Monday, April 30, 2018

April 30, 2018--Alter Boy

Devoted to the simplistic macho writing of novelist Ayn Rand, House Speaker Paul Ryan, when it comes time to be a tough guy in real life--as they used to say in my old Brooklyn neighborhood--folds like a cheap camera.

But he had me going there for awhile the other day when I picked up some breaking news that he had fired the House chaplain, Father Patrick Conroy. 

These priests can't keep their hands off those teenage House pages, I thought, like so many in the Congress have been prone to in years past. Remember in 2006 Florida Representative Mark Foley of the wandering hands? 

The Speaker, I thought, liberated by his decision to step aside later this year, in high dudgeon, finally wielded his power. Maybe, I also thought, perhaps he will find a way to croak out a few words of criticism about his president. 

I know, don't hold my breath.

But then, true to his form, when the full story came out, it appears that the Speaker reverted to his craven self.

He sacked the good Father because in one of his morning sermons (which no one usually listens or pays attention to), rather than bringing Jesus into the House, he alluded to the unfairness of the tax cuts Congress was debating with Paul Ryan, about the only subject that makes his heart beat fast or evokes his piety--cutting taxes for the rich--egging his members on. Not that they need much egging.

Last November, when the House was considering the tax bill, in his morning prayer, Rev. Conroy said--
May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are no winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.
With these compassionate words, he was cooked. 

About a week later the father was admonished by the Speaker's office. He claimed, "A staffer came down and said, 'We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political'."

Because of Ryan's action, a religious war broke out on the floor of the House. Not a burning issue for me, but this flap exposed another fissure in Congress between traditional, mainly Northern Catholics and Southern evangelical Republicans, who want very different kinds of chaplains to lead their daily prayers. 

The Dems are sitting back enjoying the scrum, happy to add this to their list of Republican unforced political errors, hoping it will help them win enough seats in November to take control of at least the House of Representatives.

And while they're at it maybe they'll take a look at the extra-constitutional practice of both houses of Congress having chaplains on the payroll. James Madison, for one, resisted the idea that Congress should employ them if the framers wanted there to be a clear separation between church and state.

Again, don't hold your breath because in the meantime, carved in the marble lintel above the Speaker's chair in the House is, "In God We Trust."

But not to worry, there will soon be lots for Congress to do. Like impeaching the president.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

April 23, 2018--Contortions

It has been painful to witness progressives, Democrats twisting themselves into contortions as they attempt to come to grips with what is happening with the North Koreans.

Their problem is less with Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans than with how to think about and react to Donald Trump's involvement.

Remember how during the 2016 primaries he said it would be his "honor" to meet face-to-face with Kim? He was roundly criticized and mocked by both his Republican and Democratic opponents as being naive and inexperienced in the world of global diplomacy. He was chastised for asserting that traditional forms of diplomacy (which included many months of pre-summit negotiations between lower-level staffs) were the necessary prerequisites to meetings between heads of states. Particularly hostile ones.

Think Kissinger meeting privately with Zhou Enlai before Nixon would consider getting together with Zhou much less Mao.

Failing to recall how neophyte Barack Obama was roundly criticized and mocked by his political opponents (Hillary Clinton leading the pack) during the 2008 campaign when he declared he would be willing to meet face-to-face with the leaders of Iran and North Korea in the search for peace, progressives, opposing Trump now in such ahistorical, knee-jerk fashion are being, well, intentionally forgetful, hypocritical, or both.  

So now we not only have a heads-of-state meeting on the books for late May/early June, but we appear to have Kim making all sorts of preemptive concessions about his nuclear weapons program.

First he announced he was suspending all testing of missiles and nuclear warheads. Then, again without demanding anything in return, he announced over the weekend that he will be shutting down his nuclear weapons research and fabrication facilities. He wants, he says, to turn his focus to the collapsed North Korean economy.

This latter promise is discombobulating progressives. On Saturday and Sunday, for example, on CNN and especially MSNBC, former senior Obama national security advisors and staff have been all over the airwaves struggling with how to think about and respond to these overtures.

First, and most appropriately, they expressed skepticism, warning that the North Koreans for decades have made promises of this sort that they haven't kept. Then they dismissed the evidence that the extra-severe sanctions imposed on the North Koreans, mainly by the U.S. and China, have led to the further hollowing out of the North Korean economy, such as it is, and this is forcing Kim to the table. 

They are ignoring this evidence because, as with Kim's pledge to scale back his weapons program, not to have criticized what seems to be unfolding would give tacit if not overt credit to Trump, as unlikely and crazy and as confounding as what may be happening might turn out to be. 

Liberals so despise Trump that they cannot bear to give some credit, much less offer any praise for his leading the effort to bring this about.

Most outrageously, if Trump pulls this off he would be a leading candidate to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. If the unthinkable were to occur, he as well as Obama would have one. 

Worse--all of us in our heart-of-hearts know Obama didn't really deserve his whereas if we manage to make a verifiable deal with the North Koreans, Trump will have earned his.

Sometimes the world is too confounding to deal with. This may turn out to be one of those occasions.

Kissinger and Zhou Enlai

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Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20, 2018--Trump's End Game

Many of us have been comforted by the belief that even if Robert Mueller is fired and his report gets squelched, even if President Trump pardons 20 or more people, everyone from son-in-law Jared Kushner to Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn and especially his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, all or most of them would still be prosecutable by state attorney generals such as New York's Eric Schneiderman for violating state law because presidential pardons pertain only to federal law.

For example, if Cohen secured a home equity loan from a New York bank, claiming it was to renovate his apartment but then used it to buy Stormy Daniel's silence, he might have committed bank fraud and thus could be pursued by Schneiderman.

Well, it may turn out, not so much.

Just two days ago the New York attorney general asked Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to pass a new law to cover a potential loophole in the current law that might not allow the state to prosecute anyone who had received a blanket federal pardon by a president. That to do so might be a technical form of double jeopardy.  

