Thursday, January 18, 2018

Not Fully Informed

Chief of Staff John Kelly tries to clear up a few things.

Trump’s chief of staff privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year, and said that he had persuaded the president it was not necessary. He also expressed optimism that a bipartisan immigration deal could eventually be reached.

John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House during his six months as chief of staff, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he had educated the president about the issue of immigration, adding that Mr. Trump had “evolved” on the wall.

Hold it right there, cowboy.  “Credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House”?  So calling Africa and Haiti “shitholes” and tripping over his own message five times before breakfast is supposed to be an improvement?  Okay, so he didn’t call them “fucking shitholes.”

Anyway…

But in telling lawmakers that Mr. Trump had essentially erred from the start in promoting a wall and by claiming credit for dissuading him, Mr. Kelly appeared to be voicing a sentiment some in the West Wing have heard him express privately — that it is his job to tutor a sometimes ill-informed president who has never served in public office before.

At the same time, it suggested that Mr. Kelly, who served as secretary of homeland security before coming to the White House and has hard-line views on immigration that mirror the president’s restrictionist approach, was positioning himself now as a moderating influence.

Mr. Kelly made the remarks at a meeting with members of the Hispanic Caucus, as a group known as the Twos — the No. 2 Democrat and Republican in both the House and Senate — worked toward negotiating a deal to protect from deportation the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. The meeting with the Hispanic caucus was first reported by The Washington Post.

What it really means is that we have an attempt at a reverse Wizard of Oz throne room scene: pay no attention to the flaming talking head; listen to the man behind the curtain who’s really running the show.

The problem with that is that even if you take away all the bells and whistles and tweets and fumbles, you still have a policy on immigration that puts young undocumented immigrants in jeopardy, and worse, unsure of what’s next.  Who knows what the nitwits at Fox and Friends will come off the couch with — aliens in the bathtub! — and send Trump around the bend.

If this little chat was meant to moderate the administration’s approach and instill confidence in their leadership, it needs a lot of work.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Let’s Get Physical

I’m not going to join in the fat-shaming of Trump; his physique and how he takes care of it is his business, and besides, mocking someone for their looks is something that he would do and I’d like to think that I’m better than that.

But it’s pretty obvious that the physician who conducted his examination and reported that he is 6’3″ and weighs 239 pounds is fudging something somewhere.  I mean, c’mon, just looking at him compared to folks who have the same stats stretches the credibility factor.

I’m not an MD, but I’m pretty sure it’s a violation of some code of medical ethics to release false or misleading information.  So I guess we’ll have to take Dr. Jackson at his word.

And if you believe that, here’s a picture of me yesterday waiting for the bus.

Heh, fooled ya; I took the train.

Pushover

This article in the Washington Post sheds disturbing light on how things work in Trumpland.

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin’s outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat’s efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was “fired up” and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn’t interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa “shithole countries,” denigrated Haiti and grew angry. The meeting was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting.

Trump’s ping-ponging from dealmaking to feuding, from elation to fury, has come to define the contentious immigration talks between the White House and Congress, perplexing members of both parties as they navigate the president’s vulgarities, his combativeness and his willingness to suddenly change his position. The blowup has derailed those negotiations yet again and increased the possibility of a government shutdown over the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.”

To some people, this is the art of dealmaking; keep the various parties off guard by changing your position so that no one knows exactly where you stand and thereby getting the best deal possible.

And to the rest of us, it indicates that he has no idea what the hell he’s doing and therefore he can be easily manipulated by whoever is in the room and can get his attention.

So while everyone has been debating over whether he said “shithole” or “shithouse,” the truth is that the policies of this country are being determined by someone who can be distracted and diverted by whoever gets to him first.  In this case it was Chief of Staff John Kelly backed up by Sen. Cotton.

In the late morning, before Durbin and Graham arrived, Kelly — who had already been briefed on the deal — talked to Trump to tell him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda, White House officials said. Kelly, a former secretary of homeland security, has taken an increasingly aggressive and influential role in the immigration negotiations, calling lawmakers and meeting with White House aides daily — more than he has on other topics. He has “very strong feelings,” in the words of one official.

So the guy who was supposed to be the one to keep Trump from going off the rails is actually making him worse.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bought Off

I don’t particularly find it newsworthy that there are reports Trump paid off someone to keep their dalliance a secret.  For one thing, anyone who didn’t suspect that a man who has more insight on how to assault women than he does on how to deal with North Korea is rather naive.  Second, if anyone thinks that Melania didn’t know or didn’t suspect her husband of infidelity, they’re also living in a fantasy that they have the perfect marriage.  (For one thing, no one does.)

There’s more than enough wrong with him that directly touches our lives and future without adding a squib from the Penthouse forum.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Reading

Don’t Mince Words — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

Trump grew up in a wealthy white enclave in Queens, and he first came to public attention in 1973, when the Justice Department sued his father’s real-estate company for refusing to rent apartments to people “because of race and color.” (Trump strongly denied the charges, which eventually led to a consent decree.) In the nineteen-eighties, when Trump owned casinos in Atlantic City, some of his managers got the strong impression that he didn’t like black employees. In a 2015 story about the faded resort town, my colleague Nick Paumgarten quoted a former busboy at the Trump Castle, who said, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.”

In a 1991 book about his experiences running Trump Plaza, in Atlantic City, “Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall,” John R. O’Donnell, a veteran casino executive, recalled a conversation that he had with his boss about an employee in the Plaza’s finance department who happened to be African-American. I cited the passage last fall, after Trump attacked Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a black soldier in the U.S. Special Forces who was killed in Niger, but it is worth reproducing it now. (The quote below begins with Trump speaking about the black employee. The “I” at the start of the second paragraph is O’Donnell.)

“Yeah, I never liked the guy. I don’t think he knows what the fuck he’s doing. My accountants in New York are always complaining about him. He’s not responsive. And it isn’t funny. I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else.”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. But Donald went on, “Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is. I believe that. It’s not anything they can control. . . . Don’t you agree?” He looked at me straight in the eye and waited for my reply.

“Donald, you really shouldn’t say things like that to me or anybody else,” I said. “That is not the kind of image you want to project. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation, even if it’s the way you feel.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “If anybody ever heard me say that . . . holy shit . . . I’d be in a lot of trouble. But I have to tell you, that’s the way I feel.”

Is there any doubt that Trump still holds these kinds of views? Even before his latest racial slur—it was reported on Thursday that he referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and certain nations in Africa as “shithole countries” during a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office—the answer was clear. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump described Mexican immigrants as “in many cases criminals, rapists, drug dealers, etc.”; questioned the fitness of a U.S.-born federal judge by referring to him as “Mexican”; mocked the mother of a Pakistani-American war hero; and, for a time, refused to condemn David Duke, the former Klansman.

Since taking office, Trump hasn’t changed much, if at all. He has embarked on a public crusade against black football players who kneel during the national anthem, suggested that some of the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, were “good people,” and boasted about calling Don Lemon, the African-American CNN host, “the dumbest man on television.” While some might try (lamely) to argue that Trump took some of these steps to rile up his disaffected white voting base, no such reasoning can be applied to his statements in internal meetings, where, according to a report in the Times, he has said that recent immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that immigrants from Nigeria, once they had seen the United States, would never “go back to their huts.”

Evidently, the subject of immigration brings out Trump’s inner Archie Bunker. His latest awful utterance—the “shithole” comment—came during a meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers who are trying to reach a deal to extend legal protections for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The deal being discussed would grant these protections while also including changes to the immigration system intended to attract conservative votes in Congress.

According to the Times (though it was the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey who first broke the story), the Republican senator Lindsey Graham and the Democratic senator Dick Durbin presented Trump with a plan that would cut the current visa lottery program and reallocate some of those slots to immigrants from troubled places like Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations whose citizens have been granted so-called Temporary Protected Status in the United States. The Administration has in recent months begun cancelling the protected status of several groups of immigrants—most recently, Salvadorans—and it seems that the mention of Haiti irked the President. When the discussion moved on to African countries, he reportedly said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” And he added that the United States should admit more people from places like Norway.

