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Christians must not put their religion ahead of their patriotism!

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There’s this fundamentalist preacher down in Florida, Guillermo Maldonado, who just defended his decision to host Trump at his megachurch despite Trump’s repeated insults of minorities. He told his parishioners to put their religion, Christianity, over their allegiance to America and its values. And if the two are in conflict, guess which one wins?

Yes, Christianity first. America a distant second.

Maldonado came under heavy fire for coddling a president who has called Mexicans “criminals and rapists” and who has played to the whitest of white-supremacist elements in disparaging brown-skinned people. Some of Pastor Maldonado’s churchgoers apparently had the lese majesté to claim that Trump’s jailing of children is un-Christian.

Not so, says the Gospel According to Pastor Maldonado. The key phrase in his message to his people—the really shocking one, that makes you wonder if he’s an American—is this howler: “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian.”

What does this mean? Maldonado’s parishioners who are morally and ethically bothered by this president had threatened not to come to the Trump rally. But Maldonado told them to put aside their doubts and come anyway. “That’s a way of supporting me.”

How’s that again? “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian”? Well, let’s set aside “race” for the time being and focus on the second qualifier, “nationality.” Maldonado’s flock, or a majority of it, are presumably Americans. But Maldonado, the Republican preacher, is telling them to pledge allegiance to their Christian religion, which in this case means: Donald J. Trump, and not to the U.S.A.

Fact: religion in America does not take precedence over citizenship. The two are not co-equal. As President Kennedy promised, he would not allow his Roman Catholic faith to outweigh his Oath to the Constitution. (See the First Amendment.) And so it should be with every American: we are citizens first. After that, we can declare our religion, our race, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, our astrological sign, our whatever. But our obligation to our country must take precedence over everything else. If not, then what is America, beyond a polyglot collection of competing interests?

You’d think that Maldonado would have been heavily criticized throughout the non-evangelical Christian and civil liberties communities for his unpatriotic statement, but if he has been, I haven’t seen it. So I’m doing it here. No, Pastor Maldonado, Americans are not Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Wiccans first. We are Americans first and foremost. Nobody should put their religion over their patriotism, and no responsible clergymen should tell them otherwise. To suggest that people are Christians before they are Americans is, frankly, treasonous. It’s certainly to wander into the thick, unwanted and dangerous weeds of theocracy: a system of government in which priests rule, dictatorially, in the name of “God.”

The Taliban has such a system. So does Iran. We don’t. The Founders did their best to avoid allowing religion in governance, and wrote into the Constitution such protections as they imagined would prevent America from sinking into an intolerable theocracy. Radical, rightwing Christian zealots have been attempting, since the Republic was formed, to undermine this separation of church and state. Maldonado is merely the latest in a string of misguided, unbalanced religious extremists to argue this unAmerican trope.

But that’s where we find ourselves in Trump’s America, where a man, Trump, who has clearly been an atheist or agnostic all his life has made an unnatural bedding with a class of people he always considered vulgar slobs: evangelicals. It should not be surprising that Trump, an opportunistic liar, would do something in his own self-interest and not that of the nation. What is surprising—although by this time it should not be—is that the evangelicals are so willing to sell out their country, just to prop up a godless, amoral and unnatural creature like Trump.

Look, if this was just a case of an occasional wackjob like Maldonado making a stupid statement, I wouldn’t care. People say stupid things all the time. But Maldonado is symptomatic of a much larger disease infecting America: extremist, anti-American Christian radicals who are attempting to overthrow our way of life and impose a religious dictatorship.

Chief among this threat are the evangelicals, despite outliers like Christianity Today. They’ve shown which side they’re on, and it’s not the Constitution’s, or America’s, or the Founders’, or yours and mine. And Maldonado expects his flock to “support” him by coming to his Trump rally? It’s not about you, Pastor Maldonado, and it’s not about your little religious cult. It’s about the Constitution of the United States of America!


Here’s the Ultimate Swamp Creature: a Trump apologist. “He didn’t do anything wrong!”

