End of Term Marks – Trump, Donald J.

Or first 100 days, whichever you prefer.  They are both arbitrary benchmarks.  As before, I am using the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry grading system.  Thus:

O – Outstanding, the student is brilliant and can move on; E – Exceeds Expectations, not perfect but the student can move ahead; A – Acceptable, pass but will have trouble moving ahead and may not be accepted into advanced courses of study; P – Poor, not passing, can repeat the course; D – Dreadful, failed, will get no credit for the course; and finally T – Troll, complete failure, perhaps the student is not Hogwarts material.

The courses were:  1) Accuracy, truth telling and transparency; 2) Economic affairs; 3) Foreign affairs; 4) Family; 5) Legislation – Immigration and Healthcare;

Accuracy, truth telling and transparency:  D – Dreadful.  The student is feckless, and has a tendency to mouth off at 4:00 AM after an unproductive night watching worthless cable news and information channels. Perhaps Professor Snape should assign a seven parchment essay:  Why Cable TV News is Completely Ridiculous – Discuss.  Note the unnecessary argument over the Inauguration non-crowds.  Truth telling is also problematic for this Administration, although this is true of every Administration. The student fails at this, however, because the student is unable to stick to his own version of the facts, such as they are.  Transparency is nonexistent, despite the neverending glare of increasingly silly photo ops. The fact that the student feels the need to obtain advice from right wing crazies and family members with no political interests or experience does not bode well for the rest of the course.

Economic Affairs: A – Acceptable with caution.  The student has  made the proper noises about bringing jobs back to flyover country.  The student’s evident inability to confront the Chinese on their cheap exports, however, does not invite optimism. We can conditionally accept student’s uncharacteristic hesitancy as proof that the problem is larger than the student anticipates and the student has opted for further examination before coming up with a trade policy.  The student is warned:  this new jobs policy is a small hourglass.  The student may have just two years to turn this around and we’re already 100 days in.  If not done in this this time period, the student may find that his flyover constituency will cast him aside, all conservative radio and TV rabblerousing to the contrary. This is the most fragile, and perhaps the most important, promise from the student’s campaign.

Foreign Affairs: P – Poor; the student is struggling.  The student is in love with gunboat diplomacy, aka carpet bombing diplomacy.  This didn’t work for Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and George W. Bush.  This will not work for the Donald Administration either. The bombing, however, of Syria (long overdue although largely useless except as an expression of disfavor) and the threatening talk to the Potemkin Village Republic of North Korea is an improvement on the Obama Administration’s almost cowardly reluctance to do anything except to come out with intellectual folderol when things went south.  Donald’s push to get the Chinese to help rein in the Kim regime is, however, good policy.  Note:  this will adversely affect our ability to get trade concessions from the Chinese until the current “crisis” is over.  When dealing with the North Koreans, however, the “crisis” is never over.

The relationship with Europe is at best stagnant and Donald’s reception of Angela Merkel, arguably the most powerful politician in what’s left of Europe, was downright rude, as was his treatment of the Australians.  Pushing Mr. Netanyahu into making promises during a news conference was also not good form.  It may have worked the first time, but Donald does that again and he will get major pushback.  I note that, surprisingly,  we are in the usual dance with the Russians.  I will take that as a good sign, in the short term.

Family: T – Troll, the student has failed completely and may not be White House material.  The sphinx like silence and absence of the First Lady is a disgrace, Barron’s private school or no.  We get pictures of her (her First Lady portrait was an exercise in cheesiness, frankly) but she is silent.  The Easter Egg roll, usually a no brainer when it comes to White House goodwill, was not only badly planned, the seeming reluctance of the First Lady with regard to the occasion was telling.  Because we do not know why she is silent we can only be charitable and say that she is distressed about her accent or that she is kept silent by Donald.  Or, perhaps we can be uncharitable and think that she does not care.  At this point, it’s a toss up.   Furthermore, using unqualified grown children and in-laws as political advisors smacks of Greek diner management, at best.  Remember the rule about nepotism:  the family is always right.  Review material:  The Godfather.

Legislation: All ’round grade: D – Dreadful. The student will get no credit, although he is in good company; the Obama Administration didn’t do much better.

