Thomas Friedman gives Mike Pompeo a well-deserved knee in his missing morality area.
If you haven't seen it yet:
When I took ROTC in college, the first thing they did was pass out a slim manual about leadership, aimed at second lieutenants who might one day be in charge of a platoon, in combat.
One of our teachers – can’t remember if it was an officer or a sergeant – defined leadership as: “Get the troops out of the hot sun.”
Made sense to me. You want health and morale as high as possible.
They taught potential officers how to speak to people. Make eye contact. Square up to the person you were addressing, whether standing or sitting. Try to know their name. Show respect.
I left ROTC after three years – mutual decision, so I guess you could say, who am I to talk? I was married with a child before the Vietnam war heated up and I never served in the military.
I knew people who never came back from Vietnam; I know people who graduated from West Point, who saw duty over there, who had classmates and soldiers under their command killed over there.
I retain respect for the many things the military can teach via a slim manual. Some sports “leaders” have it; some do not. Other industries – no names mentioned -- could learn from the ROTC manual, or any kind of leadership seminar.
A few years ago, an aged relative of ours was starting to decline in a very nice retirement home in Maine. My wife and I requested a conference with the director of the home, who had been an officer overseas, in the nursing corps.
When we arrived, she stood up to greet us and asked us to sit down. She sat squarely in her chair and leaned forward for some small talk.
“What’s on your minds?” she soon asked.
I smiled and said: “I heard you were an officer.” Our meeting was productive. The retirement home did the best it could with our relative.
I was reminded of that meeting on Friday, when I watched Marie Yovanovich, the former ambassador to Ukraine, face a Congressional subcommittee. (There may be something about this hearing in the media today.)
This admirable American modestly discussed her long career, going to the front lines in danger zones, to fly the flag with the people who served.
She talked about being caught during a shootout in Moscow as the Soviet Union came apart – being summoned to the embassy and having to make a dash for it without body armor.
The only time the former ambassador seemed to falter was when she was asked why she was abruptly recalled from her top post in Ukraine. What had she done wrong? Did anyone explain? No, she said plainly. She would not venture a guess why.
From the line of questioning from the Democrats, it was suggested that President Trump and his hatchet man, Rudy Giuliani, wanted her out of there, but never explained to her. The President gave others the impression that something bad could happen to her – beyond the blight to her outstanding career, that is.
On Friday afternoon, Chuck Rosenberg, a sober legal counsel whom I have admired greatly throughout this ugly time, delivered what for him is a rant. Just back from a chatty day with friends in the city, I heard him (on Nicolle Wallace's hour), and I am sure that is what inspired me, five hours later, to deliver my own take here:
One person was conspicuous by his general absence – the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, No. 1 in the Class of 1986 at the United States Military Academy, who later served in Europe.
At the Academy, Pompeo undoubtedly read leadership manuals like the one linked below. Probably, he looked after his troops when he was in uniform. But he is a civilian now – a former member of the House of Representatives, rumored to be interested in running for the Senate from Kansas, and currently punching his ticket by serving time in the cabinet, obsequiously.
People have attacked somebody in Mike Pompeo's unit, have maligned her work. Did he assert his leadership?
Perhaps he has been busy in some hot spot of the world, or perhaps he is cowering in his bunker at the State Department. Sometimes leaders have to deliver harsh news, harsh orders, to their troops. Mike Pompeo has never explained to the former ambassador to Ukraine why she was removed, does not seem to have thanked her for her service.
Mike Pompeo has left Marie Yovanovich standing at attention, out in the hot sun, even when the President of the United States savaged yet another woman, in public, while she was testifying Friday. That is where we are these days.
* * *
"Expose yourself to many of the same hardships as your soldiers by spending time with them in the hot sun, staying with them even when it is unpleasant." --- Tacit Knowledge for Military Leaders; Platoon Leader Questionnaire. (below)
U.S. Army Cadet Handbook:
In this ugly time, I tear up when reminded of the knowledge, the eloquence, the idealism of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Sometimes, I entertain the fantasy that Mrs. Obama will offer herself as a candidate for President – not that I would subject her, or her family, to the viciousness of another campaign, another presidency.
Besides, any ephemeral hopes have been dashed by reading Mrs. Obama’s stimulating book, “Becoming,” which confirms what has seemed apparent: since she was young, Mrs. Obama has felt a visceral distaste for politics.
In her book, she recalls qualifying for the elite Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, which entails a long two-bus commute, but also introduces her to new friends like Santita Jackson. Sometimes, after school, she is invited to the Jackson home, which takes on a frenzy when the man of the house, Jesse Jackson, is in town, making plans for one campaign or another.
One day Michelle and Santita find themselves “conscripted” into marching in the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade on the South Side.
“The fanfare was fun and even intoxicating, but there was something about it, and about politics in general, that made me queasy,” she writes.
When she comes home that afternoon, her mother, the stalwart Marian Shields Robinson, is laughing, saying: “I just saw you on TV."
Michelle Robinson Obama has always known her own mind. She was enough of a realist to admit that she had fallen for a charismatic summer intern at the law firm she had worked so hard to join. Barack Obama had many plans and dreams, and in her telling, she had enough faith in him that she would change her own life around.
That is the first half of the book – how Michelle was raised by Fraser and Marian Robinson, and her older brother, Craig, a basketball star at Princeton, and strong-willed, talented relatives. The richness of her family life – the wisdom of her parents – challenges any stereotypes of African-American life that might get thrown back at the Obamas, to this day.
The second part of the book is about Michelle Obama’s reactions to her husband’s abrupt rise to presidential candidate. Mrs. Obama describes how campaign aides failed to prep her for public appearances, leaving her to improvise. She realized she was no longer primarily a lawyer or community organizer but a political spouse who can jangle a campaign with one impromptu phrase. A born organizer, she seems to have impressed upon the handlers: That won’t happen again.
She describes election night in 2008, when her husband, seemingly so confident, watched on television, and how her mother reached out and patted his shoulder.
Mrs. Obama describes how much she already admired Laura Bush from afar, for her poise and advocacy of books. During the transition, she quickly came to like Mrs. Bush’s husband, and has often been photographed hugging and laughing with him.
She describes life in the White House, how close the family – including her mom -- felt to the mostly-black staff, and how much she relied on advisors to help with her interest in nutrition and gardening and with her wardrobe.
She praises the President as a loyal husband and father. I know this is true because a journalist friend of mine, who often traveled on the Presidential plane, told me how day trips were planned to get the entourage back to Washington in time for the Obamas’ 6 PM supper in the White House.
How Michelle Obama really felt about being a White House wife comes out in one of the most charming anecdotes in the book: On the evening of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, large crowds celebrated in front of the White House. Michelle and her older daughter, Malia, made a break for it, rushing past their guardians, finding an exit to a quiet corner of the garden, just to feel and hear the jubilant crowd. For a few minutes, they beat the system.
There are many sweet memories in this book (written with the help of a talented journalist, Sara Corbett): the entire family meeting an elderly Nelson Mandela in his home, and feeling so comfortable with Queen Elizabeth, who motions for Michelle to sit next to her, referring to palace protocol as “rubbish.”
The book includes gracious mentions of all the people who helped her, and minimal references to the candidate who tried to portray her husband as an illegal alien. I would have liked to hear what Michelle Obama really thinks of that man, but the Obamas live by smart lawyerly aphorisms:
“Don’t do stupid stuff.” And “When they go low, we go high.”
In its high-minded way, Michelle Obama’s book reminds me that this family has earned its independence, mostly out of the spotlight.
We were lucky to have them.
(I wrote the following Mets/Democrats piece before the horrors of last weekend, and the ensuing hypocrisy in a country that cannot deal with the proliferation of weapons of war, in the hands of racists, surely touched off by the president. Is there room or excuse for musing about reality-show "debates" and a baseball team?)
* * *
I am a Mets fan and I am a Democrat.
I believe these masochistic traits are linked.
The Mets, as I typed this, were on a seven-game winning streak. I was not fooled. This will not go anywhere. The rock will fall down the hill. On our heads. And indeed, they got whacked Friday night in Pittsburgh.
The Democrats are currently not on any kind of winning streak. You saw it.
Both loyalties involve short Dionysian moments of glory and long Appollonian decades of suffering.
In other words, the 1969 Mets were John F. Kennedy and the 1986 Mets were Barack Obama.
This temporary joy goes way back. In the first year of the Mets, 1962, a pitcher named Jay Hook, great guy, pitched a good game and likened it to picking cherries – some are sour, but then you bite into a sweet cherry, and that keeps you going.
In the years to follow, the Mets discarded Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis and Tom Seaver and Justin Turner. They once traded Len Dykstra and Roger McDowell for a mope named Juan Samuel.
