An Ugly Voice — Peter T. King

I had no intention of writing about this topic again this week.  I was fairly certain it would come up again in the near future, for I don’t think the final word has been said yet, but I thought the topic was put to bed for a nap, at least.  Until, that is, the abominable New York Congressman  Peter King had to open his mouth and spew the most ludicrous thing I have heard and get the needle on my radar twitching and my fingers itching.  And what topic is that, you may be wondering?  The NFL decision to fine teams & players who refuse to stand for the playing of the national anthem before games.

My feelings on this are well-known and do not bear repeating, but an examination of Mr. King’s statement is definitely in order.  As I mentioned in my last post about this topic, Take A Knee, there was one team owner who stood above all the rest in the decision of the team owners.  Christopher Johnson, acting owner of the New York Jets, stood up for his players …chris johnson.jpg“I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

I applaud him for being the only one to stand heads above the rest, to have the courage of his convictions, to stand for his players.  But apparently Representative King viewed it a bit differently …Pete King.pngHe is comparing taking a knee rather than standing at attention for a stupid song to a Nazi salute?  He is comparing a peaceful protest against police brutality and racial injustice to a group of people who commited murder, who committed genocide, who committed crimes against humanity when they killed more than 6 million people???  What tree did this ‘man’ fall from?

I commented on his tweet:

“You are delusional, Mr. King, and not worthy of the office you hold.  Have you ever read the U.S. Constitution?  I suggest you do so, post haste.”

That was mild, compared to what I wanted to say, but Twitter has a word limit, and presumably a set of standards about language, so I restrained myself.  But let us ask a question here:  Is this the ‘new norm’?  Is what used to be admirable no longer so, and bigotry now what is looked up to?

I was encouraged that, with few exceptions, the comments to King’s tweet were along the lines of voting him out of office, which tells me that no, We The People have not become cruel, heartless, anti-freedom idiots.  But how did we come to this point, to this place where we are electing people to high offices in our federal government who have so little humanity, no empathy for humans?  And in New York, of all places!  C’mon, New Yorkers … you’re better than this!

Peter King photo.pngMr. King piqued my curiosity … people don’t just become this way overnight, after all … so I dug a little deeper.  What I found is an unapologetic racist, an intense Islamophobe, homophobe.  King has been in office since 1992, and it is the opinion of this writer that it is well past time to take out the trash.  Let us hope that there is a strong, viable candidate running against Mr. King in the 2nd congressional district of New York in November.

The Banana States of America — Part I

dana milbankA recent OpEd piece in The Washington Post by journalist Dana Milbank, carried the same title as this post … yes, I ‘borrowed’ it from him.  The premise of the article was that this 115th Congress is the most authoritarian in the history of the United States.  An excerpt from Mr. Milbank’s column

“Hillary Clinton warns of a “full-fledged crisis in our democracy.” Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state fired by President Trump, now warns that “American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” (Too bad he didn’t say so when he was on the job.)

They are both correct, in a sense, but right now the fear of the United States going totalitarian doesn’t feel quite right. This crowd is too clownish to be Stalinist. Rather, the United States is turning into a banana republic …”

That is precisely what our friend Roger has been saying all along.  And he (Milbank, not Roger) goes on to cite some specific examples, such as …

“The president of the United States orders the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. The Justice Department complies.

The president, The Post reports, personally urged the postmaster general to double the rate it charges Amazon, apparently because he doesn’t like the coverage by The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.”

But rather than dwell on the article, which you can read from the link above, I wanted to find out what, exactly, constitutes a ‘banana republic’, so I did some research.  Technically, the term ‘banana republic’ refers to a country that is politically unstable with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas, minerals, etc. But in today’s conversations, it became an epithet for a country whose governing institutions are corrupt, arbitrary, and generally inadequate.  Clownish.

I came across a list of ten criteria that defines a banana republic in the modern day usage.  The United States, at this point under the leadership of Donald Trump, fits the bill for 8 of the 10, the only two missing being ‘torture’ and ‘high unemployment rates’.  I think we should take a look at these points.  As I researched, pondered, and wrote, this piece well exceeded my self-imposed outer limit of 1,200 words, even though I trimmed as much as I felt it appropriate to trim.  Thus, this became, over the course of a few days, a two-part series.  This is Part I, and Part II will follow this afternoon.  I also subtly changed the direction of my thoughts as I read, studied and learned more.   Where feasible, I have included links for those who may wish to learn more. Please forgive my wordiness, but I do hope you will give some thought to what I am about to say.

#1 – Rising income inequality and a shrinking middle class.  This isn’t a new complaint, for five years ago, in 2013, a well-researched report in the Journal of Economic Perspectives asserted that the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. They found that while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.” And earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD also found that the U.S. now leads the developed industrialized world in income inequality.

#2 – Unchecked Police Corruption and an Ever-Expanding Police State. Let me just throw out a few names for you, folks, starting with Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and the list goes on … and on.  Unarmed black men and women who were killed by police only for the crime of … being black.  And in every case except that of Walter Scott, the police who did the killing walked away scot free.  But more … add to that the way immigration raids by ICE are conducted, the way drug raids are conducted, enhancements to FISA, and you see a pattern of an authoritarian police force.

