Monday, July 31, 2017

July 31, 2017--Bring In the Generals

Reince Priebus is out and General John Kelly is in.

For months there have been rumors about replacing Priebus as White House Chief of Staff. Half the reason Anthony Scaramucci was brought in as Communications Director was to get rid of Priebus, who Trump had growing misgivings about but not the cojones to fire face-to-face. He appears only capable of doing that on reality TV.

So they tortured Preibus until he had enough and said enough. Big-bucks cable news and book deals await.

Kelly, a highly-decorated four-star Marine general will be moving from heading the Department of Homeland Security as soon as he can fill out the paperwork. Let's hope he doesn't forget to mention any meetings he had with Russians. Who will replace him in Homeland Security is anyone's guess. Maybe, God help us, Rudy or Christie?

Trump does like his generals. And he has appointed seemingly good ones in high level positions. Jim (Mad Dog) Mattis in Defense, H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, and General George Dunford as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Though generals are not by nature my favorite people, I am feeling good about these men.

As the Trump presidency continues to come undone, I am reminded of the last days of Nixon's reign. As he realized his time was nearly up, as the evidence became conclusive that he was involved in the coverup of the Watergate break-in, as he himself began to unravel, not sleeping, drinking heavily, and reportedly talking to the presidential portraits on the walls of the White House, concerned about his sanity, his chief of staff, General Alexander Haig, and his secretaries of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld), State (Henry Kissinger), and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General George Brown) talked among themselves that if in a stupor he commanded them to launch nuclear missiles against, say, Russia, they would commit technical treason and not carry out Nixon's orders.

I am assuming that similar discussions are now occurring among senior members of Trump's administration. At least I hope so because as Trump sees himself more-and-more cornered, as only he knows the full extent of his dirty dealings with Russians both in business ventures and undermining Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign--with Trump likely directly involved in both--one sleepless night he might call for a nuclear attack on North Korea or Syria. With North Korea it may come to that, but to the generals who know best about the perils of such an intervention, it may be wise for them not to carry out a bomb-first-think-last order of this kind.

In popular culture, in films such as Seven Days In May and Dr. Strangelove, it is the generals who seize power and get their hands on nuclear weapons. But in Nixon's day and hopefully now, it may be the the generals who will save the country.

General James (Mad Dog) Mattis

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Friday, July 28, 2017

July 28, 2017--The Mooch

Though it's only been a week it feels like at least a month, or maybe two since Antony (the Mooch) Scaramucci became Donald Trump's Communications Director.

First there was his introduction to the White House press corps when his answering "a question or two" turned into his upstaging his new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. For that half hour, off in a corner, she was seen frowning, out or reach of the cameras.

He was so happy with how the session went-- it was broadcast on live TV--I mean he so much liked the way his hair and makeup looked that his first directive to Sarah was to be sure that the next time he appeared on TV that the same person be available to make him again look like the Four Seasons Frankie Valli.
Frankie Valli
That next time turned out to be a day or two later when he made a big thing of his top agenda item--stoping the leaks that are poring out of Trump's paranoia-swamped White House.

When asked, again looking good on camera, how he planned to stop the leaks, he said he just might have to fire everyone. Adding quickly, "But not Sarah."

If I were Sarah, I be updating my resumé.

Ditto chief of staff, Reince Priebus because a day later, again on TV, the Mooch was not looking so good. (Maybe he had already fired the hair person.) This time, visibly perspiring, he squinted into the camera to plug a leak about none other than himself.

In case you missed it, here's that story--

Politico published a piece on Wednesday about the financial forms Scaramucci submitted last month when he was being considered for another job in the West Wing. They posted a copy of the forms themselves, which revealed that he's worth only $95 million--I say "only" because he had hinted previously that he was already a billionaire. Sound familiar?

In a tweet about this embarrassing matter--we're talking again about size--he suggested that Reince had been the leaker and readers were left to speculate if he was going to fire him. Or, since he doesn't yet have the authority to do that (Priebus presumably reports directly to the president), joining Jeff Sessions, Scaramucci started Reince twisting slowly in the wind.

But here's the best part--

No one leaked the papers! It seems that 30 days after forms of this kind are submitted they are in the public domain. Through the Freedom of Information Act, they are available to anyone who requests a copy.

When this was brought to his attention, the Mooch, for the first time in a week, didn't have anything to say and was nowhere near a camera.

Actually, here's the best part--

At the end of his first week on the job, here's what he learned: "People in Washington are back-stabbers. I'm a business man. I'm more of a front-stabber."

The scent of testosterone was detected in the White House air.

One more. I promise, it's the last one--

On the day he was hired, when asked about a potential rivalry with Reince Priebus, Scaramucci said that they are like brothers, adding that he "loves him."

And then on Thursday morning, again not on camera, he reiterated they are like biblical brothers. Tweeting, he wrote, "Some brothers are like Cain and Abel, other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don't know if this is reparable or not."

We know how the Cain and Able business worked out.

Sorry, I lied. There's more. With the Mooch it's hard to keep up with all the breaking news--

This came in overnight from the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, who reported about a phone call he received from a very agitated Scaramucci. He was in a rage about a story Lizza wrote about a private dinner at the White House earlier in the week. It was intimate and in addition to Scaramucci included Fox News' Sean Hannity, apparently one of Trump's closest advisors.

From Lizza, the Mooch was most interested in learning who leaked the information about those chowing down with the president. Lizza of course demurred and this set Scaramucci into an obscenity-laced rant, with his ire directed toward Reince Priebus, who he called a "fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac."

Channeling Priebus, he added--"'Oh, Bill Shine [co-president of Fox News] is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci's [appointment] for six months.'"

It's never a sign of mental health to talk about oneself in the third person.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

July 27, 2017--Betty Said: "You're a Swamp Creature"

"I've had it up to here with your bullshit."

Betty gestured that the up-to-here was her throat and slammed the coffee mug on the table before stomping toward the kitchen.

Jack and I looked at each other. "Wonder what's gotten into her," he said.

"I'll tell you what," Betty said from the sanctuary of the kitchen. Jack's voice carries. "You come in here every day and all you want to talk about is your boy Trump. Those are not my words--'your boy'--but yours. As if you and he are pals. I'm sick of him and I'm sick of you."

We could hear her rattling dishes in the sink. She was not only waiting tables but dishwashing. It was the height of the season and every business was shorthanded.

"I didn't know there were rules about what we can and can't talk about," Jack said. I looked around and was happy that for the moment everyone else having breakfast appeared not to be paying attention to us.

From the passthrough window Betty said, "You're such a hypocrite."

"Me?" Jack sounded incredulous. "I'm a hypocrite?"

"If the shoe fits," she said, referring to Cinderella. If Jack knew the reference it would not have made him happy. I enjoyed it and chuckled.

"I can't wait to hear this," Jack said to the room since a number of others having coffee were now tuned into what was happening.

"All I hear is you railing about the government this, the government that. The 'swamp' and that sort of thing."

"Well, it . . ."

Betty cut him off. "And tell me how you earn a living." Jack didn't respond. "I can tell by your sudden shyness that you don't want to talk about that. All you want to talk about is how the government is a swamp and has to be drained and blah, blah, blah. All the time while you're sitting pretty on your government job. I'm sick of it and you."

She came out of the kitchen balancing on one arm three dishes heaped with eggs and pancakes and hash. They were for the booth behind Jack.

"And where do you get your benefits?" Betty glared at him. She turned to the others in the adjacent booth. "I'll tell you where," she said to them. "He works for the highway department. It's a state job. But the state gets lots of money from Washington for the interstate roads and who do you think has his job paid for by that?" She gestured toward Jack, not turning too look at him.

"And, as I was saying, that's how he gets his benefits. Health care that he pays pennies a month for, a state pension where ditto, and a month paid vacation every year. You know how many days vacation I get? I'll tell you--exactly none. And no sick days. If I don't show up for work I get zippo. He, on the other hand gets four weeks vacation, and a dozen personal and sick days. All paid. And paid for by who? The likes of you guys. From your taxes."

Jack sputtered, "I'm talking about the federal government. How it . . ."

"You can't pick and choose buster. If you have no use for the government you need to take a closer look at your own deal. You're a swamp creature too. Like all the people you pick on while you're fat and happy on the gravy train. Paid for, I might add, with my hard-earned money. And yes I do pay taxes. I have three part-time jobs. This one here, four mornings a week, then a hosting job at another restaurant three nights, and I also clean houses on Saturday. Turn-over day. I'm not complaining. These are just facts. But I'm sick of your whining. As if you're the most taken-advantage-of guy in the world. When compared to a lot of folks you have it real easy. A real sweet deal."

"Life is unfair," Jack said.

