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MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – B

B. Involvement of WikiLeaks –Gaping Holes & Unresolved Issues

Immediately after the Billy Bush “grab ‘em” video, WikiLeaks released more stolen documents. How was WikiLeaks kept on such a short leash that it twice responded to developments in the US campaign by releasing documents intended to harm Clinton and offset self-inflicted harm by Trump?  Who was the link and why was the investigation ended before this party was run to ground?  [It may have been Roger Stone who is the subject of ongoing investigation covered by multiple Report redactions] GRU[1] and WikiLeaks were working together and hiding communications so that SCO efforts to collect them all were frustrated. I-MR 45. Mueller was never able to identify individuals other than Assange who were part of the DCLeaks/WikiLeaks coordination of anti-Clinton activities.

This leaves a gaping hole in the results of the investigation and raises the question why the investigation was ended before it was completed. If further efforts to identify individuals other than Assange were likely to be futile, this should have been explained.

Is it plausible that all the lying by Campaign people, I-MR 9-10, was all driven by the concern that the close association of the Campaign to Russians looked bad and was not also to cover up some deeper relationships instigated and nurtured by the Russians who had independent reasons to prefer Trump in the White House rather than the more experienced Hillary Clinton? The Russians are reputedly pretty good at dark statecraft and would likely not have made the trail easy to follow.

 We should not overlook the reasons stated by Mueller that the investigation was incomplete, including:  (1) Fifth Amendment claims by witnesses; (2) some information was “presumptively privileged,” a questionable conclusion not thoroughly explained or developed in the Report; (3) witnesses and documents outside U.S. jurisdiction; (4) some information was deleted by Trump Campaign people under investigation; some information was encrypted or simply not retained.  I-MR 10.

 Given the statement that it is possible that such information would have changed conclusions in some cases, WHY does Report not detail all instances in which (1) witnesses claimed the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination; (2) information was deleted or (3) encrypted information was withheld?

This also raises questions about the basis for wrapping up the investigation when it was. Mueller refers to it being “late” but no explanation for that is given. Late in relation to what? If there was a deadline, what was it, who imposed it, and when was it imposed?

 Russian involvement in the 2016 election clearly had an impact; Mueller estimated tens of millions of people were exposed to fake social media information and Russian organized rallies. I-MR 26, 29. Yet, no effort was made to conclude how big an effect resulted.

 Note that Mueller did not investigate deeply the GRU intrusion into state/local administration of elections, observing that FBI, DHS and state authorities are investigating. I-MR 50.

WHAT is the status of those investigations? These activities occurred in 2016 – three years ago! Many of the states where the impacts might have been greatest were controlled by Republicans who showed no interest in protecting the electoral process from Russian interference; indeed, the record outside the Mueller investigation plainly shows multiple efforts at voter suppression in such states, all aimed at reducing Democratic voter turnout.

 The section of I-MR addressing Trump Campaign interest in WikiLeaks’ use of Russian hacked documents is heavily redacted with Harm to Ongoing Matter, indicating active investigation somewhere in the US government is continuing. I-MR 51 et seq. Again, this was some years ago. What is going on with those investigations?

Trump was personally interested in the missing Clinton emails and frustrated they had not been found. I-MR 52. Manafort was particularly interested in Clinton emails as well. I-MR 52-53. By late summer 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press/communications strategy based on expected further leaks of Clinton documents from Wikileaks. I-MR 54. How did Trump know this? Who was providing Trump with direct information about WikiLeaks’ plans for further document dumps? Much of the evidence is heavily redacted, but Trump had links to WikiLeaks that were producing information for him. If Campaign was planning strategy based on WikiLeaks release of Russian-stolen documents, why is this not “coordination” or at least attempted coordination with Russian hacking activities, using Mueller’s own restrictive definition? Again, no explanation.

At I-MR 59-60, there is explicit evidence of Donald Trump Jr conspiring with WikiLeaks to promote a false narrative regarding Hillary Clinton. WHY is this not overt evidence of coordination with Russians through WikiLeaks as intermediary? How can Mueller conclude, at I-MR 61, that there was no evidence of coordination between Russia and Trump campaign regarding the effort to recover Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails.

