Trumpster Diving

* One obvious upshot of the formal opening of the American embassy in JerUSAlem: The peace process is comatose.

* When it comes to North Korea, we should still be willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. Granted, timing is, of course, critically important, and the North Koreans had been gaming the world for a couple of generations until it had nuclear leverage. It’s there now under Kim Jong-un. It also has an open-minded partner in South Korean president Moon Jae-in. And it has, of course, an American president who would love to flaunt that the “Art of the Deal” also applies on the nuclear stage.

But it can’t be discounted that the very nature of Trump–a scary, impulsively unpredictable, threatening bully–has had an impact, however ironic, that could conceivably help. I liken it to a cartoon that was around during the Cold War, nuclear standoff between the U.S and the U.S.S.R. It was a riff on popular teen movies that featured two punks playing “chicken” in their cars. They would head directly at each other until one “chickened out” and turned away to avoid certain fatality. Think early James Dean. Think latter day Kim and Trump.

Well, the cartoon showed one of the drivers getting into his car with a well-noted bottle of booze next to him. It sent an alarmingly existential message to his rival: “I can’t be trusted. I may be drunk. You think I’ll be the one to turn off and avoid a nuclear showdown?”

I never thought that would still be resonating.

Of MAGA And McCain

* “Make America Great Again” is more than a strategically self-serving, populist meme. It’s also a legitimate challenge.

Here’s a sobering revelation: The International Monetary Fund, not to be confused with a “fake news” partisan, projects that the United States will account for only 13.7 percent of global economic output by 2023. That’s not far away: either Donald Trump’s penultimate lame-duck year or the third year of the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration. For comparison, the U.S. accounted for approximately 50 percent of global output at the end of World War II. By 1985, that figure was 22.5 percent. Today it’s 15 percent.

Arguably, a retreat from global commitments, including base-pandering protectionism and a culture of international unreliability, won’t help. At all.

* Alas, John McCain’s days are sadly numbered as the 81-year-old senator struggles against brain cancer and the aggressive treatment it necessitates. We know his family–with his inimitable input–is already making funeral-service plans for Washington’s National Cathedral. To wit: George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been invited to give eulogies. Donald Trump did not make the cut. Mike Pence will represent the White House.

Bush and Obama, with whom McCain had a few high-profile disagreements, symbolize respect and reconciliation. Trump embodies everything McCain distains about polarizing political partisanship and international disloyalty.

* Speaking of McCain, it’s too bad his legacy of reconciliation and aisle-crossing hasn’t gone unfettered. That legacy, unfortunately, also includes the political sell-out that put Sarah Palin on his 2008 presidential ticket. It wasn’t just an expedient, feminist-insulting, long-shot gambit to win the presidency in a given year. It also enabled the Trump presidency. It proved what can happen when you normalize the unconscionably unprepared and vain  as viable enough to be on a presidential ticket. Candidate Palin presaged President Trump.

Sorry about that, senator, but I’m sorrier for America.

* Between now and the summit hook-up between Trump and Kim Jong Un, there will be no lack of media speculation about what Kim, in particular, really has in mind. Is this really the Korean Peninsula game-changer it appears to be? Will that armistice morph into a peace treaty?

Frankly, it’s encouraging that Kim cares so much about symbolism and optics as we saw with his Olympic overtures and historic handshake and border two-step with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. And this just in: North Korea has readjusted its time zone to match South Korea’s and dismantled those gigantic loudspeakers that used to spew propaganda across the DMZ.

The signs are more than manifest that this is now, and the Cold War was then. But for media that speculates and overanalyzes for a living, there’s still the ultimate sign that Kim is serious about wanting back into the civilized world. If he shows up for his Trump summit looking like he’s worked in a salad, sports a CEO haircut and no longer dresses in Mao pajamas, he’ll signal that he’s really ready for the world stage with a message that will resonate credibility,

* Many in America’s media, political parties and military establishment have been looking askance at the rumored possibility that Kim might part with his nukes if the U.S. agrees to sign that peace treaty and pledges not to attack the North. Some historical perspective: Less than a decade after the 1953 Korean armistice, the U.S. was faced with an existential showdown with the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles in Cuba. A key component for defusing the global threat was President John F. Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Cuba. Sure, it was a concession but to common sense and common cause. Nobody wanted Armageddon.

Such a pledge should still be on the table. It speaks incongruous volumes that we would need to even debate–or defend it.

* It’s hard to take a pathological liar at his word, but let’s cut Trump some non-witch-hunting, sincerity slack when he said during the campaign that “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Let’s assume he meant it. Let’s then assume, Rudy Giuliani equivocations notwithstanding, that Trump will not plead the Fifth against self-incrimination in the Russia investigation, because, truth be told, he has nothing to hide.

* Two recent, instant-classic headlines:

>MSNBC’s Hardball: “The Trump & Rudy Show.”

>”Vanity Fair” magazine: “Trump Assures Reporters He’ll Make Giuliani a Better Liar.”

* These are indeed, unprecedented, stormy political times. Imagine, we live in an era where a porn actress can credibly sue for defamation.

Emmanuel Macron to Kayne West

* You have to wonder what French President Emmanuel Macron really thinks of Donald Trump.

Macron seems too smart, too savvy, too informed, too young, too short to be Trump’s best, non-authoritarian, geo-political bosom buddy. But how else do you get the U.S. to not abandon the cause of climate change and to not pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal without giving it your best bromantic shot? Making science-based, existential points is an obvious non-starter.

You can imagine what was going through Macron’s mind as photographers gathered for their historic handshakes and air kisses. Maybe: “I don’t mind taking one for the team, but–sacre bleu. He won’t hug Merkel. What would de Gaulle do?”

* It has now been confirmed that there will be further delay in releasing the rest of the JFK assassination records. They’ll remain classified for national security reasons until at least 2021. At least that’s what Trump has been told. Actually, it’s more out of scandalous embarrassment for reprehensible incompetence and rogue government elements involved in the assassination.

Hell, you would think Trump would actually like the distraction–even if there’s no confirmation that Ted Cruz’s father was involved.

* Trump is now set to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May in July. But it won’t be an “official” state visit by Trump. That’s a polite way of saying he won’t have to endure some awkward optics over a royal family visit.

* Amid the Nobel Peace Prize conjecture, let’s keep this in mind about the rapprochement now  under way on the Korean Peninsula. There was a critically important move involving a key player that has led to what we’re now seeing. No, not by Trump. Not Kim Jong Un. Not Moon Jae-in.

It  actually involved Park Geun-hye, the former president of South Korea. She was disgraced in a corruption scandal, driven from office and sentenced to 24 years in prison. She and her hard-line views toward the North were replaced last year by Moon, who was well known for his conciliatory approach to the North. There would be, quite arguably, no serious warming of relations if Park were still in office. Moon was a game changer, if not a Nobel Prize candidate.

BTW, there’s still no U.S. ambassador to South Korea, although Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, will reportedly be Trump’s nominee.

* Trump will soon formally decide whether to keep the U.S. in the Iran nuclear deal. The ripple effects of a unilateral rejection are worrisome from Iran itself to U.S. credibility with the other Iran-deal signatories–England, France, Germany, China and Russia–to North Korea, as it takes notes on, ironically, U.S. reliability while prepping for the Trump-Kim summit.

* The White House Correspondents’ Dinner didn’t help the cause if your cause is celebrating viable, professional media and accountability-holding criticism in the era of Trump. The featured comedienne, Michelle Wolf , was, on balance, tasteless and off-putting and did, ironically, a disservice to journalism by dragging everyone into the mud with Trump. How do you criticize Trump, for example, for all of his Administration’s vetting failures when you don’t properly vet your annual dinner’s headline comic performer? She was a room-service talking point for the Trump pushback on mainstream media as a biased, “witch-hunting” enemy.

She did, however, telegraph her punch lines from the start: “Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, let’s get this over with.” Not soon enough.

I miss Seth Meyers.

* The Senate just confirmed Trump’s 15th appeals court nominee. This is in addition to the 17 Trump-nominated judges on district courts. We know Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court, and we can’t help second guessing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, for not retiring while Obama was still in position to choose a replacement and not worry about Mitch McConnell. Stay healthy and feisty, albeit frail, RBG.

* So the controversial Dr. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, after denying allegations involving the dispersals of meds, a hostile work environment within the White House medical team and possible over-imbibing while on duty. Imagine if he had been accused of what Trump did?

* Trump and Kanye West. It is what it is: two obnoxious, self-serving, pop culture celebrities. If only one were not president of the United States.

Dr. Huxtable/Mr. Hyde

Bill Cosby is no longer the accused. He is now the convicted. For sexually assaulting much younger, vulnerable women, many of whom, unconscionably, were unconscious. That was his Quaalude M.O. for uninvited sex with unwitting, young females. Mentor as monster. Throw away the key.

However, what makes these crimes all the more harmful, is that there is also a potential broader victim: society at large. In an America that has always been rife with racism, Cosby in his prime appealed to both sides of the racial divide with universal humor. From Fat Albert to Noah’s Ark to the familial musings of Dr. Huxtable. We really needed that. He reminded us of what we had in common–not conflict.

Red Foxx, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy had their entertaining niches, which included raw language and bawdy routines. The family-friendly Cosby didn’t go there. In fact, he was even chided in activist circles for not being street-language hip and, not unlike Jackie Robinson, lulling white households into a false sense of civil rights success.

Cosby made no apologies. “A white person listens to my act and he laughs,” he once noted, “and he thinks, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I see it too.’ … And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I’m doing as much for good race relations as the next guy.”

Arguably more. That approach, however, should not be written off along with his evil doppelganger, predatory ways in real life. His universal humor should prevail as a reminder of what we all, regardless of race, have in common. It would be criminal to not build on that.

Term Limits Reality

Here’s what should be the ultimate bottom line when it comes to term limits, whether we’re talking FDR, Barack Obama, Sam Gibbons, Rick Scott or Bob Buckhorn. And, yes, this takes into consideration name-recognition advantages and fund-raising wherewithal. In short, we should let the electorate decide to limit terms by kicking out the self-serving and career-carving or retaining the hard-working and conscience-following.

Or don’t we, well, trust the electorate to do the right thing–because it requires voters to be, well, involved, informed and not easily pandered to by those always targeting the lowest common denominator? Especially in this era of “fake news” and validating, cherry-picked, partisan media. The challenges have never been more formidable to do, ironically, what’s in our own best interest.

Democracies shouldn’t accord “off-year”-election passes to rationalize embarrassingly low turnouts. They all matter–from mayor to governor to president. Don’t they?

Let’s limit laziness and gullibility–not incumbent terms.

Still Hope For Communications Self-Help

If you’re more than miffed at Facebook and feel you’ve been Suckerberged–or if you’re just tired of gratuitous, grammatically-challenged emails, here’s a suggestion: Write a letter.

Drop a line, even if it gobsmacks the recipient, to a parent or a spouse or an offspring or a sibling or an old friend or a valued cohort or a nice neighbor. Imagine the impact. You cared enough to do this! Even if it’s postmarked from this really cool place you’re visiting! This is personal, not a post “personally” shared with lots of others.

You’re connecting at a visceral, not just a technological level. And nobody’s getting monetized.

Written communication, once an art and now an artifact, requires more thought than online keystroking. Make a mistake, think of a better word, you have to cross it out. Looks untidy. Or start over. So you think prior to–and while–writing. This is you at your most-thoughtful, articulate best. Remember, you still have that side. Share it.

You could start by upping your game with greeting cards. Don’t be satisfied with E-greetings or Hallmarked sentiments with your signature. Caring enough to buy a card at CVS isn’t caring enough.

And imagine the impact. Missives radiate: “I cared enough to actually write you. You matter that much.” It can also be an emotionally positive, cathartic experience for the writer. You’re tapping you–not a keyboard.

So, write a letter. Hell, maybe you’ll get one back. Maybe it’ll catch on. Maybe the Postal Service can be less reliant on Amazon. Scenarios abound.

Here’s another suggestion, although it probably doesn’t apply to this publication’s readers. You already have an admirable, old-school print habit. Bless you. Subscribe to a newspaper. A real one.

If it editorially leans left or right, no matter. It’s labeled as such. And nobody needs a self-validating news cocoon.

This is not just to help an industry that looks, alas, increasingly anachronistic. But to help a democracy that looks, alas, increasingly vulnerable. From Russian bots to alt-Reich Breitbart.

We know how we got here.

Starbucks To Go

You order your Starbucks coffee black, it must be to go.

Bada bing. Only it’s not funny.

What Starbucks surely knows is that it’s a hip, wi-fied gathering spot and pivot point. Theirs is a carefully cultivated community and neighborhood identity. People meet up, hang out, close deals, shoot the breeze. Overpriced lattes and mochas are means to an end for much of their customer base. And the formula works wonderfully.

But how much common sense does it take to make sure your managers aren’t so dumb and insensitive–and carriers of “unconscious bias”–that they wouldn’t be welcome as progressive, entrepreneurial customers? This is about common sense, common courtesy and, ultimately, enlightened self interest. Makes it seem as if that past Starbucks campaign to start a national “conversation” on race relations was more public relations than public policy.

Hardly helping on the Philadelphia incident were the police officers who didn’t need to handcuff and arrest two black guys who wanted to use a restroom while awaiting a white, would-be business partner. And the Philly police chief didn’t need to remind everybody that house negroes with authority remain part of the problem.

Cuban Transition

Years ago–in the 1990s–my wife and I were visiting with friends in Havana. In their modest apartment sanctuary of privacy and candor–amid lives that were being underlived–one of them acknowledged that the only thing that would truly be a game-changer for the island they loved would be the “biological solution.” That was the ironically respectful euphemism for the death of the Castro brothers. Only then could there be meaningful change.

I reflected on that experience during the recent transition in Cuba where Raúl Castro turned over the presidency to Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57. But the 86-year-old Castro will remain at the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, until 2021. That’s three more years of being the de facto authoritarian. Díaz-Canel and the rubber stamp National Assembly know that.

No one expects a dysfunctional economy that’s out-of-sync with economic reality and human initiative and features $30-a-month state salaries to now morph into a real marketplace.

After 2021, Castro would still be the revolutionary, iconic elephant in the room–until the “biological solution.” That’s what it will take to ultimately usher in an era that no longer prioritizes Cold War ideology and anti-capitalist swagger over a better 21st century life for its people.

Redefining America’s Role

* Last summer, Secretary of Defense James Mattis looked refreshingly un-Trump like when he stated that the “The greatest gift the greatest generation left us was the rules-based postwar international order.” This spring Mattis looks more like the last man standing as John Bolton sets up shop as national security adviser.

*Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, just hours removed from his ouster last month, weighed in with a cautionary corollary: “Nothing is possible without allies and partners.” T Rex never sounded so stately; Too bad he never had Trump’s ear the way his hawkish successor, Mike Pompeo, now does.

* With all of the talk about Scott Pruitt’s ethical lapses–from pricey travels to cut-rate rental deals and that notably costly 24-7 security detail–it’s easy to forget there are far better reasons to want him fired as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How about hostility to scientific inquiry?  As in utter disdain for the link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. How about being a yes man for Trump’s blustery, campaign promise-keeping withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change? How about presiding over a critically-important department in “slow-motion train wreck” mode, to quote demoralized EPA insiders? How about avoiding inconvenient truths when they could undermine a presidential agenda that prioritizes fossil-fuel jobs over the costs to public health and, well, the planet?

There are plenty of reasons why Scott Pruitt should be sent packing from his lobbyist-arranged, Capitol Hill rental back to Oklahoma. Not unlike the occupant of the Oval Office, he’s bad for America–and the rest of the world.

* President Trump now says he doesn’t know why his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had made that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” he said, in lieu of keeping a silence that sounded better than that comment. Trump also said he had no idea where Cohen, long known as Trump’s “fixer,” had gotten the money.

Obviously the White House is still in mid-Stormy spin. It comes with the territory–an unconscionably sleazy POTUS and a non-best-and-brightest, amateur-hour coterie of sycophantic advisers. Perhaps Cohen was making a refund for Trump University.

* We’re now hearing that “older, educated, white voters” are now shifting away from Trump and trending toward Democrats. I get “older” and “white” as political demographics that, alas, helped elect Trump. But didn’t “educated” used to imply something a bit more discerning?