A quick analysis of how possible it would be to pass such a law suggests it could be quite unlikely. Though the New York Senate has a slim Democratic majority it is hard to believe that it is solid enough to go along with Schneiderman's request.

And so . . . 

In this circumstance, "and so . . ." is not very comforting.

Also on Wednesday, at his press conference in Florida with Japan's prime minister Abe Trump, Trump was asked if he is going to fire deputy attorney general, Ron Rosenstein, or Robert Mueller. His response, "Well, they're still here."

They are, and more germane, so is he. Trump will continue to be here, he is gambling, even as the circle of protection closes in on him.

Here's how that might work--

Of course he pardons everyone in sight who has been investigated, questioned, deposed, or indicted by Mueller's people. That could include pardoning himself  

Then he fires everyone in sight associated with the Justice Department (Rosenstein, Sessions, Mueller) and in the federal southern district in New York City where the Michael Cohen case now resides.

Then all the Trump-associated lawyers move to shut down the possibility of any state attempting to prosecute him or any of his people via state law, claiming that would constitute double jeopardy.

There of course would be a firestorm of outrage. A "constitutional crisis" (whatever that means). All but Fox News and the right-wing crazies on talk radio would seethe, investigate, and run six-inch high banner headlines decrying these step toward a tyrany. And it would be that. A big step in that direction.

Some would see this scenario to be unlikely. Trump would instantly become the most reviled president in history. His ego is such that he wouldn't willingly take on all the abuse that would be heaped upon him. He'd rather take his chances. This could include impeachment, though he wouldn't be convicted. 

Most constitutional lawyers say that sitting presidents can't be criminally indicted. Couple that with the knowledge that the two presidents who have been impeached (Nixon, though he came close, never was) were not convicted and tossed out of office by the Senate. 

Thus, in Trump's mind there is a case to be made for standing pat. For letting things play out. In fact, Bill Clinton became more popular after being impeached. Andrew Johnson is a whole other story.

Trump has already been more fully exposed (almost literally) then any other president. ("Best sex ever!") He perversely seems to thrive on being humiliated. It's the old story of not caring what's said about you as long as they spell your name correctly and keep the spotlight on you.

So, he could be thinking, ride it out. How long will members of Congress go on cable news and rail about him and what he is bringing down upon the country? More than two weeks? I doubt it.

And so there he might continue to sit. Still with Air Force One available to whisk him back and forth to Mar-a-Lago. And he'll continue to be commander in chief, having his hands on all those terrible toys.

I know this is darkly pessimistic. But if any of it is true we have to face it and deal with it.

So here then is the good news--


By voting first in November and then in 2020. 

It really isn't that difficult. We don't need to take up arms. We just need to vote and get everyone we know to do so.

If the Democrats take over the House, investigations and articles of impeachment will follow quickly. If Democrats gain control of the Senate, though there will not be enough of them even with a few courageous Republicans to convict him--that requires a two-thirds vote--but Trump will be effectively neutered. That will get us safely to 2020 when he will be eminently defeatable. As long as we don't get stupid and nominate someone sure to lose. A list of those to follow one day soon. Hint--it includes Bernie and Warren.

Then the rebuilding will begin. Don't forget, we fought a Civil War that tore the country apart. But we survived and emerged stronger than ever.

Eric Schneiderman

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 19, 2018--Personalized Pricing

I logged-on to Amazon to see about ordering Daniel Stone's new book, The Food Explorer, the story about botanist David Fairchild, who traveled the world during the late 19th century to bring back to America foods such as kale and mangos that transformed what we eat. 

Its list price is $28. If I were virtuous, I would have gone to an independent bookstore to buy it. But since Amazon listed it at $18.45, plus sales tax, nearly a $10 discount, I thought about that for awhile and then, with some guilt, after deciding to buy it from Amazon, was surprised when I went to place the order to see that, including tax, it now cost more, $19.32. The price had jumped almost a dollar. Not enough to write home about or cause me to go out to Shakespeare and Company, but minimally, it was curious.

Then Rona went on line to shop around for a couple of airline tickets for roundtrips flights to Amsterdam. We were thinking about the possibility of heading there for two weeks at the beginning of May.

Not unlike with the book, the price quoted began to bounce around. While online with United Airlines, every time Rona put them on hold to check this or that hotel (before committing we wanted to be sure there were rooms available in the two places we had identified as those in which we were interested) when she returned to the United webpage the price of the tickets had gone up. By the time we were ready to commit, it had risen more than $200 per ticket. As opposed to The Food Explorer on Amazon, real money.

(This became moot as we quickly realized that with all we have scheduled in late April the timing was not ideal for us.)

Previously we had both had experiences of this kind but didn't think much about them until yesterday when the New York Times published another article about Facebook, this time about why it is such a valuable company.

Among other things the article dealt with "price discrimination." The process by which Amazon and other e-commerce businesses use the Big Data they have gathered about us to determine the maximum amount we are willing to pay for any item. These "personalized prices" are becoming ubiquitous and thus are contributing to the bottom lines of United, Amazon, Wayfair, and 

They determine our personalized prices by aggregating what they can learn about our buying habits, our income, the other goods and services we have shopped for, our age, political affiliation, where we live, if we are married or single, and a whole host of other information that is too subtle for me to either understand or describe.

These practices are not all predatory  Sellers also have the ability to customize prices to make things more affordable to, say, older shoppers (via senior citizen discounts) or those with limited incomes via 20%-off coupons.

But, we know, for the most part, Amazon and others are mainly interested in extracting from us as much as possible. This is partly why Jeff Bezos, is now the world's richest man.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18, 2018--Poor Sean

If Sean Hannity's connection to Donald Trump's "personal lawyer" and self-acknowledged fixer, Michael Cohen, is not a big deal (as Sean claims), why then is he making such a big deal out of being outed as one of Cohen's three clients? 

