Saturday, July 01, 2017


Sometimes It's Best Not to Post
A lesson our President cannot, or will not, learn.  I was completing a brief essay on the prospects for the Senate vote of the Bupkis Completely Repugnant Act, their version of repeal and replace, but the plans for an early vote collapsed before I could complete it.  I will not put it past the wily turtle, Majority Leader McConnell, to figure out how to bribe, cajole, or threaten enough of the recalcitrant Republican Senators for it to squeak through soon, but I think it more likely that the proposal will need more than minor tweaks to appeal to both moderate and extreme right-wing holdouts.

I shouldn't offer advice, but I think the likeliest proposal would be along the lines that Rand Paul, one of the most determined opponents of the current bill, has proposed:  focus simply on repeal; get rid of the individual mandate and the employer mandate and the medical taxes.  Probably every Republican in Congress could vote for that.  What to build up in its place, as the insurance exchanges under Federal sponsorship are allowed to crumble from neglect, would be the matter for an extended debate, one that could even possibly include some Democratic participation. If they must do the evil deed--and politically it is close to an imperative for the Republican Congress--they would do better not to compound it with benefit cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy which would practically write the script for Democrats to nail them in 2018.

I only post this because I'm pretty sure they won't be listening; just making a sort of prediction of what I see as being possible.  This legislative exercise could be an example of actual compromise, unipartisan though it would be.

Back to the Drumpfster, his latest outrage tweet about Zika Brzezinski has shocked the nation to the point that even right-wing news outlets and most Republican Congressmen are begging for him to STFU with the Twitter, already.  My view:  since they feel his posts hurt him and hurt their cause, I have to lean towards encouraging him to keep it up.  It should be easy:  "Great job, Donald!  You really hit the mark with that one--your fans will love it/your enemies will suffer."  I'll accept the further decay of our civic dialogue that comes from his grotesque and ugly communication--one way or the other, it's coming anyway.  At least until he becomes Reaganesque and just reads the scripts his lackeys write for him.

Moving toward a Summer Focus on the Arts
Some of you may have noticed an absence of any comment in recent months in this blog about the special elections held in several House districts. That is because there is precious little of value to say about them:  Their importance was always overstated, the expenditures were ridiculous, the outcomes basically foregone and trivial in real-world importance.

They represent a few isolated data points, but those soundings do show that the disastrous start to the Trump Administration has so far not dissuaded rank-and-file Republicans from continuing to support the party.  One should not expect anything different, really; though there may not be anything that seems likely to reward them for their blind loyalty, there has been no flash of light which would open their eyes or jolt their optic nerves into function.  I am still holding to my explanation of "Why Democrats Lose":  too many Republican voters.

As for the Russia thing, as I have said, there is something there, some evil, ugly, corrupt, and contemptuous set of actions and omissions, something that should fill us with firm repulsion and newly reinforced determination to resist, but nothing that is going to lead to a "change in control"--of the executive, or even of Congress.  The Democrats will have to find their breakthrough elsewhere, though the distraction from actual policy implementation and legislation has its value.  I don't imagine I will need to comment on this in the months to come.

As for future elections, there are two meaningful elections for governor, in Virginia and New Jersey, both of which are ones the Democrats "should" win (as opposed to those Congressional races they lost).  They are important, but they will get more attention and campaign contributions than their true importance will merit.  I suggest token contributions to those campaigns this year, and to the DCCC, which has a mighty and urgent task for next year, but not to get sucked in:  keep the powder dry.

Instead, it is a very good year to give to charities and causes that will suffer due to the Drumpfenreich, both domestic and international.

It's an even better year to support the arts, and the development of an artistic counterforce to the tragic direction our country is taking.

Songs of Resistance
I'm going to start with a plug for a rap group, Swet Shop Boys.  I'm no expert on the genre, but their rap combines exotic Orientalist (or Middle Eastern, if you prefer) backtracks with some loaded lyrics on the subject of Islamophobia.  Second-featured artist is Riz Ahmed, the star of the superb "The Night Of..." TV mini-series of last winter.  Here is a video of their debut on Stephen Colbert the other night.

Generally speaking, I think we can count on rap to lead the way with the heaviest topical attacks on the neo-Fascist xenophobic regime.  Kendrick Lamar and others who do not fear commercial retribution will give at least as much abuse as they will get. However, I do not think we should write off rock 'n'roll; even rising country star Sturgill Simpson will bring something to the table, though it may sound more like antiwar populism than partisan progressivism.  I would say that is the general theme in rock's protest music, along with Platonic forms of love (the romantic and procreative ones are far more prevalent, but irrelevant here); the key in the immediate timeframe is to turn the energy from anti-government to pro-engagement.

I was working on a list of notable protest/resistance songs, when I saw one with a few picks from several different music artists in Vanity Fair (I saw it recently, though it's actually from their April issue).  It has three overlaps with my own list:  "Clampdown" by The Clash, "Ball of Confusion" by the Temptations, and "Masters of War" by '60s era Bob Dylan (contributed by Q-Tip, Brittany Howard, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, respectively).   Here are 22 more, to fill out a top 25 (no order--no repeats of artists), with some comments (I am staying away from rap, for the most part, because I'm not qualified):
  • "Ohio" - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - I'm pretty much compelled to include this one, which is also musically outstanding, and it edges out the song with the same name from The Pretenders; 
  • "Volunteers" - Jefferson Airplane - a call to get involved, which I like
  • "What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye--Platonic love, this time. 
  • "You Haven't Done Nothing'"  - Stevie Wonder; there were several other valid choices. 
  • "Free Nelson Mandela" - The Specials.  Asked and answered; and while I'm on the topic of South Africa,  "Biko" - Peter Gabriel. 
  • "Holiday" - Green Day.  Not too hard to figure out where they're coming from, politically. 
  • "Cult of Personality" - Living Color.  Extremely relevant today. 
  • "Epitaph" - King Crimson.  The music sounds a bit like the theme from "Lassie", but the lyrics are poignant, trenchant. 
  • "Doo Doo Doo Heartbreaker" - Rolling Stones. They are not usually very political; this one from the '70's goes to the Black Lives Matter theme. 
  • "The Unforgettable Fire" - U2.  Many other possibilities--this one is about nuclear war, and not their only one on the subject. 
  • "Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell - early eco-pop, much imitated and frequently covered; there are many other possible choices from Ms. Mitchell (including "Woodstock"). 
  • "Effigy" - Uncle Tupelo.  Very non-specific song on the theme of rebellion, but mainly 'cause it rocks like hell. 
  • "B Movie" - Gil-Scott Heron.  Reagan is the target of this early rap; I chose it over the presumably factually incorrect "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"; there were other good candidates. 
  • "Born in the USA" - Bruce Springsteen - of course, there are many other possibilities from the Boss, who is both politically aware and an activist,  but I like the irony of how this song is widely misunderstood. 
  • "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding" - Nick Lowe (most famously by Elvis Costello) - I say it fits here, and I'm writing this. 
  • "Imagine" - John Lennon.  Of course. Musically, I would opt for "Instant Karma", but this one is more  truly a political statement.
  • "When the President Talks to God" - Bright Eyes.  A bit shrill, maybe, but devastating on Bush II. A good case could be made for "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)", about an experience at an antiwar rally, pre-Iraq invasion. 
  • "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" - Neil Young.  Bush I-era manifesto
  • "in the Ghetto" - Elvis Presley.  Maybe a little politically incorrect, but I'll give him credit for the effort. 
  • "Fortunate Son" - Creedence Clearwater Revival . A clear statement about whose side they were on in the battle between the people and the elite. 
  • "Call to Arms" - the aforementioned Sturgill Simpson.  Very current, very strong statement (though hard to distinguish the lyrics), great music. 

I opted against including songs from The Who (more about personal spiritual development--closest would be the generic anti-government "Won't Get Fooled Again", and please don't bring up "My Generation"), Talking Heads (politically incoherent, closest would be David Byrne's idealistic solo song "Ain't Got  So Far To Go"), Gang of Four (they have a very coherent view of politics and history, but it's so negative), or The Beatles themselves (the opposite of Gang of 4, in each regard).  Pink Floyd ("Us and Them") deserves mention but is a bit too vague about what it is protesting. I will admit I should have something from the very politically-aware band R.E.M., but I couldn't pick something specific; similar admission with regard to such other "woke" artists as The Kinks, Arcade Fire, and Prince.

I hope this will spur readers to look up some of these, if unknown, but even more to inspire future artistic product with quality thinking.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Using Up My June anti-Trump Rant Early

Is a Crime Against Humanity an Impeachable Offense? 
It's a serious question, though in the current context of Trump's stupefying announcement that he intends to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, one that is somewhat idle.

His action, though criminal in its intent towards the health and prosperity of the world's population (and even our own), and criminally stupid and ill-informed as well, does not violate any laws.  He clearly has the authority to take the action, and the accord itself specifies the timing of how a withdrawal (some three years down the road) would come into effect.  Trump will not be impeached for this, because impeachment--especially of a President--is entirely a function of political support, and for this wrongheaded move he will clearly have sufficient support from his party to preclude that.

