Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31, 2017--Trump's Band of Amateurs

Much of Donald Trump's appeal has been his swaggering claim that because of his experience as a successful businessman he is not some over-experienced, incompetent government type.

The latter, by definition, are incompetent. Look at the mess professional politicians have made. It's time to turn government, whatever small part of it we will leave intact, over to people who know how to get things done. Like build a casino. We'll take our business acumen and apply it to the simple matter of running the government.

Thus, all the generals and CEO types Trump has selected to join him in running USA, Inc.

But so far, just 10 days into his presidency, Trump has already demonstrated that his boys don't in fact know how to get the job done.

Case in point this past weekend is the roll out of the new ban on Muslims from seven Middle Eastern countries. Including Iraq where people who risked their lives to help us fight ISIS are being turned back as they try to come to America.

The Trump immigration roll out was as bungled as the mocked Obama launch of Obamacare.

In Trump's case the immigration-ban mess is a result of intentional choices--rather than recruit and hire a few key staffers who know how things work at the senior executive level he selected the under-experienced Steven Bannon (now frighteningly a member of the National Security Council) and Stephen Miller to be in charge of White House policy.

Together they hatched this plan, opted not to consult with anyone in the Pentagon or Department of Homeland Security, so that Trump could sign the executive order with a ceremonial flourish, believing that all that was required to successfully implement this xenophobic and likely illegal policy was a stroke of the presidential pen.

Trump ran against elites of all kinds but primarily those in the media and government. There is a lot to find fault with in both places, but a certain amount of experience and, more important, competency counts when you want to get big things done in a complex and contested political environment. The Oval Office is not the set for The Apprentice or the Trump Organization.

Even incoming presidents such as Ronald Reagan who famously proclaimed government not the solution to problems but rather the cause of them, stocked his cabinet and the White House with solid citizens who knew how things work when dealing with Congress and the press.

This time around we have Bannon and Miller, neither one of whom has a clue about how things are accomplished in Washington. They clearly do not know that Reagan needed Tip O'Neill as a partner. Or that Bill Clinton had Newt Gingrich.

And, so it appears, neither does Trump who is now bumbling his way through the mess he and his amateur staff devised, including late last night firing his acting attorney general, evocative of Richard Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre

In fact, Trump's response has been so inept that he managed to make things worse. Now at least half the world hates us. All the product of a week's work.

As a result, he is quickly losing control of the agenda and has fewer and fewer Washington friends who he will need if he is to have a successful legislative agenda.

Which, in the end, may be a good things. The less of his agenda the better.

Stephen Miller (left) and Steven Bannon

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Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30, 2017--Jack Again

"I know you think something terrible's going on with me because, you're right, I hate talking on the phone."

It was Jack calling again.

"I read what you wrote about our last conversation," he said, "which you summarized pretty well. You, of course, made yourself come off better than you I fact did when we spoke." I ignored that.

"So, what's it about this time?"

"Things with Trump are happening so fast that I can't wait to May to talk with you. Who knows, by then, we might be at war with Mexico."

"I know you mean this as a joke but it could really happen. He's on such a rampage."

"Well, you know, I can't stand Democrats--present company excepted--but I find myself interested in trying to think what you guys might do to become more competitive. I prefer winning when challenged and at the moment you and your kind are pathetic. Sunday morning, for example, on TV, while criticizing Trump's new immigration policy, like John Boehner, Chuck Schumer, your minority leader, cried his way though his comments. What a wuss."

"I really appreciate your concern about us," I said, attempting not to sound as sarcastic as I was feeling.

"So I watched some of the left-wing Sunday talk shows. Meet the Press, among others, to see what they were saying. Michael Steele was on. He used to be the head of the Republican National Committee and is a smart and decent guy."

"I saw a bit of that too. I think that . . ."

"I didn't call to find out what you think but to tell you what I think." That's my old friend Jack, I thought and was tempted to hang up on him.

"He and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was also a guest, were saying that the Democrats are in trouble because they don't have an appealing one-paragraph message of what they stand for and would do for the country if elected."

"That's what they said and I sort of agree with them. With emphasis on the sort of."

"I thought," Jack said, "that that's your problem. You not only don't have a clear message about what you're about but you still don't get the main reason why Trump won the election. Part of the reason was that he had a four-word message--Make America Great Again--and then let the voters fill in the blanks about what he meant by that. Including the nasty dog-whistle stuff."

"I agree with that. It was pretty basic and it's own peverse way brilliant."

"What you're all leaving out is the fact that Trump was not elected by Republicans. Sure, a lot voted for him but so did about the same percentage of Independents and, here's the main point, Democrats. If you exclude African-American Democrats, he got more white Democrats than Hillary. Many of them women. In effect, he was elected by Democrats. So to make any progress, Democrats have to recognize that and deal with it. Ask me why."

"OK, why?"

"Because though he's a billionaire who lives in a gold-leaf triplex on Fifth Avenue and has been married three times, he made people in the middle of the country and in small-towns everywhere, even in all the Blue States--New York and California included--he made average Americans feel like he cared about what they cared about and liked mingling with them. In contrast, these people felt that Liberals flew over their counties on their way from one coast to the other and had disdain for them and their concerns. You know, Hillary's deplorables."

"Oh, that again," I said.

"Ignore this at your peril. But I have something to help you and your fellow travelers."

"What's that?"

"You could play it as a parlor game when you get together with your friends for Chardonnay and Brie."

"You mean like Scrabble?"

"Whatever turns you on. But here's how my game works. It requires people to be honest about themselves. Which might be a problem for Liberals." He liked that jibe and I could hear him chuckling.

"The game is called Who Do You Know? and it requires someone to read a list of types of people and for each participant to keep a list of who knows, say, a lawyer or professor. I mean really knows. Not just hires a lawyer to draw up a will or a contract when buying a house. Or their psychology professor from college."

"You're being snarky because you know most coastal liberals will have lawyer friends."

"I confess I was being snarky. Sorry about that. In the meantime you want to play?"

"I'm game. Shoot."

Here's part of the Who Do You Know? list. Do you know, again really know, a plumber or electrician? An assembly line worker? Someone currently serving in the military? A wounded veteran? A nurse? A cashier? A police or fireman? A farmer? A waitress in a diner, not a fancy restaurant like your Balthazar? A body-and-fender man? A short-order cook? A maid? An X-Ray technician? A bookkeeper? A healthcare aide? A gardener? A Walmart employee? A coal miner? A stay-at-home Mom? A doorman? A fisherman? A painter, and I don't mean an artist? A . . ."

"You can stop," I interrupted, "I get your point and where you're going with this."

"How did you do?"

"Do?"

"I assume you were making your own list."

"Well, I sort of was." Without being specific, I said, "I confess to not doing as well as I'd like."

"Give it a try," Jack said, "The next time you get together with your lawyer and professor friends.  Maybe there is hope for you and them. Even though I'm a confirmed right-winger we need all of you socialists to be part of what we think of as Americans and we need to find ways to talk with each other. Not just across party lines but across occupational and cultural ones as well."

"I like that," I said. "You could be right so between now and May feel free to call again."


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Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27, 2017--Phone Call From Jack

"They gave me free access to your favorite website."

I hadn't spoken to Maine friend, Jack, for almost two months.

I was happy to hear from him though I was a little concerned. He had been having some health issues and wasn't much of a caller. He preferred face-to-face conversations. In the hope that all was well and to avoid hearing bad news, I said, "It looks like the winter weather up there hasn't been too bad."

Ignoring that, he said, "Aren't you going to ask me which one?"

Happy to sense he was OK, I said, "I was about to get to that. Which one?"

"For a month. The New York Times. For free. I never turn down anything that's free."

"You? The New York Times? I would have thought that . . ."

"As I said it's for free. Need I say more?"

"This is what you called to tell me?"

"But this couldn't wait until you guys get here in May."

"What's the 'this'?"

"You know I'm a Trump guy?"

"Do I ever. You're the first person I know who backed him and predicted more than a year and a half ago, while no one was taking him seriously, that he would not only win the nomination but also the general election."

I could feel him puffing up with pride at that acknowledgement.

"But back to the Times. Are you telling me you're actually reading it? I think of you as more of a New York Post and Fox News guy."

"That's me. Meat and potatoes. But I've been reading it. Not everything, but their stuff about Trump. It's so biased. For every positive story there are half a dozen negative ones."

"Did it maybe occur to you that Trump deserves this? Forget his policies--I know, elections have consequences--but all the stuff he makes up and doesn't tell the truth about. Like about how there were millions of illegal votes in November. Isn't that a legitimate story to cover?"