I-MR 61-62 has a discussion of Henry Oknyansky’s alleged effort to sell dirt on Clinton, promoted by Michael Caputo but concludes that information about the events was conflicted, that Alexei Rasin, who was claimed to have the information could not be found, and that the investigation could not determine the content or origin of the information. Therefore, the conclusion was that there was no evidence of a connection with Russia and this particular set of claimed dirt on Clinton. BUT this is largely inconclusive. There was much smoke but no fire could be found. As noted at outset by Mueller, the absence of evidence does not prove the absence of the fact in question.

I-MR 62-64 discusses Peter Smith’s efforts to locate the Clinton emails, including explicit claims of coordination with the Trump organization, including Flynn, Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Mueller seems to raise the bar regarding what is probative evidence when he states that the investigation did not find evidence that any of the Trump people “initiated or directed” Smith’s work. If, for example, Bannon or Conway knew about Smith’s work and encouraged it without initiating or directing it, WHY would that not qualify as “coordination?” This is not explained. At I-MR 65, the ultimate conclusion was, in substance, that Smith had fabricated his claims of being in contact with the Russian hackers and that he had acquired the missing emails. But the key issue here is Trump Campaign coordination, not whether people like Smith were overstating what they knew.

 It has been suggested that all of this is just the work of a bunch of small-time hustlers trying to get in on the Trump action. https://bit.ly/2RWv1FT That may be true, but given that the control of the highest political office in the country was at stake, all of this smoke deserves the deepest scrutiny. The story here remains incomplete. Mueller elected to treat conflicted information as essentially neutral, giving equal weight to the “no coordination evidence.” This approach is not required in these circumstances and, given all the lying and withholding going on about the Russian connection throughout the Campaign, there is no apparent reason to treat conflicted evidence as neutral.

Mueller showed little interest in attempted conspiracy between Trump organization and Russia-connected individuals. For example, in fn 288 Mueller states that a Russian internet newspaper registered names for Trump2016.ru and DonaldTrump2016. Ru, then requested an interview by email to Hope Hicks. Mueller concludes this part of the narrative with “No interview took place.” Fine, BUT what was Hicks’ response to the email request and why is that not set out in the Report?

George Papadopoulos attended a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump & Jeff Sessions, among others, and came away with impression that Trump, and possibly Sessions (some conflict re Sessions position) favored getting a meeting with Vladimir Putin. He pursued the idea through Joseph Mifsud and made many contacts with Russian-govt affiliated individuals. In the course of that work, he was told by Mifsud that the Russians had email dirt on Clinton. I-MR 89. On May 6, Papadopoulos told an unidentified representative of a foreign govt about the damaging emails that Russia wanted to use to hurt Clinton’s electoral chances. On July 26, 2016, after the WikiLeaks email dump, that foreign govt informed the FBI which then opened its investigation into Russian interference in the election.

At no time did Papadopoulos tell the FBI what he had learned. WHY was Papadopoulos not charged with aiding a foreign govt in defrauding the U.S.?? Papadopoulos was working for the Trump campaign at that time and had alerted the campaign about Russian interest in Trump. He believed that the Campaign wanted him to pursue the lead. What was the source of that belief? At the very least this should have been fully explained in the Report.

 Thru the spring/summer 2016, Papadopoulos kept Campaign officials aware of his efforts to arrange a meeting in Moscow with Putin thru emails to at least Lewandowski, Clovis (co-chair of Trump Campaign) and Manafort. I-MR 89. The Report barely mentions responses from any of these people. WHY?  Papadopoulos eventually suggested he personally could attend Russia meetings on behalf of the Campaign “off the record.” I-MR 90. This is an act of concealment, from which a reasonable inference can be drawn that the parties knew what they were doing was wrong.

Next: Campaign Officials Suffering from Failed Memories at Critical Times

[1] A military intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, or GRU.

 

Journalism and Democracy

I have just finished Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now by Alan Rusbridger.

Based on the title, you might think this book is all about Donald Trump and his attempt to sell the idea that the press is the “enemy of the people.” While the Trump menace to freedom of the press is mentioned, the book is not mainly about that. It’s about the process by which The Guardian, one of the UK’s most storied newspapers, has navigated, with varying success, the rocky path from the traditional ways of journalism to the world brought about by the internet and the digital globalization of information.

