Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Unwarranted Criticism

It's roughly seventeen months until the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and already the childish squabbling has begun.   Although some of it is directed by supporters of Bernie Sanders, far more more targets the Vermont senator.

Much of the criticism of Sanders is thoughtless, though much is thoughtful.  In the latter category, Guardian US columnist Moira Donegan argues

Sanders, meanwhile, speaks about the struggles of the working class in reductionist and retro ways; he seems to hold an anachronistic understanding of the American worker as white and male, oppressed only by his bosses and not at the same time by the structures of racism and sexism. Sanders has made, and continues to make, tone deaf statements on race in particular. He dismissed voters who want to see themselves in their politicians as trafficking in “identity politics”, and was publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists who expressed concern over his approach to racial issues. He seems to have tolerated a gender pay gap and some truly repugnant sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign. But few scandals seem to stick to Sanders. Like Donald Trump, he has a base of hardcore supporters who will forgive him anything.

The heart of Donegan's criticism lies in Sanders' rejection of identity politics, which is partial, though seen by his Democratic critics as definitive (which is part of the problem).  I'll address that at another time.

Donegan charges the senator with being "publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists who expressed concern over his approach to racial issues." The August 2015 Vox article to which she links explains that the previous month

Black Lives Matter activists made it clear that they were dissatisfied with Sanders's approach to race during the progressive Netroots Nation conference, when Martin O'Malley and Sanders appeared at a town hall event hosted by immigration activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Protesters interrupted O'Malley, took the stage, and gave speeches about the deaths of young black men and women in police custody — ending with a call for both O'Malley and Sanders to present "concrete actions" for racial justice, and to pay tribute by name to women killed by police or who died in custody.

Sanders was defensive and cranky: "I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights. If you don't want me to be here, that's okay." The protesters were unimpressed. "Your 'progressive' is not enough," Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and one of the protesters who took the stage, told the press as a message to Sanders and other presidential candidates. "We need more." The next day, at an event in Houston, Sanders mentioned Sandra Bland (who died in police custody in July) and talked at more length about the issue than he had in the past.

Perhaps "I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights" is what Donegan means by "retro"- a reference to a candidate's record, with which Donegan is insufficiently concerned and Black Lives Matter thoroughly oblivious.

Evidently, Black Lives Matter's primary interest was disrupting meetings or sowing discord because

At a Defend Social Security rally in Seattle on Saturday, the pattern repeated itself: Activist Marissa Johnson leaped on stage, approached the microphone, and addressed the audience and Sanders alike. After calling for four and a half minutes of silence for the one-year anniversary (which was Sunday) of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, she challenged Sanders again on his lack of a concrete policy to address racial violence — contrasting him with O'Malley, who released a relatively detailed criminal justice platform at the beginning of August.

Sanders stood by silently during Johnson's speech. Attendees weren't so quiet: They booed Johnson, and some called for her arrest. Eventually, according to MSNBC, event organizers made the decision to shut down the event, without Sanders getting a chance to deliver most of his speech.

The attendees understood what the event organizers, who penalized Sanders for being attacked, did not.

Black Lives Matter earlier in the campaign had disrupted a private fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. Understandably but regrettably, they were not ejected. Nor were they ejected when they disrupted any events held for or by Donald Trump during his primary or regular election campaign.

If you find yourself asking "what events was the group at?" you're catching on. Do a Google search of "Black Lives Matter Donald Trump events" and there will be several references to a Black Lives Matter NYC activist unexpectedly being invited to address a pro-Trump crowd in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2017, nearly eleven months after the election. 

However, prior to the vote- when it would have mattered- Black Lives Matter ignored Trump events. They may have been intimidated or determined it did not serve its purpose to disrupt a gathering to celebrate Donald Trump. Intentionally or otherwise, they served as an adjunct to the Trump campaign.

Breaking up Democratic gatherings was low-hanging fruit, with protesters confident that their condemnation would be accepted by Democratic candidates and by much of the Democratic popular base.  Notwithstanding his own overreaction, Donald Trump obviously understood that voters were not hungry for what the casual voter would perceive as weakness.

The absence of Black Lives Matter at any Trump gathering, though it disrupted a Netroots Nation conference, a Sanders event, and a Clinton fundraiser, should reveal a red flag to anyone not completely blind.

Yet, Moira Donegan spanks Bernie Sanders for allegedly being "publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists."  He was not completely dismissive, although he probably should have been.  Every Democratic candidate should be aware that the "M" in BLM might stand for not only "matter" but also "mischief."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Using And Abusing The Christian Right

Three months ago, professor of science and religion Benjamin Huskinson wrote "if white evangelicals have indeed hitched themselves to Trump’s wagon, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when Trump discovers that he doesn’t really need them."

Those evangelicals are safe, or at least as much as any voting bloc in America. Politico reports that the night before the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month

President Donald Trump was hosting religious leaders and lawmakers for dinner at the White House when he spotted Democratic Senator Chris Coons — and pounced.

Trump confronted the Delaware lawmaker — who attended the event as the Prayer Breakfast’s official Democratic co-chair — over the issue of abortion, creating a tense scene in the White House’s Blue Room, according to three sources familiar with the exchange.

Trump leaned in close to Coons, who calls himself “a practicing Christian and a devout Presbyterian,” and laced into the Democratic senator over controversial moves to change statewide policies on abortion that have roiled New York and Virginia politics in recent weeks. “He was in his face about it,” said one person familiar with the exchange. The person described Trump as extremely “worked up.”

“He saw a Democrat in the room, a Democrat who’s known to be a person of faith, and he was like, ‘Why aren't you speaking out about this?’” the source added.

Another source who was in the room confirmed the account, describing the moment as both “awkward” and attention-grabbing. Rarely has Trump been so vocal about abortion when the masses aren’t watching, this person said. (A Coons spokesman declined to comment.)

The masses weren't watching- but somehow this incident made its way into the hands of the Politico reporter, who added

The private episode underscored Trump’s recent public focus on abortion, which has delighted his evangelical Christian supporters. During his State of the Union address last Tuesday, Trump used vivid imagery to claim that New York’s new abortion law would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” And he accused Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s backed similar legislation in his state, of wanting to allow medical providers to “execute” babies after birth.

President Trump has become so opposed to abortion rights that he lied about both the terms of the New York law and Virginia governor Northam's remarks, indicative of the veracity of either Trump or of the forced-birth movement. Politico continues

Abortion is a somewhat unlikely new cause for a president who years ago called himself “very pro-choice” and did not make the issue a central theme of his 2016 campaign. But people close to Trump say that he has developed an increasingly sincere passion for the cause.

It is unlikely, but not unprecedented. The successful huckster always is looking for a mark, and evangelical leaders have scanned the table and seeing no mark, fail to realize it is them.

The counter-argument is that the President is giving white evangelicals what they want, including especially two Supreme Court justices on the right fringe.  And three weeks ago, Trump tweeted "numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of  studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!"

Trump is probably expecting more students to learn about "Two Corinthians."  Meanwhile, he continues to insult them, conspicuously refusing even to take the Sabbath off (sometimes Easter) from social media rantings:

Ultimately, though, it makes little sense for Trump to make Sunday a day of rest, not when it gives him yet another opportunity, aside from misrepresenting communion, the book of Corinthians, and repentance, to ridicule Christianity. And why not? Evangelical leaders yearn for more humiliation of Christianity by their new god.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

No Apparent Curiosity

The wife of White House Special Advisor Kellyanne Conway (nee Fitzpatrick) has boldly stepped out again, arguing
This isn't the first time  Kellyanne's husband has criticized President Trump on Twitter, and let's hop;e it won't be the last. It is clear that he is on to something here, though probably slightly off in his conclusion.

Trump presumably was lying about North Korea- as he has done before- because it had been the better part of a day since his previous falsehood. However, it's unlikely that his primary health problem is mental stability

 On February 9, Navy Commander Sean Conley issued a briefsummary (only at first glance a redundancy) of a physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, declaring that the President "is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond."

Conley probably is not a quack. But he evidently plays one in public, or at least when he must describe a patient who is President of the United States of America. He can no more forecast the health of Donald Trump for two to six years out- and beyond- than he can for any of his patients, and for this one he has an obvious motive to distort, manipulate, or suppress the truth.

That is to say: he has no idea, nor would he ever make that claim about any other patient. On February 14, Dr. Conley delivered a valentine to the President, maintaining the latter is in "very good health overall" despite being clinically obese and prescribed an increased dosage of his heart medicine. ("Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?")

Unless Trump's complete medical records are released- a very unlikely occurrence- the doctor's claim cannot be adequately assessed.  Nor has anyone reportedly asked Dr. Conley whether Trump takes any additional drug of an illegal or legal nature.

Last December, a former Celebrity Apprentice crew member (very credibly) stated that the star frequently sniffed Adderall on the set, and he maintained (a little less plausibly) that the President now uses the drug.

In September of 2016, following the first general election presidential debate (sniff, sniff) Dr. James Hamblin had explained

many of Trump’s behavioral patterns are consistent with those of a high-functioning speed (amphetamine) user—one who uses in a capacity somewhere between the legitimized label “ADHD” and performance-enhancing Ivy league MBA students. Trump attended Wharton. Trump sleeps little and boasts about never wanting for energy, despite getting little exercise and eating poorly (by his own admission). Though that could also be the result of the cocaine.

Something- perhaps corporate ownership of the media- is preventing print and broadcast journalists from probing the source of obviously ludicrous, often grotesque, behavior. Dr. Hamblin cautioned "or these patterns of behavior could be innate, a product of the neurochemical milieu in this particular person's brain." We need to know which it is.

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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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Unwarranted Criticism

It's roughly seventeen months until the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and already the childish squabbling has begun.   Altho...