With regard to the question, the identification of an impeachable offense is left entirely up to Congress. The two precedents of Presidential impeachment being voted by the House are the cases of Andrew Johnson, charged with exceeding his authority for firing a Federal official (clearly not a crime, nor even a fair reading of the limit of his authority), and Bill Clinton, charged with lying in a deposition about something that was not a crime nor related to the conduct of his office.  Of course, neither was convicted in the Senate (Johnson nearly so, Clinton not very close), but the point is that impeachable is solely in the collective eye of the beholding House and Senate.

As for a "crime against humanity", the fact that an action is legal in domestic law has no relation to that culpability.  The Germans convicted of those crimes at the Nuremberg trial generally were scrupulously following the direction of governmental authority; the same may be said of some other tinpot dictators convicted in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  Though the US is not a party to the Court, that only means the US would not surrender its citizens for trial; Trump could be arrested outside the country and subjected to trial, something I would love to see but will never happen.  And make no mistake, whether or not his folly leads directly or indirectly to death and destruction, his action is criminal in its disregard for the opinion of the world, for the fate of people all over the world, or even the well-being of his own nation's citizens.

I get it that there is a principle of sovereignty, wrong-headed though it is expressed here, or that Trump's primary responsibility is to look after the interests of Americans.  Trump's alliterative talking point that he was "elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris" does not hold water, as PBS NewsHour commenter Mark Shields pointed out:  Pittsburgh is one of the greenest cities and it supported Hillary Clinton--if he thinks he is representing Pittsburgh, he's not doing it well.  And the sovereignty principle is wrong because his decision ignores the fact that the precise reductions each country commits to make are and have always been voluntary, not imposed in any way:  rather than withdraw from the accord, Trump could have merely changed the targets to address his supposed concern for American jobs that would be lost by restricting greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump's action is solely about politics: It is almost certain that jobs are being gained through reduction in emissions, particularly in the green energy fields, while very few are at risk from it.   And even the politics of the move are highly doubtful; while climate change is rarely named as a top concern by Americans in polls, this is a move that will backfire on the US in a hundred ways, domestically and internationally, and once again shows the limited breadth of his policies' appeal and the severe limitations of his vision for America.  He gets to claim a campaign promise fulfilled, but there would have been more honor in the breach of that promise.

Granted, America has not always been a leader in the world; only in the period since World War II ended has the national policy proactively acted outside the Western Hemisphere (with slight exceptions noted for the naval incursions in Japan in 1853 and in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War).  Otherwise,  the US has generally chosen to remain apart from the projects of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and this policy is generally popular domestically. Trump is making good on a promise to withdraw from leadership in the world, through this unnecessary retreat from a near-universal, urgent global consensus. One can compare it to the US refusal to enter the League of Nations after World War I, rather than trying to help lead in its mission of preserving the peace.  That decision didn't turn out well at all.

In particular, the move is a snub at European allies like France and Germany, who are committed to the cause, and is a very unwise stance with regard to nations like China and India, who have been pulled into the cause but now could easily take the easy path and follow Trump's example. It is practically an act of war against nations like Bangladesh, the Maldives, the Pacific Island nations, and desertifying African nations, who will suffer directly and massively from continued global warming. It will reinforce the anti-American narrative that we are selfish, materialistic hypocrites.

Time to Mention the Russia Thing, Finally
I haven't been too keen on the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.  I never thought the Wikileaks disclosures were that damaging; while the Russians clearly used fake news to distract and create false rumors, there was plenty of real news and true rumors for voters to make their decisions.  The evidence that Trump is owned (pwned?) by the Russians is more convincing, though difficult to make into a case.  Trump claims he has no conflict of interests; my response is, there's no conflict, just interests. Though he likes to say he owns nothing in Russia, they own plenty of him, and the pattern of his behavior in favoring Russian interests is extremely disturbing.

I really don't believe there is a route to impeachment through this subject, unless history repeats itself from the Nixon era and Trump is forced to yield self-damning taped conversations from White House discussions.  Comey's notes from private conversations in which Trump asks him to go easy on the investigation are not likely to be admissible; either Trump may emulate Nixon (yet again) and claim executive privilege, which he could plausibly do to block such testimony, or (again, unless there are recordings to the contrary) simply deny they are factual, as he has already done.

Unfriendly elements in Congress will be able to make much of the fact that several high-placed individuals from the campaign, transition team, and administration held conversations with Russian spies that they did not voluntary disclose.  Some may end up having to lean on their figurative swords, and resign or withdraw, as General Flynn did soon after he became national security chief, but these are precisely the people who will protect Trump until the end.

I have come to believe there is value here, though.  Continual harassment of the Trump administration will keep them from getting anything done.  There could even be a big payoff if the stresses take a toll on the President--I have decided that our best hope for him to leave before 2021 would be due to health reasons, real or ascribed.  It's somethng, anyway, we can hope for--i'll even willingly take Mike Pence over Trump; at least he would be predictable.

Kathy Griffin
The comedienne suffered a major setback this week after coming out with a video featuring Donald Trump's severed, bloody head.  Gruesome and distasteful, yes, but most Trump images are that.  She  did stipulate that she was not advocating violence against Trump, and she apologized profusely after the blowback, but she has not been forgiven.  She was fired from her regular CNN New Year's Eve gig with Anderson Cooper--if one has ever seen that, they would know that extreme provocation and silliness are her two stocks in trade, and that she's always lived pretty close to the edge of outrage--and she has even had all the venues in a standup comedy tour cancel upon her.

I think that she has suffered enough.  Mel Gibson made a comeback and got an Oscar nomination, didn't he? Now, her talent may be very limited, but I don't believe she should be blackballed, unable to practice her "profession", and since there is no actual threat to his person, the Secret Service should back off.

While many of us wish him ill (see above), it is actually the wish-fulfillment nature of her fantasy, one that some of us might even share, which makes the whole thing uncomfortable.  We shouldn't be thinking about improper means of disposal of this hazardous material. I'm not talking about Donald's personal discomfort; I welcome that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Getting Past the Drumpfsters

It is not going to be easy to survive the Drumpfenreich:  combining the worst qualities of the worst Presidents of the last 100 years, the Trump administration has the rampant corruption of Harding, the paranoid hatred of all the better institutions of American life of Nixon, and the naive ignorance of the world which Dubya exhibited.

June 15 will mark a milestone of sorts, as we reach Day 146, which would be 10% of Trump's term in office.  I will exclude the possibility of his re-election, not that I do not consider it a serious threat, no matter how much the majority of the population hates him.   The Republican gameplan will now focus on disenfranchising as many potential voters as possible, and the party's stranglehold on so many state governments makes it a realistic strategy.  Only the courts stand in the way of a return to a series of measures designed to discourage anyone without the leisure to pass through a series of time-consuming, challenging obstacles if they don't already hold the necessary credentials.

The only thing possibly worse than Trump himself are the people he has chosen to surround himself, in the White House itself and in his Cabinet.  But let's not dwell on that right now.

The good news, once again, is that Trump has accomplished almost none of the objectives that he espoused when he ran for the Presidency.  The bad news is that he has plenty of time to learn how to do it, and very few impediments, apart from those of his own and his own party's making.  The other bad news is that nothing he wants to do is a good idea. He picks the wrong allies, wants to help the wrong people (and I include his cronies particularly among those), creates chaos wherever he goes (or at home, in the White House), and has a perverse dislike for valued objects like science, a free press, clean energy, public education, civil liberties, and civility generally.

Now, I will admit that there is one current Trump initiative in which I must wish him sucecss, even if I am not a believer.  He dares to try to accomplish what so many others have failed to do--he wants to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  I do admire the audacity; it ranks with him rating himself worthy of running for the Presidency.  Even if, in my view, he was wrong about that, he certainly was right in his assessment (if he ever had it, at any time!) that he could win.  So let him try with Netanyahu.  If he can pull it off it would clearly dwarf any other possible positive achievement of his terrible reign, a la Jimmy Carter, who similarly was able somehow to deliver arch-warrior Menachem Begin's agreement to the deal with Egypt.

Of course, I don't believe Netanyahu is prepared to negotiate seriously, to be the one to recognize any form of Palestinian state, to allow any part of the West Bank to be ceded to their longstanding neighbors, those fellow Semites.  I never imagined Begin would make peace with Sadat, though.

Even imagining this could happen, though, violates one of my cardinal rules about surviving Trump's administration.  I have raised my hopes.  Expectations must always be at rock bottom, with him. Subsequently being proven right, as would normally happen, is not the point.  The point is that disappointment is a near-certainty if one hopes for anything that is not criminally stupid and badly executed.

The good doctor Deepak Chopra provides some suggestions for skills to develop to avoid being consumed by the stress arising from Trump-driven outrage.  One of my own resolutions is to limit myself to no more than one Trump-driven rant in this blog space per month.  Please hold me to that.

Their Lives Were Not All About Donald Trump
Chris Cornell - guitarist and lead singer for Soundgarden, one of the top grunge bands, who had a successful solo career after the '90's.  His style was brooding, dynamic; it was not so hard to imagine that the writer of "Black Hole Sun", a powerful grunge classic which pleads for a black hole to swallow everything up, might end up taking his own life.  Sorry.

Gregg Allman - Keyboard player and usual lead singer for the Allman Brothers, who basically pioneered a brand of Southern country-tinged blues rock.   He became the leader after the early death (motorcycle accident) of his brother, Duane, the superior talent of the band.  Allman had several comebacks over the years; Gregg's talents were never shown better than in his performance of the '70's classic, "Whippin' Post".

