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Devin Nunes: From Dairyman to Disgrace

| Opinion | 17 hours ago

After railing against the FBI, the intelligence community, and the Department of Justice, the character of Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), Chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is increasingly being called into question. In fact, when character counts, the sum of the man just doesn’t add up.

A new set of potential improprieties by Nunes has emerged as a result of reporting by McClatchy’s Kate Irby. Irby details possible unethical use of campaign funds by Nunes’ political action committee, New Pac. Funds used to pay for private jet transportation, tickets to sporting events, meals in high-end restaurants and hotels in Las Vegas, and $15,000 for a single day of winery tours, including a limo and beachfront hotel accommodations.

Not to worry. There’s still plenty of cash in his campaign coffers. Nearly $7.4 million dollars, in fact. All to mount a re-election campaign in a district in which he’s held sway since 2003.

That’s a remarkably odd amount of money given that, in previous campaigns, Nunes typically raised between $1.5 – $2 million. There are roughly 348,000 registered voters in Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District, which translates to about $20.11 per vote, or roughly four times the amount he spent in elections past.

So why has Nunes felt compelled to fill his campaign war chest with that much money while defending a “safe seat” in a historically red bastion of the Republican party?

Maybe Nunes is just a generous, likable guy who likes to spread the wealth around.

So generous and likable that in March and June of 2017, he transferred $300,000 to the National Republican Congressional Campaign for contributions to various races around the country. Guess it pays to have friends. And lots of them. Especially when being investigated by an Ethics Committee dominated by fellow Republicans and having your Republican colleagues remain mum when others in government are questioning your actions.

Since taking on the “Deep State” and becoming Mr. Trump’s prat boy, Nunes is now a darling among far-right conservatives throughout the country, receiving an impressive amount of small individual contributions. That’s in addition to the $63,000 he’s gotten from the Koch Brothers; $71,000 from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Association (guess Devin likes wine, remember the $15,000 tour?) and many others. And, of course, the $74,500 he garnered from California Dairies, Inc.

Dairy is an important product in Nunes’ agriculture-reliant district. And yet, while riding off into the sunset, leaving his district behind on a quixotic mission to restore law and order throughout the land, his clueless leader has been imposing tariffs that will have a severe negative impact on farmers – almond, pistachio, walnut, and dairy farmers among them. Even Nunes’ father and brother’s dairy operation in Iowa will be affected.

The president has called Nunes “a man of tremendous courage and grit,” who may someday be recognized as a “Great American Hero.” That comment is probably making a lot of Americans grit their teeth, among them the almond, pistachio, and walnut growers who have consistently helped return Nunes to office.

According to bakersfield.com, almond growers will see tariffs on exports to China rise from 10 to 25 percent. Many of those farmers and growers might like to voice their concerns to their congressman. Good luck. Nunes reportedly hasn’t held a town hall meeting in the district in seven years. Probably because he’s been spending more time in the Deep State rather than the State of California.

That dairy farm in Iowa? That’s where the Nunes Campaign Committee’s Treasurer, Toni Dian Nunes – the candidate’s mom – lives. As Treasurer for the campaign, she received a notification, earlier this year, from the Federal Election Commission requesting “information essential to full public disclosure” about three potentially illegal campaign contributions, one of which was made by a pistachio grower from a district bordering Nunes’ own. While that pistachio grower’s contribution was peanuts in comparison to that of California Dairies, it’s probably safe to assume he made it in hopes that his neighbor would stand up for him and others in his industry. Nutty thought.

Devin Nunes is as wanton, wasteful, and potentially as unethical as any other swamp dweller Donald J. Trump swore to throw out of Washington. Nunes was not elected to forsake constituents for the national stage, launch inexplicable and confounding witch hunts, or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with leaders who impose tariffs that are harmful to those at home, while simultaneously putting the national security of our country at risk.

Recent polls indicate Nunes is no longer meeting the expectations of his constituents. For good reason. Nunes willingly chose to lie down in the swamp, as have a significant number of his Republican colleagues in Congress. Clawing their way out may prove to be a very sticky proposition for many of them come Election Day.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

Facebook’s Off the Mark Zuckerberg

| Opinion | July 26, 2018

Every time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg opens his mouth, he somehow manages to stick his foot in it. It’s not so much what he says that is harmful to both himself and his company, it’s how he says it.

Last week, Zuckerberg managed to infuriate a large segment of the population by defending Facebook’s policy to permit blatantly anti-Semitic posts on the site. His rationale for allowing hate speak to continue unfettered was a veritable cornucopia of double-speak; the kind that is both acceptable to and tolerated by an ever-increasing number of Americans.

During an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher which alluded to Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists – a group that includes Infowars host Alex Jones – Zuckerberg seemed to liken those who push alternative realities (i.e. that the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happened) to Holocaust deniers.

While Zuckerberg pointed out that he is Jewish and that he finds those who propagate lies regarding the Holocaust offensive, he also said that he didn’t believe they were “intentionally getting it wrong” by misleading readers, nor that those who disseminated this type of misinformation should be taken off his platform “if they get things wrong, even multiple times.”

Like many public figures prone to confounding or deliberately misleading statements, Zuckerberg found himself under fire for his comments and attempted to walk them back. He even resorted to having his sister, Randi, come to his defense as his surrogate.

Randi Zuckerberg is active in Jewish organizations so she lends credibility to her brother’s position when she says “those bent on lying, sowing misunderstanding, and breeding hate will never be truly silenced.” She went on to say that, “Unfortunately, when we give a voice to everyone, we give it to people who use that voice for good and to people who abuse that voice.”

Fair enough. But again, it’s not so much what was said, rather how it was said; and in Zuckerberg’s case, stated somewhat cavalierly.

One of the things that has always made America great (always, not “again”) has been the freedom its citizens and its press have possessed to voice their opinions and observations, to report the news, keep us informed, and share ideas. Sadly, the very thing that makes us great can sometimes contribute to our vulnerability as well.

The First Amendment and our open, uncensored channels of expression are part of the reason Vladimir Putin’s regime was so easily able to meddle into the 2016 presidential election. They provided Russia’s security services and intelligence apparatchiks access to the hearts and minds of the American people through the deployment of highly effective disinformation, or dezinformatsiya as the Kremlin calls it. And they did so through outlets like Facebook.

While Russian stage-management of public opinion is not the sole reason for Mr. Trump’s current occupation of the White House, it certainly contributed to the American people’s opinion of him and his opponent which, in turn, may or may not have led to a favorable outcome for Vlad’s favorite marionette. More significantly, the propaganda and disinformation promulgated by Russian intelligence was highly effective in re-opening festering cultural wounds and in manipulating the emotions and reason of the American people.

As evidence continues to mount that Russian dezinformatsiya played a significant role in influencing public opinion leading up to the 2016 election, we are faced with a larger dilemma: namely, can we combat future intrusions into the American psyche without sacrificing a cornerstone of our democracy? The answer – fortunately – is no.

The First Amendment sets us free, but it also leaves us susceptible to those who wish to manipulate the beliefs and values that have long set this nation apart. At a time when the current administration is disseminating “alternative facts,” and while they continue to accuse the mainstream media of spreading “fake news,” it’s up to all of us individually to dig deep and verify what we read and see online and on-air rather than blindly accept that which is placed before us.

And while it is not Mark Zuckerberg’s obligation to protect us from the ills of the world, it is his responsibility to be more introspective when assessing the impact his creation has on the nearly 2.2 billion active monthly Facebook users around the globe.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

There Goes the Neighborhood

| Opinion | July 12, 2018

I was never a fan of the children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” when I was a kid. My eyes were usually focused on the town of Bedrock. There was a lot more going on there than in the sleepy place where Mr. Rogers lived. If I wasn’t hanging out with “The Flintstones,” I might be found immersed in the hyperkinetic world of Warner Brothers’ “Looney Toons.”

Mr. Rogers’ hometown was slow and boring. But “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” a new documentary about his show, now in theaters nationwide, has caused me to re-evaluate my opinion.

Television in the 1950’s and 1960’s was (especially when it came to children’s programming) often inane and consumer-centric, pitching foods that were high in sugar and low in substance, household products we didn’t necessarily need, and toys like Barbie that defined feminine beauty. There were also the toys that not-so-subtly hinted at what it meant to be a man, like G.I. Joe action figures, which promoted the sale of plastic weapons of war.

I didn’t have the patience for someone as dull as Mr. Rogers. I couldn’t appreciate his subtle, nuanced message extolling the specialness in all of us. Tackling issues like race relations, death, divorce, love, loneliness, anxiety, hatred, and violence was clearly over my head back then. Even though I and many other kids were forced to confront them in our own lives.

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister with training in child psychology; a man who wrote, composed and played music, designed, produced, and performed nearly everything viewers saw and heard on his show. He was also the pre-eminent spokesperson for both children’s programming and the value of public broadcasting.

Funding for public television was then, as now, a target of conservative leaders in Washington. Some considered it a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money at a time when President Richard Nixon was demanding increased funding for the Vietnam War. Despite this, the soft-spoken Rogers managed to convince Rhode Island Sen. John Pastore, the gruff tight-fisted Democratic Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications at the time, of the value of programming that spoke to the need for the social and emotional education of children that public broadcasting provided.

After listening to him, a visibly moved Pastore said Rogers’ words gave him “goose bumps.” His gentle advocacy helped convince the committee to more than double public television’s budget the following year. Rogers’ appearance before Pastore’s committee, in 1969, is a stark contrast to the overwhelming number of congressional hearings currently gracing our television screens today, and a testament to those who still believe that differences in political and fiscal ideologies, as well as the truth, need not reek of partisanship and hostility.

Not everyone, however, subscribed to Rogers’ philosophy. After his death from cancer, in 2003, a Fox News commentator took to the air stating “this man, this evil, evil man ruined a generation of kids.” She was followed up by another member of the panel who said that Rogers’ message that everyone is special filled kids with a “with a sense of entitlement.”

That idea was also floated several years back by The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial staff (not its reporters) often acts as though they’re publishing the house organ of the Republican Party rather than a newspaper. It was re-iterated in a Journal column by Jeffrey Zaslow this past week. He quotes Don Chance, a Louisiana State University finance professor, who arrived at the highly original conclusion just last spring that Mr. Rogers is, indeed, to blame for the sense of entitlement displayed by many young people today.

Conservative finger-pointing is often obtuse and extreme. I think most parents would agree that their children are, in some way, special. Whether they’re kids in cages or the progeny of those who espouse hate and anger. Being special is not about entitlement, it’s about what makes us unique individuals and valued members of society. Just as being at opposite ends of the political spectrum makes us unique, though not always valued.

This is a nation of neighborhoods, though it often seems we’ve drifted far afield from the “kinder, gentler” one former President George H.W. Bush spoke of nearly three decades ago; the kind espoused by Fred Rogers. Too bad. The neighborhood where he once resided seems like a pretty darn good place to live.

Maybe we can all buy a home there someday.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

It’s Time for Nancy Pelosi to Go

| Opinion | July 5, 2018

Will Nancy Pelosi continue to make the House her home for much longer? Two recent events give one pause for thought.

During a press conference in June, Pelosi assailed the president’s policy of separating children from their undocumented parents at the border. She said matter-of-factly, “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country, and maybe there will be when people realize that this is a policy that they [Republicans] defend.”

Uprising is an extremely potent word. Even for those who don’t support the president’s stance on immigration. Protests would have been more appropriate. Indeed, civilized marches in opposition to the president’s policies have been going on throughout the country for weeks. But to use language so inflammatory only further fuels the right and does a disservice to us all.

