IS THIS ANYWAY TO RUN A COUNTRY?

1. It’s Saturday, January 20, 2018.

2. The next inauguration is 1,096 days away. Or at least that’s the current schedule.

3. It’s David Lynch’s 72nd birthday. This is the water. This is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.

Yeah, I’m still sorting through “Twin Peaks: The Return.” That’s probably why I liked it so much.

4. Anyone gleeful that the federal government has shut down is an idiot.

Lots of functions and services that people rely on every day won’t – by Monday – be operating. Some of the people who perform functions and services that continue – I’m thinking right away of our military – might not get paid for them on schedule.

Think of another advanced country in this world where this happens. Keep trying.

It doesn’t. The United States government is the only one that seems to include suicide in its operating manual.

What makes this shutdown amazing is that one party controls the two branches that decide this stuff. The Republicans hold the House and Senate, and they occupy the White House. You would think they’d be able to figure this out among themselves.

5. But the United States isn’t a parliamentary government. The ruling party can’t rule by fiat. It can’t always get what it wants.

God knows, the Republicans tried. They tried desperately to ram through measures that would end the Affordable Care Act. When that failed, they found a way to ram through a tax plan that gutted some of the ACA’s protections.

All the while, they made no effort to get even a modicum of bipartisan support for what they did. There was no effort to include even the shakier Democrats, those from states that generally vote Republicans, who might help them enact their agenda.

Topping it all off is the out-and-out meanness. Trump unilaterally ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, put 800,000 kids – some of whom defend this country or keep its streets safe – at risk of deportation.

The Republicans in Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a once bipartisan plan to help pay for kids’ healthcare costs – expire.

A Congress and an administration that seems to have forgotten that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Nearly four months after Hurricane Maria ravished the island, a large percentage of the population is still lacking power and adequate shelter.

Trump and the Republicans were all about the spoils of government. They want the trappings. They want to be able to help their friends and donors.

So, yeah, shutting down the government right now isn’t a great idea.

But the idea that there are people who need the government’s help – and that, in helping them, we make our country stronger, safer and more prosperous – is over their heads. It’s not on the agenda.

6. I’m ashamed to see this shutdown. This is not how a government functions. This is not civilization.

And yet, if I were a Democrat in Congress, I’d have refused to vote for the short-term continuing resolution to fund the government. The put-it-off-for-the-umpteenth-time solution that is truly about waiting for the day that government, as one conservative jackass likes to put it, is small enough to drown in a bathtub.

It’s a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The people are so important that, together, they comprise a government. And that government needs to include and protect all of the people who comprise it.

Yes, that includes the DACA kids. Yes, that includes the kids who get health care benefits. Si, that includes the people of Puerto Rico.

The problems don’t wait. Congress shouldn’t wait, either. Trump and the Republicans created this mess. They should help fix it – and if it takes a shutdown to do it, that’s the sad truth.

 

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THE NO COMPROMISE OF 2018

1. It’s Thursday, January 18, 2018.

2. Today is mathematically correct. So was yesterday.

3. It’s the 236th birthday of Daniel Webster, one of those famous U.S. senators who never became President.

Webster was said to be a great orator – obviously, with no audio from the period, you have to wonder how he’d fare in the video age.

He also was a big fan of the federal government, butting heads a lot with Andrew Jackson and the Democrats. Keeping it together during the crises of the early 19th century dominated his career; he supported the Compromise of 1850 that staved off the Civil War for a decade.

The key words here are “staved off.” It didn’t prevent the war. While the compromise ensured that California and other parts of the West wouldn’t be slave states, it tightened fugitive slave laws.

In essence, if a suspected runaway slave walked down a street in New York City, law enforcement was obligated to go after him or her – and ordinary citizens could be pressed into a posse to help in the capture.

If you think this reeks of what’s going on with undocumented immigrants in this country, you and I are on the same line.

4. And if you think our stature as a world power has taken a deep dive in the 363 days of this administration, you’re right again.

A new Gallup poll of people in 134 countries finds approval of the United States plummeting to 30% from 48% in the final year of Barack Obama’s administration.

That 48%, by the way, is about as high as these numbers get – no matter what a powerful nation does, it’s going to piss somebody off. Just as an example, Germany now ranks as the most respected major power, with a 41% approval.

