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Stop Schultz! Stop the billionaires!

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Howard Schultz’s ego-driven drive to run for president reminds us once again that we do not want or need billionaires to run our country. They already have more money than they could spend in 100 lifetimes. Mansions, yachts, tropical islands, fleets of expensive cars, private jets, legions of servants, jewels, antiques, paintings…what more do they need? And yet, every time someone like Alexandra-Ocasio Cortez (AOC) talks about raising marginal tax rates on the uber-rich, these billionaires act like stuck pigs, screaming and howling as if they’re being water-boarded.

How the Republican Party has managed to convince hard-working Americans that raising taxes on the rich is bad, is beyond my capacity to understand. Oh, I know the mechanics of how they’ve done it; I just don’t know why people fall for it.

First, the Republican propagandists claim that taxes, in and of themselves, are evil. Then they allege that, if “they” (government bureaucrats) raise taxes on the rich, then “they” will come after the middle class and the poor. Then they smear people, like AOC, who have the temerity to suggest raising taxes on the rich: AOC is a socialist, a communist, a [fill in the blank with some terrible mischaracterization].

I’ve written here on several occasions that I have known quite a few billionaires, and many more hundred-millionaires, in my lifetime, and in every case, I’m appalled by their rapacious greed. They always need to own more and more and more. They have lifestyles that the average person—the 99%–cannot even fathom. Whatever you’re seen on Dynasty is only a pale shadow of the way these people actually live. When it comes to politics, their main concern is to support politicians who swear never to raise their taxes. They may otherwise be in favor things like the environment, or prison reform, or education, or research into climate change, or the Sierra Club, or the local Opera and Symphony, but their first and foremost concern is taking care of #1: themselves and their heirs.

From the Rockefellers to the Koch Brothers, we’ve seen their nefarious activities for generations. Jane Mayer identified many of the current malefactors in her brilliant exposé, Dark Money.  These people are nearly all Republicans (of course), but in many instances they’re ashamed of it, and so they perform their dark deeds in secret. That’s why they insisted on Citizen’s United,which permits them to donate limitless amounts of money to political candidates, and then to keep it a secret. And it’s why they like Trump: not necessarily for any of his rightwing policies, with the exception of two that they love: lowering taxes and appointing rightwing judges.

Howard Schultz is but the latest example of this particular infection in the body politic. He claims to be some kind of libertarian-leaning-left, but over the past week, since he announced that he may run, he’s become increasingly rightwing. He says, “I don’t believe what the Democratic Party stands for.”

What is it Schultz doesn’t believe in? Science? Marriage equality? The right of workers to unionize? The right to a fair living wage? Immigration? NATO? Public education? Universal healthcare? Making college affordable? All right, Republicans don’t believe in those things either, so we might as well face it: When Schultz says he’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he lies. He’s a Republican: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.

Fortunately, it hasn’t taken long for the American people to see through Schultz’s charade. His favorability rating among Democrats, Republicans and Independents is 4%. Schultz claims that his chief concern with Democratic ideals isn’t the ideals themselves, but their cost: “How are we going to pay for these things,” he asks.

It’s a fair question. But it’s the exact same question Americans have always had to ask themselves, every time government has to make a big decision: How are we going to pay for the Middle East wars, or the Space Race, or Medicare, or Social Security, or a Border Wall, or Trump’s tax cut for the rich? Anything government does costs money. Nobody likes to spend the taxpayer’s money gratuitously; that’s why the Congress exists, to debate these issues and figure out how much is too much, how much is not enough, and how much is just right.

But for Schultz to condemn, ipso facto, everything the Democratic Party stands for, is just about the most Republican thing I’ve heard lately. How is that any different from Trump calling Democrats “un-American and treasonous”?

It’s not. Howard Schultz is just another rightwing Republican, pretending not to be, because he knows how unpopular these Republicans are. He’s a fraud, a thoroughly disreputable man, and in doing what he’s doing, he has become the poster child for the Basket of Deplorables that Hillary warned us about.

Look, these billionaires have run things for far too long. It’s time to rein them in and hold them to account. Even at a marginal tax rate of 70%, they’ll still have “more money than God” (to use an old Jewish expression). Please, readers, don’t fall for Schultz’s lie.


The vast rightwing conspiracy, 2016-style

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Back in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton famously referred to the “vast rightwing conspiracy” that formed to take her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, down. That conspiracy was led by conservative radicals who today have morphed into what is known as the alt-right, a branch of the Republican party that, twenty years ago, was considered fringe even by senior Republicans like Bob Dole, but has now taken over the party, and may be about to take over the United States of America.