Pelosi has been called the Republican Party’s greatest fundraiser because of her stridency and the positions she’s taken over the years. Most are critical to maintaining the well-being of the middle and working class; on affordable healthcare, women’s health and reproductive rights, a living wage, fighting tax policies favorable to the rich and big business, supporting regulations that protect the American people from abuses by banks and Wall Street, as well as legislation to combat environmental hazards. She argues her case vigorously and clings to beliefs she feels are just.

Pelosi has long been vilified by the right. She’s a tough political infighter who knows how to keep members of her party in line and push her legislative agenda through – alternating between finesse and intimidation of fellow House members. And there’s the rub. Many of those who have long supported Pelosi are coming to the realization that her time has passed; that she is a relic of another era. An era when politics was more collegial and House members from both parties were inclined to work collaboratively despite ideological differences; and when it came to Pelosi, there were many.

As liberal as Nancy Pelosi is, however, there are an increasing number of Democrats who don’t believe she is left-leaning enough. That she has taken positions far more moderate than most Republicans would have the American public believe. It’s been argued that she and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in their desire to cut deals, have turned their backs on the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party and those who affiliate with it, including Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-AZ), who is Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Imagine that. Nancy Pelosi. Too moderate?

Which brings us to the second event. A shift more seismic than Pelosi’s verbal misstep: the stunning defeat of Pelosi protégé and presumptive successor Rep. Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent from New York. Crowley, the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House, was overwhelmingly trounced by 28-year-old neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose only previous exposure to politics was as an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Crowley is a product of old-school Democratic Party machine politics. Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Democratic Socialist.

Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign on bread and butter issues in her largely Latino district: putting people to work, Medicare and higher education for all, affordable housing, tax reform to help middle and low-income families, and the abolition of ICE (not even Pelosi has called for that). Crowley spent more time in D.C. than his district and spent significantly more money on his campaign. Ocasio-Cortez, who relied on social media to get her message out, lives in the district and is one of the faces of its changing demographics.

Clearly, an increasing number of Democrats want something more than the establishment is offering, perhaps something more radical. That’s not necessarily a winning strategy in the short-term if they hope to win back Congress come November. Then again, moderation doesn’t appear to be working for them, either.

For the Democratic Party to thrive, it needs to commit to its core beliefs and principles, roll the dice, and take the chance that it may take a decade before the electorate at large is ready to embrace their message. Under the party’s present leadership, the odds of that happening sooner than later are almost nil. And given the direction the current administration is heading the country in, a decade’s wait may be too late.

One thing’s for certain. For the Democratic Party to rediscover itself, Nancy Pelosi must go. And that’s something an increasing number of Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

This is Us

| Opinion | June 28, 2018

This is us, America. This is who we are at this precise moment in time. A nation that separates families. A nation that interns children and infants in detention camps far from their parents, farther still from those the Trump administration perceives to be his meddlesome enemies; those whose prying eyes, brimming with empathy, and voices of reason are a threat to his regime.

This is us, America. This is who we are – or have become – in the eyes of the world.

This is exactly what other autocrats – among them, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un, and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan – would like their own people to believe. For them, this is the perfect “I told you so” moment. A time when they can accurately point to America and say, “They are no better than us. They are not who they claim to be.”

The president’s immigration policy is a disaster. To those true believers, those who continue to ride the Trumpian Trolley to hell, the president is a man of his word. In their eyes, he is fulfilling the promises he made while campaigning for office. He tells them what he wants them to hear and believe.

President Trump and his apostle, Jeff Sessions, are, in the minds of their followers, guiding Americans toward security and salvation. Yet, the path these two men and others in the administration are forging leads us further into the wilderness, isolating us from those who remain free to speak the truth and true to their values.

As in previous authoritarian regimes throughout history, the president and his minions have sought and found a scapegoat. For the Romans, it was the Christians; for the Czars, it was the downtrodden who threatened their autocratic reign and personal fortunes; for the Third Reich, it was the Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and political opponents.

The president claims those being detained are criminals, murderers, rapists, and members of roving gangs from whom only he, the great and powerful Trump, can save us. Save us from infants and children being removed from the loving arms of their parents?

This distorted outlook on immigration is not about safeguarding jobs. It is not about protecting the vast number of Americans from criminals. The president continually points to the “animals” of the MS-13 gang as one rationale for his immigration initiatives. What he doesn’t tell his followers is that, according to FBI statistics, the grand total of MS-13 members currently residing – legally or not – in the U.S. accounts for approximately .00323 percent of the population; a number that has remained stable for the last dozen years.

The president’s immigration strategy – if there is one – is not about border security or making America great again through ludicrous trade tariffs. It’s about separating “us” from “them.” It is a page ripped from a scrapbook of atrocities perpetrated by others; torn by “advisers” and “experts” whose lack of decency and ignorance of history are causing this presidency to become increasingly dangerous.

The Trump immigration policy – and it is the president’s policy, not that of his Democrat or Republican predecessors, no matter what he proclaims – is an abject failure. Rather than protecting the American people, he is currently in the process of creating a new generation of terrorists whose separation from their parents at a tender age is causing them incalculable psychological and physical harm; harm that may come back to haunt us at some point in the future in a manner more violent than the president could ever imagine.

President Trump’s legacy may well lead to the radicalization of children and infants whose memories of America and its people may rival the perception of Palestinian children held hostage beyond the walls and fences of the Gaza Strip; those whose dire circumstances have led them to participate in violent assaults upon Israel.

Today, the Department of Defense is readying military bases – inaccessible and off-limits to the press and public – capable of holding 20,000 people. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews told reporters it is for the internment of “unaccompanied alien children.” Innocent children who truly are being treated as though they were “animals.” So much for President Trump’s recent executive order to keep undocumented families together.

Americans must bear witness. We cannot turn our backs on reality. Right now, activists, the clergy, journalists, righteous citizens, and an increasing number of true public servants from both parties are attempting to expose and condemn the tragedy currently unfolding on our southern border. In so doing, they are struggling to reclaim the ever-diminishing reputations of us all and rekindle the beacon of hope for the marginalized and oppressed that was once the U.S.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.soaggragated@gmail.com.

With Friends Like Us, Who Needs Enemies?

| Opinion | June 14, 2018

During WWII, when the communist government of Josef Stalin joined the United States and Great Britain in their battle against Nazi Germany, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Somehow the interpretation of this message has been lost in translation on President Trump. He’s turned friends into enemies and enemies into friends. The gnawing question continues to be: why?

The Russians meddled into our elections. Our intelligence agencies have made this abundantly clear. They present ever-increasing evidence that the Putin regime did so to favor one candidate over another. This does not mean, however, that the Russian government alone was responsible for President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

The former Secretary of State blew her chances of occupying the White House in any number of ways. A President Clinton II would, by now, most likely have been juggling more china-laden plates than even President Trump and, under this Republican Congress, might well be on her way to impeachment proceedings.

Vladimir Putin and his regime are the beneficiaries of a type of turmoil that would have occurred regardless of who had won the 2016 presidential election. Since then, disagreements and differences of opinion have devolved into a national sickness, viciously pitting those with one set of political beliefs against those with another.

The Russians have fomented a level of chaos and distrust that has opened the door for the desecration of civil American society; a democracy that, until now, has been a form of government that has been more successful than any other in history and the envy of all. All except Vladimir Putin, who now watches with glee as alliances designed by the U.S., and of which we have long been the leader, develop fissures so deep it will probably take decades for them to be mended.

And yet, the president – on impulse, though he claims it’s strategy – is willing to embrace the head of an oppressive regime and suggest he and his corrupt government be brought back from the economic dead and invited to rejoin the G7 nations (or the G6+1; or, quite possibly, the G6 the way things are going). This is not strategy; this is ignorance of the very reason why Putin was absent during the summit held in Canada this past weekend and from four previous meetings: a response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

This ignorance of history should come as no surprise. During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump displayed a stunning lack of knowledge regarding Putin’s invasion of Crimea. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, he said he might recognize Russia’s claim to land that was an undisputed part of Ukraine, a sovereign nation. Trump said, “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they are.”

That wasn’t exactly true. While some people of Russian heritage living in Crimea may have welcomed the candidate’s remarks as much as they did Russia’s invasion, most Ukrainians did not.

Trump’s opinions would be tantamount to saying some Americans would rather be with Russia than where they are. Most likely, Americans whose ancestral home may once have been Smolensk – or those who favor foods like borscht, caviar, kotlety, and Beef Stroganoff.

Or Americans like President Trump.

The president appears to enjoy spending quality time with Vladimir Putin more so than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Theresa May of the U.K., French President Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti; as well as his favorite golfing buddy, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. You know, those G7 members who counted on us and we counted on as allies.

But hey, let’s be fair, President Trump had a lot on his plate this past weekend, so he decided to skip dinner and get out of Dodge – or Quebec – as quickly as he could. Before the G7 summit ended. Trade wars be damned.

The president had more important things to do, places to go, people to see. Like North Korean Dictator and fratricidal crown prince Kim Jong Un, whose reputation for dispatching political rivals and relatives (some, one and the same) is known the world over. But, like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un is, in the president’s words, “very honorable.” He’s someone we should trust to uphold any agreement, even those that are meaningless fluff – like the one just ironed out by the president in Singapore.

Why shouldn’t President Trump trust Kim Jong-un? After all, he looked into “Little Rocket Man’s” eyes; perhaps got a sense of his soul. The president probably liked what he saw: a mirror-reflection of himself. Only shrewder and smarter. Like Vladimir Putin.

President Donald Has a Farm

| Opinion | May 24, 2018

President Trump’s latest assault on undocumented aliens reached a new low last week when he said, “These aren’t people; these are animals.”

Essentially, the president believes undocumented aliens are subhuman, or untermensch, which was part of the justification used by leaders of Nazi-Germany to herd “undesirable” groups into death camps. These undesirables included Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, political opponents of the Nazi hierarchy, and anyone else Adolf Hitler and his cronies didn’t like.

Whatever most normal people’s opinion of undocumented aliens is – positive or negative – it’s unlikely that the majority of Americans view them as “animals.” The exception to that statement, of course, is if they concur with the opinion of the president. Or Adolf Hitler.

But why resort to sticks, stones, and names that never hurt you? That would merely put those of us who disagree with the president’s perception of humanity – or inhumanity – on his level. Which is a place on earth most Americans have indicated they would rather not be.

Note to the president: You lost the popular vote and, according to numerous polls, less than half of all Americans approve of you or your regime.

It’s mind-boggling that this president has called many of the supporters of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last year “very fine people.” Clearly, in his worldview, undocumented aliens are not. Because they “aren’t people,” they’re “animals.” And while the president subsequently back-peddled a bit, saying he was referring to the violent, predominantly Latino gang MS-13, he fails to recognize that gang members are people as well.

In the president’s mind and in the minds of many around him, including John Kelly, his Chief-of-Staff, it’s perfectly acceptable to separate children from their undocumented parents, should they all be rounded up at the border and routed to immigrant detention facilities; or, as Kelly said, “foster care or whatever.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions summed up the administration’s policy on undocumented migrants succinctly: “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

The terminus – literally and figuratively – for many of those arriving at Nazi concentration camps was frequently the scene of children being separated from parents. Infants didn’t fare as well. On more occasions than not, they were immediately “eliminated.” That’s a tame euphemism for what actually happened.

