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“It’s all about the Benjamins”

February 13, 2019

Omar

If you jump on the internet and try to find the exact tweet by Congressperson Ilhan Omar, you know the so-called anti-Semitic tweet, that has politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, all fired up, then you may have a little trouble. It’s not that obvious. “Why?” you ask. Well for one thing it’s not one, but two tweets that need to be seen in context together, and for another, it requires drawing a line backwards in time to interpret the tweets in relation to her previous political position supporting a two-state solution for Palestine.  The New York Times summarized the issue best:

“Last October, after a crude mail bomb was found in George Soros’s mailbox, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is now the House minority leader, tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to buy this election!” The tweet, since deleted, was referring to Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, both of them, like Soros, Jews who are often the object of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Speaking on CNN, Steyer, who had also been sent a mail bomb, described McCarthy’s tweet as a “straight-up anti-Semitic move.”

So it was a bit rich when, last week, McCarthy posed as the indignant defender of the Jewish people, threatening to force congressional action against two freshman Democratic representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, for their criticism of Israel.

It would have been easy enough for either Omar or Tlaib to point out McCarthy’s cynical hypocrisy. Instead, Omar responded with a blithely incendiary tweet quoting Puff Daddy’s ode to the power of money: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” When an editor at The Forward, a Jewish publication, asked who Omar thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, she responded, “Aipac!,” meaning the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the United States’ most prominent pro-Israel lobby.”

So, let’s break this down and try to see what is anti-Semitic about her comments.  Does she speak the truth and is the truth of its nature, therefore, anti-Semitic?

Many years ago, the United States was involved in a divisive war in Viet Nam.  Those who spoke out against the war were accused of being unpatriotic.  All at once window stickers appeared on automobiles all across the nation, illustrating a waving American flag with the motto “Love it or Leave it.”  Protesters were categorized as not “supporting the troops.”  To appreciate the controversy, one must first understand the difference between corrupt and lying leaders, bad policy, an illegal war, the right to dissent and the innocent men and women serving the military who deserve everyone’s respect.  To not support the war does not mean that one does not support our troops. There is no factual correlation.  One may take issue with the leaders and policy and the war itself, but it was the sin of those leaders to hide their malevolence behind the veil of the troops, not the sin of the protesters.

Israel is a political state.  Israeli policies are governmental policies not religious ones, nor hereditary ones.  Policy is not part of the Jewish DNA.  To have Jewish ancestry or to be of the Jewish faith must be realized as vastly different from Israeli policy.  Therefore, to disagree with Israeli policy is alone not anti-Semitic.

Big money lobbyists are a curse on democracy. Lobbyist donors, yet an even bigger curse. To acknowledge that big money lobby groups donate to support congressional seats is to recognize that money buys influence.  Money pays for election financing, pays for the advertising and public relations, the ground teams and travel, everything needed to win and without which many who fill the seats in Congress would be replaced by better candidates with better ideas and more altruistic values.  But as everyone knows, they must be heard first and big money feeds the drowning megaphone of opposition.

So, I ask was it wrong to say “It’s all about the Benjamins”?  Is that anti-Semitic?  Was it wrong to acknowledge that AIPAC funds congressional campaigns to support its policies?

Many supporters of Israel will disagree with her previously stated position on the “Palestinian problem” but that does not make the congressperson an anti-Semite.  Can we not tolerate different ideas and solutions in this great nation of ours? But we are so divided currently that opponents are too quick to find fault and attack, while supporters too quick to defend. Oddly, not so with congressperson Omar. There are other currents amiss. With the many Republican transgressions, racism, sexism, and misogyny, sexual perversion, marital infidelity and so on, Democrats are all too quick to abandon their colleagues for fear of losing the moral high ground. Look at what happened to poor Al Franken.  Let’s face it, before being elected to the Senate, Al Franken was a clown, a comedian working in an environment with little or no rules and as clowns are want to do, stepping on toes and creating inappropriate humor for a cheap laugh.  Just look at Lisa Lampinelli. So, a sophomoric photograph surfaced of Al miming a breast feel from a distance of several inches, on a sleeping woman aboard a military flight and boom, he’s toast.  He resigned. Why?  Because he believed that Democrats needed to set an example to maintain the moral high ground.

