Author Archives: William W. Starr

Hope and Hope

Can adversity come from tragedy? Can peace follow violence? Can logic somehow flow from the most insane of behaviors? In the wake the shooting of a congressman and five others in the Virginia suburbs of D.C., perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to find out. Fingers are crossed.

The shooting has generated an uncommon expression of unity from a politically bitterly divided Congress. Democrats ands Republicans alike have offered statements proclaiming their desire to stand together for a change. Even President Trump, not a man who has emphasized much resembling unity in his public and private statements, has spoken quietly and with some feeling about the need to this nation to come together. That’s all good. But tomorrow, or next week, or next month, can there be any assurance the moment of good feelings can persist into the future?

I wish I knew. Perhaps the tone of some of the incendiary comments generated by our political divisions can lighten a bit. Maybe it will be possible for adversaries in Congress who have spoken harshly to lower the temperature? Can we really expect anything meaningful for our public discourse to come from these words of healing offered by representatives of both parties?

I would like to be more optimistic. I would truly want to believe that Democrats and Republicans might at least consider putting people ahead of their personal politics. That they might purposefully examine truths about government to determine the best paths for Americans of all cultures and beliefs. That they would reject the extremists — especially those who masquerade as fact-tellers — whose voices distort and pervert and who play to the basest of instincts.

I’m talking, of course, about not just the murderers like the gunman in Virginia but of those who take to social media to expound hatred and violence, and certainly those who use their links to some mainstream news-disseminating organizations to espouse untruths and to label political adversaries in the lowest of terms.

President Trump could lend a calming, sensible voice to this mission if he would. Instead of the fourth-grade brevity of tweets, he could actually speak out to support a continuing unity of purpose for all Americans, whether Democrat or Republican or in-between. He could even behave in ways that would promote a growing sense of togetherness for troubled nation he oversees.

I’m not optimistic. But I do have hope. Lots and lots of hope.

The Trump Tapes, Vol 1

Excerpts from The Trump Tapes, released here for the first time:

Undated, April 2017:
White House offices…..

President Trump: Director Comey, I want loyalty. I need loyalty. I need it like a dog needs fleas. Bigly. Can you do that for me?

Director Comey: Silence.

President Trump: Okay, then let’s stop that Russia investigation. We both know Mike Pence had nothing to do with it, don’t we?

Director Comey: Yes sir, we know Vice President Pence had nothing to do with it.

President Trump: Good. Good. Then there’s no reason to continue the investigation. Besides, Mike Flynn is a good guy and so is Jared. I’m not to sure about Eric. Sad. (Muffled words) Here, have a slice of pizza. I’ve got an extra fork.

Director Comey: Thank you, Mr. President, but I don’t care for anything to eat.

President Trump: That’s alright. How about some borscht? Er, uh, I mean, maybe a taco?

Director Comey: No sir.

President Trump: You’re doing a great job. Really really great. Better than ever. Would you like a baseball cap? (Turns to face a side door, which is open) Jared, shut that door. How many times do I have to tell you? And take Jeff with you. I’m having a private conversation about some important things.

Director Comey: Is there anything else sir?

President Trump: You’re a big guy, you know? A lot of people know I’m a big guy too, won the election. The fake news media said I could never win but I did. And I won the electoral college. Big, really big.

(Sound of door closing, then re-opening just a teeny bit)

So we’re agreed. the investigation is over and I am not part of it, right?

Director Comey: Mr. President, we do not have you as part of an open investigation.

President Trump: Well that’s great. Really great. I hope you’ll tell everyone that. Some people don’t believe that. So sad. Thanks for coming over. Let’s play some golf sometime. I’m free on weekends and most afternoons during the week.

Director Comey: Thank you sir. (Leaves)

President Trump (speaking to the side door): You hear that Jared and Jeff? No more investigation. The cloud is lifted. Let’s go play golf.

(End of Excerpt)

Poor Trumpie….

Poor Trumpie. He’s the victim of a “witch hunt” and has been treated more unfairly than any other po.itician. What a baby. Except that babies can grow up and learn; Trumpie’s growth has been stunted if not ossified as he quickly becomes the oldest 70-year-old man on the planet.

But about that witch hunt. This is merely another reflection of Trumpie’s ignorance of American history, which is huuuuuge. Remember how he thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive? How he wonders why no one knows what caused the Civil War?

