Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 30, 2015--Spiders of Pemaquid Point

After a fierce winter, everything here is late this year--spring flowers, lilacs, and now our local spiders. Finally, they are hard at work. An especially wonderful web is right outside our bedroom window. A close look at the upper right hand corner of the window in the photo below shows it bejeweled by moisture from the morning fog.

And so I thought to reprint this from September 1, 2010--

There is not much opportunity here to observe big game. Rarely if ever are there any moose to be spotted along the coast. Wildlife action of that kind occurs inland. So near Pemaquid Point, in compensation, I have taken to watching the many spiders that are especially hard at work because of the mosquitoes that spawned after last week's rain. And though they attack us at dawn and dusk, for spiders they are a delicacy. Rich in the protein they need to sustain themselves and out of which the silken material from which they spin their webs is composed, the new supply of these pests has kept the local spiders working overtime.

If you are skeptical, I can assure you that I do have some experience as a very amateur naturalist. One time, in South Africa for example, after the work I was engaged is was completed, Rona and I trekked out to a game camp near Kruger National Park. At first, poshly accommodated—we were met at the entrance by a post-Apartheid black man in a crisply starched White Hunter’s outfit who offered us a frosted glass of something orange, which tasted like a mimosa, to help us relax and compensate us for the bumpy flight in on a six-seater—I was immediately suspicious about the authenticity of the experience that awaited us. Mimosas and stalking big game somehow did not go together even blended by a rich imagination. I, after all, had grown up reading Jungle Book stories and spending time at this N'gala Game Lodge promised to be very different than squeezing under a mosquito net in a tent in the bush.

And so, as I usually do in these circumstances, I behaved dismissively, blaming Rona for dragging me to this expensive Disneyland version of the Veldt, and immediately began to make cynical fun of the guide’s cheerful promise that during our three days there we would be certain to see the Big Five, which he informed us, since this was the first we had heard of this notion, were the five most desirable animals to encounter—the lion; the African elephant; the cape buffalo; the leopard; and rarest of all, the black rhinoceros.

And with that he had one of his “boys” whisk us to our hut. Some hut! With a marble and slate bathroom about the size of our entire one-bedroom apartment back in Manhattan. Our guide told us not to be late for dinner, which that evening was to be served by a roaring fire on which various slabs of game meat were to be roasted.

“Be sure to have the impala steak,” he said, smacking his lips, “It is very special.”

The next day, on the first of our six game drives—one each morning just before dawn and another every evening prior to sunset—we spotted two cheetah within a hundred yards of our camp, which, rather than pleasing me, only made me more cynical. I said sotto voce to Rona, “I’ll bet the reason these cheetahs are right here is because they lure them close by putting out food.” And to the guide, who did not deserve my sarcasm, I added, “They don’t count toward the Big Five, do they? Maybe the Big Six?” He simply smiled back at me, undoubtedly having had, through the years, to endure this and worse from rich safariers.

And then within the first hour, after spotting a pride of lions at a watering hole and learning all about how it is lionesses who do all the cub rearing and hunting while the males hang around sleeping their way through the sultry days—it was clear that women’s liberation as well as freedom and democracy had arrived in South Africa—suspecting that the hotel owners had dug and kept the water hole full so that their pampered guests would not have to drive around all day in dusty futilely chasing after the first of the Big Five.

Restraining from allowing myself to be overly impressed, I came up with what I thought to be a witty counter to the traditional way of keeping score while on this version of safari—the obverse of the Big Five--the Tiny Five. “Maybe we should keep that list too,” I said to no one in particular, “You know, the termite—see all those termite mounds—the tsetse fly, the mosquito, the African Mantid [I had done my homework to come up with this voracious creature], and of course, my favorite, the dung beetle.”

I chuckled at my own cleverness; but when Daktari, our driver stopped suddenly with no big game in sight and directed us to get out of the Land Rover, I thought perhaps to change a tire, saying nothing, he pointed at the ground near where we were standing. There was nothing noteworthy to be seen—just a few pebbles and rocks. “There!” he pointed again, insisting, “Right there!” We bent closer to the ground, following the direction of his finger and indeed right there was the first of my Tiny Five.

“A dung beetle,” he chortled, “Just what you came all this way from America to see.” With that he knew he had me and his face exploded into a brilliant grin.

And there it was, about three-quarters of an inch in size, reared back on its hind legs with its front legs rolling ahead of it what could only be a ball of dung at least twice its size. “You can put that on your list,” Daktari said. And I did because that amazing beetle was as interesting as any of the Big Five which, over the days, we "accumulated." And to tell the truth, all my cynicism quickly faded and I had the time of my life.

Which brings me back to the spiders of our seaside porch—after close observing I discovered an ideal location for them not only because of the airborne protein supply but also since the spaces between the vertical posts that support the deck railing are an ideal distance apart for the construction of their so-called orb webs. Bear with me.

Much of this work occurs just before dawn, which is a fine time for me to get distracted in observing since I am a notoriously poor sleeper; and if it were not for my writing, and the chance to get lost in things such as spider projects, I would be left desperately groping for ways to fill the time and push back, always unsuccessfully, against the tremors of non-specific anxiety that prior to sunrise invade my unprotected mind and sabotage any possibility of morning tranquility or a smooth transition to consciousness.

If the breeze is just right for web-building—not too fresh, not too indifferent--I notice that my spider companion from one rail post begin by extruding a foot-long silky adhesive thread which it leaves to hang unfettered in the air, knowing—if it knows--that it will then begin to float gently, carried on the breath of these pre-dawn zephyrs. With just the right amount of wafting this initial strand is lifted higher and higher until it appears to reach across toward the opposite post, in my case an eight-inch span. And if there is then a slight additional uplift to the breeze the strand miraculously adheres to the adjacent post and what results is a single, fragile swaying strand which bridges the gap and begins to emit a silken glow in the first light of day.

My spider then puts on display its extraordinary tightrope-walking skills—no less remarkable than those of the legendary Philippe Petit who pranced on a wire that spanned the two World Trade Center towers. As I raptly watch it carefully walk along that slender thread it extrudes another strengthening strand of silk. It works its way back and forth, back and forth until these repeated passes and deposits have thickened that first precarious filament. Not unlike the way suspension bridge builders spin the cables that reach from anchor tower to anchor tower and then support the roadway. From Manhattan to Brooklyn, from Brooklyn to Manhattan, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, from Brooklyn to . . .

