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On the American obsession with wealth and the Trump phenomenon



Don’t get me started on the irony—or hypocrisy—of the Wall Street Journal, which has a weekend section called “Mansions” that’s an eat-your-heart-out, too-bad you-can’t have it ode to pool houses, chandeliers and thread counts. Then, yesterday, they had a front-page article, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” explaining how Americans are revolting against “aspirational images of upscale urban living.”

Talk about mixed messages!

The Wall Street Journal has a lot of deplorable things about it, especially the editorial pages, but none is as disgusting as “Mansions,” which celebrates envy of the rich as America’s secular religion. The Murdoch family (like the Trumps) is fabulously wealthy; they seem to think that everybody wants nothing more than to have a mansion, a $150,000 car, and wear Christian Louboutin.

I read the Journal just to see what they’re up to, but I throw “Mansions” away without opening it. Throwing it away is better than throwing up. I can’t stand the way “Mansions” force-feeds us on gaudy crap nobody needs, which is a way—when you think about it—of telling those of us who don’t have a mansion that it’s our fault because we’re too damned lazy to afford one (and that, my friends, is basically the Republican Party’s governing philosophy. Paging Gov. Romney! The 47% is calling!).

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. The Journal’s story, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” not only contained the quote about Americans fed up with “aspirational images of upscale urban living,” it went on to associate this mood with Trump’s victory. He was elected by “the same…rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters” who do not “desire to be like coastal elites.”

Count me among them. But before I going any further, let me clear something up: this smear about “coastal elites,” which is a driving meme of the tea party (as if the tea partiers don’t consider themselves elite). I do think we on the East and West Coasts of America are special. After all, we’re Blue, while the non-coastal states are Red. That, in my opinion, makes us smarter and more decent human beings. (Did I really say that? Yes, I said it. So sue me.)  But it doesn’t mean that all of us coastal types aspire to be portrayed in “Mansions.” I share the disgust of red state people who view this obsession with wealth, amounting to idolatry, as amoral. It is, and while I live on a coast and voted for Hillary Clinton and think Trump is a dangerous sociopath, it doesn’t mean I’m a vacuous, Kardashian-worshipping climber. I’m just a blue collar guy whose values happen to be progressive and humanistic, rather than fascistic and authoritarian.

But I digress. What disgruntled Democrats and Republicans have in common is a had-it-up-to-here disgust with the endless pursuit of wealth as the goal of life. This concept trickles through our entire society like a virus in the bloodstream. I happen to subscribe to Vanity Fair, which epitomizes this trait (and I’m not going to renew my subscription). They can put Bruce Springsteen, the all-American working class hero, on the cover, but the advertisements are about the pursuit of money and image: Ralph Lauren, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Armani. (It’s so funny that the fashion models they hire to be in the ads probably can’t afford to buy the clothes they’re pitching.)

Most Americans don’t want to wear Gucci. They’re happy in bluejeans and T-shirts. If they have to dress up, they go to outlet malls or Men’s Wearhouse. They don’t shop at Cartier, don’t know anyone who does, and they suspect that they don’t want to know anyone who shops at Cartier.

You know who shops at Cartier? The elite—and they can be Republicans or Democrats. And, yes, I have had it up to here with them. I’ve had it with “Mansions,” Vanity Fair, and even the supposedly liberal (but Hearst-owned) San Francisco Chronicle, whose Sunday “Style” section is an ass-kissing pucker-up of the city’s socialites. It shoves wealth and privilege, and the vulgar pursuit of it, down our throats, totally misreading the Bay Area’s mood (which is one reason why the Chronicle is losing readers). In this, I feel I have everything in common with the people who voted for Trump.

Except for one thing: I use my cerebrum when I decide whom and what to vote for, not my reptilian brain. I don’t vote on resentment, fear and hatred, the way the tea party does. I don’t vote according to superstitious religious nonsense, the way evangelicals do. I vote with my head. If everybody did, no Republican would ever again even get elected dogcatcher.

Well, maybe I’m being too harsh on my Republican friends. Apparently they like the fact that Melania Trump and those delightful Trump spawn will now be the fashion icons gracing the pages of “Mansions” and Vanity Fair. I’m sure all those unemployed Rust Belt factory workers can’t wait for that.

(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting Drumpf


Part 1

A Pinot Noir tasting in San Francisco

You can take the boy out of the wine business but you can’t take the love of the business out of the boy.

