Monthly Archives: August 2020

Myth v. Reality


NOTE:  The following is my response to a op-ed piece in our local paper in which the writer questions how the son of a immigrant could possibly be anti-immigration.  To make his point, the writer provided a history of Mary Anne MacLeod’s immigration from Scotland to America and her early life here.  For the record, MacLeod would later marry Fred Trump and give birth to Donald Trump.

Mary Anne MacLeod Trump - WikipediaI applaud Patrick Keogh for sharing the story of Donald Trump’s mother Mary Anne MacLeod’s immigration to and early life in America.  Mr. Keogh is correct to point out it is the story of the parents and grandparents of an overwhelming majority of Americans, including my own grandparents who came to this country from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Mr. Keogh falls into the trap of mixing the myth of Donald Trump his supporters want you to believe with the reality.  At the end of his essay, Mr. Keogh claims Trump only “wants folks to comply with our laws just like his Mom did.”  Except of course when those laws might apply to him and his family.  In the case of immigration:

  • In August 1996, Melania Knavs (Trump) came to America on a B1/B2 tourist visa. In violation of the law, she immediately began working as a paid model.
  • When this became known in October of the same year, Ms. Knavs applied for an H-1B visa. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, eligibility for an H-B1 visa requires the applicant have “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty.”  Despite claiming to have a degree in Architecture and Design from the University of Ljubjana in Slovenia, in 2016, it was revealed she dropped out after one year.  Providing false information on a visa application is a federal crime.
  • Melania Knavs applied for and received an EB-1 visa in 2001. Although this particular visa is often referred to as “the Einstein visa” because of its association with Nobel prize winners and renown scientists, it is occasionally awarded to actors and models who excel in their fields.  However, if Ms. Knavs again claimed to have received a college degree, she violated a federal law.
  • In 2005, Melania Knavs applied for U.S. citizenship. The first question on the N-400 forms asks the applicant to affirm that he or she has “been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least 5 years.”  If she checked the box after providing false information on two previous visa applications that would also constitute a violation of federal law if she then signed Part 16 of the form which certifies “under penalty of perjury” the information provided is “complete, true and correct.”
  • Part 8 of the N-400 requires the applicant provide information about schools attended including dates of attendance. If the application (which has never been made available for public review) does not accurately reflect having dropped out after one year, she would again be guilty of perjury under the Part 16 signed certification.

On August 9, 2016, once discrepancies in his wife’s immigration history were revealed, Trump announced Melania would hold a news conference “over the next couple of weeks” in order to counter reports she violated immigration laws when she came to the U.S.  We’re still waiting.

The double standard does not end there.  Trump has called for an end of what he calls “chain migration,” by which adult American citizens obtain residency for their relatives.  In November 2017, Trump tweeted, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!”  On August 9, 2018, Donald Trump’s in-laws Viktor and Amalija Knavs became U.S. citizens in a private ceremony in Manhattan under that same family-based immigration program Trump repeatedly demands must end.

If Donald Trump wants to present himself as the “law and order president,” I suggest he replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office with a needlework sampler which reads, “Compliance with the law begins at home.”

For what it’s worth.


God’s Plan


Truth in Advertising ALERT:  As long time readers know, I remain a devout agnostic.  The following is therefore offered as satire, not a representation of my personal beliefs.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

~Jeremiah 29:11

From the beginnings of biblical history to modern day, religious leaders of all faiths have used the words in Jeremiah 29:11 to push back against those who dare question why a just and compassionate God would create a world in which there is so much death and destruction from war, disease and hate.  We are told to look at the big picture.  Or without knowing pain, how can we fully appreciate the blessings that same God lays before us everyday.

Stories of moral cleansing from a great flood or plagues were understandable when civilization was more superstitious than knowledgeable.  Sadly, in some circles, not much has changed in the five or six intervening millennia. Remember the flap over Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s declaration that 9/11 was “America’s chickens coming home to roost,” a result of years of human rights violations.  Unfortunately, Pastor Wright did not have a monopoly on such rubbish.  The late Jerry Falwell claimed the 9/11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyles and organizations like the ACLU and People for the American Way which were out to destroy our nation.

