What Happened in Montana???

My question for the day:

What to make of a nation whose populace praise violence and elect representatives who physically beat reporters?

What, exactly, happened in Montana, and what are we to think of a state that elects a candidate who physically beat a reporter, then lied about it, and only admitted and apologized after he won the election.  And what must we think of a nation whose president applauds this action and goes so far as to offer to pay the offender’s legal fees?  You will note that I have many questions, but not many answers.

The story:

On Thursday, Montana held a special election to replace former representative Ryan Zinke, who is now Secretary of the Interior (more about that in another post).  The two major candidates were republican Greg Gianforte, a technology executive, and democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer.  The majority of Montanans vote republican and Trump won big there last year.

On the night before the election, Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, asked Gianforte a question pertaining to the disastrous healthcare bill that passed in the House a few weeks ago.  Rather than answer the question, Gianforte grabbed Mr. Jacobs by the throat, slammed him to the ground and began punching him.  Mr. Jacobs’ glasses were broken and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries.  Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault. End of Gianforte’s political aspirations, right?  WRONG.

gianforte-toon.jpgThursday night, Gianforte won the election by six percentage points, proving once again that many in this nation have sold their consciences down river.  As I watched the results start rolling in around 10:30 EDT on Thursday night, it brought back memories of another election just over six months ago.  And just as on that fateful night of November 8th, I felt tears pooling in my eyes.  Not so much, I think, for the fact that another republican beat out a democrat, but for the statement that win made, a statement that says:  We the people of the United States of America no longer value kindness, compassion and freedom, but we value only money and power.

Gianforte has a history of antagonizing the press.  In April, he pointed out a reporter and suggested that the crowd should all “gang up on him”.  His estimated net worth ranges between $65 million and $515 million, which apparently gives him a sense of superiority and entitlement.  And … surprise … he owns approximately $250,000 unsanctioned stock in a Russian company.

Gianforte initially denied his assault on Mr. Jacobs, despite the fact that there were four eye witnesses to the incident.  Even a Fox reporter, Alicia Acuna, was horrified:

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin:

“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin county sheriff’s office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin county justice court between now and 7 June 2017.”

Only after being declared the winner of the election did Gianforte offer a tepid apology:

“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back. I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I am sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs.”

Predictably, Donald Trump called the election results “a great win in Montana”.

How did this happen:

Quite possibly the assault on a reporter by the republican candidate might have cost Gianforte the election except for two things:

  • Montana has early voting by mail, and 37% had already cast their ballots via mail before the assault took place. Some actually called and asked to get their ballots back, but of course at that point it was too late.

  • The democratic candidate, Rob Quist, was not a strong candidate at all. He has no prior experience that would qualify him for the position, but then neither does Gianforte. He has a history of unpaid debts and property taxes, which the republicans made the most of during the campaign. Quist was able to raise only half as much money for his campaign as Gianforte. The national DNC is concentrating most of their efforts on the Georgia race and Jon Ossoff, and largely considered Montana a ‘waste of time’.  Quist is being sued by a former band member and also by a contractor, both of whom say he did not pay them.  All in all, Quist was not a viable candidate and the Montana Democratic Party did little, if anything, to help him, while Trump and Pence both traveled to Montana to speak at rallies on behalf of Gianforte.

The message:

The message it sends when a man with a short fuse who beats up a reporter for asking a legitimate question is the same message we heard on November 8th last year when a man who had encouraged violence at rallies, who had threatened and bullied those who opposed him was elected to the highest office in the land.  The message it sends is that we are no longer a kind, caring and compassionate nation, but rather one with little regard for our fellow human beings.  Is it likely that we will see more of these brash, violent bullies elected to Congress and governorships?  Possibly.  I hope not, but quite possibly others will look around and think that if a person like Trump, a person like Gianforte, can be elected, then almost anyone who says what people want to hear, can win an election.  And perhaps what it says is that people like violence, that respect and kindness no longer matter.  Perhaps it says that this nation has sunk to a new low, one from which it may never come back.

montana-toon-1

Trump’s ‘War Room’ ???

This afternoon, a story in Reuters caught my eye.  The title read, “In shakeup, Trump to set up ‘war room’ to repel attacks over Russia probe”.  Here are a few highlights from the story:

“Once U.S. President Donald Trump returns from his overseas trip, the White House plans to launch its most aggressive effort yet to push back against allegations involving Russia and his presidential campaign, tackling head-on a scandal that has threatened to consume his young presidency.

Trump’s advisers are planning to establish a “war room” to combat mounting questions about communication between Russia and his presidential campaign before and after November’s presidential election …

Upon Trump’s return, the administration will add experienced political professionals, including Trump’s former campaign manager, and possibly more lawyers to handle the Russia probe, which has gained new urgency since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to head the investigation.

A White House official confirmed plans to hold more rallies.

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, will be involved in the new strategic messaging operation, as will Steve Bannon, another top adviser who specializes in managing Trump’s populist appeal and shaping his political image. Bannon and Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have been laying the groundwork for the plan this week.

Kushner, who held several meetings with Russian officials following the election, is a focus of the probe.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, is also expected to be part of the effort.