What the attorney general fails to recognize is that he is referring to human beings. They are not smuggled contraband; not animals. Then again, AG Sessions isn’t exactly known for his sensitivity regarding race, culture, or sexual preference.

The president’s attempts to muster compassion and emotion at a so-called “immigration round-table” last week devolved, yet again, into an opportunity to play politics. As usual, his failings as a leader, policymaker, and as a human being were – according to him – the fault of the Democrats, a majority of whom do not agree with most of the president’s immigration decrees.

Our beneficent leader had this to say to those attempting to cross the border without proper documentation, “I know what you’re going through right now with families is very tough, but those are the bad laws the Democrats gave us. We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law.”

No. They did not. The president and his administration did.

The president doesn’t have a clue about the plight of undocumented aliens. He should. According to published accounts in The Guardian and on CNN, historian Roland Paul notes that President Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich, left Germany, the president’s ancestral homeland, illegally; failing to notify authorities of his intention to emigrate. And escape the draft. Apparently, Friedrich Trump – unlike his grandson – didn’t have bone spurs on the heels of his feet.

A document Paul found in local archives in Bavaria notes that Friedrich Trump, having already become an American citizen, should leave the area by “1 May… or else expect to be deported.”

Imagine that, the Trump family was punished for leaving a country illegally rather than arriving in one.

Perhaps if this nation hadn’t welcomed the Trump family to America, we wouldn’t have the leader we have in office today. Well, as the president told the knights of his round-table, the U.S. has “the dumbest laws on immigration in the world.” Touché.

Awesometown from Afar

| Opinion | May 17, 2018

While on an out-of-town assignment, I missed being here for the City Council’s vote to make Santa Clarita a “Sanctuary City.”

For white people.

I found out only after being asked where I was from. When I offered up the name of our fair city, most people first responded by saying, “Oh, yeah … the place where they do that diet show about cannibals and zombies.”

I responded that the only people eating their own in Santa Clarita were disaffected Democrats so inured to the unfettered antics of their elected officials, that they’d come to resemble shell-shocked survivors of some cataclysmic event. Others, more abreast of current events than I, proceeded to tell me that our civic leaders decided by a 5-0 vote to oppose SB 54, California’s “Sanctuary State” law, and planned to file a brief in support of the Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the state – meaning a lawsuit against those of us who live here. All of us. Not just brown or black, or of Asian descent, but white folks too. Their vote made Santa Clarita first among equals. Or at the least, makes our city the first to formally stand in opposition to the law. Which makes many who dwell here very happy. Santa Claritans who have made this community their home for more than a few decades might recall the glittery billboard that was once visible from the northbound 5 Freeway, the one that resembled the sequined costume of an oversized Vegas showgirl. It was an invitation to those seeking refuge from the city down below, specifically, tempting them to settle in Stevenson Ranch. The sign proclaimed that the valley’s newest community was a “masterpiece in master planning.”

That catchy slogan was somewhat discomfiting to many, as it sounded as though it had been penned by a member of some master race. One who believed that the recently-hatched City of Santa Clarita and its surrounding environs would be tempting to those quietly migrating north as part of some massive white flight, ostensibly in hopes of settling in a place with good schools, relatively affordable housing, quaintly coiffed lawns, one that is now among the top 10 safest cities in the state. Given all those wonderful qualities, Awesometown sounds so much better than “masterpiece.”

Our city fathers and mothers would have us believe they aren’t “anti-immigration,” just “anti-illegal immigration.” They seem to forget that restrictions on immigration were the creation of many politicians as like-minded as themselves, who forged laws specifically targeting those who were not like them, meaning White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Western European countries, and that our doors were once open to people of all races, colors, and creeds.

Many members of this community, indeed members of our City Council past and present, are descendants of some of those groups targeted by immigration laws and religious intolerance: Asians, Eastern Europeans and Russians (read: Jews), Italians and others of Mediterranean (read: Latin) descent, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints … all encountered persecution by their very own neighbors. American neighbors. As for black Americans, many came involuntarily and were subjected to even greater persecution and racism.

There’s a key point upon which I agree with the council. Anyone who has entered this country illegally and is convicted of a serious crime should not be permitted to remain in the U.S. That just makes sense. But it doesn’t mean a floodgate should be opened to hunt down anyone and everyone who has crossed our borders in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their families. To a degree, this is what the Trump administration is proposing and what our City Council appears to support.We are in dire need of immigration reform. Without question. But not at the expense of innocent children being separated from their families and placed into what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calls “foster care or whatever.” Note to General Kelly: During the 1800s those of Irish descent such as yourself were persecuted by groups who preceded them – Europeans who referred to themselves as “native Americans.” Tell that to the original Native Americans.

Many on the council have made clear that they are merely adhering to the Constitution which they took a sworn oath to uphold. And that’s a very fair argument. In opposing SB 54, they are violating state law with the intent of staying true to one that may very well supersede it. Note to council members: Donald Trump also swore he would uphold the Constitution, yet appears to be in the process of gutting as much of both it and the rule of law as he possibly can. All five members of the City Council who voted to oppose SB 54 clearly did so with the best of intentions, small-minded as those intentions may seem to many Santa Claritans. No matter. The council’s vote is, by-and-large, symbolic. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is not going out of its way to make undocumented residents’ lives miserable. They have far more important things to do. Like keeping Santa Clarita one of the U.S.’s top 50 safest cities in which to live (caveat: with populations over 200,000).

So, why do it? Really? Because in voicing its opposition to SB 54, the council is playing to its base, just as President Trump plays to his. Long term, the council’s actions may be irrelevant, but not to those who voted for them. And therein lies the rub. The political composition of the City of Santa Clarita is not what it once was. The city’s Awesometown marketing campaign is partially responsible for that. In a state that is increasingly comprised of Democrat and Independent voters, those who bleed blue (or remain neutral) are also increasing in number in our own community. They seek the very things that have attracted families to the Santa Clarita Valley for generations. Just as those who’ve made their way to the U.S. from south of the border have also sought a better life. To find their own Awesometown, as it were. By and large, those protected by SB 54 are not criminals. They are not here to suckle greedily at the breast of the federal and state governments. They are here to work; at jobs most of us choose not to do. They want safety and security.

Symbolic or not, the leaders of this community have sent a clear message that undocumented residents are not welcome in the City of Santa Clarita; any undocumented resident, not just those who break the law. The council has voted its collective conscience. But, on many matters of policy, they speak for a dwindling number of residents here.

To those who may not like what members of the current City Council have to say, a few words of advice. Show up or shut up. At council meetings, at the ballot box, and at community organizing events. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill frequently noted and is famously quoted as saying by politicians from both parties: “All politics is local.” So, all you Awesome people, if you want to see change nationally or globally, start small. And act locally.

California Elephants Face Extinction

| Opinion | May 4, 2018

Many disheartened (read Republican) Californians are awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s departure with glee. It’s understandable. Brown’s last two terms in Sacramento have certainly leaned in a more moderate direction than his previous two terms back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, yet he’s still a thorn in the side of many conservatives who continue to view him as Governor Moonbeam, or some variation of a “snowflake.”

While Brown remains committed to the environment and believes climate change actually exists, while he supports sanctuary states and cities, while he has pushed for prison reform, and stands firm on any number of other hot-button liberal policies and philosophies, Brown has been more of a dealmaker and practitioner of realpolitik than many of his predecessors from either party.

Gov. Brown’s a fervent fiscal penny-pincher, much in the mold of traditional GOP conservatives. Though firm in his opposition to blanket deportations and crackdowns on Dreamers and undocumented residents, he recently demonstrated a willingness to use the state’s National Guard to enhance border security (security, not to supplement enforcement). The point is, Brown, despite what alt-right stalwarts say, is a player who’s ready to cut a deal if it’s in what he perceives to be the overall best interests of Californians.

The same might be said about incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein. No Barbara Boxer-style liberal, and certainly no Nancy Pelosi, Feinstein has also been vilified by the far right. Yet, she too has shifted her stance on many issues near and dear to Republicans over the years. So much so, that many liberal critics have assailed her as being an enabler to a fascist regime – you know to whom they’re referring.
Feinstein’s been accused of being soft on the NSA’s domestic spying program, she voted for the Iraq War, has views on immigration that lean a little too far right for some supporters, and is considered out-of-touch with a new generation of voters who would prefer exchanging experience for responsiveness. She is considered by many to be the most conservative member of the Democratic Caucus. And she’s vulnerable to a challenge, both in the primaries, and in a general election. She couldn’t even manage to win her party’s endorsement at the state’s Democratic Convention. Despite her liabilities, however, a weak Republican Party doesn’t stand a chance this coming November because they are incapable of fronting a candidate who is moderate enough to tempt more middle-of-the-road and independent voters. An opportunity is being squandered.

Republicans in California are a different breed. Though many voted for President Trump, a considerable number did not. And lest we forget, the 25th Congressional District swung left, favoring Hillary Clinton over her opponent. Do Republicans opt for a more Trumpian candidate or one who is reflective of the state itself? Good question, because even those who bleed red politically aren’t particularly enamored by some of their options. Take one Republican candidate in particular: Patrick Little.

For those who may be unaware of who Patrick Little is, he is an avowed White Nationalist and a raging anti-Semite. Last month, Newsweek reported that Little’s social media account on Gab included a statement that included, among other diatribes, the proposal that “government makes counter-Semitism central to all aims of the state.” Of a people “free from Jews.” A government that forbids “all immigration except of biological kin, where no person of Jewish origin may live, vacation, or traverse.”

Hmm … wonder what the small-minded Mr. Little thinks about people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. He espouses anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, believes in racial segregation, and falls just short of calling for the extermination of Jews and anyone else he may not like. This man – and I use the term lightly – is, according to a SurveyUSA poll, running fourth behind other candidates running for Sen. Feinstein’s seat in the state’s open primary in June. He currently has 18 percent among likely primary voters, second only to Feinstein’s 39 percent. And make no mistake, Little relishes the opportunity to beat a Jew out of her Senate seat; if not literally, then figuratively. Scary stuff.

Despite winning the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Little is not overly enamored with what he calls alt-right media outlets like The Daily Stormer, whose editorial team has not warmly embraced him. Some comfort. This guy is outperforming many of the other candidates he’s challenging. What does that say about us as Americans? As boisterous as many of the opinions expressed in the pages of this paper may be, it is highly unlikely Mr. Little’s views are in step with those held by most conservatives in the Santa Clarita Valley. Nor is his outright bigotry in keeping with this community’s values. More corrosive than his rhetoric, however, is the danger he is to the party he professes to represent.

While it’s unlikely he will ultimately secure the GOP nomination, or a place on the general election ballot come June, Patrick Little is one more threat to the fragile existence of California’s Republican Party. If reclaiming the state Capitol is truly their goal, the party may very well face extinction long before the emblematic elephant it claims as its mascot.

The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette

The Amazing Grace of Judy Collins

| Entertainment | May 1, 2018

The entertainment industry is often prone to self-puffery. It’s a business where the term “legend” is overused and, in more instances than not, precedes the names of many artists undeserving of such an accolade.

Judy Collins is not one of them.

In a career spanning six decades, Collins has cast an indelible imprint on the sound and soul of both folk music and rock ‘n’ roll. One of the travesties of her industry is that she’s yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. No matter. She’s been nominated for six Grammys, one of which she took home with her. Then, there’s her 1975 Oscar-nomination for producing the documentary “Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman,” the story of Antonia Brico, the conductor and classical musician who first taught Collins to play piano. But, most important of all, Collins has a fan base that spans generations. Parents, their children, and their children’s children are in evidence at any of Collins’ performances.

