Friday, April 28, 2017

April 28, 2017--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017--Laugher Curve

As I draft this, President Trump has not as yet revealed the details of his "massive" tax cuts.

In spite of this I can speculate what his multi-trillion dollar proposal will contain and how it will be paid for.

When the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finishes its scoring, they will find that most of the cuts go to corporations--where the effective rate will be cut from 35% to 15%.

Also, a large slice of the tax cuts will go to America's highest earners. There will, though, to put a fig leaf on the truth, be some tax savings for middle class people, mainly an increase in the deduction for dependent children. Then in regard to children, thanks to Ivanka Trump's influence, there will be tax credits to offset some of the costs of childcare.

Unless paid for, over the decade, these cuts will add multiple-trillions to the national debt. So there will be some attempt to show how the cuts will be paid for.

Nearly a trillion will be the result of repealing and replacing Obamacare. As noted here last week, the legislation inching its way through the House of Representatives is not a healthcare bill but a tax cut bill. This of course means it has no chance of passing in the Senate and probably not in the House. So chalk that trillion up to the debt.

The real savings to pay for the tax cuts will not be from savings at all but rather from extra tax income that will be the result of a dramatic rise in economic growth.

At the moment, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is going up by a tepid annual rate of less than two percent. The Trump proposal will show a growth rate of about twice that. They feel they can project that because tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations are stimulative to the economy. Growth will trickle down to average folks who will in turn use the extra income they derive from tax cuts and increased economic circumstances to buy cars and houses and stuff.

This assumption, this projection is based on bogus economic theory promulgated most prominently during the 70s. and 80s by Arthur Laffer. It is graphically most famously represented by the Laffer Curve which illustrates how tax cuts spur enough economic growth to generate new tax revenue which in turn cuts into the deficit.

Arthur Laffer in 1974
Here's the problem--

There is no historical or empirical evidence whatsoever that it works. When first taken up by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, George H.W. Bush, who was contesting for the nomination, memorably called it like it is--Voodoo Economics. Telling the truth helped cost him the nomination and the rest is history.

That history includes truly massive tax cuts under Reagan of just the sort of which Laffer would approve. And did approve. But it did not jolt the economy as promised and it was paid for, as Trump's will be, by adding trillions to the national debt. Over time, during the eight years of his presidency, Reagan nearly tripled it.

And if we need further evidence, when 20 years later, George (the son) Bush pushed another round of tax cuts through Congress, the economy collapsed and the debt doubled.

As the French would say, Viola.

On the other side of the ledger, there are other voila moments--the resulting state of the economy after Bill Clinton and Barack Obama raised taxes. Clinton raised them on the highest earners and the GDP increased annually, on average over his eight years, by 3.8%. Obama inherited a prostrate economy from George W. Bush and managed to more than halve the annual debt while the economy grew by about 2% a year.

One might, therefore, conclude that tax cuts of the Laffer kind do not follow the Laffer Curve but in spite of this here we are again with voodoo economics resurrected. Why anyone would believe Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that "The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth" is beyond my comprehension.

He knows not all of us are economic illiterates and so he confesses that the preposterous 3-4% GDP growth rate is the result of "dynamic scoring." This is when growth rate projections are based not on observable reality but are derived from assumptions about where the economy will be as the result of various hypothetical actions. In other words, rather than projections based on a semblance of reality ("static scoring") economists such as Laffer and government officials such as Mnuchin just make things up. They pick a growth number out of the air that fits their theory and proclaim it to be the empirical truth.

These might be considered economic alternative facts. Let's see if the public and Congress will again take a sip of the Kool-Aid.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26, 2017--Voters' Remorse

Liberal friends and I have been thinking recently that Donald Trump has sunk to such a level of ineffectiveness that his supporters must be drifting away from him and that some even might be regretting that they didn't vote for Hillary. That they have buyers' or voters' remorse.

But a report of two recent polls about this published late last week in the Washington Post reveals just the opposite to be true--the voters with remorse are almost all Clinton people.

How to figure.

Read this and weep--

According to a Pew poll, Trump voters by more than 5-to-1, 38%, say they are more pleased than expected with his performance as president whereas only 7% say he performed worse. Further, all who voted in November say that if the election were held again Trump, not Hillary, would win the popular vote by four points.

These findings are confirmed by a Washington Post-ABC poll which shows that just 4% of Trump voters say they would vote for someone else. Someone other than Hillary. But 15% of Clinton's voters say they would abandon her if the vote were held today. Again, few would switch to Trump. And she, as compared with Trump, has done nothing since November 8th that would drive people away. Yet another Hillary Clinton conundrum.

In both cases these switching voters would opt now for one or another of the independent candidates.

In regard to how Trump supporters view him, 62% say he is doing better than expected while an astonishing 33% say he is doing "much better" as president.

These findings parallel others that we saw during the campaign. Trump's support is so strong among his base that no matter what he says or, now, does does not matter. He is more than another Teflon president--he's bullet proof.

This needs to be a wake up call for Democrats and others who oppose him and do not want to see him reelected. It may feel premature to be thinking about 2020, but Trump is, having already formed a reelection committee.

Among the lessons to glean from this is that things are not entirely as they seem.

Believing that Trump is out of his depth, ignorant about the issues, lacks the intellectual discipline for the presidency, and will have difficulty getting anything through Congress, assuming this is not enough to assure that his support will erode and make him easy to defeat in four years. Anyone counting on this needs to think again.

He is a political phenomenon that defies all the rules and conventional wisdom. He is our first asymmetrical president. And we had better figure out ways to deal with him and that. Or we're looking at eight years of Trump.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25, 2017--Jack: Trump's 100 Days

"What's this 100-days business?"

Jack is not a student of history so when he called, sounding annoyed, already annoyed, I said, "It refers to Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days in office in 1933. During the Depression. He accomplished so much in his first 100 days that it became a self-imposed benchmark for the presidents who came after him. As a way to brag about the importance of their ideas and how much they would get done."

"But like Trump said the other day, it's not a real deadline. He could have said it's not a sprint it's a marathon."

"He can say anything he wants, but to me this sounds like a rationalization."

"He wasn't rationalizing."

"Well, he was and so are you." Jack didn't take that up, so I added, "Believe me if he got a lot of things done, like something, anything approved my Congress or if the Syrians agreed to a legitimate ceasefire after he launched 59 Tomahawk missiles, he'd be all over TV and Twitter pointing it out. Now he's trying to cover up. Which I get."

"Well he tried to repeal Obamacare."

"And? Is he all about trying or doing? That's what he promised during the campaign--that he knew how to get things done."

"He'll get Obamacare repealed maybe even this week. That would be quite an accomplishment."

"Only if you consider taking healthcare coverage away from 24 million people an accomplishment."

"It's Congress' fault. They couldn't agree to . . ."

"You can blame it on Congress all you want, but Trump is the president and he made all those promises. Forget 100 days. What did he say he'd do on Day One? Remember that? Among other little things, God help us, repeal Obamacare."

"What about the executive orders? He . . ."

"You mean the ones that got overturned by the federal courts?"

"I mean by that so-called judge who lives on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."