Subset Grades:  Immigration: P – Poor; the student may repeat the course.  Bad political advice, mixed with prejudice and hurry up deadlines killed any reasonable attempt to reform and control the immigration process for refugees and people bootstrapping their way up the economic ladder.  Immigration, therefore, remains the mess it has been for decades.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, this failure was leavened by the common sense reforms on the H-B1 visa system which has been abused by American businesses for decades, something that the Obama Administration did not consider to be a problem.  Before you listen to the tech corporations go on about how they need STEM talent, remember the barrista who just graduated with a hard science or computer degree and can’t get a job he/she can live on.  Those who should be the most outraged by the H-B1 system should be our young people who are done out of their livelihoods by skin flint tech companies willing to hire foreign labor for slave wage salaries, many of whom have few English skills and are put up in crummy apartments where they sleep four to a room.   It’s the Palo Alto version of the Chinese factory.

Subset Grade:  Healthcare: T – Troll; Failed completely.  The Donald Administration has decided to try again.  Whatever. If a Republican (sort of) Administration and a Republican dominated House of Representatives cannot push through repeal and replace legislation overturning law that was hated from day one, the system is entirely dysfunctional.

Summary:  I’d say we’re in Dreadful territory.  The student can do better.  We hope.

Saved by Bashar al-Assad

Go figure. The Donald Administration so far has had a terrible 100 day roll out, what with the Inauguration non-crowds, being stymied by Congressional divisions when it came to repealing Obamacare and the immigration/travel ban grinding to a judicial halt.  Along comes a tin pot dictator by the name of Bashar al-Assad who unleashes chemical warfare on his own people (shades of Saddam Hussein).  This prompts the Trump people into decisive action.

Not rhetoric, action.  Approximately 60 Tomahawk missiles from a warship on the Med and Trump’s a hero.  Just like that.  The press, taken aback, shuts up and the everlasting cable discussion panels start jabbering about old school conflict with the Russians.

Fortune, such as it is, has taken a turn, sort of.  Strangely, the topic all weekend was not about our deteriorating relationship with Putin.  It was whether Steve Bannon and Jered Kushner can learn to get along.  Nothing more interesting than palace intrigue.  A victory of sorts for our Florida/golf loving president.  Melania even made an appearance, a sphinx in arriviste designer clothes.

The mini-summit with the Chinese seems to have gone fairly well (Walmart and Target are still selling those Chinese made t-shirts for cheap), and of course the foregone conclusion that Mr. Gorsuch would join the Supreme Court did not go amiss.  The Washington Post (New Tagline:  Democracy Dies in Darkness) took the downtime opportunity to do a piece on Steve Bannon’s history and finances, which was interesting and somewhat alarming.  The takeaway?  Bannon is not the standup, cardboard Darth Vader many thought.  As always, real life is more complicated than movies and/or election campaigns.  You have to admire Mr. Bannon’s willingness to persist and learn, if not his beliefs, such as they are.  Most important, you can see why Donald J. likes him.

Mr. Bannon, on perusal of said article, is a Mark Levin/Laura Ingraham, Deep State, The World is Coming to an End, Breaking Bad, Zombie Apocalypse conspiracy theorist.  He resides in the world of hydrogen bomb explosion stock footage and the sort of scenes they used in the film Reefer Madness back in the days of yore.

Alarming, true, but not out of character for our dear Donald J.  It’s not rocket science, or even good history.  It is, however, compelling on a National Enquirer level, which may be the key to whole Trump phenomenon.  The jury’s out on the other side of the triangle, Jered Kushner, mostly because he’s a political nonentity at this point.  Give that one time.

So, score one and a half for the Donald Administration.  I don’t count the folksy Gorsuch as a whole point because he was a shoo in.  On to tax reform (now taken off the table for more study) and a return to the redoubt of Obamacare.

Whither St. Patrick?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day for all you wanna be Irish out there.  Of course, as the New Yorkers say, everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, usually right before they upchuck green beer into (hopefully) the gutter.  Lesson:  do not drink green beer.  Ever.

In America, St. Patrick’s Day  started out as an affirmation of an Irish minority pinioned in an Anglo culture that denigrated the Irish as shanty – backward Catholics who had lots of children they couldn’t support and who drank a lot.  The Italians got the same treatment.  Loud, bold cultures, both; nothing to lose immigrants who worked hard, sometimes at the all the wrong things. It took a presidential election (1960) to blur that line; now they’re just white people. Go figure.

My family used to think we were Irish.  Now we think we’re Welsh and Scottish.  St. Patrick, according to the New English (aka BBC), was a Welsh missionary.  Or perhaps Cornish, or something like that.  As an American with a foggy geographic knowledge  of Great Britain (where the heck is Midsomer anyway?), I am easily confused by the whereabouts of traditional Celtic minorities in what is now Britain.  I note that my family all immigrated before 1850, so they weren’t all that attached to wherever they were in the old country.  People didn’t immigrate at the drop of a hat, considering the difficulties of 17th, 18th and 19th Century travel, not to mention the effort involved in taming a savage wilderness.

