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Coronavirus, the stock market and Trump: A cautionary tale

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For a “hoax” perpetrated by the “Democrat” Party, coronavirus sure has caught Trump’s attention. His public appearances lately, especially at those coronavirus pressers presided over by a grim Pence, who looks rather like an undertaker, have shown a side of Trump we’ve rarely seen before: somber, halting, hesitant. Is this calculated body language, or is Trump really baffled and confused by the disease, and by the sudden, unprecedented slide of the stock markets? It’s hard to say, given the make-believe nature of the man—he’s been a performer for decades. There may no longer be sunlight between the “real” Trump and the person he plays on T.V. The two have become one—frightening thought.

Anyhow for once in his life forces are conjoining against him over which he has no control. Minions and sycophants obey his every command; viruses do not, nor does the buying and selling of stocks. This is what’s giving Trump that deer-in-the-headlights look lately. It’s a good look for him: no longer the sneering, snarling avenger, but an obese old man who has been humbled by events.

Trump, humbled? Let me find a better way of putting it. No, the man is not “humbled.” He has no humility—has, in fact, no such redeeming moral qualities. To put it in Freudian terms, there’s no superego there, just the raw, primal id rubbing up against a tumescent ego. This is animal cunning, with some human intelligence to guide it. A dangerous combination, a human insect, poisonous, sneaky and secretive.

That China seems to have contained coronavirus must be a great relief to Trump in those wee hours of the night when, tired of tweeting at last, and possibly sedated, he lays his massive head down on some pillow and tries to sleep. Trump’s only defense against charges of failing to adequately warn and protect the nation’s health has been that, someday soon, when warm weather returns, coronavirus will burn itself out and disappear, “miraculously.” I asked my doctor the other day if this is true; after all, flu burns itself out every Spring, why not coronavirus? “Because,” she explained, “the viruses are different.” Flu is not a coronavirus. We do not know if the novel coronavirus will burn out now that Daylight Savings Time is behind us and the days are getting longer and warmer. Donald Trump hopes so; he hopes, too, that the irrational mania that drives the buying and selling of stocks will push the markets up by thousands of points, just as it’s driven them down. But this is precisely why Trump looks so shocked lately: the List of Things Trump Cannot Control is led by viruses and stock prices.

There are things he can control through the power of the presidency. Yesterday he floated the idea of a payroll tax cut to help the economy. Well, this at least was some progress: Trump is loath to admit any failure on his watch but even a person of his incandescent pride cannot deny the thousands upon thousands of points the Dow Jones has fallen in the last week. What to do? The stock market—“his” stock market has been a point of personal boasting (even though the markets began their 11-year ascent in the winter of 2009, under Obama). Today, as I write, there is no cut in payroll taxes that has been announced. The premature announcement is one of Trump’s favorite tactics: say we have peace with North Korea (when we don’t), say we’re pulling out of Afghanistan (when we’re not), say coronavirus has been contained (when it hasn’t), say Mexico will pay for The Wall (when it won’t), say Obama was born in Kenya (a lie), say he’s cutting the payroll tax (when he’s not)—Trump’s idiotic followers will repeat it everywhere: He made peace with North Korea! He got out of Afghanistan! He cut the payroll tax! Well, facts have never been known to trouble Republican heads.

As for the Democratic race, now the pundits say it’s all down to Michigan! Who knows. To me it looks like Biden has things wrapped up. Lord knows he’s not a perfect candidate. I doubt there’s a Democrat anywhere who can watch a Biden interview or speech on T.V. and not privately shudder: Biden can be inspiring but he also can be doddering. He’s old. Trump will make hay of that: Trump is old, too, but not as old as Biden and, to tell the truth, for 73 going on 74 this June 14, Trump looks and sounds pretty good.

If the election were held today, we’re told by pollsters, the Democrat would win. Glory hallelujah! The only way to begin to un-do the damage caused by this Trump crowd is to take back the White House and seize control of both Houses of Congress and protect the Supreme Court before the orange shitgibbon can get his fat little hands on it again. God protect Ruth Bader Ginsburg and grant her long life! Well, at least through Jan. 22, 2021.


