Constitution for Sale – Contact Your Congress

By John Gascoyne

On March 31 of this year, an ugly blot was spread across the United States Constitution. Or so it would appear.

On that day, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced S. 720, (a/k/a Senate Bill 720), an act which is cited as the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act.”

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

The intent of the act is to make criminal boycotts carried out in the U.S. by international governmental organizations against Israel. And the penalties for violating the act are severe.

The law focuses in part on the United Nations Human Rights Council which, according to a purported finding of Congress, “…has long targeted Israel with systematic, politically motivated, assaults on its legitimacy designed to stigmatize and isolate Israel internationally.”

The proposal also targets organizations which are members or supporters of the BDS movement. This effort advocates boycotts and divestment in regard to Israel and sanctions against that country based upon its dealings with Palestine.

Among the signatories to the act are 14 Democratic senators, notably its initiating sponsor Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and including co-sponsors Michael Bennet and Cory Gardener of Colorado, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Chuck Schumer of New York. Thirty Republican senators have signed on as co-sponsors.

The other New York Senator, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, endorsed the act on May 9 but withdrew her name on August 8—in response to strong objections from many of her constituents.

In the House, a similar measure gained, at last count, 63 Democratic and 174 Republican co-sponsors. A number of generally forward-thinking House members, including Adam Schiff (D-CA), and second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), have signed on to the House version.

Our United States Congress.

Potential penalties for persons or organizations found to be in violation of S.720 derive from the Import Administration Act of 1970. These penalties can range from a civil penalty ranging from $250,000 to $1,000,000 and criminal penalties netting up to 20 years in prison.

Since the bill was introduced in March numerous entities—individuals, organizations, and print media—have weighed in with a wide range of interpretations and positions.

In what would become a catalyst to the publication of numerous other opinions, the ACLU on July 17 issued a letter very critical of the proposal and urging senators to abandon their support of it.

The letter, authored by National Political Director Faiz Shakir, said the bill “would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.” Seeing the issue as a First Amendment concern, ACLU said it was not taking a position, for or against, the effort to boycott Israel or any other country.

The fuse had been lit.

On the heels of the ACLU letter, The Intercept, on July 19 stated “The criminalization of political speech and activism has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West.”

On July 25 another Intercept article said some signatories to S.720 were open to re-drafting the wording of the proposed legislation. To date, there have been no amendments to the original proposal.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has been reporting on news and events of concern to Jewish citizens for the past 100 years. On July 29, the Agency declared that S.720 “poses a significant danger to free speech”. The JTA also stated that the bill “was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (AIPAC).” AIPAC lobbies U.S. lawmakers and generally espouses center-right Israel policies.

Not everyone agreed with the ACLU.

The Daily Beast, on July 21, stated, “The “ACLU misread the law…”

On August 17, The New York Times ran an editorial headline suggesting that the ACLU needed to “rethink free speech”. In the opinion piece, by attorney K-Sue Park, it was noted that the ACLU has defended First Amendment issues on the far left and far right. Park took issue with the notion that all free speech issues need to be defended with equal vigor. She criticized the ACLU for successfully suing Charlottesville, VA “on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer.”

Although there has been little apparent television consideration of the issue, Amy Goodman has covered it on a Democracy Now broadcast. In an interview with Rabbi Joseph Berman of Jewish Voice for Peace, the rabbi said that while AIPAC, “might have a lot of influence…they’re not representative of American Jews.”

So, where do we go from here?

It feels imminently predictable that, short of a loud public outcry, S.720 and its henchman legislation in the House are destined to become law. If there is to be public input, there first needs to be more public awareness. Rachael Maddow and Joe Scarborough need to talk about it, a lot, on MSNBC; Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper can cover it on CNN. Forget Fox News.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the storm-battered city of Dickinson, Texas, recently tried to tie hurricane relief funds to a promise that recipients will not boycott Israel, a requirement the ACLU labeled as unconstitutional. On October 24, the city council voted to remove the requirement.

How Dracula and Trump use horror to scare the “ever-livin’ giblets” out of us

By Gary Kimsey

In 1972, I waited hours on a blustery afternoon to vote in the presidential election. Hundreds of people were ahead of me on the tree-lined sidewalk. As the dead leaves of fall swirled around us, most people grumbled about the long, cold wait.

By contrast, I was immersed in a novel about horror, and even now, 45 years later, I remember the tingling of my imagination from fearful words and suspenseful images.

