A Compelling Reason For Change

I keep hitting the delete key.  It’s hard to write today, but something I feel strongly that I need to do.  Perhaps if I can only inspire a new thought process in just one person …

The sadness I feel at the loss of 17 beautiful children that were so young, so full of hope for the future, is a sadness that will stay with me forever.

Look at these senseless acts!  Why were they committed? Was it the child who sat in the back of the room, who was never a part of the “popular crowd,” who felt shunned and left out?  Was it the child that no matter what he or she did, praise never came their way, only criticism?  Was it the child who was left behind by parents that couldn’t get along long enough to realize he or she was in the room?  Was it the child that no matter what pinnacle they reached, it was never good enough?  Was it the child that wanted fame and notoriety so badly that such a brutal act as shooting their own peers was considered a worthy task?

Perhaps some – or all of it, sadly.

I would like to say that banning weapons would end the problem, but it won’t.  The choice of weapons will only change – because we haven’t solved the genesis of the issue.  That of helping each and every child belong – equally – and achieve their goals.  That means not leaving anyone behind.  A daunting task, but one that surely needs to be done.

And to the NRA, let me say this to you: This would be your time to step up – a time to say, “Let us find a way to allow our responsible customers to continue to enjoy the use of firearms in the safest of circumstances, while we provide and support gun education and mental health initiatives.  Let us use this as an opportunity to forge a productive partnership with parents.”

That would be a good start, but they’re too busy buying political power to want to do the right thing here.  So, with that being said, let me say it again …

Until and unless we can remove money from U.S. politics, execute term limits, and end lobbying once and for all, history will repeat itself – for we have failed to execute on a reason for change.

SOTU – How Did It Resonate With You?

I spent the day thinking about the State of the Union speech that was televised last evening.  I thought perhaps some reflection would help to temper my knee-jerk reactions.

Well, not so much.

Perhaps it is because I was raised for part of my younger years in an Italian neighborhood on the west side of Buffalo.  For the most part, the people of that neighborhood were Blue Collar workers.  The big employers were companies like Rich Products, Bethlehem Steel, TRW and municipalities like the City and State.  I watched those Blue Collar workers as they managed to buy homes, raise families and send their children to college on their meager wages – even if it meant going without themselves to reach their objectives.  Even so, at Sunday Italian dinners, everyone got a seat at the table.  No invitations were necessary – another plate and chair would appear from nowhere with the patron at the head of the table saying, “Sit! Sit!”  Everyone was welcome.

That having been said, this was also a tough neighborhood with more than its share of shady characters and questionable events.  Like John Cammilleri, a local labor union coordinator who had a beef with the Buffalo Crime Family over a construction dispute found out, when he looked down the barrel of a .38 revolver as he walked up to the popular Roseland Restaurant in May of 1974.  Clearly, the word “omerta” should have carried more weight with him than it did.

Regardless of whether it was good or bad – you still had to acknowledge that these people were people of their word.  If I saw that once living in that neighborhood, I saw it a thousand times.  And I respected it.

What I don’t see is that in our President.  He is a man without his word.

Rather than being a speech on the current state of our union, it became a speech about what he had hoped to do, what he thought he should be doing for America.  Was that his conscience speaking?  You know, the Great Equalizer?  No.  I don’t think he has one of those.

He spoke of the tax advantages to the “average American making $75,000 a year.”  Somebody should have made a cliff note that the average American earns just $55,000 a year.

He spoke proudly of the VA Accountability Act.  Really?  The VA is currently under a hiring freeze, resulting in 41,500 jobs unfilled.  This is “taking care of our military?”

He is eager to fulfill his promise to improve infrastructure and, in fact, this is the only promise that he actually told us how he plans to implement it.  In this case, it is by funding it through the state level, not the federal level.  So, where does the federal money go? I think we all know.

He spoke of “one people – one America.” Diversity has now been officially banned.

He spoke of “faith and family.” Uh, really?  Stormy who?

He also suggested that we open vocational schools to “prosper.”  What happened to colleges and universities that can educate our children so that perhaps someday we will never, ever again have to talk about cancer?

And on the international side, he would like to only go [do business] with “our friends.” Does the word “isolationism” have any meaning to him whatsoever?

He also had a comment about “we will no longer tell our enemies our plans.”  Well, Donald, I’m afraid that one’s on you and your Tweeting Thumbs.  There’s no end to what you will divulge.

