Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 30, 2016--You Be the Judge

They broke into Morning Joe yesterday to announce that their parent network, NBC, had just summarily fired longtime Today Show host Matt Lauer for "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace."

Joe Scarborough, Mike Barnicle, and frequent Today host Willie Geist were visibly shaken. I suspect in Joe's case in part because he feared he could easily be the next to fall. There's a lot of sexual static in his past.

We watched for awhile and then switched to NBC where co-host Savannah Guthrie and last-minute substitute host Hoda Kotb were sharing their feelings of upset.

After ten minutes we surfed around to see how the other networks were was dealing with the news. 

First to CNN, where morning co-host Alisyn Camerota had been sexually harassed by her past employer, Fox News head Roger Ailes who had been summarily fired six months ago; then to Fox itself where the hosts, conveniently forgetting their own network's history with sexual harassment, were a version of gleeful; next to CBS where senior-host Charlie Rose had been summarily fired a week and a half ago for sexual malfeasance. Then finally to Today's main rival, ABC's Good Morning America.

We lingered there because mega-businessman Daymond John of Shark Tank fame was being interviewed about his latest book, The Power of Broke. We stopped to watch as Shark Tank is one of the two or three shows we enjoy watching. OK, one of two

At the end of the interview, the person interviewing him thanked him profusely (Shark Tank is also an ABC show) and reached over to touch him. On the upper thigh!

In the context of all the inappropriate touching this was shocking and the only thing of interest in this otherwise innocuous program.

"Can they get away with that?" Rona asked.

"I guess we'll find out later today or tomorrow when ABC human resources and/or executives of the network may have to deal with it."

"Did it make any difference that Daymond, the touchee," Rona wondered, "is a man?"

"Good question."

"Or that the interviewer, Robin Roberts is a woman?"

"And," I said, "an openly gay woman at that."

"This is all so complicated," Rona said. "In addition, I wonder if NBC rushed to fire Lauer, one of the networks Trump claims deals mainly in fake news, before he could get his hands on the story and gleefully scoop and excoriate them."

"He's on quite a roll with that," I said, "Shortly after the Matt Lauer story broke he was tweeting about 'low-ratings' Joe Scarborough and alluding to the scandal that befell him back when he was a congressman--when a female intern died of unclear causes in his Florida office."

"No wonder I don't want to watch TV," Rona sighed.

"But don't forget Shark Tank."



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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November 29, 2017--Alabama On My Mind

Not long after Donald Trump announced he was running for president, still in Delray Beach, we ran into a neighbor who, without a proper hello, whispered to us, "Don't repeat this, but I'm voting for him."

By then we knew who the him was.

If she had been polled, not telling the truth, she would likely have said she was undecided or that, as a lifelong Democrat, she planned to vote for Hillary.

But when election day came she voted for him, he carried Florida easily, and we know the final dispensation.

I suspect something like this is going on in Alabama as they are within two weeks now of voting for someone to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate.

A large percentage say they can't vote for Roy Moore and for the first time in their lives plan to vote for Doug Jones, the Democrat. Many of them are not telling the truth. Even in some Alabama circles it is not socially acceptable to openly say you will be voting for a pedophile.

Perhaps an equal number are saying to pollsters that they plan to vote for Moore, in spite of everything, because they can't handle the thought that someone who supports a woman's right to have an abortion might be elected. In the privacy of the voting booth, though, resisting local social pressure, hating the idea that he seduced adolescents, they will in fact vote for Jones.

At the moment, Moore has been gaining in the polls, whatever they're worth, and it looks like a statistical dead heat.

Once again, as in Virginia, women will determine the outcome. Either by voting or opting not to.


*    *    *

On Morning Joe the other day, they got into an heretical discussion--how for Democrats to regain control of Congress and the White House, they have to welcome into the party and appeal to at least some social conservatives. This may mean that they need to open their tent wide enough to include Second Amendment people, religious voters, and even those who believe that there should be some limitations on the right to end a pregnancy. Like, for example, believing that abortions after 20 weeks of gestation should not be permitted. 

Someone on the show mentioned that Nancy Pelosi said Democrats should welcome right-to-life people. "We want to win," she said. And to win seats in most southern states Democrats must nominate and support cultural conservatives who are not strong supporters of abortion but who believe in and will, for example, vote for other Democratic priorities like preserving the social safety net and protecting the environment and voting rights.

*    *   *

This led to a complicated discussion between Rona and me sparked by this and our seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, where Frances McDermand relentlessly and even violently seeks justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Neither of us really liked to movie but it did get us talking about issues of concern particularly to women. Especially abortion rights.

"Why is this such a passionate, non-negotiable subject?" I asked. "I support that right and personally do not see it appropriate or perhaps constitutional to restrict it in any significant way."

"Because it's the one issue," Rona said, "that should be totally in the hands of women to decide. My body, myself. All other political and social issues are not as gendered. This is a women's issue. So to limit it, to take it away from the control of women, is to limit women's autonomy in ways that many, most women find to be totally unacceptable."

"Are you saying, then, that this is more about WOMEN'S RIGHTS and efficacy writ large than just abortion?"

"Yes. In itself, again for most women--not all by far--it's both a pressing reality and a metaphor for a range of cultural issues. We feel that though this is our issue, at the same time some of us, including some who are very liberal in regard to other matters, because we want to win, may opt tactically to agree to some compromises. But than again, because it's so important to some, any compromise might be impossible to consider, much less embrace."

"The other day you said, and I feel this sums up some of the complications, that the choice in Alabama to some, perhaps to many, is between a pedophile (Moore) and a baby killer (Jones). That that's the way a lot of religious conservatives view the choice."

"I still believe that," Rona said, "This is about as contested and complicated as it gets. Assuming one is able to calm down enough about the subject and attempt to look at it from multiple perspectives. Because to win we first need to understand."


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November 28, 2017--The Highways of North Korea

Recently there were two dramatic attempts to escape from North Korea. One was caught on videotape as the defector raced south along a highway that led to South Korea and freedom.