Rather than denying that Trump had made these remarks, the White House press office dispatched Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary, who is Indian-American, to try to rationalize them. “The president will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration—two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country,” Shah’s statement said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”

In appearing to suggest that immigrants from places like El Salvador, Haiti, Liberia, and Sierra Leone couldn’t become productive and assimilated American citizens, the press-office statement demonstrated that deep racial prejudices extend beyond the Oval Office to other parts of the White House. For now, though, the focus should remain on the principal offender rather than his apologists.

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” In a subsequent tweet, he said, “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country . . . Made up by Dems.” Neither of these tweets specifically addressed the reported use of the phrase “shithole countries.” Later in the morning, Senator Durbin told reporters that Trump said “things which were hate-filled, vile, and racist … You’ve seen the comments in the press; I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”

For the past year, Republicans, senior Democrats, and many media commentators have held back from applying the R-word to Trump. In some circumstances, there are good reasons for exercising such caution. Calling someone a bigot is not a step to take lightly. Often, it can shut down discourse and fuel animosity. With Trump, there is the added consideration that, as long as he’s the President, other politicians in Washington have little choice but to deal with him. Also, he runs his mouth so much that a lot of what comes out of it doesn’t merit serious consideration. After this latest outburst, however, the arguments for being reticent seem absurd. The obvious truth can no longer be avoided or sugarcoated: we have a racist in the Oval Office.

Good People Don’t Defend a Bad Man — John Pavlovitz.

At times in this life it can be a challenge to figure out who the bad people are, but sometimes they help you.

Sometimes they do the work for you.

Sometimes with their every vulgar, bitter word from their mouth, they testify to their personal malignancy and they make it easy to identify them.

Generally speaking, there are things that good people do and things good people don’t do.

Good people don’t refer to entire countries as “shitholes”—most notably countries that have given birth to our very humanity; ones that for hundreds of years have been colonized and poached and mined of their riches by powerful white men; countries whose people have been enslaved and sold and forced to come and build your country.

Good people by any measurement we might use—simply don’t say such things.

Of course good people also don’t say they could grab women by the genitalia, either.
They don’t defend racists and nazis and call them “fine people,” days after murdering a young girl and terrorizing an American city.
They don’t brag about their penis size during debates, or suggest protestors at campaign rallies should be roughed up, or crack jokes about captured war heroes, or make fun of the physically disabled.
They don’t.

Good people don’t tweet anti-Muslim rhetoric in the moments immediately following a bombing in order to bolster a position.
They don’t leave American territories filled with brown skinned people without power for months upon months, after publicly ridiculing their public servants and questioning their people’s resolve.
They don’t erase protections for the water and the air, for the elderly, the terminally ill, the LGBTQ.
They don’t take away healthcare from the sick and the poor without an alternative.
They don’t gouge the working poor and shelter the wealthy.
They don’t abuse their unrivaled platform to Twitter-bait world leaders and to taunt private citizens.
Good people don’t prey upon the vulnerable, they don’t leverage their power to bully dissenters, and they don’t campaign for sexual predators.

But this President is simply not a good human being, and there’s simply no way around this truth.

He is the ugliest personification of the Ugly American, which is why, as long as he is here and as long as he represents this nation, we will be a fractured mess and a global embarrassment. He will be the ever lowering bar of our legacy in the world.

And what is painfully obvious in these moments, isn’t simply that the person alleging to lead this country is a terrible human being—it is that anyone left still defending him, applauding him, justifying him, amening him, probably is too.

At this point, the only reason left to support this President, is that he reflects your hateful heart;he shares your contempt of people of color, your hostility toward outsiders, your ignorant bigotry, your feeling of supremacy.

A white President calling countries filled with people of color shitholes, is so far beyond the pale, so beneath decency, and so blatantly racist that it shouldn’t merit conversation. It should be universally condemned. Humanity should be in agreement in abhorring it.

And yet today (like so many other seemingly rock bottom days in the past twelve months) they will be out there: white people claiming to be good people and Christian people, who will make excuses for him or debate his motives or diminish the damage.

They will dig their heels in to explain away or to defend, what at the end of the day is simply a bad human being saying the things that bad human beings say because their hearts harbor very bad things.

No, good people don’t call countries filled with beautiful, creative, loving men and women shitholes.

And good people don’t defend people who do.

You’re going to have to make a choice here.

Echoes of a Soundtrack — Kristen Marguerite Doidge on Simon and Garfunkel’s tunes in “The Graduate” fifty years later.

When Mike Nichols’s low-budget comedy-drama The Graduate premiered in December 1967, it arrived during a time of national unrest. Many Baby Boomers were pushing back against the status quo: The military draft and the escalation of the war in Vietnam, combined with movements calling for civil rights and women’s liberation, prompted students and activists to protest the political and social establishment of the time. For those Boomers feeling alienated from their parents’ generation, The Graduate mirrored their disillusionment via a more personal, rather than ideologically charged, story.Adapted from what was then a little-known novel of the same name by Charles Webb, the coming-of-age film follows 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) as he finishes college and struggles to find purpose in a world of meaningless consumption. Uncertain about his future, Benjamin embarks on an empty affair with an older woman—Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft)—while desperately pursuing her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). The Graduate quickly became a hit after its release (grossing $104.9 million on a $3 million budget) and garnered several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

Though its storyline was certainly provocative, The Graduate stood out for another reason: Nichols’s groundbreaking decision to use previously released songs for the soundtrack, which came out 50 years ago this month. Previously, traditional orchestral film scores were used simply to provide background music for onscreen action. So The Graduate’s heavy reliance on the folk-rock songs of the popular duo Simon and Garfunkel was unprecedented: By the time the film was released, many of the major tunes were already well known. “The Sound of Silence,” now indelibly associated with the movie, had already reached No. 1 on Billboard’s charts in January 1966. The Graduate’s musical innovations are all the more notable for how the soundtrack meaningfully commented on the plot, the characters, and, by extension, the viewers themselves.The folk-rock sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s most beloved records both defined and belonged to the youth of the period, a notion driven home by how Nichols uses the songs in the film: No scene in which older generations are the focus contains the group’s music. “Young people at the time may have had idiosyncratic or subjective relationships, or intimate bonds with Simon and Garfunkel’s music,” David Shumway, a professor of English who studies American culture and popular music at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But many of them also would have understood it as a way they shared the world with other people their own age.” Where other directors may have seen these preexisting associations as a burden, or at least a possible distraction from the story, Nichols embraced the songs’ meaning.

When the movie opens, the haunting tune “The Sound of Silence” plays as Benjamin arrives at the Los Angeles International Airport from college. The first somber notes and lyrics—“Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again”—immediately suggest the character’s persistent loneliness. Benjamin rides a moving sidewalk like a piece of luggage on a conveyer belt; the lost look in his eyes as other travelers pass by him hints at his lack of agency in the face of his parents’, and society’s, expectations for him. The lyrics double down on his alienation as the instrumentals grow more energetic: “And in the naked light I saw / Ten thousand people, maybe more / People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening.” Though Benjamin himself hasn’t said a word, the tone and sense of where the plot is headed have been established by the music alone.Simon and Garfunkel’s music frequently serves a Greek Chorus–type function throughout The Graduate, as the author H. Wayne Schuth notes in his 1978 book, Mike Nichols. The songs’ lyrics not only comment on the onscreen action, but also give insight into the way a character feels, and perhaps even articulate what the characters cannot say. Nichols uses songs for wordless montage sequences or scenes with only voiceover narration, allowing the viewer to more easily become swept up in the melodies and lyrics, Shumway said.

Each of the major songs in the film is associated with one of the main characters. While the somber and complex “The Sound of Silence” often plays during scenes centered on Benjamin, the sensual and seemingly wistful “April Come She Will” is about Mrs. Robinson and the duo’s ill-fated affair. Meanwhile, the romantic tune “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” is about Elaine, with most verses ending, “Then she’ll be a true love of mine,” reminding viewers that Benjamin sees her as the ultimate object of his affections. The song that became most associated with the film is “Mrs. Robinson,” which existed in a rough form before Nichols and the duo developed it to be part of the soundtrack. Its upbeat melody and empathetic lyrics (“God bless you, please”) stand in sharp contrast to the gloomy “Sound of Silence.” When it plays during the climactic scenes of The Graduate, “Mrs. Robinson” seems to function as a farewell to the murkiness of the past, amplifying Benjamin’s sense of hopefulness that he might be able to create a new future for himself.The Graduate’s radical approach to film music happened almost by accident. Both Nichols and the producer Lawrence Turman were fans of Simon and Garfunkel, and knew they wanted to use the duo’s songs for the film’s soundtrack. Turman negotiated a deal for Paul Simon to write three new songs for the project, but the group’s tour schedule got so busy, Simon never got around to it. “Most directors and editors lay in temporary music to get an emotional feeling and a rhythm while they’re editing,” Turman told me. “Sam O’Steen, the editor, had laid in ‘The Sound of Silence,’ and ‘Scarborough Fair,’ and Mike [Nichols] turned to me and said, ‘We’ll be so used to these old songs, we won’t like the new ones,’ and I said … ‘Well, we’ll use the old songs!’ And that’s exactly what we did.”

Once the film was completed, Nichols and Turman showed the final cut to Joseph Levine, the movie’s financier, who said, ‘‘‘It’s the best ever, and once you get the new songs in, it’ll be fantastic!’” Turman told me. “We said, ‘But, Joe, those are the songs we’re using.’ And he just turned [ashen]. He said, ‘But every kid in the country knows those songs! They’ll laugh you off the screens!’” Turman and Nichols debated what to do, but ultimately decided to go with their instincts and keep the music as it was.In a 1967 New York Times movie review, Bosley Crowther praised the film’s score, noting the “dandy modern folk music, sung (offscreen, of course) by the team of Simon and Garfunkel, has the sound of today’s moody youngsters.” Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, John Mahoney called “The Sound of Silence” in particular “an inspired selection for underscoring and a significant component of the film.” Roger Ebert initially called the duo’s songs “instantly forgettable,” but 30 years later acknowledged he had been wrong (he did lament in 1997, though, that “the liberating power of rock and roll is shut out of the soundtrack … the S&G songs are melodic, sophisticated, safe”).

The Graduate’s original soundtrack went on to become huge hit: It rose to No. 1 on the Billboard charts following its release and spent as much time in the top spot as the Beatles’ White Album, which came out later that year. The record featured two versions of the Grammy Award–winning song “Mrs. Robinson,” which won Record of the Year in 1969 (though the full version didn’t appear until Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends album was released in April).

It is, of course, difficult to reflect on The Graduate’s success without also recalling how it helped begin the long and fruitful career of Hoffman, who allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women on the sets of his projects in the ’70s and ’80s. (Hoffman’s attorney dismissed the claims against the performer as “defamatory falsehoods.”) Decades ago, The Graduate’s music spoke to viewers disenchanted with the establishment of the time; today, the backlash against men like Hoffman who stand accused of abusing positions of privilege suggests that there will always be people willing to challenge entrenched systems of power.

While the unique cultural milieu in the late 1960s means the narrower set of associations between film and popular music probably won’t be re-created again, it’s the sound of resistance and resilience—not silence—that perhaps resonates the most as The Graduate turns 50. Today, a newer generation might push back against the status quo with a decidedly different and more fragmented soundtrack. But Nichols’s contributions to cinema are worth remembering as Hollywood continues to evolve, bringing an even wider range of stories and musical innovations to the big screen.

 Doonesbury — In the clear.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What Passes For Presidential Now

Trump had a bunch of senators, representatives, and other people over to the White House to discuss immigration and it was all on TV.  After it was all over, the chattering heads were swooning about how “presidential” he was even though he didn’t seem to understand what the hell they were talking about.

For example, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked for a “clean DACA bill,” which would prevent some 800,000 people from being in jeopardy of being deported.  Trump said, “Sure, that’s fine.”  That brought a swift response from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who wanted something completely different, to which Trump said, “Sure, that’s fine,” and then Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) chimes in with something else on a different tangent, and Trump said, “Sure, that’s fine.”  At the end of the televised portion he declared, “I want whatever you all come up with,” or words to that effect.

That resulted in this from CNN’s Dana Bash:

This is the presidency that a year ago we all thought Donald Trump was capable of… Just the notion of him being in command .. This is what people who had high hopes for the Trump presidency thought it would be, meeting after meeting like this.

Oh, for Dog’s sake.  Just because he didn’t stand up and throw paper towels doesn’t make him presidential.  This wasn’t leadership.  This was some old fart nodding and smiling through something he doesn’t understand at all because he’s more concerned about when he’s going to get his pudding.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hardly Working

According to Axios, Trump has a quiet day every day.

Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us.

[…]

On Tuesday, Trump has his first meeting of the day with Chief of Staff John Kelly at 11am. He then has “Executive Time” for an hour followed by an hour lunch in the private dining room. Then it’s another 1 hour 15 minutes of “Executive Time” followed by a 45 minute meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Then another 15 minutes of “Executive Time” before Trump takes his last meeting of the day — a 3:45pm meeting with the head of Presidential Personnel Johnny DeStefano — before ending his official day at 4:15pm.

I did more work last week when I was on vacation.

On the other hand, can you imagine what chaos he’d cause if he was actually working?  Thank Dog for laziness.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Spare Us The Diagnosis

Is Trump mentally ill?  Aside from the fact that I’m not qualified to make that determination and no one who hasn’t examined him is, Josh Marshall makes a good point.

It’s really only the behavior that matters to us as citizens. A diagnosis would only be helpful to learn about behavior we don’t know about or predict future endangering behavior. Since we know about the behavior we’re talking about, none of that matters or applies. In common sense, every day rather than clinical language Trump is clearly unstable, erratic, impulsive. In a word, he’s nuts and not well. As citizens, we are entirely able and entitled to make these determinations. They are ordinary English language descriptors that the psychiatric profession doesn’t control and shouldn’t want to control. The entire debate over whether Trump is “mentally ill” is simply a diversion, premised on the idea that we need either permission or dictation to say he is not able to safely or competently fulfill the job of President. We don’t. The observed behavior is really all that is necessary and all that matters. It’s very clear.

To put it in terms that I can relate to, it’s like driving your car down the highway and suddenly seeing clouds of white smoke trailing out the back.  At that point you don’t spend a lot of time wondering about what caused it; you pull over, find the source, and put out the fire before anything worse happens.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sunday Reading

Geniuses Don’t Tell — James Fallows in The Atlantic on speaking of intelligence.

I’ve never met or interviewed Donald Trump, though like most of the world I feel amply exposed to his outlooks and styles of expression. So I can’t say whether, in person, he somehow conveys the edge, the sparkle, the ability to connect, the layers of meaning that we usually associate with both emotional and analytical intelligence.But I have had the chance over the years to meet and interview a large sampling of people whom the world views the way Trump views himself. That is, according to this morning’s dispatches, as “like, really smart,” and “genius.”In current circumstances it’s relevant to mention what I’ve learned this way.

Trump tweeted a defense of his mental stability Saturday morning. (Screenshot from Twitter)
(Screenshot from Twitter)

I once spent weeks on interviews for a magazine profile of a man who had won a Nobel prize in medicine while in his forties. Back in my college days, one afternoon our biology professor passed around Dixie cups full of champagne before beginning the day’s classroom lecture, because of news that he had just won the Nobel prize. In decades of reporting on the tech industry, I’ve interviewed people—Gates, Jobs, Musk, Page—whose names have become shorthands for their respective forms of brilliance, plus several more Nobel winners, plus others who are not famous but deserve to be.

During a brief stint of actually working at a tech company, I learned that some of the engineers and coders were viewed as just operating on a different plane: the code they wrote was better, tighter, and more elegant than other people’s, and they could write it much more quickly.I’ve had the chance to interview and help select winners of fancy scholarships. Recently, in Shanghai, I interviewed a Chinese woman now in her early twenties who became the women’s world chess champion at age 16—and we were speaking in English.If you report long enough on politics and public life, even there you will see examples of exceptional strategic, analytic, and bargaining intelligence, along with a lot of clownishness.

In short (as Lloyd Bentsen might once have put it): I’ve known some very smart people. Some very smart people have been friends of mine. And Donald Trump…

***

Here are three traits I would report from a long trail of meeting and interviewing people who by any reckoning are very intelligent.

