Conflicts of Interest
February 12, 2017
I was very disturbed to hear Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently tell a town hall audience of about 1,000 constituents that “the president is exempt from conflicts of interest.”
At least Chaffetz met with his constituents, most of whom were there in opposition to Trump’s agenda. This is in stark contrast to our own Lee Zeldin, who has canceled his town hall scheduled for April, closed his office to constituents except “by appointment,” and spread vicious lies about those constituents who have been trying to talk with him since the inauguration about their concerns about Trump’s and Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (without a replacement), slash Medicare and Social Security, privatize the national parks, open up public lands to oil and gas drilling, abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, deport our immigrant friends, neighbors, and employees, and curtail or end women’s access to family planning and reproductive health services.
So shocked was I by Chaffetz’s remark that I looked it up. It’s true. Legally, conflict of interest laws don’t apply to the president of the United States — with one very notable exception, the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which says that the president cannot receive favors from foreign governments, such as the permits to build a Trump hotel in Turkey or the other governments who are falling all over themselves to book rooms at newly inflated prices at his other hotels.
But whether it’s legal or not, Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” if elected. Like the false promises of mega-riches he made to the hapless marks who attended Trump University (and paid Trump tens of thousands of dollars for a worthless “certificate”), he broke this promise as soon as he nominated his cabinet — filled with fellow shysters like Steven Mnuchin, who foreclosed on thousands of elderly homeowners; Tom Price, who bought stock in a medical company and days later introduced legislation that would have fattened its profits, and Betsy DeVos, who refuses to divest of the millions she has invested in a biotech company that claims to have “helped thousands of children” with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but about which The New York Times says “a review of Neurocore’s claims and interviews with medical experts suggest its conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable.”
And now to the president himself. President Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest are unprecedented. Every day, it becomes more and more clear that there is no separation between the Trump administration and the Trump family businesses. Whether it be nasty tweets to Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, to having his adviser Kellyanne Conway shill for Ivanka’s brand, to his refusal to make his tax returns public, Donald Trump has shown that he has put his business interests ahead of those of our nation.
But a remedy has been proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren. She has introduced a bill called the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act (S.65) requiring President Trump to divest from his business interests and disclose his tax returns. Whether you supported Trump or not, passage of this bill is vital to ensure that the office of the president is not sullied by the rankest corruption.
One of our New York senators is co-sponsoring Senator Warren’s bill (thank you, Kirsten Gillibrand). The other hasn’t (why not, Chuck Schumer?), despite calling for Trump to disclose his conflicts of interest. Please let Senator Schumer know you want him to put his money where his mouth is by co-sponsoring this critical legislation to end Trump’s unprecedented conflicts.
Easier to Get Guns
February 10, 2017
In his press release of Jan. 14, 2013, one month after the shooting of dozens of children in Sandy Hook, Conn., Congressman Lee Zeldin condemned the “senseless taking of innocent lives (as) unacceptable in any capacity.” Supported by the N.R.A., it is not surprising that Mr. Zeldin opposed the then-proposed gun control measures. Instead, he insisted that our “focus as a state and a nation has to be on providing people in need of mental health care more access to help.”
Implicit in his pivot to emphasizing the need for better mental health care is the need to come up with a more effective method to identify, and then screen, potentially mentally ill citizens and then cull out those too ill to be allowed to purchase a gun. Responding to this concern, the Obama administration issued a rule requiring the Social Security Administration to report to the F.B.I.’s background check system those people receiving disability benefits as the result of a mental health condition.
It is worth noting that the only persons affected by this rule are those who have admitted a mental illness so serious they cannot work. This rule would subject such individuals to a more rigorous background check before they were eligible to buy a gun.
Given his prior statements, one would think that Mr. Zeldin would welcome this rule as a step in the right direction toward what he perceived to be one path oward “gun safety.” Well, guess again. The House recently voted to strike down the Obama regulation and, in doing so, has made it easier for the most seriously mentally ill to get guns. No more pesky speed bumps for the mentally ill.
