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?

large

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.

 

 

The Vote: “Cornerstone of Our Democracy”

“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries who seek to sow discord and undermine our way of life.” These words were spoken by the Trump administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, in early August 2018. And in recent months, how often have we heard  and speculated about the serious harm that Russia has caused to US elections, that Russia is responsible for Trump becoming our president, that Russia will tamper with the upcoming midterms and somehow again subvert US “democracy”?

Well, guess what – the Republican Party and the US Supreme Court have done far more harm to US elections in recent years than Russia could have ever dreamed of doing. What’s that Secretary Nielsen said -“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy”? Well, if that is so, why don’t we do all we can to make our elections “free and fair”, instead of corrupting them by making it steadily more difficult to vote and warping election outcomes?

In probably the most important election of our lifetimes, we went to the polls in November 2016 and voted for a new president. Well, at least some of us voted. Depending on what state you lived in, you may have had to present a picture ID which you maybe didn’t have; you may have found  early voting times reduced, lines impossibly long, registration restricted, polling places reduced or locations changed. Or you may have been stunned to find that your name had been removed from the voting rolls. 

What could be more fundamental in a democracy than the right to vote? Isn’t voting the foundation of representative government? Why then do we have a patchwork of voting regulations throughout the states? Why can someone register and vote the same day in some states and not in others? Why do voters have to show a picture ID in some states ? Why are there more stringent residency requirements in some states than in others? Why can you vote early in some states or vote by mail but maybe not in yours? HBO’s John Oliver captures and describes many of these problem in his usual profane and humorous way.

Some additional questions about voting in the United States – why is Tuesday, of all days, the election day everywhere? Why a workday, which places a major burden on working class voters and voters working on hourly contracts who can’t afford to take time off? Why not a weekend day when it would be easier for most people to vote? And why are national elections held in November? Perhaps summer might  be better for everyone. In most of the world’s democracies, voting is held on a weekend day or on a special voting holiday to make it easier for its citizens to vote, but not in the United States, the “world’s greatest democracy”.

voting_map_1260

All of these questions and concerns, all of these obstacles and impediments to voting have been instituted by us, not the Russians. Republican governors and legislatures have striven mightily to limit the vote, not extend it, because in limiting the vote by requiring a picture ID or limiting locations where you can vote, or other measures, means limiting the vote of minority populations which vote predominantly Democratic. 

And these same Republican governors and legislatures have effectively gerrymandered voting districts in many states, resulting in candidates choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing candidates and thus rendering many districts uncompetitive. The “blue wave” anticipated by many in the 2018 midterms may not happen at all, despite an expected upsurge in Democratic votes. As a recent Times article noted, in 2006 a five and a half point lead in the national vote was enough to pick up 31 seats in the House of Representatives. But now, because of partisan gerrymandering accomplished in 2010, an increase of this size would net only 13. In the upcoming midterms Democrats will need an 11 point margin nationally to win back the House, a very difficult margin to attain.

The corrupt effect of partisan gerrymandering is perfectly exemplified in North Carolina. Republicans in 2016 won 10 of the 13 House districts – 77 percent – despite getting just 53 percent of the statewide vote, nearly the same result as in 2014. The Ohio vote from 2016 provides another example. Republicans won 12 of the state’s 16 House seats with just 56 percent of the vote. Since being gerrymandered by its Republican legislature after the 2010 census, the GOP has won the same 12 seats with Democrats winning the same four seats in each of the last three elections, despite a narrow margin statewide. The pernicious effect of gerrymandering, which really is disenfranchising a sizable portion of a state’s electorate is graphically explained in this Washington Post video.

A different kind of question people may ask is why vote at all? Many vote faithfully like good citizens should but nothing seems to change. In an era of billion dollar campaigns and apparently limitless campaign contributions by corporations, millionaires and billionaires, a person may be rightfully skeptical of what their individual vote can accomplish. Is my Representative or Senator going to heed my call, letter or email or attend to the call, letter or email from Jamie Dimon, Charles Koch or Sheldon Adelson or a member of the armies of  lobbyists representing other corporate interests?  In addition to voter suppression, cynicism resulting logically from these conditions certainly contributes to our disgracefully low level of voter participation in elections, usually around 50 percent.

But political optimists really do believe that the vote can dramatically change politics. After all, the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court could be reversed by a constitutional amendment and such an amendment would be passed by voting. Money could be taken out of politics in the same way if we voted to do so. The ballot could limit use of the media for election purposes as it is in most EU countries. And public financing of campaigns similar to European countries could be established through the franchise. Our useless Congress could again govern and actually pass some helpful laws through debate and compromise, if we placed the right individuals in office through the vote. And gerrymandered congressional districts described above which are responsible for much of our congressional paralysis could be rendered illegal through the vote. 

So the vote, the franchise, the ballot, are fundamental to the functioning of our government and many feel that we should be doing everything we can to make voting easier and get more people to vote. But instead what we doing is making voting more difficult and more complex. Indeed, voter suppression has been called the “Civil Rights Issue of this Era” 

Another perennial voting issue concerns who should vote – a tension set up by the writers of our constitution between the “Hamiltonians” and the “Jeffersonians”, whether the franchise should be  granted solely to the educated and propertied citizens or to everyone regardless of education or wealth. Last year, the New Yorker featured an article  about selected first time voters and who they have chosen to vote for and why. And reading about the guy who was voting for Donald Trump because “Hillary will take my guns away and I need them to hunt every year for my food” made me wonder why the impact of his vote was the same as mine. Yes, historically there have been proposals from time to time to more heavily weight the votes of educated voters over those of the uneducated which seem tempting. However, all considered, I strongly support everyone voting, regardless of education, wealth or social standing. I really do think that  a majority of the population as a whole has a great deal more common sense to ultimately lead us in the right direction than people of wealth and property who will simply vote their narrow interests. The wisdom of the general populace is validated in nationwide polls on such major issues as healthcare, taxation, education, the military budget, to name but a few. In fact if Federal laws were established by national plebiscite, rather than by a congress beholden to big money and special interests, we would likely have a much better country.

Which brings me back to another concern about Election Day. Why on earth is our participation so shamefully low? Come hell or high water, “the most important election of our lifetime”, or whatever, voter participation in the US hovers around 50 percent, and that is for presidential election years. In off-years, voter turnout is far worse, usually 40 percent or so. In 2012, another of the many “most important elections ever”, voter turnout was an anemic 53 percent of eligible voters.  We boast to the world about our “vibrant and thriving democracy”, an example the rest of the world should follow. Well actually based on participation in our democracy, the very definition of the term, our democracy is barely breathing. 

participation2.001.jpg

During the 2016 election, there were over 224 million American citizens over the age of 18 in the United States, and yet only around 157 million were registered to vote. And of these registered voters, only 58 percent bothered to vote in this “most important election in history”.

