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TALES OF THE TOWN Part 5

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Danny Ends Up in the Hospital

Sometime after midnight on a Tuesday night in October, a five-story building development under construction on 27th Street, slated to be a mix of residential condos and retail, went up in flames.

The neighborhood was shaken out of its sleep by the wailing sirens of fire engines and police cars. By daybreak, it was clear that the building was a total wreck. Nearly a year under construction, it had been reduced to rubble in hours.

It was the fifth local construction project to be destroyed by fire. The first four had been determined by the authorities to have been arsons. This one probably was as well. Over the next few days, Oaklanders seemed torn down the middle in sentiment. Some were glad that another project they viewed as wicked gentrification had been stopped in its tracks. Others were appalled. Oakland needed more housing, they argued; burning it down only made the situation worse. Yes, their opponents said, we do need more housing, but not million-dollar condos. We need below-market rate apartments for our artists, teachers, cops, waiters, retail clerks, office workers, street cleaners.

Danny, Nick and Flambé typified the various attitudes. Nick, assuming that the project had been deliberately torched, praised the perpetrators. “They’re civic heroes, dudes,” he told Flambé and Danny a few days after the fire. They were sitting around the kitchen table, strewn with empty pizza boxes and beer bottles. Flambé took the joint Danny passed her and asked, “How can you call them heroes? Somebody could have died. If you ask me, the real heroes are the first responders.”

“You just like cops and firemen ‘cuz they wear uniforms,” Nick grinned.

“That’s not true!” Flambé said. “Well, maybe a little. But they save lives and property, instead of destroying them.”

Danny listened. In his own mind, he wasn’t sure what to think. Housing had never been an issue for him. He could afford what he could afford. But after being back in Oakland for less than three months, Danny had been shocked to discover how divisive the housing problem had become.

Many of his old friends, and even some of his co-workers at Creava, were having trouble paying their rent. Practically none of them could afford the down payment on a house. Most had given up on the American Dream of home ownership, at least during this part of their lives. They were sharing flats, and considered themselves lucky to have a room of their own. Two people Danny knew were actually living in rented closets. Creava had ongoing problems of employee retention, as talented engineers and coders—many of them making more than $100,000 a year–were forced out of Oakland, to lower-rent areas like Chico, Vallejo and Fairfield.

“Oakland used to be a working class town,” Nick was saying. “Folks could afford to live here. It wasn’t like San Francisco, or Marin, or the Peninsula. That’s the Oakland I want, not all these chi-chi condos with a bunch of Millennial bozos who don’t know shit about our town.”

Flambé wasn’t buying it. “You can’t stop progress. You want to make time stand still, but it never does. Change is inevitable—and while it can be disruptive, it’s usually for the good.”

“’For the good’? I can’t believe you’re saying that, Flambé.” Nick had something of the unreconstructed Leftie in him. His parents had been hippie socialists. He’d been born in a commune, where the wealth was shared equally, and in his time had been a huge supporter of leftwing causes, like gay marriage. A devoted Bernie Sanders follower in the 2016 presidential election, he still believed in the Vermont Independent. “These damned developers,” he told Flambé, “want to turn Oakland into Mar-a-Lago by the Bay.”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Flambé responded. “You’re always saying Oakland should build its own low-cost housing. But that takes money, and the city’s broke! With the new condos and retail, Oakland’s tax base will improve, and the city can use the extra money to help the homeless.”

All three of them were getting pretty high by now, and Nick’s and Flambé’s tempers were rising. Nick had noticed a few times how they seemed to rub each other the wrong way on occasion. Little things could cause sparks, like a sinkful of dirty dishes or Flambé’s persistent lack of money.

Nick decided he needed some fresh air; he wasn’t into a political debate. Excusing himself, he went out to Perkins and headed down the hill, towards Grand. He was in a bad mood: feeling sorry for himself, pissed at Nick and Flambé for their petty arguments, annoyed with himself.

He hadn’t consciously decided to go to Playa, but force of habit carried him there. The bar was mobbed. Between the weed and the beer, Danny was already pretty stoned, but he decided to get a gimlet anyway. Elbowing his way to the bar, he downed his first in a minute. Then he ordered a second—and a third—and a fourth. Around midnight, he stumbled out the door, disoriented, dizzy and with double vision. He managed to weave uncertainly across Grand without getting hit by a car, found Perkins—barely–and got halfway up the block when something strong and heavy came down on his head. All went dark.