  • They all know it. A lifetime of quietly comparing their ease in handling intellectual challenges—at the chess board, in the classroom, in the debating or writing arena—with the efforts of other people gave them the message.
  • Virtually none of them (need to) say it. There are a few prominent exceptions, of talented people who annoyingly go out of their way to announce that fact. Muhammed Ali is the charming extreme exception illustrating the rule: he said he was The Greatest, and was. Most greats don’t need to say so. It would be like Roger Federer introducing himself with, “You know, I’m quite graceful and gifted.” Or Meryl Streep asking, “Have you seen my awards?”
  • They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa; and the incomparable vastness of what any individual person can never know. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.We can think of exceptions—the people who are eminent in one field and try unwisely to stretch that to another. (Celebrated scientists or artists who become ordinary pundits; Michael Jordan the basketball genius becoming Michael Jordan the minor-league baseball player.) But generally the cliche is true: the clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance.

***

On the other hand, we have something known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: the more limited someone is in reality, the more talented the person imagines himself to be. Or, as David Dunning and Justin Kruger put it in the title of their original scientific-journal article, “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.”

Odds are that the world’s most flamboyant illustration of this dangerous mis-perception, despite his claimed omniscience, would not even recognize the term, nor its ominous implications in his case.

Crumbling Schools — Edwin Rios in Mother Jones on the state of school buildings in America.

This week, as the “bomb cyclone” ravaged cities along the East Coast, schools across the northeastern and southern United States were forced to shut down due to inclement weather and freezing temperatures. But Baltimore schools remained open during the first half of the week despite broken heating systems that caused some classroom temperatures to dip below 40 degrees. And although schools closed on Thursday and Friday, the debate over who’s responsible for the inadequate heating and water systems in the city’s aging school buildings—and how to fix the underlying problem—rages on.The plight of Baltimore students first reached national consciousness on Wednesday, when a video of students discussing the conditions with former NFL linebacker turned elementary school teacher Aaron Maybin went viral. “What’s the day been like for you today?” Maybin asked. “Cold!” the kids, some in jackets and hoodies, shouted together. Parents and teachers shared images of kids bundled in coats and thermostats on social media.On Wednesday, after the district closed four schools and dismissed two others early, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said in a Facebook video that 60 school buildings—a third of the district—reported problems that included broken boilers and water pipes. The decision to close schools, though, wasn’t made lightly. Santelises noted in the video that in the district, where nearly 87 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, administrators were forced to try to find a balance between the students’ need for food and safety with an impossibly cold learning environment.

It didn’t take long for local politicians to start sparring over the issue: On Thursday, when Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted that if his kids were in Baltimore’s schools, he would be at the superintendent’s office “seeking answers,” former NAACP president Ben Jealous, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, shot back, replying that “all Maryland kids” are Rutherford’s kids. “Will we see you at the Superintendent’s office seeking answers for your kids?” he tweeted. Jealous wrote later on Facebook that Rutherford didn’t show up, adding: “Had he, I would have told him our administrators and teachers are not to blame and that it’s time we fully fund our schools.”

In a statement to CNN, Santelises expressed frustration with the lack of funding for school infrastructure.

“[T]oo many of our buildings have outdated heating systems, poor insulation, and aging pipes as a result of years of inadequate funding for maintenance and facilities improvements,” she said. In an op-ed for Teen Vogue, Kimberly Mooney, a teacher in Baltimore, also argued that the schools’ faltering pipes were just one example of the minimal financial support from the state to resolve Baltimore’s “crumbling infrastructure.”

In 2012, a report commissioned by Baltimore City Public Schools found that 69 percent of the district’s campuses were in “very poor condition,” and it would take an estimated $2.5 billion to bring buildings up to adequate standards. The Baltimore Sunreported on Thursday that the city’s schools have had to return $66 million in state funding to fix heating systems and make building repairs after they delayed projects for too long or the projects became too costly. Lawmakers called for changes to how money was awarded for projects,  and Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan said he was “outraged at the failures in Baltimore City” and blasted officials’ “ineptness and mismanagement” regarding the funding.

The debate in Baltimore reflects longstanding infrastructure woes schools face throughout the country. Beyond roads and highways, these 100,000 public schools—many of which are housed by aging buildings in desperate need of repairs and modernization—make up the second largest infrastructure system in the United States. Yet the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concluded in its annual report card last year that more than half of the nation’s public schools needed investments just to bring the building conditions to “good.” High-quality school facilities have been linked to better academic achievement for students, fewer suspensions, and better staff retention.

The problem has been brewing for decades. The Government Accountability Office concluded in 1995 that America’s schools needed a collective $112 billion to “repair or upgrade their facilities to good condition.” That number has ballooned to an estimated $145 billion per year, including an additional $46 billion each year on construction and maintenance to bring facilities up to modern standards, according to a 2016 “State of Our Schools” report.

Currently, the federal government spends little on improving school infrastructure, leaving the bulk of the financing to come from the state and local governments. In fact, local taxpayer dollars account for, on average, only 45 percent of funding toward maintenance and operations. But budgets are tight: After the 2008 recession, most states reduced school funding, putting pressure on local districts to make up the difference. In 2015, 29 states still had less overall state funding than they did in the 2008 school year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even as student enrollment grew.

Meanwhile, the capital funds, which are used to renovate and build new schools and to shore up technological infrastructure, dropped 31 percent from 2008 to 2015. The ASCE 2017 report card noted that the constricted budgets have led to “accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling, and lighting systems.”  And much of the capital construction investment on school facilities—82 percent—comes down to how much school districts can raise from taxpayers, the 2016 “State of Our Schools” joint report noted. “Because the large majority of capital construction is funded by local taxpayers, the ability of school districts to pay for major renewals or new construction is tied to the wealth of their community, perpetuating inequity in school facility conditions,” the authors wrote.

One 2006 study found that projects at schools in wealthier areas spent three times more capital funds than projects in schools in poorer areas—where infrastructure investment is needed the most. In the 2012-2013 school year, 60 percent of schools with some of the poorest student populations, where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, needed repairs. That’s 12 percentage points higher than those in wealthier communities, according to theNational Education Center for Statistics. 

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump, with his longpromised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, will keep his pledge to “rebuild our roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, airports, schools, and hospitals.” Last January, Senate Democrats introduced their own 10-year infrastructure proposal that included $75 billion toward shoring up schools, and it’s been lying dormant in Congress ever since. For now, some citizens are taking action—a college student’s GoFundMe campaign to provide space heaters and jackets for the Baltimore students far exceeded its $20,000 goal.

“Hamilton” In London — Daniel Pollack-Pelzner in The New Yorker takes in the show back in the land that sparked it.

The night that I saw “Hamilton” on Broadway, in 2015, the Vice-President at the time, Joe Biden, happened to be sitting down the row. It was a mixed blessing: his entourage jammed the bathroom lines at intermission, but his presence lent the musical, about the American Revolution and its aftermath, an additional thrill. Watching Alexander Hamilton rap against a series of antagonistic Vice-Presidents—Adams, Jefferson, Burr—with Biden just a few seats away felt as close as I’d ever come to seeing “Macbeth” in 1606 with Banquo’s supposed descendant, King James I, at my elbow.

Two years and one Presidential election later—and a little more than a year after Biden’s successor, Mike Pence, attended the show and was beseeched from the stage to represent “the diverse America,” as the musical’s multiethnic cast aspires to do—I saw “Hamilton” in London, on its opening night, at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The mood was similarly charged, with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the much heralded son of a Pakistani bus driver, shaking hands in the lobby. It felt like a long way from the Obama-Biden years. American and British electorates didn’t follow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s script, voting against the inclusive immigrant narrative and cosmopolitan cultural energy that “Hamilton” had come to embody for many (though not for some left-wing critics, who have labelled the show “Founders Chic” and said that it merely dresses up the Great Men of American history in hip-hop robes). Would it be the same show across the Atlantic, in the era of Trump and Brexit?

