Category Archives: Satire

Amazon & Pop-Secret Redux

You may recall that I recently wrote about Amazon’s delivery of a roll of industrial “contact paper” in lieu of the 6-pack of Pop-Secret Popcorn that I had ordered. Amazon had informed me, in the way that Amazon does, that I could not return the roll of paper but that it would re-send the popcorn I had originally ordered.

Well … the box came, it seemed a bit heavy, but, again, I was prepared to accept that popcorn weighed more than I expected. And, again, I opened the outer box and, again, nestled inside was the Pop-Secret-branded box containing … wait for it … another roll of industrial contact paper identical to the previous one. To quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up. I promise.

Here is the replacement popcorn:

It turns out that Amazon’s website is not programmed to deal with a repeat failure of this nature. Trying to communicate locked me into an endless loop. The site “believed” I was trying to return the popcorn that it had recorded as being delivered and rejected the return of a food product. So even though the Online Returns Center said you could return a “wrong item,” in fact you can’t in these circumstances. The computer thinks you received replacement popcorn and that, as the saying goes, is the end of that.

Well, not quite. I contacted the always reliable American Express on whose card the popcorn had been charged. An astonished but cooperative agent credited the popcorn charge back to my account. Eventually, I assume Amazon’s computers will “discover” that they haven’t been paid for the popcorn and inquire of me about it. Or not. To paraphrase Melania, I really don’t care.

But, I still want the popcorn. We love popcorn. Rightly or wrongly, we believe it’s a “good for you” snack. We eat a lot of popcorn. Sometimes we eat too much popcorn. Sometimes other do. In fairness to Amazon, it does seem clear now that the problem is not with Amazon but with Pop-Secret itself. So, I sent this message to Pop-Secret using the sense of humor for which I have become unjustly famous:

Houston, we have a problem. You should first read the part of this related to Amazon: https://shiningseausa.com/2018/11/23/black-friday-american-commerce-amazon-best-buy-cvs-whole-foods/   Amazon rejected my attempt to return the item & said it was shipping a new order of popcorn. That replacement order arrived 2 days ago. See attached photos. Clearly, there is a breakdown in the “food chain” somewhere. Since the inner boxes in the shipment bear your logo and are sealed when they arrive, it seems likely that the problem rests with you, not Amazon, though one would hope they’d wonder why the contents of a popcorn order shift around inside the box and weighs a lot more than popcorn. In any case, Amazon has no mechanism for returning or even addressing a 2nd delivery of the wrong product so I had no choice but to dispute the original charge. Maybe that will get their attention. Meanwhile, all we wanted was a reliable supply of your delicious popcorn for the holidays; our local market often runs out. We are frustrated and no longer amused by this strange business. I cannot begin to explain how rolls of industrial tape get into sealed Pop-Secret branded boxes. Perhaps you know. So that’s the story. Bizarre but true. Look forward to hearing from you.

After a brief silence, Pop-Secret responded:

We are sorry to hear about your experience with Pop Secret and we really appreciate you letting us know about it. We will pass this information and your comments along to our Quality Assurance Team, and also keep a record of it. [Somehow, I didn’t find this reassuring.]

Unfortunately, we are unable to explain why you rec’d the item you did through Amazon. [Very not reassuring] I will have the Sales & Marketing staff review and follow up with Amazon as best they can into this matter. [Really not reassuring]

We are sending a few free product coupons your way believing that you will have a great experience with our product next time. [Nothing like belief in the face of hard contrary evidence to make one feel right again] Thanks, again, for letting us know about this. You can expect the coupons to arrive shortly. [Shortly, eh] .… Please let us know if you have any further concerns or comments.

Unable to leave bad enough alone, I did have “further concerns or comments:”

You understand, I trust, that this happened twice, spaced a couple of weeks apart. My first reaction, as evidenced by my blog post, was that this was an Amazon problem, but when it happened a second time, in exactly the same way, I concluded it most likely was a problem that originated at Pop-Secret. I doubt, for example, that Amazon actually packages your 6-pack product into Pop-Secret branded boxes. That activity must occur where your product originates. Amazon then takes your branded boxes and puts them in Amazon boxes for shipment to its customers.

I appreciate the offer of coupons but I would like to know how the investigation ends. I plan to write about this again in my blog and want to be fair, and accurate.

Four days have passed and no reply. Now, we all know from past experience that, rightly or wrongly, I have a problem with being ignored. Sooo, I am recounting this saga here, fairly and accurately, as promised.

What happens next, the human mind may never imagine. Perhaps the promised coupons will arrive and they won’t say “good only on Amazon.com.” Maybe nothing will happen. Meanwhile, find something more useful to do with your time.

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.

BRAKING NEWS: Transcript of Private Trump-Putin Meeting Leaked

Washington, D.C. (former capitol of the United States) July 21, 2018

A partial transcript of the “no witnesses” meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been provided to select media. It is reported that upon seeing the transcript, Fox News mouthpiece Sean Hannityovich said, “gaaahhorgggahiyi” and collapsed on the floor with foam streaming from his mouth. He was rushed to the local Minute Clinic and there is no official report on his condition.

The transcript is now believed to have been obtained and leaked by Melania Trump, First Lady of the former United States. It reads as follows:

[Trump & Putin shake hands and sit down; translators sit down also]

Trump: Well, Vladimir, here we are at last, just like I promised. Just you and me, babe. What do you want to talk about?

Putin: Donald, let’s cut to the chase, ok?

Trump: Wait, hold on! You speak English?

Putin: Of course, I do, Donald. What do you think I was doing all those years in the KGB? I am totally conversant in your language. It will be a shame when we have to ban it.

Trump: Wow. You really speak good English. As good as me and I have the very best words.  Everyone says so. I am impressed, Vladimir. I always knew you were smart. Not as smart as me, of course, but still pretty …

Putin: Enough about you, Donald. In fact, how about you just shut up for a few minutes so we can get some work done. I did not agree to this meeting just to make you look good.

Trump: Ok, ok, Vlad, don’t be upset. Whatever you want is ok with me.

Putin: Good. I thought it would be since you are president only because of the interference in the U.S. election that I ordered.

Trump: Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, look at how many electoral votes I got….

Putin: Yeah, but what about her emails?

Trump: You got my message just right. I said, “Russia, if you’re listening …

Putin: I know what you said, Donald. Your American news media play it on TV every damn day! Listen to me. I have a very important thing to say.

Trump: [leaning in] I’m all ears, Vlad. What’s that?

Putin: You are going to invite me to visit the United States.

Trump: Sure, no problem. When you’re a star, they let you do what you want….

Putin: And while I’m there, I am going to defect.

Trump: …. Uh…er….

Putin: I am serious, Donald. You can close your mouth now. You remember when you made that comment about shithole countries? Well, Russia is one. I am sick of the winters here, the intrigues that never stop, people trying to stab you in the back, literally. All my opponents keep committing suicide, making me look bad. And, besides, I’ve always wanted to own a real democracy.

Trump: But, Vlad, I mean, uh, what would that do?

Putin: Nothing that you need to concern yourself with, Donald. You will move back to New York City, play golf every day, if you like. Live the life you always wanted.

Trump: They hate me in New York.

Putin: Yeah, well, what goes around comes around. But, listen, Donald, they are going to put you in jail. You have violated their constitution and made a hash of the U.S. government. I know how to run things efficiently. I will move into the White House. Melania can stay there if she wants. You know she sounds more like a Russian than an American. All will be well. Believe me.

[end of transcript]

The Sidestep — Trump’s New National Anthem

No need to worry about anyone taking a knee over Trump’s new national anthem. After witnessing Trump’s humiliation of himself and his country during the Appeasement Summit with Putin in Helsinki and the subsequent pathetic attempts to change what he said there, and his departure from the “non mea culpa” [not my fault] statement written for him by his staff, resulting in a “walk back” of the “walk back,” every coherent person anywhere in the world will acknowledge how perfectly this new anthem fits him.

It’s from the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and is sung by the Texas governor who has been asked what he’s going to do about the Chicken Ranch, a whorehouse thriving in his state and which he had patronized himself on more than one occasion. Here is how it goes (for brevity, only one chorus fully spelled out):

“Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly say.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.
But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.
And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.
I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep…

And, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step…

Cut a little swathe and lead the people on.”

https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/bestlittlewhorehouseintexasthe/thesidestep.htm

March of the Tin Billionaires

[Warning: this post is long, but so was the speech]

I am not going to spend a lot of time or energy dissecting the State of the Union speech because that will be done elsewhere by persons more knowledgeable about the issues and more skilled in, well, dissecting political speeches. For that purpose, I recommend http://n.pr/2DSyH7G   which, in its typically matter-of-fact way, shows that nothing of substance about President Trump has changed. The outright lies, gross distortions, claiming credit for events he did not cause — it’s all there.

I must digress briefly, and I swear I am not making this up, but when the Cabinet entered the House chamber to much huzzahing from “Republican lawmakers,” the tune from the March of the Tin Soldiers entered unbidden into my head — except that the title was the March of the Tin Billionaires. It was quite a moment seeing deep thinkers like Rick Perry pretending he knows what his job is.

We should, however, admit that the President did a decent, if not great, job of delivering the lines written for him. Thus, we have confirmation that the President of the United States can read and speak the written word. Indications are that Trump loyalists loved it. Of course they did. He read his last speech to Congress without stepping on his … foot. While reading is not mentioned in the Constitution as a prerequisite to being elected president, it’s reassuring that under pressure the President can read.

He is also accomplished at narrowing his eyes and jutting out his chin to look … determined and, well, smug. I suspect those side shots with his head titled back were the way he sees his image engraved on a U.S. coin someday, commemorating the greatest president in the history of the world. Kind of like the Roman emperors. Before the Fall, of course.

Most prominently, Trump was really strong in leading applause. I may be mis-remembering but I don’t recall past presidents applauding so many of their own lines. He even motioned for groups of the audience to rise from their seats when, apparently, they were not responding to his remarks sufficient verve. None of that comes as a big surprise but it was more than a little strange to watch the putative leader of the Free World applauding himself repeatedly. This is, I think, what authoritarian personalities do – “watch me, I’m applauding, so you had better applaud too – I’ve got my eye on you.”

The speaker took care of his little “Puerto Rico problem” by promptly noting that some people were still recovering from the storms there and elsewhere but, don’t worry “we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together, always.”

I guess that’s what they mean about “tough love.” You say ”we love you” while withdrawing aid. It’s right out of the magician’s bag — distract attention with the left hand while …. It is reliably reported that four months after Hurricane Maria (the speaker didn’t name the hurricane because, most likely, the name is, well, Spanish sounding) almost a third of the residents have no electricity. FEMA apparently does not consider this an “emergency” any more. Tough love, baby.

The speaker quickly moved to a message, repeated throughout the speech, about what has come to be called “American exceptionalism:”

Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew – that no people on Earth are so fearless or daring or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it. So let’s begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our union is strong, because our people are strong.

The concept is that Americans are better than everyone else which is why they are entitled to act superior and treat “others” as lesser beings, not equal, “not up to it.” This view of the nature of the country informs virtually all of the administration’s policies. This may be what enables it to cynically espouse practices that threaten to despoil the landscape (level those mountains and you won’t have to climb so much), and poison the air and water in the name of economic growth — American’s are especially tough and they can take it. This is perhaps what enables Trump and his enablers in Congress to act like they are human beings while deporting harmless heads of families to countries they have never known in the interest of “protecting Americans from criminal elements.”

There is, however, some indisputably good news and we do want to be fair here. To quote the speaker: “The great news for Americans – 401k, retirement, pension and college savings accounts have gone through the roof.” Of course, the family in Puerto Rico is saying: “Hey, we have no roof but, yeah, there’s a lot of sunshine coming in.” And today, well, let’s just say that the stock market tanked and leave it at that. Tomorrow is, as the famous saying goes, another day.

Now I’m going to depart from the popular acceptance of what has become a tradition in the SOTU speeches.  I really really wish that presidents, all of them, would stop the practice of bringing various individuals into the House chamber to bleed all over the place or to be held out, to their apparent discomfort, as “American heroes,” exemplars of American virtue to which other humans may aspire but never measure up.

