About That New American Moment

SOTU2018

I hadn’t planned on watching the State of the Union. You know – don’t feed the troll.

Alas, I sat in a conference room at WGRZ Tuesday night with Maryalice Demler and Republican strategist Andrea Bozek to watch it. At least in this context I had no choice but to pay close attention to it, and followed along with its prepared text.

I quipped before it began that politics in this country have become exhausting. Partisanship – even as deep as it is now – is neither unhealthy nor unprecedented, so that doesn’t bother me. What I mean is that every calendar day is packed with literally a month’s worth of scandal and breaking news. Every day brings with it limitless shitshow additur that it’s no wonder people are retreating to binges of Netflix and booze. I simply can’t keep up. I don’t even have it in me to give an example from Tuesday about the executive refusal to carry out duly enacted Russia sanctions, or the list of oligarchs – cribbed from Forbes – that the Trump administration used as its list of sanctioned Russians, or the brazenly partisan hackery of the memo regarding FISA warrants targeting wannabe Russian spy Carter Page that Rep. Devin Nunes – who had supposedly recused himself from all things Russia – is pushing like a bottle of Oxycontin in a back alley. 

So, I watched. This man who commenced his campaign to be the leader of the free world by declaring undocumented Mexican immigrants to be rapists and murderers, who has taken to Twitter to pick fights almost exclusively with people of color, who makes up schoolyard nicknames for people he doesn’t like, who can dish it out but whose skin is as thin as tracing paper – this man now pleads for national unity. 

Yes, Donald Trump, of all people, spent a few minutes on Tuesday calling for national unity; just before he exploited families’ grief to insinuate that undocumented unaccompanied minor immigrants are all members of a gang, or that the only gang violence in the US comes from immigrants; or that terrorism in the US is immigrant-driven; or that family reunification – Trump prefers the white nationalist term “chain migration” – has led to violence against Americans; or that MS-13 is somehow an existential threat to the United States. 

While he agitates for $25 billion in taxpayer money for a wall that he said Mexico would pay for, he says in his State of the Union that when “there is a frontier, we cross it.” How droll. 

Listen, just because Donald Trump didn’t pause in the middle of his State of the Union to pull his pants down, squat, and do a shit onto the Rostrum doesn’t make any of this Presidential. 

All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.

That’s what he said – he wanted to talk about Americans’ shared future; yet within minutes, he was back to dividing us – by race, as it relates to kneeling protests during the National Anthem; by religion and sexual orientation and gender identity, as he touted his moves to enable Christianists to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans; by immigration status, as he continually talked not of “Americans”, but more specifically of “citizens”, as if Green Card holders and refugees don’t count; and by using grieving families to illustrate how immigration is a scourge that kills innocent children, and must be severely restricted. 

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed.  My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.  Because Americans are dreamers too.

The converse is true, as well; Dreamers are Americans, too. 

As Trump went through the “four pillars” of his immigration reform proposal, one thing stood out – the most effective deterrent against immigration of any kind – legal and illegal, checked or unchecked – is Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Chain migration” hurts no one; has hurt no one. The visa diversity lottery was put in place under the first President Bush to attract people from countries whose citizens had been under-represented in previous years’ immigration trends. Trump suggested that this was just a blind hand-out of immigration visas, as if these people didn’t go through the same background checks and vetting as any other visitor or potential immigrant. I’d be much more amendable to a switch to a Canadian-style merit-based system if Trump would stop lying and making stuff up about the current system. 

As he cheered the abolition of the health insurance mandate, Trump called for drug prices to come under government control because of unchecked gouging. Hey, if other countries can do it – so can we. The difference, of course, is that every other country also offers its citizens a guarantee of comprehensive health insurance as a human right. We don’t; Americans think the people’s right to go into medical debt or bankruptcy is more important than a right to not have to worry about how one would pay for reasonable and necessary treatment.

What’s the point of less expensive medication if you have no health coverage and/or can’t afford to see a doctor to prescribe them? 

Trump wants to let people take experimental treatments for illnesses – sounds good. He spoke of trade deals and how he’d make them more fair, as if they hadn’t already been carefully negotiated in the past to benefit all signatories; as if trade deals were a handout of some sort. He touted a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan; great! Our infrastructure is decidedly outmoded and poor. 

But Donald Trump can’t spend 364 days and 22 hours of every year being a divisive shit, and then suddenly expect or receive plaudits for a contrived message of unity one night in January. 

Tuesday night, after we watched the State of the Union, Maryalice Demler wanted to get a sort of local perspective on Trump’s speech. I honed in on immigration – it’s a topic that has intense, personal meaning for me, and one that this President has used to divide us since literally day one of his Presidential journey. I like the idea of a path for citizenship for Dreamers, but I don’t quite get the 12-year wait; we’re not Switzerland. I heard absolutely nothing about refugees or whether – or how – we might accept immigrants who aren’t, for instance, chemical engineers or computer scientists. Think about how much Buffalo and western New York have benefited economically and culturally from recent immigrants and refugees from places like Burma and Somalia. These new Americans are no different from your ancestors who came from the shitholes of yesteryear like Ireland or Germany or Italy. They come to this country because “American” isn’t a homogeneous ethnicity – it is a hodgepodge of people from all places, all religions, all backgrounds – all here, together, to make a better life for themselves and each other. 

Here’s the piece they did: 

Great Again

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You now live in a country where a high school shooting spree that left two 15 year-olds dead and almost 20 others injured barely registers a blip in the news

Every mass shooting – every school shooting – should be a massive scandal. Every one should be an emergency of grand societal and legal proportions. In any other industrialized first-world country, it would be. In ours, it’s just Tuesday. 

Unless the perpetrator is ethnic in any way, in which case there needs to be a wall, a ban on immigration, or it’s an opportunity for the Kek-Trump cult to use the incident as proof of white male “Christian” supremacy. 

“Lügenpresse” is Going to Get Someone Killed

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Lügenpresse – lying press – “fake news” – is a distinctly German slur that the Nazis used to slam the Jewish, foreign, and opposition press. It’s a handy way to demonize any media that don’t follow the party line. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the mantras of the Trump Cult is “fake news”. Representative Chris Collins (NY-27), the Ti to Trump’s Do; the Krupskaya to Trump’s Lenin – started out an “interview” on WBEN Monday morning by referring to the “Buffalo ‘Fake News'”, most likely because of this article which helps cement the fact that Collins is a shit

CNN is not fake news. Neither are the Buffalo News or the New York Times or the Washington Post. Anyone suggesting that they are is a propagandist; lying, wrong, and advancing some right-wing agenda. When Trump especially calls media outlets “fake news”, he is all but signing someone’s death sentence. It is unprecedented and un-American for a President to promote one media outlet – Fox News – and accuse others of being “fake”. Someone’s going to die

In an arrest affidavit released Monday, FBI agent Sean Callaghan wrote that Griesemer “made approximately 22 total calls to CNN” between Jan. 9 and Jan. 10. Four of the calls resulted in threats. In the last message, the caller made disparaging remarks about Jewish individuals, before stating: “You are going down. I have a gun and I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f — king gun every single last one of you. I have a team of people. It’s going to be great, man . . . You gotta get prepared for this one, buddy.”

I have no doubt that Trump’s appeal to the very worst in Americans – greed, hatred, selfishness, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, bigotry, the dismantling of democratic norms – will be a temporary aberration that will someday serve as a warning and reminder that it can happen here

This is the same crowd that read some emails and decided that John Podesta and Hillary Clinton were running a pedophilic sex ring out of the non-existent basement of a DC-area pizza parlor. Naturally, a guy showed up there with a gun to shoot the place up. The idiots who instigated that attack and promoted those lies have only grown in stature within the “alt-right” axis. 

No matter what, 30% of the electorate will support this petty would-be dictator no matter what he does. As he famously quipped, he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue – or pay six figures in hush money to a porn star to dummy up about their liaison in the days before an election – and not lose their support. Some people don’t want a functioning government, they just want to be ruled. 

The News’ Patronage Trash Talk Misses the Mark

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Two former Erie County Legislators were given patronage jobs with the Erie County Board of Elections – Republican Ted Morton and Democrat Betty Jean Grant. In an editorial, the Buffalo News is quite upset about this, offering up the headline, “Lose an election? No worries!”

This time, the beneficiaries are a couple of former politicians, one who just lost his seat in the last election and another who sacrificed hers in an attempt to secure the top job at City Hall.

Thanks to the party higher-ups who provide taxpayer-paid safety nets, both have landed jobs at the Erie County Board of Elections.

This is wrong.

I don’t see anything in the editorial, however, that tends to prove that assertion. The board recounts how Ted Morton was sanctioned by FINRA, his former industry’s governing body, for improperly borrowing client money. That was known when he first ran for the legislature, and didn’t prevent him from being elected, so I can’t fathom why it would disqualify him from a $40,000 per year job pushing papers at the BOE. But at least with Morton, the News had some sort of malfeasance at which to point; Morton’s ethics are questionable, at best. 

What about Betty Jean Grant? 

There is no similar accusation that she acted improperly or unethically. By all accounts, she valiantly and competently served her constituents throughout her public career. What did she do wrong? Well, she was two years short from the 20 years in the system she needed for her state pension fully to vest. So, this BOE job helps her stay in so she can retire comfortably. 

I think every American should have the right to retire comfortably. Good for Betty Jean. 

In September, Betty Jean lost a quixotic primary bid to unseat Mayor Byron Brown. Had she not undertaken that effort or retired from the legislature, she would have easily sailed to a re-election victory. Instead, she’s got a job pushing papers at the BOE. 

I don’t know what necessarily qualifies or disqualifies Morton or Grant from serving on the BOE, except that they’re former elected officials who no longer find themselves in office. It looks like the News’ main complaint is that their respective party bosses got them the jobs. 

If a party boss can’t get a job for a failed or retired elected who served the people and the party well, what good is he? 

With Betty Jean Grant, the Buffalo News doesn’t even go through an exercise in suggesting why Betty Jean Grant shouldn’t be working at the BOE. It’s as if serving in the Legislature for over 10 years automatically disqualifies someone from such a job. How silly. 

Even more obnoxious, however, is this: 

None of this bothers either political party. If it isn’t the Board of Elections, then it is the Erie County Water Authority. The authority has long been a dumping ground for the unqualified and politically connected who collect fat salaries on the backs of ratepayers.

I know it’s about the water authority and not the Board of Elections, but “dumping ground”? $40,000 is a “fat salary”? To whom? You put trash in the dumping ground, and Betty Jean Grant is most certainly not trash. 

Patronage is a problem, sure, but placement of former electeds in jobs that already exist and are already budgeted-for doesn’t especially bother me, and this is not even in the top tier of problems that western New York’s political world faces. 

Get back to me when the Buffalo News’ editorial board attacks our inherently corrupt electoral fusion system, rather than heckling former elected officials earning $40,000 in a state job. 

Shithole President

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Nominal President Donald Trump reached around the empty Fiji water bottles and McDonald’s wrappers to lurch for his phone to send this Tweet: 

Sure, as usual, President Shithole has to blame the black guy. 

CNN calls Trump out for his shallow and easily debunked lying. 

The decision to move the embassy from Grosvenor Square to Nine Elms was made in 2008 under George W. Bush, not Obama.

Trump literally couldn’t get the most basic detail of his slur – the Presidential Administration that decided the embassy had to move. He also omits the reason – the old embassy in Grosvenor Square was in a dense residential neighborhood and the security needs for American outposts have changed dramatically since 1960. 

It would have been impossible to retrofit the aging concrete building with the security measures needed, officials said at the time.

Also? Wandsworth near the Vauxhall Bridge is not some “off location”. 

The neighbors didn’t like the security measures

Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, the embassy has caused controversy locally by installing blast walls in a wide perimeter around the building. Neighbors complained the walls were unsightly, and the walls caused the road in front of the building to be closed to traffic.

Finally, the US didn’t own the Grosvenor Square property in fee simple, but held a lease with the Duke of Westminster.

The Duke reportedly said he would only sell if the US government returned his family’s land, confiscated during the American War of Independence.

The US sold the remainder of its lease to the Qatari government for what is thought to be £500 million, or $681.5 million; not exactly “peanuts”. 

Donald Trump is the shithole President who was essentially asked not to come because Londoners would have come out in their thousands to protest His racist, white nationalist Accidency.

It Only Took Thirty-Four Years

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Happy New Year. 

Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

– George Orwell, 1984

 

The Obsolescence of Shame in the Age of Trump

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When Trump shoplifts the credit for worldwide airline safety, he disrespects the families of Flight 3407 – the most recent fatal crash in the US – who have worked tirelessly to lobby for stricter regulations.

He did nothing!!!” Justine Krasuski of Cheektowaga, who lost her husband, Jerry Krasuski, in the crash, said on Facebook in reaction to Trump’s tweet. “It’s us, the Flight 3407 Families that paved the way. Quite sad, to say the least.”

Indeed, some Republicans in Congress have recently been trying desperately to undo these hard-fought regulations as a gift to the industry and at the expense of consumer protection and passenger safety.

…it doesn’t surprise me one bit,” said [3407 family member Ron Aughtmon], who lost his uncle, John J. Fiore of Grand Island, in the crash. “He’s done absolutely nothing since coming into office to assist with airline safety, in fact he and his ‘party’ want to water down the standards that we have fought so hard for over the last 8 1/2 years.”

Unfortunately, the concept of “shame” is now obsolete.

Making America Great Again

Happy New Year, everybody! How are you feeling now that President Trump is golfing working feverishly to bring jobs back and lift up the economy after eight years of the Indo-Kenyan Muslim Communist?