#3 – Highest Incarceration Rate in the World.  The U.S. has an incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000!  The next highest is Russia, with 615 per 100,000 people.  Does this mean that U.S. citizens are the most criminal in nature?  No, not at all.  Much of it is due to the ‘war on drugs’, which has emphasized draconian sentences for nonviolent offenses.  The prison industrial complex has become quite a racket. From prison labor to construction companies to companies specializing in surveillance technology, imprisoning people is big business in the United States—and the sizable prison lobby has a major stake in keeping draconian drug laws on the books.

#4 – Corrupt Alliance of Big Business and Big Government.  Need I say more than gun-makers, NRA and Republicans in Congress?  Consider Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism: the merger of state and corporate power. Consider the previously unchecked power of the too-big-to-fail banks.  And now, with Trump rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking regulations, we are returning to that state.  Banks, oil & coal companies, the gun manufacturers and others are holding hands with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress as regulations to protect the environment and the people are demolished.

To be continued …

Take A Knee …

1st amendment Today, the National Football League (NFL) took it upon itself to slash the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The owners implemented a new rule that teams and therefore players will be fined if they take a knee on the field during the national anthem.  Now, they are allowed to remain off the field during the playing of the anthem, but they cannot show their protest as Colin Kaepernick did in August 2016.  Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne said it well …Dionne-tweetCommissioner Roger Goodell had this to say …

“The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.

The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed. The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.

It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.

This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.

We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it — and on our fans who enjoy it.”

People of conscience who are fortunate enough to have a wide platform want to use that voice to rally against injustice, and they will be fined if they do so.  What’s wrong with this picture?  How did we get so out of sync here?

kneelingPatriotism?  Loyalty to country?  The flag is a piece of cloth and the anthem is a song.  Nothing more.  They are symbols, but symbols of what, exactly?  What is patriotism?  Does patriotism require that we sit down and shut up when we would speak out against an unarmed black man being killed by a cop for no reason other than that he was black?  Does being loyal to our country mean that we cannot speak out when people are being discriminated against because they are gay?  If that’s what patriotism and loyalty mean, count me out!

The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.
The membership also strongly believes that:
1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem.
3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.
4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
6. The commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.

You know what I would like to see?  I would like to see every single player on every team take a knee during the anthem in the first games of the season.  At least one team owner had some cojones.  Christopher Johnson, the chairman and C.E.O. of the New York Jets, said the team would not punish players who choose to kneel during the anthem, despite the cost.

“There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

Mike Pence, a known bigot and Trump sycophant, tweeted thisPence tweetStunning. Victory. For. Trump. That, folks, is what this is all about. If Trump speaks out against the NFL, they are afraid they will lose fans and thus lose some of those billions they rake in every season. Gotta keep the madman at the helm happy.

There may be some hope for a reversal, as the NFL and the team owners failed to consult with the players union.  The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued the following statement:

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,’ ” the NFLPA said in a statement. “NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.

The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.

Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

I hope they find the entire policy to be inconsistent.  This is a slap in the face to the 1st amendment, to the right of free speech, the right to protest.  Football players cannot take a knee, but white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK can shut down entire cities and create an atmosphere of chaos and violence?  Trump denigrates the football players for a peaceful, calm, silent protest, while he calls the violent bigots and racists from the Charlottesville rally ‘very fine people’. Trump nfl vs kkk.jpgThink about this one for a while, folks.  Trump is cherry-picking the U.S. Constitution.  He likes to always be “the winner”.  And who, then, is the loser?  We The People.

Is It Any Wonder That …

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” – Donald Trump, Wednesday 16 May 2018

“Frankly, I don’t think the term that the president used was strong enough.” – Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Thursday, 17 May 2018

Trump and Sanders both claim that he was referring to members of the gang known as MS-13.  Perhaps so, but it doesn’t matter, for it is not appropriate for the ‘man’ who is supposed to set an example, as leader of a republic, to refer to any human being as an ‘animal’. And in context, it sounded as if he were referring to immigrants in general. But either way, words are important, especially when they are heard by millions of people, and most especially when they are uttered by a man who is supposed to be the leader of a nation of more than 300 million people.  So, is it any wonder that …

New York City attorney Aaron Schlossberg probably wishes he had a chance for a ‘do-over’ of Wednesday.  The man went into Fresh Kitchen in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, presumably to get some lunch.  Something must have given him a brain fart, though, for all of a sudden he went off on a rant to one of the employees of the eatery, yelling …

“Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English. Every person I listen to: He spoke it, he spoke it, she’s speaking it.”

He then threatened to call immigration enforcement authorities on the employees, alleging, apparently with no evidence beyond the language that they were speaking, that they were not legal residents of the country.

“My guess is they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country. If they have the balls to come here and live off my money — I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do — the least they can do — is speak English.”

Obviously somebody peed in his corn flakes that morning.

A bystander captured the entire rant on video, posted it on Facebook, and from there it went viral.  Two New York lawmakers, Representative Adriano Espaillat and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., happened upon the video and filed a misconduct complaint …

“What was witnessed in the vile video from Mr. Schlossberg, which has since gone viral, is a humiliating and insulting attack on the more than 50 years of progress that this nation has made since the civil rights movement. The audacity to profile and verbally assault innocent bystanders and customers in a public commercial location is a violation of our civil society.”

Ironically, Schlossberg’s law firm advertises that it can take phone calls in four foreign languages, and Schlossberg himself claims to speak Spanish.  Corporate Suites, the company that operates the business center in which Schlossberg leases office space, has terminated its agreement with him. According the company’s president, Hayim Grant …

“His actions are just not consistent with our community and rules and regulations,” the company’s president, Hayim Grant, told the Post. “It’s totally contrary to everything we believe in as a company and personally.”

A petition has been started on calling for Schlossberg to be disbarred, and has already gained more than 10,000 signatures. A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to send a mariachi band and taco truck to Schlossberg’s office.

Or is it any wonder that …deportation bus.jpgMichael Williams is currently a Georgia State Senator who is running for governor of Georgia this year.  Since he is currently polling in last place, he decided to spice things up a bit, rally the troops, so to speak.  Or, perhaps I should say ‘rally the racists’.  Williams has converted a school bus (see above) to a racist-mobile, complete with slogans like “FILL THIS BUS WITH ILLEGALS” and “DANGER! MURDERERS, RAPISTS, KIDNAPPERS, CHILD MOLESTORS [sic], AND OTHER CRIMINALS ON BOARD.”

Nice, huh?  This week he launched a ‘bus tour’ with scheduled stops at Georgia restaurants, including at least 10 Cracker Barrels.  Only thing was, he didn’t clear it with Cracker Barrel, and it is definitely not okay with them!  Cracker Barrel issued the following statement:

“We are not sponsoring this event or supporting Mr. Williams’ campaign stops in any way, and per our company policy, we will not allow him – or any political candidate—to host an event on Cracker Barrel’s property. We take pride in showing our communities and our country that the hospitality we practice is indeed welcoming and inclusive to all.”

Another restaurant where he planned to take his road show, Brian’s Buffet in Griffin, Georgia issued a one-sentence statement on its Facebook page:

“We do not support Michael Williams running for governor and he is banned from the parking lot.“

So far, Williams’ bus tour has been marked by protests from people who want him there even less than the restaurants do. On Wednesday, the first day of the tour, Williams allegedly threatened the throng of protestors, threatening to run them down with his bus and have them arrested.Last summer, Williams posed with a white supremacist militia group, where he urged voters to “unite against Sharia law.”  I am always amazed when people in the U.S. protest against something that is not a problem in the U.S. and about which they know almost nothing.  Anyway, one of the men in the picture, Alex Ramos, was convicted this month for his role in beating a counter-protester at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August.

And is it any wonder that …

In Pennsylvania, U.S. House Representative Mike Kelly is very upset that Democrats think racial discrimination is still a problem.  (So is boot-licking, Mikey)  Needless to say, he voted in favour of rescinding regulations put into place to protect minorities from discrimination in auto-lending.  Coincidentally, Kelly owns a group of auto dealerships. Mike KellyReferring to the debate on the House floor over the legislation …

“I just think that if you come to the floor and there are 60 minutes to debate. 30 minutes on each side. But as I was sitting there, I had 30 minutes of Democrats coming down and talking about how bad automobile people are because they discriminate against nonwhite buyers. I said that’s not America. We don’t talk about those things.”

We. Don’t. Talk. About. Those. Things.  Really, Mike?

And is it any wonder that …Donald Sherman, was pushing his son Caleb in a stroller through a local park in Washington D.C., and instead of having a peaceful and very normal walk through the park he was approached by a police officer who told Sherman she received a call about a “suspicious man” with a baby.  Sherman said there had been only one other person in the park that morning, a white lady on a bicycle who veered off as he and his son approached.  Apparently she saw fit to report the man and his baby.  For walking.  In a public park.

These are only four incidents from the past week.  There are more, but I am out of time and space for the moment.  When the ‘man’ in charge says it is okay to hate based on race, skin colour, or whatever other criteria, then those who follow his every word, take it to heart.  Yeah, words matter, folks.

Meet David Sadler …

Over 2 million black Americans were unable to vote in 2016.  One in thirteen African-Americans are not able to vote due to a felony conviction.  In four states, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, that rate is one in five!  My initial intent was to write this post on the topic of ‘felon disenfranchisement’, as it is called.  But I came across the story of one man who fought to restore his right to vote and is now running for state senator representing the 25th District of Alabama.  This man’s story is amazing.  Be sure to take a look at the ‘hugs’ video!

He Walked for His Right to Vote. Now He’s Running for Office.

David Sadler wants to be the next state senator representing the 25th District of Alabama, a stack of three counties in the southern part of the state that includes the capital, Montgomery. He is handsome, charismatic and passionate, and speaks in the apolitical language of unity and justice. He’s running as a Democrat but doesn’t strongly identify with any political party.