Rusbridger is not a household name in the United States like, perhaps, Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post. Rusbridger was editor-in-chief of The Guardian from 1995 to 2015, the seminal period during which the digital challenge to top-down journalism manifested and ran roughshod over traditional ways of delivering the “news.” He is, among other things, a hell of a great writer and a compelling storyteller who confesses throughout that he was usually at a loss to know what to do to save The Guardian from financial destruction and from loss of its moral compass.

Rusbridger’s book is a remarkable explanation of the transition from a news operation funded by a trust, but still dependent upon advertising revenues for survival, to a multi-element news machine adapting to the digital age. Some of the financial details may challenge your interest, but the overall story line is as powerful as anything in great fiction. But, of course, it’s not fiction, not fake news, but truth.

Along the way, Rusbridger explores the meaning of “news” in a digital world, how news is discovered, vetted for importance and interest, and delivered to a global audience still interested in “truth” mediated by trusted investigators, writers, editors and publishers. He narrates the stories of Wikileaks (Julian Assange) and Edward Snowden and the issues their pilfered documents raised about what was responsible to publish, how governments attempted to prevent publication and much else. Readers from my generation will, of course, remember Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, the New York Times and the ultimate victory in court that enabled the world to understand how the United States government had misled the people about the Vietnam War. Even then, the Nixon administration tried to imprison Neal Sheehan under the Espionage Act for his journalism in breaking the story.

The struggle over the Snowden documents was no less dramatic with the special twist – something I did not know – that the United Kingdom has no equivalent to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. In the UK publishers, editors and even individual journalists are subject to lawsuits by “offended” parties, including giant corporations, who object to unfavorable news being published about them. Even members of Parliament and the British government itself were ominously threatening to punish difficult publish/don’t publish decisions about matters to which they took serious umbrage. Editors could go to jail for publishing the “wrong stories.”

Early in the book, Rusbridger discusses the period during which UK competitors of The Guardian began to dumb down their news to attract eyes, with considerable success and adverse effects on more traditional news organization that continued to publish in the old style. The conflict is described as “an ongoing concern for complexity, facts and nuance versus a drift towards impact, opinion and simplicity.” [Breaking News at 91] In ruminating about the divergent paths before them, Rusbridger raises question to which no ready answers existed at the time or even now [Id. at 92-93]

“What … should a news organization do, faced with legions of apathetic readers?

Did we have any kind of responsibility to tell our readers things they might not think they wanted to know?

Would a move to less complexity end up reinforcing a pattern of ignorance, or carelessness about things that ultimately do matter to us all? … Most of public life was not faithfully representable in either black or white. Somebody – surely – had the duty to paint in the greys.

Fast-forwarding to the second decade of this century, Rusbridger observes that “an ever-more polarized public – favouring either black or white answers to complicated problems – had lost either interest or trust in a world of greys.”

Another interesting observation lies in the discussion of the “long tail” of news. In traditional newspaper journalism, the story was developed during the day, published late and delivered for morning consumption. The story was effectively “over” until at least the next day’s paper was distributed. In the digital world of social media, however, “a story had a life independent of the news organization which created it.” Breaking News at 157. The story “was now a living thing – being shared, critiqued, rubbished, celebrated, clarified, responded to, rendered irrelevant, added to, challenged – maybe all of the above – while [the reporter] was trying to take a well-earned break.”

The battle that ensued after The Guardian published some of Snowden’s documents led many UK papers to line up against The Guardian. Rusbridger listed a series of legal challenges over the years to newspapers’ publication of controversial material, almost always sustained by the courts. Rusbridger:

“Journalists may often make wrong  decisions – but the assumption has to be that newspapers are free to make those wrong decisions and, if necessary, be held responsible afterwards. It was so strange to see writers and editors in 2013 willing to concede this principle when judges had, in general, been so much more robust in their defence of the press.” [Breaking News 321]

The attacks on The Guardian will look familiar to anyone paying attention to the rhetoric of Donald Trump who, in his paranoid desperation to deflect criticism, has labeled the press the “enemy of the people.” Rusbridger discusses that and the issue of “fake news” at length in the Epilogue to the book. Of course, his views will be of no interest to people who have forfeited their ability to think in favor of abject adoration of everything Trump. For the rest, though, whom I still believe to be the majority, the centrality of a free press to the survival of democracy will resonate. The current challenge to genuine journalism is deadly serious, one among many such threats that now arise from the kleptocracy that Trump and his family, with full support of the Republican Party, seeks to establish in the United States.

