Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 31, 2018--You Say You Want A Revolution . . .

. . . Well, you know.

At breakfast the other morning John asked, "Have you heard anything about the Revolution?"

"God knows," Rona said, "There's good reason why there should be one."

"We're living in a second Gilded Age," John said. "What with 1 percent of the population owning 40 percent of the nation's wealth. That should be enough to get one going." 

Rona said, "Did you see the long piece in this weekend's New York Times about CEO compensation? Among other things, company by company, it calculated how many years workers earning average salaries would have to work to earn as much as their CEO makes in just one year."

"I did see that," I said.

John indicated he had as well and how outrageous the data were.

"My memory isn't perfect," Rona said, "So, John can you look the article up on your smartphone? I remember the title, 'Want To Make Money Like A CEO?'"

He did and cited some of the statistics--

At Walmart, for example, the world's largest employer, the median salary for workers is a paltry $19,177. Last year the CEO received $22.2 million in compensation. This means it would take average employees more than 1,000 years to earn what the CEO earns in 12 months.

"Unbelievable," Rona said.

Listen to this one," John said, "At Time Warner median compensation is a hefty $75,217 but since the CEO makes $49 million it would take typical employees 651 years to earn that."

Now I said, "Unbelievable. From the Times I remember the earnings numbers for a company I never heard of, where things are even more unequal. And that's saying a lot."

"Maybe Live Nation?" John said. "They are in the concert and ticketing business and the CEO last year made a whopping $70.6 million while the median salary there was $24,406. That means the workers have to live and work 2,893 years to earn that much."

"They should live and be well," I said, feeling my blood at full boil. 

"So, you asked about the Revolution," Rona said, sounding ironic. "Numbers like these should make everyone but CEOs crazy and take to the streets in anger to protest and, who knows, revolt."

"I hate to sound cynical," I said, "But who's more likely to make a revolution--Bernie's people or Trump's?"

We sat in silence for a few minutes not wanting to answer since we knew what we were feeling and it didn't make us happy.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May 30, 2018--Notes From the Revolution

I'm still working on this so I will be posting it on Thursday. Sorry in advance since I don't think you'll be happy with what I have to say.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 29, 2018--Kim & Trump Together At Last

Don't be taken in by all the on-again off-again business about whether Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will or won't meet on or about June 12th.

They'll meet. 

About that you can bet the house. And they will make a deal. Or a version of a deal, including possibly a faux deal. They'll be OK with that since anything resembling one will work. Will work for each of their purposes.

Never before have there been two political adversaries who so desperately need a deal. And so we will have one.

Kim's country is falling apart. Not that for decades, since his grandfather's rule, has there been much remaining to fall apart. Pretty much everything has been collapsing since the Second World War. Though one would not even be able to notice how fallen apart things are, especially after dark, since with the exception of the capital, Pyongyang, there is no power and thus there are no electric lights.

That should be the worst of the situation. Even more dire, most North Koreans are grossly undernourished if not out and out starving with parasitical worms common in most North Koreans' digestive systems.

But there is a small North Korean elite who are loyal to Kim as long as they keep getting their goodies (electricity, TVs, things to buy, and overseas trips and bank accounts). If they sense that Kim is imperiled by unhappy elements within the country and thus might be in danger of being overthrown, the military might rise up and preemptively do the overthrowing. 

Kim has had dozens from the elite killed, including, especially brutally, family members. As a signal that he can play rough. But he could be more precariously in office than he appears to be from our vantage point halfway around the world.

So any deal would prop him up, particularly if some of our sanctions were lifted and things for ordinary North Koreans improved. After Kim and Trump meet, if we see lights burning at night across the country, we'll know things are getting better.

Evidence that Trump will be satisfied by any version of a deal is his more than usual refusal to do any prep work prior to the summit. Briefing papers have been prepared but he has refused to be briefed. He plans to wing it, guided by his "instincts," which he has previously proclaimed are the best in all of history.

He knows making a deal, even one in which he makes more concessions than Kim, will boost his approval ratings by at least 10 points and this could help Republicans in November maintain control of the House. And if that were to happen, there will be no impeachment. 

So the stakes for Trump are very high.

A deal would also allow Trump yet more leverage when it comes time to savage the Mueller report and the inevitable additional indictments that will be forthcoming this fall or winter.

Then there is the Nobel Peace Prize. If they make a deal it would be difficult for the Swedish Academy not to award one to Trump (and Kim) and this would allow him to further obliterate all traces of Barak Obama and his presidency. More than anything else, perversely, Trump's controlling obsession.

Why, one might wonder, would Kim trade away his nuclear weapons based on promises from the world's most dishonest and untrustworthy leader?

Again, things for him are desperate and it's the only card he has to play.

That reminds me a joke. One of my father's. He had only two or three jokes in his repertoire, so pay attention.

It's about sardines.

Louie gets a call from his friend Dave. "Louie," Dave says, "Do I have deal for you. A warehouse full of canned sardines. And they're yours for a special price. Only $5,000." So Louie buys the sardines.

A week later, Louie calls his cousin Murray and says, "Murray do I have a deal for you. A warehouse full of canned sardines. Priced especially for your only $7,500." 

Sight unseen Murray buys the sardines and after a few days calls his friend, Steve, "Steve," he says, "Do I have a deal for you. A warehouse full of sardines. They're for sale at a special price just for you--$10,000."

This sounds like a good deal to Steve and after sending Murray a check he goes to the warehouse to check out his sardines. They are in huge shipping crates. He opens a crate and then one of the cans of sardines.

They smell awful. "I'll try another one," he thinks. "This one must be a defective tin." But the next one and the one after that are also spoiled. 