With this horizontal element now securely in place, and strong enough to support the rest of the web that will be suspended from it and anything it may eventually entrap—including the full weight of the spider which ingests its victims while clinging to the web itself--this aerialist architect is ready to begin to fill in the rest of the vertical structure.

It does this next, I observe, the way climbers lower themselves by ropes from the cliffs they have conquered—in their case by repelling themselves against the rock face as they drop toward the ground where they began; while in the spider’s case by again producing a silken rope at the end of which it dangles—again swinging in the breeze until it simultaneously is pitched to precisely the midpoint between the posts and, when thus positioned, rapidly drops the last few inches to the lower horizontal cross piece where it affixes its sticky thread. It then ascends, again strengthening this first angled vertical line, as it laboriously hoists itself back up to the top rung, all along the way extruding another thread. And once there, it skirts to the other side and immediately lowers itself again, as before waiting until the wind catches it just right and swings it, dangling, to the center of that lower span and when positioned at that precise spot again plummets so it can affix its strand.

If one were to stand back at this point—as I wondrously do, distracted and thus no longer ensnared by wake-up fears—one sees the Y-shaped framework, which will contain the eventual web itself. All the heavy structural work having now been completed—it is time to apply the finishing touches, to fill in the details. The radials and the circular threads that might be thought of as the web loom’s warp and weft, which together will form the final cobweb fabric.

The radials bridge the center of the Y-armature and the concentric circular threads give the web its distinctive Halloween look. Typically, my spider mate constructs at least half a dozen radials and at least that many circular loops; and when they are sketched in, it spends quite a bit of time strengthening the webs center with at least five final circular strands. This is obviously where the action will occur.

By the third morning I am beginning to notice something else: it appears that the spaces between each spiral are proportional to the size of the spider itself—specifically the distance between the tip of its back legs and its spinners. It is using itself, its own body as a measuring device!

But before I got too carried away in the rapture of this back-deck discovery, I quickly realized that this technique must be hard-wired into many animal species. Including humans. After all where did we come up with a yard as a unit or measurement? Or and inch? Or, more obviously, a foot? Welcome to my world spider cousins! Or is it you that is offering the greeting?

And then, hopefully it will be the spider’s breakfast time. It has put in a full morning’s work and deserves something nutritious and savory. I still have two hours to wait until Rona rises before I can get my less-wholesome but delicious blueberry pancakes. So with nothing better to do, to kill some more time, I wait along with it.

After about a half an hour, a frisky, early-rising mosquito begins to buzz about. Perhaps it too is a troubled sleeper. Not wanting to interfere with the natural forces at work I do not swat at it as it dives toward my uncovered head. If it is to pay a price for what it attempts to inflict on me it will not be by my hand. I therefore do not choose to wave it off as I in compensation take malicious pleasure in noticing my spider friend waiting, patiently immobile off to the side of its web.

It and I know what potentially awaits.

The mosquito, which as a result of its first pass left a swelling and itchy welt on my neck, circles lower, seeking a second helping, moving in closer, circling the warm veins throbbing in my ankle. To it irresistible. Sensing its approach I shift a bit—I confess with retributive intent since my foot is not more than a foot from the web—perhaps to help divert it toward its fate.

And for once, Man interfering with Nature yields a sustainable ecological result. My mosquito tormentor, diverted in its flight path by me uncrossing my legs and thereby, forced into a stall by a sudden downdraft, is swept right into the center of the waiting web.

The spider, sensing the impact and the struggle of its prey by the vibrations transmitted through the web, begins to stir. It lifts itself, seemingly to me to stretch its legs and even yawn, and begins its slow descent toward the middle of the web where the mosquito, as it squirms to free itself only, as if in a straight jacket, further entangles itself.

Then, just as the spider approaches close to its prey, an exact body-length away, all struggles cease; and, I believe, if I had a magnifying glass, I would be able to see my spider companion licking the equivalent of its chops.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015--Rationalizations

"What would we do," John asked, "if we didn't have our rationalizations?"

I had never thought much about this, though I'm as good as the next person when it comes to floating them.

"I mean," he said, "wouldn't it be difficult getting through life without them?"

"Probably," I said slowly, not sure just what I was agreeing to.

"Look, how much truth do we need? I mean truth about ourselves."

"I always assumed as much as possible," I said, without much conviction.

"Really? You want to be held accountable for every thought you have--I mean particularly the negative ones--or to things that are unflattering to admit about oneself."

"I'm still not fully tracking you," I said, now half-truthfully, since I was beginning to tune in to what he was acknowledging about himself and which I too am prone.

"It may be one of those 'you-can't-handle-the-truth' kind of things. For these kinds of truth don't rationalizations take you off the hook?"

"I like to think about myself as not that type of person. I like to believe I can not only handle the truth but actually welcome it."

"I won't dispute that, though to tell you the truth, about that, I'm skeptical."

"Skeptical about what?" I was beginning to feel defensive.

"I think I know how you're approaching this."

"I'm listening."

"That there are some truths about yourself that on the one hand you don't want to acknowledge and so the temptation is to rationalize. Am I right that it is this kind of rationalization you want to avoid? That you'd rather deal with the truth whatever it is, however unpleasant it might be?"

"Probably, yes. I do know, though, that many times I rationalize and don't deal with things all that directly or honestly. I admit rationalizing in those circumstances can be useful. But, and this is important to me, I try not to do it. At least, not too often."

"I respect that," John said, "So let me try a different tack."

"Go on."

"I agree about using rationalizations too often as a version of excuse-making. But what about rationalizing as a way to confirm and solidify your core beliefs?"

"You're losing me again."

"Beliefs, which are important to all of us since they guide a lot of our behavior, beliefs are just that--beliefs. They may include evidence and facts and have some basis in reason, but that sort of basis is limited and reason is not always useful when it comes to beliefs. Religious beliefs, for example, are for the most part, if we're honest, not based on much evidence or reason. We, for various reasons, are comfortable just believing them."

