No excuses left

As the nation paused this week to remember the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it’s worth remembering a few facts about how the man who currently stands a hairsbreadth away from the presidency of the United States chose to react to the horror of that day:

  • Donald Trump, a billionaire son of New York City, did not make a single charitable donation to any of the not-for-profit groups that provided aid to survivors, rescue workers, or the families of cops and firemen who died trying to save others, according to Internal Revenue Service records.
  • Trump’s company asked for and received $150,000 for “rent loss,” “cleanup” and “repair” from a government program designed to help local businesses get back on their feet, despite the fact that, in Trump’s own words, his property “wasn’t affected by what happened to the World Trade Center.” Trump’s subsequent claims that he received that money for helping others after the attacks have been proven false.
  • Just hours after the World Trade Centers collapsed, Trump went on a New York radio station and stated that 40 Wall Street, his 71-story building blocks away from the collapsed twin towers, “was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest. And then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.”

Even if Trump’s every action and utterance over the last year weren’t proof enough, his reaction to one of the most soul crushing events in American history would leave little doubt: The Donald is not merely a bully or a wealth and celebrity obsessed clown. He’s a sociopath, a disorder characterized by a disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity, and the ability to lie in order to achieve one’s goals.

I’ve joked about Trump’s buffoonery in the past, about his disjointed insult comic routines, his obvious ignorance about even the most basic functions of government and yawning disinterest in foreign affairs details. But it’s not funny anymore. The clown makeup has washed away to reveal the flaccid, lined face of a creature who despises humanity and who would degrade himself and his befuddled associates in almost unthinkable ways just to move one step closer to the ultimate ego-assuaging power prize.

While most politicians bare little resemblance to actual human beings, Trump seems like some alien life form whose personality was assembled from beamed in transmissions of James Cagney gangster flicks and Andy Griffith’s turn as an insane huckster preacher/politician in the classic movie “A Face in the Crowd.”

And in some ways that’s exactly what Trump is: a man who was raised from a young boy to believe that people are simply venal, debauched, grasping animals who can be bought, sold and discarded like waste products.

Which brings me to this: at this late date there is simply no excuse left for anyone to vote for Trump. The man’s entire past, business as well as personal, is a computer keystroke away. His every public utterance and action is on record and there to be read and viewed.

There are no excuses. Not if you’re a patriot; not if you’re a veteran; not if you’re a Christian; not if you’re someone who values intelligence and the teachings of science; not if you’re someone who respects women, minorities, the handicapped, or the rule of law; not if you’re a small business owner; and certainly not if you’re someone who has even the slightest understanding of finances, international trade, terrorism, the Middle East, or the problems inherent in electing a president with business ties to enemy states controlled by murderous dictators.

So who does that leave?

As politically incorrect as it may be to say, I suspect Hillary Clinton low balled her estimate of Trump supporters who belong in the “basket of deplorables.”

I’ve argued before that Trump is un-American, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe that’s just what America is now — a country whining and mewing for a dictator to draw them to his breast to soothe and suckle them, to tell them everything’s okay and daddy will make it all better. Maybe we’re just begging for it, just like the Germans were in 1933.

Oh, those crazy kids!

The last several weeks have been almost as troubling for the N.C. GOP as they have for Donald Trump. With a number of our state legislature’s ill-conceived actions on voting rights and the redrawing of district maps  now facing federal blowback, it seems some rather large and ungainly chickens are finally coming home to roost.

Last Thursday a trio of judges ruled that 28 of North Carolina’s 170 state legislative districts are unconstitutional “racial gerrymanders” and ordered the legislature to redraw the maps.

The ruling came less than a week after Common Cause, a public advocacy group, sued the state over alleged racially gerrymandered congressional districts.

Two weeks earlier, a separate trio of federal judges struck down a host of North Carolina voting restrictions, including voter ID requirements, cuts to early voting, and the banning of same-day voter registration.

While it’s undeniably true that state Democrats, during their decades-long legislative reign, engaged in the same gerrymandering shenanigans as their current GOP counterparts, the judges’ findings in the voter ID case raise the specter of purposefully racist intent by Republican lawmakers.

Federal judges found that our state legislatures acted with “discriminatory intent,” in imposing the voter ID requirements. They also found that the legislature requested racially specific data on the use of electoral mechanisms, then restricted those they found were disproportionately used by blacks —  early voting, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

To be fair, our state lawmakers never really attempted to hide their true aims. The state actually argued in court that “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic,” and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.

“Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise,” the judges wrote in their decision.

Combined with their recent actions on the HB2 transgender bathroom law, these debacles leave me with one overwhelming impression of North Carolina’s current Republican leadership: a group of inexperienced, unruly teenagers left alone for a weekend who decide to party like there’s no tomorrow and trash the house, with little thought to what will happen when the parents come back.

And that’s where we are now. The parents have arrived and the reckoning is nigh. I guess we’ll know soon enough if the kids’ excuses are clever enough to mollify their federal overlords or if there’s some severe punishment in store.

Speaking of unruly children, Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s day-glo despot, has also had to face some rather harsh realities lately. After falling behind in national poles, even in states that were previously considered safely red, it appears the kind of anything goes, I’m-rubber-you’re-glue campaign that worked in the primaries isn’t quite what most Americans expect from their would-be president.

But then Trump has always been treated as a ‘special’ child, one whose actions are measured on a different scale than the other, more well-adjusted kids.

As a measure of just how degraded  a standard Trump is held to, let’s imagine Hillary Clinton uttering these words about her general election rival during a campaign rally:

“Donald wants to ban, essentially ban, Muslims from entering the country. By the way, and if he gets to pick—if he gets to pick his judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Sharia Law people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

I suspect the backlash would effectively destroy her presidential bid as well as any future political career. Yet when Trump makes remarks about “the Second Amendment people” (a phrase that betrays his utter contempt for those very people) taking action against Clinton, it’s shrugged off as “sarcasm,” just The Donald being The Donald.

Unsuprisingly, many of our state’s Republican lawmakers, including Governor Pat McCrory, have come out in support of Trump. I suspect that’s another decision they’ll have to answer for, and live down, in the months and years to come.

Turn off the talking fear heads

The roar is deafening.
The last several weeks have brought a seemingly endless round of violence and chaos centered around our nation’s law enforcement agencies — from the murder of police officers in Texas, to the shooting deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and now the murder of three more police officers in Baton Rouge.
Unfortunately, the real, individual lives lost in these incidents have been almost entirely forgotten, swallowed up by the grandstanding of our pathetic, media-devouring politicians and talking heads.
On news programs, talk shows and Twitter, the self-serving propagandists that dominate our public discourse spout their end times gibberish engineered to send you running wild-eyed to the ballot box — “Vote for me, or the country is lost!”
This is nothing new of course, just a larger scale version of the so-called Southern Strategy used by the Republican Party in the 1960s and ’70s, an election year game plan that consciously stoked white southerners’ racial anxieties in order to gain their support.
Throughout history, fear has been one of the politician’s most useful tools. To paraphrase a quote from the 1980s movie Wall Street, for politicians, fear is good. A populace that’s both ill-informed and afraid is one that’s easily controlled.
But however loud and constant the drone of doom may be these days, it’s only our  technology, not the state of the world itself, that has changed dramatically. Unwarranted shootings by and of law enforcement officers have taken place for decades. The only difference now is that the incidents are being caught on mobile imaging devices and spread across the globe in a matter of minutes. Now you can watch a man die in real time on Facebook.
What we’re reaping today is the whirlwind of anger and mistrust that’s been buffeting black communities and law enforcement agencies for generations. The drug wars of the 1980s and ’90s drew battle lines that are only now starting to be crossed, hesitantly but hopefully, as both sides begin to realize that the only solution will come through communication and understanding.
No, not every police shooting is a murder; sometimes they are entirely justified. The fact is, police officers have a dangerous job for which they are underpaid and over-stressed. Most members of our law enforcement agencies perform admirably day in and day out, with little or no thanks.
But obviously, there is a problem, and it’s not just “a few bad apples.” It has to be recognized that a certain percentage of sadistic, mentally unstable individuals will be drawn to a job involving firearms and state sanctioned authority over everyday citizens.
Law enforcement agencies need the means to perform more comprehensive background checks and psychological evaluations. They also need to abandon the practice of passing bad cops down the line like pedophile priests
On the other side of that conversation stands the Black Lives Matter movement, which, despite what the geriatric former mayor of New York City might say, isn’t made up of a bunch of punks and thugs trying to incite violence against police officers. They are addressing a very real, life and death issue. Unfortunately, as we saw in Texas, justifiable anger can boil over into uncontrolled rage. It’s heartbreaking in too many ways to count.
But none of this means we’re sliding down some inescapable sinkhole of escalating violence and terror. Despite what men like Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani would like you to believe, we are not in the middle of a race war and black communities have not declared open season on police officers.
Here’s an idea: stop listening to politicians and their minions who have a vested interest in keeping people polarized, in keeping them fearful of the government taking their guns, of the “radical homosexual agenda,” of swarms of drug dealing/rapist/terrorist illegal immigrants overtaking our cities.
Don’t let them laugh at you. Turn them off. Tune them out. Let their childish blather wither into silence.
The problems of race and mistrust won’t be solved by our government; they will be worked out among individuals in their own communities. So put down your phone and take a walk around your neighborhood. Talk to one another as human beings, not enemy conspirators.
Accept that the world is a chaotic place and that no one, not your senator or governor or president, can ever make it truly safe. And save your fear and anger for those who would tell you differently.

