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The Trump Story: The End Justifies the Means

The Curmudgeon has always had a hard time relating to people who work in sales.  In that field, the only way to judge your performance is by how much money you make.  If you made less than you made last year you’re not doing well.  If you made more than you made last year, you’re doing well.  If you have a beach house and your kids are in private school and you’re driving an $80,000 car, you’re doing great.

What bothers him about people in sales is that this outlook almost always degenerates into an incessant desire to know whether they make more money than the other guy and have more and better stuff than the other guy:  first the other guys in sales, then their siblings, then their former classmates and friends and neighbors.  In the end, with nothing else on which to base their judgments, they judge everyone based on how much money they make.

While The Curmudgeon has nothing against money – he wouldn’t at all mind having more of it – he generally thinks there should be more to life than how much money we make.  He doesn’t go as far as to believe that we necessarily have to be the work we do, but still, his imagination fails him when he contemplates people whose jobs are entirely about making money and not at all about what they do to make that money.  That’s probably why he’s always respected teachers, like his sister, and why he so admires his wife, who is a lawyer whose practice focuses solely on helping families with children who have special needs get the public education those children deserve and to which they’re entitled by law.  She once practiced another, more lucrative type of law, didn’t like it, and followed her heart elsewhere.

What we do, what we value, obviously varies from person to person.  We don’t all have to do work that benefits all of society but The Curmudgeon believes life is better when we do work that we ourselves value or respect in some way.  For him, that often means taking pride in the well-reasoned documents he attempts to write explaining why government should do a certain thing for a client of the company for which he works.  Sometimes those things he asks government to do are reasonable and for good causes and sometimes… not so much, but even then, at least he can take pride in a job well done.  He knows a carpenter who reads this blog who, he imagines, takes pride in the things he builds.  It can be a cook who feeds people, a bookkeeper who helps keep a small business running and able to pay its employees, a cable company technician who restores customers’ television and internet access, it can even be the person at the DMV who helps you renew your driver’s license.

Which leads us to Donald Trump.

He can call himself a real estate developer, but really, Donald Trump has spent his life in sales, selling himself, his brand (oh, how The Curmudgeon hates that term), and his ridiculous projects, whether luxury hotels, casinos, bottled water, or any of the other nonsense people can live perfectly happy lives without.  Say what you want about politicians, and The Curmudgeon has certainly said a lot in this space about politicians over the years, but most of them believe in things and enter into public life to attempt to pursue those things.  We may disagree with them about the value or virtue of some of those things and more than a few of them seem to lose their way as time passes, but underlying their efforts is usually a belief in something and a desire to make that something come true.

But not Donald Trump.  He, ultimately, is all about making money.  He obviously keeps score based on how much money he makes and how much he makes in comparison to others, and in his case, he appears to lack any values other than making money and any respect for those who don’t make a lot of money and don’t experience a great deal of success along the way.

How else do you explain all those multi-millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet?

It’s clear that his philosophy is that the end justifies the means because the only barometer he appears to use when judging people – and the guy is all about judging people – is their financial or professional success and in such stark terms it’s similarly clear that he believes anything people feel they need to do to gain that success is justified.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money, and that the end justifies the means, that led him and his father to exclude minorities from their housing developments in the 1970s because they believed that doing so would make their apartments more desirable to non-minorities and, in turn, enable them to charge more to rent those apartments.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to stiff so many small businesses and vendors that build and repair things and provide supplies and equipment and materials for his various real estate developments.  Why should he share his money with them, even though they did what he hired them to do, when he can keep it for himself?

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to take his casino company through bankruptcy not once and not twice and not three times but four times, stiffing creditors left and right along the way, and then, when his companies emerged from these bankruptcies, shamelessly boast that he himself was richer than ever – and then later to tell us with a perfectly straight face that “every great businessman does this” even though we all know that’s not even remotely true.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to sue the author of a book whose characterization of his net worth was much lower than Trump publicly boasted that it was.  Why would this possibly matter to a man worth billions?  Because it’s his only way of keeping score and judging his worth in comparison to others and someone had suggested that his score wasn’t as high as he claimed it to be.

And it was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to start a school to teach others how to make money in real estate and then give those tuition-paying students so little of value in return.  Why should it matter to him what THEY got when what HE got was their tuition money?

The same holds true for how he measures success and how he wields his method for doing so.  A television news personality, for example, can’t be very good at his or her job, in the mind (and public utterings) of Donald Trump, if he or she doesn’t have good ratings because in that mind, the only way to judge someone in that line of work is by those ratings.  From this inexplicable perspective, the best reporters must surely get the best ratings, so those without the best ratings surely must be inferior in some way.  In the bizarre world that is Donald Trump’s mind, the National Enquirer, with a circulation of about 700,000, is superior to the Washington Post, with a circulation under 500,000.  If the Post is so good, he appears to believe, why do so many more people read the Enquirer?  Don’t the numbers prove that the Enquirer is superior to the Post?

Have you ever encountered anyone else – anyone else – who thinks this way?

You’ve no doubt noticed that he talks constantly about television ratings.  How many times have we heard him boast about the ratings of television news programs on which he is a guest?  He thinks we’re tuning in to hear what he has to say when in reality we’re tuning in to hear the next asinine thing he has to say.  The sad thing is that in his mind there’s no real difference:  attention is attention, no matter what the reason.  In the case of those television programs we watch when he is on, Trump is the sore in your mouth that your tongue can’t resist, the auto accident on the other side of the road you have to slow down to see, the last sliver of cake on the plate that you just can’t leave there.  You can’t resist because you see such a strong likelihood that you’ll be rewarded in some way.

Finally, this leads to one of his apparent core beliefs:  that lying is acceptable because it is a means toward an end.  He expanded upon this idea in his book The Art of the Deal.

I play to people’s fantasies.  People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

“A little hyperbole”?  He means “a little lying,” confirms that he does it, and declares it acceptable and justified.

He also wrote about his desire for attention – and his indifference to why he receives that attention.

Even though the publicity was almost entirely negative, there was a great deal of it, and that drew a tremendous amount of attention to Trump Tower,” he writes. “Almost immediately we saw an upsurge in the sales of apartments. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, and in truth it probably says something perverse about the culture we live in. But I’m a businessman, and I learned a lesson from that experience: good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.

Even if you have to lie to get it.

And that is our final destination today:  the capacity of the president of the United States to lie.  He does it easily, he does it naturally, he does it almost gleefully, he does it without apparent hint of conscience.

And most of all, he does it often.

Consider the many, many lies he told on the campaign trail:  about how he had opposed the war in Iraq, about how he could revive the coal industry, about how he wouldn’t try to cut Medicaid, about the rising crime rate, about the rising rate of assaults on police officers, about the porn movie made by one of the women who accused him of sexual assault, about some of the organizations that endorsed him, about the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., about the thousands of people in Jersey City who cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center, about where Barack Obama was born, about Hillary Clinton’s health, about…

You get the idea.

He lied his way into the public’s consciousness.

He lied to people to get them to vote for him.

And now, as president, he continues to lie.  He lies about how many jobs he has saved and how many he has created, he lies about how much he has accomplished, he lies about how health care proposals wouldn’t hurt people, he lies about how many illegal immigrants voted in the presidential election, he lies about how many people attended his inauguration, he lies about his phones being tapped, he lies about prisoners released from Guantanamo, he lies about…

You get the idea.

Think about how he easily he lied when he suggested that he had tapes of his White House conversations with former FBI director James Comey and his ultimate revelation that he did not – and the total shamelessness he exhibited when he revealed that he did not, that he had only suggested he had tapes to attempt to influence Comey’s testimony before Congress.

He lies easily, he lies naturally, he lies often, he lies without hesitation or shame.

Because he has no shame.

Because he has no moral compass.

Because he doesn’t know the difference between good and bad or right and wrong.

Because he and his values ultimately are defective.

He does this all so easily and without hesitation because the man seemingly without values really does have one core value:  that making money is the most important thing of all and winning is the second most important thing and that anything he needs to do to achieve either is automatically justified.

Because he fervently believes that the end always – always – justifies the means.

Another problem with the lying is that when the leader lies it fosters a culture of lying.  Consider, for example, Donald Junior’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.  He lied about even having such a meeting, lied about his understanding of the standing of the person with whom Junior was meeting (that very first email said “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”), lied about the subject of the meeting, and lied about who else was at the meeting.  This kind of lying doesn’t happen in a vacuum:  it starts at the top, with his father/boss, and works its way down through an organization, as we’ve seen from people like Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and others.  After a while, it’s impossible to tell whom to believe and whom not to believe and it’s hard not to end up choosing to believe no one.

And it all comes from the top:  from Donald Trump and his easy, conscience-free, incessant lying and his belief that his lying is justified.

Which may be okay for a guy in business – okay, we all know it’s really not, but we’re giving the conscience-free the benefit of the doubt for the sake of this particular discussion – but it’s not okay for someone who is supposed to be the leader of the free world.

The rest of the world already sees this; in fact, it has long seen this.  They see him for what he is and they’re appalled that we don’t.  They saw it well before the election and were astonished to see that Americans even took him seriously, and now, they continue to be amazed.  People in other countries cannot believe that Americans have been fooled by this snake oil salesman.  They cannot believe how he conducts himself when he interacts with world leaders, when, more than anything else, he demonstrates that he’s no leader at all.

And that is what we’re stuck with today:  a defective, soulless, dishonest, self-deceiving person leading our country – and dangerously leading it to places people don’t want it to go and where they, and where we, are destined to be most unhappy once we get there and need years to return to the place we once occupied.

The thing with means and ends is that in at least some cases, one might argue that the ends are so worthy that maybe, in some way, they might really justify those dubious means.  But not with this guy:  at least from this perspective, those ends are just kind of sad.

And the rest of us are paying a price for that now.

The Trump Watch – July

How Do They Love Him?

Let them count the ways.

When Agent Orange held his first cabinet meeting, a message was apparently handed down from on high that cabinet members were there to praise Caesar, not to bury him.

And praise him they did.

The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people.

So declared sycophant vice president Mike Pence.

I am privileged to be here — deeply honored — and I want to thank you for your commitment to the American workers.

So said Labor Secretary and professional-caliber brown-noser Alexander Acosta.

We’ll see what a blessing Priebus thinks working for Trump is before the end of the year, after the president fires him.

Not to be outdone, chief of staff Reince Priebus, notorious violator of the “i before e” rule, added

We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.

To each the president responded with “thank you,” “good job,” “very good,” and other such comments.

Seriously:  someone complimented him and he replied “Good job.”

How does this kind of thing happen?  Not in a vacuum, that’s for sure.  Either the president decided he wanted to be spoken to in this manner and had someone on his staff deliver that message or someone on that staff decided on their own, based on what they know about him, that this was what Trump wanted to hear and passed the word down to everyone who would be participating in the meeting.

Either way, this does not bode well for the country.  If ever there was a modern parallel to the tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” this is it.  In such an environment, who will dare say “No, that’s not a good idea, Mr. President”?  Who will speak truth to power?

Not any of those empty jock straps, that’s for sure.

He Actually Said This

Watching the struggle to repeal and replace Obamacare while never actually doing anything to help that process along – reportedly, because he doesn’t grasp even the basics of the U.S. health care system – Agent Orange complained about the “level of hostility” in government.

Seriously.  He did.

As far as The Curmudgeon is concerned, you don’t get to call for the imprisonment of your political opponent, lead chants of “lock her up,” and encourage your supporters to rough up your non-supporters and then get to complain about the “level of hostility” in government.  Someone who does that is the CAUSE of that level of hostility, not a victim of it.

Still on the Subject of Hostility

A day after calling for a more civil tone in Washington after the shooting of a member of Congress during a softball game, Agent Orange tweeted that

You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!

And then, just to be sure he was clear,

They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice

So much for civility.

If you read this blog, chances are you’ve never seen “Fox and Friends.” Give it a try: The Curmudgeon promises it will be well worth your time.

Where He Gets His News

 He has a staff.

He has the sprawling federal bureaucracy.

He has the FBI.

He has the CIA.

He has the Secret Service.

So why on earth does Agent Orange seem to get all of his news from Fox and Friends?

The For-Profit Presidency Rolls Along

Who said you can’t make policy and make money at the same time?  Not The Donald, that’s for sure.

The guy who blames China for some of his country’s economic problems is nevertheless actively seeking to do more business of his own in that country, recently adding six new trademarks to the 123 he already has there.

You have to wonder how seriously he’s going to work to make it harder for the Chinese to sell inexpensive merchandise in our country when he’s looking to sell his own not-so-inexpensive merchandise in theirs.

It all comes down to which is more important to him:  making money or making some American workers happy.

If you’re a betting person, bet on the former.

More on Being President for Fun and Profit

Donald Trump runs a government with a Department of Housing and Urban Development and runs a company with extensive housing interests.  When the two interests collide, which is going to win?

Guess.

As reported by the Washington Post,

 President Trump’s budget calls for sharply reducing funding for programs that shelter the poor and combat homelessness — with a notable exception: It leaves intact a type of federal housing subsidy that is paid directly to private landlords.

One of those landlords is Trump himself, who earns millions of dollars each year as a part-owner of Starrett City, the nation’s largest subsidized housing complex. Trump’s 4 percent stake in the Brooklyn complex earned him at least $5 million between January of last year and April 15, according to his recent financial disclosure.

Mystery solved:  now we know what’s more important to him, making money for himself or making good public policy.

Help Wanted

Agent Orange has done a lot of complaining about all of the vacant positions in his administration.  The cause, he says, is the refusal of Democrats in the Senate to confirm his nominees.  Democrats, of course, are in the minority in Congress and can barely go to the bathroom without offering a “mother, may I?” to Mitch McConnell.

Competence not required

The primary reason for all the vacancies is that the new administration hasn’t nominated anyone to fill a lot of them.  One big mistake it made was throwing out the baby with the bathwater:  when Jared Kushner persuaded Big Daddy to kick Chris Christie off the transition team that Christie headed they also threw out all of the work Christie and his group did.  And what was that work?  You got it:  identifying people to fill important positions in the new administration.

But there’s another reason Trump is having a hard time filling these jobs:  people are wary of working for him.  As reported by the Washington Post,

Republicans say they are turning down job offers to work for a chief executive whose volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking head-hunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage, according to 27 people The Washington Post interviewed to assess what is becoming a debilitating factor in recruiting political appointees.

Also,

Potential candidates are watching Trump’s behavior and monitoring his treatment of senior officials. “Trump is becoming radioactive, and it’s accelerating,” said Bill Valdez, a former senior Energy Department official who is now president of the Senior Executives Association, which represents 6,000 top federal leaders.

“He just threw Jeff Sessions under the bus,” Valdez said, referring to recent reports that the president is furious at the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. “If you’re working with a boss who doesn’t have your back, you have no confidence in working with that individual.”

Who in their right mind, except those who have no choice, would choose to work for a person like this?

Tone Deaf

No, you heard it right:  when meeting the president of Poland recently Agent Orange launched into a diatribe about how the American media treats him.

Because in Trump World it’s all about The Donald.

But he wasn’t finished.  He also said that

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.  Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?

What values is he referring to, you ask?

Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?

If he really thinks that is “the fundamental question of our time” then we are in deep, deep trouble.

Tone Deaf, Part 2

Surely he didn’t.

But surely he did.

What did he did?  He complimented the wife of the president of France.

Complimented her on her figure.

That’s bad, part 1.

And bad, part 2?  His own wife was standing right there.

Sheesh.

 Keeping His Priorities Straight

While in Europe for the G-20 meeting, Trump was waiting for his face-off with Vladimir Putin but had more important things on his mind:  last year’s election and the suggestion that the Russians helped him win it.

So with all the world waiting for the Trump-Putin meeting, Agent Orange took to twitter to address a more important subject.

Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!

It’s hard to figure out what about this tweet is most ridiculous.  Is it that Trump’s head was so far out of the game just hours before he was scheduled to meet with Putin?  That he’s reliving the election eight months after he won it?  That he can’t let go of a grudge?  That many of his twitter followers neither know nor care who John Podesta is?  That no one at the G-20 conference knows or cares about John Podesta?  That he is apparently unaware that Podesta led the Democratic National Committee neither during last year’s elections nor now and was not directly involved in any decision about whether to turn its server over to the FBI or CIA?  Or that he lied and no one in Europe was actually talking about John Podesta because seriously, why would they?

The one thing we do know:  with Trump, it’s always – always – about him and his petty grievances even when he’s on the world stage.

Take Your Daughter to Work Day

Because only in Trump World does experience selling jewelry qualify you to engage in international diplomacy

Yes, it really did happen:  daddy had Ivanka sit in for him at a G-20 meeting.

The same Ivanka who has described her work, and her “duties,” as

“I…like to focus on areas where I can add positive value, where I can contribute to the agenda,” Ivanka said. “Policies around workforce development, around ensuring that barriers are removed from around the working family. Policies that enable that family to survive. Focusing on how we can help our veterans–and how we can really deliver them the care that they so need. Focusing on issues related to the really devastating opioid problem we have in this country.”

 None of which makes her an appropriate choice to substitute for her daddy at a meeting of world leaders.

But with the Clampetts now in the White House, blood is clearly thicker than water.

About that Blood

And all this time we’d been led to believe that Eric was the dumb one

You have to wonder what Donald Senior thinks about Donald Junior’s foolish decision to meet with someone who is being presented as an individual from another country seeking to help him get elected.  His denials notwithstanding, surely daddy knew about the meeting.  Why else would both Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort both have attended?

And don’t these people ever talk to lawyers?

Maybe it’s time for Agent Orange to put a little professional distance between himself and his family and let them go back to their lives of leisure and leave our country alone.  One Trump is enough to screw it up; we don’t need three or four or five of them helping with the screwing.

Lying or Just Plain Stupid?

Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Curmudgeon, who is much better at puzzles than her much lesser half, called to The Curmudgeon’s attention two interesting pieces of the Donnie Junior Meets the Russians puzzle in a way The Curmudgeon had not previously heard from any of the pundits (although, to be fair to the pundits, he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time listening to and reading the opinions of others.  In case you haven’t noticed, The Curmudgeon has his hands quite full, thank you, with all of those opinions of his own).

Anyhow, she recalled the late days of the campaign and then the period between election and inauguration and then into this most shameful presidency, when any suggestion that the Trump campaign had met with or colluded with the Russians in any way at all was vigorously rejected and then belittled by Agent Orange himself and all those agentettes he has out there telling lies on his behalf.

But now we know that his son met last June – before the many allegations and the many denials – with an individual or individuals who were clearly and specifically represented to him as emissaries of the Russian government.

Which raises two interesting questions.

Question one:  did Donnie Junior never stop to think “Hey, maybe I should tell daddy about my meeting with the Russians so he at least tones down his denials?”

And…

Question two:  is the president lying when he said he didn’t learn about the June meeting with the Russians until last week?  Or did he really know all along and just decide to lie about it?

Who Knew?

Finally, in our latest installment of “Who Knew?” we have Agent Orange complaining that Amazon.com doesn’t pay internet taxes.

Of course there’s no such thing as federal internet taxes.  There are state sales taxes, and if you’ve ever placed an order on Amazon.com you know that under certain circumstances you most certainly do pay those state sales taxes.  Amazon forwards hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax money to state governments every year.  We all know this.

But Agent Orange?  Clueless.

 

 

 

A Quick Question

When David Letterman retired from his show, did he do it so he could…

…become a rabbi?

A Great Line

The Curmudgeon has been watching a Netflix series called Grace and Frankie.  If you’re not familiar with it, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play long-time law partners who decide to come out from their 20+ year romantic relationship and divorce their wives, played by Jane Fonda (Sheen) and Lily Tomlin (Waterston).  The show is amusing and sometimes funny but the real pleasure is watching these old pros do it the way old pros do it.

On an episode The Curmudgeon watched last week, Sheen has had a heart attack and while undergoing emergency surgery, Fonda and Tomlin volunteer to go to his house to pick up a few things.  Shortly after they arrive and enter the house there’s a knock at the door and it’s a neighbor, played by another old pro, Rita Moreno.  The neighbor explains that she noticed the ambulance earlier and wanted to know if everything was okay.

Whereupon Tomlin, who just gets better with age, turns to her and asks, “Is your name Gladys Kravitz?”

Abner!

The Curmudgeon and Mrs. Curmudgeon dissolved in laughter; younger readers may not get it.  It was a great line, and brave on the part of the writers to make a pop culture reference to a tv show that broadcast its last first-run episode 45 years ago.

At least for this viewer, it worked to perfection.

You Know It’s Bad When the Ethics Guy Quits

One of the hardest jobs in Washington, D.C. these days is monitoring the ethics of the Trump administration:  teaching newcomers to government about all the dos and don’ts, some of which aren’t as obvious as we might think, and gently prodding them when they appear to be straying from acceptable behavior.  The job is as much about education as it is about enforcement, and this new administration needs a lot of educating.

Which makes the job especially challenging.

So challenging, in fact, that the guy in charge of it just announced that he’s had enough and is quitting.

Walter Shaub, soon to be ex-director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the New York Times that

There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.  O.G.E.’s recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened.

Shortly before Agent Orange took office, Shaub suggested that the president-elect liquidate his vast holdings, saying it was the only appropriate option from an ethics perspective.

We all know how that went over.

He recommended that the diabolical Kellyanne Conway be disciplined after going on television and encouraging viewers to buy Ivanka Trump products.

We all know how that went over, too.

Shaub then ran into trouble when he asked to see the waivers the Trump administration gave to people who were given White House jobs despite having conflicts of interest; most of them had been lobbyists.  It took a ten-page letter and a lot of publicity to make that happen.  All those people got to keep their jobs but at least the public learned who they are and the nature of their conflicts.

According to National Public Radio,

Walter Shaub Jr., outgoing director of the Office of Government Ethics, says there’s a new normal for ethics in the Trump administration.

“Even when we’re not talking strictly about violations, we’re talking about abandoning the norms and ethical traditions of the executive branch that have made our ethics program the gold standard in the world until now”…

Also,

“I can only describe my experience with the way they’ve run their ethics program in the White House right now as one of disappointment,” he told NPR, citing especially the ethics waivers for White House staffers. “That’s just no way to run an ethics program.”

Shaub ran into an obvious problem:  how do you hold unethical people to standards of ethics?

Ultimately he realized that you can’t.

Shaub knew his days were numbered even before Trump took the oath of office, as the online publication Politico reports.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos played a pre-inauguration clip of Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee now serving as Trump’s chief of staff.

“The head of the government ethics ought to be careful, because that person is becoming extremely political,” Priebus said in the clip. His comment was in response to Shaub’s statement days earlier that Trump’s ethics arrangement regarding his massive business empire was “meaningless from a conflicts of interest.

Of course, in the Trump world they view it as irrational, and just plain wrong, for anyone not do exactly what they want exactly when they want, and it was clear from the start that Shaub wasn’t going to play ball.

Shaub saw the writing on the wall.

I think the fairly explicit threat from Reince Priebus during that show really is emblematic of how the interactions with the White House have been since the beginning of this administration..

So he won’t have that problem to deal with anymore.

The Curmudgeon saw Shaub on television last week.  He appeared on MSNBC, unadulterated left-wing tv, and they tried and tried and tried to get him to speak in a partisan manner and Shaub would have none of it.  He was thoughtful, he was articulate, he seemed interested only in the question of the ethics of those working in government.  He came across as exactly the kind of fair-minded person you would want holding such a job, but now he’s leaving government because he’s had enough.

Anyone who holds out hope that someone with ability and integrity will be appointed to replace Shaub hasn’t been paying attention.  That replacement is almost certain to be a lackey, a patsy, someone whom no one in the administration will hesitate to run over if needed.  The next person to hold this position, though, is unlikely do anything that necessitates running over.  The help wanted ad might as well say

Ethics chief wanted; boat-rockers need not apply.

Like chlamydia, ethics officials quitting could turn out to be highly contagious:  a few days after Shaub’s resignation, Hui Chen, a lawyer who held a similar position in the Justice Department, tendered her own resignation – and talked publicly about why.  As the online publication The Hill reported,

A top Justice Department official who serves as a corporate compliance watchdog has left her job, saying she felt she could no longer force companies to comply with the government’s ethics laws when members of the administration she works for have conducted themselves in a manner that she claims would not be tolerated.

Also,

“To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic,” Chen wrote.

The former federal prosecutor pointed to the multiple lawsuits filed against President Trump questioning the legality of his ties to his family business empire. 

“Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts,” she continued.

 “Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it,” Chen said, adding that management in her office “persistently prohibited me from public speaking.

Say what you want about Barack Obama, but his eight years in office saw an elevated level of ethical behavior among executive-branch employees.  Questions about the honesty and integrity of the people who worked in his administration were few and far between.

Those days are now over and there’s a new sheriff in town.  Our government is led by people who either don’t know right from wrong or just don’t care.  In only seven months in office we’ve already seen numerous examples of dubious conduct by Trump administration officials, including the president himself, and now, there are fewer independent people of integrity left to blow the whistle on them and make them at least hesitate before they act.

Not that they were really hesitating anyway.

Ours is looking more and more like a government out of control.

 

 

 

Georgia and Covfefe

If you live in Georgia and you’d like to commemorate the lunacy that is Donald Trump by ordering a “covfefe” vanity license plate for your 1980 AMC Gremlin (still The Curmudgeon’s favorite car ever made) you’re out of luck because state officials have announced that they won’t issue any plates bearing the best made-up word by a president since “strategery.”

Such plates have already been ordered by motorists in more than 20 states but Georgia has put the kibosh on any vanity plates with “covfefe” or anything that looks or sounds like “covfefe.”

Why?  Mum’s the word as far as Georgia state officials are concerned.  The state has standards for what it will and will not permit on license plates, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

State law instructs the Department of Revenue to reject vanity plate combinations that are “obscene according to current community standards.” The law also bans references to sexual acts (also on the current banned list is “SEXIE1”); body parts or any bodily fluids (“UTERUS”); disparaging a religious belief (“0MYG0D”); being, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation (“WYTRASH”), phrases subject to copyright (such as “NISSAN” and references to many pro sports teams, such as “STEELERS”), and references to drugs, alcohol, or criminal activity (“MURDER,” “SMOKIT”).

In Iowa, yes, in Maine, yes, in California, yes, but in Georgia: never.

But “covfefe”?  It wasn’t on the state’s banned list until recently, almost certainly because it’s a grouping of letters than human beings had never imagined in that particular combination until the wee hours of May 31, when Agent Orange inexplicably chose to unveil it for his 33 million (and what does that say about us as a society?) twitter followers and the rest of us who learn about those tweets from those who follow and then write about them for a living.

One can only speculate why Georgia officials did this.  Those officials?  They’re not saying.  Do they think the word is obscene, that their president tweeted a dirty word?  Do they think they’re defending the honor of the president of the United States?

Or are they just spoilsports of epic proportions?

The Mystery of the Disappearing and the Appearing and Then the Disappearing Again Comcast Internet Service

Ever since The Curmudgeon started using high-speed internet service his service provider has been Comcast.  If you’re a Comcast customer, you’re aware that this is not a good thing.

With so very many customers, Comcast economizes by renting very cheap equipment to those customers.  If you use Comcast high-speed internet you know you’re going to experience periodic interruptions of your service – interruptions that range from a few minutes to a few hours – and that you’ll pretty much be told once a year that you need to take your piece-of-junk modem to a Comcast “store” to trade it in for a newer model piece-of-junk modem.  After observing this little dance for several years, the IT guys at the company for which The Curmudgeon works – remember, The Curmudgeon works at home – decided that maybe the answer was to get him a better modem, a non-Comcast modem, so the company generously purchased a high-quality device for The Curmudgeon.

It didn’t help:  after the high-quality modem failed several times, the IT guys did some diagnostic work and concluded that the quality of the Comcast signal was so poor that the high-quality modem was no more useful than the cheap junk Comcast uses.

Which is yet another reason Comcast uses such junk.

One of the fringe benefits of marriage has been that The Curmudgeon moved into a Verizon FIOS home, and the difference has been startling:  in seven months of day-to-day labors there, internet service was not interrupted even once.

Like the marriage, it was wonderful.

Now, though, The Curmudgeon, along with his wife and stepson, have temporarily relocated to The Curmudgeon’s bachelor condo while their home is undergoing significant renovations.  (And don’t get him started on the renovations:  he is living the Tom Hanks/Shelley Long movie The Money Pit and wondering how Tarek and Christina and Chip and Joanna and those too-pretty-for-comfort HGTV twins get their work done so damned fast.)

And with that temporary move, now in its fifth month – you see, The Curmudgeon wasn’t kidding when he said the work was taking a long time – came a return to Comcast country.

And it’s gone about as he might have expected.

It took less than one month for service to be interrupted and for Comcast to tell The Curmudgeon to go to a Comcast store and trade in his modem for a new one.  (He wrote about that experience here.)  He also has experienced almost weekly service interruptions that typically last between five minutes and an hour.  He’s learned, for example, to wait at least an hour before calling the home office to ask someone to send a message to his co-workers explaining the problem and telling them how to contact The Curmudgeon through alternative means (because interrupted internet access also means the company-supplied internet phone doesn’t work) until service returns.

But not one night recently.  The Curmudgeon noticed at the end of the workday that service was slow and appeared not to be working at times, and then, after dinner, there was no service at all.

Okay, so that happens once in a while and the service usually returns within an hour or two, but this time it didn’t.

But this time something strange was going on.

Because The Curmudgeon is aware that most of these interruptions tend to brief, he sat down at his computer and began to play.  What he found was bizarre.

He turned on his work email software, knowing that he usually receives messages throughout the evening from subscription news services.  There was nothing new.

Which is exactly what you expect if your internet service is down.

He opened up his primary browser, which opens to the philly.com web site.  After a minute or two the screen said the site could not be reached.

He tried a few web sites:  this blog, a couple of sports sites, and one of the company web sites for which he writes a blog (he blogs for three company web sites, actually).

Nothing.

Then he tried YouTube, and much to his surprise, the site opened and he was able to watch videos on YouTube.

He then tried streaming YouTube videos to the family TV through Apple TV.  Nothing doing.

He tried Netflix and got the menu but then couldn’t stream anything.

After checking the display on his phone again, as he had been doing intermittently throughout these maneuvers, and still finding it dead, The Curmudgeon went back to his computer and opened his secondary browser, which opens to the Google home page.  It appeared to work, so he performed a random search.  The search results almost instantly appeared on the screen but when he clicked on the links the pages didn’t open.

Okay, so he thought he saw a trend here:  YouTube and Google are owned by the same company.  So he decided to check his Gmail account, which he’s temporarily running on the web-based system instead of through email software (and while we’re on the subject, how is it that the Google people can be so damned smart yet develop such an awful tool for managing your gmail online?).  The site opened right away and there were his emails.  Just to be sure, he sent himself a test email:  it worked.

This smacked of conspiracy – a feeling reinforced from the next room when his wife called out that Facebook worked, too.

What was going on?

Was this someone trying to demonstrate what the internet experience might be like if net neutrality ended and the big guys controlled access in ways they don’t already?  Or was there another explanation that didn’t involve The Curmudgeon’s service?

It’s amazing how many people take the time to create and doctor images to express their love for Comcast

The next morning everything was the same so he called Comcast, they “sent him a signal,” whatever that means, and a few minutes later his full internet access was restored.

But the whole thing was a mystery:  how could some aspects of his internet access work and not others?

On one hand he’s curious but on the other he doesn’t care:  he just can’t wait until the home renovations are done and he can get back to his Verizon FIOS life.  It took moving away from Comcast to learn that, in addition to its dubious customer service

They Had Their Bluff Called

Ever since Congress passed and President Obama signed the health care reform bill known as the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress have been working to repeal the bill they dubbed “Obamacare.”  More than 50 times in the years that followed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed bills that would repeal Obamacare – doing so at the time, of course, knowing that such a bill had no chance at all of passing in the Senate.

But still, didn’t you picture Republican leaders closeting themselves – no, not that kind of closeting – behind closed doors and planning, in excruciating and precise detail, what they would include in their legislation if they ever got a chance – a real chance, a legitimate chance – to repeal and replace the abomination they considered Obamacare to be?

Surely they had a plan, all ready to go, when that day came.

Well, that day came on January 20, 2017, when Republicans officially controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Surely it then was just a matter of days until they finally did what they had longed so very, very much to do.

And then?

Nothing.

No repeal.

No replacement.

Really, no bill.  No plan, ready to go.

No agreement on a plan.

Nothing.

So what happened?

That’s exactly what constituents asked Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey last week at a town hall meeting.

Toomey’s response?

Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation.

Ideas? Me? I got nothing.

In other words, Toomey was admitting what we all had slowly come to realize:  the Republicans were all talk.  They had no plan.  No idea.  They hadn’t been working on it all along.  They hadn’t, in fact, been working on it at all.

Or even, apparently, thinking about.

And now they’ve got nothing.  Oh, they’ll eventually pass something, because they have no choice, they promised voters, but it’s not part of grand plan.  It’ll be a bone they’ll throw to their supporters so they can say “We told you we’d do this and we did it.”

But they didn’t.  Because for all of their talk, they had no plan, no idea, no clue, for what to do.

The public called their bluff and congressional Republicans revealed that they had nothing at all to offer.

Nothing at all.

Bragging About Suppressing the Vote

When most state legislatures and the political parties and big money donors that call the shots try to implement voter ID laws, they go to great pains to insist that their objective isn’t to prevent people from voting but to prevent vote fraud.

Of course they aren’t attempting to prevent people of color from voting.

Of course they aren’t attempting to prevent low-income people from voting.

Of course, when asked, they also can’t cite any instances of vote fraud in their state, but still, their hearts, they insist, are pure.

Pure as the driven snow.

And about as white.

But the Republican party in North Carolina can’t be bothered with such half-hearted denials.

In the run-up to last November’s election, it told its tale via a news release that boasted that

African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012.  As a share of Early Voters, African Americans are down 6.0%

But why would that be?  Mother Jones explained:

 The decline in early voting among black voters is likely a result of yearslong efforts by North Carolina’s Republican officials and political operatives to impose voting restrictions in the state. Emails obtained last week by Reuters showed that Republican officials pushed successfully to restrict early voting sites and cut down on early voting on Sundays, when many black churches hold “Souls to the Polls” mass voting drives. During a major voting rights lawsuit decided in July, the 4th Circuit Courts of Appeals noted that the state eliminated Sunday voting specifically because the voters who used it were “disproportionately” black and Democratic.

Also,

…17 Republican-controlled county election boards slashed the number of early voting sites they set up, which decimated turnout in their areas. According to an October 26 blog post from insightus, a North Carolina public policy nonprofit group, “the average turnout across these 17 super-suppressor counties is just 69% of 2012’s performance. Meanwhile, voting action across the state’s 83 other counties averaged 124% of 2012.”

And this:

The early voting restrictions were far from the only attempt to limit minority voting in North Carolina. The state passed a strict voter ID law in 2013, causing voter registrations to plummet, before a federal court struck down the law in July on the grounds that it specifically targeted black voters. “We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” the 4th Circuit wrote in its decision. GOP operatives also attempted to strike thousands of people from voter rolls through North Carolina before a federal judge barred the moves on Friday, calling the voter removal process “insane.”

Only in America – only in the south – would a political party set out to repress the vote and then brag about its success.

 

A Different Kind of High School

At least to The Curmudgeon.

The Curmudgeon went to a pretty decent public high school.  Back in the day Philadelphia had about 20 public high schools.  Two were head and shoulders above the rest and on a second tier, right below them, were two more.  The Curmudgeon’s school was right below that second pair, and after two other half-decent schools the rest were pretty awful.  The Curmudgeon’s school, though, was good, and he’s always felt he got a first-rate education (except for that English teacher who told him he had a juvenile vocabulary and couldn’t write.  This boy holds a grudge).

The Curmudgeon’s stepson attends what is considered one of the better public high schools in all of New Jersey.  Attempting an academic comparison is unfair:  sometime between when The Curmudgeon and people his age attended school and today the experts decided that kids could handle much more challenging studies.  In high school The Curmudgeon never got anywhere near some of the things stepson J studies today, and sometimes he wonders how he would have fared if such demands had been made of him.  Usually the fear that he wouldn’t have been able to cut it goes away, but sometimes…

Shortly before the school year ended J, who plays the clarinet, participated in a band performance for family and friends in the school auditorium.  The Curmudgeon and his most uncurmudgeonly missus (and mother of the clarinet player) arrived early and wandered around the building a little, and it was a revelation.

The building is much smaller than the school The Curmudgeon attended.  The New Jersey school has about 900 students – which, coincidentally, was the size of The Curmudgeon’s graduating class in a five-grade high school of 4300.  The New Jersey building was constructed in 1926, which means it’ll be 100 years old in a few years, contrasting with The Curmudgeon’s school, which was built in 1950 and was razed a few years ago after being considered beyond salvage.  That, to be fair, is largely a function of resources:  the Philadelphia school district is perpetually on the verge of dead broke and chronically underinvests in the maintenance and upkeep of its physical plant while J’s school district is very generously funded by property taxes that are so high that every time The Curmudgeon thinks about them he risks hyperventilating.

But there are aspects of the interior of the school that have nothing to do with the age of the building or the capacity of the school’s staff to keep things neat and clean.

In the hallways The Curmudgeon found – bulletin boards!  The only bulletin boards in The Curmudgeon’s high school were behind glass; nothing else would have survived even a single day without being vandalized.

At J’s school The Curmudgeon and Mrs. Curmudgeon stepped into a few classrooms and found quite a contrast.  They rarely encountered a desktop with so much as a mark or a scratch on it.  Of course, some of this was because the desks were newer because the school district could afford them, but still…

Also inside those classrooms:  still more bulletin boards!  Teachers put up displays – charts, graphs, maps, photos, more – of the subjects they were teaching.  No teacher at The Curmudgeon’s high school would have been so foolish as to put up a bulletin board:  it would have been destroyed in no time.

Okay, now, the real test:  the boys room.  The Curmudgeon remembers the boys rooms at his high school only too well:  when you stepped into one the only thing that softened the stench was the overwhelming amount of lingering tobacco smoke.  The urinals worked, but that was it:  there was no running water in the sinks, which was just as well because there were neither soap nor paper towels; the stalls with toilets had no toilet paper, many had no toilet seats, and many of the toilets didn’t flush anyway.  Worse, the stalls did not have doors.

Think about that for a minute:  the stalls in a public restroom had no doors.

Can you imagine?

To the best of The Curmudgeon’s recollection there were seven or eight boys rooms and seven or eight girls rooms in his school – physically, the school was enormous, so sprawling and so over-crowded that there were times when you couldn’t make it from one class to the next in the four allotted minutes between classes – but by his junior year all but two boys rooms were locked (he can’t speak for the girls rooms) and one of those was located in such an isolated part of the school that there was no point in even trying to use it.

The boys room at J’s school:  spotless.  Running water, soap, and paper towels at the sinks.  TP and toilet seats in the stalls.  And – doors on those stalls.  Doors!  Of course The Curmudgeon realizes that in anticipation of guests the school’s custodial staff no doubt made a point of making sure the bathrooms were clean, but surely they didn’t install toilet seats and turn on plumbing that otherwise didn’t work or didn’t exist.  And they certainly didn’t hang doors where previously there were none.

It was an epiphany:  that not all high schools were like the one The Curmudgeon attended.  There are any number of ways you can try to explain, or explain away, the disparities between the schools.  As wealthy as J’s school district is and as poor as The Curmudgeon’s school district was, wealth alone probably has little, if anything, to do with the conditions at the respective schools.  No, it’s almost certainly about the parents:  some kids vandalize when their parents don’t teach them not to do such things and don’t discipline them appropriately when they do in contrast to parents who teach their kids how to act appropriately and refuse to tolerate such behavior if it they do it anyway.  Life and limb would have been in jeopardy if a teacher or principal had called The Curmudgeon’s home to report that one of the children had vandalized a bathroom or been caught writing on a desk; dad was a hitter.  Clearly, though, not all families operated that way, such behavior was tolerated in enough families to affect everyone, to affect entire schools, and a lot of kids lived down to the expectations their families, and ultimately their schools, had for them.  In J’s school district it just seems that kids are raised differently, raised…The Curmudgeon hates to say it, but raised…better – and kids grow up learning both how to conduct themselves and how not to conduct themselves.  The Curmudgeon has experienced this in his own interactions with people in his new town – the town is so damn nice it makes him uncomfortable, a strange combination of Mayberry and some of the one percent – but he didn’t need to interact with anyone, just to walk in the school’s corridors, to see and experience this startling difference.The Curmudgeon has fond memories of high school and thinks the education he received there has served him pretty well but now finds himself wondering what he may have missed by not attending a “better” school.  When he was in high school one of those two top-tier schools, Girls High, hosted the high school debate program and The Curmudgeon was on the debate team (surprised?).  Girls High had bulletin boards in the classrooms and the hallways, the desks were much, much better (better than The Curmudgeon’s school but not quite at the level of the New Jersey school), but you couldn’t make an apples-to-apples comparison of bathrooms because there were no boys rooms at Girls High and male debaters used – the faculty bathroom!

As he took in the concert that night The Curmudgeon was able to take small comfort in one area where his Philadelphia high school had this New Jersey school beaten by a mile:  Lincoln High had an excellent orchestra and a totally kick-ass big band that played swing.  Even the kids who thought a school band was totally square or nerdy or whatever term we used for that idea back in the mid-1970s realized how good they were – especially the swing band, known as the Lincolnnaires; the marching bad was pretty spectacular, too.  The New Jersey school band, by comparison, was pretty sad, hampered, no doubt, at least in part by the much smaller student body and the correspondingly smaller pool of musicians.

But academics are more important than extra-curriculars, whether you’re talking about football or band or debate, and for someone who hasn’t spent much time in schools since graduating in 1975, the evening was both an eye-opening and an enlightening experience.