Tag Archives: Trump

Drain the swamp?

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses, including major players in the production of pesticides.

Pesticide lobbyists find welcome mat at USDA under Trump

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

At a private meeting in September, congressional aides asked Rebeckah Adcock, a top official at the Department of Agriculture, to reveal the identities of the people serving on the deregulation team she leads at the agency.

Teams like Adcock’s, created under an executive order by President Trump, had been taking heat from Democratic lawmakers over their secrecy. What little was publicly known suggested that some of the groups’ members had deep ties to the industries being regulated.

Adcock, a former pesticide industry executive, brushed off the request, according to House aides familiar with the exchange, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Making the names public, they recalled her saying, would trigger a deluge of lobbyists.

In fact, interviews and visitor logs at the Agriculture Department showed that Adcock had already been meeting with lobbyists, including those from her former employer, the pesticide industry’s main trade group, CropLife America, and its members. CropLife pushes the agenda of pesticide makers in Washington, including easing rules related to safety standards and clean water.

Adcock, who left the trade group in April, maintained contact with her former industry allies despite a signed ethics agreement promising to avoid for one year issues involving CropLife as well as matters that she had lobbied about in the two years before joining the government.

In one meeting, Adcock discussed issues banned by the ethics agreement with an executive who had been her lobbying partner weeks earlier at CropLife, according to the accounts of participants and the visitor logs, obtained through a public records request by The New York Times and ProPublica.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the USDA who also spoke on behalf of Adcock, said she had not violated her ethics agreement by meeting with her former industry allies. He also denied that Adcock had discussed issues related to her previous lobbying at the meeting, or that she had suggested that her deregulation team would be swamped by lobbyists if names of its members were released.

“The career ethics officers at USDA agree that this is not a violation of the ethics agreement that Rebeckah Adcock signed,” said Murtaugh, citing a 2009 memo by the Office of Government Ethics.

Others dispute that interpretation of the memo; the ethics office declined to say whether the memo applied to the meeting, citing its policy not to discuss individual cases.

Adcock was scheduled to appear Tuesday before subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is tracking Trump’s deregulation effort. In announcing the hearing, the committee, led by Republicans, applauded the deregulation teams for making an “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”

Republican members of the committee declined to comment about Adcock’s activities. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said that if Adcock had violated her ethics agreement, it contributed “to a troubling pattern of President Trump’s failure to ‘drain the swamp.”

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up the deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses. Corporations and industry groups quickly hired lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help them influence the process with billions of dollars at stake. The regulations under review cover a range of subjects, including the cleanliness of drinking water and the safety of highways.

The Trump administration has declined to make public the names of many members of the teams. It has also generally not provided records related to the teams’ calendars and correspondence.

A joint investigation published in July by The Times and ProPublica found that the teams included former employees of industry-financed organizations that oppose environmental regulations; lawyers who have represented companies in cases against federal regulators; and staff members of so-called political dark-money groups. Some are reviewing rules that their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit personally if certain regulations are undone. In all, the two news organizations have identified 112 current and former team members, including 41 with potential conflicts.

At the meeting on Capitol Hill in September, Adcock lamented the scrutiny that her team was under, a House aide familiar with the exchange said. Adcock cited, in particular, public records requests for calendars and emails.

The Times and ProPublica asked for those records this year and have received only a few. Most other federal agencies have been similarly unresponsive. The visitor logs that have been obtained are often handwritten sign-in sheets. They appear to show only a fraction of meetings, and many are illegible. It is not known from the logs, for example, if Adcock or her team had met with environmental or science groups in addition to the industry representatives.

In response to questions from reporters about possible conflicts of interest, agency officials across the government have said the deregulation teams are abiding by strict ethical standards, including rules that bar them from working on issues directly affecting recent employers.

Records received through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Adcock entered such an agreement on April 26, pledging that she would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know CropLife America is a party or represents a party” for a year.

But in May, Kellie Bray, a lobbyist for CropLife, arrived for a meeting with Adcock, according to the visitor logs.

The two knew each other well. From 2010 to early this year, Adcock and Bray lobbied together for CropLife, which represents Syngenta and Monsanto, among other pesticide makers.

Disclosure records show that during those years the two advocated for the industry’s agenda at agencies, including the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Congress. They pushed CropLife’s interests on bills and regulations relating to the impact of pesticides on water and human health.

