Monday, September 11, 2017

The Revenge Agenda

He sat there seething- stone-faced, jaw clenched, his surgery-resectioned hair lacquered down and bobby-pinned into a ducktail, staring straight ahead lest he glance left or right at the assembled dignitaries and media professionals all doubling over laughing at him- not with him. His customary orange spray tan had been transformed into a glowing burnt umber atop his blushing face. He grimaced and made a little wave but, that aside, he never cracked a smile. The night was April 30, 2011. The occasion was the annual White House Correspondent's dinner, and Barack Obama was getting some payback for Donald Trump's idiotic promotion of "bitherism," the racist idea that Obama was not born in the U.S. and was thus unqualified to be president. Trump even claimed to have sent an investigatory team to Hawaii to verify his theory, reporting, "they couldn't believe what they're finding." So, with Trump in the audience, it was only appropriate that Obama preface his remarks with a large-screen display of his long-form birth certificate. "No one is happier...to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald," the president said. "That's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing?" Donald squirmed, the president continued, throwing barbs at Trump's pet reality TV show, The Apprentice. "Just recently...the men's cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. There was a lot of blame to go around, but you Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately you didn't fire Lil John or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night." The crowd howled, Trump scowled. In fact, Obama had just ordered the raid on Osama Bin Laden which took place the following day. I've been convinced that from that night of public humiliation, Trump's vow for revenge emerged and materialized into a political campaign reeking with hatred and dependent on a backlash towards our first black president. I've heard of pendulum swings, but this one was straight out of Edgar Allan Poe.

Now, it seems I have company. The president's ghoulish pal, Roger Stone, said, "I think that is the night that he resolves to run for president. I think he (was) kind of motivated." His sycophant, Omarosa Manigault, a controversial contestant and documented liar from the first season of The Apprentice, who now makes one-hundred eighty thousand dollars a year as a presidential hireling, proclaimed, "Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It's everyone who ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe." Revenge is the fever which motivates his Obama-obsessed presidency. His singular agenda is to overturn the policies and achievements of his predecessor and destroy the legacy of Barack Obama. According to the Washington Post, in his first six months, Trump has passed no new legislation but managed to roll back sixteen executive actions, sixty-three cabinet level decisions, and fourteen acts of congressional revue. His scorched-earth approach to governing is diametrically opposed to all things Obama, regardless of the consequences. Just look at his cabinet. Almost every pick was chosen with the intent of destroying the agencies they were appointed to oversee. Here's a sampling:

Rex "Tea for the" Tillerson: Secretary of State- Former CEO of ExxonMobil with close Russian ties. No government or public service experience.
Steve Mnuchin: Secretary of the Treasury. Trump's campaign finance chairman and former Goldman Sachs employee. Former owner of OneWest Bank, called a "foreclosure machine" by its detractors, which initiated foreclosures on active duty military families. Initially failed to disclose over one hundred million dollars of hidden assets in the Cayman Islands. Blamed it on the "complicated" disclosure forms.
Jeff Sessions: Attorney General. Denied a judgeship in 1986 for his racist past.
Mike Pompeo: CIA Director. Tea Party Kansas congressman who served on the House Intelligence Committee. Advocated the resumption of waterboarding, black sites, and the reinstatement of government programs that harvest communications of U.S. citizens.
Ryan Zinke: Secretary of the Interior. Strong supporter of coal and oil exploration. Claims climate change is not a "proven science."
Wilbur Ross: Secretary of Commerce. Billionaire recipient of the coal and steel industries. Implicated in the 2006 Sago, W.V. mine disaster which killed a dozen men because of overlooked safety concerns.
Ben Carson: HUD head. Lived in urban Detroit as a child. No bureau management or government experience.
Betsy Devoss: Secretary of Education. Lifelong advocate of charter schools and voucher programs. Wants to require government to pay for private school tuition. No experience in public education. Refused to rule out defunding public schools. Billionaire Republican donor and sister of Blackwater mercenary organization founder Erik Prince.
Rick Perry: Secretary of Energy. Famously stated that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Oops.
Scott Pruitt: Director of the EPA. Former oil industry lobbyist. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA over Obama regulations limiting carbon emissions.

This deconstruction of the Obama presidency continues while the city of Houston is still bailing out from one hurricane, while another chews up the state of Florida. And there are two more storms out there after this one. For a moment, it looked like it was the Lord's will to take out Mar-a-lago, but at the last minute, Hurricane Irma made a left turn and said, "Screw it. I'm going to Disneyworld." If Trump's visit to Houston is a precedent, I pray for the people of Florida. While visiting a shelter for storm victims, Trump claimed, "We saw a lot of happiness. It's been really nice. As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch it, it's been beautiful." Tell that to someone who just lost everything they ever cherished. Then, turning to the crowd of hurricane refugees, Trump shouted, "Have a good time everybody." Hurricane Harvey is estimated to cost taxpayers one-hundred sixty billion dollars and the cost of Irma is sure to be immeasurable. When hurricane season ends in November, I guess we just won't be able to afford Trump's billionaire's tax cut anymore. Donald Trump is the Republican opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. While TR said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," Trump's slogan should be, "Speak loudly and carry a small dick." All this is winning is upsetting my stomach. Please excuse me while I go take a Trump.

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.