I was taking a college class on the literature of horror. We studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and, among others, Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This was before Stephen King’s time, or I’m sure he would have been on the reading list.

Gary Kimsey is a writer who lives part of the year in Independence, Mo., and the rest near Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

The current reading assignment: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people have seen Dracula movies, but few have read the novel. Take my word, the novel is scarier.

A gloomy night had fallen by the time I voted and walked home, frequently glancing back to see if vampires followed. My old house had huge windows with nothing to view outside but darkness. Wait just a Frankenstein moment, did I just see evil red eyes glaring through the black night?

I rushed to close the curtains. I switched on every light and situated myself in a corner chair where no vampire could approach unseen. I read on. I didn’t sleep that night. I was too jittery of things that might go bump.

Richard Nixon won the election. On went the Watergate scandal, dirty tricks, threats, lies, and nasty pronouncements. News commentators observed, “This is like a horror story.”

I thought about it. Yes, indeedy, Nixon’s actions exhibited all the elements of literary horror that I studied in my class.

The quintessential Dracula: Bela Lugosi.

Decades passed. I forgot all about similarities between a crooked president and literary horror—that is, until I saw Donald Trump’s attack on Myeshia Johnson, pregnant Gold Star widow of La David Johnson. Trump’s shameful actions were horrific in their own right, but the issue brought back memories of how a president’s tactics can reflect the elements of literary horror.

Five elements exist. Here is how each relates to the current president’s recent antics—please note that each example is just one of many that I could cite.

Dracula vs. Trump: What do you think? Take a short poll at the end of this article.

One horror element is foreshadowing, the strategic placement of scary tidbits that alert the reader that something bad will come. A recent Trumpian tidbit was dribbled about when the president told the media that his meeting with military leaders was “the calm before the storm.” Nobody knew then or even now what he was talking about. Yet, people began worrying. It could be, of course, that he was merely talking to hear himself talk, yet once again.

Kate Beckinsale as Selene, vampire warrior in the  Underworld film series.

Fear is a critical element. As horror literary expert Amanda Headlee points out, fear is used to scare the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Trump leverages fear by demonizing Muslims, Blacks, Congress, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, among others, the media. The result: Many Americans have gained an uncalled-for fear of those groups and persons.

Another horror element—suspense—keeps us worrying about monsters under the bed. Trump is a master of monsters.  Remember his threat to “reign fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, a chilling statement that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange? Since then, we’ve heard more of his threats—verbal slashes that some people worry could bring about World War III.

Mystery is a horror element that keeps us wondering if what we know is really true. In Trump’s case, consider health care. At some moments during the long Trump/congressional healthcare debacle, we thought we understood what was going on but then realized time and again that we knew nothing. Everything was a mystery that created unnecessary suspense and fear in many Americans.

Trump is a user of the most impactful element of horror: Imagination. As horror writer C.M. Humphries explains, “The cool thing about horror…is that you can toy with someone’s imagination. You paint a picture in such a way that the reader’s mind can become lost in thought the same way we might think there’s a ghost in the house during the thirteenth hour.”

As a way to inflame our collective imagination, Trump concocts wild, brash, scary statements—like the “fire and fury” and “calm before the storm” threats—and then leaves it up to the imagination of Americans and the entire world to conjure up terrifying visions.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing in the 1992 gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Dracula novel, which I’ve re-read now and then since that night of the ’72 election, uses horror elements to move the story forward. Count Dracula is a monster who does monstrous things. It’s something he cannot help; evil is his primal nature. By the novel’s conclusion, when he is killed by a band of fearless companions led by Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula has almost become a pitiful character because it’s clear he had no choice over the horror he committed.

On the other hand, Trump is supposedly a human and therefore should be able to make decisions between right and wrong, and good and evil. Why does he use elements of horror? It is not to move our nation, our lives, forward.

The original movie vampire in the 1922 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

He often uses horror elements to divert the public’s attention from issues that are damaging to him—the Trump-Russia Investigation, for example. Sometimes he solely uses elements like fear and mystery to draw attention to himself as the savior—the Dr. Van Helsing—that he so incorrectly perceives himself to be. And frequently, as we’ve seen in his Twitter attacks, Trump relies on elements of horror because, I suspect, he has a mean-spirited nature.