"You mean federal judge Derrick Watson, who lives in Hawaii? Which by the way is a state. Even if a majority of Hawaiians are people of color."

"I was pulling your leg a little bit. But I love the way you liberals refer to black people and Mexicans as 'people of color.' Why don't you call them what they are? What are you hiding?"

"This sounds a little racist to me but since I know you better than to accuse you of that, I'll tell you. When talking just about African Americans we call them that. Or Cuba Americans. Or for that matter Mexican Americans, we call them that. But when we refer to all of them that's when we say 'people of color.' You have a problem with that?"

"It just sounds so phony and politically correct to me. I hate all this politically correct baloney. It's another way liberals look down their noses as anyone who is a conservative or supports Trump."

"You're straying from the subject," I said, "I thought we were talking about Trump's first 100 days, which end on Saturday."

"What about tax reform? And as I said Ryan is still working on healthcare."

"Both dead on arrival. On Wednesday Trump promises to unveil 'the biggest tax cuts in history.' He already boasted about that, calling it 'massive.' Even his Secretary of the Treasury says it will take at least a year to pass. It's not going to happen between this Wednesday and Saturday. And with his friends in the real estate industry already lobbying against any changes in real estate taxes, what chance does anything bold have to pass even a year from now?"

Jack shifted the subject, "Ryan says he has the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare. This week."

"He's dreaming. They have to pass legislation to keep the government from running out of money. That happens Friday. So maybe if they manage to do that it will go on Trump's almost non-existent list of 100-days accomplishments."

"So what did your favorite president get done? And don't forget there was the Depression going on, which made it easier to get things through Congress."

"Fair point. But in a legitimate 100 days, among other things Roosevelt got Congress to pass the creation of the FDIC and the bank holiday. Also, the Glass-Steagall Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority--the TVA--and Social Security--that's a big one-- and he ended the gold standard.  Which pretty much everybody would consider amazing. And I could go on. He got 15 separate pieces of New Deal legislation passed in a little more than three months. Against that, on Trump's list, you'd probably mention the new Supreme Court justice. Which he does get credit for though Gorsuch is not my cup of tea."

"I'm not really into this 100-days business. I just . . ."

"You just brought it up out the blue to bust my chops?"

"Not . . ."

"I'll tell you one big thing Trump could do by Saturday."

"I'm listening."

"Start a war with North Korea. Even if he doesn't know where our aircraft carriers are."

Jack hung up.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 22, 2017--Saturday Writers Workshop

I have many friends who participate in writers workshops. I did so years ago in the Queens College Writers Workshop. I was the "faculty advisor." I put this in quotes because in truth it was a self-organized group of students who needed a faculty member to "beard" for them as the workshop's advisor so they could secure a room on campus. In other words, I signed the required forms, did no advising, and asked no questions. They were fine on their own. But then I joined in and became a participant. I feel I got some of my best writing done via the workshop. Mainly because of the peer pressure to write something for discussion every week. And the resulting competition.

So, I have this thought--over the next few Saturdays I will write an opening sentence or paragraph that writers among Behind's readers might like to weave into a story of their own. If anyone's inclined, I'd be pleased to publish here anything that gets turned in. Or not. Or, if there is scant interest in this experiment, I'll move on to something else.

Dream Catcher

It's rare to hear next-door neighbors arguing. The walls are thick and effectively soundproof. But last night screaming woke me from a dream about being captured by terrorists and held for ransom. The shouting of course was about something else. On the other hand, since I couldn't hear what that might be, it could just as well have been about or a part of my dream. Dreams can be like that.

"I'll never," I think I heard.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

April 21, 2017--Dead Malls

I knew the culture had shifted when I needed AAA batteries, and rather than walking over to Kmart, which is less than two blocks from here, I ordered them on line from Amazon.

I wasn't looking to save money. The 8-pack of Energizers on-line cost all of $5.82 plus tax. And the weather was pleasant enough for the short walk and I wasn't being lazy. But, one-two-three, on semi-automatic pilot, I placed the order. They would be delivered the next day.

When I realized what I had done so reflexively, I thought it is no wonder that Amazon's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is now the third richest man in the world as the result of selling AAA batteries, underwear, consumer electronics, and millions of other items. Of course, his success also comes from providing cloud-computing services.

If I had walked to Kmart, on Broadway, pulled up to the curb, I would have seen a truck and about half a dozen men unloading large plastic containers in which there were Amazon products for delivery to neighborhood apartment buildings. The next day, one of those containers would have my batteries and one of the Amazon workers would bring it to my building along with at least 50 other packages for residents.

So from the Amazon Website, to a huge fulfillment warehouse somewhere in central New Jersey, to lower Broadway, to East 9th Street, to my building's overflowing package room, my AAAs would find their way to me via Amazon's supply chain and Bezos would be a penny or two wealthier.

And in the process, aggregating this millions of times a week, the nature of retail business is shifting dramatically as more and more brick-and-mortar stores go out of business, including Radio Shack and, soon I am sure, my local Kmart. They cannot any longer do enough business to justify what it costs them in rent. I can see a bank or drug store moving in as they and restaurants are pretty much what Manhattan street-level commercial real estate is evolving toward.

The Department of Commerce projects that up to 100,000 retail workers will be laid off this year. Since October 89,000 already have been. Some of these, as economists put it, shifted from one sort of relatively higher-paying in-store retail employment to much lower-wage warehouse work, much of it part-time. And with fulfillment centers increasingly automated, the net number of retail workers of all kinds (including the delivery guys on Broadway) is falling at a significant enough rate to be of macroeconomic concern.

As Mark Cohen, director of retail sales studies at Columbia University's School of Business, says we are seeing a "slow-rolling crisis" rippling through the U.S. economy.

And then the malls themselves are dying. Macy's and Sears are going bankrupt. As they close their anchor stores in hundreds of malls around the country, shortly thereafter other shops that have depended on Macy's foot traffic are walking away from their leases and as a result the physical malls themselves are turning into ghost or dead malls.

On the other hand, as more people are leaving the suburbs to live in large and small cities, in many places downtowns are bouncing back. Small retailers, coffee shops, and restaurants are taking leases in recently boarded-up stores along Main Street.

But the bottom line still is a structural shift in the economics of retail as one in ten U.S. workers are retail workers. Along with traditional forms of manufacturing this is one more problem we need to address as it is yet another blow to the struggling middle class.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20, 2017--Tax Scam

I'm dense so it's taken me awhile to figure out why the Republicans so passionately want to
"repeal and replace" Obamacare. Actually, some of the most conservatives want only to do the repealing.

I got swept into believing some of the rhetoric. Obamacare is deeply flawed. True. It does not allow most people to keep their doctors, true; and it is not containing the rise in the cost of either medical care itself or healthcare insurance. Also true.

But, after a little time passed and the Republican talking points were countered, it became clear that the Paul Ryan American Health Care Act is not about healthcare but about taxes--a critical step toward his plan to cut and reform corporate and income taxes.

Here's the math--

In a March 22nd Forbes Magazine posting (not a socialist publication) it was reported that contained in the final version of the proposed bill, after all the deal making with the House of Representatives Freedom Caucus and White House, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the plan would result in an $600 billion tax cut over the next decade, with at least $274 billion of the cuts going directly to the richest 2%.

