There Can Be Only One Reason Romney's Kissing Up to the Donald Now

Monday, November 28, 2016

To the pundits and members of the chattering class I would say, Stop wracking your brains trying to figure out what was Mitt Romney thinking when he came courting Trump in New Jersey right after the election; instead, keep it simple and go with the most obvious explanation: Mitt wants back in the big show because he still hopes to be President one day.

Since losing to Barack Obama four years ago, Romney’s been picking at the edges of the political game but has avoided jumping back into it, although you could say he came close when he called Trump out as “a con man, a phony and a fraud” -- a famously ineffective attempt to halt Trump’s march to the nomination and possibly position himself as a draft-able alternative at the Republican convention.  After Trump secured the nomination and then upset Hillary to secure the presidency, Romney was definitively out of the game, lost forever in the Trump dust cloud.  Or so it seemed. 
Imagine Romney on election night out there in Utah, California or wherever, immediately calculating that there’s a good chance Trump will be a one-term president because he’ll screw up so badly he’ll either be impeached or will not be able to run credibly for re-election, in which case Mike Pence would be the heir apparent.  (There’s also always the chance, Romney would see, that Trump, an anger-filled, out-of-shape septuagenarian, could die in office.)   Romney calculates he could take Pence -- but not easily from a standing start as a long-out-of-office governor from liberal Massachusetts. 

Romney therefore makes the painfully pragmatic decision to swallow his pride and ask Trump please, pretty please to give him a national/international platform as the next Secretary of State, from which he can regain political viability and play the power game in a large way for a sustained period.  (Mitt the Bain Guy has always excelled at long-range planning.)
Does Romney sincerely want to counter Trump’s worst impulses and render true service to America and the world?  Indubitably.  But, like most alpha politicians, he’s driven more by ambition than anything.  The presidency is the ultimate prize for them.  If serving a White House “fraud” potentially advances that ambition, it will be more than worth it to Romney.

Heed Harvard's Lepore and Barney Frank: Inequality Gave Us Trump

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump wins and I can’t get out of my head the comments of a good friend who’s a relative by marriage, a true-believing Republican who’ll tell you that Barney Frank caused the subprime mortgage industry meltdown that caused the Great Recession because Barney wouldn’t let up on policies to foster home ownership by families that had no business owning homes because they didn’t have the money, never mind the mindset, to be owning homes, absent federally facilitated inducements.

This friend is a retired bank lawyer who had a distinguished career in New York City and Chicago and he’s telling me last summer, to my surprise and astonishment, that everyone had “a duty to vote for Hillary” in November.  Why? Because this friend was part of a team of lawyers who worked on Trump’s first mega-bankruptcy in New York, circa 1990, and he had a long-running opportunity to observe Trump up close.  “I was in the room with him a lot,” said my friend.  “I wasn’t the only one in the room with him.  But I was there, with other people, with him, for a lot of hours over a period of days and weeks and I can tell you there is something wrong with that man.  He has something fundamentally wrong with his personality, his psyche, and I can tell you that he has the ability to cause lasting harm, grievous harm, to our country.  He will do something really bad and we may never recover from it.”
Trump wins and I’m sick ever since thinking about my friend’s prediction, although Trump didn’t really win, did he? Hillary is ahead by two million-plus in the popular vote as of this afternoon.  Has America’s fate been sealed?  What, if anything, can a citizen, who does not wish to “normalize” (the term du jour) Trump and his fear-mongering/resentment-stoking ways, do to push back against the Trump tide that has overrun the presidency and the congress and the state houses, and also soon the Supreme Court? 

I’m wondering, Yes, what can be done, when I read Harvard University historian Jill Lepore’s piece in the Nov. 21 edition of The New Yorker, my mood starts to lift, and I think there may be a course, or at least a general direction, for all the Trump doubters in America to take, a positive theme and a progressive cause to embrace.  Lepore’s piece, titled “Wars Within,” is among a group of brief articles by 17 or 18 authors grouped under the headline, “AFTERMATH, Responses to the election of Donald J. Trump.”
Trump’s election, Lepore writes, “…ends an era of American idealism, a high-mindedness of rhetoric, if not always of action, which has characterized most twentieth- and twenty-first-century American Presidencies, from F.D.R. to Eisenhower, from Reagan to Obama, from the New Deal order to the long era of civil rights.” 

The (posited) end of “an era of American idealism” prompts Lepore to reflect on “the beginning of another, very different end,” one that “lies quite far back in American history,” the Civil War.  She quotes Frederick Douglass, statesman, abolitionist, former slave, from an 1862 speech in Philadelphia titled, “The Reason for Our Troubles.”   Douglas said, “We have sought to bind the chains of slavery on the limbs of the black man, without thinking that at last we should find the other end of that hateful chain about our own necks.”   
Lepore notes that Douglass was “astonished” at “how blind Americans were” to the origins of the Civil War.  She then offers this analysis of Trump’s win:

“The rupture in the American republic, the division of the American people whose outcome is the election of Donald Trump, cannot be attributed to Donald Trump.  Nor can it be attributed to James Comey and the F.B.I. or to the white men who voted in very high numbers for Trump or to the majority of white women who did, too, unexpectedly, or to the African-American and Latino voters who did not give Hillary Clinton the edge they gave Barack Obama.  It can’t be attributed to the Republican Party’s unwillingness to disavow Trump or to the Democratic Party’s willingness to promote Clinton or to a media that has careened into a state of chaos.  There are many reasons for our troubles.  But the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural, and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for decades.  Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.”
The “deepest reason” for our troubles is inequality.  “Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.”

I’ve been obsessing over those two thoughts since reading Lepore’s “Wars Within.”  Today, I happened to read, online, another article in The New Yorker concerning Barney Frank, retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Fourth Massachusetts District: “Barney Frank Looks for the Bright Side of Trump’s Win,” by Jeffrey Toobin, http://www/newyorker/com/news/daily-comment/barney-frank-looks-for-the-bright-side-of-trump’s-win
“The fundamental reason that Trump won is the anger in America and other developed countries at the unfairness of the distribution of wealth.  It’s been building and building, and all of a sudden it broke,” Frank tells Toobin.

America is sending a billionaire from a gold-encrusted penthouse in Manhattan to the White House to re-set the economy for the benefit of the little guy? 

That is one big, absurd a roll of the dice.  If Trump does do that in the two-and-a-half years he has before starting his re-election campaign, I’ll say, “Fantastic!  Thank you, Mr. President.”  But I will not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.  I will not give Dear Leader the benefit of the doubt on the matter of measurably improving the lot of the little guy. 
Also, there’s an excellent chance that Trump will be confronted with some serious and highly complex challenge internationally, say Vladimir Putin starting trouble in Estonia on the ground of protecting ethnic Russians residing there, and that Trump will come up with some deeply wrong and misguided responses, a la my fearful retired bank lawyer friend, after which the economy could be the least of our worries.

To recap: Trump has arrived at the presidency by convincing enough hurting and angry people that he’ll make the economy work better for them.  I’m in despair that Trump will soon be occupying the office of Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.  Inspired by Harvard’s Jill Lepore, I think I might counter that gloom by supporting, in the tiny ways within my power and ability to do so, any idea or project that lessens income inequality in our state and nation.  If Trump actually does what those hurting and angry people want him to do -- and I hope he does -- he will be responsible for lifting the gloom he has evoked during this campaign-from-hell.  
The last (and best) words go Lepore, from “Wars Within”…

“When does an ending begin?  Douglass saw that the end of a republic begins on the day when the heroism of the struggle for equality yields to the cowardice of resentment.  That day has not come.  It is thought by many, lately, and said by some, that the republic has seen its best days, and that it remains for the historian to chronicle the history of its decline and fall.  I disagree.  Sparrows may yet cross the sky.”

If We Really Did Now What McConnell Said, Garland Would Get on Top Court

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hey, Elizabeth Warren! Hey, Ed Markey!   Listen up.  Please.

I have an idea for a speech for you to give in the U. S. Senate.  If you decide it’s not worth an entire speech, use it as a talking point in a constituent newsletter or a pitch to campaign donors. The subject: President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and the refusal by the Republicans who control the Senate to hold hearings, and vote, on that nomination.
An opening on the court was created by the death of Antonin Scalia, who passed away in his sleep on the night of Feb. 12 or the morning of Feb. 13 at a ranch in Texas.  About an hour after the death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement asserting that the Senate should not confirm a replacement until after the 2016 election for president. 

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said.
On March 16, President Obama nominated Garland, chief judge of the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia.  McConnell immediately came onto the Senate floor “to declare an end to Judge Garland’s nomination, no matter his qualifications,” as the New York Times put it.

Said Kentucky’s gift to the world’s greatest deliberative body: “The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration.  The next president may also nominate someone very different.  Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
Warren and/or Markey, the senior and junior senators from Massachusetts, respectively, should stand up the next time the Senate’s in session and make this argument:

The Majority Leader has repeatedly and resolutely declared that the American people should have the determinative say in the choice of the next Supreme Court justice through their votes in the 2016 presidential election.  The Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, received far more votes in that election than the Republican, Donald Trump.  The last votes are still being counted.  As the count goes on, Mrs. Clinton’s lead keeps getting larger. That lead now stands in the vicinity of 1.3 million votes.  Therefore, we are appealing to the better nature of our esteemed Majority Leader. Mr. Leader, please to do the honorable thing!  Please acknowledge and respect the majority of Americans voters who chose the Democrat in this presidential election. The prevailing vote for the Democratic candidate has, by the logic of your own position, imposed an obligation upon us to place on the Supreme Court the nominee of our sitting Democratic president.  The American people have spoken, Mr. Leader!  They endorsed the Democrat over the Republican by a clear margin.  They wish to have Judge Garland on the highest court in the land.  It is our duty to honor that wish.
McConnell will not budge, of course.  The Garland nomination is even deader today than it was before the election, if that is possible.  The unfortunate justice will never be a member of the Supremes. 

At least Warren and Markey can have a little fun at McConnell’s expense, though.  Fun of this painful variety is a specialty of the Majority Leader. 
Warren and McCarthy can put him on the spot and make a splash for a day in the media.  They might even succeed in cheering up, for a few moments anyway, their disconsolate fellow Democrats.

While I’m being free with my (ever unsolicited) advice, I’ll offer this to anyone now hoping, understandably,  for the demise of the Electoral College, which has produced in modern times two presidents (W. Bush & Trump) who lost the popular vote: Stop wasting your time and energy arguing for an historic change in how we elect our presidents. 
The popular vote will never be used to elect a President of the United States for the simple reason that the Electoral College, by the intention and design of our founding fathers, gives disproportionate influence to states with smaller populations.  The College can be eliminated only by amending the U.S. Constitution, which requires ratifying votes by three-fourths of all state legislatures.  Smaller-population states will never vote to diminish their outsized power.  There are enough such states to block forever an amendment abolishing the College.  Case closed.

There's a Better Way to Put a Roof over the Head of a UMass President

Monday, November 14, 2016

What could be more obvious in human behavior than this: rational human beings act in their own economic self-interest.  

Thus, it was no surprise when Marty Meehan, former representative in the U.S. House from the Third Massachusetts District and current President of the University of Massachusetts, decided last month to buy a $975,000 condo in Boston and pay the mortgage on it with the $60,000 annual housing allowance granted him by the state.

Meehan, who was appointed UMass President last year, works mainly in an office at One Beacon Street, in downtown Boston, and had been renting an apartment nearby for $3,900 a month.  When his landlord raised the rent, he realized he’d be better off buying a place in order to gain equity and make a profit upon selling it.
Meehan and his family own and occupy a home in Andover.  He told the Lowell Sun he intends to use his new condo, which has two bedrooms, for meetings and meals with prospective university donors.  No doubt he’ll be staying there overnight when he has business keeping him in Boston during the evening hours and an early-morning meeting the next day.

Meehan’s immediate successor, Robert Caret, also used his housing allowance to acquire a Boston condo; Caret bought his for $880,000 and sold it for $1.3 million, a profit of $420,000.
Gregory Sullivan, the state’s Inspector General at the time, pointed out that the public got nothing from Caret’s real estate deal even though he had paid the mortgage on it with public money derived through his employment contract with UMass.  That, of course, was entirely legal.   But it got IG Sullivan wondering if it would be better for the state to purchase an official residence for the leader of the UMass system.  Many public universities in the U.S. do so.

“Ultimately, all you are paying for vaporizes, and you are not getting a return on it,” Sullivan told the Boston Globe.  “To me, it probably makes sense to use the $60,000 to pay for a property.”
I have a better idea. 

The state should change the plan for a dormitory now under construction on the campus of UMass Boston to include a modest three-room suite -- large living room, small kitchen, average-sized bedroom -- for the university president to use when he wants to entertain or stay in Boston overnight.  That dorm is due to open in the fall of 2018.
Once the dorm, with my suggested alteration, is ready for occupancy, the $60,000 housing allowance should be eliminated and the money applied to a program or purpose directly benefiting university students.

On-campus housing would have the added benefit of putting the president routinely in contact with students and front-line members of the staff and faculty.


Until My Magnum Opus on Election, These Random Notes Will Have to Suffice

Friday, November 4, 2016

I’m an outlier.  Most voters are disgusted by now with the race for president and just want the whole thing over with.  I, on the other hand, remain wonderfully stimulated by the never-ending spectacle of presidential politics.  Or maybe I’ve been overstimulated to the point of derangement? 

Earlier this week, I attempted to write an essay summarizing my thoughts on the race.  Many have encouraged me to do so.  (Thanks, Mom.)  But, struggling diligently at the keyboard, all I was able to produce were these meager jottings:
-If lightning hits the outhouse on Tuesday and Trump emerges as our next President, I have a suggestion for our governor on how to get in the good graces of The Man: Hire one or more of his obnoxious sons as lobbyists for the Commonwealth in D.C.  When it comes to friendship, the Donald has always been a transactional kind of guy.

-Senator Elizabeth Warren, I predict, will remain perpetually unsatisfied with Charlie Baker for not denouncing enough “the cheddar-colored billionaire,” as the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd has dubbed the Donald.  As recently as Oct. 10, Warren was complaining that Baker’s early disavowal of Trump was “not enough” for a leader in the Republican Party.  That was many months after Baker had stuck his neck out by saying he’d never vote for Trump.  Two days after Trump dies, Warren will be blasting Baker for not having been quoted in the obituaries as wishing for Trump’s eternal damnation.
-Dr. Jill E. Stein of Lexington, the Green Party candidate for U.S. President and a former Town Meeting member in her hometown -- the highest elective office she has ever held -- enjoys the support of 4% of likely voters across the nation, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, (“Voters Express Disgust Over U.S. Politics in New Times/CBS Poll”).

-Imagine Dr. Stein was the Democrat nominee for president instead of Hillary Clinton. You would then be forced choose between two political neophytes for the most powerful office in the world.  Most Americans would check the box for a bullying businessman rather than a leftist healer with a heart of gold.  Few could be persuaded that an honor’s graduate of Harvard and Harvard Medical School and a longtime member of Physicians for Social Responsibility is a more worthy adversary of Vladimir Putin than a foul-mouthed, misogynistic real estate tycoon and TV celebrity.  And, I hate to say, they’d be right.

-You must recall this metric from the 2000 presidential campaign: Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?  The thinking was that, in the end, George W. Bush prevailed over Al Gore  because voters perceived him as the more regular, down-to-earth guy, a guy you'd like to have a beer with.  (No matter that Bush was a famous teetotaler by then.)  Given a choice among the four candidates this year -- Clinton, Trump, Stein and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian -- I would have to take Johnson, even though that would mean passing up the opportunity to be able to say forevermore, "I had a stein with Stein!"  Johnson's much less of an actor than the rest -- a looser, more irreverent human being.   

-Given the polls indicating voters in Massachusetts and elsewhere are likely to approve ballot questions legalizing recreational pot, in four years' time we could all be asking: Which candidate would you like to light up a joint with?  (It'll be no contest if Johnson's on the ballot again.)   

-I don't know much but I know this: the booming Massachusetts gun manufacturing sector, centered in the Pioneer Valley, fears a Trump victory.  If Trump wins, the phony fear that Hillary is going to maim the Second Amendment and take away folks' guns cannot be utilized to spur sales in anticipation of a putative gun-grab. 

-In 2010, I was having lunch with a businessman in Westfield, whose operation was adjacent to a huge gun factory.  "They're so busy they had to put on a second shift for the first time in years," he said.  "Why are they so busy?" I asked.  "Obama," he said.  "Everybody wants to get a gun before he makes its more difficult to own one."  If Obama did that, I totally missed it. 

-I imagine the National Rifle Association is also hoping in its heart of hearts for a Hillary win. She'd be good copy for the association's next fundraising and membership drives.
-News flash from the Kennedy School at Harvard: Losing is painful.  The school issued a press release today regarding a new study co-authored by associate professor Todd Rogers, which found that “winning elections only slightly improves the happiness of those affiliated with the winning party, while those on the losing side experience dramatic levels of sadness for as long as a week.”  Professor Rogers et al. learned that “eventually partisan losers recovered” from the blues.  Time heals all wounds.  Glad they cleared that up. 

-Where at the Kennedy School does one apply for a research grant?  I possess some unique insights into the effects of sunset on the utilization of artificial lighting sources at the Massachusetts State House, which I need to flesh out through extensive fieldwork.  With half a million a year from Harvard, I think I could make my case in about three years.  On the other hand, this could become a much longer academic exercise, depending on the availability of additional grant money.
-Princeton University Professor Cornel West, a philosopher, mentioned in an op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe, (“Spiritual blackout in America: Election 2016”) that he prefers Dr. Stein over Hillary Clinton for president.  West was with Bernie Sanders in the primaries…I enjoyed West’s ruminations and recommend that you read them, if you haven’t already, by clicking on

-My favorite lines from West’s piece: “The founder of Western philosophy, Plato, foresaw this (spiritual blackout) scenario.  In 'The Republic' – history’s most profound critique of democratic regimes – Plato argues that democracies produce citizens of unruly passion and pervasive ignorance, manipulated by greedy elites and mendacious politicians…For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality.”  I don’t think the professor will be adapting this for an address at the next U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention in D.C.

-Email is a perfect medium for spreading all kinds of jokes, and especially political jokes during an election season.  Have you heard the one about Hillary that goes like this:  Hillary Clinton goes to a gifted-student primary school in New York to talk about the world.  After her talk, she offers to answer questions from the kids.  One little boy puts up his hand.  Hillary asks him what his name is.  "Kenny," he says.  "And what is your question, Kenny?" she asks.  "I have three questions," he says.  "First, what happened in Benghazi?  Second, why would you run for president if you are not capable of handling two email accounts?  Third, what happened to the $6 billion that went missing while you were Secretary of State?"  Just then the bell rings for recess.  Hillary tells the students that they will continue after recess.  When they resume, Hillary says, "OK, where were we?  Oh, that's right: question time.  Who has a question?"  A different boy, little Johnny, puts his hand up.  Hillary points to him and asks what his name is.  "Johnny," he says.  "What is your question, Johnny?" she asks.  "I have five questions," he says.  "First, what happened in Benghazi?  Second, why would you run for president if you are not capable of handling two email accounts? Third, what happened to the $6 billion that went missing while you were Secretary of State.  Fourth, why did the recess bell go off 21 minutes early?  And, fifth, where's Kenny?"