So, angry, he calls Murray to complain that all the sardines are rancid. 

Murray is not surprised and tries to calm Steve down.

"You don't understand," Murray says. "These are not eating sardines. They're buying and selling sardines."

So Kim will tell Trump that he has a deal for him. He's willing to denuclearize because his atomic weapons are not for bombing purposes but for trading purposes.

At least let's hope so.

On Sale at the White House Gift Shop

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28, 2018--Long Weekending

Back Tuesday.

Friday, May 25, 2018

May 25, 2018--What Is He Up To?

It has been more than a month since I attempted to sum up what he is up to. Trump. Donald Trump.

At the time I said it was all about the Russians, money, and sex, with all three interconnected.

This is still the case.

Russia's agenda is easy to figure out--Vladimir Putin personally is reputed to be worth perhaps as much as $200 billion, with a B. Even more than Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Putin's oligarchic henchmen, who cut him in on every shady deal, if all their money were totaled, are worth at least another $100 bill more. Much of this money is hidden in various Western and U.S. assets like billion dollar condos in New York City and one-off loans to corrupt and desperate businessmen who do not have easy access to legitimate lending sources.

To protect all of this the Russians need compliant political leadership which will not allow too much snooping around in their shifty affairs. 

The best way for the Russians to assure compliant leadership is to have something on those leaders. Something like evidence that that leadership colluded with the Russians to covertly undermine the election chances of that leadership's political opponent. 

Also, something like having loaned money on "generous" terms with no questions asked to bail out that leader with dark money which was pre-laundered by Putin and his billionaire business partners. 

And then, to assure compliant leadership, it would be good to have something like very incriminating tidbits of gossip that would be devastating to that leader if it suddenly showed up on "Page Six" or CNN. Something like payoffs to adult film stars and sex tapes of that leader cavorting with prostitues of Russian vintage.

In our case didn't the younger of that leader's adult sons back in 2008, at a public meeting that was taped, casually mention that, "We have all the funding we need out of Russia"?

And didn't the older son--Junior--add, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia"?

Shouldn't this be played nightly to remind us that what I listed above is not just the product of a fevered imagination? But, I am not naive, that's another story.

Because of all this what that leader, Trump, is up to now is totally focused on the November elections. Because if the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, come January 2019, the House Judiciary Committee will initiate impeachment proceedings with Trump as a result likely to be impeached since only a simple majority is required. 

(Even if in the unlikely case the Democrats were to take control of the Senate Trump will not be convicted and removed from office because that requires a supermajority, 67 of 100 votes.)

But "just" being impeached will mean the effective end of Trump's presidency and his life as he knows it. To be a loser, to him, is as bad as it gets.

Since Trump is obsessively focused on November expect him to do everything he can to feed his base and motivate them to turn out and vote for Republican candidates.

Thus we are currently seeing Trump and his enablers doing everything they can to feed the conspiratorial narrative that appeals to his most passionate and activated supporters, including claiming that what is underway is a partisan "witch hunt." That the entire justice system and the media are corrupt and colluding to bring him down.

We should pay attention to this as Trump is an expert when it comes to collusion.

Then, if all else fails there is the Gotterdammerung scenario where Trump goes up in flames and brings the metaphorical house down on all of us.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018--Philip Roth

He knew me better than I know myself. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May 23, 2018--Self-Driving Cars

Our car is getting on in years and so we've spent some time looking around to see if there is a car we could fall in love with and consider buying. Thus far, we haven't even had a whiff of infatuation. 

Here's the problem--

We are not on a strict budget so we've looked at everything from Chevys and Hondas to BMW's and Mercedes.

In all cases we have been repelled by most of the newfangled electronics that car manufacturers are trumpeting. Especially the auto-drive features. 

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

We road-tested an Audi and found aspects of it attractive. But others not so much. Every time we needed to stop for a red light or in stop-and-go traffic, the engine would shut off. Completely. It would start up again whenever I would press the accelerator pedal. At first I thought I was doing something wrong--stalling it out--or that the car was defective.

The salesman assured us that this was not so but that all Audis now come with this feature--they shut fully off at every stop to save gasoline. Very little, he acknowledged, but under pressure to make cars more fuel efficient (this was before Donald Trump had the government back off on these requirements) this was one way of helping with that. 

"Can it be overridden?" I asked. 

"Yes," he said, reaching for the dashboard from the back seat. "You press this button first and next this one and then this third one."

"That sounds OK," I said, "You do this once and you're set to go?"

"Not exactly," he said sheepishly, "You have to do it every time you start the car."

"Every time?" I was incredulous, "For me this is a killer virus."

"Scratch Audis off the list," Rona said, sounding disappointed.

Some time later we test drove a Mercedes C or E car. I can't remember which as I'm not much of a Mercedes aficionado. We had one once and hated it. There was always something wrong with the electrical system and after our third battery died we sold it back to the dealer at quite a loss. But by checking one out recently we felt we were being comprehensive and responsible.

To test it at speed we drove for a coupe of exits on I-95. At the second exit, the salesman in the back seat indicated it was time to turn around and head back to the showroom.

The exit on the right was a two lane affair and halfway into it it felt as if the power steering had failed and that I couldn't manually steer the car.

"We've got a problem," I declared. I also felt the seatbelt tightening, which signaled we were about to crash. In a panic I cried out, "Hang on. We're in trouble."

"Quite the contrary the salesman said, "It's just that you drifted to the right and the car's automatic lane-adjustment feature kicked in and is pulling you back into your lane. It's keeping you safe." 

In the rearview mirror I could see him grinning with pride.

