Biden, Gaza and 2024…

The 2024 presidential race is already underway, and I am deeply concerned. Ron DeSantis, Nicky Haley, Tim Scott, Robert Kennedy Jr., Cornel West, Joe Biden… and Trump. The list sounds like the next round of Dancing with the Stars hopefuls.

Where is the candidate to inspire us? Where is the one with real leadership skills who might be able pull the divided country together?

I’m emotionally torn these days, the way so many are — feeling strong affection and appreciation for Joe Biden and yet feeling gripped simultaneously by a pounding fear that a Biden-led party will lose next year and lead to a Trumpian Götterdämmerung. Like many Americans, I’ve found myself having The Conversation over and over again, with friends, sources and people who work in Democratic politics: whether Biden is the best candidate to defeat Trump, his chances of winning, if there’s some better course.David Brooks, (New York Times)

In addition to Brooks, David Ignatius (Washington Post), Frank Bruni and Ezra Klein (New York Times) Robert Reich (The Guardian), Steve Inskeep (NPR) and Mike Allen (Axios)–all Democrats–have written columns suggesting it might be better if he dropped out.

It will be hard, but if no one else steps up, I will hold my nose and vote for Biden. None of the others has what it takes to repair what ails the country or even patch the leaking ship of state? It’s not that I don’t trust Biden or his policies. I believe in his inherent goodness, but recent actions have shown me he’s well past his pull date–as the list of political columnists above has eloquently and persuasively written.

I can’t overstate my disappointment with “Scranton Joe.” I think he did a creditable job as Obama’s wingman and liaison to a dysfunctional Congress, and early in his presidency he pushed through some remarkable legislation on infrastructure. But recently he’s shown how clueless and tone deaf he is. Inviting his criminally charged son Hunter and wife to a White House state dinner awash in photographers was a ridiculous gaffe. Then, he does nothing about his German Shepherd, Commander, until after he’s bitten ten of the White House staff, mostly Secret Service. Finally, last week, after number eleven he was sent back to Delaware. But that’s minor compared to his owner’s recent lapses of judgment.

His decision to visit Israel following the slaughter of Israelis by Hamas vigilantes was the last straw for me. It wasn’t a diplomatic move–to broker a settlement or show solace for the victims. He was there to show America’s whole-hearted support for Israel, including gifts of military equipment and $14 Billion. Standing beside Benjamin Netanyahu, the far-right, corrupt, under indictment Prime Minister, he pledged 100% American support for the PM’s determination to level Gaza as retribution for the Hamas attack. It eerily reminded me of Trump standing next to Putin in Helsinki where he said “I don’t see why it would have been Russia.

It’s true, Israel is a long time American ally, but Netanyahu is shifty. He needs a win here in order to shore up his fragile political coalition, and the Middle East is a powder keg. The PM and Israel’s quickly assembled War Council are behaving like bullies. Palestinians, including those in Gaza and on the West Bank, were dealt an unplayable hand in 1948. Nobody should be treated as they have been.

In the early 60s I admired Israel’s grit and achievements. I’m not even Jewish but I naively wrote and asked about becoming an Israeli Air Force pilot, because I thought it was the best in the world at the time.

But in 1965 I saw my first Palestinian refugee camp–in Beirut–and knew the situation was untenable. Seven thousand Palestinians were still living in tin shacks 17 years after they were displaced by the founders of Israel. It was only a matter of time. I knew there was a violent confrontation coming.

For the first 50 years, PMs like Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres made good faith efforts to find a solution to the Palestinian problem, but for the last 27 years, since Netanyahu’s first term, Israel has turned his back on peaceful resolution by refusing to negotiate, encouraging Jewish settlements on the West Bank and rebuffing outside diplomatic efforts to find a two state solution.

The US couldn’t stop what happened on October 7th. Neither could Israel. Their flawed intelligence failed them. And the Hamas incursion, two years in the planning, was executed with stunning force and bloody success.

I believe Biden should have acknowledged its depravity and given Israel words of support but stayed away. Instead, he pledged America’s full throated support while pledging arms and money to support the wealthiest and most advanced military in the Middle East. Israel doesn’t need our money–Ukraine does. In fact, the biggest loser in the Israel/Hamas conflict is probably Ukraine.

Over the weekend, Israel launched its long anticipated ground assault on Gaza. Hamas killed 1400 Israelis in their surprise cross border attack on October 7th. Since then, 8300 Gazan civilians have died, roughly 70% of them women and children, from constant, continuing Israeli air attacks–even before the current ground invasion. Israel vs. Gaza will never be fair fight. War is never a solution. Israel is a rich, powerful, military and nuclear power. Gaza is a tiny, disorganized patch of land with two million inhabitants governed by a terrorist organization. But Gazan civilians are not Hamas. They deserve better than what they’re getting from either side at this point. They are as much hostages as the 222 Israelis being held prisoner.

