Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 31, 2016--Midcoast: At Moody's Diner

Down at the end there were two seats at Moody's counter. Moody's in Waldoboro is a Maine diner legend. In season, a slice of their blueberry pie is worth a detour.

And so is the turkey salad, at least according to Rona. I agree as long as we also order some well-done French fries.

It was perfect timing, therefore, to find ourselves in the vicinity when in the mood for a turkey salad on rye and maybe a slice of pie.

"Let me make room for yuh," a bulky man who looked about 45 said, "I'll move down one seat and cozy with Shauna here. My lady," he winked.

Excited just to be there, I uncharacteristically said, "No need for that. It's chilly out and you look like someone good to cozy with."

"You mean I'm fat?" he said, pretending, I happily saw, to be offended.

"No, only . . ."

"It's OK. I just playin' with yuh," he said to assure me, deciding to stay perched on the stool next to where I lowered myself. "Truth is, I am fat and a lot older than I look." He pulled his tee shirt up to show me his considerable belly. "Shouldn't be eating this corn bread." He held it up for me to see, crumbles falling onto the countertop. "But they give it to yuh if you order the chili. Which I recommend."

"We're here for the turkey salad," Rona joined in with an extra-friendly smile.

"And the French fries," I said.

"And a slice of blueberry pie," Rona added to make sure he understood we weren't dieting and that he wasn't the only one eating a lot.

"I know what you're thinking," he paused then added, "A grease monkey."

"No, I . . ."

"That's OK. No need to pretend with me. 'Cause that's what I am. No shame in that." He held up his hands so I could see the full extent of the grease that covered his hands and forearms like a second skin.

"Workin' on his transmission," he said nodding toward another over-size person at the very end of the counter. He too was woofing down a huge bowl of chili and didn't look up in acknowledgment. He kept stirring the bowl to distribute the corn bread he had crumbled on the chili as a topping.

"Where you guys from?"

"From three places really," I said. But for the next five months we have a place down at the Point, Pemaqud Point."

"Nice out there," he said, "What about the other two?"

Rona looked at me as if to say, "You need to be talking about this over-privileged lifestyle to someone who's an auto mechanic?"

Picking that up, I stammered, "Well we . . . I mean . . ."

"I'm cool with that," he said with a wave, "Shauna and me are thinkin' about our version of the same thing. I'm doin' pretty well and we have a nice house here in Nobleboro and a little place not far from the water--a lake actually--in Kissimmee."

"Florida?" I said, "Not that far from Orlando."

"Right you are," he said, and slapped me hard on the back. "For the winters. It gets real cold up here and I have no love for snow. Never did, never will. But all my family's here. Been here nine generations. One of the first families. I mean of white people. When my great, great, great whatever showed up from England there were plenty of other families around. But not white ones, if you get my meaning."

"I do," I said, "There were lots of Indians around. From what I've read, they had no problem with feeding themselves what with giant oysters that you needed two hands to lift and, standing on the shore, fish you could scoop up out of the water. No need for nets or anything."

"There are lots of stories about that that were passed down in my family. Some been written down in dairies from the early 1600s. One so extensive and detailed that it's down there in the Smithsonian collection."

"Wow," Rona said.

"Pretty good for a grease monkey," he said thumping his now puffed-out chest. "And if you're wonderin', there are two governors, Maine governors in my family--Benjamin Ames and Joshua Chamberlain. You wouldna guessed that about me, would yuh?"

"I wouldn't have thought that about anyone," I said, feeling good about taking what he said in stride and not stereotyping him. "I mean, how many people have two governors in their families?"

"Mitt Romney's kids, for example," he said, "And to be fair and balanced, Mario Cuomo's."

"And that dopey Brown family in California," the fellow at the end of the counter mumbled, still shoveling in his chili. "Governor moonbeam."

"I guess it's not so rare," I said.

"You're being silly," Rona said, "Even though these are good examples it's still very unusual."

"No need to give him a hard time, ma'am. We're just getting to know each other. By the way, my name's Dana," he said, thrusting his right hand at me. As I reached to take it, he pulled it back, "Look at me, covered all in transmission fluid and I'm thinkin' to shake hands with you who are about to eat a sandwich." He began to wipe his hand on his shirt. I kept my hand extended toward him and finally he took it and we shook hands, smiling broadly at each other.

"I guess that makes us friends," he said looking me straight in the eye.

"I'm Steve," I said, "And this is Rona."

She reached across my chest with an extended hand and without hesitating Dana took, saying, "Nice to be your friend, Ro, Ro . . ."

"Na, Rona," she said.

"Like Jaffe and Barrett?" he asked.

"Yes, but hardly anyone knows them anymore," Rona said.

"The novelist and gossip columnist," he said. "I seem to remember readin' some of her stuff. Rona Jaffe, I mean. Wasn't she ahead of her time? Wrote a lot of racy stuff from a female perspective?"

"I'm ashamed to say," Rona said, looking down, "that I've never read anything of hers. But, yes, I think you're right. Sort of a Helen Gurley Brown type."

"I think better than that," he said, "She was a real writer. More like an Erica Jong."

"Sounds right," Rona said.

"Changin' the subject," he said, "You folks followin' the election?"

By then our sandwiches and fries had arrived and rather than risk spoiling our lunch and the thus-far warm conversation, not wanting to get into a harangue or argument, we both took big bites to fill our mouths so we couldn't be expected to talk.

"Minimally, whatever you think, it's been entertainin'. Seems these days no one pays attention to anythin' serious unless it's entertainin'. I mean Trump, hate 'em or love 'em, is fun to follow. I mean, to tell you the truth, I'm more in the 'hate 'em category,' but almost every night when I tune in to Fox and MSNBC he's good for some laughs."

Releived, still with a full mouth, I nodded.

"He's like one of those fools in Shakespeare. He speaks his mind and because no one in the media at least take him seriously but  have to admit that some of what he says is true, politically incorrect, he gives folks permission to laugh at things they don't feel comfortable saying out loud or in public. It's kind of embarrassed laughter. You feel a little guilty admitting you are paying any serious attention to him but can't help yourself and laugh at what he has to say. Which I suppose is what a lot of entertainment is about. Comedy at least."

"I agree with all of that," I said after swallowing my half-chewed turkey salad, "So, who . . ."

"Can't say I have a dog in that fight. At least not yet. Maybe never. Sad, but I'm feelin' I don't trust any of 'em. I mean, you can't believe a word Trump says. He sometimes contradicts himself twice in the same sentence. I've seen him do that. And, he's not wrong to call her Crooked Hillary 'cause that's what she is. I mean she's smart and all that and has a big resumé but tell me one thing she's said about herself that you believe?"

"She does have that problem," Rona said.

"Forget all the stuff when she was the First Lady. That's old news, though there's plenty of smoke from that time. I'm talking about where her and Bill's money comes from. Goldman Sachs? Give me a break. And all that hanky-panky with their foundation--forget her continuing to put up with his philandering--and the email business. To me that's a big deal. A very big deal. Everyone knows she's lyin' about that. She knew what she was doin' and put a whole lot a people at big risk. Then I fear if she wins she'd be looking' for an opportunity to show how macho she is once she's commander in chief. I have problems with all of that. Also what Trump would do with the military really scares me. So . . ."

"So what about Bernie?"

"Another liar. Different kind. I agree with him about the rigged economy and government but the lies he tells are about not being able to carry out any of his policies if by some miracle he gets nominated or, God help us, wins. He knows practically nothin' about the world. Less than Trump, and there is no chance of getting Medicare for all through Congress much less free college tuition. First of all the federal government doesn't have any power to tell the Univeristy of Maine what to do and even if he could get all he wants it would, what, double the deficit. I'm not antigovernment like most of the knuckleheads around here, like old Jim over there, but I do care about controlling spending and worry about the deficit. What is it, 19 trillion?"