Or something like that. Anyway, although I formally retired from my career on Sept. 2, I still have “wine in my blood,” so when the invitation came to go to PinotFest, the big annual Pinot Noir tasting held at Farallon, near San Francisco’s Union Square, I doffed my cap and BARTed in on an absolutely splendid Autumn day, and had some excellent Pinots. But I wasn’t there to review, only to sip, see what’s up, and connect with old friends.

Honestly, when you’ve been in the biz as long as I have, you somehow manage to accumulate a lot of friends. Here are a few. John Winthrop Haeger is of course the famous author of North American Pinot Noir, published by my publisher, University of California Press.

haegerJohn Haeger

It’s always a pleasure to run into John, whose opening lecture at the World of Pinot Noir I always used to look eagerly forward to.

The first thing Diana Novy said to me when I saw her was, “I bet you’re surprised to see me here,” by which she meant that her husband, Adam Lee, who usually does the Siduri pouring at events, had been delayed, so Diana was substituting.

novyDiana Novy

I missed seeing Adam, but Diana more than made up for him not being there. I profiled them in my second book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff, and Siduri is owned by my former employer, Jackson Family Wines, so I got to work closely with Adam.

bonaccorsiJenne Bonaccorsi

Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi took over Bonaccorsi winery after the unexpected, tragic death of her husband, Michael, in 2007. Jenne makes ardent wines of great delicacy and inner power, just like her. She is one of the gentlewomen of California winemaking.

Jon Priest is at the helm of Etude, the great Pinot Noir house in the Carneros.


priestJon Priest

I can’t even remember how long ago I met him—I think Tony Soter was still running the winery. I told Jon I’d recently opened his 2005 and 2006 “Heirloom” Pinot Noirs, and both were showing well.

Then there’s Josh Jensen.

joshJosh Jensen

My profile of him and his winery, Calera, was among the first I ever wrote as a professional. I well remember when Wine Spectator sent me down to Mount Harlan, around 1993; what a thrill that was for an up-and-coming wine writer! Josh remains a gentleman and a scholar, and can always be counted on to be wearing something colorful. He’s very tall and, as you know, I’m not, so I asked him to crouch down a little bit, so the picture wouldn’t look like an avocado next to a broom.

Jonathan Nagy was another colleague of mine at Jackson Family Wines.

nagyJonathan Nagy

He presides over Byron Winery, down in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. When I left J.F.W. I knew Jonathan had embarked on an exciting new project: making single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes grown at some of Santa Barbara’s top vineyards. The wines are now in bottle. We tasted through some of them, and man, Jonathan is at the top of his game. But you know what my favorite was? None other than the Julia’s Vineyard, whose grapes Jonathan shares with sister winery Cambria.

It’s still fun for me to go to these events and taste the wines–if, that is, I’m lucky enough to be invited. If you see me at one, come on up, and say Howdy!

Part 2

Why I Fight Drumpf

Do not hesitate. Fight in this battle and you will conquer your enemies. Fight you will, your nature will make you fight. Your karma will make you fight. You will fight in spite of yourself.”

— Krishna to Arjuna, The Mahabharata

Maybe it was because I was brought up on the mean, hardscrabble streets of the South Bronx, where a skinny little kid had to learn how to fight to survive.

Maybe it was because of my many years of karatedo training, in which we were taught never to initiate a fight, but to resist violently if someone else started.

Maybe it’s the latent Jew in me. We weren’t raised with “Turn the other cheek.” For us, it was “an eye for an eye.”

Whatever the reasons, my inclination is to fight, fight, fight against this monster, this dybbuk, this aberration of a normal man, this drumpf.

In my twenties came a period during which I was a hippie, steeped in that Sixties thing of “love and peace.” I believed it. I studied it and tried to practice it. Loving your enemy seemed the right thing to do. Hadn’t Jesus? Hadn’t Buddha? Isn’t that what the Beatles preached?

But the Sixties was fifty years ago. A lot of water under the bridge.

Among people I know—good liberal-humanists—there is currently a debate going on, in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 results. Option #1: accept this unacceptable President, accept his hateful minions and the awful legislation they will craft, and give him a chance. Option #2: oppose him and his dreadful movement every step of the way. This debate is tearing people apart. They really are not sure which way to go. After all, we criticized Mitch McConnell’s statement of utter opposition to Obama—before the latter was even sworn in—as deplorable. It angered us. “How could you be so against him when you don’t even know what he’s going to propose?” And we were right to take that attitude.

Now, the republicans are turning that argument around and asking us, “How can you oppose trump before he’s even taken the oath of office?”

