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Trump’s Foolishness

The foolishness of Donald J Trump is plain for all to see. However, if it were just a matter of his being foolish, we would all have a good laugh at his expense, sit back, and watch the parade of misguided buffoons do his bidding while counting down the days until the next election (143). The coronavirus pandemic has made this senseless behavior abundantly clear. But he knows at what cost in human lives (115,436 dead Americans), and hard-earned dollars ($6,000,000,000,000 added to the national debt) his inaction and misled minions follow his commands. It is misleading to call his performance ‘senseless behavior.’ Action with intent is not senselessness. This motherfucker knows what he’s doing. Before coronavirus, reversing Obama-era mandates, taking from the poor, and giving to the rich, were corrupt, illegal, hurtful, and mean-spirited. Covid-19 has raised his game to a whole new level of evil. It will also be his undoing. We are witnessing a trainwreck in real-time.

Had the goal, his goal, been to lead us through dark days of the coronavirus pandemic so that he could have remained Commander in Chief, King Donald the First, until the end of his days when Ivanka takes the reign, there were clear first steps he could have taken. Giving households $1000 per month for as many months as was necessary would have insured people enough money to feed and shelter themselves, and society-at-large domestic tranquility. Many European countries did that and are now enjoying seeing no new cases of covid-19. That would have cost the U.S. Treasury some $500B. That would also have allowed more Draconian measures such as Japan, South Korea, and China implemented to get us on track to reopen that much faster. Supporting households would have prevented riots and kept his precious economic numbers intact. Even now, we could apply those measures if we had the political will to do so.

But that isn’t the Trumpian way. Instead, Trump’s goal is to lie, cheat, and steal whatever he can, for as long as he can. From the looks of it, he is doing a great job. The treasury is down about $6 trillion, spelled with a “T,” and $550,000,000,000. has been given to unnamed recipients without oversight or accountability during the coronavirus bailout alone. Someone is partying-on today. Of that, you can be sure.

But this does not end well. Trump loses in November. Trump is indicted on January 21, 2021, and spends the rest of his days in jail or fighting to stay out of jail. Foolishness? You be the judge. Anyway, it makes for a great season finale.

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American Gothic

106,000 Americans dead from covid-19, #BlackLivesMatter protests across the nation, the 2020 election looming near, 38 million Americans unemployed, and 1600 troops sent by the Pentagon to Washington D.C. may be contributing to the tension in this church photograph.

Donald Trump and Melania stand before the altar of this Roman Catholic church looking painfully awkward and uncomfortable in one of the most iconic images of his presidency. His scrunched up grimace is disapproving and stern; he cannot seem to contain his displeasure. His two and a half-inch shoe-lifts force him to lean forward slightly at the waist. The tilt adds to his uneasiness and pain that he radiates. The stark quality of the architecture and Byzantine art, medieval clergy depicted in stone and gold mosaics, is the perfect setting. Melania wears a featureless, black dress sans hat or jewelry of any kind. She wears her signature eyeliner with heavyset eyebrows and stands at a slight angle to Trump, in response to his straight-ahead stance.

American Gothic Selfie — Grant Wood, 1930

If this were a photograph of the Trumps laying a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or appearing at the state funeral of a United States Senator, they would not have been any different. He is free of emotion, and unempathetic. If the photographer were trying for the stark, controlled detail of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, he did an excellent job. The only thing missing is the pitchfork.

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The Demolition Derby

When Zoë and Isaac were little, Joan and I and what seemed like the rest of Park Slope rented a house in Wilmington, Vermont, in the summer. I worked in Brooklyn Monday through Thursday and car-pooled up to Wilmington from New York City with the other Dads on weekends. One day, while I was in Brooklyn, I got a call from Joan, who was very upset about our old Volvo. It seems she couldn’t pull it out of the parking spot, and the mechanic told her the transmission had lost REVERSE. There didn’t seem to be an easy fix, and she was without a way to get around. We discussed what few options there were short of buying another car, but there weren’t any.

The old bucket ‘o bolts was the first car we ever owned. We loved that old car, but it was now sixteen and had seen better days. Besides which, Swedes weren’t very good at air conditioning, it leaked oil, and I had done so many repairs on the side of the road in Vermont, the trunk was practically full of spare parts and tools.**

For its 100,000 mile we threw a party. Dena and Michael baked cookies and delivered them in a box which spelled 100,000. this would have been about 1977. From left: stranger, Arthur Lubow, Joan DiSciascio, Peter’s girlfriend, Anne Vander Does Lubow, Peter Cohen, Ann Lerner Avidor, Nadia Lubow, stranger, Nancy Schoen, Mark Schoen, stranger, JoGene Kapell, John Alessi, Louise Alessi, me, Nantte Lubow, Ze’ev Avidor and Amy Lubow. 1971 Volvo 164, six cylinder, four-door sedan, 100,000 original miles.