The story of The Guardian is our story as well and should be read by everyone who cares about the survival of democracy and personal freedom in America.

Redactions of Mueller Report Must Be Coded

Anyone with experience in redacted documents knows that every document tells a story, or at least part of one. A skilled redactor working, for example, to assert attorney-client privilege can render the story told by a document meaningless and destroy its role in piecing together the larger story.

As the day for release of the redacted version of Mueller’s report draws nearer, the relevant Congressional committees should make clear that merely blacking out sections of the report will not be accepted. If there are legitimate reasons for redactions, they should be coded with a legend that makes clear the basis for each and every redaction. The known candidates appear to be: (1) grand jury material required by law to remain undisclosed, (2) material that might reveal counter-intelligence content or methods that would damage national security, and (3) executive privilege asserted by the president.

Deciphering a document involving so many possible redaction rights will be next to impossible unless each is specifically supported by one of those three considerations. And each redaction must be limited strictly to what is absolutely required by the relevant privilege. If, for example, a statement is sourced to an intelligence branch but the statement itself is not sensitive, then the statement should not be redacted; only the source of the statement may be redacted.

The need for this approach is particularly acute in the case of the Mueller report because we know that the Attorney General is disposed to protect Trump at virtually any cost. We also have reason for suspicion because of reports that members of the Mueller investigative team have expressed concerns that the AG’s “summary” of the report did not properly convey the content of evidence related to, among other things, collusion with Russia. The White House has, typically, flip flopped like a fish on the dock as to whether it accepted that the Mueller report should be publicly disclosed. Trump would be more than happy with disclosure if he were as sure as he claims that the report exonerates him. Finally, the matter at hand involves the some of the most serious of possible misconduct by the nation’s chief executive, including possible grounds for impeachment.

For all those reasons at least, the coding of all redactions is essential to preserving the public’s right to know as much as possible about whether the president of the United States colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election and the evidence indicating that he obstructed justice in multiple public and still undisclosed actions.

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.

United Airlines Does Something Right

People familiar with my professional history of conflict with the airlines may find it surprising that I would come to the defense of the CEO of United Airlines in its latest dustup. But here I go.

Oscar Munoz, the UAL CEO, was verbally challenged by a person described as an “activist investor” at its recent annual shareholders meeting because the airline, following the Parkland Florida high school massacre, ended its discount program for members of the National Rifle Association. The “investor’s” objections were reported by, among others, inc.com at https://bit.ly/2s4fQ1h and Bloomberg at https://bloom.bg/2s8mnaw.  the story line being that some/many UAL employees were equally unhappy with Munoz’ statement that the NRA decision was made for “personal” reasons, namely, that a child of a United pilot had been killed in the Parkland shooting.

That decision was latched onto by the objector who was in fact not just a “lawyer with” the National Center for Public Policy Research but was in fact NCPPR’s General Counsel. His employer is a “conservative think tank” in Washington parlance, a tax-free organization, contributions to which are tax-deductible, despite its mission statement of

communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.

 The NCPPR was set up in 1982:

to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to fast-breaking issues. Today, we continue to fill this critical niche through a top-flight research and communications operation driven by results and the bottom line. In the 1980s, The National Center helped change public opinion through vocal national campaigns aimed at supporting Reagan administration initiatives concerning the USSR, arms control, Central America and human rights. [emphasis added]

https://nationalcenter.org/about/

Before going further, I note for the record that I am one of those very liberal people that recognizes that the true and authentic conservative point of view regarding economics, the role of government and similar things is a responsible, if usually erroneous, alternative to the views of liberals who think like I do. Many intelligent and thoughtful people share some or all of the conservative philosophy and make rational arguments in support of that viewpoint. The sitting president and most of his enablers in the White House and Congress do not satisfy that definition, but that is for another day.

Now that my bona fides are declared, I return to the matter at hand. I understand the point of view that the primary job of a private business is to produce profits from its activities as a reward to risk-taking shareholders that have provided it with capital through stock purchases. But producing profits for shareholders is not, I suggest, the only function of private businesses which, broadly speaking, enjoy the benefits of public services, the protections of laws designed to prevent larger firms from conspiring against them, etc. They are permitted, sometimes subject to regulation, to consume vast amounts of public space, to exploit resources belonging to the entire nation and generally benefit from government support of their franchise. While there is tension about the amount and nature of regulation, there is, in short, a public dimension to the business of private enterprise that must be accounted for in any rational view of the role of corporations in American life.

So, what was the beef with United’s making a policy decision regarding how it would manage the discount component of its business? According to the reports, the NCPPR attorney said:

“I suppose you are ignoring the fact that the NRA had nothing to do with what happened in Parkland …. But, hey, congratulations on your virtue signaling. What exactly did investors get out of that?”

At least two observations are warranted.

First, the asserted “fact” that the NRA had “nothing to do with what happened at Parkland” assumes away the issue of responsibility for Parkland as if the truth of the matter were handed down on stone tablets. In reality, of course, a good case exists, and has been made repeatedly, that the gun culture promoted by the NRA and NRA’s success in preventing even the study of gun impact issues are elements in a direct line to the events at Parkland and the other mass shootings before and since. The NCPPR should save its smug presumptuousness for something else. The known facts about gun violence do not support their protestations of innocence.

Second, there is, of course, a potentially legitimate debate about whether private business corporations should ever do or say anything related to “political” issues. At least two points are relevant here.

One is that there is an inherent inconsistency between “keep businesses out of politics” and the “the free market rules and corporations should be able to do whatever they want, including risking the ire of customers and stockholders when they believe the public or their private interest warrants it.” Those positions are inconsistent.

Second, there is another fundamental structural inconsistency and incoherence in the “conservative” position that private business should stay out of politics. Many private businesses are perfectly fine being in politics as long as no one knows what they are doing, as in their role in funding SuperPacs under the aegis of the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Citizen’s United case. And when “conservative values” are at stake, as they allegedly are when NFL players kneel during the National Anthem, the Grand Ole Party is right there to tell those businesses to actively support the “conservative” position by punishing those players. Or else. So much for keeping businesses out of politics.

The inc.com article says that, based on emails received, the employees are against the NRA discount decision by 4 to 1, one retiree is quoted as saying that the “[A]irlines are very leftist.” That will come as a great shock to the airline managements that spend so much time and treasure in Washington railing against any form of regulation designed to protect consumers from deceptive price advertising. That is a subject for another day also, but the notion that the airlines are part of a left-wing political cabal is laughable. I will now laugh.  Then I’ll cry at the staggering ignorance that pervades our political life and public discourse.

A trend now clearly exists toward corporate responsibility and, whether the NRA and its enablers approve or not, the practice is likely to have staying power over the long term. See, for example, “8 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Trends To Look For In 2018,” by Susan McPherson in Forbes, https://bit.ly/2GKeFJ7. Even some Republican businessmen who supported Trump in the past are now threatening to pull donations if the DACA program is not extended. https://politi.co/2klgIui

The NRA is, once again, on the wrong side of history on the issue of businesses in politics. UAL’s CEO Munoz has some good company and should … dare I end with this … stick to his guns.

How Things Were Back Then

I have no idea why the memories I am about to relate have emerged from the fog of the past. I get these moments of clarity often when shaving, as in this case. Perhaps it’s something about having a super-sharp blade scraping down my throat. In any case I want to set down some memories and thoughts about an episode from my youth, long since passed into the rearview mirror of time. And, no, they are not closer than they appear.

In high school, late 1950s,I was elected by the student body to the “student government.” The student government had no real role to play, but we were selected to visit with a member of the Memphis city government. In my case it was the Commissioner of Public Works, or something similar. The essence of my “job” was to follow the Commissioner around for a day, do photo ops with him and try to learn something while staying out of the way. I did. I learned that I did not want to be the Commissioner of Public Works.

However, of greater importance at the time was the connection I made. I needed a summer job badly and, at that time in Memphis, they were hard to come by. So, the Commissioner gave me a job on one of the survey crews that laid out the elevations for streets being built at a furious pace in those days.

The crew consisted of the chief, whom I’ll call Bill, and two others, a young white boy whom I’ll call Jack and another, possibly Cajun but likely white, man whom I’ll call Dax. Truthfully, the other crew member is lost to memory. I do not remember their real names. Dax was a person of very limited intellect, likely suffering a mental disability, but was always kind to me. He would pick up screws, bolts, anything of a salvageable nature on the streets and handle them like they were lost gem stones. I asked him why he kept such things but he just said they might be useful to him some day. I better understood when we stopped by Dax’s “house” one day and I was told to go in with him to pick up something. Dax lived in what amounted to a hut, a single room house, with a single bed, single chair, small table and a small black and white TV.  He literally had nothing. Yet he showed up for work every day and went about his job without complaint.

Bill was a good ole’ boy in many ways, but also had a degree of native intelligence about things. He did the math calculations in a notebook and seemed skilled with trigonometry. How he acquired that skill was never revealed and it wasn’t something you asked about. Overall, Bill was a pretty decent guy. He always did the driving, in a beat-up station wagon (remember those?) into which the three of the working crew and the surveying equipment were crammed. There was no car air conditioning in those days and Memphis was a humid baking oven in the summer.

The day always began the same way. All the crews convened in a single room in downtown Memphis, where they mingled, smoked and just hung around waiting for the crew chiefs to come in with the day’s assignments. I was the odd man out in this group, a high school student bound for college, and not a person to whom anyone was drawn. Mostly, I just watched and stayed out of the way as much as possible. The chiefs always met with the top guy in a separate room to discuss, and argue about, which crews would go where during the day.

The crew’s assignment generally was to drive to wherever surveying was needed. Bill would park the wagon in the shade if he could find it. The work always began by finding, often with difficulty, a “marker,” consisting of the top, or what remained of the top, of a large nail or spike that had been driven in the pavement somewhere near an intersection. The altitude of that point was known from prior survey work, so it became the reference point for staking out the altitude and direction of the street that was to be laid down. Finding that initial point sometimes took a half hour or more of crawling around on the hot pavement in the open sun, brushing aside gravel with our bare hands, until someone yelled “got it.” If Bill confirmed the location, we were able to use an adjustable level and a long stick with marks on it, like a long yardstick, to determine the various levels for the giant road graders and dirt haulers to go by.

Many of our jobs entailed redoing the stakes that had been driven under or simply destroyed by the road graders that were far from fine-tuned instruments and were driven by what I believed to be ex-rodeo riders. Bill shared something in common with them, as his favorite diversion during the long days was to drive the wagon at high speed between, for example, two parked road graders with literally an inch of two to spare on either side. This led to much hooting and hollering among the crew, who thought we were going to die each time. But Bill never hit anything.

The other diversion was, I thought then and now, remarkable. The crew loved to play chess. Every day when we weren’t on immediate call, which was often, Bill would drive the wagon to one of his favorite cheap sandwich shops, where we’d order lunch meat and cheese on white bread and soft drinks, then drive to a shady spot somewhere, decamp from the truck and set up the chess board. On a good day, that is, one with little or no actual work to do, the chess games would go on for hours. Bill thought nothing of driving for an hour across the city to find a sandwich place and a nice park, even when the next job almost certainly would be where we had just been.

So what, you may say. The city was paying for men to play chess and occasionally do some necessary but largely unpredictable work under poor working conditions. No surprise there.

The real point of telling this long tale is this that one day we were working in downtown Memphis. In those days Main Street was actually a busy thoroughfare with department stores and other active businesses. The area was the center of commerce in Memphis. It was sometime in July, I believe, when the heat and humidity were almost unbearable and we were out on the pavement finding our marks, moving from spot to spot, probably for a repaving that was due. Jack, Dax and I removed our shirts to try to get such relief from the sun as we could. In those days we believed this was the proper approach. Later we learned otherwise. In any case, it felt better at the time.

During the next morning’s preparation meetings, we were informed that removal of our shirts when working in the sun was no longer permitted. Some citizens had complained that it was unseemly to have city government workers outside without their shirts. Of course, we weren’t told who had complained or how many complaints there were, but we did learn that the complaints were from members of the gentler sex, and that was sufficient. It was irrelevant that we did not have government uniforms. Jack, Dax and I worked in our own blue jeans. No matter. The sight of young men without shirts was offensive to Memphis womanhood and henceforth we would wear shirts regardless of the weather conditions.