Jim had finished his chili and was now listening to what Dana had to say.

"So, like I say, I have no one to vote for. If Ralph Nader was running' maybe . . . But he's jerk. 'Cause of him we got George Bush. W, not HW. That puppy has a lot to atone for."

"At the moment, I'm with you," I said with a shrug and sigh, "At the moment, I'm not planning to vote in November. Maybe that'll change. Maybe there'll be a real miracle and Hillary will be indicted and someone like Joe Biden would get in the mix and somehow get nominated and . . ."

"Now you're talkin'," Dana said, "He's my man! Flaws and all. He can also be a jerk. But that sort of makes him authentic. And wasn't he right about the Middle East? Iraq for example? Let it become three separate countries? But that's for another day. Got to get back to Jim's transmission. Next time we're all here, I'll tell you about my meetin' Ronald Reagan."

"Really? Where?" I really wanted to hear about that.

"At the White House."


"I was among a group invited there to get our Silver Stars from the president. I told you I'm older than I look. It was one of the highlights of my life. Not that I thought that much about Reagan. Irangate and all that. Hey, I'd love to hang out more with you guys but a transmission awaits. I'm here with Shauna every day. Down at the end of the counter. So if you and Miss Rona want to stay friends, you know where to find me."

With that, he hoisted his considerable body off the stool and shuffled toward the cashier. Rona and I got up as well and ran after him so we could get in a couple of more handshakes.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30, 2016--Long Weekending

I will return tomorrow with a story about an unexpected lunch at the Moody Diner.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 27, 2016--World War III

In their now daily barrage of anti-Trump articles, the New York Times, on Tuesday finally went all the way--

After helping for months to fuel the belief that a Trump presidency would lead to fascism, one of their columnists, Eduardo Porter, more than implied that if Trump is elected World War III will be one possible result.

In, "We've Seen the Trump Phenomenon Before," he suggests in a subtle way that social and economic conditions are now similar to those that pertained during the years leading up to the outbreak of global warfare in 1914 and 1941. World Wars I and II.

It is worth reading the entire piece, but here is a flavor of the analysis--
Mr. Trump perhaps can best be understood as the face of a broader global dynamic: the resistance to policies that encourage global competition and open borders to people who have lived too long on the losing side. 
The world's "golden age" of globalization around the turn of the 19th century into the 20th was capped by what came to be known as the Great War. [World War I] The discontent bred of the worldwide economic devastation of the 1930s ended in another war. [World War II]
Porter then cites Harold James, an expert on European history at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs--
Backlashes against globalization promoted a zero-sum-game: To protect ourselves, we must do so at the expense of somebody else. It increases nationalism and the willingness to go to war.
Connecting these two dots to the current situation (third dot?) where Trump in his heated nationalism and critique of globalization appeals to "his" people who have lived too long on the losing side and are motivated to see in globalization a zero-sum-game that still has them losing to various somebodies. In Trump's view mainly illegal immigrants.

Porter concludes--

"We shouldn't try to stop globalization, even if we could. But if we don't do a better job managing a changing world economy, it seems clear that it will end badly again."

Should I say fro him, "in World War III"?

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May 26, 2016--Hillary Clinton: Drip, Drip, Drip

World War III will have to wait to Friday because there is breaking news--

I wrote and posted what follows on July 27, 2015. About a year ago.

It feels appropriate to republish it in the light of the scathing report revealed yesterday by the State Department regarding Hillary Clinton's use, while Secretary of State, of a personal email server.

This report we should note is not from a partisan Republican source or candidate but from a Democratic State Department. Among other things the department's inspector general concluded that this was not authorized or permitted by State Department rules.

The next drip will be from the FBI, with whom Clinton will soon be testifying. In the light of this new report, an indictment would not be a surprise.

Thus far, Hillary's defenders are saying, "Colin Powell did it. So why isn't he in trouble?" The inspector general gave that answer--at the time Powell was secretary, the rules were different.

One can only imagine what the Republicans and Donald Trump will do with this.

Here, from last July--

I recently read Tim Weiner's new biography of Richard Nixon, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, which focuses on the various criminal activities of Nixon and his associates. Especially the climate that existed in the White House and in Nixon's mind that led to the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex and the subsequent coverup and resignation.

Nixon's involvement in the break-in was not direct but the result of his obsession with secrecy and feelings that there were conspiratorial forces at work that would deny his reelection in 1972. His men, thus, carried out his implied agenda.

Nixon got in deep and direct trouble when he tried to have the FBI's investigation of the break-in squelched and then led the cover-up, all the while lying by claiming he knew nothing in advance of the break-in (likely true) and knew nothing about a cover-up (patently and feloniously false).

As a result, he was brought down, named an "unindicted co-conspirator," and forced to resign the presidency.

This brings me to Hillary Clinton and the many problems with her emails while she was Secretary of State.

For whatever reasons, rather than use secure State Department channels of communication, she used her own, personal email account to carry out official business. There is no disputing that.

But under pressure, when news about this began to leak out earlier this year, she denied any wrongdoing, claiming what she did was neither against federal rules nor, much more significant, was not in any way illegal.

Under further pressure, she turned over to the State Department 30,000 official emails from her private server, deleting other thousands of a personal nature--for example, those about plans for her daughter Chelsea's wedding.

All along the way she alleged this was a non-issue, driven more by presidential politics then anything else. She held herself above the fray, claiming she had more important things to focus on--how to build an agenda, for example, to strengthen the economy, one that especially helps the middle class.

But the issue just wouldn't go away.

Daily, it is becoming clear that there are legitimate and substantial issues that were not just the result of Republican saber-rattling. As more and more was leaked and reported about what was in the actual emails, it became clearer and clearer that there is a there there.

Just at the end of last week, the New York Times, which broke the original email story in March, reported that some of Clinton's emails included classified information, which, if true, is potentially illegal.

The State Department inspector general joined by the intelligence community's independent inspector general issued a joint statement which revealed that their review of a random sample of just 40 of the former Secretary's emails revealed that four did in fact contain classified material, "Government secrets."

Clinton's response was again that this is a distraction and that nothing untoward occurred on her watch.

The two inspectors general would disagree. In fact, they recommended that an investigation be launched. A criminal investigation. Clinton didn't quite say, "I am not a crook." But . . .

It is significant to note again that the intelligence community's inspector general is a non-partisan and that though the State Department is Obama's State Department, and thus controlled by Democrats, its inspector general did not hold back.

This is feeling like the same kind of drip, drip, drip that didn't work to defend Nixon. He pretended that he was ignoring the Watergate investigation, claiming he was too busy defending the world and defeating Communism. The tapes of his White House offices and telephones put the lie to that. He was obsessed by Watergate and the judicial and congressional investigations and was active daily counseling and coaching his confederates about what to say and which lies to tell.

I suspect Hillary Clinton in dong much the same thing. I mean obsessing. She knows the truth and we are learning more about it every week. I suspect there will be an outcome similar to Nixon's--her emails are not unlike his tapes. There are likely numerous smoking guns in them and I would be surprised if Clinton is able to stay in the race for the presidential nomination. Polls are already showing she trails Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in key battleground states. This will only get worse as we learn more.

It's time for Democrats to be thinking about serious alternatives. It wouldn't surprise me to see Joe Biden join the race and perhaps John Kerry. Elizabeth Warren may also be rethinking her decision not to run.

Who knows, by fall a Democrat clown car might be revving up.