That’s followed by China at 31%.

You got that. China – of the human rights violations and expansionist notions – is more respected in the world right now than the United States.

And yet, there are people who think we’re doing something right by our aggressive so-called “America First” policy. But instead of standing tall, we’re driving our traditional allies away and making our power worthless.

Being mean doesn’t make you strong.

5. In the next few days, funding for the federal government runs out. Many Democrats want to use this moment to curtail some of the cruelty that has transpired in the past year.

They want to ensure that children of undocumented immigrants, promised stability in the only home many have ever known, are protected from deportation, which Trump seems determined to enforce in March.

Democrats also want to ensure that children have health insurance – a program, enacted in a bipartisan manner twenty-plus years ago, to provide that protection expired last year. Republicans in Congress were more hell-bent on tax cuts for their donors.

So many Democrats say they aren’t going to support government funding after Saturday unless those protections are part of it.

Republicans have thrown in one more wrench – the 2018 equivalent of strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act. They want the money for Trump’s idiotic wall on the Mexican border. A visible symbol that cruelty and antipathy are American policy.

Do Democrats act as Daniel Webster and compromise? Or do they force the issue in 2018 – thinking that they let the wall and increased deportations become a norm that would be hard to break in subsequent years?

I think the Gallup poll on stature gives the answer. The world wants to look to the United States for leadership. Somebody in this country should stand for that – it might as well be the Democrats.

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DON’T FOCUS ON THAT. FOCUS ON THIS.

1. It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

2. It’s the birthday of Benjamin Franklin and Al Capone. Go figure.

3. It’s dumb to question the integrity of the doctor who gave Trump his physical.

This doctor isn’t the clown who Trump got to issue a statement that he was the probably the healthiest person ever to seek the presidency.

Instead, it’s the same doctor who examined President Obama and, according to what I’m seeing on social media, lots of folks who served in his administration. Those aides rave about him.

And yesterday, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson answered every question reporters put to him about Trump’s health. Including the fact that Trump requested a cognitive test on which the patient scored perfectly.

Because it was Trump, given the track record, some have questioned how truthful the doctor was. In particular, they believe his weight was understated, particularly given his reported propensity for junk food.

It’s silly to engage in this. Like in a lot of other things, Trump has a lot of luck. That appears to be the case with his body and mind.

Let that go.

The focus on Trump’s appearance and those tweets that are boastful or derisive of individuals is a waste of energy.

4. Here’s what’s you should care about:

Earlier this week, three-fourths of the National Park Service’s advisory board quit. Their resignations protest the attitude of Trump and his archvillain Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, toward this country’s national treasures.

Trump hasn’t appointed an NPS director. Zinke hasn’t met with the advisory board since he took office last year.

Already, Trump has said he’ll scale back the size of two national parks in Utah. And then there’s all the crap about opening all offshore waters – except those off the coast of Florida – for oil drilling.

I spent last Saturday at an NPS site – the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in Manhattan. There was a wonderful 45-minute tour of the house by a woman who has clearly devoted her career to learning about the life of our 26th President and spreading her knowledge to her fellow Americans.

Even people who trash government aren’t stupid enough to trash the National Park Service. People love visiting Yellowstone and Yosemite. Going to the Statue of Liberty or Gettysburg requires lots of planning because so many want to see them.

I suspect the fact that the natural and historic legacies preserved by NPS are what truly show America’s greatness bothers the hell out of Trump and the greedy bastards who support him.

They think America’s legacy is Wall Street. Or high-rise apartments. Or beachfront property with a golf course.

5. I don’t give a damn whether Trump is or isn’t in his right mind. I don’t give a damn what he eats or if he has all his teeth or who he sleeps with.

I give a damn about what he’s doing.

I give a damn about tearing families apart because of his punitive and short-sighted immigration policy.

I give a damn about treating families on Medicaid like they’re stealing something while giving more money to Wall Street jackasses and real estate sharks.

I give a damn about anybody thinking that tactical nuclear war seems like an idea.

And I give a damn about how we treat what we really inherit as Americans – a beautiful land and a heritage forged by generations of people from all over the world.

So I hope Trump is healthy. Because when we finally get this cetriolo out of the White House, I want him to live a long time in history’s disgrace.