At the moment, the Mets are being run by a reforming agent and a former pitching coach. Somehow management avoided the Metsian impulse to blow it all up and start over. At the trading deadline, they kept their good pitchers and have won seven straight. I do not expect it to last.
I was prepared to suffer with the Mets by a childhood rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. They did the right thing.
I was also raised to believe the Democrats tried to take care of people. They did the right thing.
Now the Dems are trying to find a candidate who can beat The Worst Person in the World. They paraded 20 candidates on stage on Tuesday and Wednesday, like some laboratory experiment involving small furry animals, who immediately set upon each other with teeth and claws.
The worst thing was watching some young wannabes whacking away at old Joe Biden, fair enough, but then linking it to the Obama regime, which I found offensive and self-defeating.
I could not tell how much of that act was posturing and how much was real. It was horrible to watch, but I watched, because…because….I am also a Mets fan. I know how to suffer.
Okay, it was summer TV fare. You know how icky summer TV is. It did not count. It did not happen. (I was relieved to see that the entire country – everybody! – reacts to Mayor de Blasio the way New Yorkers do.)
My main reaction to this summer reality show is that I like Mayor Pete (“He ain’t failed yet,” as Casey Stengel used to say about The Youth of America, that is, young hopefuls) and that Elizabeth Warren is the most knowledgeable and most passionate candidate. She is 70 and has the energy of a 45-year-old. She is from Oklahoma and has experienced deprivation.
And as somebody wrote in a letter to the NYT today, if Trump stalks Warren on stage the way he did to Hillary Clinton, Warren has the street smarts, the sense of self, to point to his corner of the stage and say, “Down, boy,” or worse.
But one thing I have learned in a life of noble causes: stuff happens.
No reason to give up my cup, a gift from last December.
No, I did not smash it with a hammer or shatter it against the kitchen wall.
We watched the hearings Wednesday to see if anything had changed, and nothing had. Robert Mueller was not going to tell us what to do. He is a prosecutor, not a politician, and, bless the difference.
Mueller was going to leave it up to Congress, and the people, which is too bad, but that’s all there is.
I still have the image of Mueller as the Marine officer, taking a bullet in the thigh in Vietnam while leading his platoon. He serves his country, still.
He is more than a veteran prosecutor. Robert Mueller is a concept, an ideal -- Paul Revere riding through Massachusetts, warning “The Russians are coming! Hell, the Russians are here! -- and they have a friend in a high place."
He did that again on Wednesday and, instead of the Vietcong taking potshots at him, he faced some distempered legislators who seemed offended at being thusly warned.
I give the Democrats this much credit: they actually planned their questions. I am sure the Democratic elders had been shamed by rookie legislators like Katie Porter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who asked informed questions in recent hearings rather than make self-serving speeches like most mossbunker legislators of both parties.
Mueller was generally inscrutable, just getting through the day –his plan for his 89th and 90th visits to Congress, and with any luck at all, his last.
Mueller clearly was not going to deliver an “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” rant. Through the eyes of somebody half a decade older than he (that is to say, me), he looked like I felt – he needed a nap. So I took one.
After a day of reflection, I wonder, even more strongly, if there should be some self-imposed limit, whether elders like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders should try to “run the country,” as the cliché goes, for the next four years.
I also look at the disturbed old man now currently the President, his already meager brain cells obviously crammed with memories of being a reality TV star for the millions, plus the fat from a zillion Big Macs. Incoming senility – or fast-food grease – or malicious intent -- or some toxic combination?
(Elizabeth Warren turned 70 on June 22, but she clearly has the physical and psychic and mental energy of a 50-year-old, plus she has done her homework. She knows stuff. Every case is different.)
Meantime, the septuagenarian Robert Mueller delivered a warning that the Russians are coming.
Most of the country is on vacation, watching videos on smartphones or summer movie sequels, clearly not reading newspapers, much less 444-page reports (mea culpa on that one.)
Robert Mueller has tried. Whatever happens next, not his fault.
He is an American hero, and in my mind remains one.
Paul Moses quotes Horton the Elephant (by Dr. Seuss) to stress the Semper-Fi values of Robert Mueller.
Please see the follow essay from Common-weal Magazine:
Even after King’s assassination and Angelou’s poetry and eight years of an idealistic, educated family in the White House, it never went away.
It festered under the rocks, all over America, and then, like some super-microbe, it reasserted itself in 2016 with the affirmation of essentially half a country.
Now racism has its spokesman, its hero, speaking things that have been gathering in all corners of this diverse country, things people of color (my friends, my relatives) hear and feel every day: why don’t they go back where they came from?
This sentiment generally refers to people of color, people who are “different,” people who speak out. The Other.
Now they have their man, looking to weed out all those who don’t fit into the white mold. It’s been there all along. You can see it in the smug nods of the White Citizens Council that gathers behind the Grand Kleagle himself, Mitch McConnell, in the halls of the Senate.
Now President Donald J. Trump has blurted it out, perhaps to the consternation of his backers, who prefer to do it by degrees, by gerrymandering, with the assent of the Supreme Court.
Goodness gracious, even servile Lindsey Graham, lost without John McCain, has urged Trump to “aim higher” while essentially agreeing with Trump.
Trump and his stubby little tweeting fingers let it fly on Sunday, the rant of a bigot who needs a minder, wishing that four women – of course, women, it seems to me that he hates women – of “different” backgrounds, urging them to go back where they came from.
Except, of course, three of them were born in the United States, and all of them have succeeded admirably in this country which allegedly rewards strivers. But only if you’re Our Kind.
There is no need to insert the quotes here, it’s all out there. The president wants to deport Latino immigrants without the right papers, but he also wants to deport, psychologically at least, people who are different, “troublemakers” (as the Chinese call dissidents), even elected representatives who are challenging their own Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Trump is speaking to his base, which seems to think the economy is going great -- for them, and that is all that matters. He is betting that the Supreme Court and the McConnells and the state legislatures will give his party – his race – an edge in 2020. And he is willing to play the race card, out in the open, knowing he has support, a lot of support.
Speaking of deporting – go back where you came from – it is worth remembering that Trump’s grandfather, one Friedrich Trump, left Bavaria and wound up in Seattle, apparently running restaurants and hotels and maybe even brothels. When that earlier Trump went back to Bavaria and sought to resume his citizenship, they deported him because he had avoided military service – a perfect example of rampaging genetics, come to think of it.
Friedrich Trump groveled to the prince:
“Most Serene, Most Powerful Prince Regent! Most Gracious Regent and Lord!”
And he concluded his plea:
“Why should we be deported? This is very, very hard for a family. What will our fellow citizens think if honest subjects are faced with such a decree — not to mention the great material losses it would incur. I would like to become a Bavarian citizen again.”
In Bavaria, they told Friedrich Trump: go back where you came from, so he wound up in Queens, New York, and his son, Fred Trump, was soon keeping black people out of his apartment buildings, on his way to shielding his revenue from taxes, to pass on to his children (one of them a judge; only in America.)
Now the grandson tells four duly elected members of Congress to go back where they came from, his rant based on racism. He has touched off a storm, but Trump has an audience.
It never went away.
* * *
(The reaction to Trump’s racist bleat on Sunday)
(The deportation of Friedrich Trump)
(Even Lindsey Graham urges Trump to aim higher)
By all accounts, Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson is a superb pediatric neurosurgeon with a grand career of service to his patients and their families.
However, Dr. Carson is something less of a whiz as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration.
Dr. Carson often gives the impression he has inhaled way too many toots of operating-room anesthesia. Why would anybody expose himself to such a public position when he has not bothered to learn or care anything about it, including the mandatory alphabet-soup of government terminology?
The Secretary contributed to a classic video on Tuesday during a House hearing, when Democrat representatives peppered him with caustic yet knowledgeable questions about poverty and wretched housing.
His willing appointment to HUD is a constant reminder of the scorn Trump and his fellow Republicans have for the department and for the needs of the poor. (Then again, this administration has been kidnapping migrant children, tossing them into cages, and covering up, always covering up, even when children die.)
By going from medicine to mendacity, Dr. Carson put himself in a position where he could be questioned by Rep. Katie Porter, in her first term from a formerly Republican district in Orange County, Calif. Rep. Porter, out of Yale and Harvard, is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and shows the same passion for others as well as attention to detail.
(A protégé like Rep. Porter is another reason fervent voters consider themselves members of the Warren Wing.)
Rep. Porter knows how government runs because she has worked in it, before running for office. She often does her best to get through five minutes of questioning of witnesses like Carson. She clearly cares about the poor; Carson seemed to be sleep-walking.
Several news stories on Tuesday said the Secretary was “humiliated” by the questions of Rep. Porter and other Democratic members of the committee, several of them African-American or Latina:.
The subcommittee members had the right to grill him because he is doing the dirty work for a political party and a disdainful slice of the (white) American population.
