Friday, March 31, 2017

March 31, 2017--The United States of Bangladesh

Every time I meet an overseas visitor at Kennedy Airport, when I drive them into town on the patched-up Van Wyck and disintegrating Brooklyn Queens Expressways, and then take them onto the eroding FDR Drive, I'm embarrassed.

Not knowing what to say, with Manhattan swagger I say, "In the Big Apple we're too busy running the world's economy and going to museums and Broadway shows, we're so involved with these higher pursuits that we don't pay too much attention to minor matters such as potholes or care that much about garbage in the streets."

If my Spanish friend looks at me skeptically, I say, "Smooth streets and clean sidewalks are for Naples, Florida. And who wants to live there?"

America has the world's strongest economy and the most powerful military. We also are the leader in innovation and entrepreneurship and are home to world-class universities and research centers. Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon are all American companies though most of their products are manufactured in China, so what's the big deal if an interstate bridge or two collapses of its own weight after acquiring a terminal case of rust?

But, I still am embarrassed when I experience the mess that is JFK through the eyes of someone just off the plane from India.

Speaking of India, across its eastern border I've visited the Ford Foundation office in Dacca, Bangladesh. It is one of the world's poorest countries, prone to devastating monsoons, floods, famine, and epidemics, but Shahjalal Airport puts most in America to shame. Everything is better--from the signage, to the upkeep and baggage handling, to the nearby parking, and ease of access by train or car. In no time after landing, you're in downtown Dacca, where there are no potholes and hardly any garbage on the streets.

Up in Maine, where we soon will be, on many roads, even the county roads between towns, after driving around for a month or two we need to get our tires realigned. We do that three or four times a season and at least once a year we have to buy two to four new tires. The roads are that bad--rutted, disintegrating, and turning at an accelerating rate from asphalt to gravel.

For years I've been quipping that maybe the state and county DOTs should stop patching them and let the roads return to their original condition. Then we could all get horses and wagons. We'd save on fuel costs--horses need oats, cars gas--and this I suppose would be very green-minded, except for what horses leave behind.

While I've been joking cynically about this, some places are doing just that--letting roads return to their natural state. "Natural state" meaning they way they were before any were paved.

In Omaha, for example, the New York Times reports--

That it would cost $300 million to repave the streets most in need of rehabilitation. They simply do not have the money, so they are converting most to gravel. Reclaiming them as they euphemistically say. As if this were charming.

And Omaha is not unusual. Twenty-seven other states are also reclaiming roads in significant need of attention.

It would not be so unusual to see this going on in fiscally-strapped rural communities, but in Omaha and elsewhere this conversion is reaching into the downtowns.

Donald Trump has called for a $1.0 trillion infrastructure fund and may have won congressional approval for it if he hadn't make the mistake of tangling Congress up in the snake-pit of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

While towns and cities wait for the federal government to act--which may take forever--in the meantime they are not making America great again but retreating to a less-desirable past. Could be another metaphor.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 30, 2017--What's Up With Devin Nunes?

An otherwise nondescript congressman from the scorching Central Valley in California, Devin Nunes is now perhaps the best known of his 434 colleagues.

He of course is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a plum assignment for someone without any intelligence work on his resumé or much political savvy. Running the committee until now he played the game in the traditional bipartisan way operating out of the spotlight and rarely interviewed by the cable news channels. Your basic congressional hack.

Then something snapped.

He's on TV all the time, mostly racing through the House of Representatives fending off reporters hanging out in what appears to be Congress' underground boiler room, junior media types hungry for any snippet from him about his midnight sleuthing on "the White House grounds," his one-on-one meeting with President Trump, his unwillingness to share with committee members new information about the administration's alleged Russian Connection, or why without consulting other committee members he has suspended routine meetings and hearings. In effect shutting down the committee.

No one seems to have a handle on what's going on with him and why he either went James-Bond-style rogue or finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden scope and importance of his work.

In an effort to figure things out, I trotted out my trusty Ockham's Razor to see if that can bring insight to this mess of a situation.

Ockham would say there are at least three explanations for all the seemingly contradictory behavior--

(1) Nunes is way over his head and his underlying incompetence is being exposed. What he up to is not well thought out or strategic.
(2) As an early supporter of Donald Trump's he is striving to protect his leader from being harmed by whatever his committee might unearth.
(3) As a member of the Trump transition team, bedazzled by exposure to the glittery Trump life style and, wanting more of it, he is willing to sacrifice his reputation in order to become a member of the inner circle.
(4) All of the above.

I am inclined to say "all of the above." But with some new spin from what has already been reported and speculated about.

Invoking Ockham here's what I think is going on--

Nunes was born and raised in Tulare right in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, a town of about 60,000, nearly 60 percent of them Hispanic farm workers. His father owned a modest cattle ranch and young Devin early on thought he would become the third generation of Nuneses to own and run it. So he went to the local community college and studied agriculture.

For someone even half smart--and he is at least that--Tulare was a good place to get away from. Almost 200 miles distant from both LA and San Francisco, he opted to stay close to home and seek ways to escape. After some local politicking he managed to get elected to Congress in 2003 and has been reelected six times, most recently, unopposed.

He was spotted by Speaker John Boehner as an effective fundraiser and was rewarded by being named chair of the Intelligence Committee. When Paul Ryan took over from the deposed Boehner he reappointed him, in part, I suspect, thinking Nunes is Hispanic. And since there aren't a lot of Latinos among the Republican congressional delegation, there he still sits and presides. That is, when the committee meets.

Nunes is in fact of Portuguese dissent, but for the GOP, this is close enough.

Then there was the invitation to join the transition team and with that came his exposure to the Russian Connection explosion.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for someone like Nunes from Tulare to be welcomed into Trump's gilded world?

Walls literally of gold; a wife and daughter looking like Melania and Ivanka; the opportunity to talk with the legendary Midas about potential cabinet appointments; and, closer to the current situation, to assist son-in-law Jared in talking with dozens of foreign leaders calling into Trump Tower to congratulate the Big Guy and to begin to seek diplomatic deals.

These apparently were Nunes' transition assignments. Heady work for someone who had never before been in any spotlight or seen the lights of Broadway.

Soon thereafter he and we learned from FBI director James Comey that there is an on-going investigation about potentially improper relationships between Trump associates, Russian oligarchs and diplomats, and Russian intelligence officers.

He and we also learned that there may have been collusion between some Trump associates and Russians who were busy hacking into the Clinton campaign in a effort to tip the election to Trump.

But as chair of the Intelligence Committee, Nunes likely learned a lot more than this barest of outlines about the investigations that are underway. He likely knows the unmasked names of those Trump associates who were picked up incidentally during FBI surveillance; he may have seen that Trump himself is a target; and, most perilous from Nunes' perspective, he may have learned that his own name appears in some of these investigative intercepts.

He, after all, might have spoken with people from Eastern Europe and, who knows, if he was used by Trump people as a dupe, even to a Russian or two. Maybe even a spy.