Further, Medicaid would be cut, again over the decade, by $880 billion, making it more difficult for low-income taxpayers to secure insurance.

Though from a healthcare perspective it would be a crisis for low- and middle-income people--the CBO also estimated that these cuts would mean that 24 million would lose their current coverage--from a tax-cut perspective it would be a bounty. Again, with the top 5% benefiting the most from the GOP version of tax reform.

Obamacare does include two tax surcharges for high earners--

For couples filing jointly, if their adjusted gross income is $250,000 or higher there is a 0.9% Medicare surcharge and a 3.8% surcharge on net investment income, with the latter being income from certain types of dividends and capital gains.

The Ryan plan calls for the elimination of these two taxes for very high earners.

If this bill were to pass (and although it was set aside last month it is still a glimmer in Paul Ryan's eye and seems to have the support of the president, who feels the need to get at least something, anything done--even something this harsh and regressive) then Congress and the president could move on to what really interests them--massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Paid for largely, and here's the perversely brilliant part, by repealing the two Obamacare tax surcharges. Doing this would yield $1.48 trillion, which would "pay for" most of the additional tax cuts in a manner so as to make then seem "revenue neutral."

Again, this healthcare shell game is not about healthcare but tax cuts.

The claim, of course, is that cutting taxes for the wealthy is really about helping the middle class, because if you cut "job creators'" taxes they will invest in businesses that generate high-wage jobs.

The only problem with this claim is that it's untrue--the massive Reagan tax cuts and the even larger Bush tax cuts did not boost the economy or create jobs.  What was created were massive increases in the national debt--nearly tripling during Reagan's time and doubling under George W. Bush.

In contrast, the debt after Clinton's eight years increased by just 32% and during Obama's two terms, after inheriting a collapsed economy, it went up by 68%.

I am embarrassed to admit that it has taken me this long to finally figure out what is going on and what all the congressional healthcare machinations are about--tax cuts.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017--Crazy-Fat-Kid

That's how John McCain last week referred to Kim Jong-un, president of North Korea.

It's understandable that Senator McCain would be feeling frustrated. Most American are. Kim may be crazy or crazy like a fox, but it is indisputable that he is a very dangerous threat to peace in the region. And then some.

Even the Chinese finally seem to be taking the situation seriously. Until now they have been his principal "ally," largely responsible for propping up the collapsed economy of North Korea through their involvement in multiple trade deals that are of sustaining benefit to the North Korean leadership class.

Perhaps because of coming to some sort of agreement to work together during Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit with Donald Trump two weeks ago in Palm Beach, or because the Chinese are concerned that Trump is a crazy-fat-president and might, if provoked, decide to bomb North Korea's nuclear facilities and missile delivery systems. This would mean all-out, possible nuclear war on the Korean peninsular, resulting in millions of refugees crossing the Yalu River to seek sanctuary in China.

The Chinese crave stability and predictability and Trump represents neither and so they may be taking the lead to see if there is a way forward, out of this unfolding doomsday scenario.

I do not think of Kim as leading a suicide cult. War would likely mean we would go after him and his elite followers--the one's who get fancy uniforms, electricity, cars, and food to eat. They and he like living and have many of the good things life offers. And they are not ideological. Fanatical, yes, but in a materialistic way that suggests they might be more interested in living and enhancing their national stature than going down in martyrs' flames. We saw that with the Japanese during World War II, but Korea is no Japan.

If Kim and his followers desire recognition perhaps we should move carefully to begin to provide that as part of a deal that would have them, under Chinese monitoring, begin to phase out their nuclear program. Muammar al-Gaddafi did this is Libya, surprising many who thought he would never agree to such a thing. He saw the writing on the wall and din't want to be obliterated. Of course he eventually was, but that's another story.

During the campaign Trump said he would be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un to see if a deal is possible. Kim might jump at this chance. It would have to be after a number of other conditions were agreed to to test Kim's seriousness. The process would not begin with a Kim-Trump summit but would be a reward when the two parties were, say, halfway to an agreement.

When Barack Obama said during the 2008 campaign that in pursuit of peace he would be willing to meet face-to-face with Iranian leaders, Hillary Clinton's mocked him, claiming he was naive and suggested this demonstrated that he was unsuited to serve as commander in chief. But then, during his first term, Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, worked hard behind the scenes to bring this about. A year or two later, with John Kerry having replaced her, the U.S. and Iran made a deal and as of today much of Iran's nuclear weapons program has been shut down. It is not perfect (as Trump took relish in pointing out almost daily during the campaign) but so far we are not at war with the Iranians. And, as a demonstration that Trump may not always act impulsively, he has not (yet) abrogated the treaty.

My scenario may be a stretch, but most analysts who attempt to understand what is going on in North Korea and what Kim is thnking are feeling pessimistic. The New York Times has concluded that we are moving to a confrontation similar to the one the world faced during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But this time with a potentially unstable leader on one side.

It is generally agreed that it will be two to three years before the North Koreans develop the missiles and miniaturized atomic warheads to reach South Korea, Japan, and the west coast of the U.S. But as they are moving inexorably and rapidly in this direction, we need to figure out how to make a deal well before then that provides at least some enhanced sense of security.

Otherwise . . .

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April 18, 2017--Presidential Daddy Problems

Since John F. Kennedy almost all of our presidents and aspirants to the presidency have had Daddy problems.

This struck me again recently when watching Donald Trump, pose in the Oval Office to sign an executive order to gut one more Obama initiative. This one I think having to do with environmental protection regulations.

President Trump has not given much attention to making the White House office his own. The shelves are deplete of books with the exception of an impersonal row or two of leather bound volumes purchased by the foot. Probably an ornamental set of Dickens novels. His desk has a messy stack of papers and files but no visible tchotchkes. And on the credenza behind his desk where all presidents array at least a dozen pictures of their families (even Nixon did this!), on Trump's credenza there is just one picture--a severe black-and-white photo of his Germanic-looking father, Frederick. And, yes, there is also a stack of souvenir golf balls. I assume one from each of his 17 courses.

When thinking about presidents and their fathers, there are reasons to begin with Barack Obama. His Daddy problem stemmed from the fact that he essentially didn't have one. I believe he met his Kenyan father just once when he was 10 years old. The title of his first book, Dreams From My Father, says it all. In fact, it could serve as the title of books by at least a dozen of our presidents--how they each were either in search of their fathers or coveted their involvement, love, and acknowledgement. In Barack's case all of this was missing and that contributed to the kind of adult and president he became.

Of presidents Kennedy had a pathologically involved and controlling father. From early on Father Joe unrelentingly prepped his sons for public life. His oldest boy, Joe Junior, was slated to become president and when he was killed in action in World War II Joe Senior's attention immediately turned to second son Jack, who he pushed to get into politics (JFK was reluctant) and for whom he then behind the scenes bankrolled his career and, it is generally agreed, not only promoted his various runs for office, but in 1960 spread enough money around to assure his winning the nomination and then conspired with political bosses in key states, including bribing them, to fix the vote count to assure his son's election to the presidency.

And once elected, Joe Kennedy, out of public view, played a major roll in influencing policy. It is now also fully known that President Kennedy on a daily basis sought his father's guidance and was powerfully motivated to please him and seek his approbation. Some biographers even say that JFK's hawkish inclinations were in large part to demonstrate manhood to his philandering Daddy.
Joseph and John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson succeeded Kennedy. His father was a major player in the Texas state legislature but a poor businessman. So much so that when his finances collapsed the Johnson family lived for decades in dire poverty. Sam Johnson was a very severe man and never showed son, Lyndon, much affection or offered encouragement or praise. Robert Caro, Johnson's remarkable biographer, writes at length about how LBJ sought to please his father even well after he died. Much of what Johnson did was an attempt to make up for his father's failure and ultimately to surpass him.

Then there was Richard Nixon. No one had a more clinical Daddy problem than young Dick. There is no evidence that his censorious father ever praised him for any of his accomplishments. Quite the contrary. Dick was also raised in virtual poverty--his father's various business schemes for the most part failed and he took his frustrations out on his children, especially the bright, hardworking, and eventually successful son. Desperate for his father's praise and encouragement, he pushed himself beyond sensible or legal limits and brought himself down in the process. The disparagement and constant criticism he felt from his father was a large part of what motivated Dick--to show by his dogged success that he was worthy.

Jimmy Carter's father, according to his biographers, was also a withholding patriarch for whom his son, Jimmy, could never do enough to win his affection or praise. One even goes so far as to say that Carter's propensity to laugh without seeming motivation when speaking in public was the result of a lifetime of accumulated anger. Much of it derived from his father's severity. It was, in a manner of speaking, a nervous laugh that attempted to obscure the frustration and anger he felt from an unhappy, caustic childhood relationship with his Daddy.

Ronald Reagan's father was a lifelong alcoholic who moved his family from town to town across the Midwest in an attempt to find work and change his luck. He was unsuccessful in many ways--never able to provide for his family, establish a sustainable relationship with his wife, or provide emotional support for his children. Son Ronald was so wounded by his upbringing, though he was a great storyteller, that he barely mentioned him. It was as if these memories were so painful that he excised his father from the narrative of his life in an attempt to get out from under the memories of his gnawing presence.

Both Bush presidents, though they achieved the ultimate political prize, never felt they were worthy of their fathers' love or pride. George H.W. Bush's father, Prescott, was a successful financier and later, when elected to the U.S. Senate, was held in high esteem by his congressional colleagues. To him, his children could never do or accomplish enough to earn his fulsome praise. No matter how much George achieved it was never enough. Like many presidential fathers he was emotionally aloof from his boys, never making them feel appreciated or affirmed.

Bill Clinton's biological father died three months before Bill was born. His mother some years later remarried and Bill took his stepfather's name. But the marriage to his mother did not last and after she divorced him, he drifted out of young Bill's life. So in many ways Bill Clinton was fatherless and many who have studied his life and written about him claim that the emotional void that was the result of this unsatisfying family life helps explain his undisciplined nature as a politician, family member, and man.

George W. Bush, son of the 41st president, also felt his father's emotional coolness and thus tried desperately to please him. Many say that his decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein was to "finish the job" his father left unresolved when he had American troops come to the aid of Kuwait, which had been invaded by Iraq, and to surpass him as a wartime president. Also, some historians feel that his turning to Dick Cheney to serve as his vice president and cede to him so much of the power of the presidency was the result of Bush's impulse to seek substitutes for his biological parent, in the hope that they would offer him the affirmation he so desperately needed.

Other than as a curiosity should any of this interest or concern us?

It could well be that so many of our presidents having Daddy problems of this kind is a problem.

Seeking acknowledgement to salve fragile self-esteem may in the first instance be what motivated most of them to seek the power of the presidency. Not the desire to protect and improve the lives of those who elected them. If emotionally compromised as a result of the influences of their fathers, it also may be that allowing unresolved intra-psychic issues to influence decision making, particularly in crisis situations, gets in the way of their using their best, most rational judgement. We do not benefit by our presidents, when stressed by the consequences of dangerous decisions, to be so emotionally influenced.

One can only wonder what Frederick "Fred" Trump (ne Drumpf) might right now be thinking as his son attempts to deal with the North Korean threat. It could be that son Donald's boundless ego and insecurity are more on display and influencing his decision-making than any of his predecessors.

I would feel better about the situation if President Trump had a full array of family pictures on his Oval Office credenza, not just the one of Fred. Especially pictures of his children and grandchildren because what he decides and authorizes will affect them and their generation more than Trump himself or those of us who have already had full lives.

Fred and Donald Trump

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Monday, April 17, 2017

April 17, 2017--Missile Fizzile

Just as I was having this fantasy about why the North Korean ballistic missile blew up Friday right after it was launched, I read the following in the Sunday New York Times--
Over the past three years a covert war over the missile program has broken out between North Korea and the United States. As the North's skills grew, President Barack Obama ordered a surge in strikes against the missile launches, the New York Times reported last month, including through electronic-warfare techniques. It is unclear how successful the program has been, because it is almost impossible to tell whether any launch failed because of sabotage, faulty engineering or bad luck. But the North's launch-failure rate has been extraordinary high since Mr. Obama first accelerated the program.
I missed the article but was hoping that we had developed cyber-techniques to do just what this report suggests--the ability to sabotage North Korean missiles (and maybe Russian and Chinese ones) without, if it comes to that, having to bomb, invade, or nuke our adversaries.

Blowing missiles up right after launch without having to fire a shot or invade sounds good to me.

It might also help explain why Donald Trump (who will take credit for our developing this capacity, denying any to Obama) felt he could go to Palm Beach again and play his 17th round of golf since being inaugurated.

On the other hand, fantasies can take one only so far.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 15, 2017--America First?

Whatever became of America First? Donald Trump's nationalistic view that we have spent too much time worrying about what is going on in the world and not enough on America's needs? The need for more well-paying jobs, the restoration of manufacturing and extraction industries, infrastructure repairs, and sealed borders?

This was expressed legislatively and though the wielding of executive orders to contain immigration, lower taxes, reduce regulations, and of course "fix" the healthcare system.

But now we have Trump reversing himself in many regards very much including turning considerable attention to foreign affairs.

Most dramatically, he had President Xi of China spend two days bonding with him at Mar-a-Lago, sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the G-7 foreign ministers' summit and then on to Moscow for meetings with his Russian counterpart and a two-hour encounter with President Putin. And there was the missile strike against Syria.

And now North Korea appears to be occupying him. He is attempting to get China to "take care of the problem," all the while moving an aircraft carrier and its armada close to North Korean waters.

Usually it is not until their second terms in office that presidents turn their attention to international issues. To polish their legacies. Unless, like Johnson and Nixon they inherit a war. That by definition gets them involved with other countries.

I suspect Trump has shifted his focus off shore because he has come to realize that to concentrate on domestic issues means having to deal day-by-day with Congress. And we know what that means--a nightmare. Even with a Republican majority in both Houses we still have gridlock. At the moment not a bad thing. That's what happened to the campaign promise to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. With this effort collapsing he came to realize that with the domestic agenda there is very little "winning."

So Trump is pivoting, not from one domestic issue to another or compromising about the details of what might (or might not) replace Obamacare or be included in a tax reform package, but he is now shifting his attention from the U.S. to NATO,  China, Russia, North Korea,  and Syria.

It is in the international realm as commander in chief that he can exert virtually unchecked power. In other words, in world affairs he can behave as a CEO. Which is how he regards himself. And it is there, equally important to him, that he can reap the praise of even Democrats and the mainstream media.

He castigates the media, claiming it deals in fake news; but, let's be honest, would he prefer to hear positive things from Fox News or the New York Times?  The answer is a no-brainer.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017--Bromance Kaput

The New York Times lead story on Wednesday said it all--"Trump's Sudden Shift on Russia Leaves Heads Spinning."

It referred to the White House's accusation Tuesday that Russia is engaged in a cover-up of the Syrian government's deployment of Sarin gas on its civilian population. This accusation was based on an alleged declassified National Security Council report on the attack which also included a rebuttal of Moscow's assertion that insurgents were responsible for the use of chemical weapons. Trump's people claimed that the Syrians and Russians released "false narratives" to mislead the world community about their own complicitous involvement.

What happened to all the flattering references to Vladimir Putin? What happened to the possibility of a new partnership if Donald Trump were elected? Why does it feel as if the Cold War has been resumed? What are all the accusations and saber rattling about?

As in the past I am looking for the simplest explanation that answers the most seemingly-puzzling questions.

Mainly, what's in it for Putin to allow or encourage its Syrian ally to use poison gas and why is Trump so suddenly accusing Putin of being an international war criminal? What happened to the bromance?

To answer these questions requires us to explore each of their likely motives.

For Trump it is to try once more to deflect and overwhelm the on-going investigations about Russia's hacking the 2016 presidential election to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign in an attempt to help Trump emerge victorious.

Trump's pinprick bombing of a Syrian airfield, his movements on the world stage, especially the recent meeting with the Chinese president Xi and Secretary of State Tillerson's Moscow visit did in fact for a day or two deflect attention from the Trump campaign team's possible collaboration with the Russian hackers.

But Xi is back in China and the focus has shifted again to what did or did not happen during the campaign. Ominous for Trump is the new story that one of his senior foreign policy advisors, Carter Page, with FISA authorization, is being investigated by the F.B.I. to see if he was or is a covert Russian operative. With former NSC director Michael Flynn seeking immunity, the Page investigation is a potential bombshell and it is thus understandable that Trump would want to change the subject. The best way at the moment to change it is to demonologize Putin.

Putin has a much more complex agenda. He is seeking nothing less than the destabilization of the Western world and the resulting return of Russia to its prior Soviet glory. This process is greatly assisted by direct Russian interference in democratic elections from France to Germany to of course the United States.

This process of Sovietization is also facilitated by helping to bring about chaos in Western societies. So it should be no surprise that Putin's Russia would ally itself directly and indirectly with murderous dictators such as Bashar al-Assad, rogue states such as Iran, and terrorist groups including Hezbollah.

Trump wants to survive; Putin wants to dominate. Their tangled relationship serves both of their purposes--Putin having the goods on Trump effectively neutralizes him and Trump as intentional disruptor thrives in a roiled world.

Here, though, is what to worry about--

We do not want to see either of them become desperate. In addition to historical forces we are talking about two very fragile people. Individuals with fragile egos can be particularly dangerous if they have powerful tools or wield catastrophic weapon systems. Obviously, both Putin and Trump do.

Which brings me again to North Korea--

If Trump's survival strategy, his desperate and increasing need to deflect the search for the truth about his possible involvement with the hackers, if that strategy includes looking for opportunities to have the tail wag the dog, the most  fearsome example of that is not more targeted raids on Syria but a nuclear encounter with North Korea. If that were to occur, and I fear we may be headed in that direction, who any longer would be asking what Paul Manafort knew-and-when-did-he-know-it or on which Russia payroll Michael Flynn or Carter Page are to be found.

We would have our eyes on other matters. Mushroom clouds, for example.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April 12, 2107--Free Tuition

In cost-benefit terms the best social policy investment the United States could make would not be to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure (though we need to do that too) but to deploy that $1.0 trillion to wipe out all outstanding student loans.

There are 44 million who borrowed money to help pay the cost of their college educations and they owe on average about $37,000. Of these borrowers, more than nine million are in default.

Those in default and those struggling to pay back what they owe are trapped in a tsunami of debt and collapsed FICO scores at a time when it is difficult for young people to find employment that pays enough to make repaying manageable. As a result record numbers continue to live with their parents well into their 30s or are reluctant to take chances to switch career paths or start their own businesses. This in turn, in macroeconomic terms, dampens growth and interferes with the traditional churn of the free market.

There are no direct correlates, no lessons from history that we can turn to as models of federal fiscal policy that would be helpful in making the case for this radical suggestion. And, to balance the debate, there are no large-scale examples on the other side of the argument that have credibility.

That is except for those times in America's history when the government stepped in to prop up or even bail out imperiled institutions. We did this in the 1930s during the Great Depression to help rescue the country from a a precarious economy and dramatically, more recently, when we did a version of the same thing to help get us through the Great Recession.

On a less dire note there was the GI Bill that was passed in 1944, toward the end of the Second World War, to provide various sorts of assistance to men and women who volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military.

The GI bill is best known for the support it provided to veterans who enrolled in various forms of education, from vocational training to college and university studies. It paid the full cost of tuition and even offered a monthly subside to help offset living expenses.

It was a massive program: 8.8 million GIs used the educational benefits with a full quarter of them (2.2 million) enrolling in post-secondary education. This not only benefitted those attending but contributed to the dramatic expansion of educational opportunities and facilities that served the nation well in subsequent decades, even after veterans completed their studies. By 1960, only 15 years after the end of the war, a new community college was founded each week, fully 50 a year for over a decade. Now there are 1,200 two-year colleges serving 7.4 million degree-seeking students.

Even those fiscal conservatives who resisted the federal government's involvement in education funding could not help but be impressed. The die was cast--higher education became a virtual right as a result of the GI Bill and its longer-term reverberations. For the first time in world history higher education became fully democratized. Not perfect, but impressive.

And those who study these matters have retrospectively found that the accrued benefits to the nation, in monetary terms, more than offset the direct costs of subsidizing this expansion of educational opportunities. There was unprecedented economic growth between 1947 and 1975 and a significant narrowing of economic inequality. The poorest 20 percent of the population saw their incomes rise at a rate higher than that of any other population cohort.

In other words there was no better engine for economic growth than offsetting the cost of offering these higher-educational opportunities.

To put it simply--better educated people, college graduates especially, earn more over their lifetimes than people with only a high school education and as a result pay more in taxes. Enough in taxes to more than cover the subsidized costs of tuition and even the monthly stipends.

Thus it is exciting to note that the New York State Legislature, pressed by 2020 presidential candidate Governor Andrew Cuomo, just this past week passed a bill to make all public colleges in the state for families earning less than $250,000 a year tuition free.

"Tuition free" is a wonderful oxymoron and one can expect to see over time some of the same economic benefits that were the result of the GI Bill.

Think, then, what a positive jolt to the nation's economy would result from wiping out all accrued student debt. This obviously would be complicated to do (forget for the moment what conservatives would say!) but it is worth thinking about and running the numbers to quantify what a benefit it would be. Increased tax revenues, among other things, would be sufficient to pay for the renewal of much of out failing infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April 11, 2017--Tomorrow

I will return tomorrow with thoughts about financial aid for college students.

Monday, April 10, 2017

April 10, 2017--Trumpology

In the old days of the Soviet Union, since it was a closed system impervious to Western snooping, one way to read the currents and countercurrents of Soviet leadership--who was in, who was rising, and who was about to be disappeared--was to analyze the pictures of the fur-hatted inner circle arrayed on the top of Lenin's tomb during May Day and other revolutionary celebrations.

Kremlinologists in Washington were tasked to figure this out and they did so by comparing from year to year who was moving into closer proximity to Lenin or Stalin and who was about to slide off the picture plane and soon thereafter into the literal abyss.

Where is the notorious Lavrentiy Beria, head of the fearsome KGB, this year? What about Molotov? Is he losing or gaining power and influence? And who is this upstart Nikita Khrushchev who's star seems to be rising--last year he was nowhere in sight; this year he's only four places from Stalin?

With the inner circle of the Trump White House in turmoil, with the Steve Bannon faction trying to oust son-in-law Jared Kushner and his allies, with Reince Priebus struggling to hold on as chief of staff, and with others close to Trump denying that anything of this sort is going on, with everyone spinning and lying, to get to the truth, as with the Russians, we are left with having to analyze images of the president's unruly team in action. We need to do a content analyst of them in much the same way that we used to try to figure out what was happening in Moscow.

Look carefully of the picture below. It is of the Mar-a-Lago situation room where Trump and his team retired Thursday afternoon to discuss the missile attack on a Syrian airbase.

Mar-a-Lago Situation Room

Seated at the adult table, of course, are Trump at its head and an assortment of Cabinet secretaries. To Trump's left is Rex Tillerson, the almost mute Secretary of State who up to now, nearly three months into the Trump presidency, has not spoken many more than 200 words in public. Across from him, at the president's right are fellow billionaires Wilber Ross, Secretary of Commerce and Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, who is not quite at the table. And then it gets interesting.

To Mnuchin's right, decidedly at the table is Jared Kushner and across from him, not at the table but leaning aggressively forward is Gary Cohn, Trump's favorite economic advisor and Kushner ally, who is being discussed as Reince Priebus' replacement. At the table, with the growing bald spot or tonsure is Priebus himself who appears to need to be careful because Cohn is eyeing him ominously and is about about to pounce on him and seize both his chair and job.

Most interesting to Trumpologists is where Steven Bannon is relegated. Earlier in the week he was unceremoniously dumped from his self-assigned seat on the "Principals Committee" of the National Security Council. Here, about as far away from the adult table at a small children's side table of his own, is the dramatically deflated Senior Strategist. And because of the nasty way in which the picture is framed it looks as if Bannon is wearing a lampshade on his head.

 Moscow, Palm Beach--a picture is worth at least a thousand words.

And, oh, my advice-don't bet against the son-in-law.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

April 7, 2017--Trump at War

A few quick observations--

The missile strike that President Trump ordered last night had at least four purposes:

(1) To punish the Assad regime for its poison gas attack on Syrian civilians. This happened on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of  our involvement in World War I where chemical weapons were for the first time widely used.

(2) To try to get the Russian Connection monkey off Trump's back. He bombed Russia's only real ally in the region in part to demonstrate he was not Putin's puppet.

(3) To demonstrate to the Chinese leadership that we are not to be messed with. Is it just a coincidence that Trump ordered the missile strike on the very day he was hosting the Chinese president? President Xi had a front row seat to observe an emboldened Trump in action. Trump was signaling that if you don't take the lead in containing North Korea, he will.

(4) Perhaps most important to Trump, this was to boost his approval ratings. They have been hovering in the mid 30s. Expect to see a 10 point jump by the weekend. Americans always rally around their president when he takes military action. But, as in the past, those numbers head quickly south after things calm down if nothing positive is happening. Just ask George H.W. Bush.

(5) And, of course by bombing Syria he distanced himself from President Obama who famously drew a red line in the sand but then backed away from enforcing it. He can now claim to be muy macho.

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April 7, 2017--Congressional Dye Job

There was something familiar looking about Adam Schiff yesterday morning during his appearance on Morning Joe.

As the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee he's in high demand these days by the media since the Intel Committee is one of two congressional committees investigating the Trump administration's various Russian involvements.

Though their work is supposed to be confidential, since national security may be at stake, he and his fellow committee members, especially the chairman, Devin Nunes have not been shy about appearing on TV and in some cases inappropriately even thinking out loud that they wouldn't be "surprised" if at the end of the day some people who are apparently involved in dealing less than legitimately with Putin and his people will wind up in jail.

2020 presidential candidate  and committee member Joaquin Castro said as much earlier this week. He got lots of headlines for that as did a number of other Democrats who chimed in. Half the Dems on the committees it seems are also thinking about running for president in four years.

I peered intently at Schiff to see what might have triggered my curiosity about the way he looked. Was it that he reminded me of my Uncle Ben or Mr. Gatti, my 5th grade teacher?

I tried squinting to see if would help.

Then there was the first of the morning's breaking news--under pressure to step aside because of his behaving as a Trump apologist, eager to do his bidding, rather than a more-or-less impartial investigator, Nunes "temporarily"suspending his Russian Connection involvement.

Nunes' picture popped up on the screen.

"That's it!" I said to Rona, who had no idea why I was so excited. "They have the same hair!"

"The same what?"

"Hair. Schiff and Nunes. Look." I pointed at the TV, "Not the same hair but the same color. I mean the same dye job. Isn't that amazing?"

"I'm beginning to be concerned about you," Rona said. "Can we watch something fluffy? I've already had my daily fill of this and I'm worried about you. You're in danger of going off the deep end over Trump and his people. Is there a MASH or Seinfeld rerun to distract us?"

"I think I know why they have the same hair color," I said.

"You can tell me on one condition."

"What's that?"

"That after you do we watch an episode of Married With Children. I hate that show but it always gives you a few laughs, which you desperately need. In fact, the next time you go to see Dr. Heller I want you to talk with him about this."

"This? You mean their hair?"

"No, your obsession with everything having to do with Trump. Maybe there's some medication he can prescribe."

Ignoring that, I asked, "Is this just a coincidence? The both of them having the same color dye? What are the odds of that?

"I wouldn't know and I don't care."

"I don't care but I'm sure I know."

"Lord help me."

"They go to the same barber. And I bet it's the House barber."

"The House barber? The House of Representatives has a barber?"

"More than that. A barber shop and a hair salon for female members. I saw them one time when a congressman I was working with walked me around the Capital and showed me that and their gym and swimming pool and sauna and of course the cafeteria and restaurant. Where things are either free or very low cost."

"So your theory is that Nunes and Schiff go to that barber rather than ones in the districts?"