And to CJ, the ICE Agent … I commend you on a job well done, sir.  However, unless you would like to end up like John Cammillieri mentioned above … well, now might be a good time to inquire about the Witness Protection Program.

So, in reflection, I can say that I am one of the more than 77% of Americans who feel that the United States is divided.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.  We cannot fall.

The time for respect is now.  The time for unity is now.

The time for everyone to have a seat at the table is now.

Shalom

Happy New Year!

Welcome! A new look to the site – for a New Year!

We begin 2018 with our faces turned upward into the sun with a warm smile.

Let’s face it – by contrast, 2017 was a year full of jolts, surprises and, in a few instances, downright concussions.

But, interspersed in our roller coaster ride, we saw Americans leaving everything by the wayside as they manned their boats and waded deep into the waters left behind by Hurricane Harvey to reach out to their fellow citizens, bringing them (and their beloved pets) to safety without a fleeting thought of what might divide them as Americans.

Weeks later, as Hurricane Irma roared on shore in Florida, we saw more of the same, selfless acts of random kindness and compassion, again, without a thought of divisiveness.

Every day in America, things of this nature happen, just on a smaller scale.  Smaller, I say, but not less important.

It is difficult not to buy into the 3-ring circus that serves as an adult day care center in Washington.  In the days of instant news coverage (and the lusty competition to be the first with the story), our eyes dart from headline to headline, while the cauldron is being stirred by those who measure their worth by ratings and their percentage of press coverage.

What we need is some unity the likes of which was demonstrated by the heroes mentioned above.  Those that when the chips were down, set aside their differences for the greater good.  Those that reached out for their fellow Americans and brought them to safety during a time of peril.

If we don’t achieve that level of greater goodness amongst ourselves and if we can’t change our leadership to again be of the people, then surely America will be no different than medieval Europe as it spawned feudalism in the Middle Ages. Surely, we are better than that. I believe we are better than that.

So, with a smile on our face and basked in the light of goodness, let’s make 2018 a year that will simplify who we are and what we stand for. A year for the greater good of America. A year that will make America stronger. A year that we rediscover compassion. A year of selflessness among our citizens.

Shalom – may peace be with you.

A Look At The New Saudi Arabia

I first wrote about Mohammed bin Salman and his profound, forward-thinking plan for Saudi Arabia in May of 2016 (search for Vision 2030 on this blog will to take you to the specific posting).

This weekend, the Crown Prince, also called “The Face of the Future,” took to task one of the salient commitments of Vision 2030, and that is:

[To] embrace transparency and, to that end, zero tolerance for all levels of corruption.

The weekend detention of 17 of Saudi’s most prominent princes and top officials demonstrated his commitment to the plan – and his country.  Those that put their personal interests over that of their country and who continue to steal public funds, found that the Crown Prince has a zero tolerance for the “old ways” of conducting business.

But that wasn’t the Big News Story of the day for Riyadh.

Intercepting a Burkan 2-H ballistic missile targeted for King Khalid Airport in the heart of the city was truly the breath-taking moment – for all of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has long had its differences with Yemen, but the Saudis see the bigger picture here – the one that suggests that Iran is subsidizing (and supplying) the Houthi rebels, as the weapon was disassembled, smuggled into Yemen, and then reassembled before being launched.  Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir claimed in an interview for CNN that the Saudis consider this act to be an act of war – and will “respond when the time is appropriate.”

Chilling words in an area where the balance of power can tip the scales at any given time; however, bold acts do not go unnoticed.  As the Foreign Minister stated, “Iran cannot lob missiles into Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to act.” No free passes here.

Make no mistake.  Iran is testing the young Saudi Prince’s resolve – at a time when all eyes are upon him as he committed to expel corruption at its highest level from Saudi Arabia.

If Iran’s boldness has been done with the perception that it has the power of Russia behind it – this could be a strategic miscalculation.  Russia looks out for Russia first.  It would not be surprising to find Mr. Putin looking the other way – perhaps foraging his own agenda with the new Saudi Arabia.

To that I would say … beware, my sweet Prince.

Shalom

The Art Of Hampering A President

 

*A 12-Count Indictment

*Requirements to post $10 million and $5 million-dollar bonds

*House Arrests

*Pleas of Not Guilty

Quite a Monday for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, wouldn’t you say?

