Thursday, January 18, 2018

The color of money.

Eric Trump has been type-cast by the media, very unkindly and probably unfairly, as the dumb one, the odd one, the unloved one.  Perhaps he's been misunderstood -- or at least he has acquired a better message guru.   Eric told Fox and Friends:

"My father is not a racist.   He sees only one color:  green."

I'd suggest an additional color, the one for winning.  Gold?

At least a few are breaking their silence; but when will they do something?

Some Republicans in Congress are beginning to speak out against the president's many many demonstrations of his unfitness for the office of president.   Want to guess which senator said this from the Senate floor on Wednesday?   As reported by Daniella Diaz for CNN.
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". . . [Sen. --------], a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, took to the Senate floor Wednesday morning to rebuke the President for his repeated remarks on 'fake news.'

"'No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions,' [--------] said in his speech.  'An American president who cannot take criticism -- who must constantly deflect and distort and distract -- who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the President adds to the danger.'

"[--------] also compared Trump's attacks on the news media to the rhetoric of late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

"He criticized the President for calling the news media the 'enemy of the people,' calling it 'an assault as unprecedented as it is unwarranted.'

"'It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies,' he said. 'It bears noting that the phrase 'enemy of the people' was so fraught with malice that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader."

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Sounds like one courageous dude or dame, no?   Well, yes, but I would have a lot more respect and admiration for his leadership ability if Sen. Jeff Flake had not already announced that he will not run for re-election this fall.   But at least he said it, and he said it in the hallowed halls of the United States Senate.  And he is a Republican.

To be realistic, Flake already has formidable opposition in Arizona and might very well lose.   Or, on the other hand, he might rise to the occasion, become one of the necessary, courageous leaders who sets things right in our government to stop the attacks on our democratic institutions.

These are very troubling times -- not just for the next DACA deadline (but for that too);  and not just for the next government shutdown deadline (but for that too);  and not just for the next year, the next election, the next decade.

The future of our country is at stake.   Will we reaffirm, by deed and not just by words, the ideals on which it became a moral and an economic leader of the world?   Or will we drift into a second rate, authoritarian oligarchy of corruption and classism, abandoning the founding principles of the United States?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Latest WH spin on Trump's vulgar word

All those vehement denials that the president used "shithole" to describe a group of nations he doesn't like.   No, he did not say it, they insisted.   That hasn't worked out very well.   Senators Durbin and Graham have more credibility than the president and his spinners.

So now they're trying this.   People just misheard the word.  The president didn't actually say "shithole."   He said "shithouse."

Oh, well.   That makes all the difference, doesn't it?   Huh?

Beyond the shocking racism, Trump also revealed what a poor executive he is.

Enough of the back and forth about Donald Trump's revealed racism, his vulgarity, and his dishonesty.   Peel all that away, and we still have a man who claims to be the world's best deal maker, yet who is proving that he doesn't have the basic skills necessary to be an effective executive.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. wrote about it in his Washington Post opinion essay on Monday.  Dionne pointed out Trump's obvious racism, but also his lack of credibility even in his denial -- "especially because he called around first to see how his original words would play with his base."    Then the essay moves on to look at Trump's  mismanagement of the negotiations with the senators.  So much for The Art of the Deal.
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Dionne writes:  "But notice also what Trump's outburst did to our capacity to govern ourselves and make progress. Democrats and Republicans sympathetic to the plight of the 'dreamers' worked out an immigration compromise designed carefully to give Trump what he had said he needed.

"There were many concessions by Democrats on border security, 'chain migration' based on family reunification, and the diversity visa lottery that Trump had criticized.  GOP senators such as Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) bargained in good faith and were given ample reason by Trump to think they had hit his sweet spot.

"Trump blew them away with a torrent of bigotry. In the process, he shifted the onus for avoiding a government shutdown squarely on his own shoulders and those of Republican leaders who were shamefully slow in condemning the president's racism.

"There are so many issues both more important and more interesting than the psyche of a deeply damaged man. We are capable of being a far better nation. But we need leaders who call us to our obligations to each other as free citizens. Instead, we have a president who knows only how to foster division and hatred."

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And, worse yet, Trump seems unwilling or incapable of listening to advice, of learning from experience, and of self-reflection even on an elementary level.  Yes, the racism and divisiveness are terrible;   but that's only one part of the problem with this president.

Meanwhile the future lives of some 800,000 DACA young people are on hold, with time running out to fix the problem that Trump created last fall when he said he was scrapping the program and gave Congress until March to come up with a solution.   But there are even earlier deadlines -- like Friday this week -- for new applicants for the program.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trying to make sense of the immigration dispute and why it may kill the plan.

All we knew of what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said to the president, following his "shithole" comment about Haiti and African countries, was that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said he admired Sen. Graham for having spoken up to the president directly in the moment.  But he did not quote him.

On Friday, Graham released this:  "Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday.  The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel.  I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."

Now we have a little more detail, and Graham comes out seeming both courageous and circumspect for not blabbing to the media.  The New York Times quotes from three sources who were briefed on the meeting, saying that Sen. Graham responded to the president "with an impassioned defense of immigrants and immigration as pillars of the American ideals of diversity and inclusion."

They further quote Graham as saying, "America is an idea, not a race," adding that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.  He said he himself is a descendant of immigrants who came to the United States from "shithole countries with no skills."  The report did not say how the president responded to Sen. Graham's comments.