As suggested above, sometimes God’s wrath comes in the form of foreign invaders.  Sometimes he simply partners with Mother Nature.  Just ask televangelists John Hagee or Pat Robertson.   During an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Hagee provided the following cause of Hurricane Katrina.

The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe…that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans

Robertson attributed the devastating earthquake in Haiti to the Haitians’ “pact with the devil.”  And what was the genesis of this unholy alliance?  According to Robertson, it was their desire for independence from France.  In his words, “You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”  As comedian David Steinberg once said of his own father’s revulsion when it seemed to snow every December 25th, fulfilling Christians’ longing for a cliched White Christmas, “You have to admire prejudice like that.”  [NOTE:  Steinberg was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada which would make a late December snowstorm the rule rather than the exception.]

The one thing missing from these modern day tales of divine intervention is any recognition of God’s grace.  After the great flood, there was a promise of a new, better world symbolized by the rainbow over Mt. Ararat.  The plagues in Egypt resulted in an end to the Israelites enslavement and return to their ancestral home, “a land of milk and honey.”

Which brings me to 2020 and the failure of faux Christians to notice that we are in the midst of an obvious example of how they profess God works in mysterious ways.  And who better to tell this story than the late Flip Wilson’s alter ego  Reverend Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now.

Can I hear an amen?

Brothers and sisters, in the words of Brother Bob Dylan, these are hard times.  Many of you have lost friends and families to the coronavirus.  Many of you are unemployed.  And in these moments of sorry and need, you ask, “Why is God punishing me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Is this part of His divine plan?”

Brothers and Sisters, ask no more. For those who think the Lord has forsaken us, fear not.  He continues to reveal himself as he always has.  From the beginning of time, God has always given us the chance, as Brother Spike Lee said, to do the right thing.  Only when we forsake his principles and the teachings of his son Jesus Christ does he step forward.

Remember Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac.  Abraham thought it was a test of loyalty.  If so, God would have let the sacrifice go forward.  Instead, it was a test of free will, that Abraham need not obey an order, even one from the Almighty himself, when it was unjust.  Only when Abraham failed that test did God appear in the form of two angels and told Abraham to back off, Jack.*  Can you give me another amen?

If Pharaoh heeded Moses’ plea to “let my people go” after any of the first nine plagues, the first born Egyptian males would not have died.  God always gives us the opportunity to do the right thing.  He intervenes when we ignore that moment in time.

So if you ask, “Reverend Leroy, when did God give us a chance to avoid the coronavirus,” you need to first understand why it was necessary?  What possible good has it accomplished?  The answer, as they say in Motown, is in the timing.

God patiently watched as Americans elected a reality show con artist president of the United States.  He did not intervene when Donald Trump openly denigrated large segments of God’s children–Latinos, Muslims and gays.  He cried but did not act when Trump ordered babies separated from their mothers and put in cages.  He waited for the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment.  He looked on as Senate Republicans ignored all the evidence and failed to remove him from office.

Only when it appeared Americans might give Trump four more years to  further abuse his authority and power, did God decree, “Enough is enough!  I must expose this dude for who he is.”  And once again, God unleashed His wingman, the Angel of Death, not to punish the innocent, but to remind us we still have a choice.  We can be self-centered and protect our own interests or we can follow the Lord and take the weak and needy into our hearts.

Can I get an amen?  Amen.

The proof of the pudding will come in November.  Though I doubt the possibility, imagine Trump loses in a landslide on election day and the coronavirus magically disappears without a vaccine or further mediation.  Now that would be a miracle of biblical proportions that would convert the most skeptical into believers.  A story that would no doubt be chronicled in “The Gospel According to Leroy,” a chapter of The Latest Testament.

And just for the record, as Reverend Leroy would say, “The devil made me write this post.”

*I first heard this interpretation of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac from Rabbi Amy Perlin, the first female rabbi to found her own congregation.

For what it’s worth.


