Cardboard spectators stared vapidly from behind home plate, their expressions never changing as the Mets and Yankees committed something akin to baseball.
This was the ambiance at New Shea Saturday night as Major League Baseball introduced Covid-Ball, a makeshift version of the great American pastime, or what used to be.
Cruel boss that I am, I assigned myself to stick it out as a preview, or warning, of what this truncated season will be, if it lasts its threatened 60 games. (Some wary big names have already dropped out for this season; others are trying to come back from a Covid attack. To be continued.)
This was only an exhibition, spring training in mid-July, and there was to be another one at Yankee Stadium Sunday evening before the “season” opens late in the week.
I will tell you up front that my biggest thrill of the night was seeing the aerial view of Queens, my home borough – the globe in the park, a glimpse of the wonderful Queens Museum, the No. 7 elevated train gliding through the neighborhood, as sweet as a gondola through Venice.
Oh, my! I am so homesick for Queens!
I thought of the joys within a mile or two of this sweet spot – my friends and the heroes at Mama’s deli on 104th St., other friends at the New York Times plant, just to the east, the food and the crowds in downtown Flushing, the Indian food in Jackson Heights, and so on. I miss all these at least as much as baseball.
There was a strange hybrid form of baseball taking place in New Shea. Yankee manager Aaron Boone was moving his jaws inside his soft gray mask, either chewing something or talking a lot.
The first home-plate ump (they mysteriously rotated during the game) had some kind of plexiglass shield inside his mask, to ward off virulent Trumpian microbes.
I was mostly watching the Mets’ broadcast, with good old Ron and good old Keith two yards apart in one booth and good old Gary in a separate booth, but their familiarity and friendship came through. Welcome to this strange new world.
Later I switched to the Yankee broadcast and realized Michael Kay and the others were not in Queens but were commenting off the same video we were seeing. Not sure how that will work out during the season.
Early in the game I learned that the Toronto Blue Jays will not be able to play in that lovely city this “season,” for fear of being contaminated by the virus the viciously bumbling Trump “government” and block-headed Sunbelt Republican governors have allowed to rage.
I don’t blame the more enlightened Canadian government – but a few days before the season opener? The Jays will apparently play in Buffalo, creating all kinds of logistical horrors for anybody in Ontario with Blue Jay business.
The highlight of Saturday’s exhibition was Clint Frazier, the strong-minded Yankee outfielder who plans to wear a kerchief-type mask during games, including at bat. Does a mask impede a batter’s reaction to a fastball, up and in? Maybe. But Frazier unloaded a 450-foot homer into the empty upper deck – (Sound of summer: Michael Kay: “SEE-ya!”) -- and some teammates in the dugout flashed masks in tribute to Frazier.
I obsessed about those cardboard fans behind home plate. The absence of real people takes away one of the peripheral joys of watching a game – demonstrative or even annoying fans, the occasional celebrity, and, yes, I admit, women in summer garb. Will these faux fans become part of lore? Will they be rotated, replaced by new faces during the “season?” Just asking.
Finally, there was the recorded crowd noise, an apparently steady hum. No pro-Met chants, no anti-Yankee jibes, just background, like the roar of the sea,
I caught the last inning on the Mets’ radio broadcast, where good old Howie was speculating that the home-team genies in the control room were raising the sound a bit when the Mets were rallying.
I stuck it out because I had assigned myself to “cover” the event.
But I wondered about the reaction of my pal, Jerry Rosenthal, one-time all-conference shortstop at Hofstra, two-year Milwaukee Brave farmhand, and now lifetime baseball purist and authority.
How did Jerry like the ersatz game? He texted:
“Watched one inning of the game. I am now watching ‘The Maltese Falcon” for about the 25th time. That should tell you something!”
Yes, it does.
I love baseball schedules --get all excited when they come out, months ahead. Look for big rivalry series, the odd day game, illogical road trips. Force of habit, from being an old baseball writer.
Lately, I've been fascinated by pandemic charts, like the current one above.
The makeshift 60-game baseball schedule also caught my attention, sucker that I am. I could visualize Jacob DeGrom keeping the batters off balance, Jeff McNeil smacking the first pitch of the season for a base hit.
But now, I realize I was wasting my time. This 60-game improv season may start, but it won’t finish.
This realization has been dawning on me for days, beginning when Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals said he was going to sit this one out, and growing when Mike Trout and others said they just weren’t comfortable going out to play ball in the time of the virus, when they had responsibilities to wives, to children, to family members.
Ball players, collectively, are clearly smarter than the governors of Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida, who followed the lead of the ignorant man in the White House, and decided to get back to business without a clue about the pandemic. Where do they get these people?
Now the infection is reaching the young louts who jumped up and down and exhaled on each other in close quarters at beaches and pools and bars in recent months, with no masks, just to prove a government could not tell them what to do.
Now, the cobbled-together “protocols” for players and staff members are coming undone. Players – and their colleagues in the other team sports – were supposed to live hermit lives when not socially-distancing at the stadium. Only they know if they did, and maybe it makes no difference. I saw soccer players in England hugging each other after goals on Saturday. Boys, boys, boys.
Even before the games start, baseball players have picked up microbes floating on the breeze in the clubhouse or the hotel lobby or the team bus or whatever. It was never going to work, not while this nation, relying on a fool who has sabotaged the federal government, was falling further behind the murderous path of the virus.
On Saturday, the Yankees announced that Aroldis Chapman, their ace relief pitcher, had come down with the virus. He joins two other Yankees expected to be vital in this theoretical mini-pennant race. May all the cases be mild. But the number has reached critical mass.
The players want to play, and the owners want to make money, and sucker fans like me want to watch games from empty stadiums. (It works pretty well with watching top-level soccer, I’m here to report.)
However, Europe appears to be more disciplined than our poor run-amuck country, forsaking science for the ravings of the Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago.
This experimental season may start in less than two weeks. I miss baseball and I will watch the Mets when I can. However, 60 games are going to seem an eternity when more healthy young athletes come down with this virus.
Under the “leadership” of Rob Manfred, baseball is going to stick it to the players in labor negotiations next year. So even if somebody outside this government comes up with a vaccine and some leadership, baseball's traditional "wait til next year" is a long, long way off.
