Category Archives: opinion

Our President Doesn’t Read Anything?

The moral of this story may be that it is not a great thing to be both corrupt and stupid.

The Donald Trump era is astonishing for many reasons. And you have to give the dude credit. Each time when you think he has hit rock bottom, he finds a way to dig the hole deeper still.

So now we have the whistle blower scandal.

But I don’t want to write about that. Instead, I would like to focus on one Corey Lewandowski. In case you have forgotten, Lewandowski was briefly Trump’s campaign manager until he was replaced by the now imprisoned Mr. Manafort. It came out the other day that Lewandowski lied while being interviewed on national TV. Whether your are a Trump fan or a  Lewandowski fan or not, this is not in dispute. Lewandowski told a whopper to the nation, and it was one hell of a whopper!

The fact that Lewandowski lied tells us something about the man and the state of affairs in Trump land. The more interesting aspect of the story, however, is WHY Lewandowski lied. To get that, you need to know that he lied about whether Donald Trump had made a certain phone call to  him. In sworn testimony to the special counsel, Lewandowski admitted that Trump made the call. He described the call. On TV, Lewandowski vehemently denied  having received it.

So if Lewandowski had already admitted under oath that he got the call, and described what was said, why bother lying on TV? Did Lewandowski not consider that the lie eventually would be revealed? The answer brings out something about Donald Trump that we might have suspected, but didn’t want to believe. Here it is

Lwandowski may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but he knew that what he told special counsel Mueller implicated the president in obstruction of justice. For Lewandowski, this was nicht gut because — while admitting what happened would be honest and in certain situations required by law —- it would also damage his relationship with Trump. But Lewandowski also knew that Trump DOES NOT READ. So it might not matter if Lewandowski fingered Trump to Mueller because Trump would never read the Mueller report.

Here is where things get really weird. Lewandowski also knows that Trump watches a lot of TV. He knew that Trump would probably watch his TV interview. So he lied on TV about whether Trump called him so that it would appear to Trump that Lewandowski was standing up for him — even though months before, he had already ratted on Trump.

So in his sworn testimony to Congress the other day, Lewandowski had to admit that he lied on TV in order to avoid perjuring himself, but did so in a way that still obscured what he lied about.  He got all puffed up and defensive and rude. Don’t be fooled by the show. Lewandowski was putting on a show for one person – Donald Trump. He still was trying to persuade Trump that he is loyal, while at the same time, trying to avoid going to prison for perjury.  So we got something like this “I may have lied on TV, but TV journalists lie all the time!” More precisely he said

“I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they are just as dishonest as anybody else,”

Errr? Hello?

As an aside, note that Lewandowsk’s concern about what Trump did was not about respect for the law, or respect for the public who were watching him lie on TV. or about respect for Congress It was all about whether Lewandwoski would get the boot by the dude in charge.  Nice, right?

Enough about Lewandowski. Let’s state this bluntly. Donald Trump doesn’t read. Not even the Mueller Report – the document that Trump has repeatedly claimed exonerates him Not only that, the people who work for Trump know that Trump does not read and they manipulate him based on that knowledge. That would include the less than brilliant Mr. Lewandowski. One has to wonder what those folks have told Trump is actually in the Mueller Report.  Yikes!

That is the state of affairs in the White House. And it aint pretty.  So onward with the whistle blower scandal! And the FEMA scandal! And the scores of other rotten stuff that we are hearing about each and every day.

Too bad we can’t tell ourselves that “It’s only a movie.” This is reality. Our reality. The reality our kids will remember about our era. The reality that they will ask “how could that have happened?”  And what will we tell them? That we don’t remember? Or how about that their reality is even worse? Now that is a scary thought indeed!

I forgot to mention. Mr. Lewandowski is running for the Senate in 2020 in New Hampshire. At least he says that he is.


And Now a Diversion about Presidential Polling Data

Before I write anything, I must say — take all of this with a grain of salt. It is way too early to take polling data seriously.