I asked again about being able to override this "feature," and again was told it is possible. "When we get back to the shop I'll get one of our technical people to show you how to do it."

"Technical people?" I said feeling that needing this much expertise might be overkill.

"Well, it's a little complicated," the salesman said.

Rona said, "Cross Mercedes off the list," even though it hadn't been among those likely to appeal to us.

This got me thinking--Who needs all of these so-called features? And moreover, what is this wave of a movement to make cars and trucks self-driving? I know they say it's for safety purposes--cars that drive themselves get into less trouble and fewer accidents then when driven by the likes of me. Evidence--my drifting out of lane at the I-95 exit.

But I hate it.

Call me old-fashioned (guilty). Call me curmudgeonry (guilty again). Call me reactionary (that too). But I hate this alleged evidence of progress. I'd rather be less safe. 

Let me drive my own car. It's one of those things left that I can do for myself, by myself without any external prompting or unwanted assistance.  Leave me alone. Actually, being alone driving a car on the occasional open road is still one of life's pleasures. For many it's also a place of refuge away from the demands and responsibilities and pressures of life. Including whining children and backseat drivers.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22, 2018--Advice From Eleanor Roosevelt

Obviously written in a hurry so that Jon Meacham, as a scholar, could weigh in indirectly and dispassionately about the threat to American democracy posed by the Trump presidency, the resulting book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, is at best half satisfying. 

As if it were an extended term paper, where quality and grades are measured by how many quotes and footnotes can be crammed in (we all remember those kinds of assignments), by that standard the book is a success for the Pulitzer Prize winning historian--in 272 pages it includes at least 500 quotations and many hundreds of footnotes. The bibliography is longer than the index.

Weighed on an actual scale, Soul of America earns an A+.

It is about how if we think these times are dangerous, let history show (and Meacham does in a bumpy narrative of stitched-together chapters) that we suffered worse--the Civil War, the Depression, the McCarthy era, isolationism, and the reign of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow among others--and because of our better angels we overcame. 

Message re Donald Trump delivered.

But in case the message is unclear, he ends with advice derived from history about how to resist and act.

For example, Meacham urges Americans not to despair but rather "enter the arena," "resist tribalism," "respect facts and deploy reason," and above all "keep history in mind."

In regard to resisting tribalism he quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, progressive conscience of her husband, Franklin Roosevelt--
Ever practical, Eleanor Roosevelt offered a prescription to guard against tribal self-certitude. "It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from one's own. For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one's own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one's own ideas . . . . If we are to cope intellectually with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions."
Meacham adds--"If Mrs. Roosevelt were writing today, she might put it this way: Don't let any single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think. Wisdom generally comes from the free exchange of ideas, and there can be no exchange of ideas if everyone on your side already agrees with one another."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 21, 2018

May 21, 2018--Under the Weather

I'm a little under the weather but expect to return tomorrow with some insights and urging from Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, May 18, 2018

May 18, 2018--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

May 17, 2018--End Times Come to Jerusalem

I've written about this so often that I wouldn't blame you if you moved quickly to something else.

The subject of this is the real reason Christian Evangelicals are obsessed with Israel and the Jews. We got a glimpse of that obsession the other day when Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner presided over the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. 

The real reason this is a big deal not just for Jews but for all Americans is because Evangelicals have an inordinate amount of political power in America now that Trump is president. He shamelessly panders to them as they constitute the heart of his base.

Hint--the real reason is not because Evangelicals are concerned about anti-Semitism. Quite the contrary. One could argue that the ways in which Evangelicals view Jews is in its essence anti-Semitic.

Evidence for this is the fact that Trump arranged to have Texas televangelist John Hagee deliver one of the prayers at the embassy's dedication. 

Hagee is well known in Evangelical circles for having said that Hitler was doing "God's work" when he slaughtered six million Jews. It was God's work because to millennialist Evangelicals such as Hagee to bring about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the millennium all Jews must emigrate to Israel to participate in awaiting his return.

According to Hagee and his millions of followers, when the Messiah appears, Jews will be given one final opportunity to convert to Christianity. All those who do not will be killed and relegated to an eternity in Hell.

In this mad scenario Jews who go along with Evangelicals' apocalyptic assignment for them will be the ultimate dupes. According to the Hagee crowd millions of Jews needed to be murdered during the Holocaust to motivate or scare the rest of us to flee to the safety of the Promised Land. Safety only if we convert to Christianity. 

What an unholy bargain.

At the very hour the embassy was being dedicated, those watching on live TV, via split screen, could witness another slaughter taking place just a few miles away--Israeli solders killing scores of protesting Palestinians and wounded well over a thousand more.

On the left side of the screen, at the new embassy, glamed-up yiddisher maidella Ivanka Trump was unveiling a plaque on the wall by the entrance, a plaque on which Trump's name was emblazoned in typeface at least as large as that identifying the embassy itself. In effect--not unlike Trump Tower, The Donald J. Trump Embassy in Jerusalem.

And on the right side of the screen we could watch young people from Gaza, living in apartheid Israel, being murdered by the dozens in cold blood by Israeli security forces using live ammunition.

Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said those killed and wounded along the walled border between Gaza and Israel brought it on themselves. They deserved what they got. 

What they got was killed and wounded.

Then there was Evangelical minister Robert Jeffress, head of one of the largest megachurches in the South, who delivered the opening prayer at the opening of the new embassy. He is highly regarded among Evangelical for having said repeatedly that unconverted Jews cannot be saved. He claims that this is confirmed by the words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, who he misquotes as saying, "Judaism won't do it." Only faith in Christ.  

