Bob Schwartz

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Attack of the 50 Foot Woman


President: I’m The Only One That Matters

In an interview yesterday, the President of the United States said:

I’m the only one that matters.

If you think this must be out of context, here’s the context. He was asked about there being so many unfilled high-level positions in the State Department, the foreign affairs arm of the American government. He dismissed the need for these people:

So we don’t need all the people they want. I’m a businessman, and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there. Lemme tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.

“I’m the only one that matters” is something you might hear from someone you’re in a difficult relationship with, or from the person who owns the company you work for, or from a dictator. But no American President has ever publicly said this. Being chief of the public enterprise that is America means that lots of other people matter—even if only a little.

The one blessing of Trump’s disorders (see Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is his unrestrained need to reveal exactly what is in his head at the moment, since these are the greatest thoughts in the world, the only ones that matter. This quote reveals something that everybody already knew, but it is still helpful to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Trump Will Pardon Everybody (Or Almost Everybody)

The power to pardon has been used by a number of presidents, but the full extent of the power has been rarely tested and litigated. So we don’t know definitively how far that power reaches.

It definitely includes the power to pardon people for federal (not state) crimes that have been committed or may have been committed. The best thinking (again, not litigated) is that the president does not have to wait until a crime has been charged or tried. He can pardon in advance, preemptively. And the president can issue a blanket pardon covering an unlimited number of people.

A best guess is that Trump would love to pardon everybody, or almost everybody, who might be caught in the net of the special investigation. His public rationale would be that the only way to protect innocent people from a witch hunt by a powerful witch hunter is to offer this extraordinary shield. His actual rationale is to keep those people from being charged, tried and pressured into revealing information about Trump.

He has almost certainly asked about doing this, and been told about potential pitfalls—prices to be paid.

There is a thought that his pardon of those who might provide evidence in the ongoing investigation could be considered obstruction of justice. Of course, that charge will have to wait until he is out of office, since a sitting president cannot be indicted. Plus, he can pardon himself for any federal crimes, including that. So that would not stop Trump.

There is also a thought that a blanket pardon—or even selective pardons—might move Republicans in Congress closer to impeachment. Under normal circumstances, this might seem an obvious outcome. But nothing is normal, and no one can tell what Republicans might do or say (or not do or say) in response to pardons. So that would not stop Trump.

Which is why it is possible, even likely, that Trump will round up the usual suspects, starting with his family and extending out to others in his circle, and absolve them through pardons, much sooner than later. If that seems so absurd that it is impossible, then you haven’t been paying attention.

“The official portraits of Trump and Pence finally are in circulation”


The Washington Post reports:

The White House announced Tuesday that it’s releasing official portraits of President Trump and Vice President Pence to be hung in thousands of government offices nationwide — nine months after they were sworn in.

The portraits had been conspicuously missing from the lobbies of federal building and office walls, which have been graced by empty picture frames and hooks that until Jan. 20 held the portraits of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Can you imagine the portrait above hanging in 9,600 federal buildings? Of course it won’t be. That is a portrait commissioned by Trump in 1987, painted by Ralph Wolfe Cowan, entitled The Entrepreneur. Much more fun than the official one, though (and so 1980s).

The Trump Roller Coaster

A friend tells me that American history travels in arcs, like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Many share this perspective.

Right now, I think of American history as a roller coaster. If you are a fan of roller coasters, you love those sharp turns and steep drops—the sharper and steeper the better. It is artificially death-defying because you are sure you will not die, or even be hurt. You have confidence that all those who brought you to that moment on the ride—the designers, manufacturers, maintainers and operators—have taken scrupulous care to make sure that at that moment and at every moment, the roller coaster is safe. Nothing less will do.

Trump is designing, manufacturing, maintaining and operating the current American roller coaster. How safe do you feel?

“A Cancer on the Presidency”

“I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed the president himself would be killed by it.”
John Dean, counsel to President Nixon

What John Dean knew or should have known, but would not say to Nixon, was that the cancer was not growing on the presidency—it began with and was the presidency.

There are 15 physicians in the current U.S. Congress; 13 are members of the Republican Party. You’d think that above all people, they would be aware of the virulent spread of cancer, in the body and in the body politic. And they would be anxious to do everything they could to heal it and rid the body of it.

The Republican physicians in Congress have refused, as have most Republicans in Congress and other offices. They seem to be in denial, or believe in some kind of magical healing (“he will change”), or in some cases are actually benefiting from the disease, though they rationalize this as being for the good of the American people.

Back in Watergate, Republicans did not have to hear about “a cancer on the presidency” from John Dean. Many or most of them recognized it, and took the measures needed to make it go away. Without them, Nixon would probably have remained president until January 1976, rather than resigning in August 1974. Who knows how far the cancer might have spread by then?

Maybe Republicans will finally do something, but it is not hopeful. Who knows how far the cancer might spread?

Pope Francis: Amassing Wealth While Children Die Is ‘Idolatry That Kills’

I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but no major world leader—religious or political—gives me more hope for the possibility of humanity than Pope Francis.

Today’s story as reported by Crux:

Pope says amassing wealth while children die is ‘idolatry that kills’

In his homily at morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis returned to a familiar theme — how amassing wealth, both money and land, while children suffer and die, is a morally unacceptable form of idolatry. There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.”

ROME – During his daily morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis said there are those in the world who have too much wealth, and their hoarding of money and land in the face of hungry children with no access to medicine or education is the equivalent of making “human sacrifices.”

In times when the media reports “so many calamities, so many injustices,” especially concerning children, Francis sent a “strong” prayer to God, asking him to convert the hearts of men so that they don’t worship “the God of money.”

Francis’s homily, partially reported by Vatican Radio, turned on the Gospel of the day, a passage from the Book of Luke that tells the parable of the rich man for whom, according to the pope, money was his god. The passage, the pontiff said, leads to a reflection of how useless it is to rely on earthly property, emphasizing how much the true treasure is instead one’s relationship with God.

Despite the abundance of his harvest, the man in the parable wanted to expand his storehouses to have even more, in his “fantasy” of “stretching life out,” collecting more goods “to the point of nausea,” not knowing when it’s enough, in an “exasperated consumerism.”

This, Francis said, is the “reality of today,” when many people who live to worship money and make it their god, lead a senseless life.

There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.

“This idolatry causes so many people to starve. We only think of one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps,” the pope said, referring to the refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. “There are 800,000 people there, 200,000 of whom are children.”

“Our prayer must be strong: Lord, please touch the hearts of these people who worship God, the god of money,” he said. “And also touch my heart, so I don’t fall into this too, so that I can see.”

Tolerance in America Grew. Now Racism is on the Rise. The Churches Have Responsibility.

I won’t repeat the news story this morning from a Richmond, Virginia middle school. You can find it. It is enough to say that it is one more story about white American kids and racial intolerance in 2017.

It’s easy to see the advances we’ve made. Many parents look at their children and see genuine color-blindness. Whether this is our doing (maybe a little) or just the social environment, it is heartening to see.

But these days have made clear that racism in America is not gone, at any level, at any age, and may be on the ascendance. Which brings me to institutional religion, the churches and the synagogues.

Institutional religion is by its nature conservative, not politically but philosophically and practically. Holding on is continuity and coherence, moving on can be a kind of letting go.

As the 1950s slid into the civil rights era of the 1960s, churches struggled to keep a balance between the drama of the most idealistic beliefs and the pragmatics of congregational support. It was, in some ways, a repeat of what had happened a century earlier in the fight against slavery. As it was back then, the response for many churches was a bland silence.

But that was not enough for some in the 1960s, as Christian and Jewish leaders took to the pulpits and the streets and almost shamed their congregants into standing up for right. In the long run, it worked, and we can see the progress that has been made.

Yet nothing is forever, especially in the social tides. Every day serves up another story, some very clear, some more subtle, all of them pointing to racists among us, even in Congress, even in middle schools.

Those politicians, those bureaucratic executives, those middle schoolers, many of them claim religious affiliation, many of them attending church or synagogue. Leaders and pastors are not to blame when messages and exhortations of tolerance don’t get through to hard-headed, hard-hearted faithful listeners. But when they don’t speak up at all—pointedly, regularly and loudly—then they are shirking their mission and responsibility. If they see something, they must say something.

Why We Teach The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’ Story to the Very Young

Children sometimes lie, and some of us lied as children. It happens. That’s why we teach The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’ story early. The simple and useful lesson: There will come a time when it is very important to be believed—to avoid getting eaten by a wolf—and no one will believe you.

Here is the story, as found in Aesop’s Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs:

The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’

There was a boy tending the sheep who would continually go up to the embankment and shout, ‘Help, there’s a wolf!’ The farmers would all come running only to find out that what the boy said was not true. Then one day there really was a wolf, but when the boy shouted they didn’t believe him and no one came to his aid. The whole flock was eaten by the wolf. The story shows that this is how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.

Some never learn that lesson, because they always get away with (or think they get away with) lying all the time. Manchild Trump is one of those.

Maybe, just maybe, he is growing to regret no one believing him. In the middle of a distasteful controversy about his failure to deal with the families of fallen soldiers, it is reported that he just told one widow, “He knew what he signed up for.” Trump denies saying this. Most Americans don’t believe him.

It’s not clear that this controversy is “the thing” that politically wounds Trump among his docile and subservient Republican colleagues. But if it is, Trump may finally learn the lesson of the story. Unless, of course, he always thought the story was only about the wolf.

I read the news today, oh boy

I get the news I need from the weather report.
Paul Simon, The Only Living Boy in New York.

When my dearest wakes up, she sometimes asks, “Has he broken the world yet?”

Most mornings, I can’t answer. Because most mornings, I avoid the news as long as possible. Not just because it is likely to include some outrageous, if not globally existential, story. Because it is not an improvement on the new day that has begun, with possibilities admittedly ranging from the excellent to the challenging. Sunny, cloudy, stormy.

Sometime after the preliminaries, the news will creep in or barge in. Some of it will matter, some of it will be an invitation to silly diversion or to demonstrate shallow or deep cleverness, including schemes to make things better.

Boker or. Morning of light. Again.