Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Higher Loyalty

"Donald Trump's presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation. We all bear responsibility for the deeply flawed choices put before voters during the 2016 election, and our country is paying a high price: this president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty. We are fortunate some ethical leaders have chosen to serve and to stay at senior levels of government, but they cannot prevent all of the damage from the forest fire that is the Trump presidency. Their task is to try to contain it."
James Comey
from the epilogue of A Higher Loyalty

I've come away with a new respect for Jim Comey that I hadn't had before reading the book that everyone has been talking about since its release on Tuesday. I was furious at the man (as were a lot of us) when he announced the reopening of the Clinton email investigation a mere ten days before the election of 2016. At the time I believed it to be some cheap, partisan trick to get Donald Trump elected to the presidency. As it turns out, he defends the FBI's reasoning for reopening that can of worms quite ably. When additional classified material was found on Anthony Weiner's laptop, he was duty-bound to do what he did. That may be; but had I been in his shoes I would have held off the announcement until at least one classified document was found. None ever was. Whether or not he is responsible for the current debacle we'll be forced to live with for at least the foreseeable future will be debated forever. This much is beyond debate: it was a bad move.

It was obvious from reading this that Trump came into office without so much as a molecular clue of the constitutional role of the president. He believed, as he made all-too-clear during the 2016 campaign, that he would continue as CEO, barking out orders, expecting them to be followed by congress. That's not how it works. During the campaign of 1992, Ross Perot had the same goofy idea. Fortunately the electorate was a bit smarter then. He also had no idea the president and the attorney general are separate powers, independent of one another. When he attempted - in a single setting - to make Comey take a loyalty oath and shut down the investigation into Mike Flynn's dealings with Russia, Comey should have reported him to the House Ethics Committee - which in turn should have initiated impeachment proceedings. I live in a dream world, I know.
In the final analysis, the reason Hillary Clinton lost that election was simply because she was not a good candidate. I realize that she is a sharp and able woman, a far cry from the rolling disaster on two feet that is Donald Trump. For all her ability, she was never going to inspire much of the base to get out to the polls. She was always too much of a moderate for many of us. When a candidate has a history of giving closed, off-the-record speeches to the Goldman Sachs crowd, how is a true progressive expected to be inspired?

The curious thing about the Comey book is that it doesn't go into the Trump presidency until about two/thirds of the way through. I would have wanted a little more of that - although I'm force to admit that his story is interesting nonetheless. The book reinforces something I have known for many decades: Donald Trump is an arrogant, vile and unstable human being you could not contrive in fiction. I had previously read so many accounts from within that I don't think there was really anything in it that I hadn't already learned about. If you have the time and the inclination - and the cash - this one is highly recommended. This is an administration that cannot be allowed to continued. The fact that this maniac has his finger on the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet is something that should scare the shit out of anyone bothering to pay attention. America's international stock is lower than it's ever been and, I strongly suspect. than it's ever going to be. Then again, I said the same thing about George W. Bush not terribly long ago. You just never know how deep into the sewer these silly Americans are going to reach when they go to the polls on any given Election Day.

Robert Mueller's investigation is obviously going in directions that the Donald would rather it not go. He is unravelling more with the passing of each day. This house of marked cards is crumbling. This cannot end well.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


A Higher Calling
by James Comey

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Fix

Donald and Scooter

"Not to draw any parallels to my time as a prosecutor against the Mob, but when I met Donald Trump, one couldn’t help but note certain similarities. Donald Trump would frequently ask me if I would like to be “made,” but I made a point to fob him off with a joke, saying, “I think I’ve been made already, Donald Trump, by a far higher power, as Reinhold Niebuhr would suggest.” Donald Trump did not laugh at these jokes. He never once laughed in my presence. I think it is a grave danger to democracy for a man never to laugh."
From James Comey's forthcoming memoir:
"A Higher Loyalty"
A grave danger indeed.