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So there’s this guy, Peter Wallison, 78 years old. He’s a rightwinger and has been a Washington, D.C. fixture for decades. His career began as a young acolyte to Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate Republican. Moving steadily rightward, he served on Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1976 vice-presidential campaign. Then, under Ronald Reagan, he worked for Treasury Secretary Don Regan until, in 1986, he hit the big time: White House Counsel to Reagan. After that, he hooked up with the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute, where he currently holds the title of Senior Fellow in Financial Policy Studies.

In other words, they don’t get any swampier than Wallison. Yet this guy has made a career out of bashing Washington “elites,” and with the current resident of the White House, Wallison is in his element. You know all that hysterical Republican bull about “the deep state”? Well, Wallison has baptized it with a new name, a bit less hysterical, but no less fake: The Administrative State. Criticizing this so-called Administrative State has proven to be a cash cow for Wallison: he has a newish (2018) book out, Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein In the Administrative State, alleging the Republican meme that an unaccountable bureaucracy has replaced the legislature in governing America.

Never mind that the “independence” of Congress is only an issue for Wallison and his fellow rightwingers when Democrats control one or more Houses, as they do now. No, “administrative agencies of the Executive” (such as the SEC, FDA, Fannie Mae, FBI, Census Bureau, Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and so on) now govern America—and we all know who runs them: unelected liberals—Democrats—America haters!

Wallison wants to get rid of these horrible bureaucrats: demolish the Administrative State, which apparently means mass firings of all Federal employees. Who, then, would run the country? Wallison’s answer will not surprise you: Corporations! Because, you know, corporations are people too.

Wallison has infinite trust in the wisdom, compassion and decency of big corporations, for which he often acts as apologist. Gigantic multi-national banks did not cause the Great Recession of 2008-2009, he alleges. What did? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which made buying houses too easy; this is why Wallison wishes to privatize them both. Notwithstanding the fact that economic historians have generally put the brunt of the Recession’s cause on deregulation of banks, here is Wallison’s counter-intuitive take:

The Great Recession “was the result of this view that it was the failure to adequately regulate the financial system that caused the financial crisis. My view is that it was actually government housing policy that caused the financial crisis.”

Of course! Wells Fargo was over-regulated! We all know how that turned out.

Now, we can argue about whether federal housing lending policy was overly lenient in the years leading up to the Great Recession (which occurred, incidentally, under George W. Bush, the Great De-Regulator). Certainly, no decent American could argue with the intention of making housing more accessible to a greater number of Americans. But Wallison throws the baby out with the bathwater: there are no good federal agencies, just corrupt ones. The answer to America’s problems, he says, is to elect Republicans—and more Republicans—and bring a wrecking ball to the Administrative State. Just leave everything to Exxon Mobil, Facebook, Bank of America, Archer Daniels Midland and Boeing, and all will be well!

Nor is it surprising that Wallison has been doing his best to discredit the Case for Impeachment. In a zinger right out of the Republican playbook, he alleges that Trump’s evident intent to bribe or extort Zelensky was not really bribery at all, and thus does not rise to the level of a High Crime or Misdemeanor. What Trump actually did–by withholding aid and in that notorious phone call–Wallison does not bother to explain. But he does state, flatly, that “Trump’s alleged obstruction actions [refusing subpoenas, not cooperating in any way with lawful Congressional investigations] could not possibly be a crime.”

Why not? I thought a U.S. president had to respect the investigative power of the co-equal House of Representatives. But no: Wallison, citing no less an authority than the discredited crypto-Republican lawyer Alan Dershowitz, argues than no one can prove Trump committed any crimes at all.

Well, of course not! Trump will not allow the most knowledgeable witnesses to testify! He will not turn over requested documents to the investigative committees! And he lies about it all on Twitter, while his enablers repeat his lies in rightwing media. This deliberate concealment of evidence surely looks criminal, to anyone with an objective mind and an ounce of common sense. In fact, Wallison reverts to the old tu quoque defense: Every politician plays these little games. Trump is only doing what all of them have done. “Presidents and candidates for president do this all the time and are not charged with a crime.”

Really? They obstruct Congress all the time? Presidents routinely withhold funding and weapons already approved by the Congress, from a country Trump wants to fabricate “dirt” on his most feared political opponent? Did Obama do that? George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? George H.W. Bush? Ronald Reagan? Does Wallison offer any historical facts to back up his theory? Not that I can find. He merely asserts it, as if his august resume were enough to lend such nonsense credibility.

