NEVER GONNA STOP THE RAIN BY COMPLAININ’

1. It’s Monday, August 7, 2017.

2. On this day in 1942, 75 years ago, both Garrison Keillor and B.J. Thomas were born.

Keillor is the conjurer of “A Prairie Home Companion,” an unlikely cultural icon from the realm of public radio. He’s left the show, but it remains a tribute to what is truly great about America – its wit, its culture and its diversity.

Thomas is the guy who sang “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It accompanies a scene in which Butch, played by Paul Newman, does tricks on a bicycle to impress Katharine Ross.

There’s no other real context for the song in the movie. But it’s a Bert Bacharach-Hal David work, and this was when they were as hot as any songwriting team other than Lennon and McCartney.

3. The message of “Raindrops” is that bad things happen, but we shouldn’t let them get us down.

That’s an interesting message in August 2017.

For there is no doubt in the minds of about two-thirds of our countrymen that this is a gloomy time in our nation’s history. That’s thanks to the other third, who willed into and still support a huckster in the nation’s highest office.

But it has been hard for the people who oppose Trump to get their act together.

Because of the nature of our electoral system, there haven’t been a lot of ways for people to express their discuss at the ballot box. This is a year of small elections, and people generally don’t like to take out their national frustration on somebody running for town clerk.

4. And you’ve got to hand it to the guy at the center of this. He knows how to keep people off-balance.

There were actually people who thought his 17-day stay at his golf course in New Jersey would lead to some peace and quiet in the land. Ha. As long as there’s Wi-Fi on the facilities and a device to crank up Twitter, he can dictate the day’s agenda in a couple of minutes – then spend the rest of the day playing golf, looking in the mirror or whatever the hell he does with his time.

The noise he creates, the loud complaining and indignation his tweets spark, are his life force.

And every week is the same. There’s some supposed theme for the week that falls by the wayside when Trump tweets something offensive or floats another indecent policy idea – usually early on Monday morning.

Then comes the response – the pundits on the cable news networks, the comedians on the late-night shows, the outraged opponents on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s ridiculous. The guy is calling the shots. He controls the situation.

Trump must love this part of it. If he can’t have the undying love of the American people, he can at least control the background noise of their lives. If there’s a way he can make money from it, that’s even better.
So here’s a thought:

5. It’s time for this country to regain control.

There are things the American people need done. Building infrastructure. Trying to mitigate climate change. Improving the relationships among people of different backgrounds. Making health care universally available and more affordable.

These are real issues. Trump has only addressed two of them, and only in the negative – working with congressional Republicans to gut health care improvements from the Affordable Care Act and putting climate change deniers in charge of protecting us from climate change.

If Trump won’t respond to what Americans really want, Americans need to make their voices louder.

This is especially true of what should be the goal of every American president – bringing the nation’s people together. This whole idea of playing to the base is a preposterous way to govern – and it was true when Democrats do it as well.

It’s a reason Hillary Clinton lost – she only seemed to be campaigning to turn out people on her side. She never tried to reach the people who were undecided or against her.

She did what we’re letting Trump do now. Set the tone. Set the agenda. Establish the narrative.

6. Let’s change it.

Instead of letting Trump wink at police indiscretions, let’s rally for a system that brings police and communities together to prevent violence.

Instead of letting Trump call any state a “drug-infested den,” let’s find solutions that solve the problem, working with law enforcement, embattled communities and, yes, pharmaceutical companies.

Instead of letting Trump gut our health care system, let’s come up with some demands for what we want to see change and ways to implement them.

Instead of letting Trump imply people of different races and religions are less than American, let’s rally for them.

And that’s where the spirit of Garrison Keillor comes in.

He welcomed artists of all stripes to his show, celebrating all forms of music to his national radio audience.

We need that now. We need 400,000 people on the Mall in Washington to celebrate the diversity of this country. We need 500,000 people to support real solutions to the drug problem, not just throwing people in jail or cutting funds for treatment programs. We need 600,000 people on the Mall to show that climate change is a threat.