While Brico envisioned a classical career for her pupil, Collins had other ideas. At 15, she discovered the guitar and began singing folk ballads. Much to the consternation of her teacher, she was hooked and never looked back. “She never forgave me. Even after I took her to the Oscars,” Collins laughs.

Inspired by the folk scene and the music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, among others, Collins headed east from her childhood home in Colorado to New York City. She’d been singing and playing professionally before making her way to Greenwich Village, where she began performing to full houses in downtown clubs. Her audiences included future folk legends Peter, Paul, and Mary, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs; and, of course, Bob Dylan, whose songs she’s covered over the years.

Collins has always cut a startlingly elegant figure upon any stage she’s played. The same holds as true today as it did in the early days of her career. The 79-year-old’s presence is commanding, her voice as melodious and moving as that of the 22-year-old woman she was when she first began recording. Her piercing blue eyes are as sharp and perceptive as ever. Maybe more so. Thus, comes the wisdom of age. You know those blue eyes by sight, and, in a way, by sound. They’re the eyes that provided inspiration for her close friend and former lover, Stephen Stills, to write “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

The first time Stills played the song for her was on her birthday, in 1969, in a hotel in Santa Monica, where she was then appearing. Stills’ song was written as a love letter and a plea to win Collins over after they’d separated as a couple. “It just blew me away, but it didn’t get me back,” Collins laughed.

Despite their long-standing friendship and occasionally crossing paths in the studio, they’d rarely paired musically. “We’d never sung together on the stage in a consistent way,” Collins told the Gazette. “A couple of years ago, we started talking about it. Then back in 2015 or ‘14, in order to see whether we could actually sit on a stage and talk, we did that at the Saban Theater in Los Angeles. We didn’t do any singing. Just talked and shared our stories.”

The experience went well enough that word got out around town. Soon, their conversations started to attract audiences. “It became kind of an ‘in’ thing,” Collins recalled. After the appearances ended, the pair began texting back and forth, discussing playlists. After a few months, Collins flew to L.A. from her home in New York and began rehearsing with Stills. They ended up in the studio last year, where they recorded their first album together, “Stills and Collins Everybody Knows,” then performing their repertoire before packed houses upon its completion.

“We went out on the road in July 2017 and did our first show in Chicago, and then did 50 others. My life is on the road. I do 120 shows a year anyway. As far as doing that, it’s no different. It’s a lot of fun. I get to be the 12-string guitar player and singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band with Stephen Stills,” she says, giggling almost girlishly. “I have a lot of fun and I think he does too.”

Good thing, because the pair has a two-month cross-country tour ahead of them.

Collins is, perhaps, best known for her interpretations of songs written by other artists, yet she has a way of claiming ownership in her performance of them. Of course, there’s Collins’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” her stirring take on the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace,” as well as her version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in The Clowns.” Though the composer’s moving ballad was featured in his Broadway hit “A Little Night Music,” the song will be forever linked to Collins, whose rendition earned it a Grammy for “Song of the Year” in 1976.

Yet, Collins is also a prolific writer in her own right.

“I get to express myself through my own songs as well,” she says. “One of my new songs is in the show, which I’m thrilled with. A song called “River Of Gold,” which Stephen loved. And “Houses,” which I wrote for him in around 1972, is in the show. And I get to sing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at the end. That’s really fun.”

Her commitment to new artists and writers has been apparent from her earliest days as a musician. Collins has mentioned often how fellow performers would run into her on the streets of Manhattan in the ‘60s, and hand her a song they’d written. For many, Judy Collins’ was the voice that opened doors to careers of their own. Her affinity for artists who brought poetry to their music was especially strong, with Collins being responsible for bringing wider audiences to musicians like Sandy Denny, Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman.

Social responsibility and activism has always been a very important element to Collins’ life as well. Her father, who she credits as being a very large presence and musical influence, was a Rodgers & Hart aficionado, but also performed songs associated with social justice, which had a tremendous impact on her throughout her childhood and beyond. Hers was a voice that rose alongside Dylan, Ochs, Joan Baez, and so many others whose music roused a generation in protest of racial inequality and a war raging in Vietnam that took so many young American lives. Collins says she believes that activist fever has jumped a few generations and is alive and well.

Stephen Stills and Judy Collins

“I’m so proud of these kids that started this movement against assault rifles,” Collins said. “When you resist, when you step out, that’s when your education really begins. I believe it. I think part of the function to keep the democracy alive is education. They have the freedom to figure things out. It’s exciting. It keeps hope alive.”

On the threshold of her ninth decade, Judy Collins’ own activist spirit continues to live and breathe in her every day. She’s currently working on a song about the Dreamers, tentatively titled “Maria,” and looking forward to introducing it to diehard fans and the next generation of listeners while on tour with Stills.

Judy Collins and Stephen Stills will be performing together at The Canyon, in Valencia, Thursday, May 17, 2018. For tickets, visit WhereMusicMeetstheSoul.com.

The Alternate States of America

| Opinion | April 26, 2018

We, in America, are living in alternate states of reality. They are neither red nor blue. They are states of consciousness and perception.

Like those drawn on a map, lines of division may be solid or dashed. Dashes, those lines with spaces between them, tend to be more fluid and porous, divides within a single body where people, commerce, and ideas flow readily and tend to be true. Solid lines demarcate more profound divisions. They’re often geographic – rivers, oceans; or topographic, like mountains, plains, and canyons. Some are made by people: Toll booths. Fences. Lines in the sand. Walls. These lines are often harder to navigate. They may be in place to deter outsiders, barriers against those who, in crossing, may bring with them differing, undesirable worldviews or experiences.

New boundaries have been erected over the last two decades. They are often numeric in nature; rising and falling with every stroke of a keyboard, button-push of a television remote, and swipe of a touchscreen. They open the gates of consciousness, while simultaneously shutting the door on reason. How we perceive our world is increasingly defined by the cable channels we view, the websites we surf, and to a lesser extent – sadly – the newspapers we read. For as long as the printing press has existed, journalists have expressed differing points-of-view. In their earliest incarnations, books and newspapers were put out by individuals who voiced their opinions in hopes of moving their readers to take a similar stance, even more than factually covering events. The “news” was an extension of those who had the means to publish.

Newspapers in this country historically followed this same pattern, in cities and towns, both large and small. People “took” papers that reflected their personal values and worldview. Multiple print news outlets existed, whose coverage and advertising targeted specific consumers. Many broadsheets appealed to traditional conservatives, some for more progressive audiences. Tabloids often spoke to the working class and, sometimes, the radical fringe. For the most part, reporters who wrote for these periodicals covered the same stories, fought for the same scoops, and spun their coverage based primarily upon those readers their owners and publishers hoped to influence. The papers were run by upstanding citizens, leaders of their communities. They wielded power but were not demagogues. Most sought to open readers’ eyes to new realities and societal changes. Few of them propagated lies and deception. If only this were true today.

Demagoguery does exist and it is motivated by both profit and perspective, no matter how distorted that prospect may be. Major media outlets whose leaders have included families with names like Murdoch, Sinclair, and Breitbart, open doors to those who, oftentimes, are not beyond expressing outright lies; at the same time, they accuse other mainstream outlets of purveying “fake news,” no matter how well-substantiated the facts may be. There lies (literally and figuratively) the rub. Brakes are rarely applied to the editorial content of many of these news outlets. It’s even worse online, where bloggers, creators of what are truly “fake news” sites, and some that are more legitimate, preach to choirs comprised of the angry and disaffected, giving voice to extremist positions. And let’s not forget those sites under the control of foreign intelligence services and other outside influencers whose sole intent is to foster discord among us.

It would be disingenuous to avoid examining the voices of other cable networks, those whose ownership is associated with corporate logos more so than surnames, the usual suspects, like MSNBC and CNN, that are targeted by right-leaning ranters. Sorry to disillusion their critics, but what is seen interspersed with opinion on those channels is news; based on hard, well-documented facts. And when mistakes or errors in judgment occur (and they sometimes do), those responsible are subject to intense scrutiny, with public apologies, corrections, or retractions being made.

While many mainstream conservatives may cringe when extremist or ignorant sentiments are expressed by colleagues, by the president, or the channels and sites that serve as their platforms, they are loathe to publicly denounce them. The swamp may very well be deeper than any of us – liberal or conservative – might imagine.

Ongoing cries of “fake news” and the constant repetition of lies and half-truths only strengthen the borders and boundaries that divide us. Those on both sides oftentimes remain cloistered, living in separate states of reality to the detriment of us all. In the days before cable news and online websites run amok, a legendary journalist named Walter Cronkite ended his television broadcast each weekday evening with the phrase: “And that’s the way it is …” And we believed him. These days, many of us don’t really know who or what to believe.

Catching up with Country Legend Hal Ketchum

| Entertainment | April 23, 2018

If you’re going to hear country music star Hal Ketchum play, you’d better be prepared to hear him spin a yarn as well. Like any great singer/songwriter, he’s got hundreds of tales to tell. It’s in the lyrics, it’s in the music. But most of all, it’s in his heart. Ketchum is one of the funniest damned country musicians you’ll ever meet. Like the legendary Will Rogers (you know, the ‘aw, shucks’ Depression-era comic they named the State Beach and Park after), he’s a homespun humorist who’s quick to share a story between songs.

It’s that sense of humor that’s gotten him through more than a few tough times; more than most folks could bear in a lifetime. Not the least of which was being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the height of his career.

“It came on real fast. It was freaky. Ironically, my mom had MS as well,” Ketchum recalled. “I had to stop playing. I couldn’t. I was literally blind for a time, could barely sing. I holed up in Santa Fe for a while. I had to relearn everything.  Somehow I had the tenacity to pull it off.”

Listening to him sing and play, it’s hard to believe he’d ever lost the ability. Ketchum turned 65 a few weeks back. The purity of his voice is still there. He may not hit the high notes as fluidly as he did in his younger days, but the sounds come from deep within and are as delicious as a finely-aged wine. There’s a clarity tinged with deep emotional texture; weathered and gritty and as comfortable as a pair of well-worn boots. Ketchum hasn’t been in the studio since recording his last project, “I’m The Troubadour,” four years ago. He did a live album after that, but mostly he’s just been kicking back and enjoying his life in the Texas Hill Country.

When asked what his days are like, Ketchum’s response wasn’t that different than most guys who’ve pretty much bid farewell to a life on the road.

“I’m intrinsically lazy. I’m happy to be enjoying the fruits of my labors,” Ketchum told the Gazette. “I’m not writing or in the studio. I’ve had a wonderful career.” He paused for a moment and said dryly, “I just bought a new fly rod.”

Ketchum’s music career began in his teens, playing drums in a local R&B trio in the Upstate New York town where he grew up. Only later did he focus his attention on guitar. Fearless is a word that comes up often in conversation with Ketchum and it was that fearlessness that prompted him to move to Austin in the early ‘80s, pick up his guitar and pen and begin writing and singing his own songs. After recording 11 of them, he headed to Nashville, where he signed a deal with Curb Records. Ketchum’s 1991 debut album, “Past the Point Of Rescue,” was a career maker. Two singles from the album “Small Town Saturday Night” and the title track peaked at Number Two on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart. The album ultimately went Gold. Three years later, Ketchum was inducted as the 71st member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Ketchum’s music – though rooted in country – can’t easily be categorized. His repertoire runs the gamut from traditional country ballads to quintessential kickass bar band tunes. Yet, his studio projects hint at influences that range from jazz to driving rhythms and grooves evocative of late ‘80s Glenn Frey (the solo days when he first broke with The Eagles). Ketchum credits three people for influencing his music, though.

