Monthly Archives: April 2018

Blogger, Heal Thyself


Two and a half years ago, I started this blog with hopes of occasionally having something of value to say by looking at the world through counter-intuitive eyes.  Occasionally was originally intended to be once or twice a month.  Today’s post is #288.  An average of one every three days.  Some were meant solely to be entertaining.  Some were intended to find a hidden kernel of truth in an event or issue others had missed.  And some were designed to raise the hairs on the backs of the necks of friends and foes alike.

What seems like a decade ago (actually December 9, 2016), I published an article titled, “On Becoming an UNREAL American.”  The point being that my new-found status as an outsider in Trump World resulted in a clearer understanding of the values I would continue to embrace.  Nothing Trump could do would separate me from my moral compass.  I was wrong.

Saturday night, I looked into a mirror and saw what I had become.  That mirror was Michelle Wolf’s  speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD).  If, as some suggest, the point was to give Trump a taste of his own medicine, let me respond.  It is just as ugly coming from a comedian as from the supposed leader of the free world.  Or from any of us.

Like many, I was infuriated when RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted, “Democrats hate our President more than they love our country.”  NOOOOOO!  I abhor Trump and all of the hypocrites who defend him BECAUSE I love my country.  And I find it hard to believe this is really happening in America.  But venomous hatred is not going to solve anything.

I often refer to Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) warning Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) any mistake in their reporting translated into public sympathy for Richard Nixon.  I had that same feeling as I watched Wolf eviscerate members of the Trump administration, especially press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Was this really possible?  Had someone actually made me feel sorry for Sanders?

More importantly, was it necessary?  The anger and language was what you would expect more from Lewis Black.  Was the comparison valid.  Fortunately, we have empirical data to test the hypothesis.  Black had the same honor at the 2005 WHCD.  And nobody despised the Bush administration more than Black.  In a later performance he described being on the dais with vice-president Dick Cheney, who stood in for George W. Bush who was in Rome at Pope John Paul II’s funeral.  Black reminisced, “I’ve never felt so close to pure evil.”

In contrast to Wolf’s diatribe, here is what Black told this ensemble of the rich and powerful in his closing remarks.

I learned something from 9/11.  Patriotism is important and religion is important in this country.  And patriotism and religious without humor is where we run into trouble.  It’s why our enemy is as psychotic as they are.  They are religious and patriotic.  And they are the most humorless pricks on the planet.  These are people who wander in the desert year after year and never run into a knock knock joke, which is the price I think you pay for living in tents.  But one would have thought at least there would have been a flap flap joke.

For these people to be told that if they kill someone in the name of Allah that they will immediately go to heaven where they will be met by 72 virgins.  The fact that these people did not understand that this has to be a punchline to a joke.  I’ve been on the earth many years and never once have I met a single virgin.

The comic who was once denied an opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center because of his language, took this opportunity to explain to his audience why humor, even when politically incorrect, is sometimes the only thing that keeps us sane.

Sunday, I decided to burst the bubble. I skipped the morning talk shows.  I did not read a single newspaper article or blog about the Trump White House. For a life-long political junkie, that was no easy task.  And then I went out and shot the best round of golf I had in years.  Maybe Yogi Berra was right.  “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”  Sunday night, I slept better than I had in weeks.  Today was the first day without Morning Joe or Stephanie Miller in months.

Related imageHow many times have we read a book or watched a movie where the moral is, “If you really love something, the best thing you can do is let it go.”  The ending of Cast Away immediately comes to mind.  In the penultimate scene,  Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) confides in his friend Stan (Nick Searcy) it is time to move on.  The film ends on Noland’s encounter with Bettina Peterson (Lari White), the recipient of a long overdue package, and contains the following dialog.

Peterson:  You look lost.
Noland: I do?
Peterson: Where’re you headed?
Noland:  Well, I was just about to figure that out.

Letting go of something that has been a part of you for so long is never easy.  But figuring out where you’re headed is no walk in the park either.  But a good spring cleaning of the mind is an excellent place to start.

I will continue to blog when the spirit moves me.  But not to reinforce my obsession with where the country is going, but to return to my original purpose.  To challenge conventional wisdom in sports, religion, culture as well as policy.  What does this shift look like?  Let me share an example.  Instead of chastising evangelicals for giving Trump a “mulligan” on Stormy Daniels, maybe it is better to remind them others deserve a “mulligan.”  In Florida this November, there is a constitutional initiative (Proposition 4) to restore the right to vote to felons who have paid their debt to society (prison and/or fines).  Isn’t it time for these people to “tee it up again” as full-fledged citizens?  If the evangelical doctrine includes the belief “sin is redeemable,” we ask every evangelical to join us in demonstrating their compassion by voting for Prop 4.

