Monday, January 30, 2017


      Take Iraq’s oil. It’s what we should have done and what Donald Trump might do (or so he claims) if the opportunity arises. This assertion, with its echoes of a colonial past, makes folk on the left cringe. Unthinkable even a few months ago, Don the Con repeats it so often, and in the face of such criticism, I have to believe that he means what he says. And why not? While Trump might reap some of the rewards, neither he nor any of his children will bear the costs.

     Taking Iraq’s oil will require a military presence able to counter the mass hatred inevitably generated when Country A steals the resources of Country B. Nor does it help when Country A self-identifies as Christian, while Country B is almost entirely Muslim.

      So, how many American soldiers will it take? The oil fields of Iraq are spread across thousands of square miles, but even if Trump settles for the most productive fields near Basra, Iraq’s only port, our presence will extend 150 miles into Iraq’s interior, cover several thousand square miles and come within thirty miles of the Iranian border. Each field, of course, will have to be protected against sabotage, both from without and within, as will the pipelines connecting these fields to various tank farms, as will the tank farms and the port facilities at Basra.

       I have no expertise here, but it’s hard to imagine fewer than 50,000 soldiers on the ground, and easy to imagine many more. Along these lines, we’d be wise to remember that the United States had more than 300,000 combat troops in Vietnam, yet couldn’t subdue the southern half of the country. But however many soldiers needed to steal the oil, each man or woman will have to be maintained. That means supply lines extending as far as 150 miles will also require protection.  

     Lots of troops in Iraq. Lots of suicide bombers in Iraq. Lots of Shiite militias, and IED’s, and pipeline saboteurs in Iraq. Can the death of a thousand cuts be far behind?

      Let’s call it what it is, let’s name the course of action urged on us by Don the Con. If the United States established an indefinite military presence in Iraq, a military presence sufficiently large to accomplish the objectives already stated, and then sold off Iraq’s oil and kept the revenue, Iraq would become, for all intents, a colony of the United States.

      Did I say colony?

      Kill their families. Torture works. And how have colonists, throughout history, maintained themselves in the face of local resistance? Kill their families. Torture works.


Saturday, January 21, 2017


     Woe is me. Each day I arise determined to avoid the news of the day, at least until Donald Trump’s been dead (having died of natural causes sometime in the distant future) for at least ten years. The obvious, that I’ll be long dead myself, bothers me not at all. What bothers me is that I can’t stay away, drawn to the newspapers, the magazines, the cable news networks, like a moth to a flame. And while the moth can’t be faulted – after all, it knows nothing of the damage flames do – I conspire in my own desolation. Woe is me.

      So, it’s Don the Con, morning, noon and night, the lead on every newscast. And why not? Donald’s tweets are designed, primarily, to attract attention. Flamboyant, inaccurate, obnoxious, racist, xenophobic, misogynist or just plain stupid, the media inevitably focuses on them. Which is why he stays up at night composing 140 character epics, all of which can be summed up in two words.


       Why else does he embrace the belief that all publicity, even bad publicity, is better than no publicity at all?

       Why did he cross the East River, locating himself firmly in Manhattan? For anyone satisfied with relative anonymity, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx offer sufficient wealth to accommodate the greediest among us. Fred Trump’s business assets (not his estate, worth approximately three hundred million) have been estimated at upwards of two hundred million dollars. And he, unlike his progeny, started with nothing.

       Why did Trump masquerade as, variously, John Miller and John Barron if not to generate publicity? At the time, he was busy trashing Marla Maples, a woman he’d used to publicly humiliate his wife, Ivana. Most men and women, including celebrities and the uber-rich, avoid publicizing their affairs.

      Moving forward, why would the President-elect trash a report supported by all three intelligence agencies without reading the report? If he’d requested a briefing, it would have been instantly granted.

     And why would he describe John Lewis’s Congressional district as “… in horrible shape and falling apart, (not to mention crime ridden)” when the district is solidly middle-class?

      Donald Trump needs attention the way junkies need dope. And like any junkie, the more he gets, the more he needs.

      As of this posting, Don the Con’s approval rating has dropped to 40%, resulting mainly from his pro-Russian and anti-intelligence agency tweets. Without doubt, Kellyanne Conway told him…. No, that’s not right. She advised him to acknowledge what the rest of world knows to be the truth. Vladimir hacked the DNC, then orchestrated the release of those DNC emails, all the while hoping to elect Donald Trump. Donald’s bogus doubts serve only to keep the wound open. Like I said, Trump’s approval ratings have dropped to 40%.

      So far, I’ve only asked why. But here’s a how to consider. How can Donald Trump look into a mirror at the raccoon makeup and the canary-yellow hair and not see a clown? What psychological mechanism allows him to find in his reflection a man all must admire? And how will this level of delusion play out now that he’s the most powerful human being on planet Earth?

      Free advice for Don the Con: Don’t con yourself. All publicity is not good publicity. The Presidency can become a living hell for a president under siege. Just ask Jimmy Carter. For a narcissist, near universal condemnation is the worst imaginable fate. Remember, in 2012, Mitt Romney won 47.3% of the overall vote. You won 46.5%.

Monday, January 16, 2017


      Just now I’m reading a courtroom drama entitled The 7th Canon, by Robert Dugoni. The narrative depends, in the main, on District Attorney Gil Ramsey’s never plea bargaining a murder-one indictment. Ramsey always seeks the death penalty. Always.

      Two problems here. Ramsey holds office in the State of California where the last execution took place in 1984. Even worse, Ramsey is the elected District Attorney of San Francisco, which vies with its neighbor, Berkeley, for the title of most liberal city in the United States.

      The 7th Canon isn’t a bad book. Though not exceptional, the plot and the prose are reasonably compelling and I’m certain to finish it. But the disconnect continues to nag me. Given Ramsey’s position on the death penalty, how likely was he to win a city-wide election in San Francisco? And given California’s general unwillingness to carry out executions, Ramsey must have lost case after case.

      I’ve never believed in a willing suspension of disbelief. I think Coleridge got it wrong, at least when the concept is applied to the novel. Novelists compel the suspension of disbelief. A disclaimer appears on the front covers of our books, not hidden but plain for all to see. In declaring our works to be novels or fiction, we tell the reader, in the plainest language, that every word is a lie, that nothing you read on these pages actually happened. And yet we hope that readers will react as if the plot is unfolding before their eyes, as if they are silent witnesses to real events.

      Not every author succeeds, of course, but the last thing a reader needs, including this one, is a nagging disbelief that follows us throughout the book.

     Or maybe not.

      The 7th Canon has received 502 reviews on Amazon, averaging slightly more than 4 stars overall. I read the first dozen and couldn’t find any that questioned the District Attorney’s credibility. All apparently accepted the basic premise. They focused on the young-lawyer protagonist and the priest-defendant, virtually ignoring Gil Ramsey. So I guess the joke’s on me. As a writer, I try to get it right. As I consumer, I want the plot details to be authentic. The average reader on the other hand, just doesn’t care.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


      Poor Donald Twump. The little baby’s so, so mad. All these lies about his adventures in Russia. All these damnable lies without a scintilla of proof to back them up. The Nazi’s at their worst could not have come up with propaganda as baseless – or as vicious - as these memos. Boodely-hoo, boodely-hoo.

      The intelligence agencies are to blame, of course, the same agencies that consistently paint Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. Which, by any reasonable standards, he most certainly is.

      Are the memos entirely false, as Don the Con claims? Maybe, maybe not. But no reputable news agency, print, broadcast or digital, should release unverified material to the public. For example, the rumor, advanced without any proof whatever, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and not the United States. You know, the rumor pushed by the now-outraged Donald Trump (and a horde of talk-radio hosts) long after the President released his long-form birth certificate.

      Even as I write this, a lawsuit filed against Donald Trump proceeds. The plaintiff is an anonymous woman who claims that Donald Trump raped her at a party hosted by Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sexual predator. The woman, at the time, was thirteen years old. We’re not talking about a rumor here. Trump’s lawyers tried, and failed, to have the suit dismissed. More to come.

Monday, January 9, 2017


      First, if not a disclaimer, at least a mea culpa. I’ve been a Richard Price fan for many decades, having read The Wanderers upon its original release in 1974. Thus, the criticism I offer now is born of disappointment, not closely-held malice. The Night Of, Price’s relatively recent HBO miniseries, so fails any standard of authenticity, I suspect that its creators held their viewers in literal contempt. I could begin with the two zhlubs (superb actors both) cast as prosecutor and defense attorney. Their like is not to be found in a New York City courtroom. And that’s especially true of prosecutors assigned to high-profile murder trials. These trials, by the way, are not conducted in what appears to be the back room of a Long Island City warehouse. Price had to know this.

      Most commonly, in works of this type, we know if the accused is guilty. Not here. The allure of The Night Of rests on our not being sure. We want to believe in Nasir Khan’s innocence, but the evidence compiled by the prosecution is so overwhelming that his first lawyer recommends he accept a deal. He’ll plead guilty to the crime of manslaughter and pass the next fifteen years in a maximum-security prison. Price works this theme to the very end. Even when the prosecution, after a hung jury, declines to re-try Naz, we’re still not sure that he’s innocent. (Just as an aside, Price’s A.D.A makes this decision a few minutes after the jury returns. No prosecutor has this power. In a high-profile murder case, the District Attorney would make the final decision after weighing all the political implications.)

     Here’s the bad news. Naz’s guilt or innocence should have been established at the time of his arrest. The victim was stabbed more than twenty times. Each time a bloody knife rises and falls, drops of blood are released. These drops, when they strike any surface, including Naz’s body and clothing, leave distinctive patterns that can easily be determined by forensic examiners. Did these patterns appear on Naz’s body and clothing? The defendant’s clothing was bagged at the time of his arrest, examination being the whole point, yet somehow the condition of his shirt and pants, his shoes and socks, wasn’t raised at his trial, not by the prosecution or the defense. There’s no wiggle room here. Andrea’s killer could no more avoid the blood thrown off by the rising and falling knife than the bed and the walls. If drops of Andrea’s blood were found on Naz’s clothes or body, he would certainly be guilty. If not, he would be as certainly innocent. The issue should have been determined, as I said, at the time of Naz’s arrest.

     I’m used to a very low level in authenticity from broadcast television. The courtroom procedure in Law and Order, for example, bore no resemblance to the procedure in a New York courtroom. In fact, it was only slightly more authentic than the flying forensics in a typical CSI episode. But that’s cool. As I’ve already said, my expectations, when it comes to broadcast television, are minimal at best. I expected more, however, from HBO, and especially from Ricard Price. I find his performance disappointing, of course, but not as disappointing as the terrific ratings this show garnered on websites like Rotten Tomatoes. I read many of the reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes, enough to be sure their authors hadn’t spotted this very obvious hole in The Night Of’s plot. Did Price and his partner, Steven Zaillian, cynically exploit viewer ignorance?  Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe not. But Richard Price has put more than four decades of his life into the crime-and-punishment game. He could not have missed something as obviously important as the defendant’s body and clothing. The omission had to be deliberate. More the shame in that.