Monday, February 20, 2017

Not So Brave; Not So Free

Image result for aleppo children        Image result for aleppo children

Image result for aleppo children        Image result for aleppo children

I'm ashamed of my president and ashamed of my country for electing him and the Republicans. I'm ashamed of how mean so many of us are in 2017. What gutless cowards we have become in our irrational fear of Muslims and Mexicans and anybody else that differs from us. 9/11 totally broke our spirit. We are not the country we used to be or the people we used to be. Our determination to help the world become a better place is all but gone. Our dedication to helping struggling people has all but disappeared.

We've become a nation that loves walls now. Common folks want a wall between the U.S. and Mexico ('cause don't you know, Latinos are taking all those lovely dishwashing and tomato picking jobs we are clamoring for). But can't you see, it's no different than the walls the rich put up around their gated communities to keep us out? We are no better than migrant workers to them.

If you cannot find as much compassion in your heart for the brutalized refugee children of Aleppo as you can for a fertilized egg, then I don't want to hear about how you revere the sanctity of life. If you would deny South American children fleeing the death and destruction in their homelands the opportunity for food and a safe place to sleep and medical care, then don't give me any bull about what a loving, motivated Christian you are. If you piss and moan about the amount of your taxes that go to food stamps and Medicaid but you're fine with Donald Trump spending a gazillion dollars a month flitting around in Air Force One, then you're a hypocrite in the first degree. (Remember how you complained about Obama's vacations. Trump has spent almost as much in a month as Obama spent in a year but I guess it doesn't seem so bad now, huh?)

My God is not your God. I'm not sure I even have a God but if there is a Creator, the one I envision does not divide his children up between black and white and brown and red. I think he would feel agony at seeing babies mute from fear and loss. I think he would feel even more agony at those of us who could help but choose not to.

Our president sits in his gilt-encrusted penthouse or his fabulous beach front resort consorting with the rich and power and issues orders that will rip people lives apart without, apparently, giving it a second thought.

He has a rally and tells his followers how happy he is to be among them - his people. But when the rally is over, does he eat with them or sleep with them? No, he flies back to Mar a Lago to the soft beds and fine foods and the uppercrust of our nation and they plot how to sell our national parks and refuse to raise the minimum wage and kill off the endangered Species Act and allow coal companies to once again dump their sludge into our rivers and streams and rescind the regulation that puts a ceiling on how much the banks charge us poor schlumps who sometimes overdraw our checking accounts and repeal the Transparency Law that mandates that corporations must report payments they get from foreign governments and cut school breakfast programs and food stamps. (Yeah, that'll show those lazy bums...most of whom work, incidentally, but don't make enough to support themselves).

We love that his cabinet has almost no experience with the agencies they are expected to oversee and in fact, most likely are hostile to those very organizations. The Education Secretary who hates public schools. The EPA Secretary who despises the EPA. The Health and Human Services Secretary who detests Medicare and Medicaid. The Energy Secretary who sits on the boards of Energy companies. The Labor Secretary who, until he withdrew his name, had nothing but contempt for workers.

So, tell me, Republicans, what about any of this do you find supportive of working people?

Or of any people, really, except those you used to call The Swamp - the Goldman Sachs honchos and the multi-million dollar donors and the lobbyists and the Putin apologists.

We have become people who'd rather believe lies than the truth, people who look down on the poor and adore the rich, people who believe being selfish and hateful will make America great again.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stolen Election - Illegitimate President

                                                          Image result for general michael flynn russia

I think our election was stolen, plain and simple. Stolen by Russia and the Trump campaign.

We have known for quite some time that Russia hacked our election to favor Donald Trump. We know that they fed "fake news" about Hillary to publications and programs such as the Enquirer and Info Wars and others. Stupid stuff like her failing health and the child sex ring she ran out of the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor. Stories so crazy that no one with a semi-rational mind would believe them...except Trump supporters did. We know that Russia passed on information to WikiLeaks, who then released it into the public...and that Donald Trump used this information frequently to criticize and excoriate Hillary. We know that high Russian officials toasted themselves and high-fived each other at the news that Trump had won. We know that Mike Flynn (now Trump's national security adviser), Paul Manafort (former campaign director) and Roger Stone (casual adviser and long-time Clinton hater) all had close ties to the Russian government.

All these things have been known.

But we have more recently learned that there was way more to it than that. After we put sanctions on Russia for their hacking, we expected paybacks because that's always the way it is with Russia. But nothing happened. Putin, that ever-laid back dictator, said no big deal and invited American children in Russia to attend a Christmas party at the Kremlin. Wasn't that sweet?

As you might imagine, this made our own government go hmmm. Why the turnabout from Russia's usual modus operandi when they feel they've been disrespected? Our intelligence services began an investigation.

Now both the Washington Post and New York Times have reported (with deep sourcing from multiple national security officials who've read the transcripts) that General Flynn had been in contact with the Russian government and essentially told them to let the sanctions go because it would all get fixed after Donald Trump was sworn in.

Now mind you, this was before Trump was president - a private citizen, Michael Flynn, consorted with a foreign power to undermine our own government's foreign policy decisions. I'm not a lawyer but if this isn't against the law, it should be. In fact, it seems close to treason to me.

The Post and Times further reported that this wasn't the beginning of a new, wonderful relationship between the Trump administration and Putin but rather, it was on-going and had been since the campaign. Well, of course. Who is surprised about that? Trump sometimes got the WikiLeaks information before anyone else. It has always struck me as a joint effort.

But Flynn denied, denied, denied. He'd only called Russia to wish them Merry Christmas and extended sympathy for a downed plane.

And Reince Preibus, Mike Pence and Sean Spicer all swore to the truthfulness of Flynn's statements. Now that we know they weren't true, we have to decide whether Flynn lied to them or they lied to us. Which do you think it is? Faced with so much evidence from people who've actually read the transcripts, Flynn now allows to how, maybe he just forgot.

Lastly, there is the matter of the dossier compiled by a former British M-16 agent. Some of it has now been verified. Not the slimy stuff about ugly sex acts but the more serious part. The accusation that the Trump administration worked in concert with a foreign government, one of our main enemies, to sabotage our election to get the Russian's pet politician placed in the White House.

Now the question is: what do we do about it. This is the kind of story a top novelist might write. A movie could be made out of it. America's election stolen by Russia. Do we just let it pass and pretend it didn't happen.

My guess is that is exactly what we will do. We'll make the calculation that the harm done to our democracy if we flat out admit we were snookered by the Russians would just be too great to accept. We'll decide that the chaos and uproar, hell, maybe revolution, caused by the Trump true believers would be intolerable.

And so, we'll go along with our illegitimate president.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bottom-Feeders Are Us

                                                             Image result for bottom feeder

I've always lived the life of a bottom-feeder. Oh, maybe, not the very bottom-est. I never had to sleep under a bridge or visit a soup kitchen. In fact, I've never been on any kind of assistance but that was because I was lucky about having parents who were both able and willing to help.

I guess what I mean about being a bottom-feeder, is that life for us is always insecure. We can go along okay for a while but it only takes a small catastrophe to plunge us into disaster. An unexpected lay-off is almost life or death, or at least eviction or repossession. It takes us three or four months to bounce back financially after the auto insurance premium is paid. Our heart sinks when we need to buy a new tire (bottom-feeders usually buy their tires one at a time)

We're are at the low end of the trickle-down scale of economics. After the fat cats get their fat chunk and the medium cats get their medium chunk, we are down here here waiting for the crumbs that sometimes drift our way (or not).

If you've never lived our lives, you have no idea how much the deck is stacked against us by society and the powers that be.

At one time or another, as a single Mom, I experienced most of the humiliations of being a bottom feeder. I've bought cars from "buy here-pay here" places, knowing I was probably purchasing a piece of previously wrecked junk that would be lucky to last much beyond the 30 day warranty. And knowing, I'd probably still have to pay because the car dealers have lawyers write up those contracts so the sellers have every advantage. I've known people who had their wages garnished or had their taxes attached paying on cars that blew up long ago, but what choice do they have? You have to have a vehicle to work. (The owners of cheap apartment complexes are notorious for this as well). And you know, if they take you to court, they can pile on a whole bunch of interest and penalties for "defaulting".

I've written bad checks in my younger years. Yep, I knew it was going to cost me a stiff overdraft fee but I had to balance that with letting the electricity get shut off and the even stiffer re-connect fee they'd charge. Overdraft fees have continued to go up and up (and so have re-connect fees). I think it is about $35 to bounce a check today. I have over-draft protection now that I don't need it. You still have to pay through the nose if you overdraw. The only difference is that they don't send out those letters that made you feel ashamed and worthless (even though you knew you'd probably be doing it again

Because, yeah, I know what it's like to have this or that utility turned off. Once my gas was disconnected when my son was a baby. My Dad happened to come in to see John and I dressed in snowsuits. He was furious and immediately went and paid my bill and said to never let it happen again. I knew I could go to him or Mom but I just hated to look like such a loser.

Of course, there are late fees for every kind of bill - utilities and house payments and car loans and credit cards. The more you struggle to pay, the more they charge you...and if you're habitually late (even if you pay every month), they'll probably raise your interest rate and you'll pay through the nose even more.  Because, you know, you have to be punished for being a dead beat and you'll never get ahead of the system.

Did you know that if you let your car insurance expire, even for a short while, then go in to have it re-instated, you'll have to carry expensive high risk insurance until you prove you're a solid citizen again?

Did you know that if you owe the I.R.S. $10,000 or more, they'll make a deal with you but if you owe under $10,000, you have to pay back every penny? Why is that, do you suppose? I knew a man once who owned a restaurant and got behind on his taxes. He hired a tax attorney and settled for 10 cents on the dollar. He paid $8,000 on an $80,000 debt. When I got in trouble with the Department of Revenue, I owed $7,000. They put a lien on my house and my in-law's house (because we'd given them an acre in a life estate). I sold the house to get out from under that debt.

A few months later, they returned $700. They said I'd paid too much. I called them to ask if they were sure and they said yes. Several weeks later, they informed me that unfortunately, I did  owe that $700 after all - plus penalties and interest. They told me I could appeal the ruling. I lost. I was furious and told them if they wanted that money to steal it like the thieves they were. Within 48 hours, they'd sent a wage garnishment to my job.

It is easy to get discouraged when you're a bottom-feeder because it seems as if the people who make the rules have a boot on your neck and the more you struggle to crawl out of the hole you're in, the harder they press.

So, honestly, I can see the appeal Donald Trump had for some of the kind of people I'm talking about. He called them forgotten. He told them he was on their side and he was going to help.

I think they were conned by a charlatan. I think he enjoys pressing his boot on people's necks even as he pretends to care. Not one thing he's done so far will help the bottom-feeders, in fact, their lives will be worse.

But I do understand why they want to hope.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Merger of State and Corporate Power

                                                         Image result for fascism

Every morning when I wake up since the election, one of my first thoughts is: "oh, my God, we put Donald Trump in the White House". This thought is immediately followed by a sick feeling in my stomach.  

I've heard so many talking heads try to analyze Trump's strategy for governance when it comes to foreign policy but I have yet to divine any method to his madness. To me, it seems that he simply shoots from the hip with no forethought and very little advice from experts. He fights with Mexico and Australia (Australia! Seriously!). He meets with Therese May, then undermines her as soon as she's out of his sight. He threatens Iran and China. His foreign policy appears to be all over the map. I can't make heads or tails of the overarching theme of it and people a lot smarter than me don't seem to be able to either.

In fact, in my view, Trump isn't especially interested in foreign policy except for building his reputation as a tough guy. He doesn't appear patient enough to do his due diligence regarding his Presidential Daily Briefs. From what I've read, he didn't have a top level meeting regarding the disastrous Yemeni attack. Instead, he and a few of his top level honchos discussed it over dinner. He signed off on it and then didn't bother coming to the Situation Room to see how it turned out. I believe he leaves it to his advisers, then signs whatever is put in front of him.

Because he really isn't that interested. His real agenda, his passion, revolves around business and money. That's where his heart and his mind are. He is all about giving business everything it wants and getting handsomely rewarded in return. (We won't know the extent of that since he's never released his taxes).  Luckily, that dovetails perfectly with what the Republicans have always wanted as well. How can business pay less and rake in more?

Look at his cabinet nominees. His pick for Education Secretary, billionaire, is all about removing funding from the public schools and sending it to for-profit schools. His nominee for Labor Secretary, billionaire, looks for ways to take pay and benefits from workers. He's been sued several times for cheating his own employees. Ideally, they could replaced with automation. Human beings can be so irritating and demanding, don't you know?  His choice for Health and Human Services wants to repeal Obamacare and privatize Medicare and Medicaid. His HUD selection believes poor people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. He has six ex-Goldman Sachs executives (millionaires and billionaires) in his cabinet. You remember Goldman Sachs, right? That's the bank he excoriated Hillary Clinton for even speaking to. Back then he called them a "global cabal". 

That's only part of them but do you see a pattern here? His administration is all about business. I think some of the crazy foreign policy stuff (the wall, immigration) is simply a distraction from his real goal, which is to make his cronies and himself pots of money while he's president.

How ironic is it that so much of the working class came to see this charlatan as their savior?

One of his very first Executive Orders was one to allow the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota pipeline to go forward. Oh, well, Native Americans are used to getting shafted, they'll probably take it in stride. When he had a come to Jesus meeting with the biggest CEOs in the country, it was mainly about Donald promising to give them big league tax relief and even bigger league reduction of regulations. He recently had a get-together with Big Pharma. He was going to go in there and by God, get the costs of medicines reduced. Instead, again, he promised to lower their taxes and lessen their regulations. 

And meanwhile the Republicans are busily working on the other end to reach the same end point. They've written legislation that will gut Dodd-Frank and once again, allow the big banks to work their will even if it risks our economy. They removed the rules for transparency that used to guide Big Oil. They gleefully talk about turning our parks, rivers and mountains over to the miners, the drillers and the frackers. What's an earthquake....or 50....a day? Of course, they are still working on a way to repeal Obamacare and leave millions without healthcare. 

So this is what I think Trump is really all about...and the Republicans too - a merger of state and corporate power, which is what Mussolini called fascism.

We have sold our country down the river.