* * *
Current list of ball players who have already chosen to miss 2020: BC: Before Chapman.
Saturday's virus scorecard, including Aroldis Chapman:
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
* * *
(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
* * *
How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
(The eulogy for three citizens can be found from 3:00 to 10:00.)
I don't know much about Gov. Phil Murphy from the neighboring state of New Jersey -- but I do know he has two admirable assets in a leader: a brain and a heart.
These were amply evident on Thursday when Gov. Murphy spoke about the impact of the pandemic on New Jersey, starting with the horrible facts and then moving into the personal.
In six-plus minutes, he eulogized three residents of New Jersey who had died of the virus.
They were selected as a balanced ticket – a Roman Catholic white man, a black man, and a Jewish woman, who had survived as a 15-year-old in Bergen-Belsen and remained a witness and a teacher, into her 90s.
As he introduced these three pillars of his state, Gov. Murphy used terms often heard at wakes and funerals, invoking some version of an Almighty to bless their hearts, bless their souls.
I doubt that any non-believer, even those allergic to religious presence in public, would be offended by the opening of Gov. Murphy’s own heart. He was feeling the tragedy of losing people, good people, to a killer. By blessing their lives, he was helping all of us feel the humanity of the fallen, and ours.
This is one of the highest callings of a leader, in any field. When David Stern passed recently, many people recalled him as tough negotiator as commissioner of the N.B.A., but I also recalled the day he had to banish a player (Micheal Ray Richardson) for life, for repeated violations of drug policy. Rather than be vindictive, Stern seemed to be feeling deeper emotions as he blurted, “This is tragedy.” He felt it. He made me feel it.
This was leadership from the heart, as was President Obama’s visit to the church in South Carolina where worshippers had been murdered by a man with a gun. The President took a deep breath and sang, a cappella, the first lines of “Amazing Grace.” He called a blessing on all. He made us feel the horror.
Amidst all the legal skirmishes about the presence of religion in public life, leaders often give witness to their faith, sometimes recklessly.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., has insisted on re-opening Liberty University; 78 cases of the coronavirus have since been detected in the immediate area. (Personal note: I covered religion in the late ’70s and knew and liked Falwell’s father. I bet Falwell, Sr., would have had enough sense to listen to medical experts.)
Nancy Pelosi often ascribes her public policies to her Roman Catholic faith. Former vice president Joe Biden and current New York governor Andrew Cuomo – who applies real facts, real logic, in his daily seminars on the plague – are said to bond in their faith.
Meantime, evangelicals ascribe a previously undetected faith to the current president. Preachers told their flock to vote for him in 2016 and I am sure they will again in 2020. He has speculated out loud about the eternal destination of the deceased landmark member of the House, John Dingell of Michigan.
There is no evidence that Donald Trump holds any belief in the goodness, inherent or potential, of others. His worth is measured in the stock market, how much relief money he can slip to his cronies. Life is a battle to make himself look good, pushing the rock uphill with every event. It is all about him.
Gov. Murphy helped us love the lives of the three citizens, as stand-ins for all the others who have fallen in recent weeks. However we felt it, however we expressed it, in religious or secular terms, we knew it was a tragedy.
May the governor have fewer occasions to introduce us to the fallen of his state.
* * *
The transcript of Gov. Murphy’s eulogy for the three citizens:
A separate clip about Margit Feldman:
Holocaust survivor, NJ resident dies of COVID-19, honored by governor
Doing what we were told to do – get the heck out of the way if you have no skills – some of us are hunkering, blessed to be healthy at the moment, with a roof over our heads, and food.
It sounds trivial, but while many people suffer and some serve (and suffer), others are at least able to catch up on one thing or another for diversion. People are cooking at home, putting things in order, just in case, reading, exercising, getting in touch.
Some are watching the gift of plays (from the National Theatre!!!) movies, operas, ballet, concerts, literally streaming before our eyes and our minds.
Sometimes the themes are universal: louts and bullies, fools and despots, always with us.
On Saturday evening, the PBS station in my town played the classic film “A Man for All Seasons,” from 1966. It holds up magnificently, including lush scenes on the River Thames.
Viewers never can get away from the multi-menaces of our time. In this version of history, a young and lean satyr of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) menaces Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) to approve the king’s desire for a divorce, and a son and heir.
Henry romps through the mud of low tide to visit the More family, where he notices the educated and comely daughter Margaret (Susannah York), and drops a phrase of Latin on her. She replies. He is impressed. He drops another phrase of Latin on her. Then, with the skilled grace of Martina Navratilova rushing to the net, she responds with a stream of Latin.
King Henry VIII goes blank as the ball/phrase whizzes past him. He is exposed.
We have seen that look before – often, recently – as the talk, the concepts, the facts – get too much for another satyr in our midst. Henry backs away, over his head in much more than mere river muck.
You know how that movie ends.
On Sunday evening, NBC played the 2018 version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera, filmed live in an armory in Brooklyn. Jesus (John Legend) wanders through the hippie dancers, far more befuddled than the committed Jewish mystic of the Bible, but look, it’s a rock opera.
Christ is passed up the chain of command, all the way to King Herod of Judea – none other than Alice Cooper in the role he was born to play. Mincing and menacing, Herod takes the measure of the feared preacher, offers him a way out, and is infuriated by his mute resignation.
“Get – out --- of – my – life!” Herod spits.
You know how that rock opera ends, too.
There is no ducking the contemporary menace here – the addled bully who cannot comprehend what the committed know and do. Furious sacrifice is never out of style – Melville’s “Billy Budd,” a prime example. (Actually, I think Trump's obsession with Barack Obama is like the rage of Claggart toward Billy Budd.)
I am sure Dr. Anthony Fauci, from Regis High and Holy Cross University, knows all the themes here. He does not seem afraid as he stands near our Dolt for All Seasons, our orange-hued Alice-Cooper-Without the 60’s Leather Outfit.
Dr. Fauci was still here, as of Tuesday morning.
* * *
In addition to being menaced by the virus and our freebooter president, Americans in the South and East were menaced on Monday by a brutal storm. On Long Island, we double-hunkered, moving to safe parts of our homes, away from windows, on lower floors, if possible.