I am not a crook.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 25, 2016--Tomorrow, World War III

I will return tomorrow with a piece about how if Donald Trump is elected World War III is all be inevitable.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 24, 2106--Kim Jong-un

Donald Trump told Reuters last week that he is open to negotiating directly with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. After 30 years of failing to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, under Republican as well as Democratic administrations, Trump called for a different approach.

He said--

"I would speak to him. I would have no problem speaking to him."

The foreign policy establishment, including Hillary Clinton, immediately seized on this as more evidence that Trump is not qualified to be either commander in chief or the nation's chief diplomat.

For example, "experts" concluded that if Trump somehow managed to become president, a policy review by him, no longer shooting from the hip on the campaign trail, would lead him to "take a similar approach toward Pyongyang as a Clinton administration."

That of course is possible. That of course is speculation. This has happened in the past. During the 1960 campaign, for example, John Kennedy cited a dangerous "missile gap" between the U.S and the Soviet Union. A missile gap that looked a lot less threatening once JFK assumed office and "discovered" it didn't exist. Something he actually knew at the time and thus, during the campaign, he was, well, simply lying to score political points.

And in 2008, during the primary campaign that pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, when during one debate Obama said he would be comfortable talking directly with the dictators in control of Iran and Cuba, Clinton called him out, saying that exposed how naive Obama was when it came to foreign policy. Sound familiar?

Now, after the Obama administration negotiated deals directly with Iran and Cuba--something Clinton is eager to take half-credit for (she claims it was her leadership while Secretary of State that prepared the ground for these initiatives)--she is once again chastising her opponent for being diplomatically irresponsible. Deja vu all over again.

But as with so many of his shape-shifting positions, Trump with this offhand comment about North Korea, is also getting under Hillary's skin. This time in her area of policy primacy--foreign affairs. So she is now scrambling to come up with policies in regard to North Korea that aren't more of the same-old, same-old.

So just what would be wrong with Trump "speaking" with Kim Jong-un? It could actually work. And what's the downside? Kim has a public infatuation with odd-ball American celebrities. The ever-bizarre Dennis Rodman is a personal favorite. This might then be one example where Trump's celebrity and cartoon-like persona might be an asset.

Considering the threat North Korea represents, I'd consider giving it a try.

And, if Hillary wins, since she too is a larger-than-life star of the decades-long Clinton reality show, she also should look for an appropriate way to talk to Kim.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23--Fear On the Left

Again we're being inundated with nuanced columns as well as rantings all claiming that if Donald Trump figures out how to get elected president, this assures that fascism is coming to America.

This concern is mainly from pundits on the left but not exclusively. For example, neo-con Robert Kagan, one of George W. Bush flacks who contributed significantly to bringing preemptive war to Iraq, in a recent column in the Washington Post, summed it up in his title--"This Is How Fascism Comes to America."

In addition to worthwhile insights, Kagan's speculation is that Trump's supporters are so riddled with fear and rage that they do not care about traditional policies or politics (they have no interest, for example, in reforming the Republican Party) and in their fear-stoked blindness are wanting to turn the government of the United States over to a crypto-fascisit who has no policies to present but only the promise that as a classic fascist strongman he will eliminate the deepest threats to America--immigrants, Islamic terrorists, economic stagnation, and the like. Just as Mussolini did in Italy in the 1920s.

Kagan goes even further, comparing a potential Trump presidency to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and with a whiff of innuendo suggests that Trump's supporters seem apocalyptically like those attracted to Stalin--
They [their followers] praise the leader's incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won't let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims of Stalin's show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.
With Trump we're apparently so far along the road to fascism that we should already be worrying about show trials. What a fevered imagination Kagan has.

Not to be outdone, former governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, running for vice president on the Libertarian ticket, is so worried about Trump's immigration policy that he crossed a big line during his first interview last Thursday. According to the New York Times he worried that "I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna."

Godwin's Law in full flower.

Here's what I do not understand--

Why do many progressives feel it is permissible for critics to label Trump supporters as so paralyzed by fear that they are willing to turn their lives over to a potential autocrat while at the same time not acknowledging their own fears?

It is true that many Americas are fearful. Understandably. A glance at hot spots and threats around the world validate that as do economic dislocation and uncertainty in the homeland. But then the Kagans and Welds of the world are just as fear-plagued. About different things of course, but they are fear-driven nonetheless.

And much of this fear, both on the right and left, is not objectified, but speculation-based. Which is fine, but it should be labeled as such. Again, on all sides.

We do not in fact know what a Trump presidency would be like nor for that matter Hillary Clinton's. Presidents and Supreme Court justices once in office have a long history of surprising us.

Take Dwight Eisenhower as one example. He was represented in the liberal media as a bumbler uninterested in the presidency, more interested in playing golf with his chums than leading or governing. But, among other things, at the height of the Cold War, at least eight times his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs pushed for a preemptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Thankfully, eight times Eisenhower demurred. And at the end of his eight years in office, this former Allied Supreme Commander warned about the growing power of the "military-industrial complex." A warning still well-worth heeding.

Ronald Reagan was also thought to be a lightweight. Showing no interest in policy much less specifics,  whatever one otherwise thinks of him, he was a transformative president. Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign said that and was roundly criticized by fellow Democrats, with Hillary Clinton leading the charge.

Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, two vice presidents who assumed the presidency, also were misunderstood and underestimated. Who thought at the time that the haberdasher from Independence, Missouri would turn out to be a forceful and effective leader and who knew that LBJ, a political operative from South Texas (and a corrupt one at that) would transcend his background and public record to become the most progressive president of his or perhaps any era.

Before rushing to judgement this time, it might make sense to defuse the rhetoric and take Donald Trump on on the issues where he is severely deficient and vulnerable. It is hardly necessary to give into one's own fears, and out of that, make up fantasies about "the road to fascism." Things are bad enough as it is.

Robert Kagan

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Friday, May 20, 2016

May 20, 2016--Aches & Pains

We've been working nonstop on house projects--very much including the gardens--and as a result I am laced with aches and pains. So no typing for me until Monday.

I guess I should feel good that I'm still able to dig holes for plants and prune dead branches.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

May 19, 2016--Donald & Megyn: Reunited at Last

I'll admit it. I'm a fan of junk TV. Anything from Married With Children to Good Wife to Dancing With the Stars. That's why I have to ration my viewing.

So it should be no surprise that I looked in on the new Megyn Kelly show, I think eponymously titled, Megyn Kelly Presents.

And what did she present on her inaugural special? A no-brainer--Donald Trump.

After nine months of long-distance spatting, they were together again. She with her new Valkyrie power-hair right out of Game of Thrones. He with perhaps a slightly toned down Trump-do. She with her agenda--to expose his soft (appealing to women) side. He with his agenda--to expose his soft (appealing to women) side.

So of course the entire interview was about what happened during the first GOP debate and its lingering aftermath when she nailed him so devastatingly as a misogynist.

"Do you look back at that debate with any regrets?" she in effect asked, "Anything you learned or would change?"

He admitted that he would change a few things but refused to disclose any. So much for soft side.

They went back and forth about that. Kelly in the Barbara Walters' mode, hoping for a pop shot--in this case the beginning of a tear.

I thought, if one runs down his cheek during a closeup he will win in November.

Not to worry, he'll be back with her frequently now. It should assure a blip up in his poll numbers when it comes to female voters and help her leap ahead of Bill O'Reilly in the Fox News internecine ratings war.

They are truly made for each other. Perhaps a better way to put this is that they are made by each other.

Before his outrageous "blood coming out of her wherever" comment, Trump, pundits thought, was just along for the ride in the Republican clown car to burnish his brand and she was a middling host of a relatively low-rated Fox talk-show.