And we need artists of all stripes, politicians of many persuasions to show that this country is more than a select bunch of yahoos in West Virginia who genuflect at a gold-plated fool’s tweets.

We’re never gonna stop the rain by complaining.

We’re going to stop it by acting on what’s good about this country and changing the narrative. We’re going to stop it by ignoring the daily tweet dump about whatever’s bothering this jackass at the moment and focusing on what we want.

The president is supposed to serve the people, all the people, as different from one another as “A Prairie Home Companion” showed them to be.

Not the other way around.

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+209,000

1. It’s Friday, August 4, 2017.

2. It’s Barack Obama’s 56th birthday. Has any President been as missed six months out of office as this guy?

3. My former CNNMoney colleague Paul La Monica – one of business journalism’s most accomplished tweeters – always offers this thought the day before the monthly jobs report: We all should be rooting for good numbers, no matter what our political persuasion. 

Paul’s absolutely right. All Americans should want their countrymen and women employed – if that’s what they want. Rooting against the employment figures is like rooting against our military – pretty damn close to treasonous.

So despite the fact that I loathe Trump, and realize that he’ll take credit, I’m very pleased with today’s July labor report. A gain of 209,000 jobs, which is not just a plus but a solid one. And a decline in the unemployment rate to 4.3% from 4.4% in June.

4. Two sectors of the economy stick out in this report.

One is that people must be eating out a lot.

Employment in food service and what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “drinking places” – question: Does Jamba Juice count? – rose by a solid 53,000 jobs. In the past year, the industry has added 313,000 jobs.

That’s a curious thing. Are you eating out more? Are you hanging out at bars more?

Everywhere I look, I see restaurants, diners and the like closing. Now this might just be a local phenomenon – for a Burger King closing in New City, New York, a Sonic might be going up in the Washington area.

But people tend to eat out more when they’re feeling prosperous. So that’s a good sign for the economy – although I know some grumpy types that see a boon in this as a sign that a fall is coming. Let’s hope not – at least not any time soon.

The second sector that stands out is health care. An additional 39,000 jobs were added in this industry last month, bringing the one-year total to 327,000.

This seems a sign that whatever we’re doing in health care right now is pretty good for the economy. More people are using health care services, which means more people are working in health care services.

5. So why the hell would anyone want to mess with that?

A drastic change in health care – let’s say, repealing Obamacare – would tamper with what’s become a growing part of the economy.

Not only has Obamacare helped make America healthier, it has helped make America more prosperous – completely contrary to the screaming that the far right did when the law was enacted in 2009.

It must drive Republicans crazy that this law worked. And it just proves that Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain were looking out for the best interests of the party as well as the country when they voted against the so-called skinny repeal measure last week.

6. Which brings us back to Barack Obama.

I’ll bet Trumpsters believe Obama is jealous of today’s numbers. Since Trump took office, slightly more than 1 million jobs have been created.

Obama ain’t jealous. Obama is a big reason those numbers are so good. Jobs have grown for 82 months in a row, a streak that began after the Obama stimulus helped right the economy following the financial crisis.

If anything, today’s jobs number is Obama’s birthday present. It’s gorgeous. And we should all celebrate.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

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HOW I GOT HERE

1. It’s Thursday, August 3, 2017.

2. It’s the 13th anniversary of the reopening of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It had been closed since the Sept. 11, 2001 attack that destroyed the World Trade Center.

For nearly three years, people seeking inspiration from the statue had to be content with the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on its side.

Hundreds of people speak the words on Liberty Island every day. They’re part of the power that a visit to the statue – and to the nearby Ellis Island immigration center – engender.

Of course, there are people like Stephen Miller, who are probably more concerned about whether they serve chicken nuggets at the snack bar, and why you have to pay money to take a boat to the island.

4. There are people who will tell you that those of us on the coasts – I’m including my friends in California, Oregon and Washington – really don’t understand the impact immigration has on the American economy.

The real impact is on the heartland, these people will say, where immigrants – many of them here illegally – are taking jobs from American citizens.