Well again, rather than make voting easy, we seem to do all we can to make it more difficult and more complex. Most people think that to vote in the US is simple – if you are a citizen, if you are over 18 years and registered, you can vote. But in fact, even if you meet this criteria, you may be turned away at the polls. Presently, 34 states maintain laws that request or require citizens to show arbitrarily specific forms of identification and in ten of those states the laws are very strict. So many Americans who do not have the time or the money to obtain these forms of ID are unable to vote. In fact, Wisconsin’s Attorney General claimed that his state’s strict voter ID law was responsible for throwing that crucial state’s electoral vote to Trump in 2016.

Voting integrity is certainly another reason for low turnout. Why should I bother to vote when my vote may be inadvertently discarded by unreliable voting machines run by incompetent officials? Last May the Georgia Secretary of State office reported a precinct in northeastern Georgia as having 276 registered voters ahead of the state’s primary elections in May. After the election it reported that 670 ballots were cast, a quite amazing 243 percent turnout. Later, the numbers were changed to 3704 registered voters, reflecting a likely more accurate turnout of around 18 percent. Who is his right mind can trust a system this faulty? This fall 43 states will use voting machines that are no longer manufactured and consequently for which spare parts are difficult or impossible to find. Thirteen states use voting machines that do not provide a paper record of votes cast. Good luck if machines break down or a recount is needed. Also, Georgia’s entire voting structure, yes, Georgia again, which was outsourced to a private company, Center for Election Systems, was shown to be extremely vulnerable to hackers. If I were a Georgia voter, I’d stay home. Wait a minute, also in Georgia’s Randolph County,  where 60 percent of residents are black and nearly a third live in poverty, announced their intention to close seven of the nine polling places because toilets and parking facilities were declared non – ADA compliant, requiring some voters to take a 30 mile round trip to one of the remaining two precincts. Really now – we are supposed to believe that officials were motivated by compliance compassion rather than voter suppression…..in a mostly black community…..in Georgia?

Another significant source of voter suppression is not allowing ex-prisoners to vote. Over six million Americans were barred from voting in the 2016 election because of “felony disenfranchisement”. In virtually every one of our states, Vermont and Maine being the only exceptions, citizens with a criminal conviction are permanently or temporarily denied their right to vote. So even if people convicted of a crime have paid their debt to society, they are generally stripped of this right of citizenship. And the array of obstacles placed in front of any ex-prisoner wishing to regain this privilege of citizenship is often very difficult to navigate. The seriousness of this type of disenfranchisement should not be underestimated. Florida, which has one of the harshest laws and also some of the most difficult barriers to surmount to regain this right, has had well over a million potential voters disenfranchised in this way during the last several presidential elections. If criminals who had served their term and had their full citizenship restored, it’s quite likely that George W. Bush would not have become president and we would not have had a trillion dollar war in Iraq nor the apparently eternal war in Afghanistan. HBO’s John Oliver discusses this problem in his usually profane and humorous, yet quite effective, manner. Relative to this, because of these laws, one in 40 American adults is ineligible to vote, nationwide, one in 13 adult African-American adults cannot vote. In Kentucky, Floria, Tennessee and Virginia, more that 20 percent of African-Americans are ineligible. It would be interesting to speculate about all the white collar crooks that are never prosecuted, but instead routinely pay huge fines for their crimes and misdeeds. I wonder if they can still vote? Incidentally, we are one of just four countries in the world that enforces post release restrictions on voting, the others being Croatia, Belgium and Armenia. 

A lesser known way that Republicans have succeeded in disenfranchising voters is by preventing people from voting because they owe legal fees or court fines, of course affecting mostly poor (and likely Democratic) voters. Republican legislatures have now passed such laws in nine states with not insignificant effect on voters. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe this money, about three percent of the voting age population, have been stricken from voting rolls. These laws are unconstitutional because they really represent a modern day kind of poll tax. Why should owing money to a government agency or being too poor to pay ever be reasons to lose voting privileges? 

Many of these efforts at voter suppression have been conducted under the guise of “preventing voter fraud” which is virtually non-existent. Efforts to prove widespread fraud have been futile, the most recent being Trump’s “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”, headed by Mike Pence and the perennial king of voter fraud claims who has come up empty time after time, Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state and now candidate for governor. This commission, now thankfully disbanded, had one major objective – to prove that the huge gap in popular vote totals between Trump and Clinton were the result of “massive voter fraud”. The most extensive and painstaking examinations of voter fraud have shown it to be so small as to to totally insignificant. 

The Brennan Center’s seminal report on this issue, The Truth About Voter Fraud, found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Our voter fraud friend, Kris Kobach, was also the author and main proponent of a program called “Interstate Crosscheck”, which stripped voter rolls in participating states on the pretext that citizens were double-registered. Crosscheck has tagged an astonishing 7.2 million suspects, yet no more than four perpetrators have been charged with double voting or deliberate double registration, and even those were likely accidents rather than serious efforts to influence an election.

Interesting how some Republicans have let the cat out of the bag concerning the real reason for voter suppression – Glenn Grothman, Republican of Wisconsin, predicted that the state’s photo ID law should weaken Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the state in 2016; prior to the last presidential election Mike Turzai, Republican leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, predicted during the 2012 campaign that their voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done”; Don Yelton, a North Carolina Republican Party county precinct chairman, told an interviewer that in 2013 , the state’s voter ID law would “kick the Democrats in the butt”. In 2012, Jim Greer, a former Republican Party chairman, said outright that voter ID laws and cutbacks in early voting were done for “one reason and one reason only” – to suppress Democratic turnout. So it’s perfectly clear why Republicans want to suppress the vote – they want to reduce the poor and minority vote, usually Democratic, so they can retain power, while all the while lying that it’s about voter fraud. 

In the meantime, some states are doing their best to make it easier to register and easier to vote while others continue efforts to repress the vote. Illinois recently became the 10th state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact automatic voter registration. Under the new law, all eligible voters will be registered to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles or other state agencies. which could add as many as one million voters to the state’s rolls. And at the other extreme, consider Texas, which is pushing relentlessly in the opposite direction. Republican lawmakers there passed in 2011, and continue to defend today, one of the nation’s most restrictive voter-ID laws. Supported by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott and vociferously defended by Senator Ted Cruz, this law requires a state issued picture ID for all voters but will accept a Texas handgun permit while not accepting photo college ID’s. Good old Texas – it’s easy to see why in 2014 this state ranked 45th in voter registration and dead last in voter turnout.