The Only One in the Room


10 Awesome Optical Illusions That Will Melt Your Brain | Cool ...The downfall of many corporate giants comes from their believing they are “the smartest people in the room.”  One need look no further than Bethany McLean’s chronicle of boardroom hubris The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.  In recent cinema annals, the go-to actor when casting the self-proclaimed genius among peers is Jesse Eisenberg.  Whether portraying real-life characters such as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010) or the fictional magician Danny Atlas in Now You See Me (2013), Eisenberg exudes the right mix of confidence and arrogance to forewarn viewers he will eventually get his comeuppance.

One thing is a sure bet.  Any individual who proclaims to be “the smartest person in the room” probably isn’t.  So, when Donald Trump maintains he is a “stable genius” you can bet the mortgage on a roll of the dice at any bankrupt Trump casino, he is neither.  Even his most avid supporters know that.  Then why, you ask, can 40 percent of the voting population believe he deserves another four years in office?  Because, like most decisions we make in life, it depends less on what we know than what we feel.

The same is true when we decide which presidential candidate deserves our support.  The proof is not in the winners, but the also-rans.  Michael Kukakis ran on a platform of “technical competence” after four years of Ronald Reagan platitudes that sounded more like Hallmark greeting cards than an agenda for the future.  Al Gore was going to save the planet, but nobody wanted to sit down with him because they knew he would dominate the conversation.  He thought he already had all the answers.  Mitt Romney was the ideal candidate to prove what America needed was a businessman in the White House but made his pitch in macro-esque terms, not micro-appeals to individuals.  Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren had plans for everything, but the majority of voters could not have cared less.  Why aren’t party platforms given more attention?  One simple reason.  They don’t matter.

Which brings me back to the enigma of Trump’s support.  If the polling is correct, the question that is the single most reliable predictor of voting preference is, “Which candidate cares most about people like me?”  You know, that empathy thing.  But as Bill Clinton would have said, “It depends on what the definition of empathy is.”  If you are a living, breathing human being with a heart, you ask, “How could anyone vote for a man who time and time again fails to acknowledge the loss of 150,000 Americans to COVID19, even if his assertion is true that many more would have died but for his administration’s response?”  The media outlets drive home this point with split screen images of Trump and Biden.  One claims, “It is what it is.”  The other, “I know what it’s like to lose a member of your family and, believe me, there will be a day when a smile comes to your face before a tear comes to your eye.”

No contest?  I repeat, it depends on what the definition of empathy is.  Consider the following examples which explain how Trump’s coalition of support can include both billionaire Sheldon Adelson and former KKK grand dragon David Duke.

  • “Look at my stock portfolio.  Joe Biden would not have encouraged the Federal Reserve Bank to buy up stock after the market tanked in March.  Just goes to show, Trump cares about people like me.”
  • “America has always been a Eurocentric, Christian nation.  Trump understands that.  He cares about people like me.”
  • “I’m tired of the government telling me how many hours I can drive my rig.  I’m paid by the mile.  Getting rid of unnecessary safety regulations shows Trump cares about people like me.”
  • “Trump is the only person out there who stands up for law enforcement officers reminding people we are not responsible for a few bad apples.  He cares about people like me.”
  • “No one can force me to wear a mask.  Trump cares about people like me who believe in individual freedom.”

Put them all together and what have you got?  Forty to 42 percent of the voting population.

Yet, it also explains why 42 percent is also the likely ceiling of support this time around and the decline in support among two groups who were critical to Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016: the elderly and women.  Let’s start with older voters.  They may have healthy stock portfolios, hold negative views of people of color and immigrants or think police are getting a bum rap.   But if they die from the coronavirus, they are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy their assets and prejudices.  Thomas Jefferson knew what he was doing when he put “life” before “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The latter two are irrelevant if you’ve breathed your last breath.

Then there are women among whom Biden holds a 56-35 lead according to a June 2020 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  In an earlier Hill-HarrisX survey, 62 percent of women voters said they were unlikely to vote for Trump.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  For example, younger, college educated women resent Trump’s efforts to deprive them of birth control under their employer’s insurance plan if the boss believes Jesus would have disapproved.  But that was also true in 2016.  What has changed?  Suburban white women are increasingly abandoning the Trump bandwagon.  Listen to the reasons reported in a June article in the Los Angeles Times.

I do like Trump, but I think he should set a better example.

If he’s not taking issues like this (pandemic) seriously, what else is he not taking seriously.

Honestly, I think he needs to stay off Twitter.

Sound familiar?  Despite enlightened views on gender roles when it comes to raising a family, women are still on the front line.  And their attitude toward Trump reflects that.  They want role models for their children.  And their concerns about Trump mirror their anxiety about their own offspring.  Why don’t they take school more seriously?  Are they spending too much time on social media?  They have to deal with their own adolescents on a daily basis.  The last thing they need is one more child to worry about even if he is president of the United States.

Nor do they appreciate someone who does not even pretend to be a partner when it comes to raising a family.  Imagine how you would feel if your husband told a national radio audience in 2005 he never changed his children’s diapers.  (Source: Opie and Anthony)

There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife and you know there’s a lot of husbands that listen to that… I’m really like a great father but certain things you do and certain things you don’t. It’s just not for me.

I have had the opportunity to be in the same room with every U.S. president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.   Among those six chief executives, one stands out when it comes to the empathy quotient, Bill Clinton.  Yes, his nickname “Slick Willy” is well deserved.  He cheated on his wife and was guilty of workplace sexual harassment.  He perjured himself in a deposition.  And he may even be a pedophile based on his association with Jeffrey Epstein.

But when he said, “I feel your pain,” you believed him.  Not because he was smart or articulate even though he might have been the smartest person in the room.  After all, there was a reason he was called on to be the “explainer-in-chief” to make the case for Obama’s re-election at the 2012 Democratic convention.  It was because, when you stepped into his office in Little Rock to discuss rural development, he complimented you on your tie.  Or when you needed to get his attention at a National Governors Association meeting after he became president, he turned around and called you by name.

You believed him because he made you feel like “YOU were the ONLY ONE in the room.”  The winner in 2020 must exhibit that same quality.

For what it’s worth.


Covert Capitalism


A former Miami University colleague and lifelong mentor would always advise his students,  “If, at the end of a day, you cannot say, ‘I had fun or learned something today,’ it’s time to do something else.”  Five years and 580 posts later, I still have not hit that wall.  That said, there are still challenges which make some mornings at the keyboard more difficult than others.  This morning was one of those occasions.

The dilemma was what many might call a good problem to have.  Which of the topics deserving attention should I tackle first?  Having just watched the most recent video from The Lincoln Project, I wanted to address the conspiracy theories life-long Republican operatives like Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt have an ulterior motive behind their efforts to help Joe Biden evict Donald Trump from the White House. Meanwhile, Trump continued his months long crusade to offend one demographic after another within the coalition on which his 2016 victory depended.

As the old adage promises, “Good things come to those who wait.”  Sure enough, there was a solution.  The key being, instead of too many competing topics, there were too few.  The missing piece of the puzzle turned out to be activist James Lawson’s remarks at John Lewis’ funeral during which he referred to the wealth gap in America as “plantation capitalism.”  Thus, this post became a juggling act, keeping all three balls in the air.

BALL #1: The Lincoln Project.  I am under no delusion Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt have become flaming liberals or will be supportive of much of Joe Biden’s policy agenda.  They have staked their flag on the Democratic front line of the 2020 electoral battlefield because they share a concern Donald Trump is an existential threat to what American should stand for.  I have no doubt, if successful, their next project will be to try and re-establish a saner version of a political party grounded in conservative principles.  I can live with that.

See the source image

Democrats, questioning their motive does not bode well for post-election governance if you cannot see this arrangement is no different than Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton coming together, in the midst of the 1996 election, to address the  ballooning federal deficit.  Or House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan joining forces to save social security.  Democrats and Republicans used to be able to put aside differences on those rare occasions when the consequences of not doing so were unacceptable to either side or more importantly the public interest.  There will always be time later for a return to partisan and ideological wrangling, something the founding fathers acknowledged was inevitable in any representative democracy.

BALL #2:  James Lawson.  I cringed when Lawson, who otherwise made a strong case for active engagement in the affairs of state, uttered the phrase “plantation capitalism.”  Was this the 2020 equivalent of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s “God Damn America” rant in 2008?  How can Democrats, so often, be on the right side of an issue and fail to find a way to express their opinion without offending those they hope to convert?

