Monday, August 14, 2017

Many Sides

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke 

We're now all contestants in a reality show that we never asked to be part of. And it gets more real every day. The shameful and deadly episode that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia last week was a gathering of white nationalists, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. But the torchlight parade, the attacks on clergy, the Nazi regalia, the Klan robes, and the Stars and Bars carried alongside of a swastika flag revealed the assembly for what it was: a collection of hate groups with various agendas and a new alliance between neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates. The Southern Poverty Law Center said, "It was the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades." The "Unite the Right" rally quickly descended into chants of anti-black, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT slogans that were as vile as your imagination will allow you to conjure. The eruption of violence between the so-called "alt-right" and counter protesters caused nineteen injuries, the deaths of two state troopers in a helicopter crash monitoring the scene, and a young woman crossing the street when a crazed true-believer rammed his car into a group of pedestrians. Whether this type of vehicular homicide occurs in Paris, London, or Charlottesville, it's known by the same name: terrorism. In the ensuing chaos, the forgotten man was Robert E. Lee.

There is free speech and then there is hate speech. Only one is protected by the Constitution. Yes, you can mount a platform and say, "Mexicans are rapists," or "Criminal aliens...take a young beautiful girl...and slice them and dice them." You can even urge your supporters to punch someone in the face if you say it was just a humorous aside. But when your words initiate violence, you are responsible for the consequences. From his New Jersey golf resort, Donald Trump read from a card, "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides." You know someone else wrote it because Trump doesn't know the meaning of the word "egregious." Before moving on to tout his achievements, ("We have companies pouring into our country."), Trump brought Obama into the controversy, claiming there were also hate groups and hate speech during the previous administration. By doing so, Trump is, in effect, saying, "Don't blame me." Since his rise to political prominence began by accusing Obama of being a foreigner and a secret Muslim, he has fed "his base," a constant barrage of inflammatory screeds against immigrants, the press, affirmative action, his predecessor, and particularly Hillary Clinton. On many sides? He forgets who the instigators are. Only one side chanted Nazi slogans like "Blood and soil." Only one side chanted "Fuck you faggot," and the ever popular, "Go back to Africa." If this assembly was about preserving Confederate monuments, there were similar far-right demonstrations in Portland and Seattle, where there are no statues of Confederate generals.

Trump's remarks drew criticism from all sides for his refusal to condemn the perpetrators of the violence, except from the white supremacists themselves. They loved it. Their popular web site, "The Daily Stormer," posted that the president "refused to answer questions about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him." There's something grating about neo-Nazis invoking God. Why can't the president say the words, "Radical, right-wing, terrorism?" In his own admonition, you can't fight a problem if you won't name it. The "problem" was encapsulated by the words of former Klan Imperial Wizard and rally attendee, David Duke, who said to the cameras, "This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he's going to take our country back." After blistering remarks from members of his own party, Trump issued a lukewarm tweet condemning "all that hate stands for," which, in turn, provoked a tweet from David Duke saying menacingly, "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was White Americans (sic) who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists."

The Charlottesville rally was disgusting but this clash between the emboldened neo-Nazis and those whose fathers and grandfathers lost their lives fighting the real Nazis is far from over. It has been suggested that if the counter-protesters just stayed away and ignored these racist rallies, there would be no violence, since that is the sort of narrative the alt-right seeks. Consequently,  there would have been no press coverage and no one would have died. I'm sure some German Jews said the same thing in 1929. Fascism must be confronted or it metastasizes. On a personal note: my grandfather was the only member of his family to escape Eastern Europe. His parents, two brothers, a sister, their spouses, and nieces and nephews, some small children, were annihilated by the Nazis despite his desperate efforts to free them. I inherited his letters. They are heartbreaking. While in Israel some years ago, I visited Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust. There is a register of names of Jews murdered by the Nazis, but there isn't the slightest trace of my grandfather's family. They just vanished. So, if some neo-Nazi yuppie in a Trump inspired uniform of khaki pants, white polo shirt, and a red "Make America Great Again" cap, comes goose-stepping down my street waving a swastika, I'll do my very best to hit him in the head with a tire iron. Then, the Teflon Don can once again talk about violence, "from many sides."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Kushner

Kushner. Any fan of the classic sitcom Seinfeld should know how to pronounce the name "Kushner" the same way Jerry used to say, "Hello Newman." The Trump administration's "Golden Boy," has had his luster tarnished in the past few weeks. The Justice Department has declared him a "person of interest" in the probe of the Trump campaign. He failed to note one billion dollars in loans from twenty different creditors on his financial disclosure form. The portion of Kushner's initial security clearance form that requested the names of all foreign contacts was left blank and had to be re-filed three times, ultimately adding the names of one hundred people- yet he still failed to report his foolish secret meeting with Don Jr. and Russian operatives offering campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. The McClatchy news group reported that the Justice Department is looking into Kushner's campaign digital operation which allegedly helped the Russians target specific voters and helped spread fake news about Clinton. And special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Kushner's finances and business dealings. I'd venture a guess that Jared Kushner is sorry he left his cush life as a New York real estate mogul for this mess.

I sometimes wonder whether Trump supporters knew they were voting for a thirty-six year old son-in-law of the president, with no governmental experience, to become a shadow Secretary of State, flying around the world screwing up traditional alliances and defending Trump's most grievous offenses. Kushner's official title is senior advisor to the president, but he has been tasked with the most ambitious agenda since the New Deal. Jared's assigned duties include; resolving the conflict in the Middle East, modernizing the workings of government, re-inventing the office of veterans' affairs, solving the opioid crisis, overseeing criminal justice reform, and coming up with an infrastructure plan to repair the country's decaying roads and bridges. He's also the liaison to Mexico and China and showed up unexpectedly in Iraq looking silly in coat, tie, and flak jacket. I never thought I'd see an African-American president in my lifetime, but I was flabbergasted that there would be a Jewish president this soon.

Kushner is the type of Orthodox Jew who is observant until it conflicts with his schedule. Jared and Ivanka are shomer Shabbos, which anyone who saw "The Big Lebowski" knows that means not doing any sort of labor from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The Kushners are said to turn off their cell phones, walk instead of drive, and keep a Kosher kitchen in their home. Jared makes exceptions for governmental business or when the family is off skiing in Aspen, and the Kushners have stated that they have received special permission from an "unnamed" rabbi to travel and ride around to parties in a limousine. As for keeping kosher, it was reported that the couple dined on shrimp scampi while in Rome, a no-no for non-eaters of shellfish. I wonder if he ever joins Pop-Pop for a special luncheon of McDonald's cheeseburgers.

Kushner's diplomatic skills have so far come a cropper. His disastrous trip to the Middle East was complicated by his longstanding relationship with Bibi Netanyahu and his family's millions of dollars in contributions to Israel. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was left infuriated after his meeting with Kushner, saying the American envoy was merely acting as a shill for Netanyahu's hard-line policies. There was speculation among White House insiders that Trump might pull out of any Mid-East peace talks, stalled since April 2014, because he was angry about the Abbas-Kushner rift. Kushner sits right in the middle of the probe of Russian interference during the 2016 election. His failure to report a secret meeting with a Russian governmental attorney, along with the Morgan & Morgan lookalike Donny Jr., and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, puts Jared in the most serious legal jeopardy since he is the only one with an office in the West Wing who still sits in during security briefings. Thirteen years ago, then-prosecutor Chris Christie sent Charles Kushner, Jared's dad, to prison for sixteen counts of criminal tax evasion, witness tampering, and lying to the Federal Election Commission. Jared Kushner is living proof that the con doesn't fall far from the convict.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Watergate: The Sequel

Hello young 'uns. It's your old Uncle Randy back again with another story about life in these Unites States. It was the spring of '73. I was in my mid-20s and for some bizarre reason decided I needed to move out of the city and experience pastoral life. Big mistake. I found a rental house near the entrance to Shelby Forest State Park, about a half-mile down the roadway from Rev. Al Green. It got boring and lonely in a hurry. I had a little .22 caliber rifle out there and since there was nothing to do, I became such a good shot, I could shoot the "D" out of a Dr. Pepper can at thirty feet. I was also a member of a band that had a regular gig at the Admiral Benbow Inn by the airport. Curiously, they called their airport lounge the Club Car and insisted the band assume a railroad related name. We settled on the Breakmen in honor of the Singing Brakeman Jimmy Rodgers of Meridian, Mississippi, but we purposely misspelled it as an act of rebellion and because we enjoyed taking breaks. Five nights a week, I commuted from Shelby Forest to the airport and back. The Club Car was full of itinerant strangers and drunk, horny traveling salesmen. Once, after I had sung what I thought was a stellar version of a Dave Mason song, a slurring voice from the crowd shouted, "Hey twerp. Why don't you play something we might enjoy." I left the city to find some peace and I was catching hell instead. In truth, I was going crazy. Richard Nixon had been trying to kill me.

It was a weird time as well. The Vietnam War, the defining event of my generation, was winding down, after Nixon, and his fellow war criminal Henry Kissinger, screamed "bombs away" on the nations of Cambodia and Laos. In the vacuum created by the Americans, homicidal dictators emerged, ultimately causing millions of casualties. On March 29, the last American troops left Vietnam. The most divisive conflict since the Civil War had caused millions of people to take to the streets in massive anti-war protests, and in some cases, receive bloody repression from the police. Suddenly, this immoral war was over and everybody just quietly faded back into the woodwork and went about their business as if there were nothing more to say. South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Apartheid to expose the countries worst human rights abuses and restore confidence in their government. Everybody here just went fishing. We never reconciled our differences over the Vietnam War which is the bedrock of our divisions today. 

Nixon was the first president to intentionally polarize the nation for political purposes. The long-held rumor that Nixon caused the collapse of the 1968 Paris Peace Talks, telling agents of the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal after his election, has been confirmed. Under his watch, an additional twenty thousand American soldiers and countless Vietnamese died, proving him to be a vile liar, a soulless gargoyle of paranoia, and a proven traitor. His reward was reelection by a landslide. But something happened on the way to the coronation. In June of 1972, five men were busted breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, which opened a Pandora's Box of break-ins, thefts, illegal wiretapping, slush funds, cover-ups, incriminating private tapes, and a personal enemies list of the president's critics who were marked for retaliation by the IRS. It was the public that awakened and demanded an investigation. Televised hearings of the Senate Select Committee's investigation into Watergate and related matters began on May 17, 1973 and suddenly there was must-see TV and my tedious summer became fascinating. If you thought the OJ trial was riveting, you should have seen the Watergate Hearings. I watched the whole thing.

One week after the hearings began, a special prosecutor was named. Nixon fired him, only to have him replaced by an equally zealous seeker of truth. After a parade of despicable witnesses and two-hundred and fifty hours of testimony, the indictments began flying and the truth of Nixon's treachery was fully exposed. He was impeached on charges of obstructing justice, abuse of power, and interference with the impeachment process, and resigned in eternal disgrace to avoid being forcefully evicted from the White House. Anything beginning to sound familiar here? What took Nixon six years to self-immolate,  Donald Trump has accomplished in six months. You know the saying about those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Trump is supremely ignorant of history and thus is as doomed as Nixon. Trump's blatant criminality is in legal hands now and subject to the law rather than the whims of Congress. The only question remaining is whether he'll fight it or quit. My money's on the latter. The Watergate affair caused forty government officials to either be indicted or sent to prison, including the Attorney General, Nixon's key advisors, and his legal counsel. Trump's in Nixon territory now. It will be a rerun of the 1973 summer of televised hearings and will get yuge ratings, better than "House of Cards." Appointed President Ford said, "Never again must Americans allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to bypass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election." Get the popcorn ready. We're all fixin' to binge-watch a tyrant's comeuppance.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump's Gettysburg Address

On October 23, 2016, Donald Trump made remarks at the historic Gettysburg Battlefield. He delivered a different speech than originally prepared, but we were able to gain access to the first draft of then candidate Trump's personal notations, scribbled on the back of a Burger King place mat. We believe we have succeeded in deciphering the erratic scribbles and have attempted to retain the original intent as best as modern graphology will allow. Here, unfiltered, is Trump's Gettysburg Address.

Eight score and two years ago my grandfather brought to this country a fantastic family name- Friedrich Drumpf - which he quickly changed to Fred Trump since German immigrants were frowned upon at the time. He formed a terrific business of bars and brothels catering to the new frontiersmen of the Klondike Gold Rush. Hey, I just coined the expression "New Frontier." I can definitely use that. Grandpa Trump took his fortune and moved back to Germany, but they kicked him out for both draft and tax evasion. Just imagine, if the kraut government had been nicer to refugees, I'd be peddling real estate in Hamburg today. But, three score and ten years ago, I was conceived in Liberty, which is a small neighborhood in Queens. Like my father, who inherited a small fortune, we were dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, just some more equal than others.

We meet today on a great battlefield of the Civil War because I need Pennsylvania's electoral votes. When I gaze across this landscape, I'm thinking to myself, "Hmm, what a terrible waste of space." This would make a fantastic location for a hotel and a private golf course, considering its historic significance. But, as Lincoln said, "We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." At least until we get all these ugly markers out of here and stage a first-class ground breaking ceremony with the boys and Ivanka. I've been informed that a lot of men died here. Personally, I like soldiers that didn't die. People don't ask the question, why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out? Andrew Jackson saw what was coming while moldering in his grave and said, "There's no reason for this." His one hundred and fifty slaves most certainly would have agreed. Lincoln just couldn't close the deal but I, alone, could have fixed it. I don't understand the whole Lincoln thing. People don't realize he was a Republican, but many people say he was a melungeon. This I can tell you.

The fake media won't report it, but our crowd today is a hundred times larger than the turnout for Lincoln's speech. I looked at all those old Mathew Brady photographs and I've instructed Sean Spicer to produce pictures that show this was the greatest Gettysburg Address, period. Although I escaped military service because my foot hurt, if I had been at the battle of Gettysburg, I certainly would have won since I know more than all the generals. That old grey-haired granny Bobby Lee was much too low-energy to ever defeat Trump. And I never owned any slaves, only children in China who assemble my clothing line for slave wages. I would ask the blacks today, "What have you got to lose?" You should give me your last full measure of devotion if we ever make it easier for you to vote. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here because the crooked media is so unfair, but government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, is good enough to win the Electoral College. But I tell you this, no politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly than me. Except maybe for Lincoln.