Americans don’t deserve a president who spends time scaring the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Unfortunately, what we have in the White House is an author writing his own personal horror novel which the rest of us are forced to endure. Rather than close curtains to keep him out, it’s time for Americans to grasp the metaphorical stake and blazing torch, and chase him out of the village.

 

Learn more about literary horror:

Core Elements of a Horror Story by Amanda Headlee.

5 Elements of a Good Horror Story by C.M. Humphries.

 

How Dracula and Trump scare “ever livin’ giblets” out of us

By Gary Kimsey

In 1972, I waited hours on a blustery afternoon to vote in the presidential election. Hundreds of people were ahead of me on the tree-lined sidewalk. As the dead leaves of fall swirled around us, most people grumbled about the long, cold wait.

By contrast, I was immersed in a novel about horror, and even now, 45 years later, I remember the tingling of my imagination from fearful words and suspenseful images.

I was taking a college class on the literature of horror. We studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and, among others, Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This was before Stephen King’s time, or I’m sure he would have been on the reading list.

Gary Kimsey is a writer who lives part of the year in Independence, Mo., and the rest near Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

The current reading assignment: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people have seen Dracula movies, but few have read the novel. Take my word, the novel is scarier.

A gloomy night had fallen by the time I voted and walked home, frequently glancing back to see if vampires followed. My old house had huge windows with nothing to view outside but darkness. Wait just a Frankenstein moment, did I just see evil red eyes glaring through the black night?

I rushed to close the curtains. I switched on every light and situated myself in a corner chair where no vampire could approach unseen. I read on. I didn’t sleep that night. I was too jittery of things that might go bump.

Richard Nixon won the election. On went the Watergate scandal, dirty tricks, threats, lies, and nasty pronouncements. News commentators observed, “This is like a horror story.”

I thought about it. Yes, indeedy, Nixon’s actions exhibited all the elements of literary horror that I studied in my class.

The quintessential Dracula: Bela Lugosi.

Decades passed. I forgot all about similarities between a crooked president and literary horror—that is, until I saw Donald Trump’s attack on Myeshia Johnson, pregnant Gold Star widow of La David Johnson. Trump’s shameful actions were horrific in their own right, but the issue brought back memories of how a president’s tactics can reflect the elements of literary horror.

Five elements exist. Here is how each relates to the current president’s recent antics—please note that each example is just one of many that I could cite.

Dracula vs. Trump: What do you think? Take a short poll at the end of this article.

One horror element is foreshadowing, the strategic placement of scary tidbits that alert the reader that something bad will come. A recent Trumpian tidbit was dribbled about when the president told the media that his meeting with military leaders was “the calm before the storm.” Nobody knew then or even now what he was talking about. Yet, people began worrying. It could be, of course, that he was merely talking to hear himself talk, yet once again.

Kate Beckinsale as Selene, vampire warrior in the  Underworld film series.

Fear is a critical element. As horror literary expert Amanda Headlee points out, fear is used to scare the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Trump leverages fear by demonizing Muslims, Blacks, Congress, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, among others, the media. The result: Many Americans have gained an uncalled-for fear of those groups and persons.

Another horror element—suspense—keeps us worrying about monsters under the bed. Trump is a master of monsters.  Remember his threat to “reign fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, a chilling statement that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange? Since then, we’ve heard more of his threats—verbal slashes that some people worry could bring about World War III.

Johnny Depp as a vampire in the 2012 horror comedy movie Dark Shadows.

Mystery is a horror element that keeps us wondering if what we know is really true. In Trump’s case, consider health care. At some moments during the long Trump/congressional healthcare debacle, we thought we understood what was going on but then realized time and again that we knew nothing. Everything was a mystery that created unnecessary suspense and fear in many Americans.

Trump is a user of the most impactful element of horror: Imagination. As horror writer C.M. Humphries explains, “The cool thing about horror…is that you can toy with someone’s imagination. You paint a picture in such a way that the reader’s mind can become lost in thought the same way we might think there’s a ghost in the house during the thirteenth hour.”

As a way to inflame our collective imagination, Trump concocts wild, brash, scary statements—like the “fire and fury” and “calm before the storm” threats—and then leaves it up to the imagination of Americans and the entire world to conjure up terrifying visions.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing in the 1992 gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Dracula novel, which I’ve re-read now and then since that night of the ’72 election, uses horror elements to move the story forward. Count Dracula is a monster who does monstrous things. It’s something he cannot help; evil is his primal nature. By the novel’s conclusion, when he is killed by a band of fearless companions led by Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula has almost become a pitiful character because it’s clear he had no choice over the horror he committed.