It could have been worse. At 6 PM, the sky lightened in the west, the sun appeared. People who have been staying the heck out of the way emerged for exercise, for air, for the illusion of normalcy. I went on a walk, encountered dozens and dozens of liberated strollers, some with their dogs.
I did not see one mask in the quiet streets but people swerved on wide paths. I heard a couple of guys talking about a rainbow, but I had not seen one. Then I ran into John and Reina Teeger, long-time friends, out for their stroll. John showed me his smartphone capture of the rainbow, arched across the western sky. We talked about our families.
For a few moments, life was normal. Then we headed to our homes, later to catch up on the spreading menace of the virus in Third World countries, the cupidity of Mitch McConnell and his mute White Citizens Council, the mounting evidence that our Herod, our Henry VIII, was deep over his head in this crisis.
May the rainbow protect us.
Jacob DeGrom was supposed to throw the first pitch to the champion Washington Nationals, a few miles west of me, on a sunny, cool day.
Instead, I was going to write something about the absence of baseball.
Then I read about a valued colleague who passed the other day, from the virus, and that delivered another reality check.
We have enough reminders that life is not normal – and when will it be again?
I go out in our town just enough to run a few errands.
The other day we ordered takeout from one of our favorite places in our town. It was gut-wrenching to join a small line indoors, six feet of separation, picking up packages.
It was mid-day. The place should have been packed with moms and their squeaky little kids, with rambunctious teen-agers from the high school, with working people on a break. Instead, chairs were upturned on tables and
a few workers were packing up pizza and regular meals for the customers.
A lady in the drive-in window at the bank smiled at me from behind the glass.
From my car, I nodded at the crossing guard near the post office.
The Town Dock was blocked off. Normally, dozens of people would be parking at mid-day, to sniff the salty bay and maybe take a walk.
I don’t need to discuss the ominous details about the virus in the NYT. Did you see those amazing charts – online and in “the paper?”
We get the paper delivered every morning in blue bags, straight from my friends at the plant in Queens. They cannot work from home. Be safe, all of you.
Our family sounds okay – six other adults working at their homes, three younger ones doing schoolwork online, two others also safe, last we heard.
My wife was on this early, urging me not to ride the subway, see old friends for lunch. We are getting by. Blessed. But there is the anxiety – expressed by doctors and nurses who go on TV, talking of shortages, displaying what soldiers in combat call The Thousand-Yard Stare.
They are on the front line, sent in without the right equipment, in a nation nominally in charge of a business failure who was already a dangerous fool when people voted for him.
Now the combat is raging. Leaders like Andrew Cuomo try to pull things together, shaming “the government” into getting a clue.
Friend of mine is self-quarantined in his apartment. His doctor thinks he might have the virus, but cannot help him get a test.
“Opening Day,” I texted. “Robin Roberts vs. Don Newcombe.” That is our generation. The Brooklyn Dodgers were our team.
Sometimes, for a few minutes, baseball will get you through. My man Mike From Northern Queens sent me a link about picking the best catchers in the history of every major-league franchise. Yogi and Campy. And some, from newer franchises out west, I hardly recognized the names of the choices.
That is the beauty of baseball – the history, the meaningful statistics at all positions, never mind the new analytics. The arguments. Carter or Piazza?
Opening Day. Baseball fans believe there is nothing like it. So much tradition. My colleague Bill Lucey in Cleveland sent me a piece he wrote a few years ago about the history of presidents at Opening Day.
I remember in the early 80s, when the Mets’ opening day was snowed out, and I squawked, how nature could do this to us?
Sports don’t cut it right now. I don’t care if the Olympics were postponed, or even the European soccer tournament.
I wish I could concentrate on the Mets, fret about whether the Mets will finally give a steady position to Jeff McNeil, let him swing at the first pitch and get something going.
I wish I could worry about the starting rotation, now that Noah Syndergaard is getting Tommy John surgery today. (Apparently this is considered essential surgery.)
Yankee fans, other fans, bless their hearts, may have their own preoccupations.
However baseball is not essential at the moment. What is essential is convincing our “leader” that instead of sending people back to work with a nasty virus on the loose – to save “his” economy – we need to stay in place, including baseball players and baseball fans and people who work at the ballpark.
No Game Today.
“Call a person over in Venezuela,” blustered the man with the orange goo slathered on his face.
“Ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well."
The Dear Leader was responding to questions about why the American government was not mobilizing businesses to make the masks and respirators needed for endangered health-care people to care for endangered patients.
He’s all for Congress supplementing his friends in big business in this crisis. He just doesn’t want to tell them what to do with the money.
This in a country that mobilized auto plants to produce airplanes during World War Two, as David Leonhardt recalled in the NYT on Monday.
This in a country where hospitals are begging people to donate masks and other medical goods they are “storing” in their homes, in order to save the actual sick, until The Orange Guy thinks of something.
Ordinary citizens are sewing masks in their homes, patriots in the old style, because the federal government cannot get a handle on this.
I immediately thought of an entitled woman I met in Cuba, making soap in her own kitchen. I said “soap,” not “soup.”
I met the woman when I covered the Pan-American Games in Havana in 1991. A friend in New York had told me about her, a talented woman who had gone to school in the States, had a medical background, whose husband, a high-ranking officer, had fought and died for his country.
She was eager to be my guide to the complicated world of Cuba, when I was not directly covering sports issues during the Games. She was loyal to the country and she knew how things worked, and did not work.
She had a car, one of those classic 50s cars, in good shape, and took me around Havana as well as the Bay of Pigs, where her husband had served.
For a sense of how people lived, she took me to her building, in a genteel if fading neighborhood. The lights were out on the stairway. The apartment was roomy, if dated. They had raised their family there, and now some members were doctors, working in the state hospital.
She pointed at the stove, at a pot of soap slivers in water, waiting for her children and their spouses to bring home more soap remainders from the hospital, so she would boil them down, sanitize them, turn them into something approximating soap bars.
“I’ve become my own grandmother,” she said.
I think of her remark and those soap scraps now that Americans are begging the federal government to supply the goods to keep them alive. I think of our portly poseur, who has fooled some Americans into thinking he has business sense, any sense at all.
He wants American money in the hands of Mnuchin and other gunnysack cabinet members rather than in the hands of the people who do the work.
