Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Unintended Consequences of Trump's Muslim Immigration Ban

Lawyers providing pro bono legal services for detainees in JFK 
Where to begin? First, Trump's January 27, 2017 Executive Order cites to the wrong law: "The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview . . . " Section 222 of the INA is 8 U.S.C. 1202, not 1222. 8 U.S.C. 1222 does not require in-person interviews; that would be 8 U.S.C. 1202, not 1222. 

Second, the Executive Order cites to the 19 terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 as the basis for banning any and all immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. However, of those 19 terrorists, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates, 1 was from Egypt, and 1 was from Lebanon. In other words, NONE of the 9/11 terrorists were from the 7 countries now banned by Trump's Executive Order. 

Third (and this is the real kicker), Trump’s Executive Order did not ban any of the Muslim countries where the Trump Organization — which is now being run by his sons — has business interests. Those countries where Trump has business interests include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates — all countries where the 9/11 terrorists actually came from. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Reviews: In the Midnight Hour-The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett
by Tony Fletcher
This was a gift from my brother. This is a beautiful book. As far as I know this is the only complete biography of Wilson Pickett (1941-2006) that exists. There is a quote within the book that really tells you everything about the man who was also known as "Wicked". Picket said in 1979, speaking to another musical journalist that, "James Brown to me is strictly small time. Just some Georgian kid working in some cramped sweaty bar where the stage is so damn small there's only room for him and the drummer.". 

That Wilson Pickett was quite comfortable calling Soul Brother Number One "small time" and making fun of his show lets you know that if nothing else Pickett had a very healthy ego. It was this ego and drive, along with his earth shattering voice, leonine good looks, and regal stage presence that took him out of the Alabama backwoods to Detroit success and later stardom with New York based Atlantic records. 

Pickett pioneered the sort of hard soul singing that was strongly based in the black gospel in which he had grown up and first made his mark. Whereas James Brown was a screamer who could sometimes sing, Pickett was a singer who could and did scream in key. Brown might have been funkier but Pickett was soul. I thought the book was at its most interesting when it was detailing Pickett's early days on the Detroit music scene. People who would later become legendary were just kids trying to learn their craft while occasionally getting ripped off along the way. Some famous people went to my neighborhood school. There are also some uncomfortable facts which the book brings up. 

I knew that Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin's father and a civil rights activist and supporter, had a certain reputation as a ladies' man. I didn't really think less of him for that. Most musicians/celebrities have similar reps when you get right down to it. I didn't know that the good Reverend had fathered a child with a twelve-year old. Ugh. 

There's no evidence that Pickett knew about that sordid history. But it is a fact that the devout Pickett, who was a friend to Aretha and sang at the Franklin church, grew tired of singing to drunk/hungover people at Sunday morning services. As Pickett told friends, he might as well be performing secular music if that was going to be his audience. There are some other unpleasant warts revealed but this is not a gossipy salacious book. It doesn't dwell on Pickett's bad side. It just tells it like it was. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

President Trump Executive Order on Private Mortgage Insurance

Dear America - President Trump did not raise mortgages for all American home owners

Quick Synopsis: When you take out a mortgage to purchase a home you generally have a down payment that can range anywhere from 3.5% - 20% of the total purchase price. In the height of the ruckus leading up to 08 crash, banks were doing 0% down loans. We learned our lesson and stopped doing that. To assist first-time home buyers and those with lower incomes or maybe lower credit scores, exists the FHA Mortgage program. The program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Anytime the down payment is less than 20% the homeowner is required to carry "private mortgage insurance"often referred to as PMI. The insurance carries a monthly premium that is in addition to your principal, interest and property taxes. You pay this additional premium until you've reached 20% or more in equity on your home. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Movie Reviews: The Accountant, The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Accountant
directed by Gavin O'Connor
It is a challenge to raise an autistic child. While there are some children who are ultimately too much for their parents to handle and become a danger to themselves and others, other children who fall into that category wind up becoming highly productive and independent, if occasionally eccentric, members of society. There is no current way that we know of to prevent or cure autism. I know some people who are dealing with such situations. It's no picnic. Unlike the parent in this movie though I don't think that in real life most parents of autistic children attempt to train them agoge style. But you never know. It's difficult to review this movie without giving away spoilers even though the twist is pretty obvious after the first 30 minutes or so. Still, the film is entertaining on a couple of different levels. It may make you think a little more about the challenges of dealing with autism or successfully raising another human being in this world. Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck-who is apparently still hitting the weights pretty hard) is an accountant who works out of a small strip mall in Plainfield Illinois. Well he's a little more than an accountant. He has a genius level understanding of mathematics, tax policy, accounting, payroll, etc-anything to do with numbers. He is a high functioning autistic with some severe though controlled OCD issues. He likes things to be just so. He doesn't get humor, white lies or really understand most of the rules that define our daily interactions with each other. If you ask him if he likes an item of clothing you're wearing or if he enjoyed a gift you gave him he's going to tell you the truth without any regard for your feelings. He has difficulty making eye contact or speaking outside of a monotone. He tends to take things literally, He lacks any sense of sarcasm. We see via flashbacks that Christian used to be much less able to deal with outside stimuli than he currently is. But in various montages that are reminiscent of Batman movies, his father trained and had others train Christian to face his fears and deal with them. This normally involved physical stress of some kind. 