On the other hand, Trump is supposedly a human and therefore should be able to make decisions between right and wrong, and good and evil. Why does he use elements of horror? It is not to move our nation, our lives, forward.

The original movie vampire in the 1922 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

He often uses horror elements to divert the public’s attention from issues that are damaging to him—the Trump-Russia Investigation, for example. Sometimes he solely uses elements like fear and mystery to draw attention to himself as the savior—the Dr. Van Helsing—that he so incorrectly perceives himself to be. And frequently, as we’ve seen in his Twitter attacks, Trump relies on elements of horror because, I suspect, he has a mean-spirited nature.

Americans don’t deserve a president who spends time scaring the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Unfortunately, what we have in the White House is an author writing his own personal horror novel which the rest of us are forced to endure. Rather than close curtains to keep him out, it’s time for Americans to grasp the metaphorical stake and blazing torch, and chase him out of the village.

 

Learn more about literary horror:

Core Elements of a Horror Story by Amanda Headlee.

5 Elements of a Good Horror Story by C.M. Humphries.

 

Turn Off the NFL

By Bear Gebhardt

When riding a tiger, one should have a plan for dismounting.”                                                                           – old Chinese proverb

Our minority president hopped aboard a tiger when he took on the NFL kneeling practice. I predict this just might be the issue that gets bigger and bigger until it pushes him out of the oval office. You heard it here first.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

How paradoxical for a man who completely flaunts the long-established protocol for the highest office in the land to demand from his fellow millionaires that they follow established protocol!

In common with millions of other American men and women, I love football. As a kid, we boys—and occasionally girls—spent hours and hours playing the game in both front and back yards, in the parks and—a small minority of the time—on the regulated football field. In high school, as most guys, I was not good enough to be the starting quarterback, or even third-string string quarterback, guard or wide receiver. Indeed, I didn’t make the team. (We had 750 students in my graduating class.)

Nevertheless, even though I, and most other guys, were not stars, or even on the team, we loved the game. And as old geezers, most of us still watch it and talk about it and carry on as if it mattered. That said . . .

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL Commissioner’s latest letter saying all players should stand during the National Anthem, it’s time, at least for me, to turn off the NFL. (Though I suspect I’m going to peek.)

The commissioner has revealed he has no backbone. He caved in and gave his lunch money to the schoolyard bully and suggests we all do the same. He can do it, but I, and you can bet your jock strap a whole bunch of the NFL players and coaches, are going to say no.

Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

That’s why I suspect this issue isn’t going to go away with the commissioner’s letter suggesting everyone give up their lunch money.

I admit, as an NFL veteran myself, I was conflicted to begin with on this take a knee deal. (I’m a veteran because I sold hot dogs at the Denver Broncos games throughout high school and first years of college.)

Even before the knee deal, however, I had growing reservations about spending my time watching the NFL. I have good friends who haven’t watched football in years—just out of principle—not willing to eat the bread or go to the circuses sponsored by the ruling classes. (Yes, indeed, I have commie buddies).

And then last year a good friend stopped watching the NFL games out of deference and respect to those players who have suffered long-term damage not only from the concussions (a new study revealed  96 percent of former NFL players show brain damage) but also leg and arm and back and butt injuries which often make their later years almost insufferable.

In years past, a different good buddy, watching the “injury time out” for a player on the opposing team, used to quip, “I hope he’s feeling better right after the game,” e.g., after our team wins!  A good way to think about it, we thought at the time.

Now, seeing an “injury time out,” if we’re honest, we have to admit that the injury just suffered, leaving this player on his back on the field, such that we had time enough to cut to a Budweiser commercial, might lead that player to fifty more years of pain and disability.

The guys on the field know the dangers of their work. But they have honed their skills to a degree unfathomable to we high school and college players they long ago left behind.  We ordinary blokes have the greatest respect for not only these players’ natural talents but for thousands and thousands of hours they logged in disciplined training, both on and off the field.

So when one, and then two, then dozens and dozens of these men take a knee to bring necessary attention to the pressing issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism, we have to accept, and respect they know what they are doing.

I am of course a patriot and proud and grateful to be a citizen of the good ol’ USA. One of the things I love most about the USA is our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience, our freedom from being forced to believe or act in certain ways. We have a history of this. Not always perfect, but nevertheless working in that direction. I’m proud to be an American.