The beautiful mind of Donald Trump

Thank God we have Donald Trump to explain the world to us, to put all our most horrific and mind-numbingly complicated issues in plain, crystal clear perspective.

Who else but Trump, our great “Cheeto Jesus” as one GOP presidential consultant recently dubbed him, would take time out following the slaughter of 50 fellow Americans to congratulate himself for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

That he did so before any facts about the gunman’s motives or background was known only proves what a  “unbelievable” intellect is at work here. Because The Donald doesn’t need facts, The Donald just knows.

Trump then continued on his mission to educate the American public several days later by asserting that our sitting president may in fact be a fifth columnist whose loyalties clearly lie with the terrorists.

Thank you Mr. Trump, it’s insights like this from  our soft, spoiled parasitic class that make me proud to be an American.

But seriously, there’s plenty of local and state issues I would much prefer to spend my brain power addressing. Unfortunately, month after month I’m faced with the same incontrovertible fact: An insane person is several months away from possibly becoming the President of the United States, gaining access to our nuclear launch codes and the means to throw our country into the kind of hell spiral it would be hard pressed to ever recover from.

It’s kind of hard to ignore. And at the same time, it’s all become so dismally, depressingly predictable that I can barely raise my fingers to the keyboard anymore. Who cares if the Orlando shooter may have been a closeted, deeply conflicted homosexual who only used a supposed allegiance to ISIS to cover the true cause of his hatred? Who cares that our national leaders have so prostituted themselves to the NRA that they will not even allow the Center for Disease Control to study the underlying causes of gun violence?

Just sit back and let The Donald handle everything.

To be fair to Trump, there’s absolutely no way to know whether he truly believes any of the heinous, asinine things he says. Which is not to let him off the hook, far from it.

It’s been suggested that the former reality TV star suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. I would suggest he’s either mentally unbalanced or someone who seeks to profit by stirring up the most negative impulses of other mentally unbalanced individuals. Either way, he’s unfit to run for dogcatcher of Mayberry, much less President of the United States. That he has come this close is a condemnation of not just the Republican Party, but the United States as a whole.

My guess is that Trump is about to come up against the kind of reality that has nothing to do with TV shows and everything to do with the changing face of American society.

The simple fact is that in the 21st century you cannot insult, degrade, and threaten women, Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans and the disabled and have any chance of winning the presidential general election. In 1980, sure. In 2000, maybe. But not today, not even close. It’s the demographic math, stupid.

If you really want some un-PC, indelicately simple truth I would suggest turning to the words of Rick Wilson, the presidential consultant quoted at the beginning of this column.

In a June 2015 tweet, Wilson responded to fellow Republicans who have offered their support for Trump. “There is no better Trump. There is not Presidential Trump. He is a vile stain on this Republic… Your resumes will always read “Worked for a batshit crazy crypto-fascist who destroyed the GOP”

N.C.’s big government lawmakers pull another bait and switch

How utterly ridiculous. With the passage of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly called HB2, our sex obsessed state lawmakers have once again made North Carolina the butt of jokes by comics across the country. The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory,  invalidated a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

Though its supporters have described it as a law meant to protect against privacy violations and sexual perverts, a few minutes of logical thought is all it takes to determine that the bathroom provisions in HB2 are utterly meaningless. I’ve got news for our representatives who voted for this ridiculous piece of legislation: transgender individuals have been sharing bathrooms with your wives, daughters and sons for decades, and they will continue to do so. They weren’t waiting for a bill to pass into law giving them permission to use the restroom of their choice, they simply open the door and walk in. To do otherwise would be extremely awkward for all involved, as well as put transgender men and women in danger of physical assault.