Well, let me explain the difference. The promises Obama made—to unite the country bipartisanly, to end wars, to get along with foreign countries, to rescue the financial system which was dying due to the Bush Great Recession, to respect the environment and be kinder to gay people, to understand the needs of the poor and of immigrants, to respect science, to be a gentleman, to have a clean administration based on high principles—these spoke to the heart and soul of liberal-humanists. When McConnell issued his belligerent threat, we thought, “How could he be against all that?”

Drumpf on the other hand made other promises. Every one of them was based on hatred of “the other,” except for his promise to “Make America Great,” as banal a platitude as ever issued in any soap commercial. Now that we’ve had a sniff of his appointments, there’s every reason to assume the worst: this awful person will divide the country and is a threat to the things we hold dear. He is a last gasp of male, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon, lower-middle-class, under-educated, bigoted, resentful white supremacy, the latest incarnation of the Know-Nothings, the McCarthyites, the America Firsters and Father Coughlins and Dixiecrats, all of whose sociopathic unreason did such harm to America (and all of whom have been roundly condemned by History). Therefore, to oppose this drumpf is to stand for the best American values of inclusion, fairness, equality, progress and love.

Yes, love. Not some kind of hippie love. This is not the time to move to the woods and meditate and pray to the Spirit Guide, or Mother Earth, or whatever you wish to call it. Sure, if you want to sit zazen and go Ommm, feel free. It can’t hurt.

But the spirits will not protect you when the shit hits the fan and the government comes under the control of the radical theocrats and paranoid militias that form drumpf’s shock troops. When he reverses Obama’s great work, it will take more than a groovy feeling to keep this nation from sliding into darkness. It will take active resistance.

I was never a protester in the Sixties. I went to one anti-Vietnam march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in New York, but it wasn’t so much because I was anti-war (although I was, in an inarticulate kind of way), but because my friends wanted to go, and I thought it would be fun. So I’m not really a born street demonstrator.

But the times have changed. This catastrophe, drumpf, is looming over America like a toxic cloud. I’m afraid of him, and I’m more afraid of the evil forces he has unleashed: the anti-semites, the KKK, the Muslim haters, the Mexican haters, the anti-government open-carry crazies, the homophobes, the anti-science types like Pence and Huckabee and Franklin Graham, the crypto-nazis like Steve Bannon, the bullies like Giuliani and Christie. These are the termites that have been allowed to burrow into America’s foundation, and, left unchecked, they will cause dry rot leading to collapse.

So when I suggest that this old guy—me—is a fighter, it’s because that’s what I believe in: fighting for what is good, and against what is bad. I always looked forward to a peaceful retirement, but this is no time for complacency. The future of our country, and the world, is at stake. Look, drumpf ran the dirtiest, sleaziest, most mendacious and vulgar campaign in modern American history; it was an insult to my parents and grandparents, who believed that voting was a sacred duty…an insult to all people of intelligence, to our nation, its history and political legacy. This creature of television and greed does not deserve the title deeds to our proud, progressive country. I urge you not to accept a drumpf presidency. They—the tea party, the white nationalists, the right wing theocrats—do not want to get along with us; they have repeatedly proved that with their deeds. They want their own exclusionary society. If you think you can go along to get along, you are in the same boat as the “good Germans” who allowed Hitler to triumph. And look what happened.




Trump: lies, truth and post-truth



What is truth? Pontius Pilate famously asked, suggesting its slipperiness. Twenty centuries later, the comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” to convey the sense of statements that were not really true, but that nonetheless “felt right” to the speaker.  A dictionary, Merriam-Webster, chose “truthiness” as its word of the year for 2005. This year, another dictionary, the Oxford, has picked, for its own word of the year, “post-truth.”

They defined “post-truth” as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In announcing the choice, the Oxford Dictionaries referred specifically to Donald Trump as an example of the use of “facts” that are contrary to known truths, thereby rendering the concept of truth itself, as people have understood it for millennia, irrelevant.

A synonym for “post-truth” might be  “incorrect.” But there are fundamentally different forms of incorrectness. A statement of deliberate incorrectness would properly be called a lie. “I didn’t eat the last cookie!” insists the little boy, who knows that, in fact, he did. But incorrect statements may also be unintentional. I may be mistaken if I claim that the Sun will set tonight at precisely 6:34 p.m. in California, when in actuality sunset will be at 6:18; but, unless I am purposefully distorting the truth, it can’t be said that I am lying—merely incorrect or uninformed. Much misunderstanding between humans has arisen precisely because—since we’re not mind-readers—it can be impossible to know whether a person who utters a statement we believe to be incorrect is lying, or is simply misinformed.

