A Way with Words: The Devious and Devastating Genius of Frank Luntz… and More

I mentioned Frank Luntz in my article “Shared Values” , in which I willingly gave him credit for the clever term itself – I mean what could be more effective in garnering American support for rogue nation Israel than hearing about how similar it is to the United States? While my article made clear that these “shared values” are  fallacious, I do, however begrudgingly, give Luntz all the credit. His talking points for defense of Israeli aggression and human rights abuses have indeed been effective, as noted by Patrick Cockburn writing in British newspaper The Independent. He was masterful in his Israel Project handbook, for example after the Gaza slaughter of 2014, advising Israel supporters to always appear empathetic, “no Palestinian mother should have to bury her child” (even though that child was killed by Israel) and describing Palestinian negotiating points as “demands” because Americans dislike people who make “demands.”

Dr Luntz has always claimed, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”. And he has masterfully put that knowledge to work on behalf of Republican conservative causes for  decades. He was responsible for all the clever Republican soundbites during the election of 1994 wrapped in Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”, the title of which was also Luntz’s idea. Here we find all kinds of examples of his ingenuity, from the use of such terms as “tax relief”, “job creation”, “personal responsibility” and “taking back our streets”, to the undeniably worthy goal of imposing term limits on “career politicians” so that they could be replaced by “citizen legislators”. In addition he advised Republicans to “talk like Newt” by describing Democrats in pejorative terms like “corrupt,” “devour,” “greed,” “hypocrisy,” “liberal,” “sick,” and “traitors.” 

Luntz’s work for the Republican Party in the area of taxes has been particularly effective. It was he who suggested always using “death tax” instead of the perfectly reasonable and accurate terms “estate tax” or “inheritance tax”. In a memo to Republicans, he even recommended staging press conferences about opposing or reducing this tax “at your local mortuary” to dramatize the Issue, stating that “I believe this backdrop will clearly resonate with your constituents….death is something the American people understand”.

Dr Luntz’s term for reducing taxes, “tax relief” is brilliantly conceived, cloaking our very necessary contributions to common safety, order and the public good as nasty unfair burdens. Employing the phrase “tax relief” suggests that taxes are an affliction that Americans need to be rescued from and ensures that those proposing the taxes are portrayed as villains, while those fighting against them become heroes. Use of this term was employed by George W. Bush promoting his tax cuts, primarily benefitting the wealthy but advertised as something quite different, nicely illustrated in this incredibly deceptive photo-op. Right there in front of all these cute, struggling American families is Frank Luntz’s term and sitting down to sign the bill providing that “relief” is our hero, George W. Bush. 

Republican talking points about health care are also representative of the influence of Luntz. A favorite term used by Republicans to describe “Medicare for All” or any other government program covering all Americans is “government takeover”. Dr Luntz earned the 2010 Lie of the Year award from Politifact for his promotion of this phrase starting in the spring of 2009. “Takeovers are like coups,” Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. “They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.” Right, and added to this are always the buzzwords “choice”, where health care is concerned, and “competition”, as if anyone seriously ill or facing a medical emergency has the time and the information to properly “choose” the right doctor or hospital, or examine some kind of list and find the most cost effective providers. While I’m not sure of its origin, it certainly could be Luntz, another favorite term employed by those fighting single payer programs is “rationed care”, totally fallacious but quite effective, like the others mentioned above.

Luntz enjoys putting together his “lose” and “use” lists of words according to the topic at issue.  For example, about climate change and green technology, which he opposed, he suggests the following:

  • USE: Cleaner, safer, healthier. LOSE: Sustainable/sustainability.
  • USE: Solving climate change. LOSE: Ending global warming.
  • USE: Principles and priorities. LOSE: Values.
  • USE: Reliable technology/energy. LOSE: Ground-breaking/State of the art.
  • USE: New careers. LOSE: New jobs.
  • USE: Peace of mind. LOSE: Security.
  • USE: Consequences. LOSE: Threats/Problems.
  • USE: Working together. LOSE: One world.

Anyone can see how cleverly selected or rejected these words are. For example “peace of mind” instead of “security”. He’s right – the first suggests a threat of some kind and therefore has negative connotations, the second does not.

And here was his “lose and use” list for Republican before the 2006 midterm election: 

BI Graphics_Rhetoric 1

Other “use and lose” pairings that he has suggested more recently are rather than “undocumented worker”, use” illegal alien”, a much more negative and threatening term. And when discussing school vouchers, putting public money into corporate pockets, never use “school choice” – always say “parental choice”. And Luntz urged Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to move away from the dry phrase “funding the border wall” to the more evocative term “border security” — a language tweak the White House has obviously adopted.

As a very successful pollster, Dr Luntz has tested all kinds of political slogans and catchphrases. One of his most successful was used by now Senator Rick Scott in his last run for Florida governor and was likely responsible for his narrow victory – “let’s get to work”. In an oft-used commercial Scott was depicted heading down an alleyway while putting on his jacket, appearing like he was looking for a fight, with the words appearing – “Let’s get to work, let’s get it done”. Certainly much more effective than defining problems and suggesting solutions or plans. And clearly it worked. And presently billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloom has adopted Luntz’s phrase for his multi million dollar TV ad blitz – “Mike will get it done”.

I would like to add a few more examples of clever use of language in politics. Certainly the Democratic members of Congress took a page from Frank Luntz’s book with their extremely effective use of the term “kids in cages” to help describe the dreadful situation on our southern border. And although it cannot be attributed directly to Luntz, the Bush/Cheney administration’s deceptive use of the term “enhanced interrogation” to describe what was clearly and plainly torture, in dealing with captive suspected terrorists during the Iraq War. And just the other day I read a description of how corporations get away with paying little or no taxes on their billions in profits – it’s their use of ‘lawyers, lobbyists and loopholes”, a very definitive and resonant phrase to be sure.

Also I should add a few examples of political language employed today to cast doubt on much needed debate and embrace of tenets of dominant candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. In a brilliant article for Truthdig, R.J. Eskow dissects and defines some favorite phrases being bandied about by most of our “moderate” (read “corporate”) Democratic candidates. Several of the more striking are “free stuff” which Eskow defines as “A term of contemptuous dismissal for public services that are commonly available in other developed countries and which any decent society would make available to all human beings”; ‘I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on bold ideas” really means “I don’t have any bold ideas”; and “I know how to get things done”, (of course trumpeted constantly by Joe Biden) really means “I intend to use a political approach that hasn’t gotten anything done in years”.

And finally I would like to add a few oxymorons to this discussion of clever use of words. A favorite of mine that I use as a definitive example of an oxymoron is “military intelligence”. Others that are used in political discussions are “fighting for peace”, “bureaucratic efficiency” and “congressional ethics”. And George W. Bush enjoyed describing himself with the fallacious term “compassionate conservative”. Certainly, in this time of striking divisions in politics, it might be illustrative to suggest several that define our times. “Moderate Republican”  and “billionaire Democrat” are certainly oxymorons today. Obviously there is no such thing as a moderate Republican presently and the very existence of billionaire Democrats like presidential candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, are contradictions in terms as repudiations of what a Democrat is expected to embrace. And I will add my own original contribution to the lexicon of  political oxymorons, one which circles back to my first paragraph and Frank Luntz’s work for the Israel Project – “Israeli justice”.

And one more thing, after his house was narrowly saved by valiant Los Angeles firefighters from being burned in the Skirball fire, Frank Luntz has seen the light (and felt the heat) and has joined the ranks of climate change believers, offering passionate and personal testimony recently to Congress on the urgency of dealing with its effects. Also, observing that “It’s hard to be partisan when you see the damage being done”, he has abandoned his long standing association with the Republican Party. Who knows, he may decide to share his devious and devastating talent with all political parties.

Wooster High

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After encountering problems during the start of my senior year in the church school in which my family was involved, in the fall of 1958 I was sent to live with my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Emil Baxstrom in Wooster, Ohio and enroll for the balance of that year in the high school there. After my cloistered life in the Pillar of Fire church schools,  attending a big public high school was a tremendous shock. 

I remember my Aunt taking me in for registration with Principal Roland Sayre. I was attired in an outfit I had worn occasionally in my last school – striped pants and Wellington boots, and jacket and was sporting a ducktail haircut, a common hairdo among many kids in 1958. I recall Mr. Sayre glancing at me somewhat skeptically out of the corner of his eye and my Aunt’s manner with him and the office staff being – how shall I put it –  somewhat embarrassed or maybe apologetic? Anyhow, I was duly enrolled and placed in the appropriate sections of my required classes. 

In a couple of my classes and study halls I was somewhat concerned because most of the kids seemed a bit rough and not all that studious. Could this be because I was placed in those particular sections based upon my appearance rather than my ability?  However, in some other classes I did seem properly placed. Over time I decided that my hairdo was problematic and vowed to change it. After getting a flattop I couldn’t believe the changes. The “nicer” girls seemed to take an interest in me and the better dressed and more articulate boys became much more friendly. Yet it was always the same person underneath the hair, long or short. What a difference appearance makes in high school.

There was a store, more a snack and soft drink place down the street from Wooster High, I don’t remember the direction or its name, where some of the less savory students gathered during the lunch hour. And it was during one of these forays where I remember encountering a very cute girl that was in a couple of these classes, who seemed to be interested in me. She drove a new Chevy convertible and was quite flirtatious while I had the long hair. After the flattop Donna Burris didn’t seem interested any longer. Or perhaps her interest was simply not reciprocated – after all, at that time I had little means to begin or maintain any kind of relationship with a young lady. 

I had a really difficult time during my first few days at Wooster High getting used to the huge hallways and getting from one class to another in a timely fashion. Lockers and their operation were new to me as well. And gym class, for which I had to purchase the required shorts, t-shirt and jockstrap was new as well. And need it be said, to strip down to change and shower in front of classmates was a brand new experience that I had a difficult time with as well.

I will always remember my teachers that year. Mr. Nick Dellerba was a wonderful civics teacher. One theme of our survey of US government that ran throughout the course was discussion of the second Hoover Commission’s study of our national government and its recommendations for improvement. Mr. Dellerba was quite critical of some aspects of government and were I to encounter him today I would definitely classify him as a liberal, who strove to give his students a portrait of democratic constitutional government that was not above criticism and which could always get better. I wonder what Mr. Dellerba would say about our government today and what recommendations for improvement he could offer. I believe that civics was required of all students at that time at Wooster High and I certainly hope that it still requires that knowledge for all of its students. Statistics show that such courses are offered less and less in today’s high schools and are rarely required, an unfortunate circumstance indeed, in a country that still considers itself a democracy.

Miriam Myers was my trigonometry teacher. An elderly, kind and caring person she did a fine job of teaching the class. It was for this course during that senior year that I obtained a top quality slide rule, the “computer of the ’50’s”, in a fancy leather case that I could attach to my belt. So I could really put on airs as I got more used to my new school – displaying not only the short haircut but now the slide rule on my belt. I must have convinced myself that I cut quite a figure there in the halls and classrooms of Wooster High. But as I recount in my description of my first couple of years at Rutgers University, I failed a required freshman math course, even as a slide rule owner. How the mighty had fallen.

Another teacher I remember well was physics teacher Ray Harper. Mr. Harper seemed like a decent kind of guy who might be more comfortable considering the the work of John Deere rather than Isaac Newton, but in his quiet and effective way he taught us what we needed to know. It was in physics class that Rich Carroll and I enjoyed each other’s imitations of Mr. Harper’s unique mannerisms and voice inflection. His “l’s” were pronounced with a “w” inflection –  a bit like “cowege” rather than “college” and “wewll” rather than “well”. It was in physics class that Rich and I had to choke back paroxysms of laughter at Rich Weber’s extensive and detailed pantomime of a jazz musician carefully opening his saxophone case, putting his instrument together, wetting the reed, inserting the mouthpiece and then silently gyrating and puffing up his cheeks with effort playing. Hilarious – and Rich used to do this while Mr. Harper was lecturing and explaining physics concepts. 

And then there was a most kindly, sweet, bright and well dressed elderly lady who taught senior English, Lucile Nesbitt. This was a class that I enjoyed very much and in which I obtained stellar grades as well. I remember especially Miss Nesbitt’s drills on important vocabulary anticipated to be encountered on the College Boards. In retrospect, I don’t know if this vocabulary information really ever helped but I presume it did. It was in English class that I sat near Kitty Guthrie, a girl whose charm, personality, beauty and stature were truly imposing. I remember that Kitty passed me a note in class in which she wrote, “…you remind me of someone named Paul, of whom I was very fond…” Of course, that set my heart all aflutter and my spring-long crush on her began. I badly wanted to ask her to the Prom that spring but could never summon the courage. It was likely just as well, since I had neither the means nor the independence to squire a date to such an event. I would have had to suffer the ignominy of my aunt or uncle having to drive us to the prom and pick us up, so it’s just as well that it never happened. I always thought that perhaps a good looking, highly verbal and social classmate like Larry Drabenstott, had accompanied Kitty to the prom but a gracious letter from classmate Rich Briggs many years later, indicated that Larry had not been her date. Who was the lucky guy? To this day I don’t know – perhaps Kitty did not even attend.

Another teacher I remember, not because of his teaching ability or sensitivity but because of polar opposite traits, was PE teacher John McCreary, whose blunt orders like “OK – listen up now…” did not make PE classes any easier nor expectations any clearer, but merely added to the overall traumatic nature of PE at Wooster High. Mind you, I had never played many of the sports to which I received my first exposure there at WHS; my former school had much more limited offerings. However, I did my  best and was grateful for the forbearance of various helpful classmates. I remember especially Howard Zuercher teaching me some of the basics of wrestling.

Speaking of Howard, I should mention my school bus trips, quite interesting since Wooster  school buses picked up kids of all ages from surrounding communities and delivered them to their respective schools. Consequently, all my cousins – Sandy, who I believe was just starting high school, Ted, maybe junior high at that time, Jack in elementary school and Margie Ann, whom I think may have been just starting Kindergarten, and myself were all picked up by the same bus. Howard was another high school student who rode our bus, as was another student I remember well, Russ Flesher, who lived on a nearby farm. Russ I think did drive a car on many school days but also was on the bus quite frequently. Regarding Russ, my aunt many years later sent me a Wooster Daily Record clipping containing the awful news of Russ’s tragic death in the Viet Nam war and Rich Briggs in his informative early ’90’s letter recounted the notable highlights of Russ’s short life. What I remember most about Russ was not only his friendliness and helpfulness to me and others but his notable public speaking ability, which I must have seen and heard demonstrated in classes and perhaps also in school assemblies.

Another student I remember well for her beauty, attire, mystery and aloofness, was Vicki Vore. Vicky was quite attractive and seemed to dress more like a mature adult than a student. The mystery about her, whether true or not, had to do with her being a dancer at a club in Cleveland…or Akron…or Columbus. Of course this knowledge allowed my imagination to run wild – dancer? Club? Big city? What kind of club? What kind of dancing? I never did find out much about her. All I had was little bits of information from friends and my fruitful imagination. I don’t remember her being in any of my classes. If I had ever been able to know her, I am sure she would have turned out to be quite normal and not deserving of any of my foolish conjecture. And her lofty dance reputation was more likely centered around her involvement and leadership in that discipline and related activities right there at school.

And thanks to Stanley Zook, who as a member of the 1959 yearbook staff, was able to employ his photographic talent to produce and edit many of the photographs included in the volume. He graciously took that picture of me, replete with my long hair, that rests on the final page of student pictures. But I hope that Stan was not responsible for the confusing misspelling of my middle name, which should have been not “Barstrom” but “Baxstrom”, my mother’s maiden name and of course the surname of the family with whom I lived that year.