America should do everything it can to find a diplomatic solution, but Joe Biden needs to step back from his 1960 view of Israel and let the diplomats have a chance to resolve the Israel-Gaza conflict. The United Nations has called for a ceasefire. So has the European Union. Even prominent Jewish leaders in America have. Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. They shouldn’t be conflated. When friends make mistakes it’s important to call them out.

I’m looking for an inspiring leader to vote for in 2024–one with fresh ideas. I don’t see him or her yet, but things could change. If they don’t I’ll cast what may be my final presidential vote for Joe Biden. The others are third tier wannabes and a twice-impeached, four times indicted, mob boss-like former president.

Living and Dying in 3/4 Time…

It’s not hard to explain my devotion to Jimmy Buffett. Everything about him is sheer exuberant joy. I jumped on his bandwagon in ’73. My first album was A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean album and it was followed in ’74 with AIA. When he released his album “A Pirate Looks at Forty I was 37. I wasn’t thinking mortality, but the album and the title song struck a note with me, and they’ve long been favorites of mine.

His death, on Friday, from Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, reminds me that no matter how good life looks at any moment it’s never guaranteed. As the survivor of six melanomas I know that. I’m sure he had the best medical care money can buy. He had plenty, but that doesn’t matter when those insidious cells slip in under the radar. I’ve just been luckier.

For that I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Don Kern. He discovered my first melanoma in 1999 and managed to keep me cancer free for more than 20 years. Don was a wine collector, a serious academic–not the kind of person likely to be a Jimmy Buffett fan. But our joke, and Jimmy would have approved, was that if he kept me melanoma free I would keep his upscale wine cellar stocked. We kept both sides of the bargain until his retirement two years ago. I’m just sorry Jimmy didn’t have a Don Kern.

But, my affection and connection to Buffett was more than skin deep. I never met him, but we shared a number of interests. We both loved the sun (dangerous it turned out), Key West, tropical waters, sailing, flying, playing “Gulf and Western” style guitar, and Mount Gay rum.

Since his death on Friday I’ve read all the obituaries and tributes, but nothing quite captures his magic. I saw him in concert twice. The first time in 1981 when I was living in Miami and the second in 2012 when he played Seattle where we joined thousands of gray- haired, Hawaiian shirt wearing sing-along Parrot Heads. Marilynn was astonished. I knew the words to every song.

We came close to seeing him a third time in Key West when he gave an unannounced surprise sold out concert for a bunch of Parrot Heads. It was a private gig limited to fan club members. It would have been great – small venue and a devoted Key West audience – but as Mick Jagger says, “You can’t always get what you want.” Instead we paid tribute by spending the night drinking painkillers at Captain Tony’s.

So many of the tributes have focused on Margaritaville, the song and the empire, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. His success as a businessman was ancillary. He was a true entertainer and delivered that sheer in person joy to millions.

It would be a stretch to compare him to Nobel Prize winning Bob Dylan, but he was no slacker in the serious lyrics department. He wrote about love, death, immigration, and war–but primarily about living life to the fullest and sharing his own sense of joy.

One of my favorite songs is One Particular Harbor and I thought of it when I learned that he died at his home in Sag Harbor on Long Island. It seemed to fit, not with his Caribbean persona but with his seriousness as a writer. Sag Harbor was also where two of my other favorite artists, James Salter and Peter Matthiessen lived and died. Good company for a jolly mon.

When I first heard He Went to Paris I imagined he was writing his own eulogy:

Now he lives in the islands, fishes the pilin’s
And drinks his green label each day
He’s writing his memoirs and losing his hearing
But he don’t care what most people say
Through 86 years of perpetual motion
If he likes you he’ll smile then he’ll say
Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all the way

And he went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bother him so

Reading departure signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been.

Visions of good time that brought so much pleasure makes me want to go back again.

If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall.

Good time and riches and son-of-a-bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

RIP Jolly Mon 

Why Can’t I Embrace Biden?

It looks like the post-pandemic economy is on its way to a soft landing. Inflation is cooling. Unemployment is at historic lows. The cost of prescription drugs is lower. NATO is stronger. The Infrastructure Bill is creating jobs. Crumbling roads, bridges and rail lines are being repaired.

So why can’t I be enthusiastic about Joe Biden. He’s the architect of these positive changes, and I applaud them. Why can’t I embrace the persona? Why does it feel like he’s stalled out? With these accomplishments, how is it that he finds himself in a dead heat with a disgraced, twice-impeached, thrice-indicted, grifting criminal in the 2024 race for the presidency? It’s a mystery.

I hate what I’m writing but it seems important.

I wish we had another viable choice. Biden is too old–but so is his opponent–and given their stark differences I believe he’s the only one we can trust to protect and preserve American democracy. His opponent has shown his complete disdain for it.

I sincerely believe he’s a good man and has the country’s best interests at heart. Should it matter that he’s boring? Should I care that he’s out of touch with popular culture? Is it important that he walks like a toy soldier, falls off his bike, stutters and seems as fragile as a porcelain doll? No! And it doesn’t matter that he’s stuck in a time-warp when “malarky” was in common usage and “Man” was the way adult men addressed one another. But…

On a more substantive note, I want to know why he can’t stand by his avowed democratic principles? Who’s advising him when these principles are at stake? What does it say when he gives anti-democratic leaders like Indian Prime Minister Modi and Israel’s Netanyahu a platform and credibility by inviting them to the White House? And how could he so insensitive and tone deaf as to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the man who authorized the killing and dismemberment of a Saudi critic and long-term resident of the U.S?

And why can’t he keep his own grifting, drug-addicted, womanizing son in the background? What purpose is served by inviting him to a state dinner at the White House when he knows the son is a target for far right nutcases who want to link him to corrupt practices in Ukraine and China. With all the photographers in Washington present for the Indian Premier’s official state dinner, Joe pitches a softball to his critics by making the event about Hunter not peace in South Asia. Hunter is the gift that keeps on giving. If Joe wants to support him he needs to keep him in the background and help with his treatment–not parade him around the White House.

The mystery is that I can’t seem to overlook these things and I’m concerned that other voters will feel the same in the upcoming election. He’s accomplished all the things I listed in the first paragraph and his opponent is an arch-criminal willing to sell us to the highest bidder when it benefits him personally. How do we energize the electorate to do the right thing?

I’ve never been a big Biden fan. He was a reliable wingman and Congressional go-between for Barack Obama’s eight years, but I also hold him responsible, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, the least competent and most corrupt Supreme Court justice in memory.

Well, he’s not a rock star. He’s a politician–making promises and glad handing. I like Kamala Harris and thought she was an OK choice for VP, but she hasn’t risen to the occasion and proven herself a viable presidential candidate. That leaves a big hole on the Democrats’ bench in the future.

Another lapse in judgment was his “promise” to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court before there was an open seat to fill. Blatently political. He should have promised to appoint the best person for the job even if he intended to appoint a black woman. He wanted a black woman on the Court to show diversity. But the Supremes are anything but diverse. Five Catholics, three Jews and an Episcopalian are not what America looks like. So why pretend?

Ketanji Brown Jackson may be the most thoughtful Supreme appointment since RBG and I’m glad she’s there, but I wish Biden had kept his mouth shut about appointing a black woman. Today, she is seen as a black woman first and jurist second.

I’ve resisted writing about politics lately. I’m writing fiction instead. It’s more fun and less controversial, but the prospect of a Trump victory in the presidential race is ominous. I need to swallow my reservations.

I know this is not a ringing endorsement but I plan to suck it up and cast my vote for Joe. Trump is being arraigned today on charges related to his attempt to steal the 2020 election. We need to prevent him from repeating in 2024 and beyond.  

I’m casting my vote to preserve what’s left of our democracy.

An Odd Couple of a Different Order…

They are very different but shared a common goal–fomenting the collapse of the modern social order. Both were noted for their intelligence. Both were Harvard educated. One became a hermit. The other sought the limelight. One was a mathematics genius. The other a presidential advisor.

Both were convicted of federal crimes. Both went to prison. One for murder. The other for money laundering, conspiracy and a scheme to defraud. One is dead. The other is still threatening.

Ted Kaczynski died in prison last week. A reported suicide (without details). Steve Bannon is alive and well on an estate in Oro Valley, AZ.

Both were raised in middle-class Catholic families. Kaczynski’s was Polish- American and he was raised in the Chicago area. Bannon’s was Irish-American and he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia.

Both men abandoned their careers in an effort to bring down the American social order. Kaczynski, regarded by his teachers as a mathematical “genius” left a promising academic career at the University of California, Berkeley, to live as a recluse in a remote one room cabin he built in rural Montana while supporting himself with odd jobs and financial aid from his family.

Bannon’s path took him in the opposite direction. After seven years in the Navy, he earned an MBA at Harvard, went to work at Goldman Sachs, migrated to Hollywood, left Goldman to become a producer and later co-founded Breitbart News, the far-right website, with the ultra-conservative Mercer family.

Their differences are classic. Kaczynski chose a frontal attack, and though he studied political philosophy and wrote a 35,000 word manifesto entitled Industrial Society and Its Future his method of attack was primal. Philosophically he argued “that damage to the environment and the alienating effects of technology were so heinous that the social and industrial underpinnings of modern life should be destroyed.” To affect his goal he made bombs and either mailed or delivered them to various targets–university professors, business and airline executives, The Boeing Company, UC Berkeley, a computer store in Salt Lake City. He became known as the Unabomber.

In 1995, determined to have his manifesto published, he offered it to various media outlets. By then three people had been killed and 23 wounded by his bombs, but the FBI had been unable to identify him. They and Attorney General Janet Reno urged the media to publish it in an effort to track him. Penthouse Magazine offered but Kaczynski thought the New York Times and Washington Post were more prestigious and turned down the offer. The Times and Post co-published it in 1995.

His sister-in-law thought she recognized the writing style and urged her husband, Ted’s brother David, to contact the FBI. He did so, and that led to a careful stakeout of the Montana cabin in part due to the fact that FBI fiascos at Ruby Ridge and Waco had inflamed Ted earlier. In 1996, after evading capture for almost 20 years, he was lured from the cabin and captured.

He was convicted of several crimes including murder and imprisoned in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado where he struck up friendships with Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef (first World Trade Center bomber). 

Bannon’s attack on America’s social order was more calculated. He used his Breitbart platform to disseminate an ultra-conservative message while looking for a candidate with credibility to carry it forward. In 2015 he identified Donald Trump as his candidate–a well-known TV star with unbridled ambition and no scruples. He was an empty vessel he could manipulate and promote to “deconstruct the administrative state”–meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that have stymied economic growth and infringed upon American sovereignty. It would be an attack from within, unlike Kaczynski’s one man frontal assault.

Bannon’s approach was clearly more successful. Despite the fact that he is a convicted felon, and Trump is under federal indictment for mishandling classified information, charged under a separate indictment in New York and likely to be arraigned in two other cases, Bannon’s goal has already been reached.

Trump was his unwitting suicide bomber. As his Attorney General Bill Barr said yesterday, he’s toast if the facts in the 37 count federal indictment can be proven. It doesn’t matter. The suicide vessel detonated, and the damage is extensive.

The U.S. government is in tatters. The administrative state has been seriously deconstructed. The country is polarized. There has been a violent attack on the Capitol. Congress is paralyzed and the Supreme Court is a self-dealing swamp with no legal means to sanction its members for abuses or the failure to recuse.

At this very moment, Trump is at the federal courthouse in Miami being fingerprinted and charged with 37 federal crimes. Ted Kaczynski is dead and Steve Bannon is in Arizona gloating over the wreckage his vessel wrought.


None of us is going to dodge the bullet. The inevitable. We know it. We ignore it. But as the end approaches all those Kubler Ross nouns comes into play–denial, anger, depression and especially bargaining. Oh Lord, please. Not before the Beaujolais Nouveau release this fall. At least not before I see Trump in an orange jumpsuit. Can we make that deal? Everything’s in play but acceptance. We live like we’re immortal until we aren’t.

It was so Suzy to die in the restroom of a hair salon clutching her bag of special products. The ones she believed were better. Perfect timing. After a wash, a cut, blond highlights and lots of hair spray. Perfectly coiffed. She excused herself went to the restroom and died. Not in the chair during the shampoo. Discreetly in the restroom. It was so Suzy.

Her mantra – The higher the hair the closer to God.

She was perfect in other ways too. Raising quadruplets as a single mom. And helping them all become accomplished responsible adults. Not many can check both of those boxes. And, where was dad? Well… it was too much for him. He said he really wanted them. He encouraged her to take the fertility drug. But it was hard work, so he left town with a girlfriend when the quads were six months old.

Impossible? Not for Suzy. She was resourceful. And her parents were supportive. The five of them moved back to Chicago and in with her parents where she regrouped, and when the kids were in pre-school she launched herself again. First she found work as a research assistant at People Magazine, then as a stringer and photo editor for Time covering entertainment. She left print, to take a job as a location scout for the Illinois Film Office and became so indispensable she was promoted to Director.  She loved the movies, and we often sat in her living room sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching a double or triple bill. She became one of the most successful film office directors in North America, working on films like Risky BusinessThe Untouchables, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off while mothering the quads like a juggler with four flaming torches.

And when the torches were making decisions about college, Suzy discovered the film office director’s job in the state of Washington was open. Two of the quads were headed for Washington schools so Suzy snagged it to stay close.

Everybody loved her. There were hundreds of friends at her Celebration of Life. The staff at the hair salon attended and the shampoo girl asked if she could keep Suzy’s bag of products. She wanted a memento to remember her by. It was so Suzy.