Thus, we have to make inferences. When the little boy says he did not eat the last cookie, and all the evidence suggests he did, it may be safe to conclude that the little boy is indeed lying. In criminal courts, defendants have ample motive to lie. On the other hand, in everyday conversation, the experience of most of us is to hear statements from acquaintances that do not seem true; but we have to assume that the speaker is not lying deliberately, but simply has his or her facts wrong. In this past election cycle, such experiences were frequent. Many Bernie supporters I know insist even today that their candidate did not cause Trump to win the election by siphoning votes away from Hillary. I think they’re wrong, but I don’t think they’re lying. They’re entitled to their interpretation of events.

Along these lines, a famous quotation seems apt: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That was from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It is a statement that is self-evident; no one would seriously dispute it, because at the heart of being human—we are after all rational, thinking creatures—is the notion that there is a thing called “objective truth,” and no one is “entitled” to doubt it. The Sun rises in the east. The Earth revolves around the Sun. Two plus two equals four. If you dispute any of these statements, you are incorrect (although you may not be lying).

A problem, however, can arise with statements such as “Human behavior, particularly the use of fossil fuels, is leading to the perturbation of global climate, including warming.” It may be that this statement is true; it may be partially true; it may be false. We may not know with certitude for 100 years; we may know sooner; we may never fully know. Such is the proliferation of “facts” or, more properly, information, that sometimes, no consensus can be reached concerning their implications, even among intelligent, well-meaning people. The challenge for people who are well-meaning and intelligent is to decide what is true and what isn’t, especially when it comes to big, important issues, such as climate change, and their policy implications. Here, reasonable people may choose to disagree, although, as evidence one way or the other mounts, disagreement to the contrary becomes increasingly hard to defend. This is, indeed, the nexus of truth and opinion. We call it “politics.”

Here is a partial list of things Donald Trump has said that may be misstatements or that may be lies. (The list must necessarily be partial since it would take up too much space to include them all.)

  • There is no drought in California.
  • Climate change is a hoax.
  • Vince Foster didn’t commit suicide; he was murdered.
  • The real unemployment rate in the U.S. is 42%.
  • I have never sexually harassed a woman and reports of my doing so have largely been debunked.
  • Thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey following the Sept. 11 attacks.
  • Thousands of Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants.
  • I didn’t say more countries should have nuclear weapons.
  • Twitter, Facebook and Google are burying the FBI criminal investigation of Hillary.
  • Hillary Clinton wants to let [immigrants] pour in by the millions. You’d triple the size of the country in one week [if her policies were enacted].
  • 14% of non-citizens are registered to vote.
  • Non-citizen voters were responsible for Obama carrying North Carolina in 2008.
  • Obama is taking in 200,000 Syrian refugees.
  • Hillary was wrong when she said I mocked a disabled reporter.
  • When Hillary was Secretary of State, $6 billion was stolen or missing from the department.
  • There is large-scale election fraud happening on and before Election Day.
  • Every poll shows I won the second debate.
  • I always opposed the Iraq War.
  • Ted Cruz’s father helped Lee Harvey Oswald assassinate JFK.
  • Hillary was seen laughing at a rape victim, after helping the alleged rapist.
  • I never said that Alicia Machado had been caught on a sex tape.
  • Hillary wants to go to single-payer healthcare.
  • Hillary received $100 million from hedge funds for her campaign.
  • Mexican immigrants are rapists, drug dealers and criminals.

None of these statements, in my judgment, is true. Mostly, again in my judgment, they’re lies. Their falseness can easily be proven; where it cannot be proven, the statements do not pass the duck test. But tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump don’t care whether he lied or was simply incorrect. Their interpretation of reality is less influenced by objective data than by their personal beliefs and emotions. Welcome, brothers and sisters, to the era of post-truth, of which Donald J. Trump is the commander-in-chief. May it pass quickly.

Postmortem: Putting IPOB into Perspective



I’ve been hard on the Republican Party for being such ideological purists that they can’t compromise with Democrats (or anyone else) on anything. So in my guise as the F.F.W.C. (former famous wine critic), along the same lines I have a few observances about In Pursuit of Balance.

IPOB, as many of you know, was the non-profit organization formed in California for the purpose of promoting the production of Pinot Noirs that are lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than some, or many, other Pinot Noirs, especially those produced around the time of IPOB”s founding, in 2010.

In that year, the Pinots emerging onto the market were of the 2008 vintage, or possibly 2007—two warm vintages that produced ripe, lush, soft, full-bodied wines. IPOB’s precise goal, however, was never entirely clear. Their website says it was to promote dialogue around the meaning of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay,” but certainly, the public and the wine media perceived it as more than the mere promotion of dialogue. Most people saw it prescriptively. In the popular mind (and IPOB did nothing to dissuade people from thinking this), IPOB was saying that Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) should be below 14% in alcohol.

It’s true that Raj Parr, IPOB’s most visible representative, never came right out and said so, at least in my presence. In fact I heard him once welcome us to an IPOB tasting (at RN74) by stating that he was emphatically not referring to specific alcohol levels. But if there was no specific recommendation along those lines, people were scratching their heads and wondering just what else “balance” could mean that was not merely an arbitrary quality in the eyes of the beholder.

I sure wondered. In the four years after IPOB’s founding, and before I quit Wine Enthusiast, I strove mightily to understand. (Perhaps that’s what IPOB meant when they said they wanted “to promote dialogue.”) I decided that the question was meaningless, because no two people, no matter how competent they are, are ever going to agree all the time about so elusive and subjective a concept as “balance.” That was fine with me: wine writers, critics, producers, consumers and restaurateurs love to gab about wine, and IPOB provided plenty of gabbing opportunities.

Still, IPOB had an overall negative impact. It divided Pinot Noir people into two opposite, warring camps. IPOB’s tastings never made any sense. They were fun to go to, in that they let us taste many famous, small-production Pinots we would otherwise miss. But I always wondered why IPOB’s gatekeepers, who included Jasmine Hirsch, allowed some wines in, while shutting other wines out. For example, Calera was there—no one ever accused Calera of making low alcohol wines—while some fine low alcohol Pinot Noirs from the company I started working for in 2014, Jackson Family Wines, were not. I think that’s why people who were not fans of IPOB started calling it “the cool kids’ club.” It reminded me of the cafeteria in college, where the jocks and cute chicks gathered at their tables, while the geeks, freaks and nerds (of which I was one) had to scramble to figure out where to sit.

This was not a happy development. IPOB caused divisiveness within the ranks of Pinot Noir producers and critics; and while I’m sure it was a fabulous marketing tool for Hirsch Vineyards, Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte and other IPOB favorites, I do not in retrospect think it contributed much that was positive.

My biggest problem with IPOB was the way the mainstream wine media treated it so worshipfully, without questioning the process or the assumptions behind it. This wasn’t journalism; it was lazy reporting by press release. Unimaginative wine writers considered themselves lucky to be invited to IPOB, and to be feted by such famous personages, so they failed to write with due diligence. I had the same problem with the mainstream media during the recent election process. It was awful the way they accepted pretty much all of the Donald Trump scandals with a shrug of the shoulders, while relentlessly pursuing Hillary Clinton’s emails as if they were the biggest security scandal since Benedict Arnold,  with Hillary actively working for ISIS. The email thing, of course, turned out to be absolutely nothing: a non-issue in every respect. But every media outlet in the country, print and broadcast, jumped on it like junkyard dogs and refused to let go, even while practically ignoring Trump University, his late-night infomercials on how to get-rich-quick through real estate flipping, not paying his bills, rape charges, lies, smears, prejudices, unproven allegations, insults, his current wife’s questionable background, his ties to Russia and foreign plutocrats, his taxes, and above all his utter ignorance of the issues. This glaring irresponsibility will be a sorry chapter in American journalism.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley, in her summation of IPOB’s final event on Nov. 14, at least did yeoman’s work in backing up far enough to write objectively about it. She praises it, not for dramatically changing the style of Pinot Noir in California (it didn’t; style is defined by climate, soils and viticultural practices, not by ideologies), but by making us all think a little harder about Pinot Noir than we might have otherwise. That’s a good thing, but I wouldn’t want future wine historians to overrate IPOB’s importance. It was not up there with the French Paradox or the Paris Tasting or Sideways. IPOB was a curiosity, a sort of hippie movement that flourished at a particular time and place, but whose import now has passed.

Will Oakland Kill Its Infant Marijuana Industry?



For years, my town of Oakland has been at the center of the commercial marijuana business in America. Downtown is studded with medical marijuana clinics and small shops selling paraphernalia. (I, myself, have had a medical marijuana card for a long time.) Oakland’s pot entrepreneurs were forward-looking visionaries who never doubted that pot would be legal someday. They wanted to be like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison: in the forefront of an industry that would be very, very big.

On the last election day—which also saw the catastrophic election of Trump—California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (sponsored by my old friend, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom). It now is legal for Californians 21 years or older to grow and use pot. The proposition also placed two different kinds of taxes on pot: one on cultivation, for growers, and the other on users, at the retail price end. However, and apparently, Prop 64 does not mandate that other jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, cannot place additional taxes and restrictions on commercial marijuana. That’s where Oakland enters the picture—in a way that does not paint a very flattering picture of it.

A hard-core splinter group of city councilmembers is pushing for Oakland to do things that would effectively kill Oakland’s nascent pot industry, thereby undoing all the work of recent years. These council members are demanding that retail licenses be granted only to people living in districts—largely Black—in which large numbers of residents have been formerly convicted of violating marijuana laws, when weed was illegal. This would effectively limit license holders to those living in minority districts; its proponents call it “an equity permit program” but it’s really race-based discrimination against everyone else who lives in Oakland.

I suppose you could argue that minorities have been disproportionately convicted of drug crimes, although whether that’s true for pot, as opposed to crack cocaine, is arguable. Even if it is true, two wrongs don’t make a right. This is a misguided attempt—when you examine it closely—at a kind of reverse discrimination I find troubling.

As if this proposed rule isn’t bad enough, the rogue supervisors pushing it have another dumb idea: they want the City of Oakland to seize 25% of all pot business profits for the General Fund. Put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring marijuana entrepreneur: your margins are going to be thin enough, what with massive competition (including from Big Tobacco). Now, these morons from Oakland want to take one-quarter of your profits! Are you really sure you want to open a pot business in Oakland?

It’s unbelievable. Oakland is a city badly in need of revenue. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake destroyed downtown; it was twenty years before it began to recover, and then, Wham! the Great Recession put us right back into the hole. Since then, however, downtown Oakland has seen an exciting revitalization of restaurants, clubs, wine bars and the like, capped by Uber deciding to headquarter here, in the old Sears building (which also happens to be in the heart of the marijuana district). Revenues from pot dealers would have brought extraordinary sums into the City’s coffers. Instead, selfish, short-sighted councilmembers are trying their damnedest to kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg. Oakland politics has been broken for years because of race, and it’s really time for narrow-minded politicians to think of the City as a whole and put their parochial concerns aside.

An open letter to a Trump supporter



She was in a front-page article, “The Places That Made Trump,” which purported to explain the point of view of Rust Belt voters who abandoned the Democratic Party to elect Trump President. Out of respect, I’m not using her name, although it’s right there in the link; I’ll call her Miss Smith.

Dear Miss Smith,

I want to understand. I really do. Because I just don’t see how a decent person could have voted for Trump—and you seem to be a decent person.

I don’t know anything about you except for what the Journal printed, and that’s scant enough, so I have to make some inferences. In this post, when I quote you directly (as reported by the Journal), I’ll use italics. When I quote from the article (which was written by Bob Davis and John W. Miller), I’ll put it in quotes without italics.

You live in Wilkes-Barre PA, “this Rust Belt city.” You work in a Polish restaurant. You’re 43 years old and I think you’re white. You voted twice for Obama because you thought he would “shake up Washington.” He didn’t (evidently, in your judgment), so you “chose Donald Trump for the same reason.”

“Obama tried to do well, and it didn’t turn out how we thought,” you said, adding, “Trump should do better…by cracking down on illegal immigration and upholding American values like hard work.”

Well, the Journal didn’t tell us much about your economic situation or that of your friends and loved ones, but I’m guessing it’s none too good. We know the Rust Belt is hurting, with the loss of manufacturing jobs; but you didn’t say anything in the article about how you think Trump will help the Rust Belt, so that’s a bit of a mystery.

Let’s take a look instead at your quote that Trump will “crack down on illegal immigration.” I wish you were here now, with me, so we could have a conversation. I’d ask you to explain just how illegal immigration is hurting you in Wilkes-Barre. Are illegal immigrants threatening your job, or your friends’ jobs? I went to the Wilkes-Barre website, and I see the city of 41,200 used to be a big coal-mining center. That is now ending. More recently, the city has become a hub for major employers such as Geisinger Health Systems, Blue Cross Health, eBay and over 60 new business that have opened their doors in recent years.” That’s great. Dinosaur industries like coal—which are disappearing, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that as the entire world moves away from fossil fuels—are being replaced by vigorous, modern and sustainable businesses.

So why are you so bothered by illegal immigration? I mean, seriously? If there are illegal immigrants in Wilkes-Barre, they’re probably Hispanic/Latino, and if they’re anything like the illegal immigrants in California, where I live, they pick our crops, clean our hotel rooms, scrub our toilets, build our houses and do other kinds of manual labor. They’re not hanging out on street corners; most are Catholic, have families, and want to work. Yes, some illegal immigrants commit crimes, but I suspect that a far bigger law enforcement and social problem for Wilkes-Barre is illegal drugs; your State, Pennsylvania, is the eighth-worst in the nation for drug overdoses, and you really can’t blame that on illegal immigrants.

You were quoted also as saying Trump will “uphold American values like hard work.” I don’t know what that means—I’m being sincere here. Are you saying that Hillary Clinton doesn’t believe in the values of hard work? No matter what you think of her, she’s probably one of the hardest-working American politicians in history. Maybe you mean that the Democratic Party doesn’t believe in “hard work.” Why do you think that? To be honest, the Republican Party has been very successful in fostering the notion that Democrats are all about welfare queens (Reagan used that term repeatedly). But this isn’t true. Democrats are just as dedicated to the values of hard work as Republicans. One major difference between the two parties is that Democrats believe in funding worker-retraining and new-skills education in places like Wilkes-Barre that are losing manufacturing jobs. In order to work at eBay or Blue Cross, people need to know about computers, or programming, or human resources or accounting and so forth. Many Rust Belt employees never acquired those skills, for one reason or another; it was easy for them to get jobs on the assembly line, and when the assembly line went to Vietnam or Bangladesh, those workers had nowhere to turn. You don’t hear about new-skills education from Republicans. They don’t want to spend the money on it, either by raising taxes or by making companies do it, and Lord knows, cities like Wilkes-Barre can’t afford to do it on their own. Democrats, on the other hand, have always been about job training (and unions, too), so if you’re really concerned about getting jobs for Wilkes-Barre’s unemployed, you might want to look into the position of your local candidates to see who’s serious about job training.

But wait, you say: Democrats have sent our jobs overseas. Well, yes, that’s true, through our international trade deals—but Democrats didn’t do it alone. Republicans have been just as strong, maybe even stronger, for deals like NAFTA and the TPP. True, Trump says he’s against it—but so was Hillary, and the truth is, the Congress, including Republicans, is overwhelmingly for trade deals, which are desired by the big corporations that fund their campaigns, and who yearn to dip their hands into overseas markets. So the trade deals aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s not fair to blame that on Democrats.

The fact is—and we can regret it but we can’t change it–manufacturing is largely gone in the Rust Belt. Countries like China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, even Brazil pay their workers far less money (and fewer benefits) than America does, and you can’t stop a manufacturer from moving overseas in order to protect profits (and keep the price of their products down, which is good for us consumers). This is not a Democratic or a Republican problem, it’s a matter of simple economics. And again, how is this related to illegal immigration?

A final quote of yours: Concerning Trump’s problems with women and unwanted sexual advances, the Journal said you “dismissed [the allegations against him] as bragging and ‘shoptalk,’” and you don’t “believe the women who accused him of sexual assault.” Well, Trump is facing at least 20 lawsuits for mistreatment of women, and of course, none of us can know if all of them are lying, or all of them are telling the truth, or if some of them are lying and some of them are telling the truth.

But let me ask you this: You did see the 2005 videotape of him bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy,” didn’t you? If you didn’t, here’s a link. So even though we can’t know exactly what happened between Trump and any particular woman, we do have Trump’s word for it, in his own voice, that he “moved on” women and grabbed them by their pussies, without asking for permission—which happens to be against the law, since it’s a form of sexual assault. So is it that hard for you to believe that at least some of the allegations are true? I think you’re a reasonable person; I think in your heart of hearts you acknowledge that Trump has sexually assaulted women on at least one occasion, and probably—listen to the videotape again—numerous times.

Maybe you don’t care. We’ve heard in the media that a lot of people who voted for Trump say they don’t care if he’s a sexual predator. Pardon me, Miss Smith, but I just can’t understand how people can dismiss something like that so casually. Have you ever been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances? I have, and I didn’t like it, nor would I ever want to see a predator in a position of power (I think that’s what people mean when they say Trump lacks temperament. We want our Presidents to be respectful of others, don’t we?). I myself would never, ever touch someone I was attracted to without their permission. I don’t think you would either. It’s just not something a decent person does.

Like I said, Miss Smith, I really do want to understand why you voted for Trump, with everything we know about him. How about we make a deal: if he brings back manufacturing to the Rust Belt, I’ll contribute to his re-election campaign. If he doesn’t—if his promise turns out to be as fake as his “Trump University” and get-rich-quick real estate “Institute”–then you’ll promise to vote Democratic again, as you did twice for Obama. Of course, we won’t know if Trump is just a charlatan for a few years, but I’ll be watching closely, and I know you will be, too.

Thank you.

Trump to Democrats: Go f**k yourselves!



I’m hearing from trump supporters, like a tea party commenter on Facebook, who writes: Give him (Donald) a chance. I think he’s in this for the right reasons.” To which I reply, “What kind of chance did you teabaggers give President Obama? You hated on him from day one, you blocked and obstructed his every proposal, your new president-elect insulted him vilely and called him the worst President ever, and your colleagues portray him and Michelle as monkeys, even as they scream ‘Kill the fucking bitch, jail her’ about Hillary. So what the hell are you talking about, ‘Give Donald a chance’?”

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, my rightwing friend. Do you have any idea how hurtful your budding fascist movement has been to Democrats? You have slimed and slurred us, questioned our patriotism, our motives, our humanity. Are you suggesting Barack Obama did not run for President “for the right reasons”? That is precisely the racist slander that has spewed from fox “news,” Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and the rest of the storm troopers for years. Are we liberal-humanists now supposed to sit down, hold hands with the haters and sing Kumbaya? I don’t think so. I don’t think they would take our hands even if we offered them.

By the way, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, so let’s not hear about a mandate. Drumpf has no credibility in most of our urban areas and particularly in the coastal states of the West and Northeast–the economic drivers of our country, which voted against him in huge numbers. Entire demographic segments of America are terrified of him. I have not heard any apology from him for his insults, nor seen a single reach-out by him or his minions to us; rather, the threats continue in their fury. The local media in the Bay Area report that drumpf will probably cut federal funding to cities such as San Francisco that have sanctuary policies. That would be on par for a vengeful person like drumpf. I know many people who are crying, whose children are crying and fearful of being singled out for violent action, as they very well might be, by this deplorable group and its acolytes. We didn’t hear much about gay rights in the campaign, but you know and I know that the tea party and particularly its evangelical extremists—to whom drumpf made secret promises that have yet to be revealed–is chomping at the bit to undo gay marriage and restore Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military. And look at the pit bulls he’s surrounding himself with: “Doctor” Ben Carson, Mike Pence, Newt Ginrgich, Sarah Palin—certified gay-bashers. When drumpf appoints a homophobic christian to the Supreme Court, we will be one vote away from a horrendously retrograde social policy. If drumpf tries to kill gay rights, I promise you we will have White Night riots in every city in the land, which drumpf could easily use to install martial-law type crackdowns, the way dictators, whom he loves, do to keep themselves in power. In this, he could be aided and abetted by rightwing law enforcement agencies and our national F.B.I., which may already have been infiltrated by white supremacists.

Sound extreme? Read your history. To those who have—and I suspect most Republicans have not, being too busy reading their bibles–is this not reminiscent of the mid-1930s in Germany, when Hitler followed through on threats he had made in the 1920s in Mein Kampf? Why would we think drumpf will not act on his campaign promises of deportation, blocking immigration, going after women who have abortions, arresting people based on their appearance, destroying the Environmental Protection Agency, making the National Rifle Association even more powerful, empowering a scurrilous anti-science christian cabal, encouraging militia-type white supremacists, letting Big Pharma and Big Insurance continue to rip off Americans, demolishing banking reputations so that Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs can keep on plundering, and–by the way, just for good measure–fomenting racial unrest? When he was making these utterances during the campaign, people said, “Oh, that’s just campaign rhetoric, he doesn’t mean it.” They said the same about Mein Kampf, which turned out to be a precise blueprint of what Hitler eventually inflicted on Europe and the world. Like Hitler and Goebbels, drumpf used the Big Lie to confuse uneducated people, like the white men who voted for him, who hate it when government helps the poor, but demand federal dollars for themselves. Drumpf now has the choice of igniting massive civil unrest, if not war, or of trying to unite this nation by reaching out to liberal-humanists. But is there anything in his background or what we know of his intellectual makeup that makes anyone think he’s capable of being conciliatory? No. Asked the other day what he thought of the protests in dozens of American cities following his election, he said they were led by “professional protesters.”

Listen: a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or any reputable politician interested in uniting the country, would have said something like, “I understand their concerns. I might not agree with their methods, but they are patriotic Americans, and they have to right to protest.” Instead, we get this stupid, insulting vitriol, which isn’t even true—a mere prelude to what we can expect from an unstable demagogue who believes nothing can stop him now.

So, to the “Give Donald a chance” crowd, I say: No way. If you voted for him, you will stand before the judgment of history, of your children, and of their children, down through the generations. And you will be found wanting.


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