"Of course. And Trump is stupid to be pursuing it. It only distracts from all the good things he's doing."

Feeling feisty, I asked, "Give me a few examples of those."

"Obamacare, the wall, not allowing unvetted refugees to enter the country. These are a pretty good week's work."

I had spent the summer fighting with him about immigration and Obamacare and didn't want to relitigate any of that, so again I asked, "What's the story with you and the New York Times?"

"As I said, I hate the paper but, in spite of myself, took a look at the website. The first story that jumped out was about how the mayor of London, though he's not gay, likes to brag about participating in gay and transgender events. The article from a few days ago was titled, 'The London of London's Mayor.' I needed to know about what he does with his evenings? Some London."

"I saw that piece too and thought it was interesting and another example of how far we've come when it comes to LGBT rights."

"You and your liberal friends are so stupid." I had heard this from Jack many times, "I should let you wallow in self-involvement and identity politics. That way, Democrats will never again win the White House. Which is fine by me. But if you ever want to, you need to move on from some of these issues. Minimally, stop being so obsessed about them."

"I'm not obsessed about them but think they're important."

"Let me ask you this. With my access to the Times website I also had access to their search engine. So I entered 'transgender' and searched for articles that appeared in the Times during the past year. When I got to 50, though I was only about halfway through the year I stopped and took a look at how many stories there were just this January. Take a guess at how many? You read the paper every day so you should come close to the number."

"I don't know where you're going with this," I said, "But I'll play along."

"So, how many?"

"I'll say four."

"Wrong. As of two days ago there were already eight."

"That surprises me."

"Check it out. I don't want to be accused of using 'alternative facts.'"

We both chuckled at that.

"And now, how many transgender people are there in America to justify all this coverage?"

"I have no idea. Maybe 5.0 million."

"Wrong again. According to Google, there are maybe 1.4 million. Which represents 0.6 percent of the U.S. population." He paused to let that sink in, "More than 50 stories for half-of-one percent of Americans? You think that makes sense?" Before I could try to answer, he added, "Forget that it is to say the least tough to be transgender--and remember I'm Libertarian--but do you think paying so much attention to them is smart politics?"

"Maybe not, but it still could be a good thing to pay attention to."

"But shouldn't that paying attention be more proportionate to the numbers? How about maybe six stories during the year? Wouldn't that be enough to let readers know about transgender issues?"

"I'm still not comfortable that you feel everything, every social issues, has to be viewed through a political lens."

"Dream on, my friend," Jack said sounding exasperated. "It's paying so much attention to things of this kind that helped my boy get elected. You and your people just don't get it. You're so out of touch with what most of America cares about. You're trying to figure out why you lost. Well I can tell you--how many months did you and your friends and your New York Times spend on North Carolina refusing to allow kids in schools to use whatever bathroom they 'identified' with. If you're a girl and think about yourself, identify as a guy you can use the boys' bathroom. While you spent months obsessing about that, Donald was rolling up the votes. And thanks to you, more than me and my kind, he now sits in the Oval Office."

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26, 2016--Sick Day

The Lyme is sapping some of my energy but I will return on Friday with a story about a nasty phone call.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017--Why Trump People Hate the Media

Trump people don't hate all the media, Fox News remains a staple, but they do hate the so-called "mainstream media."

And, at time, who can blame them?

Take yesterday's above-the-fold story in the New York Times about Donald Trump's meeting Monday night at the White House with congressional leaders--"Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie."

The headline writer and managing editor opted to call Trump's claim or untruth a lie.

It was during the primary campaign that the L-word came into universal usage. Perhaps because even staid outlets such as the Times wanted to get with the tell-it-like-it-is business or felt that to be competitive with the upstart on-line publications and bloggers they needed to ramp up their journalistic rhetoric.

Then there is the article itself. Rather than being about the meeting with members of Congress, the Times devoted all of the text that appeared on the front page to the lie. The real story--about the important meeting--was buried on the jump page.

And in the first paragraph itself, the choice of words was hot for a paper that prides itself on being the "paper of record."
President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to falsely claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority, a return to his obsession with the election's results even as he seeks support for his legislative agenda. [Italics added]
Falsely I can live with, but obsession, a diagnostic term? On the other hand, how about deleting falsely since that speaks for itself and substituting concerns for obsession?

Admittedly that would have rendered the piece boring but my suggested edits would have been rejected since the original draft was designed not for light but for heat and click-throughs.

I get it. But also hate what we have become.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24, 2017--Cortaditos at Bohio

Back to the road trip breakfast stories. This is the last in the series--

We were up at Bohio in Lantana, our favorite Cuban breakfast place where they serve a world-class cortadito--a scalding mix of dark Cuban espresso topped by a layer of steamed milk. It's worth the 10-mile drive up Federal Highway.

Before I could take my first sip, from the next table I heard someone say, "The news these days, man, is all about entertainment and distracting us from what's really going on."

Ah, I thought, there might be some good political conversation to go along with the cortadito.

"I couldn't agree with you more," I said, turning toward two men who were sharing the scrambled eggs special. "And I like your choice of food," I smiled to break the ice, "That’s my favorite. The onions and peppers and tomatoes and crisp pieces of bacon mixed in the eggs are wonderful."

"Man, what are they feeding us?" From his serious tone I knew he wasn't talking about the food. "And what do they take us for? They think we're children or something? I wish they'd treat us serious." I was nodding. "Now it's the Whitney Houston business. And contraception. How long do they think they can get away with those?"

"Until they have the toxicology report or gasoline is $5.00 a gallon," I suggested.

"In the meantime, man, look at Whitney’s record sales. Off the charts. And you know what?" He didn't pause for me to jump in, "they jacked up the prices. Doubled them. Can you believe that?"

"That I can believe."

"I'm all for capitalism, man. I don't have a problem with any of that, but I do have a problem with what the media are up to."

"What's that?" Rona asked.

"To keep us from knowing what's really going on." Neither of us said anything. "I'm in IT, man, I mean I used to be. I got laid off more than a year ago—it’s tough out there--but the things I learned I'm not sure you want to hear about on a beautiful morning like this." He gestured toward the east where the sun was shining through Bohio's wide-open windows.

"For example," he slapped his cell phone on the table, "they know where you are. From this." He tapped the phone. "Wherever you are on the planet. And I mean the whole planet, man.

"Why would . . . ?" Rona began to ask.

"Obvious, man. To control us better. Like I told you, I had this IT job. A big job down in Miami. Evaluating mortgage applications for a bank. One of the really big ones, man. No need for you to know just which. One day my boss called me in to let me know what the bank was really about. He said to me, 'Man, you've been here long enough and have proven yourself. I trust you, man, so you should know what’s going on.’ He told me my job, the bank's job, was to gain all kinds of information about everyone. Everyone, man. From the Social number and bank statements and taxes. From all of that and then to pass it along to the government, To a part of the government that you never heard of." He gestured toward me. "As I said, man, you don't want to know. You just want to enjoy the rest of the time allotted to you. To enjoy the sunshine and the good food and your lovely lady." He was smiling broadly.

"I can tell you from experience that the government knows everything,” he went on, “and I mean everything. And with that they control you and everything else."

"I find this hard . . ."

"I know, man, ‘to believe.’ Right?" I nodded again. "At first I too didn’t believe what they were telling me. So let me give you an example."

"I was just going to ask if you could do that."

"No problem, amigo. Do you remember the savings and loan scandal? From back in the 80s? You seem to be up on things. To most folks it looked like your typical banking scandal. The big boys, man, and this including a half-dozen senators, taking advantage of the government cutting regulations on the banks. And what happened? I mean from what you read in the papers?"

I tried to recall but while I was struggling to do so, he continued, now in part propelled by the two Cuban espressos he had downed, "Well, like recently, when these banks came crashing down and seemed to threaten the whole system, what happened?"

"The government stepped in to bail them out."

"That’s what they wanted you to think. The government I mean."

"I'm confused," I said. I truly was. "What did they want us to think?"

"That it was just another bail out. That's what they wanted you to believe. The truth is that this gave the government a chance to look into everyone's bank account. I mean of all these banks’ customers."

Squinting at him, Rona asked, "For what purpose?"

"It's part of a much bigger thing. About the government wanting to know, man, where we are every minute, who we're with, what we're reading, soon even what we're thinking. One of these days they’ll be able to plant a tiny chip in your brain,” he tapped his temple, “so they can know what you’re thinking. This isn’t science fiction, man. Remember, I’m from IT."

"Why do they want to know all this?"