“The goal of the White House is to try and contain the crisis and media coverage of the special counsel.”

Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend, said he expects the president will travel more when he returns from overseas and encouraged the White House to focus on issues that pump up his base voters.

“From my perspective, I think the president should be doing the stuff that he does best, which is talking about his agenda: jobs, trade and security,” Ruddy said. Trump has scheduled a political rally for next week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The White House said other similar events are in the planning stages.

I don’t wish to spend 1,000 words on this, as it is uncertain quite exactly what is meant by “set up ‘war room’ to repel attacks over Russia probe”.  But a few points may be worth thinking about.

A ‘war room’ was probably a poor choice of words, and ‘to repel attacks over Russia probe’ an even worse choice.  Trump & Co need to keep their noses clean here, as their actions and speech to date have given them the appearance of having something to hide.  When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, then admitted that he did so because of the investigation into Trump, his advisors and their ties to Russia, he blundered.  At that point, he began to look guilty as heck.  If he wants anybody to believe he is innocent, he needs to back off, take the criticisms with grace, and speak to the FBI and the special prosecutor only when spoken to.

Jared Kushner has now been implicated in the tangled Russian-US web and has, like Trump, no business interfering in any capacity.  He, too, is giving off smoke signals that look an awful lot like guilt.

I get nervous when I hear that part of their goal is to “contain the crisis and media coverage of the special counsel.” To contain the media coverage would be to stifle or tie the press’ hands, and this is not acceptable under any foreseeable circumstances.

Trump’s plan to travel more, hold more political, campaign-style rallies is absurd, despite what Mr. Ruddy may think.  Ruddy says the job of the president is to “pump up the voters”, but it is not an election year and Trump needs to focus on doing the job, rather than campaigning for an election that he will never see! The job of the president is NOT to go about the country drumming up fans, inciting the masses, and bragging about his efforts, most of which are disastrous.  The job of the president is to govern the nation.  Trump is a showman, not a leader.  He needs to realize very quickly that holding rallies are not in his job description.  Personally, if he has that much time on his hands, I would prefer he spend it reading and studying the U.S. Constitution and learning about both our allies and our adversaries, as he seems to have the two confused.  And, since I am one of his employers, my opinion should count for something!

And as for Corey Lewandowski … where to start?  Trump fired him as his campaign manager in June 2016 and replaced him with bloomin’ idiot Kellyanne Conway.  Lewandowski went to work for CNN immediately after leaving Trump’s team.  In November, 3 days after the election, Lewandowski resigned his position as a CNN commentator and the following month started a political consulting firm, Avenue Strategies.  “I will always be Presidnt-elect Trump’s biggest supporter,” Lewandowski said.  Pass the ginger ale, please … or the wine. Then earlier this month, Lewandowski also quit the firm he had founded, leaving it for his partner, Barry Bennett, another former trumpidian, to run on his own.

Lewandowski himself may actually come under the cloud of suspicion in the Russian ties investigation, if he isn’t already, as he approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer. The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but he did not deny that it occurred.  The plot thickens and the web becomes ever more tangled.

As I said, I do not want to spend too much time dwelling on this ‘war room’ story until we see what comes of it and what the true intent is.  However these were just a few things that raised red flags and I think bear watching.  But then, anything involving Trump and his minions bears watching, for I do not trust a single one of them.

Next Stop … The Supreme Court

Yesterday a federal appeals court found Trump’s March executive order to ban travel from six predominantly Muslim countries to be unconstitutional, saying it “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions almost immediately vowed to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.  So … what happens now, and what are the odds that the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court ruling?

Sessions offered no timetable for submitting the case to the Supreme Court, but he must file the appeal within 90 days, which would be between now and late August.  Given the case load of the court, it will likely take close to two months before they decide whether or not to hear the case, and assuming they do decide to hear it, it would be late this year or early next year before they begin to hear arguments.  There are some interesting twists here.

In order for the case to be heard, four justices must agree to hear it.  Given that five of the nine justices are conservative-leaning and were put on the bench by republican presidents, and given the national attention this matter has received, it is likely, though by no means certain, that the court will hear the case.  If they do not, however, then the ruling of the appeals court stands and there will be no travel ban.  Though I do not expect this to happen, it would be the best solution in the opinion of this writer.

The first interesting twist is that the travel ban is a temporary ban, intended to last 90 days from the time it was issued.  The order was signed on Monday, 06 March 2017, so technically the ban is set to expire on 04 June 2017, nine days from now.  In other words, by the time the Supreme Court could even decide to hear the case, it would have already expired.  I am fairly confident that it will be interpreted as beginning at whatever point it is actually implemented, but the argument could be made, I think, that it is a moot point since it already expired.

Although the court currently leans toward conservatism, that is not necessarily a predictor for how the justices will vote.  The legal opinions I have read, as well as my own opinion, are mixed.  I would like to think that the court will uphold the decision of the appeals court, as I think it was the right decision, but there is good reason to believe that they may not.