He could simply have shrugged it off, saying, "Next." 

Instead, he was on TV the other night with Alan Dershowitz, who disappeared from view after serving on O.J. Simpson's Dream Team before resurfacing as a Fox News favorite and Trump flunky (All Dershowitz seems to care about these days is who he thinks will be most supportive of Israel.)

Hannity fessed up to talking to Cohen a few times but not as a lawyer, merely seeking his advice and insight about a couple of possible real estate deals. Not for the hush-treatment Cohen is famous for concocting for, among others, Stormy Daniels. Thus far, Hannity doesn't appear to require one of these. Though, stay tuned.

So, I have been wondering, what kind of deals might Hannity have sought Cohen's advice about? In the wild west world of real estate development in New York City, Cohen is hardly known as either a player or the shiniest penny.

But he does have one potential source of information, insider information about potential real estate deals--those his Don, Donald Trump is involved in.

It is thus not difficult to imagine what Hannity and Cohen might have spoken about during those encounters late in the summer of 2016, just moths before the election. Conversations they appear not to want anyone, especially prosecutors, to know about. One of these might have gone this way--

"Michael? Sean here. Got a minute?"

"For you, buddy, any time. What's happening?"

"You know how I hate the stock market and how all my investments are in real estate?"

"I know that Sean. Everyone does. You've talked about it on the air. On Fox and on the radio. I can hardly blame you. Trading stocks is like gambling in a casino."

"I just signed a contract extension with Fox and between that show and the radio I'm looking at 36 big ones next year. As in millions. So I have some spare change that I want to put somewhere. And thought . . ."

"You've come to the right place, pal. I got a couple of things that might interest you."

"I'm taking notes."

"Be sure to tear them up and swallow them when your done."

[Both laugh]

"We're not talking about this, right?" Sean said, "If anyone asks we say we were just talking about the weather."

"I already forgot you called.

[Again they both laugh]

"So what have you got for me? The deal in Dubai worked out pretty well. It included that golf course designed by Tiger."

"Well, there's another golf deal in Aberdeen, Scotland  I now you're into golf and so this could be nice. You'd own a piece and never have to wait for a tee time."

[More laughing]

"Wait, there's one more thing. You're gonna love this."


"What do you think about us cutting you a piece in Trump Tower . . . Moscow?"

"Really? I thought he gave up on that one? Without Putin . . ."

"Let's just say it could be back on track."

"Who could resist that deal."

"Again, off the record. Very off the record."

"My lips are sealed."

"I just got back from . . ."


"No. That would be to chancy. This is all one-off stuff. From Prague."

"In Czechoslovakia?"

"It's now in the Czech Republic."


"The Russians who were at the meeting were all hush, hush, wink, wink. But I got the strong feeling it'll be a go. Depending of course on what happens in November."

"I'm in," Sean said. "And I'll do all I can on the show to get out the vote."

[Lots of laughter]

"So, how's the weather out there on the island?"

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17, 2018--Fallout

I have been hearing from angry friends all morning. They are angry with me, actually most are furious with me for agreeing with the likes of Ann Coulter, criticizing the weekend missile strike in Syria.

One said, "So it's OK with you to let Assad get away with using poison gas to kill his people? Did you see those videos of children, babies gasping for their last breath as they vomited and soon died? I can't believe you wouldn't agree with using a targeted missile strike against his chemical weapons facilitates."

"The strike appeared to turn out well." I agreed, "We seem to have managed to avoid killing any Russians. If we had, who knows where this would have led."

"You're avoiding the issue," my friend pressed on, "Even in warfare there are rules and conventions. Combatants agree not to torture prisoners, engage in ethnic cleansing, or, in this case, not use chemical or biological weapons. There is the Geneva Convention that spells out a lot of this. I can't believe you would have not done anything. What Assad did was barbaric."

"I agree with that too," I tried to say. "I even agree with Trump that Assad is a monster. The last I read, he presided over the slaughter of about 600,000 of his own people. Hundreds of thousands more have been crippled and millions have become refugees."

"And, so, if it was up to you you'd stand back and watch this happen?"

"Though I wouldn't put it quite this way, I must admit I probably would. I would not get involved in what's happening on the ground in Syria, that godforsaken place, any more than I was in favor of invading Iraq or, for that matter, getting involved in Vietnam. Where more than 58,000 of our young people were killed, hundreds of thousands more wounded, and at the end of the day we lost the war. Haven't we learned anything from behaving like the world's policeman?"

"But a tyrant deploying poison gas on his own people is not only against the rules of war--what a concept, war having rules--but monstrous."

"I don't know how to put this," I said, "but what's the difference between using gas to kill babies and blowing them up with conventional weapons? Hideous barrel bombs full of shrapnel is seemingly the weapon of choice in Syria for Assad's air force. This is monstrous too so why not, using your logic, go after his air force and the factories where barrel bombs are assembled?"

"I can't believe your lack of anger or passion about this," my friend said.

"Maybe I've gotten to be too old and seen too much evil in my lifetime. That could be what has made me appear to be inured to barbaric behavior of this kind. About that, guilty as charged. But, still, I am not insensitive to this nor am I seeing your distinctions between poison gas and fragmentation bombs, and I am not convinced it's a good idea for us to try to chase down all the Assads of the world. Sadly, there are too many of them and I don't think it's our role to go after all of them."

"There's a point to what you're saying, but complete hands off when there are holocasts going is also not acceptable. I don't know how to determine where to get involved and when to ignore evil behavior, but a version of America First, or anything that smacks of that is not acceptable to me and shouldn't be to you. I know you were a young boy during the Second World War and were aware even then of Hitler's regime--including how some in your family died in concentration camps--and in later years you knew about other atrocities, but you're opting out now is not attractive or, to me, acceptable."

"I love you a lot," I said, "And respect you. I'll have to do some more thinking about this. One thing I won't concede though--all of this is very complicated and can lead to a lot of hypocritical talk and behavior."

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Monday, April 16, 2018

April 16, 2018--Ann Coulter & Me

Tell me I'm hallucinating. 

I woke up Saturday morning to the news that overnight we had bombed a number of chemical weapons sites in Syria. Putting aside for the moment how I feel about that, I thought I heard that Ann Coulter, as well as numerous right-wingers, who I assumed, as hawks, would reflexively call for tough action wherever and whenever, staunchly opposed President Trump's decision to attack military assets of the Assad regime.

I woke up in a hurray and sure enough, with the exception of dead-ender Sean Hannity, pretty much all the talk-radio bloviators, conspiracy theorists, and Fox News hosts and guests were ranting about how Trump violated his campaign pledge to bring all troops home from overseas misadventures, especially those that were involved in "nation building." They reminded Trump about this, since they know he was watching and listening, citing our failed involvements in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.  

The Hill reported that Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham both claimed that Friday night's attack was inconsistent with what Trump said during the campaign and that it could be "risky" for us, considering the country's experience with the Iraq War.

Well-named Michael Savage, host of the radio show, Savage Nation, tweeted--

"We lost. War machine bombs Syria. No evidence Assad did it. Sad warmongers hijacking our nation."

Warmongers, I assume, including Trump.

Ann Coulter showed her opposition to the missile strike by retweeting postings by other conservatives who condemned the move, citing Trump's past tweets in which he cautioned about military action in Syria.

Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, broke down in tears on his  talk show when grossly gasping out his opposition to the missile strikes. He said-- 

"If he [Trump] had been a piece of crap from the beginning, it wouldn't be so bad. We've made so many sacrifices [he did not list them] and now he's crapping all over us. It makes me sick."

Best of all, alt-right conspiracy theorist and social media personality, Mike Cernovich, on his men's empowerment website, Danger & Play, posted--

"At least I won't feel bad when he gets impeached."

About that, we agree. As I do with Ann Coulter. 

That is, unless I was hallucinating.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

April 14, 2108--Wagging the Dogs

I tend not to be conspiratorial minded, but these days I am hard-pressed to maintain this posture.

I mean, is it a coincidence that the military action we are taking against Syria seems to be occurring at the same time as James Comey's book is about to be published?

What better way is there to keep the former FBI director's book off the front page then stumbling into a potential war with Russia?

Is it a coincidence that President Trump was egged-on to take a very tough position on Syria by British Prime Minister Theresa May who is also attempting to keep her collapsing political fortunes off the front pages? 

They both may have personal interest in wagging the dogs of war.

And why, all of a sudden, was former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, pardoned by Donald Trump? Not just, I suspect, as a gesture to the base who feel Scooter was persecuted and prosecuted for political reasons by a former special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald? Forget for the moment that it was during a Republican administration, during George W. Bush's presidency that he was appointed and that Fitzgerald, like Mueller, is a lifelong Republican. 

And where else besides Fitzgerald have I heard anything recently about a "special counsel"? 

Anyone picking up anything about someone called "Robert Mueller"? What might be happening with him and the person he reports to, Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein?

Also, could it be that the timing of the Libby pardon is an unplanned coming together by chance of these incidents?

Or is Libby's pardon a signal to those already indicted by Mueller that if they hang tough and do not turn on their boss pardons down the line await? Is Paul Manafort paying attention?

Then though I am relieved that initial reports indicate our military strike in Syria was tightly targeted and "moderate" (the way this morning's New York Times described it) is the timing and confluence of activities merely coincidental?

Chance, coincidence are always possibilities; but Trump, who we must agree, if nothing else, has thus far figured out how to live a life in which he many times has "gotten away with murder" (until now a figure of speech) in both his private and professional life may be at it again. 

Things are looking quite bleak for Trump right now, especially the threats to him from Comey's published accusations and the ramped-up investigation of his "personal lawyer," Michael Cohen, that nothing emanating from Trump is likely being left to chance. 

Scooter Libby

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Friday, April 13, 2018

April 13, 2018--Post-Privacy

More than usual people are concerned about privacy. This the result of the news that Facebook did not prevent the sharing of very personal information about 87 million of us. In fact, they sold it to Cambridge Analytica, which, in turn may or may not have used that data in shady ways to support Donald Trump's run for the presidency.

What did people addicted to Facebook (me included) think they were doing with all the data about our intimate selves we so casually handed over to them? 

Facebook makes billions every month but doesn't charge users to use their "platform." What was Facebook's business model that yielded so much money? If we had paused for a minute to think about how Instagram's and Google's and Snapchat's and YouTube's and Twitter's business models make a fortune but do not charge users we would have realized they made their money by selling us out to marketers and political consultants. 

So all the outrage directed toward Facebook sounds a little self-serving and inauthentic. My bet is that hardly anyone will as a result stop using Facebook or the others.

And, it seems to me, that very few people care profoundly about this. I want my Facebook; I don't want to pay to use it; and I don't care very much, perhaps not at all, about losing my privacy.

After all, don't the social network platforms depend upon us eagerly wanting to surrender our privacy? Aren't they ultimately narcissistic-enabling vehicles for us to let it all, or much of it, hang out for "friends" and friends of friends and friends of friends' friends? Isn't the dream of much of this to have one's postings widely shared, go viral? How else can that happen unless we put it all out there to be passed around?

Years ago I had early glimpses of how people were moving to sacrifice privacy for the sake of convenience and expediency. Though at the time I really didn't get it.

About two decades ago I was online at Citibank (not on-line) waiting to deposit a check. This in the day before there were ATMs. Ahead of me were two women who were talking at full volume. One was worried about her daughter, "I'm afraid she's becoming addicted to cocaine," she said loud enough for everyone on line to hear. "I don't know what to do with her. I can't afford to pay for a recovery program. I suppose I just have to hope for the best."  

Her friend put an arm around her and, changing the subject, began to talk, equally audibly, about her boyfriend, "He punched me the other day. We were having an argument and he got violent. Slapped my face hard enough that I think he loosened a couple of my molars." She opened her mouth wide and showed her friend the two teeth. Her friend leaned closer to examine her teeth.

Thankfully, they soon got to the head of the line and were summoned by one of the tellers. The memory is still vivid for me.

A few years later, walking home on Broadway, there was a young woman who appeared to be talking to herself in a very loud voice. Another crazy person, I thought. So young to be talking to herself, I thought. But as I moved quickly to pass her, I realized she was speaking to someone on her cell phone, talking into the wire attached to the phone on which there was a small microphone. Again, without needing to strain to pay attention I could hear every word she said. They were talking about meeting that evening at a local restaurant. All very benign, but evidence that the culture was shifting. I realized we would soon have no need for the phone booths with accordion doors that were still common on urban streets.

Some time after that I was in Washington for a meeting with Alaska Senator Ted ("Uncle Ted") Stevens. He was the chair of the all-powerful Appropriations Committee and I was, I confess, seeking his support for a $20.0 million earmark for a promising public school reform project that, to lubricate the process of seeking his help, we were more than willing to bring to his state.

He was about to be term-limited out of the chairmanship so the timing was urgent. 

We spoke about the project (which he later arranged to be funded) and then he told me that as a consolation for losing the Appropriations chair, he was to become the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. He wasn't, to tell the truth, happy about this. It was a much less powerful position.

"One thing I'm concerned about," he said, "is the responsibility for protecting internet security. Really, privacy. And to be honest with you, I'm 82 years old, and don't know anything about the internet or, for the matter, computers."

"So, what are you going to do?" I asked.

"I'll tell you what I already did," he said, smiling, "I asked my youngest staffers to do a little looking around and see what they could learn about me on the internet. You know, when and where I was born, where I live, who I'm married to. Things of that sort. I told them to get back to me in a week or so and they said no problem."

"I think I know where this is going," I said.

"Well, later in the day, the same day, they appeared in my doorway holding stacks and stakes of paper. 'What's all that?' I asked them. They told me it was what they had already come up with on the internet. You wouldn't believe what they found in just a few hours."

"I would," I whispered. He was on a roll and I didn't want to interrupt him.

"You know I have six kids. Well, not only did they find out everything about Cathy-Ann and me but also about them. Where they were born, how old they are, where they went to school, what they studied, and what they did after college. Also, where they live, and if they owned a house how much they paid for it. They even knew about their student loans and any mortgages on their properties."

He shrugged his shoulders, "And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's enough to say that everything's out there to be found by anyone who knows how to do that. And my staffers told me how easy that is. From what they explained to me I understood why it only took a couple of hours to gather all that information."

"This is terrible," I said, "And so as the about-to-be chair of the Commerce Committee what are you thinking about doing?"

He stared off into space, "Probably nothing."

"Nothing?" I was incredulous. Remember, it was years ago. For most of us knowing about the power of the internet was rather new.

"It's too late," he said, "No one in Congress cares anything about this. They think it's good for business. No one gives a rat's ass about privacy. As I said, it's all over."

This was 2005 and from an 82-year-old senator from Alaska who never turned on a computer. He was still able to see the future.

"It's over. It's all over," he said as I thanked him and turned to leave.

Senater (Uncle Ted) Stevens

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 12, 2018--Watergate History Lesson

Who knows. 

Before I finish drafting this we may be at war with Syria and Russia; Paul Ryan will have a $5.0-million-a-year job with Goldman Sachs; Devin Nunes will be in line to become the new Speaker of the House; Ron Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, and Robert Mueller will have been fired; the tariffs we and China have been spatting about will have been rolled back or ramped up; Ron Pruitt will be the new Attorney General; and North Korea will have cancelled the anticipated meeting with Donald Trump. 

And, I almost forgot, Michael Cohen will have "flipped" and will become Mueller's latest star witness. No more "taking a bullet" for Trump for Cohen. However, there will be nothing new to report about Stormy Daniels. 

But the day is still young.

In case we still have a country left when I get up from typing, allow me to again remind those younger than I (which is about everyone) how Richard Nixon's Watergate troubles ended.

As the noose was tightening on him the tapes of White House conversations were subpoenaed by special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon resisted releasing them. He ordered Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Cox. He refused and was fired. 

Nixon next ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, second in command at the Department of Justice, to fire Cox. He too refused and, on the evening of October 20, 1973, was fired.

The Saturday Night Massacre was under way.

Third in line was Solicitor General Robert Bork. Nixon ordered him to fire Cox and, after giving it some thought, ever-ambitious Bork agreed to do so. Cox was fired and quickly cleared out his office. But he did speak to the press and in an impassioned statement asked, "Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide."

Nixon next, with Bork's backing, attempted to thwart the appointment of a new special prosecutor, but the courts ruled that the special prosecutor had the power to prosecute the president and also ruled that Cox had been illegally fired. He thus ordered the president to appoint someone to take Cox's place. 

Reluctantly, Nixon then appointed Leon Jaworski, who continued the investigation in a fair and impartial way and ultimately cooperated with the House of Representative's Judiciary Committee which moved to impeach Nixon.

But before the committee could complete its work Nixon, urged to do so by senior Republican members of Congress, on August 9, 1974, resigned the presidency.


Above all be patient. It took 26 months from the time of the Watergate break in to Nixon's resignation. It took 15 months from the time Cox was appointed and Nixon resigned.

Mueller and his team have been at their investigation for only 11 months. I know most of us would like this work to be completed and Trump back in Trump Tower (assuming the fire is out) or the Metropolitan Correctional Center. But none of this will happen quickly.

I have been saying for some time here that it will all come down to November's midterm election. If the Democrats take control of the House, Trump will be publicly investigated (regardless of Mueller's fate) and soon after that impeached. However, he is unlikely to be found guilty by two-thrids of the 100 senators, but his impeachment alone should lead either to a Nixon-like resignation or, if he seeks reelection, defeat at the polls in November 2020.

Which means, beginning now, that we all have to redouble our efforts to elect Democrats this fall.

Archibald Cox

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April 11, 2018--Anti-Intellectualism

In my frustrating attempts to understand the America in which we are living, I suppose Donald Trump's America, struggling to understand why at least 35 percent of Americans support him with enthusiasm, no matter what he says or does, no matter how much he lies and makes a mockery of civility and shreds our traditional ways of conducting ourselves domestically and in the world, I turned again to one of my college professor's, Richard Hofstadter's, most enduring works--Anti-Intellectualism In American Life.

In it he argues that anti-intellectualism is one of the unintended consequences of the expansion of pubic education and the resulting democratization of knowledge. He sees this woven into our cultural fabric, one result of our evangelical Protestant heritage that valued belief more than intellectual rigor.

No wonder that after Trump was elected sales of Anti-Intellectualism briefly became a bestseller. It should be required reading. I know, you want me to say, "Assuming his 35 percent read!"

Reading through it again, I came upon this from the chapter, "The Rise of the Expert." How many in the public had become disenchanted with President Woodrow Wilson's inability at the end of the First World War to take progressive action and how, as a result, during the mid 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt was careful not to overpromise or include too many "experts" in his cabinet or to lead newly enacted social programs.

"Keep the whole thing pretty quiet," he counseled one member of his Brain Trust. Hofstadter wrote--
The public had turned on the intellectuals as the prophets of false and needless reforms. As architects of the administrative state, as supporters of the War, even as ur-Bolsheviks; the intellectuals [had] turned on America as a nation of boobs, Babbits, and fanatics.
Rings familiar. 

And here I thought pseudo-intellectual Steve Bannon and his alt-right minions came up with this business about the administrative state on their own. Now I realize his and their ideas are not only half baked but also not original.

Richard Hofstadter

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April 10, 2018--Up Next, Google

Though Google is more diversified than Facebook (they have a significant cloud business, are deeply involved in self-driving vehicles, smartphones, YouTube, and Blogger, which I use), by far most of their income derives from their original and still core business--as an Internet search engine.

For the latter, users have access to it for "free." Not unlike Facebook.

I put free in quotation marks because as with Facebook there is a hidden cost associated with using Google's search software. 

In exchange for information (I just used Google to search for the other ventures in which they are invested) they charge no fees but get paid by the reams of personal data we so willingly and unthinkably give them access to. 

They in turn sell that data, that big data, to advertisers and others who in turn design and pass along to us unsolicited, tightly personalized, targeted ads.

In this way, for this enormous, global, lucrative segment of their business Google is not so different than Facebook. 

And thus it would be no surprise to find them before long in the same humiliating circumstance as Facebook. Snared or hoisted with  their own petard. 

(Google, as I just did, to find where Shakespeare makes reference to being hoisted with one's own petard.)

Expect that Trump (as his people did with Cambridge Analytica), or, who knows, Hillary or Bernie, had one of their marketing intermediaries purchase demographic and psychographic data from Google that was for good or ill useful in their campaigns.

Most of us haven't been paying attention to what else was going on with our favorite social media or e-commerce sites as we searched and shopped. But now the genie is out of the bottle, Mark Zuckerberg is about to appear before Congress, and most of us would be reluctant to stop using Facebook or Google or Amazon.  

I do not see myself giving up these any time soon much less back shopping in the mall or looking up anything in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm addicted. 

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Monday, April 09, 2018

April 9, 2018--Passover With Donald Trump

Traditionally, at the Passover seder a fifth cup of ceremonial wine is left untouched at an empty place at the table in honor of the prophet Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day to herald the coming of the Messiah.

Last year and this, at Pesach, that place, apocryphally, was occupied by Donald Trump. 

Likewise he was a malignant spirit present at last week's Easter dinners and before that at Christmas gatherings and family Thanksgivings.

In this regard, at least, Trump was ecumenical. Spoiling these family occasions equally without regard to ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation. He disrupted everyone and everything.

Family members don't always get along. OK, family members almost never get along. But a lot gets papered over for the sake of peace. 

We all have our "crazy" Uncle Harrys with their roving hands, Republican families include at least a grumpy Democrat or two and the families of progressives usually have a few grouchy conservatives. 

Customarily, after just one glass of wine, though by tacit agreement we agree not to discuss Sandra's divorce, Eli's bankruptcy, Mary's hysterectomy, Jack's children's problems with drugs, or Irene's facelift these come up but are quickly squelched by whomever serves as the family matriarch or patriarch.

When gathered around the dining room table, things can get heated. OK, they always do, but there has been a layer of affection (if not love), civility, and respect that prevents things from spinning out of control. 

At least there used to be.

Family protocols were such that cousins and in-laws were constrained from becoming so furious with each other that harsh words evolved to accusations and epithets, which in turn would lead to threats or fist fights. In the past no one got so riled up that they threatened to never again make the trek to Long Island or New Jersey for Passover or Easter. For the sake of familyness, unspoken limits were agreed upon and mostly obeyed.

But friend after friend reported this year that things have gotten to be so nasty and personal that they plan to absent themselves from future family gatherings as long as Donald Trump is president and occupies the Elijah chair. 

Things have descended to that point. He has so profoundly contributed to coarsening the environment that they see no hope of retaining any semblance of family ties as long as he postures and swaggers in our national midst. 

I have been hearing stories about how previously close brothers-in-law, who agreed about almost everything and when they did differ had enough respect for each other that they heard each other out and managed to find common ground, or agreed amicably to agree to disagree, are sadly no longer talking. 

I head from one of the brothers-in-law that he will no longer have anything to do with his sister's husband because he called him a fascist. The brother-in-law who shared this with me said that though he did not support Trump and worries about where he is leading the country, he wanted to talk about why Trump had been successful in order to come up with strategies to resist him and his rule and defeat him during the midterm elections in November. 

But now, simply for taking Trump seriously, he was accused of "normalizing" him and thereby lending him support. Thus, he was accused of being an enabler for America's Mussolini. 

He said to me, "Now when I send him a happy birthday email he doesn't even say 'thank you.'"

And I heard from a cousin who is sensing that his brother-in-law may be a Trump enthusiast and, if so, does not want to have anything further to do with him. He is thus considering preemptively cutting off the relationship. Doing so, again, not because he knows but because he suspects his brother-in-law likely voted for Trump.

For my part, from now on I'll be celebrating various holidays by going to the movies and having dinner in Chinatown.

Elijah's Seat

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Friday, April 06, 2018

April 6, 2018--Catch Up Day

I'll return Monday morning.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

April 5, 2018--My Martin Luther King Story

Fifty yeas ago last night I was a junior faculty member at Queens College in New York City and one of my classes scheduled for that evening was an interdisciplinary seminar in literature and the arts for a carefully selected group of community leaders, mainly adults from the black ghetto of Jamaica, Queens. This meant that all 25 of the students in the class were African American.

We were well into a discussion about Jonathan Swift when a late-arriving student, Alan Jenkins, burst into the classroom.

Struggling to catch his breath, he finally gasped, "He's been shot," as if we knew who the "he" was. Sensing this, he added, "Martin. Martin Luther King. In Memphis."

"Is he . . . ?"

"I don't know. I was driving here and on the radio heard the report about the shooting. But not about his condition."

By then many of the students were quietly sobbing.  From their experience they knew the news would turn out to be devastating. It would not be that he was "just" shot. They had lived too long with violence in their lives to not immediately sense the truth.

A number of the students held hands and, kneeling, prayed. Others, clinging to each other, softly began to sing, including psalms and the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome."

Grieving, supporting myself on the lectern, feeling estranged, denying what was occurring, I tried to convince myself that if I behaved "normally," got us back to Swift, reality itself would revert to where it had been only minutes before when we had talked together, dispassionately, about Gulliver.  

Then slowly it occurred to me I was the only white person in the room. I am not sure from where that feeling originated. It was not quite from feeling danger, but something close to that. Some primal recidivism close to tribalism, some self-protective reflex wired in my DNA. 

"Do you think you might drive me home?" Whispering was the most academically promising of my students, Nellie McKay.

By then Alan had come back from listening to the radio in his car. He trembled as he told us that it was over. King was dead. Shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The news, he said, was now turning to reports from inner cities across the country. Dozens were already in flames, stores and houses were set on fire by rampaging street gangs crazed with rage and fear.

"I'm afraid," Nellie said, "And about you . . . I don't think it's safe for you . . . to be driving home alone . . . the only . . . person in the area."

She meant white person. She asked me to drive her home not so much because of her fear but because she was concerned about me. White people out and about, well after dark, on the evening Martin Luther King was assassinated, would, she felt, not be safe. Being in the car with me would give me a margin of safety. She knew from inner-city uprisings during the previous few years that some white car and truck drivers had been ripped from their vehicles, beaten and even killed, as the riots spiraled out of control.

Opting to think less about myself I tried to concentrate on how I might provide safety for her--she commuted to the college by local buses. 

By then all the other students in ones and twos had departed. Nellie and I were the only ones remaining and we walked to the parking lot, clinging to each other.

In my car, a conspicuously yellow Opal, we headed south, needing to drive through segregated Jamaica, out toward where she lived in an integrated neighborhood near the bay.

Buildings were on fire all along the way. As I slowed to stop for a red light Nellie told me to ignore it, to keep moving, as it would be unsafe if we stopped.

To distract me from the news crackling on the radio she told me about her dreams--for her teenage son, it meat helping him get though his adolescence intact. By that she meant alive, out of the clutches and demands of violent street gangs. He was very bright, she said, but was already showing signs of succumbing to the allure of street life.

"I'm thinking of sending him to live with my mother, in Mississippi. Believe it or not, it's safer there. Even with Jim Crow."

"And what about you? You're a terrific student. Especially of literature. Are you thinking . . . ? We heard gunshots and saw a car a block ahead of us burst into flames and explode when the fire reached the gas tank.

"Turn that way," Nellie instructed me. "Quickly. Down there," she pointed to a one-way street where we would have to drive into oncoming traffic. "I know it's a one-way against us but it takes us to what I'm sure will be a safer route."

I followed her directions and at the end of one block we came to a cross street of abandoned houses and undeveloped lots where there were no signs of life or disorder. I began to breath more normally. 

"I am thinking about graduate school," Nellie said, resuming her story as if nothing unusual was happening, "Perhaps even working on a PhD. I know I'm a little old for that, but it's my dream. To be like you. A college professor." She smiled.

"We're getting close," she continued. "You are welcome to stay with me. But I know you live in Brooklyn and are married. Your wife will be worried about you."

I almost told her our marriage was on the rocks and that I would prefer to stay with her. But those emotions, if we survived, were perhaps for another day. 

At her house I got out to open her car door and, on the sidewalk, sobbing, we embraced for what felt like not enough time. As if we would not see each other again. That we were saying goodbye forever.

"We'll be all right," she said. "America will recover and be all right. You will be all right. And so will I."

With that she ran to the steps that led to her house and disappeared behind her aluminum front door.

I got home safely and the following week classes resumed. We all knew we were living in a changed America. Two months later Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Swift and Jane Austen lost some of their importance.

Nellie's son did well, eventually becoming a social worker, and after Queens College, Nellie pursued her dream. She was admitted to graduate school at Harvard where she eventually earned her doctorate. After Harvard, Nellie began a distinguished career as a professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

I reencountered her when she approached the Ford Foundation, seeking a grant to support her work. I was happy to be able to assist. 

Nellie McKay, at only 76, died in 2006.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

April 4, 2018--Cincinnati Ben-Gals

Sensing that their readers may need cheering (include me in that demographic), the (all the news that's fit to print) New York Times continues to stay on top of the NFL cheerleader story.

I previously took note of a Times story about a New Orleans Saints' cheerleader who was fired for posting a picture of herself in a modest swimsuit.

On Tuesday there were other less cheery things to report. For example, how Carolina Panthers TopCats must arrive at the stadium at least five hours before game time and when in uniform are required to remove or cover all tattoos and piercings. Water breaks are allowed only when the Panthers are on offense, and Cincinnati Ben-Gals are not allowed to change into their street clothes in the stadium. I suppose they do so in their cars.

The Times further reports that Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders need to be weighed before games to make sure they "maintain ideal body weight." And BenGals are warned that they cannot be more than three pounds heavier than their "ideal weight."

Here's where Donald Trump's personal physician, who claimed that Trump weighed only 239 pounds, could come in handy.

Many NFL cheerleaders must spend hundreds of their own dollars on uniforms though they are paid little more than minimum wage. They also are required to sell raffle tickets and calendars and appear at local charity events and golf tournaments. For this they receive none of the proceeds.

Cheerleader handbooks include tips on personal hygiene, including shaving techniques and the "proper" use of tampons.

I'm depressed.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

April 3, 2018--"How Democracies Die"

In a powerful book of that name, distinguished Harvard professors of government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, worry that the election of Donald Trump is unleashing his and America's totalitarian impulses.

They set their analysis in a comparative context with considerable attention paid to the decline and at times death of democracies in, among other countries, Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, Peron's Argentina  Chavez's Venezuela,  Pinochet's Chile, Erdogan's Turkey, and Marcos's Philippines.

But the central focus is on the history of threats to democracy in the United States--the Civil War; the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow era of institutionalized racism; the McCarthy threat; and now Trumpian times.

About America their analysis includes the gathering number of ways Trump is challenging the very notion of democracy itself and how he is systematically undermining it further by exploiting people's fears of the "other" and the internal and external dangers that they see around them, including a rigged electoral system, a corrupt judiciary, an unfettered press, a compromised legislative process, a debasement of our culture, and the political opposition treasonous. 

The book, though comfortably readable, includes a great deal of data to advance its arguments, including some that are unusual, even quirky but metaphorically illuminate the nature of the problem and its near total reach.

From the chapter, "The Unraveling," about our growing polarization--
Consider this extraordinary finding: In 1960, political scientists asked Americans how they would feel if their children married someone who identified with another political party. Four percent of Democrats and five percent of Republicans reported they would be "displeased."  
In 2010, by contrast, 33 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans reported feeling "somewhat or very unhappy" at the prospect of inter-party marriage. 
Being a Democrat or a Republican has become not just a partisan affiliation but an identity. 
(Iyengar, Sood, and Lelkes, "Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization")
None of this will help one sleep at night, but we need to be warned and find ways to resist.

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Monday, April 02, 2018

April 2, 2018--Sabre Rattling

One good thing about the resumption of the Cold War is that we'll finally get to see what if any goods Putin and the Russians have on Donald Trump.

During the entire 2016 campaign and the first year of his administration Trump had nothing but positive and admiring things to say about the Russian leader. For someone who was attempting to project a tough-guy, commander-in-chief image, in regard to Putin, Trump came off as quite a wimp. 

Some said that Trump the crypto-totalitarian had genuine admiration for how the Russian strongman governed. He was a role model for the draft-dodging Trump. 

Others claimed that Trump was blackmailed into overlooking Putin's dictatorial methods because the Russians knew about Trump's history of money laundering, including direct Russian involvement, and sexual peccadilloes. There is that titillating BuzzFeed dossier hanging over Trump's head that allegedly alludes to Trump's bad-boy behavior during the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

In response to Trump's obsequious behavior, Putin for the past two years has made a version of nice. Unlike with Obama, who he wouldn't even pretend to look in the eye, Putin has had many flattering things to say about candidate and then president Trump, calling him, for example, a "genius"; while Trump cooed back, "He has done a really great job of outsmarting our country." 

A seeming bromance. And perhaps, as unlikely as it might seem, some speculated that with Trump and Putin maybe actually getting along, there would be the opportunity for a genuine reset in Russian-American relations.

But then the Russians poisoned Russian ex-spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in London in early May. Seizing on this to revive her collapsing political fortunes, British prime minister Theresa May somehow manged to get NATO allies to condemn and sanction Russia. Diplomats were expelled from England, France, Germany, and a host of other western European countries. Leading the world in expressing outrage, May even got Trump to agree to send home 60 Russian diplomat/spies and shut down the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Wounded by this, the Russians retaliated, expelling equivalent numbers of our diplomats and spies and shutting down our consulate in St. Petersburg. It was Cold War deja-vu all over again.

And to make his actions emphatic, Putin had the Russian military fire off one of their newest Satan 2 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that has the capacity, they claim, to carry up to 10 miniaturized hydrogen bombs.

So now we not only have North Korea launching missiles that can reach America, we have the Russians doing the same, claiming that their missiles are "invulnerable" to American defenses.

If you're having trouble sleeping nights, this may be the reason. If you have kids in school, expect them soon to be diving under their desks during "take-cover" drills.

And if Trump gives in to his aides (read, John Bolton) who, the New York Times reported, are calling for "tougher Russia policies"--presumably increasing economic sanctions against Putin and his billionaire cronies--expect Putin to reply tit-for-tat. 

Then, if we get deeper into things, such as killing more Russian "volunteers" fighting in Syria, if he has salacious stuff about Trump, expect Putin to begin to leak it out.

That will manage to push Stormy Daniels off the front pages.

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