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The Love Shackle: Are Marital Religious Conversions Sincere?

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

 

 

Marriage remains the primary reason many people of faith convert from one religion to another, or from no religion to a precipitous discovery of sudden belief.  But why should anyone be forced to change their personal belief system based simply on falling in love?  Doesn’t true love demand tolerance, that is — allowing a spouse to believe what they want and loving him (or her) for who they really are?

 

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been in the news a lot lately.  In the midst of another news cycle, we’re reminded once again that Ivanka once selflessly converted from Christianity (Presbyterianism) to Judaism prior to marrying her beloved prince, Jared.  Isn’t that nice.

Ivanka’s sudden religious epiphany had more to do with an intense desire to get married to someone well-to-do than any discernible intellectual exercise or inner spiritual experience.  In fact, the power couple reportedly broke off their engagement at one point due to strong objections from Kushner’s parents to their son marrying outside the faith.

So, why would a strong-willed, seemingly-intelligent, highly-educated woman reflective of the modern age do something straight out of the Middle Ages, subjugating her most heartfelt personal beliefs to the forced coercion of matrimony?  Let’s call this all-too-typical pattern of behavior what it truly is — an exercise in forced intellectual subjugation.  Oddly enough, it’s a perfectly acceptable form of slavery and servitude that’s still widely in practice.

The Kushner’s certainly aren’t alone, and I don’t mean to pick on them.  This isn’t a political attack.  Rather it’s a philosophical inquiry.  In fact, conversion coercion (a term I just invented here) has become so common that it’s not only now socially normal, but also prudently forgiven as an entirely rational decision.  Indeed, millions of religious conversions have taken place over many decades, no nation more familiar with this peculiar cultural practice than the United States, the ultimate melting pot of people with divergent religions and belief systems.  Matrimonial conversions were all too common in 20th Century America, during a time when religious bonds were considerably stronger than they are today, when boys and girls with different religious upbringings often went to the same school, fell in love, and then decided to get married.  Plenty of Catholics converted to Protestantism, and vice versa.  Christians married Jews, and converted.  More recent, we’ve even begun seeing Christians convert to Islam.  That said, I’m not familiar with any Atheists suddenly “finding religion.”  The building blocks of intelligence can’t be deconstructed, it seems, even by the power of love.

So, what makes religious conversion a mandatory ritual between some couples?  Wouldn’t love and tolerance be best exemplified by loving someone for who they really are, without the remolding process?  People of differing religious faiths, or faith versus no faith at all, have married, and lived happily ever after.  I’ve seen no scientific evidence that shared religious views increases the chances of a happy marriage.  People who are comfortable with themselves and their own beliefs shouldn’t feel threatened by a life’s partner professing an alternative view of our place in the universe.

Truth and honesty should dictate that no religion wants its believers to be converted by force.  But history reveals quite the opposite story — from the Inquisition to the Crusades to the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas (all done in the name of religion).  Hence, it’s no surprise then that religions want new followers any way it can get them, either by using the carrot or the stick.  Marriage just so happens to be a little of both.

Is religion nothing more than a light switch to be flipped on at a moment’s notice, just prior to heading off to the alter?  Can a thinking person really alter their most fundamental belief system without some genuine curiosity and a longer process of discovery?  Well, exposure to new teachings might explain some sincere instances of religious conversion.  Yes, they do happen.  Surely, out of countless millions of instances there are some couples where one spouse signed up to join a different tribe and then gradually become mesmerized by and absorbed within the new rituals.  Still, this all-too convenient (and dishonest) outcome can’t possibly apply to the vast majority of forced conversions, leaving those pseudo-converted shackled to the cerebral equivalent of a ball and chain.  Sure, plenty of people might be able to “fake it” and go along with the charade for a while, many doing it for the sake of the children, no doubt.  But it all seems terribly contrived, and ultimately fake.

Closing the minds of children and insisting upon a strict religious orthodoxy is bad enough, and I’d argue abusive.  Proper education should require that all children get a more balanced view of the alternatives.  But shackling one’s husband or wife to a religious faith is a twisted manifestation of anguishing cruelty.  Forcing one’s religious views on another person, especially a life’s partner, isn’t love.  It’s the ultimate in insecurity and selfishness.

 

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An Alternative Opinion of Doctor Drama Queen Forcibly Dragged Off United Airlines

Posted by on Apr 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Rants and Raves | 14 comments


 

We criticize airlines for overbooking practices.  We blast them when they occasionally run into problems, like when too many passengers show up.  Yet, most doctors do exactly the same thing.  However, no doctor has ever offered me a $400 voucher and a free lunch for making me wait too long.

 

By now, you’ve probably seen the shaky cell phone footage showing a screaming United Airlines passenger dragged down mid aisle and forcibly removed from a flight yesterday.

The passenger, claiming to be a doctor, was asked to give up his seat by the airline’s staff after it was discovered the short flight was overbooked.  There are some additional background details pertaining to this incident, but I won’t get into them here.  [OPTION:  READ MORE]

After watching the video, the popular reaction has been scathing criticism targeted at United Airlines for the way they handled this matter.  Sure, airlines are giant fuck buses with wings.  It’s easy to understand why so many people sympathize with a fellow passenger, versus the big bad airline doing mean stuff to a helpless man simply wanting to fly back home.  Indeed, air travel has become an agonizing experience.  Airline service sucks.  When we fly, we’re treated like helpless pawns being run though a cattle chute.

Nonetheless, let’s also agree that none of this would have happened if Doctor Drama Queen would simply have behaved like a grown up instead of throwing a temper tantrum like a 2-year-old child.

Hey, Doc — this isn’t a Vietnam War protest.  Your resistance isn’t an act of valor.  Being forcibly dragged away isn’t heroic civil disobedience.  It’s stupidity.  It’s selfishness.  It’s a petty display of entitlement and exaggerated self-importance made considerably worse by rampant conceit that doctors are somehow entitled to special privileges whereecer they go.  Well, I have news for you, Doc.

Who knows if Doctor Drama Queen really had patients waiting back in Louisville?  No one has confirmed yet if his claims about having medical patients are really true.  And even if they are true, most doctors sure as hell don’t care about our valuable time, not when patients are often crammed into waiting rooms and forced to stare at the walls for an hour or more after our scheduled appointment time.  Sure, doctors provide us while entertainment while we’re waiting.  Last time I had a medical check up, I read two entire years worth of Highlights for Children magazines.  Hey Doc, let’s learn a lesson together.  Gallant cooperates with airline security.  Gufus thinks he’s more important than everyone else and goes bat-shit crazy when he doesn’t get his way.

[Update:  “Dr. David Dao lied to the airline crew.  He’s a bold-faced liar.  “Dr. Dao” had no patients waiting for him the next morning back in Louisville, since his medical licence was suspended in January.  He’s currently under indictment for peddling opiods.  So — pending a conviction — he’s probably a dope peddler]

So, we criticize airlines for their overbooking practices and blast them when they occasionally run into problems when too many passengers show up.   Yet, most doctors do exactly the same thing.  However, no doctor has ever offered me a $400 voucher and a free lunch for making me wait too long.

Oh, and by the way — he must not be much of a doctor if he’s flying coach.   But I digress.

United Airlines might get sued over this and be tempted to settle.  Let’s hope not.  Instead, Doctor Drama Queen should be criminally prosecuted to the full extent of the law for interfering with the operation of an aircraft.  He not only caused a scene.  His actions also created a needless delay for everyone else on that flight.  How selfish of him.  He certainly wouldn’t have protested someone else getting plucked from the flight for many of the reasons people travel — including families reuniting, a prospective job interview, or a funeral.  No, this was all about him.

Admittedly, this is a case of very bad timing for United Airlines, particularly after the embarrassing (overtly sexist) dress code incident a few weeks ago.  However, one miscue doesn’t entail perpetual and comprehensive guilt across an entire industry when it comes to dealing with passengers.  Sometimes the airline is wrong.  Other times the passenger is wrong.  In this case, Doctor Drama Queen was wrong.

Lock him up.

 

NOTE:  FOLLOW THE DISCUSSION HERE ON FACEBOOK

 

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Bombing Syria: A Prescription from Dr. Feelgood

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Bombing Syria accomplishes nothing.  At best, it’s a guilt-ridding military drill.  At worst, it could be a premeditated diversion by the scandal-plagued Trump Administration.

 

Recent missile airstrikes against Syria are nothing more than a tingling salve applied to our wounded sensitivities, temporarily satisfying mass guilt that “something” had to be done over there in the world’s most destructive civil war.

Those images of poor Syrian kids coughing up blood were haunting.  So, the time finally came to drop some bombs.  Blow up lots of shit.  Make sure the American public was fed plenty of cool visuals displaying the awesomeness of our military.  Mission accomplished.

Back to golf.  What time’s tee-off at Mar-a-Lago?

Oh sure.  Taking “decisive” military action is certain to be popular with some Americans, particularly those who always love waging a good war, just as long as someone else’s kids are fighting it.  Body bags filled with the anonymous softens the blow.  How convenient we can push buttons, instead of landing troops onto beachheads or dropping them into war zones.  Fighting a war remotely with missiles and drones tethered to our fingertips seems far more righteous than sticking a bayonet into the gut of the enemy.  Yet, the carnage is the same.

The trouble with Syrian airstrikes is, they accomplish nothing.  Dictator-President Bashar al-Assad isn’t resigning from office, nor fleeing the country.  He will remain in power, probably for quite a long time given the unwavering military and economic assistance he receives from the Russians.  Assad also continues to enjoy significant popular support within parts his own country, although it’s always difficult to measure approval within an autocracy.

There’s no doubt the Syrian strongman is most popular among secularists.  Ironically, he’s least popular among Islamic fundamentalists.  Oh, what a quagmire for America to be arming militants who fanatically worship the Koran versus a leader who adores classical music and wears double-breasted suits tailored in Paris.

Indeed, when it comes to Syria, there are no good options for us, or anyone else.  There are only bad options, some far worse than others.  Blowing up Damascus, Syria’s capital, might make us feel good in between watching ballgames and making burger runs.  But it won’t create stability or make anyone safer.  It could even make things worse.

We’ve already seen what happens when tyrants are removed from power within the volatile Middle East.  There are no knights on white horses riding to the rescue.  There are only more tyrants waiting in the wings ready to fill the void, usually ready to impose various twisted forms of Sharia Law.  This is the risk.

American military engagement in Afghanistan successfully ended the awful oppression of the Taliban.  Now, fourteen years later, we’re still over there fighting with troops on the ground with no end in sight.  Afghanistan, almost forgotten here back at home, has become the longest war in American history.  U.S. military commanders have warned that we might be in Afghanistan for decades to come.

Sure, it also felt good to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Much like Assad, he was a really bad guy.  It was really satisfying to see him get what he deserved — death by hanging.  Unfortunately, once his totalitarian order dissolved, ISIS spawned out of the chaos, which became an even more dangerous enemy.  Sure, Saddam was terrible.  But there’s no evidence that he ever supported international terrorism against American targets.  The same is true of Assad in Syria.

America took a less active role in ending Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime, even though he openly courted international terrorists and was even responsible for the attack on the Pan-Am Airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.  As terrible as his iron-fisted rule was for most Libyans, history shows, the United States took no significant action for 40 years, all whilst his people suffered unspeakable horrors.