Irwin, my good friend, and go-to person for everything car-related, came along to the Volvo dealership to scout out a replacement for Joan. We bought a new, used Nissan that day from the Volvo guy and drove it up to Wilmington that weekend. On that Friday night, Joan, the kids and I went to a restaurant in town for dinner. I had an idea!

Since the old car was now a liability, we had to get rid of it. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be perfect for the Demolition Derby?” If you haven’t seen a Demolition Derby, I suggest you do. It is truly an American phenomenon. The idea is this: people drive their cars around a circular track, crashing into one another, disabling the other vehicles, trying to be the last man standing. Everything you’re forbidden to do on the highway like bumping into one another is OK, even encouraged, in the Demolition Derby.

I asked our waitress, a local girl if she knew of anyone who drove in the Demolition Derby. Sure enough, she smiled and said, “Oh, yeah. Just talk to Bobby North. His father runs the airport up on the mountain. He drives a car every year.”

The next morning, I drove up to the airport and found Bobby. His eyes lit up when I said old Volvo. Small imports were faster and more maneuverable than the big bulk box cars, the American boats, like the Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets that usually showed up. They are heavier, too, which makes them a formidable player on the track.

“Prepare the car?” I asked.

“Yeah. You’ve gotta remove all but a quart of gas from the tank. You have to remove all of the glass. And you have to chain the doors shut, so they don’t go flying open in the middle of the race. And, just so we’re clear,” Bobby said, “you have to legally sell it to me. I have to buy it from you, and you have to sign a bill of sale. How much do you want for it?”

“OK, sounds like fun. How about giving me a dollar?”

That afternoon, I met Bobby with the old car at a big, empty hangar at the end of the runway. We did all of the paperwork, I got my dollar from Bobby, and Bobby got behind the wheel. “Hey, what’s the problem?” he said, “I can’t go backward.”

“Yup, that’s the reason I’m getting rid of the car,” I said.

“That won’t work,” he said, sounding very disappointed.

“Why? What’s the matter? I asked.

“In a Demolition Derby, everyone drives in reverse. Otherwise, the first thing to happen is you’re going to bang into someone with the front of your car and blow out the radiator. Your car overheats in about a minute without a radiator. Without reverse, you can’t drive in the Derby.”

“Oh, no. What do we do?”

“Hey. I’ll buy the car from you anyway,” he said. I had no idea what he had in mind*, but getting rid of the car was the ultimate goal, so we shook hands.

The next day, the kids and I went over to the fairgrounds to watch the Derby. The whole town turned out for the event. The Fire Department and ambulance services were there. The boys from the high school 4H Club were selling refreshments. Bails of hay surrounded the edge of the field, and colorful streamers were hanging from the fences. Isaac was in heaven; it was the year of the fire truck for that eight-year-old. Zoë wanted a Sno-Cone.

I pulled out my dollar bill. And, all was right with the universe.

*The following summer I saw that old Volvo in the Grand Union parking lot.

**I even carried extra vent windows. Remember vent windows? When you parked the car on the street in Brooklyn in the ’80s it was bound to be vandelized. The thieves, in an attempt to be kind, would break in through the vent window instead of one of the bigger pieces of glass. While I was at the junkyard looking for parts earlier that year, I picked up a few spare vent windows to keep for just such emergencies. Besides, the vent window cost more to replace than anything the thieves could possibly have taken.

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His Watch

Donald J Trump, President of the United States 2016-2020

According to the Johns-Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineerin, May 20, 2020, 91,938 died and 1,528,661 cases of covid-19 in the United States. This image of the President comes to mind.

The number of deaths from covid-19 is equivalent to 33 attacks on the World Trade Center, so far, and the carnage continues.

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2.1% of the U.S. is Paved

In 1969, the amount of surface area of the United States that had been paved had just passed the 1% mark. This is a map of New York State drawn by tracing all of the roads throughout the state and nothing but roads. Currently, 2.1% of the surface area of the United States is paved. It fairly reflects the population of the state. Nearly 50% of the state’s population lives in New York City.