After the debate his numbers started to rise and she saw her ratings soar and was offered a $5.0 million advance for a memoir.

This as the result of the two of them together conspiring to create a reality show of their own to star in and from which to derive mutual benefit. For him, votes; for her fame and fortune.


At some point the other evening, during the interview, they got off on a different subject--I forget just what. Maybe something boring having to do with economic policy.

Ever-alert, not wanting to distract from the real subject at hand, Megyn interrupted and all excited said, "Enough about that. Let's talk about us."


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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 18, 2016--Zwerling's Law

Back on March 1st I posted a piece about Godwin's Law. Actually about Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies.

It stated that "as a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazi analogies approaches."

This intrigued me because I was finding that this was what was happening to me with growing frequency whenever I wanted to have a conversation about Donald Trump's political success (no matter what one thought about it or him). Before very long Nazi or Fascist analogies would manifest  themselves. Generally he would not only be labeled a demagogue (perhaps fair) but would also most frequently be compared to Benito Mussolini (in my view, over heated).

I was reminded of this yesterday when reading Charles Blow's op ed column in the New York Times, "Trump's Asymmetric Warfare."

It's actually a pretty good piece that begins with a reference to MSNBC's Chris Matthew's perception that Trump is difficult to attack because "conventional forms of political fighting won't work on this man."

Blow asks, "How do you embarrass an embarrassment."

Well and good, but Trump so clearly makes Blow crazy that he also said, "There is no way to sully a pig or mock a clown."

I'm OK with the clown reference because Trump is a very entertaining entertainer, but "sully a pig?" This goes for meaningful discourse in the paper of record?

Further, there is the whiff of Godwin's Law when Blow writes, "This had made him nearly impervious to even the cleverest takedowns, and trust me, many have tried [think poor Elizabeth Warren who tired and is now referred to by Trump, devastatingly, as Pocahontas], comparing him to everyone from P.T. Barnum to Hitler."

Blow cleverly doesn't say he agrees with this latter comparison. As a journalist, all he's disingenuously doing is reporting what others have said.

Oh really.

But Blow has more to say. Now about Trump's supporters. These, he claims, are people who "tire of higher-level cerebral function."

And concludes, "Trump's triumph as the presumptive Republican Party nominee is not necessarily a sign of his strategic genius [Blow also refers to him as a "simpleton"] as much as it's a sign of some people's mental, psychological and spiritual deficiencies."

Thus, Zwerling's Law--If Nazi analogies don't work, blame the victims.

In this case, the victims are those duped by Trump. To the likes of Charles Blow to support Trump by definition assumes one has been duped. There can be no other explanation. And so to be venerable to Trump's lies and manipulations, one has to be mentally deficient.

It is just this sort of arrogance too common among liberal elites that is ironically proving most helpful to Trump in his ascendancy. Perhaps all the way to the White House.

Charles Blow

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17, 2106--Midcoast: Climate Refugees

A day before heading out, a friend from Maine called to "alert" us to "big changes."

Immediately, this made me anxious. One thing I love about Maine is that it doesn't change very much.

"In what way?" I asked not really wanting to hear what he had to say.

"The weather."

Puzzled, I asked, "You mean black fly season?"

"That never changes. No, I mean the climate."

I really didn't want to talk with him about this. Not for a few days anyway until we are settled in and calmed down. Then I'll be better prepared for his continuing concerns about climate change. It's another one of things that never changes in Maine--his going on and on about the climate.

I know, I know. But time in Maine is supposed to be relatively carefree for us. But, I know.

In spite of myself, with an edge, I asked, "So what is it now?"

"You know about the big forest fires up in Alberta?"

"Sure. But what does that have to do with . . . ?"

"Everything. If you look at the globe. I mean a map of the world in global form, not the flat projections, you'll see that there's a sub-arctic belt of forests that goes all the way from northern Europe and Russia through Canada and then arcs over the northern-most part of Maine."


"And that means that as things warm and dry all of these forests are in peril. They could ignite in a global conflagration."

"Now that's a happy picture."

"Have you noticed when you look on the Internet at the Intellicast website, the one I recommended you use when you're up here--I find it to be most accurate--that there have been a lot of weather alerts posted?"

"Yes, for windy conditions and some occasional coastal flooding warnings. When there's a nor'easter."

"There are the usual number of those but then this year for the first time in a long while there have been alerts about the danger of forest fires. When we have these it's more typically later in the summer, not after a winter of snowfall and melt."

"And this year it didn't snow that much. I noticed that."

"I'm not talking about changes in the weather but in the larger climate. That's what has me worried about what's going on in western Canada."

"I can see that." By then he had me fully engaged. Joining in, I said, "I recently read that if the global climate heats up by only four degrees there will be catastrophic consequences. Including, from the map I saw, to the coast of Maine. Hopefully I'll be long dead, but where our house is might become part of the flood plain. At the moment, though, we're right on the coast but because of water levels are not required to have flood insurance."

"At the moment. That says it all. And, I read," my friend continued, "that when this happens, there will be the first big wave of climate refugees. In the northern half of the Western Hemisphere, much of it to northern Canada where up to 100 million are anticipated. Now, the population of Canada is only 30 million."

"I read that too," I said.

"Which brings me back to Maine."


"Because we too should expect millions of refugees from the lower 48 states."

"Are you sensing that already?"

"Maybe a trickle. Young families from south of here who are relocating to farms just in from the coast. There was an article in the local paper about that. About who's moving here and for what reasons. Quite a few apparently for climate-change reasons."

"So what are you recommending?" I was finding this depressing and wanted to get back to packing up.

"Learn to grow beans, put in a few hundred gallons of water, get a gun, and make sure you have lots of ammo."

"That's it?"

"Well, you asked."

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Monday, May 16, 2016

May 16, 2016--Transgenderness

The things we manage to make ourselves crazy about.

At the moment--transgender toilets.

Last week the Obama administration notified all school districts that they must allow transgender children to use toilets for the gender for which they identify. For example, a physiological boy, if he identifies as female, would be allowed to use the girls' bathroom.

If schools fail to do so, they could expect to see their federal funding curtailed. No Trio money to support tutoring and other services for disadvantaged children, no support for Head Start, and if they have Race to the Top school reform money that too might be terminated.

As could have been predicted, though a few said they supported the new guidelines, for the most part school administrators, parents, and local elected officials went, well, ballistic. Some because of deep belief, others because it is an irresistible Culture War issue to demagogue. Perfect for the likes of Ted Cruz who is now back in the Senate but still fulminating.

Do we really need this hot button controversy? There are identity issues to be sure as well as practical ones. Also, what alternative is available for children who might be made uncomfortable by this edict? If transgender students have rights don't those who do not want to share bathrooms with them also have rights? How many different kinds of designated bathrooms do we need--for boys only, for girls only, for boys who are OK with sharing stalls with transgender girls, for girls who are accommodating to transgender boys who identify female.

I get both sides of this and, as a practical person, propose a simple solution. Far from perfect, here's what I suggest--

Transgender chidden should be allowed to use the toilet set aide for the school nurse. Pretty much every school has one. It's private and little used.

To put this in perspective, it is estimated that there are 700,000 transgender Americans. About 0.3 percent of the population. This includes adults as well as school-age children. This means that there might be up to 200,000 transgender students attending public schools. There are nearly 100,000 public schools in America. This means that in a 2,000-student high school, there might be 2 to 4 transgender students. 470-student elementary schools (the national average) would have disproportionately fewer. In some cases none at all; in other instances typically 1 or 2.

Whatever the number, it would hardly be a burden on the school nurses to share these lockable toilets with a few kids. And since many students do not even use the bathroom during the school day, what are we fighting about?

But then there is the stigmatization issue. It is very complicated being a transgender person. Especially for a young child. To be singled out for bathroom use as I am proposing could contribute to some children feeling exposed. Thus the mainstreaming movement for special-needs kids. To put them in classes with "typical" children rather than, as in the past, have special classes and in some cases separate schools for them.

But these children use "handicap" toilets and by doing so call attention to their differences. In bullying environments, this can be very disturbing. On the other hand, it reflects real life and a world that is often not accepting of any form of difference--color, religion, ethnicity, attractiveness, academic prowess, athletic ability, sexuality. School are not isolated from the rest of society. They reflect it. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Bottom line--people, including young ones, need to figure out how to live in the wider world. Especially when it is unfair. This may be one of those situations.

And isn't it ironic that this smoldering controversy is calling heightened attention to kids struggling with these issues. I am not sure this extra attention is helpful to them.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

May 13, 2106--Quinnipiac

Yesterday's meetings in Washington between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, the House and Senate Republican leaders, and the head of the Republican National Committee were ostensibly about GOP unity.

With Trump riding a wave of unorthodox popular support and with various congressional egos and ambitions to be catered to, Trump, the mountain, came to the Washington mole hill.

He was there to put his softer side on display and to show deference to the GOP leadership by coming to them in trade for their endorsement and support--he doesn't want to have to spend a billion of his own money since he has a lot less of it than he claims and a hit of that magnitude on his personal fortune would require him to liquidate much of his real estate empire.

(As a sidebar, he does not want to release his taxes because, unlike Mitt Romney four years ago who did so kicking and screaming because it showed him paying just 14 percent of his huge income in taxes, or to reveal how parsimonious he is when making charitable donations--he is notoriously not generous--Trump does not want to release information about his taxes as it would show that his net worth is much less than half of what he claims it to be.)

The dance with Paul Ryan was the trickiest since they need each other if Trump manages to win the presidency and intends to actually govern--his legislative agenda, such as it will be, will need to be approved by the House. And with Paul Ryan having stars in his eyes about running for the presidency himself in 2020 or even 2024 if Trump wins and serves two terms, Ryan has to pretend he is getting Trump to calm down and back off from some of his most extreme and divisive positions such as the temporary Muslim ban.

Also, as the publicity-obsessed Ryan knows, getting joined at the hip with Trump is the best thing he can do to build his brand. Trump's powerful spotlight shines on anyone nearby. Look at how Megyn Kelly's star rose after confronting Trump during the first GOP debate. As a result she has a $5.0 book deal and a highly-rated Fox primetime talk show.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has a simpler agenda--his is one of the few senators not thinking about running for president--he love his job, the prerogatives, and the fancy office. So he dons't want any trouble with some of the down-ballot Republican senators who are worried about their reelection. To have Trump not taking pot shots at him and the landlocked Senate is pretty much all he wants to extract.

But here's what's really going on--

Just as the schedule for yesterday's Washington visit was being firmed up, the credible Quinnipiac poll of three purple swing states was released--with Trump having a bad week otherwise, matching him against Hillary Clinton, they showed him already doing better than expected in Florida and Pennsylvania (a virtual dead heat both places with Hillary leading 43 to 42), but with Trump having a outside-the-margin-of-error lead in critical Ohio--43 to 39.

Seeing these numbers and projecting their implications for November, GOP party members junior and senior by the end of the week were falling all over themselves to jump on the Trump bandwagon.

This is because these guys (and they are still mostly guys) care about just two things--themselves and winning. Not what the Founders had in mind when they drafted the Constitution but what we have devolved to: a professional politician class waging a lifetime campaign.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

May 12, 2016--Off Day

Busy getting ready to head to Maine. I expect to be back here on Friday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May 11, 2016--Kosher Pot

My first job was delivering groceries for the owner of Friedman's on Church Avenue in East Flatbush.

I worked for tips--a dime was the usual gratuity with the very occasional quarter from the few more successful gentile neighbors like Mrs. Smith, wife of Dr. Smith who owned the nearby pharmacy. He wasn't an actual doctor but that's what we called him, especially at those times when he would dispense medications without a prescription, remove a cinder from someone's eye, or dig out a splinter with a hopefully sterilized needle. For these we preferred to think we were in a doctor's hands.

In truth, rather than delivering cheese, dried goods, and paper products, I preferred to linger with Mr. Friedman and, when there was a lull, when we were the only two people there, listen to him tell stories about the "old country." Very much including the pogroms he experienced when he was my age. I was eleven at the time.

I tired to imagine what that would have been like and how I would have fared. Not feeling good about my robustness, I suspected I would not have endured as I could not find anything within myself to match his powerful will or survival instincts.

One bleak afternoon, with the skies threatening and the store lights half extinguished, since no one was shopping, haltingly, I confessed this to him.

With his liquid eyes fixed on me, he put his hand on my shoulder and in his thick accent assured me how I would "be surprised." And he confessed, "About myself I used to think the same way. Now, look at me. I'm here. Such as it is, I live."

He shrugged, smiled enigmatically, and spread his arms to their full span as if encouraging me to examine him and thereby find assurance that I too had what it takes. As if to say, "This is all I am. As is also true for you. Just flesh."

One afternoon, a few days before the first night of Passover, Mr. Friedman asked if I could stay late and help him with something. I felt honored by that as it was clear that whatever it was he needed to do would require just the two of us.

I said I very much wanted to but needed to ask my mother if it was all right. "About how late will you need me?" I asked, knowing that would be her main concern.

"Maybe to eight o'clock."

I ran the two blocks to our apartment and, gasping for air, told my mother about Mr. Friedman's request. Without asking why, which I would not have been able to say, she said, "Make sure you take a sweater. When you come home it will be cold out."

I raced back to the store with my long-sleeve sweater tied around my waist.

"Come with me to the back," he said. That was his sanctuary. No one was allowed to go behind the curtain that provided privacy.

There was a cot, small light, and a battered table on which there were copies of the Daily News, the New York Post, and a cigar box that he moved close to the light so I could see what it contained.

"You know about Passover?" he said.

"You mean the matzoh and Four Questions?" There was a lot more I could have added.

"I mean about kosher."

"I know that we eat only things that are considered kosher for the seders."

"So you know about kosher for Pesach?"

"I'm not sure I know what you think I know," I said avoiding eye contact.

"How there is kosher and then there is kosher."

He could see I was confused so he said, "There is the regular kosher for every time of the year except Pesach. And then there is kosher for Passover."

"I know about that," I said, feeling good that I understood. "There are even separate Passover dishes."

"So, tonight," he said, smiling more than I had ever seen, "Tonight you will make kosher."

Again, I was confused. Sensing that he said,"In this box," he tapped the cover of the cigar box, "is what you need to make kosher. For Pesach."

"Make kosher? Don't the rabbis do that and . . ."

"Gonifs," he snorted. "Criminals."

"You mean the rabbis?" I was shocked to hear him say that. I always thought . . .

"With their hands out they come around schnorring."


"To make kosher for Passover. Take the matzoh meal. Does your mother make matzoh ball soup?"

"She does, but . . ."

"It's supposed to be made especially for Passover. Not the matzoh meal we have in the store for the rest of the year."

"And . . . ?" I was surprised at my persistence, that I just didn't stand there nodding my head, pretending I understood.

"Two kinds matzoh meal. Mashuggah."

"So . . . ?"

"So, tonight you are making the matzoh and the dairy kosher for Pesach."

"Me? How?"

"With this box." He handed the cigar box to me. "With the labels in the box. Take one out."

