Sunday, June 18, 2017

Damn you, Donald! I was hoping finally to take a vacation in Cuba this winter and you just went and ruined it.

I've had two bucks invested here since 1957
Yes, this is partly about how Donald Trump wrecked the loosening of America’s ban on travel to Cuba. But for me it’s more than that. And it’s personal. And it's old. The story goes back sixty years. 

In 1957, I was an Antioch College student in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Back then, there were only two drinking spots in town, and the students pretty much stuck to one of them. It was called the Trail Tavern. It’s still there today, a centuries-old building on the main drag that once served as a hiding place for escaped slaves on the underground railroad.

So one night, I was sitting at the bar in the Trail Tavern and a classmate of mine, one Bennett Kremen, sits down next to me and begins raving.

“Man,” he says, “I was just down in Cuba. There’s gonna be a revolution down there. Everybody thinks Batista has the country under control, but I was up in the mountains, in a place called Oriente, and they’ve got a whole army of revolutionaries. You should see the shit they’ve got. They’ve got jeeps. They’ve got howitzers. They’ve got trucks. They’ve got rifles. They've got mortars. They’ve got machine guns. They’re going to take over that country, man!”

“Uh oh,” I thought, “Crazy Benny is at it again. Maybe he’s been smoking a bit too much loco weed.”

That same week, a group of Cubans visited campus, representing some guy nobody ever heard of at the time called Fidel Castro. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I ran into Kremen again and he admitted that he had brought the Cubans back with him, from his vacation.

At any rate, I sat in a dormitory common room while the Cubans had their say. They were planning to get rid of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba, they said. Yeah, well nobody loved the guy. He was the kind of person Theodore Roosevelt defended with undisguised disgust when he said “They may be sons of bitches but they’re our sons of bitches."

I was only half listening to the Cubans. I wasn’t particularly political at the time and I had some books to crack. But I do remember them confirming what most Americans already knew anyway. Batista was an S.O.B., a brutal dictator, who had built an economy based on sugar prices supported by the U.S. Government, gambling casinos, and whorehouses. The visiting Cubans told us many illustrative atrocity stories to convince us of what we already knew. One story was about a Batista opponent whose eyes were gouged out in prison by Batista's police. I believed it. Batista was not a nice guy.

At they end of the talk, they told us they were collecting money for their cause and passed a hat around. That's not a metaphor. It was a real hat. I tossed in two dollars.

Now two dollars was not a huge sum, but it bought a lot more than you can get for two bucks today. With two dollars, I could have bought coffee every night in the college coffee shop for maybe two weeks. Or I could have purchased perhaps five hamburgers. Most important of all, two dollars was two-fifths of my weekly spending money. 

All the same, as six decades of inflation have done their work, two dollars increasingly sounds like a cheesy contribution. Which is part of the joke I’ve been cracking for the last twenty years or so.

“One of these days I’m going to go down to Cuba to see what I got for my two bucks,” I’d say at cocktail parties. Sometimes it elicited an amused chuckle.

Then President Obama loosened up some of the restrictions on travel to Cuba. And I started thinking about actually going there. I’m under no illusions about the government. It's a police state. It treated Batista’s brutes with the same brutality they had treated others. Far too many Cubans died in front of Castro's firing squads. Some may have been innocent, or guilty of very little.

And yes, from what I know, the Castro government’s major achievement was turning desperate poverty into genteel poverty. But if true, I see that as an improvement, quite an improvement considering we've embargoed their economy for half a century. The people became better fed. They certainly became better educated. They have access to medical care that many Americans could wish for, even as the Cubans have to watch what they say, and to whom they say it.

I was hoping to travel there inexpensively. I hoped to sleep at Air BnB homes, where I could guardedly converse with Cubans about what they liked, and didn’t like, about their lives and their government. This was going to happen this coming winter.

And then along comes Donald Trump. For no good reason, other than to break something because President Obama made it, and to please a handful of aged Cuban refugees who can’t let go of their hatred for the dead Fidel, Trump slammed on the brakes.