Trump wanted to show his contempt for the poor; he found his man. Ultimately, Trump drags everybody down. The real question is why Dr. Carson, who once had enough wits to repair damaged children, took such a prominent position. It cannot merely be the free-loading instincts he and many other cabinet members have demonstrated.
What was in this for Dr. Carson, to be exposed in such public fashion?
Mid-day is a great time for reruns, oldies and goodies.
On a cool May Day, I turned on the tube in late morning, highly unusual for me, and there he was, a blast from the past, blustering through touchy moments: Jackie Gleason, The Great One, resorting to a law-school version of his old “Honeymooners” filibuster:
“Homina, Homina, Homina.”
Gleason used to get caught out on his obfuscations – the camera did it lavishly – but there on national and probably worldwide television was the Attorney General of the United States resorting to time-killing phrases, to while away the 5-minute chunks of time.
Sometimes the old blatherer could not escape. Sen. Diane Feinstein asked him about testimony in the Mueller report that Donald J. Trump asked his legal counsel to change his story about being ordered to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“That’s not a crime,” Gleason/Barr said.
The hearing is being covered in the great newspapers that have been coming up with daily news about this seedy administration, and is also echoed on the networks, (Even Fox: see the above video. The Murdochites wrote a headline that said Barr “Embarrasses” Feinstein. Really?)
The Democrat questioners could not fathom why somebody who once had a decent reputation would now cast his fate as a lackey for Trump. Barr gave no clue. There seems to be nothing there, not a twinge of conscience. Was there ever anything more to him?
The Republican questioners – particularly Sen. Lindsey Graham, lost without his big brother John McCain -- seemed more intent on trying former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the heinous e-mail offenses she may have committed, now three and four years ago.
Barr’s cheeks puffed up as Sen. Mazie Hirono said he had lied, and that he did not seem concerned that Trump had urged his counsel to lie.
We all can see that Trump has bad judgment in his choice of lawyers, on his "Where's my Roy Cohn?" crusade, seeking the vile creature who aided Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The best Trump can do are Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, his own personal bums-of-the-month.
Now he has the Attorney General of the United States – theoretically, the lawyer for the people, according to the Constitution -- covering for him. On national television. In mid-day. More vital than reruns, but sad, terribly sad, that Trump has lowered the country to this.
The Old Man.
I found myself thinking about The Old Man Friday night – how Casey Stengel always talked about The Youth of America, which was on its way, in 1962 and 1963 and 1964 and 1965 before he broke his hip, and time ran out on his gig, creating the New York Mets.
Casey would talk about young players as if they were the raffish hitch-hikers of the time, all gone to look for America, with live arms and fast feet and power and eyesight to “hit the ball over a building.”
For every young hopeful who put on a uniform, Casey indulged in wishful thinking that he would be ready to play for the Amazing (But Horrible) Mets.
“They ain’t failed yet,” Casey would say.
Ed Kranepool (above) was one of the first, a New York kid who signed and played a bit in the Mets’ first season, and turned out quite well. But dozens of the Youth of America never got to the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium. Then, in 1969, Gil Hodges managed Seaver and Koosman and Ryan and all the others who won the improbable World Series, which we will celebrate all season.
Full of memories of that infant season, I watched Chris Hayes on MSNBC Friday evening, hosting a “town hall” of sorts, starring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York. She is smart and idealistic and impertinent and disarmingly candid, allowing as how the voters might “kick me out in two years.”
AOC – as she is now known – talked up the Green New Deal, which combines ecology with medical care with economic parity. (I recently heard her say that, at 29, she had gained health insurance for the first time when she was sworn into Congress in January.)
When prodded on Friday, she could be realistic about picking the right battles first. She also told some lout in the audience who had heckled another speaker that his words were “unacceptable.”
In that moment of truth, she channeled John McCain rather than the seedy bully temporarily soiling the office of the Presidency.
AOC is the Youth of America. So is Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman from Orange County, Cal. They both have distinguished themselves by being prepared in committee hearings, by asking questions. (Porter is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Does it show?)
Reps. Porter and Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress unspoiled, able to put together 5-minute skeins of questions, backed up with research and logic and direction. They have not acquired the bad habits of mossbunkers of both parties, who waste their 5 minutes by talking about themselves.
Check out Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as she probed the great new American truth-teller Michael Cohen about the business practices of his former mentor and protector, Donald Trump.
Check out Rep. Porter as she probes the head of Equifax, like the prosecutor she used to be. The guy undoubtedly makes a ton of money for making tons of money for his shareholders, but about 15 seconds into the questioning he got the look of a lazy-minded fish that has bit into the wrong morsel.
For the past two years, we have watched inarticulate and servile slugs like Rep. Devin Nunes doing Trump’s dirty business. Now smart young women have arrived in Congress. They may strike out a lot. They may not last. But right now they are outplaying the sloppy old veterans.
They ain’t failed yet.
Birch Bayh called me at the Times about a decade ago. I was curious why a former US senator wanted to talk to a sports columnist, and of course I called him back.
Now I can’t remember the reason he called. His obituaries this week praise him as a major force on Title IX, which has enriched sports for women – for everybody – in America, but I don’t recall him presenting himself as the Title IX guy.
Whatever it was about, we schmoozed for a bit. I told him I had covered his re-election in 1970 and I determined that this son of Indiana was now living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
As long as we were chatting, I had a question for him. It went something like: “Senator, could I ask you a question about politics? I’m looking at all this Tea Party business, and it seems that some of the new members of Congress hate government, can’t even stand being in Washington, just want to shut things down.”
He was diplomatic, did not go fire-and-brimstone on me. After all, he was known as a very moderate Democrat; he had to be, to win in Indiana. But he allowed that he had never seen anything like the antipathy between Democrats and the new Republicans, wandering around brandishing mental pitchforks. He recalled with a tinge of sadness that he always had friends across the aisle.
That made me think about legendary friendships between Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, Dick Durbin and John McCain (once again being vilified by Donald Trump.)
On the phone, Birch Bayh sounded reflective, maybe even sad, recalling better political times, and then we said goodbye. But his brief comments fueled my sense that things were not as mean in the 1970s when I had a brief fling as a national correspondent. There were giants in those days, on both sides of the aisle.
I keep a mental list of Republicans I met, or covered, and admired, mostly from Appalachia and the border states I covered:
I covered the retirement announcement of Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, a thoughtful gentleman. (One of his aides back then was a young guy named Mitch McConnell, whom I consider one of the most empty and destructive people I have ever seen in public life.)
I ran around Tennessee one glorious September afternoon in 1972, covering the re-election campaign of Sen. Howard Baker, who was accompanied by his assistant, Fred Thompson. They were good company, rational people, and Baker became a giant during the Watergate proceedings.
When I lived in Louisville, Richard Lugar was a constructive Republican mayor of Indianapolis, just to the north on I-65; later he became a highly positive Senator.
Later, I observed Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during the baseball steroids hearings -- a thorough gentleman who later got sick of the nasty politics and retired.
In that same period, I spent an hour in the office of Sen. John McCain, during a hearing on Olympic reform, and I retain a strong impression of him as an American hero, despite Donald Trump’s blather – with no retort from Trump’s new best friend, Lindsey Graham. How far we have fallen.
* * *
Two farewells to Sen. Birch Bayh:
We were watching MSNBC Friday evening, when they segued into quickie telephone tributes for George H.W. Bush, followed by Lester Holt narrating the prepared tribute.
One of the film clips was of a little boy in a back-yard rundown, lovingly getting tagged out by the right, gloved hand of an elder, presumably the Bushes we now know as 43 and 41.
It was so sweet, people playing the American game with great big smiles and sweeping tags.
Mister, I’m a baseball man--Ry Cooder.
My conduit to President Bush, the baseball man, came via Curt Smith, a speechwriter during the Reagan-Bush years, who in 1989 invited a gaggle of sportswriters and broadcasters to the White House for a baseball schmooze-fest. I wrote about the President’s glove in his desk drawer.
When I heard about President Bush’s passing, I immediately thought of Curt Smith, and his admiration for his former boss.
It is well known that President George H.W. Walker was a crier. Wept easily. Smith once told how he was assigned to write a speech for the visit to Pearl Harbor on the 50th anniversary of the attack that kicked off the Pacific war on Dec. 7, 1941.
On Saturday I asked Curt for his recollections of No. 41 – and the speech. This is what Curt Smith wrote back:
Bush truly loved the game: played, coached it in Texas, mentored players, captained his team at Yale. He made the first two College World Series in 1947-48. He accepted Babe Ruth’s copy of the Babe’s memoir in 1948 as Yale’s captain as Ruth was dying of cancer. He coached all four of his sons in Little League. He took Queen Elizabeth to a baseball game, staged a great event at the White House to honor Williams and DiMaggio on the 50th anniversary of their magical 1941, invited Musial and Yastrzemski to the White House as he prepared to go to Poland to, among other things, christen Little League Baseball there, on and on and on. He and I talked baseball, he had my Voices of The Game at Camp David. Our first meeting he told me, “I’d rather quote Yogi Berra than Thomas Jefferson,” and meant it. He knew more Berraisms than I did!