If there is one beautiful thing about Donald Trump it is how laughably transparent the treacherous old bastard is. On the eve of the release of former FBI director James Comey's new book, some in the media were speculating that this would be the perfect moment to "wag the dog" (so to speak) by bombing Syria. Almost on cue, that is exactly what happened. This was no mere coincidence, kids. The Donald had shown in the past not a smidgeon of concern or sympathy for the plight of refugees desperate to escape that tormented land. Since the Autumn, a grand total of forty-four of them have been admitted into the United States. Since what happened last night involves pissing off Putin (whose spokesmen have stated that they intend on retaliating) risking the launching of World War Three in order to distract attention from the political scandals that are finishing off an already destroyed administration  - well, let me just say that that is not my idea of responsible statesmanship. We'll just leave it at that.
In a further distraction yesterday, Trump pardoned former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for the perjury conviction he received a decade ago after he was found complicit in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. If you'll remember it was her husband, Joe Wilson, who became very vocal in his criticism of the Bush Mob for invading Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons of mass destruction. Wilson, who had looked into the matter thoroughly, knew damned well that their WMD contention was pure bullshit. Libby and Cheney then exposed his wife's secret agent status to friendly members of the press - putting not only the life of Ms. Plame at risk, but the lives of all of her contacts at the same time. It has to be the most spiteful example of political hardball in history. Both Libby and Cheney should have gone to the slammer for decades. Scooter fell on the sword for his evil master. Cheney expected George W. Bush to issue a pardon. He refused - a rare moment of Dubya taking the moral high ground. Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day as they say. George did the right thing. I can't believe I just wrote that last sentence. A pig just flew by my window
What the heck is going on here? Why pardon Libby so many years after the fact? Again with the transparency thing. You have to be blind not to see his motivations behind this one. What the president has effectively done here is sent a loud and clear message to any potential witnesses who may feel compelled to testify against him for - what is becoming more clear with the passing of every hour - are his high crimes against the American people. What he is telling them is: "Obstruct justice. Commit perjury. Fuck the Constitution. You will be pardoned in the end."

This is the stack of marked cards that too many voters dealt themselves nearly a year and a half ago when they naively came to the collective conclusion that sending an unhinged despot and sociopath to 1600 Pennsylvania  Avenue would be a good idea. Less than a week ago an acquaintance of mine lamely attempted to rationalize his vote for Trump:

"Well, look what he was running against!"

I responded to this delight bit of lunacy this way:

"Well, look what she was running against!"

To say that Hillary Clinton was the worst candidate the Democrats have nominated in decades is, in hindsight anyway, a forgone conclusion. That being said, there was no excuse for a Trump victory on Election Day 2016. It was obvious to anyone bothering to pay attention that the man was dangerously disturbed. That so many Americans were perfectly content to commit such an unexplainable act of mass civic irresponsibility shocked and alarmed the rest of the planet. It will be generations before we're ever again taken seriously. Germany, the country that the United States saved the world from nearly eighty years ago, is today the leader of the free world. How's that for irony?

It is being said by the pundits that we're only a step away from a major constitutional crisis. These people really need to take their heads out of the sand. We're in the midst of a constitutional crisis that commenced at Twelve Noon on January 20, 2017. It's only a matter of time before Trump gives the old heave-ho to Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller. When that happens it's all over. To quote Franklin Roosevelt, "The American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory." We'll be taking it to the streets; tearing this government down - and turning it around.

Oooooooh! This is gonna be oodles of fun!!!