He’s not going to induce American enterprises into making make goods needed by endangered people. Medical people are begging for equipment, but this is not his department.
He has his principles. He rolls over and plays nice for Putin and Kim but he talks big about Venezuela. His instincts are toward one-man rule.
On Monday it seemed he had disappeared Dr. Anthony Fauci, an authority on the virus who lately has been verbalizing some of his concerns.
Fauci was missing from the press conference Monday, like some Politburo big shot who had been airbrushed out of a group photo.
Maybe Fauci would return on Tuesday. To be continued.
In the meantime, thank goodness we are not a third-world country like Cuba, like Venezuela.
* * *
Trump’s Venezuela babble:
David Leonhardt’s riff on mobilization before World War Two:
* * *
QUESTION: A friend asked me yesterday if he could be put on my email list for my occasional rant. I said there is no such mailing list; I put my precious little ramblings out there on the Web like a message in a bottle, tossed out to sea, and hope people find it. Only rarely do I send something directly to a friend.
Could I get a show of hands from anybody who would like to be on a totally-anonymous and confidential list for these occasional pieces? Thanks.
My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
NB: Comments here are welcome. Nay, beseeched. GV.
Check out this poor schlub being interviewed by Rep. Katie Porter of California.
More important, check out the faces behind him – presumably colleagues or family.
They are wincing as Dr. Robert R. Redfield is exposed as yet another Trumpite bumbler in the time of Covid-19.
Rep. Porter, in her first term, has become the scourge of corporate and government “leaders” who try to out-wait her few minutes of questioning.
Originally from Iowa, Rep. Porter went to Yale University and Harvard Law School, where her mentor was Elizabeth Warren.
On Thursday, she was doing what she does best, in a hearing into the lack of preparation for the rampaging virus – specifically the lack of tests and who will bear the cost when any tests are finally available after a scandalous delay.
Rep. Porter said she had violated her own rule of not alerting the hapless witnesses. She sent her line of questioning to Dr. Redfield’s office a week ahead of time so he could be prepared. But he appears to know nothing, nothing -- staff work in the time of Trump.
Dr. Redfield is a 68-year-old relic, a virologist who previously “served” in government during the early days of AIDS.
In his unprepared and ignorant fashion, Donald Trump tried to do away with government medical and research agencies but was forced to find a few people who could pretend to expertise, while Trump’s family and friends filled their gunnysacks with loose cash.
In 2018, Dr. Redfield was brought in as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Not even having the bluster of a bank president, Dr. Redfield was confronted by the terror of the House. Rep. Porter had her facts and figures on hand – how much a test would cost. But most people seeking emergency treatment could not afford this perhaps life-saving process.
Would the government cover the cost of a test, Rep. Porter asked.
Dr. Redfield took the punches, waited for the bell to ring.
But Rep. Porter kept telling him: not good enough. She wanted to know if the government would take care of its people. She told him she has researched his powers. You can do this, according to law, she said.
Rep. Porter does this better than I can describe it, better than any lawmaker I have ever seen. Most legislators talk about themselves. She talks about law, about reality.
Watch the video. It’s a Perry Mason moment – the stunning reversal in real time—that almost never happens in trials or hearings.
In the end, battered and beaten, Dr. Redfield succumbs, seems to promise government coverage.
I do not know if his foggy submission has any legality.
Trump might well fire him any hour now, say it was all a mistake.
Once again, Katie Porter has exposed the stupidity and callousness of this regime.
* * *
Would somebody please tell Barr he cannot get it back, whatever he gave away in order to serve Trump?
It doesn’t work that way. Trump uses his lackeys and then he tosses them out. Later, some locate a glimmer or pretense of conscience, like Cohen in jail or Kelly out in the world, but by then the damage is done.
I’m not sure I really believe the fuss Barr is making about Trump’s interference in the Justice Department over the Roger Stone sentence. It could very well be a smokescreen to divert the thinking/caring half of the country. This current flap could be buying time for McConnell and the White Citizens Council to do more damage.
It’s too late for Barr, and maybe even too late for those of us who knew Trump as a wrongo, going back to his feckless-playboy days in New York, and tried to warn people. It’s too late for Barr because he has already wasted a year we could not afford.
It's too late for Barr in his slavish role as "My Roy Cohn," the nether force who advised the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Barr maligned Robert Mueller – his friend! – before Mueller’s report was public, thereby rendering it ineffective. Barr left his stink on a good public servant.
Maybe people informed Barr that he was looking horrible, that Trump was using him. Some of Barr’s old friends were going on TV and sighing that this is not the person they used to know. This is what happens in the monster movies when the core is removed.
* * *
Also, would somebody please tell Sen. Susan Collins that her social-worker cause isn’t working out. This wishy-washy senator from Maine said her vote to end the impeachment could very well teach a lesson to Trump. There is no such thing as a bad boy, Collins seemed to be saying.
Even if Collins and her pals in the Senate had voted to pretend to hear witnesses, the process might still be going on, and Trump would not be exacting revenge on the citizens who did their duty in sworn testimony.
Collins will figure out soon that heroes like Vindman and Yovanovich get to keep their reputations while she and Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski get to ride the Senate subway to ignominy.
How’s that reclamation project working, Sen. Collins? Maybe she will explain it to voters in Maine this fall -- if Trump allows elections to go forward.
* * *
Things could happen fast as I type this on a cold Valentine’s Day. Trump could fire Barr. Or, Barr could quit. Or, it could all be a smokescreen to validate Barr’s next round of enablement.
After watching these people in action, I trust nobody.
* * *
Pozzo and Lucky: Please see:
"My Roy Cohn":
Now that our Dear Leader is back on his meds, the United States is in the hands of Mitch McConnell.
This was the conclusion in the past day as we realized the world was not in smoldering ruins, not yet, from an impulsive drive-by shooting ordered by the Dear Leader.
The twitchy fingers of Twitter America have produced a theory that somebody had fed him doggie downers or whatever it took to leave Donald Trump slurring as he mechanically tried to read what his handlers had written for him. Not a pretty sight, but better than more rabid postures he takes.
Meantime, the nation is back in the hands of the same friendly feller who kidnapped the Supreme Court candidacy of Judge Merrick B. Garland and committed other acts of contempt toward democracy.