"I'm with you regarding these kinds of beliefs but about others I'm not so sure. And then what does any of this have to do with rationalization?"

"For beliefs rationalizations are very useful, maybe even essential. It's a way to reconcile you to beliefs which you know are really not reason-based, but more faith- or emotion-based. And here I'm not talking just about religious beliefs.'

I nodded.

"For example, don't you believe in the importance of behaving ethically? Isn't that a belief and not something you derived from reason? I know there is a reasonable case for ethical behavior, but isn't a decision to act ethically, even when not in your best interest, derived from a body of beliefs? For these, it's my view that rationalizations are important."

"As long as we're not just talking about excuse-making . . ."

"You're right," John interrupted, "I began with that but think what we're talking about now is much more complicate and important."

"About this," I said, "I need to do a little more thinking."

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Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015--Blood Moon

Sunday night saw the last in a series of four total lunar eclipses that occurred within the past two years--a so-called tetrad.

This doesn't happen very often, especially when one of the eclipses, best when it is the last of the four, is a Blood Moon. The previous one was in 1982, the next in 2033.

This occurs when the moon is in its perigee, when it is closest to the Earth, and thus the reflected light of the moon, before it is eclipsed, has to pass through a maximum thickness of the Earth's atmosphere which causes the light to red-shift.

If this sparks our contemporary imagination, as Sunday's did, one can only imagine how it struck native people, who even at their most knowledgable (the Incas and Mayans come to mind), had limited astronomical and scientific sophistication.

For all ancient peoples, this occasional lunar phenomenon (and concomitant solar eclipses) was imbued with spiritual portent, often with concern expressed about the cycles of nature that people depended upon for their survival.

So any tribal leader, priest, or shaman who could understand these occurrences, their spiritual meaning, and predict when they would occur and, perhaps more important, offer assurances that they would soon end, wielded uncommon power among his people.

This was true as well for more modern and scientifically advanced people.

For example, in 1504, Christopher Columbus was on another of his voyages to the New World, this time along the north coast of Jamaica. Short of food, to dupe the natives into supplying his men with what they desperately needed, he knew it would help if he was able to appear god-like. To do so, knowing from his astronomical tables that a lunar eclipse was about to occur, he "predicted" it; and when it occurred on schedule, he was regarded as having supernatural powers.

This was especially true when after the Jamaican Indians begged him to make the moon reappear he "did" so as asked. The next day the natives gave Columbus and his men all the food and fresh water they has asked for.

Closer to our own time, there have been a number of apocalyptical prophesies associated with Blood Moons.

Perhaps most recent is the one propagated by the Reverend John Hagee. In 2007, like Columbus, anticipating an upcoming tetrad of special significance, he claimed that this one, which coincides with the Jewish Holidays, with no less than six full moons in between, including four consecutive lunar eclipses with no intervening partial eclipses, is a sure sign of the End Times and the beginning of the Millennium, which he asserts are described in the Bible in Acts 2:20 and Revelations 6:12.

I assume you are reading this on Monday, a day after the End Times were to commence. I don't know about you, but I have not as yet seen any evidence of this. Oh well.

If Hagee is still around in 2033, I assume we will be hearing more from him.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

September 25, 2015--Frank Rich On Donald TRUMP

The most recent issue of New York Magazine (not the New Yorker) features a cover with a photoshopped image of Donald TRUMP in Founders' garb and a Thomas Jefferson wig. Not The Donald's usual lunatic comb-over.

Beyond the image, we are also informed that the title of Frank Rich's cover story is "Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy."

I thought that liberal Rich's perspective was going to be how TRUMP's outrageous rants about immigrants, Mexicans, and women would so mobilize these aggrieved groups that they would undertake massive voter-registartion drives to seize the democratic process in response to his and his ilk's calumnies.

But then in the article itself there is this--
What's exhilarating, even joyous, about Trump has nothing to do with his alternately rancid and nonsensical positions on policy. It's that he's exposing the phoniness of our politicians and the corruption of our political process by defying the protocols of the whole game. . . . 
It's as if Trump were performing a running burlesque of the absurd but intractable conventions of presidential campaigns in real time.
If you have been following me here, you know I have been saying versions of this for months, though, alas, not as vividly written.

TRUMP as a post-policy candidate is creating a new genre.

A genre not found anywhere except, as Rich points out,  in films such as Bulworth where the Warren Beatty character, a senator from California, abandons his scripted talking-points and begins to tell the truth, in rap!
Wells Fargo and Citibank, you're really very dear
Loan billions to Mexico and never have to fear
'Cause taxpayers take it in the rear.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 24, 2015--Run, Joe, Run

Though the vast majority of Democrats think Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy, she is still the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.

Since an even greater percentage of Americans say they do not trust her, because of that it is unlikely she can be elected.

Trust is a very big deal when it comes to electing presidents.

On the other side, Republican leaders are beginning to conclude that Donald TRUMP has a very good chance of being nominated. The rest of the field is so weak, he is so well known (and in his idiosyncratic way liked), and enough of the GOP base (who dominate the nomination process) are so fed up with business-as-usual, that they are sticking with him even though he continues to say things almost daily that would knock a traditional candidate out of the race.

The reason why the Republican establishment, including the big-money boys are so upset is not because they disagree with TRUMP about immigration, the economy, and international affairs, is because they feel, probably correctly, that he can win the nomination but, also correctly, feel he would lose to Hillary.

So, if things proceed on their course, Hillary Clinton, deeply flawed as she is, is most probably our next president.

Bernie Sanders is an attractive fantasy alternative to progressive Democrats, and he may win the New Hampshire primary, he has no chance of being nominated and if there is anything more unlikely than "no chance," he has an even less chance of being elected. Even Donald TRUMP would defeat him.

Then, in regard to both parties, the political professionals have rigged their primary processes to make it easier for Jeb Bush and Clinton to win the nominations, feeling a year or so ago when the rules and calendar were determined, that they were their party's strongest potential candidates.

Both parties' nomination calendars were rigged and the small number of debates allowed were to benefit the two favorites. Fewer debates meant that lesser-known candidates had less chance to become known and compressing the primary season to just a few months would mean there would be less time for internecine party warfare.

But a funny thing is happening on the way to the two preordained nominations--Hillary Clinton has been exposed as less then trustworthy (emails and such), Jeb Bush is proving to be a dud, and then there is The Donald who barely needed any debates or all that much time to become better known since he is about as well-know as all his opponents combined.

Therefore, it's time for Joe Biden to jump in.

That is, from the perspective of progressives who do not want to see Hillary nominated or a Republican such as TRUMP, or Jeb for that matter, elected.

At the moment, Biden would have not much chance to defeat Hillary. There isn't that much time to get rolling and he has no money. Clinton has hundreds of millions either in the bank or pledged.

But the fact that he is surging in the polls suggests there is a pent-up interest in him or, minimally, Clinton fatigue, and thus much of the money pledged to her could quickly migrate to Joe.

Notice how that has already happened on the Republican side--former candidate and frontrunner Scott Walker was about to be anointed with hundreds of millions of support from the Koch Brothers. That money is now seeking a new candidate. Ditto for Sheldon Adelson's hundreds of millions.

Among Democrats the same thing could happen.

Biden is a credible candidate. He has the same progressive values as Clinton, is at least as well-prepared to assume the presidency (her resume is her biggest asset), and has been right about as much as she has been wrong when it comes to foreign affairs, especially regarding Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. As Secretary of State, she was largely a failure. All of this will be fully exposed if she becomes the nominee and it would weaken her further.

And then there are the authenticity and liability factors. Side-by-side Biden would stand out. He has no need to have a personality makeover as Hillary is currently attempting to pull off by going on the Ellen and Colbert shows.

Even Joe's propensity to say goofy things these days would not be much of a liability. At a time when our national elections are more-and-more about likability, he is as likable as Donald TRUMP.

So, run, Joe, run.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015--Facts

Rona said, "I've given on the importance of facts."

M and I looked at her. To our unasked question, she said, "Maybe as time goes by I'm having difficulty remembering them, but I think it's more than that."

"More than that?" M asked.

"I think I am beginning to live a post-fact life." She sensed we weren't following. "Could be a rationalization for the effects of growing older but . . ." She trailed off. Then picked up, "I read a lot. At least I used to. But only a few months after reading something I can't remember the details. Forget the names of characters. This used to bother me. Really bothered me. But not any longer. It's either that I'm coming to accept this about myself or, as I said, I'm giving up on their importance. Facts."

"I'm younger than you," M said, "But I'm the same way and it doesn't trouble me. I mean, why do we read? I'm talking mainly about fiction. To remember things? Or for them to have a different kind of effect on us."

"Like what?" I asked. "Though I think I agree with you."

"Even before you've heard what I have to say?" She smiled at me.


"Don't we read to experience life in all its forms, especially when the lives we read about, that we encounter, are different than our own? To for a moment live in different worlds. Their worlds. To be transported. To be inspired. To understand things that are best communicated through writing and the art of writing. Don't we read more for that than to remember narrative details or," looking toward Rona and smiling, "the names of the major characters?"

"You making my point for me. And quite well. I'm becoming reconciled to being comfortable with that. Not remembering the specifics but, as I said, I'm intentionally giving up on wanting to retain everything as a way of freeing myself to live a different kind of life. Without trying to make myself sound too important, to help me live a freer, more serene, more sensitive and thoughtful life. Without the burden of being swamped by too many facts. Or, to put it another way, too much information."

"That doesn't sound 'too important' to me--your word--but smart and a good way to approach things at this time in your life."

"My time in life as well," M chimed in, "Yes, I have to be concerned about my career and supporting myself from it, but I also want to be this post-fact kind of person. At least during my non-working times. I also like to think about myself as a creative person and feel that not worrying so much about retaining everything, by doing so, or allowing myself to let some things go, I am clearing enough space in my brain, in my consciousness, for creative activity. For that, ideas need room to move about and find each other in fresh and unpredictable ways."

"I like that," Rona said. "It's good to know that you don't think there's anything wrong with me."

"That's for another time," I said with a wink.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September 22, 2015--On the Road

We are on the road again this morning. I will return to this spot tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2015

September 21, 2015--Donald TRUMP's Prosperity Politics

You could have fooled me.

After last Wednesday's GOP debate I thought Donald TRUMP's numbers would either tank or at best stall out, and as a result I would be able to stop typing his name in capital letters.

But it appears that TRUMP continues to confound all conventional explanations. He can continue to talk about Carly Fiorina's face and imply that Barack Obama is a non-American Muslim and seemingly get away with it. Actually, thrive as he gets more and more outrageous.

Struggling to figure out what's going on, pundits keep getting it wrong.

The best explanation anyone seems able to come up with is that it's because he is the first candidate who comes more from the entertainment than from the government or business world and thus is better known and, in his own complicated way, better liked and more fun than all the other candidates combined.

Some claim it could also be that voters are so totally turned off by politics and politicians that even someone as gross as TRUMP is attractive as an alternative. In his case apparently grosser is better.

Perhaps, his supporters are saying, it's time to throw all the bums out and open a TRUMP casino in the White House.

To underline this latter point, the debate last week was called "Round 2" by CNN; and our niece, who is staying with us, not so under her breath suggested they should have hired ring-announcer Michael Buffer and had him intone, "Let's get ready to RUUUUMMMBLE!" as TRUMP led his smaller-than-life opponents onto the stage at the library of another showbiz politician, Ronald Reagan.

I myself like the TRUMP White House Hotel & Casino explanation because I am thinking that to his fervent followers he is more like a mega-church TV evangelist than just a big city deal maker.

That is he is a certain kind of preacher in the tradition of the Reverend Ike, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Joel Osteen.

Self-appointed ministers who preach the Prosperity Gospel.

Prosperity Theology is a religious doctrine that asserts financial well-being is the result of the will of God and that faith and donations to Christian ministries (especially those of the Bakkers and Osteens) will contribute to an increase in both parishioners' wealth and the likelihood that they will be Saved.

That these contributions also make preachers wealthy is just more evidence of God's will and how He will provide for those of faith. So, we see the Reverend Ike tooling around flauntingly in a fleet of Rolls Royces (see below) and Osteen and his wife Victoria going to the supermarket in Houston in twin sports cars.