On the tape we see him chased by North Korea border guards who fired 45 shots at him. Five struck home. Amazingly he was not killed, but rather was rescued by five South Korean soldiers who risked their lives to pull him to safety.

He is apparently resting comfortably in a hospital in the South, watching in fascination a steady stream of CSI reruns.

Doctors treating him reported that like the other escapee, his digestive system was full of parasitical worms. Some as long at 11 or 12 inches! They said this is evidence of how malnourished North Koreans are. They may have nukes and missiles but the regime does not have the resources or inclination to feed or treat its citizens.

The tape went viral. I asked Rona if she had seen it. She hadn't so we found it on YouTube. There it was in real time and slow-motion.

"Amazing," Rona said. "What a brutal situation." 

She leaned closer to the computer screen to get a better look at the escape. "Did you see that highway?"

"Highway?"

"The road he raced down."

"I didn't notice it."

"Take another look." We played the tape again.

"I think I see what you mean."

"How perfect the road surface is."

"I see that now," I said.

"Not a crack in it, no potholes, no bumps, no deterioration."

"Even the left-turn graphic on the surface looks as if it was just painted."

"When you think about the roads in Maine and New York City," Rona said, "it makes me angry that ours and our bridges are collapsing while those in about the poorest country in the world are in perfect shape."

"So when it comes to infrastructure who lives in a Third World country?"

Rona not answering was the answer.


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Monday, November 27, 2017

November 27, 2017--Duffer In Chief

During his campaign for the presidency, nominee Donald Trump repeatedly criticized Barak Obama for spending so much time on the golf course. Among other things, in dog-whistle terms, this meant black people are lazy.

Trump tweeted--

"Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf."

He also said that Obama "plays more golf than Tiger Woods." (More dog whistle.)


Then about himself, on the campaign trail, he said, "If I'm elected I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to play golf."

Well, the facts are that Obama didn't play his first round of golf until about the 100th day of being sworn in while Trump's first round, at his golf course in Palm Beach, occurred just two weeks after he was inaugurated. 


And this past weekend, again in residence at his Palm Beach pleasure palace (and for-profit private club), he played the 80th round of golf of his presidency. Since he had been in office just a little more than 300 days, 80 rounds means he golfed on 27 percent of them.

A few months ago when pressed to explain this blatant hypocrisy, he claimed he only plays golf with world and congressional leaders. In other words, rather than playing for fun he was working. Like his times on the tee with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

To be fair, there is some truth here--riding around in a golf cart with the likes of Abe or, twice each, senators Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham can not only be relaxing but productive. Deals can get struck. Like pressuring and flattering Lindsey to get him to vote to repeal Obamacare.

But in truth, the list of world leaders who have been Trump golfing companions includes only the Japanese prime minister. Neither President Xi of China nor German Chancellor Angela Merkel have taken divots with him. His companions have mostly been professional golfers, other athletes, and a few small-time business executives such as Mike Fasio, CEO of Prime Staffing, a New York based employment agency.

And what about his round of golf last Friday with Tiger Woods? How does this fit into Trump's golf/work paradigm? 

It's heard to imagine that Trump and Tiger conversed about tax reform (except perhaps to chuckle about how much each of these very wealthy men would see their taxes cut) or what to do about North Korea.

My sources tell me that they spoke about more personal issues--

The sort of thing two well-known ladies men discuss in the "locker room" or 19th hole--favorite places for such talk. That's how Trump tried to explain being caught on tape joking around with Billy Bush about how easy it is to get laid when you're a "star."

"So, Tiger," he might have said, "What's going on with you these days, and I'm not talking about your golf swing?" I can imagine a presidential wink.

"My back is feeling better," Tiger would say, "I'm hoping to get back in action soon." Imagine a Tiger wink.

"That means you haven't been getting any lately?" Continue to imagine winks.

"Not so much in person," Tiger likely said, "But I do like texting. I know you do too."

"I don't want to get caught like that Weiner--can you believe his name, by the way--or that loser congressman from Texas who just got exposed last week. Pardon the pun. Burton, Barton, I forget his name. What a bunch of losers. I'm so busy these days trying to concentrate on what's going on with that damn Congress and that low life Mueller that I haven't been able to get out much. Or watch most of my favorite TV shows. And every time I turn around Steve Bannon is on the phone or Ivanka wants me to do something for women."

"Been there, done that," Tiger would say. "These women won't leave you alone."

Trump would sigh, "You know what I said to that jerk relative of low-energy Jeb Bush, Billy whatever, about how easy it is to get women when you're famous? Can you imagine what I could be gettin' now that I'm president? Look what Kennedy and Johnson and Clinton got their hands on. All Democrats by the way. Or got into, if you know what I mean. I could use some of that. This is a hard job--they even wake you up in the middle of the night every time that short, fat guy shoots off a rocket. I wish Dennis Rodman could work out a deal with him so I could get some sleep. And everyone has their eyes on me. Can you believe that the Secret Service knows every time I have to take a leek?"

Tiger would say something commiserating. 



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Thursday, November 23, 2017

November 23, 2017--Thanksgiving

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and holiday season. My plan is to return here on Monday unless something so egregious happens between now and then that I can't resist. I put the odds of that at 50/50.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22, 2017--Notes From the Swamp

As part of his campaign in Alabama, Roy Moore has been enlisting the assistance of a large group of Evangelical preachers.

This week, a number of them reached rock bottom in their desperate attempt to deflect attention from Moore to those who accused him of sexual abuse.

One in effect said, "Who can blame him. Some of these 14-year-old girls look like they're 20."

Another said that if Jesus Christ himself came "down off his cross" and confronted Moore about his behavior, Moore should say, "I need to talk with my president to see what he would advise me to do."

I think we know what Trump would advise.