Obama caused “illegal tourism” to Cuba, Trump declared in one of his typically incoherent rants. He was going to stop the illegality.

Can you still go to Cuba? From what the Washington Post reports, yes, if you have relatives there. Or if you get on a Cuban tour bus and let  yourself get shuttled from site to site by government guides feeding you the party line. But hell, if I’m going to do that I might as well stay home and read about it on the Internet. Thank Donald Trump.

Once again, the problem child in the White House has acted like a six year old who goes to a classmate’s birthday party, breaks all the toys, throws the birthday cake on the floor, and then whines that all the other kids are being mean to him. In this case, the breakage was of less restrictive travel to Cuba. So I may never see first hand what I got for my two bucks.

Oh, about Bennett Kremen. In the early 1970s he traveled around parts of the United States, doing total immersion journalism. He worked in factories. He froze helping to build an arctic oil pipeline. He hung with students. He dug into Americans' lives and their thoughts, and turned it into a book called “Dateline America: dispatches from an altering nation.”

It got a friendly review from Kirkus. It got a snarky review in the Harvard Crimson from some college kid named Nick Lemann, who is today Dean Emeritus of Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism and a writer for the New Yorker. Go know.



Kremen pretty much gave up on journalism after that and went on to do other things. So far as I know, he has not been back to Cuba again. And thanks to Donald Trump, I am likely never to get there in my own lifetime. Another reason I so relish watching the Trump Administration implode into itself.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Listen up, White House staff: lawyer up right now while the lawyering up is good!

I don't know what it is with Catherine. I told her to
lawyer up, but she said, "No, I'll just use King Henry's
lawyer and save some money."
Hello, suckers. Yes, I’m talking to you, the the people on the White House staff who work for President Trump.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, has been dispensing reassurances to some of you. Some, including the Times, would or might call it advice.

Says the Times of Kasowitz:
His visits to the White House have raised questions about the blurry line between public and private interests for a president facing legal issues. Mr. Kasowitz in recent days had advised White House aides to discuss the inquiry into Russia’s interference in last year’s election as little as possible, two people said. He told aides gathered in one meeting who had asked whether it was time to hire private lawyers that it was not yet necessary, according to another person with direct knowledge.
Right-O. Imagine that in an entirely different case, this one fictional, Muggsy Banks, who specializes in savings and loan society holdups, stations a driver and a lookout man outside the local S&L, while Muggsy goes in with a drawn pistol, and emerges with several large cloth bags with dollars signs printed on them. 

They all drive away, but suspicion falls on Muggsy Banks. Banks immediately lawyers up, hiring the notoriously ruthless attorney Thelonius Writs, for personal representation.”

“Hey, Mister Writs,” asks the driver, “Ya think we should get our own lawyers, too?

“Don’t waste your money boys,” says Writs. “At this point it’s really not necessary.”

Next thing you know, Lookout Larry and Denny D. Driver are indicted, tried and convicted of Bank Robbery and find themselves doing 25 years in the slammer. This occurs after Writs gives each of them questionable advice, and meanwhile arranges for Muggsy Banks to testify against them. Muggy gets off scott free.

Just remember what the Times article is telling you, White House staff: 
Mr. Kasowitz's advice to administration staff may benefit the president more than the aides themselves, the experts said. The conversations Mr. Kasowitz has with aides could shape their testimony before Mr. Muller has a chance to interview them, should they be called as witnesses.
And furthermore:
Under ethics rules, Mr. Kasowitz could not interview any official who had hired a lawyer without that lawyer’s permission, meaning it would be in his interest if administration aides did not hire their own lawyers, experts said.
And still  furthermore: 
Since asserting influence in the White House in recent weeks, Mr. Kasowitz discussed establishing an office on White House grounds in the Eisenhower executive Office Building, where much of the presient’s staff works, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations. Such an arrangement would have Mr. Kasowitz and his team frequently crossing paths with potential witnesses.
Please keep in mind: 
“The president’s private lawyer is representing only his interests, not the interests of the United States government or the individual interests of the White House Staff," said Robert F. Bauer, who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama.
So —White House staffers, you face a stark choice. Do nothing, and put your fate in the hands of the man who represents only Donald Trump, the same Donald Trump who declared bankruptcy and let his investors drown, and who sold the wonderful benefits of attending Trump University to a bunch of gullible suckers.