Poor congressperson Omar stepped in it and now it’s too late.  The subtleties of differentiation are forever lost in the drone of the big megaphone and the chaos of misinformation perpetrated by an administration that has demonstrated the power of conflicting lies to disrupt the flow of truth and facts, necessary information in the political process, necessary to a working democracy. There is no room for subtlety in this environment.  She was forced to apologize.  More’s the pity. She learned her lesson. In a party environment you no longer represent yourself, but them, and they have proved you right by admitting your error, and so yes, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

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What’s The Problem?

January 12, 2019

mitch

What’s the problem?

This rhetorical question, could easily be mistaken to mean that there is no problem, but that is not my intent. Rather, I pose it to challenge us to look deep and investigate the source, the real problem in our democratic process as it exists today.

Currently, there exists a government shutdown because President Trump refuses to sign any bill that funds the government unless it includes funding for his campaign-promised wall at the US border with Mexico.  Republicans argue that the Democrats are at fault because they refuse to fund the wall, while Democrats argue that the President is at fault because he is holding the nation hostage to a condition that is superfluous to running the government. The two issues should be considered separate but equal, not as conjoined twins.  Personally, I side with the Democratic position.  To agree to wall funding secured by a hostage threat is to set the most egregious precedent for autocratic presidential rule.  This is the problem.

At one end, the House Democrats offer reasonable funding bills that previously have passed with total bipartisan support.  At the other end, the President refuses to negotiate and just walks out of the room. While the media is so busy looking left and right, the real villain, the man in the middle, Mitch McConnell is getting a free pass.

Let’s get real here. McConnell refuses to allow a Senate vote on government funding unless he can be sure it meets with the President’s approval.  This is an absurd precondition as it defies the very constitutional foundation of our separation-of-power, checks-and-balance system.  As previously demonstrated, the Senate has enough votes to override a veto. Cannot the Senate act independently without direction from the President?  Actually, yes it can, were it not for Mitch McConnell.  So, I posit that in our current system, power resides in these two offices to pervert the democratic process. I used to think Mitch McConnell was just a Trump ass-kisser, a political hack using a degenerate liar and bully narcissist-run-wild as cover to enact unpopular and ruinous policies that favor the few in power at the expense of the masses. But it goes much deeper than that.  Mitch is sucking so hard on Trump’s dick I hope he chokes on it.  In the meantime, who is running the government?

If the leader of the Senate has the power to allow or refuse a vote, then it stands to reason that this power is easily abused to allow only those votes that the leader’s cause can win. Why have a Senate at all if that’s how it works?  As it exists right now, one man determines what will pass the Senate by excluding all else that does not meet his personal criteria and in the case of this government shutdown, he gets his orders from President Trump.  This is not democracy but tyranny!

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Buggering Little Altar-Boys

September 28, 2018

altar boys

Well, yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh were quite the spectacle. What began with the compelling testimony of Prof. Blasey Ford devolved into the predictable Republican response which was to deconstruct the timeline leading up to the hearing to validate their manipulation of the process and place the lack of action on anyone else, most notably any Democrat involved in the hearing.  While avoiding confronting the overwhelming credibility of Prof. Ford’s testimony, they retreated to arguing about who was to blame for their current dilemma, totally irrelevant to deciding the fate of the Supreme Court nomination. Rather this opposition was created to form a firewall against the future, the potential for a proper investigation that might support an unfavorable truth, the surfacing of more allegations and critical delays in the process that might carry the decision past the midterm election and place control of the process in the hands of the Democrats.

Then the most bizarre thing occurred.  Following his coaching to punch back, Kavanaugh took wild swings at his perceived opposition, alternating between angrily yelling and crying, a strange brew concocted for the appearance of strength and sympathy.  No one has ever followed the Trump playbook to the degree and with such specificity as Kavanaugh–lie, keep on lying, don’t back down and strike out at your enemies. The metamorphosis from the naïve, innocent choirboy portrayed a few nights earlier on Fox News was stunning as the belligerent Kavanaugh portrayed in letters and comments by people who knew him from that period, took form before our very eyes.  Kavanaugh was defiant while deflecting from addressing questions directly or just refusing to answer by sitting in silence.  Twice, he was rude and disrespectful of Democrats by asking two different senators to answer the very question of them that he had been asked by them. For example, when Senator Klobuchar asked him if he ever blacked out after drinking too much, he turned it around and asked her if she had blacked out while drinking—twice, no less!

