Thinking About Impeachment Hearings, but Can’t Forget Today’s School Massacre

Today another school shooting  – killing, murdering.  The lives of two high school kids ended, at last I heard.  I have to admit, these shootings have become so common I don’t react more strongly than I respond to a major car accident on the news, other than having a sick, sad feeling about the society I live in.  School shooting deaths have become woven into the American fabric of life.

I hear reporters say “we still don’t know what the motive was,” as if that was so important for us to know.

How about this generic template?   The murderer came to hate his life and blamed others for that and fantasized getting vengeance.   He’d show them.  However painfully puny and resentful one feels about one’s life, a gun can make you feel all powerful for a few moments at least.

I think that is what the Beatles were getting at when they sang “happiness is a warm gun.”  I say “he” because the killer is almost always a he, and white.  The most surprising thing about this tragedy is the killer is reported as Asian.

America was not always like this.  I believe the first mass killer in the U. S. was a guy who stabbed his wife and mother before climbing a tower at the University of Texas and then shooting many others, killing 14.

That was back in 1966. when such a thing was unbelievable.

P. S.  –   I do want to point out that, speaking tomorrow, is Marie Yovanovich, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 until May of this year, when she was recalled from her post. She is expected to vividly detail the shadow campaign Giuliani conducted to strong arm Ukraine into acceding to Trump’s demands for politically motivated investigations.

I expect her to be a formidable witness.   Her testimony is scheduled for 10:00, ET.

The Houston Area: Yet Another High School Massacre

It is just past noon and I am already into the wine.   Trying to figure out a post this morning among the near infinite possibilities was difficult enough and then I heard about the latest school shooting, this time in Texas with 10 killed and 10 injured.  That pretty much shut the door on my thinking.

Do these media types really expect us to watch the umpteenth repeat of the same old story?  The over speculations on causes and what we can do to make this “never happen again.”  Of course, it will happen again.

The assurances of our so-called president that these victims have “our support forever.”  Could words be any more empty?

And I can’t stand to listen to any more “how did you feel” interviews, or any of the other stuff that the cable stations wedge in to show they care.   And, though feeling some guilt, I don’t want to listen to another story of a child’s promising life that was so cruelly cut short.   I feel badly for those families, but when slaughtering school children becomes common place, I don’t want to know every detail.

Tell me something new.

What I want is more insights as to what sort of coordinated effort we might develop to reduce the chances of repetitions.  The bulk of coverage of these school shootings is so uniformly preliminary as to tell us nothing.  I’m still waiting for a detailed report of what happened in Parkland, which I hope can give us some solid clues as to how to better guard against future shootings.

Unfortunately, while the state of Florida has a commission working on this, the last I read in April they weren’t coming up with a full report until next January.  I hope they eventually do give us some useful insights, though the slow pace is maddening.  Given that the shooter was throwing up more red flags than a Moscow parade, I most want to know more about the failure among the various agencies involved – the police, schools, etc. –  to communicate with each other.

But that article points out other problems as well such as flaws in the school’s and the police’s response procedures.  One simple but huge problem source sticks out to me.  The classrooms could only be locked from the outside, so to lock up one’s room a teacher had to lock themselves out.

Mr. President, instead of being supportive forever, how about injecting some money into the Florida commission to help them finish the job sooner?  And then actually act on the conclusions the study draws.

For those interested in reading that April article, go here.

The Vegas Massacre and the New Normal

In the background Donald Trump is giving the standard stock speech about praying for the victims and their families and insisting “we are here for you”.   What is being here for you mean?  I realize that public figures have to say something, but do you think anyone feels consoled by these rote statements?  Just part of the necessary ritual I guess.

Nevada, an open carry state, has few gun laws, so no problem carrying around 50 caliber rifles that make grim jokes of the idea of “bullet proof” vests.   It accentuates the valor of the police and other first responders, but that won’t likely stop congress from passing a law now being considered to allow for more gun silencers, according to Bill Bratton,  former New York police commissioner.

Hunters want them to protect their hearing, it is argued.  That silencers could help insanely angry shooters avoid immediate detection doesn’t count for much I guess.

In subtle ways I think we are all becoming more like Israelis.   We have to live our lives with dim thoughts of sudden horrific attack tripping across our minds.   Talked to an Israeli on a plane awhile back and she said you get use to it.  She said it’s not all negative.  It helps you feel more alive.