Likewise, anyone deranged enough to consider sneaking into a women’s, or men’s, restroom to molest a child hasn’t been sitting around biding their time in hopes that some city, somewhere would pass an LGBT bathroom ordinance. Psychopaths don’t work that way.

The law is particularly ironic given what’s recently come to light about the despicable pedophile Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker of the House and rabid anti-gay legislation advocate who federal prosecutors say molested at least four young boys when he worked as a high school wrestling coach.

But, of course, HB2 was never really about peeking into the state’s public restrooms and up the skirts of her citizens. It was about asserting control over local governments who may not fall in line with the Republican majority of our state’s General Assembly.

In a truly reptile-level bit of chicanery reminiscent of the time they attached  anti-abortion restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill, lawmakers added provisions to HB2 that prevent cities and counties from adopting their own anti-discrimination ordinances and prohibits them from imposing such policies on contractors. Additionally, it eliminates the ability to sue an employer in state court for discriminatory firing and prevents local municipalities from setting their own minimum wage rates.

When a legislative body is willing to put its states absolutely essential federal education funding in jeopardy, not to mention risk losing hundreds of jobs and millions in state revenue from technology corporations and entertainment ventures, it raises serious questions about those individuals fitness to hold public office.

A certain percentage of our Republican-led General Assembly seem to see themselves as some kind of bulwark against the godless march of technological innovation and progressive thought. In 2016, there’s simply no room for that kind of anachronistic thinking among our governing bodies.

Our elderly state lawmakers need to educate themselves about the world they live in. It is not, and never will be again, the same one that they grew up in. Gone are the days when backroom deals and regressive legislation could remain merely a provincial concern. These issues are no longer local, they’re global and whether they like it or not, the whole world is watching.

Anger/Fear: 2016

Anger and fear. Those are the words most often used by political pundits to account for the improbable rise of Donald Trump as the top contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But there’s another word I think better expresses his popularity: opportunity.

What Trump has unleashed may indeed have its basis in resentment and panic, but I think it has little to do with the economy or concerns about the tax code. Instead, I believe the real estate tycoon has opened up a safe zone for his supporters to finally vent their rage at a society rapidly jettisoning long-held traditional values, and at the minorities and immigrants they blame for this transformation.

I certainly understand voters who have been lied to for decades wanting to strike out against the Republican establishment. I would consider it a step in the right direction if, as the person to head that movement, they rallied around someone who had worked their way up from the bottom, a grassroots hero who at least understood the value of hard work. But what have they chosen instead? A whiny, spoiled orangutan-hued baby whose daddy has always been there to bail him out, who doesn’t care one whit for working and middle class families, and whose promises of walls and jobs and safety are as fake as his hairline.

The list of Trump’s business failings are well known at this point: multiple casino bankruptcies, failed branding ventures, employment of undocumented immigrants, long-reported ties to mob-run businesses and the promotion of a real estate training program that’s now the target of a $40 million fraud suit.

Trump’s moral credentials are just as suspect. This is a man who sees in no shame in comparing his sexual exploits of the 1970s to serving in Vietnam and simultaneously denigrates veterans who were held as prisoners of war; who mocks the disabled, disrespects women in the most pathetically juvenile fashion, and, most recently, seems to enjoy inciting violence against protesters and journalists.

It would be easy enough to point out that, should Trump become president, there’s simply no chance that he would ever: build a wall on the Mexican border; defund Planned Parenthood; order the military to murder the families of terrorists; or deport all Muslims from the U.S. Anyone who falls for those ludicrous promises simply has no understanding of how government works.

Middle and working class families should also pray Trump never gets the chance to raise tariffs on Chinese imports, since their pocketbooks would be hit the hardest. But then Trump’s supporters seem to care little about his policy positions, since they change day to day.

They also seem to care little about their own self respect. Has this country really produced stadium fulls of hollow-souled drones who will gladly raise their hands in allegiance to the latest carny freak like a bunch of credulous, simpleton toddlers. It’s a good indication of what many in this country truly worship — not intelligence, not moral rectitude and hard work, but Celebrity and Wealth!

I’m a member of the not especially well compensated middle class and I’m as disgusted and angry as anyone about politicians who year after year promise relief and a helping hand and deliver nothing. But I would sooner cut my right arm off than raise it in allegiance to another human being, much less a perverted clown like The Donald.

No matter what happens to Trump now, he has proven that a majority of Republican voters in states across the nation are willing to back a candidate unqualified in every imaginable way to hold elected office. Once you strip all the fantasy and myth away you’re left with….what? A ridiculous looking 70-year-old man with no discernible policy positions who excels at self promotion, whines like a petulant five-year-old, and is all too willing to not only play to his constituents most base and ignorant impulses but to openly call for violence against his dissenters.

The Donald Trump who’s going to rejuvenate our nation’s economy using his keen business sense, defeat our enemies with his military-minded toughness, and kick out all the bad people? The Donald Trump who’s going to “Make America Great Again?”

That Donald Trump doesn’t exist.

 

Justice, American style

News footage from the recent appearance of Martin Shkreli before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should be required viewing for American high school students. The former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, commonly referred to as “the most hated man in America” made headlines when his company obtained the manufacturing license for the antiparasitic drug Daraprim, which is used to treat patients with toxoplasmosis, including in AIDS populations, and raised its price by 5,556 percent (from U.S.$13.50 to U.S.$750 per tablet).

Shkreli’s smirking, eye rolling reaction to the House Committee’s questions about his company’s despicable actions may strike many as the isolated actions of a spoiled, entitled brat, but in fact his elfin visage could serve as the official face of much of corporate America, a land where heedlessly destructive actions are encouraged and consequences are virtually nonexistent.

Just ask the former CEOs and upper echelon management of banking institutions like J.P Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, whose combined adventures in toxic subprime mortgage lending helped wipe out a large chunk of the world’s economy in 2008.

If they’re honest, they’ll tell you this: On Wall Street and in major financial institutions across the globe, fraud, deceit, and illegal manipulation are not only overlooked but openly encouraged. They’ll also tell you that no one in their occupational sphere, not a single person, ever served prison time for their blatantly criminal, hugely destructive actions. Fines were paid by the companies, but no individuals ever saw the inside of a courtroom.

That’s the lesson that all Americans should have learned in recent years: Actions that would put the average citizen behind bars for decades are shrugged off as “institutional failures” in the corporate legal system. When a single welfare recipient tries to put one over on the state they are singled out, made examples of as part of the abhorrent lower class that is supposedly stealing our nation blind. And yet, when the above mentioned banks engage in welfare fraud on a grand scale by borrowing billions from the federal government at near zero interest and then sending that money back out, at 15-20 percent interest, in the form of housing loans and credit cards…well, that’s just good business.

And it’s not just Wall Street high rollers and bank executives laughing behind our backs. For two years, city officials in Flint, Mich. allowed their citizens to drink water so corrosive that it stripped the lead from the city’s water pipes. An official from the United States Public Health Services recently told the New York Times that it had measured lead levels of 150 parts per billion or higher in 26 Flint water samples, a level at which even the water filters that have been distributed to residents can’t make the water safe to drink.

Neither the state’s governor nor city employees nor the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, all of whom failed to properly vet the Flint River as a water source and to treat the water supply adequately, have been held officially responsible for the long term, potentially deadly hazard they’ve allowed to continue in Flint. Though a number of class-action lawsuits have already been filed against city and state organizations, it could be difficult for plaintiffs to win money because governments and officeholders are typically immune from paying damages.

And let’s not forget other recent, apparently blameless crimes against average citizens committed by government institutions and corporations, such as the leaking gas well in southern California’s Aliso Canyon, which to date has bled 96,000 metric tons of methane and caused health problems for nearby residents due to lack of oversight.

Or how about the water contamination problem that occurred at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987, during which time service members and their families on the base bathed in and ingested tap water that was contaminated with toxic chemicals, leading to increased incidents of cancer. In August 2012, President Obama signed the Janey Ensminger Act into law to begin providing medical care for those affected by the contamination. But, despite tests that showed clear signs of serious problems with the base’s water supply and repeated warnings from lab employees hired to do those tests, no member of the U.S. Marine Corps has ever been held accountable.

Which leads us back to of Martin Shkreli. It’s tempting to say that his arrest on Dec. 17 on charges of securities fraud heralds a new day in the enforcement of financial crime laws, that, finally, hedge funds swindlers and corporate freeloaders will be treated to the same level of scrutiny and justice as average middle and working class citizens.

Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely the smirking manchild will ever see a single day of prison time. After all, he’s a winner, and you’re not.