A Trump news companion

Wonder if there’s anything about the president in the news today…

Hmmm, a lawyer who worked for Donald Trump in his private company before he became president, and I guess for a little time after he became president, pleaded guilty to some bank fraud charges today…oh, but also to some federal election law violations.  Michael Cohen admitted to arranging payments to two women to keep them from telling secrets that would damage the campaign of Dona…well, he doesn’t actually name the candidate whose campaign would have been harmed, but it’s clear who it was.  (It was Trump.)  Those are the payments to Karen McDougal and to Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels), women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump, relationships which he still denies…although his lawyer now admits in court to making the payments to keep the stories of those affairs quiet (hell of a lot of good that did!) and says that Trump repaid him, although Trump denies even knowing anything about the payments.   Something doesn’t quite synch up here.  Those bank fraud charges were about his other business operations, nothing to do with Trump.

What else…

Oh, the guy who was the Trump campaign chairman for a few minutes in 2016 was found guilty by a federal jury of eight tax and bank fraud charges (and got a hung jury on ten other counts)…looks like all those crimes had nothing to do with Trump, either, except maybe give us another data point on Trump as a judge of character.  Let’s see, along with Paul Manafort and Cohen, we have:

  • Michael Flynn, retired general who was fired as national security adviser over “trust” issues, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
  • Rick Gates, another former Trump campaign official and inaugural committee official, and Manafort business partner, who has admitted committing crimes with Manafort
  • George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and representatives of Russia
  • Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee
  • Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies indicted for interfering in the American political system

…and those are just the people collared, so far, by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.  (Never before seen a witch hunt that came back with so many witches in just a year’s time, have you?)  Can Trump have been that bad a judge of character?  Maybe he’s actually a really good judge of character, and found what he was looking for: like all those people that Mr. Mueller has taken an interest in.  Maybe like his pal Omarosa, who he loved so much before he said mean things about her.

Trump’s argument is Manigault Newman:

  • Was only hired because she begged for a job, and he acquiesced.
  • Was not smart.
  • Was broadly disliked and mean to people.
  • Constantly missed meetings and skipped work.
  • Struck [Chief of Staff John] Kelly so negatively he suggested she be fired, and, perhaps most damningly.
  • Was of such questionable quality as an employee that she failed to win his reality show three times.

But she kept her job, even after Kelly complained—Kelly, whose job was to guide Trump’s White House staff.  Why?  What is the one quality Manigault Newman possessed that was sufficient for Trump to argue she keep her job?

She praised Trump.

Maybe he’s getting what he got because he looked for people who reminded him of him, or who at least were willing to swim in the same pool as him.

The problem with being Donald Trump isn’t just being Donald Trump. It’s all the other, lesser Trumps around you. It’s the versions of yourself that you create, the echoes of yourself that you inspire. They’ll devour you in the end.

I don’t mean his biological offspring, though they’re no picnic. I mean his spiritual spawn. I mean the knaves, nuts, schemers and dreamers who have taken their cues from him or turned his lessons against him. This is their moment. This is their month.

What was that other thing about Manafort I just saw?  Oh yeah:

I’m reading that people from the Trump Administration who at his West Virginia rally tonight are reportedly busy reminding people that a president can’t be indicted; wonder why they think that’s important to say right now?  (My understanding is that it’s Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, but not a law.)

Remember when the former Navy Seal who ran the mission that got Bin Laden wrote a letter to Trump that said “revoke my security clearance” after the president did that to John Brennan, the former CIA chief who’s been very critical of Trump’s actions as president (to say the least)?  In that letter Bill McRaven said something that was echoed the next day by more than a dozen other former high-ranking intelligence agency officials who criticized Trump for playing political games with the country’s security:

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

(I think he’s being polite with that very last bit there…)

Well, there was a weird next chapter in that story today: with his very own thumbs (I think, given the odd capitalization) the president wrote on his Twitter that former director of national intelligence James Clapper “admonished John Brennan for having gone totally off the rails.  Maybe Clapper is being nice to me so he doesn’t lose his Security Clearance for lying to Congress!”  Not sure what Clapper actually said, but what University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck said about Trump’s Tweet ought to be talked about:

I think I’m ready for the sports section now…

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I just won the World Series!

Springer trophy crowdHundreds of thousands of people turned out for a parade in downtown Houston today in honor of the Houston Astros, the big-league baseball team that accomplished something this year that it had never done in its first 55 years of existence: it won the World Series and the championship of Major League Baseball.  I do have one nit to pick with my fellow Houstonians on this score, though: not to say that the players weren’t a very important part of the calculus here, but “it takes a village” and I think they’re overlooking a critical component of the reason for the big win.  I think the Astros went all the way this year because I all but stopped going to their games.

CHRONColtStadium5The franchise was created as the Colt 45s in the National League in 1962, and played the first three years in Colt Stadium (which aspired to “ramshackle”), assembled on one edge of a construction site on the south side of town out beyond the Medical Center, while the Harris County Domed Stadium rose in the empty lot beyond.  When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it became home to the re-christened Astros.

We moved to Houston in the summer of 1966 and I saw my first Astros game within weeks of our arrival.  I’d been to lots of Minnesota Twins games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, and watched the Game of the Week on NBC every week (yes, kids, for most of America there was one game a week on TV) so I felt myself pretty worldly on the topic of major league ballparks and the novelty of an indoor baseball field wasn’t lost on this nine year old.  I’d started playing in organized leagues a few years before that and really loved the game; although the Astros in that era didn’t win a lot, the combination of the whiz-bang stadium and the chance to go to the game with my dad and to eat hot dogs and peanuts and stay up late was irresistible.

I left Houston to go to college in a town that didn’t have a major league team, and when I came back to visit there were plenty of other entertainment options I found more attractive than watching a bad baseball team, so my connection to my team weakened in those years.  I watched the 1980 League Championship Series against the Phillies on TV (my dad and youngest brother were in the stands) and I felt the pain of that close loss.  After college I came back to Houston for work and I started to go to games again, usually on my own at the last minute after work, and it was fun.

allstargame1986houstonastros85225The All Star Game in 1986 was scheduled for the Astrodome and my friends and I wanted to go.  Someone had a bright idea for how we could get tickets: rather than stand in line, we could buy a mini-season ticket package to the Astros 1986 season.  By shelling out for 16 or 20 games in the cheap seats in advance, we would be able to get All Star Game tickets (at face value) through the mail—and we’d get to go to 16 or 20 games in the same seats throughout the year.  There were five of us in that first group.

(At that time I was working at the local radio station that carried Astros games, and at the last minute there were tickets available to employees; I was able to get seats for my new wife and my parents, together in another location, while I sat with my group.)

The Astros were good that year: that was the year Mike Scott threw a no-hitter against the Giants to clinch the National League West and the team went to the championship series against the New York Mets.  As (mini-) season ticket holders, we had the option to buy playoff tickets, too, and ended up in the mezzanine in left field just inside the foul pole.  The teams split the first two games in Houston and the Mets tookHarcher homer two of the next three (Scott was the winning pitcher in both Houston wins), so Game 6 in the Dome was an elimination game (with Scott ready to pitch Game 7).  It was the most gut-wrenching game I ever watched: when Billy Hatcher hit that home run off the foul pole in the 14th inning, it was coming right to me!…and when Kevin Bass struck out with the winning run on base to end the game, it took me five minutes to sit down and another half hour to start shuffling to the exit.

But we were hooked—we were in for mini-season tickets year after year.  The group roster changed a few times—my dad joined the group and even took the job of dealing with the ticket office after he retired, and after he died one of my brothers picked up his seat; at one point the group expanded to twelve seats spread out over three rows; today the group includes the grown son of one of the original members—and as we got older and could afford it we got better and better seats, moving from the nosebleeds behind home plate down to the mezzanine about 20 rows behind the third base dugout, and finally up a level to the loge seats inside of first base.  When the team got good again, in the mid- and late-1990s, we were there for the playoffs every year—I had World Series tickets in my hands every year, tickets I could never use.

We were there in 1997 for what turned out to be the only home game of the first round of the playoffs, when the Braves swept the Astros behind Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.  (How did that team ever lose a series?)  We were there in 1998, when after watching Randy Johnson roll over the league after the trade we were gobsmacked to see the Padres’ Kevin Brown (Kevin freaking Brown?) strike out 16 Astros in eight innings.  And we were there in 1999, the last year in the Astrodome, to see the team lose the series by dropping two games to the Braves.

In 2000 the Astros movedEnron Field to a new ballpark in downtown Houston, built on the site of the abandoned rail yard, and we couldn’t wait to see the seating chart and pick out our new seats.  That first year we were upstairs behind first base; we learned pretty fast that that meant we were also looking into the setting sun, and in 2001 we moved to the third base side, and later to a couple of other spots down the left field line.  About five years ago we were able to get seats in the upper deck directly behind home plate—living the life.

We were there for that first Enron Field season when they lost 90 games, and then for the playoffs in 2001—when they were swept by the Braves.  They got back to the playoffs as a wild card team in 2004…against the Braves (freakin’ Braves), and we were there to see the split—before they beat the Braves in Atlanta to win their first playoff series ever!  That led to the LCS against the Cardinals, who won the first two games in St. Louis; we were there in our seats in Minute Maid Park as our team took three in a row—Carlos Beltran became our hero, Jim Edmonds became hated—before they went back to St. Louis needing one win, and got none.

And we were there in 2005.  We were there when the home town team took two from the Braves (freakin’ Braves), including the clincher on a walk-off home run by Chris BurkeAlbert Pujols in the bottom of the 18th inning.  We were there for the League Championship Series against St. Louis and saw the Astros win two of three, the loss being the game in which Albert Pujols hit a three run homer in the top of the ninth off of Brad Lidge that would still be going if it hadn’t the back wall of the building.  And we were there for the first World Series in Houston history, in which our guys got swept by the White Sox but were outscored by a total of only six runs in the four games.

And we were there for what came next.  You know how the Bible tells us the children of Israel were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years?  We envied them as we sat there watching our team turn to crap.  At first just mediocre and then pretty bad, they then got worse and then became the worst team in major league baseball…and, they had to change leagues!  Nothing was going our way, but we were there for all of it, every stinking season.

In 2015 the Astros surprised everyone, themselves included I believe, by getting to the wild card playoff, winning that game, and getting into a series against the Royals.  We were there for that one, too: we saw the win that put the team just one game away from the League Championship Series, and then the loss in which they gave away seven runs in the last two innings, and with it the heart of most every Astros fan.

That’s 30 years as a (mini-) season ticket holder and no championships to show for it.  I’m not an all-or-nothing guy when it comes to baseball—it’s worth going to the games for the experience, and the ambience, and the ballpark food and drink, even if you don’t win the World Series—but it was disappointing.  Somewhere in the middle of the 2016 season it just came to me that there was another way: drop out of the group and spend the money on better seats to fewer games.  When it came time to renew for 2017, I told the guys I’d chosen to let them press ahead without me.  I faded away from the group without any discussion…maybe they too felt, as teams frequently say when changing managers, that it was time for a change.

It turns out that I went to just one game in 2017: in the middle of the season on a weekend, which we never did in the group, and with my wife, which we rarely did in the group.  We sat in better seats, right behind home plate, and had a great afternoon at the ballpark.  I watched the games on TV and read the game reports in the paper every day.  The Astros were winning and winning, but when people would ask me if I thought they were for real this year I often said I expected them to come back to Earth, while thinking there was a good chance they would crash into the Earth and explode in a giant fireball.  Because they were still the Astros, and I’d seen plenty of Astros.

I watched every game of every round of the playoffs this season, and I could never get rid of the feeling of impending doom.  I just couldn’t go all in.  By the top of the 8th inning of the Game 7 in Los Angeles I had a feeling:

…but I wasn’t sure if it was still that doom thing weighing on me, or if my subconscious had finally decided to believe.  In the end, that didn’t matter: the Houston Astros won the Series in historic fashion, and I think that was clearly in no small part due to my absenting myself from their presence throughout the year.  So I felt a certain kind of personal pride this afternoon as I watched the Astros players lead the citizens through the streets of downtown…

https://twitter.com/12upSport/status/925935383271092225

To my cousin in New York, who today sent his best wishes to us in Houston

Hey kids,

It’s been very different.  We’ve all been through hurricanes before but this isn’t the same.  Everybody is fine right now, some still in town and some not, but everybody wants the rain to stop.

I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Rockport.  A Category 4 hurricane hit there less than three days ago and I saw video of terrible wind damage and lots of flooding, but that dissolved off my radar because of the rain right here; I hope they’re doing OK.  The good news is that there have been a few to several hours in a row with no rain, but it always comes back, more intense, and for hours at a time.  I read somewhere that the part of Texas that’s now underwater is about the size of the area between New York and Boston, and our new body of water is still getting bigger.  The most recent National Hurricane Center projection thinks we may still have another 36 hours of rain in front of us, as the center of the storm (which has moved back out over the Gulf) meanders eventually to the northeast and goes on shore between Galveston and the Louisiana state line.

When it was just rain it was annoying, but bearable…Ed even went to Mom’s house Saturday afternoon to install a new lock on her back door; later that afternoon an apparent tornado spun out of the thunderstorm bands and punched a hole in the roof of his house in Stafford (check his Facebook for a picture).  Kathy and Van tried to bring him a generator to use at his in-laws house next door, where the power was out, but high water got in their way.  Sunday morning it was worse, and by then Van’s parents were reporting water rising around their apartment in southwest Houston; Kathy told us that her in-laws had six inches of water in their apartment, and had talked to the Houston fire department about evacuation to a shelter.  Meanwhile, Ed got in touch with FEMA State Farm and it arranged hotel rooms a few miles away, where he and his family went after he and a neighbor installed one of those oh-so-fashionable tarps to cover the damaged area.  (Tip: they don’t keep all the water out, apparently…)

So far, no high water threatens at Elsie’s, or at Danny’s in Katy, or our house in Pearland (Kevin, in San Antonio, is even getting rained on by Harvey!), but the rain continues.  For example, they reported more than 24 inches of rain in Pearland in the first 48 hours of the “event,” which is about half of the total rainfall we get in a full year…same thing all over the area.  If you were lucky and the rain let up for a while the flooded areas could recede, but the next rain pumped ’em right back up.  Sunday night the local flood control authorities let everyone know they were planning to release water from two large dams on far the west side of town: even though that would put more flood water into the streams heading east into Houston and worsen things for everyone along the route of already-over-engorged Buffalo Bayou, it was necessary to make sure the dams didn’t fail which would cause an “uncontrolled release” that would make things even worse.

It’s not just the rain falling directly on our heads that’s responsible.  This storm has still been pulling moisture in from the Gulf and spreading it over hundreds and hundreds of miles, areas that for the most part drain toward and through the Houston area.  The rain falling a hundred miles away is running off into streams that feed other streams that feed into Houston, so there’s not as much room for our runoff and the local floodwaters can’t go down.  Some areas are coping, but places where the rain doesn’t let up are not.

Van’s parents never did get evacuated by the fire department, but he was able to get into Houston this morning and get them and bring them back to his house in Richmond.  But the Brazos River has been rising and rising, and areas of Richmond have been called to evacuate.  About noon today Kathy and Van’s neighborhood, where their daughter Karie and her husband and newborn also live, was put on the mandatory evacuation list.  They wisely decided to put the center of the storm in their rear view mirror and drive off; a little before 4:00 this afternoon my sister tweeted a greeting that only a Texan could really appreciate: “Made it to Bucees!!”  Ah yes, Luling and Buc-ees as ultimate refuge!

The Johnson Space Center has been closed to all but mission critical personnel since Sunday and will be again tomorrow, and since I am not even close to being mission critical I’m at home relaxing, trying not to stare constantly at the TV; Frances is here too but working, as her company fights the floods to keep their hospitals supplied.  The Astros won’t make it home as planned from Anaheim–their Tue-Wed-Thu series with the Rangers has been moved to St. Petersburg.  The Texans never got home from Saturday’s game in New Orleans, and they’ll play the last exhibition game against the Cowboys as a home game in Jerry World–proving that there’s always someone who has it worse than you do.

This is where you’d think to say something like “but I’m sure it’ll all be fine in the end” and that’s probably true; on the other hand, I always thought a “biblical flood” as just a figure of speech.

Thanks for thinking of us…

Pat

He probably loves it that we can’t stop talking about him

Doonesbury captures another moment in our national consciousness: the one where President Bannon won’t let us live the rest of our lives in peace…

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Thanks to Doonesbury and The Washington Post

The story of the Bannon presidency so far

Leonard Pitts, Jr., this weekend in the Miami Herald, appropriately sizes up the situation and issues a blunt reminder that we all have a responsibility to take care of our society:

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