Friday, October 20, 2017

Night rain

Last night there was a rain, and it was lovely to lie awake and listen to its rhythm on the roof. A rare rain, living in a desert as I do, or near-desert as the clean-shavers of fact would say. How reassuring was that roof-rhythm, neither exact nor arbitrary, but measured with the random vibrancy of life, connecting with the rhythms of the self – the beating of the heart, the bloodflow tides, the pulse of breath, the blink of eyes. A melody as soft and soothing as a nightsong or the touch of fingertips on flesh; the fine experience of which is harmony; the full expression of which is love. That rinsing rhythm reminds us we are not in Nature but of Nature, and that for all the evil in the world there is a will that wishes well, a vast benevolence which holds us in its palm, a clasp that is the shape of space and timelessness of time. We are not alone, will never be alone, so long as that consoling, cupped caress contains us, and bears us safely through this darkling universe until we reach at last the end of rainfall night.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Managerial Mystification

As I continue to follow, at some distance, the carnival sideshow parade of the Trump presidency, my perplex over the president's managerial style deepens. How could he possibly have run a multinational conglomerate the way he runs the White House? Anybody who has ever managed anything knows you don't contradict and humiliate your staff in public, you don't undercut their authority, you don't criticize and threaten to fire them openly -- in short, you don't wash your own dirty linen in full view of the very people you're trying to serve. Yet that is precisely how Donald Trump is behaving. Which causes me to wonder: How did this genius of the deal become so successful while being so hapless?

I might as well say it: Jack Kennedy was an incompetent president. If he had not been murdered when he was, his presidency would have dissolved in scandals that would have made Watergate look like a junior prom. Yet he had a personal style that was charming, dignified, and reassuring. Richard Nixon was competent, but his personality was so flawed that his abilites made no difference to his fate. Barack Obama was certainly incompetent, but at least he was amiable. Donald Trump is proving himself to be massively incompetent, without even the saving grace of an amenable personal style. He comes across as abrasive, arbitrary, and disrespectful even of his own closest advisers. As I have remarked before, more so than any recent president, his legacy will depend on what he is seen as having accomplished. And so far, he has accomplished precious little. His miserable failure to replace the disaster that is Obamacare was due largely, as far as I can tell, to his inability to deal even with members of his own ruling party. On this pivotal constitutional issue (and I see it as a constitutional and not a healthcare issue), he has managed to alienate just about everyone. 

And talk about messaging! He continues to send out a steady stream of inconsistent, mixed, contradictory, and tendentious tweets that make it virtually impossible either to take him seriously as a chief executive or to discern what his core beliefs and policies may be. This is not only annoying; given the current internal and foreign climate, it is downright dangerous. And yet he will not stop; he seems incapable of learning and of changing his behavior, which are two essential assets in a leader. Lincoln was cautious, careful in his judgments, but he lived by the principle: "I will adopt new views as quickly as they are proved to be true views." Trump appears not only unable to adopt new views, but even to recognize them. 

So far, he has stumbled through his presidency like a non-drinking alcoholic, unable to get out of his own fumbling way. And now he moves on to tax reform. Every president in my lifetime has attempted to fix the baroque, unfair, and irrational tax system in this country, and all have failed. So what makes Trump, or anyone else for that matter, think that he will succeed where his predecessors have not? It appears that he now believes that he can co-opt the Democrats into providing him with the majority which the voters gave him and which he has managed to squander away. That, to my mind, is a degree of naïveté of which this non-political president is perhaps uniquely capable. Does he really imagine, even in his wildest dreams, that the Democrats are going to help him establish a legacy of success, and in the process, contribute to his re-election chances? Schumer and Pelosi, those evil twins of rabid partisanship, as partners, as collegial comrades? What kind of fatuous fantasy is that?

Who is talking to Trump? Who is advising him? Why, the people around him must be as incompetent as he, since they clearly cannot persuade him to act even in his own self-interest. Next he will be trying to coax The New York Times and NBC on board his train to oblivion. And they will be only too happy to oblige, so that they can push the throttle to demolition speed. The Democrats are not going to let Trump have his tax reform, since that would serve only to enhance his prospects in the midterms and 2020. On the contrary, I fully expect that if they do pretend to collaborate with him, it will be only to sabotage any hope we may have of getting meaningful tax reform in this decade. 

Much as I hate to agree with the mainstream media, which no longer even affects the pretense of objectivity, the sooner Donald Trump goes, the better for all of us. And that he will be gone before his term is up I think is clear to anyone who is paying attention, not to the media, but to the Great Deal-maker himself, as he systematically negotiates the terms of his own demise. 



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Disconnected

In the wonderful play, Marat/Sade, the old marquis remarks about Paris in the French Revolution: “All around me, people were turning themselves into strangers.” Well, this is not Paris, and God knows it’s not the eighteenth century, but it’s happening again, to me.

It used to be that I could go to the gym and, despite not being gregarious, I could at least chat with people or nod to them or say hello. Now everybody is in his own world, connected to an electronic device which absorbs all his or her attention, to the exclusion of everyone else. That last phrase, to the exclusion of everyone else, is what I’m talking about. I go to breakfast at the local bakery and glance about, and what do I see? People connected to their devices, smartphones or laptops, uncommunicative, unaware it seems that anyone else is there. It doesn’t matter who or how old they are, something which I cannot even imagine is being sluiced into their ears, directly into their consciousness, while they remain unconscious of the world around them.

In the pre-connected days, married couples would sit reading their newspapers, not talking of course (marriage does that to you), but occasionally glancing up over page tops and half-glasses to say, “Did you see what Dick Tracy’s doing?” Or, “How ‘bout them Dodgers?” To which the other would at least grunt in recognition if not in reply. Now I watch people in restaurants sitting two feet apart, each plugged into an alternative reality, not only not speaking, but not even looking at one another. Couples young and old, children, whole families, each one of them preferring a private piped-in world to the company of others and the world around them. Not connected; disconnected.

It’s happening in my own family. Of the two children still living in my house after what seems three lifetimes of parenting, neither one is accessible anymore. My step-daughter spends, quite literally, her entire day gawking at her smartphone, and my teenage son seems to have purple earbuds surgically attached to his skull, plugged into some kind of sinister device which he guards as if it were the Grail, or at least, his gummies.

How many times have I asked them, begged them, threatened them, to “Put down that damn phone!”? At least a dozen every day, which is why, I suppose, they ignore me, in much the same way that a callous ignores a tight loafer. I find that I must repeat the beginning of every sentence I say to my son, since it is lost in the second or two it takes him to a) realize that I’ve spoken to him, and b) extract the earpiece from his head to say, “What?” Just today, as I was driving him home from school, I began to inquire what he had for homework and, shaking the bud from his ear, he asked me to repeat it. I lost all composure, and in what I felt was absolutely righteous indignation I said, “Stop watching those damn podcasts!” To which he replied with equal indignation, “You don’t watch podcasts, father.”

Touché. Proved once again to be so totally un-hip, so utterly out-of-touch that I was reduced to sullen silence. Of course you don’t watch podcasts; I knew that, right? You listen to them. But what had I done? Handed a teenager a loaded pistol of cluelessness which he could use the next time I tried to interrupt his electronic self-exile.

But the last straw came last night. After a long day of meetings, driving back and forth to school, back and forth to a music lesson, a conference call instead of dinner, and finishing a paper I owed for the online graduate course I really have no time for and probably shouldn’t be taking, I finally stumbled into the bedroom, where my darling wife was watching the Korean news on her laptop, collapsed on the bed, and gasped to her that I was absolutely exhausted. At which she yanked a white earbud from her precious little shell-like and said, “What?” That was it. The ultimate abandonment. The light of my life had become one of those yellow bulbs that are meant to keep pests away.

Nobody talks to anybody anymore. Nobody even looks at anyone these days. Take me, for example. I have lived a long life, traveled the world, have decades of education, read thousands of books, possess a near-encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, Russian Literature, World War I aviation, the history of mountaineering; I can carry on a conversation on just about any topic that doesn’t involve pop culture, but I cannot compete with the Internet. The other day my son asked me a question about the Amish. I answered in some detail, explaining their origins, doctrines, customs, talked about their language, giving a few examples, and explained where they lived and how they got there and why. “Gee, Dad,” he said, “how do you know so much?” To which the answer is: I read, a lot; and I remember what I read.

But books are going out of fashion. They can’t compete with the Internet either. I have about 5000 books in my house, with shelf-space for half of them and a garage so packed with boxes of books that I don’t even fantasize about parking my car in there. I have more books in my home than they have at the local library (I know; I’ve been there). My house looks like a Christian Science Reading Room with cats. But neither I nor my books can compete, it seems, with a five-inch screen and a pair of purple earbuds.

And so I had to make a rule: no cellphones at the table, either at home or when we go out to eat. If we’re going to sit across from each other, engaging in the oldest ritual known to Man, the family meal, we’re damn-well going to look at each other and talk to each other. So tonight, at dinner, the rule went into effect. I put Brahms on the stereo, turned down the lights, lit the candles, and laid out the good plates and silverware. We all sat down to one of my wife’s excellent Korean dinners, and I kicked off the conversation by asking them about their day. With what result? Well, to paraphrase Poe: And the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token, and the only word there spoken was the whispered word… “What?”

At least we were looking at one another.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Remembering Jimmy Whelan

Last week I received an email from a childhood friend that Jimmy Whelan had died unexpectedly. I went to high school with Jimmy (I always think of him as 'Jimmy' and always picture him as a tall, lean eighteen year old), and I had occasion to spend time with him later in life. Jimmy was three times elected mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey (he had the distinction of being the first mayor in the city's history who was neither indicted nor imprisoned), and then to two terms as state senator. Some months ago he emailed me that he was going to retire after his current term and write a book or play about U. S. Grant.

Though Jimmy was a year ahead of me at West Catholic High in Philadelphia, I have distinct memories of him as a strong personality and a natural leader. He was one of those older kids who seemed to me so much more mature and self-confident than I, and I could not help but admire him and be a little in awe of him. He was a star of the swimming team, and it was that which led to his life and career in Atlantic City. He used to go to "the shore" as we called it, to work as a lifeguard, eventually relocating there. It was an aged custom in AC that all city employees had to kick back a percentage of their salaries to government officials ('ice money' it was called), an index of how ingrained and accepted was the level of corruption in the city. Jimmy knew instinctively that this was wrong, and he helped organize the lifeguards, who refused to pay, putting an end to the practice. Given the brutality of the city's bosses, it was a gutsy move. And it was typical of the strong, decent kid from West Philly whom I had known.

That is my enduring impression of Jimmy Whelan: strong, principled, decent, tough, and compassionate. That rarest of exotic creatures, an honest politician.

About twelve years ago, I was asked to write a proposal for a TV series set in Atlantic City. I immediately thought of Jimmy, whose third term as mayor had just ended. I contacted him, and he generously invited my writing partner and me to come to AC as his guest. He then acted as our personal tour guide, and a more gracious and effective guide no one could ask for. I had not been to AC in many years, and two things struck me. First, how much the city had changed. The fading queen of the shore declining into slum that I remembered from my childhood, was actually an exciting place, and, though I have no interest in casinos or gambling, I found its neighborhoods charming and vital. That, I think, was the greatest tribute to Jimmy's time as mayor: Atlantic City had become a good place to live, and I found myself thinking that I might not mind living there myself.

The second thing that struck me was that the people of Atlantic City loved Jimmy. Everyone recognized him as we moved around the neighborhoods, everyone offered us free food and drinks, everyone was anxious to shake his hand, from casino managers to sub shop workers. They not only admired and respected him, they evinced an unmistakable affection for him. I was very moved by this; that a kid from West Philly had become so beloved by his adopted home town.

The TV series never materialized, but I remained in touch with Jimmy. He asked my advice on becoming a writer after his retirement from politics, and, in a gesture typical of him, he hosted my older son in his home when he was touring the East Coast as a new college freshman in New York. Jimmy and his wife, Kathy, took my son to dinner one evening, and when my son offered to pay for the meal (under my orders), he learned as I had that Jimmy was a guest in everyone's place in AC.

And why? Because the people knew how much they owed him for restoring their city's dignity and prosperity, for transforming it from the butt of bad jokes into a world-class resort and a good place to raise a family. Jimmy never talked about it, but it had become clear to me that, through his decency and superb negotiating skills, he had done more for the ordinary citizens of Atlantic City than they could ever repay. Think about it: as mayor, he had to balance the interests of international moguls like Steve Wynn and Donald Trump with the needs of working people, poor and elderly people, disadvantaged kids. He leveraged the magnates' transcendent ambitions and greed in order to create jobs, improve schools, and build parks for his constituents. And he did it with a compassion, toughness, and skill that were born into the nature of the man. That was Jimmy - a decent, honorable kid from West Philly who, thank God, never really grew up. Not in the sense of losing his birthright as a kind and caring human being.

I have been moved far more than I would have expected by the news of his death. I suppose the emotion comes from losing yet another bit of my boyhood, another face from the years that formed me, another intimate contact with a period of my life long gone now. But I also mourn the passing of a good human being who managed to prove all of our worst fears about politics and politicians untrue. In that swamp we so often hear about, in that sorry spectacle which public life in our nation has become, Jimmy proved that a person of principle and compassion can not only survive, he can make such a difference in people's lives that he leaves a legacy not just of good public policy, but of love.

It was a pleasure to have known him as a boy, and an honor to have known him as a man. I will miss him.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff

It was in Slaughterhouse Five, I think, that Kurt Vonnegut urged the absolute necessity of forgetting the bad stuff in our lives and focusing on the good stuff. Doing so was, he insisted, a survival mechanism, a way of protecting oneself against irredeemable heartache and residual pain, and making it possible to enjoy even the simplest pleasures. This has been a struggle I have waged for most of my life, for I have an unconquerable tendency to remember all the bad things that have happened to me, while forgetting most of the good ones. Hurts, insults, losses I have suffered, stupid mistakes I have made, opportunities I missed even long ago, are all as present to my mind as yesterday’s lunch, and assert themselves with stinging ease and velocity if I allow my mind to wander even for a moment. The good things which have happened, my successes, loves, achievements, works I have created, commendations I have received, pale in comparison to the vivid recollection of sufferings long past. For they are never really past, since I keep allowing them to bubble up from the tar pits of even my most distant memories into my current consciousness.

Now you will say that I am oversensitive, and that is doubtless true. Being serious by nature, I have had a lifelong tendency to take everything seriously, including slights, slurs, stupidities, and cupidities which I ought to have ignored. And now the problem is exacerbated by the very modest level of notoriety I have achieved concurrent with the uncontrolled mitosis of social media platforms. One will never know just how many pathetic lunatics, how many mean, petty, venomous, bloody-minded people there are in our society until one has started a website or published a book or written a film or run for public office, or in any other fashion raised his head above the herd. For the moment you do so in our society now, someone will try to cut it off.

Someone whose life has not panned out as he wished, someone who, in prior eras would have been consigned to yelling at cars on street corners or cursing at the TV or muttering in a stupor to a barfly, now has an infinite variety of public platforms from which to vent his wrath, often in the most scurrilous terms, at perfect strangers whose lives have turned out better than his. These are the hollow driftwood of society, thrown up by tides of life onto lonely beaches where they bake in the remorseless sunlight of regret. They are despicable trolls who, in ages past, were consigned to mildewed shadows beneath the bridges of our culture, but who now can find themselves in the spotlight alongside the best that our culture has to offer. And the only way such people have to retrieve some modicum of their shredded self-respect is through trying to strip others of theirs.

I used to accept invitations to give interviews, and to speak at seminars and festivals, and I once accepted comments on this blog. And though most people have been gracious, I no longer do these things, for I find that, no matter how benign the subject, no matter how sincere my observations, the roaches of social media will come scurrying out of the woodwork which they inhabit to take their putrid potshots. I know, of course, that by making myself scarcer, I am playing into their hands; but the fact remains that I have not yet mastered Vonnegut’s life-skill of closing my eyes to the bad stuff and focusing on the good. That is my own fault; another defect which I have yet to correct.

Other people, people whom I know, have managed to harden themselves to such vituperation, and I admire them for it and have endeavored to emulate their insouciance. They just don’t care, they ignore the venom, they laugh it off. But despite decades of trying, I find that, more often than not, I just can’t. As I have said, it is my own damn fault, my own deficiency, and I live with the knowledge of it. Oh, I know where it comes from, ultimately: it comes from that place at the bottom of the ladder of consciousness which Yeats called “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

All of who we have become begins in childhood. That is why childhood, and the innocence which is its birthright, are so precious, so delicate, and so in need of protection. There is no hurt or neglect or cruelty which we suffer in early childhood which does not come back, like Banquo’s ghost, to haunt us even in our most congenial moments. We are like cuneiform clay on which the unfeeling messages of the world remain embedded. We cannot efface them, and so, unless we learn to ignore them, refuse to read the inscriptions thereupon, and write new scenarios in our experience, we will forever be victims of the past. And that is wrong; that is a recipe for unhappiness.

Life belongs to us; we do not belong to it. Like any gift, it is ours to do with as we please, as we think best for ourselves and others. But that means living in the present, and consigning the past, with all of its vicissitudes, to the past where it belongs. The past is past and ought to behave. And the hurts and failings and losses we once incurred must not be allowed to crowd our current consciousness with corrosive regret. We are creatures of the present and creators of the future; what has happened must be finished, what is gone must be left behind. Forget the bad stuff; focus on the good stuff. Close your eyes to the sorrows behind you and open them to the joys that are present and the wonders that are possible. Live now and in the future as you have never lived before, and your spirit will be freer and your heart will be at peace.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Memento Vivere

Our dog died today. She had terminal cancer and internal bleeding, and after considering all of our options (there were actually very few), we made the painful decision to have her put down. She was a Golden Retriever, a blessed breed of dog, one of the best companions for a family, and especially for children. Sweet and charming by nature, empathetic and gentle as all Goldens are, she was perhaps not the brightest of her breed I have known, but one of the most gracious. She was both joyful and loyal, and an excellent watch dog, alerting us emphatically whenever a stranger approached the front or back doors. Ardent pursuer of rabbits and blue jays, she was the bane of the gardeners and her inevitable bark struck terror into the heart of the pool man.

A rescue dog, she was seven years old when we adopted her, dusky golden in hue, and the answer to my then thirteen-year-old son’s desire for a dog. I recall reading on his WeChat site the mute wail: “I want a dog. I feel so cliché!” That convinced me that it was time for me to put behind me the loss of my previous dog, also a Golden, who also died of cancer.

We got Leila, after months of diligent searching, from Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue, a wonderful organization that does God’s work. We had seen and chosen not to adopt several other dogs, but Leila was exactly what we were looking for. She blended seamlessly into our family, bringing the kind of joy which only an animal can, offering her affection selflessly, enriching our home, warming our hearts. She was as integral a part of Christmas as the presents and the tree, and as vital to our everyday chores of shopping, driving to school, and working in the back yard, enlivening them with her panting enthusiasm and unaffected grace.

The decision to put her down was extremely difficult, and we took it only after it became clear that she could not live much longer. She was suffering terribly, and the doctors assured us that though surgery was an option, she probably would not survive it. We said our goodbyes and I remained with her to the end. Her eyes were open and on me, not puzzled as I expected, but curious and calm. She lived for the company of people, and so I could not leave her so long as she lived.

This event has reaffirmed in me my long-held conviction that life must be preserved as long as it is possible to do so. Every kind of life is precious, adding to the sum total of vibrancy in the world. To end a life unnecessarily is always a bad choice, striking at and shaking our humanity. If we are to be human, we must dedicate ourselves to the proposition that life is better than death; and nothing, not convenience or self-interest or ideology, ought to be allowed to change that. And this is true for all forms of life, whether animal or human, elderly or unborn. Life is the ground of our existence, and when we undermine that ground we weaken our own security and sense of self. In killing other living creatures, for whatever reason, we kill a part of ourselves; a golden part, perhaps, that can never be retrieved.

I don’t know what this need is that we as humans feel to share our lives with animals. Anthropologists would tell us, I suppose, that it comes from primitive man’s desire for companionship and protection, and I am sure there is truth to that. But I think the truth goes deeper: it goes to the very heart of who we are as living beings.

Animals remind us that we are part of a chain of life that stretches from heaven to the primal seas; from the uni-cell to the cerebellum; from ashes to angels; that we are essentially connected to Nature, no matter how feverishly we may try to deny it with our cell phones and cyberspace. And animals are innocent, as we were born in innocence. That innocence fades as we grow until we can scarcely sense it anymore, except as a distant memory or a mythic nostalgia. But animals, in the perfection of their innocence, reconnect us with the residue of our own, reminding us of who we once were, and who we may yet be again after the corrosive effects of life are finally sloughed away. They recall to us our birthright and our destiny. It is in this sense that animals can teach us, and do teach us, truths about ourselves denied even to the precepts of religion. For animals are religion, a living, breathing, loving faith in the primal goodness of who we once were and are destined to be again.

I have said it here before and say it again today with even more conviction: Our hope lies in the animals, in their innocence, in their love, and in the joy which they bring uniquely into our lives. When this afternoon my Golden breathed her last, some part of me, some hope and reassurance, expired too. Yet, it would not be true to the purity of her spirit and the selflessness of her love to say that my life is less because of that. For she made it richer, and fuller, and more blessed than ever it could have been without her. May she rest among the angels in peace.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Magnitism

I have been intrigued by the reports of the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Initially, Trump Jr. said the meeting did not take place (when he certified that he had had no meetings with Russian officials of any kind during the campaign). Then he admitted it took place, but it lasted only twenty minutes, involved the Russian lawyer's attempt to bring up the question of the suspended adoptions of Russian children, and that nothing came of it. Then it developed that Junior had been lured to the meeting with a promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton. (This may explain why Manafort and Kushner accompanied him to what would otherwise have been a non-meeting.) Though Junior had emailed the broker of the meeting that he 'loved' the idea of getting dirt from the Russians, he insists that there was nothing to it and they moved on to the little Russian orphans for fifteen minutes. He neglected to mention, however, that there was another person in the meeting, a Washington-based Russian lobbyist. And now, it seems there were others as well. As of this writing, we do not know who they were.

Now, I have tried to avoid the Trump/Russia hysteria which has taken hold of the mainstream media (in particular, CNN, which Trump has assailed relentlessly), but Junior's attempts to evade mention of the meeting and to minimize its importance, and then to misrepresent the reason for the meeting and the number and identities of the participants, sounds so very much like the behavior of any run-of-the mill crook who has been caught that I felt it necessary to look farther into the matter.

I soon found that doing so opens a yawning and putrid rat hole of corruption, espionage and murder. This apparently innocuous non-meeting suddenly begins to look like a John le Carré novel or an episode of Foyle's War.

It all centers on an investigator for a Russian law firm named Sergei Magnitsky. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of vast, clandestine, corrupt financial goings-on, but what seems to my unschooled mind to have happened is something like this: Magnitsky was tasked by the Russian firm with investigating a case of massive tax fraud carried out by a consortium of Russian government officials, the police, and the Russian mafia. Apparently that rarest of all creatures since the cop in Gorky Park, Magnitsky, an honest investigator, did discover and was foolish enough to report on the theft of 230 million dollars in a baroque and extremely clever tax fraud scheme. His report reached the powers that be, including the very officials he was investigating, and he was summarily arrested and held in a year-long detention without access to a lawyer or a trial. Eight days before he was to have been released, Magnitsky died. Initially the Russian authorities claimed he had succumbed to complications of a liver disease, then they admitted he had been denied adequate health care, and still later, the autopsy proved he had, in effect, been beaten to death in his cell.

It seems pretty clear at this juncture that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by Russian officials in an effort to conceal their part in the biggest rip-off of the Russian public in history. There was an official Kremlin investigation, and, as would be expected, a handful of minor and mid-level functionaries were indicted, though most of them were either acquitted or the charges against them were dropped. Even the two doctors who "treated" Magnitsky were indicted, though they claimed that they had asked for him to be transferred to a proper hospital and were refused. Magnitsky's lawyer, who continued to press the case for his client even after his death, either fell or was thrown out of the window of his fourth floor Moscow apartment.

Now, how does all this relate to the infamous non-meeting at Trump Tower? The lawyer with whom Junior, Manafort and Kushner met just happens to represent an important Russian official named Pyotr Katsyv, whose son Denis apparently used many millions of the stolen money to buy real estate in New York City. And who is famous as the mogul of Manhattan real estate?

But it may go one step further. The district attorney in New York who was investigating this use of stolen Russian rubles to buy property in Manhattan was Preet Bharara. He had filed a complaint with the New York courts to seize the assets of the Russians, including those of Katsyv and his son. And Bharara, you may recall, was fired when the Trumps took over.  Now, I am aware that it is not unusual for an incoming administration to require district attorneys to tender their resignations, and all did so, except Bharara, whom Attorney General Sessions then fired. While it is true that President Trump initially asked Bharara to stay on, when push came to shove, he was shown the door. But let us recall that Bharara was actually moving against Katsyv-and-son, had frozen their assets, and denied them access to the American banking system. And who was the Katsyvs lawyer? Natalia Veselnitskaya, with whom Junior met in the company of Trump's campaign manager and son-in-law.

This is just a gloss of the facts as they continue to come to light, and I do not present it as anything like a definitive version of the events. Producing that will be the responsibility of professionals who do this kind of investigating for a living. I will only say that all of this stinks. It stinks of official corruption, of fraud on a massive scale, of the most rotten kind of international politics, and, ultimately, of the murder of an honest and courageous man. And it was into this filthy morass that Donald Junior strolled for a meeting that never took place.

As a final thought: I suspect that, if it turns out that any of the Manhattan real estate purchased with the stolen Russian funds was owned by or controlled by Donald Trump, the game is over. I have said many times that I do not believe that Trump will survive his first term. This may be the scandal that finishes him. Especially if Vladimir Putin knows about all of this. And I suspect he does.