Adcock’s departure from CropLife left the trade association short a seasoned lobbyist, but gave it a valuable contact in the top ranks of the USDA.

Bray said in an interview that in May, Adcock had met with her and the Southern Crop Production Association, a CropLife affiliate. Bray said she had sat in on the meeting but hadn’t talked.

“I facilitated the introduction,” she said. “That is all.”

After the meeting, the Southern Crop Production Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors across the South, said on its website that “Rebeckah has an exceptional understanding regarding the many issues facing agriculture due, in large part, to her previous position with CLA,” using the acronym for CropLife America.

Among the topics discussed, according to the trade group’s website, were the tests that pesticides must undergo to prove they are safe and rules governing their use near water sources. The trade group did not respond to requests for comment. Bray confirmed that the group had discussed regulations about the use of pesticides near water.

Discussing policy related to the impact of pesticides on water is deemed off limits under Adcock’s ethics agreement. Murtaugh, the USDA spokesman, said Adcock disputed that she had discussed any off-limits subject.

“If any participant declared concern regarding any issue precluded by Adcock’s agreement, she politely and firmly instructed them it was not a matter she could discuss or assist with,” he said.

He also said Adcock had instructed Bray not to participate in the meeting and did not recall her being in the room.

Murtaugh said a provision in the memorandum from the Office of Government Ethics allowed an appointee like Adcock to attend meetings with a former employer or client so long as five or more other stakeholders participated. In the May meeting, he said, four of the Southern Crop Production Association representatives were affiliated with individual companies: Syngenta, Albaugh, Triangle Chemical and Crop Production Services.

However, three of those companies are also members of the CropLife trade group, Adcock’s former employer. And they were attending in their capacity as the executive committee of the Southern Crop Production Association, according to the association’s website, not as individual company executives.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who headed the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama and during the early months of the Trump administration, said the provision cited by the USDA did not apply to the ethics regulation in Adcock’s agreement. Even if it did apply, he said, the meeting lacked a necessary diversity because the participants were all affiliated with one trade group. He also said it was irrelevant that Bray hadn’t spoken.

“If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her,” said Shaub, who has been critical of the Trump administration.

Before Adcock worked at CropLife, she served as a lobbyist for the farming industry at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Among its donors is Farm Credit, a lending institution. In July, Adcock met with a delegation from Farm Credit, according to a participant.

One of the executives who attended — Jeremy Brown, president of Broadview Agriculture, a Texas cotton producer — said in an interview that he knew Adcock from the Farm Bureau. For those who did not know her, Adcock explained her past lobbying on behalf of the farming industry, and she asked for recommendations on regulatory changes, he said.

“Any time you have people already familiar with the industry, it helps,” Brown said. “They can hopefully get their feet on the ground and get the work in.”

He said he had pushed Adcock to get cottonseed reclassified as an oil seed crop so cotton producers could be eligible again for certain government subsidies if revenue dropped. He also discussed what he termed overreach on clean-water rules.

“She was taking notes, being really receptive,” Brown said.

Another highlight, he said, was the access the group enjoyed. Never before had he attended a meeting in the private gathering room just outside the office of the secretary of agriculture.

“I’ve been to the USDA a couple other times,” Brown said, “and this was the first time I’ve been able to go to what they call the Cage.” §

Robert Faturechi is a reporter at ProPublica covering money in politics. Danielle Ivory is a New York Times reporter covering the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for its newsletter. This story was co-published with The New York Times, and is published here with permission.

Trump’s anti-immigrant America

In 1927, Massachusetts executed two Italians—Sacco & Vanzetti—to global protests that still resound today

File 20170829 6715 o9z06n
Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left), handcuffed to Nicola Sacco, 1923. Boston Public Library

 

by Moshik Temkin, Harvard University

Ninety years ago, on Aug. 23, 1927, two Italian immigrants were executed.

The deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the Charlestown Prison in Massachusetts marked the end of a raucous seven-year legal and political battle that captivated people across the United States and the world.

According to many who lived through it, no other event since the outbreak of the Civil War had so starkly divided American opinion. Writer Edmund Wilson believed that it “revealed the whole anatomy of American life, with all its classes, professions, and points of view, and raised every fundamental question of our political and social system.” And arguably, no other event until the Vietnam War evoked as much anti-American sentiment on the global stage.

I wrote a book about how and why the case of Sacco and Vanzetti evolved from an obscure local criminal trial to a national and international scandal. I refer to it in the book as the transition from a “case” to an “affair.”

