Week 43: Trump Rolls Out Red Carpet for Mueller Subpoena

Inside the leak-proof snow fort where counsel Robert S. Mueller III commands his Russia scandal gumshoes, the Trump investigation glowed fireball orange this week. The New York Times spotted the light and then reported it in a Page One, above-the-fold story in the Friday edition, stating that Mueller had subpoenaed business documents from the Trump Organization “related to Russia and other topics,” apparently for the first time. “Investigation Nears President” touted the story’s subhead. Story Continued Below Near, yes, but how near? Maybe not as near as you would like to think. It was easy to read the Times scoop in the context of the interview President Donald Trump gave to the New York Times last summer. Asked if Mueller’s inspection of his finances and his family’s finances “unrelated to Russia” would cross “a red line,” Trump said, “Yeah.” Further questioned, Trump said he would regard such inquiries “a violation” of Mueller’s investigative charter. He then retreated into a series of Russia denials: “I don’t do business with Russia.” As with so many of his disavowals, Trump pairs it with a rowback that empties the original statement of its mass. “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?” Other news outlets didn’t find the subpoena news as incendiary as the Times did. Both Politico and the Associated Press noted that the Trump Organization had previously been cooperating with the investigation’s request for materials, implying that if a red line exists it had been crossed and recrossed long ago. Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas, fluffing up the news like a goose down pillow and taking a nap on it, couldn’t even bring himself to call the stories fake news. He called it something worse. “This Continue Reading

Joy Villa wears hand-painted ‘choose life’ gown on Grammys carpet

Joy Villa wore a white gown with a rainbow fetus on the Grammys red carpet on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / ANGELA WEISS Singer Joy Villa once again turned heads at the Grammys red carpet for her political statement-making gown. While music industry insiders were showing off white roses pinned to their chests in support of the Time’s Up movement on Sunday, Villa, 26, stepped out at Madison Square Garden in an all-white pro-life dress clutching a handbag that read “choose life.” Villa, who made headlines at the 2017 ceremony for her “Make America Great Again” outfit, tweeted that she hand-painted the rainbow-colored fetus on the bottom of her dress herself. The gown was purchased from the Bridal Garden, a Manhattan-based non-profit. All proceeds from the sale were donated to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn Charter School "for talented, under-privileged mostly minority children," the singer added.  The outfit was met with mixed response from Grammy viewers who followed along on Twitter ahead of the 60th anniversary of the award ceremony.  "OMG Joy I loved you before...but now even more," one Twitter user wrote.  Others felt her red carpet appearance proved she was "screaming for attention."  "Here we go with politics," another wrote. "The very reason I can't remember the last time I watched an award show." The conservative singer, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, is known best for her album “I Make the Static,” which landed at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 chart in 2017. Continue Reading

Head of city teachers union knocks Senate GOP plan to expand charter schools

ALBANY — The head of the city teachers union dismissed as “a load of crap” state Senate GOP efforts to tie the renewal of a law granting Mayor de Blasio control over the city school system to an expansion of charter schools. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the state shouldn’t be stepping on the city’s power to self-govern. “This is a load of crap,” Mulgrew said during a visit to Albany Tuesday. “I'm not playing this charter versus mayoral control.” He never mentioned the Senate Republicans specifically, but made it clear he believes they are playing political games over the issue because of their war with de Blasio, who in 2014 unsuccessfully sought to flip the Senate to Democratic control. Mayoral control was created in 2002 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and extended for six years during his tenure. But the last few years the best de Blasio could get is a series of one-year extensions. "When it was a different mayor who was giving money to a group of people, it was, 'How long can we make it?' No questions asked,” Mulgrew said. Bloomberg was the biggest individual donor to the Senate GOP. Charter school interests are also among their biggest contributors. “And now that we have Mayor de Blasio who doesn't see eye-to-eye with some of these folks, and they're getting money from a different source, now all of a sudden it's flip-flopping, everything’s up for question,” Mulgrew said. “That’s pretty black and white to me ... It’s called blatant hypocrisy.” The teacher unions are big financial backers of legislative Democrats. The mayoral control law is set to expire later this month. The Daily News on Monday quoted a source close to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan raising the possibility the Senate would end the annual session on June 21 without a new mayoral Continue Reading

