Category Archives: Politics

Show Me Your Papers … Or Spend the Rest of Your Life in Hell

Hell in this case being, where else, a commercial airplane. The story, in case you missed it, is in the Washington Post: “Passengers sue government over immigration authorities’ demand they produce ID before leaving flight.” http://wapo.st/2gzQine The nine plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The government has now gone full-Nazi, a trend apparent since Donald Trump took office and began finding ways to strip Americans of their Constitutional rights. According to the story, way back in February two Customs and Border Protection agents blocked the jet way to an arriving aircraft and demanded identification documents from passengers trying to deplane. The crew had announced that showing government ID was required to deplane. Allegedly (presumption of innocence, or in this case truthfulness), passengers with the temerity to ask ‘why,’ were told it was “routine.” Ha! That’s a good one. Routine.

The routine is to be checked against various no-fly lists when you make a reservation and to be required to show ID at two stops en-route to the plane for its originating flight: once at the airline check-in counter and again at the TSA security checkpoint. If you skip the counter, because, say, you have no luggage and pre-printed your boarding pass, you still must show ID to pass security and board the plane. People who fly even somewhat regularly know this. The assertion that the pre-deplaning demand for ID was “routine” is pure … poppycock.

Not surprisingly, the Justice Department and CBP would not comment about the incident but said that the non-comment “should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.” Of course not. Everybody knows that when the Trump-led government refuses to admit something is true despite being witnessed by dozens of people, it’s …. Let’s move on.

According to the Post, the suit seeks to bar the government from demanding ID before deplaning without a warrant or some other individualized reason to ask. The government apparently acknowledged later that it was looking for an ”immigrant” who was subject to a deportation order to leave the United States. The flight in question was from San Francisco to New York JFK Airport. As reported, an official with the Department of Homeland Security said after the incident,

“When we’re asked by our law enforcement partners to assist in searching for a person of interest, we are able to, and will, help” …. “This isn’t a new policy or related to any new executive order.”

Of course, the target of all this activity was not actually on the flight.

To be clear, the CBP agents in question were doing the job that management had given them. They cannot be expected to say “hey, this is stupid. We can get the answer another way and without drama.” So, let’s stay focused on the real issue.

The incident raises the question: why couldn’t the federal government, using information already in its systems arising from the original clearance and boarding of the plan, have determined whether the target was on the plane? If the government was unable to do this, a serious concern about the integrity of the security process that controls who may board an aircraft is raised. Perhaps this will be explored during the litigation that has ensued from this ham-handed “intervention.”

Another question also intrigues me, but we’ll never know the answer:  what would have happened if one or more the passengers had said,

OK, I’m not subjecting myself to this process, that I believe violates my rights, so I’ll just return to my seat. I will stay on this plane until I am allowed to leave without having to re-establish my identity. I have enough food and water to hole up here for several days! Where are we flying next?

Would the federal agents have repeated the scene from the recent United flight in which a passenger refused to deplane and give his seat to an airline employee and was then violently dragged off the plane? Or, would they applied common sense and checked the computer records to see if the target was on the plane? Speculation is invited.

Trump Orders Three Dragons Sent to Puerto Rico

Faced with growing criticism about his ignoring the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, President Trump, according to sources in the White House, ordered three dragons sent to Puerto Rico to re-establish law and order and help with recovery efforts.

According to inside sources, speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to talk about the U.S. dragons, the President became enraged when informed that one of the dragons was out of commission and that the others were on break following some taxing fire-breathing in a battle that the Pentagon is denying ever happened. “Dammit to hell, this is what happens when you let the Dothraki into the military!” Trump was reported to have said. No one knew owning dragons could be so complicated. No one on the White House staff will even admit that the U.S. has dragons, probably fearful of tipping off North Korea.

Trump told one source that he was planning a personal visit to Puerto Rico to assess the damage, but that he couldn’t go until he completed his next golf round at Mar-a-Lago, scheduled for next Thursday. “Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price are flying down to play with me and it’s very important, believe me,” Trump said. “Each of the Cabinet members will be taking a separate private jet, for, you know, security reasons.”

Asked about his relationship with Price, Trump grumped, “Hell, I didn’t fire Jeff Sessions for lying to Congress and then refusing to cover me on the Comey thing, so why would I would fire my buddy Price over a little thing like a private airplane trip or two. Hell, I fly private all the time and look at me, I’m the damn president.” [see  BREAKING NEWS ITEM AT THE END]

When told that the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico were American citizens, Trump was incredulous. At last report the president was planning a weekend tweet-storm to distract attention from Puerto Rico. At press time the subject of the tweets was still undecided.