I favor other ways to make me feel more alive.   Terror tends to make me want to stick to small venues, such as my condo.  Controlling guns seems off the table, even though it will be talked about a lot as usual.  Instead we seem more inclined to reshape the world for our self protection.  I heard a weapons expert suggest metal detectors be placed in all Casinos.  Also, I heard talk of making alterations in buildings to make clear lines of sight harder for shooters to find.  If we can’t control guns I guess we have to do something.

I can imagine small ways we can keep ourselves safer.   Bomb sniffing Apple watches might become the new craze.

Imagine a mother daughter conversation prior to a concert:  “Don’t forget your Kevlar vest, honey.” “Mom, those vests aren’t really great, and it doesn’t match my outfit.  I’ll just have to take my chances.”  “O. K. just remember to duck and cover.”

Of course the easiest way to protect ourselves is to seldom go out.  About 30 years ago the trend towards “cocooning” was defined as “the practice of spending leisure time at home in preference to going out”.   That trend seems only likely to get stronger, though now I would call it “bunkering,” a preference to stay at home for self-protection.

I learned of the massacre when turning on the TV at 7:00 a.m., watched if for about 20 minutes and figured I learned about as much as any one knew.  I turned on my recorded three hours of Morning Joe and sped through it in 10 minutes as it only had scenes from Vegas, which meant endless speculation was in full swing.

The shooter was apparently the most normal of guys, the “contrarian profile of a mass shooter” according to a former FBI profiler.   I’ve seen a photo of him.  He had a nice smile, but he must have felt he had nothing to smile about any more.   My guess is he was mild mannered, not one to explode often while the heat of anger was accumulating like a pan on a stove we forget to turn off.

To me the biggest clue is he was 64.   That has given him decades to accumulate resentments and disappointments and people to blame for both.  Or maybe he just hates Donald Trump and identifies country music buffs as his supporters.  Eventually a theory will take hold, but I don’t know if it much matters.  There is only so much you can do to prevent the crazy angry from acting out their fantasies as long as there are guns a plenty.

If the shooter left a note, I’d like it to read:   “My sincere thanks to the NRA for protecting my right to bear arms.”

Fareed Zakaria on Trump’s Rocking Chair Presidency

President Trump’s news conference/tirade last Thursday was really something.   Much of the 70 or so minutes was Trump blasting the media for “fake news” that ignored his many achievements thus far as president and cast an unwarranted pall over his White House staff.  In the process Trump told several easily verifiable falsehoods himself and made illogical arguments, but to dwell on them is to dwell on distractions.   He always does that.

The heart of the matter is:  “….. in the midst of it all, what has he actually done?” That question is raised by Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite political  commentators.  And his answer detailed in a recent column is:  “Hardly anything.”

Zakaria employs an analogy proffered by philosopher Alfred Montapert:  “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.’ We are witnessing a rocking-horse presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.”

Here is a synopsis of Zakaria’s main points.  Trump has claimed “There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”  Zakaria points to several presidents who accomplished much more in their first 100 days than Trump is likely to, including Barack  Obama.

Trump has said his White House “is running like a fine-tuned machine”, but it “has not even begun serious discussions with Congress on major legislation. (also) According to The Washington Post, of the 696 positions that require Senate confirmation, the president has yet to nominate 661 of them.”  

Also, while Trump has “issued a series of executive orders with great fanfare” the only one that affects much is the travel ban that was so badly conceived and written that it got stuck in the courts.  Seems like that machine has a lot of important parts missing.

Zakaria quotes a piece by Zachary Karabell in a recent Politico Magazine that sums up Trump’s presidency.  “So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.”

In short, the fine-tuned machine works best blowing smoke.

Zakaria concludes with two aspects of the Trump presidency.  There is the “freak show” that dominates the headlines but there is also “the savvy businessman” who picked some intelligent heavy weights like Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis to key positions.

It seems to boil down to this:   “For many people, the bargain of the Trump presidency was that they would put up with the freak show in order to get tax reform, infrastructure projects and deregulation. That may still happen, but for now at least, reality TV is in overdrive, and not much is happening in the realm of serious policy.”

Those interested in reading the full editorial can go here.

The Impending Reign of King Don

Observing the Donald J. Trump show since election day I am most struck by this:  We have not elected another president.  We have elected a king.  Every other American president has adjusted his life to this uniquely powerful position.   With Trump, our government and we the people are doing most of the adjusting, and at this point who knows how many more adjustments we will have to make.

