Fear: Trump in the White House Review

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what I was expecting but not this. I was struck by how it read like an episode from The West Wing full of chaos and drama. Woodward managed to inject order into the chaos and in doing so, painted Trump in a somewhat sympathetic light. His journalistic sense of neutrality is on display as he presented the first year and half of the Trump presidency as a series of huge moments where Trump’s “instincts” enabled by manipulative forces from Steve Bannon, to Peter Navarro and Fox News clashed with the views of key advisors, like the generals and Gary Cohn, who tried to be the adults in the room. Woodward takes us through defining events including the bungled response to the tragedy at Charlottesville, the Twitter wars with North Korea, the steel tariff, and Trumps pulling out of the Paris accords and trade agreements. At every decision point, Trump seems to look through a lens with three filters that revealed how he would look to supporters and the media, how much it would cost and what would the U.S. (or he) get in return. For example, he couldn’t understand why the U.S. couldn’t mine all the minerals in Afghanistan, or why the U.S. had to spend so much on NATO and the defense of South Korea. He couldn’t understand why we don’t just put the U.S. military out for hire. His instincts are to run the country like a Trump business to make money or enhance the brand. And to Trump, the brand should be about toughness and winning. Everything is winning or losing. He scoffs at the word globalism, a term he clearly learned from Steve Bannon.

Significant attention is paid to the carping between the president and his advisors and their battle for power and influence. The narrative is critical of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who seem to have their own agenda and to have unlimited access to the president, undermining others. Some of the more incendiary bits revealed how Trump’s closest advisors viewed him. One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, called Trump (charitably) incapable of telling the truth. Secretary of State Tillerson called Trump a “moron”. Chief of Staff Kelly offered a variation on the theme calling Trump an “idiot” while National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn called him an “asshole”.

What becomes clear in the narrative is just how impulsive Trump can be (something I think we all have observed) but also just how easily he can be talked down from a bad idea. Increasingly, though, trying to put controls on Trump so that rational and ordered decisions could be made became so frustrating and impossible that many of the “adults in the room” left the administration. Now Trump has few guardrails in place to save him and the country from his bad instincts, one of the reasons he was impeached. To compound matters, he is surrounded by yes men and manipulators who have their own (very often bad) agendas – think Pompeo, Miller, Kushner, and Barr.

What Woodward did not explore were the origins of Trump’s bad ideas – that free trade and a free press are bad, and by extension that democracy is bad; that alliances and agreements are bad; that regulations are bad; that immigration is bad; and that protests against white supremacy are bad. Trump’s racism has been on display for years dating back to housing discrimination rulings against Trump properties, the Central Park 5, and Trump’s erroneous claim that Obama was not born in the United States and was an illegitimate president. Woodward does not explore the roles of Bannon and Miller in any detail or the influence of Fox “News” propaganda on Trump’s world view. And importantly, there isn’t much on the cozy relationship between Putin, Trump and the Republicans. Trump appears to support policies that favor Russia over the interest of the U.S. Why is that?

But the book is really more of a document of the Trump presidency up close and behind the scenes as experienced by the major players. It does not attempt to explain how or why Trump got elected, or to suggest that Trump is a bad president, though definitely one we should fear. Nor does he suggest Trump should be impeached and removed. That is left up the reader, including the meaning of the title, Fear: Trump in the White House. My own interpretation is that we should fear Trump more than ever now precisely because the guardrails are off and all the adults are gone or have flipped and become enablers (like Lindsay Graham) leaving the controls to an impulsive, unpredictable, failed businessman who has terrible instincts, undemocratic ideas, and no clue how to govern.

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The Plot to Destroy Democracy Review

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the WestThe Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by Malcolm W. Nance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to know how the failed businessman and narcissistic con artist Donald J. Trump managed to become the president of the United States, read this book. To understand what he has done to erode our democratic institutions and norms, and who this benefits the most, read this book. Our collective knowledge of the consequences of the 2016 election could help prevent another kleptocracy from ever taking root again in the U.S. While Malcolm Nance’s writing in spots has a bureaucratic wonkiness to it, his arguments are clear, well-supported, and eye-opening. The Plot to Destroy Democracy is an important and timely work.