 

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DIGGING OUT OF A HOLE

1. It’s Friday, January 12, 2018.

2. It’s the eighth anniversary of an earthquake that killed at least 100,000 and possibly as many as 300,000 Haitians.

The American people rallied behind their neighbors in the Caribbean. They were led by President Barack Obama, who told Haitians they wouldn’t be “forsaken” and “forgotten.”

They were also led by two former Presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who established a relief fund that raised $54 million over a three-year period.

3. Trump is denying that he called Haiti a shithole.

CNN’s Jake Tapper, in a Tweet thread this morning, says his reporting indicates Trump was referring to African nations with his slur, but also said that he didn’t want Haitians coming into this country.

And, as Tapper also tweeted, that doesn’t make anything better.

One of the meeting participants, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, said Trump said what everybody said he said. And he said that a Republican, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, called Trump out on it.

4. There were a lot of angry words on TV and social media last night. There were tears and yelling and a sense of shock that our country could have come to this.

OK.

But I’m willing to wager money that this whole flap, all the mishegas on the morning shows and cable networks, fades into memory by, say, Tuesday of next week.

Because there’s going to be something else. Some other obscenity or embarrassment. Some stupid choice of words or some member of Trump’s archvillain league, also known as his cabinet, doing something unethical or possibly criminal.

This administration – that seems too organized a word to describe it – is about staying in motion. It’s about trying to get everything on its wish list by going all out for all of it and seeing what sticks.

It’s about changing the subject every few hours so that when Trump does or says something that really bothers people, it gets buried under an avalanche of other things that might or might not really bother people.

Do you remember back when he tweeted out how the button on his desk was bigger than Kim Jong Un’s? That, to anyone with a brain, it looked like Trump was eager for a nuclear war with North Korea.

Seems like a long time ago.

It was last week.

Trump and his minions are about irritating the people who didn’t vote for him – that’s the same number that voted for him plus about 2.9 million more. They’re about getting cheers from the cowards – and, yes, they’re cowards, afraid of anything that isn’t them – who are his true believers.

And if he keeps doing stuff for the benefit of him and others of his ilk; if he keeps making stupid statements and insulting his opposition and fighting anything that makes government succeed, he thinks he can tire out the sane and the sober. He can wear down the people he hurts and the people he offends, while keeping his sycophants satisfied.

5. Trump hasn’t made America great. He has made Americans ashamed.

He has embarrassed us, and he’s betting that we’re going to be so demoralized and tired that we’ll let him get away with it.

After a year, everybody’s tired of the racism, the ignorance, the short-sightedness, the open-palmed greed.

But we can’t let it go. We can’t make Trumpism the new normal. He and those who acceded to him need to pay a price for what they’ve done.

Today is a sad day in this country. Another one. Bet big there’ll be more before this shitshow of a presidency is over.

6. One final thought:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer took a lot of ribbing yesterday because, when the news broke of Trump’s comments, he could not bring himself to use the word “shithole.”

Others, on CNN and other networks, had no qualms about it. Blitzer did. So did some other TV voices.

It’s because they were raised well. They were told that shithole is not a word used by ladies and gentlemen. By people for whom decorum matters.

Blitzer is one of those people who cling to something – the idea that the functioning of government and society is noble. It should be – like medicine and tech research and other fields that better humanity – revered.

Hearing Trump’s language is disheartening to those folks. And sometimes, like Blitzer, they resist out of respect.

Let Blitzer off the hook. Civility is something we should admire, especially now.

And I apologize for not adhering to it in this post. I’ll try to do better.

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OK, THAT’S GOOD. NOW, LET’S GET CREATIVE

1. It’s Thursday, January 11, 2018.

2. The Throgs Neck Bridge, where it feels as though I’ve spent a year of my life driving to my parents’ house on Long Island, opened on this day in 1961.

Until the opening last August of the north Mario Cuomo Bridge span across the Hudson River, it was the most recently built major crossing in the New York metropolitan area.

Like many of those other crossings, it’s a cars-and-trucks-only structure. There’s no pedestrian walkway or bike path. There’s no rail line running across it.

That’s partly because Robert Moses, as detailed by Robert Caro in his classic biography, “The Master Builder,” was vehemently anti-mass transit.