This conspiracy always has been comprised of white nationalists, eccentric Christians, and under-educated rural blue collar workers, mostly men, whose resentments were easy fodder for the conspiracy’s leaders to stoke. The players over these twenty years have changed, although some of them—Rupert Murdoch’s minions, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, remain—but they are all cast from the same mold. Why did Hillary call it a “conspiracy”? Because it was hatched in darkness and anonymity. It remains there today, fueled by dark money, only its leaders now are the foursome of Donald Trump, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Vladimir Putin and James Comey.

This requires some explaining on my part. Trump is, of course, the latest leader of the conspiracy. With his insults, smears, bullying, racism, misogyny and xenophobia (have I left anything out?), he perfectly articulates the hatred and anger of the alt-right, elevating it to undreamed of rancor. Wikileaks has joined the parade, as I pointed out last week when I showed that Julian Assange is hoping a President Trump will release him from the awful exile he is suffering within the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, a fate he brought upon himself. Putin, who has renewed the Cold War with America and brought it to its most dangerous level in decades yet is admired and even courted by Trump, has joined the conspiracy by having his security forces hack into Democratic emails and then send them on to Wikileaks. And then we come to the most interesting suspect of all, James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., an avowed Republican, lifted to power by George W. Bush. Why did Comey take this particular moment, on the eve of an election Hillary Clinton was bound to win, to drop this phony bombshell? Because he, like Putin and Assange, wants Trump to be President. His motive? We can only speculate, but let history be our guide.

Back in the 1920s, after Germany had lost the First World War and the country was filled with rightwing resentment—as America is today–a conspiracy arose to undermine Germany’s legitimate, democratically-elected government. This conspiracy was between two groups: (1) unofficial, secret, armed rightwing partisans, known as the Freikorps, which were much like today’s tea party-inspired open-carry rightwingers (think of Cliven Bundy and his gang); and (2) the official expression of German power, the German Army. We can think of Comey, and the F.B.I. in general, as the official branch of U.S. armed security power. We thus have, in this unholy alliance, a tacit agreement for the seizure of power by unofficial and official groupings, come together to undermine the Democratic Party and its candidate.

This conspiracy troubles me a great deal, and it should trouble you too. (The German conspiracy, after all, led to Hitler and World War II.) It now looks like Hillary Clinton may lose this election. As you know, I hope not, but if she does, so be it: life goes on, and Democrats will live to fight another day. But I hope, and expect, and will demand, that Democratic leaders, from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on down, will examine this bizarre and troubling gang-up with all the power they have at their disposal. There may be little they can actually do about it, if Trump is elected and the House and Senate remain Republican. But Republicans themselves should want an explanation, even in the delirium they will undoubtedly have should their candidate win. The combination of foreigners—Putin and Assange—and rogue government officials, undermining and influencing an American Presidential election, is unprecedented. It represents a huge threat to the legitimacy of our country. For the director of the F.B.I. to be associated with a plot to bring down a Presidential candidate is treacherous, if not treasonous, and demands explanation. A Democratic Senate or House subcommittee, even in it be in the minority, simply must hold hearings; and the American media simply must pay attention.

No matter who wins this election, we Democrats cannot sing Kumbaya, join hands with a tea party that hates and wishes to destroy us and our values, and let Republican hegemony go unchallenged. We will have to go to the mattresses. If Hillary does indeed win, Republicans will pull out every dirty trick they have, and they have a lot of ugliness in their toolkit, as Trump has shown. If Trump wins, that event should be seen for what it actually is: a calamitous event in the history of our nation. Either way, fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


That upcoming Trump University trial: Trump doesn’t want jurors to hear the evidence

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Imagine you’re a juror at the upcoming class action trial against Trump University, scheduled to begin Nov. 28 in San Diego federal court. The now-defunct Trump University, you’ll recall, was the phony “real estate school” that promised to teach students “the secrets of real estate success.” It bilked hundreds of them out of tens of thousands of dollars each by claiming to reveal “Trump’s secret insights into how to make money in real estate.” Of course, it was a scam—which has prompted the class action suit. The presiding judge, you may also recall, was Gonzalo P. Curiel, the same judge Trump called “a hater” who was “unfair” to him because Curiel is “Hispanic,” and because Trump is building that infamous wall along the Mexican border.

Trump couldn’t prevent the lawsuit from going forward, but he wanted Curiel thrown off the case. It didn’t work, but the judge did kindly allow the trial to be postponed until after the Nov. 9 Presidential election.

Now there’s another twist. Trump’s lawyer now is demanding that Judge Curiel not allow the jury to hear  important evidence, including any of Trump’s remarks about Curiel—or about Trump’s taxes, or his numerous bankruptcies,, or even the videotape of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s “pussies.”

Trump’s lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli—who represented Fred Goldman in the wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson and won the Goldman family $8.5 million—said he wants the above information banned from the jury because the trial should not be a test of Trump’s “character,” which even Petrocelli by this argument apparently concedes is horrible, but of Trump’s “management of the university.”

That’s what we call chutzpah in my family.

So if you were a juror in that trial, would you want to hear about Trump’s decades of bad behavior, questionable business practices and other instances of ripping people off, like not paying vendors? On the other hand, it’s almost inconceivable that any of the prospective jurors have not heard all that stuff by now, given the amplitude of media coverage. I would imagine Petrocelli, during voir dire jury selection, will look for the most ignorant, uninformed citizens he can find, incurious, uneducated yahoos who don’t pay attention to current events. After all, that’s Trump’s base, isn’t it?

By the way, if you’re still undecided—which, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not—here’s one reason to turn the House of Representatives blue. Republicans are already planning to impeach President Hillary Clinton. WTF you say? But it’s true. She hasn’t even been elected yet, and these Tea Partiers are sharpening their pitchforks and oiling up their torches. Isn’t it depraved?


Trump and Goebbels: “Ve Vill Vin!”

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March, 1945 was not a good time for Hitler’s Nazi government. The war was essentially lost: Russian troops pouring in from the East, British and American troops from the West. Allied air power had reduced scores of German cities to rubble: Berlin, the capital, had no electricity, no transportation, and no food. The German people themselves were so demoralized, they were hoisting white flags from their windows in anticipation of being liberated by Americans. Germany had lost millions upon millions of soldiers, and more were falling every day. The whole world knew that Germany had lost the war—except for the most fanatical of the Nazi leadership, who believed against all odds that “a miracle” would save the day.

Those fanatics were led by Hitler himself. But just below Hitler was the number two man in Germany, Hitler’s Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. We are fortunate, from a historical point of view, to have his personal diary, which contains a day-by-day account of almost the entire war period. (The diaries were recovered by Allied troops. Some pages had been burned in an obvious attempt to destroy them, but most survived. The diary is housed at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.)

Goebbels understood on some level that the cause was lost, but he could not admit it. He wrote, on March 14, “…the German economy can [only] hold out for another four weeks…”. His own ministry headquarters had just been bombed to smithereens; by his own admission, Germany was “defenseless” against Allied bombing. “A vast number of worrying problems now come before me,” he writes. “One wonders where on earth a way out of this terrible war dilemma is to be found.”

There was, of course, no way out. Within six weeks, Hitler was dead, by his own hand. Goebbels killed himself, too, along with his wife, who before she took poison gave cyanide capsules to their six young children. Germany signed the act of surrender the first week of May. The war in Europe was over.

But Goebbels lived in his fantasyland until the last moment. Despite the wedge closing in on Berlin, “…it is essential to keep a cool head and not to lose one’s nerve,” he wrote. Armed with books about Frederick the Great and the Punic Wars—metaphors for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat–Goebbels convinced himself (and tried to convince everyone who would listen to him) that a miracle would occur. “One must accept defeat after defeat in order to emerge victorious,” he wrote, adding: “There is no question of any doubt in my mind regarding the possibility of victory…”. All it takes is “the will” to see things through.

Doesn’t that sound like Trump? The refusal to recognize reality, the threat to fight on and on regardless of the consequences, the grim determination that even though everything is collapsing, will power alone will seize victory from the ashes of defeat—it’s all so Goebbelsian, or should I say Trumpian. As Germany’s collapse became increasingly clear in April, Goebbels still refused to give up; he formed so-called “Werewolf” squads, assassins and terrorists who would continue to battle, guerilla-style, even as the German Army and Air Force vanished. He vowed to fight on, to contest the results of the war, which Germany was losing through “treachery.” Germany had been “sold out” by “traitors,” not because she was a loser.

And here we have Trump, in basically the same position. He will lose, badly. As with Goebbels, on some level he knows it. But he’s living in a delusion. He will never give in, never concede defeat, never be gracious, as every prior losing candidate for President has been. His “traitors” are the media, Hillary Clinton, crooked election officials. If he loses, it’s because the election was “rigged.”

When he loses, will Trump have his own Werewolves? If there are recalcitrant die-hards who cause trouble, they’ll come from the Trumpistas we see on television, in their Trump hats and red, white and blue Trump costumes, the defiant ones, open-carrying firearms, who snarl about revolution and civil war. Their chant isn’t “Heil Trump,” it’s Jail her!” Will Trump’s Werewolves form a sort of Fifth Column—sleeper cells of violent partisans, fighting for a lost cause, like those Japanese soldiers who refused to admit they’d lost the war in the Pacific, and hunkered down in caves on remote islands for decades, getting crazier and crazier?

We’re about to find out.


When it comes to gays, Christians should be apologizing

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Some of my readers, especially on Facebook (where this blog also appears, as well as on Twitter and Huffington Post) have accused me of hating on Christians. Well, that’s a serious allegation, so please allow me to defend myself.

As a gay American, I’ve been told my entire life by Christians that I, and everyone like me, was immoral, unnatural, perverted, hated by God, would burn in hell. Growing up, as I did, in the 1950s and 1960s, before the gay rights movement had really started, I took these messages in; it was very painful, to me and everyone like me. We went into the closet for self-protection, and most of us stayed there for a long time.

By the 1980s, when I’d moved to San Francisco and developed a political consciousness that included gay rights, I saw the hypocrisy, hatred and sheer stupidity of homophobia. But the anti-gay movement was just getting started. People like Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlafly and Jerry Falwell were given prominent status by the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan adapted their homophobic rhetoric. We had Falwell telling us San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake was sent to the city by God because it was filled with fags (as if every time a Baptist church is destroyed by a tornado it’s because God hates Christians!). We had a politician here in California, John Briggs, who put an initiative on the statewide ballot, Proposition 6, to fire all gay or Lesbian public school employees and their supporters from their jobs. (Fortunately, the people voted that down.) With the coming of the Clintons, the anti-gay Christians doubled down on their hate talk, now joined by the likes of Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Richard Viguerie, Karl Rove, Michele Bachmann, Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, Rick Santorum, William Dannemeyer, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Michael Savage, Fred Phelps, Ralph Reed, Antonin Scalia, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and let’s not forget the Boy Scouts of America. Every single one of these homophobes claimed that their hatred of gay people was based on their Christianity. I put that sentence in italics to emphasize it: These people didn’t just stumble into homophobia. It was instigated by Christian preachers.

For my entire life, I have heard those preachers and their followers tell me that I was a horrible, doomed person, not worthy of respect or even the basic perquisites of citizenship. They were allowed to indulge in their hatefest without opposition because of their Christianity: no one wanted to bash a Christian, much less a famous one. You might think that this sort of homophobia has gone away now that gay marriage is legal and gays are part of the mainstream, thank God. But that’s not true. We still hear these hideous voices of hatred emanating from certain preachers, and even the Catholic Church—despite Pope Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” remark—still officially classifies homosexuality as intrinsically disordered.

So put yourself in my shoes, friends: a lifetime of unrestrained, vile hatred from Christians. I have long wanted to have my say, but I had to be careful, because I had a job (a very public one, at that), and I couldn’t risk getting fired for offending certain powerful groups. So I kept my mouth shut. But I’m retired now. Free at last! So I can say what I want to, and damn the consequences.

Therefore, don’t talk to me about hating on Christians. Take the beam out of thine own eye. Look, I know it’s not all Christians who hate gays. I have an Episcopal church on my street and they’ve flown the rainbow flag for years, and even had a gay minister. So when I criticize homophobic Christians, it’s not aimed at these more liberal Christian sects. I guess that not even all evangelicals are homophobic. But most of them are. (Prove me wrong, if you can.) So why would I not criticize them, in the strongest possible language? They have attempted to disenfranchise me and people like me of our civil rights and freedoms. They have inspired haters to attack us, maim us, even kill us (R.I.P. Matthew Shepard). They have caused heartbreak, emotional pain, families to break up; they have left a trail of tears in their wake. And even today, they aren’t finished. Remember that ridiculous clerk in Kentucky who wouldn’t issue marriage licenses to gays because it was against her Christian religion? Mike Huckabee supported her. And how about that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who told all of the state’s judges they couldn’t marry gays even after the United States Supreme Court said that could? He did that in the name of Christian values, too. As long as one gay person lives, there will be a Christian somewhere attempting to destroy him.

So please! Enough with this hating-on-Christians stuff. If you are a Christian and your particular church still preaches homophobic nonsense, then you have a problem, not me. You may not like to hear it, but the Christian church—going back as far as the Dark Ages and the Inquisition—has wantonly witch-hunted and murdered gay people. And you want me to apologize to Christians? I think not. You need to drop to your knees, beg for forgiveness from your God, and apologize to us.


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