To get him implicated this way would assure he wouldn't be eager as Intelligence Committee chair to look too closely into what was really going on with and among Trump and his people. A compromised Nunes could provide some insurance or cover for implicated Trump operatives.

In the aggregate, especially his own potential involvement in things he shouldn't have been exposed to could easily explain his erratic and panicky-seeming behavior.

Too conspiratorial minded? Perhaps.

But who would have thought the Russians were up to sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign and who would have imagined that Trump's campaign manager was on a key oligarch's payroll to the tune of $10 million a year?

At the moment, I like Ockham's answer.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29, 2017--"Fore!"

Talk about alternative facts.

This time we're talking about golf but not about a situation where someone cheats on the course or about his score. Like what Bill Clinton used to do while duffing--assuming that because he was Commander in Chief, the most powerful man in the world, he could give himself Mulligans. For the non- aficionados, a Mulligan is a no-penalty extra shot after hitting one into the rough or lake. Some thought this was a metaphor about Clinton's character.

No, we're talking now about whether or not Donald Trump played any golf at all while weekending recently at Mar-a-Lago.

White House records show he spent seven hours at his own course, the Trump International Golf Club, but his spokespeople claimed he wasn't there to play. On the way back to Washington on Sunday, on Air Force One, when asked about his golf game, Trump fibbed, claiming that he played "very little."

This golf business is a very delicate matter.

Trump on the stump during the campaign frequently mocked Barak Obama's golfing, claiming that he was always on the golf course and off the case while America was going down the drain. Thus the need to make America Great Again.

Two months into his own presidency, with America in reality going down the drain, one can only imagine how much effort is being expended to obscure the truth about Trump's recreating. Especially  his golfing.

Though Barack Obama may have been obsessed with golf and took every opportunity to get in a round, his people never hid the fact that he was on the course and not at meetings. Most times they even told reporters who he was playing with.

Not Trump. Not only don't we know who was in his foursome but we don't know for certain if he played even though he was spotted at his club dressed in golf attire and wearing a golf glove. When pressed about his golfing he points out that he is not just having fun on the links but working while hitting slices into the woods. Like when he played a round with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But talking about golf makes him uneasy because of how he savaged Obama for his golfing.

"I'm going to be working for you," he said last year at a rally in Virginia, "I'm not going to have time to go play golf."

But he is clearly making time for golf. As of March 25th, according to Golf News Net, he has already played 12 rounds while during the first two months of his presidency Obama played exactly zero times.

The presidency is an extraordinarily stressful job even for someone like Donald Trump who doesn't appear to be fully engaged. Even he deserves and needs some down time. Fair enough.

But there are other issues regarding his frequent trips to Palm Beach--for example, how much his weekending in Florida costs taxpayers.

It is estimated that each visit to Mar-a-Lago costs us $3.0 million. For Air Force One; the lodging, care, and feeding of Secret Service agents; reimbursements for Palm Beach police and first responders; and all the incidentals associated with a president out of the pocket and on the move.

Having already made five trips to Mar-a-Lago, this means he has run up $15 million in costs. His burn rate is such that he recently requested an additional $60 million to cover expenses projected for the rest of the fiscal year. This would offset the cost of his wife and son remaining behind in New York City (who can blame them), security for his globetrotting sons, and frequent getaways to Florida.

The Office of Management and Budget turned him down since they are in the middle of gutting programs including Meals On Wheels and are concerned about the appearance of a double standard--one for billionaire Trump, another for the rest of us.

On the other hand, after the clamor about his opulent lifestyle abates, expect to see the double standard at work.

Trump In the Rough

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 28, 2017--Doctoring

Busy yesterday with doctors (all went well) and thus not much time for blogging. I will return tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2017

March 27, 2017--The System (Sort Of) At Work

In response to my Saturday blog, "The System At Work," where I argued that the defeat of the Republican's attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare was evidence of the system working and that this should be comforting to the fear many progressives have had that Donald Trump is a crypto-fascist, an American Benito Mussolini, a very good friend wrote--

System working? Sort of

They will find other ways to gut Obamacare instead of fixing it. The system is way broken. The American people come last. No one wants to find real solutions which would alienate each sides gerrymandered bases.  

Though I understand this view and acknowledge she may be right, I sent a note back to her in which I said--
For me the system working is more than "sort of." 
I've been arguing here for more than a year, as more and more progressives saw Trump to be our own Duce, that we need to give the system a chance to bring him to ground. So, of course, as a result of the repeal-and-replace fiasco, immodestly I think my predictive ability is being confirmed. 
For example, almost as many "moderate" Republicans as Freedom Caucus Republicans were set to vote "no" because they felt the health plan before them was too severe.  
Even more potent an argument for the system working is the diminishment of Trump's perceived power. His perceived power is at least half his appeal and I expect to see it erode further as more people feel released to abandon him. His approval numbers are already at all time lows. And have been falling. Then of course there is the Russian connection ticking. Wait 'til we hear more about the Trump part of that connection. 
This of course doesn't mean we will see an outburst of progressive legislation and behavior. For me it means very little will get done and all things considered that's a good thing. This may also very well mean that Trump will be a one-term president.  
Further, expect to see Ryan go after the Freedom crazies. Mainly to seek vengeance and also to protect his speakership. Rather than the Freedom Caucus being empowered by what happened they are weakened. Note that "only" 15 of the 29 of them were "no's." That means almost half defied their own leadership. 
I also think Trump will back way away from anything having to do with health care. It never was a priority for him. Too wonky a subject and too divisive  A virtual policy tar baby. Just ask Nixon, Hillary, and Obama. I expect to see him focus exclusively on tax cuts and infrastructure. The two things I think he actually cares about and about which he at least knows something. OK, a little. 
He'll need Dems for both and we'll see if he gets them. I suspect only for infrastructure and corporate tax cuts will the Dems play along. They don't want to prop Trump up or help him become successful. Then Ryan won't need the 14-29 Freedom votes. He can make them irrelevant by working with a handful of Democrats.
My friend also wrote that--

Steve Bannon still wants to try to destroy administrative state. Cabinet departments now have fairly low level loyalist appointees who spy and report back on the civil service professionals.

To that, I said--
Having eyes in the departments is not in any way new. Pretty much every modern president has had his plants in most departments. If I were president, I'd want some loyalists there too to keep an eye on who was working on my agenda and who was freelancing. So I don't worry too much about that.  
I worked a lot in a few federal departments in my day and knew a number of people who were there to report back to the Clinton, W, and Obama White Houses. This sort of thing is also common in corporations and NGOs. Like it or not, this is basic management stuff. A way of trying to maintain control of large, bureaucratic institutions. 
But of course I could be wrong about this and if pushed could make the case that all is perilous and that we are doomed. I'm not wired  that way and thus will continue to keep an eye on the system at work.  
Only 65 days into the Trump admin and I already see progress at whittling down the scary stuff. Including Bannon's agenda which after this debacle has little chance of being realized. Expect Trump to move closer to the advice of the practical people (Jared Kushner--when he and Ivanka return from skiing is Aspen) and less to the ideological Steves (Bannon and Miller). I think Trump's already had his fill of the latter 
He now has a glimpse of what the far-right are really about. They are not his natural constituency--he ran mainly as a populist. Bannon helped guide him into the healthcare mess since the bill that was finally pulled represented "progress" on reducing the administrative state--the end of Obamacare and the beginning of the end of Medicaid.  
So, in sum, I'm OK with the direction in which I see this headed. I'm optimistic about the rest of the domestic agenda. That is won'r get through Congress. 
To me, if you really want to make yourself crazy think about N. Korea, Russia, far-right crazies in Western Europe, laptop bombs . . . sadly I could go on. 
But in spite of this I plan to have a good weekend. I hope that's true for you as well.
And I know she will also continue to challenge me and keep me in line. That's what good friends are for.