Melania Trump, in hardhat, battles the coronavirus

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“Melania Trump defends work on White House tennis pavilion as coronavirus spreads” is how CNN headlined the story over the weekend. Seems the lovely FLOTUS posed for pictures, sporting a sexy little hardhat that seemed almost haute on her coiffed head, as she presided over construction of a fancy new “tennis pavilion” on the White House grounds.

That she did this at the height of the fear of coronavirus spreading across America, with people dying and the stock markets withering, apparently did not occur to Mrs. Trump or her P.R. handlers. She also tweeted: “I am excited to share the progress of the tennis pavilion,” next to a photo of her looking absolutely stunning in a black, high-necked woolen cardigan coat.

Her followers weren’t buying it. “Bummer you won’t be able to use [the pavilion],” one replied, apparently a suggestion that Mrs. Trump’s days in the White House are numbered. Another replied, “melanoma please be sure it’s complete by November” so the Bidens can use it when they move in. Another got right to the point: “At least 314 people with the Covid-19 illness have been treated in 28 states, and at least 17 patients with the virus have died. Melania Trump: ‘We’re building a tennis pavilion.’”

Comparisons to Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) were inevitable. Mrs. Trump, meanwhile, felt the need to respond to the criticisms. “I encourage everyone who chooses to be negative (and) question my work at the @WhiteHouse to take time and contribute something good (and) productive in their own communities,” she tweeted. That didn’t really answer the accusation that she has been tone deaf about the tennis pavilion; it merely shifted the blame to everybody else.

In the interests of full reporting of the news, I’m able to reveal some other details of Mrs. Trump’s schedule over the last week.

Wed. March 4: Mrs. Trump attended a Runway Show for Michael Kors’ Spring 2020 line. She was seen applauding wildly for a checkered, black gingham dress decorated with lemons and cherries, set off with a jaunty cobalt leather belt.

Later that evening, in New York City, as the media reported on mounting coronavirus deaths in Washington State, Mrs. Trump dined at her favorite restaurant, Jean-Georges, in the Trump International Hotel, where she enjoyed chicken parmesan. Her dinner partners included Joshua Kushner, Jared’s brother, the founder of an investment firm that has made a lot of money since Donald Trump was elected.

Thurs. March 5: Back at Mar-a-Lago, Mrs. Trump was spotted at Stubbs & Wootten, an exclusive shoe store in Palm Beach. According to a store employee who did not want to be named, the First Lady purchased a pair of needlepoint Camo slippers with leather soles, for $500. She was overheard telling a clerk how “sad” the coronavirus is. “But it’s going to disappear very soon. My husband says so! And in the meanwhile, it’s important to look our best!”

Afterwards, Mrs. Trump and her entourage headed down to Boutique Ralph Lauren, on Palm Beach’s exclusive Worth Avenue (by appointment only), where, according to an employee, she bought throw pillows ($550 per), a 20-place setting of Wexford dinnerware ($125 per plate), and a set of crystal bar glasses ($595 each). She explained to a clerk that she’s constructing a “private little getaway” at Mar-a-Lago, “just a place for me and my girlfriends to escape from the pressures of the Southern White House and relax, as we girls know how to do!”

Fri. March 6: During an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Mrs. Trump was asked how she spends her busy days as First Lady. “Oh, almost all my time lately is work[ing] on anti-coronavirus activities,” she replied. “It’s very important for First Lady to have [a] steadying effect on [the] nation. I visit hospitals and talk to a coronavirus victim and do everything I can to help them.”

That evening found Mrs. Trump back in New York, where she attended an exclusive dinner at Calvin Klein’s Fifth Avenue penthouse. The supermodel Bella Hadid reportedly sneak-previewed Klein’s upcoming Summer Collection.

Mrs. Trump is scheduled to return to the White House early this week, where among other activities, she’s said to be involved in planning for the official opening of the new Tennis Pavilion. “The First Lady wants everything to be perfect,” said one of her aides, who asked not to be identified because she wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “Style is very important to Mrs. Trump, as everybody knows, and she wants to have the perfect outfit for this important opening. She’s also very concerned about floral arrangements.” Asked if Mrs. Trump has any coronavirus-related activities planned for this week, the aide replied, “None that I know of. Mrs. Trump doesn’t want to get sick.”