Now he’s saying no politician has ever been treated more unfairly. “Really?” said Hillary Clinton.

Well, let’s start with Trumpie’s two favorite Presidents, Lincoln and Jackson, he is so totally wrong. Lincoln, you might recall (be sure to tell Trumpie) was assassinated. That’s pretty unfair, wouldn’t you say? But both he and Andrew Jackson were vilified in the press of the day to an extent unthinkable today. Jackson was flat-out called a whore. And those Presidents are hardly alone. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were victims of genuine calumny, and in fact, so has almost every President in our history. Can you recall Richard Nixon? Of course, Nixon earned much of that, just like Trumpie.

Trumpie’s alleged victimization is nothing more than an on-going part of his character. As a baby, he cries aloud whenever he doesn’t get his way. Of course there’s this, too: a baby wets himself regularly, and so does the incontinent President.

But let’s not stoop to his little level. Instead let us all focus on the truths: that this person is morally, temperamentally and intellectually unqualified for the position he holds. He is a disgrace, and the sooner he is gone the better for America.

Erratic and Dangerous

I believe Donald Trump is responsible for activities many might consider illegal. I believe he is increasingly a morally bankrupt man, incapable of the sort of judgment we expect of our Presidents. I believe he has shown himself so far to be incompetent to the job to which was was elected (by a minority of American voters).

His behavior is increasingly erratic and alarming. And I’ll be blunt about it: I am scared for our country in this administration, and not just because of Donald Trump’s disgusting, dangerous antics but because he continues to labor with the general backing of spineless Republicans in Congress.

There is little to be said of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan, whose waffling over Trump’s probably unconstitutional actions makes them seem almost as guilty. They continue to aid and abet Trump by not speaking out forcefully, apparently because they lack a backbone for anything but their own sad re-elections.

There is so much shame to go around in Washington. And outside, too. there are too many voters who helped elect Trump and whose disinclination to speak out about his behaviors raises troubling questions about the mind and heart of the American electorate.

For the rest of us, the challenge is to do something and not just whine. Join a group opposing Trump. Become a candidate or support candidates who oppose Trumpism. Give money to the who fight Trump. Give time to those who work against Trump. Speak up and speak loudly. Do what you legally can — it is in the best interests of this country we live and which is in the midst of betrayal by an aging narcissist who cannot and will not see beyond the limits of his miserably swollen ego.

The Ugly Couple: Congress and the Airlines

Not to belabor the point, but the airlines are not your friends. The latest confirmation came at yesterday’s congressional hearing, at which point we learned that our congresspeople really really aren’t our friends either.

This was a hearing ordered up after United Airlines forcibly and bloodily evicted a paying passenger from one of its flights recently because they had overbooked the flight. That was a disgusting scene, as we all know from the shocking video. So members of Congress asked the airlines to come in for a tongue-lashing and a lecture on their incivilities.

Interestingly, only United sent its CEO; the rest of the industry sent only lower level executives. So much for caring what Congress and others may think of them. The airlines apologized for not doing better (ho-hum) and said they’re taking steps to fix overbooking (want to buy ocean front property in Utah?). The committee members responded by warning the airlines that they’re mistreating customers (really?) and holding out vague warnings of regulatory action (been there, done that).

Of course, in less time than it took to haul that United paying passenger off his flight, the very same congresspeople could have drawn up a bill that would e,imitate overbooking as a practice while establishing stern regulatory guidelines for airline treatment of passengers. Call it a passenger bill of rights maybe.

Instead we just heard more blather without meaning. We don’t like cramped seats. Small overhead bins. Extra fees for everything. We heard this in hearings two years ago and before that and before that. Nothing has happened. Apparently nothing is about to happen. One of the committee members, in fact, actually said he’d like to see some legislation to protect the airlines from lawsuits filed by unhappy, maltreated passengers.

Bottom line: hardly anyone in Congress at this point seems really on the side of passengers. It’s too important for them — and we’re talking majority Republicans — to appease the airline industry, which contributes millions of dollars to their campaigns and has an extensive lobbying presence in Washington.

Congress isn’t worth a crap. And neither are the airlines in their relentless, now unimpeded pursuit of greed. It’s disgusting.

Bye-Bye Bill

Bill O’Reilly is gone from Fox News. Who knew there could be something about Fox News to cheer?

Actually, of course, O’Reilly isn’t a journalist for Fox News. He’s a commentator, a blowhard and a terrible writer whose deeds finally caught up with him. O’Reilly, it seems has been a serial sexual harasser. The network paid over $13 million to settle out-of-court accusations by five women (and counting) that they were sexually harassed by him in recent years. When that news was reported by The New York Times several weeks ago, O’Reilly’s days were numbered.

But they weren’t numbered by the Times’ disclosures, of course. No, what did O’Reilly in were advertisers on his highly rated Fox program who decided to withdraw their money from the show. Faced with a staggering loss of revenue, Fox officials caved and decided they had to boot O’Reilly. The fact that he was revealed to be a creep no doubt made that decision easier, but this was an action taken in the name of economics.

So there are some important lessons here. When confronted by fakes and frauds, the power of the dollar remains ascendant. Donald Trump is incompetent and ignorant, but that won’t be his undoing (unless he does something that seems treasonous even to the slackest members of the Republican Party). Nope, what will ultimately get to Trump is his refusal to be financially accountable, to disconnect his business interests from the country’s interests. He lacks even a shred of ethics, and that will be what leads us, mercifully, away from a Trump administration. Let’s just hope it comes sooner rather than later.

A New Airline Model

At risk of repeating this one more wearying time, readers should remember that the airlines are not your friends. For years, back through the period I was a travel writer, this served as my mantra through hundreds of thousands of miles on board a variety of airlines. It was true then, it’s true now.

The latest reminder of this is United Airlines, which decided to have a passenger forcibly removed from a flight after too few people refused United’s demand that they get off because the airline had overbooked and needed seats. That’s right – one passenger didn’t want to surrender the seat he had paid for, so he was mauled by police and dragged shamefully from the plane. Social media and even national lawmakers are coming together with sharp criticism for United and even proposing some new laws.

This probably isn’t going to amount to anything, particularly the calls for a boycott of United. In too many airports like Houston, Newark and Denver, United is the dominant carrier and in some instances the only one. Passengers boycotting United may be doing little more than cutting off their note to spite their face.

Overbooking is the culprit here, and United is hardly alone in this nasty business practice which passengers understandably loathe. It is a popular tactic with greedy airlines who claim they need it to maintain profits. In a word, that’s baloney.

The airlines deliberately sell more tickets than they have seats for on nearly every flight. They do this, they claim, to avoid cancellations and flying empty planes. It’s an evil, non-customer friendly practice which has been enshrined in law, even as it affects only a very small percentage of passengers. But it’s still bad and needs to be changed. And here’s what airlines don’t tell you:

They would make almost exactly as much money if there were no such thing as overbooking. That’s because most of the seats sold on any flight are nonrefundable. You don’t fly, you lose your money; the airline keeps it. And most passengers who purchase refundable tickets use them; and many of those who don’t simply reuse the ticket at a later date. The airline still gets its money.

United turned a profit of almost $2.3 billion last year, joining the other major carriers in record or near-record earnings. Doing away with overbooking isn’t going to put much of a dent in that windfall. But the airlines aren’t interested in that. They’d apparently rather maintain their current levels of miserable customer service and lack of attentiveness to all but a tiny percentage of passengers who buy hugely over-priced first-class tickets.

In a word, the airlines aren’t your friends. And while talk of a boycott of United or any other airline is nice and feels good, what will actually do some good is to ask your lawmakers to pass a law rescinding the one that permits airlines to continue the outrageous practice of of overbooking. That would be a positive step, one that would benefit anyone subjected to the dreadful experience that is flying these days.

And finally, allow me to quote from a fine article in this morning’s New York Times discussing the United incident and what’s so terribly wrong with the airlines today:

“Everything about United flight 3411 — overselling, underpaying for seats when they are oversold, a cultish refusal to offer immediate contrition, an overall attitude that brutish capitalism is the best that nonelite customers can expect from this fallen world — is baked into the airline industry’s business model.”

Amen. Get on the phone to your representatives and senators now. Let’s get rid of one of these vices as quickly as possible.

Acting Without Thought

Donald Trump decided to bomb Syria. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. But what it makes abundantly clear is that the President has not yet begin to think through his foreign policy decisions.

Here is the leader of the free world who says — repeatedly — that the United States has no business getting involved in Syria. It’s bad policy, Trump has said. But all of a sudden there are pictures on television showing civilians suffering from a Syrian air force gas attack, and the President thinks we need to retaliate. After all, he may have figured, he’s the guy in charge and he has all these incredible weapons, so he might as well go ahead and use them. Bingo, we’re not in loved i a very deep with in Syria.

But we also are now more involved with Russian. And Iran. And indeed we are now active in the world’s most unstable region (not ignoring you, North Korea). Once again, Trump is showing his words and declarations are meaningless. A few weeks ago he reiterated his desire for better relations with Vladimir Putin. indeed, that has been a vital hinge of his foreign policy in the early days of the administration. Well, forget that. Now he’s got Putin angry. (Is this like two brothers arguing?) and we have no idea where this relationship is going.

In fact, there is no sign of what the heck Trump means by his actions or where he intends to go with them. There is no way diplomats and military officials can grasp what the President is about because no one outside of Trump’s tiny, ego-weighted mind can have any sense of that. And who believes that Trump has a plan at all for anyone to figure out? And that includes leaders of nations all over the world, allies and enemies.

That’s scary. No one knows what our President is up to. That is not a way of pursuing peace when everyone who matters is in the dark about what the most powerful nation in the world is doing. Frankly, I think it’s very scary. And I don’t know what steps out to be taken to remedy this awful global situation.

Network of Harassers

For years we’ve known Fox Network’s Bill O’Reilly as the noisy, over-opinionated, right-wing blowhard and pathetic author of quasi-history books. Turns out Bill, we hardly knew ye. He was, we know now, a serial sexual harasser, part of Fox’s conglomeration of men who took sexual advantage of women who worked at the network.

In O’Reilly’s case, Fox was so eager to keep their prima donna that they paid over $13 million to his accusers to keep them quiet. O’Reilly, of course, has insisted he did nothing wrong. Happily for him, Fox was willing to toss $13 million down the network drain just to allow him to continue bloviating. And lying.

When you consider that the network president Roger Ailes set the tone with his own toxic harassment of employees, ol’ Bill was just following the master. Here’s what is really the grabber about all this: These nasty acts were all committed on women who worked at Fox; these guys didn’t have to go out of the building to find their victims, they just had to roll over to the closest cubbyhole. Obviously since Ailes’ dismissal, Fox has done little or nothing to alter the culture at the network.

And of course, President Trump cheerfully endorsed O’Reilly after this news came out the other day. And why wouldn’t he? If there’s one thing Donald Trump can recognize very quickly, it’s another guy who likes to grab pussy. And ow it seems we have an entire network devoted to that. (I’m excepting legitimate, uncontaminated journalists at Fox like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, but the condemnation stands.)

No Winners Here

Have you noticed that Donald Trump never finds President Donald Trump at fault? For anything? Nothing is ever President Trump’s fault, whether anti-Muslim travel bans, the total failure of Trumpcare or all those Russia connections. Everything can be and is blamed on someone else.

With Trumpcare, we found the President blaming Democrats, who voted in a bloc against the Trump/Republican proposal, for the proposal’s demise. Of course Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives and can pass anything they wish no matter what the Democrats do. In this case, Democrats had nothing to do with the proposal’s collapse.

But Trump blamed them. Until he didn’t, when he blamed the Republican right wingers, the extremists who voted against the bill because they don’t see any need for anyone to have governmentally assisted health care. At least this time around Trump got a lot closer to the facts.

Of course, facts are to Donald Trump what lightning is to the lightning bug: completely unrelated. And we know that Trump clings to false beliefs, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “the way a drunk clings to an empty gin bottle.”

Donald Trump is an empty hat. The self-proclaimed master of the deal is no master at all, as it turns out. He can’t even get his own party together, though in fairness the Republicans have demonstrated anew that they are incapable of governing. For seven years they battled to repeal Obamacare without having any replacement in mind. And when their opportunity to actually replace it arrived, they had only a plan that was ill-conceived and deservedly stillborn.

So Trump and the Republicans seem to have more in common than perhaps some amongst us thought. Neither seems interested in governing, only in advancement of their small-minded beliefs, which are mostly connected to tax breaks for the wealthy.

That’s what it has come down to as we enter the third month of the Trump administration. No one can govern. No one is to blame. Yet everyone is, for there are no winners here, only losers.