Sunday, August 05, 2018

GOLDEN INFERNO: CALIFORNIA ON FIRE

JAZZMAN CHRONICLES:  RADICAL SOLUTIONS FOR RADICAL TIMES.





CALIFORNIA IS BURNING

By Jack Random



“We’re going to have to adapt.  We’re going to have to change our technology.  But in the meantime, we’re going to spend a hell of a lot of money and there’s going to be a lot of unpleasant events.” 

Jerry Brown, Governor of California


I watch the news and muse about the issues of the day but from where I sit in the center of the Great Central Valley, the agricultural garden of the planet, there is only one issue of the day every day for as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. 

California is on fire.  Most days the sky is more brown than blue.  The only relief we get from sweltering triple-digit days is caused by smoke blocking the sun.  In July the appropriately named Death Valley marked a record average temperature of 108 degrees – meaning every 100-degree day was offset by a 116-degree day.  Yosemite National Park, John Muir’s gem of natural wonder, is closed to the public.  The people of Redding – 120 miles south of the Oregon border – have lost much of their town.  The people of Lakeport and Mendocino wake up each day wondering if it’s their turn to evacuate.

California is burning and it’s nothing new.  Last October the Tubbs fire decimated the city of Santa Rosa, destroying over 5,000 structures including 2,800 homes and claiming twenty-two human lives in the most destructive fire in California history.  The financial cost was estimated at over a billion dollars.  By the time summer comes to a close, this year may be worse. 

More than a dozen major fires are currently raging across the state, turning our golden hue to bronze and threatening to transform a bright future into a hazy toxic mess.  Sixteen fires had burned 320 acres, displacing more than 32,000 residents by the end of July.  Some thirteen thousand firefighters have been summoned to the battle. 

Governor Jerry Brown warns that this phenomenon of yearly inferno will continue to cost the state and its residents billions of dollars in destruction and who knows how many lives – not only from the fires but also from the poison it spews into the air.  Ironically, the state that has done more to combat pollution than any other may be fighting a losing battle. 

While the folks in Washington and on the major media news channels discuss the daily theatrics of America’s former mayor, pouring through presidential tweets and trial transcripts, the fires mark a trail of destruction like Sherman’s Civil War march through the South and we all are whistling Dixie. 

Welcome to the world of Global Warming!  Yeah, I said Global Warming.  We’ve all been instructed to call it Climate Change so the idiots who choose to deny reality can’t get away with refuting science every time a cold front comes through.  The fact is:  It’s fricking hot.  Not most summers but every summer it’s too hot to venture outside for more than a few hours without risking your health and well-being.  Unless you’re lucky enough to live by the coast – increasingly reserved for the wealthy – you have to limit your time in the sun and drink plenty of fluids.  Even the coastal residents have to worry about fires spreading and destroying whole cities and towns.  Who will be next to face the earth’s revenge? 

The Carr fire up north has taken six lives and destroyed 1,465 structures.  That makes it the sixth most destructive wildfire in California history and it’s still burning.  In Mendocino County – some of the most beautiful land in a state teeming with beauty – two fires had wiped out over 90,000 acres and they’re still burning.  The Ferguson fire scorching Yosemite, claiming over 60,000 acres is predicted to spread eastward into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  If you haven’t yet seen Yosemite, it’s a damned shame.  The Ansel Adams photographs are stunning beyond belief but the real thing is even more so. 

The Ferguson fire has already burned for twenty days but experts are worried it may get worse as a pressure system lifts and ignites “a massive number of dead trees than have been killed off by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation.”  [1] 

The calendar has just turned to August and a distinct possibility exists that it will only get worse as the summer unwinds.  It will certainly get worse as the years unwind and politicians like our president continue to pretend it has nothing whatsoever to do with the toxic stew we inject into our atmosphere every day. 

It is too late for the party of denial to escape accountability.  We burn oil, gas and coal and pretend that natural gas is the solution when in fact it only transfers the problem from the air we breathe to the water we drink.  Why do we still not have solar panels on every home and building not only in the Golden State but in every state where sun still shines?  (Wake up, Arizona! You are wasting the most valuable resource you have and you’re worried about immigration?)  Why do we still not have an infrastructure that can accommodate a vast array of renewable clean energy?  Why is it still cheaper to burn the most harmful fuels on the planet?  Why haven’t we developed for mass deployment pollution-free vehicles? 

It is undeniable.  The world is getting hotter.  Earlier this summer, record temperatures were recorded across the globe from Los Angeles and Denver to New Hampshire and Vermont, from Ottawa and Montreal to Glasgow and Belfast, from Tbilisi and Yerevan in Eastern Europe to Quriyat in the Middle East.  There is no hiding from this phenomenon short of leaving the planet. 

California’s fires join tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes on the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, cyclones and tsunamis in the Pacific and extreme weather events throughout the nation and the world as powerful reminders that we have failed to effectively address the most pressing problem of our times.  This is a failing that will outlive us all. 

It is no longer worth arguing about.  It is happening to everyone in every corner of the globe.  The earth doesn’t care if we believe or disbelieve.  There will always be deniers.  When the rising ocean turns Miami into Venice, Italy, and Venice into a memory, there will be deniers.  When hurricane season decimates Baltimore, New York, New Orleans and Houston, there will be deniers.  When powerful twisters mark a path of destruction through St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville and Atlanta, there will be deniers.  When violent storms knock out our vulnerable energy grid, there will be deniers.  But there will also be rational human beings who wake up and take action. 

The most critical action we can take is at the ballot box. 

Until then, California will burn. 

Jazz.

“California fires rage and Gov. Jerry Brown offers grim view of fiery future” by Jaclyn Cosgrove, John Myers, Louis Sahagun and Sonali Kohli.  Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2018. 

“Red-hot planet:  All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week” by Jason Samenow.  Washington Post, July 5, 2018.  

Jack Random is retired and living in central California.  He is the author of the Jazzman Chronicles and other works, most recently Pawns to Players: The Chess Series – a trilogy of political novels. 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

TRUMP, COHEN & MANIFORT: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

JAZZMAN CHRONICLES IN THE AGE OF TRUMP




THE CARDINAL LIE:

A SELF-FUNDED CANDIDATE

By Jack Random



“By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interest groups or lobbyists.  I am only working for the people of the U.S.!” 

Donald J. Trump, Facebook September 5, 2015


Does anyone still remember the promise Donald Trump gave when he first announced that he would run for the highest office in the land?  It was one of a number of points that actually seemed to make sense:  Why elect a rich man?  Because he doesn’t owe anything to anyone. 

Like so much of what Trump said or promised, it was not true.  It was always a lie.  From the very beginning Trump solicited contributions from the elite of the Republican Party.  In the beginning he did not get contributions from the elite because they didn’t want him to be their candidate.  After he clinched the nomination, however, they fell in line and Trump’s promise of self-financing became the lie it had always been. 

Trump spent an estimated $66 million of his own money on the 2016 campaign.  According to Open Secret, he had twelve corporate donors of one million or more.  The largest by far was the giant hedge fund firm Renaissance Technologies at over $15 million.  Other big donors included the professional wrestling organization McMahon Ventures, Disney, real estate broker GH Palmer and assorted corporate entities in finance, entertainment, banking and gambling. 

In typical pay-to-play fashion at least six big time donors were rewarded with executive appointments, including restaurant executive Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor (since departed), wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration, charter school promoter Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, TD Ameritrade’s Todd Ricketts Deputy Commerce Secretary, Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs, Secretary of the Treasury, and billionaire investor and Bank of Cyprus executive Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary. 

This is not how you drain the swamp.  This is how you populate the swamp with the vilest creatures on earth. 

As of July 2018 Trump had raised $88 million for his 2020 campaign.  While most of it came from small donors – the self-flagellating fools known as Trump’s base – large donors (over $100,000) included Texas banker Andrew Beal, real estate baron and Kushner partner Stanley Chera, Los Angeles real estate baron Geoffrey Palmer and casino executive Cherna Moskowitz. 

Whatever you otherwise think of Donald Trump, his campaign is not and never was self-financed or free of obligation to big-time donors.  In fact the evidence suggests that Trump and family run the White House as a money-generating operation.  Those who wish to curry favor or buy a few minutes with the leader of the western world are encouraged to stay at one of the president’s luxury resorts.  Big time donors might get a round of golf with the Donald at one of his championship golf courses. 

In the first year of his presidency, according to a report by Public Citizen, no less that 64 politicians, interest groups, corporations and entities affiliated with foreign governments spent hundreds of thousands at Trump properties.  Foreign entities included Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  Domestic entities included the coal magnate William Koch, a private prison corporation and the Chamber of Commerce. 

The Donald told the nation he divested interest in his company and business interest, handing control to his sons and promising not to discuss business with them for the length of his presidency.  We are compelled to take his word for now.  The Trump real estate empire sold over $35 million worth of properties in 2017 to anonymous buyers – that’s right, anonymous buyers.  How is that even possible? 

Those who have dealt with Donald Trump as a businessman know that he’s always been a con man and a hustler.  He’s gamed the system for all its worth as a casino owner and real estate developer.  His son-in-law Jared Kushner is sitting on one of the worst investments in recorded history: 666 Fifth Avenue – a tower of offices bought at the peak of the real estate bubble. 

It is not a coincidence that no American banks will loan Kushner or the Trumps money – even those who contributed to his campaign.  If they were ever held to account on their properties they might find themselves in bankruptcy court once again. 

Is it possible they would attempt to use the power and prestige of the White House to pull out of debt and turn a profit?  There is nothing in their history to suggest they would not.  There’s a lot to indicate they fully intend to make as much money from Donald’s accidental presidency as they can.  Never waste an opportunity. 

If Trump goes down -- and I am among those who believe he will – it will probably not be the Russian spymaster connection but his life-long crooked financial dealings.  There is a reason Trump attempted to draw a red line for the Mueller investigation:  Stay out of the family finances.  It is not by coincidence that Mueller hired a team of experts in money laundering and corporate fraud – Trump family specialties.  It is why Mueller successfully subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank – one of the few institutions to work with Trump and family.  The German bank has reportedly loaned Trump’s real estate ventures hundreds of millions of dollars, while extending generous lines of credit to the Kushners. 

In 2014, long before anyone considered the man a serious politician, Trump bought a couple of golf courses in Scotland and Ireland for $79.7 million, an estate in Scotland for $12.6 million, a winery in Virginia for $16.2 million.  Trump’s confidential adviser, sketchy attorney and sometimes fixer Michael Cohen sold four buildings in Manhattan at three times their buying price three years prior.  Cohen appears to have used a shell company for the deal. 

The deals are shady for a number of reasons:  First, Mr. Trump went on his spending spree during a global real estate crash?  He was reportedly buried in debt so where did the money come from?  Second, why did Trump use Cohen and a shell company to sell his Manhattan properties, who was the buyer and why did they overpay? 

Trump and company suffers from an apparent duck problem.  He covers his deals with layers of deception, fake companies, false names and unnamed investors.  If it looks crooked and walks crooked, it probably is crooked. 

According to former Treasury agent John Cassara:  “Real estate is a big issue for money laundering.  It has been for a long time.  If you’ve got a condo or a shopping center or a golf course…the authorities aren’t going to look at that.  Once you see property, it’s assumed that’s good, that’s a legitimate investment.” 

Why did you think the Kushners and the Trumps went into the business?  It was a natural fit.  In a strange way I feel sorry for Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.  They’re the little guys.  The two-bit cons who got caught up in the big boy’s game.  They’re the guys who are supposed to take the fall.  Layers and layers of big money deniability protect the Trumps and the Kushners.

In the end it will not even matter whether Trump conspired with the Russians to game the American election.  It will only matter that our president is a crook.  He has made a great deal of money over a great length of time by nefarious means.  He has engaged in money laundering, fraud, tax evasion and who knows what other financial crimes. 

If he didn’t want us to know about it, he should not have run for president.  If he didn’t want to be exposed, he should not have won the presidency.  In his heart of hearts, I think the president knows as much.  He wasn’t supposed to win. 

Jazz.

“The real reason Donald Trump self-financed his primary campaign,” Vox, 18 July 2016. 

“Six donors that Trump appointed gave almost $12 million with their families to back his campaign and the party” by Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy.  Washington Post, 9 December 2016. 

“$88 Million and Counting: Trump Amasses Huge Head Start for 2020 Campaign” by Kenneth P. Vogel and Rachel Shorey.  New York Times, 15 July 2018. 

“Trump Properties Earned a Fortune from GOP and Foreign Governments During President’s First Year: Report” by Grace Guarnieri.  Newsweek, 16 January 2018. 

“Point of View: Regarding the Trump-Russia probe, follow the money” by Jennifer Rubin.  Palm Beach Post, 12 January 2018. 

“Want to Bring Down Donald Trump? Follow the People who Follow the Money” by Rebecca Gordon.  Tom Dispatch, 30 April 2018. 

“If Trump is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How it Works” by Garrett M. Graff.  Wired, 11 May 2018.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

DEHUMANIZING ASYLUM SEEKERS

JAZZMAN CHRONICLES IN THE AGE OF TRUMP.




SEEKING ASYLUM IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY:
THE NORTHERN TRIANGLE

By Jack Random


The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps
They’re flying ‘em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

From Deportee or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos by Woody Guthrie 


Once upon a time it was all about the Mexicans.  Farmers in California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico opened their arms to welcome the hard-working migrants from below the border.  Whole families worked long hours at minimal pay for as long as the picking season lasted.  Then they returned to their homes. 

On occasion, when the farmers got greedy or their expenses ran greater than expected, they called in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service to round them all up for immediate deportation without collecting their final paychecks. 

Usually they made it home to their friends and families.  Though disappointed at how they were treated, they would head north again when the time came.  It was a way of life.  It was the way of their fathers and mothers.  It was the only life they knew. 

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your name when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportees

The farmers knew it was wrong but they did it anyway.  They did it because they could.  They did it because they knew their migrant labor force would return next harvest.  Many were the same people and the same families.  They knew the jobs and could do them better than anyone else. 

The truth is the farmers didn’t consider them equal human beings.  They were illegals.   They had no rights.  They had feelings, sure.  They cared about their families and friends.  Some of them might even care about the farmer and his family.  But when it came down to it, they were something less than true American.  They were Mexicans.  They were wetbacks.  They didn’t belong in this country beyond the picking season. 

But every once in a while something would happen to remind the white folks that they were real human beings and they deserved better than what they got. 

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon
A fireball of lightning that shook all our hills
Who are all these friends all scattered like dry leaves? 
The radio says: They are just deportees

It’s not about the Mexicans these days but in many ways it’s the same story.  It’s about how we regard other human beings. 

Those who are familiar with Central America call it the Northern Triangle.  Consisting of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the United Nations estimated it was the source of some 294,000 refugees in 2017 alone. 

They scatter over the borders and migrate to neighboring Belize or head south to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Columbia or north to Mexico and the United States.  For a time some nations like Belize and Mexico offered shelter and made some effort to accommodate their needs but the wave of migrants keeps coming and coming. 

They are fleeing a place where the police and the government cannot be trusted to protect them.  Too often they are in the pocket of the gangs and cartels that run the streets and neighborhoods.  If they ask you to join them you have a choice:  join or face the consequences.  They will take whatever money you have.  They will rape your daughter.  They will decapitate your son. 

The American Department of Justice has ruled that facing terror and oppression from gangs and cartels is no longer grounds for asylum.  If you are a woman, being raped and beaten by your husband is no longer grounds for asylum. 

To qualify for asylum you must belong to a victim class – an oppressed race or religious group.  Strangely, the Justice Department does not seem to consider that same status grounds for special treatment of any kind within our borders but it is essential to foreigners seeking refuge in our country. 

A former British colony, Belize has a population of 360,000.  Its official language is English.  The first wave of refugees, fleeing wars fueled by American imperialism and corporate interests in the 80’s and 90’s, increased the country’s Spanish-speaking population by some 30,000. 

The new wave began around 2011 and intensified in 2014, spurred by an explosion of violence, extortion, rape, kidnapping and murder.  It includes street gangs like MS-13 of El Salvador (by way of Los Angeles) that are trying to establish a foothold in Belize.  The authorities in Belize are resisting.  They do not wish to assimilate any more refugees so the asylum seekers move on. 

Mexico expected 20,000 asylum applications in 2017.  Beyond that they too are unable to accommodate the wave.  But the wave keeps coming. 

After a long hard journey coursing thousands of miles, some of the refugees finally reach the southern border of the United States of America – a nation that once took pride in being a nation of immigrants – only to find that they are no longer welcome.  The American president has warned us that this wave of refugees consists largely of criminals, rapists, killers and kidnappers posing as asylum seekers. 

They are no longer considered equal human beings deserving of fundamental human rights.  They are to be treated as animals, the children separated from their parents and shipped hundreds of miles away with little hope of being reunited. 

The Trump administration ordered the border patrol to turn away asylum seekers at the ports of entry so that everyone crossing over to American soil would be considered criminals – having broken the law by crossing the border.  The Trump administration ordered a policy of “zero tolerance” so that everyone crossing would be arrested and detained.  The Trump administration ordered its agents to separate the children from their parents and informed the disbelieving American public that they were not really parents. 

Fortunately, some enterprising journalists took pictures and recordings of the children so victimized by this inhumane treatment and the people reacted as people do.

This is not America!  This is not what we stand for!  This is not what Americans do!  We will not tolerate separating a child from her parent.  We will not place a toddler in a cage.  We will not imprison people for the crime of fleeing intolerable conditions. 

The sound and images informed our hearts what our minds could not process.  Our minds are obstructed by our prejudice.  Our minds did not object to the president’s hardcore policies but our hearts did.  Our hearts reminded us that we were not dealing with scum as the president misinformed us.  We were dealing with real, feeling human beings – parents, children, families and friends. 

The policy of zero tolerance was rescinded but the attitude of intolerance remains.  Now that public attention has shifted – as it inevitably does – the administration will be inclined to return to its former policies.  Reuniting families will give way to mass deportations. 

We need to delay action until the November election.  We must hope that the new congress will be inclined to new policies and a new approach.  Constructive recommendations include the creation of Safe Zones strategically located in Central America so that refugees have somewhere safe to go while they await adjudication of their status.  We should provide funding for Mexico’s asylum program along with any other nations willing to accommodate legitimate candidates.  We need to expand the criteria for asylum to include spousal abuse and gang violence.  We need to provide asylum for worthy candidates. 

Fundamentally, we need to regard the people of the Northern Triangle as human beings deserving of justice and freedom from harm. 

Jazz. 

JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES AND PAWNS TO PLAYERS: THE CHESS SERIES – A TRILOGY OF NOVELS.

“Central Americans flee homes in record numbers: ‘The level of violence is brutal’” by Tom Phillips, The Guardian, 22 May 2018. 

“Central America’s refugee crisis fuels anti-Hispanic backlash in neighborly Belize” by Nina Lakhani.  The Guardian – US Edition, 31 May 2017.

“What I’ve Learned Living on The Border Between the US and Mexico” by Alex Zaragoza.  BuzzFeed, June 30, 2018. 

Deportee Lyrics:  Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

TRUMP'S VERY BAD WEEK

JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: RADICAL SOLUTIONS FOR RADICAL TIMES. 




THE ROAD TO HELSINKI:
HANDSHAKE DEALS & KNEE JERK DIPLOMACY

By Jack Random



Donald Trump touched down in Singapore, had dinner and announced he had a deal with Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea.  Kim had agreed to unconditional denuclearization.  Trump had only offered a handshake and agreed to call off military exercises.  Problem solved.  North Korea no longer posed a threat to the United States or its allies. 

This diplomacy thing is easy.  Golf is hard.  Standing over a five-foot putt with the match on the line: that’s pressure.  Somebody show me the way to Jerusalem.  We’ll solve this whole Palestinian problem in a weekend.  What do you say? 

No, Mr. President, we’re not going to Jerusalem.  There’s no one on the Palestinian side that would sit down with you – even for a photo op.  And Netanyahu has a court date.  It wouldn’t look good. 

Last August Trump suggested in an Oval Office meeting that we invade Venezuela.  He persisted with the idea for weeks, raising it again with Latin American leaders who expressed universal opposition.  No word on whether Trump was surprised at their position but he seemed to forget about Venezuela and all of Latin America until the refugee crisis arrived at our southern border. 

We recently learned by executive tweet that our president thought the joint statement he and Kim signed in Singapore was a binding agreement.  How long before we find out that Trump believes he received the blessings of Latin American leaders to bomb the hell out of Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala to stem the flow of refugees?  Not that he needs anyone’s blessings to bomb someone or invade a country. 

This diplomacy thing is easy.  Fire all the diplomats and let the chief negotiator take over.  Fuck Canada and who needs NATO?  Germany is Putin’s puppet and Angela Merkel will pay the price of open borders.  She can start by boosting military spending to 4% of gross domestic product.  Do it!  Do it now or do without American military might! 

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that Chancelor Merkel is not a dictator.  She cannot raise her nation’s military budget or its contribution to NATO with a wave of her hand any more than he can. 

Trump tried to persuade French President Emmanuel Macron to dump Europe and follow Britain’s lead in exiting the European Union.  After all, it’s worked out so well for Teresa May as she watches her Brexit implementation team implode the week before welcoming the American version of blundering Boris Johnson to Britannia.  The beleaguered prime minister must be filled with trepidation as she is compelled to display public hospitality to the least popular American leader since Thomas Paine. 

Come on, Manny!  Dump the bastards!  We’ll take care of you.  Vlady has a soft spot for Paris.  He always has. 

Not one to miss an opportunity for dramatic climax, the Donald saved his last stop for his closest and most trusted friend:  Vladimir Putin.  They will meet on foreign ground in the city of Helsinki, Finland.  There will be no other dignitaries and no transcribers.  Only the two leaders and their interpreters will know what words or transactions flow between them behind closed doors.  Of course the possibility of eavesdropping always exists – especially with the former head of the KGB and current boss of the FSB-GRU. 

It’s just you and me, right Vlady?  Man to man. 

That’s right, Donald.  We can talk with complete confidence!  Believe me! 

The secrecy has of course given birth to a wide range of theories about what might transpire between the two leaders.  Those who believe the whole Putin-Trump collaboration is a hoax generally believe nothing is amiss.  Why shouldn’t two of the world’s most powerful men and those at the heart of an ongoing investigation meet in confidence?  Why shouldn’t they encourage the most imaginative conspiracy theorists?  The American people are so sick of hearing the endless speculation they are turning a deaf ear.  Trump’s followers have always believed the mainstream is out to get him – by any and all means, legal or illegal. 

Those who believe there is something greater than puff behind the Putin-Trump connection have long expected the two lead conspirators to find an opportunity for private dealing.  Those who believe Trump is indebted to Putin and his oligarchs both financially and politically expect this closed-door meeting to initiate a payback. 

Trump dignified Kim Jong-un with a handshake, a photo op and compliments in front of the cameras before canceling long-scheduled military exercises.  These were gifts that the North Korean leader treasured and for which he gave nothing in return. 

Would it be surprising if Trump had a few gifts for Mr. Putin?  How about an agreement not to enforce the Magnitsky Act?  That’s pretty much where all this conspiracy speculation began in earnest, right?  That’s why the Russian connection gathered for a meet and greet in Trump Tower while the presidential campaign was still raging.  For the first time in history international sanctions hit the Russian leader and his circle of corrupt friends where it hurt the most: personal bank accounts.  It opened a window for a hard look at crooked Russian money laundering operations at the Bank of Cypress and Deutsche Bank – the banks that cater to Russian mobsters.  Oh, and by the way, soon to be Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was a proud vice chairman at the Bank of Cypress.  Imagine that. 

No sanctions had ever been so effective and Vladimir Putin was pissed enough to invade a sovereign nation.  Who can doubt that he was pissed enough to sic his GRU hackers at Hillary Clinton?  Why wouldn’t he invest a few million in fake news disseminated by Facebook – America’s free source of targeted propaganda? 

Who knows why Putin did what he did?  Maybe his hatred for Obama and Clinton was sufficient.  Maybe he needed no additional motivation to mess with American democracy.  Maybe he’s pissed off that America still has the reputation of a democracy when in fact it’s fast slipping into an autocracy controlled by the most powerful corporations in the world. 

Who knows what Putin has on Trump?  Maybe he just wanted an amateur to slap around on the international stage?  Mission accomplished. 

Smile for the cameras, baby!  Me and you against the world! 

What we do know is that Putin is winning this game.  Despite a floundering economy, the Russian Federation has restored its reputation as a world power.  He has succeeded in blowing a hole in the European Union with his promotion of Brexit.  His man in Washington has created discord in NATO via public humiliation. 

Pony up, Angela!  And you too, Macron!  No one gets a free pass! 

Putin had to be laughing when Trump derided Europe’s most powerful nation as “captive” to Russian energy. 

There may be an element of truth to Trump’s insulting observation.  Germany needs imported energy to fuel its economic machine but Russia needs a European market to buy its natural gas.  Germany imports nearly equivalent amounts from Norway and the Netherlands.  Do they hold Germany captive? 

It has been speculated that Trump wants Germany to buy American natural gas at an inflated price.  That would seem particularly unlikely to happen at this point.  For one thing, it would be detrimental to Russia. 

Trump appears to be reorganizing the world order with Putin and himself at the top, Britain and Israel on the second tier and Europe somewhere below and on par with Indonesia and North Korea.  China appears to be the new chief adversary with minor adversaries in Iran, Mexico, Venezuela and other assorted nations – Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador – that pose problems or take more than they give.  

Judging from the befuddled looks on the faces of Trump’s advisors when he derided Germany, no one really knows what the president is going to do.  I seriously doubt that Trump knows what he is going to do except in that fraction of a second before he does it.  If there is no one to talk him out of it, then we enter a twisted new world where fake facts and distorted realities begin to make sense. 

They say he’s KGB!  He’s fine!  Putin is fine!  We’re all fine! 

Here’s my prediction for the Trump-Putin summit:  Something will follow that benefits Putin.  The question is:  What does Putin want?  A weakened NATO?  Already accomplished.  Drive a wedge in the British-American relationship?  Accomplished.  Weaken the British government?  Accomplished.  Maybe he wants payback for the counter-intelligence agent that exposed one too many of his operations. Maybe Trump could drain the talent pool out of the State Department.  Already done. 

Who needs diplomats?  I’m the only diplomat we need!  What’s a diplomat anyway?  It’s a negotiator, right?  Who’s the greatest negotiator ever born?  Right here, baby!  Smiling at you. 

Maybe Putin wants acceptance of a Russian Crimea.  Maybe he wants a hands-off policy in Ukraine.  Maybe he wants the CIA to pull out of Eastern Europe.

Nobody but the man in Moscow knows for sure. 

Jazz. 

“Trump is trying to destabilize the European Union” by Josh Rogin.  Washington Post, 28 June 2018. 

“US indicts 12 Russian spies in 2016 DNC hack that used malware, bitcoin and phishing” by Kyt Dotson.  Silicon Angle, 13 July 2018. 

JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES AND AN ARRAY OF NOVELS, SHORT STORIES AND MEMOIRS.  HE SERVED MANY YEARS AS A COMMENTATOR FOR GLOBAL FREE PRESS. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

CORPORATE SUPREMES REVISITED: ANTHONY KENNEDY

--> JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: RADICAL SOLUTIONS FOR RADICAL TIMES. 





CORPORATE SUPREMES:  GOODBYE ANTHONY KENNEDY

By Jack Random



The retirement of Anthony Kennedy upstaged the latest round of Supreme Court decisions that took yet another blast at civil liberties, the rights of labor and the democratic form of government.  No one who has followed the court could have been surprised by any of these actions.  The Roberts court has never been a fan of minorities, workers or democracy. 

In Trump v. Hawaii, with regard to the president’s infamous ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, the court upheld the president’s right to discriminate against members of a religious group as long as the discrimination is not explicit.  In its longstanding assault on the right to organize the workforce, in Janus v. AFSCME the court struck down the right of public service unions to collect fees for collective bargaining from non-union members.  Membership in public service unions will likely be reduced by one-third within two years.  No one can argue with those kinds of results. 

Both decisions stand with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United as among the most damaging in modern history and Justice Anthony Kennedy played his usual role of casting the deciding vote.  Now that distinction will go to the next Donald J. Trump appointee – an appointee that has already been approved by the Federalist Society.   

As for their continuing assault on American democracy, in the Texas gerrymandering case Abbott v. Perez, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it best:  “after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas—despite constituting a majority of the population within the State—will continue to be underrepresented in the political process. Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will.” 

In other words, blatant and targeted disenfranchisement of minority voters is certifiably legal as long as you wink at the court when you walk in the door.  These justices of the perpetual majority will find any reason and any rationalization to allow the good old boys with whom they are politically aligned to keep on doing what they have been doing since the days of old Jim Crow.  It’s not that they created districts designed to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos; it’s just that the democratic voters around these parts tend to be of darker complexion.  Wink. 

No one suggests that Kennedy or Roberts or Alito or Gorsuch or Thomas are racists; they just happen to read the law like racists have since the writing of the constitution.  Minorities may finally have the vote but by god they won’t get to use it until the Great White Fathers of Washington are damned good and ready.  They’re not ready yet and – thanks to the next appointees to the court by Donald J. Trump – they won’t need to be ready for decades. 

Racist is what racist does. 

Having served for over three decades, Anthony Kennedy has been the pivotal vote on the court since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor.  He has earned the ire of rightwing ideologues by favoring gay rights, a woman’s right to abortion and the right of government to regulate firearms.  He recently compromised on an affirmative action case further alienating the hard right. 

But make no mistake, Kennedy was no darling of the left and his parting shot will be felt for a very long time.  Kennedy has long been a member of the corporate justice clan.  Along with Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito he has always voted against workers and for the most powerful members of the American political and economic elite. 

In short, Kennedy was a conservative judge with libertarian leanings who fit snugly into the American system of economically motivated justice.  Only on a court that scorns civil liberties and disdains democracy could someone like Kennedy be hailed as the last bastion of justice before the fascist court takes over. 

That might seem harsh but I’ll stand by it.  The Federalist Society has finally taken full control of the highest court in the land.  You’ve got to give it to them.  They’ve worked hard toward this end.  They have trained multitudes of prospective lawyers to their way of legal thinking.  They have financed and promoted their own kind.  And they have placed barriers in the way of any would-be judge who did not adhere to their philosophy. 

Never mind what the founders actually believed, what they enshrined was the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  They did not vote for or enact into law the Federalist Papers.  They debated Federalism.  They did not select which papers ought to be enshrined. 

We were left with a flawed document containing a set of principles and provisions for adapting the constitution to a changing world.  Fundamentally, the Federalist Society is all about closing off the door to adaptation.  The framers did not specify that an individual’s right to bear arms was contingent on his membership in a well-regulated militia so that context no longer applies.  It’s as if the militia clause is there for window dressing. 

The framers naturally did not contemplate a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system so it remains beyond the scope of constitutional law.  The framers did not envision a society where all men and women of varied color or sexual identity would live under equal protection of the law so there can be no protection absent specific legislation – preferably at the state level.  A state’s right to discriminate must be preserved. 

Of course, the framers didn’t envision a day when Supreme Court justices would rule that an economic structure would claim all the rights of citizenship.  They could not possibly have expected a bank or an international corporation to claim the right to sponsor politicians at all levels of government.  The framers didn’t envision a lot of things. 

Now we’re up against the wall.  The truth is we’ve been there for a long time but it’s about to get much worse.  Now it’s not only corporate aristocracy, autocracy and fascism.  Now it’s all of these combined with religious intolerance and a whole new level of moral regression.  Bakers in Colorado are able to discriminate freely against gays or browns or blacks or longhairs and whoever else they feel superior to today.  Thirty-eight states will make abortion inaccessible to everyone but the privileged class the moment Roe v. Wade falls – if that’s even necessary.  Maybe the court will take another shot at criminalizing marijuana.  After all, there aren’t enough people to fill our profit-turning prisons.  Maybe we’ll fill them with the children of migrants seeking asylum. 

It’s a brave new world. 

So let’s tip a glass to Kennedy and thank him for holding back the wave these many years.  I suppose asking for another year from an octogenarian is just too much to ask. 

Instead, we’ll have to ask Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine to stand up and be counted – not only for a woman’s right to choose but for gays and minorities as well.  We don’t have a whole lot of hope left but what we do have now resides with you. 

Jazz. 

“Sonya Sotomayor Stands Up for Voting Rights.  And I’m Her for It.” Imani Gandy.  Angry Black Lady Chronicles.  Rewire.News.  June 26, 2018. 

JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF WASICHU: THE KILLING SPIRIT AND PAWNS TO PLAYERS – THE CHESS SERIES.  HE HAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED A SERIES OF POLITICAL COMMENTARIES UNDER THE TITLE: THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: LOCK HIM UP!

 JAZZMAN CHRONICLES:  RADICAL SOLUTIONS FOR RADICAL TIMES.





CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY:  LOCK HIM UP!

By Jack Random



It is not enough that President Donald J. Trump eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency and all safeguards against the effects of global climate change at the most critical time in human history; it is not enough that he appointed a bible thumping white supremacist attorney general to carry out the demolition of voting rights, civil rights and protections against police bias and abuse of power; it is not enough that he has tipped the balance on the Supreme Court to guarantee systemic injustice for generations to come, he must also upend the most basic sense of being human by separating children from their mothers and fathers and incarcerating them for the crime of holding to their parents’ side as they set foot on the land of the free and the just. 

The president has crossed the line that separates ignorance, intolerance, discrimination, brutality and indifference from crimes against humanity.  How can this man look at those kids in cages and live with himself?  How can his wife and family continue to pretend that it’s only politics as usual?  How can members of congress stand in line for their daily pat on the head from the White House?  There comes a time when your mere presence is collusion. 

There are many presidents who have done horrible things in our tortured history.  Our founders were of course Indian killers before they turned their attention to the creation of a new nation conceived in liberty, justice and guided by the principles of democracy.  We methodically stole a continent and for a time attempted to enact a policy of genocide. 

As a nation we allowed the scourge of slavery to persist so long that its effects are still palpable in every facet of our daily lives today.  As a nation we have gone to war under false pretenses so many times – Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq included – that we can only defend our policy as the prerogative of the powerful. 

A president has ordered the incarceration of American citizens for their racial and cultural heritage.  A president has sanctioned the torture and indefinite detention of our enemies without due process of law.  A president has approved the segregation of schools and communities while allowing systemic discrimination to persist.  A president has ordered the carpet-bombing of a civilian population in a faraway land. 

Presidents have done these things and more but always they have been in response to some perceived threat or historical mandate.  Always there has been some rationalization.  The nation has suffered under some collective delusion or irrational fear.  Early Americans believed and invested in Manifest Destiny – a notion that God intended Caucasian Europeans to claim the continent.  Franklin Roosevelt’s demented detention of Japanese Americans was born of a commonly held fear that Japanese Americans would rise up in defense of their emperor.  Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and evacuated the Cherokee from their homeland on the Trail of Tears because his people – the white people – needed more and more land. 

On and on, if not the moral high ground, presidents have held to some practical or moral justification for their actions.  What is Trump’s justification for this action?  Was there really a massive wave of migration to the southern border?  Was the nation in crisis?  Were our institutions incapable of responding to the situation without breaking down?  Was this the only action Trump could have taken? 

No.  I submit that a policy of zero tolerance and the separation of children from their parents was something this president simply wanted to do.  There was and is a crisis but it is not at the border; it is a thousand miles to the south where the governments, the armed forces and the police are corrupt and incapable of confronting the criminal gangs that are ripping their countries apart.  The crisis is in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras where thugs take what they want, demand whatever pleases them and kill whoever stands in their way.  The migrants are refugees from unimaginable violence and they’ll keep coming because what they’re fleeing is infinitely more horrible than anything Donald Trump can devise.  They seek asylum not only in the United States of America but also in the United States of Mexico and Mexico has shown a great deal more compassion than we have. 

The problems of Central America and indeed Mexico are as complex as they are severe.  Whenever criminal elements become more powerful than the government democracy cannot survive.  Solutions are equally difficult especially considering the role our government has historically played in Latin American politics.  We have supported dictators, taken the wrong side in civil wars, upheld despots and overthrown lawfully elected governments.  We have empowered corporations to invade their territories and steal their resources.  The CIA has a particularly horrific record of human and civil rights abuse below the Mexican border. 

Our record is so deplorable that no honest and democratic government would trust us to intervene in their affairs.  And yet, absent a regional power led by our government, there is little we can do to stem the tide of violence.  What we can do, however, is help those who are fleeing. 

Let’s be honest about what’s happening in the region.  It would hardly be impossible to determine who among them are honest refugees and who is something else.  In terms of our nation, there are not that many Central American refugees.  We can take them in.  We can assimilate them into our population.  We can help them to become functional and contributing citizens.  In the best of our culture and traditions, we have always done so. 

Trump doesn’t care about these people.  He doesn’t care about what they are fleeing or what they will bring to our nation.  He doesn’t care that they are the victims of gang violence and brutality.  He cares about the conflict.  He needs an enemy – especially one than cannot fight back.  He desperately needs to be the man, the heartless brute, the biggest and the baddest bully on the block.  He wants to make his own laws.  He wants to hold these children up to the cameras and demand that his adversaries build him a wall.  Trump is like the muscle man that says to his victim:  “This is your fault!  You did this!” 

He does it because he wants to do it.  It is who he is.  This is a man who has no regrets because he never engages in self-reflection.  He has never been wrong and never will be – not even when he rips a child from her mother’s arms. 

There are very few crimes that a president cannot get away with and this is not one of them but there are judgments greater than the rule of law.  For crimes against humanity, there was a time that Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could not travel abroad without fear of being detained and tried before an international tribunal.  How sweet and poetic that deliverance would be. 

Jazz. 

“There Is No Way We Can Turn Back.”  Why Central American Refugees will Keep Coming to America Despite Trump’s Crackdown.  By Ioan Grillo/Tenosique.  Time Magazine, June 21, 2018. 

“Criminalizing Victims: The Fate of Honduran Refugees” by Michael Slager.  Counterpunch, May 18, 2018. 

“Family Separations:  Trump’s Executive Order Does Not Hide This Historical Pattern of Cruelty” by Jimmy Centeno, Don T. Deere and Frederick B. Mills.  Counterpunch, June 27, 2018. 

JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES AND THE CHESS SERIES:  PAWNS TO PLAYERS – THE STAIRWAY SCANDAL, A MATCH FOR THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE PUTIN GAMBIT (CROW DOG PRESS).

Saturday, June 02, 2018

THE RANDOM GUIDE TO THE CALIFORNIA PRIMARY

RANDOM JACK




THE RANDOM GUIDE TO THE CALIFORNIA PRIMARY

The Great Pretender

By Jack Random


As a voter compelled to register as a Democrat for fear that my vote for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, you can be sure that I fall far to the left of the Democratic Party.  In fact, I have only a little more faith in the Democrats than I do in the Republicans despite their official policies.  Both parties are corporate and ultimately serve corporate interests.  I hold on to the hope that someday, despite all the barriers, an independent or third party movement will break the stranglehold of the major parties on our electoral process.  Meantime, a combination of pragmatism (least harm) and idealism (independent) will guide my vote.  What follows are my recommendations in the 2018 California primary. 

GOVERNOR:  JOHN CHIANG, DEMOCRAT, STATE TREASURER. 

I have never perceived the presumptive favorite Gavin Newsom as anything but what he is:  an opportunist who plays the cards he’s dealt with a deft hand.  He is the Great Pretender, a definitive Democrat in the Clintonian mode.  Contrary to his television ads it requires no courage to come out in favor of gay rights when you’re mayor of San Francisco.  It takes no courage to stand for universal healthcare when you’re seeking higher office in California.  Where was Newsom’s courage when it came to supporting Sanders over Clinton? 

Newsom was the first to attack a fellow Democrat:  John Chiang.  It was puzzling but the polls must have said Chiang was taking votes from him.  Chiang did not respond in kind initially but former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa did, asserting quite justly that Newsom was taking credit for accomplishments that did not belong to him.  In California the Lieutenant Governor is pretty much a symbolic office that politicians use to gain name recognition and test the waters for a statewide run. 

Villaraigosa’s ad campaign is sponsored by California Charter Schools Association Advocates to the tune of $17.3 million dollars.  If you love charter schools – taking money from public schools and channeling it to profit motivated private charters – then Villaraigosa is your candidate.  Otherwise palatable – he’s pro union – he lost my vote when he took that money. 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR:  TIM FERREIRA, LIBERTARIAN. 

I won’t pretend to know much about this candidate except that he carries the Libertarian banner.  As noted above, the Lieutenant Governor doesn’t have really have any authority.  Presumably, he or she gets free office space, benefits and a nice salary.  Democratic Senator and superstar Kamala Harris gives her blessing to Eleni Kounalakis and that will probably be sufficient to win the election but she will not protect our coastline or anything else.  She’s a figurehead.  I say:  Use this office to vote independent.  There are no Greens, no Peace & Freedom and no other official third party candidates.  There are a few Decline-to-States.  Vote independent. 

SECRETARY OF STATE:  MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, GREEN, ELECTORAL CONSULTANT. 

The Secretary of State runs our elections.  That is important.  In other states it can be argued persuasively that Secretaries of State decided presidential elections but not here.  Fundamentally, California doesn’t count in presidential elections.  Still, it is important – important enough that two Greens, a Libertarian and a Peace & Freedom candidate secured their place on the ballot. 

I can go two ways here:  Support a Democrat to ensure that a Republican does not secure the office or go independent.  I don’t believe a Republican has a chance in a California statewide election so I’ll go Green:  Michael Feinstein appears to be the more serious candidate.  He supports multi-party democracy, ranked choice voting, proportional representation, limiting money in politics, transparency and voter integrity.  He has my vote. 

CONTROLLER:  BETTY YEE, DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT. 

The controller is the state’s bookkeeper.  It requires competence and integrity.  I see no reason to change horses so I’ll vote for the incumbent even if she is a Democrat. 

TREASURER:  FIONA MA, DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT. 

The treasurer is the state’s banker with authority to manage investments and assets.  Once again, competence and integrity are required.  The Peace and Freedom candidate Kevin Akin has some interesting ideas, including a publicly owned bank.  Democrat and CPA Fiona Ma is certainly qualified, competent and supported by California Nurses, Teachers and the Council of Laborers.  She also has the coolest name on the ballot. 

ATTORNEY GENERAL:  XAVIER BECERRA, DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT.

The office that launched the formidable career of Senator and future presidential candidate Kamala Harris, this year’s contest features two Republicans and two Democrats.  That narrows the field.  Dave Jones is the current Insurance Commissioner and seems to be supported by a variety of employee associations.  Xavier Becerra was appointed to the position when it was vacated by Harris.  Becerra has the money and his contributions include California Nurses. 

Becerra has shown a willingness to stand up against the presidency of Donald Trump on issues ranging from immigration policy to the legalization of marijuana.  He’s also a Clintonian with high stake political ambitions. 

Jones brings the reputation of fighting for consumers against predatory insurance companies.  In its endorsement of Jones, the San Jose Mercury News qualified that reputation with “while being fair to the industry.”  That sends up a warning signal.  His credits include working as a special assistant to former Attorney General Janet Reno who oversaw the Elian Gonzalez fiasco, Ruby Ridge and the Branch-Davidian tragedy in Waco, Texas.  That’s not much of an endorsement. 

As sometimes happens, the Mercury-News endorsement brought me to the opposite conclusion.  Stick with Becerra and hope for the best. 

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER:  NATHALIE HRIZI, PEACE & FREEDOM. 

The commissioner is in charge of enforcing insurance laws – a critical function in today’s society.  The candidates include Democrats Ricardo Lara and Asif Mahmood, former Republican Steve Poizner and Peace & Freedom’s Nathalie Hrizi, a public school teacher. 

The fact that Poizner was once appointed to this position by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminates him. Mahmood is a medical doctor who supports universal healthcare.  Lara is a state senator who also supports medical care for all, including the undocumented.  He sponsored a bill to that effect.  It seems there is little to distinguish between Mahmood and Lara and that begs the question:  Why are they both running? 

That leaves the Feminist Socialist Peace & Freedom candidate Nathalie Hrizi.  She stands for three principles:  1.  Healthcare is a universal right.  2.  Private health insurance companies should be abolished.  3.  California should create its own single-payer, non-profit system. 

I’ll vote enthusiastically for Hrizi. 

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION:  TOM HALLINAN, DEMOCRAT. 

This one is too easy:  Three Republicans and one Democrat. 

UNITED STATES SENATOR:  PAT HARRIS, DEMOCRAT. 

Never have so many considered his or her self qualified to become United States Senator from the great state of California.  I count eleven Republicans, ten Democrats, eight decline-to-states, one Libertarian and one Peace & Freedom.  Sadly, the only political organization left out of the party is Green. 

We all know Dianne Feinstein.  The new model is the progressive model.  Suddenly she believes in Medicare for all.  Suddenly she believes in the rights of undocumented immigrants.  Suddenly she believes in limiting the power of the president to wage war.  I like the new model but like an old car I don’t trust it.  Feinstein has let the progressive community down far too many times. 

If we eliminate the Republicans – and we do – we can move on to the progressive challengers.  On the Democratic side there is Pat Harris, a civil rights attorney who believes in legalization of marijuana/cannabis nationwide, universal healthcare and getting corporate money out of politics.  I like this guy.  Then there’s state senator Kevin De Leon who is committed to immigration reform, Medicare for All and a national clean energy plan.  What’s not to like?  Democrat David Hildebrand wants to end Citizens United and favors a minimum wage of $15 per hour.  Democrat Alison Hartson, a national political director, adds the right to a college education to the progressive agenda. 

Jason Hanania is a “technodemocrat” who believes in voting with the majority of Californians using an Evoting system.  Interesting.  I’ve proposed a similar a system myself.  Peace & Freedom’s John Thompson Parker wants to declare a state of emergency to address police misconduct in minority neighborhoods.  Libertarian Derrick Michael Reed wants to address the incarceration crisis. 

It goes on and on without end.  My only conclusion is that it is time for Feinstein to go.  We need new blood in Washington and any US Senator who has waffled over the justification for the Iraq War needs to write her memoirs.  I might even buy the book.  Meantime, I’ll vote for the civil rights attorney in the primary and hold my nose if I have to vote for Feinstein in the general election. 

US REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 10:  MIKE BARKLEY, DEMOCRAT.  

Folks around here know the incumbent congressman from the 10th district in the great central valley likes to play both sides of the coin.  Lately he’s charading as the congressman who’s trying to save the dreamers and the children being separated from their parents.  That is not the congressman we know and despise.  It’s one thing to be conservative and another to play like a progressive whenever your electability depends on it.  Denham has always pretended to be a family farmer but the way I hear it he’s a corporate farmer and a very wealthy man. 

Let’s be frank:  It doesn’t really matter which Democrat runs against him.  Denham is the enemy.  Every Republican member of the House of Representatives is the enemy.  If we want to put the check on Trump we have to take congress away from the president’s party.  We need to take both houses of congress.  The Democratic money is going to Josh Harder but all the Democrats – Sue Zwahlen, Michael Eggman, Mike Barkley and Virginia Madueno – support progressive policies on healthcare and immigration.  All are running against the man in the White House. 

I’m put off by the big money going to Harder so I’ll vote for Mike Barkley for his pro-union, anti Free Trade stand, his opposition to the Trump tax cut and his concern for California’s water problems.  Those who are rightly concerned that two Republicans (Denham and Howze) might meet in the finals should probably vote for Harder. 

STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 8:  TOM PRATT, DEMOCRAT. 

I’m sorry.  Spelling errors in a candidate statement (Voter’s Edge) put me off – especially one as egregious as this:  “Education is a basic tool for any human been.”  That propels businessman Tom Pratt to the top of the ticket despite a bizarre first priority:  Restore funding to all county fairs.  Really?  Oh well, he favors universal healthcare and wants to expand broadband coverage.  He’s supported by Progressive Democrats of America. 

STATE ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 12:  ROBERT CHASE, DEMOCRAT.

The worst-case scenario:  One Democrat against one Republican. 

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE:  CRYSTAL SWANSON, TRIAL ATTORNEY. 

This contest is between a trial attorney in Crystal Swanson and a military judge in Carrie Stephens.  In a nation that incarcerates more people proportionately than any nation on earth – thanks to prison for profit – we elect our judges with precious little information.  From what I could gather from her Facebook page, Swanson is qualified and competent.  Carrie Stephens also seems qualified and competent but she leans too much on her military experience for my taste.  I’ll vote for Swanson. 

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION:  TONY THURMOND. 

Kamala Harris and the Democratic heavyweights have thrown their support to Tony Thurmond, an African American educator and state legislator.  Thurmond promises to stand up to Betsy DeVos’ anti public schools agenda.  He’ll fight vouchers and profit motivated charter schools.  He believes in teacher flexibility, teaching creativity and critical thinking.  He believes in the arts and music education.  He had me at standing up to DeVos. 

Lily Ploski, Marshall Tuck and Steve Ireland all sound like good candidates with excellent ideas but this time I’ll go with the favorite. 

STANISLAUS COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS:  SHANNON SANFORD. 

Shannon Sanford is proud of her test scores and wants to eliminate administrative red tape.  Don Davis has the endorsement of the Modesto Bee with his 36 years of experience.  Scott Kuykendall values hard work, honesty and responsibility.  I find none of their arguments compelling but I’ll vote for Sanford on the grounds that she has relatively specific ideas. 

STANISLAUS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  STEVEN O’CONNOR. 

If you’ve followed the trial of attorney Frank Carson, you have probably come to the same conclusion I have:  Birgit Fladager should not have the power of her office.  She is being challenged by her employee and fellow prosecutor John Mayne and defense attorneys Steven O’Connor and Patrick Kolasinski. 

O’Connor forcefully attacks the incumbents excesses and misconduct.  He stands for fair trials and wants to protect attorneys under the DA from Fladager’s revenge.  Kolasinski reportedly runs the largest law firm in the county.  Other than that I’m not sure why he’s running.  Mayne has experience in the DA’s office.  He laments the high turnover rate in the office. 

For me it comes down to John Mayne and Steven O’Connor.  I like O’Connor’s style and passion. 

STANISLAUS COUNTY SHERIFF:  JUAN ALANIS. 

This contest is between the Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jeff Dirkse and Sergeant Juan Alanis.  After finding trusted friends and family members endorsing Alanis, I was stunned to learn that he is a fierce gun rights supporter.  I cannot in good conscience support him.  Dirkse has the endorsement of former sheriff Adam Christianson.  Not impressed.  He opposes citizen review boards and marijuana legalization.  He will cooperate with ICE.  That’s enough.  I don’t like either of these candidates but I will vote for Alanis as the least bad candidate. 

PROPOSITION 68:  BOND FOR PARKS, WATER QUALITY & FLOOD PROTECTION. 

We need to support this.  Too much of our infrastructure has been allowed to crumble and has not been repaired.  This will help in bringing us back to the modern age and the standards California deserves.  YES. 

PROPOSITION 69:  TRANSPORTATION FUNDS. 

Requires money raised from a 2017 law for transportation be used only for transportation.  Our roads are in terrible shape.  YES. 

PROPOSITION 70:  SUPERMAJORITY FOR CAP & TRADE FUNDS. 

I don’t like Supermajority laws.  The infamous Prop 13 that crippled California for years was a Supermajority law.  It’s undemocratic.  NO. 

PROPOSITION 71:  EFFECTIVE DATE FOR BALLOT MEASURES.

Requires that propositions passed by the voters go into effect within five days.  YES. 

PROPOSITION 72:  ALLOWS EXEMPTION OF RAIN CAPTURE SYSTEMS FROM PROPERTY TAX REASSESSMENT. 

Water is the new gold.  YES. 


SOURCES:  Voter’s Edge California, San Jose Mercury News, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee Editorial Board and the San Francisco Chronicle.