Up is down, rich is poor

Ivanka Trump has a self-help book? Of course she does. And Jia Tolentino at the New Yorker read it. It explains so much about that whole rotten, corrupt family.

When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. We had no such advantages, she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer, she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who dug deep for their spare change. The lesson, she says, is that the kids made the best of a bad situation. In another early business story, she and her brothers made fake Native American arrowheads, buried them in the woods, dug them up while playing with their friends, and sold the arrowheads to their friends for five dollars each.

Her bad situation was being wealthy; her solution was to compel her servants and bodyguards, you know, the little people, to give her more money, and to lie to her friends to trick them into giving her yet more money. And she’s completely oblivious to the ethical problems with what she did!

I hope all of her businesses fail and that she is publicly scorned by all of her friends, but I suspect she’s just going to come out of the next few years richer, and that her friends are all just as awful as she is.

How bad are Trump’s advisors?

How bad is Jeff Sessions, his pick for Attorney General? This bad.

His anti-choice record includes:

  • Voted against a resolution in support of Roe v. Wade in 1999
  • Voted to defund organizations that perform abortions in 2007
  • Co-sponsored a bill prohibiting taking minors across state lines for abortion and then voted to increase funding to enforce the in 2008
  • Voted in support of a bill notify parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions in 2006
  • Voted no on a plan that would have allocated $100 million in federal funding for family planning services that sought to reduce teen pregnancy through education programs and access to contraceptives in 2005
  • Voted to ban partial birth abortions, except for cases in which a woman’s life is in danger in 2003
  • Voted to maintain a ban on military base abortions in 2000
  • Voted to prohibit federal funding for abortions in 2011

There’s a theme running through all of that. I wonder what it is?

How bad is Tom Price, his pick for Health and Human Services? This bad. He belongs to the AAPS, a fringe society of conservative physicians.

Before the big 9/12 rally in Washington, AAPS cosponsored a protest on Capitol Hill with the Tea Party Patriots that AAPS says attracted 1,000 physicians. The organization’s president, Mark Kellen, appeared with Georgia representatives Tom Price and Phil Gingrey—GOP members of the congressional doctors’ caucus—to slam the bill. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming”—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.

Oh jebus. Andrew Schlafly gets mentioned, too, a notorious anti-evolution kook.

I can guess who’s going to be appointed to lead the NIH, if this trend continues.

Pipeline politics explained

That contentious oil pipeline being built across the Standing Rock reservation’s water supply has a revealing history. It wasn’t originally supposed to go there!

As Bill McKibben explains for the New Yorker, the pipeline was originally supposed to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck, but it was moved over concerns that an oil spill at that location would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. As a result, the pipeline was shifted to a crossing half a mile from the reservation.

All the white folks in Bismarck didn’t need to camp out and get shot at and blown up and frozen in order to express their disapproval — a few words of “concern” and oil executives decided to pick a less important population to poison.

But don’t worry. I now have a solution to the whole problem.

As relayed in a memo to employees, the company insists that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded.”

Excellent! So just pack up and move the thing to the original, planned location, which isn’t full of uppity, fractious natives who are willing to fight for their land.

I’m glad that was so easily solved. I’m sure the residents of Bismarck will find that memo totally reassuring.

Fidel Castro is dead, and I don’t care

He was a repressive tyrant and terrible gerontocrat who fought against the previous repressive tyrant and the malign influence of US capitalism. That he’s dead just means one less dictator in the world, and unfortunately there’s a long line of them waiting to take over everywhere.

I might care more if his absence made a difference for the people of Cuba, but his brother is already holding the reins of power.

I share Jeff Shallit’s opinion. He murdered thousands of dissidents. He gathered up gay people and put them in labor camps. He was dictator for life, and passed power to his brother, who is the new dictator. You can point to a few good things he did for Cubans, I’m not denying that, but in general, he was a tyrannical monster who seized power for himself and never let it go.

Goodbye, American education

American education has deep problems. Funding for the public school system is patchy and inconsistent, relying on local property taxes which leads to gross inequities; higher education has suffered from declining support for decades. And now Donald Trump has appointed Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education.


The sole reason is that DeVos is a corrupt billionaire, just like him; she made her money off of the Amway empire, which is a repellent, criminal pyramid scheme, a colossal con that has escaped most of the weight of legal retribution by being filthy rich and cozying up to the right wing.

In 1980, the DeVos family contributed heavily to the election of Ronald Reagan, and DeVos, Sr., was named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Two years later, he was removed, after calling the brutal 1982 recession a “cleansing process,” and insisting that anyone who was unemployed simply didn’t want to work. That same year, DeVos and his Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, were charged with criminal tax fraud in Canada. Eventually, Amway pleaded guilty and paid fines of twenty-five million dollars, and the criminal charges against DeVos and his partner were dropped. Despite these incidents, the DeVos clan remained a major political force. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last fifty years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told Mother Jones, in 2014.

The marriage of Dick DeVos to Betsy Prince only increased the family’s wealth and power. Her father, Edgar Prince, had made a fortune in auto-parts manufacturing, selling his company for $1.35 billion in cash, in 1996. Her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that the government infamously contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its mercenaries killed more than a dozen civilians in 2007.

The whole damn family ought to be in prison, but instead, they’ve been embraced by the Trump regime.

But wait, that says nothing about her ability to run the US educational system. What are her education qualifications?

She doesn’t have any. She’s had no training in education, she did not attend public school, her kids didn’t attend public schools, she’s been a crusader for vouchers. Vouchers don’t work!

The longest running voucher program in the country is the 20-year-old Milwaukee School Choice Program. Standardized testing shows that the voucher students in private schools perform below the level of Milwaukee’s public school students, and even when socioeconomic status is factored in, the voucher students still score at or below the level of the students who remain in Milwaukee’s public schools. Cleveland’s voucher program has produced similar results. Private schools in the voucher program range from excellent to very poor. In some, less than 20 percent of students reach basic proficiency levels in math and reading.

Vouchers are simply a means to an end: the demolition of the public school system. The DeVoses can afford the best private schools, and if you can’t, you deserve to be uneducated.

We thought Trump would be bad. We had no idea how awful electing an incompetent sould be, because it’s clear that the first thing he’s doing is appointing more incompetents solely on the basis of ideological fanaticism.

There’s hope for American journalism yet

What’s this? Principles? Taking a stand? I am thankful for Charles Blow. He doesn’t hold back at all in his criticism of Donald Trump’s recent meeting with the NY Times.

The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

Here are our next few years: one long and consistent struggle.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

History sheds some light on bathroom battles

Take the long view — the opponents of transgender/unisex bathrooms are all wrong. The history of ancient bathrooms shows that they’ve been unsegregated for ages and that separate bathrooms are a recent invention.

The evidence is ambiguous but one of the interesting features of most ancient and medieval bathrooms is that they generally do not appear to have been segregated by gender. Even though women were prohibited from participating in or entering many kinds of all-male spaces in the ancient world, the latrine wasn’t one of them.

In fact gender-segregated bathrooms were an innovation of the Victorian era, when they struck a blow for women’s rights. Up until the introduction of segregation in the nineteenth century, men had exclusive access to public restrooms. The result was that women were effectively tethered to their homes. While urinating over gutters or into “urinettes” (a small portable device that was used under long skirts and discretely emptied) were options, they were hardly preferred. Gender-segregated bathrooms, therefore, were actually a positive step. The 1887 Massachusetts law that mandated that workplaces provided bathrooms for female employees made it possible for women to hold down jobs without “holding it.”

Now I wonder, though, how the history of clothing was affected by this practice. In ancient Rome a woman would hitch up her stola and tunica intima to use the latrine, so there was still some privacy hidden behind folds of cloth. I’m more disgusted by the fact that they all would have shared the same sponge-on-a-stick for wiping themselves afterwards, which is why I’m bring my own roll of toilet paper when the physicists get around to inventing that time machine.

I’m also thinking that only providing bathrooms for men was the kind of sneaky exclusionary trick that was also done by not having pockets on women’s clothing.