go with the anachronistic “Negro” instead.)

Black, or what in the 1950s were called Negro comedians, took two new paths to break into the mainstream  — the old path was self-denigration, as epitomized by Stepin Fetchit. Some of Gregory’s peers, like Bill Cosby, avoided controversial subjects and kept things folksy, similar to Will Rogers, Bob Hope or Jerry Seinfeld. Others, like Godfrey Cambridge and Gregory, took the riskier route of social satire, tapping into a strain of American humor that runs through Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Actually, it’s more a matter of degree. To some extent, all comedians combine what might be called silly and serious humor. Like most people, entertainers try to find a combination of representing and assimilating that works for them, professionally and personally.

Richard Claxton Gregory was born into poverty on Oct. 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Missouri. He  became a track standout at Sumner High School, and in 1951 he got an athletic scholarship to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, before and after being drafted into the Korean War. (This writer was born and went to college in Carbondale, and local lore has it that Gregory was the first black person to integrate the town’s Varsity Theater, by refusing to sit in the balcony.)

ABC Close Up Report – Walk in My Shoes (1961). Nicholas Webster’s documentary explores the state of urban black America, featuring what may be Dick Gregory’s first TV appearance. His segment begins at (15:16), but there’s also footage of Malcolm X, CORE founder James Farmer, and regular people discussing race and sex, among other issues.

Gregory left school before graduating and moved to Chicago, where he worked at $5-a-night comedy gigs and met his wife, Lil. They had 11 children, including one who died shortly after birth. Because of his busy schedule, he admits to having been an absent father. His stock line is, “Jack the Ripper had a father. Hitler had a father. Don’t talk to me about family.”

He got his big break in 1961, when Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner took a liking to his sardonic takes on race and current events, and hired him for an extended stay at the Playboy Club. Gregory’s disarming sense of humor enabled whites to laugh, sometimes at themselves, while being confronted with inconvenient truths. An example of one of his early jokes is on his website: “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”

From the Playboy Club, he began playing better venues, like San Francisco’s hungry i, and got on Jack Parr and other TV shows. In 1963, his first autobiography, “Nigger,” was published and became a best seller. (In the book, he says he chose the title so that whenever his mother heard the word in the future, she’d “know they are advertising my book.”)

But then he pulled a Dave Chappelle and withdrew from the spotlight. Inspired by leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he joined the Civil Rights Movement and used his celebrity status to address such issues as segregation and voter registration. While contemporaries like Cosby, Cambridge and Nipsy Russell were getting their shots at stardom, Gregory was protesting world hunger and other issues. He went on dozens of fasts, sometimes lasting more than 40 days, and for two-and-a-half years he ate no solid food to protest the Vietnam War.

He ran against Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1966, and as a write-in candidate for president in 1968. According to his website, “After the assassinations of King, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, Gregory became increasingly convinced of the existence of political conspiracies.” With JFK conspiracy theorist Mark Lane, in 1971 Gregory co-wrote “Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr.”

In 1973, Gregory moved his family to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the once overweight smoker became a nutritional consultant. He says he first became a vegetarian after seeing his pregnant wife kicked by a cop, and not having the courage to fight back. He vowed that he would never “participate in the destruction of any animal that never harmed me.” In the 1980s, he founded a company that sold weight-loss products, and he drew media attention when he started a fat farm in Ft. Walton, Fla., for the morbidly obese.

In 1996, he returned to stand-up with a well-received one-man show, “Dick Gregory Live!” Also in 1996, he picketed CIA Headquarters to protest allegations that the agency had started the crack epidemic by smuggling cocaine into South-Central Los Angeles. He was arrested, as he has been many times over the years.

In 2000, Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma, a deadly form of cancer. That same year, a three-and-a-half-hour tribute was held in his honor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., hosted by Bill Cosby, with appearances by Coretta Scott King, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Cicely Tyson, and Marion Barry, among others. Refusing chemotherapy, he used alternative medicine to beat the disease, and became a lecturer on diet and ethics.

Wikipedia lists 16 albums and 16 books on his resume, but according to the IMDB website, he has never been in a major motion picture, although he has appeared as himself in several documentaries. His film credits include Rev. Slocum in “Panther” (1995), a bathroom attendant in “The Hot Chick” (2002), and a blind panhandler in the TV show “Reno 911” (2004). Nevertheless, in 2015 he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for Live Theatre/Performance.

To the end, he maintained a grueling schedule of up to 150 shows, lectures and interviews a year, many of which are on YouTube, and he had an active Twitter account. Before coming to West Palm Beach, he was at the Improv in Houston, and from Florida he headed to New York City, for two shows at Caroline’s on Broadway.

At the Improv at West Palm Beach, Gregory was, in a word, grouchy. When introduced to the mainly older and black audience, the comedy icon didn’t appear for several minutes, apparently because he was in the restroom. Once he doddered on stage and slumped into a chair, he began muttering. When a woman sitting about 10 rows back shouted that she couldn’t hear him, he snapped back, “you shoulda sat closer,” which got a laugh.

He acknowledged his age but bristled at the term “elderly.” “I’m just old,” he said.

He talked about race, religion, sex and politics, including Obama and Trump. He said he was disappointed that Obama hadn’t gotten more done when he was in the White House, but that comparing him to Trump forever destroys the myth of white superiority.

He made many other wry observations, but like Lenny Bruce, he was less funny the more he indulged his obsession — for Bruce, it was his legal woes, in Gregory’s case, the many conspiracy and dietary theories he has accumulated over the years. He still thinks “agents” are out to get him, and that Oswald didn’t kill JFK.

He had brought along numerous visual aids, including newspaper clippings, magazine covers and photos of himself with MLK and Muhammad Ali, which he used to tell vignettes. He kept saying, “and finally,” but then he would move on to more stories. In an odd reversal, it was as if the performer didn’t want the more than two-hour show to end more than the audience didn’t.

This half-hour clip from Gregory’s March 3 show in New Orleans is similar to the one in West Palm Beach.

Despite the unevenness of his performance, it was great to see a comedy legend still pushing the envelope, still as controversial and incisive as ever. Every comedian who traffics in ethnic humor today — black, white, brown, yellow or mixed — owes a debt to Gregory for paving the way. On the same day as his show, he posted a tweet that described how much the world has changed, and not changed, over the course of his life:

© 2017 by H.B. Koplowitz