"Exactly. I can hear them telling the barber 'Give me a Nunes or a Schiff.'"

"Like people used to ask for an Elvis or Farrah." Rona was getting into it.

"I wonder what else our representatives are getting as perks. I know they get a minimum of $174,000 in salary and $250,000 a year for office and travel expenses which means that they effectively fly for free."

"And don't forget the free parking at Reagan Airport. Right by the terminals."

"And pensions that are way beyond what ordinary employees or executives get. I looked that up the other day. After 20 years in office they get $59,000 a year. More than twice what they'd get or a typical retiree would get from Social Security."

"This is making me sick to my stomach," Rona said.

"Congress meets only part of the year and so members get 239 days a year off. They work on many of those days back home, but really."

"Can we change the channel?" Rona pleaded with me.

"Here's my favorite thing--they get platinum health care of course, much of the cost of which is subsidized by, you'll never guess, Obamacare. I'm sure when they repeal and replace it they won't be taking away that subsidy."

"Is it any wonder people who are struggling to get by are made crazy by this?"

"At least if Congress did its job. But one more thing," I said.

"As long as it's the last thing."

"I promise. But back to the hair business. Don't you think that if they didn't have their own hair place in the Capital they would benefit by going to barbershops in their home districts? Barber shops and beauty parlors are great places to stay in touch with constituents. Better than town hall meetings where everyone is screaming and yelling."

"Joaquin Castro was right--they need to be put in jail."

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

April 6, 2017--Human Mutations

I have been thinking recently about my hand.

My right hand since it has developed a tremor. My doctors, particularly my neurologist is attempting to figure out its cause and to suggest ways both natural and medicinal to calm it.

I tell him I have come to like it. It to me is a sign of animal vitality, a kind of second heart that trembles rather than beats.

He tells me I'm crazy.

I tell him I have another doctor for that. And tiny crumbs of klonopin.

We both laugh. I need to laugh.

But the thinking about my hand has me thinking about human evolution. What a wondrous thing the human hand. How did it evolve from a fish's fin to become, over 600 million years, this most wonderful of appendages?

Slowly and, considering its complexity and anatomical differences from our aquatic ancestor, it required at least millions of steps, imperceptible mutations. Some led our proto-hand down some not helpful branches to so-called "bad mutations" that the struggle for survival between the fit and less fit were resolved in bloody ways.

How many modifications were needed to bring us, it, to this remarkable point? How many countless rolls of genetic dice?

And, as I ponder my trembling fingers, I wonder what else still might be occurring. Is Nature's job completed or are there still more surprises awaiting? Some of which might turn out to be beneficial?

Perhaps a sixth finger? Would we have use for that? Would one more digit make us less vulnerable, additionally able to survive? Perhaps a second thumb? Sprouting next to the pinky that also would be opposing and in tandem with our current thumb make us more powerful and adaptable?

Do geneticists have their eyes on mutational developments underway about which we should be concerned . . . or hopeful?

Surely we cannot be at the end of the evolutionary road.

And so with my fluttering hand I did some research. And found there are mutations occurring that we could well do without--the gene called Titin, for example, that can trigger heart failure--as well as others that hold the promise of progress.

For example, Apolipo-protein AI-Milano. Surely you've heard of this.

In case not, here is the detail from Adam Lee's "Four Beneficial Evolutionary Mutations Underway Now"--
Heart disease is one scourge of industrial countries. It's the legacy of an evolutionary past which programmed us to crave energy-dense fats, once a rare and valuable source of calories, now a source of clogged arteries. But there is evidence that evolution has the potential to deal with it. 
All humans have a gene for a protein called Apolipo-protein AI, which is part of the system that transports cholesterol through the bloodstream. Apo-AI is one of the HDLs, already known to be beneficial because they remove cholesterol from artery walls. But a small community in Italy is known to have a mutant version of the protein, named Apolipo-protein AI-Milano, or Apo-AIM for short. 
Apo-AIM is even more effective than Apo-AI at removing cholesterol from cells and dissolving arterial plaques, and additionally functions as an antioxidant, preventing some of the damage from inflammation that normally occurs in arteriosclerosis. People with the App-AIM gene have significantly lower levels of risk than the general population for heart attacks and stroke, and pharmaceutical companies are looking into marketing an artificial version of the protein as a cardio-protective drug. 
There are also drugs in the pipeline based on a different mutation, in a gene called PCSK9, which has a similar effect. People with this mutation have as much as an 88% lower risk of heart disease.
I know that with my hand nothing beneficial is going on that, in evolutionary terms, is "adaptive." But my doctor is happy that I am dealing with it so well. Or about which I am, in my more familiar mode, in denial.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

April 5, 2017--Trump: First Good News

It was announced this afternoon that Steve Bannon has been "removed" from the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. This at the behest of General H.R. McMaster, Trump's National Security Advisor.

Next, he will be shown the door. I know, wishful thinking. But it's a start.

April 5, 2017--25th Amendment

Monday on Morning Joe, Joe and Mika reviewed the storm of tweets that poured forth on Saturday and Sunday from Donald Trump.

They were clearly dismayed.

Usually, Trump's weekend tweets appear only on Saturday mornings when his family handlers, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, practicing Jews, are observing Shabbas. On that day orthodox Jews are forbidden to work and this even includes turning on electrial devices such as stoves, TVs, and smart phones.

Knowing this, it is during this window when he is not under surveillance that Trump as the bad boy he is is at his most uncensored and outrageous. But he goes silent when Ivanka and Jared are again wired up or, if he does tweet any more, knowing they are monitoring him, he is more restrained.

But last weekend, perhaps in part because Jared as quasi Secretary of State was secretly flying off for a visit to Iraq, he published perhaps a dozen tweets. As Joe and Mika reviewed them on air, their dismay turned to horror.

"Who is this person?" Joe asked rhetorically, "I thought we knew him." Mika shrugged and smiled. They thought they knew him from more than a year of having him as a constant presence on their program. He would call in most mornings and they would keep him talking often for up to a commercial-free hour. They rode his wave of popularity as he rode theirs. His poll numbers rose as did their ratings. More viewers tuned into Morning Joe than all other cable shows other than the preposterous and inane Fox & Friends.

An early Saturday morning tweet asked--
When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russian story?
Not exactly a haiku. And, as Joe and Mika noted, the more things capitalized the more agitated the Commander in Chief.

Then they pointed out, "Sleepy Eyes" is not one of Trump's best sobriquets. It doesn't compare with "Crooked Hillary," "Little Marco," "Lyin' Ted," or for Elisabeth Warren, "Pocahontas."

Another email, a non sequitur asked--
It is the same Fake News Media that said there is "no path to victory for Trump" that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!
And, still obsessed with Hillary (he can't get over the fact that she beat him by almost 3.0 million popular votes)--
Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving answers to the debate? Just asking!
For the uninitiated, the "answers" he referred to are actually questions that CNN reporters prepared to pose to Clinton during one of her debates with Bernie Sanders. They were passed along to her campaign by Donna Brazil who was vice president of the Democratic National Committee and a CNN contributor. She subsequently lost both jobs.

At that point, Mika Brzezinski, in visible pain, as if to herself, mumbled, "24th Amendment."

Joe corrected her, "You mean the 25th."

"You think it's time . . . ?"

"I'm beginning to think maybe . . ."

Having depressed themselves they stared blankly into the camera for what felt like an endless five minutes.

To review--the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, spells out presidential succession. The amendment was needed since the original Constitution was ambiguous about who would become president if the chief executive died or was otherwise incapacitated. In the original document it was not clear if the Vice President was to be the successor. So that needed straightening out.

Also, there was insufficient guidance about what would happen if the president were alive but disabled by, say, a stroke or mental breakdown and how that would be determined. They took great care about this as the amenders did not want to encourage coup d'etats based on false diagnoses.

It is this latter circumstance that is addressed in Section 4 and was alluded to by Mika and Joe.

In its entirety, it reads--
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [Cabinet members] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
This has never happened, but if the amendment had existed during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, it would not have been possible, when he had a massive stroke early in his second term, for his wife, hiding the extent of his disabilities, for all intents and purposes, to serve as acting president for his remaining three years. Section 4 would have been invoked and the VP would have assumed the presidency.

And during Richard Nixon's final days in office, with the 25th Amendment in place, with the president substantially incapacitated because of the drip, drip, drip of Watergate, because he was so out of rational control, a number of his senior advisers thought seriously about enforcing Section 4.

Though they did not do that, he thankfully resigned, but before he did so, among themselves they agreed to tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff that if Nixon late one night, while reeling and raging from too much alcohol, transmitted the nuclear codes that would send nuclear missiles and bombers on a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union, that they should risk treason and not comply.

We are currently not at that point, perhaps, hopefully, far from it; but Joe and Mika spoke the words of deep concern and none of their guests demurred.

But then, a day or two later, from this current scandal that keeps on giving, we learned about Susan Rice's alleged role in "unmasking" Trump aides and secret meetings with the Russians in the Seychelles prior to the new administration taking office to establish a "back channel" connection between Trump and Putin.

Myself, I prefer Claire Danes and Homeland.

It's only an hour an episode and it's fiction. Though by the day it is feeling more and more like reality.

Claire Danes

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

April 4, 2017--Rainy Day

Not in the mood to do any writing this morning so I'll be back here on Wednesday.

Monday, April 03, 2017

April 3, 2017--Jack: "Long Time No Speak"

"Happy April Fools' Day," it was Jack a friend from Maine, "Long time no speak." I girded myself for a prank.

"These days," I said, "every day feels like April fools Day." I hadn't heard from him in a few weeks. "I assume you haven't been calling because your boy is making such a mess of the presidency and you're embarrassed about having voted for him."

"It's your people who are causing all the trouble."

"My people?"

"You know, the Democrats, the media, the socialists."

"Are you confusing socialists with Russians? Because if you are that's one thing we might be able to agree about--how the Trump people were in cahoots with the Russians who helped undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign."

"All three. The Democrats and mainstream media are making a big deal, with no evidence, about alleged Russian involvement in our election. Trump won fair and square. He didn't need any outside help."

"Didn't you listen to FBI director Comey when he said that the Russians were involved? He didn't hint about the possibilities but asserted that in no uncertain terms."

"He should talk. He's the one who undermined the Clinton campaign with his obsessing about her emails. Is he also working for the Russians?"

"These days anything's possible." Again I said, "Every day's April Fools' Day."

"If you're so sure Trump is making a mess . . ."

"Worse than a mess."

"If that's what you think why are his poll numbers going up?"

"What?" I was incredulous. "I know we live in a time when there are no longer any facts, but he's dropped to the low 30s."

"Forty-two percent in the latest poll."

"Have you been drinking because the last numbers I saw are from Gallop and they have him at 35 and dropping. By about a point a week."

"Check out the NBC News Poll."

"You mean the 'Survey Monkey Poll'?"

"If they have him at 42 percent approval, that's the one. But why it's called a monkey poll is beyond me. Everything's crazy these days."

"It's actually a very hip, relatively new poll that is done almost all on line. With so many people without wired phones they've been trying to measure opinions from people who are wirelessly on line all the time."

"Which would suggest that Trump is doing better with unwired young people. Thirty-five percent with Gallop and 42 with the Monkey."

"I'll have to do some checking."

"While you do find out what any of this has to do with monkeys."

"All the other polls have Trump's favorabilites plunging. And while we've been talking I looked up the poll you mentioned--the NBC Survey Monkey--and they also report his numbers are dropping. It's true they have him at 42 percent but he was two-to-four points higher the past week or so. The point is that as he fails to get anything through Congress and we learn more-and-more about his people colluding with the Russians his support is eroding."

"But he's getting a lot done that he promised to do."

"Really? Give me some examples."

"On immigration and regulations for openers."

"You mean his executive orders?"


"Well, one has been ruled unconstitutional twice by federal courts and I haven't seen any specific regulations that have been removed. Just generalities. All he wants is to have fancy signing ceremonies in the Oval Office on live TV. Speaking of the Oval Office, have you noticed it looks as if he hasn't moved in yet? The book shelves are basically empty--he's not really a reader--and the only picture on the credenza behind his desk is of father Fred. No Melania, no children or grandchildren, no ex-wives Ivana or Marla Maples."


"OK, about that I'm kidding. April Fool! But very revealing was the report, I think from Joe Scarborough, about his saying to his senior staff, 'I don't care what's in the bills. What I want are signing ceremonies.' Is this what we expect of our president?"

"That's what I mean by the mainstream press--they, like you, make things up."

"Well, here's something that's not made up--his tweets about retaliating against members of the Freedom Caucus in the House who he thinks killed Paul Ryan's and his healthcare bill."

Freedom Caucus Members
"They did kill it. And what's wrong with his calling them out for it?"

"Do you know what's in that bill?" All I heard was static. "Among other things twenty-four million people losing their coverage. That means a lot more prematurely dead people. You're all right with that?"

"I thought we were talking about the politics, not the bill."

"I can understand why you'd prefer that. But, OK, that was politically dumb. To attack them. He also blamed the Dems, as he referred to them. He bragged about how in 2018 he'll campaign against them and the Freedom Caucus. By then whoever's opposing them won't want him campaigning for them since his approval rating will be down in the 20s."

"About this we really disagree. He's approaching the bottom of his support right now. At the worst he'll end up at 30-35 percent. That's his floor."

"You call that good?" I asked, "That's a disaster for a president. That would mean losing control of both houses in 2018 and assure that nothing gets legislated for at least two years."

"Not necessarily. His people are still with him. Passionately so. Have you heard any of them interviewed? They think the Russian stuff is not important, a made-up distraction to undermine him. What's important to them are jobs, protection from immigrants, hope for their children, and a strong America."

"You think," I asked, "after what he said that any Freedom Caucus people or Democrats will work with him? They're on TV right now saying 'No way.' Even making fun of him. Mocking him. After how many, 70 days or so in office, he's becoming a lame duck. Irrelevant."

"We'll see how relevant he'll be after the Koreans, the North Koreans attack Japan or one of our bases out there. With missiles."

"This is my worst nightmare about him. Worse than anything that can happen on April Fools' Day."

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