The appeals court ruled as they did based, not solely on the text of the executive order, but also taking into consideration Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims last year when he was campaigning.  The courts that have ruled on the issue thus far have said that even though the text of the order does not mention Islam or Muslims, the intent is clear based on things Trump has said.  I agree with that, from a purely logical standpoint, however, from a legal standpoint, it may not hold water.

The three judges who dissented in Thursday’s decision argued that the court should not look beyond the text of the executive order, and that is the key that will decide this case if the Supreme Court decides to hear it. I can see the reasoning here … can see both sides of this issue, actually.  Lawyers wrote the executive order, making sure there was no mention of religion.  However, Trump’s speech signals the actual intent of the order and I would like to see it considered.  On the other hand, if the court allows what he said as a candidate to be a consideration, it sets a precedent and could open many cans of worms in future cases and rulings.

Another option I should mention is that lawyers for the Trump administration could seek the justices’ approval to put the travel ban in place on an emergency basis, in which case the justices would vote immediately, but the case would still need to be heard at a later date.  If they should agree to allow the ban to take effect on an emergency basis, there is little doubt that they would uphold the policy when it came up later on.  At any rate, it would be a moot point, as either way the 90-day period would have passed by that time.

I cannot predict with any degree of certainty what will happen at this point.  My one final comment, however, is that Donald Trump and cohorts should be barred from any contact with the Supreme Court justices.  Period.  We have been privy to his bullying tactics, have seen how he has swayed certain members of Congress with threats and intimidation tactics. Although I believe the integrity of all nine justices is such that they would not allow themselves to fall prey to such techniques, it is simply better to avoid any appearance of the administration attempting to sway the court.  Donald Trump cannot fire a justice, and has no real power over the court, but I simply do not trust him.

Although I have not always agreed with the decisions of the Supreme Court, I have almost always believed that the decisions were made with great thought, without political considerations, and I have tremendous respect for both the institution and the justices.  I would like to be able to keep that respect.

Little Donnie Dark Runs Amok Across The Pond …

We should never have let him out of the big White House, let alone allow him to visit our friends on the other side of the pond.  We knew, didn’t we, that he would embarrass us.  We knew that he has no manners, is rude & crude, destined to offend somebody on a near-hourly basis.  But still, we allowed not only him, but also his family to go abroad and further our image as the laughingstock of the globe.

As the song from the Sound of Music starts … let’s start at the very beginning … with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis fed Little Donnie Dark’s ego in a B-I-G way, plastering his image on a 5-story-high billboard in Riyadh.  Saudi citizens were warned to avoid the area, as the image tended to cause symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and depression.

saudi-trump-picture-1They rolled out the red carpet for him at King Khalid airport in Riyadh and there was even a a military brass band and a fighter jet flyover.  Y’know … this is rather like sending your kid to grandma’s house for a weekend … when they come back they are so spoiled, so full of themselves.  And this “kid” was already an egomaniac!

saudi-trump-pic-2The first awkward moment came as Trump accepted a prestigious award from King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Saturday. As he bowed his head to receive the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, the country’s highest civilian honour, Trump appeared to curtsy.  Yes, curtsy … you know, Shirley Temple, ladies addressing their queen back in the olden days … curtsy.

temple-curtsy

Note that Trump had strongly criticized President Obama for bowing to King Abdullah in 2009.

Trump, surrounded by Saudi officials, bopped back and forth with a smile on his face, while White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn busted out more demure moves in the Saudi sword dance known as the ‘ardah’.

ardah

I cannot believe they entrusted him with a lethal weapon!!!

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi added another layer to an already bloated ego, saying, “You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.” Trump replied, “I agree. Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes.”  Oh woe, woe, thrice woe!!!  I am hanging my head in shame …

And then he travelled on …

To Israel, where he proclaimed that he had just returned from the Middle East.  Um, Donnie … Israel IS in the Middle East.

mid-east-map

See it … over on the left next to Jordan?

The thing most people here in the U.S. focused on was when, after disembarking from Air Force One, Trump and Melania were walking down the red carpet, he appears to attempt to take her hand, and she appears to slap it away.  I don’t blame her … I wouldn’t hold his hand either!

Several days ago, I read that Netanyahu had to order his ministers to attend the ceremony for Trump at the airport, as a number of them planned to boycott.  I cannot blame them … I would have called in sick that day.

Moving on to his visit with the Pope in Vatican City … in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words …

papal visitAnd there was more polishing of his ego when Trump received a tribute from the Swiss Guard in a Vatican courtyard upon his arrival.  Don’t these people realize that his ego is already big enough???  Good grief … we will need to soak his head in ice for 72 hours when he returns to Washington, just to get the swelling down!

ice bucket

I’m not sure what the context of this was, but I thought it was funny:  Pope Francis’ interpreter was heard translating a comment by the pope to the First Lady: “What do you give him to eat?”  One could speculate that he was referring to his girth … or …

Pope Francis gave Trump a signed copy of his 2017 peace message whose title is “Nonviolence – A Style of Politics for Peace”, and a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter on the need to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.  I think the Pope is trying to provide a message here …

And last, but certainly not least, we have Trump’s visit to Belgium and NATO.