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Trump’s Ship of Fools

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The Grateful Dead were never very political although they did a lot of fund raisers and seemed to have a social conscience, a sort of spirit that goes against all that Trump stands for.  Whereas, the Dead always had a wall of sound so that everyone could hear the music, Trump has always wanted to build a wall to keep people out.  The Grateful Dead were always about bringing people together, never alienating or walling out.  So it is in this spirit that I propose to describe the Trump years with Grateful Dead songs.

Looks Like Rain (1972)

Despite the fact that it did rain at his inauguration, Trump declared that the sun was actually shining in what can only be described as a “Sunshine Daydream” (coda from Sugar Magnolia 1970)

Ship of Fools (1974)

It’s a cautionary tale to Republicans who have cast their lot with the devil in a soul destroying Faustian bargain.

Dark Star (1968)

The Republicans appear to be navigating by the Dark Star that may just steer the ship of fools into a giant rock.

Not Fade Away (1957 – Buddy Holly and the Crickets; first played by the Dead in 1968)

Trump may believe that he is above the law but the impeachment stain will not fade away.

Loser (1971 – Garcia/Hunter)

Not only did Trump not win the popular vote in 2016 even with Russian assistance, he lost control of the House in the 2018 midterms.  And 7 of Trump’s associates have been convicted of crimes and have either already served time, are currently in prison or awaiting sentencing.

Mexicali Blues (1971)

Trump is singing the Mexicali blues because he can’t get the wall built, and he couldn’t get Mexico to pay for it, or anyone else for that matter.

Going Down the Road Feeling Bad (arr. 1971 – Traditional, 1924 )

Trump says he doesn’t feel like he’s been impeached but you know that he is going down the road feeling bad, as suggested by the all-caps Twitter tirades and that 6 page rant of a letter to Nancy Pelosi.

 

 

Trump’s Priorities

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I’ve refrained from writing much about the Trump years partly because I still can’t believe he was elected president.  It feels like a cruel joke and I’ve suffered terribly watching the Trump administration roll out the most vile policies and comments that I have ever seen or heard from politicians in the U.S.  Trump has been an utter disgrace and embarrassment to a majority of Americans.  And that he still has the support of 45% or so in his pocket frightens me. I say still because despite his racism, bigotry, lying, criminality, and just overall ignorance in every area in which a president should have expertise, his supporters remain loyal.  I get why Republicans politicians support him. They won’t cross him for fear of being shamed and primaried. However, the MAGA crowd seems to view him as a sort of sports figure who they love to cheer on.  He’s the underdog with power who is kicking the liberal butts.  They don’t like elite liberals who make them feel inadequate, and they see in Trump a kind of savior.  They fanatically and uncritically embrace all that he says and does defending even the most deplorable policies.  And they don’t seem to understand that Trump’s ineffective policies and inept leadership have in many cases made their lives appreciably worse.  They don’t get that Trump is President (by accident) to further his own brand and that he could care less about them.  He wants to be reelected to stay out of prison, not to MAGA. His idea of make America great is to sell it to the highest bidder – Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the fossil fuel industry or to anyone else with cash.  I can’t help but wonder if his antics with Kim Jong Un are nothing more than a ploy to get himself a Nobel Prize or a lucrative North Korean land deal for a future Trump Hotel and Resort.  His deference to Russia clearly suggests he’s more interested in future financial deals and gaining acceptance into the Dictator Club than he is in preserving democracy.  He’s less interested in border security than he is in creating a monument to himself in the shape of a wall.