The Taliban, Saddam, and Gaddafi — they’re all gone now.  That’s good, in moral sense.  Justice was served.  But what about the long-term national interest.  Can anyone argue that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are now more stable, or more livable societies?  Can anyone argue the average citizens in those countries are better off with the tyrants deposed?  When it comes to our active role in these conflicts, after thousands of our own lives lost and trillions of tax dollars wasted, haven’t we learning anything yet?

Bombing Syria won’t accomplish anything.  However, it could create an even more dangerous crisis for everyone.  Given Russia’s unshakable support for Assad, combined with the messy political scandal currently plaguing the Trump Administration which includes looming questions about his personal and financial dealings with the Putin regime, this Syrian business could spin wildly out of control.  Right now, it’s a proxy war mostly being fought by Syrians, some with American weapons and other armed with Russian weapons.  Tomorrow, it could be Russian pilots shooting at American pilots.

This all leads to the sticky question about whether or not we trust President Trump to make wise and impartial decisions, free of conflicts of personal interest.  There are reasons for doubt.  Is Trump acting in America’s best interest?  Or, is he acting in Trump’s best interest?  Given all the secret meetings and personal contacts between Trump dignitaries and known spies working for Russian intelligence in recent months, those aren’t questions spun in conspiracy.  They’re entirely reasonable given the circumstances and suspicious timing of events.

Even a best-case scenario for the Syrian debacle actually looks more like a worst-case scenario for America.  If Assad gets overthrown, then what happens next?  Would Islamic fundamentalists take over?  Should we risk yet another massive destabilization in that war-torn region?  Do we want another Afghanistan?  Another Iraq?  Another Libya?  Are we prepared to invest yet another decade stuck in the middle of the never ending conflict between the Sunni and Shia?

When it comes to Syria, we may be stuck with a choice between drinking battery acid and eating a shit sandwich.  Neither option is very appealing.  However, sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Bombing Syria is nothing to celebrate.

 

Writer’s Note:  Here’s a column I wrote in 2013 when President Obama was first confronted with the Syrian crisis.  SHOULD AMERICA INTERVENE IN SYRIA?

 

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What Trump Should Have Done on the First Day of His Presidency

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

 

 

Continuing to Ignore America’s Deteriorating Infrastructure Spells Trouble — Both for Him and for Us

 

I don’t make it a habit of dishing out political advice to someone I loath.

Today, I’m making an exception.

This unsolicited wisdom, if followed, could provide a desperately needed political achievement for the thoroughly inept Trump Administration, now 75 days into what’s likely to disintegrate into the most shameful presidency in American history.  Despite all the current distractions, now seems like a good a time to speculate on how things might have been different.

On day one, President Trump’s very first act should have been the signing Executive Order #1 — rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.  Whatever it took, whatever the cost, whatever the political willpower required to get things moving forward — a massive public works project intent on fixing America’s crumbling roads, bridges, pipelines, dams, and other indispensable groundwork would have instantly launched the new presidency in a positive direction.

Had President Trump simply announced, “I’m here to make America great again,” followed by the public signing of a massive public works project, he might have parlayed that genuine display of goodwill and willingness to govern into something far greater.  That would have been a stroke of bold new leadership.

Imagine the political fallout of that moment, which cannot be overstated given how bad things have gone since then.  Had “rebuilding America” been the first act of the new Trump presidency tens of millions of American workers would have cheered the news.  Maybe roads and bridges doesn’t sound sexy, politically speaking.  But everyone in America understands maintaining them is a vital function of government.  Republicans, despite budget concerns, would have been forced to support Trump’s initiative.  Democrats, the party typically associated with big government, would have been placed immediately on the defensive, backed into a corner — and likely forced to work with the new administration to bring good jobs and construction projects back to their home districts.  Even those of us who despise Trump, the person, would have supported Trump, the president, on the critical issue towards making massive infrastructure improvements.  Who would oppose the prospect of millions of new jobs being created instantaneously?  On day one?  Answer– virtually no one.

Seriously, who in their right mind opposes making sure our roads and bridges are safe?  It’s was a sure-fire home run.  A can’t miss idea.  A consensus builder.  A national initiative.  The ultimate act of placing “America first.”

That’s how President Trump should have kicked off his new administration.  Had that been the strategy, he would have won “bigly” on that single issue, leading to unforeseen bipartisan cooperation which could have produced additional common political ground.  The foundation for a working relationship would have been bronzed.  President Trump could have rightly called himself a “unifier,” if only for a day.  Perhaps most important, it would have been the right thing to do for America.

Well, none of this happened, of course.  Instead, President Trump spent his first day attending three inaugural balls, which was to be expected.  He also signed four executive orders.  Two of those acts dealt with staffing his new administration.  One was the reversal of a housing program instituted by the Obama Administration which made new homes more affordable to low- and middle-income Americans (not sure why there was so much urgency to reverse that policy).  The fourth and final act of the day was dismantling parts of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), although Trump admittedly “had no idea healthcare was was so complex,” as he remarked later.

The nation’s infrastructure might as well have been a manned trip to Mars.

Alea iacta est.  The die was cast.  The death spiral began.  On the following day, President Trump began spinning mindless fantasies demonstrated by a bizarre visit to Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters where he spent much of the solemn occasion bitching about media coverage and lying about inauguration attendance.  From there, the lunacy train pretty much ran off the rails and has been flipped upside down in a ditch, ever since.  Oh my, what could have been instead.

Weeks later, President Trump finally raised the forgotten infrastructure issue for the very first time during his faux-State of the Union-style address to members of Congress.  His remarks elicited loud cheers from both sides of the aisle, and even drew high praise from his most vicious critics.  For the first time Trump was even called “presidential.”

Once again, President Trump had a rare golden opportunity to lead and to make good on a critical campaign promise that was important to everyone in the nation.  Unfortunately, the words didn’t match the actions.

Another month-and-a-half has elapsed, since then.  During that time, President Trump released his first proposed federal budget.  Guess what?  Inexplicably, and to everyone’s astonishment, his budget slashes spending on infrastructure!  There’s no trillion dollar increase investment in America.  Once again, Trump is lying.  He talks a big game out in front of the folks while continuing his adoration tour of self love.  Then, when ink meets paper we actually see that his policies obliterate the funds necessary to so the job.  It’s yet another bait and switch.  Here’s the latest update on Trump’s false infrastrcuture promises and mess:  Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Be His Biggest Con Yet

So, what happened?  Well, perhaps this administration is just way too caught up at the moment in Kremlin-gate.  One can see why that would be a distraction.  Perhaps Trump is too busy focusing on the musical chairs within his own staff, which continues changing by the minute.  Maybe Steve Bannon misplaced the smeared cocktail napkin on which the nation’s priorities were scribbled.  Who knows the real reason why infrastructure now seems like the last thing on the president’s mind.  Trump’s out on the golf course so often (13 times, so far) that he’s forgotten all about America’s deteriorating roads and bridges and water supplies.  I guess it’s hard to see rusted bolts from the 18th hole tee-box at Mar a Lago.

Whatever the reasoning, if reason even exists at all, President Trump is blowing it — big time.  He’s blowing it policy wise.  He’s blowing it politically.  Trouble is, this isn’t just bad for him.  The consequences are far worse — for us.

This isn’t an problem that can wait much longer.  It’s not like another four years can go by without taking some significant measures.  If roads were arteries, then we’re an overweight nation with a three-pack-a-day habit and cholesterol levels off the charts.  We don’t just need a new diet and an exercise program.  We need electric shock therapy.

There are other Flints out there waiting to detonate.  Years ago, we saw what happens when critical infrastructure is ignored.  Seven people died needlessly when a bridge servicing an interstate highway collapsed in Minneapolis.  Last week, another bridge collapsed in Atlanta.  These might seem like isolated incidents, but the reality is — the ice is melting fast on the lake and we’re all exposed on a warm spring day.  One recent study found that a whopping 59,000 bridges across America are structurally deficient.  Each one of these roads and bridges is a ticking time bomb.

Here’s an idea:  Instead of wasting our precious national treasury constructing a worthless border wall with utterly no benefit to most Americans, that money should instead be spent on things that really matter.  We’re realizing now that making America great again wasn’t a sincere promise, so much as an empty slogan.  The infrastructure issue was just a cheap applause line for Trump during his feel-good campaign, intended to opiate millions of Americans into believing he’s really committed to governing when his actions have revealed that he’s the antithesis of governance.

Our roads are cracking.  Our bridges are swaying.  Like Trump’s unraveling presidency, it’s just a matter of time before things start to collapse and disaster occurs.

 

 

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A Mirror Reflection: Republicans and Russians Entangled in a Perverse Love Affair

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment



 

Over the past year or so, President Donald Trump has viciously attacked several targets.

He’s attacked his victims at campaign rallies, press conferences, interviews, and most notably on social media (Twitter).  Each attack plenty of evidence.  No one disputes these attacks have occurred, which number in the hundreds.  Momentarily, I’ll get to a partial list of those Trump been attacked.

Amidst all the bombastic bluster, there’s one notable person who hasn’t been attacked.  Moreover, the nation he rules with an iron fist and the acts of aggression he’s taken haven’t received even a peep of criticism, despite what’s become an autocratic state teetering on fascism now engaged in hostile military action against its neighbors.

Not a single tweet from the President of the United States in response.

Not once.

Not a single time.

Not a single comment.

So, who is this individual enjoying presidential immunity?  And what makes him the unlikely beneficiary of so much love and admiration in the face of so many other petty attacks on far less significant public figures.

Let’s examine the record.  Here’s a partial list of notable people and public institutions which have been attacked by President Trump within the past 12 months.  There’s ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION:

President Barack Obama — former President (blasted ceaselessly by Trump for the past six years dating back to birther nonsense and recently accused of committing a felony).

CNN — worldwide new organization (blasted numerous times and called “bad people”).

Hillary Clinton — former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, ex-First Lady, and two-time Presidential candidate (attacked innumerable times, often with fabricated accusations).

The New York Times — one of the world’s most trusted and respected news organizations (attacked dozens of times and repeatedly tagged as “failed,” even its though financials have never been healthier).

The Cast of “Hamilton” — the hottest ticket on Broadway (referred to as “overrated” even though no once can get a ticket at face value and tickets are being scalped at $1,200 a seat).

“Saturday Night Live” — An American television institution (which has been going strong for 41 years and is currently in the midst of a ratings renaissance, largely fueled by Trump-related humor).

Jill Stein — Flawed third-party presidential candidate (which made her an inviting target, because she’s a strong woman and Donald Trump is uncomfortable around strong women).

Sen. Chuck Schumer — Senate Minority Leader (even though Trump donated more money to Schumer than any other senator over the past 20 years, he’s became a frequent target of attacks once Trump became a Republican).

Arnold Schwarzenegger — Disgraced former Republican Governor of California (attacked numerous times for stepping into the starring role on a shitty “reality” television show once fronted by a con-man).

Meryl Streep — A 20-time Oscar nominee — more than any actor in history — and perhaps the most honored film icon of all time (described by Trump as “overrated” in his tweets).

Rosie O’Donnell — Not typically worth anyone’s time or attention (but whom appears to be an unhealthy obsession by the President).

The U.S. Intelligence Community — The NSA, the CIA, the DIA, et al.  Roughly 100,000 professionals working around the clock to keep America safe (recently compared to Nazis by President Trump in an incendiary tweet that caused mass derision).

Angela Merkel — Chancellor of Germany and arguably the world’s leading advocate of true democracy (accused by Trump of “ruining Germany” and being “the worst Chancellor of all time”….might want to re-think that one and pick up a textbook referencing “Year 1933,” Mr. President).

And…..

Vladimir Putin — Russian dictator and murder.

[READ MORE:  BACKGROUND ON PUTIN’S CRITICS WHO HAVE BEEN MURDERED]

Take a guess which individual has not been criticized, not even one time, by President Donald Trump.

_____

So, what’s with the bizarre secret love affair between Republicans and the Russians?  

Its not just a cozy relationship.  It’s a consensual orgy.  Please explain how the patriotic political movement which supposedly champions “love of country” over just about every other virtue has this freaky attraction to a tyrannical regime which has been at odds with the United States for a nearly a century?

Let’s look at history.  Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan called the former Soviet Union “the evil empire.”  Today’s tryst between President Donald Trump and Russian murderer-dictator Vladimir Putin would have been unfathomable back then.  Now, Republicans aren’t just silent.  They’ve become willing accessories, like plodding the alcoholic with free booze and daring him to drink like a man.  Based on the volcano of evidence emerging about the Russians meddling in the 2016 American presidential election, it appears that some Republicans might even be traitors.

Indeed, today, when it comes to America’s stance on Russia, Sen. Joe McCarthy would probably be to the left of the Republican Party.  That’s how dangerously far out of the mainstream these sycophants have moved, who proclaim the peculiar dictum, “America First.”  Sounds like Republicans should change their slogan to “Let’s Make Russia Great Again.”

_____

This isn’t just a Trump thing.  The previous Republican president wasn’t so much corrupt, as painfully naive.  When George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time in 2001, he infamously remarked, “I looked (Putin) in the eye.  I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.  We had a very good dialogue.  I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

During that jaw-dropping exchange, it should be noted that Putin wore a large cross, symbolic of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Bush, an impressionable figure holding deeply religious convictions saw Putin wearing the holy amulet and somehow drew the astounding conclusion that Putin’s character could be assessed with affection.  Never mind that Putin has never once been seen wearing that cross since that meeting with the former Republican president.  In short, Putin played Bush like a cheap fiddle, tapping into his religious gullibility.

The Republican Right, once convinced Russia was the anti-Christ, did a quick about-face.  They snapped into line and marched behind Bush’s stunning personal appraisal of a leader widely-known by every other world power to be a vicious thug.  Republicans haven’t departed from this naivete since.  They’ve collapsed into an echo chamber of deceit and denial.  While Putin consolidated his power within, in part by murdering 293 people in the Russian apartment bombings and later on killing at least 40 political rivals via poisonings and other mysterious methods of murder, few Republicans raised objections.  Certainly not President Trump.

[Note:  Years later after leaving office, in 2010, former President Bush retreated from this opinion and admitted his previous assessment had been a mistake]

_____

When Russia invaded the Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Obama Administration took swift action.  President Obama instituted bold economic sanctions against the Putin regime and many of his well-connected financial interests, which eventually hampered the Russian economy, including slowing down their oil production and mining exports.  Much of the international community joined in the sanctions and bombarded Putin with public criticism, not just for the illegal Ukraine invasion, but for his own internal crackdown which has essentially turned Russia into a dictatorship.

About two years ago, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President.  While all the other candidates from both political parties accurately noted that Putin was a bad guy, Trump stunned everyone.  He professed support for many of Putin’s brutal actions.  He even expressed personal admiration for Putin.

No one really knows yet why Trump has this mysterious deep-seeded love affair with Putin, a flame-hot attraction which shows no signs of burning out anytime soon.  While just about everyone else on the planet calls Putin out what he is — a dictator who rules over Russia like a 21st century version of the Mafia, the president looks the other way.  Trump’s odd affections certainly aren’t based on fears of triggering a military escalation.  After all, Trump has repeatedly attacked other potential adversaries — including China and North Korea — which pose similar threats to global stability.  Only Putin and Russia get a free pass.

Why?

_____

Paul Manafort, the corrupt slime ball lobbyist who’s burrowed into each of the last four Republican presidential administrations, has made quite a fortune shilling for many of the world’s most awful dictators.  He’s carried the baggage for some real pricks.

Manafort is willing to do anyone’s dirty work, provided they’re willing to shell out millions in “consulting fees.”  Manafort, recently exposed for having 15 bank accounts with millions in secret funds [READ MORE:  MANAFORT’S SECRET MILLIONS], was discovered to be the beneficiary of about $10 million annually in payments from at least one Russian bank, with close political and financial ties to Putin.  Oh, and Paul Manafort used to be Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

Follow the money.

How about Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s hand-picked National Security Adviser, who was booted out of the fresh cabinet before he even had a chance to order new business cards?  He had meetings with the Russians, too.  Flynn committed the blunder of lying about his relationship with the Russians (make that at least one Russian known to be an intelligence agent), even misleading his closest political ally, Vice-President Mike Pence at one point during the internal White House game of musical chairs.  Now disgraced, Flynn could emerge as the talking yellow canary as investigations continue to ramp up.  [Breaking News:  Flynn is now offering to provide full testimony, if provided immunity.]

There’s also the President’s dirty son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  His daddy, who initially bankrolled baby Kush when he was first starting out in New York real estate, once served prison time for his financial crimes.  Kushner, married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, now sits in a plum chair as a White House adviser with easy and instant access to top-secret information as well as a direct 24-hour speed dial to the President of the United States.

Trump Administration spokespeople, and even the President himself, have repeatedly denied any connections or secret dealings with the Russians.  Nothing to see here, move on, they insist.  However, just last week Kushner was exposed to be less than forthcoming about his private talks with the Russians.  When it leaked that Kushner met with officials from at least one of the Russian banks currently under economic sanctions, that triggered yet another mad scramble within the West Wing to get their crumbling story straight.  Kushner is scheduled to testify soon about his secret relationships with the Russians in front of the House Committee on Intelligence, the highly-partisan panel now engaged in what’s masquerading as an “investigation.”

Manafort.  Flynn.  Kushner.  That’s just a few of the Trump officials now tainted in this dirty cesspool.  What is it with all these Trump advisers and the Russians?  [READ MORE:  TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDES AND RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE]

_____

President Trump has lied numerous times about these relationships and secret meetings.  It seems implausible he didn’t know his son-in-law, campaign manager, and National Security Adviser were meeting multiple times with the Russians.  Hell, it doesn’t seem just implausible.  It appears absurd.  This begs the famous question that was asked once before during another Constitutional crisis — “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

What’s been discussed here are the financial ties and behind-the-scenes dirty deals which might favor Russian economic interests and Trump’s financial empire.  This doesn’t even begin to take into account creeping suspicions about the Russians meddling in the presidential election, which could be closely related.  On one occasion, then-candidate Trump committed an appalling act of treason — which should have been an automatic disqualifier — when he encouraged the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.  [READ MORE:  TRUMP’S CALL FOR RUSSIA TO SPY ON CLINTON]

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What’s most puzzling here isn’t so much the questionable behavior of President Trump or his associates, which has become all-too predictable.  What’s far more puzzling is the perverted sense of twisted nationalism exhibited by nearly all of his strongest supporters, who continue to deny, deflect, and discard any suggestion that we should be concerned about Russian espionage.

The party that supposedly puts “America first” shares Trump’s cozy feelings about Putin and the Russians.  This love fest has now been going on for 16 years, since President Bush’s initial meeting.  The party that was once so mistrustful of the Russians (remember “trust but verify?”) now are willing to take them at their word.  The party that once stood up for human rights in the former Soviet Union during the dark days of the gulag is all but silent when it comes to Putin murdering his political opponents and shutting down the press.  The party of Reagan has morphed into the party of Trump.

Enough said.

This isn’t patriotism we’re witnessing, folks.  It’s treason.  It’s an unwillingness to face stark reality.  It’s refusing to ask legitimate questions that demand answers.  It’s about trusting the Commander-in-Chief who might have been compromised by a foreign power.

These are the ugly truths about two political paramours on opposite sides of the globe, but who may, in fact, be much closer in terms of their own tactics and shared world view.  It’s way past time to start asking questions as to why President Trump seems so infatuated with Vladimir Putin.

The rest of the world sees a dictator.

President Trump likely sees Putin as a mirror reflection.

 

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Video Poker Vasectomy

Posted by on Mar 17, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Rants and Raves | 5 comments

 

 

You can find video poker machines at some mighty strange places here in Las Vegas.

Video poker can be played at local bars and restaurants.  You can also try your luck at grocery stores and even gas stations.  Only in Las Vegas might a loaf of bread and gallon of milk end up costing $500.

Now, add hospitals to the list of predators.

Not content with bankrupting sick patients, overcharging insurance companies, and ripping off the government, at least one major Las Vegas hospital is about to plunge full steam ahead into the casino business.

Oh shit, I missed my straight flush draw.  Code Blue in the waiting room!

The hospital even paraded out a mental health “expert” to the curious media, who defended the unusual practice of installing video poker machines inside the facility’s rehab center.  Despite video poker having all the health benefits of watching television while scarfing down a bag of Ruffles, the “expert” professed that playing video poker stimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

See you later — I’m off to get my prefrontal cortex stimulated.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m all for legalized gambling.  I even support some forms of so-called convenience gambling, which means offering easier public access to various forms of wagering — particularly live poker and sports wagering.

However, shouldn’t we be drawing the lines somewhere?  What next — craps tables at the funeral parlor?  Come to think of it, those padded wooden caskets might serve a remarkable duel function.  Seven out!  Line away!

At a time when just about every big casino on the Las Vegas Strip is grabbing gamblers by the ankles, turning us upside down, and shaking us like wilted rag dolls until every last nickel has spilled out onto the floor, the very last thing this town needs is another rigged game with a 10 percent house advantage.  Everyone’s involved in larceny now.  Even the Mormons, who own many of the supermarket chains with the worst video poker payouts on the planet, are in on the heist.  Why would we expect anything less from greedy hospitals who basically wrote the “how to” book on fleecing?

So, how did your annual physical go?  Well, there’s bad news and good news:  I just got diagnosed with herpes.  But I hit a royal flush!

With all the talk about Trumpcare recently, the notion of video poker machines flashing and ringing inside hospitals does give an entirely new meaning to reaching one’s deductible.  Gee, I wonder if I go on tilt and blow a grand in the Deuces Wild machine — will that apply to my annual out-of-pocket?  Can I get my 80-20 co-pay reimbursement on that brutal session of Double-Double Bonus?

That machine next to the urology center doesn’t pay out worth a damn!

Unfazed by criticism, one therapist at the local hospital which is scheduled to introduce Clark County’s first video poker machine offered up a novel idea as to how gamblers might multi-task during a playing session.  By the way, my dear readers — I’m not making this up.  The therapist really suggested this.  And I quote:

“We can also have them put wrist weights on, and they’re playing for a whole 15 minutes (a session),” she said.  “It can get you tired after doing it for 15 minutes.”

What?  Huh?  Seriously?  Weights on wrists while playing video poker?  Those hospital patients are going to come out of therapy looking like The Rock on steroids.

Since the cat’s now out of the money bag when it comes to unbridled greed, pretty soon hospitals are likely be looking for even more creative ways to expand their video poker profits.  Just think of the possibilities:  Hospital rooms.  Diagnostic centers.  Ambulances.

[Siren at traffic intersection] Watch out for that ambulance with the flashing red and blue lights!  Ahh, everything’s fine — the guy in back on the stretcher just hit a progressive.

Paging Dr. Bob Dancer.  Paging Dr. Bob Dancer.  Please pick up the white courtesy phone.  Your services are needed in the waiting room immediately!  We need to know — should the patient hold Jacks and Tens on a 9/6 machine?

 

Update and Correction:  At least two articles have appeared on the local press on this subject.  The article in the Las Vegas Sun noted that the video poker machines will not be for cash play, but for amusement only.

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So, It Snowed Today in New York: Hello? It’s Still Winter!

Posted by on Mar 14, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Rants and Raves, Travel | 2 comments

 

 

So, it snowed today in Buffalo, New York.

Big fucking deal.

I suspect that it always snows in Buffalo, New York.  I think it snows in Buffalo, New York during the Fourth of July.

That’s what you get for living in Buffalo fucking New York.

Today, it also snowed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Big fucking deal.

That’s what you get for living in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Hey, listen up.  You chose to live in the Northeast.  That’s the decision you made, a choice which encompasses all the repercussions of dealing with occasional bad weather.  And, according to my calendar, today is March 12th.  That date places us squarely in the season known as Winter.  W-I-N-T-E-R.  Spring is still more than one week away.

Okay, so let’s say it snowed 12 inches a month from now, sometime during April.  Then perhaps you can make a case for acting all surprised and going full ape mode.  But right now, it’s still wintertime.  News Flash:  It snows during the wintertime.

I just don’t get what’s the big deal about the weather.  I don’t.  Unless there’s a hurricane brewing off the Gulf Coast or a tornado has touched down in Oklahoma and people need to evacuate, I see no purpose whatsoever in covering nor discussing the weather.  Ever.  It’s a total waste of time.  There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.  So, just deal with it.  Live with it.  And if you must talk about it, do so among yourselves because of the rest of us living in other parts of the country really don’t give a shit.

This is not news.

I live in Las Vegas.  You don’t hear those of us who live in Las Vegas crowing about the scorching temperatures during the summertime, now do you?  We don’t say, “Hey, look at us — it’s 110 degrees today!”  That’s because we know it’s going to be 110 degrees in July, just about every single day.  It’s also going to be 110 every day in August.  That’s because we live in the fucking desert!  It gets hot here.  Just like it snows in the Northeast, sometimes even in mid-March.

Bingo.

You think people living in Seattle bitch about it raining 364 days a year?  Hell no!  Well, maybe they complain just a little.  But it’s never a national news story.  Same with bone-chilling temperatures in North Dakota.  You know what they call 32 degrees in Fargo in the middle of January?  A heat wave.

Nobody in North Dakota complains about cold and snow in the Winter.  That’s what bars and fireplaces were made for.  They man up.  They toughen it out.  They go on with their lives and don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather.

But all of you so-called “tough guys” living in the Northeast get a few inches of snow and all the sudden milk and bread flies off the shelves like you’re stocking a nuclear fallout shelter.  Wanna’ know something?  Tough guys don’t bitch about snow.  Tough guys don’t even notice it.

I just thought of a better use for the pejorative insult-of-all-insults during this post-election season:  Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here are way too many snowflakes.

 

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Should We Support “Ban the Box” Laws?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Question #1:  Should ex-convicts be forced to answer questions about their criminal backgrounds when seeking employment?

Question #2:  Do prospective employers have a right to know about the criminal history of applicants?

 

These two questions present an obvious contradiction.  You either support an applicant’s right to privacy.  Or, you support the employer’s right to know who they’re hiring.  You can’t be in favor of both.

Legislation which would prohibit asking questions about criminal histories has been proposed in several states, including here in Nevada.  What’s known as the “Ban the Box” law means making it illegal to ask questions about criminal history on employment applications.  Some of these proposed bans apply only to government-related employment, including states and localities.  Other bans are far more comprehensive and would impact employers hiring workers in both the public and private sectors.

Compelling arguments can be made on both sides of this debate.  That’s what makes this controversial issue so problematic.  There are no easy answers.

See if you agree:

 

THE CASE FOR “BAN THE BOX”

“Ban the Box” supporters point out that ex-convicts have paid their debts to society.  They shouldn’t be stigmatized by prior criminal history, which (when disclosed) makes it far more difficult for them to re-enter society as working citizens.

Fact is, ex-convicts face paralyzing levels of discrimination in virtually all areas of daily life — including housing, finance, child custody, and even in developing personal relationships.  This is especially true for employment, as well, which is often the most important single factor in determining what happens to ex-convicts after they’re released.

Consider the following:  When two applicants are up for the same job, and one is an ex-convict, the applicant with the clean criminal record is almost certain to get selected.  Repeated failure and disappointment at securing steady work means ex-convicts have far fewer options to make a decent living.  Hence, some of them return to their old ways and go back to a life of crime.  That’s not good for them.  It’s also not good for society.

We should all try to empathize with ex-convicts who honestly want to turn their lives around.  I think they deserve our support.  They face enough obstacles already during various stages of rehabilitation without the added hardship of not being able to get a good job.

The consequences of discrimination against ex-convicts isn’t just personal.  Society, at large, is also adversely effected.  If employers screen out ex-convicts based on their pasts, this creates a large group of both unemployed and under-employed, especially among younger men.  Since the United States imprisons far more of its citizens than any nation in the world (many for abstruse drug offenses), the numbers here are quite significant, even reaching into the millions.  It’s also one of many contributing factors towards inner-city squalor and decay, with a devastating impact on minority communities which already suffer disproportional levels of discrimination.

Of course, “Ban the Box” laws will not solve all the problems that ex-convicts face, nor magically the lift the poorest communities out of poverty.  However, this law would help quite a large number of people, many with good intentions who desperately want to turn their lives around and become a productive part of society.

Everyone who applies for a job deserves a fair chance.

 

THE CASE AGAINST “BAN THE BOX”

Employers have rights, too.  Employers are entitled to know exactly who they’re hiring, especially for jobs involving trust and public safety.  Ex-convicts have already demonstrated some degree of personal failure when it comes to issues of trust and public safety.  Prospective employers are entitled to know about those deficiencies.

Opponents of “Ban the Box” laws point out that workplaces are not cross-cultural laboratories for social experimentation.  Employers shouldn’t be forced to take all the risks, nor bear the occasional burden of an ex-criminal who continues committing illegal acts after serving time and being released back into society.

Indeed, if the actions of an ex-convict who committed a terrible crime in the past aren’t known to the employer in advance, there’s a chance that person might do bad things that will harm the company and endanger other employees.

“Ban the Box” laws don’t necessarily restrict hiring practices.  Some ex-convicts who apply for jobs might make such a positive impression that they get hired anyway, and eventually become outstanding employees and good citizens.  However, employers should be able ask questions related to criminal records in advance and conduct background checks to find out this information.

There are already plenty of laws on the books which prohibit many types of discrimination in employment based on age, race, and gender.  Most agree that those are rights which should be protected.  Government has an obligation to make ensure to the best of its ability that all citizens receive fair employment opportunities.

However, once someone commits a crime and gets convicted in a court of law, the same rights to privacy should not apply equally to everyone.  Citizens with clean criminal records are entitled to the presumed advantages of good behavior in future employment over ex-convicts who have made bad decisions in the past.

Employers have a right to know who they may be hiring.

 

So, what’s your opinion?  Should we support “Ban the Box” laws which make it easier for ex-cons to fit back into society?  Or, should employers be allowed to ask questions about the past criminal convictions of applicants?

If you were a state legislator, how would you vote?

 

MY THOUGHTS:

Permit me to offer the following opinions:

(1)  The notion of restricting access to information is very troublesome.  Prohibiting what seems to be perfectly normal questions about an applicant’s background contradicts the fundamentals of honesty and transparency.  However….

(2)  Society would be much better off with “Ban the Box” laws.  Many ex-convicts who otherwise would be summarily rejected for employment would enjoy far greater opportunities.  Accordingly we would all benefit from ex-convicts returning productively to the workforce, since there’s less a chance for recidivism.  That means less crime, less strain on the overworked judicial system, less prisons, and better workers.  It also means more opportunities for ex-convicts living in inner cities, resulting in some measure of economic growth and greater family cohesion.

(3)  The chances of “Ban the Box” legislation passing in many states is slim to none.  Elected officials don’t want look “soft on crime.”  Hence, such laws present a political conundrum.  Many elected officials who oppose government intrusion on business and who also fear repercussions at the ballot box, might agree in private that the positives of “Ban the Box” laws outweigh the bad.  However nowadays, political courage is exceedingly rare.

 

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Friendship is Non-Partisan

Posted by on Mar 12, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 1 comment

 

 

A close friend of mine was recently offered a political appointment in the Trump Administration.

This might be difficult to believe, but I do have many Republican friends.

I won’t identify him by name.  He can come forward and identify himself, if he wants to.

I heard this story firsthand from my friend a few weeks ago.  He even told me quite an amzing story of speaking personally with the President a few times — once during an informal interview, and second, a short follow-up telephone call at which time he was offered the job.

From the way things happened, I expect that he’ll take the job, if he hasn’t already done so.  No doubt, he’ll be very good in that position.  This person is a hard-working.  He’s highly experienced.  He’s someone that can be trusted at all times to do the right thing.  Our country needs that right now.  We will be lucky to have him involved in our government.

However, just before he shared this information with me, he prefaced our conversation by acknowledging my unabashed disgust with President Trump.  “I know you can’t stand Trump, but I have to share something with you….” he said.  That was the way our conversation started.

Actually, my personal opinions on political issues are totally irrelevant here.  We all want our friends to succeed.  We all want those closest to us to do well in life, and advance in their careers.  We all want key positions in our government to be staffed with qualified people.  That’s a non-partisan viewpoint most of us probably share.

After hearing about the details of his political appointment, presumably now pending, I was absolutely thrilled for my friend.  What amazing news.  How could I not be thrilled?  After all, the prestige of being personally picked for such a high position in the federal government by the leader of the executive branch really has no comparison.  It doesn’t matter what someone thinks about President Trump or President Obama before that, and so forth and so on — that’s one of the highest honors in public service, to be chosen from millions of people and then personally asked by the President to take a job in a new administration.

Indeed, my reaction would be the same for anyone who’s asked to serve — be it for a position in a Donald Trump Administration or a Bernie Sanders Administration.  Success is success.  Friendship is friendship.

This is something we should all pause and remember, moving on in the weeks and months ahead.  While I shall continue to do everything within my power to stop the Trump Administration from imposing what I consider to be a dangerous and destructive agenda for America, I shall also applaud those I know who are good people for now getting to experience one of the rarest of opportunities in anyone’s professional life — which is to work for the White House.

Before writing this, I’d never thought much about this before, and I certainly don’t have any poll data to back up the following claim.  However, my best guess is that I have roughly an equal number of friends and family members who are either liberal or conservative, or somewhere in the middle.  The people I run around with are all over the map, politically speaking.

If I’ve lost any friends from expressing my political views, or engaging in discussions that might have turned into arguments, then I’m not aware of it.  Perhaps some people who I mistakenly thought were friends no longer reach out anymore, or like to hang around.  But I can’t name a single person who was banished from my inner circle of trusted friends based on their political viewpoints.  To the contrary, I hope the best for all of them.

Hence, when one of those friends told me that he be might be working for President Trump, I write now what I said to him then:  Congratulations.  I believe the President made an excellent choice.

Go for it.  Do your best.  Make a difference.

 

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