Now, remember Trump bowed and curtsied to Saudi King Salman and promised Saudi Arabia and other Sunni dictatorships that they “will never question our support,” adding, “We are not here to lecture.” This, despite the fact that the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Daesh and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second-largest group of foreign fighters in Daesh and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen.

And also remember that we are a member of NATO, Belgium is a part of the EU, one of our longest, most trusted allies, but Trump treats them far less cordially than he treated King Salman.

As Karen Attiah, writing for the Washington Post so succinctly put it: “Trump was the party guest whom no one really wants to deal with but has to — because he has more money than anyone else. The party guest who shows up and berates the hosts for not paying for their fair share of the defense spending cake.”

Akbar Shahid Ahmed, a Huffington Post writer, tweeted, “Brutal details on Trump’s interactions with NATO peers. Far cry from obsequiousness & real sense of camaraderie, rebuilding in Saudi.”

“Tea pot meet kettle. Funny how a businessman who gets out of paying his fair share of taxes and tries to change laws to give the rich an even bigger break is lecturing others on paying their way. The hypocrisy.” – Anonymous tweeter

Trump refused to reiterate the U.S.’ support of Article 5, which affirms that NATO members will come to the mutual defense of any member that is under attack. Every president since Harry Truman in 1949 has pledged to honour Article 5 … but Trump refused. If NATO allies were nervous about the United States’ commitment to Europe’s security before, they must be fuming now. What a slap in the face to our friends, our allies.  I am so ashamed of this ‘man’.

In a blunt address, he said directly that 23 of the 28 Nato members were not paying their fair share towards its costs and warned that was unfair to the American taxpayer.  I will go into more detail in another post, but Trump does not understand how NATO works. It is not one of his businesses, and it also isn’t Trump’s place to lecture the ministers of other nations.  One comment I read noted the irony of a man who has declared bankruptcy multiple times and shafted contractors many, many times, has the gall to lecture about ‘paying one’s bills’.  I concur.

Trump . . . apparently decided to air his grievances over Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S. “The Germans are evil, very evil,” Trump reportedly complained in the meeting, attendees told German newspaper Der Spiegel. “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. We’ll stop that.” Der Spiegel reported that E.U. Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker disagreed with Trump, defending the merits of free trade for the global economy. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman notes that depending on the translation, Trump may have been calling the Germans merely “very bad” and not “very evil.” It should be noted that the factories where those German cars are produced are in the U.S., manned by U.S. workers, using many parts made in the U.S.  Shoot yourself in the foot, Donnie-boy.

And lastly, an incident of which I’m sure you’ve all heard by now:  As the leaders began to group themselves for the formal summit photograph, Mr Trump appeared to emerge from the back of the pack and firmly push out of the way Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro – which is about to join the alliance. The American leader is then seen to draw himself to his full height, ready for the picture.

shoving

after the shoveWe have a spoiled brat, a 70-year-old bully in the White House.  That is our problem and of our making.  But it is unconscionable for us to impose his ugliness, his hostility, his crudeness upon the rest of the world, particularly our friends … if, in fact, we have any friends left.  As always, he treats our antagonists much better than he treats our friends.  I am ashamed and embarrassed by this man and his behaviour on this trip, as I knew I would be.  It boils down to one word:  respect.  Donald Trump respects nobody and it is painfully obvious. He must never again be allowed to represent us abroad.

 

The Scarlet “I”

The year is 2017.  Remember this, as it is important.

Maddi Runkles is a senior this year at a small school in western Maryland.  She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, played on the soccer team, and was the president of the student council.  She has never been a disciplinary problem.  But Maddi will not be allowed to graduate with her class this month.  Why?  Because, according to school principal David R. Hobbs, Maddi was ‘immoral’.  Maddi, you see, is pregnant.

hester-prynneMaddi attends Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland, a small Christian school.  When Maddi told the school of her pregnancy in February, they immediately stripped her of her position as student council president and suspended her.  Her father was a member of the Heritage board until his disgust with the treatment of his daughter led to his resignation. He appealed the suspension and Maddi was allowed to return to classes, but not to graduate with her class.  Because she was immoral.  Shades of Hester Prynne …

chillingworthIn a May 22 “Statement from Principal Hobbs” posted on the front page of Heritage Academy’s website, David Hobbs wrote “Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. … A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.” Shades of Roger Chillingworth …

According to a statement by Maddi, “We sign a student code at the beginning of each school year that we’ll refrain from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and pre-marital sex, stuff like that. And other kids at my school have been caught drunk, defacing public property, and other things like that, but they’ve never suffered a punishment as severe as mine…. I decided I wanted to confess what I did and ask for forgiveness from my school, but the other kids who had broken other rules – even when they were caught – they still lied about what they had done. It just seems unfair. I tried to make it right, but was still shot down.”

Maddi-famMaddi says she considered abortion at one point, but her moral opposition to abortion led to her decision to keep the baby. For the past year and a half, the right-wing, evangelical Christians have been protesting loudly against abortion, decrying a worship of the ‘right to life’.  And yet, this so-called ‘Christian’ school condemns this young woman who is guilty of no crime.  She engaged in sex at least once.  Frankly, Roger Chillingworth … er, excuse me, David Hobbs … she did nothing that 95% of your student body over the age of 15 has not done.  And let me ask you, Mr. Hobbs … what if a male student engages in sex … will you ridicule and punish him?

Is it 2017?  Or is it 1642, the year in which Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair, is imprisoned and forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing to remind the world that she is an adulteress?

Maddi Runkles has worked hard … you do not achieve a perfect 4.0 by slacking.  In all my years of college, I never went above a 3.82. We are no longer such a backward society that we believe sex should take place only after marriage vows have been spoken.  The far-right Christian evangelicals cannot have their cake and eat it too.  They cannot abandon Roe v Wade, de-fund Planned Parenthood, claim that abortion is a crime, but then fail to support the young women who get pregnant without being married.  The evangelical Christians who voted for Trump on the single issue of abortion should be incensed by young Maddi’s story, should be storming the Heritage Academy with angry protests against the shoddy treatment she has received.  But the masses are silent.  Just as Hester Prynne wore the scarlet A, so will Maddi Runkles wear the scarlet I for immoral, and the world will remain silent.

scarlet letter

Crippling effect of poverty

Most of us are not wealthy, but yet live well, have a roof over our heads, food to eat, and are able to meet our day-to-day needs. Sometimes, I think, it serves us well to realize that while we may not have much money in the bank, compared to some, we are indeed wealthy. A few days ago, a new blogger happened upon my blog and left a comment. As I always try to do, I responded to her comment, then went to her blog to ‘check it out’. She is a new blogger and what I found on her blog left me with tears in my eyes. I am sharing her story here and I hope you will take a few minutes to read her words. She is living in poverty … not in the western world where we have some protections and assistance, but in South Africa. Please take a moment to read her post and welcome her to our blogging community.

Mom's daily battle against poverty

Poor people usually say “If your children have food to eat, a place to bath, a warm bed to sleep in and parents who love them, they’ll be happy” ….

Let me tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth, children are exposed to so much everyday, they are being teased at school, they suffer emotionally and poverty makes them distance themselves from society or they become bullies to get rid of all the pain of rejection from peers and everyday normal life and activities, I don’t know if I should be happy or sad for my three children because all three of them are introverts instead of bullies.

There’s a saying “Poverty takes up all of your time” and that is so true, because as a grown up or parent you are battling everyday to make ends meet, and you sometimes have to travel up and down just…

View original post 211 more words

Poverty … A State of Mind????

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind.” – Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Department of Housing and Urban Development

Yesterday morning Dr. Ben Carson was interviewed by Armstrong Williams, a longtime friend, and the interview was aired yesterday evening on SiriusXM Radio.  A few snippets from that interview:

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

“There’s also a poverty of spirit. You develop a certain mindset. I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful. It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.”

Try telling that to the single mother of four who struggles every day to put food on the table and every month to pay the rent.

tracy-grant.jpg

Carson tours the apartment of Ms. Tracy Grant

Alzene

87-year-old Alzene Munnerlyn

Earlier this month Carson toured facilities for the poor in Columbus, Ohio where he explained in an interview that in his view, compassion means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”  Although he toured a number of apartments occupied by low income people, he gave the people almost no opportunity to speak with him, to help him to understand their situations.  87-year-old Alzene Munnerlyn living in senior housing said that although he spent about 10 minutes in her apartment, she was not given an opportunity to converse with him. “It was staged. It was so fast.” A dog-and-pony show, some called it.  A photo op … look at the magnanimous Dr. Ben Carson.

At a supportive housing center for drug addicts in Lancaster, Ohio, Trisha Farmer, the chief executive of the Recovery Center, pleaded for more federal help to house recovering addicts. Mr. Carson interjected. “We are talking about incentivizing those who help themselves,” he said, before again asking minutes later about how comfortable the facility was letting people get.

As Zerlina Maxwell tweeted, “Ben Carson said poverty is a state of mind. Next month, I’m going to tell my landlord that I paid my rent with positive thinking!”

I awarded Dr. Carson Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award on March 7th, just a few days after his Senate confirmation. I noted at that time that Carson is as unqualified as Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education) and Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), but no surprise.  Living in the inner city as a child does not, in and of itself, qualify one for the job of Secretary of HUD.  Now, however, Carson lives in a home with an estimated value of $1.2 million and recently purchased a “get-a-way” home in Florida for $4.375 million. His annual salary is just short of $200,000, and according to Forbes, his net worth is $29 million. This is the man who claims to understand poverty, and this is the man upon whom people needing housing assistance must depend.  Spare me. Carson has a complete lack of government experience, lack of knowledge of the issues surrounding his new department and, more importantly, lack of understanding what it is like simply trying to scrape together the rent money each month … all of that makes him remarkably un-qualified.

On Tuesday, Trump’s proposed budget went to the House of Representatives with no chance of passing in its current state.  The budget calls for deep cuts in HUD programs … nearly $6 billion per year. Under those circumstances, HUD needs a strong director, someone who believes in the goals of the agency — to help people; someone who will fight to keep sufficient funding to meet those goals.  Instead, they have a Trump ‘yes-man’, a pansy.

The one bright spot came last month.  Carson has been touring low-income housing in cities around the nation since he took over as Director of HUD, and in April, when he was touring a facility in Miami, he was stuck in an elevator for 20 minutes until the fire department could arrive to free him.  Poetic justice, yes?

Here are a few shots of Carson’s home, just for comparison purposes.

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A Life Restored?

Shaurn Thomas

Shaurn Thomas with his mother

Yesterday evening, a man named Shaurn Thomas was released from prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Thomas had spent 24 years in the Frackville State Correctional Institution, having been sent there in 1993 after being convicted of the November 1990 murder of Domingo Martinez.  Only problem was, Mr. Thomas was innocent … he wasn’t even in the area when Mr. Martinez was shot and killed, yet through a series of judicial bungles, he was convicted. He was 19 when he entered prison, and he is 43 now … the prime years of this man’s life were spent behind bars for no reason.

The murder:

Martinez, 78, was a prominent businessman who owned three North Philadelphia travel agencies and was active with civic groups in the Latino community. On the morning of November 13th, 1990, he had gone to a Mellon Bank branch in Center City about 9 a.m. and withdrawn $25,000 in cash. After he drove away from the bank, his car was struck by another car, and someone in the other car got out, fatally shot Martinez and took the money.

The alibi:

The night before the murder, on November 12, 1990, at about 11:30 p.m., Shaurn Thomas was arrested in Philadelphia for attempted theft of a motorcycle.  Shaurn was held in police custody until sometime around dawn November 13, 1990, when his mother came to the station and signed for his release.  Shaurn and his mother then went straight to the Youth Study Center on the Parkway for an intake interview at 9:00 a.m. After the interview, Shaurn signed a subpoena and was released.  His sister had to come get him, and they both arrived home sometime in the afternoon of November 13, 1990.

The bungles:

The bungles are many, but in the interest of brevity, I will list only the most egregious.

At least four witnesses described the car that struck Martinez’ car and from which the murderer(s) emerged as white with a red top.  Police impounded a blue 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, claiming it was the car used in the murder.  None of the four eye witnesses testified at trial.

A man named John Stallworth confessed to his participation in the murder, naming his brother, Mr. Thomas, and three other individuals.  The confession was quickly proven false, as one of the men he named was in prison at the time of the murder, yet police continued to rely on the confession.  Ultimately, Stallworth testified against Mr. Thomas in exchange for a lighter sentence for himself.

The subpoena that Mr. Thomas signed at the Youth Study Center, along with all records of he and his mother being there that morning, mysteriously disappeared and could not be presented in court.  Mr. Thomas’ mother and sister were not allowed to testify, nor was the court administrator who had met with Shaurn that day.

The exoneration:

Figorski

James Figorski

Enter the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and James Figorski.  Mr. Figorski spent more than two decades working narcotics for the Philadelphia police force, while at the same time earning his law degree. When he retired, Figorski joined the big Philadelphia law firm Dechert, and he also offered his services to the Innocence Project.  In 2009, shortly after the Pennsylvania Innocence Project was formed, Shaurn Thomas sent them a letter proclaiming his innocence and asking for help.  Mr. Figorski happened to be the one to open Shaurn’s letter and has spent the last eight years working pro-bono to help prove Mr. Thomas’ innocence.  He interviewed witnesses who had been interviewed by police, but never asked to testify at trial. An associate interviewed Stallworth’s brother in prison, who admitted that he had lied about seeing Mr. Thomas at the murder scene.  Convinced of Mr. Thomas’ innocence, Mr. Figorski finally met with a prosecutor from the district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit in November 2016.  Members of the unit began reviewing the case and found 36 pages of witness statements that had not been turned over to the defense during Thomas’s trial.

Innocence Project legal director Marissa Bluestine, who worked closely with Mr. Figorski on the case says, “At every level, Shaurn was failed. By his lawyers, by the prosecutors, by the courts. Ironically, it took a former police officer to dig in and prove he’s an innocent man.”

“It happened because he had no money or power,” Figorski said. “They had a cold case they wanted to solve. And they had somebody willing to say [Shaurn] did it.”

innocence-1

All’s well that ends well, right?  But what about 24 years of a man’s life?  What about the botched investigation and trial? Shaurn Thomas is only one of many who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit and spent years of their lives in prison.  Granted, no system of justice can be perfect, but in so many of these cases we see blatant discrepancies, witnesses ignored, coerced or intimidated, evidence altered or ignored … all in order to close a case.  Although Mr. Thomas received a sentence of life in prison, some who are innocent are sitting on death row today.

After spending more than half his life in prison, Mr. Thomas says he is not bitter:

“Life’s too short for that. I just move on forward. It’s a tragedy that happened to me, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.”

But he may not find it so easy to “just move on forward”.

“Deprived for years of family and friends and the ability to establish oneself professionally, the nightmare does not end upon release. With no money, housing, transportation, health services or insurance, and a criminal record that is rarely cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after innocence has been proven. Despite their proven innocence, the difficulty of reentering society is profound for the wrongfully convicted; the failure to compensate them adds insult to injury. Society has an obligation to promptly provide compassionate assistance to the wrongfully convicted.”The Innocence Project 

The federal government, the District of Columbia, and 32 states do have compensation statutes of some form. Pennsylvania does not, so Mr. Thomas will receive no compensation or assistance from the state and is left right about where he left off 24 years ago at the age of nineteen.  My hat is off to this gentleman who is not bitter, for I believe I would be.  Would you? Think about it.

Good People Doing Good Things – Kids

“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”  – William James, Philosopher & Psychologist

These days we often look around at the chaos of the world and ask ourselves, “what is the world coming to?”  On a daily basis we are exposed to stories about the evil of mankind, man’s inhumanity to man, and we wonder what future generations will be like.  Some days it seems as if humanity and compassion are destined to become a thing of the past.  So when a story about a young person doing good things crossed my path, I was encouraged and went in search of more.  Today’s post is but a small sampling of what I found, and I am encouraged … I hope you will be too.


Wed-Ponce-3Thomas Ponce is sixteen years old and already has a number of projects under his belt.  He is the founder of Lobby For Animals, the Coordinator for Fin Free FL, and founder of Harley’s Home, which is used as his school-based animal rights club. A vegetarian at age of 4, he began writing about animal rights at the age of 5.  Soon after, Thomas’s parents realized that his advocacy for animals was not a phase, but a way of life.

“I feel that it is our responsibility as both citizens and human beings to use our minds, hearts and voices to speak up against the injustices we see in the world.”

Somebody raised this kid right! There is so much to say about young Mr. Ponce, and he has done so much in his short lifetime, that I cannot possibly cover all his good works here.

At age 12, he was awarded a $1,000 grant by The Pollination Project  , an organization that makes seed grants to individuals who seek to spread compassion in their communities and in the world for the benefit of all. With help from his mentor, animal rights attorney Jessica Astrof, Thomas launched Lobby for Animals,  an on line lobbying and education resource for animal rights activists to come together and make their voices heard. Take a minute to visit the website … it is extremely well-done and contains tons of information, not only about animal rights, but also about climate change and other issues affecting our world today.

Wed-Ponce-2“I am starting the project because I am passionate about protecting animal rights. I am also just as passionate about educating as many people as I can about ways that they can make a difference in their own lives, as well as in the lives of the countless animals that are suffering on factory farms, in laboratories, and in animal entertainment. I know that this is the purpose of my life. I am here to make a difference, and I won’t stop until I do. I know this project will be a success because I will make it a success.”

Thomas’ other two projects, Fin Free FL and Harley’s Home are equally admirable, though on a slightly smaller scale.  This kid is 16 … just 16 years old … and look what he has accomplished in so few years!  He puts me to shame!  I cannot even begin to imagine the mark he will have made on this world by the time he is 30!

To read more about young Thomas, check out Thomas Ponce: On Behalf of All Living Beings


Wed-dresses-BaileyFour years ago, Bailey Chance’s grandmother, Nancy Geren, taught her then 9-year-old granddaughter to sew.  Little did she know how Bailey would turn her newfound skill into something for the benefit of others.  In the four years since learning to sew, Bailey has sewn more than 100 dresses … but not for herself.  She has made the dresses and donated them all to an organization called Dress a Girl Around the World, a part of non-profit Hope 4 Women International.  The dresses Bailey makes will go to places like Haiti, where girls have survived natural disasters and lost everything. The organization brings them hope. “Their goal is to help girls in poverty all around the world. They work with 82 different countries,” said Bailey.

Wed-dresses-1Last year, Bailey made hospice baskets with spa cloths, bath salts and soap, and gave them to nurses and patients at a local hospice.  Now 13 years of age, Bailey wants to inspire other young people to give of themselves: “ … no matter how young you are, you can change the world a little at a time. You don’t have to do it big – that no matter how small, you’re always helping someone.”


13-year-old Erin Byrnes of Syracuse, New York, had worked hard collecting cans and bottles for months, and finally she had earned $200 for her efforts.  What did she do with her earnings?  She bought 60 tickets for the annual Joseph’s House car raffle.  Joseph’s House is a home that offers mothers and pregnant women a place where they can live, raise their children and get parenting help. The goal of the home is to prevent abortions by giving women and children a safe place to live.

Wed-erin-SUVSo on the night of the raffle, with her 60 tickets out of the 26,000 sold, the winning ticket was announced and … WOW … Erin won a completely loaded, brand-new Chevrolet Tahoe, valued at $70,000!  Now what, you may ask, does a 13-year-old do with an SUV?  She donates it right back to Joseph’s House, of course!  That same night, Erin also received an award for her volunteer work at Joseph’s House.  Every Thursday night, she goes there to take care of the babies and do chores around the rambling house where the women and children live.

Wed-Erin-ByrnesThough Erin’s parents, with five other children and an older model car, could have used the SUV, they told her it was entirely her choice and they supported her decision. Great parents raise great kids, yes? For her next project, Erin wants to raise more money to buy Christmas presents for the moms at Joseph’s House.


Last August, 9-year-old Emma Burkhart of Durant, Oklahoma, just happened to receive two of the exact same blanket as birthday presents.  It happens … and blankets are pretty useful things overall … I have 3 or 4 on my bed.  But Emma decided that one such blanket was enough, and she gave the other away to a needy child.  Then she thought about all the needy children in her community and with a bit of help from her mother, started the Keep Kids Warm Blanket Drive. By Christmas, Emma and friends had collected some 200 blankets that went to three local organizations — Families Feeding Families Christmas Program, Adopt-a-Block Program and Student Assistance Program — and were distributed to kids who needed them.

Wed-blanket-EmmaB


These are just a few of the many kids who are making small contributions, granted, but they are small people without many resources.  What they are doing, though, is proving that their hearts are in the right place, and I am predicting that each of these young people will grow up to be the kind of caring, giving people this world needs more of.  I was deeply appreciative and inspired by each of these stories, and even more so by the fact that as I traveled through the Internet in search of them, I came across so many inspiring stories of kids who are giving and caring that it was difficult to choose only a few.  I think the moral of this post, if it must have one, is that even those who have very little can make a big difference in the world.  And there are some awesome kids out there!

A Tale Of Two Tales …

“There’s no problem on the planet that can’t be solved without violence. That’s the lesson of the civil rights movement.” – Andrew Young

Two stories hit my radar and make me wonder what people are thinking … if, indeed, they are thinking … and also make me wonder, as I have many a time in the past year-and-a-half, what has become of our society.


The first pertains to threats to lynch a congressman …

Al-Green

Rep. Al Green

Al Green has been the U.S. Representative from Texas’s 9th congressional district since 2005.  He is a democrat, and also happens to be African-American.  Last week, Mr. Green, along with many others, criticized Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and, as it came to light that the firing was a result of Mr. Comey’s investigation into Trump’s Russian connections, Congressman Green called for Trump’s impeachment.  He was not alone, and even a few republicans in Congress made similar comments.  However, to the best of my knowledge, no others received the same response to their remarks as Congressman Green.

For example:

“Hey, Al Green, we got an impeachment for you. It’s going to be yours. Was actually gonna give you a short prop trial before we hang your n—– ass.”

“You’re not going to impeach anybody, you f—— n—– … You’ll be hanging from a tree. I didn’t see anybody calling for the impeachment of your n—– Obama when he was born in Kenya. He’s not even an American. So f— you, n—–.”

sadTwo republican representatives, Justin Amash from Michigan and Carlos Curbelo from Florida also called for Trump’s impeachment last week, but they did not receive lynching threats.

According to The Washington Post, “It’s unclear whether there is a police investigation of the calls, though hate crime charges are not likely. The FBI defines hate crimes as crimes committed based on a bias against a person’s race, color, religion or national origin. But for a crime to exist, there must an accompanying act of violence, such as murder, arson or vandalism. Hate itself is not a crime — and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

Most of you know that I am quite serious about protection of 1st Amendment rights, defend them avidly.  When somebody threatens to lynch a man, that exceeds the bounds of the rights guaranteed under the 1st Amendment.  Period.  There can be no argument. Likely these are empty threats, phone calls made by cowards … racist, bigoted cowards.  But what if they aren’t?  Lynching of black people has a long and ugly history in this country, the last recorded one being Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama in 1981. Those of us with consciences cringe at even hearing the word.  These threats, and the people who would make such threats, have no place in our society today.


david-kustoff

Rep. David Kustoff

The second story is that of Wendi L. Wright of Weakley County, Tennessee.  Ms. Wright was incensed a few weeks ago, as were many of us, when the House of Representatives irresponsibly caved on the bill to repeal ACA and replace it with … basically a bill that would deny healthcare to some 24 million people.  I, too, was incensed that our elected representatives were so irresponsive to the needs of their constituents.  However, I did not go out and attempt to run my representative off the road.  Ms. Wright did … she tailed the car carrying Representative David Kustoff on May 8th. When the driver of the congressman’s car became alarmed, he pulled into a driveway, at which point Ms. Wright got out of her car, walked over to the one in which Kustoff was riding and began pounding on the windows, screaming obscenities.  Then she stood in front of the car to keep them from pulling out from the driveway.

Wendi-wright

Wendi L. Wright

Ms. Wright left before police arrived, but went home and posted details of the encounter on her Facebook page, which is how law enforcement officials found her.  She is now out of jail on $1,000 bond.  At first glance, this story seems almost humorous, but it had the potential to have become deadly.  My fear is that with more and more contempt for the needs of the citizens coming out of Washington, with We The People being represented less and less every week, our needs and wishes obviously irrelevant to the wealthy administration, we will begin seeing even more episodes like the one between Ms. Wright and Mr. Kustoff.  And sooner or later, somebody will end up dead.


These two stories highlight some bitter facts about our society and about the influence of the current occupant of the Oval Office and his minions.  We are an angry society … I understand this.  I, too, am angry.  However violence solves nothing.  We are better than this and it’s about damn time we all came to realize that the hate, the vitriol, the name-calling and labels, the ranting, the threats … none of these solve anything.  We are rapidly spiraling into an abyss from which there may be no return in our lifetimes.  Let’s get the rich, white, inconsiderate bums out of Congress and out of the White House, but for Pete’s sake, let us do it with our voices and our votes, not our lives.