As to priorities other than himself, his family and his brand, let’s look at some of the key vacancies in executive branch positions that need Senate confirmation.  Out of 726  positions, 137 have no nominees even named.  These vacancies say a lot about Trump’s priorities. Below are a list of a few with brief commentary:

Homeland Security has only an acting director and just 41% of positions within the department filled.  One would think that the 2 billion request for the wall might be more wisely spent to adequately staff the department.  Amazingly, Homeland Security has no Deputy Secretary, no CFO, no Undersecretary for Management, no ICE Directors, (one just announced after two withdrew their nominations) and no Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Over at the Justice Department, less than half of the positions have been filled (and we are almost three years into the Trump presidency). There’s no nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Program Division (surprised?), no Assistant Attorney general for the Tax Division (but of course not), no DEA Administrator or Deputy Administrator,  no Parole Commissioners, no Special Counsel for Immigration-related Unfair Employment Practices, and no Director of Community Relations Service.

At the Department of Interior, incredibly, there is no Director for the National Parks Service, one of the most treasured of our resources and widely visited by tourists from all over the world. But not having a Director for the Parks Service is no accident because Trump hates the environment and can’t understand why we don’t just chop down the forests and frack the hell out of Yellowstone.

Even the Executive Office of the President is understaffed. Clearly key positions are deemed unimportant like Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy and of course who needs an Associate Director for Technology Policy? Not Trump.  I mean, there’s no need to secure our elections or to invest in technology.  We have the Internet, what could be more advanced? And there’s no Chairman for Economic Advisers, and no members even nominated for the Council on Environmental Quality, but who cares about the environment and we all know global warming and climate change are a big hoax.  God is just punishing Macron with a hot summer for levying a tax on big tech companies. We’ll get them back by taxing French wine and anyway, American wine looks better.

And here are some key ambassadorships that are vacant:

Ukraine, Honduras, Belize, Brazil, Chad, Chile, Cuba, Estonia, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Singapore, Tanzania.

I wonder if Putin told Trump to stay the hell out of Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia.  And that we don’t have diplomatic relations with Brazil and Chile is unconscionable.  No diplomat in Japan, what?  And how on earth are we supposed to address the refugee crisis on the border if we have not established a diplomatic relationship with Honduras? Oh, right, Bolton says we can’t do diplomacy.  And that’s also what Senator Tom Cotton is whispering into the President’s ear.

 

 

Creamer-Fed Cows

From the very opinionated desk of Ribbie’s Weblog

I was scanning my Facebook Newsfeed and ran across an article that could have been from The Onion.  And holy cow, dairy cows are now being fed coffee creamer to make their milk taste better!  This is one of the most absurd ideas I have ever heard and I am astonished that this practice even exists.

If there’s one thing I dislike more than skim milk, it would be coffee creamer, particularly that flammable non-dairy creamer powder.  In my opinion, it tastes nothing like cow’s milk and in coffee, what a disaster.  The petroleum like substance overpowers the flavor of the coffee and leaves a terrible aftertaste that lingers on the palate for months.  Why even go there when you could add real milk to your coffee? The common answer to this I suppose is convenience.  You don’t have to refrigerate non-dairy creamer because of the preservative qualities of its chemicals.  Just pour and store like you would a salt shaker. Half and Half isn’t much better in my opinion because it’s not clear what the halves are – is it half disodium phosphate and sodium citrate and half milk and cream?  Anyway, the creamer in the convenient polluting cups probably has a half life of about 24,000 years.

Mad Cows

“All I wanted was some grass, man, and he wouldn’t give it to me!”

And why on god’s green earth would dairy farmers feed their cows this toxic brew of powder? The Iowa farmer who favors this practice says it makes the cows’ milk taste better? Really? I suppose if you like creamer in your milk.  It simply makes no sense in an age when consumers, like me, increasingly demand organic milk from grass-fed cows.  With the movement toward truth in labeling, farmers should be required to stamp across the carton of milk, Coffee Creamer-Fed Cows.  Poor cows.  All they wanted was some grass, man, and one Iowa farmer wouldn’t give it to them.