She qualifies.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mach 25, 2107--The System At Work

Many of my friends who have feared that Donald Trump is a crypto-fascist in the mold of Benito Mussolini, that he doesn't believe in representative democracy and plans to overturn our system, need to take another look at the power of the American political system to resist Strong Men and protect itself.

This resistance expresses itself mainly though the power of our vaunted system of political checks and balances.
Take today's defeat of the Trump-Ryan plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The bill was among the meanest spirited to ever come before Congress with a real chance of being approved. It would have led to the illness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans. It had the tincture of fascism about it.
But it never even came to a vote.
Forget for the moment the internecine war within the Republican Party that contributed to Trumpcare's defeat. That internal warfare is another illustration of the system working. As do the street demonstrations and dissent-filled town hall meetings.
We may have a totally unqualified and unstable person in the Oval offie, but as of today he and his powers are dramatically diminished and there is no chance that he will turn into an American Duce
Consider this progress and move on to other things to be concerned about and resist. Like tax cuts for the wealthy.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

March 24, 21017--Upon Westminster Bridge

In 1802, William Wordsworth composed this sonnet upon the same bridge in London where there was terrorist carnage earlier this week that killed five and injured more than three dozen.

Especially now it is worth pausing for a minute, as Wordsworth did that early September morning, to remind us that life and beauty are to be found everywhere, even at a time and place of evil.
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear 
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. 
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 23, 2015--The Wall We Need

The wall we need is not the one we've been talking about for well over a year--Donald Trump's "beautiful" wall along the border with Mexico. The wall for which he in a delusion assured us Mexico would pay.

We now discover that Mexico understandably continues to see this to be offensive and is so furious about the way they are being treated by President Trump that they have virtually severed relations with us.

We also discovered that the budget Trump submitted to Congress last week--the one received by both parties as "dead on arrival"--includes about $4.0 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to pay for the first phase of wall building. There is not a word about Mexico anteing up.

If we want to assess if a wall of this kind will be effective in shutting down illegal border-crossing, we need look no further than how well the various walls Israel has erected to contain the movement of Palestinians have worked.

Two years ago as Palestinian rockets rained down on Israel, fired from Gaza, the Israeli army discovered dozens of elaborate smugglers' tunnels under the fence, tunnels in many cases that were electrified and included lights and even air conditioning.

But there is one thing we can be certain about--the security fence that circles the White House is equally ineffective.

Evidence for that is the revelation last week that someone jumped that fence as if it weren't there and managed to elude Secret Service agents for a full 17 minutes before he was spotted and captured. He apparently had made his way right up to a White House entrance and was fiddling with the doorknob in an attempt to enter the premises.

President Trump was in residence at the time and we can only suspect that when the SS finally learned about the intrusion they roused him from his bed and bundled him down to the bunker six floors below the East Wing.

The same "undisclosed location" where they hid Vice President Cheney on 9/11.

From an electronic sensor the Secret Service was alerted to the fact that there was an intruder, but they could not locate him on the White House grounds.

The White House sits on only18 acres and one would assume that there are motion detectors every few yards and other surveillance devices that are so sensitive and secretive that we can only imagine their capabilities.

Assume away.

Not only should we be concerned about the possible danger President Trump faced but we should also be concerned in general about our capacity to monitor our borders and collect useful and time-sensitive data and intelligence from various hot spots around the world where we depend upon electronic as well as human intelligence to keep us safe.

Very much including what is going on in North Korea.

But who knows--the 26-year-old who snuck onto the White House grounds, when captured, said, "I am a friend of the president. I have an appointment."

Maybe he knew Trump was lonely with his wife and son in New York and would be happy to see him. They could watch Hannity together.

The next morning, the president said the "Secret Service did a fantastic job last night."

I also worry about his sense of what he considers to be fantastic.

Jonathan Tuan-Anh Tran

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017--Wag the Dog

If I am right that the Russian-connection dots lead back to Donald Trump, and if we learn that in one way or another he authorized some of his people to collude with their Russian paymasters, this situation is much more serious than any other presidential scandal from Teapot Dome to Watergate to Monic Lewinsky.

If true, expect the master of distraction, out of fear and desperation, to trot out the wag-the-dog defense. Wag the Dog, recall, is the title of a Clinton-era 1997 black comedy in which a political spin doctor (Robert De Nero), days before the presidential election, to distract the public from a sex scandal, hires a film producer (Dustin Hoffman), to stage a fake war with Albania.

It worked. The president is reelected.

What distraction might we expect from our current president?

Minimally, a war with North Korea.

Not that North Korea doesn't deserve serious attention and, who knows, at some point military action to "take out" their nuclear arsenal and missile delivery systems since they are working on developing the capability to reach our west coast cities.

But under unrelenting political pressure and media scrutiny, Trump may ignore the diplomatic approach and reach for the "football" and nuclear codes.

My bet, though, is that he has something more Trump-like in mind. Something more reality-show.

He will fulfill one of his most outrageous campaign pledges--he will get the Attorney General to arrange for Hillary Clinton to be indicted.

That would push everything else off the front pages. There will be no talk about healthcare; no back and forth about defunding Meals On Wheels or Planned Parenthood; no coverage of Judge Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination hearings; no gossip about Ivanka Trump's new West Wing office; and, most important to Trump, talk will be suspended about his possible involvement with the Russians to undermine the presidential election.

It would be his equivalent of Wag the Dog's fake war with Albania.

"Lock Her Up"

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 21, 2016--The Russian Connection

Here's what happened and it's pretty obvious.

Admittedly this is speculation but since it explains most of Donald Trump's behavior regarding Russia's tampering in our election, let me air it out--

Last spring when it was obvious Donald Trump would win the nomination and then that summer, after securing it, one or more members of Trump's entourage with on-going Russian connections (fierce supporter General Michael Flynn and/or campaign chairman Paul Manafort) told candidate Trump that their Russian connections, or handlers, indicated that they had the capacity to hack into Hillary Clinton's campaign and in that way dig up enough dirt to help the underdog, Donald Trump, win the election.

As someone who loves winning above all else, Trump with a nod and a wink gave them the go-ahead.

The rest of the election is history.

All the while, the FBI or NSA, as part of their routine work, were tapping into the Russian ambassador's and other Russian officials' electronic communications.

