20 Seconds! This link is to 20 seconds of film history, a great insight into human character as well as the nature of government and power. Enjoy a few moments of Casablanca.
We spend a week in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, every January. This year’s beach book was Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s gossipy fly on the wall reporting of the first nine months of the Trump White House. And I was shocked, SHOCKED, by how none of it was shocking.
Mr. Wolff’s book is filled with stories of entitlement, incompetence, and individuals more concerned with the creation of their own fiefdoms than with governing our country. But at no point is the reader shocked. It is all so banal. It is simply understood that this is the standard behavior of Donald Trump and everyone who comes under his gravitational pull. Donald Trump is the Typhoid Mary of immorality.
The president at the core of Fire and Fury is a shallow, vain man, the living embodiment of the Peter Principle. Surrounded by a cadre of Yes Men who spend all of their time trying to both game him and the system, the government veered from one self-inflicted disaster to the next. And yet, you aren’t really surprised. We, the American public, are forced into two camps. One group, Democrats and moderates of all stripes, express righteous indignation with each revelation to the point of exhaustion. His defenders, a core base of less than 40% of the public and the elected Republicans, have fallen into a predictable pattern:
- No he didn’t
- Well if he did, the other side does the same or worse
- Really, it’s not that big a deal.
This particular exercise, the combination of intellectual dishonesty and blatant hypocrisy, infects everyone Trump touches. The book details Trump’s fascination with bedding the wives of his friends. What is sad is that you aren’t shocked. It is just Donald. The Sean Spicer of the White House was barely recognizable to the people who knew him prior to the election. Same for Reince Priebus. The book details the destruction of the moral foundation of these men.
There are plenty of examples of Donald Trump’s impact on his supporters. I think that there is a more current and more telling gauge of his influence. Think Stormy Daniels. Were you surprised to learn that Trump had had an affair? Of course not. With a porn star? Still, just Donald being Donald. Now paying her off right before the election with who know whose money might be interesting and a campaign law violation, but we don’t expect much from Mr. Trump. The interesting part of this is how it has debased his defenders.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said the Trump gets a “Mulligan”. Jerry Falwell, Jr. defended Trump on national TV. And the Republicans in Congress were strangely silent. Credibility, integrity, moral standing – these are the first costs paid by every Trump associate and defender.
It doesn’t matter if Fire and Fury is 100% accurate. Even 75 % would be damnable. Even 50% would be disheartening. Fire and Fury was the perfect beach book. Fast paced with tons of interesting detail, the only thing it isn’t is shocking.
“The guitar is dead.” I must have been 11 or 12 and I was alone in the car with my father. The radio was playing some long forgotten song and I was appreciating the artistry of the guitar player and wishing that I, too, could play the instrument. My father was clear. “The guitar is dead”, he said. He was so sure, so clear, that I will always remember the moment. It was the moment that I realized that my father had no idea what he was talking about. Zero. It was an important moment. My father spoke in superlatives. He always knew the absolute right answer, the best way, the ONLY solution. And he was almost always wrong. It became a safe bet to go in the opposite direction. Once I realized that it was all bluff and bluster without any facts to back up his assertions, I stopped letting him play the devil’s advocate with whatever path I was planning to take. The more certain he was, the less likely he was right. There was an awful lot of sizzle, but almost no steak.
I have had this dull throb begging for my attention for over two years. Every once in a while I would think that It might be Donald Trump, first the horrific idea of him being the leader of the free world and then, worse, when he was actually elected. Fran Lebowitz is credited with first noting that “Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person”. I would add that Trump is also a weak person’s idea of a strong man, a follower’s idea of a leader. But my disdain for him and his apologists wasn’t the cause of this particular discomfort.
Yesterday Donald Trump was captured on camera. This transcript is from the Atlantic.
President Donald Trump briefly took questions from reporters at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday. A White House transcript shows the following exchange:
Reporter: What is your response to people who say you are a racist?
Trump: No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.
This wasn’t the first time Trump has made this ridiculous claim. It won’t be the last. But something hit me. I finally recognized it. The sizzle. The empty, patently false assertions. The importance of not believing a word of any of it. I was back in the car with my Dad. Oh, don’t get me wrong, my father (May he rest in peace) was neither a racist not an unrepentant Trumpian liar. No, it is more a combination of attitude and generational norms. Donald Trump is still applying for a position in the Rat Pack.
Three more years of the Trump presidency, but at least that dull throb has gone away…
Photo – Woodstock, No Frank, Dean, or Sammy
The news has been filled with stories about holes. I’m sure that it is just another example of presidential leadership, but, you know, I could be wrong. Regardless, we are leaving for vacation and I wanted to give you a few “hole” songs to enjoy while I’m gone.
