Edward Packard
Daily Blog

August 17, 2017

It’s Not Easy Being an Extreme Narcissist

As you probably remember, things did not go well for Narcissus in the Greek myth. Trump suffers from the same malady, but in a more extreme form. He adores everyone who flatters him and hates everyone who criticizes him. This is not a formula conducive to forming sound judgments. We might feel some sympathy for him ––it’s not easy being an extreme narcissist –– but this trait is just the beginning of a weighty list of what’s wrong with Trump. Our country is the worse for it every day he remains in office.

 

August 16, 2017

Trump: “There were also some very fine people on both sides.”

Some gracious commentators praised a handful of Republican senators who, unlike Trump, were quick to denounce the KKK and neo-Nazi types that staged the torchlight-illuminated, gun-toting, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend, but the failure of these senators to denounce Trump himself conveys a lot more about them than their having jumped over a bar laid flat on the ground.

Even before Trump’s impromptu renewed embrace of white supremacists and neo-Nazis yesterday, Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, declared, “The GOP either rejects Trump or once and for all it sacrifices the Party of Lincoln to a ragtag band of white nationalists — some more subtle than others but all an anathema to American democracy.”             

About Republicans who soulfully condemn these bearers of bigotry, hatred, and cruelty, Rubin noted last night that “mere words fall on deaf ears. Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.”

What say you, Republican senators and representatives? Wherever you are, whatever you say, or don’t say, will be noted. If you can’t publicly repudiate Trump now, you’re informing us that you’re not morally fit for to hold office.

 

August 15, 2017

Noticing Nature

A recent piece by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof was titled "Flee to the Mountains." Was he talking about getting out of a target area for nuclear attack? Not at all. He grew up in Oregon and was referring to his annual trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, a restorative experience. Later, instead of just noticing a red-tailed hawk flying by, I stopped and watched for a minute until it went out of sight. It’s good to pay attention to what was on this planet before we arrived and for a while still is.

 

August 14, 2017

A Simple Solution to the Mortality Problem

By the time you enter the “very old” category (over 85), in my case and I bet in most cases, over half the people you know are dead, and you know that in the not exceedingly distant future you will be too. This can become a source of annoyance. Indeed, mortality seemed sufficiently disagreeable to me that I spent some time thinking about how to avoid it. Happily, I came up with a solution.

Not, of course, a solution that involves perpetuating one’s physical or mental existence, but, seen properly, those are relatively trivial considerations. My solution takes care of what’s really important. It involves the measured transference of your emotional investment in yourself to certain people who are likely to outlive you, designating them as avatars, so to speak, individuals you are confident will be a force for good in the world and for whom you feel a natural affection. These are people who you can be confident will carry on your work, or carry on work you admire but weren’t capable of, which may be even better, and who you can enjoy imagining having fun, in other words carrying on your play, or carrying on play you weren’t capable of, which may be even better too.

Natural candidates for such avatars are children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, but lacking them isn’t a problem. I would characterize one of my avatars as a quasi step-grandnephew, and it doesn’t matter that I claim that relationship. You can find avatars among any (usually) younger people you are acquainted with, and even that doesn’t limit the field, which can perfectly well include public figures. To give one example, I am fond of Rachel Maddow, and happy to include her in my assemblage, and I know of many more people whom I don’t know personally about whom I could say this too, and I’m sure so do you, which shows, with hardly much of a stretch, that all you need to solve the mortality problem is a little imagination and a little delight letting go.

 

August 13, 2017

E.P.A.: R.I.P.?

From the The New York Times: “The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has made it clear that his mission is to dismantle the E.P.A.’s environmental mission. His critics say he is deploying extraordinary secrecy as he does so.”

As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt devoted a substantial amount of his energy to suing the E.P.A. and acted for all practical purposes as a faithful agent of the fossil-fuel-propagandizing and favored-politician-financing superbillionaires Charles and David Koch. Who would have imagined that such a man as Pruitt would be appointed Director of the EPA and that his nomination would be approved by the Senate? Why must we suffer as the E.P.A.’s director someone intent on sabotaging its mission? Why don’t such people as the Koch brothers and two of their most prominent acolytes, Trump and Pruitt, exhibit the slightest concern about protecting the environment? Why is money and power so much more important to these men than the quality of our air and water and the threat to human civilization posed by global warming? What madness is this that overtook the land, that produced and perpetuates Trump and his enablers? We must never stop fighting to restore saneness and decency to our country.

 

August 12, 2017

Trump Supporters

At 2:00 A.M. last election night New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remick wrote an eloquent lamentation. I don’t think it was reproduced in the print edition –– I read it online. I only remember one word, “sickening,” a feeling that since then, almost daily, Trump renews. By now, there are only two types of people who haven’t repudiated him–– the morally deficient and the misinformed.

 

August 11, 2017

Republicans, Réveille

Impeach Trump. You have plenty of legal and practical reasons to do so.  Hurry, for the sake of us all, but foremost (what counts) for your own sake. You’ll get Pence, a perfect conservative Republican who won’t make a fool of himself, and a fool of you all for being shackled to him. He’ll work with you. You’ll get your agenda passed. You can make America almost as great as it was before Trump became president.

 

August 10, 2017

Trump and Stress

Trump is obviously under a lot of stress. He recently flew into a tweet rage, casting scorn on, of all people, Mitch McConnell, an act for which Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin says Democrats should send him chocolates and flowers. Studies have shown that excessive stress interferes with rational thinking. Trump has repeatedly exhibited lack of good judgment. As his stress levels rise, we can expect that his judgment will get worse.

 

August 9, 2017

Trump and Kim

YesterdayTrump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Kim Jong-un, heretofore the world champion of bombastic bellicosity, must be scratching his head, wondering how to top that one. Would that these two could be persuaded to redirect their psychic energy to something more appropriate for persons with their degree of emotional maturity. Suggestion: Fire and Fury - Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and_Fury, a miniatures war game first published by Dave Waxtel and Quantum Publishing in 1990.

 

August 8, 2017

Truth vs. Propaganda

“Trump has accomplished a lot, despite everything that’s been done to hold him back.” That’s what a fellow I was talking with said the other day. I could guess how he might have gotten that warped idea. Chris Hayes, reporting: “Your local news station might be owned by this right-wing media giant {Sinclair Broadcasting} that makes its stations run pro-Trump segments.” A merger was allowed by the Trump-obedient FCC that allowed a right-wing propaganda media network to gain control of 170 local broadcasting stations reaching 72% of American households.

Our country is engaged in a civil war between truth and propaganda, including propaganda claiming that the truth is fake news. In Russia, Putin controls the media. Trump and his allies want to control ours.

 

August 7, 2017

A Facebook Post Worth Sharing

I very rarely look at my Facebook page and never initiate a post, but I occasionally “like” or “comment” on posts of others. I “share” only when I think someone’s post should have as wide an audience as possible. This was the case yesterday, when I shared Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout’s incisive video calling for an impeachment investigation of Trump. Teachout cites violation of the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution and obstruction of justice. She could have cited half a dozen other grounds as well.

 

August 6, 2017

Electric Cars

In a rational world, by now all cars would be electrically powered. Sara and I needed to buy a new car. The electric cars we could afford don’t go far enough for our needs before they need recharging. We got a hybrid car. It pollutes less than regular cars. Our hybrid car has a screen that can show how it’s being powered. If you’re going downhill with your foot off the gas or braking, it shows that the battery is being charged even though the gasoline-powered engine has turned off. It’s almost like getting something for nothing. I feel like a slightly better citizen driving a hybrid car. Very slightly. My carbon imprint is still maybe about fifty times average in the world. So many truths are inconvenient.

 

August 5, 2017

Franken

The title of Al Franken’s memoir, Giant of the Senate, is a gentle poke at politicians who write accounts of their under-appreciated greatness. By contrast, Franken may actually, eventually, become recognized as a giant of the Senate. His book is free of any self-aggrandizing taint, but after reading it, any fair-minded reader will be aware that he has a terrific sense of humor, that he has worked tremendously hard to do his best for the country and for the people he represents, that he has learned a great deal during his eight years in office, that he is smart, knowledgeable, honorable, sensitive, and compassionate, and that he has a basic decency, the most important quality for a politician to possess.

How do you assess a person’s decency? You simply measure how far on the scale he or she is from the end occupied by Trump.

 

August 4, 2017

Impeachment

I have described Jennifer Rubin, center-right columnist for the Washington Post, as “clear-eyed,” but after reading one of her columns yesterday, I have to amend this to “usually clear-eyed.”

After letting loose with one of her exemplary, precisely documented, devastating critiques of Trump, she conceded, “One cannot be impeached and removed for being an embarrassment to the United States or an egomaniac temperamentally unfit for the job (that was the argument for not electing him).”

True, but why leave it there?

The United States Constitution provides for removal of the president from office by impeachment by a majority of the House of Representatives and conviction by two-thirds of the “members present” of the Senate for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What is a high crime or misdemeanor in this context is not to be found in law books –- it is whatever conduct a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate deem it to be. One cannot imagine Trump being removed because he is an egomaniac or an embarrassment, unacceptable as these qualities are, but there are plenty of demonstrable grounds for removing him –- for example: failure to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” failure to “faithfully execute the duties of the Office of President of the United States,” failure to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” violation of the proscription of “acceptance of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any . . . foreign State.”  These are misdemeanors specifically set forth in the Constitution, but by no means do they comprise an exhaustive list of “misdemeanors” committed by Trump while in office. For example, his irrefutably well documented practice of brazenly, repeatedly, and continually lying in an effort to confuse and mislead the public is in itself a misdemeanor. Trump can be impeached and removed from office. All that’s needed is the will to do it.

 

August 3, 2017

The Basic Problem?

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! . . .
                                         William Wordsworth

 

August 2, 2017

Trump Cornered

By now, almost everyone knows that Putin (a.k.a. Russia) interfered with the U.S. 2016 electoral process in an effort to get Trump elected. Even Trump enablers in Congress, office holders who, though they are contemptuous of Trump (except for holding a grudging respect for how much he’s gotten away with), are willing to put up with him because they think they are more likely to be successful in advancing their agendas with Trump in office, find it disturbing that Russia manipulated our elections and will likely do so again. That’s why an overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress just passed a bill imposing additional sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its interfering with the 2016 election.

Still grateful for having had Putin’s help, and beyond gratitude, still obligated to him, and beyond being still obligated to him, still very likely scared of what damning revelations Putin might cause to be  released to Western media, Trump is chary of signing this bill. How can he square approving sanctions with having claimed that investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election is a “witch hunt”?  How might Putin retaliate against him, if he signs that bill? Yet, if he vetoes the bill, his veto is sure to be overridden, and he’ll look all the more like the Putin toady that he is.

It’s not easy being a serial liar.

What should he do, boxed in like this? Maybe say he’ll sign it, but not get around to it. Yes, that’s the way to handle it! That’s how he’s handled it since the bill landed on his desk last Friday. Maybe, if he just keeps saying he’ll get to it, people will lose interest. There are alway more pressing things to worry about.

 

August 1, 2017

The State of the Republican Party

Clear-eyed right-center Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin laments the deterioration of the Republican party. She decries “the moral culpability of those who lifted Trump to power and kept him there,” who “elevated a very dangerous man who has done and continues to do great damage to our country."

“Given the enormity of the GOP’s malfeasance,” she writes, “a new party may in fact be required.” Strong words, wholly warranted. Self-disciplined conservatism has given way to rank cupidity.

 

July 31, 2017

Election Interference: a Clear and Present Danger

At a conference of hackers in Las Vegas one of the events involved determining whether attendees could hack into U.S. elections, and even manipulate them. Indeed they could. Defenses against hacking our electoral processes range from weak to weaker.

      It’s certain that the Russians will try to manipulate results of forthcoming U.S. Congressional and Presidential elections, and it’s certain that they will be more capable at it than they were in 2016. Prolonged, rancorous, disruptive disputes about the degree to which tabulated results have been influenced by hackers may become a feature of future elections. Manipulation of results by foreign powers is almost as great a threat to American democracy as Trump himself.

 

July 30, 2017 

In his enormously important new book, BEHAVE –- The Biology of Humans –– At Our Best and Worst, Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky says, 

“our frequent human tragedy is that the more we consume, the hungrier we get. More and faster and stronger. What was an unexpected pleasure yesterday is what we feel entitled to today and won’t be enough tomorrow.”

This is indeed a "frequent tragedy" –– writ large, now, by the fleeting prominence of Trump and his allies –– but by no means is it universal.

It may be a tendency, but we can rise above it. We can heed "the better angels of our nature."

 

July 29, 2017

Electric Cars

I drove an electric car for the first time, a Nissan Leaf. No noise, no emissions. Agreeable design, inside and out. Excellent handling and pickup. Economical.

The Leaf has a range of 100 miles before recharging, ample for commuting or local use. The new Tesla Model 3 has a range of 220 to 310 miles. Improved batteries and engine efficiency, economies of scale, development of a network of recharging or battery replacement stations, and renewable energy incentives and carbon energy disinsentives are elements of sensible evolution in transport. In a rational world, fossil-fueled vehicles would be phased out sooner than we, the ineptly governed, can imagine.

July 28, 2017

The Right-Wing Extremist Party

Bernie Sanders: "The Republican Party is now in fact a right-wing extremist party.” This is true, not just because Republicans tried to pass legislation that would deprive millions of Americans of adequate health care in order to provide additional tax breaks for the rich, but –– most saliently –– because Trump has revealed himself to be an aspiring despot. There’s not a stitch of protective argument left to defend him. Only an extreme right-wing party would fail to remove him from office.

 

July 27, 2017

A Big Question Hanging in the Air

Trump desperately wants to fire because Jeff Sessions, because Sessions recused himself from the Russian Investigation and therefore can’t fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is working to bring to light decisively incriminating information about Trump and others in Trump’s inner circle. Sessions won’t take Trump’s high volume hints that he should quit. Trump is trying to create a pretext for firing Sessions other than saving his own skin though none exists.
      Republican right wingers love Jeff Sessions. His credentials as a right-wing xenophobic bigot are flawless. Trump wants to install a toady to replace him, somebody, anybody, he can rely on to fire Special Counsel Mueller. The trouble is that the Republican right wingers will be so annoyed if Sessions gets canned that they won’t enable the toady Trump nominates to be confirmed. The only hope for Trump is to make a recess appointment of the toady while the Senate is in recess next month. Whether he can get away with it is a big question hanging in the air. Some Democrats think there’s a way under Senate rules to stop him. Let’s hope they’re right.

 

July 26, 2017

Travesty and Tragedy

Trump spoke to 30,000 young people at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. Inviting him was a big mistake: treating him as if he were a normal president instead of a horrific travesty of one. Today’s New York Times:

“‘By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?’ President Trump said during a rambling speech Monday in which he used harsh language, recounted election-night victories and New York cocktail parties, and attacked his political opponents.”

Michael Moore called it mass child abuse. That’s not just a witticism. It’s a truth. Trumpian behavior metastasizes –- it permeates the collective psyche of the nation. Historians will be unsparing in censuring Trump’s enablers.

 

July 25, 2017

What’s Going on in Poland?

Recent Headline: Polish President Vetoes Bills Seeking Control of Courts

Swayed by sustained massive public protests, Polish president Andrzej Duda vetoed a bill, which if it became law, would bring Polish courts under parliament’s control. I had thought of Duda as having been abetted by the ruling party in gaining despotic power. This latest development makes it seem as if the ruling party is attempting to gain despotic power and that Duda is playing a restraining role.

It's doubtful that Duda has become a defender of democracy. I suspect that his immediate  purpose is to build public support vis-a-vis rivals in parliament. He appears to be capable of subtlety in political maneuvering, a skill which his apprentice, Trump, demonstrably lacks.

July 25, 2017

A Master and His Apprentice

Trump recently traveled to Poland to pay homage to President Andrzej Duda, who, with the help of his enablers in parliament, has brought democratic Poland under autocratic rule.

Recent Headline:  Polish Parliament Votes to Let Ruling Party Control Courts: “The measure, which the president is expected to sign, would curtail the country’s last bastion of independence, allowing the governing party to handpick Supreme Court justices.”

Sounds a lot like what happened in our country this past year when senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Obama’s highly qualified centrist Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, allowing Trump to install the right-wing ideologue Neil Gorsuch. In appreciation of America’s example, Duda doubtless instructed Trump on the finer points of despotic rule.

 

July 24, 2017

America's Fate

    The only thing keeping America from transitioning from a democracy to an autocracy is the integrity of congressional Republicans, something, so far, none of them have yet exhibited, though there have been discomforted mumblings among a few.
      A vote of two-thirds of the senate is required to impeach a president. It’s not clear what concatenation of events would stir as many as 19 or 20 Republican senators to act responsibly. If, after serial firings of Justice Department officials, Trump managed to stop Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, most Republicans will probably feel relief rather than outrage. There are indications that Trump enablers, like Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would likely say (privately), “Thank goodness that distraction is over with. Now we can get on with our agenda.” American democracy will not likely be ended by a coup, but it’s at risk of being subsumed by moral rot.

 

July 22,  2017

Traveling –– missed blog today.

 

 

July 21, 2017

Can Trump Trust Pence?

Trump’s lawyers will tell him that, although he can pardon everyone else, it’s doubtful that he can pardon himself. There is, of course, no precedent. The Constitution doesn’t specifically proscribe self-pardon, but the Supreme Court would probably hold that the injustice of self-pardon is self-evident; that its proscription is implied. To get pardoned, Trump needs to resign and then be pardoned by Pence. Pence is in need of pardoning himself, so a deal could be struck between them: Trump pardons Pence (and a slew of others), Trump resigns, Pence becomes president. Pence pardons Trump.
      Trump may be asking his lawyers at this very moment: “Can you sue someone for breach of contract for failing to pardon you as promised?”  The lawyers are likely to answer, “Probably not. Such a contract would be ruled unenforceable because it violates public policy.”
      It 's not a pretty prospect, having to trust someone like Pence. Keep working on this, guys.

 

July 20, 2017

The Last of the Last Best Hope

Lincoln called our country “the last best hope on Earth.” Trump stamps on that hope every day. If he is not stopped, he will stamp it out of existence. Those who don’t work to stop him are either misinformed, self-deluded, or morally deficient.
 

 

July 19, 2017

A Lapse in This Daily Blog

The idea of a "daily blog" is to try to set forth a perspective on recent events that I hope readers will find fresh and stimulating. My theme this year is that a government controlled by Trump and Trump enablers is a scourge that must be overcome.

I missed posting a blog yesterday for the first time since inititating the practice December 4th. I've been traveling and visitng relatives and friends in northern New England and lacked energy to write anything by the end of the day.

 

July 17, 2017

The State of the State of Maine

The population of Maine’s distinctive appealing coastal region is growing. And no wonder, given its distinctive topography and thousands of miles of ocean, harbor, lake, and river shoreline. The climate for most of the year (longer if you like snow) is close to perfection. The population of the much larger inland region is declining, mostly, I understand, because of the closing of paper mills and the decline of logging.

Maine is not exempt from afflictions of the less fortunate. The mission of the Portland-based non-profit organization, Preble Street, which serves about half of Maine’s population, is “to provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty, and to advocate for solutions to these problem.” Numbers of people with opioid and other addictions, veterans with PTSS, and people with mental health problems or otherwise chronically challenged in fending for themselves are growing. Federal, State, and philanthropic funding for dealing with these problems in inadequate despite society’s incontrovertible positive return on investment in providing basic necessities and counseling and other forms of assistance for those needing it. Organizational conflicts and inadequacies exacerbate the difficulty. The state of the State of Maine mirrors that of much of the rest of he country. A lot of good people have dedicated themselves to helping others in distress. They deserve much more support.

 

July 16, 2017

Maine

Here near the tip of one of Maine’s many peninsulas there’s a salty breeze blowing through the tree tops. I swam briefly in the cold, but not bone-chilling cold, harbor. We got lobsters from a dockside shack. There’s a bracing sort of serenity here.

 

July 15, 2017

Down East / Out West

Sara and I are driving up to Maine today, or is it driving down to Maine, which is “down east” (down the prevailing south-west wind)? We’re taking the Orient Point to New London ferry, an exhilarating nothing- special voyage mostly spent strolling on the upper deck, surveying boats, some under sail beating to windward, reaching, or running free, considering a passing yacht, thinking you’d have to be a billionaire to own it, or, rather a billionaire’s off-shore corporate tax shelter –– what’s that flag it’s flying? Watching for signs the tide is running, buoys tilting in the close to a two-knot current here, near where the Sound narrows; admiring cumulus clouds changing shape, or, more likely today, estimating visibility through the mists, counting species of sea birds, mostly herring gulls, usually black-backed gulls too, and cormorants, maybe an osprey, a long-unmanned lighthouse coming into view as we approach the shore. I once considered producing a coffee table book titled Great Ferryboat Rides of the World. That may have been my motivation for reserving space on the slow ferry crossing Lake Michigan on our way out west. I’d like it if there’s a wind and a good sea running, spray flying off the waves on one of the biggest lakes in the world.                                                      

 

July 14, 2017

Dealing with the Devil is Leading to the Usual Result

Most Republicans in Congress have been aware from the beginning that, both morally and intellectually, Trump is spectacularly unfit to be president; yet they thought that by pretending that he was at least minimally competent, they could achieve their longtime goals of financing extra tax breaks for the rich and depriving tens of millions of people of adequate health insurance. In the light of increasing public awareness of collusion with Russians on the part of Trump’s closest associates, his presidency is being dragged down, and those that have dealt with him, are being dragged down too. Their deal with the devil is leading to the usual result.

Jennifer Rubin, in today’s Washington Post, sums it up:

"Republicans’ willingness to accept even national betrayal — that’s what Trump Jr. was willing to undertake, after all — will disgrace the party and its leaders for years, if not permanently. It is a party no longer capable of defending our national interests and Constitution from foreign enemies."

 

July 13, 2017

Masters of Obfuscation

Faced with increasingly wide-spread understanding that prominent figures in the Trump campaign, including members of Trump’s family, embraced and probably abetted Russia in its efforts to help Trump win the 2016 election, Trump enablers of all stripes are desperately trying to obfuscate the scandal, one unprecedented in American history. The real scandal, they say, is leaks from disloyal officials, or cover-up of Clinton’s emails, or how Democratic obstructionism is hindering Trump from making America great again, or that Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has ties with the Democratic governor of Virginia, or that talk of Trump campaign collusion with Russia, is, as Trump’s lawyer asserted,  “much ado about nothing.” In reality, it’s not enough ado about everything.

 

July 12, 2017

An Efflorescence of Pardons?

The future is famously unpredictable, but that’s no reason to forebear from speculating as to plausible scenarios. Here’s one of mine: Evidence keeps mounting of collusion with Russian agents of high level people in the Trump campaign, including members of Trump’s family, in Russia’s efforts to tilt the 2016 election to Trump; it reaches a point where Republicans decide that Trump is hurting them more than helping them and they might as well dump him; impeachment and prosecutions are imminent. Trump has a private dinner with Pence. “You know you’re in this too, Mike –– I guess that’s why you hired a defense lawyer,” Trump says. Pence replies in a soft voice; the two men converse further in subdued tones. The next day: (i) Trump pardons all those directly or indirectly involved in collusion with Russia, including members of his own family, (ii) Trump resigns, (iii) Pence becomes president, (iv) Pence, saying that he is acting in the great tradition set by Gerald Ford when he pardoned Nixon, pardons Trump. Trump goes back to his towers, palaces, and golf courses. Pence makes a speech in which he says, “We must put the past behind us, and move forward to carry out Donald Trump’s vision of making America great again.”

 

July 11, 2017

Trump, Who Is Still with Us

Nicholas Kristoff is an unusually clear-eyed, scrupulously fair, analyst of world affairs who makes a practice of not overlooking the merits of anyone with whom he disagrees. After a devastating critique of Trump’s most recent outrages, he generously observed, “To his credit, Trump seems to get that North Korea is one of the most important issues on the international agenda.” “Seems” to get that North Korea is important: Trump, seemingly at his finest.

 

July 10, 2017

The Basic Trouble

The basic trouble is that elected officials are supposed to do what is best for the people, but it doesn’t work that way. The way it works is that powerful corporations and industry associations and other interest groups pay lobbyists and buy media companies and hire publicists to propagandize messages as to what is best for the people that in actuality is what is best for themselves, and they finance politicians who will do their bidding. Once a system like this gets intrenched, it’s almost impossible to shake things up so that things work the way they are supposed to. Compounding the problem is that after a while people sense that there is something very wrong, but they are misled and confused by propaganda, so conditions become increasingly ripe for a demagogic aspiring autocrat to come onto the scene and convince enough people that he will shake things up and that finally things will get done that are best for the people, when, of course, that is not his real intention. So this is what it’s come to, and every person of good will who understands what has happened should work to shake things up the right way, which is to elect politicians who truly want to do what’s best for the people.

 

July 9, 2017

A Civilized Health Care Policy

Single payer health insurance (sometimes called Medicare for all): Republicans claim, and timorous Democrats are afraid, that it will be too expensive. But it will save money overall. It’s much more efficient. It will cost roughly three trillion bucks a year with it, but it will cost roughly four trillion bucks a year without it. It may result in some pain for health insurance companies and for drug manufacturers, who will be constrained to some degree from gouging people needing treatment. Let us not weep for them, but enjoy the knowledge that everybody will have a decent level of health care. All it will take to implement it is to rise above the Trump-McConnell-Ryan way of looking at the world, a bar to cross that's lying flat on the ground.

 

July 8, 2017

Dealing with the Rachel Problem

                    (A story that, essentially, seems to have happened)

Jack and Joe, Trump enabler-type high security clearance employees in the National Security Council, are meeting in private, discussing threats to Trump’s longevity as president and considering how to deal with them. Trump is under attack and investigation on multiple fronts. Jack and Joe have been ordered to do what they can to take heat off him.

Jack: The liberal media keeps pounding away at our orange-haired leader.
Joe: You know who’s the worst of them?
Jack: Rachel Maddow.
Joe: Right you are. The worst.
Jack: Yeah, she documents everything and lays out the history. She’s one convincing bitch.
Joe:  If Trump were a little more like Putin, he’d order her "removed."
Jack: As far as I know, he hasn’t gotten to that stage yet.
Joe:  We may not be able to remove her, but we can do a lot of damage.
Jack: How?
Joe: Leak to sendittorachel.com an absolutely authentic-looking NSA document that shows without doubt that a top member of the Trump team – and it will give his name –– absolutely colluded with the Russians to tilt the election to Trump. Maddow goes berserk with joy, hypes it up, reveals it to the oohs and ahhs of liberal fans. We wait a bit, then with perfect timing we reveal unequivocally and devastatingly that the leaked document is a fake. In a few hours, everybody in the country knows that Maddow gives out fake news.
Jack:  Brilliant. Let’s get to work!

                                       (some days later)

Jack and Joe, this time meeting in a bar

Jack: That bitch.
Joe: I still can’t believe she figured out it was fake.

 

July 7, 2017

The Cultivation of Ignorance

   I read a letter to the editor of my local newspaper by someone who was obviously a Trump supporter. He painted Trump as a good man, trying his best despite the awful attacks on him by the “liberal press,” a term that appeared several times in his brief statement. He is convinced that the “liberal press” spreads fake news that is harmful to Trump and harmful to America.
     This attitude reflects what may be our country’s biggest problem: the cultivation of ignorance in voters by right-wing media and Trump enablers in the administration. Progressives have to cut through the fog and to reach as many of these people as they can. What is truthful isn’t self-evident. It takes some sophistication to distinguish propaganda from responsible reporting. Consider Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Why does she want to degrade public education? Answer: Autocrats rely on masses of ignorant voters for their support.

 

July 6, 2017

Hot Earth

In the opinion of Stephen Hawking we are close to the point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump, the most powerful man in the solar system, could doom Earth, its fate to become like that of Venus, where it’s 250 degrees in the shade, which is everywhere on the planet, because it’s completely covered with superheated poisonous clouds.

 

July 5, 2017

PUNDITRY AT A FOURTH OF JULY COOKOUT:

What Democratic candidate would be sure to beat Trump in 2020?

“I know this from my work. It’s got to be somebody who understands why working people are afraid of immigrants taking jobs.”

“Bernie would have beaten Trump hands down.”

“Where I live there were a lot of Bernie signs on the lawns before the Democratic convention. After Hillary was nominated, the Bernie signs mostly stayed, and no one put up a Hillary sign.”

“The Democratic candidate has to be a member of the NRA.”

“Someone like Biden, but he’ll be too old.”

“Medicare for all and pay for it by taxing the rich they way they used to be taxed –– it was at higher rates during the time of Reagan –– and clamping down on tax shelters.”

“Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans. He gave a terrific speech after  removing Confederacy-glorifying monuments.”

July 4, 2017

The "Tolerance for Trump Index" and the Cultivation of Ignorance

Trump’s approval rating –– the Tolerance for Trump Index –– is something like 34%, said to be shockingly low for a president after five and a half months in office. I call it shockingly high. Why isn’t is it 24%, or, more understandably, 2.4%, or even more understandably, .024%? The reason for the appallingly high Tolerance for Trump Index is the cultivation of ignorance –– the continuing sstream of obfuscating, misleading, and false verbiage put out by Trump and his enablers, Fox News, and others. Sinclair Broadcasting, the right-wing propagandizing owner of a large chain of television and radio stations, has been acquiring smaller chains and now has more viewers than any current primetime show on Fox News. Cultivation of ignorance has become a major feature in our society. It’s what keeps Trump propped up. It’s what good people have to cut through to save America.

 

July 3, 2057

Finding Common Ground

Robert Reich: “We’re becoming two separate tribes. Trump is hastening the process.” It certainly seems that way. Polarization of progressives and “conservatives” seems more extreme than ever. A friend I was talking to about this favors formation of a Unity Party, except it would have a better name. I thought of calling it the Sanity Party, but doubtless that wouldn’t do. The idea is to have a presidential ticket of solid, unified moderates in 2020. My friend said that best to have as the Republican on the ticket would be John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who ran in the Republican primaries last year. I asked who would be best to have as the Democrat. He said he didn’t know.

