Refugee Crises: Will We Act With Dignity, or Fail, Again?

We as a nation will be judged by how we treat those who need help the most. And on that day, how will our response to the current refugee crises be adjudicated?
From Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan, Honduras and Guatemala, hundreds of thousands of people are running for their lives from war and gangs of kidnappers and certain death. Right now, these crises provide us an opportunity as Americans, as a nation, to lead.

If you haven’t been paying attention, just read Humans of New York for a week, and you’ll read tragic stories about people being killed and those how aren’t murdered, fleeing for their lives. Lives are being destroyed right now. The time to act is now. Not in a year. Not after the election. The time to help these people is now – they desperately need it. These mothers, daughters, sons and fathers need a safe place to live so that they can begin to rebuild their shattered lives. These are human beings that need comfort and support.

In ten years, we will look back at this time, like we do at previous tragedies which we failed to react with grace and dignity, like the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. But our history isn’t a total failure to act. After we helped destroy Vietnam and Cambodia, the global community, and the US, successfully resettled millions of people. It can be done, but we have to choose to do it. The only dignified response to this crisis, or any crisis, is to hold our arms open wide and say, “Please, come to America. We will help you.”

Bernie Attacks Corporation for Massive Price of Medicine

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants answers. Sanders is running for president and he wants to know why a company jacked up its price per pill of a drug called Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750.

Sanders and US House Representative Elijah Cummings wrote, “The enormous, overnight price increase for Daraprim is just the latest in a long list of skyrocketing price increases for certain critical medications.”

His opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination has yet to address the issue of medicinal price gouging, other than to say it’s outrageous. Hillary Clinton said, she’ll release a plan to combat this problem tomorrow.

Bernie 2016 T-Shirts and Junk for sale

On Writing Well: Strip it Down

When writing anything, one must strive for brevity and eliminate redundancy whenever possible. Doing so will result in writing well.

Take this sentence that I wrote today in an email.

I think it looks fine to me.

I thought that seemed too long, and I wrote.

I think it looks fine.

I didn’t need the “to me” part because obviously my statement is of my opinion. There’s no need to state that. Then I wrote.

It looks fine.

That’s all I needed to say. The “I think” was as unnecessary as “to me.” Unless I’m referring to someone else’s thoughts, the email recipient is assuming that what I’m saying is what “I think.”

Massacre 1913

Italian Hall Massacre Victims in Rough Caskets

Italian Hall Massacre Victims in Rough Caskets

On December 24, 1913, seventy-three people were trampled to death. Fifty nine of the dead were children.

That Christmas Eve, 500 striking copper miners and their families were having a Christmas party at Calumet’s Italian Hall located in Calumet, Michigan when one of the scabs poked his head through the door to yell, “Fire!”

There was no fire, but panic ensued. As people desperately tried to get out of the building, nearly 60 children and 14 adults were trampled to death.

Here’s how Woodie Guthrie described it in his song “Massacre 1913.”

A few people rushed and it was only a few,
“It’s just the thugs and the scabs fooling you,”
A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down,
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.

And then others followed, a hundred or more,
But most everybody remained on the floor,
The gun thugs they laughed at their murderous joke,
While the children were smothered on the stairs by the door.

In the 21st century, workers have turned their backs on organized labor, along with the Democratic party. But if we forget what it was like when bosses ruled the worker with an iron, and often brutal fist, working people suffered gravely. There’s no guarantee we won’t, or aren’t, going back to a time when workers live under the boot heel of management.

Know Your Risk When Flying Jet Blue

The airline industry is booming in 2015. The industry has reported $3.1 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. But before you hop on a plane with the huddled masses, know your risk.

In a nutshell, anything you give to an airline to put in the belly of the plane, can be destroyed and the airline will give you nothing to compensate for your loss.

I found this out the hard way when my wife had to fly for a funeral. We have a small child, he’s still a baby, and he nurses, so he went with my wife to the funeral. On the way there, Jet Blue destroyed our brand new car seat. It was literally tore apart. We got it snapped back together, but it went through a major traumatic event. The rule is that if your car seat is involved in a car accident it should be replaced. That rule needs to be expanded to include flying on an airplane.

On the way home, my wife watched as a baggage handler took our UppaBaby stroller and hurled it off the jet bridge 25 feet onto the tarmac. The fall and subsequent landing bent the stroller’s frame. It was a total loss. The stroller was a few years old, but it’s expensive to replace. One problem is that that stroller’s latest model doesn’t work with any of our attachments, so to replace what was lost would have cost about $1,200. Jet Blue offered us a $300 travel voucher. They said that that was a generous reimbursement for our loss and that because of their contract, Jet Blue isn’t responsible for any damage to any luggage ever. That includes a Jet Blue employee destroying a $1,200 stroller through that person’s own laziness and incompetence. So that leads me to believe that if that baggage handler had simply stolen the stroller, lit it on fire or drove over it with the plane, Jet Blue would have just shrugged, because according to them, they’re protected by their contract.

I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds like a bunch of malarky to me. I have no doubt that if I had taken Jet Blue to court over the destruction of my stroller, I would win. There’s no conceivable reason why the airline’s contract protects them from their own staggering incompetence. The liability clause is in the contract to protect the airline from damage as it relates to normal baggage handling. If something gets ripped or snapped off, or if a passenger foolishly puts a laptop computer in their checked suitcase, the airline shouldn’t be expected to compensate those people for their loss. But there’s no way the contract protects the airline against them from sucking at their job.

And while travel vouchers are nice, do I really want to fly Jet Blue when they can’t even load the luggage into the plane? That’s the easy part. Who are they hiring to keep the planes in the air?

So if you travel know that you’re checked items could be shot full of bullet holes, smashed to pieces with sledgehammers or ground into a fine dust, and the airline will just smile and point to their contract. And if you do have a damage claim, just expect that the airline will just pass you from person-to-person until they finally tell you “no.”

Before flying make sure your renters and homeowners insurance policy is up-to-date. That’s the only way you’ll be compensated for loss. Passengers are not only paying top dollar for tickets, they’re subsidizing the airline industry by agreeing to these absurd contracts.

Airline Profits Soar as Service Degrades

The numbers are in and the airline industry is doing very, very well, while quality of service continues to degrade.

According to the Department of Transportation, airlines recorded $3.1 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. That’s after-tax net profit. That’s up from $214 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. The first quarter in 2014, the industry reported a net profit of $507 million.

Airline profits are soaring right along with customer dissatisfaction. The Department of Transportation reports that in June 2015 there were more than 2,000 air traveler customer complaints. That’s an increase of more than 47 percent in June 2014, in which 1,393 complaints, according to the Department of Transportation data.

Republicans Cling to Last Remaining Social Issue – Abortion

It seems like out of nowhere, Republican politicians have taken the most extreme anti-abortion position – that all abortions should be illegal.

At one point, Republicans allowed for exceptions, like rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. But now, major Republican candidates have jettisoned the exceptions.

On CNN Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee explained why he supports forcing a 10-year-old to give birth to her rapist’s baby.

Marco Rubio has also staked out his position on when abortions should be allowed – never. Rubio said he doubts there are ever instances in which a woman’s life is saved from having an abortion. So no exception to save the life of the mother. And he said that while it’s a hard choice to make, Rubio thinks all rape and incest victims who get pregnant should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term. It’s easier for the victims of rape and incest if Rubio just makes the choice for them.

Rubio said, “I’ve personally reached the conclusion if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life, on the side of protecting a human being.”

Scott Walker is also falling in line with this very extreme position.

During the first Republican nomination debate, Walker said, “I’ve said many times that that unborn child can be protected and there are many alternatives that would protect the life of the mother.”

He never said what those alternatives might be, but Walker’s certain that there must be, and if not, I don’t think he cares.

This hard right turn on abortion highlights the Republican party’s glaring problem. That is, how to keep people voting against their own economic self-interest by voting for Republican candidates.

Gay marriage worked for a little while, but that jig is up. Racism is still a viable issue for Republicans in gerrymandered US House races, but on the national stage, candidates can’t broadcast their racist views on national television. Racism has to be more subtle, but not abortion. With abortion the GOP can let their freak flag fly, and in the race to the White House in 2016, that’s what they’re doing.

Why Donald Trump Matters

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Donald Trump matters because Trump’s candidacy is the most boisterously obnoxious evidence to support the growing empirical case that the Republican Party can no longer function as a national political party.

The Republican party has been taken over by a group of people who hate government and have no interest in helping government serve the people. Today the Republican party has fully embraced the notion that the government is the problem and that it’s their duty to stop it. Yet contrary to the believe that the government is always wrong, Republicans today have no problem doling out tax breaks and kickbacks to wildly profitable companies like ExxonMobil.

So with that as the basis of the party’s platform, it’s no wonder that someone like Trump could do well. Trump doesn’t know the first thing about government or governing, but that’s not what he’s selling. Trump is saying, “Look. I’m not going to go to DC to govern. I’m going there to kick some ass and get stuff done. The way I do it in the corporate world.”

It’s not much different than the argument George W. Bush made in 2000. He was the governor of Texas for a few years. Other than that, Bush worked for his father’s political machine and he cashed out big on his Texas Rangers investment. In 1989, Bush invested $800,000 in the baseball team then sold his share in 1998 for $15 million.

Running for the presidency, Bush positioned himself as the CEO candidate. Even though his corporate career consisted of a bit of bungling around in the 1980s, Bush promised to bring his capitalist skills to the Oval office and revolutionize Washington – get things done. Bush did get things done. His presidency consisted of massive terrorist attacks, war and war profiteering and ended with the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

George W. Bush represented the continued Republican party degradation that really began with President Ronald Reagan. Reagan successfully planted the seeds and cultivated hatred toward the federal government. In addition to slashing regulations, taxes on the wealthy, and a full assault on social programs, the Republican party’s message to it’s base for the late 35 years is that the federal government is the problem.

It’s the perfect message. Democrats tend to be left of center and supportive of government action to help people with education, health care, retirement, whatever. So the GOP labels the Democratic party as the party of Big Government while blasting the very notion that government should exist in any form other than that which aids capitalistic endeavors.

And underlying all of what the Republican party does lies capitalism. The view of capitalists of government is one that sees government’s responsibility is to help capitalists and capitalism. The capitalists seek low wages, no environment regulations, high profits and no taxes.

To masquerade some of those less politically palatable ideas, like low wages, ending public education and destruction of the environment, the Republican party will often focus on social issues, like abortion or gay marriage. It’s an effective technique to draw the voter’s attention away from those policies that may be against the voter’s own economic self-interest.

And Trump manifests all of what the GOP is today. It’s the party that loathes brown people, whether it’s the immigrants cleaning your hotel room or black folks killed by the police, like Sandra Bland. It’s the party that never wanted to lose the marriage equality argument because it drew so many small-minded people out to vote Republican. It’s the party that will never overturn Roe v. Wade because without abortion the Republican party would cease to exist.

Unlike Bush, Trump’s not pretending he’s going to do anything positive while in office. He’s going to pick a war with Mexico. He’ll probably bomb Iran. Trump is going to go full Trump all over DC, if he’s elected president. And no one knows for sure what that will look like, but it won’t be pretty.

Fortunately, or unfortunately if you write about politics, Trump won’t be the next president, but the fact that he’s leading by a lot in the polls, and has been for awhile, certainly says something about the state of the Republican party. That problem stems from the fact that the Republican party lacks core planks in its platform that appeal to more than 50 percent of the country. To get elected Republican politicians have to lie about their real intentions once elected. And so whoever is the best liar wins. Right now that’s Trump.

Sandra Bland Stop and Arrest Transcript

The Huffington Post now has what appears to be the complete transcript of Sandra Bland’s illegal arrest.

At no point during the arrest did State Trooper Brian Encinia do the right thing. Encinia clearly violated Bland’s rights repeatedly and provided a perfect example of how to be a really shitty cop.

Bland repeatedly asked why she was being arrested. No response from Encinia. Bland told Encinia that he did not have the right to remove her from the her vehicle for a routine traffic stop. Encinia said he did have that right and he was wrong. According to the transcript it appears that Encinia assaulted Bland, yet Encinia claims she assaulted him.

The transcript doesn’t shed any light on why or how Bland ended up dead, but it sure looks like those cops did not want a black woman, who knows the law, taking them to court.

New York Times Doesn’t Understand the Freedom of Information Act

Update July 24, 2015: The New York Times is now back-pedaling this story. Apparently the probe isn’t criminal or even related to any potential wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. It’s an investigation into whether Clinton was on the receiving end of classified information.

Update July 25, 2015: For more on how shockingly wrong this entire Clinton “scandal” story is, check out this bitch slap over at Newsweek. Basically, as the FOIA folks are combing through the tens of thousands of Clinton emails, they’re finding some stuff in there that shouldn’t be in there, but it has nothing to do with any potential wrongdoing by Clinton.

One would expect that a serious news organization like the New York Times would have a pretty solid grasp of the Freedom of Information Act. If one expected that to be the case, one would be wrong.

On Thursday, the New York Times published this sentence regarding a criminal probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal server to handle all of her email when she was secretary of state.

“Mrs. Clinton has said she used the account because it was more convenient, but it also shielded her correspondence from congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests.”

Wrong. Clinton may have used the personal email account because it was more convenient, but her doing so in no legal way shields her correspondence as secretary of state from Congress or FOIA requests. All communication, whether it’s written on a bar napkin or chiseled into a slab of granite is accessible via a FOIA request. Now it may be that Clinton illegally deleted email messages, thus hiding them from inspection, but that’s not what the New York Times is saying.

In my time as a reporter I’ve probably had this same conversation with a half dozen people. As a government official, you can’t skirt FOIA by using a non-government means of communication. The mode of communication is not the relevant issue, it’s whether what’s discussed is related to your government job.

But this is Hillary, so it’s part of the media’s job to make her seem like someone who can’t be trusted – slick Willie is now slick Hillary. Nicely done New York Times, you’ve done your part.