What can it tell us about our politics today?

The most famous prisoners in the world

At first, Sacco and Vanzetti were two anonymous immigrants on trial for an act of banditry. Sacco was a skilled shoe factory worker and family man with two small children. Vanzetti was a fish monger. But local authorities charged them of being part of a stickup gang that on April 15, 1920 shot and killed a factory paymaster and his guard in Braintree, Massachusetts, stealing approximately $15,700. One reporter sent to cover their trial wrote to his editor, using a derogatory term for Italians, that there was “no story…just a couple of wops in a jam.”

But fairly soon, it emerged that the two men were not anyone’s idea of typical bandits. Rather, they were active in Italian anarchist circles who believed that capitalism and states were oppressive and should be overthrown by revolution—and, if necessary, a violent one. At the time, most Americans lived in horror of anarchists and other “reds,” as left-wing radicals of all sorts were known, and anti-immigration sentiment (especially against Italians) was at its peak. Not surprisingly, their trial took on a decidedly political character.

The evidence against them was mostly circumstantial, relying heavily on what the authorities called “consciousness of guilt.” The prosecution made their political radicalism an issue, as if that helped prove them guilty of robbery and murder. And, given that opening, the defendants were not shy about expressing their radical ideas in court, which did not help them with the jury. Many people who came to Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense argued that they were innocent men being railroaded not for anything they did, but for who they were and what they believed in.

Sacco and Vanzetti forcefully protested their innocence from the moment they were arrested until the minute they were electrocuted. They gradually convinced large numbers of people. As their case dragged on, they gained the advocacy and support of public figures, legal experts, intellectuals, political leaders and ordinary people. Their supporters included law professor Felix Frankfurter, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, car magnate Henry Ford, British author H.G. Wells and even Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The judge in their case, Webster Thayer, was openly biased against them. Among other things, he had originally lobbied to be assigned the case to make sure that Sacco and Vanzetti “got what they deserved.” During the trial, Thayer braggingly asked a member of his social club if he had seen “what I did to those anarchistic bastards the other day?”

After Thayer sentenced them to death in April 1927—but not before the pair made stirring speeches in the courtroom proclaiming their innocence—the case created a genuine diplomatic crisis for the United States. Heads of state in Europe and elsewhere appealed to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Massachusetts Gov. Alvan Fuller to try to prevent the executions—in vain. Governments in Argentina, France, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere were forced to deal with angry demonstrations, major riots and attacks on American travelers, companies and embassies.

Why did Sacco and Vanzetti become, as the New Republic magazine put it, “the two most famous prisoners in the world”?

Demonstrators in London protest the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1921. Public domain

It was partly because of the global and geopolitical context. In the wake of World War I, the United States became a global power for the first time. At the same time, Western European nations suffered crisis and decline, and became indebted to American banks and reliant on American power. In that decade, the United States also closed its doors to immigrants who most desperately needed to migrate, especially those from poverty-stricken areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico.

There have been many debates over the years over whether Sacco and Vanzetti were indeed guilty of the crime for which they were punished. Numerous authors have forcefully argued both sides. But this debate, which is impossible to resolve decades after the fact, misses the point of why Sacco and Vanzetti attained, after their deaths, totemic status.

As I describe in my book, Sacco and Vanzetti came to be seen as symbols of an America that had turned its back on foreigners, abandoned its principles of justice, and failed to pay heed to what Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, called “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Their trial was so flawed, the politicization of their case so egregious, the executions so horrifying, that it was a travesty of justice irrespective of guilt or innocence.

From Sacco-Vanzetti to the Trump era

Ninety years after the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the affair presents us with many connections to the present. For many people in 1927 and after, the two men were victims of a deep-seated fear of immigrants. For others, they were criminals and terrorists who benefited from a worldwide campaign led by people who despised America and its institutions.

Today, the United States is engaged in a bitter struggle between these same two views, with the xenophobic forces currently in political power, especially in the White House.

But it is important to keep in mind that today’s America would be socially, culturally and demographically unrecognizable to Americans in 1927. The United States is a much more multicultural and diverse society nowadays than it was when Sacco and Vanzetti were alive. And it will become even more so.

