Wednesday, Nov 13th

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spielerDani Spieler, the daughter of Jill and Gary Spieler of Scarsdale, and Cory Pihl, son of Marilee Fraizer Pihl and Gary Pihl of Acton, MA, were officially married at the New York City Clerk's Office on July 23rd, 2019 in front of their parents. Recently, the couple celebrated with family and friends on October 20th, at Red Maple Vineyard in West Park, NY with a ceremony led by Curtis Holbrook, a friend of the couple.

The bride, Scarsdale High School Class of 2003, and groom met through the online dating app, OKCupid. Since graduating with honors from The University of Michigan with a BFA in Musical Theatre in 2007, Dani has been living in New York City and performing on Broadway in such shows as CATS, CHICAGO, A BRONX TALE and LEGALLY BLONDE. The groom graduated from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in 2003, and then from Penn State University with a BS in Criminal Justice in 2008. After college, he worked as a Special Investigator at the New York City Department of Investigation for 8 years. He recently was admitted to the New York State Bar, after getting his JD from New York Law School in 2018. Cory began work as an attorney as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the US Navy Judge Advocate General Corps immediately following the wedding, and is stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The bride's parents, who have lived in Scarsdale for 43 years, are both retired. The bride's mother, the 2019 recipient of the Scarsdale Bowl, is a former president of the Scarsdale School Board, and had a career in graphic design for many years. Her father spent 45 years working in mainframe computer software technology and sales. The father of the groom has been the guitarist for the band Boston since 1985. His mother worked as a teacher in the Community Education Extended Day Program before retiring in 2015.

The couple plans to honeymoon in Australia and New Zealand. They will reside in both Honolulu, HI and New York, NY.

Paulin3Merryl Tisch, Amy Paulin and Judith Johnson at Scarsdale High School in April 2015This week we learned the NYS Regent Judith Johnson passed away at the age of 80. She died at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center due to complications from surgery. In 2015 she was appointed to serve a five-year term on the Board of Regents and was a champion for education of all children, especially the underserved.

She began her career as a teacher in the NYC schools and then worked as a school administrator in Westchester and Rockland. During the Clinton presidency she worked in the Department of Education and later became the first African American and the first woman to serve as Superintendent of the Peekskill Schools. As as Regent, she represented Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties.She paid several visits to Scarsdale, most recently in February 2019 when she participated in a panel discussion organized by the PT Council. Here are her comments:

About Scarsdale she said, “You are the model of what all schools should look like…. We shouldn’t take dollars from you to help schools in need.” Providing some information on the work of the regents she discussed funding for the arts, saying, “Every child in NYS should have the opportunity to learn music or pick up a paint brush.” She also said, “We are changing the graduation standards and what it means to have a high school diploma. We are rethinking the five regents exam to earn a high school diploma…. We are working with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to bring joy back to the classroom.”

State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin issued this statement on the death of NYS Regent Judith Johnson.

“Judith Johnson devoted her entirely life to the notion that every child deserves a quality education. She was an award-winning teacher, a supportive mentor, a passionate advocate, a thoughtful administrator, a visionary Superintendent and finally, a knowledgeable and incredibly candid member of the Board of Regents. She was trusted and respected by parents, teachers, administrators, and legislators alike, and her contributions toward improving public education for the students of Westchester County and New York State will last a lifetime.”

rocah1Leah Dembitzer, Mimi Rocah and Dara Gruenberg.On a rainy Sunday afternoon, legal analyst and Scarsdale resident Mimi Rocah spoke to a crowd of over 100 residents and dignitaries who filled the Scarsdale Woman’s Club to capacity. Ms. Rocah is a legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC News, the current Distinguished Fellow of Criminal Justice at Pace University Law School, and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The event, held on October 20, was jointly sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, the Scarsdale Forum and the Scarsdale Public Library.

Rocah provided an honest and in-depth conversation about many of the political and legal topics that dominate today’s news headlines. Leah Dembitzer, President of the LWVS, and Dara Gruenberg, President of the Friends of the Scarsdale Library and Co-Chair of the Scarsdale Forum’s Program Committee moderated the informative discussion.

Rocah briefed the audience on her background. She spent a number of years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. As she described: “My experience at the Department of Justice became a part of who I am as a person…The SDNY taught me from day one to do the right thing.” Of particular influence on Ms. Rocah was her time at the U.S. Attorney’s office in NYC on 9/11. It was a “horrible but transformative” experience. She left the SDNY in 2017, “spurred on by Trump’s election.” Initially, as a woman, she felt that it was not right to leave her post at the U.S. Attorney’s office as it was important to stay on to mentor the younger women whom she oversaw. Eventually, after seeing what was happening in the media, particularly President Trump “slandering our institutions,” Rocah thought it was important to join the media to help “push back” given her unique knowledge of the Department of Justice.

VeronJane Veron, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Mimi Rocah.When asked about the influence of social media in today’s political climate, she noted that she had not been on social media prior to the 2016 Election. Social media today informs people, but may also mislead. Rocah finds President Trump’s use of twitter as an attempt “to normalize behavior that is really outrageous.” His tweets about Russia, for example, are “not normal” of the presidency. Rocah now follows many on twitter and looks to certain people for her information. She follows Professor Ryan Goodman on twitter and views him as “reliable and smart.” As a side note, Professor Goodman will be the featured speaker at the LWVS food for thought luncheon on November 8th. Click here for more details.

Rocah is particularly appreciative these days of her brother’s work at the ACLU. There is a new sense of importance of the work the ACLU does to protect First Amendment rights, among another things. Donations to the ACLU have “skyrocketed” since 2016. Ms. Rocah believes that people no longer take for granted rights about which they may not have previously thought.

The very topical subject of President Trump’s involvement with Ukraine was of particular interest to the crowd. Rocah thought that Bill Barr acted more like President Trump’s personal attorney than the head of the Department of Justice. However, she is hopeful that state prosecutors will step in, especially in New York, to fill the void where the Department of Justice has not acted. With respect to pardons, Rocah noted that there are “very few limits.” The President can pardon himself, and his family. However, members of President Trump's family could be subject to state prosecution even if they receive a federal pardon under a new law approved in New York. Double Jeopardy would not attach in these cases. Forward thinking, Rocah observed that we need more “rules” and “guardrails” on the use of “presidential power.”

With respect to the current impeachment inquiry that is dominating the news, when asked “why now?” Rocah said: “This feels different. ThererocahfoleyTim Foley, Dara Gruenberg, Leah Dembitzer, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Mimi Rocah is momentum that hasn’t been there before.” With the Mueller Report, “Trump controlled the narrative before it was released.” However, with the issues involving President Trump and Ukraine, the information is happening “in real time.” Real time information “is more persuasive.” Ms. Rocah thought Nancy Pelosi waited for the right moment to start the impeachment inquiry and “putting it with Adam Schiff’s committee is perfect” as he is a “former prosecutor and follows the facts.”

Rocah answered questions from the audience with candor and a broad knowledge base. Her prosecutorial background has informed her well. She ended by noting the importance of pushing back on social media - “Don’t give up on correcting the factual record.”

samwickMarc Samwick, Dan Hochvert and Justin Arest.In addition to the many Scarsdale residents who attended Sunday’s event, NY Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, NY Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Scarsdale Mayor Marc Samwick, Deputy Mayor Jane Veron, and Trustees Justin Arest and Lena Crandall joined the event. Mayor Marc Samwick noted: “This was an excellent event and it was great to see collaboration with the League, the Forum and the Library. I look forward to more events like this that inform and educate us.”

BrianBrownScarsdale resident, journalist, writer and director Brian T. Brown has just published a new book about the Cold War, Soviet espionage and covert mischief, and how these helped shape the course of American pop culture. The 512-page book, “Someone is Out to Get UsA Not So Brief History of Cold War Paranoia and Madness” is published by Twelve Books and also available on Hachette Audio. Brown wrote and produced twelve Olympic broadcasts and has worked on some of America’s most-watched television shows. We last checked in with Brown when his documentary The Last Gold came out in 2016.

This week we caught up with him to discuss life in Scarsdale, the publication of his new book and a reading scheduled at Bronx River Books in Scarsdale on Wednesday November 6 from 6:30- 8 pm, and here is what he shared:

I assume you still live in Scarsdale. How long have you lived here? Tell us what you like about living here.

Yes, still live in Scarsdale … Moved here in 1999, with my wife, Maryellen, and then toddlers Marisa and Luke. In their early education, both kids benefited from wonderful teachers at Hitchcock Nursery School and Greenacres Elementary … Coming back from trips, I almost always notice – and appreciate – the multitude of magnificent trees in Scarsdale and the care and understated elegance so many homeowners devote to their gardening and landscaping. We are very lucky to have a world class botanist on our block, Phyllis Finkelstein, who is a genius of all things flora. I also enjoy taking long walks on the Bronx River Pathway while listening to my favorite “deep house” artist, Nora En Pure.

What inspired this book about the Cold War and paranoia?

In the spring of 2016, my book agent, Bob Mecoy, sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted to tackle the subject of Cold War paranoia. As Bob explained, the publisher of Twelve Books, Sean Desmond, was interested in having someone dive into the topic. In retrospect, Mr. Desmond was clearly clairvoyant. A return to the Cold War was about to become additionally resonant, though in the spring of 2016, the writing wasn’t yet on the wall for most of us. The dark anxiety of Cold War 2.0 had yet to descend. Hillary Clinton was the presumptive next president and Donald Trump was unapologetically using his short-staffed campaign to get the most amount of attention for the least amount of his own money. Only months later, and subsequent to Trump’s shocking victory, did our national security establishment seriously wonder if the forty-fifth president of the United States was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kremlin, and, in particular, beholden to the ex‑communist spy who judges the collapse of the USSR as the greatest tragedy of the twentieth
century.SomeoneIsOutToGetUsHC

What parallels do you see today?

Here are a few:

The Red Scare and McCarthyism was a case of Cold War GOP gaslighting to put Democrats on the defensive as soft on communism. Republicans knew they were overhyping the Soviet threat and also knew that scaring people can often be an effective political tool. McCarthy aide Roy Cohn was a key player in this "fake news" propaganda campaign and later became Donald Trump's chief educator in how to gaslight the public. Today’s GOP also know they are selling a fiction when they minimize Russian meddling in the 2016 election and, more recently, "All The President's Men" (Pence, Pompeo, Barr) are attempting to get our allies to help them concoct an alternative history of 2016, a counternarrative contending it was actually Ukraine that did the meddling and Hillary Clinton was the beneficiary. But, in a larger sense, Mr. Trump attempts to sell all kinds of fictions every time he speaks, or tweets.

The NBA came under fire from the People's Republic of China when the Houston Rockets general manager supported Hong Kong protestors. There has also been a good bit of discussion asking if we are about to enter into a Cold War with China. Here's one lesson I learned from research for the book: the greatest weapons the United States had in the fight with the Soviets came under heading of "soft power." Pumping jazz into the Iron Curtain was a powerful and bloodless weapon. Pushing the Soviets on human rights highlighted the illegitimacy of Soviet governance. As the U.S.-China rivalry inevitably intensifies, the greatest weapon the U.S. has is continuing to cultivate free expression and demanding universal human rights. The Chinese are more afraid of these intangibles than our military. Like the Soviets, the Chinese Communist Party governs by fear because they are scared that what is happening in Hong Kong will soon be happening in Beijing.

You could also say that Vladimir Putin is trying to get his revenge on the West. Putin hasn't gotten over losing the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall was particularly traumatic for him because he was stationed in East Germany when it happened and he had been a very happy camper while a KGB Colonel in East Germany – enjoying the beer, reliable German appliances, cleanly German neighbors. As a spy, Putin was also part of the privileged elite class in the USSR who effectively lived apart from a vast working class that was often on the verge of starvation. When Putin was told the tanks were not coming to save him (or communist East Germany), the moment was shocking and humiliating. Furthermore, the last days of the Soviet Union were a terrible clown show – with the Chernobyl nuclear accident and West German teenager Mathias Rust flying his Cessna from Finland to Red Square. Via Putin’s possible “puppet” in the White House, we appear to be witnessing his successful revenge, along with a return to the imperial ambitions of the deceased USSR.

During the Cold War, we also became more of a “first person singular” nation, as opposed to the “first person plural” of our founders, who started the Constitution with the words: We the People. We are still living with the lone cowboy, libertarian ethos that bloomed during the Cold War. The downside of this worldview prevented or delayed logical government-sponsored improvements in the safety net, in particular universal health care. But it also led to a demonization of non-military government activity as a whole and made a virtue of starving public works by drastically cutting taxes. Low taxes and lax regulations were somehow viewed as essential American "freedoms" as public education, food stamps and government health care were being slimed as socialism, if not communism. But, in truth, there was one bucket of U.S. government spending that did resemble the practices of the socialist Soviet Union. The creation of the trillion-dollar military industrial complex could reasonably be called the most expensive social welfare program of all time: jet and bombs and missiles with astonishing price tags were paid for by the state, developed in secret, with no requirement of profit, or any other market mandates.

Two more thoughts:

Scarsdale is also a town that loves books. One reflection of the scope and size of the town’s taste is in evidence every year at the Scarsdale Library Book Sale. I brought home 30 or so books from one of the recent sales that proved to be incredibly valuable sources in understanding the Cold War and the paranoia it fomented. For example, I came across the terrific memoir by Max Frankel, a Pulitzer Prize winner who began at the New York Times as a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain and ended up as the paper’s Executive Editor. I also found a magnificent and massively researched overview of the United States by Harold Evans called “The American Century.” I would recommend it to everyone who has kids about to enter high school.

Finally …

… I want to invite everyone to a attend a reading and signing the new book “Someone Is Out To Get Us: A Not So Brief History of Cold Paranoia and Madness” on Wednesday November 6, at Bronx River Books (37 Spencer Place), from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Scarsdale Library.

HandsUpThis letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Terri Simon:
Now that the school year is in full swing, it is time once again for the annual rejuvenation of our community’s important and valuable non-partisan nominating system for members of the Board of Education. I encourage residents who care about sustaining our outstanding school system to step up and run for a seat on the School Board Nominating Committee.

Our district’s exemplary track record arises in no small part from our non-partisan system of selecting thoughtful, intelligent, fair-minded candidates for our Board of Education. This system, however, simply cannot be sustained unless we all stretch ourselves a little bit and step up to play a part in making it work. The SBNC is a finite commitment of time during a short stretch of each term year. This is not a burdensome commitment, but it does make a genuine contribution to our community.

I’ve served twice on the SBNC (in the late 90’s and again during the past few years) and also on the Board of Education (2001-2007). I have been consistently impressed with the caliber and dedication of those who participate in this important process. When looking for candidates to put their names in the hat for SBNC seats, however, it’s been frustrating to hear so many prospects respond with “this is just not my thing,” I can’t help wondering if it’s their “thing” to have outstanding schools.

Everyone has busy lives and, of course, particular personal challenges may make serving difficult – I do get it – but this nominating system cannot remain robust without broad participation including, at the very least, a competitive slate of at least four candidates in each neighborhood.

If you have kids at home, they will be proud of your service (and of your co-parent for holding the fort during those Sunday afternoon meetings). If your kids have already graduated from the system and embarked upon their next life chapters, how better to “give back” than to contribute your experience in the community toward sustaining the system that launched them?

It’s easy to run. You need only collect ten voter petition signatures from your neighborhood and submit a brief bio by November 18. Forms and detailed information are available at www.scarsdalesbnc.com. The election is in mid-January and SBNC meetings are concluded by mid-March. To participate in selecting prospective trustees for the Board of Education, those charged with oversight and policy for the entire school system, is immensely gratifying. After all, by playing a role in this process you will help maintain precisely the wonderful schools that we all moved here for.

Terri Simon

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