"To sell us things. You got to realize that's government's main job. To make it easy for those corporations to get their hands on what’s left of our money. That's the whole point, man. I know you're skeptical. I used to be too until I looked into what's really behind all the new technology--these phones, our computers, our TVs, our GPSs, everything electronic, man. It's all about controlling us by taking away our freedom. Freedom is the most powerful thing. To take control of us they have to take it away. In ways, man, so that we don't notice it’s disappearing."

He paused to gulp down another shot of espresso. "Let me give you another example. Remember that Ted Kozinski Unabomber guy?"

"I do," I said.

"Well, man, what do you think his real story is? And I'll throw in something else for you to think about, man, since you're looking at me that way again. To fill out the picture. There's also that Timothy McVeigh. The Oklahoma City bomber. Remember him? Supposedly these two dudes acted alone. OK, McVeigh had that stooge Terry Nichols, or whatever, working for him. At least that's the cover story that they want you to believe. If you really look into his case, McVeigh’s, you'll discover that he was part of a big network. Guys who supposedly hated the federal government because of Waco, man, and Ruby Ridge. Remember them?"

"I do."

"And did you read the long confession he wrote while he was waiting for them to execute him?”

“I have a vague memory of that.”

“I recommend it to you. But in the meantime, I can tell you that the official stories in their cases are about these terrorist types--supposedly American terrorists--acting on their own. Unabomber, right? You know, man, what una means. One or alone, right?"

"About that I don't know," I confessed.

"Well, you can trust me on that one. But here's the real story, man,” he looked around and then leaned forward to whisper, “they were actually working for the government."

"Really? I find that hard . . ."

He put a finger up to shush me, "I know you do. That’s the whole point. For you not to believe this. As I said, trust me on this one, amigo. I know from where I speak. It was the plan for the government to make it look like these were militia-types. Hating the federal government. Acting on their own. And after doing their deeds they gave the feds the justification they needed to take away more of our freedom. They provided the excuse to order up more surveillance.”

“This seems s little far fetched to me,” I offered.

Waving me off, he said. “And if you think this is far out, do you know that McVeigh and Kozinski were both working with the al Qaeda terrorists?” He paused for that to sink in and then continued, “I can tell by the way you’re both looking at me that you don’t believe this.” He was right about that.

“As I said, man, at first neither did I. But I came around because what I’m saying is true. It's all tied together because after al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 what happened?" Rona and I just looked back at him. "Well you know about that Patriot Act, don't you? That let’s the government listen in on our telephone calls and emails. You think Bush could have gotten away with that one if he hadn't allowed the Israelis to attack us?"

"The Israelis? Now you're going too far," I said. “Actually, that's been charged before, investigated, and dismissed as, frankly, anti-Semitic."

"That's not who I am, man. I love the Israelis and the Jews. To me they're the best people in this world. I wish we here in this country were more like them."

"But you just said the Israelis were behind 9/11." Quoting him back to himself, I asked, "How does that make them 'the best people in the world'?"

"Well, some of them, man, are involved in what I'm trying to explain to you. Like I said, Americans for the most part are good. And most Israelis too, But all these good people here--and that includes all of us--and in Israel are at the mercy of their governments. It's the governments that I have my problem with. Not the people, man. Get me?"

"I think I do," Rona said, wanting to begin to bring the conversation to a conclusion and to get back to her cortadito. It was getting cold. “I know we have our problems, but about what you’re saying I’m not so sure.” She picked up her cup and turned back to her eggs.

“Sorry if I got you all upset, man” he said, extending his hand to me. I shook it.

“That’s OK,” I said, “We like hearing all points of view.”

“One last thing,” he winked, “If you haven’t, you should read Kozinski’s Manifesto. Some of it’s crazy, that I’ll admit to you, but most of it's worth taking seriously. Especially how technology is taking away our freedom. And that McVeigh, who was in Desert Storm, was pretty liberal about foreign policy. He was against all these wars in the Middle East. Check them out, man.”

One the drive home, Rona wondered out loud, “How does someone as well informed as he come to such conspiratorial conclusions? You would think that after spending so much time reading he would see things in a much more balanced way. Sure there are problems with the government. Even most liberals would agree with that. But to see us and the Israelis conspiring to attack the World Trade Center just to help corporations make more money? I don’t get how someone that well informed would believe that.”

“I agree. We hear all sorts of anti-government things from people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. Who simply make things up and won’t accept any facts that contradict their beliefs.”

“Maybe the next time we run into him we’ll ask him about that—how he gets to his conclusions.”

“As for me,” I said, “the next time I think I’ll just pay attention to my cortadito.”

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Monday, January 23, 2017

January 23, 2017--Trump At Midterm

OK, enough has happened since last Friday that I'm ready for the midterm elections when we'll have an opportunity to formally reject Donald Trump.

That is already happening in the streets where an astonishing 600 anti-Trump rallies took place here and around the world. I stumbled onto one on Saturday in forlorn southern New Jersey and it was inspiring. In a small town at least 2,000 women and men gathered to express their outrage and the crowds in Washington were much larger than those that gathered on the Mall for the inauguration itself.

This fact alone swamped love-starved Trump's limited imagination and he and his communications people went on a campaign to discredit the media's reporting about both sets of events. Even during his outrageous visit to the CIA, Trump railed about how the corrupt media lied about the size of the crowd on Friday afternoon, claiming it was the largest in history.

The Trump White House already has the feel of a bunker. Reminiscently, much like during LBJ and Nixon times when they hunkered down while millions marched to protest their Vietnam policies.

And again Trump's pathetic obsession about size. I'm not going where Marco Rubio went, but it does make one wonder.

Also already becoming clear is that our historic checks-and-balances are already at work. Senators have slowed down the confirmation process for Trump's cabinet nominees. Thus far only two of 22 have been voted upon and approved. The press, the Fourth Estate, has been relentless in holding Trump responsible for his continuing stream of "untruths" and this has shaken him and elicited worse and worse behavior.

Forget about a "presidential" pivot. If anything he is behaving more and more immaturely. I suspect an increasing number of his fervent supporters will soon become tired of his act. As a candidate and even president-elect, his worst behavior could be written off. It was Donald being Donald. As the actual president, this is another matter.

And then there are the checks-and-balances of the street. If the protests keep up--and they should--Trump will find himself more and more isolated with many Republicans abandoning him. We shouldn't forget that only one senator (Jeff Sessions, his attorney general nominee) supported his candidacy. So there is no earned loyalty there. What little there is is only the result of his being elected. Watch Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who despise him, begin soon to abandon ship.

By his own actions as president, after only three or four days, Trump is deflating in public view.

Rona wondered out loud yesterday why he was wearing his overcoat during his visit to the CIA. I said, "Probably to hide his growing girth."

She said, "Probably to hide his incredible shrinking self."

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Friday, January 20, 2017

January 20, 2017--Trump's Second Thoughts

Trying to get with the program, last night I forced myself to watch some of the concert at the Lincoln Memorial that honored Donald J. Trump's ascendancy to the presidency--the Make America Great Again Welcome! concert.

Reading the expressions on the Trumps' faces--especially wife Melanie, daughter Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared--it felt as if they were already miserable to no longer be in New York City. I could imagine Ivanka thinking, "What did I get myself into. Political Purgatory. No 21 Club, no Cafe Carlyle, no friends to hang out with. I can already feel myself getting bored with Washington and I've been here for only three hours! For the next four years it's going to be schmoozing with Mitch McConnell and having to smile when listening to the Marine Band playing nothing but John Philip Sousa marches. If I have to listen to endless versions of God Bless America and that grizzled Lee Greenwood singing that awful God Bless the U.S.A., with my father pretending to mouth the words, I think I'll puke."

I could see poor Jared thinking, "No Bon Jovi, No Beyonce, no Bono, and of course the Boss stayed home. All boycotting. To tell you the truth, I too should have faked a headache and stayed with the kids in Blair House and watched reruns of Shark Tank. And then tomorrow, help me, I have to get through the Inauguration itself. I just hope my father-in-law didn't ask Jon Voight to serve again as MC for that. Unless Clint Eastwood shows up. At least Jon Voight didn't talk to a chair. If this is what's going to serve as entertainment for the next four years--and now he's already talking about 2020--with my Second Amendment rights protected, I'll have to shoot myself. Toby Keith?  I went to Harvard for God's sake."