This is why for all Americans, not just Jews, this is a very big deal.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May 16, 2018--Morel Mushroom Time

My friend Murray says that many of his liberal friends are feeling "dispirited." 

I asked why and he told me it's for at least two reasons--first that Trump seems to be doing well, that in spite of his outrageousness and the daily scandals his approval ratings are rising, perhaps into the mid-forties; and people he knows are fed up with all the breaking news. It's wearing them down, getting under their skin. As he put it, "They've had it up to here."

Another friend, Nancy, told me the other morning about a meeting she attended of Democrat activists who are attempting to nominate people who have a change of unseating incumbents in the November election. "The first meeting of this kind a couple of months ago attracted 60 participants," she said, "Those who attended were full of energy and optimism. Last week there was a followup meeting. Only 30 showed up."

When I asked why that might be she said because people are growing pessimistic as they contemplate the direction in which the country is moving. More following Trump than toward moderation.

And then I heard from another friend, Seth, who lives in Washington, DC, who is very bright, well informed, and activated. For months on Facebook he has been posting tough pieces that offer a sharp critique of Trump and his most fervent followers, both those in the government as well as politically-engaged Trumpians. 

In response to something I posted about reconnecting with what had happened during the week in which I did not watch any TV, Seth posted a response on Facebook. He has been a very inventive and successful chef and from that experience wrote--
Here's my two cents--turn the news back off. It isn't getting any better. Reason and logic will not overcome and we are all just waiting til midterms to find out if half the country really do support this administration, or if all the decent smart people just figured that the last election was a wash and didn't show up. 
Anyway, the more important current situation is that morel mushrooms should be popping up in the woods all around you right now. And for me there is nothing that soothes away the politics like a long walk in the woods. 
I have switched my political energy to mushroom hunting--not sure if living in DC makes it easier or tougher to drop out, but dropping out lets me sleep better.  
I am an avid recruiter for the sport of mushroom hunting. I think you will eventually find the coming chanterelle season to hold more anticipation than the Mueller investigation.
I love Seth, I really do, and I understand his feelings, frustration, and inclination to drop out. Especially if that includes morels. And I know he is writing this in part with tongue in cheek. But I also sense that he is feeling politically dispirited and that is not a good thing.

We need Seth and Nancy and Murray and everyone like them who see Trump and his administration to be a dangerous catastrophe to hang in there and fight, particularly when feeling dispirited. Because if we and people like us drop out and turn to our version of mushroom hunting, as a people, as a nation we are cooked. 

If in November Republicans retain their House majority, a walk in the woods will not be sufficient to distract us from what is surely to occur during the next two to six years.

Republicans, conservatives, Trump people will not be out searching for mushrooms. While we are, they'll be marching in majority numbers to local, state, and national voting booths. They are passionate and organized.

This is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves. There's a war going on and we have to engage in it. I'm for walks in the woods and gathering morels but we also have to find the right balance to do what we need to do to maintain our sanity--I get that--but also how to fight and win. 

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May 15, 2018--Midcoast: The Whites of Their Eyes

Let's call him Ralph. He's a retired ferryboat captain and whenever he shows up at the Bristol Diner we enjoy seeing him and catching up with what's on his mind. One thing we know, he's always full of surprises. 

Monday morning he was all excited, talking about a recent visit to one of South Carolina's Sea Islands. It's mainly populated by descendants of former slaves and the people there, the Gullahs, speak a language of their own that's a Creole amalgam of English and several West and Central African languages.

Not knowing much about them, Ralph spoke primarily about the quiet beauty of the place. "I love the sea," he said, "Made my livin' from what the sea, the ocean, and the bays gave up to people like me who never got much education. In my case . . ." he winked, and left the rest unsaid.

"I've never been to the Sea Islands," I said, "If I had a bucket list that would be on it."

"You know, one of the most interesting things there is that they speak Elizabethan English. Can hardly understand a word of it."

I didn't correct him. He was on a roll.

"Nice people, the Sea Islanders. And there's one thing you can say about them for sure"--he paused to see if I was paying attention--"after dark all you can see are their eyes and teeth." He chuckled at that.

Before I could think what to say, he was on to something else.

"Too bad we don't have Mexicans 'round here."

"What!" I said, still thinking about the eyes and teeth.

"I mean, they're looking for help here. A dishwasher, another cook. Too bad Deb can't make a couple of calls and find a Mexican to work for her."

"I assume you mean a legal one," I said.

He smiled. "An illegal would be alright with me."

"Really? That would be alright with you?"

"I just said that," Ralph said. "You got a problem with it?"

"Yes and no," I said.

"That's a surprise coming from you," Ralph said. "I thought all you liberals want to see us have open borders. So let's start with your problem with this."

I said, "But first I need to say I am not in favor of rounding up and deporting 10, 11 million people who are here without documents. That to me would not only be impossible to carry out but cruel. Many undocumented people have been here for decades, work hard, and don't make any trouble. A carefully crafted pathway to legal status--doesn't have to be citizenship--makes sense to me."

"So far I'm with you," Ralph said.

Surprised, I continued, "But then again to be here they broke the law and we should do all we can to make sure there isn't a new flood of illegal immigrants, seeing those already here on a pathway to legal status, entering the country seeking the same kind of deal. From history we know that in 1986 Ronald Reagan of all people signed an immigration reform bill that gave 3.0 million amnesty. It didn't stop people entering the country illegally. Probably did the opposite. I wouldn't want to repeat that."

"We pretty much agree," Ralph said, "Our economy would collapse if they weren't here or if we moved to send them back to where they came from. And it's not just washing dishes and picking lettuce that they do. There'd be a lot less homebuilding going on and lots of new businesses wouldn't exist. We need them here and need to figure out how to get all this fighting about them behind us. It's tearing us apart. Of course that's just what a lot of politicians on both sides want for their own purposes."

"We do agree," I said, admittedly surprised by that.

"Some of my people came here from Eastern Europe," Ralph said, "To tell you the truth maybe not all legally, and here I am to tell the tale. They made their contribution to America and I also tried to. I guess I'm a sort of like one of those Dreamers." At that he laughed, coughing as he did so.

Later that night, when I replayed the tape in my head of our conversation, I though again about how complicated this place is and how much I like that.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 14, 2018--"Rudy" Awakening

During our first week in Maine we turned the TV on exactly one time and at that for a total of only about half an hour--last Sunday night to watch a little American Idol. We would have watched more but fell asleep after driving seven hours to get here.

So it was a rude awakening or, forgive the pun, a Rudy awakening when we finally turned it on again this past Saturday after pretty much a full week of no TV. 

It was all Rudy of Rudy Giuliani all the time because his antics as Trump's new lead attorney were splashed all over the news. None of it good. All off it tumultuous, out-of-control, or just plain crazy. 

Whoever said this has it right--he's lost a step. Though from all the messes he created or stepped into during the past two weeks working for Trump, I'd say he's lost more than that. It looks as if he's lost his entire mind.

First, when pooh-poohing Trump's other personal lawyer, Michael Cohn's paying off Stormy Daniels, Rudy said that was no big deal. It's the sort of thing he and his firm routinely do for his and their famous and wealthy clients. Shrugging, he boasted, we just write the women "a couple of checks." What's $130,000? No big deal.

It appears, though, that it is a big deal to the law firm in which Rudy is (or should is say, was) a partner. The other partners met and voted to force him to resign. We don't do that kind of thing, they said.

But he appears to continue to serve as Trump's butt-boy lawyer, slamming Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, who challenged Rudy to a one-on-one debate (I'd pay to watch that), sneering, "I don't get involved with pimps."

Avenatti couldn't restrain himself from noting the obvious--in effect saying, "You pay off women for your rich and famous clients and you call me a pimp?"

Just as this was reminded me what I've been missing since cutting the cable, along came more breaking news--what White House aide Kelly Sadler cruelly said at a meeting in the West Wing about critically ill John McCain.

The meeting included a discussion about the upcoming vote to confirm or reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to head the CIA. Her appointment is controversial since as a high-level CIA staffer she presided over one or more so-called "black sites" where accused terrorists were tortured.

McCain, having been tortured in a North Vietnam prison for years, is on record as opposing her nomination and this may mean she will not be confirmed. Not willing to vote for her, Sadler said, "doesn't matter. He's dying anyway."

So here it is early Monday morning and I'm torn. 

I know Trump is about to start tweeting and Rudy is soon to crawl out of bed after dreaming about all the outrageous things he can do to stir the pot and make everyone crazy. Should I turn on Morning Joe? Should I  . . . ?

But no. I think I'll take a pass and watch the sun rise over Johns Bay.

Left to Right--Rudy and Donald Trump

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 11, 2018

May 11, 2018--Back Monday

So busy settling in that I had no time or energy left to write. So I will be back at this Monday morning.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

May 10, 2018--Trump's 19.9%

Searching for the elusive number of how many constitute Donald Trump's most fervent supporters, those willing to take a bullet for him, West Virginia is not a bad place to look for answers. 

In 2016  he carried the state by an incredible 42 points. So it may be helpful to glance at the results of Tuesday's Republican primary to see if there is evidence about the size of his rock-bottom base. 

Don Blankenship was one of three candidates seeking to win the nomination and go up against incumbent, almost-a-Republican Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Some polls had Blankenship in the lead. So much so that he felt justified labeling himself "Trumpier than Trump."

Blankenship, though, did suffer from some self-inflicted problems. For example, he is a convicted felon, having spent a year in jail for failing to maintain safety while CEO of Massey Energy's WV coal mine where 29 miners were killed in a 2010 explosion.

And as part of his campaign to position himself even further to the right than Trump when it comes to immigration issues, he referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chou, as Mitch's "China family."

Learning about that McConnell called Trump to ask him to stop supporting Blankenship. On the day before the election Trump announced he was not backing him. More important than being offended by the racial slur, we know no one is allowed to proclaim himself Trumpier than Trump. Only Trump is allowed to be the Trumpiest.

Blankenship did come in third but still received 19.9 percent of the vote.

It could be that this represents Trump's bottom-bottom line. It's not 38 percent nor 42 percent, but his dead-enders add up to a tenth less than 20 percent. That sounds about right.

If true, this is good news because as things close in even further on Trump and those voters up for garbs slowly shear away under a relentless tsunami of scandalous news, if he is still in office in 2020, he will have a long way to got to win reelection.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

May 9, 2018--Now A Word From Lynne Roth

Good friend Lynne Roth is a regular reader of my stuff and every month or so sends me a note which is really a riff on some of the things I've been writing about.

With her permission, here's the most recent email. I though you might like to see it as I love her sensibility. 

Glad to read you and Rona will soon be in your quiet place. 

To counteract the stress created by current events I restrain myself and save a few of your blogs to read.  The blogs have become a bandage for my brain.  On alternate days I have also increased my meds.

For years I have been intrigued with elvers and their story.  Not many are aware of how they breed and evolve.  Someone once misunderstood me, "corrected" me and asked if I was discussing elves. 

Thanks for the blog. Now I feel less like a nerd and am satisfied being a generalist.

You made me smile with your use of schneid.

Today I learned a record number of appellate judges have been placed. Very disturbing when contemplating all the cases and achievements that may be rolled back.

While living in Delray I began to follow "Morning Joe."  In recent years I suspected Joe might run for office. However,  I felt incidents in his personal life would make it impossible.  

Since Donald J. Trump was elected my thoughts have changed. Watching Joe evolve has been amusing. Both he and Mika appear to have been conspiring to put in a change of address. My suspicion heightened when Joe started wearing suits on the show more often than not. It's a pleasure to watch the scripted method they use to poke and provoke DJT into reacting.

I agree with your prediction.

When  you, Rona and Jack get into your routine I hope you make an appointment to have your hearing checked.  Perhaps you will become inspired to recreate your mystery series, "Audiological Tales."

But you know me well enough, I will read anything you write.

Safe travels.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

May 8, 2018--Transitioning

After 380 miles of driving (not much traffic but still arduous), arriving at the house in Maine to discover we had no water pressure and thus no water and the fact that both our bedroom closet doors were hard stuck shut and our telephone was not working (everything eventually resolved), I'm too pooped to write. So I'll be be back here tomorrow, Wednesday.

Everything is beautiful and Rona's garden is springing back to life.

Monday, May 07, 2018

May 7, 2018--Prediciton

If you follow these, you know I occasionally like to make predictions. Occasionally, one pans out. Like the disappearance of first son-in-law, Jared Kushner. If you've spotted him lately, please let me know so I can correct my scorecard of speculations. 

Here's a new one inspired by last week's coverage of Rudy Giuliani's blanket appearances on Fox News' Sean Hannity Show and the inane Fox & Friends--

Joe Scarborough is running for president. Of the United States. 

The Joe of MSNBC's Morning Joe, an island generally of sanity and civility in the early morning wasteland of network and cable TV.

You may rightfully wonder how these seemingly unrelated pieces fit together. 

It is the result of the confluence of Scarborough's decline in influence (MJ used to be the go-to place for media and Washington insiders) with the resulting frustration he is feeling as Trump and his people, since moving into the White House have iced him out. During the 2016 campaign Trump appeared on or called into MJ almost every day, but now Joe is being ignored because he is too relentlessly critical of all things Trump and because he recently turned 55, the time in life when many ask "Is this all there is"?

His answer to that existential question, I am predicting, is ,"No, there's more. In fact, that more is the presidency."

If as I you watch MJ you may have noticed that Scarborough these days rarely appears on the set in either New York or Washington. He is patched in and on screen looks as if he is broadcasting from a basement bunker in his Connecticut home.

I suspect he is putting the finishing touches on a book about his vision for America's future and doesn't want to spend any time distracted by commuting or doing all the extra-ealry morning prep work being fully engaged with the program would require. 

More and more he is leaving the hosting to Willie Geist and his fiancée, Mika Brzezinski, which leaves him with the time and money--he reportedly earns $5.0 million a year to host MJ--required to write his manifesto and begin the process of putting the pieces together for a presidential campaign. 

With Mika, the daughter of Washington royalty, Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, about to become his third or fourth wife he has in her the perfect potential First Lady. He's from the déclassé Florida Panhandle (the "Redneck Rivera") and by marrying her and into her family history he will be koshered enough to be taken seriously as presidential material. Not that he doesn't have numerous potential presidential qualities of his own.

As an anti-Trump semi-lapsed Republican he could try for the Democratic nomination, independent style like Bernie Sanders, or seek to oust Trump during the 2020 primaries. He could be the class in either field. 

A practicing Baptist, gun-owning, small government, fiscally responsible libertarian who believes in gun control he may fit the mood of the times. It doesn't hurt that he's tall, boyishly handsome, with a full head of hair (to my father a presidential prerequisite) and is fluent in the various languages of the social media.

He's ready and maybe much of America would also be. It could get interesting. 

Next First Family?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, May 04, 2018

May 4, 2018--Elvers

In a few days we will be heading to Maine. 

One thing we look forward to is spending six months with the TV turned off. We do get the New York Times to keep in touch with the news but even more for the crossword puzzle. We try to keep things there as simple and peaceful and deeply soul-satisfying as possible. To help with this we do some disconnecting from the wider world and some of its problems. This helps. Especially now when things have become so ugly and raw. 

In Maine for us it's about pursuing happiness Declaration of Independence style, where the happiness being pursued is more about contentment than jollity.

And, we find, if we want to, there are other ways to stay connected to that larger world other than paying obsessive attention to what's going on with North Korea, Syria, trade wars, and the dislocating and agitating effects of globalization.

But, then, since globalization presumably affects everyone and everything, there should be evidence of it in the Midcoast. And indeed there is.

Take baby eels for example. Elvers.

In a few places on the planet they spawn in the ocean and then migrate to fresh water where they grow to adult size. More than anywhere else these elvers find their way across the Gulf of Maine and then enter the tidal estuaries and fresh water streams of the coast just 15 miles from where we spend the season.

But before they are allowed to grow to adult size they are netted by a fortunate one thousand fishermen who have state permission to fish for them. "Fortunate," since this year elvers are expected to go for up to $2,800 a pound. Great news as last year they brought less than half that, just $1,300. 

It is. estimated that the total yield for the elver fishermen will reach a promising $26 million by the end of the season. 

The record prices this year are the result of poor winter harvests around the globe. The elvers in Maine thus are part of the globalized market in baby eels.

That globalized market is complex and spans the oceans. The reason prices are so high in Maine this year is because captures of japonica eels in the western Pacific have been low and this in turn has boosted prices for Atlantic eels. But catches in Asia are surging and that soon will result in a price decline in Maine. 

Elvers are sold to Japanese buyers who fly them to Japan where they are allowed to become adults and after that find there way to only the best sushi restaurants where they are, as unagi, in great demand.

In fact, in the fall, our local New York City Japanese restaurant  Sharaku, serves them as very special delicacies. 

Before knowing about the Maine connection and the triangular trade route that circles the globe and brings them via their unique supply chain from up the road from our Maine place and then some months later to Sharaku, just two blocks from here, fresh eel unagi are my favorite kind of sushi, served on rice, sauced by a slowly reduced blend or mirin, sake, sugar, and soy.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 03, 2018

May 3, 2108--Pornhub

One of the things I try to keep up with is the neurobiology of pleasure. 

What is the nature of pleasure and how does the brain process it? What are the electrical and chemical events that fire when we experience pleasure?

To laypeople (which includes me) it would likely come as a surprise that there is a battle among researchers and clinicians about the nature of pleasure itself. Are all pleasures basically the same or is there a hierarchy of pleasure, with certain ones "higher" than others? 

The disputants, reported the New York Times, are about equally divided.  

One side in the conflict asks if the pleasure we receive from art and other aesthetic experiences is categorically different. In other words, not so between the lines, is the experience of art a higher form of pleasure as contrasted with the less-refined enjoyment we receive from food (particularly sweets) and sex. As a result, the title of the piece--"Mona Lisa and Pornhub as Equals?" Note the question mark.

Taking the other side in this struggle, neuroscientist Julia Christensen, in an article, "Pleasure Junkies All Around!" writes about the responses to ballet in contrast to, say, our addiction to sweets--have we turned into "mindless pleasure junkies handing over our free will for the next dopamine shot" which, she claims, is equally present in the brain as the result of engaging in social media, watching pornography, craving a sugar fix, or attending a dance recital.

This jumped out at me because of the dopamine that is a part of the L-DOPA compound I take for my PD because when I take my pills I am not aware of any heightened sense of pleasure except from the realization that it helps control the slight tremor I have in my right hand. I suspect there is no firing in the pleasure center of my brain, just this awareness and thankfulness. That feels like enough.

Researchers do not agree whether enjoying a da Vinci results in a different neural process than visiting McDonald's or Pornhub.

For those who claim that all pleasures are pretty much the same when it comes to brain function, to quote the Times, "why don't people ever orgasm from pleasure associated with food or art?" 

It turns out that they do! 

According to Debra Herbenick at the University of Indiana's Center for Sexual Health, eating a ripe tomato or reading nonerotic literature have been reported to provoke an orgasm. So too, apparently, does walking barefoot on wood floors and doing pull-ups. Though, in regard to the latter, I have my doubts.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

May 2, 2018--Let's Make A Deal

With Kim Jong-un saying last Sunday that he will give up his nuclear arsenal if Trump pledges not to invade North Korea, Kim and Trump could conclude a deal in less than half an hour. 

What else would need doing besides Trump figuring out the  theatrics of the summit meeting?

If Trump didn't require more than a day in Moscow in 2013 to run the Miss Universe Pageant, talk about a Moscow Trump Tower, and do whatever that night in Moscow's Motel 6, the situation with North Korea, thanks to Kim, is shaping up to be even more of a walk in the park.  

Of course Trump will make that pledge if that's all it takes. No need for dozens of diplomats (which we, by the way, no longer have) to work on the devils in the details. All Kim has to do is agree to having a couple of UN disarmament people resident in North Korean to make sure Kim complies. And all Trump has to do is, well, not very much. 

No need for Kim to schlep all the way to Singapore or Mongolia to meet. He doesn't have a dependable airplane to get him there anyway and the train he rides around in is so ladened with bombproofing that it can rumble along at only 22 miles per hour. He'd have to leave Pyongyang tomorrow to get to Singapore by mid May. 

To make things simple and convenient they could meet on Air Force One. Trump could fly it into Pyongyang Sunan International Airport and Kim could use an Uber to get to the meeting.

I'm making light of this because I think I may be hallucinating. I temporarily increased my meds last week and I don't trust myself these days.

But the more serious side of me senses the makings of a deal. To sign off on one there needs to be self-interest on all sides. 

And there is.

Let's start with South Korea. If we stumble into a war on the peninsular, which was feeling more and more likely just before the Olympics--remember "little rocket man" and who had the bigger nuclear button--military experts estimated that in the first half hour up to half a million Koreans would be killed. Of course, Pyongyang would be bombed back to the Stone Age and Seoul to the Iron Age, there would be no winners, very much including the global economy. So hyper-capitalistic South Korea doesn't want to go there. No more Samsung? No more Kia? No more Hyundai? 

Also, nationalist South Korean president Moon would very much like to shrug off the heavy American presence and hand, freeing his country of client statehood.

China also would like to see the U.S. less dominant in Asia. It is their goal to have us withdraw our 23,500 troops from Korea and for us to be less dominate in the regional economy. And our diminished role advances China's aspirations and worldview. 

Of course they would have to figure our a way to deal with a new Tiger Economy, millions of refugees wanting into China, and the possible unification of Korea. Korea would instantly become the new Germany and thus an economic power to reckoned with. China would have to figure out how to accommodate and/or co-opt that.

What a deal would mean to North Korea is evident. People there would have electricity and food, the roads would be fixed and Kim would have an Air Force One of his own. He also could use the money that participating in winning the Nobel Prize would provide. Perhaps for Kim, more than anything else, he would morph from pariah status to player on the world stage.

Trump too in important circles is a pariah but if he were to sign off on such a deal he would have a chance to get off that schneid. It might even help Republicans win more seats in the House of Representatives than currently projected and make it less likely that Trump would be impeached. It might also be an incentive for him to declare mission actually accomplished and decide to turn the keys over to Mike Pence.

He also could use the Nobel cash.
Kim at Pyongyang Airport

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

May 1, 2018--Jack: Trump Delivers

It felt like forever since I had heard from Jack and so, concerned about him, I called.

"I appreciated your being worried," he said.

"Actually concerned. A little concerned," I said to correct the record.

"It's funny you called. I was just thinking about you."

"Really? What were you thinking?"

"What else do we talk about? Trump."  Without waiting for my reaction, he raced ahead, "I was just watching Morning Joe. Thanks to you I tune them in once in awhile to see what the Commies are up to." He chuckled as if to indicate this wasn't going to be one of his stress-inducing rants.

"I was watching as well," I said, "To get a morning dose of the truth. There's so much spinning."

"From Joe and Mika as well," Jack said, "She's got him totally wimped out. Every day he's sounding more and more like Elizabeth Warren. It's the price of her agreeing to marry him. The next thing you know he'll be wearing an apron."

"Now I see why I resist calling you. If this is a bad time to talk we can . . ."

"It's as good a time as ever. You dropped the dime. So what's on your mind?"

"The last time we talked, in early February, I sensed a little doubt about him. About, as you used to refer to him, 'your boy.' It was when they fired his close aide, Rob Porter after he was caught having lied about abusing his wives. You told me about your growing up, about how your parents . . ."

Softly, he said, "No need to go there again. What's past is . . ."

"I wasn't going there except that I got the impression that you weren't happy that Trump had a spousal abuser working right next to him in the Oval Office because of your own . . ."

"I'd rather talk about Morning Joe."

"OK by me," I said, "I don't have an agenda. I just wanted to check in with you. To see how you are. So, what struck you from this morning's show?"

"Did you see that woman who wrote a book about what she called 'flyover country'?"

"I did," I said, "In fact, I just ordered it, The View from Flyover Country. By Sarah Kendzior. Sounds interesting. Good title."

"It was more what some of Scarborough's panelists had to say."

"I'm listening."

"You remember that book you mentioned to me a couple of years ago, What's the Matter With Kansas? Well, I got it out of the library and actually read it."

"What did you think?"

"You'll probably be surprised that I pretty much agreed with most of it. How conservative politicians in Kansas ignored economic issues like sinking wages and unemployment and fed people there a steady diet of what the writer called cultural issues. Back then, abortion, evolution, and gay marriage. You know I'm a libertarian and believe in all of these things. That government shouldn't say who can and cannot get married and get in the way of a woman wanting to have an abortion."

"I do know that about you. If you weren't that way I wouldn't be able to consider you a friend."

He ignore that and continued, "And then when they got elected, ultraconservatives, now in the majority at the state and federal level in Kansas, ignored people's concerns about those cultural issues and voted for tax cuts and things like that that favored rich people and big corporations. In other words the politicians again screwed the little people."

"And with Trump?"

"Maybe you weren't paying attention to Morning Joe, but that woman Kend-something and the others were saying that Trump also ran on a lot of conservative cultural issues but rather than selling out the people who voted for him he actually delivered. Or is in the process of doing so. And this included Evangelicals who overlooked all his misbehavior because they believed in what he was saying about immigrants and guns and science and Muslims and climate change and transgender people serving in the military." 

Jack continued, "More than anything else getting Gorsuch on the Supreme Court said it all. You would think that people who probably don't even know how many judges there are on the Court wouldn't be so crazed about Gorsuch. Most probably don't even know his name, but they believe he has their interests at heart. And that Trump put him there for them. In other words, unlike in Kansas and elsewhere, Trump is keeping his promises. And at his rallies talks to his people as if he's confiding in them. Paying attention to them and what's on their minds."

"And you mean they're not being screwed by Trump and his appointees? You mean that there is a real benefit to average people from the tax cuts that will add trillions to the debt? That Trump lied to his followers, that he continues to do so by focusing the vast bulk of the tax cuts on the richest 5 percent and the biggest businesses that are already doing very well? That doesn't sound like delivering to me."

"I will concede," Jack said, "that nothing and nobody's perfect but with Trump people feel he's on their side. Including when he creates what his opponents label chaos. He claims that he does this intentionally to shake up the system. To bring about new and better ways to do things. The old ways from traditional welfare kinds of programs to the way diplomacy has been practiced forever have only made things worse."

"I will agree with some of that. Especially that big government and big government programs haven't been that effective. I know about federal education programs and most of them haven't produced positive results."

"That's the understatement of the year," Jack said. "But my best case is what might be happening in Korea. Even you have written about how if things work out Trump will be entitled to a lot of credit. Minimally by scaring everyone who thinks he's crazy and if they don't make a deal he'll nuke them. That seems to have gotten Kim's attention."

"I did write about that and if things in fact do get better I'll be happy to see the credit shared. But that's about it. The rest of his agenda is either going nowhere or has already collapsed. Like making life better for working people--a majority of whom voted for him. The economy is growing but not at above-expected rates and people are not seeing a whole lot of additional money in their paychecks. So much so that Republicans are no longer running around patting themselves on their backs for passing that tax bill. So the one thing they accomplished is blowing up in their faces."

"Some of this may be true," Jack said, "But, I remind you, a good third of the population cares more about guns and abortion and being able to pray where and when they want, and, for those people, Trump is delivering."

"God help us," I muttered under my breath.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,