Book Reviews: Juice

by Ishmael Reed
I usually like reading Reed's works. He calls it like he sees it. I don't always agree but he does make me think. One of the key themes in Reed's work (both fictional and non-fiction) is that American racism is particularly virulent and acts as a unifying force for people who are "white" or who can theoretically become white. A sub theme is that this racism is not something restricted to the right wing or politically conservative among us. Liberals can be just as racist; Reed famously (and correctly) referred to NPR " as about as integrated as a Georgia country club". Lastly Reed is particularly interested in how this racism impacts black men-especially the stereotype of the brute. In Reed's view many people make money off of this belief-even black people who ought to know better. In Reed's view feminists of all stripes often rush to criticize bad behavior among black men while studiously ignoring such behavior among their own ethnic groups. Because there are very few or no media outlets which are controlled by black men, the result has been a vicious scapegoating of black men for various sins, especially sexual ones. This obviously has parallels to the supposedly bygone days of lynching in which a black man could be murdered because of an actual rape, a fictitious rape, looking a white person in the eye, having consensual sex with a white woman, just for being "uppity", for getting on a white person's nerves or for no reason at all. As Reed points out in this book and sociologists have discussed, up until the mid forties/fifties lynching of blacks was considered normal enough such that whites sent postcards bearing lynching photos or took out ads in newspapers threatening or advertising upcoming lynchings. So if people were comfortable enough to bring their children to witness lynchings then how long will it really be before beliefs about essential black inferiority no longer hold true among many in the majority population? It might be a while, as comedian Michael Richards demonstrated. Although thankfully those things don't happen (as often?) any longer a cynic could make a good argument that the key function of lynching -unpunished public violence designed to keep blacks in their place- has been outsourced to the police. No amateurs (George Zimmerman) need to get their hands dirty doing that sort of thing any longer.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump Inaugural Speech

This is the text of President Trump's Inaugural Speech delivered today.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: thank you. We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people. Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People. For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.

Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.

Donald Trump, John Lewis, Legitimacy, Normalization and The Rust Belt

You may have heard that Democratic Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) ,who also happens to be a civil rights icon, recently stated that he wasn't going to attend the inauguration for Donald Trump in part because he felt that Trump was not the "legitimate" President. As he is prone to do Trump responded with a mostly inaccurate tweet telling Lewis to spend time on his crime ridden district. At this point no one should be surprised that the next President is an incredibly thin skinned individual who takes everything personally. Lewis' views on Trump aside, Lewis has only been to one Republican inauguration after he was elected to Congress. This suggests that Lewis' issues are not so much with Trump as they are with Republicans in general. But Lewis is not alone with his take on Trump's legitimacy. At least 60 Democratic elected officials have said that they won't be attending the inauguration. One writer argues that Clinton is the legitimate President and that courts should intervene to depose Trump. An actress who has feuded with Trump is calling for martial law. Various other intellectuals, bloggers, media and political personalities seemingly spend all day on twitter styling themselves the Resistance, plaintively asking what can be done to prevent Trump from taking office, or arguing that Trump should be arrested for treason. Republicans and conservatives are, in a display of hypocrisy that should surprise exactly no one, are attacking liberals and Democrats for being divisive, saying that everyone should respect the office of the President or saying that being a sore loser diminishes our system of governance. Well.

You should also remember that many conservatives and Republicans steadfastly refused to believe that President Obama was born in the US. This included Donald Trump. Some people also believed that President Obama was a secret Muslim (who for some reason ate pork and attended a Christian church) who wanted to destroy the US from within. Many Republicans still think that and worse about President Obama. Some conservatives could not talk about the President unless they were also calling him and his family apes or monkeys, threatening to kill him, wondering why no one had killed him yet, burning him in effigy, calling him a witch doctor, saying he wasn't their President, or making other statements to let everyone know they rejected Barack Obama as President or as human.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Music Reviews: The Big Bamboo

Ska, Calypso and Reggae are all interrelated forms of music. One of the original giants of calypso music, who was also influential in the beginnings of reggae is Grenadian-Trinidadian singer Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco). Mighty Sparrow has been performing professionally since the mid fifties. 
The songs which he sings often have a sense of humor. These songs aren't necessarily to everyone's taste but I usually enjoy them. One of his better known songs, which has been covered by a number of different people is Big Bamboo, which is about the absolutely critical importance of the aforementioned renewable resource. It may well be a traditional song where true authorship is lost to time. As with American blues songs many of the versions have different lyrics. The singer can add or subtract verses as he sees fit. There are all sorts of different arrangements. Some are more driving. Others are down right languid. The first version I heard was by the Mighty Sparrow but I've also heard good versions by other calypso singers like Duke of Iron, Mighty Panther, Wilmoth Houdini and Lord Creator. 
I ran across a more recent version of this song by the musical group Ska Cubano. Ska Cubano, as you might suspect, combines a variety of Afro-Caribbean music, including but not limited to ska, reggae, calypso, salsa and soca. This is not as farfetched as you might think. The Ska Cubano version has a very insistent beat that can't be ignored or missed. 
I like songs that on the surface appear to be about one thing but when you think about it are about something else entirely. Sometimes limits can inspire more inventive wordplay. It's important to live a healthy life in tune with nature. I think that's what the song Big Bamboo is saying. Of course it could be about something else as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Facts??! We're talking about facts??!!

Recently, Actress Meryl Streep criticized Trump during her speech at the Golden Globe Awards.  Her criticism was directed at his imitating New York Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a condition called arthrogryposis, a condition that affects motor skills.  Trump, never one to back down from a Twitter war, said emphatically that he did not mock the reporter and called Streep "over rated". (See the video here and decide for yourself.)

Now, I like to think I know politics just as much as the next person.  I get that you can spin things a certain way to get your point across.  I even get that you can use pictures, word choice, or even article headings to sway things your way.  I get that both parties simply despise the other.  But to flat out and intentionally lie is where I draw the line.  To boldly say, "I didn't do that" or "I didn't say that"  when there is video and audio proof to the contrary makes me question your ability to lead anything at any level.

But I think the worse part about Trump's latest Twitter beef is Kellyanne Conway's response.  Conway is his former campaign manager and her job is to defend the president-elect's outbursts, which I effectively call Trumpisms.  According to Ms. Conway, we shouldn't judge the PEOTUS by what he says, we should judge him by what's in his heart.  No, I didn't grab this story from the front page of The Onion, this is real life. She wants you to ignore what the soon-to-be sworn-in-leader-of-the-free-world believes in his heart rather than what he says.  I have no idea what Donny believes in his heart, maybe I can ask wife #1 or wife #2 for insight.  In any case, enjoy the video.  What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

President Obama's Anger Translator: Final Address on The Daily Show

Comedian Keegan-Michael Key stopped by The Daily Show to among other things share his final (?) sketch of Luther: President Obama's Anger Translator which stars him in the titular role alongside his long time performing partner Jordan Peele as President Obama. The idea is that President Obama is giving a farewell address responding to the idea of turning over the Presidency to Donald J. Trump. I thought the skit was worthwhile. It must be truly galling to the President to be succeeded by someone who trades in racist birther theories. But that's life. Check out the short video below.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Daily Show: Republicans Attempt to Limit Congressional Ethics Office