In the process, they stumbled on Flynn's and Manafort's machinations and began a deeper investigation into their work with Russia, including their involvement in the Clinton sabotage effort.

So here's the big problem--

If a version of this is true, the connected dots lead directly back to Donald J.Trump.

Trump of course knows the full extent of this, especially his own direct involvement, and thus the frantic attempt to divert attention from this festering situation and out of desperation turn the heat on his predecessor, Barack Obama, accusing him of "wiretapping" Trump Tower.

Here's how this will unfold--

Paul Manafort, eventually facing 20 years in prison, will make a James McCord, Watergate-like deal with the prosecutors and throw President Trump under the bus.

That is unless Trump has already been pardoned by his successor, President Mike Pence.

Left to Right--Manafort, Trump, Flynn

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Monday, March 20, 2017

March 20, 2016--The Wall

I will return tomorrow with advice about the kind of wall Donald Trump urgently needs to build.

Friday, March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017--Too Many . . .

. . . things going on and so I didn't get around to preparing anything for today. I will return on Monday.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 2017--In Line at Trader Joe's

There was a panicky run on food supplies and bottled water as the Blizzard of 2017 approached Manhattan. After Hurricane Sandy, no one wanted to take anything for granted. So Rona and I joined the hunt for things to stock our larder with in case there was two-feet of blowing snow and widespread power outages.

We had recently "discovered" Trader Joe's on 14th Street and, though we didn't think much of TJ's in Delray Beach, we gave the one in the city a try a couple of months ago and liked their selection and prices.

In truth, we especially liked their house brand of Belgian chocolate pudding. Two or three tubs of that could get us through another Sandy. With that who needs bottled water!

When about half a block away it looked like chaos at the entrance to Joe's. "I wonder what's going on," I said. "Maybe a sale?"

"I doubt that but I think it may be a line."

"Out onto the street? That doesn't seem possible. The way they line up people in the store itself who are ready to check out amazes me. Sometimes the lines, two of them, snake all the way from the fruit and vegetable area all the way along the refrigerated chests to the front of the store where there are 20, 25 cashiers. It moves pretty quickly, but a line out the door and halfway up the block, even in a pre-storm buying frenzy?"

"There is in fact in line and it looks like it would take an hour to get to a cashier. So, I'm thinking, I can get through a week--even if we're snowed in--without chocolate pudding."

"Really?" Rona said skeptically, knowing my guilty habits and obsessions better than anyone else.

"And notice, rather the the usual young crowd that shops here most of the people on line are decidedly middle-age."

"That is interesting. The prices in general are pretty good compared to what else is available around here from Agata & Valentina and Whole Foods. So that could be part of the explanation."

"I wonder how many are on line."

"Why don't we count them," Rona said.

As so we did. As unobtrusively as possible so as not to make anyone feel under surveillance. Anticipating the storm was producing enough anxiety.

About halfway to the checkout counters we decided to bail out. It was so crowded that threading our way parallel to those pushing their shopping baskets along was arduous and it began to feel as if we were spying on otherwise stressed-out people.

We stopped the count at 217. "Amazing," I said, and simlutaneously noticed they had already sold out of many things, including my nighttime treat.

A women, who looked to be about 60 overheard what we were saying, pushed her walker toward us and, with edginess, said, "What are we specimens or something?"

"No," I stammered, "We were only looking for my chocolate pudding and . . ."

"And staring at us as if we were on display."

"Sorry to give you that impression," I said weakly, "We're just trying to stock up before . . ."

"So where's your basket, your cart with water and bread and other stuff?"

She had us there. I didn't know what to say. Rona was pulling on the sleeve of my coat.

"You live 'round here?" the woman said. "I can tell by your coat that you do." She pointed to Rona's furry white coat.

"Well, we . . ."

"Fancy people just as I suspected, looking down on the poor folks." She inched her shopping basket along, pushing it with her foot.

"I bought it, the coat, in K-Mart," Rona said almost inaudibly. "It was on sale."

"Speak up, will yuh," she hollered, tapping her ears, "I'm a little hard of hearing."  Rona didn't repeat what she had begun to say. "But, like I said, I'm from around here too." She hadn't mentioned that. "So it's my Manhattan too. I have rent control. Not everyone lives in fancy condos or coops." She was about to poke me in the chest so I recoiled as far as the overflowing aisles would allow.

"We're not that . . ." Rona said, "It's only that . . ."

"Only that you have money and I live on Social Security and Medicare."

"We . . . "

"I have to shop here while you two can go to Whole Foods or Dean & DeLucas and not have to stand out on the street in line, shivering for an hour just to save a few dollars."

"Is that how long you've been in line?"

"I'm exaggerating to make a point. But yes, at least half an hour on the street. But it's worth it. They take food stamps and don't give you attitude."

"We shop here a lot," I lied.

"There are these two Manhattans--yours and mine. I'm not a socialist mind you, though I voted for Bernie. I'm just pointing out the truth. I love living here. In my parents' old apartment. May they rest in peace. I go to a museum most every week. Just saw the new show at the Whitney."

"The Biannual," I said, "Was it any good?" I was glad to change the subject, "Half the time they're terrible. Too much about political correctness, not enough about the art."

"This time the art is very diverse but it's all pretty much of high quality. You should go. I have a pass so I don't have to pay but it shouldn't be a problem for you." Again she looked at Rona's coat.

"I think it costs at least 30 dollars. Not the coat, admission."

"That's a problem for you? If it is I don't see why you're living here. To go to the Whitney or the Met is the reason to be in the city." She again pushed her basket to close the gap in the line.

"We're trying to do more of that," I said.

"And while you're at it, look around at all your neighbors. New York is not just about money and museums. We don't bite." With that she chuckled and coughed at the same time.

14th Street Trader Joe's

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15, 2017--Ministry of Fake News

A friend who keeps up with most things political and refers to the White House as the Ministry (so you know where he's coming from) is very smart, well informed, and through the months tracking the nomination, election, and early days of the Trump administration has generally, by my read, more often than not, got things right.

He is so indefatigable in his pursuit of information about what is going on that most days he even checks what's posted on the White House Website--1600 Daily.

By doing so, this is also evidence that he is willing to submit to self-flagellation in searching for the truth.

There's a section on the Webpage devoted to "News Reports" and my friend points out that it always includes links to a few so-called media outlets. I say "so-called" because, using yesterday as an example, there were a total of four links, two to Fox News and one to Breitbart.

So, if you can't wait to get your news from CNN or the New York Times--news such as how Trump Tower is being bugged via its TV sets and microwave ovens--you can have a peek at the sources Donald Trump himself checks out when his daily intelligence briefings get too boring.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March 14, 2017--Donaldcare's Death Panels

Among the few progressive policies he trumpeted during the campaign was Donald Trump's soft promise that he would make sure everyone in America, after repealing and replacing Obamacare, would have health insurance. That Donaldcare thus would be better.