Pearl Harbor evolved from the fact that I generally did “values, inspiration, patriotic” speeches for Bush. I had always read a lot about World War II and was very conversant with Bush’s role in the War. I knew of his great modesty. As I kid he hit a couple homers once. His mother Dorothy eyed him and, referencing the grand Protestant hymn, said, “Now, George, none of this ‘How Great Thou Art’ business.”
Bush was naturally self-effacing and deferential, two of the reasons he drew people toward him. He hated to use the word I in speeches. Try writing speeches that way! In any event, our speech staff was constantly frustrated at how the country didn’t know the Bush we did—because of Bush’s dignity, innate reserve, feeling that the President should set an example. (What a concept!)
I wanted the country to see the man that we did. In talking with the President, I tried to subtly make this point. Bush, on the other hand, had been 17 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a Sunday. He had friends who had died. He had gone next day, a Monday, and tried to enlist. The draft board said, in essence. “Sonny, you’re too young. Come back when you’re 18.” He did, enlisting the day he turned 18.
Bush, at heart a very sentimental, emotional man—a softie, as he and we knew: again, a reason so many of us loved him — was concerned he would not get through the speech. “I don’t want to break down,” he said. I didn’t tell him I wanted him to break down: that would have been unseemly. I did say that “This will be a chance for you to talk about an event that will show the Nation the kind of person you are.”
As things turned out, he didn’t break down, but did choke up; his voice faltered; he was clearly moved. In retrospect, Bush, who almost to the end was unsure whether he could give the speech, was very glad that he did. And in the next 25 years, as a former President, the country came to see almost precisely Bush as we had—sentimental, giving, kind, funny, patriotic—one terrific person.
(With great thanks to Curt Smith)
Curt did not include this Pearl Harbor story in his terrific recent book, “The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball & the White House,” published by the University of Nebraska Press. Bush, a .251 hitter at Yale, was surely the best player and biggest fan of all presidents who have tossed out ceremonial baseballs on opening day.
They were baseball people, the Bushes, part of the carriage trade that made the New York Giants the elite team of the big city. George Herbert Walker, Jr., uncle of the future No. 41, owned a piece of the Mets, starting in 1962 – a clubby gent who, as I recall, was fine with sportswriters calling him “Herbie.” They were easy to be around, the Bushes.
I was lucky enough to meet No. 41 twice, both in baseball settings. I wrote about my second meeting when Barbara Bush passed last May:
However, I did not get as close to No. 41 as my boyhood pal, Angus Phillips, did for the Washington Post. Invited to a dawn fishing trip on the Potomac, Angus reported to the White House a few minutes early and somehow was ushered into the living quarters where he discovered the leader of the free world padding around a hallway, clearly just out of bed. Angus’s classic tale of the visit…and the fishing….is included here:
George H.W. Bush was the last World War Two veteran to serve as president.
He kept his old George McQuinn mitt in his desk drawer in the White House.
Whatever else he was, he was a softie. And a baseball man.
* * *
The New York Times also prepared a magnificent spread on No. 41:
The following is a contemporary version of the classic warning of the Holocaust, by the Rev. Martin Niemoeller. This was written by my friend, Arthur Dobrin, the Leader Emeritus, Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, and professor emeritus, Hofstra University.)
First they mocked the handicapped and then they boasted about assaulting women.
And I did nothing.
Then they called black people stupid and Muslims terrorists.
And I did nothing.
Then they called Mexicans rapists and the press the enemy of the people.
And I did nothing.
Then they called political opponents traitors and those who body-slam critics “my kind of people.”
And I did nothing.
Then they posted pictures of dollar bills over Stars of David and said transgendered people couldn’t serve in the military any longer.
And I did nothing.
Then two African Americans were shot dead in a supermarket, pipe bombs were sent to critics of the administration and eleven Jews were murdered in a synagogue.
And now the president laments the hate in the country and then tweets about baseball.
* * *
(The incident in the video has played out dozens of times, and the message continues: take matters into your own hands. Trump’s behavior, as he foists himself upon a grieving Pittsburgh, reminds me of George Orwell’s immortal warning in the novel, “1984:”
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.
Trump’s impact on the U.S.A. and the world is more and more apparent.
Nearly half this country voted for this man.
At the same time, the pastor’s daughter, Angela Kasner Merkel, has announced she will leave the chancellor’s post of Germany in 2021. She witnessed two totalitarian regimes – Nazi and Communist – and became a beacon of humanity in a world growing darker by the day.
My thanks to Arthur Dobrin.
The Kavanaugh hearings have reminded me of two milestones in my own life.
One milestone came in my last few years of full-court basketball, in my late 30s, with players ranging from recent high-school varsity players to elders in their 40s.
From fall to winter to spring, every Monday in the late ‘70s, the players in “adult rec” changed in one wing of the locker room while the boys on the varsity changed in the other wing.
Over a row of lockers, I could hear the current jocks talking about life and times, but mostly girls – that is, who did what, and how often, and with whom. It was graphic and it was personal. This was before social media.
Whether it was true or not, it was out there. This did not sound like my high school jock experience in the 1954 and 1955 soccer seasons. I am told that teen-age sex had been discovered back then, but boys did not talk about it in open locker rooms.
I went home and told our two daughters, both coming along in the schools, “Boys will talk.” And some girls would be treated as prey.
My second milestone came up the other day when the nominee for the Supreme Court – the Supreme Freaking Court – was recalling his idyllic days as student-athlete in a prep school (a Jesuit school, at that.) He seemed to retain the impression that some girls were from their crowd while others were outside their “social circle.” (The Jesuit magazine, America, has withdrawn its support for Kavanaugh's candidacy.)
What happened to the dignified lady who testified is now up to the FBI. What a wonderful idea -- calling in professionals instead of relying on dotty senators.
The hearing reminded me of my week in a rehab center early in 1981, when I was 41.
I was working on a book with Bob Welch, the young pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had gone into rehab after blanking out in alleys and hotel corridors on the road. Bob was now sober – had pitched well for the Dodgers in 1980 – and I wanted to know what rehab had been like for him.
The center – The Meadows, in Wickenburg, Ariz., said I could attend for a week, but I would have to participate in group sessions, not merely observe.
One of the first things I noticed at The Meadows was that some people started off accepting that they were powerless. They were sad, and tried to deal with the feelings that made them drink or take drugs or abuse sex.
But others were adamant that they had no problem. Why were people saying these things about them? Why were they making up stuff?
And most of all – with volume rising and face distended and arms flailing – why the f--- didn’t people believe them? Why was everybody against them?
Bluster seemed to be their stock in trade. Ward off the accusations with a swat at the air, a sneer, a bellow.
I learned a lot at The Meadows. The sessions shook off a few memories of shame when I drank too much, smarted off too much. I learned I did not have to drink when I didn’t feel like it, which is now almost all the time.
I had a great teacher. My friend Bob Welch stayed sober (as far as I know), day by day, for the rest of his too-short life. He knew himself. He knew the nature of the beast.
One time he and my teen-age son Dave and I were in a restaurant in Montreal, and Bob was doing the play-by-play of the dining room.
“Look at that guy,” Bob would say. “He wants to pour for everybody. That’s so he can drink more. Watch.” Sure enough, the stranger would cajole his companions to top off their glasses, so he could refill his.
I learned from dear friends like Bob Welch and my recent pal (he knows who he is) who fight off the beast, day by day, and acknowledge it, and share the struggle.
The book, "Five O'Clock Comes Early." is still out there. C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees relied on it when he checked into rehab.
I thought about Bob the other day when I was watching a candidate for the Supreme Court who, when confronted with touching testimony (if murky external details), resorted to baiting senators: What do you drink, Senator? Did you ever black out, Senator?
Maybe that is the combative reaction of a former high-school jock who (as he reminded us a time or two) lifted weights and played hoops back then, all summer long. Doesn't seem very judicial to me.
Channeling my late friend Bob Welch, I reacted to the visceral bluster on the screen.
“Whoa,” I said. “Whoa.”
As of Monday morning, the Brett Kavanaugh hearing is still on for Thursday.
I find myself viscerally repulsed by the prospect of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford being verbally pawed over by part of the Senate committee.
I recently watched a documentary of the Anita Hill questioning in 1991.
Clarence Thomas was right, it was a high-tech lynching, only it was Anita Hill who was assaulted by (white) (male) senators.
With deadpan zest, they made her enunciate every vulgar detail about her encounters with Thomas – her straight-laced, old-fashioned religious decency being poked and prodded.
There in the clips is Joe Biden, good old Uncle Joe, (white) (male) (Democrat), blandly patronizing Anita Hill, oozing neutrality, handing off the ball to the big boys. (So much for Uncle Joe in 2020. Toastville.)
I get the willies when I see two senators, blasts from the past, still doing their thing – Chuck Grassley from Iowa and Orrin Hatch from the great state of Ephedra. (Look it up.)
Other senators are waiting to take their shot – Lindsey Graham, all the helium out of his psychic balloon since the death of John McCain, now just another (white) (male) Republican.
Graham’s mind is already made up. He said so this past weekend.
Then there is Mitch McConnell, probably the most outwardly vicious powerful senator I can remember, maybe going back to Joe McCarthy, supporting a cause I bet he doesn’t believe in, for the good of his party.
They are all waiting to have a go at Dr. Blasey, knowing their window is closing to get Kavanaugh voted onto the Supreme Court to appease their base.
Dr. Blasey’s allegation is tricky enough; we have all read and heard about the complications of memory, women recalling ugly things that happened, or that they now think happened. We also know many ugly things have happened. (See: Cosby, Bill.)
Kavanaugh deserves a fair hearing, the presumption of innocence. What he also deserves is a detailed investigation by the FBI, now badly maligned by President Trump, who has his own legal troubles, shall we say.
The New Yorker has published another article alleging harassment; a woman named Deborah Ramirez is claiming an ugly episode involving Brett Kavanaugh when they were both undergraduates at Yale. (The Times says it could not corroborate her claims in recent days, to the satisfaction of its own judgment.)
In the New Yorker’s layered article, another woman is alleging misconduct by a young, entitled prep-school frat boy named Brett Kavanaugh with a reputation for drunkenness, at that time.
None of this is easy. Reputations – lives – families – careers – are at stake.
Twenty-seven years have gone by since Grassley and Hatch ran up the score against Anita Hill in the service of their party. Twenty-seven years. Where did the time go?
I already had the creeps. They are getting worse.
Barack Obama Gave a Speech on Television.
I had tears in my eyes.
I was sad for what we have surely lost – an intelligent, verbal president who speaks of values.
When the former president mentioned Michelle Obama and their daughters, I felt empty, as if thinking of good neighbors who have moved away.
He delivered a civics lesson at the University of Illinois, urging young people to vote -- clearly political but so rational and timely that it rose above partisanship, to become a warning:
Where have we gone? What have we done to ourselves?
He cited the white-power people who stomped in psychic jackboots through Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, in plain daylight, not even bothering with hoods. He evoked the man who is still president as of this writing, who claimed there were good people on both sides.
Barack Obama asked, plaintively:
“How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?”
My wife said that should be a bumper sticker.
A president who can write and read and speak his native language. Imagine.
On Friday in Illinois, he was at his best in the national and global bear pit -- Laurence Olivier performing Shakespeare’s speech for Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar:” “So are they all, all honorable men.”
The previous president spoke against stereotyping people, saying he knew plenty of whites who care about blacks being treated unfairly, saying he knew plenty of black people who care deeply about rural whites. Then he added:
“I know there are evangelicals who are deeply committed to doing something about climate change. I’ve seen them do the work. I know there are conservatives who think there’s nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their mothers. I know there are Republicans who believe government should only perform a few minimal functions but that one of those functions should be making sure nearly 3,000 Americans don’t die in a hurricane and its aftermath.”
Like Shakespeare, he was making a bigger point: there is a malaise loose in the land. At one point he said Donald Trump is “a symptom” and not “the cause.”
In other words, Trump is an illness that has been coming on for years.
I nodded grimly, in my den, thinking of the McConnells and Ryans, who have sat by maliciously, allowing a Shakespearean character, the worst of the buffoons, the worst of the tyrants, to tear things apart.
Was I imagining, the other day, that these politicians were squirming in their seats in the cathedral, along with their fidgety wives, listening to the orations for John McCain, wondering if anybody would ever confuse them with patriots?
On Friday, Barack Obama gave notice to the young people of many shades and facial characteristics in his audience: you are the largest population bulge in this country, but in 2016, only one in five of you voted.
“One in five,” the playwright emoted, enunciating his own words. “Not two in five or three. One in five. Is it any wonder this Congress doesn’t reflect your values and your priorities? Are you surprised by that? This whole project of self-government only works if everybody’s doing their part.”
The television showed the college students nodding, or averting their eyes. Will they remember this warning at mid-term elections in early November? So many distractions these days. So easy to get lost, twiddling thumbs in the social media.
Shakespeare was borrowing stories from earlier centuries but Barack Obama has been active in public life. On Friday he returned to the stage to deliver artful words, dramatically delivered, surely from the heart.
How many reminders, how many chances, do we get?
The transcript of Barack Obama’s speech (really worth reading):
Anthony Scaramucci went to the same school as my kids.
He was known for his doting family, a block or two from the Main Street School. They made sure he was well-fed and well-dressed and prepared for the day in class.
Their love and attention gave him a disciplined start that led him to a great education and business success.
I don’t know when the Scaramuccis and Defeos came to the United States, and from what part of Italy. Not important. But I do know the prejudice and social barriers that Italians faced – pretty much the same faced by people from Ireland. (I can say that; along with my beloved American passport, I carry an Irish passport, courtesy of my maternal grandmother.)
I have run into Scaramucci a time or two since he made a success of himself – well-spoken, polite, adult. I cannot process that with the profane, preening Trumpite I saw in his raucous 10-day cup of coffee in the White House.
Maybe I am hallucinating, but something in Anthony Scaramucci’s upbringing just may have clicked in over the weekend, when he strongly criticized the current policy of President Trump to separate Latino children from the adults who have run into migration laws.
Yes, yes, I know, the main issue began as stopping illegal migration, a valid goal, but now the world has seen and heard children, ripped from their protectors, crying in cages. And the world has seen the President of the United States as a movie villain, straight out of James Bond.
I watched Trump on Monday, cruelly maintaining that this hurts him as much as it hurts those illegal kids, and I thought to myself, "This guy is enjoying himself immensely." (Somebody I know thinks it is Trump's obsession to destroy anything connected to Barack Obama.)
"It's an atrocious policy," Scaramucci told Alisyn Camerota on CNN. "It's inhumane. It's offensive to the average American."
Apparently still lusting to get back into the White House, Scaramucci blamed Trump “advisors” for steering him wrong about putting crying children into makeshift holding facilities.
Was Scaramucci being political, trying to give Trump an out by blaming those silly little advisors to whom he listens so regularly? Or was he feeling some twinge of vestigial compassion, so out of fashion in this regime, when scoundrels like Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders quote the Bible to justify separating adults and children?
"The immediate, remedial need is to change this right now," Scaramucci said.
People on Twitter and elsewhere have savaged Scaramucci for getting into this dialogue. Others have praised him. I cannot read into his heart.
I don’t know how often he gets back to Port Washington, where a lot of his family still lives.
(See Laura Vecsey’s chat with Anthony’s mother and uncle in our town.)
I bet Scaramucci gets back often enough to see the number of Central American people who work and pray and socialize and play – and send their children to the wonderful public schools, the same way Scaramucci’s family did with him.
Three of my grand-children have been going to the local high school in recent years. I see some of their classmates – kids with jobs in their mid teens, excellent use of English, some of them heading for college, just like previous waves of newcomers.
Only Anthony Scaramucci knows why he chose to urge the president to change the “policy.” (As did all five living First Ladies.)
I hope he might see it as living up to the way he was raised, by his family and by the community.
Want to cite the Prophet Isaiah and others about this hostage-taking by Trump? Here is a message from the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church:
Ever since that White House Correspondents dinner Saturday night, I have not trusted my negative reactions.
I wanted to make sure I did not have a male-double-standard reaction to a female comedian who talked dirty about the disturbed man in the White House.
She, after all, did not say anything that my wife and I have not shouted at the tube in the last two years.
But there is a huge difference between insults hurled in a darkened tv den….or incessant breaking-news yammering on cable news….or kvetching on my own little therapy web site…or even actual news reported by my friend Michael S. Schmidt and other stars at the New York Times and Washington Post….and a raunchy televised monologue in a huge room filled with DC types.
So despite judgments by my wife….and Masha Gessen in The New Yorker….that the speech was righteous and prophetic, I am reminded why the Times, my former employer, does not participate in the annual dinner.
The Times also does not let its staff vote for awards – sports, entertainment, anything – because, as I understand it, the Times’ job is to report news rather than make news with a quirky vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame or something else trivial.
The Times has been way ahead of the curve on ducking the dinner, which may have been a grand old Washington custom when (male) swamp-dwellers smoked cigars and chuckled at musty jokes about Franklin Pierce’s golf game, or whatever.