For what it’s worth.


Representation Without Taxation


If you have not already figured out we live in a modern day version of DC Comics fictional planet Bizarro World, let me introduce you to the latest incarnation of Bizarro himself aka Mick Mulvaney.  During a speech to members of the American Banking Association, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau revealed his litmus test for scheduling meetings with lobbyists.

We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress.  If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.

On Mulvaney’s planet, “We, the People in order to form a perfect union” is now “We, the Lobbyists who can afford the cover charge.”  Yes, these are the people for whom too many elected officials now turn when crafting legislation.  And the bigger irony is those who are the beneficiaries of “pay to play” now have more resources to underwrite their access to the halls of the U.S. Capitol.  It is called the Jobs and Tax Cut Act of 2017.  And here’s the proof.

In 2017, finance and real estate lobbyists collectively spent $521.6 million for lobbying.  For the first quarter of 2018, these lobbyists anted up $135.4 million annualized at $541.6.  Studies suggest the banking industry alone will save $30 BILLION in taxes each year for the next 10 years.  The same numbers hold true for every major industrial sector–energy, health, transportation, etc.  Thus the title of this post.  Those who can afford the entry fee are represented and their reward is a reduction in taxes.  This is not “pay to play.”  This is much worse.  “Play and pay much less.”

Image result for patrick conroyOh wait!  The middle class and working poor did have one lobbyist in the House chamber.  His name?  The Reverand Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest, appointed in 2011 by then Speaker John Boehner, to serve as the House chaplin.  That is, until April 15 when retiring House Speaker Paul “It’s Getting Hot in the Kitchen” Ryan asked Conroy to resign.  Keep in mind this is the same Paul Ryan who supported Mitch McConnell’s blocking consideration of Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court because the people should have a voice in the decision.  But as a lame duck (sic) he had no problem removing the House of Representatives’ spiritual leader.  Leave that monumental decision to the next Speaker after the people vote? NO WAY.

What could Conroy have possibly done to precipitate Ryan’s rush to judgment?  Did he spend $41,000 on a sound-proof confessional?  Did he give his altar boys an unauthorized increase in compensation?  Did he fly first class to Guam so he could be among the first Americans to see the sun rise on Easter morning?  NO!  It seems he made the mistake of paraphrasing the Gospel on the morning of November 6, 2017 during the invocation preceding the House’s consideration of the GOP tax bill.

May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.  May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.

To the average American, this was affirmation of the Judeo-Christian tenets associated with economic and social justice.  In Paul Ryan’s mind, it was “The Sermon on the Dismount.”  In other words, Ryan invoked the old adage, “**** you, and the horse you rode in on!”

For what it’s worth.


A Progressive Bill of Rights


Yesterday, a frequent reader and  friend sent me  an article by Mark Buchanan of BloombergView titled “Why Trump Gets Away with Lying.”  It points out how a survey taken after the 2016 election found, “Trump supporters don’t believe many of his lies, especially his most egregious ones.”  According to the researchers who undertook the study, it was never about the content of the message, but the style.  Trump was railing against the same voices that these “forgotten Americans” felt were unresponsive to what they viewed as an economic and social  crisis.  Sound familiar?  It is the latest iteration of the ancient proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Buchanan concludes, “Trump’s rise might signal the start of a necessary period of painful disruption and chaos, before we find a way to reverse decades of middle class social decay.”  I have to admit, if you think the term “deplorables” was not enough of a rallying point, tell Trump voters they represent “decades of middle class social decay.” Mr. Buchanan, I’m afraid your silver tongue makes you more a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Image result for charles kettering quotesIn the counter-intuitive tradition of Deprogramming101, let’s consider the possibility we are approaching the issue from the wrong starting point.  As inventor Charles Kettering once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”  In other words, before we start worrying about an appropriate responses, let’s examine whether we are asking the right questions.  Buchanan thinks the issue is, “Why do people who know Trump is lying vote for him?”  But if you step back, you realize a better point of entry is, “Why do so many voters believe progressives do not represent them?”  On the surface it doesn’t make sense.  On so many issues, a majority of Republicans and even Trump supporters align with progressive positions on critical issues.  Climate change.  DACA.  Universal background checks. Net neutrality.  Legalization of marijuana.  Affordable health care.  The cost of higher education.  Infrastructure.

So, if it’s not the substance, what else could it be?  If you want to understand the angst of residents of the “flyover states,”  perhaps the best source of advice is someone who grew up in that part of the country.  Ewing Kauffman–CEO of Marion Laboratories in Kansas City, owner of the Kansas City Royals and philanthropist–recognized the relationship between the authorities and those who labored under them was a marriage based on trust and respect.  Exploring this liaison from the perspective of his employees (who it preferred to call associates), he understood a guiding principle was not obedience, but rather buy-in.  As Mr. K would say,  “I don’t want to be managed, but I don’t mind being led.”

Understanding this approach requires a really off the wall analogy.  Progressives believe a woman has a right to choose.  In Kauffman’s words, all they are saying is, “Don’t manage my body.”  But, I may still go to church and listen to my pastor or priest make the moral argument against abortion.  And if I follow his/her lead, that too is my choice.  Now, consider former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort in 2013 to ban the sale of soft drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces.  Conservatives cried out, “You can’t tell me what I can and cannot drink and in what quantity.”  The law was eventually overturned by the New York Court of Appeals.  But I’ll bet those same conservatives might listen to their physicians make a persuasive argument about the hazards of “Big Gulps” to one’s health.

I have never met anyone who likes to be micro-managed.  In most workplaces we are informed of the boundaries and our responsibility to respect and operate within those established guidelines.  Perhaps it’s time to think of the United States as our collective workplace.   And all citizens, regardless of rank, are associates who do not want to be ordered around yet are open to persuasion.

Which brings me to the language in the Bill of Rights.  Amendment I does not enumerate what constitutes free speech, freedom of the press or establishment of an official religion.  Instead, it states, “Congress shall make no law…”  Likewise, Amendment X does not list everything the federal government can do.  It reserves to the states and the people all non-enumerated powers.  Individuals have the right to do incredibly stupid things.  It may not be in their own best interests, but it is not against the law.  Instead of a “contract with America” (the 1994 platform which led to the Republican revolution), maybe it’s time for “a progressive bill of rights for 21st century America.”  And in the spirit of the original Bill of Rights, it should focus on what the federal government–executive, legislative and judicial branches–shall not do.

Example:  Citizens United would be history if there was a Constitutional amendment which states “the federal government shall make no law which inhibits the ability of the states to ensure equal representation of all citizens in the political process.”  In 1962, Baker v Carr affirmed one-man-one-vote safeguarded the democratic principle that station in life did not weight the value of any citizen’s ballot.  Then, shouldn’t every citizen’s ability to participate in or influence  political debate not depend on their accumulated wealth?

I wish I had more answers.  But at the moment, perhaps having the right questions is a better place to begin.

For what it’s worth.


Touched By a Human


As someone who enjoys writing and is always searching for ways to hone my skills, I often read commentaries how successful authors approach projects.  For example, in his book Danse Macabre, Stephan King taught me the difference between “word processing” and “idea processing.”  His message?  Great concepts emerge before you know the context in which they will be most effective.  So hang on to that thought and when the muse strikes, cut and paste it into place.

For the past couple of days, I have been listening to James Comey defend some of the criticism of his newly released autobiography A Higher Loyalty.   In particular, he responded to reviewers who thought his descriptions of Donald Trump’s physical characteristics seemed petty and unnecessary.  Comey’s retort?  He admitted he was not a writer and sought advice from others as he began drafting the book.  And he was struck by one mentor’s guidance that he needed to “bring the reader into the room.”  To do that, writers need to share exactly what they see and experience.

Today I want to take you into a room, the playroom in the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  For those not familiar with this facility, it has two purposes.  First, it provides lodging for relatives of children who are being treated at the NIH clinical center.  More importantly, it is a place where children can get away from the sights and sounds of a hospital environment, a brief respite from the alien world of monitors and tubes to which they would otherwise be confined.  I became familiar with the Children’s Inn because one of our grand nieces was admitted to NIH due to a not as yet fully diagnosed condition.

Related imageAfter having been subjected to an afternoon of poking and prodding, this little girl was allowed to go with her mother and grandmother to the Children’s Inn.  Upon arriving at the Inn, she immediately wanted to go to the playroom.  Although the room is cluttered with every toy and activity a young person could imagine, the first thing I noticed were two other adults with their own children.  No words were exchanged, only a knowing nod of the head as if to say, “I understand.  You are worried and wish you were not here.”

As my wife and daughter were entertaining our grand niece with what can only be called “monster Legos,” two more people entered the room.  One was an African-American, perhaps 10 to 12 years old, who was using a red and white cane.  The other was a Caucasian women who led the child through the playroom to the outside door leading to the gardens and playscape.  At first I thought the child was a boy.  But a few minutes later, an African-American woman with a cell phone entered the room.  She told the person at the other end of the call, “She is outside, taking a a walk.”  It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.  The young girl’s malady and treatment had robbed her of her hair and other physical traits one would normally associate with her gender.