He was responsible for most of the major roads in New York City and Long Island. And, indeed, they have no mass transit component to alleviate the commute for the millions who live in the area.

Getting into Manhattan from the areas that surround it remains dreaded by those who do it.

Besides congested roads, the rail links to the city from New Jersey, the northern suburbs and Long Island are antiquated and, too often, dangerous. Bicycling, while improved in the past few years, remains an adventure.

3. All that crossed my mind when I heard about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that New York City is suing oil companies to collect damages rising from the cost of climate change. In addition, the city’s pension funds are divesting about $5 billion from oil company stocks.

The urgency of ending our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels was brought home to New Yorkers by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Not just the fact that the storm’s damage to coastlines and infrastructure was exacerbated by the effects of climate change. There were also the long lines at gas stations, with prices jacked up $1 or more a gallon as people needed to get around and, in many instances, couldn’t.

Big oil, lobbying people like Moses and others, helped make New York and other large metropolitan areas dependent on its products. It wrecked the air and, when prices spiked as they so often have, messed with family economies.

So I’m supportive of de Blasio’s efforts. Yes, let’s break the addiction to something that hurts our environment, gives incentive to terrorists and autocrats in the Middle East and, every so often, holds our economy hostage.

4. But, as I’ve also said, it’s time to rethink transportation.

Again, until last August, the Throgs Neck was the newest way across a river in this area. And even the Mario Cuomo, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t do everything it should – while there will eventually be pedestrian and bike paths, it doesn’t have a rail or any other mass transit.

I used to think the ideas such as congestion pricing – charging people to get past a certain point in town at busy times of the day – weren’t that great. It seems unfair to people who have to drive into midtown Manhattan to scratch out a living.

But midtown is a mess. At certain times, it’s a nightmare of traffic jams – motorized and human. And that can’t be good for anyone – it’s bad for the environment, for businesses and for the health of people who experience it.

So maybe congestion pricing is worth a try.

It would also be great if there were ideas about new modes of transportation.

New York’s subway is over a century old, and it feels like it every time you ride it. Dark, dirty, slow, constantly breaking down. It’s an amazing accomplishment of engineering – and it’s collapsing before our eyes.

So fixing it is important.

And then other forms of people moving need to be discovered. Is it a network of solar-powered moving walkways and escalators? Is it a series of trams down the major thoroughfares? It is an elaborate network of water taxis from point to point in Manhattan or to other parts of the area?

Is there some idea that’s completely different?

This is not meant to say that cars and trucks should be abolished. There’s plenty of wonderful open highway out there on which vehicles should be allowed to roam. I’d prefer that they run on something other than gas, but I doubt the internal combustion engine will disappear in my lifetime.

But New York City is taking a big first step toward fixing its future with its actions toward the oil companies. Now it needs to think bigger. It needs to test the imagination of urban planners and engineers, and come up with something that reflects the needs of the late 21st century – if not the 22nd century, now just 82-plus years away.

 

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TEACHING “LE MARSEILLAISE” TO SALVADORANS

1. It’s Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

2. It’s the 110th birthday of actor Paul Henreid. Of course, he’s best known as Victor Laszlo, the heroic, but inconvenient, husband of Ilsa Lund in “Casablanca.” 

Two things I didn’t know about Henreid before I started working on this. One is that he, technically, was born in Italy – Trieste was Austrian when he was born there in 1908, but is Italian now.

Two is that, much like his most famous character, he hated Nazis.

Paul Henreid, who died in 1992, became a U.S. citizen during World War II. Sure, as an actor, America was the place to further a career. Nevertheless, Henreid is another of the millions of Americans who came here from places where oppression reigned.

3. Another of those places is El Salvador.

It’s one of the most dangerous countries in the world, so much so that violence is one of its exports. It’s the birthplace of MS-13, the gang that has moved into this country to terrorize teens in such places as Suffolk County, N.Y.

So, of course, the Trump administration plans to send 200,000 Salvadoran refugees back to a place where their chances for survival diminish to near zero.

It’s beyond preposterous.

The Temporary Protected Status that Salvadoran refugees have had in this country dates back to 2001 and President George W. Bush. That was the year of devastating earthquakes that forced thousands from their homes.