I could cite many more disturbing fallacies by Wallison, but let me conclude with this: Peter Wallison is the Original Swamp Monster. For that old, white, male, far-right Trumpite to suggest that there’s an “Administrative State” running things in Washington is the height of ridiculousness. But then, the entire Republican Party, of which Wallison is a bastion, is based on ridiculousness. And,  with the election of Trump, it has entirely lost its moorings, and is adrift in what we may call the Wallison Sea of Pettifoggery.


What is Tulsi Gabbard up to?

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I watched a Tulsi Gabbard town hall in New Hampshire over the weekend, on C-SPAN, and was shocked, I must say, at the endless stream of clichés she strung together, in what she imagined was a speech.

If you enabled a computer to artificially create a speech by randomly stringing together stock phrases from pre-existing speeches, you’d get the nonsense Gabbard spouted. Useless, pointless junk speechifying. Content-wise, it was a bust; creatively, even more so.

The most disturbing part of her remarks, though, came in questions and answers. Someone in the audience asked her this question: “You voted ‘Present’ for the House impeachment. If you had had overwhelming evidence that Trump actually did break the law, would you have voted to impeach?”

“Yes,” Gabbard said. She went on to explain that, in her mind, the evidence just isn’t there. That’s when I had to mute my T.V. I don’t mind Republicans (and I consider Gabbard a crypto-Republican) talking sensibly about things I disagree with, but it rankles me to hear someone lie with such impunity. Here is the fact: The evidence that Trump blackmailed or extorted or bribed Zelensky is over-fucking-whelming. Period, end of story. It would be nice, of course, if Trump permitted his greaseballs—Pompeo, Mulvaney, Giuliani, Pence et al.—to testify under oath, but even though he continues to cover up his crimes by muzzling them and ignoring lawful subpoenas, we still have a catalog of evidence that is more than enough to convict Trump of the two impeachment charges the House has crafted against him. More than enough, I say—so why is Tulsi Gabbard out there on the hustings every day, exonerating Trump?

To begin to answer this, we have to revert to Hillary Clinton’s suggestion, many months ago, that Gabbard is being groomed by Russia’s Putin. That charge was pretty shocking when Hillary made it. Now, it’s not so shocking. Tulsi Gabbard, for all her fine talk, is running interference for Trump—while she’s running for the Democratic nomination for president! What the hell is going on here?

Well, we don’t exactly know, and we may never; but if it walks like a duck…and Gabbard is walking like a duck or, more precisely, like someone who’s trying to sow confusion over our political process, and thus make Trump’s impeachment ambiguous. From this we must draw certain inferences. She may say she doesn’t favor Trump’s re-election, but she consistently undermines the process by which we are attempting to prevent him from being re-elected.

And isn’t sowing confusion the essence of how Russia interferes with our elections? The fake Facebook and Twitter accounts—the lies issued in the name of truth—the phony identities and spammy organizations—saying one thing and meaning the exact opposite–that’s how Putin, the ex-KGB chief, rolls. (That’s how Trump rolls, too.) Try this thought experiment: Putin wants to insert an operative into the Democratic campaign. That person must be authentic enough to possess credibility. Well, Gabbard’s already in the U.S. Congress, so she has credibility. That person also must indulge in the usual liberal talking points: healthcare for everyone, the vision of the Founding Fathers, limiting the power of corporations. This is standard Democratic Party rhetoric; Gabbard espouses just enough from the playbook to get by.

But here’s Putin’s supreme stroke: amidst the usual Democratic platform points, have the candidate pepper her remarks with statements that there’s not enough evidence to convict Trump, and that indeed he should not have been impeached to begin with. Have that candidate say these things, in various forms, over and over and over, before every audience she addresses: working people from New Hampshire, farmers from Iowa, union workers from Nevada, college students from South Carolina. Have that candidate plant the seed of doubt in their minds: Maybe Trump didn’t do it. Maybe impeachment really is the most partisan political thing we’ve seen in years, launched by Pelosi and her Democrats who hate Trump and have been trying to get rid of him since Day One. Maybe Tulsi Gabbard is right…

That’s exactly what Putin wants people to think. He desires them to doubt…to be skeptical…to mistrust the facts that have been laid out before their ears and eyes…because a doubting, skeptical public is a public that will not have the strength to rid ourselves of Trump. A doubting public is a tired, effete public, willing to lay itself prostrate while Trump tramples them underfoot. A doubting public cannot muster the outrage to do what has to be done, because outrage means perceiving wrongdoing; and if it’s impossible to perceive wrongdoing, it’s equally impossible to oppose it, to summon the collective will to end it.