But my basic allegiance, even before to the nation-state, is to humanity itself. Before I was an American, I was born a human being, born a citizen of the earth, with seven billion other citizens. All people, even before they are citizens of the state, come endowed with certain inherent rights.

Every human deserves respect, the right to say, in a non-violent way, what’s on his or her mind. The right to be treated fairly and openly under the law, regardless of skin color, religions conviction or athletic ability. These are not just American values. These are human values.

So when some NFL players make a brief, non-violent, creatively defiant gesture to bring attention to the fact that the nation is not living up to the ideals of justice and equality symbolized by the flag, I respect not only their Constitutional right to do that, but also their human right.

When the NFL commissioner took a knee and bowed to the school bully, handing him his lunch money, it made me sad. It also made me ready to finally give up football, at least until we get a new administration, in both the NFL and Washington.

I do think our Minority President waded into a swamp where the alligators outnumber the “protocol” guys. I suspect the Take a Knee biz will finally show him to be in a position way beyond his skills. He will not easily extricate himself from this—just watch—increasingly fiery issue.

Recent news on the kneeling issue:

Oct. 17, NFL.com: What you need to know from the Oct. 18 owners and players’ meeting.

Oct. 17, New York Times: Trump criticizes NFL for not penalizing anthem kneeing.

 

 

Tom Petty: one of the musicians whose soundtracks play behind our lives

By Alan Vitello

Tom Petty’s death has made me feel old.

When the people whose voices and whose art were the soundtrack and the landscape of our youth start passing away, it’s easy to feel the road ahead is considerably shorter than the road behind. It’s easier to hear the clock ticking away.

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

In 1980, I was working at Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes, on Arapahoe, in Boulder. I worked there when John Lennon was murdered. I was 18 years old at the time.

I remember scoffing at all the people who were so distraught at Lennon’s death. I was never a Beatles fan, and I had little regard for Lennon, so the whole thing struck me as more than a little bit stupid and overwrought.

I said as much, in a letter to the editor that I wrote in the Colorado Daily newspaper. I believe the words I used to describe Lennon were along the lines of “What’s the big deal? He was a drugged-out, old has-been.”

I was 18.

The assistant manager at the record store was a guy named Ron. He was older than me, probably closer to 40.

After my letter was published, he stopped talking to me. For months. Even if we were the only two people in the store he would ignore me. Being around him was like being in an ice storm; nothing but a brutal coldness, all the time.

Finally, by the fall of 1981, I got tired of it, and finally asked him why he was so mad at me.

He said he could never forgive me for my letter to the editor. He said Lennon had been his “guiding star,” a constant in his life, who helped him get through good times and bad. He felt that when Lennon died, a part of him died, too.

My letter made him feel angry and hurt. Not only had Lennon’s death pulled the rug out from under Ron’s life, but my words had rubbed salt in the wound, as I was dismissively laughing at his pain.

“What an idiot,” I thought.

All these years later, I’m rethinking that sentiment.

I was nothing more than the most casual of casual fans of Tom Petty.

I never saw him live. I think I owned one LP and one CD. But he (like so many others) has been playing the background music of my life since I was a teenager.

Tom Petty: 1950 to 2017.

I don’t think I’m quite up to the level of my old co-worker, Ron, but I do have my pop-cultural “guiding stars.”

Brian Wilson’s music has been a constant in my life for nearly 50 years.

The Beach Boys are truly the soundtrack of my life. I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on them, to say nothing of the vast quantities of emotional and psychological energy I have invested in them, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of hours of my time that they have occupied.

I can still feel just like the 12-year-old that I was in 1974 when I heard “Let Him Run Wild,” for the first time, every time I hear that song, even to this day.

Against all odds, Brian Wilson is 75 years old now. His story of creativity and perseverance in the face of the seemingly insurmountable challenge has been a continual inspiration to me.

What will I be thinking and feeling when he is no longer with us?

Will a part of me go with him, or does a part of him live on in me and tens of millions of others, when he’s gone, or both?

I think people from my generation (and those after) really do have personal soundtracks playing behind our lives, just like in the movies.

When the artists who gave us those songs start passing before us, it’s hard not to feel that our end credits aren’t as far off as we would like to think they are.

Rest in God’s arms, Tom Petty.