Incredibly, our own US Supreme Court has exacerbated the the voting problem in the country. Clearly, this “final arbiter” of legislative and constitutional conflict should rule to protect democratic practices and institutions like voting. But as we have seen over the last decade or so, a majority of Justices, their uniform plain black robes failing to obscure their pro-corporate, anti-democratic leanings, have consistently ruled against the vote and consequently against democracy. Starting with the Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited money to influence elections under the guise of “free speech”, and continuing with the McCutcheon v. FEC decision which removed the limits from individual contributions to political parties and campaigns, our Supreme Court has continued to destroy our democracy. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that certain states with racist pasts had to have voting changes “pre-cleared” by the Department of Justice. Basically, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the opinion, this protection was no longer needed because racism was over. “Over”? Come on, we all know this is nonsense – what kind of rose colored glasses is Roberts wearing? And of course, immediately after the decision, a number of these states, including Texas, immediately acted to strengthen voter ID laws to make voting more difficult, especially for the poor and people of color.

The Supreme court has refused to rule on Ohio’s egregiously gerrymandered House districts, allowing the state to continue sending a 75 percent Republican delegation to Congress supported by only slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. Also conservatives on the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s strict method of removing infrequent voters from the rolls, a process that challengers of the law say disproportionately affects poor and minority voters. With its ruling in the case of Hustad v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Court’s activist majority in effect gave other Republican secretaries of state a go-ahead to resume the antidemocratic practice of purging fully qualified voters from registration rolls, just like in Ohio.

The Supreme Court also largely upheld Texas congressional and legislative maps that a lower court said discriminated against black and Hispanic voters, saying that the lower court was wrong in how it considered the challenges, and, according to Justice Alito, who wrote the opinion in the 5-to-4 decision, “did not credit the Texas legislature with a presumption of good faith”. The Court sided with the challengers over only one of the legislative districts in question.

On the issue of voter purges, a la Ohio, over the past year researchers at the Brennan Center examined data from 6,600 jurisdictions and found the median rate of purging across the country has risen from 6.2 percent of voters to 7.8 percent since 2008. That jump may seem small, but it’s statistically significant and cannot be explained by population growth. It amounts to an additional four million people being struck off voting lists.

All of this is underscored by a Harvard study that ranks American voting the worst in the western world for free and fair elections. In the “2015 Year in Elections Report”, the Electoral Integrity Project, conducted by 2000 election experts from Harvard University and the University of Sydney in Australia, defines “electoral integrity” as “agreed international principles and standards of elections, applying universally to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, and on polling day and its aftermath”. Conversely, ‘electoral malpractice’ refers to violations of electoral integrity.” In a massive study of 180 national parliamentary and presidential contests held between July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015 in 139 countries worldwide, U.S. elections scored lower than Argentina, South Africa, Tunisia, and Rwanda — and strikingly lower than even Brazil. Specifically compared to Western democracies, U.S. elections scored the lowest, slightly worse than the U.K., while Denmark and Finland topped the list.

Clearly, for our democracy to thrive we need to change our systems of voting. Democracy should not be defined by allowing only those who are capable of figuring out how to get through a complicated system to vote. It should instead be defined as allowing the entire eligible population to vote and have a say in their government.

In order to increase voter participation and revive our dying democracy we need to Federalize all voting laws and make them apply evenly to every single state and to every citizen of voting age.  They should include simple methods of automatic voter registration, removal all voting restrictions and ID requirements, regulation and standardization of methods adjusting rolls when voters move or when they die, establishing a convenient common voting day, standardizing reliable and robust voting machines impervious to hacking, requiring a paper trail for voting, universalizing early voting and voting by mail. 

The removal of cynicism concerning voting and forcing our government to be responsive to the people who put them in office will require another, more difficult set of conditions – public financing of elections, total removal of private and corporate money from politics, limiting time for campaigning, limiting the use of media and making gerrymandering illegal so that every vote counts. It’s likely that we will need to drastically change the Supreme Court to accomplish this or pass a Constitutional amendment. Whether we have the will and the means to do either remains to be seen.

Justice and Accountability 

All of us, well most of us at least, have a strong sense of justice. Those who do wrong, who violate the law or commonly accepted norms must be held accountable and punished. When we see criminals unpunished and thieves enjoying their ill gotten gains and never brought to justice, we feel very frustrated. We manifest anxious anger and indignation at these outrages and our powerlessness to correct them and feel that society has let us down. Where is the law? Where are the police? Where are the courts? Why is there no justice? Where is this “rule of law” that is supposed to be fundamental to our society?

Conversely, we get a great deal of satisfaction when we see those who have violated the law brought to justice. We feel that the rule of law is still being applied and that we still live in a just society where there are laws, rules and norms that are still being taken seriously, applied and heeded. Once while driving on Arizona 377 approaching the town of Heber in a no passing zone, a huge black BMW sedan passed me at a very high rate of speed, seriously endangering my life. After collecting and calming myself, and muttering something about where are the cops when you need them, you can imagine my feeling of intense satisfaction when a couple of miles ahead, I came upon the flashing blue and red lights of an Arizona State Police cruiser pulled up behind that same black sedan. That reckless and dangerous driver will likely pay a hefty fine. Wow, there is justice, after all. 

But in spite of these occasional incidents that satisfy us and remind us that there are some laws that are being fairly applied and that there is some justice, we are daily reminded of significant injustices and violations of the law that go unpunished. The feeling of injustice leaves us wanting, creates of feelings of frustration and helplessness and feelings of distrust of those institutions in our society that are supposed to provide justice by arresting the bad guys who have bilked us, trying them and tossing them into prison so that they pay their debt to society.

Right now, taxpayers in states where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest – states like New Hampshire, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have been asked to pass legislation to fund programs to counter this epidemic. In fact there is now a Federal bill that will soon ask all of us to pay. The pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession that have manufactured, distributed and prescribed these dangerous and additive pain medications have raked in millions of dollars. So why are they not being asked to foot the bill for this terrible calamity. Why are taxpayers asked to pay for the ruinous greed and recklessness that have enriched a few? The facts are there – for example, over 22 million doses were shipped to one West Virginia town. Perdue Pharmaceuticals, the major manufacturer of opioids knew about he dangers yet continued to manufacture and market millions of these deadly pills.  But today I know of no efforts to prosecute this company or others or the medical profession for their glaring malfeasance.