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AI, Covid-19, and Social Distancing

In the age of Covid-19 someone should write a social distancing app. For example: Ping GPS data, available for every smartphone to report when people come close together too often or use bluetooth. GPS data is accurate to within four meters. Generally, bluetooth broadcasts a maximum of between 15 and 78 meters depending upon several factors. The app could record when it encounters another smartphone within certain distances, when and for how long was the encounter. Over time, a log file would be recorded. Statistics would be established for what constitutes good social distancing using these stats. An ideal application for this app might be a construction site or golf course.

If a golf course were 35 acres and was occupied by 250 people, as they spread out over the course there might be an average of 4 contacts per person at any one time. 250 x 4 = 1000 contacts. The app, registering a number higher than 1000, suggests a wider social distancing may be required. An alert is displayed: CONGESTION.

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Mulvaney Defies Trump

Donald Trump is not known for nuance. Anyone defying him runs the risk of a expulsion from Camelot, or rather, Kompromat. So it comes as an eye-opener that the Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, sent his lawyer to court Friday night to join a lawsuit brought by Charles M. Kupperman, the president’s former Deputy National Security Adviser, who has also been subpoenaed by the House and is someone already on the outs with the president. Kupperman is asking the courts to tell him whether to remain silent (Trump’s preference) or comply with a House subpoena.

This is different from the other administration officials who have simply defied the House subpoenas for Mulvaney, accepting the president’s order not to cooperate, as sufficient to justify their contempt of court status, which is sure to follow. 

This is the natural result of a strained relationship between Mulvaney and Trump since his spectacular press conference debacle which resulted in Mulvaney having to walk back his “get over it” remark. In it he declared that “Quid Pro Quo” threats are made all the time.  After all, Mick Mulvaney is still the “acting” Chief of Staff ten months in as Trump’s uses his Chief of Staffs as high-level go-fers, nothing more.

The Chief of Staff is key to so many important aspects of the Presidency and is yet another benefit the office of the presidency extends to Trump which he then, in turn, squanders for self-serving greed, vane-glory. What a far cry from the utopian ideal of a relationship between an important figurehead and the Chief of Staff we might have had were this president not Donald Trump. 

In Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing, Roger Tribby, the Secretary of Agriculture, was chosen to stay behind in the White House during the State of the Union address. President Bartlet, before the speech, is giving him tips on what to do in the unlikely event he becomes president.

BARTLET: You have a best friend?

ROGER: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: Is he smarter than you?

ROGER: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: Would you trust him with your life?

ROGER: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: That’s your chief of staff.

Since he has no friends, is the self-professed smartest man on the planet, and trusts no one, Trump would have answered NO sir, NO sir, and NO sir. 

It’s hard to imagine how vulnerable Trump is right now and how threatened he must feel. Beware cornered animals.   

201031 Halloween: Old Photos

My studio wall in the early morning. You can see the mesh of the window screen giving the bright areas a gridlike pixelated feel to the image with some double images caused by reflections of light as the beams of sunlight get filtered through the leaves and the light starts to behave more like a liquid than a gas. It flows slowly enough to see the movement. It creates these double images when the light is thrown side to side as well as down through the foliage.

Here is an image of my studio wall in the sunrise hours of the early morning. In an almost dark room, this was a stunning picture to appear on a white wall suddenly. Digital cameras are extremely sensitive to low levels of light, a fantastic technology. The window-screen mesh gives the bright central area a gridlike, pixelated feel to the picture. Some double images are caused by reflections as the beams of sunlight get filtered through the thinning fall leaves that remained on the trees. The light behaves more like a thick liquid than an ethereal gas. It flows slowly enough that one can see its movement. It creates double-images when the light is thrown side-to-side and down through the foliage. The light beam is split just as if it had gone through a particular lens designed for that purpose. Do not mistake the image’s monotonal appearance as either a washed-out print or a monotone film. It is neither. This digital image is full-color and a faithful representation of the wall as it appeared.

You get the distinct impression that the image is like the image you would see in a microscope. The gridded light may give the totality a series of parallel light beams. When you have parallel light rays, you lose depth-of-field. There’s no way to see whether something is nearer or further away from you if the light doesn’t change. There is a very narrow depth of field, and you feel as though this is an image caught just as it came into focus. You are aware that it could go out of focus just as quickly. Finally, the image only remained another couple of minutes before the sun was high enough to fill the sky and supply enough light to overwhelm these subtle moments.

Voting Evolution

Let’s assume that the U.S.Postal Service is functionally broken and beyond repair by election day. Votes can not be collected by mail, can not be delivered, and certainly can not be counted on time, if ever. That is not a farfetched assumption. Everything the Democrats in Congress can do to stop, slow, and reverse 45’s efforts to sink the U.S.P.S. is being done but with little hope for success.

What happens after voters cast their ballots, but a significant portion of the mail-in votes goes unaccounted? The country would functionally stop, as we hold our collective breaths and wait for a decision. That situation might go on for days or weeks. In Gore vs. Bush’s case, it went on for twenty days until the Supreme Court stepped in and ended the legal debate. The Supreme Court would have to rule on a winner once again in the case of Trump vs. Biden.

Between the stacked conservative Supreme Court, the biased William Barr Justice Department, and a plethora of newly minted, right-leaning, Federal Justice appointees, it’s not difficult to see how that decision goes down. Looking at the Kavanaugh appointment, Mueller report, and impeachment dispositions, we can guess how that goes.

What do we do? Vote in person if you can.

Trump’s Hypnotic Suggestion

During the Moscow edition of Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant, Mr. Trump was wined and dined by Vladimir Putin’s cronies under the pretense that Putin was somehow interested in a Trump-branded hotel in the Russian capital. Looking backward, even the pretext for the meeting is dubious at best. Nevertheless, Trump met with these oligarchs, each a multi-millionaire in his own right. Putin knew what window dressing was required to attract Trump and cover his ultimate intention. At those meetings, over three days, a master hypnotist did a party trick for Trump, which turned out to be Trump’s reprogramming. Trump became Putin’s puppet. Even if the scheme didn’t work, the deal was simple. In exchange for ignoring certain of Putin’s actions, Trump would receive wealth beyond anything he could otherwise hope for. That was the deal. Under hypnotic suggestion, the transaction was more binary — you do this, we’ll do that.

Trump’s reprogramming was not as difficult as it may seem. Putin’s genius was to choose someone like Trump. Trump did not care about Russian troop movements, the well-being of Americans abroad, or the oil price in Germany or NATO. Trump’s incentive for his turning a blind eye from Russia was in exchange for getting millions of dollars from everything and everyone he met. Even the FBI and Secret Service would pay to be his bodyguard. The hypnotic suggestions needed reinforcement every so often, more so as time went on. Support at Trump Tower in New York came during secret meetings there. The Russians purchased several apartments for the pretext of money laundering and further hypnosis. Later, during his presidency, when this was no longer possible, what could be accomplished by telephone was carried out when Trump and Putin could not meet in person. When those telephone calls became less and less effective, the hypnotic suggestions began to fade.

To complicate matters, Trump was having real cognitive problems and other health issues, which may have been chemical, physical, or emotional. A coronavirus suddenly struck the world. Neither Trump’s America or Putin’s Russia were immune. Whatever the cause, Putin was losing control, and Trump was lost. The good news: Trump will not be re-elected; he doesn’t know how to get that accomplished on his own, and Putin is unable to help. The bad news: he will not leave without kicking, screaming, and making people’s lives miserable.

Repurposing

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to how to repurpose midtown Manhattan office space. The exodus has begun. After a considerable percentage of the New York City businesses relocate, millions upon millions of square feet of empty office space pose a liability to the city neighborhoods. Vacant buildings fall into disrepair, are vandalized, become home for squatters, drugs, gangs, and drag the rest of the nearby streets down. Unfortunately, landlords, forced to abandon buildings rather than operate them in a reduced capacity, cannot afford the loss.

With a real estate market that has been so hot for so many years, astronomical and unaffordable $45-90 per square foot rentals were the norm. There’s no way to replace those tenants without reducing the rent. The only viable alternative with some hope of financial success is growing marijuana. Atypical 10,000 square foot space, close to a quarter-acre in size, could be repurposed to produce 5500 pounds of potatoes, which would bring over $4100 at today’s market prices. That’s not going to be nearly enough to replace the $45,000 a month rent that space once brought in. But a comparable 10,000 square feet of marijuana could quickly bring in $250,000 depending upon the strain and the grower’s skill.

45’s Election Strategy

45’s election strategy becomes increasingly apparent. The writing is on the wall. He can no longer win and he knows it. Since rallies are nearly impossible to have, even in his favorite locations, e.g., Tulsa, or hosting a meaningful convention or appearing in public without a mask as he did yesterday while on a visit to Walter Reade Medical Center, his effectiveness at campaigning is questionable. The polling numbers are awful. Even in states which were solidly red, Senate races between longtime incumbents and democratic newbies are neck and neck. As the coronavirus epidemic rages out-of-control, with 135,000+ dead, dire predictions for the Fall include death-tolls over 200,000 and millions of new infections. The same people who drank the Koolaide poo-pooing social distancing and face masks appear each day in obituaries of the recently deceased.