I opened the lid slowly for fear that it might emit some dangerous emanation. But instead I found a benign stack of Kosher for Pesach labels.

"Go back outside," Mr. Friedman said, taking hold of my shoulders and turning me firmly toward the curtain that led back to the store. And with my back to him, just before giving me a gentle push forward, said, "Go and make kosher. I'd rather pay you than those gonif rabbis."

And with that, as if in a Hasid trance, I headed to the aisle where the matzoh products were shelved and from the top shelf down affixed Kosher for Pesach labels on all the boxes.

From the back room, Mr. Friedman called to me, "And don't forget the milk and cream in the refrigerator."

I was reminded of this passage-to-adulthood experience when reading the other day in the New York Times about how the Orthodox Union, the group that presides over the kosher laws in America--decides what is or isn't suitable to be considered kosher and thereby secure the coveted OU label--is struggling with how to think about the inexorable movement in American to make marijuana legal--for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

They have apparently agreed that since marijuana is not used to cure illnesses but to ameliorate pain and nausea, that for orthodox Jews to use it for those purposes it must be judged to be kosher, which, among other things means that the pot plants must be grown in an insect-free environment since, with few exceptions such as for locusts, insects are not kosher. (Fired locusts, FYI, is a popular snack among Israelis.)

If it were to be used to cure illnesses, even if the medicine contained bacon fat, it would be permissible. The kosher designation would not be necessary. The rabbis can be quite flexible when it comes to certain kind of meds.

So, representatives of the OU are making the rounds of those marijuana farmers who are seeking their endorsement in order to expand their businesses.

One thing Orthodox Union leaders have already decided is not to consider recreational use of pot to be eligible for kosher-bosher designation. So, when in Colorado and looking for some Alice B. Toklas brownies, don't expect to find packages with the OU seal. You're on your own.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May 10, 2016--Putin's Concert in Palmyra

Vladimir Putin has figured out yet another way to make everyone crazy.

Not just by annexing Crimea, not just by threatening Latvia, not just by striking new accords with China, not just by essentially endorsing Donald Trump's candidacy, not just by rolling out sophisticated 21st century weapon systems in the skies and on the ground in Syria, not just by helping his fellow oligarchs stash away billions of stolen Russian assets in Panama while his country languishes for a second year with a stalled economy.

In addition to all of this, as an act of assertion and to poke us and our Western allies in the eye, he arranged for a classical music concert last week in the formerly ISIS-controlled World Heritage city of Palmyra, Syria. A form of victory lap.

Palmyra had been overrun and subjugated for more than a year by ISIS. While they held the city in thrall, ISIS goons, in addition to torturing and slaughtering Palmyrians, set about destroying the ancient 1st and 2nd century Greco-Roman temples--to them "pagan" shrines--in an attempt to obliterate all traces of Western culture.

ISIS also last summer used the most spectacular of these ruins, the concert site, as a killing field, actually a public beheading field for at least 25 victims.

For some time, the United States and its coalition allies had been unable to stop the carnage much less dislodge the Islamic State fighters. Then along came the Russians.

Defying our urgings, in support of fighters loyal to their ally, Syria president Bashar al-Assad, the Russians began a sustained air offensive against ISIS and Syrian rebel targets in Palmyra and elsewhere.

The American administration was quick to point out--with some official smugness--that among other things, derived from our own propensity to became mired in internecine wars in the region, that the Russians too would find it easier to become involved than to accomplish their mission and then manage to extract themselves.

Amazingly, with some limitations, exceptions, and caveats, the Russians were able to find ways to be effective, including driving ISIS from some of the territories it had overrun in Iraq and Syria. Very much including returning Palmyra to precarious local control.

And thus the "victory" concert.

Using what the New York Times called its "soft power," Russia deployed a chamber orchestra to Palmyra along with one of the country's most esteemed conductors, Valery Gergiev, and cellist, Sergei Roldugin. A tightly-guarded V.I.P. audience, was also flown in to attend the concert, which included two pieces by Johan Sebastian Bach. Recommended attire--bulletproof vests. And then, at concert's end, quickly flown out.

Admittedly, this was a Potemkin-Village concert--more show and facade than evidence of Palmyra's liberation.

But what a brilliant piece of geopolitical theater by Putin. It might be considered his version of "Mission Accomplished." Though, as we know, these missions are rarely accomplished.

(Today would be my father's 110th birthday. He would have hated all of this.)

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Monday, May 09, 2016

May 9, 2016--Paul Ryan's Waiting Game

The race for the Republican nomination for president in 2020, yes 2020, has already broken out and Paul Ryan is the front runner.

About this one, unlike this past year when he "reluctantly" agreed to save the GOP from itself by agreeing to become Speaker of the House and later, appearing before as many American flags as one finds at a Donald Trump rally, he made speeches of the sort that only presidential candidates utter since he was . . . running for president. Again, blushingly hoping that the Republican nomination process would break down and once again his party would appeal to him to again save them.

Well, that didn't work out so well for him, did it.

Now we have Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee and what has Paul been up to? Running again in his faux-reluctant way for president in 2020.

Too soon? He is a marathon runner, albeit as we found out four years ago when he was Mitt Romney's running mate, he lies about his times.

Here's how the boyish Speaker is hoping it will unfold--

Stealthily, he does everything he can to make sure Hillary Clinton gets elected in November, then he hopes for her to have a failed presidency (as Speaker he can assist with that). And then, come the next presidential election cycle, announces with a sigh that he is running for the 2020 nomination, again not because he really wants to be president but because the country needs to be saved from four more years of Hillary.

Note all the "saved" allusions. Consciously using religious language he represents himself that way--doing God's work as a secular savior.

Do not be fooled by his self-denying, pious-sounding concerns about the current rupture (I almost wrote Rapture) in the Republican Party--the widening divide between the Paul Ryan-style conservatives and the more atavistic, nationalistic Trump wing that has achieved a version of a coup d'etat.

His heartfelt mien is less about the state of the party than the state of his ambition.

He had a chance to grab a brass ring in 2012 and was waiting around this year to be summoned after the nomination process crashed and burned and the Republicans were plunged into the chaos of an open convention with the nation turning its lonely eyes to him.

Failing this, we now have Plan C.

Ultimately kicking and screaming, Ryan tepidly endorses and thereby contributes to Trump's losing--a pretty good bet. With Trump an electoral disaster, still enough Republicans are reelected to the House and Ryan retains his speakership. He drags his feet on President Clinton's legislative agenda, and this undermines her effectiveness, and then in 2019, again without exposing his boundless striving, declares her a failed president and announces that he is again reluctantly, once more for the sake of the Party, stepping aside as Speaker and thereby becomes the presumptive GOP nominee for 2020.

Keep an eye on what should be a fascinating piece of political theater on Thursday when Trump meets in Washington (not at the Trump Tower) with Ryan and other senior Republican leaders. They will likely miscalculate how much Trump is willing to say and do to assure them that now that he is the all-but-certain  nominee he will begin to play by their conventional rulebook.

I suspect that Trump will use the occasion to trot out some of his self-promoted dealmaking skills. These include his likely not wanting to make a premature deal. Trump's supporters would likely be disillusioned if he did. At least at this point.

His best political posture is still to play the outsider game. It got him this far and I suspect Trump feels it will continue to be his best strategy for November. Thus, we should be aware of the likelihood that Trump is as eager to run against the Republican establishment as the Democrats. Perhaps, more so.

In the meantime, I suggest everyone read The Art of the Deal where Trump talks about the importance of being willing to walk out of negotiations. And Ayn Rand's Fountainhead for insight into the radical ways in which  Paul Ryan sees the world.