Zbigniew Brzezinski- He was a displomatic and military strategist who drew upon his early days in Communist Poland. He was not as much as a hard-ass as he appeared during his key role in the Carter administration, when circumstances (the invasion of Afghanistan) triggered an increase in Cold War tensions; later , he supported President Obama's efforts to reduce our war footing.

Frank Deford - One of the most talented pure writers in sports journalism I have ever come across.  Young folks may not recall him, though he appeared on TV until recently; I remember his essays in Sports Illustrated which showed humor and true appreciation of the finer aspects of sport.

Roger Moore - or, Sir Roger Moore, as some might have it.  The most purely British of the James Bonds, he brought a little more respectability to the role after the louche manners of Sean Connery.  I will remember him best as The Saint, though.

Jim Bunning - Let's stay positive about Bunning, who was an unapologetic right-winger Senator in his later life, Mitch McConnell with some dignity.  He was a great pitcher.

Roger Ailes-- I have a very hard time saying anything good about Ailes, who made Fox News what it is today, except that he did believe in journalism, which meant he had a hard time accepting Donald Trump's behavior.  He did, though--he swallowed his ethical scruples and backed his candidacy in a thousand little ways.  Of course, he was not in much of a morally-superior position.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Spring Sports Report

A little later than I wanted to get this, but not ridiculously so.

European Soccer
I greatly enjoyed the British FA Cup semifinals the previous weekend; both games were close, dynamic affairs with tons of top players in evidence at the famed Wembley Stadium. They moved the semis there a few years ago and converted to the single-game, must-decide outcome format used in the final. When all four of the teams are as good as in this year's matchups (Chelsea-Tottenham, Man City-Arsenal), it works.

It certainly helped, from my biased point of view, that Chelsea won its match, 4-2. Both teams approached the game seriously, not quite playing all their top XI, but close and with eminently reasonable substitutes where they didn't.  The rivalry is at a peak; though they will not play again in this Premier League's season, they are 1-2 in the table (four points apart), and Chelsea's win should provide a needed psychological  boost to help 'dem Blues reach the finish line first. As such, it should complete their recovery from a frankly disastrous 2-0 loss a week previously to Man United. Chelsea Rule OK in 2017!

Winning the Cup final vs. Arsenal will just be icing on the cake (and may complete Gunners' coach Arsene Wenger's long-awaited departure).

I should mention Barcelona's incredible comeback from 4-0 down in the first leg of a Champions League series against Paris St. Germain.  They had to pull off a 6-1 win to do it, scoring three goals in the final seven minutes.  I have rarely seen anything more outrageous (and that includes the PSG goaltending at the end).  They pushed it too far in the next round, though; a 3-0 away deficit to Juventus was more than they were capable of erasing.  I don't usually root for Juventus, but I'm thinking they might break through the recent Spanish domination this year.  Somewhat surprisingly, they haven't won since 1996. 

ML Baseball
It appears the trends toward more home runs (tighter wrapping of the ball, maybe?) and more strikeouts will continue this year.  Hitting the ball somewhere within the ballpark is out of fashion (too many good fielders?  I doubt it), and stolen bases, too--unless it is a sure thing.  The Earl Weaver philosophy (two walks and a 3-run homer) never went completely out of style, but now it is in, "big league" (as our Fearless Leader, "POTUS minus the TU", would say, somewhat slurringly).  Arm injuries remain a strong trend for overthrowing pitchers, but the greatest harm so far has been the 80-day suspension for a steroid for one of the key players on my Rotisserie team, Pirates' outfielder Starling Marte. 

I shed my rooting interest in the hapless, rebuilding Reds last year in favor of the lifelong favorite team of my aged father, the Cubs.  Their having won the World Series, at last, in 2016 (and what a joyride it was!), I have fulfilled my commitment to them.  I do favor the Indians, who competed nobly last year and have a long schneid (winless streak) of their own  (appears to be since 1948).  I am also hopeful their downstate "rival", my Reds, will be able to avoid last place in their highly competitive division.

My preseason picks were as follows:
  AL division winners--RedSox, Indians, Astros; with Orioles over Rangers in the Wildcard game
  NL division winners--Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers; with Diamondbacks over Cards in the WC
  ALCS - Indians over Orioles; NLCS - Nationals over Dodgers
  and World Series:  Indians over Nationals.
So far, I see no reason to regret any of these picks, though it's early.

The first round ended up very predictably, after some early excitement.  In the East, the #8-seeded Bulls defeated the #1 Celtics in both of the first two games at Boston, but then Rajan Rondo got hurt and the team chemistry dissolved, the Celtics winning the next four.  Similarly, the #6 Bucks folded after giving #3 Raptors a bit of a scare.  The best first round series, in terms of quality of entertainment and play, were the Rockets-Thunder matchup of MVP candidates and the strong effort the Grizzlies produced against the Spurs before succumbing.

Now, I would say the main question of the next two rounds is whether the anticipated Spurs-Warriors showdown in the West will happen, and can anyone stop the Cavaliers in the East?  On the latter question, I had some thought that the Washington Wizards might be the team to stop LeBron James' streak of six straight years in the championship playoffs, but they disappointed in Game 1 vs. Boston and will now be serious underdogs to pull it off (as would the Celtics against the Cavs).  Spurs-Warriors seems extremely likely to me, and the odds are increasingly pointing toward a third straight year of Cleveland-Golden State in the championships, with GSW looking like the better team at this point.

College Hoops
 I found justification for my rooting interest in favor of the U. of Kentucky in this English press article, which argues correctly that Kentucky's frequent practice, in which they recruit the top high school stars, get them to play one year, and then actively assist them in landing on a NBA team if that be their intention, the so-called 'one-and-done", is the most honest in college sports.

The Wildcats' current crop were "very freshman" in their play but showed tremendous talent and matured by the end of the regular season.  They got a very tough draw in their region, coming up with big wins over Wichita St. and UCLA in the first two rounds, but then hitting the wall against a more seasoned group of future pros, the eventual winners, North Carolina.  My other main rooting interest (besides Yale, which came up short in the Ivy League championship game), the U. of Louisville Cardinals, had a decent team, competitive in their "new" conference, the refurbished ACC, but didn't make it too far.

Finally, I did happen to catch the end of the most amazing event in college basketball this year, the upset of Connecticut in the NCAA women's semifinal by South Carolina.  After an incredibly emotional victory, breaking UConn's 100+ game winning streak, South Carolina came up short in the final.  A Pyrrhic victory is still a victory, still will be remembered in history.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Drumpfenreich 100 Days: Less is More....

....I am not arguing for a minimalist Presidency, but making an exception in this case.  With President Trump, the less he does, the better, and if he did nothing at all, that would be just all right.  Because anything he does will be wrong.

The administration has really not accomplished anything it was trying to do.  The one notable exception was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and that would have to be laid mostly at the feet of the Republican senators who allowed pragmatism to rule over principle and abolished the filibuster as applied to the Court's nominees.

Mostly, but not entirely:  the Democrats in the Senate botched it, too.  Their best play was to extend the debate to the maximum, then allow cloture, then fight it some more.  Now they have no principle or rule to back them when the next, more critical Court replacement comes up.

Unfortunately, there is a long, long way to go. I cannot rely forever on his inability to demonstrate any competence, there is every possibility that his team can learn about how to accomplish its objectives, and Congress will eventually help out, as it did with Gorsuch.  A regressive tax plan is coming, a stupid healthcare bill will eventually be voted upon by both houses of Congress (filibustering methods are unlikely to contain it, now), and there is likely to be some sort of ridiculous "infrastructure" bill that will pad the wallets of his cronies and favorites (that's probably where wall money will go, as well).

The bottom line for me is simply no new stupid wars.  If that happens, we can all consider ourselves lucky to make it to 2021.   In the meantime, I like Legit PAC (look it up) to work for voter protection and take money of elections, and the DLCC and DGA to offset some of the Republicans' edge in the states in 2018.   I will be looking for opportunities to forgive repentant Trump voters for their sin.

Shutdown for the wall:  By the above logic, I shouldn't be opposed; however, "non-essential" government service shutdowns is exactly what Trump is trying to accomplish through his appointment of incompetents, ideologues, and cronies to all the agencies that help people.  Drumpf has shown the door--feed my swamp shark lobbyists to continue to study the problem, without actually funding the expense of building it.  Damage limitation is the name of the game.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Looking up from our Collective Navel

Yes, I know it's "America First", and as an American I can hardly say that's totally wrong (just mostly), but still that doesn't mean it's "America Only".  So, some thoughts about some events in other countries which may interest some in our self-absorbed populace.  And/or beyond.

The French go to the polls tomorrow in one of the most significant elections--in any country--in decades. The question, in a narrow sense, is whether the French will go down the road of Brexit and Trump, or whether they will thumb their collective nose at that trend toward populist nationalism. Beyond that, the election's outcome could prove decisive for the future of the Euro, and even of the European Union.

France's central government, as mandated in the constitution for its Fifth Republic (since 1958), bears many similarities to the US':  bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, and a strong executive headed by its President.  One area in which the French improved greatly on the US' system is in its election for President. The fairly open contest provides for direct election if a candidate receives a majority in the first round; if not, the two candidates with the highest number of votes have a runoff some two weeks later.

This year's election is wide-open, with the final outcome difficult to predict. The incumbent, Socialist Francois Hollande, decided not to run for re-election, a decision that was almost universally supported.  Both Hollande's center-left party and their major party opponent, the center-right successors of the legacy of Fifth Republic titans Charles deGaulle and Georges Pompidou, were riven with dissension, with surprise candidates emerging from their primaries, but then weakening.  The Repubicains (the Gaullists) rejected both of their establishment leaders, Alain Juppe and former President Nikolas Sarkozy, in favor of Francois Fillon, who promptly got caught up in a nepotism scandal.  The Socialist primary voters rejected their establishment candidate even more dramatically,  rejecting their leaders from the current government in favor of a candidate further to the left, Benoit Hamon.

The collapse of the major parties has opened the way for not one major third-party candidate, but three of them.  The true third-party is the National Front, headed by Marine LePen, the daughter of the party's founder, whose mission has been to bring her party's anti-Semitic (Jews and Moslems), ultra-nationalistic postures more into the mainstream, in order to make her and her party's candidates electorally viable.  She has been surprisingly successful at that, at least as regards her own candidacy.  Then there are two true independents who have risen to be serious contenders:  one is a renegade former Socialist cabinet minister who has never been elected and who espouses a bland, centrist, Gaullist-type message ("Let's Go Forward!"), Emmanuel Macron. The other is Jean-Luc Melenchon, who rejected both the Socialists and Communists for an iconoclastic, anti-EU, left-wing candidacy.  As the campaign has progressed, Melenchon has steadily taken support from Hamon in polling.

The issues driving the election are many:  the future of France's contining in the EU, the Euro, and full participation in NATO, the restive Muslim majority, the reaction against that minority's growth and the militants within it,  the reaction against immigration more generally, the weakness of the parties,  and a general debate about the changing nature of the French economy.  I would say many of these will be addressed more in the parliamentary elections a month or so after the second round of the Presidential elections, when the French will know who their new leader will be--and will either reinforce or choose to restrain that person.  This round seems to be mostly about the personalities of the leaders, and of their parties.

With five candidates sharing significant shares of poll support, there is really no chance one will emerge as the victor in the first round, so the objective in the first of this two-act drama is just to finish in the top two.  Macron captured support from the early leader, Fillon, when his scandal persisted and rose as high as the mid-20's in percentage but has fallen back a bit (many are disgusted by the lack of substance in his platform), while Fillon's support in the polls has stabilized around 20%.  LePen's has been fairly steady in the low 20's, while Melenchon has tracked upward and is in the high-teens, while Hamon's has fallen to high single digits.

Given these poll numbers, which apart from the trends mentioned have shown a lot of stability, there are four serious contenders for the two top spots. A lot of attention will be given to the "winner" who gets the most votes, but the one who finishes second will be exactly equally a winner, and may well be the favorite in the second round.  I will discuss each of the six possible combinations briefly:

Macron vs. LePen - This is the most likely outcome, and would provide a clear decision point for French voters--continue the postwar and EU paths, or reject them entirely for nationalism.  The standard wisdom is that all others would rally around Macron to avoid LePen's winning, but the standard wisdom could be wrong.  In particular, Macron is distasteful to the left.  Still, he would be a substantial favorite going into the runoff.
Macron vs. Fillon - This would be a surprise outcome and would represent a reversion toward normalcy in the final days, surprising because the primaries have suggested anything but normalcy.  Macron would be favored because of Filion's compromised position.
Macron vs. Melenchon - Many of LePen's supporters don't really agree with or care for the National Front's history of antisocial tendencies, so Melenchon, who shares many other positions with LePen, could capture the second spot with a late surge.  This would end up like Macron vs. LePen, but with a more typically French leftward flavor.; I'm thinking Melenchon might pick up some LePen votes and could win.
Fillon vs. LePen - This was the originally-expected matchup, before Fillon's troubles.  It could still end up as a more conventional all-vs. LePen contest, but with many on the left sitting it out it would not be a sure win for him.
Fillon vs. Melenchon - See Macron vs. Melenchon.  This may be the least likely of the six matchups; it would represent the voters' rejection of the standard wisdom that the final choice would end up being Macron and LePen.  That surprise outcome would suggest caution how the second act would play out, as well, though it would superficially appear to be a standard left vs. right contest.  In the Fifth Republic, those have gone to the right in times of crisis--which the current environment suggests may be the case.
LePen vs. Melenchon - This would be a disaster for the European Union and the Euro, as both are opposed to France's continuing its participation in those institutions.  Would both try to exceed each other in their extremist rhetoric or would they try to capture the middle?  Again, the conventional wisdom would suggest the latter, but this is not a conventional year.

Predicting the Outcomes - My preferred site to play the odds,, does not have "markets" on those six outcomes; instead they have ones for the first-place person in the first round, the margin in the first round, the eventual President, and then for the chances of each of the four major candidates of making the second round.  That betting shows a clear expectation that Macron or LePen will finish first, a slight preference for a 3%+ margin for that candidate, and 85% and 81% chances for LePen and Macron, respectively, to make the second round.  There is decent respect for the odds of an upset in second, though:  with Fillon and Melenchon each at 19% to make the second round (doesn't quite add to 100% because of the gaps betwen yes and no prices), with each having 10% or better chance of being ultimately elected if they make it through.

My own betting is on either Macron or, to get a good return on a very small investment, the longer-shot Melenchon (I bought his shares very cheaply, early).  I think some Fillon supporters will ultimately be disheartened and drift to the safer alternative, Emmanuel Macron, and . that it will be very close between Melenchon and LePen for second place.  I have some money on the second choice in the betting to finish first (Macron stands at 41% there, vs. LePen's 56%).
My pick: Macron 27%, LePen 23%, Melenchon 22%, Fillon 18%, Hamon and others 10%.  I will hold off on second-round prediction until after this one, but if these are the results, I would think Macron will be a big favorite to win ultimately.

Finally, on this topic:  An avowed ISIS supporter killed a police officer on Paris' famous Champs d'Elysees the other day and was then killed.  Continuing on the Islamic terrorist theme, the incident could play into LePen's candidacy, as Donald Trump kind-of suggested; however, he hedged on it, perhaps perceiving that it might also play exactly in the opposite way, as the French may react toward rejecting the isolation of the Muslim majority and tend toward one or more of her opponents.

The German elections will not be until late-September, but it makes sense to follow the discussion of France with this one, because the French election will provide signals that should directly affect the German ones.  If France takes an anti-EU turn, Germany (and Italy, in its next Parliamentary election, probably in 2018) will have to decide whether to rally around the multinational flag or go in a nationalistic direction.  Germany has its own major immigration issue--less terrorism, but large numbers of Turkish workers and the largest share of refugees from the Middle Eastern bloodbaths.

The German election may become a referendum on the fate of the EU, but it is also likely to be a referendum on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has served since 2005 and is seeking an unprecedented fourth term. Merkel's stances in favor of a united Europe and providing refuge have drawn great praise globally--in the wake of Trump's election many consider her the de facto Leader of the Free World--but those stances are widely unpopular at home, even in her own center-right party.

The current German government is a "grand coalition" of the two major party groupings, Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats) and the center-left SDU (Social Democrats).  The SDU pulled a clever move in leading up to the elections by bringing in as their leader Martin Schulz, former head of the European Parliament and a well-respected political operator.  The selection of Schulz brought an immediate lift to the SDU in polling, and it is now about at parity with Merkel's party.  There is a long way to go, but Merkel is now threatened on both sides, with also the possibility that voters may have wearied of her as head of the government after such a long reign.

If the election ends up being Merkel vs. Schulz leading the major parties, there may be a big opportunity for some anti-EU party (could be on the left or the right), and that may end up being the big story as opposed to whether Germany tilts center-left or center-right. Still, Merkel and the future course of her career remain the critical aspect in the broader, historical sense.  She remains a very impressive figure, the face of the country's great success in the past decade or so.   I am making some small bets against her--I bought Schulz as Prime Minister after the election at 3%, and it rose after his selection as high as 36%, but I've been taking profits recently, waiting to see what dynamic the French elections' results will have there.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a move last week that surprised all, but in retrospect does not seem at all irrational.  By calling for early Parliamentary elections in June, she put her brief government at risk when she did not need to do so; however, the conditions appear extremely favorable for her.  She is looking for a strengthened majority for her Conservative party to be able to pursue more confidently a difficult negotiation for withdrawal from the European Union, and she is likely to get it.

The main reason she is likely to succeed is not the popularity of Brexit, for which she has become the chief executor (after having opposed it in the referendum).  If there were a new referendum, it would probably lose, but there is not going to be one for the U.K, much as some opponents of the policy might wish. Instead, it is the weakness of the main opposition party, Labour, which gives her reason for confidence.

Jeremy Corbyn was supported strongly by the Labour party's membership, but his staunch old-left positions have little support beyond there (and there's plenty of grumbling from party colleagues who have to run behind his leadership).  Corbyn has taken the ineffective posture of grudging support for Brexit as the will of the electorate, though he was opposed (and his constituency's opposition to Brexit was lukewarm).  On the contrary, the Liberal Democrat party, almost wiped out as a parliamentary faction in the last election, has ridden its opposition to Brexit as a new raison d'etre, and stands to multiply their quota of MP's by a factor of 5-10 (which will still leave them as numerically unimportant).

The other major party which has opposed Brexit is the Scottish National Party; their stance, which is in line with the overwhelming majority of Scots, should help preserve their foothold in Parliament (and continue to undermine Labour's representation from one of their former strongholds).  The big question for the Scots is whether the SNP, and the Scottish parliament, will move to demand a new referendum on leaving the U.K. this year, or Scotland will wait until 2018 to decide, once the terms of the U.K.'s withdrawal from the E.U. should be more clear.

Middle Eastern Affairs
We start with Turkey, which had a referendum on a new constitution approved by a slender 51-49 margin last weekend.  This was a big victory for President Erdogan, giving him a lot more potential control over the political system and allowing him to remain in power another 10 years or so.  Erdogan, ever more Putinist in his methods, had stacked the deck nicely for this outcome; the voting was challenged for alleged irregularities, but the final authority on the election result was a council that Erodgan had packed with his supporters (or more precisely, purged of his opponents).  I think the best hope for Erdogan opponents is to be patient, wait for the nationalistic surge which followed last fall's coup attempt to fade, and build a never-Trumpian kind of national resistance to Erdogan, voting him out at the next opportunity by such a wide margin that he can not hope to "trump" the outcome.  They would be a long long way from that today.

I have read that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been approved to run for re-election by the religious council, as he would require under their constitution.  This suggests that his relatively moderate regime, which counter-balances the aggressively expansionist Revolutionary Guard faction, is meeting with the continued approval of the country's Supreme Leader Khamenei, who has shown surprising ability to outlive his potential successors.  Iran has so far stayed within the terms of the multi-party agreement which prevents it from developing nuclear weapons for ten years, though the ballistic missile test they did recently was a provocation which could easily have flared up all kids of retaliation and counter-retaliation.  So far, not a disaster.

Somewhat to my surprise, I would say the same about the US policies toward Iraq and Syria thus far in the Trump administration.  Admittedly, my bar is low--to get through four years of Trump/Pence without entering massively into a new stupid war--but we are now about one-twelfth of the way through, somewhat safely.  The attack on the Syrian airfield after the chemical weapon attack on civilians was, although contrary to international law, a reasonable warning to the Russians:  they need to perform their role as guarantor against Syria using those weapons (as was agreed during the Obama administration), and the Russians should not feel they have a free hand to do absolutely anything they want there (though it's pretty close to that).  In both Syria and Iraq, the war against ISIS is proceeding, steadily, toward military victory.  The key will be what happens in the aftermath of freeing Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria, from the Islamist tyrants.

This is the area where I think we have the greatest danger of falling into that massive, stupid war.  If that happens, it will be through a miscalculation, either by our side or by North Korea's--probably not by China, Japan, or South Korea, all of which would just wish the problem (of nuclear-armed, psychotically-ruled North Korea) would just go away.

I actually agree to some extent with the Trump national security team that the policy of trying to engage North Korea constructively, which has been pursued for over 20 years, by administrations of both parties, has not worked well, and that the reason is that the North Koreans have broken every agreement. That does not determine what the policy should be, though, and one could fear the worst.

In the case of the recent US naval maneuvers and the North Korean failed missile launch, though, I think the danger was not as great as it may have seemed.  In my mind, the mission of Secretary of State Tillerson to China to discuss the North Koreans had a specific purpose:  is it your turn to cyberhack their missile launch, or is it ours?  Whichever was decided, it seemed to work.  I would suggest that we and they take turns--that way both know who's doing it, both get practice, the North Koreans will be confused by the two different attack strategies being applied to their systems, and then both China and the US can apply all their methods when the real crux of the matter comes, as it eventually will.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Most Unusual Dream Event

I promise you, I was actually sleeping for this--it was not some conscious or semi-conscious thought piece that I "dreamed up".  Fortunately, it was experienced shortly before the alarm woke me, so I remember it well. 

A group of us were in the office.  Then, something strange happened:  someone pressed the Start button on the copier, but nothing happened. No error message, just--nothing.  We looked out the window; everything was frozen still, no movement. We tried a couple other things, similarly ineffectually.  Somehow, we determined that time had stopped.

We sat and discussed.  Eventually--I would say it was 'after awhile", but that's not quite correct--we came to the conclusion that there was nothing we could do, no more cause and effect.  For example, to cook something you need to apply heat over time. A copier would be quicker, but still there is a sequence.

Our discussion turned to the question of what we should do, if and when time started up again.  We were grateful when it did, knew exactly what we wanted to do first, second, etc. and that pretty much ended the dream.   Like many of my dreams, it was quite vivid, and both then and now seems to have captured the experience for me in a way. that seems real  I'm sure it's partially the result of seeing too many movies with the same point of departure, though their stories weren't quite the same as my experience.

Now, upon reflection in the light of day, a few points I take away:

  •   First,  I would conclude that always living in the present is not exactly what we think it means.   Neither does "the fierce urgency of now" (to quote President Lyndon Johnson) seem as accurate. 
  •   Second, my experience suggests to me that maybe it's a good idea, sometime each day, to freeze time and take an extended moment to plan what to do. 
  •   Lastly, now I have some empathy for the experience of those ghosts that may or may not be haunting us.  The point is not whether you can be seen; it's what's the use of being seen if you can't do anything? 

Monday, March 06, 2017

On the Difficulty of Flushing the Great Orange Turd

We Be Sweden'
I apologize for the quiet time here--really, I've been quite busy--but I think it has been appropriate for me to refrain from reacting to every antic coming from this colossal jerk we now have occupying the office which combines head of state, Commander-in-Chief, and chief executive of our Federal government.  I am trying to model the behavior; we must not get so excited when he does something that appears to have a psychotic disregard for the truth, as with his twittering; neither should anyone get excited when he performs a normal duty of his task adequately well, like reading his Teleprompter to a joint session of Congress or signing a "mulligan" order correcting the egregious legal oversights of his first effort at a Muslim ban.

I don't care if he takes a call on his (unsecured) cellphone while at dinner in his club with the Japanese Prime Minister to hear that the runt North Korean dictator--an insecure attention-seeker like Trump himself--has ordered the launch of another faulty medium-range missile.  What's Trump  going to do about it, anyway?  I don't care if he tweets in the middle of the night a random libelous accusation he heard from some radio ranter (Mark Levin) picked up by a fake news blog (Breitbart)--although I would love to see President Obama sue him for libel, he will not do so. All it really did was call attention to the fact that his campaign staff was going rogue beyond all bounds in their contacts with Russian spies, following the foolish direction of some ridiculous impulse.  And I really don't care if he mouths off in some speech about a non-existent terrorism problem in Sweden based on some dated Fox News program he watched instead of reading his briefing books.

The point is, we all have to stop paying attention to the stuff that Donald Trump emits as though, I don't know, he were the President of the United States or something.  Even if that's what he may be. I know it's tough for the officials of other nations, not being able to go by what the President says, and having only a bunch of psychopaths and sycophants around him to help interpret the nonsense, but that is the unfortunate reality that faces us, in all likelihood, for another 1400 days or so.  I feel sorry for them, and I feel shame for us.

That Ineradicable Blemish
Call that election what you will--an aberration, a fluke, a travesty, a mockery of a sham, a theft, a usurpation, a coup, a waking nightmare, a consensual hallucination, a sin against humanity, a predictable result of a flawed electoral system,  or just simply a blunder of historic proportion--we are not going to escape magically from this mess.

The principal reason that we should not deceive ourselves is that Trump has proven, through the course of his campaign, during the transition to power, and in this seemingly endless but actually brief period of his administration, that there is nothing he can do or say which will disqualify himself from the office.  For his removal by legal means, it will require his (rock-hard but minority) popular support to crumble, followed by abandonment by the rank and file of his party, which has so far been almost universally cowed by his capacity to cut down his opponents.  It would take a betrayal of almost unimaginable proportion or an act of utter madness, plainly visible and undeniable, to cause them to act.  The Democrats can do nothing on their own, so there is no use agitating for them to try.

As for the journalists, "the enemy of the people",  they will make the effort, with integrity and persistence. Those with some honor and dignity will be governed by their professional ethic to rake the muck, to dig out the leaks, to try to interpret the chaos, but theirs is a thankless, futile task when it comes to Drumpfistan. We have the example of Dan Rather,  a veteran journalist, finally loosed from the bonds of network conformity and totally free, and practically apoplectic at the lies and misbehavior without precedent in his lengthy career of observing them (even from Nixon), but it makes no difference.  He just has an opinion, and just like an asshole, most everyone has one, and his doesn't count much more than anyone else's.   Particularly in the anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-factual environment of Donald Trump's Washington (or Mar-a-Lago).

So, they will go after Jeff Sessions, that miserable little toady and closet racist:  what difference will it really make if they get him?  Yes, he is about the worst choice possible for Attorney General, but if he goes, Trump will find someone yet worse, just to spite everyone.  I'm sure Steve "Race" Bannon would feel he could do the job, could convince Trump, and the Republican Senate would confirm him.

Now, there is another possibility to rid ourselves of Trump sooner than January 20, 2021:  he could die.  I am little impressed by the robustness of his health:  he is 70 years old and overweight, with poor habits. Or someone could put poison in his ketchup or something.  (If his advisers really had his interests at heart they would taste his food for him.) If something like that happened, I wouldn't mourn for a minute.  As for the Wherever Man, :an early involuntary departure might be his best option to escape the disastrous natural outcome of his governance, and he probably knows it.

Still, it's nothing upon which to build hope:  even if Mike Pence and Trump's team of evils, that Cabinet of scoundrels, cretins and true enemies of the people, were to disappear almost entirely, along with the President pro tempore of the Senate (whoever that is) and Paul Ryan, leaving only the Designated Survivor, we'd probably still be in the same position we have now:  at the mercy of an unloved, unqualified misanthropic hack and an unfettered Congress hostile to the interests of most Americans and most everyone else, too.

What I want to contribute toward is a group that will assist people in getting the ID's they will need to overcome voter suppression in those states that are trying to impose it.  An enraged and empowered anti-Trump electorate is our only hope for the immediate future.

AND NOW...A few choice insults: 
(courtesy of that honorable soul, John Oliver, and my invaluable DVR)

  • Trump dominates the media like a fart dominates the interior of a VW Beetle
  • (referring to his press conference) But what is it essentially but random sparks and flames sputtering out of a damaged asshole?
  • America's wealthiest hemorrhoid
  • A walking-talking brushfire
  • An ill-fitting suit filled with chickens coming home to roost
  • This sentient circus peanut
  • A racist voodoo doll covered in cat hair
  • An old piece of luggage covered in cheese whiz. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

January, 2017: HIghlights of a Bad Month

I am not going to rehearse the depredations and madness of this past month, nor complain about my personal problems, but instead try to find some joy. 

Clash of the Ages
I'm not saying they were "aged", but the combined ages of the four singles finalists in the Australian Open this year were 136 (average: 34) set all kinds of records. What's more, the combination of unexpected circumstances which brought the finalists together produced a renewal of two of the greatest rivalries in the sport's history, with matches will rank among their best--a sort of climax of the careers--and the comebacks--of each.

Venus (36 years) vs. Serena Williams (35) - The Williams sisters have played against each other many times, and many times in the finals, but I have never seen a better quality match between the two.  For Venus, reaching the final was a gigantic accomplishment, her first Grand Slam final since 2009, and a triumph over the immune condition which has limited her play for years.  Serena's comeback was not nearly so extreme; she had dropped all the way to #2 last year (she regained top ranking by winning the tournament) after a long reign on top, the decline mostly due to shoulder issues which dogged her last year.  Both were in fine form in the final, with Serena coming up with the edge in a few key points.

I should mention the contribution of unseeded Coco Vanderweghe, a third American in the semifinals, who helped make the Williams sisters' final possible by eliminating #1-ranked Angelique Kerber and Williams nemesis Garbine Muguruza before falling to Venus.

Roger Federer (35) vs. Rafael Nadal (30) - I am a fan of The Fed--the way he plays is so graceful, his behavior on the court is always respectful, and the things he says so intelligent--so it has been tough for me to watch his struggles in the Grand Slam events the past few years.  He has actually been mortal; he never goes down without a battle, but he has not been winning those battles (the last of the 17 Grand Slam titles he held was in 2012).  Novak Djokovic, in particular, seems to have his number in recent years, and there are others.   This time, though, both Djokovic and #2 Andy Murray went down unexpectedly in the early rounds, opening up the draw for these two veterans to face off once again in a final (not that the path was an easy one).

One who historically had the edge on him was Rafael Nadal, the youngster among these four, but one who has a lot of miles on his legs. It's true that many of those defeats Federer has had against Nadal in the majors came in the French Open, which we all know Nadal owns.   Federer had some back issues last year and took time off, and he came back with some improvement in his game, which is most impressive at his advanced age.  In particular, he addressed the vulnerability to the high-bouncing shot to his one-handed backhand with a new, low, flat shot down the line that won many key points.  The match was an interesting one, with a decent number of service breaks, momentum shifting back and forth, but no tie-breakers required.  Federer won 6-3 in the fifth; Nadal was clearly disappointed and grim-faced, but he is also returning from extended absence, and the French Open is coming up.

Chelsea! --  Jose Mourinho is dead to me (he suffers at Manchester United), while Antonio Conte rules--OK!  Conte comes from extended success leading Juventus in Italy, and he shows himself weekly to be both an emotional leader and a sound tactician.  After a slow start in September, the team turned itself around and shed the underperformance shown last year.  A string of victories followed, featuring a new playing formation (3-4-3, the three central defenders firming up the middle, with the four midfielders moving both forward and backward fluidly, and a potent attack), a couple of major new contributors (Kante, Alonso) and changes in the lineup, but really a very similar, potent, talented crew, just more motivated.

The Other Football-- I'm not that devoted of a fan, but I have to say I like any game that Alabama loses, and the fourth-quarter battle with Clemson was worth losing sleep for.  Similarly, the Green Bay-Dallas fourth-quarter battle brought back memories of their epic battles in the '60's, only a lot more dynamic these days.  Dallas lost, but the emergence of their two rookie stars at quarterback and running back, with a proficient supporting cast, suggests the Cowboys are finally back to having some claim to earning that overrated label they have had as "America's Team".  As for the Packers, their win didn't prove too significant in the grand scheme, as they were crushed the following week, but Aaron Rodgers showed once again his class.

Contrast that with the Patriots, the team America has learned to hate. If I cared more, I would hate them, too, the way I used to hate the Yankees and Celtics in my childhood. They win--consistently--and arrogantly, and let's face it, somewhat dishonestly.  So it will be my great pleasure if the offensive brilliance of the Atlanta Falcons and their quarterback Matt Ryan (just named MVP) continues today. Frankly, I do not expect it.  Despite some injuries and setbacks, the Patriots have lost nothing; they even won most of the games when Tom Brady was forced to sit out his suspension early in the season.  They are three-point favorites, which I think is a small spread for this team which has proven itself with four titles already, against a team that has never won.  I am expecting the usual pattern--one not present so much in recent years--in which a couple early breaks go for the team that has its head together, then it's playing catch-up and often goes downhill fast. I'm predicting the hated Patriots will win, Super Bowl-li, by  20 points or more, and I will be switching channels by the third quarter. I hope I'm wrong.

Late-Season Films 
I don't like the strategy of limited release in December with a broad release in the new year, trying to avoid the crowded schedules of the holidays but still getting Oscar consideration.  And I don't even think it works that well, either at the box office, or, maybe even in the Oscars themselves--the full release between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to be the winning route, if you've got the vehicle.

This does not mean that we should discount those that chose to release late, though, just because of that dubious strategy.  I would like to praise a couple of films that gave me no chance to review before January:  "Lion" and "Hidden Figures".  They have in common certain elements:  true inspirational stories that were remarkable but not well-known, particularly effective capture of their time and place (both India and Australia, in the case of "Lion"), a strong ensemble cast, and the classic triumph over adversity. One quibble about each:  Dev Patel is a versatile actor and a rising star, but does he have a problem breathing through his nose?  He should occasionally close his mouth--it makes one seem more serious if you can.  With regard to "Figures", the wrong person got nominated for Oscar:  it should have been Taraji Henson for the lead role, not Octavia Spencer (who's won already).

One late release about which I have little positive to say is "Silence"--in keeping with my general intention for this post, I will just say those two things:  the filming of the scenery (and the sets in China) were striking, worthy of the nomination for cinematography, and the role and performance of the actor who plays the Japanese inquisitor (Issei Ogata) was a highlight.  Otherwise, though, I thought it was rather painful to watch.  Somewhat predictable, with none of the three male leads well used; I thought "The Mission" (1986) did a similar kind of story better.  Sorry, Martin!

I still have some work to do to complete my viewing of worthy films released late (if I can still find them):  "Manchester by the Sea",  "Fences", and "20th Century Women" are still on my must-see-if-possible list, while   "Jackie" and "La La Land", on the other hand, are on the other one: will-see-eventually-but-choose-not-to-pay.

Post-Inauguration Post-Mortem--
Sorry to end on a down note, but let's celebrate their achievements: 

Mary Tyler Moore - She made it after all!  Her acting career can be defined by three greatly different roles:  her loving mother and homemaker Mary Petrie, wife of the character played by the titular star in the "Dick Van Dyke Show";  Mary Richards, news director for a news station in Minneapolis (Note:  both named "Mary", both TV shows--the second, of course, was "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"--centered on TV, both boasting superior ensemble casts); and a very different role as the nasty, overbearing mother who made all the problems in "Ordinary People".  I didn't enjoy the last of these (looking at, I rated it a 5 out of 10), in this case reflecting my own difficulty accepting an entertainment centered around a distasteful character, but I credit her for taking on a role out of her comfort zone and playing it to the hilt.
John Hurt - An extremely versatile actor who featured his characters, not himself.  I will remember him chiefly for his starring role in "Elephant Man" and for having the eponymous character erupt from his chest in "Alien", though he had many, many others.
John Wetton - Like Greg Lake, who died the previous month, Wetton was a talented musician who learned that, in King Crimson, you can be the front man and still be second fiddle.   He did a lot later, helping found Asia and playing with many others.  Still, I like his work with Crimson ("Larks Tongue in Aspic", "Starless and Bible Black", and "Red") best; in fact, there's a good argument that those were the band's best three albums ever.
Yordano Ventura - An extremely promising, already accomplished (two World Series, one championship ring from 2015), 25-year old pitcher for the Kansas City Royals who died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.  Sorry, but this is happening too often with baseball players--more than PED's, I'd like a little more attention to getting word out through the players association to take steps toward ending drunk driving (in cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.) amongst the membership.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Worst President Ever?

It's a bit early after just 10 days (just 1451 to go!), but Donald J. Trump is on a path which could make him easily the worst President of the United States in our history.

The ones who are ranked worst historically (see this 2015 ranking of the US Political Scientists) are typically ones who were relative non-entities, ones who died early or served a single, ineffective term.  The names sinking to the bottom of that list are Buchanan, Harding, Andrew Johnson, Pierce, William H. Harrison (who served less than two months); I would add Chester A. Arthur, Millard Fillmore, and the unelected usurper Rutherford B. Hayes to their list.

Trump's pattern--the manner of his election (of elected Presidents, only Hayes lost more decisively in the popular vote than Trump, and of course his campaign set new lows for the nature and ugliness of his rhetoric), the characteristics of his Cabinet nominees (nearly all are unqualified, disqualified, elistist, or actively opposed to performing their assignments, or all of the above), and his early posturing around executive decisions--all suggest he could end up in a category of his own:  inept, disengaged, but enormously damaging. (OK, those are exactly the characteristics historians use to describe Buchanan, rated the worst until now.)

Here are some damaging things Trump has already done--mind you, these are the easy actions, not requiring any negotiation with legislators, merely his interpretations of fulfilling the campaign promises he chooses to recognize:
  • His bizarre insistence that voter fraud robbed him of a popular vote victory.  It doesn't matter, the investigation is certain not to support his claim (the "registered in two states" canard is both irrelevant and has already backfired, with many of his cronies "guilty" of this non-crime), and may lead to a report that describes in ugly detail the suppression of voters that occurred.  
  • His order to restore black sites to detain suspected terrorists--a return to extrajudicial persecution and probably torture. 
  • Suppression of agencies' normal processes of communication, awarding grants, and, secretly, all mention of "climate change" from the White House website. 
  • The emerging disaster--coming particularly from Health and Human Services Department nominee Price in his confirmation hearings--in the administration's direction on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act and the associated Medicaid grants. 
  • Attorney General nominee Sessions' statements that he will not recuse himself from investigating Trump's conflicts of interest, Russian hacking and its effects on the election, or voter fraud. 
  • The announcement of the commencement of his long-promised, stupid border wall, to be paid for with taxes on imports, instead of the Mexican government's support, which clearly will not be forthcoming.  (At least it may create some jobs, and then they could continue their work to take it down when it's proven to be ineffective or unnecessary.)
  • Preparation for massive deportations, threatening local jurisdictions that won't cooperate with them. 
  • The continued suck-up to Russia, and the formal re-affirmation of FBI Director Comey, one of the chief enablers of Trump's electoral victory. 
  • Last--for now--but not least, his announcement regarding the promised "extreme vetting" of refugees and prospective immigrants from certain countries (all predominantly Muslim, none of them ones where Trump has his investments, though religious minorities--such as Christians--may be exempted).  It has already created massive confusion, a judge's injunction, and widespread protests, partly because it was so poorly written, partly because it is so blatantly bigoted and xenophobic, and partly because (as Pope Francis has stated) it violates the principles of those who call themselves Christians.  
What to Expect Next from the Drumpfenreich
I expect him to throw a three-year-old-type temper tantrum when Senate Democrats use normal cloture procedures to extend the approvals for selected Cabinet nominees (those with huge conflicts of interest, lack of qualifications, or incomplete vetting).   He has consistently shown no understanding of the levers of government.

When his approval ratings continue to drop, he will look to make a deal to get income tax cuts ("for all", but especially for the wealthiest and corporations), infrastructure spending (look to see who--which companies, which states--will benefit), discretionary budget cuts, and entitlement spending adjustments.  Congressional Republicans will go along, but Democrats will not; without the entitlement spending adjustments (i.e., cuts to benefits), his program will lead to massive increases in deficits, as graded by the Congressional Budget Office.  He will whine about their methods.

Some country will want to test his bluster--I'm thinking Iran, or North Korea, possibly the Taliban, hopefully not Russia right away.  He will threaten, they will call his bluff.  I'm really hoping this does not lead to us entering a stupid war right off the bat, but I'm almost certain this will happen in the first 18 months.  I remember commenting in early 2001 that so far, Dubya hadn't gotten us into a war, so I graded him a passing "D".  Then came 9/11.

What Should We Be Doing? 
1)  Moderate Expectations - Democratic opposition is not going to prevent the confirmation of any of Trump's Cabinet nominees.  No amount of calls, letters, political contributions is going to change this.  Slowing them down, providing a spotlight on the worst cases, will have the desired effect of highlighting the inadequacy of Trump's choices, and will increase their vulnerability later.   The same argument applies to Trump's Supreme Court nominee--he will be approved, in the end, unless there are severe deficiencies (I don't see that happening with the three named finalists).  The yardstick to use is whether the nominee is worse than Scalia--for me, a very low bar.  Stopping one nominee could lead to the risk of a worse one being named:  I believe that happened with Bush and Harriet Miers, which led to Alito, which I would say was a bad outcome.

2) Dig In When Necessary - One place will be on cuts to Medicare and Medicare  (Social Security should be a non-starter, as there is no case for change at present); another will be on the replacement package for the Affordable Care Act.  There is no reason for any Democrat to support any of the likely proposals, and without that, there will be no cuts/replacement.  

A third case would be on the next replacement for the Supreme Court, depending especially on who is being replaced.  Use the same principle of change in level of harm: Justice Thomas--fine, whatever;  Justice Kennedy, or any of the four "Democratic" justices (one was nominated by a Republican)--extreme sensitivity.  For at least the next two years, we should not expect the "nuclear option" which some Republican mouthpieces will run on about:  the opportunity to set the rules (relating to filibusters) for this Congress has passed, and it won't happen.  2019-2020 could be a different story, depending on circumstances.

3) Do not get sucked into the Bushite-style jingoism - This was the fatal mistake of the Democrats in the early post-9/11 days.  They voted for Bush's program out of fear of getting hammered in the 2002 elections for lack of patriotism, and they still got whipped.  And, the Iraq War/Patriot Act collar ended up on a bunch of them for the rest of their careers. This time, it will need to be clear that the war fever is due to the Drumpfite bungling of diplomacy.  And it will be.

4) Work on unifying, and expanding upon, the 54%.  Trump's victory was a fluke, the result of a combination of circumstances and lack of a successful, unified opposition to him.  The majority of Trump voters will never get that they have been duped--the big payday, the expert management, the great inflow of jobs, they will never "get it".   Some, especially those who voted for Trump as the lesser of two evils, are already starting to get it.   We are willing to "forgive"; there is no shame in shedding Trump and admitting one's error, only the shame we all must bear as Americans.

The opposition candidate we should work for will successfully counter Trump without dividing. Right now, I'm thinking Sherrod Brown of Ohio is a good candidate (Gillebrand maybe a running mate)--which makes Brown's 2018 re-election campaign a personal priority.

5) Keep the base mobilized - There is plenty of excitement which needs to be maintained.  It's not a question of money; don't let them play you.  The main points are to pick the right spots (so far, so good), avoid violent encounters and provocateurs (can only lose), weed out Drumpfian spies and conciliators (there is no compromise with Trump himself, and little with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell), and own the weekends.

6) Minimize harm when possible - First target is Steve "Race" Bannon; this racist megalomaniac is totally out of control.  It was Nixon's cronies, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who compounded and reinforced his paranoia. Somebody needs to ban Bannon.  If Trump needs him for political advice, fine--that will only hurt Trump in the end (same with the likes of Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer)--but he should not be allowed within earshot of any national security or foreign policy discussion.  We want Trump to fail--sorry, we do, he can not be rescued and allowed to succeed in spite of himself--but it should be because of the myopia of his own program. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Looking Back without Anger

There's a lot of talk about "holding Donald Trump accountable"--as if we actually wanted him to keep his promises.  I am nearly the opposite--I want him to go back on all of them.  With some, the result would be an improvement; with the others, he would alienate his base and make it impossible for him to be re-elected.  That would seem to be the best possible outcome, given that he completes his single term.   That, and not getting us into a stupid war.

Now, holding Barack Obama accountable--that is a different question, and one on which I have prepared my expectations from the very beginning.

On the Issues -- The Ten-Point Program:  10 Years Later
Let me be clear:  this was my 10-point program for the 2008 election, not Barack Obama's.  I did do a subsequent post comparing mine to his and found plenty of similarity, but this was one I outlined ten years (plus a month) ago, in December, 2006.  This was two months before Obama officially announced his run, but it was clear at this point that he would, and I set these down as the basis for my evaluation of the candidates on the issues.

On the issues!  That's how far we have fallen; ten years ago we were considering a host of possible candidates (Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards on the Democratic side; John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, George Pataki),  respectable, proven politicians who had meaningful, considered positions on the principal issues.  In this last general election campaign, the issues were barely noticed (somehow "conflicts of interest" got overlooked, too), and we remained mired in controversies about emails and pussy-grabbing.

Anyway, to begin my retrospective on the subsequent 8-year Obama presidency now about to end, let's review the progress, or lack thereof, on the issues around which I built my hopes and long-term expectations at the time.  Here they are, in order:

1. Get control of climate-changing gases.
2. Preserve our biosphere.
3. Rebuild our relations with the world.
4. Visualize our children’s / grandchildren’s society, and the implications of that vision.
5. Reform the UN Charter.
6. Get control of armaments.
7. Establish clearly the political dimensions of privacy and of permissible government intrusions into it.
8. Provide health care to our people.
9. Electoral reform.
10. End the "War on Drugs" (or at least give it some focus on the more harmful ones).

I would say, looking at the Obama Administration's accomplishments, that they did not do half-badly against these ambitious goals.   

The good:  On the #1 priority, the Paris Conference agreement was a huge step forward, and I do not believe the Trumpists will be so blind as to reverse or withdraw from it (perhaps overly optimistically), and even if they do, it will survive four years of Drumpfen depredation.   #2 is a big, long-term one, but the recent executive actions Obama made with regard to offshore drilling, the dreaded tar sands pipeline, and expansion of protected lands show that they had the right idea. Obama made huge progress with #3, however, it is reversible progress, and Trump & Co. will do a lot of damage to that progress, maybe more than the original gains since the Bush era.  

We will come back to #8 in a moment, but I would give the greatest credit to Obama's efforts on #10. Decriminalization of marijuana was always going to be a second-term initiative, at best, and would have needed a Congressional majority which was never present.  Still,  the progress on reducing the harm of Federal mandatory sentencing rules, the commutation of many excessive sentences for non-violent drug offenders, and the tolerance shown toward states adopting liberalization of marijuana--even for recreational purposes--turned a corner in the decades-long, failing "War on Drugs".  There is still a real possibility of a U-turn--the Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions would probably favor one, while Trump, though non-committal, seems inclined to leave the status quo. 

Health Care (#8)--the mixed bag: Well, Obama tried, he really tried.  There were flaws in the initial concept, which borrowed heavily from Republican free-market approaches.  Perhaps they were necessary: For this to succeed, Obama and his team needed to line up the willingness of the private insurers to support the exchanges in the states.  He was able to make the other two key compromises with Congress:  to define the juice which needed to flow to make it work (the additions to Medicaid made available to states), and the individual/employer mandates and taxes to make it fiscally sound. 

The biggest failure was a political one:  too many states' regressive governments gambled on creating failure through denying their own constituents the benefits of increased Federal aid   In the long run, such a policy would have been self-defeating in a number of ways, but the short-term refusal to accept "Obamacare" worked as a political rallying cry, and we are now here.  What will happen seems unclear from the variety of Republican postures, but I think it is clear:  They will take the unilateral step of "ending Obamacare", while preserving its most popular features.  Private insurers will get an even better deal, the individual/employer mandates will wither, and the question of thee Federally-funded expansion of Medicare to all age groups (the so-called "public option" which Obama's team eschewed), exactly contrary to Paul Ryan's inclinations, will return as a major political issue for 2020. 

Bridges Too Far:   I put #4 and #6 in this category, long-term goals which could never be accomplished in one eight-year administration, especially with intransigent partisan opposition, ones that were overly ambitious in this contentious political atmosphere. #4 is all about making the adjustments in taxation and endowment benefits needed to stabilize the long-term fiscal approach (and de-escalate the generational conflicts now emerging with the retirement waves of Baby Boomers).  There were programs put forward which could have been the basis for bipartisan negotiation (the only way this can happen), but they died due to the Republicans' phony obsessions with debt limits and their threats to shut down the government to get a balanced budget (where are those concerns now?).  As for more controls on armaments, nuclear and otherwise, Obama had the will, but the prospects soured when Russian President Putin decided to pursue instead a policy of Cold War revanchism in the Crimea and Ukraine.  The agreement with Iran, brokered with the assistance of all the major powers, was a significant achievement preventing a new wave of proliferation in the Middle East: let's see if it holds, or if Trumpian freelancing will destroy it. 

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: On the U.N. (#5), Obama gave the organization  the respect due, no more or less.  There was no leadership, and the organization is now in serious trouble due to the reactionary wave of xenophobic nationalism; already reduced to a debating society, the will to continue funding the essential functions of the Security Council and General Assembly at an adequate level may once again be endangered.  I'd have liked to have seen some structural recognition for the rising power of responsible nations like India, Germany, South Africa, and Brazil.   It's still possible, but I also admit that nine nations with veto power is nine too many. 

The limits on government intrusion into private communications (#7) remains a sensitive area, and one about which advocates of a right to privacy can only be pessimistic.  The odious Patriot Act from the hysterical post-9/11 period was rolled back somewhat, but notions that Americans can speak and act, secure in the protections which enable truly free "speech" are illusory.  Meanwhile, TV cameras monitoring everything, designed to reduce various forms of crime, are functioning largely to protect property rights, not individuals' ones, and we are all ever more dependent on the digital realm, which is also tending toward increasing vulnerability. Nothing good happening here. 

Last, and most egregious, only negative progress was made on electoral reform (#9) during Obama's watch.  More and more is being spent every campaign to produce less and less of substantive result. Voting rights are being eroded to prevent fictional electoral fraud; elementary measures to increase voter turnout are spurned. Finally, I included in my announcement of my 10-point program in 2006 that we must eliminate the Electoral College; my opposition is not partisan (nor is mine to the Citizens United world of unlimited spending), and I pointed out in 2009 that Obama must not be deceived by his apparent advantage from the E.C.  What the Electoral College produces is randomized havoc which undermines the legitimacy of our elections, and that is not not new news, nor fake. 

A Few Items I Didn't Include in My Program
Filling The Great Crater - In 2006 the collapse of the economy was two years away but nowhere in sight (except to a handful of people--see "The Big Short").   I do not fault the Obama Administration's handling of the economic crisis which he inherited one bit.  Given the limitations of his job and the willingness of Congress to spring for remedies, he did nearly the best possible.  I don't feel the Dodd-Frank bill did enough to prevent a relapse (requiring huge capital for banks with the combination of investment trading and consumer assets could have done it), and I don't feel enough was done--after the crisis was ended--to punish some of the worst offenders in investment banking, and credit rating agencies, but still--given the way I feel about "job creation", I cannot and will not complain

The Middle East/Russia - Obama had a very clear mandate to keep the US out of new wars in Asia and to get us out of the ones we were in.  With the single exception of the surge in Afghanistan (barely memorable now), he did not violate his mandate.  The ballyhooed use of "soft power" did not turn out to be all that was suggested (if not promised).  Two signal successes for it were the above-mentioned Paris Conference agreement on climate changing emissions and the Iran nuclear agreements; otherwise, though, it failed badly when put to the test in the Arab Spring (Egypt, Libya, the Arabian Peninsula), and with ruthless countries like Syria, Iraq, Russia, and, most unfortunately, Turkey, Israel, and the Palestinians.  With Syria, I would not say our intelligence was too bad--most of the groups we decided not to back ended up being about as bad as Assad was; with Russia and the Ukraine, I would say we did too little, though we were right not to overpromise--the fact remains, though, that Russia had promised (in the Budapest agreement) to protect Ukraine, in exchange for its giving up its share of Soviet nukes, and we did not punish Russia nearly enough for overtly violating its promises. Our President-elect should be reminded that, with regard to that, a deal is a deal, and deal-breakers must not be rewarded, no matter how seductive their propaganda may be to a narcissist's ears. 

The Racial Thing - I guess I was not expecting race relations to blow up in the way that they did--around allegations of police bias toward blacks, and whites claiming to be under-privileged by left-center government. My greatest concern in this area was that there be an attempt on Obama's life, and the consequences of that.  So, given that did not occur, things did not go as well as I would have thought. And here we are, with reactionary forces ascendant.  Do I blame Obama, though?  Of course not--I blame the Republicans for their dog whistle approach to stirring up resentments, and I blame the canine humans who responded to them. 

Finally, The Democratic Party - I do think Obama and his team deserve a share of the blame for the amazing failures of the party which climaxed with the 2016 disaster. They weren't particularly generous about sharing resources in 2010, 2012, or 2014, and the support provided in 2016 didn't turn out to be too effective.  Particularly at the state level, Obama's popularity and governing successes were not well translated into local campaigns. This past year was supposed to be the year the wheels came off the republican Party; the bolts holding them on were extremely loose, but it was the Democrats instead that got ejected from their vehicle with a brutal face-planting.  I accept that reality, though I do not consider it definitive and still feel their opponents are the ones that history will find in the dustbin. 

By my critical analysis (let no one say I am insufficiently critical of our President) and scorekeeping, I have: 
  • Five big successes (#1,2,3, 10, plus the  response to the Great Crater)
  • Two very large mixed bags (#8, and the Middle East/Russia)
  • Three areas where my expectations were simply too high (#4, 6, and the Racial Thing); and 
  • Four areas where I was disappointed (#5, 7, 9 and the Democratic Party). 
I know, I am falling into the trap of which I accuse others--expecting too much of a US President. Guilty. I am grading on the curve, though, and by the standards of postwar Presidents, I rate him in a tie for second, behind only Eisenhower, tied with Truman, who shared some characteristics with Obama (dropped into a hot mess, good with the allies, far-sighted, but left some sticky foreign entanglements himself), and just ahead of Kennedy, Johnson, and Reagan.   In the all-time list, he would be in the back half of the first quartile, somewhere between 7th and 11th. *

We will be missing him--daily--for the next four years, at least. 

*Top 6:  Lincoln, Washington, FD Roosevelt, Jefferson, T Roosevelt, John Adams; Obama grouped with Jackson, Truman, Wilson, and Madison.