- Fixing A Hole – The Beatles
- Fire In The Hole – Steely Dan
- Hole In My Life – Police
- Hole Hearted – Extreme
- 30 Days In The Hole – Humble Pie
- A Hole To Hide In – Foghat
- Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
- Trippin’ On A Hole in A Paper Heart – Stone Temple Pilots
- Head Like A Hole – Nine Inch Nails
And, of course:
- Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
No, I’m not going to Norway.
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Merry Christmas, Dave.
America is Great Again, Michael.
You OK? You look tired.
I’m fine. Not been sleeping well. I’m OK. You? Busy?
Store has been quiet. I have plenty of time to rest while I wait for anyone to come in. Otherwise I’m fine. I may visit the kids in New Jersey next week. Too much bother and cost for them to come here.
I get that. I’ll be at my son’s next month for his birthday. 40! Pretty amazing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 40 in today’s climate.
I’m good. No politics. No fake news. Nothing negative.
I worry about you.
No need. I’m cool.
Look, the Rabbi is almost ready to begin his sermon.
Time to sit.
America is Great Again, Dave.
Merry Christmas, Michael.
We were walking through the mall. A woman called out to Sally and Sally’s hubby. Though not technically accurate, I saw no need to issue a correction. I waved back to her and we continued moving. Over the years I’ve been introduced at speaking engagements with a short recital of my credentials and awards, but like most of us, my normal title has been Dad or Spouse as in Jennifer’s dad, or Phillip’s dad, and quite possibly soon as Maple’s Zayde. These are the best introductions.
When you are introduced as someone’s father, the emphasis isn’t on you, but the child. Years ago, when I was introduced as the president of my B’nai B’rith lodge, the emphasis was on the organization. I happened to be the leader at that particular moment, but I never lost sight of the fact that this was an honor, a responsibility, and a commitment. B’nai B’rith was far more important than either me or my title.
I was reminded of this while watching the TV news. The screen showed the latest tweet from the current US president. Donald Trump was attacking public servants, attacking them because he has no respect for public service or the people who dedicate their lives to making America safer and better. What has become clear is that Mr. Trump, neither the first president, nor G-d willing not the last, views himself as more important than the job. Here is a man who was elected to be the head of the free world, but is disappointed that the gig doesn’t come with enough swag, yet.
We have seen this play out in other countries. Attacks on a free press? Check. Scapegoating of minorities? Check. Self-enrichment, a culture of kleptocracy? Check. Denigrating the rule of law? Hell, we had a congressman today calling for a purge of the FBI! A cult of personality? Please, we’ve got a guy in Washington claiming he’s saved Christmas.
It is snowing outside and the temperature is in the teens. I want better weather if I’m going to live in a banana republic.
I hit the wall Thursday morning. I was standing in the shower, trying to will myself forward. My focus was on my first appointment, a friend who needed to lock in his 2018 coverage but had procrastinated till nearly the last minute. I had been overtired the previous night and woke up constantly convinced that I had failed to submit a time-sensitive Medicare Part D application. Exhausted, I just stood there under the water hoping I could get through the day. Then my knees buckled. Lucky for me, the previous owner of my condo had installed grab bars in the shower. I steadied myself. And with the knowledge that I had now weathered the worst part of my day, I got ready for work.
That first appointment was unnecessarily challenging. I don’t know if he had always been a Republican or if his antipathy for President Obama had moved him in that direction and the corner he now found himself in – Trump apologist. Regardless, he tried to deny that President Trump’s decision to eliminate the funding for the Cost Share Reduction was a major driver in this year’s premium increases. I was much too tired to even feign patience. My real surprise occurred when I went to my desk to get him a name he needed from my rolodex. My friend walked over to my bookshelf and flipped over my new book of Obama pictures. I saw this out of the corner of my eye, but said nothing. Perhaps he felt guilty. Perhaps he felt foolish. Either way, he went back over and put the book back as it had been. I don’t think he’ll need to be back until next December.
This year’s Open Enrollment has been very demanding. Compressing the <65 to forty-five days has strained our systems. In truth, the government’s portal, healthcare.gov has functioned remarkably well. Sure it crashes now and then, but this is its fifth year and it is much improved. Our >65 markets run smoothly. The biggest challenge often seems to be to get those impacted to focus on their needs sooner rather than later. It is a shame that we have nearly two months to work with seniors, but are forced to work with the much larger segment of our populations in a much shorter period of time.
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In the latest effort to steal a moment of our youth, an investment company has been utilizing snippets of one of my favorite songs from 1967. In case you’ve heard the commercial and tried to place the song, here is the full version.
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. Some companies preach leadership, train leadership, and live leadership. Most don’t. One major company has built its success around a list of 13 principles. I’ll leave the company’s name out of this and refer to it simply as Big Guy so that we can focus on a few of the concepts.
I have read the list several times. There are a few principles that appear everywhere such as a commitment to the customer and the importance of hiring and developing the best possible candidates. Though these platitudes are commonly voiced by lesser companies, the wording is uniquely Big Guy’s. Some of the other concepts grabbed my attention.
Big Guy stresses ownership. Each employee is advised that he/she acts on behalf of the entire company, not just a particular team. “That’s not my job” is never an acceptable response.
Big Guy wants the employees to think big, takes risks, and to remember that many decisions and actions are reversible. How many businesses preach fear? Very few companies empower their employees to focus on action.
Big Guy expects all of its employees to be leaders and to challenge, respectfully, when they disagree. The employees are supposed to have convictions and to stay connected to the details.
I was aware of Big Guy and some of its business practices. Learning more about this organization gives me confidence in the future of American business.
* * * * *
The young man sighed and shook his head and then he, just as his fellow furnace repairmen had annually since I purchased my condo five years ago, said “Do you know this furnace is over 30 years old? It should be replaced”. I asked why since the furnace still worked great. He must have thought that 35, possibly his age, was a major turning point. Or, perhaps he, like last year’s guy or the ones before, are just trained to sell that way. Who knows? But after I paid him for the annual check-up I realized that I’ll never really know when the furnace is ready to die until it does. These guys don’t have any credibility. For all I know, it could be time. I’d check with another company, but I’d have no guarantee that they would be any better.
I can only hope that Big Guy eventually decides to sell and service furnaces.
Before we get started – This post is about Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the unarmed submarine we sent to Washington. We know he’s there. It just doesn’t matter. But we learned how much worse it could be last week when our friends in Alabama lived down to every stereotype and moved one step closer to sending Roy Moore to the Senate. The election of Moore to the Senate will allow the residents of 49 states the opportunity to say, “Our Senator may be ineffective and beholden to the lobbyists, but at least we don’t live in Alabama”.
It was finally time for Rob Portman to speak. Now that the Graham-Cassidy health plan was safely shelved, now that there was no danger that he would have to take a public position, now that speaking was totally irrelevant, NOW Rob Portman was ready to publicly declare his position. And his position was? “…I did what I always do: read the bill, listened to experts and tried to secure changes to help Ohio.” The quote is from his letter to the Plain Dealer that appeared Friday, September 29, 2017. Oh Rob, were that it were true!
Let’s go back two weeks. Senators Graham and Cassidy surprised the nation with one more, last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare. Their concept was simple, pretend to have a workable plan to pay for the nation’s healthcare with underfunded block grants and hope that nobody noticed. Careful observers may have concluded that Lindsay Graham just wanted some TV time and the opportunity to prove that he was more than John McCain’s buddy. As anyone who has seen a Bill Cassidy presentation (just once, but it was more than enough) can attest, Senator Cassidy has a real need to put forth programs, regardless of feasibility or the possibility of passage, in an effort to be perceived as an expert in this area. After all, he was/is a doctor. So, realistically, this whole effort was cynical, half-baked and doomed to failure if it didn’t pass by accident.
Even though he is Graham’s best friend, John McCain quickly declared himself a NO vote. Senator Collins expressed serious doubts, but said that she would wait until the CBO score was released. The bill’s sponsors weren’t bashful about their attempt to bribe Senator Murkowski of Alaska. The Republicans needed 50 or their 52 Senators to vote YES. That would let Vice-president Pence break the tie. Senator Rand Paul claimed that he was a NO vote, but many political observers saw this as a bargaining position. Republican leadership was ready to call his bluff. Anyone following the news was familiar with these Senators, their positions, and their history on this issue. No one asked how Senator Inhofe (R-OK) planned to vote. He was a solid YES, regardless of the bill. So was Rob Portman.
Now Mr. Portman might disagree with this characterization, but Mr. Portman voted for the Skinny Repeal, that legislative abomination in July. Portman and others in his caucus sat quietly and prayed that Murkowski, Collins, and McCain would save them, and the American public, from Trumpcare(less). Any credibility he had on the issue disappeared that night. Graham-Cassidy was an opportunity to reassert himself. His torpedo tubes were empty.
I have written to Senator Portman several times this past year as important bills were up for his consideration. My efforts have earned me form letters and a weekly newsletter highlighting his accomplishments. He seems to focus on the serious issue of human trafficking and is willing to work across the aisle with Democrats as long as money isn’t involved. He has already expressed his joy about the new tax cuts (please don’t call if reform) and other legislation that is created without any input from the Dems. His newsletters tend to go directly to my Spam file.
Senator Portman may claim that he is studying healthcare legislation and meeting with experts while he is, in truth, waiting for other Republican Senators to torpedo these awful bills. It is OK. We know the truth. And we will still thank G-d that he’s not Roy Moore.
As many of you know, I conduct a Friday Evening Service at an Alzheimer facility. I have been doing this for nine years. I designed this Shabbos Services based on my perception of what would work best for the residents and their families. It normally lasts less than a half an hour, including time for everyone to enjoy challah and grape juice. I am often asked to deliver a sermon. I try to tie in the current Parsha, current events, and a touch of humor in a quick, off-the-cuff D’var Torah. Based on my singing and my sermons, no Rabbi or Cantor is in any danger of losing their job to me.
I was asked for a sermon the week before Rosh Hashanah. My back was out and I was trying to end the Service so that I could sit. Thinking quickly, I promised that I would not only have a sermon the following week on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but that it would be the best Rosh Hashanah sermon, ever. And why would it be so great? The sermon would be less than two minutes! That seemed to please everyone. We did Adon Olam and we were done.
I’ve never actually written a sermon. The thought of delivering a great, short sermon did seem a bit daunting once I got home and realized the full extent of my commitment. This is what I delivered:
When does the day begin? When I wake up in the morning and see the light through the window, I can see that it is a new day. So is that when the day begins, 6 AM, 7 AM, or whenever I wake up? Or does the day begin and end per the calendar at midnight? But, we are Jewish, and our day begins at sundown. When does the Sabbath begin? Sundown, Friday evening.
And while we are talking about beginnings, when does the year begin? Does it start in the spring, a season of new beginnings? Do we begin our year as the snow disappears and the flowers return? Does the year begin, per the calendar on January 1st? No, again, because we are Jewish, our year begins now, the end of the summer, the beginning of autumn. Yesterday was the First of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, the start of the High Holidays.
Does our internal clock, our internal calendar, or respect for our heritage make us better, smarter, more worthy? Of course not. The goal of remaining true to ourselves is to be true to ourselves, to honor a higher truth.
On this day of Rosh Hashanah, in a land that welcomed us as we were and did not force us to abandon our heritage, it is important to remember that we were not the first immigrants to this great country and we will not be the last. May the New Year bring us all peace and the opportunity to live by our own clocks and to celebrate our own calendars.
Have a Happy and Healthy New Year.
I have noticed that my willingness to volunteer, coupled with my inability to shut up, has led me to leadership positions of a number of not-for-profit organizations. And though these tasks may be personally if not financially rewarding, they are often more positive in retrospect as opposed to while I am in the middle of my term or chairmanship. After volunteering over 25 hours per week as president of a chamber of commerce, I was forced by Jeff, my business partner, to pledge that I would never again serve on any chamber board. I’m still on a couple of boards, just not as president and never on a chamber of commerce.
The ladies (it is always the ladies) of our building hosted a party last Wednesday. I came home to find the gathering in our lobby, directly between me and the mailbox, so I had little choice but to participate. It is not that I am anti-social. I still have the unpleasant memory of a nosy neighbor, 20+ years ago, that transformed me into a “Hi” and “Have a nice day” kind of guy.
The party started around 5 PM. There was wine, cheese, vegetables with hummus, and some Napoleon-like torte, homemade and impossibly cut into squares 1 inch by 1 inch and close to 3 inches high.
Into this festive occasion I chose to broach a serious issue. I prefaced my comments by clearly stating that I had NO INTEREST in serving on the condo association board and that I really liked living here in Woodhawk. (By the way, we all really love Woodhawk and say it constantly. I looked for cameras in the lobby wondering if this effusiveness was real or for some unseen monitor when I first moved in. No cameras. It is real.) But the board, at the staff’s request, locked the room to the dumpsters last year. Disposing of larger items and boxes through the chutes can be a hassle. Throwing stuff directly into the dumpsters was more convenient. But the board never talked to us, the condo owners of the building before or after. Their communication skills rival those of my two year old granddaughter.
This discussion lasted about fifteen minutes. It was interrupted by shouts of “You should run for the board” and “Yes, but we really love it here.” I reminded my neighbors that I was at least ten years too young to be on a condo board. In the end it was decided that, all in all, the locked dumpsters was a mild inconvenience and that the board must have had a good reason. And that I should run for president of our condo association.
And there you have it. People want me to run for office and my platform will be garbage.
* * * * *
So, not that it has ever happened, but if Sally and I ever had a big fight and she decided that she wasn’t talking to me, all I would need to do is take her on a plane and put on my headphones…