“Van Morrison, Van Morrison, and Van Morrison,” he said with a chuckle. “I did a show with him. It was fantastic. He’s a genius. My idol.”

One theme that seems inescapable in Ketchum’s music is a sense of loss and longing. Even in more upbeat, very danceable songs, like “(Tonight We Just Might) Fall in Love Again,” the desire to recapture something elusive – in this case the thrill of early romance – is hopeful, yet bittersweet.

“Loss is part of living,” Ketchum said. “I’ve had the wind knocked out of my sails several times. My dad, who was my hero; my mom; my wife, Terrel.”

He pauses for a moment, reflecting. It was Ketchum’s first wife, Terrel Tighe, a music publisher with BMI, in Nashville, who first signed him. Ketchum was in his 20s when Tighe died from cervical cancer. He credits her as being the catalyst for his lengthy career.

“She was my fishing buddy and an exceptional woman,” he remembered.

While writing isn’t high on Ketchum’s “to-do list,” the magic of it and the part it played in his life isn’t far from his memory.

“I would dream these songs,” he said. “I’d put a pad by the bed and wake up and write. It was kind of miraculous, really. Like visitations.”

The only visiting Ketchum seems to be doing these days is with his wife, Andrea, a few neighbors, and his kids. He’d just gotten back from lunch (enchiladas) with one of his daughters and her fiancé before talking to the Gazette. Another daughter, Ruby Joy, is following in her father’s footsteps. She’s just signed with BMI and has already written a song set to be featured in a Disney release next year. When asked which current artists he’s partial to, Ruby’s is the single name he mentions.

“She sings like a bird,” he said proudly.

Hal Ketchum is taking to the road again, not to sell anything or promote his latest album, but for the passion of it. With him onstage will be “The Mighty Fine” Kenny Grimes, a close friend who Ketchum says is the best guitar player that ever lived.

“We just keep goin’,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the shows. It’s a shot in the arm.”

Hal Ketchum will be appearing at The Canyon, in Valencia, for one night only, Sunday, April 29, 2018.

Wishy-Washy White House

| Opinion | April 19, 2018

From the moment he took office, President Trump has repeatedly experienced buyer’s remorse.

In the last week, the president has undermined a key member of his administration and reversed course on his own foreign and economic policies. At least twice. This should come as no surprise. It’s standard operating procedure for the Trump White House.

The downside of his ineffectual leadership ultimately affects all Americans. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal; whether you support his policies or not, we are in trouble because of President Trump’s indecisiveness.

We need and deserve a leader who truly knows how to lead. We expect that of our elected officials. It doesn’t matter who voters cast their ballots for, once a man or woman assumes office, we expect them to govern the nation and serve the American people to the best of their ability.

President Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” and to put America first. By acting in a wishy-washy manner, he demonstrates he is incapable of doing either.

On the campaign trail, the president promised he would be tough with our adversaries. That he would pull out of NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That he would punish those he believed were treating the U.S. unfairly. He did so by slapping tariffs on international trade partners, including some of our closest allies.

When it was explained to the president – repeatedly – that tariffs might provoke economic retaliation, he walked things back by carving out exemptions – allegedly temporary – for fellow NAFTA members Canada and Mexico. He’s now considering trade “exceptions” for Australia. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and the European Union are seeking similar treatment. He’s thinking about it.
With a stroke of his pen, the president kept a campaign promise and issued an Executive Order, days after taking office, withdrawing the U.S. from the TPP. After doing so, China launched a full-court press in hopes of becoming the dominant trade force throughout the Pacific Rim. Not such a good thing for those of us here at home, as the result would be a weakened American economy and a diminished role in international trade.

Our domestic economic health is dependent upon participating in the global economy, not detaching ourselves from it. Isolation ultimately hurts all Americans.

Someone must have schooled the president on this. He’s subsequently taken steps to tear up one of his signature economic policies, and reconsider whether withdrawing from the TPP would be as advantageous – or intelligent – a choice as he’d originally believed. Until he decided he wasn’t sure.

The president wants to “renegotiate” the TPP. Hard to do when it’s an agreement you’re not a party to. No matter, late this past Tuesday, the president changed his mind yet again, saying he doesn’t think the TPP represents a good deal for the U.S. Well, which is it, Mr. President?

The economic reforms President Trump has proposed or enacted are regularly being walked back. For the simple reason that they will not work. Should the tax plan he so strongly supported begin to falter and the deficit skyrocket, he will likely disown that as well.

What’s next? Will he soon repudiate EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, acknowledge that climate change is a reality, and renounce his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord?

When it comes to foreign policy, the president doesn’t fare any better.

The Washington Post has reported that, after expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the Russian government’s attempts to poison one of its former spies who was quietly residing in England, he exploded in anger. While being briefed, he was apparently “distracted” and didn’t realize how large the number would be or what exactly he was ordering. Don’t be surprised if those same diplomats are invited back to the U.S. with open arms in the near future.

Anything related to Russia or Vladimir Putin is subject to presidential flip-flopping.

After dumping hundreds of millions of dollars of ordnance on Syria last week in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical assault on innocent civilians, President Trump announced that he was also imposing new sanctions on Syria’s benefactor, Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said as much last Sunday morning on NBC’s “Face the Nation.”

Though Haley apparently made her announcement after consulting with the White House, the president, by proxy, hung her out to dry, denying further sanctions were on the horizon. His economic adviser Larry Kudlow – no expert on foreign policy – later told Fox News that “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.” Haley, who is no shrinking violet, had none of it, stating emphatically, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Unfortunately, the President of the United States does. Frequently.

The issue at hand is not one of policy. It is one of erratic behavior; of competence and determination. It’s about the president taking a position and sticking to it, rather than namby-pamby around and walk it back.

President Trump, given to hyperbole, has talked about the “big button” that sits on his desk. Here’s the thing. Once you decide to push the “big button” and nuclear warheads are halfway to their destination, it’s a little too late to reconsider your decision and call your missiles home. Because they ain’t comin’ back. No matter how “smart” they may be.

Is It Time to Reconsider Regime Change in Syria?

| Opinion | April 12, 2018

American response to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis Syria has been experiencing for the last seven years has been tepid, at best. With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most recent chemical attack on the Syrian people, inaction is no longer an option.

While President Trump would like to lay blame for the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Assad government at former President Barack Obama’s doorstep, it’s time he recognizes that the failings of his predecessor are no excuse for his own inability to act decisively.

The president has tweeted that he will strongly respond to Assad’s latest act of aggression. His actions may be short-term, at best. If his intention is merely to send a half-baked message by way of a showy, but ineffective, use of “nice, new, smart” missiles, it’s doubtful that the outcome will be any more successful than last year’s Tomahawk missile strike.

President Trump must cast aside his personal fears and frustrations and take on Vladimir Putin directly. More than the Iranians, who have their own vested interests in propping Assad up, Vladimir Putin is responsible for the regime’s maintaining control of Syria. His ongoing support is a destabilizing factor in the region.

Putin must be made to understand that Assad’s control of the Syrian government will no longer be tolerated. His ongoing denials that Assad used chemical warfare against his own people are outright lies. We expect those from Putin. Then again, the Russian president also denies using chemical warfare and murder against his own foes. The ongoing investigation of his attempted murder of a former Russian spy on British soil indicates that, too, is a lie.

Ultimately, it is Putin’s responsibility to convince Assad to peacefully vacate his office and leave the country. If he cannot, he and the Russian government need to be held accountable.

Ending Assad’s reign of terror is in everyone’s best interests. If Mr. Putin refuses to listen to reason and is unwilling to aid in extricating the Syrian president and stabilizing the country, President Trump could exercise other options.

Isolating Syria by way of a naval blockade would be a highly effective, yet relatively benign option. Rendering all Syrian air facilities – military and commercial – totally unusable is one that is not so benign. Pre-emptive strikes on suspected weapons caches and military facilities could be launched. Another destabilizing move might include destruction of Assad’s means of command and control of Syrian forces.

Should Putin ignore the world community and maintain his stubborn, unreasonable position, further isolation and more potent economic sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs must be put into place. A more hardened economic stand against Iran must be taken as well, as Syria is also acting as the Iranian government’s proxy in the region.

Lastly, the prospect of direct military action against President Assad and his cronies should not be ruled out, although employing such tactics would require international and congressional support.

The world community needs to determine which is more tolerable: a Syrian leader willing to commit acts of genocide against his own countrymen or an aggressive move toward regime change for the greater good of the Syrian people and the Middle East.

While these measures may sound draconian, they are far less so than those employed by Bashar al-Assad in his mission to quash any dissent among those Syrians setting out to establish a more democratic society. Personal preservation of one’s regime is no excuse for gassing innocent children, among others.

Assad is an increasingly dangerous man. With the backing of Iran, and Putin as his corner man, he can be instrumental in redrawing the map of the entire Middle East. And not in a good way. His Arab neighbors, as well as the Israeli government, both know this. And they are growing increasingly uneasy with the alliances Assad has forged with like-minded rulers.

The brazen actions of Iran and Russia at the behest of Bashar al-Assad will inevitably cause pain for the leadership and citizens of nations throughout the region and beyond. They cannot be allowed to continue.

Regime change in Syria is inevitable. As President Trump has said, no option should be off the table. Missile strikes, however, are just one part of the equation.

Roseanne is Raising the Barr

| Opinion | April 6, 2018

Roseanne Barr has risen from the dead.
After a lengthy absence from television, Roseanne and the rest of her fictional Conner family are once again gracing our living rooms. And now, as then, she’s not limiting herself to once-weekly sitcom appearances to make her presence known. Her recent use of Twitter assures us of that.
Roseanne was – and remains – a brilliant media strategist. In addition to the role she played on her show, she fostered a public persona that sometimes, quite deliberately, left her looking as though she were the sole survivor of a very bad train wreck. And the American people loved her for it.
For close to a decade, Roseanne was fine fodder for the tabloids as well. They endlessly detailed her personal foibles, multiple marriages, family crises, and fractious relationships with co-workers and network executives. Viewers and readers hung on every word, both in print and on-screen. If the large number of viewers who’ve tuned in to her revamped show is any indicator, the romance continues.
Roof-raising ratings demonstrate that, 30 years later, Roseanne is still relevant. And it’s not just because the character of Roseanne Conner is beloved. It’s also because she is a lapsed Clintonite who has wholeheartedly embraced Donald Trump. That’s solidified her popularity with some audience members – old and new. While many critics and viewers are unhappy about this plot twist, others believe her evolution is honest and makes sense.
Working-class Americans, like the fictional Conners, have always struggled to get by. And they’ve looked to strong leaders for help. Whereas former President Bill Clinton once stood up for working men and women (at least publicly) and fought to make America a more equitable place for them to live, so, too, in the minds of many does President Trump today (at least publicly). Comparisons, however, end there.
When Bill Clinton left office, he left behind an economy that was healthier than it had been in decades. Rather than increase the budget deficits he inherited at the beginning of his first term, Clinton left office with the government in the black and surpluses recorded for the better part of his last term. Moral failings aside, President Clinton did, for the most part, take care of the little guy. Moral failings aside, President Trump’s ability to do so will be left for future historians to decide.
Supporters of the president point to the current state of the economy as a positive sign he’s getting the job done. They note the significant reductions in taxes, increased employment, a jump in the stock market, and the prospect of a resurgent pro-business environment – in part, through massive deregulation and punishing tariffs.
Yet, retaliatory tariffs imposed by the Chinese, this week, are just the beginning of a potential trade war; one that will likely hit the Conners and many other, real live struggling Americans harder than most.
In exchange for this perceived boom, the American people have been saddled with a deficit of approximately $1.5 trillion dollars.
As for middle-class tax breaks, most of them will expire in 2025.
Roseanne and Dan Conner better start socking away any refund checks they’ve been hoping to get because of recent Republican tax legislation. They’re going to need all the cash they can muster when it comes time for them to enjoy retirement. If they can ever afford to have a retirement.
Not too much of a concern for Roseanne Barr, however. That same Republican tax legislation assures her of personally faring quite nicely. Realistically, she didn’t have to come out of retirement for the money. She came back because she missed us. Or the spotlight. Maybe both. Then again, Roseanne never really went away.
There was her turn as the host of a moderately successful talk show. Her 2012 run for the Green Party presidential nomination. Her eventual campaign as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate. The documentary about her presidential bid. Her reality show. The NBC sitcom pilot that was never picked up. And now, “Roseanne: The Reboot.”
Screen superstardom was never enough for Roseanne; nor will it ever be. And that’s just fine. As is her decision – calculated or not – to cozy up to the man who will make America great again. To each, his or her own. But while her somewhat skewed ideology may make for good television, it is potentially harmful to her own personal brand, as well as to the reputation and safety of those she has chosen to target.
Like teenage Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg. Roseanne recently re-tweeted a doctored photo of Hogg and falsely accused him of giving the “Nazi salute.” Past re-tweets have included untruths about Hillary Clinton being part of a sex trafficking ring. She’s also espoused an interminable list of right-wing conspiracy theories.
But, hey, let Roseanne be Roseanne. She’s not the president. She’s a comedian. It’s all just an act. Right?  She’s messing with us, telling “jokes” funny enough to make ABC and Disney executives squirm in their seats; tweets so outrageously funny – or perverse – they suddenly disappeared from her Twitter account. Better those should disappear than a sitcom destined to rake in huge profits for Roseanne and the entertainment companies that support her. Well, guess that’s show biz.

Activism in the Age of Trump

| Opinion | March 29, 2018

The operative word in activist is “active.” To be an activist you must be … well, active; pro-active at times.

An activist can’t sit in front of a computer, posting or blogging away, limit themselves to tweeting, or simply disseminate news — fake or documented fact. An activist must get up. They must make noise. They must do everything in their power to move their agenda forward.

The most successful activists know a thing or two about making noise. They know that a shriek or a shout or a rant is nothing more than a fleeting sound. Groups like the NRA or those who attempt to eliminate a woman’s right to choose know that to make an impact, a loud, prolonged piercing scream must rise above those whose means of protest are a distant, gentle murmur.

Since the Trump administration took over the White House, activism on both ends of the political spectrum has been on the rise. Perhaps it began during the primaries leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Perhaps it has emerged as a result of it and its consequences.

New Democrat voices emerged. They felt “the Bern” of a candidate who spoke to the realities they were experiencing in their everyday lives. Affordable health care that wasn’t always affordable. Higher education and technical training that were cost prohibitive. Establishment of a living wage, and a fight to level the playing field for those suffering from income inequality. It’s been said before that our current president addressed many of these issues. To be fair, he did. His execution of policy, however, is questionable, indeterminate, and potentially dangerous.

President Trump’s solutions for “Making America Great Again” and “draining the swamp” are on display daily. The results are not pretty. Yet, the left, or those slightly left of moderate, lack cohesion, frustrating their efforts to fight back. Liberals tend to be fractionalized. While they accuse the president of “playing to his base,” they fail to either build or strengthen a foundation of their own. Defining a message is only part of the problem for anyone who hopes to be an agent for change. To paraphrase our former president, “change we can believe in” is change that benefits us all, not just targeted segments of the American people.

Activism is like exercise. You can think about it, you can talk about it, or you can get off your butt and do something about it. And what is it? It’s standing up for anything that is important to you, be it an issue that’s philosophically conservative or liberal. It’s what the kids from Parkland and others around the country did by organizing last week’s March for Our Lives.
Even for those cynical conspiracy theorists who believe the young people who planned the March could never have done so on their own, somebody did something. They took a tragic event and made it the catalyst for voices of reason to be heard. You may not agree with the message, but the next generation is not going to roll over and take things lying down. They don’t like the direction we’re headed and they have every intention of moving our nation forward toward a better place.

What is disturbing about those who sit on their butts, photo shopping images to distort reality, tweet, rant, post, and attempt to pass off “alternative facts” as facts, is that they are basically immobile. Like those friendly folks at “Fox and Friends” who never get off the comfy couch in their New York studio. Those foxy friends have a lot to say about the alleged “Deep State” and enjoy vilifying young Parkland survivors by calling them “Crisis Actors,” but what exactly are they doing? Not much, other than sitting in the studio and collecting fat paychecks.

Their inertia and that of those at home who watch them, fuming, should be of great comfort to the 800,000-plus who actually marched in Washington, D.C. and the hundreds of thousands who marched in cities and towns throughout the U.S. and abroad last week. The marchers and their supporters should be grateful. We all should be.

Contrary to the beliefs of some naysayers, those who marched against the Vietnam War did make a difference. By calling out the inaction of complacent and complicit government leaders of both parties, they helped bring about change that benefited all Americans. They helped stanch the flow of American blood in distant lands. Just as today’s young folks are trying to stanch the bloodflow at home. And they clearly don’t plan on using CPR to do it.

The message those young people conveyed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, cleared a path toward productive dialogue; as is the message this new generation is channeling now. By no means will those who marched last week get everything they ask for, just as those who set an example 50 years ago have not seen all their wishes come true. But those virulently opposed to what these young men and women hold sacred need to wake up to a new reality: Some sort of compromise or moderately-happy medium is inevitable. Like it or not.

Americans have fostered and fought for a society that affords our disparate voices to be raised in unison and speak out for what is meaningful to us; to be activists. Despite recent attempts to manipulate our spirit of activism, the truth and what is just will ultimately prevail, as long as we cast complacency aside and be the kind of activists our founding fathers once were. Whatever political philosophy or truths we may adhere to.

We Do, Indeed, Need a Monster in the White House

| Opinion | March 22, 2018

It’s time once again for Washington wannabes to get out their resumes. There are a number of job openings in the Trump administration and, as the president reminded Americans a few weeks back, “Everyone wants to work in the White House.” That may well have been so in the past, but the attrition rate for staff and cabinet members of this president calls into question the veracity of his claim. Or any claim or statement he makes, for that matter.

It’s no secret that more people have vacated or been pushed out of their posts in the first year of this administration than in any other that preceded it.

The commander-in-chief continually appears to be steering the ship of state toward treacherous shoals. With every passing day and turn of the wheel, it looks as though he’s guiding a foundering ship of fools on an Odyssean journey through dire straits.

This president is no hero and has few triumphs of which to speak. When his administration is not behaving comically, it exhibits all the pathos of a Greek tragedy. Lies, deceit, gluttony, buffoonery, moral-deficiency, avarice, corruption, and more fester beneath the surface.

For the most experienced, most qualified, most honorable, and most principled men and women serving Donald J. Trump, there is little choice but to voluntarily abandon ship. Either that or be thrown overboard like former FBI Director James Comey or his former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Each year, a tremendous number of exceptionally bright, talented, selfless individuals enter public service. The jobs they fill can be thankless yet, at the same time, gratifying. Some are propelled by ambition. Others are more altruistic. Few are driven by money or the notion that demands are insignificant; none believe that whatever they do is merely “good enough for government work.” They, for the most part, feel that by working on behalf of the American people they are responding to a higher calling. They are not propelled by a desire to enter the nebulous world of an imaginary “Deep State.”

Right now, you can go online and search job sites like Indeed, Monster, and any number of others and find page-upon-page of listings for positions working for the federal government or in some government-related post. There are no listings – at least no obvious ones – for positions in the cabinet or the White House. That’s because those jobs are theoretically reserved only for “the best and the brightest” or for ruthless, politically savvy sharks; or for large campaign donors; or a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who might someday be able to help you with a little somethin’-somethin’.

Thus, we end up with an overly-ambitious EPA administrator who doesn’t believe in the science of climate change, or that clean water and air are benefits to everyone. A secretary of energy who thought his job was strictly about fossil fuels, even though overseeing our nuclear arsenal is one of the department’s primary functions. An “acting” head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who gives the middle-finger to any rule that protects consumers and regulates big banks and Wall Street.

A former secretary of Health and Human Services whose penchant for chartering private planes cost him his job. A secretary of Veterans Affairs who mixes too much pleasure with business while venturing abroad. An interior secretary who, when he was a Navy SEAL, was accused by Navy investigators of committing a years-long “pattern of travel fraud.”

Then there’s the secretary of state who got the heave-ho last week; not because he didn’t have sufficient government experience to do his job, but because he allegedly thinks the president is a moron.

We get wife-beaters and a borderline treasonous national security adviser. An attorney general who lies under oath. And a cabinet secretary who clearly thinks you need to be a brain surgeon to have a seat at the dining table while serving at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Then, there are the friends and family members of the president – and, perhaps, the president himself – who believe their government posts give them permission to plunder. The list, unfortunately, grows distressingly longer by the day.

Eighteenth Century philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” What this nation needs right now are government officials deserving of the positions they have been chosen to fill. Even if it means posting current openings on Indeed or Monster to find them. Who knows? We might get lucky and find someone brilliant. We couldn’t do any worse.

A Good Day for Golf

| Opinion | March 15, 2018

Nobody really likes it when the president comes to town. It doesn’t matter which party he represents. A presidential visit can be mind-numbing. Traffic snarls are inevitable. Massive amounts of money, manpower, and logistical coordination are involved. Freeway frustration levels elevate road rage levels to new heights.

While direct consequences of President Trump’s recent visit to La-La-Land were not in evidence in the Santa Clarita Valley, there was a trickle-down effect. Though not as positive as the economic trickle-down effect Republican tax policies are supposed to be.

If you had a flight to catch at LAX, a job to get to, were planning on spending a rainy day at the beach, shopping on the Westside of L.A. or just trying to make it home for your kid’s basketball game or dinner with the family, Tuesday wasn’t a good day; nor were parts of Wednesday.

All of this came about as a result of the president’s visit to the Southland. Why he came is somewhat unclear. President Trump, as a rule, despises California and Californians. No previous president since Eisenhower took so long in getting here after being elected. And Eisenhower had reason to come. His vice president lived here. And he liked golf. Golf was clearly not on President Trump’s schedule. For a change. Although, if the president did manage to find time to play the back nine, we’d never know about it. His staff would have made sure of that.

No. The president wasn’t in town because he likes us so much. He was here for two of his favorite things: photo ops and money. There’s nothing President Trump loves more than broad symbolic gestures (other than money) like standing before slabs of concrete in Otay Mesa.

Watching the president inspect various prototypes of his wall (the one Mexico is paying for) was like watching a man shopping for his own tombstone. Then again, he was probably digging his own grave politically by further alienating (emphasis on alien) the majority of California’s voters.

No matter. Next stop: Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where the president gave a large gathering of U.S. Marines assurances that if it wasn’t for him, President Donald J. Trump, we would not be going to Mars. Guess the president, in his own inimical fashion, found some loose connection between “Air Station” and “Outer Space.”

The response from those brave men and women was effusive. Then again, he’s the president. How were they supposed to respond? They have a duty to obey their Commander-in-Chief and “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Just like President Trump.

Onward and upward to L.A. Let’s get this party started! Because President Trump loves a good party. Especially since he had to miss his own at Mar-A-Lago back in January. Oh, those pesky pols in Congress. Darn them and their government shutdown. No party-poopers were going to mess up his plans this time.

After wheels-down on Air Force One, President Trump and his entourage made mincemeat of the rain-washed 405 Freeway and nearby surface streets just in time to make it to a $250,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser in Beverly Hills. It was hosted by Mitt Romney’s niece, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel (whose maiden name the president allegedly insisted she refrain from using) and Republican Party deputy National Finance chairman, Elliot Broidy.

According to multiple media outlets, Broidy has recently come under the watchful gaze of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for potentially having played a peripheral role in coordinating secret meetings between representatives from the United Arab Emirates and the Trump transition team.

The president loves Beverly Hills. In fact, he really loves the bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Just ask adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal, who have both accused President Trump of carrying on extramarital affairs with them. Apparently, they say the hotel was a favorite place for their assignations with him. As the president once told Travel & Leisure magazine, “The hotel has everything I could possibly need.” Like extra towels.

President Trump denies cheating on Melania. Then again, he also said he liked former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who he fired by tweet early on Tuesday while winging west to Cali. Thankfully, the president arrived safely and with his baggage (ALL of his baggage) in tow.

When you’re president, you don’t have to worry about losing your luggage … or having your dog relegated to an airtight overhead bin, like you do when flying the friendly skies of United. Good thing. Because the president had to fire his personal aide and “bodyman” John McEntee before leaving Washington. He usually carried the president’s garment bag.

McEntee is being investigated by the Secret Service (not the Presidential Protective Division, one hopes) for serious financial crimes. This was very sad for the president. He and McEntee go back many years and the aide’s firing has drawn attention away from the possibly serious financial crimes being committed by friends, family, other aides and, perhaps, the president himself. The president does not like it when he’s not the center of the universe.

This Republican administration’s distaste for our humble home is not limited to the president alone. Lest we forget, Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew out to Sacramento just last week to file a lawsuit in federal court against the State of California. Then again, State Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley, the former head of the State Assembly’s Republican caucus, said the Republican Party in California is “in a death spiral.”

According to published reports, only one-in-four registered voters in California are Republicans. Which may surprise many of those who read the Gazette.

So, why has the president finally deigned to come to our unbearable state? Because President Trump notoriously follows the money. Just ask Vladimir Putin and the Jolly-Olly-Oligarchs who make up his (and possibly the president’s) social circle. Not that President Trump needs money. Oh, no. As he said, in 2015, during his presidential campaign, “I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m not using lobbyists; I’m not using donors. I’m really rich.”

Guess all those funds that were raised a few nights ago were for the little people of the Republican Party. The candidates who may find themselves gasping on life support, come November. They’re the ones who really need the president’s help. Just like Roy Moore, in Alabama, and Rick Saccone, in Pennsylvania, did. The president’s presence sure helped their campaigns.

Oh, well. There’s a nice tailwind today. The rain clouds are now headed east with President Trump. The skies are clear. The sun is once again shining over the Santa Clarita Valley. All’s well in Awesometown. Too bad the president has to miss it … it’s gonna be a great day for golf.

Bullseye! Sessions Sets His Sights on Bear

| Opinion | March 8, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out for bear. California Bear. Many believe the AG’s lawsuit over sanctuary cities in the state is one more politically-motivated attempt to prolong his life in office.

Sen. Kamala Harris responded to the lawsuit by saying, “The attorney general is playing politics with an important issue and has put a target on California’s back.”

The senator is not entirely correct. While politics does come into play, AG Sessions has a philosophy. He has an ideology. He has long been anti-immigrant, especially when it comes to those whose color does not match his own. AG Sessions’ lawsuit is just the latest evidence of his perspective on immigration.

Unlike the attorney general, the president has no philosophy, no ideology, and he’s decidedly anti-immigrant when it suits his needs and when the immigrants in question are brown. Donald J. Trump had no problem employing undocumented workers on his construction sites in the early 1980s. Perhaps because they were white workers from former Soviet Bloc countries.

Sessions is different. Despite lying to his former colleagues in Congress about his meetings with Russian diplomats and oligarchs, AG Sessions believes in the rule of law and, in the case of the investigation into Russian meddling, demonstrated some degree of propriety when he recused himself from directly overseeing it.
Attorney General Sessions believes that what Gov. Jerry Brown, the State Legislature, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and many other government officials throughout the country are doing is in violation of federal laws that supersede those passed at the state and local level. He believes this, both as the nation’s top law enforcement official and he believes this ideologically.

Frankly, the attorney general is doing his job, just as state AG Becerra, in defending California’s sanctuary law, believes he is doing his. It will be up to a Federal District Court (and, likely, Federal Appellate Courts and the Supreme Court itself) to determine which party will prevail.

This lawsuit is not, however, solely about the law. We cannot ignore the fact that California’s demographics are a factor in the filing, and that exerting political muscle is also part of a much broader message. While six states, the District of Columbia, and over 170 cities and counties nationwide have passed sanctuary laws, AG Sessions has chosen to launch his first salvo against California. The state is the largest, most prominent choice.

California has the largest undocumented immigrant population in the country. Most importantly, it is a solidly blue state, with the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature long in control of the Democrats. There is no risk for the Trump administration to target California first.

Republicans, as a rule, and even more so, Donald J. Trump want to punish those living here, Republican constituents (and there are quite a number of them) be damned. In the administration’s war on immigration, fellow Republicans are merely collateral damage.

The president’s core supporters do not like Californians and, by and large, are anti-immigrant. Neither Trump nor Sessions have anything to lose by poking the Bear. Especially Sessions. It’s an opportunity to, once again, curry favor with the president and prove his loyalty; a trait the president values above all else.

In addressing the California Peace Officers Association, in Sacramento, AG Sessions singled out the Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, who recently announced publicly that federal immigration authorities would be conducting raids in her city.

In prepared remarks released by the Department of Justice, Sessions said, “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda.” Yet, an overwhelming number of law enforcement officials throughout the country – in both red and blue states – are opposed to a government crackdown on sanctuary cities and states.

Following the DOJ’s filing, Sen. Kamala Harris told reporters, “The DOJ has limited resources and it would be a much better use of those resources to focus on issues that really impact the public safety and well-being of the American public, including in California and including local law enforcement in California.”

That sentiment is echoed by top local law enforcement officials. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was an early supporter of sanctuary cities, saying the bill would foster trust among immigrant communities; and, while initially opposed, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell now stands behind the sanctuary law.

What’s most problematic about AG Sessions’ lawsuit, and any further actions he may take in other jurisdictions, is that it does not truly address the key issue at hand: immigration reform. He, alone, is not at fault. Intransigent leadership in Washington and an administration willing to placate a small minority of Americans through the institution of flawed legislation is a far greater issue.

Blanket deportation, ignoring the plight of DACA recipients, and separation of immigrant parents from their U.S.-born children is not the solution. Comprehensive reform of our immigration laws is paramount. This may include some form of amnesty for those already here, extension of DACA, and creating pathways to citizenship in exchange for more restrictive immigration legislation downstream.

There are no simple solutions to immigration issues and there will inevitably be pushback from both sides in trying to resolve them. One thing is certain, angering the Bear by hauling it into court may make things further unbearable for Attorney General Sessions and President Trump.

Phones Don’t Kill People, People Kill People

| Opinion | March 1, 2018

Emotionally-charged responses to the recent shootings in Parkland, Florida have demonstrated how polarized Americans are over 2nd Amendment rights and gun control. Emails have poured in from people on both sides of the issue.

One, from a reader who’s in staunch support of the 2nd Amendment, included a link to an article that noted “the number of teens who are dying or being injured as a result of texting while driving has skyrocketed as mobile device technology has advanced.”

While trying to remain sensitive to the pain and anguish experienced by survivors of mass murders by gun, this gentleman raised an interesting point. The subject is worth looking at because there are some correlations.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that legislators in 47 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws that prohibit texting while driving. Thirty-eight states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice and teen drivers. Fifteen states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have an outright ban on any hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Despite having laws in place, however, many people aren’t regularly abiding by them and a concerted effort to enforce these laws is not being made.

Raising this issue in the aftermath of Parkland is appropriate for one reason. While many of us are quick to advocate legislation that would make certain weapons illegal and restrictions regulating the legal purchase of all firearms be instituted, we tend to overlook seemingly benign things that, potentially, are equally as lethal. A wireless device being one of them.

Those who believe that few, if any, restrictions should be placed on gun ownership cling to the mantra that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” To an extent, they’re right. Most gun owners abide by the law and have a respect for weapons, yet readily accessible gun ownership can lead to weapons ending up in the hands of the wrong people. Existing laws do little to prevent that from happening. Nor do they ban possession of weapons that have no place on our streets.

Most cell phone users also obey the law. Yet, distracted driving, including cell phone usage and texting among teens (and adults), is often a factor in automobile accidents resulting in serious injury and death. Despite being readily available, cell phones in and of themselves don’t cause these accidents. People do. Ordinary people, not just bad ones. Good, honest people with wireless devices in hand at the time of a collision. Current laws do little to prevent that from happening.

Over a hundred people a day die in car accidents. About 2,000 per year are children under 16. Death can come in the blink of an eye, just as it does in school shootings.

What good are rules if scofflaws aren’t being compelled to obey them? If you are the parent, child, friend, spouse or other family member of someone who has died violently, it doesn’t matter whether your loss stems from the actions of a person holding a gun or a wireless device in their hand at the time they were killed. Your loved one is gone. Because someone with access to a perfectly legal object has abused the privilege of possessing it.

Cell phone makers like Apple, Samsung, and most other major brands have technology that can completely cut off access to incoming texts and prevent texts from being made while a phone is in motion. These companies, along with carriers like AT&T and Verizon, caution against texting while operating a vehicle and offer drivers the means to manually shut down access to texts while on the road.
According to an article in The New York Times, lawyers in a texting-related wrongful death suit in Texas unearthed a patent application made by Apple a decade ago for technology that would “lock out” a driver’s phone by using sensors to determine if the phone was moving and in use by the driver. That patent was granted in 2014.

Neither Apple nor any other company has deployed technology that makes a driver’s decision for him or her. Doing so might create a maelstrom of emotion over attempts by big business or government to impinge upon some vague constitutional right or personal freedom.

The Times article noted that Deborah Hersman, the former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said, “We’re so afraid to tell people what they should do that you can kind of get away with murder.”

Which, despite current gun regulations, is what some – emphasis on some – in possession of firearms do. And what some – emphasis on some – in possession of wireless devices do.

There is no quick fix regarding the issues of death by text or death by gun. Intelligent, yet rarely-enforced laws have been an ineffective solution. Fully-compliant gun and cell phone owners exist, yet a significant number of gun owners choose to modify their weapons. Just as many wireless users would “jailbreak” their devices to circumvent restrictions that limit texting or calling.

It’s time manufacturers of guns and cellular devices, gun owners and cell users, retailers, elected officials and law enforcement put their heads together for the sake of our kids, for the sake of all of us to figure things out in both instances in a reasonable, respectful manner. Something to think about, but easier said than done.

Voices of Sorrow, Voices of Hope

| Opinion | February 22, 2018

In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, new heroes have emerged. They are the young men and women who survived and have made their horrifying experiences a defining moment in the lives of all Americans.

What happened was tragic. That need not be repeated; it has been said often enough. Yet, from the darkness a new generation of activists has emerged. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are demonstrating more commitment than their elders when it comes to putting an end to unregulated access to weapons of mass destruction; for that is what AR-15s and similar semi-automatic firearms are.

Young people are mobilizing in a way not seen since the Vietnam War. Perhaps because they believe deep in their hearts that lives are at stake and unresponsive leaders – fueled by special interest campaign contributions – are thwarting any effort to do something about gun violence and gun control.

As this column is being written, students across Florida are walking out of their classrooms, into the streets, and marching in solidarity, displaying true leadership.
Florence Yared, a 17-year-old survivor of the shooting, was among those protesting in Tallahassee. She addressed members of Congress when she said, “You are directly responsible for every community that has lost people to gun violence, and you have the power to change this. If you don’t, then we will change you.”

That has become a rallying cry among many in Florida where, on Tuesday, less than a week after the Parkland massacre, state legislators voted down an attempt to revive a ban on assault weapons, much to the horror of many of the young survivors. Their senator, Marco Rubio, said in Congress that most of the tougher gun restrictions being proposed wouldn’t have prevented the slaughter at Stoneman Douglas.

The response of many Floridans? To fly a banner along the coastline proclaiming “Shame on you Marco Rubio and NRA.”

Last month, the president urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to run for the U.S. Senate, saying “We need business guys like you.” The implication being, that “business guys” make for strong, decisive leaders. Yet, when asked about gun control and a ban on assault weapons Gov. Scott chose to place blame squarely on the shoulders of the FBI.

Supported by the NRA, Gov. Scott has forsaken his constituents and chosen not to exercise his ability to revive life-saving legislation; the businessman transformed into a finger-pointing political hack. The NRA loves Rick Scott. They’ve given him an A-plus rating.

One Stoneman Douglas student, Emma Gonzalez, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, “These people who are being funded by the NRA are not going to be allowed to remain in office when mid-term elections roll around.”

If more articulate young people like Ms. Gonzalez and fellow student David Hogg (who right-wing media has shamelessly branded a “crisis actor”) step forward, unresponsive politicians from both parties will be out of their jobs. Perhaps not in the coming mid-term elections, but not very far off on the political landscape.

These kids are mad. It’s not just limited to those living in Florida. Young people are speaking up all over the country. Many of them will be voting for the first time, come November. There is a lot of dead-weight and old-blood in Congress and a new generation will soon be at the polls exercising their right and their ability to bring about real change when it comes to gun control.

There are many young men and women who are NRA members who will fight for their beliefs and continue to fund that lobby as well. Both sides must come together. Their elders clearly cannot address the issue of gun control and gun violence reasonably, nor are they willing to turn their backs on or close their purses to one of the most powerful group of lobbyists in America. Perhaps this cohort – boys and girls on the threshold of adulthood – will succeed in a way we “grown-ups” have failed them.

The voices of these young, soon-to-be-voters will not be silenced, nor will their attempts to bring reason to the issue of gun violence be thwarted. The Vietnam era in this nation brought about a new form of political activism by the nation’s young. Ultimately, they marched shoulder-to-shoulder with many members of their parents’ generation.

We stand on a precipice. We can look out and see a brighter, safer future on the horizon – a future without weapons of war on our streets. Or we can continue forward into the abyss, leading our children by the hand to follow.

Fortunately for all Americans, the courage and political might being displayed by today’s young men and women bodes well for a more enlightened time in decades to come.

What If It Was Your Daughter, Mr. President?

| Opinion | February 15, 2018

Imagine late one night there’s a knock at your front door. You open it. Standing before you is your grown daughter. She’s crying. Her nose has been bloodied, one eye is puffy and bruised. She tells you her husband hit her.

Now, imagine your daughter’s name is Ivanka. And you’re the President of the United States. She tells you your son-in-law, your close adviser, Jared, did this to her. You confront him. He tells you he didn’t do it.

Do you believe him? After all, he said he didn’t do it.

What if it’s your close adviser and communications director, Hope Hicks? Would you believe her if she told you the guy she’s been dating did this to her? A guy who says he didn’t physically or emotionally or psychologically abuse either of his two ex-wives. A guy that Hope, who White House staffers refer to as your “real daughter,” has defended. A guy who, until last week, was with you every single day of your presidency, handling highly classified correspondence and papers. Despite his having been denied a permanent security clearance because his abuse of his ex-wives has been documented.

Would you believe Hope? Even if her accused boyfriend, Rob Porter, says he didn’t do it?

None of us can answer those questions for the president. And it’s doubtful that he’s introspective enough to seriously consider acts of domestic violence and their consequences.

According to the Violence Policy Institute, nearly three women are murdered in the U.S. each day by current or former romantic partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that nearly 4.8 million women experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year.

Clearly, the president, who famously doesn’t like to read, is unaware of these statistics.

The president said that Porter was “falsely accused,” and that the statements of Porter’s ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, were “mere allegations.”

In an op-ed in Time Magazine last week, Willoughby asks, “If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?”

If President Trump had his way, absolutely no hope. For Hope Hicks, daughters Ivanka or Tiffany, or any woman who is a victim of domestic violence.

The president lives, breathes, and believes his own brand of reality. Throughout his life, he’s surrounded himself with rapists, sexual predators, abusive men, and misogynists. Some are good friends who just got a raw deal.

President Trump believes pedophiles, like former Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, should be taken at their word. No matter how many women, at great emotional and personal risk, stepped forward and reported experiencing unwanted advances by this self-proclaimed man of God when they were just teenagers.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The number of women who have stepped forward and accused the president himself of predatory behavior and inappropriate sexual misconduct numbers in the dozens. Given the president’s age, that number is likely far greater.

President Trump’s words speak for themselves. “When you’re a star … you can do anything”; “they (women, presumably all women) let you do it.” The president believes he can “just grab them by the pussy.”

I wonder how President Trump would feel if someone attempted to do that to one of his daughters. It’s hard to imagine he would appreciate someone arbitrarily pulling a Trumpian move on either Ivanka or Tiffany.

But, who knows? He once famously told the hosts of “The View,” that “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, I’d perhaps be dating her,” in Ivanka’s very presence.
Is this normal behavior? Is it normal to deny photographic evidence that a crime has been committed or deny physical proof that police reports and restraining orders have been filed? Even when copies have been provided?

Why would these women lie? And why is it that the so-called “leader of the free world” is quick to deny both their accusations and further evidence provided by the FBI? Oh, beg pardon, the corrupt agency trying to “get Trump.”

Then again, the president stood by former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and convicted rapist Mike Tyson. Trump said the whole thing was the fault of his 18-year-old victim. He called the conviction “a travesty.”
Trump stood by friend and convicted billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein – a man who court records allege molested more than 40 young girls at his Florida mansion.

In 2002, Trump told New York Magazine that Jeff is a “Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

As does the president.
Terrific guy, that Jeffrey Epstein. A lot of fun to be with. Especially when he’s soliciting 13-year-old girls for prostitution, for which he was convicted, and allegedly recruiting dozens of underage girls into a sex-slave network.

Mr. President, what if one of those girls was Ivanka? Or Tiffany? Or Hope?

Whether you are a Trump supporter or not, ask yourself, what would you say or do if it was your daughter who had been sexually assaulted or domestically abused?

Most likely, you would not give her husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, or domestic partner the benefit of the doubt. You might even consider doing something in retaliation that could land you in jail.

President Trump said “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone.” The president says lives have been “shattered.” What about the shattered lives of ex-wives and ex-girlfriends who all contend they encountered nearly identical episodes when involved in relationships with your former aide?
Many people will read and be appalled by the tone of this column. But what is more appalling? Reality? Or the words, actions, and behavior of a former reality television star turned Commander-in-Chief? How about both.

Washington’s Blame Game

| Opinion | February 9, 2018

Pointing fingers is a Washington pastime. The blame game currently playing out between Republicans and Democrats has been raging over issues such as the treatment of DACA recipients, funds for the Great Wall of Trump, a government shutdown, the Nunes Memo, the Democrat’s response, and the success and failure of the economy since the president took office last year.

Inflammatory rhetoric has been slung like manure across the aisle by both sides. Charges of obstruction of justice, overstepping the bounds of executive power, devious behavior, breeching national security, and even treason, have been leveled against some of Washington’s so-called best and brightest. And, in the case of House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, some not-so-bright ones as well.

It’s hard not to belabor the impotence of the recently released Nunes Memo. Republican committee members began to walk it back almost immediately upon release. No wonder he’s looking for new ways to besmirch the reputation of the FBI. Nunes now claims that a counterintelligence investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s alleged responsibility for the Steele dossier should be opened. Nunes’s logic is confounding. Then again, he confided this to Sean Hannity. Even a former dairyman should know you can’t wallow with the pigs and not get dirty.

Invariably, the Democrats will attempt to poke holes in the Nunes Memo. Attempt is the key word, for even though the committee voted unanimously to release a Democratic response, the White House will make the ultimate decision as to whether the report will see the light of day as written, or release a redacted version that protects President Trump. If the president chooses to do the latter, Republican committee members can blame the president who will, in turn, blame the Democrats. Responsibility and truth are checked at the door upon entering the Oval Office.

What is abundantly clear is one party more than another has an affinity for making misrepresentations and telling outright lies. Which party that is, of course, is dependent upon which “fake news” network you tune into.

The economy’s been a source of pride for this administration. And a further source of blame; or credit. President Trump claims he’s responsible for its phenomenal growth, low unemployment rates, and mind-blowing Wall Street gains. No matter that the economy had been experiencing a steady upturn throughout Barack Obama’s presidency. But no, the health of the economy was solely a result of the so-called “Trump Bump.” Just ask Sean Hannity.

Hannity has consistently argued, for the benefit of his audience of one, that the president wasn’t getting enough credit for all the economic gains the country has experienced since he took office. The argument has been so constant and so compelling that the president took to repeating his propagandist’s party line like a mantra. In fact, at the same time the market was tumbling, President Trump was telling an interviewer he was “very, very happy with what was happening on Wall Street.”

Clearly, he hadn’t been listening to the radio. Had he been, he would have been warmed to the cockles of his heart when Hannity made the case that the turmoil being experienced in the financial markets was the fault of former president Barack Obama.

Hannity demonstrated his mastery of double-speak, presumably with straight face in addition to steady voice, when he unabashedly made the case that money was so cheap during the Obama years that it wreaked havoc with the economy and that Obama was the one solely responsible for the Dow falling 1,175 points.

When the stock market was at a record high, it was all about Trump. And, yet, when it took a dive within the same week, it was the fault of our allegedly birth certificate-less former president. Who has been out of office for over a year. That’s a tasty bit of pretzel logic.

How about this? What goes up must come down. The market was due for a correction. It’s been riding ridiculously high. Plus, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen left her post the weekend prior, leaving many wondering what the new Fed Chair’s policies will be. There are sundry intangibles that impact Wall Street on any given trading day. But, hey, why not blame the last president, and the woman who wasn’t even elected, for any negative news?

Inevitably, the tournament of blame will continue, sometimes as tame as a game of badminton, sometimes as rough as an MMA prize fight. The noise and nonsense has got to stop.