During my time at Wooster High I don’t recall ever visiting a counselor, or even being steered in that direction by any classmates or teachers. Sometime during the early spring, however, after hearing so many other students announce their college plans and realizing I had none I panicked and proceeded to develop some of my own. I managed to take the College Boards that spring at Wooster College and applied to and was accepted at the institution close to my New Jersey family home – Rutgers University. In retrospect I wish I had explored admission and scholarship opportunities at other schools through WHS’s counseling office but simply did not, so attendance at Rutgers remained my sole university objective. 

In retrospect, while life with the Baxstrom family was pleasurable, my social life in Wooster for that half-year plus of school was virtually nonexistent. Any friends I made that spring were school friends only – I  never saw any of them after school or on weekends. At school I listened enviously as boys would recount their weekend escapades and discuss dates with this or that girl, or visiting a favorite lounge outside of town, presumably to imbibe. I don’t know anything about the drinking age in Ohio at that time – it would not have mattered anyhow for me – but it may have been 18 for 3.2 beer as it was in many other states. My life pretty much consisted of days at school and evenings and weekends at home reading, doing household chores or homework. During this time I did receive a valuable introduction to basic carpentry through helping my general contractor uncle on a house or two he was building in the Akron area – developing skills which I have employed all of my life.

I never had the means to get involved in any after school activities. I have marveled at the rich opportunities for extra-curricular programs – athletics, clubs or performance groups, back then at Wooster High School and envied the extensive involvement in such areas by many of my classmates. My constrained personal development at that time could have been handily enhanced were I to have taken advantage of some of the many opportunities then available to me. But my school life seemed at the time to be confined to the limits of the school day and never expanded beyond.

Looking back on my time at Wooster High School, I am ever grateful for the opportunity. It was and evidently still is a great public high school, with an enviable record of providing a solid education for all students  and sending most to a variety of post – high school educational programs. I thought of Wooster High as almost a prep school, so extensive was the interest in and commitment to higher education for its students. I believe that any upstart charter school would have a difficult time seeking to co-opt some of the clientele of Wooster High, because of its commitment to providing an appropriate high quality education for every single student.

Addendum:

I will be attending the 60th reunion of my class at Wooster High School in September 2019. After all these years of many other scheduled reunions, many of which I presumably could have attended and did not, why this one? Good question – I have asked it myself many times. Certainly I wish I had done a better job of keeping in touch and attending an occasional reunion. But what’s special about this one certainly is that it may be the last. Some in the class of ’59 have already passed on. The rest of us are now in our late 70’s so who knows who will still be around five years or a decade hence. It’s doubtful that I will recognize anyone and that anyone will recognize me. Nevertheless, I plan to reintroduce myself to classmates and to enjoy this time with people I have not seen for sixty years but with whom I shared the brief but wonderful experience of attending Wooster High. My sincere thanks for those responsible for organizing this occasion, especially to Sonja Henney Tugend for her diligence and persistence in locating me and extending the invitation.

I guess I view that brief time at Wooster High as very formative for me and an experience that set me on a more deliberate and considered path to higher education and a career. Life in the Baxstrom home was calm and organized and we all had a role to play in maintaining that home and that too helped me grow significantly. I will always be grateful to my aunt, uncle and cousins, for making space for me and accepting me as part of their family for that year. They were all dear to me then and remain dear now. 

And a final note about Kitty Guthrie who has remained faintly in my awareness and my imagination ever since that senior year at Wooster High. I have often wondered about her – where she is and what she has accomplished. Through the magic of Google, I discovered  that both she and her law school professor husband, George Pring, have enjoyed long and productive careers and have recently been associated with environmental matters. For example, Kitty and her husband are co-authors of a handbook for creation of ETC’s – environmental tribunals and courts. Kudos to Kitty (and George), for devoting their talents and energies to an area so crucial to human health and survival.

Vermont Redux

Today I am compelled by circumstances to offer some additions to an earlier blog entry about my beloved adopted state of Vermont. As I futilely tried to find the weather channel forecast for Vermont late yesterday and realized that the internet was not working….again….for the second time in as many days and tried to phone our company about the problem….again… but ruefully realized that our house phone doesn’t function without internet and so tried my cell phone to call and could not, since my cell phone works here at the house only when the internet is on and I have to drive halfway down Danby Mountain Road toward the village of Dorset to get it to work, I realize that I’m living in what amounts to a third world country – Vermont – where you can never take modern conveniences, like electricity, telephone and internet for granted but must fall on your knees with amazement and gratitude when they do work and can be relied upon.

Yes, two days ago I noticed that the internet was phasing in and out. One moment when I was trying to retrieve an article from the New York Times I got the “cannot reach server” sign and threw my hands in the air and rolled my eyes in frustration, punctuating with a little strong language, and the next moment, when trying to find the same article, there it was on my screen just like normal. Accordingly, I called (when the phone service had phased in and was working) Consolidated Communications, the latest iteration of our constantly evolving telephone/internet company, to complain and was directed to conduct the usual drill – unplug the modem, wait a minute or two, them plug it back in and hope the internet comes back up. Well, I conducted the drill again and again and sometimes the internet came back and sometimes it did not. Finally Consolidated Communications said they would “check things on their end” and send someone out to check here as well. With the internet still fluctuating on and off, a young man in a panel truck arrived and said they had discovered something “on their end” and had fixed the problem, but he would install a new modem for us just in case. OK, the new modem is installed, has functioned for a couple of days but now the internet is off again. Is it “something on their end” again or is the new modem not functioning properly? What the hell is wrong now?

Native Vermonters, like my wife, her relatives and friends here and around Dorset, will tell you apologetically but factually that indeed, such conveniences as electricity, telephone and internet are not always reliable here in Vermont and cannot be taken for granted because of one simple fact – trees by the millions grow here, trees which in a winter snowstorm or summer thunderstorm can be blown down and take some wires with them. Or perhaps the pole itself, transporting those vital functions, will be downed. So this I understand, no problem – trees and their peculiarities are a fact of life here in Vermont. So, I ask, if this is such a problem, why not just put the electrical power underground, as is often done in other locations? Well, the answer to this perfectly reasonable question brings me to another complaint about my beloved adopted state of Vermont – rocks, stones, boulders, whatever you choose to call them, of all sizes and dimensions are underground everywhere in Vermont – sometimes at or near the surface, sometimes deeper, but they are always here, and how well I know.

Last week, in an uncommon burst of generosity, I thought I would indulge my spouse and finally install some much needed edging around some of her flower garden areas to repel the ever advancing invasive grass and weeds from the adjacent lawn. So I ordered a few more boxes of plastic six by eight inch edging pieces that attach to each other and are simply tapped (pounded?) into the ground with a hard rubber mallet. Well, I know what lurks under the ground here so when I begin a task like this I always stretch a string between two stakes, then drive my square edged spade into the ground along the string to get a straight line to form a long groove into which to drive the units of plastic edging. Well, along that twenty foot line, I find only perhaps five places where the spade goes straight down to form a groove for the edging. Elsewhere I get a “clunk” or, worse, a “clank”, when the spade strikes the virtually ever-present rock. So I move my spade slightly toward me or away from me, or to the right or to the left, to find where the spade might go down unimpeded, so that perhaps I can get alongside or underneath the impediment to lever it up and out of the ground. Most times, my sturdy faithful spade is sufficient to the task and up comes the rock so that I can now continue down the line for the edging. But occasionally it is not, so I have to go to the garage and grab the most essential garden and landscaping tool I own – my heavy steel “digging and tamping” bar, which I raise and slam down into the ground combining its considerable weight with what remains of my strength to get underneath or alongside of the much larger object which is impeding my edging job and which my spade cannot dislodge and finally lever it out. 

This absolutely essential (in Vermont) tool, I had originally purchased to assist in a huge project to which I had committed several summers ago – the construction of a post and rail fence along the frontage of our property. To dig the holes for the posts, I had optimistically but foolishly rented a gasoline powered post hole digger which once here, had to be wrestled into position and the revolving auger digging blade lowered into the ground. While this machine may have worked well for the first few inches of the hole, it would inevitably strike a rock and just sit there and spin, halting its progress downward. When more weight was applied to the auger side of the machine by me or my wife by sometimes actually sitting on it, the digger might finally dislodge and regurgitate a medium sized stone and proceed downward. However, inevitably it would encounter a more sizable obstruction and just sit and spin regardless of any additional weight applied. So then I would have to withdraw the auger, push the machine aside, turn off the engine and dig the stone out manually and this is best done with a bar and a spade. So ultimately, having learned that a powered post hole digger was useless here on our property, I returned it to the rental place in Manchester and resigned myself to completing the entire job manually with my steel bar and a spade. I think that the powered post-hole digger helped me minimally with only four of the total of 25 or so holes.

Some other example of struggles with Vermont rocks – in spite of my impassioned pleas to stop buying items to plant and instead just maintain the beautiful flourishing gardens we have already started and nurtured, my spouse had insisted on purchasing a couple more items – a magnolia tree, which we hope will survive in this harsh climate and a really pretty butterfly bush. So after making excuses and delaying, I was in an optimistic mood recently and so finally consented to plant the magnolia. But as usual, the spade went in a couple of inches, then stopped…a rock. Ok, well I’ll try a little over this way, but again clank – a really big one I guess. Forgetfully armed only with the spade, I made the trip to the garage to retrieve the steel bar. By the time the hole was  dug, I had not only a pile of dirt but had removed also a pile of rocks. 

And the whole process was repeated a few days later with the planting of the butterfly bush – me starting out optimistically and happily but in no time sweating and swearing and prying out rocks. 

And then there are the roads here in my beloved Vermont. I have never driven on worse roads. State route 30 from where we live to Manchester has asphalt patches on the asphalt patches. And all are cracking and coming apart. Time to patch up the the patches on the patches. Yes I know how damaging the severe winters are on these paved roads. But comparing Vermont’s roads to those in other states that endure equally severe winters, there is no comparison. Why? Is Vermont behind in the science of road building and repair? My guess is that they’re building and repairing roads the same way they did fifty years ago. There have likely been some advances – time to learn about them and apply them. I really do think that a favorite Vermont adage uttered by every road crew boss, every tradesperson, every town manager is, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it….”

And then there are the deer. I mentioned in my previous article about Vermont how important deer hunting season is here. It seems like virtually the entire state shuts down for these several weeks. However, there seem to be more deer than ever here, and it appears that most are unfortunately concentrated near our modest little property. Perhaps drawn by the several old apple trees that border our lawn which drop their bounty each fall, deer seem to frequent our place far more than should be normal. And our plants suffer as a result. They love to eat the tops off of the bluebell plants that are in the woods around our grass. We moved a quantity of them to our gardens this year and they strolled through and ate the tops off of them there as well, so no beautiful blooms. Worst of all, we were shocked upon our return from Arizona this spring to see that they had rendered a dozen or so of the lush arborvitae trees along our fence virtual arboreal skeletons. And I still don’t know if I should wait and see if they come back or simply remove them and replace with something deer-proof or if impossible, at least deer-resistant. 

And a few other complaints about other occurrences that seem inexplicable except in terms of third world countries. I buy a gallon of regular milk every so often to use in my coffee and an occasional bowl of cold breakfast cereal. I use it slowly but it’s usually gone by the expiration date. However, just the other day, I was shocked to have it turn sour (yes, I had put it into my coffee that morning and was disgusted to see little curdled bits floating around as I mixed it in) a full week before the expiration date. Hey, I had hustled home and put it into the refrigerator promptly and had never left it out. So is there yet another third world condition here – inadequate refrigeration? Hey, my refrigerator works well and I have verified the inside temperature. So is the problem at the dairy, at the transportation or packaging facilities or at the supermarket? And this was not the first time my milk has gone sour quickly. It’s happened at least a half dozen other times over the past few years. What the hell is going on here?

And one other thing before I end this article. Vermont seems not to care about customer service. When I’m here I miss so much the humor, the helpfulness, accommodation, the obliging manner of retail clerks in Arizona, where the customer is valued and is always right. Here it seems to be just he opposite. I am made to feel that I am a troublesome intruder, an inconvenience. I do realize that retail clerks can be way too attentive and that drives me nuts too. I remember a few years ago when every clerk, shelf stocker, and cashier at Home Depot was evidently forced to greet every customer with a cheery “How are you today?” It got on my nerves so much that I was tempted to reply, “None of your damned business how I am. Just tell me where I can find the nails”. But I am tired of being ignored by unhelpful retail people. The other day when I bought groceries, I not only had to put up with a silent sullen cashier, but had to bag all my grocery items myself. So in Vermont, it seems that the customer comes last. Who’s first? I don’t know but the customer be damned – from dishonest tradespeople to lazy and unresponsive retail clerks, no one seems to care.

And with a Ford car this time in Vermont I decided to obtain the much needed oil change from a local Ford dealer after the long drive to Vermont, in order to set up a relationship where I could feel that my needs would be looked after. What an ordeal. Upon entering the service department, one guy was on the phone and another was on his computer. I chose to stand in front of the computer guy’s desk to be waited upon. Yes, I waited and waited until he finally and begrudgingly got off his computer, apparently put out at my presence, and asked what he could do for me. Finally, I was able to explain that I had an appointment and would leave my car and be back in a couple of hours to pick it up. When I returned, that guy’s desk was empty and the other guy was again on his phone. So guess what – a service mechanic came through the door and offered his help, took me to a desk where I could pay the bill – but that lady was on a lunch break so he took me back to the guy who was on his phone, finally off, and I paid the bill and collected my keys. I’ve been to all kinds of auto dealers in my life but have never experienced anything like this. But thank God for the mechanic, who, greasy hands, smudged uniform shirt and all, did seem to care. How does this dealer stay in business, pray tell? Must be selling a lot of cars – I don’t think there’s many repeat customers in the service department.

And finally, on the negative side of the ledger, I have to mention the bugs. Whenever I venture into the coolness of a pleasant Vermont evening, I have to coat my exposed skin with some kind of repellant to prevent being assaulted by bugs. A particularly troublesome insect is the notorious “no see-um” or “biting midge”, a tiny bug whose bite seems much worse than that of a mosquito. A “no see-um” bite somewhere on my scalp or back of the neck raises a bump like I had been hit  with a hammer. And that bump itches too. Evidently, the tragic insect die-off caused by  overuse of chemicals on farms, lawns and gardens has not affected these nasty little insects. Actually, I’ll bet that their numbers have been augmented by the demise of natural enemies. Whatever the cause, the lure of a warm humid evening is easy to resist here in a Vermont summer. However, all bugs have their seasons, so hopefully they’ll go away soon. 

And then there are the ticks. These nasty, sneaky and dangerous creatures fall off their original hosts, the ubiquitous deer here and wait to attach themselves to us unsuspecting humans and infect us with any number of tick-borne  diseases, the most notorious of which is Lyme Disease. I have received my share of bites, two just this summer, neither of which have apparently infected me. And I have received them in the past. During the summer of 2017 I came down with a frightening attack of arthritis. It seemed that every joint in my body was swelling and painful, as if I had been injected with some kind of poison. Of course I suspected Lyme so finally had the blood test which was negative. I’m still fighting the arthritis, which  rheumatologists in both Vermont and Arizona still insist is “osteoarthritis”. Nevertheless I am convinced that those tick bites have something to do with this condition and so plan to get another test, since it’s only about 80 percent effective anyhow. I am always troubled and confused by Lyme Disease because the more you read about it the clearer it becomes that it affects different people in different ways and at different times. A prominent example is Kris Kristofferson, whose recent memory loss and confusion was blamed on dementia, presumably Alzheimers, until some enterprising doctor ordered a test for Lyme which turned up positive. It became apparent that Kristofferson had likely received a tick bite while filming “Disappearances” in 2005. Where? In Vermont. So I’ve not yet finished researching the cause of this sudden encounter with arthritis. I’m convinced its cause is Lyme.