Charter school boss Eva Moskowitz will NOT run for New York City mayor in 2017

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz announced Thursday that she would skip a mayoral run in 2017, explaining that she would instead double down on her efforts to reform education through her “game-changing” charter schools job. "I am not running for mayor in 2017,” the longtime foe of Mayor de Blasio said at a morning press conference on the steps of City Hall. "I love kids and I love teaching and learning,” she said. “I am not running because I think what could be accomplished in public education is game changing, is life changing. I believe we have the chance to dramatically change public education.” “Of doing for education, frankly, what Apple did for computing with the iPhone. What Google is doing with driverless cars. This kind of transformational change may be a once in a lifetime opportunity and I believe our kids are worth it,” she added. But Moskowitz, a former two-term city councilwoman from Manhattan, also appeared to acknowledge the challenges she might have faced if she were to have run and won. “Imagine if I ran and I won. One of my first conversations would be with Mike Mulgrew,” she said of the United Federation of Teachers president, with whom she regularly feuds. “Imagine how that conversation would go." Moskowitz, whose press conference was met with rowdy protesters, said her family would have supported her if she had decided to run and wouldn’t rule out a mayoral bid in 2021. "I like politics and policy. I like campaigning,” she said. A cryptic news release sent Wednesday night about the press conference immediately sparked rumors that Moskowitz could be moving forward with a mayoral bid. Moskowitz, 51, has long said she'd been interested in the city's top political job, but has at times expressed reluctance about stepping down from the charter network she founded and where she pulls in a $567,500 salary. But she didn’t Continue Reading

Healing the charter-district divide

On Friday, Mayor de Blasio made his first move against charter schools as his chancellor vowed to transfer $210 million slated for charter classroom space into pre-K programs. Likely next actions: halting charter co-locations and charging rent to charters. From a national perspective, these are odd moves, considering that in cities such as Denver, Houston and Hartford, you can see traditional school leaders collaborating with high-performing charters. The district leaders want to mimic the effective, data-driven instruction and culture of urgency that seem to be part of the DNA of these top charters. How could school politics get so nasty in New York City, a place that usually fashions itself as an innovator? The answer can be found in New York’s unique history with charter schools. The city started out as a national leader in pioneering charter schools — and then, well, things veered in directions that made lots of folks uncomfortable. But there are ways New York can reestablish its role as a national leader in creating better schools, both charter and traditional. The history starts with former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who gave the city a supercharged launch with charters. He lured the country’s top charter operators into the city, with offers of rent-free space, sharing buildings with traditional schools. Any reasonable person would have to concede that the strategy mostly worked. Schools throughout the five boroughs operated by Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Success Academies offer quality schooling to thousands of low-income, minority kids — educations that would not otherwise have been available. But New York rolled out the red carpet for charter schools in a way that basically guaranteed a political backlash. There has been little effort to ensure that charters take on the same numbers of special-education students as traditional schools. And with some charters refusing to Continue Reading

The UN’s red carpet for tyrants: We’re hosting our own assembly where repression isn’t welcome