I know what Lawson meant.  Those who own the major corporations (i.e. stockholders) and those who run them reap the benefits of the harvest while the laborers are left with the chaff.  One need only look at the major stock indexes at the same time GDP declines at an annual rate of 32.9 percent and 30 million Americans are out of work.  Or the fact that CEO income has risen 1008 percent over the last four decades while worker pay has increased by only 12 percent over the same period.  It is unconscionable, but you make no friends calling it “plantation capitalism.”  Who came up with that?  The same people who tagged law enforcement reform as “defund the police”?

Which is why Democrats and liberals, in this time of desperation, need allies like the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump.  These are the same people who came up with a campaign theme in 2000 to gut the social safety net under George W. Bush called “compassionate conservatism”.  And turned a underqualified small town mayor from Alaska into the darling of the Republican right.  Theoretically, I might consider a defense lawyer who successfully represents the most disgusting clients the scum of the earth.  But if I am  the one facing ten years in the slammer, hand me his business card.

BALL #3: Donald Trump’s 2020 Election Strategy.  If Trump’s base of support was an onion, every action he has taken this year has been the equivalent of discarding one layer after another.  Criminal negligence handling the pandemic response has alienated the elderly.  Racial dog-whistling has offended suburban women.  Intervening in the prosecutions of his partners in crime has exposed the hypocrisy of his tacit support for justice reform.  His infomercials for Trump properties and promoting products like Goya foods and My Pillow reek of self-dealing and corruption.  And of course, his gaslighting the legitimacy of an election he is trying his damnedest to lose has generated a backlash among conservative voices from Rupert Murdoch’s  Wall Street Journal to William F. Buckley’s National Review to Steven Calabresi’s Federalist Society, the folks who brought you Brett Kavanaugh.  Trump has transformed his 2016 inside straight into a royal flush of remorse.

Too bad for Trump the masters of Republican advertising are on our side.  Otherwise, the campaign’s response to under the table dealings and abuse of power would be sold as “covert capitalism”.  Trump would be touted not as someone who RAN government like a business, but the person who MADE government a business.  The administration would be a pantheon to American capitalism in an arena where the fight was never intended to take place.

How did this happen?  Because Plan A, “overt capitalism,” was sidetracked when 77,000 voters, Russia and James Comey contributed to Trump’s victory in 2016.  Pre-2015, the Trump brand was associated with wealth and luxury. His target market was the rich and famous.  But as Mary Trump states in the title of her tell-all book, it was “never enough.”   Enter Trump University, a vehicle to fleece the poor and forgotten.  How better to reach that new market than free airtime and a campaign financed by the Republican Party?  Plan A was to lose the election but gain 40-50 million potential customers.

Plan B, “covert capitalism,” looked good on paper.  But the return on investment has been disappointing.  The brand has taken a hit with its original market as evidenced by the declining revenues at Trump resorts and hotels, even prior to the coronavirus.  Hosting certain public events at Trump properties is viewed as a conflict of interest and off-limits (e.g. the G-7 meeting and the WGC Golf Tournament at Doral National).  And government watchdogs are building a mountain of receipts that document the family’s self-dealing and potential misappropriation of campaign funds.

The only logical explanation for the Trump 2020 campaign is customer retention.  One has to wonder if Ivanka, Junior and Eric haven’t held an intervention in which they convinced daddy it is time to go back to Plan A.  Exhibit #1.  Last week the Trump Organization applied for a trademark for the term “telerally.”  The application stated “telerally” would be used in “organizing events in the fields of politics and political campaigning.”  And who do you think will be the audience for these events?  I won’t insult your intelligence by answering that.

Welcome to Trump Overt Capitalism 2.0.  The same voters who believed their lives would be enriched by a real estate shyster and reality television host will pay for the opportunity to listen to him whine about his victimhood, don Chinese-manufactured t-shirts and ball caps proclaiming “We Was Robbed,” and stay at Econo-Trump motels.  They will long for the “good old days” as they watch telerallies on the One America News Network, likely to be renamed the Trump Resistance Channel.  Yet, each and every one of them will still benefit from the health care and government transfer payments of which Trump did his best to deprive them.  And complain about it all the way to the bank.

For what it’s worth.