Wednesday, June 19, 2019



                              By Robert V. Wills      

      I wonder how many Americans realize the scope of Donald  Trump’s growing control of the American government, meaning all three branches of our political system.

     The Constitution set up three branches of the Federal government, relying on checks and balances between them to avoid a dictatorship or imperial monarchy. The citizens elect both the Executive leadership and the Legislative members, then the joint action of the Executive and Legislature (Senate) appoints the Judiciary. The theory has always been that the process would avoid dictatorship through the division of power.

     I suspect that Donald Trump is more of a megalomaniac than a political strategist or a political historian - -all reports are that he was a poor student - - but the American government is now in a strange and ominous state: Trump rules the Executive Branch as an autocrat, without guidance, counsel, or restriction. His appointments, including all Department and Bureau heads, are all Trump lackies and devotees, often devoid of experience or qualifications. They hold office only until they disappoint or embarrass Donald.

     But now he literally controls the Senate because his hillbilly toady, Mitch McConnell, will not allow a vote on any measure that Trump doesn’t green light. And without the Senate, Congress is nothing but a noisy, angry mob of biannual wannabees called Representatives, who can rant, rail, and threaten impeachment - - but not  pass one law....

     That leaves the Judiciary. Trump is no lawyer, but he is directed by a cadre of ultraconservative advisers who are helping him pack the Federal Courts with right wing ideologues - -who will hold office FOR LIFE...Given enough time, like four more years, Trump will have colored the Federal Judiciary a bright red, and the triad will be complete if the Senate stays Republican.

     I’m not a political historian, either, but I wonder if the U.S. has ever been in this much danger of a dictatorship. Even FDR had no  luck in packing and controlling the Judiciary. He was frustrated by the checks and balances, but he was not a fanatical, dishonest megalomaniac who would run  the American Ship of State right onto the rocks.

     This blowhard  rabble-rouser will, if kept in  the White House as Tweeter-and-Commander-in-Chief for four more years. Pray to whichever God you choose that he stumbles and falls by November, 2020.

       (Amen.  I couldn't agree more with Rob's thoughts. Maralys Wills)                                      



Saturday, June 8, 2019


You never know when an ordinary evening will become an unplanned adventure. 

As Rob and I and our son, Kirk, headed for a fish dinner at H-Salt, the weirdness of the evening came to us by degrees.  Just as we turned into the small street that led to the equally small restaurant,  we saw the fire engine.  A huge vehicle, it seemed to take up most of the tiny parking area.  And then we saw the cop car, parked in the handicap spot we normally call ours. 

As Rob steered past and around the fire engine,  the yellow tape came into view. And suddenly there was the rest . . . our nice fish and chips shop with its front plate-glass  window gone, and the building’s front wall severely bashed and leaning precariously inward.  Police tape and shattered glass led toward the interior, a different version of the  Yellow Brick Road. Among the mess stood cops and firemen. 

Well . . . there’s no dinner here tonight,  I thought,  at which Rob called out to a policeman,  “Are they open?” 

“Yeah, they’re open,” said the cop, a decent fellow acting as a good citizen for an ailing business.  

From the back seat, Kirk added laconically,  Wide open.” 

I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. 

As we emerged from the car, we asked, “What happened?”

A nearby fireman answered. “A woman hit the accelerator instead of the brake.”

“She okay?” 

He pointed.  “She’s sitting inside. Pretty much all right.  Even the car isn’t that bad. It’s the restaurant that took the hit.” 

With some trepidation, we entered.  But the area in front of the cash register was out of commission, with its carpet of shattered glass walled off by yellow tape.  Still, the Chinese owners had managed to do their work behind the melee, taking our order from a different counter. 

It was time to find our table.  But in our path was an ancient woman sitting on a chair,  head down, staring blankly at the floor . . . while nearby, looking years younger, was her four-wheel walker.   The woman herself seemed to be in her eighties.   

 As we parked at an undisturbed table off to one side and ate our usual crispy fish and zucchini, we were treated to an interesting scene: what happens after someone bashes in the front of a going business. We recalled that customers often waited for their orders by sitting in metal chairs backed up to that now-destroyed wall.  “They’d have had some serious spinal injuries,” Rob said, “knocked off their chairs and across the room.”  I knew he was thinking, like I was, Thank God no one was there this evening. 

For starters,  the original fire truck departed, and another,  double the size, parked in the nearby alley.  Some two dozen firemen (or so it seemed),  emerged, carrying tools, lumber, nails and saws.  As they were setting up, the luckless woman driver managed to stand and wheel her way out of the restaurant. 

“How will she get home?”  I wondered aloud.  “Will they give her  back her car?” 

“If they do,” Kirk said dryly,  “she’ll be right back inside.” 

An observation that sent me into another round of laughter.  Without Kirk, the adventure would have lacked a certain crucial element.

For the rest of dinner we watched the noble employees of the town of Orange performing at their noble best.  They swept up glass; they removed twisted chairs; they installed an  ingenious brace to hold up an ailing ceiling; they constructed a device from which the owners could seal off their business during the night. They went about their job with industry,  experience, and obvious good will.  One of the firemen even came to our table and explained what was going on.  “We do this all the time,”  he said, and it was clear he spoke the truth.  “We had to pull a metal chair out from under the car’s hood.”   

“Why didn’t those little parking-lot bumpers out front stop her?”  I asked. I was thinking, They’re cement. They’ve stopped me a few times.

Rob said, “Looks like she ran over two of them—one for each wheel.”      

“For some cars, those bumpers are just a reminder,” he said. “We’ve seen drunk drivers in a parking lot bounce over eight or nine of those things in a row.  You’d think after awhile they’d notice.”     

Once finished, Kirk went outside, where he and the helpful fireman stood by our car, talking.  After Rob and I got in, the man signaled that Rob was to roll down the window.  “Come back next week,” he said,  “we’ll try to have twice the show.” 

With that, Kirk said,  “I’ll never forget this one.”     

Friday, May 24, 2019



In a way that nobody has done before, Nancy Pelosi is getting under our president’s skin . . .

While she remains calm and poised and describes him in accurate terms, he twitters and rages.  

But it isn’t just Pelosi that’s got him jumping off the high board—it’s also those  inquiries from the House of Representatives.  We have to ask ourselves, What is he hiding—besides those eight years when, according to the New York Times, he “lost” over one billion dollars and paid no taxes?  

Trump’s reactions are turning increasingly abnormal. 

Instead of Wednesday’s White House meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over a possible bill on infrastructure, the president entered the room for five minutes, never sat down, and declared, “I won’t talk about legislation while an inquiry is going on.”  When he called an “impromptu” press conference, his podium signs were already made.

Yesterday he called Rex Tillerson  (past CEO of ExxonMobil, past Secretary of State—who speaks both English and Russian),  “Dumb as a Rock.”  It seems Tillerson  gave some 8 hours of testimony—to whom, I’m  not sure.  

In the midst of all this, yesterday Trump called himself “A stable genius.” 


As his breakdown gets worse, the tweets will get crazier.  Is it possible we’re about to get lucky . . . that we’re seeing the beginning of the end of his presidency?     

Monday, May 13, 2019


                                         By Robert V. Wills


The Democrats breathed a big sigh of relief when they took over the House of Representatives in November. Whew! Now they could stop Trump in his tracks by controlling the Federal purse strings and blocking his legislative agenda.

Nice try. But no cigar. Trump isn’t trashing the Obama legacy and the liberal agenda through legislation. He’s doing it by two other strategies, by Executive Orders aimed at Federal agencies that control society and the environment, and by packing the Federal courts, which make or break laws that Congress is supposed to be passing, or passed years ago.

While the Democrats in the House create endless publicity by holding hearings and issuing subpoenas, Trump’s Executive Orders have quietly directed  all of the important agencies that control the environment, consumer protection, the airwaves, education, voting rights, health, and commerce in a direction 180 degrees from what Obama established and what Blue America campaigns for.

The Federal courts are jammed with litigation filed by social, political, and environmental organizations like the ACLU, Common Cause, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Planned Parenthood. Injunctions and Court Orders have slowed some of the Trump onslaught, but not all of it, and the litigation will go on for years.

But Trump and his right wing advisers know that the buck stops in the Federal courts, not the House of Representatives, so with a Trump-aligned Senate and some ultraconservative lawyers at his side, he is quietly packing  the Federal Courts with lifelong appointments of right wing ideologues who will shape our social and political landscape for decades, while members of Congress come and go like hucksters in endless campaigning.

Everyone knows that Trump has already had a powerful influence on the U.S. Supreme Court, with two right wing appointments to join Bush’s two (Alito and Roberts), and that the Court’s future temperament depends on the longevity of “Notorious Ginsberg.” But what the public doesn’t know is that while SCOTUS is the ultimate authority on Federal law, the real seat of Federal law power rests in the 13 Federal Courts of Appeal, where + or – 179 appellate judges decide something like 50,000 cases a year.

The Federal Courts of Appeal are essentially the real U.S. “Supreme” Federal Court because SCOTUS reviews only + or – 140 cases each year and takes on only cases where the Courts of Appeal had conflicting decisions, or the issue is critical.

In two years Trump has already appointed more than 20% of the + or – 179 Circuit Judges. I just read a summary of some of their decisions and the Trump judges have already demonstrated a sharp right lean in their written opinions.

If Trump remains in office two more years - - a big “if” with his mental  state - - his effect on the Federal judiciary - - and the U.S. political and social temperament - - will last half a lifetime. In fact, in another two years I don’t think I will even recognize the America that won WWII and resettled a war-torn world under leaders like Eisenhower and Kennedy.


Monday, April 29, 2019



That is the question.

Today you’ll never get an answer just by “hanging around and watching.”  Or reading the news. It’s more complicated than that. Poor old Biden . . . he’s in a mess he doesn’t quite understand. But does anybody?   

Acceptability of hugging depends on a bunch of things—your age, your gender, and the age and gender of the hugee. 

If you happen to be a great grandfather, you are definitely not a hugger, especially of other males.  Instead you stick out your hand. I’ve never seen Rob hug a same-age guy . . . and only with an embarrassed grin does he accept the hugs of his grandsons. Yet he thinks nothing of grabbing the arm of an attractive young female. 

I admit it—I’m a hugger.  And so are most of my women friends – but not all.  It’s up to me to discern who among them is or is not.  I’m also happy to hug long-friend males, of whatever age, but they have to extend their arms first.  I love it that my sons and grandsons are also huggers.  From them, in fact, I get more such arms-out affection, by far, than I do from my husband.

Here’s today’s brand-new rule:  young males hug each other, as I just observed at a large, twenty-somethings birthday party.  The male host hugged every one of his arriving male friends . . . but not necessarily the females. Frankly, I’m not sure about that rule—young male to girl-friend of other young male. 

Well, so I don’t have a “fix” on all the rules. But if you want to see part of today’s answer to who’s allowed to hug whom, it’s on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times.  In general, like the French, we’ve become more of a hugging and air-kissing society.

Except when we haven’t . . . except when the # Me Too is operating and nobody is allowed in our space. 

Friday, April 5, 2019



Rob and I signed up for a cruise, not a rodeo.  We supposed we could walk across our living room in Oceania’s Vista Suite without lurching from doorway to chair to table . . . without staggering from bed to bathroom . . . without leaning heavily into the sink as we brushed our teeth . . . without gripping the closet door in a kind of spasm as we lifted out a pair of slacks. We quickly learned you dared not pull off a long-sleeved shirt without sitting down first. Four seconds standing up with both hands buried in sleeves could spell disaster. The same sounds kept bursting out of each of us . . . “Oh!  Oh!” or in Rob’s case, an additional, “Damn! Son of a Bitch!” 

“Mom,” said daughter Tracy on the third day, “your place is making me seasick.” 

Well, that’s what we got for signing up for the luxurious Vista Suite at the prow end of the ship, with its well-appointed living room and gracious veranda adorned with table and chairs. Rob sat out there once, in  a hurricane, clinging desperately to the paper he was trying to read.  From that day on the chairs and table were secured with rope tied to the ship’s rails, and nobody ever sat there again.

Still, the nineteen days on the Oceania cruise had plenty of positive events, and even some great moments.  The trip was Tracy’s 60th birthday gift, and included her Paul, plus son Chris and Betty-Jo and son Kenny and Melanie.  While the eight of us all convened for some lunches and each night for dinner, in between everybody did his own thing: among us we read some nine books and about thirty newspapers. The exercise aficionados worked out in the gym on treadmills and stationery bikes, or hiked the perimeter of the ship—when it wasn’t dipping and curtseying like, um. . . the Mayflower.

The itinerary included on-shore events relished by most of our gang: electric bicycles on which they traversed most of an island, stopping only for swims and a luxury luncheon; an ATV mud-ride, so exhilarating they couldn’t stop raving. And, more modestly for Rob and me, island explorations by car, glass-bottomed boats, and by a submersion submarine. Even our Tahiti hotel included a “Lagoonarium,” where we swam in the lagoon with hundreds of tropical fish—more than most of us had ever seen in one place.   

Back on ship, Ken and Tracy competed with each other in spectacular games of ping pong—with shots retrieved from the far edges of the table or occasionally missed altogether when the ball soared away in the wind. A number of points involved so many incredible saves that Rob and I were breathless, just watching.  Every game worked its way to a near-end tie, and eventually the two played some twenty-plus games. 

Meanwhile, other family members competed in shuffleboard or card games like Golf, or that ancient game of cards and pegs, Cribbage.    

The Oceania Regatta had some great special days . . . a carnival where the passengers competed on deck for prizes in such events as speed-dressing mannequins, sniffing and identifying various containers of different smelly items, tossing rings over bottles, maneuvering sticks into other bottles, and identifying geographic locations from maps. The morning event became a circus, with contestants racing around from one event to another. Eventually, the hardest-driving among them ended up with fistfuls of tickets whose numbers were drawn for decent prizes. Rob and I got there late—but just in time to see that, as always, the name Wills has a secret meaning (“mad competitor”), so of course our gang won some nice stuff.

Which brings me to Rob, Kenny, and me . . . and “Team Trivia.”  Within two days we’d become part of an eight-person team, “The Fun Bunch,”  and every afternoon at 4:30, rock and roll be damned, Rob and I and Kenny appeared in the Regatta lounge to probe our brains for answers to 20 assorted questions. Happily, we’d joined some smart people, including Marshall and wife Lucy, who seemed to know something about nearly everything. Thanks to Marshall, Lucy, Kenny, and Rob . . . and scattered answers from the rest of us. . . among the fifteen or more teams, we ended up in third place three times and first place twice.  (You’re bound to do well with such as these--two fact-driven lawyers, a theater aficionado, and an engineer.)  

The rest of the cruise was all food.  Huge breakfasts, plentiful (and delicious), choices for lunch, gargantuan dinners. For Rob and me—especially me--accustomed now to two meals a day, the food became a negative.  I simply couldn’t respond well when my dinner plate (usually in a specialty restaurant), or even someone else’s plate, overflowed with a slab of nearly-raw meat.  I kept trying to duck all that surplus eating, though I was too often swept away—and on to stomach aches. Reading this, other family members will respond with a boo/hiss, telling me the food was fantastic and nobody forced me to swallow any of it.

Okay, then: agreed that Oceania has great food.  Everyone but me and Paul (who exercised faithfully), came home with extra pounds.  My weight stayed the same, but it took several days to get over the stomach aches. At heart I must not be a cruiser.

The exceptional good news: given a gazillion balance-rattling jostles, neither Rob nor I ever fell down . . . and our suite was so far from everywhere (all dining rooms were on  the stern, a city block away), we did a lot of walking. We had a cheerful butler who brought us whatever we required—breakfast in the suite or canapés for the cocktail hour. Beyond him were waiters and servers in the dining rooms from every imaginable country, but with one thing in common—all were so much fun and so gracious, a number quickly became family friends. Rob  and I already miss them. 

Plus it was great being with all those fun and funny family members. Our late-afternoon cocktail parties in our ever-heaving suite were highlights of the trip. Also highlights were about six other couples who became good friends and sometimes joined us for canapés and drinks.   

The final highlight was arriving home to a house that was actually standing still.    

Saturday, February 23, 2019


To all of us, Ollie was a movie dog. 

The world seemed to think so, too.  Everywhere Tracy took him,  people stopped her to exclaim over him . . . over the fact that his coloring was so unique . . . over the fact that he seemed more than just another pet, that he bordered on being a tiny, four-legged person. It didn’t hurt that Ollie never met a human he didn’t like. 

He was a small Cavashon, black and white, peeking out through one black eye. But what set him apart was his way with people. He assumed Rob and I were his relatives, and  behaved as if we needed welcoming on each new occasion.  Miraculously, he knew we’d arrived at Tracy and Paul’s before we quite knew it ourselves.  Even as we approached the front door we could hear him on the other side, whining and yipping, as though to say, Get the door open, please, I need to see you. And true to his loving nature, he wiggled and wagged as we cleared the entrance, soaked up the feel of our hands on his curly-haired body, then rolled over for a last stroking of his belly.

For seven years, he greeted us thus.  We dared not move deeper into the house until we acknowledged that yes, he was our long-lost cousin.  Then he trotted to the couch and snuggled down next to Tracy.   

As far as we could tell, he never cared much for dogs. 

Besides his overflowing enthusiasm, Ollie had tricks. He was clever enough to batter open the plastic ball which contained special treats.  He sat when anyone said “sit,”  he rolled over when ordered to do so, and he lay quite still when someone said, “bang  bang.”

Most of this was in place before Tracy’s Paul arrived.  Once Paul was there for good, we observed the blooming of a new relationship.  Ollie knew a special person when he met one. Before the first month ended, Ollie was following Paul everywhere, upstairs and down, sometimes waiting for attention, but more often expressing his eagerness for their nightly walk.  He’d staked out his time as eight-fifteen, and though we’re fairly sure he never wore a watch, each night from that instant on, he sat on his haunches near Paul, gazing up at him with a look that defined the word “adoration.”  That expression is  how I’ll always remember Ollie.  It turns out he even came to warn Tracy, once, when he thought Paul was in trouble.  

Today, around noon, Ollie died.  We can’t go into detail, but at heart he was a delicate little creature, and it turned out this was a digestive problem gone wrong . . . and all because of a smoked pork bone from a high-end pet store—which we didn’t know was deadly for dogs.   

Ollie’s whole family is devastated.  None of us are dogs, to be sure, but Ollie thought we were.