I don’t need to go through the scenarios of the impeachment frolics. We’ve got time to talk about it while Nancy Pelosi – the smartest person in the room – is making the Dear Leader twist.
But I, who lived in Kentucky as a Times reporter for a few years and returned often, have my own take on Mitch. I have told this story before. Short version: I covered a statewide election in Kentucky and the winning candidate – I have no memory which one or which party – celebrated that night at headquarters by proclaiming:
“They’ve had their turn at the trough; now it’s our turn.”
Ever since then, I retain the image of one porker or another making the most of his chance – no concern for others.
Millions of Americans would not have health care, however imperfect, if John McCain had not pointed his thumb downward on that historic midnight. Mitch would be fine with disregarding the needs of the poor in the cities and hollers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
He also shows his contempt for others by championing the dying industry of coal mining, which I covered years ago. He doesn’t care how badly King Coal pollutes the land and the air – or that it is is only a sliver of Kentucky’s economy. His turn at the trough.
McConnell’s posture is even more negative considering that he broke into politics as an aide to Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Republican – I guess you’d say an old-style Republican. Cooper was worldly and collegial. I covered his announcement that he would not run again in 1972. Maybe I met McConnell that day; I do remember the gravitas of John Sherman Cooper.
I think of Cooper and others these days during the scrimmage for the House-to-Senate impeachment.
I remember when Democrats like Sam Ervin and Republicans like Howard Baker were able to work together in the Watergate scandal that doomed Richard M. Nixon.
It seems clear to me – from the impulsive assassination ordered by Trump to the lies from Trump’s toadies, angering even a Republican stalwart like Mike Lee of Utah – that the United States needs Trump dismissed.
Mitch McConnell is trying to block it. I don’t know what McConnell gains from a defective president like Trump. But it’s still Mitch’s turn at the trough, and that may be all that matters to him.
* * *
Here is Gail Collins today, on McConnell. (I have delayed my pleasure in reading Collins until after I file my little screed, which was already in the works.)
(Update: A major evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham, has called for Trump's removal via impeachment. This is a huge step. I used to cover religion; I also know and love some evangelicals, who scurried out to vote for Trump in 2016 because their pastors said he was a good Christian fellow. Many of those pastors are caught up in Trump's money and power and swagger. The red ties! The adoring crowds! Will they pay attention to the prophetic message from a magazine that has been a voice of evangelical thinking? The "mainstream" media is taking this very seriously. Will it trickle down to people who call themselves "Good Christians?")
* * *
A guy I know canvasses for the Democratic party in his rural corner of America. He says it is not unusual to knock on a door and have the woman of the house say, softly, that she votes Democratic these days, but that the visitor should not try to discuss voting with her husband.
In that exchange there may be a palpable sense of intimidation, of fear.
I was thinking of that on Impeachment Wednesday when President Trump was in Battle Creek, Mich., making an ad-lib rant about how he had “given” an A-plus ceremony upon the death of Debbie Dingell’s husband, John Dingell, a veteran of World War Two and the longest-serving member of Congress in history, 59 years.
The President made his brand of joke that John Dingell was “looking up” rather than “looking down” – and a smattering of Republicans right behind him tittered, as if this was one more out-take from Trump's reality show, which, in a way, it is.
The President referred to the touches he had personally included in the funeral, like a third-rate real-estate sleaze who tosses in a used doormat and a fly-swatter as incentives to seal the deal for an apartment rental (as long as the renter is white, of course.)
John Dingell’s widow, Debbie, now holds his seat in Congress, and Trump took it personally when she joined all but three Democrats in Congress to vote for the two counts of impeachment Wednesday evening – after all he had done for her.
She owed him, he suggested. In fact, in the old way of government, which seems to have been dumped in January of 2017, the White House always had respectable functionaries, essentially apolitical, trusted to treat deceased veterans and members of Congress with dignity. Red regime, blue regime, the government knew how to do the right thing.
But now the country is divided, and one of the major splits is on the civility frontier. The video from Trump’s vile talk Wednesday night shows women right behind him, cheering him on. Reports from the hall said some people were hushed and upset by his attack on the Dingells, but I could not tell.
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* * *
Polls suggest women lean toward the Democrats rather than Trump in the 2020 election. What is clear is that Trump particularly victimizes women – not just from charges of his physical brutality but also in verbal abuse.
He expresses deep feelings that women are objects of disgust, to be feared and mocked: the TV personality who had blood coming from her “whatever;” the opponent who used a debate intermission to go the lavatory; the speaker of the House whose teeth were “falling out” as she spoke.
Women upset Donald Trump, apparently disgust him. I am sure it has to do with his late mother, whom he never mentions. His third wife seems frozen in fear, possibly loathing. His daughter Ivanka? Another story.
Women in Michigan, a state he needs in 2020, hear Trump mocking a widow, a highly capable public figure on her own, now serving as a Representative from Michigan.
When do American women tell the men in their lives that this man is sick, this man is perverted, this man is cruel? Or does the American male -- that intimidating presence somewhere in the back of the house -- have the same anger, the same bluster, as Jordan and Gaetz and Collins in the House of Representatives? Where does this anger in the American psyche come from?
I have come to recognize that Bill Clinton has worse baggage than I was willing to admit. Now, when are the women of America going to realize that Donald J. Trump seems to have no limits to abuse, verbal or otherwise?
I’ll let you define “here.”
There are thousands of factors from "there" to "here," but I’m going to list four random indicators that something was happening.
One. My wife went to the movies with some fellow teachers, circa 1981 -- "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She watched as Harrison Ford blew away a guy who was wielding a sword, in front of a crowd, and she felt he did it with a smirk, for yucks, and the audience laughed, and she felt tears. Something is different, she said. Life means less.
Two. I was clicking through the cable channels around 2006 – no doubt looking for a ball game or a soccer match – and happened upon a talent competition.
We had these things when I was a kid, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts – first prize being a week on his morning radio show. Godfrey was generally genial on the air (well, except when he fired his singer, Julius LaRosa, live, to teach him some “humility.”)
In 2006, a talent competition was different. A British guy named Simon was sneering and making remarks about the competitors, and also about the wisdom of his fellow judges. I had never seen such sheer nastiness on the air; the show was about this Simon guy, not about the contestants singing or dancing their hearts out.