But…on the other hand, I should reinforce and add to the many compliments I offered my adopted second-home state before. Experiments in socialism are alive and well here in dear old Vermont. My spouse’s favorite mail order company for her gardening needs, Gardener’s Supply, the company from which I had purchased the afore-mentioned  boxes of plastic edging, is wholly owned and operated by its employees. Yes, its gracious salespersons, stockers, maintenance and office people work hard to increase company profits, which accrue directly to them and their families, not to a Jeff Bezos, a David Koch, a Walton or an amorphous army of wealthy stockholders. At Gardeners, the employees are the Bezoses, the Kochs, the Waltons and the stockholders, which adds to the pleasure of shopping there. This is how it should be, is it not? If employees work hard, they should receive a fair share of the profits.

And Vermonters are well ahead of the curve in other crucial areas as well. Shortly we will become the first state to outlaw plastic bags. And to prepare, I am now carrying cloth bags in the car for grocery shopping, although I often forget that they are there. And also, Vermont is moving toward keeping organic matter out of landfills and will at some point in the near future, actually require residents to deal with their own organic throwaway garbage, preferably by composting. We’re thankfully ahead of that curve already too, being the proud possessors for some years now of a “Green Johanna”, a barrel type of composter made in Sweden. Our little box garden in the back produces some pretty good vegetables, thanks to the rich compost that has been mixed into its soil.

And I should add to my previous compliments about politics here in Vermont, that this little state still produces Republicans that think and care. Yes, just like our staunchly Democratic neighbor to the south, Massachusetts, we do elect a Republican governor occasionally, the latest incarnation being Governor Phil Scott. Along with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, these guys are a throwback to Republicans like Mark Hatfield or Nelson Rockefeller, principled people who were practical, sensible, honest and honorable. Actually politicians like Scott and Baker are middle of the road governors, closer to Democrats actually in the way they govern, than the more radical prominent Republicans of today.

And Vermont continues to be significantly ahead of other states in the recognition and legalization of alternative life styles, characteristics with which many of our fellow human beings are born and over which they have no control and thus should be entitled to the same rights and privileges which the rest of us enjoy. Yes, Vermont was the first state to allow civil unions for gay couples, a remarkable achievement accomplished way back in 2000. Congratulations, Vermont.

Well there, I’m done with my second article about Vermont, my complaints and my compliments. And in spite of everything, I really do enjoy the people, the weather, even the roads and the rocks here and wouldn’t want to spend my summers anywhere else. Good old Vermont.

Oh Please, Come On Now

The New York Times’ most recently hired columnist, quintessential Zionist and Israel booster (and not coincidently or insignificantly Israeli citizen) and former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post Bret Stephens, whose engagement in my opinion was a terrible mistake, recently got his bowels in an uproar, his shriveled heart thumping, his palms all clammy, his teeth clenched with righteous indignation, his brow sweating and his self control all aflutter, after his employer published what he called an “anti-Semitic” political cartoon in its International Edition. Thank God we have Bret to define anti-Semitism and keep us on the straight and narrow with this incredibly biased bit of writing.

Stephens fits neatly into a category of writers and pundits who fancy themselves some sort of moral guardians of our media, jumping swiftly to label any criticism of Israel or civic public demonstrations against Israel as “anti-Semitism” while ignoring this rogue nation’s defiance of international law and violation of human rights. If you wish to observe Stephens and his friend Dennis Prager, of “Prager University” fame, in a revolting gush of admiration for each other and Israel and mutual rejection of basic democratic rights embodied in the BDS movement, take a look at this c-span interview.

I was going to disregard this whole distasteful episode until comedian Bill Maher thrust it in my face on his May 3, 2019 Real Time show. Yes, there was Bret Stephens himself in person as Maher’s guest to again spew his paranoid self pity and self righteous outrage in plain view of  Maher’s millions of viewers. And Maher himself, whose work I generally enjoy, until he opens his mouth to expose his ignorance about the Middle East, of course showed the cartoon and jumped aboard the Bret Stephens train of hurt feelings and righteous umbrage.

And, accordingly, the commonly accepted “paper of record”, the New York Times, fell all over itself convulsing, apologizing, even disciplining the editor of the International Edition for publishing this cartoon. And prominent Zionists worldwide leaped to accuse the Times of bias against Israel, not to mention anti-Semitism. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the cartoon exhibited “stereotypes that suggest Jewish control”. Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said that the paper had “become a cesspool of hostility towards Israel that goes well beyond any legitimate criticism of a fellow, imperfect democracy,” Oh my God, you have to be kidding me. The Times (joined often by our other very prominent paper, the Washington Post) is the most strident cheerleader for Israel in the country. To get more pro-Israel reading one has to go directly to Haaretz, The Forward, Tablet, the Jerusalem Post or the Times of Israel. Actually Haaretz, especially through its columnists, is often more honest in its criticism of Israel than the Times or the Washington Post. And our own erudite sage and deep thinker, Vice President Mike Pence told CNN, ”We stand with Israel and we condemn antisemitism in ALL its forms, including @NYTimes political cartoons”……”It wouldn’t surprise me if this was published out of Tehran or Damascus, but it does not belong in The New York Times or any credible media outlet”.

Now, about the cartoon itself – here it is. Like most political cartoons, it is making a few important points. First, a blind Donald Trump is being led by guide dog Benjamin Netanyahu. Second, Trump is wearing a yarmulke, not because he is Jewish but because he is sucking up to Israel and trying to flatter its supporters. After all, he was the first American president to pray at the Western Wall, cutting a rather ludicrous, not to mention totally hypocritical figure as he posed for the photo.

And this fakery and flattery works both ways. Israel Katz, Israel’s transportation minister, plans to name the Jerusalem Old Town station on the planned new underground near the Western Wall the “Donald John Trump Station”. And of course, a yet non-existent settlement on the planned illegal annexation of the Golan Heights will be named “Trump Heights”.  

So Israel flatterer Donald Trump is blind but is being led by Netanyahu. What’s anti-Semitic about this cartoon, pray tell? Is it the garish colors, uncommon for most political cartoons? Or is it the star of David identifying the Netanyahu caricature? The star of David is on the national flag of Israel, displayed at government functions and waved at rallies, and it’s on their warplanes – it identifies Israel for God’s sake. Or one could say that the Trump caricature represents the United States and the guide dog Israel: Israel is leading and dictating US policy. However one interprets this cartoon, it is legitimate political satire and is not anti-Semitic.

Now, I’ve seen anti-semitic political cartoons before. Certainly Nazi Germany’s leading purveyor of anti-Semitism, Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, published hundreds during the 1930’s. Yes, there were always the prominent noses, the bags of money and the evil conspiratorial miens. Now those were the real sensational and repulsive anti-Semitic memes, about which I can understand Jewish anger, concern and revulsion. But this cartoon? Oh please, come on now. 

The prize-winning Portuguese creator of this cartoon, António Moreira Antunes, has been drawing political cartoons for Lisbon papers for decades. He has denied that it is in any way anti-Semitic. But in a frenzy, critics crying anti-Semitism dug through his past work and came up with another cartoon which António produced and published during the Second Lebanon War. The cartoon depicts one leg tied up with explosives and attached to an Islamic crescent moon, and another leg – adorned with the American flag – attached to a bloody Star of David. So what’s anti-Semitic about this cartoon, clearly portraying US-supported Israel and an Islamic terrorist, both stained with Lebanese blood. What’s the problem here, when the red and white stripes clearly represent the US and the crescent clearly represents the Muslim religion. Hmm, maybe the star of David again?

Well, back to the New York Times. To make matters worse for the anti-Semitism scolds and kvetches, a few days after the António cartoon was published, the International Times published this cartoon by Norwegian cartoonist Roar Hagen which depicts a Moses figure – a conceited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with sunglasses taking a picture of himself with a selfie-stick while apparently descending from Mount Sinai. Oh my God – back to back anti-Semitic cartoons published by the Times! What does this cartoon convey other than the pride and arrogance of Israel and the hubris of its prime minister? Oh, there’s that star of David again, inscribed on the tablet Netanyahu is bringing down from the mountain. Again, please, come on now.

And to make matters worse and underscore their paranoia even more, another António cartoon that drew the ire of Jewish groups was dug up and waved about. This 1983 caricature won him the top prize at the 20th International Salon of Cartoons in Montreal that year. According to a JTA report from July 1983, the cartoon depicted “Israeli soldiers tormenting  Lebanese women and children” in a depiction reminiscent of a famed photo of Nazis tormenting Jews during the Holocaust. A spokesman for the Canadian Jewish Congress called the cartoon at the time “a defamation of the Holocaust… artistically dishonest, morally obscene and intellectually indecent.” Baloney. António courageously directed our attention to the incredible irony of how Israelis have become much like the Nazis in their treatment of Arab people, whether Lebanese or Palestinian. This makes a political point – why deny it? It’s a work of political art pure and simple.

And in my own daily reading I ran across this cartoon on one of my favorite websites – Mondoweiss, a website that meticulously and evenhandedly examines the nation of Israel and its treatment of the natives it’s attempting to disinherit and displace – the Palestinians. From its homepage: “Mondoweiss is an independent website devoted to informing readers about developments in Israel/Palestine and related US foreign policy. We provide news and analysis unavailable through the mainstream media regarding the struggle for Palestinian human rights.” The website is owned and edited by progressive Jewish journalists, Scott Roth, Adam Horowitz, Tova Perlmutter and Philip Weiss. Here’s the cartoon. Is it anti-Semitic? Hey Bret Stephens, why not weigh in on this one? It’s got caricatures of Trump and Netanyahu and yes, there’s that infernal star of David. My God, this is anti-Semitic. Why? Oh no, it’s not. Why? Bret, we need you to tell us about this cartoon, please.

And one more thing – if the New York Times wanted to increase its already heavily Jewish roster of columnists with another Jewish pundit, they should have raided the ranks of Haaretz columnists and obtained someone of the international reputation and stature of a Gideon Levy or Chemi Shalev, both of whom continue to write about Palestinians, Jews and Israel focused through the objective lens of justice and humanity, courage and kindness, human rights and international law, rather than a sniveling Islamaphobe and warmonger like Bret Stephens, whose June 14, 2019 column was entitled “The Pirates of Tehran: If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.” I couldn’t agree more with Paul Blest of Splinter News: “Some days, it’s difficult to understand what the New York Times saw in columnist Bret Stephens when they hired him. On others, it’s obvious: what he lacks in basic journalistic ability, he more than makes up for in raging, spitting Islamophobia.”

Finally, with people like Bret Stephens and his ilk spreading all this nonsense of anti-Semitism in a renowned political cartoonist’s work, along with the bleating of the heads of hordes of Jewish organizations about the worldwide “rise of anti-Semitism”, there’s real danger of losing sight of what real anti-Semitism is. Are people pressing for Palestinian human rights, those who oppose Israel receiving billions in US aid, who protest Israeli apartheid, anti-Semites? Are those who question US congress members’ slavish support of Israel because of the wealth of their Jewish donors anti-Semites? Am I an anti-Semite because I think that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s support of Trump, reactionary Republicans and their being Israeli citizens is un-American and a threat to our country? Does my refusal to purchase items made in Israel or in the Occupied Territories make me an anti-Semite? Think about it. I don’t think so.

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The Trump Whisperer

Donald J. Trump’s presidency is truly frightening in so many ways. As I have written here before, he is totally unfit to be president and has chosen equally unfit cabinet members to run governmental departments, many of whom actually oppose the mission of their specific agency. The recent revelations of the Mueller Report, although not focusing specifically on governance, have reinforced the notion that this presidency is a disaster for the country from which we will be a long time recovering. And if this president does not deserve impeachment, then which ever will?

But one of the most fearful aspects of this grotesque presidency is the presence in the White House of senior presidential advisor Stephen Miller. Mr. Miller, although never vetted or approved by the Senate, has emerged over the first couple of years of this presidency as one of the most powerful individuals in Washington. He clearly has Trump’s trust and his ear and can easily be imagined leaning over his shoulder constantly offering advice on not only immigration but our foreign policy positions on Israel, North Korea, and Iran and a host of other issues. And much like Rasputin’s evil influence in the twilight years of the the Romanovs in pre-revolutionary Russia, he exerts a nefarious influence on our White House court and its orange faced monarch.  

I really think that Miller performs a required White House function as the “Trump whisperer”, à la the “The Horse Whisperer”, working persistently and diligently at calming and focusing the President and planting perverse ideas in his head. And we know how empty that head really is  – of history, of geography, of culture, of the arts. With him throughout the 2016 campaign and now at his elbow, side and back so constantly as a senior advisor, Stephen Miller has become also Trump’s Svengali, exerting with his considerable intelligence and omnipresence a powerful and nefarious influence on his boss. In the words of Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent – “He is one of the leading figures pushing the Trump administration toward increasing venality, corruption and lawlessness.”

Where exactly did this guy come from? Blazing a controversial trail of contrary, belligerent and passionate conservatism with a heavy dose of xenophobia and white nationalism throughout his high school and college careers, Miller entered the political field not through running for office but by forging a career as a doggedly conservative staff member of quite similar politicians. After graduation he worked as press secretary for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, then for Arizona Congressman John Shadegg, both rabidly conservative and reactionary Tea Party Republicans, the former tinged as well with her well-known nuttiness, demonstrated in such statements as the “Founding Fathers stopping slavery” and “the first shot heard at Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire”.

Prior to joining the Trump campaign in January of 2016, Miller had served several years working for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, later appointed as Trump’s first Attorney General.With Sessions, he rose to the position of communications director, playing a key role in defeating the  immigration bill proposed by the “Gang of Eight”, incidentally the best immigration bill ever put forward by our Congress – a series of compromises  which would have solved most of the problems relating to immigration and prevented it from becoming such a controversial issue today. Most surprising is to discover another not so well known success of Miller – taking a hiatus from the Sessions office to run the campaign of ultra-conservative Dave Brat, then a political nonentity, who roundly whipped Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, one of the most surprising election results of that year. Interesting how easily one can relate Stephen Miller’s political internships with politicians like these with his connection to the many outrages of the Trump administration. 

So it’s not surprising that Stephen Miller was able to ride this string of successes straight to the Trump campaign where he wrote speeches for Trump, often served as the “warm up act” for his rancorous rallies and played a key role in Trump’s unlikely but ultimately successful campaign for president. Miller composed the speech Trump gave to the Republican Convention that year. He also helped write Donald’s controversial inaugural address in which the astute observer can easily recognize some trademark Stephen Miller sentiments and phrases, like “American first”, “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries” and “unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism”. 