Or protect your own hide, take a second mortgage on the house, and pay an initial retainer for your own lawyer, now, before it’s too late.


Don’t say The New York Crank didn’t warn you.

P.S. to Vice-President Mike Pence:  Mike, according to various news outlets yesterday, you've evidently followed my advice. Good for you! Always happy to have Republicans in the Trump administration among my faithful readers. You ought to listen to me more often.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Should Donald Trump be impeached? Be careful what you wish for.

Do you really want President Mike Pence?

I suspect that setting foot in the White House these days is like stepping into a house that has suffered 90 years of termite damage, while the termites are still chomping away.

Donald Trump may have deflected attention away from himself for a day or two by appointing Christopher Wray the next FBI chief, but that’s short term stuff. The entire Trump White House operation is not only in disarray, but swaying, shaking, rattling, and collapsing on itself faster than a black hole can swallow up a dung beetle.

We have clear violations of the Foreign Emoluments clause of the Constitution,  as well as possible vulnerability to Russian blackmail mixed with nepotism, and the appearance of impropriety mixed with foreign skulduggery so strong that it assaults not only the eyes but the nostrils

Many Americans rightfully also smell Trump blood in the water. Some of my fellow Progressives, as well as other varieties of Democrats, are openly talking about impeachment.

I wish they’d shut up.

Yes, it’s possible that in the near future, disgust with Donald Trump will become so ubiquitous that even many Republicans will turn against him. It’s possible he can be impeached, if not now, then at least after the next Congressional elections, if Democrats gain, and Republicans lose enough election seats.

But then what will we get in Donald Trump’s place? You could not buy a better life insurance policy than Donald Trump gave himself when he named Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence would bring you  most of Trump’s regressive domestic policies, but without the incompetence that makes it so difficult for Trump to implement them. And if we somehow get rid of Mike Pence?

Then you get Paul Ryan, he of mysto-magic national budget plans intended to relieve the poor of their Social Security, Medicare and Obama care, while using the money taken from the poor to enrich the plumpest of America's fat cats.

Here's a handy rule to live by: do not remove an incompetent President with regressive instincts if he will be replaced by a competent President with similarly regressive instincts. Or to paraphrase Napoleon Bonapart, never interrupt the enemy when he is drowning in mistakes while trying to swim still further toward the deep end.

Instead, what sane Americans should be working for is a Democratic Congress and Senate that will hobble the president, passing progressive legislation, overriding his vetoes, vetoing his un-progressive nominees to the courts and elsewhere.

Impeachment is dangerous. Do not impeach Trump. Don’t put him in prison, as delicious as you might find that thought. Place him under White House arrest instead, by handicapping what little ability he has to function. And there let him fester and tweet his own head off until the next presidential election.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How I caught those Donald Trump Covfefe, Melting Snowflake Decapitation Blues

The New York Crank about to be decapitated, circa 1975, rendered by
 graphic designer and clever adman Kevin Melahn.  Instead of whining
 about it the way Donald Trump whined about his own decapitation image,
 I framed this picture and hung it in my living room.

So just a few days ago America was all a-twitter, if you’ll forgive the pun, about an incoherent tweet from our President using the word “covfefe.”

The Internet overheated with speculation as to what covfefe means. Is it a coded message to Moscow? Does it means something like, “Despite the constant negative press, screw it?” And if so, what precisely is the “it” that Trump would like us to screw? 

Samantha Bee had, if not the last word, then at least some of the best words concerning the matter. 

But frankly, I think the mass reaction was mystifying. The word covfefe is no less incoherent than Donald Trump’s foreign policy. Or the precise nature of his repeal-and-replace plan for Obamacare.  Or his tax policy. Next to those weighty matters, what’s a silly non-word?


