Carl Bernstein on Trump

Journalist Carl Bernstein thinks Trump is “boxed in” by the Mueller investigation and by the sheer incompetence of Trump taking a wrecking ball to the global economy. The man doesn’t get along with anybody — except for autocrats, mob bosses, and thugs. Trump apparently doesn’t feel boxed in at all, is confident that his voters will believe anything he says no matter the factual evidence, and retains absolute confidence that he can control the national conversation by continuing to bloviate and bluster.

The latter is what we get by electing to the presidency a man who has, all of his life, had fixers to cover up and deflect any consequences of his actions. Trump is used to passing the buck — he’s done it successfully since he was a young man at his father’s side.

Is he now really boxed in? Time will tell. I’m hoping the steady drip-drip-drip of House investigations will finally bring Trump voters to recognize how misplaced their loyalty is. Most of us don’t really, at the end of the day, admire a cheat and a liar. Trump belongs on WE TV, not in the most powerful office in the world.

Nick Ayers Snubs Trump

Anyone who comes highly recommended by Javanka is not likely to be someone I’d admire, so young Republican operative Nick Ayers — who has apparently made his considerable fortune as a political consultant satisfying the ambition of wealthy Republican candidates and donors — is not someone I’d see adding any sort of stability to the Chief of Staff position at the White House. But I think it’s interesting that Ayers turned down the position when offered by Trump.

Trump trusts very few people, and by now it’s evident that placing trust in him is a risky proposition. Everyone around Trump, with the possible exception of Nicki Haley, emerges tarnished and diminished by the rampant corruption coming out of the Oval Office. That means Trump is surrounded by an ever-shrinking group of people, many of whom have difficulty demonstrating competence for the jobs they are offered. Heather Nauert as U.N. ambassador? A joke.

Nick Ayers may have a future in Republican politics, but in his view that future is apparently not enhanced by going to work directly for Trump. So we’re left with the same names: Mulvaney, who now holds two jobs, Mark Meadows, Lighthizer. Chris Christie? He can’t be such a glutton for punishment that he puts himself in Trump’s line of fire for more bad jokes about his weight.

I have this image of Trump, whenever the end of his presidency comes, barricaded in the Oval Office with Janvanka and Melania and Don Junior ready to cast boiling oil at anyone who approaches. Eric will be outside on the lawn yelling about George Conway’s lack of respect. Anyone with half a brain and a perceived future in politics is going to be far, far away — like in Georgia, that bastion of democracy and civil rights where Ayers and his family plan to go.

This is how a presidency ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

New Mystery Series: Maisie Dobbs

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is a recommendation of friend and regular reader Mary R. in Minneapolis. I love finding an author new to me who develops her character and plot lines over several books. Winspear, who won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel — named for Dame Agatha Christie of course — is a gem of a writer.

Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist and private investigator whose stories are set in World War I London and the aftermath. While Dobbs is unraveling the latest mystery, her creator gives us a vivid picture of the conditions following a war: desperate poverty caused by an economy upended by conflict, grievous wounds to the body and spirit that never really heal, the long trailing suffering that leaches out from the actually wounded to the loving families who have to build up some semblance of normalcy.

Winspear paints a vivid picture of post-World War I London, and of the lives of rich and poor who lived there. The mysteries her character is called to solve occur mostly among the privileged; they are, after all, the ones with the money to hire an investigator. But Maisie began her life in service at the age of 13, her father is a former costermonger and now lives in a small cottage on the estate of Maisie’s wealthy patron, and Maisie’s assistant, Billy Beal, lives in that part of London where diseases like diphtheria ruthlessly claim the lives of small children whose poor parents can offer them only limited access to doctors.

Winspear puts a lot into these books, and I’m unable to tear myself away from the series in order to read other books I’ve downloaded and want to read, like Elaine Pagels Why Religion? I just finished Maisie Dobbs book 4, and am downloading the next three.  The Pagels book, which I expect to enjoy very much, will have to wait.

HBO Documentary: Ice Box

If you have HBO, try to track down the doc-film currently on offer: Ice Box. This heart-wrenching story follows 12 year old Honduran boy named Oscar, forced into a gang, branded with gang tats against his will, and made to stand by while the gang killed another boy. Oscar tries to leave the gang and return to school, where gang members track him down and pepper his classroom with live gunshots. His desperate parents pay a coyote to take him to the U.S. border to seek asylum, eventually to land with an uncle working outside Phoenix.

The heartbreaking scenes begin with Oscar’s father trying to tell his son how to remain safe on the perilous trip, his mother telling Oscar he isn’t being sent away because he is bad but because his life is in danger and they cannot protect him, and his little sister coming to say good-bye.

Whatever perils Oscar faces during the journey are far outweighed by the cruelty of Immigration and Border Patrol agents who catch Oscar and imprison him in a chilly warehouse filled with cages, each one home to a group of unaccompanied minors. The only kindness here is between the detainees, between Oscar and his new friend Rafael. Even the journalist who eventually helps Oscar connect with his terrified uncle — a  poor farm worker living in a bunk house whose job it is to spray dangerous chemicals on crops — has a motive: she wants details of Oscar’s confinement for a story. The U.S. court system, where Oscar unsuccessfully presents his case, comes in a close second on the cruelty scale.

There is no miracle ending, no happy prospect for Oscar to stay in the United States legally — except that he isn’t dead.

Trump’s tough guy act toward vulnerable children like Oscar is supported by people in his administration like Stephen Miller and John Kelly, all of whom conveniently ignore the role the U.S. has played in destabilizing Latin American countries for decades. During the 20th Century, the U.S. government supported regime change in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Very active, we were, under the guise of repelling communism.

Here is a more particular account of U.S. involvement in Honduras:

“U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in “Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America,” American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.”

By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.” Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector. This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911.

The people who should see Ice Box, Trump’s core supporters, will no doubt pass the HBO film by. But you should track it down and watch, if for no other reason to bear witness to the cruelty being done in our name.

Robotics: Making the World a Giant Roomba

Trump is raging against the desperate migrants at the U.S. southern border, but he seems oblivious to the ways that robotics is already changing our work force.

WalMart is deploying 360 AI powered robotic cleaners as a test in various of its stores. The robotic Roombas will replace humans pushing brooms and mops. The store claims this will free up associates to offer more customer service, but I have my doubts. I last entered a WalMart in Rochester many years ago, but my overwhelming impression was that it’s next to impossible to find anyone to ask anything. I suspect WalMart is simply eliminating those cleaning jobs — most of which probably happen overnight anyway, while the store is closed.

Quartz, reporting tongue in cheek on the trend, says we’ve seen the future and it’s a Giant Roomba. CNBC describes how the robotic floor scrubbers work:

Brain Corp. makes the robot floor scrubbers, called the Auto-C, powered by the company’s BrainOS technology platform, which includes autonomous navigation that uses multiple sensors to scan the robots’ surroundings for obstacles, like people. (That means the autonomous robots could even be used when customers are in the store.)”

I have no plans to return to WalMart, and I’m not enticed by the image of a large moving object sharing my aisle but designed specifically to navigate around me. And if I were a member of WalMart’s low wage cleaning staff, I’d be really worried.

Finally Prevailing over Target

I haven’t been able to stop the flow of unwanted Target online ads by repeatedly clicking “unsubscribe”, but I did succeed in diverting the ads to my Spam folder. Instead of seeing a missive from Target in my Inbox every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I now delete Spam every few days, the unwanted ads lumped in with the rest of the junk mail.

I consider it a victory.

Minga’s Death: The Fine Line of Intervening

Katie’s gift has prompted ongoing reflection about the difficult line I had to walk on my recent and last visits with Minga. Despite my long and deep relationship with Minga, I am not blood family — and in Panamanian culture, that matters. There is no concept, as we have here, of “chosen” family. Blood is blood. When Minga was first diagnosed, several of her daughters had strong feelings about what she had to do — and what they had to insist she do — to maximize her chances of staying alive. Their feelings came out of love. None of them, they told me in torrents of tears, was ready for Minga to die.

Clearly I identified with Minga, who although not ever a terribly introspective person was quite clear in saying what she did and didn’t want. I played the role that her sister might play if she’d had one, an aunt to the struggling daughters. I always acknowledged that I was not their blood aunt although I’d known them since they were little girls, and that I knew they were acting out of love. That said, I insisted they could not add the burden of their own grief to the heavy burden already weighing down their recently diagnosed mother. I said they couldn’t overwhelm her with their chorus of concerns, but that they had to let her speak. And they had to listen.

To their credit, almost all of Minga’s daughters ultimately supported Minga going to live with Ana, and trying things — like going home after each dialysis treatment — that the daughters knew, correctly as it turns out, would be too hard.

I came full circle with Minga during this most recent and last visit. I am sure she felt loved, and held, and secure that I would be there for her in the darkest moments. For her, that equated to being mothered — something elusive for her since her mother died when she was a little girl. She told me over and over that I had become her mother — something secure and comforting to her and a role I was happy to play.

I look forward to closing the circle with her daughters in January — all of them. I think it will be a more complicated task.

Did Trump Really Sell Us Out for a Moscow Hotel?

That Trump and his sycophants have been lying up a storm and trying to hide things since the election is without doubt. The question in everyone’s mind is “why”?

Could Trump really have sold out the integrity of an American election just to get another gaudy high rise hotel with his name plastered on it, this one in Moscow?

I’m shaking my head at the smallness and venality of his corruption.

The Living Room by the Ladies Loo

If you’ve ever been in an older theater, or a high end department store like Nordstrom’s, or a top tier jewelry store like Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue in New York and have to visit the ladies room, you will still see an adjacent area with rugs and comfortable chairs or sofas and a mirror for applying cosmetics. The area looks a bit like a living room.

How those spaces came to be, and why they are now so rare, is in this fascinating story in CityLab, a publication of the Atlantic.  Enjoy.

I had a funny experience with Lily and Gloria when they were in the U.S. visiting and we went to Tiffany’s. Fancy bathrooms and adjacent living rooms were, back in the day, the province of affluent white women. Gloria and Lily and I rode the elevator upstairs to use the ladies room, and as Gloria was done first, she sat in one of the plush chairs waiting for Lily and me to wash our hands. A very chi-chi older woman, superbly coiffed and decked out, came in and gave Gloria the stink eye, clearly assuming she was the help taking liberties. Gloria certainly caught the look, and remained smugly seated. The woman positively glared at me as Lily and I met up with Gloria and we three prepared to leave.

These ladies lounge areas may be fading into history, but clearly not the attitudes of some wealthy women who still consider them a private domain.

Minga’s Death: Gift of Remembrance

The Shutterfly ornament with pics of me and Minga on each side came from friend and regular reader Katie, who has been to Panama twice and knows Minga. I’m not surprised, Katie has a gift for picking just the right thing, and for noticing when someone is sad.

These two pictures are the bookends for Minga’s dialysis experience, and for the last year of her life. Lily took both pics. In the one where Minga and I are sitting, our heads touching,  we are in the restaurant of the Crown Plaza aeropuerto, Minga had just gotten out of the hospital — November 2017. She was desperately ill when her son Angel went to get her in the village and drive her to the hospital in Panama City. Once admitted, she was given dialysis several days in a row to bring her numbers back into ranges that were life-sustaining. At this point she had just learned that the only dialysis spot available was in the city, which would mean leaving her home for most of the week and staying with one of her daughters. The one she was with when this photo was taken lived very far from the hospital, three crowded bus rides and probably 90 minutes or so on top of the already grueling dialysis regimen. I believe Minga had not yet decided whether she could, or even wanted to, continue living under such difficult circumstances.

I had Minga stay with me in the hotel so we could talk, without her strong-willed daughters present, about what she wanted. Out of those conversations I was able to do four things. One was simply offer comfort for the difficult decisions ahead, which is what you see here. Another was to help engineer a change of living arrangements so that Minga moved to Ana’s apartment — closer to the hospital, and a calmer space. The third was to make the case to her daughters, quite forcefully and on more than one occasion, that Minga had lost her kidneys but not her mind, and they could not usurp her decision-making power about her future. Finally, Minga wanted to try to go home to the village after each dialysis treatment. I figured out how much that would cost for Minga and someone to accompany her, and left a fat envelope of small bills in her hand. The 2 hour trip after long hours in the dialysis suite proved to be too hard, but it was Minga making that decision — which restored her dignity and her sense of being in charge of her own life.

The other picture, in the lobby of the downtown Crowne Plaza, is November 2018. We’d just had a wonderful week, including the Mall excursion. Lily went out to check on the arrival of the Uber car that would take her and Minga back to Ana’s. I was leaving very early the next morning for the airport. Minga sort of leaned into me, and we had the moment you see here. I had no inkling that it would be the last time. Indeed, I was thinking how much stronger she was than the year before, how well she was doing. We didn’t speak. Minga simply rested into my body until Lily came back in to say the Uber had arrived.

A moment later, Minga was on her way.