I had never seen a reality show -- knew they existed, but avoided them, scrupulously. Only thing I could say about sneering Simon was “If he acted like that in the schoolyard where I played basketball, somebody would have popped him one.” But Simon seemed quite popular.
Three. I did hear there was a comparable reality show on the tube, starring a guy who grew up near me in Queens. He was rather yappy; friends of mine who lived next door told me that. I never saw him in the schoolyard.
Later, I heard he had been staked by his successful builder father to a rather large allowance to look like a successful businessman. He owned a team in a low-scale pro football league; his wife (first wife, as it turned out) had to correct all the things he did not know about his team.
Then I heard the guy had his own reality show, on which he postured and preened, Simon-like, dismissing candidates with a curt “You’re fired.” I heard it was popular but I never saw it. After all, I had met the guy. People in New York didn't take him seriously. We knew.
Four. Starting in 2009, I started to read about new members of Congress who had run for the House or Senate because….they did not much like centralized government and the use of taxes to run the country, to help other people.
Once elected, they were obligated to go to Washington for a few days here and there, but to show their disdain for centralized government they bragged about bunking in with friends, maybe even sleeping on couches in their offices, until they could get back home to God’s Country, away from the Deep State. These advocates of minimal government were labelled The Tea Party by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Last elected rep to leave, please turn out the lights.
That brings us to today, when the country seems to be divided between elected public officials who seem to have studied and respected the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and other elected public officials who seem to have a Tea Party twitch to shut the whole thing down and turn it over to Our Masters – particularly the guy on the reality show.
I guess it goes back to laughing at bodies being blown to bits by Indiana Jones, back to contestants and fellow judges being mocked by the Simon guy, back to Tea Party types who don’t believe in the separation of powers of government, who do not respect the public servants who make government run.
It’s been coming on for a long time.
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.
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"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:
She is a latter-day version of the Pietà – a stricken child, held by her mother.
Yet the expression on her face seemed too mature for an infant.
This was the riddle of Maria Isabel Bueso, when her pictures first appeared.
The babe in arms is actually 24, ravaged by a rare condition that will kill her if she is taken off treatment. She is also a summa cum laude college graduate who teaches dancing to other afflicted students, and actively participates in research into her condition, to help others.
When the public encountered this cherubic-looking activist, she became the prime example of undocumented people whose lives are being prolonged by American medicine and compassion -- a throwback to when Americans felt they were the good guys, when we cared for The Other.
However, the so-called “Administration,” with its dead eyes and presumably similar souls, had decreed that these foreigners, these free-loaders, all surely rapists and robbers, had to go.
Pull out the plugs, cut all the tubes. Never mind that Maria Isabel Bueso had been invited from Guatemala at the age of 7 to participate in this program in the California Bay Area, and was here, dare we say it, legally.
The heartless ones had not counted on a young survivor, with unique credentials, catching the attention of this divided nation.
Somebody explained to the President, the bloated old man with the permanent look of a spoiled child, with his millions of followers, that condemning this young scholar and medical volunteer to death would be bad publicity that could get in the way of all the other plots he has in mind.
After a few days, the “Administration” decreed that medical patients like Maria Isabel Bueso could stay – at least until the government thinks of something else.
Or, nobody is looking.
* * *
When compassion and common sense intervened:
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.
While Notre Dame was burning on Monday, several American commentators referred to the book, and subsequent movie, “Is Paris Burning?” – about the German general who allegedly disobeyed Hitler’s orders to level the city during the retreat of 1944.
The cathedral is a geographical center for France, and the beating heart of Paris to all of us who visit and love it -- or even have the privilege of living there for a month here and there.
We took our three children to Paris in April of 1975, almost immediately visiting Notre Dame, where our youngest fell in love with the gargoyles who still broodingly guarded over the city, even as flames raged on Monday. On that family trip, three decades after the War, we talked about World War Two, grateful that this beautiful city, this beautiful cathedral, had survived.
On Monday, les pompiers, the firefighters, controlled the blaze. Paris was burning. Of course, people thought about the book and the movie.
However, when I went to the Web, I realized there is considerable historical debate about whether General Dietrich von Choltitz overtly acted to save Paris or merely dragged his feet, while saving his own life and shoring up one tattered corner of his reputation. Did the general really say no?
"If he saved only Notre Dame, that would be enough reason for the French to be grateful," the general's son, Timo, told a British newspaper in 2004. "But he could have done a lot more.”
The general’s alleged act of refusal and respect for a glorious city – perhaps self-aggrandizement -- comes up sometimes when conscience is the subject. From my American perspective, I immediately linked the survival of Paris, the endurance of the cathedral on the Île de la Cité, with overt acts of terror and torture perpetrated by Donald Trump on the border with Mexico.
Who says no? Who follows the law? Who cares for fellow humans? The legend of a general who participated in the Holocaust, is back in the ozone, revived by the horrible fire.
We want to be grateful to a German general who may have said “No,” but there are so many questions. He said he acted out of military prudence, as a trained general, who surely considered himself above the unskilled, ignorant, raving “leader.”
Germany of the ‘30s never had enough leaders who could say “no.” Does any nation have enough people in positions of power, responsibility, who can muster the inner strength to say no?
This is a very current debate for those Americans who now consider the military – the tradition of service, adherence to law – as one of the last strengths of the nation.
Who will say no? I am reminded of this every time I see videos of one of Trump’s people, Kirstjen Nielsen, sighing patronizingly when questioned by (Democratic) representatives about putting children in cages. Soon afterward she was pushed out by Trump for not doing enough to separate and harm (torture, if you will) les misérables on our borders.
The urge to survive, by Gen. von Choltitz might have helped save Paris in 1944. Is inaction enough when evil orders are given? Who will say no?
* * *
The star of Wednesday's hearing was, of course, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Inner Baltimore. I have been calling him "The Prophet" since I observed him during some steroid hearings, oh, back a few years. He was always righteous with smarmy ballplayers and he remains righteous with smarmy politicians trying to smear an already-smarmy enforcer.
In his emotional wrap-up speech, The Prophet addressed our better selves. May people listen to him.
Michael Cohen managed more dignity than most members of the Republican minority, admitting his crimes and often displaying a lawyer's wits we did not know he possessed.