Moreover, covfefe turns out to be a useful word. Hereafter, we can refer to it whenever Donald Trump utters an obvious lie, or makes a highly dubious statement. 

"It’s just more covfefe," we can tell one another. In fact, we can nickname the man in the White House President Covfefe. And hey, be careful where you walk. Those dog owners never clean up after their animals. You almost stepped in a big pile of covfefe.

But then, as quickly as Donald Trump taught us a new word for what’s on his mind, attention turned away from his covfefe to something the comedian Kathy Griffin had done. In case you’ve just returned from a cruise in a submarine and missed the news, she posed with herself holding a blood-stained object resembling Donald Trump’s severed head.

To be honest, it really was stupid, tasteless and, if you want to stretch a point, sort of threatening. Little wonder Griffin abjectly apologized, which evidently wasn’t enough to save her annual New Year’s Eve television gig with Anderson Cooper. Alas, somebody else will have to make with the wisecracks from now on when the ball drops in Times Square. 

But I’m a bit amazed by the reaction from the folks seated over the right wing while trying to pilot their way out of America’s tailspinning trajectory. 

A comedienne holding a fake bloody head  was not nearly as threatening as the Florida gun store owner who sold targets with the faces of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama on them, a remarkable feat of tasteless retailing reported uncritically by the right wing Internet rag, The Blaze. 

Instead, the article, under a photograph that showed not only the targets, but also some choice samples of rapid fire weapons the store will sell you,  told gun owners how to reach the gun store on the Internet to make purchases. Not a peep of complaint out of Donald Trump. Draw your own conclusions.

It's amazing how the right wing, previously silent on the subject of shooting Democratic presidential candidates in the head, exploded in a chorus of whines and outrage at the depiction of a comedienne holding Donald Trump’s head severed from his body. As if it’s a lot easier to sneak into the White House and decapitate its inhabitant than to pick off a Democrat on an outdoor platform with a long range rifle.

Not least among the complainers was President Covfefe himself. 

“Griffin should be ashamed of herself,” he whined in a tweet. “My children, especially my 11-year-old son, Baron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” 

Except, wait a second! Griffin took down her tweet and self-abasingly apologized. The “fake news” media like CBS, NBC, ABC. CNN, and others showed a blurred out photograph of what Griffin was holding. You knew it was a presidential head only because the text, or the television reporter, told you it was a presidential  head. Otherwise, it might just as well have been a badly blurred head of carrots. 

But there was an exception. Breitbart News published the photograph, un-blurred. As of this posting, it’s still out there on the Internet for little Baron, and all the other 20-something  and innocent 30-something presidential children to see. And who is a founding member of the board of Breitbart, and its former Executive Chair? Why, none other than Presidential advisor Steve Bannon, who works down the hall from President Covfefe.

Clearly, if little Baron and the 30-something kids is having such a hard time with that blurred photograph, Steve Bannon’s pet publication must be giving them nightmares. But have we heard a peep out of the President concerning Breitbart, which he staunchly supports? Has he walked down the hall, flung open Bannon’s office  door and shouted, “Steve, have your pals at Brietbart take down that image or you’re toast here!” 

Umm, no.

Besides, if we had a real mensch in the White House he would have ignored the photograph, or laughed it off, or reveled in it, and ordered a photograph of Giffin holding his head to be imbedded in plastic as a desk toy, paperweight, and defiant souvenir. Instead, all he had to offer was a tweet that made him sound like a wounded bird.

The real reason for the whiney Presidential protest is that our Commander in Chief is a delicate little snowflake, who will melt at the merest suggestion that he is not beloved, adored, and worshipped (am I getting sort of redundant here?) by everyone. This despite his own advocacy of “a halluva lot worse” than water boarding. Not to mention that people ought to “knock the crap” out of anybody who protests his outrageous positions.



Yup, there’s a snowflake in the Oval Office. He's  mean and sadistic snowflake when it comes to how he treats others, but a snowflake when it comes to getting knocked himself. And that, at least for today, is all I have to say about President Covfefe and why he give me the blues.