Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 28 2017--A Week Without Trump: Intentional Walk

Let's see how I do today--

Spring training is underway all over Florida except near Donald Trump's Palm Beach spread, Mar-a-Lago. The Secret Service is shunted visiting crowds away as well as shutting down local airports. But  Major League teams are making the best of the tumultuous situation.

Also, in an effort to speed up the game, they are meddling with one of baseball's most cherished strategies--the intentional walk.

For non-aficionados, an intentional walk or base-on-balls is when a team decides not to pitch to a hot hitter and on purpose the pitcher throws four out-of-the-strike-zone pitches and, with the umpire signaling ball four, the batter trots off to first base.

This takes about 30 seconds. Which appears to be too much time for desperate officials worried about the bottom line. They are eager to add excitement to the game. Like football or basketball they believe that making things move along quicker is the key to engaging alienated young fans who like football's hurry-up offenses, tennis' tie-breakers, hockey's shoot outs, and basketball's 24-second clock.

Baseball has already changed the rules so that batters, once at home plate and in the batter's box are not allowed to step away to readjust their batting gloves, spit, or scratch their crotches.

Also under discussion is reducing the number of times pitching coaches would be allowed to visit the mound to talk with pitchers and the institution of a pitch clock. Baseball's equivalent to basketball's 24-second version.

I hate all of these ideas.

It would be like reducing the number of characters Donald Trump could use when tweeting. Say 130, rather than the traditional 140. What it would do to him is a version of what these schemes would do to our national pastime--dilute and distort things to which we have become accustomed.

In baseball's case, time is irrelevant. In a speeded-up world where time is money baseball remains a haven of calm where time does not intrude or rule. It moves with an unhurried rhythm and pace of its own.

It's bad enough that all ballparks have installed Jumbotrons and blast rock and roll and rap music between innings. But to put pressure on teams to end games in less than two hours when virtually all memorable games unwind for up to four hours would be to change baseball from something it culturally always has been--a boys' (an now girls') game more suited to rural America than urban three-on-three schoolyard basketball pick up games. Baseball has been a reliable place of peace in a world of ceaseless action and conflict.

Moving things along in baseball should remain a small-ball goal for batters--hitting behind baserunners so that they can be moved along from first to second base.

Intentional bases on balls are an integral part of baseball's aesthetic and lore and can at times lead to surprising results. It should be an easy thing for pitchers to lob out-of-the-strike-zone tosses to their catchers. But at times they have erred--the concept of error, taking responsibility, also remains an essential metaphoric part of the game--bouncing one in the dirt where it eludes the catcher and the man on third comes scampering home with the winning run. Or at times when the batter manages to reach out of the strike zone and hits the weakly tossed ball for a homer or game-winning sacrifice fly as the Yankee's Gary Sanchez did late last season. A baseball example of the occasional power of upending the predictable.

There is yet one more crackpot idea under consideration--to shorten tied games as the teams move to extra innings the leagues are considering starting each at bat by placing a runner on second base so that the hitting team immediately has a runner in scoring position.

Baseball has traditionally rewarded scrappiness and this proposal to, without effort, give teams base runners, a leg up, is antithetical to the game's culture of hard work and limited reward where players can achieve Hall of Fame numbers by succeeding, making a hit, just three times for every 10 trips to the plate--what 300 hitters eek out.

I won't be making it this year to the Grapefruit League--too much tumult in South Florida when Trump is in residence--but I'll be watching on TV and following closely what is being done to spoil the game I love so much.
*   *   * 
Returning to my agenda for the week--I think I mentioned Trump only three times, which makes me feel I am making progress. The fever seems to be abating, the cold sweats too, as well as the detox tremors. Three more days to go. Let's see how I do after his address tonight to a joint session of Congress. Hopefully . . .


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Monday, February 27, 2017

February 27, 2017--A Week Without Trump: The Curated Life

This is not going to be easy.

I am addicted to Donald Trump and the only way out is to go cold-turkey. I am obsessed with all things Trump from the entertaining to the outrageous, the infantile to the crypto-totalitarian, and also the hallucinatory. So I need to dose off for a week to see if that works. If it doesn't, I may have to check into the Betty Ford Clinic. I suspect they're offering a new Trump Intervention Program for which there's probably a waiting list.

This means no Fox News, no MSNBC, no CNN. And of course no Steve Bannon, no Reince Priebus, no Ivanka, and, the one I'll miss the most this week, no Kellyanne Conway.

But if I want to cleanse myself, after writing and posting 207 pieces about Trump and his world, it has to be for me no-Trump-none-of-the-time. I'll leave all-Trump-all-the-time to the cable news networks.

One caveat--if it is revealed that Trump knew about or, better, orchestrated the reach-out to the Russians working to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign in order to help himself win the election, or if the gossip in the infamous BuzzFeed dossier is confirmed, I will not be able to contain myself. I know I will fall off the wagon and immediately resume blogging about Trump.

So, between now and then, here is Monday's Trumpless piece about curated lives--

While waiting for the Trump era to implode, out in LA, some, a few, are living the very good life. A life of unimaginable luxury or vulgarity--take your pick--that is being curated for them because they lack the confidence and taste to figure out what in fact constitutes a lavish life.

For example, there are a couple of places for sale, one asking $250 million, the other twice that, both of which can serve as metaphors for this new Trompian version of conspicuous consumption.

The former, the one that can be yours for $250 mil, at 38,000 square feet, sprawls across the hills of Bel-Air and comes with12 bedrooms, 21 baths, a four-lane bowling alley, and three kitchens. It has an 85-foot infinity pool and a 40-seat theater with reclining seats and a film library stocked with more than 7.000 pre-selected titles. There is a mammoth wine cellar with nothing by the finest wines, carefully pre-selected because, I am certain, the Russian oligarch who will likely buy this pleasure palace does not have the taste buds nor nose to appreciate anything other than icy shots of Stoli. Wine to him will be all Gallo. Dare I say a case of Lafite Rothschild before swine.

But here's my favorite part--as the New York Times reported four-weeks ago, a story that got lost in all the Trump clutter, in addition to the multi-million dollar art collection (included in the purchase price) the less expensive of the places comes with a 12-car garage, or "auto gallery," that includes a collection of collectable cars, including a 1936 Mercedes worth, they say, $15 million. But--a downside--there is no car elevator like the one Mitt Romney famously had in his La Jolla beach house. Nothings perfect.

And how could I forget--in this Age of Trump for two years the place also comes with a fully-paid seven-person staff, including a chef, chauffeur, and masseuse.

As the seller said, "It's all about the feeling and experience you get when your in the house." Or pool, or bowling alley, or movie theater, or one of the nearly two-dozen bathrooms.

*   *   *
For the second day of my week without Trump, with spring training underway, I am working for Tuesday on a baseball story.

So far, so good. Today I managed to mention Trump only four times. For me I consider this progress. Tomorrow . . .



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Friday, February 24, 2017

February 24, 2017--Jack, On Immigrants

"So tell me what you and your friends would do about the more than 10 million illegal immigrants."

It was the morning after the Trump administration unveiled a new executive order that outlined plans to round up and deport millions of undocumented workers and their families and Jack was sounding excited.

Before I could respond, he continued, "My boy was back on his heels last week what with the Flynn fiasco, Kellyanne Conway, and that press conference. But with this he's back. And the general he appointed to replace that crazy Flynn is everyone's favorite. Even your crowd's."

"Well I do agree about General McMaster but about the immigration executive order, I'm not so sure."

"Perfect bleeding heart material for you liberals. Feeling sorry for all those displaced Latin Americans. See, I didn't say 'Mexicans.'" I sensed that made him feel good about himself. "But we've got a lot of problems and needs of our own not to have to worry too much about them."

"Well, they're here and for the most part are hard working and law-abiding. I just read that the crime rate among undocumented people is actually lower than among citizens."

"Probably from your New York Times. But aren't they all doing illegal things? I mean, just being in the country without documents or visas is itself illegal."

"So you'd round up everyone? Even the so-called Dreamers? Young people who were brought to America when they were very young children?"

"Maybe not them and as I understand it for some time at least the Trump immigration police will leave them alone."

"Just send their parents back?" I hope he heard my sarcasm.

"You know your American history."

"And?"

"And wasn't it true that when your grandparents as well as mine came to America, because they didn't have the money, many left family members behind? Isn't that a version of the same thing? Isn't it in the nature of immigration itself?"

"I'll have to think about that some more. But it is true that for almost everyone--though they faced a lot of discrimination--they had legal status. They in most cases were sort of welcomed here as laborers, to build railroads, or settle and work on farms in the Midwest."

"Don't we have a guest worker program here that allows people to legally cross borders so they can work on farms and restaurants?"

"We do," I acknowledged.

"But we're getting sidetracked," Jack said. "I come back to my initial question--what would you do about the millions and millions of illegal immigrants? And I should remind you that your president Obama was the deporter-in-chief. He rounded up and sent back about two and a half million. More in total than all his predecessors combined."

"That's true but he didn't do it in the same kind of mean-spirited way. Unlike your president." It upset me that I was beginning to sound like Jack.

"Sure, Obama didn't publicize it because he didn't want to get legal Hispanic-Americans all upset. He wanted their votes. And pretty much got them."

"Can we forget Obama? Trump is now our president, so let's limit ourselves to what he's doing. Not much good as I see things."

"So you're Ok with all the illegals living here, sending their kids to our schools and hospitals, and . . ."

"The evidence is overwhelming that from an economic point of view, from a cost-benefit perspective, immigrants, even undocumented ones, contribute more that they get in government services. In other words, in bottom line terms, we get more in return than we pay out. Also, most of the unassimilated immigrants do work that, forgive the expression, real Americans don't want. Like a lot of the restaurant and field work. How many Americans do you know who want to wash dishes, cut lawns, or pick lettuce?"

Jack was silent so I said, "I take that to mean you don't know too many field hands who are citizens."

"Up here plenty of the farmers are Mainers. But to tell you the truth there are also a lot of Hispanic agricultural workers. Again, we keep getting off the subject. So let me try again--what would you do about the millions of illegals? Just let them be? Make them all citizens?"

"First of all, can you find another name for them. 'Illegals' sounds really nasty."

"Let me come at this another way. You live half the year in New York City, right?"

"Right, but where are you going with this?"

"You're a so-called sanctuary city, right?"

"Right. But again?"

"Which means that you don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement people."

"Not entirely true because if an undocumented person commits a felony in most cases they do get turned over to the ICE people."

"But basically, if they obey the law, illegals, sorry, illegal immigrants, can stay in the city as long as they want, get drivers licenses, have any kind of job, etcetera."

"Basically true. And most New Yorkers are fine with that. In fact, we feel good about being welcoming and tolerant."

"We're not talking abut refugees, right, but people who came here or overstayed their visas to live and work?"

"Again, I don't have all day so can you get to your point because it feels as if you're building up to some revelation."

"I'll cut to the chase."

"At last." I was feeling exasperated with Jack. I liked him better when he didn't call so much. I did have things I wanted to get to and he has the ability to get under my skin.

"You have any immigrants living in your building?"

"I haven't checked but I assume so."

"They'd have to be rich ones, right, considering how much apartments sell for?"

"That's true," I admitted.

"So you're OK with where you're living?"

"Pretty much."