Warren might be the best candidate

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How do the Dems beat Trump? It goes without saying that they need to nominate the best candidate.  But which of the candidates would have the strongest chance of beating Trump? Or should that even be the metric, especially if any of a number of candidates could beat Trump.  According to the latest Quinnipiac poll that Trump calls fake and 538 rates as an A- pollster, Biden, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, Bernie, and Booker all beat Trump.  Of these candidates, who would be the most formidable on the campaign trail and who among them would be the best president? Frankly, I think the most formidable campaigner would be Elizabeth Warren.  I think Trump fears her or maybe Bernie the most.  Bernie might give Trump a good go,  but a shouting match in all CAPS between the two I think would work to Trump’s advantage.  Harris should fare better than HRC in that she is more likely to stand up to Trump,  but she is not the choice of the progressive crowd who the Dems need to turn out to have a chance.  And then there is Buttigieg.  I think his greatest appeal is that he is an outsider and the polar opposite of Trump.  He’s much smarter and calmer, and more thoughtful and articulate, and more accomplished.  I think he could turn out the vote although he too may struggle with progressives and to attract blacks, women and latino voters though he should fare well with moderates, young and old.  However, Trump will pounce on Pete’s youth, the fact that he wasn’t a combat fighter and served the military “deep state” in intelligence.  He’ll try to concoct some deep conspiracy that Buttigieg is a part of.  Trump will say Mayor Pete is a CIA plant and perhaps even question his credentials and attack his status as the son of an intellectual “foreigner” who maybe didn’t “belong”, not unlike he did Obama with the racist birther nonsense that he claimed Hillary started.  Biden on the other hand is who Trump HOPES to face.  He thinks he can characterize Joe as slow and sleepy, which are not exactly the attributes of a leader.  Trump will associate Biden with Obama who he claims left the country a mess for him to clean up.  Biden could very well be put on the defensive, in the same way that HRC was put on the defensive in regard to her record as Secretary of State under President Obama.  The defensive candidate always looks weak.

So here’s how I rate the candidates in 20 categories:  just the top 3 in each category and only considering the top 5 candidates in the national polls: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Harris.  Points: 3 if listed 1st, 2 if second and 1 if 3rd.

Campaigners: Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders

Policy: Warren, Biden, Buttigieg

Credentials: Biden, Warren, Harris

Star Power: Harris, Buttigieg, Warren

Personality: Warren, Harris, Biden

Communicator: Buttigieg, Biden, Warren

Fear Factor: Sanders, Warren, Harris

Women: Harris, Warren, Buttigieg

Presidential: Warren, Buttigieg, Harris

Least Baggage: Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders

Cool Factor: Buttigieg, Harris, Warren

Known Quantity: Biden, Sanders, Warren

Restore Image Abroad: Buttigieg, Harris, Biden

Climate Change: Harris, Buttigieg, Warren

Stand up to Russia: Biden, Warren, Harris

nonTwitter Dems: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris

Progressives: Sanders, Warren, Harris

Rust Belt Appeal: Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders

Big States: Biden, Harris, Buttigieg

South: Biden, Warren, Harris

And the winner is:  Warren (29), Buttigieg (28), Biden (27), Harris (25), Sanders (11)

And it’s fairly close though Sanders’ star has fallen and the novelty has worn off.  Now that he has branded himself as a Democratic socialist, which was not a particularly smart strategy, he’s toast.  I predict that O’Rourke will pick up some support from the Bernie and Biden crowd making the race even closer and paving the way for Warren to take the lead.  If her debates skills are as good as advertised, I expect her to become the frontrunner.

 

 

A Winning Ticket?

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What are Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s chances of becoming the Dem. Nominee for President in 2020? Not very good, but possible. Consider this, in the 9 states for which there are polls, he’s running 5th.  Now wait before you say that doesn’t sound right.  It is right.  Don’t forget that some of those polls are from early April.  A lot has changed since then.  In the most recent Economist/YouGov national poll as reported by Real Clear Politics  he’s in 4th. Rounding out the top five is Harris at 9%, Buttigieg at 10%, Warren 12%, Sanders 15%, and Biden 27%. Given that Mayor Pete is still not well-known, these numbers are pretty good for him. After the upcoming debates, I imagine there will start to be some separation between these candidates.

What’s interesting is the question of momentum.  And there are only 2 candidates who seem to have any and they are Warren and Buttigieg, both of whom have increased their standings in the national polls versus the states polls, some of which as I mentioned are from early April.  In the state polls, Mayor Pete would have received a total of 8% of all of the delegates in IA, TX, NH, CA, NC, FL, PA, SC and MA, whereas in the latest national poll, he’s at 10%.  Warren’s numbers are 10% and 12%.  By contrast, Biden and Sanders have lost momentum.  Biden’s numbers are 32% and 27% and Bernie’s 17% and 15%.  Harris’ state number is 10% and 9% in national polling.

So what accounts for this momentum?  The obvious answer is campaigning.  When people hear Mayor Pete for the first time, they are impressed.  And when they hear him again and again, they are struck by his consistency.  He is passing each test, each appearance with the highest marks.  Similarly, Warren has been impressive with her focus on her plans – she’s like that saying, “there’s an app for that” only replace app with policy – “I have a policy for that.”  Unlike Buttigieg, she has name recognition, but her name has been somewhat tarnished by the DNA debacle.  She has worked hard to earn back respect as someone who could legitimately beat Trump.  The theory of the case previously had been that Trump would never let her off the hook for claiming Native American heritage and would taunt her with chants of Pocahontas (by the way, Scott Brown was the first to do this when he ran against her for the MA Senate seat) in an attempt to throw her off her game. And she might take the bait and hit back, but that would play into Trump’s small hands.  But she is one hell of a fighter and would give Trump the fight of his life.  She could talk about his bone spur deferments, his inflated claims of wealth and success and of course hit him hard on all of his criminal behavior while in office.  She could intimidate him with the I words – Impeach and Imprison but I don’t think that is what would get her elected.  I think if she stays focused on policy details and continue to discuss them with the raw passion that Hillary failed to express, she has a good shot of taking him down.

Now imagine this:  Warren/Buttigieg.  That would be an intriguing ticket and perhaps a winner.  Time will tell.

Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill

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Trump will go down in history as the worst president ever and it won’t even be close.  His presidency will also contain an asterisk because there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a foreign government meddled in the election to help him become president.  Not surprisingly, “45’s” favorite president appears to be #7, Andrew Jackson, one of the worst presidents, IMHO, in our nation’s history.  He supported the Indian Removal Act, the product of a land deal in which a minority of Cherokee ceded all tribal lands to the U.S. The deal was challenged and struck down by the Supreme Court. However, Jackson ignored the ruling (sound familiar?) and forced the “migration” of tens of thousands of Cherokee to Oklahoma. During this traumatic forced relocation march along what was known as the trail of tears, an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died.

And now Trump, in predictable fashion, is on the wrong side of history again.  During the Obama administration, Harriet Tubman was selected to replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill by the year 2020.  It was high time for a women to represent on paper money and particularly an African-American one who was instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad.  For most, the move to replace Jackson with Tubman on the 20 dollar bill is not in the least controversial, until Trump set in motion a plan that would delay this action until at least 2028, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when questioned by MA Representative Ayanna Pressley.

Today, Democratic Presidential hopeful, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked in an interview with Robert Costa of the Washington Post whether he thought President Trump is a racist.  Buttigieg said that Trump’s words AND his actions indicate that he is.  And this latest move, in a sign of bad faith, defending Andrew Jackson, the architect of what many consider a genocidal policy toward native Americans, over an abolitionist and national hero, who risked her own life to save many others from a life a slavery is unconscienable but not surprising. It is very much in line with his defense of preserving civil war monuments, and supporting white supremacists, and is just one more exhibit to demonstrate that Trump is hell bent on fueling culture wars and erasing Obama’s legacy, which seems to be his only governing philosophy.

Specialty Ride Sharing Idea

I’m a little old school when it comes to ride sharing.  I’d rather take public transportation when I can, or walk wherever I am, or take a taxi, or maybe a shuttle service to and from an airport.  I’ve only ever taken Uber (or was it a Lyft?) a few times with others who arranged the ride.  I do have an Uber app, but have never used it, and frankly, embarrassingly, I don’t know how.  I’m sure I could figure it out, but it’s just that the idea is still a little strange to me.  I don’t fully trust these services.  True, they are cheaper, but there have been too many terrifying incidents with rogue drivers.  And for all the honest folks trying to make a living driving their OWN cars, they aren’t compensated very well, which in part accounts for why some drivers went on strike. You might counter with the fact that there are rogue taxi drivers too, but at least, or so it seems anyway, the taxi industry is better regulated and perhaps safer, albeit more expensive than a ride sharing service and less convenient and not as accessible or available. But this post isn’t about ride sharing vs. taxi.  It’s about a novel idea I have, at least I think it is novel, but who knows, maybe someone has already thought of it and put it into practice, however unlikely.  The idea is essentially, this: speciality rides.  Now stay with me.

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Let’s say you miss that old 70’s car your parents drove, maybe it was a Chevy Chevette, remember that one? My mom owned a white four speed four door. It had a clutch so tight that I had to stand up and push it down with all my weight to shift.  And let’s say you need a ride, but you want THAT ride, a 70’s Chevette, or, I don’t know, it might be an  AMC Gremlin. There’d be an app for that and it would have car categories and you could order anything, like renting a car, only it’s a ride, but not just any kind of ride. Categories would include 70-80’s Japanese subcompacts – a Datsun B210 or Toyota Tercel.  Or you could pick British roadsters from the 70’s – a Jag, Austin Healy or an MG Midget, the car I learned to drive a stick on.  If you want to ride in style, why not a 70’s Chrysler Imperial, the one that’s as long as a boat or an 80’s Dodge Monaco.  You want a musical car, why not order up a Nissan Note or a Hyundai Sonata? Go ahead, have some fun! And here’s the twist, the driver picks you up, and YOU get to drive! It’s a brilliant idea, don’t you think?

 

Limericks for Dems

From the poetry desk of Ribbie’s weblog.

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“Elizabeth Warren”

Elizabeth Warren from OK to MASS

For some in the field she’ll be hard to surpass

She frightens Wall Street

Biggest foe they will meet

The cure for D Trump’s raving bombast.

“Kamala Harris”

Oakland to San Fran then Capitol Hill

Senator Harris is full of goodwill

For the people

Treats them as equal

Medicare for all an all but signed bill.

“Cory Booker”

The great Cory Booker of Jersey

Won’t show 45 any mercy

So when on the stump

He rails against Trump

To bring back our DEmocracy.

“Pete Buttigieg”

This is the story of a young Mayor Pete

With solid credentials to fiercely compete

At the helm of South Bend

With wisdom to lend

A practical polyglot who cannot be beat.

“Beto O’Rourke”

Guitar playing Dem from West Texas

Live Streaming Midwest for breakfast

Although he does smile

We won’t know for a while

Whether Beto’s appeal is infectious.

“Bernie Sanders”

He’s a force is the Bern from Vermont

A voice in all CAPS who can taunt

Appeals to the left

With considerable heft

Got lots of loyal Berners to flaunt.

“Amy Klobuchar”

Tough Amy K from the great state of Minn

To centrist ideas she is more than all in

A graduate of Yale

Not running FROM jail

Were she to catch fire she surely could win.