And so that’s how it was back then. Opinions may differ about whether the city’s action was justified. I can only recall the events as helping form my view, later realized, that I had to leave Memphis.

Cox Farms Stands Up For Social Tolerance

I am posting, with permission, the entirety of a Facebook blog post by Cox Farms, a roadside fresh foods market of the type that used to dot the rural landscape but are now a rarity. Cox Farms is set up on Route 620 (Braddock Road) in what was once rural Virginia, between Flat Lick Stream Valley Park and Gilbert’s Corner. Details here: www.coxfarms.com.

I report, with profound sadness, that some people chose to attack the owners for their actions and words in favor of an inclusive society. This led to the usual rancorous exchanges on Facebook as the hate-mongers were drawn, like moths to the flame, by a public statement encouraging people to treat each other  with respect. There is nothing meaningful I can add to what Cox Farms had said and done, so I will just leave their statement here. I urge you to read it, all of it, and share it with someone you care about:

“Our little roadside signs have power. Most of the time, they let folks know that our hanging baskets are on sale, that today’s sweet corn is the best ever, that Santa will be at the market this weekend, or that the Fall Festival will be closed due to rain. During the off-season, sometimes we utilize them differently. Sometimes, we try to offer a smile on a daily commute. Sometimes, a message of support and inclusion to a community that is struggling makes someone’s day. Sometimes the messages on our signs make people think… and sometimes, they make some people angry.

Last week, some of our customers and neighbors asked us to clarify the sentiment behind our sign that said “Rise & Resist.” So, we changed it to read “Rise Up Against Injustice” and “Resist White Supremacy.” We sincerely believe that fighting injustice and white supremacy is a responsibility that can- and should- unite us all. We struggle to see how anyone other than self-identified white supremacists would take this as a personal attack.

Some have asked why we feel called to have such a message on our signs at all. Here is why:

Cox Farms is a small family-owned and family-operated business. The five of us are not just business-owners; we are human beings, members of the community, and concerned citizens of this country. We are also a family, and our shared values and principles are central to our business.

We’re not seeking to alienate folks who have different perspectives on tax reform or infrastructure spending. But when it comes to speaking out against systems of oppression and injustice, we see it as our moral responsibility to use our position of privilege and power, along with the tools of our trade and the platforms available to us, to engage visibly and actively in the fight for justice. Our roadside sign messages are one small way we do this.

Some folks have expressed that they would prefer not to know where we stand. We appreciate that being an informed consumer can sometimes be exhausting, disappointing, and frustrating. It can involve making hard choices about values and priorities. We respect that some have decided to no longer patronize our business as a result. We also know that there are some who may see our signs, roll their eyes, and still choose to come back for the kettle corn. We get it.

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We consider the present state of our country to be far beyond partisan bickering or politics as usual. We see our nation in crisis, and peoples’ lives and safety and humanity are hanging in the balance. We are gravely concerned about the hateful words, destructive actions, and detrimental policies coming from this administration. We are not neutral, and we will not feign neutrality to appease our customers. We are committed to speaking out for love and justice, even if it costs us some business.

Almost twenty years ago, some visitors started a boycott because we fly rainbow flags over our hay tunnel, and they were concerned that Cox Farms was “promoting the homosexual agenda.” A few years ago, some folks got very angry about the Black Lives Matter sign hanging in a window of an owner’s home on the farm. Last year, some locals took offense at our “We love our Muslim neighbors” and “Immigrants make America great!” sign messages. What do all of the messages have in common? They are statements of inclusion. They attempt to tell members of our community, people that might feel discriminated against or alienated in a particular moment, “Hey, you are welcome here, too.” To our customers and neighbors that feel that this is somehow a divisive stance, we ask you to reflect on the possibility that your lived experience may be one that hasn’t necessitated a message of inclusion to make you feel welcome.

We’re not strangers to controversy or hard conversations. When we take a stand, we do so knowing that it could hurt our bottom line, and we are comfortable taking that risk. As a family, we know that when you’re on the right side of history, love wins. Right now, it means that some people in our community no longer feel comfortable supporting our business, and we respect that. While our intention was not to make anyone feel unwelcome, we certainly respect every consumer’s right to decide which businesses to support in our community.”