For the sake of historical accuracy, I come from a long line of Protestants so St. Patrick was not high on the list of celebratory occasions, all the more so because no one in the family moved off the farm until about 1920 or so.  Nearest I can figure, celebratory occasions were almost non-existent.  The work load was too heavy and even if there was a church nearby, it certainly wasn’t the Catholic sort; not that my ancestors would have been caught dead in such a place.  As my great-grandmother said to my father when he was sent to help out on their southern Kentucky farm, no one  had time for “sech foolishness.”

The fact that my Scottish grandfather’s people regarded his marriage to my shanty Welsh grandmother (about 1922 or so) as a mixed marriage tells you something about the prejudices of the day.  My grandmother never had much respect for the Scottish side of the family, which evidently regarded her as an interloper.  Thing is, the Scottish side was gone by about the late ’20’s.  Only the Welsh side of the family lived on, casting a long, southern Kentucky Celtic shadow over my childhood, albeit a fiercely Protestant one, but then, they were all fiercely Protestant; my grandparents would never have married otherwise.

This has absolutely nothing to do with current St. Patrick’s Day, aka All Things Irish, celebrations.  These have  more to do with greeting card/cookie merchandising and early spring pub crawls than anything else.  It’s amateur hour as a Boston Irish friend used to say; an excuse to get drunk at lunch and ditch work for the rest of the day.  It’s a cubicle dweller’s slacker excuse, an American Civil Religion holiday of the highest order.

So, raise your glass. I will ignore the green beer, just this once.  Here’s to St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to the heathen Irish and drove out the snakes, as celebrated by churches in both Irelands and perhaps, some in the Northeastern United States (where we still have snakes).  Meanwhile, the amateurs will head for the bars which are decked out for the occasion in green, grinning leprechauns, those malevolent representatives of Fairie.

Great grandmother Roberts, had she ever sighted such a far-fetched thing as a leprechaun, would have put it to work making lye soap without so much as a by your leave.  No time for chasing rainbows on the farm. That would have been foolishness indeed.

 

 

Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday we found ourselves driving through the hills of south western Pennsylvania and western Maryland.  A snow storm blew through overnight, shutting down the schools in the remote Youghiogheny Dam area.  The hardy schools down along the Route 21 corridor, however, only gave the kids a two hour delay.   We decided to have a leisurely breakfast before attempting the roads. When we got into the mountains we found wet roads coated with heavy gravel brine and the sort of snow traced woods one only sees on old fashioned Christmas cards.

The day before, the day of our arrival, had been pleasant and unseasonably warm.  The country church, nestled next to a closed coal-fired power plant and a deserted logging/landfill road, stood sentinel over the winter brown river,  gazing down big limestone cliffs, half hidden by resurgent underbrush and depopulation.  The cemetery was filled with the people we used to know.  After the service we wandered, reading the flat headstones in a haze of sorrow and discovery, greeting old friends. Their spirits whispered through the breeze, bidding welcome and long time no see as we walked among the graves.

He was a man who lived his entire life in the parish.  He toiled with grace and dignity, a man of his time and place.  He was a pillar of that industrial/rural congregation, the only parish he had ever known.  He was baptized there, married there.  A young man in the early 60’s, he was a marine and a college graduate who returned to live in and serve his community. He was  raised by no-nonsense immigrants who took advantage of their opportunities.  His Balkan father, after a spell in the mines, went into the cattle broker business, something he passed along to his two sons.  This turned out to be a good bet.  Cattle brokers are doing about the same as they always did in western Pennsylvania.  The coal mines, coke ovens and steel mills are gone.

We spent the night in a resurgent shopping area, something that had not been there thirty years before.  The hotels were all new, glossy Hiltons and Holiday Inns. A flashy Walmart and Super Target lined the newly widened roads, moated by huge parking lots.  There were acres of ultra modern urology and dialysis clinics, doctors’ offices and rehab facilities.  The usual national food chains peppered the wayward strip malls along with the venerable Eat ‘n Park, that Pittsburgh area favorite.

The day before, not knowing how long it would take to get through the awful DC traffic, we left home before sunup.  Dawn rose over South Mountain as we tracked the sharp hills and steep grades and the world widened around us, long, low valleys tracing up into forested hills.  Radio stations faded, only NPR and trucker country strong enough to dip into the hollows.  The Washington Bubble vanished over the eastern hills and we found ourselves in the real world.

