The changing nature of work and whether (or when) we all get replaced by robots gets talked about around the office. I don't have a lot of money, but as Liam Neeson says in Taken, what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. That makes me somewhat harder to replace with a machine. Forget the computers and the engineering and science. What makes me still employable at this stage of life is so much of what I do is more art than science. I can teach a kid right out of engineering school how to run the software in a week, but she/he won't know what they hell she/he is doing with it. Decades in, I'm still learning what to do with it. Plus, since it is a particular set of skills, when they need me, they need me. What I know isn't just available on any street corner. So far.
The series "Robot-proof Jobs" from Marketplace Radio has been examining the impact of automation and algorithms in the workplace. Other than catering to investors or Trump promising to bring back jobs that aren't coming back, what kind of planning is the government doing to get ahead of the economic displacement?
Thomas Kalil, until this year deputy director for technology and innovation of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, asks host David Brancaccio [Timestamp 26:00]:
"The R&D budget of the Department of Defense is around 73 billion dollars. Do you have any guesses as to what the Department of Labor research budget is? ... Four million dollars."
Nobody at the Department of Labor is looking at how we could take advances in artificial intelligence technology and turn that into a way to reduce the time for a non-college educated worker to gain a skill that would give him a lift into the middle class.
Brancaccio asks, "Why isn't the government investing more massively in new ways to help people jump onto this high-tech jobs bandwagon?"
It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of will.
The Navy got the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to look into how to accelerate learning for new recruits. Their program found that after 4-5 months of specialized, computer-based training, new recruits were outperforming veterans with 7-10 years of experience. Kalil explains:
So, for example, 30 million Americans are reading at the third grade level or below. But you don't see a huge effort on the part of the private sector to solve that problem. We have not thought seriously about how we would harness science, technology, and innovation to advance economic and social mobility and create more ladders of opportunity. In part, because the private sector is under-investing because they may not see an immediate opportunity. And the agencies that are responsible for worrying about these issues, like the Department of Labor or like HUD, we've never said, hey, you should have a research arm that could do for economic and social mobility what DARPA does for the military or what NIH does for biomedical research.
Don't hold your breath. The private sector isn't interested and government spending on its people is a cost to be minimized, not an investment in future growth.
David Atkins wrote a lot here about Universal Basic Income (UBI) and what a shifting economy might bring. A forum at CUNY on Trade, Jobs, and Inequality discussed UBI and trade-related topics. A computer(?) transcription of the discussion here with all its inaccuracies demonstrates how far machines have to go. The discussion wandered into the social meaning of income. Having a stronger social safety net is not enough, says Paul Krugman, "[T]hink about the fact that France has a welfare state, a social safety net, that is beyond the wildest dreams of American leftists. Nonetheless le Pen made it into the second round of the election." So there is more going on in France than economic insecurity, he didn't have to say.
Economist David Autor of MIT addressed recent impacts of trade and automation. The "China shock" is basically over, he says [Timestamp 52:00]:
But we ought to learn some lessons about this. One is about our social safety net. As emphasized, trade adjustment assistance policy is woefully inadequate. But a deeper point is, jobs have their own value. You cannot make someone whole... What if you said, "Hey, Paul, we are going to take away your identity. You are no longer an esteemed economist. You are just retired". Would you say: "Oh, great! I have all this money and I do not have to do anything!"? Of course not. For most people, work is central to organize who they are, how they perceive themselves, how others perceive them, their social identity. A better social safety net is not sufficient. We would like to actually have good jobs.
It's not a discussion that will end, probably ever, but what struck me was Kalil's observation that we'll spend research dollars to improve military performance, but not on our civilian population. So long as the prevailing ethos is a social Darwninist one that sees struggling Americans as being unworthy of help, they will receive neither government investment in their futures, nor a safety net to cushion them against it. Trump played to some of their concerns and left them behind as soon as he got from them what he wanted: a win.
American Splendor-From the streets of Cleveland! Paul Giamatti was born to play underground comic writer Harvey Pekar, the misanthropic file clerk/armchair philosopher who became a cult figure after collaborating with legendary comic illustrator R. Crumb on some classic strips. Co-directors Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini keep their film fresh and engaging using imaginative visual devices and by breaking down the “fourth wall”. A virtually unrecognizable Hope Davis gives a great turn as Pekar’s deadpan wife.
Written by: Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Shari Springer Berman, and Robert Pulcini
An Angel at My Table-Jane Campion directed this incredibly moving story of successful New Zealand novelist Janet Frame (beautifully played at various stages of her life by three actresses, most notably Kerry Fox). When she was a young woman, her social phobia and generalized anxiety was misdiagnosed as a serious mental illness and she ended up spending nearly a decade in and out of institutions. Not for the faint of heart.
Written by: Janet Frame and Laura Jones.
Barfly-It’s the battle of the quirky method actors as Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway guzzle rye and wax wry in this booze-soaked dark comedy, based on the experiences of writer/poet Charles Bukowski. The film is quite richly drawn, right down to the smallest bit parts. Look for Sylvester Stallone’s brother Frank as a bartender who repeatedly beats the crap out of Rourke (I’d bet Rourke could take him in a real-life scrap!). If you’re up for a double feature, I’d suggest the compelling documentary Bukowski: Born into This.
Written by: Charles Bukowski.
The Front-Directed by Martin Ritt, this downbeat yet politically rousing tale uses the entertainment industry’s spurious McCarthy era blacklist as a backdrop. Woody Allen is very effective as a semi-literate bookie who ends up “fronting” for several blacklisted TV writers. Zero Mostel is brilliant in a tragicomic performance (Mostel, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and several other participants in the film actually were blacklisted in real life).
Written by: Walter Bernstein.
Hearts of the West-Jeff Bridges gives a winning performance as a rube from Iowa, a wannabe pulp western writer with the unlikely name of “Lewis Tater” (the scene where he asks the barber to cut his hair to make him look “just like Zane Grey” is priceless.) Tater gets fleeced by a mail-order scam promising enrollment in what turns out to be a bogus university “out west”. Serendipity lands him a job as a stuntman in 1930s Hollywood westerns. Featuring one of Andy Griffith’s best screen performances. Alan Arkin is a riot as a perpetually apoplectic director. Excellent direction by Howard Zieff.
Written by: Rob Thompson.
Henry and June- Fred Ward delivers his best performance to date as the gruff, libidinous literary icon Henry Miller. The story takes place during the time period that Miller was living in Paris and working on his infamous novel Tropic of Cancer. The film concentrates on the complicated love triangle between Miller, his wife June (Uma Thurman) and erotic novelist Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros). Despite the frequent nudity and focus on eroticism, the film is curiously un-sexy, but still a well-acted, fascinating character study. Richard E. Grant portrays Nin’s husband. Directed by Philip Kaufman.
Written by: Anais Nin, Philip Kaufman, and Rose Kaufman.
In a Lonely Place - “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Those words are uttered by Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a Hollywood screenwriter with a volatile temperament. He also has quirky working habits, which leads to a fateful encounter with a hatcheck girl, who he hires for the evening to read aloud from a pulpy novel that he’s been assigned by the studio to adapt into a screenplay. At the end of the night, he gives her cab fare and sends her on her way. Unfortunately, the young woman turns up murdered, and Dix becomes a prime suspect. An attractive neighbor (Gloria Grahame) steps in to give him an unsolicited alibi. A marvelous film noir, directed by Nicholas Ray, with an intelligent screenplay full of twists and turns that keep you guessing until the end. It’s a precursor to Basic Instinct.
Written by: Andrew Solt and Edmund H. North (from a story by Dorothy B. Hughes).
The Owl and the Pussycat-George Segal is a reclusive, egghead NYC writer and Barbra Streisand is a profane, boisterous hooker in this classic “oil and water” farce, directed by Herbert Ross. Serendipity throws the two odd bedfellows together one fateful evening, and the resulting mayhem is crude, lewd, and funny as hell. Buck Henry adapted his screenplay from Bill Manhoff’s original stage version. Robert Klein is wonderfully droll in a small but memorable role. My favorite line: “Doris…you’re a sexual Disneyland!”
Written by: Bill Manhoff and Buck Henry.
Prick Up Your Ears-Gary Oldman chews major scenery in this biopic about British playwright Joe Orton, who lived fast and died young. Alfred Molina nearly steals the film as Orton’s lover, Kenneth Halliwell. Halliwell was a middling writer who had a complex, love-hate obsession with his partner’s effortless artistic gifts (you might say he played Salieri to Orton’s Mozart). This obsession led to a shocking and heartbreaking tragedy. Director Stephen Frears captures the exuberance of “swinging” 1960s London to a tee.
Written by: Alan Bennett and John Lahr.
Reuben, Reuben-Director Robert Ellis Miller’s underrated gem (from 1983) features Tom Conti as a boozing, womanizing Scottish poet (reminiscent of Sean Connery’s character in the 1966 satire A Fine Madness). Conti’s character (he’s not “Reuben”, incidentally) spends more time getting himself in trouble than writing poetry, and is always on the prowl for wealthy patrons. The inspiration for the enigmatic title isn’t revealed until the final moments of the film. Also with Kelly McGillis (in her film debut).
Written by: Peter De Vries, Herman Shumlin, and Julius J. Epstein.
About half of the 675 immigrants picked up in roundups across the United States in the days after President Trump took office either had no criminal convictions or had committed traffic offenses, mostly drunken driving, as their most serious crimes, according to data obtained by The Washington Post.
Records provided by congressional aides Friday offered the most detailed look yet at the backgrounds of the individuals rounded up and targeted for deportation in early February by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents assigned to regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York.
Two people had been convicted of homicide, 80 had been convicted of assault, and 57 had convictions for “dangerous drugs.” Many of the most serious criminals were given top billing in ICE news statements about the operation.
The largest single group — 163 immigrants convicted of traffic offenses — was mentioned only briefly. Over 90 percent of those cases involved drunken driving, ICE said Friday. Of those taken into custody in the raids, 177 had no criminal convictions at all, though 66 had charges pending, largely immigration or traffic offenses.
The raids were part of a nationwide immigration roundup dubbed Operation Cross Check, which accounts for a small portion of the 21,362 immigrants the Trump administration took into custody for deportation proceedings from January through mid-March.
It is obvious that the directive is to deport as many as possible for any reason they can find. It's not a secret.
When you're talking about, 13, 14, 15, potentially more, millions of people in this country, the President needed to give guidance, especially after what they went through in the last administration where there were so many carve-outs that ICE agents and CBP members had to figure out each individual whether or not they fit in a particular category and they could adjudicate that case.
The President wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say: You have a mission, there are laws that need to be followed; you should do your mission and follow the law.
He always has that shit-eating look on his face in pictures with her
There's a lot of talk at the moment about Ivanka Trump's influence in the White House so I thought I'd share this piece from last November in the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino about "Ivanka's" book. I put it in scare quotes because I'm sure it was ghost written. But it has her name on it and presumably her endorsement. It's telling:
Ivanka Trump’s 2009 self-help book, “The Trump Card,” opens with an unlikely sentence: “In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Ivanka quickly adds caveats. “Yes, I’ve had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match,” she writes. “Yes, I’ve had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I’ve chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather.” Still, she insists, she and her brothers didn’t attain their positions in their father’s company “by any kind of birthright or foregone conclusion.”
The cognitive dissonance on display here might prompt a reader who wishes to preserve her sanity to close the book immediately. But “The Trump Card” is instructive, if not as a manual for young women interested in “playing to win in work and life,” as the subtitle advertises, then as a telling portrait of the Trump-family ethos, an attitude that appears quite unkind even when presented by Ivanka, its best salesman, in the years preceding her father’s political rise.
Ivanka spends much of “The Trump Card” massaging the difficulty in her premise. What can a woman born with a silver spoon in her mouth teach people who use plastic forks to eat salads at their desks? To answer this question, Ivanka employs an audacious strategy: all of her advantages have actually been handicaps, she says. When she was appointed to the board of directors at Trump Entertainment Resorts, at age twenty-five, the situation was “stacked all the way against me.” Her last name, her looks, her youth, her privilege have all colluded to make people underestimate her. And when she is overestimated—when people believe that she has an “inherent understanding of all things related to real estate and finance,” because her father is Donald Trump—this, too, “can be a big disadvantage.”
This messy argument comes with correspondingly messy metaphors. “We’ve all got our own baggage,” Ivanka writes, before explaining what she means by baggage: “Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage on the way.” Ivanka compares herself to a runner positioned on the outside track, whose head start at the beginning is just an illusion. “In truth, the only advantage is psychological; each runner ends up covering the same ground by the end of the race.” Soon, though—by page nine—she has grown tired of pretending to be her reader’s equal. “Did I have an edge, getting started in business?” she asks. “No question. But get over it. And read on.”
Ivanka is now thirty-five, and she has evolved since the days of “The Trump Card.” She got married to Jared Kushner and gave birth to three children; while she is as blond and beautiful and patrician as ever, her personal aesthetic is now less socialite and more life-style-blogger-cum-C.E.O. Through her “Women Who Work” brand, she has marketed herself as a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and Sheryl Sandberg. (Her second book, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” is slated for March, 2017.) Throughout her father’s unhinged Presidential campaign, she was easily his best surrogate; she is so poised that she could soften her father’s persona just by standing near him. A number of news items that might have clung to other women in the same position—old lingerie photos in men’s magazines, peculiar hearsay having to do with comments about “mulatto cock”—never stuck. Ivanka is white, wealthy, and beautiful, and these attributes often pass as moral virtues. “Classiness” does too, although it’s often just a kind of gracefulness deployed as a weapon or a shield.
Ivanka’s aesthetic differences from her father are often parsed as political differences, and she has made the most of such misperceptions. A friend of hers told Vogue in February, 2015, that the half of America that hates Donald Trump loves Ivanka—“because she’s not him!” In a November 2nd piece for BuzzFeed titled “Meet the Ivanka Voter,” Anne Helen Petersen identified a type of suburban white woman who supported Trump in vague alignment with his daughter. The Ivanka voter, she wrote, “does not think of herself as racist,” and “describes herself as ‘socially moderate.’ ” She shops at department stores that carry the Ivanka Trump Collection, and she didn’t put a Trump sign on her lawn. The Ivanka voter wasn’t comfortable explicitly endorsing Trump’s rhetoric, but, then again, neither was Ivanka. And if Ivanka stood to benefit from a Trump Administration, then surely the Ivanka voter would benefit, too.
But Ivanka, like her father, is concerned with personal profit. Her alignment with him on this matter is the basis of “The Trump Card,” in which she writes, in one section, “Gosh, I sound like my father, don’t I? But that’s what you get from this particular daddy’s girl.” The book is unmistakably aimed at women—the title is written in hot pink on the cover, which also features a blurb from Anna Wintour—but its few gender-specific sections aren’t pitched in the empowerment-heavy tone one might expect. In fact, they sound like Donald Trump. In a section about sexual harassment, Ivanka recounts the catcalls she got from construction workers growing up, then explains that these men would catcall anyone “as long as she was chromosomally correct.” She advises “separating the real harassment from the benign behavior that seems to come with the territory.”
It’s been decades since a President has come into office with adult children, and, at least among modern Presidents, none of those children had Ivanka’s public profile. (In 1976, the twenty-six-year-old Chip Carter left an eight-thousand-dollar mobile home in Georgia when he stumped for his father on the road.) Ivanka will likely continue trying to project some distance from her father’s politics—recently, she separated her own social-media accounts from the accounts of the Ivanka Trump life-style brand. But the illusion will be imperfect: her jewelry company sent out a press release about the bracelet Ivanka wore on “60 Minutes” after her father’s election; she was photographed meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister the week after the election; and she sat in on a call with the Argentinian President. She will have, and presumably use, every opportunity to enrich the family company, of which she remains an executive vice-president. This is the definition of corruption, but as laundered through Ivanka—who’s been tweeting about banana bread and posting photos of her children—it won’t look so bad.
For anyone who still finds Ivanka to be a cipher, “The Trump Card” provides a surprisingly clear indication of her instincts, particularly when she discusses her childhood. She offers a story about being forced, by her mother, to fly coach to the south of France as the moment she realized she needed to make her own money. She has a sour sense of humor: she describes attending the élite prep school Choate Rosemary Hall as an opportunity “to look at the world from a whole new angle. Even if it meant living in a building named for someone else!”
When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.” In another early business story, she and her brothers made fake Native American arrowheads, buried them in the woods, dug them up while playing with their friends, and sold the arrowheads to their friends for five dollars each.
“The Trump Card” contains other illuminating surprises. Chapters are separated by short essays called “Bulletins from My Blackberry,” featuring advice from Ivanka’s mentors. One of these, “On Being Positive,” is by Roger Ailes, who was recently ousted from Fox after being exposed as a serial sexual harasser. “If you listen to negative people, you’ll get a migraine,” Ailes writes. In a passage about technology and distraction, Ivanka writes that her father “has no patience for . . . electronic gadgets.” She advises her readers to behave on social media: “It’s only a matter of time before some political candidate or high-level appointee is bounced from contention because he or she has been ‘tagged’ in an inappropriate photo.” And then, in a line that’s somewhat shocking to come across now: “My friend Andrew Cuomo, New York’s great attorney general, tells me that e-mail is the key to prosecuting just about everyone these days.”
For my money, though, the book’s most revealing remark arrives after Ivanka recalls a boxing match in Atlantic City, in which Mike Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in ninety-one seconds. The crowd, having paid a lot of money and expecting more action, grew angry. Donald Trump got into the ring to calm them down, impressing his seven-year-old daughter. “That electric night in Atlantic City made me realize that it isn’t enough to win a transaction,” she writes, all these years later. “You have to be able to look the other guy in the eye and know that there is value in the deal on the other end, too—unless, of course, you’re a onetime seller and just going for the gold.”
The presidency is the Trump family's greatest grift. And Ivanka is at the center of it. Indeed, she and daddy are the faces of the brand, past and future.
"I have a lot of property. So if I go to my clubs like in New Jersey, they'll say, 'Oh he is going to play golf.' I am not going to play golf. I couldn't care less about golf," Trump said in an interview on Fox News.
"But I have a place there that costs almost nothing because its hundreds of acres and security and they don't have to close up streets," he added.
Trump said he feels "a little guilty" going back to his Trump Tower residence in New York because of all the expenses that are associated with each trip.
"I love New York, but going back is very expensive for the country because they close up Fifth Avenue and they close up 56th Street ... and I always feel a little but guilty when I go there," he said.
Trump noted that he prefers to visit his other properties because they are not as expensive to secure but added that he does not want to be perceived as "lazy."
"It would be much better if people would understand that I could go other places that I have. But then they hit me for relaxing. And I don't want to be known as a person that relaxes because I am working hard and I am working hard for the people."
Trump, who frequently criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for playing golf while in office, has not shied away from going to his own golf clubs since taking office, where he has at times held weekend meetings with administration officials.
According to The New York Times, Trump has spent 31 days of his presidency visiting at least one of his properties, including 19 visits to his golf clubs.
He seems like he's really losing it. Not that he ever had it together. He's always been a whiner and never made much sense. But it seems to be worse than usual.
By the way, his little week-end getaways cost millions of dollars every single time.
View of the Women's March on Washington from the roof of the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. Photo: Public Domain.
It's 100 days of Trump (C in Roman numerals). And what a hundred days it's been. He's had accomplishments. Tremendous accomplishments. (Remember when executive orders were tyranny?) The man who thought he would govern the government as a CEO has instead, according to Vox, punctured "a glib myth" that running the nation like a business could "solve the eternal plague of government inefficiency." Instead, Trump has presided over "the least productive first 100 days of a presidency in modern American history."
So unproductive that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night condensed 99 of those days into 99 seconds.
The Late Show left out the rollout of Trump's Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) hotline this week. It was swamped with prank calls about encounters with extraterrestrials and other troublesome beasties:
Wouldn't it be a shame if millions of people called this hotline to report their encounters with aliens of the UFO-variety. https://t.co/Cl048Gihnk
The man who thought he would govern America as its CEO has instead, according to Vox, punctured "a glib myth" that running the nation like a business could "solve the eternal plague of government inefficiency." Instead, Trump has presided over "the least productive first 100 days of a presidency in modern American history." He's so insecure about it, he still needs to prove to reporters (he hates the press, remember?) that he's actually the president:
For the #Resistance , however, things have gone better than expected. The text-messaging activism site Daily Action celebrated yesterday:
SO MUCH WINNING ... This was supposed to be a HUGE week for Trump to celebrate his 100 days but it turned out to be two victories for us - blocking the funding for the border wall at the beginning of the week and keeping up the pressure on GOP "moderates" to deny them the votes on the latest version of the healthcare bill.
In the last 100 days here are a few of our victories:
We forced the GOP to walk back their plans to gut the Congressional ethics office jamming their phone lines with our protest calls as soon as the news broke.
The withdrawal of Andrew Puzder's nomination for Secretary of Labor after we made over 35,000 calls to Senators on both sides of the aisle.
Forced U.S. Customs and Border Protection to publicly commit to complying with all judicial orders and immediately release data on how many individuals were detained in their custody (by jamming their phone lines all day)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigations after we made almost 20,000 protest calls in less than 24 hours
Stopped ExxonMobil from receiving a sanctions waiver so that they could drill for oil in Russia -- with over 6,000 calls to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs within 24 hours of the news breaking.
In one 24 hour period, Trump publicly demanded border walls be included in this week's must-pass budget measures, 8,300 of us called the Senate and made our voices heard ... and Trump publicly retracted that demand and said he would try again in September.
Over 80,000 calls to Congress helped stop both attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
We certainly haven't won every battle but we are winning a lot of them and most important, we are winning more and more. Stay vigilant, be proud of the amazing work you've done and the wonderful community that we have formed. Share broadly and recruit your friends and family. Text DAILY to 228466 (ACTION) for daily action alerts.
The satirists and journalists have played their part too, needling Trump and getting under his skin as well as shedding light on his spell in power. His devotees remain loyal, but thanks to those who keep insisting on telling the truth, most Americans now see Trump for what he is – which is why his poll numbers are so low.
Dog lovers the world over know well that their pets help them through all kinds of stressful situations and certainly the loss of a loved one is no exception.In Austin, TX, an 11-month-old puppy is now in training to provide that comfort to families who desperately need it, not to mention those who make their living in the funeral industry.Several months ago, mortician Melissa Unfred adopted Kermit from Fuzzy Friends Rescue in Waco, and he has proved to alleviate quite a bit of her own job stress. While she enjoys helping others through a difficult life situation, it’s a difficult road.“My job is really hard,” Unfred told ABC affiliate KVUE. “We’re faced every day with tragedies and sad situations and it can take a toll on you over time.
”The border collie mix, she says, is a stabilizing force.“He’s very positive in the face of death. He’s even helped me face these type of situations. Every day, I’m dumbfounded that I lucked into such a smart dog.”She realized early on Kermit carried himself differently when he was at the funeral home.“His demeanor would start to fit perfectly with the situation,” Unfred said. “A lot of people have been really surprised that he’s not hyper. You see that as a hand will go out to pet him, it’s like an immediate sigh of relief. I’ve seen it over and over again, whether we’re at a funeral or a nursing home or somebody has just passed away, he is there to be a calm presence.”
Unfred works for Affordable Burial and Cremation Service in Austin. The business’s owner, Robert Falcon, sees the impact Kermit has on the customers.“When he shows up, he calms the room. Kermit has a presence to him,” says Falcon.Falcon added that sometimes, when someone starts to break down in his office, Kermit seems to come in at just the right time.“There have been times …” Falcon said “…when I’m sitting there at the desk with the family going through a tough moment, and he will come up and introduce himself. He will just sit and have a presence. He has a knack to find the person who is hurting the most.”Unfred has also noticed Kermit’s ability to go to the person in the most pain.“He can kind of sense the energy in the room,” Unfred said. “Sometimes I will start to go upstairs and Kermit isn’t behind me. He ended up staying behind and Robert has seen him in action. He just moves himself into the position where he’s closest to the primary griever.”Kermit already has his good citizenship certification, as he is now just a few weeks from turning 1. Once he hits that first birthday, Kermit can be certified as a grief therapy dog, making him the first therapy funeral dog in all of Texas.
I'd like to teach the world to have a beer together
That's from the original 1971 Coke ad, "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony..." And you've undoubtedly seen the more recent even more fatuous approach from Pepsi. Advertisers always see opportunities in the zeitgeist.
But this one from Heineken is really well done:
It's obviously not always that simple. But sometimes it is. You never know ...
"We need to do a good job of vetting, but that’s a complex issue and I'm not sure anyone could be expected to find that. I’m comfortable that they’re working hard to do vetting. But it's obvious that often times you don’t catch everything that might be a problem. I don’t know the facts of this case; maybe there's an explanation for it."
This is unsurprising coming from the states' rights zealot who believes the federal government should prosecute marijuana users in states where it's been legalized and backs legislation to force all states to follow the nation's most lax state gun laws. He's got a lot of "situational principles" including, apparently, one that says it's no big deal if the National Security Adviser is possibly colluding with a foreign government to undermine democracy and god-knows-what-else.
The administration is blaming the Obama administration for re-issuing his security clearance in May of 2016 which is kind of hilarious. Just imagine what kind of shitshow would have ensued if they hadn't. It's fair to assume that any new president ought to take a very close look at their new National Security Adviser no matter what, especially since it was obvious he's crazy as a fucking loon. This was already obvious. He'd been fired for it in the Obama administration. Trump knew this and didn't care because Flynn was his boy and he was out there calling Hillary Clinton a pedophile on TV so that made him the perfect top national security adviser. Sessions was the campaign's foreign policy advisory committee chairman so he knew Flynn well and thought he was a good man too. This is the kind of judgment we can expect from the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country.
Fans of old TV series may remember a classic “Twilight Zone” episode titled “It’s a Good Life.” It featured a small town terrorized by a 6-year-old who for some reason had monstrous superpowers, coupled with complete emotional immaturity. Everyone lived in constant fear, made worse by the need to pretend that everything was fine. After all, any hint of discontent could bring terrible retribution.
And now you know what it must be like working in the Trump administration. Actually, it feels a bit like that just living in Trump’s America.
I hadn't thought of this before but it's perfect. If you are unfamiliar with the episode, here's a little taste:
Now picture if you will, Trump, the alleged trade expert and master negotiator, threatening to abruptly withdraw from NAFTA:
President Trump was set to announce Saturday, on the 100th day of his presidency, that he was withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement — the sort of disruptive proclamation that would upend both global and domestic politics and signal to his base that he was keeping his campaign promise to terminate what he once called “a total disaster” and “one of the worst deals ever.”
“I was all set to terminate,” Trump said in an Oval Office interview Thursday night. “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.”
There was just one problem: Trump’s team — like on so many issues — was deeply divided.
As news of the president’s plan reached Ottawa and Mexico City in the middle of the week and rattled the markets and Congress, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and others huddled in meetings with Trump, urging him not to sign a document triggering a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA.
Perdue even brought along a prop to the Oval Office: A map of the United States that illustrated the areas that would be hardest hit, particularly from agriculture and manufacturing losses, and highlighting that many of those states and counties were “Trump country” communities that had voted for the president in November.
“It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,” Trump recalled. “They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”
By Wednesday night, Trump — who spent nearly two years as a candidate railing against the trade agreement — had backed down, saying that conversations with advisers and phone calls with the leaders of Canada and Mexico had persuaded him to reconsider.
This is the man who claimed he alone could fix everything that is wrong with America because our leaders have been so stupid.
His aides had to bring him pictures and soothe his ego so he didn't blow up the economy.
"That's real fine Trumpie. It's real good that you did that..."
Trump has made one of the most famous presidential statements in history this week, one that should be his epitaph:
"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I do miss my old life. This — I like to work, but this is actually more work."
Yeah. He said that. Out loud. Because he's an imbecile.
But it is revealing. He thought the presidency was a performance, kind of like Kim Kardashian hosting a party at Hakkasan. He didn't know you have to do anything more than run your mouth and appear on TV. It turns out that the TV part is real but it's about 1/10th of the job. He's disappointed.
You cannot make this stuff up.
538 published a helpful primer on the first hundred days of Trump. I think their observations are acute and I've highlighted a handful of them:
Trump isn’t a “normal Republican” … but he isn’t a populist, either.
Trump campaigned as a populist (in rhetoric if not always in policy). He railed against undocumented immigrants, job-killing trade deals and “elites” of all stripes. He promised to bring back jobs, avoid foreign entanglements and to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Trump hasn’t exactly governed as a populist, however. He repeatedly turned to Goldman Sachs and its alumni network for top advisers. He made nice with China, rolled back financial regulations and just this week proposed a huge tax cut for businesses and the wealthy. His health care bill would have reduced insurance subsidies for many of his rural supporters.
The lesson of Trump’s first 20 days, then (give or take), was that we should forgo the admonition to “take Trump seriously but not literally” — that he didn’t really mean the things he said during the campaign. But since then, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that we shouldn’t expect him to fulfill all his promises, either. Or, in some cases, even to try.
If there is one policy area in which Trump has been consistent, it is immigration. Sure, there have been a handful of inconsistencies and reversals — he has wavered on when and how Mexico will supposedly pay for the border wall, and the rumored “deportation force” never materialized — but unlike in foreign policy or trade, Trump has never backed away from his hard-line stance on immigration. The administration has announced plans to hire thousands more border guards and enforcement officers, to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” to create a new office to draw attention to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants (it launched this week) and to expand the number of immigrants who can be deported through an expedited process. He has also taken steps to limit legal immigration, putting new restrictions on the use of temporary H1-B work visas and proposing a (still vague) merit-based approach to immigration.
The direct practical impacts of Trump’s new policies aren’t yet clear. Deportations are up but are still below the level from earlier in Obama’s term. A federal judge this week blocked part of Trump’s order on sanctuary cities. And Trump has thus far left in place Obama’s protections for immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. But there is evidence that Trump’s actions are having an impact even before his policies are fully in place. The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended at the Mexican border — a rough proxy for the level of illegal immigration — is down sharply under Trump, a drop many experts attribute to Trump’s tough talk and to would-be immigrants’ fears that they would not be welcomed in the U.S. At the same time, there have been early reports that fewer foreigners are coming to the U.S. as tourists or students, trends that, if they continue, could be bad news for the U.S. economy.
Some political rules do still apply to Trump.
During the campaign, Trump often seemed to defy political gravity, surviving scandals that would have felled more traditional candidates. That Teflon reputation was always overblown — Trump did fall in the polls after controversies such as the “Access Hollywood” tape and his comments about a Mexican-American judge, though he eventually rebounded. As president, Trump has continued to make bizarre and sometimes false statements, and has continued to survive them. But that doesn’t mean there have been no consequences: Trump is deeply unpopular (though only modestly more so than when he took office), and his approval ratings took a particular hit after the high-profile failure of the Republican health care bill.
Trump is learning that he isn’t immune to other political realities, either. The health care bill was doomed by the same intra-Republican disputes that have plagued the party for years. Trump lost his first nominee for labor secretary and several lower-level appointees over ethical questions and conflict-of-interest issues. And persistent questions over his campaign’s relationship with Russia have brought down Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and have proven a constant distraction during the first 100 days.
Facts still matter (sometimes).
Trump’s habit of playing fast and loose with the facts didn’t hurt him in the election (at least not badly enough for him to lose), so maybe it’s unsurprising that he has continued the practice since taking office. Most famously, he tweeted that Obama had tapped his phone during the campaign, a claim for which no one has ever produced any supporting evidence. He has also claimed that the U.S. murder rate is at a 47-year high (it isn’t), that he has created 600,000 new jobs (he hasn’t) and, repeatedly, that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in November (there’s no evidence to support that claim). In one particularly peculiar incident, Trump said he was sending an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea, when it was in fact moving in the opposite direction.
But while those misstatements and falsehoods have generally carried few consequences, there are signs that facts still matter in policy and politics. Perhaps the clearest example was the failure of Republican efforts to discredit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ahead of its report on the GOP health plan. Despite those efforts, the CBO’s report — which found the bill would leave millions more Americans without health insurance — helped kill the bill. His new tax plan could face a similar fate: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the bill will pay for itself through economic growth, but it won’t be up to the White House to determine the plan’s cost, which will likely run into the trillions of dollars.
There is no ‘Trump administration.’
Political reporters routinely write about the executive branch as if it is a single person — “the White House announced X” or “the administration believes Y.” That’s a conceit, of course; any presidential administration is full of thousands of strong-willed individuals who frequently disagree with one another. But it’s a conceit that contains a fair amount of truth. There may not be one opinion, but there generally is one policy, and a clear process for making it. Members of an administration may disagree, but once a decision is made, they typically fall in line behind it.
That does not appear to be how the Trump administration works. This month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley gave contradictory descriptions of the U.S.’s policy on regime change in Syria. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called publicly for the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate accords, a position other members of the administration do not seem to share. Trump’s various economic aides often seem at odds over the administration’s position on free trade.
It's a total mess. But seriously, who thought it would be otherwise?
Donald Trump had many ardent admirers during the 2016 campaign, but one group that jumped on the Trump bandwagon early and enthusiastically was the National Rifle Association. Its passionate endorsement of him may be one of the most unexamined reasons for his success. Back in December, I wrote a piece about NRA president Wayne LaPierre’s savvy move to turn gun rights into a “populist” agenda for the organization. LaPierre was selling Trumpism before Trump even came on the scene.
For at least the past decade, LaPierre’s pitch has been that the NRA stands for more than just gun rights. Rather it stands for a way of life that “elites” are trying to destroy by suppressing free speech, religious liberty and the freedom to run your own business or choose your own health care. LaPierre declared that “drug-dealing illegal immigrants” were pouring over the border and lenient liberal judges were allowing criminals to prey on innocent people destroying our cities. Trump’s “American carnage” inaugural address no doubt resonated strongly with many NRA true believers.
Al Gore’s narrow defeat in the 2000 presidential election convinced Democratic Party strategists to take gun control off the table to stop the erosion of rural white voters in the Rust Belt and the South. Gore’s inability to win his home state of Tennessee — an unusual event, at least at the time — was chalked up to his support for gun control. According to this article by Noam Scheiber in the New Republic, by 2002 it was gospel:
Sure, Gore had won the Rust Belt battleground states, but the Democrats had lost their third straight bid to retake Congress — and many in the party believed gun control was to blame. In particular, they pointed to the election’s regional skew. In famously anti-gun California, the Dems knocked off three incumbents. But throughout the rest of the country, they defeated only one. “Of all the issues,” insists one senior Democratic congressman, gun control “had the greatest net [negative] effect.”
By 2008 the GOP had so discredited itself with the Iraq war and the financial crisis that Democrats were able to win back seats and the presidency in many of those disputed areas. And then a series of horrific mass shootings persuaded many Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, that they couldn’t be silent about gun proliferation any longer. The unhappy result was a reinvigorated gun rights movement and a whopping surge in gun sales.
As we all know, Donald Trump narrowly won three of those crucial Rust Belt states in 2016, putting him in the White House. This time around, the conventional wisdom has been that it was because of his economic populist message rather than gun rights. But as I argued in my earlier article, Trump’s wholehearted embrace of the NRA may very well have been a bigger contributing factor. Certainly LaPierre believes it was. His victory speech after the election was nothing short of triumphant.
He released a videotape to his members entitled “Our Time Is Now,” echoing the title of a famous 1981 speech by Ronald Reagan. He took credit for sending Hillary Clinton “on permanent political vacation” by making “her hatred for the Second Amendment a central issue of this campaign.” He issued a call for vigilance because Americans “face a growing group of anti-Second Amendment elitist billionaires, led by George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, and they will continue to enjoy the support of an openly dishonest media that truly hates your right to speak, your right to worship and your right to vote.”
A couple of months later, LaPierre spoke to the CPAC convention and in a long, passionate stemwinder he explained to the excited crowd that the central threat facing America today is “the violent left.” He put the anti-Trump protest movement on notice that they had better watch themselves or some God-fearing Real Americans might take matters into their own hands:
The left’s message is absolutely clear. They want revenge. You have to be punished. They say you are what is wrong with America. And now, you have to be purged. … Make no mistake, if the violent left brings their terror to our communities, our neighborhoods or into our home they will be met with the resolve, and the strength, and the full force of American freedom in the hands of the American people and we will win because we are the majority in this country. … We are still here and we’ve got President Trump’s back — for the next eight years.
That would sound like typical right-wing hyperbole if it weren’t coming from the man whose followers are all armed to the teeth. Ironically, times are tough for the gun industry when a Republican holds the the White House — gun sales typically fall and NRA membership is likely to flatten out. So the likely strategy is to gin up fear among the faithful so they’ll buy more guns and renew their memberships.
To that end, it appears the NRA has gone full “alt-right.” Media Matters issued a report on Bill Whittle, a new commentator for the NRA’s news outlet NRATV who “has promoted the racist notion that black people are inherently intellectually inferior to people of other races and suggested that races could be divided along the lines of ‘civilized man’ and ‘barbarian.'” They are consolidating the entire Trump worldview under the NRA imprimatur.
On Friday Donald Trump will become the first president since Ronald Reagan to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. We can expect him to receive a rapturous welcome. These gun proliferation zealots are the core of his base and may be the real reason he won the election, and they know it.
The president, who has just discovered, much to his surprise, that his new job is harder than being a reality TV star and heir to a real estate fortune, will no doubt feel relieved to be back in the bosom of his most ardent admirers. Unfortunately, he is also highly susceptible to suggestion, so let’s hope LaPierre cools it with the declarations of war on the “violent left.” Trump’s so desperate for action at this point that he might get carried away and take him seriously.
Driving home from a meeting in Raleigh takes over four hours. There is a lot of time to kill. On this particular drive, a friend from the New York City area via Los Angeles was riding along. She is an elegant woman with presence. You notice her immediately when you enter a room. She and her husband had run a travel-related business in southern California and retired in western North Carolina, we knew, but not much else.
So my wife and I started talking about how we had come to the South and a little about our family histories. I talked about how on both sides of my family were Irish Catholic, my father's family from Dublin via Ontario, my mother's from the Cork area (we think). My mother's background is working-class. Her father was a fireman and a union man. My father's family had been in shipping on the Great Lakes. My wife's mother traces roots back to the Mayflower while, my wife jokes, her father was the bastard son of a coal miner. And a WWII combat veteran. Then it was our friend's turn.
She grew up in Brooklyn, she said, but her family is from Puerto Rico. Her great grandmother was from Puerto Rico, she knew, but before that there was nothing. We didn't have to ask why. She is black. The car went silent.
It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It's a common thing, family history. It had never occurred to us someone (other than an adoptee) didn't have one, and our friend does not. There are websites devoted to geneaology, and online records.* It is something the two of us simply took for granted. Is that white privilege or simply white cluelessness? Whatever, it clued me in to how clueless I was and still am.
So the lefty upset over Barack Obama's $400,000 fee for a prospective speech to Cantor Fitzgerald gnawed at me this week. A retweeted piece from Marcus H. Johnson got to part of why. (My Our Revolution friends won't like his take, but for me it brought back a little of that conversation in the car.) Johnson writes:
In late 2016, nearly 9 out of 10 Black voters approved of President Obama. To many Black voters, he is the symbol of success for Black America. You might not agree with everything he has done, and I certainly haven’t agreed with everything, but you have to respect him for what he means to Black Americans — making it to the height of American politics and withstanding eight years of racist attacks. Sanders and his movement see Obama as symbolic of evil neoliberal corporate interests. Therein lies the disconnect. The far right holds disdain for Obama for some of the same reasons that the far left does: They see him as beholden to special interests instead of “those of the people.”
Black people can see this, they aren’t stupid. They see that the political fringe on the left and most of the right hates Obama for some of the same reasons. So when the far left comes out and says that the first Black President should be held to a different standard than Presidents before him — that he doesn’t deserve to get paid for his post-Presidential work or shouldn’t be compensated — the Black community feels that one of its largest symbols of success is under attack from an overwhelmingly white political movement.
Do you see how Black people see this? How we look at this and say “They don’t want Black people to succeed or to be represented in politics, business, or media? They don’t want Black people to make money?” This is a movement that hates identity politics, refused to campaign in the diverse southern states, and calls out prominent successful Black people for getting paid for their work. Vox wrote an article saying that Obama shouldn’t have taken the money not because it was corruption (it clearly wasn’t) but because the optics could make it appear so. Well, think about how the optics of how the far left appears to Black people. From a Black perspective, you can see how the far left and the far right’s criticisms of prominent Black people appear very similar?
What I can see isn't the issue. Are Johnson's views typical of his community? Maybe and maybe not. But I'm sure mine are not. Maybe his criticism that the "far left" (whatever that is) is "moving down a path that doesn’t get them the white working class and pushes away Black and Brown voters," is unfair and maybe not. But having been blindsided once, memorably, by my own white cluelessness, they give me pause. My perspective is not right. It's just mine.