Category Archives: Random Thoughts

A Brush with Greatness


Among the things I miss about David Letterman is the pre-guest segment when he would let audience members share what he called “brush with greatness,” an occasion on which they rubbed elbows with the famous and infamous.  I have been fortunate throughout my lifetime to have had many such opportunities with the famous and infamous ranging from actor John Astin to President Bill Clinton.  For long time readers, you may recall I often use a celebrity’s passing as a chance to take a trip down memory lane, as was the case with Cokie Roberts and Muhammad Ali.

However, my most consequential “brush with greatness” due to its timing was with Vice President Walter Mondale, who died this past Monday at the age of 93.  It was November 4, 1979.

I had  recently defended my doctoral dissertation after seven plus years as a graduate student (but that’s another story).  My parents, who wondered if I would ever complete the degree requirements, sent me a note of congratulations accompanied with a $100 check.  Use this to do something special to celebrate, they urged.

LIZA IN CONCERT (1979) - KANDER & EBBI scoured the leisure section of the Washington Post in search of a special event that fit the occasion when the choice became obvious.  I had been a long time fan of Liza Minelli dating back to her performances in The Sterile Cuckoo, Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon and of course Cabaret.  And now she was returning to the DC area where her nightclub career began 14 years earlier at the Shoreham Hotel.  The eight performances of her one-woman show were already a near sell-out when I called the box office.  The only remaining seats were on the box tier Kennedy Center opera house.  I do not remember the exact price of the tickets, but the $100 familial subsidy put it well within my budget.

When my date and I entered our box, we realized we were just two boxes to the right of the presidential box which immediately raised the expectation we would enjoy the evening with Jimmy and Roslyn Carter.  However, to our disappointment, our brush with greatness would be with Walter and Joan Mondale.  Yet,  the political junkie inside of me was determined to make the most of the opportunity.  How could we possibly be this close to the vice-president and not say hello?

At intermission, we watched as the Mondales exited their box.  We did the same, and there they were, standing alone, just the two of them.  Perfect. We would not be interrupting their conversation with friends or more prominent individuals.  We started to move toward the second couple, at which point we were immediately approached by two secret service agents.  Did they really think I brought a date to an assassination and would leave her behind as I jumped into the orchestra seats (the stage was out of reach) proclaiming, “Sic semper tyrannis?”

Fortunately, the confrontation ended quickly when I showed them our tickets, explained we were honored to be here the same night as the Mondales and only wanted to say hello.  The conversation lasted much longer than we expected and was quite congenial.   Fritz, now my new best friend, asked how we were enjoying the show and wished us well as we said goodbye.

Even though we only got the B-Team, the experience was right up there.  More so because the chances were probably higher the secret service would have been less accommodating if it had been the main man.  You take what life gives you.

It was not until the next day we realized the significance of the previous evening.  Just before the Sunday night performance, the White House learned the U.S. embassy in Tehran had been breached by Irani students and numerous Americans had been taken hostage.  Mondale’s attendance at the Kennedy Center was designed to suggest a sense of calm and normalcy within the administration.  And ever loyal to his president, Mondale did not disappoint.  From our close-up vantage point, there was no omen of the impending 444 day drama which would bring down the Carter presidency.

FOOTNOTE:  I only learned the final irony in this narrative on Tuesday when presidential historians recapped the Carter/Mondale years.  The event that triggered the attack on the U.S. embassy was the decision by the Carter White House to give sanctuary to the ailing Shah who had been deposed by the Islamic revolution.  Many in the administration opposed the idea.  The strongest voice in the room turned out to be that of Walter Mondale, who refused to subject a U.S. ally, the Shah, to the mercy of Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionary guard.

For what it’s worth.


Texas on My Mind


I woke up this morning
Texas on my mind
Thinking about my friends there
And the times I left behind.

Pat Green/”Texas on My Mind”

Lately, I notice current events have become the equivalent of a personal journal reminding me of good times and bad over the course of seven decades.  For example, Mary Wilson’s passing brought back memories of seeing the Supremes at the Allentown Fair in 1967.  The Baja Marimba Band (with Julius Wechter, who wrote “Spanish Flea” made famous by Herb Alpert) was the opening act.  But nothing matches the flood of recollections this past week about our family’s years in Austin, Texas.

Image result for chuy'sSome are minor moments in time with multiple degrees of separation, insignificant in the broader scheme of things.  Yesterday’s Washington Post reported two former first daughters, Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush, joined a group that purchased the WNBA Washington Spirit.  Current and former residents of Austin cannot see Jenna’s or her twin sister Barbara’s name and not think about the 2001 incident when they, then students at the University of Texas, used false IDs to order drinks at the city’s go-to Tex-Mex restaurant Chuy’s, an establishment we patronized on many occasions.  I am sure they were not the first nor the last Longhorns guilty of underage drinking at this cantina known for its paintings on velvet canvas or the wooden pterodactyls hanging from the ceiling.  Their particular crime, of course, was being  very recognizable presidential offspring.

Of course, this week’s Lone Star State main event was the once in a generation freeze exacerbated by the inexcusable response by Texas governor Greg Abbot and junior U.S. senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz.  How do I know it was inexcusable?  Personal experience.  In April 1983, I was appointed state director of Housing and Community Development by Governor Mark White.  On Christmas eve that same year, Texans experienced a similar situation.  The high temperature in Austin was seven degrees, two degrees fewer than the previous all time low.

Image result for governor mark whiteOn Christmas Day, several state officials, myself included, were asked to be in the governor’s office at 8:00 a.m. the next morning.  As is the case again this week, the entire produce industry in south Texas was devastated, and the unemployment rate along the border was projected to reach 60 percent in the most agricultural counties.  Among the resources within my jurisdiction was a $41 million allocation under the federal Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).  As I tell this story, keep in mind my only prior interaction with Governor White had been a brief introduction during my first visit to the capitol as a state employee.  He more likely associated me with the letters he received, including one from the city manger of Three Rivers, suggesting “Sam Houston was spinning in his grave” for White’s having hired “a gringo from Washington, D.C. for a job that should have gone to a native Texan.”

As the governor went around the table, he asked each of us what we could do immediately to alleviate the situation. I brought up the CDBG funding and the fact 20 percent was set aside for discretionary and emergency projects.  White:  “How soon can you start writing checks?”  To which I replied I was sorry, but the law required the funds had be used for tangible projects.  As I listened to accounts of Abbott’s actions or even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week, I wonder what I would have done if White had said, “I don’t give a damn what the law says.  Start writing checks or pack you carpet bags and go back to D.C.”

But that was a different time.  Instead he reiterated his goal was to get money into the hands of people who needed it.  Within 24 hours my team put together a public works program which included everything from repairing government facilities to removing and replacing palm trees along the Rio Grande highway which had not survived the cold.  As a result, local governments were able to put thousands of displaced workers on the public payroll for the remainder of that winter.

The memories did not stop there.  On Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman ran a story under the headline, “St. David’s, other hospitals struggle with loss of water pressure, heat.”  St. David’s has a special place in our family history.  It was at that very hospital our daughter was born in September 1983.  Nothing that happened over the next five and a half years could outshine that one moment.

For the fourth memory, I return to the less significant.  At a cousin’s recommendation, my wife and I binge-watched the HBO documentary “The Lady and the Dale.”  In the final episode, the protagonist G. Elizabeth Carmichael organizes an “army” of street corner flower vendors in Austin.  The time period?  The mid-1980s, concurrent with our residency there.  Our departmental offices were housed in a converted hospital down the block from a major intersection, the corner of West 5th Street and Congress Avenue.  Those flower guys were always there, yet we had no idea of the intriguing back story about who they were and how they were recruited.