Early in his White House career Miller appeared on several of the Sunday morning political shows which exposed his acerbic, arrogant and petulant manner. For example, on an early appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Miller’s controversial statement – “Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned” – provoked a great deal of consternation. And on Jake Tapper’s CNN show, State of the Union, Miller went on to state, “The president is a political genius… who took down the Bush dynasty, who took down the Clinton dynasty, who took down the entire media complex”, eventually arguing vehemently with Tapper, then refusing to leave the CNN studios and having to be escorted out by security. These appearances were so offensive and counterproductive that the Trump administration apparently decided that they did more harm than good. So his public appearances on these kinds of venues have diminished considerably in recent months. Actually the coup de grâce for his string of appearances may have resulted from his appearance on Face the Nation with his almost totally receded hairline adorned by a treatment of what appeared to be some kind of  spray-on hair, which became the butt of a string of jokes and ridicule from a bevy of late night comedians.

From the beginning of the Trump presidency, Miller’s fingerprints are all over its cruel and immoral immigration policies, from the early travel ban on Muslim immigrants, to the sharp reductions in the number of refugees accepted by the United States, to the policy of separating migrant children from their parents, to the threat of transporting hordes of immigrants to sanctuary cities. Miller has also played a key role in the prevention of the publication of internal administration studies proving that refugees had a positive effect on government revenues. HIs Uncle, David Glosser, noted in an op-ed that he wrote for Politico: “I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.” 

More recently, Miller has been responsible for the housecleaning at Homeland Security which resulted not only in the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the rejection of Ronald Vitiello as new ICE director, both individuals deemed “not tough enough” on immigration, but also the purge of Secret Service Director Randolph Alles. And it’s not hard to imagine that this “senior advisor” has exerted his nefarious influence on other issues too, such as moving the Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem and one of Trump’s latest perverse idea – pardoning members of the military that have been accused or convicted of war crimes. Also, it’s clear that Trump’s latest hare-brained scheme of the threat of tariffs on Mexican goods resulting in a great “deal” was hatched by Svengali Miller. And I would not doubt for a second that Miller had a great deal to  do with the controversial citizenship question proposed by Republicans for inclusion in the 2020 census.

So what do we do, what can we do about Stephen Miller. That he enjoys Trump’s confidence and has made himself virtually indispensable to him is indisputable. What’s also clear is that to have a senior advisor whose positions on key issues are narrow, reactionary, immoral and dangerous guiding this president is a serious threat to the country.  The House of Representatives needs to exercise its oversight responsibility and call him to testify and discuss his role in major presidential decisions and rulings. He needs to be brought out from the protective veil of the Oval Office and exposed for the danger and threat that he is. Whether the House does this or not remains to be seen. Certainly there are other investigative concerns the are demanding its attention right now. But Stephen Miller must be investigated, exposed and removed before more harm is done.

And a short addendum – can you imagine how horrified I was to catch a glimpse of Trump administration grifters, liars and crooks – Ivanka and Jared, Steven Mnuchin and yes, I can’t believe, none other than Trump’s whisperer, Svengali and Rasputin – Stephen Miller, all framed by one of the grand porticoes of Buckingham Palace. What a disgrace and insult to the dignity of the British royal family. Who decided to bring these detestable individuals along on this state visit, and why? Anybody know?


Still Ranting

Taxes

I’m furious. Why? My income taxes went up while corporate taxes and those of millionaires and billionaires went down. How do I know? This realization has nothing to do with the size of my refund – I know refunds vary with how much money was withheld and that my withholding may have been adjusted with the passage of the new tax law. No, my tax preparer provides three columns for me to examine – my income, deductions and tax totals for the last three years. And while my  income and deductions have remained static, my federal tax has gone up. I find this incredible – we are just barely clinging to middle class status and here I’m being dinged for more money to fund our reckless and wasteful military and provide more billions for Israel, while corporations, the wealthy and ultra wealthy are contributing less. 

As I noted in my article on taxes, we were scammed by the Republican “tax reform” law – the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”. This law not only reduced taxes on corporations and the wealthy but even further reduced the estate tax (oh, how Republicans enjoy calling this the “death tax”) and actually abolished the alternative minimum tax, which previously had prevented many wealthy taxpayers from escaping the income tax altogether. So certainly the hideous grin of Texas Representative Kevin Brady, one of the major authors of the law, the joy of then “Squeaker” of the House “Lyin’” Paul Ryan, the delight of our “chinless wonder” Senate Majority Leader  and the braggadocio of our grotesque lying president were well placed – lots more money for their wealthy friends and less for the middle class, despite their disingenuous claims to the contrary. And filing your tax return on a postcard? Another lie. Oh well, we all knew what this tax bill really was, didn’t we?

And to make me boil with rage and helplessness even more, can you imagine how I felt reading that Netflix, fresh from its best year ever – the most subscribers, the highest profits the company has ever had – $845 million, paid no federal or state taxes at all. In fact, Netflix received a $22 million rebate from the IRS. And to add insult to injury, one of the world’s most valuable corporations, owned by the world’s richest man, I’m talking about Amazon here, not only paid no taxes on income of almost a billion dollars, but actually collected a refund from the IRS. Specifically, the company virtually doubled its profits in 2018 from $5.6 billion the year before to $11.2 billion and for the second year in a row did not pay a single penny in federal income tax. In fact Amazon reported federal income tax rebates for 2017 and 2018 totaling almost $270 million. What’s going on here? What kind of a country is this?

And perhaps you can share my anger when you see that Amazon and Netflix were but two of many huge and profitable corporations that paid no Federal tax last year.  The revelations in this article from ITEP (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy) really upset me. Not only are its facts surprising and shameful but they underscore another Republican lie concerning this terrible tax bill – that, while corporate taxes were to be reduced, loopholes would be plugged. Nope, the loopholes are still there, as this article clearly indicates. And the number of profitable corporations paying zero taxes has dramatically increased.

Also, while we are talking about taxes, I should mention that bipartisan legislation is now being considered in our Congress to make it illegal for the IRS to provide programs to enable taxpayers to file their taxes for free. It would be so easy for this agency to virtually complete the returns for most taxpayers, as is done in most developed countries. After all, the IRS already has our salary and withholding information and practically all deductible figures are sent from the banks and mortgage companies directly to the IRS. Well now, despite the IRS having virtually all of the information required to file a tax return for most taxpayers, the Congress, instead of letting the IRS make this process easy and inexpensive for us, is guaranteeing profits for H & R Block and for Intuit, the maker of TurboTax. So it’s clear that the lobbying efforts and campaign contributions of these two tax preparation companies have really paid off. Tell me that this isn’t a “quid pro quo”. Oh, and incidentally, H&R Block’s new CEO Jeff Jones will collect a $995,000 annual salary and a $950,000 signing bonus to join the Kansas City-based tax preparation company. Plus bargain stock purchase options.

Insurance

And if these revelations were not enough to provoke paroxysms of anger and rage I sat down a couple of months ago to pay my auto insurance bill on two cars. As AARP members and elderly retirees, we insure both of our cars, a 2016 Honda HRV and a 2009 Toyota Corolla (now replaced by a car of similar value, a 2008 Ford Taurus), with The Hartford, assuming we are getting the best rates. Well, despite accident-free records, both drivers a year older and the cars a year older, I found that our insurance rates had increased. Again enraged and upset, I called Hartford to inquire and was given some nonsense about accident rates, repair and replacement cost algorithms and so on that had “forced” them to increase their rates. Right, and still angry I looked up the salary of the “president” of The Hartford, whose printed signature was all over my policy papers. Douglas Elliot’s salary is $8 million per year. But he’s not the highest paid executive at this ripoff insurance company. Hartford CEO Christopher Swift makes $13 million per year. And The Hartford paid annual dividends of $1.20, 2.5 percent of the stock price, pretty good for its wealthy shareholders. And of course these dividends are taxed at long-term capital gains rates depending on your bracket (federal rates are 0%, 15%, or 20%). A chunk of my meager income was taxed at 22 percent. 

Why is it necessary to pay executives like this? What exactly do they do that makes them so valuable? Either salaries like these need to be reduced to make them line up with executive salaries in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s or they need to be taxed away with rates that also existed then. And when discussing this, let’s stop using pejorative terminology like “soak the rich”, “tax the wealthy” and “raise taxes on the rich”. We should use more neutral terms like “paying their fair share”, “progressive taxation” or “restoring taxation to 1950-1970 levels”.

And while I have touched on the auto insurance problem in this great country of ours, I’d like to say a few more things about it. Have you ever wondered how much auto insurance companies pay for their plethora of TV ads? Well right now they invest over $5 billion a year on advertising, instead of using that money to reduce rates. Yes, your rates pay for “Mayhem” and “Good Hands” from Allstate, “Flo” from Progressive, the “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two” from Farmers and of course, our winner, the clever ads from Geico, to which this one company devotes over $1 billion per year. And yes, we pay for all those ads with our swollen insurance premiums. 

While living in Kuwait from 1996 to 2000, I was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive insurance for our car was. As I recall, we paid about $50 a year for our insurance. Why? The entire program was administered by the government. There were no private companies advertising and “competing” for our business; no one making profit or seeking to “increase profit”; no CEO’s pulling in multi million dollar salaries; no stockholders; no advertising; there was no one “at fault” in a collision (the police took care of that and assessed appropriate penalties) and there were no “ambulance chaser” personal injury lawyers. There was just a single, simple state-run company providing an essential service to the people of Kuwait. If you were in an accident, the state insurance company paid to have your car and you fixed and the other guy and his car repaired. Simple. You know, auto insurance…. and home insurance….and medical insurance….in fact all insurance, should be non profit and state run. And yes, if this is socialism then God bless socialism. Private enterprise, profit, stockholders, TV ads and multi-millionaire CEO’s should have no role in enterprises necessary for the public good.

Venezuela

And a couple of other issues in the news lately deserve comment and a dose of outrage – first, the situation in Venezuela. The problems in Venezuela are not the result of “socialism”, as our president and his supporters would have us believe. The major problem is corruption, which ought to be up to the people of that country to address. And the other problems are the result of cruel economic sanctions instituted by the United States which have destabilized the country and have hurt the people of Venezuela far more than has its political corruption. Nicholas Maduro, who appears to be successfully hanging on to power, was elected president by the people of Venezuela. The imposter, “head of the opposition” Juan Guaido, was not. Yet this pretend head of state has been feted and awarded legitimacy by the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo and is presently seeking “direct communications” with Pentagon officials with the goal of establishing greater military ‘coordination’ with the United States”. 

The US conveniently forgets that the policies of the revolutionary governments of Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro were embraced by the common everyday people of Venezuela who elected them. American efforts to “restore democracy” to the people of Venezuela are thinly veiled schemes to restore the country’s vast oil reserves to the multi-national oil companies who were thrown out of the country with the accession of Chavez. Head “regime change” hawk, national security adviser and “Mustache of Doom” John Bolton stated unequivocally for Fox News – “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” Oh, and creepy convicted war criminal Elliott Abrams has been resuscitated and appointed Special Representative for Venezuela to coordinate the efforts to destabilize the country with sanctions, starve the Venezuelan people and make sure that quisling Juan Guaido becomes president and the multi-nationals pump and profit from the oil instead of the state. Nice. By the way, until he named himself president, 81 percent of Venezuelans didn’t even know who Guaido was. And he won his own assembly seat with only 26% of the vote. 

Ilhan Omar

And regarding Michigan Representative Ilhan Omar – I cannot believe how courageous this young lady has been in the face of the massive onslaught by corporate media, especially Fox News, and pro-israel members of Congress. All Representative Omar has done is tell the truth, unfortunately a truth that we are not accustomed to hearing in Congress or in the media. She has criticized the power of AIPAC, which does have the power and has used it to bring down members of Congress who have dared criticize Israel. Representative Omar has dared imply that it’s “the Benjamins” that our politicians covet while sucking up to Israel. Again – the truth. It is likely that the the money of billionaire Israel acolyte Sheldon Adelson was responsible for the election of Donald Trump – a massive last minute ejection of millions of dollars into crucial states. 

Mark my words – as we speak, money is being accumulated and targeted to “primary” Representative Omar, and to consign her to the ranks of others who have dared criticize Israel – Senators Max Cleland, Adlai Stevenson III and Charles H. Percy;  Representatives Pete McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney, Earl F. Hilliard and Paul Findley. Want the full story?- read Findley’s book, “They Dare to Speak Out: People and  Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby”. And the latest AIPAC casualty, distinguished award winning journalist and filmmaker Leslie Cockburn who with her husband, journalist Andrew Cockburn, had written a book critical of the US/Israel relationship, lost in her 2018 campaign to represent Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District after being accused of “virulent anti-Semitism”. She was beaten with significant help from Jewish organizations by nonentity distillery owner Denver Riggleman whose only claim to fame was “Bigfoot Erotica”.  In her and Mr. Cockburn’s 1991 book, “Dangerous Liason: The Inside Story of th3 US – Israeli Covert Relationship” Ms. Cockburn had committed the cardinal sin of being critical of Israel.

How dare someone like New York Representative Eliot Engel, himself, as an Israeli citizen, a walking attestation of Omar’s suggestion of a “dual loyalty” problem among some members of Congress and many in our government, accuse her of “anti-Semitism”. This is the problem –  the reaction of so many Jewish politicians, full of bristling paranoia, crying antisemitism at every little criticism of Israel or its mighty US lobby, AIPAC. The whole Ilhan Omar controversy is simply a perfect example of the old maxim “the truth hurts”…..for some people. And thank you, Representative Omar, for being brave enough to share that truth.

Well, AIPAC is right, their massive operation – a staff of 200 lobbyists, researchers and organizers; a $47 million annual budget; 100,000 grass-roots members, almost double the number of five years ago; and a recruitment drive on 300 college campuses – is for lobbying only – the organization itself does not give directly to candidates. But…AIPAC does marshal the donors, obtain the commitments and makes sure the collected totals get to the right people. AIPAC is probably the most successful and efficient “bundler” of campaign dollars of any lobby in Washington. As noted in a recent Haaretz article “AIPAC mobilizes an army of supporters who are inclined to support pro-Israel candidates with their votes, time and money” and “trained its activists to cultivate friendly lawmakers by donating to their campaigns and campaigning for them.” So, Representative Omar is absolutely correct – it is about the Benjamins, baby. And the “Benjamins” keep coming. At one recent AIPAC dinner in Boston a minimum of $5 million was raised in a single evening. 

And how successful is AIPAC’s lobbying effort? According to Josh Block, spokesman for the premier Israeli lobbying group, getting in to see Congressmen “is like pushing at an open door.” And guess what, there’s even an AIPAC chapter here in my own home city of Phoenix, headquarters of the Southern Pacific Region. They even held a formal dinner in Phoenix which I would have liked to attend but didn’t get my invitation. It was likely lost in the mail.

AIPAC Phoenix cordially invites you to the 2019 AIPAC Phoenix Dinner. For more information, please contact us at (602) 277-3318 or PhoenixDinner@aipac.org.

Oh and by the way, most Americans don’t know that AIPAC is probably operating illegally – it really should be registered as an agent of a foreign government. In a remarkable Huffington Post article published a couple of years ago, journalist M. J. Rosenberg makes the strong case that AIPAC is violating US law by not registering as a foreign agent.

The author reminds us that the “abnormal” spectacle of prominent politicians from both parties echoing the unseemly sentiments expressed by Vice President Mike Pence -“every freedom-loving American stands with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values and her fight is our fight”- directly violates the principles promoted by none other than George Washington in an incredibly prescient passage from his Farewell Address – “…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils...” and so on. Every word, written long ago in 1797, seems to predict and indict and rebuke our tolerance and veneration for Israel and its AIPAC lobby.