Arriving too early, we ended up getting coffee at the local Panera.  It was full of old guys, all dressed in fashion discredited track suits and discount athletic shoes, drinking coffee and talking politics, regulars, their bright eyes intelligent and sharp under silver hair, accentuated by bushy, old fashioned mustaches.  The help, a mix of teens just out of high school and women in their 60’s, knew them by name, greeting each with sharp grins and good words.

The church was small, attracting less than 25 parishioners on any given Sunday and perhaps a 100 people at Easter and Christmas.  It was dying even when we were there, now a generation ago.  We were young then, new parents, our lives ahead of us.  The man who died was a surrogate uncle, a steady, soft spoken man, classy, intelligent, hardworking, modest.  His fault was that he did not take care of himself and even as early as the mid-1980’s he was already taking handfuls of pills everyday, washed down by gallons of Pepsi.  He did not drink, at least not much by the hard drinking standards of his family and friends.  He refused to exercise. His marriage to a local woman was a lifelong love, one that produced no children.  Instead they gave their lives to their families, their friends and their church. They were the class act, ready to give, to listen, to advise.  No judgment or recrimination.

The area, forgotten even thirty years ago, is now on the edge of a crumbling cliff.  Jobs are hard to come by. The coal trains rumble past, fewer than before. The power plant stands a rusting testament to something that once provided good livelihood to the local population.  It was closed by EPA regulations, the company walking away.  The landfill up the way closed.  The place has returned to its country silence, relinquishing Springsteen anthems for trucker country, old country folk music and the dead language hymns of eternal rest.

This man, one of the classiest I have ever known, gave his life to this place, his place.  He was a pillar of the community and the shock of his passing fades even now to hallow emptiness.  Even as we stood in that sunlit cemetery, listening to the choir sing the ancient graveside service, the present became the past, gravediggers standing by, shovels in hand.  He was not important or well known except in his own community of forested foothills and dying townships. In the big picture, the one that pretends Congress, the White House and Wall Street are important, he was nobody.

You shrug.  Life goes on you say.  Flyover country, you say.  The land time forgot.  Time, however, never forgets anything.  It remembers all, holds all in its grimy, irrevocable hand, vise-grip fingers pressing unceasing until life is drained.  Our beloved friend lies now in that country graveyard, surrounded by wild turkey, red foxes and cautious, silent deer.  The church holds to its ancient ritual, outlasting landfills, power plants and coal trains.  Bells ring across the cemetery and the woods beyond, solid and somehow harsh, tolling eternity.

 

 

Interims:  A – Acceptable (With a Warning)

The news people tell me it’s been a month since the Donald’s inauguration.  Already?  Time does fly.  At any rate, time for an interim grade. Should be mid-terms in about, say, May or so, right before Memorial Day.

First thing’s first:  interim grade.  I had some trouble with this one.  I have done no research on what other new administrations have accomplished in their first 30 days, so I have no context in which to judge the Donald Administration.  There are conflicting reports (read:  opinions backed up by cherry picked facts).  Some say that most administrations hit the ground running; some report that it takes six months or so to get things going.  I could do the research but, really, I have better things to do, besides people will not be persuaded one way or the other once they’ve made up their minds.

Rather than following the British method (levels) or the American method (A, B, C, D, F) I prefer the Hogwarts grading system:  O – Outstanding, E – Exceeds Expectations, A – Acceptable, P – Poor, D – Dreadful and the feared T – Troll.

 As it stands now, I figure it’s somewhere between Acceptable and Poor, with a dose of Dreadful.  We haven’t had enough time to fall to Troll and the Donald Administration is nowhere near Exceeds Expectations.  No one gets an Outstanding in the first 30 days, nor would it be fair to slap a T on the whole thing and call it a day.

So, how does the Donald Administration? 

I’m going for an unenthusiastic Acceptable, I guess.  The immigration ban muddle, Mr. Spicer’s rough start, the muzzling of a runaway Conway, the funny business Flynn thing and Donald’s chaotic news conference of last week are not encouraging.  Add the fact that the Cabinet is full of last century’s military/industrial complex in addition to some Congressional Republican side eye, and you’ve not got a recipe for long-term success. 

Donald, weary of unrelenting nit-picking and yelling critics, rallied his base in South Carolina and Florida soon after, to a sneering national press which, unfortunately, provided a much too clear picture of the chattering class’ mindset.  My point?   Let’s leave Professor Snape to his dungeon for the time being and go with the hopeful if stern Professor McGonagall.  Perhaps Donald J. will grow into it.