Take King’s Don’s global business empire.   Because he can’t be forced to, he certainly won’t divest his businesses nor show his tax statements, so we’ll just have to keep guessing what conflicts of interest he has.   An ongoing distraction, but probably just one of many.  Get used to it.

And the rest of the world must as well.   For example, Trump makes an off hand comment or tweet vilifying NAFTA, and the Mexican peso goes down.   Or the Japanese Prime Minister visits his majesty at the tower and is probably surprised to find Princess Ivanka, who has her own business interests in Japan and no security clearance, joining them to chat.   Diplomatic protocols schmotocols.

In addition to protocols, Trump has ignored previous U. S. foreign policy positions, such as the one China policy (which recognizes big China as China, not little island Taiwan, which still thinks it’s the real China).   King Don has stated everything with big China is negotiable, including it being the only China.   This is likely but one foreign policy that the king will likely reconfigure in an offhand manner, while the rest of the world tries to figure out what he just tweeted.

Judging from the reaction of the heads of countries like China and Germany, they already realize the tweets of our boy king don’t mean much, which is a relief, as odd as it may be.

The label “King Don” occurred to me watching our soon to be No 1 Guy interviewing supplicants at Trump Tower seeking positions in the new administration.   I heard this described often as “going by to kiss the ring.”  Meanwhile New York City has been forking out about $750,000 per day in security and traffic control, and still will because King Don’s queen is staying put until their young son, the Barron, finishes out the school year.  Also, the king seems partial to sleeping in Trump Tower, so New Yorkers:  Get used to the detours and budget crunch.  The king is concerned about his comfort, not yours.

I think his royal majesty will largely reshape presidential life in whatever way that suits him.   For example, the White House might become more of a stopover  between Trump Tower and Mira Lago than a final destination.

After all he can make royal proclamations  (and slap back at critics) from anywhere a cell phone can be recharged.  Why get stuck in Washington with its often lousy weather, when VP Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can take care of most of what Trump wants from congress, whatever that may be.

Also, his majesty’s royal court, his cabinet, are strong and capable (for the most part). Though many have never worked in government, most undoubtedly know more about his or her area of governance than King Don knows or would ever want to know.

Oh, I forgot.  His majesty has said he’d be putting his prodigious energy so fully into his job as president that he wouldn’t have time to go golfing or take vacations like other presidents who obviously were slackers in comparison.   So, maybe I’m completely wrong and he will stick to the national governing body like a tick.

I’m not sure which scenario I’d prefer.

P. S. – Barron’s remaining at his private school in Manhattan might work well for him, and Queen Mel, but others at the school aren’t so happy.  See this piece.

The Republican Convention: How more Surreal Can Politics Get?

I can barely stand to watch the Republican convention because I don’t believe anything Trump says.  Nor do I believe most of what those in the Republican party say in favor of him as many of them were sharply critical of him only a few months ago, including his VP running mate Mike Pence.

What makes the convention so surreal is that that most of the delegates are pretending this is a normal convention while it is actually an elaborate pretense.  Trump is pretending to be a Republican and the Republicans are pretending to believe him.  When it comes to party standards, no one knows what Trump actually believes, so how can anyone believe in him?

Talk of unifying the Republican party is a sham.  What holds it together with pins and needles is a common antagonism towards Hillary Clinton.   They have been hating her for so long many probably believe she is as bad as they say she is.

In the attempt to make the party seem unified phoniness prevails.  Did you see Trump and Pence with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes Sunday?  Pence has often criticized Trump but Sunday they acted as if whatever was said in the past doesn’t matter. They understand each other now and are basically on the same page.  Of course, whatever Trump has said in the past doesn’t matter because he changes the story whenever it suits him while acting as if what he says now is what he meant before.

Leslie pushed the points of apparent difference, but showed in the process once again how feckless the media are when trying to pin Trump down.  He never really answers a tough question – like how is he going to accomplish anything he promises.  He just keeps dodging or stonewalling  until the reporters finally give up.   He looks strong.  They look weak.  More image points.

Leslie was so congenial I wondered if she is not bothered at all by what a “faker” Trump is, as pointed out by Justice Ruth Ginsberg.  An inappropriate comment in normal times I think, but these are not normal times.  Trump erased the lines of political propriety a long time ago.

And in agreeing to play ball with a faker like Trump, Pence became one as well.  Speaking of fakers, I can’t wait to see Ted Cruz give a speech tomorrow backing in some way the guy who insulted his wife and the memory of his father while labelling him “lying Ted” the Canadian.

I’ll be curious if Cruz says anything good about Trump, thinking he’ll primarily just hit the Hillary piñata around, but he is such a weasel himself, he might say something nice here and there.  Whatever might help his future political life.

It is ghastly the way Trump has personified our politics at their worst.  Most unsettling he has taken the worst parts to new lows and turned them into a winning formula.  Jeb Bush said:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House?”  Well, Jeb, we’d better hold our horses on that one.

So, what do the reporters do?  Impotent in general, they try to pin Trump down where they can with some minutia like the plagiarized phrases in Melania’s speech last night.  Given all of the lies and distortions that are standard fare served up by the Trumpeteers, this stuff is miniscule.  And I think his supporters and the cliff hangers see it as more proof the press is out to get him.  Overall people seemed to like Melania’s speech.  That impression is what is important, not a few stolen words.

Haven’t the press learned by now that facts don’t matter in this surreal political world, especially puny ones like a little phrase borrowing in a speech.  It’s all about the impressions one leaves with the many.

The goal of this convention, besides heaping more scorn on Hillary, is to broaden the appeal of Trump as a good father and a loyal boss who many people actually like working for despite his demanding nature.  The campaign wants us to see the  “other Trump” who in private moments won over the likes of Ben Carson and may help swing some voters who have been troubled with the Mr. Bluster act.

I don’t think that is all bunk, which is why I have argued against labelling Trump a racist or any other “ist”.   I don’t think he is a bad man in his private life, but what makes him such a danger in his public one is his willingness to do or say anything to get what he wants.  While he acts like his wants are synonymous with the needs of our nation, his entire life has been characterized by self-aggrandizement.  Why would a man so preoccupied with himself for all these years suddenly become predominantly concerned about the rest of us?

I think his fans are dreaming, or to put it more harshly, reverting to an infantile stage with longings for someone to take care of them.  They are so tired of changes in American life which I think are mostly a result of changes in the entire world that leave us still great but not supreme as we had been for decades, so tired of these changes including the ever greater complexity of living day to day that many just want to hand over all those problems to someone who promises to fix them. Enter big daddy Trump.

Those who say Trump is more trustworthy than Hillary don’t mean the statements that he makes, in exactly what he says – they know he exaggerates for effect and attention, even making up stuff such as the things he has said about opponents.  What they trust is his proven ability to win.

They extrapolate from his past successes, topped  off by winning the nomination against all odds, that he will be a winner as president as well, whatever that might mean.  In contrast, I believe the skills it takes to be the President of the United States are greater in nature and more complex than what it takes to win the office, a subject I will give attention to in later posts.

My assessment of Trump is more along the lines of how Trever Noah of the Daily Show has described the scene in Cleveland:  “It is quite a thing to see a party succumb to the will of a ….really dangerous buffoon who has hijacked their party.”

What makes it so surreal is that most of the people at the convention are acting like this is not the case.

David Brooks says Republican Unity? No Way!

David Brooks is a moderate conservative and a brilliant analyst, with many insightful books and a regular NY Times column to his credit, as you probably know.  I was planning to put up a post today, but ran across his essay The Unity Illusion, which depicts Trump and his dysfunctional relationship to the Republican party so well that I’m happy to turn the microphone over to him.

Here is a nugget from the piece:  “The Republican Party can’t unify around Donald Trump for the same reason it can’t unify around a tornado. Trump, by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity, stability or any other component of unity. He is a lone operator, a disloyal diva, who is incapable of horizontal relationships. He has demeaned and humiliated everybody who has tried to be his friend, from Chris Christie to Paul Ryan.”

Brooks’ essay is longer than my posts, but well worth the extra time.  Here is the link.

Our Trump Infatuation: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

“I’m digging Trump. …his campaign has been entertaining as sh_t.”

Trump supporter Kid Rock in a Rolling Stone interview.

After initially laughing at his candidacy last summer I have become in awe of Donald Trump’s success in this race prompting a couple of Trump non-fan friends to question whether I have gone over to the dark side.  I have to admit its tempting as thus far he has been the perfect demagogue for our age. He plays our fears, resentments and hopes like a virtuoso a Stradivarius.  I sometimes think of him as Hitler-lite.

True, to many he plays off key, creating shrill sounds.  Sure he stretches the truth or generalizes it out of existence, is crass in speech and action but he is supremely confident that he can  make America  great again and that confidence is contagious.  Being entertaining and projecting strength seem to trump all other virtues in the contest.

The best the others can promise is to just make America better.  Kind of lukewarm in comparison.

In that interview Kid Rock also emphasized that nothing good seems to change in government no matter which party is in power and he’s tired of the same ‘ol same ‘ol.  Why not give the business guy a chance to shake things up?

So, besides being a good entertainer Trump prompts excitement about the possibility of seeing new things happen in Washington with him as chief.  His lack of any real plans, his occasional brutish ways and his penchant for unpredictability only adds to that excitement, even the scary parts.  After all horror movies sell, too.

Since the Trump show seems likely to be playing well for months to come, we’ll have plenty of time to think about his curious achievement in turning politics into show business and cash in on what I would argue has become, if not our foremost value, in contention at least:  Being entertained.

We have become addicted to being entertained and technology offers us more and more entertainment each day, hundreds of TV channels, big movie special effects, video games and all of the social media one could ever want.   In America, there is no excuse for being bored anymore.

We want to be entertained in every which way and Trump has made politics entertaining.  Sure, he pushes a lot of our emotional buttons but most importantly, he does it in an entertaining way.

Trump is cashing in on our collective addiction to entertainment.  He rides this wave like no one else, well enough to appear a shoe in for the Republican nomination for the presidency and making me wonder if his entertainment value will carry him to the presidency.

Putting aside for the moment the fears he may inspire along with whatever personal distaste you have for the man, wouldn’t a Trump presidency be the most interesting to watch unfold?  Just like in his campaign we’d never know what he might say or do next.


P. S. – Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is a book by Neil Postman published in 1986.  While we tend to think of political oppression coming from an outside source, such as big government – hence the emphasis of the right on the right to bear arms – Postman postured a bigger danger coming from our wanting to be entertained to the point that what we desire will ruin us.

Postman’s warning seems to be prophecy coming to fruition in the form of Donald Trump.  I will return to the book at various times as the race for the White House continues, as I think entertainment value will remain a crucial factor.

Here’s a taste of the book:

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”  

The Cost to Our Humanity to Defeat ISIS

Since those savage attacks Friday in Paris I hear more than ever how President Obama still has no strategy to defeat ISIS.   This implies that at least some of his critics do.

Most of the criticisms come not because he lacks a strategy, but because it is contingent on events and is working slowly.  Critics argue we should do more bombing and send more of our troops over there and work harder at developing our coalition.  Some of that may be true, but it isn’t radically different from what Obama is already doing.

Here I only want to deal with the bombing.   It could be more effective if used more broadly and less discriminately, but it would also kill many more innocents trapped under ISIS rule.

Our air attacks in Syria and Iraq have been called a  joke because there are so relatively few of them.  Why?  Because President Obama has placed tight restrictions regarding collateral damage to civilians.

I heard yesterday morning that truck columns carting oil were not bombed out of concern for the drivers of those trucks who seem more likely innocents than terrorists.  I think that is admirable in the president, but perhaps too admirable given the situation.

Yes, I’m saying there must be a degree of accepted collateral slaughter in war.  However, unlike a character in the TV show Homeland, I don’t think the answer to ISIS is to turn its stronghold “Raqqa into a parking lot.”

Yes, we could wipe them off the face of the earth, but for how long and how would that leave us?  Leaving aside the likelihood that this action would only spawn more of a Muslim jihad against us, which is exactly what ISIS wants.  How about where it would leave us as a people, what it would do to our souls and how would the rest of the world view us?

It is not simply because of our military and economic power that we are viewed as the world leader.

To defeat ISIS we will undoubtedly make deals with the devil.  Just this morning I heard that Russian and U. S. air forces are now “cooperating” in attacks on ISIS and I would bet the Russians are not as finicky as we have been about collateral damage.

War is hell and many innocents have died and are going to die in the battle with ISIS.   I’m just saying we need to take moral responsibility for our actions and take a measured approach, realizing this is not a video game, but landscapes filled with flesh and blood like our own.

From this perspective Obama does not seem nearly as feckless as his critics portray.  I want to see those who argue for sterner measures and more of them to be pressed to answer what degree of slaughter are they actually proposing with their grand plans?

Donald, since your strategy for dealing with ISIS has been:  “To bomb the sh_t out of them.”  Are you proposing a totally  indiscriminate slaughter?  Or if not, what are you proposing?