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

May 8, 2016--Mother's Day

After more than seven decades, for the first time in my life, there will be no phone call this morning to wish my mother a happy Mother's Day.

As she moved slowly toward the end of her life, I tried to convince myself that since I was among the most fortunate to have had so much mothering, it would be selfish of me to want even more.

I failed to do so. I miss her more than ever.

Friday, May 06, 2016

May 6, 2106--Mea Culpas

With Donald Trump the almost certain GOP nominee many are twisted in knots.

First among them are leaders in his party such as Paul Ryan who worry that he will bring about the apocalypse--not the biblical apocalypse the crazies on the right are awaiting but the more immediate, secular one that means difficulty getting reelected or fear that unpredictable Donald will mean that there will be no more business as usual and thus it will be the end of their prerogatives and lobbyist and consultant cash flow.

Also pulling out their hair and offering mea culpas are the political journalists who got it wrong, who until almost the last minute proclaimed (read hoped) that someone, anyone other than Trump would be nominated.

Nate Cohen, who writes the "Upshot" column in the New York Times, a political-junkie, numbers-guru of sorts yesterday wrote a confessional article whose title said it all--"What I Got Wrong About Donald Trump."

It easily could have been a one-word column--"Everything."

The most important thing missing, what is really at the heart of his and many others' problem, is his failure--acknowledged by David Brooks--that he spends all his time in New York or Washington, hooked up to the Internet, and thus has not talked to actual Trump supporters. Especially those who do not fit the conventional algorithms.

I just spoke with one yesterday morning--a friend from Maine who is a lifelong liberal and feminist who whispered on the phone, "You know, he makes a lot of sense."

Cohen's data do not capture people like my friend who do not fit the familiar paradigm, and do not show up among the demographic categories in most of the suddenly obsolete polling formats.

He should be talking to her and asking her why Trump makes a lot of sense to her. Then he'd have something insightful to write about.

Having mentioned David Brooks, though he got it right when he confessed that he and his media colleagues need to emerge from their cultural cocoons and talk to their metaphorical neighbors if they want to understand what is roiling the electorate, he too has some more confessing to do.

Having fessed up to his own social isolation, he needs to deal with the fact that he's another pundit who proclaimed that there is one thing he can guarantee in this confounding political year--that "Donald Trump will never be nominated."

This suggests he is still living within the Beltway.

Maybe for the general election he'll get out more. If he doesn't he may miss the next chapter's storyline--though Trump as of right now is trailing Hillary Clinton by 10-12 percentage points, back last June/July among the 17 GOP aspirants, he was at two percent.  Forty percent now must be looking pretty good to him.

My take on the general election campaign that has already broken out is that Trump will do much better than expected among women; he will manage to dramatically expand his base by getting many more white men than usual to vote--thereby enlarging the demographic pie chart of voters; and if he names someone like Susana Martinez, Republican governor of New Mexico, to be his running mate (Wiki her to see how compelling she might be) as a result, as well as by throwing in a few pivots, if he attracts 30-35 percent of Hispanic voters, come November things could look pretty complicated.

Oh yes, then there's the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who said he'd "eat" his column if Trump is nominated. He is now soliciting recipes for how to roast, stew, or fry newsprint.

Seeking Recipes

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

May 5, 2016--ABC Carpet & Home

We're always on the lookout for cloth table napkins. Using them at breakfast and dinner is one of our small luxuries. And thus we like to have a large supply from which to choose.

So, when we found ourselves the other day at the Union Square Green Market, just two streets south of ABC Carpet & Home, after rounding up cremini mushrooms and fresh spinach for the next day's breakfast omelet, Rona said, "Why don't we walk up to ABC. We haven't been there in eons. Maybe we'll see something for the apartment or Maine cottage. We'll be there in ten days and maybe we'll find something decorative to put on the dining room table."

"Good idea," I said, "We've been looking for a ceramic bowl or a piece of folk art for it feels like years. Maybe we'll get lucky."

We didn't. There were very few things that caught our eye and the two pieces that had possibilities were $3,500 and $6,000.

"You mean that pathetic stone sculpture of a sea bass is $6,000? I'm incredulous."

"In general it looks a if they're out of control with their pricing. Picking numbers out of the air. When we bought furniture here 25 years ago we found a lot of things and the prices felt fair. Now, like everything else involving downtown living--from the cost of food in restaurants to the price of apartments--is off the charts."

"We're living in the world of the one percent," I said.

"Five percent," Rona said. "Don't make it worse than it is."

"Fair point," I acknowledged. "Five percent is bad enough."

"Let's get out of here," Rona sighed. "I used to love this place. Now it's aggravating me. Everything feels like a rip off."

"We can always look at napkins," I said, winking, hoping to make both of us feel better about the new New York.

"I think we pass by them on our way out," Rona said. "I don't want to spend any more time here than I have to."

"I just remembered," I said, perking up. "The one time we ever saw Donald Trump in the flesh was here 22 years ago."

"I remember that too," Rona said, enjoying the recollection. "He and Marla Maples got off the elevator just as we were getting on. They had their new baby with them."

"Tiffany. She's 22 now. That's how I know when it was.

"Well named. After a jewelry store."

"She was amazing looking. Marla, I mean.

"Perfect skin and totally radiant."

"How appropriate that we're here the day after he became the presumptive nominee."

"Remember how we changed our minds about getting in the elevator and followed them around as they shopped for bed linens?"

"I do. It was a lot of fun."

"Not like today," Rona muttered.

"Here are the napkins. Maybe we'll fine something we like."

And quickly Rona did. "I like these," she said, holding up a couple of what looked like blue vegetable-dyed embroidered Indian napkins. "These could work in the city or Maine. Maybe better in Maine as we have a lot of blue things there."

"For old times sake maybe we should get them."

"Sounds like a nice idea. Let me see how much they are."

Rona squinted at the price tag and more to herself than to me, said, "This you won't believe."

"What's that?"

"They cost $75."

"For a set of six?"

"No. Apiece."

"Your kidding. Let me take a look."

Rona passed them to me. "You're right," I said. "It's either that they're a ridiculous price, since these aren't fancy napkins or especially well made, or they're mislabeled. They're probably $7.50. Let's ask a salesperson."

"This is making me cranky. I'm OK to forget about these. Let's just go."

"Now I really want to know. First there was that stupid fish and now this."

Just as I was saying that a salesman approached and asked if he could help with anything. I asked him to check the price of the napkins. "I think they're not priced correctly."

"Let me check," he said. "I can do it over there at the cash register. I'll be back in a flash."

And he was. Thankfully since Rona was about to bolt.

"Sorry, but the are priced correctly. I mean maybe not the price itself. They do feel a little expense to me," he whispered.

"A little? Seventy-five dollars for one napkin made in India for maybe a quarter?" Rona shushed me and was tugging on my arm to get me to stop and leave. "You mean, if we bought four it would be $300?"

"Plus tax," Rona said, getting into it.

"Well, that means we can get the napkins delivered."

The salesman stared at me not understanding.

"It says there on that sign that if you spend at least $300 you get so-called free, same day delivery anywhere in Manhattan."

"Be we live only ten blocks from here," Rona said, "and it would be only four messily napkins. Even without the tax . . ."

"For free delivery it has to total at least $300 before sales tax." He said, smiling broadly.

"Not a problem," Rona said. "If we bought four . . ."

I knew she was being ironic. It was my turn to pull on her arm. It was past time to leave.

At the door, Rona looked back nostalgically at the glittering displays, "I suspect this is the last time we'll ever come to this store."

"And I doubt, with The Donald on his way to the White House, that we'd ever see him here."