We left Austin to return to the D.C. area in 1988.  And more recent events have displaced our Texas experience over the nearly three and a half decades since we departed.  So let me end with a thank you to Jenna Bush, Greg Abbott, Mark White, the staff at St. David’s hospital and Liz  Carmichael for jogging my memory of the “friends there and the times I left behind.”

For what it’s worth.


Random Thoughts on 1/6/2021


Alternative Punishment

Much is being said about the pros and cons of invoking the 25th Amendment, a second impeachment and prosecution under federal sedition acts to demonstrate once and for all, no individual, especially the president of the United States, is above the law.  Among the arguments against these courses are action, especially ones that would result in Donald Trump’s imprisonment, is concern that they will further divide an already bisected nation.

However, there are two alternatives which have received little or no attention.  Forget the Constitutional solutions which are cumbersome and require more than simple majority votes.  Instead, prosecute, indict and try Trump for all the statutory crimes he has committed related to his behavior both as president and as crime boss of the Trump Organization.  These could include sedition, bribery, campaign violations, tax evasion, bank fraud, securities fraud and mail fraud.  If convicted, the presiding judge in each case should sentence Trump to all appropriate fines and jail terms.  Then and only then should President Biden, in the name of national unity, not pardon, but commute all prison sentences leaving the fines in place and preventing Trump, as a convicted felon, from voting until all court costs, fines and restitution are paid.  (NOTE:  There would be a certain level of schadenfreude to watch Trump, now that he claims to be a Florida resident, have to comply with the law passed by the Florida legislature and signed by Governor DeSantis which undercut the will of the voters to restore voting rights to felons who had served their sentences.)

The second alternative would relieve American taxpayers of ever having to further underwrite the grifter-in-chief after leaving office.  It is based on provisions of the military code which deny any member of the armed forces, subject to a dishonorable discharge, access to any veteran benefits.   The same should be true for the commander-in-chief.  Therefore, Trump could be stripped of all the benefits under the Former President Act of 1958.  This would include:

  • Annual pension of $219,000/year.
  • Transition expenses for seven months.
  • Private staff and office funding up to $150,000 per year for the first 30 months and $96,000 thereafter
  • Medical treatment at military hospitals.
  • Secret service protection for 10 years.

Since these benefits are provided by law, an exception in this case would only require an act of Congress by a majority vote in each house signed by President Biden.

Presidential Medal of Shame

I have never been a fan of Bill Belichick.  Just two weeks ago, I reveled in the fact the New England Patriots failed to make the NFL playoffs this year.  But my past feelings about coach Belichick are no match for the admiration and respect I now have for him following his decision not to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the nation’s traitor-in-chief.  I hope President Biden, at some future date, bestows this honor on him, not for his accomplishments on the gridiron, but for his action this week off the field.

Statue of Freedom - WikipediaI wish I could say the same for Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam who attended a private ceremony last Thursday to accept their medals.  LAST THURSDAY!!  Less than 24 hours after Trump fomented an attack on the U.S. Capitol.  If either have the audacity to display their award in their homes or offices, I encourage every American who visits those locations to simply say, “Oh, is that the Medal of Freedom you received from Donald Trump the day after he launched an armed attack against a building on top of which stands the STATUE OF FREEDOM.  How ironic!”  If Player and Sorenstam had any appreciation for the country in which they have both had the opportunity to practice their craft and profit from it, they would return the medals IMMEDIATELY.  For those medals are no longer a badge of honor, but the equivalent of a “Scarlet C” for complicity.

Welcome Lisa Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski official photo.jpgOn Saturday, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski joined the ranks of those who called for Trump’s immediate removal from office.  Although elected as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican nomination to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in 2016, Murkowski remained a member of the Republican party.  However, that may change if, as she said, the party continues to be beholden to Trump.

Now, I do not expect Murkowski to register as a Democrat, but she should be welcomed to join the party caucus as have independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  In fact, any Senator who no longer wishes to be associated with the party of lies, conspiracy theories and insurrection would like the same offer, they should be welcome.

Now I know what some of you are going to say.  This will be a slap in the face of progressive members of the caucus.  But imagine this scenario: a Democratic caucus that consists of 60 or more members ranging in ideology from center right to far left.  That has always been the coalition which has been responsible for evolutionary advances in civil rights, sound economic policy and rational foreign engagement.  It is a coalition that is close enough in constitutional principle yet broad enough in ideology to become the best hope for compromise and accommodation of a wide range of thoughtful, fact-based solutions to the problems we, as a nation, now face.

If there is room in the party for pro-life Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, there is room in the caucus for Murkowski, Pat Toomey, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and any other Republican turned independent.  And, if it would help, maybe it is time to drop the label Democratic Party.  After this week, it might as well be called the Constitutional Party with the American Eagle as its mascot.  Let the others call themselves whatever they want.  But make no mistake, from January 6th onward they will be known as the Sedition Party with Donald Trump as their mascot.

For what it’s worth.


Synchronicity Runs Deep Revisited


NOTE:  The idea for this blog materialized yesterday following three news stories which came together in a perfect brainstorm–announcement of a forthcoming book about Donald T****’s last days in the White House, the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder outside his Central Park residence and the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court to reject an application for injunctive action to stop certification of Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania.

Yesterday, Washington Post chief White House correspondent Robert Costa and investigative reporting icon Bob Woodward announced they would team up to write a chronicle of Donald T****’s final days in the Oval Office.  This will be Woodward’s second such effort following publication of The Final Days, documenting the end of the Nixon era, co-authored with former Post colleague Carl Bernstein.

Woodward and Bernstein: Watergate echoes loud in Donald Trump era | Watergate | The GuardianHighlights from Woodstein’s (the moniker given to the two then rookie journalists by Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee) collaboration included Nixon’s conversation with portraits of previous presidents and his asking then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the night before his formal resignation, to get down on his knees and join the soon to be ex-president in prayer for the nation.  In memory of John Lennon, on the anniversary of his death, I thought it would be an apt tribute to “Imagine” what one of the juicier tidbits might be in this forthcoming narrative of how another delusional commander-in-chief coped with his pending exile from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Imagine the following excerpt from the Costa/Woodward book.

Truth Wars
Episode Four/A Final Hope

The news had not been good.  But no one should have been surprised.  If you are going to pick a metaphor, select one that matches your desired outcome.  If you want to destroy an enemy, do not compare your means of doing so to the Empire’s “Death Star,” as did T**** campaign manager Brad Parscale.  He obviously slept through the last ten minutes of every Star Wars film in which the rebel forces destroyed this ultimate weapon over and over again.  Or refer to the emergence of a less-than-crack legal team as “unleashing the kraken,” another fatality in the annals of cinema.

But hope survived.  T**** had assembled a rag-tag trio of Supreme Court appointees akin to Luke, Han and Leia–otherwise known as Neil, Brett and Amy–who he believed would secure a victory in the face of insurmountable odds.  As one by one battleground states certified Biden wins, T**** became more despondent and reached out to the only person in the White House who had long-past tested positive for the coronavirus or was not currently quarantined–Third Lady Melania.

As T**** entered the outer office to Melania’s private quarters, he noticed an open newspaper on her aide’s desk.  And there it was, a giant headline, “Supreme Court Delivers.”  “I knew it,” T**** shouted.  The master plan had succeeded.  Once again, everyone had underestimated him.

The jubilant president burst through the door to FLOTUS’ office to deliver the good news.  “Stop packing,” he cried.  “We won.  We won.  The Supreme Court delivered for me.”

Melania could only laugh.  She then explained, “Dahnold, ‘Supreme Court’ is the contractor I hired to install the playing surface in the new tennis pavilion.  And as promised, they delivered the surfacing materials, at no charge.  I thought you would appreciate that.  This is just an advertisement, silly boy! “

“Haven’t you been watching the news?” she continued.  “The Court just unanimously rejected Mike Kelly’s application for injunctive relief to stop Governor Wolf from certifying the Pennsylvania results.”  She handed him a copy of the court order.

Supreme Court rejects Pennsylvania Republicans' attempt to block election results - CNNPolitics

“That’s it?” T**** asked.  To which Melania replied, “In more ways than one.  But, on the bright side, Jill Biden will be the one who has to work HER ass off on all this Christmas stuff for the next four years.”

The couple is distracted by a bell ringing three times in the background.

Confused, T**** inquires, “Melania, what’s that?”

“In the old country, my teachers always said, ‘Every time a bell rings, a Supreme Court justice grows a spine.’  Happy holidays, dear.”

“Damn it, Melania.  I told you never ever say that.  For the last time, it’s ‘Merry Christmas, MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Even when it’s not.’  I may need those evangelicals again in 2024.”

ENDNOTE:  Of course, this is fiction.  But, based on the last four years, it is probably not nearly as crazy as what will actually take place.

For what it’s worth.


Random Thoughts 16 Days Out


As I start this post, the Deprogramming101 countdown clock is at 16 days, 15 hours, 7 minutes and 47 seconds until election day.  But who’s counting.  EVERYONE!  And, if you are obsessed with what is at stake on the ballot November 3rd, your head explodes with every new headline and poll, each worthy of a deeper examination.  However, this morning I thought I would share some random thoughts, some sane, some less so.

The Ginsberg Effect

Democrats hoped Ruth Bader Ginsberg had enough life left in her to survive until January 3, 2021, the date on which they expected a majority of Democratic senators to be seated in the “world’s most deliberative body,” a moniker which hardly seems still appropriate.  But Ginsberg is not the only person who was in the race against time.

This week I learned a revered member of our community and a Biden supporter had passed away after a long illness.  I am embarrassed to admit my first reaction, “Did she get a chance to vote before she left us?”  Then I learned she died five weeks ago, before mail-in ballots were distributed.  I am sure Marco Rubio, the People of Praise and Father Edward Meeks will chalk this up to divine intervention.  And they wonder why 26 percent of Americans do not believe in God.

Biden’s Cuban-American Problem

The Trump campaign believes Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County will once again deliver Florida’s 29 electoral votes for the Republican candidate as they did in 2016.  To make that happen, they have targeted this voting bloc with television and social media advertising reminding this faction they left Cuba to get away from socialism.  So, why would they vote for Joe Biden, who, with help from Bernie Sanders and AOC, will make America just like Cuba.  Unfortunately, the tactic seems to be working, especially among older Cuban-American voters.

Yet, that is not Joe Biden’s problem.  The more salient issue is the inability of his campaign or the DNC to reframe the issue.  This is not rocket science.  These people did not leave Cuba because of socialism.  If Cubans were wealthy and lived freely in an open society they would still be there.  They left because Fidel Castro was corrupt, jailed his political opponents and put ideology above the welfare of the people.  Where are the Biden ads which remind Cuban-American voters:

Since the Mariel Boatlift, which brought many of you or your ancestors to America, you have enjoyed the rewards of living in a democracy.  During the intervening 40 years, the United States has been governed by Democrats and Republicans, but they all had one thing in common.  They believed in the rule of law, the right for opponents of the government to have a voice and the nation’s leaders should be chosen by ALL the people.

For the first time since many of you arrived on American soil, that legacy is in danger.  Donald Trump wants you to believe he can only lose if the election is rigged.  He wants Attorney General Bill Barr to jail his political opponents.  He does not distinguish between the government and his personal business interests.  He prefers catering to Russia more than supporting the spread of democracy globally.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t that the real reason you came to America, to get away from autocrats?

Sometimes You’re Right

Hall of Fame Pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It’s not bragging if you can do it.”  So, I am going to give myself a pat on the back.  In Wednesday’s post “Heed the POLITICAL Scientists,” one of the OLD rules of politics which I believe still apply to the NEW politics of the Trump era was, “Manufactured October Surprises Seldom Work.”  I bet Rudy Giulliani and the New York Post wish they had been a subscriber to Deprogramming101.

Facebook, Twitter block The Post from postingLess than 24 hours later the Post published an article titled, “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad.”  Within hours of its dissemination, Twitter announced the conspiracy theory had so many holes in it they blocked on-line links to the article.  And now the FBI is investigating whether Giulliani had been targeted by Russian intelligence to be the bagman in LaptopGate.

As I watched this farce unfold, I was reminded of something former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) wrote in an article “How to Impeach Oneself” for The Hill.

Third, the president would bring in people to do damage control and have those supposed experts actually deliver more damage. This, of course, has been the outcome of the recent addition of Rudy Giuliani to the president’s personal legal team.

And Sometimes You’re Wrong

Some of you long-time readers might remember a February 15, 2017 post titled, “The Old Switcheroo,” in which I castigated NBC for courting the Trump resistance after “aiding and abetting the normalization of Donald Trump” during the 2016 election.  Evidence included Trump’s hosting “Saturday Night Live,” an appearance on the NBC/Golf Channel’s show “Feherty,” and Jimmy Fallon’s milquetoast interview in which he played with whatever that is on top of Trump’s head.

So, when NBC offered the crybaby-in-chief an hour of air-time opposite Joe Biden’s town hall on ABC, my first reaction was, “Here we go again.” In protest, I cancelled my subscription to Peacock, NBC’s new premium streaming service.  Catering to Trump was so unpopular among MSNBC on-air talent, they made a point of reminding viewers NBC News and MSNBC were separate legal entities under different management.

One voice in the wilderness was Joe Scarborough.  And the day after Trump’s latest on-air implosion, it was evident why Morning Joe was right.  He reminded us how quickly Trump’s approval ratings dropped during his White House “COVID briefings.”  In other words, the more people see Trump, the more likely they are to ask themselves, “Do I really want four more years of this?”  Even the overnight viewer ratings bear this out.  More people wanted to see what Biden had to say than watch Trump.

Sometimes I’m wrong, and that is not a bad thing.

The POLLar Express

If you are nervous about the outcome of this election, your blood pressure probably rises and falls based on the daily polling results.  Understanding where the race stands on any given day is further muddied by the numerous polling firms, the time frame in which the sample is queried and the differing methodologies.

One of my mentors in voting behavior, Richard Scammon, who designed the first exit poll, NBC’s Voter Profile Analysis, always reminded us, “Single polls tell you where voters are.  What you want to know is where they are heading.”  Unfortunately, most polls select a different voter sample each time they take the electorate’s temperature.  There is one major exception.  The USC Dornsife “Daybreak Poll” which repeatedly asks the same sample of approximately 5,500 likely voters their preference over two weeks, a 14th of the sample each day.  Their daily update is the average for that 14 day window.

Here’s what this kind of longitudinal tracking tells us.

  • On September 29, 2020, the day before the presidential debate, Biden already held a sizable lead 51.75-42.25 percent.
  • On October 1, 2020, the day after the debate, the lead increased to 52.48-42.14 percent.  Keep in mind, this is based on having re-checked only1/14 of the total sample.
  • As all of the sample were re-queried by the 14th day following the debate, the lead stretched to 53.72-41.58 percent.  However, a portion of the sample had now been affected by news of Trump’s contracting the coronavirus and hospitalization.
  • Since Trump’s return to the White House and campaign trail, the margin has hardly moved.  For October 16, 2020, the spread was 53.52-41.73 percent.

What does all this mean?  There has been some, but very little erosion, in Trump support, maybe .75 percent.  But late deciders, as predicted, are becoming more comfortable with Biden, increasing his support by almost two percent.

Of course, 16 days, 13 hours, 10 minutes and 1 second are an eternity in politics.

For what it’s worth.