Unfortunately for Trump, and American taxpayers, a fourth member of the Trump Cabinet, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, was also implicated in the luxury travel scandal, which he called “a little BS.” Zinke was interviewed while bailing hay for three of the horses kept in his $500,000 private stable which is accessible by elevator directly from his office at the Interior Department. “Look, I bail my own hay so the government won’t have to pay for it.”

The president said he had tried to speak with Scott Pruitt about his use of luxury travel for government business but Pruitt was inside his private in-suite $25,000 soundproof booth and could not be reached by his staff or anyone else. No one knows who he has been talking to in there.

It is expected that the subject of dragons for Puerto Rico will be discussed at a high-level meeting at the Pentagon this weekend. Trump will miss the meeting but probably will get a briefing some time when it’s convenient. Meanwhile, he has assured everyone that things in Puerto Rico are coming along just great.

BREAKING NEWS:  Tom Price has resigned. Another of the president’s “men” is out. The exodus continues. Can Pruitt and Zinke survive under these circumstances? What about Mnuchin? What about Mnuchin’s wedding? What about Jared’s emails? What does Zinke’s horse know? Why does Pruitt need a battalion of Secret Service protection? Is he afraid of Trump? When will enough be enough?

How We Know Republicans are Wrong re Pre-Existing Conditions Protection

Oddly enough, in this time of special oddness, there is a debate going on, in Washington and on the internet, about whether comedian Jimmy Kimmel is right that the Graham-Cassidy health insurance legislation exposes people with pre-existing conditions to prohibitively high premiums and/or draconian reductions in coverage. Republicans are trying to argue that Kimmel is wrong to say that people with pre-existing conditions will be hurt by the Graham-Cassidy legislation. See http://cnn.it/2hmjP3l

Even more odd is the fact that the Republicans making this argument could, with some direct language in the legislation, remove any doubt about this question if they wanted to. But they don’t. Why? Because they want to leave it up to the states to decide, one by one, whether and how much to penalize people with pre-existing conditions. The end result would be a crazy quilt of differing state approaches that would add to public confusion about, and, I contend, the cost of health insurance almost everywhere.

Therefore, since the Republicans apparently will not take the obvious step to put this issue to rest, we, as rational thinkers and observers of the passing scene, must conclude that the Graham-Cassidy legislation does indeed pose grave (no pun intended; wait, actually, pun intended) risks to people with pre-existing conditions and all people economically connected to or dependent upon them. This is millions of people, probably tens of millions.

So, Republicans, until you develop the moral integrity to speak the truth about what you are trying to do to the American people, why don’t you just shut up about pre-existing conditions and, by your silence, admit that the reality of Graham-Cassidy is just what Jimmy Kimmel said it was. That’s step one.

Step two is for you to pack your bags and prepare to go home and explain to the people who elected you how Graham-Cassidy is going to make their lives better. And don’t even think about lying about it. Jimmy knows who you are and, with the rest of us, will be watching every move you make.

Step three, start looking for a new job, because you most likely will cease to be a U.S. Senator when the next election in your state is held. This is the well-deserved fate of politicians who act against the interests and values of their constituents. So it is written, so let it be done.

 

An Open Letter to Some Senators from Robert Frost

Warning: Naiveté will be on display here.

This “letter” is directed primarily at U.S. Senators McCain, Collins and Murkowski although there are a few others who should be paying close attention to the implications for their states, and their constituents, of the Graham-Cassidy legislation that would replace the Affordable Care Act with a temporary set of block grants and the individual discretion to limit covered services, including pre-existing conditions and many basic regular services now covered by the ACA.

For you three Senators in particular, you have arrived yet again at one of those moments when history is going to judge you. It will not judge you for all the other things you may have accomplished, or even for your other failures. No, history is going to judge you for the action you are preparing to take – to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on Graham-Cassidy.

Senator McCain, all of your well-known heroism and sacrifice will be dashed into dust if you vote to take away meaningful and affordable health insurance from the more than 32 million people now estimated to be impacted by Graham-Cassidy. You will be remembered instead for this one vote. Your choice – still hero or goat.

The same for the two female Senators from Maine and Alaska. You have come a long way, accomplished much for women in politics, served as an example of positive achievement for young women. I say that even though I disagree with much of your Republican politics. You too must face the judgment of history, and that of your constituents when they realize that you have, if you vote ‘yes,’ stripped them of the fair opportunity to secure health insurance for themselves and their children.

There is no escaping this crossroads for each of you. The President and the leadership of your party in Congress are so determined to remove the Affordable Care Act that they will sacrifice themselves and you as well on the ideological altar of state empowerment. Just look at the state-by-state consequences of Graham-Cassidy. Center for American Progress at http://ampr.gs/2fbzykY; Commonwealth Fund at http://bit.ly/2hhZpIE; The Atlantic at http://theatln.tc/2hjTsLw.

The Congressional Budget Office final score for Graham-Cassidy will likely not be ready by the time the vote, with no meaningful hearings or formal input process, occurs. Why the rush? It’s solely so that the Republicans can pass the bill with a bare majority of one under the “50 votes wins” rule that expires September 30. You thus can go along to get along, or you can do something else.

You are at the point of Robert Frost’s famous poem, the one that ends with

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Can you truthfully say that, in your considered judgment and based on your experience with state and federal government and after a careful evaluation of the impacts, that Graham-Cassidy is good for the American people, a substantial majority of who favor retention of an improved Affordable Care Act approach? Will you be able to explain your vote to the parents of a disabled child who is denied health care because the family can no longer afford the costs? Is it clear to you, beyond reasonable doubt, that Graham-Cassidy is the best way to address the health insurance problem that plagues this country and which many other civilized nations seem to have solved without draconian denials of medical care to their citizens?

Time is short. Why don’t you just bring this insane charade to a close right now, by telling the Congressional leadership and the President that “the answer is ‘NO,’ I will not lend my name, my reputation and my honor to this disgraceful legislation that will harm tens of millions of Americans”? Take the road less traveled. The only honorable thing to do.

Once More into the Breach, Dear Friends

Unchastened by multiple past failures of leadership and intellect, the Republicans in Congress have signaled their intention to bring one more piece of “repeal Obamacare” legislation to a vote before the month is out, so as to secure the benefit of a 50-votes-wins procedure. This time it’s the Graham-Cassidy version that would replace the Affordable Care Act with block grants to the states which would then be free, individually, to permit insurers to effectively price out of existence the coverage for pre-existing conditions that is now mandated by federal law. They will do this even without scoring of the impact by the Congressional Budget Office.

Thus, each state that chooses to support the Republican goal of undermining access to health insurance for Americans in order to secure some vague idea of “fiscal responsibility” and, more truthfully, to stamp out perceived federal support for such practices as abortion, can do whatever it wants with access to health insurance. This, notwithstanding that all polling shows a substantial majority of Americans favor key elements of Obamacare protections, including coverage for pre-existing conditions.

This effort is urged on the Republican Party by its putative leader, Donald Trump, who hates everything associated with Barack Obama and is determined to remove all vestiges of Obama’s presidency from the face of the earth. Trump thinks he can’t lose here because he promised his so-called political “base” that he would get rid of Obamacare. If he succeeds, and the base delusionally concludes it’s a victory for them, Trump is a hero. If Congress cannot deliver the bill to him for signature, Trump still sees himself as the winner because it is Congress’s failure, yet again, that has denied him fulfillment.

And nothing is more important to Trump than winning. So far, his presidency has failed in almost every significant initiative it has attempted, so Trump is desperate to accomplish something, anything, regardless of the consequences.

It is time, once again, for the people to rise up and reject this outrage by demanding in the clearest way possible that every member of the Republican Party in Congress vote against this monstrosity. Almost all of them will disrespect the will of the people, of course, because in the end they don’t give a damn about the people. But there are a few, literally only a few, Republicans who have previously shown the courage and humanity to stand apart from the rest of the drones.

Here we have Senators McCain (Arizona), Collins (Maine) and Murkowski (Alaska). It comes down to the same three people to demonstrate the moral fiber and independence of thought and action that history now demands of them. Senator Paul of Kentucky has already said he is opposed to the bill, but you can’t count on him to stay that course. He hates the Affordable Care Act almost as much as Trump does.

Everyone who cares about this should lay down a barrage of calls, emails, tweets and posts calling on those three to stand, once more, as the bulwark against the depravity of the Republican Party and its attempt to deny tens of millions of Americans any modicum of real access to health insurance.

Laughing at Jeff Sessions

AHAHAHAHAHAHA … there, I am laughing out loud, really LOUD, at Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the Attorney General of the United States. You know, the one with skin so thin you can see what passes for blood coursing through his arteries. You may recall that Capitol police arrested a woman during Sessions confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate for laughing at Sessions’ remark about, get this, treating all Americans equally under the law. That’s a good one. No surprise that the lady laughed out loud. The charges were thrown out due to faulty jury instructions but Sessions is determined to try the woman a second time.

Dana Milbank wrote a wonderful column about this in today’s Washington Post, entitled “Our laughable attorney general.”  http://wapo.st/2f3PrKL. So, here I go again… AHAHAHAHAHA, laughing out loud at the Attorney General. Come and get me, Jeff; I dare you. I’m laughing at you, Jeff. It’s okay if I call you Jeff, isn’t it? Your feelings won’t be hurt? I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, Jeff. You might have me arrested for assault on your feelings.

I recall that many years ago, Senator William Scott of Virginia called a press conference to deny a published report that he was the dumbest person in Congress. See http://wapo.st/2wGJTyO.

That was pretty funny. But I think Sessions is even funnier. He apparently intends to bring the full legal weight of the United States Government to bear on this woman until she is either convicted of a laughing offense or confesses her guilt of something that will make Sessions feel like a real man. “Wipe that smile off your face, lady, or I’ll wipe it off for you.” Sounds like a line from a 1950s B movie. “Nobody laughs at the Attorney General and gets away with it. Nobody.”

I am so glad the AG and the Justice Department have time and resources for this activity.

Of course, in one way Sessions has done everyone a favor. He has revealed why there is no humor in the Congress. Can you imagine what would happen if the decorum of the Senate were blemished by laughter every time something monumentally stupid was spoken on the Senate floor? They’d never get anything done. On the other hand, under the leadership ofMitch McConnell, the Senator from Kentucky, they seem to have managed to get nothing done without a single overt guffaw being heard. Maybe the Republican majority has managed to swallow those giggles like they have choked down their integrity and dignity. Just as with humor, no gagging is permitted in the Senate.

Footnote: For more potential parallels between former Senator Scott and current AG Sessions, see the Wikipedia piece on Scott. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_L._Scott. And your day cannot be complete without seeing the Scott quotes in the Chicago Tribune at http://trib.in/2xaMJgX. You just can’t make this stuff up.

 

Trump Makes It All Clear – He is a Traitor to American Values

I don’t know if I have anything important to say that has not already been said by the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of writers, commentators, pundits, Tweeters and others who are repelled by the overt alliance of the President of the United States with white supremacists and so-called alt-right neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, I must write about Charlottesville.

As background you may want to revisit my related post at https://shiningseausa.com/2017/05/09/visiting-holocaust-museum/

I am an old white man, the beneficiary of white privilege. A beneficiary of the reduced competition for jobs and other societal benefits by virtue of the systematic and relentless suppression of blacks and other minorities over the more-than-a-century since the end of the Civil War. I am the beneficiary of the sacrifices of millions of people, citizens, soldiers, doctors and many others who gave their time, their career opportunities, parts of their bodies and minds and, of course, their very lives to prevent the Nazis of 1930s-1940s Germany from dominating the world and destroying absolutely and finally what they believed were inferior cultures. If you reflect on this, you too should be aware of these “gifts” from past generations that have made your life of privilege possible.

These gifts were not intended to preserve America for white people alone, but to protect the country, and its culture, from destruction at the hands of a delusional lunatic who preyed on the fears of his countrymen to create a killing machine of unparalleled cruelty that still defines the phrase “crimes against humanity.” Despite that, it is also true that, at the time of World War II, the United States itself still practiced multiple forms of overt institutional and legally-reinforced racial discrimination. The country had not yet come to grips with its conflicted legacy of democratic values and abuse of non-whites. The post-War recovery, however, helped create conditions in which the discriminatory “rules” of Jim Crow were rejected and the American values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution began to take hold.

The process was not peaceful. If you recall the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision abolishing school segregation, many whites resisted violently the idea that minorities, primarily Blacks at that time, would be given opportunities equal to those they and their ancestors had enjoyed all their lives. Violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was powerful but gradually, over years, the progressive forces favoring equal opportunity were successful in inserting the founding principles of the country into legislation and court decisions.

Slowly, the American creed, reflected in pledges of allegiance and other rituals that I recall from my earliest school days, became reality. Blacks and other minorities began to secure employment previously reserved to whites. They began to run for public office and to win elections. Eventually, the country elected a black man to be President of the United States.

Many liberals concluded that racism had largely been banished from American society. They were wrong. The election of Barack Obama seems to have been a turning point, inspiring a broad-based rejection of the progressive ideas he espoused. The leadership of the Republican Party made clear they would stop at nothing to prevent him from being successful in leading the country. They fought him at every turn. And the forces of conservative Republican hostility captured control of a majority of governorships and state legislatures.

And then they elected Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump is seemingly oblivious to history and incapable of making even rudimentary distinctions between dissimilar events. Charlottesville is just the latest example, but it establishes beyond doubt that Trump is, deep down, a racist.  Or, if, as many of his supporters have argued, he is just playing politics to please his base and “really doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” then he is a racist. You cannot play the role in real life and escape the label. Behave like a racist and you are one. No matter what you may “believe” deep down.

In Charlottesville, there were two different but related phenomena involved. One was the desire of some people to oppose through protest the removal of Confederate memorials that they claim to believe are legitimate and valuable elements of American history worthy of open public preservation. I disagree vehemently with that view but I can understand how some people of good will might disagree and hold an intellectually opposite, but honest view about how history should be acknowledged. For present purposes, I will assume that there were some (a very few) such people intermingled with the white supremacist/KKK/neo-Nazi marchers carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans and giving Nazi salutes in Charlottesville.

But what is completely untenable and unacceptable is that the presence of the few presumed people with a legitimate, if ill-conceived, position on removal of Confederate memorials can change the fundamental anti-American nature of the protest. Anyone with a legitimate position to assert on removal of Confederate memorials should have removed themselves immediately from the field of play when the torches came out and the chanting/saluting began.

No amount of rhetoric from Donald Trump can lift up legitimate protesters in this crowd by saying there were “good people on both sides.” The good people, if they were there, bear responsibility for aligning themselves with the neo-Nazis. To a large degree, you are who you associate with. By trying to equate the “good people” with the Nazis, Trump has revealed for all to see that his sympathies are with the alt-Right neo-Nazis.

The other phenomenon is the neo-Nazis themselves who were there on pretext of protesting the removal of the memorials but were equating those efforts with an attempt to eliminate them from society. It should be easy for the President of the United States to distinguish between the legitimate protesters against removal of memorials (a tiny fraction of the total even under my generous assumptions) and the neo-Nazis.

Belief is, I suggest, a matter of choice. We believe what we choose to believe. Trump has made his choice and voiced it publicly, following a brief period of trying to acknowledge, under intense pressure, who the real bad guys were, and, again under pressure, reading a prepared script to try to overcome his racist rant from the day before. Ultimately, he could not stand aligning himself with the good guys. He likes what the neo-Nazis stand for and he has made that as plain as possible.

I have seen multiple references in articles and statements that the “President made a big mistake” and “it’s unfortunate the President wasn’t clearer about what he really meant” and so on. There is a word for this but I won’t use it here. Suffice to say that this was no “mistake.” To suggest that it was is to see the issue as one of political strategy rather than what it really is: a question of morality and societal norms. Trump often says he “tells it like it is.” Most of the time, that phrase is followed by a demonstrable lie, but in this case, it is clear beyond doubt that Trump has spoken his true mind. He approves of the Nazis. He continues to tweet about what he perceives as a loss of history and culture.

Well, Mr. President, (I choke on that phrase in your case), the only culture being affected by removal of these Confederate memorials is the culture that said it was acceptable for people to own other humans as slaves, that it was OK to treat people as mere property to be disposed of as the owner saw fit. If, as is now clear, that is what bothers you about removing the memorials, then you have, at long last, self-identified as a prototypical racist, and you cannot escape with scripted denials days after the fact.

The neo-Nazi point of view is as delusional now as it was when Adolf Hitler espoused racial purity of the Aryan race as the rationale for killing millions of people. You must be among the most illiterate or willfully stupid people on earth to be unaware of the distinctions between the social/cultural history of the United States at its founding and the situation today. You, like the admirers of Confederates who took up arms against the country, you, like the founders who resisted every effort to address the slavery question in the original Constitution, you, sir, are a traitor to what this country stands for. How dare you attempt to equate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with the Nazis marching in Charlottesville? You are a disgrace to this country and you should resign immediately.

Apologies to readers for the length of this post. On my birthday, I get to do what I need to do.