The ConversationAt the same time, recent events have made life in America frightening for immigrants and minorities. The factors in American society that brought about the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti never completely went away. In the current, toxic political environment, those who care about equality and justice must remain vigilant. §

Moshik Temkin Is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Tyranny of

Donald Trump’s official presidential bio contains about a half-dozen attempts to convince someone—probably himself—that his win was a massive blowout and not a shameful, slight fluke only made possible by the intervention of a foreign government and a domestic conspiracy to get the FBI director to interfere in the democratic process during the final weeks, twice.

This sad overcompensation—like the emergency White House press briefing called Saturday night to lie about the size of of his inauguration crowd as the largest protests in U.S. history raged against the new president—isn’t an accident.

It’s an announcement: We will do what we want regardless of how many Americans are against us.

Since Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin in a modern times, he’s done nothing to reach out to the majority of Americans who rejected him. His cabinet is made up entirely of doctrinaire, extremely right-wing Republicans, most of them filthy rich, nearly all white and male. His hostile inaugural address proclaimed a mandate for him to act as the voice of “the people,” though he’s the least popular president to take the office is the history of polling such things.

And things are only going to get worse.

With minority support and no interest in courting anything but that, Trump is about to enact a far right agenda unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1920s.

If Trump gets his way, we are likely to see the greatest transfer of wealth to the richest in human history, though the wealth inequality in America is already nearing levels that brought out the guillotines in 18th-century France.

This transfer of wealth is not just about giant tax breaks for the rich and their kids and their corporations and their kids’ corporations. It’s not just about a massive un-insuring of working Americans that will return us to the era of discrimination against the sick. And it’s not just about the erasure of regulations that will transfer the costs of pollution and financial risk back on to middle-class.

As Trump was about to take the oath of office, his team announced plans for $10.5 trillion in cuts based on a plan devised by the Heritage Foundation—a plan that includes huge cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Defense Department. This plan would violate some of Trump’s most notable campaign promises and likely send millions, if not tens of millions, of the 48 million Americans, including 12 million children, that the government keeps out of poverty into abject despair.

What mandate does the GOP have to unwind the insurance of 32 million and turn an income inequality crisis into an income inequality nightmare?

Yes, Republicans hold a majority of seats in the House, where they lost seats despite an electoral map that has been gerrymandered for their exclusive pleasure. Yes, they hold the Senate, where they also lost seats and their 52 representatives represent millions of fewer voters than the 48 Democrats. And then there is Trump, who got millions fewer votes than Clinton but won three key states by a margin smaller than 1 percent with share of the vote less than 50 percent.

The closest analogy in history to this is the 2000 election when George W. Bush made passing gestures at unity and ended up pursuing a nakedly partisan agenda that erased a surplus, lost two wars and revealed mass incompetence.

But even W. didn’t go after Planned Parenthood. And the millions he uninsured were just the side effect of the failure of his economic polices.

Posted with permission from The National Memo.

			

The Trump Dossier

This ‘Fake News’ Is Real Enough To Investigate

by Joe Conason

Page of the Trump Dossier

A page from the Trump dossier reportedly compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

When Donald Trump denounced the latest hints of his collusion with the Kremlin as “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter, it was hard not to wonder what he meant, exactly. Having barraged us all for years with fake news about a wide variety of important matters such as Barack Obama’s true birthplace, the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the dangers of childhood vaccination, does Trump mean we should believe the Russians conspired to help him win the 2016 election? Or does he mean that unlike all of his favorite fake news stories, we shouldn’t believe this one?

 Whatever Trump may mean when he complains about fake news, the story of Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 election is undeniably real. So the president-elect himself finally admitted when, at his press conference, he acknowledged the accuracy of U.S. intelligence assessments of the Kremlin’s culpability in hacking the Democrats. Following a private conversation with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, he finally stopped trying to deny and obfuscate those nefarious thefts of information by his Russian supporters.

The critical question that remains is how far the Russians went in promoting Trump’s election—and whether Trump and his campaign are implicated in that conspiracy.

Only a series of fully empowered probes by law enforcement and Congressional authorities can uncover the truth, but already there are many investigative trails to follow. Consider the recent stunning news reports of a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about Trump, his campaign, and the Russians, which provoked his enraged “fake news” tweet.  Mesmerized by the dossier’s references to alleged videotape of a Trump encounter in Russia with prostitutes hired to perform a perverse urination ritual, many journalists dismissed the entire document as mere gossip.