A ticket like this, campaigning on sane and decent principles, might be the best bet for getting rid ofTrump, and that’s priority No 1, but there's something profoundly depressing about this approach. We can do better. We've got to do better.

 

July 2, 2017

Democracy at Bay

“Democracy dies in darkness” is the cautionary watchword of The Washington Post. Trump and his enablers can’t turn day into night, so they attack with strobe lights, aiming to blind the public while they work their baleful ways. They’ve established a commission to generate spurious reasons to justify voter suppression, an assault on American democracy so dangerous that, if it's to survive, we must fight them, every step of the way.

 

July 1, 2017 

Summer Reading

July already. Summer reading time. I’m reading Al Franken’s great whatever-you-call it, Giant of the Senate. It’s a lot of fun, and instructive. I see it’s No. 2 on the Times bestseller list. A book by Newt Gingrich is number 1. Ugh. What's ailing you, Americica?

 

June 30, 2017

If Only We had Time To Be Outraged. Next. . .

With this word, I ended yesterday’s blog. “Next” happened within hours, maybe minutes, with Trump’s instantly notorious tweet attack on TV news commentators Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, one that will live in history as the ne plus ultra of unsurpassably crude boorishness. As Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote “When you’re under pressure, it can be harder to hide your true self. And Trump’s true self is a pig.” How long will our country –– and the world ––have to endure this man as president of the United States?

 

June 29, 2017

When the Unacceptable Becomes Normal

Any one of dozens of Trump’s transgressions of acceptable behavior by the president of the United States are grounds for impeachment, but attention to each is quickly shifted to attention to the next, one after another after another until it just seems that this is the way Trump is, that this is normal, so get used to it. Dow Chemical Company gives $1,000,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund. Trump invites Dow's CEO to the White House to watch Trump sign an order approving a pesticide manufactured by Dow that has been shown to be unacceptably dangerous. Trump signs the order and gives the Dow CEO the pen. The CEO accepts it, bows, and smiles. The public should be outraged. Trump should be impeached. But there’s no time for either, because the next scandal is already upon us and requires our urgent attention. Yesterday, it was reported that the EPA chief-of-staff asked the chair of the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors to change her testimony to Congress, to substitute lies for scientifically established facts. Next . . . Next . . . Next. . .

 

June 28, 2017

Still traveling –– Sara and I driving from Colorado to Long Island –- and I have only a few minutes to check the headlines before hitting the road and won't attempt to write or think much right now except to say that what struck me most this morning was the headline of David Ignatius's column in The Washington Post. It's titled "What happens when the whole world becomes selfish." You hardly have to read the article to know what it says: that in country-after-country the "me first" spirit rules. We're in the midst of a global pandemic of moral infection. Some world leaders, like Angela Merkel, have demonstrated that they have a strong immune system and can fight the disease. Trump, with his America First slogan (which translates in to Trump First), is a powerful pathogen, a mutation of the Putin strain. The only way to treat this disease is with resolve, activism, persistence, honesty, courage, and good will.

 

June 27,2017

Traveling today, so I’ll just repeat something worth repeating: “Fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.”  Christiane Amanpour.

 

June 26, 2017

The Pandemic and the Republicans' "Health Care Bill"

Nicholas Kristoff devoted a recent column in the New York Times to the drug epidemic. (Shouldn't it be called the pandemic?) He reported that about as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Only 10 percent of Americans with opioid problems get treatment –– medication coupled with couseling. This reflects our failed insistence on treating opioids as a criminal justice problem rather than as a public health crisis. The Republican plan for "health care reform" would deprive millions of insurance and lead to even more deaths.What's wrong with these legislators? How was it that their sense of decency drained away?

 

June 25, 2017

Russia and the Integrity of the American Electoral Process

A Department of Homeland Security official testified Wednesday that the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states. Not only did the Russians peddle propaganda and fake news in an effort boost the fortunes of Trump over Clinton, they conducted cyber warfare and succeeded in some instances in causing delays at polling places. Our democracy is in gravest peril if we can’t prevent Russian interference in our 2018 elections. This won't be easy. “We” doesn’t include the president of the United States, who has made clear that he has no intention of interfering with Russian interference.

 

June 24, 2017

Contempt, Continued

A couple of days ago Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen criticized people who express contempt for Trump. His argument would be stronger if he could explain why contempt for Trump isn’t appropriate given that Trump expresses contempt for truth, contempt for the media, contempt for the rule of law, contempt for our judicial system, and, given his pretense that Putin-directed Russians didn’t interfere in our electoral process, contempt for America.

 

June 23, 2017 

Contempt

Yesterday Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, made the unobjectionable point that there is too much overheated rhetoric on the part of both Democrats and Republicans in public discourse, but then he strayed, stating, “Liberals need to understand: When they show contempt for Trump, they are expressing contempt for the millions of Americans who voted for him — including millions who twice voted for Obama.”

This a non sequitur, an example of slippery argumentation that is probably more damaging to public discourse than overheated rhetoric. Millions of people hold Trump in contempt, but feel empathy for the millions who voted for Trump, believing his promise that he would make their lives better, and even make America better. Thiessen conflates the two. Most liberals don’t.

Thiessen also writes, “When anger transforms into contempt, permanent damage takes place.” The permanent damage is being done by Trump and his enablers, not by those who, rightfully, hold him in contempt, and say so.

 

June 22, 2017 

The Russian Invasion 

It’s disturbing how surreal developments pile upon us at such a rate that most people are shrugging and trying to keep their balance and get on with their lives and the tendency is to get numb, but we must not. Russia has invaded the United States. Because we haven’t seen any bombs falling or tanks rolling, we tend to shrug it off. But in last fall’s election, Putin-directed hackers may have not have altered the tallies of votes, but there’s no doubt they affected vote totals. One example: by jamming computers in a heavily Democratic district in Dallas, they created confusion and long lines that unquestionably reduced the number of people who voted. This was on top of Russian propagandizing and dissemination of fake news stories. Russia will expand its operations and improve its capabilities between now and the 2018 elections.

The Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing yesterday on Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections and on what the government knows about Russian intentions to interfere in future elections. Everyone should be alarmed by this Putin-directed aggression. As far as Trump is concerned, Putin can undermine American democracy as much as he wants. All that matters to Trump is that he thinks it benefits him personally. That's the limit of his thinking. That’s the kind of man he is.

 

June 21, 2017

Diplomacy by Tweet

Yesterday Trump tweeted: “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!”

Presumably, over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago, Trump asked Chinese premier Xi Jinping to try to get North Korea to stop developing nuclear bombs and long range missiles capable of delivering them. Xi no doubt promised that he would do his best. Now it appears that Xi has gotten in touch with Trump and said that he tried, but it didn’t work out. Trump must have been disappointed, but was consoled because he succeeded in getting China to try. That was an achievement worth tweeting about.

The standoff with North Korea is the most intractable and dangerous situation America has faced since the darkest days of the cold war. Seemingly nothing can be done about it. That’s no reason to give up. Imaginative bold diplomacy might achieve surprising results. There’s no chance of that happening while Trump is president He doesn’t have the requisite personal integrity and cognitive and emotional capacity. What will he try? What will he do? Attempting to answer these questions leads to a discussion of chaos theory.

 

June 20, 2017 

What It’s Come To 

During the eight or nine days remaining before the Fourth of July recess the Republican-controlled Congress is going to try to pass a bill that would deliver a big tax cut for the rich but be ruinous to millions of less fortunate Americans. The coterie of senators pushing the bill has refused to hold hearings or allow even a semblance of the debate and public discussion that traditionally attend consideration and fashioning of important legislation. They are keeping its contents secret until, after allowing debate for a flicker of time, they pass it and it’s signed by Trump, who they know won’t resist his compulsion to claim for himself a monumental success. Responsible people will then comment on this victory for the plutocracy America has become.

 

June 19, 2017

Trump’s Biggest Dilemma

There’s a lot to investigate relating to Russia and Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has assembled an impressive team of thirteen or more lawyers. Trump is trying to figure out how to fire him. The dilemma for Trump is that only Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has the power to fire Mueller. Trump could order Roesenstein to fire him, but it’s almost certain that Roesnstein would refuse to do so. Trump could fire Rosenstein. Next in line would is Rachel Brand. Trump could tell Brand to fire Mueller. Brand is said to be deeply conservative, but it’s rather likely that she wouldn’t fire Mueller either. She knows that people who do what is right are more highly regarded than people who do what Trump tells them to do.

Trump has other options, like ordering the Justice Department rules be changed so a Trump stooge could be installed, and the Trump stooge would fire Mueller. This would likely be too much even for even Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to stomach.

 

June 18, 2017

A Speech of the Best Kind 

Last evening I watched a podcast of the Dalai Lama’s commencement speech at the University of California at San Diego. I couldn’t hear every word, and the podcast froze before it ended, but that didn’t keep me from appreciating his message, which came across not just in the substance of what he said, but in his persona, his presence, in which you could sense his delight in living and his unfailing good will. His message is simple, though it could be phrased in various ways. As I understand it, if you are warm-hearted, it brings inner peace. With inner peace comes self-confidence and compassion from which flow happiness and the power to improve the lives of others. There is nothing pious about this man, no doctrine or ritual to follow to gain success in this world or the next. There is simple goodness, a way of being, that is the hope of the world. The Dalai Lama will live long after he is gone, reincarnated in the minds of millions whose way of being is affected by his life. I don’t think there will be another like him, but maybe there will be many.

 

June 17, 2017

Trump’s Political Officers

Most departments of the U.S. government still lack adequate staffing, but Trump has installed senior aides he’s sure will be loyal to him in federal agencies to monitor the loyalty of cabinet members and other top officials. During the Cold War, the complement of Soviet warships included political officers, trustworthy men who had authority to override the captain of the ship if he acted contrary to the idealogical tenets of the Politburo. This the way despotic regimes work. This is the way Trump thinks.

 

June 16, 2017

Guessing Games

Vice-President Pence has hired a personal lawyer to look out for his interests in relation to the Russian connection investigations. That’s smart of Pence. He has made statements about his non-knowledge of warnings about ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that were so lacking in plausibility that it’s highly probable that they were lies. Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel who is investigating Russian interference in last fall’s election, has broadened his scrutiny to include possible obstruction of justice by Trump. Pence could be snared in the same net.

There are so many variables, so many people involved or possibly involved, and so many unknowns, guesses as to how this will all play out are more likely than not to be foolish, but that won’t stop people from making them, including me. If a certain combination of damning facts are revealed, it’s not impossible that Trump and Pence will sit down and make a deal: Trump will pardon all the people implicated in the Russian scandal, including Pence, several cabinet members, and former and present close associates; Trump resigns; Pence becomes president. Pence pardons Trump. Trump goes back to his towers and palaces and golf courses. Everyone agrees that it’s good to have all this mess behind us, and Pence says he’s proud to be able to get on with making America great again.

 

June 15,  2017

Trump and Russian Interference with U.S. Elections

All our intelligence services agree that Putin interfered with our presidential election. Putin denies it, and so does Trump. There’s no reason to believe either of them any more than there would be to believe two peas in a pod who say they are blue and not green. The latest revelation is that Putin-directed hackers didn’t just propagandize and capture confidential information which they selectively released; they also attempted to tamper with the electoral process; they tried to manipulate the tallying of votes.

We’ll never know whether Putin’s efforts enabled Trump to win, but we know that Putin-directed Russians are good at this, that they are going to get better at it, and that they are going to try harder in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections. Putin is tired of having American voters elect their own office holders, he wants to be the one who does it, just the way he does in Russia.

If Trump were not guilty of complicity in Putin’s efforts to subvert our democratic processes, why would he and his lackeys be so resistant to investigating them? Why would he be so intent on stifling any inquiry? You’d have to be sticking your head in the sand not to see that he’s afraid of what they might reveal.

 

June 14 2017

Gerrymandering 

Republican senators and representatives are trying to turn our democracy into what might be called a directorate, a one party system with a president of whom they require nothing other than that he go along with them.

Gerrymandering is one of several Republican stratagems for gaining one-party control. As much as possible, regardless of how serpentine and fractured a Congressional district they create may look on a map, as long as the maximum number of Democratic voters possible are deemed to have been stuffed into it so Republicans will gain an edge in the districts where votes of these virtually misplaced Democrats should honestly be tallied, that’s all that counts.

Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of this unseemly and anti-democratic maneuver, but because Republicans have lately controlled a sizable majority of state governments, they have lately been gerrymandering far more prolifically. Their sizable majority in the House of Representatives is evidence of their success.

The Supreme Court has ruled that this practice is unconstitutional when racially motivated. In a case involving redistricting in Wisconsin, the Court will soon be asked to rule whether the practice is unconstitutional when racial discrimination is not at issue –– where the motive is solely to achieve partisan advantage.

Shouldn’t it be deemed to be a violation of the Equal Protection clause for citizens of certain districts but not of others to have their votes abducted to another district for counting? How will the Supreme Court rule? Do a majority of justices care that American democracy is on the ropes? 

 

June 13, 2017

The American Tragedy

Every Republican senator in Congress swore to uphold the Constitution. Nearly all are in violation of their oath; otherwise, they would have repudiated Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Right-wing capture of the Supreme Court was what mattered for McConnell and his ilk rather than upholding the Constitution. Now Republicans are trying to enact a tax cut for the rich coupled with denying adequate health care for tens of millions of Americans. They are keeping the contents of the bill they are drafting secret and refusing to hold hearings on it. They know it wouldn’t survive examination in the light of a forty-watt bulb, and they know Trump will sign whatever they send him. There are no circumstances in which he would not proclaim it to be one of the greatest achievements in American history.


Congressional Republicans are supposed to be a check and balance, but they neither check, nor do they balance, and they pretend not to notice that America has lost its reputation as a model of respect for democratic processes, human rights, and the rule of law. Exemplars of greed are in charge.

 

June 12, 2017

A Glimpse at the Realm of the Unreal

Republicans have been making progress cobbling together another iteration of a proposed law that would sharply curtail health care coverage for the disadvantaged and deliver a big tax cut for the rich. Last week, Trump had this to say about it at a conference of evangelical Christians:

“The entrenched interests and failed bitter voices in Washington will do everything in their power to try and stop us from this righteous cause — to try to stop all of you. . . They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right. Because, as the Bible tells us, we know that the truth will prevail, that God’s glorious wisdom will shine through,”

Here you have an utterance so cynical, so unreal, that no normal person could have delivered it with a straight face. It quickly soared above the realm of rational discourse and took residency on the far plane of the surreal, where it will remain until it devolves into history books that generations of scholars and students will read shaking their heads in disbelief.

 

June 11, 2017

Intimations of Column Headlines

Editors and columnists sometimes try to invent a catchy headline that will grab the reader’s attention. Columnists may inject innuendo into the headline, turning it into a smear or a sneer. The headline of Kathleen Parker’s June 10 Washington Post column read, “Boy Scout James Comey Is No Match for Donald Trump.” Calling Comey a Boy Scout is supposed to draw us in and make us more receptive to Parker’s argument.

This reminded me of the detective in the TV series Dragnet, who used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” A headline like this is an intimation that facts may get in the way of the author’s argument.

 

June 10, 2017

Trump Defenders

I read that Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz said that because Trump had the power to pardon Mike Flynn, Trump could not have been trying to obstruct justice in pressuring former FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation into the Flynn’s activities.

This strikes me as a disingenuous argument. Pardoning Flynn would amount to an admission by Trump that Flynn had incriminating information about him. (Flynn’s lawyer recently said that Flynn would testify if granted immunity, and that Flynn has quite a story to tell.) In any case, even though Trump had the power to pardon Flynn when he met alone with Comey, he chose to try to obstruct justice instead.

Trump enablers are either keeping mum or floundering in trying to defend him. Witness Paul Ryan’s plea that Trump is “new to this.” The ingenue defense? Others simply resort to the name-calling, like Washington Post columnist Ed Rogers, who decries “the angry mob of breathless Democrats.” It’s enough to make me want to do some name-calling myself. I won’t sink that low, however, even though I feel like saying something about stooges and sycophants rushing to Trump with scraps of garments to affix to his unclothed body.

 

June 9, 2017

Trump and Obstruction of Justice

      Under the U.S. Criminal Code, it’s sufficient to be convicted of obstruction of justice if the perpetrator by any communication endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law. Trump asked Comey to “lay off” the Flynn investigation, then fired him when Comey declined to make such a commitment. After fabricating the starkly non-credible reason that Comey was fired because a public statement he made prior to the election was unfair to Hillary Clinton, Trump admitted that he had fired Comey because of “the Russian thing.” This sequence of events alone satisfies the statutory elements of the crime of obstruction of justice.
      Trump should be impeached on numerous counts, but there is no imminent sign that this will happen. A cadre of powerful protectors, obfuscators, and fact-deniers, including almost the entire roster of Congressional Republicans is standing by him, mocking the system of checks and balances embodied in the Constitution.

 

June 8, 2017

Money and Politics –- a Great American Tragedy

I’ve donated small amounts to the campaigns of progressive candidates running for a seat in the House or Senate, which has resulted in my getting on certain lists, which has resulted in frequent requests from and on behalf of other candidates. These requests are often to this effect: “A right-wing Super-Pac is spending $500,000 on phony attack ads to defeat me. Can you send $7 to help us fight back?” Sometimes, I do, but with a feeling that something is profoundly wrong with the system.

A recent clipping quoting Jane Mayer, a New Yorker writer and expert on big money influences in political campaigns: ”President Trump may be the face of America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, but, as deeper reporting is making clear, it’s the Kochs and their fellow fossil-fuel industry donors who really own the policy.”

The Koch brothers own a gigantic complex of companies related to fossil fuels. It’s a fair estimate that the Kochs are worth roughly 100 billion dollars. There are roughly 300 Republican senators and representatives in Congress. That means the Kochs are worth roughly a little more than 300 million dollars per Republican senator and representative. Financing campaigns of senators and representatives who will be responsive to the Kochs’s desires amounts to pocket change for them, a miniscule investment that yields a high rate of return for their gigantic complex of companies.

There is no quid pro quo involved. None of these senators and representatives promise the Koch brothers that they will vote a certain way in return for big donations, and the Koch brothers never ask them to. They don’t need to.

 

June 7, 2017

What Democrats Need To Do

Democrats need to express outrage at the degree of inequality in this country and how our nation has been turning into a plutocracy. They need to unite behind a strong progressive agenda and communicate its benefits to voters, especially to people who voted for Trump.

Democrats need to stand united in pledging to (i) put in place a much more progressive tax structure, (ii) provide the equivalent of Medicare for all, (iii) undertake major initiatives so disadvantaged children won’t be pinned down and deprived of adequate nutrition and educational opportunities, (iv) reform our criminal justice system with the aim of reducing the number of people incarcerated and increasing training and job opportunities for post-prison life, (v) make higher education widely affordable and ease student debt burdens, and (vi) subsidize renewable energy production, financing it with a carbon tax. The list goes on.

Whatever Democrats do –– no matter how conciliatory they are –– groups financially fueled by the Koch brothers and their ilk will launch hyperbolic attacks decrying “big government hand-outs” and claiming that Democrats are tax-and-spend, big government, big brother socialists. Trying to mollify Koch Brothers-type propagandists would be self-defeating. D
on’t temporize, Dems. Be bold.

 

June 6, 2017

Trying Times

     What’s that line that leaped into my head? “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

      I just looked it up and see it’s attributed to Thomas Paine, I suppose said on the eve of the American Revolution; maybe it’s from his famous pamphlet, Common Sense.

      Such times seem to be happening now. The whole world is roiled, and each day we awaken to the baneful reality of Trump’s presidency. When “the world’s most powerful man” has lost his equilibrium, it takes some concentration and reflection to keep one’s own.

     Rachel Maddow, my favorite public figure, who hosts an hour of news, interviews, and commentary weeknights on MSNBC, has been out sick for the past ten days. What’s wrong with her? It sounds like something worse than a cold. I can’t help thinking of how in recent months she has reported on Russian journalists and dissidents who fell out of favor with Putin. One was gunned down in Kiev. Another was attacked with a chemical agent that turned his face green. Another was pushed off the roof of an apartment building. Another was administered micrograms of plutonium and died in a London hospital.

      I think it’s highly unlikely Maddow was poisoned. I’m not paranoid. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But these neural pathways have been getting a lot of traffic in my brain.

 

June 5, 2017

Jennifer Rubin Is My Nominee to Receive the Medal of Freedom

Rubin, who writes op-ed articles for The Washington Post, has political views that might best be described as center-right, but she’s clearly less interested in promoting any political agenda than in illuminating important truths. She describes people and events as she sees them, and there’s no sharper-eyed observer in town.

Freedom of the press is one of America’s greatest blessings, and I think Rubin should be awarded the Medal of Freedom. Unfortunately, this is the prerogative of the president, and he’s not likely to follow my suggestion. Discussing Trump’s behavior in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocities in London, Rubin wrote: “our president acted like a clod, a heartless and dull-witted thug in sending out a series of tweets. She described Trump as “impulsive and cruel, without an ounce of class or human decency.”

I would not call these opinions; rather, they are facts as self-evident as that sharks swim and sea gulls fly, and as that we became subjected to this travesty of a leader because, as Rubin writes, “Republicans could not prioritize character, decency and overall fitness to serve over their mundane and frankly petty partisan wish list (28 percent top marginal tax rate!).”

Here’s a virtual Medal of Freedom for you, Jennifer.

 

June 4, 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

Almost three-quarters of a century ago, allied troops crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, determined to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny. I was a little kid then and remember it well: The Germans were the bad guys. The Americans were the good guys. It was as simple as that.

Two recent items I clipped from news stories:

“On April 30, Germany established a new national record for renewable energy use. Part of that day (during the long May 1 weekend), 85% of all the electricity consumed in Germany was being produced from renewables such as wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric power.”

"Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity started an all-fronts campaign with television advertising, social media and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who would ensure that the fossil fuel industry would not have to worry about new pollution regulations.”

I hope some day soon the Germans and the Americans will both be the good guys.

 

June 3, 2013

Climate Change, Character Content, and the Future

Martin Luther King said, “I look forward to a day when people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Trump’s character is content-free, so he’s willing to spread ruination and suffering throughout the world in order to satisfy his addiction to wealth and power.

Most Republican members of Congress and members of Trump’s cabinet and staff reside on approximately the same moral plane as Trump. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, said that pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord would help the middle class. McConnell’s character is as content-free as Trump’s, so he could say this with a straight face. Like Trump, he doesn’t care that it raises the question as to how long Homo sapiens will endure.

 

June 2, 2017

The Empire of One Strikes Back

Trump is surely apprehensive about how Congress doesn’t do his bidding, about the terrible press he gets, about the investigations he can’t stop, about what Comey will say, about what this so-called special counsel is doing, about the revelations of Russian connections that keep streaming by on TV. He has hired people to tell him that he is smart and courageous, but hard as he tries, he can’t suppress an aching awareness that world leaders view him with contempt. Taking the United States out of the Paris accord was not so much a policy decision as the lashing out of a crazed beast, one with sharp fangs and claws that will cause a lot of harm until it's restrained

 

June 1, 2017

Trump and Nixon

A lot of comparisons have been made lately between Trump and Nixon. Nixon was forced to resign because members of Congress in his own party wouldn’t tolerate his behavior. The average moral standard of Republican politicians has declined substantially since then. Otherwise, Trump wouldn’t have gotten into office or would have been forced out by now.

In any case, comparisons between the two are unfair to Nixon, who had some redeeming merits, for example, in being well educated and well informed, in supporting and signing the Clean Air Act, in opening up diplomatic relations with China, and in not being beholden to the dictator of America’s principal adversary. Trump, on the other hand, has no redeeming merits. Not a single one.

 

May 31, 2017 

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Jennifer Rubin is one of the most informed and astute observers of the national political scene, so it cheered me to read her Washington Post column yesterday, in which she concluded, “The presidency is collapsing, and only the speed and method by which it eventually ends are in question.” 

Still, let no one relax, except briefly to salute Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of the free world.

 

May 30, 2017

Loyalty –– To Whom?

Are there any decent people in high positions in the Administration, or are they all members of Trump’s cabal? National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to conduct the investigation of the Trump - Russia nexus, all have records strongly suggesting that they are principled and competent; yet all three have said or done things seemingly supportive of Trump.

Keep in mind, however, that “even the worst of barrels doesn’t turn all apples bad.” Robert Sapolsky,  Behave - The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017)  p. 477.  So far, in each case, McMaster’s, Mattis’s, and Rosenstein’s seeming loyalty to Trump has been relatively benign. All three may be fully aware of the danger Trump poses to American democracy and to the entire world, and each of them may be no less aware that quitting would lead to replacement by a Trump stooge. There’s reason to hope that these men are not Trump stooges themselves: that their loyalty is to the United States.

 

May 29,  2017

Trump - Russia

      Richard W. Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, comparing Nixon to Trump: “He might have been a crook, but at least he was our crook. He was not in bed with the Russians. We didn’t have to worry about the national security of our country in the Nixon era.”

      There is much yet to be learned about what transpired between official or unofficial representatives of the Putin-ruled Russian government and Trump’s closest confidants and others affiliated with him in his efforts to win the presidential election and obtain Russian financing and other help for business interests of Trump and members of his family. Already in the hands of various investigatory bodies are multitudinous bits and pieces of evidence of probably illegal and even treasonous activity and of attempts amounting to obstruction of justice to cover up such transgressions. That Trump has now marshaled a team of lawyers to impede investigations of these matters and that they will surely be aided in their efforts by attorney general Jeff Sessions and other officials whose loyalty is to Trump rather than to the United States is reason enough that investigations of the Trump - Russia connection should move forward as unblinkingly and vigorously as possible.

 

May 28, 2017

Dems: Don't Kid Yourselves

On his European trip, Trump shoved the the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get past him. Greg Gianforte, the successful GOP candidate in Montana’s special Congressional election last week, did him one better, body slamming and decking a reporter who was trying to find out what Gianforte thought of Trump’s budget plan.

Montana is basically a red state, but currently has a Democratic governor and one Democratic senator. This was an election the Democrats could have won, but they ran a candidate, Rob Quist, who is good at playing the guitar and has a nice smile, but little else to recommend him. Nor did he put forth compelling policy arguments. If Democrats are to save American democracy, it won’t be enough to decry thuggish behavior by Republicans, they must put forth strong candidates who can convince people of the sort who voted for Trump and Gianforte that they will put in place policies that will benefit most people a lot more than anything the Republicans have delivered or ever will.

 

May 27,  2017

Trump and the Republican Party

I’d like to lock up every Republican politician for an hour in a comfortable room furnished with nothing but a comfortable chair and a good reading lamp and nothing to do but read and reread Jennifer Rubin’s devastating indictment of Trump and his enablers posted yesterday in the online Washington Post. I don’t see how any fair-minded reader could disagree with her conclusion that the GOP is “a refuge for intellectual frauds and bullies, for mean-spirited hypocrites who preach personal responsibility yet excuse the inexcusable.” Some Republican members of Congress must have read her column. I wonder if any winced, even just a little, I hope.

 

May 26, 2017

The Baboon - Human Index

The B-H index tracks the relative degrees of evolutionary advancement of baboons and humans. Of course, humans are far more advanced than baboons in language and cognitive power, and these measures are not included in the index, which measures only wisdom, compassion, and humaneness. It’s gratifying to note that humans rate higher in all three of these components than baboons, though admittedly not by much.

Let’s take a look at how baboons rate. Members of a troop of baboons tend to cluster in a group. The alpha male customarily appropriates the most prestigious spot, for example on a smooth high rock. Lesser baboons scuffle according to social rank to occupy other spaces. The alpha is not as content as one might think. He constantly worries about being challenged. He doesn’t like the way the beta baboon has been comporting himself, approaching unnervingly close to the alpha’s space.

The other baboons admire the alpha, but wonder whether he can retain his status. The beta moves closer. The alpha senses he must act. He lashes out, knocking the beta to the ground. The beta scrambles away. The lesser baboons are impressed, but, even now, the alpha can’t relax. A more formidable challenge could come at any time.

I thought of this scene while watching the account of how Montana Republican candidate for Congress Greg Gianforte body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, knocking him to the ground. Gianforte is clearly in the mold of Trump, who sits on the biggest smoothest rock of all, but like his alpha baboon cousins, is constantly worrying and nervously looking around.

 

May 25 2017

The Struggle to Save American Democracy

About a hundred years ago, American statesmen (they were all male, then) talked about making the world safe for democracy. They meant the rest of the world: it went without saying that America was safe for democracy. That assumption is on shaky ground at the moment. The average level of integrity and responsibility among Republican lawmakers has declined markedly in the past few decades. Nearly all of them are complicit in the trend toward our country becoming a plutocratic autocracy, and they control the White House, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the governments of most states.

Ruthlessness, cynicism, greed, and meanness are the markers of politicians, jurists, and media magnates, who drive the democracy-eroding, plutocracy-building agenda. Their principal weapons are (i) lobbying and campaign financing by rich and super rich right-wing ideologues, (ii) strenuous sustained propagandizing by like-minded people controlling major media organizations, and (iii), imposition of voting rights restrictions and gerrymandering of congressional districts by right-wing state governments.

A skirmish involving gerrymandering was won by the defenders of democracy this week, as the Supreme Court upheld challenges to two districts in North Carolina that were blatantly gerrymandered in order to increase the number of districts in that state in which Republican candidates would be elected. Clarence Thomas is one of the most reliable right-wing votes on the Court, but even he found this instance of gross and cynical discrimination beyond the pale. Neil Gorsuch was not on the Court when the case was argued and did not participate. He’ll be present and voting in future cases, however, and Thomas is unlikely to change his judicial philosophy. The Court will be firmly titled to the right for as far ahead as one can see even with high-power binoculars. Those who advocate saving America from a plutocratic autocracy are still standing, and still on the ropes.

