Friday, June 23, 2017

LEGALIZE BRIBERY, ANYONE?



     This morning, MSNBC displayed a list of the thirteen Republican Senators who drafted Trumpcare and the contributions they’ve received from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries from 2010 thru 2016, a single election cycle for Senators. The numbers were assembled by MapLight.org.

Orrin Hatch: $471,560; Mitch McConnell: $433,400; Rob Portman: $382,400; Pat Toomey: $354,616; Lamar Alexander: $228,100; John Cornyn: $180,050; Cory Gardner: $151,850; John Barasso: $149,750; Mike Enzi: $$146,600; John Thune: $123,400; Mike Lee: $66,750; Ted Cruz: $58,895; Tom Cotton: $28,941.


     Grand Total: $2,776,012.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET RANT



      I’ve spent the past couple of days listening to evaluations of the Georgia 6th special election from pols, pundits and pals. The overall mood has been doom and gloom. I don’t know, maybe there’s something about progressives that makes them enjoy defeat, but my first instinct is to take them by the shoulders (the pals, anyway) and shake them until they open their eyes. Hey, for God’s sake, look at the forest (or, at least, the grove) instead of that damn tree. You’ve been victimized by unrealistic expectations. Again.

     Four special elections have taken place since Trump assumed office, each to replace a Republican Congressman (no Congresswomen, of course) plucked from the House to serve in the Trump administration. All were chosen, in part, because they came from safe districts. Those districts, as it finally turned out, were indeed safe, so there’s no reason to cry about losing, even in Georgia’s supposedly vulnerable 6th district. Nevertheless, we need to take a closer look before we throw up our hands.

       Mike Pompeo was plucked from the 4th District in Kansas to serve as CIA Director. In 2016, he defeated his Democratic challenger by 31%. Trump, at the same time, won the district by 27%. In April, Ron Estes, the Republican, defeated James Thompson by 7%.

     Ryan Zinke was recruited from Montana’s at-large District to head the Department of the Interior. A special election was held on May 23 to replace him. In that election, Greg Gianforte, the Republican, beat Rob Quist, his challenger, by six points. Trump won Montana by 27. Ryan Zinke won Montana’s single Congressional seat by 16 points.

      Mike Mulvaney left South Carolina’s 5th to become Director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. In 2016, he defeated his Democratic challenger by 21 percentage points. On June 20 of this year, the Republican nominated to replace him, won by 3.2 percentage points.

       In Georgia’s 6th District we find the tree everyone’s staring at. Don the Con only beat Hillary by a single point in the 6th, so why, my friends ask themselves, couldn’t our nominee for the seat best the Republican candidate? After all, neither was an incumbent and Ossoff had more money than he could count. Both true, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the odious Tom Price won Georgia’s 6th by 23 points with Trump at the head of the ticket. Georgia’s 6th, by the way, has been Republican since 1978. That’s 39 years and nineteen election cycles, in case anyone’s counting.


      Unrealistic expectations lead to painful outcomes. Winning Georgia’s 6th was always a longshot. Ossoff garnered the same percentage of the vote he received in the primary while losing to Handel, shaving 19 points off Price’s margin of victory. When I factor this into the other three results, I’m forced to conclude that the Democrats are nicely set up going into 2018. That’s not to say the Democrats have established a platform of their own. Like Hillary, they seem content to run against Trump and the Republicans. Perhaps they’re afraid to go positive.

Friday, June 16, 2017

PLEASE, ENOUGH WITH THE FORGOTTEN MAJORITY RANT



      Again and again, I read, in liberal publications, that progressives have abandoned the white, working class. Somehow, swollen with vanity and oozing contempt, we’ve relegated this long-suffering population to the sidelines while heaping largess on undeserving black-and-brown city dwellers. Make no mistake, this is Ronald Reagan’s fried-chicken eatin’ welfare queen elevated to basic principle, a starting point from which rejection of the Dems by abandoned whites automatically follows. The basics have been developed in two recent, best-selling books: Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. And it’s clear that many millions of white voters, rural and suburban, embrace this belief. You can listen to them every morning on C-Span’s call-in show, National Journal.

      In a poll taken in November of 2015 by the Public Opinion Religious Research Institute, 64% of Republican responders claimed that white people are the real victims of racism in America. While supremely unworthy minorities, whose poverty results entirely from a character flaw, get everything they need from the government, self-reliant and patriotic white folk are entirely shut out. They’re forgotten, neglected, abandoned, discarded, forsaken and dismissed.

     I tell ya, boys and girls, their sad tale brings tears to my eyes. Or it would if it bore some resemblance to the truth, which it does not.


     Let’s take a look at West Virginia. Why, you ask? Because West Virginia is more than 95% white, so the State’s poverty rate (now that the Kenyan, Barack Obama, is out of office) cannot be blamed on “them”.

      Although some slight variations in the various estimates exist, the State of West Virginia receives an astounding $2.34 from Washington for every $1.00 it sends to Washington. This according to data collected by WalletHub and confirmed by The Atlantic and Mother Jones. New York, by contrast, receives $0.73 for every dollar sent to the feds. A review of all states reveals the same pattern, with richer blue states providing support to needier red states. Mississippi, for example, receives more than $3.00 for every dollar it sends, while South Carolina, king of the takers, receives almost $9.00 for every dollar in federal taxes collected from the state.

      Without doubt, the 2008 recession caused great pain across the entire country. But relief did not flow evenly along the political spectrum. So, I urge West Virginians to answer the following questions. Not in a public setting, but some evening when you’re sitting alone, when there’s nobody watching, nobody to check on your personal orthodoxy.

      Here goes.

      Which party fought to extend unemployment benefits during the recession and which party made every attempt to cut them off?

      Which party fought to increase funding for the SNAP (food stamp) program, and which to cut funding? Please note that 18% of West Virginians receive food stamps. That’s more than one-in-six.

      Which party fought to pass the Affordable Care Act, which extended Medicaid benefits to 175,000, previously-uninsured West Virginians and which party is right now enacting legislation to take that insurance away?

      Which party fought to pass a stimulus bill which sent $1,400,000,000 to West Virginia and which party voted unanimously against any stimulus?

     Which party is currently trying to pass a living-wage bill and which party continues to oppose any increase in the minimum wage?

     Which party passed legislation to aide homeowners about to lose their homes and which party voted unanimously against any attempt to assist?

      Which party passed legislation designed to prevent a future bank collapse and which party opposed that legislation?

      Which party wants to provide free college tuition, at least for the first two years, and which party wants to cut Pell grants and increase interest on student loans?

      White, working-class men and women (along with white Southerners, African-Americans and progressives) were critical elements of a New Deal Coalition organized by a Harvard-educated billionaire from New York. This coalition prevailed for the next thirty years, but has since fallen apart. Can it be put back together? In my opinion, not by any positive act on the part of the Democratic Party. We wrote the most progressive platform in the party’s history in 2016. Very few people, and certainly not Trump voters from West Virginia, even noticed. True, Bernie caught their attention when he railed against trade pacts, but Trump easily matched him, adding misogyny, racism, xenophobia and a willingness to turn every river in American into a sewer.

      Trump won, by the way.


      Night before last, Virginians held gubernatorial primaries for both parties. The Democratic turned out 540,000 voters, the Republicans 360,000. MSNBC called on Larry Sabato to analyze this discrepancy. A former Republican pollster, Sabato now heads the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Republican moderates, Sabato declared without hesitation, are deserting the party in droves. Trumpians (his word) now form the party’s base, not only in Virginia but around the country. These Trumpian diehards, it should be noted, are the very folk the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party hopes to reach.


      Face it, the Democratic Party has become, by default, the mainstream party. The Radical Republicans are the ones out of touch. We need to make this point, and continue to make it at every opportunity. As for those white, working-class voters in West Virginia? They won’t come back until Republican policies finally drive them back. But Republican moderates? Well-educated and well-off for the most part, they appreciate stability and are drawn to the center. Democrats occupy that center, whether they know it or not. Whether they like it or not. The real issue is whether or not they choose to exploit this advantage.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

HOPELESS AND HELPLESS RANT



      Let’s start with a timeline.

      September, 2015: The FBI first contacts the Democratic National Committee with the bad news. The DNC’s computers have already been penetrated and the threat is ongoing.

      July 10, 2016: Seth Rich is murdered on his way home from a DC bar at four in the morning. At the time, Rich is employed as a DNC staffer, his job to help voters find their polling places. No arrests have been made as of this writing, and no suspects developed. However, because Rich’s hands were bruised and he had cuts to his face, police believe Rich was killed by an armed robber when he refused to submit.

      August 8, 2016: Roger Stone, longtime Trump adviser, tweets that Rich was on the way to meet with the FBI (at four o’clock in the morning) when he was murdered. The motive? He was about to offer testimony against the Clintons. “Four More Bodies In The Clintons Wake,” Stone writes. “Coincidence. I think not.”

     August 9, 2016: WikiLeaks offers a $20,000 reward for info leading to an arrest.

     August 9, 2016: WND (worldnetdaily) publishes the story. “Three people (including Rich) with tangential connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton have died in unusual circumstances over the past few weeks, sparking a renewed interest in the so-called `body count’ of people who allegedly got in the way of the Clinton machine.”

      August 10: TheBlaze publishes a story claiming that Julian Assange is “suggesting” that Rich might have ties to WikiLeaks.

      May 15, 2017: Ten months after the murder, Rod Wheeler, a D.C. homicide cop turned private eye who regularly appears on Fox News, declares that a source within the FBI has told him that Seth Rich, not Russian hackers, supplied the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks. As a staffer, Rich was able to copy the emails to a compact disc, then easily smuggle the disc out of DNC headquarters. The FBI, still investigating according to Wheeler, has taken possession of Rich’s laptop and is now examining the contents.

     May 16, 2017: Malia Zimmerman publishes a story on the Fox News website claiming that an anonymous investigator inside the FBI has confirmed Wheeler’s story.

     May 19, 2017: Kim Dotcom, a New Zealand-based hustler facing extradition to the United States for computer-related crimes, proclaims that he can prove Seth Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks. Dotcom promises to release this proof in the near future.


      It should be noted that no reputable news outlet runs a story based on a single anonymous source. Information supplied by anonymous sources must be confirmed by an independent source before publication. Both Wheeler’s declaration and the Zimmerman story were single-sourced.

      The political right in our country, of course, generally avoids the verification issue, fake news being fake news. Thus, the usual suspects promote the various claims, including the one about the Clintons pulling off multiple assassinations: TheBlaze, worldnetdaily, Townhall, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, ZeroHedge and many others. More insidious are the contributions by Fox News and local Fox outlets because they give a blatant lie the aura of legitimacy. If the most popular news outlet in the country is running a story, there must be some truth to it. I mean, they couldn’t just make it up? Wouldn’t somebody sue them?

     Consider this from Melanie Alnwick on DC’s Fox 5: “This is really jaw dropping developments here. Now, Seth Rich worked as the voter-expansuion data director here at DNC headquarters. And there are a number of let’s call them intriguing things about his murder a month ago. Now you add this interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that had really thrown gasoline on all these internet theories.”

      Consider this from Steve Doocy, co-host on Fox and Friends: “Now WikiLeaks is offering a $20,000 reward and some on the internet are suggesting, wait a minute, was Rich the source of the leaks?”

      The worst comes from Sean Hannity. He repeats the various assertions, especially Dotcom’s. Hannity also interviews Assange, who refuses, naturally, to name his source, yet insists that the leaked emails might have come from a DNC staffer. This seems perfectly credible to Hannity although he’s previously accused Assange of “waging war against the United States”. Then, on May 17, one day after Wheeler’s claim, Hannity repeats Wheeler’s story without developing a source of his own. He follows up twice more with the most egregious charges. Did a close friend of the Clintons have Seth Rich killed?

      The story quickly falls apart when Wheeler backs off his claim, Fox News takes down Malia Zimmerman’s story, Zimmerman makes herself unavailable for comment and Dotcom withdraws his accusations. Still, Hannity refuses to quit. And when the Rich family, mother, father and brother, asks him to cease, his response is swift. “I am not backing off asking questions,” he tells his audience of approximately one million on May 19, “even though there’s an effort that nobody talk about Seth Rich.”

      As his ratings surge, Hannity becomes more defiant. Congress must investigate. Democrats are “panicking”. Even after Fox News retracts the Zimmerman story, admitting that it didn’t meet the network’s minimal standards, Hannity persists. “I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing.” No, Hannity doesn’t shut up until Media Matters publishes a list of his advertisers. Only then does he decide that sparing the Rich family further pain outweighs the public’s right to know.

     One more thing, The New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Post and many other mainstream outlets publish stories debunking the Seth Rich rumors. Their efforts, at least in my opinion, only reinforce the story. If the liberally-biased-media is paying attention, the must be fire somewhere beyond all the smoke.


      Try a small experiment. Do a Google search for “Clinton Body-Count”, then pass a few moments browsing… oh, but you probably don’t want any cookies planted on your computer by the ultra-right websites you uncover. Fortunately, I’m using a VPN, so I’m not worried about being tracked. I can report that there are dozens of sites, including Ann Coulter’s LifeZette, supporting the conviction, held by millions, that Bill and Hillary have been murdering people since 1977. As a typical example, here are three claims made by whatreallyhappened.com. The site lists more than one hundred “murders”.

      1977, Suzanne Coleman, Age 26: “Had affair with Clinton when he was Attorney General of Arkansas. Died of suicide with gunshot wound to the back of her head. Was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. Had told friends it was Bill Clinton’s child.”

      2016, Dr. Sandeep Sherleker, Age 54: Anesthesiologist who “participated in a surgery on June 30 to relieve a blood clot on Hillary Clinton’s brain”. Died: 9/30/2016, Suicide by overdose.

       2016, Former United Nations General Assembly President John Ashe: Scheduled to testify about Hilary’s links to Ng Lap Seng , who’d been accused of funneling illegal Chinese donations to Bill Clinton’s reelection fund. Ashe died from a crushed larynx.

      As I said, there are at least 100 names on whatreallyhappened.com’s list. Available to anybody who cares to look. Free for the asking. And just in case some of you out there have been suckered into the equivalency trap – the Dems are just as bad – I spend several hours trying to run down a progressive website riddled with crackpot theories that cross the border into delusional. I couldn’t find one.

      I titled this rant HOPELESS AND HELPLESS because there’s no way to reach conspiracy theorists who blind themselves to any truth. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Tens of millions of Republican voters believe the entire universe – not just the Earth – is 6,500 years old. Just as many millions believe Trump will return prosperity to West Virginia by reviving the coal industry. Denial is a slippery slope. Slide too far down and you’ll never find your way back. No, you’ll find yourself sharing a space with John Hinckley who believed that if he managed to kill Ronald Reagan, Jodie Foster would fall in love with him.


      You’ll find yourself in TrumpWorld.

Friday, June 2, 2017

PLEASE LORD, TAKE ME NOW


       Just heard this on C-SPAN's call-in show, National Journal. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio are taking money from George Soros, who is a socialist and who wants to overthrow our government. The woman caller who made the statement knows this is true because her friend saw it on a website.

      Welcome to TrumpWorld.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TERRORISTS WELCOME RANT



      No serious observer on the right or the left disputes the claim that Saudi Arabia has supplied the religious justification for radial Islamist terrorism in the form of Wahhabism-Salafism. The Saudi's have exported this conservative interpretation of Islam to madrasas throughout the Islamic world and to Islamic communities in the West. Similarly, no serious observer on the right or the left disputes the claim that funding to terrorists, including Isil, has, and continues to, flow from the Gulf states.

      Now that Don the Con, who condemned the bestial nature of Saudi Arabian human rights policies during the campaign, has taken sides with the Sunnis in a dispute between Sunnis and Shiites that's been ongoing for 1400 years, the terrorism plaguing western nations is more or less guaranteed to continue. Obviously.

      Welcome to TrumpWorld.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YA RANT



      OK, so I’m not just getting old, I am old. Which is as good an excuse as any for the nostalgic states of mind that more and more frequently seize my flagging attention. Those without much future are compelled, I suspect, to review the past. After all, there’s a lot more of the latter than the former.

      While my nostalgic ramblings tend to be unfocused for the most part, last night they flew, straight as a laser, to 8:00 PM on November 4, 2008. That’s when the networks declared Barack Obama to be President-elect of the United States. The celebration in New York City, and in many other cities, went on for hours. We were dancin’ in the streets, brothers and sisters, and it’s hard to blame us foolish liberals if we concluded that America had turned a corner, that we’d left behind the segment of our history that declared a black man – or a red man, or a yellow man - to have no rights that a white man was bound to respect.

      The liberals applied a term to this new (and just a few years before unthinkable) state-of-affairs: post-racial. And even as I acknowledged the naivete, I hoped for a union - pragmatic, to be sure - between working people of all descriptions, a return to the New Deal coalition that gave rise to the progressive legislation Americans take for granted. And why not? If Barack Hussein Obama could succeed in North Carolina and Florida, if he could finish within six points in Georgia, anything was possible.

      Though I didn’t know it at the time, even as Barack Obama took the oath of office, Republican leaders were meeting in a DC steak house, the Caucus Room, to devise a party-first-and-to-hell-with-America strategy that would again fan the flames of racial resentment. Paul Ryan attended, as did Eric Cantor, as did Kevin McCarthy, now House Majority Leader. Nine days later, on January 29, Republicans gathered once more, this time at a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Every single Republican in both houses of Congress had already voted against the stimulus bill by then, despite the worst recession in 70 years.

      The theme at the retreat was party unity. From that day forward, the Republicans would oppose anything and everything, country be damned. Mike Pence stirred the crowd with a clip from Patton, the George C. Scott film: “We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time. We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose.”

        Call it a precipitating factor. Obama had to be vilified, to be made into an anti-American other, illegitimate as a pedophile in an orphanage. And no matter how the violent the contortions, no matter how obvious the hypocrisy, the Republican party stayed the course. Take Obamacare. The template for the Affordable Care Act – the individual mandate - originated with the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. The association between Heritage and the concept reaches back to 1989 and the publication of a book, A National Health System for America, by Stuart Butler and Edmund Haislmaier. At the time, conservatives promoted the book’s overall scheme as an acceptable alternative to single payer. The basic idea was endorsed by New Gingrich (as he later admitted), then put into practice by an enthusiastic Mitt Romney. Force adult Americans not covered by their employers to purchase insurance policies, the reasoning went, and costs will drop as the healthy contribute to the insurance pool. Problem solved.

       All that changed when a Democratic Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, all of whom voted against the legislation, declared the individual mandate to be an affront to the essential liberty that made America the land of the free. The act had to be opposed at every turn as Republicans sought to rescue the nation from a concept they’d created.

       How great a leap is it from this level of hypocrisy to, “Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya?” How big a jump to, “Obama wants the terrorists to win?” In a focus group of Trump voters conducted by Frank Luntz in 2016, seven years after the Republicans decided to live by obstruction, only three of twenty-nine participants believed Obama to be a Christian. Just twenty believed he was born in the United States, despite the birth certificate. And according to Luntz, who was not a Trump supporter, the more you challenged this group’s beliefs with evidence, the more those beliefs hardened. Like the one about Obama putting his hand on the Koran before placing it on the Bible when he took the Oath of Office, which the far right enthus-iastically embraces. (In fact, the photo supposedly showing Obama with his hand on the Koran, actually depicts Obama with his hand on a pair of stacked bibles, one formally owned by Martin Luther King, the other by Abraham Lincoln.)

       Think it can’t get worse? Toward the end of the session, Luntz asked the volunteers to sum up their opinion of Obama in a word or phrase. The exchange began with words like “traitor” and “socialist”, but quickly advanced to, “I wouldn’t urinate on him if he was on fire.”

      The kicker was delivered a few minutes later. “When you bend down to the Saudis, take your shoes off, put your hand on the Koran and then the Bible when you’re sworn in? I would not only piss on him if he was on fire, I’d throw gas on him.”

      As Frederick Douglass declared long ago, backlash is the price we pay for progress. But I wouldn’t take that to mean it doesn’t hurt. But there it is. The haters have emerged - encouraged by a debased Republican Party that places power ahead of country - to elect Don the Con (who may, given the Kushner revelations, be an actual traitor). How much time will elapse, do you suppose, before Trump calls his deluded followers into the streets? If you recall he made that threat as the Republican Convention approached, then again toward the end of the campaign.


      Gird your loins for battle, folks. TrumpWorld is upon us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HEY, WE GOTTA TRY SOMETHING RANT



      The Republicans have a major Comey problem. Not only is the former FBI Director thoroughly anal-retentive, he’s got fifty IQ points on born-to-the-manor Donald Trump. I won’t bother describing the all-too-devastating tale he’s certain to tell, a tale every minute of which he’s apparently documented. I’d sooner write about a President determined to be rid of Comey, no matter the consequences.

      If I was still writing fiction and this was a thriller, you can be sure that James Comey would be a hunted man, perhaps by an assassin armed with a polonium-filled syringe. Fortunately, we’re living in a free society, one that respects human life and human rights, which leaves only one avenue of assassination open to the Republicans and their con-artist President. They have to assassinate the former Director’s character. No easy task, obviously, but the boys on the far right have managed to present a theory of the case on their websites. In three parts, it goes like this.

      James Comey was a vice-president at Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor, before he was appointed Director of the FBI by Obama. He did very well at his job, earning $6,000,000 in his final year. At the same time, Lockheed Martin regularly donated to the Clinton Foundation. Breitbart, one of the sources for this story, doesn’t even allege that Comey’s duties touched upon Lockheed Martin’s charitable giving, nevertheless….

      In 2013, James Comey became a director and board member of HSBC Bank, which partnered with the Clinton Foundation on several projects. Again, no connection between Comey’s duties and these partnerships has emerged, but….

      Finally, Peter Comey, James Comey’s brother, works for the law firm DLA Piper, which audited the Clinton Foundation’s books. James Comey holds the mortgage on his brother’s home, which proves that….

      Given Comey’s attacks on Hillary at the height of the 2016 campaign, the flimsy charge asserted here reeks of desperation. But it’s still out there, being hawked by Breitbart and ultra-conservative sites like NEWSTARGET, which purports to be about the business of OBLITERATING YOUR SAFE SPACE WITH TRUTH BOMBS, along with Free West Media, Gateway Pundit (Where Hope Finally Made A Comeback), Snopes, The Drudge Report, SarahPalin.com, WashingtonFeed, StoneColdTruth and dozens more.

      I don’t know a single person who hasn’t, or wouldn’t, laugh at this accusation. Comey in the thrall of the Clintons? Comey as Hilary’s puppet? It’s so stupid that the first time I heard it - from the mouth of a Trump supporter on C-SPAN’s morning call-in show, Washington Journal – I couldn’t resist examining the details.


      The Republican operative, Frank Luntz claims that it’s impossible to overstate the ignorance of the average American voter. But many political scientists (you know, the ones with legitimate credentials who can never be trusted) believe it’s the misinformed, not the uninformed, voter who presents the most difficult challenge to politicians. Any attempt to penetrate the fa├žade of distortions that surround them is generally met with hostility. They will defend their beliefs if pressed, sometimes with violence. That’s why I’ve rejected the approach by Bernie and the progressive wing of the Party. Sure, I’m with them on policy, but this group of Trump voters will not return to the Democratic fold until driven there by Republican policies so abhorrent that they can’t be rationalized. Until then, you’ll find them permanently encamped in TrumpWorld.

Friday, May 19, 2017

HEY, IT'S JUST BUSINESS RANT



      OK, it’s 2014 and I’m banging away on my Dell computer. I’m knocking out sentences and paragraphs in WORD and I’m surfing the net, jumping from one news-oriented site to another while listening to music courtesy of YouTube. And while I’ve yet to access one percent of my Dell’s capacity, I’m perfectly content, just like most other Windows-XP users. How many? At the time, I didn’t know and couldn’t have cared less.

      Anyway, although my knowledge of computers and computing is roughly equal to that of my pet goldfish, I do know that other versions of Windows have come and gone over the years, including the hated Vista and Windows 8.1. I’ve ignored these “advances in computing technology” because my computer is already doing everything I want it to do, and doing it rather fast.

      Bottom line, I’m happy and don’t intend to change my operating system. But then I receive a notice from Microsoft. On April 8, 2014, the company will officially abandon Windows-XP. The updates I’ve been installing for the past ten years will no longer come my way.

      I’m tempted, like many, to raise a middle finger to Microsoft. I’m tempted to go bravely forward with ignorance as my shield. And I would if my son wasn’t an engineer who works at Google. Given the connection, due diligence requires that I take Microsoft’s notice to an expert. Thus, when next I speak to Ethan, I mention the notice.

      Ethan makes it very clear. Without Microsoft’s support, without those updates, my computer will suffer in two ways. Small bugs will not be addressed and thus accumulate. Malware patches will not be issued and my computer, sooner or later, will become infected. This is Microsoft’s way of implementing its basic strategy, he explains. Unless Windows’ users purchase new versions of the operating system from time to time, Microsoft cannot survive. That’s why the company forces computer manufacturers to install only the latest version of Windows, no matter how popular older versions are, or how unpopular (think Windows Vista) the latest edition. Once the newer versions reach a critical mass, Microsoft can abandon the oldest version still supported, forcing innocents like myself to pay for an upgrade.

      Now, you might argue that a business plan is a business plan. Microsoft, after all, never guaranteed to eternally support Windows XP. Besides, the whole deal was laid out on page 2,137 of the terms-of-service agreement you checked off when you registered your computer with Microsoft. So, stop whining and pony up.

      I ponied, much to my relief when the Wannacry ransomware hit computers still running Windows XP. Thank-you, my son.

       Millions of others, however…. The online mag, Redmond, estimates the number of XP users who clung to their outdated operating systems to be 250 million. That’s users, folks, not computers.

      Why did all these people stick with XP? The main reason, obviously, is that XP did whatever they needed their computers to do, from browse chat rooms to run hospitals. For this group, Microsoft’s newer versions weren’t better, and Microsoft had to know that.

      In an earlier rant, I decried the Supreme Court’s conferring personhood on corporations. If corporations are persons, I believe, they’re surely psychopaths, what with the fiduciary obligation to the shareholders overriding every other concern. So, if Microsoft were to compromise their business model by again supporting Windows XP, say once they realized that 250 million people still relied on it, the company would leave itself open to shareholder lawsuits. Couldn’t let that happen, right? And think about poor Billy Gates. The man can hardly be satisfied with his 86 billion, not with the likes of Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet climbing up his back. And what about those damn Koch brothers? Add their billions together and the Koch family’s bottom line easily eclipses the fortune assembled by Gates. Ditto for the Waltons of Walmart?


     No, it’s upwards and onwards. It’s the sky’s the limit. It’s the American Dream. It’s the crash of a million computers. It’s that asshole who didn’t get his open-heart surgery because the operating room was inoperable. It’s power, power, power, right up until the day you die.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

PERSONHOOD RANT



     If a corporation can be a person with legal rights that ordinarily accrue only to the living, why not a zygote? Most of us on the left can’t imagine a court deciding that a single, fertilized cell in a woman’s body has a right to life equal to that of the woman. But how many of us would have predicted that the Supreme Court of the United States would come to view corporations as living organisms? Corporations don’t breathe, don’t bleed, don’t eat. In fact, the only thing remotely human that they do is shit on the rest of us. Not unlike our current President.

      Nevertheless…

      Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886): The California Constitutional Convention of 1878-1879 denied to railroads a tax deduction available to living residents. The Supreme Court decided that railroads (the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had instituted lawsuits of their own) were protected by the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, just like every American. The railroads did not have to pay the tax.

      Kasky vs. Nike (2002): Marc Kasky’s lawsuit accused Nike of false advertising after the company ran a series of ads touting the excellent working conditions in its overseas plants. Nike’s defended aggressively, claiming that its right to lie was protected by the 1st Amendment’s free-speech clause. One lower court ruled in favor of Nike and another against before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The Court finally punted, returning the case to the trial court where it was settled.

      Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014): Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation, claimed that the mandatory contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act violated the “free exercise of religion” clause of the 1st Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court agreed, essentially, with a lower court ruling that declared Hobby Lobby to be “person” under the RFRA.

      Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (2010): Shortly before the Democratic primaries began in January of 2008, Citizens United, a conservative non-profit, arranged to air a full-length, anti-Hillary film. This was illegal under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and the film wasn’t shown. Eventually, the Supreme Court overruled two prior decisions (Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell vs. FEC) when it declared that the film, whether the product of a human or a corporation, was protected by the 1st Amendment’s guaranteed right to freedom of speech.

      Corporations are legal entities crafted from varying State regulations. They are also, according to our highest Court, human beings, at least for the purposes described above. If this seems counter intuitive, I suggest the reader internalize a chiseled-on-the-tablets truth. The Constitution of the United States is whatever the Supreme Court says it is.

      Which bring me back to my original question: If a corporation can be a person, why not a zygote?

      Consider this excerpt from Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe vs. Wade, as cited by Rossum and Tarr in American Constitutional Law, 3rd Edition:
      “Blackmun admitted that if a fetus is a person, its right to life is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But he then skirted the question of whether a fetus is a person: `We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in their respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at a consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate upon the answer.’”

      In a footnote, Blackmun declared: “The Court’s language here is of critical importance to the proponents of the Human Life Statute, which would declare that the life of a human being begins at conception. They claim that the Court’s refusal in Roe to treat the fetus as a person merely represented an admission that the judiciary was incapable of deciding the question of when life begins.”

      Later, in a memorandum for a different case, Doe vs. Bolton, Blackmun made the implications even more explicit. “The pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her ‘privacy’ because she carries an embryo, and later, a fetus. The heart of the matter is that somewhere, either forthwith at conception, or at quickening, or at birth, or at some other point in between, another being becomes involved and the privacy the woman possessed has become dual rather than sole.”

      The first “personhood” bills declaring a zygote to be a human being were introduced before Roe vs. Wade was decided, mainly at the behest of the Catholic Church. They continue to be introduced, year by year, in State legislatures as well as in Congress. Further, the Republican Party has not equivocated on this issue. The Party’s 2012 platform demands an end to all abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. “We support,” the document reads, “a human rights amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

      Take that, mom.


      Once the first premise is granted, that human life begins with the union of sperm and egg, the conservative argument is, at least on its face, irresistible. A zygote can hardly be held responsible for the manner in which it was conceived. And as for viability, embryos and fetuses are viable in the environment for which evolution intended them. Just like the rest of us.

      There’s another uncomfortable truth here as well. If, as Blackmun wrote, “the heart of the matter” is that human life must have a beginning point, the only beginning point available that isn’t arbitrary is the moment of conception. Prior to the creation of a zygote, the egg in a woman’s fallopian tube contains only her genes. After fertilization, the zygote’s DNA is entirely its own. Clearly, the union has created a new life. Every other assertion is arbitrary and has the feel of slamming a square peg into a round hole.

      (Note: I’m ignoring the utter disingenuousness of evangelical Christians who assert a purely biological definition of human life when their sole concern is acting on God’s will. And I have to wonder how many of today’s rank-and-file Born-Agains know that conservative Christians came to the anti-abortion table years after Roe was decided. In point of fact, the pro-choice position enjoyed widespread support – 60% among women and men – in 1973 when Roe was decided. And two years later, at the confirmation hearings for Justice John Paul Stevens in 1975, no Senator, Republican or Democrat, posed a single question about abortion or the Roe decision.)

      I could conclude with a rant about not giving a damn when life begins. A cell is a cell is a cell. But a cell becomes two, then four, then…. There must be a stopping point. Only a very few among us would be comfortable with an abortion performed a month before a woman’s due date because she decided that she didn’t really want the child. And lest anyone dismiss this possibility, please remember, a low-probability event is not a no-probability event. Longshots come in, too.

      My personal opinions, however, are not the point of this rant. I want to revisit the part about the Constitution being whatever the Supreme Court says it is. If that weren’t true, if Supreme Court decisions could be routinely dismissed, if compliance were forced instead of voluntary, the sort of government brutality we associate with Russia would soon descend upon us. The Warren Court’s decisions overturned more than 170 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence. Though conservatives have vented their rage and despair in countless speeches and essays, they’ve lived with the Warren Court’s judgments.

      Unfortunately, now that the Republicans have stolen another election and put Neil Gorsuch, a Samuel Alito thinkalike, on the bench, I’m relatively certain that I’ll have to do a little coping of my own. Or maybe a lot of coping. My fear is that conservatives – and I mean the most radical among them – will accomplish judicially what they can’t accomplish legislatively. Justices like Alito and Thomas, and probably Gorsuch, are reflexively conservative. Whereas Scalia could be unpredictable, they will always affirm the libertarian principle. Massa first.

      Of course, if the court’s present composition remains in place until we next have a Democratic President, my fears will prove groundless. But that’s very unlikely to happen. Anthony Kennedy is eighty years old. He’s already told friends and colleagues that he hopes to retire soon. Kennedy, a Republican appointee, has been the fifth vote for Roe since Sandra Day O’Conner retired in 2006. Additionally, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a cancer survivor, is 84 and Steven Breyer is 78.

      What might a 6-3 court (or, God forbid, a 7-2 court) staffed with the likes of Joseph Alito and Clarence Thomas do to our present understanding of the Constitution? Might it, for example, make the decision Blackmun refused to make? Might it finally take the position hinted at by Blackmun, that personhood begins at conception?

      Now imagine this scenario. Kevin and Sophia, happily married, are expecting a child. Sophia is three months into her pregnancy and both she and her husband look forward to the birth. They shop for nursery furniture, arrange to have that spare room painted, and maybe, if they’re especially fortunate, run ads on Craig’s List in search of a nanny. Then comes the bad news. Sophia is diagnosed with relatively advanced uterine cancer. If she has an immediate hysterectomy, which includes aborting the fetus she carries, her chances of survival five years down the line are about 69%. If she waits six months, until her child is born, until her disease has spread still further, her chances shrink to 17%.

      But whatever her long-term fate, Sophia will almost certainly remain alive for six months. Long enough to give birth to a healthy infant.

      The personhood bills currently in circulation would accord a zygote all the rights enjoyed by its mother, including a right to life so basic it forms the natural law platform from which all other rights spring. Should a conservative Supreme Court uphold one of these bills, what might happen next is anyone’s guess. And that would be true even if Sofia’s odds dropped still further, say below 10%, or even if her death was certain. How do you choose between “persons” with an equal right to life? Logic would lead you to choose the life of the fetus over Sophia’s. If surgery is delayed, the fetus is almost certain to survive, whereas Sophia faces a mortality rate of 30% even if her surgery is immediate.


      Abortion is illegal, with no written exception to save the life of the mother, in countries like Chile, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Surinam. Further away, the abortion law in the Philippines gets right to the point: “It (the State) shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the newborn from conception.”

      In Chile, there’s no exception to the ban, even if it’s clear that the fetus cannot survive. In one case, doctors were unable to perform emergency surgery on a woman suffering through an ectopic pregnancy until a fetal heartbeat could no longer be detected. That the fetus’s heart would stop beating was not in question. It was only a matter of who would die first, the fetus or the mom.

      But it can’t happen here, right? If Roe should be overturned, abortion policy will be determined by the States. That’s the general claim, anyway. But it could easily go the other way. And you can be certain that whenever the issue does come before a court dominated by extreme conservatives, pro-life attorneys will ask the court to rule that personhood begins at conception, or at least firmly establish a point at which it does begin. That done, the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment then covers both lives and it becomes impossible to assert the primacy of one over the other without negating the very concept of equality.


       Sorry, mom.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

QUICK HIT #3



       Is Russia a democracy? No, you say? But Russia has a legislature. Russia has a constitution. Russia holds regular elections. Just like us, right?

Friday, May 5, 2017

A LITTLE HELP, PLEASE



      Anyone out there have a cure for a bad case of The Uglies? I got up this morning, opened the paper and viewed a photo of Donald and a gaggle of Republican Congressmen (and one, half-hidden Congresswoman) celebrating in the Rose Garden. The smiles, the smirks, the laughs, it was clear that all participants were overcome with joy. And why not? Only a few minutes before, they'd successfully voted to deprive more than 20 million Americans of health insurance.
     

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Quick Hit #2



      In the United States, for as long as the drug epidemic remained in the cities, for as long as the nation’s white majority could plausibly claim that the disease of addiction was confined to people of color and the result of a character flaw, our nation adopted a full-out, law-and-order approach to the problem of drug addiction. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key, preferably into the Pacific Ocean at its deepest point, 36,000 feet.

       There are people serving thirty- and forty-year sentences for possession of an eighth-of-an-ounce of cocaine. Thousands of them. Like Atiba Parker, who drew a sentence of 42 years for selling 3 grams of crack cocaine, the drugs worth, at most, four hundred dollars. Parker, by the way, had been treated for schizophrenia before his arrest, a mitigating factor that carried no weight at time of sentencing.

      But circumstances have changed, as have the relative moral positions of our white and black populations. The epidemic has morphed, from cocaine to opiates. It has also spread from the cities to the burbs and the boondocks where all those white people who fled the inner cities currently reside. Now it’s the moral majority’s turn to serve decades in prison for even the most minor infractions.

      Right?

      No chance, of course. Now it’s treatment, treatment, treatment. Let’s forget the part about a character flaw, the part about just say no. I mean, c’mon, look what’s happened to us. Our jobs are gone, our way of life, our white privilege, our male privilege. How do you expect us to act, if not by pumping our bodies full of whatever takes our minds off our diminished prospects? We’re victims. Isn’t it obvious?

      Just yesterday, the Congress, in its emergency appropriations bill, designed only to keep the government running for a few short months, included funding for Opioid Treatment. There’s a TV ad out there, which I’ve seen perhaps a dozen times, promoting a laxative to remedy the constipating effects of opiate addiction. According to Governor Le Page of Maine, 90% of Maine’s drug dealers are black, which makes virtuous white dope addicts twice victimized, by their economic devolution and by African-American predation.

      Alright, alright. I know I’m not the first to mark this so-blatant hypocrisy, or to note that racial inferiority is as deeply embedded in American culture as anti-Semitism in European culture. But you’d think, after all this time, the whiney whiteys who turned to Don the Con would have realized, at least dimly, that they’re being played by the greediest and most ruthless among us. You’d think the white working-class would have come to understand that so long as working people remain divided, the Trumps and Mnuchins will continue to successfully implement their low-tax, low-wage, pollute the planet agenda. Shorty-term profits being, apparently, the only game they know.


      You’d think.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

QUICK HIT

      The growth fairy has been invited to knock at our door yet again. This is the same growth fairy invoked in the 1980’s when Reagan twice cut taxes, and by George W. Bush in the 2000’s when he repeated the experiment. Lowering taxes would, both claimed, free up capital for investment, resulting in economic growth sufficient to compensate for the decline in tax revenues.

     I invite readers to do a little (very little) work. Perform a Google Image search for “U.S. debt as a percentage of GDP”. My own effort took less than a minute and produced a simple, easy-to-read chart. I note, by the way, that I first did this search years ago and have repeated it several times, always with the same result.

      When Ronald Reagan first cut taxes, our national debt equaled 32% of our Gross Domestic Product. Twelve years later, when George H. W. Bush passed the baton to Bill Clinton, it had risen to 65% of GDP, more than doubling. The growth fairy summoned by Ronald Reagan and his Treasury Secretary, Don Regan, never arrived. Perhaps she had an accident on her way over.

     George W. Bush repeated Reagan’s error. His tax cuts, like Reagan’s, did not contain offsetting budget cuts, producing a potential deficit that would be compensated for by economic growth. At least according to Bush and his economic advisors. Unfortunately, our debt grew from 50% of GDP (Clinton produced a surplus) to 80% by the time Bush handed off to Obama at the beginning of the worst recession in more than 70 years.

      Yesterday, Don the Con proposed an enormous tax cut that will, on first examination, increase our national debt by 8 trillion dollars over a decade. But not to worry. Trump will wave his magic wand (or maybe recite a magic mantra) and the growth fairy will finally appear at our fiscal door, ready and able to grow us out of debt.

       One thing about conservatives, they have no mercy. Trump’s tax cuts will put tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in his and his family’s pockets. The growth fairy will not show up, our debt will explode, leaving future generations to deal with the consequences. But that’s the way the game is played in TrumpWorld. And the only issue up for consideration is whether Republicans are able to con the whiny whiteys into embracing the big lie they repeat whenever they seek to fatten the wallets of the billionaires who control their political lives. Anybody wanna be primaried next time out?

      

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BIRDS OF A FEATHER RANT #4




      Once the ever-ambitious Don the Con moved his operations to Manhattan, the housing discrimination charges ceased, perhaps because denying multi-million dollar coops and condos to people of color just ain’t the way to make money. There were Japanese buyers in the 80’s and 90’s, Arabs in the 2000’s, Chinese in the present. Not to mention African and Russian oligarchs fresh from looting their respective nations. So you’d think, in light of Trump’s determined efforts to maintain a high profile, he’d shy away from an issue that had already tainted the family name, avoiding the near occasions of sin no matter what his actual beliefs. He didn’t.

      In 2015, a former worker at Trump Castle, Kip Brown, told a Nick Paumgarten, a journalist writing for The New Yorker, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor. It was the eighties, I was a teenager, but I remember it.”

      Because the interview with Kip Brown occurred many years ago and no other employee has come forth to confirm the accusation, I wouldn’t ordinarily include the quote in this posting. But about the same time, a series of incidents at one of Trump’s casinos reinforce Mr. Brown’s accusation.

      Robert LiButti was a mobbed-up high roller with alleged ties to John Gotti, ties that got him banned from the tables in Atlantic City. That was shortly before he went to jail for tax evasion. LiButti was also among the highest of the high-rollers who frequented the Plaza in the 1980’s. Anything he wanted, he got. Believe me.

      In 1991, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission began an investigation of the casino after nine Trump Plaza employees came forward with a complaint. According to these workers, the Plaza’s management rearranged employee work schedules to keep black and female employees away from tables where LiButti played. The employees claimed that LiButti abused them in tirades that included goodies like “cunt” and “black bastard” and “Jew bitch”.  It got so awful that (rather than protect their employees) African-Americans and female staff were ordered to stay clear of LiButti’s table. Problem solved.

      The Commission duly investigated, then fined the Trump Casino $200,000 for discrimination. Their report is available to the public and confirms the employees’ accounts. Don the Con, of course, denied knowing LiButti, but then a videotape of Trump and LiButti at a WWF event surfaced. They were sitting side-by-side, the best of buddies. LiButti’s wife also came forward. It seemed that she, her husband and Trump had socialized many times. It seemed that LiButti often flew from New York to Atlantic City on Trump’s helicopter. It seemed that Robert and Don had dickered back-and-forth on the purchase of a racehorse.


      In 1991, March Bowden, former COO of the Trump Plaza casino, published a book entitled The Inside Story of Donald Trump. In it he describes a face-to-face meeting with his boss. Trump enquired, at one point, about unsatisfactory employees, which caught Bowden by surprise.

      I told him no one. But he went down a list of names until we got to a finance employee of Trump Plaza, who happened to be black.

     “What do you think of him?” Donald asked.

      I said I was familiar with his abilities, and he had shortcomings. “To be honest,” I said. “I’d like to see him either come up to speed where he can help me a lot more, or maybe there’s something else he can do.”

      Instantly, Donald was enthused. “Yeah, I never liked the guy. I don’t think he knows what the fuck he’s doing. My accountants up in New York are always complaining about him. He’s not responsive. And isn’t it funny. I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money. I hate it! The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else.”

      I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. But Donald went on, “Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control….”

      Nuff said. The statement is out-and-out racist, no punches pulled, take that, motherfucker. Just the kind of talk, when you think about it, likely to capture the attention of white supremacists like those I quoted in an earlier posting. And it should be noted that years later, in a 1999 interview for Playboy, Donald told Mark Bowden that “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”


      On May 1, 1989, less than two weeks after Ellen Meili was assaulted in Central Park while jogging, Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News. BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY the banner at the top proclaimed. Donald then called for the execution of the perpetrators, five young men, four of them juveniles. But not necessarily by the state. About two-thirds of the way through, in all caps, Trump declared: CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!

      For all its brutality, Ellen Meili survived the attack. The crime was aggravated rape. Now, I ask you, where in this country were black men accused of sexual assault on a white woman routinely executed with reckless disregard for their civil liberties? Lynching is what it’s called and the question is purely rhetorical. In fact, between the end of Reconstruction in 1869 and the early 1930’s, more than 3,000 documented lynchings took place. That’s a bit more than fifty per year, virtually all of them in the deep south, virtually all the victims black men accused of attacks on white women.

      Again, there are no implications here, nothing between the lines, no interpretation necessary. This is the stuff of David Duke. Back in the good old days when American was great and Duke still wore the white robes.

      I won’t belabor the birther thing except to point out a few, little-known factoids. For example, as of this date, four American citizens born outside the United States have run for President. The most recent pair, John McCain and Ted Cruz, are household names. George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, born in Mexico, is not, and most people aren’t aware of Barry Goldwater’s birth in the Territory of Arizona. But no great fuss was made in any of these cases. That's because the Congress in 1790 wrote a statute that covered the issue: An Act to Establish a Uniform Rule of Naturalization.

      “And the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.”

      Later statutes tinkered with the language, but despite the issue being raised in 2008, no one, not even Obama, claimed the John McCain was ineligible. The issue was, in fact, a non-issue, brought up at one point, then quickly dismissed.

      A question arises here. If Obama’s place of birth was so important that the issue remained alive, even after he showed his original birth certificate, even after he revealed his long-form birth certificate, why wasn’t it an issue for the other four presidential candidates born outside the United States? I see two possibilities. First, the other four were Republicans and Obama’s a Democrat. Second, the other four are white and Obama is black.

     Which is more likely? I’ll leave the reader to calculate the probabilities.


     The many descriptions of black communities offered by Don the Con embrace a theme with a long history. I vividly recall the mantra offered by the adults in my world, including close relatives, way back when the Civil Rights movement was just getting started. Yes, this line went, black Americans have gotten a raw deal, in the past and in the present. But they’re just not ready.

      Like Jackie Robinson wasn’t ready to compete in the Major Leagues when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

      This notion didn’t die away as the years passed. After all, the word supremacist would never have been added to the word white, if it didn’t proclaim Europeans superior to Africans. And not just intellectually. Black men were hyper-sexual and unable to control their violent impulses. They had to be repressed, before and after the Civil War. For the superior white race, repression is a matter of survival.

      “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed – what the hell do you have to lose?”

      “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street.”

      “You go into the inner cities and you see it’s 45% poverty rate for African-Americans." (Fact: the highest poverty rate for African-Americans at the time of the statement was 24.1%, but Donald was never one to let the truth get between him and his racist constituents.)

       I live in the West Harlem neighborhood of Hamilton Heights, a community divided between African-Americans, Dominicans and Mexicans (the rapists and murderers, remember?), with an established white minority. I’ve been living here for about six years and I regularly walk for exercise. In fact, weather permitting, I’m out there every day. And guess what? I haven’t even been shot once.


       I’m going to close this rant with a quote from Richard Nixon. The quote was taken directly from a White House tape so there’s no issue with its authenticity. Here Nixon is musing with his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, over how to use race to win elections.

      “The second point is coming out – coming out and saying that black Americans aren’t as good as black Africans – most of them, basically, are just out of the trees. Now, let’s face it, they are.”


      I began my Birds of a Feather Rant #1 with a stated goal in mind, to prove that the backing Donald Trump has received (and continues to receive) from the white supremacist fringe is not merely opportunistic, but derives from men like David Duke recognizing Trump as a fellow traveler. Given the evidence I’ve amassed, I consider the issue settled. Time to ride off into the sunset. Let’s see, should I choose the white horse or the black horse? Or should I claim the middle ground and find myself a pinto?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

IT'S OK TO BE CONFUSED RANT





     The Framers at the Philadelphia convention made their new Constitution extremely difficult to amend. Amendments today, as on the day the Constitution was ratified, require a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate, and ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures. That’s why the document has only been amended 27 times in its 229-year existence. What’s more, if the first ten amendments - the Bill of Rights, fully ratified by 1791 - are subtracted from the total, only 17 amendments have been ratified in the more than 225 years that followed. Further, another six are mere tweaks to the system. Subtract these and we’re left with 11 major changes in more than two centuries.

     This difficulty undermines the position of many conservatives who insist that the Constitution be interpreted in the light of the framers’ and ratifiers’ original intent. If Madison and the boys didn’t expect applications of the Constitution to be affected by changing conditions, why would they make it so hard to amend? But I’m not here to quibble with the originalists among us. I’m here to write about what happens when a constitution is easy to change and to sound an old (and cliched) warning. Be careful what you wish for.

      Over the weekend, the Turkish people, in a referendum marked by fraud but technically open to all voters, profoundly altered their constitution, transferring power from a divided executive branch to a single, more-powerful President. That would be the Islamist, Recep Erdogan.

      The effort to amend modern Turkey’s founding document began with a consideration of the 21 proposed amendments by a Parliamentary Constitutional Commission which rejected three. The remaining eighteen then passed to the Turkish Parliament where they were voted on separately. Here we see the first great contrast between our system and theirs. As per Turkey’s amending process, amendments become law in two ways. Proposed amendments receiving 2/3 of the vote in Parliament simply take their place in the Turkish Constitution, whereas amendments that receive 3/5 of the vote must be ratified by a majority of the voters in a national referendum. Let the people decide.

      The American bar is set much higher. None of the Turkish amendments reached the 2/3 threshold, though each received the 60% necessary for a referendum. In the United States, this result would doom every amendment. Proposed amendments to our Constitution require approval by 2/3 of both legislatures, the House and the Senate. Turkey, of course, has a unicameral legislature. Further, the Turkish amendments were placed before the Turkish people for a single vote, whereas amendments to our Constitution, should they receive 2/3 of the votes in both Houses of Congress, would still have to be ratified by 75% of the states, each of which has a bicameral legislature. In case anyone’s counting, we’re talking about 76 legislative bodies in 38 states.

      The referendum in Turkey was very close, with 51% of the people approving the amendments. Even so, outside monitors, prevented in most cases from doing their jobs, have charged fraud on many levels, from ballot stuffing to the arrest of anti-referendum journalists. Still, it seems likely that Turkey, a NATO member, will now succumb to the lure of authoritarian rule. Erdogan uber alles.

      I’m not going to say that it can’t happen here, but I don’t believe authoritarian rule in the United States can be established by changing the Constitution. That would take a coup. Our problem lies at the other end of the spectrum. Originalists insist that our Constitution be interpreted exactly as the framers intended because the document allows for changes. Thus, if the American people don’t like the original meaning of the Interstate Commerce clause, they should rewrite it through the amending process, not reinterpret the text. There’s undeniable merit to that argument, but given our amending process, it leaves the nation with a founding document written on stone tablets, a bible frozen in time. And while a minority of Christian fundamentalists insist the Bible be understood literally word-for-word, most of today’s Christians, while acknowledging the Bible’s Divine origins, refuse to believe that the universe is 6,500 years old.

     Along with most of my friends, I have a Constitutional amendment wish-list. The Equal Rights Amendment heads the list, closely followed by a guaranteed right to health care and higher education. And how about an amendment declaring that our current Second Amendment does not confer an individual right to possess a gun? Or amendments declaring that political spending is not a form of free speech and that corporations are legal entities and not people?


      Given the amending process, I no longer hope to see any of the above ratified in my lifetime. On the other hand, I don’t expect a flag burning or anti-abortion amendment to pass either. So, don’t despair. In fact, next time you’re feeling down, glance from a photo of Recep Erdogan to one of Don the Con, whose every instinct is totalitarian. You’ll feel better. I promise.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

LAPDOG WATCH



   

      Article 1 of our Constitution grants Congress, and Congress alone, the right to declare war. The President's right to prosecute a war comes only after Congress acts. While it's true that Congress has been ignoring this obligation since the last World War, Presidents have in the recent past gone to Congress for an authorization to use force. Not Donald.
      Donald Trump is playing chicken with N. Korea, risking the possibility of a nuclear war (but they can't hit us, right? only Tokyo and Seoul?) that might kill millions without even consulting the appropriate Congressional committees.
      Meanwhile, the Chief Lapdogs, Ryan and Mitchell, have yet to open their cowardly mouths.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

BIRDS OF A FEATHER RANT #3




      I posed a question at the end of my Birds of a Feather Rant #2: Did Fred Trump bring his Klan ideals to the dinner table after his children were born? Now, I should (and would, if I was a bit more principled) jump to Fred and Don’s history of housing discrimination. Instead, I think I’ll side-step long enough to reviews a second component of Fred Trump’s legacy.

      In 1954, Fred was subpoenaed by a Senate Banking Committee investigating developers who profited, through fraud of one kind or another, from loans issued by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The accusations were far ranging and the Committee examined many witnesses, most of whom took the Fifth. Not Fred. Under oath, he admitted for example, that he wildly inflated costs related to a development in order to secure far more in loans than he was entitled to. For another, William McKenna, an investigator for the committee, specifically cited a Trump investment to illustrate a particular scam. Trump and James Tomasello bought a vacant lot in Queens for $34,2000, turned it over to a trust, then leased it back to the corporation for 99 years at a staggering cost of $60,000 per year. This way, should the government-financed apartments they erected on the site default, the Federal Housing Association would owe the corporation 1.5 million dollars. A third example defines the extent of Fred’s willingness to ignore the rules. Trump applied for federal funds, claiming he intended to build an apartment complex, but erected a shopping center instead.

      Never charged with a crime, Trump was denied further access to FHA funds.

      Young Donald took no part in these shenanigans, these necessary manipulations on the way to accumulating the kind of fortune from which dynasties are made. He was eight-years-old when his dad was called before the Senate Banking Committee. But if asking whether Fred brought his Klan leanings to the dinner table is valid, it’s worth asking if he brought his shady business practices as well. Wayne Barrett in his book, Trump, The Deals and the Downfall, catalogues the names of mafioso with ties to the Trump organization, some through secret partnerships. The list includes dozens of individuals, many of them, like Paul Castellano, Fat Tony Salerno and Nicky Scarfo, household names at the time.

      Did any of this rub off on Don the Con? One thing sure, Fred began Donald’s training while his son was still in high school, taking him to building sites on weekends and in the summer, explaining the intricacies of financing and the benefits of using other people’s money. Did this training include the sort of contempt for the law that brought Fred before the Senate Banking Committee? Did he, like his Dad, break the law in order to fatten the Trump Organization’s bottom line?

      The Civil Rights Bill of 1968, better known as the Fair Housing Act, forbids discrimination on the basis of race to landlords throughout the country. That the Trump Organization violated this law by actively discriminating at one of his properties, The Wilshire, is beyond doubt. But the accusations were more far ranging. The suit filed by the Justice Department alleged discrimination in 39 Trump-owned properties. According to a Trump rental agent named Stanley Leibowitz, there wasn’t a single African-American living in any Trump-owned apartment.

      Fred and Don fought the initial accusation for a time, launching a countersuit against the Justice Department, along with a familiar charge: the dreaded federal government was forcing him to rent his apartments to “welfare recipients”. And why not make the charge? The year was 1973 and George Wallace had been raging against welfare queens throughout his three Presidential runs. Not that it did Fred and Donald any good. The Trump suit was dismissed and the Organization eventually negotiated a consent decree. Trump Management would furnish the Urban League with list of all vacancies. The League would present applicants for one out of every five openings.

      Trump’s response: He was thankful that the agreement did not “compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare….”

      Predictably, given Fred’s mortgage-manipulating past, the Trumps failed to honor the deal and the Justice Department had to once again sue Fred and Donald before a single back woman, Maxine Brown, was permitted to rent an apartment at The Wilshire. A pyrrhic victory if there ever was one, Ms. Brown remained the only African-American tenant for a decade. The suit, incidentally, marked the first time that Donald Trump’s name appeared in the New York Times.

      Much later, after establishing himself in Manhattan, Donald claimed that racial discrimination of this kind was almost universal in the outer boroughs. Landlord discrimination in white neighborhoods, as this claim would have it, was driven by pragmatic concerns, not racism.

      “What could I do? You move the blacks in, the whites move out.”

      There’s truth to this argument, although it brands the landlords as living money-driven lives, lives without a moral compass. Discrimination in New York City, whether in the sale of homes or the leasing of apartments, persists to this day. But the Trumps, apparently, took their discrimination more seriously. A Trump Organization employee named Thomas Miranda testified that management employees ordered him to put a “c” for “colored” on applications filed by African-Americans. In the 1950’s, in New York and elsewhere, black men and women were commonly referred to as “colored people”. The coloreds this, the coloreds that. That changed abruptly. By the early sixties, and even more so as the decade advanced, the word “colored” was understood to be demeaning and rarely used, even by white ethnics, who preferred the n-word in any event.

      But there’s more. And worse.

      Swifton Village in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a troubled apartment complex of 1154 units. Fred Trump bought it at a Sheriff’s sale after the apartments were foreclosed on by a union pension plan. He paid 5.7 million in 1964 and sold it in 1972 for 6.75 million after sinking a half-million into the infrastructure. If that sounds routine, a return of about 9% after eight years (Don the Con later falsely claimed to have made six million), what happened in between was far from routine.

       The tactics employed by a city agency, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), differed little from those employed by civil rights groups throughout the nation. A black family would be told there were no available apartments in Swifton Village. A white family would then appear, also seeking an apartment. Swifton Village had a vacancy rate of 35% when Fred put Donald in charge of management. Filling those vacancies was Donald’s main task, filling it with, as things turned out, white people. The white testers who followed the black couple were almost always told that apartments were, indeed, available. They were then taken to inspect the unit in question, whereupon the black couple would show up.

      Heywood and Rennell Cash, a black couple, spent four-and-a-half years seeking an apartment in Swifton Village before they teamed up with HOME. They were again told there were no vacancies when they applied for an apartment, which came as no surprise. Nor did the annoyance of Irving Wolper, the rental manager, when the Cash family arrived as he was showing an apartment to a tester named Maggie Durham. Wolper, in fact, lost his cool altogether, calling Ms. Durham, according all witnesses except Wolper, a “nigger lover” and a “race traitor”.

      OK, I admit the obvious. Blaming Donald Trump for the rental manager’s outburst seems unfair, at least at first glance. But in Trump’s ultimate con-job, The Art of the Deal, in a section entitled the Cincinnati Kid, Don claims that Swifton Village was his “first big deal”. Further, he goes out of his way to praise Irving Wolper.

      Some time ago (years, in fact), I watched an interview with a group of African-American executives in conference at an expensive resort. These were individuals who’d made it in the business world. In speech, in dress, in manner they reflected a corporate sensibility that transcended race. Yet each, when prompted by the interviewer, had been punished at some point – or many points – for the crime of driving while black. In several cases, these men, successful by any reasonable standard, were humiliated while their families watched. They laughed about it, by the way, knowing, as they did, there was no escape from the prison African-Americans have inhabited for centuries.

     Now consider Heywood and Rennell Cash. Also decent, also hardworking, wanting only a home for themselves and their growing family. What, essentially, did Irving Wolper tell them? You can never escape. No matter how hard you work, no matter how church-attending, no matter how law-abiding, you will always be confined, physically, emotionally, spiritually. You cannot succeed because of who you are. Go back to the ghetto.


      Bottom line, speaking as white man, I’m surprised, not by the anger of black Americans, but by their restraint.