My favorite--one minister said that his accusers have committed crimes and should be prosecuted. If they claim that he molested them, they should not have waited decades to report him to the police. They had a legal responsibility to seek his indictment. Not to do so is to obstruct justice. A felony.

This is my favorite because of its desperate logic--if it is valid to say the girls and women were covering up crimes that means that Moore would be admitting he committed the crimes they are covering up.

This is so hypocritically and perversely clever that it suggests Steve Bannon is behind these counterattacks.


*    *    *

Rona last night raised a complicated question--

We were talking about the governor of Alabama who, among others, said she believes the the accusers but will still vote for Moore because anything is better than electing a Democrat.

Rona said, "If you're a Christian conservative and believe that abortion is killing; and that if Moore's opponent, Doug Jones, believes in a woman's right to choose (he does), you're faced with the dilemma of voting for either a pedophile or a baby killer. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is passionate about this. What do you say? What do you do?"

I'm still thinking about this. There's a part of me that wants to be fair minded, then there is another part of me that . . .


*    *    *

Then, I wondered, when attempting to compare Moore with Al Franken, feeling that there is no moral equivalency, there may be a great and sad irony that Moore, who I think will be elected, will be ushered into the Senate while Franken is being ushered out. How out of joint does that feel?


*    *    *

Further, about the sexual component of this, there is yet another social divide between people of faith and those of us who are more secularly oriented.

Whatever the truth about Franken's and Moore's behavior, clearly Franken was having some sophomoric though inexcusable "fun" as the photo of him fondling Leeann Tweeden reveals, while Moore was involved in acts of traditional, regional Gothic perversity. Yet another example of the great cultural dissonance that continues to plague our country.


*    *    *

Finally, I was thinking about the swamp that Trump and Bannon famously say they want to drain. Putting aside for the moment what that all means--since by my definition of swamp creatures they both qualify--one thing is clear: we're not talking about a swamp. We're talking more about a cesspool that in fact needs to be drained. 

To compare what is going in within our various governments--federal as well as local--swamp is an inappropriate metaphor. 

Swamps are a part of the natural order and as forested wetlands serve important life-generating purposes. They are places of great fecundity and contribute vitality to biodiversity and the larger ecosystem.

Cesspools on the other hand are, well, cesspools. And we have an overflowing one in Washington and another in Alabama. They and the many others are long overdo for draining. 

Swamp

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November 21, 2017--Civil Wrongs and Rights

Though I know at least half the books about the Kennedys are hagiographies, about Camelot and all that, and half of the other half are about their dark side--their involvement with the Mafia, Cuba, and the women (Marilyn and dozens of others)--still when another Kennedy book comes along before I come up for air I'm halfway through it and the tears are already flowing about what was (Jack's presidency) and what might have been (Bobby and Teddy's thwarted White House aspirations).

So, I'm more than halfway through Chris Matthews's Bobby softball biography, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit. It's no more than halfway decent but, for the Kennedy junkie that I am, that's enough. More stitched together and racing along in jump cuts it lacks the flow and insight of his book about Kennedy and Nixon, Kennedy & Nixon, for me still the best explication of Nixon's turbulent inner world as exposed by his complicated feelings about the Kennedys, especially Jack.

This son of a grocer from dusty Yorba Linda, California, Nixon was no Kennedy. And, sadly, he was daily aware of that more than anyone.

The good Bobby, the one that emerged later in life a year or two after his brother was assassinated, devoted his last years to calling for equal treatment of all Americans, especially the forgotten ones in impoverished Appalachia, sharecroppers' hardscrabble farms in the Black Belt of the Mississippi Delta, the migrant worker camps in the steaming valleys of California, and the churning inner cities.

The tears flowed for me for the first time when Matthews wrote about the integration of the University of Alabama in June, 1963. It was Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General who mobilized the forces to implement the court order to allow two black students to register. The iconic scene etched in most American's memories was of the diminutive Alabama governor George Wallace, surrounded by state troopers, standing in the doorway to thwart their enrollment.

In the close background the millions who watched this confrontation on live TV, could see the fury, the hatred on the faces of local Alabamans who gathered to bring the threat of violence to the situation.

Also watching this on television were the Kennedy brothers. 

Jack soon had enough and told Bobby and his staff to arrange for a primetime half hour with the three networks for later that evening. He intended to make a speech about what he was witnessing and feeling.

That night, to the nation, he said--
I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. . . . 
This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. . . . 
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
Five months later Jack was shot dead in Dallas and almost exactly five years after that Bobby was gunned down in Los Angeles on the night he won the California primary, which likely would have led to his nomination to face Nixon for the presidency, as his brother had in 1960.

With this era in mind and especially thinking about the Trump presidency and racial strife, which continues even after eight years of Barak Obama's presidency, Rona suggested we see the new movie a friend, Jonathan Sanger, produced, Marshall, about a case that Thurgood Marshall tried in 1940 some years before he became the first Negro to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

It is a very good movie which I urge you to see before it disappears into Netflix.

It is about an actual trial during which Marshall takes the lead in defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. On the surface, sadly familiar territory, but in this film, based on an actual case, the events and trial are not set in Mississippi or Alabama (as, for example, is To Kill A Mockingbird) but in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The script is tight, the acting and direction generally flawless, the story upsetting and riveting, but, stepping back for a moment, most remarkable and important is to be reminded that this trial took place in the Northeast. 

For those of us who like to think of ourselves as a bit superior to those in the middle of the country, it is good to be reminded that less than an hour from New York City, not so many years ago, things were not so different when it came to what used to be called "race relations."

Both the Matthews' book and Marshall are vivid reminders of that.


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Monday, November 20, 2017

November 20, 2017--Stupid

What do the following have in common?

Harvey Weinstein
Louis C.K.
Roy Moore
Al Franken
Mark Halperin
Bill Cosby
Kevin Spacey
Anthony Weiner
Gary Hart
George H.W. Bush
And, of course, Bill Clinton &
Donald Trump

Obviously, they all are among the best known sexual predators.