Jim Comey's new book is called A Higher Loyalty. It comes out on Tuesday, and you can bet the farm that I'll be at the Barnes and Noble in Newburgh, NY first thing in the morning to pick up my copy. This is such an extraordinary time to bear witness to. The best of times/The worst of times. One thing that cannot be denied by anyone is the fact that, however you want to label them, they sure as hell ain't boring. 2018 is a political junkie's dream.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Personal Memoirs
by Ulysses Grant

The former president raced against the clock from the Autumn of 1884 to the summer of 1885 to finish this autobiography. He was dying of cancer and had been swindled out of his entire life savings. He was desperate to leave an income for his wife Julia. Unlike so much nineteenth century prose, Grant's literary style has a modern feel to it that is unpretentious and direct. This one is a must-read for all enthusiasts of history.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Deeper by the Day

Cohen and his Client

The raid of the offices and hotel room of Trump's attorney Michael Cohen is another major turning point in a scandal that gets darker with the passing of each day. For the FBI to have been able to obtain this warrant tells us a lot - and it's not good news for Team Trump. All of them are presently screaming about attorney/client privilege. The only problem is that if investigators have reason to believe that any lawyer is in the process of breaking the law or is covering up crimes that have already been committed, that "privilege" (such as it is) goes straight out the window and into the gutter. It's anyone's guess what, if anything, Robert Mueller has been able to obtain through this latest search, but it's an easy guess that if the info seized is half as earth-shattering as the dirt they were able to get when they raided the home of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The president, as might be expected, is not a bit pleased with this latest turn of developments. Gee, ya think?
When the House committee looking into this mess abruptly closed down last week with the terse, "no collusion" announcement, I had a feeling then that it would only be a matter of time when hindsight would bit them on the bottoms. Those who are implying (or saying out loud) that this is a left wing witch hunt would be well advised to take a good look at some of the so-called "witches" that are doing the so-called "hunting". Most of them are life-long Republicans, some of whom were appointed by the Donald himself.
My worst fear is that Trump will use a manufactured crisis to deflect attention, and that he uses the ensuing chaos and confusion to fire the Mueller team. Don't put it past him. He (and his family) are neck-deep in illegal activities - son-in-law Jared in particular. As GOP politician Bob Corker remarked not long ago, if the president is really innocent of any wrongdoing he should act like it. He's not acting like it - not at all. In fact, given all the precious time he has wasted in the last year throwing one monkey wrench after another into this investigation, it would appear to anyone paying even minimal attention that the man is desperate. I'm sure that Mueller and his people learned a valuable lesson from the Saturday Night Massacre of October 1973. When the Nixon Gang closed down Archibald Cox's inquiry into Watergate, they immediately sealed off his office and all relevant evidence. I'm sure - I hope - that Bob Mueller and company have carefully duplicated every scrap of evidence they have and are keeping the duplicates in a secure location.
The plot thickens. This is turning out to be Watergate on Steroids.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

As is usually the case, Stephan Colbert has the situation nailed:


The Chuckster
One of the childhood stapes of many of us of a certain age who grew up in the New York area was Chuck McCann. His TV program and the many characters he would portray on a daily basis were always lovingly goofy and loads of fun. Yesterday, I was asked on Facebook to name one thing from my childhood that a youngster of today would not understand. My answer was immediate: "Chuck McCann". Early this morning I read over the wire that Chuck passed away yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of eighty-four. Here is a link to watch Chuck singing "Put On A Happy Face", a performance he repeated numerous times on his program:  
He introduced me to Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. For this I am eternally grateful to the man. Sleep well, Chuck.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Post #777: Random Observations

October 18, 1981
The following are a collection of random thoughts and observations that I peppered about the internet and in my notebook:
1. A Good News/Bad News Scenario:
GOOD NEWS: There is no doubt in my mind that Donald Trump will eventually be removed from office for crimes committed against the American people.
BAD NEWS: Mike Pence is dumber than a moldy bad of rancid mangoes.
This is the Catch 22 situation we face, folks. Whatever happens, a deplorable situation will persist at least until January 20, 2021. Unless the vice-president is also implicated in any crimes we have no other choice but to make the best of it.
2. The GOP's Ayn Problem
I'll level with you: I never read Ayn Rand. I attempted to get through Atlas Shrugged when I was living in Toronto in 1981 and abandoned it at about a quarter way through. It had not a thing to do with comprehension or ideology and everything to do with the fact that I thought the book was trash. It was only one of three books in my life that I never bothered to finish.

