Friday, October 21, 2016

Racism's Superstitious & Toxic Tinge & Asatru in America

Virginia resident & 1st Amendement
advocate Brian Eybers
Earlier this morning I was reading an interesting article in the Washington Post by Travis Andrews about a 59-year-old African-American television reporter from Charleston, South Carolina named Steve Crump who confronted a 21-year-old white man named Brian Eybers for uttering derogatory racial slurs at him on the street.

As the article reports, Crump is an Emmy Award-winning journalist for WBTV who has covered, among other topics, issues of race, ethnicity and culture for years across the American south.

Two weeks ago he was doing a routine stand-up report on a Charleston street about the cleanup efforts from Hurricane Andrew when he heard Eybers, who was standing nearby, begin to mutter a series of racial slurs.

You may recall that I used to work as a television reporter in Trenton, NJ.

So let me just say that shooting a stand-up outside on a street or a public place isn't easy.

We're all familiar with those quick 30 to 60 second intros TV reporters will do in front of courthouses, hospitals or accident scenes that set up the story - then after the piece runs the camera will come back to the same scene for a brief "outro" conclusion where the reporter wraps up the report with "This is so-and-so for WABC coming to you from XXXX."

Shooting intros and outros like that in front of a camera is difficult because of everything going on around you, cars passing, random people stopping to look at you, or other unpredictable things that reporters have to try and block out while talking into the camera.

Stuff like a bee flying around you, or a truck horn drowning out the sound, forcing you to cut and start it again can make it really hard and even frustrating - you'd be surprised at the off-camera curses that fly out of reporters mouths when a take gets interrupted.

WBTV reporter Steve Crump
So I share all that to say that it's hard enough for TV reporters speaking into the camera outdoors, so I can't imagine what it was like for Steve Crump, a veteran reporter who's interviewed members of the KKK, to have to hear Brian Eybers intentionally muttering overtly racist comments within earshot.

Instead of loosing his composure, Crump grabbed his cameraman, walked over to where Eybers was leaning against a wall and began to interview the guy about why he was making racist slurs and what his beliefs were.

Their brief exchange, detailed in the Washington Post article, offers insight into the irrational, nonsensical, insidious and always toxic nature of racism.

In some ways the story reminded me of the random and confusing nature of Minnesota police officer Tim Olson's decision to confront and arrest pedestrian Larnie Thomas for simply walking along the street; the subject of Wednesday's blog.

What was going on inside the minds of Olson and Eybers when they laid eyes on two complete strangers with dark skin minding their own business?

In the same way behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's famous 1947 experiment demonstrated that pigeon's could be conditioned to develop unusual superstitious beliefs around being fed, the complexity of racism in the United States is such that some people seem to be conditioned by society into irrational patterns of thinking triggered by the mere sight of someone with dark skin.

Conditioned how? Through constant exposure to the inherent subconscious racial bias ingrained into images in advertising, popular entertainment, news media coverage, education and court and legal systems - it's complex and the myriad results are fear-based and disturbing.

Followers of Asatru pose for photos
A trained white policeman sees a black man walking on the street, his first instinct is to stop and confront him.

A white man sitting on a Charleston street watching a black reporter doing a report on hurricane cleanup efforts feels compelled to pick up his iPad and begin uttering derogatory racial slurs into the device; to who and for what reason we can only guess.

The adoption of these kinds of beliefs rooted in a distorted perception of those seen as "other" has also impacted religious beliefs.

The spring 2016 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report had an interesting article about the rise of Asatru in America; a neo-Pagan religion that the SPLC describes as "an offshoot of the racist Odinist religion that emphasizes the magical elements of pre-Christian European polytheism, paying homage to Norse gods like Thor."  

As the SPLC reported, after a lengthy investigation in November of 2015 the FBI conducted raids that led to the arrests of five people in Virginia in connection with a domestic terror plot to shoot up and bomb black churches and Jewish synagogues to try and spark a race war.

Charles D. Halderman, 30, (an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood with 17 prior felony convictions), Ronald Beasley Chaney III, 33 and Robert C. Doyle, 34 were among those arrested after two of them met with undercover FBI agents posing as weapons dealers.

Chaney and Doyle are supposed followers of Asatru, a religion that the SPLC has been reporting on since at least 1998 "which revives a pre-Christian pantheon of Norse gods, is appealing to white supremacists because it mythologizes the virtues of early Northern European whites - seen as wandering barbarians deeply involved in a mystical relationship with nature, struggling heroically against the elements." 

Asatru has gained particular popularity amongst prisoners aligned with Neo-Nazi and white supremacist gangs, but it's also gained a foothold amongst those who see it as playing into some of the same fears harbored by many white Trump supporters.

Americans whose marginalization in a vastly unequal economy geared towards the 1% has, in part due to Trump's divisive rhetoric, been transformed into a strange persecution complex that views African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and non-white immigrants as a kind of existential threat to their jobs and "way of life".

Anti-Bolshevik Nazi propaganda poster
with Nordic symbolism
As the SPLC reports, Asatru is closely linked to Odinism, a similar neo-Pagan religion rooted in Nordic mythology that was embraced by many leaders of the Third Reich in Germany; for example the double-rune SS symbol is a link to Nordic symbology.

But while Asatru is recognized as an official religion in Iceland and many followers chafe against it being associated with hatred and bigotry, as an article in reported in 2015, thousands of whites in America are drawn towards what they view as a more exclusively "white" religion - unlike Christianity whose followers come from all ethnicities and races.

One of the byproducts of the Republican party's open embrace and "mainstreaming" of bigotry, xenophobic anti-immigrant hysteria and prejudicial thinking in America is the open alignment of various elements of the white supremacist movement with the GOP and their orange-haired presidential candidate.

Both former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke and former KKK member Don Black, creator of the white supremacist Website Stormfront, famously encouraged the listeners of their respective radio programs to support and vote for Donald Trump.

Republicans, and the right-wing media machine that shapes modern conservatism, have given legitimacy to nonsensical and disproved theories like Birtherism which seeks to undermine the President because of the color of his skin, and thus they've given free reign to the kinds of fringe, extremist views repeated by their unhinged presidential candidate - and embraced by those who support him.

Those views have been allowed to flourish and grow but they're not rooted in rational thinking, facts or science, but in the kind of superstition, ignorance, baseless paranoia and fear that spark some members of law enforcement to arrest people for walking down the street or shoot and kill unarmed people for no apparent reason.

Or motivate a guy sitting on the sidewalk to start hurling racial slurs at a black television reporter who's simply doing his job.  

Is the Republican party responsible for the actions of officer Olson or Brian Eybers? Hard to say.

But I'd bet you a drink at the bar which presidential candidate they'll both be voting for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Manner of Walking", Deborah Danner & Chief Cunningham's Apology

Walking While Black? Larnie Thomas
The recent release of cell phone video of an African-American Minnesota man named Larnie Thomas being arrested in broad daylight for walking along a street by white plain clothes police officer Tim Olson certainly isn't the most egregious example of highly questionable and excessive use of authority by members of American law enforcement to go viral.

But it does serve as a sobering and troubling reminder of how entrenched racial bias, subtle or not, on the part of some U.S. police officers, can turn even the most routine of activities into something perceived as criminal or dangerous - based on a distorted perception clouded by an individual's race.

There's nothing to suggest that officer Olson is a "racist".

But it's important to try and understand what prompted him to stop his unmarked vehicle and confront Thomas.

Remember this was a pedestrian, an American citizen who was walking along the street minding his own business who'd committed no offense.
Now if Thomas had been acting erratically, or was posing an immediate danger to himself or other drivers by, for example, walking in traffic along a major highway where walking is illegal, Olson stopping the guy would make sense.

But by all accounts Xerxes Avenue in Edina, Minnesota where Thomas was walking is a quiet two-lane street that runs through a quiet tree-lined neighborhood of suburban homes - and the posted speed limit is 30 MPH.

So it begs the question, was the stop simply a pretense by Olson to "check" Thomas out and see what he was doing? Did Olson think Thomas "seemed out of place"?

Ferguson Municipal Court / revenue factory
It's been well established that a number of American police departments have created intentionally ambiguous low-level "offenses" as a legal pretense to be able to justify randomly stopping and questioning: or even detaining or arresting someone.

Remember the infamous "manner of walking" citation used by the notoriously racially-biased Ferguson, Missouri Police Department? Almost sounds funny, but it's real.

If you recall, a 2015 Department of Justice investigation found that 95% of people charged with Ferguson's "Manner of Walking in Roadway" municipal ordinances were African-American.

In the wake of the global outrage over the Ferguson police working in collusion with the local courts to systematically use minor infractions levied against African-Americans to create more revenue, those ordinances have been quietly removed or modified.

If you look closely at Ferguson's municipal codes regarding pedestrian infractions, Sec. 44-344 "which pertained to manner of walking along roadway", Sec.  44-341 "which pertained to crossing at right angles" and Sec. 44-349 "which pertained to use of right half of crosswalks", were all "modified" by a municipal ordinance on April 26, 2016.

Officer Olson arresting
Thomas for walking
But to get back to Larnie Thomas' flagrantly bogus arrest in Edina, even though officer Olson initially claimed that he stopped Thomas for walking in the middle of the street, the woman who videotaped the widely-viewed arrest footage contradicted the officer's claims.

According to an article about the incident by Mike Mullen posted on, Janet Rowles, a motorist who is white, intentionally pulled over to film the confrontation because she was concerned that Thomas would be unfairly treated by police officers "because of his ethnicity."

She told reporters that she passed Thomas in her vehicle as he was walking, and she says he was "literally walking down the white line that marks the shoulder" - and he couldn't walk on the sidewalk because of construction taking place.

Had Rowles not filmed the incident and spoken up on behalf of Thomas, he may well have been jailed and charged.

But in the wake of the video showing how Thomas was unfairly manhandled by Olson and another officer, the charges (which included disorderly conduct) were quickly dropped and the local city council has apologized for the incident.

But the kind of racial bias demonstrated by officer Olson before and during Thomas' arrest is still rampant and deeply ingrained within the minds of some police officers in departments all over the country.

Local activist groups including the local chapter of the NAACP have called for the department to release a detailed plan on how to handle such incidents in the future, and have demanded that Olson be suspended without pay pending an investigation to determine if and how racial bias played role in Thomas being stopped and arrested.

Last night in the Bronx, that kind of internalized bias unquestionably played a role in the death of a 66-year-old mentally disabled African-American woman named Deborah Danner.

Deborah Danner, 66
The incident occurred last night so complete details of what happened haven't yet been released, but as NY 1 reported, police were called to the scene early Tuesday evening in response to a woman acting erratically in an apartment in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx.

Witnesses who live in the building are quoted as saying Danner has exhibited strange behavior before including (allegedly) talking or yelling to herself.

When police arrived they managed to persuade her to put down a pair of scissors she was holding, but at some point she picked up a bat and supposedly tried to swing it at an NYPD sergeant  - who then shot her twice in the torso.

Now it wouldn't be fair to make a judgement about the sergeant's actions, maybe he felt threatened.

But both New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the newly appointed Commissioner of the NYPD James O'Neill were quick to condemn the shooting as a mistake.

DeBalsio conceded that "Something went horribly wrong here."

Not to be a smart ass but yeah, I'd say a lot of people are wondering why armed police officers responding in force to reports of a woman with an established record of mental issues didn't think to try and use a taser to subdue the woman.

Maybe that's just me. I'm not bashing the cops or anything, I'm just calling into question their decision to think that a loaded handgun was the correct answer to confront a 66-year-old woman with a record of mental disabilities inside her own home.

Hearing voices and talking to themselves? Sounds a lot like garden-variety paranoid schizophrenia to me; if these cops showed up and found Danner inside a room waving a pair of scissors why not just shut the door and call a family member or a mental health professional to deal with an individual like that?

Wellesley PD Chief Terry Cunningham
It's not like those cops were blindly walking into a hostage-situation inside a bank being held up by some kind of heavily-armed posse.

If you're confronting a mentally-ill person inside their own bedroom waving a pair of scissors, or a bat, why not just shut the door and wait for someone trained to deal with situations like that?

Sadly the incidents in Edina, Minnesota and the Bronx, New York seem to have overshadowed a much more positive reaction to the problem of police bias by one of the largest and most influential police unions in America.

As NPR reported, earlier this week Wellesley, Massachusetts Police Chief Terry Cunningham, who serves as the head of the International Association of Police Chiefs, issued an unprecedented apology on behalf of the union "for historical mistreatment of communities of color".

When the historical significance of a nationwide union of high-level police officials taking the rare opportunity to issue a public statement acknowledging the need to address a "historic cycle of mistrust" gets overshadowed by actions that demonstrate the extent of racial bias that still exists within the law enforcement community, it's not just irony.

It's a symptom of a far deeper issue that continues to impact the dignity and lives of American citizens.

And so 66-year-old Deborah Danner joins the list of The Counted, one of 863 people in the United States to be killed by members of U.S. law enforcement in 2016 - just one of 50 in the month of October alone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Crosscheck: GOP's Voter Suppression Data Monster

U.S. states where Crosscheck is used
With growing numbers of the Washington-based Republican establishment writing off Donald Trump's chances to win, all bets are off for GOP efforts to retain their majority in the Senate and the House next month when Americans head to the polls.

Paul Ryan's recent conference call to Republican lawmakers likely covered the importance of the GOP's ongoing ten-year mission.

Not to explore the depths of outer space like the Federation, but their darker mission to systematically and illegally prevent large blocks of American voters, who statistically tend to vote Democratic, from voting by taking advantage of an assortment of questionable "Voter ID" laws passed by majority-Republican state legislatures.

Republicans also have a monster to help them with that.

Not Trump, they created that monster but he's long since fled the castle to roam the countryside and they're no longer able to control him - and according to a recent New York Times article chronicling disturbing claims of his creepy, unwanted sexual groping and kissing by multiple women, Trump has a really hard time controlling his hands too.

The Republicans have a digital monster called Crosscheck that uses skewed data with intentionally oversimplified search parameters to systematically disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people across the nation from exercising their right to vote.

As Greg Palast reported in an article in the September 8th issue of Rolling Stone, one of the most important tools Republicans will be using to try and retain control of Congress is officially known as the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

Crosscheck mastermind Kris Kobach
According to Palast's research, thanks to Republican-majority state legislatures, some twenty-eight different states across the nation (see map above) use Crosscheck to compare names, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and birthdates.

All under the guise of trying to uncover individuals registered in more than one state who may vote twice; an almost non-existent offense Republicans falsely trumpet as being rampant.

Crosscheck was the twisted brainchild of one of the truly mad professors of Republican politics, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, creator of the same Arizona law that allowed Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to direct his deputies to illegally pull over thousands of Hispanic drivers to check their immigration status.

On Tuesday a federal court filed criminal contempt charges against Arpaio for refusing a court order to stop using sheriff's deputies to engage in immigration enforcement after slews of complaints from registered U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent being pulled over because of their ethnicity.

So how successful is Kobach's Crosscheck program?

According to Palast's article: "Crosscheck has tagged an astonishing 7.2 million suspects, yet we found no more than four perpetrators who have been charged with double-voting or deliberate double registration."

Greg Palast & some of the names flagged by Crosscheck
In an earlier article about the Crosscheck program that Palast wrote for Al Jazeera back in 2014, an analysis of lists containing over two million different names flagged by the Crosscheck system in the states of Georgia, Virginia and Washington revealed that the lists were "heavily weighted with names such as Jackson, Garicia, Patel and Kim - ones common among minorities, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic."

So what it boils down to is that Kobach is essentially an architect of reactionary laws of dubious merit that sanction the targeting and profiling of American people of color and ethnic minorities based on the unjustified conservative-fueled fears of minor civil infractions.

Kobach's brand of "shake the tree and a bad apple will fall out" legal chicanery is part of the larger overall Republican strategy to secure majorities in Congress; as Palast notes, the majority of the twenty-eight states where Crosscheck is used have majority-Republican state legislatures.

So when those tight Senate races in critical swing states like New Hampshire and Ohio come down to the wire, Republicans hope Crosscheck and it's database full of faulty data will make the difference.

Sound absurd? Par for the course for the party that nominated a serial sexual predator as it's nominee for president.

Monday, October 10, 2016

GOP Split Widens; Trump Debate Fallout

Bill's expression pretty much sums it up
It was a chilly 46 degrees outside this morning here in central New Jersey when I got up at 6:30 to grind some beans for coffee, the frosty fall weather was a stark contrast to the surreal landscape of the heated second presidential debate last night in St. Louis, Missouri.

A landscape where Donald Trump once again seemed to exist in some kind of parallel universe based on his bizarre perception of reality.

Who won the debate last night largely depends on who you're supporting and who you ask; but there's little question who came off as genuine presidential material.

With post-debate opinion polls and television ratings still being tabulated last night, Fox News quickly declared Trump the winner, despite his unhinged and often rambling performance where he seemed to randomly throw just about anything in his arsenal at Hillary Clinton; hoping something would stick that would overshadow the toxic press generated by the release of his 2005 Access Hollywood conversation with Billy Bush last Friday.

Like CNN, the Washington Post declared Clinton the winner for reasons that were pretty clear for anyone who watched or listened to Trump trying to out-Trump himself.

From my vantage point listening to the debate on NPR, Donald Trump's decision to use a relentless, hyper-aggressive attack strategy against Hillary Clinton ended up backfiring on him; particularly given his desperate need to try overcome the perception among many women that he's a crude, insensitive misogynist.

Billy Bush & Trump torpedoing his 2016 presidential bid
On that count he failed miserably.

The Donald's desperate attempt to try and deflect global attention away from the massive public backlash against the vulgar comments he made about using his "star power" to grope unsuspecting women simply ended up reinforcing the tape.

His overbearing bully mentality was on full display as he petulantly badgered both of the moderators of the event, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, and continually interrupted Clinton during her efforts to answer - almost as if he was confirming the widely held perception of his contempt for women.

Throughout the event I followed some real-time reactions to the debate on Twitter and there were numerous comments about how Trump seemed to almost physically stalk Clinton around the debate stage; shadowing her movements and at times physically hulking over in a way that was somewhat predatory and creepy.

Trump's efforts to relentlessly attack Clinton on issues like foreign policy only served to reveal how little he understands about diplomacy, military strategy and global political affairs.

At one point, in an effort to deflect Clinton's accusation that his bizarre infatuation with Russian President Vladimir Putin stems from the fact that both he and members of his campaign personally benefit financially with ties to Russia through business interests, Trump retorted dismissively that  (in true Sgt. Schultz fashion) "I know nothing about Russia."

Before quickly contradicting himself by adding, "I know about Russia, but I don't know about the inner workings of Russia."

This guy lies so effortlessly and habitually that he sometimes trips himself up.

ABC's Martha Raddatz proved deft as co-moderator
In a particularly heated exchange when Martha Raddatz repeatedly tried to nail Trump down on what his strategy would be to resolve the crisis in Syria by reminding him that his running mate Mike Pence had advocated the use of American military forces, Trump shot back:

"He and I haven't spoken and I disagree."

Directly contradicting one's own vice-presidential candidate in front of a televised audience of over 60 million people less than a month before the election?

Probably not a good sign for a campaign, nor was displaying a petty child-like resentment over the fact that Pence justifiably chastised Trump on Saturday over the lewd comments from the video.

As reported early this morning, the open tension between the two running mates was underscored by Pence's decision to cancel a fundraising appearance that was scheduled for today in front of the Ocean County Republican Organization in Tom's River, NJ.

Paul Ryan to Trump: You're fired!
The growing and palpable tension within the highest ranks of Trump's campaign wasn't limited to his running mate either.

On Sunday RNC Chair Reince Priebus, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and NJ Governor Chris Christie all canceled scheduled appearances on the Sunday morning network news talk shows.

Leaving loyal attack dog Rudy Giuliani to fill in and embarrass himself by trying to spin Trump's bragging about sexual assault as playful "locker room banter."

But there's arguably no bigger sign of the epic split within the Republican party than House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement this morning via private conference call that he will no longer make any campaign appearances to support Trump and will instead turn the focus of the party establishment towards protecting the GOP majority in the House for the upcoming November elections.

He stopped short of telling Republicans not to vote for Trump, but he effectively wrote off Trump's chances to win and shrewdly committed to making a series of nationwide campaign stops to support Republican Congressional races; a last-ditch effort to sever Trump's toxic reputation from the party establishment before he costs the GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate.

In doing so Ryan kept his own 2020 presidential ambitions alive while simultaneously cutting Trump off from campaign funding from the party's major donors; many of whom have long since turned their spigots of cash towards tight Senate races in places like New Hampshire.

So if a presidential candidate has had a crappier four weeks in his life in the history of American politics, I'm not sure what it is.

Two consecutive nationally-televised debate losses, a moronic petty Twitter feud with a former Miss Universe contestant whom he fat-shamed when she was only eighteen, the revelation that he hasn't paid federal taxes in at least eighteen years, and the release of the 2005 tape of him bragging about sexual assault.

Oh, and earlier this morning Trump's Taj Mahal Casino finally closed in Atlantic City after 26 years, sadly resulting in over 3,000 people loosing their jobs; Trump once bragged that it was the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

So much for his "genius" as a businessman.

As my friend Geoff the Economist text'd me earlier today: "Well at least we don't have to worry about having to call Donald Trump Mr. President."

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Vulgar One

Melania & Donald in happier(?) times
A couple minutes ago a news alert from Reuters popped up on my phone with the announcement that Melania Trump has has decided to accept her misogynist husband's apology even though she found his videotaped comments "unacceptable and offensive."

For good measure the former Slovenian model added that her husband "has the heart and mind of a leader." 

Now I seriously doubt she wrote that, nor am I sure of what kind of behavior or comments pass as leadership qualities in Slovenia, but here in this country crass vulgarity that demeans women is generally not what Americans regard as reflective of the attributes of the leader of the free world.

Especially not when over 50% of the population is female, and the orange-haired candidate in question already has a lengthy track record of misogynist statements and accusations of rape.

At this moment Melania Trump may or may not be regretting the decision to stand up in front of millions of people at the Republican national convention in Cleveland and attest to her husband's character; but she has to be feeling humiliated in the eyes of the world.

Maybe she knew he was a vulgar borderline rapist all along, but if she didn't, then like millions of other people around the globe; she sure does now after the release of a 2005 video of Trump talking to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush on a bus just before making an appearance on the soap opera 'Days Of Our Lives'.

By the way, did you know that Billy Bush (born William Hale Bush) is a privileged, private school-educated scion of THE Bush family? His father Jonathan is the brother of George HW Bush, the 41st president.

Given the open contempt the Bush family has for Trump, doesn't take a genius to figure out  how the Washington Post got a hold of the now-infamous video tape of Trump.

Utah Rep Jason Chaffetz dumps Trump
While a number of high-profile Republican politicians who'd pledged their support for Trump months ago have quickly moved to publicly distance themselves from The Donald's toxic brand, it's way to late for that kind of symbolic public rebuke

Smug GOP Rep Jason Chaffetz, whose spent the bulk of the last three years keeping hearings on the exhausted specter of the Benghazi attacks on the U.S. Embassy alive in order to tarnish Hillary Clinton's reputation, told Utah's Fox 13 news, "I'm out."

The feisty self-righteous Republican from Utah joins embattled Freshman New Hampshire Senator New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte in turning their backs on Trump's presidential bid.

Locked in a tight race in New Hampshire to save her Senate seat, Ayotte's last-minute attempt to save her political ass comes just days after she called Trump a "role model" during a Senate debate with her opponent, NH Governor Maggie Hassan.

But again, it's too late for that.

Ayotte  knew she was up for reelection this fall, and despite that she's tried to have her political cake and eat it to by wish-washingly stating that she would support Trump, but not endorse him; which strikes me as a half-ass attempt to be able to capitalize on a Trump presidential victory, but protect her political self respect in the event of a Clinton landslide by being able to say she never endorsed him.

GOP VP candidate Mike Pence
Unfortunately you have to stand for something and pick a side, Ayotte did neither (especially after laughingly trying to assert that she "misspoke" after getting called out for calling Trump a "role model") and she may pay for that with her Senate seat.

Finally there's Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence.

Who so far seems to have escaped accounting for his support of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and draconian anti-abortion laws.

Pence embarrassed himself in the recent vice-presidential debate with Democrat Tim Kaine by pretending not to know anything about the slew of lies his running mate has uttered in the past two years.

Yesterday, in the wake of the release of Trump video, the even-tempered right-wing Indiana Governor had enough and promptly canceled a scheduled campaign appearance in Wisconsin before releasing a statement saying that he too was "offended" by his own running mate's comments and would "pray" for him.

Like the majority of the Republican establishment, Pence has to be privately fuming that he and the GOP have hitched their wagon to the vulgar star that is Trump.

Republicans can express all the righteous indignation they want to, they have only themselves to blame for the mess their party finds itself in.

They knew a monster was loose back in March during the Super Tuesday primaries, and they watched it smash through a wall and wander off into the woods.

There's nothing they can do about their monster at this point, after all they created it in their own lab with their subservience to the Tea Party and tacit approval and tolerance of bigotry, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia.

Now the monster has taken over the party of Lincoln and 'Family Values' and replaced it with something nasty and vulgar.

Can you recall a time when both a vice-presidential candidate and the presidential candidate's wife both publicly acknowledging being offended by something the candidate said?

Can't wait to see what Giuliani and Christie have to say about that on the Sunday morning new talk shows tomorrow - how do you defend the indefensible?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Reflections on PTSD & Rossellini's 'Paisan'

A U.S. soldier comforts a comrade following action near
Hatkcong-Ni in Korea, August 28, 1950
Trump's latest political gaffe about PTSD last night was just too much for me to stomach.

On Monday the same tough guy who got his daddy to help him get a medical deferment based on bone spurs to avoid the Vietnam War, showed up at an event hosted by the Retired American Warriors PAC and insulted the veteran attendees by suggesting that combat vets who suffer from PTSD aren't "strong" and "can't handle it."

In doing so Trump, whose bone spurs miraculously healed themselves once America began to withdraw combat troops from Vietnam, once again demonstrated an appalling lack of understanding of war and the myriad stresses combat veterans serving in military conflicts have been forced to face for generations.

If he understood anything about PTSD it has nothing to do with lack of strength or the ability to "handle(s) it"; it's a deep psychological trauma that is the byproduct of the horror of war.

You know who I feel sorry for? The thousands of American veterans affected by PTSD who've been manipulated into pledging their support for Trump by the calculated conservative media distortion of Hillary Clinton's record and the unprecedented vilification of President Obama.

Each of those vets are going to have to face the decision to support a deceptive Republican presidential candidate who revels in portraying himself as a brash Hawk on defense, yet avoided military service in Vietnam, lied about his financial contributions to a veterans charity, mocked Senator John McCain for the years he spent as a POW in North Vietnam (where he was ruthlessly tortured) and just yesterday demonstrated a simplistic, superficial grasp of PTSD - in front of a crowd of veterans no less.

First-time actress Carmela Sazio in Paisan
Once I read that story last night, I just turned off the radio and my computer to delve back into the work of noted Italian director Roberto Rossellini.

A man who deftly explored the impact of PTSD on both soldiers and civilians during World War II in his classic war trilogy; three neorealism films he made between 1945 and 1948, exploring various aspects of the Italian experience during World War II.

Rossellini is my latest foray into Italian neorealism films, last week I watched the first chapter in his war trilogy, Rome, Open City, a compelling but disturbing 1945 fictional account of the Italian partisan's efforts to fight the Germans during the occupation of Rome, centering around a brave priest's attempt to protect an Italian Resistance leader from being captured by the Gestapo; a film which Rossellini managed to shoot during the actual German occupation.

Last night I watched the second chapter in the trilogy, Paisan (1946), a powerful examination of the impact of the German invasion and occupation of Italy on the lives of a variety of characters in different parts of the country.

Unlike Rome, Open City, a story following a specific set of characters over the course of the film, Paisan is a series of six different unrelated short stories (each written by a different writer) following vignettes from the lives of unrelated characters in different parts of Italy at various points during the German occupation.

The stories are fictional, but each is introduced with a descriptive documentary-style narrative; they serve as brief summary-introductions of the different chapters of the invasion and occupation of Italy by the German Army.

The first follows a squad of American soldiers who come upon a church in a small town where civilians are hiding from the Germans; they ask a young local Italian girl to lead them past German minefields on the coast so they can scout a German position.

In the neorealism style of Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief), Rossellini cast non-actors in the main roles to enhance the sense of realism; the actress who plays the main character from the first story (pictured above) Carmela Sazio had never acted before, yet she gives an intense, emotionally impactful performance.

U.S. soldier Joe serenades street kid Pasquale in Paisan
Interestingly the second story follows a young orphan played by Alfonsino Pasca who befriends a drunk African-American soldier found wandering the streets of Naples named Joe, played by Dots Johnson - a former taxi driver and musician from New York.

Joe is a lonely Military Policeman in the Army who's exhausted from the war and longing for home; yet he wrestles with the bleak reality that the home he comes from is a hardscrabble, poverty-stricken existence and recognizes that his life in the Army is actually better.

In the photo above, Joe sits on a pile of rubble using his imagination to fly back to New York City to eat a lavish imaginary meal in a restaurant on Broadway; the young street hustler Pasquale can't understand English, and Joe only knows a few words of Italian but they find a way to communicate and bond in an almost father-son like relationship.

In the strange final scenes of this chapter, Joe is escorting a convoy of American Army supply trucks the next day when he spots Pasquale and confronts the boy about having stolen his boots after passing out the night before, forcing him to take him to his home to get his boots back.

When Joe and Pasquale arrive at the latter's neighborhood in the hills just outside the city, Joe glimpses the extreme poverty of urban Naples brought about by the war for the first time.

Joe and Pasquale enjoy a puppet show
He glimpses crowds of impoverished Italians forced to seek shelter in large caves, as if recognizing something of a mirror of his own existence in America, without a word Joe turns, gets into the Jeep and drives away.

It's a reflection of the intense social commentary layered throughout neorealism-style films, but I found it fascinating that an Italian director found it important to glimpse the African-American experience from the Italian perspective.

As if Rossellini wanted to emphasize the commonalities between poor African-Americans and poor Italians in terms of their places in their respective societies in a post WWII world.

The other four vignettes of Paisan are equally compelling (Wikipedia offers a brief summary of each story) with fascinating characters, but in true neorealism fashion, the endings to each of their stories is strictly non-Hollywood.

The fates of each of the characters in Pasisan is emotionally moving, but in a reflection of the harsh reality of war, their stories conclude with sobering reminders of the truth of the incalculable suffering of WWII.

Paisan is more than just an example of masterful filmmaking, seen in the light of the ongoing suffering in places like Syria, Afghanistan and parts of Africa where wars continue to rage, these six vignettes are timeless sobering meditations on the human condition that are just as relevant today as they were seventy years ago.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Deafening Silence & Trump Kool-Aid

"Nothin' to see here folks!" Giuliani on Meet the Press
It's overcast outside and rather gloomy here in central New Jersey today, and with no hint of a breeze to stir the humid air, it seems unusually still; and if you listen there's a deafening silence.

A collective looming silence from the millions of moderate Republicans in this country who are quietly hanging their heads in shame at the man selected to represent their party.

While Hillary Clinton visited the Little Rock A.M.E Zion Church in Charlotte, North Carolina this Sunday morning to offer words of comfort to those still trying to make sense of the unjustified recent shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Donald Trump is busy sending out more nonsensical Twitter messages and dispatching his two favorite spinmeisters, NJ Governor Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, out to try and stem the bleeding from the bombshell New York Times article revealing that Trump likely hasn't paid federal taxes in 20 years.

As the examination of a copy of Trump's 1995 tax forms show, he claimed over $915 million in losses on crap-shoot business like his failed Trump Airlines and a long list of sketchy real estate write-offs to basically write himself a free pass from paying any taxes whatsoever on the "billions" he claims to be worth.

Same guy whose only coherent campaign promises, to construct a massive wall across the Mexican border and deport about 11 million undocumented immigrants, is estimated to cost taxpayers in excess of $300 billion.

So essentially he wants American taxpayers to foot the bill for his own delusional schemes.

Presidential? Not so much.

No wonder Christie and Giuliani were up early today trying to shill for this world-class huckster.

As columnist Maureen Dowd observed in a scathing op-ed in the Times on Saturday titled "Girl Talk at Trump Tower": "Trump is surrounded by a bitchy sewing circle of overweight men who are overwrought at the prospect of a distaff Clinton presidency."

(Distaff meaning of, or relating to, or being a woman - I had to look that one up...)

And bitchy is exactly what Christie and Giuliani were on the Sunday morning news programs earlier today.

In a reflection of just how delusional reality looks inside the cozy sphere of the conservative media echo chamber where Trump exists, remarkably Christie actually said the revelations about Trump's tax return was a "very, very good story for Donald Trump." 

A "very, very good story" for Richard Nixon?
Which is kind of like saying the revelations of the Watergate conspiracy, the Nixon tapes and his subsequent resignation was a "very, very good thing for Richard Nixon."

Don't laugh folks, Christie is the governor of the state I live in.

Giuliani tried to sell that Trump Kool-Aid too.

The quasi-delusional former NY mayor said the revelation of Trump's shameless tax-dodging made him an "absolute genius." 

You couldn't make that up.

Now I'm obviously no Nate Silver with the analytical prowess to use mathematics to accurately predict political outcomes, but my gut sense is that on election day next month, to some degree there's going to be a kind of reverse-Tom Bradley effect that takes place at the polls that's going to hurt Trump.

Meaning when many conservatives pull the curtain shut to cast their votes, even though they might have publicly nodded with reluctant approval at the prospect of a Trump presidency around similar-minded family, friends and co-workers, privately they know it would be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions to put that clown into the White House as Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful nation in the world - so they're going to vote for Hillary but they won't tell anyone.

With Trump still trying to convince people that former Miss Universe Alicia Machado was involved in a murder conspiracy further solidifying the public perception that he's completely unqualified to serve as the president, where are all the Republican Senate and House leaders?

Some members of traditionally conservative media, including the Dallas Morning News, have shown the courage to admit the obvious and publicly declare that Trump simply isn't qualified to be president.

Like the staunchly conservative Arizona Republic which hasn't endorsed a Democrat for president since it was first published in 1890,  published an op-ed from the editorial board endorsing Clinton over Trump .

A decision which, remarkably, drew death threats from some of the more extremist conservatives eager to see a Trump presidency.

That took courage.

So in an effort to try and salvage some shred of the Republican party's tattered image, wouldn't you think it would be logical for Republican politicians to follow suit?

You'd think you'd see more GOP Congressional leaders standing up to publicly repudiate Donald Trump.

After learning that Trump appeared in the opening of a softcore porn video for Playboy six years ago (when Hillary Clinton was being elected as the junior Senator for the state of New York...) even the staunchest conservative politicians would have to say enough is enough.

For the good of the GOP, you'd think Republican Congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to stand up and distance themselves from Trump and say that what he represents doesn't reflect the Republican party of Jack Kemp, George Bush Sr., Bob Dole or my Congressman Chris Smith - genuinely principled men who were, and are, decent and show an ability to put their country's needs above self or petty squabbles.

But no, all you hear from leading Republican politicians is a deafening silence.

As if they're just sipping on their Kool-Aid and waiting for it to all be over.