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

May 4, 2016--Trump's "Winning" Strategy

Why, I've been thinking, did Donald Trump defame Ted Cruz's father on the morning of the day in which he was about to trounce Cruz in the Indiana primary and for all intents and proposes position himself to become the all-but-certain GOP nominee?

To cite the trash-loid National Enquirer, which more than hinted that Rafael Cruz was somehow in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, made no apparent sense.

All it did was call into further question Trump's temperament and suitability to occupy the Oval Office and, as commander in chief, have his finger on the nuclear button.

Also, I thought, by making Ted Cruz crazy wouldn't this only encourage him to continue a now futile campaign? Isn't it in Trump's best interest to squeeze Cruz (and Kasich) out of the race so he can turn his full attention to Hillary Clinton?

One would think so. That is, if Trump is to be believed, he has wanted to have a clear field so he could concentrate all of his fire power on the ultimate Democratic Party candidate.

But the more I thought about why Trump, on the cusp of victory, would intentionally enflame Ted Cruz, assuring he would stay in the race, was in fact what he wanted--he wanted Cruz and Kasich to stay in the race until the last primaries on June 7th.

This way, every week between now and then, he will win at least one primary. He is, he says daily, all about "winning"--

On May 10th he will win in West Virginia; a week later, he will be victorious in Oregon; then on May 24th, Trump will carry Washington State; and finally on June 7th there will be five primaries and Trump will win as many as three of them--Montana, New Mexico, and the big enchilada, California.

But this smart political plan--to keep Trump in the headlines as a weekly winner--is being undermined as I write this by Cruz who at this very moment is suspending his campaign.

I suppose Trump will now have to come up with new shtick, some new dirt to throw around. About one thing we can be certain, he will manage to do so.

Wait. I almost forgot--John Kasich. Maybe he'll hang around. Perhaps the Stop Trump movement will coalesce around him. This political season, anything is possible. The more improbable the more likely.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

May 3, 2016--Presumptive Nominee

Yesterday, the day before Donald Trump will defeat Ted Cruz (and poor John Kasich) in Indiana and thereby become the presumptive nominee, I rummaged around among my dozens of postings about the GOP race and, in particular, Donald Trump.

The first of these posting was on July 16, 2015, exactly a month after he and Melania descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce to the waiting press that he was officially running.

Rather than the event being reported as a political story, it was treated as entertainment news.

In fact, for some months thereafter the Huffington Post officially classified it as such.

They and hardly anyone else are laughing any more. Not only does Trump have the nomination virtually locked up (he likely won't even need any California delegates), but some polls are beginning to show him defeating Hillary Clinton in November.

So, I thought to reprint my July 16, 2015 posting. Taking a bit of a self-congratulatory lap. Not because I support his candidacy (I will either vote for Hillary in November or not at all) but because while almost everyone else thought he was doing this for free publicity--to enhance his brand--I sensed that something bigger, much more profound was at work--

Is Donald (all caps) TRUMP just a joke? In the front seat in the Republican clown car?

Pretty much all Democrats agree that he is someone to make fun of (even David Letterman came out of retirement to do so) and most of the other Republican pretenders to the 2016 nomination hope he is just an egotistic entertainer who can't live without the spotlight and will soon move on.

He may be cartoon like, but in other important ways he is resoundingly not. If he stays in the race for the GOP nomination after the current blast of publicity fades (as it most likely will) and spends a few hundred million of his own money (not likely--he is a tightwad and exaggerates his wealth) not only will he help define the future Republican Party but also give the other front runners fits since he actually has a chance to become the nominee.

He has a chance because his brand of anger and racial hatred appeals to at least a third of the GOP primary-voter base. This is different than the general-election Republicans who are a bit more nuanced and tolerant. But it may be enough to get him very close to or all the way to the nomination since his people tend to come from the activist wing of the party.

People are frustrated and angry about their own prospects and what they rightly see to be the decline of America's standing in the world. This began during the inconclusive Korean War and was brought home to American's consciousness when we lost in Vietnam, the first war in our history in which we were defeated. And more recently we are perceived to be ineffectual in the Middle East and, as many feel, are losing to ISIS.

But TRUMP's appeal, though based on this feeling of national decline, is more the result of stagnant income for most Americans and the haunting belief that the American Dream is over for the middle class, whose children, for the first time in history, are not doing as well as their parents.

Rather than blaming structural causes for these frustrating circumstances (an unfair tax system, a weak regulatory environment, the decline of unions, and the resulting rising rate of inequality), TRUMP's people blame government (especially Obama and liberal Democrats), social welfare programs that they feel encourage and underwrite dependency on the government, and above all else, for these angry folks, the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country and the alleged continuing flow of Latin Americans--Mexicans--across our porous borders.

And then how lucky can The Donald get--escaped Mexican drug lord, El Chapo's son two days ago threatened TRUMP's life, tweeting--

"Keep fucking around, and I'll make you eat all of your goddamn words."

This gave TRUMP the opportunity to act the selfless tough guy--

He tweeted, "I'm fighting for much more than myself. I'm fighting for the future of our country which is being overrun by criminals. You can't be intimidated. It's too important."

In addition, most Americans are frustrated that we as a people, our governments, cannot accomplish big things.

The country that built the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 60s can't fix our rusting bridges and crumbling roads. Many may ask, Who do you think is more likely to fix our roads--Scott Walker or Donald TRUMP? Who more likely to rebuild our bridges--Jeb Bush or Donald TRUMP? And what about Hillary Clinton? Do you think she could do a better job than TRUMP in making sure our weapon systems work?

So TRUMP may be a joke, but a potent one at that. And, ultimately, perhaps not a joke at all.

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Monday, May 02, 2016

May 2, 2016--Limousine Liberals

Back in 2004, liberals like me loved Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? We chortled as he exposed how Republicans there and elsewhere duped white working people by promising and then failing to focus on social issues such as abortion and anything having to do with gay rights while in fact delivering tax cuts for themselves and their wealthy patrons.

On the other hand, I am not so sure we will like Frank's latest--Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? As Beverly Gage quipped in her front-page review in yesterday's New York Times Book Review, it could just as easily have been titled, What's the Matter With Massachusetts?

As I haven't yet read Listen, Liberal, here are highlights from Gage's review--

Liberals in general--and the Democratic Party in particular--should look inward to understand the sorry state of American politics. Too busy attending TED talks and vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, Frank argues, the Democratic elite has abandoned the party's traditional commitments to the working class. In the process, they have helped create the political despair and anger at the heart of today's right-wing insurgencies. . . . 
In Franks's view, liberal policy wonks are part of the problem, members of a well-educated elite that massages its own technocratic vanities while utterly missing the big question of the day. . . .  It is the eternal conflict of management and labor, owner and worker, rich and poor. . . . 
Frank notes that today some people are living much better than others--and many of those people are not Republicans. . . . He argues that the Democratic Party--once the "Party of the People"--now caters to the interests of the "professional-managerial class" consisting of lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists, programmers, even investment bankers. These affluent city dwellers and suburbanites believe firmly in meritocracy and individual opportunity, but often shun the kind of social policies that once gave a real leg up to the working class.

I have offered similar thoughts here for at least the past two years, confessing in one posting that though I am an advocate for tax reform that would be democratically redistributive, I have benefited from and enjoyed the bounty of the Bush tax cuts.

From that position it is hard not to sound hypocritical when calling for structural changes that would truly help the hardening underclass. Listen. Liberal sounds like something I need to read. And in a hurry. It sounds as if my progressive friends need to do likewise.

We have a lot to answer for. Liberals too have been duping the people who trusted us and been the core of our constituency. Partly on our watch inequality has widened and many of us in the professional class have benefitted mightily.

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