Now for the punch line: Mr. Zeldin voted to make it easier for the mentally ill to get guns.
During his campaign, Mr. Trump promised to stop Congress from doing stupid things. Making it easier for the seriously mentally ill to get guns is as stupid as it gets.
We can only hope that Mr. Trump makes good on his campaign promise so our kids can be safer.
February 12, 2017
In truth, Lady Liberty must be changed to:
Give us your rich
And your talented.
I Can See Clearly Now
February 11, 2017
With deference to Johnny Nash, “I Can See Clearly Now,” circa 2017:
I can see clearly now
Can’t see an obstacle in my way
Ban all the Muslim folks from settling here
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day
Look all around
Nothing but white guys
All Mexicans trapped behind the Big Wall
The courts are so rigged, the media lies
So, so sad. I am appalled
I can see clearly now, my vision’s great
The greatest sight in every way
My team’s in place, agenda clear
Alternative facts will save the day
Look all around
Nothing but protest
Executive orders are my style
Don’t let dissent get in the way
Sunshiny day? Sunshiny day? Not for a while.
‘America First’ Theme
February 12, 2017
To the Editor:
Two weeks ago, the former National Security adviser Susan Rice called Stephen Bannon a Nazi, an incredibly harsh critique from someone so respected and high up in the United States security world.
Bannon has supported white supremacist, anti-immigrant, and racist groups throughout his tenure at Breitbart. He has been a strong advocate for fascist principles over the past 15 years. He supports blowing up the existing political order and creating an elitist white hierarchal order. Does that make him a Nazi?
In a 1933 speech before the German Reichstag, to introduce the Enabling Act, which signaled the end of the Weimar Republic, Adolf Hitler decried the economic, moral, and political carnage that politicians had heaped upon the German populace, citing the need to suppress the press and target groups of nonbelievers. He was the only one who could save the country.
Mr. Trump’s inaugural address hit all of Hitler’s main points, showing more attention to the details of Hitler’s speech than he has to any previous policy declaration, vilifying previous governments, and scapegoating everyone who didn’t support his ideas. Blood brothers in the toilets.
“Deutschland Uber Alles,” or Germany First, was the theme of Germany’s rebirth after World War I. Russia was reborn under the same theme with Vlad Putin during the past decade. Pat Buchanan, an admirer of Hitler, used “America First” as the theme of his book in the 1990s. The populist message for all of them resonated with groups of people who felt they had been abandoned by their governments and were grasping for something to hold on to. Donald Trump’s use of the America First theme does not separate him from the German and Russian comparisons. And it probably shouldn’t.
Trump’s gloom and doom scenario was such a load of crap that it would be laughable if he hadn’t won. But comparing the country now to when Obama became president makes it seem even more ludicrous. In January 2009 we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, the stock market had crashed, banks were failing, millions of homes were going into foreclosure, and the auto industry was in full collapse. Today we are gaining 175,000 jobs a month, the stock market has reached new highs, foreclosures are way down, and we had a record year for auto sales. Obama’s message in 2009 was hope and possibilities. What is Trump or Bannon talking about??
Germany was suffering from the economic sanctions from World War I and the Depression. Russia was experiencing the collapse of the Soviet empire. People were starving, jobless, homeless, and hopeless. It was serious, desperate stuff. Our situation is not about a collapsed economy or political oppression, but about a system that is focused on permitting a small number of people to amass huge sums of money at the expense of the middle and working-class people. It’s about capitalism gone amok, awry, or how it’s designed to go.
America has always been first in virtually everything we do. But we have learned over centuries that we are weaker when isolated, weaker without treaties of all kinds, weaker without allies. The concept of “We” as the opposite of “I” is the harsh reality of being able to survive in the world. We don’t scream “America First,” because it reeks of fascism and autocratic stupidity. It’s the populist imbeciles who are devoid of real solutions who blame everyone else for their condition.
Since 1945 the U.S. has been the primary architect of the world’s order. We defined good and bad. We defined ourselves as the moral, economic, and political model to lead the world with. The pain of the middle class is all about capitalism going off kilter. Yet Trump has no plan to change the way our economy functions. He has no master plan beyond his crude and embarrassing tweets. Pretending that trade agreements have been the cause of our job losses when technology and science are the real causes is the worst kind of sophistry.
What Hitler displayed was an unusual level of competence. Everything seemed to work, until it didn’t. Virtually everything Trump has tried after his inaugural speech has been a screw-up. Competence is defined by what you do, not by what you say. When you are incompetent, the racism, misogyny, and the total lack of empathy become front and center. Competence seems to be the primary difference between the two.
Some Good News
February 12, 2017
One has to admit that the administration of our beloved leader has had a rather rocky launch on all fronts. It now appears that the repeal of the disastrous Affordable Care Act will not take place on Day One. The timetable for a new plan is now a year or two away, but no one seems to know what the plan is. Maybe we will continue to get mostly the same coverage that senators and congresspeople get under the current Affordable Care Act.
The building of the immensely tall southern wall is now going to be paid for by American taxpayers, despite the promise that the Mexicans were going to foot the bill for this.
The most frightening current development is that our leader has been unable to stem the flow of thousands of Muslim jihadists who are now flooding into our nation via airlines, ships, and big tunnels. One can only hope that another Bowling Green massacre can be averted. Perhaps Kellyanne Conway could now be given a bigger role in Homeland Security?
Most unfortunately, it is readily apparent that the goals and dreams of our leader have been thwarted by the shackles of American democracy — namely, a nitpicking judiciary, a multi-party political system, and a lying media that promotes “fake news” instead of truthful “alternate facts.” No wonder that Americans are fed up!
There is, however, some good news. Breitbart News has just released the results of its investigation into the widespread voting fraud that occurred in the last election. Breitbart reports that over two million Mexicans were let into Southern California at secret border crossings. They were then transported by trucks to polling stations, where they were given fake voter registration cards and were promised visas if they voted for Hillary Clinton. Each polling station had specially designated tables for “Mexican Rapists,” “Drug Cartel Members,” and “Some Good Mexicans.” The voting fraud was not limited to the southern border, however. Breitbart has concluded that over 200,000 Canadians crossed the border from Montreal to vote in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The Canadians were promised a free six-pack of Molson Ale (my personal favorite!), a fifth of Seagram’s VO, and a poster of the Montreal Canadiens signed by Henri Richard if they voted for Hillary. So now we know why Hillary won the popular vote!
And isn’t she supposed to be locked up?
So Many Stupids
February 10, 2017
I continue my quest to learn why, in America, are there so many stupids?
1. Why can’t politics be more policy and less personality?
2. Why at social occasions do hosts rule, “Don’t talk politics”?
3. Why am I boycotting Land’s End?
4. Why don’t bars and restaurants weigh their patrons before serving alcohol, and then only allow proportionate service (I get blotto much faster than my larger friends).
5. Why don’t all cars, trucks, and boats have ignition locks that stay engaged if the driver is drunk?
6. What possessed the gentleman to say to me as I was shepherding schoolchildren, “You people are messy and you drink too much!” (To which I replied, “Us people are thrilled to live in a country where the First Amendment gives ‘you people’ the absolute right to be a jerk.”)
7. An avocado will be right up there with caviar if the border wall with Mexico is built.
8. Why should we speak only English?
9. Why is it so hard for some old folks (50-death) to pass the flag to the young ones?
10. Why be a bystander?
All good things,
As Much Respect
February 13, 2017
To the Editor,
In response to Bea Derrico: I could write a long, drawn-out letter about what we millions of Americans think is wrong with Donald Trump as our president, but since you seem to have a short memory I will just say: We intend to show him as much respect as the Republicans showed President Obama during his eight years in office.
KEN RAFFERTY SR.
P.S.: Please keep God and religion out of politics, as there is no mention of them in the United States Constitution