But having said that, consider this tidbit – Clinton consistently led in the polls up until the last moment, and she won the election. But

Trump beat Clinton among voters who dislike both candidates by a striking margin: 50 percent of those voters backed Trump versus 39 percent going for Clinton, according to CNN.

The above may have turned the tide, giving Trump just enough of a boost to enable an electoral college win.

Now we look at current polling data. Once again, the democratic candidates are polling ahead of Trump. This is consistent with the long term unpopularity of the president. If this persists, Trump’s path to victory  will be narrow. He will have to distract voters from his own unpopularity by making his opponent looks worse.

Can he do that again?  Hmmm … my own take is that Hilary was a special case –  She rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I am not so sure that among the current crop of dems there are similar types.

But stay tuned.

Are We Nearing the End of the Most Recent Moronic Macho Leadership Era?

The last few years have been a bit strange. Around the globe, leaders were elected who, shall we say, did not exhibit signs of high levels of intelligence. Instead, they were “tough guys”. Macho guys. Guys who have been spoiling for fights.

BTW, this is not the first time in human history where this sort of trend has appeared. Go back to your history books and read up on the 1930’s. Lots of macho posturing! Remember this guy?

Image result for Mussolini

And he was not the worst of the lot!

Better yet, read Barbara Tuchman’s book “Proud Tower” about how the firs world war got started. You might think of that as the macho pose that killed millions. This image comes to mind

Image result for German Kaiser World War I

Or just think about Ronald Reagan and Lady Thatcher. Was she more macho then he was?

Image result for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher

It seems that every now and then, humanity feels the need to “get tough”.

And so, in our most recent episode we got tough. Donald Trump got tough every day, mostly on poor refugees from Central America. I don’t know about you, but I am getting really sick and tired of headlines like this one

After another mass shooting, Trump chooses to focus on knife crime — in London

Boris Johnson is another “tough guy”. He is trying to get tough on Europe and Parliament to force a no deal Brexit. And we should not forget good old Vlad, sitting there in the Kremlin, posing as the toughest dude of all. He got tough on Georgia and then Ukraine. BTW, is the war in Ukraine still dragging on? And are the people in Crimea better off now that they are part of Russia?  There are more of these dudes hanging around, but you get the point.

The good news is that we all might be getting a bit tired of these antics. Donald Trump is regularly portrayed in the press as the bumbling idiot that he is. As Hurricane Dorian bears down on Florida, some wonder if Trump’s FEMA (with its reduced budget) will be up to the task of helping folks who desperately need it. Errr … remember the New Orleans disaster= And Boris Johnson was just defeated in the UK Parliament as his own conservative party defected to force a vote on delaying Brexit.

I hope, and I hope that you hope, that we are getting closer to the end of all of this silliness. That we are starting to realize that having moderately intelligent leaders who don’t rattle their sabers every time a mouse peeps  is kind of nice. That we can exhale and engage in civil conversation now and then about leadership.

What do you think?

Hubris May Be the Duke of Donald’s Downfall

Hubris is a funny word. It means

excessive pride or self-confidence.

That excessive pride or self-confidence becomes the means of your own demise when it prevents you from seeing things as they are. instead, you see them the way you want to see them.

The Duke of Donald is full of hubris. How do I know? Because he has the insane belief that he can manage US trade relations through his bullying over tariffs. And so, the US is in a prolonged trade war with China. What Trump doesn’t understand is that trade wars create instabilities in corporate relations which lead to  a lower velocity of trade, and prolonged economic slowdown.

That was learned when the US implemented the disastrous Smoot Hawley tariffs in 1930.

And so, sooner or later, the Trump trade war will have a similar effect on the US economy. We don’t know how big it will be. But we are starting to see numbers that look scary. And of course, the Duke of Donald is freaking out.

But there is not much he can do about the things he already did to bring this all about. That is all water over the damn.

We shall see how this plays out. But my growing suspicion is that the Duke of Donald has sown the seeds of a democratic landslide in 2020.

… in the time since the US Civil War, only one president has been reelected after a recession in the final two years of his first term. That was William McKinley in 1900.

Not only that, recall that the so called “Hoover depression” led to FDR’s election, and record 4 terms in office. Then, of course, we have Jimmy Carter who lost to Ronald Reagan after a period of “stagflation” and then a recession just before the election.

The Duke of Donald Hates Animals?

We hear so much about Donald Trump’s moods, I cannot help but wonder what mood was behind his gutting of the  Endangered Species Act.  Was he bitten in the ass by a giant sea bass while swimming off Mar a lago?

And just why is this on his agenda anyway? Aren’t there better things to do as president? Like working on gun violence? Like rebuilding global trade?

Just what is it, Duke of Donald, that you are trying to achieve here! I really would like to know.

The Dark Lord of Cover Ups Wades into the Epstein “Suicide”

Before I write anything else, I should clarify one thing. I believe that Jeffrey Epstein took his own life. I do not believe that he was murdered.

On the other hand … Mr. Epstein was connected to some interesting people. Some were American and others were foreign. We know very little about those connections. And we do know a few things about Mr. Epstein (1) he was up to eyeballs in financial fraud. That is how he got his money, and (2) he was up to eyeballs in weird sexual trafficking, and (3) he knew he was skating on thin ice. He had made arrangements to make himself vanish as needed. Yet, he was arrested and found himself in jail, without bail.

Oops! That was inconvenient for everyone and anyone who was part of Epstein’s network!

So what to make of it? First of all, he was a high profile defendant. Not run of the mill. That means he needed special treatment. Special treatment that he did NOT receive. Lapses in oversight enabled him to take his own life before he came to trial. And the blame for that goes to the Department of Justice, the agency that supervises the federal prison system.

Second Attorney General, Bill Barr, whom I will call the Dark Lord of Cover Ups immediately waded in  to say that someone lower down was to blame for this. The reality is that Bill Barr himself is in charge of these things. Did Bill Barr or any high level official lift a finger to get special treatment for this special treatment deserving prison inmate? Apparently not.

Which then leads us to the next question. Why not? Why didn’t high level officials do anything to try to prevent Mr. Epstein from hanging himself?

Good question. I don’t know the answer. But I suspect that there was a decision made at some point not to care whether Mr. Epstein exited the scene.

We need to know more about this. And perhaps we will find out. Stay tuned!

Chugging a Few Brews with Hamlet

Full Disclosure: I believe that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the most important plays of our century. Errrr … Yes, I am vaguely aware that it was not written in our century. It was in fact written sometime between 1599 and 1601. But somehow Shakespeare was able to construct a story  of  the greatest challenge of our times.

Allow me to explain

Less than 100 years ago, a group of thinkers started to call themselves “existentialists”.

Image result for existentialists

They had no idea what that word meant, and we still do not now. But they had a pretty clear idea of why they needed a new word. It was because they wanted to reject what society said was “meaningful”. They were in that sense “anti-meaning”. And they wanted to bring to our attention the absurdities of how we talk and live.  They wrote books like this

Image result for anti-memoirs

They wrote plays where nothing happened.

Image result for waiting for Godot

Well, guess what. Shakespeare brought that out many, many years before in Hamlet.

Image result for Hamlet

A key question – lots of things happen in Hamlet, but do any of those things have any meaning?

You can look at the Hamlet story in different ways, and most people choose to see it in ethical terms. Hamlet is commanded by the ghost of his father to avenge his death. He has an ethical duty to do what he was told. But he does not know if the ghost is telling the truth.  And he finds it hard to believe. BTW, Elizabethan audiences saw this through their own cultural bias — that all ghosts are evil. Doing his bidding is a sure ticket to eternal damnation. Hmm … talk about an existential challenge!