Most of the Republicans, most notably Jim Jordan, were a collection of Paulie Walnuts of "Sopranos" fame -- that is, menacing without even a hint of some attractive or interesting trait.
I did love Rep. Clay Higgins of southern Louisiana, thick and balding, addressing Cohen as "Good Sir" in his lush accent. Higgins was formerly a member of the Military Police and also an officer in Louisiana; he seemed a character made for a series of Cajun noir novels, followed by gritty films. If Clay Higgins did not exist, a writer would lust to invent him.
The real object of the hearing was 12 time zones away, not far enough. Fortunately, most Democrats on the committee, however wordy, wasting chunks of their five minutes with stream of consciousness, gave Cohen a forum for his damning details about Trump. Thank you "Good Sir."
(This is what I wrote earlier about Robert Kraft of the Super Bowl champs, another Trumpite in the News:)
Robert Kraft wanted to see me at halftime of a Patriots playoff game.
It was important enough that he enrolled an NFL official to escort me from the press box to his luxury box, halfway around a stadium bulging with tanked-up fans.
I was taken through a crowded reception, full of hoi-polloi millionaires and power brokers, where I was introduced to Myra Kraft, his wife, philanthropist and social conscience. She would pass in the summer of 2011; people in Boston speak glowingly of her.
I was taken to an inner-inner sanctum, where Kraft wanted me to see the Super Bowl trophy as well as three special guests.
“These are my best friends,” Kraft told me. “I think you know them.”
I knew one of them.
“My Queens home boy,” I said, nodding to a guy who had grown up a very crucial half mile from me, whom I knew from the old United States Football League.
Donald Trump nodded, vaguely. He is not good at normal interpersonal relations, but I already knew that. Small talk, politeness, makes him fidget. So we sort of acknowledged each other. (I knew he was a germaphobe so we did not shake hands.)
Another “best friend” was Alan Dershowitz who, as I recall, shook my hand politely.
The third “best friend” was a network biggie (no, you have not seen his name in sordid headlines lately) who kind of glowered at me and grunted and stayed away.
Kraft ushered me over to the Super Bowl trophy and we had our photo taken. The New York Times was clearly important to him, yet another trophy, yet another accomplishment.
I can’t remember what year it was, whether we knew that Kraft had taken off his Super Bowl ring to show to a former KGB thug named Vladimir Putin, who walked away with it.
I was thinking about Kraft’s inner sanctum this week as he got in a bit of trouble for having his chauffeur take him to a low-scale mall in Florida. Right now he is charged with two felonies for patronizing the sexual favors available from Chinese immigrants/captives in a nail salon.
This follows hearings about the gratuitous plea bargain for a sordid Florida guy named Jeffrey Epstein, who apparently preferred very young women. His name has been linked to Alan Dershowitz, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Epstein’s light treatment was facilitated by R. Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labor.
Quite a crowd.
The current thinking is that Bob Kraft will get off with a fine and community service.
(Sorry. I don’t have time to type any more right now. Got to watch the Cohen hearing and see what else Our Leader has been up to.)
In the fall of 1988, our son and I went to Lincoln Center to see a revival of "Waiting for Godot."
Robin Williams and Steve Martin were quite fine in the two lead roles, and F. Murray Abraham was properly domineering as Pozzo, leading his abject slave, Lucky, played by the master kinetic actor, Bill Irwin.
I was thinking of that master-slave relationship Friday night when The New York Times broke the story that the FBI had begun an investigation in early 2017 of the apparent master-slave relationship between Putin and Trump.
In the real-life version, Lucky snarls and yaps at just about everybody else, but when Pozzo fixes his Lubyanka-basement glare at him, Lucky rolls on the floor and whimpers.
How did poor Lucky come to be led around on a leash? Beckett does not say. I am hoping this will soon be explained to us by Robert S. Mueller, III.
In the final hours of an ugly year, I stuck with the tried and true.
Our local classical station, WQXR-FM, was playing the top 100, as chosen by listeners. It was reassuring to hear music that stirred people and soothed people in other dark times, with other crackpots and despots flailing around, and the music survived.
Then again, we have seen votes go wacko in a democracy. When the Gilbert and Sullivan spectacle, “Pirates of Penzance,” popped up in 10th place, my reaction was, “Wait, WTF, how did that get in there?”
The WQXR–FM web site had the same reaction:
Was it was the work of Gilbert and Sullivan superfan sleeper agents? Or is everyone just really excited about the end-of-year New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players production of Pirates at the Kaye Playhouse. (It turns out that it very well might be both, as the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players staged a campaign to launch the opera into the countdown — and it clearly worked.
Trolls. Bots. Hacking. Malware. Whatever they are. Sounds like a job for Super-Mueller, but Our Civic Protector is said to be otherwise occupied with his investigation into more serious shenanigans.
Other than the jolt of Gilbert and Sullivan coming in 10th in any classical music ranking, it was a joy to hear oldies soothe the dark days and nights as 2018 slunk off into history.
Beethoven had four symphonies in the top 10, including his Ninth, with the rousing “Ode to Joy,” now becoming a staple ‘round midnight on Dec. 31.
Some of the most familiar music can be considered chestnuts, but I was happy to hear them, knowing that new and adventuresome and inventive music will be presented by John Schaefer on “New Sounds” and by Terrance McKnight on his weeknight show.
Plus, as 2018 ebbed, I heard some of my favorites, Dvorak and Copland and Vaughn Williams and Smetana and Bartok and Barber and Ravel and Satie and Lenny Himself, conducting his “West Side Story: Symphonic Dances,” which always makes me feel 16 again, walking the streets of my home town, feeling, “could be, who knows?”
In the symphonic version, I could hear the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim:
Could it be? Yes, it could
Something's coming, something good
If I can wait
Something's coming, I don't know what it is
But it is gonna be great.
Happy New Year.
It is beginning to dawn on me that President Trump is not merely some bloated orange spectacle from a reality show.
He is consciously presiding over the demolition of health in the country.
The New York Times ran one of those special public-interest sections on Thursday, the kind they seem to produce regularly – a Pulitzer-worthy section of the week.
This one was on the environment – in many of the corners where I used to work as a news reporter, including the Kanawha River in Almost Heaven, West Virginia.