"It doesn't disturb you that your place isn't diverse?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"That everyone, I assume, is pretty much like you? All rich and . . . "

"There are some who have lived here for decades, before prices shot through the roof, and they are more modest than most of the rest of us. And again, your point is?"

"That you live pretty isolated from your typical illegal immigrant. My guess is, and it's an easy one, that you don't have any Mexicans who snuck across the border living in your building."

"Could be."

"And so this subject for you is pretty theoretical because the only illegals you maybe encounter are working in restaurants, cleaning up after you're finished with dinner?"

"Could be." I was starting to feel defensive.

"I'll bet you don't wake up in the morning and meet any in your elevator when you're heading out for breakfast. Except if someone is renovating their apartment and some of the illegal construction workers are around."

"Could be."

"How would you feel if somehow one morning you woke up and half the apartments in your building were occupied by Guatemalan or Syrian refugees?"

"That is . . . ," I sputtered.

"Go on. You can say it. You'd hate it."

"I don't know. This is all so crazy."

"But it's not theoretical to people here in Lewiston, Maine, where more than 5,000 refugees have been relocated. Altogether, including the refugees, there are only about 35,000 living in Lewiston. Some for generations. They wake up in the morning and see their neighborhoods and downtown turning into Somali enclaves. Ask them, from your Manhattan sanctuary, how they feel about that. And these are good people. But it's not how most want to live."

"But other places like Buffalo, New York, seem to be welcoming refugees and undocumented people because they contribute to their economy. Things are pretty bleak up there and new arrivals rent places, do the work that a lot of local people don't want to do, and buy things from Buffalo merchants. So it appears that it's good all around."

"I read about that too. In your Sunday Times, and I get it. But in just as many places, again like Lewiston, nobody asked the local people what they wanted. Refugees from Somalia just began to show up with the assistance of the U.S. government."

"I can understand that. I want us to be welcoming but local people should have a say in relocation programs. And I'll concede that refugees are not the same as undocumented people."

"As long as they don't move into you building."

I was out of gas and didn't respond.

"I hear you, you've got other things to do. I'll call you next week."

I said to myself, "If you must."
Somalis In Lewiston Maine

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

February 23, 2017--More Tests

I'm scheduled for more tests this morning and so will return tomorrow to report about another phone call with Jack.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22, 2017--Milo Yiannopoulos

More evidence of implosion--

General Michael Flynn is gone, fired as National Security Council Advisor, replaced by an adult, and with him goes some of the paranoia and conspiratorial thinking that pervades the West Wing.

Many on both sides of the aisle are hoping that chief strategist, Stephen Bannon and his protégée Stephen Miller will soon follow. Kallyanne Conway has already been marginalized. Have you seen her recently? Is she still being "counseled" and reeducated for hawking Ivanka Trump's schematas? Is she the next one to be jettisoned?

If so it could be that there is some low-wattage light flickering at the end of the very long Trump tunnel.

More good news--

The ever-hypocritical Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) has just withdrawn its invitation to senior Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to address their upcoming convention.

Greatly "admired" by Bannon, according to the New York Times, for his alt-right orthodoxy which includes dollops of racism and anti-Semitism, Milo has been in the headlines recently for having been driven away from speaking at Berkeley where protesting students proclaimed with some violence, forgetting the free-speech history of their institution, that there is "no free speech for hate speech."

CPAC made a big deal of this, totally enjoying the irony at Berkeley and, mounting their high libertarian horse, invited Milo to address them as evidence that conservatives are less politically correct and more constitution-minded than liberals.

They were OK with the hate speech part of Milo's repertoire but when it leaked out that he also has spoken positively about man-boy pedophilia, including among Catholic priests, that was too much even for CPACers. They pulled the plug on him and made frantic rounds of the morning talk shows to try to explain away their hypocrisy.

They are for free speech but not when it "crosses certain lines." Clearly one of those lines doesn't include forbidding a CPAC speaker to hint with winks and nods that it's all right to be a white supremacist or anti-Semite.

Does this foretell Stephen Bannon's fate? With Yiannopoulos on the loose and CPAC at a boil, Bannon's presence, whispering in Trump's ear, may embolden Bannon's White House enemies (Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner among others) to put pressure on Trump to do a little more house cleaning.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 21, 2017--Rona's Question

"There's a very basic question about former NSC director Michael Flynn that's yet to be answered. Actually, yet to be asked."

"What's that?"

"They say he was asked to resign because he did not tell Vice President Pence that he discussed sanctions when he conferred with Russian officials prior to the Inauguration."

"True."

"But, the Trump administration claimed that there was nothing illegal about that. That the White House counsel was able to determine that quickly."

"That's what they said."

"Here then is the question--if what he did was permissible, what was the need to lie about it to Pence and why did it take nearly two weeks to do so?"

"Go on."

"All he needed to do, if the official narrative is true, was casually tell the truth--'I spoke with so-and-so, we discussed sanctions among other things, and the White House counsel says none of this was improper.'"

"Interesting."

"One doesn't have to lie when there's nothing to lie about. And since Flynn did lie, for me that's evidence he is not only not telling the truth about what he said and didn't say but he is also covering up for others. If you get my meaning."

"I do and isn't it good news that Flynn is gone and being replaced by someone who seems to be an adult."

"Now if Bannon . . ."

"He's next. At least I hope so."

"And if Trump . . ."

Monday, February 20, 2017

February 20, 2017--From Russia With Malice

The one and likely only good thing that Donald Trump as the new president seemed to have had a chance of contributing to stability in the world--an improved relationship with Russia, actually with Vladimir Putin--may no longer be much of a possibility.

Trump alluded to this during Thursday's hallucinatory press conference, saying maybe he won't be able to "get along" with Putin. Of course blaming the changing situation to attacks by the media and the torrent of leaks that have began to detail the many contacts between members of his team and the Russians, possible even intelligence operatives. Carryings-on Putin will want to be able to plausibly deny.

During the campaign a budding bromance seemed to be developing between Trump and Putin. This was widely mocked in progressive circles as naive on Trump's part, that Putin was not only president of an increasingly belligerent Russia but also a thug and murderer. Trump, though, shrugged this off, saying admiring things about Putin (how "strong" and "smart" he is) and telling Bill O'Reilly that we Americans are not so "innocent"--we also kill people, including heads of state.

Trump brushed this aside, claiming, in my view correctly, that it is in our best interest to have working relationships with all foreign leaders, even unhinged tyrants such as Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who he said during the campaign, he would be willing to talk with, meet with if there was the possibility of making advantageous deals to ratchet back their nuclear capabilities.

But now, because of the unravelling of the Trump administration and perhaps Trump himself, on embarrassing public view during the 77-minute press conference, the Russians appear to be backing away from working with him. This may have been accelerated by Trump's off-hand comment about how popular it would make him if he "shot that [Russian spy] ship right out of the water."

Welcome to World War III.

Hopefully Putin doesn't seem ready for that. He has his own $100 billion fortune to protect.

So ex-KGB agent Putin is not taking too kindly to the evolving revelations about the working connections between representatives of his government and members of the Trump team, including Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, both of whom have had lucrative relationships with Russia, including with Putin, who likely played them, softening them up for future use as the Trump insurgency built momentum.

As evidence of this cooling bromance, the Times noted late last week that the Russian news channel, Rossiya 24, which had General Flynn on its payroll, "halted its usually glowing coverage of the American president in an apparent sign of displeasure by the Kremlin." Read, by Putin.

Putin certainly knows all about the Russian collaboration with Trump staff that intensified during the run up to Trump's nomination and the likely coordination between Flynn and Manafort among others and the Russian hackers who helped bring down Hillary Clinton's campaign. One does not have to be conspiratorial-minded to connect these dots. Nothing of this magnitude would have been possible without Putin's full knowledge and sign-off.

And, is it too much of a stretch to assume the same thing is true about Trump, who reportedly was obsessed and directly involved with even the smallest details of his campaign, including the signage?

Further, though it seems like years ago, there is that 35-page dossier which was released just a month ago by BuzzFeed that includes compromising material about Trump's peccadilloes while in Moscow for the 2015 Mss Universe Pageant.

And let us not forget--though it has been barely reported--what Donald Junior had to say back in 2008, nine years ago, about the Trump Organization's financial deals with Russia.

Finally reported by the Washington Post last July at a real estate conference in New York, Don Jr. revealed that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. . . . We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

He may be referring to Russian billionaire oligarchs buying 9-figure penthouses in various Trump towers with laundered cash, but then again, without Trump's tax records, who knows.

Once more using Occam's Razor to connect the dots in an effort to come up with the simplest and best explanation for seemingly disparate and contradictory events, one sees an increasingly compromised and perhaps cornered President Trump, now untethered by Putin who is watching the shredding of the Trump presidency and perhaps elements of American democracy. Also, with the goods on Trump's people and perhaps Trump himself, Putin does not have to do very much to have his way with us or extend his imperial reach beyond Russia's borders in the Middle East and Central Europe.

On the other hand, when desperate people feel cornered, they are often at their most dangerous.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 16, 21017--Replacing Obamacare

Republicans in Congress are panting to repeal Obamacare.

But as they think about what to replace it with (millions of Trump supporters have signed up and apparently like it) they are struggling because they do not have a good alternative.

Their real problem with Obamacare is the name they derisively gave it when it was first enacted. They thought to disparage it. But then it turned out to be more or less a success. Now for it to be named for him is an honorific. Even Obama proudly calls it that.

He's pretty much the only president to have an ambitious piece of legislation named for him. There's no Roosevelt Security to LBJaid. Though there is the Monroe Doctrine.

So there is a simple solution to the Republicans' dilemma--

Repeal Obamacare and replace it with the Affordable Care Act.

February 16, 2017--From the Lunatic Fringe

While many of us were asking what did he know and when did he know it (the he being Donald Trump), late night callers yesterday to "Coast to Coast" and "Red Eye Radio" were obsessing about the Russian spy ship that has been trawling the waters just off the east coast.

Rather than seeing it as an example of routine surveillance, callers had a different perspective--it was there to rescue Donald Trump and his family from the American government.

It was off the Connecticut coast, waiting there to pick up wife, Melania and son, Barron who would drive east from New York City to meet it. Then it would swing south to rescue The Donald and Ivanka.

No mention was made of Tiffany or Eric or Donald, Jr. Jared too would have to fend for himself.

They needed rescue since Donald Trump Senior is a spy for the Russian (I almost said Soviet) government and is about to be exposed by one or another of the congressional committees investigating the Trump administration's various relationships and connections to their masters in Moscow.

You can see from this why I stay awake all night listening to these shows.

February 16, 2017--Occam's Razor

I didn't have a chance to finish this but hope to for tomorrow. It will be about my favorite philosophical tool--Occam's Razor. When there is more than one explanation for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually the better.

So, in the case of Donald Trump and the Russians, what would Occam's Razor have to say about why there were numerous contacts between members of his team and the Russians during the full year running up to Election Day?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017--All Roads Led to Moscow

At the elevator yesterday morning we ran into a neighbor, Jeff, who we hadn't seen for some time. He was wearing a big button that proclaimed, "New Yorkers Love Muslims."

I tried to restrain myself but passed him a skeptical look.

"I get that look all the time," he laughed in his usual light-spirited way, "But most people agree when I tell them where all this is headed." I knew what he meant by this.

"Yes?"

"All roads lead to Moscow."

He has a tendency to be enigmatic and though he preferred his utterings to just hang in the air, in spite of that, I asked, "Say a little more."

He shared his most enigmatic smile and said as he stepped into the elevator, "Think about it. It will be obvious once you do so."

"What do you think he means?" back in our apartment I asked Rona.

"He's very political and maybe he's referring to the Michael Flynn situation. You know, how Trump's head of the NSC was taking on the phone to the Russian ambassador before the Inauguration about who-knows-what."

"I suspect nothing good. And it would make some sense of Jeff's Moscow reference. But knowing Jeff, I suspect there's more to it than that."

"It appears that what Flynn did was pretty bad. Apparently the FBI interviewed him about this just a day after the Inauguration. Clearly they had been tracking these phone calls during the transition if not sooner. Probably have transcripts."

"And told the Trump transition team that the nature of the calls were such to suggest that Flynn might be a blackmail target."

"This is all so unbelievable," Rona said, "We're not even a month into the Trump presidency and already we've had a NSC head fired, an FBI investigation apparently still ongoing, other members of the Trump inner circle battling for primacy and his attention, but still I am wondering about Jeff's cryptical words. In the past, though he can be a little strange, he turns out to be right more often than not."

"What may really be going on here, and could explain among other things why Trump appeared to know about the Flynn phone calls at least three weeks ago he seemingly sat on the information until more about the situation began to leak out from the media. Then, he finally acted."

"Well, there's one explanation, one more ominous thing that could help unpack that Jeff may be thinking."

"Go on."

"That the real explanation, the real bottom line is that this is not primarily about Flynn and the Russians. Maybe it's about . . ."

I interrupted, "Are you saying maybe this goes higher within the new administration?"

"That's what I'm thinking and saying."

"I think I'm following you."

"Remember that famous 27-page memorandum that was appended to one of the early intelligence briefings Trump received? About alleged accusations that Trump seriously misbehaved when he was in Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant? About him with prostitutes among other things? And as a result the Russians have the goods on him. That he's the one subject to blackmail. Trump."

"That's my surmise," Rona said, "It could explain Trump's ignoring the information about Flynn. Hoping it would blow over and whatever the Russians have about Trump himself would fade away."

"And hasn't it been reliably reported recently that though at first what's in the BuzzFeed leaked dossier could not be verified and was thought to be raw information gathering, that now some close to the ongoing FBI investigation are saying that some or even much of it is looking more-and-more credible."

"If that turns out to be true, the road to Moscow Jeff mentioned could be the road that Trump is on. Flynn then may turn out to be a minor player. Maybe even a witness. The real catch would be Trump. If that were to happen, it would be the biggest scandal in presidential history. Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, and JFK and his mistresses would turn out to be footnotes in any books about White House miscreants."

"I can't believe we're saying these things," I said.

"And it may turn out that Jeff's not so crazy."


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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February 14, 2017--Feb 14th

I'm taking the day off to celebrate my favorite holiday.

Monday, February 13, 2017

February 13, 2017--Jack On "Sane Republicans"

"I read what you wrote the other day about how ridicule has the power to bring Trump down."

Once again, Jack was calling. "That could be true," he said, "It can be powerful when it gets under the skin of someone as thin-skinned as Trump."

"That's what I'm thinking," I said.

"On the other hand," Jack said, "a lot of Democrats are thinking it has to be 'sane Republicans' like John McCain and Lindsay Graham who need to step up and begin to openly take Trump on. Everyone knows they hate him, but so far they have been muted in their criticism. This makes sense to me. You can see them seething and at some point Trump'll do something so outrageous, there will be some sort of smoking gun, maybe from the Russians' secret files, and that will signal the beginning of the end."

"You're beginning to sound like one of us," I said.

"Not one of your kind, but maybe I'm one of those sane Republicans." I knew if we were seated across from each other at the Bristol Diner he'd be winking at me.

He added, "I watched Saturday Night Live on Saturday, knowing they'd be going after Trump again, to check out how potent their humor is."

"So what did you think?"

"I thought the Melissa McCarthy takedown of Sean Spicer was the best of the three political sketches. He's a very angry man and she got to the heart of that. And was savagely funny. One more week and Trump will ready to pull the plug on him. Not just to end the mocking but because he's jealous of Spicer stealing the spotlight. I read some place that his daily press briefings, which the cable news people are carrying live, are getting higher ratings than General Hospital and the other soaps. Not too mention Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. All are seeing their ratings at all time highs"

"People can't seem to get enough of Trump," I sighed. "In any form."

"But then the skit about Kellyanne Conway, where she goes after CNN's Jake Tapper the same predatory way Sharon Stone did to Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, was so vicious that it went beyond humor and came out on the dark side. It wasn't really as funny as Steve Bannon the week before when he played the Grim Reaper. That was very dark but funny. I guess with comedy there are no limits. But if I'm thinking about political effectiveness--and I do think the SNL people are out to bring Trump down--for me that bit didn't work."

"I felt the same way," I said, "It crossed too many lines to have much impact, though I did think it was bold."

"You're getting to my main point and the reason I called."

"I was wondering about that."

"Take the last sketch where Baldwin played Trump appealing his travel ban to the courts. Not the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court but, of course, The People's Court. A reality show court. This should have been funny but I felt it was predictable and more manufactured than inspired. To be consistently funny you need to avoid slipping into into routines and cliches. Things have to be fresh and the Alec Baldwin version of Trump is getting to be overexposed. My sense is that after another week or two people will begin to tune out. Ditto for McCarthy's Sean Spicer. This week the innovation was to motorize the podium. Pretty thin stuff."

"I also was thinking been-there-done-that and started to nod off."

"So, from an effectiveness perspective, SNL, as fresh as it seemed three weeks ago, is feeling stale and a little boring. Boring is the opposite of funny."

"Here's one more thing," Jack said, "I'm thinking that the Trump act is also wearing thin. He too is in danger of slipping into predictability. His act is wearing thin. This could be a good thing--to rein Trump in--or a bad thing--we'll stop paying attention to what he's up to. He might be more dangerous out of the spotlight than basking in it."


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Friday, February 10, 2017

February 10, 2017--Ridicule

Thursday morning we finally made it down for breakfast at 10:00. At least an hour later than usual. We lingered in bed as the snowstorm intensified. It was magical to watch our terrace turn into a giant snow globe. And we also lingered, in truth, because so much was going on. With and among Donald Trump and his band of co-conspirators.

By 10:00 AM the following had already happened--

In a series of three tweets he savaged John McCain for criticizing the ill-fated Navy SEAL operation in Yemen. McCain, he raged has been "losing so long that he doesn't know how to win."

Senators from both parties who had informal one-on-one meetings the day before with Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, were quoting him as saying that he was "demoralized" and "disheartened" by Trump's overnight tweets and comments that disparaged the federal courts. He made it known to the senators that he was comfortable with their quoting him directly.

I have been following these matters for decades and cannot recall anything even vaguely comparable.

Rona said, "That's because there has never previously been anyone like Trump in the White House. Even Nixon was more restrained in his assaults on the courts and never has a Supreme Court nominee allowed his words to be quoted publicly."

Trump took to mocking one of the senators who shared Garland's lament--Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal. In yet another tweet Trump blasted him for inflating his resumé in regard to his service in Vietnam, something Trump himself did when, after receiving four or five deferments, claimed he did his service in high school when he attended the New York Military Academy.

Then there was the Ivanka Trump flap. Trump began it himself when he called Nordstrom out for cancelling Ivanka's line of clothes. Trump said it was for political reasons, the store said it was because they weren't selling.

Brother Don, Jr., chimed in suggesting in a tweet of his own that shippers should boycott Nordstrom and signal they are doing so by cutting up and returning their credit cards.

Not to be outdone, favorite flunky Kellyanne Conway, while being interviewed on the inane "Fox and Friends" called for Trump supporters to "go buy Ivanka's stuff.  Doing so, as a government official, may be against the law. She was reportedly "counseled" for this infraction later in the day.

Finally, over coffee, wondering what this all means, Rona said, "I know how we can get rid of Trump."

"Impeachment?"

"No, resignation."

"No way but I'm interested in what you're thinking."

"Through ridicule."

"Say more."

"What's the one thing he craves the most?" She answered her own question, "To be in the center of things, in the spotlight, with all eyes on him while being adulated. That's why he's so obsessed with how he's faring in the polls, how large his crowds are at rallies and the Inauguration. That's why his touchstone no matter the purpose of the meeting is 'The Celebrity Apprentice.' He even began his comments at the Annual Prayer Breakfast by mocking the ratings Arnold Schwarzenegger was pulling after taking Trump's place as the host. 'Pray for his ratings,' he incredibly said."

"And so?"

"He thinks of himself as the entertainer or celebrity in chief. That's why he watches TV all the time. To see what people are saying about him. To be famous is his highest aspiration and that's why he's so protective of his image, his brand and can't stand it when late night talkshow hosts make fun of him or, much worse, how a show he used to appear on regularly, 'Saturday Night Live,' ridicules him mercilessly week after week."

"We don't watch it that much," I said, "But did the last few weeks. Via On Demand, and they sliced him up savagely, hilariously. Alec Baldwin has taken on his essence and the skit with Melissa McCarthy mocking his press secretary were works of comic genius. But I'm not entirely getting your point about the political impact of this."

"If all of these folks keep it up, Trump will not be able to appear in public. He certainly will not be viable in Manhattan at his favorite 21 Club or soon in Palm Beach. This would be like cutting off his oxygen supply. And so he'll wind up living alone in the White House. Don't underestimate the power of satire and ridicule. In his case, it could very well do him in."

"He'll resign?"

"That's what I'm thinking. Comedy as another of our checks and balances."


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Thursday, February 09, 2017

February 9, 2017--Mitch's Candidate

While she was speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday evening, by telling Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up, not only did Mitch McConnell commit a gendered offense, he also arranged that she would become the instant leader of the Democratic Party and also her party's front runner for the 2020 presidential election.

Does this suggest that the 74-year-old Mitch is starting to lose it?

Quite the contrary.

Sly dog that he is, he is helping to propel the Democarts' weakest candidate to the nomination.

If anything will assure McConnell's continued leadership of the Senate after the 2018 midterms, this is it and while he was at it he made it more likely that Donald Trump will be reelected in four years.

If Hillary had problems winning midwestern states, how will Harvard professor Warren fare among working-class voters? I can just see those coal miners standing in line in the rain to vote for her. I can just imagine displaced Ohio factory workers resonating to her message. I can just see how her becoming a darling of the coastal elites will excite Pennsylvania voters.

What McConnell did was outrageous and should be condemned. Among other offenses he never would have done this to a male colleagues. But politically, in this conflicted time, I hate it, it was pure genius.

Or then again, maybe he doesn't have a clue.


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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

February 8, 2017--Over-Under

I have a friend who's a big sports fan. Especially of professional football. So Super Bowl Sunday is his national holiday. Bigger than Thanksgiving (though he can watch at least three NFL games then and ignore the turkey), more important than July 4th, and ditto for New Years (though again there are some games that day which he watches while the rest of us struggle with hangovers).

In truth, he's not really a sports or football fan. He's a sports gambler. He doesn't root for any teams except when he has a bet placed on one of them.

So a few days before last Sunday, when he said, "Can you believe the over-under?" I knew he was talking about the game and betting, but I had no idea what he meant.

"Over-under? I never heard of that. What is it?"

"Fifty-six points."

I continued to be confused, "Enlighten me. I don't know anything about this."

"That's the number of points that oddsmakers say both teams will score." Seeing I was still not following him, he added, "Not each team but the number of points both teams will score. The total of both of their points. Say the game ends with Atlanta scoring 30 points while the Patriots score 26. That would total 56 points." He grinned at his ability to explain this to someone as untutored as me.

"So if you want to do over-under who do you root for?"

"For both of them because if you bet under, you hope that the teams will score fewer than a total of 56 points. And if you bet over, you hope both teams' totals will be more than 56 points."

"Doesn't sound like any fun to me. I like rooting for one team to win and . . ."

"You can do that too by, say, betting on Atlanta and taking the points."

"Now you really have me confused. I just want to watch the game and hope it turns out to be an exciting one."

He waved me off as hopeless.

But it did turn out to be a great game and that made me happy especially since as a half-time-a-year Mainer, I was rooting for New England. They won and scored a total of 34 points. The Falcons scored 28 and so their combined score was 62 points, six points above the 56-point over-under.

You figure it out.

A day or two later, still thinking about over-under, I realized that many stock market investors think in exactly the same way. They too, we too are gambling and frequently on the over-under of a company's earnings. Particularly how actual quarterly earnings either meet, exceed, of miss quarterly income projections. And as with football betting, you win or lose on the over or under. It's not about a company doing well but whether or not it beats (is over) or misses (is under).

So when Amazon reported it's quarterly earnings last week--since we have Amazon stock which over time (the old fashioned way of investing in the market) has done very well by us--I was focused on how well its earnings and profits looked. More important to the majority of investors on the other hand, who see the stock market as a big casino, was its over or under. Would earnings hit, beat, or miss estimates. In other words, what would the over-under look like.

Amazon's earnings were $1.54 per share, beating estimates which foresaw only $1.35 per share, but the company's total quarterly earnings were "only" $43.74 billion, while estimates were looking for more, for $44.66 billion.

To complicate matters, revenue was up a noteworthy 22.4 percent compared to the same quarter last year.

Overall this should have been good news, but missing the earnings estimate, the under, was enough bad news for shares of Amazon stocks to drop nearly 30 points, or dollars, down to about $800 a share. Thus, our portfolio took a hit.

I told my friend about this and he wasn't surprised. "Like I always say, people will turn everything into action. In fact, if you're interested, the odds makers have already established a line for next year's Super Bowl."

"You're kidding."

"I'm not. They are saying that the Cowboys and Patriots will meet in Super Bowl LII. With the Pats favored by 4.75 to 1. If I were you I'd drop a couple of hundred bucks on New England. Use some of your Amazon money."

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

February 7, 2017--Glimmers?

My close friend, Dr. GS, the best audiologist on the east coast, has been in existential angst since Donald Trump was elected. It is hard to blame him.

But I have taken it as my mission to find things for him to consider that might ease his anguish. Perhaps some have been more stretches of my imagination than verifiably true, more wish than reality. However, struggling to offer him things to feel optimistic about, all right, to not make him crazy, I have come up with a few things these past few days that appear to have helped ease his political pain. Or at least to offer some brief solace.

Here's something I wrote to him over the past weekend, and what he said back to me--
GS  
Because of med-induced reduced energy this, which could be lengthy, will be brief. I am beginning to see some glimmers of hope. All in the realm of our cherished checks and balances-- Asserting that the U.S. government is not made up just of a powerful executive branch, the federal courts have begun to assert themselves. In at least two instances already there have been judicial rulings that suspended Trump's egregious Muslim-ban executive order. And Trump and his administration are obeying these rulings, albeit appealing them. This is most important. It suggest some acknowledgement on their part of the courts' authority and evidence of restraint on Trump's potential imperial aspirations. 
If this gets to the Supremes with the current 4-4 split the other court's rulings will stand. Of course, who knows what will be if the 9th seat gets filled. (it will). But about these kinds of fundamental constitutional matters even conservative justices (sometimes especially conservative justices) are very protective of the Constitution's separation of powers. Though, on the other hand, they have been over-tolerant of protecting presidential authority, which has grown exponentially since the Depression, World War II, and Cold War. Then, there is clearly a blood-struggle for primacy within the White House among some of the senior staff and Cabinet heads. There was a good WaPo piece a few days ago and a Time magazine cover story about the emerging feud between Bannon-Miller, who hatched the exec order without consulting with the Secretaries of Defense, State, or Homeland Security. All three entities headed by mature, powerful, and self-assured men who, if they will continue to act independently (and I feel will  considering who they are and with history watching), will at some point tell Trump it's either them or Bannon.  
And my guess is that Jared Kusher will soon try to pull the plug on Bannon as he did to get rid of Chris Christie. There may not be room enough in the West Wing for those two. Even Ivanka's brand is being hammered by the excesses of Bannon and Miller. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are no longer carrying her line.  I see these to be glimmers of some hope. Of course, as the criticism mounts, Trump may dig in and begin to act out more. Which could be dangerous. But I'm betting on Mattis, Tillerson, and Kelly. And especially Jared and Ivanka. Trump is essentially a small-time mom-and-pop operator on steroids and if his kids do an intervention, it could get interesting and things could get a lot better.  And then thankfully there's the Super Bowl . . .   
SZ
Dr. GS responded--
Steve, 
I do see the glimmers and believe that they are real.  Reasonable conservative and liberal federal court judges are beginning to step up to the plate; I am hopeful that more will be energized to do the same.  I read (maybe Times OpEd) that the “so-called judge” tweek was the one of the most dangerous of all--delegitimizing the fed court system.  I also agree, the more extreme and irrational the inhabitants of the White House are, the more likely things will implode sooner than later.   We spent the weekend with my daughter and her boyfriend.  I am encouraged at the intellect and progressive mindedness of some of our youth.   Enjoy the game and help us stay positive my friend.  
G
Then I wrote--
GS 
The Patriots are down by 25 points and I have the TV on mute. Most boring Super Bowl ever! So I have some time to send you one more note before turning it off altogether and hitting the hay. 
Did I read, or am I making it up, that the Trump adminsidtartion has decided not to use off-shore black-op interrogation sites where they torture captives? If true it's another glimmer and likely the result of General "Mad Dog" Mattis asserting himself. 
And in regard to checks and balances we shouldn't forget the American Street.  
Remember the Arab Street during the ill-fated Arab Spring? For the most part things got worse, but it did show the power of an aroused population, even in totalitarian situations. Here, now organized through social media, if the people remain motivated and turn out, that can make a big difference. Remember how street demonstrations helped bring down two presidents--Johnson and Nixon? 
Then again, I can't stop thinking that it may come down to Trump the father and father-in-law versus Steve Bannon, his surrogate whatever. I'm betting on the kids. 
SZ
And then from GS--
SZ 
Speaking of betting, turn on your TV. The Pats are now trailing by only 16 points. Never count them out. 
GS
Finally, I wrote--
GS 
Forget it. There are only a few minutes left and they need two touchdowns, each with two extra points. Can't happen. I'm going to sleep. 
SZ 