But in addition to using their power, wealth, and fame to exert sexual power over women and men (actually, boys), they are also stupid. 

This in no way is meant to humanize what they did, or allegedly did, but to indicate that while engaged in dastardly behavior they also were just plain stupid.

Let's begin with Gary Hart. Recall, back in 1987 he was the Democratic frontrunner and was expected to win the nomination for the upcoming 1988 election. His potential opponent was George H.W. Bush who was Ronald Reagan's Vice President. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

It was suspected by many in the press that Senator Hart liked to fool around. He vehemently denied that and, incredibly, challenged the press to try to catch him at it.

Among other things, to do so, they proceeded to sift through his garbage. It was a pre-digital time and this was considered state of the art in the surveillance business.

They didn't find anything incriminating but quickly a photo turned up of him on the fantail of a 83-foot cabin cruiser. On his lap was a women other than his wife (see picture below). She was Donna Rice who, after being identified, before becoming an advocate for internet security, was the spokesperson for No Excuses jeans. The boat was aptly named--and I'm not making this up--Monkey Business.

This qualifies as just plain stupid and when all was exposed ended Gary's political career.

Briefly, since I mentioned him, the first president Bush appears to have a penchant for patting attractive young women on their bottoms while he poses with them for pictures. Confined now to a wheelchair and physically declining, he confessedly continues to engage in what his family is attempting to excuse as the sort of charming practice older Waspy gentlemen are prone to. Perhaps, after a long career in public service, entitled to.

Everyone else on my list of miscreants has their signature interests--Louie C.K. confessed that he masturbates in front of women; Weinstein cavorts around hotel rooms in a bathrobe and nothing else; Weiner posts selfies of his junk on the internet; Roy Moore is only interested in underage girls; Cosby drugs and then molests women; Bill Clinton likes oral sex from his pizza delivery intern; and Donald Trump, well, Donald Trump, boastfully told Billy Bush and Howard Stern that he likes to grab women's (euphemism) genitals. 

In every case, disgusting behavior and really stupid stuff.


Just Friends, They Claimed

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Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17, 2017--Betty's Concerned About Me

"You're not yourself," Betty said, calling from Maine.

"Not even a hello?" I said.

"You know I'm busy, working three jobs and all. I don't always have time for niceties."

"I know that, love. It's just so unusual to hear from you after we relocate to New York. Also, you caught me off guard and I was moved by your concern. I'm not good at handling people being concerned about me, as much as I appreciate it. But," I added, "I'm OK. I mean, I think I'm OK . . ."

"Well I do read the things you write. And the one the other day about you're not feeling happy in New York upset me. To think of the two of you not being happy."

"I appreciate your concern. I really do. I was just having a down day."

"Sounded like more than that. In fact, I've been sensing you've not been yourself for some time. From even before the storm and the trees down and power outages and that crazy guy who slammed his car into yours."

"True, all of that was upsetting. Especially the car business. He came close to really injuring Rona. I think that . . . I mean . . . feeling exposed and vulnerable just at the end of our time here--I mean there, in Maine--set me back. But the bottom line, as time goes by, I'm less able to handle change, including coming back to New York or, in the spring also, returning to Maine. As much as I love it there." 

I took a deep breath. "Then of course there's what's going on in the rest of the world."

"I've been sensing all of that," Betty said. I could hear her taking a deep draw on her cigarette. She was on her break.

"You know it's funny to hear you say that. What's going on in the world is profoundly upsetting. You know me, how I try to be optimistic. I'm always looking for ways to come up with the best explanations for even the most dire situations. And how I try to find ways to fix things. But then Rona the other morning, we were having breakfast in Cafe Rona, asked if I believed we were coming to the end. 'Not the Big End you sometimes write about,' she said, 'I'm not becoming one of those Rapture people waiting around for End Times. I mean,' she said, 'the end of the system. The end of our democracy. Is our system strong enough to resist the direction in which it feels like we are heading?'

"That really shook me up," I said, "Rona's not inclined to think that way. She's also a problem solver. She too thinks we can figure out whatever we need to figure out."

"To tell you the truth it's feelings of these kind that are coming through on most of the things you've been writing recently. Not the funky pieces like those audiology tales, but the political stuff."

"Could be true," I said.

"And it's not primarily the content part--the pieces on Trump and the Russians and the Virginia and Alabama elections are right on. That's the point-of-view part. The concern I have is with the writing itself."

"The writing?"

"Yeah. It feels less confident, less energetic, more squeezed out with effort than inspired." She paused to see what I might say.

"Well, first of all, I appreciate your feeling that some of my stuff is--or has been 'inspired.' Your word. And to tell you the truth I have at times been feeling weary and maybe that what's coming across. Things are not flowing the same way. I've attributed it to aging. Of course. My favorite place to go when I feel anything changing."

"How many of these things have you written?"

"About 3,200."

"And how long have you been doing this?"

"More than 12 years."

"And how old are you?" Before I could say or lie, she said, "Scratch that. I don't think it's that. Aging. Maybe just a part of it is. I think it may be more that you're feeling overwhelmed. Overloaded." She paused, "Like the rest of us. That's what he's doing to us."

"He?"

"Who else--Trump. It feels like he's trying to be the last man standing. The last person. He pummels us daily. There's always something waiting that we have to deal with. He's great as setting the daily agenda. Usually with ridiculous things like his latest name for Kim Jong-un. He called him 'short and fat' the other day. So we have to engage with that. We have to take it seriously because he's the president and has the ability to get us into a big war with North Korea." 

I said, "I'm exhausted just thinking about the past week. We even had to deal with his crazy thing Wednesday with the water bottle. Like he was channeling Marco Rubio who had his own water issues. It's as if Trump has a huge reference library of things from the past that he can dip into and get us all agitated about one more time while he sits back and husbands his energy. He's trying to win by wearing us down to helplessness. He's more than 70 years old, doesn't sleep, is grossly overweight, and eats crap. Yet there he is every day full of piss and vinegar while the rest of us are feeling exhausted."