There are two consistent actions Trump is taking regarding the election. First, he has refocused his efforts on what the legal landscape looks like, particularly in New York, where most of the post-election indictments will be generated. Here is where AG William Barr does his dirty work. Firing U.S. Attorney Berman protects Rudy Guiliani from current investigations but sidetracks ongoing investigations into Trump and Trump friends. Both the SDNY and EDNY are under attack from the DOJ. One could argue that commuting Roger Stone’s sentence yesterday was not too bright in this regard, but of more immediate concern was making sure Stone does not suddenly have memory recall of the Russian meetings and Wikileaks emails rather than worrying about becoming personally culpable for a self-serving presidential pardon.

Second, Trump is replacing his endless stream of campaign rallies with as much chaos as possible. No idea is too vile. If it is reprehensible, divisive, and cruel, it is now worthy of consideration. It began with him hauling out the Bible and declaring that ‘we control the streets.’ Yesterday ICE announced plans to offer a six-day “citizens academy” course to train people in what ICE does, including the arrest of immigrants. “You have been identified as a valued member of the community who may have an interest in participating in the inaugural class of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Chicago Citizens Academy,” read a letter from ICE Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian. The program will “serve as a pilot for nationwide implementation.” The course will include training in “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests,” according to the letter. All over the country, aggressive voter suppression tactics have escalated. With our broken judicial system, Trump increasingly finds it is easier to ask forgiveness, than get permission. Just ask Stacey Abrams. By the time anyone can do anything about the blatant disregard for the Constitution, the election is over, and millions of disenfranchised voters have no say in how their government runs.

Pay particularly close attention to how this administration handles the coronavirus epidemic from this point going forward. If their actions seem unusually stupid and misguided, it is this election strategy at work. This turn of events is a Hail Mary pass, a long shot with little hope of success. Cause so much divisiveness and chaos that this dysfunctional country cannot hold a fair election. Create so much anarchy that 45 can, at some point, throw up his hands and declare as he calls off the election altogether, “The election is just too broken. We cannot, in good faith, fairly choose a winner. I will continue to preside over this country, and we will try again sometime soon to hold elections.” We must not allow that to happen.

Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson in Letters from an American writes a daily synopsis of events of historical significance in the U.S. The sheer volume of her work these days is breathtaking as the torrent of news from this administration threatens to drown us all. What is most impressive is how she can keep the professional attitude of a journalist while recanting one atrocity after another. She meticulously lays out item after item with story background, first-hand references when available, and news sources. Today, July 11, 2020, was a particularly news-packed day, each story worse than the next. It’s hard to believe that the commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence, the states of Texas, Florida, and Arizona simultaneously hitting record-high numbers of covid-19 cases while their legislators fight to remove health-precautions and reopen, an invitation from ICE to any citizens who wish to help them track immigrants and Tucker Carlson’s chief writer stepping down after it came out that he regularly posted racist material, were overshadowed by the U.S. setting a single-day record for new cases of covid-19. Any one of these stories makes me too furious to consider what transpired from a journalist’s perspective. — they should all rot in hell.

Deceased Grandparents

“Painting in honor of all the deceased grandparents of the Covid-19 and who failed to say goodbye to their grandchildren” – Artist Juan Lucena, Spanish painter of JEREZ de la Border

I don’t know what to say about this painting by the Spanish artist, Juan Lucena. As a painting, the idea is fresh and original, the technique is as good, and execution is brilliant. The imagery is smart and provocative. The symbols of death, something horrific, yet ethereal and transcendent, evoke and reinforce the children’s bewilderment.

More than two-thirds of all covid-19 deaths in the United States are seniors. That is a horrific number when the total death toll is already over 108,000. Worse, the dead fight their final battles alone. No family is there for them at the end. These are our grandparents, our parents, and our brothers and sisters that disappear. They die alone in the hospital sometimes after days or weeks of care. That is as much a tragedy as what they die of. It is heartbreaking.

Had we been hit by an atomic bomb which managed to selectively wipe out our seniors, this couldn’t have been worse. The pandemic seems to have happened just that quickly. And, as in an atomic blast, the dead remain radioactive; we cannot see them or care for their remains.

We must tell the story of how covid-19 disproportionately killed our elderly, how they die alone, and how they disappeared. We must begin the discussion. Of the image in the painting, the only word that comes to mind is “inexplicable.” What has happened? What those children stare at in bewilderment with empty hearts, that sunken feeling pressing on your chest, is “inexplicable.” I don’t know what to say about the loss of our elderly in this way, yet I’m deeply grateful to the artist, Juan Lucena, for bringing it to our attention.