There can be no doubt that people whose daughters were killed by gang members deserve our sympathy but why do presidents believe it is helpful to parade their misery in front of the nation? In

Trump’s case, it is totally cynical — to support his message that those lousy people from south of the Texas border are evil and should be deported or worse. Let’s hope that his comments don’t lead o claims of “unfair trial” and prejudice by the defendants who were singled out for criticism and presumed guilty by no less than the President of the United States. If that happens, Trump will, of course, just blame it on some Mexican judge. And, certainly, the bravery of the helicopter pilot and the firefighter cannot be questioned, but, at least to these eyes, they did not look very comfortable being used as exhibits in support of the president’s agenda.

In one of the most disturbing statements, Trump said “So tonight I call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.”

Phrased that way, few would object. However, what this likely represents is a further effort to undermine the civil service protections that have largely kept politics out of federal hiring/firing practices. Remove those protections and the way is clear for the administration to populate the civil service with political loyalists and unqualified hacks.

Speaking of which, I must, simply must, note that the day after the speech, Trump’s appointee to head the Center for Disease Control, who had just moved into position in July, resigned in the wake of reports, not denied, that she had been trading in … tobacco stocks. And stocks of major pharmaceutical companies.  And in stock of at least one health insurance giant. http://read.bi/2nyiVEQ

In case you missed it, a spokesperson for the CDC said this:

Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC director….”Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.

That is Washington horsepucky for “she couldn’t do her job due to conflicts of interest; resolving those would have cost her too much money so she quit.”

Are we to understand that the vetting process of this administration did not detect that this person was a stock investor; did they not discuss the self-evident concept of “conflict of interest” with her?  Oh, yes, I almost forgot: Japan Tobacco, the irresistible lure for Dr. Fitzgerald’s money, is one-third owned by the Government of Japan! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Tobacco. If you want to make yourself sick without smoking, take a look at this: https://www.jti.com/node/181. This is the same administration that has complained bitterly and falsely about the alleged failure of the prior administration to adequately vet incoming foreigners.

And while you’re at it, if you want to see another stellar example of an administration appointee to high federal office, feast your eyes on this video, if you dare: http://bit.ly/2E8sRy7 View only on an empty stomach.

But I digress again. I was writing about Trump’s SOTU speech.

He proudly declared that “we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.” Truly, no one knows what the hell he’s talking about. See the NPR critique cited above. Maybe he believes that there is a new kind of coal that is white or translucent, so breathing the dust can kill you but you won’t be able to see it, so what’s the problem?

Regarding energy, jobs and many other topics, my best analogy is to someone who walks to bank of a great river. The river is rising rapidly because of glacial melting and higher-than-normal rainfall hundreds of miles to the north. Noting the increased flow, Trump claims credit — “look at all that water; there has never been so much water until my administration came to power; now the river is rising like never before in history!”

Enough nitpicking the details.  The real issue here is, I think, Trump’s belief that the United States is under attack from every side. Immigrants cruising freely across the southern border to rape, pillage and murder. Foreigners coming here with no intention to work and no useable skills. Bad deals with foreign countries intent on plundering our wealth. And so on.

This is the Fortress American Deja vu all over again. Whether the President actually believes this or is simply playing to his political base that believes it is an open question. Many knowledgeable commentators have suggested that the President has no political philosophy or core set of beliefs at all, other than being a self-promoter and all that is implied by that term.

In any case, among other things, the President has translated the Fortress America concept into a new version of Us versus Them:

Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, just months before. I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this decision. In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid. That is why, tonight, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.” [emphasis mine]

The President has thus gone from “America First” to “America Alone” and in the process branded multiple former strong allies as enemies of America. While international diplomacy has a way of overlooking even the most heinous of hostile stupidities, it is clear enough why, since Trump was elected, the standing of the United States in the international community is at an all-time low, similar to the President’s approval ratings among Americans.

Isolationism has a long history in the United States (see http://bit.ly/1j8FAlI) but was often practiced in the breach as the U.S. extended its commercial hegemony wherever it thought its interests justified it. It has never been an effective foreign policy and was dashed on the rocks of reality when the United States was caught flat-footed by Japan at Pearl Harbor. That attack ended, among other things, the influence of the America First Committee. See http://bit.ly/2GENz7r. The current President did not invent the term ‘America First;’ he resurrected it from the garbage dump of history.

The United States was again surprised by the North Korean invasion of South Korea just five years after the end of World War II.  In the current world of highly interconnected digital communications, jet travel and the rest, it seems the height of folly to pursue a foreign policy based on the idea that the United States can “go it alone.” That nevertheless is the essence of the current President’s “policies” which, ironically appeals to his political base who will likely be among the first call-ups if we end up in a larger war.

And, so, my fellow Americans, we have a situation here where, as one of Trump’s followers said on Facebook the other day, “Obama destroyed America” and yet “the state of the union is strong.” Where we are under assault on every front, yet we are the greatest of all people on the earth and our economy is flourishing.

And, oh yes, where our President is under investigation for obstruction of justice and conspiring with actual historical and current adversaries of our country to fix the last election.

Undeterred by all the self-interested and self-contradictory blather from our disgrace of a national leader, I choose to end on the optimistic note: the American people are sufficiently exceptional that they will survive this blot on their integrity, the republic will survive, bruises and all, and in the end, Martin Luther King Jr. will have been proved right again — we shall overcome.

Twitch Your Eyes So They Think You’re Crazy

Imagine, if you will, that Donald Trump and family/hangers-on are in a bar planning further destruction of the poor and middle classes. Some immigrant waiters have accused the group of cheating on their taxes and undermining the Constitution. Trump’s gang doesn’t take kindly to being told the truth. The two groups are about to tangle.

The bar doors swing open and in walks Sheriff Mueller, dressed in black and sporting double holsters marked “subpoenas” and “indictments.” The Sheriff counts off his steps as he approaches the group and says softly, “it about time you boys got out of town.” They laugh. The National Marshall is on Trump’s payroll and Trump and team are sure they are above the law.

This is, of course, fiction, except for the part about Trump and team being sure they are above the law. And, further, I didn’t make this up by myself.

In case you haven’t seen it, GEICO this year produced a great ad called the “Cowboy Showdown.” You can see it at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOG8AFPQcM4.  The basic idea is that in a typical Western bar scene, the sheriff confronts a scruffy trio of cowboys who have just been accused of card cheating. The sheriff tells the thugs that it’s time they got out of town, a demand met with hostile mirth by the cowboys. The sheriff then speaks his “left foot, right foot” steps as he moves in closer and then, in a close-up, says “Twitch your eyes so they think you’re crazy.” He does, as uncertainty spreads on the faces of the cowboys. And so on.

The ad’s humor resonates because almost everyone has seen variants of the scene in old western movies performed straight and serious.

The announcement of the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates reminded me of the ad, which in my view ranks right up there with the camel ad demanding that office employees acknowledge that it is “hump day” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LtjzQaFZ3k).  The charges follow close behind Trump’s recent tweets chastising the Secretary of State for trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear threat. In case you missed them, Trump tweeted: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…,” followed by “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

This follows other tweets in which Trump has threatened the total annihilation of North Korea, amidst name-calling reminiscent of school-yard behavior of grammar school boys.

The connection between the GEICO ad and Trump’s Tillerson take-down is that this is how Trump negotiates. The sheriff is outnumbered three-to-one and is trying to intimidate the cowboys into giving up their advantage by indicating he is nuts and may do something irrational and unexpected. This spooks them into a state of uncertainty and weakness. However, the sheriff, at the end of the ad, is still outnumbered and in a precarious situation.

This how Trump negotiates – make the other side think you’re irrational and capable of anything, in this case undermining the credibility of your official representative, and thus may at any moment unleash the full fury of American military power against a sitting-duck North Korea.

The “I may be crazy so you better be careful” strategy is not uncommon in business and other negotiations, as you know if you have experience with negotiating in high-stress situations. But the strategy rarely leads to good outcomes against experienced negotiators who are familiar with the approach and know now to deal with it. The outcome can only be positive if the other side responds rationally. If the other side is genuinely bonkers too, the outcome can quickly lead to mutually catastrophic results.

In the case of North Korea, it seems highly likely that Kim Jong-un has, at best, a severely distorted view of the United States and the political system that produced Donald Trump as president. Many people in the West see this confrontation as the worst-case scenario in which a demented, angry and generally ineffectual Trump acts out his fantasies and gets the world into a nuclear confrontation that could be avoided by adult behavior. If both Trump and Kim Jong-un are indeed crazy, as much evidence suggests, we are in a boatload of trouble as a civilization.

The case establishing that Trump may be insane is growing with every passing day. He has now threatened to abort the Iran nuclear deal, dumping it into the lap of Congress, because, most likely, he has no real idea what to do. He has threatened to cut off assistance to Puerto Rico which, according to multiple credible accounts, is in a humanitarian crisis unlike anything ever experienced in modern times. Trump seems unaware that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Or maybe he just doesn’t give a damn. They are, after all, not like the people who elected him.

And now, frustrated that the Republican-dominated Congress cannot fulfill his promise to end the Affordable Care Act, Trump also is ending the billions in federal subsidies that make it possible for the health insurance marketplaces to offer meaningful insurance for the millions of people most in need of it.

Trump’s presidency is the work of an incompetent and likely irrational madman. If not crazy in the clinical sense, he is unhinged from reality a substantial part of the time. He does not understand government, has failed to staff multiple critical leadership positions throughout the government and spends a huge amount of time golfing. He still lies constantly and is unnaturally obsessed with Hillary Clinton and with undoing everything President Obama accomplished. He is in constant conflict many of his “advisors” in the White House. Most importantly, he is set upon undermining the free press which is protected by the very same Constitution he swore to uphold on January 20.

Trump’s “eye-twitching” is the real deal, not make-believe or only for effect. He is the only president in history who took the oath of office knowing that his real intent was to undermine the federal government. His uber-entitled cabinet members, when they’re not undermining environmental protections, are flying around on private jets. His coterie of family members and true believers are enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else.

As one commentator has accurately observed,

It’s become standard for reports coming from the inside of the White House to acknowledge, slyly at first but now overtly, that Trump is in constant need of managing. He believes false reports and refuses to read truthful ones. He lashes out at anyone who hasn’t lied for him adequately. There are now entire reports devoted to his rage, his anger, his madness and his inability to accept responsibility. [http://slate.me/2ggY2xy, bold in original]

This is the situation for which the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, was designed. Whether or not he is a moron, as the Secretary of State recently labelled him, and even if not “crazy” in the clinical sense, he is certainly mentally unstable and incapable of responsibly executing the duties of the high office he occupies. Recall that he has access to the nuclear firing codes and is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Unfortunately, the 25th Amendment, drafted by a senior senator from Indiana with the counsel of a constitutional law professor at Fordham, contains much vague language that makes invocation even more fraught than it would, in all events, be. It has also led to some sloppy analysis and commentary about what the amendment means. There are, for example, two alternative means for removing the president due to inability to perform. Sometimes, they are conflated by well-intentioned commenters on this most serious of constitutional questions.

One method is that the “Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments” (i.e., the Cabinet) may declare in writing that “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In that case, the “Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

The amendment then states that the President can make a written declaration that he no longer has an “inability,” at which point he resumes his office, unless the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet declare in writing that the President continues to be “unable” to do his job. In the case of such conflicting declarations, Congress must decide. That decision requires a two-thirds vote (known as a super-majority) of both the House and the Senate. If Congress concurs with the Vice President-Cabinet majority, the Vice President remains Acting President; if not, the President resumes his office.

It seems pretty clear that the crafters of the amendment did not want to make it easy to remove a president. That was probably wise, but now the unthinkable has happened. A president with the emotional makeup of a ten-year-old has been elected and the Republican Party is prepared to support him no matter what he does.

This brings us to the second method of removal under the 25th Amendment. To understand it, you simply substitute “a majority of … the principal officers of … such other body as Congress may by law provide” for the ‘a majority of the Cabinet.’ Everything else in the written declarations process remains the same, including the role of Congress to resolve conflicts between the President and either the Vice President-Cabinet majority or the “Vice President and other-body” majority.

This appears to be a dead letter because Congress has never created that “other body” with a group of “principal officers” who could vote on the President’s “inability” to do his job.

It may occur to you that there is a potential circularity in the alternative method. This appears so because the Congressional creation of the alternative body must be provided “by law” enacted by Congress. Since Congress cannot by itself enact a law, it could be argued that the alternative body can only be created with the cooperation of the sitting president who must sign the legislation. No one would expect a sitting president expecting a political attack by his own Cabinet would ever sign such legislation to make it easier to remove him. The answer, I believe, is the second method probably would have to be set up by a responsible and rational president who was not expecting a removal effort against him. Once the president has become irrational, he simply won’t cooperate with the Congress on any alternative removal mechanism and, thus, the alternative removal mechanism could not be used.

The apparent assumption of the drafters of the 25th that the President and the Congress would always act in advance of a crisis and do so responsibly seems naïve in the current context. In any case Congress has never passed a law to create the alternative body to address the “inability” of the President to perform his duties and, in the present political setting, it is unlikely to do so.

Where, then, do we end up? With Sheriff Mueller securing indictments. The Republicans and their news agents at Fox News are, naturally, parroting Trump’s continuous efforts to deflect attention elsewhere, usually to Hillary Clinton. Like some B-grade crime movie, Trump keeps screaming, via Twitter, “look, look, it’s not me/us, she’s getting away! Get her!”

At this point it’s a bit late for Trump and his gang to get out of town, so Sheriff Mueller will just have to finish the job he started. Trump and Fox will continue to try to undermine him. Maybe Trump will try to fire him. That would be a fatal mistake. If Trump is counting on the Sheriff to blink first, that also is a mistake. Manafort is in for a rough spell if he is found guilty, so maybe he will do the smart thing and start telling the truth. Then whose eyes will be twitching?

Trump Orders Three Dragons Sent to Puerto Rico

Faced with growing criticism about his ignoring the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, President Trump, according to sources in the White House, ordered three dragons sent to Puerto Rico to re-establish law and order and help with recovery efforts.

According to inside sources, speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to talk about the U.S. dragons, the President became enraged when informed that one of the dragons was out of commission and that the others were on break following some taxing fire-breathing in a battle that the Pentagon is denying ever happened. “Dammit to hell, this is what happens when you let the Dothraki into the military!” Trump was reported to have said. No one knew owning dragons could be so complicated. No one on the White House staff will even admit that the U.S. has dragons, probably fearful of tipping off North Korea.

Trump told one source that he was planning a personal visit to Puerto Rico to assess the damage, but that he couldn’t go until he completed his next golf round at Mar-a-Lago, scheduled for next Thursday. “Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price are flying down to play with me and it’s very important, believe me,” Trump said. “Each of the Cabinet members will be taking a separate private jet, for, you know, security reasons.”

Asked about his relationship with Price, Trump grumped, “Hell, I didn’t fire Jeff Sessions for lying to Congress and then refusing to cover me on the Comey thing, so why would I would fire my buddy Price over a little thing like a private airplane trip or two. Hell, I fly private all the time and look at me, I’m the damn president.” [see  BREAKING NEWS ITEM AT THE END]

When told that the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico were American citizens, Trump was incredulous. At last report the president was planning a weekend tweet-storm to distract attention from Puerto Rico. At press time the subject of the tweets was still undecided.

Unfortunately for Trump, and American taxpayers, a fourth member of the Trump Cabinet, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, was also implicated in the luxury travel scandal, which he called “a little BS.” Zinke was interviewed while bailing hay for three of the horses kept in his $500,000 private stable which is accessible by elevator directly from his office at the Interior Department. “Look, I bail my own hay so the government won’t have to pay for it.”

The president said he had tried to speak with Scott Pruitt about his use of luxury travel for government business but Pruitt was inside his private in-suite $25,000 soundproof booth and could not be reached by his staff or anyone else. No one knows who he has been talking to in there.

It is expected that the subject of dragons for Puerto Rico will be discussed at a high-level meeting at the Pentagon this weekend. Trump will miss the meeting but probably will get a briefing some time when it’s convenient. Meanwhile, he has assured everyone that things in Puerto Rico are coming along just great.

BREAKING NEWS:  Tom Price has resigned. Another of the president’s “men” is out. The exodus continues. Can Pruitt and Zinke survive under these circumstances? What about Mnuchin? What about Mnuchin’s wedding? What about Jared’s emails? What does Zinke’s horse know? Why does Pruitt need a battalion of Secret Service protection? Is he afraid of Trump? When will enough be enough?