With yesterday's Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Ryan-Trump replacement plans projecting that over the decade 24 million people currently on Obamacare would lose their insurance, that promise turns out to be another Trump lie.

OK, "alternative fact."

The CBO models are not flawless and Trump and most Republicans have been preemptively trashing the work and findings of this reliable nonpartisan office. But even if the CBO is over-estimating by half, this means that"only" 12 million would lose their coverage.  12 million.

Remember Michele Bachmann who back in 2012, while in the lead for a week in the polls for the Republican nomination, blatantly claimed, without evidence, that the Affordable Care Act called for "death panels" of government bureaucrats who would decide who to treat and who to let die?

Well, this is worse. Much.

This is a death panel policy on steroids.

If "just" one percent of those who would lose their care were to die because of that, that's 120,000 people who would die.

Less euphemistically, be killed.

Even less euphemistically, murdered, with the definition of murder "intent to kill," which this is.

The New York Times reports that the CBO's estimate that over the same decade $337 billion of government money would be saved is convincing fiscally conservative Republicans who didn't believe Donaldcare would "save" money are already softening their opposition to the Ryan-Trump plan.

Saving money--a good thing.

Saving lives--not so much.

Michele Bachmann

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Monday, March 13, 2017

March 13, 2017--Ladies of Forest Trace: Not Resting

The Ladies are in a place of tranquility but they are not in repose.

I know this from my mother, who deserves to be at rest after more than 107 years of life. I discovered her state of agitation during a recent visit to Mt Lebanon Cemetery in Queens.

When I was a child we visited Mt. Lebanon regularly so that she could be with her parents and bring them news of the family and the world. We would sit together on the bench beside where her mother and father were and I would listen while she told them about Bertha's recovery from a stroke, Nina's trip to Israel, Eli's struggles with his creditors, Fanny's plans to move to Florida, news about Stalin, and how things were with my father.

About that, the state of her own marriage, she would whisper so I needed to lean close and strain to hear what she was reporting. Though I could not catch most of the words, I could tell from their tone and her trembling that things were not going well.

"He never . . . He always . . . ," she said and then tearfully would switch to Yiddish to protect me from being swept into her unhappiness. But from this and how she placed her arm around me and drew me close into the protective nest of her body, I knew her pain was real. And that to her I represented a sense of purpose. She was happy I was there with her, with the family.

More than sixty years later I again needed to be close to her and so, though I sat alone on that now crumbling bench, listening to the wind, I tried to pick up her emanations, the comfort she provided, and, on that chilly pre-spring afternoon, her still flickering warmth.

"The girls are so upset," she began. I could hear the pain in her voice.

"Tell me Mom."

"About him."


"Thump, Donald Thump."

I didn't correct her wonderful malaprops, which frequently revealed more than literal truth.

"You've been hearing about him?" I wasn't sure how information was acquired and shared by the Ladies now that they were no longer . . .

"All the terrible things he's doing. With immigrants--wasn't his own father an immigrant?--with minorities, with women, with health. And we are so afraid about Korea and Russia. Especially Russia. We know Russia. Two of the Ladies are from there and I was born in Poland, near the border. Russian Cossacks raided our village, Tulowice, when I was a little girl. My mother hid me and my sisters and brother in the root cellar below the floor of our log cabin. The evil things they did which I cannot tell you about."

"You can tell me, Mom. You can tell me anything."

"You're still young and I don't want to upset you. You should be enjoying life."

Only someone who lived to 107 would consider me to be young. It was this kind of affirmation that I loved and which I greedily still needed.

"You should have your rest," I said, reversing her lifelong admonition to me.

"As your father said, 'There's plenty of time for rest. Later, there's time for rest.'"

"Yes he always did say that. As I grow older I understand it more and more."

"Ruth, who marched so we could vote, the women, is so upset that a majority voted for him--I can't say his name--so many women that I am sure Wolf on TV is saying that if it wasn't for the women voting for him we would have Hillary. Not that she's such a bargain. But almost anything would be better. Even Mike Expense, the Vice President, who we all are hoping will become president. This person, Expense, who doesn't believe in women's health and is too religious for any of our tastes we are wishing for."

"I am hoping for the same thing. Maybe if there's an impeachment or . . ."

"We're both dreaming. The Republicans in Congress, who we know did not support him will keep him in office because he will sign anything they approve--health care, taxes, regulations, pollution and who knows what else."

"It's a long list."

"But, one of the girls, Rose reminds us things have been worse."

"How? He's been in office only two months, though it feels like years, so how can things already be worse?"

"She means in the past. When we and Negroes couldn't vote. They couldn't drink water here in Florida. They had their own colored fountains. We didn't have the Pill but we had world wars. We had Depression but didn't have Xanax for that." She paused to let me know she meant that to be funny. So I wouldn't worry more than I do about her mental capacities.

"And you are old enough to remember the gas chambers. We had family who survived Auschwitz. Cousin Malkie and her family who lived with Aunt Tanna and Uncle Eli when they escaped and came to Brooklyn. You heard those stories when you were seven years old. I tried to protect you from them but you insisted you wanted to know about the world. Even at its most evil. So I let you sit with us at the kitchen table while Malkie and her son, whose name I forgot but whose haunted look I will always remember, told us about the nightmare."

"I remember that. I also wanted to see the tattoos on their arms. I didn't want to be shielded from the worst that life could bring. But I know you felt otherwise and wanted me to have nothing but a happy childhood. One time you told me that was in part because of all the children who were forced to suffer. You wanted me to live for myself but also when I was old enough to try to do things that would make less fortunate children's lives better."

Recalling that I began softly to cry.

"I bring this up," she said, "because I want to remind you that Rose is right. Too many things were worse in the past. Not quite as much so for those who were blessed to be born here or came to America as hopeful immigrants and refugees. We survived and over time many things did get to be better."

"You always say this," I said, knowing I had come to Mt. Lebanon in large part to have her remind and reassure me about that.

"Of course, things here could get worse but worse than Pearl Harbor? Worse than the Cold War? The Depression? The lynchings? I could say more but I know you have to rush away."

"I have a little more time," I said, feeling a bit better, though not yet assured or optimistic, "So tell me whatever else is on your mind and making you and the Ladies so restless."

"This isn't enough?"

"But I thought you brought up the War and women to remind me not to get too overwrought with what is happening?"

"That's my attention. But, yes, there is something else that is very disturbing to us."

"Please tell me."

"You know your history better than we do so I'm sure you have examples."

"Of what?"

"About what I am going to tell you."


"And it's not all his fault. Though he is the beneficiary of it."

"You're starting to lose me."

"The hate." I waited but she didn't continue.

"The hate?"

"I'll give you a for-instance. When they talk about health there is so much resentment, so much hate for poor and elderly people who will have it taken away from them. They talk as if it's about how much it costs the government but what we really hear is how much the Republicans--and it is them--feel it is people's fault that they are poor and need help. They say they are making the wrong choices about how they spend their money--as if they had so much. Did we hear this correctly--sometimes communications to where we are are not so good--that someone in Congress, Jascha Heifetz, said that if people had enough money to have a telephone . . ."