So the best course of action is for Hamlet to try to figure out the truth. He cannot act until he knows what he must do. And his not acting becomes a mask — that he has gone mad — that itself has unethical effects – like driving Ophelia off the deep end and killing her father. Now Hamlet is complicit in the evil that surrounds him. He cannot say that he is above it all. He is an actor in a situation that is out of control – absurd. Not unlike the bug in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Image result for Kafka Metamorphosis

And as the plot unfolds, we see more clearly that the ghost was telling the truth. Worse still, we see that Hamlet’s mother, the queen, is actually in love with her husband’s murderer. EEEWWWWW! What does one do about that?

Image result for Hamlet's mother

In other words, Hamlet has no way out. There is no possibility of a happy or even a meaningful ending. And each step forward makes his doom along with everyone connected with the grotesque events that drive the story forward more certain. The king will have Hamlet killed. Hamlet will kill the king. Hamlet’s mother has to go as well And so it goes.

The ending is absurd, and preordained.

So why is this relevant now? The reason is simple. While the existentialists are all dead now, their revolt was never really countered.  No one every found a way to dismiss their critique as invalid.

The cultural trends that took center stage from the 1950’s through to today have not rescued “meaning” as it was traditionally understood. Instead, culture has essentially looked the other way. Through its offerings, we have become fond of comedy, fantasy, science fiction, super heroes, children’s stories, etc. Anything to keep our attention away from a core issue. An issue that the existentialists raised and that Sir Kenneth Clark saw back in 1969 — we have no solid foundation to build “meaning”. As Clark put it, no “center”.

If we lived in an absurd world back in  the 1950’s …

Image result for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World

… we still do today. Put another way, we are still waiting for Godot. Except now, we have smart phones to keep us preoccupied.

A word of warning — humanity has been in this situation before. And in the past, we have found meaning. We found it in conflict. In war. Wars that seemed to have no logic, but wars that persisted. And when they finally ended, everyone scratched their heads and wondered, “How could that have happened?” As Lincoln might have put it, “What happened to the better angels of our nature?”

We get scenes like this

Image result for invasion of Normandy

And this

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And this

Image result for battle Waterloo

And this

Image result for Goya massacre

And this

Image result for medieval war

More recently. this

Image result for Hiroshima

Allow me to ask you this question — why have wars persisted even though it was obvious to all who were involved that the violence was absurd?

If you need an image to make this more concrete, picture the mild mannered and ironically humorous Hungarian novelist Antol Szerb ,,,

Image result for Antal Szerb

… being beaten to death by Nazi prison camp guards in 1944. Why did they do it? Who can say.  Did it solve anything? Of course not. But it happened. And it happened in the context of a wildly insane war that killed millions, and destroyed huge swaths of modern society. And of course, Szerb was just one of many, many people who were brutally murdered for no reason.

That war ended. But its end did not create the conditions to end the use of war or its less organized relative, seemingly random violence. We know that as a species, we are still capable of unleashing yet another massive war or wars, and based solely on the historical record, we are likely to do it. In the meantime, we seem powerless to curb the random violence that we read about nearly every day.

I mention that because NOT recognizing our situation creates the risk that we will FIND meaning the way we have in the past  – through more violence. And given the destructive power of our current weapons, that would be tragic. Absurd and tragic. Yet, oddly predictable.

Can art rescue us? Good question. If we want that from our literature, our aesthetic should start from the premise that we are stuck. Paralyzed as Hamlet was. Our starting point is that we need a reset to revive “meaning” from “absurdity”. Finding that path would be heroic. Committing to that path would be the start of a greast adventure. Ignoring this would be less than heroic. This is the meta-message of our time. The message that we do not have the words for. The so called “infinite game” that we play —  not to win but to keep the game going (as per Simon Sinek). So will art accomplish this for us? I don’t have an answer for that.

So we stagger home after drinking too many beers with Hamlet. A few questions linger.  Can we embark on a civilizing  adventure of the sort that addresses the existential rebellion? Can we form the “center” that Clark babbled on about? What can we do?

Stay tuned on that one. We are just getting started on this adventure. It has twists and turns that we cannot anticipate. It will be a bumpy ride. But we cannot exit the train. Time moves forward whether we are ready for it to do so or not.