This canard has been bouncing around for decades – it’s imagined by narrow-minded people and reinforced by opportunistic (read: Republican) office seekers and their tame media (read: Fox News).

So that’s why you can get crap such as that proposed yesterday by Trump and two other bags of pus who hold seats in the U.S. Senate – Cotton of Arkansas and Perdue of Georgia.

Let’s put it all in perspective.

Immigration is how I’m here. It’s how my wife is here. Because of that, it’s why my kids are here.

There aren’t a whole lot of people I know or I’ve worked with who aren’t here because of immigrants, most of whom couldn’t speak the language when they got off the boat, the truck or the plane. Most of them had no jobs waiting for them, no understanding of what skill sets would be needed in this land.

There are issues with immigration. No one disagrees that it’s better done legally. Those who come in without proper documentation can – in some instances – be used as a bludgeon on the wages of people already here, which is one of the things that sparks the anti-immigrant sentiment.

But to curtail immigration with a so-called “merit-based” system is preposterous. It’s shameful. It’s cowardice.

And it betrays the spirit that brought people here. People who built and defended this country. Who died in World War II and Vietnam and Iraq and on that awful September day in 2001 that closed the Statue of Liberty pedestal for nearly three years.

Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Every American worth a damn knows these words, and knows how they symbolize the greatness of the United States.

Obviously, Trump and every senator or representative who supports this garbage proposal doesn’t fall into the worth a damn category.

And if you live in Iowa or Kentucky or Georgia – or even in New York or Los Angeles – and support this: To hell with you, too.

5. Congratulations to Norman Lear, age 95, who will be among this year’s recipients of the Kennedy Center’s annual honors for achievement in the arts.

It’s well deserved. Lear contributed greatly to American culture with his pioneering sitcoms that looked at social issues: “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons” and more. He’s also devoted his life to advancing free speech in America.

That doesn’t change my thought that maybe Lear didn’t succeed in changing America as he wished to do. That bigotry prevailed in spite of his incredible efforts against it.

What I also imagine, from what I know about the man, is that he would welcome the discussion and the chance to either agree or vigorously disagree.

I also cheer the fact that he’s probably going to skip the traditional White House reception for the honorees, who also include LL Cool J, Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie and dancer Carmen de Lavallade.

“I can’t see myself visiting a White House, what (Trump) called a dump, that dumps on the National Endowment for the Arts,” Lear was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.

Proving he ain’t no meathead.

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WHAT GOES UP…

1. It’s Wednesday, August 2, 2017.

2. It’s the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the U.S. Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 in the Solomon Islands.

The boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, instantly killing two of the 13 crew members.

The commander was Lt. John F. Kennedy, who led the remainder of his crew to safety on a deserted island. Eventually, with the help of Australians and Solomon Islanders, Kennedy and the survivors were rescued.

It was a story that we heard a lot about in the days when Kennedy was President. There are some who claim it was gussied up a little to help the aspiring politician.

And, of course, how can it compare courage-wise to his 10th successor avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in New York’s Studio 54 era?

3. Ara Parseghian, who died this morning at age 94, achieved his greatest success as a football coach at Notre Dame, winning the 1973 national championship.

But, of course, we Northwesterners mourn him as one of the school’s greatest coaches, compiling a winning record (!!!) and even a No. 1 ranking at one point in 1962.

4. It’s hard to believe the stock market has done as well as it has since Trump’s election nearly nine months ago.

Conventional wisdom says the instability in what has been the world’s most powerful nation should be a detriment to investment, not a boon. With this administration, who knows what the hell is going to happen?

And yet, this morning, the Dow Jones industrial average reached the 22,000 mark for the first time.

As the Times’ Landon Thomas Jr. helpfully points out, two things are fueling the surge.

One is the idea that Trump is going to cut taxes.

Cutting taxes seems like an absurd idea at a time when the stock market’s booming. Corporate profits are strong, so a tax cut for business just seems like pure greed.

But that’s what these investors seem to be cheering.