 

May 24, 2017

The Worst Addiction

Inequality in the United States has increased relentlessly in recent decades. The rich have gotten ever richer. Less advantaged people have been pinned down or worse. Tax rates may appear to be progressive, but loopholes and subsidies favor the rich and the very rich.

The budget Trump just put forward would sharply accelerate this trend. It would have the effect of cruelly oppressing those in need and showering large new tax breaks on the rich. It flagrantly betrays the promises Trump made during the campaign. It exposes him as a swindler on a grand scale.

Among the problems in our society is addiction, most notably, perhaps, addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gambling, but the gravest addiction our nation faces is to money, which propels those infected to want more, and more, and even more, so that, much as compulsive acquisitors may protest that it’s not the case, nothing else matters.

Trump is an extreme case of an addiction to money. Most of his enablers are infected with it as well. It threatens to reduce our country into what it was formed to escape.

 

May 23, 2017

Simple Wisdom

“I feel that compassionate thought is the most precious thing there is. It is something that only we human beings can develop. And if we have a good heart, a warm heart, warm feelings, we will be happy and satisfied ourselves, and our friends will experience a friendly and peaceful atmosphere as well.” 

The Dalai Lama makes it sound so simple. But aren’t his little homilies simplistic, or naive, or reconstituted pablum? Not at all. There is no phony promise that God will reward you if you’re righteous and donate, either now, as promised by celebrated preachers, or in the hereafter, in accord with traditional Christian doctrine. Following the Dalai Lama’s precepts causes good biochemical processes to happen in your brain. These in turn produce, marvelously, a serenity that feeds into your conscious mind and radiates toward others, bringing about, as it happens, the best kind of success.

 

May 22, 2017

Forever Trump

In welcome contrast to his previous not so great week in our nation’s capital, Trump was treated properly in Riyadh, with lavish entertainment and a flyover of military planes, and he was presented with a very prestigious  medal, probably no less a token of esteem than the medal Putin presented to our new Secretary of State after he concluded a gigantic oil deal in when he was CEO of Exxon. What a balm it must have been for Trump after months of being treated so unfairly by the media in his own country.

The Saudis know a good deal about the the art of the deal.

Trumps says we have shared “values” with Saudi Arabia. That this is the case might surprise you, but it’s absolutely true in the alternate universe, to which, thanks to a weird quantum leap, we’ve all been transported. Jennifer Rubin, in a Washington Post column, notes that “Trump and Saudi royals hit it off. They no doubt share a love of ostentatious wealth, impatience with democracy and unfamiliarity with the rule of law.” What closer bond could there be?

 

May 21, 2017

Fox “News”

Yes, any time News comes after Fox, it should have quotes around it. This organization, controlled by Trump-enabler and buddy, Rupert Murdoch, is, in the main, a vehicle for disseminating right-wing propaganda and devoid of journalistic integrity or public responsibility. I refer you to Ezra Klein’s short Vox.com video in which he deftly exposes how Fox “News” pseudo-discredits, deflects, and scorns facts reported by responsible media outlets.

In the course of Putin’s 17-year-old reign, and counting, he stomped out independent media, stomp by stomp. Russians are mostly sealed off from everything but Putin-approved verbiage. The U.S. has a long tradition of a constitutionally protected free and independent and independent press, but tens of millions of Americans have attitudes and mindsets formed by thousands of hours of propaganda dished out by Fox “News” and outlets, such as Rush Limbaugh’s, dedicated to the same purpose. The appalling result is that tens of millions of Americans are ensconced in mental states no less distorted than those of most Russians. This is the source of Trump’s renowned “base” that provides the cover politicians like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan need to stick with Trump so they can stick it to the country for their own greedy ends.

 

May 20, 2017

The Surprise Ahead

What happened in American political history in 2016 was highly unlikely. What happens this year is sure to be unlikely too; maybe more unlikely even than this possible scenario:

1. New findings emerge that not only show involvement of high level Trump campaign people in Russia’s efforts to influence this past fall’s election, but also that Trump is at serious risk of being indicted, tried, and convicted of one of more felonies.

2. The heat builds to a degree such that Trump is afraid not only of being impeached, but of going to prison.

3. Trump and Pence have a highly secret, highly secure, conversation, in the course of which they reach agreement as to how to proceed.

4. Trump makes a speech carried at prime time on all TV stations. What follows conveys its tenor, if not the exact words:

“My fellow Americans: I have an important announcement to make. It’s so disgusting the way this country is being torn apart by media attacks and fake news, and really bad people stirring up witch hunts, and the good of the country is what means most to me, and I've accomplished tremendous things so far, like appointing Justice Gorsuch and getting rid of a lot of terrible regulations and clamping down on illegal immigrants, even though Democrats have held up progress on the Wall, which by the way is still very badly needed and I hope can be built, and I've restored confidence in America abroad –- you can't believe how grateful the Saudis and other great people in the Middle East are for my getting them all together and undoing the awful damage done by Obama, and I've already kept so many jobs in this country. The media has covered up how many millions of new jobs, but at this point –– and believe me, China has gotten the message they can't get away with currency manipulation.

That’s over, believe me, but I've decided I can best serve this great great country, which, incidentally was so badly served by Obama, so run down, it’s shameful, and we can all be thankful Hillary didn't get in, because that would have been the end of everything, believe me, that would have been the end, but I've decided to step aside now and let my work be carried on by one of the most totally impressive statesmen and great people in U.S. history, Mike Pence. Thank you all those many many millions who supported me, so I won the election by a tremendous margin despite three million illegal votes Hillary got. Mike is here to say a few words.”

In their agreement, Pence, promised to pardon Trump for every possible crime, and, within hours after being sworn in, fire special counsel Mueller, whose services won't be needed anymore, because, Trump and Pence agree, they are not going to wallow in the past ––they are going to move this great nation forward and make America great again.

 

May 19, 2017

Trump Epitomized

A  video keeps playing in my mind. I’ve seen it on TV and on the internet. The scene is the oval office. Trump with a flourish signs an important executive order. It reverses the proposed ban on the insecticide chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to brain damage in farmworkers and increased odds of mental delay, psychomotor delay, attention disorders and pervasive developmental disorders among high-exposure children.

Trump is proud of what he is doing –- fulfilling a promise to get rid of burdensome regulations. A coterie of admirers looks on. Among them is the CEO of Dow Chemical Company, manufacturer of the pesticide. Dow had donated $1,000,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund. By way of acknowledging this patriotic gesture, Trump invited the CEO to stand beside him while he signed the order.

The CEO smiles awkwardly. Trump holds the signed order up for all to see; then turns toward the CEO and hands him the pen he used. Moments ago, it was an ordinary pen. Now it has historic significance. The CEO accepts it with a little bow. Astute businessman that he is, he is surely calculating the return on investment of that million dollars donation, probably several hundred per cent or more, just in the first year. The video ends; then plays again in my mind.

 

May 18, 2017

History Happening Fast

In my blog three days ago, I wrote: “At this point, practically every informed politician and commentator of good will has called upon {Deputy Attorney General} Rod Rosenstein to appoint an independent special prosecutor to pursue the Russian investigation, and some have expressed concern that he has not done so already. My feeling is that Rosenstein may be waiting until there is a dramatic new indication that the investigation is being thwarted. An example of this would be the appointment and confirmation of a Trump lackey as F.B.I. Director. Rosenstein may think that in such an event, Trump won’t dare fire him. This time, there won’t be any phony reason Trump can use.”

Such a dramatic new indication happened faster than I thought it would, in fact late yesterday, though not as I conjectured. Rather, it was likely the revelation that, when Comey was still F.B.I. director, Trump asked him to lay off the Flynn investigation. Or maybe it was the revelation that Trump had given top Russian officials highly classified information. Or maybe it was both, one coming on the heels of the other, that gave Rosenstein confidence that he could act with impunity.

And act he did, appointing as special counsel (and potential prosecutor), Robert Mueller, who by all accounts is an excellent choice for the task assigned to him. This is not happy news for Trump, though, for everyone of good will, it is.

 

May 17, 2017

Can Anything Be Done?

The list of Trump’s assaults on truth and decency is long and daily grows longer. Isolate one –– it hardly matters which –– and any person of good will be shocked and dismayed by it. Many instances in this sequence of horrors would be cause for removing Trump from office, yet the rate at which news of one is supplanted by news of the next produces a sickening, sense-numbing blur, whereupon many people are inclined to despairingly exclaim, “Oh, that’s Trump. That’s typical of him.”

Estragon: “Nothing to be done.”
Vladimir: “I’m beginning to come round to that opinion.”

So begins Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot, which the author describes as a tragicomedy in two acts.

Senator Bob Corker (R. TN): “It’s a worrisome environment.”

Some other Republicans are beginning to come round to that opinion, though none yet seem to think that something might be done.

 

May 16, 2017

THE SHIP OF STATE IS IN PERIL.  REVEILLE! ALL HANDS ON DECK,  INCLUDING, ESPECIALLY, REPUBLICANS

Almost every day, Trump exceeds previous performances in demonstrating why he should be swiftly removed from office. The latest atrocity, reported by The Washington Post, is that he released information to high ranking Russian officials which was  restricted from dissemination except within a subset of people with top secret clearance, information so sensitive it is not shared with some of our closest allies. He did so, a witness reported, to demonstrate to his Russian visitors “what great intell” we have.

Trump may have been making good on promises he made to the Russians in exchange for their helping him win the election. If so, he’s committed treason. If not, his action was staggeringly rash and stupid, not only giving an adversary information that could be used against us, possibly endangering people who trusted us, and cutting off the source of our intelligence, but beyond that, causing intelligence services throughout the world to realize that it would be unwise to share confidential information that might reach the president of the United States.

One important Republican senator, Bob Corker, opined that this sort of thing created a “worrisome environment.” How lame! How inadequate. There is no moral justification for any member of Congress to continue to support Trump.

Reveille! All of you. Remove Trump for office now. Sooner than you think, it may be too late.

 

May 15, 2017

Rosenstein’s Choice

Rod Rosenstein, now Deputy Attorney General, has the power to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation not only of Russia’s strenuous efforts to tilt last fall’s election to Trump, but also possible, or probable, (depending on how much publicly available circumstantial evidence you consider) Trump campaign collusion in that enterprise. Rosenstein has a sterling record as a career prosecutor, but he allowed doubt to be cast on his integrity by writing a memo stating grounds justifying the firing of James Comey as F.B.I. Director even though Rosenstein knew that the memo would be used as a phony excuse for Trump to fire Comey for an entirely different reason: Comey’s determination to pursue the Russian investigation.

It’s still entirely possible that Rosenstein is an honorable man, determined not to further his career as a Trumpian puppet. He may have decided that if he didn’t go along with writing the memo, he would be fired and replaced by a gold-plated Trump adulator, but by participating in this bizarre charade he would preserve his position and be able to act independently in the pursuit of justice.

At this point, practically every informed politician and commentator of good will has called upon Rosenstein to appoint an independent special prosecutor to pursue the Russian investigation and some have expressed concern that he has not done so already. My feeling is that Rosenstein may be waiting until there is a dramatic new indication that the investigation is being thwarted. An example of this would be the appointment and confirmation of a Trump-lackey as F.B.I. Director. Rosenstein may think that in such an event, Trump won’t dare fire him. This time, there won’t be any phony reason Trump can use.

 

May 14, 2017

Impeachment Now

In a powerful article published in The Washington Post, Laurence Tribe, the distinguished authority on constitutional law and Harvard Law School professor, states with complete clarity why impeachment proceedings against Trump should begin at once. The principal grounds are obstruction of justice and violation of the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution. The case against Trump is incontrovertible. The time for tolerating him in order to promote political agendas is past.

Members of Congress, this is a crisis for each of you that does not admit of passivity. Impeach Trump, convict him, and remove him from office, not when and if . . . , but now. It is the right thing to do. It is the decent thing to do. It is the patriotic thing to do. Given the extreme danger Trump poses to our country, it is the conservative thing to do.
 

May 13, 2017

Flynn and Manaport

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Sally Yates, then acting attorney general, informed the White House counsel that the F.B.I. had determined that Michael Flynn, the newly appointed national security advisor, had lied about not having met with Russian officials and that the underlying content of communications between Flynn and the Russians was such that Flynn was vulnerable to being blackmailed. Given these facts, U.S. national security would be jeopardized by retaining Flynn in his highly sensitive and important position. The White House counsel apprised Trump of this information, yet Trump retained Flynn as national security advisor for eighteen days thereafter, only firing him after The Washington Post broke the news that Flynn had lied in saying he hadn’t had contacts with the Russians.

Neither Trump nor anyone who has spoken for him has given a credible answer as to why Trump retained Flynn for almost three weeks after learning that he was compromised. The most likely reason is that Trump and others in his entourage were themselves abetting Russian attempts to tilt the election: Firing Flynn would be firing one of their own!

How interesting it would be to know all that Flynn knows. He has offered to testify if granted immunity. Granting immunity to Flynn is problematical, but his offer should be seriously considered. There’s a good chance that just two men ––  Flynn and former Trump's campaign manager and foreign agent extraordinaire, Paul Manafort –– could let in enough daylight so that even Republicans as irresponsible as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan wouldl agree that it’s time for Trump to go.

 

May 12, 2017

Trump’s Obstruction of Justice

Trump has abandoned his risible pretense that he fired Comey because of Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Yesterday he admitted that his true purpose was to stop the F.B.I.’s Trump-Russia connection investigation. He thereby admitted to attempting to obstruct justice, an impeachable offense.

Trump is certain to name someone who will do his bidding to replace Comey. Justice department director Jeff Sessions, who concealed suspect meetings he had with the Russian ambassador and was likely a co-conspirator in a Trump campaign collusion with Russia, is a Trump loyalist; Andrew McCabe, acting F.B.I. Director, appears to have been compromised by having given the White House an improper briefing; Congressional committees investigating the matter are controlled by Republican loyalists; the new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has been dragging his feet in response to inquiries from the House Intelligence Committee.: Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been looking on, grinning. A whole phalanx of foxes is guarding the hen house.

As to the future of these foxes, here’s Michelle Goldberg, in Slate:

“To be a modern Republican almost necessarily entails a degree of comfort with epistemological nihilism. This insistent, all-encompassing bullshit is disorienting and a little stunning; neither our media nor our political institutions are really fit to contend with it. But eventually, if only after a great deal of carnage, the fog lifts and reality reasserts itself. When it does, it won’t just be Trump who is revealed in all his bare disgrace.”

 

May 11, 2017

What’s in the Mind of Rod Rosentein?

How interesting it would be to look into the mind of Rod Rosenstein, who is now the justice department official in charge of the F.B.I. investigation of the Trump - Russian connection and has the power to appoint a special prosecutor. Rosenstein is reputed to be a dedicated, capable, and honest public servant; yet it was he who signed a letter criticizing Comey’s publicizing the Clinton email investigation, thereby supplying grounds that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who unrecused himself for the occasion, could cite in support of the recommendation Trump wanted from him –– that Comey should be fired.

Does this mean that Rosenstein, like Sessions, is a lock-step protector of Trump? Should we abandon hope that Rosenstein will seriously try to cooperate with the F.B.I. investigation and appoint an independent special prosecutor? Must we conclude that, despite Rosentein’s sterling background, he’s a Trumpian puppet?

Maybe not. Maybe Rosenstien, as we would want him to, genuinely wants the investigation to proceed in a thorough and competent manner, but knew that if he refused to write the letter criticizing Comey, not only would Comey be fired, but also himself, and that his replacement would be someone who would follow Trump's dictates. Rosenstein may have thought with good reason that by signing the letter criticizing Comey, he could keep his job, pursue the investigation wherever it leads, and that Sessions, and even the great Fabricator himself, would be hard-pressed to find grounds to fire him. Am I just indulging in wishful hopefullness? We’ll find out soon.

 

May 10, 2017

Comey and Trump

In my blog of March 21st I said:

“How interesting it would be to look into the mind of FBI Director James Comey. He seems to be dedicated to getting to the bottom of the big question: Did Trump collude with the Russians in their strenuous efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s favor? A question looms, however. Is Comey sincere? Fixed in our memories is his announcement a few days before the election that in connection with the FBI’s investigation of possible derelictions of Anthony Weiner, the husband of a top Hillary Clinton advisor, the FBI was investigating an additional cache of Hillary’s emails even though there was no indication that they showed any wrongdoing on her part. Comey could not have been unaware that his announcement would have a psychological effect that would favor Trump.

"Given what we now know about what Comey knew, but didn’t publicize, about Russia’s involvement in the campaign and connections between Trump people and the Russians, Comey’s Weiner related email investigation announcement is indefensible as a neutral effort to keep the public informed. In view of this history, Comey can’t be trusted, which is another reason the nation needs (though, sadly, probably won’t get) a select bi-partisan committee and special prosecutor with full subpoena powers to pursue this matter. This said, Comey appears to be a complex person. It is not impossible that, though in the past he favored Trump, he now sees Trump for the abomination Trump is. Comey may have resolved to repair the damage he caused. He may have resolved to be a good guy.”

In view of Trump’s firing Comey summarily yesterday, it is evident that Trump fears what I hoped –– Comey may have resolved to be a good guy.

 

May 9, 2017

The Rot Runs Deep

There isn’t a sound stick, beam, pillar, or plank in the House of Trump. Stick a penknife in anywhere and it plunges into rot. Stick in farther; you'll find the rot runs deep. Rupert Murdoch is a big buddy of Trump. His media empire, including its crown jewels, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, functions as a propaganda machine for Trump and for right-wing policies and politicians. Another giant holding company, Sinclair Broadcasting, is devoted to the same cause. Today I read that Sinclair is about to buy another big owner of TV and radio stations, Tribune Media, for close to four billion dollars, which will give Sinclair control of TV and radio stations reaching 70% of American households.

How can such concentration of propagandistic TV and radio stations be allowed? It’s allowed because the Trump-directed Federal Communications Commission likes it. It's not a problem forTrump and his enablers, only for the American people.

 

May 8, 2017

Hope Springs


“Vive la France! Vive l’Europe!” New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote after the French election results came in. After six months of lamenting one depressing global development after another, marveilleusement, he had something to rejoice about, and so did every informed person of good will throughout the world.

True, Cohen cautioned, as did sage Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and I’m sure a lot of other people, “Now comes the hard part.” 

Still, this encouraging event caused me to recall that pendulums swing, tides turn, winds change direction, and, as Peter Sellers, playing Chauncey Gardner, prophesied, “There will be growth in the Spring.” Indeed, flowers are blooming. Great numbers of people are realizing that the members of Congress celebrating passage of the AHCA bill, version #2, along with our president, are, like him, reckless feckless frauds.


 

May 7, 2017

Health Care Policy

Trump and House Republican leaders made a big show of celebrating passage of a so-called health care bill that, among other faults, would deprive millions of adequate health care insurance, and millions more of health care itself, in order to finance tax cuts for the rich.

Shortly before, or after, this event  –– it doesn’t matter which –– Trump commented that Australia’s single payer (universal coverage) health care plan was better than what we have in America.

That comment must have made Paul Ryan wince, though I’m sure he quickly recovered. Trump is always saying weird things. Just the other day he said increasing the gas tax might be wise. Of course, like a lot of what he says, he doesn’t mean it. He just wants to remind everyone that he is a bold and imaginative leader, a man to be reckoned with, the president who accomplished more in his first hundred days than probably anyone in history.

Republicans will regard Trump’s offhand remark as an aberration, something to be ignored. Democrats –– progressives –- should grab hold of it, and make medicare for all a key issue in forthcoming political campaigns. Repeal and replace Obamacare? You bet! Bernie Sanders: “The wrong thing to do is to force through health care reform that would hurt the poor, the sick and the elderly. . . The right thing to do is to guarantee health care to all people as a right like every other major country on Earth. That is why I will soon be introducing legislation to create a Medicare-for-all, single payer system . . .” 

Go on the offense, Democrats. Trump’s words are with you.

 

May 6, 2017

Books on Human Behavior

A few years ago I began wondering why I made so many weirdly wrong decisions when I was younger. Since then, I’ve developed an increasingly keen interest in why people act the way they do. A lot of work has been done in this field in recent years. Much has been learned about the strengths and weaknesses of the thinking machines we have in our heads.

I just started reading a book that appears likely to be illuminating in this respect, How Emotions Are Made –– The Secret Life of the Brain, by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor at Northwestern. This book has lately been stacked bedside on top of Gary Kasparov’s just published Deep Thinking –– Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.

The other day a friend posted a reference on Facebook to an article about George Lakoff, a retired Berkley professor who has written persuasively on the importance of framing issues. Lakoff, who predicted that Trump would win the election last November, nailed one of the Clinton campaign’s biggest mistakes: failure to frame issues with relation to voters’s values. Trump was simplistic and mendacious, but he framed issues important to voters all too well. I added Lakoff’s Don’t Look at an Elephant to my list. 

Yesterday, a couple of people I correspond with persuaded me that there are yet two more books on human behavior I must not miss. The stack of them requiring my urgent attention will soon be a foot high, generating in me two emotional responses: eager anticipation and ugh.

 

May 5, 2017

“Trumpcare” Iterations and Human Behavior

Why would any member of Congress want to deprive millions of people of adequate health care insurance, and millions more of healthcare itself, to finance tax cuts for rich people? A major reason is that lots of rich people finance politicians who will vote for such policies. Why do these rich people feel better by getting even richer than by helping less advantaged people be happier or less miserable or simply stay alive?

Why are politicians willing to participate in such a system? They have reasons, they’ll tell you. They’ll say that helping less fortunate people makes them dependent; that it’s better not to help them, because then they will realize that they have to help themselves. They will be better off thanks to this instruction.

Some ask, “Why should I have to pay taxes to help people who aren’t as smart as I am?”

These so-called conservatives think life is like running in a marathon, and they want to finish way ahead of the pack. In a race like this there are winners and losers, and that’s the way it is. That what they think.

Some of these people have been influenced by a novelist named Ayn Rand or an economist named Frederich Hayek. They think the ideas espoused by these legendary figures and those who echo and embellish on their themes legitimize rank self-enriching behavior. Paul Ryan is a example of a politician who avails himself of such props. Mitch McConnell, content to live a life of dissembling and grabbing, doesn’t bother with them.

Stephen Hawking says that the two great challenges facing humankind are greed and stupidity. I think he’s basically right, but I would substitute “ignorance” for “stupidity.” In the country that has become Trumpland right-wing media cultivate ignorance, so greedy smart people can con ignorant people, and ignorant people can con themselves.

 

May 4, 2017

Republican Efforts to Repeal and Replace The Affordable Care Act

Earlier today Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor and expert on political corruption, published the text of an appeal she made to John Faso, the Republican representing her District, to vote no on the patched-together bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Her argument admits no intellectually or morally honest rebuttal.

Referring to the House leadership, she writes: ”They are rushing through a chamber of Congress a bill reorganizing one-fifth of the economy, without even cursory attempts to gauge its impact. Its budgetary impact is as yet unknown. The same is true of its social impact, though the broad strokes are clear enough: Millions of Americans will lose access to medical care, and tens of thousands of them will die, and Congress is eager to hasten these results without knowing them more precisely. Their haste and secrecy are a way of distancing the House Republicans from the immorality of their actions.”

 

May 3, 2017

Resistance Is Not Enough

Hillary Clinton says she has joined the resistance against Trump. It’s not hard to be against Trump. He deserves an F in almost everything he says and does. The other day Nancy Pelosi, striving for precision, graded him F- . But being against Trump doesn’t mean much if the Democratic Party can’t break out of its establishment-currying mode and unify around sound progressive principles. Robert Reich, whose Resistance Report can be seen most week nights on Facebook and YouTube, puts it well:


"Too many Democratic officials have aided and abetted a rigged economy, most of whose gains have gone to the top. Too many Democrats have sought big money from large corporations and Wall Street–– money that has inundated and undermined our politics. The Democrats haven't had the backbone to demand a hefty tax on the rich -- including a wealth tax -- to pay for what we need to do as a society, including better schools. And the Democratic Party still hasn't had the guts to come out for a single-payer health care system."

Timidity played out poorly in my own Congressional District last fall. The Democratic candidate was admirable and well qualified, but she failed to communicate to voters sharp policy differences between her and her Republican opponent. She was afraid of losing independent voters. Republicans give their proposals for cutting vital services to finance breaks for the rich the phony title, “tax reform.” Democrats must get across what real tax reform would entail and how much it would benefit the great majority of Americans, all of them, in fact, because it would make our country stronger.

 

May 2, 2017

Obama, Money, and Politics

There’s been quite a debate as to whether Obama should accept a $400,000 fee for giving a speech hosted by a prominent investment banking firm. Some say he shouldn’t. Others say that, although Hillary should not have accepted similarly large fees for speaking to Goldman Sachs when she was running or planning to run for president, because it compromised her position that she was dedicated to the interests of “everyday people,” Obama is not running for any office, so there’s no risk that people won’t vote for him because he made a speech to Wall Street fat cats.

Unfortunately, there’s a bigger issue here. Obama arguably represents the soul of the Democratic Party, and he is widely respected for his intelligence and integrity. At the same time, the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray. It’s supposed to be the champion of liberalism, the middle class, and the disadvantaged members of our society, but the taint of elitism and coziness to big money interests was a cloud that hung over Hillary and has by no means dissipated, and the Democratic National Committee, whose tilting toward Hillary and undermining Bernie was revealed in hacked emails is still suspect. There is no general sense in the country that Democrats stand on higher moral ground than Republicans, even though Democratic policies and proposals, if implemented, would benefit “everyday people” far more than those of the GOP.

Democrats have to get that message across to a lot more people if they are going to rescue this country from Trump, McConnell, Ryan, and the rest of them. Obama’s raking in almost half a million from Wall Street for a few hours work isn’t going to help.

 

May 1, 2017

Trump –- Dictator Apprentice

Trump has repeatedly derided mainstream media and judges whose rulings he doesn’t like. Clearly he would like to be rid of such encumbrances, as have other world leaders for whom he has expressed admiration, like Vladimir Putin, who rules Russia with an iron fist, President Xi of China, who represses dissent more than any of his recent predecessors, President Erdogan of Turkey, who has overseen the transformation of that country from an imperfect democracy to an almost perfect autocracy, and President el-Sisi of Egypt, who seized power in a military coup.

Trump has not a dictator, but he is a dictator apprentice, and this past weekend he enrolled in advanced training, inviting President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to visit him at the White House. Trump apparently admires Duterte’s method of dealing with suspected drug dealers by killing them summarily, bypassing the notoriously inefficient set of procedures known as due process of law.

Trump has completed the first hundred days of his apprenticeship with distinction. He is well on his way to achieving his goal, though there is still some risk that his employers will fire him.

 

April 30, 2021

Putin, Trump, and Money

One of Rachel Msddow’s guests on last Friday night’s show was Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident and vice-chairman of Open Russia, which promotes civil society and democracy in that country. Open Russia has been instrumental in organizing street protests against the 17-year-long, increasingly autocratic reign of Vladimir Putin. Putin had a chance to nurture Russia’s fragile democracy, but instead choose to steer the country toward one-man rule, putting his KGB training to good use to that end.

The Putin-ruled government has become increasingly repressive. Elections are rigged and freedom of media and assembly are close to extinguished. Imagine America in which Steve Bannon is president, the only media is Fox news, and all judges are clones of Jeff Sessions. You’ll have an idea of what it’s like in Russia today.

In recent years, dissidents and journalists perceived to be possible threats to Putin’s regime have been jailed, poisoned, pushed off roofs of buildings, and gunned down. Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice, yet he perseveres in organizing street protests. He says they are the last form of opposition available.

Putin has been highly successful in amassing great wealth. America is much richer than Russia, but Putin is much richer than Trump. Trump appears to be doing everything he can to remedy this inequity.

 

April 29, 2017

The Dalai Lama

Chinese rulers drove Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, out of Tibet, but he still drives them nuts. They feel threatened by his spiritual authenticity, his world-wide influence, and by the way he smiles and laughs. Consider:

“Happiness depends on inner peace, which depends on warm-heartedness. There's no room for anger, jealousy or insecurity. A calm mind and self-confidence are the basis for peaceful relations with others. . . Changing the world for the better begins with individuals creating inner peace within themselves.”

Being warm-hearted gives you inner peace, which crowds out anger, jealousy, and insecurity, freeing you to be self-confident and happy. It sounds amazingly simple, but I think it’s true.

 

April 28, 2017

More Money and More Politics

Excerpt from an email I received today from the campaign headquarters of Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Congress in the special  election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District:

"Donald Trump just headlined a MASSIVE fundraiser for our opponent.

"BUT there’s even worse (honestly, HORRENDOUS) news:

"Republican MEGA-donor Sheldon Adelson’s allied SuperPAC is pouring $6.5 MILLION into our race. Every last penny will be spent on vicious attacks on Jon."

Is it not possible that some pennies of the 6.5 million will be spent on praising the Republican? Who writes this stuff –- replete with solid caps, italics, red type, and underlinings? Someone, I suspect, who is paid too much. Still, the facts are disturbing and then some.

 

April 27, 2017

Money and Politics

As a progressive Democrat, I would be pleased if the Democrats win back the Senate and House in 2018. Chances of that happening are slim indeed. Still, you never know . . . In any case I’m rooting for Democrats to win in the special elections for open Congressional seats and am making modest contributions to the Democratic candidates. I am decidedly a very small fish in a vast ocean, but every day I get requests from or on behalf of Democratic candidates .

I sent Jon Ossoff a few bucks a few weeks ago. He’s the guy who seems to have a chance of picking up the Georgia Sixth Congressional District in a runoff to be held June 20th. An Ossoff win would give Democrats a psychological boost, because this District has been held by Republicans for decades. It’s hard to believe it won’t stay that way. Yesterday I got an email from Mr. Ossoff with this Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline: “GOP SUPERPAC TO PUMP ANOTHER $3.5 MILLION INTO GEORGIA 6TH RACE.”