What perplexes me is the fact that much of the Republican Party's modern philosophy is based upon the fictional writing of a bad writer whose been dead for decades who is widely believed to have been mentally ill. In fact, the prerequisite to working in Paul Ryan's office is that every staff member has had to have read her work and be familiar with it. As a political philosopher she's no Thomas Jefferson. This is why, in a matter of a few short years, the GOP will be deader than Ayn Rand herself.

3. A Memo to my Conservative Friends:

I've got a jolly good idea! For the next week or so, try getting your news and information from any news service other than Fox Noise and the New York Post Toasties. I see so many Facebook postings from my right-wing-oriented acquaintances that are dismissing the Russian investigations as being over. They seem to be blissfully unaware that this thing is exploding more every day. By this time next year we might be at the point where Donald Trump is living in deranged exile, contemplating a permanent residency in Leavenworth. Perhaps in two or three years, everything I write on this site will look foolish in hindsight. Perhaps not. One side is going to wind up with an awful lot of egg on their faces - and I'm more-than-certain that it won't be my side. We shall see.

4.  Dark Comedy

Did you ever get the feeling that you were living in the middle of a very dark and disturbing Paddy Chayefsky satire? You'll be forgiven if you have. 
5. A Cherished Moment Relived

Mr. Sager
This has got to be the kindest thing any other human being has ever done for me. A number of years ago I told my pal Brian Sager about April 3, 1972. It's a night that sticks out in my memory as clear as last night does - clearer, in fact ( I had one too many last evening). That was the night that brother Pete and I saw - in freakin’ person - Charlie Chaplin at Lincoln Center in merrie olde Manhattan. He showed two of his films that night: pristine prints of The Idle Class and The Kid, both filmed in 1921 for the First National Film Company (which later became Warner Brothers). I was four months shy of my fourteenth birthday.
This was Chaplin's first visit to the United States in twenty years. In 1952 he had been unceremoniously kicked out of this country simply because his personal political beliefs were decidedly left-of-center. Anyone who leaned left during that weird period was accused of being a communist. It was that kind of time in America. The fact that Charlie wasn't a communist made little difference to people like Senator Joe McCarthy and Congressman Richard Nixon. They didn't like his ideas. That was enough of an excuse to throw the most brilliant and visionary cinematic artist of the century out of the country he had brought so much joy and merriment to.
Mr. Chaplin

Cut forward twenty years. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - feeling pangs of guilt, no doubt - invited Mr. Chaplin back to the Hollywood he had helped create to receive a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. On the way, they stopped by New York City's Lincoln Center for an honorary gala that was arranged by Gloria Vanderbilt. My father was a New York City contractor and was fairly well-connected. Getting the tickets was a relatively easy feat for him. When the great man made his appearance on the upper-left mezzanine, Pete and I were directly above him.
I kept screaming his name at the top of my lungs, desperately trying to get his attention. Finally, he turned around, looked me dead in the eye and blew me a kiss. At that moment, Candace Bergen, who was then a photo journalist, snapped an image of Charlie waving at me. It made the Life Magazine article on that story and was the featured photo; a mountaintop moment in my life.
Miss  Meghan
When I told this story to Brian, he searched for and purchased that Life Issue via eBay. He then got in touch with Ms. Bergen's publicist and sent her the copy asking for a personalized autograph to me. Brian and his family are some of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve have met in all my years of life on this planet. This was a mere four months after the loss of his and Terri's beloved daughter (and my cherished friend) Meghan. The fact that, during such a difficult period, he would take the time to do something like this for someone like me moves me on too many levels to count. He dropped the magazine in mail with a self addressed, postage-paid envelope and waited….and waited….Four years and nothing. It finally arrived in the mail on Saturday with a little message from Ms. Bergen:
“To Tom Degan - It was a great night. Candi Bergen”
Thank you, Candace. And most particularly, thank you, Brian. It was quite a surprise. I have the coolest friends. I really do!


Here's a link to make a donation to the Meghan Sager Memorial Scholarship Fund. It is a site that funds the educations of people, like Meghan, who excel in the arts, scholarships, or just the good old fashioned milk of human kindness:

You'll never know how much I adored this kid.

Tom Degan

Goshen, NY

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Fifty Years Later

The memory of where I was the moment the news came over the car radio that Dr. King had been murdered in Memphis is as clear today as it was a week later. We were coming back from a long-defunct shopping center in Middletown, New York called Lloyds. My late mother was driving in the east-bound lane of Route 17 - known by locals as the "Quickway". We were just approaching Exit 122, the Fletcher Street exit where the local Catholic high school sits opposite. We were just heading up the ramp when the announcement was flashed to the world. Being a mere nine-years old on April 4, 1968, I had only a vague knowledge of who Martin Luther King was. I would learn a lot more in the days that followed. This was the event that turned me into a newspaper reader. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy two months later only hardened my resolve to try and stay on top of things. If you're not old enough to remember, 1968 was that kind of year in America - not terribly different from 2018. In fact, I'm willing to make the argument that these times are far worse. Back then, it was only an occasional politician or civil rights leader being gunned down. Today it's whole classrooms of kids.
Thinking back on that day fills me with ambivalence. Sure, we've come a long way as a nation since April 4, 1968; the eight-year-run of Barack Obama as our forty-fourth chief executive is all the proof you need that there has been a substantial evolution in our sociology in a half century. But then again, the very fact that the White House is today the home of Donald Trump, tells me that crucial segments of American society have gone backward to a degree that is astonishing. Fifty years ago, Barry Goldwater was as extreme-right-wing as any presidential candidate could possibly be. What a difference fifty years makes. Today he is starting to look reasonable in hindsight. In fact, he did turn out to be a pretty good senator. Although he was against the passage of the Civil Rights Act during the 1964 campaign, he later regretted his stand. At the end of his life he was a vocal proponent of gay rights. The dude evolved, no question about it. When he passed away twenty years ago next month, he was appalled at where the conservative movement - a movement he helped create - was taking the country he loved dearly. Maybe it's a blessing that old Barry didn't live to see the Trump administration.

As his ideological detractors just love to point out, Martin Luther King was far from perfect. All great men and women are greatly flawed. And yet the fact that this man walked among us for thirty-nine years is just one of the ways this great and greatly flawed nation has been truly blessed.

I have always been a vehement critic of the Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theories. While the Warren Commission might have gotten a few things wrong, the overwhelming majority of their conclusions they got emphatically right. But what puzzles me about the assassination of Martin Luther King is this:

How was an escaped convict, third-rate ne'er-do-well drifter like the man who killed him (whose name I shall forever refuse to mention) able to make it from Memphis to Montreal  to London? (where he was eventually arrested). Things just don't add up. I'll never be persuaded that there wasn't a much larger conspiracy involved in taking from us this truly great and decent American.
Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us of America's potential. He was - he is - someone whose life inspires. We forget that in the final year of his life, he became persona non grata to much of America when he publically condemned the ongoing atrocity of America's involvement in Vietnam. The speech he gave at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 probably sealed his fate. He told us on that day that a nation that spends more on weapons of death than it does on its own people was a nation approaching "spiritual doom". He was right, of course. He also would have agreed, I'm sure that a country that was willing to accept the mutilated corpses of twenty little boys and girls inside a Connecticut classroom in December 2012 as the price we must pay for our "freedoms" was a country that had hurled itself straight into the pit of hell.

And while we're on the subject, it is probably a good thing that Dr. King did not live to see the era of Donald Trump either. It's a pretty safe bet that he would not be pleased. That's just a silly hunch on my part. Pay it no mind

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


The two speeches that Dr. King is best remembered for are, of course, I Have  Dream (1964) and I've Been To The Mountaintop (1968). But the most important speech he ever made, in fact, one of the most important speeches of the entire troubled century he lived in, was the one he delivered exactly one year before he died. Here it is in its entirety: