Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Trump Watch (early February) (Part 1 of 2)

Welcome to the new Trump Watch, an alternative fact-free zone.

Let’s get started.

Putting People to Work Again

But not necessarily American people.

The Curmudgeon nearly swallowed his Ring Ding whole when he sat down the evening of the inauguration to listen to President Trump’s address and heard the following:

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

Why so surprised?

So glad you asked.

It just so happens that in December, Trump Winery, owned by you-know-who, asked the U.S. Department of Labor for permission to import into the U.S. six foreign workers to work for six days a week for six months for $10.72 an hour. This is nothing new for The Donald, whose companies have, over the past fifteen years, hired more than 1200 such foreign workers for short-term jobs.

Because he apparently either doesn’t want American workers or refuses to pay enough to hire American workers.

But he wants everyone else to “hire American.”

So do you think the Trump Department of Labor will grant the Trump company’s request?

So it looks as if this will be a “Do as I say, not as I do” administration rather than a “practice what you preach” administration.

One Guy Maybe We Shouldn’t Put to Work

A guy who "forgot" to report $100 million on his financial disclosure form is supposed to have the brains to be Treasury Secretary?

A guy who “forgot” to report $100 million on his financial disclosure form is supposed to have the brains to be Treasury Secretary?

That would be Steve Mnuchin, the Goldman Sachs alumnus whom Trump has nominated to be Treasury Secretary who “forgot” to report $100 million in assets on the financial disclosure forms that are part of the review process for cabinet nominees. Mnuchin said he misunderstood the form.

Two observations here.

First, how do you forget that you have $100 million?

Second, do we really want a guy who can’t understand a simple financial disclosure form in charge of the country’s treasury and financial operations?

The White House Web Site

Within minutes of the inauguration, the Obama White House web site came down and the Trump White House web site took its place – as it should.

But with a few pieces missing: the sections on health care, climate change, and LGBT rights.

Take that, Caitlyn Jenner and liberal do-gooders!

What's next - digging into the seat cushions in the Lincoln bedroom in search of spare change?

What’s next – digging into the seat cushions in the Lincoln bedroom in search of spare change?

That new White House web site told visitors that Caitlyn lookalike Melania Trump has a jewelry line available on QVC. This was necessary because the Trump family is obviously hard up for money and looking for ways to scrape together a few extra bucks. That notwithstanding, this was a problem for two reasons, depending on your perspective: if you were a prospective customer, Melania’s stuff is no longer available through QVC; and second, it’s just so…so…so very wrong for the wife of a billionaire president to be selling sparkly tchotchkes on a web site paid for by American taxpayers and with the implied endorsement of the president of the United States.

Lending a Hand to the Needy…Insurance Companies

To counteract the impact of rising home mortgage interest rates, the Obama administration planned to reduce the annual fee for FHA mortgage insurance. (The Curmudgeon is a big fan of FHA mortgages: they helped him buy his first home.)

Who would benefit from this? Mostly working people trying to buy their first home.

But the very day it took office, the Trump administration canceled that plan; the fees will remain where they are.

And who benefits from this? The insurance companies that offer mortgage insurance.

And who will be hurt by it? Working people who haven’t been able to scrape together enough money for a down payment on the American dream.

So when Trump said in his inaugural address that

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families

…he apparently didn’t entirely mean it.

Still, it’s nice when our government can do something for the downtrodden insurance industry, isn’t it?

Far From the Madding Crowd

So how big was that inaugural crowd?

The biggest ever ever ever, said presidential puppet Sean Spicer.

Can you believe that with all of the things our new president needs to address he sent his press secretary out to spend about twelve minutes of the fifteen minutes of his first formal White House press briefing verbally spanking the press about its reporting on the size of the inaugural crowd – and offering lie after lie to prove his point?

If nothing else, this episode proves once again that to Trump, size really does matter.

Did you notice, by the way, that during his scolding of the press, Spicer was mostly reading a statement? Who do you think decided he had to take this approach in his first full-scale press briefing – and who do you think reviewed the script before he delivered it?