The United Nations General Assembly, held annually in New York, is a permanent fixture of the diplomatic calendar. Just as inevitably, in the year that passes between each session, the world undergoes changes on a scale from the significant to the enormous. This Wednesday, when President Obama opens the general debate of the Assembly's 66th session, those changes will impact most visibly upon the roster of world leaders not in attendance. Few, for example, will forget Libyan Col. Moammar Khadafy's 2009 appearance, when he delivered a rambling, 1-1/2-hour speech, tossed aside a copy of the UN charter and called the Security Council a "terror council." In 2011, Khadafy's regime will be invisible. His key UN diplomats already defected in February. Similarly, thanks to the political convulsions across the Middle East, other repressive regimes - from Egypt, from Tunisia - will be absent this year, never to return. Even so, for every collapsed tyrannical regime, there are several more that have retained power. And they, too, will be represented in New York, and treated with all the respect we afford duly elected leaders of constitutional, multiparty democracies. From the Middle East, their number includes Syria, Sudan and Iran - whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be attending the Assembly for the seventh year in a row. More broadly, this club of tyrannies includes Zimbabwe, Cuba and, of course, my own country, China, a Security Council member. This depressing reality underlines the greatest challenge of the UN system, which has never distinguished between democracies and dictatorships - despite the fact that the UN is sworn to universally uphold the same human rights for all peoples, regardless of where they live. Given this paradox, how is meaningful action possible on urgent human rights violations, such as China's brutal crackdown this year on citizens who dared to peacefully gather for walks around Chinese cities? The GA's prearranged Continue Reading

John McCain orders Republican convention curtailed for Gustav

ST. PAUL - Hurricane Gustav sent the Republican National Convention swirling off course Sunday as party leaders decided to focus on people, not politics. Hours after President Bush announced he would skip today's convention kickoff to monitor the killer storm, convention officials said they would trim the first-day schedule to a handful of legally required, "business-only" events. Earlier, GOP nominee-to-be John McCain all but tossed out the convention's meticulously planned, four-day agenda, saying delegates would instead reach out with "our hearts and our wallets" to help those in the storm's path. CLICK FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION."I pledge that [tonight], and if necessary throughout our convention, we will act as Americans and not as Republicans because America needs us now," McCain told reporters in Mississippi Sunday. The drastic, last-minute change in program because of a storm threat 1,100 miles down the Mississippi River had no known precedent in convention history, but it was dictated by cold, political reality. For the Bush White House and Republicans in general, Gustav serves as a bitter reminder of its catastrophically incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and a swath of the Gulf Coast three years ago. SEE PHOTOS OF PREPARATIONS FOR THE RNC SUNDAY.For McCain, it was also an opportunity to sound a statesmanlike tone of compassion and set himself apart from the memory of Bush's blunders. Bush's decision to stay on vacation at his Texas ranch in 2005 as Katrina slammed into New Orleans earned him a reputation as a passive, uncaring, even lazy chief executive. McCain projected a very different image - touring an emergency management center in Mississippi with his vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as most cable news channels split their screens between convention coverage and Gustav's path. "I have every expectation we will not see the mistakes Continue Reading

Pope Benedict visits synagogue, UN

A buoyant Pope Benedict, heralded by a Brooklyn band and hugged by a Manhattan rabbi, wrapped the city in a multicultural embrace on Friday with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. The first day of the Pope's New York visit included flowers from two Catholic schoolkids, matzo from a pair of Jewish students and impromptu glad-handing with with a lucky bunch of New Yorkers, as the Holy Father plunged into his inaugural trip to the city as leader of its millions of Catholics. The pontiff - after a Friday morning flight from Washington - became the first Pope to visit a U.S. synagogue, a historic stop made more extraordinary by his German roots and his host, a Holocaust survivor. "Dear friends, shalom!" the Pope proclaimed in his Bavarian-accented English. Rabbi Arthur Schneier presented him with a seder plate - and the Pope reciprocated with a Jewish manuscript from the Vatican library. "A momentous occasion," proclaimed Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who moments earlier wished the Pope "mazel tov" for his recent birthday. The Pope, in his skullcap, made a point of greeting a yarmulke-clad youth choir in the Park East Synagogue - a 120-year-old congregation. Benedict also received a gift of matzo from two students. "I will eat it tomorrow evening," he promised, to Schneier's delight. Earlier, the Pope signed off on a major speech to the UN General Assembly in five languages after urging more worldwide attention to human rights. Benedict also joined 250 Protestant and Orthodox leaders for prayers at a Yorkville parish established in 1873 for German immigrants. The Yorkville parish event was supposed to be the Pope's last public appearance of the night, but he later emerged from the Papal Residence on 72nd St. at Fifth Ave. to greet hundreds of New Yorkers who were just hoping to get a glimpse. About 100 people were randomly picked from the crowd to come around the barricades to meet the Pope. Some serenaded the pontiff Continue Reading

Pope arrives at Andrews Air Force Base

Pope Benedict arrived for his first official U.S. visit Tuesday - and was met with wild cheers, a warm handshake from President Bush and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." The beaming pontiff emerged from his plane - Shepherd One - at Andrews Air Force Base shortly before 4 p.m. on a bright, sunny afternoon, just hours after he told reporters he was "deeply ashamed" of the church's devastating sex abuse scandal. It marked the first time in his two terms that Bush - joined by his wife, Laura, and daughter Jenna - greeted any arriving dignitary at the suburban Maryland base. The two shook hands before hitting the red carpet rolled out for the visiting Pope. A loud cheer arose from the crowd, including a group of Catholic school students, as the Pope emerged from the Alitalia plane after his flight from Rome. Day one of  Benedict's six-day stay in Washington and New York was likely a harbinger of things to come - an enthusiastic reception tempered by the concerns of America's 65 million Catholics. During the transatlantic trip, the Pope said he was "deeply ashamed" by the scandal of pedophile priests that rocked the American faithful and depleted church coffers by $2 billion in legal settlements. "It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally," he told reporters on the plane. The scandal became secondary once the Pope appeared in the doorway of the chartered jet, festooned with the U.S. and papal flags above its cockpit when it taxied to a halt. The gusting winds forced Benedict to clutch his white  skullcap in his hands, as the breeze tousled his thick head of silver hair. He raised both hands like a rock star - the Pope is a little more than 14 years older than Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts - as the crowd screamed in appreciation. Later, they broke into an a cappella version of "Happy Birthday" for the holy father, who turns 81 today. His U.S. stay will also Continue Reading

Singin’ the Delta woman blues

Tyson Ritter is being harassed by a woman known as "Delta Dawn." (Yes, like the one with that flower on, "looking for a mysterious dark-haired man.") Dawn is a Delta Airlines employee who harvested personal details like Ritter's phone number from booking information. "She calls me on the ground between connections to ask me how the flights are going," Ritter told me over lunch at the Empire Diner Wednesday. "She called me on my birthday. She comes to concerts and brings cookies." Ritter's girlfriend, model Kim Smith, started looking a little uneasy. "How old is she?" she wanted to know. "She's like this bag lady with a big thing of cookies," he assured her. Mira Nair walked by on the street and no one noticed. "She calls me and says [lisping], ‘When are you coming back to Connecticut?' I'm a little less honest about my phone number now when I make reservations." In an Orwellian touch, a Delta spokeswoman provided a statement neatly opposite to the facts. "Delta is an airline of professionals and we have strict policies against employees using customers' personal information for any purposes other than Delta business," she said. (Still, if you're going to be stalked by a Helen Reddy lyric, better "Delta Dawn" than "Angie Baby." She killed a guy!) Ritter debuted his side-project band Gnomans last night at Marquee, and also previewed his new fashion label, T Bourne Ritkins. Prepon's Bahama party So we ran into newly single Laura Prepon at the Lucky magazine Upfront Week gifting suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. We couldn't help saying that we heard she got "Sex and the City" hunk Jason Lewis' digits at the Kentucky Derby. "Cripes!" she said, laughing and blushing. "Jason and I have been friends for a long time, but we reconnected at the Derby. Rosario [Dawson], his ex-girlfriend, actually introduced us awhile back." Smooth, Rosario. The two "friends" also found themselves together in the Bahamas for the recent Cove launch. Continue Reading