I watched as the mother caught up with her daughter and the other person.  I don’t know whether that third person was a nurse, therapist, doctor or specialist in some other field.  That was not important.  What was paramount in my mind was the effort this woman exerted to give the patient a meaningful experience.  In a scene straight out of The Miracle Worker, the companion took the child’s hand, touched an object with it and then signed against the inside of the girl’s open hand.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post.  It is obviously a play on the television series “Touched by an Angel,” which ran for nine years on CBS.  The premise was simple.  An angel (played by Roma Downey) reaches out to people at some crossroads in their lives.  What I observed on Monday was hardly divine intervention.  Just the opposite.  One of the reasons I remain a devout agnostic is the fact I cannot accept a supposedly compassionate deity who indiscriminately inflicts innocent children with disease, harm and death.  The children at NIH are only one example.  Where was the divine intervention in the town of Douma, Syria several days ago? Or when Jennifer and Sarah Hart chose to drive their GMC Yukon over a cliff with their six adopted children?  Or at New Town and Parkland?

Despite these many senseless tragedies, of one thing I am sure.  When I watched the mother of a seriously ill young lady look at the companion who used her skills to help a child experience a world she would not otherwise know, we were both in the presence of a “human angel.”  For all I know, the caretaker may have deep religious beliefs which give her the strength to do what she does.  And that is fine.  As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  I seldom question the wisdom of #16, but in this case, I put my faith in “the better humanity within our nature.”

In other words, do not confuse denial of a supreme being with lack of faith.  Last Monday, my faith in people was affirmed.  When called upon, there will always be men and women who will step forward when others are dealt a bad hand in life.  Their motivation comes from many sources.  And if there was a job description for these kind of people, the qualifications would include the phrase, “DIVINE BELIEF OPTIONAL.”

For what it’s worth.



Many of you are familiar with the Turkish proverb, “A fish stinks from the head down.”  From an organizational perspective, it means simply that any systemic problems which exist within an entity can be traced back to the leadership.

If you’ve been paying attention the last few months you know that there has been a rash of expenditures by cabinet members and senior officials of the Trump administration which, at best, seem inappropriate and may be violations of the law.  To name a few:

  • EPA administrator Scott Pruitt spent $43,000 on a soundproof telephone booth even though there were already two secured communications spaces available for his use.
  • Ben Carson ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office.  When told the purchase would be a violation of the $5,000 cap for office improvements for incoming department heads, the always chivalrous Carson blamed his wife.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke billed taxpayers for a $139,000 for new doors to is office.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has racked up over $1.0 million in airfare for questionable travel, including the trip to Ft. Knox, Kentucky with his wife during which they viewed the solar eclipse.

But you knew all that.  What might have flown under the radar screen is the amount of money taxpayers are coughing up to underwrite efforts to downplay marital discord between Donald and Melania Trump.  On Monday, Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago where he will be hosting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his wife.  Despite Mrs. Trump’s obvious displeasure with news of her husband’s relationships with an adult movie star and a Playboy playmate, she has continued to attend official functions such as the White House Easter Egg Roll and the upcoming Abe visit.  But at what cost?

Monday, the Palm Beach Post reported Mrs. Trump arrived on a smaller version of Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport hours before her husband.  Furthermore, to avoid embarrassing pictures of both planes sitting on the tarmac, Mrs. Trump’s plane departed an hour before Trump and his entourage landed.  A picture of Mrs. Trump’s arrival and the wire service update announcing her touchdown is provided below.

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.: First lady Melania Trump has arrived at Palm Beach International Airport prior to the arrival of her husband, the president.

The issue of Trump’s infidelity and how the couple wishes to deal with it is between the two of them.  Even if they have decided to live separate lives except for official White House functions, that’s fine.  What is not acceptable is billing taxpayers for expenses which occur solely as a result of their personal enmity.

Newspaper sources report the cost of operating Air Force One, the Boeing 747 which is generally used by the chief executive is $200,000 per hour.  I could not find numbers related to the cost of operating the second official government plane.    At a minimum, it must be at least a quarter of the what the 747 costs.  Therefore, the two-hour flight each way from Andrews to Palm Beach and back is around $200,000.  I can understand Melania wanting to keep her distance from her husband, but especially on Tax Day, I bristle at the thought that we are adding to the deficit because they cannot find niches of separation on a jumbo jet.

 Just one more example how the moocher-in-chief is ripping off the country, but more importantly, his supporters.  A report in the Washington Post states that one out of every five dollars donated this year to the Republic National Committee (RNC) has been spent on Trump’s defense.  Personally, I think that’s a better use of the money than buying disinformation ads for wannabe sycophant members of Congress in the mid-term elections.

Separate beds.  That’s your option. Wasting Republican money on anything but trying to elect more Republicans.  Fine with me.  Separate planes.  That’s a little much, especially when it’s on our dime.

For what it’s worth.