It Just Gets Worse

So now we know for sure: the Trump campaign eagerly pursued help from the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton. We know this because of emails from Donald Trump’s dim bulb son (like father, like son) who rushed to accept an offer by a hostile foreign government to interfere in our election. That is stunning and disgraceful and may potentially — if we are fortunate — bring about the demise of this administration sooner rather than later.

Does it amount to criminal collusion, a conspiracy, or treason? We’ll have to await the judgment of the congressional and FBI investigations before final conclusions can be made. But the evidence so far tells us very clearly that the smoke from all the Trump-Russia issues has been traced back to a fire.

We know positively now that Donald Trump and his family and his aides have lied, repeatedly, about whether there have been connections between the campaign and the Russians. We know that there is a clear and established pattern of lies, and that the President of the United States and his family can no longer be trusted or believed. As if they ever could.

Read over that again. The President is a proven liar, now seemingly incapable of knowing much less relating the simplest of truths. He is a man of stunted intelligence, bereft of ethics and morality whose rank egotism and abysmal leadership skills are demeaning and imperiling the nation he misgoverns. And we are discovering that his family members and aides, with all their naivete, incompetence and foolishness, are scarcely better.

Contemptuous and Uncaring

What kind of America are we coming to when the large majority of members of one of our two major political parties is so contemptuous and uncaring about the health of millions of their fellow men and women? It staggers the mind and — regrettably — raises questions about the humanity of many of the Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate.

We know the House of Representatives last month approved a health care bill that was so terrible even President Trump recanted his original praise and decided to label it “mean.” Now we know the Senate has created its own version of that terrible bill which, in its way, is equally awful if not somehow even worse. This amounts to a national disgrace.

The Senate proposal would in a few years eliminate much of the money that funds the nation’s Medicaid program that serves tens of millions of Americans including people of modest means as well as our poorest and least healthy citizens. And to do this, it would take the money saved by this shameful action and use to to cut the taxes paid by America’s richest people. Yep, take from the poor and give to the rich. Robin Hood must be turning over.

More to the point: how can this possibly be justified by a tiny, privileged and financially secure group of Republicans (96% white and male, by the way) who hold sway over an entire nation’s health care? And if you have any questions about what’s the aim of this proposal, consider that the other big beneficiaries are health insurance companies, also overseen by a cadre of white males (numbering somewhere over 96%).

So, to sum up quickly: the least able men and women and children in our society will be stripped of their health care funding to provide tax breaks for rich people and insurance companies.

To repeat: how can this be justified by the Republican Party? It is inhumane, it is mean, it is appallingly inconsiderate, and it may well cause the deaths of millions of Americans prematurely.

Please write your congressmen and women very, very soon and tell them to oppose any such measure on the grounds that it is simply and terribly wrong. Tell your friends, speak up, make noise, and do it quickly before it is too late for America.

A Quick End to Unity?

Well, the admittedly far-fetched notion of political unity apparently didn’t last even 24 hours for President Trump. He had barely finished his decent call for national togetherness when he launched a series of twitter feeds in which he reminded us of what a small-minded man he is.

In his tweets — the basis of which was to proclaim his victimhood in the on-going and deepening Russian collusion investigation — the President once again called out “crooked Hillary,” a continuation of the baseless slur he directed at his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election campaign.

He did this in the quick wake of the Democrats Versus Republicans baseball game, which generated at least a few hours of relief from rank partisanship in the Congress. Of course, leadership usually falls from the top, but in this instance the basest lies at the top. We apparently can expect no “unifying” follow-ups from Mr. Trump.

Only yesterday I was expressing hope, hope that the shooting of Congressman Steve Sclalise would produce something — anything — that might temper the tone of our politics. But with the President showing so quickly his disdain for any kind of reconciliation, there is no reason to expect there will be any meaningful changes.

So, full steam ahead, sad to say; rancor, partisanship and all their nasty companions are on the way back. Thank you Mr. President.

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.