The other spark is a weak dollar. That makes investing in the U.S. more attractive overseas, since other nations’ currencies can buy more than they did before.

As is always a case with a long boom, some question whether it can ever end. What’s to stop markets from going up ad infinitum?

Something.

And the Trump administration is going to provide it.

A trade war with China? A war war with North Korea or Iran? Pissing off the Europeans enough that they ignore this country and look for development elsewhere? Turning back to oil and coal instead of developing alternatives that have been sparking growth even before this year?

Anyone who holds investments – especially those of us with the title “retired” – cheers higher markets. But when they go down, it hurts. Big time.

It’ll happen – the question is when.

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INFRASTRUCTURE

1. It’s Tuesday, August 1, 2017.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis. The 8-lane span just fell into the river during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.

The collapse was supposed to be a wake-up call that the nation’s infrastructure – not just the roads, but utilities and public transit – are crumbling.

The Obama administration recognized this to some extent, focusing its 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on billions of dollars in infrastructure spending. The measure was passed with absolutely no Republican support in the House and only three Republicans in the Senate – and one of the three switched parties afterward.

2. When Trump was elected, he talked about infrastructure spending as a priority.

Democrats, reviled by the thought this guy would be in the White House, still swallowed hard and said, hey, that’s something we can get behind.

That’s pretty much the last we’ve heard of that.

Republicans, non-believers in the idea of government, think infrastructure spending is a way for government to become more entrenched. It’s government providing jobs to people, and that’s a horrible thought – only companies should do it, and only when they deem fit. So they don’t like it.

3. I think there’s one other reason Republicans don’t go along with infrastructure spending.

While roads are being fixed or built, commuters suffer inconvenience.

For the past four years, commuters from where I live in Rockland County, New York, have dealt with the mess created as the state builds two bridges across the Hudson. They’ll replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was built on the cheap in the 1950s and has barely made it to August 2017.

The Tappan Zee looks and feels as if it’s headed into the Hudson anytime you drive on it. The rattling and shaking when you’re sitting bumper-to-bumper on it leads to thoughts of maybe we should update the wills.

The years of construction have been a pain. Constantly changing highway patterns. Construction crews slowly making their way across the old span. One day last year, a crane collapse closed the TZ all day – miraculously, no one was injured.

Anger is the Republican Party’s best friend.

When something like a extra-long commute makes people angry, Republicans are there to tap into the animus: Why is the government making us suffer like this? Because it can. Because that’s what government does.

But later this month, the first of the new bridges – named for the late Gov. Mario Cuomo – will open. Within two years, both new bridges will be in operation, the rickety Tappan Zee will be demolished or almost so.

4. And commuting should be safer, if not easier.

That’s an important thing. Even if an era when more people are working from home, there are reasons to travel. Besides work, there are family obligations and adventures to be had from crossing a river.

Infrastructure spending is rarely as glamorous as the new bridges will be. It means painting over rust and repaving roads. It means replacing pipes and wires that aren’t supposed to be in plain view. It means figuring out how to prevent electrical grids from collapsing the way they did one August afternoon in 2003, knocking out power to so much of the Northeast.

It is something best done by a government.

If Trump really wants to be a president, instead of trying to gut health care and giving tax breaks to people making tons of money, he should concentrate on infrastructure. On creating jobs building and fixing stuff. On fostering innovation in transportation – please don’t get me started on that again.

That’s what tax money is supposed to do. It’s a sacrifice we all make to benefit all of us.

It’s what we need to do to make sure that people just trying to get home after a day’s work or visiting their grandparents actually get there.

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MOOCH SCREWED THE POOCH

1. It’s Monday, July 31, 2017. Seven months down, five to go.

2. It’s the 52nd birthday of J.K. Rowling, who gave the same birthday to her most famous creation.

Heart is what makes the Harry Potter books stand out from anything else written in this genre. Rowling put humanity on extrahuman activity, and made her characters – even the evil ones – special people.