I know scholarships and awards are involved, but the dinner (without the pulchritude of the Oscar show) was mean. Then again, I didn’t think Steven Colbert’s 2006 riff on President George W. Bush was funny. (I don’t think Colbert is funny, or Bill Maher, and I thought Louis C.K. was rancid when I caught him on tv once or twice. I love Letterman and Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes and Tina Fey but there are too many comedians. I know this sounds stuffy.)
The point is, there is a disturbed man in the White House, courtesy of angry people with racial bias and rich guys and evangelicals and frauds like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. This is serious business. Hiring a comedian for shock value does not help.
You should hear the stuff my wife and I shout at Sarah Huckabee Sanders in our den, as she pours self-righteous contempt on journalism, and facts, and reality. She was sent by the chicken-heart President to take the insults Saturday, and she reacted with stoic dignity, for once.
If you ask me, we need to listen to dead-serious people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, neither of whom has ever been described as a comedian.
The country needs Robert Mueller to do his job, and federal prosecutors, and lawyers, and journalists, and refreshing younger candidates, and journalists.
The dinner needs to evolve if not expire. No more comedians. No more yuks. This is serious business.
The correspondents should say: We are better than that.
Great White Hope of Middle America.
Paul Ryan came into our lives as the new wave. He knew how to make money for rich people, which as you know is good for all the rest of us. Then he would go off to the gym to work out.
When he wasn’t lifting weights, Ryan did a little fund-raising through his Prosperity Action group, whose biggest contributors were – why, look here – Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, who are connected with the now-notorious Cambridge Analytica group. (Perhaps you have heard of it.)
When he is not spending quality time with his family next year, Ryan could still be handling political money – unless the Mercers are suddenly getting out of the politics game.
Either way, Ryan will slink out of daily view as a poseur who could never, ever, stand up to the disturbed man in the White House or the White Citizens Council standing mutely behind Mitch McConnell.
Ryan's announcement Wednesday makes at least 43 House Republicans who don’t want to face the voters in November – they’re not that stupid -- and senators who range from mossbunkers like Orrin Hatch, the senator from Big Pharma, to pretenders like Bob Corker, to flashes like Jeff Flake, who sometimes almost sounded like he had a clue.
You know how this began, don’t you? It began with Donald Trump (we in New York knew all about that guy) who made up stuff about Barack Obama, playing into the schemes of a patriot like McConnell who announced – announced – that his main job was to undermine the new president.
It was about race, kids. McConnell and John Boehner couldn’t stand the idea of a black man who was smarter and more graceful than they were. It’s been a project ever since – 1861 types, trying to get back to the good old days.
Paul Ryan was a good front, like a male model who wears a suit well. But his suit was made of tissue paper and it fell apart in the hard rain falling on us now. The tax cuts? The tariffs? The federal budget keeps going up and Paul Ryan is getting out of town.
On the same day that Paul Ryan announced he won't run again, the New York Times ran a great piece by Eduardo Porter on the front page of the Business section about a modest steel company that cannot compete with the killer tariffs that the disturbed man willed into being. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
(And meantime, we have a disturbed man about to deal with Syria, while pursued by the law for his real “career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks,” as the Times editorial so accurately put it.
The one thing to be said about Paul Ryan: he likes his image of a family man, a church-goer. That would account for the occasional flicker of shame on his aging face, the look that says, I could have been better than this.
Instead, Paul Ryan, new-age Republican, just quits.
The Passover/Easter weekend ended well, or at least entertainingly.
I enjoyed the latest version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” live on NBC, even with all the commercials.
The music took me back nearly five decades and the production was modern and energetic, with great, careful harmonies from the large cast – performing on the move in an armory in Brooklyn.
John Legend played the title role, transported at the end into the heavens, or at least the rafters, and to my relief he emerged in one piece for the curtain call.
To my hearing in the year 2018, this version emphasized the doubts of Judas Priest – or maybe I was sensitized by Jon Meacham’s thoughtful take on Easter in Sunday’s NYT Book Review.
Mainly, this version of “Superstar” was entertainment – and I was entertained. Legend was, in a way, out-rocked by Brandon Victor Dixon (best known for his friendly little salutation to Vice President Pence after a performance of “Hamilton.”)
Bouncing his way cynically and energetically through the melee of Jerusalem, Dixon owned the stage.
Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene? Let me just say that I am a few decades past it for pop music (most of it sounds like calisthenics)-- but that strong, lush voice and gorgeous Levantine nose on Sara Bareilles? Where has she been all my life?
Then there was the mincing presence of Alice Cooper, performing the song he was born to sing -- that Vegas-English-music-hall mixture, “King Herod’s Song.” He said he was channeling Elvis; I thought of the late, great Tiny Tim on speed.
(I read in the Times that Alice Cooper got religion when he sobered up. So we had a born-againer playing a mad king. That’s show biz.)
The performance came after news that, on Easter morning, the great white hope of the Evangelicals could not even fake “the spirit of Holy Week,” as Laura Ingraham said in perhaps her final days as a creature of the cable. (It has come to my attention that Ingraham and Ann Coulter are actually two different people. How long has this been going on?)
Last week Ingraham trashed one of the young people who survived automatic weapon fire in Florida and then, watching her sponsors vanish, she cited religious impulses to take it all back, sort of.)
From his tropical Berchtesgarten, Trump tweeted out that he was going to enact new horrible penalties on Mexico and Mexicans. When questioned outside the church, Trump brayed affirmations of his intent on a weekend when Jews and Christians were honoring survival, celebrating outsiders, the others, in our world.
The Four Questions had been asked at Seders, the extra place set for Elijah; the agony of the “carpenter king” noted in sacred and profane ways in church and on the stage of the armory in Brooklyn.
And at my wife’s lovely Easter dinner, somebody at the table recalled a recent holiday when most stores were closed -- but a Latino bodega in our town was selling coffee and pasteles and more.
The outsiders are now part of us. God bless them. And the President wants to expel them.
That bad actor is still performing a role for which he never rehearsed -- not channeling Elvis or Alice Cooper but something more camp, and at the same time more vile, more ominous.
* * *
(A friend sent this in the Jesuit magazine, America:)
(In case you missed Alice Cooper: )
I was going to write about a heinous new development in baseball -- but other events intruded.
As the Mueller investigation demands records from the Trump business, and the porno queen heads to court, the President shows signs of unraveling.
In his pull-the-wings-off-flies mode, Trump had his garden-gnome Attorney General dismiss an FBI official just before his pension was official.
On Friday evening, the retired general Barry McCaffrey issued a statement that Trump is a “serious threat to US national security.”
Gen. McCaffrey fought in Vietnam, whatever we think of that war; Trump had spurious bone spurs. McCaffrey was later the so-called drug czar for the federal government, which is how I came to value his knowledge.
So instead of writing about baseball, I am placing this note atop my recent posting because the ongoing comments are fascinating – from the Panglossian to the dystopian.
I think it is important and life-affirming to be able to spot danger. Gen. McCaffrey has it. The majority members of Congress seem to have lost that ability.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Russian pals keep pummeling the soft midsection of the U.S. while the President tweets and fires people long-distance, the coward.
(This was my previous posting; comments ongoing.)
I haven’t posted anything in 12 days.
Been busy. One thing after another.
On Wednesday I stayed with the Mets-Yankees exhibition from Florida, even when people I never heard of were hitting home runs off people who won’t be around on opening day.
But it was baseball, and really, in ugly times like this, isn't that what matters?
Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling were going on delightful tangents after Darling said Kevin Mitchell had just emailed him.
Kevin Mitchell – the guy the front office blamed for leading poor Doc Gooden and poor Daryl Strawberry astray? That guy. Terrible trade, Hernandez said.
Ron and Keith meandered into tales of a nasty fight in Pittsburgh, started by my friend Bill Robinson, the first-base coach.
The broadcasters recalled how Mitchell was destroying some Pirate, and both teams had to stop their usual jostling and flailing to save a life. The good old days.
I loved the filibustering about 1986. The best impression I took from the three hours was the sight of Juan Lagares playing the sun, the wind and the ball with knowledge, grace, speed and touch.
“That’s a real center fielder!” I blurted.
Curt Flood. Paul Blair. Andruw Jones. Dare I say it, Willie Mays?
Baseball. I was happy.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep getting distracted.
I turn on the tube and think I see a traffic cam of an addled old man trying to cross Queens Boulevard -- the 300-foot-wideBoulevard of Death -- in my home borough of Queens.
Is he carrying a baby as he lurches across 10 lanes of danger?
The wind picks up. His comb-over flies up.
Wait, that’s not any addled old man from Queens.
What’s he carrying?
It’s not a baby. He’s got the whole world in his hands.
I watch with morbid fascination as he lumbers into danger.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep getting distracted.
