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Thursday, May 11, 2017

When Will It End? Paul Vernier and Community Counseling Treatment Services Center

Sometimes you scratch your head and wonder. Is there something I don't understand? I am baffled about how law enforcement draws some very questionable lines when pressure from above comes to bear. If you are like me and try to read between the lines, your suspicion grows and grows. I know a man I believe has been persecuted for no cause.

It has been nearly three years ago (September 25, 2014) when local and federal officials executed search warrants at Paul Vernier's properties -- Community Counseling Treatment Services Center in Ironton, Ohio, as well as at his two facilities in Portsmouth and his home.

During the raid, authorities said they were looking for evidence in a drug trafficking and money laundering case they claimed had been in the works for more than a year. The authorities said Vernier and his staff took part in illegal activities including drug trafficking, money laundering, insurance fraud and forging prescriptions.

Yet to this day, Paul Vernier has not been charged or arrested for criminal activities. That is what I said: he has yet to be charged.

The police impounded Vernier's vehicles and other property he owned, and he has yet to recover these possessions. These authorities totally ransacked his home. And, all the while, he was left to wonder why he was targeted for any criminal activity – particularly since reputable sources say Vernier was a stickler about "dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's" of complicated medical treatment procedures.

There is no doubt the raid did irreparable damage to Paul Vernier's livelihood and reputation. Even more devastating is that in the middle of a deadly opioid epidemic, authorities shut down a life-saving resource and increased the danger of overdose death and addiction in Southern Ohio.

Vernier is a veteran who, himself, had been addicted for 25 years. He got sober and has maintained sobriety for nearly 20 years. He wanted to pay back, so he dedicated himself to helping others by enrolling in college and working diligently to attain degrees in education, counseling, and human development. Then, he realized his dream by opening the Community Counseling facilities.

At his counseling facilities, Paul Vernier helped his clients attain GED's, find jobs, secure housing, and work with children's services. His concern always has been to make a better place to live for all his clients and for all the people of Scioto County. But, it all came to an abrupt end approximately three years ago.

In in amazing gesture of commitment and grace, Paul Vernier and his family still have church services at the counseling center in Rosemount two nights a month. Ministers come from as far away as Tennessee to lead the congregation. Several of Vernier's clients are always there for these services. Everyone is welcome to attend.

It is my understanding that the authorities have returned two of his vehicles and two pill counters – strangely giving back pieces while holding the rest. Doesn't this seem amazing considering the time that has passed and the vague, accusatory circumstances? Parceling out bits of a broken life, the law prolongs the investigation. For what? Do the authorities hope to make a deal of some kind with a man who has not been charged with any crime? Vernier is caught in limbo.

Consider this same thing happening to you. One day law enforcement invades your job and your home, leaving your world in shambles. You, your family, and your friends patiently wait and wait only to be left on a perpetual merry-go-round with no charges or convictions. I cannot imagine the pain caused by such an intrusion. I believe I would be livid, ready to excise my pound of flesh. Yet today, Paul Vernier waits patiently for justice and vindication. All the while his clients – actual and potential – suffer. No one will ever know how many will never return. Imagine the added horror of the continual speculation.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dangerous Dicks Invading Jane's Restroom


The Trump administration took its first major anti-LGBTQ policy action by withdrawing Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let the students use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. Civil rights groups have denounced the withdrawal as a politically motivated attack that will endanger transgender children and sow confusion over the federal government's role in enforcing civil rights.

Let me simplify the issue. Conservatives, as part of their campaign against LGBTQ people, are scaring people about bathrooms. Creating a myth to strengthen their base, they say, “If people are allowed to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities, men will disguise themselves as trans women to sneak into women's bathrooms and sexually assault women.”

In no nonsense terms, these Puritanical zealots believe hordes of young, cross-dressing heterosexual perverts brandishing lustful, sinister penises will gain access to public bathrooms to harass and rape the female population – dastardly dicks in dresses will be mass humping unsuspecting girls.

Excuse me, but … damn, son-of-a-bitch, and what the hell?

This has never happened as a result of states' nondiscrimination laws. There is no evidence that nondiscrimination laws – and other policies that also let trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity – lead to sexual assault in bathrooms and locker rooms. In two investigations, Media Matters confirmed with experts and officials in 12 states and 17 school districts (covering 600,000 students) with protections for trans people that they had no increases in sex crimes after they enacted their policies.

(Rachel Percelay. “17 School Districts Debunk Right-Wing Lies About Protections For Transgender Students.” Media Matters. June 03, 2015.)

And, get this, please – even if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity, sexual assault remains illegal. Laws to punish perps are already on the books.

History shows conservatives propagate such myths to sustain discrimination of all kinds. They latch onto people's insecurities and create lies that appeal to their emotions. Bathrooms are places where really private things happen, even if they are accessible to the public, and this makes people feel vulnerable. In brief, people often feel afraid because they're exposed. Conservatives prey on these fears.

Gillian Frank, visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, relates how this happened in the struggle for racial equality in the United States.

Franks says, for example, during the World War II era, conservatives began employing the idea that social equality for African-Americans would lead to sexual danger for white women in bathrooms. And it was used to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, which tried to establish legal equality between men and women, because opponents claimed it would lead to the abolition of bathrooms for different genders, potentially putting women in danger.
And, since World War II, public bathrooms have figured centrally in African-American civil rights struggles for racial integration in the workplace and in schools. Integrating these spaces in the Southern United States meant doing away with Jim Crow laws that mandated, among other things, separate public bathrooms for blacks and whites.

American segregationists often interpreted demands for racial equality as black male demands for interracial sexual contact with white women. White women also emphasized that contact with black women in bathrooms would infect them with venereal diseases claiming that racial integration with blacks would cause them to catch syphilis from shared toilet seats and towels in public restrooms.

(Gillian Frank. “The Anti-Trans Bathroom Nightmare Has Its Roots in Racial Segregation.” Slate. November 10, 2015.)
Historian Phoebe Godfrey summarized the racial, gender, and sexual dynamics at play. Conflicts over bathrooms “were rooted in beliefs about the vulnerability of southern womanhood to blackness, which by its mere presence had the power to contaminate, symbolizing a sexual threat regardless of gender.”

And still, conservatives are using fears and bathrooms to discriminate. Now, they are repealing laws that protected LGBTQ people. They are portraying transgender people as pedophiles while, in truth, violence against transgender people in public bathrooms abounds.

In a 2012 study, Jodi L. Herman found that 68 percent of transgender people she surveyed experienced verbal harassment, 18 percent had been denied access, and 9 percent experienced physical assault when trying to use gender-segregated public restrooms.

Herman discovered restroom violence is symptomatic of the broader forms of discrimination transgender people experience with alarming regularity. 

(Jody L. Herman. “Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress: The Public Regulation of Gender and its Impact on Transgender People’s Lives.” Williams Institute. UCLA School of Law. 2012.)

What is to be learned from all of this toilet trash talk and turmoil? To those who look at the core of the issue, the lesson is that legislation enforcing restroom boundaries is all about prejudice – the partiality of race, gender, and sexual relations. It is not about protecting the delicate flower of feminine virginity. We have sufficient laws in place now to assure heterosexual women are safe… even in public restrooms. Perhaps it is time we assure the same safety for transgenders.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trump, Transgenders, and Shameful Denial


Do you remember when then presidential candidate Donald Trump said last April that he supported the rights of transgender people to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” At the time, he said that Caitlyn Jenner, perhaps the most famous transgender person in the country, could use whichever bathroom at Trump Tower she wanted.

“North Carolina did something — it was very strong — and they’re paying a big price,” Trump said. “And there’s a lot of problems. And I heard — one of the best answers I heard was from a commentator yesterday saying, leave it the way it is, right now.” 

(Ashley Parker. “Donald Trump Says Transgender People should Use the Bathroom They Want.” The New York Times. April 21, 2016.) 

Evidently that was then and this is now.

Now, the Trump administration plans to roll back protections for transgender students and is preparing changes to federal guidance that required the nation’s public schools to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identities.

This is different from President Obama administration’s position, which was that denying transgender students the right to use the bathroom of their choice violates federal prohibitions against sex discrimination

The Obama administration’s stand was based on the position that requiring students to use a restroom that clashes with their gender identity is a violation of Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in public schools.

Gay rights groups condemned the move preemptively. This reversal by Trump would be a significant setback for the gay rights movement, which made enormous gains under Obama, winning the right to marry and gaining the ability to serve openly in the military.

“Such clear action directed at children would be a brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

(Sandhya Somashekhar, Moriah Balingit, and Emma Brown. “Trump administration poised to change transgender student bathroom guidelines.” The Washington Post. February 21, 2017.)

Allow me to speak about gender. First, I would like you to read the American Psychological Association's definition of the word “gender” and explain how it differs from the definition of the word “sex” ...

Gender (n): “the condition of being male, female, or neuter. In a human context, the distinction between gender and SEX reflects the usage of these terms: Sex usually refers to the biological aspects of maleness or femaleness, whereas gender implies the psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural aspects of being male or female (i.e., masculinity or femininity.)”

Please understand that a person's gender identity (also defined by the APA) is that being's “deeply-felt, inherent sense of being a boy, a man, or male; a girl, a woman, or female; or an alternative gender (e.g., genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender neutral) that may or may not correspond to a person’s sex assigned at birth or to a person’s primary or secondary sex characteristics.”

(APA Resources.

Thus, Gender Dysphoria occurs as discomfort or distress related to incongruence between a person’s gender identity, sex assigned at birth, gender identity, and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics (Knudson, DeCuypere, & Bockting. 2010).

In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition adopted the term Gender Dysphoria as a diagnosis characterized by “a marked incongruence between” a person’s gender assigned at birth and gender identity (American Psychiatric Association. 2013. p. 453).

Gender Dysphoria replaced the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in the previous version of the DSM (American Psychiatric Association. 2000).

Every day obstetricians, doctors and midwives commit the procedure of assigning an infant's gender without even asking for the parents' consent. When a doctor holds a child up in the delivery room and looks between its legs, that medical person declares the child to be a boy or a girl based on this hasty assessment of genitals.

Nothing in this examination is necessarily wrong or criminal or meant to harm the infant.

However …

This decision can be potentially critical to the welfare and well-being of a child. Christin Scarlett Milloy – activist, writer, journalist – explains the weight of this gender assignment in the following:

“With infant gender assignment, in a single moment your baby's life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished—both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance.

“That doctor (and the power structure behind him) plays a pivotal role in imposing those limits on helpless infants, without their consent, and without your informed consent as a parent. This issue deserves serious consideration by every parent, because no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, infant gender assignment has effects that will last through their whole life.” 

(Christin Scarlett Milloy. “Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn.” Slate. June 26, 2014.)

More and more, we see stories about transgender people in the news. They are a part of the LGBT minority. The National Health Interview Survey reported in July 2014 that 1.6 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identify as bisexual. In a Williams Institute review based on an June–September 2012 Gallup poll, approximately 3.4 percent of American adults identify themselves as being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender). According to the report from the Williams Institute, the transgender population represents about 0.3% of American adults.

We are finally understanding the truth about gender and all of its complexities. Every parent now understands there is a chance their child might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and no parent wants a child to face what feels like a stacked deck against them.

Each child – no matter their orientation – deserves equal respect and human dignity, yet we are well aware that a child of any minority becomes subjected to harassment and mistreatment. Psychological abuse for gender nonconforming children is common – transgender people are far more likely to be depressed, and they have a devastating 41 percent rate of suicide attempts, nearly nine times the social average. It is imperative for all of us to understand this – people are not miserable because they're transgender; they're miserable as the result of being assigned the wrong gender at birth.

(Ann P. Hass et al. “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults.” The Williams Institute, in collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. January, 2014.)

The unconditional love of a parent is the utmost protection for any child. It is clear how important this concern must be for a transgender child. These parents must fight gender discrimination as they seek equality for their children. Even though Western culture has traditionally viewed gender as a binary concept, with two rigidly fixed options: male or female, modern science shows that biological gender occurs across a continuum of possibilities.

Until those who hold onto the binary concept of gender recognize the diversity of other gender identities, sexual discrimination will plague our nation. Until all people practice inclusion, transgender people will suffer as gender continues to be closely monitored and reinforced in beliefs so primitive they judge only genitalia, not who a person really is.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"God Empowers You to Fight For Justice": Advocate Austin Channing Brown

 Austin Channing Brown 

Austin Channing Brown is a speaker and writer advocating for justice and racial reconciliation. A graduate of North Park University and Marygrove College with a master's degree in social justice, Austin currently serves as a resident director and multicultural liaison at Calvin College. 
Austin recently wrote an article for Today's Christian Woman titled “5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Fight for Justice And the One Reason You Should.” In her article, she speaks honestly about her commitment to seeking racial justice. Working in foster care and homeless shelters, churches, and college campuses, Austin speaks of a calling that “follows her into every moment of her life.” Yet, she confesses ...

Doing this work is hard. Really hard. In fact, fighting for justice is the worst. It’s not sexy or romantic; it’s often quite gut-wrenching. So in an effort to be honest about this work, I decided to make a list of why you shouldn’t fight for justice.”

(Austin Channing Brown. “5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Fight for Justice And the One Reason You Should.” Today's Christian Woman. 2017.)

This is that list of why you should not fight for justice:

1. It will exhaust you.

It is a deeply emotional investment that requires working behind the scenes with little pay.

2. You never feel like you're doing enough.

Societal issues are intricate and far-reaching. With those complexities come more opportunities to act, to serve, to fight.

3. You’ll never be able to unlearn what you’ve learned.

The more we learn, the more our lives and relationships are disrupted. When our eyes are opened to the injustices in the world, our lives begin to center on understanding how certain injustices have developed over time and how they are currently maintained. We’re often rejected, shouted down, and silenced.

4. The hits will keep coming.

Our cultural awareness, heightened by our passion for a specific issue, reminds us of all the ways our work is still undone in this fallen world—and it hurts.

5. You'll hardly even “win.”

In the work of justice, “wins” are tough to come by and often difficult to define. The few and far between victories are often a small but significant reminder that God is still working in the world—that hope can win.

Wow! This is enough to dissuade anyone from standing up from justice. The reasons are brutally honest. It's just not worth the effort. However, make no mistake, Austin Channing Brown is dedicated to activism, and she wants you to help fight the good fight, too

Despite all of reasons not to fight for justice, Brown finds her bedrock for setting at liberty those who are oppressed in the Bible. She says, “In Luke 4:18–19 Christ stood before a gathering and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (ESV).

To put it succinctly, Brown says the one reason we must fight for justice is “We serve – and are empowered by – a God of justice.”

Austin Channing Brown warns us that fighting for justice is extremely difficult. In fact, she acknowledges as a commitment to learning and educating others grows, the journey may cost us some friends The struggle essentially puts us into a new community of those she calls the global community of “freedom fighters.”

Austin is a devout Christian woman who believes activism is essential – both to her society and to her faith. So many today choose to hand injustice to God and trust he will absolve all problems. They deny the charge to battle prejudice and inequality. They pray but leave the temporal work to God. Unlike meek bystanders, Brown accepts the charge of the Almighty to lead a movement of rectitude. Her integrity bolsters her commitment. She is at work dismantling unjust systems and exposing them to the searing light of truth.

Austin Channing Brown tells you this about her work ...

“We make peace. We promote truth and love above politeness and civility. We make noise because our lives depend on it. Our commitment to racial justice and reconciliation requires we dig into the muddiness of humanity, reckoning with the worst of our humanity as we call out its best. This work is not for the faint of heart. It requires hope. Not a hope founded on good feelings or good intentions, but hope that demands. For our hope is risky, relentless, rooted in our certainty that love will win.

”God bless you and your activism, Ms. Brown.

Please read more about Austin here and join her movement to better our country:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Freedom of the Press -- President Trump's "Enemy"

Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause is generally understood as a means to prevent the government from interfering with differing opinions. The right guarantees freedom to gather, publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction, and it encompasses freedom from prior restraints on publication and freedom from censorship. It protects the freedom of an institution as well as that of individuals. 
The First Amendment reads, in part, "Congress shall make no law… abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the press.” 
The courts have long struggled to determine whether the Framers of the Constitution intended to differentiate press freedom from speech freedom. Most have concluded that freedom of the press derives from freedom of speech. Although some cases and some legal scholars, including Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court, have advocated special press protections distinct from those accorded to speech, most justices believe that the Freedom of the Press Clause has no significance independent of the Freedom of Speech Clause.

(“Freedom of the Press. 2017.)

With unlimited access to information, journalists serve as the eyes, ears, and voice of the public. The press is an important force in the democratic system of checks and balances. From network news to investigative reports to the front-line accounts of embedded journalists in foreign wars, the press supplies the masses with timely, important news.

President Donald Trump has recently tweeted: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" In an all-out attack on the Freedom of the Press, the president is accusing American journalists of being traitors. The BBC responded … 
Being branded an "enemy of the people" by the likes of Stalin or Mao brought at best suspicion and stigma, at worst hard labor or death.

Now the chilling phrase - which is at least as old as Emperor Nero, who was called "hostis publicus,” enemy of the public, by the Senate in AD 68 - is making something of a comeback...

The US president's use of 'enemies of the people' raises unavoidable echoes of some of history's most murderous dictators. 
Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, out-of-favour artists and politicians were designated enemies and many were sent to hard labor camps or killed. Others were stigmatized and denied access to education and employment.

And Chairman Mao, the leader of China who presided over the deaths of millions the of people in a famine brought about by his Great Leap Forward, was also known to use the phrase against anyone who opposed him, with terrible consequences.”

(“'Enemies of the people': Trump remark echoes history's worst tyrants. BBC News. February 18, 2017.)

To make a gross understatement, President Trump is not an astute scholar of either the Fourth Estate (the mainstream press) or the Fifth Estate (a socio-cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society). He evidently doesn't realize the social importance of either unless, of course, he judges their coverage to be favorable to him.

The Fourth Estate must be an important, coherent and independent force in society. True to its purpose, the press does not share the same aims as government, the legislature, the executive, religion or commerce. It is, or should be, an outsider. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian and owner of the Guardian and The Observer, said …

Of course, the press must be responsible for its own standards and ethics. But it's not the job of journalists to run things: they are literally without responsibility. They don't have to respond to a party whip, make the compromises necessary in politics or answer to shareholders. They are not bound by the confidentiality agreements that bind others. They are careless of causing inconvenience or embarrassment. They don't have to win votes. They can write things – about the economy, say, or the environment – which may need saying but which are unsayable by politicians. They come from a different place.”

(Alan Rusbridger. “The importance of a free press.” The Guardian. October 06, 2011.) 
The Fifth Estate actually dates to the 1960s counterculture and the establishment of an underground newspaper first published in Detroit in 1965. Now, Fifth Estate blogs have the potential to prevent governments from adopting hasty and misjudged decisions. These news sources also serve to advocate for justice, provide insider information, facilitate communication between experts, promote grassroots efforts, discredit political figures, and set policy agendas. This revolution in technology – the most significant since the invention of moveable type in the 15th century – allows virtually anyone to create and share their news and thoughts.

(Stephen D Cooper. Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate. 2006.) 
As mainstream and secondary sources produce news, opinion is generally protected. Limitations do exist for fighting words, threats, words that incite, and certain offensive speech.

In Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625, 75 L. Ed. 1357 (1931), the Court held that the government could not prohibit the publication of a newspaper for carrying stories that were scandalous or scurrilous. The Court identified three types of publications against which a prior restraint might be valid: those that pose a threat to national security, those that contain obscene materials, and those that advocate violence or the overthrow of the government.

Without freedom of the press, people do not have the right to have the information they need to make informed decisions about their government. A press that is the organ of the government stands silent when individual liberties are threatened. As reference in the BBC report, control of the media is one of the first objectives of those who would control any society. This is an essential part of the rule of an autocrat – he suppresses and eventually controls the press.

The press must remain free and independent. No president can be allowed to delineate “fake” and real news. No American president should call the press “the enemy of the people.” It is a clear attempt to suppress dissent. It is evident such thought comes from the mind of an overlord. In this case, from President Donald Trump. Rusbridger explains the threat a leader like Trump poses …

“Totalitarian governments can never allow a free press. Our own relative freedom has been fought for over 400 years, and there can never be a moment when freedom can be considered 'won.' When people talk about 'licensing' journalists or newspapers, the instinct should be to refer them to history.

“Read about how licensing of the press in Britain was abolished in 1695. Read about how Wilkes, Cobbett, Locke, Milton, Mill, Junius and countless anonymous writers, lawyers and printers argued and battled for the comparative freedoms the press in Britain enjoys. Remember how the freedoms won here became a model for much of the rest of the world. And be conscious how the world still watches us to see how we protect those freedoms.”

(Alan Rusbridger. “The importance of a free press.” The Guardian. October 06, 2011.)

American Taxpayers Paying Billionaire Trump's High Cost of Living


This Friday, President Trump and his entourage jetted out for the third straight weekend to a “working” getaway at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Many remember when he told the Hill newspaper in 2015, “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done.” It seems he has forgotten his pledge.

Especially troubling beyond the expense is the Trump family’s unprecedented commingling of their business with the presidency, Already Trump has attended a ball hosted by the Red Cross before holding a Super Bowl party at his club. The Atlantic reported “the Red Cross, a federally chartered organization, paid around $300,000 for the privilege of hosting the event at the president’s estate, while the Super Bowl party blurred the line between paying the Trump Organization to have a good time and paying the Trump Organization for the chance to bend the president’s ear.”

(Jeremy Venook. “Why the Trumps' Travel Expenses Matter. The Atlantic. February 07, 2017.)

On Saturday, Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr., with their Secret Service details in tow, were nearly 8,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, attending the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort in the “Beverly Hills of Dubai.” This trip comes at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

And meanwhile, New York police will keep watch outside the Trump Tower in Manhattan, the chosen home of first lady Melania Trump and son Barron. And, the tiny township of Bedminster, N.J., is preparing for the daunting prospect that the local Trump golf course will serve as a sort of northern White House for as many as 10 weekends a year.

(Drew Harwell, Amy Brittain, and Jonathan O'Connell. “Trump family’s elaborate lifestyle is a ‘logistical nightmare’ — at taxpayer expense.” The Washington Post. February 17, 2017.)

Mind you, this is a man who ran for president with promises to cut exorbitant expenses and “drain the swamp” of wasteful politicians. He explicitly pitched his platform in opposition to “crooked” politicians enjoying themselves on the taxpayers’ dime. Trump spent much of the campaign slamming wealthy elites, yet he has larded his cabinet with billionaires. And, he is quickly becoming what he claims to oppose as he spends, spends, spends.

To date, the President shows no signs of cutting his own personal spending while in office. Since he has bragged about using loopholes to his advantage, why should anyone expect the president to curtail his own extravagance when someone else will pay the tab?

A month into office Trump has run up a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term.

The Washington Post reports that adding to the costs and complications is Trump’s inclination to conduct official business surrounded by crowds of people, such as his decision last weekend to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a working dinner while Mar-a-Lago members dined nearby.
Here are the likely costs for the government as reported by the Post:

* Three Mar-a-Lago trips – $10 million

* Guarding Trump Tower in New York – $500,000 a day

* Eric Trump's trip to promote a Trump-brand condo tower in Uruguay – $100,000

The problem with the Uruguay charge is that, for all intents and purposes, it was a business expense, one of what will likely be many instances of the federal government paying to effectively subsidize the Trump Organization. The expense came out of the federal government’s budget, de facto subsidized by the American taxpayer.

(Jeremy Venook. “Why the Trumps' Travel Expenses Matter. The Atlantic. February 07, 2017.)

The Post claims ...

For Trump, the costs come with an additional perk: Some of the money flows into his own pocket. While Trump has removed himself from managing his company, he has refused to divest his ownership, meaning that he benefits from corporate successes such as government contracts. 
The Defense Department and Secret Service, for instance, have sought to rent space in Trump Tower, where leasing a floor can cost $1.5 million a year — though neither agency has disclosed any details. In addition, Trump’s travel to his signature properties while trailed by a press corps beaming images to the world allows the official business of the presidency to double as marketing opportunities for his brand.”

The expense is especially troubling as the Secret Service has endured years of budget shortages. Mar-a-Lago presents a logistical nightmare for the service due to its exposed oceanfront and position on a narrow, busy island, where traffic problems were already routine.

President Donald Trump, the master of the deal, appears to be a hypocrite with no intention of curtailing his own interests or expenses while in office. Trump has repeatedly stated his position that the president is not bound by the same ethics rules as lower-ranking government officials. Of course, to what bounds Trump may push unethical behavior is yet to be seen.

This may be true – Trump could still run his businesses as president. However, many see the need for him to “isolate” himself from management of his company to ensure the American people that his actions as president are about the people and not about his businesses. For the American public, this is a real concern with the egotistical Trump.

In actuality, Trump has not divested himself from his businesses, but he has put Trump Inc. into a trust managed by his sons, Erik Trump and Donald Trump Jr. In truth, what Trump says and does are often vastly different things. So, in the real world, who denies that President Trump will continue to deal himself a winning hand – winning at the expense of the public? You and I will see.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Journalism -- Trump's "Enemy of the People"


President Trump recently accused a wide range of media – The New York Times, ABC News, CBS News, CNN – of being the enemies of the American people. This is a part of his long-running battle against journalists and media he calls “fake news” who dare question his decisions and who seek accurate information about his platforms and his often ambiguous actions.

Those who follow Trump understand he often feels maligned by the media, quick to lash out against investigative reports. In fact, February 2016 on Fox News Channel, he threatened if elected to weaken First Amendment protections for reporters and make it easier for him to sue them.

Then, Trump said …

“I love free press. I think it’s great,” quickly adding, “We ought to open up the libel laws, and I’m going to do that.”

Furthermore, Trump later told a rally in Fort Worth that year that changes he envisioned would mean that “when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

Trump has threatened to sue the Washington Post after the newspaper wrote an article about the bankruptcy of his Atlantic City casino. On Twitter, Trump has routinely criticized reporters who cover him and their news organizations, including The Associated Press.

“The press has to be fair,” he said in the broadcast interview.

(Associated Press. “Trump wants to weaken libel laws amid feuds with reporters.” Fox News. February 27, 2016.)

Libel law in the United States makes it difficult for public figures to sue reporters or other people who criticize them. To win such a case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that factually incorrect statements were made with actual malice or a reckless disregard for the truth.

Yet the seemingly always retaliatory President Trump said he would like to lower that standard. “We’re going to have people sue you like you never got sued before,” he said.

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said because the Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed the existing legal standard, Trump could not change libel laws as they affect public figures by executive order or even with an act of Congress.

However …

Cristian Farias of The Huffington Post reminds us ...

“That’s not to say you can never sue the press. It’s just that the First Amendment, thanks to the Supreme Court’s reading of it in the landmark 1964 case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, has made it extremely difficult for public officials to do so. That’s been the law of the land for over 50 years.

“As a unanimous Supreme Court put it in the 1964 case, it should be hard for American public figures to sue the press, because that reflects 'a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.'”

(Cristian Farias. “Donald Trump Wants To Sue The First Amendment. He’ll Lose.” The Huffington Post. February 26, 2016.)

To a leader who undoubtedly prefers state-run media, President Trump threatens the free press. He believes his Twitter posts can maintain an effective assault on the so-called “fake news” and turn public opinion away from factual reporting. His advisers like Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, serve to ratchet up the pressure, describing the media as “the opposition party” and offering up “alternative facts” when necessary.

Make no mistake, President Trump attempts to silence his critics no matter the validity of their claims. His lack of respect for the First Amendment is appalling. He owes his allegiance to himself and has professed his own uncanny ability to know what is best for America – no matter advice to the contrary. Who knows how much the institutions of government could restrain him if he seeks to exceed his constitutional obligations?

Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, said Trump’s comments betrayed a troubling disregard for free expression.

“There are very few serious constitutional thinkers who believe public figures should be able to use libel as indiscriminately as Trump seems to think they should,” Professor Somin said. “He poses a serious threat to the press and the First Amendment.”

(Adam Liptak. “Donald Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, Scholars Say.” The New York Times. June 03, 2016.)

It is time for all Americans to recognize the present danger posed by President Trump. The role of the free press is vital to our democracy. The access to all news is crucial for citizens. Unless we have dogged, tenacious journalists who are free to challenge authority without fear of reprisal, we stand to lose access to the truth. President Trump has no right to deny total coverage of his actions. Despite his obvious views to the contrary, he is a servant of all of the people, not just a baron of his Electoral College majority.