"Jason Chaffetz, from Utah."

"I don't have my hearing aids with me. But that's him. He said if they have money for those phones they could give them up and use the money to buy health insurance."

"I did hear that. He really did say that."

"In the meantime if so many millions lose insurance how many will die from that? Who was it who talked about death panels? This is like that. Worse."

"Congresswoman Michele Bachmann."

"Who was also running for president. But all this meanness and resentment about struggling people--about children and old people--is very sad and tells us what these Washington people really think. They are so full of anger and resentment and this makes it acceptable for him to say the ugly things he has for years been saying. About Obama, about women, about Negroes, about Mexicans. And what's really worse when he talks this way is that many of the people who support him, who are filled with fear and hate, want to hear this. They give him encouragement and permission to say the ugliest things. They cheer loudest when he does."

"There has been hate and fear at other times in our history, that's true. About the Irish and Italian and Jewish immigrants. And obviously black people. You experienced that when you were a young girl and woman. People are this way when there are hard economic times. And when . . ."

"I'm sorry to interrupt but whatever was or has been is no excuse."

"I agree."

"About that, by now, we should know better."

To that I had nothing to say.

"We're all gone now," my mother whispered, "There is no room left here for anyone else. All the places are filled. Everyone from the family is here. And the Ladies are scattered like leaves. Ruth to her daughter in New Jersey. It's so cold there. Ruth was always shivering. And Rose next to her beloved father also in Queens. In Mt. Hebron. Adele, poor thing, is by herself. She lost all her family in Russia and never married. Never had children or grandchildren. I love her so much. How she made such a good life for herself. The first woman to become a school principal in Brooklyn."

"She was remarkable," I said.

"I could talk all day, but I know it must be getting dark and they close the gates soon. And you don't like to drive after the sun is down. You were such a good driver," I noted the past tense, "When you would take me to the doctor or out for Chinese, I felt so secure. And now . . ." Her words trailed off. Her breathing slowed. I didn't want her to strain herself.

It was time for me to go. I was feeling better. If not about the state of the world about her and how loved and safe she still made me feel.

"And remember, as I always say, be sure to wear your sweater."

It was as if I could see her smiling.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

March 10, 2017--Skip the Betty Ford Idea

A good friend, Lynne Roth, sent me these musings which are riffs from a series of my recent blogs. I love her sensibility and thought you might like to listen in--
Honestly, I have been sparing you by not sharing my views. I have even refrained from checking your blog first thing every day.  It is difficult.
As for rehab--skip the Betty Ford idea you and your partner in love have your own retreat in Delray Beach, the rehab capital of the country. Another perk is you do not require searching for a halfway house. 
Last night on The Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell read a letter allegedly written by Trump's grandfather, begging not to be deported from a European country
Yesterday Dr. Carson spoke to the captive audience he now lords over. He struck a nerve when I heard him refer to slaves, upon the backs of whom this nation's lopsided economy was built, as immigrants!  As if they had a choice. Then he back-peddled more than once and said we needed to look up the definition of "immigrants." I was not the only person who took offense.
A visual of three cabinet members holding the new Executive Order on immigration was broadcast. The body language spoke volumes.
Like you, I have rationed my intake of the news but have failed. Playing bridge with a group of people, refraining from discussions of politics helps but is not long lasting.
Frustrated, I am still awaiting for citizens to use the correct term  Affordable Care Act and drop the "Obama."  The new version will soon be labeled as unaffordable and cause a few Republicans to find new jobs.
Anyone in government or the legal business knows if someone is worried about wiretapping or surveillance you have the premises swept. Parinoid attorneys I worked for had it performed frequently on a daily basis.
Your reference to geese is on point. Many folks know geese are as fierce and intimidating as ferocious dogs.  I speak from experience having been chased as a child while visiting a farm.  My father warned me, but it was too late. I was five years old and the same size as the snowy white monster waddling across the lawn. The simmering sounds of a few quacks errupted into terrifying screams from my throat as I turned and ran for safety. My short legs were reliable and I clamored up a fence, ripping my dress as the goose chomped and tore a hole in the edge of the skirt.
My second encounter was in the Dominican Republic. I drove into the parking lot of a road side stand to refill some propane tanks. A young man bounded out to my car and carried off the two tanks. He invited me to shop for fresh vegetables and eggs. We practiced our language skills as I casually gathered some eggs.  The eggs varied in color and size.  Simultaneously, as I asked about and picked up a goose egg, a gaggle of geese appeared.  I needed no warning! I left my eggs and vegetables  and jumped in the car. The gentleman placed the full tanks in the car trunk and came to collect payment.  He grinned and said, "You're a smart lady, not everyone knows geese are the best watch dogs. Many men have tried to steal from me but my geese are good workers."
When I learned the long tradition of daily briefing journalists was winnowing into a gaggle I hoped the geese would be as aggressive as those I have encountered. This tradition of maintaining democracy should not be forfeited for good ratings.
Our nation is paying a terrible price to educate an uncouth illiterate thug on the law, diplomacy, and the art of faking forgiveness. 
While Nixon drank and spoke to his demons, Nancy consulted the stars and Hillary channeled Eleanor Roosevelt, Roy Cohn is whispering in Donald's ear (as he did in Joe McCarthy's) reassuring him a job well done while his dogs lay bleeding in the west wing, exhausted from the mandatory battles, hoping one of the messages leaked to various agencies will reach the ears of some brave citizens able to end this nightmare.
The rockets are being fired at our bases in Japan. 
When the daily Trump news is interrupted by breaking news and now a word from our President,  who will appear and tell us we are at war?  But don't worry, "trust me."
Where are our leaders?

Roy Cohn & Donald Trump

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

March 9, 2017--Health Care Lottery

In an attempt to be responsible, I tried to read through the 123-page American Health Care Act, Trump- or Ryan-Care, promulgated by the Republican House leadership on Tuesday. I needed to do so, I thought, to enter the debate credibly with facts at hand.

I failed at that but did stumble on something morbidly fascinating and all too revealing--after ten pages of gobbledegook (see below) there were six pages of reasonably readable text about what to do with people covered by Medicaid who win state lotteries.

When I mentioned this to Rona, she said my new meds were making me hallucinatory. So I showed her the text and now she believes me, but has been walking around the apartment mumbling to herself.

First, a taste of the gobbledegook, taking it from the top of the text--
TITLE I—ENERGY AND COMMERCE Subtitle A—Patient Access to Public Health Programs
(a) IN GENERAL.—Subsection (b) of section 4002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 300u–11), as amended by section 5009 of the 21st Century Cures Act, is amended—
(1) in paragraph (2), by adding ‘‘and’’ at the end;
(2) in paragraph (3)— (A) by striking ‘‘each of fiscal years 2018
and 2019’’ and inserting ‘‘fiscal year 2018’’; and
(B) by striking the semicolon at the end and inserting a period; and (3) by striking paragraphs (4) through (8).
Pop quiz to follow. 

Then, after ten pages of this, clearly by placement to highlight its importance, for a full six pages they turn to what to do about state lottery winners who are currently covered by Medicaid.

Here is a bit of the text--
(a) LETTING STATES DISENROLL HIGH DOLLAR LOTTERY WINNERS.—IN GENERAL.—In the case of an individual who is the recipient of qualified lottery winnings (pursuant to lotteries occurring on or after January 1, 2020) or qualified lump sum income (received on or after such date) and whose eligibility for medical assistance is determined based on the application of modified adjusted gross income under subparagraph (A), a State shall, in determining such eligibility, in- clude such winnings or income (as applicable) as income received—
‘‘(I) in the month in which such winnings or income (as applicable) is received if the amount of such winnings or income is less than $80,000;
‘‘(II) over a period of 2 months if the amount of such winnings or in- come (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $80,000 but less than $90,000;
‘‘(III) over a period of 3 months if the amount of such winnings or in- come (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $90,000 but less than $100,000; and‘‘(IV) over a period of 3 months plus1additional month for each increment of $10,000 of such winnings or income (as applicable) received, not to exceed a period of 120 months (for winnings or income of $1,260,000 or more), if the amount of such winnings or income is greater than or equal to $100,000. 
Of course if someone wins more than $80,000 that should be taken into consideration when determining Medicaid eligibility; but to give it this prominence, to devote so much textual energy to this literally one-in-a-million reality is to reveal the mean-spirited nature of conservatives when it comes to compassion for those who struggle. They reveal here how much they resent any poor person allegedly "getting away with" anything these politicians, themselves imbibing at the public trough, feel they do not deserve.

Take congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as another example when he spoke about health care for those with little or low incomes. There is an easy way to pay for heath care, he said--the poor should give up their smart phones and by doing so would have enough money to pay for health insurance.

To quote his version of the Golden Rule:
Americans have choices, and they've gotta (sic) make a choice. So maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they wanna (sic) go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They gotta (sic) make those decisions themselves.
Maybe if he knew how much he paid for his health insurance (nothing as a senator) or his smartphone (again, nothing as a $174,000-a year member of Congress) he would realize that if they gave up their beloved iPhones they still gotta get a lot more money from other sources to pay for it. 

Maybe they could give up eating. From the looks of Chaffetz his doing so wouldn't be a bad idea. But as everyone can see he doesn't wanna do that.

Senator Jason Chaffetz

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

March 8, 2017--Ivanka Time

I've been holding off on suggesting this until things got desperate.

They are now that desperate and so--

Have you noticed that President Trump's tweets are at their most outrageous on Saturday mornings? The Jewish sabbath. A sabbath observed by daughter Ivanka and her family since she converted to "modern orthodox" Judaism in 2009.

The orthodox on Saturdays do no work, including turning on anything electrical. Things such as lights, electric ovens, and smart phones. So by posting his most outlandish thoughts and rants on Saturdays Trump figured out that in this way he can avoid the censorious scrutiny of son-in-law Jared and favorite child, Ivanka.

But now with his presidency unravelling and their own lives heading toward decline (economic as well as social--their New York friends are pretty much all liberals, including Chelsea Clinton), it is time for the children to intervene and become the parents of their parent.

When doing so they need to tell Dad over and over how much they love him, how remarkable he is, how magnificent his political assent, and emphasize all the good things he has already accomplished. But, they also need to tell him with affection and love, that his reign is about to come undone and he is in danger of slipping into irrelevancy or worse.

More than anything else, they need to tell him that he has to, desperately needs to get rid of Steve Bannon. That he is a radical anarchist and is in the process of destroying our most cherished institutions, from diplomacy to an independent judiciary to economic fairness to basic human compassion. Among other things, his ideas and influence will bring America to the brink of war. Or worse. All on Dad's watch.

What kind of legacy would he leave, they need to tell him, for his cherished children and grandchildren? What would a war, likely a nuclear war with North Korea, look like and what would remain of all they he literally and figuratively built?

He needs to listen to and bring to the forefront his best and brightest aides and cabinet members--Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Maddis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. They are mature and loyal (for a few more months at least) and will offer good advice while watching his back.

They need to emphasize that there is still time to begin to become a great president (I choke on these words), but not more than a few more months. The knives are already out. They know most people in the government including Congress either do not feel any loyalty to him or in more fundamental ways care about him.They see him mainly as someone available to sign legislation that he barely understands or cares about. So he really can't count on the Paul Ryans to stand by him and protect him. In many instances, just the opposite.

And then there is the nuclear option (and I am not talking about North Korea)--if Trump resists what they are urging they need to tell him that they will resign, return to New York City, which they already miss, and not be there to prop him up or console him when he screws up, as he did in spades in last Saturday's tweets.

And we know wife Melania has no interest in being in Washington. So he will be alone, for narcissistic types the worst of fates.

With tears and genuine feeling Ivanka and Jared need to say that it's their lives too that are being affected by the outrageous ways in which he is conducting himself. And, more important, their children's lives will be diminished. His grandchildren's.

In the meantime, I'm stocking up on bottled water and dried beans.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

March 7, 2017--From the Bunker

It is not a good thing that Donald Trump signed the new travel ban executive order yesterday out of public viewing. Only Sean Spicer was there to record the event on his own iPhone, which he later posted on his Twitter feed.

Otherwise we would not have learned of the event, which should have been one of Trump's proudest achievements, something he promised his adoring fans he would do on his first day in office--ban Muslins from six or seven countries from entering the U.S. until "we figured what the hell is going on" with our alleged, but unsubstantiated, inadequate vetting.

Up to now, he signed dozens of EOs boastfully in very public settings--in the Oval Office surrounded by selected members of the public and senior staff or at places such as the Pentagon where he sat enthroned in golden gilded chairs.

But to sign the rebooted EO travel ban alone and sulking in the White House was all too evocative of Nixon, alone and isolated, during his last days in office. It may bc that Trump too is close to the end as his lies about President Obama close in around him and more and more of his people seem compromised by contact and dealings with the Russians. But, if true and if he is operating from a metaphorical bunker these could be dangerous days for America. Watch for a wag-the-dog lashing out against, say, North Korea as things darken for our president.

Press secretary and White House photographer, Sean Spencer, is also operating more and more from a bunker of his own. Trump clearly has pulled his plug. Press duties are being carried out these days by Mike's daughter, clueless Sarah Huckabeee Sanders, Sean's deputy, while Spicer himself, so yesterday, not even any longer appearing on Saturday Night Live, has not had a televised public press conference of his own in more than a week and has been meeting with reporters only in "gaggles."

(Gaggle, by the way is literally a group of geese and etymologically comes from the Middle gagelen, to cackle. How appropriate.)

It is also not a good sign that when Trump appeared in semi-public over the weekend on route to and while in Palm Beach, it was always when accompanied by Ivanka Trump's children. When they trot out the grandchildren it is a sign of political and emotional desperation.