The lead article is by Eric Lipton and John Branch, a great reporter with whom I had the privilege of working for a few years. John is based in his home state of California, and he already won a Pulitzer for his work on the science of a murderous avalanche.
Branch is a member of the sports department but they rarely send him out to cover games; he’s part of the direction the Times is going – important journalism being committed on a daily basis. (Yes, I miss baseball box scores and daily Mets coverage, but would choose the vital journalism being produced by the Times these days.)
Branch and Lipton write about the farmlands of Kern County, Calif., one of the major agriculture centers in the country.
Since Trump was inaugurated in January of 2017, in front of those yooge crowds in Washington, he has facilitated dozens of downgrades of environmental practice. The Times documents them in this section.
The presidential approval of pesticides in the vegetable garden of America could be poisoning you, wherever you are, but it is certainly sickening the workers – many of them brown and Spanish-speaking – the braceros, the obreros, who pick your lettuce, when they are not fainting and vomiting from the poisons Trump has let loose. The children's day-care center is downwind from the sprays.
The pesticide, named Chlorpyrifos -- why, look here, it’s from our old friend Dow Chemical -- belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in a Times column in 2017:
Kristof added that the nerve gas is “now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.”
This poison is now being sprayed all over Kern County, killing insects and sickening humans and also enriching the companies and the politicians that enable this toxic man.
Congratulations to the newspaper and web site that grow more serious and more invaluable all the time.
Here’s the on-line version of the article by John Branch and Eric Lipton:
Michael Cohen emerged into a phalanx of 20-inch necks and watchful eyes.
The NYPD had its best people out in front of the courthouse.
My first response was delight that Cohen had to walk the perp walk, the felon walk, in front of the cameras, in front of the world.
This is, after all, the same chap who once rang up a reporter working on a story and threatened to do something “f------ disgusting” to him. The same fixer who zestfully helped Trump become Grifter-in-Chief.
The threats and payoffs seemed to come naturally to both of them.
I noted Cohen’s well-clad family, now shaken by a three-year sentence, and I felt no sympathy. They must have known the line of work he was in.
My glee at the downfall of this enabler was tempered a bit on Wednesday by Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor, now a valuable contributor on MSNBC.
Rosenberg is a knowledgeable and stable presence – speaks softly, rarely even smiles, has no need to be cute, a pitfall for some regulars on the cable. He just knows stuff. And on Wednesday he made me feel (albeit temporarily) a bit guilty at my runaway case of schadenfreude.
MSNBC does not seem to have posted Rosenberg’s comment, and I was not taking notes, but the rationality of his impromptu comments stayed with me, after the moment.
Rosenberg said, not bragging, that he had loved being a prosecutor, finding the misdeeds, righting the wrongs. In words to this effect, he said he loved presenting evidence, convincing judge and jury, seeking justice.
But, he added soberly, the part he enjoyed least was the sentencing. He did not enjoy being in a courtroom and hearing most of the suspects being sentenced to….something.
These are real people, Rosenberg said. They have families. They have private lives. They may deserve their sentences, but they are….people.
Rosenberg’s decency calmed me down, well, for a few minutes. But as the day went on, and front-page news came of that slimy gossip paper having flipped, with a safe full of salacious clips on Trump, and my ongoing awareness that Trump is tossing very dangerous toys around his playpen, I felt no empathy for Michael Cohen.
Let him sell his apartment to pay his fines and legal bills. I don’t buy the line by his lawyers and apologists that he is a changed man. He is a caught man. Sorry.
I give thanks to MSNBC for, during this terrible time, having brought in their own phalanx of qualified “contributors” – people who worked in government and the law, people who have expertise, and share it.
People I mostly never heard of until Trump strutted into the White House: Rosenberg, Joyce Vance, Barbara McQuade, Paul Butler, Mimi Rocah, Frank Figliuzzi, Maya Wiley, Daniel Goldman, my fellow Jamaica High School grad Jelani Cobb, and many others, plus two grand oldie-but-goodie Watergate lawyers, Nick Akerman and (drum roll, please) my second favorite septuagenarian lady, dressed and coiffed perfectly, a legal guru, smiling like a blonde Buddha from Chicago, Jill Wine-Banks.
I learn so much from these contributors. Now I am looking forward to a lot of people named Trump being frog-marched into the pokey for their grifting from here to Riyadh or Moscow and back again.
While we’re on the subject, I apologize for my lowball estimate that Trump would self-destruct within 18 months. I was relying on my having known about him from back in Queens, but I vastly overestimated the vestigial patriotism and integrity and common sense of Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham and that White Citizens Council that stands mutely behind Mitch McConnell.
I once spent a day with Sen. Howard Baker on his campaign around Tennessee in 1972. None of these ciphers is Howard Baker, the Republican hero of Watergate.
So that’s where we stand. Michael Cohen got three years and had to walk the felon walk. It’s going down.
He looked like a garden gnome with an accent out of "Mayberry RFD," but when the subject veered to immigrants or demonstrators, Jeff Sessions would tighten up.
He wasn’t funny, then.
Then he was less of a Mayberry character than the town storekeeper who kept his Kleagle robe on a peg in the back room, more out of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “In the Heat of the Night.”
He had a mission, seemed to me – to restore the good old days of the ‘50s – the 20th Century or maybe even the 19th.
Somehow he got in the way of Trump’s Ultimate Solution, and he had to go.
Then he got lucky. Compared to Trump, he became Fightin’ Jeff, the People’s Choice, remembering his lawyer past, respecting legal niceties like “recusal.”
The version I will miss most was created by the captivating Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live,” who presented Sessions as a cuddly little elf who could fit in small spaces and flash a Howdy Doody smile to the world.
Lucky is the public figure mimicked by McKinnon, even with her glint of deviltry behind the entertainment as she portrays Sessions, Rudy Giuliani or the sewer-dwelling leer of Kellyanne Conway. She is a gem.
There are plenty of ghouls and monsters left to portray. I will still tailor Saturdays to be in front of the tube at 11:29 PM just in case Kate McKinnon is up first.
But I will miss the kewpie-doll grin of Jeff Sessions, so much better on Saturday night than any other time.
* * *
I am not the only one. The Huffington Post reports on a great national angst:
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: