Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 17, 2018--Lock Them Up

Announced Friday was the first in at least three chapters about how Russians influenced the 2016 presidential election. 

This report from the Mueller investigation and the Department of Justice did not contain a "smoking gun." 

That means no one from the Trump campaign, including President Trump, was accused of knowingly playing a direct part in the dozens of efforts to derail Hillary Clinton's campaign while boosting his.

But a smoking gun, in a second or third chapter, will soon be forthcoming. 

The second chapter will show the many ways in which Trump's people wittingly were involved, likely including Trump himself. A third chapter, knitting everything together, will reveal how money was the root of all evil that caused this to happen--how Russians indirectly and directly laundered oligarchs' ill-gotten gains (including from Putin) through western banks such as Deutsche Bank, which in turn loaned it to Trump (and the Kushners) to bail out their failing real estate deals.

Expect in these two chapters to hear directly from the perpetrators themselves as perhaps up to dozen have been cooperating, for months working undercover for the Mueller investigation, wearing a wire, in exchange for not being tried, convicted, and sent to jail.

Thus far, some of this is unintentionally ironic. 

For example, we learn how pervasive and effective the Russian interference was and likely continues to be, including as we grind toward the 2018 midterm elections. 

Their use of social media and their direct involvement in campaign dirty tricks undoubtedly helped tip the election to Trump. By working strategically in three or four key states how could they not have turned the few thousand votes Trump needed in purple states (which they targeted) such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania to build his winning margin in the Electoral College?

This means (the irony) that the Russian campaign in 2016 was more effective than Hillary's--Trump won with Russian support; she lost for the same reason.

Making what the Russians were up to vivid, Mueller, in this first series of indictments shows how Russian operatives showed up at campaign events, including in West Palm Beach, FL with a flatbed truck on which there was a simulated jail cell within which there was "incarcerated" an actress pretending to be Hillary Clinton dressed in orange prison garb.

Mueller is now moving quickly, wanting to complete as much of his work as possible before Trump attempts to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in an attempt to shut down the investigation.

None of this will work. Friday witnessed the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

February 16, 2018--The Other 3%

Not the economic elite who own a vastly disproportionate percentage of America's wealth but the 3% of Americans who own 80% of the assault weapons in private hands.

The New York Times reports it is much easier in Florida to purchase an AR-15 military style weapon than a handgun. It takes three days of background checking before one can take a pistol home but you can walk into a gun shop and an hour later leave with a semiautomatic rifle. 

In Florida you have to be 21 to buy a handgun but only 18 to purchase an AR-15.

Rona asked why it is places such as Florida, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, and Nevada where it is easy to purchase weapons of mass destruction while it is difficult if not impossible to do so legally in places such as New York that the worst shootings always seem to occur in those states where guns are easy to obtain whereas in New York this virtually never happens.

The answer to that is easy and self-explanatory.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

February 15, 2018--Gilded Age

A friend who seems to know about almost everything that's on TV--knowing her is better than subscribing to TV Guide--recommend that we watch "The Gilded Age," part of the American Experience series broadcast on PBS.

I confess that I rarely (that means never) watch PBS. I like my TV at its raw, unrefined worst (when I can't stand any more Morning Joe, for example, I switch over to reruns of Married With Children)--television for me is for escape or to keep up to the minute about the latest high school shooting massacre (yesterday, therefore, involved switching back and forth between Olympic figure skating and the horrendous story of mass murder in a high school in South Florida not too far from where we used to winter.

But before that, we watched about half of "Gilded Age" (I kept nodding off since I'm not that good at taking in information other than by reading or talking).

What I saw of it was OK, full of well chosen photographs of the then vulgarians who made up the conspicuous worst of that era. The point, in part, was to remind us that we're living in a similar age and that we need to protect ourselves if we want to preserve what's left of our democracy. 

Dealing with gross inequality must become our highest priority. It was good, though, to be reminded that no matter how bad we think things are today they could be worse. Like during the Gilded Age of 1880 to 1920.

You know how these documentaries work--they depend mainly on vintage photos, film from back then, and talking-head historians who set the context. The ones who get me snoozing.