TRUMP is a secular version of this.

Unlike Mitt Romney and other politicians who do not talk about much less flaunt their wealth, TRUMP, like the Osteens, lets it all hang out. As with them this is evidence that he has been chosen. As will be his followers. Thus, thrice-married TRUMP is in the lead in heavily-evangelical, socially-conservative Iowa.

TRUMP even aggrandizes his net worth. Forbes says he is worth perhaps $2.0 billion. He boasts it is closer to $10 billion. And like the prosperity gospel preachers, he explicitly promises that if voters follow him he will help them get rich.

"I will make America so rich we won't have to talk about the minimum wage."

Osteen fills 16,800-seat Lakewood Church every Sunday; TRUMP draws rockstar attention as he did in Iowa last weekend at a massive tailgate party before the Iowa-Iowa State football game even though, according to the New York Times, he spoke to the crowd for less than one minute.

There's a message in this as well--descend from the sky in your private jet, don't say too much (especially policy specifics), and leave them wanting more.

Which they will get by later today.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

September 18, 2015--TRUMP Is Cooked

The Donald's long free ride is almost over.

Reflecting on Wednesday's debate, most observers agree that Carly Fiorina "raised her profile," largely by the forceful and classy way she took on TRUMP. Especially calling him out about the way he speaks about women, very much including Fiorina where most of his smears have been about her appearance and, more significantly, her failed time as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

When she took him on, from attendees she received the only sustained applause of the night.

His repost, with a shrug, a pathetic, "She's really got a beautiful face."

To have any chance at all of recapturing the presidency, the Republican candidate will have to connect with women. Fiorina, as TRUMP also an "outsider," may turn out to be that ideal candidate.

I suspect TRUMP's numbers will remain high but stalled while Fiorina's will rise considerable, propelling her into third place, with Ben Carson, who did not do himself all that much good on Wednesday, remaining for the moment in second place.

The danger for The Donald is that unless, shark like, he keeps moving forward, he will reveal how vulnerable his support is. It depends entirely on promoting the image that he is all about winning--for himself and for the American people. He promises to make everyone rich. Not just with a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. But rich.

If he begins to look like a loser, or not that special, the air will begin to come out of his balloon. You can't these days (thankfully) run down women the way he has without it eventually catching up with you.

That began to happen at the Reagan Library debate Wednesday evening.

Regarding Carly Fiorina--in spite of what she contends, she was a failed CEO at HP. All the growth she proudly points to as evidence that she was successful, claiming at the same time that she was pushed out because of internal board politics, though some of the latter is true, all the revenue growth she spotlights was because of the purchase of Compaq computers, her biggest strategic move, which quickly turned out to be a fiscal disaster for the company and a personal one for her.

She deserved to be fired and that will haunt her and make her as vulnerable as TRUMP as she rises in the polls and undergoes the resulting scrutiny.

Which in turn will bring us back to Jeb Bush. Languishing in the polls and thus far unable to speak coherently for more than two minutes, the other night, after two hours of hesitation and inarticulateness, perhaps after TRUMP was defanged by Fiorina, Jeb began to find his way. He emerged for the first time as the political pro he is supposed to be. If he can manage to keep that up he could be this cycle's comeback kid.

The problem--by the time he finally woke up viewers were already asleep or had tuned back to ESPN. No one any more was watching the debate and I suspect as a result it will take some time before GOP voters gives Jeb a second or third look.

Bottom line--they will and it will come down to Bush (who wants to put British Margaret Thatcher on our $10 bill), TRUMP (who would choose Rosa Parks), Carson (who would select his mother) and Fiorina, who had the best answer--make no changes, "Women are not a special interest group."

The rest can begin to pack up.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

September 17, 2105--Wandering

Wandering in northeast Maine where Internet connectivity is weak. I hope to return tomorrow. If not, Monday for certain.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September 16, 2015--Tomatoes

Coming home after an early morning walk on the rocks circling Pemaquid Point, on the front porch Rona, seeing something, asked, What's that?"

"What's what?" I said.

"That bag," she pointed,"Over by the front door."

"I have no idea. Pick it up," which she did, "What's in it?"

Peering into the bag Rona said, "Tomatoes. A bag of tomatoes. And look, a few green peppers." She held one up for me to see.

"Tomatoes? Peppers? The peppers especially look wonderful." I smelled one, "Right from the garden. Who do you think left them here?"

"I have no idea," Rona said.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

September 15, 2015--The Week Ahead

Our schedule is so full this week that I doubt I will have time to keep Behind going. Check in if you are inclined and I will let you know how things are.

I suspect, though, that I will find a moment to get something written after Wednesday's GOP debate.

One thing--keep and eye on Carly Fiorina. She's in the main event this time and is the sleeper.

One thing is certain, we'll know after it ends and the political class has its say, if the TRUMP campaign has legs.

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 14, 2105--What's With Ben Carson?

Not only has Dr. Ben Carson surged into second place in polls of Republican voters, almost in a statistical dead heat with Donald TRUMP, but national polling shows him doing best among GOP candidates in the all important head-to-head with Hillary Clinton.

According to the latest CNN poll, TRUMP and Hillary are tied, Clinton bests Jeb Bush by 4 percentage points, but loses to Carson by 5 points.

It's still very early, but this makes one think.

An African-American, evangelical, conservative surgeon?

So he is not just an unexpected and unusual Republican favorite but his appeal goes beyond the evangelical base of the Grand Old Party and includes many Democrats and Independents.

Of course he has that anti-government thing going. Along with Carly Fiorina and Donald TRUMP, the three non-establishment candidates, they garner well over 50 percent of potential Republican primary voters.

We tend to think of African Americans as pretty automatically voting for Democrat candidates. The last three Democrat nominees for president received on average about 90 percent of black votes.

One question, then, about Dr. Carson--would he get more than 10 percent if he were the nominee? Obviously, yes, and that would give him quite a leg up in key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania,  Florida, and Virginia. In the general election if he could carry those four states he'd be well on his way to winning the presidency.

But that's political inside baseball. It does not say much about Crason's clearly wide appeal.

Some remind us that there is a long tradition of Black conservatives who have thrived on the national political scene. Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts and Colin Powell come to mind. Many feel Powell would have been able to win the GOP nomination in 1996 and had he done so would have had a good chance of defeating Bill Clinton.

Carson's cultural conservatism appeals not only to large numbers of blacks (about one-third self-identify as social conservatives) but also to white and Latino religious conservatives. His views on abortion and same-sex marriage (he opposes both) are cases in point.

Like other African-American conservatives who preceded him, he comes off as comfortably non-militant. He doesn't threaten as many whites as did Jessie Jackson and even Barack Obama.

I think, though, that there are other reasons why he is doing so well. Primarily because he is a physician, not just because he is anti big government. Then, there is kind of surgeon he is (neuro) and the fame that accrued to him from his successful, highly publicized effort to separate conjoined twins.

Many feel we are in our national core virtually terminally ill and in need of treatment. Metaphorically, of course, but those who feel this way, considering the state of our national health, may be thinking why not call on a doctor to heal us?

And then there is the further metaphor of his work with Siamese twins. As with them, we were at one time a conjoined body politic, but in recent decades have lived separately and angrily in our partisan corners. Little gets done. We barely speak to each other.

Carson is someone who understands the difference between being united and being separate. And how to do both successfully.

By this logic, I doubt if he would have the same appeal if he were, say, an orthopedic surgeon.

One the other hand, remember George W. Bush who declared himself, "a uniter, not a divider"? Though we know how well that turned out, we did elect him with an assist from the Supreme Court.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Algebra

"Why did we have to spend three years studying the Revolution?" Rona seemed agitated by her own question.

John quipped, "Maybe because it took that long to win the war."

"Actually it took longer," I murmured, "But that still is a good question though I'm sure it didn't literally take three years. You didn't like history in high school and it probably felt like three years."

"They spent at least six months telling us about what kind of clothes people wore at that time. Mainly the women."

"Probably under political-correctness pressure they needed to find something to say about the roles women played. They were likely trying to get the girls in class interested. The boys probably got into the battles and weapons."

"I'm sure they did," Rona grumbled.

"But while we're at it," she continued, "why did they require so much history--American History, World History, Non-Western History?"

"Or for that matter," John joined in, "so much literature--American Lit, English Lit, and . . ."

"And," I added, "don't forget Non-Western Literature."

"Then there was all that science and a foreign language," Rona said, "And I went to a non-traditional high school."

"State requirements. I'm sure that's the answer."

"I'm sure you're right, John, and in addition," Rona said, "Once something gets into the curriculum as a requirement it's hard to dislodge it, assuming anyone wants to. There's a whole infrastructure and industry that surrounds all the academic fields. There are jobs at stake. If they stopped requiring foreign language, what would they do with all the French and Spanish teachers?"

"Make them teach gym," I said. "I mean it. In my high school, they had a surplus of social studies teachers and since they couldn't get rid of them turned them into gym teachers. I'm sure you can imagine how well that worked out."

John was nodding, "True for me as well."

"While we're on the subject, tell me why they require everyone to take at least a year of algebra? I mean, you John are an accountant and own a manufacturing company that makes precision steel products. Do you ever use any algebra in doing people's taxes or in your manufacturing work?"

"Never once," he said. "My memory is half shot but I can't remember one thing, not one thing I learned in algebra. Maybe that equations have to be balanced. But how to do that and why that's important I think escaped me then (if I could only remember) and now--forget about now."

"When I was at the Ford Foundation," I said, "I attended a board meeting of a big deal education foundation. In Cincinnati. The meeting was devoted to how to more effectively teach inner-city kids science and math. There were a lot of good ideas around that table from very high-powered people, including Dick Riley, who was Secretary of Education.

"About a half hour into it, I said, 'I know this is going to sound crazy, but before we talk about how to teach, say, algebra more effectively, maybe we should ask ourselves why we require it of everyone in the first place.'

"All there stared at the table top. I thought, 'Boy, did I blow it. They probably think I am crazy.'"

"So what happened?" John asked.

"No one had a good answer. The dean of the school of ed there said it's partly for exposure. To see which kids gravitate toward math, maybe even have a talent for it."

"'Good point,' the school superintendent said, 'but you know, you really don't have to spend a year frustrating 99 percent of the kids to maybe find one turned on to math. In fact, anyone with math aptitude by the time he or she gets to high school would already know algebra and even calculus. Those kids teach themselves.'"

"So where did things wind up?" John asked.

"Not resolved. No surprise there. It was just too hot a topic, too potentially disruptive even though later that night, after everyone had had a few drinks, pretty much all the board members said we as a nation, as educators should probably talk openly about this because we're turning more kids off than on by requiring so much math and probably other stuff as well."

"Like three years about the Revolution," Rona said under her breath.

"What about civic education?" John added. "Since schooling is a required public enterprise, on which we spend many, many billions, isn't one big justification the preparation of well informed citizens who, because of Civics and American History, can participate more knowledgeably as voters and maybe even as public officials?'

"Excellent point," I said, "That is if it works."

"Works?" Rona exclaimed, "And where does it lead? To Donald TRUMP."

"I'm getting depressed," John said. "Did anyone see Stephen Colbert last night?"

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

September 10, 2015--Friday

"Friday at the Bristol Diner" will resume tomorrow with thoughts about--

The American Revolution (Rona)

Algebra (John and me)

And the presidency (more from me)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

September 9, 2015--Take My Husband, Please

Suddenly everyone is talking about funny.

Last night Stephen Colbert took over the Late Show. People have been anticipating and talking about it for nine long, long months. Would he be as funny being Stephen Colbert as he was inhabiting his crazed right-wing persona? People wondered if what we will get on CBS as opposed to the Comedy Channel will be the "real" Colbert.

Illusion and reality. Remember that from your introductory college lit course?

We managed to stay up late enough to see at least a little of the new show and it only served to remind me how much I miss his old one. Not that he wasn't funny. It's just that he wasn't so trenchantly and deliriously funny. But time will tell.

It will help if he'll soon move on from all the self-referential shtick that made up so much of last night's monologue.

One of his guests was Jeb Bush, about the least funny, low energy politicians in America. OK, you got me, there's George Pataki. And Ben Carson. And, to be fair and balanced, Martin O'Malley.

These days you can't run for the presidency without appearing on the equivalent of Laugh In (Richard Nixon) or Arsinio Hall (Bill Clinton in shades playing the sax) or John McCain on Saturday Night Live (of course Sarah Palin too--both as herself and in Tina Fey's realer-than-life incarnation).

When he was running, Barack Obama showed up everywhere, from Jay Leno to doing skits on SNL to boogying with Ellen to trading quips with Letterman and Kimmel.

Wooden candidates from Michael Dukakis to Al Gore, some say, lost the presidency because they lacked a sense of humor. They were missing the "likability" factor.

Speaking of likability, do you recall back in 2008 how when candidate Hillary Clinton was faulted for not being likable, during one of the debates, Obama was asked what he thought about that?

With impeccable timing he said, "She's likable [one beat, two beats] enough." He was roundly criticized for that.

But you know (one beat, two beats) he was right.

She was, and is, not a natural politician and thus comes across as not that likable. Which these days can be a fatal problem.

But that's about to change.

Her campaign over the weekend announced that they're going back to the drawing board and the new Hillary Clinton they promised will be likable.

The scripted, extra-careful, humorless Hillary is about to be funny.

And, risking a gender-bending reaction, it was announced she will be more spontaneous. In the words of her campaign managers, she will speak "from the heart."

What they failed to note is that claiming they can just turn on the funny switch and thereby humanize Hillary is further confirmation that her campaign, and the candidate herself, is an artificial construct.

One minute she's sober and presidential, the next she's hanging out in the back of the press bus knocking down beers and cracking jokes with reporters and getting booked on Ellen and The Tonight Show.

How phony will her new personality seem? I suspect she will come across as pandering and desperate. And it will ironically underscore what many think about her--that she's inauthentic.

Yes, Hillary makes fun of her 'dos ("The hair is real, the color isn't"), which is sort of funny, at least the first time you hear it. But the fact that it is now part of her anti-TRUMP stump speech--he clearly has hair issues--makes it less funny every time it's repeated.

Pretty pathetic.

But, hey, this is 2015! Get with it. It's all about social media and because of social media it's all about being cool and likable. And being likable means you have to be funny.

Even if you aren't.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

September 8, 2015--Tīwesdæg and Feverer

I know it is not politically correct to claim we are a Christian nation.

But we are.

According to the Pew Center On Religion & Public Life, Christians (Protestants and Catholics) represent 70.6 percent of America's population; Jews 1.9 percent; Muslims 0.9 percent; Buddhists 0.7 percent; and Hindus also 0.7 percent.

Then there are varieties of non-believers: Agnostics 4.0 percent, Atheists 3.1 percent, "Nothing" 15.8 percent, and my favorite, "Don't Know," 0.6 percent.

But, still, by our founding and the numbers, like it or not, we are pretty much a Christian nation.

Except for one very important thing--in the names of our days and months. Pretty much all of them are named for Roman or Germanic gods. Pagan gods.

Take Tīwesdæg for example. It means "the day of Tiw," the Germanic god of war and the sky and is the obvious root of our Tuesday.

Then there is Frīgedæg, Old English for "day of Frigga," after another Germanic goddess Frigga, wife of the supreme god Odin and goddess of married love, which in turn became our Friday.

One more day name, also derived from Old English, this time a day with an astrological etymology--Sunnandæg, clearly meaning "day of the sun."

When we get to the months we fare no better as we are still far from our Judaeo-Christian roots.

Our shortest month, February, has an interesting origin. From the Middle English feverer, based on the Latin februarius, the name of a pagan purification feast held during this month.

And, our current month, September, descends from the Late Old English via Latin septum, which means  simply "seven,"our September originally having been the seventh month of the pre-Christian Roman year. Or octo, Latin for eight, and the root of October. With novem, Latin for nine as the basis for our November. All denote their place in the Roman calendar.

These latter three are not that fascinating but are indicative of the fact that none of the names of our months or days are derived from Christian, much less Judeo sources.

And, thus, when we wake up on a Mōnandæg, Old English for "day of the moon"; or on the Old English Thunresdæg, "day of thunder," named after Thor; or arise on the Old English Sæternesdæg derived from Latin, meaning "day of Saturn; these days and all the others as well as all of our months have pagan roots.

I confess to liking these etymologies (but then I fit in the Agnostic category), but why haven't we heard from evangelical fundamentals about this? Perhaps they are too busy focused on banning evolution from the curriculum and fighting same-sex marriage to get around to calendar matters.

I would think they would want one of our days to be Maryday, say, in place of Monday; Francisday for the current Friday; and even throw in one for the Jews, perhaps Shabbos instead of Saturday.

As for the months, I can see one named for Paul. and another for Luke. Luke, a forceful name so wintery and blustery could replace January (originally from the Latin Januarius, meaning the "month of Janus," who faced both ways and is thus the god who presided over beginnings. Nice.).

We could dump June (Middle English derived from the Old French juin ultimately from Latin junius, meaning "scared to [the goddess] Juno") and alliteratively replace it with Judas.

I know, a nonstarter.

And then, what about April? Since it is the cruelest month why not the month of Job? But since April, or the Latin Aprilis, is the only month or day for that matter that has a mysteriously unknown derivation maybe we should just leave it alone. Let April be April. Among other things, as a reminder of our pagan origins. And current literally day-to-day reality.

Happy Tīwesdæg.

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Monday, September 07, 2015

September 7, 2015--Sarah Palin: No Help Wanted

While the rest of us are taking the day off, Sarah Palin is busy looking for a job.

The one she has picked out for herself is to be Energy Secretary in the next president's cabinet.

Donald TRUMP's.

Yes, his.

Interviewed Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Palin said she's ready for that "because energy is my baby: oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind's use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations."


They have admired each other for a long time (I bet) and TRUMP has said he'd "love" to have Palin in his cabinet since she is a "really special person." Not just a special person but a "really" special one.

Sarah assured host Jack Tapper that "It would be a short-term job" because she would soon be shutting down the department.

Or is it Rick Perry who'd eliminate it? With all these candidates I get confused so easily.

But between now and then, she gushed, wouldn't it be "really great [really great] to have someone who knows energy and is so pro-responsible development to be in charge."

She failed to mention that as The Donald's secretary she would be succeeding two Nobel Prize winning physicists and that the department, among other things, is responsible for building and storing our nuclear weapons. Among her favorite things.

I can just see Tina Fey warming up for another season of SNL.

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Friday, September 04, 2015

September 4, 2015--Weekend Obsession

Clearly, considering my obsession with Donald TRUMP, I need an extra long weekend to recover my sanity.

I will return on Tuesday with thoughts about pagan America. I promise, there will be no mention of TRUMP.

Well, perhaps just one or two.

Like, for example, how liberal MSNBC is even more obsessed with him than I.

Last night, Chris Hayes at 8:00 spent a full half hour at the top of the show talking about TRUMP's press conference at which he spoke about signing the pledge to support the winner of the Republican primary campaign.

And then how at 9:00 Rachel Maddow devoted 37 minutes to the same subject. (We literarily timed her.)

Her conclusion--by signing the pledge TRUMP was acting like a typical politician and that this would hurt his outsider chances.

Maybe yes, perhaps no.

It also means that if he wins the nomination the other Republicans, all of whom signed the RNC pledge, will have to support him. Not a bad thing for his ultimate electoral chances.

OK, on more thing--like the MSNBC folks, the New York Times and pretty much every other media outlet realizes that covering The Donald attracts viewers and readers.

So, in the Times covers what the other candidates have to say about TRUMP. Not, for example, Jeb Bush's most recent policy paper about, say, the environment. Instead they write about what he had to say about TRUMP.

Nothing good, of course, but poor Jeb knows that the only way to be paid attention to is to be as obsessed as I.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

September 3, 2015--Jeb's Pique

Once front-runner Jeb Bush is unraveling.

We all knew that preppy Jeb for whom everything came easily as destined for people of his background and class was potentially touchy about a few subjects--his brother, his father, his mother.

But allowing Donald TRUMP to get under his skin, nouveau riche Donald? Classless, tasteless, parvenu Donald? (Why am I using so many French words?)

It was bad enough he had to deal with the likes of a Scott Walker and Rick Perry. Such, I suppose, is the life of anyone who wants to be anointed president.  Treat them like help, he must have thought, and it will soon be over.

But Donald TRUMP!

Well, yes.

The New York Times reported yesterday that The Donald's let-it-rip style of campaigning is making poor Jeb crazy.

This is not what he bargained for. TRUMP's slash-and-burn kind of politics is just what he loathes most about running for office. He's much more comfortable in polite conversations about policy, policy, policy.

But to have to get down in the mud with the likes of the bloated billionaire from Queens, of all places. If he has to do that, is the presidency, the family business, worth it?

Good question which for Jeb will be resolved in a few months after he gets trounced in Iowa and New Hampshire. Forget South Carolina. South Carolina! Not his kind of place at all. Tacky, tacky.

Jeb thought all he needed to do was lose the flab so he would appear lean-and-mean, produce a couple of hundred policy papers, trot out his Mexican wife to secure the Hispanic vote, and to top it off speak a little Spanish.

So what is he getting in return? Mainly mockery from TRUMP.

One thing that seems to gall him more than the rest of TRUMP's mockery is the assertion that Bush is "low energy."

"Hey, Donald, have you checked out my new waistline? And, by the way, you could use a little work on your own."

Bush is so rattled by the jibe that he lacks energy that he has taken to talking about it on the campaign trail. A fatal political mistake.

"I'll just give you a little taste of the 'low energy' candidate's life this week," he said, and then went on to tick off a list of places he had been during the past two day--McAllen, Texas; Salt Lake City; Denver; Birmingham; Greensboro; and Pensacola.

Pensacola, I'm sure he thought, The things one has to do. Can't we just skip to the Inauguration and get to the noblesse oblige part?

"The 'low energy' candidate," he continued, "this week has only been six days, 16 hours a day campaigning with joy in my heart."

Poor you.

What's worse, he's making it to easy for Saturday Night Live writers.

But here's the problem--TRUMP is right.

Bush lacks energy, which is another way of saying that he is too patrician for the rough-and-tumble of a gloves-off contest and is evidence that he really doesn't want to make the effort to win the job.

He wants it bequeathed to him like pretty much everything else has been in his life.

Maybe he should have listened to Mother--"We've had enough Bushes."

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

September 2, 2015--Thursday

Thursday is when I'll return.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

September 1, 2015--TRUMP: Read My Lips--Yes, New Taxes

With Donald TRUMP continuing to surge in the polls--state-by-state and nationally--Republicans are beginning to panic. Not just about the possibility that he might win the nomination but that he might, just might become president.

We know he'd build a "great, great" fence (his description) and deport 10 million illegal immigrants (they love that red meat), but now members of the GOP corporate establishment are worried about what else he might do if he were elected.

And they are not liking what they are hearing and fearing.

He's talking about Republicans' favorite subject--taxes. But he's not talking about cutting them further for rich folks such as himself (that really hits home), but raising them significantly for people who make money by manipulating the system and who take advantage of all the loopholes that enable the least productive capitalists to earn more than those who, like TRUMP, actually do and build things. And have their own money, their own skin in the game.

This to them is truly dangerous stuff. Would he be, like Franklin Roosevelt, a traitor to his class?

Here's are some of the tax increases he has been talking about--

He says he would institute stiff tariffs on American companies that build factories in other countries. He has threatened to increase taxes on hedge fund managers' compensation. People he rightly says are "getting away with murder." And he has said he would change the laws that enable American firms to pay much less in taxes by merging with companies based overseas in order to benefit from their cheaper rates.

None of this is music to the one-percenter's ears.

And let's recall that he opposed the war in Iraq before it was launched (not so either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden) and his heath care views are more Bernie Sanders than Jeb Bush or the current Republican flavor of the month, Doctor Ben Carson.

So TRUMP continues not only to be amusing and provocative but seriously uncatagorical and interesting.

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