This is in contrast to the duo of Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) and David Perdue (R-GA), Trump allies who have their own proposal as a rival to the bipartisan Graham-Durbin plan.   Durbin is the one who directly quoted Trump's "shithole" comment.  Cotton and Perdue initially put out a statement saying they couldn't recall the president "saying that specifically."  (There's a lot of wiggle room there.)  By the Sunday talk shows, they were both adamantly saying that the president did not use that word.

So Graham's words, coming from the only Republican in the room who has criticized Trump, have significance in this.  But there's much more to it than "he said, no he didn't."   The meeting in question was for the purpose of Sens. Graham and Durbin -- one Republican and one Democrat -- presenting to the president the bipartisan plan for immigration reform.   Cotton and Perdue also were in the meeting, presumably to try to shape the president's thinking in the merit-based and conservative direction of a plan they are working on.'

Jim Galloway, in his "Political Insider" column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explains it this way:

"Why, Trump reportedly had asked, did the bipartisan compromise before him allow immigrants from 's---holecountries in Africa and from Haiti rather than Norway?"  [Galloway then described the 'evolving' memories of Cotton and Perdue as to what Trump said, pointing out that they went from "having no recall of him saying that" to absolute certainty that he did not by the Sunday talk shows, which Galloway referred to as "group amnesia."]

[Galloway]:  "Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon often employed the n-word.  The difference is that their policies, generally speaking, contradicted their internal prejudices.

"Trump's remarks weren't made at a dinner party or in a locker room.  They were made during the formal presentation of a bipartisan compromise on 'dreamer' kids and legal immigration.  His 's---hole' language was a key portion of a policy discussion.

"Perdue and Cotton have allied with Trump to change the way we treat immigration.  Currently, one might describe our manner of importing new citizens as a matter of self-selection.  Those who want the American life badly enough make the effort. . . .

"Perdue and Cotton want a merit-based immigration system.  Entry would be granted to those who, according to some government standard, fit a particular national need.  You can disagree with Perdue and Cotton, but the approach is legitimate and has its precedent in many other countries.

"But we do not permit immigration quotas by race.  Congress has passed laws forbidding it.  And that is precisely what a desire to restrict African immigration in favor of northern European immigration would be.

"This is likely why Perdue's memory of that White House meeting, at first foggy, later hardened into denial.   Because he has the president as an ally, acknowledging Trump's remarks, even with an accompanying condemnation, could call into question the underlying purpose of Perdue's [and Cotton's] own bill. . . .

"Court challenges of federal actions often hinge on legislative intent.  Motivation -- ie, remarks made during debate and formulation -- is important.  Trump's remarks on Thursday will no doubt become part of multiple legal arguments that already accuse him of racial or religious animus.

"Perdue's word dance this weekend, however awkward and -- if others are to be believed -- disingenuous, was the senator's attempt to keep his signature piece of legislation out of that mire."

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First, let me point out that Galloway's use of Perdue's name, so much more than Cotton's, likely is due to the fact that Perdue is one of Georgia's two senators.  The political editor of the Atlanta newspaper was trying to answer questions a lot of Perdue's constituents have been asking.

But, second, understanding the political motivation does not make this right.  I fully support the empirical data that show, in general, that immigrants make good citizens.   Despite Trump's continual lying about it, immigrants have a lower crime rate than natural born citizens.   They work harder and, in general, also attain a high educational and economic status.

I'm with Senator Graham and Durbin on their bipartisan plan.  Unfortunately, all of the furor and distraction of the president's language and attitude may kill it.   The DACA deadline runs out very soon.   Graham is probably the key figure here.  Let's hope he has the negotiating skill and the ear of the president -- and uses them well.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968

Today is the official national holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is observed on the third Monday in January each year -- and which this year falls on his actual birthday, January 15th.

Fifty years after his assassination (yes, it was April 4, 1968), what is there left to say that might be new or have a different slant?   Perhaps nothing.   But I am particularly mindful today of how far our country has strayed from King's dedication to bringing truth and justice to all people.

In a way I had not thought of until now, Donald J. Trump is a sort of anti-MLK.   Trump is basically a "me-first" guy, extending that to "my family," "my wealth," "my country," and "my kind of people."

That's what I'm going to reflect on today and on redoubling efforts to elect those who better fit the image of a moral leader that Dr. King left for us.


Now this is some good news

Amid all the ruckus over sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, there lurks the other power-related issue -- unequal pay for men and women actors.  The two issues linked up in this one story -- with a good outcome.

When Kevin Spacey was exposed as having been a serial sexual harasser of young men in the theater/movie world, the producers of his completed -- but not-yet-released -- movie, "All the Money In the World," decided to delete him from the film by reshooting all his scenes and replacing him with Christopher Plummer.

This meant the other actors in the movie had to cooperate and redo their parts in those scenes as well.   Supposedly a group of them agreed to do whatever it took to salvage the film, including working for free if necessary.  They had already been paid their original, contracted fee for the film.    But somehow Mark Walhlberg's agent reached a different agreement, and he was paid $1.5 million for the reshoots.

Michelle Williams was one of the others who agreed to reshoot for free, even though she is represented by the same William Morris agency as Wahlberg.  There's been much discussion about this disparity.   Williams was paid the required minimum per diem, which amounted to less than $1,000 for the entire reshoot -- vs. Wahlberg's $1.5 million.

Wahlberg made a decision and released this statement:

"Over the last few days my reshoot fee for All The Money in the World has become an important topic of conversation. I 100% support the fight for fair pay and I’m donating the $1.5 million to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Michelle Williams’ name."

His agent, WME, also chipped in a $500,000 donation to the defense fund, also in Williams' name.

This does not solve the larger problem of unequal pay for men and women actors, but it's a good outcome for this particular situation.