Why Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate” Is a Must-Read for Resistors

By Bear Gebhardt

Muna Abdulah was born in Somalia but fled with her parents as refugees to a small town in Minnesota, where her father had been sponsored to work on a turkey farm.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Muna  excelled in the local public schools and her twin sister was voted homecoming queen. Applying to become a Senate Page, Muna  wrote a brilliant essay and then wowed the interviewers. She won the prize.  As a 17-year-old, she went to Washington, D.C., to work in the Senate.

“The day the new class of pages arrived in the senate,” Al Franken wrote, “I went down to the floor to meet her in person. Muna was easy to pick out of the group of twenty or so, being the only one wearing a hijab (headscarf) with her page uniform.  I went up to her and said, ‘you look like a Minnesotan’.”

I love Al Franken.  And after reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate (by Al Franken, of course) I not only love his wit, I am once again deeply moved by his integrity, his humility, his ability to bring hope and light where there was previously so much darkness and despair.

I confess, for many decades I have been so dismayed (disgusted) with the lack of courage, lack of wisdom, lack of love exhibited by most members of Congress that I had lost all hope that “anything good can come from Washington.”  Even Barak Obama, hope of our heart, as one of his first Presidential acts sent more troops to Afghanistan, directly contrary to his campaign promises.  What?

I threw up my hands, again. I’m not touching this stew pot of politics.  Nothing good ever comes of it.

And then along comes Al Franken. We knew him, first and foremost, of course, from Saturday Night Live—a brilliant and brave satirist, entertainer and all-around funny good guy. And then, thank God, he wrote that brilliant and brave book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and other observations,” saying exactly what all (or many) of us were thinking, knowing. But here was Franken saying it openly, clearly, without apology, and with great wit, intellectual vigor and historical perspective.

And then, a few years later, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A fair and balanced look at the right.” Again, a wise guy, a gadfly, truth to power, in clear, all-American prose, without flinching. We need a hundred more such brave, witty, and wide-thinking commentators.

Please take a few seconds and answer the poll at the end of this article.

When Franken ran for the Senate, we all thought it was a joke. But come to find out, he was serious. Eleven days before the 2002 U.S. Senate election, Franken’s good friend, Senator Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash in Eveleth, Minnesota. His wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, also died onboard.

Wellstone’s opponent, Norm Coleman, now a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, narrowly won the election over Walter Mondale. Shortly after taking office, Coleman said, “I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone.”

Franken was infuriated. “You don’t say that about anyone who has died in the last six months,” Franken wrote. “And my God, you don’t say that about some guy who everyone agreed was a compassionate, tireless champion of the little guy, a loving husband and father, and a colleague whom every senator recognized for his passion and decency. Until that exact moment I had never thought about running for public office. But when I read that quote…my immediate thought was this: Somebody’s got to beat this guy.… At the time, I didn’t think that the ‘somebody” who was going to beat this guy would end up being me.”

After taking much heat for his comment, Coleman later apologized and explained, “I just meant I was a 99 percent improvement when it came to supporting George W. Bush.”  Enough said.

In running against Coleman, Franken had to learn NOT to be funny. Otherwise, people wouldn’t take him seriously. And he also had to deal with what he called (and trademarked) the “DeHumorizer.”  Coleman’s team combed Franken’s 30 years of comedy writings, satire and skits, including writings for Playboy, and presented them as if they were his personal political convictions.

In addition to these unique challenges, even though Franken had won the Senatorial Democratic nomination, the Democrats in Washington didn’t support him. They didn’t think he had a chance to beat an incumbent. So Franken was on his own.

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I won’t share any more of the details. Franken does it much better, quicker, wittier than I. Obviously, he did win—by one the narrowest margins of any race in Senate history. (He won his second race, four years later, hands down.)

What surprised me most about reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, was that it gave me hope again about our political process. Again, that’s something I haven’t had in decades (with the exception of my fleeting hope for the populist Bernie Sanders—a hope which Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hilary Clinton quickly squashed with dirty tricks behind closed doors.)

Again, it was so strange and unexpected that I have to repeat: reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate gave me hope again about our political process. Made me think I might even start attending—or at least paying attention to—our local city council meetings.

That’s how powerful this book is. That’s how powerful this man is. He’s the real McCoy. Let’s work to get more like him in office, from the lowest to the highest offices of the land.

 

Into what Hell does Trump’s money trail lead us?

By Gary Kimsey

Follow the money.

The boldfaced sentence above was popularized by the 1976 docu-drama All the President’s Men where two Washington Post reporters chronicled the nefarious trickeries of Richard Nixon. In 2016, the sentence emerged again into our everyday lexicon when Donald Trump used it while campaigning against Hillary Clinton.

Gary Kimsey is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor. Learn more about him…

In a classic twist of irony, it may now describe how Trump will be brought down.

The Trump-Russia Investigation has picked up the scent on a trail that may lead to shady, illegal international deals involving lots of money, Russia and Trump. Most Americans lack knowledge about international banking, money-laundering, bribery, and fraud. However, we’re rapidly learning—thanks to the news media’s ongoing coverage of Trump’s international business deals.

Some Americans ignore or could care less about Trump’s Russian connections. This is unfortunate for our country as a whole. It demonstrates a lack of thinking, reasoning, caring, and awareness among a segment of our citizens.  The Trump-Russia issue has the potential to be more adversely impactful upon the American psyche and self-worth than the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s, Nixon’s ribald lying of the 1970s, and Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. On the other hand—for Americans who follow the Trump-Russian issue—it sometimes seems as if we’re wandering around with Dante through the nine concentric circles of Hell, the realm for those who have perverted “their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellow men.”

Create confusion: Trump knows an investigative journey into his finances is not good for him. His tactics to deflect the investigation have been of the same ilk as they were to avoid anti-Trump issues during the campaign and since the inauguration. When he wants to sidestep a topic, he relies on combative, nasty tweets and outlandish statements to change the national dialogue and redirect the public’s attention elsewhere.

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As news gained ground in late July and early August about the Trump-Russian Investigation turning to Trump’s finances, the president suddenly steered us toward the brink of war with North Korea. He also crazily announced the possibility of using the U.S. military in Venezuela. He flip-flopped back and forth on the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacy related to the Charlottesville tragedy, and his inflammatory tweets and public proclamations switched the national dialogue to statues of Confederates and American heroes.

Learn more: This New Yorker article by Adam Davidson offers insights into money-laundering through international business deals and how Russia compiles extensive dossiers on businessmen like Trump with the purpose of blackmailing them at a later date. The article for the magazine’s August 21 issue is detailed and complex, and well-worth reading. The New Yorker illustration is by Oliver Munday; photograph of hand by Skynesher/Getty.

Trump also began a highly public Twitter offensive that attacked U.S. Senators in his own party for various issues such as the Senate’s inability to repeal and replace Obamacare. One attack began after Trump and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a profanity-laced phone conversation in which the president berated McConnell for not protecting him in the Russia probe. Next, Trump’s tweets insinuated that McConnell should resign over the Obamacare issue. Well, you get the point…Trump’s tactic is simple: Do what I say to stop the Russian probe or I will attack you on another topic.

Trump’s diversions serve two purposes. They appeal to many supporters in his political base. In addition, and more importantly for his own personal protection, they veer the public’s vision away from the money trail and such related issues as possible collusion between his campaign and Russians in the 2016 presidential election, a topic under scrutiny by the Trump-Russian Investigation.

Art of bad deals: Trump has a well-documented track record in the U.S. for defaulting on loans, business failures, bankruptcies, and deceptions. Years ago, almost every bank in the country started refusing to finance deals in which he was involved. “Trump has had a few successes in business, (but) most of his ventures have been disasters,” pointed out a 2016 Newsweek article which took an in-depth look at business deals he made over decades. “Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.”

Without access to American financing, Trump turned to foreign countries for money for real estate and other deals: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. And Russia. One of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, once admitted, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

Confused about all that has happened in the Trump-Russia issue? Check out a deeply comprehensive timeline detailing what actually happened and what’s still happening in the ever-changing story of the president, his inner circle and a web of Russian oligarchs, hackers and government officials. You can find the timeline on the website of newsman Bill Moyers: BillMoyers.com.

In contradiction to Eric Trump, the president’s lawyers have recently and artfully said Donald Trump’s Russia-related income in the last decade only includes $12.2 million for holding the 2013 Miss World contest in Moscow and $95 million from a Russia billionaire who in 2008 bought a Trump estate in Florida, property that only four years earlier Trump purchased for $41 million. The transaction with the Russian was tagged as the single biggest family home sale in the history of America. The Russian never lived there and the home has since been demolished. A good deal that fleeced the Russian? Or a good payoff for some shady deal? Or money laundering? We don’t know.

Most importantly, as a New York Times article pointed out in May, the revelation by Trump’s lawyers leave “other questions unanswered, including whether Mr. Trump or his firms received Russian income or loans from entities registered elsewhere or whether he derived income from Russian-linked partnerships that file their own returns.”

Trump has claimed time and again that he has never had business deals with Russia. He deceitfully crafts such statements so listeners think he means all and any Russians. But, if one reads between the lines and does the research, it becomes obvious he specifically means only the Russian government. It appears to be true, in fact, that he never has had a business deal with the government.

However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried. On August 27, the Washington Post published an insightful article about Trump and his organization attempting to create a deal with a Russian bank—one that is largely owned by the Russian government—to build a massive hotel in Moscow. The effort went on in secret while Trump was a candidate in late 2015 and early 2016.

No, it has nothing to do with sex: The Trump-Putin romance is about money and quite possibly blackmail. This mural of Trump and Putin adorns the outside wall of a barbecue restaurant in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Painted by local artist Mindaugas Bonanu, the mural was unveiled in 2016 and quickly received international attention. Read the Washington Post article about the mural…

Trump and his organization have deep connections with foreign companies, countries, and oligarchs (business elites with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin) strongly associated with and influenced by Putin and the Kremlin. As The New Yorker reported in its August 21 issue, some of these Trump partners have committed or are being investigated for money-laundering, fraud, illegal loans, and bank theft of billions of dollars.

Prevailing theory: The most common theory—which the Trump-Russia Investigation is following—is that Trump has profited through business arrangements with these Russia-associated companies, countries and oligarchs, and such arrangements are illegal under American and international laws. The other part of the theory is that Putin has secret information about Trump’s involvement in illegal deals. As a result, Putin has significant blackmail leverage over Trump.

The idea that Russia uses blackmail as a political tool is not new. The Russians have a name for it: kompromat. Putin and his government have craftily developed kompromat into a major component of foreign policy. They cultivate “marks” like Trump for years, enticing them with money and other promises, involving them in business deals and sometimes sexual opportunities. Remember the dossier about Trump and Russian made public earlier this year? (Read the dossier.) On August 23, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent 10 hours interviewing the owner of the company that commissioned the private investigation into how Trump was cultivated and used by Russia.

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Thus, our president dons kid gloves when it comes to Putin. Thus, Trump dismisses proof about Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Thus, Trump is Putin’s lapdog. Thus, America is in jeopardy; democracy endangered.

All of this, of course, brings us back to the Trump-Russian Investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a formidable team of lawyers with expertise in criminal law, organized crime, money-laundering, racketeering, counterterrorism, cyber security, and foreign bribery. Not unexpectedly, Trump doesn’t like the team. On July 27, he tweeted, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history—led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Regardless of Trump’s views, the Mueller team will continue to focus on Russian connections. Trump will continue to try to discredit the investigation and change the national dialogue. Nonetheless, Americans have opportunities through news reports to learn more about the complexities and possible illegalities of Trump’s international business deals.

What is our role in this journey? Quite simply, we must not get distracted by Trump’s nasty tweets and wild statements; nor by the the Kafkaeque nature—the nightmarishly complexities—of Trump’s international business deals. There are layers and layers of shell companies designed to hide illegal transactions in these international deals. To make matters more complicated, Trump and his organization make it a practice to destroy records and sometimes keep a second set of secret books, as plaintiffs in some of the 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump over the last three decades have discovered.

The most important action we can take at this moment is to keep abreast of news about his involvement with Russia and their associates. Read. Watch. Listen. Discuss. If the investigative trail leads to where many believe, put heavy pressure on our congressional representatives to vote for impeachment.

Whether Trump is proven guilty or innocent of collusion or other illegal activities, the Trump-Russian Investigation is a historic endeavor that will be discussed by pundits and historians for decades.

If innocence is on Trump’s side, we’ll face more of the same that we currently see under the Trump administration: an emboldened Alt-Right, more pollution of our air and waterways, tax incentives for the rich, fewer civil rights, and, among other things, less economic opportunity for many Americans.

If he’s guilty, well, then, we’ll have the opportunity to claw our way out of Trump’s purgatory and back into being a nation that is governed rather than ruled by hateful tweets.

Keep your eyes on the money trail.

 

Learn more: Read the following articles by respected media outlets: