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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

New Territory

Nothing clears away the mental cobwebs like a road trip. Especially a road trip to new territory.

Which is why, earlier this month, having a block of time when no obligations kept me home, I set out in my RV to see the Texas coast.

Somehow, at my advanced age, I’d never been there. I made no reservations. Had no plans to visit Austin or San Antonio. I was more interested in seeing the countryside and the small towns.

February, I admit, is a terrible time to go to the beach. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip out of simple curiosity, and I was stoked.

My plan was to drive down to Port Arthur, head south along the Bolivar Peninsula, cross to Galveston Island, and the rest would take care of itself. As is my custom, I would camp in state parks along the way.

Before the trip, I had a feeling I knew what I would find down there. And, pretty much, I was right. My observations:

First, much of coastal Texas is, no surprise, tourist-oriented. It being February, the attractions and shops were a bit sleepy, but no doubt they’ll be ready for the onslaught of vacationers when the season arrives.

Second, large parts of the beachfront are private and residential. I passed long stretches of homes, second homes, time-shares, summer rentals, hotels, motels, and resorts that go on for miles, unbroken except for occasional empty lots for sale.

Now and then, if you look carefully, a sign will identify a small public access point to the beach. You know — the beach you sometimes glimpse, over there beyond the private property.

Third, the terrain is flat and featureless, covered by a modest layer of low-growing vegetation. Bays and inlets are rare. So are sand dunes. No wonder hurricanes surge many miles inland instead of glancing off the coast.

Fourth, I was unsurprised to find that so much of the coast is heavily industrialized. You regularly encounter not only oil wells, refineries, and petroleum processing facilities, but also giant chemical plants and manufacturing operations.

I passed numerous industrial plants the size of shopping malls, with thousands of cars in the parking lots, a sprawling sea of gleaming, steaming pipes, and generic names that reveal nothing about the nature of the business.

Names like Texas Heavy Industries. MHI International. Direct Energy. Varco. Schlumberger — all quite mysterious to a passing tourist. The one thing they seem to have in common: belching smokestacks.

In sum, coastal Texas is what I expected. I was neither pleased nor disappointed. It is what it is.

My curiosity satisfied, I enjoyed a leisurely drive south to just short of Corpus Christi.

Along the way, I sampled the local cuisine as often as possible.

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Delicious char-broiled oysters.

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A superb shrimp po-boy.

And I had experiences not available back home in North Georgia. I shot this video on the ferry to Galveston Island.

To get from Georgia to Texas, I followed the Interstate highways, always a stressful and unpleasant experience. Once I arrived, I switched to ordinary federal and state roads. They were, almost without exception, well-maintained and lightly-traveled.

In fact, I was so impressed with the non-Interstate routes that I followed them, exclusively, on the return trip to Georgia.

Specifically, from South Texas, I drove north on U.S. 77 to Waco, then followed U.S. 79 to Shreveport. There, I picked up U.S. 80, which parallels I-20, and followed it across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and into Georgia. In Macon, I turned north on U.S. 129 back to Jefferson.

Those four routes are divided four-lane highways with minimal traffic. In Texas, the speed limit is 75. In the other states, it most often is 65.

Rarely did the roads bypass the towns. Which was fine with me.

The trip home was an easy and pleasant ride, and I remember it primarily for two reasons.

The first reason: the afternoon I spent at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, located midway between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. The Center is a museum, part of the Park Service’s “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” It chronicles events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If you recollect your history, blacks were demonstrating in Alabama in the early 1960s to protest the use of literacy tests to block them from registering to vote. At the time, the voter rolls in Selma were 99 percent white. That was not unusual around the South in those days.

In March 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, police attacked and beat a group of marchers. The episode quickly prompted a massive organized march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, led by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

When Gov. George Wallace refused to offer protection to the marchers, President Lyndon Johnson nationalized 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard and assigned them to escort the demonstrators.

The direct result of all that was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

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The film and exhibits at the museum are excellent. Moving and effective. Much more powerful than I expected. They reminded me of a time when the courts and our political leaders — most of them, anyway — were on the right side of important moral issues.

I miss those days, when I was optimistic about the future. When the government made me proud. It pains me that our progress toward fairness and social justice has slowed since those times.

Progress has slowed because, for decades, the terrified conservative masses — you know, the ones clinging to their guns or religion — have been steadily descending into paranoia, inflamed by the right-wing media, enabled by Republican politicians, and now, for crying out loud, abetted by Putin. No wonder we have a vulgar, incompetent clown as President.

But, hey — I digress.

The second memorable moment of my return trip to Georgia happened earlier that same morning in Selma. When I stopped for a red light near the center of town, I looked to my left and saw a man dancing.

Why the man was dancing, or to what music he danced (note the earbuds), I have no idea. I don’t know if it was a spontaneous, one-time thing or if he did this often.

Was he celebrating? Was he high? Are mental issues involved?

Whatever the answers, I was compelled to capture the moment on video.

From my standpoint, the music on my radio (Blue Monday, New Order, 1983) was a nice complement to the performance.

Road trips are, indeed, the perfect way to clear the mental cobwebs. Especially road trips to new territory.

 

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A Few Observations

A few observations of a sociopolitical nature…

A Fine Mess

Well, this is a fine mess the country is in, owing to the fact that great numbers of us (specifically, the political conservatives) are being played for suckers and are too bone-headed to realize it.

Let me put it another way.

The USA — the government, the private sector, and most of American society — is effectively run by, is under the thumb of, a rich and privileged mini-minority that has a lock on power. Look around. The wealthy own or control virtually everything. If you’re one of the elites, or are essential to them, you’ve got it made.

The same evolution happened in Russia after the fall of the USSR, but much more rapidly. Russia is now fully controlled by Putin and the Oligarchs. The occasional minor protests are of no consequence.

In the U.S., the transition happened slowly over many decades. The purpose, of course, was to amass wealth and power. The methodology: systematically vilifying certain people and groups — people not like you — and blaming them for your problems.

To make that happen, it was necessary to make the concept of compassion for others, and of using the resources of government to benefit everyone, seem weak and wasteful and stupid. Anti-American.

Think of the rich and powerful as an overlord class. They remain in charge by artfully keep the rabble — people like you and me — distracted and off balance. Fear-mongering is their tactic of choice. It works really well.

Joe Average in Rustbelt, Indiana, is told that he struggles and has a crappy job because black and brown people flood into the country illegally, joining those lazy welfare freeloaders, and they all get preferential treatment from the bleeding-heart liberals.

Joe is too busy hating on black people, brown people, and Democrats to ask why his wealthy employer can’t forego a teeny slice of the profits to pay him a living wage.

The truth is, the members of the rabble class could undo this preposterous situation in one election cycle. But there are too many Joes out there, perpetually seething with anger about illegals, welfare queens, and lib-tards.

Oil and Wealth

About a year ago, I wrote a post about how U.S. sanctions against Russia are blocking a giant oil deal between ExxonMobil and the Russian oil company Rosneft.

In spite of the fact that Donald Trump is now President (!!?), the sanctions are still in place. The latest:

— ExxonMobil asked for a waiver of the sanctions, hoping Trump would go along. He did not, probably because of the heat he is taking about his long-time personal and business ties to the Russian government, Russian banks, and Russian gangsters.

— Congress passed a bill that not only imposes additional sanctions, but also limits the President’s power to lift them. That was a shocker. Trump grumbled bigly, but he signed the bill.

Encouraging, yes, but hardly the end of the story. Not when a deal reportedly worth $500 billion is on the line. Russia and ExxonMobil will never give up and move on. Not ever.

So, if the sanctions eventually are lifted and drilling begins in the North Sea, what will be the consequences?

— All the bad actors with a stake in this are personally enriched and their power further strengthened.

— Russia gets away with invading and assimilating Crimea, which is, like, you know, legally a part of Ukraine.

— The world’s addiction to oil is prolonged for a few more generations.

— Cronyism seems more inevitable, more normal, more futile to resist.

— The gap between the haves and the have-nots widens further. This at a time when eight grotesquely rich men possess as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Think of it as a scale being balanced with eight people on one side and 3.8 billion people on the other.

Thumping Trump

When the Orange Vulgarian first took office, his relationship with Putin was cozy to a creepy degree. But it didn’t last. Putin thought he was buying a compliant President. He expected the sanctions to be gone by now, and it hasn’t happened.

Trump turned out to be unpredictable and difficult to manage. He is vain, vindictive, and volatile. He shoots from the hip. Smart? Gifted? No, just a con artist, forever winging it, living in the moment.

It seems curious that Putin has not yet exacted his revenge, even though Trump has failed and displeased him in a major way. Why he hasn’t is anyone’s guess, but you can bet it will happen eventually.

What form will it take? How will Putin thump Trump? He has plenty of choices. We learn more every day about Trump’s personal and financial peccadilloes and indiscretions. They range from embarrassing to unethical to illegal — and more revelations are on the way. When Putin strikes, expect it to be inspired and devastating.

Trump’s tendency to admire dictators was always unsettling, but it’s especially so in the case of Putin. Putin is not the legendary evil-genius-master-politician that some people claim, but he is powerful, calculating, ambitious, and ruthless.

Clearly, Russia isn’t enough for him. He dreams of expansion — putting the old Soviet Union back together, and then some. He sees himself as Vladimir the Great.

That’s why the infatuation with Putin by a lightweight, thin-skinned amateur like Trump is scary.

Consequences

A point about where recent phenomena such as the election of Trump and the Brexit vote could lead us.

The wretched masses of the world have a boiling point. As their numbers grow, as their situations worsen, as they watch the rich get richer, they will become steadily more restless, angry, and defiant. When people become so desperate that they react in protest, consequences such as Trump and Brexit are no surprise.

But those in power have boiling points, too. Eventually, any government or regime will retaliate to protect itself and its interests. It will proclaim that the rule of law must prevail. Civil disorder can’t be tolerated. Send in the troops.

That scenario usually ends in one of two ways.

In one, “the people” somehow prevail, boot out the ruling class, and, nobly and piously, set about trying to create a social system equitable to all. Usually, the experiment devolves to rancorous infighting and disintegrates in chaos. Down through history, not an uncommon occurrence.

In the other, an autocracy or oligarchy prevails, with the leadership even more powerful and more deeply entrenched. Also a regular occurrence throughout history.

If you can see a just or happy ending to any of this, I would love to hear your story.

Trump at work

 

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This is important. Probably not a watershed moment, but a big deal nonetheless.

I’m referring to the tide of women coming forward to report past instances of well-known men in business, politics, entertainment, and the media using their power to intimidate, harass, or assault them. Women are emboldened, and they are seizing the moment.

In our hearts, we know that most of the stories, probably all of them, are true. It’s a man’s world, and this is what some men do — what some men always have done.

Entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” (His use of man undoubtedly means person.)

Forbes framed the point positively, referring to behavior that reveals good character. Well, it’s equally clear that men preying on women is revealing of poor character.

And character certainly is the issue here.

Most likely, none of these revelations will do much to change the behavior of the non-famous predators among us — the countless anonymous bullies and abusers who make life miserable for girlfriends, spouses, and employees.

What’s happening to Weinstein et al is progress. But is it seismic? I doubt it.

Still, it’s refreshing. And, as new names and charges surface and more melodrama is uncorked, all thoughts should turn to Donald Trump, the orange vulgarian, who has been accused of sexual predation for decades.

Trump’s deplorable character and lack of integrity are glaringly obvious, but most Republicans give him a pass. To them, he is Teflon Donald.

This is appalling, but no surprise. To the occupants of the right-wing fact-free zone, Trump is simply their guy. Go, team. To some supporters, he is innocent. To others, his behavior doesn’t matter. Either way, their fall-back position is that Trump’s accusers are liars. Better yet, paid liars.

It’s a sorry spectacle. Regardless of anyone’s perceived grievances, no matter how conservatives rationalize it, to vote for and stand by such a flawed, disreputable, unqualified person is indefensible.

Years ago, when writer Harry Hurt III was doing research for his 1993 book “Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump,” he obtained a copy of the sworn divorce deposition of Trump’s first wife, Ivana. In the deposition, Ivana claimed that in 1989, Trump “violently raped” her.

According to Hurt’s book, Trump had undergone a scalp reduction procedure to eliminate a bald spot, using a plastic surgeon recommended by Ivana. The procedure was unexpectedly painful. Hurt wrote that, in a rage, Trump tore out a handful of Ivana’s hair and forced himself on her sexually.

By the time Hurt’s book was released, Trump’s legal team had done its work. The book publisher had agreed to paste a special statement from Ivana inside every copy. The statement confirmed her claim of rape, but not in “a literal or criminal sense.” The statement read, “As a woman, I felt violated.”

Hurt contends that Ivana agreed to add the statement in exchange for finalizing the divorce settlement. She reportedly received $14 million.

According to government records, when Trump was deposed during the divorce proceedings and Ivana’s lawyers questioned him about reports of his history of adulterous relationships, he invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination 100 times.

Over the years, a parade of women has come forward to accuse Trump of varying degrees of sexual advances and assaults. After some relatively easy Googling, I came up with this list.

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Jill Harth, who worked with Trump in 1996 on a beauty pageant in Atlantic City, claimed Trump groped her under a table at a business dinner. Later, she said, he cornered her and kissed her while she was “desperately protesting.” She filed a sexual harassment suit that accused Trump of attempted rape, but, as part of the legal maneuvering, withdrew that specific claim.

Natasha Stoynoff, a writer for People Magazine, said that when she interviewed Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2005, he pushed her against a wall, held her there, and forcibly kissed her as she struggled. She said Trump told her they were going to have an affair. She said the attack ended when a butler entered the room.

Temple Taggart McDowell, the 1997 Miss Utah USA, said Trump twice kissed her on the mouth, aggressively and without warning. She said a pageant chaperone advised her never to be alone with Trump.

Rachel Crooks, a receptionist for a real estate company in Trump Tower, said she introduced herself to Trump outside an elevator in 2005. She said Trump held her hand, kissed her cheek, and, quickly and unexpectedly, kissed her on the mouth.

Jessica Leeds, a saleswoman for a paper company, said Trump sat beside her on an airline flight in the mid-1980s. During the flight, Leeds said, he lifted the armrest, grabbed her breasts, and tried to put his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she said.

Mindy McGillivray said Trump came up behind her and grabbed her buttocks at Mar-a-Lago while she was working there as a photographer’s assistant in 2003..

Kristin Anderson, a restaurant hostess, said Trump put his hand under her skirt and touched her crotch. The incident happened in the early 1990s on a couch in a crowded night club.

Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant, said she met with Trump in his office in 2007 to discuss job opportunities. She said he forcibly kissed her and grabbed her breasts as she tried to push him away. She filed a lawsuit.

Jennifer Murphy, also a former “Apprentice” contestant, said Trump walked her to the elevator after an interview in 2005 and, instead of hugging her as she expected, leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth.

Cathy Heller said she was introduced to Trump at a brunch in the late 1990s. When she extended her hand, he pulled her toward him and tried to kiss her on the mouth. She said she turned her head and pulled away, and he grew angry and said, “Oh, come on!”

Karena Virginia, a yoga instructor, said she was waiting for a cab in New York City in 1998 when Trump walked by with a group of men. She said he told the men, “Look at those legs.” She said he approached her and grabbed her right arm, touching her breast in the process. She said Trump asked, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Jessica Drake, described as a sex educator and a former porn star, said Trump grabbed her and kissed her “without asking permission” at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006. She also said Trump offered her $10,000 and the use of a private plane if she would come to his room and later go to a party with him.

Ninni Laaksonen, a former Miss Finland, said Trump grabbed her buttocks while photos were being taken of Trump and a group of beauty pageant contestants in New York in 2006.

Cassandra Searles, a participant in the 2013 Miss USA Pageant, said Trump “lined us up so he could get a closer look at his property.”

Kelsey Wheeler, another 2013 pageant participant, said Trump made them pose for uncomfortable photos with visiting businessmen.

Samantha Holvey, also a pageant participant, said Trump personally inspected each girl backstage, “from head to toe, like we were just meat.” She also recalled private parties where the contestants had to mingle with “old, rich, drunk guys ogling all over us.”

Rowanne Brewer Lane, an aspiring model, said Trump took her by the hand at a Mar-a-Lago pool party in 1990, led her upstairs, and gave her a bikini to put on. When they returned to the party, he said to the group, “That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?”

Mariah Billado, a contestant in the 1997 Miss Teen USA Pageant, said Trump walked into their dressing room while many of the teens were undressed and said, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”

Victoria Hughes, who was 19 during the 1997 Miss Teen USA Pageant, confirmed that Trump entered the dressing room unannounced while they were changing clothes. She said the youngest contestant in the room was 15.

Bridget Sullivan, a contestant in the 2000 Miss USA Pageant, said Trump entered the dressing room when “we were all naked.”

Tasha Dixon, a contestant in the 2001 Miss Teen USA Pageant, said Trump once walked unannounced into the dressing room. “There was no second to put a robe on or anything,” she said. “Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked.”

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Of that list of 21 women, the first 13 accuse Trump of being a sexual predator. The last eight accuse him of being an obnoxious creep.

Is this a complete list of the women Trump has assaulted or intimidated? I find that inconceivable.

Ironically, after I spent time assembling the above info, the Washington Post published a nice summary that would have saved me the trouble. The Post listed not only the women and their stories, but also the names and accounts of corroborating witnesses — friends and associates of the accusers in whom they confided soon after their encounters with Trump.

As you know, Trump has flatly denied all such accusations. He claims the women are lying. But, at the same time, his trademark boasting confirms some of the women’s stories.

In 2005, on The Howard Stern Show, Trump bragged about going into pageant dressing rooms without warning.

He told Stern, “No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant, and therefore I’m inspecting it. ‘Is everybody okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible-looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”

Then there is the infamous “Access Hollywood” video, in which Trump proudly admitted that predatory behavior toward women is his modus operandi.

Sometimes, I get distracted by the accumulating evidence that Trump has been doing business for years with Putin and his Russian oligarch/mobster friends — which, now that Trump is President, falls somewhere between disqualifying and treasonous.

I get distracted, and I tend to focus on other matters — not just Trump’s ties to Russia, but the blatant conflicts of interest, the reckless foreign policy, the terrible people who surround him, and the damage inflicted by the loony-tunes Republicans now in charge.

I shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, simply as a human being, Trump is loathsome, amoral, and wildly unfit to be President.

Because, fundamentally, Trump’s character — his appalling lack of positive character traits — explains everything else.

Miss USA

Trump 1998

 

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Tune o’ the Day

Everybody knows the rock classic “I Fought the Law,” in which an inmate explains how he ended up in the slammer. The song was written, ironically enough, by a Texas 21-year-old with a clean record.

That Texan is musician Sonny Curtis, who in 1959 became lead singer/guitarist of The Crickets after the death of Buddy Holly.

The Crickets recorded “I Fought the Law” in 1960, and it went nowhere. Then, in 1965, the tune was covered by the Bobby Fuller Four, another popular regional band. This time, it got national attention.

Curtis is still around today and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fuller died in 1966 at age 23. His death was ruled a suicide, but various alternate theories exist, including one claim that he was murdered by mobsters involved in the recording industry.

I Fought the Law” has been covered 50-odd times over the years. The song is notable for its simplicity, for the inmate’s candor about his plight, and for his clear lack of remorse for having pursued a life of crime.

Bobby Fuller Four

I Fought the Law

By the Bobby Fuller Four, 1966
Written by Sonny Curtis

I’m breakin’ rocks in the hot sun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I needed money ’cause I had none.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I left my baby, and I feel so sad.
I guess my race is run.
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I’m robbin’ people with a six-gun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I miss my baby and the good fun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I left my baby, and I feel so sad.
I guess my race is run.
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

 

 

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Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now, if you should ever want to reach me, call me at this number. Don’t call me at that one. That’s the old one.”

— James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in the movie “Harvey,” 1950.

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I cast my first ballot in 1961, the year I turned 18. Technically, my 18-year-old self could vote only in state and local elections; at the time, the minimum federal voting age was 21. As you know from your high school civics, the 26th Amendment, enacted in 1971, lowered the voting age nationwide to 18.

But it’s a fact that from 1961 to the present, I have faithfully cast a ballot whenever the law has allowed me to cast it, without missing a single election, ever. An unbroken string of 50-plus years. I’m right proud of that.

Also notable in this regard is that I have never once — never once — voted for a Republican.

Just to be clear, I’ve voted in a boatload of elections over the years — primaries, runoffs, special elections, general elections, local, state, national — and I’ve never cast a ballot for anyone running as a Republican.

Judging from the way the GOP continues to spiral downward into lunacy, delusion, and paranoia, I never will. But let’s not talk about the Republicans and their beliefs, which range from the laughable to the selfish to the mean. It befouls my mood.

This record of never having voted for a Republican wasn’t planned. It occurred naturally, owing to the fact that I’ve been a liberal Democrat as long as I can remember. That’s just how I roll. When I realized I had a no-GOP thing going, I found it quite satisfying and resolved to keep the record intact.

A couple of decades ago, the political landscape was different from today. In the old days, the Republican Party was, as always, fixated on greasing the skids for business interests and rich people. It was right-leaning, but far less wild-eyed and extreme than today’s GOP.

Democrats back then were a mix of non-whites, white liberals like me, and, awkwardly, Southern white conservatives. The latter belonged to the Democratic Party by long tradition.

Under those circumstances, I had no trouble choosing candidates. I simply ignored the Republicans, and I ruled out any Democrat who admired George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, or anyone of that ilk. Voting was a piece of cake.

But then, in the late 1960s, the Republican Party enacted its despicable “Southern strategy.” This was when the GOP brazenly tacked to the right in order to curry favor among white Southerners who resented societal changes, such as the civil rights movement, and despised the hippies.

The Southern strategy was cynical and dirty, and it worked brilliantly. The GOP siphoned off virtually every white conservative voter in the South. Within a decade, the Democratic Party was devoid of Southern white conservatives.

By and large, nothing really changed in Southern politics, government, or governance. The same people who ran things as Democrats now ran things as Republicans. Their worldview and behavior changed very little.

And, as far as my voting habits and practices were concerned, none of this mattered much. For a while.

The transition of the South didn’t take long. The GOP steadily took over virtually all local and state politics, like mold on cheese. And once that was done, in order to keep Democrats out and Republicans in, the gerrymandering commenced.

Gerrymandered

Georgia’s gerrymandered congressional districts.

Examples are everywhere, but here are two from my own back yard.

— Atlanta, a stronghold of the Democratic Party, was gerrymandered into four separate congressional districts. Atlanta’s voting strength was diluted, and three of the four districts immediately elected Republican congressmen.

— Athens has been a liberal bastion for years, but gerrymandering split Athens between the 9th and 10th Congressional Districts. Both were large enough to neuter the city’s political influence, and today, those districts, too, are represented by Republicans.

For me, who never misses an election and doesn’t vote for Republicans, this presented a problem: what to do when everyone on the ballot is a Republican?

I don’t remember exactly when I faced this dilemma for the first time. Probably sometime in the 1980s. Probably in a local election in which all the candidates on the ballot were Republicans.

Voting for one of them was unacceptable. So was skipping the election. So was turning in an empty ballot. The obvious recourse: a write-in candidate.

The first few times, making a good-faith effort, I wrote in the names of local people I could imagine doing the job. But, really, what difference did the name make? It was a single write-in vote, destined to mean nothing.

So I came up with a new system. Each time I encountered an all-Republican ballot, I wrote in the name Elwood P. Dowd. Over the years, I’ve voted for Elwood countless times.

Just last week, I early-voted in the Jefferson mayoral election. The race is between the incumbent and a challenger, both cookie-cutter, small-town Georgia Republicans. No Democrat was on the ballot. Therefore, I voted for Elwood P. Dowd.

By so doing, I was able to extend my unbroken voting streak of 50-plus years and also preserve my record of never having voted for a Republican.

That’s assuming Elwood P. Dowd was a Democrat, you understand.

Georgia voter

Dowd

 

 

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We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

— Eric Trump, 2014

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For a host of obvious reasons, most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Of course they didn’t. Nobody with their wits about them would want such a flawed person, who has dangerous connections to our enemies, to lead the country.

But, astonishingly, enough people voted for him, in just the right places, to give him an Electoral College victory.

Why? The reasons varied.

Some did it because Trump was the Republican nominee, and they are loyal to the Republican team, no matter how far the party descends into fantasy, delusion, and paranoia.

Some did it because of the vague notion that Trump would “shake things up in Washington.” Nothing gets done anyway. Maybe a trainwreck is what we need.

Some did it to give a middle finger to the snooty, holier-than-thou liberals — those annoying left-wingers they perceive, sometimes correctly, to be looking down on working-class conservatives.

Some did it because they hate the lazy, whiny black and brown people who get a free ride from government, at the expense of hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic white people who just can’t get a break.

Some did it because they were taught to loathe Hillary Clinton by people they watch and listen to — you know, like Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck, and all those right-wing televangelists.

I get all that. Intellectually, I understand the motivations, as naive and wrong-headed as they are.

Still, it baffles me that all those Trump voters, knowing about the guy’s character, his history, his ties to foreign adversaries, his conflicts of interest — knowing all that, they were willing to risk the safety, security, and well-being of the country for reasons that are, frankly, trivial and infantile.

And risk it they did. They saddled us with a president who, in the eyes of the rest of the world, is a dangerously unpredictable buffoon.

They saddled us with someone erratic and impulsive enough to pick a fight with a madman like Kim Jong Un. The two of them are playing nuclear chicken, and if you aren’t frightened by that, you need to pay attention.

They saddled us with a man who is beholden to an unknown degree to Vladimir Putin, the evil little despot who single-handedly dragged the world back into a Cold War.

Eventually, I expect, proof will surface that Russian money has bailed out Trump and his businesses multiple times, starting back in the 1990s.

I expect we’ll discover that Trump is indebted to Putin, the oligarchs, and the banks they control, not just for coming to his aid when he needed it financially, but for stacking the deck by meddling in America’s campaign and elections.

There are rumors that Russia has dirt on Trump for unsavory personal behavior. They’re only rumors. They could be false, they could be exaggerated.

But if they’re even partly true, Trump knows the Russians could damage him, or at least embarrass him, by releasing the evidence. If that’s so, he is bought and paid for.

———

In case you missed it, Trump got 63 percent of the votes of white men and 53 percent of the votes of white women.

The white male vote isn’t too surprising, but the white female vote certainly is. 53 percent of white women voted for one of the most infamous misogynists on the national stage. Unbelievable.

For all of his adult life, Trump has disparaged, objectified, and leered at women as a matter of routine. Probably, in his mind, this makes him manly and clever.

In a rational world, his record of shameful behavior towards women automatically would have doomed his chances with woman voters.

When the “Access Hollywood” video came out before the election, in which Trump made his infamous grab-’em-by-the-private-parts remarks, I was convinced his campaign was over. I couldn’t see how any woman could vote for him after that.

By all rights, that incident should have sent Trump back to private life in disgrace. It should have guaranteed that no self-respecting female would dream of voting for him.

But 53 percent of white women voted for him anyway.

It appears that my confidence in the wisdom and maturity of the electorate was sadly misplaced.

AH video

 

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Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

— Donald Trump, Jr., 2008

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In the waning months of 1991, the Soviet Union officially disbanded. Collapsed. Imploded. Over the years, a myth has taken shape among conservatives that Ronald Reagan, that clever rascal, tricked the USSR into bankrupting itself.

He did no such thing. The Soviet Union fell apart because half its member states were in open rebellion and others were poised to follow. The empire was too sprawling and unwieldy to control. The handwriting was on the wall.

The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, understood that the end was inevitable. Ultimately, he did the world a favor, declared that the USSR was no more, and went home to his native Russia.

In place of the former Soviet Union were 15 independent countries. By far the largest and most influential was the Russian Federation, which took home most of the nukes.

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Gorbachev didn’t last long as President of the new Russia. He was succeeded by Boris Yeltsin, a construction worker who rose through the ranks as a Communist Party loyalist. Yeltsin was mediocre and crude, but he garnered a reputation as a maverick and a straight-talking man of the people.

As President, Yeltsin was determined to transform Russia from socialism to a market economy. Throughout the 1990s, he instituted a series of radical policies designed to shock the economy and force the desired changes. Most of the industries controlled by the government were privatized.

Whereupon, the Russian economy descended into chaos. By the time a measure of stability was restored, most of Russia’s wealth — its property, transportation, media, manufacturing, mining and more — had fallen under the control of a small group of “oligarchs,” an opportunistic bunch who took advantage of the chaos to amass great wealth and power.

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Vladimir Putin joined the KGB in 1975 and left in 1990 to transition into local politics. He excelled in that environment and worked his way up. In 1997, Yeltsin named Putin to his personal staff.

In 1998, Putin was appointed Director of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the old KGB. Yeltsin also made it clear that he wanted Putin to succeed him.

Yeltsin, who suffered from heart disease and alcoholism and faced corruption charges, resigned as President in 1999. Putin became Acting President, and he promptly signed an order declaring that no corruption charges would be pursued against Yeltsin.

Putin was elected to his first term as Russian President in 2000, and he remains in office today. He has successfully allied himself with the oligarchs, and together, they not only control Russia’s government and economy, but they also conduct business around the world with a range of corporations and countries.

Some of their business is legitimate — normal transactions as part of the world economy. But, because, Putin and the oligarchs are quite literally a gang of crooks, a large part of their financial dealings involves dirty money — their take from bribery, kickbacks, skimming, payoffs, and theft.

Accordingly, they need a regular supply of willing and seemingly honest business partners around the world for money-laundering purposes. Right now, investigations are underway to determine the connections, if any, of Donald Trump and his companies in this regard.

No one knows Putin’s net worth. However, through his ties to the oligarchs and his stakes in numerous Russian companies, he probably is a billionaire many times over. He may well be the wealthiest human ever.

In 2012, Putin was cornered into reporting his income for the first and only time. With a straight face, he claimed an annual income of $113,000. Seriously.

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Donald Trump was in the public eye for decades before he stumbled into politics. We all were well aware of his standing as a professional showman, clown, and loudmouth.

His shtick, his role on the national stage over the years, was that of an insult comic. He reveled in being outrageous and provocative. The fact that he came across as an egotistical gasbag? No problem. That was part of the routine.

Lots of people thought Trump was entertaining, in an Archie Bunker kind of way. Others, like me, found him shallow and vulgar and tried not to think about him. Let him rant and fire people on TV. Nothing says you have to watch.

Clearly, a person of this caliber is completely unsuited to lead the country. Trump, in fact, is one of the least qualified persons of all time to serve in public office.

But here we are, well into a presidency that was destined to be a trainwreck and is fulfilling its promise every day.

The fact that Trump is an obnoxious jerk does not, of course, disqualify him from serving. Politics is heavily populated with jerks. But other factors should have disqualified him — and, I submit, still do.

Factor number one is his personal and business ties to Putin and the oligarchs. No American President should have ties of any kind to any foreign country, let alone Russia. Russia! My God!

Someday, we’ll find out the extent to which Trump and people close to him are in bed with Putin and his gangster friends. We’ll be able to see how dirty money was laundered, and by whom.

Someday, we’ll also understand the extent of Russia’s dirty-tricks campaign to help Trump win the 2016 election.

When we do, minds will be blown.

A second disqualifying factor is that Trump’s global business interests and foreign entanglements present spectacular conflicts of interest that simply are unsolvable. Already, he and his businesses are profiting greatly because he is in office.

And, sadly, even if heads eventually roll, we’ll probably never know the extent to which Trump, his family, and his cronies have cashed in.

A third factor, which is almost trivial in the overall scheme of things, is the matter of Trump’s incompetence. He isn’t capable of doing the job, isn’t interested in doing the job, and has no intention of learning to do the job.

In other words, being incompetent is his least egregious fault.

In my next post, a few words about the people who voted for Trump.

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Putin and Trump

 

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