We’ve had two March snowstorms in a week. On Wednesday we lost power for five hours but my wife made instant coffee via the gas stove, and put together a nice supper, and we listened to the news on a battery-operated radio and then we found Victoria de los Angeles and “Songs Of the Auvergne," one of the most beautiful recordings we know.
The juice went on in time for us to catch up with latest news about the porno queen and the Leader of the Free World.
Gee, we didn’t have scandals like this with George W. Bush or Barack Obama.
I watched for hours.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep reading instead.
My old Hofstra friend, basketball star Ted Jackson, recommended I read “Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America,” by Patrick Phillips about rape charges and lynching and the forced exodus of blacks from Forsyth County, Ga., in 1912.
As it happens, I have relatives, including some of color, who live just south of that county, now re-integrated in the northward sprawl of Atlanta.
The denizens of that county in 1912 sound like the great grand-parents of the “very fine people” who flocked to Charlottesville last summer. It never goes away, does it?
* * *
I need to write something but I keep following the news.
At the White House press briefing Wednesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders spat out, with her usual contempt, the little nugget that the President had won a very, very big arbitration hearing involving the porno queen and $130,000 the President's lawyer shelled out from the goodness of his heart.
Oops, the jackals of the press did not know about that. Thanks to Sanders, now they do. I got the feeling Sanders might be leaving on the midnight train for Arkansas.
I envision Sanders trying to hail a ride on Pennsylvania Ave. but a stylish woman with a teen-age boy in tow beats her to the cab.
That woman is leaving on the midnight plane for Slovenia.
* * *
I need to write something, but stuff keeps happening.
Alas, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not be able to attend the State of the Union speech Tuesday evening because she has a speaking engagement at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.
(Williams is one of the great early Americans, remembered for “advocating separation of church and state in Colonial America. His views on religious freedom and tolerance, coupled with his disapproval of the practice of confiscating land from Native Americans, earned him the wrath of his church and banishment from the colony,” according to one history site. Make of this what you will.)
The justice, age 84, has given clear recent signals that she intends to remain on the highest court for the foreseeable future.
Good move, Madam Justice. I can’t speak for her – nobody should dare – but speaking strictly for myself, I don’t want to observe that generally affirmative evening soiled this this time around.
For the inauguration a year ago, some of us in the family went to an Afghan restaurant on Long Island on the theory that the event would not be on the tube, and we were right. Aushak all around, for starters.
As for the State of the Union speech and the bustle surrounding it, I’m going to listen to Terrance McKnight on WQXR-FM instead. Much healthier.
(I ducked out on the Grammies after 10 minutes Sunday night; guys in fatigues and boots? Where were Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton? What ever happened to songs?)
Of course, I could be missing a one-time-only event Tuesday night. A year ago, I predicted 18 months from inauguration for this guy; it is still a possibility, given the collusion and money-laundering and racial slurs and general debauchery and ignorance emitting from the White House. But I’ll read about the event in the Times the next morning.
What is the over/under (gambling term) for how many times he says “no collusion, no collusion?” Or waves his stubby fingers and says, “Truthfully….”
I always enjoy the State of the Union because, even with the loyal opposition sitting on its hands for much of the speech, there is a sense of vestigial dignity to the evening.
Plus, I love the way some public officials hang over the railing to shake hands, get an autograph, or offer sage if truncated advice. I always love to spot my fellow Jamaica High School grad (a few decades younger than my crowd), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, engaging President Obama or President George W. Bush from her adopted state of Texas.
I just discovered that Rep. Lee and her companions are known as “aisle hogs” because they line up hours and hours before the big event, to get up close with the President.
The latest information is that Rep. Lee is undecided about attending Tuesday night. Old habits die hard. I’m guessing she will be there, perhaps to eyeball this office-temp president.
Take a good look. Next year we might have President Pence – I know, I know -- not that he would want to get too close to a female legislator.
Anyway, I’ll be listening to classical music Tuesday evening.
I think Roger Williams would approve.
One of the best things on television in the past decade was The Brain Series by Charlie Rose.
The body of work exists – on line, easily accessible, and etched in the memories of viewers like my wife, who listened and learned.
The leader of the discussions was Dr. Eric R. Kandel of Columbia University, whose knowledge and manner commanded the screen. The other guests were also brilliant, and Rose raised his game considerably, moving things along and actually listening to the experts.
Now we are left with the image of a powerful man parading around his apartment in an open bathrobe, terrorizing young female colleagues.
How do we process this?
The series remains. I suspect the science and the humanity will remain pertinent, at least until future discoveries add to the knowledge.
Can people live with a focused Charlie Rose moderating a landmark series?
Can people live with their vinyl and CDs and downloads of James Levine conducting opera?
Everybody has to live with their memories. I won’t miss Matt Lauer because I never, ever, watch morning TV. I don’t know how to gauge the widely variant charges or suspicions about John Hockenberry and Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz (and Charlie Rose), all of whom have interviewed me respectfully, let me hustle my books. What was it like for the capable women in those studios who made a visit so successful?
Harvey Weinstein is easy. He is a monster who produced some great movies but he is a monster just for what he did to that beautiful and spirited and talented Annabella Sciorra, whom I have loved since she sang in "Mister Wonderful."
(Go ahead, look at the video, watch her ex eat his heart out.) I want to be on the Weinstein jury. That’s all I’m saying.
Then there is Garrison Keillor. There were years when we built our Saturday afternoons and evenings around his radio show – times when my wife and I sat in a parking lot outside a restaurant until he finished his weekly visit to Lake Wobegon (the one about a man driving his young family back to Minnesota for the holidays, the one about the pioneer who dies in the badlands, never getting to see the Pacific.)
Keillor never presented himself as anything more than flawed. (His radio alter ego was reminded of this by his own mother, who couldn’t remember his name.) He added his human complexities to his voice, his words, his image.
Now he is accused of – he says – sliding his hand into the back of an open blouse. A mistake, he says, which happened while consoling a woman. Keillor says he is not a tactile person, and I believe it. In past decades, I interviewed him maybe half a dozen times on the phone but never quite got to have a conversation even at rehearsals at Town Hall in New York. He nodded in recognition -- and kept moving. A shy guy. Who knows about him?
Keillor played himself in a movie about his last radio show, art predicting life. The Robert Altman movie, “A Prairie Home Companion,” has an amazing cast, not the least of whom is Virginia Madsen as a redhead in a white raincoat who, he realizes, just may be an angel of death, with her eye on him. (She died in a car wreck while laughing at his radio joke, she tells him, as he edges away.)
The movie (Altman’s last) is classic Altman, in that you have to listen to overlapping conversations – a stretch for younger audiences. One of the subplots involves Meryl Streep as a country singer on the show, who was once Keillor’s girlfriend, and every so often she reminds him of exactly that.
He knows she is in pain that he caused. The ringleader figure in the movie is a creep, but a talented, sensitive, guilty creep. How human, art imitating life.
Now the question is, what do we do with the education, the art, the culture, from people (men, in this context) who seem to be varying scales of creep?
We have a major creep running for the Senate in Alabama.
We have a serial creep as President.
We have creeps of all major parties.
Meantime, I can watch Keillor in that movie over and over again. Some day when I grow up and develop a brain, I plan to watch the Brain Series, but for the moment we are left with the major creep in the bathrobe who caused such pain.
(Note: This piece was filed Friday morning, just before John McCain announced he could not support this vicious bill. I have had great respect for McCain since I met him years ago. His action Friday may have doomed the legislation -- for now -- but these people keep coming back for their money.)
Lately, I’ve been seeing the image of the Native American with one tear rolling down his cheek.
It was a highly popular commercial, for the ecology, from Earth Day, 1971.
The man had paddled down a pristine river and sighted a modern Apocalypse of debris.
That’s how I feel these days.
It’s not just the natural disasters pounding Texas and Florida and the Caribbean and Mexico, places we know and love.
It’s the vision into the heart of darkness. I have dealt with the election of a cruel, ignorant and disturbed human being, believing he will be out within 18 months. He’s a symptom of something worse.
The teardrop in my mind comes when I see stone-hearted members of Congress preparing to vote to take away health care from millions of people who need it the most -- fellow Americans, whatever that means anymore.
I see politicians – and by that I mean Republicans – lobbying for votes, to stiff the poor and the sick.
They are doing it for their donors, the Koch Brothers and villains like them, who want tax breaks, and do not care how they come, even at the penalty of taking away surgery from the ill and shelter for the aged.
These donors would, essentially, kill for money, and so would their lackeys in Congress.
Lindsey Graham. For a while, I thought he was showing touches of humanity but now he is front and center for the White Citizens Council, some of them doctors, for goodness’ sakes, who shuffle wordlessly behind Head Kleagle McConnell. They want money so they can keep going.
Jimmy Kimmel is wise to this Cassidy guy. I hope Kimmel's rants do some good.