"That's the best you can come up with? Well pardon my French, but that's just more bullshit. Of course life's unfair--I don't need lessons about that from you--but you need to admit that it's been unfair to your benefit. Talk about unfair. Tell these good people how you got your job in the first place and how much an hour you get." Without pausing she raced on, "Since you won't I will. He makes $22 dollars and hour with time and a half for overtime when he and his crew can wangle it. Up here that's a lot of money. And the only reason he has his job in the first place is because of his uncle who's a mucky-muck in the state Republican Party. He too is quite the complainer. Never saw a government program that he didn't hate. Except the highway department, of course. He's some kind of a no-show supervisor. Talk about the swamp. One thing about these small towns is that nobody has any secrets."

She now was standing opposite Jack with her arms folded across her ample bosom. "So what do you have to say for yourself?" She began to tap her foot. "Notice how all of a sudden he's all clammed up," she said to another couple in the booth behind me. By then they also were deeply interested in what Betty had to say. Both were nodding in agreement.

"I didn't tell you about my health insurance. About his there's nothing for him to worry about. After he retires, which can be after only 25 years, he has insurance for life. Again, paid for by you and me. That's that swampy government again. I'm on Obamacare. Until two years ago, before I got that, I never had coverage. Couldn't afford it. When I needed a doctor I paid for it. Actually borrowed money against the trailer I live in to pay for it. Including when I had my son, who's 15 now. I got help from Obamacare 'cause though I have these three jobs I still didn't earn enough to have to buy into it with my own money. I qualified for a subsidy. But I earned too much to qualify for the maximum subsidy and so the plan I now have has a $5,000 deductible. Which means I go bankrupt if I have to have surgery or something serious."

"That's why Trump wants to fix it, and. . . ." Jack began to say but decided wisely not to complete his thought.

"Yeah, he wants to fix it. Left to Trump, who keeps talking about how beautiful his plan is going to be, he now wants to just repeal it and let 20-30 million lose their coverage. With thousands of people dying for lack of care. That could include me because, I didn't mention it, that I have breast cancer."

"I'm so sorry . . . ."

By then Betty was back in the kitchen.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

July 26, 2017--"I Know You're Going Crazy"

Skipping the hello, that's what Jack said.

"I'm sure you're calling out of concern."

"Of course. You know, 'Do unto others' and all that. I'm a very compassionate fellow. I know you're an atheist, but even you know about the Golden Rule." Chuckling, he sounded especially chipper.

"I'm not an atheist and if you're calling to torture me just tell me so I can hang up."

"Don't hang up. Really, don't. I know you're very upset and since I actually like you I want to share some things with you that might make you feel better."

"Share away, but I doubt it. And I'm busy." I really wasn't, but I was very upset. Not crazy, but almost.

"It's about the pardons, right, that Trump was talking about over the weekend?" I didn't say anything, but Jack knows me well enough to know what was making me crazy. "OK, no need to say a word. Just listen. I'm about to enlighten you. About how my boy operates and what's behind this latest flap."

I may have mumbled. In any case, he said, "Let's start with Jeff Sessions and then we'll move on to the pardons."

At that I did mumble something incoherent. "Good," he said, "you're still on the line and from the sound of you presumably alive." He liked that. "I read what you wrote on Saturday. That's how I knew you were upset. You never write anything on Saturday. Am I right?" I managed not to utter a sound. "About how Trump seemingly just figured out--as if he's that out of it--the connection between Sessions recusing himself from the Russia stuff and the Mueller appointment. If he hadn't recused himself, he would have been able either not to appoint a special prosecutor or if he did to find someone who would go easy on Trump. Including not subpoenaing his tax records. Because you're right. If there's a smoking gun in this it's about, as you put it, the money. Donald Trump money."

"You read my stuff?" I broke my silence.

"Every day. Even on Saturday if you post something. But though you wrote about how this is unfolding you didn't give Trump enough credit for thinking three moves in advance. Like a chess player. Sessions did recuse himself. That's a done deal. And because he did so his deputy secretary, Rod Rosenstein, is the one in charge of Mueller. Rosenstein is the one who would have to do the firing. But if Trump can get Sessions to resign, and I see that happening in a few days or at most a week or two, Trump appoints someone else who isn't recused who then takes control of the investigation. He doesn't even have to fire Rosen-whatever.  The new attorney general would do the firing."

I let him continue, "I know you're skeptical that Trump could find someone to do that because he or she wouldn't want to ruin his reputation. But remember how Nixon, who was in even more do-do, got Robert Bork to file special prosecutor Archibald Cox? You can always find someone to do anything. Even commit a murder. Just ask the Clintons," he paused, "Of course about that I'm joking. . . . Sort of."

"That would be the end of Trump," I said.

"Oh, really? People thought he was dead 20 times during the campaign from slurring John McCain to the pussy business to saying he could shoot someone and it wouldn't make a difference. But there he is in the Oval Office."

"This is crazy," I said.

"All right, let's forget Sessions and Mueller because Trump may not want to mess with them, especially with Mueller who is equally respected by Republicans and Democrats. But he floats these kinds of ideas out there through his tweets as versions of trial balloons. To see how they go down and if they do to follow through."

"You're exhausting me," I said.

"Five more minutes," Jack promised, "Let's move on to the pardons. At the end of last week as if out of the blue he began talking about them. I think it was the Washington Post that reported about that, that he was exploring with his lawyers what his pardon powers are. And then over the weekend, again by tweets, he signaled he has wide latitude even to pardon family members--did you hear that Jared, Ivanka, and Junior? He even said he believes he has the power to pardon himself."

"I wrote about all of this on Saturday. And now you're parroting it back to me. I thought you had something new to say."

"I'm getting to that."

"Please, I'm tired of all this. Which I know is part of the point. To get people to give up in exasperation."

"But in what you wrote you didn't say why he began to talk about pardons."


"So here's my point. Why I called. He did it to preview his thinking about pardons. To have them batted about for a few days in the press so that when he finally begins to issue them it's no longer breaking news. Half the people who are out to lunch will think he already pardoned everybody and will blame the liberals and the media for picking on him again. The now familiar FAKE NEWS defense. So he takes a few days of heat, the ground prepared by his previewing his thinking, and then everyone will move on to something else. Likely something he does that's intentionally outrageous to help change the subject. Like bombing North Korea."

"What?" I shouted, "Bombing North Korea?"

"About that I'm half joking," Jack said, which didn't reassure me, "But at changing the subject he's a certifiable genius. I mean, he does that two, three times a day."

"To me," I said, "he's a certifiable something else."

"Have it your way," Jack said, "You've been wrong about him before. Actually, almost always." He roared with laughter and hung up the phone.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

July 25, 2017--Rudy & The Mooch

Desperate, Donad Trump and Republicans in the Senate are pulling out the stops--

First, there is the psychodrama playing out in the White House communications operation.

They pushed poor Sean Spicer so hard that he finally, in frustration and humiliation, resigned. Not only did he have to endure the mockery brilliantly served up by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live, with her motorized lectern, he also had to endure insults from his boss who couldn't get over Spicy's pudginess and ill-fitting suits. It didn't help that those off-the-rack outfits were a muddy brown and didn't include a pocket square.

So off he went to be replaced by Anthony (The Mooch) Scaramucci. After hijacking poor Sarah Huckabee Sander's live-on-TV news conference on the first day of her being named press secretary, after his overlong and obsequious "I'll-take-a-question-or-two" Q&A with the press, he asked her to make sure that the person who did his hair and makeup continued to be available to him.

So we know what he's about--in his bromance with The Donald ("I love the guy!") he knows the Boss will be checking out how he looks on TV. The good news is that he has the hair and bespoke outfits to keep Trump happy at least for a week or two.

Speaking of bespoke, did you notice what son-in-law Jared Kushner was wearing yesterday morning when he was set to testify before the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee? For the "prince of having it both ways" (called that in the Sunday Times by Frank Bruni), he knew who was watching on TV. From the threads and hair alone, we know daddy-in-law was for an hour or two feeling all was right with the world. Everyone was looking good. (The president in the meantime was continuing to swell up like a Macy' parade balloon.)

In the meantime, showing contempt for his own caucus, GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell,  was getting ready to have his minions vote for a health care reform bill the contents of which were still, hours before the vote, unknown to them.

Would it be straight repeal or repeal-and-replace and if it was that, replace with what? Doesn't matter. What matters is that they vote for something. Anything. Since he and Trump do not care if what might come before the Senate will kick 30 or "only" 20 million covered now off the health care rolls, let's just vote and then move on to what really counts--a White House beer party for Republican senators and then the signing ceremony.

To make sure the vote goes his way, McConnell held off until poor John McCain could get out of his hospital bed to be trotted out just days after brain cancer surgery to vote yes, again for anything that has a chance to be passed. That McCain, who has his own existential healthcare issues to deal with, would allow himself to be used this way about such an issue, is a sad commentary on McCain himself who has gotten away with pretending to be a maverick during his too-long career in the Senate.