This is what Tulsi Gabbard is up to. I can’t tell you her motive, though. In this era of quid pro quo, what’s in it for her? She’s not going to get the nomination. She won’t even get close. I would imagine she knows that—if she doesn’t, she’s delusional. So if it’s not the nomination, what is it? Money? Fame? A cushy job down the road? What can Putin give her? Will she eventually expatriate herself to Russia? It’s not so strange to imagine. Tulsi Gabbard is doing something very disturbing, and we can only begin to fathom it if we allow ourselves to entertain some very bizarre possibilities.


In defense of those infamous wine caves

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Elizabeth Warren took a cheap shot at Pete Buttigieg during the last debate, when she accused him of going to a Napa Valley fundraiser in a “wine cave filled with crystals.”

Her line put Mayor Pete on the defensive and seems to have accomplished what Warren set out to do: garner lots of publicity for herself. But it was in terribly poor taste.

It’s short-term publicity for Warren, but it won’t do her any good in getting the nomination. It was a gratuitous swipe at Mayor Pete, a really good, appealing young politician who’s leading in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls; Warren’s comment merely shows how desperate and afraid she really is.

I’ve been in a lot of wine caves, and I mean a lot, from my decades as a wine writer. They’re quite common in wine country, not just Napa Valley but up and down California. People have them built because the natural temperature of below-ground caves is in the high-40s to mid-50s, a perfect temperature to store wine which is a living thing (unlike canned soup), and will quickly deteriorate at room temperature, not to mention the heat waves that routinely occur in wine country.

Once the cost of digging the wine cave is paid, there’s no more expense: no electric bills, no air conditioning. Mother Nature does all that. So lots of winemakers build wine caves, not just billionaires, as Warren implied. In fact, a wine cave is the smartest, most practical business investment a winemaker can make, which is why so many of them do it.

It is, of course, easy for people to poke fun at all things wine-related. And when it comes from California, from Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco, the temptation to ridicule it is great. But this is the sort of cheap insult I expect from Republicans: “brie-and-Chardonnay-drinking liberals, elite San Francisco snobs,” that sort of thing, which we’ve come to expect from the right wing.

But to hear this crap from a Democrat? Not cool.

I know the Hall family, whose wine cave Mayor Pete visited. And yes, they’re uber-rich. I have no special love for Kathryn Hall, the owner, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton (presumably an award given her for hefty donations to him and the DNC). She does make fantastic wine, though, and I don’t hold her wealth against her, any more than I held Jess Jackson’s, or Bill Harlan’s, or the Gallo’s, or Jean-Charles Boisset’s, or Jan Shrem’s wealth against them. Some people are rich; most of us, including most winemakers, aren’t. That’s how things are. So it’s no big deal that Mayor Pete raised some money from Kathryn Hall and her like-minded Napa Valley friends.

Besides, Warren has gotten her own sizable donations, although she likes to pretend all her donors are teeny weeny little working people sending her $5 or $10. According to the website campaignsecrets, she raised $60 million as of Sept. 30, 2019. About $18 million of that (nearly 30%) was from unidentified “large individual contributions.” Politico reported that Warren’s campaign is “courting big donors in the Northeast by organizing trips, hosting events and acting as conduits for information about the campaign.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times revealed that “Ms. Warren wooed wealthy donors for years, stockpiling money from fund-raisers, and has used $10.4 million from her 2018 Senate race to underwrite her 2020 bid.” So it’s really hypocritical of Elizabeth Warren to criticize Mayor Pete for raising campaign funds from rich donors.

Look, as the late, great Jess “Big Daddy” Unruh, Speaker of the California Assembly in the 1960s, observed, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them [i.e. donors], you’ve got no business being up here,” “here” meaning the Legislature.  

So I give Mayor Pete a pass, although he’s unlikely to revisit Napa Valley anytime soon. It’s just too risky, what with the reverse-snobbish Republican Party (which siphons dark money from secretive, rich people) issuing potshots , and your own kind, a fellow Democrat, obeying the Republican playbook. Very bad form, Sen. Warren. You lost my respect and, I suspect, that of many, many good Democrats and Independents.


It’s done

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Donald J. Trump has been impeached. The nation breathes a sigh of relief—but it’s not over! The struggle continues, the fight goes on. Our American liberty hangs in the balance.

As long as Republicans exist in their current form, we’ll have a fight on our hands. It’s not because we don’t believe in compromise and conciliation. We do. It’s because you can’t compromise with evil.

And that is what this Republican Party has become: evil. The virulent homophobia—these awful cultists would harm tens of millions of LGBTQ Americans, and for what? Because the Bible perpetuates ancient, discredited superstitions. This party of white supremacists gives the finger to people of color. A misogynistic president insults women every chance he gets. Why would any self-respecting woman support Trump? He has treated every woman he ever met like a whore. This stupid, dangerous party doesn’t believe in science. This horrendous stain on the body politic stands solidly behind a sociopath, bent on leading America away from civil liberty and democratic freedom to a religious, fascist dictatorship.

And so we fight. I know I live in a blue bubble. I know that vast stretches of America are red, red, red. I see the faces of the people at Trump rallies—violent faces, twisted by rage, laughing at Trump’s insults and put-downs of his “enemies” (his latest salvo, alleging John Dingell is in hell, is beyond the pale)—and I think, Who the hell are these people? I barely recognize them as human, much less American. Are they the Americans that George Washington envisioned? Are they the Americans Abe Lincoln preserved the nation for? Are they the Americans the Greatest Generation fought World War II for? Are they the Americans John F. Kennedy had in mind when he asked us what we can do for our country? Are they the Americans Ronald Reagan claimed had built “a city on a hill”? Are they the Americans who were so proud to see Barack Obama standing tall, dignified and respected?

No. They are the Ugly People, the small minds, the dirt on America’s heel, a clique determined to wreck the Constitution, overturn our traditional values of fairness and mutual respect and replace it with some kind of nasty little banana republic. They—the MAGA hat-wearing screamers—are the kind of poor people Donald and Melania Trump would never let in the door of their Trump Tower mansion or Mar-a-Lago palace—unless it was to clean the toilets. They—the Four More Years crowd—are the kind of uneducated people the Trump spawn—Ivanka, Eric and the pathetic, chinless Donald, Jr.—would never associate with. Jared Kushner and his Orthodox Jewish family put them down, in private and behind their backs, as goyim—and the worst kind of goyim at that, ignorant Jesus freaks. Believe me when I say these words: I know these Hasidic Jews. Not nice people.

The funny thing is, for all the “love” said to exist between the Republican/evangelical far right and the Orthodox Jews, that love is strictly situational. Both sides loathe each other; both believe the other will burn for eternity, as soon as the necessary conditions are fulfilled: the Rapture for Christians, the coming of Moshiach for Jews. Both sides are prepared to polish the blade of the guillotine, to chop off the heads of the others, as soon as they seize power. When you hear the likes of a Franklin Graham, Jr. praying for Israel, he means: Netayahu’s Israel, a racist state, controlled by Russian ex-pats whose only experience of government was the Communist dictatorship of the former Soviet Union. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Trump’s best friend on the world scene is another survivor of that awful, authoritarian era, the ex-KGB chief, Putin.

I don’t know what Pelosi will do now that her House has impeached. We’ve second-guessed Madame Speaker too often to do so again: every time, she’s outsmarted her skeptics. Amidst all the noise and haste of this crazy election season, I’m ready to let things settle down…find their level…which means, allow the voters to absorb everything, filtering out the irrelevant and stupid, retaining the essential data: Trump’s disgustingness as a human being and the pressing need to dump him, even if it’s for a psychopath like Pence, who believes that Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden precisely 5,780 years ago. Any Democrat would love to run against such a man, who would be a laughingstock in a serious debate.

Will you be watching the Democratic debate tonight? I will.


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