By then I was switching between Shark Tank and the Australian Open so I spared forcing myself to feel empathetic to Melania, who at least has a great pre-nup and is going right back to NYC after she can get out of her 4-inch heels. She plans to live there. She says only until the kid finishes the school term. But I'm taking bets that this weekend is the last one she'll be spending in DC. Good for her. When I spotted her later last night at an event where Trump gave a version of his stand-up schtick to a group of donors who are now in love with him, Melania was huddled with 150-year-old gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a New York pal. For her at least, I felt good. Smart girl. She'll be back at Mortimer's by Saturday and have the Trump triplex to herself. Best of all, she won't have to listen to Donald talking back to his Twitter feed at 5 o'clock in the morning.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017--The 2400 Family Diner

Here's another diner story from on the road south. This one from three years ago--

We had just placed our order at one of our favorite on-the-road places, the 2400 Family Diner in Fredericksburg, Virginia--eggs and grits for Rona, and the $7.95 county ham special for me--when the owner plopped an overflowing plate of eggs and sides on the counter and himself on a stool.

"That looks good," Rona said, sipping her tea.

He turned in our direction, not responding, looking annoyed by her interrupting what must be a daily ritual.

I thought, "Here we go. We're already in trouble."

"Is that lemon you're squeezing on your eggs?" Rona asked, ignoring his ignoring us.

Without turning he nodded and grunted something indecipherable.

"I've never seen that before."

I mouthed to Rona to "Cool it."

But she persisted, "I never tried that. I love lemon and maybe I'd also like it on eggs."

"Very Grek," he said with a thick accent, squeezing another half lemon all over everything on his plate.

"Grek?" Rona said.

"Grek," he turned fully in our direction, "Grek, Greek. Dot's me. Grek."

"The lemon is very Mediterranean," Rona smiled at him.

At that, with effort, he lifted himself off the stool and lumbered in our direction, hunched over with his arms dangling at his side.

"Lemon we have with everything in Grek." His accent thickened as he neared us.

I was beginning to feel nervous. We were the only customers. 8:30 is often a quiet time in diners that cater mainly to locals--late for those headed to work, too early for older folks, and too off the tourist route for travelers. Exactly our favorite kind of place.

But at the 2400 I was beginning to feel threatened. The two waitresses, who looked as if they had worked there for decades, watched, smiling, which partially reassured me.

"You Brooklyn?" he asked.

"What?" I finally joined in, thinking that might ease the situation. He stood pressing his huge stomach against our table, still with his arms dangling and swinging simian-like.

"Brooklyn? From dare?"

"Yes," Rona chirped, the caffeine in her tea taking hold. "Both of us." She included me in her sweeping gesture.

He glared at me and pointed, laboriously hoisting one of his thick arms. "Him too?"

"Yes, he and me. We were both born there. Are you also from Brooklyn?"

"Grek," he said.

"So how did you know we--"

"Sound just like your mayor. Bloom. Both you and him." He dismissed me with a wave of his massive hand.

"Bloomberg," I said, taking a chance by correcting him.

"No gut."

"He's not our mayor anymore," Rona informed him. "As of January 1st we have a new one. De Blasio."

"De who?"

"Bill De Blasio."

"What kind of name dat?"

"I'm not sure," Rona said. "Maybe Italian?" I nodded.

"Where does he stand on guns?" His accent miraculously gone. "Not like Bloomberg I hope."

"I assume--" I cut myself off, stunned by the change in the way he spoke and not clear where this might be headed.

"He doesn't understand us." What happened to all the Grek business, I wondered. He sounded like someone more from Virginia than Athens.

"In what way?" Rona asked, eating away at her eggs and grits as if not noticing. I was feeling substantially relieved and took to enjoying the wonderful country ham.

"He should come here and talk to people. Real people. Then he would see."

"I think he's not--"

"He is," he corrected me before I could finish.

"Is what?" I was feeling bolder with him backed off from us. But I was still thinking about his disappearing accent.

"Take my son, for example," the taller of the two waitresses said, joint in.

"Your son?" Rona said.

"Yes. He has a gun. Most of his friends do."

"I assume," I stammered, "To me it depends on how old he is. I mean from my perspective. But what do I know about these things. I'm just like Bloomberg. From New York. The city. Brooklyn."

"Exactly," she said, having wandered over to us.

"I mean, if I may ask, how old is he? You don't have to tell me, of course."

"I know that." She smiled a bit condescendingly in my direction. I deserved that, I acknowledged. "If you must know, he's eight."

"Eight?" Rona could not hide her surprise. 

"I know what you're thinking but you don't know my boy. Or his grandfather."

"Who is?" Rona ventured.

"He works for Homeland Security."

"Really? What does he--"

"He teaches marksmanship. Trains their best people to become snipers."

"Really? That's amazing," I said.

"To tell you--"

She interrupted Rona. "I think I know what you're thinking. That this is a terrible thing to do and--"

"Not really. I mean I know--"

"That in the real world," she completed Rona's thought, "as awful as it is, it's necessary. Don't you think? I don't need to spell out all the situations where we need them. Snipers. There's no other way to describe them. That's what they do. So we should call them what they are. And are proud to be. To help keep us safe. You remember those Somali pirates?" We both nodded. "Well, my father teaches Navy Seals too."

There was no need to say more. "His grandfather taught him, my son, all about guns. Starting at six."

"Not to--"

"No not to become a sniper," she and Rona laughed together. "But how to handle and respect them. Guns."

"To tell you the truth," Rona said. "This is not something or a world that I know anything about. I guess I'm OK with people having guns. I mean--"

"Among other things, it's in the Constitution," the owner rejoined the discussion. "The Second Amendment says--"

"We coud debate that all day," I said, "The history and meaning of it."

"You mean about the 'well regulated militia' part?'" He said, now directly to me.

"That and other things," I said. "But at the moment I'm just enjoying your eggs and wonderful ham. Every year when we're here I can't wait to have some."

"Let's just agree," he offered,  "that things are often more complicated than they seem."

I couldn't disagree about that.

"Like, for example," the waitress said, "how few people from where you're from could learn from my father how to defend us."

"Fair enough," Rona said, "But there are many ways to do that. Not everyone has to . . . . There are other things that need to be done. And people from Brooklyn and other places are helping as well. In their own ways. About things they know how to do."

"One thing, for sure we all agree about," he said, "is that there are some bad guys out there and we have to figure out ways to keep people safe. There are probably other things we could agree about. Like privacy, for example. On the other hand," he caught himself, "considering where you're from, maybe not."

"It might surprise you," I said, finishing my ham, "but for a New York liberal I'm no so liberal about privacy and some of the things the N.S.A. does."

"And it might surprise you that I voted for Obama. Twice. And she did too," he pointed toward the waitress who was refilling the coffee pot.

"Just once," she winked. "The second time, I didn't vote at all. A plague on all their houses," she said.

"While I'm holding this can I heat up your cup?"

"I'd love some," I said.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017--Breakfast Blog: Ernie's Texas Lunch

A funny thing happened on our way south--I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and we're staying put until I do whatever I have to do.

I had planned to reprise a few breakfast blogs that I wrote on other drives to Florida. Since I'm feeling lazy, I will post them as planned over the next three days. Here's the first one--

Heading south, we stopped overnight in Gettysburg, PA to take in the battlefield the next day, especially the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. As always, almost as soon as we arrived, we began the hunt for the just-right place to have a local breakfast.  Ernie’s Texas Lunch, in spite of its anything-but local sounding name, qualified. The menu didn’t have anything on it that sounding very Texan or Tex-Mex, for that matter, nor was it only open for lunch; but as we looked through the window the evening we arrived (it closes after lunch) we saw a classic small-town lunch counter and half a dozen wooden booths. 

“Perfect,” Rona exclaimed, “Look at the menu posted in the window. See that they feature chipped beef on toast—which I love—and make a big to-do about their home fried potatoes.” 

I peered at the menu over her shoulder and noticed that a “small portion” of home fires cost $2.50 and if you wanted onions with it, it’s another $1.50.  “I never saw that before,” I said, “how they charge extra for onions.” 

“Which suggests to me that this could be a special place. And we have to have the potatoes with, of course, the onions.” 

At 8:30 the next morning we were disappointed to find just one booth occupied by what felt like a grumpy, late-middle-age couple. Maybe they just needed coffee to perk them up, but it felt as if they had just had a fight or had given up talking to each other decades ago. But the waitress was cheery and we thought, It’s only breakfast. Not a big deal. Or not that big a deal.

“Be sure to have some of our home fries,” she chirped, “I cut them myself every morning. Real thin like they’re ‘sposed to be. And we cook ’em in a special oil. You’ll see how non-greasy they are. But sort of with a buttery taste. Real good,” she smiled as if to cast the light of happiness on that poor couple who continued to sit there scowling at each other. 