 

Who, What, When, Where, Why

The fundamentals of journalism.  In fact, the fundamentals of writing.  I have avoided network news for a while now, since the primaries when the major news outlets rushed to interview the Donald over the telephone.  Notably absent was Hillary.  There was industry blowback, especially when Trump started winning, but the news people said that Trump’s phone convos not only brought in ratings, they were important to their coverage of the primaries.  This silver platter stuff stopped after the conventions. By that time it was too late.

The major news outlets are now shunning the Donald Administration, doubling down on his spokespeople if any should be so foolish as to show up for an interview.  I note that there are no more phone interviews.  These outfits have become so biased that I can’t watch them for more than five minutes anymore, should I happen upon a panel-free moment.

This leaves the local news,  good for traffic, weather and  whether the schools have closed.  The local guys, relieved of  Donald duty, cover the nuts and bolts of the passing parade, murder, robbery, kidnapping, missing persons, school board meetings, man bites dog.  In the DC area, we are fortunate to have a local all news channel, part of the ABC affiliate.  This outfit puts on local news at 10:00 PM, right after it rebroadcasts ABC’s national news at 9:30.

One evening last week found me reluctantly watching the ABC Evening News rebroadcast.  The fact that the powers that be at ABC have given up on complete sentences is profoundly irritating. Amidst all the gabble, however, I gathered that a young woman was found dead at a “popular tourist destination.”  The newscast sped through its grisly story, with pictures of the young woman in better days followed by video of men in t-shirts scouring an unidentified jungle.  This, unfortunately, is not an unusual story.  The problem?  The newscaster (David Muir) never said where this happened.  “Popular tourist destination” doesn’t tell me much.  Where was it?  Thailand? The Caribbean?  Hawaii?  Where?

I had to look it up on Google.  “Popular tourist destination” turned out to be Panama, or an island belonging to Panama.   If we can’t trust a national news outfit to give us even the basic facts of a tragic murder, what else do they leave out?  Curb your outrage, guys.  Do your job.  It’s time to go back to basics which, hopefully, includes using complete sentences.

 

 

Just The Facts, Ma’am.

It’s been a rough week for the Donald First 100 Days Project.  We’ve moved on to massacres in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This has become a ridiculous debate about whether this occurred, if not what did occur and what to call that occurrence.  No wonder Orwell’s novel 1984 has come back into style.

We had the We Hate Australia incident; we’re still on about the Mexican Wall and the travel ban, as opposed to the immigration ban, is still somewhere in judicial limbo. This one may end up in the Supreme Court.  Remember what I said about the Supreme Court:  not built for speed or clarity.

The press is a mess, FOX and CNN on the warpath and not caring who knows.  The Washington Post (WAPO) and the New York Times (NYT ) publish loooong articles, some of which may be relevant but which feature about as many facts as OK! and The National Enquirer.  This is not entirely their fault. The Donald Administration is short on facts; not surprising considering Donald’s campaign.  The fact that the campaign turned out to be what you see is what you get should not surprise anyone.  This says more about the veracity of campaign promises than it says about the Donald Administration.  Perhaps Donald is the first president in modern history who actually tried to follow through on his campaign promises, at least in the first term.

Currently, the problem with the press is its penchant for speculation.  That’s all over the place, amplified as never before by the Internet and its various aggregate news feeds which always feature the most outrageous stories first.  After all, these editors have to put dinner on the table and keep a roof over their heads.  Your average thumb through is not going to pause at some clear headed analysis of what’s going on in the White House; you’ve got to pepper it up, as they say in the Netflix series, The Crown.

If you’ll remember, the Barack Administration waited to follow through on its campaign promises until the last two years of its second term, leading to the election of the Donald Administration.  Donald is merely speeding up the process. Remember, Donald loves chaos, he prefers infighting. This is how he runs his businesses; underlings, including family, duke it out and then Donald makes the final decision. This may explain why Ms. Conway and other Donald spokespeople are so combative, not that the press gives them much quarter.

The shouting has become so bad that I have stopped watching almost all of the mainstream televised press except for BBC (not BBC America, BBC).  BBC is as aghast as everyone else but it attempts to keep calm, as the t-shirts say. I feel a bit as if I’m living in a foreign country featuring press intent only on propaganda and posturing; it’s sort of like residing in the old Soviet Union, or in modern Iran.

Donald always describes the mainstream press as failing.  This is his way of saying it should fail, very Russian of him, as it were.  Most autocratic regimes are good at this, give something a label and sooner or later, if you talk loud enough, it will stick.  The press is correct to push back, but it must get its thumb off the scale.   Bias is the enemy, not the Donald Administration. The more bias, the more you play into Donald’s fantasyland.

The NYT’s motto is “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”  Perhaps they should change to Sargeant Friday’s immortal line, “Just the facts, ma’am.”