He probably won’t win — the 25th District is overwhelmingly Republican and white — but don’t tell him that.

“We’re going to win,” Mr. Sadler said on one unusually cool evening late last month, as he hunkered down on the general-admission lawn at the Montgomery Biscuits’ minor-league ballpark. His 5-year-old son, Dennis, sat curled on his lap, wrapped in a thick yellow Biscuits blanket.

Mr. Sadler, who is 45 and runs a car service in Montgomery, recounted a recent conversation with one of his regular clients, a political pollster. “You cannot win. Flat out. You cannot win,” Mr. Sadler recalled him saying. “But then, within five minutes of talking to me, he said, ‘You know what? Let me take that back. If anybody can win, you can win.’”

You’d think that Mr. Sadler would be the kind of citizen-politician who would define the American system, fulfilling its ambition to be a participatory democracy. But it’s only through his own extraordinary efforts to break down the system’s barriers against him that he can even vote, let alone run.

Mr. Sadler grew up near Pittsburgh as a clean-living, law-abiding kid in a family of drug dealers. Shortly after starting college, he was charged with attempting to sell a small amount of crack cocaine to an undercover informant. It was a case of mistaken identity, he said. But he agreed to plead guilty — he was young and afraid, and his court-appointed lawyer told him it was the only sure way to avoid prison.

In 2000, Mr. Sadler moved to Orlando, Fla., with plans to play professional football in the arena league. At the first workout, he ruptured a tendon in his knee. He gave up sports and applied to a master’s program in international business at the University of Central Florida, but his request for financial aid was denied. “And that’s how I found out I was a convicted felon,” Mr. Sadler said. “I had no clue.” The consequences, he quickly learned, were not limited to financial aid. He couldn’t get jobs other than menial labor, and — along with about six million other Americans with a criminal record — he couldn’t vote.

Felon-disenfranchisement laws have had a huge and largely unnoticed impact on American politics, including possibly altering the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Most were passed in the late 1800s explicitly to keep black people from the ballot box, and today they continue to hurt minorities disproportionately. But lately the tide has been turning, as many states have made it easier for people with criminal records to vote again. In Florida, which disenfranchises more people with criminal records than any other state, voters will decide in November whether to restore voting rights to as many as 1.5 million of their neighbors. And New Jersey lawmakers are considering whether to join Vermont and Maine as the only states to allow people to vote even while in prison.

For Mr. Sadler, the only way to regain the right to vote was a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania. So he did what anyone with limitless energy and a very good pair of shoes would do: He hand-delivered a clemency petition, walking from Orlando to the governor’s office in Harrisburg. Over 32 days in the dead of summer, he walked 1,178 miles, dawn to dusk daily, sleeping on benches and subsisting on whatever food he could afford along the route. He grew a beard and lost 25 pounds. “That walk was like my pilgrimage to manhood,” Mr. Sadler said. “I looked like Forrest Gump.”

The governor denied his petition. But his walk earned him publicity and the attention of a veteran civil-rights activist and political organizer in Alabama, Jerome Gray. Mr. Gray convinced Mr. Sadler to move to Alabama and lead a push to restore voting rights to the more than quarter-million disenfranchised Alabamians. Mr. Sadler took the job, and traveled around the state in support of a 2004 state law that made it easier for people with a criminal record to regain the right to vote.

When Mr. Sadler tried again for a pardon, Mr. Gray gave him some advice: “Don’t make any noise this time. Don’t walk; don’t do anything.” Instead, Mr. Gray said, lie low. In 2011, it worked. “I say it’s my rebirth,” Mr. Sadler said. “It took me 16 years, but I got it.”

Since then, Mr. Sadler has gotten married and started a family — he and his wife, Destiny, have three young children. Last year, he helped push for another significant reform of the state’s infamous “moral turpitude” law, a Jim Crow-era relic that has blocked hundreds of thousands of people from voting.

He also has a streak of showmanship, an instinct for virality and a desire to connect with people that could serve him well in public office, but which have so far manifested in a series of increasingly bold and disarming public actions, beginning with his long-distance trek. In 2016, Mr. Sadler stood blindfolded outside the Biscuits’ stadium and offered free hugs — “to prove to people,” he said, “that it’s not the same old South.” Fans of all colors and ages took him up, and a video of the event has gotten more than six million views on Facebook.

Last July 4, in response to the shootings of unarmed black men around the country, Mr. Sadler staged his own hanging in the heart of downtown Montgomery. The holiday crowd stood and gawked, but the police left him alone. A sign taped to his body said “Dear D.O.J.: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”

That’s not a political platform, exactly, but it speaks to Mr. Sadler’s basic message, which is, he said, “to restore hope and self-worth through faith.” His hope, in the immediate future at least, is to energize the tens of thousands of eligible voters in the 25th District who don’t usually turn out — many of whom may be able to vote for the first time since having a criminal record, thanks in part to his efforts. (He’s not giving up the stunts, though: he said his campaign plans to carry a sofa to cities around the district and invite voters to sit down and talk.)

Jerome Gray, the political organizer, has no illusions about the challenge Mr. Sadler faces, but he declined to count him out.

“He came to Alabama with no car, and now he has a transportation service,” Mr. Gray said. “He owns his own home. He has a fleet of cars. That guy, I don’t write him off, because he won’t go away.” – The New York Times Editorial Board – 16 May 2017


Does This Look Like Peace?

Yesterday, the United States officially relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The move was not one I applauded. The timing could not likely have been worse, and the result was disastrous.  Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game on behalf of the nation he supposes to represent, the United States, and he is playing it with human lives as pawns.JerusalemJerusalem is a controversy in and of itself.  Jerusalem has been fought over sixteen times in its history. It has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Today, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.  The embassy move has been considered in the past by former presidents Clinton, Bush (Jr.), and Obama, but each of those held back, because it has long been the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and moving the embassy would place the U.S. squarely on the side of Israel … and against Palestine. Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, said that where the U.S. is “supposed to be acting like the fireman, instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”

The move of the U.S. Embassy signals far more than a simple relocation … it signals that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Think about that one … who gave the U.S. the right to decide where Israel’s capital lies?  Nobody, that’s who.  So why did we do it?  Because he likes to keep campaign promises made to his base. Plain and simple. His base lobbied hard for the move, including evangelicals and, of course, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner lobbied for the idea as well.

The opening day festivities got under way, and it was a matter of minutes before trouble started.  The region, already in a heightened state of upheaval, partly as a result of Trump’s other disastrous decision to renege on the U.S.’ commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, erupted into chaos.  Well, technically, it should not have been considered chaos, as most of the Palestinian protestors were unarmed and were merely trying to get into Jerusalem.  But then the Israeli military opened fire.  As of this writing, there are at least 60 confirmed dead and more than 2,700 injured. No Israelis have been injured.  Donald Trump and Benjamin Netahyahu must own each and every one of those unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the Kushers had a great time …kushners-partyThe utter ludicrousness of the scene was enhanced by the two U.S. evangelical pastors who took part in the opening ceremony. One, Robert Jeffries, was awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week in November 2016 for his bigotry and hypocrisy  .  The man who once said that “Jews and Muslims will go to Hell”, yesterday said, “Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the Messiah.”  He also managed to get in a plug for Trump, saying Trump “stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.”  Quick, somebody get me a bucket!

I am told that evangelicals believe an embassy in Jerusalem is a key step to the ‘end of days’.  Not being of their faith, I fail to see how ‘end of days’ is seen as a good thing, but given the chaos the move created, it appears they may well have hastened that event, at least for many living in the Middle-East.

When Trump first announced his intention to move the embassy, he called it, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”  Does this look like peace to you?Peace-not

First Amendment Run Amok?

We all remember last August, when white supremacist groups held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the pretext of protesting the removal of a Civil War statue of Robert E. Lee.  At least, that was what we were told was the purpose of the rally.  One of the organizers let it slip that the real purpose of the rally was to unify far-right hate groups including white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK.  The rally ended in tragedy when 19 people were injured and a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by James Alex Fields, who drove his car viciously into a crowd.

Charlottesville-KesslerWell, guess what, folks?  The primary event organizer, one Jason Kessler, wants to do it again this year – he wants to hold an “anniversary celebration”.  Interestingly, other white supremacist groups are not on board with the idea.  Last November, Kessler applied to the city of Charlottesville, but his request was denied, citing “danger to public safety”.  Kessler, of course, wasn’t about to take that lying down, so in March he filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it was denying his 1st Amendment rights.  Legal experts say it will fall on the city to prove that police would be unable to adequately protect protesters and citizens.

Why are other white supremacist groups on the bandwagon with Kessler’s idea? Both Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi Mike Peinovich say they will not attend if Kessler holds his rally.  Their stated reason is they fear attacks by “antifa thugs”.  But the reality, it seems, is that the entire “alt-right”, the collective term for white supremacist, nationalist and other such groups have been in a state of flux.  After the August Charlottesville disaster …

“Web companies finally started taking action against the white supremacy that had been allowed to fester on their platforms. The Daily Stormer, for instance, was dropped by domain provider GoDaddy for inciting violence in the wake of the rally, and has since bounced around the internet looking for a permanent home. Spencer’s fundraising efforts have collapsed, his legal counsel deserted him and, this week, he even had his credit card declined when he tried to buy a $4.25 shot of bourbon.”ThinkProgress, 11 May 2018

Kessler, however, is undaunted by the lack of support from the other groups and claims that …

“I do have a backup plan, for people who have been asking, and that is going to be in front of the White House. If Charlottesville denies our permit for any reason, it’s not safe, we’re going to get in vans and we’re going to go to Lafayette Park in front of the White House.”

Somehow, it sounds like a lot of hot air to me, BUT … it brings me to a point.  Is it, perhaps, time for some tweaks and adjustments to the U.S. Constitution?  The document was written and ratified in 1787, more than 230 years ago, and it has served quite well ever since.  But times change, and as we have seen in other areas, sometimes the document needs to be adjusted to reflect those changes.

The freedom of speech that is guaranteed in the 1st Amendment was never intended to be a mechanism for violence against the innocent, but today it is used just so.  I have alluded to this before, but largely stay away from the suggestion to ‘amend the amendment’, for it is a slippery slope and there is the fear that we might actually put restrictions on the very sorts of speech that should … must … be protected in order to maintain our free republic.  And it’s a sad shame that we need to even consider restricting the right to free speech … a shame that we, as human beings, do not have the good sense to temper our speech in the interest of respect, dignity and common sense.  But, welcome to the 21st century.

Other nations have found ways to limit speech that infringes on the rights of others, that incites violence, without sacrificing the right to speak out when government is making poor decisions, or abusing its power.  The UK and many other European nations have laws against

  • Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace.

  • Sending any article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety.

  • Incitement, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to religious hatred, incitement to terrorism including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications, glorifying terrorism, collection or possession of a document or record containing information likely to be of use to a terrorist.

  • Treason including advocating for the abolition of the monarchy or compassing or imagining the death of the monarch.

hate speechHow, I ask you, could anybody argue against any of those exceptions to freedom of speech?  In a nutshell, the concept is that you have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to express your opinion, but you do not have a right to try to rile people to the point of violence and you do not have the right to cause people, with your speech, to feel intimidated or distressed.  It’s just common sense!  As a number of readers have expressed in the past, and as I have also said, “your rights end when they infringe upon anothers”.  I feel similarly about religious freedom:  you have the right to believe as you wish, to practice whatever religion you choose or none at all, but you do not have the right to attempt to force others to abide by your beliefs.

By definition, freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment.  Voicing one’s opinion can certainly be done in a manner that does not incite violence.  It can be done without raised voices, without wearing hooded robes, without guns, and without KKK symbols and swastikas.  I would never wish to place limits on voicing one’s opinions … as long as it is done calmly and respectfully.  Over the past 3 years, I have blocked three readers from this blog because they could not manage to comment without using slurs and vulgarity, without being disrespectful.  The same rules ought to apply in a public venue, I should think.

If Jason Kessler and his band of white supremacist thugs are allowed to hold another rally in August, I hope that a few common sense precautions are taken, such as a “no firearms beyond this point” rule, a “no motorized vehicles beyond this point” rule, and automatic arrest for anyone who hurls racial epithets or attempts a show of physical force.  Also, KKK hoods and Nazi symbols need to be banned.

If we ever plan to work toward healing the great divide in this nation, we must first learn to treat each other with respect.  If we do not want any adjustment to the 1st Amendment, then we must all learn to police ourselves, to curtail our speech when needed.  We need to think before we speak, especially in public. If we cannot or will not do that, then I fully support an ‘amendment to the amendment’, for the current level of hate in this country simply cannot continue.i

Nothing To Be Proud Of …

Racism.  Bigotry.  Phobia.  Call it what you like, it is an ugly phenomenon.  It assumes that one person considers himself somehow superior to another, based on nothing more than race, skin colour, ethnicity.  And make no mistake, folks, in the United States of America, racism is on the rise, is reaching its highest point since the 1960s.  We have nothing to be proud of. I started this post last night with four examples of racist incidents, and by the time I went to bed, I was up to seven incidents.  In a span of a few short days.  WHY????

It was only last month that two men were arrested by police because they were waiting at a Starbucks for their friend to join them before placing their order.  Did I mention that the men were black?

And since then …

And it isn’t only African-Americans who are being targeted, but also Asians, Muslims, and other Middle Eastern and Arab communities.  Last November, the FBI issued a report detailing the rise in crimes motivated by racial bias.  In an article that month, the editorial board of The Washington Post noted that “the groups against whom crimes rose by double digits were the focus of inflammatory rhetoric by Donald Trump over the course of his presidential campaign.”

Remember that phrase we all used way back in elementary school, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?  Guess what, folks … it’s a lie.  The wounds inflicted by ‘sticks and stones’ eventually heal.  But words can and do hurt, and those wounds often never heal, but rather lead to a spreading infection.  I firmly believe that the majority of people in this nation are decent people who would never dream of hurting another simply because of the colour of his skin, or because a woman is wearing a hijab.  But, obviously, there are far too many people who take it to heart when the ‘man’ who is supposed to be the leader, the example for the nation says that Mexicans are criminals and rapists.  People listen when they hear Trump say, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks”.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence both have a history of racism, from Trump’s refusal to rent apartments to African-Americans to Pence’s anti-LGBT legislation in his home state of Indiana.  Unfortunately, while most of us are smart enough, compassionate enough, caring enough to not be swayed by these two men, there are others who are not.  Racism has never completely gone away, though some may have believed it did.  But in the last two years, it has been on the rise at an alarming rate, fed and fueled by the leaders of this nation.

I have no solutions to offer, but incidences like those I mentioned at the beginning of this post are intolerable and I find I cannot simply ignore them, I must speak out, for if we ignore them, they become normalized and before long, nobody thinks much about it.  We cannot allow this to happen.  This is nothing to be proud of, and we all share in the shame of this nation.

Blowing in the Wind …

We have descended into lunacy, my friends.  Can we claw our way back out?  I’m beginning to have doubts – serious doubts.  My fear is that there is a master plan … that by November, we will all be declared incompetent to vote in the mid-term elections, for we will be sitting on the sidewalk in our underwear babbling incoherently while dribble runs off our chins.  Welcome to 2018 – the not-so-brave-new-world of the D.S.A. – the Divided States of America.

To prove my point, I offer a number of exhibits:

Exhibit A:  The chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives is asked to tender his resignation because his prayer included something about equality and justice for all. (Really subversive stuff, eh Padre?)  He tenders the resignation, then re-thinks it and rescinds the resignation.  And then, a week or so later, a shouting match erupts on the floor of the House over the chaplain.  According to Politico, “The exchange was so heated that some lawmakers and aides watching worried they’d come to blows.”  Over the chaplain.

Exhibit B:  The president of the nation has been involved in some 5,000 lawsuits and has no less than 19 women accusing him of sexual abuse.  He has been married three times and cheated on every single one of those wives. He is also under scrutiny for an affair that he had with, of all things, a porn star, and the payoff of ‘hush money’ to keep her quiet until after the 2016 election.  And to ice the cake, said president is under very serious investigation for the role that he and his family played in colluding with the Russian government to buy his electoral win in the 2016 election.

Exhibit C:  The D.S.A. has become the only nation of the 195 countries on the globe that refuses to believe in science, and has committed to a course of action that will lead the entire globe to a cataclysmic end if not quickly reversed.  But to take it a step further, said D.S.A. has also committed to destructive environmental practices, removing safeguards for both the environment and for human life.

Exhibit D:  In the past six months we have seen a neo-Nazi, a handful of white supremacists, a pedophile and a convicted felon run for election to the U.S. Congress.  And people actually voted for these jerks.

Exhibit E:  The lawmaking body, in fear or awe of the president, have passed legislation that is designed to ensure the demise of the poorest 15% of the nation’s population.  These include making affordable health care unavailable, taking away subsidized housing, refusing to raise the minimum wage, which has not been raised since 2009, and despite the fact that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has risen some 37% since that time.

Exhibit F:  The word ‘freedom’ has been officially re-defined as the right to discriminate against anyone who does not, a) agree with you, b) look like you, and c) think like you.  Not only, might I add, discriminate, but if you feel your ‘freedom’ is compromised by, say, somebody whose skin is darker than yours or whose sexual orientation is different, you have been given the right to cause bodily injury to that person, and then have them thrown in jail for … the crime of … being different.

Exhibit G:  The leadership of the nation is now directed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and any of our ‘elected representatives’ who do not support giving every white male the right to shoot and kill another with a big, bad gun that can mow down hundreds within a minute or two, is threatened with political extinction.  Worse, the majority of the people in this nation believe that they have a “God-given” right to own as many weapons as they like and to use them however they see fit.  In some cases, these people even put the love of their guns ahead of the love of their own children.

Exhibit H:  The so-called leadership of this nation has decided that education is not important and there is a concerted push among our government to promote illiteracy.  How?  By making student debt so daunting that most would prefer to leave high school and go work in a factory than to attend college.  By eschewing a sound public education for all, in favour of ‘charter schools’ that benefit few and teach little.  And by ensuring that students are not encouraged to think for themselves, but rather to ‘follow the yellow brick road’.

Exhibit I:  The nation’s already-wealthiest people and corporations have been given a huge gift in the form of reduced taxation, thus setting the nation on a collision course with financial disaster.  Despite a significantly reduced revenue in the national coffers, more money is being spent on the military – a military that already operates on the largest budget on the globe.

Exhibit J:  There is a madman at the helm who seems intent on giving himself the opportunity to “push the nuclear button”, a button that he has thought of as a toy to be played with and brandished about ever since his election.  For those, and there are some, who agree with the madman, I would suggest a glance back to August 6, 1945 (the bombing of Hiroshima) and August 9, 1945 (the bombing of Nagasaki) – look at the pictures, see the people, and ask yourself, “Is this what I want to see in this, the 21st century?”

I could go on, but my muse tells me that I have made my point and that it is time to stop, for the sake of my own mental and physical well-being.  Yes, we have descended into lunacy, a free-fall that must surely have a bottom, but that we have yet to find.  None of what we are seeing in this nation today is ‘normal’, none of it is wise, and none of it is leading us to a good place. Where does it end?  Are there any limits in this nation today?  Is there a point at which even the blind who are playing follow-the-leader realize that they are following him into a dark place from which there may be no return?  I cannot answer these questions, but it is imperative that we keep asking them.  It is imperative that we make our voices heard, for it is our only hope to return to a world of sanity.

Four Flew Into My Radar Screen

Tonight, four men just kept popping onto my radar.  With the exception of the first one, they have all been here before, some have made multiple trips onto these pages.  Perhaps if I stopped feeding them donuts and coffee they would leave me alone?  At any rate, I thought I would provide you with a little “See what they’re up to now” type of post and … sigh … hopefully they will go away and find somebody else to harass.

Oliver North

Oliver North — Then (1989) and Now (2018)

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has some very high standards.  They just announced the selection of their new president, since current president Pete Brownell decided he did not wish to serve another term.  And the winner is … {drumroll} … Mr. Oliver North!!!  You remember Ollie, right?  North was one of the key players in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s and was ultimately convicted on three felony counts related to the illegal sale of weapons to Iran to benefit the right-wing rebel Contras group in Nicaragua.  The convictions were vacated in 1990, not because North was innocent, but rather due to a technicality involving North’s limited immunity for testifying before Congress.  North’s very name is, as a spokesperson for the Brady Foundation put it, “synonymous with corruption and disgrace”.

To add to his illustrious image, North is currently a host on Fox News, though he plans to resign from Fox immediately to fully devote his time to his work with the NRA.  According to NRA CEO and Vice President Wayne LaPierre …

“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became President of our Association.  Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader.  In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our President.”

Oh yes, he is ‘legendary’ alright, and I’m sure his mentality will fit right in with his newfound employers.

Roger Stoneroger-stoneAbout every six weeks this man, who was already awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award in July 2016 , flits back onto my radar.  I think he just likes to annoy me, quite frankly.  Stone is one of Trump’s former lapdogs and is under scrutiny by Robert Mueller’s team in the Russian investigation.  Why?

In August 2016, Stone sent a message to campaign advisor Sam Nunberg, saying that he had dined with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, the previous night.  Remember that it was WikiLeaks that purloined thousands of documents from the Hillary Clinton campaign and then somehow … quite mysteriously … hackers affiliated with the Kremlin leaked the documents in an effort to sway the election in Trump’s favour.  So, if Stone had dinner with Assange around that time, it is certainly suspect.  Now, however, Stone claims that he never met with Assange and it was his idea of a joke.

A lie by any other name is still a lie.

Scott Pruittpruitt-pollutionI just wrote about Pruitt last week, didn’t I?  And already he is back on the radar.  How can I ever move ahead if I have to keep going backward?  Anyway … the latest is what I would define as obstruction of justice.

Pruitt is under the gun in at least eleven separate investigations as a result of his spending habits, conflicts of interests and management practices, but those investigations may be getting unnecessarily bogged down in the muck these days.  Why?  According to ThinkProgress …

“Political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are screening public records requests related to administrator Scott Pruitt at an alarming rate, slowing the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented,” Director of the FOIA Project for George Washington University’s National Security Archive Nate Jones told POLITICO. The report comes as the EPA faces accusations of carrying out Pruitt’s agenda in secret. Employees reportedly have had to leave cell phones behind when they meet with the EPA administrator.”

Can we say ‘transparency’?  Cooperation?  Swamp rats?

Ben Carsoncarson-3In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, the Fair Housing Act, a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  The Act provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion, or national origin and made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.”  Despite the law, many communities in the U.S. remained segregated by race and income.

In 2015, the Obama administration put into effect a new rule, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision, that required every community receiving HUD funding to assess local segregation patterns, diagnose the barriers to fair housing and develop a plan to correct them. Most communities were supposed to submit their plans to HUD every five years, beginning in 2016. Communities without HUD-approved plans would no longer receive federal housing dollars.

And along came our old friend Ben … yes, he who lives high on the hog and tried to spend $31,000 of our money on dining room furniture.  Well, Ben decided that federal efforts to desegregate American neighborhoods were “failed socialist experiments” and he suspended the rule in January, allowing local and state governments to continue receiving HUD grants without compliance with the full requirements of the Fair Housing Act.  Remember that the only thing qualifying Ben for this position is that when he was a surgeon, some of his patients lived in subsidized housing.

And shortly after suspending the rule, he proposed raising rents in subsidized housing by as much as 300%.  And now … guess what?  The department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Ben Carson are being sued.  According to the New York Times

“On Tuesday, a coalition of national and Texas-based housing groups are expected to file suit in Federal District Court in Washington to reinstate an Obama-era rule that required localities receiving federal development funding to submit plans detailing their efforts to end segregation based on race, income, ethnicity or physical disability.  The advocates filing the lawsuit argue that Mr. Carson’s actions violated the 1968 Housing Act, a law that was pressed by Martin Luther King Jr. shortly before his assassination. The suit claims that Mr. Carson is leaving HUD without a system to prevent a pattern of discrimination in the allocation of $28 billion in disaster relief funding after a succession of natural disasters, including Hurricane Harvey, last year.”

Just another of those surreal moments in the United States government under Donald Trump.  Nothing to see here, folks.

So there are the four who flew onto my radar screen tonight.  Now, I must go get the Windex and some paper towels, for these guys left behind a lot of muck on my screen.