Such dismissals revealed nothing except the ignorance of those who uttered them, none of whom appears to understand the nature and purpose of what spooks call “humint,” or human intelligence (as distinguished from surveillance and other data). The Trump dossier is an intelligence file, not a prosecution memo; its purpose is not to prove a case but to point a direction. And as subsequent coverage in the Guardian and Financial Times indicated, its author Christopher Steele is no mere purveyor of gossip. He is a highly respected and experienced former official of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, where he oversaw the agency’s work in Russia and Eastern Europe for decades. Nobody who knows anything about Steele doubts his reach into the top ranks of Moscow’s political and business sectors.

Indeed, much of what Steele’s dossier reports about alleged contacts between the Trump camp and the Kremlin (as well as its various cutouts) matches what US and other intelligence agencies learned last year from their own Russian sources. That was among the reasons why the director of national intelligence and the directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA believed the dossier worthy of briefing to both Trump and President Obama.

The details also match many troubling facts already known about Trump and his associates. It is clear, for instance, that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has worked to advance the interests of the Putin regime for well over a decade, and not only in Ukraine. It is also clear that Manafort and his longtime business partner, Washington lobbyist Rick Davis, have cultivated business ties with major Russian oligarchs in Putin’s orbit.

The most notorious of those oligarchs is Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate of dubious repute who was barred from entering the United States. More than ten years ago, in 2006, Davis was preparing to launch the nascent presidential campaign of the leading Republican candidate – Senator John McCain. As The Nation and other news outlets later reported, Davis and Manafort introduced McCain to Deripaska on a yacht anchored in the port of Montenegro, where the oligarch hosted a “birthday party” for the Arizona senator. If Deripaska and Manafort were attempting to gain a White House foothold, their initiative evaporated when Obama defeated McCain two years later.

 But with that shady episode behind him, McCain probably understands better than most of his colleagues why the Steele dossier—which he personally delivered to the FBI director—demands much more than snarky repartee about “watersports.” Not everything that Steele heard is likely to be true. But if even a fraction proves accurate, the Trump campaign’s Moscow connection will become the biggest political scandal in American history.

@JoeConason is editor-in-chief of , and co-editor of . This article is posted with permission from The National Memo.

THANKSGIVING AT THE A.M.E. CHURCH

An agnostic Jew finds sanctuary among black worshipers

Photo from gallery of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The ladies seemed aglow with the proposition of their attendance, as if this was a highlight in their lives, or perhaps the highlight of their lives. Photo from gallery of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

by Dell Franklin

Maybe it was time I showed up at a “house of worship”—church, synagogue, mosque, etc.—after a more than 50-year absence (except weddings and funerals) as a fully committed agnostic. So when my brother-in-law, who along with my sister is white and a volunteer sponsor of minority foster children for an organization associated with the black A.M.E. Church, invited me to join him for morning services at that church in Los Angeles, I said yes.

I was curious and also looking forward to entering the unknown as the 1 percent minority, if that. Also, having lived on the mostly white conservative Central Coast of California for the last 30 years, I was excited, as a kid reared in mixed-race Compton, to again rub elbows with black folks.

The church was a huge, stately structure. We arrived early and people were milling around, dressed in their best for a festive Thanksgiving. At the entrance we were greeted by a man in an immaculate black suit and white gloves who welcomed us, while another man similarly clad handed us programs titled, “God’s blessings inspire an attitude of gratitude.” A few ladies stood talking, nodded at us, smiled, and I was immersed instantly in a cocoon of warmth and graciousness of a different kind.

We found our seats up front, in the second row, along the middle aisle. Already, the choir was in place behind and beyond the pulpit as dignitaries of the church sat in a row behind the lecterns. My brother-in-law, Bruce, was eager to hear a visiting pastor from the Dallas, Terry White, and the church’s own pastor, “J” Edgar Boyd, in the face of Trump’s recent election as president.

But to me, this occasion posed a brilliant cornucopia of unrivaled people-watching, my favorite pastime. The ladies seemed aglow with the proposition of their attendance, as if this was a highlight in their lives, or perhaps the highlight of their lives. How could an agnostic, a cynical bastard like myself feel cynical about this as these ladies caught my eye and smiled and welcomed me to their church?

As the massive cavern filled with black people only, a different emotion filled me—I was getting with it. I was among the congregation and did not suffer the usual guilt of being a nonbeliever facing a man preaching the Bible, nor the self-betrayal of just being in their midst, nor the boredom and manipulation I had resented and endured in the synagogue growing up, or any of the other churches I had been forced to attend for weddings and funerals. I felt utterly at ease here—and safe.

The service began and hymns and litanies led to prayers by a lady reverend, another lady, and  a teenager. Scripture was read—Samuel—a commentary having to do subtly with Trump, followed by the choir, which was just warming up, and then came Pastor Boyd, his constant refrain, over and over and over again, with more and more emotion, what these people, his people, felt after the election, after years and years of struggle: “WE MADE IT!”

“YES, WE MADE IT!” People began to stand, mostly women. They nodded and raised a hand and announced their agreement. “Yes, we made it!”

“AND WE WILL MAKE IT AGAIN!” Over and over again, and Trump’s name was never mentioned, but everybody got the pastor’s message. Black people had overcome slavery, lynchings, beatings, the unleashing upon them of vicious dogs and powerful water hoses and teargas, incarceration for whatever the white man deemed guilty, centuries of civil rights abuse and bludgeoning of spirit, but always, always, they “made it.”

The reverend was a resonant showman, the ebullient spirit pouring forth from his every pore, preaching that two-fisted old fashioned religion, and Bruce and I found ourselves rising with the throng, clapping our hands, and when the pastor finished in a rousing finale, a tall man in a light brown suit led the choir, and now the place was really rocking, the blend of powerful, magnificently blended voices leading a chorus among the congregation, and I found myself not singing, because I know no words and I was not really a person who talked about the lord or Jesus or even God, but instead watched the people, and especially the ladies, so carefully attired, jewelry gleaming, and I was reminded of the hardship most black women endure, reminded of my days of working on the riverboat Delta Queen on the Mississippi River back in 1969, and being the only white employee below the officers, and of being taken as a guest to a blues club in Memphis by a crew of waiters and maids, and getting with that music, and watching my friends react to this music, such sad, woebegone music, and, while dancing with one of these ladies, who was sending her pay home to her children and family in New Orleans, I asked how people could be so joyous over such brokenhearted music, and she told me, “Honey, we got to celebrate our sufferin’, or we ain’t gonna make it.” And, “We got our blues, and our church, and they can’t take that away.”  And she smiled, knowing I had no clue to either and probably never would, but that was okay, too.

It made me think about my own life, and how easy things were for me, how I, a white person, could hitchhike from LA to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and land the best job on the Delta Queen as the ship’s storekeeper. No black person could hitch through the south without fearing disaster, and none of the uneducated blacks on the Queen had the training to be a storekeeper, as I had, starting out as a 15-year-old stock boy in Compton.

Those maids on the Delta Queen reminded me of the ladies in this congregation, who, as mothers and providers, and believers, beamed with pride and hope and faith cutting through hardship and hurt. The faces and  bodies of these women depicted heroic resilience beyond my comprehension, and the more I watched them, as the choir moved into a higher gear, and the people began swaying and repeating, a spirit entered me. I saw what religion meant to these people, and joining them made me feel good, and grateful, and strangely whole. I didn’t have to believe in Jesus, or the lord, or God, or any god, but just needed to be among people who genuinely believed, and shared, and found this day, and perhaps every Sunday of their lives, a salvation and a salve for the week’s wounds and life’s unfairness, a refuge from what occurred daily outside the walls of this massive church.

The Gospel ended and now Reverend Terry White Sr. from Dallas took over, and his oration, like Pastor Boyd’s, came from an echoing chamber deep within, and his showmanship and passion soon had everybody rising and repeating his words, and he wound himself into a fury, moving this way and that, his voice powerful, and the whole place rocked and rocked, and I thought to myself that if I lived around here I might show up at this church more than a few Sundays a year, to again drop some cash into their coffers and experience what was proving to be to me an almost Zen-like occasion.

In the end, we all held hands, swaying back and forth, and afterwards I was myself shaking hands with men and hugging women as we headed toward the exit in a cloud of jubilation. Outside, a few more hands were shook, and then I ran into the man in the brown suit who led the choir, and I told him how great I thought they were, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you, we give it our all.”

I ran into a lady who must have been well past 80, struck up a conversation, and she urged me to come back, and hugged me. Driving back, Bruce said, “You think we feel entitled, going in there, because we’re white?”

“Probably.”

“You think two black men would be as welcome in a Southern Baptist white church, or any white church?”

“I don’t know. Churches are supposed to be welcoming places. Maybe, but I doubt it.”

We talked about the white man who went into the black church in South Carolina and shot and killed innocent people. And they forgave him, prayed for him. To those people I don’t think it was just about Jesus, or the lord, or God, but a spirit of humanity and magnanimity, just as they would accept me in that very same spirit as a nonbeliever, a person who walked out feeling that humanity and magnanimity and carrying it with him for that day and to this day too, and perhaps for some time to come. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he maintains his love for humanity, and the hope of people who struggle against ignorance and hate. His other works can be viewed at dellfranklin.com

TRUMP TRANSITION STAFF MEMO

At first glance you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as cabinet-level material.

At first glance you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as cabinet-level material.

Department of Satire
Pre-Vetting Memo
From: Transition Staff
To: VP-Elect Pence

It was recently brought to our attention that the field of candidates to fill key new positions in the Administration is, well, a little white. Okay, a lot white. And, after Ben withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday, like, Klan-rally-in-a-blizzard-white. We’re not quite sure what to do about this, as we feel like we’re getting conflicting signals. Steve keeps saying “think back to the future,” that we really need to reassure the white voting bloc of the New Model Coalition that the 1950s are just around the corner—which is already hard enough to do without old-school Jim Crow. (The libs are hip to the new kind, dammit, but with our man Jefferson Beauregard Sessions heading to Justice, looks like happy days of the new being old and the old being new are just around the corner.) And Chuck has kind of menaced that thinking outside the box might put us on the To-Be-Transitioned-From-The-Transition list.

But Reince and Kellyanne seem to think we need to make at least some nod to racial diversity, but on uniquely Trumpian terms: Even if insanity is not only not a disqualifier, but a recommender, in this nascent Administration, any nominees we make cannot be drawn from the usual suspects. Or, as Kellyanne put it, “I don’t want to see Herman Cain or Alan Keyes on the list. Find someone’s who’s a real political outsider.”

So we think we’ve got a good one, and for SecDef, at that:  Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys.

Now we know, Mr. Vice President-elect, that as a white Christian conservative from Indiana, at first glance, you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as Cabinet-level material. But he might be more your kind of guy than you think. And if you take away the “black Jamaican-born” part, Bushwick could fit right in with any of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy family, We know that comparison might not sit well with our white supremacist—check that, white nationalist—bloc, but we think we can use it to our advantage in an SNL “Black Jeopardy” kind of way.

As you know  (or maybe not—some say you’re “Quayle v2.0,” while Milo calls you “that clueless Hoosier fuck,” which is actually a term of endearment—if he didn’t like you he’d say “cuck”), the President-elect’s national security/foreign policy stance during the campaign was to righteously excoriate Bush 43 elites and Democratic elite enablers for undertaking an unnecessary war costly in blood and treasure on the one hand and, on the other hand, promise decisive unilateral action against truly deserving enemies that might make even circa ’64 Barry Goldwater blush. The President-elect has also repeatedly emphasized his desire, however hazily, to improve the lot of African-Americans, which appears to have gotten some traction well beyond our top black booster.

While we suspect that, if you heard it at all, you were probably reflexively opposed to anything labeled “gansta rap” in 1991, we think that the band’s Bushwick Bill-authored “Fuck A War” very presciently articulated many of the sentiments on war Mr. Trump has seen and tapped into during the campaign:

Motherfuck a war, that’s how I feel

Sendin’ a nigga to a dentist to get killed

‘Cause two suckas can’t agree on something

A thousand motherfuckers died for nothing

As we know, the President-elect will most definitely not be sending members of the working class to be cannon fodder (especially when his children can continue bilking and stiffing them, while he rounds up and deports at least a few million of the browner ones). But it’s Bushwick’s stance on use of nuclear weapons, though, that really excites us.

Admittedly, Bushwick would prefer to have his finger on the button. But given the decisive zeal of his position, we suspect that he’d be happy for a subordinate-but-synergistic policy relationship with Mr. Trump. Unlike Kissinger, who couldn’t rise to his president’s exhortation to “think big,” and more like Richard Perle, who was always keen to “move up the escalation ladder,” we have no doubt that Bushwick would champion an eschewal of diplomacy for swift, decisive, taxpayer-efficient military action when obviously necessary:

You’re lucky that I ain’t the president

‘Cause I’ll push the fuckin’ button and get it over wit

Fuck all that waitin’ and procrastinatin’

And all that goddamn negotiatin’

Flyin’ back and forth overseas

And havin’ lunch and brunch with the motherfuckin’ enemies

I’ll aim one missle at Iraq

And blow that little piece of shit off the map

Yeah, I wouldn’t give a fuck who it ices

‘Cause I’m tired of payin’ these high-ass gas prices

Clearly someone not only attuned to populist sensibilities, but also a potentially excellent collaborator for John Bolton, wherever John ends up in the New Order.

