Donald Trump’s “presidential” debut


The new, presidential Donald Trump we were promised made his debut on Wednesday. It was definitely an improvement— no wild gestures, no sneers, no outrageous remarks. I even found myself in agreement with Trump a few times, as when he asserted that our actions in Iraq contributed to the rise of ISIS. Those moments, however, were outnumbered by half-baked ideas, contradictions and misstatements that originated in either ignorance or willful deception. At least they were expressed in a modulated tone not previously heard. Dressed in a blue suit sans red truckdriver’s cap, Trump sounded and looked like a grownup, rather than a spoiled brat seething with barely controlled rage.

Trump said he wants to shake the rust off American foreign policy. He accused President Obama of gutting the US military. He didn’t mention (is it possible he doesn’t know?) that the American military force is by far the largest in the world; the US spends more on the military than the next 11 countries put together.  Weapons, Trump said early in his speech, are our biggest problem, but he also said he wants to add more weapons such as cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and 3-D printing. He identified nuclear arms as the greatest threat, even while criticizing Obama for reducing the nuclear arsenal, demonstrating his ignorance of the fact that the Obama  administration has begun a $1 trillion revitalization program.

“America First,” Trump announced, “will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” Was he deliberately invoking the isolationist, nationalistic and anti-Semitic movement America First of the pre-WWII years? Trump’s past appeals to white supremacists tend to confirm that. It is of course possible that it was Trump’s ignorance of American history that failed to ring a bell warning him away from a slogan with such an odious precedent.

Trump does want to regress to the 40s and 50s when the “greatest generation beat back the Nazis and Japanese imperialists” and the Cold War that followed. At least he understands that it took Republicans and Democrats working together to defeat the Axis powers and eventually win the Cold War.

In his first foreign policy speech, Trump made the obligatory Republican obeisance to Ronald Reagan and reiterated the same baseless charges against President Obama that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and most other Republicans mindlessly repeat ad nauseum: The President “has weakened our military by weakening our economy.” What they refuse to acknowledge is that since Obama took office, the budget deficit has declined by roughly $1 trillion, and we are in the longest period of sustained job growth in our history. Unemployment, which reached 10 percent in Obama’s first term, is now 5 percent, lower than when the sainted Reagan left office. Under Obama, the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, which he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush, significantly faster and better than any of the other major world economies.

Gene Sperling, the former director of the National Economic Council, told the NY Times, “If we were back in early 2009 … with the economy losing 800,000 jobs a month and the Dow under 7,000 — and someone said that by [Obama’s] last year in office, unemployment would be 5 percent, the deficit would be under 3 percent, AIG would have turned a profit and we made all our money back on the banks, that would’ve been beyond anybody’s wildest expectations.” But most people don’t know that because the Republicans have constantly been hammering the lie that the economy is in shambles.

When it comes to thrashing out an international treaty, Trump doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the subtlety and nuance of diplomatic negotiation and the strong-arm tactics he is used to employing in commercial transactions. Sovereign states all have non-negotiable national interests, yet Trump insists, “You always have to be willing to walk.” He equates the achievement of an international accord with the conclusion of a business deal, failing to appreciate the importance of wringing a necessary concession from China or Iran by making a shrewdly calculated concession of our own.

You can take away his red cap and give him a speech and a teleprompter, but you can’t make a statesman out of an egocentric narcissist.

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White males only?

ChrisRockSunday night Oscars host Chris Rock brought Black History Month to a rousing close. He engaged us with humor that unmasked the ugly truth of a racism that still pervades a self-deluded and self-defined liberal society. Talented people of color can’t possibly win Hollywood’s highest honors if white people are given the major roles. And the same holds true for women of all hues. They rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate their talents when they are passed over by the white men who dominate all aspects of film-making, to mention only one of the many creative and other fields of human endeavor.

SistersInLawToday the focus shifts from color to gender, as Women’s History Month highlights the achievements of women all over the globe. In honor of the occasion, Women’s Voices For Change is publishing my review of Linda Hirshman’s “Sisters-in-Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World.” The book’s title is clever, but somewhat misleading, though it does chronicle the vital legal arm of the women’s movement. Had Justices Ginsberg and O’Connor not been appointed to the Supreme Court, American women today would have a very different “herstory.”

How many women born 50 years ago or less understand how inequality made women’s lives and aspirations radically different from those of men? How many know that until the 1970s, when old laws were struck down and new laws began to change the culture, women were rarely if ever seen in corporate boardrooms, as members of houses of Congress and state legislatures, or as judges in the courts? Women were even prohibited from serving on juries (and so they never could be judged by juries of their peers), and often were not hired or promoted in order to protect jobs for men.