I’ll send a few more bucks more, but not as much as I’d like, because I want to help Rob Quist, the Democrat running in the special election for Montana’s sole Congressional District, and I’m wondering what the volume of appeals will be next year when all the Congressional seats and a third of the Senate seats will be contested.

Money and Politics: It’s hard to tell one from the other.

 

April 26, 2017

                           A Sane Solution for the Coal Industry Problem

Coal is a declining industry. In recent years it has become increasingly less competitive with natural gas, and even with renewable energy such as wind and solar. This has been rough on a lot of people who make their living in the coal industry. Otherwise, it’s good news. There is no such thing as clean coal. Global warming, caused by carbon emissions, is likely to accelerate and produce calamitous consequences if nothing is done to address it. Even if global warming were not occurring, it would make sense to transition to non-carbon-emitting energy production simply to reduce air pollution, which besides making landscapes less sharp, clear, and beautiful, is harmful to human health.

Subsidizing coal mining –- trying to bring back coal mining jobs –– is a terrible way, both morally and economically, of dealing with the problem. That said, the transition from coal to renewable energy should not be at the expense of coal miners or deprive them of making a good living. A transition that benefits all can and should be accomplished.

According to a Department of Energy report in January, there are about 160,000 people employed in the coal industry, including 54,000 in mining. Many miners and those with related occupations have already lost their jobs, or lost pay or benefits, as mines are shut down or production is curtailed. According to the same report, almost 374,000 people are employed in solar energy production. A sane national energy policy would double that number and then some. Everyone whose job depends on the coal industry, whether presently employed or not, should be given the option of being retrained for a job in the renewable energy industry without reduction of pay scale or benefits.

The money to effect such a massive transition would come from a tax and subsidy policy that reverses the decades-long trend toward ever greater inequality in America and diverts the tax breaks and loopholes favoring fossil fuel enterprises to renewable energy enterprises. It can be done. It's tragic that the political will to do it is lacking.

 

April 25, 2017

Trump / Russia Investigations

Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became so obtusely obvious in his effort to sabotage the work of his own committee that he was forced to recuse himself from its investigation of Russia’s effort to tilt the election to Trump and probable collusion in that enterprise by members of the Trump team, and very possibly by Trump himself. It won’t likely matter. Republicans still control the committee’s investigation, which they will almost certainly ensure produces no results. The same is true of the parallel investigation being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Despite claims that he would seek out the truth, the Republican chairman, Richard Burr, though not as crude a character as Nunes, evidences ever less interest in conducting a serious inquiry. A third investigation is being conducted by the F.B.I., whose director, James Comey, tilted the scales toward Trump with his gratuitous announcement just prior to the election that the Hillary email investigation was still active because possibly relevant emails might be among those newly discovered in an unrelated investigation. Comey’s past behavior, therefore, is not encouraging, and even if he is sincere in wanting to seek out the truth, the F.B.I. is hobbled without the cooperation of the Justice Department, which is controlled by Trump loyalist number #1, Jeff Sessions. Maybe future historians will dig up the whole big pile of very smelly dirt.

 

April 24, 2017

The most important comment I’ve seen in the past 24 hours:

“Whatever the final result, Le Pen and her party will not go away. They stand for a set of feelings that are real, that exist in every Western country, and that are now best fought openly, point by point, argument by argument — for they pose a genuine and powerful threat to liberal democracy as we know it.”
                                               Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post.

 

April 23, 2017

Trump, the “Pro Life” President

It would be a huge benefit to humanity if contraceptives were provided free to everyone. The cost would be trivial in relation to the benefits. Yet William Kristof reports in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, “Trump just cut every penny the U.S. provides the United Nations Population Fund. This organization has nothing to do with abortions but is a central player in the global effort to fight for women’s health.” Kristof doesn’t report this from behind a desk in the Times building, but from Haiti, where he has witnessed deaths and extreme suffering, which he vividly describes, because of lack of services the Population Fund provides.

Trump acted not out of religious conviction –– clearly, he is not a Christian. He did it to retain the allegiance of Christian evangelicals, 80% of whom voted for him in the election. In a firmament otherwise bereft of light, self-interest is his sole guiding star.

 

April 22, 2017

Trump, Russia, and the Department of Justice, continued

Mary McCord, the 20-year career Justice Department official in charge of investigating possibleTrump team - Russian collusion, announced last week that she is quitting her job “to pursue other opportunities.” Probable cause for believing the Trump campaign colluded with Russia has been established. Uncovering what involvement Trump may have had in this enterprise is the Justice Department’s most important task. Why Mary McCord would seek “other opportunities” at such a critical juncture is a glaring question. There is something strange about it, something that, if known, might open up whole new fields of inquiry.

Who will replace McCord? Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the investigation, but we can be sure that he or his compliant designee will appoint someone certain to sabotage it, unless, as is quite possible, the appointment of McCord’s replacement will forever be happening soon.

 

      April 21, 2017

Trump, Russia, and the Department of Justice

Jeff Sessions, having cast his lot with Trump early in Trump’s campaign to secure the Republican nomination, was rewarded with a position on the Trump transition team and then appointed Attorney General. After falsely denying meetings with Russians in the course of his confirmation hearings, he was pressured into recusing himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation of Russia’s efforts to tilt the election to Trump and possible collusion with Russia by the Trump team. The FBI has been investigating the Russian /Trump campaign connection, but the investigation requires co-ordination with the Justice Department, with whom resides the power to issue subpoenas.

The primary responsibility in the Justice Department for pursuing the investigation fell on Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord. Although McCord’s involvement is of crucial importance to this critically important legal matter, she told the staff of the department’s national security division this week that she’s leaving in May to pursue other opportunities. Presumably, she is not free to talk about the real reason for her departure. A dark cloud obscures what’s going on at the Justice Department, and there’s barely any chance it will dissipate while Trump enablers are in charge.

 

April 20, 2017

FALSTAFF –- GIVE ME LIFE, by Harold Boom

Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, noted that many literary characters seem more real to him than most actual people. It’s clear that Bloom feels that way about Sir John Falstaff, who appears in Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and (by reference) in Henry V. Sir John is a fat, larcenous reprobate, well on in years, who is a habitué of the Boar’s Head Tavern and spends a lot of time with the lively low-life to be found there, including the bawds Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, and, in his days as the dissolute young prince, Hal, the son of the usurper monarch, Henry IV.  Bloom acknowledges that Falstaff abounds with faults, but he admires him for being a vitalist –– for his zest for life, his “perpetual freshness.” He agrees with Orson Welles' opinion that the fat knight’s “goodness is like bread and wine.”

Falstaff and Prince Hal are companions in carousing and bantering except when obliged take arms against rebellious noblemen challenging the legitimacy of the reigning king. Hal and his adversary Hotspur hunger for honor. Falstaff “destroys the validity of that appetite” in a reply to Hal that pricks pride in honor and leaves it as limp as a collapsed balloon.

After Henry IV dies, Hal, now Henry V, cruelly rejects Falstaff, whose death, off stage, in Henry V, is reported poignantly by Mistress Quickly. Bloom judges Falstaff to be “the greatest wit in literature. “Falstaff is as intelligent as Hamlet,” he says. “But Hamlet is death’s ambassador while Falstaff is the embassy of life. . . I value him more since it is not easy to be old and merry. . . Sir John cures me. Is he not sweet, kind, and true? As for valor, if you take it to be audacity, age has not withered nor custom staled Falstaff’s infinite vitality.”

Just as Falstaff’s exuberant psyche infects Bloom, Bloom’s infects mine.

 

April 19, 2017

Unceasing Unacceptability

Almost daily Trump and members of his entourage exhibit ignorance, incompetence, avariciousness, and a dozen other distressing qualities. It’s hard to keep up with his offenses. Hard to keep from getting used to them. But each, like Trump’s stating that an aircraft carrier was heading toward North Korea when it was 3,500 miles away and moving in the opposite direction, reinforces the impression that Trump is either stupid or nefarious (alternate possibilities that are explored in the current issue of the journal Foreign Affairs), or, quite likely, both. We have survived one-sixteenth of Trump’s term in office. It’s not clear that we’ll survive fifteen-sixteenths more.

 

April 18, 2017

Trump’s North Korea Policy

Trump’s North Korea policy appears to be to raise Kim Jong-un’s paranoia to ever higher levels, to goad him into making bigger bombs and missiles, and to strip him of any doubt he might have that the only way to deal with America is through war.

“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Vice-President Pence declared during a visit to South Korea. Look at the fifty-nine missiles we shot at Syria! Look at the tremendous bomb we set off in Afghanistan!

An American carrier task force moved toward the North Korean coast.

Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.

“North Korea would do well not to test the resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence warned. The end of the era of “strategic patience” has arrived.

What is such bluster supposed to accomplish? It can only further hyper-radicalize this nuclear-armed Spartan state. Does anyone think that, if attacked, North Korea would not wreck massive havoc on its southern neighbor, twenty million of whose inhabitants live within range of the North’s artillery? If Kim failed to retaliate, if he were exposed as a paper tiger, his reign would end, and so would he. Attack begets attack. Escalation begets escalation.

Is a negotiated settlement with North Korea possible? That it might be is a compelling reason to try to attain one. Which Trump hasn’t, understandably. A peaceful settlement, if it is possible, would require on the part of an American president cognitive competence, wisdom, imagination, and good will.

 

April 17, 2017

Falstaff

Harold Bloom has been professor at Yale for probably longer than anyone else and is probably more steeped in Western literature than anyone else. He has written some remarkable books on poetry, literary genius, and the Western canon, including most notably on Shakespeare, whom he holds in such high esteem that he admits to “Bardolatry.”


Bloom latest project is a series of books, each on a major Shakespearean character. The first, which I’m about to read, is titled FALSTAFF –– GIVE ME LIFE. Sir John Falstaff is Bloom’s favorite character.  He is commonly viewed to be a buffoon and a rogue, but he is much deeper and more admirable than that characterization would imply, a thought I will follow up on after I finish the book.

 

April 16, 2017

Angela Merkel

My morning was brightened as I scrolled down Facebook and came upon this message from Angela Merkel: “I wish you and your families a happy and blessed Easter.” Of course, there was nothing personal in it –- it was sent to many millions of people. But I know enough of her to know she meant it. Angela Merkel is a good soul.

 

April 15, 2017

2017  --  Winter - Spring Reading  

Curious about how life works, I recently read three books by the British biochemist Nick Lane, who is not only an eminent authority on the subject, but an unusually engaging writer. The titles and subtitles of the books give a sense of what he covers, from the first stirrings of self-replicating organisms in alkaline hydrothermal events, on to LUCA, the last universal common ancestor of all life on Earth, and right up to 21st century homo sapiens and our contemporaries. Parts of these books may be technically challenging for those who haven’t taken a chemistry or biology course (a population that includes me), but any interested reader will find all three fascinating: They broadened my perspective on the world and on our place in the skein of life. I’m eager to reread The Vital Question, published just last year, but I’ll probably wait till I finish a completely different book, a copy of which is sitting beside me on the floor. More about that tomorrow.
    Oxygen -–  The Molecule That Made the World
    Life Ascending –  The Great Inventions of Evolution
    The Vital Question –- Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

 

April 14, 2017

Trump and the Risk of Nuclear War

In the years since the U.S. and the Soviet Union adopted a posture of mutual assured destruction (MAD), which has continued in the post-Soviet era and persists to this day, there have been a number of episodes where we and the Russians came close to launching nuclear-armed missiles at each other, a danger made more likely by the reckless practice, shared by both countries, of keeping missiles on hair-trigger alert. Perpetuating this danger of the ultimate apocalypse is a game of Russian roulette we and the Russians play. Every new day the risk is renewed that a false warning, a mistaken communication, a computer glitch, or some other unforeseen event could trigger the response and counter-response that would end us all.

Most of the close-calls we’ve had have been averted because, after indications of an attack, someone, either a Russian or an American, said Wait! We can’t be sure! In some cases this may have happened because a Russian thought –- The American President would never order a surprise attack! Russians had a thorough understanding of Barrack Obama’s character and temperament. They knew him well enough to know that it would be unthinkable that he would initiate a war of mass destruction. While Obama was in office, No! He wouldn’t do that! would be the likely thought of Russian officers who received a report that American missiles had been launched.

That was then, and now is now. So impulsive, so volatile, so deluded, and so unpredictable is Donald Trump that no such constraining thought would enter the mind of a Russian officer today. There are numerous reasons why Trump should be removed from office. This may be the most important.

 

April 13, 2017

Trump Team Russian Ties

Cheers for the Washington Post’s ongoing report and chart titled: “Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests.” Each update reports on salient events and shows members of the Trump team and Russians with whom they have or had ties. Each tie or event reported is one of the bits and pieces I referred to yesterday.

By the way, the Post’s list of Russians isn’t complete. For example, it doesn’t include Dimitri Rylobovlev, the “Fertilizer King” and one of the richest men in Russia and former principal stockholder of the Bank of Cyprus, the notorious money-laundering vehicle for Russian oligarchs from which our present secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, only recently resigned as vice-chairman. In 2008 Rylobovlev paid Trump what appears to have been about fifty million dollars over market value for an unoccupied moldy mansion, which Rylobovlev subsequently tore down. Since then, his private plane has been photographed on several occasions parked at regional airports contemporaneously with Trump’s plane, including as recently as this past February. Rylobovlev clearly qualifies for inclusion in the Post’s “Here’s what we know” report.

 

April 12, 2017

Every day, fresh events divert attention from the most important topic: Trump’s probable collusion with Russia in that country’s strenuous efforts to tilt the election. So far, only bits and pieces have come to public light, but there are lots of bits and lots of pieces. Last evening, the Washington Post reported that Carter Page, a former investment banker in Moscow and foreign policy adviser to Trump, was (and presumably still is) the subject of an FBI investigation, in the course of which the FBI secured surveillance warrants from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court. Such warrants are granted only when probable cause is shown that an important national security interest to the United States is involved, in this case that Page appeared to have been engaged in clandestine activities on behalf of the Russian government. In March 2016, when Trump was asked who he expected to be relying on for foreign policy advice, Page was the second person he named.

This is just another bit and piece, but there are a lot of them, and new ones keep surfacing. If they can stitched together, this country will be a lot better off.

 

April 11, 2017

Keeping up Hope

There’s still some slight and shaky cause for hope that Trump will be ejected from office before the end of his term. Two congressional committees and the FBI are continuing to investigate the his campaign’s probable collusion with Russia in that country’s efforts to tilt the election.  A lot depends on whether James Comey, the FBI director, is committed to bringing the truth to light. The biggest blockade to truth is the conspiracy of silence among the many members of the Trump inner circle who have had intriguing relationships with Russian oligarchs and associates of Vladimir Putin. May the whole story come out before it's too late.

 

April 10,  2017

Shock and Awe Redux

Checking some websites over the weekend, I came across this item in the Huffington Post:

“Watch Cable News Fawn over Trump’s Syria Strike.”

I did not click on it. I decidedly did not want to watch cable news fawn over Trump’s Syria strike, particularly because I had recently read this in a Washington Post article:

“Brian Williams, on MSNBC, seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word ‘beautiful’ three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons’ — without apparent irony.”

More recently I ran across this quote in a Post column by Anne Applebaum:

“A CNN pundit and Post columnist declared that Trump, with this bombing raid, ‘became president of the United States.’”

Comments like this echo the failure of the media to illuminate what was happening leading up to the Bush - Cheney invasion of Iraq in 2003 and in treating Clinton’s email lapses as if as if they were of the same order as Trump’s ignorance, mendaciousness, mean-spiritedness, and gross incompetence.

Ms. Applebaum regards such dreck as I do. Trump was spectacularly unfit to be president before he ordered the attack. Just because it’s arguable that a qualified and honorable president might have reacted similarly is not a conjecture that suddenly legitimizes Trump or reveals a heretofore hidden admirable quality of character. The state of the Union is, if anything, more perilous than it was a week ago. There’s no beauty in that.

 

April 8 and 9, 2017

Syria

Firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syrian airbase this past week was largely a symbolic act. Russia was given advance warning, the Russians warned the Syrians, and apparently damage was so limited that Syrian jets were using the runways within 24 hours after the attack.

Since he first fired on peaceful protestors in 2011, initiating a civil war, Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, bombed hospitals, used barrel bombs designed to maximize casualties, and created a massive refugee problem, causing immense suffering, discontenting neighboring and European countries, and contributing to the destabilization of the European Union. In 2013, Assad killed and injured hundreds of people in a poison gas attack, which he reprised this past week. Assad is a war criminal and a scourge on the Earth who should be captured, tried, and convicted for his monstrous acts.

Supporting Assad and his military apparatus are Iran, Iran’s proxy, the Lebanon-based militia, Hezbollah, and Russia, which maintains port facilities and an air base in the country and apparently has forces embedded with Assad’s and whose efforts lately helped Assad retake the key city of Aleppo. Opposing Assad are Jihadist-infected rebels, a major element of which, the self-declared Islamist state, ISIS, still occupies areas of eastern Syria and Iraq. Aiding the rebels, including its extremist elements, are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Sunni states. In the mix are the Kurds, who have been trying to solidify their control of areas of northern Syria and Iraq. Turkey is also opposed to Assad, but mainly intent on bombing and suppressing the Kurds. The United States has been active in trying to destroy ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria, but had not taken any action against the Assad regime prior to the Tomahawk missile attack this past week.

For years, until the latest poison gas attack, Trump had been resolutely opposed to taking action against Assad. After seeing pictures of the injured and dead, he decided to act. In doing so, he sent a message, but, coupled with other indications, an unsatisfying one: Assad can continue to butcher his people, but shouldn’t use poison gas.

The circumstances in Syria are such that there is little the U.S. can do militarily without precipitating a major war, including with Russia, at a time when Trump and his farrago of advisers have been blustering at Iran, issuing cryptic threats to North Korea, and continuing the war in Afghanistan and anti-ISIS operations in Yemen and in Africa. Working imaginatively and boldly to try to achieve a diplomatic solution, necessarily with something in it for all parties, which would involve offering massive relief and rehabilitation aid for ravaged Syria and taking in up to a hundred thousand Syrian refugees, is probably what the U.S. should do, because it is the best and most noble thing it can do, though it certainly won’t.

 

April 7, 2017

The Supreme Court

Gorsuch looks good for twenty to thirty years on the Court. Kennedy will likely retire within the next three years and be replaced by a someone much less creditable, not improbably someone as scary as Jeff Sessions. At best, the result would be a solidly right-wing Court, subject possibly to some rare instances of independent thinking by John Roberts, who offended many Republicans by voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

All four liberal justices will try to stay on the Court at least until 2021, hoping that a Democrat will be elected to replace Trump. May they enjoy the best of health! Otherwise, yet another right-winger or two will be seated, ensuring that the Court will serve for decades as an instrument of the Republican Party, one almost as reliable as Fox News.

 

April 6, 2017

Trump’s modus operandi –– an example.

1  In 2013, Bashar al-Assad adds chemical weapons to his repertoire of ways of inflicting horror and death on his own people.

2.   In a multitude of tweets, Trump urges the U.S. government not to take military action in Syria.

3.  President Obama asks Congress for authority to take military action.

4.  Congress neither gives Obama authority, nor denies it, choosing to ignore the issue instead.

5.  Trump continues to advocate that no action be taken against Assad throughout the campaign up until recent days.

5.  Assad again uses chemical weapons against his own people.

6.  Trump blames Obama for failing to take action against Assad.

 

 

April 5, 2017

Proving that Trump and his confederates collaborated with Russia in its efforts to tilt the election to Trump is akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle with a huge number of pieces. You find more and more that fit together. It’s slow going even though you’ve fitted enough pieces together so you’re getting a good idea of how the final picture will look. Meanwhile, whenever he has a chance, Trump brushes pieces under the table and drops in ones from other puzzles to confuse you. He doesn’t want you to put the picture together, because it’s a high definition image of his indescribingly sickening face.

 

April 4, 2017

Trump / Russia

The duration, intensity, timing, and circumstances of relationships between Trump and his confederates and Russia and Russian oligarchs suggest that Trump campaign collusion to tilt the election to Trump is all but certain. There’s evidence of continuing collusion as well. Given the conspicuous disinclination of Trump and his confederates and Republican members of Congress, and possibly even the F.B.I., to allow investigations to be pursued to conclusions, it seems unlikely that the truth will out and that Trump will be removed from office before the 2020 election.

Each month until then, Trump will try to tighten his grip. Democrats must work as never before, and may need some luck as well, if America is to retake its place as a model of democracy for the world. In the space of a few months our nation has taken on an an ugly face. If, despite big-money bankrolling of Republican politicians, propagandizing by public relations teams and right-wing media, continuing Russian meddling, and voting restriction practices and gerrymandering instituted by Republican-controlled state governments, Democrats can’t take control of at least one house of Congress or the White House by the 2021, our nation’s character will likely be forever transformed.

 

 

April 3 2017

Trump / Russia links

Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became so alarmed at the progress his committee was making in investigating Russian-Trump campaign links that he halted its work. Separate investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the F.B.I. continue. Given the multiplicity and intensity of involvements between Russia and Russian oligarchs and Trump and members of his cabinet and inner circle, it is all but certain that a great deal of illegal, and even treasonous, activity took place. In the coming months, some people will be trying to uncover it, while others, including the president and the attorney general, are trying to cover it up.

 

 

 

April 2, 2017

Today I woke up thinking, "Why do Republican members of Congress let him get way with it?” Within the hour I came across a totally illuminating article by Michelle Goldberg in Slate that squarely addresses the question. “Before Trump’s election,” she writes, “I thought I had a low opinion of Republican members of Congress. Yet it turns out I had much more faith in them than I realized, because I’ve been stupefied by their passivity in the face of Trump’s corruption and incompetence.”
 
This redoubtable journalist investigated why she had been so naive. I recommend you read her article. The gist is that a great many Republican members of Congress are appalled by Trump, but are afraid to say so publicly. They are afraid that Trump will tweet at them; they are afraid of right-wing criticism; they are afraid of far-right wing wrath; they are afraid they would lose support of big donors; they are afraid they would lose primary contests. Someday, in a book titled Profiles in Cowardice, their story may be told

 

 

April 1, 2017


Tillerson


In the face of rising popularity of a credible opposition candidate and unexpected protests, Putin has tightened his despotic grip, destroying potential challengers and squashing demonstrations. Meanwhile, our Secretary of State, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who forged a personal alliance with Putin when he was working out gigantic oil deals with him, remains silent, as, of course, does Trump. It's offical: The U.S. is no longer concerned with political freedom or human rights.

 

 

 

March 31, 2017

 

Flynn

Michael Flynn’s offer to testify in exchange for being granted immunity is a promising development. No doubt Flynn is guilty of one or more serious crimes. The thought that he would escape prosecution is not a happy one, but this would be a small price to pay if the process exposed to daylight the whole structure of relationships between Trump and his cabal and Putin and his cabal. There is no assurance that Flynn’s testimony will accomplish that goal, but if competently extracted, it will, at the least, materially advance the inquiry.

Of course, immunity should only be granted as to Flynn’s acts prior to his testimony. When he testifies, he must fear being prosecuted for perjury if he lies. It’s doubtful that he’ll be more forthcoming than is necessary to save his own skin. For that reason, the investigating body, most likely the Senate Intelligence Committee, must be as prepared as possible before grilling him. They need to know exactly what questions to ask and which ones he can’t refuse to answer.

 

 

March 30, 2017

Checks and Balances


What would our nation’s founders have said, back in 1787, if they had been asked, “Suppose, with the help of the dictator of a powerful adversary of the United States, an unprincipled, mendacious, narcissistic demagogue intent on establishing a kleptocratic autocracy fooled enough people to get elected president and immediately began acting against the country’s best interests, would the Constitution you are drafting in Philadelphia save America from despotism?”

The answer would have come back: “This is just the sort of case we have worried about, and for that reason we have devised a system with three branches of government, each to be a check and balance against the others. In the case you describe, Congress would have ample grounds to impeach the president and would swiftly remove him from office.”

 

 

March 29, 2017

 

Nunes

The FBI is investigating credible evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign operatives and Russia in the course of Russia’s strenuous efforts to tilt the election to Trump. A lot of circumstantial evidence and some direct evidence of culpability of Trump’s close associates has turned up. Two Congressional committees began investigating these claims. In response, the Trump administration tried to confuse and deflect the issue, for example by spinning out unsupportable accusations such as Trump’s infamous Obama-wiretapped-me tweet.

Meanwhile, evidence of Trump team / Russian collusion continued to pile up, alarming Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is a faithful ally of Trump and was a member of the Trump transition team. Nunes reacted by undermining, obfuscating, and, finally halting the Committee’s investigation completely.

Calls for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation have been wholly in order. Given his role in the Trump campaign, there is no way he could lead an objective investigation. Nunes hasn’t even argued that he would fulfill his responsibility without fear or favor, he simply commented that Democrats’ concerns about his impartiality were “their problem.”

Martin Luther King said that he looked forward “to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If that day had come, Devin Nunes would be held in universal contempt.

 

 

March 28, 2017

A new book titled The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution deservedly got front page treatment in this past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. The author, Vanderbilt Law professor Ganesh Sitaraman, explains why the kind of extreme income inequality that presently exists in America isn’t just unfair, and in many cases cruel, it threatens the foundations of our government –– our continuance as a great democracy.

It’s a common theme of history that, as income inequality becomes increasingly extreme, the poor become increasingly frustrated and resentful, and therefore more vulnerable to a demagogue who promises to make things better for everybody, but once in power becomes a tyrant.

Now we’re witnessing how, despite Trump’s promises to help less fortunate Americans, he has no compunction about grinding  them into the dirt in order to benefit himself, his family, and his coterie of greedy enablers. If those who love this country can’t get political control of it by 2020, Trump will almost certainly complete his life mission of turning it into into a kleptocratic autocracy, in the course of which he will get even richer than Vladimir Putin.

 

 

March 27, 2017


Today’s Washington Post has an excellent article on Trump’s proposed elimination of EPA cleanup programs for Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. To adequately characterize the mind (Trump’s) that proposes to cancel these programs requires every pejorative adjective in the dictionary.

 

March 26, 2017

Anyone wishing to write critically of Trump and his enablers has to perform triage in deciding what to decry. I recently read something that upset me particularly, though in a way it’s less urgent than some other pressing concerns, such as the obstruction by Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of investigation into probable collusion of Trump and his enablers with the Russian government. What occasioned my most recent distress –– only one of countless acts of Trump in hacking away at responsible government –– was the depraved gutting of the EPA, in particular in eliminating programs to clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

"Clean up," in this case, means, at the least, serious efforts to reduce pollution in the great bay that reaches into the heart of our country and in the most magnificent assemblage of lakes in the world, stewardship of which the United States shares with Canada.

 

Tough, Canada. We’re the greatest, and we don’t give a damn.

 

 

 

March  25, 2017
 
Prediction:

If Western civilization survives another fifty years, within that span the Met will stage a sold-out performance of the world premiere of the opera Trump. Act I will end with an aria performed by the leading tenor of the day and “invested with insuperable pathos,” as one critic will write, titled, “Why Could I Not Get the Health Care Deal Through?”

 

 

March 24, 2017


The tragedy of the Titanic was not that the ship’s hull was sheared by the projecting edge of an iceberg. It lay in the brain of the captain, whose obsession with breaking the speed record excluded contradictory thought. Some of the ship’s officers that night, and passengers as well, must have felt apprehensive as the ship kept its course and speed through the cold, dark, iceberg-strewn sea.

Our ship of state churns grandly through the waves. Some members of Congress feel apprehensive these days, and ordinary citizens as well. The Titanic’s captain was a distinguished gentleman, thoroughly experienced in the ways of ships and of the sea. Ours
is a stuffed suit with the aspect of a crowing rooster and mind of a ill-tempered child.

 

 

 

March 23, 2017

Copied below is an email I sent Senator Cory Gardner (R. Colo.) last evening. I don’t expect him to be persuaded by me, but I hope that at some point he’ll decide that he’s paying too high a political price by continuing to support Trump. The more and the harder people keep pressuring him, the sooner that point will come. If I make Senator Gardner feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with my remark, good for him.
 
Dear Mr. Gardner

Surely, it's evident to you by now that Trump's legitimacy as president has been called into grave question. I urge you to be a leader and demand postponement of the Neil Gorsuch confirmation until the issue of the Trump / Russian connection is resolved. To have watched Rep. Nunes's behavior today ––  to have witnessed his suspect visit to the White House and to have listened to his multiple confused and confusing comments, is enough to know that that, at this point, to march lockstep with Trump is a failure of character.

Counting on you,

 

 

 

March 22, 2017


How interesting it would be to look into the mind of Dimitri Rylobovlev, the “fertilizer king” and possibly the second richest man in Russia. If Rylobovlev isn’t available to let us peek into his mind, billionaire Wilbur Ross, our new Secretary of Commerce, might help us see into it, because Ross bought into the Bank of Cyprus, known for its money-laundering services for Russian oligarchs, when Rylobovlev was its largest stockholder. I don’t know how intensively Rylobovlev remained active in the Bank’s affairs after Ross arrived, only that Ross and Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman with close ties to Putin who bought shares in the Bank in 2014, about the same time as Ross did, served as co-vice-chairmen of the Bank until Ross resigned after being confirmed to his cabinet post.  

In any case, there’s a good chance that Ross knows enough about Rylobovlev to know why Rylobovlev’s private plane was in a position to be photographed parked at airports in Concord, North Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, Burbank California, and, just last month, in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the same time Trump’s plane was at the same airport, and Ross might also know why in 2008 Rylobovlev paid Trump what appears to have been about fifty million dollars over market value for an unoccupied moldy mansion, which Rylobovlev subsequently tore down, which might make anyone wonder what was as smart a businessman as Rylovovlev thinking?

There are others besides Wilbur Ross who might be able to help us see into Rylobovlev’s mind, and into quite a number of other minds as well. If we could view the whole lot of them it would be quite a spectacle.

 

 

 

March 21, 2017

 

Comey

 

How interesting it would be to look into the mind of FBI Director James Comey. He seems to be dedicated to getting to the bottom of the big question: Did Trump collude with the Russians in their strenuous efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s favor? A question looms, however. Is Comey sincere? Fixed in our memories is his announcement a few days before the election that in connection with the FBI’s investigation of possible derelictions of Anthony Weiner, the husband of a top Hillary Clinton advisor, the FBI was investigating an additional cache of Hillary’s emails even though there was no indication that they showed any wrongdoing on her part. Comey could not have been unaware that his announcement would have a psychological effect that would favor Trump. Given what we now know about what Comey knew, but didn’t publicize, about Russia’s involvement in the campaign and connections between Trump people and the Russians, Comey’s Weiner related email investigation announcement is indefensible as a neutral effort to keep the public informed.

In view of this history, Comey can’t be trusted, which is another reason the nation needs (though, sadly, probably won’t get) a select bi-partisan committee and special prosecutor with full subpoena powers to pursue this matter. This said, Comey appears to be a complex person. It is not impossible that, though in the past he favored Trump, he now sees Trump for the abomination Trump is. Comey may have resolved to repair the damage he caused. He may have resolved to be a good guy.

 

 

 

March 20, 2017

I can’t think of anything more true and more meaningful than the observation
quoted below, so I’ll let it serve as my blog today:

“If a budget can be a portrait of a soul, then this president’s is arid and shriveled. It is filled with contempt for the needy. Here is a man dismissive of the arts, the environment, the humanities, diplomacy, peacekeeping, science, public education and civilian national service — in short, civilization itself.”
                                                               Roger Cohen  (New York Times op-ed)

 

 

 

March 19, 2017

 

Checks, Balances, and Justice

The U.S.Constitution establishes the three branches of the federal government, each to serve as a check and balance against the other two, a safeguard against tyranny. One feature of this system is that courts can only make decisions on cases and controversies brought before them. Suppose a high official has committed a federal crime. It’s up to the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute him or her. The president doesn’t want this to happen. Out with Sally Yates and Preet Bharara. In with Jeff Sessions. There.

 

March 18, 2017


Getting on with Important Business

A couple of weeks ago, though it feels like a longtime feature of American history, Trump asserted that Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower prior to the election. Trump provided no hint of evidence for this claim, and it has been universally discredited, even by Fox News, yet he continues to reiterate it, yesterday oafishly alluding to it in the presence of Angela Merkel and claiming that Obama got Britain to do it.

Trump is deeply worried about the investigations into relationships between Russians and people in Trump’s campaign while Russia was working to tilt the election in his favor. His demand that committees investigating his Russian connections also investigate his being wiretapped was a typical exercise in obfuscation and diversion.

Some would have it: “There’s Trump for you. He does this kind of thing, but, you know, it won him the election. Let’s get on with important business.” This attitude is yet another reason why removing Trump from office is our highest priority. It’s America’s most important business.

 

 

 

March 17,  2017


Preview:

1.  The Republican leadership passes a spectacularly horrible health care bill to replace Obamacare.

2.  Trump enthusiastically endorses it.

3. The Republican leadership, aware of political downsides to the bill, amends it to pass a somewhat less spectacularly horrible health care bill.

4. Trump endorses it, and signs it into law.

5.  The law proves to be disastrous.

6. Trump says that if Congress had stuck with the first bill that he had enthusiastically endorsed, the outcome would have been great and beautiful; blames those who caved in to weak losers.


 

 

March 16, 2017


Letter sent to Congressional Representative Scott Tipton (R. Colorado)


Dear Mr. Tipton:


Even if I were a Republican, I’d urge you to vote against the replacement for Obamacare proposed by the Republican House leadership. It can’t be good for the Republican Party to wear the albatross of taking away health care insurance from 24 million people, producing savings that will mostly evaporate in tax breaks for rich people and big corporations.

 

Republicans did well in 2016 because events converged in a perfect storm that worked in their favor, the focus on Hillary’s emails to give just one example. It would be folly to count on such luck again. In the space of the last few months Trump has confirmed the worst fears anyone had about him. In an obvious diversionary tactic, he leaked two pages of his 11-year-old tax returns. They may be the only ones that wouldn’t embarrass him.

 

A number of Republicans in Congress are beginning to take exception to the behavior of this narcissistic, mean-spirited, mendacious man. By a year from now the mood of the country won’t resemble what it was in November 2016. Those marching lock-step with Trump are heading off a cliff. If you think deeply about this historical moment, you won’t be among them.


 

March 15, 2017

 

North Korea–– The Crisis is Now

The U.S. has had mutual assured destruction (MAD) status for decades with Russia and China. During this period there were several occasions when we were lucky to avoid a nuclear exchange. North Korea clearly aspires to achieve MAD status with the United States. Within a few years, it may have a hundred nuclear bombs and be capable of delivering nuclear-armed missiles that can strike targets in continental U.S. We need to address this threat without delay. Extraordinary efforts must be made to deal with it.

A coalition of the U.S., China, South Korea, and Japan must make Kim Jong-un an offer he can’t refuse. To secure China’s cooperation, China and South Korea must both be satisfied that North Korea won’t implode into a state of anarchy and mass famine, resulting in millions of desperate North Koreans streaming into neighboring countries.

The offer to Kim should be of a plan for peace that he can present to his people, not just without losing face, but as a tremendous achievement on his part. And indeed, it would be! His imperial status and basic military structure would not be disturbed.

What follows is my idea of guideposts for the sorts of treaty provisions needed if agreement and compliance by all parties is to be achieved:


     (1) a subsidiary treaty will be signed between North Korea and South Korea, supplanting the armistice existing between the countries since 1953;
     (2) North Korea will cease further development of nuclear arms and missiles, compliance to be continually verified without reservation by U.N. inspectors,
and will conduct no further missile or nuclear bomb testing;
     (3) North Korea will institute and maintain humane treatment of all prisoners, this provision to be monitored by U.N.inspectors;
    (4) North Korean officials will be given immunity from prosecution for past crimes against humanity;
     (5) the current regime of sanctions against North Korea will be lifted;
     (6) a relief program will be instituted to assure adequate food supplies for all North Koreans;
     (7)  a “Marshall plan” for economic and agricultural development for North Korea will be instituted with all deliberate speed;
     (8) the U.S. and South Korea will suspend building anti-missile defenses in
South Korea and will cease any further joint military exercises;
     (9) Kim Jong-un and his entourage will retain power as long as he and the North Korean people so choose, and coalition members will take no acts intended to destabilize the North Korean government;
    (10) the treaty will include provisions to deter and deal with lapses or breaches by any party.

 

 

 

March 14, 2017


Last evening Bernie Sanders and Chris Hayes held a “town hall” in McDowell County, West Virginia, the heart of coal country and one of the poorest counties in the country. Trump won there by a landslide. The area is depressed economically largely because the coal industry has been in decline for many years. Coal mining jobs have gotten scarcer, and what one coal minor called “secondary jobs,” the kind you can get if you’re lucky after losing your coal mining job, don’t pay for more than bare subsistence, if that. Another thing troublesome in McDowell County is that the infrastructure is substandard and there’s a dearth of public services. Drugs are a problem, and there’s a lack of treatment centers. People at the town hall who were given the microphone and had a chance to express their thoughts were articulate in describing their difficulties.

Trump promised he would help people like this: he’d bring the coal jobs back. No wonder so many voted for him. Hillary offered no such hope. She characterized Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” There were people at the town hall who may not have liked being spoken of that way.

What has Trump done –– what will he do  –– to fulfill his promises to these people? He claims he has already helped them dramatically! He abolished the Stream Protection Rule, thereby giving the green light to coal companies and other industries to dump toxic waste into water courses, thereby increasing health hazards for everyone in McDowell County. That's not helping them. Could Trump’s action have had a beneficial effect as well? It will probably save many extractive industries tens of millions of dollars, increasing their annual profits by as much as one or two percent. That’s why such companies and their richest stockholders finance political campaigns of politicians willing to trash the environment.

It would seem that if you are saving money by wantonly dumping waste, it’s because you don’t need to pay for less harmful and more expensive disposal services. Wouldn’t you need to hire people more people to dump waste carefully than to dump waste recklessly? No, that’s not why more people would be hired by the reckless waste dumpers, it’s because the companies saving money that way will use it to invest in job-creating activities. That's the story they'll tell you. It's a version of the trickle down theory. Make the rich richer. and there will be more money to trickle down to ordinary people. It’s all hokum. Only occasional drops trickle here and there, worth about as much as ones seeping through the ceiling over a coal miner’s head.

 

 

March 13, 2017

Are we living in an autocracy yet?

A good way to look at this question is to compare the state of affairs in Russia with that in the United States. Each of these countries is nominally a democracy. They are alike in having constitutions that establish three branches of government, provide for the election of the president and members of legislatures, and purport to guarantee human rights. In both systems the president’s term is limited, to four years in the U.S. and six in Russia, and the president can impeached and removed from office for serious crimes.

Although ample grounds exist for impeachment of the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, most members of Russian legislative bodies have deferred to him for many years. He has shut down independent media outlets, had opponents and journalists jailed, exiled, and killed, and concocted phony criminal cases against political opponents to disqualify them from running against him. Putin is an autocrat. Russia is an autocracy.

What about our country? Ample grounds exist for impeachment of Donald Trump, but most members of Congress have held back from removing him from office. That is chilling in itself. Thankfully, Trump’s powers are more limited than Putin’s. Congress is roiled with divisions and not yet reduced to being just a rubber stamp. Trump continually attempts to discredit elements of the media that are not appreciative of him, but independent journalism in the United States is not as easily suppressed as it is in Russia. The Supreme Court of the United States has debased itself to some extent by handing down decisions tilting election outcomes to the right, but the U.S. judicial system is more robust than Russia’s, and the principle of judicial review less vulnerable. Despite having powerful allies in the media, preeminently Fox News, Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the independent media have had only moderate success.

It’s not clear how Putin-like Trump would be if he could get away with it, but it’s telling that his chief advisor, Steve Bannon, evidences no moral scruples in pursuing his ambitions. If Trump were more principled than Bannon, he would not keep Bannon as a chief advisor. Trump is aspiring autocrat. At present, America is drifting toward becoming a Putin-style autocracy.

 

 

 

March 12, 2017

Trump: Collusion with Russia? / Direct Evidence and Circumstantial Evidence.

One thing that caused me to sit up and take notice in law school was when a professor said that, even if you don’t have direct evidence, you can convict a suspect if you have enough circumstantial evidence. This is true because “proof” is basically about probabilities. To secure a conviction in a criminal case, the trier of fact –- generally the jury –– must find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It must be very highly probable that the defendant is guilty to gain a conviction. Direct evidence is more likely to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt than circumstantial evidence.

As to the issue of Trump’s asserted collusion with Russia, an example of direct evidence would be an authentic video recording of Trump saying to Putin that if Putin would help him win the election against Clinton, Trump would do something far out of the ordinary, namely nominate a good friend of Putin for Secretary of State and cut the State Department budget by 37% (which is what, among other Putin-friendly things, Trump has actually done). That piece of direct evidence could be sufficient to warrant a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump is guilty of treason. For the present, no such direct evidence has turned up.

An interesting thing about circumstantial evidence is that you can have a case in which each bit of evidence creates only a small possibility that the defendant is guilty, and you find additional bits of evidence, each similarly creating a small possibility that the defendant is guilty, and enough small probabilities, taken together, create a much larger probability. Small possibilities in aggregate may add up to an overwhelming likelihood that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Imagine in a criminal case in which the only evidence supporting a conviction is circumstantial. Counsel for the defense will try to focus on the pieces of circumstantial evidence individually, pointing out how each one falls short of amounting to proof of guilt. The prosecutor will argue that nonetheless, considered together, incriminating pieces of evidence establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As Justice O. W. Holmes, Jr said, “It is a fallacy to break the faggot stick by stick.”

These principles are salient in any investigation as to whether Trump colluded with Russia in Russia’s efforts to tilt the election in favor of Trump.

 

 

March 11, 2017


As of the moment we have no direct evidence that Trump colluded with the Russian government in its interference with the U.S. election, but a great deal of circumstantial evidence to that effect has come to light. To give one example: an official of the Republican National Committee has stated that before the election Trump made only one request concerning the Republican Party platform: that it be changed by striking language asserting that the United States should supply arms to the government of the Ukraine. This fact is circumstantial evidence that Trump colluded with Russia, though, taken alone, it falls far short of proving that proposition beyond a reasonable doubt.

The thing is: Enough such pieces of circumstantial evidence have come to light so that there can now be no doubt that we need a bi-partisan, independent, fully empowered investigation of the relationship between Russia and Trump and those active on his behalf. Failure by Congress to convene such a commission or appoint an independent special prosecutor will signal to the world, and to ourselves, that the United States is a nation where the president is above the law: that our country is now an autocracy.

 

 

March 10, 2017

 

Just a reminder:

 

“Fight against normalization of the unacceptable.”
                                       Christiane Annanpoor

 

 

March 9, 2013

A  crisis of unparalleled peril with North Korea becomes more and more likely. Kim Jong-un, the hysterically jingoistic leader of that country, is bent on developing missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads to continental United States. Each week he makes progress toward that end. We’ve had mutual assured destruction (MAD) status with Russia and China for decades. It’s a club North Korea is eager to join.

Wake up Republicans! Take time off from ending oppressive regulations and repealing crippling taxes to impeach Trump. There are plenty of grounds for removing him. Ahead of our ship of state lie jagged reefs and treacherous shoals. Our narcissistic impulsive captain prowls wild-eyed on the bridge, ever vigilant . . . to tweet. For love of party, country, compatriots, constituents, friends, your families, and yourself, return him to his towers and his palaces. The world will be instantly safer when you do.

 

 

 

March 8, 2017

 

News item: “China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks. . .” 

News item: “North Korea launched four ballistic missiles from its long-range rocket launch site on Monday morning.”

 

Impeaching Trump would be easy as pie if Republicans in Congress had the will. There’s plenty of reason why they should. Whether you are a conservative or a progressive, it’s plain to see that Trump is morally and mentally unfit. His presence in the White House threatens American democracy and even our existence. 

 

 

 

March 7, 2017

An article in today’s New York Times headlined “New Commerce Secretary Was No Friend of Russians at Cyprus Bank” states: “Wilbur Ross’s interactions with Russians at the Bank of Cyprus, where he was vice chairman, suggest he was more interested in forcing them out than working with them.”

Andrew Higgins, the Times reporter who wrote this story, may have not have learned as much as there was to be learned. He writes further: “When Wilbur L. Ross, a billionaire American investor, bought shares in the Bank of Cyprus three years ago, he found himself part owner of a big but failing bank with a vice chairman who used to work with Vladimir V. Putin in the Leningrad K.G.B. and five other Russians on its board.”

“found himself”? What a shock it must have been for Ross, after making such a large investment that he became one of the principal owners of the Bank  –- thereupon becoming co-Vice Chairman ––  to “find himself” on a board full of Russians, including a co-vice-chairman of the Bank who, Higgins writes, was “Mr. Putin’s former K.G.B. colleague, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky.”

It should not have been a shock to such an astute, experienced, and worldly investor as Wilbur Ross. The Bank of Cyprus had for some time been a money-laundering operation for Russian oligarchs par excellence. Whatever shock it was, Ross got over it. According to Higgins, Ross continued to serve for a period as co-vice chairman of the bank along with Putin pal co-vice chairman Strzhalkovsky..

This surprised me. I had thought it was not Strzhalkovsky, who was co-chairman along with Ross, but Dimitri Rybolovlev, the “fertilizer king,” the most likely candidate, after Putin, for the title “richest man in Russia.” Maybe he was a co-chairman too. I have no information that there were only two people holding that title. In any event, Rybolovlev was in the picture. Higgins writes that “for a time Mr. Rybolovlev was the biggest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus,” though his investment declined by $600,000,000 in 2013, when “the island’s banking system nearly collapsed.”

    Higgins states that, although the other Russians had close ties to the Kremlin, Rybolovlev did not. How surprising that all the other Russians involved in the Bank had close ties with Putin, but the Russian who was the largest shareholder didn’t! Where did that notion come from? Higgins doesn’t say explicitly, but it appears to have come from Andreas Neocleous, the founder and chairman of the biggest law firm in Cyprus, which bears his name and has many Russian clients, including Ryboloblev.

Is it possible that the lawyer for a bunch of Russians, including Rybolovlev, had a motive for telling a New York Times reporter that all the Russians who were booted out after Ross arrived had good relations with the Kremlin, but Rybolovlev, who continued to be involved with the Bank, did not?

At any rate, the article goes on to say that, rather than allowing himself to become a colleague of these Russian characters, Mr. Ross vanquished all of them. Or almost all. Higgins doesn’t address what Rylobovlev’s continuing role was after Ross arrived, but he does mention another remaining Russian at the Bank, “Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman who bought shares in 2014, around the same time as Mr. Ross.” Higgins also mentions that Vekselberg has good relations with the Kremlin and that he controls a company that is now the biggest single Bank of Cyprus shareholder.”

 Can we trust Mr. Vekselberg, knowing that in the present era having good relations with the Kremlin is identical with having good relations with Putin. Yes, Higgins implies, because Mr. Vekselberg “has a long record of actually doing real business.”

 In these parlous times, this is a character endorsement.

Mr. Ross only resigned as co-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus after being  confirmed as Secretary of Commerce. The headline for Times article would have been more accurate if it had read: “New Commerce Secretary Was No Friend of Russians at Cyprus Bank except for the Former Largest Shareholder and Present Largest Shareholder.”

Higgins’s article does not address the question of why over the last few years, Rylobovlev’s private jet was photographed parked at one of several U.S. regional airports where Trump’s jet was parked at the same time, including most recently last February 11, at the Palm Beach International airport while Trump was visiting his Palm Beach palace known as Mar-a-Lago, nor does he explore why Rylobovlev purchased a moldy mansion in Palm Beach from Trump in 2014 for what was apparently about $50,000,000 above fair market value.

 

 

March 6, 2017

The question nags at me. What is the motivation of the Koch brothers and their allies to cripple the EPA and roll back regulations that keep air and water pollution in check. Why, for example, did they encourage Trump to install an EPA director who is hostile to the EPA and sign an order ending the Stream Protection Rule, thereby making it okay to dump toxic chemicals in waterways?

The Koch brothers have a net worth in the neighborhood of 100 billion dollars. Some of their companies may save a few million bucks by dumping toxic chemicals in water courses. The result might be that in a few years the Koch brothers might be worth something like 110.05 billion dollars rather than only 110.03 billion dollars. Why isn’t it worth something to them to help to improve the nation’s water and air quality instead of endangering people’s health and despoiling the ecosystem? I’ve read something about their background, and their pathological abhorrence of government regulations, but I still can’t figure it out.

And what about all the politicians of both parties who accept campaign donations and perks from fossil fuel interests, knowing that if they vote the “right way” on environmental issues, hefty donations will keep flowing. Some of them, when they do this, may feel a little twinge in the region of the brain where conscience resides. That’s not enough of a response to save American democracy, or our health, or the remnants of the natural world that once was.

 

 

 

March 5, 2017

Trump and Russia: Probabilities and Certainties, continued

As more and more facts come to light, it’s becoming more and more probable that Trump colluded with the Russian government in its attempt to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. Thanks to the surveillance work of David Kay Johnston and his associates, we have photographs and other documentation that a few days before the election last November, Trump held a campaign event in Concord, North Carolina. Parked not far from Trump’s private jet at the Concord airport was the private jet of the close associate of Vladimir Putin, the super oligarch Dimitri Rybolovlev, “the fertilizer king.” Shortly afterward, the same two planes were photographed parked at the Charlotte, N.C. airport, an odd coincidence, as was the proximity of the same two planes on other occasions at airports in Las Vegas, Burbank and, last February 11, while Trump was visiting his place at Palm Beach, at the Palm Beach International airport.

What is the significance of such a high number of times that Trump’s plane and Rybolovlev’s plane were parked at the same time at the same airports over the past few years? How probable is it that Trump has a close ongoing relationship with the fertilizer king? Multiplying this many coincidences of this degree of unlikelihood yields a probability approaching absolute certainty.

To believe Trump, he and the fertilizer king have never met, even though Rybolovlev was the man who paid Trump $100,000,000 for the moldy mansion in Palm Beach, which seems all the more odd since Trump’s billionaire good friend and our new Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, is a co-vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, whose other co-vice chairman is . . . Dimitri Rybolovlev.

The Republican-controlled Congress agrees with Trump that his Russian connections before and after his election should not be seriously investigated. This is understandable. The results might have adverse political effects. What else counts?

 

 

March 4, 2017

 

Trump and Russia: Probabilities and Certainties

The other night Rachel Maddow provided some background on Dmitry Rybolovlev. He’s a fellow worth knowing about, a close associate of Putin, a favored oligarch rather than the kind who gets ushered out of the country, or worse. Rybolovlev is known as the “fertilizer king.” It’s a good bet he’s the richest man in Russia after Putin. He has a record of buying tremendously expensive properties throughout the world, including a moldy mansion in Palm Beach he bought from Trump for $100,000,000 even though Trump paid only about $40,000,000 for it a couple of years earlier and let it sit idle until the fertilizer king happened to buy it. Apparently
Rybolovlev never read The Art of of the Deal –– he so overpaid for this property. It’s almost as if he made about a $50,000,000 gift to Trump! Trump says he never met him.

There are a lot of good people in this country doing a lot of good and imaginative work. One such person is David Kay Johnston, who, among other investigatory activities, keeps track of where various gazillionaires, like the fertilizer king, travel on their private jets.

                                                                                to be continued tomorrow

 

 

 

March 3, 2017

In a Washington Post piece a lawyer argues that an independent 9/11-style commission would be preferable to appointing a special prosecutor for investigating the Trump campaign’s Russian involvement. Apparently an investigation by a special prosecutor works like a grand jury investigation, its findings kept secret unless they emerge in the course of a trial after an indictment. The author speculates that because sources in Russia could not be successfully subpoenaed, indictments are unlikely even if newsworthy politically consequential nefarious doings are exposed. The question is probably moot. The Republican-controlled Congress is bent on pretending that Trump has nothing to hide.

 

 

March 2, 2017

 

America in Peril

 

Almost all politicians would say that the U.S. Constitution, as amended, is a magnificent document. In establishing three co-equal and independent branches of government, the founders set in place checks and balances of power that provide a strong bulwark against what they most feared –– tyranny. As has often been noted, however, the Constitution is a piece of paper. Its vitality, its efficacy, is dependent to a substantial degree on the honesty, good will, and patriotism of those who swear to uphold it, patriotism, of course, having nothing to do with doctrines such as “America First,” but with commitment to the ideals the Constitution reflects.

Thus, if a president is elected who shows every indication of being unbalanced, dishonest, ignorant, mean, narcissistic, and desirous of converting our country into an autocracy, members of the other branches of government have a duty to check him, to thwart his ambition to be above the law. Thus far during Trump’s term in office, the Republican-controlled Congress has shirked this duty in a number of instances, most egregiously, in my opinion, in refusing to appoint an independent prosecutor with full investigatory powers to expose to daylight the business and political relationships and dealings of Trump and his associates with the Russian government and Russian business interests prior to and after the election.

Once again, as Lincoln said 155 years ago, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope on earth.”

 

 

 

March 1, 2017

 

Trump and Russia

Monday night, February 27th, Rachel Maddow devoted most of her attention to Trump’s involvements with Russia. She dwelled on too many interlocking and curiously related events and circumstances to recount here -– I highly recommend viewing her MSNBC podcast for that date. No fire is visible, but smoke rises from so many guns that I was left choking and gasping by the end of her show.

It’s established that many billions of shadily-obtained funds of Russian oligarchs have been money-laundered –– secreted about the world in all manner of tangible and intangible assets.  Among those abetting this process was Deutsche Bank, which, in connection with such activities, recently had to pay a $650,000,000 fine to settle an action brought by the U.S. Justice Department. The Russian government was so shocked by Deutsche Bank’s behavior that they fined that company $5,000.

There are indications that some money laundering may have involved Donald Trump. Russia doesn’t like oligarchs who are out of favor with Vladimir Putin, and it appears that long before the recent presidential campaign Russian intelligence agencies were trying to learn whether Trump was involved in oligarchs illicitly secreting cash abroad.

It is odd, certainly, that Trump made an unfathomably large profit on the sale of a moldy mansion in Palm Beach to the Russian “fertilizer king,” an intimate associate of Putin and probably the next richest Russian after Putin himself. 

A lot more stuff like this was revealed during this exceptionally content-rich hour. One of several items I found of particular interest was that a former Deutsche Bank CEO took as job as CEO of a Bank of Cyprus, a notable processor of unknown amounts of money of unknown origin, and that one of the vice-chairmen of this bank is the aforementioned Russian fertilizer king, and another vice-chairman is our newly installed Secretary of Commerce, Trump’s old friend and business associate, Wilbur Ross. 

A lot of people, especially one of them, would be inconvenienced if these matters were adequately investigated.

 

 

 

February 28, 2017

confirmation bias.

A great number of studies have established that humans tend to have a bias in favor of what they already believe. If people encounter two news stories, one that cites evidence that supports their pre-existing beliefs and the other that tends to counter them, they will be much more likely to give credence to the one supporting their pre-existing beliefs. People tend to discount contrary evidence and accept supporting evidence. The result is that pre-existing convictions are confirmed, in fact strengthened.

Not only that, people get a good feeling ––a little buzz –– when their beliefs are seemingly confirmed. If they meet in groups, hearing others say the say the same things they think confirms them in their convictions even more. People become surer and surer that what people with contrary beliefs say simply isn’t isn’t true. In many cases, documenting facts to someone who is heavily confirmed in their bias has no effect! No wonder politics have become so polarized!

This is a big problem.

 

 

 

Feb 27, 2017

Copy of letter sent today to Congressman Scott Tipton:

Like most people in our Congressional District, including many Republicans and Independents, I am appalled by Trump’s behavior and by his alt-right inner circle of advisers, their rhetoric, and their aims. Most Republican members of Congress have serious misgivings about Trump, but they see him as a means of implementing the conservative agenda. It’s a Faustian bargain. Trump wants to rule America the way Putin rules Russia, and he will succeed if he’s not stopped.

It’s already established that the Russians interfered in the presidential election campaign, working to tilt the balance in favor of Trump. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are conducting separate investigations of the Trump campaign’s dealing with Russians prior to and after the election. Although the investigation is nowhere near complete, the White House asked Richard Burr, Chairman of the Senate Committee, and Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Committee, to contact reporters and assure them that nothing of any substance would be found. Burr and Nunes both complied with this request!

Here we are confronted with a bald-faced abrogation of duty to conduct an independent investigation. If there was ever any doubt about the need for independent investigation of this grave matter, there isn’t now. Are you content with an investigation led by chairpersons who have shown their willingness to do Trump’s bidding, or do you agree with Republican Representative Darrell Issa that a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate relations between Trump’s campaign and Russian official?

I will much appreciate your reply.

 

 

 

February 26,  2017

Trump: “The media is the enemy of the American people.”

Roger Cohen (New York Times op-ed): “‘Enemy of the people’ is a phrase with a near-perfect totalitarian pedigree deployed with refinements by the Nazis, Stalin and Mao. For Goebbels, writing in 1941, every Jew was ‘a sworn enemy of the German people.’ Here the “people” are an aroused mob imbued with some mythical essence of nationhood or goodness by a charismatic leader. The enemy is everyone else."

 

 

 

February 25, 2017

Robert Reich: We’re not in a fight between conservatives and liberals or between Republicans and Democrats. “The fight we are engaged in is a fight for democracy against authoritarianism, for inclusion against exclusion, for tolerance against hate, for a fair economy against one rigged by and for those with great power and wealth.”

It is also a fight for truth against lies and obfuscation. Yesterday, Trump banned reporters from The New York Times, Buzz Feed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, and Politico from attending a press briefing. He’d like to shut them down.

 

 

February 24,  2017

For millions of people who voted for him, Trump can do no wrong. They feed on his lies and outrageous behavior. His utterances and tweets are discredited, but so what. The media is out to get him. Stick it to them, Donald, they say, unaware that he is working against their own interests, for example endangering their health by allowing fossil fuel companies to pollute streams with toxic chemicals and undermining social security, medicare, and medicaid to finance tax cuts for corporations and rich people, which Republicans claim will produce more jobs, but will only make the richer and the poor poorer. The list goes on. They won’t learn about the negative consequences of Trump’s policies from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or similar sources, which for many of them is all they think they can rely on. Democrats, meeting this weekend to elect a chairperson of the DNC, must figure out how to knock down the wall that shuts truth out.

 

 

February 23, 2017

Letter sent today to Scott Tipton, Representative for the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado:

Dear Mr. Tipton:

I am a resident of Durango and a Democrat. I appreciate that you and I have differing views as to what policies would be best for our country, but I am sure that we think alike that the president of the United States should be held accountable under the Constitution and not be beholden to any foreign power. For that reason, I assume that you must be concerned about longstanding financial involvements of Donald Trump and his close associates with Russia, his lack of transparency in his dealings with regard to Russia, his extolling of the dictator of that country, and his unprecedented refusal to release his tax returns.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, has a clear-eyed take on Trump. She is not willing to pretend that the emperor has no clothes because it would be convenient to do so in order to advance the conservative agenda. She sees Trump’s massive violations of the emoluments clause for what it is. She proposes that in every congressional district and senate race with an open seat, voters of both parties should insist that their lawmaker pledge to demand:
       (1)  disclosure of Trump’s tax returns for the last 10 years; and
       (2)  an investigation of all foreign monies received, followed by enforcement of the emoluments clause (which precludes Trump receiving benefits such as a trademark from China).

I am confident that a clear majority of voters in our Congressional District would support this demand. I’d like to know if you will make this pledge.

Thank you.

 

 

 

February 22,  2017

Alan Paton was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist. His celebrated novel, Cry, the Beloved Country was published in 1948, when that country was in the grip of apartheid, and the threat of a civil war hung in the air. Almost miraculously, thanks most particularly to the vitality, wisdom, and courage of Nelson Mandela, a peaceful transition to majority rule was achieved. I never read Paton’s book, but I have often thought of the title, which conveys so much in just four words. It would be apt for a book written by an American today.

 

 

 

February 21, 2017


Michele Goldberg, in a recent article in Slate, speaking of Hillary Clinton, wrote:
“She argued not that Trump was a typical Republican, but that Republicans were better than Trump. She was wrong. Republicans in Congress have watched silently as Trump has shredded American credibility in the world, terrorized immigrants, and flirted with treason. We can now see that there is nothing—not sexual lasciviousness, not corruption, not meddling by foreign adversaries—that Republicans abhor more than they abhor Democrats, nor anything they value above power.”

 

That says it well. GOP, of course, stands for “Grand Old Party.” How American that sounds. How traditionally conservative. That GOP no longer exists. What’s happening now is a struggle for the soul of our country.

 

 

February 20, 2017


Nicholas Kristof:  “So while Democrats can gnash their teeth, it’ll be up to Republicans to decide whether to force Trump out. And that won’t happen unless they see him as ruining their party as well as the nation.”

Kristoff’s comment goes to the heart of the matter. All, or nearly all, Republican members of Congress are content to let Trump ruin our country.

 

 

 

February 19, 2017

Trump: “The media is the enemy of the American people.”

Robert Reich: Fifteen Signs of Impending Tyranny:

# 3. Publicly criticize anyone who criticizes them, labeling them “enemies.”

# 4. Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them “deceitful” and “scum.”

 

 

 

February 18, 2017

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Nick Lane’s fascinating book Life Ascending –– the Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. The author is an evolutionary biochemist at University College London. You can guess what some of the inventions of evolution have been. Others might surprise you. One, of course, was the eye, an organ proponents of intelligent design like to argue required a divine creator. Lane explains how hundreds of thousands of minute improvements, starting with cells in primitive animals that were slightly sensitive to light, produced our highly developed sense of vision. Future great inventions will increasingly include ones devised by humans. Alteration in the human genome will reduce the risk of many diseases. The human life span may be radically increased.
 

 

February 17, 2017

 

There’s a lot we don’t know about Trump’s relationship with Putin-ruled Russia, but among the things we know is that, for years, Trump and some of his closest associates have had extensive business entanglements with Russia and that Trump has expressed admiration for Putin, expressed approval of Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, indicated a willingness to relax sanctions against Russia, and expressed doubts about the utility of NATO.

We also know that Russia worked in various ways to undermine Clinton and support Trump prior to the election and that election officials in the Trump campaign were in touch with Russian officials both before and after the election. 

These are bold-face dots, and there are others, and they all connect, meaning it’s reasonable to conclude that Trump collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election in his favor. If he did, it would be a far more serious crime than the Watergate break-in that forced Nixon out of office.

The situation calls for an independent investigatory commission with full subpoena powers. Anything less is acquiescence in our country’s transition to a fascist state. It's evident that the Republican leadership thinks this is fine.

 

 

 

February 16, 2017

My 86th birthday today. Thanks to good diet, good exercise, and good luck, as far as I know, I’m in good shape. I’ve noticed that, whatever age I’ve been, ten years older seems very old and ten years younger seems very young. Yes, odd as it may seem, 76 seems quite youthful to me. I didn’t feel that way when I was 66. Then 76 looked ancient. More ancient even than 60 seemed when I was 50.

When I was about 66 and had a checkup, my doctor, who was a good deal younger than I, asked me how old I was, and when I told him, he said with a grin, “Getting up there.” He hardly knew the least thing about getting up there. Now I’m at the age where most of the people I know are dead, and most of the people whom I knew best and who are still alive I’ll never see again. No matter. I don’t feel much resemblance between me and who I was when I knew them.

Oh oh, I’m rambling.

 

 

 

February 15, 2017

Traveling today, but keeping this thought in mind ––

“Fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.”
                                              Christiane  Ananpoor

 

 

February 14, 2017

Why are so many of the rich and super rich so greedy and don’t give a damn about anyone else?

I got a good idea of the reason for this from reading Jane Mayer’s Dark Money –– The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Her book focuses most intently on the Koch brothers, the richest and most influential of the bunch. It’s characteristic of these people to have great suspicion of government. They tend to think of government as a socialistic monster that burdens them with onerous and impossibly complicated laws and regulations that sap creativity and innovation and drain resources. That would be bad enough, but then they are hit with outrageous taxes. No wonder most of the richest have to funnel lots of income through offshore tax schemes. That’s some help, but do you know how much lawyers charge to set these things up? And what the real estate taxes are on a modest twelve-room retreat in Aspen or the Hamptons? We’re being taxed to death. If we could get our taxes cut by a decent amount, we could invest a lot more in job-creating businesses, which is what America needs, and liberals, whether they be outright or closet socialists, don’t want. Let me tell you –– socialism is a constant threat, and we’ve been steadily drifting rapidly towards it. The danger was laid out a long time ago in a book titled The Road to Serfdom.

Q-  What about the large number of people living in poverty? What about all those unable to get educational opportunities, and so have no chance of lifting themselves up and achieving something approaching the American dream? What about the people struggling with student debt or crippling health care expenses? What about-

A- Let me tell you  –– most of these people could pull themselves up if they made the slightest effort. There’s nothing standing in their way, but most of them like doing nothing. They enjoy living off the government without having to lift a finger. Sure I’m rich  –- but I worked for it. I’m sick of these freeloaders who keep trying to get a handout. Watch your wallet, friends. There are lot of people trying to grab it right out of your hand.

The right-wing rich and super rich really feel that way. No wonder they’re indignant about it.

 

 

 

February 13,  2017

The psychology of the right wing rich and super rich

Why do these people habitually act in ways that are detrimental to the public interest, for example acting to oppose or eviscerate laws and regulations limiting the amount of toxic chemicals that can be released into the air or into lakes and streams, ones aimed at keeping banks and related institutions from repeating practices that led to the financial crisis and the great recession in 2008, and ones enabling more people to have access to adequate health health care?

These right wing rich and super rich I’m talking about don’t need the money. One would think that having inherited or attained great wealth, or inherited great wealth and increased it a lot more, they would realize that they won’t get happier by accumulating extra tens of millions or billions, as the case may be. Why wouldn’t what would make them happier be slowing global warming, or improving health conditions throughout the world, or supporting measures to help people in disadvantaged situations, or improve work opportunities, or reduce child poverty? Some billionaires, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have such desires and work to achieve them, but most of the rich and super rich don’t give damn about such things. Why are they that way? I’ll suggest some reasons tomorrow.

 

 

February 12, 2017

In my blog yesterday, referring to a statement Trump made the other day in New Hampshire, I wrote. “It was just another bald-faced lie that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Trump, one among such a multitude that it may be that no one has kept count of them.”

This speculation –– that no one has kept count of them –– was wrong! Hours later, scrolling on Facebook, I read this headline:

The complete list of all 57 false things Donald Trump has said as president ––The {Toronto} Star’s running tally of the bald-faced lies, exaggerations and deceptions the president of the United States of America has said, so far.

Congratulations, Toronto Star on your meticulous work! As noted, the Star’s list is limited to false things Trump has said (lies he has told) as president. Of course the list of lies he has told since his election would be much longer.

 

 

 

February 11, 2017

The other day Trump spoke in New Hampshire to a group that included a number of senators. State senators? U.S. Senators? The reports I’ve read didn’t say. In any case, Trump said that he would have won New Hampshire in the election last fall and former Senator Ayotte of that state would have been reelected had Democrats not bussed in thousands of illegal voters for the occasion, a claim that no one believes and for which not a shred of evidence has been put forth.

There is basically not much noteworthy about this. It was just another bald-faced lie that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Trump, one among such a multitude that it may be that no one has kept count of them. Nor was it so preposterous that it stood out from others –– it was just another example of how Trump behaves. Get used to it.

Evidently that’s what people are doing. So many are getting used to it, that no one one at this gathering shouted, “Excuse me, Mr. President, that’s a lie,” or, “How can you say that, sir? There’s not the slightest evidence for such a claim,” or “Sir, why do you have to lie, lie, lie, almost every time you open your mouth?”

Shouting out like this would have broken protocol. It would have shown a lack of respect for the president of the United States!

If this country is going to survive as a democracy, everyone has a duty to show no respect for the president on occasions when he deserves no respect. We must never stop calling a lie a lie. Instantly, the moment we’re aware of it! Otherwise, we’ll all be drowned in a sea of alternative facts.

 

 

February 10, 2017

No less appalling than Trump himself are almost all his cabinet appointees and, with them or close behind, members of the Republican-controlled Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, marching lockstep with the reckless, ignorant, mendacious, mean-spirited, incompetent, hyper-egotistical, mentally unstable caricature of a statesman mocked by nearly all of them a year ago; marching lockstep now after their relentless obstructionism during the Obama years reaching its apotheosis stonewalling Merrick Garland’s nomination.

 

 

February 9, 2017

“There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses. . . Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes  those good people who are also foolish forget his iniquity.” 
                                                                          Theodore Roosevelt

I’m thinking of you, Charles and David Koch
 

 

 

February 8, 2017


Al Franken:  “I voted against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor, because she is the most incompetent cabinet-level nominee I have ever seen.”

The failure of all but two Republican senators to oppose public schools enemy #1 (Betsy DeVos) lays bare what little regard these people have for anything but money, power, and party influence: The hell with the public school system: the masses are more malleable if they aren’t too well informed. Besides, about twenty of these senators might be thinking: Betsy contributed generously to my campaign; I’d like to be able to count on her for the next one.

There’s scarcely a Republican senator or representative, if any, who shows evidence of grasping that Trump and his cabal are a mortal danger to American Democracy. Will enough of them wake up in time to save us? Maybe a lot of them are already awake, but happy to go along for the ride.

 

 

 

February 7, 2017

 

From an expert observer of Trump's role model:

 

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
                                                                            Gary Kasparov

 

 

February 6, 2017

To get relief from week after week of Trumpian affronts, I tried to remove myself a couple of millennia by reading SPQR – a History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard. It’s an outstanding book, but not good for escape reading, as the following demonstrates:

“Electioneering in Rome could be a costly business. By the first century BCE it required the kind of lavish generosity that is not always easy to distinguish from bribery. . . it was the events of 133 BCE that crystallized the opposition between those who championed the rights, liberty and benefits of the people and those who, to put in their own terms, thought it prudent for the state to be guided by the experience and wisdom of the 'best men' (optimi), who in practice were more or less synonymous with the rich. . .”   pps 28, 227.

 

February 5, 2017

 

Here are Democratic senators who voted to stop restricting coal companies from polluting streams with debris from their operations. These senators all come from Red states. They are afraid of coal companies propagandizing against them. It’s tough being a Democrat from a Red state. Some people have decided they have to be as socially irresponsible as Republicans to stay in office. They don’t seem to realize that bigger stakes involved.

McCaskill  (D) MO
Heitcamp   (D)  ND
Mamchin   (D)  WV

 

 

February 4, 2017

 

Vox reported that on Thursday, the Senate voted 54-45 to repeal the stream protection rule that deterred coal companies from dumping mining debris in streams. The House already approved this measure, so as soon as Trump signs it coal companies will be free to pollute water supplies considerably more than they do already.

This step is not going to reinvigorate the coal industry, but it will be bad for a lot of peoples’ health. It will cause many to die sooner than they would have otherwise. It’s no less a criminal act even though no one will be prosecuted for it.

A conclusion to draw from this report is that 54 U.S. senators are unscrupulous, including at least three Democrats.

 

 

 

February 2 /3,  2017

 


 

Traveling today, so I’m late on today’s blog, and it will serve for tomorrow’s blog as well. I’ve gotten to be a regular watcher of Robert Reich’s 12-minute-or-so daily podcast titled “The Resistance Report.” It’s available on Facebook weekdays beginning at 8 p.m. E.S.T. / 5 p.m. P.S.T. I strongly recommended it. 

 

 

Reich is immensely knowledgeable and experienced and speaks with absolute clarity about what’s going on in our country and how we must be clear-headed and active if we are to avoid succumbing to an aspiring tyrant. Most of what he discusses is distressing, but listening to him is a bracing experience nonetheless, because he has a noble spirit, speaks without rancor, and makes sense. His goal, simply, is to to restore sane and decent government our country. It’s a high calling. All of us are in great peril as long as Trump is in the White House.

 

 

February 1, 2017

Under the Republican Tent

A principal constituency of the Republican Party comprises the aspiring to be rich and already rich whose principal goal, in each case, is to get rich or get even richer and think their chances of doing so will be improved if their taxes are lowered and business regulations are removed. Another constituency comprises Christian fundamentalists or quasi fundamentalists who overlook the plutocratic-favoring and oligharcic-tilting nature of GOP policies because they believe that banning abortions, discouraging contraception, and opposing gay marriage are higher priorities for Christians than tolerance, fairness, and compassion. Other constituencies include people obsessed by gun rights, xenophobes, militarists, racists, and generally decent people credulous of right wing propagandizing. It is an unholy alliance, but it has paid off. Democrats must unite, and must fight to counter the disastrous consequences of continuing Republican control of our government.

 

January 31, 2017

Headline: “In Canada, Justin Trudeau Says Refugees Are Welcome”

Bad news. As soon as refugees arrive in Canada, they’ll start streaming south across the border!

To our dear leader, Trump: Please, we need a wall along the Canadian border much more than along the Mexican border! It’s an alternative fact that our border with Mexico is longer than our border with Canada, but it’s a true fact that our border with Canada is longer, so the wall along the Canadian border will cost a lot more, but who cares?  Canada will pay for it, right?

 

January 30, 2017

Posted by Robert Reich this morning:

“President Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council—elevating his chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the president on national security.

“Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings, because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.

“Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed . . .”

Steve Bannon is the cruder-even-than-Trump, anti-semitic, Alt-right, white nationalist-friendly propagandist who recently said the media should “Shut up."

No further evidence is required that Trump is mentally and morally unfit to be president. Members of Congress, before it’s too late, come to the aid of your country: impeach Trump.

January 29, 2017

Dark Money -–– the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer.

This is a superb account of how two of the richest people in the world, the famous brothers Charles and David Koch, and their super rich allies and acolytes built a vast propagandizing and money-dispensing network for the purpose of influencing legislation and electing and maintaining in office politicians who would carry out their plutocrat-friendly agendas. Mayer quotes an observer who called the Kochs “deeply passionate,” “disciplined,” and “ruthless,” a judgment nothing in the book contradicts.

The work of the “Kochtopus” has contributed greatly to transitioning our country from a democracy to an oligarchy, a process which, with the installation of Trump as president, is virtually complete.

Can America be saved? Those who live long enough will find out.

 

January 28, 2017

It’s not good to have a sociopath be president of the United States, but that is what has happened. He has obtained tremendous power, and we can expect that he will exploit every possible means to expand it. Concerned only with his own glorification, he will be a destructive force in world affairs. Like-minded sociopaths, even if they don’t like him, will try to help him achieve his goals as long as they think it’s in their own self-interest. It will take courage and commitment on the part of a lot of people, and some luck, to get rid of this man in four years.

 

January 27, 2017

Psychopaths and Sociopaths

It’s useful to distinguish between psychopaths and sociopaths. Psychopaths take pleasure in harming others. Sociopaths usually don’t take pleasure in harming others, but in the course of pursuing their goals they are indifferent to whether they harm others. They lack compassion. They lack a conscience. They have a natural talent for the art of the con.

How can you recognize a sociopath? It’s not always easy. Psychopaths usually get into serious trouble. Eventually they are likely to be stopped from perpetuating their behavior. Sociopaths sometimes get into trouble, they they are harder to identify as malefactors. They tend to be clever and manipulative. They lie when they think it’s to their advantage to lie and tell the truth when they think it’s to their advantage to tell the truth.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify a sociopath, for example  (one out of dozens available), when a president says that when we invade a country (ostensibly for some noble reason, of course), we shouldn’t leave without taking their oil. How easy to tell a sociopath can you get?

It can be useful to be a sociopath. It’s convenient to not care about anyone else but yourself. Sociopaths often rise to high positions in their fields. Martha Stout, a Harvard psychologist, lays all this out in her book The Sociopath Next Door. She estimates that one in twenty-five people are sociopaths. A psychiatrist of my acquaintance told me he thinks that’s a good guess. Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s too low. You’re probably personally acquainted with at least one sociopath, and it’s certain you know of some who are prominent in public life.

 

January 26, 2017

An article in Slate makes a good point: Trump conned a lot of people into voting for him. People who have been fooled don’t like to admit it, even to themselves. When it becomes evident that, contrary to his promises, Trump’s actions have made them worse off, most of his supporters, instead of turning against him, will lay the blame elsewhere. Trump will strenuously encourage them to do so: It’s the corrupt media’s fault, or the long-term effect of Obama’s policies, or whatever scapegoat he can think of and exploit.

Democrats will be hard pressed to make gains in 2018 elections no matter how despicably Trump behaves. Everyone of good will must work to expose him for what he is –– an aspiring tyrant.

 

January 25, 2017

News report: Tump and members of his coterie speak as if it’s assured that he’ll win a second term in 2020. Consider that alongside Trump’s insistence that three to five million votes were cast illegally in last fall’s election; that otherwise he would have won the popular vote, a claim which is a total fabrication.

Fast forward to November 2020. Suppose, as is very possible, Trump loses that election by only a few dozen electoral votes and by margins of a few tens of thousands votes in key swing states. It takes no great powers of prophesy to know that he will claim he was defeated because of illegal voting and will refuse to vacate office until officials in key states conduct “proper” balloting and expunging of illegal votes and various investigations are carried out. Meanwhile, his right-wing billionaire backers and accomplices are horrified at the thought that the Democratic candidate, who is much more progressive than Hillary, will be installed in office if the election isn’t overturned.

Democrats take the case to the Supreme Court. Will the Court rule against Trump? Or issue a ruling that will leave the issue unsettled? Will it even take the case? Will Justices Ginsburg and Breyer still be on the Court? How many right-wing ideologues will have been added to the Court during the next four years?

 

January 24, 2017

Lately, I’ve scrolled past some Wall Street Journal ads on Facebook proclaiming that it’s America’s most trusted newspaper.

The WSJ does some excellent reporting, but its editorials and opinion pieces are overwhelmingly in line with right wing big money propagandizing.

WSJ slanting creeps into its headlines, for example: “White House Disputes Inauguration Attendance Estimates, Despite Evidence to Contrary.”

Sounds kind of balanced, doesn’t it?  Surely, in "disputing," the White House presented evidence too. Well, no it didn't.

I would view the WSJ as more trustworthy, if it had injected clarity into the above  headline:  Either of these would be more accurate:

“Trump’s Lie about Inauguration Attendance Swiftly Exposed.” 
                                   
“Trump’s “Alternative Facts” Exposed as Fiction.”

 

January 23, 2017

“Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth.”

Satisfying for some people, but a vicious circle for nearly everyone else.

 

January 22, 2017

Trump, on his first full day in office:  “I have a running war with the media.”

Ezra Klein:  “Trump’s real war isn’t with the media. It’s with the facts. . . Trump needs to delegitimize the media because he needs to delegitimize the facts.”

From Robert Reich’s 15 Warning Signs of Impending Tyranny:  As tyrants take control of democracies, they typically: . . .  #4. “Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them. . .”

 

January 21, 2017

The ritualistic trappings of the inauguration yesterday, including most media commentary, gave the impression that this was an ordinary transition from an outgoing president to a newly elected one. In fact, it was an inflection point in an unfolding crisis orders of magnitude greater than any since the Civil War. Then we had Lincoln. Now we have a travesty of a statesman whose almost every utterance is revelatory of a gross narcissistic personality disorder.

Barring unforeseen events, in 2020, the Democratic Party will nominate a candidate to run against this man. We have no idea who this candidate will be, except that he or she will not be named Clinton. We do know that in the course of that year there will be rancorous debates, soaring promises, bitter accusations, and multitudinous tweets, and we know, almost to the point of certainty, that if Trump loses the election, he’ll claim that it was rigged against him, that it was illegitimate, and he will not recognize it. What will the composition of the Supreme Court be in November 2020? Will it matter?

 

January 20, 2017

“Fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.” Christiane  Ananpoor

 

January 19, 2017

Is it any surprise that Trump seeks a cabinet of greedy billionaires, sociopaths, and off-the-wall incompetents? Hillary take note: this is what a real basket of deplorables looks like.

It would take just three principled Republican senators to join with Democrats in rejecting confirmation of most of this disgraceful bunch. I'd begin with the Dept. of Justice nominee, who doesn't believe in voting rights, then move on to the EPA nominee, who is indifferent to protecting the environment, then on to the Education nominee, who wants to cripple public education, then on to the Interior nominee, who wanted to abolish that department, though he couldn't remember its name, then on to the Secretary of State nominee, who is soaked morally in oil. Three Republican senators with consciences could brake our slide to fascism. Will any even peep?

 

January 18, 2017

I recently finished reading Nick Lane’s book The Vital Question –– Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. The author is a biology professor at University College London.

I had thought that it was extremely difficult for life to get started, but that once it did, then, thanks to Darwinian evolution, it’s off to the races. Apparently I was wrong on both counts. Professor Lane argues that the simplest forms of life can arise readily in alkaline hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, and indeed did so on Earth within half a billion years of its formation. These earliest organisms consisted of bacteria and archaea, simple prokaryotic cells that through lateral gene transfer can proliferate into a multitude of variants, but except in extremely rare instances can’t evolve into complex cells (eukaryotes) capable of evolving into the multitudes of macroscopic multicellular plant, animal, and fungal organisms we’re familiar with. It took two billion years after bacteria and archaea appeared for complex cells to join them.

Lane’s analysis suggests that simple life forms (prokaryotes) are very common in the universe and probably exist elsewhere in our own solar system. Complex life forms (eukaryotes), even as simple as single-celled animals, such amoebas, are very much more rare. Life forms that will wave back at us when we wave at them are rarer by orders of magnitude more.

There’s a lot in this book to ponder. One example: Lane says, “I defy you to look through a microscope at a cell from a mushroom and a cell from a human and tell which is which.”

 

January 17, 2017

Facebook:

I have a Facebook page. I never intentionally put anything on it, but if I go to my Facebook bookmark and scroll down, I see a succession of postings. Some of these are of relatives and actual friends. I don’t know whether I see all their postings or just some of them. Sometimes a list of Facebook friends, or quasi friends, appears on the side, including a few I don’t even know. At some point Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau began posting–– I must have clicked that I like them. Lately, I’ve been seeing posts from Mark Zuckerberg. He seems like a good fellow. You don’t even have to click on his name to become his friend.

Over the past year, I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of posts from famous liberals and progressives, among them: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Bill Moyers, and Robert Reich, who incidentally is doing great work leading the peaceful resistance against Trump. I guess Facebook must have figured out that I was a liberal / progressive type and so would enjoy seeing what these folks had to say. This is true, but lately the volume has increased, and it seems I can keep scrolling and scrolling without seeing all the postings since I last checked, so I begin to think about how I’m spending too much time on this, and I quit. Furthermore, Facebook has been slipping in more ads. Checking Facebook posts is getting close to being a net waste of time.

Although I don’t initiate posts, I sometimes comment on posts of others.  Recently I saw one I thought was so significant that I clicked on “share.” I’ve done this before. Each time, I'm informed that this had been added to my “timeline,” which, I suppose, when concluded, will consist of birth, “shares,” and death.

 

January 16, 2017

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

That will be a great day, Dr. King. Meanwhile, thinking ahead to this Friday, how should a man be judged whose character is content-free?

 

Janurary 15, 2017

Consider the relationship between Exxon under the leadership of the secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, and the ruling family of Equatorial Guinea. This country, only a little larger than Vermont, is rich in oil. It has the largest income per capita in Africa; yet its people are among the most impoverished in the world. Exxon takes the oil, and the ruling family and gets richer beyond rich, year after year. Checking Wikipedia, I learned that less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water, 20% of children die before reaching the age of five, the government has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and the country is a source and destination for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

None of this seems to bother Rex Tillerson, but you and I know it’s not right. Is it morally defensible to acquiesce in the present arrangement? Shouldn’t all Equatorial Guineans have some share of the money that flows into their country as its oil flows out? Should the secretary of state of the United States be someone who doesn’t give a damn?

 

January 14, 2017

The Senate rejected a bill that would permit prescription drug imports from Canada even though safety standards are as high in Canada as in the United States and this change would lower average costs for obtaining these drugs. Most, but not all, Republican Senators voted against the bill. Thirteen Republicans voted for it. It would have passed with ease, had not twelve Democratic senators voted against it, all or most of them recipients of campaign financing from the pharmaceutical industry. The Democratic Party likes to project itself as the party for the people, unlike the Republicans, the party of the big business. Generally, Democratic policies are far more progressive than Republican policies, but as long as so many Democratic politicians appear to be on the take just as much as Republicans –- as long as people think, “Oh, they’re all alike” ––Democrats are likely to remain shunted off to the sidelines.

 

January 13, 2017

A lot of Trump supporters who don’t have particularly high regard for him still have faith that somehow he’ll shake things up, make things better for America. No matter bad his behavior, it’s okay, because he’s the breath of fresh air this country needs. And they enjoy the way Trump keeps goading the liberal politicians and media. They scoff at claims that his policies will work against the interests of most people who supported him.

Democrats may just have to wait until the terrible consequences of Trump’s election actually happen. Even then it won’t be easy to convince Trump’s legions of followers. Whatever is reported that reflects badly on him, he’ll call fake news, meanwhile putting out a stream of his own real fake news. And he’ll throw a lot of blame in Obama’s direction: Obama messed up the country so much, it may take all eight years of Trump’s presidency to make America great again. A lot of people will believe this.

 

January 12, 2017

Many people who voted for Trump were either misled about, or simply ignorant of, the effect his policies and behavior would have on themselves and on the country. Keeping as much of the public as ignorant and confused as possible is a high priority for Trump and his political allies. They have various ways of accomplishing this.

Trump’s methodology was on display yesterday in his quasi news conference. He refused to take a question from Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter. “You are fake news!” Trump yelled at him. He called Buzz Feed “a failing pile of garbage.” He called  BBC “another beauty.” His behavior supplied an excellent example of #4 of Robert Reich’s Fifteen warning signs of impending tyranny: “Turn the public against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them “deceitful” and “scum.”

 

January 11, 2017

At the hearing for confirmation of the nominee for secretary of state this morning, Marco Rubio, to his credit, demanded that Tillerson say whether or not Vladimir Putin is a war criminal –– there's more than ample evidence that he is. Tillerson ducked the question. He had to, given his long history of business dealings with Putin and that his future boss, Trump, is one of Putin's admirers. So it goes, the swamp deepens and overflows.

 

January 10, 2017

I recently finished reading Damned to Fame, James Knowlson’s definitive biography of Samuel Beckett. Knowlson’s account is extremely detailed, but it’s worth plowing through because, apart from his astonishing literary output, Beckett was such a fascinating man. Among other nuggets in the book is a report of a conversation Beckett’s friend (Dartmouth professor) Lawrence Harvey had with him:

Writing was for him, he said, a question of “getting down below the surface" toward what he described as “the authentic weakness of being.” This was associated with a strong sense of the inadequacy of words to explore the forms of being. “Whatever is said is so far from the experience;” “if you really get down to the disaster, the slightest eloquence becomes unbearable.” In this he was far removed, he maintained, from the approach of James Joyce: “Joyce believed in words. All you had to do was rearrange them and they would express what you wanted.”

 

January 9, 2017

Robert Reich notes this morning: “Trump exhibits all the characteristics of a sociopath: compulsive lying, lack of shame or remorse, pathological egocentricity and narcissism, desperate need for attention, lack of empathy, short attention span, impulsiveness, and vindictiveness.”

This has been obvious for a long time. What’s almost equally disturbing is that Republican senators, who we should be able to count on to keep Trump under control at least in some respects, have fallen slavishly in line behind him, rushing confirmation of his cabinet appointees without proper vetting for conflicts of interest and other concerns. It would take only a few Republican senators to send a message to Trump that he has been elected president, not king. Senators who fail to do that, if not sociopaths themselves, are sleepwalking and won't likely wake up till it’s too late.

 

January 8, 2017

Excellent cross-country skiing yesterday at Purgatory, in southwest Colorado. For me, and this may be true for most people, to enjoy skiing at age 85 it’s necessary to (i) eat right, (ii) do 45 minutes of stretches and strength-building and a half hour semi-aerobic activity every day, and (iii) be lucky enough to have escaped having some disease or disability sneak up on you, which can happen no matter how healthy your lifestyle.

It may seem to some that the workout regiment described above is too laborious and time-consuming to be worth the trouble. I don’t find it so, because magically it becomes addictive. Feeling a nagging desire to keep up with your exercise routine is a good addiction.

 

January 7, 2017

Yesterday heads of our principal intelligence agencies released the declassified report that described the sophisticated propagandistic and cyber attack campaign Putin-ruled Russia directed in an effort to help Trump win the election.

Trump found nothing to be concerned with about this. “There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” he said. In Trump-truth land that was the conclusion the intelligence agencies reached.

In true truth land there is no question that Putin’s efforts caused an unknown number of people who would have voted for Clinton to vote instead for Trump, and though it can never be proved, or disproved, Putin’s efforts very possibly changed the outcome. 

Trump’s message is that it’s all right for anyone, including foreign dictators, to use illegal means to interfere with our electoral processes, as long as they are acting on his behalf. From Trump's perspective the intelligence agencies acted in an unruly fashion in releasing this report. Once he’s president, he'll try to reform them so they will better serve his needs.

 

January 6, 2017

A day yet to be determined during the next four years:

Mr. President, I’m sorry to interrupt you while you’re having your hair done, but our intelligence agencies have just confirmed that North Korea conducted a successful test of a MIRV ICBM with a range sufficient to deliver nuclear warheads to continental United States.

Trump.  So, what are they trying? Kim Jong knows he can’t play games with me. I won’t let him.

Yes, sir.  Should I set up a meeting with your security advisors?

Trump:  Draft a tweet. Make it tough.

Yes, sir.  Then, should I - ?

Trump (to hairdresser). Fluff it more in front.

 

Janurary 5, 2017

Today’s New York Times obituary of the British philosopher, Derek Parfit, says that he “developed a theory of identity that downgraded the notion, and the importance, of an irreducible self — the ‘deep further fact,’ as he called it — in terms not dissimilar to Buddhism.”

This resonates with something I’ve been thinking: that the best revenge against mortality –– better than “living well,” which the old proverb counsels–– may be to shift investment in your ego more away from yourself and more onto the selves of others for whom you have affection, whether or not you know them or not personally, many of whom will outlive you, and are people who tend to spread joy and comfort rather than sorrow and suffering. Your influence, for good or ill, will outlive you. In that sense, you outlive yourself. Your self, if not immortal, is nevertheless much larger than one might imagine.

 

January 4, 2017

As long as torture is countenanced as a matter of policy of great nations, it’s improbable that the human species will long survive. If a presidential candidate approves of torture under any circumstances, even if he appears to be ideal in every other respect, he should be ruled out. Donald Trump is on record for approving waterboarding, which is clearly a form of torture, and said that he would authorize a lot worse. Trump is unfit to be president for innumerable reasons; his advocacy of torture is number one on my list.

Trump has announced that he will nominate James N. Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps general, as secretary of defense. Mattis, as you might expect, is no softie, but, lo and behold, he opposes torture. If he is confirmed as secretary of defense, he should issue a directive forbidding it. If Trump orders otherwise, Mattis should resign, and not quietly. The same is true of anyone in the employ of the United States, whether in uniform or not. It’s a case where to obey orders is a crime against humanity.

 

January 3, 017

The new year starts off with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives abolishing independent ethics oversight of themselves. They did this against the wishes of their leader, Paul Ryan, who doesn’t like the way it looks bad. It looks bad because it is bad, its purpose being to make corruption hassle free. The vote was taken in secret. The foxes in the hen house don't want people to know who they are.

Update: Three cheers for Zephyr Teachout and others who put the heat on members of the House of Represnetatives and, within hours, shamed them into reversing themselves and reinstating independent ethics oversight. Trump criticized their trying to shield themselves from scrutiny as their first order of business in the new year. (Subtext: try again later when it won't generate such adverse publicity.) Unfortunately, members of Congress worried about scrutiny of their ethical behavior are still in office. It's not as if they suddenly aquired good moral character.

 

January 2, 2016

It’s worth following Robert Reich’s Facebook postings. Reich is a former Secretary of Labor and is presently a professor at Berkeley. To begin the new year he lists 15 warning signs of impending tyranny. They are chilling to read, and they all apply to Trump.

Democracy in America is In peril. A majority of our citizens voted for Democratic candidates, but Republicans control the government. During the next two years, they will use their power to tilt elections even more toward their candidates. By 2018 it will be even harder for Democrats to regain control of Congress than it was in 2016. By 2020 it could be harder still.

Reich’s warning sign #1 of a tyrant in the making: Exaggerate their mandate to govern –– claiming, for example, that they won an election by a landslide even after losing the popular vote.

 

January 1, 2017

The new year doesn’t look good, but the future is unpredictable. Surprising good things could happen. Don’t be despairing. Be calm, but active.

Resolutions: I’m all for them. But they should be serious and stuck to. Mine is to write a blog every day and try to make it interesting and thought-provoking. Writing something that I know is publicly accessible puts salutary pressure on me to have it make sense.

I admire people who keep a journal. Some eminent writers, including Joan Didion and Flannery O’Conner, have said that they don’t know what they think until they write it down. We tend to toss off thoughts in conversation –– they spill out of our mouths. Same with tweets and text messages. It concentrates the mind if you put thoughts in writing, read what you wrote, and revise it and review it to make sure what you’ve written is coherent and true to what you really think. Not a bad idea to do this every day.

 

December 31, 2016

      Sometimes thoughts occur to me that seem significant though they don’t prompt me to make a decision or draw further conclusions. They linger in my mind, however, and are likely to feed into my decision-making process. Here’s one:
     There are a lot of people in the world for whom gaining wealth, power, and admiration is their most important personal goal. For others, personal achievement may be important, but they have a broader goal as well –– they take satisfaction in increasing joy and comfort, and in diminishing suffering and discomfort, of others. The character of most people probably combines these qualities to varying degrees. If you rated everyone, you’d probalby find that distribution is on a fairly standard bell curve. Mabye it's a good idea to rate yourself on this scale, then think about whether that’s where you want to be starting tomorrow, the beginning of a new year. I'll give it a try.
 

December 30, 2016            

                                       Democracies  >>>>>>  Autocracies

A recent Washington Post Op-Ed article by Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian author and scholar, provides us with a cautionary lesson. A rising tide of pseudo (unprincipled) populism, drawing support from, and stoking, nativistic, xenophobic, and generally mean-spirited and self-delusional tendencies, has been percolating world-wide. Putin and Putinism is the most lustrous example. The same spirit is responsible for the elevation to high office of such grotesque figures as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Governor Paul LePage in Maine, for increasingly autocratic regimes in Turkey and Poland, for the Brexit phenomenon, for the rising tide of right-wing illiberal populism in France, for Trump, of course, and for the imposition on Hungarians of the proto-fascist rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

Orban, whom Haraszti defines as a “post-truther,” was duly elected despite having “depicted migrants as rapists, job-stealers, terrorists and ‘poison’ for the nation.” He has since built “a vast fence along Hungary’s southern border.”

Make {insert the name of your country} great again! This rallying cry, emblazoned on a baseball cap for American consumption, is a theme common to proto-fascist demagogues world-wide. Haraszti writes: the “favorite means of communication {of populists} is provoking conflict. . . Personal and family greed, cronyism, thievery combined with hypocrisy are in the genes of illiberal autocracy.”

Trump will do everything he can to increase his power and obstruct the election of any opponent in 2020. Everyone of good will must work to defeat him.

 

December 29, 2016 

                              Trump and the Propagandist Technique –– Part III

Since the election, Trump and his allies have continued to lie and inject fake news into the public consciousness. Typical was Trump’s claim that two million people illegally voted for Clinton. That this isn’t plausible and can’t be documented is not a problem, as the Propagandistic Playbook makes clear. Embellish. Exaggerate. Repeat. Encourage your supporters to do the same. Keep the lies coming. That’s the Playbook, the only one we know Trump has read.

Free speech and free press present a problem for Trump. We’re still hoping these institutions of American freedom will contain him.  What is our hope has been Trump’s worry. How can he and his allies fight the still vocal elements of responsible media? Lately they’ve come up with an ingenious strategy. Brand responsible traditional media fake: it’s part of an elite liberal conspiracy. Keep putting out big lies and add to them lies about the truth-tellers. Spread confusion, but assure the befuddled people you’ll rescue them from it. The worse confusion gets, the more they need you. It’s not the truth –- it’s Trump that will set you free.

     In his great essay, On Liberty, the 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for the free expression of ideas. He said that if all points of view could be heard, the truth would win out. The wisest policy would emerge. The underlying assumption of his essay was that everyone values the truth. One would think so. But great numbers of  politicians despise truth when it does not suit their purposes. What matters to them is money, power, and winning admiration. Truth lovers need to work and fight hard if true truth is to prevail over fake truth.

 

December 28, 2016

                                 Trump and the Propagandist Method -- Part II

 


It took a weird combination of phenomena, each highly unlikely, for the catastrophe named Trump to have befallen our country. As his campaign progressed, Trump was aided by the failure of the mainstream independent media to expose him as a charlatan and a fraud, which they could have and should have by sheer recitation and documentation of facts. Instead, eager to heighten suspense and drama, and therefore ratings, they elevated Clinton’s foibles to the same level as Trump’s. Abetting his campaign further was the distorted output of right wing mouthpieces such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, the tilting of the scales by the F.B.I Director, and the flooding of fake news from  other sources calculated to discredit Clinton. Then there were Clinton’s stumbles, some quite bizarre, and her inability to come across as authentic. I won’t attempt to be exhaustive. What is important is that even half as an appalling person as Trump would never have been elected had not numerous highly unlikely phenomena come together in a perfect storm of political fate. Now the inauguration approaches, and a new sinister development has occurred.  To be continued.

 

 

December 27, 2016

 

                                Trump and the Propagandist Method -- Part I

Whether they have ascended to power through a military coup, revolution, or more or less democratic processes, it is the universal practice of dictators to employ one or more big lies and a continual stream of smaller lies, the purpose of which is to inculcate the brains of their subjects with notions of reality calculated to impress, intimidate, and control them. Freedom of speech and independent media are serious impediments to this process, which is why dictators suppress them as fast as practical considerations allow until they are shut down completely and public discourse thereafter is subject to scrutiny by censors. For a vivid and timely example of how this works, see Masha Gessen’s book, The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

In the course of his campaign Trump adopted this proven technique without reservation, lying continually about large and small matters. Normally, our Constitutional protection of free speech and the existence of diverse elements of independent media would have resulted in his being drummed off the stage. The coincidence of a half a dozen or more unlikely and unprecedented phenomena allowed him to get away with it.

To be continued.

 

 

December 26, 2016

I’ve been looking through the list of Democratic governors and senators, hoping to find an outstanding candidate to pit against Trump in 2020. Of course the best candidate may be someone other than a sitting Governor or Senator. It’s early even to guess who might emerge as the strongest choice. The right candidate will be someone capable of communicating what is important and what is true to prospective voters, so they can become informed enough to vote rationally. Hillary failed to do that, besides being widely disliked, and in 2016 a lot of people voted irrationally. One possible candidate I’m keeping an eye on is Jeff Merkley, the junior Democratic Senator from Oregon. He has an impressive academic background, and, critically important, sound judgment. The other day Merkely said that Trump has the emotional maturity of a five-year old. Bill Maher, known for his excellent judgment, has likened Trump to a toddler. I think Merkley’s judgement is sounder even than Bill Maher’s.

 

December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and all other greetings expressing good will and peace and love. May this spirit prevail over contrary inclinations and aberrations, and happiness abound.

 

December 24, 2016

Greetings, friends –– it’s Christmas time, a time (like all others) to wish health and happiness to all. I want to write about other things, and soon will, but the orange-haired one is as hard to look away from as an approaching tsunami. In fact, we’d better not.

“Let it be an arms race; we will outmatch them at every pass, and outlast them all,” he said the other day. What about infrastructure building you talked about, and cutting taxes, and reducing national debt? Just talk. It's building bigger nukes that will make America great again.

We may survive. We may yet return him to his towers and palaces four long years from now.

 

December 23, 2016

Despite nuclear arms reductions over the past few decades, Russia and the U.S. are capable of destroying each other several times over. Nonetheless, Putin says he wants to increase Russia’s nuclear warfare capability, and Trump says that he wants to greatly increase U.S. nuclear warfare capability. The two seem to have forgotten that they are buddies! There was a time when Stalin thought Hitler and he were buddies. Sometimes it happens with people like this: they have a falling out.

Has Trump read William Perry’s book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink? It’s hard even to conceive of such a possibility, much less lay odds on it. Because of this book’s frightening relevance, I’ve copied my August 18, 2016 note on it below:

     Throughout his career as a mathematician, engineer, professor, and executive, in various capacities in and out of Government including as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Defense (1994 -1997), William Perry has worked with unflagging energy to bring high moral commitment, deep technical knowledge, and exceptional negotiating and inter-personal skills to bear in reducing the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. At times during the Cold War, he helped develop technological improvements in U.S. military systems to offset the destabilizing preponderance of conventional forces established by the Soviet Union. At other times, he helped bring about bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements looking toward reduction of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and manufacturing capabilities.
     Thanks in part to Perry’s work, when fortuitous circumstances and wisdom of principal actors held sway, steps were taken back from the brink. In particular, dismantling nuclear missiles in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine was a tremendous achievement. Unfortunately, more recently, unwise military initiatives on the part of the West, though styled as defensive, had the effect of stoking Russian nationalistic fervor, supplying Putin with fodder for tightening his despotic grip, garnering support for seizing Crimea and border areas of Ukraine, allying himself with the Syrian war crimes criminal, Bashar al-Assad, and despite Russia’s serious economic problems, initiating a military buildup at a rate not seen since the Cold War. We are closer to the brink than we were a decade or two ago.
      For sixty years or more, thousands of ICBMs with nuclear warheads have been positioned throughout the world, targeting cities and military installations under protocols allowing no more than a few minutes in which a decision to launch –– to initiate or participate in the destruction of human civilization –– must be made. Progress toward nuclear disarmament has stalled. We face the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race with Russia. In east Asia, China’s ruler since 2012, Xi Jinping, has been asserting new territorial claims and building military capability to enforce them; Kim Jong-un has been expanding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and developing long-range delivery systems; dangerous tensions remain between Pakistan and India, both nuclear armed. The danger is probably increasing that agents of a hostile power or terrorist organization could explode a nuclear device in an American city. So far, we have been lucky. Perry notes, “‘Luck’ is a dishearteningly unreliable deliverer from nuclear conflagrations.”
     My Journey at the Nuclear Brink is absorbing, sobering, poignant, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. How was it that, as I finished it, the name Donald Trump came to mind? A few days ago, George Shultz, former Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, all under Republican presidents, one of the most respected statesmen of the past century, now in his nineties, was asked what he thought of the prospect of a Trump presidency. His reply though brief, needs no elaboration: “God help us.”
 

 

December 22, 2016

It’s critical for the future of this country that Democrats get their act together. They can hardly begin to get started until the last weekend in February when a chairperson of the Democratic National Committee is elected. Right now, the Party seems somewhat split between the progressive wing, e.g., Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom support Congressman Keith Ellison (though he has also been endorsed by centrists Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer) and those, Barrack Obama among them, who support the present Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez. There are some other candidates as well, and a compromise choice might emerge. 

There's no question that tough times lie ahead. Many more Democratic than Republican Senate seats are up for grabs in 2018. By 2020, we can expect that lack of judicial control over voting rights restrictions will have enabled Republican-controlled state governments to have made it even more difficult for citizens likely to vote Democratic to get to the polls and that even more extreme Republican-tilted Gerrymandering will be in place. Democrats have their work cut out for them, and as of the moment, no Democratic presidential candidate of Trump-dumping mettle is visible this side of the future time horizon.

 

December 21, 2016

On my reading list for 2017 is Jane’s Mayer’s Dark Money, an account, I gather, mainly about how the multi-billionaire Koch brothers have used their tremendous financial power to fight efforts to combat climate change and campaign finance reform, curtail voting rights, strip away environmental protections, increase inequality, and generally steer the country hard right. Many other billionaires are equally lacking in social conscience, but the Koch brothers stand out in the sheer magnitude of assets they possess and in the amount of harm they inflict on American Democracy and upon the environment.

Wise laws would limit the power billionaires have in relation to ordinary people, and, indeed, in relation to mere multimillionaires. But there are no such wise laws in place, and it’s certain they are not going to be enacted while Trump is in power. That’s why it’s time for the good multibillionaires to step up and combat the Kochs and their like. Only good multibillionaires have the financial power to even the political playing field, which has been getting more tilted every year, and with Trump’s ascendency looks as if it will become increasingly vertical year after year until it reaches the angle of a feudal castle wall.

Who are the good multi-billionaires? I’m not knowledgeable enough to provide a list, but I’ll say that I think that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are decent men. The Gates Foundation, to which Buffet has massively contributed, has done a lot of very important good work around the world, including greatly reducing deaths from malaria. I’m not aware that either of these good multibillionaires have been aggressively active politically. I understand why they haven’t, but American Democracy is in grave peril –– it’s time for them to get in the act. If they don’t, all the good they’ve accomplished is likely to go for nought.

 

December 20, 2016

Poll: 52% of Republicans think Trump won the popular vote. I’ve seen other data similar to this, evidencing widespread ignorance of basic, indisputable information. A large percentage of people who voted for Trump were misinformed before the election and remain so.

Trump has said repeatedly that he won by a landslide. He wouldn’t say that if he’d gotten 2.8 million fewer votes than Hillary in the election, would he? He wouldn’t if he were an honorable man.

A great number of Trump supporters live in a cocoon of misinformation spun directly or indirectly out of the mouth of Trump. Democrats and the media need to do a much better job of communicating true information to the entire public. It would be nice if Republicans did too.

 

December 19, 2016

“Greetings, Friends.” Each Christmas time a poem with this title appears in The New Yorker. Ian Frazier’s (Dec. 19 & 26 issue) may be the best ever. Events lately haven’t been of a kind to send one prancing through halls with boughs of holly. Undeterred, this worthy bard composed line after line for us of witty, wise, and loving verse. Take that, despair!

 

December 18, 2016

To my friend in Barcelona:

Christmas greetings, Ricardo. I assured you some months ago that Trump would not be elected, but, as one of our greatest jurists, O.W. Holmes, Jr., remarked, “Certitude is not the same as certainty.” America risks becoming a fascist state. With a little luck, increasing numbers of citizens will realize that Trump is a fraud and a phony and poses a mortal threat to this country and to the world. Then the tide will turn against him and his ilk, and American democracy will be restored.

 

December 17. 2016

About this daily blog –– the idea is to make it wide-ranging in subject matter, including notes about my personal life, books I’ve been reading , and on what I have been experiencing or thinking about. So far, I’ve been focused on politics. That’s because I’m dismayed at how America seems to be transitioning from a liberal democracy to a Putinesque state.

Trump is the apotheosis of this trend, but it’s broader than Trump and his proclaimed followers. In the Supreme Court, in Congress, and in state governments, cynical, partisan, anti-democratic practices have been on the rise. Example: the stonewalling by Senate Republicans of Obama’s appointment of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court, a flagrant display of contempt for the Constitution.

 I don’t intend to blog all the time, or even most of the time, about political matters, but they’re shaping up to be foremost topic on my mind.
 

 

December 16, 2016

Nearly everyone understands the benefit of vaccines against disease. Trumpism is a potentially fatal disease that has swept across the land. If most Americans had been vaccinated against scourges of this sort, we could have fought Trumpism off. Now we know: before graduating from high school, every citizen should be vaccinated against con artists, charlatans, cult leaders, mesmerists, and the like. Booster shots should be given to guard against notably garish, swaggering, charismatically orange-haired ones.  

How would such a vaccine be formulated? I’d make it a requirement that to graduate from high school you had to have read four particular books. Each book would be the subject of a full-year course, so that even the least academically able students would be able to get a working understanding of it. More able students would also read and report on collateral materials.

My nomination of a book for each high school year:

      Freshman year: Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
      Sophomore year: Eric Hoffer: The True Believer
      Junior year: George Orwell: 1984.
      Senior year: Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies.

 

Since we didn’t have such a vaccination program in place, we have to figure out how to save 324,000,000 infected patients.

 

December 15, 2016

One of the factors that combined with others to produce the electoral calamity of 2016 was that many voters weren’t well enough informed to realize what an extreme danger Trump poses to American democracy and to all humanity.

This lack of awareness on the part of millions of voters was caused by a number of factors, among them (i) propaganda disseminated by Republican politicians and right wing media such as Fox news and the Rush Limbaugh radio show, (ii) Trump’s effective demagogic technique, (iii) elements of the media preferring to improve ratings than practice responsible journalism, (iv) Hillary’s lapses and inability to come across as authentic, (v) the irresponsible (to characterize it charitably) behavior of F.B.I. Director Comey, and (vi) Hillary’s failure, and even President Obama’s failure, and even Bernie Sanders’ failure to draw sufficiently sharp and detailed distinctions between the consequences that would ensue from Trump’s agenda and those that would ensue from Hillary’s.

All these problems, grave and disquieting as they were, would not have been decisive if many more voters had a better understanding of American history and the American political system.

 

December 14, 2016

The outcome of the recent election reminded me of Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm, a superb account of how a highly unlikely coinciding of meteorological factors produced the storm of spectacular fury that sunk the fishing boat, Andrea Gail, in 1991, drowning its six crewmen.

Last month, a highly unlikely coinciding of political factors produced the election of a candidate spectacularly unfit to be president.

America has had exceptional good luck throughout its history. This year, as was bound to happen sometime, its luck ran out. We’ll need some luck to come back, along with dedication, courage, and hard work of millions of good people, if we’re to save America from becoming a fascist state.

 

December 13, 2016

Last night I watched a “Town Hall” conducted by Chris Hayes (MSNBC -- 8:00 P.M. Eastern) in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bernie Sanders joined a panel of local citizens, some of whom voted for Trump and some who didn’t. (Trump won narrowly in Kenosha this year, whereas Obama beat Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008.)
 
I think Hayes’s idea was to get a better understanding of why Trump attracted so much support in a place typical of many cities in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Viewers got to see a little of Kenosha, including an immense stretch of leveled land where a factory once stood. Hayes could have cross-examined Trump supporters as to why they thought that their economic situations would more likely improve under Trump than under Hillary and as to how in good conscience they could vote for such a racist, sexist, xenophobic, crude, ignorant, avaricious, and mendacious candidate as Trump, but that would have been counter-productive, coming off as preaching by a liberal, elite, slick-talking, coastal intellectual. What counted was that during the campaign Trump’s message came across in brisk bold face type and Hillary’s in strung-out wonkish verbiage, and that, for many, Hillary hatred and mistrust neutralized Trump’s appalling behavior.

Unemployment in Kenosha is slightly below the national average, but I got the sense that average income and quality of life have fallen. Despite the supposedly low rate of inflation, living expenses, including educational and medical and insurance expenses, are up. These people have been squeezed. They are sick of establishment figures. When it came to voting, they were willing to throw their lot in with someone who “talked straight “and would “shake things up.”

What now?  I’ll save that topic till a future blog, except to say that I heartily agree with Bill Maher’s recent message to Bill and Hillary Clinton: “Thank you for your thirty years of service. Now I don’t want to see either of you again.”

 

December 12, 2016

“If we learned anything in the 2016 election, it is that a slick charismatic figure can trash the First Amendment, threaten all sorts of unconstitutional actions, incite violence and appeal to naked prejudice with nary a peep from the majority of voters.”
                                                             Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post columnist

Determining why this is true –– how such a person could be elected –– is the first step toward curing the sickness that has come over the land.

 

December 11, 2016

Donald Trump has a single standard for determining whether an assertion is true or not: if it is in accord with his personal liking, it is true; if it is contrary to his personal liking, it is false. Thus, if the CIA asserts that it has determined that the Russians tried to influence the elections to help Trump, this is false. Not only false, but it reveals that the CIA is run by incompetent, terrible people –– that it will be necessary, no doubt, to clean house.  

Suppose the CIA had asserted that there was no evidence that the Russians tried to help Trump, that this was a rumor planted by biased elements in the media. Such an assertion would be true. Indeed it would reveal that the CIA is run by fine people and that we should be thankful it stands up for the truth. As for the treacherous biased media, it will be necessary, no doubt, to clean house.

If not successfully challenged, this way of confronting reality will lead to heart-breaking and calamitous results.

 

December 10, 2016

Remember Louis Armstrong’s remark, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” That’s the way I feel about Trump: If you have to ask why Trump is unfit to be president, you’ll never know. Maybe that’s what Hillary had in mind when she made her self-destructive remark about Trump supporters being “irredeemable.”

This won’t do. We should put our feelings aside. Democrats must avoid falling into the ruinous trap Hillary did by disparaging people who supported Trump. Instead, we need to learn why they came to feel the way they do. Bernie Sanders knows this. That’s why he is conducting a “town hall” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which will be covered by Chris Hayes on MSNBC Monday night Dec. 12, 8:00 P.M. E.S.T. Romney lost Kenosha in 2012, whereas Trump won by a large margin. I’m looking forward to watching this meeting and getting a better understanding of why Trump attracted so much support.

 

December 9, 2016

Last evening Rachel Maddow reported on a new poll, in which voters were asked not about which candidate or politician they supported or would vote for, but about certain facts that reasonably informed voters should know the answer to, for example, during Obama’s eight years in office, (1) has the stock market gone up or down? and (2) has the unemployment rate gone up or down?

The great majority of those who voted for Clinton, Johnson, or Stein knew the answers to these questions. A sizable majority of those who voted for Trump did not. They thought that the stock market has gone down and that unemployment has gone up. In fact, the stock market has more than doubled during Obama’s tenure, and the unemployment rate has fallen sharply.

This poll thus revealed a new fact: the majority of those who voted for Trump are strikingly uninformed. This is important, and I will discuss it further in the next few days.

 

December 8, 2016

Today marks (the sort of) official publication of my memoir, celebrated with a new home page. I didn't intend to be tilted, as shown in this photo. Am I resisting the gravitational pull of the rock mass to my right? Maybe at least psychologically?

 December 7, 2016

Today is a good day to remember that our present danger lies within. “We must fight against the normalization of the unacceptable.” Christiane Amanpour.

 

Decamber 6, 2016

Rather than posting sporadic blogs, book notes, and personal blogs, I've resolved to post a blog on one topic or another here every day. I'll try not to miss any, though it's not likely I won't.

As for anyone keeping a journal, this project is an exercise in self-discipline, an attempt to ensure that there won't be a day when I don't think, at least a little.

There's more need for self-discipline and thinking now than ever, for we have clearly entered a new age, one that's an odd form of "ocracy," a unique one, in fact. We've pretty much left democracy; we're not quite yet in an autocracy; to a considerable extent we're in a plutocracy. Very defintiely we're in a mockocracy. Most astonishingly we've entered a trumpocracy!

It may take awhile before we know exactly what that is, but we already know it's something we need to exit as fast as we can.

_________________________________________________

December 5, 2016

Beginning tomorrow, personal blogs, nonpersonal blogs and book notes will all be incorporated under daily blog.

Pub. date of my memoir, most recently scheduled for today, is now scheduled for Dec. 8th.

 

December 1, 2016

I've decided to combine "blog" and "personal blog" under "personal blog" beginning December 6th, and will attempt to post a blog daily beginning on that date.

 

Novermber 26, 2016

Still on track for a pub date for my memoir of December 5.

I have no new book project in mind at the moment, but beginnning December 6th I'm going to try to post a mini blog on this website every day. I'll be wide-ranging in subject matter, but I expect my overriding concern will be to make America great again, a project the first step of which, of course, is to turn Trump out of office.

 

November 14, 2016

Still revising my memoir.  But now it's truly almost finished.

 

September 23, 2016

I've finished (I think) revising my memoir. With a little luck, it should be published in about a month.

It's been an interesting exercise writing it, and an instructive one too.

 

March 31 2016

    Working on my memoir of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, I’ve been questioning how accurate my memories are and to what extent my brain has been subconsciously determining which memories can be recalled and which will be repressed.
     A lot has been written about “false memories.” It has been said that memories are stories we construct in our minds  I think the facts I will be reciting are generally accurate, but, reviewing them, I’ve noticed that I see many events in a different light than I once did. In some instances, I behaved in ways that at the time seemed acceptable, but now appall me. The insights I’ve gained have prompted me to meditate on how life should be lived. I’ll set forth my thoughts on that almost intractable topic in an appendix.

February 16, 2016

      This month I turned 85. From my perspective this is bizarre. I should be 50 –– I can swim a 1,000 yards without stopping, thanks to good diet, good exercise, and very good luck. Fifty is what I should be, though emotionally put together, which then I decidedly was not.
      When you’re as old as I am, you need more good luck every year than the year before, and some year you won’t have it. On the bright side, you can’t die prematurely!
      What does one do at 85? If you can help it, don’t slouch on the couch. Stay engaged. That’s what everyone says. I’m not sure how engaged I am. I feel more like an observer, though maybe an engaged observer, working on my memoir about growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

December 10, 2015

Lately (by which I mean during the past twenty-five years), my creative efforts have been indulgences. Joseph Campbell would have approved: I followed my bliss. As a result, I produced my best work and had almost no commercial success. 2016 looks to be more of the same. I’ve started writing a a memoir of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, a period so far back that, if Barbara Tuchman hadn’t pre-empted me, I might title my book, A Distant Mirror. It’s intended to be both a social history and a study of how I became the person I used to be.

 

October 26, 2015

About forty years ago or so, when I was working in New York, I met a friend for lunch, and he began the conversation by saying, “You’re looking at man whose life is in shards and splinters.” I didn’t say so, but I could have said the same, and not long afterward, I consulted a psychiatrist. He was about ten years older than I and impressed me as being all wise and all knowing. He nodded empathetically as I described my difficulties. There may have been some intervening discussion, but all I remember was that he said, “When I’m feeling that way, I tell myself that in fifty years it won’t matter.”

My initial reaction to this was astonishment. This man appeared to be completely self-assured, emotionally composed, healthy, enjoying his work, making plenty of money, and, by all accounts, he had fine home and family. How could his life ever be in shards and splinters? I’ll never know, but I’ve come to realize it wouldn’t have been impossible.

My next reaction was puzzlement. Is the notion that “it won’t matter” comforting, or is it depressing? Is it true?  Whether it’s true or not depends on the meaning of the word “it.” If “it” doesn’t extend beyond one’s own consciousness, the doctor was right. But shouldn’t a task of psychiatry be to encourage patients to be more attuned to their effect on others? The way you treat others affects them to some degree and may affect how they affect still others, including people you never meet. “It” may have an effect that continues radiating long after your death. For a tiny minority of historically important figures “it” may matter for millennia. 

Will “it” no longer matter after humans become extinct or have evolved so much that no trace of any of us survives? That is surely the case: At some point “it won’t matter,” but that has nothing to do with what matters now.

 

September 14, 2014

“{T}he animal brain, lacking . . . language, can never rise above the level of unreflective, purely sensory awareness of its world.”  Zoltan Torey, The Conscious Mind  (2014) p. 81, MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.

      MIT Press would never publish a book by an author who did not have top-flight credentials. Of course many highly regarded experts disagree with each other, and I suspect there are some specialists on consciousness, neurophysiology, zoology, and other disciplines relevant to Mr. Torey’s claim who would disagree with him. From my own reading and observation, I’m sure he is flat-out wrong.
      In considering whether certain higher species of animals have reflective awareness rather than purely sensory awareness, it’s necessary to steer between the twin perils of anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. The former is the fallacy of assuming the cause of certain animal behavior to be the same as that of similar human behavior. An example is assuming that a squirrel who stores nuts for the winter does so for the same reason a human stores fire wood: imagining that the squirrel is thinking as would a human: “Winter is coming; better get those nuts buried.” In fact, squirrels are hard-wired (genetically programed) to gather and store nuts in the fall.
      Anthropocentrism is the opposite: in this case the fallacy of thinking that if an animal is incapable employing complex language as we do in the course of reflective awareness, than it cannot be capable of reflective awareness. This where I believed Mr. Torey erred.
      Countless numbers of people have experienced instances of animals being reflective beyond mere sensory awareness without exercising linguistic agency. In his new book, Beyond Words –– What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina, a marine biologist professionally trained to avoid anthropomorphism, recounts numerous instances among animals of mental capabilities richer than Mr. Torey seems to imagine.
      I’m recording these thoughts under the category of Personal Blog rather than Book Notes because of some encounters I’ve had with dolphins, which reinforce my conclusion. Long ago, about 1950, I was sailing alone in Huntington Bay, Long Island, when dolphins appeared and began swimming along on either side of  my boat. They amused themselves a few minutes by escorting me before vanishing from sight. (In the subsequent sixty years I spent a lot of time sailing in Long Island waters but never saw a dolphin again.) 
      About forty years later I went swimming in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although the waves surged with considerable force on the narrow beach, beyond the break the waters were barely ruffled, and I had swum out a hundred yards or so, when I found myself surrounded by spinner dolphins. Like their Long Island cousins they were obviously curious about my presence. For them, hanging out with me for a while was an amusing diversion. I had never heard of a dolphin attacking a human, so I wasn’t concerned, but after a while I headed back for shore, whereupon the dolphins dispersed.
      The third incident occurred a few years later in the Florida Keys, when Sara and I visited a place that advertised, “Swim with Dolphins.” Since then, I’ve come to disapprove of confinement of dolphins and whales in tanks or pens, but on this occasion I did “swim with the dolphins.” I put the phrase in quotes, because the humans paying for this experience were in a confined area in which dolphins were also swimming, but the dolphins not only swam much faster; they also showed no interest in in swimming alongside people, much less cozying up to be patted like friendly dogs. I suspect they regarded our presence as an indignity to be suffered at the hands of their jailers.
       I learned nothing else about dolphins by the time our session ended and we humans returned to locker rooms to shed our wet suits and swim fins and refurbish ourselves in sandals, shorts, t-shirts, sun glasses, and baseball caps. For some reason Sara and I were were sluggish, and by the time we stepped out of the bath house, everyone else had left.
       It remained for us to cross a little bridge connecting two sections of the pens. At midpoint I stopped and leaned on railing for a last look just as a single dolphin surfaced close by and with movements of its tail “stood” well out of the water and made eye contact with me for several seconds before it submerged and swam off.
       What motivated such behavior? It wasn’t thinking in human language, but it was thinking, and I had a strong sense what it was thinking: What are you, you strange creature? Why do you do this? Of course it may have been thinking something else, and it wasn’t thinking in words, but I have no doubt it was functioning above the level of unreflective purely sensory awareness.
      We owe animals much better treatment than we give them, a fact that’s been overshadowed by our owing other humans much better treatment too.
 

August 10, 2015

A Maine snapshot:

Visited friends at their rambling old house on one of those long peninsulas between tidal rivers opening into harbors inhabited by lobster boats and similar craft and when you want to get lobsters for dinner you drive across an ancient wooden bridge with spaces in its supports to let the strong tide wash through without bringing it down or causing an unintentional waterfall to a dock and call out to a lobsterman what you want and he motors his dory in with them; later swam in a cove with only a light slosh of waves and an occasional encounter with a clump of kelp. Maine coast too cold for swimming? Not where we were two hours after high tide, when the water has receded from the rocks enough to reveal a narrow strip of beach, and relatively shallow water has been warmed by the sun. 
  

June  20, 2015

How To Not Be a Zombie

      In the movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers aliens get into the brains of humans. Victims appear to be acting in consequence of their own volition, but their decisions are directed by an alien will. They have become zombies.
      Philosophical debate endures between those who believe that we have free will and those who think it’s an illusion and that everything is predetermined. If the latter view is right, we are all zombies. 
      I don’t think that’s the case. I think we at least have the capability of free will, but you don’t have to resolve any deep philosophical questions to show that a lot of people are burdened by psychological constraints on thinking and acting rationally. Their free will has been compromised by harmful embedded emotions. To some extent they have become zombies. For example, a person with low self esteem may shrink from seizing an opportunity because of fear of failure even when there is no basis for it, even when there’s a greater risk of failure if he holds back! That particular harmful embedded emotion is controlling his decision-making. What’s already in his head can be as sinister as if occupied by an alien being.
      It took me a long time to transition from being a zombie in some crucial respects to being a self-willed human. At least, I think I’m a self-willed human. It’s impossible to be sure, because it’s in the nature of a zombie not to know he is one.
      How did I get not to be a zombie (assuming I’m not)? I read some very good books about how the human mind works. That was probably not enough in itself –– acquiring relevant knowledge isn’t certain to produce an epiphany –– but, in my case, reflecting on what I had learned got me feeling uncomfortable about my past behavior. Truth that had been walled-off seeped into my conscious mind.         
     How do you not be a zombie? It may not always work, but when you’re about to make an important decision and feel even slightly uncomfortable about it, consider whether harmful embedded emotions may be affecting your thinking. Truth may not suddenly dawn on you, but it can work its way into your conscious mind. Then you’ll be a zombie no more.

 

April 3, 2015

On the trail in my apres ski outfit.

 

 

March 8, 2015

 

A Case Study in Stupid Decision Making

 

 

 

Skiing at the Nordic Center north of Durango a couple of days ago, I went down a short steep slope and fell, taking the impact on my right shoulder and breaking my collar bone. Back at my house, arm in a sling, icing my shoulder, I wondered how such a thing could have happened to the author of All It Takes –– the Three Keys to Making Wise Decisions and not Making Stupid Ones. It didn’t take long before I determined that I had ignored decision making traps I described in Key 2 – Think Clearly and in Key 3 – Keep Your Decisions Under Surveillance:

 

 

 

Failure to Gather and Consider All Relevant Facts: A fact I considered in reaching my decision was that the temperature had climbed to over 40 degrees, and in the sun-lit area where I had been skiing the snow had softened. I already knew, but did not consider, that the steep slope I was approaching faced north and was more likely to be icy. No investigation was needed to find this out; I could have simply reflected on what I already knew. I should not have been surprised to find myself going so fast once I started down.

 

Overconfidence: This tendency is ingrained in the human psyche and is a common cause of bad decision making. Our species might not have survived if many people had not been overconfident but succeeded anyway! Unfortunately, a price is paid by most of us for overconfidence, sometimes a high one. The feeling “I can do it!” can be exhilarating and inspiring, but may require analysis. In this case it shut down my thinking.

 

 

Confirmation Bias: When people want to accomplish something or reach a particular conclusion, they have a tendency to dwell on factors supporting that inclination and screen out ones that work against it. In considering whether I should try to ski down the slope, I reflected that (i) I had skied down it several times before without falling, though I had not attempted it this year; (ii) I was in good shape and and had good stamina and muscle tone; (iii) I had been warming up for twenty minutes on gentle terrain and felt lithe and well balanced; (iv) It seemed unlikely that I would fall. 

 

Why didn’t I consider that, though the probability of falling might be low, it was not negligible, and given my age of 84, the consequences of falling while traveling at the speed I might attain were more likely to be serious than if I were younger? Confirmation bias blocked such thoughts from my mind.

 

Keep Your Decisions Under Surveillance:  Sometimes we make decisions that should be reversed if there’s time to do so. I did not keep my decision to ski down the slope under surveillance. I wasn’t open to reconsidering it. If I had been, I might have turned around.

 

 

February 4, 2015

 

Edward Packard joins those answering Eight Eighties Questions from Jade Heasley:

 

http://1980skidblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/he-let-us-choose-our-own-adventures.html

Books and interests as a child: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. They were the inspiration for bedtime stories I made up with my kids and for the book I wrote which came out of them, which I titled The Adventures of You on Sugarcane Island: You are swept overboard while on a sailing trip and cast up on a mysterious tropical island. What will you discover? How will you survive? Will you ever get home again? All questions that have the makings of great adventure. I was also interested in astronomy and wrote a short book on the subject. It was very much out of date because my principal source was an ancient encylopedia I found in the attic. 

Books that influenced me as an adult: I’ve heard it said that the mark of a great book is that it changes the way you think about life; it gives you a jolt in a new direction, one hopes for the better! I think there’s some truth in that, and I have that in mind in trying to answer this question, though it doesn’t make it easier to pick particular books among so many candidates. Among those I found most engaging and illuminating are Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which I have a feeling is the greatest novel ever written, The Odyssey, which must be the greatest adventure story; Shakespeare’s incomparable plays; in our own backyard –– Huckleberry Finn; and among short stories, Tolstoy’s Master and Man and James Joyce’s The Dead; in contemporary non-fiction, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, which helped me learn to think twice about everything except things you have to think fast about. 

Career transition from law to writing: The law was not my natural calling, and I never missed it once I discovered I could make a living writing. 

Inspiration to start Choose Your Own Adventure. When I realized that my first book initiated a new genre, it was natural to imagine a series of them. I thought of calling them Adventures of You books, but Lippincott (later merged into Harper), which published my next two books, headlined them “Choose Your Own Adventure in the Wild West” and “Choose Your Own Adventure in Outer Space.” That designation appealed to Bantam, so when they started publishing books in this genre, they trademarked them as Choose Your Own Adventure books. 

Endless ideas for titles: All it took was to imagine the kinds of adventures I would like to have or might have without wanting them! If aliens captured you and brought you onto their UFO, what would it be like inside it? What would it be like to find yourself hundreds of years in the past; Or in the future? Or be caught on a sailboat in a typhoon? Or go through a black hole and enter another universe? Or be an eagle or an elephant? There’s no limit to “what ifs.” 

How many Choose Your Own Adventure books did I write: Probably about forty in the main series of 180 books, and maybe ten more in the Skylark series for younger readers, plus eleven in other interactive series I invented, such as Space Hawks (you are an elite space pilot helping defend Earth from alien invaders); Earth Inspectors (you are an enlightened alien sent to Earth to learn about the strange creatures called humans that live there); Escape books, which I call story mazes (you are trapped on an island on an alien planet); there is only one ending in the book –– the ending in which you escape –– and it’s very hard to reach. 

What am I working on: I’ve written and am having illustrated a children’s picture book titled Space Trip; collaborating with developers in producing a computer game based on my book, Escape from Tenopia; writing a science fiction short story in which Kooz, a super rich entrepreneur tries to achieve immortality by uploading the content and neural patterns of his brain into a computer, then creating a new-born clone of himself, whose brain, as it develops, will assimilate his mental state from the computer, whereupon (a three-time Nobel prize-winning neurobiologist has assured him) he, Kooz, will experience his sense of self-awareness –– his very being –– emerging in the person of his clone. Sound far out? I wouldn’t argue with you. I also write blogs and book notes, which I post on my website, edwardpackard.com 

The one piece of life advice I’d like to share: Did you know that free will vs. determinism is still a big subject of contention among philosophers? Assuming it is possible to have free will, which we must if we don’t want to just walk around like zombies, the question is how do we maximize it? How do we free ourselves of emotional constraints on thinking clearly? It’s a question I began asking myself when I realized I had made some simply awful decisions because of harmful embedded emotions I wasn’t aware of. There was a famous movie decades ago titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As I remember, these were aliens who took over peoples’ brains, after which, though these poor humans thought they were making their own decisions, it was actually the aliens who were making them. Harmful embedded emotions that we are not conscious of –– ones we may not have the slightest idea exist –– such as, for example, a feeling of unworthiness, can mess things up for you just as much as evil aliens. My one piece of advice is to think about decisions you’ve made that you wish you hadn’t and try to identify any harmful embedded emotions that may have driven them. If you can free yourself of such influences, you’ll probably have no trouble thinking clearly. 

 

December  31, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  I wish I could give a prescription for how to bring it about! No chance of that, but I do have a clue to offer –– a piece of wisdom I learned –– which is that healthy-minded people feel happier when they act kindly toward others. I've resolved to keep that in mind thoughout 2015.

 

September 28, 2014

Three years ago I self-published a book titled All It Takes –– The Three Keys of Making Wise Decisions and Not Making Stupid Ones, a project inspired by curiosity as to why my decision making over the years had often been sensible, even inspired, and at other times stupid, even destructive and self-destructive.

A few months ago, I revised the book, sharpening the writing, correcting some errors, and adding some new material. The new edition is now available. I think many readers could benefit from reading it.  I wish I could have read it a long time ago. See the All It Takes page of this website for further information.

 

September 18, 2014

On the trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Chipmunk and Sara

 

August 26, 2014

There’s not much more exhilarating than climbing a trail through a magnificient conifer forrest and breaking out above the timber line. That’s why the Coal Bank Pass Trail, officially known as the Pass Creek Trail, is my favorite. Last Thursday we parked at the pass (10,700') and began the climb to Engineer Mountain. I made it as far as 11,450' before rain clouds were rolling in and I was getting chilled and turned back. My wife went further, my daughter further still. The boys outdid us all, continuing past the intersection with the Colorado Trail at 11,650’. Whatever the altitude, the urge to keep climbing is almost irresistible.  

 

August 11 - 13, 2014

When I was about nine years-old my family vacationed in the Adirondacks. I've always wanted to return there, and last week I did. My wife and I rented a cabin on a remote northern lake with a panoramic view of Whiteface and neighboring peaks. My son and his two kids joined us. The place came with a couple of kayaks and a clunky row boat. Swimming was excellent; the kids liked kayaking to reefs they could climb on about a quarter mile away. Watching loons cruise by, giving their eerie calls, was a pleasure for us all.

Remote as it was, the lake was "built up," with little houses along almost the entire shore. The water pump in our bedroom "closet" was too loud. Neighbors set off firecrackers nightly at dusk. We had a good time, but another time I'd rather be on a really remote lake, one where to get to it you portage your canoe, a long-slog on an overgrown trail, swatting at insects, until mirabile dictu, you behold a place that, for all practical purposes, is from another time.

 

June 13, 201

After trying to get some of my grandchildren to read more and spend less time on computer games, I'm collaborating wtih a developer in creating a computer game based on one of my books. (I guess it's a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.") Is this a step toward promoting literacy, or undermining it. Promoting it! This game will require reading and thinking. It will be educational! I hope that doesn't sink it.

 

May 23, 2014

D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus exceeded their Kickstarter goal for funding their documentary movie, Unlocking the Cage. This will be important movie. I hope it wins the Oscar for best documentary. We need to raise our general level of empathy if our species is to survive as long as we imagine it will. This movie will help.

 

May 5, 2014

D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are making a documentary titled Unlocking the Cage about the lawyer who is representing a chimp and trying to get his client freed from being wrongly imprisoned. This guy is no crackpot –– he taught at Harvard Law School. The lower court ruled against  him, but treated his case seriously, and of course he's filed an appeal. I don't think a court will ever rule that a chimp has standing to bring a legal action, but maybe it should, since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a corporation can have a religious objection.

D.A. and Chris need extra financing for their film and are trying to raise it through Kickstarter. I hope they reach the $75,000 goal they've set. 17 days left to get it. It's worth checking out on Kickstarter even if you don't plan to contribute. It's a worthy project.

 

April 11, 2014

To hear a podcast of today's Marketplace piece on the story of Choose Your Own Adventure, search: NPR Marketplace podcast Choose Your Own Adventure.

 

March 4, 2014

The new home page for this website is a photo of Earth and the moon taken from the vicinity of Saturn, about a billion miles away, courtesy of NASA’a Cassini spacecraft. Along with our planet and its moon is the cover image of my just self-published children’s picture book, The Good and Bad Dragon. My agent tried mightily to place this book with an established publisher, but couldn’t. The universal verdict: it’s too old-fashioned, too long a story; not the kind of book you’ll find in bookstores these days.

 

February 14, 2014

After many years in the making and a year fruitlessly trying to find a publisher, I've self-published a children's picture book titled The Good and Bad Dragon. This is a lengthy, old-fashioned folk tale, a subgenre I've learned is precisely not what sells in the current marketplace. Samuel Johnson said, "No child is so loved as the child of the brain," so it's not surprising that I think the story is terrific. In any case, the illustrations by Beth Ogden are nonpareil.

 

December 31, 2013

Happy New Year and good wishes to all who stop by!

Here I am, 82 years-old and still trying to think up a New Year's Resolution before midnight.

I know it's best not to overreach and describe all the ways one might change to become perfect. Pick out one thing and really mean it and stick to it is a more sensible way to go.

How's this? "In all relationships, at all times, be mindful of how what you say or do would look from the other person's point of view. "

As a matter of fact, I think that was a resolution I made on New Years Eve about thirty or thirty-five years ago and didn't keep.

All the more reason to make it for 2014.

 

December 15, 2013

I have two more sessions before graduating from physical therapy, with an A-, or at least B+, average –– my shoulder is about 85% restored to full function, and I've been cleared for crawl and backstroke swimming, though not butterfly, which is probably what brought on my ailment to begin with. As you get older, you have to exercise more to keep from turning into mush, but in the course of this you risk doing a type of exercise that's wearing part of you out. That was the case with my butterfly.

 It's probably a good idea to review your exercise program with a physical therapist as a preventative measure. If I'd done this some months ago I would have spared myself eight weeks of time-consuming and generally boring P.T.

 

November 5, 2013

If you're lucky enough not to be struck down by disease or experience some other outrageous fortune, it's amazing how mobile and active you can be even in your eighties provided you adhere to a healthy diet and get a lot of exercise. I've been lucky and stayed in shape, and it's paid off. Trouble is: as you get older, body parts tend to wear out. My shoulder started hurting, especially if I moved my arm a certain way. Diagnois: impingement tendonitis. Treatment: There are 17 muscles involved in the shoulder. You have to rest some while building up the others. It's not easy because they are mixed in together. I have to go to P.T. three times a week for five weeks and do prescribed exercises for an hour every day. After two weeks I'm just beginning to feel improvement, enough so I'm motivated to keep at it. Body parts keep breaking down, and it gets harder and harder to build them up. But life is a challenge at every age. I remind myself how lucky I am to expect to get in plenty of cross-country skiing this winter. There are said to be a billion or more planets the size of the Earth in our galaxy. None prettier than ours, I bet.

 

October 18, 2013

  Back in Durango after a five-day drive from New York, four nights on the road. In May we drove east mostly on I-70. We returned on I-80, the more northern route, on which we encountered generally better roads and fewer trucks. Pennsylvania’s ridgy, rocky topography, which continues into eastern Ohio, is moderately appealing; then the terrain flattens, and the trek through western Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where agribusiness meets industry, was of little interest. Crossing into Iowa was like reaching the promised land. Smooth curves of low hills form ever shifting horizons against the blue sky. Farmhouses and silos, even the rest stops, bespeak neatness, cleanliness, and prosperity. Surely everyone who lives in this state is sane and sweet and good. . . with exceptions––this is where they have the crazy political caucuses. Yet I grew fonder of Iowa, especially after passing great windmills, each a marriage of technology, nature, and art. I wish there had been a place to stop and listen to the enormous blades turning. I’ll always especially remember this state.
     The wind blew harder through windmill-less (at least along I-80) Nebraska and harder still through fracking-infected northeast Colorado. On the final leg of our trip I marveled at the aspen at full color interspersed with dark spruce on the mountain-sides. Higher elevations were clad with snow, which turned pink as the clouds as the sun went down.

 

October 2, 2013

I am born again. Not in the religious sense, but I think the transformation of my state of mind has been as radical as for those who, through some startling catalytic event, find a new faith. My epiphany took thirty years or so. What a sluggish rebirth. Surprising I didn’t turn blue. In any case, my previous self is definitely dead. Looking back at him, I am appalled by some of the stupid and unworthy ways he behaved. To be fair, he often acted commendably. He wasn’t a bad sort, just not someone I particularly admire.

 

September 18, 2013

Clearing out possessions in preparation for decamping from our Long Island place, I thought of an aphorism, which has no doubt has been thought of by many others before: "Clutter is the enemy of clear thinking." There's a depressing effect of clutter, a subliminal feeling that things are out of control. Conversely, uncluttering lifts the spirits.

 

 September 10, 2013

September is the kindest month this year in eastern Long Island. You can look a mile in each direction and see only a scattering of people reading in their beach chairs or lying on the sand. There have been no tropical storms within a thousand miles or so: no need to watch for knock-you-over-and-churn-you waves as you swim. The beach is clean and smooth. Seagulls step aside as you walk barefoot on the firm sand along the surf line, on and on. . . The sun is warm, but won’t bake you the way it will in July. Dark clouds hang above the horizon portending . . . nothing.

 

September 1, 2013

Following Thoreau’s dictum, “Simplify, simplify” we put our Long Island home on the market. It’s where I have about 90% of my tangible personal objects, which I find myself storing, giving away, shredding, recycling, shipping to our remaining house, and designating for distribution to kids and grand-kids. It’s a process that’s given me the strange feeling of having died but miraculously being able to act as my own executor, a real-life echo of my novel Notes from the Afterlife, and a poignant yet strangely exhilarating process.

 

August 17, 2013

Thoughts after returning from the beach while sitting at the dining room table with two grandchildren:

What is one to make of kids who seem perpetually buried in their electronic devices, eyes eight to ten inches from the screen? They are not reading e-books. They are playing games and watching dumb movies. Will they ever read anything resembling literature? Will they ever read anything? They will in school, of course, a thin gruel of standard stuff. What will happen when they grow up? Will they wonder why their kids are immersed in the fruits of some strange new technology instead of playing computer games?

 

July 17, 2013

An old friend I'd gone to school with for eight years visited for a couple of days, and our conversations drew me back to a question I've been mulling for a long time. I'm a Progressive, a Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes fan; my friend is a thoroughgoing Conservative; his views sound like Wall Street Journal editorials. We had similar social and education backgrounds. Why the stark difference? I can think of a number of similar cases, even in my own family. My father was, if anything, more conservative than my friend, but my father's father was an environmentalist and animal rights activist.

Why is this? I'm beginning to think it's genetic variation, like blue eyes or brown eyes.

 

June 23, 2013

Lovely day here in the Hamptons, in fact perfect. The south-wester came up early. It's pleasureable looking up at the treetops, top branches, twigs, and leaves bending in reponse to the wind, sometimes markedly when a puff hits them, the same sort of puff that, over the water, heels your boat over so, if you're close-hauled, water runs over the rails and you work up a little to windward to ease the pressure on the sails.

The beach, not yet overrun with summer visitors, perfect too. Whitecaps on the gray-green ocean tending toward Caribbean blue. Walking along the surf line: What a shocker! It can't be; it is –– a Portuguese Man O War. Do not touch; beautiful but what a sting! And a stinging truth: this is the first one I've ever seen in eighty years of walking on Long Island beaches. Global warming. More evidence. Bit by bit. Buzz Aldrin and Steven Hawking have been talking about how humans will have to move off the Earth to survive. Won't happen.

 

May 30, 2013

     Sara and I recently drove from western Colorado to the East Coast, and I was reminded again of the unmatchable sense of the land one gets on a long road trip. Some impressions that stayed with me: The long climb to Wolf Creek Pass in south-central Colorado was dispiriting. The conifer forests on the west slopes were devastated, I think by pine bark beetles. In mid-afternoon we took our last look at snow-capped peaks of the front range and began the long trip across the plains, beginning with a sixty-mile stretch through empty, mostly flat, land, relieved at one point by the dramatic view of a wind farm –– a long row of towers on which were mounted three-bladed propellers, each about hundred-and-fifty feet long. I wished for a giant statue of Don Quixote confronting them.
     We stayed overnight in Lamar, near the border, and crossed into Kansas and reached the big town of Garden City early the next morning. No gardens were visible from the Interstate; the place seemed dominated by feed lots (fattening-up lots) for cattle, most of which were lying down, presumably because they were so stuffed. We passed a chicken-rendering plant, and I wondered if workers in it ever rid themselves of its particularly repellent stench. You may resolve to become a vegetarian after passing this town.
     We reached Wichita that afternoon and stayed two nights, visiting Sara’s cousin. Our second day skies darkened and buzzers went off on the TV and on cell phones: A tornado had been reported west of the city. Rain, then marble-sized hail, came down hard, and the sky turned black as midnight, a phenomenon I’d never witnessed during daytime. We descended to the basement. The skies eventually brightened. Wichita had been spared, but it was this system that spawned the super-deadly tornado that struck near Oklahoma City the next day. Where we were, morning dawned partly cloudy. We set off early, journeying up the Kansas Turnpike to Emporia. En route, we passed through the Flint Hills, which may be the lowest hills in the country, pretty to look at just the same. From then on we proceeded on I-70, which must be the premier east-west truck route across the America. Missouri passed rather pleasantly, I thought. Crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers is always a thrill, bringing to mind what I learned in grade school, that this is one of the great river systems of the world, and evoking thoughts of Mark Twain and Huck Finn. We crossed Illinois with relative ease and settled for the night at the Holiday Inn, a few hundred yards off the Interstate at Terra Haute, Indiana. We were tired and selected it because we wanted to stay at a motel with a restaurant on the premises, but this old style Holiday Inn had a phasing-out feel to it. The food was barely edible. Our room window wouldn’t open, and the air smelled as if had been circulating through pipes and rooms for decades.
    Passage through Indiana in the morning was unpleasant in the extreme. Trucks ahead of us, trucks behind us, trucks to the side of us, all sending up oil-tinged mist from the drizzle-soaked road. More than any other, though there was plenty of competition, Indiana’s stretch of I-70 abounded with construction area delays, in only a small fraction of which we observed actual construction. Ohio seemed more open, and the topography, especially east of Columbus, more interesting. It helped that the sun came out. We made good time through this state and reached my nephew’s house in Presto Pennsylvania in plenty of time for welcoming arms, an excellent dinner, and refreshingly pleasant quarters. We would like to have stayed another day, but we had to reach Philadelphia by late afternoon, so after a short morning walk, we set out again. Our route to the Pennsylvania Turnpike took us through a tunnel, then east along the edge of down of downtown Pittsburgh, which reminds me of Manhattan, the Monongahela corresponding to the East River and the Allegheny to the Hudson, these two formidable waterways joining at Pittsburgh’s “Battery” to form the Ohio, the analogue of Upper New York Bay. Traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a sunny late-spring day is an agreeable experience, and we arrived at our destination in good time.
     Throughout our trip we were reminded from time to time that the air is not as fresh and clean as it once was. There is a great deal of talk about climate change. Air pollution is its companion problem, and an even more immediate one.

 

May 5, 2013

Last week I observed my grandson Chris’s violin lesson. He took up the instrument at age 4 and is now 11. I wonder whether he would have stuck with it if he hadn’t had such an engaging teacher. Shelly and Chris give the impression of colleagues rather than teacher and student. They speak what amounts to a private language. A nod or a few soft words and gestures moves the lesson along. Sometimes Shelley plays a passage with him. They seem perfectly attuned to each other. No remonstrances, no orders, no phony praise. Just the way it should be.

 

April 16, 2013

    I have a recurring fantasy. I imagine going back in time and having a talk with the me I was when I was 14 years-old. Do I have a lot of tips to give the young me! And, though most 14-year-old boys aren’t likely to be receptive to advice given them by someone two generations older, this one ––the me I was at 14 –– will be, if only because the advice is coming from the same person, only far more experienced and with the same interest in me that I have in myself.
     It happens that I have six grand-children, and their average age is 14. Naturally, I’d like to have the same talk with each of them, modified in each case because the circumstances of each is to some degree unique and in all cases quite different from what mine was when I was 14. Still, I’d like to get some of what I've learned across to them. I try to do that when I see them, but this kind of communication is an art, for sure. Nothing as easy or efficient as it would be if I could talk to the me I was when I was 14.

 

March 28, 2013

For several years I've been writing blogs for this website. My aim has been to contribute to public political discourse and to impel myself to organize and distill my thoughts. As Ionesco said, "I write to learn what I think."

This is my first "personal" blog. Entries under this heading will deal with personal reflections and experiences. I recently reached the age of 82, an age at which one is likely to have had a lot of experiences and, if one's brain is still working serviceably, have a lot to reflect about.

One thing I've been mulling over is the question "To what degree am I the same person I used to be?" It seems to me that in some important respects the person I was at age twenty, or thirty-five, or fifty is dead. I say this after reflecting on decisions I made and attitudes I had at those ages. In some cases what I now view as having been a stupid, unkind, or unfair decision was the result of inadequate knowledge; more often it is my perspective that has changed.

To give an example: At one time I was bothered by how some people had behaved unkindly or thoughtlessly toward me, but not at all bothered by how I had behaved unkindly or thoughtlessly toward others. In recent years, I've come to care not about how people have mistreated me, but about how I mistreated others. This is not to claim that I've evolved from being a selfish person to an unselfish one. I think the shift is more the product of an intellectual insight than moral improvement: a realization that the mistreatment of me by others did not adversely affect my psychic state except to the extent that I let it, but that my mistreatment of others did.