Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dems Stay Losing

So by now you've probably heard that the Democrats lost (again) in last night's special Congressional race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Repulican Karen Handel.  Yes, the race was in Georgia, and yes, the district is one that Trump won in 2016.  Nevertheless, looking beyond Georgia, there is a pattern forming nationally where Democrats attempt to go after seats occupied by Republicans and voters time after time shoot them down.  To the Democrats' credit, the conventional wisdom does say that when you have a sitting president polling at a dismal 35% approval rating, and the opposing party controls a Congress that has an even lower approval rating, then your party should be a shoe-in.  But it's just not happening for the Dems.  They stay losing.  But why?

Chaldeans Blame Trump For Deportations

I don't have a tremendous amount of sympathy for resident adult non-citizens who break the law in any serious way and then receive a deportation order. I have even less pity for a group of people who voted for Trump and are shocked when he turns on them. It's who he is. It's what he does. Perhaps for the next election people might consider looking a little more deeply into a candidate's background and history or maybe even think about voting for something greater than their own narrow perceived self-interest. You can't or rather shouldn't identify as a "conservative" and then get p*****d off when someone enforces the law against you. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. Stop resisting. Follow the rules and you'll have nothing to worry about. Obey the law. Isn't that what self-righteous conservatives tell blacks other people who complain about selective, harsh, or inflexible law enforcement? Well okay then. When he talked about immigrants who were breaking the law with impunity and causing havoc across the land President Trump apparently wasn't, despite what some Chaldean immigrants thought, only talking about Mexicans.

Standing in the living room of her brother's home in Sterling Heights, Lina Denha wipes away tears with a tissue as she recalls how federal agents arrested him early one Sunday morning this month. 
"To just come and grab him in front of his kids and family — that's not right," she said of the June 11 detention of Haydar Butris, 38, one of 114 Iraqi immigrants with criminal records arrested in Michigan.  "He's been here most of his life. He did a mistake. He paid for it. Now, he is a good father, has kids, a family. He works, pays taxes and everything. And you just come knock on the door, come out of nowhere and grab him? That's not right."

Denha's sadness turns to frustration as she expresses disappointment with President Donald Trump, whom she and some other Iraqi-American Christians in Michigan had supported. Denha's sense of betrayal is echoed across metro Detroit among some Iraqi-American Christians who voted for Trump because they hoped he would be sympathetic to their community abroad, where they are a religious minority, and in the U.S. 
"We voted for Trump," Denha said. "That's what we get from him? ... Obama is better than him, 100 times."

Jason Whitlock Reveals His Own Ignorance By Attacking LeBron James

You may have missed it but a few weeks back someone wrote racial slurs on Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James' offseason Brentwood home. As far as I know the perpetrator hasn't been identified. Thanks to a demanding Day Job I didn't have a chance to write on it when it occurred. As you might imagine, as anyone would have been, James was upset about the violation of his home.

On the eve of his seventh straight NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James’ Los Angeles-area offseason home was vandalized with a racial slur, according to multiple reports. Los Angeles Police Department detectives are investigating an alleged hate crime after someone spray-painted the N-word on the front gate of James’ house in Brentwood, Calif. TMZ Sports first reported the incident, which has since been confirmed by the LAPD through the local NBC affiliate. Police were called to the home around 7 a.m. local time, and the racially charged graffiti was painted over within hours of its discovery, according to reports. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Michigan AG Charges Officials with Manslaughter over Flint Crisis

You may recall that the residents of Flint, Michigan suffered greatly because of the decision by the Republican installed Emergency Manager and crew to switch from Detroit supplied water to local water in order to save money. This proved to be not only a bad idea but also disastrous as neither the local infrastructure nor the local water was safe. As a result, residents of one of Michigan's most storied cities had to attempt to live in a stereotypical Third World manner with regards to water. The water was not safe to drink. It wasn't safe to use for bathing or showering. It wasn't safe for cooking. It wasn't safe to use for ice. It wasn't safe to use for washing your hands. It wasn't safe to use for anything at all. Some people abandoned their homes. Others tried to make the best of a bad situation and reduced their exposure to the dirty water. Other people relied on bottled water for everything, a response that can get pretty expensive when you think about how much water you use every day

Elevated lead levels were discovered in children. The state leadership attempted to ignore the issue and/or insist that there was not a problem long after evidence showed that there was. Despite the fact that Steve Harvey thought that this issue was far enough in the past to joke about, it's not completely solved. It's not a joking matter. One person who doesn't see the humor involved is Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. AG Schuette has charged five state and local officials involved in the Flint debacle with involuntary manslaughter. Some of these people are still being praised by Governor Snyder for their role in the cleanup.

FLINT, MI - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged five water officials -- including a member of Gov. Rick Snyder's cabinet and a former emergency manager -- with manslaughter related to their alleged failure to act in during the Flint Water Crisis.

Music Reviews: Sarah Shook

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
I'm not a huge fan of most country music. Usually the rhythms and tones aren't really my thing. But that said, country music is one of the basic building blocks of American popular music, along with blues, gospel and jazz. Everything is related if you go back far enough. Country rhythms regularly pop up in Chuck Berry tunes. Ray Charles reworked country standards into soul ones. The father of country music, Jimmie Rogers, was influenced by blues artists. He was also known as a white bluesman. Rogers' yodeling later influenced blues titan Howling Wolf. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were influenced by black rock-n-roll and blues musicians. And Sarah Shook was in part influenced by gospel great Bessie Griffin. And on and on. The circle keeps turning. One thing that the best forms of music share regardless of genre is emotional honesty. I first heard about Sarah Shook in a recent NYT review. I was intrigued enough to give her music a listen. I was happy I did.

Now I must admit that her upstate New York by way of North Carolina warbly alto voice may not be to everyone's taste. But I like her voice for this music. Shook is an engaging singer. And she's not bad as a guitarist. The music she's creating doesn't usually require her or the other guitarists in her band to fly up and down the fingerboard constantly or show off everything that they know in under two minutes. Sometimes knowing what not to play and where to leave space for the vocals and other instruments is just as important as filling up the sonic voids. The guitar solos, when they occur, are usually short and to the point. And that is a welcome departure from a lot of guitar wanking.

Shook shines in songwriting and interpretation. She is an excellent example of someone who plays for the song. As a self-described left-wing bisexual vegan atheist civil rights activist working in a genre that has often been more associated with reactionary politics, Shook shows, as many musicians of all races, both genders and various sexualities have done before her, that what matters is the emotion that a person puts in their music, not the singer's politics or other personal characteristics.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bernie Sanders Supporter Shoots Republican Representatives and Police

There is much that will come out on this story in the next few hours, let alone the next few days. Some details may change. Right now all we know is that a progressive Bernie Sanders supporter, James Hodgkinson, shot at Republican members of Congress and Capitol Hill Police. 

Hodgkinson allegedly asked whether the Representatives, who were preparing for a sporting event, were Democrats or Republicans before he started shooting. Hodgkinson was wounded in a shootout with police and has since died.

James T. Hodgkinson has been identified as the shooter who opened fire on Republican members of Congress Wednesday morning at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington Post reports. Hodgkinson, 66, is from Belleville, Illinois, the newspaper reports. A motive for the shooting is not yet known, but Hodgkinson’s Facebook page shows someone who had a high interest in politics, who supported Bernie Sanders during the presidential election and expressed anger with President Donald Trump and Republican Congressmen.

The gunman was shot by two Capitol Hill Police officers who were at the scene as a security detail for Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, who was among those shot. The two police officers were also wounded, along with a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams of Texas and a lobbyist. Scalise and the officers are expected to survive.

Two Congressmen, Rep. Jeff Duncan and Rep. Ron DeSantis, described an encounter with a man who asked them if those practicing were “Republicans or Democrats” before the shooting. DeSantis, when shown a photo of Hodgkinson, confirmed he was the man who approached him, CNBC reports. Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said his officers and Capitol Police officers exchanged fire with the gunman.

The man suspected of opening fire on Republican members of the congressional baseball team early Wednesday morning was distraught over the election of President Trump and traveled to Washington in recent weeks to protest, his brother said on Wednesday. The suspect, James Thomas Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., died in a Washington hospital after a shootout with the police. “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” his brother, Michael Hodgkinson, said in a telephone interview shortly after he received the news on Wednesday. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Reviews: The Black Russian

The Black Russian
by Vladimir Alexandrov
Today Russia has a reputation, fair or not, as a xenophobic haven for Neo-Nazis and white supremacists and thus a hostile place for anyone of apparent African descent. But at the turn of the 20th century this wasn't the case. Frederick Bruce Thomas(FBT), an African-American, made and lost a fortune in Russia during the pre-Bolshevik years. He also repeated his success in Turkey. FBT's story is an example of what someone intelligent can do once liberated from the strictures of American racism. FBT's life is also an unfortunate example of how American racism can still reach out and touch people far from its shores. The Black Russian is lastly an intoxicating tale of the events around the time of the First World War and how they shaped the world we live in today. I knew that the Turks stole (conquered) Constantinople from the Byzantine Greeks in 1453, renaming it Istanbul. 

I had forgotten that in the aftermath of WWI the Greeks, with Allied assistance, attempted to partition Turkey, conquer (retake) the Greek founded city of Smyrna, and make Istanbul an international city, with the likely aim of eventually claiming it for Greece and of course changing the name back. The Greeks were unsuccessful, something that would have a deleterious effect on FBT's life and business interests. FBT was born in 1872 Mississippi, not an area that was very hospitable to black people, especially those who "didn't know their place". This designation fit both of FBT's parents, Lewis and Hannah, as well as his stepmother India, who helped to raise him after Hannah's death. Former slaves, Lewis and Hannah (and later India), had left sharecropping as early as 1869. Lewis and Hannah purchased their own farm.

The Thomas property grew to over 600 acres, a decent sized farm then or now for a single family. The Thomas family wealth allowed them to donate land for schools and churches. The family entered into business partnerships with white English immigrants and hired local black residents as workers and sharecroppers. White people noticed the economic power wielded by Lewis Thomas and his wife. This would prove to be the downfall of the Thomas family in Mississippi.

Movie Reviews: Office Christmas Party

Office Christmas Party
directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon
Good cast but mixed results in a comedy that felt rushed
This was a remarkably silly film that wasted a good cast and familiar story on over the top foolishness and crudity. There's a way to be funny and even hilarious without having to go for the grossout every chance that you get. Unfortunately every time that something which I thought was mildly humorous occurred in this movie the directors/writers apparently must have decided "We can't have that! Throw in some gay humor! Throw in some flatulence and incest jokes! Throw in a bipolar woman on her cycle jokes! Hey there's not enough male buttocks! Yeah that's better!" So for me the movie was at best uneven. It was a mashup of Office Space, DC Cab, Meet the Millers, A Christmas Carol, Major League and Horrible Bosses among others. Horrible Bosses veterans Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman basically reprise their roles from that film series. SNL star Kate McKinnon does okay with a role I think she could probably sleepwalk through. 

Courtney B. Vance seems to be having a good time playing the opposite of the serious sober types he normally plays. I will say though as I have mentioned before that if you are looking for someone to play the calm put upon everyman with a hidden snarky side then you should have Jason Bateman on speed dial. He really does that well. Of course I haven't seen him do too much besides that but why mess with what works?

CNN Fires Reza Aslan for Insulting President Trump

Once again, although we theoretically have free speech in this country it is important to remember that the concept really only limits the government and what it can do to you. Generally speaking the government can't imprison you for what you say nor can it prevent you from speaking because it doesn't like the content. Corporations are not governments. And although corporations can not put you in prison, they certainly can separate you from a stream of income. CNN just fired host Reza Aslan, who made profane statements in regards to President Trump citing his travel ban in regards to the recent terror attacks in Great Britain.

After Trump tweeted about his travel ban following the London terror attack, Aslan responded, “This piece of s*** is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind.”
He later took down that tweet and apologized.
But there was still pressure for the network to drop Aslan. The Media Research Center in particular spearheaded some of those efforts:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Judge Vonda Evans Lays Down The Law

One of my relatives sent me this video. One of his pet peeves is judges who lecture or insult people, usually defendants. I do have friends and relatives who are attorneys. Some of them spend or have spent time in trials. I would not have their patience in dealing with judges who are occasionally sanctimonious, patronizing, insulting, condescending and almost always bossy. I don't like bossy people or appreciate imperative tones. I don't like people who think they can speak to me any old way. But this is the way our justice system is set up. Could it be any other way. When someone has the power to find you guilty or not, to sentence you fairly or not, and to put you in jail for no other reason than you got on their nerves and showed them contempt, then the wisest move for you, whether you are defendant, attorney, court worker or court spectator, is to tread lightly and keep a civil tongue in your head. Telling the judge "F*** you!" is usually not going to improve your prospects, no matter which role you currently happen to be playing in the court. 

Judge Vonda Evans scolded a man charged in a criminal sexual conduct case who swore at her in a Detroit courtroom. Anthony Thornton yelled "f--- you" at Evans during the trial Friday, and she responded to the outburst during the proceedings. "Be quiet!" Evans said. "Take him back. Take him out! Take him out now! ... I’m not even going to dignify that comment!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Movie Reviews: Logan

directed by James Mangold
Masterful end to a series and reworked classic for modern eyes
Well. This is a different kind of Marvel Superhero film. The first thing you need to know about Logan is that it is rated R. And it is a hard R for violence and language. People are badly hurt and killed. And the camera doesn't shy away. Some of my younger relatives saw this film. I wouldn't have let them but I'm not their parent. But please don't hear "comic book movie" and think that Logan is in any way designed for children. It's not. Kids under 16 shouldn't see this film. This intense film fits with the subject matter. Wolverine was never a "good guy". As he said in the comics, "I'm the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn't very nice." Wolverine was a killer, both on his own and in the service of governments. Occasionally he could go berserk. And when he did it was safest to be elsewhere. Wolverine was also melancholic, fully aware that no matter the reason, there is a moral and emotional cost to killing that he would have to pay every day of his abnormally extended life.  

This film returns the Wolverine character to those darker roots while imagining a dystopian future for mutants. Logan is simultaneously a reboot,  a franchise conclusion, and a stand alone film based loosely on a graphic novel that my brother, a comic book guru, hadn't gotten around to reading yet. In fact he didn't sound particularly interested in investigating the source material, feeling that there are too many alternate Marvel storylines. So if you've read the comics which inspired Logan, you may not like everything in Logan. For me though, ignorance was bliss. I wasn't irritated at this or that wrong interpretation or missing character or plot hole. 

Hillary Clinton: How Can We Miss You When You Won't Go Away?

Anger is a dangerous emotion. It can be useful when you channel it towards something positive. Holding on to it can be as dangerous to yourself as the object of your ire. Two time failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is clearly still pretty angry about having lost the 2016 Presidential election to louche real estate tycoon Donald Trump. I don't blame her for being angry. I would be angry as well. There are few among us who can clearly see our own faults and move to correct them. That's why we have significant others, life coaches, friends, bosses, co-workers, siblings, consultants, and so on. But Clinton does herself and more importantly the Democratic Party no favors by blaming everyone except herself for losing an election which nearly everyone thought she was going to win.  In a remarkable interview Wednesday with the technology site Recode, Hillary Clinton went from wounded to whiny, from sympathetic loser to sore loser, as she delivered her accounting of all the things that led to Nov. 8:  Why did she lose? Let’s recap:

▪ It was the Democratic National Committee’s fault. “I get the nomination ... I inherit nothing from the Democratic party,” she said. “It was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”
▪ It was the media’s fault for turning her use of a personal email server “into the biggest scandal since who knows when.”
▪ It was the Russians’ fault for leaking emails detrimental to her campaign. “I believe that what was happening to me was unprecedented,” she said.
▪ It was, ahem, someone else’s fault for helping guide the Russians on how to best “weaponize” those leaks. Who gave them that guidance? “I’m leaning Trump,” Clinton said.

Kathy Griffin, President Trump, Ted Nugent, Free Speech and Double Standards

I never found Kathy Griffin to be very funny. But I'm not in her primary target audience. Everyone has their own sense of humor. So when I saw the photograph of her holding a replica of Donald Trump's severed head I didn't find it amusing. I thought that the picture from the video was in bad taste and not funny. I thought it was an excellent example of how the Trump Presidency has unhinged some people. I also thought that it wouldn't be long before there would be a backlash. The thing I've noticed about the Right after all these years is that they have no problem dishing it out. They're really good at that. But taking it? No that's not what they do. Suddenly they turn into sensitive little snowflakes. The very same people who were angered about the Griffin picture were evidently laughing it up when Ted Nugent told Obama to suck on his machine gun, called Hillary Clinton a "toxic c***" , called Obama a subhuman mongrel or said that if Obama were re-elected that he (Nugent) would be either dead or in jail (because you know what he'd have to do). Trump didn't have a problem with Nugent's statements. He invited him to the White House. Of course when you came to prominence peddling racist birther stories, why would you have a problem with a racist like Ted Nugent? Birds of a feather.

The same people bemoaning the ugliness shown to Trump apparently had no issue at all with President Obama being burned or hanged in effigy, being called every single sort of racial slur imaginable, being called a skinny ghetto crackhead, being threatened with assassination, having Senators pray for his death or obviously getting the monthly run of the mill monkey-ape-gorilla comparisons. That was all just fine with conservatives. They had no problem making incredibly ugly hateful and threatening statements about President Obama, his wife, his daughters, his mother, his father and anyone associated with him. But when someone of a different political faction plays in the same dirty sewer conservatives have a problem? What changed? I have little use for selective outrage. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pepperoni Pizza and Jelly Beans Lawsuits

I was raised never to tolerate disrespect in small things or large. I was taught to get what you pay for. I was instructed never to think that someone is doing me a favor by taking my money. I learned that if I ordered X to make sure I got X, not Y.

I would have a bigger problem with my parents than anyone else if I meekly accepted shoddy treatment or crappy goods from a business. And I wasn't the only one. Just recently I watched as an elderly irate profane gentleman explained to a local grocery story clerk that the store had sold him a rotten onion. And even though he had to make a 10 mile round trip he wasn't going to let anyone sell him a rotten f***** onion and get away with it, by God. 

So I appreciate an assertive customer. However the proper resolution of a problem with a store is usually for the business to apologize, refund your money, or give you the good or service you initially purchased, perhaps at a discounted price or for free. I'm not sure that the wronged customer needs to file a $100 million lawsuit.
A Muslim man is suing Little Caesars for $100 million after he says he was served and then accidentally ate pepperoni made with pork, a food prohibited by Islamic law. The complaint says Mohamad Bazzi of Dearborn ordered halal pizza twice from the shop on Schaefer in Dearborn. The boxes were labeled "halal," but the pies inside were topped with regular pepperoni. 

Book Reviews: Last Don Standing-The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale

Last Don Standing-The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale
by Larry McShane and Dan Pearson
Many people have written books about the Philadelphia Mob of the last forty years. That organization has been in near constant chaos since the 1980 murder of boss Angelo Bruno, known somewhat inaccurately as the "Gentle Don". This latest foray into that milieu details the story of Bruno loyalist and enforcer, later boss and government witness, Ralph Natale. Natale was imprisoned during many key events in the modern Philly mob's timeline. Natale describes many happenings he heard about or confirmed via other mobsters. Presumably, the authors have researched and verified Natale's stories. Something that the book emphasizes is that despite their evil, many mobsters, like anyone else, love their families. Mobsters want their families provided for during their incarceration. As most hoodlums can't qualify for or use unemployment insurance for this purpose, they often rely on their mob partners and/or bosses to do this. 

Theoretically it's a best business practice for a Mafia Family to support the relatives of incarcerated members. People who know that their families are safe and financially stable are less likely to take rash steps like starting mob wars from behind bars or worse, begin blabbing to the FBI.

In fiction, for example, the Corleone and Prizzi bosses paid the wives or mothers of imprisoned employees the same income the men earned when free. And upon a gangster's release from prison, a high level family leader, perhaps even the boss, would stop by the man's house to drop off some bonus cash and to congratulate him for keeping his mouth shut. These actions kept morale high and discouraged informing. Some real life bosses understood the benefit of having engaged loyal employees. But in real life this all for one, one for all plan rarely worked out. Mobsters are far too selfish. In real life only the meanest bosses and/or the most savage killers could ensure that their income stream would be uninterrupted by prison terms.