Until McCain made his statement Friday, I could not count on three Republicans in the Senate to vote for the poor. Plus, I can think of a Democrat or two who would shaft people in their own states, for money.
They do not want to care for their fellow humans. And they have the backing of some large and oily religious lobbies.
I can remember when Americans told each other we were the good guys who helped win two World Wars. If you overlooked the Civil War, the war that has never ended, it was a workable image.
This current collective meanness has been coming on for a while. It began when the McConnell-Boehner-Ryan coalition sabotaged Barack Obama for the crime of Presiding While Black.
It’s about race, a lot of it.
I’ve gotten pretty tough in my old age. I ascribe to the Iris Dement song, “No Time to Cry,” about how her father died and she had to keep going.
But now I'm walking and I'm talking,
Doing what I'm supposed to do.
Working overtime to make sure I don't come unglued.
I guess I'm older now and I've got no time to cry.
Then I remember the Native American, so proud, so stoic, seeing what others are doing to his world.
(Footnote: the man in the commercial, who went by the name of Iron Eyes Cody, was actually of Sicilian ancestry, Espera Oscar de Corti, and grew up in rural Louisiana. He portrayed Native Americans in movies, and married one in real life. He looked the part well enough that I remember his tear, 46 years later.)
(This piece was written 12 hours before John McCain cast a deciding vote in defeating the bill that would have taken health care from over 20 million people. I have read Paul Krugman's perceptive column in the NYT, also written earlier Thursday, long before McCain's vote, depicting the senator's erratic stances.
It's tricky to write about a moving story. On Thursday, Laura Vecsey wrote a glimpse of the Scaramucci family from our town. Later, Anthony became Trump's Trump via his vile rant to the New Yorker. It's a moving spectacle. I think I know where this is all going -- sooner rather than later, one can only hope. GV.)
* * *
This is not the role anybody wanted for John McCain – appearing in public with a red raw line above his eye, from the recent incursion toward his brain.
I have been writing for over six months that I fully expected Sen. McCain to be a pivotal figure in the inevitable dumpsterization of Donald Trump.
I spent a few hours with Sen. McCain in his office for a column during an Olympic hearing in 1999, seeing the cranky side and the generous side.
Sen. McCain remains enigmatic – coming back from an awful diagnosis to cast a vote on health care, temporarily siding with the president who once declared him not a hero, and also supporting the amoral Mitch McConnell, to prolong this foolishness.
But then John McCain did what I have expected of him on his good-John-McCain days: he plainly called the Republican health-care “plan” meaningless, empty.
Now he has viscerally reacted to the pathetic tweeter of the White House by criticizing the call to bar transgender people from the military. This pilot served, was tortured. He knows how things actually work in the service, as opposed to the poseur from military school.
The same goes for Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who lost parts of her legs while serving as a pilot in Iraq. I saw her on TV the other night, talking about the foolish gesture toward transgender military people. She was, as always, so smart, so dignified. So presidential.
John McCain did not get to be president. His best moment during the campaign was to take the microphone back from the bigot in red who labelled Barack Obama “an A-rab.”
It was hard, recently, to watch John McCain stumble while asking questions in a Senate hearing. Now we know what is happening. But I am counting on him to exercise the just part of him. His pals in the mute White Citizens Council posse that materializes behind McConnell cannot pretend things are just fine, when John McCain is reacting viscerally to the disorder.
Unlike Trump, Sen. McCain felt no need to pander to the religious right on the transgender issue.
I originally thought it would take 18 rational months to rid the country of the buffoon, but now I think it could happen by Labor Day. This can’t go on. John McCain can help by calling out a disturbed man.
He flew many missions, but when he and Lindsay Graham pay that visit to the White House one of these months, it will be John McCain’s greatest mission.
I counted on them. Just the thought of them got me through a horrible winter.
Every fan knows what I am saying: the unique place of baseball -- seasonally correct, holding promise of a new spring.
My team happens to be the Mets, already sinking toward the lower depths, but fans of other teams will recognize the angst: for this I dreamed all winter?
I see Curtis Granderson floundering and I see Asdrubal Cabrera falling apart – two of my favorite players, with intelligence and humor and a fine body of work, who were so fine last season. This is hard to watch.
I am allowed to root. One of the liberations of retirement is shucking professional neutrality. I obsessed about the Mets’ pitching staff, all those talented kids, and I saw the Mets beating out the under-achieving Nationals.
I needed the Mets to thrive, particularly since that sickening night in November when a candidate we New Yorkers knew as a damaged charlatan was elected, ick, but I cannot say it.
I tried to get through the winter with partisan television news -- squirmed through rude interruptions of guests, daydreamed through 20-minute rambles with two minutes of content, rolled my eyes at the harmless repetitions of the word “lies,” as if they did any good.
Everybody reacts differently. People I know are developing a cursing syndrome when McConnell and Ryan ooze into view. Tim Egan called Ryan an "Irish undertaker." I think he meant unctuous. With my Irish passport, I laughed out loud. Felt good. For 30 seconds.
I tried behavior modification. I cannot listen to my large collection of rock and folk and country and jazz on my iPod. No mood for The Band or Stevie Wonder or Iris Dement or The Dead.
Songs of lost love and rolling down the highway don’t do it right now.
In mid-winter I listened to chamber music and waited for DeGrom and Céspedes and Familia, when his mini-suspension was over.
Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. It’s all right.
But now we are a month and a half into this season, and the Mets look done. This is not their year. I know, I know, this is not the loyalty of a true fan, but I covered a zillion games of baseball and I can tell a team that has too many flaws. What’s up with the Alleged Dark Knight?
In the same way that I assess my broken ball team, I assess my homeland. I thought the damaged goods would be returned to sender, like some bad Amazon purchase, within 18 months, and it could happen sooner.
But the Democrats look like an expansion team – too old, too callow, no core. I scan the prospects among the majority party for enlightened, idealistic action: I see stirrings of conscience in Graham and Collins. I really like John McCain from having interviewed him once; if you spot him approaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a couple of cohorts, let me know.
I watched Ben Sasse – a fresh face, a note of hope, like Michael Conforto of the Mets -- during the hearings the other day and thought, this guy could actually have intelligence and courage.
But I’ve been wrong before. I thought my ball team would give me spring-to-autumn diversion.
Now I peek at them, through spread fingers, like a child, for an inning here or an inning there. (I'm even happy for Yankee fans. First time in my life.)
It’s mid-May and I have lost hope for my team.
The other night, the conscientious Chris Hayes did a documentary from West Virginia, with the impassioned Sen. Bernie Sanders.
I couldn’t watch. The state already voted for the poseur, Donald Trump, last November by roughly 68 to 26 per cent over Hillary Clinton. It’s all so familiar.
Living in Kentucky, I covered Appalachia for the Times from 1970 through 1972 and remained in close touch for many years afterward. I saw bodies fished out of Buffalo Creek after an earthen coal dam gave way. I saw the crusading Doc Rasmussen going to hearings with an autopsy slide demonstrating Black Lung. I covered a few coal-mine disasters and the Harlan strike of 1974, so grippingly captured by Barbara Kopple.
So long ago. So courant. The only thing that has changed is that we know more. Technology has gotten better – and worse. Coal companies can push more detritus downhill into the streams and gardens of their own people and scientists can measure the damage to air and water and lungs more carefully.
When I covered West Virginia, Rep. Ken Hechler was the Bernie of his day, speaking out against corruption and pollution. (Hechler passed recently at 102.) A miner named Arnold Ray Miller tromped around to speak against corruption in his union – and was elected president in 1972.
There was often hope of change, of throwing out the rascals and the big-city corporations, but decades have gone by, and good people still want to work, and young people have no hope and are resorting to killer opioids pushed on them by the same kind of doctors who said coal dust was good for the common cold.
Every reliable study says there is no future, no justification, for digging and burning coal, yet frauds like Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Big Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who calls himself a Democrat, bow down to their masters from Big Coal.
It is pathetic. The decency and the religion and the patriotism of people from West-by-God-Virginia make them susceptible to all kinds of drugs – crooked politicians, phony prophets of economic success.
Hillary Clinton, in her own artless way, told people that coal mines would be shut down. So they voted against her. Of course, Sanders had won the Democratic primary in West Virginia, proving that people of that state are terribly bifurcated, at their own expense.
One of the first things Trump did to Appalachia was to remove barriers to dumping waste into the valleys where people live. And Big Joe shook Trump’s hand after his first speech to Congress.
My wife and daughter Laura (who used to cover rascals in Pennsylvania) told me the MSNBC program was terrific. Now it seems people in McDowell County are speaking up for health care and even Big Joe Manchin is getting the message that you can sell out your own state just so long.
God bless Bernie Sanders and Chris Hayes and West Virginia, but I just couldn’t watch.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: