Sunday, April 30, 2017

2920 Days (not considering Leap Years)

("Lessons From 100 Days of President Trump")

It is but a presidential mirage. The belief that, even as one does nothing right he is doing alright (if not all right). How else does the brain accept the startling (no startling is far too soft and squishy a description), the mind numbing, mind blowing concept that Donald Trump would do better today at the polls than he did on that November day 100 days and a 1000 mistakes ago.

Mr. Trump has indeed performed the governing equivalent of shooting someone (translate to "this country") in broad daylight in the middle of Fifth Avenue without repercusssion or ramification. 

Yes, he has achieved the unfathomable of being unable to come within a mile of having any meaningful legislation passed when his party controls both houses of Congress. He has managed (or mismanaged) so horrendously that his own side remains the party of No, even as it has the power of Yes tucked in it's pocket.

But despite that, it is not too early to settle in to this possibility. Donald Trump, this Donald Trump, is here to stay. Not for merely another 100 days, not even for merely the balance of this term. If history has any remaining relevance (and maybe Mr.Trump has made that concept as meaningless as Hillary Clinton) we should seriously ponder the frightening image of seven years and 264 more days of a rudderless ship.

There may well be midterm reversals in 2018 (does 2010 ring a bell with anyone?) and mini insurrections and rebellions scattered across the landscape, but we as a country love nothing so much as believing in the possibility of our President. Can you say Richard Nixon and George W. Bush? Maybe we should call it the audacity of hope.

Do you think that can't happen? Do you remember that escalator ride through the glitz of Trumpdom, the Mexican putdown, the McCain knockdown and the unending indignities that followed. So you understand that logical conclusions don't necessarily follow illogical actions.

Mark my word. If Donald Trump does not shoot himself in the foot (and the target, like his hands, is much smaller than one imagines) this bumbling, fumbling, ever stumbling maniac will be a two term nightmare, an eight year sentence imposed upon this nation. We serve the time while he commits the crime. 

Teflon Don.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Yin and Yang Shake Hands

("(It's Great to) Suck at Something")

Confession. I don't generally suck at golf. But yesterday I did. Bigly.

One embarrassing moment piled on the next. Each club had the feel of a serpent in my hands. Each swing a reminder that ineptitude knows no limits. Each sand trap a desert, each putt a search for where's Waldo. 

I am one season shy of six decades chasing after a little ball and yesterday could have been the nadir. But in one sense it was my finest hour. I remained calm though the storm was raging all around.

No thrown clubs, no damning of God, no sulking, no whining, no lamenting, no endless chatter about how I never ever performed so abysmally. No annoying myself with my petulance almost as much as I perpetually annoy all those unfortunate enough to be within eye or earshot.

Golf is a forever humbling, forever humiliating experience and I have never come close to mastering the Zen of it. But yesterday I did not suck bigly at my impersonation of a grown up. And being good while being bad was possibly one of the worst and best experiences ever. 

Golf, like life, is a complicated undertaking.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Taxing Times

("Living in the Trump Zone")

So this is what passes for a comprehensive tax reform? Where is Herman Cain and the 9-9-9 plan when you need him (I actually don't remember anything about what it intended but it caught our attention for a moment).

The White House is on perpetually high alert, not from threat of foreign enemy, but from a much more insidious foe, the President.

I can only imagine the fear that each new dawn brings to Sean Spicer as he awaits the latest disaster of Mr. Trump's commission which he must try to explain as some rational proposition.

The problem, as Mr. Krugman (and my son) so clearly states, is that we seem compelled to treat nonsense like this back of the napkin exercise in assuaging the President as an actual policy proposal, worthy of examination, contemplation and consideration. It has about the same merit as telling the teacher that the dog ate your report, but you think being rich is better than being poor.

Mr. Trump has created chaos within the borders of his administration, of this Congress, of this country, of this planet. A party in control lurches out of control from self inflicted crisis to crisis, feeding upon itself as the chief executive pouts and barely even pretends to understand what is going on.

And the result is that the ludicrous becomes our baseline. Anyone have a spare napkin? I think I have the solution to North Korea, China, Putin, world peace, and the mystery of Mr. Trump's hair.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

100 Days

The world was built in six days. And what, Mr. Trump, have you built in 100?

Not your wall certainly. Not your health care reform plan, nor your tax plan. Not a flourishing economy. Not a unified Republican party. Not alliances with friendly nations nor understandings with those with whom relations are strained. Not bridges, real or imagined. Not confidence in your capabilities. Not trust. Not the deal making prowess you promised.

Not anything but an unbroken string of head shaking comments, mind numbing tweets and thousands upon thousands of useless superlatives describing a greatness you have been incapable of demonstrating.

What then Mr. Trump have you actually built?

A more unified, dedicated opposition than thought possible as dissatisfaction and disgust has found a voice in town halls across the nation, in marches and protests, in holding those in office accountable for their words and their votes.

And thus, Mr. Trump, we thank you for your invaluable service to this country. With your incompetence and your dangerous lack of knowledge, intellect and instinct, you have brought to life a long dormant beating heart, dedicated to protecting the causes you neglect or reject.

And so your first 100 days have indeed been of great consequence. Just not in the ways you intended.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Doctor Will See You Now

("Why It's O.K. for Doctors to Participate in Executions")

The doctor will see you now.

So a physician who opposes capital punishment argues for the morality of doctors rendering the most effective care in killing the prisoner. Excuse me if I clear the trees so the author of this oped can see the forest.

There is nothing humane in capital punishment. Not the concept of it and not the execution of the execution. Don't pretend that you are doing a public service here. This is not Habitat for Humanity but the intentional taking of a life.

While it may assuage some sense of collective guilt, there is no justification in participating in an abhorrent practice which virtually the entire world has abandoned as barbaric. This is not about doctors, or EMT's, or taking some guy off the street. It is about giving sanction to this event by playing a role in it's progress.

It is like our President becoming apoplectic over the sight of children dying from the effects of sarin gas, but turning a blind eye to their slaughter by more conventional, acceptable methods. If killing is unjustified, it's method matters not.

So let this doctor go about doing what he is supposed to, healing the sick and giving care and comfort to those in need. And stop pretending that participating in an abomination can somehow be perceived as a laudable undertaking.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Lyin' King

("A Fake and a Fraud")

I don't know why this has not been his moniker until now, but Donald Trump should forever more be dubbed the "Lyin' King."

He of the coiffed orange mane, he who lords over all in his domain.

He who treats truth like a disease and facts like an enigma.

And why, Mr. Blow might ask, do those most faithful to the Lyin' King continue to be drawn to him? For it cannot be the verity of his proclamations, not the wisdom of his words.

The unmistakable conclusion is that those who are not shaken by this President's prevarications do not have to believe him, it is enough that they believe in him. Not in the ideas of Donald Trump but the idea of Donald Trump. Not in the rebel without a cause but in the rebel who will protect their cause. Not in the Lyin' King but in the Lion King.

That is why it is near impossible to persuade those dedicated to Mr. Trump of the depth of the disaster of these past 3 months. For they see not with their eyes, they listen not with their ears. 

When they gaze upon the comic/tragic sight of Donald Trump's shocking mane and hear his comic/tragic thoughts, they look upon not a beastly king but the king of beasts.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Dress

My wife and daughter often share clothing. This process has become a little more difficult now that our daughter lives in NYC while we reside in New Jersey. But, as I learned today, where this is a will there is, even if it borders on the bizarre, always a way.
This morning my wife and daughter were chatting. We were coming in to the city early this afternoon, and we would bring in anything our daughter needed. She was attending a wedding in the evening, and the discussion turned to a dress that my daughter asked to borrow.
But the logistics were going to be hard to orchestrate. We were to be in midtown, while our daughter was downtown. Our window was tight, as was hers. How was the dress to get from our hands to hers?
Several options were considered: dropping the dress at a friend's, having our daughter subway up to meet us. Timing was, at best imperfect. Then a solution appeared, compliments of our daughter's fiancee, and the realities of NYC in 2017. The dress would travel by Uber to its ultimate destination.
And so, as we got to our car, we called our daughter who announced that the dress would be picked up in 4 minutes. However it was not being transported by car, but rather by bicycle. And, oh by the way, the bike rider was deaf.
Our daughter had studied sign language as a child and was able to give my wife a quick tutorial on the proper greeting. A minute later, the bike (which our daughter had been tracking) appeared, and my wife flagged it down. She signed her version of a greeting, confirmed the address for delivery, and within seconds the dress was headed downtown, being carried in one hand by a well meaning gentleman on a bicycle.
We were advised that the package would be delivered three miles away in 26 minutes, and in 26 minutes it found its new home.
And thus, one dress made a strange and wonderful journey across the Hudson and into our daughter's waiting arms. As I write this, the dress and our daughter are now attending a wedding somewhere in the city. Soon this article of clothing will be returned to the closet from whence it came, but its path back is likely to be far simpler, if far less entertaining.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

High Anxiety

("Mr. Trump's Fickle Diplomacy")

Are relations with Russia  "at an all time low" as Mr. Trump now suggests? Was he not paying attention when the Cuban missile crisis put us within a trigger finger of war with the Soviet Union? 

Mr. Trump can vacillate from best friend to worst enemy faster than Usain Bolt can run a 100 meters because he has no historical understanding, no sense of how this process plays out over years and no patience for the act of governing.

He is a perpetual bull in a china shop, running wildly to and fro. While he may have believed keeping people guessing an effective way to conduct his private business, it is definitely not conducive to better relationship with friend nor foe in the world that he now inhabits.

One day NATO may be obsolete, a relic, and the next a trusted ally. China may yesterday have been a currency manipulator and wrong on on it's one China policy and the next neither of those things. Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria can be considered irrelevant to us in one instant and raise the possibility of disaster between our countries in the next.

When policy is but a huge question mark, when the President has little idea what yesterday meant, what today looks like or what tomorrow may bring, when a mercurial temper is married with a lacking intellect, trouble is forever lurking. 

This is the state of high alert that is the presidency of Donald Trump. Buckle up.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

My mom died on March 25 at age 99. There was a wonderful funeral followed by two days of mourning. Friends and family paid their respects. The outpouring was large and very meaningful to my sister and myself.

And then we, and all who had known and loved her, put the thoughts of my mom alongside all the others that crowd our heads. Life, though not the same, called and we were compelled to answer.

That is except for a woman my mom had never known who lived half way a world away.

My mom's care was entrusted for nearly the last decade of her life to Mary and Nilda, two extraordinary women, both originally from the Philippines. They treated my mom with as much love and respect as I believe they would have if she were their own parent. My mom spent the final years of her life pampered and protected like a new born babe in the arms of an adoring mother.

Both Mary and Nilda were very religious. Very as in VERY. When my mom was still able to leave her home, she loved to be driven around. Often, she and Mary would drive to Mary's church, where, so the story goes, my mom, Jewish, would sing the hymns she recalled. 

In the last days of my mom's life, death beckoned. Mary asked if we would let her conduct prayers for our mom. How could we refuse.

On March 25, my mom's apartment was filled with sounds of love. We stood vigil over her, speaking softly, telling the stories of the day. Mary and Nilda were busy blessing and advising her that it was okay for her to go now. Even as my mom died, her caretakers were hard at work protecting and caring for the soul of a woman whose body they had kept intact for so many years.
The prayers continued after my mom had passed. Mary said this had to occur for nine days  following a loved one's death. I imagine it as a kind of shepherding the body on its ascension to heaven. 

It had been a long and and almost unfathomably difficult journey for Mary and Nilda. And as harsh as the years had been, the last six weeks had been even harder. My mom's condition deteriorated and the attention to her physical needs was unrelenting.

And so, after my mom passed, both of her caretakers took a much, much deserved rest. Exhausted, Mary found herself unable to complete her nine day vigil. But that did not mean my mom's soul would go unattended. 

I have never met Mary's mom. In fact, I only recently discovered that she is the same age as my mom. Alive, well, walking several miles a day. And every bit as religious as her daughter. 

Yesterday, Mary, Nilda my wife and I were cleaning up my mom's apartment, readying it for eventual sale. Mary said she had some pictures on her phone that she wanted me to see. They had come from the Philippines.

The first image was of a beautiful home made cake, white frosting, with chocolate inside. On the top were the words, "Nine days prayers! Dorothy Smith Nussbaum."

There was another picture of a big spread of my mom's favorite foods, including many hot dogs. On my mom's final day, my brother in law and I had gone across the street from my mom's apartment, into her favorite hot dog restaurant, and then brought back one last treat for her to smell. Or what we thought was a final treat.

The last photo was of a shrine, filled with religious images. Sitting beside it was an elderly woman, looking petite, beautiful and serene. Next to her was the following statement: 

"Eternal Rest Grant Unto Dorothy Smith, January 8, 1918 to March 25, 2017."

Mary told me why only my mom's maiden name appeared, but I sadly do not recall. Rest assured this "omission" was definitely not the result of an oversight.

And so, even as all of us had become distracted by our own needs and worries there had been one 99 year old lady in the Philippines who had taken on the responsibility of the continued care of a woman she never met. For Mary's mom, being entrusted with my mom's well being did not end, but merely began, with the death of Dorothy Smith Nussbaum.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mr. Trump's Report Card - Failing Marks

Has there ever been such an incompetent, stumbling birth of a presidency?  Like Mark Twain, the death of Obamacare was greatly exaggerated. The "America First" executive order banning everyone who had a foreign thought was dead on arrival. Tax reform, replacement of our crumbling infrastructure, a booming jobs report? Not yet, wait a while, not so much.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has managed to offend foreign leaders, both ally and foe, with his total lack of knowledge of basic facts or understanding of political protocol. While his "I don't have time to be politically correct", secret code for I don't know what I am talking about so I will just be rude and crude, played well enough within his party to assure his ascendancy, it has not translated well with those who are, let us say, not impressed with this act on a global stage.
With both houses of Congress lined up and the stolen seat of Merrick Garland now delivered into the waiting arms of Neil Gorsuch, this should be the days of wine and roses for Mr. Trump. Cherry blossom in bloom, the anticipation of a summer of winning so much that, to paraphrase the President, we could get bored of too much success.
Instead, he has surrounded himself with an army of sycophants and neophytes, relatives and relative nincompoops. It is an array of the blind leading the blind. There is infighting and, to be certain, finger pointing, as Mr. Trump lurches from pillar to post searching aimlessly through his sleepless nights for answers, or maybe even the questions to ask, of those who are not, even in the kindest of reflections, a murderer's row.
He is a vessel in search of a port. Without a home, seeming allergic to everything about Washington, choosing the comfort of the familiar surrounds of Mar-a-Lago as his weekend getaway, the American taxpayer footing the bill for protecting his family in New York and his sojourns to Florida, while at the same time being asked  to kill off Big Bird.
He has, for a moment, deflected attention from the imbroglio surrounding the wink-wink "independent" actions of his best friend, I mean worst enemy, Vladimir Putin, in hacking his way into the Oval Office. Mr. Trump, who earlier in the week washed his hands of the Syrian mess (it is for them to decide if Assad is to remain their leader) suddenly discovered that nearly 500,000 dead and 5,000,000 displaced did not happen of its own accord. But while the 59 missiles was a statement, it appears all it said to Assad was, kill them in a different way next week than you did this week. And there is no hint that our doors will open any time soon to the distressed and the damaged.
So, the signature reforms that Mr. Trump promised on day one are still apparently not ready for prime time. The economy is not demonstrating the surge the President envisioned. He is at war with his own people, with leaders near and far. His party can't get out of its own way. No one it seems is frightened by his bluster or impressed with his intellect. If he were a race horse, I believe his owners might be considering putting him out to pasture.
Yes, his presidency is in its infancy, not even three months old. Mr. Trump has, and will, blame everything that has gone wrong on everyone but himself. But the sad reality is that the man born with the silver spoon in his mouth, given opportunities on a silver platter to make his mark, has instead failed to make even the smallest of positive imprints. 
And while the rumors of the death of Obamacare were premature, it seems that the birth of Donald's Trump's "successful" presidency is less likely to occur with each painful trimester it gestates.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Bombing in Syria and Mr. Trump's Newly Discovered Compassion


There are many complicated pieces to the puzzle that is Syria. While the motivation of this administration must be questioned and challenged in the light of its past statements and policies, their actions last evening, at least on their face, indicate that we are still a nation invested in others, that we have a moral compass and that we can and will respond when the worst abominations are committed, even if they are not committed upon us.  But I am skeptical until this change in attitude is further demonstrated.

Mr. Trump must translate his sudden apparent compassion for the suffering of innocent Syrians into a seismic shift on his executive order on immigration.  He may have now finally, far too belatedly,  recognized that the dead and injured in Syria are not enemies but victims. That these are not criminals, not terrorists, but terrified human beings, bombed and gassed into lives of unimaginable horror and pain.

If there is any good to come of this latest and starkest tragedy, let it be that Mr. Trump stops behaving like an unfocused, unhinged, uncaring lout. Let him show not by word but by deed, respect and open invitation, that those whose only sin is living in the wrong place at the wrong time are welcome here.



Earlier this year, a piece I wrote on Mr. Trump's insistence that there was no evidence to connect Russia to the hacking of our election  (remember the comment - it could have been some 400 pound guy sitting on his bed). This piece was approved for publication by the NY Times but, after appearing online was summarily placed in the "do not use" bin after Mr. Trump 'modified' his stance later that same day.

Now, barely two months later, it has happened again. This time, my letter on Mr. Trump's dismal performance in his interview with the Times made the online page late yesterday (and also the print pages in the national edition) But the significance of the strikes by the US in Syria rendered my thoughts less important or relevant. Instead, the reflections on the letters page (in todays New York  print edition) included a response to what had transpired early last evening. My letter was left on the cutting room floor.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

President Trump Opens Up to the New York Times


("Partial Transcript: Trump's Interview With The Times")

Well that was very enlightening. In case we were wondering about the specifics of a revised health care bill, the infrastructure plan, tax reform, our response to the most recent atrocity in Syria, Susan Rice or any other matter of consequence we certainly learned chapter and verse of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from Mr. Trump's interview.

This was the President doing what he does, offering not one shred of actual information, hiding his ignorance in his "I can't tell you the specifics now but it will be great" manner of explanation. Pretending there is substance when there is nothing but shadow, truth where there is only his version of rumor, nonsense (like his attributed quote of Elijah Cummings) when his every day in office is contradiction to his assertions.

What does the President think he accomplished yesterday? That he persuaded us that he has a serious grasp of policy, or maybe just that the New York Times will stop it's relentless criticism of him? If that was his intent, did he think his performance warranted praise and appreciation? It was, simply stated, a joke. Only it wasn't funny.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Assad's Weapons of Mass Destruction

("A New Level of Depravity from Mr. Assad")

We have been caught in a terrible tug of war between turning a blind eye to the morally reprehensible conduct of Mr. Assad and committing our nation to combat such atrocity. We lost our will for the use of military might after enduring far too many years of mid-East debacles. We were initially led into battle by President Bush under the rubric of destroying those with, we later discovered, non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

For all it has cost us, both economically and in lost lives, we could not even pretend we had accomplished our stated mission. Our efforts have proven woefully ineffective.

It was not merely that Mr. Obama did not hunt down the brutal Syrian leader after he crossed that famous red line with the use of chemical weapons on his own. It was  that Congress and the American people did not support or authorize such an incursion.

And now President Trump, woefully unprepared, must answer the same question that haunted the last administration. Mr. Trump is not cut from the same cloth as President Obama and may well feel less of a moral imperative to intervene. 

But whatever his ultimate decision, it is likely not to lead to a permanent resolution of an imbroglio that will continue to cause aftershocks not only in Syria but around the globe. 

Morality, it seems, is a negotiable commodity.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Heart of a Champion

("Half-Inch Error and Four-Stroke Penalty, Give L.P.G.A. Major Tumultuous Finish")

One of the most compelling sporting events I have ever witnessed was Lexi Thompson's courageous effort after notification of the imposition of a four stroke penalty while in the middle of playing the final round of a major.

Forget that she clearly had zero intent of cheating, turning what appeared to be a one foot putt into an eleven and a half inch putt. Disregard the absurdity of there being a universe of people somehow invested with the authority to enforce golf's regulations on the tour players. Don't account for the fact that Ms. Thompson knew she was being eyeballed by the officials, the gallery and the entire television audience around the globe as she marked her ball and then placed it back down.

Just remember that in a moment where all of us would have broken into a million pieces, Lexi Thompson played the last six holes two under par and came within an eyelash of making an eagle putt on 18 to turn adversity into glorious triumph.

Long after the winner of yesterday's LPGA championship is but vague recollection, the greatness that Ms. Thompson displayed will be feted.

This is what the heart of a champion looks like.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


Like the tentacles of an earthquake, the aftershocks of a death come unexpectedly and with a randomness hard to fathom.

Yesterday,  I was stopped in the lobby of my building by a neighbor, who spent a moment offering condolences on the loss of my mother. After finishing the conversation, I walked away and suddenly thought to myself  "can I leave work a little early to get to mom's today."

When I related that tale to my sister, we both began to cry. She told me that the day before she had picked up a big chocolate chip cookie and decided she would, as she had for so many years, split it with mom when she visited.

Starting to go through my mom's apartment, finding her second grade photo, the letters from my dad written during the war, before they were even married, ruminating on his longing for the end of conflict and a safe and secure return home to his beloved and dreaming of the life that lay ahead, the letter from my sister at the end of 10 weeks in Europe pouring out her heart in thanks to our parents for the gifts they had given her, not only that summer but every year of her life, all of these buried treasures bring out more emotion in me than I ever anticipated.

There is a well of sadness that has not reached bottom,  a wound tender to the touch, a heart that is hurting.

This weekend I will head up to the Berkshires, a trip I have taken on literally hundreds of occasions during my mom's decade long descent. And on each one of those journeys, there was a part of me worried about her well being and anxious to return to New Jersey early enough on Sunday to be with her before she went to bed. But not this weekend. And it is a strange and uncomfortable sensation knowing that there is one less reason to leave Massachusetts, one less weight on my shoulders. I have been carrying it with me for so long, even as it is no longer there, I can still feel it. Like someone who has lost a limb but swears the phantom sensation is real.

Most of each day is unimpacted by her passing. I returned to work to face the same petty annoyances, the same daily rituals that greeted me before. But, in the lunch area of the office, I left a picture of my mom and me, without statement. It generated many responses and insinuated my mom's presence into everyone's conscience. Yesterday, I moved the picture back to its rightful place near my desk. 

I know the residual signs of an earthquake soon disappear, any damage is repaired and life, at least on the surface, returns to an earlier, more tranquil state. But nothing is really ever fully unaffected by that earthquake even long after it's last tremors have dissipated.

My mom is gone and the world is, to the untrained eye, no different. Until the next aftershock.