Presently every foreign nation that lobbies in Washington must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act…..except Israel. And why is Israel the privileged exception? Well, Mr. Rosenberg reminds us that AIPAC’s founder came up with a legal trick – he defined AIPAC “not as a lobby for a foreign state but for Americans who support that state”. This is a spurious distinction, to be sure, but is evidently sufficient to allow AIPAC to meddle in our elections, fund or defund candidates and take a stand on crucial US foreign policy issues with absolute impunity.

And you can be absolutely sure that if Congress or the President would try to withdraw this privilege and treat Israel like any other nation with a promotional presence in Washington, the cries of anti-Semitism would be deafening.

More about word choices

And before I conclude this article I would like to add a bit more to my prior observations about how we choose our words. The media seems to choose carefully when describing wealthy people of different countries. Here in the US, we commonly use “billionaire” or “successful businessman” to describe certain individuals like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. But it’s always “Russian oligarchs”, not “Russian billionaires” or “successful Russian businessmen”.

And when we describe armies and government departments that oversee the military, we choose our words selectively as well, depending on what’s being described. The third most powerful military in the world that has fomented violence on defenseless civilian populations, illegally and violently occupied “captured” territory and  violated the borders and airspace of other countries hundreds of times is called the “Israeli Defense Forces”. Controlling the US’s 700 military bases around the world and dividing the entire world into “commands”, starting unprovoked wars and “military actions” in dozens of places in the world is the US “Defense Department”. What “defense” – who’s attacking us, pray tell? At least Germany and Japan were honest in World War II. Japan called its armed forces “The Imperial Japanese Army, Navy and Air Forces” – no “defense” at all.  And Germany’s “Luftwaffe” translates to “air force” pretty straightforwardly, but its “Wehrmacht” does translate into “defense force”. Hmmm – some defense force. However, the highest level did not mince words – Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), “High Command of the Armed Forces”. Nothing there at all about “defense”.

And take a look at how we discuss what I would call a man fighting to defend his family and reclaim his house and homeland against tyranny and occupation – a freedom fighter. But it’s never a Palestinian freedom fighter – instead it’s always “Palestinian terrorist” or “Palestinian militant”. Or in other countries subjected to American hegemony, like Afghanistan or what’s left of Iraq, such a person, fighting for his family and home and his own agency is not a freedom fighter or a patriot but an “insurgent”. And I think I mentioned in my article about “shared values” between the US and Israel how inappropriate it is to describe the land thieves, the serial violators of international law who have stolen and continue to steal Palestinian land “settlers”. Please – this word connotes courageous clearers and tillers of wild untamed land – “pioneers” as it were. These interlopers, generously subsidized and protected by the state of Israel and their international supporters, are thieves, pure and simple, not “settlers”.

And finally

Jeffrey St. Claire writes in a recent issue of CounterPunchOn Saturday, Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert announced that her office would not bring charges against the two police officers, Terrence Mercadal and Jaren Robinet, who shot and killed an unarmed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard last March. Clark was shot 20 times. He was holding a cellphone. The decision is appalling, bur scarcely surprising. Between 2005 and 2017, there were more than 13,000 fatal shootings by police, but only 80 cops were ever charged with manslaughter or murder. Of those 80 charged, only 28 were convicted of a crime.  And for more on this issue you should read the following article from the same journal 

Connections

A couple of days ago I was searching for a certain file in one of my “mementos” file boxes and happened to open several folders that contained hand-written letters. There they were – letters from my mother and from my father, written many years ago, letters from my brother Robert sent in the ’70’s from Heidelberg, Germany, where he still lives. There were wonderfully written letters from Dad’s brother Gene and his sister Burton, and even one written by my father to my mother early in their marriage. There were several wonderful letters, printed (and illustrated) in pencil, from my dear little brothers Charlie, Richard, Glenn and Stan that I have saved for these many years. And in another location, a nightstand drawer, is stored a letter from a dear friend of ours, now deceased, three pages long, perfectly written in her inimitable hand. And I can touch all these letters, feel them, turn them over, read and reread them, note and enjoy the differences in the paper, the ink used and in the handwriting styles. And in the unique handwriting of each person I can find traces of their personalities. Each person’s face and voice were easily recalled while reading these letters, knowing that each person’s hand and fingers actually touched the paper and held the pen as they wrote. There is an incredibly human quality in handwritten letters sadly missing in our communication today.

What a shame that those days of writing such letters to friends and loved ones seems to be forever gone. Yes, we might get more words written, sent and read, in today’s age of email and electronic messaging, but we have lost so much. We have lost the individuality conveyed on the written page and the personal quality of the writing. Indeed, even the content seemed to be conveyed more sensitively, lovingly and respectfully through actual handwriting. And back in those days, it was the only way to communicate – in writing. Yes, eventually some of us clacked out our letters on our noisy Smith Coronas or Remingtons, or enjoyed typing on electric typewriters, especially the then revolutionary IBM Selectric with its revolving “daisywheel” which not only made typing easy but also could erase our typos. But even a typed letter had more personality than an electronic message today. It was distinguished not only by the type itself and that occasional mistake but also by the choice of paper. And a friend or loved one’s actual fingers signed the letter, folded and secured it in the envelope, licked it, sealed it, addressed it, put the postage stamp on the envelope and dropped it into the mailbox. So in spite of the more impersonal typing, the writer still could share much of himself or herself with the reader.

But today, with all the methods of communication available to us, oddly at times it seems much more difficult to communicate. While email has remained my own favorite and most convenient method of exchanging personal news, opinion and impressions, many of my former email correspondents have veered into other methods, leaving me stranded. Some only call and seldom or never use email. Some have dropped both email and voice phone and instead exclusively message to my phone number. Others apparently exchange messages on Facebook, which I have never mastered and because of strong negative opinions about Facebook anyhow, simply do not care to learn. So if I need to communicate with someone, I am finding it increasingly difficult to remember if that particular person prefers a telephone call, an email message or what. And if I don’t remember accurately, that message may never be read because the email or the message was never noticed and so forever ignored.

For example, several people with whom I used to exchange emails seem now to restrict themselves exclusively to messaging, a method of communication which for me is relatively new. I have not yet come to enjoy this method since, being a fairly rapid and accurate typist, perhaps I just rebel at having to type with my thumbs on that small iPhone keyboard. Even when I go to messaging on my computer where I can type a message quickly the normal way, I often err when I hit “return” for a new paragraph, inadvertently sending what I have typed up to then and truncating the message. Also I have missed important messages from relatives or acquaintances who have chosen this method of communication. While I routinely check my email, I do not do the same for messages and if I miss that “ding” when a message arrives on my phone or miss the notification on the computer screen, then I may not get that message for days.

Another thing that bothers me about communication today is that many correspondents have almost entirely stopped using a greeting. I mean, when we write a traditional letter, typing it or using pen and paper, a greeting seems essential. We always begin with “Dear…….”, or the person’s name, or “Friends”, or something like that – we don’t simply start writing without acknowledging to whom we are writing. Yet today I receive so many messages and emails that simply start with the message. The sender has not bothered with the polite greeting or even my name at the beginning. A letter or message to my personal phone number or to my personal email address do not render a proper greeting redundant – I can’t help but feel ignored and a bit insulted. I know the sender may wish to get to the subject quickly but really, how much additional typing with the fingers (or thumbs) is required to make the message more personal and polite?

And today, even phone calls have changed. A long distance phone call from a distant loved one used to be an important and treasured event for many reasons, among them – calls decades ago were quite expensive and therefore might have to be planned ahead – you needed to know that the person being called was home and available to receive the call. Also they were quite rare, in contrast to today, when one’s cell phone can call anywhere anytime and far more cheaply. But along with the increasing number of phone calls over all kinds of distances, has come a careless and cavalier attitude toward them.

Several people whom I routinely call, simply do not answer their phones, evidently preferring instead to let their phones take a message, intending I am sure, to call back later. In fact, with the plethora of crank robocalls today (where are our lazy legislators on this issue, pray tell?), I too have fallen into this habit. if I do not recognize the number or if a recognizable name or location does not appear on the screen, I will ignore the call, assuming that if it’s important, the caller will leave a message. But I have missed a number of important urgent calls when I have not picked up. It’s incredible how clever robocalls have become, many even beginning with my area code and first three digits of my phone number (used to mean the “exchange”) so I’m tempted to pick up and when I do, present a gift, another operative phone number – mine, to sell and share with other robocallers. I even got one the other day from Pakistan (yes, I am sure it was their prime minister seeking my advice on an important matter). At any rate, calling and not having the phone answered is frustrating but, referring back to a paragraph above, maybe the person I’m trying to contact happens to be a “messager” and simply prefers those instead of voice calls.

As far as communicating via Facebook, forget it. I have come to despise Facebook as much as I loath its slimy founder/CEO and its arrogant chief operating officer. And I have de-friended many former Facebook “friends” for posting distasteful political or religious opinions and I am sure the favor has been returned by many whom I may have offended. But frankly, I no longer wish to see posted pictures of restaurant meals, childhood pictures, ugly babies, frightful pets, posters, videos, selfies, and other typical Facebook fare, all pompous presentations aimed at obtaining that coveted comment or at least that little thumbs-up.

I’m presently trying to extricate myself from Facebook but have been surprised and a bit daunted with how difficult it is. Some second thoughts for sure – there are many old friends and dear relatives there on Facebook that I do not wish to lose touch with. I just wish I could stay in touch in a more pleasing and dignified, pre-Facebook fashion. So when I finally do successfully bid Facebook farewell, I certainly hope I will have all their phone numbers and email addresses available.

I have equally strong opinions about calls with “Facetime” a relatively new feature provided when calling on smartphones. Looking at a caller’s face in such sharp detail and from different angles and attitudes, especially with the wide angle lens drawing out of the face is really not all that pleasant, no matter how dear the caller. And I fully realize that the sharp focus of a smartphone camera on my aged and ravaged countenance conveyed to a beloved or respected caller is likely a very unpleasant experience as well.

So to me, the written or typed word or the familiar voice on the telephone are quite enough. Yes, and perhaps old fashioned, particularly in an age of so many other means of communication available to us in this digital age. Hey, I have heard about them but neither care nor desire to learn how to use them – Twitter, Viber, Slack, Telegram, Signal, Instagram, WhatsApp (both now absorbed by Facebook) and many more I am sure, most completely unfamiliar to me – again, so many ways to communicate but none of them quite as meaningful as the old hand-written letter or even the modern email letter. And finally, as an examination of typical Facebook content will quickly reveal, I really do think that it’s ironic in this day and age, when there are so many ways to communicate, that it seems that we have increasingly less and less to say.

Rant


Presently I have several dozen articles for my blog in various states of completion, some because I am still searching for the right photographs or illustrations, some because I simply have not yet summoned the energy or will power to complete them, and some still mere outlines. So I guess today I will simply wonder or complain about a number of issues and conditions that have bothered me lately.

First, I have to wonder about “damaged guardrail ahead”. I have encountered this warning sign occasionally on my travels on Interstate highways, most recently on several trips on I-40 between Holbrook, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico. But exactly why is this sign there? If a damaged guardrail was protruding onto the roadway or even the shoulder I could understand and appreciate the warning. But since it’s simply a damaged guardrail, why would I need to be warned? If I lose control of my vehicle and am about to hit the guardrail, should I hope to hit an an undamaged section or the already damaged area? Or is the warning simply about the several orange barrels around the damaged area, which themselves extend neither onto the right of way nor the shoulder? Or am I supposed to glance quickly as I speed by, shake my head thoughtfully and murmur to myself, “Why yes, that guardrail is indeed damaged.” Why are not the striped orange barrels themselves a sufficient warning? Why the sign? Why go through the trouble of distracting motorists with this warning about nothing? Now if there was a repair crew present repairing the damaged rail and their equipment was blocking either the shoulder or right-of-way, I would be grateful for the warning. But there’s not so I simply do not comprehend the reason for this warning. A minor issue, yes, but you’d be surprised (or concerned for me) at how much I’ve wondered about it.

And I have another question – a simple one about the semantics employed by politicians and the media to describe the governments of certain countries. It’s quite interesting that we refer to our government as the “administration” or simply “government”, while we refer to those we don’t particularly like with the less savory and more pejorative term “regime”. Thus, while it’s the Trump “administration”, it’s the Assad “regime”. While it’s the Netanyahu “government” or “coalition” in Israel, it’s definitely the Putin “regime” in Russia and the Maduro “regime” in Venezuela. And it’s quite interesting to note that as Turkey’s president Recip Tayip Erdogan has moved rightward over the last several years, the term used to describe the deteriorating Turkish democracy has moved from the Turkish “government” or the Erdogan “presidency” to now the Erdogan “regime”. Perhaps, particularly in view of the disastrous performance of its chief executive, we need to employ this term to describe the present US government. Doesn’t “Trump regime” sound more accurate than “Trump administration”? Well, maybe not actually, since the term “regime” also connotes staying power and most Americans are thankful that this presidency will most likely end in 2020 if not sooner. In the meantime I guess we should be thankful that our friends in western Europe have governments and not regimes.

Also, I am bothered by some other semantic proclivities of our news media and politics. Why do we talk about nations whose policies and practices we dislike using terms like “behavior” or “punishment”? Oh yes, let’s level some economic sanctions on Venezuela….or Iran…..or Russia to “punish” them in order to change their “behavior”. Nations are not children. They generally do not respond to punishment or rewards like recalcitrant children are supposed to. Incidently it’s been shown that punishment and rewards are the least effective way to deal with misbehaving children and I would suggest that nations are much the same. It seems to me that they appreciate being addressed respectfully and deferentially and respond to being included in the international family of nations. How much of Russia’s “behavior” is provoked by its isolation caused by the seemingly endless expansion of NATO right up to its borders? How much of Iran’s “behavior” is defensive reaction to our eternal and fruitless meddling in the Middle East and our apparently limitless support of Israel. Let’s welcome all nations into the international community, listen to their point of view and see if their “behavior” improves.

Another thing that has disturbed me a great deal in recent years is the use of the term “suspect”. While there may be legal reasons (my lawyer son informs me that there in fact are) for the media to avoid words that ascribe guilt to obvious perpetrators of crimes before they are actually tried in court, I still find it somewhat ludicrous to call some guy who emerges from the death and carnage he has caused, bloody and still armed, a “suspect”. My God, he was observed shooting and killing people – here are the eyewitnesses, there it is on the video – yet we must dutifully refer to this nutcase as a “suspect”? Please.

And while that’s quite ridiculous, there’s another aspect to mass killings that I find difficult to deal with – and that is the use of the term “motive”. After such a dreadful incident, the cops turn themselves inside out to find a “motive”. Why for crying out loud must there always be a “motive” for a heinous crime? Maybe the shooter was simply crazy, insane, high on drugs, or didn’t have any idea of what he was doing. Yet we always seem to need a motive. Yes, again there may be a legal reason to ascertain a motive but if there is none discovered, so what? A terrible crime was committed and must be dealt with anyhow. And I fail to see how discovery of a “motive” would make anyone affected by the crime feel any different or any better about it. 

One of the very latest such dreadful events, the killing of 12 people in a California country and western bar plus the suicide of the shooter, elicited the following police statement – “the gunman’s home and car were being processed for evidence …but it was too early to determine a motive for the shootings.” Right, and the nutcase who shot over 60 people in Las Vegas from his fortified hotel room stocked with an arsenal of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition caused the authorities to shake their heads and stroke their chins trying to figure out his “motive”. Come on now – “motive”? What the hell do you need a motive for in acts like these? Maybe the perpetrators were just nuts, crazy, insane. Why all the worry and fretting about a motive? And what if all this concern and cogitation did in fact establish a motive? So what? Does knowledge of a motive make the deed any more or less acceptable or understandable to the bereaved or the news media or the legal authorities? Hey, forget the motive and focus instead on how these people managed to buy their guns and ammunition even though they were certifiably insane or emotionally unstable.

And there’s another thing that really bugs me about the news reports of some terrible deed committed by a jerk with a gun (wait – he’s just a “suspect”, right?), and that’s the use of the positively ubiquitous term cluttering such incidents – “investigating” or “investigation”. Yes, a cop shoots an unarmed black guy and it’s all caught on video from a security camera or the cop’s own body camera and the incident is being “investigated”. A Palestinian is shot in the back by an Israeli soldier and there’s the video that shows clearly what happened. Yet the incident is being “investigated” by the IDF. No apologies, no admissions, no confessions but merely an “investigation”. And we all know how biased these conveniently named “investigations” are. The term should define gathering, clarifying  and exposing the facts, but almost always instead means delay, obfuscation and ultimately burying the issue or incident.

Also, every time there is a mass shooting you hear something like – “We’re investigating this event as an act of terrorism”. Why? Did the guy who committed the act, the “suspect”, have a Muslim name? Was he a Palestinian? Oh, he was just some dumbass white guy – well, no terrorism there. And what’s the difference between investigating such a crime as an “act of terrorism” or as just another in the never ending series of American mass shootings? You still need a “motive”, right? And the omnipresent goofball reporters from corporate media are right there with their stupid questions – “will you be investigating these killings as an act of terrorism?” “Was the ‘suspect’ a “terrorist”?

And related to this, I am also bugged by the occasional reference to a horrible murder or beating as “a possible hate crime”. Again, so what? Was the sadistic murder of nine black parishioners  in an Atlanta church by racist white guy Dylan Roof terrorism or a hate crime? Who cares? Just get this disgusting bigoted killer into court and prison. Put him away, get him off the streets. Don’t worry about his “motive”. And again, ask yourselves how someone so dangerous obtained his guns. Same questions about the recent attack on actor Jussie Smollett. My God, I felt so edified to read that this act of violent virulent racism was being investigated as a “possible hate crime”. Give me a break, what does this profound revelation add to our discourse and discussion?

And a side note – honestly I think the police enjoy mass shootings – it’s such a great opportunity to get decked out in the assault gear – the body armor, the automatic rifles, the helmets, trotting out the armored cars, the armored troop transports, all the other crap that the military has given them and that Israel, our 51st state, has trained them to use.

And here’s another thing that drives me crazy. I don’t know how many times a day on the news that in response to yet another insult to humanity committed by our government (regime?) I hear the phrase, “This is not who we are…” I’m sorry, I beg to differ. It is happening here, we’re doing it,  so consequently this is who we are. This phrase is worn out; it’s meaningless. Why do we continue to employ it? About torture – “this is not who we are…” Baloney – this is who we are. We were doing it, we rationalized it, justified it, we tortured people. Oh sure, we called it “enhanced interrogation”. It was torture, it is torture. And we did it and are probably still doing it. So this is who we are.

And our military killing innocent people – this is not who we are? Come on now, it happened during the Viet Nam war, it happened during the first and second Iraq wars, it happened in Afghanistan. And it’s happening right now as we spread our troops around the entire globe. So this is who we are.  

And in our rash of mass shootings and dozens of incidents of the police killing unarmed black people, we hear the talking heads say that this is not who we are. But…this is who we are. We make the laws that allow crazy people to own guns; we arm the cops and train them to shoot first and ask questions later. This is who we are. We are the mass shooters and we are the policemen who shoot innocent people.

And this rogue, confused, random and evil presidency is who we are also. So, cable news pundits, don’t keep saying this is not who we are. We elected this monster. You gave him all the free time he wanted on your TV program, Joe and Mika, just like Fox News, so stop saying this is not who we are. We continue to enable this obscene presidency through publicizing Trump’s every taunt and tweet. Unfortunately this is who we are. We earned this presidency – we deserved it.

And we deal with a constant flood of Trump, Trump, Trump on cable news, to the detriment of so many other important US and international news and important issues. Why is no one talking about the $7200 per minute we are giving to rogue nation Israel over the next ten years?  Why is no air time devoted to this nation’s constant flaunting of international law or its indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators near its border now numbering almost 300 dead and over 29,000 wounded? Why nothing about the Palestinian father of four murdered in his own village by Israeli settlers? And why is there so little concern with what should be the biggest story of the day, of the week, of the year – climate change? No, we just wait expectantly for Trump’s latest inane tweet, his latest schoolyard taunt, his latest paranoid comment about the “witch hunt” and blather on…and on….and on.

Oh, and I just about forgot. Another thing that really bothers me is the another common refrain among those that recite our corporate news for us is “This is an attack on our Democracy”. Oh come on now, our so-called “democracy” is gasping, wheezing, dying – it’s on life support. Oh sure, every two years we have an election and we smugly feel, well, we voted some people in and some people out – it feels a little like democracy. But think about it – all this electioneering and campaigning costs money – and who pays? – mostly wealthy donors and corporations. So who’s really calling the shots? Who’s really controlling our Congress? Isn’t government by a wealthy few called an oligarchy? The demise of our democracy is truly newsworthy yet no one on MSNBC, CNN or Fox one seems to be talking about it.

There now, I’ve finished. I don’t know what you think of this article or whether you agree or disagree with some of my complaints and issues. But for what’s it’s worth, I do feel much better, having written it. Now, for the rest of the articles I’m trying to complete – I need to get busy on them.

“White Poison”

 

Faced recently with the need for a new jar of mayonnaise, the two opened containers in our refrigerator rejected by my spouse because of expiration dates (another questionable issue), I went to our local supermarket to pick up a few things which included that new jar of mayonnaise and also a box of Cheerios, for many years my favorite cold cereal. We try not to buy foods that have “added sugar” so I read the ingredients on each brand of mayonnaise, looking for one without sugar. Amazing, I could not find a single brand that did not have that unneeded and unacceptable ingredient.

So on to the breakfast cereals section where I grabbed a box of Cheerios and out of curiosity checked those ingredients also. I could not believe that sugar was one of the ingredients. I mean, when I was a kid, I was allowed that little spoonful of sugar sprinkled on the corn flakes or Cheerios before the milk and I presume that many people continue to sweeten their cold cereal in this way. So why is sugar already in the Cheerios rendering that teaspoonful redundant? And how long has General Mills been adding sugar to my Cheerios?

The same goes for so many breads in this supermarket. I usually buy the best bread I can here – La Brea Bakery whole grain loaf – brown, crisp crust, not packaged but in a simple bag and not sliced. I checked the ingredients – yes, whole wheat flour, millet, flaxseed, sunflower seed and all the other good things in a quality bread, and all non-GMO to boot, but then I blinked – there it was – sugar – in my otherwise very healthy bread. Why on earth is sugar needed in bread?

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And have you ever tried to find peanut butter without sugar? It’s really difficult – all the major brands contain sugar. And, how interesting, when you do happen to locate a lesser known brand that contains no sugar, the ingredients are very simple – there’s only one – “peanuts”. Why on earth can’t all the major brands make peanut butter in this way? There is absolutely no need for sugar or any other added ingredients in something as simple and delicious all by itself as peanut butter.

Oh, and how about that bottle of salad dressing in your refrigerator? Check the ingredients and you will almost always find sugar. And really I can’t understand why. Normally on my salad I will simply use olive oil and lemon juice. The last thing I would want to add to a delicious and healthy salad is sugar, in whatever form or quantity. Same with the aforementioned mayonnaise. I usually have to go to Trader Joe’s to buy mayonnaise without sugar which I have tasted and compared with a little Hellman’s or Best Foods’ (both have sugar)  – I can’t really tell them apart – they all taste like mayonnaise. So why do food processors and packagers feel they have to add sugar to everything? Oh and let’s not even mention all the pasta sauces arranged on your supermarket shelves that contain sugar. 

And just today I was shocked to discover that the delicious multigrain snack chips I just brought home from Costco to enjoy with hummus or Vermont cheese, contained sugar. What a shame to discover that these otherwise nutritious chips – with flaxseed, sunflower seed, sesame seed and quinoa supplementing the stone ground corn – were contaminated with sugar. But wait, it says “cane sugar” to distinguish it from other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup so it must be okay. Yeah, really?

Obviously it’s extremely difficult today to find any processed or packaged food (that’s the key, I guess) without added sugar in it. Genuine foods, unadulterated by added sugar, are mainly in the fresh fruits and vegetables section or in the dried or dehydrated state – dried fruits, beans and so on. But of course, even here we have to beware of GMO foods or foods contaminated with pesticide residue unless we buy bona fide organic foods.

I recently read a piece by the columnist and editor of the New York Times editorial page, David Leonhardt, that provided the impetus for this little article. Mr. Leonhardt had gone for a month without eating any “added sugar”. Why? Well, first he wanted to test the difficulty of finding foods without added sugar – very hard indeed – his guess was that about 75 percent of all packaged foods contain that dreaded ingredient. Also he wanted to test how he felt without that sugar in his diet and to see how he might change his eating habits. Mr. Leonhardt found that avoiding all the added sugar in our packaged and processed food was difficult but rewarding in terms of feeling better and reducing the craving for sweets. He also formed new habits – reading ingredient labels and accordingly striking some foods off his allowed list, adding others and generally eating more healthily, totally changing his breakfast and snack menus. As an example he draws a contrast between the snack crackers Triscuits and Wheat Thins, both made by Nabisco – the former containing simply wheat, oil and sea salt and the latter containing, as he put it, “an ingredient list that evokes high school chemistry class, including added sugars“.812zAGhL84L._SY550_

The sugar industry over the years has done a masterful job of promoting its product – “only 18 calories  a teaspoon”, “‘pure’ cane sugar”, “sugar for quick energy” and so on. In the late 1960’s it even paid three Harvard researchers to review several cherry-picked studies which purported to absolve sugar of any responsibility for cardiovascular problems and shift the blame instead onto saturated fats. It also has come up with a dizzying array of euphemistic names for its sweeteners such as “evaporated cane juice “ or “brown rice syrup”. And as noted above it has managed to get sugars into a remarkable three-quarters of all packaged foods in American supermarkets.

I recall vividly as a child in the 1950’s hearing a brilliant gentleman from our church community, Reverend Wesley Gross, later to become my sister Barbara’s father-in-law, deliver a short lecture on the evils of refined sugar, which he labeled “white poison”. Mr. Gross was certainly prescient in warning of the harm that comes from eating sugar, decades before many contemporary nutritionists, doctors, scientists and journalists made a similar case. Appropriately, my sister and her husband Daniel carried on Mr. Gross’s battle against refined sugar as owners and managers of Gross’ Natural Foods in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a tradition now continued proudly by their daughter Sheila and husband Greg Henkel.

Pure, White, and Deadly

 And exactly what is that harm? Why is sugar bad for us? I finally got around to reading the seminal book on sugar, “Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It” by British nutritionist John Yudkin, first published in 1972. After sketching its grim agricultural history starting with the cruel slave based production of sugar cane, he describes the detailed experiments he conducted which demonstrated that sugar is indeed related to various diseases, including caries (tooth decay), diabetes, cardiovascular disease and yes, even cancer. Yudkin’s methodology was soundly criticized by US nutritionist Ancel Keys, whose own research claimed that heart disease was caused by consumption of saturated fats. Virtually the entire medical and scientific community then sided with Keys, causing dietary fats to be largely accepted as the major contributor to cardiovascular disease. That pendulum of opinion has only recently swung back to sugar, not saturated fat, being a cause of heart trouble as well as many other health problems.

Many somewhat health conscious people, including myself, were caught up in dietary recommendations illustrated by the US Department of Agriculture’s food guides, which have evolved over the years along with scientific and medical opinion. And those recommendations in the 1980’s were responsible for thousands of people, including myself, eating processed foods that while “fat free” or “low fat” were loaded with sugar. I can clearly recall buying “low fat” brownies and cinnamon rolls from an Entenmann’s bakery outlet in Phoenix, close to my work, and taking them home for the family to eat. I couldn’t believe how good tasting they were, prepared with little or no shortening or butter. But of course they were delicious – they were packed with sugar. But the fact that fat was limited or absent allowed us to think that we were actually doing our bodies a favor.0-Intro-sugar-485057_1920

And interestingly, John Yudkin also tied sugar to a condition with which I have been struggling since my teens – acne, or more specifically, sebaceous acne. Although he admitted that more research is needed, many studies he examined did in fact link sugar to this condition. In my twenties and thirties I endured the shame of occasional sebaceous cysts on my face and neck which often required dermatological surgery from which I still have the scars. I recall one such notable doctor in Boston, Kenneth Arndt MD, who treated me numerous times for this problem. I certainly wish that Dr. Arndt, as well as the many other dermatologists I have consulted over the years, had advised me that sugar could have been the cause of my chronic skin problems. 

While the medical and scientific communities have vacillated about the causes, the fact that our country has a serious obesity and related diabetes and cardiovascular diseaseproblem is unassailable. Presently about two thirds of American adults are overweight, and about half of those, yes, actually one whole third, are classified as obese. Approximately one in ten Americans has Type II diabetes, a huge number, accounting for billions of dollars in medical expenses. And over one third of adults and over half of adults over 60 have metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions occurring together which include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, that is a precursor to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

But is sugar really a “poison” as Mr. Gross called it way back in the 1950’s? And is it “deadly” as John Yudkin so boldly asserted in 1973? Well, based upon research described by one of the major journalistic critics of sugar, Gary Taubes, author of “The Case Against Sugar”, the answer is in short, yes. Here’s why – the way we metabolize  fructose in our digestive system is apparently responsible for the build-up of fatty deposits in the liver, followed by insulin resistance, then metabolic syndrome and from there, potential development of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and yes, even cancer.

sugar kills

And no, becoming overweight and dealing with related conditions is not simply the result of “caloric imbalance”, as many nutritionists would have us believe. One hundred calories of glucose from potatoes or bread is metabolized quite differently than 100 calories of sugar, which is half glucose and half fructose. The fructose from sugar or from high fructose corn syrup is metabolized mostly by the liver while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every  cell in the body. Therefore consuming sugar (fructose and glucose), means more work for the liver, particularly if it is consumed rapidly, as in a sugared soft drinks or sweet fruit juice. An equivalent amount of fructose consumed by eating several apples also hits the liver but much more slowly. And if lots of fructose hits the liver quickly the liver will convert much of it to fat, eventually inducing insulin resistance. And this is the condition, one part of metabolic syndrome, that leads to obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes.sugar-tax-uk-2018-how-much-is-sugar-tax-1295322

John Yudkin’s claim that sugar could be responsible for the development of several kinds of cancer was dismissed as a stretch of the data at the time. Yet, recent surveys and research do in fact support sugar being a cause of cancer. This occurs because insulin resistance causes the secretion of more insulin. And this additional insulin, plus a related hormone called “insulin-like growth factor”, according to Taubes, actually promotes tumor growth. How? Without the additional insulin and its accompanying “growth-factor” hormone pushing them to absorb more and more blood sugar, most pre-cancerous cells would never develop the mutations that turn them into malignant tumors. So if it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer — some cancers at least, mainly those of breast and colon. In Taubes’ words – “The connection between obesity, diabetes and cancer was first reported in 2004 in large population studies by researchers from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not controversial. What it means is that you are more likely to get cancer if you’re obese or diabetic than if you’re not, and you’re more likely to get cancer if you have metabolic syndrome than if you don’t. “

Another of the notable warriors against sugar today is Dr. Robert Lustig. He continues his battle with a variety of videos about sugar, including a Ted Talk, and has written polemics about its harm. His YouTube video, “Sugar: the Bitter Truth”, has been viewed millions of times. And Dr. Lustig has also provided the introduction for the recent  edition of John Yudkin’s book that I just finished. His own best selling book “Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease” joins the Taubes book as the two most popular and authoritative accounts of the dangers of sugar and its relationship to obesity and disease.

It is very important to note that these sobering truths about sugar do not apply to sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Even though the naturally occurring sugar in an apple or orange contains the same ratio of fructose and glucose as simple refined table sugar, it is wrapped in water, fiber and a variety of other nutrients so the fructose component is metabolized in the liver and the glucose in the rest of the body, much more slowly. I don’t think that anybody ever got fat from eating too many bananas, although they contain significant sugar. Nor has anyone developed diabetes from eating too many oranges and tangerines. And to my knowledge apples have never rotted anyone’s teeth.

As if all the above problems with sugar are not enough, sugar may also be addictive. We’ve all had or at least heard of that proverbial “sweet tooth” when that one can of Coke wasn’t quite enough, one cookie has to be followed by another and another until they’re gone or one Reese’s peanut butter cup creates a desire for many more. Or that leftover Halloween candy gets quickly eaten up. There definitely is something real in that “sugar high” that feels so good when you finish off that ice cold Sprite. Yes, all that sugar or the more concentrated high fructose corn syrup from that sugary drink not only gives the liver a jolt but the brain as well, by activating the pleasure center and dumping some of that feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. And it seems that after a meal we often crave something sweet – thus the tradition and habit of dessert after a meal. 

But the issue of whether sugar is truly additive is still being debated. Certainly it is not in the class of truly addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin. And thankfully whatever addictive powers it does exert on us can be thrown off far more readily than that of real drugs. The desire for something sweet, more a craving than an addiction, can be controlled and ultimately erased by employing a little will power. And this craving for sugar is not dissimilar to the general craving for carbohydrates generally that many of us possess or have experienced that is also diminished and controlled by adherence to a low carbohydrate diet.

So where are we as a country, as a population, on the sugar issue? Per capita consumption of sugar in the United States, at approximately 100 pounds per year, continues to be startlingly well above the level of the other major sugar consuming countries. And interestingly the United States also leads the world’s developed countries in obesity. Shouldn’t this tell us something about the relationship of sugar to obesity? Actually if you compared a table of the most obese developed countries to the table below, there will be a surprisingly accurate correspondence to the rate of sugar consumption to the rate of obesity.

 Who_consumes_the_most_sugar

And also, if we take a look at the graph of the growth of sugar consumption in the United States during the last couple of centuries, I am sure we could superimpose a graph of the growth of obesity or the growth of the incidence of Type II diabetes over the same time period and again obtain a reasonably accurate correspondence.

 sugar consuption in US 1822-2005

Why are we a leader in these dubious categories? One reason has to be, as described early in this article, the inclusion of “added sugar” in so very many of the foods we regularly purchase at the super market and consume in the home. The other has to be the huge consumption of sugary beverages in the US. Stop at any convenience shop and take a look at literally walls of shelves of sugary carbonated beverages and sugary so-called sports drinks. And incidentally, Gatorade or Powerade or any of the other sports beverages, which are consumed by many teenagers as healthy alternatives, are as full of sugar as most other sugared beverages. And the sugar contest of these popular beverages is truly astonishing, ranging a little above or below 10 teaspoons per 12 ounce container.

So how can we reduce the sugar in our diets and limit the diseases that are obviously caused by sugar. One way is to tax sugary beverages to reduce their consumption but these efforts have been beaten down by the beverage corporations and the sugar industry and their well paid lobbyists. And, need I mention it – our Congress has been totally unresponsive to the public health threat posed by sugar. So it is up to each of us to dramatically reduce the amount of sugar in our diets and most who have done so, like Times columnist Leonhardt, mentioned earlier in this article, have been rewarded by significantly improved weight control and vastly improved overall health.

So was Mr Gross right decades ago when he called sugar “white poison” or was the term too cynical, too hyperbolic or too pejorative? Absolutely not. As shown above, he was incredibly prescient and, along with Yudkin, Taubes and Lustig, he was right on the money. If a “poison”, defined in my Apple computer dictionary is “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed”, refined sugar definitely meets that definition.

And one final note – if the dangerous qualities of sugar and what it does to our waistlines and our metabolic systems isn’t enough, one might also consider the cruel history of its agriculture and harvesting to be enough alone to reject it. Slavery and the slave trade were strongly linked to the sugar industry in its infancy as illustrated in a current New York Times article and conditions today relating to its production aren’t a whole lot better.

What We’ve Lost

Our country has lost so much since the election of Donald Trump. There has been a flood and a whirlwind of information about him which has obliterated almost everything else. And this is causing numbness. We are dazed, stunned and paralyzed by this torrent of scandal, lies, fabrications and exaggerations emanating from this dreadful administration. We are dumbfounded by the miserable quality of the people appointed (and approved by our useless Republican controlled Congress) to run the departments of our government. Where I used to read the Washington Post or the New York Times for the latest news and opinions about important issues, now almost everything written by their brilliant columnists, liberal, conservative or in-between, is about Trump or one of his advisors or appointees. The valuable emails I receive periodically from Salon, Huffington Post, the Real News, Alternet, Truthout, Truthdig and so on, are now mostly full of Trump stuff. We’re rapidly losing sight of what’s important and drowning in the sea of Trump trash that gets deeper by the day.  Not only the print media is full of this stuff but also cable news: Virtually every show on MSNBC, CNN and Fox are devoted to Trump or something related to his administration. Regrettably and disastrously, we have become inured to the daily transgressions and insults from this president.

 Trump

One of my favorite members of team on “Morning Joe”, which I watch some of on most weekdays while I’m working out, is former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnacle. Mike’s comments on almost any subject are memorable, but most consequential were his comments on Friday May 4 of this year regarding the flood of Trump nonsense in which we are drowning and which has blocked important concerns and issues from our senses.

“We talk about this every day, multiple times a day – just a literal tsunami, a fire hydrant of false information coming from this White House every day. But it’s larger than that and the problem and the threat and the danger is much larger than the White House and us talking about it. It’s what’s happening out in the country every day, people dealing every day – the normalization of lies and deception coming the the president of the United States and those who represent the president. And people get used to it and people slowly turn off and it doesn’t impact people and they are not really caring about the fact that the President of the United States is a liar and that people who represent him lie on a daily basis. This is how democracies die right in front of us every single day – deception and lies become normal.”

Thank you, Mr. Barnacle – I agree completely. Let me add that I myself have had a dreadful struggle with the dissonance of those two words – “president” and “Trump” and am somewhat upset that the two words in tandem now seem to go together, having now heard them hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But please, for the sake of our country, let’s not get used to the rest.

When one takes the time to slow down, pause, think and tabulate the changes in our government, the office of president, the departments of government, to our political awareness resulting from the Trump election, the list is astonishing….and long…..and far too important to  ignore. Let’s take a look for ourselves and then maybe we can put all this aside and concentrate on something else for a change. Here is the list of outrages, significant departures from past practice and procedure, which confound expectations and are in danger of becoming the norm. These are what we have become used to and what is becoming commonplace.

  • Hiding personal finances. No president in recent memory has dared to hide his tax returns from voters and citizens. Yet Trump has done exactly this – and we elected him anyhow and we’ve rolled over and acquiesced. If the next president chooses to hide his personal financial dealings from voters, what’s to stop him (or her)? And who knows what these tax returns may reveal? Our president may be a far more egregious money concealer and launderer than his former lieutenant, Paul Mannafort. After all if, as Nomi Prins speculates in her recent article for the Nation  “There are more than 500 companies in over two dozen countries, mostly with few to no employees or real offices, that feature him (Trump) as their ‘president’”. Why, if money is not being hidden or laundered? 
  • Retained control of personal businesses. Donald Trump has not divested himself of his businesses but instead asserts that his children are running them and he’s not involved. Oh sure, we all know that’s not the case, yet he has gotten away with it. He’s first president to do this and there will be more. The door has been opened and will likely never close. Another violation of rules and norms that we have become used to. Oh, and the Trump Foundation is being sued by the New York Attorney General’s office for multiple violations of the law, alleging that the president and his adult children illegally used the private foundation for personal, business, and political expenses.
  • Blatant nepotism. Trump has felt absolutely free to hire relatives and assign them to important posts. Not since President Kennedy hired his brother Robert as Attorney General has any president dared to do this. At lease Robert Kennedy had some training and ability for his family assignment, unlike Ivanka and Jared. 

Jared and Ivanka

  • Unfit, incompetent cabinet members. Appointing cabinet members who are totally unsuited for the job – this list is huge – and most were approved by the Senate. Betsy DeVos, enemy of public education and friend of vouchers and exploitative for-profit colleges; Scott Pruitt, enemy of the environment and friend of polluters (now thankfully departed but succeeded by Andrew Wheeler who thinks exactly like him); Wilbur Ross, now fighting accusations of corruption and described by Forbes magazine as “one of the biggest grifters in history”; Jeff Sessions, racist and the first Senator to openly endorse Trump; Ryan Zinke, no friend of National Parks, wildlife refuges, nature preserves or wildernesses but friend of drilling and mining interests; frightening, unstable and excitable specter John Bolton; ignorant Rick Perry and Ben Carson….and the list goes on. These are the “best people” Trump promised. It truly appears that each cabinet member has been given a dual assignment : 1) Undo every rule, every protection that previous administrations have instituted and 2) Do everything that corporations and rich donors want you to do, not what the American people want you to do. This has been illustrated in every single department run by the Federal Government. The Trump cabinet is a wrecking crew, which is tearing apart the edifice called the Federal Government and torching cherished values and beliefs in the process. And not only cabinet members but their lieutenants as well. Guess who at the Department of Interior decides on the efficacy of proposed climate research projects – Steve Howke, a Whitefish, Montana Kindergarten through high school classmate and varsity football teammate of Ryan Zinke, who majored in business, has spent his life working for credit unions and has absolutely no scientific background. The “swamp” is murkier and slimier than ever.
  • Violation of security requirements. Required security clearances were not required and conducted for key advisors in important positions – how did this happen? How did they finally get them? What lies and subterfuges were provided by Jared Kushner and others previously denied such clearances? And how about the latest violation of national trust – Tump’s order to declassify confidential communications involving FBI and Justice Department, now withdrawn but likely resurrected in the future.
  • Governing by tweet. This is absolutely unprecedented – that a sitting president churns out impulsive insults and outrages replete with misspellings and infantile emphatic capitalizations – and the corporate press excitedly awaits the day’s tweets so that this collection of schoolyard insults and name calling is given legitimacy. For example – “Special Council is told to find crimes wether crimes exist or not. I was opposed to the the selection of Mueller to be Special Council, I still am opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have bee a Special Council appointed because…..,” or the infantile “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” – yes, actually from the President of the United States. And hundreds, maybe thousands more that are equally or far more embarrassing.
  • Ignorance. There has never been a president who has exhibited more incredible ignorance of government than Donald Trump. He has been not only clueless about the duties he was elected to perform but ignorant of history, geography, culture, the arts, literature and the list could go on. And this president has also demonstrated a singular lack of curiosity that makes George W. Bush look like a college professor. At a Black History Month event he commented, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Yes, I know – Mr. Trump has recently appointed Mr. Douglass to the National Security Council but because of criticism, has threatened to remove his security clearance.

Frederick Douglass

 

  • Lies, falsehoods. Yes, all presidents have lied at one time or another when it was politically advantageous. But we have never seen anything like this flood of falsehoods flowing from this White House. From a recent Washington Post – “As of day 558, he’s made 4,229 Trumpian claims — an increase of 978 in just two months.That’s an overall average of nearly 7.6 claims a day. When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. But the average number of claims per day keeps climbing the longer Trump stays in office. In fact, in June and July, the president averaged 16 claims a day.” With a president like this, lying and other unethical conduct become second nature in the White House and Cabinet. Oh, and Trump just the other day broke the 5000 mark in lies, exaggerations and untruths. And equally as bad – Trump’s lying has provided license for other White House advisors, cabinet members and government administrators to lie whenever they find it convenient. But perhaps most important, we’re getting so used to this stream of falsehoods, what happens when we have a serious crisis and we need the truth – Trump will have no credibility in crisis, which is so essential in a president.
  • Laziness. This president is lazy too. He makes sure that he is not scheduled for anything public before 11:00 each day. In late night and morning hours he is watching Fox News and tweeting.
  • State television. Speaking of Fox News, this is the first time that we’ve actually had a state television network to telecast sycophants fawning over the president and who actually advise the president. Fox’s `Sean Hannity attends dinner with our President; Fox and Friends’ Ainsley Earhardt, Steve Doocy & Brian Kilmeade are regularly consulted and confided in – Sean, Ainsley, Steve and Brian actually should be listed as cabinet members and approved by Congress.

 Trump and Hannity

  • Egotism and boastfulness. Yes, all president have to be a bit self-centered, or they never could have generated the necessary support for election, but we’ve never seen anything like this – from one of Trump’s tweets: “….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that I would qualify as no smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”
  • And, related to this, Trump is the only president in my memory who needs, seeks and feeds on flattery and praise, no matter how false or outrageous.  I am sure we all remember the grossly obsequious behavior of those present at his first cabinet meeting which he obviously enjoyed. And the highly dubious statement made by Trump sycophant, bona fide liar, perjurer, teenage drunk and sexual assailant and now Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh at his nomination introduction – “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination”. Oh, brilliant observation, Brett.
  • Unprecedented huge turnover of cabinet members and other key personnel. In just 19 months on the job, Trump had more Cabinet turnover than 16 of his predecessors had in their first two full years. The latest score and comment from an August The New Yorker: “Other metrics make clear the significant changes in Trump’s approach to the Presidency in recent months, as he has become more confident, less willing to tolerate advisers who challenge him, and increasingly obsessed with the threats to his Presidency posed by the ongoing special-counsel investigation. One is the epic turnover rate of Trump’s White House staff, which as of June already stood at the unprecedented level of sixty-one per cent among the President’s top advisers.” And maybe more important, such turnover represents a wholesale decimation of expertise and experience in Federal Government posts.
  • Careless and inappropriate personal appearance. This is a first among our presidents. At formal meetings, while other prime ministers, presidents, and officials look neat and statesmanly, with jackets and coats neatly buttoned, take a look at our president – jacket (or overcoat) hanging open, long tie flapping in the breeze. Why? Too difficult to button the jacket across his steadily expanding girth? Don’t know but it looks incredibly sloppy and inappropriate….SAD. And let’s not even count that ludicrous hair, that exaggerated comb-over, not only without precedent among presidents, but probably without precedent, period. Actually, as I mentioned in my article on the subject this preposterous attempt to hide a bald pate is a “comb-up-over-and-back”. And why the fake clenched jaw – protruding lips facial appearance, an obvious effort to appear tough, resolute and decisive? White House personnel tell us that he’s admitted that it’s an effort to emulate Winston Churchill.  Churchill? A bridge way too far, Mr. Trump, give it up!

 skynews-g7-trump-theresa-may_4331347

  • Inventing his own medical records. In addition to the glowing and likely spurious report penned by former White House physician Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, we have the written word also  of Trump’s former personal physician Dr. Harold Bornstein – “His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary. If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Not exactly your typical medical jargon, is it? Well that’s because, according to Dr. Bornstein, Trump dictated the letter himself. And unfortunately, we still really don’t know anything factual about the president’s health.
  • Criticism, defamation and delegitimization and politicization of Federal law enforcement, essential for national security. This president stands alone, completely apart from any of his predecessors, even Nixon, in his disdain for the Justice Department and the FBI. This is extremely dangerous, when these agencies have always been largely depoliticized and worthy of considerable trust, even in the days of J. Edgar Hoover. What could be his most damaging attack on Federal law enforcement and national security is his recent order for declassification of documents related to the Russia investigation. This kind of action by a US president is not only totally unconciouasionable but absolutely unprecedented but in his words, “I have been asked by many people in Congress as you know to release them. I have watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release them….I have been asked by so many people that I respect, please — the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro.” As noted above, after considerable outcry, this order has been rescinded. But his overall carelessness is still very much there.
  • Criticism, ridicule and delegitimization of the press. A free press is absolutely necessary to the functioning of a democracy and the fourth estate in the US, already gagged and muffled by its corporate and capitalist loyalties, was in bad shape even before Trump. His constant use of the term “fake news” has done irreparable harm to the press and we need to be concerned when Trump says, “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” And a tweet from August 6, 2018 says it all – “The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!”
  • First president with total support from a notorious tabloid, the National Enquirer. This checkout line rag and its parent company AMI did a reliable job of trashing Hillary Clinton and extolling the limited virtues of Donald Trump during the election. Recent revelation of publisher David Pecker’s involvement in buying and quashing select stories is now the subject of investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
  • An unorthodox presidency in which emotion, impulse and ego often drive events. For example his roiling feud of playground insults with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his recent virtually ignoring the death of John McCain and his legacy and not displaying the White House flag at half staff, or his petulant removal of security clearances for former CIA Director John Brennan because he had dared be critical of the president.