Last night, one of the historian experts who wrote definitive books about John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and William Randolph Hearst (all Gilded Agers), was David Nasaw, an old friend. I hired him for his first academic job in 1978 at Staten Island Community College. Some years before he had produced a neat book, Starting Your Own High School, derived from his experiences teaching at the Elizabeth Cleaners Street School. It was written by the kids and edited by David. He was just the kind of "radical" educator we were eager to bring on board at SICC for our "experimental college," which I directed.

He turned out to be the great teacher we were hoping for and after Staten Island went on to bigger but not necessarily better things. He's now a distinguished professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center, where, after serving in President Kennedy's administration, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was affiliated. So David is doing very well as a cultural and social historian and was perfect for setting context for "The Gilded Age."

He and it were good enough so the next time my friend recommends something serious to watch on TV, I'll think about giving it a try.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14, 2018--Hence, Donald Trump

In case anyone is still wondering why Donald Trump was elected, in a few words, in her Sunday New York Times column, Maureen Dowd, who has recently turned more attention to interviewing celebrities (Uma Thurman last week) than writing about our depressing politics, returned to biting form and supplied as good an answer as I have seen. 
Here are the first few paragraphs--

Donald Trump slipped into the Oval Office through a wormhole of confusion about American identity.  
We weren’t winning wars anymore. They just went on and on and on, with inexplicable and deceptive aims and so many lives and limbs and trillions lost.  
We couldn’t believe in our institutions, with breaches of trust and displays of ineptitude.  
We were moving from a white-majority, male-dominated country and manufacturing base to a multicultural, multilateral, globalized, P.C., new energy, new technology world, without taking account of the confusion and anger of older Americans who felt like strangers in a strange land.  
Among many, the allure of Barack Obama’s brainy nuance had given way to a longing for a more muscular certainty.  
With the Russians sowing confusion, Trump surfed those free-floating anxieties, that fear of not knowing who we are, straight to Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018--#metoo

Friday afternoon, exasperated, Katy Tur on MSNBC, said, "All I'm hearing is 'he, he he.' Not a word about 'her.'"

She was referring to what she and the rest of us were hearing from Donald Trump about Rob Porter, his recently fired White House Staff Secretary. Though an ordinary-sounding job title, the Staff Secretary has frequent direct access to the president and is responsible for determining what printed material is given to the president to read or, in Trump's case, ignore.

To serve in that position, like his predecessors, Porter needed a top secret security clearance. Which he didn't have since the FBI, about a year ago, when reviewing his application, discovered that he had physically assaulted both of his ex-wives and thus did not approve assigning him that status.

Late Friday afternoon, in a virtually unprecedented move, unannounced, Trump invited the White House press corps into the Oval Office to take a few questions. It was no surprise that all of them were about Rob Porter. Trump had clearly thought carefully about what he would say.

At length, with a heavy-sounding heart, he spoke about what an exemplary employee Porter had been and how he would be missed. He called his departure "very sad" and that "we hope he will have a wonderful career." That "it's been a hard time for him."

He also reminded us that poor Porter had not been proven guilty, that he was merely the victim of allegations. There had not been due process. 

It was widely noted by Katy Tur and others that Trump spoke not a word about the women who had been physically assaulted. He didn't point out that what they had endured was also "sad" or offer the hope that they too would have "wonderful careers" or lives.

Over the weekend a little research revealed that with Trump there is a distinct pattern about these matters--when someone is accused of spousal abuse or sexual harassment, in all cases except Harvey Weinstein's, Trump totally ignored the women and consistently made excuses for the men.  

About Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama, who was credibly accused of molesting and raping minors, Trump,  not acknowledging the then girls, emphasized that Moore hadn't been convicted of anything. It was classic he-said-she-said though it was clear who Trump believed. 

And in the cases of campaign managers Cory Lewandowski and Steve Bannon, both accused by ex-wives of domestic violence, Trump did not seem concerned and stood by them when the accusations came to light.

Then, still fitting the pattern, when Fox News's Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly were exposed as serial sexual predators, Trump fell in line in support of them.

About Weinstein Trump couldn't resist joining the condemnation since he was a major donor to Hillary Clinton's and other Democrats' campaigns. And so he overcame his reluctance to criticizing the men and took a swipe at Weinstein, saying, with unintentional irony on the very anniversary of the notorious Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape, that he was "not at all surprised" by revelations that the movie mogul repeatedly paid to settle charges of sexual harassment. It was obvious that Trump was speaking from personal experience.

"Still missing from this discussion," Rona said, "is more analysis about Trump's reticence."

I said, "I think in general it's been claimed that he's a classic chauvinist right out of the era in which he, a spoiled rich kid, came of age. A world where powerful men felt free to sexually exploit women, especially in the workplace. Mad Men like."

"I think that's only a part of the story," Rona said, "More significant to me is that he himself has been charged with sexual misconduct by at least 15 women and that he allegedly raped Ivana, his first wife. So he is directly implicated in his own world of similar accusations. Thus to talk in a more balanced way about the current burst of sexual allegations would potentially force him to confront his own behavior. So, by making excuses for the men accused, men like Rob Porter, via the psychological mechanism of projection, he is making excuses for himself. Diminishing the claims of the women suing him by assigning or projecting his behavior onto them. 

"You remember the hashtag Maureen Dowd created for him in her Sunday column? Instead of #metoo, she came up with something more appropriate for him--#me." 

"Perfect," Rona said with a sad smile.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

February 12, 2018--Our Best Hope

What else is new. Over breakfast Saturday Rona and I were again talking about Donald Trump. This was in the midst of the Rob Porter fiasco. 

The fiasco was not about his two battered ex-wives (that was tragic) but about the way chief of staff Kelly handled, no, ignored the situation and tried to cover up the fact that Porter was denied a security clearance because the FBI found he was a spousal abuser. 

Additionally distressing, no one on the Trump team, including its supreme leader, did anything about it until it became publicly known and the White House was reluctantly forced to fire him. 

Reluctantly, not because Porter did such a good job, which was to manage the paper flow to Trump. Considering the fact that Trump does't read, that suggests Porter's was less than a full time job, which--gossip--meant he had the time to fool around with Trump uber-insider Hope Hicks. 

Trump and his Praetorian Guard handled his firing very gently--praising Porter highly as he was marched out the White House door because Trump and his inner circle feared he might show up on Robert Mueller's witness list and they didn't want to do anything further to incite him. 

Oh the stories Porter could tell Mueller from his vantage point right outside the Oval Office.

"You remember" Rona said, "the first person we knew who said he was not only putting out a Trump lawn sign but predicted that Trump would secure the nomination and also win the election?"

"I do remember that. It was up in Maine, it was Joe, and most amazing, he got it right even though Trump had just announced he was running and everyone, everyone, apparently including even Trump and his family, thought he had no chance. People were sure he was running half-seriously to build his brand. In other words, to make more money.

"We thought Joe was crazy."

"But he turned out to be right. Do you also remember what he said when we asked him why he was supporting Trump?"

"I do," Rona said, "It was because he felt Trump knew how to get things done. As a successful builder and businessman he had skills that would translate well in the White House. He'd be CEO-in-chief. And that's what we needed after eight years of Obama, where, Joe claimed, very little that was needed got done.

"I asked him to give us an example of Trump getting things done that qualified him to become president much less a successful one."

"He talked about the iceskating rink in Central Park. How the city couldn't make it work--the ice for years wouldn't freeze solid and though over six years they spent $3.0 million dollars of taxpayer money they couldn't fix it. After two years of agitating Trump finally got the mayor to agree to let him try, charging the city only for the cost of materials. In four months, 25 percent under budget, it was working fine and is now called the Trump Iceskating Rink."

"We were surprised that Joe knew so much about it. But he told us that not only did he but so also did a lot of others and that they would become his voters and defenders."

"Obviously Joe was right about the nomination and election but he was dead wrong about Trump being able to 'hire' only the best people or 'get things done.'"

"It turns out Trump's better at making messes than accomplishing things. Take Rob Porter as the most recent example."

"Can you imagine," Rona said, "How much worse it would be if Trump was actually competent and able to get things done? I hate to think what that would look like. At the moment, ineptitude is our best hope."

"One thing Trump accomplished."

"What's that?"

"After all the messes Joe's no longer willing to talk about politics or Trump."

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Friday, February 09, 2018

February 9, 2018--Jack's Cri de Coeur

"Don't say a word." It was Jack. "I need to talk."

In the years I've known him he never sounded so vulnerable. He would not reveal that side of himself. 

"Of course," I said, "Anything. I have the time."

"I don't think I ever told you much about how I grew up. I know you know it wasn't a bed of roses. I think you know I didn't get much schooling. That things were such that I had to work from the time I was ten. Not the kind of fun jobs kids do these days at that age say during the summer riding around with their fathers delivering newspapers or something. I mean working to help put food on the table or during the rest of the year working at anything you can find so you can help pay for heating oil. It gets very cold here in the winters. Sometimes if I didn't make enough there was no heat. I put on every sweater I had and tried to sleep while my whole body, even under the blankets, couldn't stop shivering.

"I'm sure you're wondering about my mother and father. What was up with them. If you had a month I can tell you some stories. Not the kind of stories you like to write about. With mine there's nothing amusing or charming. Though here goes--

"The first thing I remember is when my father went to Massachusetts for work. You know there's more cranberry bogs there than any other state. It can seem like the whole state is nothing but cranberries there are so many of them. I know from first hand because some years, when I was older, with a couple of buddies I did the same thing. Rake those berries standing up to you ass in waders. Doesn't make for a happy childhood. But the money wasn't all that bad and they put you up in dormitories. Not the kind I'm sure you know from college or whatever. You did what you had to do.

"But I was telling you about the first thing I remember. About when one year when my father went to the bogs in Harwich or wherever and didn't come home. I don't mean over the weekends but didn't come home for three years. He had become a stranger to me those years when he was away. I must have been five or something like that. I didn't remember that exactly. I guess I could have been six or even seven. Though it doesn't really matter. I don't know why I'm making such a big deal about how old I was. Enough to say I was very young and he went to Massachusetts to work and didn't come home for what felt like my whole childhood.

"Somehow we managed to get by. Just barely. My mother had a friend who took me in. During the days that is. I hardly went to school. The truant officers knew me by my first name. My mother though was able to work stocking shelves at Hannifords. They let people who worked there take home food at the end of the day that was about to spoil so that helped. One year it felt like a lived on chicken salad that was about to go bad and stale rolls. But it cost so much to buy oil in the winter that my memory of that time was being so cold halfway through each month when my mother couldn't afford to have the oil tank filled up. The oil people were pretty good about extending credit so at least we didn't freeze to death. Though I remember one time when it felt as if we would. Maybe that's my first memory. Of freezing to death. Or nearly.

"During those years I forgot I had a father. But then one day he shows up with a big shit-eatin' grin on his face. When he knocked on the door I didn't recognize him and thought he was there, at our trailer, for the mortgage payment. My mom often couldn't make the payments.

"I'm sure this is sounding to you like a story I'm making up from my imagination. Right out of a bad tear-jerker of a movie or something." I was about to assure that it didn't but held back, "I have a vivid one. Imagination I mean. I wasn't much of a reader but from my imagination I made up a lot of stories. Kept me company. But these I'm telling you are all true. As best as I can remember them.

"So like I said he just appeared, wanting to be taken in. At first my mother blocked the door. She had figured out a way of life for us. But I suspect for my sake she stepped back away from the door and let him enter. That she felt a boy needs a father. Even like mine who had disappeared for three years and never been in touch. Forget a phone call. Ours had been turned off. But not even a note or letter or Christmas card. Nothing. Like he had up and died. But she let him in.

Looking back she shouldn't have. Things quickly took a turn for the worse. From it felt like the first day. I didn't know anything about him before he took off but when he came back he brought a pretty bad temper with him. Let me correct that. What he was like was much more than what I'm sure you're thinking of when I say a bad temper. It was closer to violent rages. 

"Of course, like that bad movie, he got drunk every night. Could be he was drunk all the time. He could barely keep a job, any kind of job. The best he was able to do was work for this neighbor who sold firewood. He hired my father to split logs but he wasn't much good at that. In fact, one day he had to be taken to the hospital since he sliced off two of his fingers in that log splitting machine. I'm not making this up. 

"So much for chopping wood. Or anything else for that matter. My mom kept working at Hannifords. She was doing a little better, getting promoted to manage the deli counter. It also became her refuge because after he got home from the hospital all my father did was lie around watching soap operas on TV. A grown man. That's what he did with his days. . . . His life.

"Of course his best friend was the bottle. He somehow managed to get a little disability from the government. He had been in the coast guard for about a year before they kicked him out, but he was good at working the system and got about $500 a month. All went for cigarettes and drink.

"So, like I told you my mother was doing pretty good on her job, but the better she did the worse he became.

"It begin from the minute she got home. By then he had drunk himself to sleep but woke right up when he heard her car on the gravel outside out place. He was hollering at her before she could even take off her coat. Raging at her at the top of his lungs--

"'You slut,' he got right into it, 'So what you been up to all day? Flirtin' around with the other salad scoopers?' His voice full of contempt, 'You still have your shape, that I'll grant you, so I guess all the pretty cheese slicers must be sniffin' after you.' He'd make disgusting sucking sounds, 'Which I'm imaginin' you're havin' a good time with. Knowin' you like I do. Slut that you are.'"

"On and on he'd go. It didn't take long for her to get hysterical. Crying and screaming at the same time. And like that bad movie again, throwing stuff around. All the dishes finally got broke and we ate off paper plates after that. She'd slam the door on the bedroom and lock it but he'd kick it in following her back there. I turned up the voices in my head to try to block out what he was raging about and, to tell the truth, so I couldn't hear her either.

"It went on like that. Day after day, month after month. It must have been only a few months before he became physically abusive. At first just--how can I just say 'just'--well after just that he began to punch and kick her. One night knocked out two teeth. Bloody noses happened all the time and all sorts of cuts and bruises. I was still a skinny kid but I tried to get between them, I mean in front of him to try to get him to stop. But he would just brush me aside. 

"One night thing got so bad, he was screaming 'whore, whore, whore' and drunkily slugging away at her that I ran over to the neighbors--the firewood people--and asked them to call the police. There was no need to tell them the whole story. They could hear the screaming and yelling through the walls of their trailer. They did call the sheriff and they came right over and took my father into custody. But after a few days he was back. And back to his familiar ways.

"My mom had had enough and one afternoon when he was dead drunk and deep asleep on the couch she loaded me in the car and drove us up state to Caribou where her mother lived, thinking she'd take us in. Which she did, but after only a few days he hitched north and found us out. I guess he knew there weren't many places where we could go and hide. 

"Rather then be killed on the spot my mother again gave into him and the three of us drove back home. Home, such as it was.

"Like I said I could go on for hours. But since I've already taken up too much of your time let me cut to the chase. And get to my point. Because I do have a point."

"It's," I began to say and again held back.

"Like I said, my life was like a cheap movie and that's how it ended. Not my life, but his. How his life ended. Simple, one of his drinking buddies who he owed about $1,000 to--who would give him money is beyond me--well, he up and shot him. Right through the chest. Killed him outright.

"Can't say my mother or me were unhappy about that. It was going to be him or us. For once things turned out. So, that's it."

He paused to take a few deep breaths. "Why am I telling you this?" Jack resumed, "That's sort of simple too. Let me read you something that'll help explain." 

On the other end of the line I could hear him shuffling papers. Then, in a monotone, he read--

The first time he called me a "fucking bitch" was on our honeymoon. (I found out years later he had kicked his first wife on theirs.) A month later he physically prevented me from leaving the house. Less than two months after that, I filed a protective order with the police because he punched in the glass on our front door while I was locked inside. We bought a house to make up for it. Just after our one year anniversary, he pulled me, naked and dripping, from the shower to yell at me. 
Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out. But in my home, the abuse was insidious. The threats were personal. The terror was real. And yet I stayed. 
When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed. I was told, yes, he was deeply flawed, but then again so was I. And so I worked on myself and stayed. If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave. But he could be kind and sensitive. And so I stayed. He cried and apologized. And so I stayed. He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups. And so I stayed. He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence. And so I stayed. I felt ashamed and trapped. And so I stayed. Friends and clergy didn't believe me. And so I stayed. I was pregnant. And so I stayed. I lost the pregnancy and became depressed. And so I stayed.
I knew where this was from. From disgraced White House secretary Rob Porter's second wife Jennifer Willoughby's journal entry.

Jack was silent for what seemed like five minutes, then finally said, "You know my politics" (that I do) "Well, this changes everything. I mean. To have him, this person, this animal in the White House in an office right outside the Oval Office. I mean . . . that's . . . I can't finish the words."

I held onto the phone for what seemed like another five minutes. But Jack had hung up.

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