It’s why these books have so much power – my grown kids still talk lovingly about reading them. And while the movies are really good in their own right, there is nothing quite as moving as reading the words on a page. Rowling poured her heart into her writing, and it’s there for anyone to share.

3. I have to thank my wife for introducing me to the work of Sam Shepard.

Not the acting part – I saw “The Right Stuff” on my own and thought his Chuck Yeager was an iconic film character.

But his plays. The first one we saw was “Fool for Love,” more than 30 years ago. Most recently, we saw the amazing New Group production of “Buried Child” starring two of Shepard’s longtime collaborators, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.

The plays were complicated, intense looks at American life. They weren’t about the joys of suburbia but rather the struggles of people scraping by or troubled by sins of the past.

One thing a Sam Shepard play guaranteed: Your mind was going to turn for hours, both during and after.

The ability to do that is a great legacy to leave.

4. In the last hour or so, the reports that Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House Communications Director flashed across Twitter with a joy that seems both perverse and yet irresistible. 

Here’s a thought: Scaramucci is real Trump. What you saw in this 11-day supernova flashing across the Washington sky is what’s really sitting at the desk in the Oval Office.

What you’re going to see for a little while – how little is anyone’s guess – is how Trump can act like how he and his handlers imagine a president acts. John Kelly will try to organize the West Wing in military fashion, and he might have some initial success.

But that Twitter app is too much a lure for Trump. Something will happen. It might get us past his upcoming vacation in New Jersey.

After Labor Day, all bets are off.

5. Now that Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, has been found guilty of contempt of court, I wonder if law enforcement will heed the words of Trump and not go easy on criminals.

Arpaio is famous for flouting federal judges’ orders to stop his roundups of immigrants. He also was among the more prominent birthers, insisting that President Obama’s birth certificate in forgery.

I don’t care that he’s 85 years old. I’d love to see the odious Arpaio behind bars. Perhaps in a pink jumpsuit.

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STILL TICKING

It’s Friday, July 28, 2017.

As Google helpfully reminds us, it’s the centennial of the Silent Parade. It was a protest on New York’s Fifth Avenue by as many as 10,000 African-Americans against lynchings and other violence directed toward them.

It was one of the first civil rights protests in American history. While the events that triggered should give us no pride, the fact that such a peaceful protest can lead to change should.

Just wanted to throw down some quick thoughts about last night’s barely failed Senate vote to strip health care from millions of Americans.

The three Republicans who voted against this deserve a lot of credit. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski stood firm for weeks against both what was being done and how it was being done.

And John McCain came around at some point – maybe he couldn’t brook the idea that he was handing a victory to someone who has consistently insulted him.

I support Obamacare, so I’m happy. But I have to think that last night’s vote is a victory for what McCain keeps calling “regular order” – the idea that someone puts legislation on paper or into a file, it goes through hearings and debate, and then people vote.

That doesn’t seem so complicated. It seems like the outline for the “Schoolhouse Rock” song “I’m Just a Bill.”

But Trump and McConnell – and don’t leave McConnell out of any rant you might have about this process, because history’s condemnation of this autocrat should be severe – tried to circumvent the process to get their way.

Had they succeeded, they would have passed a measure that affected a huge swatch of this country, without the country understanding what the hell they were doing.

One other thought about the Republican senators. They’re probably being vilified on Fox News, Breitbart and other cesspools of right-wing media.

But last night, they might saved the Republican Party.

The fury that would have been directed at the GOP on all levels had this measure passed would have been Category 5. Democrats would have been even more riled up that they already are, and by the time the 2018 midterms came around, people would have seen that they bought the Brooklyn Bridge with these people.

Yes, that fury will still be there. Trump and his merry band of sycophants and offspring will ensure that. But that fury got diffused just enough last night.

Until the next obscenity from these people. It’s coming.

And then this: As Yogi said, “It’s not over ’til it’s over.”

In the case of Obamacare, it’s never over. Defending this law might be what we do for the rest of our lives.

But given how effective this law at helping people living healthy, or even just plain living, lives, the battle is worth it.

Congratulations to those who held this off. And keep fighting.

 

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