 Trump speech

  • The only president in memory who has relied upon personal attacks, name calling and ridicule. He began his campaign denigrating his primary opponents with such nicknames as “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Little Marco” Rubio and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and went into the general election with  “Crooked Hillary”, and the refrain which still reverberates at his rallies today -“Lock Her Up”. He has quite unfairly tagged Senator Elizabeth Warren with “Pocahontas” and on and on. His deny, deny, then attack, attack response to his own implications certainly influenced the disgusting final performance of Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee and Trump did not hesitate to mock the sober, brave, forthright and heart-rending appearance of Christine Blasey Ford. And as if these epithets and insults weren’t enough, this president enjoys calling others “stupid”. His attacks against women have been especially virulent – from criticizing the looks of Republican primary competitor Carly Fiorina, to referring to former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as a “dog” on through to his latest epithet for former paramour Stormy Daniels – “horseface”. We have never seen such behavior from any president in our history but we have come to countenance and even expect it from this president.
  • Divisive “weaponization” of the National Anthem and the American flag and of patriotism itself. And he didn’t know the words to either God Bless America or the Star Spangled Banner.  From the Washington Post – “At least four times since becoming president, Trump started to sing — but didn’t finish — songs like the national anthem and ‘God Bless America.’ At the White House ‘Celebration of America’ event….he again sang only a few verses of ‘God Bless America’ before nodding his head to the beat of the United States Marine Band and the Army Chorus. In January, Trump mouthed only parts of the national anthem during the college football national championship.” And of course this has extended into Trump’s condemnation of free speech rights of NFL football players who choose to take a knee during the national anthem prior to their games. NFL owners’ responses indicate ignorance  that this compulsory patriotism called for by Trump is a hallmark of dictatorships. Perhaps we should all view the dramatic, eloquent and totally unifying response made recently by Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourk.
  • Rallies. Donald Trump is the only US president in recent memory, perhaps ever, who has continued to hold campaign style rallies periodically across the country during his term. These are unnecessary and only serve to pump up his ego and the fervor of his base. He also wanted a military parade in Washington, a first for a modern president, but perhaps has been dissuaded because of the inordinate expense.
  • For the first time, presidential admiration and embrace rather than shunning and disregard for the the world’s autocrats. These include Viktor Orban of Hungary, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and of course, his apparent  favorite, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Rather shocking, don’t you think, for our “leader of the free world”?


unkempt Trump

  • Unconventional and dangerous disdain for traditional European alliances and international norms. Thumbing his nose at NATO and existing treaties and agreements; abrogation of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, disregarding other signatories, and sowing distrust among our traditional allies; and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, all the while prostrating himself and his administration in front of Netanyahu and his AIPAC agents and violating the long honored international status of Jerusalem by moving the US Embassy there. The Trump administration also withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council because of “prejudice against Israel”, joining North Korea, Iran, and Eritrea as the only nations not members of this crucial world deliberative body.
  • Embrace of conspiracy theories which include assertion that President Obama was not a US citizen, belief in a “criminal deep state” conspiracy in Obama’s administration that planted a spy inside his presidential campaign to help Hillary Clinton, his long held belief in the guilt of the “Central Park Five” despite their now proven innocence, Ted Cruz’s father involved in the Kennedy assassination, to mention a few, all very dangerous since “if the president believes it there must some truth to it.”
  • Selection and retention of cabinet members and advisors on the basis of personal loyalty to him, rather than on competence and experience. This is especially obvious in the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has tweeted repeatedly about the necessity of Sessions’ protection of him and how his recusal from the Russia investigation has hampered this role. Members of Congress and candidates for office are now treated that way as well, with Trump’s support dependent on their loyalty to him.
  • Only president to require non-disclosure agreements. Trump is alone among presidents for requiring White House staff and advisors to sign NDA’s before accepting a position. Why – is there something to hide about White House operations and about presidential day to day behavior?
  • Weaponizing presidential pardons. Usually this presidential privilege is exercised when there may be some doubt regarding guilt or a spurious quality to the laws being enforced. Yet Trump has pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was tried in a court of law and found guilty of criminal contempt. And to compound this insult to justice, Vice President Pence called Arpaio a “guardian of justice”. Also Trump undermined the rule of law by pardoning political supporter and notorious right wing author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, an unapologetic felon convicted of campaign finance crimes. And now, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, already found guilty in six of the 12 counts against him, has rejected a deal from the prosecutors, obviously relying on the prospect of another egregious presidential pardon.Trump’s pardon announcement about Arpaio and D’Souza was sharply criticized by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who said it “makes crystal clear his willingness to use his pardon power to thwart the cause of justice, rather than advance it.”
  • Disdain for the rule of law. Trump really does view the law as a weapon to protect his allies and strike his enemies. An incomplete list includes suggesting an end to the prosecution of someone he likes, such as Joe Arpaio and the commencement of prosecutions of people he hates like James Comey and Hillary Clinton. Trump defended his indicted personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by claiming that the government regularly fabricates evidence. Trump has tried to politicize federal prosecutors, firing US Attorney Preet Bharara, and  bringing another, John Huber, Utah’s top federal prosecutor, to the White House to give a speech lobbying for new immigration laws. 

 Trump again

  • Open violation of the US Constitution. This corrupt president has violated the emoluments clause which reads as follows: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Unlike any previous president he has retained ownership of his assets but claims he is not involved because he has turned over management of them to his children. His companies continue to make money for him while he is president – his hotels and golf courses are frequented by foreign entities wishing to ingratiate themselves with him. And daughter Ivanka has received 13 Chinese trademarks and provisional approval for eight more for her products since Trump became president. Several lawsuits are underway which should prove without any doubt that this constitutional provision is being violated.
  • Only president to be not invited, or “disinvited”, if you wish, to a notable Congressman’s funeral. Before his death, Senator John McCain, expressly requested that the president not be invited to either speak or even merely be present at his funeral.
  • The only president who made his money through dubious tax schemes and some instances of outright fraud. Although other presidential fortunes have had rather dubious origins, for example, the Kennedy and the Bush wealth, the revelations in the recent very extensive New York Times investigation about how his father Fred C. Trump managed to pass along close to a half billion dollars to Trump, starting when he was a toddler, demonstrate that the Trump fortune was obtained and transferred using very questionable, even illegal practices.
  • Violation of basic humanitarian norms and practices and even condoning child abuse. Trump’s treatment of immigrants at our southern borders is distinguished by the singular cruelty of the separation of hundreds of children from their parents. And true to form, he had to lie about it -the administration was insisting that “it didn’t have a policy of separating families (false), that several laws and court rulings were forcing these separations (false), that Democrats were to blame (false), that only Congress could stop family separations (false) and that an executive order wouldn’t get the job done (also false).” This practice, along with other aspects of dealing with thousands of people seeking to escape violence and death in their home countries, has forever shamed our country. The latest insult to poor immigrants trying to make new lives in the United States is the snatching of green cards if they are receiving any kind of governmental support, including food stamps, Medicaid or children’s health insurance.
  • Only president that I know of to be embraced passionately by evangelicals even though he violates almost all of the personal characteristics traditionally valued by people with religious convictions. Multiple marital infidelities, blatant lying, abject dishonesty, total lack of empathy, disdain for the less fortunate, racist, and the list could go on. Trump is a self centered, selfish and evil man. Come on, do the evangelicals consider him “converted” or “saved” or “repentant”? What on earth do they use to rationalize their support of this man? Maybe that Supreme Court majority? Maybe moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem perhaps signifying the beginning of “the rapture”?
  • Only president to not only disavow scientific findings but to actually take action against them. The grim facts about climate change have not only been repudiated but ridiculed by Trump, whose administration under his direction has rolled back Obama era measures and goals to mitigate its effect, including NASA’s carbon monitoring research program and actually suspending and cancelling climate change research. And of course, Mr. Trump supports drilling for more oil and gas and mining for more coal to burn and dump more deadly carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Appears to be totally lacking in compassion and empathy, totally unable to demonstrate any credible understanding of how others feel. These traits were on full display on his visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico where the best he could do is boast about the (poor) US response to the devastation and to toss rolls of paper towels (what the hell were the paper towels for anyway?). More recently this emptiness was on display for the whole world to see during his visits to Hurricane Florence flooded and battered North and South Carolina – “This is a tough hurricane — one of the wettest we’ve ever seen. From the standpoint of water, rarely have we had an experience like it,” Trump said. Trump was handing out meals to hurricane victims and told one person in a car, “Have a good time” as if they were going on a picnic.

Looking back over this article, my fourth about Trump and his administration since he was elected, I find myself consumed by two great fears. Echoing Mike Barnacle’s thoughts quoted in an early paragraph, I am fearful that we are getting so used to the breaking of rules and shattering of norms by this dreadful president that neither the presidency nor our federal government will ever be the same again. Has the embrace of rules and norms been permanently broken? Has the trust in Federal agencies been forever compromised? Has the our press been forever discredited? Have we become so inured to lies and contradictions pouring from the White House that we will not believe or care at all anymore, no matter who is the occupant? The formerly somewhat reliable and steady edifice of the Federal government is now full of holes and is tottering. Can it ever be rebuilt? Will things ever get back to normal? New York Times columnist David Brooks fears that conditions may never be the same. In his words: “The best indicator we have so far is the example of Italy since the reign of Silvio Berlusconi. And the main lesson there is that once the norms of acceptable behavior are violated and once the institutions of government are weakened, it is very hard to re-establish them. Instead, you get this cycle of ever more extreme behavior, as politicians compete to be the most radical outsider. The political center collapses, the normal left/right political categories cease to apply…”

The second fear is that the excesses of Trump and his administration will result in the loss of democratic government, not really very far-fetched if we read Madeleine Albright’s new book, the recent work of historian Timothy Snyder, Zigblatt and Levitsky’s “How Democracies Die” or the recent piece by the Times columnist Paul Krugman. Our already weak democracy, barely on life support, has been further weakened by recent Supreme Court decisions on voting and campaign finance (which, incidentally have done far more harm than anything accomplished or even contemplated by Russia), hobbled by a totally ineffectual legislative branch, and further enfeebled by Trump’s daily assault on the press and the rules and norms essential for democratic function. When you add the blind devotion of Trump’s base, the militarization of police, the glorification of the military and the erosion of trust from steady attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, it’s not too difficult to imagine the end of what little is left of our democracy. As noted by aforementioned professors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky – “Because there is no single moment—no coup, declaration of martial law, or suspension of the constitution—in which the regime obviously ‘crosses the line’ into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.” Neither can we discount the nefarious and dangerous influence of money in our drift toward autocracy. The influence of Koch, Adelson, et al, is not dissimilar to the influence of Germany’s big industrialists in the 1930’s which enabled Hitler’s ascent to power.

If our country somehow survives the onslaught on democracy by this president and the Republican Party, one has to consider what will happen or what has to happen when this nightmare ends and Trump finally goes away. What safeguards can we erect to prevent another Trump from happening? How can we “de-Trumpify” the presidency and our federal government? Certainly, if the Democratic Party reclaims the House this November, this work  can begin with investigations into violations of the emoluments clause, long overdue exposure of his tax returns and multiple investigations into the overall corruption of this administration. 

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg recently devoted an entire column to the subject of “de-Trumpification”. In addition to echoing the above, she also reports that the process has already in a way begun, with Christine Todd Whitman, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, and Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announcing that they’d be leading a task force on the rule of law and democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The idea is to figure out which of the norms that Trump has blithely discarded can be written into law or otherwise codified”, Whitman told Goldberg.

“We know we want to take on financial and ethical conflicts. We’re going to take on political interference with law enforcement and the courts, the protection of a free and independent press.” The task force will also look into how Trump’s administration “uses or misuses data and science and how candidates are chosen for government jobs”.

Dr. Brian Klaas, Assistant Professor/Lecturer in Global Politics at University College London and columnist for The Washington Post, in a recent column, suggests the following: 

“Congress should codify countless broken norms into unbreakable laws. For example, it should be illegal for presidents to fire law enforcement officials who are investigating them (absent an independent assessment of professional misconduct). Special counsels should also be legally protected from presidential interference. We also need two new constitutional amendments. First, to declare that the president is not above the law and can therefore be indicted while in office; and second, to ensure that a president cannot pardon anyone that is involved in an ongoing investigation related to the president, their family, their campaign or their business interests. Future presidential candidates should be legally required not only to release their tax returns, but also to fully divest from businesses that pose a significant conflict of interest. Klaas adds that the disgrace of having Trump’s unqualified son-in-law and daughter overseeing huge, consequential portfolios cries out for stronger anti-nepotism laws.”

I certainly agree with the suggestions of Goldberg and Klaas for they do give me some hope, however scant.  But as Americans we need also to consider carefully that if our government is supposed to emanate from the people and represent the people, we have to ask ourselves what kind of people we have become. After all, the Republican Party nominated Mr. Trump and the American people voted for him and elected him. So if we survive Trump and Trumpism, in addition to new laws and new rules to prevent another such political calamity, we really need some serious introspection as Americans. Do we truly believe in democracy? Can we get our noses out of Facebook and our iPhones long enough to thoughtfully consider what democracy requires of us as citizens and whether we are fulfilling those requirements? We have to recover what we have lost with the election of Donald Trump and approve necessary laws and rules and reestablish previously embraced democratic behavioral norms so that electing another president like this will be impossible.