Thursday, March 31, 2016

March 31, 2016--Heading North & A Prediction

It's coming to the end of our snow-birding for the year. It has been a little intense--the first time in nine years we've been coming here that we won't be able to say goodbye to my mother.

As a distraction, I can't resist one more political prediction--

Donald Trump will not win the Wisconsin primary.

He may even come in third.

That will herald the beginning of what will by June turn out to be an ugly, so-called "open" GOP convention. It will be anything other than open. All deals, deals, and deals behind closed doors. Think House of Cards.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016--Our Old Passat

I received more questions about which car we finally bought than about all my political musings.

After spending nearly two full weeks visiting a dozen showrooms and test driving everything from basic Chevrolets to "loaded" Mercedes, we decided to keep our old VW Passat.

And are feeling very good about it.

We came close to selecting a Maine-compatible Volvo or a South-Florida-sporty Benz E350; but just as we were about to close the deal, backed out and reembraced our old VW.

Yes, reembraced.

As we pulled our chairs closer to the salesman's desk and I searched for my reading glasses, Rona and I looked at each other and began softly to cry.

"We drove your mother in this car," Rona said through tears. "Including to her last Chinese meal. There's been so much loss this year. I'm not ready to lose our old car too. It is so full of memories."

"I was having similar feelings," I said, looking toward the salesman who I assumed has seen it all. "Also, how we used it so many evenings driving friends to dinner. I limited myself to half a glass of wine and designated myself the designated driver. And now . . ."

"I know what you mean. And who you mean. And since they are now struggling with such serious health issues . . ."

". . . it's unlikely that the four of us will ever agin be able to have dinner together."

We sat silently for a moment, avoiding eye contact, and then Rona said, "Are we being overly sentimental? I mean, after all, we're talking about a car . . ."

She shrugged, then answered her own question, "We're not. We're not being silly. This car is just too full of  these memories. And even if we're being emotional, what's wrong with that? I mean . . ."

So we decided to keep it but also to take care of some deferred repairs, which we were ignoring in anticipation of trading it in.

We had the transmission fluid replaced and all the lines and filters cleaned so now it runs as smoothly as when it was new. We had a new oil pump installed as it was beginning to leak slowly around the gasket and replaced all four tires so that we again have a remarkably quiet ride.

And while we were at Tire Kingdom waiting for the new tires to be mounted, someone she didn't know offered to pay $500 toward the $800 cost of new brake pads and drums a young woman was told she needed but which she couldn't afford.

A random act of kindness that made all of us realize there are any number of ways to turn gloomy days into happy ones.

Including the Tire Kingdom manager who told us with an off-the-record smile that at 103,000 miles our memory-ladened Passat is just getting started.



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March 29, 2016--Still Feeling the Bern

"Did you hear Bernie's speech this weekend?"

One of our very young friends was calling. It was clear she was excited.

"After winning the caucuses in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. He really trounced Hillary."

"He's good at caucuses but not so much so in primaries where people actually vote."

"You're always so pessimistic about him."

"I think I'm being realistic. I keep my eye on the delegate count. Like it or not, they will select the nominee. And by my calculation, and that of pretty much everyone else, Hillary should win easily."

"I'm never going to vote for her." I felt badly that what I said deflated her.

"If it comes to that--I mean Hillary versus Trump or Cruz or whomever, you'd think of voting for one of them."

"Never."

"So . . . ?"

"So, maybe I won't vote at all."

"That sounds defeatist to me. Not voting for Hillary is just like voting for Trump or whoever."

"Now you sound just like my parents."

"Well," I said, trying to lighten the mood, "Sometimes even parents get it right."

"I didn't call to get you to convince me to give up my ideals. I'm young and I want . . ."

"Touché. I hope you'll except my apologies. Listening to myself, I think you're right. That's what I was trying to do. Get you to be 'realistic,' to compromise."

"There's time for that."

"Yes, I did hear his speech. I haven't listened to a speech of his for quiet awhile and thought . . ."

"Because you already gave up on him?"

"Probably true. Probably true. With so much going on on the Republican side I admit I haven't paid much attention to the Democrats. So I . . ."

"Tuned out Bernie. For what it's worth, I excuse you for that. What's going on with the Republicans is more fun." She laughed, and I was glad to hear she was back to being her usualy enthusiastic self. "I don't know about you, but I thought he was amazing."

"I was impressed. Too bad . . ."

"There you go again being negative. Even if he doesn't have much chance of winning the nomination, didn't you feel that everything he said was true?"

"I did. But even if he somehow manages to get elected, I doubt he could get Congress to go along with Medicare for all much less free tuition at public colleges and universities."

Ignoring that, she said, "And weren't you impressed with what he had to say about minorities--he went down the full list, including Native Americans. No one else even mentions them much less as compassionately and honestly as Bernie."

"True. We could go over his speech point by point and probably agree with pretty much everything."

"Particularly what he said about what he said about women. As a woman, a young woman I was excited about that."

"Doesn't he say similar things as Hillary? About equal wages, abortion, childcare leave?"

"Yes, but I wasn't as impressed about the list of specific issues as how he spoke about the importance of both women and men working together on them. Not just women. If these are family issues, he was saying, that has to include men."

"I noticed that and I too was impressed."

"This is not the way Hillary speaks about the next things that have to happen to secure more rights for women. She makes it sound as if it's only a women's issue when in fact it's a women's and men's issue. I think this difference between Bernie and Hilary is one of the reasons so many young women are supporting him."

"I haven't heard anyone mention this. So good for you."

"I've got to run in a minute, but one more thing."

"Sure."

"My feeling that you were pushing on me to be realistic, to compromise . . ."

"I already apologized for that."

"And I heard and appreciated that. But here's what I want to say about that--it's too soon for me to give up my ideals. Isn't that what young people are supposed to do--maintain their ideals? Weren't you like that when you were my age--not willing to give in? What with the antiwar and civil rights movements?"

"Fair points."

"And also, though I know it's unlikely, probably impossible for Bernie to win, if by some chance or fluke he manages to do so, I'd still want him to press Congress to raise Social Security benefits and make health care a right. And the rest of his agenda"

"But wouldn't he have to compromise to get anything done?"

"Not in advance the way I feel Obama tended to do. If we agree that everything Bernie said in his speech the other night is both true and right, to accomplish his goals, wouldn't it be smart for him to lay them all out in specifics and fight for them? Maybe he wouldn't win, but at least he'd get the discussion started and, who knows, maybe he'd get a few things done and set the agenda for the next decade or two."

"Go on."

"I know you like history."

"Yes."

"Isn't it true that Truman was the first president to call for universal health care, something even Nixon advocated, and then decades later Obamacare was approved and upheld? So who knows--maybe the things that Bernie wants to do could over time have the same results."

"Could be."

"Who was it who said that journeys of a thousand miles begin with a single step? Even revolutions."

I sensed she was smiling. Feeling good about herself.

"You know what?"

"What?"

"I love you. Very much."


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Monday, March 28, 2016

March 28, 2016--The Koch Brothers

For a deeper understanding of our current political culture, I cannot recommend anything more revealing than Jane Mayer's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

Much of it focuses on the Koch Brothers, whose combined wealth equals $84 billion, and the organizations that they have stealthily founded and funded. Including the innocuously-named Americans for Prosperity, the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, the Heritage Foundation, and dozens of others off almost everybody's radar screens. And of course, from its inception they provide all kinds of support for the many activities of the Tea Party.

In all of this, they follow in the footsteps of their father, Fred, one of the half dozen or so founders of the ultraconservative John Birch Society, who began to amass his fortune by building oil refineries in Germany for Hitler's Third Reich. He so admired the Fuhrer and Mein Kampf that Father Fred visited with him at least 11 times and spoke effusively about him in the years leading up to World War II.

Of course, this "episode" is not included in official histories of Koch Industries. The timeline for those half dozen years is blank.

What is most interesting and less well known are the things the Kochs would like to see happen to America and our government. The reasons they have spent hundreds of million dollars on these organizations.

To summarize their political agenda in a few words--they would like to see the end of government altogether. Literally.

Not scaled back, not pruned here and there, not just contracted in size with the Commerce Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and of course the Federal Reserve and IRS all eliminated. Kaput.

In their mostly private speeches and writings they call for the elimination of all manifestations of government. They would repeal all of the New Deal, including Social Security and unemployment insurance and all Great Society programs. This means, if they had their way, there would be no Medicare, Medicaid, much less any public accommodation or voting rights legislation.

They would eliminate all public funding for education. This means they would provide no governmental support whatsoever for any kind of schooling, from Head Start to college loans to funded research. They also would get the government out of efforts to reduce segregation or end abuses to voting rights. They not only would dismantle the IRS but would eliminate all forms of federal taxation. And they would strike out all regulations that limit corporate life and especially banking.

At the even further lunatic end of the scale, they would not have any public support for police or fire departments. I assume individuals would have to do their own policing and hire private firefighters.

They would also terminate the CIA and FBI. And unbelievably, even our standing army.

They would amend, actually eliminate the Bill of Rights with the Constitution protecting only one right--the right to own property.

They even call for ending the ban on slavery, claiming that it is an individual's right "to sell himself if he so chooses." They are that perversely, consistently Libertarian.

Like Grover Norquist (whose American's for Tax Reform the Koch's fund), they would like to see government so reduced in size that it could "be drowned in a bathtub."

I know you think I'm making this up. If you do, I urge you to pick up a copy of Dark Money. There's more there. And worse.


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Friday, March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016--Ladies of Forest Trace: Posthumous Lunch With the Ladies

"We're only here for a few more days and though I know it will be difficult," Rona said, "maybe it would be good, even therapeutic to visit Forest Trace one last time and . . ."

"But with my mother . . . why would . . .  ?"

"Closure, I suppose. We've been in Florida now for almost three months--for the first time with your mother not here . . ."

"Dead. Not 'not here,' but dead because that is what she is. Avoiding saying it that way has not been helpful to me. It's gotten in the way of my mourning because I expect to get a phone call from her and even be able to pop over to see her. Her being 'not here' means she's only away. For the time being. Not gone. Not final. Not dead."

"I get your point, but I think the anti-euphemism business is not helpful. I know what she is but it doesn't feel necessary to say it over and over again. For me . . ."

"For you, fine. For me, I think I need to think in these terms. But I'll try not to obsess about it. I do need to do some more grieving. I've been stuffing my feelings of loss. When we head for New York this time no one will care when we leave or what route we take or be waiting for a call when we arrive safely."

"We're more on our own, that's true," Rona said, reaching out to hug me. When she did I burst into tears. "But we're fine, as fine as we can expect to be right now. And we will be better. These last three months in Florida have been helpful to thinking about what was and what will be."

"It would help if we didn't know so many people in such dire circumstances and . . ."

"That's always been true. We're fortunate to know so many people and that means we'll always have someone struggling with mortality."

"Put me on that list," I said, still tearful, "I'm struggling big time."

"Is there something you're not telling me? I mean do you have symptoms I should know about?"

"None other than a heavy heart."

"I have an idea," Rona said, sounding upbeat.

"I'm open for anything that would help lift me out of this."

"Why don't we call a few of your mother's friends. Some of the Ladies, and see if we can take them out to lunch."

"I like that idea. Maybe to that wonderful dim sum place, Toa Toa, where Mom, six months before she died had her last meal in a restaurant."

"She loved that lunch. We ordered all her favorites from wanton soup to soy sauce noodles."

"She ate everything. So slowly that they had to reheat the food four times and it took her two hours to finish."

"I'll remember that lunch forever."

"Six months later she was gone."

"No longer here," Rona smiled, holding on to me.

So a few days later we were able to arrange for three of the "girls," as my mother referred to them, to meet us at Toa Toa where we ordered up a storm, including a sampling of my mother's favorites.

We wanted to talk about her, and though they were happy to do that, it was clear they wanted to do so for only a limited time.

Bertha said to us, "We remember her with love. She was a remarkable person, but one special thing about her was her not wanting to dwell on unpleasant things. 'There are enough of them at our ages,' she used to so. 'In our lives, in the world. So let's try to look for positive things to talk about. To think about the future, not just the past. Things we can feel optimistic about.' That was her in a nutshell."

"This is not always easy for us," Fannie said, "We all come from Europe from a  time when things there were not good for people like us and then here with the Depression, World War II, and of course what Hitler did."

They all nodded. But perked up almost immediately when the first in a stream of steamed dumplings arrived.

"She wouldn't be happy about the election," Gussie said.

"I thought we were supposed to talk about more optimistic things," Fannie said, at 97 managing her chopsticks quite well.

"We'll get to that," Gussie said, asking for a knife and fork, "We'll get to that. But, like I said, she would not be happy about that Trump."

"Who is," Bertha said. "such a bully. Such a bigot. Who says such terrible things about women. He claims he has Jewish friends and loves Israel, but I have my doubts."

"Though some of the men where we live, the few men who are still with us, some of them like him and voted for him in the primary."

"Did they tell you their reasons?" Rona asked.

"He can get things done, they say."

"Just that?"

"Just that. And most of the men think he knows what to do with the Muslims and Mexicans. I mean, the terrorists and immigrants. They talk as if they're one and the same."

"Did they say what they think Trump will do?"

"No. Just that he's strong and will keep them safe and build that wall."

"To tell you the truth," Fannie said, "These men are lucky to wake up in the morning or even know who they are. They're that oyver-botled. You expect them to know any specifics about Trump or any of the other ones? They get lost going to the bathroom." The ladies smiled and nodded in agreement.

"I love these chive dumplings," Bertha said, "These were your mother's favorites. In the past, when she was better, when she had lunch here, when she got back to Forest Trace she would go down the list of what everyone ordered and gave an analysis of each of the dishes."

Remembering that, when she was fully herself, really until not so long ago, when she was already 105, I began to tear up.

"I'm sure I know what she would be thinking about Trump," I managed to say, "Among everything  else she would have been repelled by his crassness, his crudeness. She never uttered a four-letter word even when that would have been forgivable. She was very proper and held everyone including herself to very high behavior standards. She could be quite judgmental about those kind of things."

"Do you remember the 2008 election?" Fannie asked.

"I think I know what you are going to say," I said.

"How your mother worked so hard to help Obama win the nomination?" I nodded. "How she worked on the three of us and dozens and dozens of others at Forest Trace. Almost all women, many who were born before women could vote, how she worked on us one by one to convince us that Obama would make a better president than Hillary."

"And how at first we all resisted," Gussie added. "It took her awhile but slowly but surely she persuaded almost all of us to vote for Obama. Which we did. She helped 125 of the girls fill out absentee ballots and then in huge shopping bags took them to the board of elections."

"I do remember that," Rona said. "I was so proud of her. She was a feminist in her own way. Very much so. But she put that aside because she saw more potential in Obama."

"And she was thrilled,"I said, "when he not only won the nomination but was elected. Not that she overlooked his flaws as president. She could be very critical. Tough-minded but fair. She never let anyone off easy. I can tell you from personal experience that she had very high standards and it wasn't easy to meet them."

"We held ourselves responsible for Bush," Fannie said.

"How so?" Rona asked.

"Those chads. Remember how in 2000 George Bush won Florida because of those hanging chads in Broward and Palm Beach Counties? That's where we live and I am sure with our shaky hands we by mistake pushed the wrong chads and wound up voting for that Nazi, Pat Buchanan."

"He's just an anti-Semite, which is bad enough," Gussie said.

"Well, your mother wanted to make sure that never happened again. So she had us fill out those absentee ballots. With her checking everything, I'm sure none of us voted for John McCain and that awful Sarah."

"And Obama did win Florida, by a comfortable margin, and of course the election. Your mother was very proud of that."

"So, here's the big political question," I said. They put down their forks and chopsticks to make sure they heard me. "How would she be feeling this time about Hillary?"

For a moment no one said anything. "That would be complicated," Fannie said.

"I'm sure she'd vote for Hillary," Gussie was quick to add.

"But with mixed feelings," Fannie said. "Though there's no one else she would even consider voting for." The other girls looked quizzically at Fannie, who added, "She might have been well over 100, but she had all her marbles and she'd be like all those young women not yet voting for Hillary. The ones interested in Bernie. I think she would have felt that Hillary takes for granted the votes of women just because they and she are women. Solidarity. A word we used to use in the labor movement. You know I was a member of the ILGWU. The ladies' union. Garment workers."

"Say a little more," Rona said, "We can ask them to reheat the food."

"This is more important than shrimp dumplings. For your Mom that would not have been enough. Just being a woman. To her as you said that was important but not enough to vote for a president. As with Obama eight years ago, she was only interested in who she felt would make the best president. If that person happened to be a woman, so much the better."

"Or a black man,"Bertha added with a wide smile. "And I agree, only if it's so much the better."

"She would have understood all these young women," Fannie continued, "How they don't want to feel pressure or obligated  to thank their mothers' generation for what is now possible for young women. Though that's to a large extent true--all the opportunities--these girls, and they are girls to me, are entitled to stand on their own two feet and accomplish all they are capable of accomplishing. And not feel they have to be beholden to anyone."

"But I am also absolutely sure," Bertha said, "that she would have said that it's important not to forget the past and all the sacrifices women made to blaze a path for their daughters and granddaughters. That's only fair. And in the primary we just had and in November, if she had only still been with us, she would've voted for Hillary. And proudly."

Bertha nodding said, "Can you imagine what your mother might have accomplished if she had all the rights and opportunities these young women have?"

"She would have been a school superintendent," Gussie said. "Running all the schools. Not just a first grade teacher. And a good one."

"She wouldn't have had it any other way," Rona said, "Only if she earned it. No special treatment or sense of entitlement."

"I'll drink to that," all three of my Mom's friends said, clicking tea cups.

"Do you think they could bring us some more hot tea?" Bertha asked. "We Polish girls like our tea very hot."

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

March 24, 2016--Jeb! for President

Jeb Bush tiptoed through the Florida primary, not saying a word much less endorsing anyone.

Most thought--no surprise.

He was sitting on the presidential sidelines while his erstwhile ingrate mentee, Marco Rubio, though on political life support, was at that time the only one left in the GOP field who had a chance to cut into "low energy" Jeb!-tormentor Donald Trump's overwhelming lead in the Florida polls.

This made psychological as much as political sense--it was asking too much to expect Jeb! to forget and forgive Little Marco. With Rubio all but certain to go down in flames in their home state, did Jeb! want to be associated with more loss. His own political demise was enough for him to bear--the only adult male Bush not to become president.

Think again.

I say that because we shouldn't be fooled by the meaning of Jeb!'s endorsement the other day of Ted Cruz.

This is not about helping Lying Ted win the nomination but about Jeb! Bush's resumed campaign for the presidency. Ambition and political fantasies run deep in the Bush family.

Here's the plan--

Though patrician Bush cannot see Cruz as anything but an interloper in his family's party, right now he is a useful stalking horse.

With Bush and other tattered establishment types coalescing around support for Cruz, it is surely not to help him become the nominee much less president. In truth he is hated more than Donald Trump. Trump is opposed because he's not playing ball in all the old and corrupt ways: he's too much of a loose cannon. He might actually want to do something about "people dying in the street." Thus current support for Cruz is tactical, situational.

The Jeb! plan is to help him get enough delegates to deny Trump a majority and thereby force a brokered convention. And at that point, for the moment, dump him. Thus, the outcome of that brokering will not be a Cruz nomination. It will not be a Kasich nomination. It will not be a Trump nomination. It may though be a Trump riot.

After a few inconclusive ballots, deadlocked and frustrated delegates will turn to someone other than Cruz, Kasich, or Trump.

Who might that be?

We already know Romney is interested (he too has a daddy problem when it comes to presidential ambition) but has had his two chances. We know Paul Ryan is interested--though he demurred that he didn't want to become Speaker and pretend-reluctantly "gave in" only when the distraught party turned to him to save them from themselves--and thus his current coyness fits the pattern of his particular kind of under-the-radar ambition. But he was a flop last time around as Mitt's running mate. Usually one gets to be just one savior in a lifetime.

And now we know Jeb! is interested.

Though Jeb! was a disastrous candidate through South Carolina, he actually could be the best one for the GOP to turn to. Among other things, if he could show some spunk, the big money boys might find their way back to him. And against Hillary, he could win maybe a dozen states and perhaps help Republicans retain control of the Senate.

At the GOP convention, by the fourth ballot the still-contending candidates will be feeling desperate. Some of them, realizing they have no shot at the presidency, begin to shop around to see who might make the best deal. The best deal to satisfy their ambitions.

Rubio has 166 delegates but no future in politics. He is leaving the Senate in January and is an unlikely candidate to become the Florida governor in 2018. We see how much his constituents like him--they voted for Trump in the Florida primary by almost two-to-one.

"How does US attorney general sound to you?" a Jeb! operative will ask a Rubio operative. Sounds good to Rubio. Done deal.

Kasich will have 200-300 delegates and for them he gets Treasure. Secretary of the Treasury.

Then, as Jeb's looks around there is the candidate he endorsed sitting with at least 600 delegates.

He's from Texas, is a Latino, and has all those delegates.

"How does VEEP sound . . .?" That's an easy one.

So at the end of the day, after enough Trump delegates do their ugly thing, we will have Jeb!-Rubio versus Hillary-Julian Castro.

If Mother campaigns with him maybe he could win 15 states. But still not the winning combination.

I think he wouldn't even carry Florida. My mother's old friends, the Ladies of Forest Trace, some of whom were Suffragettes, can't wait to see a woman in the White House. But not as First lady.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

March 23, 2106--Midweek Break

I'm taking the day off but will return on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 22, 2016--Yes, Yes Trump

A heretical thought--

Shouldn't progressive Democrats hope that Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination? Even, where they can, cross over and vote for him in their state's primaries?

Before you pull the plug on this, hear me out. And, as a hint, remember what happened to the GOP in 1964 and thereafter.

First, Trump's winning the nomination would assure Hillary Clinton's election.

Head-to-head she would trounce him. Forget current polls showing him doing decently in the general election. Imagine Clinton and Trump on stage debating. What do you think would happen? That's easy--he'd make a fool of himself, reveal that he is not temperamentally fit to be the Commander in Chief, and remind people the presidency is serious business and that political playtime is over.

As a consequence, Hillary would win at least three-quarters of the Electoral vote.

Then, as we've already seen, Trump is currently leading the pack of three after demolishing 14 other aspirants by self-funding his campaign. This is rendering high-roller donors such as the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson irrelevant.

Remember Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio? All were odds-on favorites, supported by big-buck PAC groups, and all are out of the race. The Kochs and Adelson types may be crazy, but they're not stupid--they know that the party for them is over if Trump continues to do well without their help. Actually, shows disdain for it.

He is a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to Citizens United. This could be the beginning of the end for dark-money interests who for decades have owned conservatives in Congress as well as the White House. This goes back to Dwight Eisenhower's and Ronald Reagan's time, both of whom were propelled forward and unduly influenced during their presidencies by corporate plutocrats.

Then there is the matter of Fox News.

Since it's launch in 1996, funded by Australian media-mogul Rupert Murdock, current fiancé of Mick Jagger's ex, Jerry Hall, and overseen by GOP spinmeister Roger Ailes. It has been the most powerful and influential of conservative institutions. Perhaps even more so than Rush Limbaugh or the Republican National Committee. What GOP politicians, including presidential aspirants, have not pandered to Fox's so-called reporters and talk-show hosts? No one but Donald Trump who uses them or ignores them on his own terms.

While Trump was getting his political career launched he was as ubiquitous on Fox air as John McCain and Sarah Palin. But as he was propelled into the lead, he began to treat Fox with dismissive contempt. After being effectively taken down by Megyn  Kelly during the first debate, he began a sustained campaign to assassinate her character and professionalism. It's hard to forget his "bleeding from wherever" slander and then how he petulantly decided not to participate, before the Iowa caucuses, in the Fox-hosted debate. And just this week, about another Fox-organized debate, he said "enough." And, knowing that without his showing up the ratings would plummet, Fox canceled it.

Not satisfied, Trump then launched another campaign of criticism directed at Kelly. Some said he was losing control, that he is "obsessed" with her, even that he is "stalking" her.

Who knows. But his not genuflecting at Fox's altar is beginning to affect their numbers. Without Trump-breaking-news-all-the-time, for the first time CNN and MSNBC, both of which are devoting almost full time to covering Trump, are seeing their comparative ratings creep up.

If Fox News is diminished because of Trump, rather than see in his attempts to control the press (which politician or president hasn't attempted to do that?) signs of fascism, maybe we should acknowledge, hate him-love him, that in this case Trump may be contributing to the diminishment of the heretofore all-powerful Murdock-Ailes media axis.

And then there is the 1964 effect. Another reason progressives should consider "using" Trump.

Recall, that was the year Barry Goldwater and his acolytes soundly defeated moderate Republicans Bill Scranton and Nelson Rockefeller for the GOP nomination. This was when Goldwater famously declared, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice . . . and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Goldwater went on to be overwhelmed by Lyndon Johnson, winning only six states while securing less than 40 percent of the popular vote. It took until 1980, 16 years, before the Republicans were reconstituted. A lifetime in political history.

Establishment Republicans are so fearful (I almost said freaked-out) about the prospect of a Trump nomination that they are talking about changing the party's nomination rules when they convene this summer in Cleveland or, if that fails, putting forth a third-party candidate such as Rick Perry. Yes, the hapless former governor of Texas. Or if he's not available, maybe they'd run Herman Cain. But not to worry--about him, I'm making that up.

Thus, a Trump nomination would not only assure a Clinton victory and likely enable Democrats to regain control of the Senate (and with that the ability to confirm progressive Supreme Court nominees) but would also dismember the Republican Party such as it is for at least a political generation.

So, my friends . . .


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Monday, March 21, 2016

March 21, 2016--No, Not Trump . . .

For once David Brooks got something right.

In his New York Times op-ed on Friday, "No, Not Trump, Not Ever," in addition to comparing him not inappropriately to biblical tyrants, he acknowledged that he was too slow to pick up on the Trump phenomena largely because, from his Washington-New York Times cocoon, he has been out of touch with those Americans who are most alienated, Trump's core supporters, and, like it or not, a large part of America's reality.

This is one of the things I have been saying here, encouraging my progressive friends to venture forth more directly into this part of American consciousness. And into America as well. Suggesting that perhaps they, we, have too few Republican friends and are thus out of touch with an important part of the story. Not what we hear from country-club Republicans but from the more down-scale ones.

It is one thing to read about someone working three jobs to keep a family afloat or about others who feel inadequate because they cannot can't afford to contribute anything to their children's college expenses or to hear about someone who used to have a well-paying job and was for years a solid member of the middle class who no longer is able to take her family out to dinner and a movie; it is quite another to actually know people living in these strained circumstances.

To avoid being misunderstood, I should add that getting in closer touch with that story does not in any way mean moving toward endorsing Trump's candidacy much less ignoring his outrageousness. It simply means that to get closer to an understanding of what has been happening here, one needs to balance the condemning with more understanding.

As he sees Trump approaching the nomination, Brooks wrote--
Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them so naturally they are looking for something else. 
Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it's a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I'm going to report accurately on this country.
I hope others of his colleagues will heed this. And the rest of us as well.


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Friday, March 18, 2016

March 18, 2017--Having Said Enough . . .

Feeling that I've said enough about the undercurrents propelling the current political campaigns, at least for the moment, I will move on.

Actually, that will begin on Monday since I'm taking the day off so we can maybe, maybe make a decision about what car to buy.

It's been interesting but also exhausting. It doesn't help that we've been walking through dealers' back lots looking for just the right model in 97 degree heat. But I think by Saturday, by Sunday we'll make up our minds and things will resettle into familiar routines.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March 17, 2016--My Blob

I have been hearing from people, mainly well intentioned friends, that I have been stealthily aiding Donald Trump's campaign. This in spite of my frequent assertions that "under no circumstances will I vote for him."

That my attempts to understand the underlying reasons for why so many are supporting him are deflections from the higher objective--the need to "stop Trump now."

To that I have been saying that the present moment presents opportunities to diagnose the political malady that his ascendancy exposes. That the roots of it run deep in our history and national psyche. That they are so dangerous and still insufficiently understood that it is worth the time and difficult effort to figure them out. That this interest exists on a parallel track with the political process questions about who to support and what tactics to use to find alternatives to Trump and thereby defeat him.

I have been chastised by some who argue that what I am attempting to do, though worthwhile, will take too much time and I should instead focus on the more immediate issue--again, doing everything possible to stop Trump.

A good friend has even taken to referring to my blog as my "blob."

Now though the G and B keys are close to each other on the keyboard, I suspect that she, who is very sure handed, is not making typos. On the other hand, I love malapropos and, intended or not, this is a good one!

I get the point, I get the criticism. But I will continue to do what I have been doing--looking as best I can  for the reasons for Trump's appeal in the hope that by contributing to a dialogue about this he and his kind over time will be more than stopped.

I will have further thoughts about this tomorrow.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

March 16, 2016--Snowbirding: Radio Havana

"You ask me if I'm angry?"

I hadn't asked him that or anything else. I hadn't looked his way. We were simply seated next to each other in the waiting area where I was waiting for Rona to finish an eye exam. I was reading the paper and had not even been aware of him. I was reading about Russia maybe or maybe not pulling their troops out of Syria.

"More than angry. I'm fed up." I continued to ignore him. "You probably think I voted for Trump." It was primary day in Florida. "Well, I didn't." He tapped the I-Voted sticker they give you after submitting your ballot.

"I hate him and everything he stands for. I voted for Hillary Clinton. She's not perfect but I think she'll make a damned good president.  Been a lifelong Democrat."

Out of the corner of my eye I looked over toward him. He looked like a retired lawyer or college professor. I wasn't in the mood for more talk about the campaign. I needed a break from all this politics business. I know I've brought a lot of it down on myself, but I was feeling enough. I was tired of it all, including the sound of my own voice. Or, more honestly was saving my political attention for later in the evening when there would be actual results. Enough speculating, analyzing, and projecting. I knew, though, that whatever I tried to do to keep myself calm I'd get all riled up. I am that addicted.

"Here's a little story for you." I put my paper down and half-turned to him. The rest of the Syria story would have to wait. Let's get it over with, I thought.

"Late at night, I like to listen to the radio. AM radio. You know, to listen in to all those crazy rightwing talk shows. Sometimes sports talk too. Anything to distract me. I'm not much of a sleeper and am prone to middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks. Suppose it comes with getting older." He took a long look at me.

"I'm like that too," I finally said.

"You a conservative?"

"No. The opposite."

"I suspected that. What with you reading the New York Times."

"But like you, I try to keep track of what's going on in the conspiratorial world of the true believers."

"My name's John, by the way," he said extending his right hand. I took it and introduced myself.

"In the old days, when I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, I used to like listening to the radio late at night. I'd lie in bed and turn the dial slowly from station to station; and because at that time of night with the ionosphere all charged up, in Philly I could get stations from as far away as St. Louis and even Florida. I could get Phillies-Cardinals games with the local St. Louis announcers. I loved that."

"I did the same thing," I said, "in my Brooklyn bedroom, clutching my big Emerson radio to my ear, with the volume turned down low so as not to wake my parents, I would listen to Yankee games also coming in from St. Louis when the Yanks played the Browns. I loved that."

"The radio was a great way to excite your imagination back then and pulling in stations form hundreds of miles away contributed to that."

"I agree," I said.

"So here's what's making me crazy." At this point I was eager to hear what he had to say. "I do the same thing living in Florida. We've been down here a couple of years, and have gotten used to a lot of things which in the past we didn't like. Like all the talk about the weather and having to get used to eating early-bird dinners at 5:00. You know, all the snowbird clichés."

"I know what you mean."

"But one thing I still do is listen to the radio overnight and then early in the morning before Sally gets up. In the morning, at 6:00, I like to listen to Imus In the Morning. For old time's sake. He's no longer as compos mentis as he used to be--who is, by the way--and a lot of his old heavy-hitter guests have abandoned him and moved on to Morning Joe. After he got in trouble making fun of the African-American basketball players on the Rutgers women's team. It was disgusting what he said, but what can I tell you, I still on occasion like to tune in the see what he's up to. I like his grumpiness."

"And?" I was growing a bit impatient.

"Well, there are two ways to get Imus down here. The first is on the New York City station that carries the program--WABC. 770 on the dial. On some mornings I can pull in their signal. And then there 'The Talk of the Palm Beaches' station, 900 on the AM dial. That's only 25 miles north of where we live."

"And so . . .?"

"So, most mornings I can't get either signal. Froget ABC from New York. That's more than1,000 away. But the nearby Palm Beach station? You would think that wouldn't be a problem."

"Is it?"

"Indeed it is. And that what's making me crazy."

"So what's the problem? What's the story?"

"The reason I can't get AM 900 is because its signal is overwhelmed by one from Cuba. From Havana, Cuba."

"But that's 250 miles away while the Palm Beach station, as you say, is a short drive."

"What can I tell you. It's the truth. And that's also true for half the other stations in South Florida. Including some from Miami. Mind you, this is anecdotal. I haven't done a study. But trust me, what I'm saying is true."

"I have to check tonight on my own radio."

"Look, as I said, I'm quiet a liberal. I hate all the scapegoating going on. Blaming immigrants for our problems and getting people all agitated about them supposedly here to go on welfare. In the clubhouse where we live all I hear is this and how they don't want to learn English. Baloney of that kind."

"I feel that same way," I said.

"But this radio business is outrageous to me. Why doesn't someone, maybe even our government, block these signals? It's one thing at night to hear Radio Havana or what have you. As I said the ionosphere causes AM radio signals to bounce hundreds of miles, but to block out Palm Beach and Miami stations? This doesn't feel very good to me."

"I get your point," I said.

"It feels like an invasion. You know how in war or a revolution the first thing troops or rebels do is try to seize control of radio stations. A little like this maybe?"

"Well, I  . . ."

"No need to say anything. I sense we might agree. Then again, maybe not. Who knows. We just met. But this does get under my skin."

I shrugged as if to say, "What can I say?"

"But my bigger point is that, though this is admittedly a trivial example, so many Americans have other things that are making them crazy. Much more substantial things. As a result, they're turning away from conventional sources where they traditionally used to find relief or help or fairness. From governments to churches to schools to their neighborhoods to the places they work. People are feeling manipulated and afraid. That's really my point. In my own little way, even from the trivial radio example, I get it. But it doesn't make me feel good to have these thoughts. Quite the opposite. But I do. What can I say."

By then, Rona had emerged from the examination room and it was time to leave. I was hoping to have five peaceful hours before Super Tuesday III results would begin to come in. It promised to be a long night. Even a long afternoon.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 15, 2016--Affectionate Pressure

I have been under affectionate pressure from many liberal friends about some of the things I have posted here about Donald Trump and his remarkable candidacy. In truth, some admonitions that have actually been less than affectionate.

But there I go again, illustrating what they see to be my problem--while attempting to understand why Trump has gathered so much support, I have used words such as remarkable to describe what I see to be the Trump phenomenon. As if remarkable sounds too much like support (it doesn't) or phenomenon is too dispassionately analytical (it may be).

Why haven't I, some say to me, reached the obvious conclusion about him and move on? Don't I see him to be a fraud and a bully, worse, a racist bigot, a misogynist with fascistic aspirations?

Yes, I see all of those tendencies and more.

But if you have been wondering about me, hear me clearly--I have no intention of voting for him in November if he is the Republican nominee.

(As a sidebar, I do not see him winning the nomination--I predicted here months ago that the prize will go to the over-coy, over-eager Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney, clearly, was not ready for his closeup.)

And, these friends have also been unhappy to hear that I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. I find her qualifications and resumé to be suspect and her inclination to play by her own rules and lie about the consequences unacceptable. Perhaps even felonious. It is no surprise to me at all that the vast majority of young women are voting for Bernie Sanders.

My hope is that somehow someone like a Joe Biden will be able to enter the race. Someone with real, as opposed to self-proclaimed accomplishments.

Otherwise I may sit this one out.

But again, Trump is not anyone for whom I have any admiration or even respect and will not knowingly render him any support.

But I will continue to attempt to figure out the political, social, cultural, and even psychological reasons he has attracted so many followers. Neither I nor any of my friends thus far have answered all the questions I have about these questions and thus many remain.

For example, I have been pressed to see Trump as a crypto-fascist in the mode of Benito Mussolini. There are fascistic strains being exposed, but what are the economic and cultural pressures that might lead to the emergence of an American Duce? Many conditions are dire here, but it is far from 1920s Italy. And how do Evangelical Christians, as opposed to Italian Catholics affect these impulses? This is a key difference and no one to date has shown me how to think about this.

Some say to me that I am meandering into the slippery world of psychohistory. That to psychoanalyze Trump is both an easy thing to do--his omnivorous narcissism and inordinate need for adulation are right there to see on the surface--but hardly worth unpacking. I have responded that I am less interested in his personality disorders than I am in the social-psychological forces at work within our society. Our pervasive national pathology. Our tendency toward anti-intellectualism, know-nothingness, even what historians such as my undergraduate history professor, Richard Hofstadter, have called the "paranoid style in American politics."

Probing beneath the surface of the day-to-day news cycle, I have also written here about how self-loathing can lead one to an interest in Donald Trump. There is more to say about this and over time I hope to be able to do that.

Is there a will to believe that is driving interest, even devotion to Trump? If so, why are Americans, unlike our Western European allies, so prone to belief at the expense of evidence? Scientific as well as religious? Is it simply that after the Founders' generation we have been waging a war against the Enlightenment? If so, isn't that something we should be talking about?

Also, I have been asking, what about belief-driven behavior on the progressive side? Are the people who have turned to Sanders, since his numbers make no fiscal sense at all, just as belief-driven as those chanting "USA, USA" at Trump rallies? "Bernie, Bernie," doesn't sound all that attractive to me.

While on the subject of progressives, also agitating many of my progressive friends, I have been asking if we are as prone to confirmation bias as we accuse conservatives as being? In the spirit of searching for justification for our views, seemingly seeking evidence, how might we be filtering out or ignoring data and views that are legitimate but contradict our fervently-held beliefs? Are we so much smarter and objective than the conservatives we abhor?

And what about the penchant for seeking scapegoats? On the Trump side finding them among undocumented immigrants and more generally people of color. On the other side, I have periodically found friends also engaging in stereotypes--labeling Trump supporters "ignoramuses," "sexists," and "bigots." Is that the best we can come up with when attempting to understand Trump's appeal?

If a large part of Trump's power, many who excoriate him claim, comes from his exploiting and pandering to people's frustration and rage about what they perceive to be America's dissent into a society that panders to people here illegally or others who allegedly are ripping off hard-working Americans who are trying to survive by playing by the rules, what about all the grousing and withering complaints I hear from some of my friends? Much of it quite nasty.

Aren't many of us also frustrated by what we see to be America's failings and even decline? About our rigged system? Don't too many of us on the left join many on the right in looking down our noses at America's struggling unwashed? Aren't we all guilty of having insufficient understanding and too little empathy?

If any of this is true shouldn't we be more honest about our views and, more important, behavior? So many of my friends who understandably despise Trump and say we have to stop him because we will need to tell the next generation why we didn't act to stop him are doing little more than sending money to Bernie from the comforts of middle-class lives. Where is our movement? Is Black Lives Matter the best we can do?

This is just part of my list of unanswered questions. Questions I feel require better answers if we are not to rip ourselves apart. Like him, hate him, one thing Trump has inarguably done is to tear the scab off much of our collective, ideologically-spanning hypocrisies.

Admittedly, many of my remaining questions focus on people like, well,  me. To me and those like me who are leading contradictory lives, substantially satisfied, living in relative comfort and security, it is essential to understand the implications of these unflattering things, including our claim that it is only others who are vulnerable to false prophets.

Perhaps that's too quick a characterization. Among other things, it excuses us from the unpleasantness of having to engage in a difficult self-examination.

As valid as our characterization of "others" might be, to note that is the easy part. The hard part, the more important part, is to look within ourselves, do more fessing up, take more responsibility, and do a lot less finger pointing and condemning.

We're too smart for that.

There's a stereotype for you.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

March 14, 2106--Trumping Trump

I have been lazy but will be back here tomorrow with a mid-campaign assessment of the presidential race. Including some ruminations about why Donald Trump, though more and more loathsome, continues to raise questions we would do well to ponder. Not so much about him, but about the American electorate. Including all of us.

Friday, March 11, 2016

March 11, 2106--Gut Check

In a wise column in Wednesday's New York Times, "Only Trump Can Trump Trump," Tom Friedman finally came around to understanding the Trump political phenomena.

He wrote--
Donald Trump is a walking political science course. His meteoric rise is lesson No. 1 on leadership: Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their response is: "Don't bother me with details. I trust your instincts." If a leader can't connect on a gut level, he or she can't show them enough particulars. They'll just keep asking, "Can you show me the details one more time?"
Friedman could have added that there were a number of earlier presidential candidates who also connected viscerally with voters and, while running for office, offered few details. 

It is a distinguished list--

Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Two Democrats and two Republicans.

FDR famously said that he didn't have all the answers, all the specifics about the ways in which he would take the lead to bring America out of the Great Depression. That he would try many things, that he would experiment and then see what worked, expand on that, and abandon the rest. That's more or less how he governed. 

Ike said it was "Time For A Change" after 20 years of Roosevelet and Truman and that was pretty much it.  All he needed to do was connect to people's guts. Which he did. His campaign button said--"I Like Ike." That was enough.

JFK also connected at the gut level. He promised to close the missile gap. He incorrectly, probably deceitfully, pointed to "the fact" that the Soviet Union had more and bigger and better missiles than we. Voters didn't press him for details, and he didn't offer any. But in any case they went on to elect him because they connected with him emotionally and trusted him to do the job.

Ronald Reagan specified even fewer things. People simply liked him and that was sufficient to move them to trust him. They believed he would bring "morning" back to America. Sort of, make America great again. And to his admirers he did.

On the other hand, it doesn't always work--Barry Goldwater's campaign slogan in 1964 was, "In Your Guts You Know He's Right." When a Democrat button appeared, mocking his, "In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts," that helped assure that Goldwater lost 44 of 50 states.

The other day on Morning Joe, a very frustrated Bob Woodward unsuccessfully pressed Trump to be specific about one of his most effective appaluse lines--how he would get Mexico to pay for the border fence.

Trump refused to, saying there are five ways he had in mind. That was it. Woodward, a scion of the Washington Establishment and master of the traditional ways in which to categorize political behavior, was unrelenting, visibly turning red as he asked again and again. Trump didn't budge. "Trust me," he in effect said. "Elect me president and then I'll show you what I'll do."

I suspect that despite that lack of specificity, not one Trump supporter switched allegiance  to Ted Cruz or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton. They both have 15-page, single-spaced proposals about what they would do about illegal immigrants. But no one is listening to them with their ears. Clinton and Cruz are having trouble connecting with voters at the gut level because your gut can turn you off as well as on.


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Thursday, March 10, 2016

March 10, 2016--Dangerous Election

The most recent issue of The New York Review of Books includes a cautionary article by Michael Tomasky about the presidential election, "The Dangerous Election."

He attempts to ferret out and explicate the concerns of voters from both parties.

Here is the heart of what he has to say--
The developments within both parties reflect the long-standing anxieties that liberals and conservatives feel about the country, anxieties that have only grown sharper as time has passed. For liberals, the chief concern for thirty-five years now has been about the unfairness of the economy—virtual wage stagnation for most workers, huge gains for the top 1 percent, and the lax regulatory and enforcement regimes that have permitted those outcomes, along with slow recovery from the most recent recession. 
For conservatives, for about the same period of time, the main worry has been what is broadly called “culture,” by which we really mean the anger and resentment felt by older white Americans about the fact that the country is no longer “theirs” and that their former status and authority no longer seem what they once were. This rubric takes in a number of issues—immigration, especially illegal immigration; same-sex marriage; a black president in the White House; all the things that conservatives bundle under the reviled label “political correctness.” In their minds it is some sort of taint that has infected every institution in this once-great nation and is destroying it daily before their eyes.
What's wrong with this is that it is full of stereotypical thinking. 

As common on the left as the right.

According to Tomasky, liberals are interested in economic issues while conservatives are concerned primarily with those that are cultural.

This is so oversimplified as to make his analysis useless. Actually, harmful.

Conservatives are as interested in economic issues as Democrats. Manay may have a different perspective--less focused on inequality and more on tax policy and deregulation--but since by no means are all conservatives affluent, those in the middle class have also experienced wage stagnation since the 1970s. And are as frustrated about this and feeling as betrayed as those on the left.

And to imply that liberals do not have passionate cultural concerns suggests one has been oblivious to the powerful agenda pursued by Democrats to assure equal rights to women--the right to choose is as cultural an issue as the fight to overturn it. Further, the ongoing campaign to expand and protect the rights of various minorities from people of color to those from the LGBT community are also cultural  Affirmative action and the right to marry who one loves for many progressives trumps economic concerns.

It is important not to mischaracterize those with whom we have differences. If we want to heal the social divide and find ways to work with those with whom we disagree, we need to avoid such superficial thinking. 

If we feel that there are social maladies that require addressing, that this, in Tomasky's words is "a dangerous election," it is essential to begin with a carful diagnosis. Promoting stereotypes is the opposite of being helpful.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

March 9, 2016--Fear and Self-Loathing

For some time I have been trying to understand why, as the rhetoric descends in Republican primary debates--led by Donald Trump but recently further debased by others, especially by the increasingly-desperate Marco Rubio (he started the "small-hands" business)--why Trump thus far has not significantly lost support. He may yet get derailed, but after yesterday's primary victories, he is still the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination.

Many attribute his thus-far success to his ability to tune into and exploit the frustrations, anger, zeitgeist, and fear of his followers. They may not always want to publicly reveal they are supporting him, but those who do or contemplate doing so, are among America's most alienated citizens.

This includes many who one would think are secure and are objectively doing well. The anger and fear run that deep.

But what about the vile behavior and scarcely-veiled bigotry and racism? Why isn't everyone repelled by that, not wanting to be associated with it? Some are secret Trump supporters but others are proud to wear his Make-America-Great-Again caps and t-shirts.

Trump may also be tapping into deeper personal forces, including self-loathing.

Here's how that might be working--

His followers believe that many aspects of the partly-true, partly mythological American Way of Life have declined to the point where we may be on a fatal national trajectory.

To them America is past the declining stage and on to the falling phase.

We used to be able to take for granted that the opportunity structure was available to anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules. We used to be able to believe that American know-how was unsurpassed and that this was reflected in our world class educational and health care systems, our governments, our seemingly-limitless resources, manufacturing might, our vaunted freedoms, inventiveness, cultural leadership, and just plain gumption.

And, vastly underestimated, we used to win wars, not lose them while snagged in various quagmires of our own making.

Not unrelated, wherever Trump supporters look, they see America no longer considered to be the world leader. More the opposite, with us mocked and scorned by those who used to give us at least grudging respect.

Many Americans see crumbling infrastructure, growing inequality, a rigged economic system, craven politicians, water they can't drink, and believe that so many from plumbers to teachers to government workers to religious and corporate leaders to police and to cultural and manufactured products are incompetent, fraudulent, or debased.

And though few are willing to confess that they are a part of the problems they see in the world or willing to assume any personal responsibility that they are no better than those they criticize or hold in contempt, instead, they look for ways to dissemble and rationalize in order to help enable themselves to guiltlessly reap the benefits of personal corruption. Down deep, those who feel their own hypocrisy attempt to persuade themselves that they are not part of or contributing to this ugly reality.

But down a cut deeper, they are unable to beat down the self-loathing that is a significant consequence of living in this truth-denying, duplicitous way.

One manifestation of that self-loathing is to degrade themselves through their own coarse behavior and indulgence in guilty pleasures while at the same time seeking surrogates to confirm that they in fact willingly contribute to the problems and, the most seemingly-contradictory part, are no better than those they condemn.

We see this manifest in the worst of our entertainments, from various forms of addiction to pornography to the way people represent themselves in youth culture and the public arena.

With schadenfreude out of control--the pleasure taken by the downfall of others--it is not far from that to Donald Trump.

He is the guiltiest of perverse pleasures and comforts his most tortured supporters. In him they have found their doppelgänger--he externalizes their darkest emotions--and this grants them permission to justify being all too much like him.

In this way, he serves as their external id.

That is powerful social-psychological stuff. A case of national, psychic dislocation and clinical depression.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

March 8, 2016--Snowbirding: Porsche Panamera (Concluded)

"What do you think about that one,"Rona said excitedly. She was pointed toward a deep blue BMW.

"It does look nice," I acknowledged. "It . . ."

"Yikes," she said, peering at the sticker label affixed to the rear window.

"Yikes what?"

"It's $138,000. That calls for a yikes."

"Again, I thought we wouldn't approach this search for a new car by thinking initially about price."

"I know what you'll say--'We're very fortunate and we can get any car we want, especially,'" she added, "'if it turns out to be one of the last ones we'll ever buy.'"

"I don't remember saying that."

"Which part, Rona asked, "about being able to buy pretty much any car we want--forget Bentleys--or what I said about the last car business?"

Ignoring that, I said, "I guess I mean that $138,000 is a little much for a car. Particularly a BMW, which is not my idea of a Ferrari-kind-of-car."

"I don't think you have any idea what one of those would cost. It's enough to make one think seriously about becoming a socialist and voting for Bernie Sanders. And to tell the truth, I would have no part in spending even $100,000 for a car. A car is a car. It's not like buying a house or paying for college tuition.

"For the price of a Ferrari--whatever that is--I assume one could buy a really nice house and pay for tuition all the way through med school."

"Shouldn't we try to have fun with this rather than making all kinds of political allusions? I get enough of those every day on MSNBC."

"As long as you stop looking at $138,000 cars."

"From what I read in Consumers we should check out the BMW 2-Series. It gets off the chart ratings."

So we did. Even took one out for a test drive and it was a lot of fun. Not exactly the "Ultimate Driving Machine," but very responsive and for us just the right level of luxury. But for Rona who has back issues and for me who has late-in-life issues, the getting in and out could have one of both of us needing the ER. So we eliminated it from consideration and turned our attention to the 328i's. It's a bit stogy with its four doors but after taking it for a spin it wound up on our short list.

"I'm not sure," Rona said as we were driving home, "that we could be comfortable with a BMW in Maine. There everyone drives Subarus and Volvos. It's a reverse kind of status, not making too much of a big deal about one's wheels."

"Wheels? I love it when you talk car slang." I struggled against my seat belt to give her a kiss. "But you're right. We probably should get out of the BMW or, for that matter, Audi mode."

"I think I agree about the BMW but let's keep the Audi alive. I read that there's a new A4 about to arrive in America. The 2017 model that's supposed to be something special."

"It will probably be too high-tech for me. We don't need bluetooth or compatibility with smart phones much less all the sensing devices that take over your car in an emergency situation."

"Good point."

"We still have flip phones and . . ."

"Like Rhiana and Anna Wintour."

"Not exactly, but I prefer a car that a driver drives. Not a computer."

"I do as well. Maybe we should keep . . ."

"No let's keep talk. We need a new car. Ours is becoming unreliable. Above all, I want us to have one we can depend upon. Up in Maine we live on a dirt road that a tow truck would have a hard time negotiating so. And then if we're there during a late fall blizzard, I want a car we can depend upon to start."

"So maybe we should forget about BMWs and Audis and get right to Subarus and Volvos."

"Down Vicente's food chain."

So the next day we tried the Subaru Legacy and found it to the perfect Maine car. Totally practical with all sorts of safety things, including, we learned, that if we were in a head-on collision, rather than the engine crashing into the passenger cabin and crushing us to death, it drops out of the engine compartment and falls on the road, winding up under the car. Amazing! But we found it to be sensible and boring.

"If this is going to be my last . . ."

"Stop right there," Rona said. "Let's get beyond mortality issues and head over to Volvo. I have good feelings about the S60 model. Road and Track says . . ."

"You're reading Road and Track?"

"On line."

"That means soon your computer cookies will generate pop-up ads for assault weapons. Donald Trump says he reads Road and Track. And I didn't raise mortality issues. That Subaru salesman did with all his talk about side-impact air bags and engines winding up under the car after head-on . . ."

"I agree--enough. Pull in there. Let's check out the Volvo. One thing I know, our Maine friends will not make fun of us if we buy one."

"Half of them would prefer it if we bought a Ford pickup."

"Maybe we should check them out too."

"We're now about to look at Volvos. Let's try to concentrate on them and actually try to enjoy ourselves."

And we very much did, with the sensitive help of Donna H, the sales associate, and the manager. Sympathetic, even empathetic as they quickly picked up on our ambivalences--needing a car that worked in New York, Florida, and of course Maine. Preferring it to be luxurious but not too much so. Wanting to fit in in these diverse places, but also not make too much of a concession to what others might think. Minor torments of that kind.

After driving a sleek S30 all over Delray and then up to 80 miles per hour on I-95--where plenty of cars still whizzed by us--we placed it on our very short list. With BMWs probably no longer in play, the Volvo was likely the only car at the moment on the list. Short indeed.

Driving home again, Rona feeling weary and overloaded with too much to think about and juggle, referring to Vicente again, she said that maybe the next day we should go over to Toyota and Chevy and get down to the most practical of bottom lines.

"I'm not sure I want to do that. We started out fantasizing about Porsche Panameras and Mercedes--and I get taking them off even our Maybe List--but I think I'm OK with Toyota but Chevy? I don't think so. The Malibu is probably great, but I still have images of Dinah Shore on TV throwing kisses to the audience after singing about Chevy--'See the USA in your Chevrolet. America is asking you to call . . .'"

"Spare me. I get the point."

So just yesterday we drove over to the local Toyota dealer.

The showroom was in a massive new building right down Federal Highway. Dozens of cars on shiny display on the selling floor surrounded by bass-walled offices and comfortable waiting areas.

We checked out the Camry after deciding that the Avalon, if we were going downscale, even if "only" a Toyota was a bit too fancy looking. "Let's see the bead-and-butter model," Rona said.

It drove well, was fairly peppy, cornered almost as well as the BMW, and was a bit more than basic in the cabin. Fit-and-finish too was impressive--a concept I had "discovered" in my due-deligence research. "I think we have to give it serious consideration," Rona whispered, not wanting to show too much interest to the hovering salesman.

I nodded in agreement, to tell the truth feeling a bit deflated.

We started out at the very high end of the food-chain and here we were giving serious thought to a Camry. We'd be fine in Maine with one, OK in Florida, and who cared about New York as the car will just sit in the garage.

"I don't think I want a Toyota," I finally said to the solicitous salesmen.

As we were leaving, I said to Rona, "Look over there in the main waiting room. Who are all those people? There are about twenty of them, all with canes and walkers. Are they here on a field trip from their assisted living home? Again, I don't want to dwell on you-know-what, but do I really want to buy a car from a place that's on the senior citizen circuit? I mean, it's nice of the Toyota people to make them feel welcome, but . . ."

"They're not here as an activity," Rona said. "Notice where they're sitting. They're waiting for their Toyotas to be serviced."

"That does it," I said, "I hate myself for feeling this way and probably half of them are younger than I am. But . . ."

Back home, with the Volvo still the only car for the moment on our short list, looking out at the ocean to connect with something elemental--it's spinner shark season--I noticed a two-story ladder leaning on the side of our neighbor's house.

"What's that?" I asked Rona. "Is someone fixing her window or something?"

"I think it's the window washer. See the pail with a sponge and squeegee in it?"

"You're right," I said. "And look at that," I added. "Notice the car he's driving?"

"I've had it with cars. Can we not talk about them until tomorrow? I'm all relaxed and checking out the sharks."

"But you need to take a look."

Rona reluctantly hauled herself up out of her recliner chair and walked over to where I was standing.

"My God, you're right. He's driving a Mercedes. One just like our old E-450."

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Monday, March 07, 2016

March 7, 2016--Snowbirding: Porsche Panamera (Part One)

"What do you think about the Panamera?"

"Not one of my favorites, but the coffee, I suppose, is OK."

"Coffee?"

"Yes, you know, Vicente's favorite place. Panera."

"You're talking coffee?" Rona said, quickly growing impatient with me, "And I'm talking cars. The Porsche Panamera. The one we both like. At least to look at."

"You don't have to shout. I can hear you."

"Our car is getting to be six years old and has well over 100,000 miles. Shopping for cars here is so easy. It seems that every few streets there's one dealer or another. Maybe we should look around to see what we like. Perhaps even find something to buy."

"I don't know anything about cars. And neither do you and so . . ."

"And so if we don't get started," Rona said, "and see what we can learn, does that mean we'll keep our VW forever?"

"That's not the worst idea I ever heard. But I get your point. We should look around. Ours is starting to have problems. Fortunately, still minor ones. But maybe before we get started we should see if Vicente's at Panamera and get some coffee. He knows a lot about cars."

Under her breath Rona said, "Panera," but I could hear her. I didn't tell her I was trying to be playful.

Vicente was at his regular table, hooked up to wifi and working on an article about his legendary New Mexico ancestor, Padre Martinez.

"You're crazy," he said, "The Porsche you're interested in costs at least $100,000 and . . ."

"And," I said, "we thought we would ignore prices at first and zero in on what we like. I'm seeing this as maybe the last car I'll ever buy and so, what the heck, you only live once."

"Or twice," Rona said, rolling he eyes.

"I hear you," Vicente said, "So maybe you should start with the Mercedes and work your way down the food-chain."

"Food-chain?" I asked, "You're losing me. I thought we were talking cars."

"You know, start with luxury cars and then work you're way down to a Chevy or something. That way you'll find the one that will make you happy, if in fact this turns out to be your last car. But with your mother living to 107, it's possible you'll be needing to buy three or four more."

"So I can drive when I'm 100? I don't think so. Half the drivers down here look like they're 100, and you know what that's like. But, thanks for the encouragement. I get your point."

There's a Mercedes dealer in Delray so after finishing our coffee, we drove right over.

On route, it was only two miles from Panera, we saw more Mercedes than any other car. "I guess around here, the Benz is sort of like the Toyota or Chevy. The go-to car."

"Benz?" I was impressed that Rona was already getting into auto lingo.

"I usually think of the Benz as being distinctive, but down here it's everywhere. I'm not that much of a snob, I mean, but . . ."

"But, you are," I said," And I am too I suppose. But I think they're pretty good cars and think we should check them out."

"But what about the one we had? Fifteen years ago."

 "An E-450 I think it was. It turned out to be a lemon. So we sold it right back to the dealer. Lost at least $25,000 doing that."

"I hated that car," Rona remembered. "In two years we had to replace the battery three times."

"I also hated it. It was so clunky. Maybe this time let's see if we can find something sportier. How about a two-door? Or even a convertible? If I'm running out of time, why not . . . ?"

"We already went through our convertible phase. It was fun. But because of the way we live now, we make long drives to and from Maine and back and forth to Delray, I want something that runs smoothly and is quiet. Maybe then you'll be able to hear me when we're driving."

"My hearing again. But I agree--we should look for something luxurious."

In 25 minutes we decided that a Benz was not for us. The sporty one or two models we sort of liked weren't that comfortable and the back seats were almost nonexistent. So we moved on. Next, to the Lexus dealer.

That stop took even less time. We looked at the front grill, thought we were staring into the jaws of a great white shark, and took off even before a salesman could pounce on us.

Two showrooms were enough for one day and we decided to drive around again the next day to check out BMWs and Audis.

I said, "My instinct tells me we'll like the Audis. I know they used to go in reverse when you'd shift into drive, but I think they fixed that defect. At least I hope so."

"Now you're talking about having instincts about cars? You who would have trouble distinguishing between a BMW and an Audi. Or, for that matter, a Toyota and a Chevy."

To show that though I haven't had that much interest in cars for decades, I still had my macho pride and as we drove slowly up A1A I pointed out, "There's an E-Class Benz and . . . a BMW of some sort. At least I think it is. . . . And another Mercedes. That one looks pretty slick. I think it's a . . . "

"A convertible. That's what it is. A ragtop. I thought we decided that . . ."

"Listen to you--a ragtop! I haven't heard that expression since we had our Toyota Celica convertible. Ragtop."

"Remember how we made a big mistake taking it to an automatic car wash? In East Hampton. And how the water from the power washing nozzles flooded the car with us trapped inside. The canvas roof wasn't sealed very well." Rona began to laugh at that memory.

"And how we couldn't figure out how to stop the wash cycle. What a mess. And scary. We got all coated with liquid soap."

"So let's agree--no ragtops."

"Agreed. And there's an Audi," I pointed, "And another Mercedes. I wish I liked them better. That one, whatever model it is, looks pretty cool."

"How about keeping your eye on the road. There are all sorts of crazy drivers here."

The next day we went first to the BMW-Volkswagen dealer in Pompano Beach. As we pulled our Passat into a parking space in the middle of a dozen others, we were swept by a wave of nostalgia about our sad Passat, which we seemed so willing to trade in. After driving more than 100,000 miles, almost all of it side-by-side, we thought maybe we should hold onto it. Or, Rona suggested, maybe check out a new one. For the moment, ignore Vicente's food chain analogy.

"Let's check out the new VWs and then, since it's right next door, we can look at the BMWs. From the little Internet research I did last night, I think the 2-Series could be for us. It gets a very good review in Edmunds."

"My, you're progressing fast," I said with authentic admiration. "Yesterday Benz and ragtop, today Edmunds. I've heard of them but don't really know anything about what they do."

"It's an amazing Website where you can learn everything about every car. Including how much to expect to pay for one after you've made your decision. So you can bargain about price successfully."

"I thought we weren't going to talk about price so we could keep the Pan, the Panarea, the whatever on our list. You know the one I mean."

"The Porsche Panamera. Edmunds doesn't love it," she shrugged. "And it could set us back 100 grand. Or more."

"What do you think Panamera means? I mean, is it Spanish for something?"

"I researched that too," Rona said, puffing herself up. "It's not a real word but the name is derived, like the Porsche Carrera line, from the Carrera Panamericana race."

"The Carrera line? I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm impressed." This was starting to feel more like fun than an expensive chore. "Let's check out the VWs. I like change, but not that much."

Since we want a car that's shorter than our current one--getting around in Maine, especially where our house is, would be a lot easier if our new car were a few inches shorter. A foot would be ideal, but every inch helps.

"How about that one?" This time Rona was pointing. "I don't recognize it at all."

"I can't even distinguish between the new version of ours--the Passat--and the Jetta. To tell you the truth, they look the same to me."

"And to tell you the truth," Rona admitted, "To me, pretty much all cars look alike. I mean what's so different about the Mercedes we see all over the place and the Bentleys and Infinities?"

"Or even the Teslas?'

"Teslas? It looks as if you too've been doing some Web surfing."

I simply smiled, "It's something called the CC. The Volkswagon-CC. Never heard of it."

"I like the look. It's pretty sleek. Let's go inside and see how it feels and maybe even how it drives."

Which we did. On close inspection we both thought it was attractively designed. Four doors, but with the feel of something smaller and hopefully peppier. "Let's take'er our for a spin," I said to the very solicitous salesman who was applying no pressure.

"My pleasure," he said. "If you like your old Passat, I think you'll find this one familiar but different."

"Perfect," I said, impressed he had me so well figured out.

It turned out to be quite familiar, which Rona and I both liked, but different enough for us to ask him if he could put his hands on the V6 version since I felt it could use a little more pep, or oomph than the four-cylinder version.

"Listen to you," Rona said, enjoying my enthusiasm, "Pep. Oomph. How old are you again?" She gave me a quick kiss.

As it turned out Vista Motors didn't have a V6 in stock, but the salesman promised to search around to see if any other dealer in South Florida had one that we could check out. We told him we were feeling serious about the CC but wanted to look at other models and would let him know if we were interested in perhaps going to the next step. We also didn't want to appear too eager and thought that by playing a little hard-to-get we might be able to negotiate a better price. Maybe even when trading in our trusty Passat.

"And did you see how much it cost?" I asked as we walked toward the adjacent BMW showroom.

"Though we promised not to look at any price stickers, I couldn't resist. It goes for maybe half of what we were thinking we might wind up spending. Nothing wrong with that," I said.

Rona agreed.

Porsche Panamera

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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Friday, March 04, 2016

March 4, 2016--Voting With Their Feet

I have a smart friend who follows elections carefully. She is a Democrat and quite worried.

Before Super Tuesday she told me that the way she was going to think about the results was not so much following who-won-which-states and by what percentages--the usual way of keeping track of winners and losers--but rather by monitoring how many raw votes in the aggregate would be cast for both Democratic candidates versus how many in total would be cast for all the Republicans.

In that way, she said, she would see which party was winning the turnout race and, when comparing that to equivalent results from 2008 and 20012, she would get a sense of which party was generating the most excitement among voters.

She is even unhappier now than she was a week ago before Super Tuesday's votes were tallied.

Here's why--

Compared to 2008--the last time there was a contested Democratic primary--the number voting this year is down 32 percent.

And on the other side, the totals have skyrocketed--total GOP votes are up 61 percent compared to 2008 and a whopping 73 percent compared to four years ago.

Then, when comparing the total Republican vote to all who voted Democratic, the GOP candidates have garnered 2.8 million more votes than both Democratic candidates combined. In fact, GOP numbers are at all time highs. By more than a million vote.

What to make of this?

On the Democratic side an historic primary is underway with Hillary Clinton, the first woman likely to be nominated by a major party matched up against an exciting, voter-mobilizing Independent-Socialist contender, Bernie Sanders. One would think that they would turn out at least as many voters as Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their other rivals attracted eight years ago.

The Republicans, on the other hand, who began with a lackluster mob of 17 or so candidates with little cub appeal ranging from Scott Walker to George Pataki to the relatively uninspiring and robotic Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

This leaves us with one obvious explanation--Donald Trump.

Love him, hate him (and we know now who is doing the loving and hating) he is a vote machine. He might still be stopped--he is capable of shooting himself in the foot without warning--but at the moment he's setting all-time records.

My friend, as I said, is not happy. She's right not to be.

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