Sunday, February 17, 2019

Not So Benign Neglect

Invaluable Washington Post investigative reporter David Farenthold, with two colleagues, reported recently

The Washington Post spoke with 16 men and women from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries, including six in Santa Teresa de Cajon, who said they were employed at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. All of them said that they worked for Trump without legal status — and that their managers knew.

The former employees who still live in New Jersey provided pay slips documenting their work at the Bedminster club. They identified friends and relatives in Costa Rica who also were employed at the course. In Costa Rica, The Post located former workers in two regions who provided detailed accounts of their time at the Bedminster property and shared memorabilia they had kept, such as Trump-branded golf tees, as well as photos of themselves at the club.

The brightly painted homes that line the road in Santa Teresa de Cajon, many paid for by wages earned 4,000 miles away, are the fruits of a long-running pipeline of illegal workers to the president’s course, one that carried far more than a few unauthorized employees who slipped through the cracks.

Soon after Trump broke ground at Bedminster in 2002 with a golden shovel, this village emerged as a wellspring of low-paid labor for the private club, which charges tens of thousands of dollars to join. Over the years, dozens of workers from Costa Rica went north to fill jobs as groundskeepers, housekeepers and dishwashers at Bedminster, former employees said. The club hired others from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala who spoke to The Post. Many ended up in the blue-collar borough of Bound Brook, N.J., piling into vans before dawn to head to the course each morning.

Their descriptions of Bedminster’s long reliance on illegal workers are bolstered by a newly obtained police report showing that the club’s head of security was told in 2011 about an employee suspected of using false identification papers — the first known documentation of a warning to the Trump Organization about the legal status of a worker.

Usually when the organic feces hits the rotating oscillator, there is panic in the workplace, a recognition that "they're on to us." Not, however, at Trump properties, as we learn

Other supervisors received similar flags over the years. A worker from Ecuador said she told Bedminster’s general manager several years ago that she entered the country illegally.

Eric Trump, a son of the president who runs the Trump Organization along with his brother Donald Trump Jr., declined to comment on the accounts by the former workers. Bedminster managers did not return requests for comment.

The company’s recent purge of unauthorized workers from at least five Trump properties contributes to mounting evidence that the president benefited for years from the work of illegal laborers he now vilifies.

So at least now the attention of voters and public officials can be turned to the practice of large employers routinely hiring illegal immigrants. Can, but won't:

It remains unclear what measures Trump or his company took to avoid hiring such workers, even after he launched a White House bid built on the threat he says they pose to Americans.

Amid Trump’s push for a border wall, there has been little public discussion of how U.S. employers — including the president himself — have generated demand for unlawful workers.

Of course there hasn't.  Hiring illegal immigrants- uh, er, undocumented workers- has long been a major part of the Trump business model. It was only fifteen months ago that details were released of a 1998 settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed because

Donald J. Trump employed a crew of 200 undocumented Polish workers who worked in 12-hour shifts, without gloves, hard hats or masks, to demolish the Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue, where the 58-story, golden-hued Trump Tower now stands.

The workers were paid as little as $4 an hour for their dangerous labor, less than half the union wage, if they got paid at all.

Perhaps frustrated by the lack of attention to the extensive reporting of illegal immigrant labor at Trump properties, Farenthold has tweeted

But Farenthold should not have been shocked. Neither President Trump, the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party wanted to belabor the Bedminster-Central America connection, and the larger issue of exploitation of illegal immigrants also has been virtually ignored by Washington elites.

Unsurprisingly, Beto O'Rourke, himself a Washington elite as a former member of the United States House of Representatives, told Chris Hayes on Thursday that border wall already constructed should be torn down (whatever the cost).  He stated also "you make the the State of Texas, by extension you make the country a safer place by treating people with dignity and respect."

Nonetheless, you will not hear O'Rourke, his fellow Democrats, nor Donald Trump and Republicans suggesting that people will be treated "with dignity and respect" if- and only if- they are here legally.

If they are here illegally, as most prominent Democrats and Republicans condone, they will not be treated with that "dignity and respect."  The nomination of Heather Nauert has been withdrawn before it actually was made because it had not been submitted to the Senate. But there should have been no surprise that the President had intended to appoint her, not when neither party is especially exorcised by the illegal presence in the USA of 10-20 million people, many of them here to make Donald J. Trump and other plutocrats even wealthier.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Invitation To Failure

If you believe that "slavery and the scaffolding of white supremacy" are unrelated to marijuana, you know one more thing than Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) apparently does. Huffington Post reports that the media darling

 made her comments during a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing this week on banking services for the burgeoning cannabis industry as more states legalize the sale and use of marijuana.

She suggested the growing industry was “compounding the racial wealth gap”  by allowing wealthy white-dominated companies to gain a quick advantage in the industry. She complained that communities most affected by drug incarcerations are the “last in the door” when it comes to profiting now from legalized cannabis.

The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance praised her position. “We must legalize marijuana in a way that recognizes and repairs the disastrous, disproportionate harms of the drug war ... on people of color,” the organization tweeted after the hearing.

Ocasio-Cortez cited statistics from Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, that 73 percent of cannabis business executives are male and 81 percent are white.

The State of Washington is not 50% non-hispanic white, and neither is Colorado. Colorado is a mere 29.6% % black, Hispanic, Asian, "mixed," or "other" while Washington is 70.4% non-Hispanic white. And for reasons of history, culture, and/or politics, most business executives in the USA are male and most are white. 

Beginning at 4:00 and resuming  at 4:44 of the video below, the freshman (freshwoman, or fresh person) Representative rhetorically comments

And so, so, you see what this really looks like is it's kind of coming to big picture that the folks who profited off for-profit incarceration get to profit off the legalization of marijuana first while the communities most impacted are last in the door....

So would you recommend that in us kind of opening this lane that also be paired with kind of affirmative licensing laws that prioritize front-line communities and communities that were most impacted to get them licenses first so that they can reap the benefits or recouping some segments of cost that they have bared in the 90s on the War on Drugs?

The very agreeable witness was Corey Barnette, described here as the "founder and Chief Executive Officer of District Growers, LLC, a full service grower and producer of cannabis, cannabis concentrates and cannabis-infused edible products." You should not be surprised that Mr. Barnette is neither a scientist nor medical researcher, nor a down-on-his luck ex-con who needs a leg up to rebuild a life shattered by the War on Drugs. Prior to becoming very successful in 

the medical cannabis industry, Mr. Barnette owned and operated businesses in a number of different industries across several states, including but not limited to automotive manufacturing, pharmaceutical testing, sports and entertainment, and transportation industries. For example, Mr. Barnette owned and operated Primary Physicians Research, a clinical trials service provider of drug testing services to large pharmaceutical companies. From 2001 to 2004, he served as a Vice President of the Small Enterprise Assistance Funds, an emerging market venture capital firm investing in start-up and early-stage businesses in 28 different emerging market countries. From 1997 to 2000, he serves as an investment banker with NationsBanc Montgomery Securites.

As the day of legalization of recreational marijuana, possibly nationally and more likely in several states, draws near, the challenge should not be to ensure that vast profits are made as the public is swindled and manipulated by wealthy minorities and private equity firms headed by minorities.

Purchasers must not be exploited, period. That should apply whatever the race or gender of the businessperson and whatever the race or gender of the chief executive officer of the individual(s) fronting for the group.

That is not, however, the thrust of Ocasio-Cortez's spoken concern. She is not suggesting that individuals who have been disadvantaged by disproportionate inequities in policing or the criminal justice system be given particular consideration. She is recommending that privilege be conveyed upon individuals (or companies) notwithstanding whatever hurdles- or not- they themselves have had to overcome.

Recreational marijuana, as with medical marijuana, is no ordinary business. The regulations which must be imposed in order to protect both consumers and the general public, and to maintain public support for legalization, are nearly unmatched in American commerce. So, too, are the opportunites for exorbitant profits, which are likely to attract a proliferation of hucksters (though Barnette has not been among them).

State officials must establish strict guidelines. Local agencies and boards will have to consider the motivation of entrepreneurs and numerous details, including but not limited to safety and security, location relative to schools and neighborhoods, and age of consumer. Philosophical issues aside, there is too much at stake to overlook critical factors in favor of skin color and biological makeup.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Proudly Taking Credit

After President Obama in February of 2008 told a predominately black audience that children shold not be fed "Popeyes" and otherwise an inadequate diet, Princeton professor of African-American studies Eddie Glaude wrote

A reversal of sorts; a black president who has presided over the dismantling of a tradition, who masterfully uses the language of black struggle in the service of Wall Street who is lauded for his celebration of black culture and his performance of black cultural cues, but whose policy leaves much to be desired. This is someone who chastises black people for eating Popeye's chicken for breakfast."

One individual commented "he also had a Bill Cosby moment. The only difference is he's potentially in a position where he can actually render aid, and not just chastisement. That type of honesty is below my pay grade."

 And so this, too, is classic Obama:
I'm proud of all of them.  Given that proud is "Feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one's own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated." the parents of those Parkland students should be proud.

But President Obama? He's not their parent, teacher, or pastor, but someoneposing as really committed to reducing gun violence.  He had his chance, eight years or 2,920 days of chances, yet

During his first term, Obama didn't call for any major new restriction on guns or gun owners. Instead, he urged authorities to enforce the state and federal laws already on the books. In fact, Obama signed only two major laws that address how guns are carried in America, and both actually expand the rights of gun owners.

One of the laws allows gun owners to carry weapons in national parks; that law took effect in February 2012 and replaced President Ronald Reagan's policy of required guns be locked in glove compartments of trunks of cars that enter national parks.

Another gun law signed by Obama allows Amtrak passengers to carry guns in checked baggage, a move that reversed a measure put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

During his second term, in January of 2016, Obama did issue 23 executive actions. However

those executive actions contained no new laws or regulations; and they were not executive orders, which are different than executive actions.

"For all the pomp and ceremony, nothing in the president’s proposals is going to put a dent in U.S. gun crime or even substantially change the federal legal landscape. In that sense, apoplectic opponents and overjoyed supporters are both probably overreacting," wrote Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice.

When Barack Obama claims pride in the young people pushing for gun safety measures, he is taking credit for at least a small portion of the activism rendered necessary in part by inaction in the eight years he could have actually accomplished something. It is unsurprising in an individual whose presidency featured soaring oratory evoking good feelings obscuring a presidency of limited accomplishment.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Negative Reinforcement

Alan Minsky, the Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America, asks

why does the DNC (and, by extension, the establishment wing of the Democratic Party) refuse not only to address poverty but really even to acknowledge its existence...

This is not a new question. By Bill Clinton’s presidency the shift away from supporting programs designed to address poverty became official party policy, echoing the Republicans mantra of self-help. Of course, poverty rates remained more or less constant. During Obama’s presidency, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West launched their poverty tour because of the president and the party’s refusal to even say the word, let alone do anything about poverty. Similarly the on-going Poor People’s Campaign explicitly operates outside of a party that refuses to seriously address an endemic social problem that conservatively has many tens of millions of Americans in its grips.

He answers- in part- his own question by noting

The prevailing ideology of the past four decades, call it neoliberalism or market fundamentalism, embraced by the mainstream of both parties, offers no solution to American poverty. Rather, it tacitly accepts it as part of the landscape. So an alternative poverty policy will, by definition, fly in the face of Democratic establishment orthodoxy. In other words, we’re going to meet resistance.

There are additional reasons, of course, including a lesson of Democratic primary history. In 2008, John Edwards based his campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee on recognition of "two Americas."  Although recognizing that race played a part, it was a message centered on acknowledging that the poor of any race have been left behind while the wealthy had become wealthier and even more powerful.

Even before the scandal of having had an extra-marital affair resulting in a child, Edwards had fallen behind both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and facing a seriously uphill battle.

The race came down to one candidate promising to make history as the first female president and one determined to become the first black president. The latter prevailed, winning both the nomination and the office itself, with millions of independents (and a few Republicans) inspired by a message of good feelings and intentions. Democrats felt a real hunger for change and placed their faith in Obama's rhetoric of "hope" and"change." 

Nonetheless, as Smiley and West realized, that hope was never realized as President Obama presided over an Administration that did little to address either economic or racial inequality. Strategically, he didn't have to. As Aaron Coleman recently pointed out, "whenever Barack needed to shore up his black base, he could summon a sermon or a Jay-Z appearance quicker than you could say 'Kwanzaa.'” (The latter also played well with his young white liberal base, the former with his middle-aged white liberal base.)

And so Barack Obama remains extraordinarily popular among Democrats (which a former speechwriter of his actually believes is a good thing).  For eight years, President Obama sat on his popularity and did nothing to close the gap between the two Americas. The gathering interest among Democratic officials, including presidential candidates, in addressing the racial wealth gap could not have emerged without a failure to pay any attention to it in the previous ten (and more) years.

President Obama, largely unmoved by the plight of poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans relative to the wealthy, is the one recent successful Democratic presidential aspirant. And he is beloved with the Party's voters. It is a lesson that- unfortunately- the Democratic Party, and its national committee, has learned well.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Little More Information

Controversy swirling around the second highest elected official in Virginia may give us a glimpse into the perspective of Democratic candidates for the presidency. On Monday we were reminded by the Associated Press

Two women have made allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. But on Saturday, Fairfax issued a statement repeating his strong denials that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone and made clear he does not intend to immediately step down....

Though Virginia's congressional delegation is split

Since the two allegations against Fairfax were made, many top Democrats running for president in 2020 have called for Fairfax’s resignation, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Attorneys for both Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson say their clients would testify in any impeachment hearing,   Fairfax has denied the charges and called for an FBI investigation, though it is more likely an investigation would be conducted by local police and/or prosecutors because the the offenses alleged are not federal crimes.  

He also decried a "rush to judgement" and that was before Politico reported late yesterday.

A woman who alleged Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax raped her in college was accused of harassing and threatening a man she had a relationship with, according to Maryland court records.

The man sought and received a peace order against Meredith Watson in July 2008, the records show. A peace order falls under the “umbrella term” of a restraining order in the state of Maryland, University of Maryland law professor Leigh Goodmark said. It is applied to situations in which a person may need to ask for distance from someone who isn't their spouse or live-in partner, he said

In a petition for the restraining order, obtained by POLITICO, the man described an incident in which Watson “was detaining me against my will ... [and] not letting me leave” a vacation house in Corolla, N.C., and “dented the trunk” of his vehicle with her fist. In another instance, Watson showed up at his house stating “she was going to kill herself” and sent “threatening text messages” to the man, who had his sister come over to persuade her to leave, according to the document.

Watson’s spokeswoman, Karen Kessler, did not comment for this story before publication. After the story was published a lawyer for Watson, Nancy Erika Smith, said the order granted was a seven-day court order and that Watson “was not in the Courtroom and did not know about the proceedings or have an opportunity to be heard” when it was issued. The man “abandoned the effort after hearing from Ms. Watson’s lawyer,” Smith said.

The dispute between the two centered around $2,000 that was owed to Watson and was resolved, Smith said, with the man agreeing to pay Watson. The man who filed the request for the order did not respond to a request for comment for this story, nor did Fairfax through his office.

It appears that, regrettably, the three presidential hopefuls who had it all figured out were not asked for comment.  Politico adds

Watson also told friends she was raped by former Duke University basketball player Corey Maggette, according to a report in The New York Times. “I have never sexually assaulted anyone in my life and I completely and categorically deny any such charge," Maggette, who became an NBA player, said...

The petition against Watson also stated that, “Within 30 days the respondent was at my home and wouldn’t leave [and] the respondent was throwing property and I had to call my sister over [to] the house to make her leave. On numerous occasions respondent has stated she was going to kill herself."

“This isn’t the first time or occurrence,” the man wrote.

The petition said Watson called the man “around 100 times a day” after the vacation house incident and sent him text messages.

“I am going to enjoy tearing you down just as much as you enjoyed tearing me down. Hang on tight because you are in for a ride!” read one of the alleged text messages that the man transcribed on the petition.

It still is possible that Watson was in fact raped by Justin Fairfax or that there was improper contact of some sort.  Even if not the case, there is still the matter of the charge made by Ms. Tyson.

However, this most recent information that has come to light demonstrates further that there needs to be a full investigation.  We probably then would learn why- in a question no one media outlet has had the backbone to ask- a woman raped by a man and one forced into oral intercourse evidently did not report the matter to either the local police department or the county prosecutor's office.

There may have been an awfully good reason in both cases. Still, it's a missing critical piece of this puzzle.

Also missing is an explanation by Mr. Booker, Ms. Warren, and Ms. Gillibrand as to whether they are convinced the allegations are accurate or instead believe that the charges themselves require Justin Fairfax to step down from the position to which the voters of Virginia elected him.  It's the least we should expect from individuals who are asking voters for the opportunity to pull us out of the mess we got into a long time ago, and which Donald J. Trump is aggravating almost daily.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Another Unapologetic Apology

Under pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar has"apologized."

A genuine apology is something like "I'm sorry for what I've (written/said/tweeted/done)," preferably including "because I was wrong," and definitely omitting "but of course I was right." This was not oa horse of a different color; it wasn't even a mammal.

Omar began by acknowledging anti-semitism is "real," not unlike acknowledging the existnce of, say, climate, Nepal, or planet Earth itself. We know her intention is not to "offend," but instead to express her opinion, however repulsive.  (And there is no such thing as "Jewish Americans" because "Jewish" is not a nationality.)

"Just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity" sounds like she is trying to rationalize her remarks but, more generously, is a garbled set of 15 words. No one is apologizing- expressing regret at one's own words or action- by announcing she is apologizing. The apology lies in actually expressing error rather than in characterizing one's statement.

She writes "at the same time" to emphasize the message that follows: "I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry." The tell is that this is not what she had said. When Greenwald defended Omar and Tlaib for their criticism of Israel and slammed Congress for encouraging suppression of the BDS movement, Omar had responded  "It's all about the Benjamins baby 🎶."

But AIPAC does not donate money to political campaigns and though facts may be inconvenient, they still are facts.

Equating AIPAC with the NRA and the fossil fuel industry- two groups of which Omar is (rightly) critical- and not of immigrant rights or other groups she favors, she makes it clear that she is hostile to the the pro-Israel group. That is her right, but including it in an apology alone renders the so-called apology meaningless.

In response, Representative Joe Kennedy III- who evidently will not be spotted entering a MENSA meeting- tweeted "Glad to see this. With anti-semitism on the rise at home and abroad, we must unequivocally reject tropes, stereotypes or other language deeply hurtful to the Jewish community -- there's no place for it."

One can only hope that Kennedy other elected officials and media figures who believe that Ilhan Omar has apologized are merely declaring victory in an attempt to move on. If instead they believe that a politician demanding "people hear me when others attack me" and that AIPAC is the moral equivalent of the murder-approving, likely Russia-funded National Rifle Association is offering a mea culpa, they don't realize when they've been played.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Christianity Subordinated

Proudly Never Trump in 2016, Erick Erickson- lawyer, blogger, talk show host, and intense evangelical Protestant- now promises to vote for Trump-Pence in 2020 while

Some of my concerns about President Trump remain. I still struggle on the character issue and I understand Christian friends who would rather sit it out than get involved. But I also recognize that we cannot have the Trump Administration policies without President Trump and there is much to like.

Erickson cites taxes, deregulation, the ACA, Israel, the Paris accord and the agreement with Iran, "shifting foreign policy focus to the western hemisphere, and "solid executive appointments, including to the judiciary."  As could be expected, Erickson adds

We have a party that is increasingly hostile to religion and now applies religious tests to blocking judicial nominees. We have a party that believes children can be murdered at birth.

The Democratic Party does not apply religious tests to judicial nominees.  Rather, a few of President Trump's nominees have made it clear not only that their religious views inform their judicial philosophy, but that they believe divine law trumps secular law in consideration of legal issues. Andrew L. Seidel explains

Questions of religion are fair game the moment nominees argue that their duty to their god is superior to their duty to this country. The issue is not the religious belief itself, but the ability of that nominee to honor their oath of office. If they cannot, We the People have a right to know. And the Senate has a duty to ask.

These questions cannot be blocked by a Senator, as Ted Cruz recently did, whining  about a "theological inquisition."  It would be better (or at least more transparent)  for a nominee to defend his or her judicial philosophy in light of theological precepts the candidate holds.That would require a willingness to defend her judicial approach with its philosophical underpinnings. 

Alas, under questioning they choose to hide their rationale and Christian faith. Similarly, Erick Erickson chooses not to tell us what Democratic official "believes children can be murdered at birth,." He may be referring to Virginia governor Ralph Northam, though surely the latter does not represent an entire party, especially now that he is under attack from some of its most prominent members.

A few days (not coincidentally) before the Northam blackface scandal, the Governor was asked about a hypothetical situation prompted by the mischaracterization by conservatives of an abortion bill briefly considered by the state's House of Delegates.  Although the bill pertains to second and third trimester abortions, Northam unwisely responded

If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desire. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Characteristically apoplectic, Republicans erupted in false outrage, contending- as it would appear Erickson is- that this is infanticide. However, it's likely the critics understand that

When an infant who might have otherwise been terminated in a third-trimester abortion is born, doctors and parents don’t then decide whether to kill the baby. They choose whether to take extreme, painful measures to try, against the odds, to keep a baby with severe congenital deformities alive.

It's unsurprising that as a forced birth advocate Erickson, though arguing in bad faith, would attack Democrats for support of abortion rights and questioning of judges about the impact of religious belief upon their judicial philosophy.

Nonetheless, when Erickson suggested in September of 2016 that he would vote for neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, he accused the latter of "corrupting the virtuous and fostering hatred, racism and dangerous strains of nationalism." Erickson argues that the 2+ years of President Trump have been characterized by successful, conservative activity.

Erickson is elated that the policies have been very conservative and, in his opinion, successful. However, Donald Trump's presidency has been marked no more by extremist policies- which a President Cruz also would have promulgated- than it has been by lies, repeated regularly and enthusiastically; public demeaning of friend and foe alike; and boasts of the President's endless greatness.

These are not Christ-like virtues, and Erickson wrote at the time

That I see so many Christians justifying Trump’s immorality, defining deviancy down, and turning to anger and despondency about the future tells me I cannot in good faith support Trump because his victory would have lasting, damaging consequences for Christianity in America.

Now Erick Erickson supports the man whose victory appears it will have lasting, damaging consequences for Christianity in America.  That would be troubling from an atheist, far more so from someone who claims a deep Christian faith.

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Not So Benign Neglect

Invaluable Washington Post investigative reporter David Farenthold, with two colleagues, reported recently The Washington Post sp...