Continue reading …

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My brother-in-love

Lauro90Tuesday night Sal called Lauro from India. They joked and laughed. Lauro had seen the cardiologist that afternoon. The doctor had given him the go-ahead to go to Capri the next day. He pronounced Lauro in fine health.

Sal and his brother are closer than any two people I have ever known. They were born in Capri, Italy, and now Lauro lives in Naples and we live in New York. They would speak on the phone every day, and saw each other several times a year. The last time was in January for Lauro’s 90th birthday.

[Annamaria, Lauro’s wife; Giovanni and Olimpia, his children]

Wednesday morning Lauro called to Annamaria from bed, took her hand, squeezed it and expired.

Sal received the call from Giovanni while we were on a bus from Agra to Jaipur. Sal was beside himself, so much so that I feared for him. I made him breathe deeply and he briefly stopped shaking and jerking involuntarily. Some hours later, we left the hotel in Jaipur at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, the best we could do.

The trip was long and stressful: Jaipur to Abu Dhabi to Rome to Naples by Thursday evening. Continue reading

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Colbert v Rumsfeld

Two worthy opponents sparred Monday night. Comedian Stephen Colbert is famously good at skewering his subject (will anyone ever forget how he demolished George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner?) and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is very adept at avoiding awkward questions, turning the thrust back at his questioner. (In response to a soldier who who asked why they had to dig through rubble to find armor for their tanks, Rumsfeld replied, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have.”

Last night on the Late Show Rumsfeld told his host, “If it’s a fact, it’s not intelligence.” Watch Colbert put Rumsfeld on the spot:

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Yea! The world just reached an agreement to combat climate change!

Finally! A “monumental triumph,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Nearly 200 countries agreed to combat climate change after two weeks of tense negotiations and more than of 20 years of debate and dispute and failure to stabilize, let alone slow, global warming.

Climate change “requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries,” because it “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” reads the agreement. The cap it sets on global warming is below 2˚ C., which is still not enough, according to many scientists.

This agreement won’t save the planet, not even close,” climate activist and advocate Bill McKibben wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. It doesn’t include, for example, a specific timeline for phasing out fossil fuels.

But it is a giant step forward nonetheless. It is “the best chance to save the one planet we’ve got,” President Obama said in his remarks to the nation on Saturday. 

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When the cornucopia is empty

On the eve of Thanksgiving, we prepare to celebrate that most American of holidays. Most of us will enjoy children and grandchildren, in-laws, extended families and dear friends. Most of us will sit together at tables heaped with the traditional roast turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry and other relishes, a token green vegetable, pumpkin and apple pies— well, you know, more than we can possibly eat.

IMG_0834Most of us, but not all of us. I was asked to write about hunger in America— a sobering experience. I met people at food pantries and soup kitchens; saw others lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for a lunch bag; and visited people who depend on Meals on Wheels for both sustenance and brief human contact.







 As We Celebrate Thanksgiving, Many Still Go Hungry

On the farmstands, harvest colors of crimson and gold compete for attention. The leaves boast their last, gorgeous hurrah, and the bounty of the fields compensates for the lengthening nights and intensifying chill. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it anticipation of warm reunions with friends and family and the traditional groaning board.

But not for everybody.

Continue reading at Women’s Voices For Change

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Fear and Hate in America


The fallout from the jihadist terrorist attacks in Paris continues to proliferate. Its poison has infected and inflamed the governors of 26 American states. These executives, all Republican, proclaimed they will not allow any refugees from the Syrian battlefields to take refuge in their states lest a terrorist be lurking in their midst. The Deep South, Texas, most of the Midwest, four states on the East Coast and four Western states all barred their doors.* Another five** haven’t denied the refugees safe harbor, but they want increased screening to deny entry to terrorists in disguise.

Although in fact governors do not have the authority to bar groups of people from their states, they are able to impose hardships on them. They can lock them out of state-funded English and job-training classes, for example.

Ted Cruz, Republican presidential aspirant from Texas, would admit only Christians, because “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Really? Who engineered and carried out the Newtown School and Charleston church massacres, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, and the many other shootings, bombings and bloodbaths on American soil? Not to mention the atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists — the list goes on and on.

Americans love freedom and democracy, but American history is rampant with shameful episodes of hatred and violence against the despised Other. (Xenophobia is not limited to America, of course; no nation is exempt.) Given the loathing of the majority of elected officials for President Obama and now the revolt of the governors, will America ever again welcome the wretched refuse of distant shores, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Has the golden door slammed shut?


*Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

**New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota.

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