Sorry, senator, I know I am being insensitive, but you are bringing this final legacy down upon yourself. What you are too dramatically going along with will result in the premature death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans and even in your desperate condition you need to be called out for this act of, yes, cowardice.

Then there's poor Jeff Sessions. While he clings to political life it appears that Donald Trump and his nepotistic family are already making plans for what to do after they torture the attorney general into resigning.

Here's what they appear to be coming up with--

Sessions is twisting slowly in the wind (to resurrect an old Watergate trope) and we know will soon, Spicer like, say enough and resign. This should conveniently occur when the Senate is on its well-deserved 8th vacation of the year and Trump will make an interim appointment--name a new attorney general without requiring a vote of the so-called upper chamber. He should be able to find someone compliant enough to allow him to do this and in return will do the Big Guy's bidding and put the screws to special counsel Mueller.

Who, you might wonder, is so eager to please Donald Trump that he is willing to destroy his reputation by becoming his lapdog?

That's an easy one--Rudy!

So here's what we'll then have--a New York City all-star team of sycophants. Rudy, the Mooch, and all sorts of Goldman people in his cabinet or close-in advisors and flunkies.

To make this a trifecta of Tristate flunkiness, let's think about what Trump might come up with for Chris Crispy (as my mother used to call him). One thing we know, Christie will need to get a whole new wardrobe. If he's going to work for Trump, it's time for him to move on from the Men's Warehouse.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 22, 2017--Imploding

No one should be surprised. Least of all Donald Trump. It has been clear for a half year or more where all this was headed.

It's always been about the money.

The denouement will not be about Paul Manafort's money or Michael Flynn's or Jared Kushner's or Ivanka's money, nor even Don Junior's.

It will be about Donald Trump's money.

A good question--if he is so proud of his wealth how come he has refused to reveal his tax filings?

On the simplest level, he has resisted because he lies about how much money he has. He has a lot, about a billion or two, enough for most of us, but not the 5 to 10 billion he has long claimed.

Remember how Marco Rubio's crack during the primary debates about his small hands got under his skin? Well, this is the same sort of thing. Manhood. Size always mattered more to guys than to women.

But, he somehow managed to get elected and reluctantly moved to Washington and into the White House. Back in New York, in his Trump, Inc. operation, which was and still is a mom-and-pop business, he was used to being the only one whose ideas counted and he had no one ever pushing back on him when he went off and did something stupid. Like getting involved with gambling casinos in Atlantic City and Miss Universe pageants.

Over time, with the big boost The Apprentice gave to his brand, he effectively became a brand. Selling his name and endorsement to the highest bidders, raking in the licensing money with little effort other than keeping his name and gold-foil life style in the public eye. Thus, even the parade of girlfriends and wives, as he aged and swelled up, ones younger and younger, were a part of that charade.

Zeroing in--

When Trump needed to ante up money for a project or bail himself out of an impending bankruptcy, where do we think he turned for money? Citibank? Chase? Wells Fargo? Goldman Sachs? No chance.

We're talking chop shops like Deutsche Bank, loan sharks, and especially money laundries such as the Bank of Cyprus which until a few years ago was a favorite place for Russian kleptocrats to sanitize their dirty lucre.

In 2008, Trump Jr. on the record said that, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

At least someone in his family is capable of letting the truth slip out.

Even a casual perusal of Trump's tax returns would reveal the sources of his money and income. Would it surprise anyone if we in this way discovered that he engaged in all sorts of shady deals and shenanigans with lots of money coming from Russia?

So when it finally dawned on Trump that special counsel Robert Mueller has the power to demand his tax and other financial documents, something Trump incredibly seems to have begun to pay attention to just this week, bells and whistles went off and that immediately became Trump's line in the sand--he told the New York Times he might fire Mueller if he pressed to scrutinize his finances.

We know for sure following the money trail is looming. It's Special Counsel 101.

And then, of course, Mueller would also see son Junior's and son-in-law Kushner's tax filings, which would make matters even worse.

What we'd be likely see is the inner financial machinations of a crime family.

Donald Junior is reported to be whining that he can't wait for this presidency to be over.

Well, he may soon get his wish. He may not have to wait another endless three-and-a-half years.

If Junior is unravelling as quickly as it appears, Trump's oldest son, feeling squeezed by the implosion, may follow in the footsteps of one of Bernie Madoff's sons. I can't bring myself to spell this out. If you don't remember the details, you're on your own to look it up.

So, here are the final steps. They will happen quickly because we have a talented and mobilized press corps. Much more so than during Watergate. Trump is getting back in kind for what he dished out to the "fake-news" press. I wouldn't have recommended messing with that sleeping giant.

I suspect he'll skip the firing-Mueller step and move right to the pardons. Sacking Mueller, assuming Trump has the power to do that, would bring down the wrath of not only Democrats (that would be predictable) but also rouse the up-to-now hypocritical Republicans who despise Trump but support his agenda, such as it is.

Thus, Trump has been asking about what pardon powers he has and boasting about it. They are constitutionally wide ranging. He'll pardon Flynn and Manafort, which should keep them from throwing Trump under the bus (elegant metaphor), and he'll pardon all his family members. Then, and he is looking into this too, unlike Nixon who had his successor, Jerry Ford pardon him, Trump will try to get away with pardoning himself.

This will go to the Supreme Court and, who knows, with Gorsuch recently nominated by Trump, he might prevail, 5-4. Remember Bush v Gore in 2000. Or then again, he may not.

Then we'll see what happens in the streets. Progressives will demonstrate once or twice but use most of their energy appearing on and watching CNN and "The NewsHour."

Trump people (that hardcore 35%) will go crazy. They'll see this crucifixion of Trump (that will become their preferred point of reference) as part of the ongoing liberal conspiracy. Tune into late-night talk radio if you want a preview of that. It will make Benghazi look like a tea party. Scratch that, a polite debate.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

July 21, 2017--The Universe

I've been reading Marcia Bartusiak's excellent The Day We Found the Universe, which is largely about how astronomers came to measure the size of our solar system, the galaxy of which our sun and the earth are a part, and ultimately the expanse of the entire universe.

Many astronomers contributed to what we now know about these cosmic distances. But Edwin Hubble is featured in the book as he is the astronomer who subjected all the partial theories to scrutiny and incorporated those that contributed to his own research about the size and components of the expanding universe.

He, thus, is thought to be the most important of cosmologists, the discoverer of the universe.

The book is primarily about sizes and distances. Less about motion and stellar velocities. But I have also been thinking about the speed of galactic bodies. For example, to complete one daily, 24-hour cycle how fast is the earth rotating? It turns out to be nearly 1,000 miles per hour.

Then there are other related, mind-boggling things to think about. For example, how fast is the earth moving as it completes its 365-day orbit around the sun? It turns out to be an astonishing 66,000 mph.

Earth along with the other planets and the sun that make up our solar system are also in motion.

That system is part of a vast galaxy, the Milky Way, and it circumnavigates that galaxy at 44,000 mph.

Also, the entire galaxy itself is in motion--it rotates-- and the earth, as part of the galaxy, rotates along with it as it, over 225 million years, completes one full rotation (a galactic year). The speed of rotation is an incomprehensible 483,000 miles per hour.

And finally, the galaxy itself is moving through space at 1.3 million mph.

To summarize these five interconnected movements--
  • 1,000 miles per hour is the speed of the earth's rotation;
  • 66,000 mph is how fast the earth goes about its 365-days-a-year orbit of the sun;
  • 44,000 miles per hour is how fast our sun and planets (our solar system) whips along as it circles the Milky Way galaxy;
  • 483,000 mph is how fast the Milky Way is racing to complete its 225-million-year circuit;
  • And 1.3 million miles per hour is the speed at which our galaxy moves through the universe.
It is a wonder that we aren't tossed off into space as the result of the sum of these five velocities.

The why of that is a whole other conversation.

Words, especially superlatives, fail me.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

July 20, 2017--A Week Without Trump

As previewed yesterday, here's what I wrote on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 after two days of trying not to mention him but then, succumbing, as if on autopilot, I referred to him that week four times on Monday and then three times on Tuesday.

*   *   *
Though I noted some improvement earlier this week--mentioning Trump a regressive four times on Monday and then doing a bit better yesterday, mentioning him "just" three times--perhaps, then, since I am still disappointed with my progress, maybe I need to adjust tactics for a day to get to my goal sooner--to shake my year-long addiction to all things Trump.

So today, midweek, I'm going cold turkey. I'm taking a day off from blogging. I have an early doctor's appointment to see if my Lyme disease has abated and so I thought to take advantage of my busy schedule and not write anything today.

That's one way to deal with my Trump problem--ignore it. Admittedly, not the best way to proceed--taking it head on would be more impressive--but perhaps it could still be therapeutic.

This of course means no comments about Trump's speech last night, no mocking allusions to his having just discovered that repealing and replacing Obamacare is "unbelievably complex" or, better for satire or snarkiness, that "nobody knew [it] . . . could be so complicated."


This latter comment alone could under prior circumstances have been subject matter for at least two blogs.

Ignoring Trump, as I am now doing, I will make no public comments about his budget outline that sees a ten percent increase in military spending offset by massive cuts in domestic allocations. This would mean gutting food and healthcare for the poor to build more weapon systems. Cruel priorities.

But, as I've indicated, I will have nothing to say about that.

I will also not comment on the attempts to plug leaks by White House staff and how press secretary Sean Spicer forced those reporting to him to turn over their cell phones so they can be checked to find out who's been talking to the New York TimesWashington Post, and CNN.

And I won't be writing about the White House banning reporters from these and other "fake news" outlets from attending the first Trump "gaggle." A briefing for a select group of reporters,
including one from Fox and another from Breitbart News, Steve Bannon's old shop.

Though I am tempted, you will not hear anything from me about this.

And you will not hear a word here about what is my thus-far favorite flap of the week--the Twitter storm about how Kellyanne Conway took her shoes off and folded her legs under her while sitting on them on the Oval Office couch as President Trump met with a group of distinguished presidents of historically black colleges and universities.

What was she doing there anyway? But you won't see me asking or speculating about that.

When Kellyann's disrespectful behavior was brought to the attention of Trump and his senior staff they were quick to publish pictures of Barack Obama sitting with his feet on the presidential desk. The same president Trump accused earlier this week of being behind all the leaks and leaving a "mess" when he left office.

But there will not be a word today about me about that. No leaking here. For me it's still Trump cold-turkey-detoxification time.

As New York City Mayor Ed Koch used at ask, "How am I doing?"

Rereading what I wrote in March, I see that (1) in spite of my intentions I did not take the day off from blogging, and (2) I mentioned Trump by name nine times. Nine! Not very impressive.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

July 19, 2017--Trump Fatigue

I try to write five of these a week. One a day Monday through Friday. I've been doing this for 12 years, from August 2005, and have thus far posted 3,158.

For nearly two years more than half my pieces have been about the 2016 election; the emergence of Donald Trump; his election; and, for six months, his presidency. On occasional weeks all five, one way or the other, have been about Trump. Such has been my obsession.

During the weekend, when not posting, I try to come up with two or three subjects to write about for the upcoming week. To get ahead of the relentless pressure to produce five. Sometimes it feels as if I am physically "producing" them.

This is not a complaint. I love doing this. I like the discipline, the motivation to think things through and to approach issues in hopefully fresh ways, and especially hearing from readers who half the time like what I've been writing. The rest of the time, especially the last year and a half when my pieces have been disproportionately about Trump, I've received a lot of criticism that by taking him seriously, by attempting to write about him dispassionately, I'm "normalizing" him, and by so doing have been helping to position him in the mainstream of American presidential history. Not as an incompetent and dangerous pretender.

So, this past weekend, with Republicans in the Senate once more trying to ram viscous changes in healthcare policy through the system while seemingly every day there was another bombshell story about Donald Trump, Jr. eager to hear what "dirt" Russian operatives were pitching to spread around to sabotage Hillary and elect Trump, what with reports of this and infighting in the West Wing and stories about our raging president talking back to the TV, one would think I'd have seven things to write about, not my usual five.

But, if you've read this far, you are catching me writing about not any longer feeling I have things to write about.

If I can make the comparison, Seinfeld-like--writing about not writing.

I did manage to come up with an idea for Monday for a piece about Trump in Paris for Bastille Day and the monarchal ambitions of the new French president. And for Tuesday squeezed out something about John McCain and the now possibly doomed Republican health care plan.

But this lethargy that is the result of feeling overwhelmed, I am thinking, may be the point of Trump's brilliant strategy for governing. (There I go again calling it "brilliant.")

So overload the system that we no longer can remember all the outrageous things he did during the campaign, since entering the White House, and even last week. This cascade of outrageousness elicits so much frustration and anger that our circuits are blown.

I don't know about you, but this is the way I've been feeling.

Chipped away at I am wanting to give up and return to my cocoon and my distractions. I noticed over the past weekend that I was watching a lot of television. Not cable news but tennis and the Yankees-Red Sox series. I even surfed around looking for Seinfeld reruns. Caught the one with Elaine at Yankee Stadium!

Having confessed this, tomorrow I'll be reposting something I wrote in February during five days that I called "A Week Without Trump."

Tomorrow, I hope you will take a look to see how I did.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

July 18, 2017--John McCain Would Already Be Dead

He would already be dead from his sub-dural hematoma if it weren't for his platinum senatorial health care plan which assures that he will be treated in the best hospitals and taken care of by the best doctors at virtually no out-of-pocket expense.

He's 80 years old, has a number of serious preconditions, including melanoma, and still suffers from various medical problems that are the result of his being held for six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

In other circumstances, if he had a job that didn't offer benefits, in the absence of Obamacare, if he needed to buy insurance in the free market Republicans revere, he would be refused coverage by insurance companies thinking only of their bottom lines. It would cost him at least $30,000 a year and he would have a deductible of tens of thousands of dollars.

And, if the bill currently before the Senate were to be approved and then passed in the House and signed by President Trump, he would not be able to secure any heath insurance at all. He would be among the tens of millions who will either lose their coverage or be unable to afford any.

Because of his current medical situation (he's recovering in Phoenix), the GOP Senate leadership is delaying the vote on its version of repeal-and-replace Obamacare legislation since they need McCain's assent to help assure there are enough votes to move it along in the process.

Here's my question--

Why would John McCain even for a minute think about voting for this nasty piece of legislation?

Again, he's 80 years old, is in his last term in the Senate, does not need anything from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and has a proud record of being a "maverick."

Some maverick.

In addition, we know he hates Donald Trump. Why would he want to be party to helping Trump have a cheap and mean-spirited political triumph?

Perhaps as he takes a few weeks off to recover from the cranial surgery he had over the weekend he'll think about those less fortunate than he and decide that 20 or so million cut from the health care rolls means that hundreds of thousands will die prematurely.

That's the real bottom line--thousands dying unnecessarily.

One last question--

Where are the plans for a five-million-person march on Washington to oppose the Republicans' dirty dealings? I suppose there isn't one because the people who have traditionally organized massive protests of this kind are in good shape with their employer- and government-sponsored coverage. If it doesn't affect me . . .

Who was it who said, "Let them eat cake"?

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Friday, July 14, 2017

July 14, 2017--The Big Dipper

"Six bypasses? Stan had six bypasses." Ed was incredulous and so was I. "I thought they could only do two. One for each valve."

"I thought so too," I said, "But his wife Sally said they did six."

"So that's two more to worry about," Ed said.

"I agree. If it was up to me it would be good if they could do only two. There'd be less to be anxious about. Worrying about things that can go wrong is not my favorite thing. In fact, best for me would be if they couldn't do any."

Rona chimed in, "You both are such babies. You should be thankful for modern medicine. You'd both be dead already if it weren't for that."

"I like the living-longer part," I said, "But not what you have to do to live longer."

"Can we please change the subject," Ed said. "I can take a pass on all the medical talk."

"Me too," I said. Rona rolled her eyes and announced she was going to the bathroom.

"So let's talk about something else," Ed suggested.

"That's all right with me," I said.

"What's your pleasure?"

"Let's stay in the science realm as distinct from the medical."

"Shoot," Ed said. By then Rona was back.

"For some reason," I said, "I've been thinking about the Big Dipper."

"What?" Rona said. She resumed her eye rolling.

"I've been reading a little about cosmology." I said, "And just got The Day We Found the Universe, which is the story of Edwin Hubble's discovery of the size of the universe. I can't wait to get to it."

"Sounds boring to me," Rona said.

I ignored that. "While waiting for it to arrive from the bookseller, for some reason I got to thinking about the night sky. It's so vivid here. With the Big Dipper right overhead, on some nights it feels as if it's within reach."

"The sky here, with relatively little light pollution, can be amazing," Ed said. "Winters you can even see the Aurora Borealis. But what's with your obsession about the Big Dipper?"

"It's not quite an obsession," I said, "But since I know almost nothing about astronomy it's the only constellation I know. My father used to point out some others like Aries, Latin for lamb; Gemini, for twins; Leo, of course the lion; and Orion, the Greek hunter who is depicted as holding aloft the severed head of a lion. But I never was able to see them. The images, I mean. The Big Dipper is another matter. It really looks like a dipper whereas Aries to me doesn't look like a lamb."

"That's it?" Ed said.

"Almost," I said, "I'm thinking about the seven stars that make up the Dipper. I'm using the term 'star' loosely since I don't know if the stars are actually stars.

"Huh?" Ed said, "You're losing me."

"He lost me years ago," Rona said blowing me a kiss. I knew she was just into giving me a little grief.

"I mean, are they stars, are they nebulae, are they very distant solar systems that to us with the naked eye look like single sources of light?"

"I have no idea," Ed said. I knew I was trying his patience. "I guess it's something you can look up on Wiki." He checked his watch, "I gotta go. I need to go to work again today. We're very busy."

"I'll let you know what I find," I promised.

Back at the house I did some Googling.

First, all seven Big Dipper "stars" are in fact stars. And each star has a name. Also, the BD is a part of a larger constellation, Ursa Major, which in Latin means "the greater she-bear."

Then, it's connected to another dipper-like configuration of stars called the Little Dipper, also made up of seven stars.

And I noted, Merak and Dubhu, the two stars that form the outer edge of the cup of the Big Dipper are also known as Pointer Stars since, if you drew a line through them, they point to Polaris, the seemingly stationary North Star.

Enough, I thought. I can't wait to tell Ed. Rona on the other hand . . .

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

July 13, 2017--Busy Thursday

So much scheduled, too little time to write, thus I will return tomorrow, Friday, with thoughts about the Big Dipper.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 12, 2107--Smoking Cannon

Some wag said, "It's not a smoking gun, it's a smoking cannon."

He was talking, of course, about the most recent bombshell about Donald Junior's dealings with the Russians. His pathetic attempt to give his daddy a present--the presidency.

Present delivered, but at what an ultimate cost.

Anyone with the last name Trump (or Kushner) needs more than a squadron of lawyers--he needs medication and a get-out-of-jail-free-card.

I'm not sure any of that will help.

Yesterday, when Little Donny was forced to release his e-mail stream about the meeting in June at the Trump Tower, no less, regarding a deal to secure Russian help in getting "dirt" about Hillary ("I love it!" Junior chirped), as of yesterday, a week short of the six-month anniversary of the Trump presidency, was the official beginning of the end of the Don's reign.

The Don is not an inappropriate moniker for him as Trump is more the boss of a political crime family than a credible commander in chief.

What to them is most worrisome (and if you have been following my scribbling on the subject I have said this many times) is the drip, drip, drip fear. In this case that Paul Manafort, who at the time of the meeting was still Trump's campaign manager, Manafort, the playmaker in the dirty dealmaking, who was at the meeting and I'm sure others equally damaging which will soon come to the light of day, will throw Donald Junior and Jared under the bus rather than spend the rest of his adult life in the slammer, while the two boys, tempted like Oedipus to blow the whistle and worse on their father/father-in-law, will have to suck it up and get ready for incarceration.

Unless Daddy pardons them, which I predict he will do within a year as he moves toward resigning.

To see how this is playing in TrumpLand I spent a lot of time last night, late last night, tuned in to talk radio, particularly Red Eye Radio, where the two hosts did their best to chuckle their way through the damning news, making as light of it as possible. To laugh it off, it seemed, was their idea of the best way to trivialize it and make it go away.

But since even they knew that wouldn't work, they turned to the Rush Limbaugh talking-points-of-the-day memo--if all else fails, blame Hillary.

So, I heard a lot again about her server, her e-mails, her own Russian connection (remember the uranium business?), and of course, the chart-topper, Benghazi. Resurrecting Benghazi more than anything else tells you how desperate they are.

As I said, drip, drip, drip.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 11, 2017--First Girlfriend

I especially loved D's family.

At that time I was interested above all in families that would welcome me and offer an alternative to the limitations of my own extended immigrant family. Freud would have had a lot to say about that. I probably wouldn't have disagreed.

This was many years ago, when I was about to be 16.

We met in Tannersville, NY where both families had summer homes. Ours more a cuchalalane (a modest bungalow with a small kitchen) we rented than a classic cottage; theirs a shingle-style rambling affair in the better part of town that has been in the B family for decades. As a striver, I was eager for that--having associations in the better part of town.

The meeting happened in Greenberg's market where I was sent with a long shopping list to stock up on food supplies before the fathers began to arrive for the weekend after an exhausting week in the city. D had a summer job there, stocking shelves and helping customers find where the bread was arrayed or if there was any fresh salmon. I needed bread and shyly asked D for help. She cheerfully directed me and, boldly, as I turned away, asked if I played tennis.

Though I never had held a racket in my hand, I impulsively said that I did.

She said, "Then how about meeting at the high school? They have tennis courts in the back and no one in the summer ever uses them."

"Well . . . I . . . I don't, don't," I stammered in the hope that by doing so I would not be understood and would evaporate and not have to deal with the mess I was making, "I don't . . . Well, I do . . . I mean . . . of course I have a racket . . . but . . . but my cousin . . . Ruthie has it and. . . ."

"Not to worry," D said, "You can borrow my sister's and so how about tomorrow at 3:00? I get out early on Fridays."

"I . . . I . . ."

I immediately thought about how I would wiggle out of the date or, if I couldn't arrange that, learn to play tennis overnight. I was a good athlete and . . .

But from somewhere within myself I found the chutzpah and did show up. And somehow, because I had decent eye-hand skills, I was able to make contact with the ball and hit it back to D. Or maybe she, realizing I wasn't telling the truth, took pity on me and gently lobbed all her shots right back to me rather than slash at them.

After an hour or so, she decided it was enough and suggested we go to Warm's diner for a drink and a slice of their incandescent huckleberry pie.

And so in 1950s-style we became a couple. We played more tennis, inhabited Warm's, and even went to the movies at the Orpheum Theater. I came to love D but, again, for me being welcomed into her family made our summer romance complete.

D had a beautiful and accomplished sister, E, who would be entering medical school at the end of the summer and an elegant and deeply cultured mother, A, who took charge of their elaborate family and social lives--two homes--one in Tannersville, another in Paterson, New Jersey. D's father, Dr. B, was a research chemist with an international reputation and a long list of patents. Chemical dyes were his specialty and though I knew virtually nothing about chemistry or dyes I could listen to him for hours as he told me about his training and then his work. I basked in his continental charm and worldliness and his willingness to pay attention to me, to take me seriously. He was originally from Germany, but rarely talked about his life there. I never even wondered about why that might be.

Tennis was the least of the things I lied about.

I felt to be interesting to them, for them to retain interest in me, I needed to enhance the story of my life, especially my education as that was a subject of great interest to the entire B family. So, though I was about to enter my junior year in high school, Brooklyn Tech, I told them that I would be enrolling in Columbia in the fall. I felt this was necessary to keep D interested in me as she was about to enroll in Douglass College in September. How would it be for her to have a boyfriend who was still mired in high school.

I was able to maintain this deception over the next two years while we continued to see each other and as I frequently spent time on weekends with the Bs in New Jersey, because my cousin Chuck was a junior at Columbia and I pumped him for information that I shared with D and her parents about what it was like to be a student in Morningside Heights.

But slowly, inevitably, without sturm und drang, just as the result of the passage of time, D and I drifted along different paths (I was finally admitted to Columbia), and though there were no tearful or heartrending conversations, I found myself visiting the Bs less often (though I attended E's wedding) and we hardly saw each other during summers since my family gave up the house in Tannersville. And so, after another year or two, our relationship came to a sputtering end.

Though we vowed to remain friends, over the decades we lost contact.

Then recently, as the result of many friends having passed away, I found myself doing what Rona calls "obituary runs." With the power of the Internet I have been looking up people I know with whom I have lost touch to see how they are faring. More honestly, to see if they are still alive.

I was happy to find that D is, that she lives in Pennsylvania, and appears to be a leading member of her community, especially within the Jewish community. But when I clicked on E, I discovered that she had died in 2014. At only 81.

There was an extended obituary as E was also deeply involved in her New Jersey community and had been a successful and highly regarded physician. More than that, the obituary filled in much that I did not know about D and her family. And helped explain the silences between Dr. B and me--
With her family, E came to the U.S. in September, 1941. [She was eight years old.] One of E's earliest experiences was being put on a kinder transport to save Jewish children from the Nazis. Her father, CB, mother A and sister D, (who was too young to travel), followed shortly after and met up in Belgium. 
Two years later, after the German invasion of Belgium, C was rounded up with others and sent to an internment camp in the south of France. A, with E and D, made her way through occupied and unoccupied France to reunite with C after he had secured release at the behest of a U.S. chemical company. 
They were able to board a French ship for the U.S., [but it was] was ordered to turn back by the Vichy French. The ship went to Casablanca instead. Their journey was not over, the family went from Casablanca to Spain to board an old tramp steamer, the SS Navemar. The Navemar's usual cargo was coal and carried no more than eight passengers. 
On its last trip, the ship carried more than 800 passengers, who slept in holds covered by soot and in life boats during the seven week passage to the U.S. The Navemar was the second to last refugee ship permitted to dock by the U.S. before the borders were closed and was sunk on its way back across the Atlantic.
For weeks now I have been unable to stop thinking about the Bs' harrowing story and the things not spoken. The full story of their lives. The truth of their past. The pain and remembrances. On a different scale, my pathetic lies. And the limitless promise of love.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10, 2017--Jack: Making China Great Again

When I saw him yesterday, I couldn't wait to ask Jack how he felt about Ivanka Trump the other day taking her daddy's place at the table of G-20 leaders.

"There you go," he said, "Drinking the Kool-Aid."

Me? I think of you guys as doing that."

"Let's just say we're all susceptible. But about Ivanka, I'm OK with that. Like it or not--and I think I know your view--she's an formal senior advisor and other countries do the same thing."

"You mean have their kids sit in for them at a meeting of world leaders?"

"The Kool-Aid I was referring to," Jack said, ignoring that, "is your buying into the on-going story that's more gossip than big picture. While Trump is meeting one-on-one with Putin and the president of China, all the media want to talk about is Ivanka."

"Totally untrue," I snapped, "The media outlets Trump hates the most--CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, NBC--had dozens of articles about that. Mainly about his meeting with Putin, which is a very big deal."

"And what did they emphasize? Not so much the content--things like agreeing to cooperate more in Syria--but focused instead on whether or not Trump was forceful enough in confronting Putin about interfering in our election and if Trump himself believes they did. Isn't there a commission or special council or something looking into that? So who cares what Trump says. He either did it or he didn't and time will tell what happened. Then we can talk about it. In the meantime, the world goes on. Again, in big picture terms, what's more important, trying to get Putin's help with North Korea or how forceful Trump was in raising the hacking issue? To me it's a no-brainer."

"Shifting the subject a little," I said, "are you and your other Trump supporters all right with China seeing a global vacuum as Trump pulls the U.S. back from international trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with countries that together account for 40 percent of the world's GDP? His so-called America First agenda has created that opening and China, who with European Union involvement as well as through new agreements with up to 20 Asian countries, is moving quickly to take advantage of the United States being comfortable leading from behind." I thought that last reference would get to Jack.

"I'm OK with that," Jack said, surprising me.

"I'm confused. How does that contribute to making America great again? To me it feels more like diminishing America's stature--and will hurt our economy--rather than contributing to our role in world leadership?"

"Again, you guys don't get it."

"Enlighten me."

"Trump is not about America's global leadership. Quite the opposite. He feels that in our various involvements American has been taken advantage of and as a result we have been weakened because our economy has been weakened. He sees backing out of these trade agreements actually good for our economy. That's how America will become great again. When we decide to no longer submit to being taking advantage of. Like with steel. How other countries have grabbed hold of steel manufacturing by dumping steel made overseas in America at numbers so low our companies can't compete."

"Doesn't the Trump organization buy its steel from overseas manufacturers?"

"Of course. Because he's smart. Like everyone else he doesn't want to overpay. But through his own experience he knows the systems is rigged and doesn't want America to be taken advantage of."

"I get the rhetoric," I said, "but his outmoded and failed ideas, if they are reintroduced, will do more to make China great again than America."

"Very clever," Jack said, "I've heard others use the same rhetoric but be patient. What Trump is up to when it comes to trade will be good for us."

"And how do you feel," I asked Jack, "about recent polls in 37 countries that showed people around the world, with Trump as president, holding us in very low esteem? The lowest in history. For example in Britain only 22% say they have confidence in Trump, with 14% in France and 11% in Germany. Ironically, only in Russia is he held in high regard. 53% percent of Russians have confidence in Trump."

"There you go again," Jack said, "You really care what people in France feel about us? Or Germany? or even Russia? In most of these places we have been taken advantage of. If they're in NATO are they anteing up what they agreed to pay for their own defense and do you really think that most people around the world are concerned about what happens to our economy? They only care about theirs and what's good for them. As they should be. As they should."

"First of all what Trump says about paying for NATO is grossly exaggerated. Most places have paid their two percent or contributed in ways other than just transferring cash. So he and you are on soft ground with that. But it's a great talking point to work up his base. That I'll grant you. To blame others for our problems. And in regard to a U.S.-first approach to our economy, cite one credible economist who things that will be good for us? It's no longer the 18th or 19th centuries when Mercantilism held the day. Anyone who knows any history knows what a disaster that turned out to be--huge global economic crashes one after the other--and how things will be even worse here if we revive that approach. You guys are playing with fire."

"My point is," Jack said, "that what's most important is how we feel about ourselves, not what others who wish us harm think about us. I see Trump getting under the skin of Europeans and others to be a good thing for us. For decades with both Republican and Democrat presidents cared too much about what others thought about us so we let them walk all over us. It's better if we focus on ourselves and stop worrying about other people's opinions, which, incidentally, could turn on a dime if any of these people saw it to be in their best interest."

"We should pay attention to what smart people, what experts think."

"I've had it with your so-called experts. They are the people who brought us to this crisis. A list of economists who know what they're talking about would be a pretty short list. When you have a moment pass along your list of economists who have gotten things right. I'm sure it would fit on a 3x5 card."

"Again, you're good with the talking points but when it comes to evidence and facts you have less to say."

Jack mumbled something and so I continued, "In regard to made-up stuff, have you paid attention to some of Steve Bannon's crackpot ideas? Ideas that Trump seems to have bought into that if followed could turn our actual problems into a catastrophe."

"I'm listening," Jack said.

"One example--the Fourth Turning. Have you heard of it?" Jack looked away so I said, "Back in 1977 there was a book titled The Fourth Turning which claimed that America was on the cusp of an historical crisis equal at least to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. That we are about to be plunged into a global disaster. Bannon has apparently read it three or four times and keeps a heavily marked-up copy of it close at hand. It and he includes a prophecy of a bloody cataclysm that will remake the global order. The likely result is World War III. This is just another example of American apocalyptical thinking that at least a third of the American people believe to be impending. You know, the Rapture, Last Days, the Second Coming."

"I don't know about any of that," Jack muttered.

"Well you should know about it because Bannon is one of the people Trump listens to. I admit that Bannon has the hair and the wardrobe that make him look smart, but his beliefs--and they are beliefs and not ideas--are unhinged. With North Korea having ICBMs we don't want our president to think this represents the start of the Fourth Turning. And, again from Bannon perspective, a good thing."

Still not wanting to deal with this, Jack said, "One thing before I go. Did you read that Trump has 100 fewer White House staff than Obama?"

"I saw that," I said, "In general he's very slow in filling jobs. For example, we hardly have any ambassadors in place."

"Again, you're missing the point. The conventional wisdom is that all these people are needed. This so-called slow pace is intentional. Trump is making the case that we don't need all these people and could get along with maybe half our civil servants. It's all about smaller government. I know you disagree, but he campaigned on this."

"If I go along with you--and I don't--though there for sure could be some real cutbacks in many of the agencies (don't get me started talking about the Department of Education)--is he also shrinking the size of the presidency itself because it sure doesn't feel that way. His ego is so huge that he wants to be front and center and in charge of everything. Or at least give the appearance that he is. Just ask the president of Montenegro, who he literally shoved aside the last time he was in Europe for a meeting."

"To make my point about shrinking the presidency," Jack said, "take a look at how he behaved at the recent G-20 meeting. He hardly participated. As you noted, he let Ivanka fill in for him. It was a way of, frankly, insulting other countries and leaders. As if to say even my daughter can do this. Intended or not he's also diminishing the presidency. So far I'm not seeing many signs that he thinks about the presidency as imperial. Quite the contrary. He sees it as no big deal. Which may explain some of his Twitter and other behavior. It may be true, as you guys claim, that he's emotionally unfit to be president (in other words, crazy). It also may be that he has you confused and snookered."

"I don't know," I said, "About this I don't think he's that strategic. He feels more like a seat-of-the-pants operative.

"Exactly!" Jack said, "Again, that's my point--it's as if he's saying you can be president and not make too big a deal about it."

"I'm not buying this," I said.

"I gotta go," he said and with that was gone.

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Friday, July 07, 2017

July 7, 2017--"To Make Enhancements to Your Citibank Banking Experienece"

There was a letter from Citibank and another from American Express.

The letter from Citibank said that "to make enhancements to your Citibank banking experience" they are shutting down our local branch and since that is where we have our safe deposit box, we need to find a new location for that. There were no suggestions regarding where to look and so later in the day I called my local branch with two questions--

First, how was closing my local branch an "enhancement"? The woman who answered the phone said I needed to talk with the manager and she put me on hold for that. After 10 minutes of waiting I was disconnected.

I called again and the same person answered. When she heard my voice, she hung up. A third call went unanswered.

Wish us luck in finding a bank with a vault. We live in Manhattan and pretty much every piece of commercial real estate is either a pharmacy, restaurant, or bank. But banks with no safety deposit boxes.

Rona said, "I guess this means we'll have to hide our stuff under the mattress."

"Including our deeds, will, my mother's wedding ring, and my Uncle Ben's Patek Philippe watch?"

The other letter from American Express Rona opened on the way home from the New Harbor post office. I could hear her muttering to herself.

"What does it say?" I asked, sensing nothing good.

"Why don't you wait to get home. No need to get upset while driving."

"I can handle it. Please, tell me what it says."

"It's just a form letter about changes in your account terms."

"If it's no big deal why were you muttering and thinking it would upset me?  I'll pull over so you can tell me what they're up to."

"Whatever you say," she said as I pulled off the road.

"Each month you always pay the full amount so the changes don't affect you."

"Who do they affect?"

"People who have their so-called 'Pay Over Time' feature."

"What's that?"

"If you don't pay the full monthly amount they charge interest. The letter is about changes in the APR rate."


"The annual percentage rate."

"Which is?"

"The amount of interest they charge if you make partial payments."

"I don't do that."

"That's why I said it doesn't apply to you."

"But you were muttering."

"Because people with more modest incomes pay over time and the new rate for them is $29.99%"

"What?" I was happy not to be driving. I would have crashed the car. "Isn't that usury? Aren't there laws about that?"

Rona said, "Not in Donald Trump's America."

"Thirty percent. Loan sharks charge less."

"Not 30 percent."

"You just said . . ."

"29.99 percent."

"A bargain."

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

July 6, 2017--Gorgeous Donald

My Uncle Harry was the owner of numerous failed businesses. But it never stopped him from dreaming of one day striking it rich.

At one time he was a partner with my father in a bar and grill in Brooklyn. My mother felt this was not an appropriate business for Jewish people (who she contended "didn't drink"--but if they did [and they did] they should not do so in public) and so, after speaking in opposition to their buying and running the 7-11 Club (it was at 711 Snyder Avenue), she never mentioned it again.

Restraining herself from talking about things about which she disapproved (quite a few things it turned out) was not in this case going to be difficult since the 7-11 ginmill failed quickly, not so much because business was slow but for two reasons--

First, because Harry and my father disagreed about everything, including how many bulbs to buy when one burned out (my father would buy one, Harry a gross--"They'll last us a lifetime," he claimed).

And, two, it turned out that the notorious bookmaker, Harry Gross, who was married to a policewoman who he stashed in the suburbs so he could cavort in public with a sequence of blonde bombshells on his arm, Harry Gross used the back table of the Club as one of his "offices."

When in 1951 he was convicted of heading a $20 million dollar a year gambling ring that was protected  by hundreds of policemen on his payroll, many from the 67th Precinct right down the block from the bar, things went from bad to disaster at the 7-11.

Harry Gross
My Cousin Chuck and I were excited about the news--for us having family members even peripherally associated with gangsters gave us quite a lot of cred at PS 244, where my cousin soon thereafter tried his own hand at schoolyard bookmaking (with me serving as his "runner"--but that's a story for another time.)

But to the 7-11 regulars having this news exposed (many came to the Club it was subsequently discovered not for the booze but for Harry Gross' action, and thus with Gross in jail there was no longer any reason for anyone to hang out with my father and Uncle Harry.

Unless there was interest in watching the two brothers-in-law fight.

As it turned out, not much interest. Who wanted to sip Seagram's 7&7 while listening to two crazy people argue about light bulbs?

So soon the Club went bankrupt and they finally went their separate ways. My father, with another uncle with criminal associations as a partner, into the parking garage business, whereas my uncle remained in bar and grills.

His last such business in New York, on 42nd Street in Manhattan, was the bar and restaurant in the Holland Hotel. It too ultimately failed in the 1950s, with Harry sneaking off to Miami under the cover of darkness since he owed loan sharks thousands, and they were wanting to break his knee caps.

Years later, when the hotel was finally closed down by the city, the NY Post referred to it as a "once notorious den of prostitution and drugs."

I'll say this for Uncle Harry--he sure knew how to pick 'em.

I loved hanging out there. First, because it was in the CITY. I was eager to spend as much time there and as little as possible in pre-cool Brooklyn. And, then, this story is about to take a turn, the rooms and lunch counter at the Holland were favorites with professional wrestlers when they were in town to "perform" at the old Madison Square Garden, which was relatively close by on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street.

The likes of Tony Rocca, Dick the Bruiser, and André the Giant could be found there. And, my favorite, Gorgeous George. Since he was reputed to live a clean, alcohol-free life he sat at the counter of the coffee shop drinking tea and coffee while most of the wrestlers and their handlers and girlfriends would inhabit the bar.

And so, since Uncle Harry told me to stay away from the bar, Gorgeous George noticed me and at times chatted me up, asking about my school and life in Brooklyn.

In the ring he was famous for his posing, of course, but also for handing out "gold" hairpins, which he used to keep his signature blonde tresses in place. Since I was still too young to see him in action (except on TV), from time to time he would give me a handful of his hairpins which the next day I would share with my neighborhood pals.

In reading about him yesterday, in Wiki, I learned that he was one of the original "gimmick characters." Before his time pro wrestlers were quasi-athletes. Though the matches were staged with the winners and losers predetermined, to watch them was not so different from watching wrestling in, say, the Olympics.

From Wiki--
Gorgeous George's impact on wrestling has been interpreted in many ways, demonstrating how fast television changed the product from athletics to performance. His legacy was the enormous change in wrestling personas he inspired. Before him, wrestlers imitated "ethnic terrors" (Nazi, Arabs, etc.), but his success birthed a more individualistic and narcissistic form of character.
Gorgeous George
I had been thinking about wrestling since last weekend when Donald Trump posted a video of himself body slamming and pretending to punch out WWE honcho, Vince McMahon, with the CNN logo photoshopped on Vince's face.

Then it struck me--one of Donald Trumps personas is Gorgeous George!

Like so many, he wanted out of the boroughs (he is from Queens) and wrestling must have been one of the things, also in the 1950s, that lured him to the big city. Very much the Gorgeous George version of wrestler who "birthed a more individualistic and narcissistic form of character."

So we not only have a Tweeter-In-Chief, but a Wrestler-In-Chief. However, in Trump's case the outcome is not preordained. Gorgeous George always won; Trump? not so much.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

July 5, 2017--Midcoast: Counting to 30

"I can count to 30."

We were in the waiting area while our car's wheels were again being aligned. With the battered roads in Maine we have to arrange for this two or three times a year. So I was not feeling happy. In fact, I was grumpy.

And so when the little girl sitting with us proclaimed her arithmetical abilities I buried my head deeper into the paper. And what I was reading did not lighten my mood. Half the front page was devoted to the obscene things Donald Trump had said about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. And turning to the distraction of the sports page, I read that the Yankees had been trounced again, losing their substantial lead in the 8th inning.

Altogether, I was not having a good morning.

"15, 16, 17, 18," the girl chanted, squirming with pleasure in her chair. Rona was already having a wonderful time.

She looked to be about five and was wearing a dress and patent leather shoes. She was all alone.

She can't be waiting for a car, I thought, indulging my cynical self. Her parents must still be at the service counter.

Back to the Times I tried to ignore her and Rona. If I were honest, the Yankees more than Trump were getting under my skin. They started the season so well and now they were losing almost every night. Following the Yankees was one of the ways I could block out some of the agita engendered by Trump's daily outrages. But not for the past four weeks. The Yankees were supplying plenty of agita on their own.

"21, 22, 23." At 23, the girl paused and looked up at the ceiling as if searching for answers.

To help Rona said, "24."

After a moment of additional struggle, the girl gleefully said, "25!"

"You're doing so well," Rona said. "What comes after 25?"

"26," the girl smiled and got up to get a cup of water from the cooler.

"You really know your numbers," Rona said.

The girl picked up where she left off and, now grinning, said, "27!"

"You're getting close to 30," Rona said, seeing she was beginning to struggle again. "What's next? After 27? I'll bet you know."

The girl, curled up in her chair, began counting on her fingers and said, "28," and, gushing, immediately added, "29!"

I put the paper down to listen and observe and was actually beginning to enjoy myself. I could sense Rona tensing, trying to not be too helpful but yet not wanting to cause the girl to become too frustrated. It was a complicated balance to strike.

"30!" she exclaimed, now bouncing in her chair. "I told you so. I can count to 30!"

"You did it," Rona said, all excited, "How about more? Can you keep counting?"

The girl shook her head, but, looking skeptical, still tried, "30-30?" She knew she had hit a wall.

"You want me to help?" Rona asked. Shyly the girl nodded her head, "30, 31," Rona paused, the girl said nothing and so Rona said, "32."

And before she could continue the girl quickly added, "33, 34, 35, 36." She was grinning broadly.

"I knew you could do it," Rona said.

Now all excited the girl counted, "37, 38, 39," she paused, then said, "30-10."

"That's very interesting," Rona said, "Very clever." The girl stared at her. She knew she hadn't come up with the right number and thus was curious why Rona was praising her.

"It's probably a little too complicated for me to try to explain to you why, though 30-10 doesn't come after 39, in many ways, what you said was, as I said, interesting."

The girl seemed satisfied with that. "After 39," Rona said, "comes 40."

The girl repeated, "40," and with that asked, "How old are you?"

Before dealing with that, Rona said, "My name's Rona. What's yours?"

"I'm Julie," she said, reaching out to shake hands.

"Julie is one of my favorite names," Rona said.

"How old are you, Roma?" she repeated.

"How old do you think I am?" Rona asked.

Julie stroked her chin, looking carefully at Rona out of the corner of her eye. "25?" she said.

"I like that," Rona said, "But I'm older than that. Take another guess."

Julie now was peering at her, "27?" Still happy with her guess, Rona shook her head. "20-12?" Julie asked.

"Do you mean 32?" Julie now was bouncing in her seat. With that a man approached us to ask if Julie, his daughter, was being a bother.

"Not at all," both Rona and I said, "She's showing us how good she is at counting."

"She made it all the way to 40," I said. "How old is she? She's very precocious."

"I'm precious," Julie said, again smiling.

"That too," Rona said. "How old are you?"

"Six," Julie said, holding up five fingers of one hand and one of the other, "I'm waiting for my mother. We're going to a parade."

"Are you OK with her?" her father said. He indicated that he worked at the auto dealership.

"Absolutely," Rona said, "Our car won't be ready for at least another half hour. She's is delightful."

When her father was back at his desk, Julie, leaning closer to Rona whispered, "Do you know how old Jesus is?"

"Who?" I said, not sure I had understood.

Still looking at Rona, Julie said, "Jesus. From the church."

"No one's ever asked me that," Rona said, "That's a really good question. Do you go to church?"

"Just on Sunday," Julie said. "But I don't like it there. They won't let me sit with my father. My brother can. He's nine."

Being a little cautious about the subject, Rona said, "Maybe when you're nine they'll let you sit with him." And then to change the subject back to counting, Rona asked, "If you're six and he's nine, how many more years will it be until you are nine?"

I tried to catch Rona's eye to suggest she not frustrate her with a question too difficult for someone her age. Even someone as obviously bright as Julie.

"Is Jesus a man or a woman?" Julie asked, ignoring Rona's subtraction question.

Not looking directly at Julie, Rona said, "I don't . . ."

"There's my mommy," Julie said, all excited. She hopped off her chair and ran over to her. She grabbed hold of her mother's jacket and tugged her to us, "This is my friend Roma," she said, "And he's her father," Julie said, pointing at me. I am in fact nearly 20 years older than Rona so this was not such a bad guess. Many others had assumed the same thing.

"Nice to meet you," Her mother said, "I hope she didn't talk your ear off. She can do that."

"Not at all," Rona said, "She's delightful. And very smart."

"Are you ready for the parade?" her mother asked?

Julie squealed and ran toward the door. When she got there, waiting for her mother, she turned to wave goodbye. And then they were gone.

As it turned out, the wheels did not need realigning and there was no charge.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

July 4, 2017--The 4th

I am planning a lazy day and so no blog this morning.

There is a lot to celebrate even with our troubles. Actually, because of them. As we can see, the series of checks and balances our Founders fought for and designed for their posterity is working rather well.

To life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! And, of course, equality.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I will share an unexpected story about an encounter with a precocious 6-year-old.

Monday, July 03, 2017

July 3, 2017--Jack: Political Bull Fight

"I know you love Joe and Mika."

"Not really," I said to Jack who has taken up residence in the Bristol Diner.

"Don't you watch Morning Joe all the time?"

"Not so much in Maine where we limit our TV watching. Especially cable news."

"But I assume you're aware of the flap between them and Trump?"

"How could I not be, though I already disagree with you."

"I'm all ears."

"It's not between them. It's a situation that Trump created by his venomous tweets. And I mean them since the tweets were almost as nasty about Joe Scarborough as they were about Mika Brzezinski. I think the president called him a psycho, among other things. And of course got into all that blood business again, this time about Mika bleeding from the chin."

"And you think Mika and Joe are wholly innocent?"

"Whatever they might have said about Trump is not in any way equivalent. He's the president of the most powerful country in the history of the world and they are talkshow hosts."

"Let me quote a few things to you that on the air they said about Trump. Let's see if you feel they crossed the line."

"Before you begin let me agree in advance to one thing."

"I can't wait to hear this."

"During the campaign for the Republican nomination Joe and Mika, like a lot of other TV and print people, cozied up to Trump because he was a good story, quotable, and whenever he was on the air they would see their ratings skyrocket. And of course it was good for Trump as well as it gave him many millions of dollars worth of free air time. It was win-win for them while for the country it was lose-lose."

"And then," Jack said, "after he was elected they thought he would continue to be their pal and remain available to them. But once he was in the Oval Office he was no longer so eager to be on their show. He had other ways to communicate with his base. Mainly via Fox News. And tweeting of course. Joe and Mike admitted at the end of last week that he cut them off when they began to criticize him after they tried to influence his appointments and policies. He ignored them and they felt used, left out, conned. All of which they were."

"So far there's nothing new about this," I said, "Talkshow people like Sean Hannity, Mika and Joe, and real journalists are all about their contacts and sources. They live off access and leaks."

"That's why they snuck off to Mar-a-Lago New Years. To hobnob with Trump."

"It's an ugly business all a round. But remember, Trump's the president and what he said about the two of them went way over the line. Though as Maureen Dowd said yesterday, he's not a sexist pig but a pig."

"I'll get to her in a minute," Jack said, "but before I do, do you disagree that over the past few months Mika and Joe have questioned his stability, mental health, and ability to serve as president? This is different than criticizing his policies and the activities of his cabinet and White House staff. This is to call him crazy."

"But again," I said, "he's the PRESIDENT (all caps) of the United States. They are, what, by comparison small time operators. If he could manage to keep his mouth shut or stop tweeting, basically ignore them, that would be the best way to retaliate. Ignoring them is the best way to deal with people with big personalities and egos."

"But again, I mentioned Mika and Joe not to talk that much about them but about something that should be of greater concern to you."

"I'm happy to move on. Do you want to talk now about Maureen Dowd's column where she did in fact call him a pig?"

"Not about that," Jack said, "but about something else she wrote. More in line with what Brzezinski and Scarborough and the people appearing on their show have bene staying about him. Let me read you something she wrote this weekend--

"He is not built for this hostile environment [Washington, DC] and it shows in his deteriorating psychological state."

"What's wrong with that?"

"First of all, Joe and Mika and Maureen are not psychiatrists. Calling him reprehensible is one thing, but attacking his mental health is another matter. Are they beginning to make the case that he's psychologically impaired and so it's time to roll out the 25th Amendment and declare him incompetent to continue as president? If so, expect people in the streets with torches and pitchforks."

"I could see that happening," I said, "His people are pretty riled up. Many, worse than that."
"One more thing--there was that New York Times' lead editorial on Saturday--'Mr. Trump, Melting Under Criticism.'"

"I saw that."

"And what did you think?"

"I basically agreed with it."

"I have to agree with some of it as well--particularly the part that criticizes him for all his disgusting references to bleeding, really women's bleeding. It's obviously some sort of reference to menstrual blood. He must have male menophobia--an actual condition. But now here I go playing psychiatrist! What concerns me is the title of the piece. How it too suggests Trump's unfit, maybe psychologically unfit to be president. The Times even praises Nixon, if you can believe it, for the 'grace,' that's the word they used, with which he handled the press during the height of Watergate. That's as low a blow as anyone could deliver to a president--comparing him unfavorably to Nixon."

I said, "I too thought that was way below the belt. Nixon was disgraceful when it came to the press. He illegally wiretapped dozens of them and got the IRS to audit many of their taxes. That doesn't qualify as grace."

"But here's my real concern--do you and your friends really want to see Trump meting down, cornered? I mean, he appears to be very thin skinned and if he feels trapped who knows how he might act or, worse, retaliate. And I'm not talking tweets and stupid videos of Trump body slamming a fake CNN reporter at a WrestleMania  match. I'm talking Syria, North Korea, Putin, China, and a few other little things like that."

"Say more," I said, "And by the way, you're being very reasonable this morning."

He ignored that and said, "From your perspective would you want an out-of-control Trump or Mike Pense in charge? Pence who could probably work more effectively with Congress?"

"I'll have to think about it. I did write a few months ago that from a progressive perspective a weak Trump for three-and-a-half more years may be the best thing to hope for."

"You told me once that when you spent a half year in Mexico and during your times in Spain you enjoyed bull fights."

"I admit that I did. I know it's not politically correct, but I went to a lot of corrida de toros."

"And as part of every fight in an attempt to weaken the bull the banderillas planted barbed sticks in its shoulders. This did weaken him, lowered his head, but also enraged him and, my point, made him more dangerous."

"I am getting your analogy."

"I know you and your friends are enjoying Trump's fall, but maybe you're also making him more dangerous. If I were you, I'd think about this."

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