With such a complete description—more than we received earlier in the week at Balthazar where we went for bouillabaisse—how could we resist? “We’ll have a small order,” I said, “We’ll share them.” 

“And be sure to add the onions,” Rona’s smile was almost as wide as the waitress’. 

“Good choice,” she said. “That’s the right way to have ‘em.”  We ordered scrambled eggs and I asked also for a side of ham. “Not the salty country kind,” she made sure I knew, “But just as good. Some of our regulars say better.”  I nodded my assent, wondering who those regulars were considering how empty the place was, and with that our waitress did an about-face and bounced over toward the kitchen to place the order. “I’ll be right back with your coffee and tea,” she assured us over her shoulder, and we settled back to see what might happen. Expecting very little—except from the home fries—considering what wasn’t going on two booths over. 

But at nine o’clock things indeed began to happen. 

One-by-one a steady stream of customers showed up. First a woman of about 60 with her hair pulled back in tight braids. She sat alone in the booth by the door and almost as soon as she was settled popped up, raced to the door, which she opened, and shouted to someone in the street to “Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you.” She had literally been there less than a minute. 

Next an elderly gentleman arrived but had difficulty opening the heavy door. The waitress noticing him—more accurately she appeared to be expecting him--trotted to the front to push it open and then helped him up the two steps into the diner. Arm-in-arm she led him to a stool at the counter. She stood protectively as his side as he eased onto the swiveling seat. 

Then two women entered, clearly in the middle of a good story as they announced their arrival with a burst of laughter.  They got themselves settled back toward the kitchen at what looked like a communal table that could accommodate eight. 

And shortly thereafter another couple about my age came in and smiled at the rapidly filling room before sliding into the booth adjacent to ours. Rona winked at me as if to say, “Just what we were hoping for.” 

Then over the next five minutes a young man joined the woman who beckoned him from the street and they quickly entered into a whispered conversation, and he was followed in turn by three more single women who joined the others at the large table in the rear. 

A happy buzz settled over Ernie’s as the waitress scooted about filling and refilling coffee cups and raced back and forth from the kitchen with steaming plates of eggs and toast and home fries. Including ours.

The waitress came over to our booth to check to see if we needed a refill but more to find out what we thought about the potatoes. 

“The best ever,” Rona, with a mouthful, said.

“Told you so. It’s about how I cut ‘em up and as I told you the oil we use.”

“What kind is that?” I asked. 

“Can’t rightly tell you,” she said with an apologetic shrug, “It’s sort of a family secret. My people’ve been here since ‘41, same location, and though I wish I could tell—you seem like a nice couple--my husband, who’s the cook, would never talk to me again. Which on some days,” she said as an aside, “wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” 

“Ain’t that the truth,” someone who had slipped in and was standing behind her blurted out. “He is something else. I could tell you a whole day’s worth of stories about just him.” 

I looked up from my ham and eggs to see a tall woman of some years all wrapped up in a long coat and magenta boa which she whipped about in a circle as if she was performing on a vaudeville stage. 

She saw me staring at her and, in a cigarette-thickened voice, said, “You should have seen me when I was a girl. That is, assuming I ever was one.” She laughed at herself. “Just ask Judy over there,” she pointed back toward the table where the four women were seated, “also assuming she ever was one.  A girl, I mean.” She wanted to make sure I got the reference. 

“I’ll be right back, honey, assuming I can extract myself from this outfit.” She was struggling to untangle her boa. I noticed she was wearing matching magenta wool gloves. 

Rona and I, loving every minute of this, returned to our eggs and home fires, not wanting them to get cold. The potatoes were, in fact, as advertised. The best ever indeed. Clearly the result of the thin slicing, secret oil, and the $1.50’s worth of onions. 

“You look like a preacher to me.” It was the woman now without her coat, gloves, and boa who had come back to stand next to our table. I looked up at her, smiling quizzically. “Not that I have much use for them. Preachers, I mean. No offense intended.” 

“And none taken,” I said, “I’m the last person in the world to be taken for one.” 

“But if you have a minute, I have a preacher story for you.” 

“Love to hear it.” Rona nodded enthusiastically. 

“You see there was this country preacher and this city preacher.” We had no idea where this was going. I took a long sip of coffee. “The country preacher had a bicycle and the one from the city a big Lincoln. There was a crossroads right outside of town where they met every Sunday on their way to preaching. To exchange greetings and to say a word or two about what they had been reading in the Bible.

“One Sunday morning when they met the country preacher was walking. He told the city preacher who was driving his Lincoln that someone in his congregation had stolen his bike. And that he didn’t know how to figure out who it was. 

“’I have a suggestion,’ the city preacher said. ‘When you’re delivering your sermon today talk about the Ten Commandments. And when you get to the one about stealing look around and the one who stole your bicycle will be all uncomfortable and give himself away.’ 

“The next Sunday,” she continued, leaning in close to us so only we could hear, “when they met the country preacher again had his bicycle. ‘I see you recovered it. Did my advice about the Commandments work?’ 

“’Yes and no,’ the country preacher said. 

“’What happened?’ the city preacher asked. 

“’Well, when I got to the commandment about adultery, I remembered where I left it.’” 

While waiting for her joke to register, the magenta-woman straightened up to get a better look at our reaction.  Rona was the first to get it and then as well I did. It took a moment because neither of us was expecting a joke from her or anyone for that matter, much less a raunchy one. 

As we finally laughed, she joined in, tugging at her bra. “This danged thing’s always riding up on me.”  She turned to return to her friends. “I’ll be back. I got a million of ‘em. You all right with that?”

“Indeed we are,” Rona said, still chuckling. Choking on my coffee I nodded. 

Which she proceeded to do. Twice more to tell us a couple of other ribald jokes, this time sotto voce so everyone who wanted to could listen in.

Even the grumpy couple appeared to be smiling.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17, 2017--Kompromat & the Honey Pot

Still reluctant to publish the salacious details of the "intelligence" memo BuzzFeed posted last week about Donald Trump's alleged indiscretions while in Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, because everything in it remains "unverifiable," the New York Times continues to cover the coverage, as I wrote last Friday, in an attempt to remain above the sordid fray while one-off writing about the sordid fray.

On Thursday, for example, the Times wrote about Trump without writing about Trump by doing another thing it prides itself in doing--setting even indelicate things in historical context. This times in a background piece titled, "The Soviet Union Died, But Russia's Use of Sexual Blackmail Lives On."

The Times piece reports about the decades-long history of the Soviets enticing Western officials, diplomats, and corporate leaders into acts, mainly sexual ones, they would not want to be publicly known. And then, with the goods on them--film and videotapes and other forms of recording of their transgressions--they used these for blackmail purposes.

This in Russian is called kompromat--"the collection of compromising materials as a source of leverage."

The implications of the article are clear--this is what the Russians possibly/likely did after entrapping Donald Trump in his suite at the Ritz-Carleton in Moscow and that this explains his soft approach to Vladimir Putin. Trump doesn't want his sex tapes on TMZ.

Trump's choice of hotel in Moscow is significant because the Ritz, in the Soviet era an Intourist hotel, was the one most notorious for having every square inch bugged and also, allegedly, was the hotel Trump wanted for himself because the Obamas stayed there and he, according to the BzuzzFeed dump, wanted to sully the bedroom they slept in with unprintable behavior.

     And though the Times does not get into any details about what Trump might or might not have done while there for the pageant, they get quite graphic, again covering the coverage, when describing in detail the testimony of a Russian activist who was lured into a Soviet honey pot situation. A honey pot, in the world of espionage, is the code name for a woman who is supposed to seduce a man in order to pump secrets from him.

Ilya Yashin is the compromised activist. He was approached by the well-named Mumu, a prostitute on the K.G.B.'s payroll who has successfully managed to seduce at least three journalists and members of the Russian opposition.

She used an apartment wired with recording devices and, the Times reports, it was "stocked with cocaine and sex toys."

Mumu, according to Yashin, contacted him on line and they "dated" for three weeks. "One evening, she called and asked him to come over for a 'surprise' which turned out to be a second woman who wanted to engage in a menage a trois."

The Times quotes Yashin--

"What startled me when I came over is how the two girls basically attacked me sexually once I came inside the door. Later, I became more suspicious when one of them took out a big bag of sex toys. Katya got a whip and started whipping me. I told her to put it and all the toys away."

Left unsaid by our paper of record is that one of the BuzzFeed-reported accusations is that Trump did much the same thing at the Ritz with two prostitutes.

Get it?

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Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16, 2017--MLK Day

I will return on Tuesday.

Friday, January 13, 2017

January 13, 2017--A Fine Bromance

On an unseasonably warm day I was out on the terrace helping Rona secure some of her trees and plants for when the worst of winter will arrive.

When my part of the work was done, I collapsed on the bed and turned on MSBC to see if the world still existed.

At the bottom of the screen there was a shot of the White House State Dining Room. A graphic indicated they were waiting for the President and Vice President to arrive for a brief ceremony to honor Joe Biden's remarkable political career.

They were running late but I sensed it might be worth waiting. Maybe Biden would unleash a few valedictory Bidenisms. Like when he was caught on an open mic nearly eight years ago at another formal ceremony, Obama's signing the Affordable Care Act. Biden hugged Obama and whispered for all the world to hear, "This is a big fucking deal." It turned out to be just that.

Yesterday's was a wonderful occasion. The president struck the perfect balance between honoring Biden for his nearly 50 years of service and as is traditional in male-male bromances (and they clearly have an intense one) there was lots of affectionate joshing, including a smattering from the opus of the best Bidenisms. The "big deal" one very much featured with the f-word deleted (many grandchildren were present) but clearly hanging in the air.

When it was Biden's turn he didn't disappoint. He told stories from his life, a life of love and death and then more love and yet more death. But much of what he had to say was about Obama. All heartfelt and full of tears for what had been and what might have been.

"You have a heart as big as your head," Biden said, "And with it you entered my heart." It felt like a defining moment in both of their lives. These unlikely brothers. Not their political lives but their larger lives of family and commitment and integrity and resilient optimism even though, for Biden particularly, his life could have easily been one of cynicism and loss.

As it ended, I couldn't help but think about what was underway literally in other rooms beyond the true emotion and simple beauty of that White House ceremony.

The news channels could not wait to get back to it. One could feel that, as if there were digital emanations from the TV screen reaching out to pull us back into another version of reality, of what the media have opted to present as most important--the "unsubstantiated" CIA document, leaked by BuzzFeed, that alleges, in regard to Russia, that Donald Trump participated in many financial and personal indiscretions.

The reputable news outlets have known about this since August but did not write about it because they could not verify any of the accusations. But all the while, and this is what the networks and and papers such as the New York Times do when there is the hint of a scandal--as with Monica Lewinsky--pretending to be above matters of these kind, they cover the coverage.

That way they do not have to get down in the muck but instead write about what other sources that thrive in that muck are leaking. Journalistic ju jitsu at its most hypocritical. Having it both ways, the elite media remain clean while reporting about the reporting about the dirt.

In the current case that involves revealing, "unverifiably," that once when in Russia Trump asked to stay in the same suite in the same hotel that earlier had accommodated the Obamas and then hired Russian prostitutes to preform "golden showers" on the Obama bed.

Sad to say, though not verified, I'm almost inclined to believe this. This is where America is at. Where I am at. This is to where Donald Trump has helped to bring us.

And, I also thought, what will things be like, what will our country be like when the Obamas and Bidens are no longer in the White House and the Trumps next Friday arrive to check in.

                                       

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 12, 2017--The Obama Bubble

I continue to hear from some friends that I am spending too much time criticizing progressives and not enough taking on Donald Trump.

Guilty as charged.

As I have said repeatedly, I plan to wait to see how Trump actually governs before getting too agitated about what he might do. And between now and then, I plan to continue to seek understanding about what happened in November, actually what happened politically in America the past few decades, turning my attention to what Democrats did to inadvertently assist Trump's victory and recommend ways in which we might act to recapture that part of the electorate who have been traditional Democrats but who this time voted for Trump.

On Tuesday night, in his farewell address, President Obama focused on some of these same concerns.

As reported by Yahoo News, he warned that only renewed citizen engagement can save American democracy from the threats of economic dislocation, racial resentment, and the hyper-partisanship that festers inside insulated "bubbles" where everyone looks and thinks the same.

Obama said--
That's what our democracy demands: it needs you. Not just when there's an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. 
If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. 
Sometimes you'll win. Sometimes you'll lose. More often than not, your faith in America--and in Americans--will be confirmed.
Great speech. He told it like it is and offered some needed tough love.

 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 11, 2017--Meryl Streep's Golden Moment

Meryl Streep needs to reread her C. Wright Mills if she wants to be the self-assigned point person to defend Hollywood from accusations of elitism.

She seized her lifetime-achievement moment at the Golden Globes on Sunday to not only attack Donald Trump appropriately for his grotesque mocking of a physically handicapped New York Times reporter but also to offer a heartfelt retort to those like Trump who regularly accuse leaders of the entertainment industry of being out-of-touch elites.

She posed and answered her own question--
What is Hollywood anyway? It's just a bunch of people from other places. 
I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola Davis was born in a sharecropper's cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. 
And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in Ireland I do believe. And she's here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.
She may think of herself and Sarah Jessica Parker as just plain folks; but to the rest of us, and in Mills' The Power Elite, she and her Hollywood colleagues are solidly part of the elite. In fact, since 1956 when The Power Elite was published, Hollywood stars, sports heroes, and music superstars have become even more elite and influential.

Think Beyonce, think George Clooney, think Bono, think LeBron. And think Meryl Streep with her amazing 30 Golden Globe and 19 Academy Award nominations. And of course her $7.0 to $10.0 million a pop fee for a few months work on a film or two a year.

But as Mills points out money is not the only way to enter the exclusive ranks of the elites. He shows how the "Metropolitan 400" (members of "notable families"), "Chief Executives," the "Political Directorate," and "Warlords," among others, comprise the elite in a country, the U.S., that prides itself as being classless, elite-less.

Another thing Streep failed to note after speaking emotionally and with self-congratulations about herself and an assortment of her fellow performers' modest beginnings is that one needn't be born into the entertainment elite--what Mills calls the "Celebrities," who at the time included the likes of Bob Hope and John Wayne.

Being an elite is less where one begins but where you wind up.

In the case of Meryl Streep and most of the other actresses they wound up on stage at the Globes in $5,000 Valentino gowns and millions in Cartier diamonds. Like just plain folks on a Sunday night in downtown Gary, Indiana.

Most significant, since hers was a political statement, Streep failed to show any recognition of her own exalted status and, politically more important, any awareness of how the Trump electorate is largely made up of people who resent and reject elites of all sorts, from the entertainment industry to the mainstream media to the professional class (especially college and university professors) and of course government officials.

If her plea was in part for unity, these omissions make what she did and said even more divisive. But I'm sure she came away feeling good about herself.

                                         

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 10, 2017--Delegitimization

I love irony, especially when it lacerates the over-self-confident. None more so than Donald J. Trump. It is especially exquisite when it gets under the skin of the thin-skinned. Say, someone such as Donald J. Trump.

Etymologically, "irony's" literal meaning from the Latin is "simulated ignorance."

The ironist pretends to be ignorant but in truth is sly as a fox. The target, especially when literally ignorant about his own inner realities--once more one might cite Donald J. Trump--doesn't get it but the rest of us are in on the ironic joke. Considering Trump's living in a post-fact world of his own creation, it feels satisfying to see him skewered by simulated facts masquerading as ignorance and squirming to figure out why so much, so many seem to have turned against him. This is the best comeuppance for a bully who lacks self-insight.

Irony currently on display when it comes to the president-elect involves the intelligence community's report about the various ways the Russians attempted to interfere with our recent election.

The report concludes that, with the full endorsement of Vladimir Putin, Russian hackers intercepted and published through WikiLeaks thousands of emails from inside the Clinton campaign and via government sponsored disinformation activities tried to put their thumb on the scale to tip the electoral balance to Trump.

For days prior to the release of the report, Trump did all he could to mock and disparage the impending disclosures, claiming that the U.S. intelligence agencies are biased toward him, all the while trying to keep the finger of blame turned away from his new best friend, Vladimir Putin.

Most of Trump's Twitter raging was directed at any implication that he was elected because he received Russian assistance. He did not speak one word, and still hasn't, about how egregious it is that the Russians would try to influence and thereby undermine one of our most-cherished freedoms--the right to vote and to have every vote counted.

Trump is blind to this critical issue since he is so obsessed with trying to cling to the legitimacy of the election, the legitimacy of his election.

As long as he won he appeared not to care at all about what the Russians were up to. The total narcissist, Trump saw the matter to be all about himself.

But what a wonderful irony his behavior evokes--this man who rose to political prominence by calling into question Barack Obama's legitimacy, spending three years leading the birther movement that claimed Obama was ineligible to be president because he was not born in America, Trump is now worried that his presidency will be viewed the same way. That he too will be seen to be illegitimate.

Also, Trump's attack-dog response to the Russian meddling, the kind of take-no-prisioners politics that worked so well for him during the nomination process as he dismissed one opponent after another mainly through taunts and insults, is not working so well when it comes to the push-back reaction of the leaders of the intelligence community and senior members of Congress.

Senators in particular have brushed off Trump's lack of seriousness when it comes to what the Russians have been up to. They rightly see it as an assault on our democracy, not on Trump, and thus they have been holding hearings to get to the bottom of what transpired. They see this in bipartisan terms--when our basic institutions are attacked, we should come together in response, not give it the dismissive back of our hand. To anyone worried that a potential crypto-fascist Trump will not be held accountable, restrained by our system of checks and balances, this is an encouraging case. It's not all about an untouchable Trump.

And, in this context, it is not a bad thing that most Republicans in Congress did not support Trump and in all likelihood intensely dislike him. I'm being kind.

Now here's the tricky part--

Trump's one early geo-political opportunity is to establish a working relationship with Vladimir Putin that is mutually beneficial. In Trumpian terms--striking a deal that would involve Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, the Baltics and the rest of Eastern Europe, and perhaps even resumed nuclear weapons agreements.

I suspect that Trump is holding back on his criticism of Russia and Putin so as not to undermine this possibility. If there is any hope for a working relationship between our two countries how much should he call out and sanction Russia? Just enough to show them there is a real price to be paid for such behavior but not too severe a one as to preclude a resumption of detente.

Russia's economy is near collapse, ours is so debt-ridden as to be functionally bankrupt and so conditions are ripe for such a deal. How someone as flawed as Trump can get us there is anyone's guess.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

January 9, 2017--Snow Day

I will return on Tuesday,

Friday, January 06, 2017

January 6, 2017--Progressives, Let's Get Our Asses In Gear!

Some friends are no longer talking to me.

They are saying I'm cutting Donald Trump too much slack. I've been helping to "normalize" him by not joining in demonologizing him. They say that because of what they perceive to be his totalitarian tendencies. He doesn't deserve to be treated as a normal person or legitimate president elect.  I've been responding by saying that while keeping a wary eye on him, I am waiting to see what he actually does and before that am opting to focus on fellow progressives who helped Trump win the election.

Taking matters for granted, underestimating him, showing condescension to his supporters--that's what too many of us did and that's largely why Trump won. Also, it didn't help that Hillary Clinton turned out to be a terrible candidate.

I've also been hard on liberals who talked the good talk but when it came time to be directly involved in electing Hillary and stopping Trump, too many simply didn't walk the walk. They may have sent checks to the DNC and to Hillary but basically during the campaign season didn't work actively for her or other Democrats, and after Trump won immediately began to complain about how bad things are.

Well, they can get a lot worse.

Specifically, Republicans who have "only" 52 seats in the Senate are just eight votes short of having a filibuster-proof super-majority. Then we'll see how bad things can really get.

So it's time to stop agonizing abut how awful the next two or four years will be, get up off the couch, shut down the Internet, turn off MSNBC and PBS and get to work.

Get to work helping the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 who come from usually blue states that Trump carried in November.

They are of two types--those likely but not certain to be reelected and those very much in peril--

The first group includes--

Florida's Bill Nelson
Pennsylvania's Bob Casey
Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
Sharrod Brown of Ohio
Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin

At greatest risk are the following quintet--

Montana's Jon Tester
Claire McCaskill from Missouri
Joe Donnelly of Indiana
North Dakota's Heidi Heitcamp
Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Here's what we might do, should do to help these good people get reelected--

Starting right now, focus on at least one of the most imperiled and raise money for his or her campaign. Host fundraising events at your home or rent a space and invite everyone you know to come to a fundraising lunch or dinner.

Contact an election committee or PAC group in a candidate's home state and volunteer to spend at least one day a week making canvassing telephone calls. This can be done from one's own home, no need to go to Montana to help Jon Tester, though Montana's about as beautiful a place as there is to spend time.

Doing this can help make the difference between things improving or getting worse. Minimally, if all else fails, we'll at least be able to look ourselves in the mirror two years hence and feel we did all we personally could to roll back the rightwing tide.

Senator Jon Tester

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

January 5, 2017--Belief Systems

Here is one more example of the problem progressives have connecting with large swaths of the American electorate--we still think that when times are scary, to quote candidate Obama in 2008, "average" people get "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion."

When I ran this thought by a lifelong friend, who is intelligent and prides herself on being liberal and open-minded, she said, "That's the problem with Republicans--they don't believe in evidence or in facts or, more generally, science. Most of them come at everything from a religious perspective."

"And you don't?" I asked.

"You know, I'm an atheist. Anything that smacks of religion, where you have to believe and not think, I'm against."

"Except the certainty that is a part of being an atheist? The certainty that there is no God, no divine force?"

"Show me the evidence for that and I'll change my mind and believe that there is."

"I'm sort of an atheist myself," I said, "But when I look at the wonder of the complexity and efficiency of my hand or at a flower blossom or a sunset, I'm more persuadable that there might be, might be, some sort of intelligence behind that."

"I can't believe you're saying this. I know you're getting old. The next thing I'll hear is that you've become religious!"

We both laughed at that.

"But you have things that you believe in," I said. "You have belief systems that guide you."

"Not religious ones."

"Let me give you an example," she seemed interested in this, "What's so different about believing in an ideology and a body of religious beliefs?"

"Like if I was a socialist, or something?"

"Great example. You came from a family of communists and you're at least half a socialist. Didn't you send money to and vote for Bernie?"

"I did, but . . ."

"But nothing because full-blown socialism (and Bernie's not that) is a belief system that is not much more empirical or fact-based than being a Presbyterian."

"You'll have to give me more examples," my friend said, sitting back with her arms folded skeptically across her chest.

"A big part of socialism calls for economic fairness and even equality."

"And?"

"How much of that is fact-based and not derived from beliefs that you have? Beliefs that are not objectively verifiable?"

"Well, there's natural law."

"It's not a law in the same way that there are laws in physics that are measurable and quantifiable. Newton's laws of motion or gravity, for example, which are very different than natural law, which is purely a human construct derived from beliefs, not science."

I could see that my friend was giving all this some thought.

"So in your political ideology, which includes a strong belief in social justice, as another example, you have a powerful, not a fact-based belief system that guides your thinking and much of your behavior. Which is fine. I don't have a problem with that, just that I hope you'd fess up to the fact that you are not so different in this than Christian Evangelicals, who you are traditionally quick to dismiss as superstitious and anti-intellectual."

"I'm open to hearing more," she said.

"Does that natural law you mention refer just to laws of nature that you believe are naturally there to guide humans or do they also pertain to the rest of the natural world? I ask because I don't see too many systems out there of natural law leading to cooperation and generosity. There are a few examples in the animal kingdom, among whales, for example, but they do not seem to be widespread. Thus, perhaps for the sake of human survival, we derive laws either from nature or we make them up to keep us from killings each other. We need a lot of 'Thou Shalt Not's. Human's by nature can be pretty predatory. We can be self-sacrificing too--even give up or lives for others--but in the human realm, nature feels quite 'red in tooth and claw.'"

"Where are you going with this?" my friend asked, seemingly beginning to get tired of me.

"Just to remind us not to be too disdainful, not allow ourselves to feel too superior to fellow citizens who are religious. Half the reason we lost the election is because our candidates couldn't figure out a way to connect with them. In fact, we did quite the opposite, feeling superior by looking down our noses at anyone born-again. Two-thirds of those who defined themselves as religious voted overwhelmingly for someone married three times who doesn't know anything about the Bible."

"You could be right," my friend said. "I know for one that I'm not that good at being tolerant toward religious people."

"Saying that, acknowledging that means you're at least halfway there. As liberals, doesn't our belief system--sorry about that--mean we're supposed to be open-minded, and tolerant?"

"It does. It also means, if you're right about any of this, if we want to be politically viable, that we'd better figure out how to get comfortable relating to, genuinely relating to people who cling to religion."

At that we both laughed.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

January 4, 2017--It's Culture, Stupid

Some friends have poked me for not continuing to write about why Hillary Clinton lost the election and what that might say more generally about the long-term prospects of the Democratic Party.

It is not that I have lost interest in the subject, just that I needed a break from that depressing subject.

All the while, during that break, friends continued to attack the Trump presidency even before it commences. There is a lot to be depressed about, friends say, and I half agree.

To prove their point about how dire and scary things are, they tell me how Steve Bannon is hovering and as Trump sinks further into Alzheimer's (some very smart people I know have come to that diagnosis to explain his contradictory behavior) Bannon is itching to "run the show." Sort of like Edith Wilson, after her husband Woodrow had a debilitating stroke, in charge of things during the final years of his presidency. But of course times were simpler then and much less dangerous. North Korea, for example, did not have a nuclear arsenal and a certifiably unstable Supreme Leader threatening to unleash it.

So here goes--one more attempt to explain what happened in the last election and why Clinton and other Democrats were overwhelmed. Yes, I know she won the popular vote by a wide margin, but still Trump will be the one inaugurated in two weeks.

The excuse-makers continue to point to FBI director Comey's two letters about Hillary's emails and more ominously, the effects of the Russians hacking Democratic National Committee's emails.

Neither helped, but even if that hadn't happened Hillary still would have lost in the Electoral College.

Less conspiratorial-minded progressive analysts have come to conclude, as James Carville quotably did during the 1992 election that, "It's the economy, stupid."

Under ordinary circumstances, national elections are about the economy. Particularly how people view their own economic circumstances. This time around, to the struggling majority, things did not look so good.

But as I try to understand what happened, as powerful as economic issues were and continue to be, the reason Democrats have fared so poorly since 1980 when the Reagan era commenced is that more than the economy It's about culture, stupid.

Yes there were eight years of Clinton's presidency and another eight with Barack Obama in the White House, but that masked the political churning going on at the same time below the surface at the state and congressional levels where election-by-election Republicans won more-and-more governorships, congressional seats, and pulled off an astonishing gain of 900 local legislative seats. The latter, all during Obama's time in office.

By culture I am not thinking now about the Culture Wars that have been simmering and at times raging since at least Reagan times. Combatants fought about flag burning, prayer in school, creationism in the curriculum, same-sex marriage, abortion, bias in the media, climate change, science itself.

At the moment, many of these battles have been muted and a few even resolved. Same-sex marriage is now constitutionally protected with an astonishing 70 percent of Americans believing people should be able to marry who they love. And those who want their children to pray in school either have enrolled them in religious institutions or are homeschooling them.

This is not so say that what has divided us in this war has either gone away or been abandoned. I am suggesting that the worst of it may be over and yet a cultural divide continues to exist, even widen. I see this to be a cultural alienation that derives from socioeconomic and geographic causes.

To use Carville's rubric again, "It's the elites, stupid."

In this view, the heart of the cultural problem it's how the professional class, made up mainly of affluent progressives and Democrats, has distanced itself from any empathetic contact with struggling, less educated, less successful working people, except when they encounter them as patients, viewers, readers, clients, constituents, customers, recruits, students, or miscreants. And how it is primarily through these encounters that the liberal elites communicate their disdain for the needs and what they see to be in the supposed best interests of those beneath them on the meritocratic scale.

It is at these times when we professionals say or imply that, "We know better than you what's good for you."

This ranges from claiming to know what your children should learn (Common Core), how you are to receive health care (Obamacare), how you should gather the news (CNN and New York Times), what sports teams to root for (Yankees and Steelers), how much you should weigh, even what you should eat (anything that includes kale).

In all of this, too many professionals evince a form of moral superiority that "average" people feel as criticism and even condemnation.

This election cycle they finally said, ENOUGH. You're not going to tell us who to vote for. In fact, to assert that we will not be politically intimidated, we're going to vote for and elect, from your smug point of view, the most preposterous orange-faced candidate ever. And in this, rather than being offended by his vulgarity and sexism, they flung it back at us as if to assert their own imperviousness, basking reciprocally in his politically incorrect "inappropriateness."

It was a year of in-your-face and f-you.

As evidence of how culture of this kind is playing itself out politically, look at the map of where Duck Dynasty is viewers' favorite TV show.

                                      

It is also a map of Donald Trump's America.

And, as with Duck Dynasty itself, watching it, embracing it and its values is one more way ignored Americas are expressing their anger, culture, and power.

F-us indeed.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

January 3, 2017--The Two Faces of Donald Trump

With just two and a half weeks until the inauguration, liberal friends who had calmed down a bit about Donald Trump's election are now again full of anxiety.

And so am I.

I don't think it's contact-anxiety, but the real thing.

I have been urging that we wait and see what kind of president Trump turns out to be. The former liberal Democrat who has been obscuring his core beliefs so as to appeal to a very conservative base. Is he a true representative of angry-white-men or has he become their voice because they have the capacity to elect a president--and just helped to do. Is Trump someone who has more moderate views and for cynical political purposes has been pandering to true believers.

Are his cabinet appointments another appeal to this constituency or will he, once president, tell them what to do and fire them if they don't moderate their previous views.

Trump's ubiquitous tweets may be both a window to his soul or a vehicle to sow confusion about who he really is and what he is likely to do. Being contradictory and unpredictable is one way to exert power.

Take his two New Years. tweets as examples--

The first, a snarky one was posted December 31st at 5:17AM--
Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!
The second was posted later that night, right at midnight--
TO ALL AMERICANS--Happy New Year & many blessings to you all! Looking forward to a wonderful & prosperous 2017 as we work together to MAGA [MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN]
Which is the true Trump?

I suspect both. Which doesn't make things any easier or help get anxiety about him under control.

Do we have a version of a schizophrenic about to enter the White House and have the nuclear codes by his side 24/7? I think not.

But I suspect we have someone of two minds. The first Trump is pure id. The Id-Trump composed the first tweet. It is him at his most puerile, his most narcissistic. He won the election so why is he still obsessing about those who opposed him, those he truly believes are his "enemies"?

To quote a favorite expression from his tweeting--HOW SAD!

The midnight tweet was either written for him by daughter Ivanka or son-in-law Jared Kushner. Or, more hopefully, comes from Trump himself.

In Freudian terms this Trump might be thought of as the Ego-Trump. The Trump who spends at least a little time thinking what to say before lashing out, the Trump still with huge ego-needs but a Trump in control of his emotions who, actually, has the capacity to look beyond himself and reveal a touch of empathy.

Superego? Not ever in evidence.

At best I'm reconciling myself to the idea that he is not as bad as my friends think but minimally, has these dual faces. Both real. And, as these back-to-back tweets suggest, there is a war within him between them, his better angels versus his demons.

Among other things, as someone who also doesn't sleep much, he needs to get seam rest.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

January 2, 2017--24 Hours At the New York Times

It took David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, all of 24 hours to switch the story line.

On Friday his front page article was about how Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, without overly joining forces, had "boxed in" Donald Trump by Obama's expelling 35 Russian diplomats, otherwise known as spies, and how it was expected that tempestuous Putin, as during the Cold War, would "retaliate" by doing much the same thing to American spies stationed in Russia.

Slipping into Soviet-era rhetoric, the Times party line proclaimed the boxing-in to be extra clever on Obama's part since what was Trump going to do--on his first day in office say to the Russians, who he appears eager to make a "deal" with, "Never mind. Your spies are welcome to return. I don't want this to inhibit my budding bromance with Putin."

If that came to pass we'd all be relieved to know that John McCain doesn't have his hands on the nuclear codes.

This first political reaction by the Times to the Obama moves, was that it effectively exposed Trump's naivety when it comes to Russia in the person of Putin, and would trigger an immediate retaliatory response by the hotblooded Russian president that would so sour any possibility for a real resetting of our relationship with Russia that Trump's efforts to cozy up to Putin would fail even before he was inaugurated and that would expose that Trump is as inept in dealing with the Russians as have been Obama and his succession of diplomats and secretaries of state.

Trump and the Republicans might manage to repeal Obamacare, chipping away at Obama's legacy, but this stealthy move by Obama would guarantee that Trump's presidency would start off with a whopper of a foreign policy failure. Not quite of Bay of Pigs or 9/11 or Syria magnitude, but still a big and embarrassing blunder.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the boxing-in.

Putin did not retaliate. No U.S. spies were to be expelled. He said that wasn't a good or necessary idea because he didn't want to"create problems for American diplomats." The U.S. went low and he went high.

And then, undoubtedly not able to stifle a chuckle, added, "Furthermore, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited to Russia to the Christmas and New Year tree in the Kremlin." And then he signed the press release, in English, "Vladimir Putin."

Seizing the same moment, Trump tweeted--
Great move on the delay (by V. Putin). I always knew he was very smart.
Within minutes the Russian Embassy in Washington retweeted it.

And then within moments after that David Sanger and the New York Times had a different front page story--this time headlined: "From Russia, an Opening." "Risky," they warned, but an opening nonetheless. No longer so much a boxing-in.

Is it any wonder that a disproportionate number of chess grand masters are Russian?

                                

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