Friday, August 31, 2018

August 31, 2018--Midcoast: Bucket List

"I'm 51 years old and afraid I don't have enough saved to retire before I'm at least 90."

A crew of arborists were at our place to remove eight dead and dying pine trees. They arrived with what seemed like an army of heavy equipment, including a huge tractor, a cherry picker, and a chipper.

"Really, it scares me. I thought for awhile that I'd be OK, but what with the cost of things going up by the day, I don't know."

This was Walt whose responsibility was to drive the tractor, especially to scoop up the chain-sawed tree parts that he then would then stack in towering piles.

"First of all," I said, "We're both much older than you, I really mean  I'm much older, not Rona, and we worked hard for many years and were careful savers. And we more or less followed my father's advice. He used to say that there's no freedom without economic freedom and so, he advised, earn as much as you can for as long as you can, save as much as possible, and live below your means. That is, until you retire."

"That sounds pretty smart," Walt said, "You did that? I mean, follow his advice?"

"Pretty much," I said, "And so now we're fortunate to be comfortable. We still watch our spending and Rona has been a smart money manager."

"I don't know," he said, "I pay into Social Security, my wife works three jobs, and driving heavy equipment pays pretty decent. But I worry."

"You're still young," I said, "There's a lot of time left for you to increase your savings. Even a few hundred dollars more a month, over time if you don't touch it, can make a big difference. But I get your point. We know a lot of people in their mid-sixties who had good careers but didn't save enough and now feel vulnerable. So it isn't easy, considering the rising cost of things, to feel secure. But, again, whatever you're doing now, like everyone else, you can do better."

"Enough about this depressing subject," Walt said, "Let's talk about how you guys live. I see you have a nice house here and a great garden, that I'm sure takes a lot of work to maintain, but it feels like you have a good lifestyle."

"We do," I said, "We're very fortunate."

"May I ask if you have a bucket list? Things you want to do before you can't do them any more? I hate to sound morbid." He shrugged.

"That's OK," I said, "I don't have that kind of list. I prefer to let things happen and to keep everything on the simple, spontaneous side."

"I have a thought," Walt said, smiling broadly, "See that cherry picker over there? With Mike in the bucket--that's what we call it, the bucket. It can raise him to 70 feet, high enough to get to the top of most trees, though you have here a few as high as, I'd estimate, maybe 90, 100 feet. Those suckers are pretty tall. I think one even has an eagle nest in it." He pointed to the top of a towering spruce.

"It's quite a contraption," I said.

"So how'd you like to take a ride in it? It could be on your bucket list, pardon the pun, even though you don't have one." He winked.

"I think I'd like that," I said, "I love heights and from the bucket I could probably have a view of the entire Point, including the Pemaquid lighthouse."

"Let's make it happen! Don't forget to take your camera."

With that he shouted to Mike to lower the bucket. Mike waved to signal he would bring it down to ground level. Its long extension arms telescoped into one another and then the two bulging arms folded one atop the other.

"Hop right in." Mike said, a little breathlessly, "Walt'll help you. It's a little tricky even for someone half your age." 

I thought he too was thinking bucket list. "Grab hold of him, Walt," which he proceeded to do, almost lifting me off the ground by holding onto my belt and easing me into the bucket. 

I'm not as balanced or steady on my feet as I used to be and having this sure-handed help made me feel secure and provided just the assistance I needed to finally tumble into the bucket.

"Good job," Mike said while at the same time getting the arm of the hoist mechanism to unfold and extend itself as we rapidly ascended. 

I looked down to where Rona stood, sensing she thought the three of us were crazy. Maybe a little, I thought, just a little.

Up in the air to the full 70 feet of the extended arm I could indeed see all the nearby houses, including ours, and off in the distance, about half a mile south, there in fact was the lighthouse. I'm not much for taking photos but this time I did to share what I was seeing with Rona and as evidence that I really did this.

After about 15 minutes of rotating the bucket as much as possible so I could get good views in all directions, Mike, with visible reluctance (he too was having fun) began to lower the contraption. 

On the ground, Walt moved quickly to help me get my quivering legs out of the bucket and then back on my own two feet.

"That was amazing," I said, "So much fun."

"Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have a bucket list after all," Walt said. "Like maybe including skydiving?"

"That actually does interest me," I said, "Maybe for my upcoming birthday. It's a big one. I remember President Bush doing that up here in Maine, a few years ago. Maybe when he turned 90. I have a ways to go before that. But maybe you're right--I should make a list. In truth, it would be a list of things I probably won't get around to doing."

"Now you're sounding morbid," he said, But back to what we were talking about earlier," bringing me back to reality, "About retiring."

"I remember that," I said, truthfully not wanting to bring myself down from feeling so exhilarated and full of life.

"If all else fails my plan is to die on the job."


"One day, a beautiful day just like today, I plan to keel over into a pile of brush. Simple as that."

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

August 30, 2018--Back For Sure Tomorrow

The day is shaping up to allow time for thinking and writing. I will return to this space on Friday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

August 29, 2018--Too Darn Hot

Even here, without AC, it's a little too hot to think or type. I hope to be back here tomorrow, Thursday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

August 28, 2018--Sammy (The Bull) Gravano

Mary Trescot and Rona have a theory--

There is all the current speculation that Trump is more like a Mafia Don than a traditional president. 

Not only is he, was he mobbed up (you can't build 50-story buildings in New York City without dealing with the mob because among other essential things they control the cement business and the private carting [garbage collection] business) but also his vernacular and his reference group are more the likes of John Gotti and Tony Soprano than George W. Bush or, God help us, Barack Obama.

Referring to "flippers" as "rats," and woman as "dogs," Trump also asked then FBI director James Comey if "we can let this go" when they met to talk about the Russian hacking of the 2016 election. 

His comfortable use of wise-guy argot comes across as something more out of Goodfellas than the Wharton School (which he claims to have attended). 

This is intentional posturing because he wants to appear to be a regular guy tough guy rather than the draft-dodging woss he is. So cowardly that he is afraid to go to Iraq or Afghanistan to visit the troops he says he so reveres.

Mary and Rona think his use of nicknames is also mob-like.

He has "Crooked" Hillary; the mob has Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno; Trump had "Little Marco," the good-fellas have Louis "Cock-Eyed" Fratto.

Trump's is a very long list and includes "Crazy" Joe Biden, "Lyin" Ted Cruz, Jeff "Flakey," "Wacky" Omarosa, Elizabeth "Pocahontas" Warren (my favorite), and for James Comey, more monikers than anyone else--"Slippery," "Shady," and "Slimeball."

Trump is so good at assigning deprecating nicknames that some speculate others not yet on his list are afraid to criticize him too harshly because they do not want to get stigmatized. Just ask Senator Warren how it feels.

Some of my favorite Mafia nicknames include--Israel "Ice Pick" Alderman,  Louis "The Chin" Gigante, Tony "Big Tuna" Accord, Johnny "Sausage" Barbara, Louis "Bagels" Daidone, Jimmy "Dumps" Palermo, and of course, perhaps the one person Trump models himself after, John "Dapper Don" Gotti.

I think Mary and Rona are on to something. They are also right to point out that Gotti was brought down by his fixer, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who broke his "made man" "blood oath" and "wore a wire" to record their conversations as they walked about in Little Italy discussing the next scheduled "rub out." At his trial The Bull confessed to 19 "hits." Gotti went "up the river" and died in jail.

John Gotti (center) Sammy the Bull Gravano (right)

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Monday, August 27, 2018

August 27, 2018--As He Lay Dying

A day or two before the end, as his old best friend, John McCain, lay dying, as we have seen Lindsey do before, he couldn't keep his hands off his new best friend, Donald J. Trump. 

Senator Lindsey Graham is such a suck up for hunky men that when he encounters one, or one pretending to be one, he seemingly can't control himself.

This time, with Trump, the gift he brought was to clear a path that would enable him to fire the Attorney General with minimal political dissent or outrage. This he gift-wrapped for Trump, the one man John McCain clearly despised. At least he could have waited until after the funeral. We know Trump won't show up, isn't welcome, and now I wonder about jilted-by-death Lindsey. Will he have the cajones to show his face at the service. 

This gift about when and how to dump Sessions was hand delivered by the same swooning Lindsey who only a few months ago said that if Trump fires Sessions there will be "holy hell to pay."

Late last week Graham noted that Sessions has clearly lost Trump's confidence (this is news?) and that he, Lindsey, a leader in the Senate, did not necessarily object to Trump replacing him after the midterm elections. 

Presumably the congressional elections will result in deep loses among Republicans and, Graham suggested, as presidents in the past have done, Trump should "reshuffle" his cabinet mainly to deflect blame for the election results from himself to his hapless underlings. 

And by reshuffling Graham means dumping a few cabinet officers, not just Sessions, so he won't stick out so much. It would appear to be more a house cleaning than retribution because Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and refused to see his job as protecting Trump from his own worst proclivities.

I suppose this advice constitutes something other than what Lindsey considers hell to pay.

Think Clinton in 1994, George W. Bush in 2006, and Barack Obama in 2010. All of whom reshuffled their cabinets after off-cycle election results.

And think how President Lyndon Johnson got around being pressured to make Bobby Kennedy his running mate in 1964. LBJ despised RFK even more than McCain hated Trump or Trump hates Sessions. 

He announced that his choice would not be from anyone serving in his cabinet (Bobby was still Attorney General) because there was so much work to do that he couldn't spare anyone's full-time attention. 

Everyone at the time knew what he was really doing--jettisoning Kennedy--and before long Johnson had become so politically toxic that he little choice but to withdrew from the 1986 race.

If only history could in this case repeat itself.

Rona has another theory about what Lindsey Graham is up to--

She thinks he is too smart and weaselly to give into his infatuation and is trying to trick Trump into not firing Sessions until after the midterms. He believes that Trump firing Sessions before November would so inflame voters that the Republicans would do even worse than is currently predicted.


In that case let's hope Trump fires Sessions at the end of  October. Let that be the October Surprise. That would be better than bombing North Korea.

Then we could begin to speculate who Trump will attempt to appoint (I say "attempt" because Democratic senators will filibuster).

Top of the list could be Rudy or Chris Christie (remember him?). Or perhaps from Trump's world of reality TV--Judge Judy, Judge Jeanine, Judge Nepolitano, or Laura Ingraham who is a lawyer.

Perhaps most confirmable by the Senate is, why not, Lindsey Graham.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

August 24, 2018--My New Best Friend: Jeff Sessions

How could it have come to pass that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in spite of his political beliefs, would become my new best friend and hero?

I must be hallucinating. My meds can have that affect. I'll check with my neurologist. 

But in the meantime, in case you missed it, here's the latest--

On Wednesday Trump taped a segment that was broadcast Thursday morning on his favorite morning talk show--the simply idiotic Fox & Friends.

He turned to one of his favorite bête noirs: Jeff Sessions, who he accused of never having "taken control" of the Justice Department. What he means by not taking control is that Sessions should not have recused himself from the investigation of Russia's interference, in support of Trump, in the 2016 presidential election. 

To Trump, not understanding the responsibilites of Attorneys General, Sessions job as AG was to protect him from all investigations and criminal accusations. Not uphold the law, but to have Trump's back. Even if it meant acting illegally.

On Fox & Trump mused, "What kind of man is this." 

In an unusual pushback, Sessions told Trump just what kind of man he is--

"I took control of the Department of Justice on the day I was sworn in.

"While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States." 
He added, "I am proud to serve with them and proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law."
Do I hear the sounds of walls tumbling down?

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

August 23, 2018--Trump Jurer

One thing many thought about as the Manafort jury's deliberations dragged into a fourth day was concern that one or more jurors were such fervent Trump supporters that no matter how overwhelming the evidence of Manafort's guilt there would be no verdict, no guilty verdict. The jury would be hung on all 18 counts. 

It turns out that this concern was well founded. It almost happened. But nonetheless, Trump's former campaign manager was found guilt on eight counts.

Unless you take an occasional surreptitious peek at Fox News to see what they are up to (I do), how they are spinning things, you would have missed what a Manafort juror of the concerning type had to say about their deliberations. Particularly how, in spite of driving to the courthouse in Alexandria every morning, wearing her Make America Great hat, conflicted as to whether or not she should hold out to the very bitter end in spite of the accumulating evidence that point to Manafort's guilt, in spite of this, she voted guilty on those eight counts. And likely would have found him guilty on the ten others but didn't "need" to as there was another Trump juror who did hold out for a not guilty verdict and thus there was a hung jury on the other counts.

The juror, Paula Duncan, interviewed on Fox said--

"Finding Mr. Manafort guilty was hard for me. I wanted him to be innocent, I really wanted him to be innocent, but he wasn't. That's the part of a juror. You have to have due diligence and deliberate and look at the evidence and come up with an informed and intelligent decision, which I did."

As scary as the prospect is of a stealth Trumpian on this and upcoming juries (there are a lot of them across America--perhaps a third of the adult population), imperfect as it is, in spite of the relentless incitement emanating from Fox and other media sources, the system such as it is can work. There is something almost sacred to many when one enters the jury room to deliberate. Paula Duncan is a living example.

Paula Duncan

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

August 22, 2018--The Fall of the House of Trump

On split-screen TV, on the same day, during the same hour, with the conviction of Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort, the guilty pleas of Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who will now sing like a canary, with the reminder yesterday that former National Security Advisor and confessed felon, Michael Flynn is still spilling the beans to the Mueller investigators, and the promise of more troubles to come (like the indictment of Don Jr?), well short of two years into his presidency, before our eyes, Trump World is unraveling.
As a result we can expect to see a great deal of desperate, out of control behavior by our deflating president.
There will be firings, there will be pardons, expect an intensification of insults and threats to soft targets such as Little Rocket Man, expect distractions, including some wave-the-dog military action. Expect more unhinged rallies like the one last night in West Virginia, and of course there will be more tweet storms with Mueller and Sessions in the crosshairs as Trump also continues to savage Omarosa, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary. 
Melania will disappear from sight (also yesterday she announced she's about to take off on a solo trip to some "s-hole" countries in Africa) as will the Kusners. Unless Jared as well finds himself under the Mueller bus.
One thing not to expect--more than a handful of critical comments from wimped-out Republicans. They helped create Trump, rode his coattails to congressional leadership, doubled their bets on him as the midterms approached, and now will trickle down to insignificance with him. 
It is too late for these "rats" (Trump's word) to abandon ship. Live by him, die by him. As Tennyson wrote, to class up this sordid tale, we are seeing "Nature red in tooth and claw."
No one in Congress is writing a profile in courage.
And don't expect anything Trump perpetrates to protect him beyond Election Day. Even if Mueller is fired, like the Pentagon Papers, his report will see the light of day and, as a result, after Democrats win control of the House in early November, investigative hearings will begin January 2nd, Trump will be impeached by the House by the fall of 2019.
Though he will not be convicted by the Senate even if Democrats retake the majority since that requires an impossible 67 votes.
But in spite of this Trump will not retain the presidency beyond 2020. Knowing he can't win reelection, after declaring "mission accomplished," expect him to opt out for "health reasons." He will do a Nixon and turn the keys to the White House over to Mike Pence. Another nightmare in waiting.
But rather than focusing on that, let's enjoy the moment and the evidence from yesterday that the "system" may be working.

Paul Manafort Mugshot

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

August 21, 2018--Retiring

George Lindberg did the heavy lifting yesterday while I again spent a few hours at VW getting our car to work on all cylinders. I will return on Wednesday with a story about one way to retire if you are a bit strapped.

Monday, August 20, 2018

August 20, 2018--George Lindberg's Nightmare: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library

I received this email from my good friend George Lindberg--

Dear Steven

When you get in a slump because of insomnia, remember you at least have control of how you spend your awake time.  You can change the channel or shut it off at whim.  I on the other hand have no trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.  My problem is what happens while I am asleep.  

The other day you and Rona set some wheels in motion.  It all started the evening following your musings about the numerous presidential libraries you two have visited.  I have never been to any so I can only wonder what would be on display.

As I drifted into slumberland, I made the mistake of wondering what the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library would be like.  Steven, I can’t shut him off . . .

The dream always starts the same way.  I'm driving down I-95, heading toward Queens, the birthplace of Donald, where from a sign I notice that the name of the Throgs Neck Bridge has been changed to the Thongs Neck Bridge. When I get to Jamaica Estates, his boyhood home, I find myself at the new Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. Built on an old swamp that wasn't drained but filled in.

There was some talk of locating it on the campus of Trump University, but no one could locate it and the Wharton School people said, “No way."

In keeping with Trump tradition, the library has been set in a hot-sheet motel. In my dream it is always a pay by the hour place.  I park in a new seven story parking garage.  Funny thing is mine is the only car there.  A welcome sign tells me the place was built on land that was cleared after evicting 5,000 immigrants. 

As I enter I am required to show proof of citizenship.  Lucky for me (it’s a dream remember) I have my birth certificate with me.  Stepping in the foyer a holograph of Ivanka appears, suggesting I genuflect as I pass the life size (both height and width) portrait of The Donald.   “But,” she says, “By no means should you take a knee.”

Behind me is a gentleman who is apparently of foreign decent.  When he apologetically states he has no identification, Poof, the holograph disappears and the booming voice of Donald descends from the heavens, proclaiming --“OUT, OUT, GET THE S.O.B. OUT.  YOU'RE FIRED.”

I had to move on as I was being charged by the hour.

My recollection is that all the walls were painted a brilliant lily white.  Ivanka is back suggesting I follow the main corridor and at the end not to miss what's at the far right. She also urges me to look around in the High Tariff gift shop and purchase an official DJT gift with the presidential seal made by our good friends in China. She adds, “Please be sure to buy something in the apparel closeout section."

As I walk down the main corridor a screeching sound is heard and a golf cart comes careening around the corner from the alt-right.  It has been customized to look like the original clown car from the 2016 campaign.  At the wheel is Steve Bannon.  Except his hair is combed and bleached blond.  He says, “Get in.  I’ll show you around."    

Room after room passes by but I’m able to read the name plates on each door.

There is the Insults room, with dozens of printed tweets posted on the walls. The first one I see is about Rosie O'Donnell.

The Fake News room has an old teletype machine clacking away.  Lots of stuff is coming in from Fox News.

The Immigration room. On quick glance there are several pictures of families being reunited.  Including dates showing reunions occurring some five years after separation.

The Military Parade room has photos of veterans groups taking a knee.  I notice as a veteran I was in one of the pictures.  Head bowed, fist in the air.

There is the crowded Wives room.

The Promises Made room includes an audio introduction by Jon Luvitz.

The Apprentice room has Meatloaf songs piped in.

In the Law Suits room where there is a life-sized portrait of Roy Cohn.

The Miss Universe room has a for sale sign on the door.

A Space Force room includes mock ups of the first space warriors Trump wants to send to the moon.

There is a wax museum of many of the most prominent players from Trump World --Giuliani, Sessions, Bannon, Kellyanne, Hope Hicks, Anthony Scaramucci, and many more.

Right next to it is the Robert Mueller room and next door to that the Pardon room.

There is the Ladies room with wax likenesses of Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, a couple of Russian working girls, and even Rosie and Megyn.

The Putin room contains memorabilia from all their good times together.  With a newly-released video. I need to get back there to watch it.

I pass the Rocket Man room.

Steven, in my dream I asked Steve Bannon to show me the basement, but he said it was closed.  Something having to do with the base crumbling.

When we get to the end of the first floor hall, I see broom closets that are devoted to black people.  One is for NFL and NBA players, including LeBron James, and another for Maxie Waters and someone named Omarosa.  That name is crossed off and "Low Life Dog" is spray painted in its place.

Bannon tells me there is a wall half built around the library but contractors walked off the job when the residents in Queens refused to pay for it.

There are several floors just like this but the sun is coming up and so I rush to get out.

Sitting out front in a lawn chair I see former CIA director, John Brennan.  He told me they won’t let him in without a security clearance.

Driving home I can hear Tom Bodett saying, "Come back soon. We’ll leave the light on for ya”.

The road is smooth yet my car is rocking and bouncing.

A voice in my head says, "George, George wake up you’re having that nightmare again."

                                            *   *   *

I wrote back--"Somehow having 'library' and 'Donald Trump' in the same sentence is an oxymoron."

George said, "This is supposed to make me feel better?"

Site of the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library

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Friday, August 17, 2018

August 17, 2018--A Pocket Full of Distractions

I finally figured out why Trump doesn't button his suit jackets. Until now I thought it was a vain attempt to hide his William Howard Taft-like girth. 

Now I realize it was for another, to him more urgent reason--to give him quick access to the list of distractions he has secreted away in his inner jacket pocket so it is always ready at hand for him to refer to in order to change the subject when he does something wrong or makes a fool of himself. To distract us and the media. 

To change the subject, for example, from Omarosa and the N-word tapes to cancelling former C.I.A. director John Brennan's security clearance. 

Trump has this list nearby in the same way he has the nuclear codes at the ready. Those are schlepped along wherever he goes by a military aide in the so-called "football." 

The list of distractions, to him much more important, Trump carries himself. Close to the heart.

I was able to sneak a look at the list the other day, and for the sake of checks and balances and the historical record I here for the first time reveal what's on it.

He has the distractions categorized--so, for example, there are distractions in waiting about immigrants. They include--

Point out serious felonies perpetrated by illegal immigrants to remind your supporters they are murders and rapists.

Announce all children separated from their parents at the border have been reunited.

Claim Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi support amnesty.  

Mention Nancy Pelosi along with "no-collusion" at every opportunity or whenever her name comes to mind.

Under the distraction category Women--

Mention Maxine Waters every time you appear in public. Remind people that she supports Nancy Pelosi and this is evidence of her low IQ.

Talk about how smart you are: where you went to college, your IQ, how much money you are worth. About that, triple what your personal accountant itemized on your most recent 1040 form. (Don't worry about the tax implications)

Invite Laura Ingraham, Janine Piro, and Megyn Kelly to the White House for, like Obama, lunch on the lawn. (Don't mention Obama)

On August 26th, National Dog Day, announce you've changed your mind about Hillary Clinton. (Your supporters will stop chanting "Lock her up" every time you mention her name. Instead, they will bark)

Announce that you and Melania will be adopting a shelter dog. (You're the first president since FDR not to have one)

African-American distractions include--

Talk about black people who are some of your best friends: Don King, Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman. Invite them to lunch on the White House lawn. (Consider inviting Obama, who is a black African)

Invite Miss Universe Pageant winner Paulina Vega to lunch on the White House lawn. (She may be from Colombia but she is still black)

Call Nancy Pelosi a low-IQ dog to demonstrate you are not a racist.

There are many media distractions. Here's just one that touches a few bases--

Announce you're going on Don Lemon's show to talk about your black friends. (He's black)

It's on CNN. (This shows the intrepid side of you--your willingness to venture into enemy territory. It's not the same as visiting Afghanistan, but we all know that's the last place in the world you'll be visiting.)

And with Lemon you get a three-fer: His blackness, CNNness, and his gayness. (He's out of the closet)

Then there are North Korea distractions--

Reprieve "Little Rocket Man." (To flatter him consider "Big Rocket Man")

Shoot down a North Korean jet off the coast of South Korea.

Bomb Syria

Bomb Tehran.

Bomb Venezuela.

Bomb Pyongyang.

Nuke Pyongyang.

Bomb San Fransisco (Nancy Pelosi's district).

Finally, there are the firings distractions--

Fire chief of staff Kelly.

Fire Jeff Sessions. (The attorney general)

Fire Stephen Miller. (Your senior advisor)

Fire Kellyanne Conway. (Counselor to the president--you)

Fire Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Your press secretary)

Fire Mike Pence. (Forget that you can't do that. Fire him anyway)

Fire Sean Spicer. (Ignore that you already did that)

Fire Michael Flynn (Ditto. Fire him again)

Fire Steve Bannon. (Ditto)

Fire Paul Manafort. (Ditto)

Fire Anthony Scaramucci. (Ditto)

Fire Omarosa. (Ditto)

Fire Jared. (Your son-in-law)

Fire Ivanka. (Your daughter)

Fire Melania. (Your wife)

Fire Barron. (The youngest of you 3 or 4 sons)

Fire Nancy Pelosi. (Soon again to be Speaker of the House)

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

August 16, 2018--Friday Plan

We spent all day yesterday attending to our car's servicing needs and so I will be back here tomorrow with thoughts about distractions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August 15, 2018--Consumer Price Index

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is responsible for calculating the inflation rate and Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is important because, among other things, these rates are used to determine whether or not to increase retired people's Social Security. Something these years I keep close track of.

The CPI is the measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market "basket" of goods and services. In that metaphoric basket, among many other things, one finds the cost of rent, dental services, and chopped meat.

Inflation is the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and, consequentially, the rate at which the purchasing power of money is falling.

Recently I haven't seen much of an increase in my monthly checks. Inflation is deemed to be that low. Almost flat. For example, the BLS is projecting that the inflation rate for 2018 will be "only" 1.9%.

Call me skeptical but I sense it is higher than that. Considerably higher. But how can that be? The federal government, especially this administration, doesn't lie to taxpayers, right?

So on my own I did a little simple checking. With emphases on "little" and "simple."

At Hanniford's, the local supermarket I checked to see if there has been an increase in the price of my favorite yogurt--Dannon. (I always get peach.)

It now costs 65 cents a tiny tub whereas last year it was 55 cents. This represents an 18% increase. Not anywhere near the official 1.9% (Also, a tub now contains 5.3 ounces, down from 6.0, a decrease of 12%)

Rona said, "Let's check the price of your favorite homemade pie. It's been $5.99 for at least a year." So we drove to New Harbor and sure enough at Reilly's market it's now $6.99. About a 17% increase.

Wouldn't I be happy to see my Social Security go up by 17 or 18 percent. But I know better. So how does 10% or even 5% sound?

That would be an example of America being great again.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August 14, 2018--Jack: Omarosa

"Long time no talk."

"What's on your mind, Jack? I'm sort of busy."

"Omarosa. You've heard of her?"

"Unfortunately, yes. So what is it?"

"Your people are all excited about her. Not actually about her, but about her so-called tell-all book, especially the tapes she says she has."

"Right. The one she made in the Situation Room of Kelly firing her and her claim that there are tapes of Trump during the Apprentice years using the N-word when talking about black people."

"You guys think this is going to bring down Trump. If so, dream on."

"I don't think she's going to bring Trump down. That should only happen. Mueller can bring him down but especially voters beginning in November. The Omarosa business at most will chip away at his support."

"The way I see it," Jack said, "is that she will wind up helping Trump."

"This I have to hear."

"I'm not proud to say this, because as you know I'm not a racist. In fact I hate some of Trump's dog-whistle behavior, including his attack on athletes--black athletes--and other African Americans like CNN's Don Lemon and congresswoman Maxine Waters, both of who I can't stand. Always referring to them as 'low IQ.'"

"That's more than dog-whistle behavior," I said, "It's more like classic, out-and-out racism. Outrageous and disgusting. But finish your thought."

"When Trump plays the race card," Jack said, "it just adds to how you and your kind think about him. You're already convinced that he's a racist. At most it will motivate a few more liberals to vote in November and in 2020, if he runs for reelection. But . . ."


"But," Jack said, "what he said about NFL players or even the very popular LeBron James actually appeals to his people. To them it's another example of his not being politically correct. Which they love. It's one of the things that make them excited about supporting him in the first place. Look, even I will admit that a portion of his base--maybe even more than a portion--are racists. They hate people of color. You heard what Laura Ingraham said the other night on Fox News--that America is no longer the country we loved in the past. It's changed for the worst, she said, because of all the immigrants who have come into the country. Including those who entered legally. Really what she was saying is that the country is now browner and blacker than it was in the good old days. When America was great. She tried to walk it back the next day after she got slammed, but what she said was what she said. It was stark and clear but wasn't pretty."

"You sound like you're all over the place. On the one hand, you criticize Trump for playing racial dog-whistle politics and then you seem to like the fact that by his being openly racist he secures and strengthens his base."

"I am sort of the way you described me," Jack fussed up, "I dislike some of the stuff he does (just as I'm sure you didn't like everything Clinton or Obama did), but overall I still support him and want him to do well in November and then two years later in 2020. To me it's not about distractions like Omarosa but about his policies. So if what he says or implies some times turn me off, what I care about is what he's done and plans to do. I agree with most of his agenda. And so if she jazzes up his people that to me is a good thing."

"To tell you the truth I'm still confused. You're even less coherent about this than usual." I already had my fill of him.

"Let me try to straighten you out. Both she and he energize people but come at it from opposite perspectives. He shamelessly plays the race card while Omarosa convinces people that those like her--black people--are Trump haters and are just like Trump describes them to be--low-IQ criminals. By her extreme and dishonest behavior, without intending to, she reenforces the stereotype of black people he's promulgating. She seems self-seeking and biased. Just the kinds of things he and his people believe to be true about all black people."

"This is too cynical for words. I hate what you're saying."

"You may, but do you disagree with me?"

"Totally. I reject your racist views."

"You're missing the whole point," Jack said sounding exasperated, "I'm against racism. I'm just saying that being openly racist like Trump is--or pretends to be--is a strategy to build and mobilize support for himself. And people like Omarosa and the football players who take a knee are helping with that because, as I said before, they confirm the stereotype."

"I get that and some of what you say may be true, but that doesn't make it acceptable. It's not just about doing whatever it takes to win, how you win also counts. You guys who claim to be good Christians and true conservatives are nothing but hypocrites. I don't see anything Christian in any of this. There is no milk of human kindness. All I see is mean-spiritedness, fear of the 'other,' and hatred. Now I've had my say and am about to hang up." 

Jack held back and so I continued, "For what it's worth, my sense of things is that you need to do some deep soul-searching, including about how you come across. Maybe more than that you would be advised to do some thinking about what you are bringing down upon America. A country you say you love."

And with that I did hang up.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

August 13, 2018--The Nature of Human Nature

In the never-ending effort to understand what it means to be human is there a "nature" that is hard-baked into all of us that helps define our distinctive "humanness"? Assuming there is a distinctiveness. 

Are we human (separate from all other animals, including from the Great Apes to whom we are close relatives) because, as it used to be felt, we (Homo habilis) uniquely have the ability to make and use tools? Subsequently, we have learned that a number of other animals also make tools) or because we are self-aware (some other mammals appear to be as well) or because we alone were made in God's image (you're on your own with this one).

Raging still is the debate as to what constitutes that aspect of humanness that is largely the result of our capacity to respond to and develop because of our ability to be shaped by the effects of nurture and culture.

In this then, how much is nurture and how much nature? Some who study these matters claim it might be as much as 50-50.

Darwin obviously had much to say about this. Though he was skeptical about what we today refer to as "cultural evolution"--he would say we and all other species pass along to progeny such things as eye color and various instincts--among thousand of other adaptions the in-born mammalian ability to suckle. 

On the other hand, in contrast to the social evolutionists, he claims we do not genetically pass along our propensity to be, say, self-sacrificing. In fact, doesn't our propensity to be self-sacrificing go against the notion that our development over millennia contradicts the basic Darwinian insight that our nature is the result of adapting to numerous mutations that were selected because they contributed to our ability to survive? His survival of the fittest.

But if in this regard, since there is considerable evidence that self-sacrifice, including a willingness or even instinct to give up one's life for the sake of the survival of other humans, is there, as some researchers claim, a "benevolence" gene?

While we are at it, is there a universal "God" gene? Or if you prefer, a "belief" gene? If there has never been an example of any human society without its own origin story, it's own larger belief system isn't this propensity to believe a part of what it means to be human? If so, is this, again, culturally or genetically imprinted? 

And then, what about art? Is is more a pleasure than an instinct? A debate about this also rages.

If this latter debate interests you, as I recently did, pick up and read neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee's The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved Beauty and Enjoy Art.

Though he comes down on the side that claims the appeal of what human's consider beauty is not instinctive, not hard-wired in our DNA, he comes close to making that case.

No more persuasive to the genetic side of the argument, though, are the early human artifacts he cites that archeologists have been unearthing during the past two centuries, including some hundreds of thousands of years old.

Here is a sampling--

First, from as many as 30,000 years ago, from the Paleolithic Period, the Old Stone Age, are the Venus figures, mother goddesses, that most now consider part of a fertility cult. The best known is the 4.4 inch Venus Of Willendorf, named for the village in Lower Austria where it was found. It now resides in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. 

Thirty-five years ago I made a pilgrimage to see it in an obscure corner of the museum. Being alone with it, spending an hour in its presence fired a lifetime interest in evolution and human nature.

From the Golan Heights, found at the Berekhat Ram dig in the early 1980s, is another seeming Venus figure. Just 1.4 inches, it appears to be a "pebble" that was shaped and incised by an early human (Homo erectus). It is again a fertility figure or mother goddess. It is on view in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. Some considerate it to be the oldest existing work of human art.

Then there is the much older, 400,000 year-old Tan-Tan figure that was discovered in Morocco in 1999. As many claim it was shaped by an archaic human hand as others who say it was formed by natural, geological processes such as erosion. Take a look and come to your own concusion. 

It would not surprise me if it turned out to be another Venus figure as I come down on the side of those who contend there is an aesthetic gene. 

There is too much "art" in the world, found among all peoples in all places across too many millennia for there not to be. The usual Darwinian resistance to this view is not sufficiently persuasive for me to agree it is a simple pleasure without sufficient human survival adaptive purposes. Among so many, I would not want to live in an artless world. Thus, the extraordinary proliferation of art alone suggests it is adaptive enough!

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Friday, August 10, 2018

August 10, 2018--Country Club Republicans

Rona said, "You'll see. It's all about money."

"What are you talking about?"

"The news that three of Trump's Mar-a-Lago pals are essentially running the Department of Veteran Affairs. They were talking about it last night on CNN and MSNBC. The details are from an investigative report that was posted on ProPublica's website--'The Shadow Rulers of the VA.'"

"Three pals?"

"Yes. Bruce Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-end 'concierge' medical care; a Washington fixer lawyer, Marc Sherman; and the leader of the band of three, Ike Perlmutter, the very weird head of Marvel Entertainment. The comic book people. Perlmutter is so secretive that he showed up once in a disguise at the premiere of a Spider Man movie. FYI--it wasn't a costume-party opening."

"This is just too much. But with Trump nothing surprises."

"None of these guys ever served in our military and thus are not veterans. In fact, it appears that they haven't even been involved in veterans' affairs, including raising money for vets' organizations."

"But . . ?"

"But, one night at Mar-a-Lago, where for $250K a year they are members, they appear to have sold the idea to Trump that he empower them to effectively run the VA. To let the senior people there know that these fellows are in charge and that even the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should see himself as reporting to them. The pitch seems to have included that the VA is such a mess that normal Washington bureaucrats are incapable of reforming it. Which, I suppose, could be true."

Here is a sample from the ProPublica article--
Hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell [the story of their involvement]--of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd [as they are called, operating from the country club itself] spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. 
They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said. 
If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said. Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over. Included, those officials say, were the secretary (whose ethical lapses also played a role), deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization. 
The article continues-- 
The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful. 
They proposed inviting private health care executives to tell the VA which services they should outsource to private providers like themselves. It was precisely the kind of fox-in-the-henhouse scenario that the VA’s defenders had warned against for years. [Former VA Secretary] David Shulkin delicately tried to hold off Perlmutter’s proposal, saying the VA was already developing an in-house method of comparing its services to the private sector.
Rona said, "Now about the money. It's one thing to think about these three Mar-a-Lago cronies voluntarily offering their services to the president--others such as Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Nixon had informal advisers, mainly from the business and academic communities--but this is unprecedented. That private citizens would effectively run a mammoth government agency with no oversight whatsoever." 
Rona added, "But in this case it appears that Moskowitz's son has had an inside track to securing VA contracts to, for example, improve their computer systems and in other instances playing an important role in determining what parts of the VA operation should be privatized. This involves billions of dollars. Again, it is going on without the required transparency."
"One thing you can say about Trump," I said, "He's the most inventive president ever in figuring out how to be corrupt."
At Mar-a-Lago: Reince Priebus, Trump, & Ike Perlmutter

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

August 9, 2018--Incels

Those who follow this know I am a poor sleeper and one way I try to get to sleep is to bore myself to exhaustion with late night radio talk shows. From sports talk (WFAN in New York City) to Coast To Coast AM, which focuses on various forms of the paranormal (ESP) with special emphasis on flying saucers, and Red Eye Radio, which offers mainly political talk from a right-wing perspective, primarily to long-haul truck drivers. 

I am not alone (I am not speaking extraterrestrially)--many millions tune in to one or more of these shows. We are a nation of insomniacs. 

The other night I encountered the Incels--Involuntary Celibates. Never having heard of them, I found them so complicated that I listened for at least two hours. 

After leaning about them and their history, rather than dropping off,  fitfully I tossed and turned for additional hours, wondering about the many varieties of human experience and reminded about the tortured inner lives of some of those who walk among us.

From Wikipedia--
Insels are self-identifying members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner, a state they define as inceldom. Incels are mostly white, male, and heterosexual. 
Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogny, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. 
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the subculture as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem . . ." People who have either self-identified as incels or who have mentioned incel-related names and literature in their private writings or Internet postings have committed at least four mass murders in North America, resulting in 45 deaths . . . [including Nikalos Cruz, who murdered 17 people and injured 17 others in 2017 in a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida].
Further, I learned that members of the incel communities use jargon to communicate among themselves. They frequently refer to women as "femoids"; "stacys" are attractive, sexually active women; and "becky's"--less attractive, sexually active women. "Chads" are sexually active men. "Looksmaxing" is an attempt to enhance one's appearance by dressing nicely or having plastic surgery. 

"Volcels" are voluntary celibates; "marcels" are married people; "nearcels" are those considered close to being incels; "hicels" are thought to have high standards because they are picky when dating; and "fakecels"are those pretending to be incels but in fact have had sex recently.

There are also variations of the term "incel" when referring to people who believe their race is the reason behind their inability to find a partner.

"Currycels" are South Asians and "ricecels" are those of Chinese or Southeast Asian ancestry.

They need help. We all do.

In the meantime, I think it's time for me to consider moving on to Ambien.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

August 8, 2018--Preview

I will be back tomorrow with some thoughts about the Incels. Don't know who they are? Find out on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

August 7, 2018--Under the Bus or Taking a Bullet?

Donald Trump in a Sunday morning tweet appeared to throw his son, Donald Jr., under the bus. 

He pled him guilty to committing a federal crime that forbids a candidate for the presidency or his agents to accept any form of material help from a foreign citizen or government. This includes both direct donations of money or in-kind assistance that has monetary value. 

Asking Russian agents to help gather "dirt" about Hillary Clinton ("an opponent") surely qualifies. 

The pertinent section of the federal code (52 U.S. Code 30121) reads as follows--

(a)Prohibition It shall be unlawful for—

(1)foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.
Sunday morning Trump tweeted--
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it. 

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