And just consider the money that diabetes and heart disease has cost all of us as individuals and taxpayers. So much of this has been caused by our consumption of sugar. But big sugar has done a marvelous job of advertising over the years – “only 18 calories per teaspoon” (recently reduced to “16 calories” – why – have teaspoons shrunk?), “sugar for quick energy” and on and on. And the industry has packed “added sugar” into three fourths of all packaged food and has fought  against taxation of sugary drinks, a major cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So the sugar industry has profited mightily over the years from this irresponsibility. Yet it has never been asked to pay one penny toward  the serious health problems which its ubiquitous product has caused.

And what about Monsanto and Bayer poisoning on our soil and farms with their deadly chemicals. Cloaked as “increasing productivity”, “feeding the world” or other euphemisms, these corporations continue to persuade our farmers to inject dangerous chemicals into our soil and our food. The recent revelation of traces of glyphosate, Monsanto’s Roundup, the most heavily used herbicide in the world and a cash cow for the corporation, in Quaker Oats and Cheerios, has recently received attention in the press. This revelation has revived the old argument of whether glyphosate is a carcinogen. Whether it is or not, this terrible chemical should not be in our food. If not causing cancer, which perhaps indeed has not yet been proven, then what about other potential effects – like damage to the endocrine or nervous systems? When serious harm to human health from this chemical will surely be proven one day, who will pay – the people or Monsanto? You know the answer.

The meat industry, the very epitome of inefficient use of foods, continues to thrive as the domestic and foreign markets for beef, pork and chicken continue to grow. Yet the the poisoning of our groundwater and waterways by manure lakes from feedlots and other concentrations of industrial strength cultivation of animals continues to grow unabated. Perhaps the massive profits of these industries should pay for the proper disposal of this waste instead of taxpayers. After all, years ago the tobacco industry was held accountable for the health problems resulting from its use and was required to not only place warnings on its packages but to pay billions of dollars for anti-tobacco advertising and to combat lung cancer. Where are the similar rulings against industries that are a threat to health today?

Also consider the dreadful attack on human health that has occurred in Flint, Michigan when someone decided to save the state money by changing the main source for the city water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This dreadful chain of events has caused irreparable harm to the health of thousands of adults and children and has cost taxpayers close to a half billion dollars so far. But yet no one has been punished – not the Republican governor, not the city officials or anyone else. Where is the justice here, pray tell? Again, there is none, and taxpayers are left holding the bag for the unpunished crimes of a few.

What is going on in our country today? The savings and loan debacle of the 1980’s ended with over one thousand officials and owners going to jail for their part in the collapse. And in the early 2000’s the Department of Justice even set up a special unit to prosecute and punish the crooked executives responsible for energy trader corporation Enron’s abuse of privilege and power. Yet how many bankers and Wall Street executives have gone to prison for their part in the crash and near-depression of 2008, when $10.2 trillion in wealth disappeared, including $3.3 trillion in home equity causing thousands of people to lose their homes? That number is one – Kareem Serageldin, a senior trader at Credit Suisse, has served a 30-month sentence for inflating the value of mortgage bonds in his trading portfolio. No, instead of prosecution and prison, the executives and their banks and corporations got bailed out by us taxpayers. If the Justice Department prosecuted at all, mere fines were assessed. An example – in early 2014, just weeks after Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, settled out of court with the Justice Department, the bank’s board of directors gave him a 74 percent raise, bringing his salary to $20 million.

Another issue – why have reckless banks and corporations who have broken the law in myriad other instances never been punished with anything more than just a “slap on the wrist” fine. Banks and corporations being fined for serious violations of the law has become so commonplace that they are actually budgeting for these serial transgressions – yes, actually establishing a budget line for fines imposed for illegal activity and violations of regulations. What about prosecuting the people who made these decisions and sending them to prison? Perhaps with personal risk instead of fines, these serial transgressions could be reduced.

And related to this, a series of recent pieces in the media relating to the machinations of Paul Manafort to hide income in overseas havens to avoid taxes on millions of dollars of ill-gotten gains, gives rise to consideration of how he got away with this kind of thievery for so long and how many others there might be who have done exactly the same thing but have not been caught. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell examined this issue passionately and eloquently in several of her recent columns and reminds us as well that prosecutions for white collar crime and tax evasion are at a three decade low. Yes, we have virtually stopped investigating and prosecuting these kinds of crimes so wealthy people are still getting away with tax avoidance, storing their wealth in overseas bank accounts and money laundering.  We prosecute people right and left for shoplifting or for driving without a license or for any number of other petty crimes. But the wealthy who park their millions in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes or who don’t report millions in income, are rarely brought to justice and the crimes go on and on. According to one study, every year the United States loses $400 billion in unpaid taxes, much of it hidden in offshore tax havens.

Another well known example of no justice – no one has yet paid any kind of penalty for the lies and fabrications that were used to justify the Iraq war that resulted in countless deaths and trillions of dollars in destruction. Again, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the liars and fools who perpetrated this war and sold it to the world and the American people, are now enjoying cushy retirements or life jobs on corporate boards. Many Germans did pay the penalty at Nuremberg for their crimes in prosecuting World War II, yet we have not lifted a finger to provide justice for the thousands of lives and the trillion dollars that the war in Iraq and the never ending war in Afghanistan have cost us.

And what about the terrible injustice of police brutality today? Black people get murdered right and left, and the perpetrators go free. Yes, no matter how blatant the act or how preponderant the evidence in police shootings, it seems that no one is ever punished with anything more than suspension with pay or banishment to a desk job. To mention but two of hundreds of incidents, although a wrongful death lawsuit was successful, no charges have ever been brought against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer murderer of Eric Garner, whom we witnessed on video being throttled to death. Our warped justice system has focused instead on the guy who took the video, Ramsey Orta, who has since suffered prosecution and conviction for petty drug crimes. And Panteleo himself recently got a $20,000 pay raise while consigned to desk duty and interestingly, some $13,000 of this killer cop’s income last year was from “unspecified sources”, maybe bonuses? And  similarly, even though a lawsuit by the family was successful, the officer who shot Philando Castile, whose life ended as the world watched him bleed to death on cell phone video, was acquitted of second degree murder charges brought against him. And the list goes on. Reckless shootings, blatant killings by those charged to “serve and protect” us. Yet these renegade cops are the ones being served and protected. Where is the justice?

And how about our international best friend and “only democracy in the Middle East”, renegade nation Israel, which continues to flout international laws and basic morals? The world stands by and watches the Israeli Occupation Forces conduct target practice on unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and does not lift a finger to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. Instead the world looked the other way and focused instead on the rescue of 13 soccer players from entrapment in a cave. Where were these people, all the media, all the reporters, all the stories, all the TV coverage, as 120 Palestinians were murdered and 3000 wounded, many in a horrid, life altering manner because of special expanding bullets. Where is the anger and indignation about these killings of unarmed innocent people, including medics, children and the elderly? Why hasn’t this renegade nation been brought to justice or punished by the UN or the ICC? At this writing the number of unarmed Palestinians demonstrating the Gaza border killed by Israel is 174 and more than 18,000 have been wounded. Yet the corporate media doesn’t cover these atrocities, no talking heads take notice and the world does nothing – where’s the justice?

And while I am shaking with anger and a horrible feeling of powerlessness about these injustices, how about the damage wrought in Israel’s “wars” with Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison? Israel destroys infrastructure, homes, offices, hospitals and schools in Gaza in 2009 and 2014 with arms provided by the United States taxpayers, yet contributes not one shred of this largesse for reconstruction. What little of this that has occurred has come about through contributions from the UN, EU and a little from Arab countries, but not from the US or Israel. Why? Where are the laws and enforcement that are supposed to regulate nations’ behavior and their dealings with one another? Israel throttles Gaza, rations electricity, chokes economic activity, severely limits fishing, import of building materials and who pays for the privation caused by Israel? The UN, the US and the EU.  And while these insults to morality and international law go on, the US supports it all with $11 million per day of taxpayer money for Israel. Where the hell is the justice here?

And finally, the feeling of powerlessness, of helplessness in the face of the injustice wrapped in  corporate media’s purposeful neglect of facts and the truth, continues to haunt me when I read ad nauseam of “attacks on our democracy” by Russia toying with our elections when far more egregious harm is done to our increasingly frail “democracy” by ourselves. It is we, not Russia, who are constantly suppressing the vote through gerrymandering, voter ID laws, the reduction of precincts, removing names from voter lists and so on. It is ourselves, not Russia, who have allowed money to distort the election process and who have allowed oligarchs like Charles Koch and Sheldon Adelson to call the shots in our elections. Our own United States Supreme Court has been complicit in doing grievous harm to American democracy by equating campaign donations with free speech, allowing floods of secret money to distort our elections, dialing back the Voting Rights Act which permits states once again to discriminate against black voters, allowing states to purge voter lists and refusing to rule against gerrymandering.

Certainly I could go on and on about injustice in the world – US support of Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen in which five million children face starvation and a cholera epidemic; our rigged economy which has stifled the middle class and enriched the one percent; the Republican party’s exacerbation of inequality through their “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”; our baseless demonization of Iran on behalf of AIPAC and Israel; our heartless and inhumane treatment of refugees at our borders who are fleeing for their very lives; rejection of the Paris Climate Accords consigning future generations to struggle with the far reaching results of an inexorably warming climate; a young Palestinian man beaten to death by Israeli soldiers in his own home while family members listened. There is no justice.

The tension and anger persist and tear at my insides, exacerbated by my own powerlessness to change anything. But what I have recorded above will have to do for now. I have at least given voice in print about how I feel in a world heavy with injustice but light on accountability. And so I guess that I have done what little I could.

 

6 November 2018

The Democrats will not take the House back this November, nor will they win enough seats to become a majority in the Senate. I make this prediction confidently but sadly, with the hope I will be wrong. By predicting losses, perhaps I will jinx the election and the Democrats will actually win. But no, I have seen my political party do some really stupid things over the years and this is simply another year of stupid. 

If ever there was a time to win, it seems to be now. This horrible president and his millionaire minions and base iconoclasts have made a mockery of government, of decorum and dignity, of preserving the environment and of foreign affairs. You name it, they have messed it up. And now just the tip of a huge iceberg of corruption has been revealed. This should be easy but I fear that the Democrats will again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Why? It’s pretty easy, actually. Look at the recent record – Democrats haven’t exactly set the world on fire over the last couple of presidential terms. The “Hope and Change” of Barack Obama was meaningless. Oh we dared hope, kind of a lazy, useless concept anyhow, but very little change followed. Mr. Obama continued to represent big money, not the working person. He made deadly wrong decisions after the crash of 2008, doing all he could to rescue banks and corporations but very little to rescue everyday people. Under his watch the Afghan war continued and Guantanamo remained open, unions continued to die, wages continued to stagnate or even to diminish, the rich got richer and inequality dramatically increased. Working people felt ignored and forgotten by this president, but they reminded us that they were still alive and cared when they voted for Trump in 2016. Yes, Obama had dignity and class and in contrast to who now occupies the White House, we’re so thankful for that. But a president’s style and eloquence do not make the mortgage payments or put food on the table.

And “Stronger Together” Hillary was another dud. She had no direction, no underlying reason for running save the “glass ceiling”, and to so many voters, was just a continuation of the Obama emptiness. Moreover, she would have been an extension of husband Bill’s financial and corporate chumminess, which helped speed the downfall of unions and the rise of corporate power.  Bill had wedded his party tightly to big money and Hillary followed suit. And most important, Hillary had no policy depth or breadth in her campaign and said absolutely nothing about strengthening unions, reining in big money and increasing taxes on corporations and billionaires. If the Democratic Party had allowed Bernie Sanders to be nominated, he would have become our president, not Trump, for he genuinely addressed the long neglected concerns of working families. 

And look who’s leading our Democratic Party in Congress – Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. My God, did you ever see such an uninspiring pair? From their shaky introduction of their lame Better Deal” program to their failure to address inequality issues and reshape their party in the formerly successful image of the American worker and farmer, they have been utter failures as leaders. These big money establishment Democrats have weakened the party, not strengthened it. 

And the DNC and DCCC still haven’t seen the light and are still trying to run middle of the road Democrats that are not that different from their opponents. The success in Democratic primary elections of honest, passionate and compassionate candidates like New York’s Alexandria Occasio-Cortez and Florida’s gubernatorial primary winner, Andrew Gillum, still fails to register with the Democratic establishment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is overjoyed to back Arizona’s moderate Kyrsten Sinema to take Jeff Flake’s Senate seat, but really she’s not so different from her Republican opponent, Martha McSally. Therefore, because the candidates are virtually indistinguishable except for the “D” or “R” after their names, Sinema, her dramatic personal story notwithstanding, will lose because Arizona is still very much an “R” state.  If Sinema had the political convictions of an Occasio-Cortez or a Gillum, to go along with her story, she would win.

Another reason that Republicans will win is that voting is still rigged in their favor. Since Trump was elected by narrow majorities in key states which tipped the infamous electoral college in his direction, has it become any easier to vote? No, many states continue to be hopelessly gerrymandered, which our Supreme Court has refused ruling upon, while upholding efforts to restrict the Voting Rights Act and to purge voter rolls of people who have chosen not to vote in recent elections. Some states continue to require picture ID’s while others have cancelled early voting or same day registration. Others have outmoded voting machinery in place that is vulnerable to hacking or other abuse. None of this bodes well for Democrats because the voter groups affected by these repression efforts are those that lean Democratic – black, Hispanic, immigrants and the poor.

Ah, and then there is the simple but crucial issue of money. In short, the Republicans have the billionaires and the Democrats do not. Democratic candidates who have famously relied on individual donations rather than corporate super PAC money will soon drain the well. If I am any kind of example, I am completely tapped out and can no longer respond to the literally hundreds of email solicitations from many Democratic candidates which have cluttered and clogged my inbox. Citizens like me, barely clinging to middle class status, simply do not have the money to continue contributing to candidates, no matter how worthy. 

But the billionaires whose last minute infusion of millions of dollars put Trump narrowly over the top in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, awarding him the electoral vote, have plenty of money and are still hard at work. Don’t think for a minute that the recent kerfuffle between the Koch network and the Trump administration will reduce the flood of money being poured into the Republican side of these midterm elections. The stream has not been reduced one single bit, but has instead increased. The Koch network pledged 400 million dollars for the midterms. That’s not changed and has been augmented by other billionaires not now in the Koch mix. 

And guess what – the Republican tax cut for the rich and for corporations will considerably increase the dollars contributed to support Republican candidates. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC closely aligned with Paul Ryan, is flush with contributions. Sheldon Adelson, whose company reported a nearly $700 million windfall from the tax law, has contributed $30 million; Timothy Mellon of Pan Am Systems, another Republican tax cut beneficiary, has tossed in $24 million, and the list goes on. Dark money spending has more than doubled over the same period during the 2014 midterms and is responsible for roughly two thirds of pro-Republican television ads. Conservative leaning groups, including the Koch supported advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity and Concerned Veterans for America, account for four out of the five biggest secret-money advertisers. Democratic candidates simply cannot match this kind of money and the result will be more Republican wins and Democratic losses.

Another reason that the Republicans will retain their majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate is that the Trump economy, whether he is responsible for it or not, is doing very well. Remember the old campaign quote, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Like it or not, the economy has always been the most important factor in election years. When things are relatively good, which they are now, voters are more complacent and do not feel the urgency to vote. And now, with unemployment at a decades low and with workers still failing to realize that the Republican tax cut was not really for them but for corporations and the wealthy, people will simply not bother to vote. There is little reason, Trump’s character, corruption and chaos notwithstanding, for people to come out in droves and vote to change anything. This midyear election will remain typical, with less than half of qualified voters participating, as usual. And this spells doom for the Democrats, who cannot win without markedly increased voter involvement.

And while there is no economic urgency to drive Democratic voters to the polls in November of 2018, there is considerable urgency of another kind for Republicans. A Democratic House will have subpoena power. Trump’s tax returns will be opened for all of us to see. Our president will be revealed as the corrupt crook he is and we can finally see why he is so enamored of Russia. A recent revelation by AXIOS of a spreadsheet being circulated among Congressional Republicans which lists potential investigations should Democrats take the house, will galvanize Republican donors to increase their contributions and congressional Republicans to redouble their efforts to retain their seats. When you’re cornered or your back is to the wall, you fight more fiercely. The threat of these disclosures will result in more Republicans coming to the polls in November, not more Democrats.

And finally, Democrats will not take back the House this fall because of the powerful voices of the pro Trump media. First, the network that has truly become “state television”, Fox News, now augmented by Salem Radio and Sinclair Broadcasting, will continue to back Trump and the Republican Party to the hilt, no matter what. And these voices completely drown out the less strident corporate opposition voice of MSNBC and the middle of the road noise from CNN and the other networks. And nobody much watches the most honest and factual news program on television – Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now”.

And one final comment. For those Democrats who think that the recent revelations of more Trump associated corruption will sway voters, think again. The more bad stuff that is revealed, the more the Republican Party closes ranks around Trump and his approved candidates. So the president is not only a corrupt liar but also an “unindicted co-conspirator”? Well, we voters still have jobs, our 401K’s are doing great, we still have our iPhones, get any news we want from Facebook and can still go out and have fun, so who cares?

Traditionally the party out of power has always done well in the midterm elections. But like everything else in Washington, this time it will be different. And again, concerning everything I have written above, I fervently hope that I’m wrong.

Flying

Air travel is fairly common for me now at this point in my life. It has become routine and despite the delay and humiliation regularly dished out by the “Transportation Security Administration” (more about that later) it is quite convenient. In addition, air travel has steadily become cheaper as airlines have become deregulated. But on the minus side, the cramped seats, my usual proximity to a crying baby or a blabbermouth adult who insists on carrying on a one sided conversation about himself and his exploits in life, can make air travel miserable. For these occasions I usually carry earplugs which, when inserted do not shut out all the noise but do significantly suppress the roar of the engines and the ambient noise around me. And while they do not entirely shut out the blabbermouth and the crying baby, their insertion is a pretty clear sign to others that I don’t want to participate or listen. I just want to be left alone with the newspaper or the book that I’m reading.

I must reluctantly admit that I had never been in an airplane until my early thirties, when I flew in an airliner chartered by the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association taking participants from Massachusetts and adjacent states to the National Association of Elementary School Principals convention in Anaheim, California. On this trip I was chagrinned to realize how much flying experience other participants seemed to have that I did not. As if the breathtaking acceleration and take-off right over the threatening waves of Boston harbor weren’t alarming enough for a first-time flyer, I have to confess that I was startled and fearful when I saw the wings flexing as the plane took off. Honestly I guess I thought that a plane’s wings were fixed and totally rigid. I interpreted the flexing as a sign of airframe weakness and feared that these bending wings were about to snap.

Logan Airport

This memorable first flight also featured, courtesy of the Association, an open bar for most of the flight, which most of us enjoyed, particularly the group of principals from Maine, who apparently had not been out of the woods in years and imbibed rather recklessly. I didn’t drink that much but apparently enough to help me embarrass myself toward the end of the flight when flying over the Grand Canyon. As we did so, the pilot invited us over the intercom to take a look at the Canyon out of the left side of the plane, but when everyone left their seats on the right and dashed to the left side to lean over those seated and gape out of the windows, I yelled out in a panic, “No, no, don’t, it’s going to tip!” Everyone looked at me in astonishment and shook their heads sadly. Evidently I visualized that plane as a boat – if everyone went to one side, it would indeed tip. I definitely did not realize that the wings held up the fuselage in the middle quite reliably, regardless of how weight was distributed within it. Anyhow, I took considerable ribbing from my colleagues for the rest of the trip and on the return flight as well.

grand canyon from plane

 

Thankfully with more flying experience over the years I did not embarrass myself like that again. Certainly the greatest amount of experience was accumulated when we moved overseas to work for the American School of Kuwait for four years and then later spending several years in Izmir, Turkey. Then flying became very common, even habitual. The management of the American School of Kuwait obtained bids from different international airlines for the transportation of its newly recruited teachers from their country of origin to Kuwait and to their homes and back in the summer. Thus, while in Kuwait we were able to sample Alitalia one year, then Lufthansa and also Air France. All were good and offered the opportunity of pausing for a few days or a week in one of their hub cities. Thus we were able to enjoy Rome for a week or so on the way back to the US on Alitalia, Paris another time while traveling on Air France, and Frankfort and nearby Heidelberg while on Lufthansa. Later while in Turkey traveling on Lufthansa became the standard because of its convenient service between Izmir and Munich and then on to the US.

Of all these airlines, Lufthansa became my favorite. Lufthansa aircraft appeared spotlessly clean and very well maintained. The meals were delicious and bountiful and you could enhance them with liberal glasses of delicious German wine. One of the best memories for me of all those trips on Lufthansa was the welcome sight of a comely flight attendant strolling up and down the aisle offering refills from a bottle of white wine in her left hand and a bottle of red in her right. And as alluded to a few lines above, while there may have been a trace of doubt about the mechanical reliability of a plane maintained in Italy, France or some other country, there was never any doubt about the reliability of a plane maintained in Germany. Many years later, when our air travel became much less frequent, we used the considerable Lufthansa miles accumulated when flying back and forth from Kuwait and Turkey, when we flew to Italy to enjoy Venice and Florence and when we traveled to Jordan to visit our son Conrad when he was serving in the Peace Corps. And again on both trips – after a delicious meal there was the attractive flight attendant perfectly balanced by the bottles of white and red in either hand offering to refill your glass. We finally polished off the last of the miles with a very enjoyable two week visit to Kauai, Hawaii flying on United Airlines.

Lufthansa

But I have had some pretty unnerving experiences flying as well. While overseas on our way to a teachers meeting somewhere we flew in what was perhaps the worst airplane we had ever experienced – a vintage Jordanian Airlines two engined jet, maybe a Boeing 737, that was in awfully poor condition. The stained and ripped seats, torn curtains, and loose, rattling plastic trim, did not inspire any kind of confidence. But this dilapidated plane thankfully must have been mechanically sound because it landed us safely in Amman without incident, provoking a collective sigh of relief and providing an opportunity for our armpits and palms dry off a little.

Another stressful experience occurred right before we left Kuwait. when we finally responded to an ongoing invitation from one of our wealthy Indian parents to travel to acquaint ourselves with her country by staying in her “farmhouse” near Delhi and touring nearby cities. We finally planned to do this immediately prior to our final departure from Kuwait, planning a one week stay in what turned out to be a huge country mansion with a swimming pool, not a “farmhouse”. Well after our tours of the cities of India’s “golden triangle” – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and focusing on our return we were harshly reminded of a sacred rule in overseas air travel – “confirming” return flights. Even if you had a bona fine reservation and the flight was paid for, passengers still had to call and confirm the flight or else there was the possibility of losing the reservation entirely. Well, while we knew this, we didn’t always remember. Our driver, who worked for the lady who owned the home at which we stayed, delivered us to the airport just fine, laden with our suitcases packed with mementos and spices from our tours and when trying to check in we found that our reservations had simply disappeared. I had forgotten to confirm the return flights. Shaking with anxiety, heart pounding and shirt drenched with nervous perspiration, I presented out tickets and pled our case with several agents and was finally able to obtain seats on a return flight that delivered us to Kuwait in plenty of time for our flight to the US the next evening. I never did and still don’t understand why and how reservations could be cancelled even though tickets were bought and paid for. 

But wait, that’s not all – the story and the stress continue. We had our tickets back to the US on BOAC, the airline with whom our school had contracted that summer, waiting for us at home with our packed and waiting suitcases. However, on the morning of the evening we were scheduled to leave we found that BOAC did not transport animals and we had three cats that we were taking back to Arizona, including our treasured Birman, “Monet”. So quickly we found seats on Lufthansa which did still carry animals in the cargo hold, but Lufthansa would not transport animals on flights terminating in Phoenix because of the heat. However, they could still be shipped to Los Angeles. So we changed the tickets to a Los Angeles destination where we all disembarked and collected our luggage and the cat cages. I booked a flight to Phoenix for later in the day for Conrad, Bobbie’s mother and me and the bulk of the luggage. We then called Liza, Bobbie’s daughter who was then living in Los Angeles for some help so Liza picked up her mother and the animals and drove them to Phoenix to meet with the rest of us. 

The most frightening airport I have ever experienced is Tribhuyan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, in which we landed and took off twice, first on the international flight originating in Kuwait and second, on a local flight for a special trekking experience in Pokhara, Nepal. The airport in Kathmandu is of course in the same valley as the city, deep enough so that the plane had to make a rapid and steep descent from over the mountains surrounding the valley down to properly “catch” the runway at a point sufficient to allow a safe distance to slow and stop the plane. And when taking off, the plane had to accelerate very dramatically in order to gain altitude adequate  to clear those same high mountains. It was almost like the plane had to nose dive down after clearing the mountains in order to land and had to almost “blast off” to clear the mountains upon takeoff. 

Another concern relating to the final takeoff when we left Nepal is that our suitcases were absolutely bulging with gifts and mementos we had bought in this fantastic city and were considerably overweight. So for the first time in my life (and happily the last) I risked actually bribing an airport official to allow us to take them on. Yes, for a twenty dollar bill, the guy routinely tagged them and put them on the conveyor, no more questions asked or concerns expressed. However, the extra heft of our overweight bags in the hold made me even more nervous about the takeoff. What if our illegally heavy bags caused the plane to be just over the weight limit required to clear the mountains? Well, thank God, the plane took off just fine, accelerated at that terribly steep angle and successfully got us out of the valley and back home to Kuwait. 

After all that flying during my overseas career, interestingly the worst flying experience of my life was just last summer when traveling from Vermont to Phoenix for an important dental appointment. I had boarded a Southwest flight in the morning which was to go from Albany, New York to Chicago and then to Phoenix. Shortly after takeoff the pilot informed us that Midway Airport in Chicago was fogged in so the plane would land in Cleveland until the fog cleared. At the time, I did not realize it but the pilot should have also said …”or until passengers can be rerouted”. So after disembarking the plane I waited with my fellow passengers for some word as to what was next. When the fog cleared, were we supposed to re-board the flight and get on our way to Chicago? Of course there was the real concern then that even if this were to eventually take place, would we get to Chicago in time to catch our connecting flights, including my flight to Phoenix. So I milled about nervously with other passengers from Albany and waited. 

southwest airlines

But in the meantime, unknown to me, some passengers were actively seeking other alternatives to reach their final destinations. Eventually the announcement was made that my flight to Chicago was cancelled. Other flights to Chicago were full and while nervously exploring what else I could do, I found out that the flight from Chicago to Phoenix for which I was booked had already left. By then I was really concerned and wondered why Southwest was not more active in taking care of its passengers. Even if I successfully found an empty seat and rebooked for Phoenix via Los Angeles, Denver or Albuquerque, it didn’t look like I was going to get to Phoenix until the next day, too late for my appointment. Suddenly I recognized a family which had been seated near me on the flight from Albany, also bound for Phoenix as I was, in line for a flight to Tucson so quickly I had a Southwest agent change my final destination from Phoenix to Tucson and successfully boarded that flight. I reminded myself that Southwest also maintained a schedule of shuttle flights between Tucson and Phoenix so I reasoned that it shouldn’t be too tough to grab one of these and easily get to Phoenix. 

However,  upon arriving in Tucson with just my backpack (I had no idea where my suitcase was at that point), I discovered that it wasn’t Southwest that maintained the shuttle flights but American Airlines. Finally finding my way to American’s counters I was told that several of those hourly flights were cancelled and to get on the remaining early evening flight would cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $300. Heck, I’m not doing that, it was more than the entire Southwest flight had cost, so what should I do? OK, I’ll rent a car and drive to Phoenix. Accordingly I rented the least expensive car I could find that could be taken one way to Phoenix, picked up the car and got on Interstate 10 from Tucson to Phoenix. Arriving in Phoenix two hours later, I first had to find a gas station to bring the car’s fuel gauge back up, then find the airport rental car facility which is now located several miles from the airport itself, return the car and catch the shuttle bus from the car rental facility to Terminal Four in Sky Harbor Airport where Southwest was located. The first thing I did upon arriving was to check with unclaimed baggage at Southwest – no Ralph Friedly bag. After inquiring, I was told that it would likely be on the next flight from Chicago, to arrive in an hour or so. So I waited for that next flight from Chicago and yes, there was my bag on the conveyer belt. Finally, suitcase in hand I showed up at the SuperShuttle desk for my ride home and was delivered to my house at around 9:00 PM, actually midnight on my body clock since I had gained three hours with the time change. I had originally been scheduled to arrive in Phoenix early in the afternoon after about seven hours of flying, airport wait time and the time change. Instead, it had taken about eighteen hours. But I had a good night’s sleep and was on time for my dentist appointment. 

Looking back on this experience, the stress of which probably shortened by life by a couple of years, I still don’t really know what I should have done and despite my extensive air travel experience, was obviously quite naive about these kinds of contingencies. The only thing I can think of is that I should have been far more assertive with Southwest and insisted that they take care of me. But ever since, when flying on Southwest between Albany and Phoenix, I have been careful to avoid Chicago.

A critical aspect in flying today is dealing with airport security, the beloved TSA. Rightfully instituted after the dreadful incidents of 9/11 and thankfully as a Federal agency and not a private one, as demanded by numerous congressmen and their lobbyists, I still have a considerable apprehension and dread when boarding airplanes. First, I heartily agree with the comedian who joked that TSA recruits were people who were likely ridiculed or beaten up while in high school because they wield their considerable power with such vengeful abandon, seeming to sadistically maximize and apparently enjoy the inconvenience and embarrassment they cause passengers.

tsa_airport_screening_checkpoint_passengers_lax-100722517-large 

There have been times when, after scanning my identification, I am whisked through security, but mysteriously there are other times when I have been subjected to absolute maximum scrutiny. On a recent trip from Philadelphia to Phoenix, my spouse was rushed right through, no lines, no shoe removal, bingo, she was approved for flight. But there I was, confined to the interminable lines where I had to remove my shoes (thank you, Richard Reid) and the lady in front of me her sandals (hey, TSA guy in the blue shirt – what on earth could she be hiding in those thin flimsy sandals?). And of course I had to take my laptop out of its case and put it in a plastic box separate from the shoes. But I was loudly reprimanded when I attempted to put my cell phone in the same box and was also loudly reprimanded when I failed to empty all my pockets, even the shirt pocket containing nothing more than a couple of 3 x 5 cards, and was loudly reminded to place those meager items in yet another separate box. On top of that I was placed in the body scanning booth and asked to lift my arms up while I was electronically scanned from head to toe. And if that wasn’t enough, I was subjected to the ultimate indignity – a groping by a blue shirted, rubber gloved TSA teenager just in case I was hiding a knife, gun or explosives in a remote body recess that had escaped detection by the body scanner. I was totally mystified, to have gone from what looked like routine pre-approval to being treated like a bonafide terrorism suspect. Can it be that I’ve been marked by the TSA because of some of my incendiary unpatriotic blog entries? My God, I’ll have to tone them down a bit I guess. But I suppose I should be thankful for the TSA. They do a good job keeping us safe and exhibit considerable patience when dealing with disgruntled, disagreeable passengers like me.

I have to say that, while airlines today do have their problems, all considered, you can’t beat the speed and convenience of air travel. I am getting fed up with these boring and stressful automobile trips between Arizona and Vermont to which we are limited because of my spouse’s canine friend that must accompany us. Yes, listening to recorded books on the trips makes them somewhat more bearable but still they are a huge drain on my increasingly limited energy and time. And the trips seem to get more expensive each time we travel, and the motels at which we stay get more expensive as well, not to mention less hospitable.

So I am looking diligently for a reliable used car small enough to fit in our substandard garage space here in Vermont, and assuming that our canine friend will not be with us forever, someday we will definitely be flying back and forth between these two beloved homes, in spite of potential TSA abuse and weather or scheduling contingencies. At least these trips will be quick.