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Monday, February 06, 2017

February 6, 2017--Meds Day

I managed to get something half written and expect to complete it today. I will be back at this space on Tuesday.

Friday, February 03, 2017

February 3, 2017--Once More, Jack

Though a number of friends recommended I not answer the phone when Jack calls, when he rang me again the other morning I ignored that advice.

I'm not exactly sure why some of my friends were offering such counsel, but I suspect it's largely because what Jack has been saying about me and my fellow Democrats rings truer than any of us would like--that we are in large part the source of our own political problems. That we didn't do enough to help Hillary Clinton get elected. That we took her victory for granted and spent more time talking about the election than becoming directly involved.

Thus far only one person I heard from, "Gala Girl," appears to have done well on Jack's parlor game challenge, Who Do You Know? She claimed to have friends from all of Jack's categories, except that she doesn't know any coal miners!

All the other readers and friends who either called or wrote to me confessed that for the most part they knew as friends very few plumbers, policemen, or waitresses. Some who disagreed with Jack about our being out-of-touch with Americans who elected Donald Trump, had no problem with the fact that they didn't know anyone currently serving in the military or working as a lab technician. And thus, like them, I should ignore Jack's jibes.

"Things are bad enough without us beating ourselves up about the results of the election," one said.

Jack on the other hand said, "I see you have a new obsession."

"How so?"

"With all the things going on this is what you're paying attention to?"

"What might that this be?" From his attitude I was already beginning to regret that I didn't let his call go to voice mail.

"With all that's going on from the immigration ban to Trump's on-going obsession about how many popular votes Hillary secured, you keep coming back to railing about congressional Democrats gathering the other night on the steps of the Supreme Court."

"I'm all in favor of activism of all kinds. In fact, we need more and more of it right now to show Trump that there will be political consequences for his words and deeds. Really, he needed to alienate the Australians? One of our loyalist allies?"

"I agree. But what seems to be sticking in your craw is the fact that that geriatric group of your congresspeople opted to sing This Land Is Your Land. What's with that?"

"It underlined for me how impotent and out of touch my party leaders are. Nancy Pelosi who can't sing is tottering around on her last legs and Chuck Schumer looks like he's ready for Weight Watchers or needs to check into a care facility. These are the people who are going to lead the opposition and help elect Democrats two years from now? I don't think so."

"I watch some MSNBC," Jack said. "That might surprise you, but I want to check out what Rachael is up to and your version of Bill O'Reilly, loud-mouth Chris Mathews. I want to listen in on what the left-wing opposition is saying and plotting. From my perspective, I'm happy to see not much to win over Trump-type voters. Though at least some of them are recognizing that progressives need to get out into the country to find out what's on voters' minds. You know visit some of those 21-percent counties."

"What are those?"

"Like the ones in Iowa and other swing states that voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, giving him 21 percent margins but then this time around voted equally overwhelmingly, by 21 percent, for Trump. There's a whole lot to learn in those places. And there are quite a few of them.

"If you're looking to start a business, consider setting up a tour company that buses Democrats for overnight visits to these districts. Especially tell them which diners to go to to have breakfast with the locals."

"In some ways we're agreeing. Which brings me back to the other night at the Supreme Court. Not only are our leaders totally out of touch and self-involved, but This Land Is Your Land? This old hippie song? I mean, I like it. But do they think it appeals to millennials and Latinos and the working poor? I don't think so. If anything, they made themselves seem irrelevant and ridiculous."

"On top to that," Jack said, "I noticed that they didn't even know the words. They had to read them from a handout."

 "And meanwhile, back at the White House, Trump was firing people and on the phone talking to the Mexican president, warning him that if the Mexican police don't do a better job of securing the border he might just have to have American troops invade Mexico because there are 'bad hombres' there."

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Thursday, February 02, 2017

February 2, 2017--Another Lyme Day

The Lyme meds are sapping my energy and so it feels smart not to overtax myself. Thus, I'm taking the day off but will return on Friday with a report about another call from Jack.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

February 1, 2017--Your Land

Macho Donald Trump was in the White House Tuesday night firing Sally Yates, his acting attorney general for "betraying" the law and the Constitution.

At the same time, in a burst of faux-emotion, Democrats from the House and Senate, led by Nancy Pelosi and tearless Chuck Schumer, stood on the steps of the Supreme Court, and with a malfunctioning microphone, mainly off-key, sang "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land."

Enough said.

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