The Bush administration and that of President Barack Obama extended the status for one important reason: It would be inhumane to do otherwise. El Salvador devolved into a violent society, with the capital of San Salvador considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

It’s not politics to be humane. It takes a little bit of heart.

Of course, that would eliminate Trump, the comic book archvillains who surround him and the cowards who voted for and support him. Their attitude: If a person isn’t fair-skinned, speaks Spanish and wasn’t born here, they are of no value to you. Get them the hell out.

Most of the 200,000 Salvadoran exiles have created lives and families. They’ve become part of communities. They pay taxes – something Trump and his scummy ilk find beneath them.

4. What hope is there for these folks?

I can think of two things right now. One is yesterday’s ruling by a federal district judge in San Francisco halting the Trump move to get rid of children of undocumented immigrants.

The decision stalls plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March. Of course, Trump – who railed about this in a tweet this morning – will appeal the ruling. But there’s at least a chance that this draconian measure won’t go into effect on schedule, and that’s a good thing.

How does that affect the Salvadorans? Going to court is not a bad idea. At the very least, they can stall this forced exodus from the September 2019 deadline.

The second thing that could help is us, by voting.

The midterm election year is here. It’s time to get Trump’s Republican enablers in the House and Senate back under their rocks.

When Congress is united against these Trump indignities, when his henchmen and the occasional woman can’t leech from the American people as readily as they have for the past 355 days, then maybe somebody can remember to look out for people who contribute rather than embarrass our country.

A curmudgeonly mentor of mine said that you had to be a stone not to well with tears when Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo leads the band at Rick’s in “La Marseillaise” in the middle of “Casablanca.”

Maybe 200,000 Salvadorans singing “La Marseillaise” would remind us that America has been about welcoming those who cherish peace and freedom. And for that a nation worthy of its claim as leader of the world, it needs to act accordingly.

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THE CLASS OF ‘54

1. It’s Tuesday, January 9, 2018.

2. It’s National Cassoulet Day.

Really. If you’re inclined toward a pot of white beans and sausage , I hope you enjoy it.

3. Here’s why I have the same soft spot for Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta, Ron Howard and Jerry Seinfeld, among others: They, like me, were born in 1954.

And if it can’t be me, I’d still like someone born the year I was to become President of the United States.

Of course, the year he or she is born is no reason that someone should be President of the United States. And, alas, that applies to Winfrey.

She’s clearly brilliant. She’s demonstrated that for years. Her fortune is self-made. Her brand is strong. She radiates intelligence. Her speech at the Golden Globes the other night was of a quality you can’t imagine from the monkfish flopping in the Oval Office these days.

From what’s known, her political views match up well with mine. That’s important, especially after these years of leadership inspired by the rulers in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

But Oprah Winfrey, much like Trump even after a year in office, knows little about the nuts and bolts of governing. Yes, she runs a successful business enterprise and is wealthy. But, as we’ve painfully learned in the past year, that’s not the same thing as running the federal government.

And the next President has to reassemble the federal government. The damage being done needs to be repaired if the United States is going to continue to function, much less reclaim its place as a leader among nations.

The task is going to be monumental and I’m frightened to think that there might not be anyone able to do that. Because besides fixing the functioning of government, the next President is going to have to heal the wounds this administration has inflicted on American society.

Part of Winfrey’s appeal, I suspect, is that she’s seen as someone who could unify the nation. Much as she did every afternoon with her show back in the day.

Notice that, for consistency’s sake, I’m referring to her as Winfrey – she’s Oprah to everyone else. It’s not a first name that anybody spits out, like the people who hate Hillary Clinton. It’s said with implied respect by all.

But this nation’s next President needs to be someone who understands government. Someone who knows how laws work. Someone who understands what it takes to cut through the screwups and help people who need it the most. Who knows, for instance, whose ass to kick to get power back to everyone in Puerto Rico.

There are men and women better equipped for that task than Oprah Winfrey. The good news is that there are people of diverse background and origin – although I’m not sure if any of them were born in 1954.

And if they’re not as electric as Winfrey, they’re certainly going to be able to sort out issues, delegate responsibility and make all the big decisions that America will face when Trump finally, thankfully, goes away.

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