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New Beginnings (Bad and Good)

America kills me with its contrasts. In just these last few days, we had Trump's Inaugural Address, and we had the Women's Marches

I kept the promise that I made to myself not to watch Trump's inauguration. (I did read the text later. More on that.) But I did watch a lot of the Women's March from Washington, D.C., on C-SPAN. I would have been at the Los Angeles march except for the TG's whooping cough and houseguests with knee problems.

Trump's address – just from reading the text – was dark, harsh, and unforgiving. His vision of our country -- "this American carnage" ... "rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape" ... "the wealth of our middle class ripped from their homes" ... "young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge" ... "the sad depletion of our military" ... "mothers and children trapped in poverty" ... "America's infrastructure fallen into disrepair and decay" – sounded bleak and negative.

Certainly things are bad for the shrinking middle class in this country, and they've always been bad for the poor and most oppressed minorities, but to call it "carnage" helps no one. Especially if you're the leader who is supposed to lead us to better times and "make America great again."

What jumped out at me immediately were the words – "AMERICA FIRST." If that phrase, a clear link to pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh's America First movement of the 1930s, wasn't clear sign of encouragement to today's neo-Nazi/Alt-Right/White Supremecist nuts, I don't know what is. Although the Trump camp at first said that Donald wrote the speech, it was later admitted that the speech was the work of Steve Bannon. The "America First" reference made that obvious.

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To Watch or Not To Watch

I'm of two minds about watching the inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday as the 45th President of the United States. Just typing that phrase gives me the shakes. Watching the actual ceremony might be too much for me.

But in the past, I've tried to listen to all kinds of political material. Even though I'm a long-time Democrat (back to 1968 and going door-to-door for Eugene McCarthy and Allard Lowenstein, and working elections since then), I've always tried to listen to the other side. As Sun Tzu wrote in THE ART OF WAR: "Know thy enemy."

For years I listened to Rush Limbaugh (Yes, I did, Mr. Snerdley. Who could resist his "talent on loan from God?") It was during the heights/depths of his oxycontin addiction, and Rush was flying high on the air. He sounded like a carnival barker crossed with a particularly sodden W.C. Fields, spouting nonsense with perfect certainty. Lie after lie after lie, but he has such fun lying that the feeling is contagious for his low-information listeners. Limbaugh is a happy warrior, even if his weapons are deceit, exaggeration, prejudice, and nastiness.

I get the WALL STREET JOURNAL every day. (They don't publish on Sunday, but their Saturday paper is full of good features and reviews.) I laugh at their resident columnists (Daniel Henninger, Bret Stephens, Kimberley Strassel, the always daffy Peggy Noonan, and Karl Rove who should be in jail for his efforts to politicize the Justice Department during the Bush 43 administration, among other crimes) and their guest clowns from the Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, Manhattan Institute, etc. But I read them.

I also watch Fox News until I can't stand it anymore. The TG makes me turn if off if she comes into the room. Just the other day, one of their anchors called Jeff Sessions "a great civil rights champion." Really. (And you wonder where "fake news" came from? It started when Fox called itself "fair and balanced." From then on, the truth didn't stand a chance.)

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Poor Tim Cook, Magic Meryl Streep, and Goodbye, Nat Hentoff

BAD APPLE

I love Friday newsdumps. Friday is when companies, government agencies, or anyone with bad news to release lets it go. On Friday, Apple Inc. revealed that it missed its own annual sales and profit goals for the first time since 2009. Sales volume for the iPhone fell in 2016 for the first time since its introduction in 2007, and the company posted its first annual revenue decline in 15 years.

CEO Tim Cook's paycheck, which is tied to Apple's financial performance, took a big hit -- a 15% cut from his total annual compensation! It looks like there's going to be some serious belt-tightening and budgeting in the Cook household.

Apple hasn't had a new blockbuster product like the iPhone, iPod, or iPad in years. Critics charge that the company is lagging behind on its voice-based interfaces. AI-powered voice assistants seem to be the wave of the future. Even though Apple introduced "Siri" more than five years ago, it is not keeping up with rival services from Google, Amazon, and others. Apple's dominance in the smartphone world, assured by its superior design and execution, could be in danger if they don't make the next step to the always-on, voice-activated devices of the future.

(Of course, despite these problems, Apple is still far and away the world's most valuable company with a market value over $600 billion and is the most profitable U.S. corporation with net income of $45 billion in 2016.)

Nonetheless, because he fell short of his own projections (largely because of a sharp slowdown in iPhone sales revenue from China), poor Tim Cook had to suffer. His compensation is linked to financial performances, so the bastards at Apple cut his pay.

For most Americans, a 15% pay cut would require some change of lifestyle, some kind of economizing. Time for some penny-pinching and coupon-cutting.

But in Cook's case, he's had to struggle by on only $8.75 million this year, down from $10.3 million. (Don't forget that an executive on his level has an enormous, virtually limitless expense account and pays for nothing on his own. Every meal, every trip, every party, everything is charged to the company.)

But perhaps the board didn't feel so bad, cutting Cook's pay because in 2011, when he took over as CEO, they gave him a grant of stock valued at the time at $376 million. And there was that other restricted stock grant he received in 2011 that vested last year for him to the tune of another $135 million. And he has an additional 3.5 million shares coming to him, in increments until 2021, worth another $413 million.

Now isn't that ridiculous?

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