Kavanuagh’s singular defense was total denial followed by lists of numbers of people who wrote support letters and a lengthy review of all his good deeds, none of which addressed the questions at hand.  The only thing missing from his coached testimony was the phrase, “like the world has never seen.”

Imagine this scenario played out on a different battlefield.  It makes it easier to understand.  A Catholic bishop is being reviewed for a promotion to cardinal.  Trouble is he’s been buggering little boys and an accuser stands before him.  Asked about the charges he responds thus: “I’ve been a priest for over thirty years.  In that time I have given over 2 million sacraments of communion, performed 1,678 weddings, baptized 3,456 babies, heard 60,343 confessions, 4,023 visits to the sick in hospitals and I have support letters from over 1000 parishioners and well-wishers,,,” Trouble is none of this matters if he put his dick in this little altar-boy’s mouth. How this was uncovered, when it was uncovered and how long it took to bring it to a hearing, all are not relevant.  The only thing that matters is the truth of the allegation.

Unfortunately, the quest for the truth parallels the Democratic strategy to create delays.  Looking back on the failed Merrick Garland nomination, this is right out if the Republican playbook.  As Kavanaugh so aptly put it, “What goes around comes around.” But the truth of one does not negate the truth of the other.  These facts can coexist without being causative, yet there should be no fault if one supports the other. It’s what might be called a windfall.

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Blinders on a Racehorse

September 25, 2018

racehorse“Before you cross the street, look both ways.”  It’s what we tell our children.  Perhaps the Republicans running the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh would have done well to learn this lesson and heeded this sound advice.  What we see as a street, they see as a race track and their approach to managing the hearings is to restrict the view by putting blinders on the racehorse and giving it a kick.  Ah, but it still has to cross the ever-widening street and currently it’s running loose on the track with no direction home as Bob Dylan might have said.

Kavanaugh is sounding less and less believable as evidenced by his appearance on Fox News last night. Stumbling and stuttering through his interview he kept falling back on the same weak talking points fed him by his handlers in the long hours spent at the Whitehouse the past two days. Interesting?  Sure, it betrays the true nature of the relationship between Kavanaugh and the GOP, more specifically Trump. Kavanaugh is all too willing to do as he’s told and say whatever they feed him. Do we expect this to change if confirmed? Is this the man we want in the Supreme Court, a puppet?  I think not.

After managing the hearings to suppress evidence of Kavanaugh’s record in office, some 90% of his documents, Grassley as chair of the committee has attempted to control the testimony of witnesses to the GOP’s advantage and now the anger he has aroused is rising like vomit following food poisoning and erupting uncontrollably. Lies and a gavel cannot clean up this mess.

First came the allegation of Professor Christine Blasey Ford of a sexual assault in high school.  That was followed by the accusation of Deborah Ramirez as reported by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his genitals in her face while at Yale. Next, the New York Times turned up his high school yearbook where he boasts being part of the “Renate Alumnius,” a group of his high school football buds who all have said to have a “relationship” with one Renate Schroeder, now Dolphin, of a nearby Catholic girl’s school, the implication being that they all knew her sexually and were reveling in their shared conquest of this spoiled maiden. Further digging reveals that Kavanaugh belonged to a secret all male society at Yale known as TNC (for “Truth and Courage”) but euphemistically referred to as the “Tit and Clit” club, later shut down by Yale.  Additionally, Kavanaugh was also a member of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, which later was banned from the Yale campus for five years after fraternity brothers gathered outside a women’s center chanting “no means yes, yes means anal.”  The record of Kavanaugh’s associations is a series of bad choices at best and criminality at worst.

Just when it seems that it can’t get any darker enters Michael Avenatti who announces that he represents a woman who will be making a televised interview on Wednesday revealing yet one more sexual charge to add to the growing list, one entirely more substantial and disgustingly repulsive, that Brett Kavanaugh participated in her gang rape, a rape that Avenatti claims is supported by several witnesses who he has secured to support her assertion.

Who holds the moral high ground in this farce? In placating the evangelical religious right with a right-to-life candidate, nominated by an immoral President, the GOP has abrogated any right to a moral position, backing Trump’s selection of a nominee that shares his values in ways both obvious and hidden. Kavanaugh reveals his weakness by willingly following the GOP’s direction and has confirmed that he knows he must pass his exam by getting the “cheat sheet” from fellow student, Trump, who passed his test by simply lying and never waivering from the lie. These are our leaders? This is what we teach our kids? The decline of truth and accountability produces cynicism, an infection that erodes participation in our democracy and the future of this nation. In the year of “Me Too” lesser figures have fallen from grace and office, for offenses dwarfed by Kavanaugh’s activities and associations.  Today, as “America’s dad”, Bill Cosby, faces sentencing, it’s time to realize that there can be no sacred cows.  No one is above the law and certainly not those who administer it.

 

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Gone Fishing

September 23, 2018

99_inch_Striped_Marlin-p-131Whether it’s sitting on a grassy bank at the end on a cane pole in the shade of a tall tree watching the plastic red & white bobber on a still lake, or riding the back of a 45-foot cabin cruiser deep sea fishing for marlin, fishing is an endeavor requiring, skill, knowledge, experience and no short amount of patience. First bait must be acquired and then the successful fisherman must travel to where fish are suspected to be, but it’s not just a guessing game. Experience is more than intuition and a good guess.  No, real fishermen know where the fish are and they know how to catch them and in today’s world, they are aided by all manner of technical devices to locate them.

Deep sea fishing for that really big one is a thrill, but even with a guide, is usually rewarded only after many boring hours of patience.  Once hooked, that big one will put up a fight until exhausted and dragged into the boat.  But no matter the size, all fish will wiggle, flop and squirm even when facing the inevitable.

Be patient, we have a good guide and the big one is hooked.  Sure, he’s putting up a fight but the line is strong and he will be reeled into the boat.  Expect him to struggle and flop around even when the end is inevitable, but take comfort, he’ll look great hanging on the wall a few years from now.

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The Big Rubber Stamp

September 20, 2018

confirmed

As Monday draws near, Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS nomination seems all but certain.  Unless Professor Ford’s testimony is given and is supported with the corroborating testimony of others who were present at the party where the alleged sexual assault occurred, the process will be a stalemate of “he said/she said” and Kavanaugh will sail into a lifelong seat on the United States Supreme Court.  The central issue in this controversy is whether Kavanaugh is the kind of man who does not respect women and their rights.  After being nominated by a self-professed pussy-grabbing groper of a man who cheats on his wife with porn stars and playmates, it seems that Kavanaugh and Trump may share similar values with regard to women, but equally so, none of his so-called Christian “family-value” Republican colleagues seem to care. No, they are hell-bent on a single-minded course to overturn Roe v. Wade. Cannot anyone see the underlying connection between these events and Republican ideology?  Is it not all about control over women’s bodies? Is this truly a religious issue or a political assessment, a plea for votes?  Does the truth matter or is this just a calculated exercise in the appearance of fairness in order to save as much Republican support as possible in the midterm election, straddling the fence between the esoteric religious beliefs of their supporters and the pragmatic awareness of women’s rights to control their own bodies as expressed through the “Me Too” movement.

Abortion, is it the taking of a life?  Evangelicals would have us believe it so, but in truth, it’s not so clear cut.  Certainly, a fetus is a form of life.  There are many forms of life that are not human such as plants and animals and there are other living organisms as well.  While all these forms are living things, none is a human being.  Human organs are also full of life. A liver has life within it, as does a kidney, a heart and so on, yet none of these organs constitutes a human being in and of itself. They grow and eventually decay as life passes from them. So, it would take infinite wisdom to determine at what point a fetus is no longer an organ within a woman’s body and has become a human being, a life form capable of self-sufficiency outside her body if called upon. Scientists look at this conundrum and label it “fuzzy logic.”

All religions share the common belief in an after-life of one sort or another and the belief in a system of reward and punishment for the deeds of one’s life on this earth, which depends on the existence of something called the “soul.”  Without a soul, there can be no afterlife.  Central to the argument against abortion is whether the fetus is an independent human being and therefore may possess a soul.

To maintain the separation between church and state is very tricky indeed, as almost all laws have as their basis moral precepts derived from religious law… “thou shall not steal, thou shall not murder, thou shall not commit adultery etc.” These universal precepts can be agreed upon by all, but we have to ask,” is murder a religious concept?”  “Is thievery a religious concept?” or are these pragmatic realities around which are formed social systems we know as laws, which brings us to the issue of abortion and the battle between women’s rights and religious beliefs.

Bluntly put, religious beliefs have no place in law but figure prominently in politics.  It would be wrong to adjudicate a legal issue to placate or reward a religious constituency.  There is an extreme danger in supporting religious-based legal decisions as it takes us just one small step away from a Theocracy such as the Taliban maintain.  The Taliban and other religious forms in that region of the world have had total control over women’s bodies for centuries, their education, their rights, their mode of dress and their right to speak openly.  While we are not that far gone in the United States, the confirmation of a man to the Supreme Court, a man who has attempted a rape and whose nomination is supported by the “good ole boys” who are all too willing to normalize his behavior as a youthful rite of passage while decrying his accuser as mistaken and confused, betrays their willingness to ignore the rights of women to determine what happens to their own bodies.

So, the plan seems pretty clear: Offer Prof Ford the limited opportunity to speak; have Cavanaugh deny her claims and rubber stamp his nomination. The Senate Judiciary Committee will not seek the truth through investigation, but will stage an event in an attempt to placate women voters while fulfilling Trump’s promise to overturn Roe v. Wade with his hand-picked nominee, a man who has demonstrated both in theory and in practice that he does not support women’s rights.

 

 

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Party Alignment In Today’s Swamp

August 24, 2018

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 8.52.23 AMMany years ago, I had the good fortune to spend some significant time in the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana.  As anyone who has ever visited the swamp can tell you, it is a thing of immense beauty, and therein lies its danger. The swamp is a delicate ecosystem and is home to many varieties of interdependent species.  Beneath the surface reflections of the deep-rooted cypress trees on the glistening swamp waters lurk venomous snakes and hungry alligators, while gliding effortlessly above are elegant heron and a variety of migratory birds.

Now as I look around at our political swamp, I am beginning to see something unusual just beneath the surface reflections that distract and obstruct a clear view of the depths below.  It’s an early sign as campaign season begins, but it’s a telling one, and while there are not enough samples to determine if this is a national trend, I am sure it means something significant.

Two candidates in Ohio are running campaign ads devoid of party affiliation.  Aftab Pureval, the 35-year-old Democratic Party candidate for Congress, and Mike Dewine, the seasoned Republican candidate for Governor, are each running ads that address their performance in past official positions rather than align themselves with the strategy of their parties. Furthermore, nowhere in these spots is there any identification with their respective parties, not one spoken word, not a single graphic, text or reference. They are each running a campaign based on their own merits hoping to break free from the current political climate and avoid the Trump factor, the most uncertain and divisive element in polling today’s voters.

Republican reaction to Trump is as unpredictable as the path of a hurricane.  Even in “Red States” candidates are uncertain as to whether to align with Trump or not.  His endorsement could mean a solid victory or spell a certain death, such is his influence. On the Democratic side, party leadership fears a potential voter backlash for attacking Trump and are walking on the eggshells of his broken administration, avoiding the obvious corruption and misdeeds lest they be forced to defend their position that the quacking duck is indeed a duck.

It would be too easy to view these departures from party line as cowardly, but in truth, even their respective parties have no clear party line. No, rather I see their strategy as an act of pragmatic independence and political courage, each standing on their own merits. You don’t have to reach deep into the shallow swamp to find mud to throw.  That candidates should choose to stay close to the surface is a commendable lesson, even if it is the only one that even by default makes any sense.