This is not to say that Bushwick’s confirmation would be without challenge, even in a rubber-stamp Senate. We acknowledge that Bushwick’s derisive metaphorical allusion to the United States for its perceived institutional and international racism

You can’t pay me to join an army camp

Or any other motherfuckin’ military branch

of this United goddamn States of this bitch America

Be a soldier, what for?

They puttin’ niggas on the front line

But when it comes to gettin’ ahead, they put us way behind

The enemy is right here g, them foreigners never did shit me

All of those wasted lives

And only one or two get recognized

But what good is a medal when you’re dead? Tell Uncle Sam I said

I ain’t goin’ to war for a shit-talkin’ president

Fuck fuck fuck a war

could present problems at a confirmation hearing, as could his near-deportation as a result of drug charges after a lapse in sobriety some years back. But on the other hand, the adjudication of Bushwick’s case shows the immigration system can, in fact, be fair and just; and Bushwick’s status as a born-again Christian (including calls for self-reliance and responsibility) since the late aughts, and astute assessment of a certain timeless quality in veterans’ issues, all but makes him an expert and broadly-appealing sympathetic figure:

You know how Uncle Sam treat its veterans

Absolutely no respect

Get a plate in your head, lose a leg, you might get a check

We also note, as a bonus for our brand of anti-Republican-Elitism, that Bushwick’s “Fuck A War” lyrics—which, though written during the first Gulf War, could easily apply to the second—show no love for the House of Bush, and indeed an unambiguous desire to punish gratuitous warmongering elites:

I ain’t gettin’ my leg shot off

While Bush’s old ass on t.v. playin’ golf

But when you come to my house with that draft shit

I’ma shoot your funky ass bitch

A nigga’ll die for a broil

But I ain’t fightin’ behind no goddamn oil

Against motherfuckas I don’t know

Yo Bush! I ain’t your damn ho

In sum, Bushwick seems to perfectly capture the national security sentiments that have propelled Mr. Trump to power: Weariness with war and contempt for elites on the one hand, but a desire for maximalist unilateral action on the other. And beyond policy matters, we think Bushwick and the President-elect would get on well on a personal level: While the scale of reversals of fortune between the two is vast, Bushwick’s 1995 “Times is Hard” kind of parallels Mr. Trump’s bankruptcy rise and falls, and perhaps reflects a “come to Jesus” dimension the President-elect has had with regard to women and chronic scoff-lawing upon his election:

Rollin’ through my hood like a superstar

Turnin’ corner after corner in my brand new cars

These hos used to call me baller

But that was before I lost my grip, now they barely even calla

Player ‘cuz they know that I’m broke

No Rolex, no Benz just spokes (shit)

Now that I’m back to life, and back to reality

Got one life which ain’t shit without a salary

No more playing mack daddy for you skeezers

I got one lover, I love her, so I’ma please her

And leave you tramps alone

Since I’m getting shit straight, I’m starting at home

I’m on a long road to nowhere if I don’t change

Life with no crime on my mind feels strange

Working like a motherfucker, slick like a Benz seat

Backing off my old hustle, trying to make these ends meet

It is possible, however, that Bushwick might consider Mr. Trump to be exactly the “shit talkin’ president” for whom one wouldn’t go to war; and that the Little Big Man with the jaundiced-but-astute one eye might see some other Administration nominees as being hostile to minorities. Perhaps the real question is, how much of the old “Fuck A War,” ‘hood vs. The Man Bushwick is there with the newer born-again, get-the-behind-me-gangsta Bushwick? Though someone is actually in the process of figuring this out, we recommend sending Milo to sound this out. Whether he comes back with a cap on his tooth or a cap busted in his ass, someone, somewhere, will be happy. §

The Secretary of Satire thinks the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me”  is one of the best songs ever, but in light of recent events, also recommends doses of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” and Steve Earle’s “Mississippi, It’s Time.”