"I can see that in the things you've been writing," Betty said, "Again, less in the content, more in the lack of flow and energy in some of your pieces."

"I pride myself," I said, "in being persistent. I've said through the years that much of what I've been able to accomplish is the result of  refusing to give up, pressing on when others may flag. To outlast people. So here we are faced with things of much greater consequence trying to deal with the master of distraction, agenda setting, and persistence who's full of narcissistic energy."

"This could be what's happening," Betty said. "I feel it in your writing and maybe it's also responsible for the malaise that feels so widespread."

"Let's assume this is true," I said, "That would make things more dangerous. At a time when maybe our democracy is at risk those who dread and oppose what's unfolding are beginning to run out of gas. I put it this way--those who oppose this--because there are some who are happy about what's going on. Too many. They don't value democracy. They want a strongman to take care of them. In trade, they're willing to surrender their freedom. But those of us who do value freedom better get rested up and recharged because there are these threats and there's a long way to go until the next election--a year--and who knows what we'll have to deal with between now and then. Even tomorrow."

"I have to go in a minute," Betty said, "But I have one more thing to mention--we'd better hope that that Roy Moore is defeated in Alabama. To put him down and that Bannon who is behind him, to reject them is really important. There's about a month to go before the election and related to that I liked that piece of yours about how liberals have to get off our butts and work hard to take back our country. Minimally, everyone should send $50, a $100 to his opponent's campaign. Doug Jones's. And we have to commit ourselves to never giving up, no matter how tired or frustrated we feel because that's what Trump and Bannon and their others are counting on--exhausted, we'll simply surrender."

"That's never going to happen," I said.

"That's the optimist in you," Betty said with a smoky laugh.


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Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 16, 2017--About the Nicest Thanksgiving Story Ever

During breakfast at Cafe Rona (how we refer to our sweet mornings at home), after ten days back in New York City where a single shot of espresso in a paper cup can cost as much as $4.50, where an ordinary egg sandwich in an undistinguished place can arrogantly cast $18, we spoke about feeling ripped off. 

Few people on Broadway are smiling. Most walk through the swarming downtown streets with their heads drooping, buried in so-called smart phones. I have taken to calling them dumb phones since that seems to be the affect they are having on people who look as if they are shuffling along like crack addicts.

Clearly, we are not feeling happy. To quote Wordsworth, too many are involved in "getting and spending" and thus "lay waste their powers." For him, the power to be a part of Nature.

Most everything is commodified--where we live and shop, how we work and play, where we seek fulfillment and, hopefully, love. 

So much is rank ordered. It seems as if everyone, everything is situated within social, economic, and cultural hierarchies so one literally knows where one stands. Most feel unhappy with their sense of how they are doing.

For almost everyone, the answer is that they feel they are not succeeding even if by objective standards we are by comparison to almost everyone else on the planet among the most privileged, particularly in the context of what is most valued--authority, affluence, power, stuff.

Our longing for the life we left behind in Maine (where we cannot extend the season because our cottage is a "primitive" relic of the last century that is more about charm and coziness than infrastructural systems--I mean, we do not have much insulation and very little heat) our longing for a simpler, more authentic life is intensified as we see all the desperate seeking that surrounds us.

And thus we are not much looking forward to the holidays. For the most part here they too are often about desperation. To find ways to feel optimistic, to feel cheered by our place in the world, and sufficiently distracted to get through the days and out the other side to 2018. 

But then on Facebook there was a notice posted by one of our favorite local restaurants in Bristol, Maine--the Harbor Room.

I read it quite early yesterday morning and thus needed to reread it later in the day to make sure I hadn't misunderstood or had been hallucinating. 

Co-owners and friends Taylor Corson and Cerina Leeman posted--
Everyone has been inquiring as to what our plan is for Thanksgiving, so here it is . . .  
We are excited to share that we will be providing a Community Thanksgiving Dinner free of charge to all who come!  
Nothing is more rewarding than bringing our community together and we want to provide an opportunity for everyone to share a delicious meal with neighbors, friends, and family regardless of circumstance. 
Help us spread the word! We will also deliver to those with transportation issues with advanced requests.
Now we know where we want to be, including on Thanksgiving, but . . .

Taylor Corson & Cerina Leeman

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November 15, 2017--Punishing Sexual Assault

Some of the most distressing news of recent times has been the wave of outings of men with power using it to sexually assault usually younger women over whom they have authority.

But some of the best news of recent times is about the courage these women are showing as they confront their accusers and risk stigmatization and the resurrection of the emotional nightmares they experienced in some case decades ago.

From movie producer Harvey Weinstein to comedian Louis C.K. to senatorial candidate Roy Moore, and lest we forget, Bill Crosby, the stories are horrifying, yet familiar.

And, yes, there is Fox News, which makes the predatory sexual climate of Mad Men seem like an innocent tea party.  

In my case, I know one of the accused, Leon Wieseltier, the former literary editor of the New Republic. This for me brings it close to home. 

The details of Leon's behavior are sadly typical--

Several women said they were humiliated when he kissed them on the mouth in front of other staff members. Others said he discussed his sex life, including describing in detail the breasts of a former girlfriend. He made passes at female colleagues and pressed them to describe their sex lives. 

Daily, we are hearing stories like this and worse.

But things get more complicated when thinking about appropriate punishment.

With the exception of Crosby and perhaps Weinstein, it is unlikely than any of these men will be criminally prosecuted. Some are and will be sued in civil court and hopefully, if guilty, will need to pay for emotional damages that they caused.

And then there are the private settlements that have occurred. Most dramatically, Bill O'Reilly paying one of the women he abused an astonishing $32 million.

In other instances, especially when the accused are well known or famous, they will suffer public disgrace and likely lose any possibility of resuming their careers. Weinstein will never again produce a feature film, Bill O'Reilly will never return to TV, Leon Wieseltier will never write and publish another literary critique.

Some will enter sex-addiction treatment programs (or pretend to), stay out of public view for a year or so, and then attempt to crawl back to their previous occupations. Weinstein is allegedly in such a program. 

In these instances the punishment is informal--employers will not take the risk to bring them back. In the case of the news or entertainment businesses, executives will not take the chance of being picketed or that sponsors will abandon them. Sponsor abandonment and boycotting are what ultimately brought O'Reilly down.

In the case of Roy Moore, perhaps, perhaps the voters of Alabama will keep him out of the Senate and the public eye. That would serve as a version of punishment.

Coauthor of Game Change, Mark Halpern, did numerous slimy things a number of years ago (and, who knows, perhaps more recently). After being exposed recently he lost his multi-million dollar book deal with Penguin Press and was fired by MSNBC and Bloomberg News. Will any publisher or TV network ever take another chance with him? Will they trust that he will be able to control himself, or more significant to a network, that he will be able to attract viewers and thus sponsors or readers. In other words, build viewership, sell books, and make money?

While we are furious about what is daily being revealed, it is understandable that we might feel there is justice seeing these careers ruined. The perpetrators brought this on themselves and deserve all the punishment they are receiving. It seems appropriate. 

But in some instances is it possible that the consequences are beyond fairness? How do we even think about fairness in circumstances when much of the punishment occurs in extralegal ways?

I am not sufficiently without flaws to make these judgements. Difficult as it is with emotions so raw, thinking about this still seems worthwhile.

Thoughts are welcome.

Leon Wieseltier

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November 14, 2107--Chest Cold

Wouldn't you know it, we're back in New York City for a little more than a week and already I have a cold! My brain is foggy and thus I will not be attempting to write or post anything today.

It is passing quickly and I hope to have something for Wednesday--perhaps thoughts about appropriate ways to punish those being outed for sexual offenses. From Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. A very complicated subject. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

November 13, 2017--Republicans Hit Rock Bottom

Since June 2015 when Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce he was running for president (at the time I didn't appreciate the living metaphor of this descent), along with many others I wondered out loud about when he would finally hit rock bottom in his words and behavior. 

Would his calling Vietnam war hero John McCain a "loser" because he was shot down and captured--"I like winners, not prisoners"--turn enough voters off and knock Trump the draft dodger out of the race?

Or would it be the end when he mocked the gold star parents who spoke movingly about their son who had been killed in action?

Certainly, when the Billy Bush tape became known, the one where Trump bragged about grabbing pussies and how easy it is to get sex if you're rich and famous, certainly that alone would do him in.

But, no, it failed to do so. To his supporters his vulgarity and brashness made him even more attractive--their kind of person--and the rest is history.

He continues to speak and act outrageously now that he is president. Almost daily there is something in his tweets to delight his most fervent followers. It is likely true that, as he boasted, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. 

Now, Trump may have company in Alabaman Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee who is running to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's Attorney General.

Moore who is convincingly accused of having repeatedly molested a 14 year-old girl in 1979 refuses to withdraw from the race and by all indications, in spite of this, is likely to be elected.

Most Republican leaders are apoplectic. After their stunning defeats in Virginia and elsewhere last week they are in full panic that (1) Moore, will refuse to step aside and further tarnish the GOP brand or (2) he will be elected and they will then not know what to do with him. Ensconced in the Senate he will remind voters daily that pedophiles are welcome under the Republican tent.

Further, Moore's continuing campaign will surface all sorts of undesirable, image-mangling Alabaman Republican leaders who have been saying that they will vote for him even if he is guilty because anything, anything is better than having a Democrat representing in Congress the great state of Alabama. Pedophiles yes; Democrats, no.

Some from the evangelical community--major players in the Heart of Dixie State--have compared Moore to Joseph of Mary and Joseph. 

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, for example, noted that there are many older men cavorting with teens in the Bible, including Mary and Joseph, who "became parents of Jesus." This is a direct quote.

So, if one is still wondering when we would hit rock bottom in our Trumpian politics take note--we just have. 


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Friday, November 10, 2017

November 10, 2017--Weekending

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

November 9, 2017--GOP In Full Panic Mode

After the Democrats' showing in Virginia, where they did much better than projected and where many saw the outcome as a negative response to the Trump presidency, Republicans, less than 24 hours after the results were known, were in full panic.

As they should be.

Most alarming to them is the huge turnout, especially among suburban women who a year ago formed an important part of the Trump constituency. Without them, the GOP may see their majority ended in the Senate and challenged in the House.

All of a sudden, everything to them seems bleak and even hopeless.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must already be thinking about 2020.

Lindsay Graham and Jeb Bush too?

Can we please get Herman Cain stirring?

Most Republican members of Congress can't stand Trump and see him mainly as a political meal ticket. A ticket to ride. A signing pen if they ever manage to get anything passed by both houses of Congress. 

After Tuesday, don't expect to see too many signing ceremonies in the Rose Garden.

If these weasels conclude that Trump can't deliver the goods, they will dump him in a heartbeat. Many, gleefully. 

Someone else who until 48 hours ago seemed invincible was equally a loser. 2017's version of Karl Rove--Steve Bannon. 

Bannon who has been swaggering around for the past few months, masterminding the demise of the traditional Republican Party suddenly feels diminished. He's the one who convinced poor Ed Gillespie to pander to the Trump base during the last couple of weeks of the Virginia campaign. Under Bannon's tutelage, Gillespie made a big thing about the sanctity of Confederate statues and how we need to deport all immigrants.

How did that work out? With a week to go the race was supposed to be a dead heat. A few days later Gillespie lost by 9 points.

Expect Trump to try to cozy up again to Chuck and Nancy. Expect them to say, "No thanks."

They are expert at smelling blood in the water and they now have no interest in doing anything to help resurrect him. They're thinking Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader.

It's a crazy business but what a difference a day or two makes.


Governor Elect Northam

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

November 8, 2017--Jack: The Great Destraction

"So how are things in Moscow?"

"What?" I was busy and shouldn't have picked up Jack's call. I knew it would lead to aggravation.

"You know. Where you are."

"You mean New . . . ? Oh, I get it. New York City. Moscow. Communism."

Jack was already chuckling. "You and your comrades in Moscow by the Hudson must be feeling pretty good about my boy."

"Pretty good about Trump? That'll be the day. Maybe because he hasn't yet got us involved in a nuclear war? To be fair to him I should give him another a day or two to get one started."

"I mean how he's doing in Japan and South Korea. On his trip to Asia."

"In what way is he doing anything I might feel good about?" Jack again had me hooked. I should have hung up. We got back to New York just a few days ago after being powerless as the result of a tropical storm and we were having enough trouble adjusting to all the craziness in the city after six months in small-town Maine. I didn't need him making matters worse.

"I'm referring to what he just said about our talking with the North Koreans. How maybe there are signs that diplomacy could be working. He said that Tuesday at a press conference in South Korea. That didn't make me happy, but for you and your pansy friends that should have been music to your ears."

"I've heard this before. But before yesterday the last thing he said about trying to make a deal with them was to publicly tell his Secretary of State not to waste his breath talking to 'the little rocket man.'"

"That's the Trump I love," Jack said. "Republican and Democratic presidents wasted 25 years trying to get them to give up their nuclear weapons and what did that get us? During that time they developed atomic and hydrogen bombs and missiles that can almost reach America. I'm no fan of war. I was in the army. But we may be left with no option except nuking them. So when Trump talks about negotiations that buys them more time to figure out how to build bombs small enough to fit on their biggest missiles. Someone this morning on your favorite show, Morning Joe, said they're only a year away from being able to do that."

"Do we really need to talk about this depressing subject? Out the window here in Manhattan all I'm hearing are ambulance and fire engine sirens after months of listening to the sound of water in the bay and the birds in the trees and bushes. And now from you, there's more upsetting noise. So, give me a break and change the subject."

"OK. How about your girl."

"My girl?"

"Hillary."

"Not my favorite person. I had to hold my nose to vote for her. But you guys continue to be obsessed with her. She seems to be your favorite person. Don't you think it's time to fall out of love and move on?"

"Are you kidding me. She's the gift that keeps on giving. While you guys are locked in on Trump and the Russians, we have Hillary making life fun for us. A few years ago we had Benghazi. Now we have that uranium business and the fact that Hillary is behind the famous BuzzFeed dossier that supposedly lists Trump's alleged involvement with the Russians. And just the other day, when these were no longer on the front page, Donna Brazile came out with her book about how Hillary rigged the nomination, sabotaged poor Bernie, and bankrupted the Democrat Party. What a trifecta."

"But Hillary lost. She's irrelevant. Trump was elected and is the president. So he's the one that counts. If we're talking scandals and maybe criminal activity, the focus appropriately should be on him. Not her. You're trying to change the subject. Shifting the focus from him where it belongs to her who no one cares about anymore."

"Au contraire," Jack said, "To Trump people--and there are still a whole lot of us--she's still front and center. In fact, so much so that there should be a special prosecutor to look into her collusions. Just tracking down how Hillary sold 20 percent of our uranium to Russia justifies having someone other than Mueller to investigate it."

"Most of the stuff about her is made up. It's part of all the conspiratorial thinking you and your friends are so good at. But be that as it may, answer one more question for me before I have to go."

"I'm listening."

"Let's assume that Hillary did all sorts of bad things when it comes to the Uranium One deal."

"As they say, if it's true, 'Lock her up.'"

"OK. She's convicted of something and even goes to jail. This is preposterous but to shut you up for a minute let's assume that. So here then is the point--this is no way lets Trump and his people off the hook about all the corrupt and likely illegal things he and they did. Focusing attention on Hillary doesn't mean taking the spotlight off him. Were capable of doing two things at the same time--probe her dealings and keep the Mueller investigation of Trump going."

Without waiting to hear from Jack, I said, "But let's keep things in perspective--while she may have stolen the nomination from Bernie, with the help of the Russians he may have stolen the election from Hillary. They are not morally equivalent."

Jack didn't respond. 

"Your silence is making my point for me. You're primarily interested in using Clinton as a distraction. To turn attention away from Trump. At the popular radio talkshow level it's working. At least for the moment. You may be good at changing the subject--Trump is actually excellent at that--but Mueller's not going away and day by day, drip by drip, more of Trump's people are being shown to be implicated and at some point, probably two, three months from now, standing back, in full focus, we'll see what Trump himself and his cronies have been up to. It's not going to be a pretty picture and no matter what Hillary did or didn't do, no matter where she is, even if in jail, your boy is going down."

Still nothing back from Jack.

"You all will trot out more things to try to distract us--maybe even a war with North Korea, wag the dog style--but still his colluding and criminal behavior--likely of a financial sort--is not going away. What will ultimately happen I have no idea. But the truth will out. Only his rock-bottom 30 percent of dead-enders will believe all this is the result of conspiracies between the media and the socialists and the Clintons. But even you will know better. You're too smart to be taken in by that craziness, that paranoia"

Not a word from Jack.

"Then be sure to call me. That conversation I look forward to having."


Benghazi Hearing

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

November 7, 2017--Swamp Creatures

Every day yields revelations about the arrogant behavior of one or more of Donald Trump's bottom-feeding associates. 

Be they cabinet members such as Commerce's Wilbur Ross, former chief of staff Michael Flynn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, or recently indicted Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The list goes out.

In some cases such as Ross they are being exposed as continuing to engage in covert financial shenanigans, seemingly always involving Russians. Oligarchs as well as a son-in-law of Vladimir Putin.

In other instances, Mnuchin's, they have been nailed for deep feeding at the governmental trough. 

Our Treasure secretary, nearly a billionaire from his years at Goldman Sachs and a stint in Hollywood (like Steve Bannon), appears to have a penchant for the luxe life, especially flying around the country and world in private jets billed to the U.S. government (us) with his trophy wife who, while he spends an hour or two "working," shops.

Last week the New York Times had a good time revealing the details of these trips, quantifying their cost--how much it would have cost if he flew commercial and paid the highest coach fare versus how much his private military jet travel actually costs.

For example, the Times reported about the cost differential for the now infamous trip he and Mrs. Mnuchin took to and from Louisville, KY. Coach would have been $1,239; the private jet was a whopping $26,900!

If one costs out all his trips--Washington to/from Miami; New York to Washington; the Louisville junket; to/from Parkersburg, W.Va; a European excursion (London, Berlin, Baden-Baden); to/from Bari, Italy; and a round trip to Ottawa--commercial would have totaled $19,265 versus how much these trips in fact cost--$631,959.

As usual, when confronted with this information, the Trump administration's default response was that this is nothing new. Particularly, Obama's people did the same thing.

Actually, this is another example of alternative facts--for example, Obama's Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner always travelled commercial, not even seeking to bump up to business or first class.

I know Tim Geithner (his father was a colleague at the Ford Foundation) and this doesn't surprise me at all. I know how he was raised. At Treasury he was far from perfect, but decidedly was not a denizen of the Washington swamp.

Steve Mnuchin's Private Jet Domestic Travel--$94,101

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Monday, November 06, 2017

November 6, 2017--We Need to Get Off Our Butts

All the liberals I know are fulminating about Donald Trump and all the truly destructive things he and his administration are doing to America.

Rather than focusing on what we can do today, almost all are turning their attention to the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential race in which Trump has already announced he will run for a second term.

But almost all the liberals I know are not paying any attention to an important off-cycle election that will take place tomorrow, Tuesday, in Virginia, where the current governor, Terry McAuliffe is term-limited and thus unable to run for an additional term.

As a measure of the seriousness of the outcome in Virginia Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama campaigned for the lackluster Democratic candidate, Ralph Northam. They also pointed to the political opportunity represented by the down-ballot elections, most importantly races for the state legislature.

I know more than a dozen Virginia residents, all Democrats, and only one two of them have done anything more than talk about how terrible the Republican candidates are. I have not heard from any of them that they are canvasing door-to-door or manning phone banks to help bring out the vote.

All the recent polls show the race for governor and lieutenant governor to be a statistical dead heat. Political professionals from both parties are saying it's all about turnout. The winners will be the ones who can mobilize their supporters to vote.

Knowing this, as my well-informed friends do, there is still little action to speak of among progressives. Except for whining and complaining about how terrible things are. How, for example, if the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, wins and enough Republicans are elected to state office, women's reproductive rights will be imperiled and voting rights are likely to be curtailed. 

If that isn't enough to get my friends off their butts I don't know what will. 

Sadly, even the fear of that is not motivating a flurry of action. If I were cynical (and I am), I would suspect that my purple state friends would rather have things to complain about than make the effort to win.

Even sadder, I see this self-indulgent apathy to be endemic to the national Democratic Party. 

We've turned criticizing Donald Trump into an art form--feeling proud about our ability and cleverness to do that--but most liberals continue to look down their noses while mocking his supporters. But in the meantime, his people are mobilized and we are, well, wallowing in petulant passivity. All the while reminding anyone who will listen how smart we are.

You know what? We're not that smart at all. 

We may know our history, we may be more literate, more articulate, better educated, more reasonable, but what we are really good at is losing.

Who are our leaders? Chuck Schumer? Nancy Pelosi? Bernie Sanders? Joe Biden? Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren? Barack Obama?

Not including Obama, their average age is 72.  To make our agony worse, Obama, whom we pine for, is constitutionally unable to run for a third term. And even if he could, my suspicion is that he would lose to Trump who would again enjoy demonizing him.

As Harry Reid's former chief of staff, David Krone, recently told the New York Times, "There are killers and there are whiners. Unfortunately we have too many of the latter and not enough of the former."

If we can't get our act together to win this one--and with the scandals plaguing Trump, it should not be that difficult--2018 looms as a potential disaster. And unless we can come up with better candidates and get activated, we need to get ready for eight years of Donald Trump.


Ed Gillespie

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Friday, November 03, 2017

November 3, 2017--Computer Purgatory

I was in computer purgatory all day yesterday and thus out of commission. All now appears well. So I expect to return on Monday.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

November 2, 2017--Papadopoulos

As we're relocating, this will be brief.

My prediction about Mueller's indictments turned out to be half right--

Manafort yes, Flynn no--which suggests Flynn may have already made a deal to become a government witness. If so, that would be terrifying to Donald Trump as former National Security Advisor Flynn likely has quite a story to tell.

And no Jared Kushner who after two months of being out of sight finally showed up on a "secret" visit to Saudi Arabia. What's that about? Probably he was trying to appear insouciant. Pretending not to have a care in the world.

Then there is the story in Vanity Fair that Trump is blaming his son-in-law for convincing him to fire Flynn and FBI director Comes and that this in turn led to the appointment of the special counsel. If true, and it sounds like it is, this is the beginning of the end. Greek drama time.

Biggest surprise--most dangerous to Trump of those indicted--is George Papadopoulos. He was "turned" by Mueller in June by agreeing to help the on-going investigation in return for a promised slap on the legal wrist. 

Though this occurred months ago, apparently no one on the Trump team knew or suspected he was from that time working against them as a kind of double agent.

Thus, he was likely "wearing a wire" during some or all of that time.

Who knows what discussions might have been recorded. 

A desperate Trump yesterday, in addition to trying to blame everything on Hillary, called Papadopoulos a "liar" and "a low level volunteer," as if his job was to run errands and get coffee for the senior people.

To believe this one needs to explain the picture below of Papadopoulos at the table with Trump and senior level campaign officials.

If not for this photo one would never know that Trump is so welcoming to low-level volunteers.



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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

November 1, 2017--Relocating

I will return from New York City later in the week.