And yet, I sense the best is yet to come.

The thing about such comprehensive major investigations like the one Robert Mueller is conducting is that once the first indictments are announced, you are guaranteed to see bit-players come out of the woodwork, trying to make deals while deals can still be made – and before the next wave of indictments are announced.

And so was the case with George Popadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump.  His arrest came early on – in July of 2017 — and it was only in October of 2017 that he finally plead guilty to charges that he lied to the FBI during their investigation of Russian meddling in US politics.

So, the question begs itself, what information has Popadopoulos imparted of his own free will in the three months that has passed since July?  To what extent did he have knowledge and opportunity that could lead to further substantiating evidence of Russia’s interference with our election process? Clearly, the evidence shows that the interest was there, so if there’s smoke, is there fire?

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Trump is publicly fretting that the investigation and its results, will “hamper” his ability to negotiate on a world stage.  To that I say, Mr. President, you have only to look at your own lack of credibility and inability to tell the truth as the cornerstones of your being “hampered” in negotiations – world-wise — or otherwise.

Bring it on, Mr. Mueller.  America is counting on you.

 

When Is A Deal — A Deal?

 

After years of intricate political diplomacy, six countries, Germany, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S., collectively known as P5+1, entered into an agreement with Iran in November of 2013 (and formally adopted in October of 2015) to halt Iran’s march towards nuclear proliferation in the hopes of stabilizing tensions in the Middle East.  Iran, for its side of the bargain, received the lifting of certain economic sanctions that had previously been imposed.  This agreement, however imperfect both at its time of inception and to date, was seen as a compromise, as well as a marked step forward in a region where news headlines daily reflected an area ripe for war.

This agreement did not come without a cost.  Our strongest ally in this region, Israel, objected strenuously to any deal with Iran.  First, because such a deal would, by its very nature, establish a precedence that Iran must now be recognized as a player in the Middle East; that the release of the sanctions would allow Iran to refocus its efforts on constructing more missiles for offensive purposes and provide further backing of the Hezbollah; and allow a larger presence in the Golan Heights, an area deeply divided, both geographically and politically.

However difficult and diplomatically uncomfortable, the P5+1 felt the stronger pull of potential peace in a region where such endeavors are few and far between and which are regularly breached for a variety of reasons.

Today, with Iran’s verifiable compliance, tensions have ebbed between our ally and its neighbor, but that is not to say that Israel has remained silent or is not vigilant.  Rather, Israel’s roles today are comprised of increased intelligence gathering, a strengthening of its defenses, and warnings of any potential violations to the Iranian agreement.

Given our President’s blatant lack of understanding of diplomatic endeavors and international relations, he has stated that he will not “re-certify” the Iranian agreement which is a condition of its existence and demanded every 90 days.  Rather, he has lobbed it to our Congress to revise or re-create a deal with more (as he says) “equitable provisions.”  Congress now is faced with three choices:

(a) Impose additional economic sanctions on Iran, even though they are in compliance with the existing agreement.  This would most certainly result in Iran’s immediate withdrawal from the agreement;

(b) Push for new negotiations which would result in the loss of credibility with other nations with which we have signed agreements (when is a deal a deal?); or

(c) Do nothing and the deal stands.

Even though (c) seems to be the correct answer here, I suggest that a better answer might be for Congress to push back and declare their independence from the Trump administration by standing by an agreement that was made with great difficulty and serves only to provide peace in a highly unstable environment.

And IF Congress could manage to agree and move forward in such an exemplary fashion, it might also consider going one rung higher and inform our President that the criteria for revisiting existing agreements should be for compelling reasons, and not just because it was conceived or executed under the previous administration.

Or, as an alternative, my fellow Congressmen and women, there’s always the 25th Amendment.  At this point, it would hardly be a stretch …. more like a slam-dunk, wouldn’t you say?

 

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

 

After having made a complete spectacle of himself in front of 193 world leaders this week by his wrong-audience address to members of the United Nations (the U.S. economy has boomed under his leadership and that job growth was at an all-time high; um, did anyone tell him the audience was not potential voters?), Trump decided to take another jab at an American tradition by categorically stating that any member of the NFL who does not stand for our National anthem should be “fired.”  Adding fuel to that fire, he added that they “should just be thankful for what you have and not make any trouble.”

Well, I’d be careful there, Mr. President.  No telling what happens when you poke the bear.

First, would someone please explain to Trump (with pictures) the case of West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943)?  It was a rather prominent case because the Court found that no one has the right to make you pledge allegiance to our national flag, nor punish you for not having done so.  This could be broadly interpreted to include “taking a knee” in solidarity of a unified cause.

As to “making any trouble,” I, for one, hope our NFL members and other football players continue to “make trouble” as they have in recent weeks, for taking it upon themselves as citizens in a free society to solicit funds to help those victimized by recent hurricanes and those that have eagerly shown up and done what was necessary to bring aid and assistance to those in need.  Thank you for your service to our country and your fellow citizens, gentlemen.

And the very suggestion that these selfless people remain silent is insulting.  I hope they use their fame, their notoriety, and their platforms to continue to speak out (loudly!) to encourage unity, understanding, patience, and the willingness to work together to make this a better place than we found it.

It’s certainly more than you’re doing for our country, Donnie.

But don’t lose sight of the objective(s) here – keep your eye on the ball.  All of the hyperbole discussed above really isn’t what Trump is interested in.  At this point, he has two interests:

One is the rejection of the Iranian missile deal.  This action sends the clear message to Tehran that the U.S. has had a shift in policy; that it no longer is interested in stabilizing Middle Eastern interests. The result of that message was Tehran’s prime-time display of its latest ballistic missile – the Khorramshahr – carrying multiple warheads and having a range of 1,250 miles – clearing putting our allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, in Tehran’s sights.

Secondly, he continues to call out Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership, leaving them no choice but to show some form of missile capability to ensure that they are to be taken seriously by world leaders.  And what if Kim Jong-un does take the bait and launches a nuclear missile over the Pacific?  This, I believe, is exactly what Donald wants – justification for a nuclear strike on North Korea. He wants to raise his fist in defiance to the rest of the world with a clear message that no one should mess with America – and — in so doing, the unthinkable. Twenty-five million people would simply be vaporized.  And to think that this doesn’t horrify him enough to deter his actions, is unconscionable and clearly unfathomable.

If ever we needed some divine intervention – it is truly now.

Pray for peace, my friends – Shalom.

Wine & Prayers

Time for an update in the Wine Talk department.  (Please, feel free to share any good wines that you may have encountered.  I’d be happy to post them and your comments!)

In celebrating my birthday recently, our neighbors and good friends, Hugh and Jen, brought two lovely wines over to enjoy:

Let’s start with the Red:

Bend Cabernet Sauvignon

 

 

 

If you like the taste of black cherries and blackberries, this is the wine for you!  I personally love the variation of different berries in a Cab.  To me, they enrich and deepen its taste.  The Bend also leaves a hint of floral on your palette at the end – a lovely touch! This California wine (2015) is by Dario De Conti.

And for the White:

Tesoro Della Regina
Pinot Grigio

 

 

 

Another lovely flavor in this wonderful Pinot – this time it’s a blend of plum and cherry.  So delicious and refreshing!  Italian Pinots, like this, from the Veneto or Tuscany area never disappoint.

 

Both of these lovely wines are available at your local Total Wine and More at very reasonable prices.  Thanks to our friends, Hugh and Jen, for sharing such wonderful picks!

While you are sipping and sharing … please … take a moment this week to say a prayer for our friends and family in Florida as Irma sets her sights on our beautiful Sunshine State.

Stay safe, my friends.

Shalom

 

GOP: Listen Up!

Last night, all eyes were on the Weather Channel as we watched Hurricane Harvey slowly spin its way through the Gulf of Mexico with the south shores of Texas clearly in its sights.  We closed our eyes and silently said a prayer for those who were being affected.

Meanwhile, back in D.C., our President had more pressing priorities – like pardoning the former Sheriff of Maricopa County (Arizona) who had violated a court order to stop employing racial profiling tactics within his department and, in so doing, he was found guilty of criminal contempt of court.  This is an 85-year-old man who had no boundaries, no respect for the oath he took to uphold the laws, and one that appeared to enjoy doling out suffering and humiliation wherever and whenever he could.  You know, the proverbial bully in the school yard.  Let me tell you a little more about him.

Let’s take a look at these on-point examples evidencing behavior by his staff that went unheeded and clearly, unpunished.

On one occasion, one of his officers stopped a five-month pregnant Latina woman as she pulled into her home driveway.  When she got out of the car, the officer asked her to sit on the hood.  When she refused, he pulled her arms behind her and slammed her (stomach first) into the side of the vehicle three times, then left her in the back of a patrol car for 30 minutes with no air conditioning.  He cited her for not having identification; a charge that was later changed to failure to provide proof of insurance – which she later provided in court.

On another occasion, during one of the Sheriff’s well-known early-morning raids in an effort to round up undocumented immigrants, Sheriff’s deputies burst into an adjacent home (not the target) which was occupied by a Latino family, and searched the premises without a warrant.  They zip-tied a father and 12-year-old son (both U.S. citizens) and made them sit curbside with other illegal immigrants for more than an hour – in spite of having committed no crime and having no connection to the targeted house.

Both of these examples came directly from the Justice Department’s civil rights complaint – paragraphs 62 and 67, respectively.

This is a Sheriff who looked the other way when a young man who had been taken into custody was strapped down in a chair, restrained at the wrists, and had a towel placed over his mouth for an undetermined amount of time – until he died of “positional asphyxiation.”  Imagine that family’s pain.

This is also the Sheriff who failed to investigate over 400 sex crimes (the majority of which involved children) due to his directive to prioritize low-level immigration offenses over the more serious sex crimes, resulting in unspeakable pain to innocent children while he simultaneously failed to meet his law enforcement responsibilities – to say the least.

And then, upon hearing of the questionable status of President Obama’s birth certificate, this is the man who, unsolicited, took it upon himself to personally investigate the matter.  His investigation turned up nothing – except a $10,000 expenditure for a Hawaiian trip for one of his deputies for which the taxpayers were handed the tab.  It has been estimated that former-Sheriff Arpaio’s actions have cost Maricopa County taxpayers more than $200 million dollars and that figure continues to be adjusted upwards as claims continue to be filed.

This is also the man who sat before Judge Snow in his original trial, sworn under oath, who was finally forced to admit that he had hired a private investigator to investigate the Judge’s wife with regard to an alleged comment she made by an undisclosed source.  We all recognized that for what it was – dirt-digging – with the hope of using the results to derail the legal proceedings.

“A fine patriot!” is what Trump calls him.  A “good man.”  Someone who had performed an “admirable job at law enforcement at the federal and local levels.”

Mr. President, either read the whole article or get another advisor.  This man swore to uphold the laws, not break them or bend them to fit his will.

This pardon was at the least, undeserved and at the most, amoral, unethical, shameful, appalling, unconscionable, and an affront to the entire American judicial system.

GOP:  Listen up.  Trump is going to bury you.  By sitting back and taking no action and allowing this Presidency to play itself out does nothing except make you look weak, ineffective, spineless and cowardly.

Be advised that we will continue to speak to the injustices your myopic viewpoints have enabled.

And we will speak out loudly.

With One Voice.

The Dragon Rears Its Ugly Head

 

I am shocked and I am saddened.  Most of all, I am sickened by the ugly, heartless and brutal actions that occurred in Charlottesville.

This isn’t some peaceful protest on a far-away continent that somehow went horribly wrong.

This was right here in our own backyard.

White supremacy, bigotry, hatred, violence, murder.  People dressed up in riot gear, faces covered lest they be identified – too chicken to stand unmasked for what they believe in – and with sheep mentalities – spoiling for a fight and beating on an innocent man because of the color of his skin.  You disgust me.  And let me tell you – you disgust a lot of America.  You are NOT who we are or who we have become.

We fought this fight before – in the violence of the South that was prevalent in the 1950’s – and again – in the 1960’s when three civil rights activists in Mississippi were murdered and a prominent NAACP leader died in a fire bombing.

We did not rest until we avenged those deaths and brought those responsible, forward to face the consequences of their actions – and we will do so again.

And what do we say about Mr. Trump who cannot call it for what it is?  Did anyone hear the words “white supremacy” in his comments?

No, I didn’t think so.  And you may wonder why that is.

Are there people of power who really believe that this is a country only for white men?  Of course there are.  Look around.  They aren’t hard to find.  The real question is whether The Donald is one of them. What was it that Scare-A-Moochi said?  Oh, yeah … A fish sinks – from the head down.

The defense rests, Your Honor.