Miranda has a knack for cultural synthesis; in a press conference before the London opening, he placed his verse drama in a tradition that runs back to Shakespeare and noted that he’d made a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Bard’s birthplace. He has also played up Hamilton’s ties to Britain’s current orphan hero: Hamilton’s first encounter with Aaron Burr “is basically Harry Potter meeting Draco Malfoy,” he wrote in his notes to the published script. On her way to a post-show reception, Helena Bonham Carter, who played Bellatrix Lestrange in the Potter films, said that she’d like to play Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler, powerfully incarnated at the Victoria Palace by Rachel John. On the day of the opening, the London “Hamilton” company released a promotional video that features a mashup of Angelica’s showstopping “Satisfied” with the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” At intermission, I had to step over the long legs of Keith Richards, who sat next to the Miranda family.

There were a few tweaks: Miranda said in an interview that he’d rewritten a joke about the Vice-Presidency for a British audience that might not know that John Adams once held that office. He also replaced references to Weehawken and the Potomac, since even general geography lacked local purchase. (A line about duelling across the Hudson because “Everything is legal in New Jersey” didn’t get the laugh it earned in Manhattan.) But a “Macbeth” allusion played better in the U.K. than it did Stateside: when a beleaguered Hamilton, “son of a whore and a Scotsman,” sings to Angelica, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day / I trust you’ll understand the reference to another Scottish tragedy without my having to name the play,” the audience chuckled in appreciation.

“Macbeth” has had a decent run outside the Jacobean court, and “Hamilton,” too, looks poised to thrive through future administrations. When the newcomer Jamael Westman, as a laser-focussed Hamilton, a head taller and a decade younger than Miranda, rapped, “A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists? / Give me your position, show me where the ammunition is!” the audience erupted. The ovation for the veteran Giles Terera, a canny Burr, stopped the show after “The Room Where It Happens,” his declaration of lust for insider politics, and Obioma Ugoala brought down the house with George Washington’s preacherly farewell address, “One Last Time.” Alex Lacamoire, the show’s music director, said, at intermission, “I thought about changing a few things, but then I decided, nah, it’s pretty good.” The one difference, he explained, was the speed with which the London actors learned the score. They’d all listened to the original cast recording—the highest-débuting Broadway album on the Billboard 200 chart in half a century—and came into rehearsal with the music memorized. The same seemed to be true for the audience, which obeyed King George III’s command to sing the chorus to his catchy number “You’ll Be Back” along with him. “It’s not common for an audience to come to a première already knowing all the songs,” Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer, told me. “Spotify changed everything.” (Seller added that he expected “Hamilton” to be translated into Spanish and, perhaps, German.)

King George, the home-town antihero played by Michael Jibson, resplendent and glowering at his errant subjects in the audience, got the biggest cheer of the night. (“We did spiff up the King’s outfit,” Miranda said. “He’s got a much bling-ier garter because we were in the shadow of Buckingham Palace and he was looking a bit dingy.”) But Hamilton’s complaint that “Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly” sparked a loud laugh, too, and the revolutionaries’ victory over the British forces at the Battle of Yorktown prompted mid-song applause. “It seemed a bit double-barrelled,” the Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, whose book is the basis for the musical, reflected after the show. “The audience cheered for King George and then enjoyed the satire.” A British fan, waiting for an autograph from Jason Pennycooke, who plays a gleefully showboating Thomas Jefferson, said that the King wasn’t a villain—“he’s just comic relief.”

The most knowing laughter came at King George’s caution to the newly independent colonies: “Oceans rise / Empires fall / It’s much harder when it’s all your call / All alone, across the sea / When your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.” Was this a prophecy of Donald Trump’s spiralling isolationism—the travel ban, the broken accords, the looming wall—or an admonition to Brexit leaders fumbling after the British Conservative Party’s recent electoral setback? Miranda made the connection explicit before the show: “When you see the King singing about ‘You’ll be back; it’s harder on your own,’ given what you’re going through with Brexit, those lines ping off in all these different directions.”

A three-star review that ran in the right-wing Daily Mail, an outlier among widespread five-star rapture, asked whether Hamilton, as an architect of national sovereignty, might have actually supported the Leave vote; the other skeptical review, from the Sunday Times, compared Hamilton’s economic élitism to the leadership of the European Union. Barack Obama used to joke that “Hamilton” was the only thing that he and Dick Cheney could agree on; what sounded like a bipartisan endorsement also served as a reminder that works of art are susceptible to more than one ideology. “Hamilton,” after all, is a reflection on the contingency of historical narratives—its final chorus sings, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” Chernow said that he hoped the show would remind Britain that, even in the age of Trump, America could represent diversity and inclusion, a force for good.

Doonesbury — No pain…

Saturday, January 6, 2018

“I’m Smart!”

Via the New York Times:

Trump, in an extraordinary defense of his mental capacity and fitness for office, described himself on Saturday as a “genius” and “a very stable genius at that.”

In a series of Twitter messages that seemed to respond to revelations in a new book, Mr. Trump defended himself by charting his rise to the presidency, saying one of his chief assets throughout his life was “being, like, really smart.”

Sound familiar?

If you have to tell people you’re smart, you’re not.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Popcorn Futures Are Way Up

Nothing gets the schadenfreude going like a good schoolyard fight between two raging egos.

Trump on Wednesday castigated his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon as a self-aggrandizing political charlatan who has “lost his mind,” marking an abrupt and furious rupture with the onetime confidant that could have lasting political impact on the November midterms and beyond.

The White House’s sharp public break with Bannon, which came in response to unflattering comments Bannon made about Trump and his family in a new book about his presidency, left the self-fashioned populist alienated from his chief patron and even more isolated in his attempts to remake the Republican Party by backing insurgent candidates.

Late Wednesday, lawyers for Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon, arguing he violated the employment agreement he signed with the Trump Organization in numerous ways and also likely defamed the president. They ordered that he stop communicating either confidential and or disparaging information, and preserve all records in preparation for “imminent” legal action.

“You have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company,” read the letter from lawyer Charles Harder.

In a lengthy statement issued in the afternoon, Trump blamed Bannon — his former campaign manager and chief strategist who now heads the conservative Breitbart News website — for everything from leaks to the news media to the upset GOP loss in last month’s Senate race in Alabama. The president cast Bannon as a disgruntled former staffer whose chief goal is to stir up trouble.

President Trump congratulates chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staffers at the White House last January. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” the statement said. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

The White House also released a statement from the first lady’s office condemning the forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff as a title to be found in the “bargain fiction” bin, while the Republican National Committee said Wolff has “a long history of making stuff up.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, devoted much of her Wednesday news briefing Wednesday to disputing Wolff’s claims and seeking to undermine Bannon’s credibility.

The response was a marked departure from mid-October, when Trump called Bannon “a friend of mine” and said he understood his perspective.

But the much anticipated account of life in Trump’s White House caught the president and his West Wing team off-guard, with the president huddling with White House communications director Hope Hicks, one of his most trusted advisers, and Sanders to craft the fiery statement, after calling friends for much of the morning. Aides thought they had more time to prepare for the book’s formal release.

Trump spent much of the day raging about the book to top aides, officials and advisers said, and Sanders described the president as “furious” and “disgusted.” As he fumed, some aides were still frantically searching for a copy of the book, and even senior aides such as Hicks had not seen it by the afternoon, officials said.

“He’s out of control,” one person with knowledge of Trump’s comments said. This person added that the president had been in an upbeat mood for much of Tuesday, continuing to brag about last month’s passage of the Republican tax bill even as he fired off combative tweets.

New York magazine has an excerpt from the book in which Trump never expected to win the election and was stunned — like the rest of us — when he actually did.

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

And that’s when the smiles turn into fixed grins as is the realization that we’ve got someone who has no more business running the country than a six-year-old does driving a semi.  Nothing’s going to get him to let go of the wheel voluntarily even if we’re heading for a cliff.  And what this will do to relationships with the rest of the world is scary because even once Trump leaves office, our allies are going to be wary of a country that would elect someone like him to office after the presumed maturity of electing Barack Obama.  Can we be trusted not to go batshit crazy again?

So enjoy the infighting while we can, but remember that we have a country to run and a world to keep safe.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pecker Contest

Oh, great.

Trump escalated his war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday evening, asserting that his “nuclear button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than the North Korean leader’s and threatening that the U.S. arsenal “works.”

Trump was responding to Kim’s annual New Year’s Day speech on Monday, during which the North Korean leader boasted that the United States is “within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office.”

Trump said in his Tuesday tweet, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

So the world is going to end thanks to two 12-year-olds showing off in the locker room.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Here we go with my annual recap and prognostication for the year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.

I’m still frightened.  Nothing — not the Mueller investigation, the revelations coming from various sources, or chatter about impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment — has calmed my fear that he is still capable of doing something that puts us and the rest of the world in peril.  As for the second bullet point, we are seeing faint glimmers that disillusionment is happening in the nooks and crannies of America where he can do no wrong, and no amount of tweeting and bullshit from Fox News can turn around his dismal approval numbers.  But that just means that fully 1/3 of the electorate still approve of him.  Even his failures — Obamacare yet survives and the deportations haven’t happened — haven’t dimmed the hopes of the dim.

  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief. He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.

Obviously I’m not an economist because if I was I would have known that the economy lags behind and the continued growth and low unemployment rate are a result of Obama’s policies.  Of course Trump is taking credit for it.

  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.

The Syrian civil war goes on but it’s not dominating the news cycles, and ISIS is a lessening factor.  I don’t know if it’s sheer exhaustion.  The refugee crisis goes on but with a lesser magnitude.

  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress. Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.

Trump rescinded some of the Obama administration’s changes in our relations with Cuba but not enough to return us to Cold War status.  The blockade, such as it is, enters its 57th year.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control. The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”

Charlottesville and Trump’s tacit support of the Nazis proved that to be true, more’s the pity.

  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

I lost two uncles and a nephew since I wrote that.

  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.

They traded Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he helped the Astros win the World Series, but…

Okay, now on to predictions.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.
  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)
  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.
  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.
  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.
  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.
  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.
  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.
  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)
  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.
  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.
  • I’ll do this again next year.

Okay, friends; it’s your turn.

Sunday Reading

Cognitive Decline — Charles P. Pierce.

On Thursday, El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago sat down with Michael Schmidt of The New York Times for what apparently was an open-ended, one-on-one interview. Since then, the electric Twitter machine–and most of the rest of the Intertoobz–has been alive with criticism of Schmidt for having not pushed back sufficiently against some of the more obvious barefaced non-facts presented by the president* in their chat. Some critics have been unkind enough to point out that Schmidt was the conveyor belt for some of the worst attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton emanating from both the New York FBI office and the various congressional committees staffed by people in kangaroo suits. For example, Schmidt’s name was on a shabby story the Times ran on July 23, 2015 in which it was alleged that a criminal investigation into HRC’s famous use of a private email server was being discussed within the Department of Justice. It wasn’t, and the Times’ public editor at the time, the great Margaret Sullivan, later torched the story in a brutal column.

Other people were unkind enough to point out that the interview was brokered by one Christopher Ruddy, a Trump intimate and the CEO of NewsMax, and that Ruddy made his bones as a political “journalist” by peddling the fiction that Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster had been murdered, one of the more distasteful slanders that got a shameful public airing during the Clinton frenzy of the 1990s. Neither of those will concern us here. What Schmidt actually got out of this interview is a far more serious problem for the country. In my view, the interview is a clinical study of a man in severe cognitive decline, if not the early stages of outright dementia.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen my father and all of his siblings slide into the shadows and fog of Alzheimer’s Disease. (The president*’s father developed Alzheimer’s in his 80s.) In 1984, Ronald Reagan debated Walter Mondale in Louisville and plainly had no idea where he was. (If someone on the panel had asked him, he’d have been stumped.) Not long afterwards, I was interviewing a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher for a book I was doing, and he said, “I saw the look on his face that I see every day in my clinic.” In the transcript of this interview, I hear in the president*’s words my late aunt’s story about how we all walked home from church in the snow one Christmas morning, an event I don’t recall, but that she remembered so vividly that she told the story every time I saw her for the last three years of her life.

In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart. (My father used to give a thumbs up when someone asked him a question. That was one of the strategies he used to make sense of a world that was becoming quite foreign to him.) My guess? That’s part of the reason why it’s always “the failing New York Times,” and his 2016 opponent is “Crooked Hillary.”

In addition, the president* exhibits the kind of stubbornness you see in patients when you try to relieve them of their car keys—or, as one social worker in rural North Carolina told me, their shotguns. For example, a discussion on healthcare goes completely off the rails when the president* suddenly recalls that there is a widely held opinion that he knows very little about the issues confronting the nation. So we get this.

But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

This is more than simple grandiosity. This is someone fighting something happening to him that he is losing the capacity to understand. So is this.

We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.

In Ronald Reagan’s second term, we ducked a bullet. I’ve always suspected he was propped up by a lot of people who a) didn’t trust vice-president George H.W. Bush, b) found it convenient to have a forgetful president when the subpoenas began to fly, and c) found it helpful to have a “detached” president when they started running their own agendas—like, say, selling missiles to mullahs. You’re seeing much the same thing with the congressional Republicans. They’re operating an ongoing smash-and-grab on all the policy wishes they’ve fondly cultivated since 1981. Having a president* who may not be all there and, as such, is susceptible to flattery because it reassures him that he actually is makes the heist that much easier.

So, no, I don’t particularly care whether Michael Schmidt was tough enough, or asked enough follow-up questions. I care about this.

I’m always moving. I’m moving in both directions. We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. … [Talking with guests.] … The last guy that killed the eight people. … [Inaudible.] … So badly wounded people. … Twenty-two people came in through chain migration. Chain migration and the lottery system. They have a lottery in these countries. They take the worst people in the country, they put ‘em into the lottery, then they have a handful of bad, worse ones, and they put them out. ‘Oh, these are the people the United States. …” … We’re gonna get rid of the lottery, and by the way, the Democrats agree with me on that. On chain migration, they pretty much agree with me.

We’ve got bigger problems.

He Believed — Dan Barry in The New York Times on his father’s belief in UFO’s.

The year now ending has been so laden with tumultuous news that one astounding report in the exhausted final days of 2017 seemed almost routine: that for years, an intelligence official burrowed within the Pentagon warren was running a secret program to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects.

Beg your pardon?

That scoop, by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean for The New York Times, was underscored by a companion article that detailed how in 2004 an oval object played a game of aeronautic hide-and-seek off Southern California with two Navy fighter jets assigned to the aircraft carrier Nimitz. The object then zipped away at a speed so otherworldly that it left one of the Navy pilots later saying he felt “pretty weirded out” — as you might if you watch the video of the encounter that the Department of Defense has made public.

In considering these reports, my mind turned to all those reasonable people who were dismissed and ridiculed over the years because they believed that something was out there. I thought in particular of believers who had died without savoring these official revelations.

Believers like my late father.

I can hear what he would have said, there at the veterans’ home, his broken vessel of a body in a wheelchair but his mind as quick and bright as a shooting star. “I’ve been saying it for years,” he’d assert, followed by a choice epithet he reserved for government officials, followed by, “I knew it.”

Then, a satisfying drag on a cigarette.

My father, Gene, finished high school at night and served three years in the Army; he did not attend college. But he had a fearsome intellect, read voraciously and developed a command of such subjects as American history, numismatics — and U.F.O. investigations. Through the 1960s and 1970s, he joined many others in monitoring reports of aerial anomalies, tracking down reams of redacted official reports and swapping theories about credible sightings and government cover-ups.

They bandied about the names of well-known U.F.O. researchers — J. Allen Hynek, Donald Keyhoe, Stanton Friedman — and read the latest newsletters from an organization called the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, or Nicap. They remained resolute, even when many others gave up the cause after an Air Force-funded report in 1969 concluded that further study of U.F.O.s was unlikely to be of much scientific value, leading to the termination of the official Air Force program investigating the subject.

To the likes of Gene Barry, the report was merely part of the cover-up.

He was no astronomer or physicist. Just a working stiff who endured the anonymous drudgery of a daily commute but then, at night, often felt connected to something larger than himself, larger than all of us. While his neighbors focused on the fortunes of the New York Jets, he was contemplating whether the “wheel in the middle of a wheel” mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel referred to a flying object of some kind. If so, just consider the implications!

In our family, the horizontal line separating earth and sky often blurred. My father’s supernaturally patient wife and four impressionable children carried small blue membership cards for a research and investigative organization called the Mutual U.F.O. Network, or Mufon. We applauded my father when he spoke at a U.F.O. symposium at a local university. At his behest, my sister Brenda even brought a blueprint for a spacecraft that he had received in the mail — mysterious packages often arrived in the mail — to Sts. Cyril and Methodius parochial school to ask her science teacher what he made of it.

The teacher handed it back without a word.

In other households of the 1960s, Barney and Betty referred only to the Rubbles of Bedrock, loyal neighbors of Fred and Wilma Flintstone. But in our home, those names might also refer to Betty and Barney Hill, a New Hampshire couple who claimed to have been abducted and examined by aliens in 1961.

Then there were the family outings. Every so often our parents would pack us into the Chevy station wagon for a nighttime drive to that rare Long Island hill with an unimpeded view of the sky, or to Wanaque, N.J., 70 miles away, where strange lights were said to have been hovering over a local reservoir.

Gradually, we children would doze off, our necks stiff from craning. My mother, the tolerant sidekick and chauffeur, would light another cigarette, while my father continued to train his cheap binoculars on the celestial infinity, confident in the certainty of the still uncertain.

Over the years, life on terra firma intruded. Career setbacks, sickness, that daily anonymous grind. My father’s unofficial cell of believers quietly disbanded — exhausted, perhaps, by government silence and the false reports caused by weather balloons, satellites and people just seeing things. Then, when my mother died in 1999, he lost the person who grounded him, the Betty to his Barney.

He died in 2008, still believing without having seen, still questioning the government, still marveling at the arrogance of those who insisted we were the only intelligent life in the universe.

A decade passed, and then came this month’s report of a secret Pentagon program with the delightful name of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Funded by the government between 2007 and 2012, the program investigated aerial threats that included “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or U.A.P.s — which is just a less-polarizing way of saying U.F.O.s.

To hardened veterans of the U.F.O. wars, the news of the government program was less surprising than it was validating. And the video of the encounter between Navy fighter jets and an unidentified object moving at extraordinary velocity provided a helpful visual to the cause of those U.F.O. groups with long acronyms.

“Very interesting, very interesting,” said Fran Ridge, the archivist of the research accumulated by Nicap, now defunct. “But the very first thing that entered my mind was — why now? Is this a distraction? Is this something to get the people’s attention off politics?”

Mr. Ridge’s skeptical words reminded me of my father, who half-joked that he believed in a conspiracy — about everything.

“Finally, the kimono is being opened a little,” said Jan Harden, the director of Mufon. “Personally, I don’t need verification from the government. But for the mass public, it’s important to know that there is advanced technology in our skies.”

The news of the Pentagon’s program received a stunning amount of attention that included the usual dismissive commentary.

“Call me when you have a dinner invite from an alien,” the celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said on CNN, a comment that would have driven my father to distraction. Classic redirection, he would have railed, the tip of his cigarette reddening with rage.

But my father would also have nodded in agreement to what the good astrophysicist had to say about that almost playful aerial anomaly captured on government video. “It’s a flying object and we don’t know what it is,” Dr. Tyson said. “I would hope somebody’s checking it out.”

Exactly, the old man would have grunted. Been saying it for years.

74 Things — The Atlantic’s science, technology, and health reporters on amazing things we learned this year.

This past year, reporters on The Atlantic’s science, technology, and health desks worked tirelessly, writing hundreds of stories. Each of those stories is packed with facts that surprised us, delighted us, and in some cases, unsettled us. Instead of picking our favorite stories, we decided to round up a small selection of the most astonishing things we learned in 2017. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did, and we hope you’ll be back for more in 2018:

  1. The record for the longest top spin is over 51 minutes. Your fidget spinner probably won’t make it past 60 seconds.
  2. Flamingos have self-locking legs, which makes them more stable on one leg than on two.
  3. If your home furnace emits some methane pollution on the last day of 2017, it’ll almost certainly leave the atmosphere by 2030—but it could still be raising global sea levels in 2817.
  4. By analyzing enough Facebook likes, an algorithm can predict someone’s personality better than their friends and family can.
  5. There are cliff-hanging nests in northern Greenland that have been used continuously for 2,500 years by families of the largest falcons in the world. Researchers read the layers of bird poop in the nests like tree rings.
  6. Hippos can’t swim.
  7. Six-month-old babies can understand basic words like mouth and nose. They even know that concepts like mouth and nose are more related than nose and bottle.
  8. Most common eastern North American tree species have been mysteriously shifting west since 1980.
  9. In 2016, Waymo’s virtual cars logged 2.5 billion miles in simulated versions of California, Texas, and Arizona.
  10. America’s emergency 9-1-1 calling infrastructure is so old that there are some parts you can’t even replace anymore when they break.
  11. The transmitters on the Voyager spacecraft have as much power as refrigerator light bulbs, but they still ping Earth every day from billions of miles away.
  12. By one estimate, one-third of Americans currently in their early 20s will never get married.
  13. Donald Trump has a long and gif-heavy presence on the early web.
  14. Somewhere around 10,000 U.S. companies—including the majority of the Fortune 500—still assess employees based on the Myers-Briggs test.
  15. Humans have inadvertently created an artificial bubble around Earth, formed when radio communications from the ground interact with high-energy particles in space. This bubble is capable of shielding the planet from potentially dangerous space weather like solar flares.
  16. Climate-change-linked heat waves are already making tens of thousands of Americans sleep worse.
  17. China poured more concrete from 2011 to 2013 than America did during the entire 20th century.
  18. A lay minister and math Ph.D. was the best checkers player in the world for 40 years, spawning a computer scientist’s obsessive quest to solve the entire game to prove the man could be beaten.
  19. There is a huge waterfall in Antarctica, where the Nansen Ice Shelf meets the sea.
  20. On Facebook, Russian trolls created and promoted dual events on May 21, 2016, bringing Muslim and anti-Muslim Americans into real-world conflict at an Islamic center in Houston.
  21. Boxer crabs wield sea anemones like boxing gloves, and if they lose one of these allies, they can make another by ripping the remaining one in half and cloning it.
  22. Cocktail napkins on airplanes may be essentially useless to travelers, but to airlines they are valuable space for advertising.
  23. Scientists can figure out the storm tracks of 250-year-old winter squalls by reading a map hidden in tree rings across the Pacific Northwest.
  24. On islands, deer are occasionally spotted licking small animals, like cats and foxes—possibly because the ocean breeze makes everything salty.
  25. People complained of an “epidemic of fake news” in 1896.
  26. Languages worldwide have more words for describing warm colors than cool colors.
  27. Turkeys are twice as big as they were in 1960, and most of that change is genetic.
  28. Two Chinese organizations control over half of the global Bitcoin-mining operations—and by now, they might control more. If they collaborate (or collude), the blockchain technology that supposedly secures Bitcoin could be compromised.
  29. U.S. physicians prescribe 3,150 percent of the necessary amount of opioids.
  30. Physicists discovered a new “void” in the Great Pyramid of Giza using cosmic rays.
  31. Daily and seasonal temperature variations can trigger rockfalls, even if the temperature is always above freezing, by expanding and contracting rocks until they crack.
  32. The eight counties with the largest declines in life expectancy since 1980 are all in the state of Kentucky.
  33. The decline of sales in luxury timepieces has less to do with the rise of smartwatches and more to do with the rising cost of gold, the decline of the British pound, and a crackdown on Chinese corruption.
  34. Spider silk is self-strengthening; it can suck up chemicals from the insects it touches to make itself stronger.
  35. Intelligence doesn’t make someone more likely to change their mind. People with higher IQs are better at crafting arguments to support a position—but only if they already agree with it.
  36. Among the strangest and yet least-questioned design choices of internet services is that every service must be a global service.
  37. Steven Gundry, one of the main doctors who has contributed to Goop, believes Mercola.com, a prominent anti-vaccine site, is a site that gives “very useful health advice.”
  38. At many pumpkin- and squash-growing competitions, entries are categorized by color: Any specimen that’s at least 80 percent orange is a pumpkin, and everything else is a squash.
  39. Only 2 percent of all U.S. Google employees are black, and only 4 percent are Hispanic. In tech-oriented positions, the numbers fall to 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
  40. The weight of the huge amount of water Hurricane Harvey dumped on Texas pushed the earth’s crust down 2 centimeters.
  41. Russian scientists plan to re-wild the Arctic with bioengineered woolly mammoths.
  42. The NASA spacecraft orbiting Jupiter can never take the same picture of the gas planet because the clouds of its atmosphere are always moving, swirling into new shapes and patterns.
  43. During sex, male cabbage white butterflies inject females with packets of nutrients. The females chew their way into these with a literal vagina dentata, and genitals that double as a souped-up stomach.
  44. If all people want from apps is to see new stuff scroll onto the screen, it might not matter if that content is real or fake.
  45. Cardiac stents are extremely expensive and popular, and yet they don’t appear to have any definite benefits outside of acute heart attacks.
  46. Animal-tracking technology is just showing off at this point: Researchers can glue tiny barcodes to the backs of carpenter ants in a lab and scan them repeatedly to study the insects’ movements.
  47. One recommendation from a happiness expert is to build a “pride shrine,” which is a place in your house that you pass a lot where you put pictures that trigger pleasant memories, or diplomas or awards that remind you of accomplishments.
  48. Some ancient rulers, including Alexander the Great, executed a substitute king after an eclipse, as a kind of sacrificial hedge.
  49. A colon-cancer gene found in Utah can be traced back to a single Mormon pioneer couple from the 1840s.
  50. In November and December 2016, 92,635 people called the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line to ask for turkey-cooking advice. That’s an average of over 1,500 calls per day.
  51. In the United States as a whole, less than 1 percent of the land is hardscape. In cities, up to 40 percent is impervious.
  52. ​Half of murdered women are killed by their romantic partners.​
  53. Among the Agta hunter-gatherers of the Philippines, storytelling is valued more than hunting, fishing, or basically any other skill.
  54. The familiar metal tokens in the board game Monopoly didn’t originally come with the game, to save costs. Popular bracelet charms of the Great Depression were only added to the box later.
  55. Thanks to the internet, American parents are seeking out more unique names for their children, trying to keep them from fading into the noise of Google. The median boy’s name in 2015 (Luca) was given to one out of every 782 babies, whereas the median boy’s name in 1955 (Edward) was given to one out of every 100 babies.
  56. America’s five most valuable companies are all located on the Pacific Coast between Northern California and Seattle.
  57. President Kennedy secretly had Addison’s disease, a hormonal disorder, which he treated with injections of amphetamines and steroids from Max Jacobson, a doctor whose nickname was “Dr. Feelgood.”
  58. Some of the most distant stars in the Milky Way were actually “stolen” from a nearby galaxy as the two passed near each other.
  59. Hummingbirds drink in an unexpected way: Their tongues bloom open like a flower when they hit nectar, and close on the way out to grab some of the sweet liquid.
  60. New York City has genetically distinct uptown and downtown rats.
  61. The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 created one of the most detailed maps of the deep ocean ever.
  62. People who can’t find opioids are taking an over-the-counter diarrhea drug. Some are consuming as many as 400 to 500 pills a day.
  63. It used to take 10,000 pounds of pork pancreas to make one pound of insulin. (Insulin is now made by genetically engineered microbes.)
  64. Astronauts on the International Space Station can’t enjoy the yummy aromas of hot meals like we can on Earth because heat dissipates in all different directions in microgravity.
  65. “Sex addiction” isn’t recognized by the psychiatric community in any official capacity, and it’s actually a deeply problematic concept that risks absolving men of agency in sexual violence.
  66. The peculiar (and previously unidentified) laughter that was recorded for the Golden Record was—well, we won’t spoil it for you until you read the story.
  67. The oldest rocks on Earth, which are 4 billion years old, have signs of life in them, which suggests that the planet was biological from its very infancy.
  68. Fire ants form giant floating rafts during floods. But you can break up the rafts with dish soap.
  69. Until this year, no one knew about a whole elaborate system of lymphatic vessels in our brains.
  70. People are worse storytellers when their listeners don’t vocally indicate they’re paying attention by saying things like “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm.”
  71. China’s new radio telescope is large enough to hold two bowls of rice for every human being on the planet.
  72. Scientists calculated that if everyone in the United States switched from eating beef to eating beans, we could still get around halfway to President Obama’s 2020 climate goals.
  73. The reason that dentistry is a separate discipline from medicine can be traced back to an event in 1840 known as the “historic rebuff”—when two self-trained dentists asked the University of Maryland at Baltimore if they could add dental training to the curriculum at the college of medicine. The physicians said no.
  74. Naked mole rats can survive for 18 minutes without any oxygen at all.

Doonesbury –Quitting time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Oops

The House will have to do a re-vote on the GOP tax bill.

House Republicans thought they had finished their tax work on Tuesday afternoon when they passed a version of the bill 227 to 203. But the effort hit a snag Tuesday afternoon when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that three of its provisions violated that chamber’s Byrd Rule — guidelines on what types of legislation can pass with a simple 50-vote majority.

To comply with the Byrd Rule, the Senate made a series of minor tweaks to the bill before passing it, requiring the House to vote again as the two chambers must pass identical versions. The House is slated to vote Wednesday midday, and none of the changes are expected to cost the plan GOP support.

Under Trump and Ryan, the GOP has been unable to do anything without fumbling on the goal line: repealing Obamacare, getting judges confirmed, electing Republicans in special elections.  And these are supposed to be “the best people.”

These guys could screw up a one-car parade.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wrapped Up By Christmas

Trump is telling his True Believers that the Mueller investigation will be done by Christmas and he expects to receive a formal letter of exoneration, if not an apology.

Um, hold that thought.

People with knowledge of the investigation said it could last at least another year — pointing to ongoing cooperation from witnesses such as former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as a possible trial of two former Trump campaign officials. The special counsel’s office has continued to request new documents related to the campaign, and members of Mueller’s team have told others they expect to be working through much of 2018, at a minimum.

Well, maybe by Christmas.  But not this one.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Brace For Impact

The Mueller investigation must be getting close to doing something or else why would the Trumpistas be blasting their denials and accusations of bias at full cry?

Trump on Sunday sought to douse speculation that he may fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III amid an intensifying campaign by Trump allies to attack the wide-ranging Russia investigation as improper and politically motivated.

Returning to the White House from Camp David, Trump was asked Sunday whether he intended to fire Mueller. “No, I’m not,” he told journalists, insisting that there was “no collusion whatsoever” between his campaign and Russia.

The president’s comments came a day after a lawyer representing Trump’s transition team accused Mueller of wrongfully obtaining thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration — a legal and public relations maneuver seen as possibly laying the groundwork to oust the special counsel.

Trump criticized Mueller for gaining access to those emails, telling reporters the situation was “not looking good.”

“It’s quite sad to see that,” Trump said. “My people were very upset about it.”

Mueller’s spokesman denied wrongdoing, and some legal experts questioned the claim that the emails were improperly obtained.

The outcry over Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference grew louder over the weekend among Trump loyalists and conservative media figures. Although Trump has publicly and privately criticized the Department of Justice and the FBI and voiced displeasure with his appointees there, the president’s advisers insisted he is not aiming his ire at Mueller.

“As the White House has repeatedly and emphatically said for months, there is no consideration about firing or replacing the special counsel with whom the White House has fully cooperated in order to permit a fully vetted yet prompt conclusion,” Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer overseeing the Russia matter, said Sunday in a statement.

There could be indictments as soon as this week.  If that happens, the question arises as to how Trump and his minions will react.

We already know that Trump doesn’t take bad news well, and we’ve heard how his staff sugar-coats his Presidential Daily Briefings (PDB) with puffery and happy-talk stories about how wonderful things are under his regime so as not to upset him.  So who knows what he’ll do or what buttons he’ll push in response to a federal indictment of him or his senior staff.

Firing Mueller would be the least of our worries.  What if Kim Jong-un scratches his ass?

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