Trump, by there way is the only president since Harry Truman not to have a dog. In his darkest days Nixon had Checkers to shield and comfort him and when the Monica Lewinsky scandal isolated Bill Clinton there was the always-available Buddy to lick his face. (One time ask me to tell you my Buddy story.)

And I just noticed, the shelves in the Oval Office are less than half filled. It is as if Trump has not moved in or is about to pull up stakes. And the only picture on the credenza behind the presidential desk is of Trump patriarch, Fred. Again, even Nixon, who had little involvement with his family, had dozens of pictures of Pat and the girls on public view in a sad attempt to normalize him.

All the while over the weekend North Korea launched four or five intermediate-range missiles, most of them landing just 200 miles from Japan and, in response, we moved into South Korea batteries of Thaad antimissile-missiles.

It may be getting closer to the time when all of us will need to seek more than metaphoric bunkers.

There is at least one piece of good news--no one is reporting yet that late at night, like Nixon, Trump is wandering around the White House talking to portraits of previous presidents. If he is spotted doing that, good presidents to commune with would be Harry Truman or Dwight Eisenhower since neither Lincoln nor Jefferson would likely make themselves available.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

March 6, 2017--Kool Aid

Anyone who thinks Barack Obama during the last months of his presidency had anything to do with bugging Donald Trump's Trump Tower email server is drinking the Kool Aid. This time with Steve Bannon, his Brietbart News, and talkshow lunatic Mark Levin pouring refills.

That Obama would commit a felony, literally a felony in support of Hillary Clinton's candidacy, when it was universally thought she had a commanding lead, is delusional. Starting with Trump who, dangerously, believes this stuff.

The explanation is a lot simpler--

The coverup being perpetrated by the current president and his flunkies is coming undone. Even poor attorney general Jeff Sessions sold his chief out, deciding on his own, without consulting Trump, to plead recusal when it comes to the Russian connection, basically abandoning the president to twist slowly in the wind as one piece of fabrication after another peels away, leaving Trump and his senior staff vulnerable to further exposure.

What happened is as follows--

As part of their routine monitoring of Russian electronic communications chatter, the NSA or CIA or FBI stumbled on conversations between the Russian ambassador and Trump operatives such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, both of whom have longstanding ties to high-level Russians, have been on various Russian payrolls, and as a result are significantly compromised, including, as Flynn finally fessed up, engaged in perhaps illegal discussions before taking office about reducing the sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia in retaliation after they were caught red-handed (pun intended) hacking into Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Digging deeper, members of the intelligence community discovered other connections, including, in his own words, Donald Trump, Jr. boasting about all the Russian money "pouring into" various Trump projects. Minimally from black-money laundries such as Wilber Ross' Bank of Cyprus.

With this evidence in hand, including transcripts of these back-channel discussions, it was easy for the FBI (not Obama) to secure FISA-court approval to monitor further conversations between Trump campaign operatives, transition team staff, and various Russian spies. As a result, intelligence officials discovered that the campaign outreach to the Russians and more recently the coverup reached very high into the Trump organization.

So, in the aggregate thus far, we have flunkies such as Flynn and Manafort directly involved in encouraging the Russians to sabotage Clinton's campaign, minimally inappropriately talking with them about what the compromised Trump administration would do after taking office to "compensate" Russia for its help in the campaign, and now of course the massive coverup that likely reaches to Trump himself.

Then of course there is what is revealed in the infamous BuzzFeed dossier about Trump and his Russian capers.

This explains the towering rage Trump unleashed on his staff on Friday after Sessions recused himself without even talking with Trump about his intentions. He opted not to take a bullet for the boss and has as a result already outlived his usefulness. Expect him to be exiled and as the drip, drip, drip continues and various members of the Trump team to begin to peel away. I suspect that this will soon include Rex Tillerson who refuses to drink the Kool Air because he doesn't want the coda to his remarkable career to be that he went down with the Trump ship. And, yes, Watergate style, FBI director James Comey to be fired.

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Friday, March 03, 2017

March 3, 2017--End of a Week Without Him

You can only imagine how unwelcome a call from Jack felt as I was approaching my last day of detox, especially since I was feeling optimistic about my progress, having managed to mention him (not Jack) only once in Thursday's Gala Girl blog.

For the past month Jack and I have talked about nothing but. I was therefore certain he wasn't calling to talk about the weather.

He wasn't.

"I assume," he began, "that in spite of your pretty pathetic efforts not to mention . . ."

I cut him off, "Please, I beg you, don't even mention his name." In the background Rona was frantically gesturing that I should hang up the phone. I was tempted but didn't since much of the 12-step literature I have been reading says that you can only consider yourself in recovery if, for example, you can be around someone having a drink and not fall off the wagon. So I didn't hang up, seeing this to be a test of how well I was doing as I approached step-12.

"OK," he said, "I won't mention Trump by name. I am trying to be empathetic, but so much happened over night, is probably happening right now, that I couldn't wait to Monday to talk with you about . . .  him."

I held off from responding.

"This business with Jeff Sessions is very disturbing. Less than two days after that amazing speech to Congress we're right back in the soup. I was thinking that before you lapsed into self-imposed silence you had some interesting things to say about the Russian connection. What did you call it, Oscar's Razor?"

I spite of myself I corrected him, "Ockham's."



"Isn't it about if you connect all the dots they lead one way or the other to . . . him."

I held my tongue, already feeling quite proud of myself.

"That would explain why there are no tax returns. You probably would say, if you ever resume talking, that they would reveal that . . . he probably got bailout money from Russians through that money-laundering bank on Cyprus that his Commerce secretary, Wilber Ross is half owner of."

"I probably . . . "

"How about the report that Paul Manafort--rememebr him, . . . his former campaign manager who they fired when it became known he was on the Russian payroll--is under investigation by the FBI. If they indict him he could blow the whistle on the whole thing rather than going to jail for ten years. Like some of Nixon's people turned on him to save their scalps."

"Also . . ."

"And then there's that famous BuzzFeed dossier. Every day something else from it gets verified. Soon, like you wrote, we'll hear that the things with the prostitutes are true and that the Russians have the goods on . . . him."

"Then . . ."

"Then indeed. Didn't your favorite paper yesterday, the New York Times, publish a story about how Obama's people during their last weeks in office, to make sure that Trrrr's people . . . his people, wouldn't be able to destroy intelligence evidence about their Russia dealings because they spread what they had on . . . him around to members of Congress and the press?"

"It could be . . ."

"Listen to me."

"I try . . ."

"I'm beginning to sound like you. All this Trump bashing. But even to me it's disturbing. But to change the subject, my favorite story of the day--OK my second favorite--is that Oprah Winfrey is thinking about running for president in 2020."

"O . . . ?"

"Yes, Oprah told Bloomberg News that she never thought about it before  . . . he was elected. But now, to quote her, 'I just thought oh, oh.'"

"And your first . . . ?"

"Sorry. To top the week off there are reports that Beau Biden's wife began fooling around with Beau's brother just four months after Beau died. I mean . . ."

"I read that they're in love. Can't you leave it at that? But at least this story has nothing to do with Trump."

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