* * *

“He’s got multiple contusions, and we put in six stiches, just above his right ear. And he’s got a pretty good concussion,” said Dr. Erwin Wu, holding an x-ray of Danny’s clobbered skull against the light. “But he should be okay. We’ll keep him here for a couple days.”

A passerby had found Danny sprawled between the sidewalk and the gutter, blood trickling out of his head. The good Samaritan called 9-1-1; they’d brought him to the Kaiser emergency room. The unconscious man had no identity papers on him, his wallet having been stolen. The next morning, he had regained consciousness, told the Kaiser staff his name and Nick’s phone number, and informed them that his medical insurance was from Kaiser. A nurse phoned Nick at work; he left Pandora immediately, picked up Flambé at home, and rushed to the hospital.

Now, Nick, Flambé and Dr. Wu were at Danny’s bedside. Danny was in pain, but in good spirits, considering the situation. Nick would call the credit card companies and have Danny’s VISA and MasterCard canceled. Flambé fluttered around Danny like a nurse on a battlefield, holding up water for him to drink, dabbing a towel on his brow, straightening his pillow. Danny got to calling her Flambé Nightingale.

Dr. Wu explained the antibiotics and painkillers he had prescribed for Danny. “Go easy on the OxyContin,” he warned his patient. “You don’t want to get addicted.” He told Danny he’d be back to see him later that afternoon. As he turned to leave, Danny had a sudden thought. Cindy’s last name was Wu. He figured Wu was a pretty common Chinese name, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

“Hey, Dr. Wu, you wouldn’t be related to a young lady named Cindy, would you?”

Dr. Wu’s eyebrows shot up. “My daughter is Cindy.” It was a small world. Dr. Wu stayed behind for a few minutes as Danny explained that he’d been seeing Cindy.

“Yes, she told me she had a new friend, but she didn’t go into detail. Mrs. Wu and I will have to have you to dinner sometime, after you’re better.”

“That would be nice,” Danny replied, shaking Dr. Wu’s hand. After Dr. Wu left, the three roommates chatted for a while, but Danny grew tired, and Nick and Flambé said they should probably be going. Nick had to get back to Pandora, and Flambé, who had decided to make a little extra money as a dog walker, needed to start advertising her new service on social media.

Danny lowered his bed to the “sleep” position and closed his eyes. Trying to ignore the pain in his head, he drifted off to Dreamland. 


The fallout continues. The Resistance lives!

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I didn’t watch much news on T.V. yesterday. I knew what the meme was: Victory for Trump! Trump tweets vindication! Congratulations pouring into White House from rightwing circles! Lou Dobbs tweets “Well done, Mr. President!” Rep. Gohmert says “The enemy did their best to bring him down but they brought themselves down instead!” Alex Jones writes “Lock and load my fellow Trumpites. Now we’ve got to finish them off!” As for the inciter-in-chief, Trump calls the 50% of Americans who think he’s a crook “treasonous and evil.”

Just another pleasant day in Trump World!

Well, let these Trumpites have their little day of glory. They deserve it. They fought long and hard for Trump—as long and as hard as we fought against him and them. Perhaps they’ll overshoot their mark. But lest they forget, let me remind them: we still have plenty of arrows in our quiver. They haven’t heard the last of us. Democrats make this vow: Trump’s remaining days in office are filled with peril for him and for his family.

Meanwhile, life goes on. As miserable as we Democrats feel now, we know there’s a tomorrow, and a tomorrow after that. We still have the House of Representatives. We still outnumber Republicans by a long shot among voters. We are still relishing the Blue Wave of 2018. And we look ever more forward to what my Twitter friend, George Takei, is calling the #BlueTsunami of 2020.

All eyes turn now to the House Democrats. They have the power. There’s a lot more to learn. They need to call Mueller to appear, in open session, and explain all the things he didn’t do. Why didn’t he force Trump to meet personally with him, instead of just handing in some written answers? Why did he allow Trump to get away with so many evasions? Why no indictments of Jared or Junior? There’s still so much we don’t know, so much circumstantial evidence that there was collusion and there was obstruction of justice. But the first thing we need is for the damned Report to be made public in its entirety. This is something Democrats have promised. Even Trump himself said he has no problem with letting the American people read it. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, we’re counting on you. Don’t let Barr get away with this stunt. A four-page “summary” written by a Trump enabler just doesn’t cut it.

Some pundits, and not just ones on the extreme right, are going to say that the House Democrats should back off, that they’ve suffered a decisive defeat and should stop the persecution and get on with governing. To that, I say bull. It’s not going to stop. The Sun will rise in the East tomorrow, and Democrats will wake up still demanding Trump’s scalp. Game on.


Friday wrapup: insurrection, Pence’s weird take on women, and capital punishment

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This story got some media play yesterday: Trump’s threat that the angry white supremacist males with guns, who worship him and will obey his orders, will rise up and assault or kill Democrats

if the current investigations continue—which, by the way, they will, in the House of Representatives and in various Districts of the U.S. Justice Department.

That’s a huge, ugly threat, but it’s not one anyone should take seriously. Trump is insinuating that his hold on cops, soldiers and rightwing “bikers” is so strong that all he has to do is give them the green light, and they’ll form themselves into battalions and march into San Francisco, West Hollywood, midtown Manhattan, Oakland, wherever, and do what Hitler’s brownshirts did in the early 1930s: beat the shit out of liberals.

I’m not worried and neither should anyone else be. It’s just more Trumpian bluster, to reassure the most deplorable elements in his base that he’s still with them. They’d better not show up in Oakland. Our cops and our people will rise up and tear them to pieces. But that was only one of the weird stories yesterday that shows what psychopathic reactions the Trump regime has stoked in America. Another was this one about Vice President Pence refusing to take private one-on-one meetings with females, due to some strange twist in his Christian philosophy.

My Senator, Kamala Harris, in an interview rightfully called Pence out. I think that’s ridiculous — the idea that you would deny a professional woman the opportunity to have a meeting with the vice president of the United States is outrageous.” Kamala was being, well, Senatorial in her politeness. I am not so tactful. Pence is a lunatic. He believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible, with all its death sentences for dishonoring the Sabbath and “if a man shall lie with a man” etc. etc. There are only a few groups that are afraid to let men mingle with women privately: the Taliban, extreme Orthodox Jews of the type that rule Israel, and the kind of evangelical Christians whom Pence symbolizes. Pence’s excuse—that he wants to be above suspicion and not get accused of rape or flirtation—is insane, and proves his utter unfitness to hold any sort of high office. He is literally crazy.

Well, there’s your modern Republican Party: a bunch of white guys with guns running around waiting for the President of the United States to give them the order to start killing Democrats, queers, Muslims, Black activists, reporters and anyone else they deem “the enemy,” and a Vice President subscribing to a medieval view of sexuality by which women are seductive temptresses and men, horny devils that they are, cannot be allowed to be alone with them.

Finally, I want to comment on California Governor Gavin Newsom effectively ending the death sentence as long as he’s Governor of California.

I’m a supporter of the death penalty. Tit for tat: some crimes are so awful that the only fair way of punishing the criminal is death. But I have long recognized it’s a complicated issue, with pros and cons on both sides; and I’ve always been willing to change my mind. Gov. Newsom’s action strongly appeals to me. He hit the “pause” button; now, with the issue of capital punishment temporarily off the table, we can have a little breathing room to reconsider the issue. The Governor is taking a terrible beating for what he did: Republicans, predictably, are bashing him for being “pro-crime,” while even some Democrats are annoyed that Newsom seems to have flip-flopped on the issue. And particularly those Democrats in swing districts (which California still has a few of) now worry that their re-election chances have been diminished.

I don’t think so. The death penalty isn’t issue #1 for anyone in California. I think most fair-minded people are willing to give Newsom the benefit of the doubt. He’s still in his honeymoon phase, and is trying things out that he’s thought about for many years. Ultimately, I don’t believe the death penalty is a deterrent. I’ve never heard anyone testify that they would have killed someone, except that the death penalty made them not do it. That’s stupid. And finally, I like the idea of a society that isn’t addicted to vengeance. We can put the bad guys behind bars for the rest of their lives. In a way, that’s even worse punishment than a quick, easy death by injection.


If Pence comes close to being POTUS, we must insist on an inquiry into his religious beliefs

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It was been nearly 60 years since a potential President’s religion was a national issue. In 1960, the potential President was, of course, John F. Kennedy. His religion, Roman Catholicism, threatened to derail his campaign. People were afraid the Pope would rule America, that Kennedy would inject his Catholic values into his governance. Kennedy effectively demolished these fears with his speech, in Houston, in which he uttered these famous words:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

The religious issue instantly disappeared as a result of these forceful words, and since then, no one has dared inject religion into Presidential politics. To do so would be regarded as divisive and unseemly.

Until now.

We have a Vice President in Mike Pence whose religion is evangelical Christianity. Pence has never sat down for an interview in which he explicitly outlined his specific beliefs, so we have to infer them from what we know about evangelical theology. The chief axiom of evangelical belief, from which all their other beliefs spring, is the literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe the Old and New Testaments were authored by God, the Father of Jesus, and contain the imprimateur of divine authority. Any conflicting beliefs, they allege, must therefore be false.

From this Biblical literalism several conclusions may be reached in areas of pertinence to millions of Americans. Since Leviticus and other parts of the Bible explicitly condemn homosexuality, evangelicals are compelled to condemn it, and to resist all efforts at marriage equality and other expressions of LGBTQ civil rights. Leviticus also defines the penalty for homosexuality: death.

The Bible also contains its own timeline for the creation of the Universe, including the Earth. This age is generally taken to be akin to the current Hebrew year, which is 5,779. Extreme evangelicals thus argue that the world is precisely 5,779 years old; from this, they conclude that theories of evolution and geological time, as currently understood by scientists, are wrong. The Creation Museum, in Kentucky, carries this notion to its logical next step: the suggestion that Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.

This evangelical rejection of the theory of evolution and of geological time is the first step in the evangelicals’ further dismissal of all, or most, of modern science, including climate science. This is why so many evangelicals have joined their hard-right colleagues in denying the reality of climate change. Taken at its most fundamental, their attitude can be expressed as this: Since God created the World for the pleasure and use of Man 5,779 years ago, and God loves mankind and promised (after the Flood) never to harm mankind again, therefore climate change, and the “threats” that climate scientists allege it poses, cannot be true, no matter how firm the evidence may appear to be.

We don’t yet know whether Pence believes in these things, because no one has ever made him talk about them. Does he believe in the death penalty for captured homosexuals? Would he appoint judges who vow to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage? How far would a President Pence seek to ostracize LGBTQ Americans? Does Pence subscribe to the notion that the Universe is 5,779 years old? Does he believe that dinosaurs and humans lived coterminously in Eden? Does he believe that the world’s great geological features—the Grand Canyon, for instance—were formed by Noah’s Flood? The Big Question, in other words, is: To what extent does Mike Pence accept the verdict of science, and to what extent does he reject it?

Why are these answers important? Because Pence may be the next President, and it may happen sooner than anyone thinks. There are two obvious difficulties with an extreme evangelical becoming President of the United States. The first is that national policies must rest upon the firm foundation of fact. We no longer live in the Dark Ages. If you remove fact-based rational thinking from lawmaking, you go down a very slippery slope, towards the abyss of authoritarian theocracy. The second difficulty is intellectual, or perhaps esthetic is the better word: Do we as Americans really want a leader who rejects scientific truth and subscribes instead to superstition? Speaking for myself, the answer is, No. It’s embarrassing.

The American media has desisted from having a discussion about evangelical Christians holding high political office. The reasons why are perhaps obvious: no one wants to be accused of stirring up trouble, of resorting to religious tests that historians have believed are long settled. Then, too, the vast majority of American voters are Christian; the politician or media outlet who appears to be questioning their fitness for office runs deadly risks. The media has thus backed off; it has been very ginger in pressing evangelicals, such as Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson and Mike Pence, from hard questions about specific issues.

But if Pence is elevated to the White House, or even appears to be getting close, it’s time for the media to hold his feet to the fire and demand answers. Pence is notoriously squirrelly in responding to questions he doesn’t like; and usually, reporters let him get away with it because they don’t want to appear to be bullies. America, however, can no longer afford puffball questions and non-answers from evangelical politicians. Pence must be pressed on the issues I’ve outlined above. When he tries to squirm out of answering them—as he will–journalists must stand firm and repeat the question, as often as necessary, until he either answers, or is correctly perceived by most Americans as deliberately refusing to come clean.


Leaked! Secret Transcript of Trump-Putin meeting

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We know that Trump’s five meetings with Putin have resulted in no transcripts being released to the public.

There was no one in the room except for the two principles and their translators, and Trump even “confiscated” the interpreters’ notes and told them not to discuss what had transpired with other [U.S.] administration officials.” Thus, nobody knows what deals were struck, not even Trump’s own State Department or Generals.

As a result, speculation has been rampant. Did they agree to continue the coverup of Trump’s collusion with Russia? Did they agree to Trump dropping U.S. sanctions and withdrawing American troops from Syria, both of which Putin desires? If so, what was the quid pro quo? What did Putin offer Trump in exchange for all the goodies?

Now, thanks to leaked transcripts of one of the meetings—in Helsinki—we know. The transcript was provided to me by a source who insisted on not being identified, for obvious reasons. The entire transcript, comprising a meeting of 1-1/2 hours, is too long to reproduce here at steveheimoff.com, but I am publishing the relevant portions, particularly those relating to the quid pro quo.

Donald Trump: It’s great to finally get you alone, Vladimir, away from all those ass-kissing, leaking aides.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, Donald, there are certain things that can only be said between us in the strictest confidence.

DT: This is my interpreter, Marina Gross.

VP: And this is mine, Oleg Vishinskaya.

DT: I have instructed Marina that she is to give me her notes, and is never to reveal what was said here, Vladimir.

VP: And I have told Oleg the same, so let us begin, Donald. Now, we are here to discuss a deal between you and myself. Let me give you the broad outlines. I require two things from you: first, to lift the sanctions you, and your predecessor, President Obama—

DT: A failed president, Vladimir.

VP: Be that as it may—to lift the sanctions your country has imposed, wrongly and criminally, upon Russia, and two, to withdraw all your troops from their illegal activities in Syria.

DT: Yes, Vladimir, and I am ready to accede to both conditions, but only if you accede to mine.

VP: Of course, that is how deals are made, Donald. You should know—you are the Ultimate Dealmaker.

DT: Thank you, Vladimir. Do you know that “The Art of the Deal” is the best-selling business book of all time?

VP: I did know that, Donald. My security agencies keep me well informed. Now, returning to the subject at hand, I know what your condition is, Donald. Shall I be blunt?

DT: Please, Vladimir. Let there be no daylight between us.

VP: [to his translator, Oleg: “what does this mean?” Translator whispers to Putin] Oh, all right, I understand. In Russia we say “Between the bucket and the water there is no spilling.” So, Donald, here is what I offer you: We have the video-audio recording of your session in the Moscow hotel room with the two, uhh, “ladies of the evening” with whom my security forces acquainted you during your visit to the Ritz-Carlton, in 2013, when you visited for your Miss Universe Contest. It is a most interesting tape. For your information, we had installed three tiny cameras in your suite: one in a lamp next to the bed, one in the ceiling fan, and one in the eye of a painting of Catherine the Great.

DT: I remember that painting. She was a very ugly, fat woman.

VP: Da! Catherine was not known for her beauty but for her ruthlessness. At any rate, these three cameras caught the–let us say–action from a variety of angles. They display–but you know what they display, do you not, Donald?

DT: I suppose I do, Vladimir. But let me just say, in my own defense–

VP: It is not necessary for you to defend yourself, Donald. After all, what is a little indiscretion between friends? And we are friends, Donald.

DT: Yes we are, Vladimir. Huge friends. Now tell me, what do you intend to do with that tape?

VP: The tape currently resides in a safe in my office in the Kremlin. Only one copy exists, or shall exist. And you have my word, Donald, that no one will ever see it, assuming, of course, that you accede to my requirements, which you have already agreed to do.

DT: Yes, Vladimir. And you will destroy the tape once this is over?

VP: Oh no, Donald. Of course not. It constitutes what you call “leverage” and we here in Russia call “Kompromat.” Were I to destroy it, then if you went back on your word, I would have no way of punishing you. So the tape will remain secure in my safe.

DT: All right. I agree to lift the sanctions and get out of Syria, and you hide the tape. That’s what I call a great deal!

VP: Excellent, Donald, excellent! This proves that America and Russia can be the best of friends, despite occasional differences.

DT: Oh, one more thing before I let you go, Vladimir. Can you please destroy all records of my Moscow Hotel deal? And while you’re at it, make sure everyone who knows about it is silenced?

VP: Of course, Donald. Nothing could be easier. But for that, naturally, I require an additional quid pro quo.

DT: And what would that be, Vladimir?

VP: That the U.S. shall be silent when I occupy Ukraine.

DT: [offering his hand] Deal! Nice doing business with you, Vladimir!

VP: [taking his hand] Anytime, Donald, anytime!

 

							

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