What’s wrong with Kavanaugh?

KavanaughSneerLet me count the ways.

Mueller is closing in, so Trump elevated Brett Kavanaugh above the other candidates for the Supreme Court to protect himself. Kavanaugh believes there can be no limit set on executive power: the president may not be indicted nor his greed restrained. As Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” Trump’s ambition and rapacity would be unfettered with no opposition from SCOTUS.

Almost 200 congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last year charging that Trump was illegally profiteering from his businesses. That suit was just given a green light as was another, that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, DC. Trump will soon need Kavanaugh to protect him from the sanctions of the co-equal branches of government.

Women, of course, stand to lose the most if Kavanaugh is confirmed. The judge is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, greatly hobbling a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to have children and therefore be able to make a life for herself without depending on husband or father.

The differences in opinion between the far right that wants to put women back in the kitchen and progressives who believe that society suffers when half the population is not able to contribute its talents to the common good are philosophical and tightly held. The place of religion, the rights of non-white citizens, immigration, gay marriage, traditions that glorify the antebellum South, all contribute to a rancorous divisiveness that alienates the two Americas as never before since the Civil War.

But we knew all that before the profoundly moving confrontation between the presentations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Thursday’s Senate hearing solidified the positions of both sides, though Dr. Ford impressed even the president and his sycophants with her careful, sincere and clearly difficult testimony. At the very least, Republicans knew it was politically expedient not to further alienate women, to admire her courage and acknowledge the pain she confessed before the entire country.

Then it was Kavanaugh’s turn. I understand the disappointment, the anger, of scrabbling to the peak of judicial accomplishment only to slip as you’re cresting the summit and plummet into an irretrievable abyss. Republicans felt Kavanaugh was justified in venting his rage, especially since he and they felt cheated and out-maneuvered.

Still, I was appalled at Kavanaugh’s complete loss of control and composure. This man who aspires to the pinnacle of his profession lapsed into a tantrum, belligerently lashing out and crying in the manner of a spoiled child whose promised toy was snatched from his hands. For a man in his position with so much at stake, as a prospective justice, he should certainly have exerted self-control.

Not bothering to hide or disguise his contempt for Democrats, for the hearing or for the U.S. senators who asked him questions that he clearly thought were beneath him, he failed a test of coolness under fire. He was rude. He sneered and snarled at Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)— both women— and did not deign to answer their questions. He went so far as to throw their questions back at them, and when Feinstein pressed him, he broke his silence by saying he’d already answered the question and then again persisted in his non-answers.

He was about as partisan and petulant as a judge could be expected not to be:

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

To questions about his alleged behavior when drinking too much, Kavanaugh proudly threw out his academic achievements. He seems to think that his Ivy degrees will shield him from any accusations of impropriety. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked about a reference to drinking in his calendar, Kavanaugh deflected:

Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.

Complete non sequitur. ‘I got into Yale’ isn’t a moral defense. But Kavanaugh tried it again when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) recalled that Kavanaugh’s roommate described him as “a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time.” Kavanaugh’s response:

Senator, you were asking about college. I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

What we witnessed was a manchild who is sure that he is entitled to the ultimate prize for his hard work, that he deserves the prize because of the Yale degrees on his CV. He couldn’t control his rage because he is convinced of being cheated of that prize, falsely and spitefully accused of a sexual assault he insists he couldn’t possibly have committed then or ever.

Dr. Ford is “100 percent” certain he was her attacker and Kavanaugh is also 100 percent sure that he wasn’t. But the reason that this isn’t a simple “he said, she said” is that Ford suffered a traumatic event “forever seared” into her memory. For her, it was a singular, extraordinary experience. I do believe in due process, so I can’t say he is guilty, but I also believe that it is entirely possible for a man, especially under the influence of alcohol, not to remember something that for him was unremarkable, a possibly common occurrence.

Brett Kavanaugh’s refusal to answer questions at a hearing that he says he requested, his contemptuous, condescending interaction with U.S. senators, his demeaning treatment of women and his inappropriate, raging belligerence are reasons enough not to elevate him to the Supreme Court.


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Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?

We keep hearing that the Democrats need only two Republicans to vote with them in order to sink the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court. But there is a big, unspoken assumption in that strategy, namely, that Democrats will vote as one against the confirmation.

There is, I believe, a very good possibility that Democratic senators in blood-red states will buck their colleagues and vote to confirm.
Incumbents Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia all have wrenching decisions to make. If they stick with their party and vote against confirmation, they will alienate their constituents and likely lose their races. But if they vote to confirm, they will make their constituents happy and thereby have much better chances to keep their seats and possibly help flip the Senate for the Dems.

Joe Manchin, for example, represents West Virginia, a state where Trump received close to 70 percent of the votes. His opponent, Republican General Patrick Morrisey, is one of 18 attorneys general who have joined a lawsuit against Obamacare. If they win the suit, coverage for pre-existing conditions will be terminated. The other senators named above are strongly committed to preserving what is left of the American Care Act. It behooves Democrats to keep Manchin and other red-state Dems in the Senate.
Besides, it is not at all certain that the two Republicans who might vote against Kavanaugh will in fact do so. Neither Susan Collins of Maine nor Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have signaled that they will defect and abandon their party. If just one of them votes to confirm, Democrats would need to find another Republican to vote with them. The same is true if even one, let alone four or five or more, of the red-state Democrats votes with the Republicans.
The odds against confirmation are very slim, so the red-state Democrats may see there is nothing to gain by falling on their swords when the battle is lost.

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9/11 Elegy

The ghostly Towers of Light, which appear every year on September 11, manifest the loss endured by New Yorkers and the nation.

The Twin Towers are not all that is missing but remembered. Lost are the almost 3,000 victims in the U.S. on 9/11; 5,000 American and coalition soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, tens or hundreds of thousands (estimates vary wildly) of Iraqis and Afghans killed violently since 9/11 by airstrikes, collapsed infrastructure, and the ISIS occupation.

We have lost the dubious pleasure of air travel, the ability that we took for granted to simply walk to the gate and board a plane after leaving our bags at the curb or the counter. We lost the freedom to walk into many buildings without being scanned and searched. The New Year’s Eve celebrants in Times Square must undergo screening and rub shoulders with hundreds of armed police. How festive is that?

In one respect there is a gain— the multiplication of victims. They are the loved ones of the slain who suffer their loss.

Was killing Bin Laden and exacting vengeance on his co-religionists really worth the spilling of so much blood, the draining of national treasure and the transformation of everyday American life? We are still debating the answer.

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A street in Palermo’s historic district

The streets in the historic Palermo not too long ago were all but off-limits to any but the mob-connected. To wander there at night was to bet your life with the cards stacked against you. In the past 25 years, however, the district has gradually been transformed to the tourist-friendly magnet it is today.

At the intersection of the two main streets an especially large square opens up. Each of the four corners is cut away. A semi-permanent fixture at one of these “corners” is an incredibly garish and unique “cart” that evokes the traditional “carretto siciliano” that farmers used to take their harvest to market.

Despite all the fruit and flowers, this vehicle’s sole purpose is to serve tourists and their cameras

It’s impossible to walk along the street and stay hungry.

Ice cream is serious business

Service with a smile and often a hug, because the customers quickly become friends


The servers at the ice cream bar never have to handle money. The server has only to enter the price into the machine on the right. It takes in coins and bills and gives back the correct change in coins and bills.

Dogs like ice cream, too

“Bite and run”










Across the street, sit and sip.

Restaurants and cafés take their places in the square on one side of the street

Restaurant proprietor and diner become friends











Coffee, dessert and another friend








The Palermitani are very friendly and welcoming people. It is, of course in their interest to welcome tourists, but they manage to do it in a way that comes across as genuine. If you ask, they are happy to tell you about their families, how they began in business, what they have done in their lives, etc. They trade anecdotes with you and are eager to hear your story.

Not only are Palermo’s streets safer than they have been in a long time, they are more beautiful. Ruined palazzi and run-down mansions are being restored and renovated as desirable condominiums.

Some doorways

are irresistible

Some, not so much

A gentleman of Palermo

shows off the building he is restoring and dividing into apartments





A little farther down the street looms the Cathedral of Palermo

After the cathedral, the street assumes a different personality.





Past the park, the street ends at one of the four medieval gates of the city.

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Palermo vs the mafia

In the center of Palermo’s old city, I was struck by the doors of a 19th century home hung with a blue banner proclaiming resolute opposition to the mafia. I wondered about the story behind it, as Palermo is the home of the Sicilian Mafia, who call themselves “Cosa Nostra” (our thing).

Walking farther on subsequent days, we encountered exhibits demonstrating the determination of Palermo to rid itself of the mafia. They are part of Manifesta 12, Europe’s most important biennial contemporary art exhibition. It coincides with the designation of Palermo as the capital of Italian culture for 2018.

The city is waging a campaign against the mob whose lethal grip for decades took over much of the government and compelled the city’s merchants, industries, and citizens to pay tribute.

Murdered anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino

During the 1980s, the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino prosecuted hundreds of Cosa Nostra members in what was known as the Maxi Trial, the largest mafia court case in history. Four hundred and seventy-five mafiosi were brought to court and 346 were found guilty. In 1992, both Falcone and Borsellino were martyred in revenge killings. They became heroes whose names are known everywhere in Italy. Palermo’s airport, for example, is named after them. They are portrayed life-size in majolica at the entrance to one of the anti-mafia monuments.

Borsellino’s scroll notes, “The fearful die every day. The fearless die only once.”

Falcone’s says, “Men die, but their moral convictions remain, and they will continue to walk on the legs of other men.”

Under Sicily’s emblem is Goethe’s 1817 tribute, “Italy without Sicily leaves no impression at all on the spirit. It is in Sicily that one finds the key to everything.”

Since Borsellino and Falcone were struck down, 4,000 more have been assassinated. Journalist Attilio Bolzoni recalls that Palermo was a war zone:

I had been in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, but I had never felt so afraid as I did in Palermo during those years…. I had to watch my back all the time. You found the mafiosi everywhere, on the streets, in the shops, in the banks. It felt like a curfew was in place, there wasn’t a single cafe where you could sit at a table in the evening.

But the two murders marked a turning point. Thousands of Palermitani went into the streets to protest the killings and bombings. In 1993, an anti-mafia mayor was elected by 75 percent of the voters. New laws, harsher penalties and prison conditions made the mafiosi’s lives much more difficult. More than 4,000 mafiosi have been arrested in the ensuing years. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets of Palermo until 1998.

The city’s architecture reflects the mafia’s malevolence. Cosa Nostra took over the construction business and subsequently went on a building spree. Backed by their politicians, the mafia tore down beautiful art nouveau mansions and replaced them with ugly blocks of colorless apartment buildings. They ruined the beaches with rubble from the demolitions. It has been called the “sack of Palermo.”

With help from the government, Palermo’s citizens were able to invest in restorations of beautiful buildings that had been abandoned since they were bombed in World War II. In the last 25 years, more than 60 percent of Palermo’s historic buildings have been renovated.

In addition, a part of the funds and property (an estimated €30 billion) that were confiscated with the arrests of the mafia bosses has been used to create about 800 new social, environmental and cultural spaces for the city.


This 18th-century building houses an exhibit of Manifesta, a video of plaques and memorials placed on the spots where victims of the mafia were assassinated.



Spiral of Life

In the heart of the old city is another installation that is part of Manifesta. It represents the continuing war against the mafia and commemorates the mafia’s victims. Gianfranco Meggiato has created “an ode to the defense of the values of life and culture. It is the Spiral of Life, as opposed to the spiral of death, which seems to dominate in today’s society.” (explanatory sign)

The 2,000 burlap bags of which it is made are “sacks of memory,” each stamped with the name of a victim murdered by the mafia, Borsellino and Falcone among them. It was inaugurated on the anniversary of the massacre of Borsellino with five of his escorts.

Today Palermo is regaining its old splendor and the mafia is in decline. Art is winning and corruption is losing.

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After the storm

The day after

Sunset over a peaceful sea

The storm has passed

Day of the storm
Boats race against the coming tempest back to a safe haven

It was the the middle of August and a big, national, summer holiday. Everyone except emergency crews and restaurant and hotel staff was on vacation. The heat and humidity were oppressive.

Then the storm came. It lasted, with varying intensity, through the night. The lightening was focused on Capri: it blazed through closed shutters, dousing the house with light. Reluctantly, because of the heat, we had to close every window and door; the shutters were ineffectual at keeping out the rain. The deafening thunderclaps pounded us from less than a mile away. I have never experienced a storm so violent. (Hurricanes are in another category.) We were warned that global warming would produce extreme weather…

Next morning, no power, no surprise. No power also meant no water. Big holiday. The electrician was away and the plumber didn’t answer his phone. The power company threw up its defenses and no one answered those calls either. Soon we found out that we were the only ones without power.

A full day passed. We carried buckets of water upstairs from the garden, where one tap was still flowing. We charged our portable devices at a neighbor’s house and left candles at the ready. Back home, it seemed quaint to carry lit candles from room to room as we readied for bed. No streaming movies, but thanks to our electronic devices, we could enjoy reading.

Fortunately, power was restored the next morning, lifting the sense of isolation and allowing us to appreciate the storm’s gift: refreshing, cool, dry air.

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The Well-Dressed Horses of Palermo

Everyone loves horses and has at some time or other dreamed of sitting in a horse-drawn carriage. Tourists especially like to ride them. Palermo offers horse-drawn carriages wherever tourists hang out in Palermo. The horses look much fresher than the ones on Central Park South in New York City, who seem rather more tired and weary. The Palermo horses’s millinery shows an Italian sense of style.

They wear lace-trimmed straw hats:










and casual straws



slouch hats adorned with flowers
and a plain model for the guys

dress-up frilly ones









and lest you think the men can’t be elegant too

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