On the other hand, the press let this nonsense distract it from the real business of how America is being governed for a full twenty-four hours. Did you see Chuck Todd’s interview of Kellyanne Conway? With all the issues swirling around Washington, Todd decided that he needed to toss down the gauntlet over…crowd size.

But some good certainly came out of it. First, Chuck Todd proved once again that he’s all about politics and not at all about government. Why? Because you can do the politics by reading the morning paper. Doing the government part requires hard work and, you know, learning stuff.

Second and much more important, Kellyanne Conway gave us the gift of “alternative facts.”

“Alternative Facts”

Suggesting that Conway was dressed this way for the inauguration because she was going directly to a high school band competition immediately afterward would be an example of fake news - or would it?

Suggesting that Conway was dressed this way for the inauguration because she was going directly to a high school band competition immediately afterward would be an example of fake news – or would it?

When the laughter elicited by Conway’s assertion of “alternative facts” died down, people began reflecting on when they encountered that kind of nonsense in the past and the answer came to them easily: in the George Orwell novel 1984, which The Curmudgeon suspects most of us read in high school. And what do we remember about 1984? 1984 is about the takeover of the British government by a totalitarian regime that, among other things, makes extensive use of propaganda and likes to rewrite history. Remind you of anyone? If you remember anything specific about 1984 it’s probably expressions like “Big Brother is watching” (and yes, that’s where the title of the reality television program of that name comes from) and “War is Peace – Freedom is Slavery – Ignorance is Strength.” Conway called them “alternative facts;” Orwell called them “Newspeak.” Orwell had a lot of newspeak words: see some of them here.

1984You might even say Orwell was into them hugely. Or bigly.

This sparked renewed interest in 1984 – enough, anyway, to make it Amazon.com’s number one bestseller at one point last week. If you have an e-reader, though, save your money: 1984 is now in the public domain and you can download it free from many sources on the web. If you want it and can’t find one, let The Curmudgeon know and he’ll point you to one of those sources.

Back to Sean Spicer

Seven years ago Spicer, the vessel for Trump’s newspeak, went to a Dippin Dots ice cream parlor and it was out of vanilla ice cream. Ever since, Spicer has been tweeting negative things about the company, even expressing delight about its financial problems.

Would it be out of line to suggest that a man who holds a 7-year grudge over an ice cream parlor being out of vanilla doesn't believe that variety is the Spicer of life?

Would it be out of line to suggest that a man who holds a 7-year grudge over an ice cream parlor being out of vanilla doesn’t believe that variety is the Spicer of life?

A seven-year grudge over an out-of-stock ice cream flavor.

On the other hand, you have to admire the wisdom of the choice of a guy who can hold onto a grudge for so long by a president who has been known to hold onto grudges pretty long himself.

You’re Grounded!

The new administration put major federal departments in time-out.

The new administration put major federal departments in time-out.

That’s what parents say to misbehaving children. In the social media era, the punishment apparently is “No more tweeting for you, young man!”

The new Trump administration grounded the Interior Department last week after it got the whole alternative facts kerfuffle started by tweeting side-by-side photos of the crowd at this inauguration and at the first Obama inauguration eight years ago. Its reward: the new Trump administration told the offending tweeters that their tweeting days were over and they could tweet no more. The punishment, alas, was short-lived, but the point was made.

To be fair, the Interior Department people who tweeted the photo were wrong: you don’t do that to the boss. They also were stupid: all they had to do was tweet the photo of this year’s inauguration and it would’ve taken folks what, maybe eleven seconds, to find the 2009 photo and post them side by side.

Maybe they’re just too dumb to tweet.

More Muzzling

But the Trump administration was just getting started on grounding people and agencies. Shortly thereafter it sent directives to the Department of Health and Human Services ordering officials there, at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and elsewhere in the government’s vast health care bureaucracy not to send any communication to Congress or state and local officials until February 3, not to issue any new regulations (not, to be fair, an unusual directive for a new administration), and to halt much communication with the public and stakeholders, such as news releases, discussions or questions about policies and regulations, and social media posts.

Climate change? What climate change?

Climate change? What climate change?

Seeing how much fun it was to stuff gags into the mouths of public officials, the Trump administration issued similar directives to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture.

But the Trump folks have even more in mind for the folks at the EPA: they can’t release any new work until it’s scrutinized by the White House, can’t enter into any new contracts for research, and have to stand by while the new administration decides whether its web site should be scrubbed of the term “climate change.”

Big Brother is definitely watching.

(part 2 tomorrow)

A Message to Readers

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

That’s the question that’s been troubling The Curmudgeon lately.

Specifically, the question that’s been troubling him lately has been “How much should I write about our new president and his administration?”

The Curmudgeon already knew this was going to be a challenge. On one hand, he is both amused and outraged by so much about this man, what he has in mind for our country, and the manner in which he conducts himself that he knew he was going to have to write about at least some of it, but the question remained: how much and how often should he write? As he wrote a few weeks ago, he doesn’t want this to become a Trump blog – or, more precisely, an anti-Trump blog.

He knew all along he wouldn’t turn this blog into that kind of production; there are too many other things he wants to write about. He briefly considered creating a separate blog devoted just to Trump but rejected that idea: too much work requiring too much time plus others are no doubt doing the same thing plus there’s still all that short fiction he wants to write, plus a new idea for a novel that he wants to explore.

At the same time, he also didn’t want to include a Trump piece once or twice a week among his other musings; he thinks that’s too often, especially at a time when he’s already trying to write a little less. He has no problem envisioning some of his readers – even those who agree with him about this stuff – just rolling their eyes and thinking, “Geez, this again? Give us a break already.”

trump-watchSo after about a week of consideration he thinks he’s come up with a compromise: revival of the “Trump Watch” feature he wrote periodically during the campaign. This will not be a regular, scheduled feature; instead, he will accumulate things to write about and periodically publish a new “Trump Watch” entry: depending on how much is going on it may appear every two or three or four weeks (or even less frequently, depending on the circumstances). That way, it doesn’t take over this site. On the other hand, it means not commenting on every little thing, just picking some spots occasionally and letting some things go unmentioned, painful though that may sometimes be. This way, he gets to write about the abuses and nonsense and serious danger posed by this carnival barker while continuing to write about all those other things that interest him. (And by the way: guest columns about Trump, or anything else, for that matter, are always welcome.)

So that’s the plan, starting with the first “Trump Watch” tomorrow. (Lots of material: it’s a two-parter. So much for letting some things go unmentioned, eh?)

 

Be there.

 

Aloha.

Separated at Birth?

Okay, and by (more than) a few years, U.S. senator, Trump attorney general nominee, and all-around bad guy Jeff Sessions and actor Nate Corddry.

sessions-2corddry

Did the New York Times Take the Women’s March Seriously?

You have to wonder, considering that two days after the march it published a 1700-word article about…

…what people WORE to the march.

Seriously, New York Times?

The Enlightened Male

That would be Atlantic County (New Jersey) Freeholder John Carman, whose reaction to last Saturday’s women’s march in Washington, D.C. was to post on his Facebook page an image of a woman in a kitchen that asked “Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?” and then added his own little comment:

 “Just asking?”

The reaction was predictable, and Carman’s response hardly rose to the occasion, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Carman, in an interview, said the post was not meant to offend and that “some people just have to get a sense of humor.” He said he supports women’s rights, adding, “It’s not like we’re in the 1700s.”

You have to wonder what Carman might have written if he HAD intended to offend.

At first Carman decided to be brave and said he’d keep the post on his Facebook page but by Monday his testicles had shriveled and it was gone.

Still on his page, though, was a message he posted around the same time that showed an image of Rosa Parks and the message

Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. But she didn’t trash the bus. Big difference.

Like a character out of one of those Will Ferrell movies about NASCAR.

Carman

Because as we all know, that wasn’t a march in Washington and elsewhere last Saturday, it was a riot in which the marchers assaulted police, looted stores, and left behind a trail of death and destruction.

Carman’s term as freeholder – sort of like a county commissioner – expires at the end of the year. Assuming he runs for re-election, he can spend his time on the campaign trail telling people they need to get a sense of humor.

It will be interesting to see what kind of sense of humor Carman has if the voters tell him he has to go back to working for a living.

 

 

 

 

Sweatpants

Last week The Curmudgeon wore sweatpants for the first time in nearly 42 years.

Seriously.

It’s been so long, in fact, that the very term has undergone a change: what once were referred to as “sweat pants” are now, much to The Curmudgeon’s displeasure, “sweatpants.”

While sweatshirts have been around forever, sweat clothing in general, and what some people now call “active wear,” were not always such a big part of American fashion, if one can be permitted to refer to sweat clothes as fashion, which The Curmudgeon most decidedly does not.

This is what they advertise on the high school's web site today. Now imagine it with matching pants. Ugh.

This is what they advertise on the high school’s web site today. Now imagine it with matching pants. Ugh.

The Curmudgeon recalls very clearly the first time he even heard of sweat pants: it was September of 1970, he had just entered high school, and his new gym teacher, a miserable excuse of a human being who also was the coach of the school’s horrible football team and who was so thoroughly incapable of separating his extra-curricular job from his real job that the day after games he would set his class up in some activity and then walk 100 yards away and turn his back to us so he could be alone with his misery, explained that in high school gym class was held outdoors until the end of December and then from April 1 onward so we would need a sweatsuit to keep us warm when we were outdoors. The Curmudgeon reported this to his parents, who bought him matching blue sweat pants and a sweatshirt (it was blue or gray, that’s all that was available those days, and any mom who bought sweats was going to buy blue because they were less likely to show stains), as did most of the parents, except those rich ones who purchased overpriced sweatsuits at the school store and let their kids go to gym looking like bananas because the school colors were black and gold and the sweatsuits sold at the school store were 95 percent gold.

So for the next five years – as he has mentioned in the past, The Curmudgeon attended a five-year high school – he wore sweat pants from roughly October through December and then again from April until it got warm enough to go outside without one. Consequently, he is fairly confident that the last time he wore sweat pants was sometime in late April or early May of his senior year of 1975, at which point it started to become warm enough to leave the sweats at home and brave the outdoors in those tacky white gym shorts boys wore back in the day.

And as far as he knows his sweat pants disappeared in a drawer, never to be worn again – assuming he even bothered bringing them home from school at the end of his senior year.

They think they look good in their sweatsuits. They think wrong.

They think they look good in their sweatsuits. They think wrong.

Over the years sweat pants and then sweatpants, and sweatsuits, emerged from their niche as something you wore to stay warm while exercising outdoors to become something that people wore when not exercising – when shopping, running errands, going out to eat, socializing, sitting around the house, and more. Some people called them running suits or jogging suits, although relatively few people ran or jogged in them. They also became fat pants for a lot of people – pants that would stretch as they stretched and expand as they expanded without the need to buy new pants or to address the underlying causes of all that stretching and expanding. As more people wore them they became better looking – well, to some people and in a manner of speaking, certainly not to The Curmudgeon – they came out in colors other than gray and blue, acquired pockets and flies, grew stripes down the sides of the legs for reasons no one has ever been able to explain, and even came in materials other than traditional sweat fabrics, most notably artificial materials that you’d never wear while exercising because they didn’t breathe at all. Parents started wearing sweatsuits and then even grandparents started wearing sweatsuits.

In other words, they became…regular clothing.

Well, for some people.

But not for The Curmudgeon, who found them appalling and hideous and uncomfortable, and he while has never been terribly interested in how he dresses, he was damned if he was going to go out wearing something he knew looked hideous on absolutely everyone.

So he didn’t. Twice in the years after he was paroled from college his parents bought him sweatsuits as a gift and he still has one of the sweatshirts from one of those sweatsuits but he never, ever wore the pants – not even indoors. Why not? Why not wear them around the house in the evening after work or to sleep on chilly nights?

The truth: aside from being uncomfortable and their sheer ugliness – and to this day he continues to view all sweatpants to be unconscionably and unacceptably ugly – he was afraid that if he wore them too often he would never notice that he had gained weight and gotten fat: that they would become his fat pants, too. The Curmudgeon has always been inclined toward, shall we say, portliness, and he was always terrified that if he wore sweatpants too often he would fail to notice himself exceeding even his normal level of portliness.

And so he declined to wear sweatpants.

Until last week.

So what happened?

Marriage happened.

As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon works at home and engages in a mild exercise routine before work. He spends about 15 minutes stretching, most of it on the floor, and then another 15 or so on a stationary bike at about half speed, neither for aerobic nor anaerobic purposes but just to continue the stretching (he gets back on the stationary bike after work for a more vigorous workout). He has always found long pants to be too constricting for both the stretching and the pedaling, so even in the winter he’d put on shorts and engage in his morning exercise regimen in his first floor condo, which was always quite comfortable.

But when he married he moved into his wife’s home, a 112-year-old house that, like most houses, has a chilly basement that is at its chilliest first thing in the morning. At first The Curmudgeon tried to ignore his discomfort, but when he found himself making excuses for skipping his morning stretch he realized he had to do something to enable him to hit the basement once again.

Hence the sweatpants, from a regional department store, for $7.99, which can’t possibly be more than his parents paid for his gym sweat pants in 1970.

The Curmudgeon, after his morning stretch routine.

The Curmudgeon, after his morning stretch routine.

They’re blue, and they’re sweatpants material, not a silly nylon. No fly, no pockets, and certainly no ridiculous racing stripe down the side. Just a drawstring up top and elastic at the bottoms, so alterations were unnecessary. And The Curmudgeon has learned yet another downside of sweatpants: they are a magnet for any dust and dirt on carpets, and with half of his morning exercise routine down on the floor, that’s a problem. He has a choice: become a compulsive gambler or look the character “Pigpen” from the Charlie Brown comic strip. A hint: The Curmudgeon has never been big on vacuuming.

And so, after a hiatus of nearly 42 years, The Curmudgeon has again donned a pair of sweat pants, er, sweatpants.

But he’s never, ever leaving the house in them.

Democracy in Action

In Pennsylvania, 66 of the state’s 67 counties are run by commissioners elected by voters (Philadelphia has a different form of government). In Montgomery County, not too far from where The Curmudgeon lives and even closer to where he lived the first 46 years of his life, one of the county’s three commissioners was elected attorney general of Pennsylvania and resigned his county position, leaving the seat vacant.

So how does the county go about replacing him? When is the special election to fill the vacancy?

There’s no election. The vacated seat was held by a Democrat, so the other Democrat on the three-member commission works with the chairman of the county’s Democratic Party – a guy pretty much no one in the county knows and who was never even elected dogcatcher by the voting public – to submit the name of a replacement nominee to the county’s 22 judges. Those judges can consider this nominee, come up with their own names, and then make the final choice. They can even select one of their own, if they wish.

And that’s it. No election, no input from voters, and anyone who happens to belong to the political party other than that of the person who chose not to stick around and finish the term for which he was elected is left on the outside, looking in.

And this passes for the democratic process in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

The Trump Presidency, So Far

Yes, yes, The Curmudgeon knows, the poor guy was only sworn in three days ago, but still…

We’re all accustomed to candidates for public office reneging on their campaign promises once elected and ignoring the campaign trail rhetoric they used to win their elections. The Curmudgeon cannot recall, however, a candidate who abandoned so many of those promises and set aside that rhetoric so quickly, so easily, and in so thoroughly unapologetic a manner as the new, orange-coated Leader of the Free World.

Consider:

He said he would build a wall. Now? He’s talking about a fence, not a wall, and not an uninterrupted fence, and only maybe, and the idea that Mexico will pay for it has quietly disappeared from public discourse.

He said he would “lock her up” – that is, prosecute Hillary Clinton for her email-related crimes. Now? He says it’s not going to happen.

A $1 trillion infrastructure bill, to put people to work? No longer in his immediate plans. In its place: tax cuts for those in the upper-income tax brackets.

Wonderful.

Isn't it comforting to know that the economy is in the hands of a guy from Goldman Sachs?

Isn’t it comforting to know that the economy is in the hands of a guy from Goldman Sachs?

He railed against Wall Street – and now is filling his administration with Wall Street alumni, including:

  • Steve Bannon as “chief strategist” (Goldman Sachs)
  • Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury (Goldman Sachs)
  • Gary Cohn, Council of Economic Advisors (Goldman Sachs)
  • Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary (Rothschild Investments, W.L. Ross & Co.)
  • Carl Icahn, advisor (Wall Street vulture capitalist)
Know-nothing general one day, Secretary of Defense the next.

Know-nothing general one day, Secretary of Defense the next.

He told us he knew more about military matters than the generals but has appointed a bunch of those previously clueless generals to cabinet positions:

  • James Mattis, Defense Secretary
  • John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Michael Flynn, national security advisor

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s more generals in the cabinet than at any time since World War II.

He insisted that Obamacare was a disaster and that he would repeal and replace it on day one. That didn’t happen: it looks like mid-March before there’s any real repeal and replacement. Also, he now says there are parts of Obamacare worth keeping, like the ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and the ability to keep adult children on their parents’ policy until they reach the age of 26. So it turns out it wasn’t entirely a disaster, was it?

Of course there’s no way he can even find, let alone deport, all 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. When was the last time you heard any of the Trump people even talk about this? Oh, when they were making campaign promises? Riiiiiight.

sessions

Swamp creature

And he said he would “drain the swamp,” referring to kicking Washington insiders out of government.   But look at all the Washington insiders he’s now invited to join him (and all those suddenly not-so-clueless generals) in the swamp:

  • Mike Pompeo, CIA director, a three-term congressman
  • Jeff Sessions, Attorney General, a four-term senator who was rejected as a nominee to the federal bench 30 years ago because he was considered too racist
  • Robert Lightizer, U.S. trade representative, an alumnus of the Reagan administration
  • Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary, a six-term congressman
  • Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, who was Deputy Transportation Secretary in the Reagan administration and Labor Secretary in the Bush Jr. administration
  • Ryan Zink, Interior Secretary, a two-term congressman
  • Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, formerly communications director of the Republican National Committee
  • Reince Priebus, chief of staff, former chairman of the Republican National Committee
  • Thomas Bossart, homeland security advisor, who was deputy homeland security advisor in the Bush Jr. administration
  • Donald McGahn II, White House counsel, a member of the Federal Elections Commission during the Bush Jr. administration.

To be clear, The Curmudgeon isn’t casting aspersion on the qualifications of any of these people (okay, he is on Sessions; the guy’s both a tool and a fool). All he’s saying is that all of them are denizens, and many of them long-time denizens, of the very swamp Trump said he was going to drain.

Drain the swamp? Sounds more like recycling the polluted water in the swamp.

We’ve grown accustomed to our politicians breaking their promises, but the speed with which Trump appears to be breaking his is downright breath-taking.

It almost seems as if he was…insincere when he made them in the first place.

 

Sad

The day before Donald Trump’s inauguration, a group of Philadelphia public school students asked the city’s school reform commission for protection for immigrants, females, minorities, Muslim students, LGBTQ people, and others “who may face heightened threats over the coming months and years.”

Why?

Because while they may only be kids, they see and understand what’s going on around them and are terrified – terrified of their own president and the hostility that swept him into office toward anyone who might look or act out of place on a 1958 episode of Leave it to Beaver.

And that’s sad.

Melania Picks Her New Cause as First Lady

rockyGetting moose and squirrel.