Trump’s America looks more and more like a Central European 1930s-era fascist state

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In 1939, a Roman Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, became president of the newly-created Slovak republic, in Eastern Europe, which had been created earlier that year with the approval and help of Adolf Hitler. The Fuehrer wanted an independent Slovak state as part of his effort to demolish Czechslovakia, which he viewed as a Frankenstein country created by the hated Versailles Treaty. In its place, Hitler desired two countries—the Slovak Republic and a new Czech “Protectorate of the Reich.” Both states would become vassals of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Tiso, who ran Slovakia with an iron fist until Germany and its allies lost World War II, in 1945, was executed in 1947 for war crimes. His brief rule was marked by the sort of qualities Hitler admired. The historian Lonnie R. Johnson, in his 1996 book “Central Europe,” describes Tiso’s Slovakia as “a concoction of clericalism, fascism, nationalism, corporatism, and anti-Semitism embodied by its leader, Tiso.”

Donald J. Trump likewise is a fascist, in the Tiso-Hitler mold, and his American fans—red state, Christian, conservative reactionaries—closely resemble the Slovaks who constituted Tiso’s base. Let’s break it down.

“Clericalism.” This term refers to political movements and governments in which religious, church-based authorities have powerful sway in a nation’s affairs. We see clericalism most clearly in Muslim countries, like Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia; but the U.S. has seen a steadily growing movement towards Christian-evangelicals intruding into government, both local and Federal; and these Christian extremists make no secret of their desire to forcibly turn America into a Christian-clerical country.

“Fascism.” Technically, “fascism” is “a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.” The two most infamous fascists of the 20th century were Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, but more modern forms of “neo-fascism” have arisen, from the military dictatorships of South America to the authoritarian rule of Erdogan in Turkey and the emergence of neo-fascist, racist movements across Europe. There has long been a fascist strain within the American Republican Party, a strain that has grown stronger under Trump.

“Nationalism” is the movement that arose in the 19th century, characterized by an obsession, mainly in Europe, to organize the political map of nations on the basis of linguistic, cultural and often racial similarities. In general, “nationalists” believe that dedication to one’s country is the highest political and social ideal; the opposite of “nationalism” is “multi-culturalism” or “internationalism.” The Republican Party has always had a strong streak of nationalism (or an aversion to internationalism) that expresses itself through patriotic slogans, tightening of borders, focusing on English as the official language, isolationism, and a dislike of foreign aid.

“Corporatism” means the control of the nation-state by huge corporate interests. “Corporatism” was a big part of Mussolini’s fascism. Here in America, both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, have shown corporatist tendencies, through generous tax breaks to giant corporations, government contracts, allowing corporate lobbyists to help craft laws, and “swinging doors” that enable government bureaucrats to work for private industry, and vice versa.

“Anti-Semitism” is, of course, the anti-Jewish policy practiced by Hitler, and adopted by enemies of the Jews everywhere. Anti-Semitism has not found a congenial home in America, but every once in a while it rears up, especially among the white supremacist, neo-nazi and “Christian” organizations that constitute one of the most loyal parts of Trump’s base. (Closely related to anti-Semitism is homophobia, which is widespread among Trump’s base.)

“Leader.” Fascist states, much more than democracies, tend to be led and dominated by charismatic, authoritarian leaders: Germany had Hitler, Italy had Mussolini, Soviet Russia had Stalin, and so on. America has done a pretty good job of avoiding dictators who form personality cults, but we’re seeing that tendency erode under Trump, who has declared that his own personal interests are identical to the nation’s interests.

Viewed from these definitional standpoints, we can see that America, under Trump, has entered into a sort of Central European, 1930s-type fascism that will not slow down unless Trump is defeated and replaced by a Democrat—any Democrat. This will not be easy, as the fans of fascism—corporate interests including billionaires, radical rightwing Christians, gun freaks and survivalists, white nationalists, resentful declassed workers, law-and-order types, overt racists and homophobes—will go to extremes in order to defend fascism and their leader, Trump. Most troubling is that these people will probably be willing to utilize more extreme methods to preserve and increase their power, than liberals on the left are willing to, or perhaps even capable of.

We’ve seen few elections in the history of this country more important than the coming one. In the late 1930s, as fascist control over Europe, led by Hitler, strengthened, and the will of the democracies to resist it weakened, the seeds of World War II were implacably scattered. The result is well-known: perhaps 100 million dead, entire cities leveled, maps redrawn, populations shifted across hastily-redrawn borders, the world thrown into a prolonged period of chaos that has not been resolved to this day. Republicans often speak of “tearing down the system,” of destroying the old order completely, in order to build a new one, more to their liking, on its ashes.

That is what we’re going to be voting on in November. Will Donald Trump become another Tiso or, worse, another Hitler? Is he an aberration in U.S. history, or the inevitable culmination of long-simmering fascist tendencies? The American people will have the chance to speak out loud and clear in just six months.


SCOTUS takes its first Gay Rights case in years

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The good news: the Supreme Court is going to review a gay rights case, something it hasn’t done since 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage in the U.S. The High Court typically doesn’t like gay rights cases, for the simple reason that, while the legally and morally correct thing for all the Justices to do is give LGBT people equal rights, it’s politically and religiously difficult for the Court’s Christian conservatives to do so. Instead, they’re put into the intellectually embarrassing position of having to dream up jurisprudential excuses to justify their bigotry. So they generally punt.

But now, here comes a case out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A rightwing Catholic agency, Catholic Social Services, which is run by the city’s Archdiocese, has refused to place foster children with same-sex couples, in violation of Philadelphia policy. This is obviously because of the Roman Catholic Church’s continued, stubborn resistance to recognizing gay people as equal to straight people. It’s odd that their Mission statement includes such misleading platitudes as “We are dedicated to serve others in a spirit of humility and genuine concern for the well-being of our neighbors” and “We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every person,” since they clearly detest gay people and think they’re sub-humans who are going to Hell. But that’s Catholic hypocrisy for you. (And while we’re at it, the Church’s network of pedophile priests remains intact.)

Anyhow, an appeals court ruled that the City of Philadelphia was within its rights when it stopped placing foster children with the Archdiocese, because of the Archdiocese’s homophobia. That was good, but the Archdiocese, determined to hate on gay people, appealed to the Supreme Court. A decision may come down by June.

The U.S. Supreme Court has a recent history of ruling in favor of expanding civil rights to minorities. Brown v. Board of Education was a good example; so were Plessy v. Ferguson and Obergefell, as well as repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2010, which allowed gay people in the military to come out publicly.

But that was before SCOTUS saw the appointments of two neo-fascist, homophobic conservatives, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. Both are Trump acolytes, and Trump, whatever personal beliefs he may have about gay people, will do exactly what Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. tell him to, which is: throw them under the bus and crush them. But the situation is even worse than that, for this is a case involving wrong behavior by a Roman Catholic Archdiocese, and at least half of SCOTUS Justices happen to be Roman Catholics.

The following Justices are all avowed Catholics: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh. Gorsuch was raised Catholic, although he later switched to a conservative branch of Episcopalian. Sotomayor is Catholic, but she puts the Constitution ahead of her personal religious beliefs, as all judges and Justices are required to do.

It’s easy to predict how Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will vote: to strip gay people of any and all rights. These men aren’t so much “Justices” as Avengers for Roman Catholic and conservative Christian-Republican theocratic doctrine. So there are four votes to overturn Philadelphia’s correct decision, and allow the Catholic Archdiocese to continue to flagrantly discriminate against gay people. Sotomayor, as well as the three Jews on the High Court, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan, all will side with Philadelphia, because Judaism is a religion of justice; I mean, the Jews invented the Western concept of justice. That leaves Chief Justice Roberts as the swing vote.

He’s Catholic. But he seems more fair-minded than his Republican colleagues, and he is concerned—as he should be–with how History will treat his legacy. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Roberts, personally, understands how heinous it is for gay couples to be denied the right to adopt children, simply because they—the couples—happen to be gay or Lesbian. Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch know it’s heinous, too, but they don’t care: with lifetime appointments, they’ve made the conscious choice to let their personal biases trump justice. We can only hope that Roberts will vote his conscience, not his religion, and allow freedom of choice to gay couples who only want to provide parentless children with safe, happy homes.


California as “occupied territory”

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In a week that saw many amusing Trump-related quotes (one of my favorites is, “I have never seen him eat a vegetable,” cited by “a person close to the President,” according to CNN), the best has got to be when Trump’s domestic policy czar, called California “occupied territory.”

I’m sure Joe Grogan meant it as a punchline. But it’s a loaded term. The best-known so-called “occupied territories” in the world are the West Bank and Golan Heights, Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war from, respectively, Jordan and Syria. So it’s ironic that Grogan, whose boss is Trump, would use “occupied territory” to describe California when Trump himself favors no homeland for the Palestinian people and is entirely supportive of the West Bank and the Golan remaining occupied by Israel.

Well, in any event, we Californians take Grogan’s remark as a point of pride. If there is a war in the U.S., between the forces of Republican reaction and ignorance, on the one hand, and the progressive forces of enlightened secular humanism, on the other, then California is certainly a bastion of the latter.

Grogan’s comment, though, reveals something of the inner thinking of the Trump cult and its followers. Most U.S. presidents throughout history sought to portray the various States as equal parts of the mosaic of America. Lincoln went to war with the southern states, not because he viewed them as “occupied territory” but because of his insistence that America not be partitioned. Lincoln was a Republican, but his party has sadly become one that seeks to divide the country, not unite it.

When did this unholy era of Republican meddling in our unity begin? A convenient marker was the 1964 presidential campaign of the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, who said in a magazine interview, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Goldwater was a western conservative, from Arizona: he was expressing the Republican resentment of the Democratic, liberal, multicultural, multiethnic and well-educated East Coast (read: New York City). And he expressed it in particularly violent form: “saw off” implies a bloody, non-consensual physical assault. This same martial tone infects Grogan’s comment: if a “territory” is “occupied,” then it must be in the possession of enemies. Republicans no longer compete against Democrats in the realm of ideas; no, they simply declare Democrats (and thus more than half the country) the enemy, and make plans to “re-occupy” territories they have lost.

Google “Trump” and “enemies” and you get more than 51 million hits. The sheer quantity of individuals, groups and organizations he has defined as his personal enemies (and, therefore, in his authoritarian fantasy, the “enemies” of America) is far too long for me to list. It includes, obviously, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the news media, Adam Schiff, Californians, everyone involved in his Impeachment, the government’s own intelligence agencies, many of Trump’s own appointees (John Bolton, John Kelly), the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mitt Romney, the women he sexually molested and their attorneys, transgendered people, and scientists who affirm climate change, among many others. In fact, it’s easier to describe who his enemies aren’t: the only people Trump hasn’t declared war on are conservative Republican neo-fascists who line up to sing his praises (Devin Nunes is my favorite example, because his nose is the brownest).

Viewed from his perspective of paranoia and rage, then, Trump’s attitude towards California is perfectly understandable. We’re the bluest state in the union: not a single statewide job of any importance is held by Republicans. Both houses of the state legislature are solidly blue by veto-proof majorities. Our governor, Gavin Newsom—one of Trump’s favorite targets, who is on his own launching pad toward the presidency—is governing with an eye on everything Trump denies: climate change and global warming, increasing voter registration, supporting unions and the working class, protecting a woman’s right to choose, welcoming migrants. When Trump looks at California, he feels a disturbing mixture of emotions: jealousy, vengeance, anger, frustration. How could anyone loathe him and his party as much as these ignorant, willful Californians?

Thank God for California. Our state motto is Eureka! “I have found it!”, the phrase Archimedes supposedly uttered when he discovered a method of determining the purity of gold. Why did Californians adopt this for their motto? Because they found what Americans had been seeking for hundreds of years in their relentless drive westward: freedom, liberty, a land of unbounded opportunity (and physical gorgeousness). This sense of limitless possibility always has informed Californians; it’s what makes us liberal (because liberalism holds out the hope of progress for everyone, not just the privileged few). It’s what infuriates Trump, whose world-view is a zero-sum game: the more the “common man” progresses, the more his billionaire class and his own family have to lose. “The personal is political,” student activists in the 1960s used to declare, meaning that women, Blacks, gays, the handicapped, young people and other disenfranchised groups were entitled to full participation in our American democracy. Trump has perverted that to mean: politics is about nothing other than promoting Trump’s own interests. Everyone and everything else can be damned.

So here we are, in California, “occupied territory” to the tyrant in the White House. And we reply: Mister President, what are you going to do about it? Send in the troops? You can’t even safely travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles or Sacramento without massive street protests to let you know how loathed you are. “Occupied territory”? Hell, yes. And starting in 2021, we’re going to occupy Washington. D.C. too, and then you’ll see how History treats those on the losing side of wars they themselves started.


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